Sunday, April 14, 2013

Halls of the Minotaur - Session 1, Part 6

In which nap time arrives.

The group of eleven is now a group of ten, and a pall of silence hangs over them as they proceed along the path. Durwen lingers near the rear, continuing to mutter quiet prayers as he casts a glance or two back toward the deadly ravine.

The forest opens up and the ground drops away before them down another steep rocky slope, this time ending in a stone dock that protrudes into a calm blue lake. The water is shrouded in dense mist that limits visibility to about 20', but the tips of fir trees can be seen protruding above the mist in the far distance, suggesting the presence of an island in the middle of the lake. As the villagers survey this unexpected vista, the mist curls and moves in an unnatural way, shifting to suggest various sights: a looming, many-towered keep; two riders sweeping by on horseback; a great oak spreading its branches over creation. In a moment, these images are gone, leaving only swirling mist and the sense that perhaps no one saw them at all.

Illustration by Stefan Poag.

Oswald notices that a set of steps leads down from the far end of the dock to the water, and that these steps are flanked by a pair of broad-basined stone braziers. The group, after taking pains to create a safe rope system for descending the cliff face to the dock, carefully picks its way down. Warnings are called out, though -- no one should step on the dock until it's been given the-once over by the dwarven stonemason.

Finmunni crouches down at the edge and surveys the stone work. She rolls a 20 on her occupational skill check, and recognizes the finely-cut blocks of marbled stone as being of elvish workmanship, deducing from the degree of wear and amount of moss and lichen growing on them that they were set at least several hundred years ago, before humans settled near the Thornwood. She also notices what looks like a chiseled inscription on the face of a large flagstone in the center of the dock, mostly obscured by lichen.

The dwarf gives the sign that it looks safe, and she and Thelma step out onto the ancient stone. As soon as they do so, the two braziers spring quietly to life with flickering pale fire. Everyone is suitably impressed by this sudden occurrence, and they slowly move out onto the dock to get a closer look. Finmunni crouches down and scrapes the inscription clear:

Warriors sworn, prophets true
Seekers of lore and canting crew:
Never stray from the path

Some discussion is had about the meaning of these words, and Oswald is the first to suggest that “the path” might be defined by the braziers, extending in a straight line out into the lake. Agreement all around. Durwin and Daisy approach the steps and hesitate, but Sigbert the fisherman walks carefully down and tests the water with one foot. His shoe does not penetrate, but rests on the gently undulating surface of the water. Sigbert raises his eyebrows and steps out onto the water, which supports his weight. He looks back at his companions, who stand slack-jawed in awe, and then takes a few tentative steps.

One by one, the ten venture out onto the water. Oswald makes a point of taking the rear, looking back and forth between the braziers and his companions, making sure everyone stays in line as they move into the swirling mists of the lake. More fantastical, fleeting images coalesce and dissipate as the mist obscures everything more than 10' away; the dock and shore are soon erased, and Oswald almost calls for everyone to stop, but somehow the pale flames remain visible through the whiteness.

Shortly, Sigbert sets foot on the verdant shore of the island hidden at the center of the lake. A feeling of reverence pervades the group as they slowly spread out to examine their surroundings. Ferns, grasses and wildflowers grow freely, and a stand of tall firs at the center of the island sways in the breeze. The sun feels warmer and kinder here. Thelma notices something among the firs, and upon approaching sees three black standing stones, about 8' high, arranged in a triangle. Finmunni identifies them as basalt (gah, I don't know, I just made that up and the players began speculating about the volcanic and geologic character of the region). They bear no markings, and are simply hewn.

In the midst of the standing stones, I tell them, is a mushroom ring (a detail I just added on the spot). They think it must be a faerie ring, and wonder if it has magical properties. Stillman decides to put one of his pigs in the ring to see what happens. Nothing happens. Thelma chops up some of the mushrooms with her hand axe. Nothing happens.

I ask the players how long they think they've been exploring the island. Someone says, “I dunno, like 10 minutes?” and the others agree that sounds about right. According to the module as written, after spending 10 minutes on the island, they have to make a DC 23 Fortitude check (I reduce the DC to 20). I ask everyone to roll. Everyone fails.

Finmunni sits down against one of the obelisks, and leans her head against the cool stone. Daisy lies down in a patch of flowers and closes her eyes. Wilfred, eyeing Daisy's lovely form from the shade of one of the fir trees, finds his eyelids growing heavy. One by one, the villagers drift off to a pleasant sleep.

Sunlight dapples the scene. The tall grass whispers in the wind.