This is part of the ongoing narrative of our D&D campaign, which is graciously being run by Proud Lion, a fantastic comic shop in Cheltenham. Their RPG Encounters nights are a lot of fun, and give me some entertaining material to work with.
[Before reading, please be aware that there may be spoilers ahead for the D&D campaign books. Equally, our stories are fluid, so things may not follow the books too directly]
Very special thanks to Chairman Wow of our D&D group this week, who offered to write the first chapter of our new narrative, and did a great job of capturing his characters worldview!
Not for the faint of heart, the Rowntree Report is the live action, in your face reporting the world has been craving: In a world of cowardice and wood obsessed so and so’s, the truth is brought to you from the mouth and mind of the baddest dwarf OF THEM ALL- Kalashnikov Rowntree. Transcripts have been edited in order to prevent any misinterpretation of Kalashnikov’s majestic and kingly accent.
It is midwinter. Yet the coming of ice and snow falters to the chilling atmosphere of town Oakhurst, a settlement known by few and sought by even fewer. For not far from here lies the old road of the Ashen Plains, its decimated state a grim reminder to the townsfolk of their long, unfortunate history with the dragon Ashardalon, and its subsequent effect on tourism. Further still lies the sunless citadel, where the once powerful strongholds of the ancient dragocults lie in ruin and obscurity. Or so my brother tells me, when he doesn’t cry into his drink over a dead dog.
The tavern provides as expected; overpriced food and subpar bedding paves the way to crucial information. After all, the siblings Hucrele have been reported missing in the citadel, and the task of retrieving their sorry selves has fallen to us- by which I mean me, obviously. However, the return of Talgin(Fighter) and Sharwin(Wizard) themselves would appear to just good fortune to our benefactors, who seem more concerned with the return of the pair’s signet rings than the owners: 125 gold has been promised for each Hucrele of sound mind and body, yet acquiring the respective signet rings has become a rewardable feat of equal value. Who knows, maybe they’re part of a vintage collection or something.
Meanwhile, Jester’s solicitations with the local wenches yield far more intriguing talk, for it appears the resident goblin folk at the ruined citadel have taken to trading- the vermin come every second shift in the seasons, auctioning for the last twelve years something as fanciful as apples: A golden apple of summer, and a hauntingly white winter apple. Apparently these respective apples can grant the gifts of life and death, healing or killing depending on the season (take a guess which does which, won’t you).
Let me be clear about one thing, as the single greatest dwarf of modern times: These apples will be mine. And while Jester informs us the next cycle of winter apple is to be expected within a mere four weeks, my bewilderment was met with surprise when my companions decided we must press on with our former quest. And whilst I argued for us to wait things out, apparently our merry band is mostly comprised of trinketlovingcrowpeoplethatdon’tappreciatethebiggerpicture- NO WAITING WAS HAD. Even Burian’s interest in the golden life apple (we get it, Mr “life is precious”) failed to remedy this, so my dreams of brewing these delightful pieces has been shelved. For now.
As I stand here at the precipice of destiny, I must take a moment to reflect on what has brought us to our current situation (besides regular greed). For much has happened since the previous entry, a great deal of which could be described… as completely avoidable.
Since departing we have also learned of the failed plight of another pair of woeful adventurers: The non-return of the ranger Karakas, and noted Paladin of Pelor, Sir Rafford (Pleasant Persons of Particular Passions, PERHAPS?) have reached our party’s ears (Along with the fact that Sir Pinhead of Passing bears has what has been described as a “fancy SHATTERSPIKE sword”, a fact that CONTINUES lingers in my mind). Armed with this knowledge, our healer Enna decreed that this “might be a start to find where we are going”, in the guiding manner one notices in their local political representative; or whenever Burian is trying to do something equally arbitrary, like ~Save the animals~.
Our tracking of this new duo brought us to a standstill. The grim landscape lay now littered with the remains of civilisation past; pillars protruding across the ruined grounds, the surfaces of each one heavily vandalized with markings. Further along a grand crevice prevented further travel, with no signs of traversing save a rope leading downwards. With little option but to investigate, Burians inspection of pillar graffiti denoted a dwarven nature- jumbled characters forming half sentences and nonsense. Showing a rare display of teamwork, the mismatch of words were dictated from my brother to Drenk, our linguistic master trapped in the body of a bludgeoning half orc. The crude nature of the next was decidedly goblin, warning outsiders from trespass. And with another moment of mental enlightenment, detective Drenk managed to solve the biggest riddle of them all: Perhaps the “Sunless” citadel was actually “where the sun don’t shine citadel” instead, suggesting we take our party downwards into the ravine.
Jester proceeded to climb, finding solid footing in a ledge about 60ft in: The path overlooked only darkness and debris, with small animal bones scattered across the floor. But unable to see anything or anyone amidst the darkness, our rogue attempted to sound off his famous whistling signal to us. Which was unfortunate, given that we were never informed of such a “signature whistle” prior to his hasty descent. And despite us being the keen minds behind the “sun don’t shine citadel” and my personal favourite, “apply ignorance”, much time was wasted deciphering what exactly that noise from the darkness represented- Was Jester alright? Was he signaling to us? Was he being assaulted by a more whimsical enemy with a penchant for song? (Whistling blue archers are a rather famous myth within the Duerger culture, I’ll have you know).
But alas, before any of us could truly rationalize this new and confusing sound for the first time, Burian struck: An unholy shriek sounded as the burly form of my brother began to turn, flesh and bone shifting beneath the skin like the waves striking jagged walls of rock. Slowly, the lumps and strands that seemed to assault Burian to begin with began to subside, as legs replaced arms and torso turned to carapace. A horrified Enna stood frozen as an octuplet of eyes, newly made, stared right back into her being and etched its image straight into her soul. A bizarre clicking followed the winds, as we all found ourselves upwards in order to comprehend the scale of change that had occurred.
“BY CTHULHU’S CURLS!” screamed I, letting impulse swing at the monster that had once been my brother, a heady mix of righteous outrage and noble intent leading my spear at the creature. Had the mysterious whistle wrought my brother this cursed fate as a gigantic arachnid horror, I would finally have just cause to kill him it was clear to me that Burian would only long for the sweet release of death. These were definitely my thoughts, without debate. My theory was cast into doubt however, once the creature began waving its arms in protest in a very Burian-esque manner. Had I not felt a deep sense of disgust towards its pathetic flailings we would surely never have realized my brother had done this madness on purpose. This did not in the least stop Enna from hurtling herself down Jester’s rope, where gradually the rest of the party followed soon after once we had finally realized what was happening.
Jester led our expedition through the dark path within the crevice, finding few landmarks (an old fire pit littered with spear tips, and the bodies of some unusually large rats) until finally the Sunless Citadel came into view. The dilapidated remains of the citadel were apparent no matter the angle, with cracks throughout its walls and its nearest tower leaning at an unnatural angle. Looking around, I would describe the mood of my compatriots at the time as tense: While we had finally made ground towards our goal, we had spent an unknowable amount of time in the company of our own oversized Burian, who seemed rather exasperated as a result of having to use quadruple the number of limbs to travel (it might come as a surprise to you that interpreting the emotions of a gigantic spider monster is not one of my proficiencies). Meanwhile, Enna remained witless, determined to avoid my brother the entire way by scuttling between the party members. Finding no traps at the entrance, the tower entrance opened through into a small courtyard leading into north and south pathways, with the northern tower on far side.
More tracks appeared roughly 25 feet from door to the windowless tower, our only clue to where we might find either of our missing bounties. Drenk suggested Jester check the way to the door, noticing the unsteady floor leading up to it. Jester proceeded to fire a rope attached arrow into a nearby wall, tugging it for fastening. He then walked across the unstable floor, noticing a 10×10 foot trap door midway. After some discussion and using an ingenious mix of Burian’s webbing and my trusty hides, a path was then forged, allowing us to reach the other end without problem (Enna going so far as to cartwheel across). Alas, this was not the case for poor Drenk, whose surplus build caused him to fall thrice, but just sort of muscle his way through, all done to tune of a slow, sarcastic spider clap (there is a reason nobody likes Burian). Furthermore, while I am not one to judge people, it is worth noting that a side ledge could be seen from the side whilst crossing our makeshift bridge, and that I find it rather convenient that our dear rogue did not notice it along the way. And while we were able to safely cross regardless, it is at the cost of my precious hide.
On completion of our relatively straightforward problem, we were affronted in an almost predictable manner: Three giant, charging rats, no more than ten feet from the crevice we so painfully struggled to move across. Jester proceeded to check the door, finding it both unlocked and trap free. Rallying to him, we readied for battle. The incoming charge of rats were dealt with efficiently; an eldritch blast for one and the stereotypical “elf and arrows” for two right around the time Drenk picked up his trademarked “rat splatter”. Which then proceeded to miss. Unable to violently smash the innards of a rat onto the floor and see the contents, Drenk angrily proceeded to javelin another unfortunate rat in the distance. This was rather unfortunate for the big man orc hybid guy as Enna used sacred flames to burn the through said rat, and in turn, the javelin in question. I’m told she is willing to buy him a new one once this is all over. In the final stages of the battle, Bumblin’ Burian tries to contribute, charging at one of the remaining rats and failing to take the kill. How surprising. Luckily for him, another eldritch blast dealt with the vermin swiftly, because no relation to myself is going to be killed by a lowly rat. Unless it was a rat I personally raised, in which case it’s one relation killing another- fair game, I say.
As Jester picks off the final rat and runs further into the citadel, I must conclude my entry and reflect on the task at hand: Soon, my precious apples. So very soon.