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Workin' in a coal mine

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Workin’ in a coal mine

Characters

Petra Nunce, Reiklander – gambler
Grimmer Grimmson, Dwarf – mercenary
Wesley Smitt, Reiklander – scout

Getting to the mine

Following their attack on the stage, the players will be pursued by a posse of roadwardens from Lachenbad – I set up a ten space tracker for the pursuit and place a marker for the players at space 6. Fortunately, the players will be some hours ahead of their pursuers – the hunters will be unable to gain any ground on the adventurers whilst they maintain a moderate pace, unless they have an idea where the players are going. Various ruses may be used to increase or decrease the heroes lead

(Thanks to Gitzman for the use of parts of his great map – note Lachenbad is an add-on here – it’s present in Andy Law’s map, but not in others. Tax dodge, I say. )

(Well, the characters are so far off beam in terms of the scenario that I’ve just prepared key characters and places; I really have no idea where they are going. Moving between the key points is going to be down to dice rolls and old fashioned winging it. Wes and Grimmer have two advances [house rule, catching up with the gambler], whilst Petra has one. Wes and Petra chose riding – Grimmer teaching them as they go along. As its out of career, Petra only gets to half learn it, completing it on her next advance).

The three start the session with a bit of a summary of what’s going on. I allow them a look at the map above, and they realize that they’ve got to cross the river to get to the mine, so they instantly turn their string of horses southwards, and navigating by the stars (an easy test for the scout), heading towards the river. They get there around dawn, and discover the river is, if not wide, pretty fast flowing. A debate ensues about how to get across; no-one can swim, and the dwarf, being a dwarf, can’t even float. They decide to swim the horses across – Wes strips off his leather armour and straps it to his horse, whilst Grimmer decides to wear his. “Five gold crowns this cost me, and anyway, if I go under, I’ll be going straight down no matter what I’m wearing.” (Not only psychotic, but a skinflint).

Before attempting the crossing, Wesley removes a few choice items from the stage’s horses – two oil lamps he’d hacked off the coach’s exterior and a bottle of lamp-oil, and straps them to his mount. The spare horses are loosely tied one to each players pommel, two for Grimmer, the best rider, and, choosing a suitable spot, the three brave the waters. (All three throw in all their fate points – I think they realize that failure would be catastrophic).

Grimmer goes first, and easily makes it across with both the spare horses. Wesley, who goes next, also makes it, but loses a horse to the current. Petra, the least skilled of the riders, comes off her horse, losing her backpack, but in a freakish stroke of luck, manages to grab her spare horse and it pulls her to safety (initially a failure, but gambler skill re-rolls to get success with both a star and a comet). Soaking wet and shivering, Wesley quickly makes a fire, and the three settle down to warm up (fatigue all round).

After a bit of a doze, Wesley buries the fire and they set off. They figure there’s another few hours before the coachman and Josef’s bodyguard reach Lachenbad and organizes a posse, and anyway, they’ll be on the wrong side of the river, so aim to travel as discreetly as possible. (Unfortunately the bodies of the lost horses will be washed up against the piers of the ‘Bad bridge, prompting inquiry. Oops.)

The three riders head towards the mine, skirting the foothills around Karak Argaraz. They keep a sharp eye out for goblin sign, but see nothing except for some several weeks old wolf tracks, and some more recent sign of horses. They follow these tracks to the mine, and spend an hour or so watching, but see nothing. “Deserted,” claims Wesley, but still sneaks down to the entrance for a scout around. Deserted it is.

The adventurers set up camp a short distance from the mouth of the mine, tying up their horses in a small copse for secrecy (do they really think they’ll be there when they get back?). They decide to breakfast before setting off, but realize with horror that they have no rations, beyond a squashed packet of sandwiches Wesley stole from the coachman (oh yes, fatigue is going to be a real problem). The meal is scant and too salty (Grimmer), and all too soon they set off for the mine, the dwarf leading, whilst Wes and Petra follow, carrying the oil lamps from the coach.

The mine

I used a series of mine location cards I’d made using Strange Eons to run the session underground; a mine entrance card, a glory hole card, a flooded tunnels card a mine face card and an unknown tunnel card. There are some goblins here, left behind by the fleeing yellow water tribe, as well as a couple of cave squigs. Further in there is a cave-in, where a set of deeper tunnels have been revealed; part of the old dwarven underway that connects to Karak Azgaraz. This was the route that the goblins took to enter the mine, and the way they fled after being discovered. Oh yes, also unallocated chaos stars cause a variety of mishaps, including minor cave-ins and pockets of explosive gas!

Grimmer, Petra and Wesley enter the narrow mine entrance, and Petra points out where Grim made his last stand. After a moments silence, the dwarf presses on with weapon drawn and shield raised. The two Reiklanders follow, both with their lamps lit, and continue down the gentle slope, noting broken weapons and the occasional blood stain. Ahead, the tunnel opens out into a glory hole, a man made cavern filled with the detritus of goblin occupation – animal bones, discarded clothing and a pit filled with goblin dung. “Don’t go near it,” Grimmer warns, “strange things grow in goblin shit.”

Giving the cess-pit a wide berth, they investigate the rest of the cavern, searching for Grim’s corpse, but fail to find it. “They must have taken it with them,” concludes Wesley, and the three press on into the mine.

As they descend, the tunnel becomes wetter, and side passages appear, narrow cuts that go who knows where. After ten minutes, the three are wading through water that is up to their knees (thighs for Grimmer), impeding their movement. “I hope you remember the way out,” says Petra

Grimmer sneers. “We dwarves never get lost underground.”

(“We hope,” mutters Wesley)

There is the sound of a buzzing insect, and Grimmer throws his shield up, deflecting an arrow. “Goblins!” he cries.

“Where?” shouts Petra, raising her lamp. (The two humans are completely blind due to their poor night vision and their lights. Petra draws her pistol and Wesley his sword, both adopting a ready position).

“I don’t know!” screams the dwarf, as another arrow whips past him, narrowly missing Wesley. “Put out the bloody lights,” he bellows, “you’re making me a target!”

The two Reiklanders are reluctant to lose their only sources of illumination, leaving them helpless. An arrow whistles out of the dark and pierces Wesley’s leather hauberk.”Shit!” he yells, and blows out his light. Petra, instead, places her lamp on a rocky outcrop and moves away from it, crouching down in the water to conceal herself. With the lights doused, a faint phosphorescent light can be seen from various fungi on the walls.

(I love this. Wes, Petra and Grimmer have no idea where the arrows are coming from, and are becoming increasingly hysterical. I’m allowing them hard tests to notice movement now they’ve doused their lights).

Grimmer moves forward down the tunnel, shield raised, hoping to draw the goblins fire – the water impedes him, so he can only manage a walk. Wesley follows, bow drawn, and Petra brings up the rear, watching behind frequently. Three arrows flick out of the dark from ahead, one striking Grimmer’s shield, the others clattering of the tunnel walls. “Can you see them?” whispers the dwarf, and his companions both whisper a no.

Suddenly the light behind dims, and Petra turns to see a goblin reaching for the lamp she’d left behind. She fires, a difficult shot made easier by the light, and strikes the goblin, but knocks him over, dousing the lamp. In the aftermath of the gunshot, three more arrows whip out, and Grimmer takes a minor wound in his leg. “There!” shouts Wesley, firing his bow and missing. “Straight ahead!”

Grimmer can see nothing but charges nevertheless, tiring quickly in the water. (Fatigue is doubled due to the flooded conditions). Two shapes spring at him, and a muddled melee ensues, the dwarf slamming one goblin with his shield, but the other manages to slip around him and stabs him in the back.

Another goblin appears from a hidden side tunnel and attacks Wesley, but misses. The scout drops his bow and pulls out his sword and dagger and counterattacks, but he too misses his target. Petra, hearing the goblin behind splashing through the water, hurriedly reloads her pistol, and as the greenskin charges her, shoots him between the eyes. There is a long drawn out cry and he falls back, dead.

With the death of one of the goblins, the rest flee. Grimmer decides not to pursue, and the other two heroes move up to join him, gathering up dropped weapons. Wesley gives Petra the lamp to relight and digging some bandages out of his pack, begins to see to everyones wounds.

There is a faint splashing sound. “What’s that?” asks Petra. It comes again, from behind, louder this time, rather like a ball being dropped into water. They turn as one, and a massive red spherical creature, smelling strongly of dung, bounces into them. Petra and Wesley are sent sprawling into the dirty water, whilst the creature bites savagely at Grimmer, wounding him badly (one critical wound inflicted).

He strikes back, but the creature is too hard to hit due to its constant bouncing movement. Suddenly it throws itself backwards, hitting Petra and knocking her over again, losing both the lamp and her pistol, but fortunately missing with its bite. Wesley, emerging spluttering from the water into darkness, pulls out his dagger and attempts to stab at where he thinks the creature is, but the darkness and its weird movements defeat him. With a bellow, Grimmer throws himself at the creature, slicing its side open, and pinning it down with his sword, whilst Wesley, more through luck than judgement manages to eviscerate the immobilized creature.

As Petra drags herself from the muddy water in total darkness, she hears the now familiar splashing of a large body on water. She barely has time to shout a warning before something massive smashes into her again, knocking her newly recovered sword from her hand and inflicting a deep bite on her shoulder. She thrashes wildly as the creature stands on her, holding her underwater, desperately trying not to breathe in the filthy water, trying not to die.

And suddenly the pressure is off, and strong hands haul her out of the mud. With a strange mournful cry the creature can be heard bounding away down the tunnel, loud splashes marking every leap. Grimmer yells a few obscenities after it, but seems too exhausted to do any more.

The three heroes lean against the dripping tunnel walls, exhausted, before making another attempt to set themselves right. Wesley’s bandages are ruined, so he binds up everyone’s wounds as best he can with strips torn from Grimmer’s shirt, the only one who’s clothes are half dry. Petra empties her pistol of wet powder and re-packs it, unsure how well it will work. She then gropes around in the dark to recover the lamp, which is miraculously unbroken. A few tense moments looking for her tinderbox before she finds it and relights the lamp, before recovering the other lamp dropped further back.

As they push on, the tunnels rise a little and the water recedes. The tracks of the fleeing goblins are easily seen, and three advance cautiously. More piles of spoil are dotted around the tunnels, and a few broken tools can be seen. “Must be nearing the work face,” remarks Grimmer, and indeed, ahead can be seen a darker band of minerals across the rock face. “Coal,” says the dwarf, gathering some of the black mineral up and putting it a pile. “Make a nice fire.”

With Wesley and Petra shivering, there’s nothing to do but make a blaze to dry off in front of. Still no food, and their stomachs make their protests heard – grumbling by the two humans is quickly quashed by Grimmer. “Two more days you promised me. Do you go back on your word?” Petra and Wes grudgingly agree. (All three are now burdened with two fatigue points from cold, exertion and lack of food).

An hour or so later, they all feel warm enough to explore a little, and they spread out, looking for goblin sign. In a few moments their is a shout from Wesley and they gather around a small cave-in. “The tracks lead down here – there’s another tunnel,” he shouts, and clambers over the cave in. “The collapse must have revealed it.”

All three slip into the new tunnels, and Grimmer draws in a breath. They stand in a great echoing corridor, with an arched ceiling and small carvings set regularly at the apex. The walls are flat and mirror smooth, and the passage runs straight as an arrow, wide enough to take ten walking abreast. “This is dwarf work!” he says. “The Underway.”

Aftermath

Well, that was a lot of fun. I love the way the players lack of preparation comes back to bite them on the bum – no food, bad lights [how much lamp oil have they got left?], no clue about what they’re doing. And fighting in darkness with bad lights is really effective; even a weak enemy is a challenge in those circumstances. The players were getting quite worried, what with arrows flicking out at them, and no idea where the enemy were. And when the first squig appeared they were panic stricken. Great fun.

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