Monday, 17 March 2008

Barbigazl: Part Four

Episode Four: The Battle of Hurin and Orpin’s men [by Peter A. The picture is of the Bard (c) Paul Kidby.]

Hurin's Dwarven heroes change their enemy, with the Gnomes drawing their war hammers in response. At the roar the PCs stand, confused and suddenly torn between duty and conscience. At last the majority join the fray as the Gnomes reveal their master weapon - an oil-spewing flame thrower called The Salamander. The melee is bitter and much blood is spilled, after shouts of protest from Panadyn and Argon to a determined Hurin the battle as nearly at its height; Dwarven axes swing and mighty Gnome hammers, while from the ranks of the Gnomes glass globes are tossed to burst on the stoned streets in clouds of quicklime or choking Yellow Mould. Having avoided battle and detached Lotus shakes his head and walks off. Thaddeus joins him, disgusted at the murder Hurin has ordered from them.

The battle continues and the Dwarves have the upper hand when the normally silent Mufin bellows in agony. Blinded by quicklime he’s an easy target for a further missile, and is soon enveloped in suffocating Yellow mould spores, who chokes to death as the remaining Gnomes see their chance to flee, leaving those mortally wounded or paralysed by Kogaun’s wand to the scant mercy of the Dwarves. Argon is distraught, but seeing the destruction wrought by the Gnomes inventions he realises that it is a battle anticipated by both sides, and helps Panadyn attend to the wounded. Kogaun has a paralysed Gnome restrained and removes the enchantment. Speaking to the captive in his native tongue he Charms the Gnome and, whether this works or not, the prisoner cooperates.

The Gnome’s name is Morf and he is from the nearby village of Azhfelton. Hand-picked from its own guard he has been invested as one of the self-named Hammers of Orpin, a band sent to find Barbigazl and within its halls the last treasure of Orpin the ancestral king of the great Gnome capital Gundolar. Through a memorised rhyme Morf tells them of Orpin, who forged an alliance with the Dwarves of Nikulburg, but lost their friendship when the symbol of that union was stolen by Hrothgar of Barbigazl. The oath of revenge has lasted for generations, and now with the Dwarf kingdom found, Orpins message 'send to Redbeak heavy hammers, Orpins opal there to find' has been invoked. [At this point, I took over Morf. Although technically the Charm person lasts days, my view was that as Morf wasn't stupid (very high in), so he could either follow the rest of the party, or be happily slaughtered by the Dwarves around him... - JE]

The plot has thickened, and the broader tale of Hurin's quest has become broader still. The party is left wondering how the Gnomes of Orpin have been involved in the fall of Barbigazl - if indeed they are. The salamander is confined to the depths of the chasm, and as they ponder this and lay out their fallen in a nearby drinking hall they discover they are not alone - a slight man with a makeshift harp has been sheltering in the hall and once discovered claims he is a Bard, lost from his party who came 'the lower way' several weeks ago. [I preferred the idea of a teleport spell, but didn't get to get that in. - JE] Ambushed by goblins they scattered and were separated before they could reach the hall of kings. Emboldened by the large party about him, he offers his services to Hurin, and his knowledge of Barbigazl’s upper halls. So the Bard joins Hurin's retinue and a way to the central pillar, the hall of kings is found. Crossing the bridge they reach a vast amphitheater with sturdy pillars sporting its upper levels and narrow bridges to either sides of the cavern. Morf says that the side opposite the village is another of the same - so the last bridge - to the north, is unknown to him.

Over the bridge sunlight penetrates a wide and narrow chamber strewn with vegetation long-since dead. This is a garden gallery split in two levels, and further up the stars is a ruined doorway and darkness beyond. Exploring the new room the party quickly discover the Hall of Records, the Mazarbul they have been looking for – but their chance to hunt further for clues to the fate of Barbigazl is soon dash as they find bodies on the floor – recently dead, by any count, and as they inspect these great bats issue from dark spaces in the walls. They have been ambushed! As the corpses rise, fangs flashing, the party realize they are facing their gravest threat yet – a party of vampires. The fight is desperate. The heroes are cut off from the outside chamber and have to fight their way through, while Argon’s magical Ring of Undead Control is almost powerless against the number they are up against. Surprisingly, the latest addition to Hurin’s party, the Bard, presents his harp and begins to play a bloody tune of heroics, and filled with the zeal of battle the party meet their undead foes with new vigour. [Don't remember doing that then. - JE] But Panadyn takes a hit, as does the Bard, both shaken and drained by the blows. [Bloody XP drainers! At this point, the Bard started getting a mad on for vampires. - JE] A Silence spell cast by Alrick makes short work of the bats flying among them, and gradually the PCs edge their way out of the chamber and into the sunlight-flooded gardens. The vampires thus trapped (and some destroyed), Kogaun sends them a fireball to remember the party by, and disheartened (not least by the damage the fireball will doubtless do to the historic records within) Hurin leads his men out into the halls once more, to seek the chambers of their last king.

A spiral stair from the Hall leads up to the hearthguards’ chambers – barren, while concealed entrances in its ceiling leads to the King’s chamber, the last rest of Hrothgar, king of Barigazl – so Hurin’s supposed ancestor Harga was not the king he was supposed to be. The party’s mood is somber further, for their efforts to regain Hurin’s birthright are slowly fading. Eventually a way to the Queen’s chamber is found, and the heroes emerge into an opulent space, with furnishings most unlike those of a Dwarven queen, and naturalistic artifacts and detailing betraying a distinctly non-Dwarven aesthetic. In the corner is a harp which the Bard deduces to have an enchantment within its workings – with little bidding it tells the last sad tale of Barbigazl, of the dragon who imprisoned its people and their Queen within the chambers to die, and of the Queen herself, born to nobility in far off Gundolar, betrothed to Thain the king of Nikilburg in a political arrangement – and stolen by a besotted (and possibly confused) Hrothgar to be Queen to his people. With that the secret of Barbigazl’s doom and the impossibility of a direct line to Hurin is realized. After some shouting and grim meditation, the would-be king and his retinue return to the halls to seek what treasures might wait below, and for confirmation that the bodies of Hrothgar and Nim his queen, Orpin’s pearl, still lie there.

The crypt below the great hall indeed exists, and is guarded by Thouls. In the confusion and with his memory fading (for he had met these fiends before), Panadyn attempts to turn the creatures and is numbed by their poisonous claws. Demoralised by the ruin about them, it takes some time for the Dwarves to better their enemies and continue below further, past the expected ‘zarkofargi’ of Hrothgar and Nim, to the treasures of the hall. Their torches flickering in dark, Hurin’s remaining allies see gold and coins bearing foreign and forgotten names, gifts of musical instruments. As they pore over their finds the moving shadows of the chamber come to life and swoop on them. The Bard is nearly felled as his strength ebbs at the Shadows’ touch. [Don't remember that. Do remember singing of heroics at this point though - JE] Panadyn attempts to turn them, but can’t to his frustration, and it is only by the power of their various enchanted weapons that the party make their exit from the room, back up the tight stairwell, to emerge once more in the Kings’ Hall where they are surrounded utterly by a full retinue of Dwarves, sturdy and hateful, their helms and shields bearing the distinctive crossed mattock and hammer of Nikilburg.

To be concluded...


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