With dawn approaching and spells and hit points low for all, especially Ark, whose injuries and scarring remained severe despite magical healing, the party was hard-pressed to decide where to rest. After some discussion, they decided to retreat to the small room at the foot of the secret stairs where the rescued merchants had been cloistered.
When the party arrived at the secret chamber, however, the merchants were gone. Valen crept up the stairs and overheard a conversation between what sounded like the rescued merchants and members of the town guard – the merchants had not obeyed the party’s request and had revealed themselves, and the secret passage! As Valen crept back down the stairs, he slipped and alerted the guards above. As the guards above rained arrows down the secret stairs, the party surmised that this was only a distraction – that they were likely sending more fighters down the main stairs to ambush the party from behind.
In the Ogre’s lair (the only access point between the secret stairs and main stairs) Schlomo, Blars and Shecky piled the ogre’s filthy bedding in front of the door and doused it with oil. Gabriel took position at the foot of the secret stairs, defending the crossing against the arrows from above. After completing the trap and lighting it, the party (guarded by Gabriel and led by Ark) crossed through the secret doors into the deeper part of the dungeon which Valen had only started to explore. As they closed the door behind them, they heard the screams of the guards as they were caught in the fire left behind in the ogre’s lair.
The party moved cautiously into the deeper dungeon, looking for a place to rest. They crossed an odd barrier trap of some kind, but were unable to locate its point of activation. Just as they found a secret room concealing the apparatus used to raise the barrier (which had not fallen), they heard approaching footsteps. They hid and surprised two human guards wearing black cloaks adorned with a fiery eye. They killed one guard and subdued another, dragging him into the secret room they’d just found. They interrogated the guard, Cheney-style, but were able to learn only a few details about the dungeon – the guard was clearly more afraid of his master’s wrath than of death. Additionally, Gabriel and other members of the party concerned about morality were concerned with some methods used during the interrogation, creating some tension in the party. After having squeezed what they could, the party gagged the prisoner and rested. Those keeping watch heard passing guards several times during the night.
After resting, the party decided to investigate in the direction from which the guards had come, proceeding swiftly, knowing that eventually someone would notice the missing guards. In a side passage, they stumbled upon a lone Gnoll warrior in a black-with-eye cloak, who ran from them. The party pursued, and found themselves in a stand-off at the mouth of a large room with a band of six heavily-armed gnoll warriors. The party fought carefully, making use of the doorway and shape of the room, and, despite taking heavy damage, defeated the gnolls and subdued their captain. Upon interrogation by Valen (who speaks Gnoll) and Ark (who speaks violence), overseen by Gabriel (to ensure no torture was taking place), it became clear the gnoll captain was disgruntled and could be persuaded to reveal info if properly paid.
The party paid handsomely, and in return the gnoll captain drew a map outlining the route out of the dungeon, as well as the location of the “master:” acording to the gnoll, a self-important human named Lareth. They learned that Lareth was guarded heavily, and that he ruled his people through fear. They also learned that Lareth and his people, as far as the gnoll knew, had no connection to Lt. Paul’s bandits, but that Lareth’s people had used Paul’s banditry as cover for their own. They also learned that the gnolls hated Lareth, for some reason, and that Lareth had some connection to the old Temple of Elemental Evil. Beyond that, the gnoll either did not know or wouldn’t say. After receiving his gold, the gnoll vowed to leave quietly without alerting anyone. Ark followed him briefly to ensure his quick departure.
The party then debated how to proceed. Some of the party wanted to quietly leave and present their proof against Lt. Paul to the mayor of Hommlet, Grondarian. Some wanted to confront the master, Lareth, and the evil and torture he represented. Others wanted to explore further into the dungeon, at least to the “crypts” they’d learned of, in search of any treasure they might find. The explorers won the day, and the party proceeded to the crypts.
In the crypts, the party battled a pair of fast-moving, voracious undead with multiple attacks (no one could identify the type of undead) and defeated them. In the monsters’ nest (and the tunnels beyond), they discovered a small amount of treasure, including a potion and a magical scroll. As they were deciding how to proceed, they heard the approach of footsteps. A black-cloaked guard rounded the corner, saw them, and ran, yelling an alert to (presumably) the rest of his group. The party had been discovered!
Quickly, the party retreated into the secret tunnel which led back to the Ogre’s grim torture chamber. Behind them, the sound of many soldiers filled the crypts. The party climbed up a long ladder to the torture chamber. As they rested and strategized, Ark crept out into the main room to keep watch. Moments later, he spotted an advanced party of black-cloaked guards creeping into the relatively dark main room. He hid behind a pillar and watched as two humans and two bugbears emerged. He picked up a small stone and tried to throw it back at his party who were concealed 15 yards away…and missed. Critically. The clatter of his badly thrown stone against the very pillar behind which he was hiding alerted the advance party to his presence, and the guards attacked Ark.
The rest of the party joined in the melee. One of the human guards ran, disappearing into the ogre’s lair. As the party battled the remaining guards, Valen spotted Hommlet town guard Jon Straw, with another guard, crouched and watching from the main stairs. As the battle wound down and the party dispatched the black-cloaked bugbears, Straw and his companion fired a few shots at the party, before vanishing back up the stairs.
The party finally dispatched both bugbears and their human companion. The party, many (including Ark) severely wounded, turned to each other to regroup, knowing this might be only a momentary lull in the battle. Behind them were two ways out – one to the crypts, which was minutes ago filled with the black-cloaked guards, one through the ogre’s lair, from which the recently defeated black-cloaks had emerged. Ahead was another way out – up the stairs, following the same path as Jon Straw and his lackeys.
Will the black-cloaks continue to pursue them? With a day now having passed, what is the status of Jon Straw and Lt. Paul in the world above? And what should the party pursue? Proof of Lt. Paul’s bandit activity? More details about what might be new activity in service of the Temple of Elemental Evil? Possible treasure which might still be found in the unexplored dungeon? Or is the right path at this point simple self-preservation?