Once I'd explained the difference between going to a sage and just listening for rumours (more expensive, but the answer is guaranteed accurate, and if he doesn't know he'll refund your money) the players decided it would be a good idea to visit Cedric. They asked him for a couple maps of the local area; one just around the Keep, and another of the wilderness a few days beyond. He readily agreed, and they came to terms of 50 gp now, 50 gp on delivery if they're satisfied with the map. Swallowing his pride because Cedric is a travelling sage whose reputation has not yet shown itself around here, he agreed.
Meanwhile, the party has been getting a bit of a reputation as the Slayers of the Basilisk. The local townsfolk have been showing them respect, buying them drinks, and generally treating them like minor celebrities.
After their week of healing, they decided to head back out to the newly christened Basilisk Cave to see if they couldn't find out any more information or ferret out any more treasure. Since they knew the location, they could easily go back. (I didn't roll a 1, they didn't get lost.)
When they got there, they immediately noticed that the smell had changed - more musky, less acrid. Sending the elf to peek his head in, they discovered a bear had taken up residence and was currently napping. Considering the problem for a good long while of quiet back-and-forth outside the cave, they decided the smartest course was to Sleep the bear, then slit its throat. Further discussion led to spending a day smoking the bear meat and trying to salvage the pelt (that didn't go well).
Braving the cave again, they decided to retrace their steps to the basilisk room. There they found the statues of their erstwhile friends, as well as the unmolested corpse of the basilisk, still fairly fresh. Turns out basilisk is highly poisonous. Pablo had a stroke of genius, then: he jimmied off one of the lizard's scales. Pius quickly decided to help, and they managed to remove the rest after a short bit of bloody work.
Meanwhile the party bust down the rest of the doors uninterrupted, finding all the rooms to be much like the first two, with only the mummified lizard as the object of possible value. (It actually is worth ~100 GP to an apothecary for various medical preparations, but they still haven't asked anyone.)
The one room on the west wall was different. It looked more ornate, though in monkish fashion; it had a tapestry so old and rotted away it could not be discerned and crumbled into wet dust at the first touch on the north wall, and the old 'dresser' and 'bed' were inconspicuously carved with symbols of snakes and other reptilian figures. Then the elf noticed that the stone of the southern wall didn't quite meet the joint, and after a little inspection they found that it was a secret door designed to slide to one side.
Cue the search for the trigger, which took much longer than it should have because they searched everywhere it wasn't, including the northern wall (with its own secret door that they failed to find, concealing the as-yet unpillaged temple treasury). Eventually they found press switch recessed under the lip of the bed, and the door slid back. They were unable to make sense of what was revealed: an old collapsed bed with what looked like an ancient elven mummy/skeleton on top of it. However, they did make sense of the torc it wore, and took that before leaving to explore further, neglecting to search and so not finding the box of silver handcuffs underneath the remains of the bed.
Pressing on through the bronze doors, they came to what was a dining hall, and the explanation of what became of this place. There was a hole in the ceiling, and under it was the remains of an old bronze cage. Seated at the long table were six extremely realistic statues of lizard men, albeit with some anatomical oddities - larger crania, finer fingers, and (though they didn't get close enough to see this) the suggestion of feathers.
Poking around the room they didn't find much of interest - all the cookware long since degraded, the sound of dripping water coming from the hole - but Elarian did check the doorway to the southwest. He heard snakes, lots of slithering snakes, and saw that the walkway ended in a jagged break-off not that far along. The party decided to avoid the 'snake-pit', thereby avoiding the one treasure I really hoped they'd find. Alas.
Instead they poked their way up through the ceiling, finding a natural cavern. Faced with a choice, they curved left, coming eventually to a widening cavern that something-or-other was using as a trash-heap. After poking around in the trash and getting freaked out when some of it moved, they discovered that a) it was covered with a sticky, tarry substance, and b) magic missile didn't make it stop moving.
Player of Pius: "Wait, did we just strike oil?" (No, no you didn't. You found an immature black pudding.)
Losing interest, they went further, heading straight instead of right at another fork. This is when they found a foul-smelling cavern and the source of the weeping and moaning that had been suffusing the whole place. The floor was covered with pools of green goop. And at the back of the cavern, a shambling pile of the stuff, whence the cries, reared up and started shuffling toward them. When a Sleep spell didn't put it down, they took the wise course and decided to bug out and back to town.
Personally, I'm proud of this encounter. The shambling pile of goop is actually a troll who years ago was exposed to green slime. It has been eating away at him ever since, but his natural regeneration has kept him from completely succumbing, though it is somewhat compromised now, as are his Hit Dice. He's quite insane as well from the pain. However, what he wants most of all is for it to stop, so as soon as someone thinks to use fire, he would gladly just sit down and burn to death. Perhaps not terribly original, but I like the combination.
Anyhow, back in town the players decided to wait for the completion of their map, taking odd jobs and living off the fame of being the basilisk slayers for a bit. In the meanwhile, Pablo and Elarian took the scales to the local leatherworker and had him make a pair of cloaks, for which there was just enough material because this was for an elf and a halfling.
When the maps were ready (a subject of a different post), they went to see Cedric and managed to avoid paying any more for his work by instead bargaining information and their incomplete map of the Caves of the Unknown. Cedric was ecstatic - it's not every day you make a brand new discovery - and now considers the party his friends. Which doesn't mean he'll charge them less, but it does mean he likes them and is willing to put their commissions first - excepting of course the Lord of the Keep, by whom he hopes to be kept on retainer.
Armed with their new maps, the PCs set out for the Caves of Chaos. Amusingly, they came at them backward, which is to say through the woods from the direction of the Caves of the Unknown rather than from the road as Gary intended. Because of this, the kobolds hiding in the tree don't see them, and they naturally decide to check out the first cave mouth:
|This one right here. The one with the gnolls.|
Gnolls hate elves with a passion. So they open fire. Gim is seriously injured, but not dead. (0 hp) The party rushes the gnolls, who somehow manage to not only hold off these superior numbers but actually inflict wounds and strike down Pablo when he takes a swing at one of their shins. Morale broken, the party runs, picking up Gim but leaving Pablo's body behind. That's fine; gnolls love halflings!
After patching Gim up enough so he can walk, the party returns to town to lick their wounds and plan. They buy lots of oil, some buckets, and some rope. They also consult Cedric.
It turns out that gnolls hate and fear uncontrolled fire. Also, they have very sensitive noses with a keen sense of smell. Which means, one of the players realizes, that one way to disable them would be to muck with their sense of smell - much like how if you want to get bloodhounds off your trail, you spread cayenne pepper along the ground. The party promptly thanks Cedric and goes off to buy as much powered horseradish as they can get their greedy mits on.
An aside: the party's Magic User, Jib, is a halfling with strange ideas. Rather than considering what he does magic, he calls it 'vougence' and carries around a large, complicated, tubular piece of machinery he calls the Elliptotron. It is with this that he casts Magic Missile.
The horseradish thus acquired, it is decided, can be stuffed down the barrel of the Elliptotron and, if Jib prepares Magic Missile that day, he can shoot it out one 'dose' at a time. Or, if he actually casts Magic Missile, it will all come out in a sort of Poor Man's Dust of Sneezing and Choking. He has enough for six such 'doses'.
Also in town they run across Juan, Pablo's brother who got a letter from his dear sibling and came out to help him make his fortune. Alas, too late, but he has the family resemblance.
Back to the gnoll cave at slightly after dawn, the party sets up their trap. First, they saturate the ground outside the cave with oil. Jib, Elarian and Pius hide above the cave. Gim and Rori, a new fighter from a new player that night, flank the cave to take care of any gnolls who come out. The plan is for Juan to run in, insult the gnolls so they run after him, and then dash back out. When the gnolls are outside the cave, those above will drop buckets of oil on them, and then light it on fire.
The plan works fairly well, except that one of the gnolls is missed by his bucket. Regardless, they burn nicely. However, as before two of the gnolls had gone further into the cave to bring out reinforcements. We ended up with an archery battle across the burning pit, which was something of a standoff because, while the gnolls had more HP, they only had one bow.
Eventually it became clear to the party that the rest of the gnolls had no intention of coming out and facing the fire, which was dying down at that point anyway. Plucking up their courage, Gim, Jib, Elarian, and Rori rush into the cave to face off the ~8 gnolls gathered there, hoping to put them out of commission with Jib's Magic Missile. Unfortunately this proves to be a tactical mis-step, as Rori takes an axe to the skull and Jib is cut down before he can finish the spell. Elarian rushes to take up the Elliptotron and finish the work. One of the gnolls slices into him as well, but he manages to hang onto consciousness just long enough to loose the powder. (He was at exactly 0 HP; I rolled to see if he managed to keep the spell and if he managed to get it off before losing consciousness.) Down went the gnolls, too concerned with the excruciating pain in their noses to put up a fight, and the PCs promptly slit their throats. The final casualty list was 3 PCs to 12 gnolls; pretty good for level 1.
Then, rather than press forward, they decided to retire back to town. They were severely depleted, and it was late. We'll pick this up again in the coming Saturday, though we'll be down one player, because he moves this week to sunnier pastures. Hopefully we can find a replacement. (If not, 3 is an acceptable number for now.)
Meanwhile the gnoll chieftan has to figure out what to do about his depleted tribe. The PCs are going to take at least a couple days to recuperate, so the bugbears are going to come sniffing about, smelling weakness. However, they'll be repulsed once they find there are still 13 able-bodied gnolls. The gnolls will send to their disaffected kin in the Moathouse, but they won't arrive for months. However, all the males that are normally in the common room will be stationed in the entrance, and they'll have built a makeshift barricade out of the old burnt table, broken chairs, and mounds of earth and branches.