Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Have Fun Mapping the Castle...!


I've always loved it.

Within the realm of RPGs — especially D&D — I've always thought it to be an essential part of the experience. Whether it's coming up with maps for a campaign (or adventure) you're creating as a DM, or mapping out the adventure as a player during a dungeon crawl ... or even just appreciating found maps that don't even pertain to your own games — maps are such an institution of the imagination.

I've been an illustrator all of my life. Not a professional one, but I do it for fun, for catharsis, for brainstorming purposes (which I guess in some way I could make a case for being a professional per se in that I "illustrate" concepts when I'm designing graphical interfaces for software?). I do it to crack myself up ... or my 8yo son with cartoons, doodles, and the like at times. But my love for drawing lends itself really well to cartography in relation to RPGs. I love coming up with dungeons in my mind, and then making them come to life on a sheet of graph paper for my eyes only — well, at least until my players decide to delve into my campaigns.

This year I've taken a break from DMing and switched roles to be a PC, which has been amazing. I completely forgot how much I enjoy creating a character and bringing them to life in a well-run campaign. And as a PC, I've always been the party member volunteering to record the party's journey via a solid map. What better way to record an awesome adventure (and to share with the rest of the party, as well as other gamers out there) then with a fun, detailed map. Communication through experience design is what I do for a living, so mapping is just another extension of my day-to-day.

Recently, my son started to express some interest in D&D — he's 8, which was how old I was when I fist discovered that awesomeness of the game (back in '79). He's a Minecraft junkie, so "adventuring" and building is in his blood, and has become something he's pretty passionate (obsessive?) about. Believe me, I was thrilled to discover his interest, so I spent a weekend coming up with a "simple" first-time adventure idea which I hope to share with him soon as his "entry" into the world of fantasy tabletop roleplaying. The map is a small section of an undercity sewer system — an exciting 1st-level jaunt involving magical mushroom men and a diabolical rat king.

Creating this was so much fun, and really inspired me to up my game with cartography — both as a DM and player — especially as I see how many awesome mappers there are out there, with styles running the gamut. I could get lost in RPG map Pinterest pages for days... it's almost too overwhelming!

One fun nugget I discovered in my map research (yes, research is such an important part of the game) was dungeons illustrated on isometric graph paper. Their perspective was incredible, yet can be very challenging as an illustrator due to it's angling. But once you start playing around with it, it starts to make total sense, and brings the mapping game into a whole new light. There are a ton of isometric graph paper resources on the web, so I found a simple free one that allows you to generate your own custom layout/grid as a PDF which you can print until your printer melts. There's only one "problem" in that once you get the hang of mapping isometrically, it's a definite mental challenge (at least for me) to switch gears and go back to the standard 2D "top-down" approach to adventure recording. I will always love that standard, but there's something about the level of satisfaction one gets from illustrating a dungeon crawl on isometric paper. It's almost liberating, honestly (it sounds somewhat bizarre to even type that, but I'm at a loss for a different word to properly articulate how it makes one feel...). So after this weekend's awesome session, I decided to re-illustrate the map I had created during the adventure, and give it an isometric treatment...

Not only is the literal mapping a very enjoyable part of the journey, adding detailing to the final product really helps to elevate the experience — especially since I never take gaming too seriously, I mean it's supposed to be fun... it's a game. So a lot of my details end up being certain things that we (as adventurers) encountered in the session, and often those events are best expressed through tongue-in-cheek ways.

So as 2018 has become a year of gaming, I hope to continue my mapping (and general illustrations) because it's become an extremely therapeutic experience and in the end is a whole lot of fun!

Saturday, January 13, 2018

2018: The Year of Gaming!

So I've been gaming for a long time. I was first introduced to Dungeons & Dragons in 1979. I was 8 years old (same age as my son, Lars — whom I've been trying to get interested in RPGs, but no dice yet. He's more "Minecraftian" at this point.) and it blew my f'in mind. I remember going to some local stationary store with my grandmother (yes, things like that once existed) and for some reason they also had a bizarre hobby/gaming section. And there it stood in all of it's glory — the Monster Manual. I grabbed it immediately and fling it open ... the first thing I saw was the illustration of THE EYE OF THE DEEP staring right back at me ... and I was completely mesmerized. Up to that point I loved bizarre shit — myths + monsters, sci-fi, aliens, creatures from the black lagoons — and I had an overly active imagination, which just fueled this new "fire" known as roleplaying games.

Needless to say I my grandmother bought me that book that day (I guess she also saw the fire in my eyes), and I still have the damn thing. I don't think I put that manual down for a year. I was totally fascinated, and was dying to actually PLAY the game, but I didn't know anyone my age who had ever heard about it (and I really didn't know the rules, per se). Eventually that year one of my parent's friend's older kids saw me reading the MM and was like, "Right on, little dude!" He agreed to teach me how to play the game, and let me sit on a few impromptu sessions with his friends while listening to Rush and Sabbath. Needless to say, I never looked back...

Well, almost 40 years later, I still absolutely love the game — and gaming in general — but I found I'm still a total "purist" when it comes to most RPGs. With D&D, I never advanced past 2nd edition rules (even some of them are a bit questionable). When TSR was losing market share, they decided to change shit up with the entire concept of the game — I can only guess as a way to increase retention while building a newer audience — by making characters ridiculously powerful and basically lifted game restrictions around a lot of things that (in my mind) ruined the game and make it way too "Mall Metal/Hot Topic" for my liking. From a business perspective, in some ways I understood ... I just didn't like it. Over the years I stuck to the old rules — the only rules, in my opinion — and enough people did as well, so I've been able to continually play (mostly sporadically) and still keep that fire I had for the game ever since that Monster Manual moment.

One of the best things around gaming for this long is that I've made some amazing friends who share that passion — and that's pretty priceless — especially since I'm not the biggest fan of humans as time has gone by. We suck, but the games allow for a much-needed "level-setting" of humanity's imagination and creativity where we can pretend for a moment and transcend the insanity around us.

In 2016-17, I tried to run my most recent in-person campaign (which wasn't really a true "campaign" in that it was more a series of adventures using the same party, just without a single mission), but scheduling and bandwidth were a continual problem. Things dwindled and eventually fell apart. It wasn't for lack of trying — 2017 was a bitch of a year for everyone I know. It wasn't in the stars...

So I'm calling 2018 the "Year of Gaming" in order to make up for last year. For the first time I've gotten involved in a bunch of remote/online D&D sessions with (for the most part) complete strangers from around the globe. This time as a player — usually I'm the DM, but it was time to take a break from the "heavy lifting" for a bit. Initially, I was a little hesitant. What should I expect? But it's been great, and it's again "relit" that fire. I'm also considering attending some area gaming conferences, which was never on the bill. I always thought they were way too "nerdy" ... but screw it, I am total nerd — who am I kidding? I'm cool with that. It's all good... Even last week I posted a map (from a recent online session) I had illustrated one weekend morning just because I love illustrating, shared it in the Holmes Basic Google+ community on a suggestion, and now it's going to be part of an adventure being played at the NTRPGCon in Dallas this year. That is pretty awesome and completely unexpected.

Needless to say, I think we all need to have a bit more fun this year to make up for last year ... and gaming is an incredible vehicle for it!

Monday, March 28, 2016

Orcs, Stage Left!… The Halls of Tizun Thane Pt. 2

After a much needed rest, the bold group of adventurers are curious about the large stairwell that leads down into the darkness from their encampment room. They carefully toss a torch down the stairs to get a better look and find a closed pair of giant, ornate iron doors at the stair landing. The thieves agree to investigate further, and creep down to the doors and are able to peek through a thin slit where the doors meet. All they can make out is a flickering fire and some metal "clanking" sounds beyond — obviously something is going on beyond this portal.

The party, however, decides to hold off from exploring the lower level of the palace for now. Instead, they opt for a rune-covered door within the skeleton chamber where they had been camping. Beyond it they find the magical workshop of what might be a necromancer, due to the morbid items and various body parts they discovered. A huge magical symbol is etched into the center of the room's smooth stone floor, covered with semi-dried blood (and other fluids) and well-used, melted candles encircling the symbol — very dubious indeed. In the NE corner of the room, amidst a bas-relief wall carving, one of the thieves discovers a secret door armed (and disarmed!) with a deadly acid trap. Beyond the secret door is a small room containing several motionless, armored figures. Thinking the statues could be more animated skeletons (as per the previous room), the cleric attempts to take the initiative and smash them before they can start the melee. Just as he hits the closest figure, the floor collapses below his bounding foot to a steep stone ramp into a pool of dark, murky water. The cleric, in his platemail, loses the battle with gravity and immediately falls down the ramp, into the water, entangled in the closest suit of armor (with no skeletons within!).

Quickly, the party grabs a rope and tosses it to the cleric as he sinks like a stone. Making a successful dexderity check, the cleric grabs the rope before his head drops below the water surface. Thrashing about and trying to move back towards the room, the cleric feels something in the water attempting to latch on to his leg, which causes him to panic and begin to thrash about the water. One of the thieves climbs the wall of the room to get a better look and can see a giant lamprey trying to get a hold of the cleric. The half-ogre and a few others pull the rope and try to get the cleric out of the pool — but as they do the lamprey latches on successfully and begins to suck blood from the cleric's thigh.  Now they are pulling the soaked cleric, the attached giant lamprey and a full suit of platemail armor entangled on the cleric's other leg — a rather hefty load. They are able to rescue the cleric, and slay the lamprey before it drains more blood than the cleric can spare!

Meanwhile the thief who was climbing the room's southern wall discovers a secret door in the SE corner. As the thief opens the secret door, a sword-wielding zombie quickly strikes at him, barely making contact. The thief successfully jumps to the north wall as two zombies pursue him and fall into the water below. Now on the wall diagonal from the open secret door, the thief can see two more zombies within the room the secret door led, quickly advancing. While attempting to get a better vantage point, he fails his climb roll and falls into the water, now between the two zombies that are thrashing about the murk.

He begins to swim, while the rest of the party starts a volley of arrows into the room aiming at the attacking zombies, while Valmont and the wizard leave the room in an attempt to find a back entrance into the room which the zombies are emerging.

The thief almost makes it out of the water to the top of the ramp before one of the zombies slashes him in the back with his axe, knocking him unconscious. The two other zombies quickly fall out of the room and into the water pursuing the rest of the party atop the ramp.

At this point, the second thief attempts to climb the walls in this room as well to attack the slashing zombie from above, but fails and falls into the murky water below, directly on top of the pair of zombies. The attacks from the party vanquish the hideous undead, while the unconscious thief is rescued before drowning.

Valmont and the wizard find the small room where the zombies has emerged, and discover a locked chest and return with it to it back to the magical workshop. The thieves disarm an electric shock trap and lock, and discover a handful of potions inside (four of which seem to be of healing — which the party begins to utilize with their injured members. They also discover more hidden treasure in another chest within a trapdoor in this room's floor.

The adventurers lock themselves in the workshop and set up camp again, not planning on having been engulfed in some chaotic melee prior. While taking turns on guard duty, certain members could hear movement back and forth outside of the room's single door, seemingly moving up and down the set of stairs throughout the night.

Once fully rested and healed, they take their chances and open the workshop door. Luckily the room with the stairs is empty, but they feel they cannot proceed within the palace without first investigating this lower level, especially after hearing so much activity throughout the night.

They quietly creep down the stairwell to the other iron doors and slowly open them to get a peek at what lays beyond. It opens to a curved hallway to the left and right, but directly across from the doors is an archway that opens to a large torture and smithy chambers where at least a dozen orcs (some living, some undead) are going about their business — a group is torturing a badly mutilated (but still living) elf on a rack; some are making crude armor and weapons, piling up around them (enough for a small army?); while the undead ones are involved in some sort of manual labor of moving supplies around.

The wizard commands his psuedo-dragon to stealthily fly around this curved hallway and chamber so he can use his mind's eye to see what is out there beyond the iron doors. The dragon does so, and the curved hallway completely circumvents the torture chamber, and is outlines with prison cells — some of which hold living (and undead!) prisoners. That hallway is also manned by several armed orc sentries.

The party realizes that they may be able to gather more information around their quest if they had access to the prisoners, plus saving the elf is as noble a cause as any! From the mind's eye of the dragon, the wizard is able to determine that from the door's vantage point there are two orc sentries that are in range if they were to enter the passageway. They quietly do so, taking out one of the guards with a deadly arrow shot, while the other is charmed and pulled back into the stairwell — all done without notice from the torture chamber occupants.

The charmed orc informs them that his tribe is commanded by Sega and Diker Thane — Tizun's necromancer brothers — who are amassing an army of living and undead alike, but he is unaware of for what reason. They also ask him about the merchant's daughter, and he mentions that she might be found in Thane's harem quarters somewhere beyond the open courtyard the had seen two days earlier, and that Diker's quarters is on the second floor of the palace. Sega... they have already dispatched (and whom the cleric is wearing his armor).

Using this charmed orc to their advantage, they command it to get the attention of the orcs with the cleric disguised and playing the part of Sega Thane from afar — specifically targeting the orc chieftain Krognak (who is among the group who is torturing the elf) in the torture chamber to lead them up the stairwell to vanquish them. Unfortunately the chieftain orders a band of his underlings to investigate the matter, and they are quickly subdued — but not before one of the orcs screams out, alarming the remaining torture crew... and battle ensues!!

The gnome illusionist casts colour spray down the stairwell as the chieftain and his guards attack, and he is blinded while the others are knocked unconscious in glorious fashion — and subsequently put down swiftly.

After a well-earned victory, the party rushes to the elf, who gasps out "...in the tower..." before he succumbs to his countless wounds. What could this mean? What's in the tower?

They investigate the cellblock and discover a human fighter, a halfling thief, an insane, mumbling dwarf, an imprisoned orc, and several animated undead (humans, orcs, etc.) that have been kept locked up. The human and halfling grab available orcish weapons and armor (at least what could fit) and happily join the party.  (They release the dwarf, who runs about the cellblock muttering gibberish.) They claim to have been captured by different bands of orcs originating from this palace several weeks past, and have been imprisoned here and tortured for fun. They think that the "Night Things" that the villagers have been fearing are actually these bands of orcs, kidnapping travelers, townsfolk, and adventurers — possibly to slay for this undead army that the charmed orc spoke of?

Now they had to find the merchant's daughter. What was her fate? Was she still alive?

They backtrack to where they first encountered the open courtyard — an area of the palace that was ensnarled with thick vines and massive overgrowth, and was open to the outside world above. In the south part of that room was a door which they had not yet breached. Perhaps on the other side was where the harem was kept...

As they proceed through, past a large pool that has been consumed by the plant life here, the vines come alive with arcane magic and ensnare the cleric — as he investigates the pool for treasure — at an incredible speed and veracity, pulling him taught above the pool. The party chops away at the vines, but they are too many and too nimble to overpower. With delicate hands, the party lobs a few molotov cocktails into the vine bases and consumes them with oil and fire, burning them immediately and releasing the cleric.

Smoke fills the room and escapes out of the open-air roof as the party escapes to the south into a wide patio strewn with large silk cushions, empty wine jugs and debris. The north wall of the patio is lines with small rooms, one of which has an ornate door that is heavily padlocked. The thieves easily pick the lock and gain entrance to the bed chamber where they discover the merchant's daughter — drugged and unconscious. They also score some treasure hidden by the girl and the half-ogre throws her over his shoulder as they leave.

Curious about the other doors within this patio, they open the next one and come face-to-face with a massive ogre — a harem guard and the bodyguard of the girl. After a fierce battle, the ogre falls! The sounds of the battle alert a band of orc troops (led by a one-eyed brutish orc chieftain!) who attack from a larger master bedroom from the east, and are brought down with a volley of arrows and bolts!

The band of adventurers high-tails it out of the harem area and through the courtyard with merchant's daughter in tow — with a plan to bring her back to town, find reinforcements, and return to the palace! They backtrack through the secret door into the audience chamber and then into the banquet hall, where the human prisoner bars the double doors behind them with his bardiche.

As they head towards the massive double doors that lead out of the palace, the doors are flung open and the party comes face to face with a human figure decked out in shining black platemail, wielding a massive black mace that has a pitch aura and a low-end hum as it's twirled.

Is this Diker Thane?

Surrounding him is a group of orcs and several chieftains. Behind them is the iron minotaur golem brandishing his giant trident.

As the party goes to ready their arms, the figure commands them to halt.

"You're surrounded..."

The party looks up to find a slew of orcs in the room's upper balcony with arrows trained on them, and the sound of what seems like a throng of undead bashing at the barricaded double doors behind them.

The man informs the party they can leave with the girl and whatever treasure they may have found, but only if they perform a single task for him — they must destroy the arcane evil that lives in the tower.

The party ask him why they should trust his word... How do they know he won't just kill them?

He simply says, "You have no choice..."

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Of Plays, Players and Grand Adventure… The Halls of Tizun Thane Pt. 1

Traveling the Flanaess in the Archclericy of Valuna — just north of the mystical Lortmil Mountains — our wandering troupe of thespians are seeking a willing audience to bedazzle and inspire with their audacious performances. The players are:

  • Dongus & Humongous: The miniature Gnome Illustionist/Thief and his empathetic Half-Ogre Fighter companion who work as a pair depicting the “villains” of their performances, as well as providing special “effects” and brute stage handedness; 
  • Erasmus Rumpmeister & Lancthedimule Bunstinger, the human dandy thieving duo who sometimes pilfer, and sometimes play the heroines; 
  • Errant Wang, the brash and bold wizard, who assists with the effects and brings even more “magic” to the stage with his pseudo-dragon familiar, Jimmy; 
  • Cankles Roosevelt, the arrogant cleric, who plays the crusader character in their many pantomimes.

Wandering about in their “traveling stage” wagon, the troupe has come across the meek village of Cahli on the banks of the River Asro as it is soon dusk. Cahli’s main industry is a thriving logging trade due to the surrounding woodlands — although from the looks of things, something more sinister and mysterious is afoot. 

The buildings within the town are all made of stone with metal shutters, which the party can see are being locked up tight as night approaches by seemingly fearful residents. They find a stable to house their wagon and mule, and make for the tavern which seems to contain the only available lodging and activity, as well as a chance opportunity for a performance for a thirsty crowd.

They are greeted with open arms by the innkeeper, and are recognized by some of the patrons as the thespians they are — villagers and guests having heard word of their beguiling spectacle — and are offered free lodging and meals for a chance performance. That evening the troupe is greeted by Valmont Dupuis IX, a highwayman and fellow thespian who has been staying at the tavern for the past few evenings on his way through the land, seeking treasure and adventure. Both the barkeep and Valmont relay to them the following information about the town and the surrounding area:

  • The players should stay within the tavern during the night and not, on pain of death, open their room’s shuttered windows because of the “Night Things”.
  • A powerful wizard named Tizun Thane lives to the south of the village. A path that runs out of the village in that direction and through the base of the Lortmil Mountains, eventually leads to his mystical palace. Tizun used to come regularly to the village, but hasn’t been seen for six months. The “Night Things” first appeared shortly after, and also come up from the south.
  • Tizun Thane’s brother, Diker, has sometimes sent men to the village for supplies in the last six months. Nothing has been said, but the indications are that something has happened to Tizun Thane.
  • The Halls of Tizun Thane are rumored to be littered with magic and treasure.
  • The daughter of a merchant in a nearby town has been missing, and presumed dead for over a year, but the merchant is still offering a reward to anyone who recovers her.
  • The villagers would reward anyone who could put a stop to the marauding of the “Night Things” and have mustered 2000 g.p. towards this.

The party travels up the river to the nearby town on Po to confirm with the merchant about his missing daughter, and agree to accept the challenge, even though they soon discover other bands of adventurers have also taken up the quest, but have never returned. The merchant offers a generous bounty, as well as stocking the party with ample supplies for their journey.

The troupe returns to Cahli before dusk to give a final performance before they depart the next morning to the south towards Tizun Thane’s Hall — their minds on the possibilities of treasure, adventure and the merchant's missing daughter.

The southern path leads them through a thick forrest for a few hours without encounter, until the route finally exits to a narrow ravine at the base of the mountain range. Traveling single file, they are attacked by a group of long-haired simians from atop the rock walls of the ravine — some 50' above — whom they vanquish or frighten off, not before being pelted by through rocks and debris.

Soon thereafter, they discover a corpse on the path ahead who’s skull was crushed by a boulder (perhaps one of the missing adventurers who had agreed to find the merchant’s daughter months earlier?). Searching the body, the party finds a roll of parchment bearing a wax seal in which the words “Tizun Thane” are barely legible. Written on the parchment is the message: “To gain entrance, say to the guard, ’Take us to your master.’”

The ravine leads into an enormous volcanic crater filled with water. A waterfall facades down in the southeast; the water flows west quite fast, indicating a subterranean exit. The path leads out onto a rocky peninsula with sheer sides dropping 20’ to the water below. East of the path below is a marshy area. At the end of the peninsula stands the impressive Hall of Tizun Thane, now looking unkempt.

As the party approaches, they can see more long-haired simians (unaware of the approaching troupe) on a part of the palace roof, but also a huge, iron minotaur standing “guard” in the entranceway in front of gigantic double doors.

The party enters the overgrown courtyard of the minotaur, and discovers empty stables, where they park their wagon and tie up their mule. They approach the minotaur and read the message from the found parchment. Upon doing so, the iron minotaur golem turns and opens the doors behind him, slowly entering the Hall. The party cautiously follows.

The golem takes them through a banquet hall, an audience chamber (containing suits of armor, rich tapestries and an ornate throne atop a dais), and a cloistered courtyard before uncovering a secret door (opened through the arm of a statue) that leads them into a hall of mirrors. On the ground in front of one of the enormous, 20’ tall mirrors is the withered corpse of Tizun Thane, his purple robes tattered and his skull caved in. Upon further investigating, the party discovers there is no trace of the wizard’s brain.

Humongous finds a strange ring on the wizard which, upon wielding it, gives him different sight when looking at the mirrors — they no longer have a reflective surface, but each one appears to be a “gateway” into a completely different environment (or dimension?) — and he can pass through them unharmed. He passes through the mirror that’s closest to the wizard’s corpse, and encounters a band of gnolls — and quickly passes back into the hall to inform the others. The gnolls, unaware of the magical gate are a bit too curious and one finds the end of a blade while the others retreat into the cavern whence they came.

Soon thereafter, more gnolls return to “battle” what they cannot see and are turned back with missiles and a molotov cocktail, thus blocking entry or exit through that portal.

The party learns that whomever wields Thane’s ring can pass through any of the “mirrors” within this hall into another realm of the unknown. Very tempting, but too dangerous to attempt … at least at this time.

The adventurers return through the secret door into the courtyard atrium, which is lush in trees, vines, and flora … and open to the outside world. The atrium is large and lined with several doors — some single, some double. The thieves listen at the various doors, but cannot make out any sounds. Their curiosity gets the better of them, so they try one of the single doors and discover a band of goblins occupying an anteroom, and battle soon occurs. Again the group uses their oil to consume the goblins in flame, destroying anything they may have had in their chamber.

They search some of the other atrium side rooms to no avail other than cobwebs and debris. In one room, however, the party surprises a patrol of ant-men who have burrowed out through the floor and have begun to dig through the area. Battle ensues, and they destroy the warriors, but can hear more approaching through the opening below. The adventurers block the hole with more burning oil, and retreat back to the hall of mirrors to retrieve the corpse of Thane. They feel that something much more diabolical could be found within their burrow, and plan to attract the Minotaur golem with the wizard’s body — if perhaps they throw the body down the hole and recall the golem, it will go into the hole and assist them in the breach against an ant-man attack. Problem is that the golem has already returned to the from doors of the palace.

One of the thieves decides to try and make it to the golem while the party brings the corpse to the burning hole. As the party tosses the corpse into the fire, the thief makes it as far as the banquet hall and is met with another group of the smaller simians, but also a much larger “chief” simian. Knowing that the simians are blocking his path, and that battling them would be unwise, the thief hightails it back to the party with the primates in pursuit. At that point another band of ant-men emerge from an adjacent room and engage with the larger simian mid-pursuit, while the party escapes back to the mirrored hall.

As they enter the mirrored hall, they make a dash into the original mirror which contained the gnolls, and proceed to be deflected from the mirrored surface and half the party are knocked unconscious from the concussive affect of the mirror. For some reason, they are unable to pass through the mirrors, even while wielding the magical ring. Dazed and surprised, they decide to make camp and mentally re-strategize on their next moves.

Once they have rested and healed, they look out of the secret passageway that lead them to the hall and see the smaller simians chaotically jumping and running throughout the foliage within the atrium, thus blocking their exit. The wizard commands his Psuedo-Dragon familiar to fly out into the atrium to get a better look, but is jumped by the simians and barely escapes. The cleric then decides to oil up his pet pig to release it into the atrium to distract the primates, but to no avail. The pig dashes into the brush while the simians enter the passageway and attack. The simians are defeated, and the party cautiously exits into the atrium and quickly proceeds to one of the northward double door exits. 

Unable to move silently, they soon discover the larger simian is still about (after defeating the ant-men—whose remains litter the hallway floor) and hears them as they duck into a dining room filled with rubbish. As they block the door behind them with whatever furniture they can find, one of the thieves climbs the wall and perches himself above the door as the simian starts to smash it, trying to enter the room. As soon as the simian breaks through the doorway, the thief drops (rolls a 20!) with an incredible backstab, decimating the beast with a single blow of this short swords. The smaller simians who were with the larger one panic and flee screaming.

Exhausted, the party searches through the rubbish in both rooms are discovers a bunch of equipment and treasure, as well as a few giant rats.

Valmont discovers a secret door, and with a silent peek they discover a barracks area where the simians seem to be originating. Avoiding contact, they quietly close the door, undisturbed.

They return to the audience chamber and find another secret door hidden behind the ornate throne and purple curtain. Beyond the secret door is a new, undiscovered region of the palace where the party uncovers a room containing a bunch of armored skeletons lining the walls. The skeletons become animated once they enter their room and pursue them into a deserted section down a long, dank hallway which leads into an open courtyard containing a large pool covered in ivy and overgrowth. As they hear the skeletons approaching the courtyard, a humanoid figure clad in black plate mail and black robes enters the room, seemingly commanding the skeleton guards... pointing in the direction of the party. The thief fires his bow and hits the figure square in the forehead (rolling a 20!) and smites him before he could raise his black sword! The cleric successfully turns the skeletons as they breech the courtyard, and they scatter and flee back in the direction they had once come.

The party returns to the skeleton room, makes camp and rests. In that room they also discover a set of stairs leading down into the darkness below this level…

What will become of our troupe in the Halls of the wizard Tizun Thane?