(Disclaimer: this was the first time many of the people present had played a FRPG in like 20 years or so)
Cast of adventurers:
Binhamed Shaheen: male desert Sorcerer armed with staff and long bow, plus a falcon familiar called Habibi
Sufandra: female Black Elf wizardess armed with a sword and throwing daggers
Zomodo: transgender Dwarf warrior armed with battleaxe
Fiendor: male wilderness ranger armed with sword and long bow
Rahsaan: male ninja armed with sword and throwing stars
On a fine spring day the party gathered at the Stranded Sunfish Tavern in Oyster Bay where the village headman Mungo was attempting to convince them to explore a nearby dungeon complex known as the Wishing Well in search of four other adventurers (Armstrong, Bigneck, Crystal and Trueblade) from Oyster Bay who had recently gone missing therein.
The group haggled over a monetary reward before agreeing to go on the proviso they kept all they found. Mungo told them to tell the ferryman they were on a mission from Mungo in order to get free passage across the Whitewater River.
"I can't believe rope is so expensive! We can only afford two metres of it!" - Binhamed Shaheen
They explored Oyster Bay, purchasing a skullcap from the sorceress and herbalist Darestra (who also told them that the Wishing Well was part of a larger ruined temple that used to be dedicated to the river god Aqualis), and some torches, sacks and other gear from the outfitter and map-maker Kelosa the Old (she warned them that Ogres have been seen in the vicinity of the Wishing Well), but couldn't afford her special map of the old province of Ciarensia which cost 20gp. They also bought extra provisions at the fish market in the form of salted and preserved red herrings.
Leaving Oyster Bay, with Habibi the falcon on recon duties they trekked north to the ferry crossing at Whitewater River. Here they met the ferryman Gozander who took them across the river. A solemn and sad figure, Gozander explained that the missing adventurer Trueblade was not only his son, but he got the name from a magic sword he carried, which was a family heirloom. The adventurers promised to find out what happened to Trueblade but were noticeably reticent about agreeing to return the sword if they found it.
Upon arriving on the north bank they could see the main trail led north (to Meraki and Meerham), while a side track split to the west and wound its way up the south face of Clearwater Hill. Binhamed sent Habibi the falcon off on patrol and the bird noted the presence of a walled compound at the top of the hill, which was overgrown with small thickets and patches of scrub. The eastern side of the hill was largely a cliff-face and at one point a stream of water poured out of a cave into a waterfall emptying into a pool below. Flowing from the pool was a shallow stream that wound its way through marshland before emptying into the Whitewater River further east. The falcon also saw that two people were waiting for the adventurers at the side track.
"What a bunch of dicks!" - Sufandra
These figures resolved themselves into two shepherds with staves, who styled themselves as Grundark "The Mighty" and his able assistant Wrendor, and who claimed ownership over Clearwater Hill by rights that their herds of sheep frequently grazed upon it. They demanded an upfront payment of 1gp per person to be allowed to climb the hill. There were grumblings of "Why don't we just attack them?" but eventually a deal was struck whereby the adventurers would pay 3gp now, and 3gp later, the shepherds having decided that Habibi also counted as a person for monetary purposes. Hoping to ease the grumbling, and realizing they were dealing with armed adventurers, the shepherds provided additional information, saying that "weird people" seemed to have moved into the top of the compound, and that other adventurers had recently ventured into the dungeon as well as the lost four adventurers from Oyster Bay.
Clambering up the path to the top of the hill, Habibi swooped low over the compound, reporting that it was walled, rectangular and around 60 metres wide and 90 metres long. The path passed between two guardhouses whose ceilings had partially collapsed and beyond them was a raised platform upon which was a gazebo covering a well. Behind that was a huge temple building with two smaller ruined buildings on either side.
The Ruined Temple of Aqualis
Passing between the guardhouses the party could see the well in front of them. Each guardhouse had a door leading into it however, so they tried both of those, discovering them to be locked. Sufandra readied a spell and cast Open upon the door to the eastern guardhouse, while Zomodo and Fiendor charged in, axe and bow at the ready. Waiting for them were three humans - cultists of some sort, with black cloaks, sharp filed teeth, skin covered in web and spider tattoos, and wielding poison daggers. Fiendor put an arrow in one, who kept charging, while Zomodo smashed the other with her axe. Binhamed shot an arrow at the third, over the top of the dwarf's head, but missed. Sufandra then incinerated the third with a lightning bolt, while Zomodo finished their opponent off with a criticial hit of an axe-blow that split the cultist in two.
The last cultist surrendered immediately, only for the other guardhouse door to open and two more cultists to spill out and attack the rear of the party, Rahsaan took a poison dagger to the ribs but survived and slew his assailant with several sword blows while Sufandra wounded the other, who also surrendered. Interrogating the cultist prisoners the adventurers learned they were devotees of the Spider God Arhallogen. Led by their priest Ar-Thogua, they had recently infiltrated the compound and were looking to free their "Spider Lord" from the catacombs beneath the hill.
"Spiders. Why did it have to be spiders" - Sufandra
Thoroughly sick of the cultists' vile creed and poison daggers (though not the gold coins they carried, which were purloined by the party), the adventurers murdered the cultists in cold blood and tossed their bodies into the well, along with a flaming torch to see how far down it went (around 50 feet). They were heartened to see the bottom was dirty, if a little muddy, and that the rope and large bucket still worked. Sufandra argued they should explore the rest of the temple complex first, rather than leave potential enemies at their backs if they descended into the well.
They sized up the three buildings beyond the well. The central one was clearly an impressive temple, though its frescoes and pillars depicting the flowing waters of Aqualis had been desecrated with crude graffiti of webs and spiders, while the building on the left was a mausoleum of some sort, though its entrance portal had been filled up with boulders and scree. The low building on the right looked like living quarters of some kind. They strode up the steps to the huge bronze doors of the temple, with Zomodo, Fiendor and Sufandra venturing inside, leaving Rahsaan and Binhamed on guard duty.
Inside, the temple was one enormous pillared hall, with a huge statue of Aqualis at the far end and stray beams of sunlight shining through from cracks in the ceiling, illuminating further desecration by the hands of the spider god cultists. Zomodo slipped into the shadows and began sneaking down the left side of the pillars just before a hooded figure stepped out in front of the statue. It was Ar-Thogua the High Priest of Arhallogen! He screamed a battle-prayer to the Spider God and charged towards the adventurers, changing into a gigantic hairy spider as he did so. Fiendor swung his sword and missed, but fortunately the poison fangs of the shape-changed priest missed him too, and Zomodo stepped up behind the arachnid and buried their axe in its bloated abdomen. This only enraged the creature but before it could retaliate Sufandra fired off another lightning bolt, incinerating the fiend, which transformed back into the priest and promptly expired.
In a secret nook behind the statue they discovered some gold and a scroll written in a secret language that was deciphered by Zomodo as the obscure southern dialect Vatosian, which said:
In the nook they found a second secret door than seemed to lead beyond the compound wall, but they chose not to open it and returned outside, reuniting with Fiendor and Binhamed to investigate the low building on the right. This turned out to be living quarters for the rest of the cult, four of whom attacked them as soon as they opened the door. Zomodo splatted one with her axe, Fiendor attempted the same with his sword but fumbled, hurling it across the room instead and taking a poison dagger to the stomach for his efforts. Rahsaan hurled a throwing star at another, and the fourth cultist started to run for the passage beyond the entry room but was hit in the back by an arrow fired by Binhamed. Sufandra threw a poisoned dagger, purloined previously from a cultist, at the cultist Rahsaan had wounded, killing them, while Zomodo finished off the cultist that had wounded Fiendor, after Fiendor, being weaponless, had punched them in the face. The final cultist, crawling towards the door with an arrow in their back, they took prisoner, but learned little other than the mausoleum contained zombies and undead and had thus been walled up. Rahsaan, thoroughly sick of the cultists by now, slit the prisoner's throat."You must leave Shazaar, the City of Madness. Find the temple of the river god. Descend into the depths. Awaken our lord of spiders!"
Investigating the rest of the cultists' quarters they disturbed and slew two more who were sleeping (one of whom managed to fumble and stab themselves in the face with their own poisoned dagger), plus killed several giant rats in the kitchen, where they found some surprisingly tasty stew, a vat of blade venom that they smeared on all their weapons, and a bag of Jewelfruit. Binhamed's Herb Lore came in handy in identifying the fruit and the venom. They then went back to the temple and tried the last secret door, discovering it led outside to a path that wandered down the north face of the hill, through a small wood. Retreating back into the compound the adventurers decided against opening up the mausoleum and pondered what to do next.
The Wishing Well
"I say we stop pussyfooting around and go down the bloody well" - Rahsaan the Ninja
There was some intense discussions. Sufandra wanted to explore the rest of Clearwater Hill, but Rahsaan and the others argued their mission lay down the well. Eventually this faction won out, and they lowered themselves down the well with Zomodo going first, into a large circular chamber (containing a burnt out touch and the bodies of two cultists they previously threw down here), with a single passage heading north.
This ended at an unlocked door, which opened up into a large chamber, lit by several torches and inhabited by the dwarf Thrushbeard and his many avian pets, which were fluttering around the room. Thrushbeard was surprised to see them, but happy to spot the dwarf Zomodo among their number and offered them some nuts he was feeding to his birds. Fiendor and Zomodo accepted the nuts (which were tasty), and Thrushbeard explained he was allied with the wizard Nandras who dwelt in chambers to the east. To the west was a "very dangerous room", while to the north was lair of the Spider King. The adventurers thanked Thrushbeard and headed through the north door along a dark corridor (Rahsaan had lit a lantern).
There was another door, unlocked which opened up into a prison room of sorts with five skeletons chained to a wall and three chests on the floor under their feet. Rahsaan found no traps on the middle chest and opened it, unleashing a terrifying Ghost that erupted into the room and scared the living daylights out of all of the adventurers! The Ghost claimed to have cursed them and demanded they place all their gold into the Ghost's chest and depart this room, but before they could do this, Sufandra, knowing that Ghosts were only harmed by magic, unleashed a lightning bolt at the Ghost, incinerating it instantly. Unhappy at Sufandra because they still felt cursed, but happy there was no more Ghost, Rahsaan opened the rest of the chests. One contained some gold and a mouse, which Fiendor claimed as a pet, while the other looked to hold a magic wand of sorts.
Sufandra took this but it instantly transformed into a Chameleon Serpent and sank its fangs into her wrist. She hacked the snake's head off with her sword, knocking over the chest, which disgorged a vial. Sufandra identified this as a healing potion. Rahsaan, who had taken a few poison dagger hits here and there in their battles with the cultists, drank it, and restored their stamina and vitality. Opening the west door revealed a torch-lit corridor with doors in the northern wall and western end. They opened the western one and entered a guardroom of sorts, containing a large bed with two reptilians heads atop a pillow. Binhamed knew monster lore though and identified the creature as a Calacorm! Not wanting to antagonize what they thought was a powerful adversary, the adventurers parleyed with the creature, learning that the northern door in this chamber led to the lair of the Spider King, but required a Crystal Key to open. Nandras the Wizard possessed the Crystal Key.
Returning to the prison room, the party decided to make camp as Sufandra was exhausted from all her spell-casting and many of the others were injured. Zomodo took the first watch...