Into The Mouth of Hell
Stonehell: Session #1
Welcome to our very first session! In this campaign, we are running the amazing megadungeon Stonehell, written by Michael Curtis. I’ve been wanting to run this dungeon for years and I’ve always heard stories that came from this innovative and well thought-out adventure. The time was finally right. I’ve been running tabletop games with these particular friends of mine for many years, and I know they will love it. They are such amazing, resourceful players, so I know that whatever story they help come up with, it will be very entertaining. This is also the first OSR style game we have played together, which I am incredibly excited about. We are running this campaign using the Old School Essentials Advanced Fantasy ruleset. Throughout these play reports, I will also link outside resources that I used in this campaign to help make things more interesting or easier for me as the dungeon master.
Our new campaign starts off with three players:
Stronag, the 1st level Half-Orc Fighter
Ravena, the 1st level Half-Elf Druid
Hogarth, the 1st level Human Bard
In Old School Essentials Advanced Fantasy, level 1 fighters can begin with a stronghold, so I gave Stronag his own small fort to start with. The official Player’s Tome says:
Any time a fighter wishes (and has sufficient money), they can build a castle or stronghold and control the surrounding lands.
I rolled on the d66 Table of Stronghold Flaws that is typically used in the Forbidden Lands ruleset, because I thought it would make for an interesting little detail for starting a Stronghold. On the table, I rolled: “The tomb of a death knight lies beneath the structure“. This could make for a really interesting concept later on in the campaign. I told Stronag that beneath his newly constructed fort, a carved stone passageway was discovered when he and his workers were building the foundation. A cold, stone staircase leads down into a dark, dank crypt where a mysterious sarcophagus lies upon a raised stone dais. The sarcophagus is locked tight, and he has no idea what’s inside.
Ravena the Druid and Hogarth the Bard live within Stronag’s Fort. Ravena was hired to tend the grounds of the fort, while Hogarth is there to provide entertainment and comradery. Legends of cannibal kingdoms, great pale apes and ever-burning skeletons were overheard by our brave adventurers at the tavern in the nearby town of Mautbek, where they all originally met. These rumors piqued their interest, and they decided to come up with a plan to raid this dungeon for themselves and see what kind of treasure they can unearth from it’s monstrous hold.
The day finally came for our adventurers to make their first delve into Stonehell. They stocked up in Mautbek, grabbing some rations, adventuring supplies, and new, shiny weapons with their starting money. Mautbek is about a day’s travel away from Stonehell, and Stronag’s Fort is also about a day’s travel from Stonehell in another direction.
The road to Stonehell skirts past a dreary and stinking marsh from out of which the low foothills of the Silver Mountains rise. Once past the marsh, the road rises gradually, threading its way through the rocky hills and cliffs that lies at the base of the mountains. After several miles, the road terminates at the mouth of a narrow box canyon that bisects a high cliff wall. he steep cliffs and the tall mountains beyond the defile loom overhead. The shadows of twilight fall early here as the sun makes its way towards the west, cloaking the canyon in gloom.
Across the mouth of this canyon stands a 25′ tall curtain wall and a gatehouse. Our three adventurers make their way to the entrance. The gatehouse‘s doors lay rotting on the ground before it, covered in grimy footprints from hundreds of other adventurers before them.
Stronag decides to use the crumbling wall to his advantage and begins to climb to the top of the gatehouse, to lookout ahead for any potential ambushes. At the top of the gatehouse, he finds an old weather-worn trapdoor that leads further into the gatehouse. He decides to investigate. Stronag lifts the rotted wood trapdoor and descends down a set of stone stairs that lead to the second floor of the gatehouse. The ceiling of the gatehouse is riddled with cracks that allow water to drip down on the floor, eating away at the wooden supports that hold up the second level. As Stronag steps foot onto the wooden floor of the second level, the floor gives way and he comes tumbling down into a lower room in the Gatehouse.
The fall wasn’t as bad as it could have been. As the dust settles, Stronag sits up and dusts himself off. As his eyes adjust to the darkness of the room, he sees a group of other adventurers just like him around a fire, completely undisturbed by the events that just took place. He then notices that these adventurers are completely transparent! Four ghostly explorers are sitting around a long snubbed-out fire, lost in their own ethereal conversation. They haven’t paid any mind to Stronag or his big entrance. As our half-orc adventurer gets to his feet, he noticed that he landed on the bones of a couple of previous adventurers, and their old equipment was thrown around the room. Could this be the earthly bodies of the ghosts that inhabit this room? After a cautious look around the room, Stronag found a tent in the room that seemed untouched. He took that under his arm, and quickly escaped the gatehouse.
Ravena and Hogarth were waiting for Stronag outside and he relayed his story to them. He gave Hogarth the tent, as Hogarth had forgot to pack one. The party continues heading towards the entrance to Stonehell, and deeper into the canyon.
For the past few years, a large black bear has made his home in one of the caves along the canyon‘s southern wall. Being large for his species (some 600 lbs) and a fierce combatant, this bear has had little problem maintaining its place within the canyon‘s hierarchy of inhabitants. It is uncertain when the practice began or who started it, but the bear has acquired the nickname Coal by the regular adventuring parties who enter the canyon on their way to Stonehell Dungeon. The great bear has become a mascot and a sign of good fortune for adventurers. Veteran delvers of Stonehell sometimes leave gifts of food, full wineskins, or even old equipment as tribute to Coal in the belief that such tokens result in good luck during their dungeon expeditions. Sighting Coal before entering the dungeon is seen as especially fortunate and is taken to mean that a particularly large haul of treasure awaits the party below.
Our adventurers DID in fact see Coal the Bear during their entrance to Stonehell. This encounter was completely random, and I made sure to make it meaningful. You’ll see why later in the session! They left him some of their rations as he stood upon a rocky outcropping, watching them with a strange sense of calm.
The players walk across the quiet canyon, passing the decayed ruins of buildings long since lost to time. Within one of the ruined structures, Hogarth the Bard spotted a Shrine to St. Ras, the patron saint of Duty and Fidelity. They each took a knee before the statue and said a prayer before approaching the stone archway that leads into the first level of Stonehell.
The 10′ wide, 15′ high stone archway is carved into the cliff face at the far end of the canyon. Beyond its gaping mouth lies blackness and the smell of mildew and decay. A flat stone plaque is carved above the archway‘s apex that reads:
These Benighted Halls of Stone.
Within Lies No Solace
Nor Any Comforts of Home.
Toiling For Our Crimes
We Must Dig Where We Dwell,
With No Freedom or Mercy
In Our Vast Stony Hell.
The players readied themselves and took the first steps into Hell.