Things picked up considerably in this week's Dwimmermount session, perhaps in part because an irregular player dropped by to join in the fun. Normally, he plays the dwarf Vladimir, but, because of the fact that the party is now separated from the surface with no obvious way to return to it, I couldn't establish that Vladimir had entered the dungeon alone and joined up with them. So, instead, the player took over the role of another dwarf, Murn, who is Dordagdonar's crossbow-wielding hireling. This arrangement worked out quite well and, as I said, I think there was a greater vibrancy to the session due to the presence of "new blood." This makes me think that the old model of a very large pool of rotating players may well be another key element to the longevity of the campaigns of yore, in contrast to the decidedly more anemic assumptions of today.
In any case, the party continued their explorations, taking some more time to figure out the nature of the strange floating sphere they discovered last time. Brother Candor bravely touched the sphere with his bare hand, which caused it to glow more brightly. In doing so, it illuminated a series of symbols etched on to its grayish-black translucent surface. Most of the symbols were unknown to the PCs, but they did come across one that looked similar to the sigil for Dwimmermount they saw on a ley line map found on an upper level of the dungeon. And while the symbols on the sphere were connected to one another by a series of lines, the connections did not match those of the ley line map, suggesting that it represented something else. Dordagdonar surmised that it might be a map of other worlds reachable through a series of portals, some of which were located on this level of Dwimmermount.
Pressing on, they entered a room containing a pair of displacer beasts, whom they defeated after taking a significant amount of damage. They'd encountered these creatures before and decided that they were pets of the Eld. These too seemed to have been placed here by the Red Elves, since an examination of their bodies revealed they had bejeweled collars around their necks, suggesting someone valued them. Exploring later rooms revealed evidence that someone had been through these chambers recently. There were footprints in the dust -- both humanoid and other -- going in several directions, as well as signs of something bulky and heavy being dragged along the floor and through a series of doors. Rather than spend a lot of time cataloging the ruined and unusual contents of these rooms, the PCs elected instead to follow the tracks of the heavy object.
This led them to a large room where they surprised a group of five people wearing what appeared to Eldritch garb -- treated leather breastplates, odd helmets, and carrying wickedly curved swords. Most interesting of all was the fact that these people were human, not Eld. They were hunched over a large metal box with no obvious hinges but which was covered with markings and several strange protrusions and lights. Taking advantage of surprise, the party employed both a wand of paralyzation and a hold person spell to immobilize four of the five humans. The fifth quickly surrendered to the PCs, identifying himself as Vardon, a slave of Jallak of Morkoja.
The characters took a long time interrogation Vardon, since it would be a while until his companions were freed from the magic that held them immobile. He explained that he and his fellow slaves had been instructed by Jallak to fetch a "power storage unit" and bring it to a room deeper on this level. Vardon had no real awareness of where he was, though he was overjoyed to discover that he was no longer on Areon, which he described as "a horrible place -- especially for humans." This led to a brief discussion of the fact that the Eld kept humans as slaves on the Red Planet and that, apparently, some humans also kept humans as slaves as well. Vardon was clearly displeased by this, making a comment about how distressing it was that those humans who'd rebelled against the Eld nevertheless mimicked many of their former masters' worse traits. Brother Candor assured him that the party had no such plans and indeed offered to free Vardon and his companions once they found a way out of Dwimmermount, although he did not deny that, even on his world. slavery was commonplace.
Brother Candor added that he didn't think Jallak would be returning anytime soon, since the party had defeated him and sent him back through the portal to Areon. Vardon was pleased to hear the Red Elf was gone but did not think he would be gone for long and, when he returned, he would bring with him more -- and stronger -- reinforcements. "Jallak doesn't like to lose," he explained. Vardon also explained that the power storage unit was to be used to drain the power from a "stasis chamber" in another room. He offered to take the PCs there if they wished, which, of course, they did. When asked about what was in the stasis chamber, Vardon replied that it was "some man -- a human" and that "he's been there a long time from what I understand."
Briefly, the characters worried that the chamber might have held Turms Termax, since they'd earlier learned that the ascended mortal was still trapped somewhere within Dwimmermount and that his latter day cultists sought to free him. However, when they entered the room to which Vardon directed them, they instead found a single human male, floating within a faint purplish-blue energy field. He wore odd clothes unlike any they'd ever seen and wore lenses on his eyes like some of the sages and scholars of Adamas. Not knowing what to do, Dordagdonar used the communications device that Xaranes the Iron God had given them, hoping to get some useful advice on the matter. Unfortunately, Xaranes was extremely cryptic and elliptical in his answers, as he often was, and his advice, such as it was, consisted of suggesting the PCs use their own best judgment.
With that in mind, they asked Vardon to help them drain the power from the stasis chamber and free the man within. As the energy drained away, the man dropped to his knees and collapsed briefly before coming to consciousness once again. He appeared to be perfectly human and, except for his odd clothes, he could have passed for an inhabitant of Adamas or any other settlement in the vicinity of Dwimmermount. He spoke a language that was unintelligible to anyone not using a device that enabled the understanding of foreign tongues. The man looked around confusedly and asked, "Where am I?" To this, Dordagadonar explained that the man was in Dwimmermount, who only confused him more. The elf elaborated by explaining that it was "mountain fortress," which seemed to make more sense to the man, who replied, "Oh, you mean like Cheyenne Mountain."
This naturally led to a long and circuitous conversation with the man, who identified himself as Dr. Mason Halsey, a researcher -- or "sage," the characters understood him to mean -- from a place called "New York" who'd been working on a "temporal displacement" experiment in association with "Project Phoenix." He didn't know precisely how he'd gotten to Dwimmermount but he mentioned that, before the PCs freed him, he'd briefly been conscious and seen "other people," describing them as "some guys in weird robes and a head in a jar." The party had no idea what he was talking about or to whom he was referring, which led to even lengthier conversations about where/when Dr. Halsey was and its relationship (or not) to the Earth -- wherever that was -- of 1989 -- whenever that was.
Brother Candor did his best to reassure Dr. Halsey that they would do their best to sort out his predicament and get him back to his own time and place if they could, but, right now, they needed to escape Dwimmermount before the Eld returned. He offered Halsey a sword with which to protect himself, prompting the scientist to ask, "Do you have a lead pipe or, better yet, a crowbar instead?" Confused by this, the group headed off to the stairs upward they'd discovered earlier, hoping that, if they got beyond the portcullises at its top, they might find their way to safety. And the session ended for the night here.
Needless to say, it was a fun time and I was glad to at last be able to introduce a few more elements into play that I'd been considering for some time. The additional details about Areon, as well as the Stranger from "Earth" were ideas I'd wanted to work into the campaign at some point, but the opportunity never really arose until yesterday. Now that it has, I expect future sessions will be even more interesting.