Here’s the write-up of our third session of The One Ring: Adventures Over the Edge of the Wild, in which the Fellowship concludes The Marsh Bell adventure.
*** SPOILERS – THE MARSH BELL ADVENTURE ***
The Marsh Bell – Part Three
The Lair of the Marsh Dwellers (Day Five)
[As it was spring and we were nearing the end of the Fellowship’s fifth day of journeying, we started with a Fatigue Test. Only Oinarin succeeded, so everyone other than the Dwarf raised their Fatigue score by one.]
The Fellowship had withdrawn a short distance from the pool to make camp for the night and, as they did so, the muffled sound of the bell grew increasingly faint and then stopped. The four companions huddled in the lee of a section of ruined wall and settled in for an uneasy wait until morning.
As was their practice, Grimald the Woodman took the first watch while the others tried to sleep. As an added precaution Oinarin carved ancient runes into the stone of the wall, invoking all-but-forgotten Dwarvish magic to warn him should unwanted visitors approach. [Oinarin has the Virtue Broken Spells – Spells of Prohibition and Exclusion.]
Once everyone had settled, Grimald watched and waited in the darkness. After a while he thought he heard strange noises coming from nearby… squish-flap-flip … squish-flap-flip… but he was unable to see what was making them. He huddled down and hoped whatever it was went away. Fortunately it did.
Later, the muffled tolling of the bell began again and Grimald found himself strangely drawn to its faint rhythmic call. Momentarily captivated, he suddenly realised that Grunehild had risen and was walking away from the camp. Both Oinarin and Malaric seemed restless but remained asleep. Grimald quickly jumped to his feet and went after the Beorning woman. [Everyone had to make a Wisdom Test for the bell. Only Grunehild failed. This gave her another point of Shadow.]
In a few steps, Grimald had intercepted Grunehild and grabbed her by the arm. “Grunehild, where are you going?” he demanded but Grunehild did not respond. She appeared to be in a trance.
“Wake up,” Grimald urged. “You are not yourself.” Grunehild ignored him and made to pull away, so Grimald yanked her back and slapped her once across the face to bring her to her senses.
Fire flashed into Grunehild’s eyes and her hand dropped instinctively towards her axe but, almost immediately her anger faded, and was replaced by uncertainty and confusion. “Wait. I was asleep. What happened?” she asked him.
“Forgive me” Grimald explained. “I had no choice. You were wandering away from the camp. You would not wake. I had to do something.”
Grunehild frowned, trying to make sense of it. She recalled how in her dream she had been drawn to the tolling of the bell. There had been darkness and water. She distinctly remembered the pool they had been approaching earlier that evening and felt a gnawing certainty that there was something waiting for them there in the ruins.
She shuddered, unsettled by the whole experience. “I do not like this place,” she stated.
“Who would?” Grimald smiled, relieved that Grunehild seemed to have returned to herself. “Get some more sleep. Your watch isn’t for hours yet. Don’t worry, I’ll keep an eye on you and wake you if anything else happens.”
The two huddled back down by the wall; Grimald continued his watch while Grunehild sat and wondered whether she should try to stay awake. After a while the distant ringing of the bell ceased. Gradually the Beorning woman’s eyes grew heavy and once again she drifted off to sleep.
Grimald kept vigil, watching his companions closely. Another hour passed. His watch was nearing its end. Then suddenly the muffled tolling of the bell began again.
[I was slightly surprised by Ben’s decision to allow everyone to go back to sleep when nobody was there to stop him if he succumbed to its tolling. So I decided to have it ring again to see what happened. Perhaps, after the Marsh Dwellers had rung it, they had waited for a while and then, when nothing responded, they had rung it again.]
This time, when Grimald came to his senses, both Grunehild and Malaric were walking away from the camp. Alarmed that he had let this happen again, the Woodman leapt to his feet and ran to catch up with them.
[On the second Wisdom Test for the bell, Malaric and Grunehild both failed, while Grimald and Oinarin only succeeded by spending Hope. Malaric gained a point of Shadow. I didn’t give Grunehild another point for the second failure, as it seemed a little harsh to do so.]
“Grunehild, wake up!” Grimald cried as he caught up with the two Beornings and grabbed a hold of Grunehild’s arm for the second time that evening. Once again Grunehild’s expression was blank and she did not respond to the Woodman’s attempts to wake her.
After shaking her for a few moments, Grimald quickly resorted to slapping her again. Meanwhile Malaric continued to march purposefully away and quickly disappeared into the darkness.
“Malaric!” Grimald called despairingly after him.
Hearing the commotion, Oinarin awoke and sprang to his feet. Grabbing his mattock, the stout Dwarf sprinted over to Grimald and Grunehild. Malaric was nowhere to be seen.
“What is going on?” growled the Dwarf. “And where’s Malaric?”
“Over there. That way,” Grimald gestured desperately.
Oinarin scowled at the Woodman and then punched him in the kidneys. “What… is… going… on?” he repeated slowly.
Grimald winced and held his side. “It’s the bell. I think Malaric’s under its spell.”
“Durin’s beard! Where did he go?” Oinarin demanded.
“Over there, towards the pool.”
Without another word the Dwarf turned and ran in the direction indicated, leaving Grimald to watch over Grunehild as she came to herself.
After a couple of minutes Oinarin was able to make out the shadowy outline of Malaric in the darkness up ahead. The Beorning was still heading purposefully towards the pool and had nearly reached its edge.
Oinarin sprinted after him and succeeded in catching him just as he was entering the shallows. [Successful Athletics test.]
“Malaric, what are you playing at?” Oinarin puffed as he tried to pull him back.
The Beorning did not reply, continuing heedlessly up to his knees in water, while Oinarin wrestled with him but failed to find purchase in the slippery mud beneath his feet. [Failed Athletics test vs TN 10+Malaric’s Body.]
“Grimald! Grunehild! I need some help over here!” the Dwarf growled as he tried grabbing for Malaric again. The Beorning was a big man however, and was now wading even further out into the pool with Oinarin struggling to hold onto him.
At that moment Oinarin stumbled and fell into the deepening water. By the time he had regained his footing Malaric was out of reach and had waded into water too deep for the mail-clad Dwarf to follow. [This was the result of a second failed Athletics test that included an EYE OF SAURON.]
“Malaric!” Oinarin shouted one last time as the Beorning headed out across the pool and disappeared into darkness.
At that moment Grimald and Grunehild arrived at the water’s edge, shrugged off their armour and plunged in.
“He went over there!” Oinarin shouted.
Grimald and Grunehild splashed across the pool, past the Dwarf and into deeper water. There they began a desperate search for Malaric.
For some time they could find no sign of their missing friend but, as the search widened, Grunehild discovered an opening just below the water-line on the far bank. “Over here! There’s a tunnel!”she shouted, and without hesitation she dived in. [Numerous Fellowship points were expended, as both Grimald and Grunehild used Fellowship to succeed at Athletics tests and then Grunehild used a second Fellowship point to succeed at a Search test after Grimald had failed outright.]
Grunehild pulled herself along a short length of water-logged tunnel and moments later surfaced in a partially flooded stone chamber. Her eyes quickly adjusted to the darkness and she was able to make out her fellow Beorning sprawled in a thin film of stagnant water on the flagstones at the water’s edge.
She listened for a moment to be sure they were alone and then, having heard nothing, waded over to where Malaric lay. It was dank and cold in the chamber and the whole place reeked of rot and decay. Ahead was a dark doorway that appeared to lead to a second larger area but, in the darkness, she could see nothing clearly.
Shivering in the cold, Grunehild’s primary concern was Malaric and she set about trying to rouse him. As she did so Grimald surfaced in the dark waters behind her and moved to join them. [Upon re-reading I think only heroes rendered Miserable are “trapped in a sorcerous sleep” but story-wise it worked fine, so no harm done!]
“What ails him?” the Woodman asked.
“I do not know” breathed Grunehild, her voice tinged with concern. “It is no natural sleep. He cannot be woken.”
“Perhaps we could hide in here while we figure out what to do with him,” Grimald suggested. “We could make a fire. It might be safer than being outside at least.”
Grunehild shook her head and tried to stop her teeth from chattering. “No. I doubt that we are safer here. I think we should leave.”
Grimald shrugged. He was content to accept Grunehild’s judgement on the matter.
The two rolled the unconscious Malaric off the flagstones into the water and hauled him back through the tunnel to the pool outside. Once they resurfaced they could see that Oinarin had built a fire nearby, so they dragged Malaric over and pulled him out onto the bank.
A short while later the Fellowship was huddled around the still unresponsive Beorning trying to work out how to wake him. Nothing they had tried seemed to have any effect. After some debate and a good deal of thought, Oinarin suggested, “I could try a song. I’ve heard tales of enchantments being broken with music or singing.” [Oinarin used Lore and invoked his Rhymes of Lore Trait to succeed.] And so he pulled a small hand-drum from amongst his belongings and began to chant. The rhythm was sonorous and solemn but at the same time rousing. As he sang, Oinarin made subtle changes, steadily increasing the cadence and volume in an effort to draw Malaric back toward consciousness. [Oinarin uses the last point of Fellowship to succeed on his Song test.]
Eventually, to everyone’s relief, the Beorning’s eyes fluttered open and he sat up. He looked around at his companions and then down at himself and said “I thought I heard singing,” and then, “why am I wet?”
A lengthy discussion ensued, as the Fellowship sat around the fire and talked about the evening’s events. When it emerged that there had been an earlier incident with Grunehild that Grimald had let pass, Oinarin reprimanded the Woodman for failing to wake everyone. “So you did not think to alert us when that happened? And you consider that acceptable do you?”
“How can you say you would not have done the same in my place Master Dwarf? You would get little rest if I woke you at every disturbance,” Grimald argued.
Words were exchanged and tension remained until Grimald turned his back on the disagreement and went to sleep.
No one other than the Woodman was inclined to rest after what had happened, although Grunehild found herself dozing in the warmth of the fire. Both Oinarin and Malaric remained alert and watchful. They kept each other awake by discussing lore and exchanging tales throughout the night.
The Lair of the Marsh Dwellers (Day Six)
The next morning the Fellowship broke camp and set out to search the ruins. They recognised that the missing Dwarves might well have fallen foul of the bell’s sorcery and hoped to discover a dry route into the underground chambers where Malaric had been found the night before.
As the Fellowship neared the pool, the ever watchful Gore-crows began raucously croaking in the treetops and soon afterwards the bell started tolling again. It was louder there by the pool but they were wary of its call and steeled themselves against it. After a while it fell silent. [By rights I should have made everyone roll for the bell again at this point but I chose to allow them to simply “steel themselves against it,” as it seemed slightly laborious to go through having people getting entranced by the bell for a third time.]
Clambering up through the trees, they found a great archway that still held the remains of a heavy wooden gate and beyond it, a steep stair that led upwards into an area where the ruins were more prominent. It seemed the hill was at the centre of the sunken town and its main buildings had once risen upon its summit.
At the top of the stair they found a ruined tower or chimney and within it, partly overgrown and concealed by fallen masonry, a narrow shaft that led down into darkness. It was perhaps the entrance they had been searching for.
“What do you think?” asked Malaric, peering in.
Oinarin lit a brand and dropped it over the edge. The flame spiralled downward, briefly illuminating a squat black bell which hung from a beam a few feet below. Some twenty feet further down the brand landed in a puddle at the bottom, fizzed briefly and then sputtered out.
“It seems we have found both the bell and a way in,” Oinarin commented. He looked around at his companions. “I should probably go first,” he offered. “Thus far the magic of the bell has had no power over me.”
And so they secured a rope to a nearby tree and Oinarin climbed in. Carefully the bold Dwarf made his way down to the bell. Upon reaching it, he took some time to squeeze past it without making any noise and then, after inspecting it from underneath, prised off the clapper to ensure it could not sound again.
Then he continued to the bottom where he found himself standing at one end of a large, low-ceilinged chamber. It appeared to be an old cellar with a number of openings along either side. It was dank and cold down there and the stone floor of the chamber was covered with a film of stagnant water. The stench of death and decay hung ominously in the air. In the scant illumination from the shaft Oinarin was able to see very little, so he pulled out a torch and lit it.
Seeing that the Dwarf had reached the bottom safely and was ready to venture on, Malaric quickly made his way down the shaft and joined him. Driving back the shadows with their torches, the two cautiously explored the chamber.
They could see that there were seven arched openings leading off the area they were in, three to the left, three to the right and one ahead of them, in the direction of the pool. They suspected this last was the entrance to the smaller flooded chamber, where Grunehild and Grimald had found Malaric the previous evening, and a quick foray to that end of the room proved that this was true.
Wary of venturing too far, they returned to the shaft and waited for Grunehild and Grimald to join them. As the others came down, Malaric noticed that the opening immediately to their left was slightly larger than the others and decorated with many coloured stones. He moved closer and could see that beyond it there was a short flight of steps and then a large wooden door, the surface of which was scarred with many claw marks.
“Look, over here,” Malaric beckoned.
Oinarin went to join him.
Meanwhile Grimald and Grunehild kept watch in the larger chamber near the bottom of the shaft.
Malaric and Oinarin moved into the passage and up to the door. “Something wanted to get in here pretty badly,” he commented to the Dwarf. “I think we should try it.”
The two readied their weapons and then Malaric tried the latch. The door would not budge. It seemed to have been barred from the other side.
The Beorning knocked and then put his ear to it and listened. There was what sounded like a muffled cough or a grunt and then a scrape of movement inside.
“If there are any Dwarves in there, could you open the door so we can rescue you?” Malaric quipped.
There were further sounds, more scraping and then a clunk. The door rattled and opened a crack.
“Who’s out there?” croaked a very weary sounding voice. “Are you friend or foe?”
“Friend I hope,” Oinarin replied. “Are you alone?”
“There are two of us,” the voice said. “Is it safe to come out?”
“For now at least,” Oinarin responded, “but we best not tarry. I doubt it wise to remain here long.”
“Yes. Of course, we must be away before the Marsh Dwellers come.”
“What are these Marsh Dwellers? Are there many of them?” Oinarin asked as two Dwarves emerged. Both looked haggard and shaken and mighty relieved to be rescued. Oinarin offered each a sip of Dwarf liquor from a small flask he produced.
“Ghastly, wretched creatures that inhabit this foul place,” the first Dwarf exclaimed. “And they are many, too many to count.”
“Let us go swiftly then,” Oinarin urged and he and Malaric helped their charges over to the shaft.
Grimald went up first, with Malaric intending to follow, but when Oinarin spotted movement in the shadows at the other end of the chamber, they sent the Dwarves up.
“Go!” Malaric urged, “Hurry! We will hold them here until you are out.”
Several pairs of eyes glinted wickedly in the darkness. The gaunt creatures drew nearer until their pale, emaciated bodies were fully illuminated in the torchlight. They were thinly humanoid but had dead, grey flesh and eyes that glowed with inner hunger.
Weapons drawn, Grunehild, Malaric and Oinarin spread out defensively around the shaft.
Two of the Marsh Dwellers loped forward, splashing across the water-logged flagstones … squish-flap-flip … squish-flap-flip… More prowled hungrily in the darkness behind.
[None of the Fellowship had ranged weapons readied so there was no opening volley.]
[Combat Round 1: MALARIC (Forward) Intimidate Foe, Great success=> The lead two Marsh Dwellers lose a point of Hate each and are temporarily cowed, allowing the second Dwarf to start climbing.]
As the creatures neared, Malaric stepped forward and roared at them defiantly. They shied away, wary of tackling the fierce Beorning on their own. The second Dwarf started to climb.
Others quickly came forward. When their number had grown to eight they were sufficiently bold to attack again.
[Combat Round 2: MALARIC (Forward) Failure; OINARIN (Forward) Great success (Oinarin spent Hope to succeed)=> Marsh Dweller takes 14 END and goes down; GRUNEHILD (Open) Success (Grunehild spent Hope to succeed)=> Marsh Dweller takes 5 END; MARSH DWELLERS (7 remain) One Marsh Dweller succeeds with a Great success vs Oinarin=> Oinarin takes 9 END and is Weary.]
Malaric, Oinarin and Grunehild stood their ground as the Marsh Dwellers rushed them. Grunehild struck one of the creatures hard with her axe and it reeled away. Oinarin yelled “Khazad!” and finished a second with his mattock, but another caught the Dwarf a nasty blow and he was staggered.
“Grunehild, you go next,” Malaric shouted after they had withstood the brunt of the first assault.
But the Beorning woman shook her head. “Why don’t you go, or the Dwarf? I’m the one with a shield!” she said determinedly.
[Combat Round 3: MALARIC (Defensive) Success (Malaric spent Hope to succeed) => Marsh Dweller takes 5 END; GRUNEHILD (Defensive) Failure; OINARIN (Rearward); MARSH DWELLERS (7 remain) 6 Marsh Dwellers can attack (3 vs each Beorning), all failed.]
Malaric blocked a raking claw, which was meant for his throat, and then twisted, chopping into one of the creatures with his axe. It squealed and fell back. He looked over at Oinarin and saw the Dwarf was wincing, favouring one side. “Go!” he urged. “Grunehild and I will hold them.”
Oinarin looked like he was about to protest but then he reconsidered and nodded. He was still pained by the blow he had taken.
As Malaric and Grunehild closed ranks and fought to keep the Marsh Dwellers at bay, Oinarin disengaged and retreated to the shaft. He grabbed the rope, took a last look at his friends and started to climb.
[Combat Round 4: MALARIC (Defensive) Failure; GRUNEHILD (Defensive) Great success=> Marsh Dweller takes 10 END and goes down; MARSH DWELLERS (6 remain) 6 Marsh Dwellers can attack (3 vs each Beorning) one Marsh Dweller gets a Great success vs Malaric=> Malaric takes 9 END and is Weary; one Marsh Dweller gets a Great success vs Grunehild=> Grunehild takes knockback and 5 END, the other 4 failed; MALARIC attempted to escape at the end of the round but failed.]
Only the two Beornings remained and they were soon hard pressed as the Marsh Dwellers crowded in around them. Grunehild slew another with her axe but more of the creatures could be seen emerging from the tunnels behind. Things began to look desperate.
[Combat Round 5: MALARIC (Defensive) Failure; GRUNEHILD (Defensive) takes no action due to knockback the previous turn; MARSH DWELLERS (6 remain) 6 Marsh Dwellers can attack (3 vs each Beorning), all failed; MALARIC attempted to escape at the end of the round but failed.]
It was hard to see how the Beornings would escape. Neither could get clear to climb the shaft without being overrun by the clawing, snarling throng. It was only a matter of time before one of them fell.
[Combat Round 6: MALARIC (Defensive) Failure; GRUNEHILD (Defensive) Failure; MARSH DWELLERS (6 original remain + 4 additional) 6 Marsh Dwellers can attack (3 vs each Beorning) one Marsh Dweller gets a success vs Malaric=> Malaric takes 5 END, the other 5 failed; MALARIC attempted to escape at the end of the round but failed.]
Grunehild continued to deftly fend the Marsh Dwellers off with her shield but Malaric had taken a number of painful blows and was gradually starting to falter.
[Combat Round 7: MALARIC (Defensive) Foregoes his attack to gab the rope and tie it securely to Grunehild’s belt ; GRUNEHILD (Defensive) Great success=> Marsh Dweller takes 10 END and goes down; MARSH DWELLERS (9 remain) 6 Marsh Dwellers can attack (3 vs each Beorning) one Marsh Dweller gets a Great success vs Malaric=> Malaric takes 9 END + Edge but saves, the other 5 failed.]
In desperation, Malaric momentarily dropped his guard and grabbed the rope from the shaft. In doing so he took another nasty blow and almost went down, but he kept going and quickly tied it onto Grunehild’s belt.
“Oinarin, Grimald, when I shout, pull the rope for all you’re worth!” Malaric yelled up the shaft. “Our lives depend on it!”
[Combat Round 8: MALARIC (Defensive) Failure; GRUNEHILD (Defensive) Failure; MARSH DWELLERS (9 remain) 6 Marsh Dwellers can attack (3 vs each Beorning), all fail.]
Fighting side-by-side the two Beornings were slowly pressed back. Cramped in the confines of the shaft, with the scrabbling, clawing Marsh Dwellers crowding in around them, it seemed for a moment that all was lost, but then Malaric grabbed hold of the rope and shouted “Now!”
With a great heave, Oinarin, Grimald and the two rescued Dwarves pulled with all their might. The rope went taut and Malaric and Grunehild were yanked off their feet and up into the shaft.
The Marsh Dwellers flooded into the gap. They scrambled over each other and clawed at the air beneath the two Beornings who had quickly become wedged in a tangle of limbs part way up. Grunehild was left hanging upside down below Malaric, her head disconcertingly close to the Marsh Dwellers’ outstretched claws. She wriggled around and positioned her shield beneath her to protect herself.
“Are you alright?” Oinarin called from above.
Clinging to the rope just above Grunehild, Malaric shouted that they were and then managed to disentangle himself. He clambered up onto the beam above the bell and then, once he was steady, hauled Grunehild up alongside.
Out of the Marsh Dwellers’ clutches at last, the two Beornings crouched there catching their breath for a moment. Pale bodies continued to mill around in the space at the bottom of the shaft.
Malaric looked at Grunehild and then took a hold of his axe. He chopped into the rope holding the bell… once… twice… three times. On the third blow, the bell came loose. It tumbled down the shaft with a Clang… Clang… THONK, smashing into the Marsh Dwellers below.
The remaining creatures scattered, disappearing back into the darkness and the two Beornings finally climbed up to the surface and out.