Friday Night Adventurers
“Yeah, but now he's ten minutes late. How long are we just
going to sit here waiting for him?” Bartleby repetitively twirled a pencil in
his hand, an unconscious habit.
Checking his phone again for the time, the DM sighed. “All right. I'll send him a text.” It was either that or start without him. But Melinaar was the party's leader and their best warrior, so they'd be pretty stuck without him. Maybe if there had been some time to prepare, they could have come up with something good like running into a useful NPC or finding some sort of advantage that would offset their loss, but, as it was, their only real option now was to wait and hope he turned up sooner rather than later.
He didn't respond to the text message, but he did appear a couple minutes later, full of apologies. “Awful day,” he said, dropping dramatically into the empty seat at the table. “My phone died, and I was off campus and forgot about the adjusted bus schedule. Had to run here all the way from Main Street.” Well, that explained why his face was flushed red, why his brown hair was a tangled mess, and his forehead glistened with sweat. “Did y'all start already?”
“We were all waiting for you, dude,” said The Rogue, slouched artfully in his chair, limbs lose, chin tucked against his chest, top hat tilted down so it nearly covered his eyes.
“Shit. Sorry to make you wait.” He sniffed and rifled through his backpack, finally producing a pencil and a folder. He pulled out his notes and character sheet.
The Dungeon Master surveyed the party of adventurers before him approvingly. They finally seemed ready to start. He was the only one who knew what dangers they would soon be heading into, but he was still just excited to watch it play out as they were.
Going around this circular table, starting to the DM's left, was Miriam Stonecutter, a dwarf and a cunning liar and resourceful thief, having been driven from her home at an early age and forced to grow up on the streets. Next was The Rogue, whose true identity and most of his past were a mystery to his fellow players, though his character sheet claimed he was human. Next was a Dragonborn named Nesjum Gelxankush, who was a fallen nobleman but every bit as proud, strong, and honorable as he should be. Then came Bartleby Commons, a fat little halfling with an interest in lore, drink, companionship, and little else. And last was Melinaar, a chaotic good eladrin or fey, who was wise, perceptive, and loved exploring, the designated leader of their small band.
Welcome to another exciting Friday night adventure in Feinstein Hall Dormitory's third floor lounge AKA the Realm of Heobrilas. The DM jumped straight into things, not wanting to waste any more time. “As you approach a town, a man rushes up to the road, panting, and hunches forward with his hands on his thighs. It is clear he has run at full speed for a considerable distance. Word of your successful campaigns must be spreading throughout the realms and he sought you out specifically for help.”
The Rogue didn't look convinced. “I get my sword out of its scabbard, just in case this guy's hostile.”
The DM continued. “When the man straightens up, you can see greenish-gray splotches on the exposed skin of his arms and face. One of his ears is the same color but absurdly long and pointy.
“Fucking half-goblin,” The Rogue muttered under his breath. “Aren't we beyond killing goblins at this level?”
“Half-goblin?” Miriam whispered. “Is that actually a thing?”
“I've never heard of one before,” Nesjum said. “But anything's possible.”
“I'm not helping a goblin of any sort, half or otherwise,” Bartleby declared, crossing his arms over his chest. “Unless he's got lots of gold and can point me in the direction of the nearest tavern.” He reached for the large, metal tankard in front of him and took a swig from it. This was a dry campus, so the liquid was only soda, but the effect was the same as if it had been mead or ale.
“hihhh HehhYAHtchoo!” sneezed Melinaar. “Shit,” he sniffled and scrubbed his left hand beneath his nose. “Sorry.”
The DM went on. “He does appear to have some goblin features in his appearance. Does anyone want to approach him to talk or make a perception check?”
“I'll do a check,” Nesjum said, picking up a die and rolling it.
“Dude,” said The Rogue, nodding at the die, “Don't use up all your good luck at the beginning of a campaign. We might need those rolls later.”
“Wasn't trying to,” Nesjum whispered back with a smile. Even when it wasn't all that useful, no D&D player could resist smiling when rolling high for anything.
The DM smiled too and made some checks of his notes. “When you look more closely, you can see that the patches are rough, like they're not supposed to be there, and fresh, like they're new. In fact, before your eyes, a small patch of green appears on one of the man's cheeks. It begins to spread over his whole cheek.”
“Oh, that can't be good,” said Nesjum. “I take a step back, not wanting to get too close.”
“The man's still out of breath from his run, but he raises a hand to his cheek, as if he can feel what's happening there. The amount of gray-green on his cheek gets larger, so you can see it around his hand. And then some appears on the back of his hand.”
Nesjum scooted back in his chair. “Yeah, that's definitely not good.” Others in his party nodded silently in agreement.
“'Help us!' The man cries out. 'We didn't realize what would happen!'” The DM's voice went high-pitched and shrill during the last word. “The man clutches his chest. His eyes go red and glaze over. Then he falls forward onto the ground. There's a knife hilt in the center of his back. As he lies there, you can see his other ear transforming into a pointy green one. But his body lies otherwise motionless.”
“I'm gonna say he's dead,” Bartleby declared. “Anyone feel like checking?”
No one wanted to. No one wanted to get any closer. In fact, Nesjum took a few more steps back.
Miriam actually had a hand clapped over her mouth, but she lowered it to talk. “It's like a magical goblin infection. And it sounds like they brought it on themselves.”
“Then it's not our place to get involved,” said Bartleby. “Their mess. Their punishment.”
“The whole village, though? What about the children?”
The Rogue rolled his eyes. “Miri, just because your parents kicked you out doesn't mean you have to go around saving every kid we come across. Remember those twins in the Enigma Realm? Not as innocent as they seemed. You nearly got us killed by insisting we take them along to safety. If there are kids in that village, they're probably already infected.”
“But what if they're not? Why would this guy have come out here looking for help if everyone was already dead or dying?” She looked over at the DM for help. “Are we supposed to help?”
The DM gave a shrug. “It's up to you guys.”
Instinctively, the players turned to their leader. Melinaar had been pretty silent about this. But the Eladrin were known for being masters of magic with an interest in the arcane. If anyone was going to vote for exploring the village, it was Melinaar. He looked thoughtful for a moment, head slightly cocked, eyes searching the faces of the members of his party. Then his hands both snapped up and his whole body pitched forward. “hehh YIHTchhh! Hehtchoo!” He remained hunched over in his seat, sniffling, then his body shook again. “IHTCheew!” He coughed and sniffed and kept his hands cupped to his face, eyes closed.
A murmur and general feeling of unease went around the table. Nesjum scooted forward again in concern. He prodded softly, “Uh, hey, Mel? You okay?”
Melinaar nodded but neither lowered his hands nor opened his eyes. “F-fine,” he replied. But no one believed him.
“Yeah but you sound like you have goblin pox or whatever the hell that was,” The Rogue said. He looked from Melinaar to the DM and back. “Did you guys plan this? Please tell me Mel's just a really good actor.”
After giving a few really hard sniffs, Melinaar lowered his hands, wiping one against his nose before dropping them into his lap. “Sorry,” he said, barely above a whisper. “Think I'm coming down with a cold.” He sniffed again. “This day really sucks.”
“D'you wanna leave?” The DM asked hesitantly. He was already trying to work out what changes he'd need to make. The party didn't exactly seem into this anyway. Maybe he could send them off in another direction and they'd tackle this particular quest later when Melinaar was feeling up to it.
But Melinaar shook his head. “I'm okay.” He scrubbed a couple fingers under his nose roughly. “I feel okay for now. Let's keep going.” He cleared his throat. “Everyone who wants to check out the village and figure out what's going on, raise your hand.” Only he and Miriam did so.
But then Bartleby sighed and flung his hand into the air. “But only because, if the whole town is dead, there might be an abandoned pub in town where I can fill this up for free, okay?”
“I swear your sheet should say chaotic unpredictable,” Miriam joked. “But I'll take it. To the village!” She pointed toward her DM.
“Kay... but if I get the fucking goblin pox, I will murder you all before I die,” said The Rogue. “And I'm keeping my sword out.”
“Good idea,” Melinaar said. “Everyone, get your weapons out and keep an eye open. Sniff! We'll move in slowly. I'll go first.” He glanced at the DM to make sure that was all right. If they were going to meet immediate danger, he'd have them roll to figure out the order. But it seemed like this was okay for now.
“All right.” The DM sat up in his seat, pulling a bent leg under him in his chair. “Your party makes its way into the village. The streets are quiet, deserted. Doors of the small, thatched roof buildings are all closed. The shades on most windows are drawn.”
“Great,” The Rogue whispered. “You're leading us right into a horror movie.”
“Scared?” Miriam teased.
He took a beat before answering. “Well, yeah. This whole village is dead and we're walking right into unknown danger. I may be cocky, but damn right I'm scared. We all should be. I'm making a perception check. I don't want to go into this blind.”
The DM nodded. “Okay.” They all watched The Rogue pick up his die, shake it smoothly in his fist, and roll it onto the table. It stopped on 1.
“You're going into it pretty much blind,” said the DM. “But you do also notice that there are no animals around. No stray cats, no birds in the trees, not even livestock in the barns.”
Nesjum muttered, “All dead. Or transformed, maybe?”
“Oh, if we run into goblin-cows, we're getting he hell out of here,” The Rogue stated. “Everyone agreed?”
They laughed at the idea but seemed to agree. The DM scribbled down a note. Goblin-cows sounded kind of amazing. “You continue onward, heading down spindle-like paths that lead straight to the center of the village. There doesn't seem to be any sign of a fight or a struggle. It's just eerily deserted and far too quiet.”
“Dude, he said quiet.” The Rogue rolled his eyes.
“Right, I... I-hahhh”
“He's gonna sneeze again,” Bartleby predicted the obvious.
“heh-YETChooo! Hehtchooo! Hahshahhh!”
Bartleby scooted his chair a few inches away from Melinaar, closer to Nesjum. He nudged his notes and his tankard over with him as well.
“hehh-EHTChooo!” Melinaar finished. He sniffed hard, wiping his hand at his nose. Then he rummaged around in his pocket and pulled out a small wad of tissues. He wiped at his nose, snuffling. “Excuse me. Sniff! I took some stuff before I got here. I don't think it's kicked in yet. But it should any second now Sniff!”
An awkward pause followed. If they kept talking about his cold, they weren't going to get very far in the quest. But the elephant in the room was getting larger each time he had a sneezing fit like that.
“So...” The DM tried to recapture their attention and set the mood for what was to come. “As you get to the very center of the village, some movement catches your eye. There's someone behind one of the buildings off to your right. And then you see a flash of something to your left. And you hear a skittering directly behind you. You suddenly realize that you've been lured right into a trap.”
“Shiiiiiiiiit,” The Rogue moaned. “See, I knew we shouldn't have come.”
“Whatever they are, don't let them touch you,” Nesjum said. “We can't get infected.”
“We may already be,” Bartleby said. “And I didn't even get any free ale. Think mutant goblins take last requests?”
“We sniff don't know for sure that—” Melinaar began, but he was interrupted by the DM.
“A glint of something shiny and the scrape of metal against wood captures your attention. From directly ahead, a human-sized goblin emerges from behind a dwelling and emerges from the shadows carrying a scythe. Everybody roll for initiative.”
They all rolled and reported in with their dexterity added. Nesjum was up first. In his heavy armor and with a Hoarfrost war axe in hand, he made a formidable opponent. But there were a lot of targets, not just one, and they were going to have to all contribute to get through this unscathed. “I kind of want to use acid dragon breath, but I don't want to get that close.” Nesjum considered for a second. “I gather my strength and throw my axe at that one in front of us, he's the closest, right?”
Nesjum rolled and grinned at the die. “Oh, that's got to be a hit.”
“Direct hit. The axe sails over, turning end over end in the air. It strikes the—”
Nesjum sighed. “Mel, do you think you could at least hold off sneezing until it's your turn? I'm trying to kill a human-goblin thing here.”
Melinaar slumped a little in his seat. “Yeah, sorry. I'll try not to sn... snee-sn-ehhhhh!” He pinched his nose tightly, but his breath still hitched uncontrollably. “ehh ehhh ehhh! Heh-EEPTII!
Everyone jumped at the high-pitched, painful-sounding squeak. It was followed by Melinaar exhaling loudly. And that, in turn, was followed by Nesjum shaking his head. “Never mind. Just sneeze normally. Don't do that again, whatever happens.”
Melinaar flushed a little and looked down at the papers and dice in front of him. “Sorry, Nes. Sniff! Sorry everybody. Sniff! Stupid cold...”
The DM continued. “So Nes's axe splits the attacker almost impossibly straight down the middle from head to crotch. It splits apart with a sickening sound, oozing purple blood.”
“Purple? Huh. That's interesting.” Melinaar took note. A couple of the others wrote the detail down as well.
Bartleby was up next. After a quick check of the area via a map the DM slid into the center of the table that showed the relative positions of the enemies at the beginning of the fight, Bartleby decided to try to slip past the next closest enemy and come round from behind to attack another with his pair of knives that were, to him, like swords. Being a small halfling, he had a much shorter range than the others, and he had to utilize tricks and stealth. He rolled low.
Then the DM rolled and compared the numbers and his notes. “You manage to slice the backs of its ankles. It howls and goes down, but it needs more hits before it's finished off.”
Bartleby shrugged. “Did what I could. Who's next?”
“I am,” Melinaar spoke up. “I take my... my... oh no...” He dropped the die in his hand and quickly cupped both hands to his nose and mouth. “HAHTchhhhhh! HehYIHShhhh! Hehshooo! Ehhshoo! Uhghh...” He sniffed wetly. “Dabbit. Does adybody hab a tissue?”
Acting like the facilitator he was, the DM repeated the request, this time not bogged down with congestion or muffled behind hands. “Did any of you adventurers happen to bring tissues along on your quest tonight?”
A few people rummaged around in their backpacks, others just shook their heads. The short search turned up two small travel packs of tissues, one nearly empty, the other mostly full. The DM slid them across the table to Melinaar, who stared at them for a few seconds.
“Ub, thags.” He dropped one hand from his face, quickly moving the other to provide better coverage. He snatched up one of the tissue packs. His chair scraped back against the laminate floor. He rose from his seat and turned. They could all hear the rustling of plastic and then a hand closing over a paper tissue. Then there was the sound of tremendous blowing. Miriam winced. The Rouge rolled his eyes again. And the DM shifted in his seat, switching legs so that the other one was bent underneath him now.
When Melinaar turned back around, his nose was slightly more pink but he looked significantly more put together. “Thanks. Sniff! Sorry 'bout that. Sniff! About this I mean.” He wiped the tissue at his nose. “Knew I was fighting off something all day, just didn't expect it to hit so hard tonight. Sniff! I can leave if I'm, I dunno, grossing y'all out.”
The DM gave him a sympathetic look. “As long as you feel up to playing, I'm cool if the rest of the party is.”
“You're a good fighter,” Nesjum reminded him. “We kinda need you.”
“Yeah, it's all right,” Miriam reassured him.
“Just don't sneeze on me, okay?” Bartleby said, scooting another inch closer to Nesjum. But he displayed the sort of goofy grin he usually reserved for trying to pick up wenches, so it helped put Melinaar at ease.
The Rogue just shrugged again. “If you use my pack of tissues all up, you're buying me another, right?”
Melinaar laughed and nodded.
“Well okay then. Carry on and kick some fuckin' half-goblin ass.”
Picking up his die again, he shook it. “Nes took out the guy in front of us, right?”
The DM nodded. He reached past his DM screen and drew a big X over the one half-goblin that had been split in two. And he drew a tiny X next to the one Bartleby had wounded.
“I've got my sword out,” Melinaar said. “But instead I want to use my staff. These are goblins, for goodness sakes. Level 1s can take these out normally. I want to end this right now. So everyone in the party runs here, past this dead guy. That gives me enough range to get all the rest of them, if the strength is high enough and at least do damage to them if it's not.”
“Good luck,” the DM said, checking his notes, rolling against it.
Melinarr rolled. Then he smiled. And the rest of the party cheered. Unless the DM somehow rolled something like a 22, there was no question who the victor was.
“Your staff pulses with magic. You bring it down with all your strength and WHAM! Every half-goblin in a twenty-foot radius falls to the ground, dead. Just like that. The blow makes you stumble a little, but you stay on your feet. You're barely weakened by the amount of magic that took. In fact, the strike may have caused more than just that, magic rippling from the epicenter in waves. Who's first down the alley between the two buildings that he sent you down?”
The others looked at each other. “I guess I am,” said Miriam, raising her hand.
“Then I need you to do a perception check.” The DM had his pencil poised, waiting.
Miriam rolled a 2. Not much, but just enough, apparently, with her bonus as a dwarf able to see better in darker situations.
“You notice that the door of the building on your right is open now. And that there are no half-goblins inside. But something doesn't look right. It looks darker than it should in there.”
“I've got a candle and flint,” offered Bartleby, who was always prepared to make fire in case there was something to smoke or something to eat that needed cooking.
“Great. You all approach the doorway and take a closer look. Inside there are stairs leading downward. Stairs the consistency of the firmly packed floor of the abandoned home. They look like they've been there a while.”
“Y'all ready to explore?” asked Melinaar. He wiped a folded tissue at his nose, but his eyes were bright, full of excitement.
“The stairs are narrow. You'll have to go single file. So I'll need you all to roll for initiative.” The dice determined that the order would be The Rogue, Melinaar, Miriam, Bartleby, and Nesjum.
“Before I start down these stairs, I just want to be on the record saying this is a really stupid idea. We still have no idea what happened in the village. We still don't know how those humans turned into giant goblins or if we're going to be infected if we go down there. For all we know, everyone in the village could be half-goblin, lying in wait for us underground.” The Rogue held his hand out. “Bartleby, give me your damn candle.”
Bartleby grinned and mimed handing it over, careful not to drip any of the melting wax on their hands.
“Okay, let's go.”
Having made a note of their order, the DM continued the adventure. “Your footsteps echo through the darkness as you descend the stairs. The candlelight only shows you three steps ahead, the flame flickering with the movement of stepping down over and over again. You can't tell how long the staircase is, but you've been walking for thirty minutes and feel sure it must end soon. Off in the distance, you think you hear a sound. It's faint, but you can just make out the sound of—”
The Rogue groaned. “Hey, we're trying to be stealthy here. My +4 isn't going to be worth shit if half-goblins can hear Mel sneeze a mile away.”
The DM interrupted. “Wait, wait a second here. Does your character have a cold in-game?”
Melinaar shook his head as he rubbed a tissue at his nose. “Doe. Eladrid dod't get sigg. Heh hehh YESHhhhhh! Hehshooo! Aw...” He plucked a fresh tissue out of the pack, folded it around his nose, and gave another substantial blow.
“Oh, he definitely has a cold in-game now. This makes it interesting.” The DM scribbled notes all over the page in front of him, rolled his dice, and scribbled some more. By then, Melinaar had cleared his nose sufficiently but still looked wounded. “Maybe it's because you're so deep underground where it's cold and damp, maybe the magic drained more of you than you initially thought. But whatever the reason, you start sniffling.”
“Wait, start?” Bartleby laughed.
“The Rogue turns around, raising the candle, and even just by candlelight you can all see Melinaar doesn't look so good. Do you continue on? Or do you head back up?”
They debated among themselves.
“hehhh-YIHShoo! HehShooo! Sniff! I'b dot that sick, really.”
“He's gonna get us all killed.”
“Yeah, but he just saved us all from half-goblins in a single move.”
“I want to keep playing, you guys.”
“Is the DM just using this as an excuse to get us on another path?”
“Guys, Mel actually doesn't look so good.”
“heh hehhSchhhhhh!” Melinaar pulled what was apparently the very last tissue from the pack and blew his nose again. He coughed a couple times, refolded as best he could, and gave another blow.
Miriam got to her feet. “I'll be right back.” She headed out of the lounge, going straight for the staircase just to the right of the lounge doors. She headed down and returned a few minutes later with a large roll of paper towels. “From the kitchen directly under us,” she declared, setting them on the table in front of Melinaar. “There you go.”
They couldn't have arrived at a better time. Immediately, Melinaar tore a paper towel off the roll, folded it in half, and buried his nose into it to catch another sneeze. “hahh-Yshmphhhh! Oh...” He massaged his nose through the thick, soft paper towels. “Fuck, that feels good.” He wiped his nose, aware that everyone was now staring at him. “Um, sorry. Sniff!”
“So what did you all decide?” The DM had his pencil poised, ready to make adjustments as needed.
The Rogue took a deep breath. “We turn around and head back up the stairs.”
Melinaar sighed, defeated.
“Yeah you do,” said the DM. “You move more slowly on the climb back up, partly because it's uphill and partly because you want to make sure Melinaar doesn't completely exhaust himself. So it takes almost an hour for you to reach the surface. When you do, the air outside the house is crisp and cool. Dusk is setting in.”
“I have a feeling,” said Nesjum, “that camping in the middle of a potentially infectious goblin town is a bad idea.” The others quickly agreed. Melinaar just sneezed again.
“You head back to the road and continue along it, weapons drawn, just in case something from the village is following you.”
“Perception check,” Miriam said, rolling.
“Nothing from the village seems to be following you,” the DM clarified. “And up ahead you see the faint glow of lights from another village, this one very much alive. There are warm yellow glows from most windows. There's music and the sounds of market carts being packed up for the night.”
“Wait, wait,” Bartleby interrupted at once. “Did you say music? Is that an inn or a tavern?”
The DM rolled. “It's an inn.”
“Good enough. Drinks are on me. And we can get a room for Mel.”
“Guys... sniff... I don't—”
“Think the innkeeper has handkerchiefs?”
“Probably. I can throw in a gold piece or two for extra blankets.”
“Now you're talking!”
“Sniff! Really, I don't need all—”
“Mel gets tea and I get two pints of ale. And a wench on each arm.”
“Sounds fair to me. I'll stand guard outside his door to make sure he's not disturbed.”
Melinaar coughed and cleared his throat. “Honestly, it's nice of you. But you don't have to go to all that trouble. Eladrin don't even sleep.”
“Yeah,” Bartleby agreed. “But you do that trance thing. And if you don't, you're never gonna rest and get better. And we'll have to stay here longer. Say... that's not a bad idea, really...”
The Rogue spoke up. “One night, sure. But I'm not spending all the gold I've earned so far on our quests just on meals and accommodations.”
“Just a couple nights,” Nesjum tried to split the difference.
“Just until Mel feels better,” Miriam said.
“hehhYIHShphhhh!” Melinaar sneezed into another paper towel.
The Rogue sighed. “Okay, fine.” He pointed at Bartleby. “But, Mr. Commons, I get first choice of the wenches.”
“Aaaand that sounds like a good place to stop for the night,” the DM jumped in. “See you all next Friday. Mel, I think this goes for all of us: we hope you feel better..”
Melinaar nodded, tucking the paper towels under his arm as he slid his D&D folder back into his backpack. “I will. Thanks, everybody. Sniff!”
They headed out of the otherwise empty lounge, disbanding. One went down the hall to a room, another upstairs, the others down the stairs to go to different dorms. The student playing Melinaar was the last to leave, watching his friends disappearing down campus walkways, around corners. The night air really was cool and crisp. And even though it made him feel a little sniffly, it also made him feel invigorated, aware. There weren't half-goblins hiding anywhere or a warm bed at an inn, but there was a loft bed waiting for him in his dorm room.