Two low thuds, maybe the front legs of some beast, hit the other side of the closed door.
Hal hears more movement beyond and alerts everyone. John shouts a warning for his two teammates to get back as he quickly flips a dining table on to its side and up against the door as a defence cover.
GM: I designated the main entrance hall of the Keep map for this encounter. This mimics the placement in the original book, where the goblin dogs are found in the hallway entrance to Citadel Alterean. I used the description of the “A6:Drill Auditorium” (in the next image map it is the large room below A4 – its post-it note having being removed by this point) as this fits the layout and entrance to the Courtyard Arena beyond, which could double for the field drill area.
GM: This is our second run at this chapter (as noted before we restarted AoA after completing Plaguestone). I therefore swapped out the Grauladon that lurks in the courtyard for an equally jungle-appropriate Tiger, whose roars can be heard every time the players venture towards the centre of the Keep.
GM: I pre-rolled randomised statistics for the goblin dogs – which gave me two strong dogs and one weak. This suggested a family group. I roleplay one as more naive with puppy-like tendencies, one as protective of the younger dog and one as pathologically aggressive.
With the table between John and the most ferocious dog, the fight begins, John landing a hit (attack of opportunity). The other large dog stalks towards him, while the smaller stays back at first, watching. Despite the makeshift barrier, John is bitten in the close-combat. He takes out the second dog in retaliation with just two heavy hits (a power attack and a following strike), his guisarme reaching over the barrier. The bite though is infected with goblin pox.
Wounded and its mate felled, the first dog retreats, bounding up onto the lectern stage for a height advantage. The third goblin dog comes in at the sight of its mother dying.
A spell bursting from Hal damages the retreating beast; enraged, the hound immediately turns and braces to leap onto John. As this happens, Hax bursts into a song of courage, emboldening John, who slices down on the weaker dog, killing it instantly.
The remaining foe pounces. John (attack of opportunity) meets it with the spear spike of his polearm, flinging it back into a wall, crushed into a mess of bones and blood (the result of a Crit Card’s free shove).
John turns aside and retches, trying to rid himself of the pox, which he does (successful Fortitude save).
From the large iron door beyond, the snarls of the tiger (strangely apathetic, as per the book, had the team investigated) can be distantly heard as it paces the outdoor arena.
The team stay vigilant but are satisfied for now that the portcullis to the arena is lowered. They can see the smoke rising in the centre of the keep from an open hole. This is what Warbul spotted from the town. Whether it is a distress signal, it appears to be coming from below ground.
The team investigate this area and find it lacking in anything of use, although the Order of the Nail’s insignia remains. With his military background (warfare lore), John recognises it instantly. Hax decides to take all of the scraps of cloth with him, as well as some paperwork he finds near the broken desk on the lectern plinth.
Next, the team investigate the first side room.
GM: The room of the Keep map which is filled with armour stands, I chose to represent A8: Training Hall. I decided that the tithe of a silver coin paid by the Hellknights who missed their shot would be embued with a faint residue of magic and representing a payment that has been accepted by their god as an offering. I had placed the secret door here, as in the Adventure Path book. To work with my map, the secret door would instead take them to a tunnel, which runs under the courtyard to the stable, where I had placed the NPC Alak fighting the imp within the pentagram.
The team find a room filled with mouldering straw-filled dummies. Hal casts a Detect Magic spell and finds a faint aura in the area. After time spent trying to pin point the source, he concludes that there is something within the head of one of the dummies. John pokes at the dummy with his guisarme; a coin falls out. They work their way around the room until they have found all of the pieces of silver.
The team do not meet the perception check for the secret door and to decide their next course of action, they consult their map. They can see from the blueprint that the stairs down to the dungeons are close by. Time being of the essence, as this is both a race to find Alseta’s Ring and a rescue mission, they leave any further investigations of the upper floor for a later time and head to the stairs.
On the landing before the staircase (south-west, shown in the top left area in the above map) they discover the blanket of worg puppies from A15. As they are no immediate threat, the team leave them for now, and make their way down the stone staircase to the dungeon.
GM: I now use the reverse of the Keep map – the dungeon area – for this next part of the story. The goblins are being held in the dungeons, rather than the altercation with the now-imprisioned Calmont on the walls of the citadel. The continuous smoke is not a warning fire, but a toxic chemical that keeps the prisoners (and other inmates, including the tiger) drousy and apathetic. The predators and room concepts in this section are all taken and adapted from Chapter 3: The Citadel Below. As Alak was not encountered on the upper floor, he now moves, as the Adventure Path instructs, to the lower level, where he is to be found searching for his family heirloom – a precious insignia ring.
The staircase is pitch black. With his Gloomseer human ancestry feat, John can make out a little of the way ahead. Hal does not know of John’s special sight, so adds light to John’s polearm to help him lead the way down.
The dungeon is filled with distant cries, screams, a faint monkey-like whooping, as well as the rumblings and echoes of inmates fighting amongst themselves. The first room is the scene of a ritual.
GM: To foreshadow Voz’s involvement, I have greeted the team with a necromantic ritual, which is only a few hours’ old. Voz has been bringing the venerated bodies of the Order of the Nail to this room and uses the Talking Corpse spell to try and find out more information on the route down to Alseta’s Ring. Her desecration has woken the Hellknight guardians who now patrol for intruders and frequently clash with the jungle interlopers who also roam these parts. The team arrive in the ‘dining area’ in the south west of the dungeon map, though I have placed a grave pit pawn over the table and chairs, to cancel this out.
The team find a pit built into the centre of the room’s floor, large enough for a human body. There are signs of recent use. They investigate and find channels in the bottom of the pit, stained with blood. There are gutted candles contained within regular alcoves in the wall; John judges they were recently lit. Also on the wall are plaques commemorating the Hellknight Fallen.
In past times, this was a room for embalming the dead, though now it has become a make-shift room for sacrilege. Hal immediately notes the faint necromantic energies here.
GM: All of the enemies in this area move dynamically, and the sounds and echoes the team hear reflect when different groups meet each other and battle. Noise from the players might alert several different groups, but will also cause these enemies to perhaps run into each other. The Cinder Cult group is cleverer, hanging back in the northern tunnels until it seems likely that the new arrivals (the player characters) are injured and easy pickings.
Strange clucking sounds, coupled with the scrape of metal on metal, can be heard from the east. Alert to the new danger, the team go forward to investigate.