Around the refectory of the old keep, a group of adventurers gathers, sharing their reasons for heading out to the borderlands, and to delve into Stonehell in particular. It seems that they are sizing each other up, seeking worthy companions to brave the depths with. A stone-dwarf wizard who calls himself Gargamel (Nolan) is strumming his harp by the warmth of the hearth. With one ear, he’s paying attention to the music played by the halfling bard, Milo (Jordan), and trying to match his notes. Keeping another ear on the group gathered around the table, he hears their tales while keeping his own proverbial cards close to his chest.
The elf rogue, Foxfire (Cole), tells them she’s there on some unfinished personal business. A friend has asked her for a favor and this will lead her into the caverns. The cleric, a half-elf by the name of Sieglinde (Vincent) has a flash of holy fire in her eyes as she tells them she’s trying to find her mother, an adventurer herself who was lost on the road somewhere. She figures that Stonehell is as good a place to start looking as any, being an adventurer magnet. The bard says he’s interested only in a good story. He figures this lot is as good a source as any for a tale or two. If nothing else, the dungeon itself will certainly have a story to tell.
The next day after a night of drinking and carousing, they set off down the short road to the box canyon and approach the dilapidated gatehouse wall that stretches across the natural opening. The wall itself has huge gaps on either side of the main gate, looking as if a Titan smashed down through the stone with a hammer. They walk straight up to the gate to try to decipher some of the generations old graffiti scratched and scribbled on either side of the ruined gate. Spending about ten minutes, they are able to piece together the following bits of “knowledge” from various languages and overlapping carvings:
―Venture down past the living caves if it‘s gold ye seek. Nuggets the size of apples lie there for the taking.
―In memory of those who met their fate in the halls of Stonehell. A list of over a hundred names is written beneath this message.
―The little, scaly bastards can‘t be trusted. They turned on us, killed Sydel, and stole all our gold! Kill ’em on sight!
―The dead are not quiet in Stonehell. I saw Rhaulk beckoning me down a passageway the night after he was killed. I dared not follow him then, but I‘ve returned to rescue his shade from Stonehell‘s grasp.
―Be careful in the lowest depths of Stonehell. The rooms there change from time to time and what once was no longer stands.
And one that particularly caught their eye mentions what must be a “wishing well”:
―Look for the cave with the well. It will grant your greatest wish if you throw in enough gold.
Heading straight through the old gatehouse, they continue on, past the ruins of some buildings that were likely used for administration and support facilities for the guards when the prison was still in operation, but are now simply husks. The path through the tight and high-walled valley is well worn, whether from adventurers or other creatures, they can’t say. There are numerous side trails that branch off to caverns in the cliffs to their right and left, as well as snaking up the walls in steep switchbacks to locations unknown. As they approach a large copse of trees on their left, they see a steaming waterfall on their right. It cascades down the cliff into a large, fog covered pool.
The pool is surrounded by lots of vegetation, lilies and cattails and reeds, as well as a lot of frogs and other small animals, drawn to the spot by the warm, clear water. They notice the tracks of other animals that must use the pool as their source of drinking water: deer and goat as well as what looks like a mountain lion. As a breeze clears the steam on top of the pond, they notice what looks like a large silver ball sitting at the bottom of the pool. Testing that the water isn’t too hot, Milo dresses down and dives in to investigate. As he gets closer to the object, he notices that it looks like a silver hemisphere embedded in the mud of the bottom of the pool, and there is a growing current within the water that draws him closer to it. Deciding that caution is called for, he surfaces and let’s the party know what he found, then decides to cast Detect Magic. Looking back down into the pool, he sees the orb glowing with the faint aura that indicates it is operating with some sort of magic from the school of Conjuration. It’s then that they notice there is no apparent outlet from this pool, despite the water continually flowing into it from the falls further up the cliff.
After some discussion, it’s decided that Milo will dive back in and see if the orb teleports him somewhere, as it is seemingly doing to the water. As he gets close and actually touches the surface, he sees it’s covered with a layer of glass and that it’s quite cool. He can feel the water of the pool rushing towards it and flowing past his hands, but he stays put. Coming back up, he reports his findings again and they decide to leave this mystery for a later time.
As Milo straps on the last of his dry gear, they spot an extremely large black bear watching them from the edge of the dense grove of trees on the opposite side of the canyon. It doesn’t seem particularly interested in them and starts to shuffle away. Some members of the party recollect through the fog of the ale they had the night before that some of the locals in the keep’s refectory said something about the guardian of the valley, Coal, the bear. They said that if you leave him an offering you will have good luck in the dungeon. There is a brief conversation about actually trying to attack Coal, but this is abandoned as well as the idea that they would leave him anything. The thought was that he probably wouldn’t like the trail rations they had stored in their packs. As the great beast walks away, Sieglinde yells out to him and waves a greeting. The bear stops and grunts a greeting back, then continues on his way up one of the switchbacks, losing himself in the brush.
The group then continues on to the entrance of the old prison. Foxfire seems particularly eager to get inside and out of the bright sun of midday. Passing under the large arch into the darkness, they read the weather worn carved inscription overhead:
FOR ALL THOSE WHO ENTER
THESE BENIGHTED HALLS OF STONE
THEIR SOULS FIND NO CENTER
NOR THE COMFORTS OF A HOME
REPENTING OF THEIR CRIMES
EVER DIGGING WHERE THEY DWELL
AWAITING COLD DEATH’S CHIMES
IN AN UNENDING STONE HELL
Thinking this is probably fine and totally not ominous they head down into the deeps via the giant spiral staircase in the middle of the otherwise empty room…
Thus ends part one of the first delve into Stonehell.