Running the Squonk
By guest writer Daniel J. Bishop
It is about mid-morning as you are traveling through the swamp. There is an odd beauty here, but the biting flies have turned it into a torment, and you must pause occasionally to remove one of the thick brown leeches that seem to worm their way inside even tight breeches and boots.
Suddenly, a horrific smell of sulfur and rotten meat washes over the path in a miasma of choking foulness. When you recover from the odor’s initial assault, you see the creature it emanates from – a sodden lump of darkness with an elephantine trunk, bulging eyes, clawed hands, horns, and a thick tail ending in tentacle-like grasping appendages. The trunk ends in what appears to be a stinger of some sort. Spikes and boney nodules stud its hide.
It hisses at you with a burbling voice: “Save me!”
Gary Con IX was my first Gary Con, and the first major gaming convention that I’ve run games at. I’ve done a lot of gaming, having run my first game more than 35 years ago. I’ve done Goodman Games Road Crew events at game stores. I used to run games at Golden City Comics (for 3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons), and I’ve run at OSR Con, as well as a pick-up game at Nexus Game Fair in Milwaukee the previous year. I’ve also written for a few publishers over the years, particularly for the Dungeon Crawl Classics role-playing game.
I wanted to make my first appearance at a major convention special, so I signed up to run five games. You would think, having been doing this for so long, that I would have been cool as a cucumber, but running games for new people is always a bit nerve-wracking. Being known to the community, I wanted to do my best not to disappoint!
I ran five games at Gary Con. Two of these were unpublished funnels, and three were published, but perhaps less well-known, adventures: Stars in the Darkness, The Revelation of Mulmo, and The Tomb of the Squonk. The Tomb of the Squonk was written for In the Prison of the Squid Sorcerer, by Mystic Bull Games, but was cut due to space considerations. It was later published, by Mystic Bull, as part of The Pulp Weird Encounters Series #1, along with The Silent Army (by Charlie Scott).
I was set to run the adventure on Sunday morning. Saturday night I had run The Revelation of Mulmo to a full table, with a set time from 10 pm to 3 am, and I had run over time. Sunday morning, after a few snatched hours of sleep, I had to pack, check out, and make it to the game location in record time. I was pretty tired, but it is amazing how running a game can energize you. The game was set for six players, but I allowed nine at the table. Maybe more. By that point, I was running on caffeine and enthusiasm.
In order to prep for Gary Con, I had created several magic items, which were printed on card stock and cut out for distribution around the table. Depending upon the level of the game, each player received one or more items. Some of these were previously written for a play-by-post on the Goodman Games forums. Some of them were new. There were a variety of pre-generated characters available as well, thanks to the incredible tools from the Purple Sorcerer website. Characters and items selected, we were able to jump into the game.
Now, it is pretty obvious that Arvind Shar, the squonk, is not to be trusted. On the other hand, players are the same the world over, and few of them want to end the session by ignoring (or killing) the hook outright – at least, not at a Con game! The basic problem, according to the squonk, is that a witch (Yona) stole his body, leaving him with the disgusting form he now wore. Would the PCs be willing to help restore him?
After being targeted by a meteorite in the swamp, the PCs are able to reach the Tomb proper, where the squonk swears his body is held.
Past the doors, you can see a 10-foot wide corridor stretching out before you some 30 feet before entering a wider space. The walls give off a soft radiance, making it easy to see. Lying near the opening is a human corpse, obviously several weeks dead and crawling with beetles and flies. The man’s head lies some 10 feet further down the corridor – from this distance, it appears to have been neatly shorn off.
It was important, when writing this, to make sure that there were more than enough clues that Arvind Shar was not to be trusted. It was even more important, before the PCs entered the Tomb, to make it clear that the place was going to include some pretty deadly traps. In this case, a laser beam crosses the hall at neck height on a human. The players are able to figure this out, and proceed into the structure.
The first room contains a heat field, which is pretty damaging to those who linger, but is easy enough to avoid. This is the second, and final, warning about the traps to be encountered here. Because one character lingered in the room, the trap was more effective than it had to be. Which is good, because the third trap may well have ended in a TPK.
In this case, a pressure plate dropped a thick bronze wall far behind the party. Water was then pumped into the area. The party was dismayed that this trap was really meant to kill them – there was no release mechanism inside the trapped area. The party was left on their own to decide what to do.
Luckily, one of them was carrying Rah-Neld’s Raygun, and luckily the arcane artifact didn’t run out of charge (which happens if the user rolls a natural “1” on his attack roll). They melted a hole large enough to get themselves free from the rising water, and continued on into the Tomb.
The next thing they encountered was a temporal serpent:
Suddenly, a ten-foot-long white-furred snake, bleeding from several hideous wounds, appears at your feet. It is clearly dying.
This is the creature’s appearance at the end of combat. Suddenly it blinks out of existence and then reappears, whole, to do battle. It blinks out of existence at odd times, then reappears – sometimes seemingly more than one appears as the serpent duplicates itself via time travel.
(For those of you familiar with Glipkerio’s Gambit, this adventure was published a year earlier. And, yes, the snake’s white fur is a nod to Lankhmar.)
By this time, the players were ready for a bit of combat, and they made short shrift of the temporal serpent while the squonk cowered in the hallway. In the area where they encountered the serpent, there is a large relief carving of a handsome man and a beautiful woman. Arvind Shar admitted that the man was him, and that the woman was Yona. Under pressure, he admitted that Yona was his sister. If the players had not been suspicious before, they were clearly more than tired of the lying creature they were still trying to help.
The corridor beyond the massive bronze doors is 20-foot wide ending in another set of massive bronze doors 70 feet away. There are hexagonal niches built into the walls, three to the left and three to the right, large enough for a man to easily stand within. Midway down the corridor, the floor is marked with a large crimson hexagon 20 feet across – above it, the ceiling disappears into a 20-foot-square shaft of unknown height.
The next area contains portals which lead to other worlds. I have prepared for this possibility by bringing both The Weird Worm-Ways of Saturn and The Giggling Deep with me. There is also a very real possibility that one or more PCs could end up in the super-heated atmosphere of a gas giant. Luckily, using the divination magic available to them, the PCs avoided that possibility. On the other hand, they did make a brief trip to Saturn.
The Saturn of the Crawljammer universe attracts all metal with a magnetic force far stronger than any PC can successfully resist. PCs with armor are in serious trouble. PCs whose weapons are metallic – which is most PCs – are also in serious trouble. The Weird Worm-Ways of Saturn takes place during a variation of this magnetic flux; the PC’s side trip during The Tomb of the Squonk did not. After defeating an enormous hydra-worm, one PC managed to invoke the King of Elfland, stepped back in time, and warned the PCs before they left.
Back in the hall of portals, the PCs avoided a lethal trip to the gas giant, and managed to locate Arvind Shar’s previous body. Since it was decapitated, the enraged squonk attempted to kidnap one of the PCs’ bodies, and then leap into a portal to another world. Instead, the PCs destroyed him rather handily. I’ve seldom seen so many natural “20”s rolled in a single game session!
The last room in the “Tomb” was the control room for the traps. All of these controls were gemstone buttons. By removing them, the PCs triggered a final trap – the exit portal now led to the lair of the Goremera from The Giggling Deep! This was a bit more desperate of a battle, but the PCs prevailed. And that is where we left the bruised and battered party, picking through the treasures amassed by the Goremera from its victims. How (and if!) they escaped the Giggling Deep is another tale.
One of the best things about this game was being reminded of the rule that a character can voluntarily accept corruption to gain spellburn. This was done several times, and it was always amusing. In the aftermath of the session, I was told both that the traps were unfair (and they are!) and that they were appreciated, both from the same individual. Since there wasn’t a single PC lost, the traps were within the means of the characters provided…the prospective judge should never underestimate the resources available to even 2nd level DCC characters!
The Tomb of the Squonk is heavily influenced by Philip José Farmer’s World of Tiers series, recommended by Gary Gygax in Appendix N of the original Dungeon Master’s Guide. Special thanks to my older daughter, Heather, and her boyfriend, Jace, who helped devise magic items for the Gary Con characters to use. Special thanks also to my son, Mike, who played with us, and to the players signed up for the event: Jon Steelman, Jeff Goad, Becky Banner, Richard Mundy, Tim Deschene, and Jeffrey Laluc. The Waiting List included Eric Lopez, Mike Bishop, Chris Ellis, and James Smith. I should be better at remembering everyone who played, which characters they chose, and what they named them. By that point in the convention, though, I was pretty close to crashing hard.
I hope to see you all again at Gary Con X!