Chapter 5 – Riddles in the Dark
“So I’m not dead?” Martin asked as he settled down in the GM’s room.
“Martin, I wouldn’t have asked you to do an extra session if Bilbo was dead. I’m not like that no matter what those other guys say,” the GM replied as he set up a GM screen and laptop on his already cluttered desk. “Okay, ready?”
“I guess so.”
“Alright. Bilbo wakes up. You’re alone, it’s completely dark, and you don’t hear anything or anyone. You’re in some kind of tunnel.”
“Well, of course I am,” Martin replied irritably. “Bilbo feels around the tunnel to try to get an idea of how big it is and where it goes.”
Martin rolled his twenty-sided die. “Um, 14?”
“It’s a tunnel. It’s been worked, and it’s larger than your arms. You kind of have an idea of which way west is, but it the tunnel goes down in that direction.”
“Well, I guess I go down in that direction too. I stick by the side of the wall and slowly walked forward.”
“Okay, you’re going to have to make some dex checks.”
“Great.” Martin did as he was told, and Bilbo stubbed his toes but only fell down once.
“You feel a cold ring of metal under your right hand when you get up,” the GM said.
“Oh, I’ll put that in my pocket. Not sure what a ring is doing down here. Hey, do I have anything else in my pockets that might help me?”
The GM rolled his dice. “You have your pipe, which is actually still in one piece, go figure that, some tobacco, but no matches, and no food. You lost everything else.”
“Wait, what about my sword? Remember, Bilbo kept it in his pants because he doesn’t have a belt that fits.”
“Oh, right, okay, yes, you’ve still got your sword.”
“Bilbo gets it out. Does it glow like Thorin and Gandalf’s?”
“Why, yes it does,” the GM answered. “It gives off a very faint blue glow. It only enough to keep you from stubbing your toes though.”
“Hey, better than nothing. Bilbo keeps going.”
Martin’s character walked for quite a while until the GM said, “Your toes are wet. You’ve come to the bank of some kind of body of water. Roll perception.”
Martin did so.
“Okay, you’re pretty sure this is some kind of lake because you don’t hear any running water.”
“Great. I’m not swimming. Halflings don’t swim and I’m sure that lake is full of monsters.”
The GM sort of shrugged. “I’d say that’s not an unreasonable assumption.”
“Thanks, JR. So what do I do now? I’ve gone down instead of up and since this thing’s still glowing I know goblins are around somewhere.”
“Well, while you’re standing on the shore trying to figure out what to do, you see two pale lights approaching you.”
“What is that?” Martin asked warily.
“It appears to be some kind of creature paddling a crude boat across the lake toward you. It might be as tall as you except it’s hunched over so far it’s almost walking on its hands and knees. It’s wearing nothing but wet tatters of clothing. Its hair is long and stringy and you can hear it talking to itself.”
“Talking to itself?” Martin repeated. “What’s it saying?”
“‘What is it, preciousss? It is a goblin? Can we eats it?’” the GM said in a raspy, hissing voice.
“Oh, hell no,” Martin snapped. “Bilbo backs up against a wall and holds out his sword and tries to look threatening. ‘Who are you?’ he demands.”
“The creature stares at the sword and makes a horrible coughing sound like ‘gollum,’” the GM said, demonstrating.
Martin leaned back. “Great. Does this thing have a disease or something? My fortitude save isn’t very high.”
“You have no idea. It’s pretty skinny and doesn’t seem to have a lot of teeth. It says, ‘Precious. Who are you?’”
“‘Bilbo Baggins of the Shire. I’m lost and alone and I want to get the heck out of here.’”
The GM made some notes. “Are you sure you want to tell this thing so much about yourself?”
Martin shrugged. “Bilbo doesn’t know any better. Anyway, if he did think about that, he’d think this thing doesn’t actually know where the Shire is. Bilbo’s answering that way out of habit mostly.”
“Okay then. The creature stares at your sword for a few minutes and says, ‘How about a game, precious, with this Bagginses? Yesss, a game. Maybe the riddle-game?’”
“Wait, is he asking me or himself?” Martin asked.
“Um, that’s not clear, actually.”
“Great. I’m alone in the dark with mentally unstable creepy little monster.”
“Yep,” the GM agreed. “‘If Bagginses winsss, show him the way out we will, but if we winss, we eats him, yesss?’”
“That is a terrible bargain!”
The GM shrugged. “And?”
“Are you sure what the guys say about you isn’t true?” Martin asked sourly. “Fine. Bilbo agrees to the bargain.”
“Great!” the GM said, and handed Martin a sheet of paper and pulled up a stopwatch app on his cell phone. “Okay, here are the riddles that Bilbo knows. Your job is to figure out which ones the creature won’t be able to answer before he stumps Bilbo, you run out of time to answer, or you run of out riddles to ask. I’ve already made notes on my sheet which ones Bilbo might be able to roll to get a hint.”
“Wait, you developed an entire mini-game for this?” Martin asked. “You know the other guys would just want to roll opposed intelligence checks.”
“Yeah, but that’s boring. I thought this would be more interesting. Anyway, if I don’t make an effort, how can I expect my players to make an effort?”
Martin looked over the sheet. “Good point. Okay, so I’m guessing the more riddles I ask the better idea I should be able to get about what stumps this thing?”
“Hopefully, but he gets the same potential bonuses.”
“Can I make stuff up that’s not on the sheet?”
The GM was obviously pleased. “Of course! I mean, as long as it’s something clearly Bilbo would ask. But I’m sure you’ve got his back story written out enough to know that.”
“Oh, yeah, I do. Cool. Well, the other guys would say this sucks, but I’m glad to actually get a chance to role-play. So let’s do this thing!”
“Bilbo goes first.”
Martin and the GM played the mini-game for nearly an hour. By that point, Martin was running out of riddles quickly and had already almost missed a couple of answers.
The GM gestured to the stopwatch. “You’ve got to ask something. The creature is now circling you and saying things like, ‘Is it juicy? Is it soft?’”
“This is really throwing Bilbo off his game.”
“Yeah, it’s supposed to.”
Martin was fidgeting nervously and snapping his fingers.
“Come on, you’ve only got a few more seconds,” the GM said.
Martin could see the seconds ticking down. He went over Bilbo’s inventory in his head to gauge his chances of his halfling winning what seemed to be the inevitable fight with the slimy creature.
“Last chance,” the GM said.
“Um, um, what have I got in my pockets?” Martin blurted. He meant, of course, what did Bilbo still have in his pockets since he forgot to write down what the GM told him at the beginning of session and he knew his character had lost most of his gear and he was desperately hoping there was something Bilbo could use to escape.
The GM’s forehead wrinkled. “Well, that’s not a traditional riddle. Hm, let’s see what the creature thinks.” He rolled a die. “Okay, the creature says, ‘Not fair! Not fair! Must give us three guesses, yes, three guesses!’”
Martin blinked in surprised, but then quickly recovered. “Bilbo answers, ‘Oh, very well, I suppose I can grant you three guesses.’”
“The creature yells, ‘Handsss!’ Roll a reflex save to see if you still have your hands in your pockets.”
Martin rolled his die. “I got 19 total. That’s pretty good.”
“Okay, you don’t have your hands in your pockets. The creature mutters to itself and finally guesses, ‘Knife!’”
“Oh, no, Bilbo lost that before we got to River Valley.”
The GM reset the stopwatch. “Okay, the creature is really irritated now. It’s pacing back and forth and muttering to itself.” The seconds counted down and ran out.
“‘Well, what’s your answer?'”
“‘String, or nothing!’”
“Hey, that’s two guesses, but it doesn’t matter because Bilbo doesn’t have any string and his pockets aren’t actually empty.”
“The creature is really, really upset.”
“‘You said you’d show me the way out. Now come on, I won, so you show me how to get out.'”
“‘Yesss, yesss, we will. But first we have to get ready.’ The creature gets back on his boat and paddles into the darkness.”
“Great,” Martin said. “It’s just left me here anyway.”
The GM sort of shrugged. “After a few minutes you hear a terrible screeching sound coming from somewhere in the middle of the lake. The creature is yelling, ‘My precious! Where isss it? Noooo!’”
“Um, that doesn’t sound good.”
“In a few minutes, you see the creature’s pale eyes and it’s muttering to itself again about losing something.”
“What would that nasty thing have lost? It lives at the bottom of goblin tunnels. It doesn’t even own a weapon.”
“Well, it definitely thinks it’s lost something and it’s quickly going after you,” the GM answered.
“Hey, wait, I found a ring earlier. Is this its ring? Why would it have a ring?” Martin asked. “Bilbo pulls it out to look at it.”
“Are you going to give it back to the creature?”
“Hell, no, this thing is going to kill me. Bilbo puts the ring on, puts away the sword so it can’t see the light, and runs away. I’m hoping I can get to a bend in the tunnel and ambush him.”
“Okay, you’ll need to roll a dex check and you’re at some severe penalties because it’s completely dark without the sword and you don’t know where you’re going.”
“Better than getting killed down here,” Martin said, and rolled his die. “Damn it! That’s only an eight.”
“Bilbo gets about thirty feet up the tunnel. He can hear the flap of the creature’s feet close behind him. He falls flat on his face.”
“I’m dead,” Martin sighed.
“The creature runs right past you and continues up the tunnel.”
“It’s running away. What do you want to do?”
Martin was confused. “Um, I guess Bilbo will sneak up behind him. I don’t know how he didn’t see me, but I guess I’ll take advantage of this and maybe backstab him. Of course, I still don’t know how to get out of here.”
“Make a listen check.”
Martin rolled his die. “Well, I only got a 13, but this thing isn’t very quiet.”
“No, it’s not. That’s enough to hear it just fine. ‘Where did it go? It says it doesn’t know how to get out, but we can’t find it. It must have our Precious, yes, it must have put it on and disappeared. But it still can’t get out. Maybe we can still find it. Maybe it will try the back door now that it has our Precious? Yessss, to the back door.’ And the creature turns around and heads in another direction.”
“Bilbo follows him. Have I just found a Ring of Invisibility?”
The GM shrugged. “Seems like you might have.”
“Sweet! So yeah, Bilbo follows this thing.”
The GM had Martin make some stealth checks, which he passed. “Finally the creature stops in front of a tunnel. You know you’ve been moving upwards. It seems very nervous about going forward. It’s muttering something about ‘Goblinses’ and its cough is getting worse.”
“I’m guessing that’s the tunnel to the main goblin tunnels and that it’s afraid it’ll get killed. Is it blocking the tunnel?”
“Damn it. I could try to backstab it, but if I don’t kill it on the first shot, it’s going to scream bloody murder and I’m going to attract a ton of goblins. Even if Bilbo is invisible, they might accidentally catch or trample him.”
“So what is Bilbo going to do?”
“Something halflings shouldn’t do,” Martin sighed. “I’m going to try to jump over him and run away.”
“You want to jump?” the GM repeated doubtfully.
“Yeah, well, if I miss, then I have to fight but this way maybe I can avoid making a bunch of noise.”
“Okay, well, roll your die.”
“Come on, don’t fail me now,” Martin muttered. The twenty-sided die spun on its axis and finally rolled over to a 20. “Yes!”
“Really?” the GM said in disbelief. “Alright, you leap right over the creature’s head, avoid smacking into the top of the tunnel and land on your feet.”
“Bilbo runs the hell away.”
“But you hear the creature behind you yelling, ‘Thief! Thief! We hates you! Thief!’”
“Damn it, maybe I should have stabbed it. Well, if only a couple of goblins run past me, I know I’m going in the right direction.”
“So Bilbo keeps running and finally you stumble right into an open area full of goblins and a door.”
“A door! I’ve never been so happy to see a door!”
The GM rolled his die. “Yeah, and the goblins can see you.”
“What? This isn’t a Ring of Invisibility?”
“Oh, it is, but it’s not on your finger. It’s back on your pocket.”
“How the hell did that happen? Whatever, I put it back on and try to hide.”
“Give me a roll.”
Martin did so.
“Your disappearing act scares the goblins and they call out all the guards. There’s noise and rushing and panicking. You get kicked a few times but no one finds you in the confusion. Finally there’s only two goblins left watching the tunnel.”
“But they’re not watching the door?”
“I’m going to sneak over there and try to get out.”
“You know what do to.”
Martin rolled his die.
“You get to the door, but you’re stuck.”
“Oh, come on, I’m not Bombur,” he protested.
“No, but the goblins did try to close the door when the alarm sounded.”
“Well, I’ll squeeze through.”
The GM rolled his die. “Better give me a strength check because one of the guards can see your shadow.”
“Damn it!” Martin rolled his die. “Tell me a 14 is good enough.”
“A 14 is good enough. You rip your jacket but you manage to get out of there.”
“Yes! Bilbo runs away but he’s going to try to keep to the shadows so the goblins can’t see his and be all steathy.”
After a few more passed checks the GM said, “Congratulations! You’re not dead! And you’re out of the caves and you appear to be on the other side of the mountain.”
“Hey, progress after all.”
“Except you don’t have a party.”
“What? Come on, I know they got out.”
“Martin knows they got out,” the GM corrected. “Bilbo doesn’t. So what does Bilbo do?”
“He guess once he quits freaking out he hides and realizes he doesn’t have his party. He can’t survive out here on his own, so I guess he’s going to have to go back in there and try to find them. Which will suck.”
Martin rolled his die. “Hey, 17. I’m doing good tonight. Except for falling on my face.”
“You hear angry voices in the distance that are definitely not goblins.”
“Oh, that must be the dwarves. I’m so glad I don’t have to go back to those tunnels. Alright, I’ll go meet up with the dwarves.”
“And we’ll take care of that next time. Excellent session, Martin. I think you’re getting more than enough XP to level.”
“Yeah, and now I’ve got a Ring of Invisibility, which makes me a really good thief.”
“This was really cool, JR. I wish the other guys would show more interest in actually, you know, role-playing instead of just killing stuff and getting XP.”
The GM was putting away his notes and laptop. “You and me both. But hey, they get what they give. I hope you’re having fun even though they’re kind of munchkins.”
“Oh, yeah, it’s fine. Sometimes I like watching them fight. I’m sure it’s not great for you though.”
“Hey, I’m the GM. I’ll manage. It’s my job.”