Thursday, 22 October 2009

4ed Campaign - Session 36 - 18th October 2009

In which the party stumbles upon some unexpected help, a missing Kingsblade is finally found, and the machinations of the Necrotech neophytes in the Well of Demons are finally revealed...
Roster (Party Level 7th)
Berend - Dwarven Fighter
Elumai - Eladrin Wizard
Finial - Half-elf Paladin
Jonas - Human Rogue/Ranger
Xavier - Dragonborn Warlord (guest)
Azurami - Eladrin Wizard (guest)

The Room of Recuperation makes for a pleasant holiday, but eventually the party has to move on.

Jonas pulls the circular doorway open and peers into the dim room beyond. It's large and oval, a huge lozenge cut out of whatever corner of the Plain hides the Well of Demons. Dominating the center of the room is what looks like an actual well, over twenty feet in diameter, with a lip carved to resemble the toothy maw of the Worm. Smokey grey murk boils within, alive with dramatic flashes of lightning.

Much of the rest of the room is plated in conjoined Necrotech Nodes, simple shapes interlocking to form a geometric pattern on walls, ceiling, and floor. Towards the far side, a mass of organic-looking machinery surrounds a large vat, crawling with spidery runes and festooned with tubes, probes, and other devices connected with the surrounding apparatus. Fluids of various colours pump through the machinery, which is obviously the source of the churning sound which has echoed throughout the Well and which, in here, is very loud indeed.

Near the machine, with his back to the Rogue, is a tall, thin figure. He's dressed in a shimmering cloak with a high, dramatic collar that hides all of his head except for a sweaty, bald pate. Opposite him, two forms are entrapped amongst a web of Necrotech; their eyes flicker with feeble consciousness, and with a shock of recognition Jonas realises they are his old comrades, Xavier and Azurami, helpless and at the mercy of the Necrotech operator.

He sneaks around the edge of the room to help them, but the web of growths fixing them to the wall does not relinquish them lightly. As he snaps a piece of the Necrotech away, spilling ichor all over the floor, some kind of alarm is emitted by the machine on the other side of the room, and the operator turns around to see what is causing the problem.

He's dressed in little more than a cloth smock beneath the cloak, but his head and neck are almost completely encased in Necrotech growths. Only one maddened, lidless, bloodshot eye stares out. "My work!" he screams. "Why must there always be interruptions to my work!" He points at Jonas, and the shadows come alive as several creatures (a Runespiral and two Gnaw demons) detach themselves from their hiding places and converge on him. The walls also begin to judder as if coming alive.

As soon as they hear the commotion, Jonas is quickly supported by the rest of the party, and it's enough to bring Xavier and Azurami out of their stupour as well. As they struggle to free themselves, Jonas leaps across the well to escape the demons converging on him and finds a dark corner from which he can assault the operator. Azurami's bonds crack open and she falls to the floor, but those encasing Xavier are much stronger, and he cannot break free.

As the demons lavish their attentions on his friends, Berend moves to intercept the operator. He's almost immediately laid low by a vicious psychic attack, however, and collapses immobile to the floor as his mind is assaulted by images of a Necrotech cage squeezing the life from him. Jonas takes the opportunity to strike out, and connects... only to feel his mind drawn into the evildoer's memories, tantalisingly close and potentially very useful. Jonas however is unwilling to risk his own sanity to uncover them and with a wrench he pulls himself back into reality, drained by the effort but whole once more. If nothing else, he returns with a name: Liddite Vakkram.

With Finial and the mages occupied by killing the demonic servitors, Jonas and Berend -- now recovered -- occupy themselves with Vakkram. Berend is much less averse to the risks of dipping his toes in the neophyte's memories, and upon dealing a telling blow finds himself

sitting sharing a drink with pale-faced Quincy, the only friend he ever wanted or needed, and now forever his master as well. "you're my triumph, Liddite, but together we have a new masterpiece to work. busy yourself with this contract, and the mage will be waiting for you when you get back"

Elsewhere Xavier finally manages to wrench himself free of the wall, and finding the battle with the demons effectively won, he turns his attention immediately to Liddite, charging across the room and landing a crippling blow upon

the human sneering in disgust from the other side of the table, the stink of wet fur thick on the air from the gnolls gathered around the meeting. "so many vats, so much unguent, so much money," he says, enjoying every moment of Murkelmoor's discomfort. "your master must be rich indeed to afford such attrocities."

Liddite is resilient and has a couple more tricks up his sleeve. Slashes from his jagged blade spring Necrotech blisters which entice his victims to scratch and claw at the wound, doing even more damage unless they can muster the will to resist. However, facing the combined onslaught of the whole company, he knows his fate is sealed. The final blow is dealt, and as insanity gives way to a last, restful calm, his body explodes, showering corrupted flesh in every direction.

With their enemies defeated, the party finally has a chance to welcome their old friends back into the fold. They have no memories after stepping through the portal, despite the passage of at least a couple of days within the Well, but they're quickly brought up-to-date.

Picking amongst the fleshy debris, the company finds a badge with a strange sigil, pocketing it for later use, and a pair of Shadowfell Gauntlets, somehow combined with the devices on Liddite's corpse as if powering them. Elumai takes those for now. Although deeply suspicious of the vat, it's a mystery in need of a solution and so, arranging themselves in a tight defensive formation, the party reluctantly turns their attention to it. They discover four chains dangling into the black, bubbling ichor and a pully system built into the machine. Azurami is able to decipher the controls, and activates the mechanism.

A cage, human-sized, is gradually ratcheted up from the depths, slowly revealing the form of a naked woman, apparently unconscious. As the contraption pulls clear, the black ichor runs like mercury from her skin and from the metal of the cage, leaving no blemish or stain in its wake. The woman is tall, comely, and muscular, a form built for fighting, and although the party is hesitant, Elumai conjures a mage hand to try and shake her awake, even as Jonas unhesitatingly leaps onto the apparatus to open the cage and get her free.

Her fugue turns out to be temporary, and she quickly comes to. Coughing black oil up from her throat, she looks about her and starts shaking the cage angrily. "Let me out of this thing you disgusting little man! I'm gonna tear out your---" and then, catching sight of the party, "Oh. You're not him."

Jonas helps her out, and Elumai offers her a blanket. She's hesitant at first, but Xavier, acting on a hunch, asks simply: "Matorna-Reevash I presume?", a revelation which sparks conversation about her husband, Jilonto-Ressar. The company is able to offer the coin he gave them as proof they have met, and Xavier's description of his encounter with the wreckage of the caravan, and the mission he accepted from the dying squire, is more than enough to persuade her that they probably aren't her enemies.

The story of what happened at the wagon, her links to Lord Riva and the truth behind the Necrotech coffin gradually come to light as they talk.

"I was instructed by Lord Riva -- my own master as well as my husband's -- to pick up that coffin thing from Lukktor. Well, not exactly. He told me to collect his niece, Diamorphia, and that she might need to be transported in some kind of magical device. That's what was waiting for me when I got there. Never seen anything like it.

"We were ambushed by two dozen or more hobgoblins. They'd clearly been tipped off and were waiting for us, but after I was captured it became obvious it was the coffin, or whatever you call it, that they actually wanted. They tried to get it open, but couldn't. Tortured me, but I had nothing to tell them. I didn't know how to get the damn thing to work any more than they did!

"Any way it turns out they were only middle-men. I was there when their buyer arrived. They called him the 'Broker Inbetween'. Powerful, you could tell. Not from around here, know what I mean? Didn't get a look at his face, though. He wore some kind of box over his head. Not normal.

"They tried to sell me to him, and I remember his answer clear as day: 'I have no contract for this woman, this entity, this nexus, and therefore no interest.' And then he was gone. Poof! Some kind of teleportation trick. Nothing I haven't seen before, to be honest."
-- Matorna-Reevash, telling her story in the Well of Demons.

As she tells her story, she searches the room as if looking for something, and then with a satisfied "Ah-ha!" punches her hand into the wall, ripping the plates off to reveal various items embedded into the Necrotech beneath. Among them are the remains of a suit of armour, clearly Kinsgblade in design, and a longsword, which she starts to don, but she's stopped by Xavier who isn't yet ready to trust her fully. She grudgingly admits she would do the same in his place.

"Hobbos were pissed, I'll tell you that. Thought they had some good merchandise, and a buyer. But you can't sell Kingsblade as slaves, see, we have a reputation for trouble and no-one'll touch us. And you can't ransom us to the Court. For one, they would never pay, and for two, you might as well stab yourself in the throat as soon as send the demand, because that's better than what they'll do to you when they find you. Which they will.

"Anyway, thought I was done for, except they kept me alive, toyed with me a few times. Then the gnolls attacked, I was brought down here and, well... I don't remember much else until this place. Watched Liddite grow this whole room out of a few puddles of that oil. Tried to taunt and bribe him into letting me go, but he said I was 'needed'. Amazed he could string together enough intelligent thought to make that decision himself, personally.

"I did find out who that fellow Murkelmoor was working with though. Seems he's partnered himself with a mage, Paldemar or some-such? Ring a bell?

"Now, can I put this armour on or what? I have to report to my superiors about what's going on down here. I've never heard of this 'Necrotech' before now, and it's the sort of thing I'd be told if it was known to the mages. Not to mention I've had a bad couple of weeks and I feel the strong and immediate need to kick some faces in for what they did to me."
-- Matorna-Reevash, concluding her story.

Permission is given for her to equip her armour and weapon, whilst, meanwhile, the party investigates the rather interesting cache of equipment she has uncovered in the wall. Entwined with probes and tubules which seem to be siphoning the energy of the items to power the machinery, they find Gauntlets of the Ram (gratefully received by Elumai) and Steadfast Boots (hungrily donned by Berend), as well as several hundred gold's worth of currency.

In the interim Elumai and Azurami have set about casting the Object Reading ritual on the well. The carvings giving it the likeness of a Worm have obviously been added after-the-fact, and the lightning clouds are nothing more than ornamental conjurations making what is essentially a simple teleportation portal appear much more spectacular than it really is.

Reading the well, the wizards see a somewhat plain-looking man (who they assume is Murkelmoor) stepping into the portal with a massive, red-furred demon at his side; he appears on the other side in a large triangular chamber, working around a Necrotech urn raised on a pedestal in one corner. That is all they can ascertain before the divination fades.

Still, it's enough to resolve the company's next course of action. Murkelmoor has links to Paldemar, who has stockpiled tons of the flurock, which appears to be used in conjunction with Necrotech to bring a race of ancient worms back to life... and he must be stopped. It's fair to say no-one in the party still entirely trusts Matorna-Reevash -- and neither does she truly trust herself, despite assuring them all that she feels no different now than when she was captured. However, upon offering to stay behind if they want, the party chooses to bring her along anyway.

It's a decision they soon come to regret.

Stepping through the portal, they translocate into the broad, triangular chamber Elumai saw in her visions. It is distinctly different than the familiar sandstone construction of the Well: the air has none of the heat or humidity, and the flickering light is cast not from the air itself, but from two arrays of braziers along the walls. The room has three levels, and the adventurers have appeared in the lowest; steps lead up to a middle tier, and then further up to stone plinths at each corner. Necrotech urns like chimney stacks belch columns of black energies at the ceiling, which have coalesced into a shimmering, rippling sea of black-purple suspended 15 feet over their heads.

Evistro demons stand guard at two of the corners, while in the third, Murkelmoor, with his back to the party, works on the urn with the massive red-furred demon standing guard over him. Alongside them, a giant skeletal minotaur wielding a greatclub also stands vigil.

"About time, Liddite!" shouts Murkelmoor, not turning around. "I take it she's ready?"

No parlay or negotiation are contemplated, and the party makes good on the element of surprise. Murkelmoor is effectively shielded by the two monstrosities guarding him, but Berend and Xavier both launch themselves at the creatures while the rest of the company attempt to do as much damage as possible in the opening salvo.

Murkelmoor recovers his wits quickly. Two vast leathery wings unfold from his back as he turns to face the party, but he appears otherwise unremarkable, a middle-aged, stubble-chinned human. He addresses Matorna-Reevash, smiling with a mouth full of jagged and splintered teeth, his voice low with malice and glee: "You, woman! You have your instructions!" The Kingsblade's eyes go immediately vacant; she drops her longsword, pulls a long stiletto from the folds of her armour, and starts making her way quickly towards the south-western corner of the room.

The guard demons step aside to let her pass. No-one in the party is close enough to stop her as she raises her arm over the urn, pushes her closed fist into the column of black belching from its mouth, and slices her flesh open, spilling her blood into the vessel.

She screams as the skin on one side of her face blackens and cracks, and the urn stutters before belching out an elongated, Necrotech-infused worm which rides up the pillar of black before disappearing into the void above. Teeth gritted through barely-controlled agony, Matorna-Reevash begins to make her way mindlessly to the next vessel, while above her, the clouds slowly withdraw from the now-dormant ossuary, revealing a plain stone ceiling just a few feet above.

Still two-thirds of the room is blanketed in the stuff, and Jonas's curiosity finally gets the better of him. Clambering up the wall, he raises his head into the blackness only to feel it immediately grabbed and clawed at by dozens of hands, scratching and tearing at his skin until he wrenches himself free and falls heavily to the ground.

Meanwhile, Murkelmoor's skeletal protector has been handily dispatched by several well-placed blows from the rest of the company. This leaves an opening which allows the dwarf to charge into the attack, pinning the demonic human into one corner while Xavier defends himself against blow after blow from the red-furred Barlgura's crushing fists. Exposed and vulnerable, Murkelmoor orders the Evistro guarding the urns to join the fray.

With the party dangerously fragmented across the room and only Azurami standing between Matorna-Reevash and the second urn, the race is on to dispatch their enemies before any more of the deadly worms can be birthed...

Friday, 16 October 2009

4ed Campaign - Session 35 - 11th October 2009

In which breaking a mirror brings good luck instead of bad, the blood is most certainly not the life, and the company is put severely to test in the Well of Demons.
Roster (Party Level 6th)
Berend - Dwarven Fighter
Elumai - Eladrin Wizard
Finial - Half-elf Paladin
Jonas - Human Rogue/Ranger

Taking one of the open exits from the room, Jonas reconnoiters a long corridor, one end of which had been sealed up long ago with a crude brick-and-plaster plug. This has recently been pushed down, and beyond, a short stretch of corridor leads into a narrow space confined on three sides by thick black curtains. Jonas succumbs to temptation, pokes his head through, and sees a large room on the other side, with several pillars which appear to be made of mirrors. As he catches sight of himself in one of the mirrors, he finds himself instantly transported...

...To a small, sealed chamber, reeking of sweat and filth. A tired, emaciated gnoll barks in surprise as Jonas pops into existence, reaches limply for a nearby hand-axe, and struggles to its feet. With barely time to prepare himself, Jonas is attacked by the starving creature.

The rest of the party, following Jonas up the corridor, see him disappear from sight in the shadows ahead, in-and-of-itself not terribly unusual, but then the sounds of his combat with the gnoll ring out all around them, as if being broadcast into the corridor. Berend hefts his axe and runs to his compatriots's aid, pushing through the curtains... and vanishing himself, to the very same room as Jonas, the black curtains swishing billowing in his wake.

This is enough to galvanise the others, who most definitely are not used to seeing Berend vanish before their eyes, and they assault the chamber. Avoiding the fate of their friends by covering their eyes, they attack each of the mirrored pillars in turn, succumbing on occasion to other, draining magical effects, but making good headway to the other half of the room, hidden out of sight behind a broad corner.

Berend meanwhile appears out of thin air to find the gnoll already surrendered to Jonas, and with the sound of shattering glass, all three of them are returned to the original chamber as the teleportation mirror is destroyed. The adventurers push on, distracted by their efforts long enough to allow the gnoll to escape from the direction they came.

At the far end of the room, another set of curtains swishes aside and two splinter-boned skeletons surge out, rotting entrails swilling around inside their rib-cages, attacking the nearest of the company. Although this complicates matters, even as they attempt to avoid eye-contact with the mirrors, the adventurers draw on all their resources and handily dispatch the undead.

At last they reach the other end of the chamber. A frieze of a minotaur's head, with a large hand-shaped depression, lies embedded in the wall above a large, unadorned bronze altar. Suspended on the wall above is a magnificent sword, glinting in the half-light of the chamber. An inscription on the blade reads, in ancient minotaur, Supplicant claim your reward! After some deliberation, the sword is removed, without incident, and the party retreats.

Down the other corridor from the worm room, the corridor splits into a Y-shape and two similar broken seal opens out into something much different. What looks like a pool of swirling, lapping blood covers almost the entire floor, except for two raised platforms near the doors where the adventurers are standing, a walkway bisecting the room half way across its width, two stone plints both with swords slowly spinning, balanced on their points, and more worryingly, two massive blood-red minotaur statues, armed with multi-pronged whips and standing silent vigil over both ends of the room.

The goal is clear, and with enticingly rough walls signalling an opportunity to climb past the blood without ever stepping foot in it, both Jonas and Berend decide to take the risk. Jonas moves with speed and grace compared to Berend's more meticulous approach, but neither adventurer is surprised when the colossal minotaurs grind into life, sweeping their whips around every inch of the room. Jonas contorts himself and avoids contact, but Berend is struck and pulled heavily off the wall onto the walkway.

This encourages Finial into action, who decides to brave the blood and get to his ally. Indeed, the liquid is poisonous to the flesh, but the paladin is all-but immune due to the magical amulet worn around his neck. What he is not immune to, however, is the feral, ape-like demon that rises dripping with blood out of the pool and attempts to bite a chunk out of his face.

At this point, the room comes alive. As the minotaurs rake the room with their whips, catching the feet of anyone they hit and pulling them into the blood, two other blood-soaked demons emerge from the liquid, rushing Jonas who, after acrobatically reaching the first plinth, is disappointed (but not wholly surprised) to find that the sword is merely an illusion which shimmers and disappears as his grasping hand reaches through it.

With the pool a deadly and effective impediment, Jonas and Berend are cut off from their friends as the demons and the lashing fronds of the miotaur whips converge on them. Jonas bravely dives to the second plinth and grasps the very real sword suspended there, but pulled off his feet by the demons' attacks, his last, desperate leap to safety ends in his dying body lying in a ragged heap at the feet of one of the minotaurs, safe from the whips but in danger of expiring any second.

As Jonas' life ebbs away, it becomes a race to save him and get out of the deadly chamber. Berend scrambles with every ounce of energy to Jonas' side, the claws of the demons raking bloody strokes in his flesh, and force-feeds him one of their few remaining healing potions. This brings the Rogue sputtering to life, and the two of them leap to the walkway, half way home but by no means out of the woods yet.

With the life-sapping blood pool between them and safety, everyone has no choice at this point but to hunker down in the safe zone at the feet of the nearer minotaur, and focus on dispatching the demons. Berend comes perilously close to passing out, and Jonas is no more than one good hit away from falling into a coma from which his weakened frame would probably never wake up, but the bolstering healing and artillery of Finial and Elumai are enough to save the day.

Exhausted by their ordeals, the company nevertheless decides to make good on its reward. The two inscribed swords fit perfectly into the slots on the bodies of the minotaur guardians in the Hall of the Worm, and the wardens slowly come to life, straining lifeless muscles to pull the circular portal apart.

As if heaven sent, the semi-circular room on the other side invites rest and recuperation. Hard stone bunks offer respite from the trials they've undergone, but more importantly, a fountain which spits crystal-clear water into the air replenishes their energies. Another circular door on the far side of the room is obviously the way forward, and from the other side, the mechanical churning which has been a constant part of the background noise of the complex since they arrived is very loud.

The company is depleted, brought low by the various tests they have endured in the Well. Despite their obvious need to put an end to whatever rituals the gnolls are conducting with their Necrotech devices, they aren't fools. They have no choice but to rest, thence to face the final challenges of the Well with renewed vigour.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

4ed Campaign -- Session 34 -- 27th September 2009

In which a historical mystery comes into focus, the party discovers they've been carrying something very dangerous around with them for quite some time, and the worm is finally turned...
Roster (Party Level 6th)
Berend - Dwarven Fighter
Elumai - Eladrin Wizard
Finial - Half-elf Paladin
Jonas - Human Rogue/Ranger

Following the fight with the lurking horror in the pillared room, the party naturally begins to explore, and discovers what appears to be a fake lath and plaster panel, expertly decorated to look like just another section of sandstone wall. Ripping it aside, they discover a crypt, the last resting place of several mummified minotaurs, all standing to attention in individual niches.

Finial, whose knowledge of these undead creatures and the diseases they can inflict surpasses the others, is uncompromising and demands that the creatures are destroyed before they can animate and do anyone any harm. He also points out that what little he knows of minotaur culture also suggests to him that it's extremely strange for the glory-seeking race to inter their dead in this way. Only Jonas hesitates, pointing out his belief that until they actually do animate, it would be nothing less than a desecration of holy ground.

However, showing less of the inflexibility which has marked his earlier altercations with the party, he withdraws to the bell chamber to test himself against the obstacles therein, turning his back on the proceedings and allowing Elumai to douse the mummies in oil and incinerate them with her magic. Luckily for them all, the boiling smoke from the conflagration exhausts down the well in the corner of the room, prompting interest from Berend.

Tying the dwarf off, he carefully descends into the cloying atmosphere of the well, a full 150 feet or more, before emerging into what by the sounds of it is a large underground cavern. A few dozen feet below, a pile of bones of all shapes and sizes suggests that more than a few unfortunates have been tossed down from above, and the chorus of inhuman groans from the darkness all around persuades him that he should retreat immediately. Above, Finial tightens the grip on his flail at the prospect of cleansing a nest of ghouls from the world, but he is talked out of the action by the others.

Jonas returns, dragging behind him the huge bronze clapper from the bell, trophy of his dizzying victory against gravity and physics, which the party ultimately decides to keep. To the east, they find a couple of smaller chambers, one a makeshift barracks of sorts, the other a kennel. Both rooms are scenes of carnage, with eviscerated gnoll and hyena remains painting the walls with blood. Undead remains, and two adjoining crypts from which the mummified creatures obviously burst forth, tell the story of the fight.

The company destroys what's left of the mummies, including four creatures which, although having clearly been responsible for the bloodshed next door, make no move to defend themselves as they are coup-de-graced by the adventurers. This prompts the party to consider what the gnolls were up to that could have set the undead upon them... and the only clue to this mystery are heavy fragments of plaster, strewn amongst the chaos of the barracks and clearly ripped from a wall elsewhere in the complex.

Motifs, glyphs, and imagery on the plaster depict the trials of a minotaur prince called Vorth, and the prostration of the minotaurs not before Baphomet, as common knowledge would suggest, but before other minotaurs, worshiped in His place.

Further in, the party discovers a bunk room, innocuous except for the three tall, glassy-black urns which are being kept inside. These containers, as tall as a man and about 18 inches across, have strange, fractal runes etches onto the reflective black surface, of no discernible language and which seem to changes inexplicably when the observer turns away, or even blinks. Inside each of the urns is a shallow layer of black, oily liquid.

Elumai, called upon to examine the containers, is almost knocked off her feet by the sheer punch of the necromantic auras being generated; so palpable are they that she can practically see the energies belching from the open ends of the vessels. Nevertheless she grits her teeth against the onslaught long enough to scrawl a copy of the runic inscriptions from one of the urns into the sand at her feet and, and with Jonas's help, re-seal them using the leathery flaps stapled near the rim.

They push deeper into the complex, and enter at the apex of a triangular room. The walls, floor, and ceiling are covered in glyphs and imagery depicting the history of the minotaurs of Saruun Khel... and it appears as if a more recent story has been plastered over the stone carvings of the old. The room itself is dominated by a huge statue standing more than a hundred feet over their heads: a giant, coiled worm, its maw a ring of tentacles and teeth, and its flesh, upon closer examination, composed of thousands upon thousands of smaller annelids. The statue is old and crumbling.

Also catching the party's attention are over a dozen flat black plates, of various uniform shapes, which appear to be attached to the stone walls and ceiling of the room with small claws or hooks. The surface of these plates shimmers with the now familiar colours of Necrotech. Two corridors lead out of the room, and one door to the south, a circular bronze portal seemingly held shut by two metallic minotaur statues. Interestingly, they have slits or sockets in their chests which suggest something should be inserted there.

The adventurers decide to spend some time deciphering the pictographs around the room. Between the four of them, they start to piece together something of the history of this place, a time of great change for the minotaurs when they turned their back on Baphomet, and the trials and pursuit of glory which He had laid before them, and instead began to worship the Worm.

Kvorn, emperor of the new kingdom of Saruun Khel, is depicted straddling the huge creature, cutting slivers of meat from its body, and feeding it to his followers. Three other names are also mentioned, other princes of the old kingdom -- Kallek, Durmo, and Vorth -- the latter of which seemingly refused to turn away from Baphomet, but whose ultimate fate is not described.

While contemplating this turn of events, and how it fits together with the other fragmentary evidence of Saruun Khel they've discovered on their travels, the company notices that the black plates around them are slowly moving, shifting their positions. Berend decides that they are not to be trusted, and striding up to the nearest one, he hefts at it with his axe. The effect is obvious and immediate... the plates are anything but inert, as multi-jointed legs spring out from underneath the creature and it jumps down to attack the dwarf. At the sound its high, insectoid screech, the other creatures around the room drop from their perches onto the floor and begin skittering with frightening speed towards him.

Dispersed around the room, the company turns its attention to the new threat. The creatures are resilient, and although the party's attacks draw red, fleshy wounds across their backs and legs, they press their advantage against Berend, surrounding him and hacking at his flesh. It soon becomes obvious that it's not actually him they're interested in, however, but his backpack, and within seconds they have ripped through the material, reached in with their claws and pulled out the flurock he has been carrying these many days. Thus secured, they coalesce around the rock, forming a perfect dodecahedral prison for it, which then drops to the floor.

Crackling Necrotech energies begin to build around the device, and the party, suspecting an imminent explosion, backs off. Instead, there is a muffled thump as critical mass is reached within the chamber, and the plates break apart, collapsing inert to the floor to reveal... a tiny worm.

The flurock has been transformed into a writhing, coiling, miniature version of the statue in whose shadow they're all standing. As they watch, it begins to bloat and enlarge at incredible speed. The creature's skin is vaguely transluscent, shot-through with veins of purple-black, and beneath, its flesh is formed from a writhing mass of other worms, snaking and sinuating into complex patterns which dazzle the eye. Almost immediately, the creature is as big as a man, and the company seens no alternative but to attack.

Ducking the hideous, fleshy mouth, Berend brings his axe to bear. It's a fine strike, scoring a wound across the flank of the beast, but he is disgusted to see the thing bleed a slimy throng of wriggling, toothy worms at his feet... worms which immediately swarm up his body and begin to attack. All the while, the patterns of the worm-flesh dissolve and coalesce, confounding his senses and forcing him to concentrate hard to even bring his axe down.

Elsewhere, the other Necrotech plates are swarming towards the fight, seemingly drawn to the presence of the worm. Elumai, thinking quickly, conjures the image of a piece of flurock off to one side of the battle... and the illusion is convincing enough to get the attention of several of the creatures, who crowd the image and give the wizard ample opportunity to explode the air about them into freezing pain.

Meanwhile the worm brings its other attacks to bear on Finial, Jonas, and Berend. Acidic spit from the creature's ever-expanding maw seems to send the flesh-worms into a frenzy, while it also has the ability to engorge fetid pustules on its body, which explode biting worms in all directions. Disgusted, wounded, and hypnotised by the creature all at the same time, it takes every ability at their disposal to dispatch the loathsome beast and the Necrotech devices which spawned it, but the company is, at last, victorious.

As calm descends over the slime-and-worm-covered chamber, the party pauses to consider the implications of what they've seen...

Friday, 11 September 2009

4ed Campaign - Session 33 - 6th September 2009

In which the company is sorely lacking an ancient cartouche to light the way, a gift of blood seems like the easy way out, and the trial of the Well begins...

Roster (Party Level 6th)
Berend - Dwarven Fighter
Elumai - Eladrin Wizard
Finial - Half-elf Paladin
Jonas - Human Rogue/Ranger

The party is weakened and in dire need of recuperation from the fight with the demonic warband, and resolves to take a rest in the Hall of the Red Vein, sealing the door against intruders and ruthlessly dispatching any remaining duergar who might be clinging to life.

Thus secured, they take the time to search the room, and Jonas discovers a secret retreat hidden above the Hall's smoldering fireplace. Bolstering himself against the heat and climbing up the chimney breast to reach it, he discovers a stash of food, water, and more interestingly, a suit of exquisite chain armour wrapped in paper as if a present for someone. A bottle of insalubrious-looking liquid in a wicker tote also catches his eye as standing out, and he retrieves both items.

Elumai identifies the mail as Chain Armor of Sacrifice +2, but she's uncharacteristically unsure of the bottle. She discoveres through experimentation that it can slowly generate potions seemingly out of thin air, but the nature of these concoctions, and whether or not their effects can be controlled, is outside of her realm of expertise. Perhaps an experienced alchemist might be able to help, but they haven't made the acquaintance of such a person as yet. In any case, she decants the contents of the bottle into a small water barrel, thereby emptying the bottle in order to let it re-fill.

The baking hot room is not the most pleasant place to catch some rest, but the company is left mercifully undisturbed for the duration.

Thus refreshed, they turn their attention to the portal to the Well of Demons. The device is completely inert, an obsidian triangle held aloft by two exquisitely carved -- and meticulously unearthed -- minotaur statues. Through investigation, the adventurers decipher the remaining text, revealing the three inscriptions in their entirety, one per side:

"In Kvorn's name, demonstrate your quality"
"Only the honor-bound may tread within"
"In Baphomet's name, exceed Him!"

The final inscription is curious, having been engraved onto the portal over the top of earlier writings. Carefully concealed, but spotted by the attentive eyes of the party, the earlier inscription read: "In Baphomet's name, serve Him!"

Much trial-and-error ensues. Jonas discovers a dried patch of goo near one corner of the device, somewhat similar to the patch of liquid that Elumai used to keep the flames at bay back in Krand's chamber. Although the implication is clear, the company is unwilling to simply smash the glass vial and hope for the best. Secondarily to this, Jonas even volunteers to try on the Necrotech glove, but loses his nerve when, as expected, the tubules begin crawling over his skin, probing for somewhere to attach themselves.

In the end, the simplest of methods proves effective: three of the company (Elumai, Finial, and Berend) spill a few drops of their blood upon the portal, and it activates. A glassy sheen, like looking through a thick window, springs into force between the three facets of the portal, and the adventurers, with barely a hint of hesitation, step through. There is a moment of darkness, a cacophany like a thousand screaming voices suddenly cut off, a sensation of falling... and then a rude impact on a hard floor.

They find themselves in a hot, humid room built of sandy bricks. A distant, mechanical churning sound can be heard in the background. In the center of the room is a stone plinth on which sits a blood-stained bowl; a chain rises to the ceiling, attached to the wheel of an ornate and massive bell which hangs fifty feet over their heads. Shockingly, there is no sign of either Xavier or Azurami. It seems the Well of Demons has other plans for them.

Dusting themselves down, they decide that the more prudent course of action is to leave these artifacts alone for now, and scout ahead, down a sandy corridor (rife with evidence of many booted feet having recently come this way) until they come upon another, similar room, its shadowed ceiling held aloft by pillars on which are carved grotesquely exaggerrated minotaur faces.

Jonas creeps in, and two of the faces in the center of the room immediately animate, booming a salutation so loud it hurts his ears:

"Greetings, seekers of Baphomet's boundless glory!
Those who prove unworthy of his attention
Shall be claimed forever as his slaves.
Those who prove worthy
Shall be granted power beyond mortal reckoning.
Mask, bell, blade and tome!"

At this point Jonas spies a diminutive, shadowy figure lurking behind one of the pillars... and another, across the room. The black-skinned humanoids are searching to and fro, desperately trying to find whoever activated the speaking columns, but Jonas will not be spotted so easily, and takes the creatures entirely by surprise with his attack.

As the others arrive to support their friend, the situation seems straightforward enough. Even as the creatures kick up the sands to translocate from one side of the room to the other, the company is more than a match for them. Then, from the well on the far side of the room, a decrepid, moaning figure emerges -- another one of the foul undead to deal with! -- and, suddenly, the ground beneath their feet heaves up, splits open, and a clutch of bony tentacles whips up to attack them from below!

This complicates matters, but the lurkers and the ghoul are swiftly dealt with, and the burrowing creature is battered into retreat to be finished off by a battle-fevered Berend.

So victorious, the party looks to other exits from the room, and weighs up its next move...

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

4ed Campaign - Session 32 - 23rd August 2009

In which a dwarf's unwanted destiny is revealed, the contrivances of his friends save him from himself, and the technology of the strange almost costs him his life...

Roster (Party Level 5th)
Azurami - Eladrin Wizard
Berend - Dwarven Fighter
Elumai - Eladrin Wizard
Finial - Half-elf Paladin
Jonas - Human Rogue/Ranger
Xavier - Dragonborn Warlord

"Hrafnkell!"

The word has a dramatic impact on Berend. He asks a simple question, "Where are they?", but without waiting for an answer, he jumps into the pit and begins beating on the injured duergar. The grey-skinned dwarf has no strength for a fight, and as Berend's fists pound on his face, it seems the only defense he can muster is to laugh at his own plight.

Jonas eventually interposes himself between the two of them. The duergar lies bloodied and on the verge of unconsciousness on the stone floor, while Berend retreats from the pit in silent rage and stalks from the room. Elumai and Finial move after him.

As a potentially crucial source of information, the injured dwarf is force-fed one of the company's precious few healing potions, and helped from the pit only to be threatened with death by Jonas and Xavier unless he is forthcoming. Spitting blood down his chin, the under-dweller chortles at the irony, that a Hrafnkell should arrive at the Horned Hold now, of all times, when the spawn of Yeenoghu have breached the seal to the Well of Demons. Neither of the adventurers know what a "Hrafnkell" is, causing no end of (somewhat painful) mirth to the duergar. "Travelled with the dwarf into the pits of the underdark, and you don't even know his name?" Other than that, he insists that he'll only answer questions put to him by Berend.

Outside, Elumai and Finial find Berend in a rage-filled fugue, attempting to loft his grappling hook across the gap to the blazing watchtower on the other side. He shrugs off their questions -- "They're here somewhere, dead or dying! I have to find them!" -- and Elumai, afraid for her friend's life if he ventures across the gap into the inferno, has no choice but to surreptitiously thwart his rope-craft with subtle use of her mage-hand. This ploy buys them the time they need to calm the dwarf down, and lead him back to the rest of the party.

The duergar prisoner, who introduces himself as Proxim, is rousedby Berend's return. "Odirin, is it?" he asks excitedly. "Or Kreverok?" Neither name gets a response from the dwarf, and Proxim thinks for a second... "Ah, of course. Berend!"

The interrogation of the duergar is a long and difficult process. Proxim's only way of reconciling the contempt he feels for Berend (and his friends) with the fact that a Hrafnkell will apparently be the salvation of the duergar in its hour of need is to find every question asked of him infinitely amusing. Eventually though a few apparent facts trickle out of the proceedings.

The gnolls, servants of the Demon Lord Yeenoghu, attacked the Horned Hold from below and used some kind of device to drain the life essence of its inhabitants, leaving only a few prisoners with their senses intact. They then broke the seal of the portal to the Well of Demons, something the duergar have failed to do in decades of trying, and took a few select prisoners -- the Kingsblade woman among them -- through to the Well.

"They must not be allowed to consecrate the Well for their demon-father! Save your Kingsblade friend if you must, but do it in the God Tyrant's name! You are chosen for great things!"
-- Proxim to Berend in the Horned Hold

Berend has heard enough by this point, and a look of resignation falls over Proxim's face. He knows he won't escape this room alive, and asks at least for a sword with which to defend himself. The justice of the company is swift and merciless, and within seconds the duergar lies dead at their feet.

Also at this point, Berend reveals what has been affecting him so strangely since they entered the Hold. Pulling off his gauntlets, he shows them strange lesions like old burn scars on the backs of both of his hands. Upon examination, they're revealed to be somewhat akin to the most common sygil of the evil god Asmodeus, patron of the duergar: three triangles arranged in a pyramidal shape. But on Berend, the triangles are inverted. He also admits that he has been hearing the voices of "The Lost" in his head, people from his clan who have been missing for years and whose fate is a mystery even to the upper echelons of his family.

By now, the adventurers know they only have once choice left: to assault the room where the duergar population is being held dead or dying. Having scouted the area before and noted the presence of several demonic foes and their gnoll masters, they know it will be a difficult and bloody fight, not least because of the added presence of Berend, whose normally implacable defense of the party might well be cut short by the very technology which has been used to destroy their enemies.

The fight does not disappoint. The initial tactical foray is betrayed by a rare (and noisy) mis-step from Jonas which gets the attention of a nearby gnoll with matted, loam-caked fur and a loathsome grin. The creature mutters a few indecipherable words, and a swarm of biting, stinging insects pours out of the fireplace like an avalanche, engulfing the Rogue. The attack gives the game up for the rest of the party, and they're forced to engage.

Stumbling over the dead or dying duergar, many of them clutching feebly at the adventurers as they step past them (and impeding them in the process!), the company moves to engage the gnoll overlord, a towering creature with bone jewelry and other accoutrements strung from its fur. Its demonic guardians, tall columns of yellow goo from which a single eye stares out, and a hulking ape-like beast made of what appears to be transluscent glass, move to intercept, holding them near the center of the room and allowing the gnoll archers towards the rear of the hall the freedom they need to do injury to the party.

"Chosen are you? Marked for death then! Demons, clear the way!"
-- Gnoll shaman Absin Yugleth to Berend in the Hall of the Red Vein.

Soon a critical juncture is reached as Berend breaks through the defense and charges towards the gnoll overlord. At this cue, two of the columns of goo literally explode, entrapping his comrades in a sticky morass and leaving him exposed. This is all the time the shaman needs to step forward, plant his palm on Berend's chest, and invoke the power of Yeenoghu. Berend's skin goes ashen grey, his eyes roll up into their sockets, and he collapses, brought down by the insidious device.

Things turn desperate at this point. The party fights to survive long enough to bring Berend back to the land of the living. The archers are brought down one by one as both the ruin-touched beastcaller and its shaman commander struggle to re-energise their magic, and with a gargantuan effort, the company prevails... barely. Berend has set at least one foot within the ghostly halls of his ancestors before the party can bring magical healing to bear on him. The battle has truly taxed them to their limits.

The shaman is immediately searched for signs of the magic which allowed it to attack Berend so mercilessly. The device is quickly found: a strange, chitinous glove, hidden beneath a leather gauntlet, made of what look like interlocking beetle-shells. Above it, the shaman's arm is hairless and discoloured a sickly green, and several fleshy, cartilaginous pipes and wires extend out of the glove into its flesh. In the palm of the glove, something else of interest: a glass vial is affixed there, no more than an inch across and two inches in length. Inside, suspended in a transluscent red liquid, dozens of tiny pin-pricks of light jostle for position.

As they investigate the glove, there is a stomach-turning squelch as, seemingly with a life of its own, it retracts its probes and feeder tubes from the gnoll, clenches its fist around the vial, and drops to the ground, trailing viscous fluids in its wake. In this state, the look of the device unequivocally reminds them of the Necrotech coffin they have hidden in the room next door...

Monday, 24 August 2009

Where we at?

So a word or two about the drop-off in campaign journals, to any of my devoted readers who might be interested (hi mum)...

The campaign is still going strong (into 6th level as of yesterday), but we've seen a few diversions lately which have slowed progress a bit.

It turns out July and August were a *really* bad time to put Berend in the campaign spotlight, as his player Ben has been unavoidably pulled from the game for several weekends. Rather than push on without him, I diverted the game into a couple of "interludes", which are short one-shot adventures ret-conned into the campaign, and assumed to have happened prior to 'current' events.

You have to ignore obvious problems with Power availability and use, and I just allow everyone to run with fully-rested characters for the session it takes to play these things out, but on the whole, they worked extremely well.

They're good discipline for me (akin to putting together a convention game), and the players get to blast the crap out of everything in their path without having to worry about what might be around the corner, so everybody wins. So much so, in fact, that I'm already thinking of ways to build them into the game in a more structured way... you can probably play a few tunes with the idea as long as you have a bunch of players willing to buy-in to a Tarantino-style fractured narrative. More as-and-when.

As well as that, one of my players volunteered to start a second, slim-line campaign for those occasions when we I like a break, and I actually got to play for a change! Note to everyone: the Warden is every bit as fun as he looks on paper.

As I mentioned earlier, we played 'real time' Cradle Plain yesterday, and everyone levelled to 6th in the process. You should see the journal sometime this week, and although we're having to take a complete break next weekend, September is looking good for some consistent play.

On the player front, some not-so-good news. Xavier and Azurami's players will unfortunately be moving away from Worcester within the next week or so, and we're going to be losing them from the game. On the one hand, this is a real disappointment because they've added tons to the game, and we'll miss them; on the other hand, the gold medal for highest player turnover per-year-per-campaign must surely be within my grasp.

This will bring us back down to 4 players which I think I'm going to hold at, unless a new player literally drops in my lap.

Monday, 3 August 2009

4ed Campaign - Session 31 - 2nd August 2009

In which old friends turn up in unexpected places, the Horned Hold is not the charming little holiday spot it used to be, and something strange is going on with Berend...

Roster (Party Level 5th)
Azurami - Eladrin Wizard
Berend - Dwarven Fighter
Elumai - Eladrin Wizard
Finial - Half-elf Paladin (off-stage)
Jonas - Human Ranger (off-stage)
Xavier - Dragonborn Warlord
Corrash - Dragonborn Warlock/Ranger (special guest)

Listening at the door, Elumai hears the sound of booted feet marching past, and the company decides that more caution might be advisable as they advance further into the Hold. Being one of the more light-footed members of the party, she creeps from the rec. room into the corridor outside.

It's a long, curved gallery constructed of sand-coloured slabs of rock, one side of which is open to a great underground chasm. The air is think in her lungs and carries the smell of burning. Across the gap, two straight-sided towers built into the side of the canyon are ablaze, flames and smoke billowing from open windows and doors (as she watches, a duergar, aflame, leaps from an open window and plunges, screaming, into the yawning black below). Blasted stone buttresses are all that remain of bridges which might once have spanned the gap between the two sides of the fortress.

Noise from further down the corridor gets her attention, and a patrol of 4 gnolls strolls nonchalantly past, far too engrossed in their own unintelligible conversation to pay much attention to the crouched eladrin. They rap on a wooden double-door further down the way, and pass through out of sight.

The party joins her but as they contemplate their next move, they're distracted by the sounds of nearby combat. Cautiously investigating they find none other than... Corrash! Standing victoriously over a dead gnoll, he wrenches a spear from the place where its eyeball used to be, and greets the party.

The reunion (and introductions) are necessarily curt, but Corrash reveals that after leaving Saruun Khel on short notice to chase rumours of a captive dragon which held some interest to him, he was run down and kidnapped by the duergar. For days, he has been painfully interrogated on a single subject... Berend!

The dwarf is understandably taken aback as his old dragonborn companion recites some of the stranger questions he was asked: how does he braid his beard? what of his family? what are his sanitary habits? As to why the duergar might be interested in such things, Corrash has no insight to offer.

At news of a human captive being held in the dungeons below, the party descends a thin, claustrophobic spiral stair to the scene of Corrash's recent escape. The room is squat and square, the floor covered in the accumulated gore of years of unspeakable cruelty, but only one of the cells is occupied: a human, propped up in one corner, his eyes sewn shut and his fingers and limbs twisted in evidence of excruciating torture.

The man barely clings to life, but Xavier relinquishes his only potion of healing to bring him to his senses. He introduces himself as Entil-Poroy, part of the Kingsblade caravan that Xavier happened upon (and which caused the dragonborn to travel to Saruun Khel). He describes the invasion of the fortress by the gnolls, and the murder of his jailers. Matorna-Reevash, his captain, has been taken elsewhere, to a place he calls "The Well", and he demands that Xavier find and rescue her. This is a task which the Warlord has already committed to, but he reaffirms his promise to the broken prisoner, and before much else can be said, Entil-Poroy begs a last favour from him... that he be given an honorable death. With a heavy heart, Xavier grants him his final wish.

"Please, afford this old warrior... a noble end..."
-- Entil-Poroy to Xavier in the dungeons of the Horned Hold.

Apart from the earlier patrols, the halls of the Horned Hold remain strangely quiet. Through the double doors seen previously, the party spies on a meeting hall, re-arranged into what looks like a make-shift prison camp for the duergar. Over a hundred of the grey-skinned dwarves lie around the place, some dead, most of the rest looking emaciated, hollow-eyed, and dazed, their hair and beards stringy and lifeless, brittle beard quills scattered over the floor.

Overseeing them are the gnolls spotted from earlier, and demonic creatures such as the party has never seen: tall pillars of slime with single, bulbous eyes, oozing about the place, and glassy-fleshed humanoids oozing ichor from glistening cracks in their skin. As they watch, one of the dwarves struggles to his feet and shambles towards them, only to be kicked back into the center of the room by one of the gnolls in command.

To the north, the gallery ends at what looks like an excavation, meticulously carved from the face of the rock over what must have been a period of years. In the center of the mine, rising from the rubble, are two bronze minotaur statues. Between them they hold aloft a large triangular portal of some kind, suspended 25-feet or so above the ground and with runes inscribed along the length of its frame. Ropes and ladders have been strung up to the bottom edge of the portal by parties unknown, and clambering up, the party is able to translate the runes along one edge: "In Kvorn's name, demonstrate your quality!" (Kvorn is already known to them as Emperor of the old minotaur city). Speculation follows on how the portal might be activated, but no headway is made in that respect for now.

At the opposite end of the corridor, a stone landing permits entry through another door. Inside, the party spies what look like four cisterns dug into the floor; one is filled with water, another with duergar bodies, while the other two remain out of sight. Guarding the room is another clutch of gnolls and demons (muscular red-furred humanoids identified as Evistro's by the experts in the group), and a harpy, lurking in the shadows of the roof but spotted by the keen eyes of the adventurers.

In dire need of intelligence, the company resolves to attack, and the fight turns into a bitter struggle for survival around the water-filled pit. The harpy proves deadly, beguiling her enemies into throwing themselves into the pool where they are much less effective, and the claws of the demons and hatchets of the gnolls lay Xavier low while bringing Berend to within an inch of his life. Thankfully, a timely intercession by Azurami with one of their few potions of healing brings the Warlord to his senses long enough for him to leap to Berend's aid and turn the tide of the battle in their favour... but in the meantime, more than one of his friends worriedly notices that the dwarf appears to be having muttered conversations with people who simply aren't there.

Thus victorious, they stop for a better look around the room. In the far cistern, a single duergar looks up at them suspiciously, battered and with a wooden splint on one leg. As soon as he spots Berend, however, his eyes widen, and he forces himself to his feet. Raising one crooked finger as if in accusation, he breathes a single word at the dwarven warrior...

"Hrafnkell!"

Friday, 17 July 2009

4ed Campaign - Session 29 - 5th July

In which a dragonborn decides that "two-faced" is an axiom to be taken literally, and they company finds the utterl lack of dwarves disturbing...

Roster (Party Level 5th)
Azurami - Eladrin Wizard
Berend - Dwarven Fighter (off-stage)
Elumai - Eladrin Wizard
Finial - Half-elf Paladin
Jonas - Human Ranger
Xavier - Dragonborn Warlord

Things look bad for Xavier, surrounded by rotting corpses intent on escorting him from the land of the living... but luckily for him, the rest of his companions, having traced the party's progress through the cistern, choose this exact moment to rejoin the fray! The tide is turned as Jonas's blade and Finial's bolstering presence rejuvenate the flagging fortunes of the company.

Eventually the undead lie defeated, and the spectral crowd, satisfied with the show, fade away into silence. The company chooses this time to rest -- after recovering a Crown of Command from one of the hiding places of the ghouls -- and settles down for an uncomfortable sleep in this rancid place. By the time they rise, Xavier has flayed one of the leathery masks of skin from the nearest ghoul, sewn an old minotaur horn inexpertly into the forehead, and made a mask of his own.

Beyond the grating, the party finds a deep, dry well which they carefully ascend. The head of the well is plugged with a wooden lid which is easily moved aside, revealing a square room chiseled from the rock and a selection of weapons... an armoury, of sorts. The company re-stocks and turns its attention to a nearby door. Strange sounds from the other side -- the sound of something being whacked, followed by gales of belly-laughter -- betray the occupants.

Several orcs and an ogre are engaged in what looks like a game, where the ogre is punched in the gut and smashes the offending orc in the face if he is stays on his feet. (The orcs don't seem to be enjoying it half as much as the ogre.) The party is somewhat surprised to find them, as opposed to the ranks of duergar they expected, but nevertheless have no compunction about interrupting the festivities with a good fight.

It's short, and brutal, with the party unleashing everything they have to finish the proceedings quickly and efficiently. In the end, dead bodies, and a name uttered by the ogre ("Murkelmor") are all there is to show...

Friday, 3 July 2009

4ed Campaign (Interlude) - Session 28 - 28th June

In which smoke is bad for the company's health (but not as bad as the cure), something goes "squelch" in the dark, and charred bacon comes to the rescue!

Roster
(Party Level 5th)
Azurami - Eladrin Wizard
Berend - Dwarven Fighter (off-stage)
Elumai - Eladrin Wizard
Finial - Half-elf Paladin
Jonas - Human Ranger
Xavier - Dragonborn Warlord

DM's Note: For various reasons, I didn't want the party to push on into the Horned Hold without Berend's player present, so we decided to retcon in a brief interlude which would have occured in the time the company was awaiting Orontor so he could escort them to their meeting with Paldemar.

With time to kill, the party turns their attention to a message received from Phaledra, the cleric of Erathis resident in the Temple of Hidden Light, with whom they've had prior contact. Upon arrival, she informs them that she's been looking at ways to extend her tenure in the Seven-Pillared Hall; she has much work to do, and fears that the policy of the Mages to rotate the allegiance of the Temple will hinder her efforts. To this end, she's decided to try and make friends of the Hall's other residents, so that when the time comes, she can count on their support for her petition to stay. In this case, her efforts are directed towards Ulthand Deepgem.

Some of the company are dubious about interfering with the status quo, and Phaledra suggests that if they happen to talk to Ulthand and he happens to ask them to help as well, what harm can it do? Thus armed, they pay a visit to the old miner, and although he is reticent at first, hints dropped by the party soon loosen his tongue.

He tells of a recent excursion to a corner of the Seven-Pillared Hall called the "Smoke Stack", a great chimney of rock, rumoured to ascend a full mile all the way to the surface and perpetually filled with an acrid orange smoke. Ulthand led his apprentice Clinker, and two hired hands, on an expedition to the Stack after he came upon information that there may be valuable gems and minerals ripe for the taking by a crew with the right experience, expertise, and motivation.

Unfortunately the trip ended in tragedy. They reached the Stack alright, but a sudden, almighty explosion killed both of the labourers as well as Ulthand's beloved pig, Wendy (he becomes quite emotional at the memory).

"She was a good pig, a good friend. *sniff* Always leaving little presents around the place for me, she was..." - Ulthand Deepgem, on the habits of his pig Wendy

If the adventurers were to venture into the Stack... perhaps find out what caused the explosion and return a report to Ulthand... even if they were to find Wendy's charred remains and return her home for a proper burial... the dwarf promises them ample reward. The party, however, have something else in mind... a cut of the profits! A quick, razor-sharp negotiation ensues, and agreement is reached: if the Deepgem Company were to set up an installation in the Stack, the company will receive a 1% commission on all profits rendered.

In the spirit of mutual prosperity, Ulthand also provides the company with leather face-masks, the outside of which is covered with a sticky tar which the old dwarf claims will protect them from the worst of the acrid air. Most of the adventurers are suspicious of the gift, but without the expertise to say otherwise, have no choice but to accept it in the spirit it was provided.

Following instructions from Ulthand, they leave via the Hall of Lanterns and come upon a thin crack in the wall, barely wide enough for one person to squeeze through, although it widens to a broad tunnel of rock on the other side, zig-zagging through the Underdark with a roof of darkness overhead. In time, the air becomes thick in their lungs, and the atmosphere takes on a ruddy hue. To their surprise, the masks provided by Ulthand seem to do the job advertised.

An hour in, something begins to materialise out of the murk ahead. Three skeletons, one of the them clutching what looks like a tablet of stone and all of them hovering in unmoving stasis a few feet above the floor, are gliding down the corridor towards them. The company is rightfully concerned but decides to let them pass undisturbed, a plan which seems to be going fine... until the invisible gelatinous cube which actually contains the skeletal remains lashes out and pulls Elumai into its acidic gullet as it glides past.

The shocked company works hard to defeat the dangerous creature, as one by one they are pulled into the glutinous innards, burned by its acid before either forcing their way out or being pulled free by one of their companions. Still, they prevail without loss, and upon examining the tablet, find that it's a treasure map of sorts, depicting a thin tubule deep into the ground, beneath which five pools must be filled with the blood of angels and demons before a great treasure is revealed. Interesting, yes, but without a reference point, the map is as good as useless for now.

The party pushes on. The air becomes hotter and takes on a bitter scent of phosphorous, burning their throats even through the tarred masks, and the tunnel opens into a circular room, the base of a tall funnel disappearing into the tainted air far above. Tiny holes dotted around the room emit thin rivulets of smoke, curling up into the air, and two unpleasantly-charred bodies, somewhat decomposed, lie on the floor near a pile of incinerated mining equipment. The bodies, and the floor of the chamber, are carpeted in a thin layer of yellowy gunk...bat guano! Crusted over and steaming gently in the heat, this is probably the source of the smoke in the Stack. Another tunnel opposite appears to have been blown open, with charring and blackened rubble all about.

Jonas creeps forward to the tunnel, and spies another chamber, its interior formed from hardened bubbles of black volcanic rock, and its walls criss-crossed with thin veins of red. As he watches, a nearby blister of rock seems to shift and settle as if alive, and Jonas, fearing an imminent ambush, unleashes an attack and darts back out of the cave, which flares suddenly with firelight as several fire bats ignite and swarm down towards him from the ceiling.

The bats erupt from the cave and engage the party, igniting everything in sight, including not only the adventurers themselves, but their masks as well! (Turns out the tar is good for two things: filtering smoke particles from the air, and exploding into flame at the merest spark.) Soon a more serious threat comes lumbering out of the volcanic cave, however: a golem of black rock, its limbs veined in red fire, and its arms chiselled into sharp, red hot points, which lunge out at anyone within reach.

The battle is baking hot, with the adventurers assailed from above by bats swooping in and out of their defenses, and the flamespiker stomping amongst the chaos, impaling anyone foolish enough to come within range. Not without help will the company have to face down these enemies, however! A few seconds into the fight, a somewhat charred and hairy shape explodes with a squeal from the darkness and attacks the creature -- Wendy! Less than healthy, but alive nonetheless! Victory becomes inevitable at that point.

In the aftermath, the party assembles clues as to what happened to Ulthand's expedition. It seems that the inner volcanic cave occupies a thin space between the World and the Elemental Chaos, and the explosion was probably a release of pent-up energy unleashed when the dwarves chose the wrong part of wall to dig through. The good news is that sealing the inner cave and avoiding that part of the wall will probably mean the excavation can go ahead.

...News which Ulthand ultimately finds much less exciting than the return of his pig to her rightful home, of course.

Monday, 29 June 2009

4ed Campaign - Session 27 - 21st June 2009

In which diplomacy is a vorpal weapon, and the ghosts of games long since played arise to threaten the company...

Roster
(Party Level 5th)
Azurami - Eladrin Wizard
Berend - Dwarven Fighter
Elumai - Eladrin Wizard
Finial - Half-elf Paladin (off-stage)
Jonas - Human Ranger (off-stage)
Xavier - Dragonborn Warlord

Leaving Finial and Jonas behind to watch the rear, the party plunges neck-deep into a connecting tunnel, swimming their way through weed-choked water to another vault, much like the one they just left behind. Magical illumination reveals stagnant, hip-deep water, with the space between the four pillars choked with sharp fronds that look like petrified versions of the rubbery weeds they've been wading through.

According to Luhnarstes' map, the way forward is through the lair of the "green-skins" to the south, but in an explorative mood, the company decides to head for another opening to the east. Hugging the wall, they're unnerved by the sensation that there are heavy... somethings submerged in the water, bobbing against their bodies as they walk. Xavier takes it upon himself to stab one of them, resulting in a cloud of milky, noxious-looking chum bubbling up from underneath, and after more examination, it appears to be a humanoid body of some kind, wrapped in weed, and tied off to the weed-bed under the water. Careful not to desecrate the tomb any further, they push on to the north-eastern vault.

The next room is unusual. A viscous scum, like egg-white, appears to have collected around the edges of the vault, and the entire south-eastern quarter of the chamber has collapsed inward... and unnaturally so, as if a great explosion or other event deep in the rock pushed hundreds of tons of rubble into the room. The mucus-like substance, upon closer inspection, is shot through with colour... much like the flurock, and a degree of speculation ensues as to the nature of the substance, and its relation to the mysterious rock.

Within the collapse itself, the company discovers a strange void, about a foot across and worming its way through the rock. The interior surface is lined with a chalky powder, also determined to be the strange material that originally brought them to Saruun Khel, and the party cogitates on this new information. Is the flurock excreted by some kind of underground creature, or food for ir, perhaps? Are Paldemar and his mages using the stuff to attract some kind of burrowing worm, perhaps as an engineering tool or for some other nefarious purpose? No answers are to be had here, and with the rock-fall completely blocking the exit to the south, they have no choice but to put their theories on the back-burner and forge on for now.

Expecting trouble, they cautiously make their way down the duct to the middle vault of the cistern... only to find it completely plugged with a mass of dried weeds. Although a submerged valve does provide a way to circumvent the barrier, Berend is understandably reticent and in the end, the company attaches a rope to the weed plug and pulls it forcibly down, retreating whence they came.

No attack is forthcoming, although the hissing sibilants of a language no-one understands reverberate out at them through the tunnel. Xavier boldly proclaims their purpose -- that they intend no harm, and simply want to pass -- and after what seems like an interminable wait, a lizard-like creature with four arms, wielding a barbed trident and with a leather mask draped over most of his features, emerges suspiciously from the tunnel. It is a sahuagin, far from its normal home in this dank, festering basement. Calciferous tumours cover much of its body like a disease, once again the the same hue and texture as the flurock.

There follows a tense stand-off as both parties strive to understand each-other across the language barrier. Pantomime diplomacy enthusiastically applied on Xavier's part, and the gift of a sword to the saguagin emissary, eventually seem to communicate their intention not to do any harm, and several other sahuagin emerge, all sporting the same strange growths on their bodies. Surrounding the company, they urge them forward. With little option but to trust that their efforts were successful, they're led into the sauagin enclave.

Inside, the room is dark with weed and algae, growing far up the walls and across the ceiling. Large outcrops of crisp, dry weed have been gathered around the bases of the pillars, forming islands of sorts, and in the far corner, what looks like the jaws of a giant shark, wrapped reverently in overlapping strands of weed, has been strung from the ceiling. As the party is led through the chamber with dark, unblinking eyes watching their progress, they spy what might be the sanctuary's priest, a slouched, crooked beast with four segmented tentacles where his right arm should be. The creature hisses at them in disgust as they pass, but doesn't interfere.

Soon they stand no worse for wear in the next vault, having passed unscathed through the sahuagin lair, and with the entrance sealed unceremoniously shut behind them.

Pushing on, the atmosphere begins to change. The water they're wading through becomes icy cold, as does the air in their lungs, and the fungal growths in the cistern take on gigantic, deformed proportions. Access to the final vault on Luhnarstes' map is via an ascending pipe that is almost blocked by these festering growths, dripping slime onto the adventurer's heads and necks, and decomposing into mold almost before their very eyes.

The final chamber is similar, but writ large. Massive, rotting mushrooms and other plants line the walls, pillars, and ceiling, and a constant dripping rain of slime has created a standing layer of vitriol on the floor... but it's the minotaur corpse lying half-consumed by fungal growths near the door that grabs their most immediate attention. The creature is skeletal save for a thin layer of skin that appears almost blanketed over its skull, and is lying slumped in death, one hand clutching an aged sword.

Xavier cannot resist -- after all, he has to replace the sword he gave to the sahuagin -- but unfortunately, touching the minotaur appears to activate a ghostly trap. Suddenly from all around, the distant sound of applause begins to swell, growing from a mere echo to a thunderous roar which washes over the room. Several spectral shapes appear near the center... ghostly minotaurs, dressed in gladiator's garb. They salute the unseen crowd, which shouts its approval, and advance upon the party.

The fight contracts around the entrance to the vault, and becomes nasty. The party is outnumbered and Berend quickly finds himself surrounded on almost all sides. Azurami unleashes a storm of thunderous energies, smashing her attackers back again and again, but still they keep coming... and she suddenly notices something odd, that their reactions to her attacks, although realistic, seem a little forced... theatrical, almost.

The mystery resolves itself when Berend shouts a challenge at the watching crowd -- "I'll not play your games any more!" -- causing their boos and whistles to turn to deafening applause as his axe smashes through one of the gladiators... who then suddenly winks out of existence. Picking up the hint, the others do the same, playing the crowd as best they can and eradicating their opponents one by one not only through their own firepower, but also on the sharp edge of audience approval.

At this point, however, things take an unexpected turn. The nearby skeletal minotaur creaks to life, rising to its feet as several others push their way out of the the deep folds of the festering vegetation. The battle commences with renewed ferocity, much to the audience's delight, but Xavier is almost overwhelmed as he desperately fights off multiple attackers...

Thursday, 25 June 2009

4ed Campaign - Session 26 - 7th June

In which the Lord of the Mages of Saruun is infinitely unamused, a careful trust is finally established, and a the party finds a would-be king presiding over a drowned kingdom...

Roster
(Party Level 5th)
Azurami - Eladrin Wizard
Berend - Dwarven Fighter
Elumai - Eladrin Wizard
Finial - Half-elf Paladin
Jonas - Human Ranger
Xavier - Dragonborn Warlord

Orontor leads the company to the teleportation circle and utters the command word -- "Cantratos!" -- without any attempt to disguise it (experts in the party conclude this is most likely a name, rather than an invocation). There is a sickening lurch as reality contracts around them -- especially disorienting to the eladrin in the group, and a very different trip to their familiar jaunts through the Feywild -- before they find themselves in the audience chamber.

It is a stone room, perfectly circular, with a door to one side and a series of round porthole-like windows around the edge (although what they look out onto is impossible to see, as they are sealed with metal shutters which are magically locked). Orontor looks unexpectedly confused, and admits he has never been here before, but suggests that the party waits patiently nonetheless. After a few minutes, a melodic chime sounds out, footsteps are heard on the other side of the door, and it swings silently open revealing a short corridor, and another, similar room opposite this one. Orontor, whispering into Xavier's ear, identifies the three men that stand there.

Two are side-by-side, and a third is at their back. One is a tall, stocky youth with hair cut around his head in a bowl, a pinched face, brown leather britches, and a red poncho draped over his chest. Orontor identifies this mage as Passeract, no small amount of dislike in his voice. The other is a taller, thinner man with a twitchy, squinting demeanour, and is dressed similarly; this mage Orontor introduces as Emerjis.

Behind them is Paldemar himself. He is nondescript of face, sporting a mop of stringy black hair, shot through with grey, and a large moustache of similar hue. A silver-clasped cloak is draped over one shoulder, although there is, unusually, not one ounce of gold or silver anywhere else to be seen on him, while the rest of his body, aside from tall black boots, appears to be clad in ribbons of multicoloured cloth and silk, bound about his midsection like a mummy's wrappings. His eyes alight on each of his visitors with an air of supreme dominion.

Passeract introduces "The most gracious Lord Paldemar", steps aside to allow the Lord of the Mages of Saruun to take a seat, and invites questions, but quickly, so that his "most esteemed and valuable time" is interrupted no longer than necessary. The party asks about the Court of Cloaks, flurock, and the Bloodreavers, but gets short shrift from the mage, who seems more distracted by the quality of his manicure than in anything the company might have to say.
He admits to having imported "a few kilo's" of the strange material known as flurock, and even examines the sample they have brought with them... whereupon, in his grasp, the rock begins to malform and elongate like clay. This draws gasps of surprise from the party but, when questioned, he simply explains that it is "one of the many properties of an otherwise uninteresting substance", and returns it to them.

On the subject of the Bloodreavers, he tells the party that he knows of their escapades, and asks Orontor directly if their excursion to the Chamber of Eyes was done at his behest, to which the mage, now even paler than usual, is forced to admit that it was. Paldemar shows neither anger nor approval at this, causing Orontor to fidget even more nervously than before.

Xavier tries hard to press home the issue of the kidnapped Kingsblade, attempting to convince the mage that is in all their interests that the slaves are found and rescued quickly, before word spreads to the King, and that a certain... package which is the property of the Court of Cloaks is also recovered before the Court comes looking for it Themselves.

"A fine institution, but of no interest here. They hold no dominion in the Labyrinth. If they have a presence in the Hall, I suffer it by virtue of not caring." -- Paldemar on the Court of Cloaks.

Neither the Court of Swords nor the Court of Cloaks appears to concern him much, that is until the party begins insinuating that they have contacts in the Court, and it may actually be in their interest, if not Paldemar's, to draw some attention to the Seven-Pillared Hall. The atmosphere turns a chilly at this point, with Passeract enraged that they should threaten Lord Paldemaar in this way, but the leader of the Mages, despite all claims to the contrary, eventually seems inclined to avoid unnecessary confrontations with the Courts of the King, and intimates that he is receptive to an agreement.

The company's proposal is simple: help them gain entrance to the Horned Hold, and do not warn the duergar that they are coming. Paldemar agrees, and instantaneously, information on how to reach the Hold resolves itself in all of the company's minds as if it had always been there. This small concession markes the end of the meeting, however. Ordering Orontor to stay behind to "have a little talk", Paldemar, his entourage (daggers of contempt firing from their eyes), and the terrified mage all depart.

(Orontor returns a short time later, and to their surprise appears renewed. Gone are the dirty, hand-me-down robes he was dressed in before, replaced with a resplendent set of clothes adorned in fine jewelry. Delighted, he tells them that Paldemar not only thanked him for dealing with the Bloodreavers, who, it turns out, have been a thorn in the mage's side ever since he gave them residence in the Hall, but also promoted him to the inner circle of the mages! "No more holding that great oaf's leash," he says in reference to the ogre Brugg, "now I get treated as an equal!")

Talk turns to their next step, but the conversation suddenly turns prickly, as Jonas reveals what he saw of Xavier's visit to the duergar, and the issues which have plagued the two of them since the dragonborn joined the party are finally given voice. The discussion is terse but fruitful. Elumai also opines that trust has been difficult to give to Xavier, given his authoritarian tone (and revealing a little of her noble background in the process), while Berend (claiming a title himself - "Heir to the chieftainship of the Moddison Branch of the Hrafnkells") is, as usual, phlegmatic about the whole thing. The discussion comes to a cordial end, but a feeling of unresolved tension still lingers somewhwat over the proceedings.

Using the teleportation command to return to the Hall, they examine their options. The mental instructions transmitted to them from Paldemar suggest two approaches. First, they can use what is essentially the front gate, but since they know the Hold is in effect a duergar fortress and likely to be stuffed with dwarves intent on killing or capturing them, this is not an attractive option. Second, and more interestingly, there is apparently a hidden entrance accessed by traversing the abandoned cistern beneath the Seven-Pillared Hall. This old and disused facility is, by repute, haunted by memories of its ancient past, but this serves more as an enticement than anything else, and they decide to make use of it.

Jonas scouts the entrance -- a grating into which the river running through the Hall plunges at its north end -- and declares it cold and wet, but serviceable, and the company drops into a frigid pool below. Following the mental map in their head, they delve into a broad, half-submerged pipe, which ultimately culminates in a collapsed dead end. However, built into the floor is a valve of sorts, leading into a slimmer underwater pipe, which Berend, being the smallest member of the party, volunteers to investigate.

He emerges into a large inner chamber, but before he can investigate further, is hauled back by the rest of the company. His hair and beard are covered in tiny white pods like seeds or sports, and within a few minutes, he starts to feel ill. Upon inspection by the rest of the party, he is found to have contracted Delver's Cap, a fungal disease known to thrive in stagnant water. This news does not put a smile on his face... however, he points out that if anyone had to be the first to catch it, better it was a dwarf.

Navigating the confines of the access pipe, the party emerges into a square, vault-like room supported by four pillars that arch up into the ceiling and about a hundred foot or more to a side. About three feet of stagnant water covers the floor. In the center of the room, a shallow circular bowl of stone appears brightly illuminated, and upon closer inspection, appears filled with a strange, glowing plant. Above, a recess in the ceiling contains long, dangling fronds, all glowing with the same phosphorescent light, and the party wisely decides to circumvent this obvious trap.

Jonas uses his exceptional climbing skill to traverse the walls and ceiling, but suddenly finds himself under attack from a dark corner. Arrows whistle ineffectually past him in the dark, clanging off the walls and sploshing into the water, riding on a wave of verbal abuse from someone as yet out of sight:

"Villains! Green-skinned pirates! You'll not assail this kingdom, my life upon it!"
"Foul demons! You see my strength of arms! You'll find no revenge here! Retreat, or welcome Luhnarstes' wrath!" -- Luhnarstes at the approach of the party.

Guided by magical light provided by his friends, Jonas closes in on the voice and finds an island of refuse built of wood, cloth, wire, and seemingly anything else that might have been washed into the cistern, built into one corner of the vault. Crouching behind a makeshift rampart, he spots what looks like a tiefling, although the man's horns have been filed or snapped off just behind the ear. Dressed in rags, thin of form and with leathery tan skin, the man's crazed albino eyes look out from under a makeshift crown fashioned of crooked forks and spoons, and he exhorts Jonas with promises of pain and damnation if he comes any closer. Eventually, the tiefling stands, launches a poorly-aimed spear which splashes into the water over Jonas's shoulder, and retreats to a corner, cowering in fear.

The party approaches, but the derelict, who calls himself Luhnarstes, seems inconsolable, muttering variously about green-skinned devils, the rise of the pale moon, the fact that "he is not worthy of revenge!" and other nonsense which makes very little sense. Slowly, gradually, with the combined skills of the party brought to bear, he at least calms somewhat, and although questions about his own situation and how he came to be down here result only in frantic gibberish, they're able to ask him for help on the matter of the cistern itself.

In fact, with the proper persuasion, he is able to scrawl a map for them, showing nine vaults in a 3x3 pattern, interconnected by a network of pipes and tunnels, some of which have collapsed. The "green-scaled pirates" that occupy so much of his banter appear to reside near the center of the complex, but he also warns the company of the "horned ones, who will make you but players in their devilish game!"

Thus armed, the party clears away the flotsam accumulated by Luhnarstes over the exit tunnel, and pushes on into the darkness...

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

4ed Campaign -- Session 25 -- 31st May 2009

In which Berend finds interest from an unexpected quarter, duergar schemes are brewing in the cellar, and trust doesn't come easy in the company of heroes...

Roster
(Party Level 5th)
Azurami - Eladrin Wizard
Berend - Dwarven Fighter
Elumai - Eladrin Wizard
Finial - Half-elf Paladin
Jonas - Human Ranger
Xavier - Dragonborn Warlord

With nothing to do but wait for Orontor's return, the party decides to explore the Hall and follow up on some of the things they've already learned. Finial, Azurami, and Xavier wish to pay a visit to the Temple of Hidden Light, the Hall's only chapel, while Jonas, Berend, and Elumai decide that the Grimmerzhul Trading Post may be a better bet.

At the Temple, the adventurers find a simple and austere chapel chiseled out of the western face of the cavern. Within, stone benches face an altar, on which is displayed a contraption of arresting complexity. Gears, pulleys, and chains, powered by a slender column of water running from a finger of metal pipe punched into the ceiling, keep a sequence of metal balls rolling in perfect, perpetual synchronicity up and down the length of the machine. Xavier is immediately struck by the device, and engages the resident priest, Phaledra, in conversation.

The simply-dressed young woman is a worshiper of Erathis, goddess of law and civilization. She commissioned the device from a dwarven family far to the south, she reveals, to represent, most obviously, the action of numerous pieces working to the advantage of the greater whole... although what it does for her own personal spiritual betterment is knowledge for her alone. She invites all three of the company who have come to visit her to look into the machine and take whatever lessons or education from it while they can, before she is required to move on. The Temple's portfolio, she informs them, changes regularly at the behest of the mages, and none of the priests who have served here have been allowed to stay for more than a few weeks, a month or two at most. Xavier diligently maps the workings of the device, and leaves a sizable donation behind as well, before they all move on.

The others make their way to the trading post. It's a single-story building constructed of large, uniform blocks; surrounded also by a shallow, crenelated stone wall like a rampart, the feeling is of a little fortress within the Seven-Pillared Hall. Three duergar, armed and ready for a fight, lounge about the place, but do not impede the party as they pass through an open iron gate towards the shop itself. Jonas slips around the outside, darting between mounds of refuse piled haphazardly against the inner side of the wall.

Inside the shop, neat arrangements of bottles, vials, jars and jugs of all kinds are on display, and the proprietor, a duergar woman names Kedhira, greets her new visitors with polite nobility, inviting them to look around while entertaining questions on her inventory from Elumai. Things take a sudden turn for the strange, however, when out of the blue she asks Elumai how much she would be prepared to take... for Berend! She claims to have buyers lined up who would pay good money for a dwarf in his condition, but Elumai, after due consideration, reluctantly declines the transaction. Berend himself is ignored during this discussion, but seems more amused than insulted.

Outside, Jonas spies two entrances into rear of the premises: a hatch probably used to load supplies into the cellar, and a separate staircase leading down to a sturdy-looking door. Avoiding the patrolling guard, he slips into the cellar, there to find a treasure-trove of alchemical goods and material, as well as a sophisticated looking assemblage of jars, stills, pipes and condensers. Another door opens onto a room in which three duergar appear to be at work bottling various malefic-looking substances, with another dark stairwell leading down into the depths, but Jonas leaves them well-enough alone... that is until an uncharacteristically clumsy exit rouses them from their work. He is forced to fight his way out but eventually escapes into the Seven-Pillared Hall, where, clambering up to the high vantage of Krand's chambers, he lays low until he can make contact with the others.

Finally, before the meeting with Orontor, Xavier decides on one last course of action. Leaving the others, he walks alone to the Trading Post and confronts Kedhira directly, quickly dropping all pretense and offering her above-market value for the Kingsblade slaves that he knows the duergar have bought. Kedhira remains coy, never admitting to the truth, but seems open to Xavier's offer, nonetheless. She considers it for a few moments, but in the end, whether it's the company kept by the dragonborn, the likelihood of betrayal, or the possibility that these particular slaves have a value not measured in mere currency, she turns him down. Xavier, hinting that this is a decision she will live to regret, leaves peacefully, but unbeknownst to him, his visit to the duergar has taken place under the watchful and suspicious eye of Jonas far above.

Later, as the trade bell tolls its command across the Hall, the company meets with Orontor. He is no less nervous and bemused by what he is about to do than before, but nevertheless, after accepting a copy of the receipts and accounts salvaged from the Chamber of Eyes (edited by Elumai to remove any mention of the Necrotech Coffin), he leads them out of the inn and to their scheduled meeting with Paldemar, leader of the Mages of Saruun...

Monday, 1 June 2009

4ed Campaign -- Session 24 -- 24th May 2009

In which they don't make carpets like they used to, the theory that dwarven beards always grow back thicker is put to the test, and hallelujah! It's raining duergar!
Roster
Azurami - Eladrin Wizard 4
Berend - Dwarven Fighter 4
Elumai - Eladrin Wizard 4
Finial - Half-elf Paladin 4
Jonas - Human Ranger 4
Xavier - Dragonborn Warlord 4

The fight against Krand and his duergar allies heats up very quickly... not least because the expensive carpet with which he has covered the floor of his hideout bursts into flame at the slightest provocation, creating a conflagration which spreads rapidly across the room.

The fire sprites leap excitedly into the midst of the party, dodging several blows to get into position, and suddenly ignite into columns of flame which roar upward and singe the stone roof above. More than one of the adventurers is set ablaze by this attack, and the heat of the creatures forces them back, but Krand appears unphased as the sprites take up position either side of him, the sparks and flames of their auras obscuring the hobgoblin from sight. Meanwhile, the invisible duergar takes this opportunity to strike, phasing into existence alongside a distracted Azurami and dealing her a serious blow before vanishing from sight once again.

From here the fight is as much about avoiding going up in flames as it is about defending themselves and dispatching their enemies. The fire gradually eats across the room, pushing the adventurers further towards the ledge. As Xavier and the melee specialists do their utmost to pin Krand and his allies into position, Elumai ducks into the bedchamber to escape the heat, and spots a couple of interesting things.

In one corner is a patch of gellatinous slime, spilled out across the floor as if evacuated from a container of some sort. Amongst the thick, jelly-like humours are stringy ropes of matter like thin coils of pipe, and other fleshy masses float like large exploded blisters on the surface. In quiet desperation against the encroaching heat, Elumai splatters some of the jelly onto the expanding fire... where it immediately extinguishes the flames and hardens into a thin, transparent patina on the floor, keeping the flames a few steps at bay from the bedchamber at least. Apart from the strange goop, a wooden chest also catches her attention, and a quick look inside reveals a few coin and some gems. She doesn't waste time searching the entire thing for now.

Outside, a tenacious defense has dispatched all of their foes except for Krand and the duergar scout, now both retreating through the flames to a hidden escape route through the back of the fireplace. Berend charges through the inferno in pursuit, gritting his teeth against the heat and flames, and pins them down, allowing his allies to deal the killing blows from behind. At the same time, Xavier and Azurami heave what's left of the carpet back onto itself, rolling it up in a successful attempt to beat back the fire. Soon, the blaze is out, leaving only the scorched, smoke-filled interior of Krand's quarters... at least, what's left of them.

In return for victory, the wooden chest turns up an impressive pile of booty... but not before Elumai, unwilling yet to share the full haul with members of the party she does not yet fully trust, has secretly pocketed several gems. Otherwise, a set of Bracers of Defense go to Azurami, a Master's Wand of Magic Missile +1 goes to Elumai, gratefully received to enhance her staple attack, and Krand's Magic Longspear +1 goes to Xavier. A selection of potions is handed around, and a bundle of duergar beard quills, tied with string and sitting at the bottom of the chest, is a mystery to the company, but taken nevertheless.

Of separate interest is a sheaf of accounts, showing the dealings of the Bloodreavers over recent months. It lists individual slaves (quality rated on a scale of 1 to 5), codenames for their buyers, and the price fetched. "2 x Human female, Kingsblade" stands out amongst the entries, as does "1 x Elven child", a prize which was sold to a buyer codenamed "Arak" for 2500gp, a sum far in excess of any of the others, even the Kingsblade.

Finally, they find a collection of letters between Krand and none other than Kalarel, the scion of Orcus who was behind the plot to open the portal to the Shadowfell near Winterhaven. It seems Kalarel had promised to deliver the "expendable" occupants of the town to Krand once his plan had come to fruition, but annotations in (presumably) Krand's own hand reveal that Kalarel was foiled by a group of strangers staying in Winterhaven at the time. His final note, underlined at the bottom of the final letter from Kalarel, simply reads: "Find these bastards."

In a separate chest of drawers, the party discovers a selection of ceremonial outfits, all expensively tailored in Krand's size, representing characters from various religious festivals in support of all of the Gods of the land. What he used this garb for remains a mystery.

Fearing a visit from Bloodreaver reinforcements, or perhaps the Ordinator Arcanis after all the trouble they've caused, the party bolsters their position and takes a rest. Jonas enjoys the opportunity of spying on the activities of the Hall from the high vantage, seeing little of note except, perhaps, for what is presumably a mage, who appears in a flash of light on the teleportation circle and pays a lengthy visit to the Grimmerzhul Trading Post, an establishment which Jonas knows is run by duergar.

The group follows Krand's secret escape down a series of stairwells and chutes back to the Seven-Pillared Hall, where they return to the Halfmoon Inn to meet with Orontor (and, later, are forced to make a brief and somewhat sheepish return visit to the Chamber of Eyes to find and collect Rendil, whom they had left trussed up in an unexplored room).

Orontor meets them as promised, delighted to find them having returned in one piece from their mission, although he is somewhat sickened by the presentation of a bloody sack containing Krand's head. He innocently enquires after any "packages" which they might have found, any unusual artifacts delivered to the Bloodreavers which he suspects may have been destined for Paldemar, but the party chooses not to tell him about referenced they found to the mysterious Necrotech Coffin. Nevertheless, he pays them the princely sum of 350gp, and agrees to follow through on his promise to arrange a meeting with Paldemar... if only he could take the paper accounts they found, for study. The party promises to make him a copy, and Orontor goes on his way, dissatisfied but with no other recourse, and tells them to meet him back at the inn when the Trading Bell tolls later that evening.

This leaves the party with a sack full of unanswered questions, and an entire afternoon to kill...