Wednesday, 7 January 2009

4ed Campaign -- Session 13 -- 13th December 2008

In which the scourge of the Keep on the Shadowfell finally pits its wits against our heroes, dwarven resilience saves Mord from a dire fate, and someone organises a surprise party...
Roster
Elumai - Eladrin Wizard 3
Berend - Dwarven Fighter 3
Corrash - Dragonborn Warlock (Fey-Pact) 3
Romto - Halfling Cleric (of Pelor) 3
Mord - Dwarven Fighter 3

It is but a short 30-foot descent from the cathedral to the basement room where Kalarel, the apostle of Orcus who has engineered a dire scheme to unleash the forces of his master upon an unsuspecting world, awaits. Clambering down the chains, the adventurers find themselves in a large chamber. One wall is dominated by a massive statue of Orcus, and on the opposite wall, a circular portal constrains a suspended plane of inky blackness, behind which some distant, horned monstrosity pushes and strains to get through. In front of the portal, inscribed on the flagstones, a circle of glowing runes resonates with power, while across the room, Kalarel himself hunches reading -- or praying -- over some moldy tome. Opposite him, a gaunt, leather-skinned undead sniffs at two smaller statues of the Prince of Undead.

It's impossible for the interlopers to approach with stealth, a danger they have already been forced to accept in their efforts to deal with Kalarel. The cultist, however, in an unexpected demonstration of fair play -- or outright arrogance -- commands the snarling wight across the room to hold fast and allow them to descend. They do so, swinging to the edge of the pit of blood which simmers below the chains.

"What's this? Visitors at last? I will allow you to descend, as a show of charity." - Kalarel.
"We heard you had some problems with the plumbing, we're here to fix the pipes!" - Elumai.

The battle is joined. Mord rushes across the room to engage the wight: it calmly awaits him, and then attacks, unleashing bolts of necrotic energy to supplement its tearing claws. Their combat is a personal affair, each combatant using the statues as cover while searching for an opening, and with Mord panicking at the sight of the wight's profane visage more than once. Nevertheless he eventually prevails.

"Kill them, and drink of their humours!" - Kalarel.

The others charge into Kalarel. The Scion of Orcus is more than a match for them, and although Berend does copious harm to the cultist, he is weakened to within one feeble step of death such that the dwarf has to fight every ounce of his nature and actually withdraw from the fight, reduced to finding opportunities to help his friends prevail while staying out of range of the enemy.

"I am weak! That bag of bones Keegan has been dispatched, then. No matter!" - Kalarel.

All the while, Kalarel deluges them with vicious, enervating attacks. He takes a moment to recover his strength and activates an amulet which transports him to the circle of power in front of the portal, causing anyone who subsequently wants to put blade, axe, or hammer to him to have to put themselves in reach of whatever is struggling to break through from the Shadowfell into this world.

It is ultimately Mord who takes on this onerous responsibility, relying on his dwarven steadfastness to defend him against the creature. And indeed, although the entity has him in its grasp more than once, the sons of the Halls of TODO are not so easily moved, and he resists all attempts to pull him to a sticky death on the other side of the portal. Engaged in melee and beset on all sides by the skillful attacks of Elumai and Corrash, there is little hope for the evil-doer. As he is brought to within an inch of death, he is pulled through the portal, his pleas for mercy no doubt small palliative to the dreadful end which is the destiny of all those who fail a demon prince. The rod which had been his weapon for most of the fight tumbles out of his hand, its skull-tip smashing to pieces on the stone floor.

"No! My Lord... my master... Do not damn me for one failure! I beg of you... one more chance...!" - Kalarel, as he is dragged through the portal.

Victorious at last, the chamber itself can be searched. Corrash is delighted to find that the cold, gunmetal rod is a Rod of Corruption. Elumai finds a sophisticated mechanical scroll tube with a scroll of Detect Secret Doors contained within it, and is excited to discover that the circle of power inscribed on the floor is actually drawn in residuum, allowing her to both collect a stock of the valuable reagent and desecrate the evil inscription at the same time. In the jumble of bones at the bottom of the pool, which had sizzled and drained away when Kalarel was taken, the party discovers a fine dagger, wrought from a single large bone with keen, metal-shod edges on the blade. A selection of coinage - including Kalarel's personal stash of almost 1000gp - rounds off the haul. They do as much damage to the effigies of Orcus as they can, but the best they can do to the portal is defile the stone ring in which it is suspended, and although it is clearly diminished in power -- now no more than a vaguely opaque shadow -- it does not seem within their ability to destroy it completely.

Making their way back up and out, they discover that the remaining undead in the Keep appear to have 'malfunctioned' since Kalarel's defeat, walking in circles, or smashing their heads to a pulp on the nearest wall. They are put out of their misery. Elsewhere, there are signs that an unexplored section of the complex was home to large goblinoids, but the creatures within are gone. The party pauses just long enough to haphazardly seal up the room with the submerged jelly-like creature before vacating the Keep once and for all.

Another discovery is made on the way back to Winterhaven, however. They spot a small camp in the trees a short distance from the path. A single nearby tree appears to have been burnt to a crisp in some kind of magical fire, an immolation which left the rest of the campsite and forest completely untouched. Dropped and forgotten at the foot of the tree, a bracelet is found... the very same Keegan family heirloom which was given to Eilian before he left the Keep.

Filled with dismay at the thought of the old farmer's fate, the remainder of the trek home is a more sombre affair, especially when they arrive at Winterhaven to find that Goodrun has been unable to face living alone and has moved out of the family shack and in with a friend. None of the bold adventurers have the stomach to tell her what they found in the forest. They do arrive at Wrafton's however to find that a celebratory party has been thrown in their honour.

Who organised the soiree, and how they could have known there was something to celebrate, remains a mystery...

1 comment:

Wedge said...

Farewell Keep on the Shadowfell, you went on far too long.

I definitely didn't expect this adventure to keep us occupied for so long, but between irregular cancellations, character deaths, and other unexpected interludes, it took us six months and 13 sessions to complete. I suppose in the grand scheme of things, 13 sessions, at 3-4 hours a session, isn't too bad, and the party ended up at 4th level, exactly as planned. Not only that, but a bunch of characters and hooks for future adventures were successfully planted, we're all now happy and comfortable with 4E as a system, and I can springboard into a personalised campaign which isn't wholly dependent on published adventures for its content (although that may still be the case for the immediate future, customisations aside).

The final fight was lengthy, but fun. There were some tricky decisions for the party to make, and Kalarel stood his ground as a target for focused attacks. I did mod the encounter prior to starting, since as-written, I feared a TPK with the resources which had been used in the fight above. With hindsight, it was probably unnecessary... although if Berend had actually dropped, I might be telling a different story. The ability of two Defenders to hold their own on completely opposite sides of the battlefield, freeing the other party members to do whatever else was needed, was nice to watch.

I'm probably going to post a full review of Keep on the Shadowfell, but here's a brief summary. For new DM's and players, it has everything they need to get a feel for a game of D&D; for anyone else, it's sorely lacking. But with due attention to its apparent, intended market, I'm not unhappy with the purchase, and would give it a solid 6.5/10. I hope (and expect) Thunderspire, which I will be playing portions of with my group, to be better.