Friday, 27 February 2009

4ed Campaign -- Session 17 -- 22nd February 2009

In which it's a hard life for miners, the political underbelly of Crow's Atoll starts to show itself, and the party attempts to make friends in high places.
Roster
Berend - Dwarven Fighter 4
Corrash - Dragonborn Warlock (Fey-Pact) 4
Elumai - Eladrin Wizard 4
Finial - Half-elf Paladin 4
Jonas - Human Ranger 4
Mord - Dwarven Fighter 4
Romto - Halfling Cleric (of Pelor) 4

Suspicious of the curious crystal-clear lake, the party engages in a brief test by lobbing first a backpack, then a dead body into the water. Both of them sink into the shallow depths exactly as one would expect, although the thin layer of grime sloughed off by the water seems to evaporate from the surface more quickly than normal. This does not promote any more confidence in the lagoon and the party decides to leave it alone. Retreating from the cavern, one last point of interest resolves itself out of the murk: the lake actually seems to have been created by damming a flow of water from the opposite corner of the cave.

Ringing the bell they were given earlier, the company summons the lift-cage which drops slowly towards them and settles on the gritty ledge. The ride back up is slow and somewhat precarious, but the cage transports them safely to the engine house at the top. Curiously, no-one is on-guard, and Corrash takes the opportunity to sneak a look through the grimy windows of the engine house; within, he sees an assemblage of cogs, wheels, and chains, seemingly run by water. A quick examination of the bell, however, discerns that the summoning of the cage lift is actually a magical effect.

Asimuth is pleased (and, it has to be said, somewhat surprised) at the safe return of the party with one of the survivors, a human called Arctus. He is escorted through the door at the rear of the office under the ministrations of a Union nurse, and talk turns to payment. Royt has already shuffled several long papers on which he was working back under the desk, and from a large lockbox, scoops a handful of coin: the 100g, as promised. All the while, he keeps the PC's at bay, obviously not wanting them to glance under the desk. This naturally piques the curiosity of the adventurers, and with Mord's help (plastered walls, after all, not resilient against the force of a thrown hammer) Elumai ultimately maneuvers herself into a position where she catches sight of reams of rolled up papers, not one but three lockboxes, and a small sack of the very same strange mineral that Berend, and since then Corrash, collected in the mine.

The conversation moves on to another, somewhat less public problem that Royt and the Union are facing. He asks for the company's help in rooting out a foul corruption within the organisation which, he is convinced, no less than the Mayor herself has instigated. The dragonborn makes no effort to disguise his dislike of Dewey Crow, whom he says is much too pre-occupied with affairs outside of Crow's Atoll and doesn't have the head for business that her brothers do. She clearly sees the Prospectors as a threat to her power base and has put a plot in motion to discredit the Union and consolidate her grip on the town. This plot, he is sure, involves turning certain influential members of the Union against Royt in the hope of bringing the institution down from within, and he has his suspicions about one of his right-hand men, pit foreman Penelo Greentack. The commission is therefore simple: to follow him for the next 24 hours and see what he gets up to. The fee, 100gp per person. The party finds it hard to turn the offer down, despite having their reservations about the dragonborn.

At this point they decide to split their efforts: Finial will mine for information at the Bluff, seeing what he can uncover about the Union and the politics of the town; Berend, Romoto and Corrash will keep an eye on the Union office; Jonas will stake out Penelo's residence starting that night, to be relieved of the duty by Elumai in the morning; and finally Mord decides to wait until morning, and then see if he can pay the mayor herself a visit.

The Union office proves to be an uninteresting object of study. A flickering light burns for the course of the entire night, and morning dawns with no-one having come or gone from the place. Berend and Corrash lose patience in the morning and go back in, only to find a clerk behind the desk who they have never seen before. Bluffing their way past the bureaucrat, they make their way to a hospital ward toward the rear of the building and have an informal chat with Arctus, the miner they saved earlier. He is pleased to see them and extravagant in his thanks, but it becomes clear during the conversation that given his age and injuries he doesn't expect his contract to be renewed (Romoto applies the blessings of Pelor, healing his injuries almost completely, to ensure he has as good a chance as possible). The adventurers also ask Arctus what he makes of the strange mineral they've being seeing around the place, but the miner becomes immediately agitated, wanting nothing to do with the rock which he says has brought the prospectors nothing but bad luck in all the time they've been excavating the cursed stuff.

Jonas finds Penelo's hovel, a squat building squeezed between two larger houses, on the east side of town. Setting up watch from a nearby roof, the rest of the night passes uneventfully, and it's not until Elumai is on watch the next morning that Penelo appears. He makes a quick trip to market, purchasing a bundle of some kind of fruit, but it's his second excursion that is of more interest. Elumai skilfully trails the half-elf to the warehouse district near the tramways on which they first arrived; he has a brief conversation with the guard on watch at the main door, slips him something which she can only assume is a bribe, and disappears inside. Observing a variety of laden wagon-traffic leaving the warehouse, she decides to hold-off on following him inside for the moment.

Finial meanwhile has retreated to the Bluff and engages a tired-looking prospector in idle gossip, a conversation which confirms much of what they've already deduced. The man grows gradually quieter and more introspective as Finial plies him with Shent, the ale brewed from seaweed, but divulges that the miners work on short-term contracts, paid daily with a wage that buys them food and beer, and not much else. Finial is told matter-of-factly that prospector's can expect to be dispensed with when they out-live their usefulness, and recounts the tale of Alma, a popular lass whose job was to pass water around the various mines; she was summarily dismissed after contracting dustrot, a disease which makes it hard to breathe in the confined workings of the mine. The man does not seem to want to pass judgement on this state of affairs; it is as it is.

Royt, however, is considered a respected steward for the interests of the Union, always having the best interests of the business at heart, just as it should be, although he could do with making more regular appearances at the coal-face. The dragonborn's dislike of Dewey Crow also seems to have spread to those working under him, with the miner voicing his distrust of the new mayor and her apparent business naivety. Her brothers, he declares, would do much better for the town than she ever will.

Finally, Mord. Researching the art of flattery from his many books on the subject, he buys a bunch of flowers from the market and presents himself at the gates of the mansion. The reception from the warden on duty, at first, is cold, but some fast talking from the loquacious dwarf convinces the guard that he is on an unannounced diplomatic mission from a distant dwarven kingdom (not entirely untrue) and gains entrance. He is shown to the grand foyer of the mansion, an exquisite building in the most opulent dwarven traditions, where he is asked to wait for the mayor, who is currently enjoying breakfast. Who should arrive shortly thereafter but Lord Riva, apparently already in residence at the mansion, or at least there as a privileged guest. Riva arranges for an audience with the mayor herself, a fair, soft-spoken and attractive woman by dwarven standards who renders Mord almost beside himself with nerves. Referring to his carefully prepared notes, however, and gaining maximum benefit from the flowers he so thoughtfully purchased, he acquits himself well (at least he thinks so). Dewey has business to attend to throughout the course of the day, however she invites him to a short tea later in the day, and meanwhile gives Mord free reign of her extensive library, a luxury which leaves him almost as speechless as when he shook her hand for the first time.

Monday, 16 February 2009

4ed Campaign -- Session 16 -- 15th February 2009

In which the followers of the King that Crawls show the true depths of their depravity, and the troglodyte lair gives up more than its fair share of surprises...
Roster
Berend - Dwarven Fighter 4
Corrash - Dragonborn Warlock (Fey-Pact) 4
Elumai - Eladrin Wizard 4
Finial - Half-elf Paladin 4
Jonas - Human Ranger 4
Mord - Dwarven Fighter 4
Romto - Halfling Cleric (of Pelor) 4

The fight with the troglodytes continues to drag the adventurers deeper into the lair as the javelin-wielding defenders retreat to their second line of defense. As the melee gradually turns against them, it becomes clear to the creatures that they've waited too long to retreat, and by the time they decide to go for help, they're already fighting off attacks left right and centre. One of the escaping trogs is held fast by Mord as he tries to flee, and although the second manages to escape around the corner and out of sight, he's soon chased down by Corrash and Elumai, who dispatch him with consumate ease. The last troglodyte doesn't last much longer.

The party pauses to recuperate, and the question as to why the combat didn't draw the attention of the rest of the lair is seemingly answered by the sounds of raucous cheering and hollering from deeper in the complex. Undercover of this distraction, the company decides to search a few nearby rooms. Close-by, they find two prison-pens. One is empty, albeit squalid and dirtied with blood and faeces, while the other holds the body of a human. The flesh of his semi-naked body is ripped and torn open; he could not have survived long with such wounds.

The search of a second antechamber yields the poorly-concealed entrance of a squat tunnel which leads a few feet through the rock before opening into a broader passageway through which a shallow stream runs to the north. The water is fetid and choked with refuse, clearly run-off from other inhabited areas of the catacomb, and the decision is made to leave the tunnel alone for now.

Exploration in a third direction turns up a dormitory of sorts, lived-in but empty. Rifling through the possessions of the stinking creatures, the party finds a few copper and several small straw fetishes in the shape of a lizard-like head with a dozen tentacles emerging from its neck. They're finely crafted and perpetually damp to the touch, and Romto, who recognises them as images of the god of the Underdark, Torog, immediately sets about making a fire with which to cleanse these aberrant totems. To his relief, the straw-like material crisps and burns as soon as it touches the flame.

Pushing on, the company comes upon another disturbing scene. It is a square antechamber, with half-a-dozen circular plinths arranged around a large statue of the same form as the straw fetishes, but much larger and more intricately detailed. The floor of the chamber is caked in a glistening carpet of blood, guts, entrails, and ripped flesh, clearly the remnants of some kind of sacrifice, and in fact a subsequent search turns up not only the discarded head of a hobgoblin, but several wooden platters and condiments, hinting that the flesh of the poor creature was consumed in some way after his death. The gruesome scene is too much for Romto, who cannot abide to enter the room, but the others, reasoning that whatever viscera they happen to get on themselves might serve to disguise their smell, busy themselves with the dirty task of bringing the statue down and defiling it.

All the while, the sounds of the cheering throng from the other end of the lair grow stronger, and the company proceeds cautiously in that direction. They pass a small cavern, one whole side of which has been fenced off. Inside, several large, razor-clawed insect-like creatures drag themselves slothfully about, seemingly barely able to stand on six legs. These are identified by the knowledgeable adventurers as kruthiks, although their languorous movements are completely at odds with their reputation as crazed carnivores. The company concludes they must be drugged or under some other kind of stupour, and moves on.

Finally they come to the source of the noise, a huge cavern deep inside the complex. A group of 25-30 people, all of different races of the Underdark including goblin, hobgoblin, troglodyte, human, half-elf, and even a couple of drow elves, are standing around a pit which has been dug into the floor of the cavern, cheering on whatever is happening inside. Above them all, a strange orb that looks for all the world like a floating green eye washes the scene in a ghostly verdant light, looking this way and that, drifting casually a few feet over the heads of the crowd. Romto wracks his brain and remembers that the god Torog has often been renowned for observing his followers through a disembodied eye that passes judgement on their actions; Elumai, meanwhile, identifies several tell-tale signs that it is some kind of scrying device, perhaps under a glamour to make it look more formidable than it actually is.

In any case, they know that at least two miners were kidnapped when the excavation in mine 6 broke through to the lair, and it seems as if someone is in trouble down there. Corrash and the two dwarves, already covered in the accumulated filth of the troglodyte lair, shove to the front of the crowd as if they belong there, and see two humans in the pit, one semi-conscious, the other fighting off two chittering, screeching kruthiks with little more than a plank of wood with nails hammered into it. He is injured, but fighting, and putting himself in mortal danger for the purpose of sparing the other man from a fatal injury. Two troglodytes oversee the blood-sport, collecting various monies from the assembled throng as bets are placed and wagers met.

Not only that, but as they get closer, the three of them recognise none other than the hobgoblin who fled the scene of their battle outside the kobold lair near Winterhaven. Both he and his friend are dressed in a uniform of sorts, little more than a few common scraps of red cloth and a bronze-buckled bandolier, but it seems that they are both members of the same organisation, whether it's the Bloodreavers, or someone else.

The company is massively outnumbered, but there is a reason why people of great destiny are called heroes, and there is nothing for it but to attempt a rescue. Corrash teleports straight into the pit, interposing himself between the gladiators and the kruthiks and offering a rope to the human still on his feet. A shocked hush descends on the crowd. All eyes turn to the lead troglodyte, a tall, muscular creature whose face is decorated with various inexpertly-inscribed tattoos. The chieftan roars in Common -- "Who dares interrupt this ceremony? The Eye of Torog must be appeased!" -- but his diatribe is interrupted by Elumai, who has snuck around the far edge of the cavern and, taking Corrash's actions as a signal, unleashes the now-traditional Freezing Cloud upon the chieftain and his retainer. As magic explodes about them, the crowd panics, and flees for various tunnels dotted around the edge of the cave.

Several fronts to the battle quickly open up. Elumai, Romto, and Berend engage the troglodytes, pushing the chieftan into the pit where he has no choice but to engage Corrash; Corrash himself focuses on rescuing the near-dead human by proferring him the rope, which the man groggily ties to his wrist, allowing Mord to heave him up the side of the pit. The dragonborn is also forced to narrowly dodge a glass grenade, thrown at him by the chieftan, which smashes harnmlessly on the pit wall behind him, disgorging orangey spores which float slowly to the floor. Elumai's efforts to snag the floating eye in a bag held by her Mage Hand come, after a brief mid-air tango, to naught, and the eye flits upwards and out of sight through a narrow chimney some two-hundred-or-so feet above their heads.

The company's attention is also piqued by a cloaked humanoid, who has lingered at the edge of the pit instead of fleeing with the rest of the onlookers. Any questions they might have had about his loyalties are quickly answered when he unleashes a hail of deadly arrows upon their enemies, very much turning the tide of the battle in their favour as they are forced to focus half their effort on the need to rescue the humans, and Mord takes the opportunity to dive, head first, onto one of the kruthiks below, doing serious harm to both it and himself in the process.

As the fight continues, only one more complication occurs... but it's a big one. The soily floor of the fighting pit cracks and erupts upward, almost in their midst, as a giant kruthik hive mistress emerges from below. Screeching a chorus with her other offspring, whose attacks become even wilder and more dangerous in her presence, she vomits a putrid, bile-like stream of acid on those who would dare to harm her offspring, sizzling onto Mord's flesh and slowly dissolving him as the fight goes on. Eventually, however, the troglodytes and kruthiks succumb to the party's attacks, and the hive mistress is forced to retreat back underground to lick her wounds.

As the company recovers from the encounter, a few introductions seem in order. The half-elf introduces himself as Finial, paladin and last survivor of a doomed expedition into the Underdark; the cloaked human seems diffident and withdrawn, but reveals his name to be Jonas. He is curious, as one would expect, as to who the party is and what they're doing down there, but in the end a careful trust is established and it is agreed by all concerned that a return to the surface is probably in order.

A search of the cavern reveals a few nearby chambers in which the various cast-off belongings of what are presumed to be previous victims of the fighting pit are found, including Finial's equipment, much to the half-elf's relief. Also of interest is a lake which fills the entire other half of the cavern, at least two hundred-feet in diameter. The water is crystal clear, and in the shallow depths near to the edge, piles of stark white bones are visible. Not only that, but run-off from the lake seems to have been deliberately coaxed into a western channel, looking for all the world like some sort of aqueduct...