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...