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.