Friday, 29 January 2010

4ed Campaign -- Session 38 -- Sunday 17th January 2010

In which Paldemar's hiding place is finally uncovered, the fate of one of his friends and several of his foes is discovered, and the party once again gets the attention of Someone they shouldn't...

Roster (Party Level 7th)
Berend - Dwarven Fighter
Elumai - Eladrin Wizard
Finial - Half-elf Paladin
Matorna-Reevash (Human Kingsblade warrior, Finial's Companion)
Jonas - Human Rogue/Ranger

The party has little choice but to support Berend's decision to confront Brugg, given that the dwarf is already striding purposefully towards the ruins, but the ogre himself is too stubborn or too stupid to avoid the fight. Picking up his greatclub, he moves to defend himself against the adventurers, but standing on his own, he is quickly beaten into sulky submission by their attacks and has little option but to obey their orders to help the locals rebuild the Hall. Led off, the party quietly wonders if he'll see the morning, given the looks some of the folks that have gathered around the fight are throwing at him.

Now there is nothing for it but to travel to Paldemar's hide-out, wherever it may be. The teleporter works flawlessly, albeit with the same gut-wrenching side-effect, and they arrive in the same circular meeting room in which Paldemar held audience with them what seems like an age ago: stone walls with metallic porthole-like shutters, flagstone floors, and simple stone benches arranged in a circle. In the background, the same slushy, churning noise can still be heard.

Without illusions of propriety and/or the danger of being caught to stop them, the adventurers quickly shatter the locks on one of the portholes and swing it open. Outside, held back by a sheet of thick glass, is an impenetrable wall of worms, a sea of them, sliding past right-to-left as if in a great current... or as if the room, and whatever structure it is attached to, were moving through them.

Every colour and shape is visible: smooth-bodied annelids like thick earthworms, flat glistening nematodes, stringy flatworms, bristly and multi-coloured marine specimens, all folding and collapsing over eachother as they slide past. As they watch, a huge chitinous shell thuds against the window before once again being subsumed. It would seem that Paldemar's recluse isn't in the vicinity of the Seven-Pillared Hall at all, but deep inside Tumerex itself!

The door out of the room is ajar. Outside, a small landing offers two ways forward. Ahead, the door to the other audience chamber is closed; to the right, a simple wooden-panelled door bulges outward from its splintered frame as if something massive has impacted the other side.

The party decides to check the audience chamber first, and finds a scene of carnage. The room is blackened with ash as if a great fire has burned within, and the now-inert teleportation portal inscribed into the stone floor is caked with the incinerated remains of several people. Careful examination reveals three bodies... and interestingly, what is left of one of the human skulls shows signs of mutilation within the eye socket. This recalls to Jonas's mind the group of Vecna-worshippers he encountered earlier in the Hall, who had claimed that their "patron" had abandoned them. Could this be what is left of them? There are subtle signs that one or more bodies have been removed, as well.

The third door from the lower landing is carefully inspected but doesn't seem dangerous. Wrenching it open, the party is shocked as the remains of Paldemar's cohort, Emerjis, flops out onto the floor. The mage's body is almost literally flattened, having been smashed against the door by a massive impact. Not only that, but his right arm has been somehow transmuted into a slimy worm-like appendage which, as they watch, cracks open a toothy maw and begins to gnaw at the remains of his shoulder in a bid to free itself. Revolted, the adventurers hack it to shreds and move on.

A stairwell from the lower landing leads to another panelled door, this one literally hanging off its hinges, and within, a large circular landing with three other exits: two are wooden panelled, the other is a hefty metallic hatch sealed with bolts operated by a heavy-duty wheel-lock. Thin slimy trails criss-cross the room, evidence of inhuman passage.

Ignoring the metal door for now, the party's attention is turned to the south. This panelled door is closed and locked, its edges rimed with black and the smell of burnt flesh coming from within. Inside, they find some kind of shrine. Like all the other rooms in this place it is circular, with a stone floor but this time with walls of polished wood. A metallic frieze of a giant skull dominates the wall opposite the door, one eye glinting in the light from a half-dozen candles on the altar before it, the other nothing more than a shadowy niche. A similar image has been carved into the stone of the floor.

Near the wall-mounted skull, two burned figures hunch together, breathing rapidly. From behind, the party can see bleached white skull beneath the tattered remains of their scalps, and they also notice, embroidered into what's left of one of the creatures' cloaks, the pattern of a white skull. This categorically identifies them as members of the cult which Jonas had encountered previously in the Hall. Three other bodies, burned beyond all recognition of humanity, lie in a blackened heap near the door.

The creatures near the skull respond immediately to the party's entrance, standing upright and turning to reveal hideous, blackened skin stretched over bleached bone. The candles sputter and fizz into brightness, and the single eye of the skull seems to blink at the intruders as the undead shamble towards the door. At the same time, the three immolated bodies struggle to their feet, greasy flesh sliding off bone as they are compelled to attack.

The fight is hot and close-quartered. Jonas darts into the room but is adamant in his refusal to actually attack the undead lest further desecration of their bodies lay a curse on his own flesh; still, he's able to clamber to a high vantage and scatter the contents of the carved-out eye-socket -- a bottle of wine, an envelope, and other seemingly mundane artifacts -- to the floor.

The two more powerful undead unleash potent draining attacks which rob the company of the ability to use their most powerful attacks, while the three lesser creatures simply rip the flesh from them, waves of enervating heat sapping their strength. Not only that but the adventurers are dismayed to find the flesh of their enemies knitting itself back into existence before their very eyes, a regenerative effect which they're unable to curtail for the entire duration of the fight.

One by one the risen abominations fall to their blades and magic, but as the last of them falls to the cold floor, it raises one hand as if suing for peace. "Enough!" it rasps. "Is it victory against me you seek, or against the mages who have shunned my master? Do not choose hastily!" Against all instinct, the adventurers pause their attack to listen to the creature's offer.

"Paldemar and his wretched cohorts fear nothing of betraying my master, the Keeper of Secrets, the Scepter of the Dead... They have already raised two of the great worms -- you have seen them! -- and seek to call their father, the great Rockworm Namotath, from his age-old entropy within Tumerex.

"It is that cursed disease of magic which has allowed them to come this far, and it must be stopped! My master, He Who hears all that is unsaid, demands it! He will offer each of you a boon, and the price is almost nothing to mortals such as yourself... a single secret, delectable to His ear, is all he commands..."
-- Enigma of Vecna to the adventurers in Paldemar's Recluse.

After a few moments of thought amomgst the party, only Jonas is prepared to take such a risk, and receives his boon: a taste of Vecna's power which he may unleash in the final struggle against Paldemar. Contemptuous of those who refused the God's generous offer, the Enigma crumbles to ash before their eyes.

A search of the room reveals a splintered section of wall, and behind it, a smooth metallic outer lining, perhaps the exterior shell of the structure. The innocuous-looking artifacts scattered by Jonas are of passing interest: a small, carefully wrapped strip of jerky; a dusty old bottle of wine, its cork sealed within a wire cage; a handkerchief with a woman's perfume still strong upon it; and a letter, sealed and apparently never sent. It reads:
"Talandra, with this love I can never speak, through my actions will your affections be sought. Fear not for the soul of your lost and departed, for in his final moments did he truly know the face of his god." (Superior knowledge on their part identifies Talandra as the daughter of one the very first Pale Kings, Elvon Rax.)

The candles also turn out to be Everburning, and are dispersed amongst the party. Outside, the remainder of Paldemar's hidden fortress awaits exploration...

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

4ed Campaign - Session 37 - 15th November 2009

In which half a victory is better than a defeat, the plane of Tumerex turns out to be much, much worse than it sounds, and the final assault on Paldemar's plan begins...

Roster (Party Level 7th)
Berend - Dwarven Fighter
Elumai - Eladrin Wizard
Finial - Half-elf Paladin
Jonas - Human Rogue/Ranger

The fight gradually begins to center around Murkelmoor as one-by-one he is stripped of his defenders. The Barlgura falls to a combination of attacks from Xavier, Finial, and Elumai, allowing them to turn their attention to its master, but Berend falls foul of Murkelmoor's magic and is lifted bodily into the roiling clouds above, suffering at the claws of whatever creatures lurk inside.

Across the room, the mages desperately attempt to conjure a means to halt Matorna-Reevash in her tracks, and although they are briefly successful, the Kingsblade's compulsion is simply too strong for them, and she is able to activate the second urn. Like the first, it births a Necrotech-infused worm which screams up into the blackness above and disappears, leaving the urn cracked and lifeless. Murkelmoor screams up to the heavens in triumph: "Namotath! Your children awake!", while Matorna-Reevash, collapsing in pain from the feedback, struggles painfully to her feet. Even turned to the affairs of her enemies, her will is strong, and she begins staggering across the room to the third and final urn.

The remaining Evistro have converged on Jonas and Finial, while Murkelmoor is barely managing to keep the party at bay by unleashing curses which cause them great pain if they take even a step towards him. Spotting an opportunity, Elumai attempts to extinguish the third urn by deploying a
Dispel Magic, a tactic which seems to work, causing the urn to sputter out. The cloud above immediately starts to thin, giving Berend valuable breathing room and allowing him to break the magical choke hold and drop back to the ground.

With Azurami successfully holding the injured Matorna-Reevash at bay with
Thunderwave, and the remaining demons dropping beneath the combined onslaught of Xavier and Jonas, the question becomes not one of victory, but whether Murkelmoor will be able to kill any of the party before he is dispatched. The fight is long and bitter, but in the end, the warlock falls alone.

Matorna-Reevash is immediately released from the his control. As she regains her strength, pain gives way to anger. She raises one quivering hand to her face, touching the crisped and blackened flesh there, and screams to no-one and everyone, "What did that bastard
do to me?!"

She turns desperately to Finial, grabbing his hand. "They won't allow me back into the service after this! Look at me, paladin-- impure! Don't let them bury me in some god-forsaken dungeon! I have to atone, free myself of this stain! Whatever God you serve, you have to help me!" Finial takes her aside and spends a few moments settling her into calm. He assures her he won't allow any harm to come to her while Bahamut watches over them.

Meanwhile, the spoils of their victory must be claimed. Murkelmoor has a whole selection of necklaces around his neck, many of them extremely valuable, and one of them, an
Amulet of Protection +2, even more so. In addition a vial of residuum-like dust catches Elumai's eye, but after study, she finds it to be something more than a simple stock of reagent. Although she doesn't know it by name, she has found the Dust of Worm's Jaunt, a powerful concoction that allows the user to inscribe a portal to some other, fixed location, and teleport there using the pocket dimension of Tumerex, the Plane of Worms, as a medium.

Although Elumai surmises that even combined with Azurami's expertise, they might not yet have the inner strength of will needed to build a tunnel through such a hideous place, they have no choice but to try. After a tense preparation, the portal is inscribed on the stone floor of the sanctum. The stone ripples like water, and a clutch of small, maggoty worms is disgorged onto the floor... but the ritual appears to have worked, for through the portal, they can see the unmistakable architecture of the Seven-Pillared Hall.

The party steps through. The transition is grotesque and smothering, like drowning in worms, and they all share the same feeling that
something has watched them pass, a vast and cool intellect which now knows all of their names, but nevertheless, they emerge onto the pedestal at the heart of the Hall unscathed. However, the place is not how they left it.

It lies in ruins. Two huge tunnels have opened up into the cavern, one where the waterfall in the south wall used to be, and another to the east near the Dragon Door. The tunnels are rippled and glistening, much like the even larger tunnel that they first used to find Saruun Khel, and whatever emerged has done untold damage to almost every corner of the Hall, reducing familiar buildings like the Halfmoon into so much dust and rubble, before apparently retreating the way it had come. Much of the Hall now lies submerged under a foot of water, the frigid waters of the underground river which feeds the cisterns crashing untethered to the cavern floor.

Picking amongst the devastation, stunned survivors recount how two massive worms exploded from the rock and did all of this damage in just a couple of minutes, before being ordered by Paldemar, who had appeared at the portal plinth, to retreat. It's clear that there is no longer any love lost between the people and their arcane overseers, who they now see as the purveyors of the latest doom to be brought upon them.

While Jonas examines the remains of the teleporter and its guardian statuary, the rest of the party are attracted by a furtive Orontor, hiding inside a nearby pile of rubble. He beckons them over and begs them to help him escape... but the party is more interested in the information he posesses about Paldamar.

He tells them much of what they already know or have surmised. Paldemar has discovered that the strange mineral they know as flurock is actually the petrified flesh of one of the ancient Rockworms of Kworm, mythical creatures that are said to roam the inner core of the World. When all of his other efforts to revitalise the substance into life failed, he partnered with a group of Necrotech cultists in order to raise... not an army of worms, but one worm, the very beast which was worshipped by the minotaurs of Saruun Khel and whose flesh is petrified into the walls of the catacomb.

He doesn't know the fate of the other mages. He's convinced that Emerjis and Passeract were in on the scheme, but suspects that the others -- some of whom he had actually come to like! -- have been sacrified or killed. When asked why he alone escaped, he insists that he was sent away on a spurious diplomatic mission to the drow, but that his intuition told him not to leave the Hall.

"A final indignity! I wasn't even worth killing!"
-- Orontor to the party in the remains of the Seven-Pillared Hall

The adventurers are suspicious of this story, but he appears to be telling the truth. Before they can interrogate him further, however, they realise that their conversation has drawn a bit of a crowd... and they don't look happy.

Flanked by more than a dozen other people, a man named Bernold steps forward. He is slick with sweat, and his arm rests in a bloodied sling.
"My son of two years is dead now! One life in exchange for another, I demand it!" His rhetoric soon turns the other battered civilians into a furious mob, with Orontor cowering behind the adventurers as his life hangs in the balance. However, there are few emotions that cannot be calmed by Finial's silver tongue, and with the help of his friends he gently talks the commoners away from thoughts of revenge and more towards the prospect of rebuilding their home, free from the influence of the mages and with all the treasures of the underdark theirs for the taking.

Orontor, however, remains unconvinced that the minute the party turns their back, he won't be strung from the nearest rafter. After providing the last morsel of information they need to assault Paldemar's recluse -- the portal password, Arrasnia -- he buries himself back in rubble to await their return.

Karma, it seems, has other plans than to let the adventurers leave just yet, for as the party moves to the portal, Berend catches sight of none other than Brugg, pushing a few battered civilians around and stealing from them what few morsels of food they have found in the shattered remains of the Halfmoon Inn. It's all the excuse Berend needs...