Friday, 28 May 2010

4ed Campaign -- Session 50 -- Sunday 23rd May 2010

In which the Cannith brothers are not entirely denied their prize (albeit at the cost of a spot of family trouble), an old ranger reaches the limit of his patience, and a grizzly pact comes to light in Ashenport...

Roster (Party Level 10th)
Berend - Dwarven Fighter
Elumai - Eladrin Wizard
Finial - Half-elf Paladin
Jonas - Human Rogue/Ranger

In the aftermath of the fight, the party takes the time to search out the rest of the forge and comes across Jelia in a hidden workshop, sweating over a grinding wheel, sharpening some kind of thin dagger or other implement which Jonas takes great delight in pilfering. Faced once again with the party, she tries to dissuade them from destroying the forge entirely, and ultimately succeeds.

Elsewhere, the company discovers the hobgoblin barracks, a filthy pit of a room which has been all-but abandoned, and a larger workshop, where a giant mechanical golem appears to be under construction, a wooden scaffold leaning drunkenly against its body. Elumai helps herself to a few of the choicer gears and mechanisms from the 20-foot monster, and recovers a handful of residuum which, by all appearances, was bing used as lubricant for the more delicate workings.

Outside, they find that the Cannith brothers have already arrived, and in fact have made camp at the bottom of the scree slope. Tendrils of smoke curl from thin metal chimneys atop both of the wagons, but there is no other sign of the brothers other than their butlers, roasting a siazble joint of pork on an open camp fire.

Jonas sneaks down to the wagons and lays low, helping himself to strips of meat while the others make good their escape, traversing along the top of the slope towards the hidden spot where they tethered their animals. Their exit is far from stealthy, and although one of the butlers seems to notice them, he makes no effort to tell his employer, so Jonas settles in for the night, eager to see what will transpire between the brothers and their cousin.

Come morning, the Cannith brothers and their entourage pick their way comically up the slope and venture into the complex, followed by Jonas. They shriek excitedly over every find they make (or at least, whatever has been left in one piece in the wake of the party's adventures there), eventually making their way down to the forge itself, where they wail in dismay at finding Calmachia in pieces.

Jelia, when she appears, receives the full brunt of Parcival's outrage, his chest pumped to bursting as he lambasts her for stealing his research. His cousin is unimpressed, and assures him that Haestus's work was much more complete -- and much more dangerous -- than they gave it credit for. Jonas reveals himself at this point, long enough to taunt the Cannith's about their failure, but in the end leaves them to their own devices.

The party returns to the Shortham's corral, where they spend the rest of the day recuperating. The following morning, only one of the Canniths returns -- Theruk -- who immediately holds conference with Banks and the Very Unroyal Brigade. Before departing, Shortham delivers a short speech, the assembled throng looking nervously at each-other in the face of this apparently uncharacteristic display.

"There's villainy and thievery in my caravan, and I won't stand for it! Should this go on, we'll root out these wrong-doers, leave 'em high and handsome out here in the wilderness, and I can assure you, as I stand here this-mornin', that we won't hear hide, nor hair, o'them again!"
-- Shortham Banks, to those under his charge in the wilderness between Crow's Atoll and Emerandes

Several suspicious looks fall upon the party at this, but only Jonas knows exactly what is being talked about. Unable to help himself, he even tries to persuade the Very Unroyal guard who has been stationed with the Canniths to let him in to see Theruk, but the man on duty is implacable and refuses him entry.

At last the caravan continues on its way. The two days onward to its next stop proceed uneventfully except for the weather, which takes a nasty turn for the worse, the sky clogging with inky clouds promising rain. By the time Shortham has made camp, they've made good on it.

The party learns that Banks's son, Dorian, and two of the Very Unroyals will be taking a wagon of exotic goods (spices and fishing nets, by the looks) for sale at Ashenport's trade fair. Finial, who finds himself in dire need of a blacksmith to forge a new weapon he has in mind, persuades his friends that the diversion could be useful. However, the trip along muddy, sodden roads, which become gradually more disinclined to let the wagon pass as the day wears on, even pulled by two of Wilder's best horses, is one to forget (as are Dorian's lude advances towards Elumai).

Eventually the travellers emerge from a thick copse of trees onto the edge of a tall cliff-face. To the east, the vast expanse of the Windward Sea, a great inland lake known for its oceanic moods, is all-but hidden by a wall of low-lying fog and the curtain of rain falling ruler-straight from the clouds above. Perched on its shores in the shadow of the cliff lies Ashenport, which from up here is little more than a carpet of badly-shingled rooves like a shell over the town.

A winding path leads down into a town which seems to have all but hidden itself from the storm. Faded banners flap too and fro in the storm, some of them streaming wildly into the wind, and the main road, leading from the town gate towards some sort of fenced-off grove in the town square, is a river of mud. The rain beats mercilessly on the rooves all around, gushing out of unkempt guttering and splattering down into the road from every corner.

A passing local, huddled against the downpour, points them in the direction of the Smooth Sailing Inn, and leaving Dorian to stable the horses and secure the wagon, the company goes in. It's welcoming enough, and seems to be made of three smaller buildings from which the walls have been haphazardly knocked out. The barman, a fat, bejoweled and stubbly local, is unhelpful, but points Elumai in the direction of one of the waiters, who tells her that the trade fair looks like it's going to be a bit of a bust, with the weather keeping almost everyone away. He does point at a corner table, however, where a few other patrons -- clearly out-of-towners, by their clothes -- sit having a few quiet drinks.

While the others mingle, Jonas decides to scout the town. He finds not a soul in the streets. The blacksmith, absent from the cold, disused forge they found earlier, is still nowhere to befound. An old woman, peering at Jonas through a crack in her front door, tells him the blacksmith is "on his rounds", and seems unwilling to elaborate ("What am I, his mother?"). Down at the docks, the fishing boats rock crazily in the swells, untended and not likely to survive the night.

Back at the inn, the party has struck up conversation with three other merchants: Terza, from the Court of Coin, here to establish more permanent contracts with the town council; Matthias Creel, a member of the Free Traders' Association and no friend of the Court; and Jandal, a jeweler from across the Windward Sea hoping to make a name for himself at the fair. Talk revolves pretty much around one subject: the fact that they've probably had a wasted trip. As Berend, with ease, drinks Matthias under the table, life in the tavern winds down for the night.

But not for long. As the company retire to their rooms, a great, swelling song begins to fill the air. The sound of the rain seems to recede to make way for it, a high, keening lament, the sound of a mother pining for her lost children, the sound of men gasping for their lives as they drown at sea, the sound of a tsunami smashing onto a crowded shore... it fills the heads of everyone in the party, most of whom shake it off, except for Berend, who joins the other merchants as they emerge from their rooms, and begin to walk downstairs, intent on getting out of the inn and finding the sea.

Between them, however, his friends have no trouble rousing Berend from his stupour, and they corral the other enthralled folks -- none of the townsfolk seem to be affected -- into the basement of the inn, sealing them safely inside. It's about that time when Jonas, who had decided to sequester himself on the roof of the inn to observe the town at night, hears the sounds of a dozen doors opening, and the townsfolk pour into the street, their faces blank as they slosh through the mud in their nightclothes. Curious, he decides to follow.

They walk to the shoreline and out onto the jetties. Behind him, the rest of the party are desperately waking as many of them as they can, but the man in lead simply steps off the jetty into disappears beneath the foamy waters. Jonas jumps in after him, and watches him float serenely down to the bottom with a smile on his face. Under the water, the song is suddenly ten times as loud as in the air, but Jonas resists its allure.

Above, the company has succeeded in rousing everyone else. They huddle around the adventurers, clutching at each-other in the pouring rain. Finial, however, is suddenly unimpressed. The processing of "waking" them from their stupour didn't ring entirely true with him, almost as if this was an act in which they were being made the fools. He confronts the nearest local, a woman whose sodden black hair clings to her face, and rousing the voice of Bahamut, demands to know the truth.

Suddenly afraid, she throws herself at his feet, begging to be saved from "the call". In her rantings, she says that the town has made promises which must be kept in order for their good fortune to continue, promises which require a sacrifice of blood in order to be sealed. Her act is a good one, but Finial's instincts tell him otherwise, and he kicks the woman away. She hisses at him from the pebbly shore: "Interlopers! Heathens! Your fate will be the same!"

The townspeople scatter like cockroaches into the murk, but before the party can follow, a wet, threatening groan cuts through the atmosphere, and they turn to see several tall figures lurching from the breakers at the water's edge. Dragging thick seaweed behind them, the creatures are a disgusting mix of fish and man, with thick scaly skin and pale white torso's, black eyes staring from the sides of their heads, and mouths like cracks in their faces, full of needle-like teeth.

The aberrations heave themselves onto the beach, and the party prepares to defend itself...

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

4ed Campaign -- Session 49 -- Sunday 25th April 2010

In which two prisoners is two too many, and the dragon-queen of the Forbidden Forge finally gets to meet her maker...

Roster (Party Level 10th)
Berend - Dwarven Fighter
Elumai - Eladrin Wizard
Finial - Half-elf Paladin
Jonas - Human Rogue/Ranger

Jelia's keeper, the hobgoblin Bladebearer Valsath, who has made his own deal with Calmachia, makes his move on the party as they rest following their exertions earlier that day. He brings what's left of his payroll to bear, including two flail-wielding bugbears, a hobgoblin bard whose discordant hymns unsettle the senses of his enemies, and several of his front-line warriors.

The company is awakened by sounds of the bugbears smashing down the door to Jelia's recluse. They form a defensive line at the door and are held there while Jonas slips past and leaps over the pool of molten metal to gain a distant advantage. He's pursued by several mercenaries, but whether through inattentiveness or because they simply haven't been told, they fall through the catwalk trap and plunge to an immolated doom below. Jonas sets about dispatching what's left of that force.

Jelia hides out of sight, perhaps afraid that Valsath will focus on her if given the chance, and although the hobgoblin and his compatriots fight ferociously to protect their claim on the fortunes of the forge, they are hard pressed to achieve victory. The party is bloodied, but the mercenaries are squeezed into defeat in the confined combat.

Valsath himself trakes tremendous punishment before finally succumbing to his better sense and offering surrender, but the party is taking no chances, and continues to pummel him into submission.

"Boys, boys! I've surrendered! There's no need for--"
-- Valsath, just before being smashed in the face by Berend.

Jelia distracts the party and tries to take the opportunity to finish the hobgoblin off, but she's frustrated by the ephemeral force which prevents her from leaving the lower level of the forge, and so settles for a bargain with the party that when they interrogate him, they'll make him beg for his life, just once or twice.

Jelia stands by with an amused smirk as Valsath awakes, struggles with his bonds, and realises what trouble he's in. The party asks whether feeding him to Calmachia will help or hinder their efforts, but he just spits at Jelia and sneers at them.

"It's real easy. You want the secrets to the forge? Feed that bitch to the dragon. She thought she could waltz in, flick a few switches, mutter a few incantations, and walk out with an army of warforged behind her... sell it to the highest bidder. She hired me, but the dragon made me a better offer. Made me promises I think she could have made good on... a new dawn for the Bladebearers, everyone else marching to my tune..."
-- Valsath, under interrogation in the Creation Forge.

Valsath explains that Calmachia is busying herself creating dragon-like "children", and that those without dragon-blood are impure and fit only to die. He is pragmatic about his future, and quick to admit defeat at the hands of the company. The party seems about to release him, but Jelia is not so forgiving, and once again lunges for the hobgoblin, leaving the party no choice but to defend the Bladebearer from the artificer. "What are you doing?" she screams. "If you're all too feeble for the deed, I'll do it for you!"

Chaos spreads. Valsath is soon dead by Jonas's hands, and Jelia finds herself in the sights of his crossbow, arguing for her life. It's Elumai, however, who loses patience with her, and unleashes magic intending to take her out of the picture before she can cause any more trouble. Defended by her iron cobra, Jelia makes a break for the deeper rooms of the Forge, and the party decides simply to let her go, although the construct is not so lucky, giving its life so that its master can escape.

The room to which Jelia fled turns out to be a laboratory, of sorts, with the company looking down from a catwalk which runs around the perimeter. There's evidence that Valsath and his men have used it as a berth, with loose blankets and assorted junk lying around the place. Assorted arcane contraptions, some of them animated, some of them being tended to by small, wheeled constructs flitting to and fro, stand bubbling and wheezing in the room below. On the opposite catwalk, two double doors stand slightly ajar, and a ruddy light emanates from within.

Elumai immediately sets to understanding the devices and within a few minutes, discovers that they have the capability (and remaining alchemical reagents) to imbue one weapon and one suit of armour with powerful new abilities. The company considers it worth the risk to take the time to activate these boons, and luckily they are left undisturbed.

When they eventually push-on, they find a dimly lit room, clearly the forge itself. In the center of the room is a large half-sphere with a surface of what looks like undulating basalt and a flat glass frontage smeared with ash. The interior floor of the forge is carpeted with black and gray coals, the very heart of which is smouldering like the embers of a campfire. However all of this pales next to the huge metallic dragon curled up on top of the forge, its tail swishing lazily back and forth, it's huge needle-toothed maw nestled in its claws and looking straight at Jonas as he peeks inside the door.

He gestures for the rest of the party to approach, but the dragon speaks in a metallic, and distinctly female voice. "I can't hear you if you whisper in the shadows! Come inside, and let us talk. I have no quarrel with you. I will live for centuries in the greatness of my forge, and though you may have killed my children, thousands more will arise to take their place. Come, let us discuss your futures..."

The party has no patience for such discussions, however, and sees only a future in which they stand victorious over Calmachia's shattered corpse. "No, we fight!" declares Finial, and leaps to the attack.

Calmachia rises to her full height, fanning her wings and filling almost the entire room, while the forge begins to pulse in sympathy. Jonas jumps and leaps at her throat, tearing at the machinery of the dragon, but the damage causes some kind of feedback which blows him onto his backside in an explosion of static blue light. Elumai's freezing cloud cakes both the dragon and the forge in ice, which almost immediately begins to melt and run into rivulets down the side of the device.

Berend charges into the creature, smashing his axe into her flank and sending a spray of metallic shards and red, rubber-like tissue into the air. Calmachia rears around on Berend, and rasps "Obey!" at the dwarf, who is immediately filled with nothing but the desire to please his new mistress. Metal scraping on metal, she launches herself into the air above the party, the downdraft from her wings beating onto the heads of the company, and unleashes her breath onto Finial and Jonas. The air seems to fracture, sending splintered shards of force into their flesh, and blowing them painfully back into the walls of the forge. In answer, Finial calls down Bahamut's wrath, burning Calmachia from within whenever she attacks the party.

At this point, the glass front of the forge splits and rotates inward. Two malformed drakes, barely alive and mewing pathetically, heave themselves from the coals and into the fray. The dragon roars and shakes its head as Elumai's phantasmal force sends it into a panic, unleashing another breath weapon which sends Jonas stumbling backwards... into the forge. The glass front slides shut, trapping him.

Focusing on Finial, she bites down on him, picking up the paladin in her huge mouth, snapping her neck around and spinning him haplessly over the top of the forge, leaving a trail of blood through the air.

By this time the company has done huge damage to the machinery of Calmachia's body, and it starts to take its toll. Even powered-down, the forge builds more drakelings quickly but in their half-formed state they are largely ineffective against the mobile company. Jonas cuts his way out of the forge and brings his blade to bear, while Elumai maintains her assault on the dragon's mind causing it to literally attack itself, ripping a knot of complex gears from her own back.

"The claws of Arkhosia will sweep away your nations!" she promises, defending herself desperately against renewed assaults and attempting to grab Finial again, but her movements cause jets of murky liquid to spill from various wounds and the paladin easily smashes her attack away. The dragon attempts to take to the air again but is simply too weak. and she falls beneath the magic and weapons of the party.

Friday, 7 May 2010

4ed Campaign -- Session 48 -- Sunday 18th April

In which Elumai and Berend defy the ghost in the machine, Jonas develops a new appreciation for the rat in the drainpipe, and Jelia d'Cannith reveals her intentions...

Roster (Party Level 9th)
Berend - Dwarven Fighter
Elumai - Eladrin Wizard
Finial - Half-elf Paladin
Jonas - Human Rogue/Ranger

The fight has now been reduced to a few hobgoblin warriors which, without Haestus around to back them up, are soon dispatched. The party takes a few moments before heading forward, turning to the south and coming to what looks like a control room of some sort.

The hair on their bodies stands to attention as they open the door. Inside, the room is tall, with spherical electrodes dangling from the roof. Crackling arcs of blue electricity spit and fizz between them, electrifying the very air. The walls are busy with arcane controls and read-outs, from simple levers to complex contraptions which snake their way across the room before snapping back into position.

Berend volunteers for the dangerous job of reaching the master terminal at the other end of the room. Beard crackling with static, he clambers up above the electrodes and makes his way carefully across the ceiling, losing his footing more than once but making it unbloodied to the other side. There, he finds a control rod with a single signet ring on it... and the simple act of removing the ring seems to deactivate the security.

Elumai and Berend busy themselves deciphering the machine, concluding that it quite probably controls a powerful mechanism deeper in the complex, perhaps even ths "Creation Forge" itself. While they attempt to disable it, Jonas heads off to investigate a nearby door.

It appears to be a simple store-room, with floor-to-ceiling rows of metal cabinets, all shut and padlocked. In a far corner, flickering candle-light throws onto the wall the shadow of someone working at a table, and there are other signs of movement deeper in the room and out of sight. Jonas creeps forward, and the head of what looks like a metallic snake peers around the corner, its steel tongue flicking in and out as it tastes the air. Behind it, in a small antechamber, Jonas can make out the shape of someone -- possibly female -- sitting at a desk.

As the snake coils itself back out of sight, he continues to move, spotting a dormant or sleeping forge drake resting in a far, dark corner of the room. However, it's at this point that his luck, which has already been teetering on the brink, finally lets him down, and the snake darts back out of the room and, fanning its cowl, looms over him. From behind it, a tall eladrin woman, dressed in almost ceremonial leather armour, festooned with strange looking tools, steps into view and observes the ensuing melee with curiosity. The forge drake also unfolds its wings and roars at the rogue, which, together with the snake's loud, resonant hissing alerts the rest of the team that something might have gone very wrong. Jonas's desperate cry for help removes all doubt, and they run to assist.

As his enemies close in on him, Jonas leaps aside from the stabbing fangs of the snake, leaps over the drake, and darts between the tall cabinets and out of sight. The drake cranes its head into the shadows, its red eyes scanning the darkness like baleful searchlights, but its efforts are frustrated enough to give Jonas the chance to heave at one of the rows of cabinets. With a massive effort, he pushes it over, trapping the drake, which screeches and claws at the metal as it tries to free itself.

His friends arrive to defend him, and Finial entreats the eladrin woman to call off her pets and parlay. His words carry all of the ferocious weight of his faith, and she orders her constructs to retreat. Jonas, however, has established something of an enmity with the dragon, and it ignores the command, biting down on him.

The rest of the company parlay with the woman, who asks if they're working for her "idiot cousins", strongly implying that this is in fact Jelia. Although she recalls the snake, she allows the melee with Jonas to continue, bluffing that she doesn't have control of the drakes, which gives Jonas the opportunity to dispatch the creature.

As the room calms, Jelia enquires as to the party's intentions and a conversation ensues. They are distrustful of her, and not averse to saying so, but she does reveal that she and her cousins had researched the location of the Creation Forge in the hope of re-igniting the fortunes of House Cannith, after Haestus d'Cannith had all-but bankrupted the family. He had spent so much, they reasoned, that it must have bought *something*.

Unfortunately they underestimated Haestus's brilliance and awoke Calmachia -- a huge dragon construct -- only to find themselves in thrall to the creature. Jelia has been a prisoner ever since. As far as she knows, Valsath, leader of the Bladebearer mercenaries she hired as bodyguards for the trip, has brokered a deal with the dragon and they're working towards some common goal.

There are some inconsistencies to the story, but Jelia proves she cannot physically leave the confines of the forge. The company decides to rest where they are, and push on in the morning.

Unforutnately, Valsath has other plans...

Saturday, 1 May 2010

4ed Campaign -- Session 47 -- Monday 5th April

In which a convenient record of Kelia's expedition is left for all to find, Haestus reveals the true meaning of contempt, and the children of the Forge attack...

Roster (Party Level 9th)
Berend - Dwarven Fighter
Elumai - Eladrin Wizard
Finial - Half-elf Paladin
Jonas - Human Rogue/Ranger

Haestus d'Cannith strolls around the room, appearing most put out that his ghostly hands can't busy themselves cleaning up this mess. He reveals himself as the overseer, architect, and financier of this secret project, and knows Jelia by name, grudgingly admitting that he is happy that some distant splinter of the family has uncovered the forge and is showing some of the resourcefulness he is renowned for.

Jonas tells him that Parcival and Theruk are on their way, but Haestus can't imagine any of the good side of the family with such ignoble names, and is unimpressed with the banter. When pressed, he admits that both he and the other skeletons in the room died in a dreadful accident but boasts that his contingencies, obviously, worked well.

Jonas spots a golden signet ring amongst the rubble that looks remarkably like the jewelry on the apparition's fingers, and much to Haestus's disapproval, picks it up. "Outrageous!" yells the wraith, but when the ring is removed from the burned, bony finger on which it is found, the ghost fades into nothingness.

Within a small antechamber, the company finds a writing table. On it are a lit candle, a vial of ink and a quill, and what looks like a diary, full of sappy entries discussing the complexities of teenaged love going back months and months. Elumai recognises a magical glyph of concealment on the cover, which will be masking the true content of the book, and deploys a successful Dispel Magic to reveal the diary as a record of the expedition to the forge, written by someone called Marus. It appears Marus was hired by Jelia to oversee the Bladebearer hobgoblins she brought on as necessary muscle in the fulfilment of her mission.

Other information from the record indicating that Haestus was considered something of an eccentric when he was alive, ploughing vast amounts of the family fortune into inane projects. However, it appears that he enjoyed some success in uncovering the secrets of the warforged and built this "creation forge" with the help of someone going by the name of Calmachia.

Pushing on, the party heads deeper into the complex, passing through a dark gauntlet of traps and falling foul to some of them, including razor-sharp mesh strung across the corridor designed to entwine the unwary. At the end of this lengthy descent is a large room with a metal catwalk suspended over a sea of molten metal, emitting heat and light which is almost unbearable.

On an opposite catwalk, small dragon-like constructs crouch ready for action, observing the party as they enter, but making no immediate moves to attack, and alongside them several armoured hobgoblins stand on guard. None of them appear aware of Jonas as he observes the room.

Elumai performs a ritual to protect everyone from the heat, and they begin to advance ... whereupon, unsurprisingly, the guards spring immediately to alert. The dragons launch themselves with great, lolloping wing-beats across the room, flying over the heads of the adventurers and slamming down into the corridor behind them, while the hobgoblins pelt the company with crossbows from the far side. Crossbow bolts ping from the walkway and drop towards the molten metal... but are caught by an almost imperceptibly thin net strung across the room, on which they begin to smolder before erupting into flame from the heat.

The dragons, having maneuvered behind the party, unleash powerful breath weapons, warping the air with magical force which blows the company backwards towards the edge. Finial loses balance and tumbles over the edge, but clings on by his fingertips and hauls himself back up, however Elumai is not so lucky, tumbling down onto the net and immediately starting to bake in the heat.

Jonas retreats from the dragons in order to engage the hobgoblins, but falls foul of a devious trap as the middle section of the catwalk swings out from under his feet. His reflexes however are just too good, and he grasps the edge of the walkway, his feet dangling over the molten pool below. At this point an echoing cackle reverberates through the burning atmosphere as Haestus once more rises up out of the lava, laughing in amusement at the Jonas's plight. Finial senses that he has brought some friends with him, ethereal minions which are moving through the walls and preparing to attack.

Finial's flail rips the head from one of the dragons and the construct collapses in a fizzing heap to the ground, electricity arcing across its body, but falls foul of the other creature's breath and is launched off the edge of the catwalk. Haestus takes great delight in this, launching bolts of energy at the company as they flounder below, desperately climbing up ladders on the far side of the room in order to regroup. The architect's wraith minions emerge from the walls to engulf the party, erupting with explosive force when killed and battering the already-assailed adventurers.

Jonas meanwhile focuses his attention elsewhere, clambering back up onto the walkway and with a defiant shout, hand-springing off the ledge towards a wide-eyed Haestus and scoring his gladius through the ghost's flesh. He plummets to the net below with a manic chuckle.

"And I though insanity only ran in my family!"
-- Haestus to Jonas in the Creation Forge.

Along with a sustained assault from the rest of the party, this is quite enough for Haestus. "I can see I'm going to have to give this much more thought!" he mutters, and ascends into the ceiling and out of sight...