Friday, 28 January 2011

Cradle Plain -- Session 59 -- Sunday 21st November 2010

In which the adventurers mourn the loss of one of their number, an insurance policy is taken out against the imminent danger of death, and the company finally comes face to face with the venerable warden of the Feywild prison...

Roster (Party Level 11th)
Berend - Dwarven Fighter (Dreadnought)
Elumai - Eladrin Wizard (Shiere Knight)
Finial - Half-elf Paladin (Justicar)
Jonas - Human Rogue/Ranger (Master Spy)
Aerallo - Tiefling Warlock

November 2nd, 370 Pale King's Reckoning (continued)

In the house of horrors which is the crocodile's stomach, Elumai feels the last of her consciousness slipping away. She grasps at a Potion of Healing and fumbles blindly with the stopper, but she has no strength even for that, and loses awareness with the bottle clasped unopened in her hand.

The crocodile rallies against Finial's Radiant Pulse, forcing its way back into the pool where it's most at home and where it knows instinctively it has the best chance of survival. A surge of filthy water washes over the paladin as the jaws once more clamp down on his armour, squeezing flesh and bone.

Out in the open Berend activates his Dwarven Scale Armour and quaffs his own Potion of Healing. A surge of invigorating energy courses through him and he withdraws from the kill-zone between the two quicklings, their blades clanging off his axe and armour as they jeer at his retreat. Crashing through the undergrowth, he almost barrels straight into Finial, water pouring from his plate-mail as he retreats from the pool, keeping the crocodile at bay with the lance of his Radiant Pulse.

Behind him an explosion of leaves and shortswords announces the arrival of the quicklings as they chase Berend through the undergrowth. Both he and Finial swipe at them as they streak past but with unbelievable skill they dodge under the blades and deal a dreadful reverse-handed blow to Berend which brings the dwarf to the edge of unconsciousness... however with characteristic endurance he finds the will to stay on his feet, sweeping at them with his axe and desperately searching for an opening in their defense.

For Aerello, however, time is up. A spasm of muscle finally crushes him to death within the crocodile's gullet. The giant reptile once more descends to the bottom of its pool, hoping that the intruders who have caused it so much trouble will simply leave it alone to digest its meal in peace.

Finial re-energises his Radiant Pulse, burning the crocodile with light now amplified by the Gem of Radiance he has placed at his feet, and touches his other hand to Berend in order to heal him against the renewed assault of the quicklings. It's barely enough to keep him on his feet, and the two defenders know they're quickly running out of time. The crocodile has no choice but to attack the cruel half-elf whose magic is hurting it so badly, and hurtles out of the pool to bite down on him. This puts it directly in Berend's sights, who having had no luck hurting the nimble quicklings, takes the chance to bring his axe down on the creature's snout. There's a satisfying crunch of bone, the crocodile jerks wildly under the blade... and sags to the sodden ground, dead. Berend wrenches his axe from the beast's skull and turns a victorious smile towards the quicklings, for whom the fight has suddenly taken an ominous turn.

Finial is now free to challenge one of the quicklings and bring his will down upon it. The world goes blindingly bright for the creature, the paladin's silhouette all it can see. Behind him, Finial's comrades start cutting themselves free, coughing and retching their way into the open... and he uses the distraction to smash his wrecking ball into his foe's chest, sending it reeling into the undergrowth. Its companion is then afflicted by psychic horrors, injected into its mind by Elumai from where she lies across the pool, and an ominous figure glimpsed only from the corner of its eye can only be Jonas, stalking it from the shadows. It's a far cry from the single, undefended dwarf they were fighting a few seconds ago, and retreat is the only option. "Let's get outta here! Grioss can take care of 'em!"

Which is fine for that quickling, who isn't slowed, but bad news for his mate, who is, and the hapless creature is immediately set upon and killed by the rest of the party. With blinding speed the remaining quickling tears through the undergrowth to what he thinks is freedom, but he has reckoned without the enhanced challenge placed on him by Finial, and in a pillar of golden light, he's reduced to a twitching, smoking corpse.

Calm descends. Against all odds, the party has survived a deadly ambush with only one casualty. Breathing heavily, they hide amidst the roots of the mangroves to recover and thank whatever gods have looked over them.

From the crocodile's stomach they harvest almost a hundred gold's worth of unfamiliar coins, a dangerous-looking stiletto (which might have accounted for the crocodile's bad mood, and turns out to be a Wyrmtooth Dagger +3, later sold above-board to the Court of Cloaks over Jonas and Elumai's protestations), and a pouch with several magical potions. That's all the time they're prepared to take, and under the watchful but terrified gaze of several of the enclave's gnomes, the adventurers scale the wall and retreat back to the boat.

The inter-planar token works with no problem, much to everyone's relief, and Captain Dorral, shocked and amused in equal measure by the trouble they obviously found themselves in on the other side, offers them his cabin to get cleaned up. They return to dry land, and retreat to the inn to lick their wounds.

Finial has a plan, and wastes no time delivering his little finger to the temple of Bahamut in the First Ward. For a small fee, he arranges with Father Moliff for the expendable digit to be used in a Resurrection ritual should he not contact the temple within an allotted period (his friends having agreed to foot the bill). The good father is no stranger to such requests, and confides in Finial that he keeps several jars of bodily extremeties in the basement. The two men share a moment of grim comedy, but Moliff closes the conversation thusly: "Absurd though it might be, it has saved many deserving souls over the years."

The operation to remove the digit is quick and professional but not, by any means, painless, and Finial has to work hard to convince the others of its merits. Only Elumai eventually agrees. and the two of them secure their deposits with passwords ("Just Platinum" and "Arcane Fortunes" respectively).

Jonas meanwhile discovers how hard it is to convince a member of the Court of Cloaks that a mundane, albeit valuable blackfire gem, is a magical artifact worth many times its true value ("Young man, you realise that any mage in the city could tell at a glance that it is not, in fact, magical?"); nevertheless he finds the Court more than willing to pay market value for valuable gemstones. Elumai also discoveres the name of a noted alchemist, Doctor Routfit, something of a failure as a mage, so she's told, but a true prodigy with potions, ointments, and unguents, and who she hopes will pay good money for the alchemical cauldron she found in the duergar stronghold. She decides not to do anything with the information just yet.

Housekeeping complete, the companions finally take the opportunity to recuperate fully before venturing back into the Feywild.

November 3rd, 370 Pale King's Reckoning

The following morning, the party returns to Captain Dorral, who despite thinking they must be gluttons for punishment, agrees to sail out into the lake on the light morning breeze. Once again they take the dinghy and relocate to the Feywild... into a massive cacophany of noise as a net of bells, chimes, and bottles hastily erected over the site of their last cross-over collapses under them. The company leaps defensively from the boat but despite the alarm, the swamp looks as quiet as it did the day before, and they're not immediately assailed.

They cautiously approach the stockade. The only discernible difference they can see is that there now appear to be small heads bobbing back and forward on the other side of the wall: gnomes, patrolling the top of the stockade. Jonas approaches by stealth and observes the newly-employed guards: bored, cold, carrying short-swords they likely don't know how to use. Within the compound, many more gnomes than before are now milling about repairing the damage inflicted during the previous assault. Multiple cooking fires burn feebly in the damp air, although the white smoke snaking up from them seems to dissipate unnaturally in the air before rising more than a few feet into the air.

Jonas analyzes the makeshift walkway which has been strung haphazardly along the interior of the stockade and, smirking, reaches a hand over the wall to pull on a poorly-knotted rope. The entire structure suddenly hinges off the wall and collapses to the ground, taking two squealing gnomes with it. Nursing sprained ankles and bruised egos, they dust themselves off and immediately start blaming each-other for their shoddy workmanship. Jonas, chuckling, uses the opportunity to signal his friends before dropping unseen into the compound and setting light to a nearby tent.

The fire expands rapidly and throws the camp into outright chaos as gnomes race to-and-fro from the pool trying to put it out, oblivious to the fact that much of what they're chucking on seems to be making the blaze even more ferocious. The rest of the adventurers use the distraction to skirt the wall, slip in through the open gate, and dart across the compound to the base of the tower where Jonas emerges smugly from the undergrowth to greet them.

The central tower is much as they remember it. It rises, canted, from a grove of thick mangrove trees in the middle of the compound, and is surrounded by the deep, stagnant pool which so nearly claimed the party the day before, fed by a waterfall which seems to erupt from the foundations of the tower itself. One-hundred-and-fity-feet above their heads it splits into three pinnacles, and a flock of black-feathered birds circles lazily in the air-currents high above. Windows much too small to have been intended for fomorians have long-since been bricked in, although there is a large crack in the wall mid-way up the tower which might allow ingress.

Using the mangrove roots as cover, the party reconnoitres the perimeter of the stone plinth at the base of the tower, and finds a cavity behind the waterfall with runes of ancient relanic carved into the stone (these appear to be notices of execution, containing accounts of dozens of mundane crimes and the names of those who committed them). The water itself erupts from a watercourse built into the tower's foundations, and beneath that, there is an arched entryway leading into shadowy darkness.

For the moment, the party decides that the crack in the wall should be investigated before they make a decision. Jonas scoots quickly up the side of the wall but even with his formidable skills, he's almost completely exposed to the rest of the compound and is spotted by one of the gnomes, who shouts an alarm. The party starts clambering up the canted wall after him, under a hail of crooked and mostly ineffectual crossbow bolts fired from hand-crossbows wielded by the guards below (none of whom seem inclined to follow). After a few seconds of this, two of the gnomes break off and race back towards the pool. The party desperately ascends the tower, looking to get inside and out of range before anything bigger and more dangerous is drafted into the fight.

Jonas ascends the rest of the way and slips in through the crack in the wall. Inside, a space that was once three separate levels is now a shattered landscape of splintered joists, moldy floorboards, and broken stone, covered in vibrant green mosses wet with moisture. On what would have once been the upper floor, a door offers a suggestion of access to the upper floor, and below him a stairwell leads back down into the lower levels of the tower.

He wastes no time making for the door, but as soon as he sets foot on the rubble a flock of huge ravens with black-sheened feathers erupts from the shadows above, buffeting him as it escapes into the open-air and distracting his attention from the grimy, gelationous tentacle which snakes from the recesses of the rubble and lashes out at him. The rogue's instincts serve him well, however, but as he dances aside from the writhing appendage and its attempts to coil around his ankle, other tentacles emerge from the rubble all around him.

The rest of the adventurers, seeing the birds erupt from the tower and hearing Jonas's cry of surprise, redouble their efforts to get inside. Finial hoists Elumai up the wall and into the chamber, where she unleashes a reflexive firestorm on the tentacles as they surge in to grab her; this doesn't stop her being grabbed and flipped end-over-end into a distant corner of the broken room, however, out of sight of her companions.

Finial clambers in and looks desperately for his friends, but they're nowhere to be seen. Still, he strides purposefully into the room and unleashes Astral Thunder on the tentacle beast; the crumbling space trembles in its wake, dust and gravel filtering down from above. Elumai fires off another burst of magic as the tentacles swarm around her, while Finial is grabbed around the waist and thrown violently towards the ledge. He manages to grab a jutting outcrop of rock and save himself from a painful landing 70-feet below.

Berend hauls himself over the ledge and wastes no time hurling his brand new Thunder hammer into the fray. It explodes with a mighty concussion, spraying fragments of jagged rock over the nearby tentacles and forcing them into a retreat. Finial climbs carefully back inside and maneuvers himself into a safer position before challenging the beast and preparing to defend himself, while Elumai once again unleashes a deadly conflagration which leaves those tentacles around her a crisp and blackened mess. A deadly aerial assault from Jonas is subsequently enough to force the tentacles into retreat, and they shrink back into the shadows and out of sight.

The party collects itself as Jonas climbs up to the door. It's medium-sized, much too small for a giant, with a crude iron knocker screwed into the center; he eases it carefully open. Within, there's a large circular chamber, presumably the middle chamber of the three pinnacles at the tower's peak. Its interior is hidden behind a shroud of filthy hangings -- cloths and hides scavenged from the camp below -- but Jonas can just about make out two giant-sized, hulking shapes, one of which appears to be seated on a massive chair of some kind.

Around the outside wall, shallow alcoves are covered by what might once have been flags, but are now so filthy that the emblems embroidered into them can barely be made out. To the right an archway leads out onto the western chamber, which appears to be open to the daylight and from where he can hear the rustling of feathers, and to the left a closed door bars the way to what is presumably the eastern pinnacle.

Sneaking in and taking a better look at the western chamber, he sees several dozen massive ravens clustered and jostling around something in their midst (whatever it is, they're dipping their beaks in and coming back up smothered in blood). Guano and discarded feathers suggest that this has been a home to the birds for some time.

Berend follows him in and puts his eye to the cloths hanging a few feet from the door. The hangings also turn out be flags: on the inside, he can see a selection of heraldry and insignia from many common races. They surround a throne of eladrin skulls on which sits a massive, aging fomorian dressed in loose robes; his skin is deeply wrinkled, his eyes sunken and milky, his hair a tattered white like cobwebs clinging to his scalp, and his breaths are just thin rattles in his chest. Two enormous ravens, bigger than anything they've seen so far, cling to his shoulders, heads dipped to his ears as if whispering advice in his ear, and a pair of gnomes sit with their feet dangling from the arms of the throne (as he watches, they clamber up the fomorian's spindly arms and push the ravens aside; the venerable creature barely seems to notice them).

Jonas takes a peek inside one of the alcoves and sees the lower half of a statue, its head and torso smashed to pieces, but more significantly finds himself face-to-face with a surprised-looking gnome, perched on the remains of the statue and waiting to pounce. Both combatants take a moment to size each-other up, before blades flash in the dim light...

1 comment:

Wedge said...

A long time coming... sorry for the wait.

Well, I must say the party pulled a true miracle out of the bag here and survived the crocodile and quicklings with "only" one death (RIP Aerello). Finial must take a lot of the credit for keeping the crocodile out of the water with his Radiant Pulse, preventing those in its gut from drowning while also contending with being crushed, all while healing Berend and smiting his foes. Well played sir.

One of the more interesting observations I have to make here is that it was certainly interesting watching the characters measure their actions against the possibility of being Bloodied... at which point of course they became vulnerable to being swallowed by the croc. I'll certainly have to use that mechanic again.

I honestly expected a near or total TPK here. So much so that I'd already canvassed opinions on the next phase of the campaign, *and* planned the first couple of sessions just in case. As it happens I won't need those notes, but can keep them handy for a smooth transition out of the next total party kill. :)

Once the uncomfortable business of cutting off their own PC's finger/toe had been dealt with, the second assault began, with much hilarity and the promise of a fun and climactic encounter with Warden Grioss, the ancient fomorian overseer of this ancient enclave and, presumably, Seraiya's jailer (although she is nowhere to be seen thus far).