Campaign of the Month: March 2009

Denizens of the Nentir Vale

The Hand and the Eye

From the journals of Torben Eastlander

Finally the time had come to record the last minutes of the Thunderspire adventure. I sharpened my quills, filled my inkpots, grabbed a scroll, and headed to the usual watering hole. I found all five of my charges already there, enthusiastically repeating stories I had already heard, and singing that dreadful song about Rift. Barrick was as usual three shovelsful down the hole.

Over the many days in which I had been interviewing this motley crew, I had come to at least half believe their stories. They showed a low incidence of mutual inconsistency, so either they were telling me the truth, or else they spent a lot of time in my absence getting their stories straight.

Checking my notes, I commented that we still needed to discuss the climax of the campaign, after the group had been teleported into a tower.

“We were rested, equipped, healthy, motivated, trained up, and knowledgeable about our foes. We were ready for anything.” This from the enthusiastic Ranger, Erik. “As soon as we landed on the first porting pad, it was go time.”

Barrick scoffed. “Oh yeah, we were ready for anything. Too bad we didn’t stay that way.”

Erik protested. “I made the first kill in that tower within 10 seconds, and Rift put down another 2 seconds later.”

Barrick then: “And I killed one just by ramming him with my new helmet, may he rot forever. So what. I’ve fought Dire Bunnies that were tougher than that first bunch.”

Felsmon agreed with Barrick. “Three came at me, bounced off new armor. Almost laughed.”

Rift corrected the others. “It was the Norkers with flails, not the ones with blades, who were so untough. I took 5 at a time with my Fire Shroud! Out, I mean.”

Z’alden smiled condescendingly at his tough-talking comrades-in-arms. “My friends forget the enchanted pillars.”

“Too right”, “Hated pillars”, “May they crumble to dust”, “Hard with faces, I mean, hard to face” murmured the others.

Z’alden continued. “Besides holding disembodied faces to bite at us, those pillars shot out unholy rays to confuse us, so that we were unable to call upon our most advanced skills. A disconcerting and painful effect, to be sure. Later we discovered that the pillars were being controlled remotely by our real enemies on that floor, a pair of Acolytes hidden away in a corner room, who turned out to be Enigmas of Vecna, the necromantic god of the undead.

Barrick had been the first to spot the Enigmas: “I found those two when I went around opening doors. Didn’t recognize them for what they were at first, so I held back, and yelled at the others to ready some metal. Then, I saw them contort their faces, squint their eyes, and whip their heads down – like this.” Barrick made a face like a disemboweled imp, and headbutted his own beer stein, which sent Erik and Rift into howls of laughter.

Z’alden continued while the others regained their composure. “With Bahamut’s guidance we noticed that the devilish head-whipping coincided with the pillars’ heinous shots at us. United in purpose, we entered the room with great force.”

Erik’s face suddenly went dark. “The Bear here lunged at one, and I went at the other with both swords, and opened a pair of deep wounds. Then I watched as the ugly creature took a step back, tore the skin off its own face, and let out a shriek to wake the dead.”

The Ranger mien had switched fast from hilarity to solemnity. “I was in no way prepared for the revulsion that flooded me as that shriek rang out. I saw a sight, or maybe just felt a feeling, fouler than any from my nightmares. Maggots infested my corpse in the burnt remains of my woods, while everything else swam in its own black blood. On instinct, I leapt out of the room, those shrieks ringing in my ears. “

Felsmon was brave enough to admit to a similar reaction. “Saw Erik run out, ran in myself. Barely swung, then Rift sent in fire blast. Other Enigma went off with skin-pulling and shrieking. Saw myself as slave to Orcs, hopeless and crippled and weak. Ran out again.”

Rift looked apologetic for her fire blast, although there seemed to have been no way to prevent what happened. “Barrick somehow stuck it out in there when both those foul things went off. Don’t know how he manages to stick at times like that. It, I mean. Out, I mean. ”

But Barrick would have none of it. “It was worst for me, I got hit twice. The first time, I saw myself as an ancient Dwarf lying helplessly on a cot, unable to defend myself or even raise a beer glass. I wanted like mad to run out of the room, but that thing was in the way, so I cowered instead, and the second one hit me with a lightning bolt. Then, when Rift’s blast came in, and the other Enigma went off, I saw myself as youthful and strong, but a coward, deathly afraid of every creature – insect, bunny, and Orc alike. That was the worst, the pure fear, the mind-killer.”

Barrick lingered over these words, as he had been developing problems overcoming his battle fear after some recent close calls. His forehead was bleeding from hitting his beer stein, but that was not so unusual, in my experience. What was unusual, however, was that he was sweating in the cool tavern like a stuck Orc. He knew the mind-killer too well now for his own comfort. But he continued.

“I came to myself a little, and tried thinking ‘outside the room’, like my old warlord pals would do. So, I tried pushing one of the horrid things outside of the room, where the others could get at her. I tried twice, but I couldn’t muster the courage, I couldn’t bring myself to touch the foul thing. I was fading.”

Erik was sympathetic. “Fels and I each came to our senses within seconds, and ran right back in, swords flashing. But the two creatures only had eyes for Barrick by now, and they brought him to his knees. I thought we would lose him this time for sure.”

Barrick didn’t smile. “Well, you might have, but my study of Warlore finally paid off. For inspiration, I pulled out a classic that I knew from days of old:

‘Our greatest glory is not in never falling but in rising every time we fall’.

That got my blood fairly boiling in about 3 seconds, and I leapt up, swung hard at each monstrosity, and killed one! May it forever feel what I felt when it shrieked!”

Z’alden declared with pride: “I killed the other right after – for I have been training, as well, to the greater glory of Bahamut!”

At this point handslaps were exchanged by all, giving me a chance to catch my notes up to this story. Glasses were refilled, as well.

“After the Z-Man got me and Barrick all healed up, there was nothing left but to head for the portpads.”, said Erik. “It was still go time.”

Felsmon piped up: “Smooth pillars in next room.”

“Smooth pillars, but a hulking Warder around the corner!” answered Erik.

“Warders not fit to polish my scabbard. Walked right up to Warder while two Ricks cowered behind magic shield.”

“True enough, Felsmon can go toe-to-toe with almost anyone.”, said Z’alden. But it was I who dealt the most damage to this Warder.”

Felsmon protested. “It was definitely I brought that beast down. Fell at my feet, one more corpse rotting behind me as I ran on to next deadly foe.”

“And splitting the party as you did so.” Z’alden had been lecturing Felsmon about tactics recently.

Erik tried to be diplomatic. ‘’At this point we had two fights going on, both against an Enigma and a Norker. Should have lasted about 10 seconds, but we seemed to slacken off after Felsmon and Z’alden put down the big guy. I think we were looking beyond this tussle to the big fight that we knew was still to come.“

Z’alden thought Erik was being too modest. “Erik can talk all he wants about slacking off, but it was he who ran up to an Enigma, bow in hand, put the point of an arrow into its gaping maw, and let loose! An inspiration from Bahamut, by the Claw! The horrid body still hangs rotting from that arrow, stuck deep in the wall.”

“Wish I had seen that, ” said Barrick. “I was too busy watching the little Norker beat up on Felsmon here.”

Felsmon could think of no reply. This surprised Barrick, who grasped for words.

“So, I, uh, killed the other Enigma, while our friends come around the corner, and killed the last Norker.”

“Little Norkers bring little glory.”, claimed Felsmon without much conviction.

Z’alden played the go-between. “I brought that last little Norker down, but it was on its last toes, after getting beat upon by Felsmon for so long.”

I asked whether these two Enigmas hadn’t also tried to instill terror in the 5 combatants. “Oh yes,” said Rift, “but by now we knew to take a few steps back when they go off. The skin pieces, I mean. The terror seems to come not from the shriek itself, which can be heard at great distance, but from a close-quarters enchantment.”

Then Z’alden got into one of the metaphysical flights of fancy that were never far removed from the bloody battle tales. “After they had all been sent to meet their makers, we searched the rooms, worrying about finding more Enigmas. Instead we found a great machine, combining advanced metalwork with dark enchantment, seemingly powered by the otherworldly essences of numerous dead Warders whose heads still floated in an evil brew. Powerful magic seeped out into the very fabric of reality around it, and into us.”

Erik chimed in. “When I got close to the thing, I could feel its magic entering me! I suddenly felt a little tougher. Not only that, but when I looked across the room at my companions, standing behind the machine, I noticed I could focus in on them, machine or no machine. And, this ability has stayed with me to this day.”

Felsmon spoke next. “Everyone more powerful now. But that machine magic too dark. Pray every day that it stay submerged in us.”

Barrick commented that it was good the new strength didn’t stay submerged in him when he split in half, with one stroke, the Imp they found in a nearby room.

Z’alden shot the Dwarf a displeased look.

Yes, said Barrick, and he was glad to have the extra something when he had to break down another nearby door, which Felsmon had already bounced off, and also when …

Z’alden interrupted to explain that it was not uncommon for dark magic to have effects on followers of Bahamut and other good folk. “Of course it would have been preferable to avoid these effects altogether. But, it is unlikely to dominate any of us, given the strength of character we have all displayed time and time again. Nevertheless, we destroyed that foul machine before we left the room. No more will it seep its evil magic into the world.”

Nobody volunteered any more right away, so I took the time to start a new scroll, and a new inkwell.

“So we ported one more time”, said Rift, “and had our hands full soon enough. We were in a small room with three doors. We stood there for a time, waiting for something to happen, but it refused. To happen, I mean. So we made it. Happen, I mean.”

“Rift is trying to say that we opened one of the doors, and found a Warder, like the one we had just killed one within seconds. It was go time again!” It was always go time for Erik.

“Walked right up to Warder. Ready for any fight.” It was always go time for Felsmon, too.

Not so for Barrick, who looked disgusted – with himself, as it turned out. “There was no room in that doorway for two of us, so I had to go and get cutesy. Stowed my axe and shield, and pulled out a longbow I had just started carrying. Don’t know what I was thinking – a Dwarf with a longbow in a small room with 3 doors? Might as well be a pig in a pit.”

While Barrick was shaking his head, Z’alden continued the recounting. “Just then the door behind us opened, a devilish lightning blast hit Barrick, then bounced off him and struck me! I knew we had met with some serious necromancy this time, possibly Paldemar himself. But that door shut again, and we still had the Warder to deal with, so we went at it with everything we had. Only, Erik and I didn’t have that much.”

“I had it though. Much, I mean.” This was Rift. “My spell rammed the beast into the room and spilled it on its back, spelling Felsmon for a spell. And I ran past to finish the job.”

An outbreak of laughter followed this – Rift had a well-earned reputation for jumping into trouble, but had always managed to survive somehow. “Well, an Enigma took a shot at me from inside that room, which I ducked, the shot I mean, but I was unable to get off another spell before the Warder jumped up, knocked me on my back, and regained its spot in the doorway in front of Felsmon.”

Having listened to plenty of tactical details from this group, I had to ask the obvious. Why hadn’t Barrick run through that doorway instead of Rift?

“If I had had my wits and my weapons about me, I would have actually gone the other way – through the doorway where the lightning blast came from. If you can get in the face of these conjurors, you have a good chance against them. But I had neither my wits nor my weapons just then.” I wondered whether Barrick was hinting that his battle fear had again gotten the better of him. “For some reason, I opened the third door – seeing some Norkers and Enigmas out there. I did manage to get my shield on, though, before any blasting started.”

Paldemar 1

Paldemar 3

View
Rising from the Ashes
What have we done?

From the records of Torben Eastlander, scribe, scholar, and seeker of adventurous tales.

I sat back in my chair, the chair legs again resting on the floor.

“You failed.”

The band of five looked down. None looked at me or each other.

I picked up my mug of Iron Hills ale. It was cold now, but I did not care.

I spoke. “I have a confession. I did not always believe your tales of bravado and wild adventure. But this… Now that I have heard this story, I believe all the others. We in the lower valley have heard of the recent destruction caused by Yeenoghu.”

“Come. Let me hear the tale again from the beginning.”

Cracking my knuckles, I took up my quill, and leaned forward.

Rift, the eladrin wizard, looked at her comrades. Barrick, the dwarven fighter, deep in thought, his mug still half full. Next to him, Felsmon, staring moodily into the fire, his dragonborn blood held in check only by his Paladin training. The ranger Erik, looking as if he wanted to fly off to a deep glen in the woods. Z’alden, perhaps the saddest of all. As a cleric of Bahamut, he felt the weight of responsibility.

Rift stirred. “I will speak, and perhaps in the telling, some of the memory will fade.”

“As you recall, we had discovered the secret puzzle room, and were conversing with an ancient spectral minotaur. Three wishes were granted, to myself, Erik, and Barrick. But the minotaur was not so easily swayed by Z’alden and Felsmon’s wishes.”

Here, Felsmon interrupted, “The minotaur wanted a challenge, so we gave him one.” Felsmon then snorted, small flashes showing between his teeth. “But he was too scared to fight us. I could have showed him some true strength, rather than just a lot of talk.” Here Felsmon trailed off, muttering oaths in a barbaric tongue.

Rift paused, then looked around the group. “As Felsmon said, he and Z’alden took up the challenge, and with some small help from us, succeeded in convincing the spectral beast of their worthiness. As if there was any doubt!” Here Rift looked with pride on her companions. Clearly she had come to trust and depend on the others, a far cry from her earlier days of self reliance and suspicion of others. Gods below. This blasted quill. I must get a new one someday.

“And what did this minotaur give you?” I asked.

Felsmon pointed to his chest, where three silver circles could be seen etched into his breast plate. “Masterwork armor, the likes of which have never been seen before,” Felsmon intoned.

Z’alden stood up and left the table. Returning quietly, he tossed a heavy mace onto the table, where it landed with a crash. The barkeep looked up sharply, but, seeing the look on Z’alden’s face, bent quickly and continued slowly wiping the counter nearest to their table. “It’s a mace,” Z’alden exclaimed. “A mace of healing.” I noticed that this mace also had three silver circles, but he did not comment on this. Z’alden did not seem in the mood for light banter. In fact, he seemed downright angry. Barrick could sometimes be ill tempered (his dwarven nature no doubt), but I had never seen Z’alden so upset. The events had clearly shaken him.

Rift continued. “After we returned from the minotaur spirit, we continued through the double doors. We knew that somewhere beyond lay Maldrick Scarmaker the Gnoll, and the poor prisoners.”

“I cast invisibility on Erik, and he stealthily opened the next door. Inside was a huge room, with two levels. There were creatures moving about. We tried to sneak in, but they saw us. Inside the room was a statue of a howling minotaur warrior. There were three huge cauldrons filled with a seething liquid, and filling the room with smoke. There was a giant minotaur skeleton, a huge barlgura demon and three small demons. On the upper level was an altar, and standing there was Maldrick. Next to him were the prisoners. There were two prisoners floating in mid-air, surrounded with a weird green light. Under them were three piles of ash. One prisoner we did not know. The other was Nadia, Sosario’s wife. The piles of ash were the other three prisoners.”

Rift continued speaking, her voice a dull monotone. “We started to fight. At first things went well. We quickly dispatched the minotaur skeleton with some fast spell, sword, and bow-work. Felsmon was immobilized, hanging in the air like a prisoner. Surina struck at Maldrick with her wand of gnoll blasting. Erik, in a daring feat, sprang over Barrick, ducked a swing from the barlgura in mid-air, and landed on the upper floor. Stowing his bow, he whipped out his two magic swords and dealt Maldrick a mighty blow.”

“But it was not enough.” Rift stopped, and her voice grew quiet. “We should have pulled them out of the green circle. Maldrick, he…” Rift stopped again. “He spoke from an ancient scroll, and a prisoner died. The green light grew stronger. Felsmon ran up. Somehow Erik became covered in dragon scales which helped him defend himself. I shrouded the barlgura in sheets of blue flame, which kept burning. Erik and Felsmon fought Maldrick. Barrick and I fought the barlgura. Z’alden fought against all the demons, Bahamut preserve him. Surina…”

“Surina…”

“She kept blasting Maldrick. He should have died. But he kept chanting from the scroll. We couldn’t stop him. Nadia died, Sosario’s name on her lips.”

“Then he came. Yeenoghu. The demon lord of the gnolls.”

Rift buried her face in her hands. She sat, slumped in her chair, the firelight flickering over her pale eladrin skin. “We couldn’t stop him. He took her. She vanished.”

“She vanished. We couldn’t stop him.”

Finally, Erik spoke. “She just vanished,” he said.

“Who vanished?” I asked, bewildered. Rift was clearly here, who were they talking about?

“Surina, our trusted companion. With Yeenoghu. He grabbed her, and they both vanished. Poof!” said Erik.

I made as if to laugh at a joke, but then looked around. The five companions were just sitting, staring at their drinks. Clearly they had been stunned at the time, and even now, many moons later, the events were still a shock to recall.

Erik continued. “After that the fight got nasty. Maldrick Son-of-a-Kobold Scarmaker was gloating, the demons were biting like bloated fleas from the Underdark, and the barlgura was leaking ichor everywhere. Rift went down, slashed by a demon’s claws. Then Z’alden, calling on Bahamut to aid him, brought Rift back from the edge of death. The barlgura, Rift’s flames licking at its sides, collapsed in a heap of gore. We all jumped up on the ledge to confront Maldrick. But the hyena-faced coward spread his diseased wings and tried to flee.” Erik scowled at the memory.

Gulping down a mouthful of bitter eladrin wine, Erik said, “We were not going to let Maldrick escape. We ran to head him off. We ignored the demons. Time for them later. We had Maldrick surrounded. Sword, mace, axe, staff. We cut him down. He cried out for his foul lord, Yeenoghu. But those who prey on the weak are themselves weak. Yeenoghu ignored his pleas. Barrick dealt the final blow, a mighty axe strike. The demons fell soon after.”

“But it was too late. We were too late.”

“We couldn’t stop him.” Here, Erik stopped, his eyes vacant, mouth set in a hard grimace. He slammed his goblet down on the table. “Kord!”

Barrick took up the tale. “After that, we searched the room. We found some magic, a small compensation for our loss. Then, the green glow grew brighter. Yeenoghu! We ran. I am not ashamed to admit it.” Barrick glared at me, presumably daring me to comment. “You would have run too,” he muttered.

Rift muttered from her corner, “The bear!”

Barrick startled, said “What was that, Rift?”

“The bear!”

Barrick grunted. “Ah, yes, Frothy, the dire bear. We couldn’t leave him for that twisted gnoll spawn, could we? But how to get him to move fast? Felsmon, he carried him.”

I stopped writing, and stared at Barrick. Clearly the ale had addled my wits once more. “Felsmon carried the bear?”

“Yes, he carried the bear. Not much to tell after that,” continued Barrick. “We went back to the Seven Pillared Hall, returned Frothy to Ulthand the old dwarf cleric. Rift, Erik, and Felsmon went to talk to the mages, while myself and Z’alden went to deliver the bad news to Sosario about his wife Nadia. We tried to soften the blow, told him she died quickly. But he knew we were lying, knew she had been tortured by the demons.”

Barrick keep talking. “After that, we had only one choice. Try to stop Paldemar and undo some of the mess we had made. Rift followed the vision of the silver key. Did we mention we found a silver key on Maldrick, curse his dog-of-a-name? We found the magic door, and beyond it, a circle of teleportation. But it was guarded by a foul apparition, an aspect of Vecna, the evil god of the undead. Using our words, we sparred with him, and he granted us passage. I do not know whether we ourselves are now good or evil. Yeenoghu is free, we traffic with evil gods. Things were simpler in the mines…”

Barrick stopped.

They were done talking. I knew this, and I knew not to press for more. There would be time, the wounds would heal, the spirits would mend. All would be well. But not now.

The next morning Torben was gone. The barkeep confirmed that he had left at daybreak, leaving no message and with no explanation other than a vague muttering about needing new quills.

Torben soon returned to the Inn. He looked pale, as if he had been gone for many months instead of a few days. “I have confirmed your story, first with the survivors of Thunderspire, then with some of the former captives, including Sosario.”

“You have talked to Sosario?” exclaimed Z’alden. “How is he?”

“Sosario?” Torben paused. “With the gold that you gave him, he was able to pay off his debts and rebuild his farm. But the memory of Nadia haunts him still. He will never forget.”

Here Torben was interrupted by a loud nose blowing from Barrick. The dwarf wiped his nose and eyes. “Don’t know what happened,” he muttered. “Must have got some cinders in my eyes.”

Torben turned back to the group, looking each one in the eye.

“What I do not know is how Yeenoghu was eventually defeated. Perhaps next time you can tell me more of that great deed.”

View
The Doors Burst Asunder
And all the fell creatures came forth, yea even from the depths of the well, and there was much slaughter

I, Torben Eastlander, sat down with the half-elven cleric of Bahamut, Z’alden. It was late in the evening, and Z’alden had just returned from prayers. He was contemplative. His symbol of Bahamut seemed to shine brightly in the firelight, and surely my eyes were playing tricks, but a light outline of an aura of silver and purple flames seemed to surround the cleric. I recalled that the others had called the half-elf, Silverflame. No, it must be the wine. The aura was gone. Surely the recording of this story was starting to get to me. Still, I would hear this fantastic tale out.

Z’alden ordered two more goblets of wine for us, then sat down. The other members of the party were out. The great Dragonborn Paladin Felsmon and the human Ranger Erik were testing their longswords in a contest to the west of town. Rift the Eladrin wizard was working on learning a new ritual. The dwarven fighter Barrick had decided to see if the ale was better over at the Inn of the Chestnut Charger. Or, at least cheaper.

So, this evening, I sat with the cleric. Z’alden finished his goblet and turned to me, “Torben, you have been dutifully recording our missives in prose and poetry, but the tale is not yet complete. Before you passed out last night after your time with Telnara the dwarven maiden, Barrick had related to you much that had happened as we tried to find the four Minotaur items of testing: Mask, Bell, Blade, and Tome. Only the Tome was missing, and we presumed it was behind a door that was magically sealed. We hoped that finding the four items would aid us in our quest to rescue the Harkenwoldian prisoners from the gnolls before they were sacrificed and the gnoll’s demon god was unleashed upon the world.”

“Indeed the world was thinning. Occasionally we would hear screams rip through the fabric of reality. But, by the Dragon, our resolve would not be undone. Leaving the magic doors, we went to find the gnoll leaders and gain some information on where the prisoners were and, perhaps, how to get through this magically barred door that Rift’s wizardry could not open.”

I would tell my readers here that the tale becomes fantastickal. Even more than in the previous segments. Not only did the group miraculously find the Tome on an altar where they least expected it, down a hallway containing the gnoll’s quarters, they had a battle with another Balgura demon and a gnoll priest. In the course of the battle, the dwarf Barrick jumped onto the Ranger’s back and leapt over the gnoll to swing his axe into the evil creature’s back. Now, as I am not one to malign the words of a cleric, surely a dwarf cannot leap more than a staff length and a half in the air, so I nodded thoughtfully and tried not to chuckle at this absurd notion. Yet, Z’alden spoke with such conviction that I am almost tempted to believe him. As I am when he spoke of how the Paladin’s longsword grievously wounded the demon and the wizard’s frosting magic sent it back to its place of origin or nearest forthwith dimension. Or how the Ranger’s sword drank the life of the gnoll, covering Erik in a soul-powered magic armor for a time.

What seems more reasonable is that they found some items: gold, a jeweled necklace, and a jeweled bracelet which Z’alden placed into his bag. Indeed, he shared some of the gold with Tiefling adventurers, Azkelik and Katel, who arrived on the scene saying that they had heard the fight. Note how, even in the cleric’s story, somehow the tieflings were not present for the demon or for the dwarven leaping. I am no barrister, only a humble scrivener dutifully recording the tale of my patrons, but I am becoming less and less convinced that this tale would survive before a judge.

Z’alden looked at me, “did you get the part about the magic gloves? We gave these to Rift before the Tieflings saw them. They may aid the wizard by changing her magic from a type that a creature can resist to something from the underworld. And the alchemical sling pots. They burst into flames. We gave those to the Paladin. Felsmon has a sling.” Torben nods his heads dutifully, “Oh, yes, I think I missed that. Again, some amazing things that the Tieflings did not see? Interesting.”

Z’alden related to me that they also found more markings on a wall, the four blue dots over the black inverted T. Crossing a hallway, they returned to the north and south doors of a room in which they reported hearing howling and laughter. This time all was quiet, until the Ranger opened the door more loudly than Barrick’s snoring.

Erik, with Rift, Felsmon, and the Tiefling Katel behind him, was greeted by 4 gnolls, two with longbows and the others with hand axes. Katel ran into the large room to attack the gnolls but to no avail. The faded minotaurs fighting on the walls may have inspired Erik more; he quickly dispatched a gnoll back to its demon god. Rift’s magic exploded into the room, filling it with a massive ball of fire that made her comrades warm but singed the gnolls and set a wall of hay on fire. On the other side of the hay was a Dire Bear, chained behind a fence, surrounded by hyenas.

The other four had been by the room’s presumed north door, waiting for the signal whether they should open the door to flank, or join their comrades through the southern door. With the signal given, this they did. Z’alden eyes grew large as related to me, “by the Claw, when I reached the southern door, I called to Bahamut at the sight of these gnolls, and brilliant light enveloped one and sent him back to the pit from which he was spawned. His scream was an answer to my prayer!” The dragonborn Paladin’s breath dispatched another after Barrick’s axe had grievously wounded it. The hyenas leapt over the flaming hay and attacked the dwarf for his trouble. The ranger’s sword felled another gnoll, and the dwarf and the others killed the hyenas.

This left the strangely chained bear. Z’alden spoke to me almost softly of how what should be a fearsome creature was injured and seemed to want care. He tried to heal it while the Ranger used his nearly magic way with nature to calm the beast. Once becalmed, they looked underneath the collar that the Bear had on – the name Ulthand was on the collar, one of the merchants in the Seven Pillared Hall. Could it be that this Dire Bear was a pet that the gnolls had stolen and been torturing? Such conduct is consistent with gnollish ways. So, the group took this pet, Frothy, with them, so as to return it to its master. Before leaving, the Tiefling Azakel noticed more of the strange symbols, this time four blue dots over the yellow arrow shape.

Here, I believe the story, although I suspect it was an ordinary bear, rather than some huge creature as the cleric made it out to be. Clearly too many blows to the head for the servant of Bahamut. What comes next is less believable. Yet, I dutifully record that which the cleric has told me. And, I note, that he bought me another glass of wine. Very kind. And a third. And then we got a bottle of 76 Harkenwoldian red. Now he was ready to tell me what happened next. After the ‘76, I was pretty certain that I too had seen a dragon.

The half-elf cleared his throat as the last of the ’76 was finished, “With Frothy in tow, and all four items in hand, we divided up to place the items on the enchanted azure circles. But, first we fretted over whether the symbolic clues were indicators as how to place the items. Did it matter which item went in which circle? We decided, lacking enough information, to simply try with each item in the circle closest to the room in which we found it. Felsmon and a Tiefling took the mask to northwest circle in a room with minotaur statuary, Barrick and a Tiefling took the Tome to the northeast circle in a room with demon statues and an altar, Erik took the Bell to the southeast in a room with skeletons chained to the floor, and I took the Blade to the potion room. Rift, Surina, and Frothy stood at southern end of the corridor on the blood-stained floor. It would not be long before we understood the mystery of that blood-stain.”

“At Rift’s signal, we placed the items on the enchanted circles. The items vanished. A ginormous roar filled the entire Well of Demons. The minotaur trap was sprung. I could see the blue pool in the potion room swirl, and suddenly, a water elemental was making ready to attack me. The Tiefling with Felsmon fled immediately, as he later told me, when crossbow turrets descended from the ceiling in his room. The Tiefling with Barrick also fled as the demon statue came to life. The skeletons on the floor with Erik rose up in an undead trap. And the track on which Rift, Frothy, and Surina were standing became the rolling ground of a giant blue sphere of death!”

Z’alden’s hand begun to rub the holy symbol on his chest. Perhaps it was the ’76 but I thought I saw that silver flaming aura surround him.

“Before the elemental could reach for me, I ran towards Erik after hearing him yell, ‘Skeletons’! Undead, I thought, by the Wings, something meant for my powers! But, I called upon the power of Bahamut to banish them back to their horrific dominion, and nothing happened. This minotaur mystical trap evaded my command of undead. And there was more powerful magic to come. Even as we all yelled and gathered out of the other trapped rooms to join Erik with the skeletons (with their chains, they were not much of a threat if you didn’t get too close for them to grab you), a white dragon emerged from the deathly cold of the Well and began to attack us.”

“Felsmon had to make a quick duck to escape the sphere after it bowled over Surina, and he was grabbed by the vortex of water elemental. This did not last long, and we were all together fighting this evil impostor of a Dragon. Its breath of icy cold crystals blasted us, and its eyes were able to glare at the Ranger and draw him closer to its claws. And, of course, it could fly away when we went to attack. Erik was able to store his bow, and launched into a sword attack like a Wolf with massive Jaws that tore at the dragon’s wings. Barrick bravely charged at the dragon, but it turned and massive waves of fear emanated from its being. Rift and Felsmon were both frozen in place, stunned.”

“It was not looking good at this point. Then, the dragon had to escape from the giant sphere, which showed it no mercy, and it flew into the room with the skeletons and attacked me where I stood. It landed to attack us all, and raked its claws across the Paladin. Well, we showed the dragon no mercy, Barrick threw axes, Felsmon threw his flaming sling pots, Rift’s flames flew out her hands, and the dragon flew away, injured badly. Erik, in a flash, stored his swords, pulled out his bow and fired two quick arrows at the Wyrm. It fell to the ground.”

I note for the reader that the appearance of the dragon, much less its defeat, was yet another amazing happening not seen by the Tieflings. Even with the ’76, it is only through the zealous recitation of the cleric that I am willing to scribble down this tale. Getting paid in gold also helps.

The cleric continued after pausing for moment to recall in his mind’s eye the fall of the white dragon. Or, perhaps he paused to get his story straight. Regardless, he then related to me, “But, this was not the last of the magical events. The magic double door, which had been barred to Rift’s ritual, flung open. In fact, all of the doors in the Well were suddenly open. We went through that magic door and entered a 10’ by 10’ ante chamber with another double door in front of us with magical carvings. The Ranger’s sense found a secret door. Through it we discovered a room that had the symbols we had been seeing arrayed in a line of stones on sliders that we could manipulate. An unmarked stone at the bottom of the tower of symbols seemed to be a button that should be depressed once the stones were aligned in the proper order. The painted markings on the walls were a key to the solution of this puzzle. But what was the meaning of the markings. And what was the solution of the key? We paused for a moment to rest, and the very fabric of reality warped. We could see into the Abyss. It was terrifying. Then, the horrific vision passed. We rested and thought on the puzzle.”

Here, the cleric paused. He closed his eyes reflectively. Then, the ’76 being too much even for him, he put his head on the table and slept, peacefully dreaming on the Wings of the Great Dragon.

The symbols that the adventurers saw.

Symbols

Print out the image, cut out the pairs, and rearrange…

View
Grab the Bell by the Horns
The pillars howled and the veil is breached

Even in their finest moment, the frailties of men are revealed.

I’m here in the tavern, again. Torben Eastlander, scribe to an odd quintuple of warriors, wizards and scoundrels. It is my duty to lay their deeds to parchment. Rift is across the room, cavorting with a well equipped band of adventurers and surely lightening things up, in more ways than one. Erik, Felsmon and Z’alden are no where to be seen. Perhaps they are too tired this night after relaying still more of their time in the Well of Demons. Yet Barrick remains at my table, sloshing more and more ale into my stein, laughing and pointing at a what I think is a female dwarf at another table. I try to concentrate on my writing…

Within the Well of Demons lay the minotaur proving grounds. The black stone walls magically glowed with a terrible light, casting tricky shadows and dread sense. The adventurer’s task was to collect four artifacts and place them in circles at precisely the same time. Through skill and might, they had recovered two: a mask and a blade. A bell and tome remained. Within the chambers were to be found alters and statues to the demon god Baphomet. The righteous Z’alden and Felsmon did try to desecrate these evil figures, yet some magic field of armor prevented this.

As exploration continued, the shape of the proving grounds became clear. A central room was encircled by a hallway whose floor was scraped bare by something massive. No sign of that something was to be found, but an even bigger mystery was the pit that sat in the central chamber. Flanked by alters, the jet black pit held a fearsome magical barrier. A coin. Rift’s toe. No sense would emerge to reveal what lay beyond the icy cold, black boundary. With heightened fear, the adventurers continued on in search of the bell and tome.

Barrick refills my mug and grabs me around the shoulders. He winks across the room to the female dwarf. I feel a little woozy. Continuing on…

Off to the side of the central chamber, a strange room was found discovered. Pools of strange liquid – red, green, blue and yellow. Rift identified the red as a “battle rage” concoction and tried the green, which proved to be potent against poison. Lucky for her, as her taste of the yellow was indeed poison. With the red green antidote, everything was okay and the group filled a flask and then water skin with ten doses. The blue liquid – only water with a slight bouquet of decayed flesh. I crack me up.

Venturing south, the party discovered a set of double doors, behind which could be hear terrible moning. Erik knocked back the doors and the hot blast of damp air was only made worse by the grusome sight of tortured soles, imprisoned within the chamber’s pillars. Surely these were the unlucky contestants in the minotaurs’ proving grounds. As the adventurers advanced, the lost souls shreeked and groned, spitting acid in spiteful anger at the free. But it would get worse. As Rift and Erik moved far into the room, the pillars vibrated with all that hatred, spitting out demons. But it would get worse. In the far reaches of the room Erik could see the bell upon an alter, but it was guarded by a very large, fearsom demonm. What was Erik do – fight or snatch and run?

Ahh, more ale from that darned Barrick. I am not a beer fish. Interrupting my story…

So in what Barrick would soon describe as Erik’s finest moment, Erik hesitated, for a moment. A frailty revealed. To weave through? To give in to fear? To be forever lost in this hellish abiss? With deft moves of a ranger, Erik did his best to run past the enemy and grab the bell, its hornd handle peircing his glove and hand. Running awa Upon escape he gave the bell a ring and it’s magic was let loose – a crimson wave of engery, eliciting a fit of rage to those within its reach. The guardians of the bell, lead by the elemental Barlgura demon snarled at the audacity of the adventurers. But the proud proud warriors were too smart for them. Soon the grasping claws of the pillars held the demons in place as the adventururrs attacked from afar. The bell was theirs.

At this point, Barrick noticed more strange markings on the walls.

Yes! More ale from my good friend Barrick! His grin is as wide as, well, I don’t know. The bosomy dwarf is also grinning. Life is good. Ah, I just remembered…

Within the bell room was yet another wonderful mysterious marking on the wall. My memmemonory has it as:

green wavy lines above four blue dots
red something above four blue dots
green wavy lines above an orange rectangle
a yellow triangle above an orange rectangle

And so now the adventurers returned to the room of four pools to rest.

Oh, I’m done. I don’t know why Barrick is laughing so hard. Did she wink? I must meet that beautiful dwarf.

View
Mirror Mirror on the Wall
Of ghosts, demons and reflections

“You seem defensive, my good Barrick, about sleeping in your armor every night. Why does a stout dwarf like yourself care what some young Dragonborn says about your sleep habits?”

Torben Eastlander already knew full well why the stout dwarf had taken to sleeping in his armor. One too many close brushes with violent death, not that Barrick would admit it. In fact, there had been three close brushes, all on the same blood-soaked day in the Horned Hold. Adventurers had a term for the syndrome: “White Blood”. Heroic blood still flowed through Barrick’s limbs, but it no longer supplied him sufficient courage. Instead, his blood had turned white, so to speak, and now supplied him with other instincts, self-preservation chief among them.

“I’m not defensive, I mean, I’m just being careful, that’s all. Like when we were hunting gnolls down at the Well of Demons, and the three skinny ones went off through a crack in the wall, we all stayed in contact with ropes. Nothing to be ashamed of, being careful. If you were surrounded with duergar, gnolls, and worse, who might try to cut your belly open in the middle of the night, you would sleep in armor, too.”

“But here at this pleasant inn, surrounded by friends, drunkards, and bunnies?” Eastlander had become less deferential towards Barrick since hearing about his White Blood problem.

Barrick ignored the crack, and the scribe continued. “What happened when the skinny ones, as you call them, went through the crack?”

Barrick was glad to change the subject. “They rescued a Dragonborn gal, a real piece of work called Surina. Couldn’t wait to mix it up with the gnolls. Gave us no end of trouble at first, but she had something going for her when it came to a fight, she did. We all met up soon after, and scouted around a bit. Heard laughter from some doors, howling from others.”

“If I know anything about your group, you burst into one of the rooms that had howling, arrows and spells flying in all directions.”

“Uh – no. I wanted to, of course, but my, uh, companions wanted to check everything out first. I almost went into one room alone, but I thought, if nobody else wants to, why should I tip the ferry?” Barrick had been studying the floor as if trying to read its beer spills as runes, but now he perked up. “That’s when we met the three Judges!”

“Three judges? You mean the leaders of the Seven-Pillared Hall?”

“No, no, these were ghosts, wanting to judge if we were worthy of the challenges ahead. Didn’t make sense to me – if we weren’t worthy, we would just die like many others had done, even these three themselves. But there they were, and we had to make fools of ourselves, trying to prove our worth, like a young dwarf on his first courting trip. I spotted the broken walls of the room, had Felsmon toss me up there, and did some overhanging rockhounding. Same as on my first courting trip, come to think of it. I think Z’alden was the most impressive, with his knowledge of a ritual that would supposedly help even ghosts.”

“So you passed the tests?”

“Most of them, yeah. Anyways they let us through. We looked into a small room with a movable ceiling, smelled of hot fat. Never got the place sussed out. Eventually, we chanced upon the room with the mirrored columns.”

“Ah, I have heard of that room.”

“Hated that room! People being ported in and out, back and forth, you never knew where you would end up next. Mostly it turned out you would end up in a small room with no exits, facing one poor Gnoll, may Bahamut use his entrails as a hangman’s noose.”

“You ended up there?”

“I wasn’t the first, but yeah, I did, and I got in one good whack, I can tell you, before Surina put the poor creature out of his misery, may Bahamut break his bones.“

“Break his bones? Have you finally run out of new curses for your dead opponents? Won’t their ghosts come back to haunt you if you start repeating yourself?”

Barrick scoffed. “I’ve been killing dark creatures since before your grandfather was born, and no ghosts have come back for me yet. Well, only a few.”

“How did you get out of a room with no exits?”

“Felsmon somehow reached the end of the mirrored columns, alone by then, and he fought off two skeletons, with, he said, exploding ribs! Then he freed us using the magical altar. All in a day’s work for Felsmon.”

“Barrick? You forgot to curse the skeletons.”

“I didn’t fight them, did I! Felsmon did, as usual, desecrate what was left of their bones. Z’alden even desecrated the altar. Fels found a mask there on the altar – which would come in handy later.”

“How so?”

“Well, we were by now on a quest for four items: mask, bell, blade, and tome, or so everyone said. I never understand this magical stuff, I just go along, raise my shield, swing my axe, and enjoy the blood flow!” Barrick used to say things like this all the time, believably. Easterner sensed that in this case, the old fighter was trying to remind himself of how it used to feel, rather than actually feeling it.

The dwarf continued. “This quest was queer from beginning to end. After Felsmon rescued us, a demon popped up, smelling of mead and selling answers for pain. I had lately been practicing Warlord motivational skills, and thought I might negate the effect with the Inspiring Word technique. So, I went first, and asked how to reach the prisoners – SE it was. I felt a little twinge, more weakness than pain, and tried my first in-action Inspiring Word. I think I got the mindset right, and the words were supposed to come out “What, did you want to live forever?!”, but I got interrupted, and it just came out “What, did you want to live?”. Felt worse, if anything.”

“You eventually mastered that technique, I understand.”

“Not that day, though. After the imp disappeared – we got two good answers out of 3 questions, the other being that the prisoners would be sacrificed in one to three days – we ended up at the blood & statues room.”

“Blood and statues? I don’t think I have been told of such a place.”

“A right scene from the abyss, it was. Two pools of blood divided by a stone walkway, with two giant minotaur statues holding flails. Never a dull moment in this job.”

“I’m sure you plunged right into the blood like an eager young orc.” Easterner was baiting Barrick more and more.

“Well, we all scented magic right away, of course. I dipped a dagger into the blood, and let one drop fall onto my finger. One drop too many! I felt a little sick, but worse than that, the statues began to twirl their weapons. They were aimless, like they were trying out new hardware at an outfitter’s, but they reached into the corners of the room. I ducked, Z’alden took a hit to the shoulder, and we had to back off when three demons popped up out of the blood pools, may Bahamut bring them back to life in your presence.”

“Hey!”

“That fight was target practice, mostly. I even threw one of my two hand-axes – missed, and lost it in the blood. Like an old friend, that axe was. Anyway, the other four ganged up on the first demon, which fell soon enough to Erik’s arrows, may Bahamut infest its corpse with Dire Ticks. Never saw who took out the second one, but Felsmon did for the third.”

“Did that stop the enchanted statues?

“No, Rift did, and it didn’t take long. Stone statues that couldn’t take fire, never saw that before. With all the fight gone out of the room, we only had to figure how to get across to the far pedestal. We planned it all out – me leaping across with a rope, Felsmon on the other end, and the skinny ones coming across hanging by their belts. Rift ported over the widest gap, found a blade and its scabbard, and put them together. That was a trap – the blood pools suddenly got a counter-current – but since we weren’t swimming, we didn’t care a toss, hah-hah!”

“So that was the blade.”

“That was the blade. Had a bit of trouble on the way out. Tripped on a demon’s corpse, may Bahamut use his head for lawn bowling, and fell face-first into the poisoned blood. Might have killed a human like yourself, but we dwarves are made of strong stuff.”

With Barrick still talking the talk, Easterner wondered whether he had been able to walk the walk during the rest of the adventure. He knew he would eventually hear more details, with bell and book, at least, still to come.

View
Escape from the Horned Hold - Out of the Frying Pan...

Erik shoots arrow (evasive strike) into the red duergar.

Rift icy terrain’s, kills duergar and 1 orc, other orc falls prone.

Two prospectors with hammers, run up, both miss hitting the orc.

Two prisoners run up, try to kick the orc. Both miss.

Duergar attacks Heath, knocks him unconscious.

Barrick runs!

Z’alden fires crossbow at the duergar and hits!

Erik tries twin strike and misses!

The orc surrenders.

The duergar runs off.

We all run off back to the Seven-Pillared Hall.

A nervous kobold hands Felsmon a note.

We make it back to the inn. Rest at last!

Z’alden sets up his potion factory, and starts cranking them out.

We buy arcana components. All of them.

Time to go down the Deep Stairs to meet whomever wrote the mysterious note. Is this a good idea?

There’s a giant bronze magma guy, behind a suspiciously round boulder.

Two tieflings – “Now you die!” Oops.

Barrick and Felsmon both have snakes on the brain.

Z’alden delivers up some crushing damage with his daunting light.

Erik delivers up some serious arrow action. The female tiefling is dead.

The bronze guy tries to block the door – Barrick blocks him instead.

Felsmon is on fire again?

The male tiefling is down for the count.

Bronzy knocks Felsmon down. Then he knocks Barrick and Erik down.

Erik uses his super-secret “Hit-and-Crawl”(TM) power to both attack and flee at the same time.

Rift (useless in this battle), cheers Barrick on. “Go, dwarf!”

What are the two weird clear daggers?

Erik is still crawling.

We all attack! Bronzy falls with a huge crash. Splig stands on top of his body.

Why does the Ordinator try to kick us out of the Seven-Pillared Hall?

Boy, are they surprised when they find out that Paldemar the Ordinator is in league with the gnolls. Oopsy.

We take the two tiefling bodies to the Well of Demons. Sounds like a pleasant enough place.

“Mask, bell, blade, & tome.” What does it mean?

We fight two spidery things, a ghoul, and a long tentacle creature.

Erik, stunned, grabs ahold of himself and fires arrow after arrow.

Z’alden (did we mention he’s saved the party like 10 times?) blasts apart the ghoul!

Felsmon, Z’alden, Barrick, and Erik gang up on the remaining critters. More daunting light!

All dead.

View
Endurance in the Horned Hold

“What a piece of junk”, I thought to myself. Having spent so much time with my heavily weaponed patrons, my impulse had been to purchase a fine dagger, yet this shiny new toy seemed to have no utility. I gave it another toss at the tree, but the dully jeweled hilt just bounced off the trunk with a thud. At least this time I hit the tree. I cursed myself for giving in to the lust for this thing and spending what now seemed far too much. Still, the fantasy was there and I picked up the dagger and resumed my duel with the tree. Cut to the left, cut to the right, I feigned a stagger backwards for a throw to finish off my foe, but when my arm came forward nothing flew from my hand. Where had it gone?

Erik tapped me on my shoulder, balancing the dagger upon a finger of his left hand. Then with a motion too fast for my eyes, that hand moved to snatch the dagger from the air and flung it at the tree. A bull’s-eye, no less, had there been a mark. He had nearly startled me out of my boots, arriving at our meeting in such fashion, but Erik could also see my amazement and I could almost see a smile in his eyes. He then sat upon the bare earth, leaving a flat rock for me. He had come to tell me more of the tale of the Horned Hold, a fortress deep within the bowels of Thunderspire Mountain. It seems that this place was more of a mystery than just a stronghold for the Grimmerzul.

The five adventurers had traveled far through the minotaur’s labyrinth, passing mindless horrors within its tunnels. Upon reaching the great chasm, they found the Horned Hold and had battled to get within its walls. Having felled several mighty duegar in the first bastion, they moved to the second, crossing the bottomless chasm upon a narrow bridge. Within the second bastion a series of battles took place. Alas, there was no rest for the weary warriors. Upon defeating the ettin, a two-headed giant, they paused only to be interrupted by an alarm from Rift, the wizard. Luckily she had thought to look out across the second bridge to spy four duergar sneaking up…

“Duergar!”, shouted Rift, “One large, two with red cloaks and a standard!”

She then carefully moved the double doors’ bars into place. Would the doors hold against stout dwarven battering? The others moved into position. Erik drew his bow. The paladin and fighter moved up closer, just in case the doors could not hold and the worst would happen. Z’alden stayed back, guarding the rear for possible attack.

Bash! Bash! The creaking doors shook violently upon the frightening duergar blows, yet they held. The five’s spirits lifted. They had endured that long series of battles without a rest and were desperate for recovery. But there was no time to recover. Rift and Erik fired back at the duergar through the arrow slits, each attack dealing crucial damage. If they were going to come through the door, they would first have to pay a toll.

Bash! Bash! Again the duergar slammed upon the now nearly splintering doors. But they held. The five thought that they might actually get a chance to rejoice. More magic and arrows from Rift and Erik stung the duergar. Defeated, the foes ran back across the bridge to safer ground. If only the chasm had been able to claim them to depths unknown.

Perchance to rest? Felsmon and Barrick now joined Erik and Rift. So too Z’alden, ever watchful for the well being of his comrades. After helping Barrick as best as he could Z’alden then moved out to watch the narrow bridge. Erik remained to watch the wide bridge while the others fanned out. Searching then resting.

Half-way through the rest, Rift spied a creature from the rear – bad news since it lay between the five and their best escape. She tried to blast it, but it ducked away. Finally, though, a rest. A time to regain powers lost. A time to renew hope.

The pressure to keep moving was still ever present. Surely the duergar were forming hunting parties. They would never give up so easily. So the five moved on through the hold past a balcony which gave a view out across the chasm to the first bastion. Out of the corner of his eye, Erik thought he could see something up high, either on or over the roof top. No matter, time to move forward, past a door, into the blackness.

Now off the balcony and into the inky black chamber, Rift’s sunrod illuminated what appeared to be a chapel to the demon-god minotaur Baphalmat. The once ornate sanctuary for the minotaur now lay broken, with rubble and oppressive dankness. The adventurers ventured further in.

Out of the blackness stumbled a hideous wraith – a disgusting sight whose boney form loosely held together rotten flesh. As un-sturdy looking as it was, it could still deal out serious damage, with Z’alden feeling it first. Sharp claws bit into him, giving him shivers to the core and weakening his ability to heal.

“Awe, but just one!”, thought Barrick only to reconsider as another wraith teetered forth across the rubble. The ensuing battle quickly saw Barrick surrounded. Draining blows of necrotic damage eliminated his ability to heal. Felsmon, the proud dragonborn paladin, strode into the fray, his mighty sword cleaving into the foul flesh of the wraith. Just as the battle reached a plateau, Z’alden turned the tide. With silver and purple light emanating from him, the cleric disintegrated two of the wraith outright. The others noticeably shriveled in the light. Quick blows from Barrick and Felsmon finished the rest. The battle had been won, but at a cost that was only to be revealed later.

The best way out of the cursed chapel was forward, deeper into the now more mysterious Horned Hold. Rift’s deft lock picking abilities were laid upon the exit, only to not budge the rusted door. With violent yank, Felsmon rectified the situation, nearly tearing the door from its hinges. Beyond was a minotaur burial chamber. Grizzly corpses lay resting within shallow niches in the wall. From nearby, Erik could hear sounds… sadistic taunting… of prisoners? Could the team’s quest be just behind a single iron door?

Now Rift’s thievery skills ever so softly charmed the iron door. Peeking through, a large chamber could be seen, with pits, a pool, prisoners and unholy creatures. Two red spiny devils and three duergar. Five on five – a fair fight! With that, the adventurers burst in, taking evil by surprise. Flank left. Flank right. Erik down the middle engages the first of three duergar with spiny red devils much farther away.

Oh to have the first blow and not to be the recipient! Erik was struck by the duergar war hammer. Rift silenced the far side of the room to prevent the fight to become unfair. Rays of frost. Flaming spines shooting from the red devils. Burrowing. Poisoning. The chaos. The confusion. The battle was not turning to the favor of the adventurers! The duergar spell caster stood tall for someone so diminutive, dealing blindness, slowness and still more poison.

Soon the adventurers began to feel as the the five-on-five fight was not so fair. As if by some curse from above, after holding on for so long on the brink, Barrick was felled. His ability to heal had been robbed by the wraith. He lay unconscious. Meanwhile, the paladin raged on, giving something back to the wicked. One red devil would surely not forget one particularly fierce blow of Felsmon! And so the battle continued – the adventurers reeling from the blindness and poison, unable to shake the spellcaster’s evil magic. Every bit of healing was immediately taken away. There was not much left, yet inspired by healing from Felsmon, Barrick stood once again!

Back and forth the battle drew on. The adventurers walked on the very edge of defeat yet endured, trading blow for blow. Was the end near? Powerful waves of despair from that spell casting duegar seemed to continually shout, “Yes!” With poison coursing through their veins and blindness filling their eyes, the adventurers refused to hear that answer. Now and never.

From the depths of his remaining powers, the pillar of the team’s hope, Z’alden spent his final healing force. Aiding his friends in both body and spirit, Z’alden laid the first of the duergar to a watery grave. Its slow-motion soft splash into the pool was noticed only momentarily for the battle was still being fiercely waged even as it gently sank, muscles now relaxed.

DSC03514

Barrick was still gravely wounded and at the limits of his endurance. Surely he would soon succumb, but there was more to come from the humble priest, who then laid a second duergar to a final, restful repose. Cleared of surrounding duegar, Erik was now able to draw his bow and he employed it upon the spell caster. Still no luck as the spellcaster blinded Erik and the hapless Barrick. Felsmon now turned his javelin’s attention upon the spell caster – the devils floating out of reach over a pit and the pool.

Flaming rocks of brimstone hail rained down on Z’alden and Erik. It would be one of his last successes, for Felsmon, Erik and even Barrick laid into him with javelin, bow and axe. Felsmon’s throw killed the spellcasting duergar. Erik’s arrow killed a red devil but the other devil had no mercy, attacking Barrick from behind to take him beyond his endurance. In truth, a last gasp from the evil as Erik’s final shot ended the battle once and for all. Alas, too late for poor Barrick.

With the battle over, the adventurers stood silently within the prison chamber. Cries of help from the captives rose up from the pits but the adventurers might have well still been blind to the caterwauling. They knew that this was a defining moment. They knew that even with all their energies depleted, their endurance must somehow continue.

Barrick was soon stabilized and returned to something of akin to the walking dead. In all, ten inhabitants of the Harkenwold were pulled from the pits along with four adventurers and, curiously, one goblin.

View
Storming the Horned Hold

Torben Eastlander woke with a start. The scrivener had been up late with the Dragonborn Paladin trying to get the last bits of the adventurers’ exploits as they entered the Horned Hold. He was tired. Was he dreaming? No, for certain, there in front of him, occupying most of the tiny inn bedroom, was the definite head, yes there were the eyes and most assuredly the teeth, of a platinum dragon. Smoke wafted from its nostrils. The smoke was silver and purple and seemed to dance in the air. It had a scent of lilacs. Huge wings extended beyond the edge of Torben’s sight. A bass voice rumbled, almost so deep that he felt it more than heard it, “The five serve me with their compassion, with their fierce pursuit of justice for the wronged. My paladin and my cleric, the dwarf, the ranger, and the wizard, they all bring honor to me with their courage. Their story will honor me throughout the ages. Listen to them and write it well.”

Torben closed his eyes. He meekly nodded his head in ascent. He heard nothing. When he opened his eyes, the room contained his small cot and washbasin. His pack and his writing instruments were still on the small table. He was soaked in sweat.

He dressed quickly and hurried to the tavern room. Few were up so early, but he almost leapt for joy when he saw the form of the Half-Elven Cleric finishing some eggs and bacon.

“Z’alden, you must tell me what happened after your party slew the five orc guards. Was there some harrowing adventure? Some near miss at death? Some valiant struggle? What?”

Z’alden shook his head in wonder at the scrivener. He had never showed such passion for their adventures before. And, Torben was ashen white. He looked as if he had seen a ghost. “Master Eastlander, are you feeling alright?”

“Fine, fine, never better. Now, what happened?”

Z’alden took a sip of ale, and started to tell of their next encounter.

“A hallway led past the orc sentry post to a large forge room. We found two more of the Dung-gar and their loathsome orc companions. One of the vile un-dwarfs was a wizard who could reach into the fire and shoot a fireball at several of us. Still, we did not falter, Felsmon and Erik quickly dispatched this nasty Urwol wizard, with Erik’s sword piercing the heart. Then, the mighty dwarven warrior’s axe slew his dung-gar henchman. It would not be the last time that day that the blades of our comrades felled these heinous imposters of true dwarves. An invisible duergar attacked us and then fled as his comrades were slain. The orcs, showing their cowardice, ran down a wide hallway to the next pod. By the Teeth, we tried but we were not able to catch those hideous creatures before they had made good their escape.”

Torben grew visibly nervous at Z’alden’s oath. He regained his composure and said, “Please, please, continue.”

“We tried to find the invisible Dung-gar but to no avail. We did find a curious scepter with the skull of a minotaur. What evil this might be or purpose it would serve, we knew not, but took it with us, lest it be used against us. We were happy to relieve the duergar of a few small coins, too, that will help to care for the needy (196 gp, 206 sp). Then, we found a smaller bridge, just one staff wide. This we crossed and entered another part of the Hold after Rift kindly opened the locked door with some handy tool she carries. It is a wonder that she has these marvelous keylike-instruments, as though she knew that our noble pursuit of the prisoners would be barred by locked doors. Very useful.

In this next pod, we found a room with two more of the nasty un-dwarfs. Barrick tried to engage them in a kind bluff, so that we might simply find the prisoners and put an end to these battles. Instead, in anger at seeing us “Topsiders” behind the door, the nasty beard quills from a fighter slashed into Rift. Another wizarding one sent waves of despair flooding over us and the nasty fighter tried to slay me with his flaming warhammer. But he was in for a surprise, as the healing in my true Dwarven armor restored the wounds he had inflicted, and the Light of the Dragon burned his eyes even as it empowered Felsmon. And when this “Gorderoy” tried to run away from me, by the Claw, I swung my crossbow like a club and felled the vile Dungheap, as Erik’s flashing blades laid low the undwarven wizard.

Unfortunately, this little ruckus had brought into an adjacent room two more of the nasty warhammer boys and with them, magic wooden constructs that fired dual crossbow bolts. These inflicted heavy damage on Barrick, Erik, and Rift until Felsmon was able to get his sword into the fray. And more than that, his lightning breath made them rue the moment they had responded to their vile comrades’ call for help. I , too, finally shaking off the despair that had dazed me, was able to call upon Bahamut and let these duergar feel the Flame of the Great Dragon, even as the power of Bahamut healed Rift. Most amazing, the wizard teleported right next to the constructs, slamming them with her staff.

Felsmon’s sword ripped into one of the Duergar, but the other coward ran away. We gave chase. Erik’s blades chopped one construct into pieces and seriously damaged the other but not before I felt the sting of one of their bolts.

The cowardly Dung-heap ran down a long hallway, through a pair of double doors, to another long chamber, and through another pair of doors. After the final construct was fallen, Erik, seriously injured, switched to his bow to extract a great toll on whatever enemy might sally forth from these doors, even as Barrick and Felsmon led the way down the long hall.

Suddenly, the double doors exploded. There, before the warriors was that hideous nightmare of a two-headed giant, the Ettin. With a club in one hand and an axe in the other. Behind him were orc axe-throwers. Rift shouted with glea and placed her powerful flaming sphere between the Ettin and his little axe friends. They knew the power of our wizard and regretted it that day. Despite the size and ferocity of the giant, Felsmon and Barrick did not falter. Instead, Felsmon gave a guttural laugh despite what was surely a great pain as some huge reservoir of energy was ripped from him, channeled into his sword, and the Ettin knew the pain of confronting a Paladin of Bahamut. Embolden by my comrade and enraged by this trap of the coward, I stepped forth and an image of the Great Dragon’s head formed in front of me sending silver bright flames of sacred fire at the giant’s head. These flames brightened more and the Ettin screamed, as the battle called forth the hidden power of my holy symbol, and I exacted an even greater price, thanks be to Bahamut. Then, the valiant dwarf ripped his axe across the belly of the creature. All the while, the orcs threw their axes barely able to even target us with this monstrosity in the way. But, the victory seemed not to be ours as the axe of the Ettin dropped the mighty dwarf to the ground. The Dragonborn roared, his sword finding the spark of life in the giant and snuffing it out, even as lightning passed from his sword to his fallen comrade Barrick. Instantly, thanks be to Bahamut, the dwarf was revived!

Erik’s arrows flew past us, as the orcs lasted but a few more seconds before only one remained standing. Rift’s flames had taken a heavy toll on the orcs. The surviving coward fled before we could give chase. And, that dunghill of an undwarf who had led us into this ambush jumped on Rift’s flaming sphere before we could capture him and question him as to the location of the prisoners.

Barrick was hurt more than I realized, and by the Wings, I said my most fervent prayer that he might recover further. Indeed ,my prayer was granted as he was restored some.”

Z’alden paused and his eye gleamed as recalled the valor of his companions. Z’alden was called out of hid reverie by Torben, “Is there more? What happened next? Did you capture the orc? Did you find the prisoners?”

Z’alden looked at the scribe. “Yes, there is more to this tale, Scrivener, but your hands are trembling. Rest some. Here, have some meat and cheese. A pint of ale. You really must try to relax. It is not as though you have a dragon breathing down your neck.” And the cleric of Bahamut smiled.

View
Into the Horned Hold
The adventurers enter the duergar stronghold

That evening I finally cornered the enigmatic young Felsmon. He was unable to make his usual departing excuses because of a promise to Z’alden to carry Barrick from the public house back to the inn after the latter had inevitably fallen asleep under the table, his beard matted with grease and spilled mead and, maybe, blood. Seems the group was to make a foray to a graveyard early the next morning, and this was the only way to ensure that Barrick could actually be located at sunup, prone as he was to late-night drunkards’ walks if the barkeep turned him out.

Felsmon glowered down at me, though I stood while he sat. No, he wouldn’t accept a drink from me. No, he hadn’t seen Rift, or Erik, or even Z’alden that evening. No, he hadn’t been waiting a long time to tell me his story, in fact I could visit Asmodeus for all he cared, and take my pen, ink, and scroll with me. His was a threatening presence in the tavern, never touching a drop but glaring at any who walked past. His companion, Barrick, tried to hold his head up for one more pint, or maybe three, humming a tune that I had oft heard of late.

I had researched dragonborn culture in preparation for this long-delayed interview, and I knew that their warriors were especially desirous of the fame that accompanies their feats of battle prowess. “Felsmon”, I said, “I seek only to make you famous. What could be better than people singing your praises because I wrote that you killed hordes of orcs in dire circumstances?”

The intense youngster narrowed his eyes. “People singing my praises because I killed hordes of orcs in dire circumstances.”

It took me a moment to sort out his answer. Did he see me as a mere popularizer, not the professional, dependable scrivener I strove to be?

“I assure you, my good … fellow, I would never invent embellishments. To the contrary, I have always questioned the accounts I have received from your party in the most doubting terms! Only consider your supposed death and resurrection!”

“I still bear scars.”

“Yes, but scars could be from any battle injury.”

“No. I do not mean physical scars.”

I was no longer sure he was even talking about his own, temporary, death. On a hunch, I tried a new tack. “Felsmon”, I asked, “how came you to be with this motley collection of adventurers, rather than fighting alongside your own kind?”

He did not answer for a full two minutes, yet never lowered his gaze from mine. I thought I saw his life pass through his face then, but it might as well have been the history of his clan. Distant wonderful memories, a homeland, then a long period of training and perseverance, challenges both physical and mental, a triumphant entry into adulthood, followed too soon by carnage and devastation, his world in tatters at his feet. In the end, he only said one word, which was worth a thousand pictures: “Orcs”.

But after this incident, his face softened, becoming to me more human than dragon. I sensed the connection between the tune Barrick was humming and our conversation about embellishments. I knew that the song finished with the floors awash in orc blood, and hoped this would loosen Felsmon’s scaly tongue.

“Felsmon, would you be so good as to fill me in on the details of the day you met up with the famous five orcs?”

He hesitated, but finally nodded in assent.

“I take it you five were in the labyrinth together. What happened?”

“It started on day before. We heard sounds behind door, deathly sounds. Barrick and I went at door together. He smashed his side into room, full of skeletons. I bounced off my side and fell on my tail.”

I recognized this as an irony. He was testing me – how gullible was I? Did I know anything at all about his kind? I laughed, then ad-libbed, “Ah, I wondered how you had lost your tail!”. This gained his respect, and he continued:

“Creepy hands kept Barrick immobilized in doorway. Bad news for them. If you want someone to stand in doorway, it’s Barrick. Might as well be boulder there in his traction boots and shield. Rift, Erik, and Z’alden shot over his head, cutting ungodly creatures to pieces from hallway, may Bahamut have mercy on them.”

This was already more words than I had ever heard from the silentest of the band. I knew that Dragonborn have no articles in their language, so I was not surprised that Felsmon would not bother with them in Common, either. I did notice that he brought a very different attitude to spirit-cursing than Barrick did, probably because of his Paladin background.

“Did you not factor into the fight personally?”

“I finally got into room, took swing or two, but it only lasted seconds. Barrick shrugged and walked away before it was even over. Erik did find fine piece of tricked-out leather armor among remains, though.”

“What were you thinking during the battle?”

This seemed to annoy him. “I was thinking that my clan had not yet contacted me with news of our annual meeting, and that it had been long time since I heard news of my brother. What do you care?”

Not certain why he was annoyed, I moved the questioning on to the next battle. “So then you found the famous five orcs, from the song?”

“No, we wandered long after that, finally coming to path along chasm. Erik and Rift spotted trap, but sprung it like fools, not that I would have done better, with my bulk. Two javelin turrets dropped from ceiling to protect far end of path, and struck Z’alden before we could clear out. Twice they struck him.”

“I suppose you next all charged the devices together, shouting oaths?”

“You might think so. I would think so. But these older guys are not so predictable. Barrick, no stranger to charging, sat against wall to sharpen axe. Rift played with mage hand. Z’alden, after healing himself, said there was time for charging, and time for planning, time to hold your ground, and time to run away. I think he was joking.

“So, you and Erik took out the turrets from a distance?”

“I hit them twice with javelins. They were far, and needed momentum, and each time I was barely able to leap aside without being struck. Erik is more nimble and needed no momentum for his bow. He could loose two arrows, then slip out of way easily. Finally I learned. I sat with Barrick and sharpened my weapons while Erik finished his fun.”

The other patrons had already left the tavern. Barrick’s head was on the table, but he had not started snoring yet. Felsmon had a few minutes to finish his story.

“Soon we smelled orcs. They were around corner, guarding entrance to Horned Hold. I was ready, but last lesson was fresh in my mind, and when others voted to sleep, I did not argue. Neither did I sleep.”

I paid my bill, and Barrick’s.

“We had elaborate plan. Rift prepared ritual to unlock gate of guard tower, while Erik tried to lie his way in. Barrick even role-played Duergar. Finally, though, they asked for password. As Rift’s spell took hold, Barrick came out with our group’s internal password – “Death To Orcs!” He and Erik grabbed unlocked door, but it did not budge. As usual, I was hidden so I would not scare our prey, and could not reach the door at first.”

“You know I have to ask – did the battle really happen like in the song?”

Felsmon answered slowly, but honestly. “It … it started like in song. Rift teleported into that room, alone with 5 armed orcs, and us on outside, struggling with door. That part is truth, which rides with her until end of her days.”

“Soon enough, though, we had door open, and charged in, murderous rage in our faces. Erik sliced and diced as always, but this time left some for others to kill. Barrick took many blows, but gave as good as he got, and ended fight at Rift’s side, great defender that he is. Rift and Z’alden worked together: first she turned ground to ice, whereupon several orcs fell, then he cast his own spell upon that ground, shouting ‘By the claw, they shall not stand again!.’ I had never seen that spell from him, but it produced tremendous pain.” Here Felsmon smiled with great glee.

“You say nothing of your own fighting.”

“That is for others to judge. I did put one or two out of their misery, may Bahamut grant them peace. But, Rift could probably have survived alone, she was so sharp. She too brought forth new spell – torture in form of vicious icy hand. New favorite of mine.”

“What did you do after the battle?”

“I desecrated bodies of slain orcs according to customs of my clan. May Bahamut clean and salve their wounds.”

With that, he picked up Barrick as if the 200-pound lump were a bag of grain, and left without another word, his face once again a mask of scales.

I know from my research in what fashion dragonborn are accustomed to desecrating the bodies of enemies, and I will not go into detail on that topic here. The reader will no doubt have trouble reconciling that disgusting practice with the civility of Felsmon’s spirit-cursing. I have trouble reconciling them myself. This huge, brooding warrior turned out to be as deep and as mysterious as he seemed at first meeting. I felt for once out of my league, and retreated to the comforts of my warm den.


Addendum: Although the lyrics of that song are never the same twice, I did manage to write them down as they were sung once by Barrick when reasonably sober. The tune, if there can be said to be one, is the usual rise-and-fall that accompanies sloshing beer glasses:

I know a wizard, her name is Rift

Magic’s her calling, but trouble’s her gift!

Down in the dungeons some orcs we sniffed

Guarding the Hold they were taking their shift

We cooked a plan up, the gate to lift

But Rift couldn’t wait, so she ‘ported in, Pfft!

Five orcs there were and they gave her short shrift

As she stood among them alone and adrift

Oh, I know a wizard, her name is Rift

Magic’s her calling, but trouble’s her gift!

First orc swung at her but he just whiffed

Rift swung right back and he got a facelift

Second orc charged her, but she was too swift

Into his skull she cleaved out a deep rift

Third orc connected and she was miffed

He died a eunorc, if you catch my drift

Oh, I know a wizard, her name is Rift

Magic’s her calling, but trouble’s her gift!

Fourth orc came at her and might have lived if t’

Other orc hadn’t knocked him adrift

Rift swung a club and his noggin she biffed

Then turned from his corpse, and looked at the fift’

Last orc was wary, and he didn’t shift

So Rift cast an ice spell till his body stiffed

Oh, I know a wizard, her name is Rift

Magic’s her calling, but trouble’s her gift!

Stand by her side and she’ll give you a lift

But get in her face and she’ll cut you down swift.

View
Near Death in a Cube
Two tough encounters almost put an end to the adventurers

Highly charged Duergar

Torben Eastlander – what shall that name mean to the ages? For a pittance I write the tales of others be it the convenient history of a lord or now the tall tales of a motley crew out to seek their fame and fortune. Who am I to protest? Just who am I? My dream is to have my words survive me. So, with this in mind, I embark upon my passion – the epic poem…

Misdirection rather than to arms
The proud ranger disguised as common man
Did play the fool to gain the trust
Duegar so unwilling

From the rear the others did sneak
Perchance to find an open door and a map
Alas the door had upon it a lock
Knock knock

Who goes there? twas the call
Barrick being dwarven did best answer too
Only to arouse suspicion was the result
Alerted more in the interior

Alone the ranger stood with Duegar brave
Keen sense of the fray that was to be
To reveal the trick would be undoing
Depart in haste

Z’alden’s righteous plan now in action
Through the front door to fling the ash
Countless souls snared for unknown purpose
Right the wrongs twas Z’alden aim

Quills of beards of Duegar did fly
Missing their mark as Z’alden stood tall
To aid came Felsmon, Barrick, Erik and Rift
Metal to metal

Lightening and ice hit two but twas returned
The ranger took a mighty blow concerning the priest
Divine glow of goodness and terrible power against foe
Healing and hurting

Battle turned more Duegar revealed
Kedhira, master of the hammer and of villainy leads
Another through a second door from the side
Wizard in harms way

Though quills missed the willowy wizard
The leader’s brimstone fire did catch a few
Felsmon and Erik return the blow
One Duegar to fall

Flaming hammer hammered, to the surprise
Ranger not so quick to dodge the heavy blow
Rift the Wizard let the flames fly but no more
Grimmerzhul eat fire

To the rescue again the incomparable priest
Heal his friends and smite his foes
Yet Kedhira a wave of despair afflicts all
Worse to come

Dragonborn paladin battles though the middle
To the side stand the ranger and stout fighter
Blades flash but few to touch the hammer wielders
Dragonborn downs another

Afar Kedhira laughs releasing blinding poison
The priest and ranger stagger
Yet bad turn does not affect the dwarven fighter
Slay another does he

Daunted not Kedhira blasts down four including his own
Caring not for friend
Brimstone still from Kedhira flies
End it must

Yielding not the terrible Kedhira breaths once more
Poison clouding the brave but not in purpose
For the brave dwarf Barrick wields his rending axe
To split black dwarf

Dead is Kedhira and soon his wicked friend does flee
Stout Duegar caught by opposite, the willowy wizard Rift
Survives to reveal secrets
Though unwilling

Treasure not the wealthiest reward
Secrets of the Duegar tell of greater challenges awaiting
Battle to be fought and captives freed
To glory

IMG_0343

Ghosts and some Ooze

Five wander the ancient Minotaur labyrinth
Horned Hold waits on the map beyond the chasm
Fortress of Grimmerzhul tricked and trapped
Fear no darkness

Wraith scream out the way ahead
Malevolent and soulless floating hate
Priest and paladin strike first, wizard joins
Fortune in the cards

Creeping doom of transparent goo slithers to
The five caught unawares until priestly divine glow illuminates
Wraith thrown back and transparent cube is hit
False is the gain

Ranger’s bow lets loose two shots to strike
Paladin’s breath born of dragon shoots lightening
Wizard’s spell of cold and icy hamper the foes
False is the battle’s direction

Dwarven axe to vapor wraith turns
So too turns battle as gelatinous cube gobbles two
Wizard and paladin engulfed in acidic goo
Twisty is fate

Ranger turns arrows on the cube perchance to save
Paladin escapes the corrosive cube of slow digestion
Priest and fighter remain to fight wraiths
Wizard floats

From within the wizard weaves a scorching spell
The cube shudders but does not belch its food
Wraiths no more on the run
Turn to attack

Ranger arrows sink deep into the hateful goo
Failing defenses hurt the fighter as wraith flank
Alas, too close the ranger is engulfed and joins the wizard
Battling from within

Healing from without the priest bolsters those within
Dire straights as wizards grows weaker and weaker
Valiant effort from fighter to rescue fails
Dwarf is now food

Acid eating dissolving flesh within the terrible cube
Brave and righteous paladin rushes to attack
Heals friends and smites the foe
Wizard’s burst finishes

Tide turning at the last none too soon
Fighter and wizard to turn the wraiths to ruin
Gasping gooey adventurers reflect with renewed respect
Lessons learned

IMG_0344

View

I'm sorry, but we no longer support this web browser. Please upgrade your browser or install Chrome or Firefox to enjoy the full functionality of this site.