Campaign of the Month: March 2009

Denizens of the Nentir Vale

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.

Comments

DM: Current state of affairs:

Evil magic items retrieved thus far:
The Face of Baphomet is a mask carved from black wood. Anyone who wears the mask gains darkvision.
The Bloodhorn Blade is a +3 magic dagger. When it hits, it pushes a target 3 squares. When the dagger pushes a target, it emits the howling roar of a minotaur.

Mirror Mirror on the Wall
 

Sighing heavily, Z’alden says, “Demons. Damn their accursed claws and the wounds they have caused.” His hands gleam with silver and purple flames and the gashes that the nasty demons caused are cleansed.

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Breathing better, Z’alden says, “my comrades, is anyone else seriously injured? Rift?”

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Rift replies, “I was wounded slightly, but I have taken time to catch my breath. No need to worry about me, unless the Filth Fever takes a turn for the worse…” She gives a sickly grin.

“Well, let’s not just stand here. Should we explore a bit more? Try to uncover the bell and the tome?”

Assuming the group agrees, Rift heads back into the room with the busted statues. She asks Erik and Z’alden to help her to search the statues and walls for hidden secrets.

Then, assuming that nothing untoward occurs, the group heads back to the room with the blood stain track. “Erik, my good friend, would you use your bat-like ears to listen at the single door where the blood stain goes?”

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Erik lets Z’alden know that he is fine – the hit from the statue was but a flesh wound.

After helping the others search the statue room (and statues) for anything interesting, he follows Rift back to the chamber where the apparitions were encountered. He listens very carefully at both the doors where the blood stains go.

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Before they depart, Z’alden will want to take 5 minutes to pray to Bahamut in thanks for their success.

Z’alden uses his best perception to find anything hidden in the statue room, making sure not to touch the bloody water.

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While Erik listens, Z’alden will search along the southern wall of the blood-streaked apparition foyer.

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Before they depart, Z’alden will want to take 5 minutes to pray to Bahamut

DM: I do not want to make any incorrect assumptions; does this mean you are taking 5 minute rest (regain encounter powers, ...) before going to the foyer or doing any searching?

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OOC: Status report on Erik to help us decide if we want to take a 5 minute break: 48 of 53 HP, 5 temporary HP, 4 surges, 3 actions points, 2 attack daily powers, 0 attack encounter powers. How is everyone else doing?

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OOC: Felsmon would prefer to take the 5 minute rest, although he could go 1 more encounter

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OOC: Z’alden definitely wants to take a 5 minute rest to regain his Healing Word powers and other encounter powers.

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“Okay, my feet hurt.”

We rest for 5 minutes. But we carefully keep watch while we’re resting…

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The party prepares to rest, sitting so that all directions can be seen. As the first few big breaths occur and the welcome relaxation begins to set in, another disturbance is felt. Again, what feels like a reality altering wave passes through the party, like the barrier between this world and the next is stretched thin. Both excited evil and mortal anguish feelings travel with the wave. A force pushes and strains against the ethereal veil. Suddenly a spectral figure of a minotaur appears and emits an ear piercing wail of rage. The wail is so loud that the party can sense that all creatures within 100+ feet can easily hear it. Only the one sound did the spectral figure make, the reality boundary snapped back and the figure snapped out of existence with it. The party is left chilled and momentarily stunned.

DM: The rest was interrupted. Do you want to try the rest again?

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“My friends, I fear that this quest we have started has its own schedule and will not permit my prayers. Let us be off to find the bell and the tome,” Z’alden says, even as he shudders at the memory of the wail.

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Searching the room of statues and the blood stained foyer reveal nothing, no secret doors, no new scents, no new sounds.

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Z’alden carefully puts his ear against the southern single door with the blood stains running underneath.

Does he hear anything?

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Searching reveals nothing, no secret doors, no new scents, no new sounds.

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Erik suggests that the party try again to rest. He also states that they temporarily abandon the search for bell and tome, first clearing out the noisy rooms with animal noises as he’d hate to get trapped between them and Maldrick Scarmaker. After that would be a good time for a long break.

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“Erik, your counsel is very wise. Let us hope that it is also prudent, as that wail may alert those very creatures you wish us to face.” Z’alden again starts his 5 minute breathing and mediation exercises, avoiding the bloody stain on the floor, with a loaded magic crossbow in his lap.

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Five minutes pass without interruption…

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Standing up, Z’alden hefts his crossbow. He looks at his comrades and the dragonborn warlock who accompanies them. “Erik, I agree with you, that we should go back up north and see what we can learn from the noisy rooms. Perhaps information is part of the key to finding the captives. What say the rest of you?”

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Erik stands with Z’alden. He mentions that they have to be extra careful, no matter what action they choose, since other creatures may have heard the spectral minotaur’s wail. This could complicate a return to the initial halls and chambers.

Mirror Mirror on the Wall
 

Rift suggests that we quietly peek into the southern single door with the blood stains. “The mask and dagger are potent items. Perhaps the bell and tome are also just as potent. They would be good items to have on our side in our final confrontation.”

She ponders. “We may not be able to find both, as I have a bad feeling that the altar may be the same one that Maldrick is using for his evil ritual.”

“Nevertheless, I suggest that we explore a bit more around here before returning to the gnolls nest… What say you all?”

Mirror Mirror on the Wall
 

Erik calmly takes a long look at Rift and then Z’alden. He slowly stows his bow and turns to face the door. Feet spread shoulder width apart in an athletic stance, he stares at the single door, behind which the blood stains disappear into a who-knows-what of unfathomable demon hell. Eyes still glaring forward, in a single motion, but not quite as fast as a quick draw, which he as not yet achieved but is ever so close to mastering if only given the time, he unsheathes his double-trouble, twin-bladed can whoop-ass. Glancing at his full hands, he sheepishly asks, “Uhh, Rift, would you be so kind as to open the door?”

Assuming she does, what do they see?

Mirror Mirror on the Wall
 

Rift opens the door, every so quietly, loud squeaking coming from the rusty hinges. Erik cringes at the noise as he looks past the doorway. Beyond the door lies a small disappointing room, 10×15’, with a stone ceiling showing past rotten wooden beams. Nothing else is visible inside the room. At first this is uneventful, until Rift nudges Erik and points down. Erik looks down, puzzled, until he too sees why she is pointing. The blood stains on the floor disappear on the door threshold. There is an imaginary straight line in the doorway, one side bloodied, the other dusty stone floor. There is no sign of a crack or any other logical reason why the bloodstain stops so abruptly.

DM: To speed things up I am assuming that the party inspects the doorway, the bloodstain, and the room, entering and exiting slowly as needed to search everything possible. I have rolled perception for each character.

Searching the room, the party finds no secret doors, no strange ceiling effects, no items, no sounds, no smells. The room appears to be just a small room. If a small amount of any liquid is dropped on the floor it stays there, no suddenly disappearance. The only thing of interest in the room is the discovery of more faint markings. Two stones set on the western wall have flecks of colour on them. The upper of the two has what appears to be two green wavy lines, one on top of each other like a wavy equal sign. The other symbol is orangish and consists of 3 or 4 straight lines, possible a square or some other parallelogram.

Map:

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“By the Tail! Reality itself is warped here.” The cleric is mystified by the line at the door. Combined with the strangeness of the small room Northeast, Z’alden wonders how the party will solve these riddling rooms.

“Rift, do you still feel that further exploration in our quest for the items is the best course? If so, then what is on the other side of the blood trail to the East seems to be the next step.”

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Z’alden walks to the northern most of the double doors on the east wall. He listens at the door.

DM: Does he hear anything?

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Z’alden hears only a distinct lack of roaring; nothing else does he hear or otherwise sense.

Mirror Mirror on the Wall
rplayer SirEdward

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