Campaign of the Month: March 2009

Denizens of the Nentir Vale

Puzzles, Riddles, and Spikes...Oh my!

Nathaniel Yewprick stared at the manuscript. The young monk had been working with Torben Eastlander’s writings for well over a year now, but the more he read, the more confused he became. His master, Stoufful Ofit, was the acknowledged world expert on Eastlander’s work, but the young Yewprick was finding that Ofit’s interpretation of the opus didn’t match his experience with the text. The other masters’ teachings were just as incongruent.

This particular collection of writings, “Horror in a Tomb”, continued Eastlander’s allegorical interpretation of man’s inner turmoil, according to Ofit. His master had intoned with all seriousness,”The writing is clearly an allegory. Notice how, at the start of this tale, the characters sleep on top of a tomb-like mound, among smaller mounds that together are shaped like a skull. They wait for evidence of the evil in the Tomb and find nothing. Here, Eastlander is warning us against the futility of too much self-examination. We may not find the evil within us if we only look inside our skull. We must look at our actions.” Then, the old man became very excited. “Notice how the only way that the adventurers realize that the smaller mounds form a skull is when the dragonborn Paladin flies above the tomb mound. Here, Eastlander is telling us to soar on our thoughts so that we can perceive the truth of what is around us and within us.”

The young monk had bitten his tongue at that one. As crazy as it seemed to him, Nathaniel was coming to a different interpretation. He was starting to believe that the characters of Eastlander might have been real people who had related their adventures to the scrivener. But, the young monk knew he was on shaky ground with this heretical thinking. The entire Church of the Eastlander was founded on the moral guidance that Master Ofit and the others believed was in the tales. The young convert was starting to have doubts. Doubts that ended up with lashes whenever he voiced them too loudly to Master Ofit or any of the other masters.

Still, Nathaniel could not resist the pull of the raw tales. He preferred them to the sermonized versions that the masters gave. Even though it was forbidden, he would work late in the library and wait until all others had left. Then, alone in the musty rooms, he would go to the locked original texts, pick the lock (“just like the sorceress Tira”!), and take down a volume. Tonight, he cracked open the first book of the “Horror in a Tomb”. Of all of Eastlander’s writings, this story was the most perplexing to the young monk. Eastlander had given no clear reason why the Valers had gone into the Tomb in the first place. Certainly, Eastlander mentioned the cleric’s overwhelming desire to destroy undead. But, was that in the original story or had the writing been changed to reflect the Church’s understanding that “undead” was Eastlander’s metaphor for peasant uprisings that must be suppressed. Nathaniel knew that even these manuscripts were not really the originals but copies generated by the church. Had they been true copies? Or, had they been edited like the heavily-altered stories dispersed to the masses? Perhaps. In this tale, Nathaniel believed that the sorceress would not have been convinced to risk life and limb with such scant motivation as suppressing peasants. Or, even of destroying undead, presuming they were real. Nathaniel winced at the memory of the biting lashes had received when he voiced that opinion.

Of course, Tira was a bit of an issue anyway, having been a Warlock in earlier stories. Maybe Eastlander was less certain of Tira? The Church’s interpretation was that Tira represented the unbridled passion that must be directed by those in command. The teaching was a bit sketchy about who was in command of the sorceress. Was some male power directing her? For her motivation to enter, the Church claimed that the half-elven sorceress sought the deeper understanding of one’s self that comes from looking inward. “I don’t believe that for a minute,” thought the young monk. Tira was after adventure not introspection. Maybe she did buy the cleric’s argument that they should seek some famous sarcophagus inside to deliver to the King Kaius who was making war on the Nentir Vale and the Kengi. The cleric had argued such a delivery might be the ruse needed to approach this evil King. Maybe she went in for the sheer thrill of it. Oh, the lashing he would get for that thought! Still, it was preferable to Master Ofit’s interpretation of her motivations.

The interpretations of the other Valers were equally confusing, but Nathaniel put those thoughts away as he continued to go through the writing. Though quite illegal, he was copying this original text. He was becoming convinced that when he was done, he might need to leave the monastery. Quickly. And, he was not going without the stories.

As he copied the introductory part with the party was standing in front of a huge mound, the monk could almost hear the bats returning for the night into the leftmost of three vine-covered entrances before them. He imagined himself as the taciturn Ranger carefully pulling back the blackened vines on the rightmost to reveal a rubble-strewn and impassable entrance. He could feel his eyes consider the vines themselves, destroyed by the aura of death that surrounded the Tomb. The Ranger had told Eastlander of his anger at the destruction of nature. Nathaniel sniggered. Master Ofit loved those vines. He would extol for hours about how the failure to consider one’s place and follow the Church led to death like the vines trying to cover the tomb had withered away. The agile and daring Ranger was always Master Ofit’s favorite. Nathaniel was convinced Ofit knew nothing of the true Ranger Erik.

The monk concentrated harder to move along with his copying. He quickly found his mind drifting to picture the archway of the middle entrance that confronted the group with a ruby-red A at its apex. Despite Master Ofit’s insistence, Nathaniel was positive that A signified nothing more than the name of the Tomb dweller Acererak. The brightly colored tiles in the hall beyond might have some meaning, but the red path that meandered through them was probably not the “road of one’s life with pitfalls and difficulties” that Master van Laangweend thought it represented. The beautiful artwork on the walls depicting orcs and goblins living together with human and elves was probably not the message of doom that Master Ofit related if one did not adhere to the Church tenets.

Turning aside from his ruminations, and returning to Easterlander’s text, the young monk marveled at the Ranger’s perception to see a riddle faintly inscribed in dwarven runes in the red path:
Acererak congratulates you on your powers of observation. So make of this whatever you wish. For you will be mine in the end no matter what!
Go back to the tormentor or through the arch and the second great hall you’ll discover. Shun green if you can, but night’s good color is for those of great valor. If shades of red stand for blood the wise will not need sacrifice aught but a loop of magical metal – you’re well along your march.
Two pits along the way will be found to lead to a fortuitous fall, so check the wall. These keys and those are most important of all, and beware of trembling hands and what will maul. If you find the false, you find the true and into the columned hall you’ll come, and there the throne that’s key and keyed.
The iron men of visage grim do more than meets the viewer’s eye. You’ve left and left and found my Tomb and now your soul will die.

Nathaniel was not sure what to make of the riddle. Perhaps five score theologians had poured over it. Their attempts at meaning put him to sleep. The young monk was more interested in the portal at the end of the wide corridor than he was in the many pits full of poisoned spikes that the adventurers uncovered. He believed that the roping together of the group to avoid further falls probably was as obvious as what the church said. The solidity of the dwarf Barrick, continually saving the scouting Ranger and the others, probably did, too. And, the huge green demonic face at the end of the corridor, with a black mouth that absorbed all light, could be the darkness of the soul of man that we must all avoid without a thorough examination lest we be sucked into its maw. But, the dragonborn Paladin Felsmon sticking his head into a misty archway and being teleported into a small room whose floor dropped away the moment he arrived made for compelling reading by a master storyteller, and not a parable about following the dictums of the Church. Felsmon had flown when the floor disappeared and then had fascinating explorations that had led him back to the party while they had gone through the archway and been teleported to another location. Not much allegory there, despite the masters’ best efforts.

Nathaniel tried to copy diligently. He couldn’t help but see the storyline itself in his mind’s eye. Separated from the Paladin, the cleric Z’alden, the dwarven fighter Barrick, the Ranger Erik, and the sorceress Tira had found themselves in front of a large gargoyle with four arms. One of the arms had broken off. Placing items in the hands only saw the items crushed.

Unable to discern the meaning of this gargoyle and with the amazing return of Felsmon, who had maneuvered down a series of small tunnels to rejoin them, the group found a crawl space and maneuvered through it, passing through a golden field of light into a huge hallway stretching off into the distance. The walls of this room were covered with humanoids holding variously-colored spheres. Touching yellow and blue spheres had no effect, while touching the orange sphere had caused a spear to come shooting out of the wall at the sorceress. Felsmon had touched a silver sphere and found an opening that he pushed against and fell into a secret room. There he found a secret door, and with the rest of the party following, they followed a route that Eastlander described as “tunnels and doors.”

Master van Laangweend had written extensive treatises on how the adventurers each took turns finding the secret door needed to advance as we must all share the burden of discovery, how each secret door slid a different direction showing the variations that life’s discoveries might take but no door could be held open (Nathaniel guessed that the force bolt that had seared the dwarf might have been a stretch of Eastlander’s imagination but then Eastlander always portrayed the adventurers having the enhanced imagination) showing how the way is not meant to be one of regret , how the twists in the corridor mirrored life’s uncertain journey, how…enough! Nathaniel shook his head in disgust. Yes, the more he thought about it, the more the masters were ruining a good story and nothing more. It was this, the real tales of Eastlander, or as close as he could get to them, that he would copy and sneak out of the monastery for the public to read. They must know the truth.

He turned to the next part of the story:

I was never really sure what to make of the cleric as he related to me what happened next.
“Felsmon had broken through a door, and we were confronted by a room strewn with rubble. Niches in the walls held evil-looking statues. Broken statue arms littered the floor. On a tall pedestal in a far corner was a huge gargoyle with large, bat-like wings. Felsmon flew up to look the gargoyle in the eye. We heard a piercing shriek and living armed claws launched from the gargoyle at our beloved paladin. A battle was on! And, I looking at the creature, realized that it was demon-made, of the same elemental construction as those horrid beasts. By the Dragon, but I did rejoice, as since my time battling ice demons in Kengistan, the Great One has given me powers that can be wielded against such as these the same as if they were the vile undead. But, my prayers would have to wait, as my comrades are much faster to arms than I. Tira launched a fire attack at the monster, but its only effect was to blast her and slam her against a door. Such is the life of a chaos sorceress. General Barrick had more luck, throwing his axe into the air at the flying monster and wounding it with great success. The ranger’s steady eye was true, hitting the gargoyle where it most vulnerable and exacting a terrific price for each magical arrow that flew from his enchanted bow. “ Z’alden took a breath and a sip of Nentir ’97.

“Still, it was not enough. The monstrosity, still airborne you understand, had to deal with our flying paladin. Little did the former statue realize that Felsmon is a flying fortress. There is little on this plane that can penetrate the armor and hide of this warrior. The gargoyle learned this the hard way when, unfazed and unhurt, the Paladin returned his attack with a massive swipe of his waraxe. You might not know that a statue come to life can reason, but it was clear that he realized the futility of continuing to battle one nearly invulnerable, so the gargoyle swooped down to claw our valiant ranger and found meat beneath the leather. Our taciturn ranger made not the slightest sound at this affront to his skin. Felsmon gave chase and himself swooped to further engage the gargoyle. Oh, what a beautiful sound his axe made as chunks of the gargoyle began to fall off. The tide was turning our way.”

“A small intake of breath from Tira and one word of ‘Claws’ and ‘Floor’ was all the warning we had as the fallen statue arms came to life and ripped and tore at us on the ground, slowing those that they could grab. Tira and Barrick both were mired in this muck of marble. The mighty dwarf refused to succumb to this and lunged into the air, you would have said that the fighter could fly, as swinging his axe while in the air he soundly struck this statue-come-flying monster. Unbelievably, the monster flew back to his pedestal and the cracks began to join together. The monstrosity was healing! Such a vile use of a blessed power could not be permitted. Calling upon the mightiest powers of Bahamut, dragonclaws of sapphire light exploded from me and assailed the statue. As I had prayed, the gargoyle was stunned, and my companions and I took our play from this momentary advantage.”

“Felsmon, noticing that the creature wore a necklace, flew up to the pedestal and took the jewelry. Tira found another corridor and a door that opened into a wall of light plaster. Punching through, she found the initial corridor we had entered. Eastlander, you remember, the first hallway with the blood red path and the poison spike traps that Erik and Tira had so cleverly negotiated while roped to Barrick? This door was the other side of the painted door we had passed. What a twisted and warped place this tomb was.”

The cleric took another sip of his wine. I took some of mine and made a few notes to remind myself not to be drawn in. Remember, Torben, tombs of this complexity come from the imagination of adventurers who have spent too many days away from civilization.

The half-elf cleared his throat and continued. “The gargoyle’s stunned condition only lasts for a few heartbeats. Another shriek and we were again under attack. Barrick had gone down a separate corridor and had to rejoin the fight while four claws on the end of powerful arms accompanied by that awful shriek were raining down on the Paladin. To no avail, of course. In return, the dragonborn’s axe raked the gargoyle with a nearly perfect series of blows that extracted a heavy price. Then, the mighty lightning came from his mouth. By the Claw, but this attack had no effect on the statue. Tira would have no more of this. Her powerful bolt of multi-colored chaos magic assaulted the mind of this monster, and in a split second, the gargoyle’s head and then entire body exploded! Victory was ours. For the dwarf’s good work of returning to the battle, he received little more than an attack from the animated arms on the floor.”

“The ranger had found another hallway, one free of these horrible arms. We made our way down it, and then paused to look at the necklace. It was made of 10 beautiful rubies, like those in the bag I found. Sensing one of the gems might have some magic, we looked at it further. A small piece of parchment was enchanted inside. Extracting it, we found another riddle-poem:”

Look low and high for gold
To hear a tale untold.
The archway at the end,
and on your way you’ll wend.

“What meaning these verses might have we could not discern.”

Nathaniel lifted his pen. In all the teachings of the masters, nothing had ever been made of these verses. Maybe in their haste to interpret Eastlander, some of the writings had been overlooked. Maybe he was truly reading and copying the original writings. The young monk dipped his quill and continued to copy, even as his pulse quickened at thought of being so close to the true story.

I, Torben Eastlander, could only marvel at the half-elf’s tale, but I wondered where it was leading. Throughout the evening, he described to me more mysterious rooms, including one with colored circles. The black circle had an interesting story in which the dragonborn had found that the circle was actually a portal to a passage. Exploring, the group found a room six staff lengths square with three strange symbols on the floor. It must have been the cleric himself who investigated this room, as he could not remember the symbols in any detail. After hearing these incredible stories, it is clear to me that the priest has the memory of a sand pile.

A red circle got the group further thanks to the sharp-eyed ranger. A winding, descending corridor led to a dead end according to Z’alden and Felsmon, but Erik could spy not only a secret door, but also a catch to release it. A second catch, caught be the eagle-eyed sorceress was needed to complete the opening. One does wonder at the elaborate nature of the tales this group devises. Still, they are amusing. What was even more enchanting is the room that they entered.

A vast, pitch-black room, which, once illuminated, showed frescoes of beautiful humanoids covered with holy symbols of Bahamut, Pelor, and other good deities. From his reverent description, it was clear upon his entry that here, in this tomb of horrors, Z’alden had found a shrine of hope, a bastion of sanctity. The half-elf’s eyes turned fiery as he relayed what happened next. To his horror, the group realized that the humanoids were distorted, their flesh rotting. They became images of skeletons. This was no good shrine, but one that was evil, sick and twisted. The warped nature became clearer as the rows of pews in front of the group were investigated. Tira lifted one of the benches freeing a noxious cloud of rotting gas that filled the room. Luckily, these benches did conceal some good – several thousand in gold, according to the cleric. As if such stories could be believed. But, these fanciful musings were nothing compared to what he said followed.

The altar area, glowing blue, drew him onward. Stepping onto the dais along with the ranger, the blue glow changed to a yellow aura of “pure evil” as he called it, always seeing things in such distinct terms is this zealous cleric. Upon reaching the altar, lightning exploded in all directions, burning the party. At Z’alden’s touch, purple flames exploded all in all directions, further searing the party members. The cleric smirked as he related how Tira told him not to touch the altar. The altar itself dissolved. But, Z’alden was far more perturbed by the color of those undivine flames that had injured his friends. They so mocked the very warmth of purple-flamed healing that the Great Dragon grants through him. Whatever his original reason for going into this Tomb, the cleric was now incensed. This perversion could not stand. The forces and powers that assembled this Tomb must be destroyed.

A portal in the room that seemed to interest the dragonborn was not investigated. I still cannot believe that anything in this place was not investigated by the paladin sticking his noggin into it, but that is how the cleric told the story to me, and what am I but a poor scrivener. Instead, a small opening, the size of a coin, or a ring, in the far wall drew the party’s attention. Finding that a coin in the slot did nothing, and recalling the strange riddle of the dwarven runes about loops of metal, Z’alden put his Cherished Ring into the slot. The wall dropped away to reveal a passageway with descending stairs.

Could I imagine a staircase that this group would not descend? No, probably not. Over the paladin’s objection that the portal needed his head through it, the party went down. Three poison-spiked pits recalled the “two pits” somehow – the cleric is not good with mathematics, and checking the wall on the last, Erik found a secret door. Is there a door that is a secret to this perceptive human? Obviously, these doors are not so hard to find, I think. The others are probably just blind to anything that isn’t a hulking brute with a warclub. Regardless, after a quick investigation of some singing and happy laughter on the previous level (truly I am not making this up, merely relating the cleric’s tale) that ceased when the paladin smashed through an iron door barring the way to the party, all the adventurers descended into the pit and went through the secret door.

A fog obscured the way, and perhaps for the first time, a sense of fear filled the dragonborn. He turned to run before the solid dwarf grasped him and helped him to shake off the evil magic that pervaded his senses. As the cleric said, “It was Barrick that understood the fear infecting us all came from breathing the fog. He bravely rushed across the room without taking a breath, opened the far door causing the fog to dissipate along with our unnatural fear. By the Dragon, but that is what bravery is! Confronted by the fog of fear, you put one foot in front of the other and not behind.”

Even as his quill dripped, Nathaniel was fairly certain that last quote of the cleric must have been an insertion of the Church. Well, maybe. Or, maybe the cleric really did make small sermons at every opportunity. Nathaniel heard rustling from down the corridor and saw a cloud of dust. He could almost feel the fog of fear coming for him! But, he had not completed this section. What was the point of taking such risks if he was not to finish? No one was supposed to be here at this time of night, anyway. They would get in as much trouble as he would. He pressed on.

The cleric continued, his eyes beaming as he told the next few parts of the tale to me. He drained his glass. “We pressed on towards a faint glow up ahead. Lying on the ground was a mace. I have not beheld its equal. Adorned with holy symbols to all that persevere in the fight against the vile undead, this was a weapon of radiant power about which I could only have dreamed. Thank the Dragon, but here was a weapon to focus my prayers to call upon his Claws, his Teeth, his great Power! And, would we need it.”

Nathaniel turned the page. He dipped his quill to continue. The masters had never mentioned this part of the story. He hurriedly began to read. A sudden noise made his head turn, spilling his ink. There before him was one of the masters! The one he knew the least, the half-elf who kept to himself mostly. Nathaniel started to stammer. The master held one figure to his lips, and said, “Be at peace. I, too, know how captivating the True Writings can be. But, you have other places you should be. It is time to go.” And then, he winked.

Comments

Following the red-tile road, you survive the poison spikes, 100 foot falls, gargoyles real and imagined, altars good and evil, and other horrors.

Experience:
Bronze box in the wall (1/2 for finding the lever but pulling it anyway): 300
Poison spikes pit traps (finding 4 of them): 1000
Finding the message in the tile: 250
Pulling the levers in the Forsaken Prison (1/2): 175
Killing the gargoyle: 2500
Gauntlet of secret doors: 1000
Gas trap in the Temple (1/2 for disarming one after finding the other the hard way): 175
Magic ring slot (nice job): 800
Grand total: 6200 xp, or 1290 per character, bringing your total to 40230, enough for 13th level!

Acererak congratulates you on your powers of observation. So make of this whatever you wish. For you will be mine in the end no matter what!

Go back to the tormentor or through the arch and the second great hall you’ll discover. Shun green if you can, but night’s good color is for those of great valor. If shades of red stand for blood the wise will not need sacrifice aught but a loop of magical metal – you’re well along your march.

Two pits along the way will be found to lead to a fortuitous fall, so check the wall. These keys and those are most important of all, and beware of trembling hands and what will maul. If you find the false, you find the true and into the columned hall you’ll come, and there the throne that’s key and keyed.

The iron men of visage grim do more than meets the viewer’s eye. You’ve left and left and found my Tomb and now your soul will die.

But, why did the gargoyle crush the gems? What’s beyond the archway of orange mist in the Temple? Or the archway of white mist in the Great Hall of Spheres? Why did the happy revelers flee from your approach? And what is at the bottom of the stairs where you found the mace?

 

Z’alden thanks Bahamut for the gift of his new mace. He stows his crossbow and hefts the new weapon. It is a sacred item and can serve to channel prayers as well as any other holy symbol. In a place such as this strange tomb, with rumors of undead, its particular powers against such evil will be most welcome.

“Let us proceed down these steps and see whether the riddles cease in this confusing maze of a place,” the cleric says.

DM: What do they see at the base of the steps?

 

As you descend the stairs, your footsteps slow. Perhaps it is just the lingering effects of the fearful mist that Felsmon encountered. All you know is that you do not want to linger long in this unholy place. The archway at the bottom of the stairs both repulses and beckons to you.

Z’alden, your newly-discovered mace grows heavy in your hands. Rather than you gauging the feel of the weapon, you feel as if the weapon is measuring you, to see if you are worthy of the task ahead.

Felsmon, you try to shake off the images of horror that you saw in the mist. Perhaps it was not your own gruesome death that you saw in your mind, but that of whatever foul creature lurks below.

Erik, you strain your ears, willing them to hear the faintest whisper. What was that? Was there a dry rustle, of leaves over stones, or perhaps decayed skin over bone?

Tira, you remain cool and confident. You know that all sentient creatures have a will, and where there is a will, there is a way to attack and defeat it. While the others grow more nervous and restless, you project an aura of calm.

Barrick, the stone around you calls to you. Normally, you would take pleasure in the intricate stone carvings and the skilled craftsmanship of the close-fitting stones, with their razor-thin mortar lines. But you can see the telltale signs. A slip of the chisel, a hairline crack. You can almost hear the voices of the tormented dwarves, as they labored against their will, far beneath the earth.

Ahead, the archway is dark. The light from your torch falls against the darkness and is swallowed. You should be able to see beyond, but strangely, you can see nothing.

Suddenly, Erik feels a cobweb rasp against his face. Startled, he puts his hand behind him to stop his friends, and then peers intently into the gloom.

After a moment, you realize that the corridor and archway are blocked by a tangle of webs. The strands appear to be of an ordinary thickness, but are of a density and size that you have never encountered before. Forcing your way through them will not be easy…

 

“What say you to some roasted web?” Z’alden looks to see if his Sacred Flame would divinely burn away the blocking webs without harming his friends.

 

Z’alden ponders his mystical source of power. He realizes that while his powers work wonders against the living and the undead, they do not create enough physical heat or truly produce a real flame.

He thinks that a good old-fashioned torch might do the trick, as long as one were careful to not light the web on fire and then jump straight into it.

What do you do?

 

Erik stows his weapons, except for one sword. Using the sword, he sharpens one end of his two staff length pole to a fine point that would be sufficient to pierce and injure. He then douses the sharp end in a little bit of oil and ignites it with his flint. Standing far back from the webs, Erik jabs the tip of the pole into the webs in an attempt to ignite them.

 

As Erik thrusts the lit end of the pole into the webs, he happily recalls his early youth, spent in the dense forests near his home. There, under his father’s guidance, he would climb into the tallest trees to burn away the webs of the giant spiders who feasted on the family pigs.

Too late, however, Erik realizes that there was a crucial difference between those webs and the ones in the passage. The webs in the Tomb are dense and old, and are filled with the dust and debris of countless years. As the tip of the pole touches the first web, the flames race from web to web, igniting an explosion of dust. A searing fireball fills the passage, surrounding Erik with a ball of glowing orange.

As Barrick, Felsmon, Tira, and Z’alden stare in horror, their nostrils are assaulted by a terrible stench of burnt hair and singed leather. Erik sheepishly turns around. His eyebrows are gone, his face is blackened with soot, and what little is left of his hair is sticking straight up.

The webs are all gone, and the passageway is now clear up to the archway into the next room.

Erik takes 10 points of fire damage.

 

“Whoa”, says Erik slowly as he coughs out some smoke, “That was so totally awesome.” As he blinks, his fellow adventurers see alternating blackness and white eyeballs.

 

Z’alden pats the ranger on the back. “Well done, master ranger! What are we waiting for? The path is now clear, let us proceed.”

DM: What do they see past the archway?

 

As Z’alden slaps Erik on the back, a cloud of soot and ash billows up from his shoulders.

You all slowly creep forward, afraid of what might await you in the chamber beyond the archway, yet unwilling to remain behind in the passageway.

Five heads peer around the corner, into the dimly-lit room. In the light of your flickering torch, you see a small square room, approximately 20 feet on a side. At one time, the room must have been filled with beautiful wall hangings and decorations, but now it is only filled with rot and decay. The broken remains of furniture and statuary cover the floor, while the ceiling is a mass of webs, cracked and broken stones, and dripping filth. There are no apparent exits.

In the center of the room sits a gleaming couch, apparently made of solid gold. Lying on the couch is a corrupt mass of bones, decaying flesh, and rotting clothes. A chilling breeze blows out of the room and past you, ruffling your hair and tugging at your cloaks. As you bend your head against the breeze, you can hear the whistle and moan of the wind as it escapes through a crack in the wall behind you.

Then, your head snaps around and your eyes grow wide as you catch a glimpse of movement from the couch.

Felsmon laughs nervously, “Come on guys, it was just the breeze rustling that dead thing’s clothing.” You look back, and sure enough, the rotting clothes flutter and ripple in the breeze, and then grow still again.

The breeze dies to a whisper, and then is gone. The silence stretches on.

 

Erik draws both swords, steps forward from the group one staff length and aggressively whirls the blades all around him. If he hits nothing, he will have meager reassurance that nothing is next to him. If he hits something, then he will have meager reassurance that he got in the first blow.

 

Erik’s two blades go snicker-snack, cutting through the air like a knife through butter. Sensing movement to his left, he whips his sword around, faster than Z’alden’s eyes can follow. Down comes a tapestry in a shower of dust and debris. Then, pointing his right sword straight ahead, he brings his left sword up and over his head, so that they are both pointing forward towards the figure on the golden couch. His visage is grim, his eyes focused.

Nothing stirs.

Would anyone else like to do something?

 

Z’alden attempts to detect magic on and around the couch.

 

Z’alden holds up his holy symbol, concentrating on the couch. As he channels his divine power, he detects a soft glow of magic coming from the figure on the couch. Near the figure’s head the glow is much stronger.

Then, on a whim, Z’alden holds up the mace and channels his divine power through it. Instantly, the figure on the couch lights up with magic. The glow coming from the figure’s head is almost blinding, so much so that Z’alden shields his eyes. He looks around at everyone else, but no one else seems to notice anything amiss.

It is difficult to tell because of the rot and decay, but it appears that the dead figure is wearing some sort of crown, and that the glow is emanating from it.

 

Reflecting on his extensive knowledge of history, does the crown contain any symbols that Z’alden recognizes? Has Z’alden ever heard of this sort of mysterious glow before? Does he sense any evil or harm associated with it?

 

Z’alden peers at the crown, his eyes squinting. Shaking his head, he realizes that he is too far away to spy any symbols. However, looking carefully at the magic glow, he realizes that it radiates great power and also great evil. He has heard of such a mysterious glow, but only on the most unholy of objects, those that have a power that exists separate from the wielder himself.

Do you want to approach the golden couch?

 

The half-elf senses a possibility to destroy a item of evil. Reveling in this blessed opportunity, with his new mace, a holy symbol, held firmly in his right hand, his healing mace in his left, he approaches to see the symbols that he presumes would be upon such an object. He would like to know its origin before he seeks to destroy it.

 

As Z’alden approaches, a great feeling of loathing and evil presses against him. Now that he is closer to the crown, he can distinctly make out symbols of at least three evil beings: The black feather of the Raven Queen, Orcus’ mace with the human skull, and the eye and hand of Vecna.

Z’alden notices with surprise that all of the symbols are entwined with a golden chain, as if all three are enchained by a greater power. At the front of the crown, where the ends of the chain meet, instead of a lock, there is a golden letter “A”.

Z’alden has never seen such a crown before, but he knows that whoever this “A” is that created the crown, it must consider itself to be even more evil than those three beings.

As Z’alden stares in fascination, the ever-burning torches cast a weird flickering light on the crown. Suddenly, he catches a gleam of light from the eye sockets of the creature wearing the crown. Most of the head is obscured by dirty, decayed bandages, but both eye sockets are clearly visible. Peering within the sockets, Z’alden discovers that there is a sphere of highly-polished obsidian within each one. He sees his own reflection in the eye, but weirdly distorted. His features look grotesque, and his garb is strange. Instead of the symbols of Bahamut that adorn his garments, in the obsidian eye the symbols are transformed into a darker, multi-headed form – that of Tiamat. Z’alden sees himself put on the evil golden crown. He sits down in an obsidian throne, and picks up a scepter of gold and silver. The figure in the reflection reaches out with his empty hand, beckoning to Z’alden. His hand grows larger and larger until it fills the entire obsidian eye, and then dissipates into a jumble of flickering torch light.

 

Horrified, the cleric steps back, informing his friends of what he has seen. “Great evil lies within and around this decaying monstrosity. Let us send it back to its master – in pieces.”

 

Eric stays at a heightened state of alert, with both swords drawn. "Z’alden, perhaps there is a way to destroy it other than force. Just as it lures you in, beguiling and praying upon weaknesses, may we overcome it with what it fears the most? If hate be the child of fear, then what is the antidote to fear? Love? Whatever the struggle, ours wills must be strong, my friend, for the letter “A” is worrisome. Asmodeus."

 

“Aye, my good friend ranger. Love for another and all that is good. Let us try that most ancient of surprise tactics.” Z’alden steals his will and fills his thoughts with love for his friends, for his mother, and his father. He hopes that somewhere in the Blessed Isles his elven father can hear his prayer for thoughts of kindness and love even when confronted by such evil.

DM: Does the creature waver in the face of the love shown the party?

 

Erik, holsters his swords to join in on Z’alden’s magical moment of peace, tranquility and love. Reaching into his pouch of holding, Erik withdraws a once beautiful flower given to him by a young lady of short acquaintance. He then steps forward toward the bench, drops the flower onto the corrupt mass of bones and winces at the juxtaposition of the the good flower and the decayed, evil flesh. What power hath this simple flower, this token of love and all that is beautiful in the world? Erik then steps back to the group, one hand on each hilt.

 

Time goes by painfully slowly and so Erik looks at Z’alden, shrugs in defeat and inquires, “Z’alden smash?”

 

Just as Erik says “Z’alden smash?” there is a blinding flash of light from the crown. The entire figure is bathed in a glowing aura, making it difficult to see through.

Z’alden looks on in amazement, his mouth hanging open. “My friends, it has worked!” he exclaims. “Father, you have come back to me,” he intones, as he slowly steps forward towards the couch. “I waited and waited for you to come back from Wool’s Hallow, but you never did.” The tears are now streaming down Z’alden’s face as he reaches out with his arms towards the glowing figure, still lying on the couch. “Mother said you had fallen to the orcs and the undead, but I did not believe her. I knew you were still alive, still searching for us…”

Erik turns to Z’alden. “What nonsense is this? That is not your father! It is my beloved Ariadne, returned from the woods where she was lost.” Erik’s face is filled with joy. “Your golden tresses, I can see them, they are so beautiful! I am yours!” He strides purposefully towards the couch.

Felsmon recoils in horror. “You are both mad! Clearly that is my horrible old aunt, Abulafia.” Felsmon’s face clouds over with memories. “Aunt Abulafia, why have you come here? Is it to torture me again with your awful hairy kisses, and to pinch my dragonborn ears?” Beads of sweat are running down Felsmon’s face.

Tira calmly states, “Nay, friends. It is clearly my friend and mentor, who taught me my sorceress ways, and unleashed the chaos within me.” Her eyes shine bright. “Clearly I have much more to learn if I am to reach my full potential.” Tira sheathes her dagger, and pulls out her amulet. “Teacher, I am ready!”

Barrick stands unmoved, his gnarled hands on his great axe. “What is the matter with all of you?” He peers closely at the couch. “I see naught but a mass of corruption and bones, with a blackened and withered flower lying on it.” He snorts contemptuously.

What do each of you do? If you desire, you can roll a die to make a saving throw, or, if you believe in what you see, you can embrace the moment. The choice is yours…

 

Erik does not believe this vision of Ariadne to be real. He tries to clear this illusion from his mind.

 

As Tira is sheathing her dagger, she fully believes that she sees who she thinks she sees. But as her hand touches her amulet her mind falters. If any important person were to appear to her here, it would be her father. She peers closely at her mentor, wondering if he is he, or if he is something else. She tries to not believe

 

The cleric who would so very much like to be the Ranger that his father was longs for this reunion with his beloved father. But, the truth of the love of his mother, the woman who was always there for him, who protected him and cared for him, is just too strong. He girds his will against this apparition. He tries not to believe.

 

Erik, as much as you would like this vision of Ariadne to be real, you know it cannot be her. Tira scoffs as she thinks of poor old Valthrun, alone in this terrible place. Z’alden, your father was a good elven ranger. He preferred the clear green woods, not this dank dungeon.

As your minds clear, you notice in horror that the figure on the couch has arisen. It stands, tatters of flesh, bone, and rags dangling from its limbs. The eyes glow a fiery orange, reflecting the figure of Felsmon standing before it. A glow from the crown bathes the creature in a white light, as it stretches out a bony hand towards the stupefied dragonborn.

With a creak, the jaw of the creature opens. A voice echoes around the chamber, bringing down a shower of dust.

“Who dares to disturb the rest of Acererak? It is your death you have found!”

Erik, Tira, Z’alden, and Barrick, you are all free to act. Felsmon, the choice is yours.

 

“Humph”, mutters Erik. He then moves to “cut and run” Acererak, with the hopes of severing the outstretched, bony limb that is threatening the stupefied Felsmon. After the twin attacks, Erik will shift three staff lengths away.

DM, please describe the room in detail, including dimensions. What do Erik and his companions sense of Acererak? Would he be the purely magical type or one prone to use weapons?

 

Erik whirls forward with the practiced steps of a master swordsman. Both his blades flash in the torchlight, sweeping arcs of death leaping towards his foe.

The undead monster seems to take no notice. His eyes do not move, nor does he flinch. At the last moment, just before the razor-sharp blade would cut into his bony limb, there is a blur of movement. Erik’s eyes widen in surprise as he finds his wrist caught in the bony hand. The strength of the grip is enormous, like adamantine bands, slowly constricting.

Erik’s sword in his left hand completes its downward swing, but then bounces harmlessly off of the white glow which now surrounds both the creature and Felsmon. Erik swears a terrible oath. He knows his aim was true. On another foe, that would have been a devastating, critically-wounding blow.

Then, the creature slowly turns its head, the orange glowing eyes leering obscenely in Erik’s face. The ranger realizes that he cannot escape the creature’s grip. He is caught, held fast like a rat in an overgrown, rust-encrusted trap. The hand constricts further, as pain lances up Erik’s arm.

Felsmon continues to stare stupefied in the undead creature’s direction.

Erik, you are taking ongoing 10 damage. You cannot escape, nor can you save out of the damage.

 

Felsmon will step up to the creature and swing his axe at it using his radiant smite power

 

The cleric levels his gaze at Acererak. “Creature of darkness, it is you who disturb the living. Begone to the vile lands to which you belong! By the Dragon, you shall disturb us no more!”
White radiant light blasts from Z’alden in all directions out to 3 staff lengths to turn the undead Acererak, searing his bony frame. If it is powerful enough, the light will push him across the room, and root him into place – immobilized.

DM: Since companions are in the burst, Z’alden is +15 vs. Will, 1/2 damage on a miss. Any invisible creatures that are undead, elemental, or immortal are also affected.

 

Since Erik knows that he cannot escape Acererak’s grasp, he attempts a wrestling maneuver. Using the creature’s grasp as leverage, Erik pulls his feet off the ground and attempts to hook one leg behind Acererak’s left knee. Erik pulls his other leg’s knee up against Acererak’s abdomen, with the idea of having enough leverage to buckle Acererak’s left knee forward, putting him off balance and bringing them both to the ground. If successful, Erik will try to land such that his razor bracers rake into what little flesh the undead creature has left. If not successful with the takedown, Erik will sweep his cloak over Acererak’s skull, covering the evil orange eyes.

DM: Every round, Erik’s razor bracers deliver 1d10 damage to the grabbing creature. Also, Erik has a +2 bonus to escape grabs.

 

DM: Note that using a radiant power, Z’alden can critical hit on a 19 or 20. The mace’s critical damage on undead is +3d10 radiant damage.

Praying that the radiant light channeled through the symbolic holy mace lashes at Acererak, if the Turn Undead hits, Z’alden will use the mace’s radiant daily power to do an extra 3d10 radiant damage.

 

Tira aims her dagger, then pauses, unclear as to which spell to use. She only has two powers that allow her to hit a foe without doing damage to those close to her intended, and Erik is definitely close to Acererak. Erik’s physical attempt at damage did not go. Seeing Z’alden attempt a radiant attack, Tira decides to try a psychic blast. She fires off her trusty chaos bolt, almost wishing there were other foes, in case the bolt bounces anew after hitting the dusty thing trying to scare us.

 

As Felsmon shakes his head to clear from it the miasma that was plaguing him, the vision of his Aunt Abulafia fades from his sight. Instead, he sees the horrible visage of the foul creature, staring at him with baleful orange eyes.

Felsmon leaps, his axe connecting with the creature with a resounding crack of bone!

Just as Erik lifts his second leg against the creature’s abdomen, he feels the bony grip of the fiend let go. Erik, with nothing to hold him up, tumbles backwards and down, cracking his head on the cold slimy floor. The arm of the creature, severed by Felsmon’s axe, falls down on Erik’s face. Erik feels the little finger bones clawing and grasping at his hair.

The creature’s head swivels downwards to look at its dismembered limb. At that instant, it reels backwards under a double-hammer blow – Z’alden’s radiant light and Tira’s psychic chaos.

Z’alden’s radiance pushes back against the evil white glow surrounding the creature. For an instant, the evil glow holds steady, and then, with an audible rush, the glow dissipates and Z’alden’s holy power flows in to replace it. The mace seems especially attuned against this evil magic, and Z’alden feels an extra surge of power. But, he notices with dismay that some of the power seems to be redirected towards the crown on the creature’s head. Only a small portion strikes the fiend, while the rest is harmlessly absorbed.

Meanwhile, Tira’s psychic blast seems to be having its intended effect. The orange eyes of the creature grow dim and feeble for a moment, and then flare back, but not to their original strength. As Tira looks on with a triumphant smile, the creature stares back at her, murderous intent in its eyes. Tira’s smile falters as she sees a crackling glow begin to form on the crown. The glow turns into arcs of lightning that flicker between the crown and the creature’s eyes, and then lash outward, straight at Tira’s head. An unpleasant tingling fills Tira’s brain, extending all the way down to her toes.

Erik, you have taken a total of 15 points of damage, including both the death grip and the bony fingers.

Tira, you take 19 points of lightning damage, and you are knocked prone.

What is Barrick doing?

 

Erik doesn’t think much of the scalp massage given by the little bony fingers, so he rolls aside and stands far enough away to press an attack with his bow. For starters, he’ll fire off two arrows, hoping to strike twice.

 

Seeing the success Felsmon had with a brute attack against the decaying body, Barrick tries the same, swinging his axe mightily at the creature’s remaining arm.

 

Z’alden does a quick study of the monster. What does he know about this particular creature? What could lead it to be resisting radiant damage? Is it the crown or the monster?

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