Friday, October 22, 2010

The Golden Claw, Pt. I

Mol, Barrakas 9, 998 YK (Day 23).

It has been two weeks since Zil'dejin, Tam'elanath, Lythanis, Stahlstrauss, Eshunu, Garmeth and Lucan arrived back in Lakeside from Winterhaven. Lucan has departed to report back to House Medani. Tam'elanath has returned to his home/shop combination, and Zil'dejin continues to sleep in his shed. Stahlstrauss and Eshunu, who require no sleep, spend the nights in an alleyway, and Garmeth and Lythanis have been sleeping at the Lucky Gnome Taphouse and Inn across from Tam'elanath's hovel. Garmeth has decided to remain with the party for reasons indecipherable: common logic fails with Garmeth's line of reasoning, a fact he's particularly proud of.

Zil'dejin, Lythanis, Stahlstrauss and Eshunu are gathered in the clearing between the hovel and the Lucky Gnome when they are approached by a man. He is wearing red leather armor with gold trimming, and a bright red cape. Both the cape and the shoulder pads of the armor are emblazoned with the same symbol: a stylized gold circle with the letters "RA" in the center. He asks if they are the ones who have just recently returned from Winterhaven.

The party tells him that they are, and he responds that he is a member of the Aurum. Lythanis recalls the historical context of the group but not the significance, and the agent explains that the Aurum is a renowned group of wealthy, individual collectors of objects of historical, arcane, or other significance. The man he personally represents is identified only as Mr. Artauche, a Gold Concordian (a very high ranking member in the Aurum) who has a business proposition for the adventurers. He says that they must agree to accept before he can give them details, but promises 20% up front and the rest after the simple job is complete.

The group eventually accepts, and Artauche's agent explains the details. Mr. Artauche has apparently become interested in an item called the "Golden Claw," an object revered by gnolls. It is quite old, and Mr. Artauche has discovered it is currently located in some ruins north of Vulyar which predate the establishment of Galifar. Some gnolls have indeed taken up residence here, and are worshiping the claw. Stahlstrauss asks if the gnolls are of any importance; the agent replies that they are not part of any known tribe, and are a small, isolated group. He gives the party some prepaid tickets for the Lightning Rail to get to Vulyar from Irontown, and tells them to meet with him in the Singing Serpent in Vulyar when they have finished their job. With this, he leaves. The party also visits the Septarch's Tower at the east gate of Lakeside before leaving on the King's Road going south. Here, Nimozaran the Green, the pompous elderly "septarch" of Lakeside, initiates Lythanis into the so-called "Lakeside Mage's Guild" and teaches him the Enchant Magic Item ritual. With this, the four leave south for Irontown, unaccompanied by Tam'elanath or Garmeth who remain in Lakeside for the time being.

In Irontown, the group is relatively unfamiliar with the area and asks a local man for directions. He is unhelpful and apparently drunk, but points Stahlstrauss in the direction of the blacksmith and is able to give rough directions to the Lightning Rail station. Stahlstrauss and Eshunu then visit the blacksmith, who they discover is Brozan Coalstriker, the brother of Thair Coalstriker (of Winterhaven renown, who has apparently recently escaped from his prison). Brozan is quite taken with Stahlstrauss and gives him a bizarre, double-sided axe for a low price, and fixes a few more spikes onto his frame. Stahlstrauss then explains the situation of the forge in Winterhaven, and Brozan panicks, grabs his hammer, and charges out of the shop, locking it behind him. After this, the four regroup and board the train bound for Vulyar.

At Vulyar, evening is already approaching, and they decide to make haste for the northern path out of the city to get to the ruins. The road gradually disappears, and they find themselves in a wooded area. Following the map, they arrive at the ruins in question, and they go inside.

The first room is slanted upwards, and has a number of alcoves with gnolls standing at the far end, and a large crevasse in the ground between the party and the gnolls. Lythanis notes an out-of-place carving of a skull on the ground, and tries to pull it telekinetically. The effort causes the skull to twist, and gates in the alcoves open and start releasing fine silt into the room. The party acts quickly, and are at first able to impact the gnolls significantly; but, before long, the silt starts sweeping through causing footing to be lost and toppling some of them, dragging them into the crevasse at the far end.

The battle under these conditions is difficult - Zil'dejin nearly suffocates - but they are ultimately successful in defeating the gnolls. They return back to town to gather some supplies - Lythanis hopes to try his new ritual on Zil'dejin's halberd. They go back to Vulyar, and arrive around sunset. They go first to a general store, where a dull merchant sells Stahlstrauss 30 ft. of hempen rope. They are then directed to a place to purchase reagents: an alchemist's shop a few buildings down from the general store. They go where they are directed and find a house with the windows boarded, and a sign over the door reading "Alkemist." The "t," impossibly, appears to be written backwards.

They go inside and see nobody. Lythanis calls out, but gets no response. Stahlstrauss notes a bell on the counter; he hits it, and it detonates (the raw power of the Destructabell!). This prompts a gnome with a van Dyke beard and white hair (save one black streak) named Pock, prone to confusion and sudden loud outbursts, to emerge from somewhere in the recesses of the building. He is able to sell Lythanis some of his spare reagents, and at request (with a small fee) affixes an experimental component onto Stahlstrauss' body. With this, the party leaves, and is again interrupted on the street by the same agent they met earlier that day.

He tells them Mr. Artauche has changed his mind, and must have success within 24 hours. The party begrudgingly agrees (after all, what choice do they have?) and goes back to the ruins, which have been barricaded by the gnolls. The four work together collectively to smash the barrier, and they go back inside past the room now covered in dirt into a room flanked with sarcophagi and ending in a throne made from worked stone. There are more gnolls here, as well as two hyenas.

The front gnolls and the hyenas charge the party in the doorway, but they are fought off by direct assault from Zil'dejin and Stahlstrauss and support from Eshunu and Lythanis (including a telekinetic lifting of one of the sarcophagi and subsequent dropping upon them). They then move to attack the one with a bow at the end; Zil'dejin, with his halberd now enchanted with lightning, charges forward with a very strong attack using his enchantment to his advantage, and knocks the gnoll backwards onto the throne. He suddenly becomes dazed and disoriented, and the party quickly uses this to their advantage. The room is now cleared, and they have only one door to proceed through. The four search the room and find, among more basic treasure, a small figurine which they determine creates an illusory projection of a soldier in a uniform that they do not recognize. Additionally, Zil'dejin sits on the throne and finds the source of the gnoll's disorientation: it presents an illusion of pre-Galifar Karrnath, when the ruins were still an active building. He steps off the throne, and they take a short rest before going further.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Shadow Rift

Mol, Lharvion 23, 998 YK (Day 9).

The party pushes through the ironwork doors and find themselves in a large, high-ceilinged chamber of much better craftsmanship than they found in the rest of the lower levels, despite the relative disrepair. After their eyes adjust to the lighting provided by glowing crystalline pillars in the center of the room, they can see that crimson streams of blood trail across the floor into a set of grates surrounding a square hole in the middle of the cathedral (which Lythanis notes also supports a number of chains, descending below). The blood is coming from a dais at the far end of the room, where a man in a red robe with a tattoo of a human skull chants madly and holds a knife high in the air.

The six begin to advance, thinking this to be the ritual they were sent to stop. Two crazed men approach them from either side of the old cathedral and block their progress directly forward into the room, and begin swinging their axes around crazily.

The group engages them for a time, and the priest (who identifies himself as a member of the Blood of Vol) advances to support the berserkers. Meanwhile, the party is flanked by feral vampire spawn - humanoids that are like incomplete vampires. Also, a creature resembling a warped halfling dressed in dark clothing approaches and begins focusing on Lythanis.

The adventurers fight back the vampire spawn, and eventually cut through the berserkers. Lythanis is felled by the halfling-like creature, but Lucan is able to save him from further assault and helps him back to his feet. Together, they advance on the priest and end his life. They congratulate each other on a job well done, until Valthrun enters the room (following the assurance that it is now safe).

He seems nervous and skittish, and yells in panic about having to stop the ritual. The party seems confused at first, until Valthrun notes the light and sounds of chanting emanating from the hole in the ground. He says that the rift to the plane of Mabar, the Endless Night, is situated below them.

The party descends by the chains into the chamber below, and arrives in a nightmare. The blood from above pours down in horrible falls, creating a pool of blood in the depressed center of the chamber. On the north wall is a huge portal, scribed with ruins and pitch black within. In front of it are more runes, which appear quite sinister. Opposite, a large statue of a demon stands. To the east is a set of steps with smaller statues of the same demon, and an extravagantly-dressed undead human. To the west is another set of stairs, leading to altar fashioned of bone. In front of it is a human wearing heavy armor and a cape, and carrying a large mace. Beside him, another human stands, dressed identically to the priest that had been in the room above them. The heavily armored one is chanting.

As the party descends, the priest calls out to Kalarel, the senior member of the Blood of Vol who is conducting the ritual. The party has never seen him to this point, but has seen his name referenced a number of times in letters, notes, and the like. He interrupts his chanting and turns to laugh at them.

"You fools!" he gloats. "You think to interrupt the ritual now? You cannot stop me - I already have all that I need! With the last component, the Third Sinister Rib, I can complete my task here and open the rift to Mabar! You are far too late!" He laughs out loud. The party turns to Valthrun, who they believed was still in possession of the rib.

Valthrun just stares at Kalarel, who extracts an amulet from beneath his armor and uses its enchantment to warp Valthrun to his side. Valthrun refers to Kalarel as his master, and Kalarel assures him that for his service he will have a position of some importance in the Blood of Vol. Then, Kalarel swears to eliminate the party.

Two dolgaunts appear, warped goblins that Garmeth recognizes clearly. Garmeth is sickened by their forms and charges towards them, but is soon overwhelmed by them. The rest of the party engages the dolgaunts (and now, the priest) as well, except for Lythanis, who stays behind to deal with the undead caster on the stairs behind them. Meanwhile, Kalarel and Valthrun (who has been deceitful this whole time and is actually a rather accomplished caster) support the dolgaunts with spells.

Eventually, the group breaks through the dolgaunts, and Eshunu kills the Blood of Vol priest. The adventurers approach Kalarel and Valthrun, though battered by the attacks of the dolgaunts and the spells. Lythanis finishes off the wight who had been attacking him, and moves up with the rest of his companions. As they draw closer to Kalarel, he uses his amulet once again to move himself and Valthrun to the circle of runes in front of the portal. They appear to be empowered by the runes in the ground.

Garmeth is too wounded to fight now, but the remaining five proceed to assault them. Meanwhile, the seal on the rift grows weaker, and the wretched thing in the portal, a being apparently made entirely of darkness, slips into the world a little more with each passing moment.

Valthrun and Kalarel are then supported by the thing in the portal, and a large fight ensues. The thing in the portal lashes its tendrils over and over. Eventually, Lythanis is able to disrupt the arcane runes supporting Kalarel and Valthrun after a while of concentrated efforts, and the exposed Valthrun is quickly cut down. All the while, the rift grows stronger - reality feels less solid, and the room gets darker until all the torches are extinguished, leaving only the light of the runes on the portal.

At this point, the four statues of the platinum dragon acquired in the crypts on the first floor shatter and burst with light, revealing their true forms: holy symbols of Dol Dorn. The holy power illuminates the room for a moment and heals all who oppose Kalarel and the thing in the portal, allowing Garmeth to rise to his feet. Additionally, to Dol Dorn's loyal follower Zil'dejin, a protective boost in durability is also conferred.

Now renewed, the six concentrate their efforts on Kalarel, who they overwhelm and finally fell, with Garmeth delivering a powerful series of blows as the finale to drive Kalarel to the ground. Nearly dead but completely deranged, Kalarel tries once more to stand to his feet where most would just succumb to death, but his broken body is grasped by the tendrils of the thing in the portal, and he is dragged screaming into the darkness. At this point, the blackness in the portal fades, and the light is restored to the room. Reality feels solid once more.

The party yells a victory cry, and examines the area for anything of use. They find some gold in the altar, and a magic dagger used as part of the ritual. They then return to Winterhaven.

Once there, they do not find any sort of hero's welcome. Indeed, the people of Winterhaven seem quite predisposed to strongly dislike or even hate the party. They first move to Valthrun's tower with the intention of taking any magical items he owned, and try to pick the lock. They are stopped by the town guard, who takes them to Lord Padraig. He has little interest in their business in the keep when the party sees him, and he sends them on their way. They are met by Eilian the Old, their one remaining friend in Winterhaven (though he recognizes only Zil'dejin and to a lesser degree, Lythanis, of the six) who congratulates them for their work on behalf of King Kaius III and gives them a reward of some money. He is then asked why the people of Winterhaven hate them, and he replies with the obvious answer.

"You've threatened townspeople, tried to break into numerous buildings, destroyed longtime resident Thair Coalstriker's forge and sent him to prison, and everyone is quite certain you've just murdered Valthrun. You're really only tolerated now for your efforts in the graveyard." He continues on to express his gratitude and friendship, and finally he concludes by saying Tam'elanath has already left with his own reward back to Lakeside.

The party stays here for a time, and exchange their magical dagger for a potion and a magic horned helmet (carried now by Zil'dejin). But as they find no respite at Wrafton's Inn, they finally decide to depart back for Lakeside, their job here now finished.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Shadowfell Keep, 2nd Floor (III)

Mol, Lharvion 23, 998 YK (Day 9).

Now accompanied by Stahlstrauss and Eshunu, Zil'dejin and Lythanis proceed with Valthrun further into the dungeon. They are met with a fork in their path; on one side, a small passageway leading to a corner, and in front of them, a large set of iron-bound double doors. Thinking it best to eliminate their less imposing options first, they proceed down the small hallway.

The hall ends with a door that has been barred by a single board nailed across it. Scrawled roughly on the board in common script is the word "Closed." Knowing better than to heed such warnings (or perhaps just not caring), Zil'dejin smashes the board and opens the door. The party proceeds, with Valthrun preferring to stay where the light is.

Inside, the room is pitch dark. Lythanis lights a Sunrod, and the room becomes clear enough to see; it is immaculately clean, and he is able to notice a very thin silvery trail on the floor, not entirely unlike that made by a slug. However, nothing else appears to be inside. Stahlstrauss tentatively goes to investigate the end of the trail, which appears to be in a small alcove further down the hall.

As he attempts to get a closer look, the gelatinous form of the trail congeals and forms into one cohesive being: a large Gelatinous Cube. It advances on him too quickly for him to stop it in time, and consumes him in its mass.

The rest of the party springs into action to try and save him, but the cube proves surprisingly durable. However, Stahlstrauss is able to escape with only a small amount of damage to his frame, and the cube moves on to attack the other three, gathered further down the hall. Lythanis, panicking, expends a significant amount of energy to launch the cube backwards, slamming it into the back wall of the hallway. The surrounding area shakes from the impact.

At the far end of the hall, next to where the cube crashed, another alcove exists in the corner. It is blocked by bars and contains two nearly-forgotten prisoners; a Githzerai monk wearing clothing with an elaborate design, and a Half-elf in chainmail passed out on the floor. The impact of the cube wakes them; the monk, Garmeth, rises to his feet from his sitting position, and the half-elf, one Lucan Vrinsk, awakes.

Garmeth sees the situation for what it is - the only opportunity to escape with the gelatinous cube that threatened to devour them before else occupied. He moves quickly, and is able to pick open the lock on the bars that hold them back (though it is easily picked - perhaps by design). Meanwhile, the cube advances on the party again, and engulfs Zil'dejin.

Zil'dejin is having trouble escaping, and so Lucan rushes over to assist him in getting out of the cube. Now free, Garmeth attacks the cube, alongside Lucan and Zil'dejn while the other three attack from the other side. Before long, the cube is worn down and separates from itself, essentially dying (though, it was hardly alive in the first place).

The six then decide to ensure the area is secure before exchanging any words. In an adjoining room, they find two sarcophagi. They open one inadvertently, and the other opens with it; two "corruption corpses" shamble out, masses of constantly-regenerating foetid flesh. They dispatch the corpses quickly, which explode when defeated, and move to the next room.

This room, apparently once a children's bedroom, is now mostly empty. A chest inside has, aside from the items owned by Garmeth and Lucan, some items of value including some jewelry and a Safewing Amulet +1 (taken by Lucan).

They then take the opportunity to talk. The two who were imprisoned were captured separately, but placed in the same "cell" with the threat that if they tried to escape, the cube would eat them (and, indeed, it probably would have). They were not fed or attended to for days, and were more or less left to rot in the darkened halls which had been boarded off, presumably by the hobgoblins. The party explains their reasons for being in the keep, and Garmeth agrees to accompany them until the ritual is stopped. Lucan, who is aligned with House Medani, feels a need to repay the party for freeing him, and to complete his own mission for his Dragonmarked House, though he is not at liberty to reveal what this mission is.

Now numbered at six (plus Valthrun) the party proceeds through the iron-bound doors at the intersection they passed initially. Inside, they are met with the foul stench of death and the pervading sense of imminent danger. They quickly discover that this room is absolutely filled with the dead.

The party engages in a lengthy battle with the zombies, but most are rotted and frail; they are able to cut a swath without much difficulty. Meanwhile, a small gargoyle-like messenger construct attempts to flee the scene as the dead begin to fall. The party is alerted by this, but none are close enough to reach it and stop it in time. Lucan is quite close, but not close enough, and he has no means of making a ranged attack. Instead, he takes the opportunity to demonstrate one of his many peculiar abilities: called "Dimension Swap," he folds the space between himself and the messenger, literally compressing the dimensions so they are standing inches away while before they were several yards apart. They quickly swap places and like an elastic, the space returns to normal. Lythanis is then able to stop the messenger from proceeding.

The room is quickly cleared after that. The party discovers a small tunnel in the wall; it is too small for the large Stahlstrauss and Zil'dejin to fit in, but Lythanis and Garmeth are able to get inside. The room at the end was once attached to the keep, evidently, but this is no longer so. There are some treasures here, including an unusual felt bag, which Lythanis identifies as magical. They are afraid to open it, so they take it to Valthrun to identify, though he is little use in this respect. Eventually, Stahlstrauss opts to reach inside, and pulls out some coins and a potion stored within the impossibly large depths of the bag of holding.

After this is done, the party descends a set of stairs, and stands before some ornate ironwork doors, marked with many images of demons and the like. They gather their wits and then proceed.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Shadowfell Keep, 2nd Floor (II)

Mol, Lharvion 23, 998 YK (Day 9).

With Typhus and Mikhal deceased (only one was really mourned; guess which one), Zil'dejin, Morgue and Lythanis proceed with Valthrun in tow to the hallway that the fleeing hobgoblin attempted to take Typhus to, pursuing some distant but formless telepathic cries that seem to be originating from this direction. They find the hall leads to two separate doorways, one leading north and the other south; they enter the northern one first. On entry, they are noticed by a hobgoblin guard, who flees into an adjacent room and starts yelling about intruders.

Here, amongst a stash of crates and boxes mostly full of rations, they find two weakened bodies chained to the floor. One, a large warforged, lies next to another construct - this one not of Khorvaire origin, and completely unfamiliar. This second construct, made entirely out of crystal, is the source of the telepathic yelling.

There is little time for speech, but the party decides that without the assistance of the paladin and the wizard who accompanied them before, the help of these two (obviously sharing a common enemy, given their current condition) will be invaluable in the coming battle, and so Morgue is able to pick the locks on the chains that bind them and free them. They retrieve their weapons and armor from some of the crates in the room, and prepare to fight the hobgoblins.

The warforged identifies himself as Stahlstrauss, and his companion as one Eshunu, who is incapable of speech (having no mouth, vocal chords, tongue or really any means of producing vocal sound) and can communicate only telepathically. Stahlstrauss is a warrior, created during the Last War as a front line shock troop, and Eshunu is a druid, though little more information is given.

The party engages the hobgoblins by advancing through a side-passage through the north. Zil'dejin and Stahlstrauss charge the main chamber, where they are met with some difficulty by an archer, and a Warcaster using a variety of spells against them, particularly one that causes a kinetic outburst.

Meanwhile, Morgue, Lythanis and Eshunu are assailed by a series of grunts and soldiers leaving the main chamber to attack the weaker party members. They present a huge threat to the suddenly undefended Lythanis and Eshunu, but Morgue, who is (slightly) more adapted for physical combat, tries to hold them while his two comrades fire long-ranged attacks.

The attempt is futile, however. Morgue ultimately gives his life to ensure that Lythanis and Eshunu are protected, and is killed by the assaulting hobgoblins, though his sacrifice gives them enough time to get to safety and kill the hobgoblins from a distance. Morgue's last words are "Screw the opposite!" before passing away on the floor of the keep.

After the battle is resolved, the party talks a little more about their purposes. Stahlstrauss reveals that he and his longtime travelling companion Eshunu arrived in Winterhaven by chance, but were caught off guard by a hobgoblin warband and awoke in the dungeon as they were found. They decide to accompany Zil'dejin and Lythanis (now grieving over Morgue... at least, Lythanis is grieving) for Stahlstrauss' intentions of revenge, and Eshunu's unstated purpose to follow Stahlstrauss.

The four with Valthrun then move to the southern door in the hall, where they are blocked by a portcullis arising from the ground. Stahlstrauss and Zil'dejin work together to break it down, and they proceed into a seemingly empty room. Before long, they are ambushed by hobgoblins from two adjacent rooms - they discover that they have stumbled on the quarters of the hobgoblin Warchief, and he is not at all pleased that they are here.

The battle goes with some difficulty at first, and the presence of the Warchief rallies the other hobgoblins and pushes the party into the hall. But, they are able to stand their ground there, and soon take care of the band, loots a chest owned by the Warchief as well as some crates (including some wine - Zil'dejin leaps at the opportunity), then leaves to proceed further and, hopefully, stop the forthcoming ritual.