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Velcro Zipper presents AEG's - The World's Largest Dungeon!


Campaign Journals

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Andoran

Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Companion Subscriber

That was very informative, Lord Antagonis. You should provide potentially helpful information to the party more often. I'm sure they won't use any of it to their advantage. Now, back to the journal.

The driders are coming and the adventurers only have a day or two to prepare. Now, with Roch busy trying the get right with Nethys, the rest of the crew heads back into the chasm to try to enlist some avian allies. Will Norkor's neighbors turn out to be feathered friends or fowl foes? Find out next in...

DAY 177 - NOW WITH MORE BEAKS!

featuring: The World's Largest Adventuring Party
Roch - Lizardfolk Mystic Theurge
Aria – Aasimar Holy Vindicator of Sarenrae
Nicky Holroyd – Human Witch
T-Bone the Stingy Gorilla – Half-Orc Titan Mauler
Jasper – Human Rogue
Cul’tharic - Lizardfolk Scaled Horror
Pyewacket – Nicky’s silvanshee familiar

So, what are our options?” asked Nicky. By Develdar’s account, three Spider Kings, a few Silinrai and at least two golems were now tracking the party across the chasm. Meeting the driders in open battle seemed like a pretty terrible idea so the group turned to Norkor for advice.

“I’ve prepared the Dark Crown for attacks from below,” the giant began. “but I’d prefer to keep the battle away from here for as long as possible. The last thing we need is to attract the attention of Aphnitern or his court.”

“The plateau to the south might be a good place to make your stand,” Norkor continued. “You could see them coming from a good ways off, giving you a chance to hit them from a distance.”

“Anything else we can use?” Aria asked. “How about the arrowhawks? Will they help?”

“Not likely,” Norkor replied. “They won’t get involved unless their nest is threatened, and just telling them the driders are coming isn’t going to convince them to help.”

“Can’t we offer them something?” asked T-Bone. “Birds like shiny stuff, right? What if we promise them some gems or something?”

“The arrowhawks are no ordinary birds, my friend,” replied the giant. “They’re smart and they take the safety of their flock very seriously. I’ve known them long enough to know a few shiny rocks won’t be enough to sway them.” Norkor paused in thought a moment. “There might be another…wait, no,”

“What is it?” asked Nicky. “We’ll try just about anything at this point.”

“An Morel Menydh, The Black Mountain,” Norkor spoke as he pointed to a great tower of shadow to the west of Aphnitern’s valley. “The arrowhawks have told me of a nest half a mile up from the chasm floor where a roc dwells. They’re simple beasts, but they’re also very powerful. You would not be able to bargain with the creature, but you might be able to coax it out of its lair with the right bait.”

“Otherwise, you could try Mog Fols to the east,” the giant offered. “It is the mist-filled canyon on the other side of the lair of the air elementals. I’ve seen strange creatures there, some like ghostly living smoke and some like large, flightless birds that walked on banded legs. I didn’t like the look of them and never got close enough to their lair to determine if they are truly evil, but the bird-things seemed to have some level of society.”

“Do you think-” Nicky began to ask his familiar, Pyewacket.

“Stilt-chickens?” the silvanshee finished. “After what we’ve seen in the last three days, why not?”

“What in the Nine Hells is a stilt-chicken?” T-Bone asked.

“What in the Nine Hells is exactly right,” spoke Pyewacket with some authority. “The achaierai, sometimes jokingly called ‘stilt-chickens’ or 'pogo-parrots,' are a race of birdish fiends that originated on the plane of Acheron. They’re intelligent but they’re also crude, violent and greedy, and I’d wager money Nicky wants to go talk to them.”

The silvanshee knew his charge too well. “Why not?” replied the witch. “If we can get the evil hell-turkeys and some driders to wipe each other out, it seems like a win-win to me.”

“I actually agree with him on this one,” spoke the celestial kitty. “but that doesn’t mean I’m thrilled with the idea. The achaierai aren’t devils in the typical sense, but they’re cunning and more devious than they appear. If we’re going to do this, we need to be careful.”

***

Mog Fols stretched out ahead the adventurers for miles, but they didn’t need to search long before they found what they believed to be the lair of the achaierai. Wisps of black smoke puffed out of several large caves dug into the west wall of the canyon, and the air had an acrid, reeking scent that stung the nostrils.

“Yoooo-hoo! Anyone home!” shouted the witch in the tongue of devils. “We’ve come to make a deal!”

The canyon suddenly erupted in a chorus of shrieking caws and violent clucks as the achaierai shouted over one another.

“Go away! Awrk!” screeched one creature.

“Or peck your eyes out we will! Waark!” threatened another.

Nicky was kind of at a loss. It had been his idea to speak with the achaierai but, now that he was here, he realized he had no idea how to actually bargain with the things.

“One side, Rapunzel,” Jasper interrupted. The rogue had always found it useful (and in some instances, life-saving) to be well-versed in linguistics, and Infernal was just one of the many dialects he’d studied over the years. “Rasad i g’dai! Lahab an ig!...Raawrk!”

“Caww! To the north our master dwells!” echoed the fiendish fowl from their smoke-filled caves. “Ruler of the black roost, Warr’bk! Leader of the flock, his ebon perch you seek, Squaarkk!”

As if in reply to the shrieking achaierai, a shrill “Craww!” suddenly echoed through the rift from the north. “That way,” Jasper announced.

The party moved along the northwest ridge of the canyon until they finally saw what appeared to be a formation of stone resembling a crude claw at the bottom of a box canyon. There, the achaierai leader, Warr’bk, preened and crowed as a sign of his dominance over the flock, his once-radiant feathers blackened and sooty from a hundred years of washing in the acidic vapors that escaped his throat.

“Hello down there!” Nicky called as the old buzzard glared up at them. “We’ve come to-“

“Squaaarrww!” Warr’bk shouted over the witch. “Ol xailmac lo! What are these amahcapa that approach the qriv of Warr’bk! Cawww! Why do they writhe at Warr’bk’s throne!?”

“I’ve got this,” Jasper sighed before addressing the monster. “Your imminence! A bargain we bring! An offer of flesh for your terrible beak!” The rogue hated the idea of kowtowing to this ludicrous beast, and swore Nicky would pay for this humiliation.

“Then, palomron, what meat tempts the maw of Warr’bk?! Crawwr!” replied the achaierai. “What gain is yours?”

“An alliance,” Jasper spoke. “The driders come to conquer all. You’ll have a feast and victory with our meager aid.”

Black smoke drifted out from Warr’bk’s nostrils as the creature did its best to grin. “Meat Warr’bk does not need and aid Warr’bk does not require,” the foul fowl cooed. “Shining stones and gleaming gems are Warr’bk’s price.”

“Then receive these treasures Warr’bk shall,” the rogue offered. “The driders have a mine and gemstones for the taking when they fall, your, uh, beakiness.”

The achaierai laughingly crowed wisps of stinging mist. “Unworthy and unwise, little worm,” Warr’bk replied. “A promise is not payment.”

The rogue had hoped it wouldn’t come to this, but he’d purchased a sum of jewels before leaving on this trip, thinking he might need to buy his way out of trouble at some point. “Mighty Warr’bk,” Jasper began. “I ask permission to approach your stately perch.”

Proud and fearless, the achaierai consented to Jasper’s request and allowed the rogue to drop into the canyon and approach its rocky nest on his hands and knees. “Nicky, you owe me big time,” Jasper thought to himself as he prostrated himself before the overstuffed turkey. Up close and on even ground, the rogue could see Warr’bk must be a true monster among his kind, even if he still looked like a fuzzy egg with pipe cleaners for legs.

When he was close enough, Jasper slowly reached into his belt pouch and procured a small handful of shining gemstones. “I took these stones from a drider’s corpse,” the rogue lied. “You could have your weight in these treasures.”

Warr’bk watched greedily as Jasper put the jewels back into his pouch but held back the urge to snatch up the pretty stones. The cagey bird could sense the rogue was lying about taking the gems from a drider and, thanks to the rogue’s failed bluff, considered the driders may have no treasure at all.

“A bargain for you has Warr’bk, crauww!” crowed Warr’bk. “Your shiny stones you leave for Warr’bk’s memory. Knowledge of your passing will Warr’bk forget when once the driders come, squak squak!”

Jasper wasn’t amused with the achaierai’s offer or its quacking laughter. “I guess you’ll just have to miss out on all those shiny, glittery gemstones,” he weakly threatened.

Warr’bk only continued to laugh and showed Jasper the way out of the canyon with one of his massive claws. “I knew this was going to be a bad idea,” the rogue muttered as he climbed up to his companions.

"So, the stilt-chickens suck,” the rogue announced once he was back among his allies. “What’s next?”

***

“I agreed to help you on the condition it helps me avenge my father,” Develdar spoke. Unwelcome upon the Dark Crown and disliking of the giant, Norkor, the drow had made his way to the 80-foot plateau south of the mountain to keep an eye out for signs of the driders. “Until I’m certain your plan will fail, I’ll do my part.”

Develdar’s part, along with Jasper, was to act as bait for the driders while the rest of the party prepared a risky ambush. “Pyewacket will fly out and find the driders, then draw their attention this way,” announced Nicky."

“Too obvious,” the drow commented. “If you want their attention without raising suspicion, you start a fire right here. We’ll send the cat when we’re ready.”

Years ago, someone had the foresight to build an observation deck atop the plateau with a pit in its center for a signal fire. A fire just large enough to be noticed from the ground, everyone agreed, would probably trick the driders into thinking the group had camped atop the hill.

“It’s settled then,” Jasper announced. “Anyone who doesn’t want to be here when the driders show up should clear out now.”

The rest of the adventurers descended the cliff and made their way back to the Dark Crown while Develdar and Jasper started building their fire. The second stage of their plan would involve Nicky doing the one thing he seemed to do best, attracting the attention of dangerous beasts.

***

Nearly three hours had passed before the witch finally received an empathic signal that Pyewacket was on the way and, aside from a brief chase involving a wandering xorn hungry for some of Nicky’s loot, the wait had been rather peaceful.

“There’s your target,” spoke the witch as he pointed at a gargantuan cave mouth he’d spotted 200 feet above the ledge he’d landed on to escape the xorn. The arrowhawks hadn’t exaggerated. The cave was easily half a mile up from the chasm floor and perfect real estate for a raptor large enough to carry off a horse.

At Nicky’s request, Pyewacket flew 100 feet up and conjured a quartet of lights that sailed up the side of the cliff and danced at the cave’s entrance. The cave’s throat, however, remained eerily silent.

“Fly higher!” Nicky called to the tiny silvanshee. “Get the lights into the cave!”

Pyewacket gave out a worried yowl and ascended the cliff, keeping the dancing beacons 120-feet ahead and then directed them into the fissure’s black maw. Still, the cave remained quiet.

“I don’t think anyone’s home, Nicky!” the celestial scaredy cat shouted. “Maybe we should pack it in, huh?”

The witch once again invoked his power of flight and soared up to his familiar. “We’re going in,” he directed. “Just stay close to me, keep those lights burning and keep them well ahead of us.”

Strange pellets of bone, fur and feathers, some the size of fat halflings, littered the cavern floor like fuzzy boulders only 60 feet into the tunnel, and it became worryingly obvious the cave was much larger inside than it appeared from without. Nicky landed and began to follow Pyewacket’s lights, taking care not to bump into the regurgitated clumps of ossified animal matter. It seemed the silvanshee was right and, if that were true, the eyrie’s resident might be flying in behind the witch at any moment.

Nicky made the decision to push on into the cave and, somewhere around 400 feet in, he was rewarded with the sudden halt of Pyewacket’s dancing lights. However, the lights hadn’t reached the end of the cave. They’d come up against the side of a massive wall of intertwined bones, feathers, roots and clumps of phosphorescent fungus that stood at least 15 feet tall. The wall circled the floor of a tremendous cavern and was quite obviously a nest for an equally tremendous bird.

Levitating into the air for a better look, Nicky saw what looked like the surface of a waterbed covered in feathers. The bed rose and sank at a steady pace and, spotting the twitch of an immense wing, the witch quickly realized he was in the presence of a sleeping giant.

“Douse the lights!,” Nicky hissed to Pyewacket, stifling the sudden urge to yelp as he floated back down to the floor and began a slow creep toward the cave’s exit. “Out…now,” he whispered.

With Pyewacket’s keen eyes guiding Nicky through the now-darkened cave, the witch managed to cover the first hundred feet back to the chasm. Only luck or comedy could explain how he’d managed to get so close to the monster without waking it in the first place, and he prayed the same might see him to saf-

“Raawwk?”

-------

BONUS CONTENT!
It's an adorable stilt-chicken mini!

Taldor

Lord Antagonis the Generic wrote:
[..] pear-muncher [..]

By gum, that is a pear on his horn. I always thought it was a fish!

Andoran

Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Companion Subscriber

Yeah. You may have noticed I put a little Sculpey pear on the end of the unicorn's horn for the photo from a couple posts back.

Taldor

I saw, but it was blobby enough to be either a pear or a fish, IMO. :-)

Andoran

Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Companion Subscriber

The driders have arrived and the party's plan is underway. Can Nicky lead the roc to his companions on time or will he need some help from his little friend? Will Jasper and Develdar survive a jaunt into the Valley of The Demon Wind or will they be simply blown away? What surprises await the rest of the group atop The Dark Crown? Keep reading to find out!

DAY 177 – A GATHERING STORM

featuring: The World's Largest Adventuring Party
Roch - Lizardfolk Mystic Theurge
Aria – Aasimar Holy Vindicator of Sarenrae
Nicky Holroyd – Human Witch
T-Bone the Stingy Gorilla – Half-Orc Titan Mauler
Jasper – Human Rogue
Cul’tharic - Lizardfolk Scaled Horror
Pyewacket – Nicky’s silvanshee familiar

The fungus in the shallow valley west of The Black Mountain gave off a dull raspberry glow and the prismatic dance of the shimmerweed popped with amber and amaranth the morning Ragnar stepped out of his little cave on the southwest slope of the ebon tower of stone. The dwarf had come out to perform his morning rituals the same way he had for the last near-thirty years when the light show caught his attention. “Too red,” he thought to himself. Somebody was going to die today.

The angry cry of the roc came sometime in the early evening by Ragnar’s reckoning. It was a sound that echoed like thunder and rattled the pots and ladles hanging near the entrance of his cave. Something or someone had wandered into one of the birds’ nests from the sound of it.

The dwarf grunted. “The old buzzards can fend for themselves,” he thought. “They’ll be okay.” Then he remembered the last time the fungal lights bloomed blood and crimson nearly fifteen years ago and he quickly grabbed his pack and rushed out to the slope.

Ragnar caught the tail end of a flash of light high up in the air near the lowest of the rocs’ nests. For an instant, it illuminated what looked like a man in mid-flight. The stranger had fired off some sort of magical bolt at the behemoth eagle shrieking from the entrance of its eyrie. A small bundle of lights was hovering in front of the roc like a lure and the creature seemed to be taking the bait.

“Not this time, leib makk ald haak,” Ragnar thought as he let out a throaty close-mouthed growl. Whoever this bird-murdering bastard was, he was about to find out there were more than rocs living in The Black Mountain. The dwarf’s body shifted and roiled as feathers sprouted from his skin and his nose grew into a hooked beak. Within seconds, Ragnar was airborne and soaring up toward the interloper.

***

Jasper and Develdar had a good 240-foot lead on the driders when they reached the midway point between The Black Mountain and The Dark Crown. The Valley of the Demon Wind stretched out ahead of them, its blasted expanse littered with storm-beaten columns of stone, rifts and pits as if some titan hurricane had rent the earth and raised up territory markers from the flung boulders. Not surprisingly, Nicky was late leading the roc to intercept the aberrations and it looked like the rogues were going to need to proceed onto Plan “B” (as in “Boy, this is gonna suck.”)

The pair of sneaks ran for a rock formation standing across from a 10-15-foot cliff leading deeper into the valley. A gap of about twenty feet separated the column from the cliff so it seemed like a good place to hole up until the driders arrived. Jasper safely slid down the cliff and began to climb the side of the tower when he noticed Develdar was missing.

“Should I lower a rope?” came the drow’s hushed voice. The acrobatic warrior had leapt the distance from the cliff and was now standing above the rogue.

“Show off,” Jasper huffed.

Clearing the cliff was like entering another world. The wind out of the valley, which had howled like a foghorn only moments ago, now screamed the shrill, violent cry of an alarm bell and small pebbles and dust began to stir on the canyon floor. Suddenly, three bolts of arcane force struck Jasper from the south. The driders had at last caught up with the rogues and one of the Silinrai had spotted Jasper hiding among stones.

Jasper cursed and made a quick head-count of his enemies. Only two driders armed with bows and swords and two cloaked drow warriors. Was this it? Where was the rest of the search party? Before he could scan the horizon for reinforcements, a violent blast of wind roared out of the sky.

Something like an immense corkscrew of smoke drilled worm-like from the darkness above the canyon, racing past Jasper and Develdar and coming to a halt before the nearest drider. As the cloud came to ground, it kicked up a thick, blinding hail of debris and shrapnel and Jasper could see the wind was forming the collected detritus into a pair of massive fists. The first blow shattered the drider’s back with a sickening pop, causing it to collapse helplessly before the worm as the second fist connected with the side of its skull. Through the storm, Jasper saw the drider’s head crescent before being shorn completely from its shoulders. Blood, bone and brain matter joined the swirling chaos, and the drow warrior following the drider screamed a silent scream as his terror was lost to the tempest. The Demon Wind, King Aphnitern, had arrived.

***

“It’s a diversion,” spoke the veteran commander. “They’re trying to lead us into an ambush.”

“How can you be sure?” asked her comrade. “What if these two were just sent to keep watch and got sloppy?”

“It’s a diversion,” the commander repeated. “Send two of the Silinrai and a pair of the Isto Kyorl so they think we’re following. We’re going north.”

“Why north? Why don’t we just take these two now and make them tell us where their allies are hiding?!” growled their companion.

“Patience, videnn lani,” replied the commander. “Do I need to remind you of who I am? We’re going north.”

***

“I don’t think it’s working, chief!” Pyewacket caterwauled through the high winds unsure if Nicky was even still nearby or could hear him at all. The witch had swallowed an invisibility potion as soon as the roc left its roost and, without the irritating prodding of his magical blasts, the raptor was quickly losing interest in the chase.

“Sometimes I wonder why I ever agreed to do this gig in the first place,” the familiar thought to himself. “Okay, we tried things Nicky’s way. Time to see what a little diplomacy can do.”

The angry roc continued to batter and swoop at the silvanshee’s dancing lights as the familiar hovered a hundred feet away. Up to now, it seemed the bird hadn’t noticed the tiny flying kitty so Pyewacket let out a distressed yowl and winked the lights out as he approached.

“Er…uh…excuse me, Mr. Roc!” the silvanshee called, wishing Nicky had remembered agathions could telepathically speak with animals several minutes ago. “I…uhm…saw what that man did to you a moment ago and I think it was just terribly rude.”

“Raawwkkk!” screeched the roc, nearly blowing the cat out of the air.

“Me? I’m nobody. I was just passing by when I saw those lights and decided to get a closer look,” Pyewacket bluffed, thanking Korada that most birds are terrible at poker.

“Raaawwkk! Raawkk!” replied the roc.

“Well, that certainly wasn’t very kind of him,” Pyewacket agreed. “How would you like to get back at him?”

“Rawwwkk?” queried the roc.

“Well, you see, the other day I saw that very same human with a group of spider creatures,” spoke the silvanshee. “He might be heading off to meet them right now. What if they come back and try to get into your nest?”

“It’s not a total lie,” Pyewacket thought, feeling a little guilty about this.

“You could surprise them and maybe carry one of them off, let them know you mean business,” Pyewacket continued. “That’d be sure to keep them away!”

“Rawwk! Rawwk! Raawwkk!” cried the roc.

“Tell me about it,” answered the silvanshee. “I know this one human who’s always causing trouble for his friends with his boneheaded schemes! I try to watch out for him but the guy’s a regular dodo, ya know what I mean?”

“RAAWWKK!?” screeched the roc.

“By Sixlife, I’m so sorry!” Pyewacket apologized. “I had no idea!…If it means anything, some of my best friends are avorals.”

***

Ar’Ginine never aspired to become a Spider King. He was a hunter, a Silinrai. The title and the task fit him like a snug web hammock, and he was content to let other driders climb over or murder each other for a prestigious position within the cabal of drider overlords. When word came down that Eletor wanted a group of adventurers tracked down, he was just thrilled to be testing his abilities against something other than a pack of runaway, half-dead slaves. That was before he found himself cowering in the shadows of a deep pit and begging Nocticula to save him as uric acid dribbled down his leg.

Azucar’s headless, broken body hadn’t even stopped twitching when Ar’Ginine cast his invisibility spell and jumped into the closest pit. “Please chase the drow!” the drider’s mind pleaded as he found a dark corner of the hole to crawl into. “Whatever the hell you are, just kill the drow and go away!” In a few minutes, he could sneak out of the pit and report back to his commander. That was the plan anyway.

Only several seconds had passed when a strange light breeze filled the pit, deeper than any air current had reason to blow. The sound of it whistled like playful laughter and Ar’Ginine pressed himself against the wall hoping to escape its warm buffet.

“Udossta Jallil d' Barra veldri uns'aa,” Ar’Ginine whispered as the cloud worm lowered itself into the hole. A beat later, a funnel of torn limbs, blood and viscera erupted from the pit like a geyser.

That was the last time Jasper looked back. Gripping the edges of his enchanted cloak, the rogue vanished and ran for The Dark Crown as if the Nine Hells had been unleashed on earth and were coming to claim him.

***

“…and then he started feeding the paladin like he was some sort of baby bird,” Cul’tharic spoke shaking his head. “Warmbloods.”

Norkor and T-Bone laughed as Aria contained a sudden feeling of light nausea. The group had returned to The Dark Crown and the lizardman was regaling them with tales of his time with the adventuring party as they waited for a sign from the valley. Roch, in the meantime, was still hard at work at the giant’s workbench; occasional puffs of multi-colored smoke or outbursts of tongue-twisting syllables from the theurge’s mouth a sure sign that magic was happening.

“Arm yourselves!” Norkor suddenly interrupted as a croaking caw echoed from the high spire of the mountain. “It looks like we’ve got company!”

The giant’s arrowhawk neighbors circled from their nest and flew out over the south rim of The Dark Crown as the adventurers got to their feet. The first to reach the ledge, T-Bone peered down into the dark valley and searched for signs of movement. Something seemed to be floating up the side of the cliff, and at first the barbarian thought it might be Nicky using one of his flying tricks. Then he realized that whatever it was it was too large to be the witch.

“Flesh golems!” The half-orc yelled. “And they’re flying up the mountain!” but he was only half right.

A pair of driders emerged from the darkness, skittering up the walls of the mountain and the creatures were using their powers of levitation to lift the golems onto the plateau.

“You’re the one who keeps everyone alive, right?” Norkor boomed down to Aria.

“Yes, why?” replied the priest.

“Put this on and stay close to me,” answered the giant as he tossed Aria a tarnished platinum ring and moved toward a pile of boulders at the edge of the cliff.

Donning the ring, Aria found herself surrounded by a blue-white bubble of soft light she might have recognized as the aura of protection given off by a Shield Other spell if she had any training in Spellcraft. Meanwhile, T-Bone drew the massive bow the party had taken from the corpse of the Spider King Noh and took aim at the nearest drider.

The half-orc held his breath and prepared to fire when a trio of thick, black arrows rained out of the sky, two of them coming to rest in his chest.

“Vendui 'sohna, colnbluthen!” called a familiar, deep and rasping voice from high above. “I believe you have something that belongs to me!”

Orbb Valuk Noh, l' Jiv'undus Mortath, was alive!

Andoran

Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Companion Subscriber

The adventurers have survived some pretty hairy encounters during their time in the dungeon, but it seems their luck may have finally run out. With their backs to the wall, the party sent Jasper and Develdar into the Valley of the Demon Wind hoping the powerful King Aphnitern would become their secret weapon. Now Pandora's Jar is open but, this time, it seems there may be no Hope hiding at the bottom.

DAY 177 – THOSE WHO SOW THE WIND…

featuring: The World's Largest Adventuring Party
Roch - Lizardfolk Mystic Theurge
Aria – Aasimar Holy Vindicator of Sarenrae
Nicky Holroyd – Human Witch
T-Bone the Stingy Gorilla – Half-Orc Titan Mauler
Jasper – Human Rogue
Cul’tharic - Lizardfolk Scaled Horror
Pyewacket – Nicky’s silvanshee familiar
Ragnar – Dwarf Cave Druid

Behind you Roch!” Cul’tharic hissed as he raced past the theurge, driving his trident into the empty air. A mist of coppery ichor suddenly splattered the pair of reptile men and, to Roch’s surprise, the tines of the warrior’s fork vanished into some squirming invisible bulk. After their last encounter with the driders, the scaled horror had wisely chosen to prepare a spell that would allow him to detect the slightest tremor in the earth. Combining that with his keen sense of smell, Cul’tharic had managed to impale one of the veiled creatures as it was about to get the drop on his companion. Roch could breathe a sigh a relief but, elsewhere, the battle was not going so well.

“l’ Kyorlin Hiever sends his deepest apologies for not coming to kill you himself!” Noh shouted from the vantage of a force disk hovering high above the adventurers. The Spider King’s sudden reappearance and apparent resurrection had come as quite a shock to the party. “But he understood I would have words for you of more personal matters!”

A hail of arrows rained from Noh’s bow, skewering T-Bone as he stood on the cliff with the weapons the party had looted from the drider’s lifeless body three days ago. “So many words,” Noh grinned.

***

“I thought we came here to fight,” a voice whispered to the drider commander surveying the battle. “At least let me go a few rounds with the giant.”

“Victory is assured to those who know when not to fight,” came the reply. “Hold your position.”

Far below, the battle was going as the commander expected. A pair of invisible Silinrai had used their innate powers of levitation to raise a pair of flesh golems onto the plateau while another pair of the slave hunters moved illusionary driders up the cliff to divert the party’s attention. Meanwhile, a group of six Isto Kyorl, drow Night Guard, slowly and stealthily made their way up the mountain. To prevent the enemy from similar deceptions, the drider commander and her companion hid within the high darkness conjuring bursts of blue flame that clung to the adventurers like pale halos of faerie light.

Returning life to Noh was also proving to be a good decision. The Spider King archer’s superior marksmanship and distance advantage was allowing him to easily lay waste to the party’s barbarian which, in turn, kept their cleric busy concentrating on keeping the brute alive. The adventurers’ cloud giant ally was unsurprisingly devastating in combat, but the next stage of the commander’s plan ensured his contributions were diminished.

Once they’d reached the summit of The Dark Crown, the invisible Silinrai positioned themselves at the far edges of the plateau, placing the flesh golems and several of the party members between them. The hunters then revealed themselves one by one by firing bolts of lightning through the crowd that invigorated the flesh golems while electrifying the hapless adventurers and their cloud giant friend. Only the pair of lizardmen hadn’t been contained and, of the two, only the one darting around the battlefield with the oversized salad fork seemed to be of any concern.

***

“Now would be a very good time for you to cast one of those spells you’ve been working on, Roch,” Cul’tharic suggested to the theurge. Roch had spent the last three days slaving over Norkor’s workbench in an attempt to craft some new incantations to replace his missing spells but hadn’t yet had time to try out anything other than a spell that seemed to suppress the sweltering heat of the chasm.

“Well, there is something I’ve been playing around with,” replied the mystic. “But I’m not even sure it’ll work.”

“Little help here!” Aria shouted from amid of flurry of lightning bolts and flailing golem limbs.

“Well, here goes nothing,” Roch sighed as he cocked his arm back as if to throw an imaginary rock. “Spangladasha Whirlissimo!

A tiny, glistening white orb quickly formed in Roch’s claw, then zipped toward the nearest drider as Roch thrust out his arm. There was a soft “pfft!” sound and a large burst of freezing snow exploded around the creature.

“Maybe you should just reload your crossbow,” Aria suggested, perhaps speaking too soon. The drider’s natural resistance to magic seemed to have protected it from the cold but the cloud of snow persisted in obscuring the creature’s vision.

“Huzzah!” Roch cheered. It was a small victory, but one that gave the theurge the proof he needed that Nethys had not abandoned him.

***

Pyewacket and the gargantuan raptor neared the scene of the battle from the west. The tiny silvanshee had managed to convince the bird its nest would be in danger if it didn’t act, and he could see flashes of lightning arcing across the plateau.

“I hope we’re not too late!” mewed the flutterkitty. But they were.

At the west edge of The Dark Crown, Pyewacket could see a huge, swirling mass of smoke and dust racing up the side of the cliff. It seemed to be carrying a flailing, tumbling ragdoll of a man and, as it crested the summit of the plateau, it ejected the rogue, Jasper, into the air. Battered and dazed, Jasper barely had the strength to reach out for the edge of the cliff and cling for dear life lest he slip the 90 or so feet to the chasm floor.

The laughing, whistling winds of King Aphnitern’s valley were weaker here, but the rogue could still hear them echo in his head as The Demon Wind turned its attention to the assembled warriors on the mountain.

“Raaawwkkk!” screeched the roc, as it wheeled about toward the safety of The Black Mountain. Mighty as it was, the creature was still an animal with animal fears and the sense to recognize the unholy power of the infernal air elemental.

“I understand,” Pyewacket replied. The silvanshee had witnessed the havoc created by Aphnitern’s lesser kin and couldn’t, in good conscience, send this innocent animal to contend with the fury of the King.

***

“Noh, cease fire and disengage now,” came the whispered message to the drider archer. From her vantage high above the battle, the drider commander could see the chaos unfolding on the plateau. The inclusion of the elemental king was a possibility she’d considered but a decision she gambled the enemy too wise to make. “We’re withdrawing.”

“Nindyn vel’uss olva l’ su’aco…” she thought to herself.

***

King Aphnitern scooped one of the remaining driders into the air, breaking its limbs and pummeling its body until it slumped like a beanbag chair before pitching it into the chasm below. By now, Norkor had walloped one of the flesh golems off the cliff and shorn the head from another, destroying it with his massive warhammer and, unaware of Aphnitern’s arrival, the giant had charged off after another of the lightning-throwing driders. The cleric of Stronmaus had been boisterous and unflinching up to now, laughing heartily as he brought the evil driders and their minions low despite his terrible injuries. However, as he turned to face a thick storm of dust and rocks kicked up by the swirling chaos of the elemental king, his grip slipped slightly from his weapon.

Here was the terror that had taken his brother, Zethar, the monster that had left Norkor broken, dying and alone on the rocky field of that accursed valley and an immortal, unholy abomination before Stronmaus himself. Here was King Aphnitern, The Demon Wind, the creature Norkor had secretly feared to face the past forty years. The cloud giant’s pause gave his drider adversary time enough to vanish and withdraw and, as Norkor whispered, “Kyjya vy,” he suddenly heard the anguished cries of his friends. Somewhere within the tempest, Aria and T-Bone were trapped within the whirlwind.

Memories of Zethar’s final words rushed into Norkor’s brain as he tightened his grip on his hammer. He’d warned the adventurers not to involve the elemental in this battle, but perhaps their folly was Stronmaus’ way of telling the priest it was time to finish what he’d started four decades ago. Maybe this was what he’d wanted all along and he’d only needed a push in the right direction to get the job done. All Norkor knew was that today was the day his fate would be decided. Today was the day he would avenge his brother, or join him in the halls of his ancestors.

“Aphnitern!” Norkor howled in the auran tongue of sylphs and djinn. “In the name of Stronmaus the Storm Lord, I challenge you! Release them and face me!” Then, determined to save his friends, the giant charged, hammer raised high, into the cloud of blinding dust and debris.

“The Thunderhead has no authority over me, priest,” replied a hollow, hissing whisper from the center of the maelstrom as the elemental narrowly dodged the giant’s furious blow. “But I will gladly consent to your request.”

Then, with a laugh like the echo of a scream, King Aphnitern launched himself high into the air above The Dark Crown. Pyewacket, who had flown in to offer assistance to his friends, had inadvertently crossed directly into the elemental’s path and, suddenly caught within the whirlwind, could only watch as Aria and T-Bone were thrown to the valley floor.

“Stronmaus, na!” the giant cried as he dropped his warhammer and reached out for the tumbling adventurers. Aria was closest and came within inches of Norkor’s outstretched fingers, but it was too late. His friends’ bodies were dashed and broken against the unforgiving rocks far below.

“Did you think I’d forgotten about you, child of Annam?” Aphnitern wailed. “Did you think I’d forgiven your trespass into my valley? Now, I’m going to do to your little friends what I did to your brother.”

Norkor quickly realized he wouldn’t be able to protect the adventurers from Aphnitern’s attacks. The elemental would force him to watch them die, one at a time if necessary, before he’d ever engage the giant in single combat. “Get to the shelter, now!” he shouted to Cul’tharic, Jasper and Roch.

Nicky’s conjured stone hut still stood upon the plateau, its strong walls offering the only refuge from The Demon Wind and, accepting they had no weapons against the King, Jasper and Cul’tharic regrettably ran for the shelter. As they fled, a burst of snow suddenly exploded around the monster.

“What the hell are you doing?!” Jasper shouted at Roch as he ran past the mystic.

“Helping?” Roch replied.

“Helping?! You might as well try killing a swarm of wasps by splashing water at it!” Jasper exclaimed. “Fly, you fool!”

The rogue was right. King Aphintern seemed completely immune to the freezing blast and the resulting cloud of snowflakes was instantly dispersed by his powerful winds. Worse yet, the theurge had just made himself a target and, witnessing the futility of his attack, Roch turned and fled as fast as his legs could carry him.

“Never run from anything immortal,” Aphnitern hissed in his elemental tongue. “It only attracts their attention.”

Diving out of the sky, the King was on Roch in an instant, swallowing him into his whirling fury. Once again, a thick cloud of debris formed where Aphnitern came to ground and Norkor knew he had only an instant to act if he was to save the spellcaster.

“Ny y’n eur ma, as a’n jevan gast!” the giant growled as he charged into the storm. This time, however, his target wasn’t Aphnitern.

Roch hit the wall of the stone shelter hard and fell to the ground, wounded but still capable of scrambling to his feet and running for the door. As he did, the cloud of debris began to clear.

“Norkor?” Roch spoke, shaking the dizziness from his eyes and clutching his bruised ribs, but the only reply came from the howling wind that cleaved the air around him.

“He’s gone,” a familiar voice finally answered as Roch’s senses returned. Nicky, who had been tailing Pyewacket and the roc, had arrived just in time to witness the giant’s sacrifice. The witch cradled his wounded familiar in his arms. The unconscious silvanshee had been ejected from the whirlwind in favor of the priest. “The elemental… it, it carried him away. There was nothing I could do.” Inside the shelter, the adventurers planned out their next move.

***

“Where the hell did you come from?” Jasper asked the strange dwarf who’d rushed into the stone hut ahead of Cul’tharic.

“My cave,” Ragnar replied as if the rogue shouldn’t be surprised to hear it. It had been a long time since he’d spoken to anyone aside from his faithful animal companion, Arkansas, and he was a little out of practice.

Ragnar, in the form of an eagle, had followed Pyewacket and the roc to the mountain hoping to find the man responsible for riling up the bird. He would have turned for home as soon as he saw the roc heading back, but something caught his attention; the memory of a day fifteen years ago when he’d discovered the nest of a dead roc and its young and evidence of a drider attack. Only one hatchling, hidden under the corpse of its mother had survived, and the dwarf had sworn he’d never allow such an attack to occur again.

“Now, which one you here is the bird-hater?” Ragnar growled.

Nicky apologized for intruding into the roc’s nest and explained the situation to the dwarf while his companions quickly formed a plan.

“That thing could be back any moment,” Jasper spoke. “I say we get out of here now.” The rogue’s physical wounds had been healed by the druid, but he wasn’t feeling so good about what had just happened. Afterall, it may have been a group decision to draw Aphnitern to the driders, but he was the one who actually led the thing to the mountain.

“What about Norkor?” Roch asked. “Shouldn’t we look for him?”

“We wouldn’t last three minutes in that valley,” Jasper replied, the quick, unceremonious deaths of the Silinrai still fresh in his mind. “I think Norkor did what he did so we could get away.”

Ragnar considered his options. He could just go home. These strangers were obviously trouble, dangerous to be around and sure to get him killed. On the other hand, farming mushrooms and losing at dice to the local xorn for the past thirty years was getting kind of stale.

“Grrr, fine,” huffed the dwarf, secretly happy to have some company over who wouldn’t keep eating his stone 12-siders. “You can all come to my place.”

Andoran

Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Companion Subscriber

Now that that is out of the way, I figured some of you might be wondering about some of the spells getting tossed around the dungeon lately. You may have noticed Radija's floating force disks don't act like normal Floating Disks or maybe there are some questions about Cul'tharic's ability to use any spells at all. Since Roch finally managed to put together a couple new spells, I figured this would be a good chance to present them to the readers and clear up any confusion about the magic being used. I'll start with Cul'tharic.

This might be common knowledge to some, but Scaled Horror (Cul'tharic's prestige class) is a prestige that was introduced in Savage Species. Among other things, it allows a reptilian or amphibious warrior to cast Ranger spells. Cul'tharic typically fills his few slots with low-level Divination magic as a means of communicating with his ancestors and nature when the party needs guidance. To that end, one of his first-level slots is always filled with Omen of Peril, a weaker version of Augury that is found in the Spell Compendium.

Radija's force disks are another product of 3.5 Spell Compendium magic. The original text for WLD states that Radija uses a standard floating disk spell to fly around The Barrows. The writers must not have done their homework because anyone familiar with 1st level spells knows Floating Disk doesn't work that way. Still, I liked the idea of an evil factory boss supervising his slaves from a floating disk so I did some looking and found Greater Floating Disk in the Spell Compendium. The improved version of the spell lasts an hour per level and allows the caster to ride the disk at any height off the ground at a speed of 20ft per round. I decided to give Radija a slightly tweaked version of the spell (I changed the diameter of the disk so he could actually stand on it,) and swapped out one of his fourth level spells for it.

Finally we get to Roch's new magic. Anyone who's read up to this point knows the Mystic Theurge got spanked by his deity for irreversibly destroying a powerful spell and lost his ability to cast all but cantrips. To atone, he was presented with the challenge of drafting up a bunch of new spells nobody had seen before.

Here's how it works:

I've set a point goal Roch has to reach in order to get his spells back. He doesn't know the total he has to reach, but he now knows the level of the spell equals the amount of points he earns for entirely new magic. Spells based on pre-existing magic are only worth half their level rounded down. Though he's lost access to his normal spells, he can still fill his slots with any spells he's created.

During the last session, we learned Roch has successfully created two spells. Yes, three days seems kind of fast to develop two new spells with only a small workshop and a smattering of borrowed material components but, as with crafting, I've shortened the amount of time required because the party doesn't usually have weeks or months to do this stuff. Anyway, here's what he's got so far:

Endure Elements, Mass:

School - (abjuration)
Level – cleric/oracle 3, sorcerer/wizard 3
Casting
Casting Time - 1 standard action
Components - V, S
Effect
Range – touch
Target – one creature touched /level
Duration – 24 hours
Saving Throw – Will negates (harmless)
Spell Resistance – Yes (harmless)

This spell functions like endure elements, except it affects one creature touched per level of the caster.

Point Value (PV) = 1

I'm sure most GMs have houseruled some version of this spell, but I never did and Spell Research is one of the reasons I didn't. Most of The Chasm (Region M) is a sweltering, dangerously hot place where the PCs could die from exposure so they've been using Endure Elements to stave off the heat. Communal Endure Elements is nice, but I didn't see any reason to disallow a slightly more powerful version of the spell.

Roch’s Blanketing Snowburst:

School - (Evocation, Cold)
Level - Wiz/Sor 2
Casting
Casting Time - 1 standard action
Components - V, S, M (dust and water)
Effect
Range - Medium (100ft +10ft per level)
Area - Burst (10ft. radius)
Duration - Instantaneous and 1 round
Saving Throw - Reflex half
Spell Resistance – Yes- partial, see description

Description – This spell generates a burst of cold and snow that momentarily obscures vision within the affected area. Creatures within the area of effect take 1d4 points of cold damage per two caster levels (up to a maximum of 5d4 damage at level 10.) In addition to the cold damage, the affected area is filled with flakes of snow until the beginning of the caster’s next turn. The snow obscures all sight, including darkvision, beyond 5 feet. A creature 5 feet away has concealment (attacks have a 20% miss chance). Creatures farther away have total concealment (50% miss chance, and the attacker cannot use sight to locate the target).

A moderate wind (11+ mph), as from a gust of wind spell, immediately disperses the snow. A fireball, flame strike, or similar spell burns away the snow in the explosive or fiery spell's area. A wall of fire burns away the fog in the area into which it deals damage.

The damaging aspects of this spell function underwater, but it does not produce a cloud of snow. Spell resistance protects a creature from the cold damage produced by this spell, but does not interfere with the obscuring effect.

PV = 2

Roch's first entirely new spell. Basically, the way this works is the player sends me a description of what he wants the spell to do and gives me his suggested components, casting time, etc. He doesn't know the lingo as well as I do so I turn all that into something that sounds official and, provided he makes the Knowledge and Spellcraft checks, we've got us a new spell.

I like this spell. It reminds me of Sound Burst; a spell that's a little too good to be 1st level but not powerful enough to really crack the upper echelon of 2nd. It's a solid "back pocket" spell that combines damage and obsfuscation, making it a good spell for tactical withdrawals.

Cheliax

Bah! So the handbag can throw a magic snowball now, whoopity-doo! It didn’t save his friends when King Aphnitern dumped them off that cliff like he was dropping a pair of visiting diplomats into a pit of alligators (note to self: expand pit, capture more alligators.) Speaking of Aphnitern, that’s why I’m here. Now that the cretins have been introduced to the perfect storm, I thought I’d pop in to explain a few things I’ve learned about The Demon Wind; you know, to drive home the point that they don’t stand a chance against him.

King Aphnitern, The Demon Wind:

According to my scholars, King Aphnitern was one of the original prisoners of the World’s Largest Dungeon. Supposedly the unholy offspring of the Elemental Prince of Evil, Yan C-Bin, and some powerful demon or devil (though some legends suggest his father was really the Demon Lord, Pazuzu,) Aphnitern was feared and reviled throughout the planes for his malevolence and the army of evil creatures of the air that picked over the wreckage of his conquests like carrion birds.

The region the adventurers are in now, Region M or "The Chasm" as it’s now known, used to be just another part of the dungeon. The desolate plain north of The Barrows was basically a prison yard where the least dangerous inmates were sometimes allowed to roam. Aphnitern’s cell was located nearby, but the elemental king was deemed too dangerous to be allowed to soar the skies above the yard for any length of time. The eternal torment of being confined to a small, hermetically sealed chamber infuriated Aphnitern and drove him to greater and greater madness and, when the dungeon was ruined by the earthquake, the elemental escaped.

Aphnitern went on a killing spree, indiscriminately destroying demons, angels and even other elementals as he made his way out to the vast plain to the north. There, he carved out a “kingdom” within the natural valley between The Black Mountain and The Dark Crown, where he and his court killed any creatures unfortunate enough to find their home.

However, Aphnitern eventually came to realize his kingdom was just another prison cell and that he’d never be able to return to the endless skies of his home plane. He took his frustrations out on the members of his court and the survivors abandoned him, fleeing to the Dark Crown where they continue to hide from his wrath to this day. Some say his only remaining servants are the hot, howling breezes that blow though his valley and that they alert him to the presence and location of any creature fool enough to enter his domain.


Velcro, I've read your campaign journal starting from post 1 and I have to say its been quite enjoyable. Keep up the good work!

Taldor

Hopefully not everyone will die at this point in the game...

Andoran

Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Companion Subscriber

TPKs are never my goal, but it does seem like a very real possibility at this point, doesn't it? As with other regions we've explored, I do intend to write up a synopsis of both Regions I and M, but I'm waiting until we finish both because the two regions are so closely connected plotwise. That said, here's a little preview:

I really don't like the way these regions were designed.

I never liked the Dark Sun or Ravenloft settings because they felt oppressive; as if nothing the PCs did could ever change how terrible things were in those worlds. That's how Regions I and M feel to me. It doesn't help that the writers made alot of errors in the monster statblocks for Region M. Radija's misuse of Floating Disk is pretty minor compared to the doubling of Hit Dice I found for certain monsters. I needed to replace the rocs' stats entirely and rewrite King Aphnitern from scratch because they gave him somewhere around 50HD. I'll get more into all of this later. Suffice it to say I'm trying to work with what I've been given because that's been my plan, but I'm definitely making rewrites and pulling some punches. Of course, my players also freely admit they occasionally pull some boneheaded moves that get them into deeper trouble.

The next session should be posted within a few days so we'll see then if it's time for an entirely new group of adventurers to drop into the dungeon. Until then, thanks for reading and I'm glad you're enjoying the ride.

Andoran

Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Companion Subscriber

This is it, folks! The party is down two members with the driders hot on their trail and little time to revive their fallen companions. Will anyone survive the coming battle? Also, if the enigmatic Nielial truly is leading the driders and Noh has already shown himself to the party, who is the third Spider King? When the foul creature's identity is finally revealed, the adventurers are in for a terrible surprise and put to the ultimate test!

DAY 178 – DEATH AND RENEWAL

featuring: The World's Largest Adventuring Party
Roch - Lizardfolk Mystic Theurge
Aria – Aasimar Holy Vindicator of Sarenrae
Nicky Holroyd – Human Witch
T-Bone the Stingy Gorilla – Half-Orc Titan Mauler
Jasper – Human Rogue
Ragnar – Dwarf Cave Druid
Cul’tharic - Lizardfolk Scaled Horror
Pyewacket – Nicky’s silvanshee familiar

I’ve never seen how this works,” Nicky remarked as he stared down at the slowly enlarging meat-cocoons on the floor of Ragnar’s cave. “It’s actually pretty gross. They’re kind of like big tumors.”

“That’s why I usually keep the bereaved out of the cave while it’s happening,” the druid replied. “The natural world ain’t always ducklings and snowflakes, kid. Your friends’ new bodies need a safe place to grow, and those ‘tumors’ are basically wombs feeding them what they need to rejoin the living.”

Nicky held back the urge to vomit before daring to ask, “What…do you do with the, uh, wombs, you know, after?”

“Usually?” Ragnar responded without missing a beat. “I stuff ‘em with mushrooms and spit-roast ‘em over a fire before enjoying them with a mug of beer; does wonders for the libido,” he said with a laugh.

The witch quickly vacated the cave at that, hands over his mouth to contain the remnants of his last meal that were no-less eager to vacate his stomach. Outside, Roch and Cul’tharic stood watch near the dwarf’s mushroom garden (the sight of which caused Nicky to spray chunks through his fingers.) It had been nearly 18 hours since they’d fled The Dark Crown, and there’d been no sign of the driders or Aphnitern. Only their drow ally, Develdar, had emerged from the east, shouldering a pile of gear he’d looted from their dead companions, Aria and T-Bone.

“You’re friends’ remains lay scattered about ninety paces south of the giant’s mountain,” he’d reported, allowing for Ragnar and his roc companion, Arkansas, to locate the bodies of the deceased for reincarnation. “This is all I could carry. I thought it best not to leave it for the surviving driders.”

Develdar had fled south after getting separated from Jasper and only arrived to The Dark Crown in time to see Aria and T-Bone pitched from on high. Unwilling to risk Aphnitern’s attention, the drow hid from the battle and only came out after he was sure the elemental was gone. Then, securing the weapons and bags of the deceased heroes, he slowly and stealthily made his way west, doing his best to track the rest of the party. Now, the drow was gone again, off scouting the chasm with Jasper for signs of incoming trouble.

“Anything yet?” Nicky asked after recovering and wiping his hands clean on the fur curtain Ragnar used as a front door.

“Nothing,” Roch answered. “Maybe the driders think we’re all dead?”

“That’d be the only favor King Aphnitern did for us,” the witch commented, thinking back to how the elemental had killed their friends and absconded with the cloud giant, Norkor.

“Any word from Pyewacket?” asked Roch. Nicky had sent the silvanshee to once-again treat with the roc in the high cave.

“Only that the bird was gone when he got there,” the witch replied. “I sent him back up to wait. If the driders are still after us, we’re going to need all the help we can get.”

***

“I know what she said, but I say we take them out now,” came the angry hiss of Noh’s companion. “Don’t you want to make them pay for what they did? I know if somebody had come into my home, scrambled my brains and then killed me and looted my corpse like I was some common wandering monster trash, I’d be pissed! They might be in there reviving their companions as we speak! I don’t care if the zhuanth elg'caress used to be some kind of war hero! We need to strike now! ”

“Vel'drav l' vholk zhah sseren?” the Spider King blacksmith laughed. “Fine. I agree. Their forces are split, and the giant is nowhere to be seen. I don’t think even l' zhennu sut'rinos would pass up this opportunity for victory when the enemy is so clearly outmatched. Besides, think of the look on her face when she returns to find we are halfway back to The Barrows with Eletor’s new pets!”

“Only halfway?” chortled the other with laughter like a choking rasp. “I think you underestimate our prowess in battle, ussta abbil! You’ll be drinking fluids from their witch’s corpse in the warm comfort of your forge before she returns!”

***

Aria and T-Bone’s new bodies were still a half-hour from emerging from their cocoons when Thy’amyn arrived at the base of The Black Mountain, calling up to the adventurers from within the glow of the phosphorescent fungus. The only surviving Silinrai from the attack on The Dark Crown, Thy’amyn had tracked the group back to Ragnar’s cave for his masters and come to deliver a message.

“We have your friends, colnbluthen!” Thy’amyn shouted. “The dwarf and the halfling! They were captured passing through The Barrows! We know what you are planning! They will be killed if you do not surrender!”

“We’ll see about that,” Nicky whispered to Roch from within Ragnar’s cave. “Stall him.”

“How?” Roch replied.

“Just be yourself. That always seems to work pretty well,” retorted Nicky. “Now, hush! I need to concentrate!”

Nicky dug into his bag and procured the Master Eye he’d been given by the theurge while Roch blustered his way through a dialog with the drider. The party had wisely chosen to give Shi one of the smaller telepathic eyes as a means of communication, and the witch prayed the cleric was still in a position to answer the call.

Moments passed as Nicky reached out with his thoughts through the crystal sphere, but Roch was an old pro when it came to rambling incoherently and was able to keep Thy’amyn occupied while the witch waited for a reply.

“Hello,” came the familiar voice of the dwarf priest.

“Shi! Are you-“ Nicky began before being cut off.

“You have reached the crystal thingy of Shi and Riswan. We’re not here to answer your call right now, but feel free to leave a message after the tone…boooop!” continued Shi’s voice.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Nicky groaned. “Did you seriously just say ‘boooop’?”

“Yes,” replied Shi. “Was it convincing? The driders have been trying to contact us for days, hoping to figure out where we are. How are you and the kids?”

“Doomed, I think, I’ll have to get back to you later,” Nicky concluded before cutting off contact with the cleric and calling out to Roch. “Tell that drider we know he’s full of crap!”

“They aren’t taking the bait,” Thy’amyn quietly messaged to his commanders. “What now?”

“They’ve proven headstrong in the past,” Noh whispered in reply. “Provoke them.”

“You’ll regret that you didn’t surrender!” Thy’amyn yelled up to the adventurers as he prepared to cast a spell before realizing the wisdom of the Spider King.

“So will you!” Nicky shouted as he ran from the cave. The drider hadn’t even invoked the first syllable of his spell before the adventurers were on the attack!

***

“They must still be using Radija’s magic to evade us,” Develdar remarked as he scanned the valley for signs of the driders. “Perhaps the Rot Summoner made them a wand? Noh’s legs are too weak to carry him. He would need many of the disks to keep up with the others.”

“Maybe,” Jasper agreed. “Or maybe one of the hunters is just covering their trail. Could be they only send for the gimp bastard when they’re about to attack. Either way, I’ve got a bad feeling they already know about the cave.”

The pair had been darting through the shadows of the chasm for several hours searching for the driders, but the creatures were nowhere to be seen. Earlier, they’d spotted half a dozen huge air elementals racing through the sky toward the west but the things shot south as soon as they neared the entrance to Aphnitern’s valley. A few hours later, a single roc soared overhead in near silence, its great wings giving away its position as they beat against the balmy winds. The rogues had jumped into a nearby crater to avoid detection and the majestic raptor continued on its way. Now, there was a grating shriek from the west and a sound like a stampede echoed across the valley.

“There! Stay low!” Jasper hissed as he pointed toward what appeared to be a swirling cloud of ash and dust rumbling along the chasm floor. “Aphnitern’s court?”

“Usstan talinth naut,” replied the drow, his superior vision at work. “They appear to be…birds?”

“Do they look like they’re running on stilts?” Jasper replied but, even as he asked, the achairerai came into view, their massive leader, Warr’bk, leading the charge. “Crap,” sighed the rogue.

***

“Agghhh!” Nicky howled in pain as another arrow lodged itself in his leg. The witch’s appearance was Noh’s moment to strike. Thy’amyn quickly hurled a magical web into the cave entrance, trapping Nicky and sealing off the party’s retreat, and the Spider King archer immediately took advantage of the spellcaster’s entanglement to break cover and fire a volley of arrows at his hated foe.
“I missed you back at the mountain!” Noh bellowed, grinning from his floating perch. “But I don’t seem to be having that problem now, mwa hah hah!”
The pain of being skewered by Noh's arrows was bad enough, but the hackneyed villainous repartee was more than Nicky could bear. Struggling in the webs, the witch unleashed a blast of flames that seared his flesh as it burned the sticky strands around him.

“Cul’tharic, Enuk-Chuk!” Nicky yelled as the lizardman doubled in size. “Deal with the mook! I’ve got Noh!”

“Sic ‘em, Arkansas!” Ragnar shouted to the young roc nesting near the entrance to his cave. The bird lifted into the air and tore off after the hovering drider as Roch reloaded his crossbow and fired another bolt at Thy’amyn.

“I see returning from the dead didn’t help with fixing your brain, Noh!” Nicky shouted. “You must still be an idiot to come here with just that loser!”

“Nicky!” Cul’tharic hissed. “They’re not alone!” The lizardman quickly plunged his trident into the air at something charging at him as he reached the bottom of the hill. Once again, his primitive scaly magic had warned him of unseen danger.

“Zav, tizzin!” came a hoarse roar as the invisible creature’s flaming sword blazed into view, slashing through Cul’tharic’s chain shirt and splitting his scales. “But you’d have been smarter to give up!’”

A six-armed hulk stood before the lizardman, a flaming greatsword held in one pair of its arms while it wielded a wicked chain and a pair of small, bladed crossbows with its remaining hands. Its sinister eyes glowed with white fire and a belt of skulls rattled about its waist. Whatever this thing was, it was no drider.

“Please allow me to introduce you to Arioch, Lani d’lill Menvis d’ Ssran!” Noh laughed. “He has been waiting a long time to meet you! I believe you knew his brother!”

Roch and Cul'tharic had heard the name mentioned in whispers back in Region I. "The Keeper of the Path of Worth" they called him; a demonic gatekeeper who tested all who sought entry into the lair of the Spider Kings.

“Which one of those mutant abominations was this thing’s brother, Madness or Anguish?” Roch commented.

“Come now,” Arioch boomed as he parried another blow from Cul’tharic while firing one of his crossbows at the theurge. “You don’t see the resemblance?”

The realization hit Roch at the same time as the monster’s bolt. The multitude of limbs, all the little hints dropped by various members of the rebellion, but never in the presence of their three-armed leader; Arioch was Lorath’s brother!

“That reminds me,” the beast grinned. “Lorath says, ‘thanks for nothing!’” Then like a burning meteor out of space, Arioch’s fiery blade crashed down on Cul’tharic’s formian trident, splintering the weapon into a mist of resin shards.

“Cul’tharic, look out!” Nicky cried even as the reptile was torn from his feet by Arioch’s razor-spiked chain. The witch quickly conjured a small sea of writhing tentacles to grapple Arioch, but the brute was too powerful. The beast waded through the squirming probes as easily as he’d trudge through an overgrown lawn.

“You might want to concern yourself with your own shinulin,” Noh teased as he rained arrows down on the witch. At the same time, Thy’amyn suddenly reappeared clinging to a cliff only 90 or so feet away. The Silinrai had vanished after Arioch revealed himself, using his invisibility to move into position to fire a bolt of mystical lightning through Nicky and Ragnar.

The witch and the druid reeled from the tag team tactics of the driders, but fought through the pain to deliver a counterattack. Perhaps it was the lack of combat experience over the past 30 years, but the dwarf had thrown most of his best attack magic at Thy’amyn during the first few seconds of the battle. Now, rather than finish the wounded Silinrai, he turned his attention to Arioch.

“Hey bozo!” Ragnar called. “Chill out!” A thick mist of ice crystals suddenly formed around the monster but, to the dwarf’s surprise, Arioch seemed unaffected by the numbing cold. Likewise, Nicky was having some difficulty with his target.

“That’s enough playtime for you, Noh!” the witch called. “It’s time to send you back to daycare! Mentatus Retardo!” Nicky had impaired Noh once before with this spell and chanced that the archer hadn’t learned from their past battle. Little did he know the drider’s Spider King allies had supplied him with a potion that would provide him a small measure of protection from the mind-affecting magics of good creatures; a potion he’d swallowed prior to this assault. Not that any of that mattered since Nicky failed to pierce Noh’s natural resistance to spells.

“Awww, what’s the matter, lotha c’nros?” Noh cooed. “Performance anxiety?”

“I don’t get it. This usually works,” fretted the witch.

“It’s okay, Nicky. It happens to all of us,” Roch soothed before slinging his crossbow and racing downhill to help Cul’tharic.

***

By the time Jasper and Develdar caught up with the achaierai, they’d already gathered in the shadow of The Black Mountain. Flashes of lightning and the sounds of battle emanated from the base of the mountain, and the rogues knew they’d arrived too late but the infernal avians were keeping their distance.

“Why aren’t they moving in?” Jasper wondered.

“Perhaps they wait to pick off the survivors,” Develdar suggested. “Rhoquil.”

“That wouldn’t surprise me, but how’d they know to come here?” replied the rogue. “How’d they know there was a fight going on at this moment? Somebody led them here, or at least pointed the way.”

“Not a friend, I wager,” spoke the drow. “We should see to your companions.”

Jasper was shocked at Develdar’s suggestion. “Do I detect some level of concern for the well-being of a bunch of naut-ilythiiri?”

“Xun naut inbau l’ xusst ul’hyrr,” explained the warrior. “I would happily sacrifice the lives of your friends to fulfill my mission. However, I have yet to see that your plan to collapse The Barrows will fail. Hwuen t’yin, I see reason for your companions to live.”

“You’re just a big softy at heart, aren’t ya?” Jasper chided.

“The Ilythiiri have no hearts,” Develdar grinned. “A m’thain uses a pair of shears to cut them out and feed them to demons shortly after we are born.”

“Oi,” Jasper laughed, not entirely sure the drow was joking. “And this is kosher?”

***

Nicky’s smoldering corpse fell to the ground as Thy’amyn loosed another bolt of lightning at the spellcasters. It was the third such attack the heavily wounded drider had launched at the adventurers without retaliation, and he was actually beginning to feel a little insulted they considered him such a small threat.

“I think I just killed one of them, and that dwarf and his bird still aren’t coming after me,” the Silinrai thought. “How come they always pile onto the big guys when it’s the goons like me who are the easiest to kill? Shu. I don’t even have a real name. It’s like somebody just stole a word off a cereal box because I don’t have enough of a backstory to matter.”

Speaking of the dwarf’s bird, Arkansas was currently vexing Noh with hit and run attacks that did more to irritate the drider than cause him any harm. With the witch down, the Spider King could turn his full attention on the offending avian, but the young roc’s downy feathers and strong bones had deflected most of the arrows Noh fired at him. Changing tactics, the archer waited until the bird flew in close and unleashed a fanning blast of multi-colored light into its eyes.

Arkansas must be colorblind because the bird quickly shook off the stunning spray, saving himself from a 200-foot drop. Screeching with anger, the roc drove past Noh once more, tearing a few scales from the drider’s chitinous hide.

“I tire of these games, suru!” Noh hissed. “I won’t be humiliated by some glorified mine canary!”

The Spider King fired a salvo of arrows that drilled toward the roc’s wings and breast. An expert flyer, Arkansas managed to weave away from a killing shot but couldn’t avoid all of the arrows. Wounded terribly, the bird shrieked in pain and wheeled for his master’s home only slowing to squeeze his large frame into the cave.

“Er, uh…I think I left a kettle boiling!” Ragnar blurted before running back into his cave with his pet. The dwarf was suddenly having second thoughts about granting sanctuary to these strangers and half-considered turning them over to the driders in exchange for the lives of himself and his bird. Only Roch and Cul’tharic remained to offer any resistance to the Spider Kings and, though they’d managed to wound Arioch, the gegenes giant was far from toppling.

“You lot caused a mess of trouble down south,” Arioch boomed, coating the lizards in a net of organic webbing. “But I hear you took care of The Twins so I’m gonna make this quick.”

“Wait! You can’t kill us!” Roch reasoned, stalling for time. “Eletor wants us alive!”

“L’ Kyorlin Hiever can still have you,” the monster growled. “He might miss the sound of your screams, but all he really needs is the meat! And when Eletor gets he wants, I get what I want!”

“Revenge?” chanced the mystic.

“Nah. That’s just a bonus,” Arioch grinned. “The Orbb Valuken family’s been down to seven for awhile now. I bring you in; I get to be number eight.”

Cul’tharic’s reptilian brain turned Arioch’s words over in his mind, then snatched onto an idea. The scaled warrior wasn’t particularly bright, but he made up for that in common sense.

“He told you this? He gave you his word?” the lizardman asked, drawing the creature’s attention while Roch slowly cut through the webs with his knife (the thought of using his claws hadn’t yet become second nature to the former dwarf.) “And you believed him? You are an idiot.”

“Howabout I kill you first, boot?” Arioch glared. “Turn you into a seat cover for my new throne.”

“Is that the throne at the children’s table where they seat the slow learners?” Cul’tharic replied. “What makes you think Eletor will keep his promise? He cares only for his people, and you are not his kind.”

“Wuzza?” grunted the giant as Roch continued to saw through his bindings.

“Noh may be crippled, but he is at least a drider. What kind of creature are you?” the lizardman continued. “Eletor might say you are a king, but you will be his fool. He will only let you believe you have power. Did he also say you could rule the south region?”

“Actually…” Arioch began as he made sense of Cul’tharic’s words. “Hey, Noh!” he shouted. “Get your yibin t’zarreth down here! We need to talk!”

The bonds holding Roch snapped as his knife finally made their way through the webbing, but Arioch had taken notice of the squirming theurge. The brute fired another layer of strong filament over the theurge and admonished him for the escape attempt.

“Try that again and I’ll cut off your dosib arms,” Arioch growled. “Now, you stay put while I get to the bottom of this.”

Noh began to descend from the sky, but it would take awhile for the slow-moving disk to reach his ally. In the meantime, Cul’tharic and Roch tried to buy more time for Aria and T-Bone to wake, unaware that help was already close at hand.

Jasper and Develdar were now within 200 feet of the cave and stealthily using the thick patches of fungus as cover to get in closer though the drow seemed to be having an easier time of it.

“Have I reminded you today of how much I hate you?” Jasper whispered as he brushed a bit of glowing mushroom from his cloak.

“Should I take it I have once again reminded you of how superior my race is to yours?” Develdar replied, not a stain of schmutz to be found on his armor.

There was no sign of the dwarf druid who was still inside nursing his wounded bird, but a drider was standing near the entrance of the cave with Nicky’s body webbed to his back while some mutant freak stood over Cul’tharic and Roch. Jasper quickly devised a plan to sneak up a nearby cleft in the mountainside so he and Develdar could get behind the drider carrying Nicky. From there, the cave would be at their backs and they could, hopefully, kill the creature while its giant friend’s attention was focused on the now-arriving Noh.

“What’s so important you couldn’t just whisper it to me!?” Noh complained as he came within 40 feet of the ground. “That’s why we cast the spell in the first place!”

Arioch had been getting an earful from Cul’tharic and Roch in the intervening minutes and had, by now, reloaded both his crossbows with poisoned bolts. It hadn’t really been very hard to convince the monster his boss was a treacherous, backstabbing son of an elg’caress.

“What do you know about Elotor’s plans for me when this is all over,” the six-armed sadist growled as he aimed both crossbows up at the archer. “And tell me the truth or, by Shax, I will levitate up there and beat it out of you.”

The ensuing battle of bravado gave Jasper and Develdar just the time they needed reach the cleft but, before they could begin their ascent, the drow’s ears pricked at a strange whistling sound.

“Do you hear that?” he asked.

Jasper stopped to listen a moment. “No…jerk.”

“Oh yeah?!” Noh yelled. “Well, everybody knows you only signed on with us because you were tired of your brother kicking your aaaiiigh, gi vith!” he suddenly screamed as a massive pair of talons tore him from his disk and carried him into the air. Pyewacket’s pleas for help had gone unheeded by the mighty roc but when the pained screech of Arkansas reached the raptor’s cave high above, the bird felt compelled to investigate.

“Guess the Orbb Valuken are down to six now, dos t’larryo vith’rell!” Arioch laughed as the maimed Spider King struggled in the claws of the great eagle. Thy’amyn had come down from the hill to keep an eye on the webbed lizardmen, but the spectacle of seeing The Pain Crafter plucked out of the sky like a crippled sparrow was too bizarre and terrifying to ignore. Roch and Cul’tharic quickly armed themselves, slashed through their bindings and jumped to their feet!

“Get to the cave!” Cul’tharic shouted to Roch as he swung his massive greatclub at the gawking drider.

“Huh?” was all Thy’amyn had time to utter before the stout weapon crashed into his skull, dashing his brains and finally killing the poor schlub who didn’t even have a name until I wrote this journal entry.

Battle was joined anew as Arioch noticed the escape and tripped Cul’tharic’s leg with his chain.

“Screw it,” hissed the giant. “Promotion or no, I’m not leaving here ‘til one of us is a corpse! Now, get up!”

As the two warriors squared off, Roch fled for the cave. Cul’tharic was going to need more help than he could provide and the mystic was determined to drag Ragnar back to the fight if that’s what it took to save his friend. Luckily, a pair of rogues just happened to be wandering by.

“Offer you a hand, Cul’tharic?” Jasper asked as he and Develdar moved to flank the lizardman’s foe with their rapiers. “This guy looks like he’s got more than his share!”

Frankly, the fight got pretty awesome from here on out.

Convincing the druid the fight was not lost, Roch emerged from the cave with Ragnar in tow and charged down the hill! That the theurge had no spells capable of harming the monster didn’t matter; his hammer would be enough.

The druid stared down at the crazed dance of bleeding, cursing warriors in baffled amazement, then over at a far bloom of crimson fungus.

“You’re right,” he nodded, drawing the heavy military pick from his belt and taking a step forward. “You’re right.”

Five to one they now stood against the terror of Arioch, the monster slashing, slicing and stabbing like a storm of pins and razors. The horror had surprises as well. When the beast channeled a burst of negative energy that wracked the adventurers with pain, some were so dazed they thought Shi had returned to aid them. When the monster healed his own wounds with dark prayers, they thought he was a truly a demon. But when the abomination shattered Cul’tharic’s enchanted club with his flaming blade and felled Roch with a whip of his wicked lash, they rallied.

“Wer juanth odgen hak!” hissed the blood-blinded scaled horror in his native tongue as he leapt at Arioch, his claws and teeth sinking in wherever they could find purchase. Hindered by the bulk and vice-like grip of the grappling reptile, Arioch could do little to avoid the precise and deadly thrusts of Jasper and Develdar’s blades, thanks especially to the distracting aid of Ragnar’s pick.

Oozing bile and blood, Arioch finally threw Cul’tharic from his shoulders, but it was too late. Even as the lizardman flew limp to the ground, the giant was collapsing. A final thrust from Jasper saw the job done, and Arioch was no more.

The three remaining, conscious warriors breathed heavy with ache and spat blood as they staggered on tired legs toward the path up to Ragnar’s cave. Roch and Cul’tharic would live. The druid could do that much, but he had no spells left to heal their wounds. As the trio gathered up their wounded and dead companions, Jasper suddenly remembered…

“The achaierai!” the rogue shouted, but it was too late. The fiendish fowl had arrived. In fact, it seemed they’d been there the whole time, watching the fight like spectators at a coliseum. It was then a small voice was heard from the top of the hill.

“Hey guys!” shouted a halfling woman wrapped in some kind of dripping, gloppy membrane. “What’d we miss?”

Andoran

Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Companion Subscriber

Just a quick update tonight. After so many sessions of deadly combat and powwows with over-stuffed parakeets, the group finally got to relax and have a session where nobody was rolling any attack rolls or saving throws...mostly because they gave up.

DAY 178: THE EVER-VIGILANT WARLORD

featuring: The World's Largest Adventuring Party
Roch - Lizardfolk Mystic Theurge
Aria – Halfling Holy Vindicator of Sarenrae
Nicky Holroyd – Human Witch
T-Bone the Stingy Gorilla – Dwarf Titan Mauler
Jasper – Human Rogue
Ragnar – Dwarf Cave Druid
Cul’tharic - Lizardfolk Scaled Horror
Pyewacket – Nicky’s silvanshee familiar

“Well, Develdar,” Jasper spoke as he wiped the blood from his rapier and looked out at the gang of black-feathered achaierai half-ringing the base of The Black Mountain. “I can’t say it’s been a pleasure, but…where’d you go?”

“Shu!” whisper-cursed the drow warrior who had begun to creep away up the mountain as soon as he noticed the bird-things. “None of us will survive a battle with those things so soon after our fight with Arioch,” Develdar called back to the rogue. “Escape seemed like the best plan.”

“There is wisdom in his words, human,” came a voice from behind the flock of achaierai as the creatures made a hole in their line. “But running now would only ensure you die tired.”

Jasper, Ragnar and Develdar looked up to see a female drider casually stepping through the beasts toward them. The creature’s drow upper body was girded in a shirt of chain that glimmered like black onyx and she wore a pair of fine swords in her belt. Her hair was the color of blued steel and styled into a short mohawk, and her deep red eyes had the look of being too familiar with the sight of war.

“I am Ultrin Sut’rinos d’lil Phalar, Orbb Valuk Nielial l' Rin'ov-Kr'athin Ul'Saruk,” she announced. “I have come to offer you a chance to surrender. These are my terms. You will unconditionally surrender your weapons and admit your defeat before these achaierai and whatever gods you follow. In exchange, I am prepared to offer you your lives and your freedom. Do you find these terms acceptable?”

Jasper blinked his eyes and rubbed his ears to make sure he wasn’t hallucinating. “Uh…run that by me again?” he asked. By now Aria and T-Bone were coming down the hill, the former half-orc hopping and stumbling as he struggled to squeeze into his armor. “I’m not sure I heard you right,” Jasper spoke. “Did you just say you’d let us go?”

“I trust I don’t need to tell you what will happen should you refuse,” replied the drider.

“Ol zhah natha golhyrr,” Develdar interjected. “Drop your sword and she’ll kill you before it hits the ground. I say if we can’t run, we fight.”

“Aww, I just got this body,” T-Bone complained. Dwarf wouldn’t have been his first choice, but at least his armor still fit, more or less. Poor Aria had been reduced to wearing little more than a hair shirt and a cloak.

“Relax, T-Bone,” Jasper spoke. “Nobody else is dying today…right?” he paused, looking up at Nielial as he slowly offered his rapier. The drider silently took the blade from Jasper’s hand, giving no indication she would strike.

“Everyone drop your weapons,” ordered the rogue. “If you want to live long enough to avenge your father, Develdar, I’d advise you to do the same.”

“Nindol zhah waele,” the drow grumbled as he reluctantly dropped his weapons and loosed his bandolier of throwing knives.

“Warr’bk!” Nielial called. “Tell your flock to fall out and gather ‘round. I want you all to hear something.”

“Go on,” Nielial prodded once the achaierai were in position. Then, speaking for himself and his companions, Jasper conceded defeat before the assembled avians and the gods themselves.

“Congratulations,” the drider encouraged. “You’ve saved your own lives. Now, take back your weapons and see to your wounded and dead. You’re going to need them if you still plan to fight my people.” Before the adventurers could respond, there was a sudden cry from Warr’bk, the achaierai leader.

“Squarrrk!” Warr’bk squawked down at the drider commander. “We are done?”

“Yes, Warr’bk, we are done,” Nielial replied, handing the achaierai a pouch of glittering gemstones. “I have no further need of your services.”

Warr’bk pawed through the small sack greedily then glanced back to the drider. “Warrb’k have new bargain, Atpan,” the achaierai offered. “Achaierai kill these amahcapa now; Atpan gives us more shiny lalmil. Long stride from qriv to here for no blood…”

“Let these two sate your thirst, then, and be off with you,” Nielial replied motioning to the corpses of Thy’amyn and Arioch before shooting an icy stare at the monster. The old bird was no Spring stilt-chicken. Centuries of dominating his flock had taught him a lot about how to read an opponent, and he could tell the drider was not someone he wanted as an enemy.

“CrawwW!” Warr’bk cried before digging his beak into Arioch’s chest to get at the creature’s foul heart. Snapping up the tastiest morsels for himself first, the alpha achaierai looked back to Nielial as his flock swooped in to gorge themselves on the remains of Thy’amyn. “Atpan knows where to find us…” Warr’bk croaked as gore dripped from his maw.

“We should probably give them some room,” Ragnar nervously suggested as the achaierai fought over scraps from the feast. “Don’t want any of the greedy vultures to get the wrong idea about what’s on the menu.” As Aria got Cul’tharic and Roch back on their feet and the party moved Nicky’s body up the hill, Jasper looked to Nielial.

“I know you’ve probably got to be going, but I don’t suppose you’d like to hang out a few minutes to tell us what just happened?” the rogue asked. “The bird kind of has a point. You went through an awful lot of trouble to not kill us.”

“Do not mistake my actions for mercy. Killing you would be too simple; it would add nothing to ussta statha, my legacy,” replied the drider. “Consider this…biu kalyza, an illumination.”

***

As Nielial spoke, the adventurers learned much of the warrior the driders called The Ever-Vigilant Warlord. Unlike many of the other Spider Kings who spent their days cloistered within their lairs within The Barrows, Nielial had taken advantage of the relative peace within her kingdom to explore the vast chasm to the north. For over a century, she’d mapped out most of the region and kept detailed notes on the local inhabitants she observed in secret, educating herself in the habits and customs of the strange creatures she found.

“All that time when the rebellion lost track of her…” Develdar interupted. “You were here, weren’t you, Nielial? You knew about Aphnitern, the achaierai, all of it ahead of time, didn’t you?”

“A wise general understands the value of advance knowledge,” replied the drider. “I learned of King Aphnitern while spying on your cloud giant friend and his brother, but I never ventured into his delmah. I learned enough from the behavior of the native beasts and what I could gather from Elotor’s pet lantern archon to leave that fiend to his own devices.”

“You still haven’t told us why you’re letting us go,” Jasper spoke. “Or why you aren’t going to stop us from trying to destroy your people.”

“Why should I stop you?” Nielial asked. “My people need you.”

It was then the drider commander made an admission that surprised even Develdar. Nielial The Ever-Vigilant Warlord was over 650 years old and she was dying. Her drow heritage had ensured her youthful appearance and longevity, but centuries of battle were finally taking their toll on her body.

“I’ve served one master after another my entire life, whether it be the drow or Byalahiir or the security and defense of my own power,” the drider continued. “Eletor’s new order will no doubt usher in a new era of war and glory, but my success has made my people lazy and I know I won’t live long enough to lead them in the battles to come. They’ll need ogglinnar like you to challenge them and remind them of what it is to fight for what is theirs.”

“You never meant to return to The Barrows, did you?” Aria asked.

“I’m tired and, after half a millennium, I think I’ve earned the right to die like a warrior,” Nielial replied. “When Sinalith came to tell me a group of colnbluthen and a cloud giant had stormed the factory and were wanted by Eletor, I thought perhaps I had found my death but, when I saw the trouble you were having with my Silinrai and Night Guard on the mountain, I began to lose hope. Desperate foes should always be allowed an escape route, but I gambled that even in your ussgyot, you would be too wise to involve the elemental. Fortunate for us both, you were not.”

“Fortunate!?” T-Bone exclaimed. “That thing killed me and probably killed Norkor!”

“Yet here you are, alive and free to pursue death once again,” responded the drider. “I told Eletor I would defeat you, and I have; Warr’bk and his flock will attest to that should any driders come looking. My duty as a Spider King is complete, and now I intend to take the death I am owed. I will seek out Aphnitern and challenge him and, if I know his skill, I will not survive.”

“Learn from this,” Nielial spoke directing the party’s attention to what little remained of Arioch and Thy’amyn. “Arioch and Noh are not dead because they lacked the skill to kill you. They are dead because they lacked the wisdom to defeat you.”

“You could have intervened,” Roch observed. “The achaierai and you, even with the roc showing up, I think you could have done something to save them, but you watched them die. Why? You said you planned to capture us? What changed your mind?”

“You did,” Nielial replied. The drider had used her mystical senses to listen in on the battle from afar and caught the conversation between Arioch, Cul’tharic and Roch. “It was wise to use their natural distrust against them. It bought your companions time to recover and drew attention away from your reinforcements. I decided then to let Arioch and Noh succeed or fail by their own skill.”

No less evil for her many years, the drider spoke with confidence and fearlessness that masked her wicked heart and made her seem almost noble. In addition to some of what she'd learned of the chasm, she told the adventurers of the history of her people's struggle against the drow and their exodus to the dungeon, and of some of the mysteries surrounding The Halls of Flesh. Before she left, she had one last thing to tell the adventurers: the location of her lair, its entrance hidden by a trapdoor in the ceiling of the golem factory.

“There you will find a voiry I have written containing everything I have learned of war and strategy over the last six hundred years,” Nielial spoke. “I leave it to any creature who has the strength to hold onto it.”

Pyewacket was filled with unease as the drider vanished from sight. Though Nicky was currently undergoing preparations for his return from the dead, the silvanshee remained his stalwart guide and mentor.

“She scares me,” spoke the agathion. Aside from King Aphnitern and despite her cordial, if cold, demeanor, Nielial was perhaps the most evil thing he’d sensed in all his years in Nicky’s service. “There’s something…not right about her, and I honestly wish her all the best of luck in getting killed.”

The last two days had seen three party members temporarily killed, and a good ally and friend lost, but hearing such words from the celestial cat caused many of the adventurers to laugh in a way they hadn't laughed in some time. Perhaps Nielial's reprieve would buy them the time they needed to wipe out the threat of The Spider Kings and finally escape into the south but, whatever their next steps, they would have to wait until tomorrow.


Is this the way it is supposed to play out?

I've never played this, but it seems like your players run into an endless series of boss mobs that they are incapable of doing much about, and are only saved from annihilation by some sort of deus ex machina or contrived reason for the BBEG to say "Oh, well I'm really not going to kill you now."

What level are your guys now? Seriously I'd think by this point I think they would have dropped everything mentioned in the last few posts like a bad habit.

I've read through this whole thread, very seldom does this group outright win anything. I perused someone else's copy of this dungeon for an hour or so. The Halls of Flesh are one part of this dungeon, and didn't seem like it was considered to be that major a one. Seems like you have spent over half your time there dealing with these drow/driders/aberrations.

So what gives? Are your guys that unoptimized? Are you beefing up the opponents?

I hope you don't think this is a personal attack, but I think I've been reading this close to two years, waiting for your party to bring the power.

But they never do.

At least someone is playing a druid now.

Taldor

I'm pretty sure he's not beefing up the opponents. From what I've heard, the World's Largest Dungeon is very grindy; aren't you supposed to divide all experience by 2 or something like that?

I think the general idea is that you're supposed to clear out an area (which takes quite a long time just because of the sheer number of monsters they packed in there) and then use it as a base for forays into the next area, and repeat ad nauseam. Whereas in this game, it sounds like they're not doing the guerrilla hit-and-run thing as much, which is probably less tedious but is probably more dangerous too.

Just my two cents.

Andoran

Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Companion Subscriber

@sunbeam - I'll address each of you questions/comments in turn so I don't miss anything. I'm going to spoilerize my answers so you don't have a wall of text to sift through. Also, it's cool. I didn't read any of that as an attack.

Is this the way it is supposed to play out?

1:
Probably not. If I had to guess, the writers expected the party to walk from room to room killing bad guys who rarely bother to see what is happening next door. It's kind of hard to tell sometimes. The book only really sets the stage and gives basic information about what's going on when the players arrive. It doesn't provide a whole lot of guidance for when players do things one way over another so, since their initial battle with Sigilinde, I've been improvising a whole lot.

...it seems like your players run into an endless series of boss mobs that they are incapable of doing much about, and are only saved from annihilation by some sort of deus ex machina or contrived reason for the BBEG to say "Oh, well I'm really not going to kill you now."

2:
Lately, yes. It does seem that way. When the party is dealing with individual or small groups of monsters like the dragonne in Region F or the shadow mastiffs in Region E, they usually do fine and either wipe the floor with the monsters or only have a moderate level of difficulty. I've noticed they have a much harder time when dealing with organized societies of intelligent monsters on their home turf. The harpies in Region F were a good example, but fighting them was like fighting within a small village while dealing with the driders has been like trying to fight an entire city.

As far as the deus ex machina thing goes, yeah, I've done that. My players all know I don't shy away from PC deaths, but I'm still on their side and I don't feel killing characters every week is good for the game or the story we're telling together. I don't like raining bolts out of the blue on a regular basis any more than the next GM so, if I'm going to do it, I only save the party with things that could actually happen based on what I know about the region and I'm careful to give NPCs like Norkor and Nielial legitimate reasons to do what they've done.

What level are your guys now? Seriously I'd think by this point I think they would have dropped everything mentioned in the last few posts like a bad habit.

3:
The party is level 9. We use the Slow progression XP chart, which has, for the most part, been a really good system based on how the dungeon is laid out. Region M is supposedly intended for a party of level 9-12 but, as I mentioned in a previous post, I don't know if the writer realized how difficult he made some of the creatures in here.

...very seldom does this group outright win anything....The Halls of Flesh are one part of this dungeon, and didn't seem like it was considered to be that major a one. Seems like you have spent over half your time there dealing with these drow/driders/aberrations.

4:
It doesn't seem to end does it? I think part of this has to do with the fact that Regions I and M are basically all part of one massive adventure. Whereas most of the regions are insular, this is the first time the party has had to travel into a separate region to fix problems in a previous one. The other reason I think we've been here so long is because the writer made the mistake of giving the driders the fantasy equivalent of a WMD and I guess they didn't expect them to do anything with it.

I really like to flesh out important NPCs. It helps me to understand their motivations when I'm trying to figure out what they might do in a given situation. The Spider Kings are given really brief descriptions that basically make them all out to be video game bosses, but I had to go and give each of them distinct personalities. Now, the writer decided to give the driders and Easy-Bake Oven of Flesh Golem Crafting and a Mr. Coffee Invisible Stalker Espresso Maker, and I couldn't see any reason an evil genius like Eletor wouldn't figure out how to use those things to invade the south dungeon after 200 years. None of that's in the book. That was all me and my stupid brain. I turned what could have been a simple, Contra-style side-scrolling shooter into freaking War Games with Matthew Broderick and Ally Sheedy because I couldn't leave well enough alone.

Are your guys that unoptimized? Are you beefing up the opponents?

5:
Well, one of them is playing a mystic theurge. I kid. It's a great class. None of the players are optimizers so much. The witch made himself really awesome at Spellcraft checks because of how often the party fights grapplers, but everyone is pretty well-rounded. We had one munchkin-ish power gamer for awhile, but he was asked to leave because he didn't play well with others and kept getting other party members killed by trying to kill them. Maybe I'll see about posting some details from the character sheets to give you an idea of the character builds.

It's kind of scary, but I'm not beefing up the monsters at all. I actually had to make King Aphnitern weaker and deduct about 20HD from the rocs because their stats were all jacked up in the book. In fact, the party's first encounter with an air elemental called for two of the huge creatures to show up. I took one look at the thing's stats in the Bestiary and immediately vetoed the second elemental. I've basically sworn off random encounters for the rest of this region.

The Spider Kings may have seen a slight increase in power, but that's only because I gave them Pathfinder class levels and ditched the old 3.0 stuff. I know Radija lost a 4th level offensive spell because I wanted him to have the upgraded Floating Disk. Arioch seemed to benefit the most from the update. He's one of the few "unique" monsters in the dungeon (more about him in a future post) and he originally had levels of Blackguard but I changed those to Antipaladin.

If anything, I maybe should have nerfed a few of the Spider Kings. My mention of Pyewacket feeling uneasy around Nielial was a clue that she's the most powerful Evil non-outsider, non-divine caster the party has ever faced. The silvanshee's Detect Evil ability was pinging on her so hard because she's got 21HD, 12 of those from Fighter levels. After looking at her abilities, spells and feats and running the numbers, I figured she could potentially TPK the entire group by herself, which is part of the reason I didn't want her fighting them. If Elotor is Dr. Doom, Nielial is Thanos.

...waiting for your party to bring the power.

6:
For the record, I let my players make the characters they want to play with very few restrictions. Most 3.5 material is on the table, and they've got a good selection of equipment to purchase when they make new characters. Aria, for instance, has a 3.5 feat that grants her virtually unlimited healing so long as she keeps a 2nd level or higher Cure spell in one of her slots. The options are there to make some wicked powerful characters, but I don't think my players are interested in playing lists of abilities. I wouldn't call any of the PCs sub-optimal (even Roch, normally) but they ain't exactly the JLA. They're probably more like Justic League Europe.

At least someone is playing a druid now.

7:
Heh. That's awesome. I'll let Ragnar's player know someone thinks he's actually playing his character and not just rolling dice whenever we point at him. All kidding aside, I'm glad the party has a druid now too, especially a cave druid. It was really easy to work Ragnar into the story and, as we'll learn in the next journal post, his skills are going to be incredibly useful to the party.


Ok, that shows what happens when you assume something.

I have nothing to base it on, but I kind of assumed your party was in the 14-15 range.

It's probably mentioned in this thread somewhere, but that was my assumption which is in error.

Hmmm I take everything back. They seem to be be doing pretty well actually.

It'd be neat if you could post some of the sheets. I love looking at what other people have done with their characters. Despite the sound of it, I'm not a power gamer, though I definitely think some things like two weapon fighting are kind of lousy.

The Mystic Theurge gets a bad rap. Honestly being either a divine or arcane caster is a better powergame choice, but they can be handy. And there are spells that either don't have saves or that are buffs that he can get plenty of.

Level 9 doesn't seem to be where it hits it's stride though.

Out of the guys you have listed, while I haven't seen the builds, the only one that puzzles me is the Titan Mauler. I've looked at that thing, but either it is something I think is bad to use (two hander in one hand with a -2 penalty), or it replaces a regular barbarian feature I would rather have. In his shoes I'd have taken Invulnerable Rager or regular Barbarian.

Andoran

Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Companion Subscriber

Honestly, I really like the versatility of the Mystic Theurge class and, really, any other class that can act as a Swiss Army Knife for the party. We give Roch's player a little hell for being a couple spellcasting levels behind the other casters but, in the long run, the dude is going to end up with so many spells per day he probably won't expend his entire list on an average day of adventuring...provided he gets me the last spells he needs to atone to Nethys.

I think T-Bone's player just wanted to make a big-ass-sword and board dude. I once played a 3.0 Orc Barb/Rog with the old Monkey Grip feat for the same reason (it used to let you wield 2-handed weapons in one hand with a -2 penalty.) So you miss out on x1.5 damage and take a paltry -2 to hit, whoop-de-doo; sometimes it's fun to be the guy who calls the fighter's longsword a knife.

The party should reach level 10 soon so I'll see about posting some stuff for them then. I'm also thinking about posting some monster statblocks if I have time.

Andoran

Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Companion Subscriber

Work and a trip to Seattle have kept me a little busy of late, but I'm still hard at work on the journal. Here's another relatively short update from a breather session we played a couple weeks ago. I should have the latest session up before the next one in a few days.

In this session, the party realizes they've got a little time to kill before things are ready for their assault on The Barrows. Taking advantage of the lull in combat, they're off to recover some negative levels and perhaps discover some answers to an ancient mystery!

DAY 179: PLATINUM RINGS AND ANCIENT KINGS

featuring: The World's Largest Adventuring Party
Roch - Lizardfolk Mystic Theurge
Aria – Halfling Holy Vindicator of Sarenrae
Nicky Holroyd – Orc Witch
T-Bone the Stingy Gorilla – Dwarf Titan Mauler
Jasper – Human Rogue
Ragnar – Dwarf Cave Druid
Cul’tharic - Lizardfolk Scaled Horror
Pyewacket – Nicky’s silvanshee familiar

Ugly, stinky, brutish and thick-headed,” Pyewacket observed as he surveyed Nicky’s new orc body. “It’s like nothing’s changed.”

“Hardy har har,” Nicky grunted as he wiped the slime from his body and flexed muscles he never knew he possessed. It’d been a day since his death at the hands of the driders. “I can live with this.”

“You’d better,” Ragnar spoke. “I’ve only got enough reagents left for a couple more of ya, and this stuff ain’t easy to come by down here.”

“No worries,” T-Bone replied as he retrieved a tightly wrapped bundle from his pack and tossed it to the druid. “I planned ahead!” On the advice of his mother, the former half-orc had purchased everything he’d need to be reincarnated twice!

“Gabil Gaudat al Mirkool!” Ragnar exclaimed. “How often do you people die!?”

Roch did a little mental math before replying, “Very.” Over half the party now owed their continued existence to druidic magic or some other form of divine intervention.

“So, everyone is back. What now?” Jasper interjected.

“Shi and Riswan have yet to report they’re ready for the attack on The Barrows,” Aria replied. “Until then, I say our first priority should be acquiring some diamond dust.”

“Come again?” the rogue asked, unaware that returning from the dead often left one in a weakened state.

“T-Bone, Nicky and I are all diminished in strength since our return,” Aria informed the rogue. “I can restore our vitality, but I need diamond dust for the ritual. Ragnar, you’ve been here awhile; any ideas where we could find some?”

The druid thought a moment. The driders seemed to have access to gemstones, but it was obvious going to their crater was too risky. “Well, Metlar might have some,” he finally concluded.

“Metlar?” asked the priest.

“The xorn have told me he’s an elder among their kind,” the dwarf answered. “He’s not really their leader. They say he’s just old and wise and very strong. He doesn’t get around much so they sometimes bring him gifts of rare gems and metals out of respect or in exchange for advice. I wouldn’t say the creatures are friendly toward me, but I think they’ve gotten used to me. It might be enough to secure us an audience with the big guy.”

“That’ll have to do,” Aria replied. “It was difficult enough escaping The Barrows the first time. I’d rather not try to deal with the driders while we’re not at full strength.”

So, it was decided. The party would seek out and petition for the aid of the elder xorn, Metlar. Before beginning their sojourn to Metlar’s lair however, they found themselves sidetracked with an unexpected discovery.

As Aria prepared her equipment for the journey, she took notice of the platinum ring Norkor had given her during the battle on The Dark Crown. The ring had scarcely fit her original form, but it fit her small halfling fingers perfectly and she had to wonder where the giant had acquired such a small bauble. As she studied the ring, she noticed some of the schmutz had worn off the interior of the band revealing what appeared to be part of an inscription.

Aria quickly cast a minor spell to clean and restore the ring to a brilliant shine that exposed the tarnished message, but the script was beyond her reckoning. “Jasper, can you make this out?” she called to the rogue. A master of many tongues, Jasper closely studied the ring but could provide only limited aid.

“I think it’s an ancient dialect of gnome, but I can’t make it out,” Jasper informed the cleric.

“Lemme have a look at that,” T-Bone spoke as he swiped the ring from the rogue’s hand. Jasper and Aria gave the barbarian an incredulous look.

“Oh yeah, definitely pre-second era gnomish,” spoke the titan mauler. “Probably from the White Plume Mountain region.”

“Horse puckey!” exclaimed the rogue. “I can accept the fact that shifty bastard, Develdar, can out-sneak me, but there is no way you can read-“

“It says ‘To my beloved husband and king, Arnulf,’” T-Bone interrupted, adjusting his kettle helm.

“Just one minute here,” Jasper growled as he yanked the barbarian’s helmet from his head, slapped it on and took another look at the inscription. The message on the ring was now clear as Common. “White Plume Mountain region, huh?!” he exclaimed as T-Bone began to laugh. “Why, I oughta…”

“Cool it, knuckleheads,” chastised Aria as she reached up and twisted her companions’ ears, bringing an end to the Three Stooges routine. “King Arnulf’s the guy we were looking for!” True enough, the cleric and her companions had been duped into searching for the remains of a mythical monarch as part of a plot by Lord Antagonis to locate a second entrance into the dungeon.

“Hold on,” Jasper spoke. “Are you saying King Arnulf the Good is real…and he was a gnome?”

“Actually, it makes a lot of sense,” Nicky spoke. “According to ancient legend, King Arnulf was renowned for battling evil monsters, many of which were giants and ogres. Gnome warriors are often skilled giant-fighters. Though that still doesn’t explain how Norkor came by the ring...it doesn’t seem we’ll ever have the chance to ask him now.”

Ragnar listened to the words of the adventurers and pieces of the puzzle began to fall into place in his mind. “I think I might know where your friend found the ring,” he offered.

***

“So, uh, this is Uzkul. Uzkul, meet the guys,” Ragnar spoke, introducing the adventurers to a pile of broken bones in a gully at the base of The Black Mountain. The dwarf had discovered the scattered remains ten years ago and over time, out of equal parts boredom and loneliness, he’d gathered as much of the small skeleton as he could find and rearranged it into some semblance of its original shape. “Uzkul” had since become something of a confidante to Ragnar, and the druid would occasionally visit the gully to dine with his skeletal friend.

“Think this is our guy?” T-Bone asked Aria. An excellent physician, the cleric looked over the remains and quickly surmised the bones definitely belonged to a gnome. What’s more, there appeared to be a slight discoloration around one of the skeleton’s fingers as if the bone had been shielded from exposure to the elements and slipping the platinum band onto the skeleton’s finger revealed it to be a good fit despite the lack of flesh.

“Gentlemen,” Aria announced. “I think it’s safe to say we’ve just met a legend. We’ve just discovered the remains of King Arnulf the Good.”

“Wow, Uzkul,” Ragnar spoke. “You never told me you were royalty.”

The party went on to spend another couple of hours scouring the site for any further proof of the gnome’s identity. Ragnar himself admitted to pulling a broken ruby and a fine gnome-sized short sword from the gully years ago that he’d simply tossed into a corner of his cave as decoration but neither item bore any special markings or indication of ownership. Finally, it was suggested that the gnome hadn’t actually died in the gully and may have been killed somewhere on the mountain itself, his body blown from the cliffs or dropped by some terrible beast. It was up to Ragnar, Pyewacket and the young roc, Arkansas, to fly recon along the nearby cliff face and, just as it seemed time had buried all other evidence of the gnome’s passing, the druid’s faithful animal companion crowed a triumphant signal to its master.

The pitted, wind-scoured head of a bronze climbing axe jutted from the rocks of a small ledge nearly 500 feet above the valley floor. It would have been an incredible height for a lone gnome to climb, but Ragnar reasoned the spot was large enough and safe enough for a small camp. The dwarf scanned the mountainside and soon realized where the gnome may have been headed. High above, in the sheer wall of The Black Mountain’s south slope yawned the mouth of a roc’s cave, the same roc that had carried off Noh two days ago.

***

Ragnar, Pyewacket and Arkansas quietly entered the roc’s cave after reporting back to their companions. Because of the celestial’s ability to speak with animals and the druid’s history with the creatures and his ability to empathize with simple beasts (not to mention his ability to transform into one,) it was decided Ragnar and Pyewacket should entreat with the roc accompanied by the dwarf’s animal companion. Arkansas wasn’t yet old enough for the adult male in the cave to consider it a threat to its dominance so Ragnar reasoned the young bird’s presence shouldn’t offend the beast and may even aid in negotiating with the creature.

“Raaawwwwkk!” crowed the mighty eagle as the trio drew near its nest.

“He isn’t very happy to see me,” Pyewacket informed the dwarf. The silvanshee had repeatedly bothered the animal for aid only two days ago. “I’m not sure this was such a great idea.”

Ragnar studied the roc a few moments. “We’ll be okay if we don’t get any closer,” spoke the druid. “Tell him you’re only here so I can thank him for saving Arkansas from the driders.”

Pyewacket did as he was told and the great bird seemed to relax somewhat as Ragnar plied his druidic trade. Rocs weren’t normally encountered in caves and the dwarf could scarcely imagine how a flock of the immense things had become trapped in the vast dungeon, but he’d had plenty of time to study the creatures during his time in the chasm.

Taking a non-aggressive stance, Ragnar slowly stepped toward the roc’s nest. The creature eyed him closely but made no attempt to strike and, as he drew nearer, the dwarf could see the roc was wounded. It appeared that, even in the grip of the gargantuan raptor, Noh hadn’t died easy.

“Tell him I can heal his wounds,” the dwarf instructed Pyewacket as he motioned for Arkansas to follow. With the young roc nearby to calm the animal and keep its attention, the dwarf climbed up the side of the nest and applied a healing spell to the roc’s wounds. The damage was mostly superficial, but the spell had the desired effect and the bird was at last comfortable enough to allow the druid and the silvanshee to explore its cave.

The cave was old, definitely older than the rocs themselves and Ragnar didn’t think the birds had anything to do with King Arnulf’s death. According to Nicky and Aria, it was more likely the gnome warrior had gone into the cave long before its current resident built its nest in the mountain, probably to hunt some formidable evil. Whatever had led Arnulf to the cave was long gone but, as Ragnar and Pyewacket searched, they began to uncover bits and pieces of the ancient past.

Lost in the detritus of the roc’s nest or half-buried by millennia of loose, fallen stone, the pair slowly discovered tatters of ragged cloth, the blunted head of a iron morning star and bits of what may have once been a wicker backpack. Ragnar’s dwarf stonecunning told him a section of the cave near the roc’s nest had once been a tunnel entrance that had collapsed and there, within a fall of boulders, he found a shield, a gnome-sized, heavy iron parma, pitted and rough with dents.

Conditions in the cave had been kind to the old iron, but the leather bits had rotted away and the shield would need extensive repairs before it could ever again be used for defense. However, pulling the parma from the rocks, Ragnar found that, damaged as it was, the shield had still served to protect a pair of remarkable objects from the passage of time and the falling rocks. Wrapped within an amazingly well preserved shirt of leather was a beautiful mithral battleaxe and, as Ragnar took it up, small snow crystals formed and drifted from its blade. In the Alice blue glow of the enchanted weapon, the dwarf could see the butt of its handle was carved into the likeness of a boar’s head.

Both axe and armor had been crafted for a small wearer, and Ragnar couldn’t fathom why anyone would leave these treasures to be buried by time and a mountain of stone. Whatever the answer, it would have to wait. For now, Ragnar could only return to his new companions with a bit of good news. Not only had he and Pyewacket discovered King Arnulf’s shirt and axe, they’d pulled Noh’s indigestible and discarded loot from the roc’s nest. The drider’s wand containing Radija’s floating disk spell might prove very useful in the near future.

Cheliax

*spits up Cheerios*

Wait, what. King Arnulf is real?! This is some kind of joke right? Tell me you're joking, you alabaster coat rack...

Okay...doesn't matter. So the guy's not a myth. This can't possibly come back to bite me in the ass...

*runs off to execute chief of Imperial psy-ops division*

Andoran

Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Companion Subscriber

The party has indeed discovered the remains of the formerly mythical King Arnulf the Good and just in time. Otherwise, Aria would still be running around half-naked. They've still got a little time before the assault on The Barrows so the adventurers are off to speak with the elder xorn Metlar. Will the old rock-biter greet them with three open arms or will he just tell them to get off his gravel lawn? Find out next in...

DAY 180: EARTHBLOOD FALLS

featuring: The World's Largest Adventuring Party
Roch - Lizardfolk Mystic Theurge
Aria – Halfling Holy Vindicator of Sarenrae
Nicky Holroyd – Orc Witch
T-Bone the Stingy Gorilla – Dwarf Titan Mauler
Jasper – Human Rogue
Ragnar – Dwarf Cave Druid
Cul’tharic - Lizardfolk Scaled Horror
Pyewacket – Nicky’s silvanshee familiar

The party set out for Metlar’s lair early the day after their discovery of King Arnulf’s remains. Securing the ancient hero’s treasure had been a victory for the adventurers, but Aria was pleased most of all because it meant she had some equipment to replace her now-oversized weapons and armor.

Anrulf's axe, though not to her preference, fell within the holy vindicator’s degree of martial training and the light it shed when held would somewhat make up for her new body’s lack of darkvision. The king’s enchanted boar hide jerkin, on the other hand, might not provide the protection of her old breastplate, but it was better than nothing and Nicky was able to determine it would provide excellent protection against cold weather or the attacks of frost-breathing monsters (not that that was much of an issue in the sweltering chasm.)

Jasper and Develdar took point as the group moved across the valley and the majority of the trek was, thankfully, peaceful, allowing Nicky to give his companions a report as to Shi, Riswan and Wicieth’s progress down south.

Shi reported the trio was now in Sigilinde’s lair after spending a couple days under siege with a group of drow holdouts. The naga had agreed to help the party, but her cloaker allies were beginning to have a hard time keeping the driders out now that Lorath and his rebels were gone. To stave off a complete takeover of her laboratory, Sigilinde had taken to capturing gricks and chokers from the Halls of Flesh and setting them loose in drider territory. The mutants would buy the adventurers a little time, but the situation was becoming dire and the naga warned she might need to unleash what she called her “doomsday” weapon, the abomination known as Anguish.

The party’s hard-won victory over the chimeric monster Anguish was only a temporary solution to the beast’s rampage, and Sigilinde knew the creature would eventually re-spawn from the cancerous halls that fueled its immortal life. Using a bit of protoplasmic goo left over from the thing’s dissolution after its battle with the party, she’d been able to locate the site of the creature’s rebirth. Before its regeneration could complete however, Sigilinde and the cloakers moved the reforming biomass into the crystal prison where she’d held the adventurers. The wall of force securing the cell was holding, but the naga swore she’d set the monster free if it seemed a drider incursion was imminent.

Nicky had news for the cleric as well. The Spider King Nielial had informed the party she believed that Sigilinde had once been an apprentice of the mad drider Mahir and that the form she now wore was not her original body. According to Nielial, the dark naga had once been a drider called Ssa’ooble’. Ssa-ooble’ was believed to have died during the accident that created the Halls of Flesh, but Nielial had deduced the sorceress had been transformed into the naga after captured rebel spies reported a mysterious new ally in the south was supplying the rebellion magical aid and an alliance with the drider-hating cloakers. This ally knew her way around a laboratory and seemed intimately familiar with the Spider Kings’ methods.

Nielial found the business with the cloakers exceptionally entertaining since, as she told it, Ssa’ooble’ was partly responsible for their current state. The cloakers, Nielial recalled, had once been drow test subjects of the drider sorceress, but Ssa’ooble’s experiments and, very likely, their transformation into cloakers by the weird magic of the Halls of Flesh had destroyed their memories and driven them insane. Only their undying, murderous hatred for the driders remained, and Nielial reasoned if they were to ever learn their ally Sigilinde was truly their nemesis Ssa’ooble’, they would no doubt tear her to pieces.

Shi was told to keep this information from Sigilinde, a final card to be played if she turned on the party, but the cleric could only say he’d do his best to not think about it. Afterall, the crafty naga had means of learning secret things that didn’t require conversation.

***

Several hours passed before the party reached the edge of Metlar’s crater. Only a brief encounter with the arrowhawks and a pack of abnormally large shocker lizards had punctuated the journey, and the adventurers had little to do with either.

The arrowhawks, still angry about King Aphnitern’s arrival at The Dark Crown and their subsequent relocation to a new nest, made it abundantly clear they had nothing to say to the party when they fired a warning blast of lightning past Pyewacket as he approached to speak with them. As for the shocker lizards, the group did everything they could to avoid the reptiles at the edge of the achairerai’s canyon. There was certainly no need to bother the beasts or draw unwanted attention from the toxic takahe or their greed-filled leader Warr’bk.

Metlar’s crater lay open before the party, its steep walls surrounding a wide, bowl-bottomed pit. Tall boulders, inscribed with Terran glyphs formed a ring in the center of the crater around what appeared to be a 25-foot-wide reservoir of smooth, polished multi-colored stones arranged into an hourglass-like shape.

“Yeah…” Ragnar announced as he gazed down into the crater. “I’m not going down there.”

“Well, we need to get his attention somehow,” Aria replied.

The dwarf shrugged his shoulders and then shouted into the crater as loud as he could. “Hey, Metlar!”

The echo of the dwarf’s words reverberated among the stones of the pit. All was still but, after a moment, a lump could be seen forming at the surface of the reservoir. The lump grew quickly into a mound and three massive, clawed arms emerged behind it. The adventurers marveled as the elder xorn, Metlar, slowly rose ghost-like from the depths of the pit, not one stone displaced at his arrival.

“Raaaawwwwnnnn!” the monster yawned as a huge toothy mouth opened along the top of its egg-like body. “You’re the dwarf the young ones speak of, aren’t you?” Metlar asked in the language of the earth elementals. “Why do you disturb my rest, deep-friend?”

“Uhhh…just a sec,” Ragnar replied as he turned to his companions, unsure of how to proceed. “Can any of you understand what he’s saying?”

“I can,” T-Bone offered.

“Shut up, T-Bone,” Jasper interjected. “I can actually speak its language, yes.”

“Great,” spoke Ragnar. “You talk to him.”

“I’m not talking to him,” said the rogue. “You talk to him. You’re the guy with all xorn poker buddies.”

“Maybe you missed it, but my best friend for the last thirty years has been a skeleton with half its jaw missing,” countered the druid. “I’m not exactly well-versed in the art of conversation.”

“You’ll do fine,” encouraged Jasper. Despite being an excellent negotiator, the rogue was absolutely convinced he’d screw this up if he tried talking to Metlar himself. “Go get him, big guy!”

Ragnar turned back to the xorn who has growing increasingly impatient with the adventurers. “So…uh…these guys…” he began.

“By Sunnis’ finely chiseled buttocks, spit it out already!” roared Metlar.

“Driders!” Ragnar yelped. “The driders are doing stuff, and these guys need your help!”

Metlar stared up at the dwarf, his jaws slack with disbelief a moment before replying. “Seriously. You woke me up for this talc?” the xorn groaned. “I’m going back to sleep now. Thank you for your visit.”

“Wait!” shouted Pyewacket at Nicky’s prodding as Metlar began to sink back into the ground. The silvanshee continued as Nicky dictated what he should say. “The driders seek to conquer the entire dungeon, including your home! They won’t stop until they’ve killed or enslaved every creature they encounter! We need your help to fight them!”

Metlar was unmoved. The xorn race were powerful warriors with rocky hides, terrible claws and teeth capable of chewing through solid steel. They could pass through stone as easily as a fish swims through water. No creature that trod the earth could escape their wrath once war was declared. The driders held no fear for them, and the lives of these outsiders meant nothing to him. As the elder xorn’s head disappeared below the surface of the stone reservoir, Nicky’s desperation got the better of him and he shouted into the pit.

“Don’t you care about what happens to your people?!” cried the witch unsure of whether Metlar could understand him. “Are you just going to hide while the driders slaughter your kind and strip these caves of your precious stones!?”

There was no response from the crater. It seemed Metlar had gone, along with the adventurers’ chances of enlisting his aid.

“Screw this,” T-Bone growled as he pitched a sapphire the size of a grape into the crater. “Tell him there’s more where that came from if he helps us and, if he doesn’t, well, he can go-”

“T-bone, shut up,” Aria hissed as she repeatedly slapped the barbarian’s arm.

“No! This guy’s a jerk!” protested the Stingy Gorilla. “He can eat a dog’s fart for all I care, and if he were here right now I’d say it to his-“

“T-Bone, shut the hell up!” cried the halfling as she gripped the dwarf’s arm and twisted him around to face the 20-foot tall mountain of xorn that had popped up behind them.

“-face,” T-bone managed to finish before Metlar’s voice came rumbling from his cavernous maw.

“Deep-friend, I have been patient!” boomed the elder xorn, his voice an echo of hollow stones forming familiar sounds. The creature was speaking Common so all could understand his words. “You have disturbed my meditations long enough with your pleading and your insults! Go now and do not return to my place of rest unless you are summoned here! I will not warn you again!”

Cul’tharic quickly grappled Roch’s mouth closed before the theurge could even think to speak, and the party slowly backed away from the monster. They hadn’t come to pick a fight with the xorn and seriously didn’t need to make any more enemies in the region, especially enemies that could strike from beneath their very feet.

“We’re going…uhm, sorry to have troubled you?” Ragnar spoke. Metlar gave no reply, one of his three great eyes watching the party leave with a stern glare.

None of the adventurers spoke another word until they were far from Metlar’s crater. Their best chance at securing the diamond dust they needed and forging a powerful alliance had just slipped from their fumbling tongues. Their best negotiator, Jasper, may have been able to salvage the meeting but he’d remained silent.

“What now?” Aria asked. “The achaierai? Maybe they have some diamonds they’d be willing to trade for our remaining gems? We know Nielial paid them off with something.”

“Xuat tlu waela,” spoke Develdar. The drow had been quiet throughout most of the journey to Metlar’s lair, but spoke now out of impatience and a little out of experience dealing with similarly cutthroat creatures. “The drizlah derfin will not trade like for like. From what you’ve told me of Warr’bk, the achaierai leader has a great hunger for shiny rocks. He’ll want something else, something more valuable to him than diamonds. I’d wager the cat, perhaps even you, little priest. That’s if he doesn’t just attack you for the jewels he knows you possess.”

Pyewacket instinctively took refuge within the folds of Nicky’s cloak at Develdar’s words.

“Well then, what do you suggest?” asked the cleric, her frustration with the drow apparent. “We’re not handing anyone over to the achaierai, but we’re kind of running out of options here.”

“Uh, guys?” Ragnar interrupted. “We’re not alone.” Not far off, the party had attracted the attention of an unexpected gawker.

Dirtchops had felt the rumblings of the adventurers passing overhead and the young xorn surfaced just enough to spy on the group. The party could see the creature was only about the size of a fully-grown man but, upon being spotted, it began to sink back into the earth.

“Wait!” shouted Ragnar. “We need your help!”

The xorn hesitated but kept a watchful eye on the group as Ragnar and Jasper approached.

“We’re looking for some diamonds,” spoke the druid. “Preferably ground up into dust. Do you know where we can find some?”

“How much?” rumbled Dirtchops as he scratched his stony hide.

“A lot I guess,” replied the dwarf. “Enough for a large bowl.”

“No,” spoke the xorn. “How much for me to tell you? What will you give me?”

“Is he seriously shaking us down?” Jasper asked the druid before turning to the earth-swimmer. “Tell you what, chompy; you go get us the diamonds and we’ll give you a big, shiny suit of enchanted chainmail. How’bout that?” Noh’s armor was far too large for any of the party to wear so it seemed like an even trade.

“How about a little taste first,” Dirtchops replied. It was becoming more and more apparent the young xorn was something of a rock-head. “Just a little something to take the edge off, and I’ll tell you where they are.”

Jasper growled, but tossed the xorn a cheap amethyst from his pouch. “Now tell me where the diamonds are,” he spoke. “Get them for me and I’ll give you the armor.”

“Over there,” replied the xorn as he crushed the stone into tiny crystals with two of his claws while pointing to the west with his third. A cloud of smoke hovered to the west above the end of the vast canyon where the achaierai lived. “But I can’t get them.”

“Why not?” Jasper asked, not liking where this was going.

“I’ll tell you everything I know, but you have to give me the armor if you get the diamonds,” haggled the xorn.

Jasper consulted with his companions who reluctantly agreed to the terms.

“Smoke demons,” spoke the young rock-biter as he inhaled the powdered amethyst with a shake. “Smoke demons have the diamonds. At the lake. They’ll get me if I go. They go through the cracks in the earth. They might get inside you, but you can get them. You’ve got the guy,” he continued as he pointed at Ragnar. “You’re the guy, right? All the xorn from the west side of the chasm say that.”

“Smoke demons?” Jasper replied. The rogue considered the dust-addled xorn was speaking nonsense, but then remembered what Norkor had said about the strange, elemental creatures living past the achaierai lair. Roch thought they might be something called belkers. “Okay. We’ll deal with the smoke demons, but you’d better not be lying to us.”

“Come on, Ragnar,” Jasper spoke to the dwarf. “Let’s go kill these ‘smoke demons’ and get our diamonds so we can get out of here.”

***

“Say it,” grinned Develdar. Relations between the drow warrior and Aria had further devolved in the moments following Jasper and Ragnar’s return from their meeting with the young xorn. “If you want my help with this, tell me how much you need me. Tell me you need the ilythiiri to save you the way I helped to save you from Arioch back at the dwarf’s cave.”

“Look, you nor ababalond, even the mercy of Sarenrae has its limits,” the cleric growled. “The only reason I haven’t already gutted you myself, you irredeemable piece of oxex, is because you might still be useful to us! If you still want to avenge your father, you’ll help us kill these things and get the diamonds I need so we can be at full strength when we fight Eletor. Don’t forget you’re only still alive because we agreed to take you along when Wicieth pleaded for your life. The way I see it, you need us more than we need you!”

“Inbal jivvin zotreth'mal l' quellarin,” replied the drow as the halfling stomped away. It was Develdar’s opinion fighting the belkers was a waste of time and wouldn’t get the group any closer to defeating the driders. On top of that, he didn’t trust the xorn and thought it may even be a trap. Aria had made a strong case for needing the diamond dust, but the drow still refused to participate in the attack until his ego had been stroked. However the way things were going, he was more likely to find a small, frosty battleaxe buried in his kneecap.

“She didn’t mean it,” Jasper spoke, trying to mend fences. “Well, I mean, she actually did mean it, but here’s what she really meant. We all want to be at the top of our game when we go after The Spider Kings because we don’t want to slow you down. You’ve waited so long to finally be this close to killing Elotor. Do you really want to fail now because a bunch of rothe-valyrin tripped you up?”

Develdar thought about the rogue’s words then replied, “Well then, that is what she should have said. I will help you.”

“Where was all that when we were dealing with Metlar?” Nicky whispered to his companion.

“Hiding,” answered Jasper. “I’m pretty sure we can all take Develdar if I piss him off. That mountain-munching boulder of death back there, not so much.”

***

The “lake” Dirtchops had mentioned turned out to be a pool of glowing slag fed by a fall of thick magma-like liquid that sprung from one of the canyon walls. Thick, acrid smoke hovered and swirled throughout and above the crevasse and Ragnar warned it might be toxic.

“That would explain the presence of the belkers,” Roch mentioned. “The creatures are attracted to foul air. They feed on it much like the xorn feed on precious metals. We should be careful.”

Nicky prepared the group with a spell that formed bubbles of breathable air around their heads. It might not protect them from the belkers’ claws, but it would keep them safe from the toxic cloud. At the canyon’s edge, the party could see the area around the lake was clear of the monsters and, using Noh’s wand of floating disks, Roch began to ferry his companions down to the lakeside. Fortunately, it seemed Nethys hadn’t cut off the theurge’s use of items like wands and scrolls.

The disk of force was only large enough and strong enough for two to stand upon, so Roch first transported Cul’tharic, T-Bone and Develdar to the canyon floor while Nicky and the others kept watch. However, none had foreseen the belkers’ surprise attack. From out of the swirling mists they struck. The creatures had spotted the adventurers coming and, by fading into wispy clouds, they’d perfectly hidden themselves within the poisonous fumes of the lake.

Two of the creatures immediately drove smoky tendrils into Cul’tharic and T-Bone’s throats while a third attacked Roch. For all his bluster, Develdar’s enchanted rapier and dagger could hardly damage the airy creatures so it was up to the barbarian and the scaled horror to save themselves. Fortunately, Aria had repaired Cul’tharic’s broken trident and greatclub so the lizardman was able to attack with more than his sharp claws and teeth. Fending off the belker’s attack, Roch slowly elevated the floating disk toward the rest of the party, hoping the spellcasters and Jasper could lend some aid.

Nicky and Ragnar were too high and too far from their friends to target the attacking fiends at first, but that soon changed. Wounded by T-Bone and Cul’tharic and realizing their smoky claws were too weak to cause much damage to the sturdy warriors, the belkers had changed targets. Leap-frogging off of Roch as he slowly levitated toward his companions, the monsters quickly gained the high ground and attacked Aria and Jasper as they tried to climb down toward their friends.

Aria dangled from the side of the canyon wall as she was assailed by a vicious flurry of wings, teeth and talons. Clinging to the rocks as she clung to life, Aria looked to Nicky for a hand up and then watched as the witch leapt from the cliff and proceeded to slowly fall past her out of reach in order to save his own skin.

“What the hell, Nicky?!” the halfling shouted.

The witch just sort of turned his hands up and shrugged his shoulders with a whimpered, “eh?” as he floated down past her. Not that his sluggish descent was helping him any. One of the three belkers was on him in an instant, clawing and tearing into his flesh.

“Ahhshitthiswasabadidea!” Nicky screamed as great gouts of blood streamed from his many wounds. At his soonest opportunity, the witch cancelled the magic responsible for his slow fall only to resume it within a few feet of the ground. His sudden plummet netted him another swipe from the belker’s claws, but probably saved his life.

“Jackass,” Aria muttered as she managed to climb back onto the cliff and heal some of her own wounds. By now, all three of the belkers were near the top of the canyon and most of the party had, in one way or another, reached the bottom. Aria took a look down, then back at Ragnar who still stood atop the canyon wall as Arkansas swooped in to defend his master.

“Ehhhh,” sighed the halfling before stepping over the edge.

Cul’tharic, who happened to be standing closest to where Aria would make landfall, quickly tossed down his trident and shield and dove beneath the falling cleric. “Oouugff!” he croaked as he fell to cushion the halfling’s impact. Catching Aria had hurt but he’d saved her from a bit of damage that may have taken her out of the fight.

The next to crash to earth was Roch when the theurge finally gave up on the slow-moving disk and leapt to the ground. Unfortunately, for him, no one was near enough or, perhaps, fool enough to get under his breastplate-clad bulk. “You jerks,” he groaned as he slowly regained his feet. Only Ragnar remained at the top of the canyon with his roc companion to aid him as the demonic belkers closed in on every side.

“Ragnar!” Cul’tharic shouted. “Can’t druids take the shape of elemental creatures?!”

“Fistbump’s steely mitts, you’re right!” the dwarf replied only now realizing he could probably escape the belkers by transforming into a small earth elemental. “Arkansas! Fly to the others! Go!” Ragnar commanded as his skin became craggy and rough. A moment later, amid a flurry of claws, the druid sank into the stone where he would spend the rest of the battle hiding from further danger.

Now, the belkers charged the group at the bottom of the canyon. Two had been injured, but not nearly enough to consider fleeing the scene and it seemed they might have the upper hand. Jasper’s arrows could scarcely harm the beasts and Nicky had already cast all of his damaging spells. Since the party had no weapons that could reach the monsters, the smoky fiends could easily strike from above the party without fear. Then, a burst of twinkling snowflakes filled the air around one of the belkers.

“Not this again,” Nicky groaned. “Put it away, Roch! We’ve all seen your silly spell and it’s useless!” But the witch was wrong; embarrassingly, eat-your-own-words-in-a-slice-of-humble-pie wrong.

Aria was close to death. One of the belkers had figured out she was capable of healing her allies and singled her out for execution. The thing unleashed a torrent of blows against her that would surely have killed the cleric for the second time in so many days but, thanks to the cloud of thick snow blanketing the monster’s eyes, nearly every one of its six attacks completely missed their target.

Nicky’s own animated hair had to slap him back to his senses as his brain carried on a heated argument with his eyes. The witch swore he could hear the fabric of reality itself tearing around him, and he wanted to curl up into a fetal position and wait for the Great Old Ones to claim him as he crushed Pyewacket to death in a tight hug and stroked the silvanshee’s furry head.

“Face!” Roch gloated, shooting an open palm toward the witch’s ugly mug as the product of his hard work was finally and irrevocably legitimized in full view of the doubting hexer. “Stick that in your cauldron and brew it, you glorified adept!”

Spurred on by Roch’s success, T-Bone unleashed a bolt of lightning from his ensorcelled gauntlets as Arkansas joined him in attacking one of the previously wounded belkers. Cul’tharic, lacking his trusty javelins, took to the air with an acrobatic leap toward another of the monsters.

The lizardman’s powerful tail seemed to helicopter a bit as he delivered a powerful strike from his trident that destroyed the beast. Seeing this, Jasper, Nicky and Develdar began to aid the scaly warrior by lashing at the remaining monsters with the oversized whip they’d looted from Noh and Nicky’s hair while Develdar harried the beasts with leaping slashes of his own.

A second belker dissipated quickly after the first, and the final monster fled for its miserable life when it realized it could not win this fight. The creature disappeared howling into the sky and, as Aria began to administer to the wounded, the rest of the party spread out to search for the jewels they’d been promised. The young xorn, Dirtchops, arrived about a minute later but, instead of asking about his reward, the rock-biter dove head-first into the pool of thick, hot sludge on the canyon floor.

“Hey, chompy!” Jasper yelled at the creature who seemed to be frolicking in the molten morass. “What gives!? Where are our diamonds?!”

“Oh, there aren’t any diamonds here,” chortled the xorn. “You can keep your armor. I only wanted those monsters gone so I could get back to the good stuff here!”

“Why, you little-“ growled the rogue as Ragnar popped up out of the ground at his feet.

“Hey fellas, I’ve got some bad news,” spoke the dwarf as he resumed his normal form. “I did some rock-hounding while I was down there and-“

“We know,” Jasper interrupted. “That little dust-head over there tricked us!”

Ragnar turned to look at Dirtchops who was now stitching the pool and swallowing pitcher-full amounts of the viscous, red slime.

“Alberich’s emerald bedpan!” exclaimed the dwarf who was only now able to get a close look at the lake. “That’s Earthblood!”

Earthblood, Ragnar explained was a rare substance that was said to be the actual blood of ancient mountains. It was only ever found where terrible catastrophes had befallen the oldest of the world’s peaks. This vein had likely been exposed during the construction of the dungeon or during the earthquake that followed. Aside from being sought after by creatures like the xorn, the liquid was holy to most druids and possessed amazing properties.

“A dab of this stuff on the end of a torch will burn for several days straight,” Ragnar spoke. “This lake might burn for over a year if it went up.”

“Then I say we burn it,” spoke Nicky as he approached the lake. “That oughta teach this little hooligan a lesson.”

“I’m going to suggest you don’t do that,” came a rumbling voice from the earth as a pair of massive xorn appeared to block the witch’s path.

“Stonedar! Rokkon!” Dirtchops shouted from the pool. “You’re here! These are the fleshies I told you about!”

“Dirtchops, here, told us you fought hard for this lake,” Rokkon spoke.

“It would be a real tragedy for everyone if you went and did something stupid like, say, setting it on fire,” Stonedar continued.

“He’s right,” Ragnar spoke. “In large amounts, burning Earthblood becomes an incredibly deadly poison. From the size of this pond, I’d say anything that needs to breathe within two miles of here would be dead inside of ten minutes. I can’t let you burn it. If you try, I’ll have to stop you.”

“So that’s it?” T-Bone spoke. “We get nothing? Aria nearly died again for this crap!”

“Calm yourself, deep-friend,” spoke Rokkon. “Nobody said you get nothing.”

“Dirtchops tricked you,” continued Stonedar. “but, he was only looking out for his people.”

“Many xorn will be pleased that you defeated the smoke demons and returned control of the Earthblood to us,” Rokkon spoke.

“Important xorn,” Stonedar finished. “Nobody said you get nothing.”

“Waste of time, he said,” Aria mocked.

BONUS CONTENT:

For those who want a closer look, I present The Elder Xorn!

Andoran

Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Companion Subscriber

Things in the dungeon have slowed down considerably in the last two sessions, and the party has gotten back to some good old-fashioned exploration and monster smashing while they prepare for the assault on the driders.

With their success in defeating the belkers at the earthblood falls, the party has managed to get back on the indifferent to friendly side of the local xorn and their elder Metlar, but tragedy is looming on the horizon as one of our heroes decides to throw in the towel. Find out which one of my players got bored with his character next in...

DAY 181-182: THE BELKER'S THROAT

featuring: The World's Largest Adventuring Party
Roch - Lizardfolk Mystic Theurge
Aria – Halfling Holy Vindicator of Sarenrae
Nicky Holroyd – Orc Witch
T-Bone the Stingy Gorilla – Dwarf Titan Mauler
Jasper – Human Rogue
Ragnar – Dwarf Cave Druid
Cul’tharic - Lizardfolk Scaled Horror
Pyewacket – Nicky’s silvanshee familiar

The earthblood pond burbled and popped as a gathering of xorn assembled at its shore. There, the creature hungrily scooped great gobs of the toxic sludge into their maws, and it was all thanks to the adventurers and a cunning ploy by one of the young rock-biters.

“Harbor no grudge against Dirtchops,” spoke the elder xorn Metlar, his mood greatly improved after ingesting a kiddie pool’s worth of earthblood. “He tricked you for his people and he will be rewarded for his clever plan, but you will be rewarded as well.”

“Does this mean you’ll help us fight the driders?” Jasper asked.

“No,” Metlar replied with a laugh. “The affairs of surface-walkers are not my concern.”

“What about the huge crater full of gemstones they’ve got? Does that concern you?” asked T-Bone.

“The earth to the north is rich enough with such treasures and now, thanks to you, we have the earthblood,” answered the xorn. “Here, we have all we need and we are content. I will not council my people to assist you.”

“So what’s our consolation prize then?” asked Nicky. “Please say diamond dust.”

“You will have the crushed diamonds you seek,” Metlar spoke. “It all tastes the same to me anyway.”

“Before you go, there was one more thing,” Jasper mentioned as the creature began to trundle off. While they waited, the party had discussed the option of acquiring some of the earthblood to use in their attack on the driders. According to Ragnar, the stuff could be used to create a devastatingly potent poison fog. Metlar agreed to let the party take as much of the substance as they could carry in one trip, but not without a warning.

“We xorn have a powerful thirst for earthblood,” Metlar began. “Even through the earth we can detect its scent from a mile away, and the aroma drives some xorn mad with hunger. A blood-driven xorn will not hesitate to kill any creature in possession of the substance, and even I cannot guarantee your safety once you leave the area surrounding the source.”

Taking Metlar’s words into consideration, the adventurers devised a plan to move the substance using Noh’s floating disk wand. The disk was slow but it lasted several hours and could be used to travel at a safe distance above the ground. Their only problem now was finding a way to contain the stuff and, once again, it was up to Ragnar and Arkansas to find a solution.

The druid and his roc companion were advised to start their search at Norkor’s old home atop The Dark Crown. While there, the party had noticed a few giant-sized pots and jugs the priest had used for storing food. Pyewacket tagged along to assist with the search and to provide some backup in case the dwarf encountered any trouble. Meanwhile, the rest of the party waited for the diamond dust Aria needed to restore everyone’s strength. While waiting, the group was approached by Dirtchops’ large friends, Stonedar and Rokkon.

Dirtchops was nowhere to be found, but Stonedar and Rokkon had been made the xorns’ official guardians of the earthblood pool. While not quite as large as Metlar, the pair would still pose more than a challenge to any would-be earthbound earthblood poachers. Flying creatures, on the other hand, were a different story.

“We couldn’t reach them, and they were too afraid to come to us,” Stonedar explained. “The belkers could become smoke to chase us through the fissures in the earth, but some of them got trapped.”

“Easy pickings,” Rokkon continued. “It was a stalemate. That’s why Dirtchops tricked you into helping us.”

“Are you worried about the one that got away?” Aria asked.

“Not right now,” Stonedar replied. “It’s the others that concern us.”

“Others?” spoke the priest. “You mean there are more of them out there?”

“Only a few in the canyon,” Rokkon replied.

“But they aren’t nearly as powerful as the group you fought,” said Stonedar.

“Not yet,” added Rokkon.

“Maybe not ever if you and your friends handle them,” Stonedar suggested.

“Is this another trick?” Aria asked.

“Not a trick,” Rokkon replied.

“A trade,” Stonedar continued. “You wipe out the belkers west of here…”

“…and we’ll round you up some more of those shiny rocks you upworlders like so much,” Rokkon finished.

“But that’s not all,” Stonedar added. “We’ll tell you about some places we know.”

“Places you might want to explore,” continued Rokkon. “Places where you might find things we xorn can’t use.”

“Things maybe you can use,” Stonedar bargained.

It didn’t take long for the party to reach a consensus. A little adventure and the potential for gaining some loot was better than sitting around waiting for Shi to report in. As soon as Ragnar returned and Aria got her diamond dust they’d set out for the lair of the belkers.

***

Norkor’s camp atop The Dark Crown was a disaster. The giant’s belongings had been scattered, destroyed or flung from the mountaintop as if a hurricane had swept through and a pillar of stone had been toppled onto his altar to Stronmaus. An inspection of the arrowhawks’ former nest turned up only sparse remains that had stubbornly clung to the tower during whatever assault had decimated Norkor’s home. Ragnar did manage to turn up a pot with a missing lid and a couple of dented decanters, but nothing else of worth though something about one of the boulders near the arrowhawks’ spire seemed a bit off.

Unlike many of the boulders Norkor had lined up along the edge of the cliff, the great stone at the base of the spire was far too large to throw and it didn’t conform to the shape of the surrounding area. Ragnar could only assume the thing had been moved from somewhere else, possibly to conceal something. Lifting the stone was impossible even with the help of his roc companion, but that didn’t mean the druid had to give up his investigation. Once again shifting into the form of an earth elemental, Ragnar dove beneath the boulder to take a look underneath.

A hole, barely larger than a washbasin, had been dug out beneath the boulder. Ragnar could see someone had placed a sword, a pouch and some sort of metal baton into the hole but, lacking the room to fit within the depression, there was no way for him to retrieve the items. For now, they would have to wait until the party could return to remove the boulder.

***

A day passed before the party sought out the belker lair to the west of the earthblood pool giving Aria the time she needed to administer the spells required to return the recently reincarnated to optimum performance levels. According to Stonedar and Rokkon, the belkers in the western caves were effectively the weaker, bullied cousins of the three creatures the party had already defeated. They weren’t yet a major threat to the earthblood but, unlike the far more reasonable achairerai further west, the belkers were aggressively malicious and hateful. No creature in the chasm would miss them or regret their passing.

The directions the xorn gave led the party to a 100-foot wide grotto that descended into the earth like the burrow of a titanic worm. Large caves dotted the sides of the grotto as far down as the adventurers could see and a thin haze of heavy acidic-tasting mist drifted through the air.

“This has got to be the place,” Roch announced. “That mist is a byproduct of the belker’s fascinating digestive system.”

“So…it’s…,” Nicky began.

“Belker poop,” Roch acknowledged. “Yep. The canyon is filled with trace amounts of it. We’ve been breathing it in since yesterday. It’s perfectly harmless in such infinitesimally small quantities.”

“Roch?” Nicky began. “How are you at blackjack?”

As the mystic puzzled over the witch’s odd question, Ragnar took the form of an eagle to better survey the caves.

“Don’t go too far,” Jasper cautioned the druid. “If possible we want to draw them up here.”

Ragnar’s search of the first two caves turned up nothing but, as he entered the third, a swirling fog descended on him from the ceiling. Spotting the druid’s approach, the belker within took to its smoke form and waited to ambush the intruder to its lair. The creature swiftly reformed and howled an alarm as it violently attacked the druid. As the dwarf’s companions looked on, three additional belkers emerged from nearby caves and flew straight toward the sound of the howling.

“Sqwawrkk!” Ragnar screeched as the belker tore at him. Seeing as he was trapped, the dwarf quickly shifted to elemental form and once again hid within the earth as he had the day before. His companions had wanted to draw the things out and he’d managed that handily. Now it was their turn.

Stonedar and Rokkon hadn’t lied. The belkers were vicious but nowhere near as powerful or intelligent as their kin. The quartet of carcinogenic cacodemons charged the adventurers, clawing and slashing at whatever targets were closest, but they were quickly overwhelmed. Two of the monsters were vanquished in short order, leaving the remaining pair to flee with heavy injuries. A search of the grotto revealed no other belkers and the party returned to the earthblood pool where Stonedar and Rokkon waited with their reward.

***

“You only did half the job,” Stonedar spoke after hearing the party’s report.

“So you only get half the pay,” continued Rokkon as he handed a clawful of rough gems to Aria. “We will tell you of two places we know.”

“There is a hole to the northwest we call The Belker’s Throat,” Stonedar informed the party.

“It was the home of the three creatures you fought here at the earthblood fall,” Rokkon added.

“The smoke devils may have hidden treasure there,” spoke Stonedar.

“But the creature you drove off may have returned there to rest,” cautioned Rokkon.

“And the other location?” Jasper asked.

“It is called The Old Man’s Bones,” replied Stonedar. “West of Metlar’s Respite in the northern crater.”

“It is the refuse pile of the air elementals,” Rokkon added. “They have killed many upworlders over the long years.”

“What they do not keep, they deposit at The Old Man’s Bones,” Stonedar spoke. “It marks the edge of The Flatlands.”

“Province of the Outcasts, belkers deemed too weak or too stupid to reside in the canyon by their own kind,” Rokkon warned.

“The Outcasts fear Metlar and will not travel east of the boneyard,” Stonedar added. “But they have been known to enter The Old Man’s Bones and sift through the elementals’ garbage.”

Seeing as how they’d only expended a few of their resources during the battle at the belker caves, the party decided to head to The Belker’s Throat right away. Along the way, Roch and Cul’tharic noticed what appeared to be a man-sized hole in the corner of a gully and the adventurer’s decided to check it out.

“Hold up,” Ragnar cautioned his companions. “Something’s not right.” The dwarf druid’s stony cunning had warned him that the earth around the hole might collapse. It was decided he and Nicky would fly into the cave entrance rather than test the strength of the surrounding ditch.

The shaft descended about 30 feet to a pit filled with fallen stone but, only a few feet below the surface, Ragnar discovered a piton spiked into one of the walls. Someone had attempted to climb into or out of the pit and, a further search of the area led the dwarf to a collapsed halfling-sized tunnel. The tunnel entrance looked as if it could be dug out to get at whatever was on the other side so Ragnar and Nicky returned to their companions to formulate a plan.

T-Bone, Cul’tharic and Roch anchored the druid with a length of rope as he climbed into the hole with his pick. Meanwhile, Jasper and Develdar watched from a safe distance and took bets on what kind of calamity was about to befall the party. It was a bet the drow won.

Ragnar quickly determined that mining out a few choice rocks would further collapse the tunnel enough to expose the upper area of its entrance; all he needed to do was give the falling rocks a place to go so he could get on top of them. What he didn’t foresee was the drastic effect digging into the tunnel would have on the surface of the canyon. As soon as the rocks gave way, a great rumbling filled the air. The shallow trench most of the adventurers were standing in suddenly became a tremendous gorge that sucked Ragnar, Aria, Roch, Cul’tharic, T-Bone, Nicky and Pyewacket below a pile of tumbling boulders. Jasper and Develdar quickly leapt away from the widening gap and then turned to rescuing their buried comrades.

None of the adventurers was killed by the cave-in though Aria and Pyewacket came terribly close to becoming jelly and, in the aftermath of the collapse, the party found Ragnar had succeeded in opening the tunnel despite the dramatic outcome of his digging. The bones of a small humanoid were now scattered amongst the rocks along with a few scraps of leather and what might have once been a torch. What really stood out among the remains, however, were a pair of blue steel-framed goggles with golden lenses. Ragnar passed the eyewear to Nicky for examination and the witch quickly determined their significance.

“Well, this is lucky,” announced the witch. “Though I’m not sure whether this is good luck or bad yet.”

“What are they?” asked Jasper.

“Goggles of the Golden Sun,” the witch replied. “Along with the Gloves of the Starry Sky we found in The Barrows, they’re part of the Raiment of the Four. What bothers me is how we found them.”

Nicky recounted the legend of the druid-enchanted accessories and the curse they supposedly carried.

“This is the second time we’ve found a piece of the collection buried under a pile of rocks,” Nicky spoke. “There might be something to the stories of Grotarb’s ghost haunting the bearers of the set. If you want to risk it, Ragnar, you can carry them. Wearing them along with the gloves should enhance their magic.”

So what if some dead orc’s spirit was tied to the Raiment, Ragnar thought. He had little to fear from a rockslide as long as he had time to shift into an elemental before it happened. He decided to take the goggles, and the party decided to rest up before continuing to The Belker’s Throat.

***

The Belker’s Throat was just as Stonedar and Rokkon described it: a big, deep hole with a cave at the bottom. Unlike the tunnel-pocked belker caves to the south, the walls of the Throat were solid rock all the way down and, as he often did, Nicky decided to fly in alone.

It should have come as no surprise when Nicky was suddenly assaulted by the wounded, vengeful belker the party had run off from the earthblood pool two days prior. The creature immediately recognized the orc that had attacked him at the falls and, seeing him alone without even a protective sheath of force armor to defend him, the murderous beast assailed the witch with all its fury.

Roch and T-Bone were slowly riding one of the floating disks into the pit when they heard Nicky scream in pain. A bolt of lightning flashed from the witch’s fingers briefly illuminating the battle below, and Ragnar quickly shifted into the form of an eagle and flew to the witch’s aid but it was too late. Ironically, it was Nicky’s newborn orcish ferocity that killed him. The belker’s attacks had done just enough damage to drop the witch and, had he not been an orc, he would have done just that. Unfortunately, the witch’s rage kept him on his feet, which only spurred the belker on to completely eviscerate him. Ragnar arrived just in time to become the monster’s next target.

The arrival of the druid worried the belker but, after dispatching the witch, the creature had just enough courage to stay in the fight. Ragnar may well have become a second fatality if it hadn’t been for the, frankly, pretty insane arrival of T-Bone the Stingy Gorilla.

“Rrrr! Can’t this thing move any faster!?” T-Bone growled at Roch.

“I can only move the disk-“ the theurge began before the barbarian interrupted him.

“Screw this. I’m going in!” the titan mauler raged as he lifted his flaming greatsword over his head and leapt off the disk. Ninety feet, directly below the plummeting barbarian, the belker had closed in on Ragnar and was about to deliver a deadly flurry of attacks.

“Goooo-rillllll-laaaa Smaaaaash!” T-Bone howled as his blade sliced through the monster, cutting a terrible wound through its misty form before the barbarian himself came crashing into the stone floor below. “Oowwuurrghh…” he moaned as he quivered in a heap at Ragnar’s side.

T-Bone’s sudden kamikaze assault shook the belker to its core. A wispy thread of its former self, the creature tried to flee the cave but the adventurers above were waiting.

Aria drew aim on the escaping belker and prepared to fire a beam of searing light into the beast. She hadn’t swung her blade against or harmed a single enemy combatant during her entire tenure in the dungeon, and her companions held their collective breaths for this momentous occasion. Then, a burst of snow erupted around the creature, concealing it as Roch spoiled everything.

“Dahh! What are doing, Roch!? I totally had him!” Aria yelled at the mystic, but she still had a chance to take the kill shot. All she had to do was wait for the belker to emerge from the cloud of snow. Aria turned her attention back to the snowburst just in time to see a ball of fire explode out of the pit. When the blast dissipated, nothing was left. The snow, along with the belker had melted on impact. Ragnar had used the magic of his new goggles to burn the belker out of existence and Aria’s mouth fell open in disbelief as Cul’tharic patted her on the shoulder.

“I’m sure it would have been a very impressive attack,” the lizardman hissed.

Meanwhile, down in The Belker’s Throat, Ragnar, T-Bone and Pyewacket stood over the remains of Nicky.

“Hope we’ve got enough diamond dust left to cover this,” T-Bone grunted.

“You won’t need it,” Pyewacket ruefully spoke. “He’s gone for good this time. He won’t come back.”

What the silvanshee said was true. The witch had made his position clear to his familiar after the party’s discovery of King Arnulf’s remains a few days ago.

“I’ll do what I can to help these people for as long as I can,” Nicky had said. “but Nirvana is on the other side of the veil and, if it comes down to a choice between there and here again, I’m staying there.”

Pyewacket knew his charge hadn’t changed his mind about returning to life when the witch uttered his final words.

“Tell Roch…” Nicky burbled through a mouth frothing with blood. “…I still think it’s a crap spell.”

What the witch’s death meant for the silvanshee was unclear. His familiar bond with Nicky would be broken, that was certain, but he was still trapped in the dungeon with the rest of the party and it wasn’t as if he’d revert into some unthinking animal. For now, the little flying cat could only sit as his friend’s side and give him a final lick goodbye as his companions looted the witch’s corpse.


Sniff*

Now they need to do the right thing and animate his corpse.

Taldor

I once had a PC with Gloves of the Starry Sky; they're pretty sweet. Did you just drop those in there? (They're from the Magic Item Compendium, IIRC.)

Is Nicky's player dropping out or is he going to roll up a new PC?


no Nicky's player is not giving up the game
just going to inhabit a new body for hopefully a long time
wait watch and see

Andoran

Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Companion Subscriber

I've dropped three enchanted item sets into the dungeon so far, and I'll probably add a few more. I liked the idea of the sets when I saw them in MIC, but I rarely ever saw them used so they became one of the few changes I've made to the adventure.

So far, the party has pieces from the Raiment of the Four and the Armor of the Watching Master. Riswan was wearing a piece of the Raiment of Valor when he left and, since he's an NPC again, I'll probably have him bequeath it to the players.

Nicky's player has been telling me for a few weeks that he wasn't having any fun with the character. He's still in the game, and he'll have a new character soon. Until we can work his character into the story, I'm letting him play the monsters.


Raiment of Valor?

Is that in the Magic Item Compendium? I don't see it in the TOC.

Andoran

Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Companion Subscriber

The Raiment of Valor is in Complete Champion. It's a three-piece set with effects that only kick in when you are at half or less HP. Riswan had the Tabard of Valor that basically gives a character the "Stalwart" Inquisitor ability when you are half HP or less. The party saw the Crest of Valor in the Celestial Garrison's armory, but only members of the garrison can purchase equipment from the Kolyarut quartermaster. The Crest is a small griffon statue that attaches to any helm and grants a +2 morale bonus to hit whenever the wearer is at half HP or less.


Hmmm I've read parts of this thing, but that book isn't readily available to me. The guy I know with a copy is out of state for a while.

But from what I remember of the background info, does this thing open to other "primes" or planes, however your cosmology works?

I mean if I remember correctly, you have a plausible reason for anyone, anywhere to stumble into this thing, it's not just Lord Antagonis' little playground.

I mean, literally you could have a Forgotten Realms character, or Athas, or one of those funky Planescape characters plausibly pop up here?

I mean if I were in your game, I could roll up a Knight of Solamnia, assuming you had no problems with that prestige class?

Could one of your PC's have joined that garrison? Or did it have to be a group thing?

Andoran

Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Companion Subscriber

The dungeon itself is set in some generic third-party universe, but it's written so it can be dropped into any world. I occassionally reference old campaign settings in the journal, but it's not to imply there are entrances from those worlds. It's more like those worlds are part of the ancient history of the Golarion pastiche I use as the base for this campaign.

Think of the many campaign settings that came before Golarion as different eras in one world. Instead of Dave Arneson's Blackmoor being a separate universe or plane, it's really just the dawn of my campaign's history. I might make reference to Dragonlance's Solamnic Knights as an ancient order of warriors but, the way I'm running the game, a PC couldn't enter the dungeon from "present day" Krynn because Dragonlance is in the past. Yesterday's Solamnic Knights are today's Mendevian Crusaders.

Basically, when the book uses generic terminology like "ancient god," I substitute the word "ancient" with "early edition D&D." Norkor is said to worship a long-forgotten weather deity so I made his god Stronmaus who first showed up in a TSR book called Monster Mythology back in 1992. When T-Bone mentioned the ancient gnomish dialect from the White Plume Mountain region, that was a reference to the gnomes who served the wizard Keraptis in the White Plume Mountain module from 1979. It's all just a means for me to pay homage to the history of this great game.

As for the Celestial Garrison, party members are free to try out for membership. There was a test in Region E to qualify for the honor, but it's really easy and, once a player has gone through it, it's kind of hard to surprise any new PC they bring in with what's involved. From now on, the test in Region E is pretty much reserved for NPCs you never hear about. For the players, I'm doing something different.

The test in Region E involved three rooms where players were challenged with resisting Temptation, an act of Charity and a show of Bravery in the face of certain annihilation. The final part of the test was a simple meditation chamber where the players would learn the history of the Dungeon and the Celestial Garrison. What I've done is made it so the party doesn't have to go back to Region E for the test. This ensures no one metagames their way through the challenges since just about all my current players have gone through the rooms.

To join the Celestial Garrison now, a party member still needs to pass tests involving Temptation, Charity and Bravery, but they only need to do it in the presence of a Garrison member in good standing. The lantern archons I put into each region count as members of the Garrison so all they need to do is seek one out and ask it to accompany them on their adventures. The archon will bestow a token for every task the character performs that meets the requirements for one of the tests. Once the character succeeds at all three tasks, they just need to go back to Region E to perform their meditation and induction. Forging tokens to get into the Garrison is impossible because the Garrison Charter harms any unworthy applicants who touch it while taking the oath of service.

Garrison members not only receive the privilege of purchasing equipment from the Garrison armory, they also gain a +2 untyped bonus to Will saves and automatically know if any evil creature ever passes the wards between Region E and I. These benefits last so long as the character serves the Garrison's purpose.

Andoran

Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Companion Subscriber

The adventurers have moved on from The Belker's Throat, leaving behind one of their own after Nicky was brutally killed by a vengeful belker. Now, with the witch's trusty silvanshee familiar in tow, they head north toward a zephyr-haunted boneyard built from the remains of victims of The Demon Wind. What metacarpal mysteries await our heroes within the ossi-fantastic confines of this sesamoid sanctuary? Find out in...

DAY 182-184: OLD MAN’S BONES

featuring: The World's Largest Adventuring Party
Roch - Lizardfolk Mystic Theurge
Aria – Halfling Holy Vindicator of Sarenrae
T-Bone the Stingy Gorilla – Dwarf Titan Mauler
Jasper – Human Rogue
Ragnar – Dwarf Cave Druid
Cul’tharic - Lizardfolk Scaled Horror
Pyewacket – NPC silvanshee ex-familiar

The Belker’s Throat and the freshly buried corpse of the witch, Nicky, were far behind the adventurers when they finally arrived at the wind-blasted plain the xorn called Old Man’s Bones. Here, the bones of dozens upon dozens of creatures were scattered or thrown into haphazard piles across the valley floor, all victims of King Aphnitern or his elemental court.

Bits of ruined equipment had been left to waste in the heat, but the adventurers had been led to believe a few treasures may have survived the fall that had killed so many of the creatures whose bodies had been cast down to break on the jagged rocks of the chasm. It was while searching for these treasures that the party noticed an eerie howling coming from deep within the boneyard.

“That sounds like Auran,” spoke Pyewacket. “We should hide!” Only a couple hundred feet away, a trio of belkers were quickly spotted drifting around a pit in the floor of the boneyard. The creatures seemed to be chanting, wailing and dancing to the susurrus of the wind-blown bones piled high around the crater.

“I think they’re praying to King Aphnitern?” Ragnar spoke. The druid was correct. The outcast belkers that claimed ownership of The Flatlands had discovered Old Man’s Bones shortly after being evicted by their kin in the canyon. The creatures had been spotted haunting the site by the air elementals of The Dark Crown during one of their trash runs and, through them, the belkers had learned of the power of King Aphnitern.

“This boneyard-,” the elementals hissed. “-is a monument to the power of the king. Serve him and you shall have all the lands between here and his great valley as your own to rule in his name.” The air elementals, secretly repulsed by the noxious fiends, spoke in jest, but the outcasts quickly swore to serve Aphnitern for all time. Amused, the elementals left the outcasts to serve as watchdogs for their eastern border. Since then, the creatures had taken to treating the boneyard as holy ground and often came to scream devotional prayers at the edge of a huge pit near the center of the boneyard, a place they believed to be the site of Aphnitern’s first victim.

“What’s the plan?” Aria asked.

“I think we should-“ Jasper began before a fiery explosion suddenly cut him off.

“Taal Tuung!” boomed Ragnar as a column of fire rained down from the sky, engulfing one of the belkers.

“What the hell, Ragnar?!” Jasper shouted. “We were trying to actually put together a plan for once!” By then, the wailing chant had become an enraged scream and the belkers were rocketing toward the party with maddening speed.

“How many of those things did we count before?” Aria asked as she watched six additional monsters suddenly swarm out of the bone piles to join their kin.

“You and I are going to have a little talk about subtlety if we survive this!” Jasper growled at the dwarf as he ducked behind a small hill of skeletons.

The pack of belkers were on the adventurers in seconds clawing and biting with the fury of zealots and, what the weaker cousins of the canyon-dwelling fiends lacked in strength, they made up for in tenacity and numbers. Here, within the macabre shrine to their elemental king, the adventurers could expect no retreat from battle. These creatures would fight to the death. Fortunately, they went down pretty easy.

The Outcasts indeed proved to be just as Rokkon and Stonedar described them, the runts of the belker litter. The creatures were fierce and many but, lacking the strength and experience of their more powerful kin, they quickly fell to the attacks of the party. It didn’t help the fiends’ cause that the adventurers had acquired the services of a trigger-happy druid who hadn’t heard anyone use the word “moderation” in a sentence for over 30 years.

Ragnar blew through every powerful spell he had at his disposal as if the magic had some kind of quickly approaching expiration date and many wondered if they would be able to count on him to rein it in when the time came to assault The Barrows.

With the belkers destroyed, the party moved forward to investigate the site of the creatures’ ritual. Jasper and Develdar, seeing their companions had things under control, had already snuck away to the crater during the fight and made a couple of discoveries.

“Aria, Ragnar!” Jasper shouted from atop a mound of bones near the pit. “Get over here quick!” There upon a bed of the cracked and splintered skeletons of a hundred beasts and men lay the massive, broken and lifeless body of the cloud giant Norkor and, within the nearby shallow pit lay the wind-bleached skeleton of what could only be the priest’s missing brother, Zethar.

“What do we do?” asked the rogue. “Can we bring him back?”

“Only if he wants to come back,” Ragnar replied. “And, even then, it may be too late.”

“What do you mean?” spoke Jasper.

“I can only restore life to a creature that’s been dead for no longer than a week,” answered the dwarf. “It’s been seven days since we last saw your friend counting today, and I don’t have the proper spell prepared. Unless that big, krogan taadlos kept him alive to torture him an extra day, there’s nothing I’ll be able to do bring him back.”

“Aria?” Jasper asked.

The halfling was studying the body. Her extensive knowledge of physiology told her it was possible Norkor hadn’t died the day of the battle on The Dark Crown, but there was no way to be certain. “We can try,” spoke the cleric.

***

“In the name of Sarenrae, I call upon the spirit of Norkor, brother of Zethar and priest of Stronmaus!” Aria intoned as she cast her spell over the giant’s corpse. “Answer my voice if you are able!”

The small priest’s companions quietly waited for a reply. They’d made camp within Old Man’s Bones for the night and Aria had prepared a spell to converse with the dead. Perhaps due to all they’d experienced and survived over the last ten days, the group woke to new strength and power and Aria, in particular, had been given access to a miraculous ability by her goddess, an ability to restore life to the dead. But, before she would attempt the spell, there were questions that needed to be answered. Presently, the corpse’s mouth fell open allowing a gasp of air to escape.

“I am here,” came the ghostly echo of Norkor’s voice. “Why have you summoned me?”

“It has been eight days since we saw you carried away by King Aphnitern,” Aria informed the giant. “I may be able to return you here to the chasm to continue your life and to complete your Omjag. Is this your wish?”

Norkor’s spirit was silent for a time. Life atop of The Dark Crown had, at times, been lonely and was always fraught with peril. He’d grown to miss the storms that swept over the mountains of his youth and, after forty years, he’d died a good, honorable death and it seemed he might finally have a chance to reunite with his brother within the halls of Stormhold, the eternal cloud palace of Stronmaus. Yet…

“It is my wish,” spoke the spirit, keeping his reasons to himself. “Cast your spell.”

“Pssst, Aria,” Jasper whispered. “Ask him the other question.”

The cleric rolled her eyes and once again addressed the giant’s spectre. “Jasper wants to know if you only want to come back to life so you can murder us all for getting you killed,” she asked. The slack, wide jaw of the corpse seemed to unhinge slightly as the spirit laughed a thunderous laugh through its dry, hollow throat.

“That’s a ‘No,’ right?” Jasper asked.

Aria quickly set about to casting the powerful spell to return life to the giant’s body, producing the last of the party’s diamond supply as a sacrifice. As luck would have it, they had just enough to raise the cloud giant but would have fell short had Nicky chosen to be reincarnated and restored to full strength. A minute later, the bone pile shook and clattered as Norkor rose from the dead and climbed down from his fossil-cushioned bed.

Norkor’s senses returned to him quickly and he soon caught sight of the gigantic skeleton within the nearby pit. The insane belkers had been wrong about the remains belonging to Aphnitern’s first victim, but it was true these were the bones of Norkor’s brother Zethar. The giant had been thrown here by Aphnitern decades ago and years of heat and wind and the sharp, smoky claws of the belkers had left its bones clean and smooth as marble. Only an emerald ring upon one of the giant’s fingers remained as an indication of who he may have been in life.

The adventurers gave Norkor some time alone with his brother’s remains and returned to the task of searching the boneyard. The vast majority of equipment was useless or broken beyond even magic’s ability to repair, but there was one great find within the ossuary maze.

A heavy, steel helmet emblazoned with a crystal eye rested upon the skull of some unfortunate humanoid, and a little divinatory investigation revealed the brain bucket was part of the fabled Armor of the Watching Master, a set of enchanted safeguards once employed by an ancient order of paladins. T-Bone already wore one part of the set, a face mask the party found upon the body of a dead drow warrior within the lair of The Green Death, and it only made sense that he should take the helmet as well. Of course, that meant replacing his current headgear.

“But I can barely understand letter words without my special helmet,” the barbarian complained. “And, how am I going to know when people are making fun of me?”

“You’ll see their lips moving,” joked Aria. “Now put on your new hat and quitchurb!!##in.”

The adventurers spent the rest of the day helping Norkor gather Zethar’s remains and returning them to The Dark Crown. The cloud giant said little, but made it clear his brother should have as close to a proper sky-burial as he could manage before he would further assist them and the top of the spired mesa would have to suffice.

***

“Riswan thinks we have enough to collapse one good-sized chamber,” Shi reported through the crystal eye the following day. “There’s no time to make more. The driders seem ready to make their move.”

Through Shi, the adventurers learned the Spider Kings’ forces were amassing at the entrance to Sigilinde’s lair and The Halls of Flesh as if in preparation for some grand assault, but they were still facing some resistance in the form of a clanking, mechanical beast that stalked the halls of the former rebellion headquarters. By all accounts, it seemed the psychotic homunculus, Beem, had gotten into The Death Trap and sealed itself inside. Having no need for food or sleep and being completely immune to the poisonous vapors that filled the vehicle’s compartment, the sadistic little imp could kill at his leisure from the comfort of the heavily armored crab-bot.

Sigilinde, Shi revealed, had moved her laboratory into Mahir’s old cache and still held the monster Anguish in reserve while the beasts of The Halls of Flesh had been given free rein to wander her former lair. In a spot of good news, contact had been made with the celestials in Region E when Riswan managed to walk straight through the celestial wards without harm.

“It turns out we could have returned to Four Waters at any time and Sigilinde didn’t actually know what would happen to us when she fed us the gruel from her pit of slime,” Shi spoke. “She just told us what she expected would happen, figuring that would be enough to keep us from trying to leave. I swear Riswan was going to deck her when he found out. I think he’s going to try to kill her as soon as we’re done here.”

The Celestial Garrison, from Shi’s report, hadn’t promised any support but thanked the halfling for the information. Apparently, the garrison commander Kelara, was busy keeping her eye on a situation brewing in the commune. Before Shi could get into that, however, the minutes on his crystal eye ran out and he was cut off.

“That’s it then,” announced Roch after relaying Shi’s message to his companions. “I guess it’s time we finished this.”

Andoran

Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Companion Subscriber

Howdy, folks! As of their victory over The Outcast belkers and their discovery of Zethar's remains, the party has finally reached Level 10. I asked my players to provide me with stat blocks for their characters and, while I'm still waiting for most of them, I did receive one for the party's resident Healbot 5000, Aria.

The aasimar cleric, Aria T'Loak, joined the fight against Lord Antagonis after the orphanage she worked for was burned down by the despot's minions because they claimed "It seemed like the right thing to do." After running into Jasper, Nicky and T-Bone at an anti-Antagonis rally, the holy vindicator agreed to accompany them and provide healing during their quest for King Arnulf's remains.

Sometime after the party's escape from Eletor's laboratory, Aria came down with a severe case of being dead that left her reincarnated and occupying the body of a halfling. Too small to use her old weapons and armor, the cleric now carries the ancient battle axe and armor of the legendary gnome hero, King Arnulf the Good.

Aria T'Loak stats:
Aria T’Loak
Merciful Healer Cleric of Sarenrae 8, Holy Vindicator of Sarenrae 2
NG Small humanoid (halfing)
Init +1; Senses: normal vision; Perception +4

DEFENSE
AC 17, touch 12, flat-footed 16 (+4 armor, +1 Dex, +1 natural, +1 size)
hp 82 (8d8+2d10+30)
Fort +12, Ref +6, Will +13; Resist Cold 10

OFFENSE
Speed: 20 ft.
Attacks: Mithral +3 Frost Battle Axe of Mighty Cleaving +14/+9 (1d6+4+1d6 Frost)
Spells: 4/6+1/7+1/4+1/3+1/1+1 (DC=10+4+SL)

STATISTICS
Str 12, Dex 12, Con 16, Int 10, Wis 18, Cha 16
Base Atk: +9; CMB: +9; CMD: 20
Feats: Alignment Channel, Imbued Healing, Quick Draw, Selective Channeling, Touch of Healing*
Skills: Diplomacy +10, Healing +16, Kn: Religion +12, Sense Motive +11, Spellcraft +5
Languages: Celestial, Common
SQ-Class: Aura, Channel Energy (5d6, DC18, 6/day), Combat Medic, Merciful Healing (Diseased, Sickened), Rebuke Death (7/day), True Healing @ Vindicator Shield (+5 AC), Stigmata (+1 Armor Class, Attack Roll, Caster Level Checks, Saving Throws, or Weapon Damage Rolls)
SQ-Racial: Keen Senses, Sure Footed
Treasure: Amulet of Emergency Healing, Cloak of Resistance +2, Field Provisions Box, +3 Frost Battle Axe of Mighty Cleaving, Hair Shirt of Suffering, Healing Belt, +2 Leather Vest of Cold Resist, Orb of Mental Renewal, Pearl of Power I, Pearl of Power II x2, Silver Holy Symbol of Sarenrae

*Touch of Healing is a Reserve feat from the 3.5 splat book Complete Champion. So long as Aria has a 2nd level or higher Conjuration (Healing) spell prepared, she can heal up to Spell Level x2 of the prepared spell with a touch. However, she can only use this ability to heal a creature up to half its maximum HP and she may not use spells converted to Cure spells to power this ability.

Trivia: Aria has healed a total of 1738 Hit Points and dealt 0 damage since her first session in the dungeon.


"Trivia: Aria has healed a total of 1738 Hit Points and dealt 0 damage since her first session in the dungeon."

Officially Wow. Just Wow.

Does that Vindicator's Shield take up one of the player's channels for the day? Reading that description it's not clear whether it does, or it's something you could do every round all day long.

Andoran

Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Companion Subscriber

Here's a link to the Holy Vindicator prestige class. According to the description, Vindicator's Shield uses up a channel each time it is employed and lasts until the holy vindicator is struck.

Taldor

Maybe this was addressed already, but when Arya went from being an aasimar to a halfling, did you make her get rid of all her Medium-sized equipment? Or did you just handwave that it all changed sizes along with her?


she lost all her med size equipment

Andoran

Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Companion Subscriber

Aria didn't lose her gear so much as she's now unable to wear her armor or easily wield her old scimitar. I follow the standard one-size-fits-all rule where enchanted clothing is concerned, but armor and weapons don't shrink or grow to fit when a character's size permanently changes. Aria still has owns old gear, but she's passed her old shield on to T-Bone and she'll be able to trade in her sword and armor once the party has a chance to do some shopping.


What are the dimensions of the Dungeon? I mean how far away from Four Fountains or the Celestial Garrison are they?

I've seen a bit of this book before, and found some maps online. I mean is it 2 miles as the Xorn travels, or like 50?

Andoran

Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Companion Subscriber

Each dungeon map is broken up into five-foot squares and approximately 875ft x 700ft. That said, I thought the map for The Chasm north of The Barrows was way too small so I expanded the dimensions a bit. According to the map, King Aphnitern's cave is only about 130ft from Norkor's home atop The Dark Crown. Living that close, Aphnitern could practically fly over and murder the giant on his way in from picking up the morning paper.

For the valley north of The Barrows, I made each square count for about 20 feet inside of anything that was a cave or other structure, and up to 100 feet for empty plains. Based on that scale, The Celestial Garrison is roughly 7780ft from the The Dark Crown if the party had a straight path to the border between Regions I and E. The winding passages they'd have to travel through The Barrows and The Halls of Flesh might add another 500-700ft. From there, it's only a short trip into territory occupied by the commune.

Andoran

Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Companion Subscriber

Greetings once again, readers! One of the challenges I have in keeping this journal going is with pacing the posts and breaking them up at good moments. Sometimes a session ends in the middle of a minor battle or not enough is accomplished that I feel like it's a good place to pause the action, so I often cut things short and finish telling a session's story in the next post. I suspect the next few sessions are going to be a good example of that.

The party's adventures have finally culminated in a final, desperate stand against the forces of Eletor and The Spider Kings, and the stakes have never been higher. It's victory or bust as the adventurers return to The Barrows for what may be their last battle and Four Waters' last hope.

DAYS 185-186 OPENING MOVES, THE ASSAULT ON THE BARROWS BEGINS!

featuring: The World's Largest Adventuring Party
Roch - Lizardfolk Mystic Theurge
Aria – Halfling Holy Vindicator of Sarenrae
T-Bone the Stingy Gorilla – Dwarf Titan Mauler
Jasper – Human Rogue
Ragnar – Dwarf Cave Druid
Cul’tharic - Lizardfolk Scaled Horror
Pyewacket – NPC silvanshee ex-familiar

You want my advice?” Develdar asked, surprised at Jasper’s request. In no mood for Norkor’s disapproving glares, the drow had opted to stay at the old ruined tower near the magma river to keep on eye on the drider lair to the south. The rogue had come to seek his council after the party reached an impasse on how best to attack The Barrows. “Fine, though I hardly think your companions will have the memen for it.”

“What is it you’d suggest?” asked the rogue.

“The vlos d' khaliizin, what the dwarf calls Earthblood, if what he says is true, it could be a powerful weapon,” replied the drow. “I say you load as much as you can onto one of those force disks, light it on fire and have that fool reptile of yours steer the thing into the slave pit. If the smoke is as deadly as the druid claims, it would kill many of the slaves and provide a distraction for the rest of you to slip into Eletor’s laboratory.”

“So we leave Roch behind?” asked Jasper.

“Is that his name?” Develdar blithely replied. “Ji tlu ol. He is jivviim rothé, the weakest member of the herd. Do you disagree?”

Jasper considered the drow’s words. He hardly knew the lizardman and still wasn’t exactly sure how the mystic contributed to the group, but the rogue couldn’t shake the feeling that abandoning Roch would be sort of like donating a really dumb and kind of ugly puppy to a goblin orphanage. “I don’t think Cul’tharic will let that happen,” the rogue answered, evading Develdar’s question. “I think Roch is like his slow cousin or something.”

“Then you’d be doing them both a favor,” spoke Develdar. “You asked for my advice. You have it. Now, if you don’t mind, I’m going to resume my watch. Somebody around here has to make sure we aren’t ambushed between now and whenever your friends get their losval out of their t'zarrethen.”

Jasper’s companions turned out to be surprisingly open to Develdar’s plan, (at least the parts Jasper told them about,) and plans were quickly made to gather up as much Earthblood as they could carry and load it onto one of the floating disks conjured by Roch’s wand. Sacrificing the mystic to the driders in the slave pit never came into the conversation, but most agreed the force disks would be the best way to transport the toxic and highly flammable liquid.

“We’re going to go straight for Eletor’s laboratory,” Aria informed Norkor. Following his brother’s funeral, the cloud giant had been uncharacteristically quiet but all of the adventurers believed they could count on his support in their attack. “I know the last week has been kind of rough for all of us, but we’d really appreciate your help. The driders-”

“Need to be stopped,” Norkor interrupted. “I know. They are a threat to us all.”

“Then you’ll help?” asked the halfling.

“I’ll help,” answered the priest of Stronmaus. “But there are some things I need to do here first. I’ll come when I can.”

Whatever the giant’s plans, no offer to help or delay the attack would change his mind. The party would have to go on without Norkor and hope he’d arrive in time. While most of the group went to gather the Earthblood from the xorn, Ragnar had his own special task to perform…

***

“You’re certain they’ll wait?” Develdar asked the druid.

“The only thing I’m certain of is we’re probably all going to die, and this time there won’t be any coming back for any of us,” Ragnar replied. “They said they’d save you a piece of this Eletor character if they beat you to him but they need you to go round up as many of your old rebel buddies as you can find. That’s all I know.”

“I don’t like this,” the drow grumbled.

“They said you wouldn’t,” replied the dwarf.

“Vith ol. Fine. Let’s do this then,” growled Develdar. “I’ll gather whoever is left at my old command post and we’ll take the south tunnels to Eletor’s lair. That should allow us to surround him and cut off his escape. Xal oloth vaq’ any who rob me of my vharcan.”

“They said you’d probably say something like that too,” Ragnar smiled. A moment later, he and Develdar were airborne and on their way south across the river of lava to the drow’s former camp.

***

“I sure hope Metlar was exaggerating,” Roch murmured as he steered the disk of Earthblood over the plains keeping it at a height just within the range of the controlling wand. “If any xorn smell this stuff before we get to The Barrows, we’re all doomed.”

“Doomed by xorn, doomed by driders, what’s it matter?” grunted T-Bone. “At least we’re finally taking the fight to the bad guys instead of hiding in some cave or on top of some stupid mountain.”

“We’re almost there. Look,” announced Ragnar. The disk’s movement was slow so it hadn’t taken long for the druid to catch up with the party after leaving Develdar. “The Shadowsink.”

The river ahead of the party narrowed and formed a black whirlpool of swirling lava. Tiny busts of light from cracks of glowing orange and yellow magma were all that escaped the rotating flow.

“It’ll be safest to cross here,” the druid spoke. “The mephits don’t seem to like it here. I think they’re afraid of getting sucked in.”

“That’s good enough for me,” Jasper replied. “Aria, cast your spell. Everyone else, get ready to run.”

Aria had prepared a spell just for this situation and, finding the narrowest section of the river, chanted a quick prayer over the whirlpool. A narrow ribbon of black force suddenly shot across the surface of the river only inches above the lava.

“Quickly!” the halfling shouted. “The bridge won’t last long!” Then, protected by Roch’s spell of elemental endurance to shield them from the heat, the adventurers ran, one by one, to the other side with only a few seconds to spare.

Not far from The Shadowsink, the party spotted a cave that was familiar to Aria, Jasper, T-Bone and Pyewacket. The cave, they recalled, led to the tunnel they’d descended into the dungeon, and it was where they’d met the lantern archon Marfa.

“Was that always there?” Aria asked as she pointed to what appeared to be a massive collapse of stone slightly east of the cave entrance. It looked as though part of the wall had fallen and, as her companions spied the rock pile, Ragnar and Cul’tharic alerted the group to signs of movement among the stones.

A pair of small humanoids appeared to be hiding in the rocks, observing the adventurers and unaware that they’d been spotted as well. The creatures made no attempt to flee or attack but, as the adventurers slowly approached, one of them called out a greeting.

“Heroes!” came the creature’s chattery voice. “Is it time? Do we fight!?”

The ratfolk, because that’s what they were, were two of the creatures freed from Eletor’s laboratory when the party made their escape. Recognizing their liberators, the verminkin happily called the group over to look at something they’d found in the rocks.

“It’s an arm!” squeaked one of the little rat-men, a grey-furred urchin called Rapituk.

“It’s a moving arm!” chirped his reddish brown-furred companion, Ripitat. “Should we dig it out?”

Sure enough, the massive arm of some large creature was poking up from under the heavy stones clutching at the air. When the adventurers got a look at the dead tissue and stitches covering the creature’s frame however, they quickly realized the beast was nothing other than one of the driders’ flesh golems.

“What’s it doing here?” Aria wondered aloud. “And what happened here?”

The ratfolk told the adventurers they’d felt the earth shake and heard a loud rumble a couple days prior while hiding in the nearby cave but they’d waited to investigate until today, thinking it might be a drider trap.

“This creature is dangerous,” spoke Jasper as if he was talking to a pair of children while Cul’tharic and T-Bone rolled a large stone over the golem’s grasping arm. “I don’t want either one of you going near it, okay?”

Ripitat and Rapituk went on to tell the party about how they’d been hiding in Marfa’s cave since the escape but they hadn’t actually seen the archon. Their companions had gone out searching for food a few days later after they discovered they couldn’t eat a mephit they’d beaten to death with rocks. The other pair of ratfolk hadn’t yet returned.

“Heads up everyone,” Ragnar alerted the group. From the air, his roc companion, Arkansas had spotted a pair of drow and their drider minder further up the path along the river’s shore. “I think they’re coming this way. Maybe they’re searching for their missing meat-man.”

“Keep on an eye on them while we come up with a-“ Jasper began.

Taal Tunng!” Ragnar shouted from the top of the rock pile, dropping a pillar of flame onto the drider. “What was that, Jasper? I can’t hear you over all this burning.”

“What the hell, Ragnar?!” the rogue growled as the drider shook off the effects of the flame strike and ordered one of his slaves to run for assistance. “Are you trying to get us killed!? The whole Barrows is going to know we’re out here!”

“Already on it,” grinned the druid as Arkansas suddenly swooped down from the sky to grip the fleeing drow in his powerful talons. “Here’s your problem, Jasper. From what I can tell, you and your friends are in trouble because you hesitate when you should strike. From what I’ve heard, you all figured out pretty early on these drow were nothing but trouble. You knew they were evil but you held back and went right along with their plans. Then, when things got worse and you found out about what this Eletor guy was doing, you ran because you weren’t ready. Now, you’re finally on the path you probably should have taken from the start and you still want to wait?”

“I came down here to get away from problems like this!” Ragnar continued as Cul’tharic and T-Bone charged the drider and the ratfolk hurled stones at the drow from the safety of the rock pile. “I would have been perfectly happy to spend the rest of my days tending my mushrooms, shooting dice with the rock eaters and drinking with my skeleton pal, but then you all came along and now my peace is threatened because none of you had the sense to just shmek these der taubi when you first laid eyes on them!”

The fight was over quickly, and Arkansas landed near his master after dropping the wounded drow a short distance at the dwarf’s feet. “We came here to erase these taudlos from the map so that’s what I’m doing,” Ragnar growled before breaking the slave warrior’s head open with his heavy pick. “The sooner we’re done, the sooner I can get back to my cave and things can get back to normal around here,” he finished, turning his back on the rogue and storming down from the landslide.

“That’s why you’re helping us?” Jasper called after the cave druid. “So you can get back to your gardening?!...I wish all our lives could be so simple and free from responsibility.”

Ragnar was silent a few moments then called back a command to his roc. “Khann, Arkansas!” he barked as the bird launched into the air to scout the way ahead. “Let’s go.”

helpful Dwarven translations:
taal tunng = fire tongue, Ragnar's verbal component for the Flame Strike spell
shmek = kill
der taubi = evil madmen, basically Ragnar called the drow psychopaths
taudlos = plural form of the word for "fatherless," essentially "bastards"
khann = to seek, Ragnar's command word for his roc to fly recon

Taldor

Velcro Zipper wrote:
jivviim rothé

Good to see a mention of rothés. :-)

Andoran

Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Companion Subscriber

The cave cows were mentioned once before when Develdar reflected the party had all the subtlety and grace of stampeding rothé. I like to reference obscure bits of D&D lore, and the rothé are such a big part of Underdark culture, especially drow culture, that I figure it makes sense the creatures would still get brought up in conversation by the drow of the WLD even though very few of them have ever actually seen one.

I'm finally getting more of the PC's character sheets to draft up and audit so I've got one current party member and one former party member to present today. Today, we're looking at the rogue, Jasper Flask, and the cleric, Shi, who recently came off the roster but still has a role to play in the current adventure.

Jasper started out as a character we weren't certain would make it to every game but, since the first few on-again-off-again sessions, Jasper's player has gone on to become one of the more vocal and influential members of the group. I might even go so far as to describe the rogue as the party's reluctant new leader.

Jasper Flask spent the early days of his adventuring career as little more than an opportunistic thief before he figured out there was usually more money and less jail time involved in stealing from monsters and robbing ancient ruins. He never considered the rule of Lord Antagonis his problem, but the promise of a hefty reward for finding proof of King Arnulf's existence quickly changed his mind and he eagerly signed on with Nicky and T-Bone when they came searching for a rogue to aid them in their quest.

Jasper always considered himself a chaotic soul given to capricious whims, but his few short weeks confronting the true madness of the drow and driders of Region M (not to mention the often erratic tactics of his companions) quickly sobered him up and he now has a kinder understanding of the merits of forethought and patience.

Jasper Flask:
N Medium humanoid (human)
Init +11 Senses Perception +14

DEFENSE
AC 22 touch 14, flat-footed 22 (+6 armor, +1 shield, +4 Dex, +1 natural) (+3 vs traps)
hp 84 (10d8+20+10fc)
Fort +5, Ref +12, Will +4 (+3 vs traps)

OFFENSE
Speed 30 ft.
Melee +1 shocking rapier +14/+9 (1d6+3+1d6 electricity) or +1 viperblade dagger +13/+8 (1d4+3+poison) or +1 shocking rapier +12/+7 (1d6+3+1d6 electricity) and +1 viperblade dagger +11 (1d4+3+poison) or mwk bladed hand crossbow* +13/+8 (1d4+2)
Ranged mwk bladed hand crossbow* +13 (1d4) or thrown +1 dagger of venom +13/+8 (1d4+3+poison,) or +1 short bow +13/+8 (1d6+1)

STATISTICS
Str 14, Dex 21, Con 14, Int 14, Wis 13, Cha 14
Base Atk +7/+2; CMB +9; CMD 24
Trait Reactionary (+2 Initiative)
Feats (6+2 rogue talents) Weapon Focus (rapier,) Vital Strike, Weapon Finesse, Two-Weapon Fighting, Quick Draw, Improved Initiative, Double Slice, Two Weapon Defense
Skills (110pts) Acrobatics 19, Appraise 15 Bluff 15 Climb 15, Diplomacy 15, Disable Device 19, Escape Artist 19, Linguistics 15, Perception 14, Sense Motive 14, Sleight of Hand 13, Stealth 19, Swim 9, Use Magic Device 15
Languages Draconic, Common, Undercommon, Elf, Orc, Dwarf, Abyssal, Infernal, Terran, Aklo, Sylvan, Ignan, Auran
SQ sneak attack +5d6, trap sense +3, improved uncanny dodge, rogue talents (bleeding attack, combat trick x2, surprise attack, improved evasion)
Adventuring Gear: +1 shocking rapier, +1 viperblade dagger, +1 dagger of venom x3, +1 short bow, mwk bladed crossbow*, bolts x10, arrows x30, +2 mistmail, amulet of natural armor +1, vanisher cloak, belt of mighty constitution +2, boots of incredible dexterity +2, ring of the darkhidden, headband of inspired wisdom +2, goodberry bracelet, gauntlets of weaponry arcane, deathblade poison x3, itching powder x4, focusing candle x3, smoke pellet x8, slippers of spiderclimbing

*This weapon was won in battle with the Spider King, Arioch. This hand crossbow features a fixed bayonet that can be wielded as a dagger in close combat. Any creature proficient with the hand crossbow and dagger can use either attack without penalty. Creatures with multiple attacks can use the weapon to fire a loaded bolt into a foe after making a successful melee attack with the bayonet. This attack uses the same bonuses as a normal iterative attack, and still provokes attacks of opportunity for using a ranged weapon in close combat. Despite the intimate range of the weapon, this secondary attack has no bonus to hit as a miss is generally attributed to the bolt jamming or slipping from the weapon during melee. It performs in all other ways as a hand crossbow or dagger respectively.

Shi was the true veteran of the World's Largest Adventuring Party, having joined the group way back on Day 73 of the campaign. The character did come down with a brief case of death while exploring Region F, but that probably only really brought him to a closer understanding of his goddess and he came back tougher (and shorter and hairier) than ever when he was reincarnated as a dwarf. Shi is planning to retire to the little tomb he was granted by the goblin king Argliss if the party survives this final battle with Eletor.

Shi:

Dwarf Cleric of Pharasma 10
N Medium humanoid (dwarf)(reincarnated human)
Init +1; Senses Darkvision 60ft. Perception +4

DEFENSE
AC 22, touch 11, flat-footed 20 (+8 armor, +1 Dex, +1 dodge, +2 natural)
hp 90 (10d8+30+10fc)
Fort +10, Ref +4, Will +12 (+2 vs. poison, spells, spell-like abilities) Resist Cold 10

OFFENSE
Speed 20 ft.
Melee +1 light mace +8/+3 (1d6+1) or dagger +7/+2 (1d4)
Ranged +1 light crossbow +9 (1d8+1) or thrown dagger +8 (1d4)
SA – Channel Negative Energy 5/day (5d6 DC16 Will half,) Icicle 1d6+5 7/day, Bleeding Touch 1d6 bleed 7/day (5rd)
Prepared Spells 4/5+1/5+1/4+1/4+1/2+1 DC=10+SL+4 Domains: Water, Death
0- Stabilize, Guidance, Resistance, Detect Magic
1- Close Wounds, Sanctuary, Shield of Faith, Cure Light Wounds, Bless + Obscuring Mist
2- Deific Vengeance, Cure Moderate Wounds, Lesser Restoration, Spiritual Weapon, Sound Burst + Fog Cloud
3- Cure Serious Wounds, Dispel Magic, Prayer, Invisibility Purge + Speak with Dead
4- Cure Critical Wounds, Sound Lance x2, Freedom of Movement + Death Ward
5- Breath of Life, Holy Ice + Slay Living

STATISTICS
Str 10, Dex 13, Con 16, Int 16, Wis 19, Cha 10
Base Atk +7/+2; CMB +7; CMD 18 (+4 vs Bull Rush, Trip)
Trait– Sacred Conduit Benefit: Whenever you channel energy, you gain a +1 trait bonus to the save DC of your channeled energy.
Feats Dodge, Mobility, Combat Casting, Endurance, Channel Smite, Extra Channel
Skills(60pts) Acrobatics +4, Appraise +8, Climb +2, Craft (woodworking) +8, Disable Device +3, Escape Artist +3, Handle Animal +1, Heal +10, Knowledge (arcana) +10, Knowledge (dungeoneering) +6, Knowledge (history) +9, Knowledge (nobility) +8, Knowledge (planes) +9, Knowledge (religion) +16, Linguistics +12, Profession (undertaker) 10, Perception +4 Sense Motive +13, Sleight of Hand +3, Spellcraft +16, Stealth +3, Swim +2
Languages Common, Elf, Infernal, Goblin, Abyssal, Giant, Draconic, Auran, Undercommon, Dwarf, Celestial
SQ Hardy, Stability, Death's Embrace
Adventuring Gear +1 light mace, +1 light crossbow, dagger, bolts x20, healer’s belt, +2 breastplate, spell component pouch, +2 amulet of natural armor, holy symbol of pharasma, alchemist fire x4, healer’s kit,pearl of power 1 x2, pearl of power 2 x2, potions (+2 barkskin, CLW)

Next time, I think we'll look at Roch and Riswan...

Andoran

Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Companion Subscriber

Nearly a month has gone by without an update, but never fear! The campaign is still going and I've been plugging away at the journal whenever I had a few moments. Now, it's time to drop a hot, steaming pile of adventure all over this thread!

...That actually doesn't sound all that appetizing now that I think of it, but I promise it's good!

DAY 186 – THE DRIDER WHO WOULD BE KING

featuring: The World's Largest Adventuring Party
Roch - Lizardfolk Mystic Theurge
Aria – Halfling Holy Vindicator of Sarenrae
T-Bone the Stingy Gorilla – Dwarf Titan Mauler
Jasper – Human Rogue
Ragnar – Dwarf Cave Druid
Cul’tharic - Lizardfolk Scaled Horror
Pyewacket – NPC silvanshee ex-familiar

A thick sheet of webbing sealed the entrance to the tunnel the party had used to escape The Barrows and Jasper carefully studied the mesh for traps as his companions waited.

“It seems safe,” the rogue announced. “Could be the driders haven’t had time to properly seal this off so they made do with slowing us down.”

“Ha!” laughed T-Bone as he raised his flaming sword. “Let them try to slow this!”

The greatsword easily sliced through the strong webs as the barbarian cut out a small niche and proceeded into the tunnel. “Follow me!” he bellowed.

“That’ll take too long. Let me at it,” Ragnar grunted, barely giving T-Bone enough time to duck before launching a fireball into the webs that seared a 20-foot diameter hole through the net. “After you,” graciously spoke the dwarf to the disapproving Jasper.

“Roch, stay out here with the rats,” advised the rogue. “The rest of us will make sure the path is clear.”

The winding tunnel beyond the wall of webs was vacant and looked undisturbed as if the driders hadn’t entered since sealing it. More worryingly, no sounds from the silkstone refinery or golemworks echoed through the cavern. Could Eletor have already completed his golem army and gone off to war? The adventurers picked up the pace and hurried toward the end of the tunnel, but they’d have to wait to find out. Presently, there was a loud rumble from the tunnel entrance as a ball of flame erupted at the party’s feet.

“Ambush!” Aria shouted as eight drow Night Guard armed with curved daggers sprang from invisibility to attack!

“Actually, that’s Anbyshe,” corrected the drow’s master, a spry drider sorcerer revealed by his blast of flame. “Did you really think you could just walk right back into The Barrows unchallenged?!” he mocked from his safe perch on the ceiling of the cave.

“They’ve sealed the tunnel!” Ragnar shouted to the party. Jasper had only searched the entrance to the cavern for traps and missed the load-bearing devices hidden across the ceiling further into the tunnel. Now, a high wall of stone cut off their escape route. A gap at the top of the pile provided enough space to squeeze free, but it would be a slow climb to get there.

“Well, I certainly can’t risk you getting away when a promotion is on the line!” Anbyshe laughed, before vanishing from sight and slinking back into the shadows. “The Spider Kings have decreed the drider responsible for your doom will join their ranks!” the drider taunted. “I, Anbyshe, l’ Lsyt Silinrul, will succeed where the mighty Nielial obviously failed!”

“You might want to slow your roll there, sparky!” T-Bone shouted, slashing at a pair of the drow rogues. “I’m pretty sure you don’t get a fancy nickname until after you kill us!”

“I’m sorry. Are things moving too fast for you?” Anbyshe mockingly answered through the veil of invisibility. “Let me see what I can do about the tempo of this fight.”

Time suddenly began to crawl for the adventurers as the aberrant sorcerer worked his magic. “Slow enough for you now!” laughed the now-visible drider before retreating once more into the recesses of the cave.

Aria, Ragnar and Cul’tharic were able to resist the effect of the spell but Jasper and T-Bone were lagging and, as the Night Guard fell one by one, Anbyshe pressed his advantage by launching a salvo of fireballs and mystical bolts into the party.

“Sooommmeboooddyy kiiiillll thhaaaat aaasssshho-,” Jasper began to slur as another fireball rocked the cavern, incinerating the last of the weakened drow and nearly flooring a badly injured Aria.

“Save your breath,” Ragnar interrupted as Cul’tharic and Aria charged after the sorcerer. “We’ve got this.” Then, assuming the form of an earth elemental, the druid dove into a nearby wall and moved to get above the ceiling-bound drider.

“This isn’t the first time we’ve crossed paths, you know,” Anbyshe spoke as another fireball flew from his thin, wicked fingers. “I tracked your little group through the Halls of Madness after Anguish broke free. Kept my distance, bided my time, let you live just long enough for you to get Eletor’s attention. Now, you’re going to make me a king so I feel I owe you something.

"You should all be thanking me," continued the cocky conjurer. "The All-Seeing Visionary would prefer you alive, but I’m going to spare you the suffering of captivity in one his cells by killing you now!”

Then, before the adventurers could reach him, the drider loosed a volley of arcane missiles into Aria that threw her to the ground. Angry and already more than sick of Anbyshe’s vobit, Cul’tharic raced at the drider and hurled his trident up at the monster with all his strength.

“Marfedelom!” roared the scaled horror as the resin spear found a new home in Anbyshe’s face, bursting one of the sorcerer’s eyes like a bird’s egg struck by a sling bullet. Anbyshe screamed in pain, flinging the trident to the floor as Cul’tharic scooped Aria from the ground and rushed her into the narrow tunnel at the end of the cave and outside of the drider’s now less-than-optimal field of vision. The priestess was still alive but hovering on death’s door.

Jasper and T-Bone, still hindered by the drider’s spell, dropped their swords and slowly reached for their bows as Ragnar rushed the creature, attempting to throw Anbyshe to the floor. Wounded, but still nimble, the sorcerer deftly avoided the druid’s valiant attack and quickly surrounded himself with a flickering aura of blue flame. Having spent his reserve of fireballs and invisibility magic, the drider was down to defensive spells and force missiles but he wouldn’t go down easy.

Ragnar charged again, using his elemental ability to burrow across the ceiling and slam a rocky fist into the sorcerer’s chitinous hide. Anbyshe grunted under the powerful punch but held his grip on the ceiling and grinned as the druid recoiled from the blow. A shock of numbing cold ripped through Ragnar as he made contact with the wreath of flames dancing across the creature’s body. The smirking drider then countered Ragnar’s attack with a magically charged touch that electrocuted the druid and sent him retreating into the cavern wall with a rumbly yelp as a pair of arrows whizzed up at the drider.

Anbyshe hissed rage as a shaft from T-Bone’s oversized bow dug into his shoulder. “You know your friends are going to need a way out of here,” the drider spoke, his voice suddenly calm and strangely soothing as he addressed the barbarian. “Don’t you think you should go remove those stones from the tunnel entrance so they can escape?

T-Bone considered Anbyshe’s words a moment and couldn’t help but find he was in total agreement. “That does sound like a good idea,” the dwarf thought. “What a helpful suggestion.”

“Run along now,” the sorcerer grinned as T-Bone slowly trudged away toward the collapsed tunnel entrance. However, the drider’s moment of triumph was short-lived. Cul’tharic had gotten Aria back on her feet and was now emerging from the tunnel at the other end of the cavern, trident in clawed hand.

“He put some kind of whammy on T-Bone!” Ragnar shouted to Aria as he emerged from the cavern wall and reassumed his natural form. Then, going for broke, the dwarf channeled his last fireball through his enchanted goggles but the sorcerer’s shield of blue flames completely absorbed the blast.

Aria quickly cast an abjuration over T-Bone to remove Anbyshe’s enchantment but was only partially successful. The halfling was at first happy to see the barbarian regain full speed, but then realized her friend was now running toward the rock pile still intent upon clearing a path for his companions. Anbyshe may have laughed if it weren’t for the continued pressure of Jasper, Cul’tharic and Ragnar who continued to assault the drider with weapon and spell as he attempted to flee.

“You’ll never reach Eletor!” Anbyshe spat as another arrow pierced his hide. “Every drider in The Barrows will be out for your blood once they know you’ve returned!”

“So you haven’t raised an alarm?” Ragnar replied as he fired a gray beam of dessicating light at the sorcerer that cracked his chitinous scales and sent him crashing to the floor. “Good to know.”

Cul’tharic ensured the drider was dead as his companions gathered at the tunnel’s collapsed entrance where T-Bone still rolled stones from the pile. Though Anbyshe was dead, the creature’s implanted suggestion remained and the party had no way to counter its effect. They could wait for the barbarian to finish or help him clear a path.

“We can’t go forward from here,” Aria announced as her companions got to work. “The driders have used silkstone to completely seal off the entrance to the factory at the far end of the tunnel. Cul’tharic and I saw it while we were back there. We’ll have to find a way around.”

Ripitat and Rapituk suddenly appeared through the crawlspace at the top of the rock pile. When the tunnel collapsed, the ratfolk and Roch had moved the Earthblood away from the cavern after the mystic correctly identified what sounded like fireballs erupting on the other side. Now that it was quiet, they’d returned to investigate the cavern and offer their assistance.

Roch had nothing to break Anbyshe’s enchantment, but he did have a magical shoulder harness he wore for lugging around heavy loads. T-bone took the offered harness and quickly began dragging the small boulders aside like they were stubborn children and, within about an hour, cleared a narrow path through the debris. By now, of course, most of his companions had already climbed over the rocks and the barbarian was left to wonder why he’d just spent the last hour throwing out his back.

“Can we go now?” Ragnar complained.

***

The path along the magma river eventually led the party to an unfamiliar tunnel in the south slope. Up ahead, they could see what appeared to be a damaged flesh golem stumbling along the river’s edge in the direction of the crater where drow slaves mined the Spider Kings' precious stone but they thought it best to leave the construct to its business and investigate the tunnel instead.

The tunnel opened up into a wide, high-ceilinged cavern where natural rock formations created thin columns of volcanic stone. No entry into The Barrows could be found, but the adventurers did make one grim discovery while searching the area. The partially eaten remains of four humanoids had been dragged into the corners of the cave. Two of the creatures had most likely been drow slaves, but the other two had been shorter and covered in fur; their slack, whip-like tails left no doubt the creatures were the two missing ratfolk.

“This was no drider attack,” Aria deduced. “These creatures were torn open by something with claws and it looks like their hearts are missing. We should probably let the rats know we found their friends, but I suggest we leave out the details.”

Rapituk and Ripitat were understandably upset by the bad news about their comrades, but it only seemed to strengthen their resolve to help. Now armed with oversized daggers taken from the dead Night Guard, the ratfolk reaffirmed their desire to free their kin and the party moved on with its mission. Whatever had killed the drow and ratfolk in the cave had abandoned its lair some time ago and there was nothing to do for it now.

***

The adventurers pressed on from the mysterious cave and soon spotted the entrance to the tunnel where all their recent problems had started.

“This is the place,” Aria spoke. “The Wheel of Sorrow is just through that cave. There’s no way they’ve left that thing unguarded.”

“I’m not so certain,” replied Jasper. “We can’t destroy it and it seemed pretty capable of defending itself last time we were here. I doubt the driders bothered posting guards, but I still think we should try to avoid it for now.”

Before the party could reach a consensus on what to do next, there was a disturbance from the nearby river of lava. Laughing and howling, a pack of mephits suddenly launched from the hellish flow, flying straight for the adventurers.

“Come on, you little freaks! Round two!” T-Bone roared, anxious for a rematch with the pests after they’d forced him to take cover under the rotting remains of a shambling mound during his island exile nearly two weeks ago.

A blurry-formed steam imp rushed at the group, unleashing a torrent of scalding rain that burned their skin. The creature was quickly joined by five more of its kind and another half-dozen mephits whose flesh flickered and glowed like burning stone.

“Magma mephits!” Ragnar cried. “Keep them away from the Earthblood!”

The adventurers quickly tried to form a wall between themselves and Roch as the mystic guided his force disk away from the battle. From their previous encounter, the party knew the lava-born beasts could breathe cones of flame, and the tiniest fire could set the whole pan alight, carpeting the area in toxic smoke.

Fortunately, the mephits seemed more interested in being a nuisance and lacked the malice to act with any sort of cohesion. The swarming clutch of elemental homonculi spilled scalding rain onto the adventurers or licked at them with flames, but didn’t seem to recognize the deadly prize hovering above Roch’s head. A quartet of the scamps nearly managed to carry Aria back to the river for a swim when, to everyone’s surprise, the small holy vindicator buried the frosty axe of King Arnulf into one of the creature's ribs.

“Playtime’s over, heathen dogs!” the halfling growled as the igneous imp squealed at the freezing pain of the icy blade while Cul’tharic and Jasper quickly dispatched its companions. Meanwhile, T-Bone swung blindly at a trio of monsters threatening to escape with Pyewacket. Moment’s before, one of the clever beasts had caused the barbarian’s own flaming sword to explode into a fountain of pyrotechnics that seared his eyes.

“Step forward and to your left! Now swing high and right!” yowled the grappled agathion as T-Bone slashed wildly at one of the steam mephits. Miraculously, the blade connected with the creature, causing it to burst open like a ruptured hot water bottle.

Ripitat and Rapituk whipped rocks at the mephits with their small slings and did their best to provide Roch with additional cover until the explosion of light from T-Bone’s sword temporarily blinded Ripitat. By the time the red-furred ratman regained his sight the fight was over. Though many, the mephits were individually weak and too disorganized to be a danger past the threat they posed to the Earthblood. What few mephits survived the battle, quickly fled for the safety of the river and its healing fire and sweltering smoke.

“That was close,” Roch spoke. “We should get out of here before they come back with friends.”

“Just a sec’,” Ragnar interrupted. “Anyone else hear that?” A tense, quiet moment later, Cul’tharic replied, “The druid is right. Just now, there was a brief flash of light and a sound like one of the driders’ fire spells coming from the direction of the crater. Maybe a battle.”

“Develdar and his people?” Aria suggested. “What do we do?”

“We could help,” T-Bone replied.

“And what if it’s not him?” asked Jasper. “What if it’s just a runaway slave getting zorched or, worse, a signal that we’re coming? We’ll be walking right into the middle of a nest full of driders and a small army of drow slaves ready to sell out their own mothers for freedom. Best case scenario; the slaves take a water break while the driders do all the fighting.”

“Who cares what they do?” Ragnar interjected. “We’re gonna light up the Earthblood and exterminate the lot of them anyway. Scorched earth. That’s why we’re here, right?”

“If I might say something?” pardoned Roch.

“Unless it involves steering that funeral pyre or throwing snowballs at-“ Ragnar began.

“Shut it, Ragnar,” Jasper interrupted. “What is it, Roch?”

“Some of you will remember I’ve been to the crater,” replied the mystic. “Faieth practically gave me a tour of the pit when he took me down to his lair. I saw at least a half dozen driders stationed along its edge and twice as many armed drow. I assumed the armed drow were taskmasters loyal to the Spider Kings. Assuming they haven’t changed up the duty rotation, we’d be outnumbered three to one and that doesn’t even include Faieth and his personal guard. The sorcerer’s cave is right at the edge of the crater.”

“You don’t think we’d make it,” Aria spoke, finishing Roch’s thought. “We’d take a few down with us, but we’d probably never make it to Eletor.”

“I don’t see any other choice then,” Jasper replied. “We’ve got to conserve our strength and avoid any needless combat. We’ll have got to try for the Wheel of Sorrow.”

“There’s only one problem with that plan,” spoke Aria. “The force disk carrying the Earthblood won’t fit through the cave entrance leading to the Wheel chamber or the hidden door on the other side and the wand is nearly out of power. If a pack of invisible stalkers shows up to defend the Wheel, we’re not going to have time to load and unload the disk twice even if we’ve got the charges.”

Aria was right. If the party wanted to take their super weapon into the fight with the sorcerer, they were going to need to go around the crater and going around the crater meant fighting the Spider Kings’ forces head on.

“Balls,” Jasper cursed under his breath. “Develdar said it might come to this.”

“What would come to what?” T-Bone asked.

“Roch?” the rogue asked, turning to the theurge wearing his most sympathetic mask. “I hate having to say this but I think this is where we part ways.”

“What are you talking about?” asked Aria. “You can’t mean what I think you mean.”

“I think he means exactly what you think he means,” chuckled Ragnar. “Rochy, it’s been something knowing you. Give ‘em hell.”

“That’s enough Ragnar,” Jasper chastised. “Think about it, Aria. We can’t take the Earthblood with us and we can’t leave it here for the driders to find. We could dump it in the river, but then it’s wasted. At least this way we take as many of them with us as we can if the rest of us don’t make it.”

“When you put it that way it actually makes a lot of sense,” admitted the halfling. “I might have a few spells that could buy him some time. He might even cause enough of a distraction to draw more driders out to the pit, give us a clearer path to Eletor’s lab.”

“You speak as if he isn’t here!” Cul’tharic suddenly hissed.

“It’s okay, Cul’tharic,” the mystic spoke. “I’ll do it. Jasper’s right. We need to stop the Spider Kings. Reducing their numbers might be the only way to give the Garrison and Four Waters a chance at beating them if we fail.”

“Then I’m coming with you,” growled the scaled horror. “If this is the plan, you’re going to need help getting the poison close enough to the driders to do its work. I’ll clear you a path.”

“I guess it’s decided then,” spoke Jasper before turning to the party’s ratfolk friends. “I want you two to get far away from here. This place is about to become more dangerous than usual.”

“We’re staying,” squeaked Rapituk.

“Our family is still in there,” added Ripitat. “We won’t leave them.”

“We’ll fight,” Rapituk finished.

“Fair enough,” replied the rogue. “Let’s go. Roch, Cul’tharic, good luck.”

Aria cast what spells she could to bolster the lizardfolk and then caught up with T-Bone and Jasper at the cave entrance. It was then the group noticed Ragnar hadn’t joined them.

Her drukar, Arkansas!” the druid shouted into the sky with a whistle. Ragnar’s roc companion had been flying high above the party for a while, keeping an eye out for driders. “I’m sending him home,” spoke the dwarf. “He won’t be as useful to us once we reach the caves.”

“We’re already at the cave,” Jasper replied confused.

“Not the cave I’m talking about,” spoke the dwarf. “I’m going with the lizards.”

“A minute ago, you were pretty sure Roch was a dead man,” spoke the rogue. “Why the sudden change of heart?”

“I’m still pretty sure the snowflake is a dead man, but I’ve seen the way your other scaly friend there handles that pitchfork of his. He’s the horse I’m backing,” Ragnar grinned. “See you on the other side.”

Jasper huffed and turned toward the cave where Aria, T-Bone and the ratfolk waited for him. “Yeah, maybe,” he sighed unconvinced. At this point, the rogue figured it was more likely Ragnar was staying behind because it would be a lot easier for him to flee the crater than it would be to escape the winding tunnels of The Barrows.

A part of him wished he’d come up with the same idea.

helpful translations:
vobit = draconic word for "crap"

marfedelom = draconic word for "death" (we use the Critical Hit deck. Cul'tharic managed to crit and pull a card that indicated he'd done x3 damage and destroyed one Anbyshe's eyes)

her drukar = dwarven for "to home"

Andoran

Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Companion Subscriber

No new journal entry this week. We had to cancel the last session because the police hauled one of our players off to an actual dungeon. I won't go into the details, but there's now an open spot in our roster.

Since there's no new story to tell, I'm going to continue with our look at the PCs who make up the World's Largest Adventuring Party. This week, we've got Roch and basically former member, Riswan.

With Shi on his way out, Roch is becoming the party's newest oldest member along with the NPC Cul'tharic. The mystic theurge began his adventuring life as a quick replacement for the dwarf wizard Grimdar who was killed by a hellwasp swarm. Wanting to get back into the game as quickly as possible, Grimdar's player made a few minor changes to the dwarf's sheet and handed me Grimdar 2.0 aka Rochambeau "Roch" McCoy. I've let players get away with cloning before when their characters died within minutes of creation so we welcomed Roch into the group.

Roch's had a rough time of late. While it's only been about 17 days in game, it's been nearly a year out-of-game since Roch angered Nethys and lost most of his spellcasting ability. Fortunately, Roch's player has stuck with the absent-minded mage and he's well on his way to earning Nethys' forgiveness. I suspect he'll be better than ever by the end of this month.

Rochambeau “Roch” McCoy:
Wizard 3/Cleric 3/Mystic Theurge 4

NG Medium lizardfolk (reptilian) (reincarnated dwarf)
Init +2; Senses Perception +12
DEFENSE
AC 29, touch 12, flat-footed 27 (+8 armor, +3 shield, +2 dex, +6 natural)
hp 87 (7d6+3d8+30)
Fort +9, Ref +6, Will +12
OFFENSE
Speed 20 ft. swim 10ft.
Melee +2 warhammer +8 (1d8+3) or claw +6 (1d4+1) or bite +6 (1d4+1)
Ranged +1 light crossbow +8 (1d8+1/19-20 x2)
SA - Destructive Smite 6/day, Versatile Evocation 7/day
Wizard Spells 4/5+1+1/4+1/3+1/2+1 DC=10+SL+4 Arcane School: Admixture Opposition Schools: Divination, Necromancy
0-Ray of Frost, Acid Splash, Drench, Jolt
1-
2-Roch’s Blanketing Snowburst x3, Roch’s Stone Cloak x2
3-Mass Endure Elements x3
4-
Cleric Spells 4/5+1/4+1/3+1/1+1 Domains – Destruction, Defense
0-
1-
2-
3-Roch’s Blanketing Snowburst x3
4-
STATISTICS
Str 12, Dex 14, Con 16, Int 18, Wis 16, Cha 8
Base Atk +5; CMB +6; CMD 18
Feats Combat Casting, Arcane Armor Training, Spell Penetration, Practiced Spellcaster (wizard,) Practiced Spellcaster (cleric,) Scribe Scroll
Skills (60pts+3fc) Acrobatics +7 (+4*,) Appraise +8, Climb +1 (-2*,) Craft (alchemy) +8, Diplomacy +12, Escape Artist +2 (-1*,) Fly +7 (+4*,), Heal +11 (+13 with Healer’s Kit,) Knowledge (arcana) +12, Knowledge (dungeoneering) +8, Knowledge (engineering) +8, Knowledge (geography) +8, Knowledge (history) +8, Knowledge (local) +8, Knowledge (nature) +8, Knowledge (nobility) +8, Knowledge (planes) +8, Knowledge (religion) +12, Linguistics +8, Perception +12, Profession (scholar) +7, Ride +2 (-1*,) Sense Motive +11, Spellcraft +17(+4 to cast defensively, +5 to decipher magical writing,) Stealth +2 (-1*,) Swim +10 (+7*) Racial Modifiers: +4 acrobatics, +8 swim *Armor Check Penalty: -3
Languages Common, Dwarf, Giant, Celestial, Draconic, Undercommon, Terran
SQ Greed, Stonecunning, Hatred, Defensive Training, Weapon Familiarity, Hold Breath, Aura, Channel Energy 2d6 2/day (DC10 Will,) Spontaneous Casting, Arcane Bond, Deflection Aura, Combined Spells (1st, 2nd)
Equipment
Worn 49.25lb
spellsight spectacles, +2 breastplate, +2 light steel shield, amulet of natural armor (arcane bonded item,) healing belt, armband of elusive action, vest of resistance +1, wooden holy symbol of Nethys, muleback cords, +2 warhammer, +1 light crossbow, bolts x31, spell component pouch
Masterwork Backpack 42.5/60lbs (STR+1 to weight carry limit)
healer’s kit (+2 heal check, 10/10 uses,) blanket, smoke stick x3, small mirror, piton x3, rope 50’, rod of frost, rod of lesser extend, spellbook, everfull mug, everlasting rations, everburning torch, brooch of shielding, +1 battleaxe, mwk spear, wands (mirror image CL3 ch=11, greater floating disk CL7 ch=8)
Belt Pouch 0/10lb
greater skill shards (acrobatics x2, climb x2, spellcraft,) candle, chalk
Belt Pouch 4/10lb
crystal eye
Encumbrance total 99.75lb Lt 153 Md 306 Hv 460 LOH 460 LOG 920 POD 2700
Roch's Spellbook*
0- Resistance, Acid Splash, Drench, Detect Magic, Detect Poison, Read Magic, Daze, Breeze, Dancing Lights, Flare, Penumbra, Ray of Frost, Scoop, Spark, Ghost Sound, Haunted Fey Aspect, Bleed, Touch of Fatigue, Disrupt Undead, Jolt, Made Hand, Mending, Message, Open/Close, Root, Arcane Mark, Prestidigitation
1- Burning Hands, Blades of Fire, Charm Person, Ebon Eyes, Enlarge Person, Floating Disk, Feather Fall, Grease, Hail of Stone, Identify, Ice Dagger, Magic Missile, Orb of Sound, Orb of Electricity, Shield, Sonic Blast, Night Shield, True Strike, Vanish
2- Alter Self, Blur, Bull’s Strength, Continual Flame, Darkness, Flaming Sphere, Invisibility, Minor Image, Knock, Mirror Image, Rainbow Beam, Scorching Ray, Shadow Mask, Sonic Weapon, Spider Climb, Web, Whirling Blade, Roch’s Blanketing Snowburst, Roch’s Stone Cloak
3- Chain Missile, Displacement, Fireball, Haste, Ice Lance, Keen Edge, Invisibility Sphere, Lightning Bolt, Rainbow Blast, Resonating Bolt, Rust Ray, Sound Lance, Tiny Hut, Twilight Knife, Mass Endure Elements
4- Ice Storm, Secure Shelter, Shout, Orb of Force, Orb of Sound, Phantasmal Killer
5- Cone of Cold, Sonic Rumble
6- Chain Lightning

*Roch is currently unable to cast most of his Arcane spells. He still has access to Cantrips and any spell he's personally created. He can also still use wands, staves and other spell completion items.

Riswan, the hand-me-down halfling, began as an NPC prisoner of the minotaurs in Region F. He was picked up as a temporary replacement character for a player who's PC had been killed by harpies, but that player decided to keep using the halfling after Riswan survived repeated stabbings, a Death Knell and two consecutive Coup de Grace attempts that should have killed him. Since then, four or five players have used the fighter and, though he's eaten dirt quite a few times, nothing has managed to put a stop to the little bastard. Riswan's on the outs with Shi right now, but it's probably only a matter of time before someone else dusts off his character sheet and brings the pint-sized fighter back into service.

Riswan Briarborn:
Fighter 10
LG Small humanoid (halfling)
Init +4; Senses Perception +4
DEFENSE
AC 21, touch 15, flat-footed 17 (+6 armor, +4 Dex, +1 size)
hp 109 (10d10+30+10fc)
Fort +16, Ref +12, Will +9 (+3 vs. fear)
OFFENSE
Speed 20 ft.
Melee +2 keen rapier* +17/+12 (1d6+6 / 15-20 x2) or mithril handaxe +15/+10 (1d4+3)
Ranged +1 composite shortbow +16/+11 (1d4+1)
SA Power Attack –3 att/+6 dam
STATISTICS
Str 16, Dex 18, Con 14, Int 12, Wis 13, Cha 14
Base Atk +10/+5; CMB +12; CMD 26
Trait Freedom Fighter: You gain a +1 trait bonus on any skill check or attack roll made during the process of escaping capture or in helping a slave escape bondage, and Escape Artist is always a class skill for you.
Feats Power Attack, Cleave, Iron Will, Weapon Focus (rapier,) Weapon Specialization (rapier,) Lightning Reflexes, Great Fortitude, Toughness, Endurance, Critical Focus, Great Cleave
Skills Acrobatics +8, Climb +10, Escape Artist +10, Knowledge (dungeoneering) +12, Knowledge (engineering) +14, Linguistics +2, Perception +4, Stealth +9, Survival +5, Swim +7
Languages Common, Halfling, Draconic, Dwarf
SQ
Bravery, Weapon Training: Light Blades (+2 att/dam), Bows (+1att/dam,) Fearless, Halfling Luck, Sure-Footed, Keen Senses
Treasure – Total Weight Carried 54lb Carrying Capacity Lt 57, Md 114, Hv 172 LOH 172, LOG 344, POD 860
Worn 24.5lb
+2 keen rapier*, mithril handaxe, +1 composite shortbow, arrows x100, +2 chain shirt, +2 vest of resistance, +2 belt of giant strength, +2 headband of alluring charisma, tabard of valor, ring of the darkhidden, ring of arming
Backpack 27.5/60lb
healer’s belt, +2 bracers of armor, Darvil’s Journal, glow stick (everburning torch,) alchemist’s fire x2, hammer, torches x2, 78’ rope, immovable rod
Belt Pouch 0/10lb
greater skill shard x4 (2 swim, knowledge nature, knowledge arcana,)

*Hardly an optimal weapon for the halfling fighter, Riswan still favors the medium-sized sword he won from the harpy priestess Mortgul. The rapier's blade glows with a 5ft radius of dim green light when brought into darkness and the weapon bears an uncommon design in that it lacks the basket hilt, handguard or cross guard typical of most rapiers, instead appearing similar to a large needle. The design is mostly cosmetic and doesn't change the properties of the sword, but the lack of a handguard does allow Riswan to wield the weapon in two hands as he would any other medium-sized, one-handed weapon. Because the rapier is not sized for him, Riswan is unable to apply his Weapon Finesse feat to attacks with the blade and, like other rapiers, he cannot add the usual x1.5 Strength bonus to damage for wielding it in two hands.


Velcro Zipper wrote:

No new journal entry this week. We had to cancel the last session because the police hauled one of our players off to an actual dungeon. I won't go into the details, but there's now an open spot in our roster.

Hmm which character is gone now?

Velcro Zipper wrote:
Riswan, the hand-me-down halfling, began as an NPC prisoner of the minotaurs in Region F. He was picked up as a temporary replacement character for a player who's PC had been killed by harpies, but that player decided to keep using the halfling after Riswan survived repeated stabbings, a Death Knell and two consecutive Coup de Grace attempts that should have killed him. Since then, four or five players have used the fighter and, though he's eaten dirt quite a few times, nothing has managed to put a stop to the little bastard.

How much have Great Fortitude, Iron Will, Lightning Reflexes, and Toughness played into that?

I often see builds where people never take these things.

In that player's shoes I actually think I'd take some monk levels at this point. Not really optimized, but it should make him even more survivable. Plus when you think he's unarmed and helpless, the Fist of Death goes into your crotch with a Stunning Fist added.

Andoran

Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Companion Subscriber

At the time the harpies were trying to kill him, I think Riswan only had Iron Will and Lightning Reflexes out of those feats. His player rolled really well when he had to make the saves. As he went up in level, the original player added the other feats to make him more resilient because he liked the idea of Riswan being a tiny, hard-to-kill brick. It was Riswan's second player who had him start focusing on his rapier. I think that guy was just in love with the critical threat range. Riswan's an NPC again now so I'll just keep giving him fighter levels if he gains any more.

Andoran

Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Companion Subscriber

Hey sunbeam, forgot to answer your other question. We're actually losing two characters, kind of. Here's the story:

Ragnar's player had to drop out because of work and T-Bone's player dropped out because his ladyfriend pooped out their spawn and now he's moving away. A new player took over for T-Bone and, since Nicky was dead, Nicky's player took over for the druid until he could bring in his own character. With that player in the hoosegow, Ragnar's basically an NPC now and he's probably going away soon. That means we're technically down two characters, but we've still got four players so the party can manage until we find another player.


1 person marked this as a favorite.

So.. so Pyewacket is an ORPHAN now?

Oh the humanity of it all. Or lizardity or something.

Hey, I noticed that your ex-dwarf kept a lot of his racial traits in the writeup. Is that the way you work it, or an oversight? I've never been too keen (or clear) on how reincarnation in this respect. But the 3.5 games I've been in where it came up always treated it like your character had always been his new race.

Then again I'm always running into something where I find the way I thought it worked was actually a house rule or something left over from previous editions.

Taldor

sunbeam wrote:
Hey, I noticed that your ex-dwarf kept a lot of his racial traits in the writeup. Is that the way you work it, or an oversight? I've never been too keen (or clear) on how reincarnation in this respect. But the 3.5 games I've been in where it came up always treated it like your character had always been his new race.

As a GM, my ruling is that you keep any "nurture" abilities but you lose any "nature" abilities, so to speak. It looks like that might be what VZ does as well. (I'm not sure if I'd rule that Stonecunning is an innate dwarf ability or not.)

Andoran

Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Companion Subscriber

Here's how I run Reincarnation:

First, as per the rules of the spell, the character loses any physical ability score bonuses from race and then applies changes from the new race.

Second, I eliminate any Racial features that I consider to be based on Physical attributes.

Third, I apply the Physical features of the new race but I don't add the Mental features.

Using Roch as an example, the racial features I consider Physical to dwarves are:

Size, Base Speed, Darkvision, Hardy, Stability

Those go away. I consider Defensive Training, Hatred, Greed, Weapon Familiarity and Stonecunning to be Mental features because they all rely on knowledge, training and skill-use so dwarves keep those.

Lizardfolk don't really have any Mental features so no big loss there, but they do get:

Base Speed, Size, Hold Breath, Natural Armor, Natural Weapons, Swim Speed

Their Racial Skill Modifiers are in Acrobatics and they get a +8 bonus to Swim because they have a Swim Speed. Because those Skills are based on physical attributes, I lump them in with Physical features and keep those.

When I've figured out what's physical and what's mental, I squash it all together and get my weird hybrid race.

One thing to note is a reincarnated character doesn't get the +2HD a normal lizardfolk has. Those Hit Dice are for ordinary members of the lizardfolk race only.

*EDIT*

Oh yeah, about Pyewacket. Yes, he's an orphan. I use a variant of an old 3.0 rule where familiars are concerned when a master dies. Basically, since a wizard or witch could always be raised, I don't have the familiar lose it's abilities right away. Every day after the master's death, the familiar loses 1HD of familiar power until it runs out and becomes an ordinary creature of its type. Nicky was a Lv.9 witch when he died so Pyewacket had nine days of juice. It's been about four days, so the silvanshee is down to being the equivalent of a lv.5 witch's familiar.

Most of the familiar abilities are useless to Pyewacket without a master, but he's still got a few extra hit points and some skill and save bonuses. In a few days, he'll be back to being an ordinary silvanshee and, if he survives the coming battle, he'll be just another prisoner of the dungeon since he can't bamf back to his home plane.

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