Greetings again, readers. When we last left off, the surviving heroes of the battle with Ter'Kaal were trapped under a glacier of Stygian ice, their only means of escape lost when the oni destroyed The Death Trap. Will Bingles, Squiggs, Tigerlilly and Fyrsil make it out of their frozen prison before they starve or go mad? And if they do, will they survive to make it home?
DAY 336-339: BARROW MOUND OF THE SOUL EATER
featuring the World’s Largest Adventuring Party
Bingles Cogglefizz – Arcane Healer Bard
Squiggs aka Huggy – Ratfolk Tetori Monk
Tigerlilly – Halfling Rogue
Throg – Half-Orc Barbarian
Milo – Halfling Urban Barbarian
Vlad – Human Arcane Archer/Arcane Duelist
Fyrsil – NPC Pseudodragon
The ring of picks on stone and the chatter of commerce filled the air around l’Resk’afar as Throg, Milo and Vlad relaxed at a crater-side drink stall sipping water from clay cups. The trio had earned a free meal and a small measure of respect from the residents of The Barrows who were happy to see the centaur Melody resume her post as peacekeeper of the community.
The paladin’s body, it was discovered, had been smuggled from the edge of the Tanbera after the battle against the salamander Ksers by a trio of minotaurs working for the mysterious Madame Zoe Ssouk, owner of l’Jalil lu’ l’Oura, a popular vice den on the outskirts of The Barrows. The adventurers located the centaur’s preserved corpse mounted within Soukk’s private chambers after breaking into the establishment during its closed hours and, after battling the woman’s minotaur guards, returned Melody to The Barrows where Shi returned her to life. Soukk escaped capture, seemingly vanishing into thin air after being defeated by the party, but the paladin had made locating the woman the personal mission of her restored life.
“Good work recovering the centaur,” spoke Farggalaan as he ambled toward the trio. For reasons of his own, the goblin had covered the entire cost of Melody’s raising. “I’ve another job for you all if you’re interested,” the wizard grinned. “A recovery mission…”
“I don’t like it,” Throg grunted, disrespectfully kicking the dead elf’s head with a smidge of contempt. “Why’s he gone all black? Think it’s poison down there? I saw a man turn purple from poison gas once, but not black. What if it’s poison? It’s been three days since anyone’s seen these jokers. What if the goblin’s wrong?”
Vlad groaned annoyed. The half-orc’s crude behavior, bullying nature and habit of asking inane questions was beginning to grate on the archer’s nerves but Farggalaan was offering a substantial reward for the return of his machine and the barbarian had proven useful during the skirmish with Ssouk’s minotaurs. For Milo, this was a mission of the heart. When the halfling learned Tigerlilly, object of his unrequited adoration, was lost somewhere in the Pyrefaust, the pint-sized hooligan leapt at the opportunity to prove his love to the rogue by rescuing her.
Following Farggalaan’s advice, the trio had crossed the Tanbera and come to a foreboding cave in the side of what appeared to be a massive burial mound. Only a dozen or so feet inside they’d discovered the emaciated remains of an elf with skin the color of bone char. A few scrapes and long scars marked the corpse but nothing that could explain the elf’s death.
“Farggalaan said the scrying revealed the adventurers and his machine were in a cave near the black glacier,” Vlad sighed before pointing to the mountain of Stygian ice to the south. “There’s the glacier and here’s a cave. I think we should investiga-“
“Looks like our elf friend wasn’t alone,” Milo interrupted drawing the archer’s attention to the bodies of three more elves laying a short distance further into the cave.
“Poison didn’t kill these elves, Throg,” Vlad declared approaching the bodies cautiously and examining their wounds. “I’m sure of it now. This is necromancy.”
“Do you see that?” Milo hissed, tugging the archer’s sleeve and pointing down a narrow, grave-lined tunnel toward a dim, flickering blue light. “It’s a fire.”
“Why’s it blue?” Throg dumbly asked.
After defeating Ter’Kaal, Squiggs the ratfolk monk and his weary companions collapsed thinking a freezing, slow death would be their only reward for saving the world from the threat of Tyrus. Waking several hours later, however, the adventurers discovered a new source of hope in the remains of their hated enemy.
A small puddle of brackish water had formed around what appeared to be a large, dark stone heart glowing within the ashy remains of Ter’Kaal. Entranced by the warm light, Tigerlilly reached forward and dusted the ash from the luminescent organ. Immediately, the halfling yelped in pain, fell backward and passed out as her sleeve burst into flame. Bingles quickly saw to Tigerlilly’s wound as Squiggs examined the object.
The heart was roughly the size of a honeydew and covered in small pits that pulsed with ember-like light. “It’s melting the ice,” the ratman spoke to Bingles. “I think we can use this to get out of here. Help me.”
With Tigerlilly back on her feet, the trio searched through the wreckage of the Death Trap until they uncovered one of the machine’s massive pincers. Bingles took a moment to study the mechanism and tugged an exposed piston jutting out of the claw’s arm. Success! The pincer clamped shut as the piston extended and, satisfied, the adventurers maneuvered the heavy device over to the burning heart and carefully lifted it from the puddle.
“We’d better work quickly,” Bingles advised his friends. “There’s no telling how long the heart will burn or if the claw will hold up to its heat.”
Only a few inches from where they’d discovered the heart, Fyrsil noticed Ter’Kaal’s Ssrin amulet just below the surface of the water and he mentioned this to his companions.
“We should take it to Farggalaan,” Bingles spoke. “It survived the heat of Ter’Kaal’s flames so tossing it into the lava probably wouldn’t destroy it, and it’s too dangerous to leave behind if it really lets creatures communicate with Tyrus. The wizard might have a way to secure it.”
Taking the amulet’s chain in his claws, Fyrsil joined his companions as they began the slow, exhausting task of burrowing away from the imprisoned dragon through the black glacier. Tigerlilly fared better than her companions thanks to an enchanted ring of sustenance she wore, but tunneling through the ice with no food or water soon began to take its toll on Bingles, Fyrsil and Squiggs. The adventurers’ thirst was made all the worse when Bingles warned his companions of the dangers inherent in the slush and water dripping from the tunnel.
“Whatever you do, don’t drink the water or eat the ice from the glacier,” the gnome warned his companions. “The waters of Stygia can dull your mind and cause you to forget everything you’ve ever known of life. It’s said that one drop on the tongue can remove the memory of every experience you’ve ever had from your brain.”
Three days and somewhere around 30 feet later, the adventurers finally felt the sweltering heat of the chasm on their faces as they finally broke through the final few inches of ice. Exhausted by the effort and sore from squeezing into the cold, cramped tunnel, the adventurers tumbled down the glacier to the chasm floor and rested their bones.
The small tunnel the adventurers had burrowed out of led into a narrow chasm between the black glacier on the right and a tall, steep hill to the left. Through the murk of the chasm, Tigerlilly could see a cave in the side of the hill leading down into a lightless passage and, further ahead, the black ice seemed to give way to a rough wall of stone, likely the seat of the glacier. Creeping forward, the rogue soon discovered what appeared to be a humanoid body within the tunnel to her left as she lowered a pair of enchanted goggles over her eyes.
“The, uh, tunnel’s a dead end,” the halfling lied, frightened of what might lurk within the cave. “We should follow the glacier to the mountainside and go around.”
“Are you sure?” asked Squiggs. “It looks like it goes deeper to me.” But it was too late. The rogue had already run ahead, eager to put some distance between herself and the mysterious corpse.
Tigerlilly, Squiggs, Bingles and Fyrsil soon reached the end of the glacier wall and the halfling instantly regretted her decision to bypass the cave. Only a short distance ahead, the mountain making up the seat of Tyrus’ prison met with a colossal wall of stone and steel stretching for as far and as high as the adventurers could see. Terrifying images of tortured angels, demonic beings and death decorated every inch of the structure and bas relief carvings of a pair of gigantic plate-clad warriors flanked an ominous black door set deep into the wall under a great, grinning skull only 100 or so feet ahead. Basically, it was the most metal thing ever seen by anybody in the history of forever.
“Well, go on then,” Bingles smiled prodding Tigerlilly toward the black door. The narrow valley between the hill and the wall was wide enough for the adventurers to pass but not without coming within 15 feet of the yawning skull.
“Heh, sure, no problem,” the halfling nervously laughed. “Just, uh, do that thing you do where I turn invisible first, okay?”
Bingles agreed to cast his spell and, quietly, the rogue crept forward. Before Squiggs and Fyrsil could bet on whether or not Tigerlilly was about to die, the eyes of the carven images upon the wall began to glow red and the adventurers suddenly heard the whispers of a legion of voices demanding they turn back. Whether she was too frightened to turn her back on the skull or too stupid to heed the advice of the whispering horde, Tigerlilly pushed on in the direction of the door hoping Bingles’ magic would protect her from detection as she slipped past.
The stone panels depicting the armored warriors suddenly rumbled and sunk several inches into the wall as Tigerlilly neared the black door. Then, a hiss of air escaped from vents below the stone as the panels slid away revealing a pair of iron-skinned automatons which stepped menacingly into the rift. Now, the voices in Tigerlilly’s head angrily shouted at her to turn back and, fearing for her sanity and life, the halfling fled screaming toward the cave not even stopping for her companions.
A tall fire burned in the middle of the barrow’s central chamber softly illuminating the grey-skinned giant who knelt before the flickering, heatless blue flames as if in deep thought. Sensing the adventurers approaching from separate tunnels, the creature set its lipless mouth into a disturbing toothless grin in an attempt to appear cordial.
“Please, join me by the fire,” the monster spoke. Its voice seemed to echo up through its throat like the words of a man lost in a lightless cavern. “There is nothing to fear. My appetite is sated…for now.”
The monster stood to greet the adventurers and their eyes were drawn to what appeared to be a shriveled elf struggling beneath a pale, thin membrane between its broken ribs. The sight of the tortured elf was all Bingles needed to recognize the thing as a devourer, an extra-dimensional undead nightmare with a penchant for feasting on the souls of the living.
“We don’t want any trouble, ugly,” Throg grunted, earthbreaker at the ready. “We’re just here for the halfling and her friends.”
“Tigerlilly, I’ve come to rescue you!” Milo shouted waving at the rogue whose trembling eyes were fixed on the silently screaming elf.
“You are welcome to them,” the devourer spoke. “I will not hinder you. But…if I might trouble you with a request?”
“Be careful,” Bingles warned. “This creature is evil. It can’t be trusted.”
The assembled adventurers eyed the devourer suspiciously a moment before Squiggs stepped toward the fire. A pile of corpses lay stacked within the fire-pit, untouched by the illusory, blue flames.
“I’ll hear you out,” the ratman spoke. “What would you ask of us?”
The devourer smiled and knelt once more next to the fire. “You came from the east tunnel,” the monster spoke, drawing a line in the cold ash of the fire pit with a long, clawed finger. “You saw the wall, and the black door?”
“If you’re about to ask us to go back there, you can forget it,” Tigerlilly suddenly piped, her voice breaking. “I’m not going near that skull again.”
“I see,” the devourer coolly replied. “Then you saw the guardians of the black door. I met them as well. I barely escaped with my…well, you get the idea.” the creature grinned.
“The battle left me weak, malnourished,” the devourer continued. “I needed to regain my strength. I needed to feed.”
“These elves, you…,” Bingles began.
“Yes,” the devourer interrupted. “Their souls were dark, twisted things, full of hate and arrogance. I had never tasted their like before. I believe they came from the west.”
“We’re from the west,” Squiggs blurted before anyone could stop him. “The Barrows near l’Resk’afar. I believe these elves you slew were drow; evil creatures driven from that place. The world won’t mourn their loss.”
“I am unfamiliar with these places, but I sense you are in a hurry to return there,” the devourer replied. “I will delay you no longer, but know this: The souls of the dead can sustain me and beyond the black door there are souls enough to sate my hunger for a thousand years. Even from here I can smell their desperation to be free. I can hear their cries of torment from within the rotting flesh of the creatures who stalk the tomb. If you help me defeat the guardians, I will have no reason to trouble living souls for my sustenance. Go now. Take the time you need to consider my request. My hunger is gone for now. I would hope for the sake of your community you will prove the quicker in returning.”
Nervously, the adventurers slipped out of the chamber as the devourer quietly returned to its meditations, the light of blue flames dancing among the thin, shriveled corpses of a dozen drow elves.
“He did what?!” Farggalaan shrieked. The wizard’s fear at the news of the adventurers’ encounter with the devourer had completely overtaken his anger at losing The Death Trap. Fortunately for Squiggs, the ratfolk had run off to reunite with his wife and children or the goblin would likely have turned him into a penguin. “This is bad! This is really bad! You have to go back and kill the thing!”
Farggalaan’s concern was not unfounded. As an apprentice to the necromancer Ezrael, and escaped slave of the great shadow Seraxes, the goblin had learned a fair deal about the undead, but most of all he’d learned to hate them. “If that thing gets hungry, The Barrows will turn into a buffet table” the goblin chastised the party. “And if that happens, I’m making sure that rat’s family is the main course!”
“What if we just help it get into the tomb?” asked Milo.
“I would advise against that,” chimed Marfa, the lantern archon custodian of the region. As the resident expert on the history of the dungeon, the celestial had been called in to offer its insight. “That door is closed for a very important reason. The tomb was built to hold the most powerful and evil undead creatures from before the dawn of the elves. Even if the devourer could defeat the weakest of those monsters, there’s no telling what absorbing such ancient souls would do to it.”
“I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I agree with the moth magnet,” growled Farggalaan. “You’re going to have to go back and kill it. That devourer is way too big a threat to The Barrows.”
“Why us?!” Throg complained. “You’re the one wants it dead so bad! You go kill it! And take the rat with ya! He’s the guy told it where we live!”
“And you’re the guy who stood there doing nothing while he did it,” Farggalaan growled. “The way I see it, you’re just as responsible for endangering The Barrows and, besides, you all still owe me for not returning with my Death Trap! Take out the devourer and we’ll call it square.”
The adventurers were shocked as much by the goblin’s fury as they were by his offer to wipe the slate clean over the destroyed apparatus. Not wanting to throw away the chance to get back on the good side of The Barrows’ most powerful wizard (and source of many of their favorite enchanted toys,) the adventurer’s readily agreed to destroy the devourer and marched back to the creature’s lair the next day.
“It’s just like a filthy rat to abandon ship when a squall comes up,” Throg cursed as the group approached the immense burial mound, taking note that Squiggs was conspicuously absent. “If we die all today, I say we come back and haunt him.”
“Enough, Throg. Something’s not right,” Bingles warned. While in the burial mound the previous day, the adventurers had noticed several tunnels leading into the central chamber. Two of the tunnels appeared to lead outside on the same side of the mound so the party had split their forces between the two hoping to flank the devourer inside.
Bingles, Fyrsil and Throg approached the mound from the west tunnel while Vlad, Tigerlilly and Milo approached from the southwest, and both groups quickly became aware of a pair of additions to the mound’s exterior. Skeletons, intact but stripped entirely of their flesh now rested among the stones at the mouth of each tunnel.
“Those are new,” Milo chuckled in a lame attempt to charm Tigerlilly. The bleached bones of the skeletons contrasted starkly against the dark flesh of the dead drow laying near the tunnels. “Think he’s expecting us?”
Suspicious of the skeletons, Vlad fired an arrow into the pile of bones at the southwest entrance. With a clatter, the thing sprung to its feet wheeled around and ran into the cave. “Well, he’ll certainly be expecting us now!” the archer laughed. “Let’s go!”
Both groups of adventurers charged the mound as the second skeleton rose to its feet and also ran into the burial mound. Unbeknownst to the party, the devourer had used a fraction of its unholy power to create the skeletons as greeters should they return. Now that the undead were under attack, however, they rushed to alert their master as zombified drow rose from the outdoor corpse pile to flank the advancing adventurers.
“I see you have made your decision,” the devourer growled as Milo smashed through a fleeing skeleton and entered the burial chamber. “I thought together we might breach the outer wall of the tomb. I’d have my fill of souls leaving you to the time-forgotten treasures no doubt hidden within its walls. No matter. It is your strength I need to defeat the guardians and one way or another I shall have it!”
With a thrust of the monster’s outstretched hand, a ghostly, disembodied claw sprang from the shadows of the barrow and tore at the halfling. Rivulets of blood sprang from the wounds left by the claw and, as Milo staggered back from the pain, the crimson platelets funneled into the phantom appendage before flowing into the devourer as a red mist. Meanwhile, Tigerlilly and Vlad destroyed the zombie drow attacking from the tunnel entrance and Throg obliterated the second skeleton.
The devourer’s remaining animated thralls were quickly dispatched by the adventurers but the undead giant proved to be a far more dangerous opponent. Within moments, Milo was nearly dead from blood loss, yet the monster grew increasingly gaunt with every attack. Seemingly unable to muster another vampiric touch, the foul beast groaned and clutched its chest as the soul trapped within its bosom appeared to deflate and pour from its toothless maw like a cloud of soot.
“The hunger!” the devourer moaned, its ribs sagging as its skin shrank tight around its bones. “The hunger returns! I’ll swallow your souls!”
Having been paralyzed by the spectral claw, Milo’s soul appeared to be first on the devourer’s menu. However, Vlad, confident in the protection typically afforded by a greater spell of invisibility had crept between the halfling and the monster as he plinked enchanted arrows into the beast’s hide. Little did the archer know the devourer had prepared itself for such tactics as soon as its skeletons came scrabbling into the barrow.
The devourer hissed, its eyes glowing white as it charged Vlad clutching at him with a withered claw. The bard’s illusion was no match for the truesight of the monster and, with a gasp Vlad fell, his life tragically snuffed out as his soul was consumed to fill the empty void of the devourer’s sunken chest.
“Aw, screw this,” Throg grunted. When he, Vlad and Milo first entered the barrow, they’d noticed many of the wooden support beams in the central chamber were rotting and beginning to bow under the weight of the mound. The adventurers had briefly discussed attempting to collapse the barrow but wagered doing so would be suicidal. Now, as the barbarian charged across the chamber at the nearest column, they bet on it being their only shot at taking the monster out.
The first beam went down quickly as Throg smashed his mighty earthbreaker against the old wood, but the next one was being stubborn. Still, it wasn’t until Throg reached the fourth column that the devourer took notice of his vandalism.
“Rise,” the devourer rasped directing a claw toward the pile of drow corpses stacked within the fire pit. A pair of the dead dark elves began to twitch to unlife as they rolled from the pile onto the floor and stood with a nauseating “schlormph,” their internal organs shifting into their bowels. The shamblers weren’t much of a threat, but they proved a useful diversion as they attempted to hinder Throg’s efforts at bringing the house down.
While all this was going on, Bingles and Fyrsil did everything they could to keep Milo and Tigerlilly alive. With Vlad’s soul now trapped within the devourer’s chest, the monster once again had the mystical might to drain the blood of his opponents. Fearing for her life but cut off from escape, Tigerlilly tumbled toward Throg hoping the brute would prove too tempting a target for the undead fiend. Unfortunately, the rogue’s wish was granted.
The devourer turned toward the half-orc and fleeing halfling and howled, its jaw distending to reveal a swirling, black vortex. Throg suddenly felt dizzy. The barbarian steadied himself against the nearest column and then, with madness in his eyes, buried his earthbreaker in Tigerlilly’s skull. The halfling crumpled as shards of bone burrowed into her brain.
“Tigerlilly!” Milo shrieked as the rogue’s lifeless body convulsed upon the ground. Roaring with rage and sadness, the small warrior charged the closest column splintering it with his shoulder. As the wooden beam toppled, a deep rumble was heard from overhead. Dust and a few loose stones sprinkled down from the ceiling and the remaining timbers shook and groaned. In a brief moment of clarity, Throg shouted at Bingles to run before slamming one of the central columns into the firepit.
Confident that victory was assured, the devourer had quickly burned through the reserves of power within Vlad’s soul. Now, as Throg hurled himself into a final pillar, the monster’s hunger for souls returned and it felt compelled to feed once more.
Grief-stricken, Milo cradled Tigerlilly’s body in his arms stroking bits of grey matter from her hair as large blocks of stone and earth crashed down from the ceiling. “Don’t worry, my love, Milo is he---urk!” the halfling choked as the devourer’s claw closed around his head and drained the life from his body.
Bingles and Fyrsil glanced back at the clouds of dust blowing through the barrow tunnels. There was no sign of Throg or the devourer and now, buried under a small mountain of grave earth, rotting wood and stone, the soul-trapped halfling Milo would never again weather the indifferent stare of his unrequited love.
A shame. Wish some of these guys had builds of some sort that made them more survivable. The never ending stream of new characters makes it hard to follow, and kind of holds back getting interested in how a particular character will do.
You know, no sense getting attached if they are going to die quickly.
I agree. I don't like grinding through characters, but my players have also said they don't want me to dumb down the bad guys or pull punches. For some reason, this has been a particularly grueling region for the players. I'm not sure why there aren't more PCs getting raised or reincarnated (when the bodies are recoverable) but, as we'll soon see, the rate of character deaths hasn't slowed down in recent weeks.
That said, I've been working 12-14 hour days lately so I'm a few weeks behind on the journal. The next time I post, I'm going to have to give a brief rundown of the last few sessions so I can get caught up to where the players are now.
Hope Real Life is going to suit you.
That said, I hope that Walker, Tex-Assian Ranger pops up again one day, with Demon-Skin Assless Chaps.
I also like Riswan for a couple of reasons:
1) He hasn't died (well not permanently if he has)
2) He took Toughness and all three save feats. I'm from the school that saves and hp's can never be too high, so he validates me. Sometimes it is a tough call but the only time I don't take hp's with the favored class level is if I really need skill points or the system gives you an offer too good to refuse (spells known for sorcerers and whatnot).
They are NPC's now (was Riswan always an NPC?), but maybe they'll come back one day.
Glad this campaign journal got up and going again after our favorite unicorn went "north of the wall." I'd love to eventually see a group of PC's make it out to daylight. I'm sure it's extremely difficult, but there has to be a way out of that dump.
Maybe Velcro can run a Mythic follow up where the PC's get their revenge on King Humperdink or whatever that guy's name was.
Yes. But I also get depressed writing it because I don't like seeing my players' work and potentially great characters wasted. There have been a couple more deaths in the last few weeks, but the latest indications are the party has stabilized and put together a good roster.
More to follow...
Well, Kevin, I hope you'll give the journal another try at some point. Maybe check back in awhile and see if the party roster stays consistent. The group is nearly finished with Region J and the newest members seem to be working fairly well together so far.
Before we get to them though, I've got a new post that gets us up to speed with what the party has been up to over the last few sessions. In the wake of their battle with the devourer and the defeat of Ter'Kaal, a new evil has emerged from the Pyrefaust. A flock of fiendish wyverns has swept into The Barrows, but are they the true threat or is something more sinister on the horizon? Find out next in...
DAYS 340-346 FIRESIDE TALES
featuring the World’s Largest Adventuring Party
Bingles Cogglefizz – Arcane Healer Bard
Squiggs aka Huggy – Ratfolk Tetori Monk
Nero- Half-Orc Inquisitor of Asmodeus
Otis – Elf Magus
Fuzzy – Half-Orc Storm Druid
Fabio – Human Order of the Cockatrice Cavalier
Radamir – Half-Orc Wizard
Morg – Goblin Ranger
Fyrsil – NPC Pseudodragon
Fyrsil sat quietly as his large host stirred the embers of the small fire between them with his thick, black fingers. The giant offered the dragon a length of broiled claw, but the pseudodragon declined the offer telepathically then looked back at his companions who slept in a close huddle nearby. The warrior shrugged and bit off a large hunk of the burned meat.
“Continue,” the giant grunted, bits of rubbery flesh falling into his beard.
“Oh right,” Fyrsil chirped. “The wyverns. We tracked them here from the west…”
Things had finally settled down in The Barrows a couple days after Fyrsil and Bingles returned from the devourer’s lair. Ter’Kaal was defeated and the nearby nest of salamanders had been wiped out with the exception of a small flamebrother who now resided in one of Faggalaan’s laboratory cages. Nary a peep had been heard from the fire giants or the remaining trolls of the Pyrefaust and most folks in The Barrows seemed content to turn away from the fiery region in pursuit of claims north of the Tanbera. Word of the battle in the barrow mound got around and the area was declared off limits to prospectors. Nobody wanted to risk freeing the undying monster below the earth even if it meant recovering the adventurers who had saved them from the devourer’s appetite for souls.
Squiggs was filled with remorse when he learned about the deaths of Tigerlilly, Vlad, Milo and Throg. He’d hardly known the adventurers, but their sacrifice for The Barrows and his family broke his heart and drove him to binge eating out of guilt over not being there to assist them. Bingles and Fyrsil had come to drag the monk away from a meat stall at the edge of l’Resk’afar when they first heard the throaty, crocodilian roar of wyverns on the wing.
Two large, winged terrors flew down from the east and swept into the crater attacking the miners with their stinging tails and gnashing jaws, but the adventurers managed to rescue the fleeing miners and destroy the beasts with the aid of an elven magus, an inquisitor of Asmodeus and a half-orc druid. The monsters were covered in small bite marks and burns suggesting they were fleeing something and, for the good of the community and to restore order to The Barrows, Otis, Nero and Fuzzy agreed to join Bingles and Squiggs as they mounted an expedition to discover the source of the trouble before anything worse could happen.
“A few of them were still around your hall,” Fyrsil continued. “We fought them and I nearly died, but my friends saved me. Then we heard the hum…”
The trail of the wyverns led the adventurers to the Third Ring of the Pyrefaust, home of the fire giants. Fyrsil remembered how Queen Grehennox had told his lost companions about the stingtails, broslostow in the tongue of giants, that lived within an ancient prison to the north of her hall. At first it seemed the fiend-blooded dragons had swarmed out of their halls in search of prey, but the party soon learned it was the wyverns that were being hunted.
Near the entrance to the fire giant hall, the party spotted a pulsing, glowing mass like a cloud of embers surging quickly along the edge of the Tanbera swallowing wyverns whole as it went. The movement of the strange blob was accompanied by a droning hum and a grinding whine like a saw through ice. A group of fire giants, survivors of the recent troll attack, refused to open the door to their hall for the adventurers claiming only ghosts could be left in the wake of the terrible cloud. Their fears were only compounded when Fuzzy slipped into the hall in gaseous form.
The party left the giants to their refuge and followed the sound of the hum toward the magmin island which rose from the center of the Tanbera. To the south, a behir emerged from the Second Ring across from the magmin island. It was being chased by a dozen flaring orbs of teeth and tentacles which hummed and whined as they swarmed the monster and chewed through its scales.
“They came for us next,” Fyrsil spoke. “We killed a lot of them but more started coming from the north. That’s where we lost Nero.”
The fire giant shifted uncomfortably as the tiny dragon mentioned the throng of ravenous creatures.
“Fuzzy turned into a big hurricane and flew my friends away after that…,” Fyrsil went on.
The adventurers took shelter in a strange puzzle room where they met an even stranger man. The cavalier Fabio and his wolf mount, Alejandro, had discovered a secret door leading into the room while looking for a bathroom and Squiggs and his companions entered to find Fabio apparently attempting to a mount a stone lion. The cavalier claimed the ghost of a beautiful woman had told him to “turn the celestial lion’s wrath upon the resting dragon,” so the adventurers helped the knight turn the statue toward a crouching dragon statue in the opposite corner of the room. Suddenly, a thunderous peal was heard throughout the region, but the party chose to rest in the chamber for a day rather than investigate the sound. Fuzzy needed time to reincarnate Bingles who had died on the magmin island, and the party wasn’t in a rush to deal with more rasts.
The adventurers, with Fabio and Alejandro leading the way, discovered a second puzzle room near the azer mine a day later. This time, the phantom appeared and beseeched the adventurers to halt the flight of a phoenix. After a moment’s consideration, the party turned a statue of a charging boar toward the likeness of a firebird spreading its wings. Once again, the deafening clap of some massive bell was heard throughout the region but the adventurers now suspected its source was somewhere in the west. Fabio would never know the truth.
While exploring a small chamber adjoining the puzzle room, Fabio fell victim to a trap that cursed him with a permanent state of confusion and insanity. After determining the cavalier was a danger to himself and others, Squiggs and his companions sealed Fabio and his wolf into the room while they left to find something to bind him. They returned to find an insane wolf and a dead cavalier.
“We think the trap reset while we were gone,” Fyrsil chirped. “Or else Fabio set it off again on purpose. He didn’t seem very bright to begin with...”
The adventurers were discovered by the wizard Radamir and his goblin companion Morg shortly after finding Fabio’s corpse. It turned out the pair were exploring the Pyrefaust with Fabio and two other adventurers when they were separated by wyverns fleeing the rast swarm. Fortunately, the rasts hadn’t yet found their way into the azer mine and Radamir and Morg were camping there hoping to reunite with their comrades.
A few of the dwarf-like azer had survived the battle in the temple and, without Ter’Kaal to beguile them, they’d returned to their simple lives. While not exactly friendly, the strange creatures were perfectly willing to help the strangers in their mine with information about the area and a place to sleep. Aside from refusing to freely part with their ore and jewels, the creatures seemed naturally helpful. This was of great benefit to Radamir who was able to secure the azer’s aid in recovering a dead rast for research purposes.
The rasts, Radamir discovered, possessed celestial traits. In addition to their keen sense of smell, blood-draining maws and paralyzing gaze, the creatures were resistant to nearly every form of energy, completely immune to fire and ordinary weapons scarcely found purchase in their spongy hides. Worse yet, the rasts seemed to possess an ability to detect when one of their kind was in danger.
“We can’t go home,” Fyrsil told the giant. “Radamir says fighting the rasts in The Barrows will only attract more of them.”
The giant grinned, impressed by the adventurers’ bravery. “So you’ve come to attack the nest,” he smiled. “You think the nownek will return if their home is in danger. It is a cunning strategy, but how will you escape?”
Fyrsil’s tail whipped nervously. “Why didn’t you attack us?” the tiny dragon asked changing the subject.
The giant swallowed the last chunk of the rast’s appendage. “I want to go home too…” he began.
As the trolls closed on Grehennox and her remaining warriors, the fire giant queen ordered them through the wall of blades created by the cleric Sasha. A pair of the giants were immediately eviscerated, but Grehennox and those who survived retreated into the Seventh Ring of the Pyrefaust, home of the fiendish wyverns. The celestials had once used the Seventh Ring as a prison for the devilish dragons, and many of the creatures were still imprisoned within their cages. Seizing upon mad thoughts of revenge against the adventurers who had betrayed her, Grehennox ordered her warriors to free the beasts before leading them into the forbidden Sixth Ring where her mother Frupy had sealed away the terrible rasts.
“…and so we have waited,” the giant sighed nodding toward his unconscious comrade. “Bøljir attacked you because he is loyal to Ruvanes Grehennox. She said your people are our enemies now and we should kill you. I am loyal to the Ruvanes as well but I think this time she has gone too far. You say the adventurers who betrayed us are dead. Maybe you’re lying, but I long to return to my forge and my hall. If the traitors are dead, then I say justice is done.”
“Where is Queen Grehennox now?” Fyrsil asked worried the giantess might return at any moment.
“I do not know,” the giant replied. “She leaves us often but always returns with food. I think it has been a day or maybe two days since I saw her last. I don’t believe she would abandon us.”
Fyrsil recalled the strange shadow Bingles had seen in the distance while the party explored the wyvern lair and the large boot prints Morg had discovered near an open cage. “Did the shadow belong to the giant queen?” he wondered, careful to guard his thoughts from the warrior lest he absent-mindedly project them telepathically.
“We came through the wyvern cages to reach this place…” the pseudodragon offered cautiously.
From the azer mine, the adventurers traveled north through the lair of Fedj’ik’s trolls. There, they discovered a small pack of surviving trolls sleeping in Fedj’ik’s old chambers. Radamir harassed the monsters by conjuring a wall of acidic mist in front of their only exit from the chamber, which kept them at bay while Fyrsil dismantled the mechanical lock sealing the heavy bronze door. Satisfied that the last of Fedj’ik’s trolls were trapped, the party moved into the Seventh Ring.
Phantom echoes of monstrous screeching reverberated throughout the halls adjoining the wyvern cages, but the adventurers found plenty of real danger as well. An ancient celestial trap rained fire upon the group as they passed through an intersection of tunnels and the party battled a trio of half-fiend wyverns that cornered them in a dead end. A wide, silent chamber at the end of one hall contained only a yawning, black chasm where the floor of the room had crumbled away into some supernaturally dark void, and another pair of reinforced doors led to an observation platform above an immense cage containing a gargantuan wyvern atop a cushion of bones. The monster shrieked a warning as Morg peered into its chamber, and the party quickly abandoned thoughts of disturbing the caged behemoth.
Within a chamber across from the massive wyvern, the party found a room containing four cages below another observation deck. Three of the cages contained frustrated wyverns of ordinary size, but the fourth was empty and appeared to have been broken open. A door at the back of the cage suggested the cell was actually used by the celestials to access the ground level of the chamber and the party decided to investigate the enclosure. Things may have gone better had Radamir not antagonized the hungry monsters on either side of the cage.
The yellow-green fog of choking vapors Radamir conjured forth only angered the wyverns causing them to vainly jab their stingers through the bars and batter their cages in an attempt to break free. Fortunately, the celestial-built cages were still strong and their steel bars did not easily break. If the party had run for the door then, they may have all made it to safety but, perhaps intimidated by the thrashing beasts, they hesitated.
The first of the monsters to break loose of its cage cornered Squiggs and Otis within the open cell while Fuzzy, Bingles and Radamir bolstered themselves with magic at a safe distance. Morg peppered the beast with arrows from the observation deck while Fyrsil tried to assist his companions by distracting the wyvern and Bingles attempted to calm the savage creatures with a display of rainbow light, but the fiends resisted the illusion and moments later a second wyvern escaped its cell. Taking the form of a vicious megaraptor, Fuzzy lunged at the beast.
“By the time the third wyvern broke out of its cell, we’d lost Otis and Fuzzy,” Fyrsil sighed. “The fire trap finished that one when it tried to run.”
The pseudodragon peered back at his resting companions a moment before continuing. “After that, we found this place and you know the rest. Radamir thinks we’re close to the rasts’ nest now.”
The giant was quiet a moment before responding. “Your companion is right,” he spoke. “The Ruvanes led us only part of the way to the nownek lair, but I know it is not far. She told us to wait here while she went alone to free them. I believe she thought the creatures would chase the stingtails from their lair and then spread across the Pyrefaust until all of our enemies were dead.”
“But what of your own people?” the pseudodragon asked. “Your friends are sealed behind the doors of their hall. They’re prisoners as long as the rasts are free.”
“The Ruvanes warned us this day would come,” the giant grimly replied. “Back then we all thought she meant the creatures would eventually escape on their own, but she said she knew something her mother had learned about the creatures. She said we would survive to reclaim the Pyrefaust and we believed her so we filled our hall with supplies in preparation for these times. I do not know what it is the Ruvanes plans. Perhaps she believes the nownek will leave the Pyrefaust once there is nothing left for them to eat.”
Fyrsil quietly thought of something Radamir had said about the rasts. The wizard believed the creatures were sensitive to sources of evil and, indeed, the pack of creatures at the bridge had swarmed the inquisitor Nero after he released a burst of profane energy. If Radamir’s theory was correct, the criminals, heretics and scoundrels exiled by the Celestial Garrison into The Barrows would no doubt attract the attention of the ravenous rasts and, now, only the throng of magmin camped on the shores of the Tanbera stood between the monsters and the adventurers’ home.
“I have to get some rest,” Fyrsil chirped. “We have some monsters to kill tomorrow.”
Welcome back to the dungeon, everyone! Last time we heard from our heroes, they were camping out with a fire giant and preparing to enter the lair of the celestial rasts which are swarming throughout the Pyrefaust on their way north. The wizard Radamir believes attacking the nest will draw the monsters back to their lair, saving the party's The Barrows, but how will the adventurers escape once the beasts return?!
DAYS 347 THREE QUEENS pt 1 The Sin Eater
featuring the World’s Largest Adventuring Party
Bingles Cogglefizz – Arcane Healer Bard
Squiggs aka Huggy – Ratfolk Tetori Monk
Radamir – Half-Orc Wizard
Morg – Goblin Ranger
Ron – Half-Orc Ranger
Unam – Half-Elf Cleric of Calistria
Fyrsil – NPC Pseudodragon
Morg kicked Squiggs awake the day following the battle with the wyverns. The ratfolk monk rose slowly and with some complaining, but the alarm of discovering the disappearance of the party’s giant host slightly invigorated him. During the night, the fire giant, Heiml, told Morg and Radamir he would take his unconscious comrade, Boljir, with him and try to find his way home. He said he would try to dissuade his queen from any further attacks on The Barrows if he found her, but admitted even the news of Ter’Kaal’s death may have little effect on Grehennox’s fiery temper.
Gathering their things, Squiggs, Morg and Radamir left to find a pair of wary adventurers lurking in the halls beyond their refuge. Ron and Unam were familiar to the goblin and the wizard. Along with the deceased cavalier Fabio, the cleric and ranger had made up the remaining two fifths of Morg and Radamir’s adventuring party.
“Tracking you wasn’t too difficult,” Ron grinned, patting the head of Sparky, his loyal shocker lizard companion. “It is fortunate Morg’s unwashed armpits stink worse than the odor of death in the tunnels that led us here.”
“Speaking of which, I’d really like to return to those tunnels so we can go home,” Unam spoke. “What in the Nine Hells compelled you to come here anyway, Radamir?”
“It wasn’t anything from The Pit that drove us here, Unam…” Radamir began quickly informing the cleric of what he had discovered about the rasts and their connection to Queen Grehennox. As a priest of Calistria, Unam couldn’t help but feel a measure of respect for the vengeful giantess, but his own desire to return to the comforts of home and the attentions of several paramours had to take precedence.
The halls leading into the rasts’ nest were eerily quiet and only a few devious ancient celestial traps challenged the party as they pushed on into the home of the strange monsters. Not far from where they’d made camp they discovered the remains of a giant they believed was Boljir, the fire giant warrior who had attacked them the previous day. Something had cut the giant in half and the adventurers quickly learned the celestials had hidden a bladed pendulum in the chamber with an invisibility spell. Bypassing the deadly axehead became much simpler after Unam managed to temporarily purge the blade’s dweomer, but the deterrents ahead were much worse.
By now the adventurers were well aware of the dangers presented by the grim stone angels lining the halls of the region and those within the lair of the rasts proved to be no different. Ron and Bingles were nearly incinerated when a pair of the silent sentinels paralyzed them with their gaze and breathed explosive orbs of fire at their feet. The ranger’s leather jerkin fell from his rigid shoulders in flames, but he was fortunate enough that his companions managed to pull him from the corridor before the trap could reset.
After Ron and Bingles recovered, the party moved onward past a mysterious series of rooms filled with brittle webbing and the skeletons of bizarre creatures both humanoid and bestial to a pair of smashed statues. The figures had once guarded the entrance to a hidden door which kept the rasts trapped within the Sixth Ring, but in her rage Grehennox had destroyed them setting the beasts free. The adventurers stepped cautiously through the debris to find a pair of tunnels thick with humidity and thin, steamy vapors. Ron and Morg could see the tunnel ahead of them led toward another pair of most-likely trapped angel statues while a narrow passage to the north appeared to end in a large, fog-shrouded chamber. Having had their fill of fireballs for the time being, the party chose the tunnel to the north.
As the adventurers entered the room, the swirling steam began to coalesce into what appeared to be a humanoid form. Seconds later, the party was confronted by the familiar image of the mysterious phantom woman they had already encountered within the strange puzzle rooms throughout the region.
“I have no time. I am trapped,” the spirit sobbed. “You must restore the balance.”
And with that, the woman’s form unraveled as the fog lifted from the chamber revealing the statue of a beautiful warrior maiden within an alcove in the east wall. A pedestal in the west wall stood empty. Wasting no time, the adventurers examined the statue and found it to be placed haphazardly within the east alcove, as if someone had moved it from somewhere else.
Together, the adventurers lifted the maiden’s figure and hauled it back onto the pedestal within the west wall where it fit snugly. The humid fog returned as the statue clicked down into its rightful place but this time it displayed a more puzzling vision as it swirled before the party. The wisps of fog formed into the image of an azer working within a quarry. Bingles quickly recognized the creature and declared the pit was the very same in which the azer of the region toiled, though she could not say if the image represented an event from the past, the present or the future.
“What might your old friends have to do with this phantom lady, Bingles?” Squiggs asked the gnome. “Could it be related to Ter’Kaal?”
“I don’t know,” the bard replied. “I don’t think so. I know Ter’Kaal had witnessed her manifestations near the azer mine but he never showed much interest in solving her dilemma.”
“It’s a mystery for another day,” Radamir spoke. “For now, we’ve got to put an end to these rasts. Let’s move on.”
And move on they did, past another pair of angelic flamethrowers and down a steep flight of stairs toward the sound of a low gnashing in a furnace-hot room littered with gnawed bones and ash and thick with the smell of old blood. A trio of peculiar statues decorated alcoves in the south end of the room and a ring of some dry, glistening pigment decorated the floor but of more immediate concern was the huge rast hovering in the center of the chamber and the gleaming orb of light floating close at its side.
“Be calm, girl” the orb chimed, seemingly to the slavering monster. Then, hovering between the party and the beast, the lantern archon addressed the adventurers. “Who are you?” it asked, its voice oozing with suspicion. “Why have you come to this place? Answer quickly!”
“We’ve come to put an end to you and the evil you’ve unleashed on The Pyrefaust and The Barrows!” Radamir blurted before anyone else could respond.
“The evil I’ve unleashed?!” the celestial growled. “This region is overrun! I’m working to purge the corruption that has spread throu-wait...You’re working for her, aren’t you?! Kill them!”
“Smooth,” Unam cracked at the wizard as the archon flared with rage and the incoming rasts paralyzed Radamir with their gaze. “I don't even really know this guy! You can have him!” the cleric shouted to the archon as he fled up the stairs, leaving Radamir to be devoured.
The rest of the party may have joined Unam in his fearful ascent if Ron hadn’t also become ensnared by the baleful gaze of the monsters. Only a day had passed since the wizard’s recklessness with the wyverns had cost the lives of Fuzzy and Otis, and it looked as though he was about to get the ranger killed as well.
Squiggs and Morg did their best to hold the creatures at bay while Bingles bolstered herself with spells and began an inspiring tirade against Radamir, but the ravenous rasts were quick to descend on their paralyzed prey. Severely weakened and nearly dead from blood loss, Radamir disintegrated into an ectoplasmic mist and escaped into a nearby collapsed tunnel, abandoning his companions as feeling returned to his limbs.
“Cowardly fool! Curse your idiot tongue!” Ron called after the ghostly wizard as the numbness left him. “Fyrsil, we need a way out of here!”
The pseudodragon was of little use in a fight and he raced up a flight of stairs to the south in search of an escape route, or at least a better fighting position for his friends. Meanwhile, Unam had reached the top of the north stairway and come to halt as he swore.
The cleric’s path was blocked by the pair of trapped angel statues that stood watch over the passage ahead, waiting to incinerate anyone who approached too near. Earlier, Unam had prayed for his goddess’ protection against the statues’ flames, but the sheath of energy surrounding him was nearly spent. He might survive if he hurried through, but it would be a one way trip and he’d be alone if he encountered anymore rasts or giants.
Back down in the bone-strewn chamber, Ron and Sparky, Morg and Squiggs continued their desperate struggle against the rast queen’s defenders and their lantern archon master.
“We only want to save our home!” Ron shouted at the archon through the gnashing and grinding of rast fangs. “Your pets have spread into the chasm north of the Pyrefaust! A lot of good people are going to die if they aren’t stopped!”
“I won’t be fooled by your lies!” the archon growled. “Nothing good survived the cataclysm! Not even my mighty order! The dungeon is a ruin given over to evil and corruption, but I will see it cleansed!”
“But the Celestial Garrison lives on!” Unam suddenly called out from the stairway. Reasoning his odds of survival were better among his companions, the cleric had bounded down the stairs to their aid. “They rule over a community of prisoners in the southern regions! They’ve even accepted goblins into their ranks!”
“You dare dishonor the good name of the Celestial Garrison with scurrilous accusations of tyranny and miscegenation with the servants of darkness!?” roared the archon. “Your bones will rest in the belly of the mother rast tonight, agent of the evil one!”
“Who is this ‘evil one?” Unam pleaded in a final bid at diplomacy. “We don’t serve anyone! We’re just trying to save our people! We don’t want to hurt you, but these creatures have to be stopped!”
“That’s exactly the sort of thing a disciple of the deceiver would say!” the archon replied, paranoia and rage in its tone. “Perhaps you were heroes once, but nobler souls than yours have been subverted by the b#$@% queen’s guile! I’ve waited centuries for this opportunity! I can’t fail now! I won’t! Not again! All corruption must be expunged! All sins must be eaten!”
The time for talking was well past over. It was clear the archon was mad and none among the adventurers had the skill or art to soothe its mind. They would have to fight!
With Fyrsil’s report that the south stair was sealed by an iron wall, fleeing was no longer an option and without Radamir’s powerful magic the adventurers were forced to rely on their skill at arms to battle the monsters. The rast’s celestial hides made wounding the beasts difficult, but slowly Ron, Sparky and Squiggs hammered the mother rast’s guardians to the ground and withdrew up the north stairway. Fortunately, the matron of the horrible creatures was too corpulent to pursue the party up the narrow stairway and gave no chase…or so it seemed.
In a mad dash for safety Bingles broke away from her companions deftly diving behind one of the trapped angel statues as it filled the upper corridor with flames. Surely the bard would have died if not for the cover provided by the wings of the stone celestial, but the gnome quickly discovered she was far from safe. From the west tunnel, Bingles heard the shrieking whine of the buzzsaw fangs of the matron rast. Using a secret door known only to the celestial guardians of the dungeon, the lantern archon had directed the beast to flank the adventurers.
Had the mother rast not been slowed by its own massive frame it may have trapped the party between itself and its kin, but once again luck was on the adventurer’s side and the remaining guardian rast was slain as the matron wedged itself between the two trapped statues.
The flameborn monster had nothing to fear from the incinerating gaze of the celestial sentinels, but her angelic minder was not so lucky. As an explosion of fire erupted around the mother rast, the raving lantern archon was engulfed. Unafraid, the zealous creature disincorporated with a shout of defiance and a curse upon the souls of the adventurers as the rast matron roared in anger.
“If what Radamir said is true, this place is going to be swarming with this thing’s young at any moment,” Ron growled to his companions. “They’ll be back to defend their queen. There’ll be no going home.”
“Then let’s at least make them all orphans before they get here,” Morg replied, nocking an arrow into his bow.
The next few minutes saw the adventurers locked in desperate combat with the mother rast. The creature was easy enough to strike while it was wedged between the walls of the corridor, but it was far more resilient than the smaller rasts and the fireballs exploding against its spongy hide every 30 seconds made getting into melee with the beast a potentially deadly gambit. Still, the pattern of the explosions was simple to calculate by listening for the hiss the statues emitted just before each blast, and Morg shouted for his friends to take cover every few moments as he plinked arrows into the side of the monster from the safety of the stairway.
Squiggs and Unam managed to get behind the monster while Ron and Sparky slashed and tore into its thick hide and Bingles, from her safe location behind the angel statues, continued to inspire her companions with promises of the rewards they would reap in the afterlife. The clutching claws and gnashing teeth of the mother rast occasionally found purchase in the flesh of the adventurers, but fighting within the hallway was hindering the beast enough that it seemed victory was assured. Suddenly Unam and Squiggs heard a rasping whine from the north. Two of the rast queen’s soldiers had returned to defend their lair, trapping the cleric and monk between the matron and her brood.
“Send the mother…to her ancestors,” Squiggs yawned to Ron and Morg. Since leaving the wyvern cages, the ratfolk was feeling increasingly tired. Indeed, he’d even fallen asleep in mid-stride on one or two occasions, but this was no time for napping. “We’ll…hold these two for as long…as we can.”
Of all the adventurers, it was the goblin Morg who was having the hardest time wounding the mother rast. The arrows of his small bow frequently bounced uselessly off the celestial hide of the monster, and he was quickly running out of ammunition. Soon he would be forced to drop the weapon and he shuddered as he considered the possibility that he might have to engage the beast with the flimsy rapier he carried for skewering fire beetles. Nocking his final arrow, the goblin grunted a short prayer to The Stoneshaper and fired.
Some miracle or fiendish luck carried Morg’s arrow into a nostril of the beastly, bulbous rast and drove it deep into the monster’s fiery heart. The creature shook and squealed as steaming ichor began to pour from its nose and spurt from between its fangs.
“Praise Norendithas,” Morg grinned. “The gulthash vorgken ain’t long for this world now.”
The mother rast flailed its claws and snapped its mighty jaws at Sparky and Ron as its lifeblood leaked from its body. Chancing to catch a glimpse of the dying beast, Bingles peered out from behind the angel statue only to be caught by the monster’s wild, dreadful gaze. The mother rast seized the gnome with its siphoning claws hoping to restore the blood it was losing with the blood of the bard, but it was no use. The goblin’s arrow would be the death of the beast, but it was determined to enjoy one final meal and it gorged on the paralyzed gnome.
Bingles may have died in that moment if it hadn’t been for the shocker lizard Sparky. Ron’s faithful reptilian friend leapt at the bleeding rast queen and buried its teeth deep into the monster’s flesh with all its might. Shaking viciously as it pulled away, the shocker lizard tore a gaping wound in the rast’s belly which sealed its fate and Ron delivered a bone crushing blow from his shield to ensure the beast was truly dead. Then something peculiar happened.
Unam was paralyzed and well on his way to becoming a meal for one of the rast soldiers when the mother beast died, but the creatures suddenly stopped and wheezed as they inhaled deeply. Then, without warning, the beasts turned on one another in a frenzy of blood and teeth. The awe-struck adventurers stood back as the less wounded of the two creatures tore its brother to pieces and began to feed on its remains.
“What just happened?” Morg asked not really expecting an answer.
“I don’t know but I say we kill that thing before it decides we’re the second course,” Ron replied.
I agree. I don't like grinding through characters, but my players have also said they don't want me to dumb down the bad guys or pull punches. For some reason, this has been a particularly grueling region for the players. I'm not sure why there aren't more PCs getting raised or reincarnated (when the bodies are recoverable) but, as we'll soon see, the rate of character deaths hasn't slowed down in recent weeks.
Playing in a meat grinder campaign wouldn't be my first choice for a good time, but if I were going to do it, I'd also commit to the idea. Makes sense to me.
Greetings once again, readers! Our heroes are quickly approaching the end of Region J! Only Grehennox, Queen of the Fire Giants, stands in their way but, before they can get to her, they're going to have to survive their return trip through the fiendish wyvern cages. Will the party escape the haunted halls of the wyverns? Will they regroup with the wizard Radamir? Do they even want to? Find out next in...
DAYS 347-348 THREE QUEENS pt 2 The Mother of Scorpion Eagles
featuring the World’s Largest Adventuring Party:
Bingles Cogglefizz – Arcane Healer Bard
Squiggs aka Huggy – Ratfolk Tetori Monk
Radamir – Half-Orc Wizard
Morg – Goblin Ranger
Ron – Half-Orc Ranger
Unam – Half-Elf Cleric of Calistria
Fyrsil – NPC Pseudodragon
Radamir’s gaseous form drifted slowly through the pile of fallen debris choking the tunnel leading away from the nest of the mother rast as the cries of his desperate companions gradually faded into the distance. The half-orc hadn’t survived this long by sticking his neck out for anyone, and he was in no rush to return to the battle after being nearly bled dry by the matron’s protectors.
The tunnel appeared to have once been a long, grand hallway though it was now almost entirely clogged by fallen masonry and dust and Radamir began to wonder if he would become trapped, crushed or asphyxiated when his spell wore off. Then, after quite some distance, the wizard spied a light burning through the cracks between the stones. Pouring through the tiny crevices of the collapsed tunnel, Radamir entered into a pocket of space no larger than an outhouse. There, a flickering enchanted torch rested on the floor at the side of a man-sized skeleton.
The dead man’s spine rested against a huge archway sealed by strange blue-grey stone and his head slumped forward, his empty eye sockets seemingly fixed on a simple iron key clutched in his left hand. A small pile of items was neatly arranged near the stone wall as well and, in the light of the torch, Radamir could make out a message scrawled across the stone in chalk:
TO THEY THAT READ THESE WORDS, MY NAME WAS JACINTO MANGON OF SALTMARSH. MY
COMPAN FRIENDS ESTREL, CALLUM AND THE DWARF FINGOLIN ARE DEAD AND NOW I AM WITH THEM. TAKE WHAT YOU WILL FROM MY REMAINS WITH MY BLESSING. I NO LONGER NEED THESE THINGS. I ASK ONLY THAT YOU LEAVE THE IRON KEY. IT IS SPECIAL TO ME AND REMINDS ME OF HOME.
IF EVER YOU TRAVEL TO SALTMARSH, PLEASE VISIT THE FISHBONE INN AND GIVE THE INNKEEPER MY NAME. TELL HIM I DIED AMONG FRIENDS AND WITH HONOR.
Radamir dismissed his spell, becoming corporeal once again and sifted through the skeleton’s offerings. “Save your blessing,” he muttered to the dead man, stuffing several bottles and a sheaf of scrolls into his bag. “I was going to take it all anyway.”
Near the small assortment of items, a sturdy steel shield leaned against a fallen stone upon which a rune-carved flail and fine grey shirt of studded leather rested. “These should win me back some goodwill when I return to the others…or at least pay for their reincarnations should I find only their remains,” the wizard grunted to himself.
“Do you hear that?” Ron asked his companions moments after striking the final blow against the rast which had killed and partially devoured its own kin. “The halls are quiet. The mother beast’s young have not returned.”
“Was Radamir wrong?” Squiggs yawned. “Do you think they reached The Barrows?”
“Maybe that archon could have told us if he hadn’t been blown up…” Morg offered. “…or crazy.”
“He’ll be back,” Unam spoke, referring to the custodian archon’s ability to reform after being disincorporated. “I suggest we find a safe place around here to hole up in and wait for him to return. We might get some answers from him.”
The mother rast’s lair seemed as good a place as any to await the return of the archon so the adventurers returned down the stairs into the bone-strewn chamber where a new riddle awaited them.
Aside from the piles of bones, the chamber was decorated by a ring of some peculiar chemical on the floor and a trio of painted bronze statues; one a sword-wielding warrior, one a cloaked figure and one a brutish hulk. Five sealed stone doors lined the walls of the chamber and arcane sigils marked the interior of the grey ring.
As the party re-entered the chamber to investigate its interior, they were once again visited by the phantom maiden of the Pyrefaust. “Hurry, my saviors!” the ghost pleaded. “My time grows short! You must cast the dark one into the fire!” Then, as quickly as she had appeared, the maiden was gone.
Bingles examined the chemical ring on the floor of the chamber and quickly determined the symbols etched within represented flames, wards and liberation. “I think they’re meant to keep something inside the ring…or to set something free that’s been imprisoned,” spoke the gnome. “So it seems we’ve found the fire. Now where’s this dark one?” It didn’t take long for the party to agree that the statue of the cloaked figure must represent the dark one of which the phantom spoke, and together they pushed the statue into the ring.
“Is something else supposed to happen?” Ron grunted as the cowled figure stood silently within the ring. “Are we sure this is the right statue?”
“Firegray, of course!” Morg suddenly exclaimed as he searched through his pack and quickly produced a flint and steel. “Shrinekeeper Froud uses paste like this to light the shrine of Norendithas back in the Empire!”
The sparks of the goblin’s flint ignited the chemical ring causing it to burst into green flames as the statue within blackened and broke apart like a crumbling sand castle. When nothing remained by a pile of soot, the ring of flames extinguished and the five doors surrounding the chamber dropped open to reveal a hive of young rasts clumped together behind four of the doors. The creatures appeared to be in some sort of torpor.
“Nobody make a sound,” Unam whisper-hissed to his companions as he stepped toward the only seemingly empty room in the north of the chamber. Suddenly a loud, whistling snore echoed across the chamber.
Fatigue had finally overtaken Squiggs and the ratfolk had collapsed onto the floor in a heap. Unam’s eyes went wide as he quickly scanned the sleeping chambers of the rasts and, to his relief, the creatures remained dormant. “Drag him in here now,” the cleric commanded as he backed into the empty room.
“No natural sleep has taken our friend,” Bingles quietly offered once the party was safely in the north chamber. “This is something else. Maybe a disease he contracted in the wyvern lair or a curse, I don’t know, but it isn’t normal,” she added kicking the monk in an attempt to wake him.
Meanwhile, Fyrsil examined a door in the east wall of the room marked by a now-familiar pull lever opening mechanism. “Should we try it?” the pseudodragon asked.
“Let me,” Squiggs groggily replied as he stood up from the floor. “It might be trapped like the statue that drove Fabio insane.” The ratfolk opened the door to find a lichen-covered statue in the likeness of the angelic phantom which had pleaded to the adventurers for help and the party quickly scrambled inside and closed the door behind them. From the other side of a door in the south wall, the adventurers could hear the buzzing snores of the rast young.
“I think we should camp here before we do anything else,” Unam spoke. “Ron was nearly bled dry by those things out there and I might be able to figure out how to help Squiggs after I’ve rested from the battle.”
Nobody disagreed with the cleric, least of all Squiggs who had once again fallen asleep.
Radamir rose early the following morning, prepared his spells and escaped the skeleton’s lonely tomb the way he’d arrived, drifting slowly through the cracks in the fallen masonry until he reached the hall where he’d fled the rasts. Cautiously, the wizard shifted out of his incorporeal form and became invisible, relying on an earlier cast spell to maintain his flight. There were no signs of the mother beast, her lantern archon keeper or the half-orc’s companions, but the rooms housing the young rasts were still open and the wizard could make out movement from high above the chamber.
From an alcove in the north wall near the ceiling of the chamber, a large, dark-skinned woman clutching an immense spear stood behind a low rail peering down into the room. “You must be Queen Grehennox,” Radamir thought to himself.
Radamir ascended toward the alcove as Grehennox turned and crept quietly away. “You’re remarkably stealthy for a giant, aren’t you,” the wizard continued to think at the fire giant queen as he entered the exposed hidden passage that connected with the tunnel leading to the angel-guarded stairway. There was no sign of the giantess.
The wizard cautiously proceeded into the main tunnel and caught sight of Grehennox pressing her back to the wall and froze. Some disturbance in the air or perhaps the jangle of loose gear in his pack had betrayed Radamir and the perceptive giantess had deduced his location. “Now!” Grehennox roared at which point a second giant hiding across from her leapt out from cover and flailed his arms wildly through the air toward the invisible half-orc. Radamir tried to withdraw, but he was too slow. Clutching blindly Heiml managed to get ahold of the wizard’s legs as Grehennox joined the grapple.
“Feels like we got one,” the queen grinned, placing a thick hand over Radamir’s face to muffle his protestations. “Not a sound from you or we’ll part you like a rusty chain, understand?”
Ron, Bingles, Unam and Fyrsil woke to find Squiggs still passed out on the floor of their small refuge at the foot of the maiden’s statue and soon discovered a hidden lever partially buried by the moss covering the figure’s base.
“Squiggs should probably be the one to handle that thing,” Unam advised. “I’ll see if I can wake him.”
The cleric made his prayers to Calistria, knelt and placed a hand on the ratfolk’s head. Squiggs snored loudly. “It’s either a stronger curse than I can break or I’m just out of practice,” Unam spoke. “We’ll have to do this the old fashioned way.”
Squiggs awoke with a squeal as the shocker lizard Sparky bit into his tail. “Was that really necessary!?” he growled nursing his tail and only now realizing his robes were soaked.
“Unam dumped enough water on you to fill a hog’s trough,” Ron replied. “We were running out of options.”
After collecting himself, Squiggs examined the lever and gave it a tug. The lichen and moss made the handle slick and damp, but it gave easily and the now-familiar peal of a distant bell rang throughout the halls of the rast’s lair. “Balls,” Morg groaned. “We forgot about the-“
The sound of grinding teeth and buzzing suddently erupted from behind the south door of the chamber. The young rasts were awake and hungry.
“What do we do now?” Bingles asked. “There were at least 20 of those things out there. If we go outside, they’ll devour us.” The gnome knew all too well what it was like to be drained dry of blood by the ravenous monsters.
“I guess that settles the debate over whether or not we were going to slaughter the wee beasties,” Morg smiled drawing his rapier.
The adventurers prepared themselves and opened the west door of the chamber to discover many of the creatures had already buzzed off to search for food elsewhere. Close to a dozen of the young rasts remained in the larger chamber however, chasing each other or burrowing into the bone piles in search of marrow. “There might be another way,” Ron quietly spoke. “Gather at the south door and be ready to run.”
Once his companions were in position, the ranger struck his gladius against his shield and roared at the rasts. As the creatures swarmed after the half-orc, Unam opened the south door and rushed out with Bingles, Morg and Fyrsil close behind. The tiny dragon darted for the control lever on the west portal sealing it just as Ron and Sparky escaped through the south and trapped the pack of monsters within.
“I hope they like the taste of moss,” Ron laughed. “Let’s get out of here.”
“What about the lantern archon?” Bingles asked. “Or Radamir? Should we wait for him?”
“The wizard abandoned us and my heart won’t break if we never see him again,” declared Unam. “As for the archon, the time they take to regenerate isn’t fixed. It may still be reforming or it may have already come and gone from this place. We can’t stay here with the rest of the young loose. The adults might still come back to protect them.”
Ron and Morg scouted the way ahead and reported the young rasts were at the top of the stairs eating their dead mother so the party used the secret passage near the nest’s ceiling to bypass the creatures. The climb wasn’t so difficult, but Squiggs did manage to fall asleep about 20 feet from the ground only to wake after crashing to the floor. Once up in the tunnel, the adventurers were surprised by the sight of a lone rast cub chasing what appeared to be a green, kitten-sized scorpion.
At first, the scurrying arthropod merely seemed out of place to the adventurers but Unam quickly realized the thing was heading straight for the party. At the cleric’s direction, Ron, Morg and Squiggs quietly dispatched the young rast chasing the scorpion but the bug wasn’t quite out of danger yet. As the rast fell dead, Fyrsil dove at the scorpion hungry for a bite of the venomous morsel.
“Fyrsil, no!” Unam chastised the pseudodragon as the scorpion took cover behind the cleric. “I think there’s more to this creature than meets the eye. Can you try to communicate with it?”
“Oh, fine,” Fyrsil sulked. “But I’m eating it if it gives me any attitude.”
While incapable of speaking with the adventurers, the scorpion quickly worked out a simple language of pincer clicks at Fyrsil’s telepathic prompting and revealed it was the familiar of Radamir, which came as a surprise to everyone since nobody had ever seen the thing or heard him mention it. The scorpion indicated the wizard was in danger and motioned for the adventurers to follow it.
“Go ahead and eat it, Fyrsil,” Unam spoke. “That fool deserves whatever horrible thing is happening to him.”
“What’s going to happen to me?!” Radamir squealed. The wizard could see nothing through the heavy sack pulled down over his shoulders. “Where are you taking me?!”
“Pipe down or I’ll gag you again,” Heiml gruffly replied. “The only reason you’re still alive is Grehennox liked my idea of letting your screams attract your companions. You’re welcome.”
Radamir felt the giant stop and reach out for something. A moment later, he heard the sound of stone grinding on metal. Heiml carried the wizard a few more steps, then grabbed something to his right, chains from the sound of it, as the door behind them sealed shut. It wasn’t long after that the wizard found himself hanging by his feet from the ceiling.
“What are you doing?!” the half-orc frantically asked. “Are you going to torture me?! I could be a powerful ally. Every tyrant needs a royal wizard! Tell Grehennox I’ll serve her!”
“A royal fool, more like," the giant grunted. "Maybe there was a time she would have accepted your offer but that time is past. Now, be quiet or we’ll both suffer for it.”
“At least take the bag off my head so we can speak like civilized people,” Radamir pleaded.
Heiml was quiet for a moment before responding. “No more squealing, wizard” spoke the giant as he tugged the sack from Radamir’s shoulders. “And no tricks or I’ll halve you.”
Radamir’s eyes took a moment to adjust to the light in the chamber and his upside-down view of the world but, as soon as they did, he wished he was still wearing the sack. Across from the wizard was a thick steel gate and on the other side of the gate stood the titanic wyvern Radamir and his companions had discovered only two days ago. The monster peered curiously through the bars of the gate and shuffled clumsily from its nest for a closer look.
“It, uh, can’t get in here can it?” Radamir croaked, choking back his fear.
“She hasn’t yet,” Heiml replied. “But I wouldn’t do anything to provoke her.”
Resisting the urge to plead further for mercy from the giant, Radamir quickly formulated a last ditch effort to prolong his life and addressed the monster looming on the other side of the gate. “Fekiikiri, janikup daariv,” the wizard spoke as obsequiously as possible. Amused to hear the draconic tongue coming from its food, the monster arched its brow and seemed to grin.
“Nomeno rhyaex renthisjic,” the wyvern growled in reponse, much to Heiml’s surprise and discomfort. “It is a strange thing. What manner of creature are you, meat?”
“I am a half-orc, your magnificence,” Radamir replied in draconic. Behind him, Heiml moved a nervous hand to his sword hilt. “I am called Radamir the Wizard!”
The beast snorted with disgust. “Wizards! Filgi! You are a butcher!” Her claws grasped the bars of the gate testing their strength. “I will be happy to eat you!”
“Please spare me, mighty one!” Radamir squealed. “Perhaps I can assist you in some way?! Perhaps I can free you from this place?!”
The wyvern croaked a guttural laugh and stepped back from the cage bars causing both Radamir and Heiml to sigh with relief. Composing herself, the monster explained that she never considered herself to be trapped.
The wyvern revealed she had once been a prized captive of the celestials who controlled Region J. The angels called her Exentaser Siratis Vabzir, the Mother of Scorpion Eagles, and they treated her very well, showing her off to visitors from other regions. Though her fiendish anatomy meant she could not starve, Exentaser was fed regularly and she grew fat and strong in her cell.
“There is one thing I enjoyed more than the food or fame the angels brought me,” Exentaser growled. “More than those things I enjoyed mating. My jailers would bring me many males, and then they would come to steal my eggs later.”
Radamir didn’t like where this going. If the wyvern asked for the return of her young, he would have nothing but bad news to tell, especially after having personally killed several of the loose wyverns roaming the halls. “I’m afraid I wouldn’t know where to find your young,” the wizard spoke apologetically. “They would certainly have grown old and fled this place I should think.”
“I don’t care about them,” Exentaser spoke. “I want a mate. Here is a bargain for you, wizard. The celestials once brought me a very powerful male. He was called Maulkir Juglanth and he was nearly as mighty as me. I wish to couple with him once again. If you have seen him in your travels through this place, tell me and I will go to him. If he is dead, I will kill you and eat you slowly, but if he lives I will set you free and eat this giant who guards you instead. You will die regardless if you tell me you have not seen him.”
Radamir gulped a mighty gulp. He hadn't seen another wyvern of Exentaser's size since entering the region, and his mind raced through the events of the last few days. At last, his mind fixed on the yawning, black void filling the collapsed floor of a nearby cell. The party had been too nervous to explore the supernaturally dark pit, but it stood to reason a creature of the wyvern's immense size could have been trapped within the chasm.
“Let me go!” Unam screamed as Ron lifted the cleric off the ground and wrestled him into the lightless corridor. Led by Serket, the scorpion familiar of Radamir, the party had discovered a small room adorned by a single statue of a sword-wielding deva. The statue radiated a powerful aura of order and both Bingles and Unam refused to enter the chamber, feeling faint and sick the closer they came to the angel. Now, however, was not the time to argue.
Lacking a better answer at the moment, Radamir had told the wyvern queen her lost love Maulkir Juglanth might be at the bottom of the chasm he and his companions had found in the floor of a nearby large cell. If nothing else, the wizard figured the supernatural darkness of the pit would keep the monster busy long enough for his companions to find him. It had but unfortunately, the Mother of Scorpion Eagles hadn’t found her consort and now, true to her word, she’d returned to devour the wizard and anyone who stood in her way.
What followed was a wall-breaking chase that would have been comical if not for the sudden tragic loss of one of the party’s stalwart members. Bingles did everything she could to avoid nearing the repulsive deva statue even going so far as to protect herself with spells of invisibility and displacement so her companions couldn’t get ahold of her. Even still, the ratfolk monk Squiggs managed to apprehend the slippery gnome.
Squiggs was nearly halfway across the chamber with Bingles when he suddenly felt very tired and collapsed. Free of the ratman’s clutches, Bingles fled once again toward the secret door leading away from the deva.
“Sparky, wake Squiggs and get out of here!” Ron commanded the shocker lizard. Morg and Unam had already pushed on through the darkness to safety. “I’ll go back for Bingles!”
“We don’t have time for this, gnome!” Ron growled as he searched for the invisible bard. “If I have to beat you senseless, you’re coming with me!”
“You don’t want to do that,” the gnome smiled reappearing as she cast a charm at the ranger. “You want to help me sneak out through the wyvern cells while that scaly bastard goes after everyone else.”
Ron drew his sword and turned toward the gnome with a grin. “Good idea, friend,” he smiled. “Let me get the door for you.”
Bingles vanished again as Ron listened at the secret door leading into the wyvern cages. Exentaser had been smashing on the other side of the door only moments ago, but it seemed the beast had given up and gone to find a way to head off the rest of the party. Had the other adventurers not fled, they may have saved Bingles’ life that day but, alone against the wyvern queen, the gnome’s charmed protector Ron was outmatched.
The wyvern queen snatched Bingles from the doorway as Ron opened the passage for his friend, her extraordinary sense of smell leading her right to the invisible gnome. The ranger hewed and bludgeoned the beast in a valiant but vain attempt at rescuing the bard, but it was no use. Pieces of the gnome began to reappear as they were torn from her body and, as Bingles’ broken corpse reappeared in the claws of the monster, the half-orc ran to join his fleeing companions.
I had a couple days off this week so I was able to catch up a little more on the journal!
As we rejoin our heroes, we find them in the halls of the azer after fleeing the fiendish wyvern queen Exentaser and discovering a fistful of enchanted rings and a shimmering cloak of scintillating colors. With no sign of Grehennox or her giants, the adventurers can only hope the tyrant queen met the same fate as poor Bingles as they move closer to solving the great mystery of The Pyrefaust. Just who is the spectral angel who wanders the halls of Region J and what does she have to do with the ziggurat on the edge of the Tanbera?
DAYS 348-350 THREE QUEENS pt 3 A Phantom Made Flesh
featuring the World’s Largest Adventuring Party:
Squiggs aka Huggy – Ratfolk Tetori Monk
Radamir – Half-Orc Wizard
Morg – Goblin Ranger
Ron – Half-Orc Ranger
Unam – Half-Elf Cleric of Calistria
Varnik Bearshirt Jarllson – Human Invulnerable Rager/Cleric of Erastil
Fyrsil – NPC Pseudodragon
Azer picks and shovels clanged and shucked against the hard, volcanic stone of the quarry as Unam and Morg examined a small collection of jewelry, gems and equipment the creatures offered in trade. Most of the pair’s companions were resting after their narrow escape from Exentaser, the wyvern queen, and their subsequent flight through a celestial-trapped chamber where Radamir and Morg were nearly lost when a trio of fiery explosions consumed the oxygen within the air-tight room. In fact, the wizard owed his recently restored life to Squiggs, who somehow convinced Unam to bestow Calistria’s blessing on the asphyxiated half-orc’s corpse. In turn, Radamir showed how grateful he was by sharing a meager amount of the gear he’d discovered near the skeleton of a dead adventurer near the lair of the rasts.
Unam recognized the azer craftsman from the strange vision the adventurers had witnessed in the fog-shrouded chamber north of the rast lair and, among his assorted baubles was a large, smooth orb of silvery metal. “What is this?” the cleric asked. “Did you make it yourself?”
The light behind the azer’s eyes intensified a moment as he examined the object. “Mithral,” the creature replied approvingly. “Rare and valuable. Our hands did not this shape. Found in the quarry it was, though mined not from the stone. What is your offer if you would have it?”
“Do you think it’s connected to the ghost lady we keep seeing or the statue near the Tanbera?” Morg asked the priest.
“Even if it isn’t, it’ll be worth a fortune back in The Barrows,” Unam replied before turning back to the azer. Shortly thereafter the azer agreed to exchange the mithral orb for Unam’s magic ring of fire resistance and the sturdy enchanted shield Radamir had recovered from the dead adventurer. The loss of the ring was of no concern to the priest who had claimed a more powerfully enchanted band of brass from the prison of a frozen ice demon the party discovered while fleeing Exentaser.
With their mithral prize in hand, Morg and Unam went to report their find to their companions. “This must be the missing key to the ziggurat,” Radamir spoke. “If we locate and open the final two seals, I believe we’ll be able to finally discover what lies beneath it.”
“Perhaps the azer can help?” Fyrsil chirped. “Ter’Kaal said he’d witnessed the spirit woman near his shrine to Tyrus. The azer might know the place.” And so, after rousing Squiggs from his cursed slumber, Ron, Unam, Fyrsil and the ratman went to speak with the azer.
One of the azer, a creature named Drokt, led the adventurers into a hidden passage decorated with statues of the mighty Ter’Kaal. Small bowls of offerings still rested at the feet of the oni and, though it was now vacant, the space was kept immaculately clean by the azer.
“Didn’t this Ter’Kaal fella try to feed you all to a dragon and destroy the world?” Ron hazarded to ask. “Why keep all this stuff here? Why not melt it down and turn it into something less…bad?”
Drokt remained silent as he led the way into a chamber Ter’Kaal had used as a small storage area for his scrolls and other treasures. To Drokt, the motives of the azer were simple and obvious. Explaining them, he decided, wouldn’t help these strangers to understand. To the azer, the need for order and honor was equaled only by their love of hard work and expert craftsmanship. The fact that the statues depicted Ter’Kaal meant little to the azer but, as evidence of their artistry and attention to detail, the glowering giants meant everything. Tyrants and saviors came and went in the world of the flame-wreathed dwarves but their work endured and, so long as the azer were allowed to mine the earth and create beautiful things, so would they.
“The weeping spirit appears in this place,” Drokt spoke, pointing to the end of the chamber where three statues formed a triangle. “These are not our work. The Purifier asked us to let them be.” To the left at the end of the chamber stood a statue of the goddess Desna, to the right, the destroyer Rovagug, and in the center, Calistria, the goddess whom Unam served. As the adventurers approached for a closer look they were little surprised by the appearance of the mysterious phantom.
“Please save me!” the phantom pleaded. “It will not be long before I expire! You must bring order by focusing destruction upon chaos!”
Once again, the angelic spirit vanished upon reciting her riddle and the adventurers were left to decipher her clues. “The Unmaker is the god of destruction,” Unam spoke. “Perhaps its statue is the key?” The adventurers examined the statue of the monster, Rovagug, but found it was securely mounted to the floor of its alcove and could not be turned or lifted. “I don’t understand,” Unam said perplexed. “These three deities are never depicted anywhere together. The Rough Beast is the enemy of all creation. There is something we’re missing.”
Fyrsil and Ron gave the statues a thorough examination, but still there was no sign of hidden levers, buttons or switches upon them. The group was about to head back to Radamir and Morg when Drokt spoke. “Ter’Kaal rarely allowed us to enter this place, and never have I admired the work of the craftsman who built these sculptures,” the azer admitted. “I know not what you wish to learn from these figures but, if you think it without hazard, I would like to examine their handiwork. There are things to learn always.” Unam could think of no reason to disallow the azer from investigating the statues and let Drokt into the chamber.
Drokt first approached the statue of Desna. The goddess of travelers and dreams appeared to be crafted of gleaming silver. Precious gemstones sparkled in her eyes and her dainty wings seemed to be sculpted from sheets of amethyst veined with gold. Drokt smiled approvingly and reached up to one of the goddess’ translucent wings to feel the smooth stone and, as he did, the aura of flame surrounding his body leapt from his hand and danced upon the sculpture. The azer stepped back aghast as the statue burst into flame, blackening and melting into a pile of worthless ash and dust to reveal a single lever hidden within.
“I’m such a fool!” Unam exclaimed. “The phantom said to turn destruction upon chaos, but she didn’t mean the god destruction! She meant fire! Calistria, Desna and The Rough Beast have one thing in common! They are all fickle, mercurial and volatile! Each represents a facet of Chaos! Drokt, I want you touch the statue of the beast!”
Ordinarily, the azer might refuse to destroy a work of art that appeared so masterfully constructed, even it depicted The Great Destroyer, but the statue of Desna had revealed itself to be a cheap decoy. Drokt reached out to the statue of Rovagug and, once again, the sculpture melted into useless slag revealing a second switch. Perhaps, caught up in the moment, Unam then declared that Drokt should also destroy the likeness of his own deity Calistria. This, at last, proved to be unwise.
As the statue of Calistria burbled and sloughed into a shapeless mass of gray-black goo, an affliction spread over Drokt’s body causing his bronze skin to boil and burst open. As the goddess of revenge, Calistria could not allow the destruction of her likeness to go unpunished and the azer was left mentally and physically scarred by the divine curse of The Savored Sting. Unam immediately regretted his hasty decision, especially after it was revealed no lever was hidden beneath the statue. As both penance to his goddess and to Drokt, the cleric took the azer back to his people and locked himself into the azer barracks to pray for a means of removing Drokt’s injuries.
Ron, Squiggs and Fyrsil were left to pull the newly discovered levers and, after the ranger discovered the devices were trapped with lightning, it was determined the honorable ratfolk monk should be the one to operate the switches. Each lever opened into a small room adorned with the familiar statues of the weeping angel. At last, the adventurers had discovered the two final switches to unlock the ziggurat.
Ron, Squiggs, Radamir, Morg and Fyrsil were joined by the new companion, Varnik “Bearshirt” Jarllson, the day following their discovery of the mithral orb and the final levers behind the trio of gods. Bearshirt had come to the Pyrefaust with a group of scouts from The Barrows to investigate a battle between the rasts and the magmin worshipers of Tyrus at the edge of the black glacier. Without realizing it, the insane magmin had defended The Barrows from attack by the ravenous monsters when the pack of beasts flew north in search of evil to devour.
Bearshirt and his companions saw that the horde of elemental magmin were an even match for the rasts due to their immunity to the monsters’ paralyzing gaze. However, the battle priest and his fellow Barrowmen were even more surprised when the rasts began to flee and then prey on one another. The magmin eventually won the fight but not without heavy casualties. The remaining creatures dove into the Tanbera to continue their worship from the safety of the lava and, seeing an opportunity to prove his bravery, Bearshirt suggested the scouts follow him south into the Pyrefaust. Calling the Ulfen mad, the scouts abandoned Bearshirt and returned to their homes satisfied The Barrows was safe.
Now the group of adventurers had come to the ancient ziggurat on the edge of the Tanbera. The great angel atop the structure stood softly lit, its cupped hands outstretched as if awaiting a gift. Radadmir entrusted the mithral orb to Squiggs and cast a spell of flight upon the ratling monk so that he might return the angel’s prize. Upon doing so, the Pyrefaust shook with the chime of five unseen bells and the base of the statue shook. In that instant, a battlecry was heard from the north and Radamir cried out in pain as a flaming boulder struck his shoulder.
On their way to the ziggurat, the party had encountered a single azer chained to a wall at the entrance to the fire giant tunnels. The creature offered no resistance to their passage and claimed it had been posted at the tunnel by the giants and told to simply “stay put.” Little did the adventurers realize the azer was an unwitting alarm left by Grehennox to alert her to their presence. The party eventually settled on unchaining the azer and sending him back to his free kin, but only after Fyrsil suggested it in lieu of a suggestion to kill the creature before he could alert the giants.
Whether the azer was alive, dead or missing didn’t matter. Short of them passing by unseen, Grehennox would know the adventurers were nearing the ziggurat and that is where she laid her ambush. The signal that the final two levers had been pulled and the light at the angel statue had tipped the giants off that something was about to happen and Grehennox was willing to bet it involved opening the ziggurat. Now, she was determined to gain access to the mystery within and she would kill the adventurers to do it if necessary.
“The Pyrefaust belongs to my people and that includes whatever is inside this tower!” Grehennox shouted as the angel statue slid aside revealing an entrance into the structure. “Leave now and I’ll allow you to live!”
Ron, Squiggs and Fyrsil darted for the ziggurat entrance hoping the narrow tunnel would slow the giants attack while Bearshirt and Morg ran to catch up and Radamir became invisible. Suddenly a keening wail was heard from the north and, from behind the advancing giants, came the lantern archon from the rast lair. Whatever it had to say was unfortunately cut off as Radamir unleashed a howling gale of cold and ice catching the archon in the blast and severely wounding two of Grehennox’s warriors. Once again the lantern archon’s light was extinguished and the wizard offered a weak apology to the crazed celestial before flying into the ziggurat.
Morg and Bearshirt were still trapped outside by the giants when Radamir came flying into the ancient chamber below the statue. Fearing for his companions, Fyrsil foolishly flew back outside hoping he might distract the giants enough for the goblin and the barbarian to get inside. The pseudodragon’s plan partially worked and the Ulfen battle priest was able to dodge a giant blocking his path, but Morg and Fyrsil were caught.
“Come out and surrender or we’ll kill your friends!” Grehennox shouted. “There’s still time for you to reconsider and walk away!”
Before anyone else could reply Bearshirt shouted a challenge to the fire giant queen. “Fight us for the treasures within this tower, giant! I will battle a single champion of your choosing and, when I win, you’ll release our companions and leave us to explore the ziggurat in peace!”
Grehennox was incensed by the barbarian’s arrogance but thought she might use Bearshirt’s challenge to her advantage. “You are invaders, betrayers and thieves with no claim to any treasure within this region, but I will allow this!” Grehennox growled fully intending to ambush and beat the priest to death. “My champion is ready! Come and die, human!”
Ron and Radamir helped Bearshirt prepare for his fight with every spell and blessing at their disposal while, up above, Fyrsil struggled in the grip of the giant Heiml and Morg battled for his life. The goblin ranger detested giants and their kind and refused to surrender, crippling one giant’s hand with his rapier while using the angel statue as cover to dodge the two warriors blocking the ziggurat entrance.
“What’s the matter, human? Have you lost your nerve?” Grehennox shouted after nearly a minute had passed with no sign of the barbarian. “My patience and the lives of your allies grow short!” Frustrated by the bumbling attempts of her warriors to capture Morg, Grehennox finally swept her longspear under the goblin’s legs, tripping him before thrusting its tip into his thigh.
“I’m coming, foul hag!” Bearshirt called as he mounted the stair with Ron at his side. However, before the adventurers could exit the ziggurat, the angel statue began to slide back into place. Ron’s quick reflexes allowed for him and his shocker lizard Sparky to escape just in the nick of time, but Bearshirt was too slow and became trapped inside.
“It’s a trick!” Grehennox shouted to her warriors. “Kill them all! We’ll get the others when they try to escape!”
“Wait!” Ron pleaded throwing down his sword. “This isn’t our doing! The ziggurat closed on its own! You can have the blasted treasure or whatever is down there! Just let us leave!”
The wild flailing of Grehennox’s fiery locks seemed to subside as her demeanor cooled. “It’s too late for that…” she grinned. “…but you’ll live for now. I’ve thought of a more fitting end for you and your little goblin friend here. Take them away!”
As the giants prepared to leave with their captives, Heiml swore and shook his hand. Fyrsil’s stinger had somehow found a way through the giant’s gauntleted fist and the tiny dragon’s poison was working its way into the giant’s blood. “Cease your mewling and get after that pest!” Grehennox hissed at the warrior as Fyrsil raced for the azer mine. “We’ll take these two. If you find any more of these outsiders at the mine, kill them!”
Squiggs and Bearshirt pounded and pushed on the sealed entrance to the ziggurat but it was no use. Powerful magic and a towering stone angel held the portal closed and there was no going back. The darkened chamber at the bottom of the ziggurat stairs smelled of decay and death and as, the trapped adventurers entered the room, a pair of ancient torches flared to life revealing a mural upon the northeast wall of the room.
The image carved upon the wall of the tomb depicted angelic and demonic warriors locked in battle while a fallen celestial laid prone in a panel below them. Suddenly there was a gust of air through the chamber which seemed to blow out through both the left and right exit to the room as the familiar voice of the phantom woman lilted from the mural.
“At last, my heroes have come to save me. Come quickly. I am trapped by fiends,” the voice spoke and the adventurers felt compelled to follow it into the darkness of the tomb. As they did, torches upon the musty walls of the crypt flickered to life revealing a trail of open coffins. As the adventurers pressed forward, Squiggs’ curse overcame him again. The ratfolk collapsed into a snoring heap on the floor of the tomb, but his enthralled companions paid him no mind.
Radamir and Bearshirt stumbled forward into a drab, cobweb-choked chamber lined with open coffins and candleholders which lit upon their arrival. In the soft light of the candles, the adventurers could now see they were surrounded by a dozen emaciated and pale warriors whose yellow eyes and fang-rowed teeth betrayed them as undead. At the end of the chamber, loosely chained to a throne of pitted iron and gleaming but worthless glass sat the phantom angel made flesh, a tall woman of heavenly bearing and cold beauty. A pair of strong, black wings hung from the woman’s back and wrapped her like a cloak as she stood to greet her guests.
“Stay back!” Unam warned as Fyrsil zipped past his shoulder with Heiml not far behind. “There are more than enough azer left here to help me separate your head from your shoulders and kick it back to your queen!” The cleric had stayed behind in the azer tunnels to see if he could cure Drokt of his wasting affliction and now he bluffed the giant, hoping the laconic outsiders would recognize his attempts to protect them and aid him in battle.
“Steady yourself, priest,” the fire giant spoke, slowing his stride and showing his empty palms. “I come in peace. Ask your little friend.”
Fyrsil confirmed Heiml’s story, reporting the giant had faked his injury so he would have an excuse to find the cleric. In truth, Heiml feared for the future of his people. Regardless of the actions of the adventurers who had betrayed her, Grehennox's recent leadership had resulted in the deaths of many giants and her mad plan to release the rasts upon the dungeon had endangered those who remained.
“I want to see my people thrive again. The Ruvanes must be stopped before she leads us all to our doom,” Heiml spoke. “Help me to overthrow her, and I will agree to peace with your people.”
Unam wasn’t sure how he was supposed to help the giant with half of his companions captured and the other half buried alive, but Heiml had a plan. It wasn’t a great plan, but it was worth a shot.
“My people support the Ruvanes because of the legacy of her name, but even the blood of Ironbelly cannot shield her forever,” Heiml explained. “Among our kind, there is no greater shame than to be tricked by the byghan pobel, you small folk. The betrayal of your people during the battle with Ter’Kaal is a dent in her armor. If you could find a way to trick her or humiliate her again, the shame might be enough to pierce her flesh and finally turn the others against her.”
Unam eventually agreed to help Heiml but not before the giant offered an additional reward to sweeten the pot. Besides peace, Heiml pledged that his people would trade with The Barrows. The fire giants could use many of the items created by the merchants of the prisoners’ community and in exchange they would offer expertly crafted weapons and armor created from fire-forged steel, an incredible alloy capable of channeling flame to protect or defend its wielder.
With Unam’s word that he and his companions would help, Heiml returned to his people warning the cleric that Grehennox had taken the mithral orb from the angel statue and left a single giant to keep watch for his companions who were presumably trapped below. “I do not know if your friends are alive or dead,” the giant spoke. “But, should you encounter more of my people, take heed to not kill them. I will need their support when this is all over, and I don’t think they will agree to peace if more of our blood is spilled.”
Unam and Fyrsil arrived to the ziggurat just in time to find Radamir and Bearshirt in battle with a pair of fire giants sent by Grehennox to replace their wounded comrade. The wizard and barbarian were holding their own against the warriors thanks largely to Radamir’s magic, but the giant originally left to maintain vigil over the structure was running away with the slumped form of Squiggs whom Bearshirt had dropped.
As Fyrsil and Bearshirt gave chase to the brute absconding with their monk, Radamir and Unam engaged the remaining giants, hammering them with arcane and divine wrath. Even wounded, Squigg’s ratnapper was too fast for Bearshirt, but Fyrsil quickly caught up to the giant. The immense warrior’s amazing fortitude shielded him from the tiny pseudodragon’s sleep-inducing poison, but only for so long. With a final desperate flick of his tail, Fyrsil managed to drop the giant within 40 feet of the fire giant hall.
“Don’t kill him!” the pseudodragon telepathically called to Bearshirt. “We need him alive if we’re going to save Ron and Morg!”
“Not to worry, little friend,” the Ulfen laughed setting down his axe and backpack. “There would be no honor in killing a sleeping giant.”
“Then what are doing?” Fyrsil asked confused by the battle priest’s rummaging. “Help me get Squiggs out of here before more giants show up! I can’t drag him myself!”
“In good time,” Bearshirt smiled, pulling a pen, ink and parchment from his bag. “First I need to leave a message for Queen Grehennox. We never got to have our duel and I’d like to reschedule.”
Fyrsil was flabbergasted. His tiny jaw dropped as Bearshirt dipped his quill into the inkwell and began to write upon the parchment using his own knee as a desk. “But…he’ll wake up,” Fyrsil stammered.
“Who? The rat?” the Ulfen replied. “No, he likely won’t ever wake again. Serratine tried to help him, bless her beautiful heart, but his condition only got worse.”
“Serratine?! Who?! No! The giant, you oaf!” the pseudodragon hissed. “He’ll be back up in a minute!”
“Well, this will only take a minute if you’ll stop interrupting me,” Bearshirt complained as if Fyrsil was the one acting like a lunatic.
“Unam! Radamir! Help!!” Fyrsil telepathically screeched after stinging the giant once more for good measure and darting after his companions. The cleric and wizard had run off the giants near the ziggurat though it took some doing for Unam to convince the wizard to spare their lives. Fyrsil returned moments later, alerting them to the situation back at the fire giant hall, and the three of them hurried back to where the pseudodragon had left Bearshirt.
The Ulfen priest was still writing his letter when the snoozing fire giant rolled over, grabbed Squiggs and lurched back to his feet. Caught completely off guard, the barbarian priest only had time to recover his axe and hop to his feet as the giant raced for the door to his people’s hall. As he did, the giants returning from their battle with Radamir and Unam came into view from the east tunnel and flung open the great doors to the hall allowing their comrade to duck inside with his snoring prize as they ran inside.
Unam, Radamir and Fyrsil arrived too late. Had the giants more numbers and less wounds they may have made a final stand against the adventurers, but Grehennox and her remaining warriors had left them alone to defend the hall and now, thanks to Bearshirt, the fire giants also counted Squiggs among their captives. Undeterred from his perplexing determination to challenge Grehennox’s champion, the barbarian sat down, finished his letter and slipped it under the giants’ door as Unam and Fyrsil looked on in disbelief.
Radamir’s thoughts were elsewhere now and he only shrugged and turned back toward The Barrows, too spent to continue the fight against the giants and unconcerned with the immediate fate of his captured allies. Ron, Morg and Squiggs would need to be rescued, of course, but only because they would be useful during the quest to come…
…the quest to slay an angel in the name of the lovely Serratine.
|Unam of Calistria|
Here it is, folks! After several months of gaming, the players have finally reached the end of Region J! The future of the fire giant clan hangs in the balance and the mystery of Serratine is revealed but, even though the adventurers are ready to move on, they won't all get out of The Pyrefaust by the time the ashes have settled!
DAYS 351-357 THE FIRE GIANT WHO WOULD BE KING
featuring the World’s Largest Adventuring Party:
Squiggs aka Huggy – Ratfolk Tetori Monk
Radamir – Half-Orc Wizard
Morg – Goblin Ranger
Ron – Half-Orc Ranger
Unam – Human Cleric of Calistria
Varnik Bearshirt Jarlson – Human Invulnerable Rager/Cleric of Erastil
Fyrsil – NPC Pseudodragon
Thanks to Unam’s wise decision to prepare a spell of telepathic sending, the party had a good idea of where the fire giants had taken their companions the day following the battle with Grehennox and her warriors. However, Radamir and Bearshirt had stalled the rescue operation with a half-baked scheme to break into the fire giant hall and defecate on the giant queen’s throne. By the time they chickened out and changed their mind, Unam and Fyrsil had already left them behind.
Unam and Fyrsil slowly crept through a tunnel toward the sound of Grehennox’s voice while Radamir and Bearshirt hustled to catch up. It sounded as if the queen was shouting at someone and Unam tried to use the noise of Grehennox’s voice and the ever-present phantom roars of the haunted halls to mask his magic while he made himself and Fyrsil invisible. Hoping his casting had not been noticed, the cleric peered around the corner to see what the giants were doing.
Shackled and tethered to four giants by strong chains Unam could see a wyvern nearly as large as Exentaser. The creature’s wings seemed to be crippled and Grehennox stood at the entrance to the wyvern queen’s cage bellowing orders and gesticulating. Next to Grehennox stood the fire giant Heiml who appeared to have a firm grip on a chain attached to the half-orc ranger Ron. There was no sign of Morg or Squiggs. There was, however, a sudden shrill cry like the bleating of a goat coming from behind the invisible cleric.
“Is that absolutely necessary?” Radamir asked Bearshirt who hadn’t stopped “singing” since he woke that morning. “The giants already have half of our companions, so I’d really like to sneak up on them if possible.”
“I am Ulfen!” Bearshirt boomed. “That alone would be reason enough to sing, but my heart is full of gladness that soon we will rescue our comrades and get to the task of avenging the beautiful Serratine!”
Radamir’s thoughts of the angelic woman trapped beneath the ziggurat were interrupted by a roar of alarm from a pair of fire giants sent to investigate the awful racket caused by the barbarian. Bearshirt only sang louder claiming the blood of frost giants coursed through his veins as he challenged the fire giants to honorable combat. With a sigh, Radamir reluctantly created an illusion of displacement over the barbarian before making himself invisible and abandoning Bearshirt to his fate. Meanwhile, Unam struck from the giants’ flank.
A thunderous crash and a flash of holy light filled the tunnel as Unam appeared behind the giants fighting Bearshirt. One of the brutes was momentarily blinded giving the cleric enough time to cloak himself again, this time in a cloud of darkness as Bearshirt madly slashed at his remaining opponent. In the murky confines of the corridor, the supernatural gloom was too dark for even Radamir’s orcish eyes to penetrate and the wizard took to the air as Bearshirt withdrew from the shadows.
While in The Barrows, Bearshirt had traded a rare and valuable suit of mithral chainmail he received from the mysterious Serratine to Farggalaan in exchange for a spell permanently increasing his size. The increased strength and reach provided by the enchantment did him little good when he backed out of Unam’s darkness to find himself trapped between a wall and two angry fire giants. Bearshirt fought bravely and called out to Erastil for the power to defeat his enemies, but the battle priest’s prayers fell on deaf ears and he fell dead as a giant’s greatsword crushed his skull.
At the intersection leading to Exentaser’s cage there stood a column of stone concealing a trapped brazier. A former member of the adventuring party, the druid Fuzzy, had once tried to disable the trap by wrapping the brazier in stone, but a sudden flash of divine flame from the ceiling revealed the deadly device still functioned. The gout of flame briefly revealed one of the brutish giants had stumbled too close to the column in the darkness, but it also revealed that Grehennox had finally coaxed Exentaser from her cell.
Grehennox could not communicate with the gargantuan wyvern, but she understood the power of intimidation. When her warriors discovered the great wyvern Maulkir Juglanth wounded and half-buried by rubble, Grehennox realized she may be able to use the creature as a bargaining chip to win the obedience of the wyvern queen.
“Your flock has left you, monster, scattered west by the rast swarm or killed by thieving invaders!” she had shouted down at the draconic matriarch shoving Ron forward as if delivering the half-orc to an executioner. “But, I have your mate,” she gestured to the chained monster at her side. “Serve me and he is yours! Bear strong children to serve my warriors and you will taste the blood of my enemies! Refuse me and your once-proud bloodline ends here!” she menaced, pressing her spear into Maulkir’s neck.
Grehennox’s words were lost on Exentaser, but the wyvern was wise enough to understand a threat when she saw one and Maulkir’s whine of pain stirred memories of her time as a prized captive of the celestials. She did not like the way this flame-haired giant gestured and preened, but there would be time to teach her respect when Maulkir was safe and her brood was strong. She would play along for now and take some small pleasure in devouring the half-orc who had escaped her days ago.
The wyvern queen slowly climbed from the wreckage of her cage hissing contempt at Grehennox as she stalked closer to Ron. Poison dripped from her stinger as her claws grasped the edges of the cell door and pulled her up into the corridor. Instinctively, the giant warriors holding Maulkir’s chain nervously jerked back. It was only then that they noticed the collars holding the beast’s limbs had come open. Before they could react, a cloud of dense fog sprang up around the giants and Ron felt a sharp tug on his chain as he was dragged out of the mist.
“Thank your gods your friends have arrived,” Heiml quietly grunted as he pulled Ron away from the battle and toward the chasm in the huge cell at the end of the hall. “You’ll be safe here until this is sorted,” he chuckled as, without warning, he shoved the ranger into the pit still holding onto the chain. Heiml waited just long enough for Ron to find a grip on the chasm wall before releasing the chain and running to rejoin his comrades.
As Unam did his best to dodge giants and pillars of flame in the dark and Radamir continued to hide above the fight, the pseudodragon Fyrsil was trying to help his companions the best way he knew. While Grehennox blustered, Fyrsil, still invisible thanks to Unam’s spell, wriggled his tiny stinger into the locks holding the wyvern Maulkir, telepathically informing the monster freedom was close at hand. With the giants’ attention focused on Exentaser lumbering their way, the warriors never noticed the collars dropping loose from Maulkir’s limbs.
Radamir’s inaction and meager support of his allies finally came to an end as Maulkir shook loose of his chains and drove his stinger into the closest of the fire giants. The wizard’s cloud of fog blinded the giants surrounding the wyvern leaving the monster free to stalk them in the mist. However, even with his great sense of smell, Maulkir was still wounded and outnumbered four to one against the giants. Seeing her mate free, Exentaser shrieked with glee. Chasing the adventuring party days ago had stirred predatory urges in the monster she hadn’t felt in an age and now lust and the madness of battle overtook her.
Grehennox was left alone against Exentaser as her warriors struggled to regain control of Maulkir, and the wyvern matriarch quickly gained the upper hand. As the fire giant queen faltered, Heiml made his play for power.
“Kothmans, listen!” Heiml shouted through the fog. “The Ruvanes’ plans have failed again and again! Her defeat at the hands of Ter’Kaal and the betrayers has driven her mad! If we continue to follow her, she will lead our people to doom and death! We must withdraw!”
“Kilgi!” Grehennox chastised Heiml as she deflected the stinging tail of Exentaser with the butt of her spear. “The final outcome of this battle has yet to be decided!”
If her warriors could have seen the sorry state Grehennox was in through the fog, they may have fled then and there but, in that regard, Radamir’s spell was actually working in the queen’s favor. “Neshevin!” Grehennox roared to her fellow giants as she desperately defended herself against the attacks of the enraged Exentaser. “The light of our great clan may have diminished, but our embers still burn! Ironbelly blood, the blood of my father, made us the scourge of the Hellfurnaces!”
“And caused us to flee our homes in disgrace when he lost his life failing to unite the tribes!” Heiml added almost without thought sensing Grehennox’s talk of past glories might rally his comrades to her side. “Follow me, my clansmen! The line of Ironbelly is broken! It’s time our hall had a new king!”
As Heiml rallied the giant warriors to his side and made for the nearest tunnel, Radamir hovered silently above the fray. His companions, Unam and Bearshirt lay somewhere within the shadow-clouded hall behind him dead or dying and Ron slowly scaled the wall of a chasm nearby, but the wizard continued to passively view the battle despite the security provided by Serratine’s gift to him, a powerful enchanted ring which allowed him to repeatedly attack his foes unseen.
“Heiml speaks the truth, my warriors! It is time our clan had a new king!” Grehennox bellowed as she parried and dodged the flurry of Exentaser’s attacks, dropping into the wyvern queen’s cage and backing toward the smashed gate at the other end. “But no true king would leave byghan pobel thieves to claim the honor of defeating such a worthy foe! Slay this beast and I swear on my father’s blood, whichever of you strikes the killing blow will share my throne as Tan-Kewri Ruw, Fire Giant King!”
Heiml’s aspirations of leading his people died with Grehennox’s words. The remaining giants, inspired by their queen’s words and lusting for power, quickly finished off Maulkir and escaped the cloud of fog to surround Exentaser who screeched with sadness and rage as she drove her lance-like tail into the brutes. Despite having several spells ready to wreak terror and death on both giant and wyvern alike, Radamir merely watched from the vantage of the ceiling where he floated silently and invisibly even as Grehennox, weakened and near death, made her escape through the rear of the wyvern queen’s cell.
The infamous Exentaser Siratis Vabzir, the Mother of Scorpion Eagles, one-time pride of Region J’s prison, died moments later and, as the giants celebrated, Ron escaped from the chasm and slipped away through the fog and darkness to join Unam who was still alive thanks to Fyrsil’s use of a healing wand. The half-orc revealed that Morg and Squiggs had been left in the fire giant hall while he was taken to the Seventh Ring as an offering for Exentaser. Only a single wounded giant guarded their friends and, if they hurried, they might still rescue the pair before the giants returned. The trio quickly ran for the giants’ hall unaware that Radamir followed behind them until the wizard’s invisibility wore off.
The goblin Morg, it turned out, had managed to escape the hall of the fire giants on his own. Fortunately, the goblin’s oilbird companion, Bird, had slipped into the hall unnoticed and managed to steal the keys to his chains. With the assistance of Bird, Morg defeated the crippled giant and escaped, dragging a makeshift litter containing his comatose ratfolk companion and Ron’s weapons. During his trip back to The Barrows, the goblin encountered his companions and, together, they returned home.
The days following the battle in the Seventh Ring were peaceful and a welcome reprieve from the chaos of the previous weeks. Nothing was heard from the fire giants to the south, and the party used the time to cure Squiggs of his cursed slumber, an effect they discovered had been caused by the golden coffer he’d recovered from the wyvern cages. Unam, Morg, Ron and Squiggs also took the chance to confront Radamir about his behavior and the angel he claimed lived beneath the ziggurat near the giants’ lair.
According to the wizard, the tomb below the ziggurat was the prison of Serratine, a beautiful deva wrongfully imprisoned by a corrupt angel. Serratine had been the loveliest celestial serving the Celestial Garrison and she was desired by many of her comrades, chief among them a solar named Cyrlebrai. Cyrlebrai led a faction of angels called the Children of the Inner Light and held a position of great power which, Serratine discovered, he used to hide illicit dealings with powerful demonic prisoners.
Cyrlebrai offered Serratine a chance to lead the Children of the Inner Light at his side in exchange for her silence, but the deva refused and tried to report her findings to her superiors. That’s when she learned just how much power Cyrlebrai had over the Garrison. The solar’s agents had already moved to frame Serratine for Cyrlebrai’s crimes and, out of spite and jealousy, Cyrlebrai implicated Serratine’s lover, Kator, in the plot and condemned him to the deepest pit in the dungeon.
“I apologize for my recent actions, my friends, but I am distracted by grief,” Radamir woefully spoke. “Serratine and those loyal to her were stripped of their ranks and honors and buried alive below the ziggurat. There, they were cursed to spend eternity. The deva holds no hope that the death of Cyrlebrai will free her from this curse, but she wishes to avenge her beloved Kator and I mean to help her in any way I can. Please…help me to do this thing.”
Before the party could consent to the wizard’s heartfelt plea they would need to deal with Queen Grehennox and her giants. An opportunity came a day later when a lone fire giant was spotted roaming the tunnels at the edge of the Halls of Flesh. Investigating the report, the adventurers found Heiml had survived the betrayal of his queen but, for his actions, he had been exiled.
Heiml claimed his former companions had discovered a clutch of wyvern eggs in Exentaser’s cell and that the queen believed the creatures could be hatched given enough time. He also reported Grehennox had indeed married the giant responsible for striking the final blow against the wyvern queen, however, the new Ruw, a dullard named Skronor an Feusik, was king in name only and Grehennox still held all the power.
“Three warriors were lost during the battle in the Seventh Ring,” Heiml informed the adventurers. “Most of my few remaining clansmen are still wounded and many of the hall’s defenses were destroyed. The Ruvanes wasted no time in enslaving the remaining free azer in the east tunnels. She has already put the creatures to work repairing fortifications.”
The adventuring party offered Heiml a place within The Barrows and, after a day of contemplation and a tour of the minotaur Skrimmi’s forge, the giant agreed to live among the prisoners offering his knowledge of crafting fire-forged steel as thanks. In addition to this new resource, the fire giant’s news of his former clan’s situation also provided The Barrows with a chance for peace with Grehennox and her people.
With Farggalaan’s help, the adventurers arranged a meeting of the leaders of The Barrows’ merchant guilds to discuss how to deal with the fire giants. Many of the guild leaders wanted to see Grehennox and her people wiped out, citing the threat they presented and the potential resources to be gained from the Pyrefaust, but cooler heads argued that the giants could be useful as allies against worse threats yet to come. In the end it was decided The Barrows would try to come to terms with Queen Grehennox.
Peace talks between The Barrows and the fire giants took place in the former lair of the salamander Ksers and was mediated by the elven diplomat, Anemone Actinaria of Four Waters, whose services were requested by The Barrows’ leaders. Declining an offer to sit as spokesmen for The Barrows, Unam and his companions nevertheless advised the elf and attended the meeting where Grehennox portrayed her people as victims of a terrible betrayal.
“Whether or not they were misguided or knowingly assisted the false prophet Ter’Kaal, the betrayers’ actions cost the lives of many of my people and nearly resulted in freeing The Devourer of Kingdoms,” Grehennox spoke. “My brave husband, his majesty Ruw Skronor an Feusik, and I will tolerate no peace with your people until we are compensated for our losses of life and property! Your community may not be responsible for the decisions of these deceivers but, by their own admission as they ate at the table of our great hall, they came into the Pyrefaust under contract of your people, therefore we insist you must shoulder some of the blame.”
For their pain, Grehennox demanded remissions in the form of valuable gems to be paid to the kin of slain giants as well as medicines and supplies her people were unable to craft for themselves, but The Barrows was not without its own share of demands. In addition to an end to all hostilities, The Barrows requested safe passage through the Pyrefaust for any scouts or adventurers journeying to neighboring regions. As a show of good faith, Anemone informed Grehennox The Barrows would offer the healing services of any priests she and her husband deemed acceptable.
Grehennox indicated she would consent to The Barrows’ request making it clear that the entirety of Region J and the Nine Rings of The Pyrefaust should be recognized as sovereign territory of her clan. Approved priests would be allowed to travel to her hall upon request to administer to her people’s needs, but other travelers would be charged a toll for the privilege of using the giants’ paths. Overall, things seemed to be working out amicably. However before the terms of peace could be agreed upon, the giant queen made one final demand.
“It may well be true that most of the traitors who worked with Ter’Kaal met their just end in the Pyrefaust, but there is one who survived,” Grehennox spoke. “If there would be peace between our peoples, we demand the dragon you call Fyrsil be turned over to our custody.”
At this announcement, Unam and Squiggs let out a cry of protest. The pseudodragon had been a valuable ally and friend during their time in the region and neither wished to see Fyrsil come to harm, but Grehennox would not relent. Unwilling to simply hand the dragon over to the giants, Anemone quickly requested a day’s recess to discuss Grehennox’s demand with Fyrsil, his allies and the representatives from The Barrows.
“A pack of giants at our side will prove a stronger ally than some pipsqueak dragon whose breath can’t even light a tindertwig!” came a cry from the assembled tradesmen.
“Who cares about the dragon?! We should assemble a militia to wipe the giants out and take the region for ourselves!” argued another merchant.
Ignoring the guild masters, Anemone pulled Fyrsil and his companions aside and gave them her council. “Grehennox knows her clan vulnerable. That she agreed to discuss terms is an act of desperation,” the elf spoke. “She needs the time peace will afford her to rebuild, but she’ll order her people to fight if necessary. They won’t win, but they’ll target the weak in order to maximize the damage they do before you can take them down. I came here because the prisoners of Four Waters see you Barrowfolk as important allies in our struggle to escape this place, but I won’t be responsible for throwing a good creature to the wolves in exchange for our freedom. The decision is Fyrsil’s to make, but I expect you all might have some advice for your friend.”
As Anemone returned to the bickering guild leaders, the party turned to Fyrsil and offered their opinions. Morg, who harbored both a deep hatred for giant-kind and a lack of concern for the well-being of most non-goblins, voted for killing Grehennox and her entourage as quickly as possible and hunting down the rest of her clan before they could mount a counterattack. Ron, Unam and Squiggs, for different reasons, offered no real guidance but agreed they would support Fyrsil no matter his decision. Unsurprisingly, it was Radamir who offered the most heartless advice.
“Why don’t we just kill Fyrsil and offer Grehennox his head?” asked the wizard, garnering incredulous stares from his companions. “Once she’s satisfied, we’ll just take his body back to The Barrows and have him raised from the dead. Maybe that dwarf in the north can reincarnate him as a real dragon? Wouldn’t you like to be a great big, acid-breathing, black dragon, Fyrsil?”
The pseudodragon’s scales paled as he gazed in horror at Radamir. To the wizard, death was just a temporary setback, little worse than a disease to be cured with the proper application of magic and wealth. “I don’t understand why this frightens you,” the wizard spoke. “It isn’t as if we don’t have plenty of good reasons to bring you back from the dead. Unam brought me back to life after I suffocated and he can barely tolerate me. If you’re still scared, we can just kill Grehennox tomorrow after I’ve prepared the proper spells.”
Radamir’s callous disregard for life and casual outlook on death made Fyrsil’s decision an easy one to make. Since joining the adventuring party, the pseudodragon had witnessed the deaths of easily a dozen companions who hadn’t come back. Radamir and his comrades may have had the resources, magic or influence to repeatedly laugh in the face of death, but the people of The Barrows who might be lost in another giant attack might not be so lucky. Unwilling to trivialize his own life or the lives of others, Fyrsil bid farewell to everyone except Radamir and agreed to go with the fire giants as their prisoner.
Kind of a meh thing. Never seen roleplay get in the way of killing before.
Honestly if I was in a group where Radamir pulled this, I'd roleplay putting him out of the party.
Not sure about your players, but I would find this whole thing incredibly frustrating. I've been reading this thread for years, and it is this time after time.
Whether it was one of your earlier groups in the lower 48, or one in Alaska these PC's never outright win anything.
As a reader it is just getting old. You can run it anyway you want, and your players may well enjoy it.
Geez come on, 5 or 6 Fire Giants and some Fire Giant with class levels is a day at the office by this point.
Well anyway best of luck with this, and it's not like I am angry about it or anything. But how long is this party going to be a bunch of punching bags? It's kind of hard to defend min-maxing, but if I played in your game I'd make the most munchkin character I could, because I'd be sick of failure and death after death.
Really if these characters had been optimized this fight should have only taken about two or three rounds. Round One all Fire Giants incapacitated (probably using a daze effect). Round two and three unload on the bags of hitpoints.
I haven't played in a month or two, but while I wouldn't call the guys I usually play with min/maxers, I think we could have put up a more credible effort in this dungeon so far.
Anyway hope I haven't alienated you, but as a reader it is kind of frustrating. Grehennox really needed the smirk wiped off her face, but it looks like it won't happen.
I'm not joking by the way. If you have read the Beastmass threads there are all kinds of builds that could one shot these guys with one character in one round.
Look we don't know one another other than a few posts on this board. But I'll be honest about it as a reader, it's just getting old reading about a bunch of ever changing guys that get manhandled time after time.
Seems like they are actually playing "Zerging the World's Largest Dungeon."
I have seen less campaign stories about this mega dungeon than some others like Rappan Athuk. But I have read campaign stories where a lot of the original members that started Rappan Athuk made it all the way through.
Maybe the DM pulled punches or something, but it might also be that your guys have a bunch of screwy builds. A barbarian with cleric levels? What exactly is the synergy in that, other than using wands? A grappling monk? Can be done I guess, but a Zen Archer would have been a lot more useful in most situations.
I understand the complaints. Other than restricting a few classes and making recommendations against taking item creation feats though, I don't tell the players what characters to make, how to build them or how to play them. I might write this thing as a typical adventure story, but it's still just a record of what the players do and the consequences of their actions. If a player makes a character who is self-centered, greedy or cowardly, I'm going to put that in the journal. If the party flees a fight, stumbles into an encounter they're not ready for or agrees to help a seemingly good cult leader without rolling a Sense Motive check or asking the inquisitor to detect evil on him, that's going to go in too.
I'm not discouraged by poor reactions to the PCs, they're performance in combat or their decisions in-game. As a GM, I try to make the game fair and entertaining for my players and they keep telling me they're having fun. As the writer of a campaign journal, I don't control the PCs' actions so I just try make the writing entertaining. Since moving, I don't have nearly as much time as I used to to write this thing and I've had to skim over a few things just to get this far.
I can't say the players are ever going to put together a perfect team of characters who is ready for every situation, but I can say that, on paper, the characters they put together usually look pretty impressive. I'll leave it to the players if they want to comment on their builds, tactics or roleplaying or even how they feel about my GMing.
Before we move on to Region K, I'll post the usual breakdown of the region along with changes I made to the original adventure. I hope to knock that out tomorrow. Until then, here's a list of the entire adventuring party roster from Day 1 to Day 358. Surprisingly, Region J isn't even the most deadly region so far. That honor goes to Region B which saw 19 character deaths, beating Region J by 1.
2. Unam Clarefield
6. Fyrsil = NPC, captive of the fire giants
7. Ron Hunter = retired to the Chasm north of The Barrows
8. Roch = MIA, last seen in Region C
9. Aria = MIA, last seen in Region C
10. Jasper = MIA, last seen in Region C
11. Cul'tharic = MIA, NPC, last seen in Region C
12. Klibb = MIA, last seen in Region C
13. Traxxas = MIA, last seen in Region C
14. Walker = in Hell
15. Ragnar = went home
16. Shi = left to fill the spiritual needs of Four Waters and go into business with Fargallan
17. Riswan = quit to help Celestial Garrison watch over Regions I,M
18. Saelin = left party, killed by wererat Mina
19. Mina = left party, became wererat, killed by Hammerfist
20. Ranoth = killed by lightning bolt
21. Poker = killed by darkmantles
22. Lockwalt = killed by darkmantles
23. Foxy Loxy = killed by darkmantles
24. Air'elon = killed by lightning bolt
25. Runath = left party, killed by howlers
26. Chu = killed by lightning bolt
27. Ayla = killed by dire wolf
28. Laze = left party, joined The Trust, killed by Nardarik
29. Dorin = killed by ghoul paladins
30. Drax = killed by howlers
31. Dammi-tall = killed by bugbear
32. Dorian = killed by howlers
33. Marius = killed by bugbear
34. Annali = killed by phantasmal killer trap
35. Gofer = killed by ghoul paladins
36. Dan-Zig = killed by ghoul paladins
37. Mio = killed by ghoul paladins
38. Jin = killed by pendulum blade trap
39. Pojies = killed by ghoul paladins
40. Rayder = killed by shadows
41. Kraum aka The ½ Orc = killed by shadows
42. Jayder = killed by shadows
43. Rudeth Ravenlark = killed by shadows
44. Grimdar = killed by hellwasp swarm
45. Mark = killed by ghoul
46. Rags = petrified by medusa
47. Troy = killed by cloudkill trap
48. Chumlee the Third = killed by mimic
49. Chumlee the Seventh = killed by harpies
50. Patterson = killed by dragon bile poisoned key
51. Reg = petrified by medusa
52. Janus = killed by harpies
53. Grackle = petrified by warp gate
54. Sloth = killed by harpies
55. Felix = killed by harpies
56. Jonathon = killed by harpies
57. Durthuunicar I = petrified by warp gate
58. Ayor = energy drained to death by warp gate
59. Vyk Vulkyn = hentai'd to death by black tentacles
60. Elster "The Stir" Slocan = absorbed by the Halls of Flesh
61. Armond = eaten by The Green Death
62. Pallas = killed by Eletor's experiments
63. Nicky Holroyd = killed by belker
64. Pyewacket = NPC familiar, killed by drider Vala
65. T-Bone the Stingy Gorilla = killed by critical hit lingering envervation spell/leapt to death in a river of lava
66. Durthuunicar II = killed by Ghoul Fever-infected velociraptors
67. Patreus = killed by warp gates in Region F
68. Marcus = , left party, killed by Savage Sid Lake
69. Hurk = left party, killed by Stone Speaker goblin wererats
70. Thorin = left party, killed by Stone Speaker goblin wererats
71. Cicero = killed by celestial trap
72. Thrix = killed by salamander Ksers
73. Hoggle = killed by salamander Ksers
74. Ajax = killed by Pyrefaust trolls
75. Aramil = killed by Pyrefaust trolls
76. Les Dwalen = killed by troll boss Fedj'ik
77. Nalia = killed by Ter'Kaal
78. Sasha = killed by Ter'Kaal
79. Vlad = killed by devourer
80. Tigerlilly = killed by confused Throg
81. Milo = killed by devourer
82. Throg = killed by cave-in in devourer barrow
83. Nero = killed by rasts
84. Fabio = killed by confused dire wolf mount
85. Fuzzy = killed by fiendish wyverns
86. Otis = killed by fiendish wyverns
87. Bingles Cogglefizz = killed by Exentaser
88. Varnik Bearshirt Jarllson = killed by fire giants
Thanks for reading, for however long that may be.
Well I hope I haven't gotten on your bad side. Like I said I have been reading this a long time, and plan on reading it till you finish.
But as a reader, and as a gamer, I'd like to pass on my take on what I perceive as problems with all the groups you've had so far.
1) As nearly as I can tell no one has ever fully embraced the tank role. Now it is an opinion, but I think it is based on fact, as a perusal of threads on this board can tell you.
There are really only two tank classes, and only certain archetypes of each that can fill the role. They have to do creditable damage in combat, be durable, and perhaps most importantly be able to shrug off damage and make saving throws.
So that leaves you with Paladins, and... Invulnerable Ragers with that cookie cutter list of rage powers and feats.
When it comes to the barbarian, it may get old but Superstition/Beast Totem/Spell Sunder is just plain hard to beat for options in combat and durability.
I think Paladins do it very well too. Great saves, smite for a lot of the enemies you will face, and an incredible amount of hit points with lay on hands (really recommend fey foundling). Some underrated utility with spells and lay on hands removing conditions as well.
Multiclassing is not a definite no-no, but the combo has to make sense. Generally the dip has to fit some kind of theme, like Oracle with lame curse for rage cycling, or something that synergizes with high charisma.
A lot of the caster classes can fill this, but the builds are more complicated. Magus, druid, oracle, cleric, straight wizard (transformation), etc. The builds and concepts are out there.
You can also do something like Barbarian/Sorcerer/Dragon Disciple or Rage Prophet, but you have to have an idea of how you want it to work.
But what makes a tank in this game is enough damage to make opponents take you seriously, durability, and some way to deal with hostile magic.
2) Some caster, and arcane is probably the most versatile, that is willing to do some crowd control. Evocation gets a bum rap, there are lots of ways to amp it up now, but the groups you have had would have had a lot easier go if one or more of the opponents suddenly was taken out of combat.
3) No one seems to use the divination spells on the books. I was thinking divinations didn't work in this dungeon, but a year or two back you said that they did in a post.
If someone would just pull out arcane eye, or clairvoyance from time to time, just to see what's ahead things would go much easier. I know that they have long cast times, but the potential payoff is worth it to my mind.
Heck some of the Oracle mysteries like air and the stone one have limited features that would really help in this regard.
Well anyway, my two cents. I'm going to keep on reading this, and hope I am not making you angry. But if this was a book, well you are way past Game of Thrones lethality at this point.
And I tend to think it is not because you are a killer dm.
I guess my biggest beef is that a melee combatant really needs to be built so that there is almost no way you are taking them out of the fight with a spell or an effect that has a saving throw.
I am not exaggerating that btw, you pretty much have to metagame as a dm to get a Paladin, or Invulnerable Rager Barbarian (Superstition/Eater of Magic/Spell Sunder) out of the game using a spell or the like.
Just my take as someone who has followed this since post #1: while I wish some of the party's "wins" were cleaner and hope for more party consistency, I appreciate the amount of time and effort Velcro puts into crafting this journal. I kind of got used to the idea within the first 50 posts of this log that PC's die here by the droves. It is a mega-dungeon after all. And I dont think I've ever read or played in a mega-dungeon campaign where a single character survived from the beginning to the end without serious hand-holding by the DM. Several of the PC's could have been raised or reincarnated through the adventure, and many have, but it looks like several people chose instead to make new characters. Also, I'd like to point out that this place doesn't seem to lend itself easily to character optimization. They're in an underground, extra-dimensional prison and its a kind of use-what-you-find situation for most of it. If they don't take item creation feats, they can't expect to equip themselves with magic-mart gear. It has a scrappy, old-school feel to it honestly.
The players are the players, thats no reflection on the GM here that I see. That Radamir guy would have been run out of town by the rails with any groups that I've DMed, but this is the story we've got. I really hope to see a group make it out.
**As a side note, my comments aren't intended to try and prove anyone wrong, but just to offer an alternate perspective.
KaiserDM I can't disagree with anything you've said.
But these guys are past levels 1-5 now. The characters have enough levels and equipment (there are crafters available) that concepts should be getting fleshed out.
In my experience you see a lot of deaths early on (I've played or at least started similar dungeons like The Night Below). But by the time they get to past 10 like these guys are, death isn't an unknown but it happens a lot less frequently.
We aren't in the campaign, I'm thinking the ratfolk monk's player must have had to miss some games, maybe another one of these guys as well.
But even when he was around, exactly when did he grapple? I'm guessing that was the point of being a Tetori monk.
I think we do agree mainly on the point that the party is pretty weak. (Or seemingly so).
That being said, few people who post in the "Campaign Journals" sub-forum breathe as much life into their logs as Velcro does. He's also a comic book fan, so I have to get his back.
I felt compelled to comment, because to me as frustrating as the PC's can act sometimes, the world he has created in WLD is more compelling to me than the PC's themselves. (Although, I'm still totally rooting for a Party that can stay alive much longer).
Say Velcro Zipper, that reminds me. Whatever happened to that group of PC's that disappeared after defeating the Flesh guys of Region C? I thought their fates were getting revealed at some point. ;)
@sunbeam - The only person who gets on my bad side is Lord Antagonis. That guy is a creep.
@ KaiserDM - Jasper, Aria, Roch and the rest of the original group are still missing. With so much turnover in the current party, not to mention Ter'Kaal and Grehennox causing so much trouble, the quest to rescue them kind of went by the wayside. They're still out there somewhere. Whether or not they're alive remains to be seen.
I only finished the Region J Epilogue today so we'll get to the breakdown later this week.
Region J Epilogue
Life in The Barrows returned to some semblance of normalcy after the peace talks with Grehennox concluded. The events of the past 38 days (i.e. attacks by salamanders and wyverns, the threat of magmin, rasts, giants and a devourer and the revelation that the nearby glacier contained a frozen dragon) impressed upon the merchant houses the need to settle their differences. A hierarchy and council of crafting guild leaders was established with producers of valuable and essential goods holding the most influence and the leaders of service unions (such as porters, garbage collectors and Barrow Wardens) having the least.
Among those guilds at the top of the hierarchy were the Gwilbrin Bar, the Bolg Ged’Kampat and the Boel Gwithysi:
The Gwilbrin Bar, or House of the Butterfly, led by none other than Spishak Kilbane, controlled the alchemical trade within The Barrows producing medicine for the sick and wounded, acids and explosives for mining and potions vital to surviving the intense heat of the Chasm. Spishak moved to The Barrows to pursue a more profitable way to serve Abadar and, as leader of the alchemists’ guild, he controlled access to the valuable Fleshroot Fungus which could be used to mimic the properties of any plant-based material components, including those necessary for Reincarnation spells.
The Bolg Ged’Kampat, or Fat Belly Mining Camp, led by a dwarf woman named Mola “the Mole” Bolg, controlled the labor necessary to mine l’Resk’afar as well as the trade of gemstones and ore. Though the crater’s treasures weren’t necessarily vital to the survival of the prisoners, the Bolg Ged’Kampat’s control over rare mineral spell components and steel for crafting weapons and armor couldn’t be overlooked by their peers.
The Boel Gwithysi, or Axe Keepers, led by the minotaur smith Skrimmi in a rare occurrence of a minotaur holding any power among the prisoners, controlled the old drider forge and bore responsibility for crafting weapons, armor and other metal goods necessary for defense and construction. Though the Boel Gwithysi’s items were highly valued by residents of The Barrows, Skrimmi was the least vocal of the guild leaders and rarely even bothered to attend council meetings.
Holding the largest amount of power among the lesser merchant houses were The Barrow Wardens, a group led by the tanner and former bandit Jakob Schweikart. The Barrow Wardens served as caravan guards and security for traders and travelers passing through the Halls of Flesh in Region I. Initially regarded as little more than a militia of mercenary thugs by the other merchant guilds, The Barrow Wardens proved their valor when they defeated a salamander Kser attacking The Barrows from the south.
Despite the vast amount of personal power and wealth he possessed, Farggalaan ultimately decided against joining The Barrows’ merchant council so he could focus on his research. His decision offended some, but nobody wanted to risk angering the goblin wizard who provided so many of their enchanted items. Assuring the community he would still offer his usual services, Farggalaan fired his ratfolk assistants and returned to his laboratory muttering something about ettercaps.
Considering Anemone’s role in the peace talks, it didn’t take long for word of the treaty with Grehennox and her clan to reach Four Waters and the Celestial Garrison. Kelara, leonal commander of the Garrison, showed little concern, knowing the wards would keep anyone south of The Line safe from further giant aggression but asked the halfling Riswan and the centaur Melody to keep an ear out for trouble and tasked the kolyarut Tekarus with identifying any Redeemers who might want to serve as scouts in the north.
The party made one final foray into Region J after the peace talks with Grehennox after informing the Celestial Garrison of the insane lantern archon dwelling amongst the rasts. At the request of Ember, the custodian archon of Region E, the party returned to the rast queen’s lair to heal the creature’s mind. Once there, Unam approached the archon invisibly and touched the lantern archon with a powerful healing spell while his comrades stayed upstairs. Instantly, the archon’s broken mind was restored.
The lantern archon, whose name appropriately enough happened to be Jacko, told Unam he was the sole survivor of the Celestial contingent in Region J. When the earthquake struck the dungeon, Jacko had witnessed his best friends slaughtered by demons and other monsters or buried by mountains of falling debris. He fled to the rasts’ nest and tried to release the beasts into the region in order to assist his comrades, but the cave-in trapped him with the creatures.
The rasts, Jacko revealed, were a celestial breed similar to the ettercaps of Region I. However, whereas the ettercaps were peaceful trap builders and maintenance workers, the rasts were meant to be released as a last line of defense against evil incursions. The beasts had no innate ability to detect evil, but their handler had trained them to react aggressively toward any source of negative or profane energy. Unfortunately, the angel who had trained the creatures had died in the earthquake so Jacko was left to manage the rasts as best as he could.
Centuries of isolation, guilt and depression over the loss of his companions took their toll on Jacko’s mind and, by the time Queen Frupy and her fire giants discovered the rast lair, he’d lost all reason. Imagining the giants to be demons, Jacko ordered the ravenous rasts to attack and the creatures pushed most of the giants back to the Tanbera. Queen Frupy and a few of her warriors managed to hide near the queen rast’s nest and, after sending her men in to kill the beast, Frupy sealed the secret door to its lair. The giants succeeded in killing the rast queen, but Jacko ensured the wounded and dying warriors would never escape to celebrate their victory by using his celestial-granted abilities to seal them into the queen’s egg chambers where they slowly starved to death. Back in the Third Ring, Queen Frupy discovered the secret of the rasts, a secret she would eventually reveal only to her daughter Grehennox.
Foreseeing the difficulty in managing the rast horde, the celestials had developed a trait in the beasts that would cause them to turn on one another should their queen die. This would ensure the creatures could be easily dispatched should they ever turn on their masters. The beasts would instinctually seek each other out and devour one another until only one remained. The last surviving rast would then develop into the new queen and begin birthing the next generation, fat on the flesh of the previous one. Frupy had her warriors track down and kill any rasts trapped outside their lair while Jacko cared for and hid the new queen, the very creature Unam and his companions had killed.
Jacko apologized profusely for all the trouble he had caused. Without a proper handler or a way to determine good from evil, the animal-like rasts had no idea what was fair game and what creatures were off the menu. Aside from the archon who had cared them, they simply ate whatever creatures were in front of them.
Before leaving, Unam asked Jacko if he remembered very much from the last few weeks or anything from his time as custodian of the region. Though his memories were hazy in places, Jacko remembered the faces and names of many of his former colleagues. He also remembered the dragon Tyrus and was very relieved to hear he was still imprisoned. “There is one more thing,” Jacko added. “I remember a woman. She was taller than a human man, but I can’t recall her name or her face. It may be she was this fire giant queen you mentioned. I don’t know, but I can tell you this: I hated her more than I hate The Abyss. I wish I could tell you more. It seems important.”
With that, Unam left Jacko alone to care for the sole remaining rast, future queen of the next generation of celestial attack dogs. “When you see the other celestials…”Jacko began as Unam walked away. “…tell them I’m sorry. Tell them I tried.”
Greetings readers! The campaign is going on hiatus while I travel to the Arctic Ocean for a month. I hope to be able to catch up on the journal while I'm away, and I'll try to make a couple of posts if I have a chance. Until I return, here are the campaign notes and region review for Region J.
Perhaps more than any region so far, the majority of benefits gained from exploring Region J took the form of treasure. The adventurers found five powerful magic rings with abilities ranging from evasion to a one of a kind ring of greater invisibility, a suit of mithril chainmail, a +2 axiomatic flail, a +3 flaming longsword and a shield of light fortification among other items. For some reason, they spurned most of their hard won loot and immediately sold it or traded it away but that doesn’t mean they didn’t earn a few other campaign-related rewards:
The Wolag (World’s Largest Adventurer’s Guild) – Merchant houses control nearly every resource and service in The Barrows so it was only a matter of time before somebody organized a professional adventuring society to take advantage of all the contracts posted around the crater. The Wolag is a loosely affiliated group of adventurers managed by the halfling rogue Bartleby who recently resurfaced in The Barrows.
Up to now, I only allowed players to abandon a character if they acquired a condition that made them unplayable (death, petrification, curses, etc.) or if the players just absolutely hated the character and wanted them gone. I did this for a couple reasons: I didn’t want to have to introduce new characters to the story every week and to discourage PC-nepotism (i.e. using an abandoned PC as a source of money, spells, etc. by saying the new PC is a friend, relative, etc.) Frequent character deaths pretty much invalidated my first reason, but I still don’t want a bunch of orphan characters mucking up the campaign background. However, Region J provided me with enough reasons to relax my rule on character swapping a little bit.
Benefit: The Wolag allows players to keep one character in reserve should they wish to tag in a PC with a different skillset as long as their current character can make it to The Barrows or Four Waters. Essentially, this will give the players a chance to reconfigure their party based on the challenges they’re facing.
Fire-Forged Steel – Though Heiml claims dwarves stole the secret to crafting fire-forged steel from his people, the truth is both races owe their knowledge to the salamanders and azer of the Elemental Plane of Fire who regard the material as a novelty. Bound into the forge of the Boel Gwithysi by the wizard Farggalaan, a captured salamander now aids Skrimmi and Heiml in the crafting of fire-forged steel.
Benefit: The players may purchase fire-forged steel armor and weapons at the usual price.
The Scrolls of Ter’Kaal – Recovered from the lair of the ogre mage-prophet, this collection of lacquered bamboo scrolls makes up an illustrated journal and study of Ter’Kaal’s ancient homeland. Magically translated by Farggalaan, the scrolls were found to include sections describing the martial and mystical traditions of two warrior classes common to Ter’Kaal’s home.
Benefit: Samurai and Ninja are now playable classes within the campaign.
The fiendish wyverns are still trapped in the same cages where the celestials left them thousands of years ago. All of the wyverns are gargantuan-sized, CR11 monsters and some of their cages contain up to 4 of the beasts.
While Velcro is away sailing between ice floes on the Chukchi, I will attempt to answer your question.
Or at least that is what we were given to believe.
Dark Sasha has it about right. Tyrus is CR19. He's easily one of the most powerful things in the dungeon, and I was only kind of kidding when I said he ends the campaign in two hours. The text says it takes Ter'Kaal two hours to free Tyrus once he becomes a fire elemental. Since the party probably isn't walking into Region J at a high enough level to even barely eke out a win against Tyrus, they almost certainly die when the dragon is freed.
Not much is said about what happens if Tyrus is freed, but the book lays out a small description of how Tyrus deals with adventurers once it’s obvious they can’t defeat him. He starts by killing and eating one of them to show them he’s the boss. If the party surrenders and swears to serve him, he may allow them to live though clerics, paladins and other religious types are given a choice to immediately renounce their gods or be killed.
The way I see it, regardless of how things go with the players, Ter'Kaal, his remaining followers and the magmin would immediately become the dragon's foot soldiers and any surviving fire giants and salamanders bow to Tyrus' might. Baltazzar and his trolls might as well, setting aside their hatred of the fire giants in the interest of survival. The behirs, wyverns and rasts would likely be captured or destroyed by Tyrus and his army and, once the Pyrefaust was fully under Tyrus' control, he could begin taking over as much of the dungeon as his army could conquer (which is a quite alot, effectively cutting off the route to the dungeon's exit.) A few factions like the Celestial Garrison in Region E could hold out for a little while, but Tyrus is strong enough to bring a lot of monsters under his banner, and many of them would eagerly join his cause just to get revenge on the Celestials who built the prison.
I’m not keen on the idea of running a campaign where the players are forced to become lackeys to an evil dragon. Even if they eventually become strong enough to overthrow Tyrus, getting to that point would require them to do too many evil things and this campaign is already pretty heavy on villains and oppressive regimes. Sure, I could have said the campaign was over as soon as Ter’Kaal finished his ritual and dove into the lava but, as long as my players or I can imagine a way they might still save the day, I’m going to give them the chance. We’re only like halfway through this thing afterall.
The PCs are level 12 and about 50k xp away from level 13 the last time I tallied experience. We're using the slow progression so they don't outpace the challenges. I add up XP whenever I make a new entry in the journal, so they might be a lot closer to Lv13 right now.
Greetings readers! I'm about 100 miles north of Barrow, Alaska, and surrounded by freezing seawater, ice and at least one polar bear, but I'm still working on the journal when I have the time. Appropriately enough, our heroes have also entered a region of water and dangerous beasts. Welcome to Region K...
DAYS 358-366 INTO THE SHALLOWS
featuring the World’s Largest Adventuring Party:
Squiggs aka Huggy – Ratfolk Tetori Monk
Radamir – Half-Orc Wizard
Morg – Goblin Ranger
Jayden – Human Scout
Unam – Human Cleric of Calistria
It was during the tail end of the party’s expedition into the Pyrefaust that the rogue Bartleby resurfaced in The Barrows. The halfling offered no explanation for his sudden departure from the Goblin Empire or his following retirement from the adventuring life, but he gave up a large portion of his hard won treasure to claim a section of the southeast corner of The Barrows, an area once used as a hideout by the drow warrior Develdar and his rebels. A week later, on the one year anniversary of the first adventuring party’s formation in the dungeon, Bartleby announced the opening of The Wolag, an organized adventurer’s guild to serve as a home and source of pay for those prisoners skilled, brave or fool enough to confront the dungeon’s many dangers.
Squiggs and his company of adventurers were among the first in line to sign up for membership in Bartleby’s guild. The halfling explained that he would serve as a middleman, collecting an up-front fee in exchange for providing clients with troubleshooters to fulfill their needs. Membership in The Wolag, got the adventurers meals and a bunk in a secure location, but it also provided them with the ability to call on other members to fill in for them when a job got too hairy or just didn’t sit right.
“We’re just getting started,” Bartleby grinned. “Once the loot starts rolling in, I’ve got a few more incentives lined up. Seeing as how you all are already familiar with the Pyrefaust, how’d you like to take on our first big job?”
As part of the peace treaty with the fire giants, Grehennox had agreed to reopen a passage leading east into Region K, an area her people knew only as An Bas, The Shallows. The giants would provide little other information about the area, only saying it was too cool of temperature for their comfort, but each of the major guild houses within The Barrows was interested in scouting the area for resources to claim. The guilds had pooled their resources and agreed to pay the fire giants’ toll for allowing the party through the Pyrefaust in exchange for locations and samples of useful materials.
“Not interested,” spoke the ranger Ron. “I’m not going anywhere with this wizard,” the half-orc grunted gesturing toward Radamir. “He’s not right in the head…and less not right than usual lately. He’s going to get you all killed.”
Ron’s departure from the group left a hole in the party’s lineup which was quickly filled by a former military scout and occasional highwayman named Jayden. Since coming to The Barrows, the man had spent most of his time ranging The Chasm for plants and minerals he traded in The Barrows, but he was eager to find work in a more hospitable environment. Despite Jayden’s reputation, however, it was Radamir who did the party’s initial scouting into The Shallows.
The adventuring party made camp on the eastern edge of The Pyrefaust where a fire giant foreman, serving as a grim reminder of the azers’ renewed enslavement, oversaw the dwarf-like creatures’ work in the mine. There, Radamir cast a spell of divination, forming an invisible, mobile sensor he could use to explore Region K. The wizard’s arcane eye revealed The Shallows were nearly a reverse image of the Pyrefaust. Instead of magma and fire, the region was occupied by an immense lake of cloudy, jade-hued water.
Radamir’s sensor flew out over the surface of the lake revealing it to be long and wide. A sliver of black sandy beach lined the west and north edge of the lake and the ceiling of the cave dipped and climbed from as low as 15 feet above the water in some places to as high as 80 feet in others. What natural light existed was provided by what appeared to be luminescent algae and coral growing just below the water’s surface.
To the northeast, Radamir eventually discovered a fen of sludge and marsh grasses clouded by a blanket of fog. Something scaled and finned lurked among the reeds, but it dove into the shallow water of the bog before Radamir could fix his gaze upon it. Then appeared a crooked and twisted spire of stone jutting from the swamp like a drowning man’s arm. A ring of haphazardly tossed plinths carved in ancient runes gave the impression that the spire was part of some despoiled monument, its purpose lost to time.
Radamir’s sensor winked out as he turned its gaze from the lonely spire, its last vision a bank of thick fog obscuring all sight to the south. As the spell ended, Radamir reported his findings to his companions though his description was vague and lacking detail.
“We should make our way north along the beach,” the wizard spoke. “The shore seems safe.”
The adventurers exited the passage from The Pyrefaust onto a beach of fine black sand on the southwest edge of the great lake where four charred and skeletal bodies lay as if skewered by hot pokers.
“I thought you said the shore seemed safe,” Unam growled at Radamir. “You didn’t mention this!”
“The shore does seem safe now,” the wizard replied. “Whatever killed these men is gone, for some time now from the look of things.”
“These men are from The Barrows,” Jayden spoke. “I recognize their armor, what’s left of it anyway. Probably an independent scouting party trying to beat the guilds to whatever is down here.”
“Well, they’ve only been dead a day or two…” Morg spoke, sniffing the air. “…and whatever killed them is still ne…Look out!”
Serpentine coils of magma and stone suddenly erupted from the sand around the corpses! The bizarre things clattered like hooves on cobblestone as they lunged for the party, their entire bodies blazing!
“Thoqqua,” Radamir commented, seemingly unimpressed. “Elemental creatures composed of equal parts fire and earth. They’re exoskeletons are hot enough to melt steel, but they shouldn’t pose a problem for us.”
The wizard was right. Though the creatures outnumbered the party two-to-one, they presented no challenge to the adventurers whatsoever. Unam managed to weaken the creatures severely with a salvo of icy spears while Morg and Jayden dispatched nearly half of them with a hail of arrows. Only Squiggs was even slightly singed when he kicked one of the beasts in half with a solid roundhouse. It became obvious the dead men on the beach had been inexperienced though a quick search of their remaining goods proved they at least had the foresight to purchase a pair of scrolls containing spells of waterbreathing.
“The beach ends at a stone wall not far to the south,” Radamir informed his companions. “There was another shore not far away, but I think we should follow the beach and find a way around.”
Even with the waterbreathing scrolls none of the adventurers were eager to test the murky depths of the lake so none argued with the wizard who had already begun to make his way up the beach. Not far from the tunnel entrance, Radamir was startled by a small stone column which raised out of the sand. A placard on the slanted top surface of the column bore a message in the Celestial tongue which glowed with golden light.
“Is it a trap, Jayden?” Unam asked, expecting the scout might have an idea as to the column’s purpose.
“It’s not a trap,” Radamir cut in before Jayden could answer. “It appears to be a trail marker. It seems this lake is a recent addition, a product of the earthquake that destroyed this place.”
“It says all that?” Unam asked moving closer to examine the placard himself.
“No, but it describes this area as part of a hollow, undeveloped cavern adjacent to the prison,” Radamir replied as the cleric approached. “It says phosphorescent fungus lined the floor of the cave and a small insect called a lantern scorpion was unique to the area. I’m guessing the water came from some underwater reservoir that broke open when its walls cracked. The fungus can probably account for the glowing coral we saw, but I’m guessing the scorpions didn’t survive the flood. Pity. We’ll probably never get to see one.”
Before Unam could finish reading the placard, its column sank back into the sand without a trace. “It’s probably set to a timer,” Jayden offered. “Perhaps there are more? One might provide us with some useful information.”
Unsure of how to reactivate the column, the party continued north eventually discovering a great arch at the mouth of a tunnel leading west toward the Pyrefaust. The way was sealed by blocks of blue stone Radamir immediately recognized as the same sort used to block up the tunnel from the rast lair. Near the arch were three humanoid skeletons, their gear pitted and ruined by years of exposure to the damp air. The remains surrounded a spot of sand as if they had been clawing at the dirt at their time of death.
Moving in for a closer look, the party was suddenly surrounded by a mass of black tendrils which seemed to spring from the sand. A moment later, a finned, green, human-like head atop a serpentine stalk rose from the surface of the nearby lake and spit a searing glob of acid at Squiggs.
“It’s a water naga!” Radamir called to his companions, pulling free of the writhing tentacles. “No doubt he’s responsible for these ebon coils!”
The naga proceeded to play a cat and mouse game of lobbing spells and ducking below the surface of the lake with the adventurers. It didn’t take long for the party to realize the thing was outmatched, but the monster continued its attack drawing ever closer as it dodged through the water like a mad eel. Eventually, the naga’s boldness cost it its life and, with a final volley of spells and arrows from the adventurers on the shore, the creature’s body sank below the waves.
The adventurers fanned out on the shore of the lake, waiting to see if their adversary would rise from the depths. When it became apparent the naga was defeated, they returned to investigate the skeletons on the beach. The remains were too old and damaged to determine a cause of death or a reason for their arrangement so Squiggs decided to finish what the dead men had apparently started.
Scratching at the dirt with nothing but his paws as his companions stood watch, Squiggs could sense something laying below the dark sand just out of reach. Without realizing it, the speed of his scrounging increased until finally, three feet below the surface of the beach, the ratman uncovered something hard and tapered that glimmered through a patina of clinging sand and earth.
Without warning, Unam shoved Squiggs away from the hole and grasped the object brushing the sand from its surface. The thing was revealed to be a thick crystal shard the length of a wand that shimmered and glowed beckoningly at the cleric’s touch. “Put it down,” Jayden growled as he raised his crossbow toward Unam. “The crystal was meant for me!”
Squiggs had seen this sort of behavior before in the Pyrefaust. The Chaos Diamond he and his companions had retrieved from the behirs possessed a similar power to create obsession in creatures’ minds. If he didn’t act quickly, his companions might soon kill one another. Fortunately, Radamir and Morg had resisted the lure of the crystal.
As Morg and Squiggs grappled Unam and Jayden, Radamir noticed the crystal had fallen away from the tussle and landed at the feet of his scorpion familiar Serket. “Bring me the crystal, Serket,” he commanded but, to his surprise, the arcane arthropod snatched the stone in her claws and quickly began to scuttle quickly away. Before she could escape, Radamir caught Serket and wrestled the crystal away from her, suffering a small sting in the process. A moment later, he telekinetically hurled the cursed object into the lake where it sank beneath the murky waves.
“What do we do with these two?” Morg asked as he fastened a strong rope around Unam and Jayden who struggled to break free.
“I’ve seen something like this before,” Squiggs replied. “They’re under a spell. If we set them loose, they’ll go after the crystal.”
“I have nothing prepared that will help them, but I think I know place we can take them,” Radamir spoke, shoving Serket into a sack. “We’ll have to keep going.”
Radamir, Squiggs and Morg pushed east along the lake’s north shore, dragging their companions behind them, until they came to a time-worn structure that appeared to have been part of the original dungeon complex. What was left of the structure formed a short tunnel along the water’s edge that opened onto the bog Radamir had spotted with his arcane eye. There, the party was ambushed by a bizarre enemy unlike any they’d ever seen.
At first, it seemed as if the fallen masonry at the tunnel’s exit had awoken from a centuries-long slumber to defend the dungeon. Bits of stone and broken tiles leapt and spun at Squiggs and his companions hurling themselves with great force, but the objects’ attacks were clumsy and off target. Then, Morg caught a glimpse of a strange, worm-like thing lurking above the corridor. The beast was white as snow and had the head of a dragon, but only a single thin, three-clawed arm sprouted from its serpentine body.
“Fascinating!” Radamir exclaimed upon spotting the monster. “It’s a ravid from the elemental plane of positive energy. They’re extremely rare outside their homeworld.”
“Do you know anything about how to kill it?” Squiggs asked as shards of broken stone exploded around his fist.
“Hitting it a bunch seems to work pretty well,” Morg grinned, plugging the beast with three of his arrows. Radamir had to admit he knew very little about ravids, but it was of no consequence. As luck would have it, the monster was easily defeated by the wizard and his cohorts.
“Why couldn’t we have come here before going through the Pyrefaust?” Squiggs commented as the ravid’s small army of animated objects fell still as it died. “The monsters here don’t seem nearly as dangerous.”
Squiggs and his companions followed the edge of the marsh south a short distance before cutting across the bog toward the crumbling ring of stones Radamir had viewed with his spell. As the adventurers approached the crooked obsidian spire, a change came over Unam, Jayden and Serket. As Radamir had suspected, the column was revealed to radiate an aura of protection from evil forces and, within its proximity, the curse of the crystal was subdued.
Though the toppled plinths surrounding the spire were mired in mud and rank grasses, the adventurers could think of no better place to camp. The aura of protection, Unam suggested, would keep the fouler denizens of the swamp at bay and there was no telling if the crystal’s influence had truly dissipated. The cleric wasn’t entirely incorrect.
Though the ill-tempered, unthinking beasts of the marsh went out of their way to avoid the spire and its holy radiance, creatures of dark intelligence merely disliked its presence and occasionally dared to approach the stone to test their courage or ridicule its ancient architects. It was on this night that four merrow, hulking aquatic cousins to the ogre race, passed the obelisk during a patrol of their territory.
Despite their great size, merrow possess some skill at moving silently through watery terrain. Spying the adventurers sleeping atop the ringed stones, the brutes slipped quietly from the bog and approached through the tall grasses. Unfortunately for them, the goblin ranger Morg had a special fondness for stalking their kind. Morg heard the giants coming long before they came within a close range for their javelins and sprang to his feet with a cry to his companions.
The first of the monsters died before it came within thirty feet of the adventurers, goblin arrows piercing its hide, while its brethren charged through the muck toward Radamir and Unam who had yet to rise to their feet. As the monsters neared, the wizard became invisible and rolled beneath a slanted pillar while his companions carried the fight. Ferocious as they were, the merrow were no match for the adventurers. Squiggs, Jayden and Unam quickly dispatched two more of the monsters within seconds, leaving the last to limp hastily into the marsh in retreat with three of Morg’s arrows in his back.
A search of the merrow revealed they possessed little more than their weapons and a few fragments of glowing coral, but one among them wore a band of reeds which held a small, clear common crystal shard upon his brow. Though worthless, Morg took the band as a trophy and shoved it into his pack while his companions returned to their rest.
The adventurers’ first day in The Shallows had ended. None of them had died or been seriously injured and, though they’d discovered no new resources for The Barrows or treasures for their packs, the challenges of the new region seemed manageable. However, as so many adventurers before them had learned, things in the dungeon aren’t always as they seem.
@Kevin Mack - Things are moving in that direction. I can't say more than that.
An unfortunate circumstance to writing these last couple of posts while underway is I don't have all my minis and tiles and junk to make photos for the journal. However, my time in the Arctic is quickly coming to its end. I should be back within my Alaskan abode within a week. I thought about writing a journal of my trip like when I went to Africa, but there really wasn't enough going on to justify it. Maybe I'll just post some photos when I get home.
When we last left our heroes, they had entered Region K, aka The Shallows, where they proceeded to kick the tail out off of every monster dumb enough to mess with them (granted, naga, ravids and thoqqua are pretty much all tail.) But a new day is dawning and The Shallows has yet to reveal its most dangerous secrets. Discover what lurks in the misty marsh to the south in the next exciting chapter!
DAYS 367-368 TWISTED SISTERS
featuring the World’s Largest Adventuring Party:
Squiggs aka Huggy – Ratfolk Tetori Monk
Radamir – Half-Orc Wizard
Morg – Goblin Ranger
Jayden – Human Scout
Unam – Human Cleric of Calistria
The adventurers awoke to a quiet unbecoming a natural swamp the day after their first jaunt into The Shallows. Few animals made their homes in the lake or marshes of the region, but the previous day’s adventure had not been without its share of bat squeaks or the clicks of swiftlets. The lack of noise was of no concern to Morg or Squiggs, neither of whom had ever seen a real swamp, but Jayden, Unam and Radamir knew enough about them to be a little nervous. Whatever it was that had silenced the marsh kept its distance, however, so the adventurers collected their gear and moved on.
“We need to go back,” Radamir announced as his companions joined him among the marsh grasses. “We have to go south.” During the night the wizard had dreamed of Serratine, the angel trapped beneath the ziggurat in the Pyrefaust. She was standing at the exit from The Pyrefaust into The Shallows when she seemed to notice Radamir’s presence and pointed south. She spoke only one word, “Cyrlebrai,” before the wizard woke in a cold sweat.
“I thought you wanted to go around this way,” Unam complained. “We’ll have wasted a whole day if we turn back now.”
Neither Jayden nor Morg cared which direction the party traveled, pointing out the group was under no time constraints for their mission. And Squiggs, seeing some wisdom in taking their expedition slowly, said he was fine with returning to the Pyrefaust tunnel. Essentially outnumbered, Unam grumbled and followed Radamir back toward the south.
Rather than take the most direct route back, the party walked north out of the bog until they reached what appeared to be the remains of a fireplace built into a section of the original dungeon wall. A long unused rack of rusty fireplace tools, a pair of rotten, wooden stools and a broken bench rested near the hearth, which to the party’s surprise flickered with a dim light. Radamir had detected the presence of magic and approached the fireplace for a closer look when one of the stools and a pair of pitted iron tongs suddenly danced to life and attacked him.
A pair of ravids, larger than the first creature the party had encountered, revealed themselves and bit at Radamir as the worn furnishings and loose stones bounded toward his companions. Jayden buried a crossbow bolt in one of the stools while Squiggs dismantled the fireplace rack with a series of furious blows. Meanwhile, Morg sunk arrows of his own into one of the temperamental serpents attacking Radamir and Unam called upon the divine wrath of Calistria to smite the worms. Flanked by the rabid ravids, Radamir surprised everyone by actually defending himself with a spray of arcane missiles.
Though the beasts were indeed mightier than the whelp the party had faced the day before, they were still no match for the adventurers. Their rabble of animated minions clattered to the ground as they died and Radamir reached into the fireplace to claim their treasure, an enchanted silver ring which showered fiery sparks from an arrangement of jeweled stars.
Traveling west from the ruined hearth, the party found themselves at a separate exit from the old dungeon tunnel they’d used to access the bog. Here, the tunnel joined to a ruined chamber filled with scuffed and obscured mosaic tiles. The east and south walls of the room had crumbled along with any trace of the images adorning their walls, but the figure of a fanged viper still decorated the northern wall and a depiction of a charging boar menaced the adventurers from the north floor.
Jayden eyed the boar suspiciously before announcing the mosaic was trapped with several pressure plates. “The charging beast is stopped dead by the spears, see?” the scout warned his comrades, pointing out three trapdoors built into the south floor which concealed spring-loaded spear-thrusting devices. “It seems the trapmaker had a sense of humor. I should be able to rig us up a bypass in no time.”
What Jayden had failed to notice was that the boar was working with a partner. As the scout set about to disabling the trapped tiles in the boar’s image, an invisible force struck the party attempting to blow them back toward the spear thrusters. Jayden and his companions managed to resist the telekinetic push long enough for the scout to disable the spears before they could extend, but being tossed out of the room through the open south wall may have been better than what happened next.
From the gaping mouth of the serpent mosaic came a cloud of noxious green vapors that enveloped the party. Choking on the vile fumes, the adventurers retreated from the ancient chamber to the relative safety of the marsh. As they reached the wetlands, Radamir and Bird, Morg’s oilbird companion, fell dead in the grass. For the second time, Unam was handed the opportunity to be rid of the obnoxious wizard for good but, for reasons that still perplex sages to this day, the cleric once again chose to breathe life into the fallen wizard.
“Oh sure, heal the guy who treats us like his personal bodyguards and servants,” Morg grumbled scooping the remains of Bird from the wet grass at his feet.
“Sorry, Morg,” Unam offered. “Maybe we can get Bird raised when we-“
“Fugef if,” the goblin interjected, his mouth already filled with poisoned dead Bird. “We mave a pactf.”
“Where’s Serket?” Radamir asked ignoring Unam as life returned to his body. The cloud of poison had dissipated, and the wizard scanned the area around the ruined chamber until his gaze fell on Morg who sat greedily crunching the familiar’s head.
“She vuf afwedy deh win I fou er,” the goblin mumbled through a mouthful of scorpion guts.
Moving around the trapped chamber to the marsh entrance of the tunnel was simple enough and safer so the party chose to avoid further interactions with the boar and its venomous cohort. From there, the trip south to the tunnel leading back to the Pyrefaust was uneventful with the exception of the moment Radamir spotted a humanoid head peeking out at the adventurers from the surface of the lake. The creature wasn’t a naga and appeared to be a gilled man of some sort, but it ducked below the waves and vanished as soon as its presence was detected. Ignoring the creature, the adventurers pushed on until they reached the south end of the west beach.
At the southernmost end of the beach, the black sand abutted an ancient section of dungeon wall left standing after the earthquake. In a rare occurrence of natural beauty for the dungeon, the light of a thick bed of glowing coral burned through the murk of the lake to produce a kaleidoscope of shifting colors and patterns just below the surface of the water. In the light of the coral, the adventurers could see into a pair of chambers, their floors and walls having crumbling into the lake bed. It was a short distance across the water to the nearest of the open chambers, but few among the brave adventurers dared to immerse themselves in the peaceful and shallow grotto.
Unam at least had the excuse of a thick breastplate weighing him down and Morg claimed baths were frowned on in his religion, but Radamir seemed to possess an irrational fear of the lake and even offered the gift of flight to his companions so they wouldn’t have to touch its waters. Whether by magic or skill (but mostly by magic) the party eventually crossed the 30 or so feet to the nearest open chamber and investigated its interior.
The chamber the party entered was unadorned and simple. Its entire north and east walls had collapsed into the lake and a sizable chunk of its floor had gone in with them. Only a set of strange, vaguely web-shaped footprints left by something entering from the lakebed held any interest to the party but only for a moment. Neither of the party’s trackers could identify the creatures which left the trail of wet splotches and nobody seemed interested in following them so the adventurers traveled in the opposite direction until they came to a long chamber covered from floor to ceiling in smooth, copper plates.
Jayden volunteered to enter the chamber first, suspecting there might a trap, and the scout wasn’t disappointed. The instant his foot touched the floor of the room, a web of lightning arced across the entire chamber. The scout was quick enough to evade the crackling net of electricity, but he had bad news for the party. So elaborate was the trap, he would need to meticulously remove each of the copper plates filling the room in order to disable the lightning.
Nearly two hours passed as Jayden carefully dismantled the copper plates covering the south end of the room. As an experiment, the scout tossed one of the plates into the northern half of the chamber and discovered the lighting net now only passed up to the edge of the remaining fixtures. Satisfied that the way south was clear, Radamir pushed into the chamber and started down the southern passage. His companions followed but, upon reaching a featureless stone door, Jayden was once again called to the front of the group.
While not exactly concealed, the door at the end of the passage could easily have been mistaken for an unremarkable section of wall. Only a small keyhole below a simple iron ring betrayed the presence of a passageway, and Jayden quickly found the door was securely locked. Assuming the lock on such a simple door would be easily disabled, the scout was surprised to find it took several minutes of steady-handed manipulations before a loud crack from somewhere within the mechanism alerted him of success.
The door opened with a loud rumble that shook centuries of dust from its seams and eliminated any chance of entering the room unnoticed. A heavy black tapestry hung over the entire width of the open doorway concealing the contents of the chamber from the party, and Jayden offered to scout the way ahead. Activating the party’s ring of invisibility, the rogue pushed through the tapestry and made a circuit of the room.
The chamber beyond the tapestry was long and bathed in a flickering purple glow which illuminated a series of columns and a crude mural depicting an army of demons. At the head of the column of monsters was an ape-like beast with the tusks and hooves of a wild pig and tattered, feathered wings far too small to support the creature’s hulking frame. Two thick wooden doors led out to the east and west of the room and a filthy, stained carpet stretched from a long passageway to the south to a blood-spattered altar set before the black tapestry concealing the north entrance. Upon the altar rested a jeweled silver dagger and an intricately carved urn filled to its brim with a foul, thick liquid like congealed blood. The front of the tapestry was embroidered with silver and gold thread and bore a round, jagged and swirling symbol that caused Jayden’s head to swim for a moment before he managed to shake off its effect.
Sensing the room was unoccupied, Jayden chanced to call his companions from their hiding place behind the foreboding curtain. However, the adventurers were far from alone. As Jayden’s comrades entered the temple, the door slammed shut behind them as hideous, shrill laughter filled the air. A tall, horned and disfigured woman in ragged, lavender robes suddenly appeared behind Squiggs and raked him with fingers like spider’s legs.
The hag’s fingernails were like iron knives and her diseased teeth, which she used to tear into the ratfolk’s shoulder, had been filed into serrated arrowheads. Before the party could react, a second hag appeared and attacked Radamir. This was especially traumatizing for the wizard because he had entered the room invisibly.
The wound in Radamir’s neck immediately began to pulse and boil as a terrible fever spread through his body. Turning away from the hag, the wizard’s gaze fell on the swirling rune adorning the black tapestry above the altar and his mind reeled with obscene visions of the ape demon thing glowering from the mural overhead. Grabbing the silver dagger from the altar, Radamir tore open his robe and madly began to carve the blasphemous symbol into his chest.
“Calistria, I call to you!” Unam shouted from behind a column near the altar. “Teach these foes of your servant the meaning of vengeance and smite them with holy light!”
The hags’ putrid flesh peeled and burned in a blinding flash as Jayden, Morg and Squiggs unleashed a flurry of attacks at the creatures. It was only thanks to the scout’s precision aim that his crossbow managed to pierce the crones’ supernaturally thick hide but Morg’s arrows shattered as they struck their marks. Wounded by the adventurer’s attacks, the hags vanished only to reappear seconds later to launch a second assault.
As the foul crones reappeared, Morg unleashed a hail of arrows into Jayden. While maneuvering around the room, the goblin had caught sight of the symbol upon the black tapestry and fallen under its spell of madness. A combination of attacks from the hags and the ranger’s arrows put the scout on the ropes. While Squiggs tried to hold the hags off, Unam healed Jayden’s wounds and rushed to Radamir’s side before the insane wizard could make things worse with one of his destructive incantations.
A touch of the cleric’s hand cleared Radamir’s mind and cured him of the wasting fever wracking his body. With the wizard back to his senses, the adventurers slowly beat back at the hags until one of the creatures appeared to collapse. Cursing in an abyssal tongue, the second creature appeared long enough to latch onto her wounded sister and vanish before Squiggs could finish her off. It appeared as if the party had won the battle, but victory was fleeting. With a roar, a two-headed monstrosity wielding a pair of oversized morningstars burst through the east door.
Perhaps it was the sight of a hated foe that temporarily brought him out of his confusion, but Morg immediately turned and buried three arrows into the giant pinning one of its arms to the door as it slumped dead. However, two more of the bicephalous brutes followed into the temple pushing through their fallen comrade. It was then that a third hag appeared and ordered the ettins to slay the intruders to her temple.
The vile witch watched invisibly as the party quickly dispatched the charging ettins. Cursing, she fled to rally more of the giants while Unam, Jayden and Squiggs fell back to the hidden door behind the altar dragging Morg behind them.
“But we must continue!” Radamir protested. “We have to go south!”
“We don’t know how many more of those things are out there or how long it will take for those night hags to recover from their wounds!” Unam growled. “If we keep going, they’ll be right at our backs. I’m not getting between them and whatever else lies ahead! We’re going back whether you follow or not!”
Torn between his obsession with Serratine and his desire to live, Radamir reluctantly followed his companions through the north passage and back to the lake where they were surprised to encounter a small group of fellow adventurers from The Barrows. Like the wizard and his comrades, the adventurers were Wolag members sent into The Shallows by the guilds. The group claimed they had only come to do some initial scouting of the area before heading back to The Barrows for necessary supplies and agreed to take Morg with them in order to have him healed of his madness.
With the goblin gone, the party returned to the north edge of the lake where a less welcome surprise awaited them. As the adventurers neared the marsh, they detected what appeared to be flickering lights glowing among the high grasses. A war camp of merrow appeared to be gathered around a central bonfire near the ruined tunnel and its deadly traps. The party quickly put together a plan to send Squiggs to distract the giants while Jayden approached from the tunnel where he could ambush the giants if necessary. Radamir and Unam, in the meantime would lie in wait for any merrow who tried to flank the scout.
The only kink in the adventurers’ plan was that it involved Squiggs swimming across the lake and nobody had thought to check for the presence of merrow in the water. The moment Squiggs hit the water, three sentries posted along the lake bottom sensed the monk’s presence and alerted their comrades. An alarm was raised within the camp and the creatures immediately formed a defensive line around the bonfire burning at its center while a half-dozen merrow surrounded Squiggs. The ratfolk was about to give Jayden the signal to attack when a burst of flame and lightning erupted from behind the line of merrow.
Three monstrous women rose into the air above the sea-ogres cackling madly as Squiggs defended himself from the dozen clubbing blows of the merrow around him but, as Jayden lined up a shot on the largest of the crones, she ordered the giants to cease their attack.
“Malice dear, what have we here? A rat in a trap who shows no fear of merrow claw or tooth or spear,” shrieked Sister Bile, a yellow-eyed and thin, green-skinned crone with matted black hair growing in clumps from a diseased scalp as the giants menaced and murmured in deep, rumbling tones.
“The merrow call it murderer. Their king this one has slain. With aid of four he slew their lord within our damp domain,” wheezed Sister Malice, a hideous hag with skin like loose algae draped over bone and hair like a torn net of wet kelp obscuring a single, wild, drooping fish-like eye frozen open and set too low in the creature’s malformed face. “A killer’s debt should be repaid with service or with pain, but I should think it wants to plead. What say you, Sister Bane?”
“Sister Bile speaks the truth. No meek mouse is he. He does not squeal nor squirm nor squeak nor seek for means to flee,” rasped Sister Bane, a looming hunchback with skin the color of an old bruise, hair like rusted iron wool and the hungry eyes of a vulture. “Close as death his allies lurk and mighty must they be. Perhaps the dragon’s curse they’ll break to set the merrow free?”
Only Jayden was close enough to hear the exchange between Squiggs and the hags, but what he learned was that the hags and merrow lived under the tyranny of a dragon who ruled The Shallows from the mist-shrouded fen to the south. The hags claimed one of the merrow the party had killed the previous evening was the tribe’s leader, and now the giants demanded a blood debt be paid by Squiggs and his companions. As advisors to the tribe, the hags said they had agreed to act as intermediaries and suggested the merrow should take advantage of the proven strength and skill of the adventurers by asking them to kill the dragon as recompense for the loss of their chieftain.
Squiggs insisted he and his companions had only acted in self-defense but, for the time being, the adventurers agreed to treat peaceably with the merrow and sat with the hags to discuss what they knew of the dragon. The crones claimed the green dragon Thorodin had dwelled near the merrow and their covey within a subterranean lake which emptied into the dungeon when its floor broke apart. In the aftermath of the earthquake, Thorodin asserted control over the creatures condemned to spend eternity with him in The Shallows. Thorodin considered everything within The Shallows his property but, if the dragon could be killed, his treasures would be free for the taking.
The adventurers were told they would have one night to decide their next course of action, but it didn’t take long to come to a consensus. Whether or not the hags were lying about even half of what they claimed, if a dragon existed within The Shallows, it would need to be killed before The Barrows could claim any of the lake’s resources. The merrow and their hag allies could be dealt with later if they caused any trouble. After discussing the matter in private, the adventurers returned to the hags with their decision.
Squiggs and his companions set out for Thorodin’s lair the next day after meeting with the hags to collect a set of amulets the crones claimed would protect them from the dragon’s acidic breath. With a wink and a whisper, Sister Bile gave a steel locket to Radamir, claiming it would also stanch his wounds should he fall in battle.
The journey to Thorodin’s bog was slow going for the adventurers who found the swamp grew deeper and thicker as it neared a channel where the lake met with another body of water to the east. This made it all the worse for Jayden and Squiggs who had been stricken with debilitating weakness after viewing the grotesque Sister Malice when she came to see them off. Cackling like a schoolgirl with a bad case of black lung and a worse case of harlequin ichthyosis, the sea hag insisted that their “swooning over her” would wear off before they met the dragon but memories of the way her goiter and distended breasts flapped against her wrinkled flesh like soiled wet stockings in a light breeze were still fresh in their minds when they reached the edge of the foggy marsh.
The hags had warned the adventurers that the haze surrounding Thorodin’s lair would try to mislead and demoralize them and of this they had not lied. As the adventurers crossed the channel into the mist, a strength-draining cold overtook them and Radamir and Jayden were filled with an overwhelming sense of hopelessness and attempted to drown themselves in the nearby lake. Meanwhile, Squiggs and Unam found themselves repeatedly wandering back out into the north swamp. Both the wizard and the scout managed to throw off their suicidal urges as they sank below the lapping waves, but it took the adventurers several attempts to breach the marsh before they overcame their fear and confusion and discovered their first landmark within the bog.
Visibility within the marsh had dwindled to a mere 20 feet and Jayden led the way through the ever-present haze until he stopped short of a tall willow tree with what appeared to be a large chest lodged within its exposed roots. “I think I see a tree. I’m going in for a closer look,” the scout called to his companions through the mist, neglecting to mention the mired strongbox. However, as Jayden cautiously approached the looming willow, a strong wind blew through the marsh that whipped the tree’s lash-like limbs into him.
Squiggs rushed through the bog toward the sound of Jayden’s stifled call for help to discover the wild strands of the willow tree had wrapped the scout’s limbs and seemed to be dragging him closer to the chest within its roots. As the monk trudged forward through the murk to free his comrade, several of the tree’s limbs slashed at him as well. Squiggs nimbly dodged the majority of the whipping strands, but a pair of them raked his fur causing his limbs to feel numb and weak.
Shocked by the terrifying feeling of paralysis creeping through his body, Squiggs looked up to see the willow tree had faded from view to reveal what appeared be a tapered column of stone draped in gray ribbons of thick, waxy phlegm that swayed like hunting cobras and struck like lightning. Where the chest had been there was now a large, yawning portal of lamprey-like teeth below a monstrous eye that seethed with hunger and glimmered with evil intelligence.
“Unam! Radamir! Help!” Squiggs cried as he chopped at the tethers holding Jayden who was already being chomped on by the beastly maw. The cleric moved through the mire as quickly as his breastplate would allow while Radamir took to the air in an attempt to avoid melee with whatever was attacking his companions. However, as the “willow tree” came into view, the wizard was suddenly struck out of the sky by four of its whipping tendrils.
Sapped of all strength, Radamir might have drowned peacefully in the bog if not for Unam who pulled the wizard’s head onto a nearby mud bank before continuing toward Squiggs and Jayden. Instead, the wizard was slowly dismembered and devoured by the insidious obelisk over the next several days. Unable to evade the weakening blows of the monster’s tendrils, Unam fell limp just as he reached Jayden who died of his wounds moments later. Seeing that the battle was lost, the ratfolk, Squiggs, made one final desperate attempt to flee the scene only to be struck down from behind and dragged back toward the gaping jaws of the ravenous roper as his vision faded and all sense of the world was lost.
Can't say I am a fan of this development but:
'the sea hag insisted that their “swooning over her” would wear off before they met the dragon but memories of the way her goiter and distended breasts flapped against her wrinkled flesh like soiled wet stockings in a light breeze were still fresh in their minds when they reached the edge of the foggy marsh.'
That is some quality writing and is what keeps me coming back for more.
Still as some feedback for your guys, more often than not it is some kind of saving throw that kills them, either directly or by incapacitating them as in this case.
I still think this party needs some front liners who are essentially going to make every saving throw. I have no idea what is in the later Pathfinder books, but based on my knowledge of the game a Superstitious Barbarian and/or Paladin would be great additions.
Although I understand their is a feat in the new book that lets you add charisma to saves (boggle).
Anyway... I can't wait to see what characters they come up with next.
Somewhere though, Lord Antagonis is watching. And I think he is chortling away to no end. If the PC's ever give up, he is going to be a sad, sad man. Kind of like Breaking Bad ending.
Sunbeam - Squiggy had something like +16 to all saves, and 26 Touch AC. Lady luck wasn't with him though, and rolled very poorly on the Strength-draining saves (like below 5 a few times), and had 16 Strength to start from.....plus, no teleporting = nodimension-door-ability for the monk, which he would have used, plus the 20ft visibility......oy vey.
I totally agree with the need for high(er) saves. In this case, though, even if we had a front-liner that would make every save, due to the situation s/he would have been left alone everyone else was "dealt with". EVERYONE needs good saves in this place. And a way to get out of a grapple/do something in a grapple.
There's an on-going joke at the table that whenever the DM needs to check a book/computer, or takes a breath in speaking, someone sais "Make a will save", simply because......well, we get to try to make them. A lot.
Some other things:
We won't give up. Personally I have too much interest in finding out some answers about the dungeon (OOC, of course). That undead wall, that solar, what happened to the other party among other items.
I highly doubt that feat (or anything from ACG)will be allowed. If it was, I guarantee every oracle would take it as soon as they qualified, and clerics too. Reading the requirements for the feat, short of some cheesy multi-classing, those will be the only ones that can realistically take it.
Edit - Here's the text of the feat
Your deity protects you against deadly attacks.
Prerequisites: Cha 13, Knowledge (religion) 5 ranks, ability to cast 2nd-level divine spells; blessings, domains, or mystery class feature.
Benefit: You gain a bonus equal to your Charisma modifier on all saving throws. If your Charisma modifier is already applied as a bonus on all saving throw (such as from the divine grace class feature), you instead gain a +1 bonus on all saving throws.
Greetings readers! I'm about 100 miles north of Barrow, Alaska, and surrounded by freezing seawater, ice and at least one polar bear, but I'm still working on the journal when I have the time. Appropriately enough, our heroes have also entered a region of water and dangerous beasts. Welcome to Region K...
DAYS 358-366 INTO THE SHALLOWS
featuring the World’s Largest Adventuring Party:
Squiggs aka Huggy – Ratfolk Tetori Monk
Radamir – Half-Orc Wizard
Morg – Goblin Ranger
Jayden – Human Scout
Unam – Human Cleric of Calistria
Nice to see one year and close to half way through the dungeon!
Write On Velcro Zipper!
Welcome back to the World's Largest Dungeon! I'm back from the Arctic, but that just means I'm back to being busy with work. The updates might not come quickly, but I'm determined to finish this journal! That said, it's time to find out what happened after the near TPK inflicted by the wretched roper (Morg survived by virtue of being insane and dumped off on some friendly NPCs to get cured.)
Despite their losses, the players quickly put together a new team of vict-uhm, er, heroes and dove straight back into The Shallows for a second crack at uncovering its secrets and slaying its host of aquatic adversaries. We join the new party only hours after they've arrived to the edge of the murky shoal...
DAYS 369-374 THE TYRANT OF TEM U TIPIMMIL
featuring the World’s Largest Adventuring Party:
Unami – Human Cleric of Calistria
Qanth – Human Sorcerer
Kharis – Human Vivisectionist
Grundimir Thunderbrew – Dwarf Cleric of Torag
Morg – Goblin Ranger
Lupin Periwinkle – Gnome Sorcerer
Unami and Kharis hovered invisibly above the surface of the lake waiting for a sign from their submerged companions Quanth and Grundimir. The sorcerer and the dwarf had been escorted into an underwater cave by a quartet of gilled men wielding crossbows and spears after they were found inside a previously sealed tunnel containing a vein of warm stone that flickered with green flames below the lake's edge. The cleric and the alchemist were just as complicit for breaking into the tritons' submerged mine but, having veiled themselves before the arrival of the creatures, they chose to swim quietly away while their companions took the heat. Nearly ten minutes later, a single triton warrior breached the surface of the water waving Grundimir's holy symbol as he called for the invisible adventurers.
Unami considered the creature's words carefully before responding. He had only come along on this jaunt into The Shallows to check up on his younger brother Unam. Quanth claimed he'd seen the cleric and his companions a few days ago while on a scouting mission into the region. It was possible the tritons had seen Unam as well so Unami eventually alerted the warrior to his presence and followed him into the cave while Kharis shadowed them unseen. The triton led Unami and Kharis through a stone door in the lakebed to a cave that eventually terminated at an air-filled chamber. There, Quanth and Grundimir stood flanked by their captors while speaking to a fire-bronzed triton standing near a glowing forge.
The triton blacksmith told the adventurers his name was Wroe and that he was the reluctant leader of The Shallows' remaining tritons. His people had once lived in a subterranean lake where they coexisted and often battled alongside a clan of merfolk against a tribe of merrow and the depredations of a powerful dragon called Thorodin the Pillager. When an earthquake created a whirlpool which swallowed the creatures of the lake, many of the tritons and their allies died leaving Wroe and his people at the mercy of Thorodin who quickly seized control of the region.
"The merrow and even our old merfolk allies bowed to the might of the dragon," Wroe spoke. "What choice did we have but to submit to his rule ourselves? Now, he demands tribute from all the tribes of Tem U Tipimmil, this place you call The Shallows."
Wroe went on to explain how Thorodin ruled The Shallows from a mist-shrouded swamp in the center of the region and made his will known through toadies who had agreed to serve him in exchange for mercy. Most of these agents were fish-men called locathah but the tritons suspected Thorodin had spies among the merfolk and merrow communities as well.
"The dragon's spies are everywhere," Wroe continued. "They report any sign of rebellion or anything out of the ordinary so Thorodin certainly knows your people have come here. We risk much talking to you, getanosen, but I want to believe you will help us."
It was then Wroe revealed what he had been working on at the forge, a spearhead crafted from the flame-wreathed ore within the sealed mineshaft. The triton called the metal tanaa’ryl and claimed weapons forged from it inflicted crippling wounds with ease and burned so hot they could set fire to objects and creatures even if submerged in water. Armor crafted from the metal not only absorbed the brunt of the most devastating strikes but also shed sparks capable of incinerating attackers.
“But the boon of tanaa’ryl carries an unpredictable curse,” Wroe warned. “Warriors armed with the metal become prone to fits of rage and an alitek gwenog, a need to kill. When the time is right, I hope to direct that hate at Thorodin, but my people are not ready for such a battle.”
Wroe explained that he wished to keep the tanaa’ryl a secret from Thorodin until the moment of the attack but the adventurers’ discovery of the ore vein threatened that and, in effect, his people. He was convinced the dragon would force his people to mine the substance for himself if he learned of it.
“I lived among humans once long ago. I know adventurers when I see them,” the triton spoke. “I suspect we would have little chance of stopping you if you choose to leave but I would rather die now defending the security of my people than later knowing I let you escape to sell our secrets to that monster.”
“That won’t be necessary,” Quanth interrupted. “We’re going to help you.” Throughout the conversation, the sorcerer and his companions had communicated through whispered messages and agreed The Barrows would much prefer peaceful trade with the tritons than make sacrifices to a power-mad dragon. Now they only needed a plan of attack.
Speaking with Wroe, the party learned Thorodin took his tribute from porters from the various tribes in The Shallows who would carry treasure to the edge of the swamp. The dragon’s locathah servants would then collect the “gifts” and deliver it to his lair hidden within the freezing mist. When the adventurers said they’d like to lure the dragon out of the swamp, the triton suggested they might ambush and steal the tribute from another tribe. A missed offering, Wroe reasoned, might coax Thorodin into showing himself and, perhaps, attacking the offending tribe. If Thorodin could be tricked into attacking the merrow, the triton added, it might save the adventurers from having to deal with their allies, a covey of vile hags.
“Whatever you decide to do, please try to keep it away from our homes,” Wroe asked. “Kag tered hobd should Thorodin suspect we are part of this plot.”
The adventurers considered Wroe’s suggestion and his request and agreed ambushing the merrow would be a good plan. Then, using the existing natural stone along the edge of the beach, Quanth and Grundimir proceeded to conjure up a crude stone bastion at the entrance to the Pyrefaust. The fact that the tunnel was only an arrow’s flight from the tritons’ underwater village seemed to elude them.
The dwarf Grundimir took great pleasure in using his divine gifts to mold Quanth’s stone wall into a simple but effective fortification while his companions made themselves at home in their new base of operations, and it wasn’t long before the tritons and other creatures of the lake began to take notice of the party’s new digs. When the adventurers spotted an unrecognizable humanoid head peering at them from the surface of the lake, they assumed the creature must have been a spy for Thorodin. Wroe, meanwhile, complained that the structure was too close to his people and that the dragon would deduce the tritons were in league with the adventurers.
As the adventurers finished building their sand castle, the tritons packed up their few belongings and moved into the tunnels south of the lake. With Wroe’s permission, a pair of triton warriors named Ampheres and Evaemon offered to stay behind to help fight the dragon. Assuming the adventurers wounded Thorodin enough to force his retreat, the tritons would be hiding on the far side of the lake near a concealed tanaa’ryl-tipped spear trap they could use to end the dragon’s life.
The adventurers’ plan had suddenly gone from framing the merrow to waiting for Thorodin to investigate their fort and, as things tend to happen in the dungeon, their plan almost immediately began to unravel. Perhaps it was a bad omen or a result of their recent construction efforts, but one of the dungeon’s occasional tremors hit the bastion only a few hours after the party had settled in for the night. A shower of tumbling boulders rained down on the party as they slept and cracked the columns supporting the fort’s ceiling. Grundimir surveyed the damage and deduced he could restore the stone after some praying the next day but, for the time being, he and his companions moved their bedrolls into the Pyrefaust tunnel adjoining the fort.
While on watch not long after the earthquake, Unami spotted movement in the water near the east-facing entrance to the bastion. The adventurers hadn’t thought to put any sort of gate on the structure so the attacking locathah leapt from the water and rushed into the fort with supernatural speed before the priest could raise an alarm. Though they had the element of surprise, the fishmen quickly discovered they were outmatched.
Quanth and Kharis stumbled to their feet dodging the knife thrusts of the aquatic assassins while Unami engaged the invaders and Grundimir fumbled with his armor. Wholly unprepared for the might and magic of the adventurers, half of the fishmen were dead or dying within moments of breaching the walls of the fort, but they’d served their purpose. The leader of the locathah, a scheming coward called Glug, retreated back into the lake as a thick cloud of fog spread within the bastion. Blinded by the mist, the adventurers never saw the approach of Glug’s master, the terrible dragon Thorodin.
“Svaust beviri ekess lekar wer duil di Thorodin!” the dragon boomed as it swept past the fort blasting the adventurers within with a torrent of burning acid. “Did you think I would not notice your disrespect!? Sia saurivic ocuir froneel!”
The stone walls of the bastion offered some protection from the dragon’s caustic breath, but the enduring fog made attacking the dragon from within its walls impossible. Recognizing the mist had been conjured by the dragon, Quanth quickly remedied the situation by dispelling the cloud. Seconds later however, Thorodin returned from the shadows above the lake to call up another thick mist. If the party was going to fight the dragon, it was becoming obvious they would have to do it on his terms.
As Grundimir continued to fumble with his armor, Kharis, Unami and Quanth evacuated the fog-filled bastion to meet Thorodin as he once again swept out of the darkness and dove into the lake. Bolstered by an acid-deflecting infusion, Kharis leapt at Thorodin as the dragon suddenly burst from the water. A bolt of crackling ebon energy shot from Quanth’s hands striking the dragon as a blast of holy radiance seared Thorodin’s scales at Unami’s command. The adventurer’s attacks were met with a spiteful roar from Thorodin who swatted the alchemist away with his tail as he snatched Unami up in his claws. Quanth and Kharis were powerless to stop the dragon as he screeched in triumph and carried the struggling cleric into the darkness.
“What’s happened?!” Grundimir asked still buckling his greaves as Kharis retreated into the bastion moments later. “Did we win?”
Before the alchemist could answer, Quanth dove into the fort through a geyser of acid. Thorodin was back, but Unami wasn’t with him. “One of the lake tribes put you up to this, didn’t they? Astahii tora wux ekess svent ve,” boomed the dragon as he hovered outside. “The tritons, yes?”
“The tritons aren’t a part of this! We’re here for the tanaa’ryl within the lake!” Grundimir shouted against Quanth’s protests. Whether the dwarf was trying to divert the blame from the tritons to simple greed or he’d completely forgotten that he’d sworn to Wroe he would keep the metal a secret from the dragon, the cat was out of the bag.
“So, you are either thieves or you are liars and thieves,” bellowed Thorodin who tested the bastion’s walls with his tail. “Si geou vucot persvek moxt tairais. Tem U Tipimmil, its creatures and its treasures are mine. Return to my domain and I will take your lives as well!”
“We’re leaving,” Quanth hissed to his companions as the fortress trembled and dust shook loose from the earthquake-damaged pillars. “This battle is lost. Unami is gone.”
It was a few days before the adventurers returned to The Shallows to find their fortress defiled. Someone, most likely the servants of Thorodin, had smeared the walls and floors of the bastion in dragon ordure to send a message that the beast was indeed master of the region. Joining the party was the goblin ranger Morg (recently recovered from his insanity,) a gnome sorcerer named Lupin (who replaced Kharis after the alchemist got cold feet) and a pair of self-proclaimed dragon hunters, an elven monk named Legdes and a dwarf paladin who called himself The Rock. The pair were new to the adventurers’ guild but claimed they had been cast into the dungeon for slaying a dragon used by Lord Antagonis as a tax collector. This was fortuitous news for the adventurers who informed the trio their mission would be to seek out Thorodin and destroy the beast.
Before heading for Thorodin’s swampy home, the adventurers decided to pay a visit to the hags Wroe had mentioned, thinking they might still have a shot at stealing the creatures’ tribute to Throodin. Billy, Lupin’s bat familiar provided some scouting for the group when they stepped out onto the beach and reported seeing what appeared to be several large humanoids moving below the south end of the lake near the triton caves. None of the adventurers seemed especially keen on investigating the matter, however, so they proceeded north.
The adventurers were soon discovered by a trio of merrow patrolling the waters near the north beach at the edge of the swamp. The briny brutes launched an ambush against the party, but they were no match for the seasoned adventurers. They were quickly defeated and, as the rest of the adventurers watched in confusion, revulsion or apathy, Grundimir and Legdes used the ogres’ javelins to impale the merrows’ heads on the beach as a warning to their kin.
Morg was able to recall most of his previous party’s trip to the north edge of the swamp and led his companions around the trapped chamber where he’d lost Bird. When the adventurers reached the old fireplace with its broken furniture and bent accoutrements, however, the ranger entered new territory. Rather than heading south toward the protective aura of the twisted spire jutting from the swamp floor, the party continued east, hoping to find the lair of the hags. It wasn’t long until they discovered a strange wall of vines hanging from the high ceiling of the cave.
Through the vines, the adventurers could scarcely make out the remains of a ruined chamber that appeared to have once been an audience hall. “The Rock will brave this desolated hall alone,” spoke The Rock who pushed through the vines into the darkness. “The Rock will inform you when the way ahead is safe.”
Rubble strewn stairways stood to the left and right of a vine-draped balcony overlooking the chamber and The Rock noted a pile of debris that had been pushed into one corner of the room and subtly flattened along the top as if some great weight had rested upon it. A tunnel below the balcony descended deeper into the ruin, but the paladin wanted to make sure there were no hidden dangers waiting for him or his companions before investigating the corridor.
Carefully ascending the cluttered stairs, the dwarf was surprised to find an attractive, bronze-skinned human woman lurking behind the low wall of the balcony. The raven-haired beauty wore little more than a simple, dirty burgundy dressing gown and stood to face the dwarf as he approached. It appeared she had been sleeping in the dust atop the balcony before the sound of the paladin’s plate armor woke her from her slumber.
“Who are you?! Why have you come here!?” the woman snapped, startled by The Rock’s intrusion.
“The Rock is looking for trouble,” the paladin replied brandishing his warhammer.
“You’re here to harm my sisters, aren’t you?!” the woman growled seeming to grow slightly as a pair of leathery wings emerged from her robes and a sheath of glistening scales rippled across her smooth skin. “I won’t let you!”
Before The Rock could respond, the floor around him cracked and fell out from below his feet as the strange woman doubled in size, a long serpentine tail shooting out from under her robes as her neck elongated and her face stretched into the terrifying visage of a dragon. The weight of the woman’s draconic form caused the balcony to collapse sending both she and the dwarf crashing to the floor as The Rock’s companions charged through the vines to investigate the rumble of the falling stone.
Upon spotting the monster looming over the prone paladin, Lupin immediately recognized the creature was a metallic bronze dragon, known among arcane scholars as champions of good and defenders of order. Before the gnome could intervene, Morg launched a volley of arrows into the dragon who had just taken a bite out of The Rock. Screeching in anger, the beast exhaled a thick cloud of foul-smelling mist that enveloped the goblin and his allies filling them with revulsion. “Leave this place and do not return!” the mighty dragon roared as she mercifully flung The Rock across the chamber in the direction of his fleeing companions.
The adventurers regrouped within the warded area surrounding the black column south of the ruined fireplace to discuss their next course of action when they noticed The Rock and Legdes trudging away through the mire. “Where are you two going?” Quanth called after the elf and dwarf. “I thought you were supposed to be expert dragon hunters?!”
“The Rock will not hunt this dragon,” replied the paladin. “This dragon is, uh, not a good dragon for hunting.”
“I agree that we probably shouldn’t go after the creature we just encountered, but we could still use your help against Thorodin,” Lupin offered.
“Look, we want to help, really we do, but, uh, here’s the thing,” Legdes stammered. “Justice and I you see, we, uh, weren’t aware dragons could get to be so, er, large.”
The elf went on to explain, rather sheepishly, that neither she nor the dwarf had any real knowledge of dragons. The creature they had slain was scaly and sharp of tooth but only slightly larger than a plump cat. Furthermore, it was tethered by a light chain held by one of Lord Antagonis’ minions and they hadn’t even really fought the beast. When the dragon got hold of The Rock’s beard, the startled paladin whipped the creature into a nearby well. “The little monster took half of The Rock’s beard with it,” the elf added as the dwarf self-consciously covered his beard with his shield. “The beast was frighteningly vicious for its size…Now that I think of it, I’m not even sure the thing was a dragon per se.”
Legdes had kicked the tax collector’s wheelbarrow into the well intending to trap the beast, but the falling sacks of coin and a few bricks dislodged from the well-mouth crushed the creature as it struggled to escape the shallow water below. “So, you see, we were simply mistaken about the, uh, exact nature of your, er, quarry. Sorry to have wasted your time,” the elf apologized.
“The Rock is very embarrassed by this,” the dwarf admitted hanging his head in shame. “The Rock will go now.”
Dumbfounded by the bizarre tale of the monk and the paladin, the remaining adventurers watched with frustration and bemusement as the pair shrank into the distance. Agreeing to let the sleeping bronze dragon lie, Quanth and his companions decided to return to the tritons.
The adventurers found Wroe and his people hiding within the half-sunken chambers adjoining the edge of the southwest lake not far from their abandoned colony. Ampheres and Evaemon, the two warriors who had stayed behind to aid the adventurers, had informed Wroe of Thorodin’s attack on the stone fort and the blacksmith was concerned the dragon would soon find them to exact vengeance. He had tried to lead his people deeper into the tunnels but some strange creature or trap had turned them back.
“We found what we assumed was a safe chamber but, as soon as we settled in to camp, there came a scream from one of the women,” Wroe spoke. “I don’t know how else to describe it but to say the floor of the chamber had come to life and grabbed one of our warriors. We tried to pull the man free, but it was no use. The only other chamber we found looks like some kind of death trap so we retreated here, but now we’re completely exposed to the lake and to Thorodin’s wrath should he choose to attack.”
Feeling somewhat responsible for the tritons’ situation, Grundimir stepped forward declaring he would not again retreat to The Barrows until Wroe and his people were safe and Thorodin was dead. Furthermore, the priest offered to heal the wounded and volunteered to personally destroy whatever beast or devious trap was keeping the tritons from finding sanctuary within the ancient halls. Not wishing to ruin their chances of maintaining friendly relations with Wroe and his people, the dwarf’s companions readily agreed to follow him into the shunned chamber.
Traveling west from the triton camp, the adventurers came upon an intersection of tunnels which, according to Wroe, would lead them to their destination. To the south, Wroe reported, the party would find a chamber housing a long pit lined with crushing walls and drilling spikes, its purpose lost to time. To the north, however, the triton warned the adventurers they would find a deceptively ordinary, seemingly empty room of flat, gray walls and an unremarkable stone floor.
It was within the north chamber where Wroe claimed one of his warriors had met a horrible fate, but there was no sign of struggle or even the smallest spatter of blood within the room. Whatever had taken the triton had removed all traces of him from the chamber; bones, weapons, armor, nothing remained. A simple, but sturdy wooden door set into the northwest corner of the room offered the only exit from the chamber, but the adventurers had been forewarned of the danger possibly lurking beneath their own feet and Quanth and Lupin cautiously flew into the room as Grundimir and Morg followed close behind.
Morg spotted the monsters first, his keen eyes detecting what appeared to be thin puddles of translucent sludge throughout the room. The goblin quickly fired off three arrows into the nearest of the gray oozes only to see the projectiles absorbed into its acidic membrane. It was easy to see how the amoebic assailants had frightened away the tritons who were equipped with only spears, short blades and a few crossbows, but the adventurers were armed with magic.
The oozes undulated slowly toward the dwarf and goblin, fumbling blindly with flesh-melting pseudopods, but their clumsy attacks were useless against the spellcasters assembled to destroy them. As Morg continued to sink arrows into the ponderous protozoans, Quanth, Lupin and Grundimir unleashed a flurry of mystical bolts and lightning that quickly reduced the oozes to immobile spatters of jelly across the chamber floor. Though the creatures were no longer a threat, the adventurers weren’t yet ready to return to Wroe and his people. If the tunnels were to serve as a sanctuary from Thorodin, they would need to be cleared of any horrible beasts still stalking the ancient halls.
Exploring further into the tunnels, the party found the door in the northwest corner of the ooze-stained chamber was locked tight. Curious to see what lay beyond the thick, wooden hatch, Quanth cast a spell of invisibility upon the door and revealed the room beyond appeared to be an immaculate sleeping chamber complete with well-crafted furnishings including a bed covered in fur blankets and floating two feet off the ground within an oval wooden frame. A crystal key protruded from a steel door on the opposite wall of the chamber, and a sparkling mirror of silvered glass hung above the chamber’s floor of green marble and gold. Now determined to investigate the plush quarters, the sorcerer shouted an incantation at the invisible door which sprung its lock and cast the portal open.
Though his companions were more cautious, Morg immediately sprang for the floating bed on the other side of the room. Holding their breaths as the goblin leapt onto the feather mattress, Morg’s companions were relieved to discover the bed wasn’t a trap or particularly devious levitating mimic. A search of the room’s interior revealed it was nothing more than a secure, comfortable respite kept spic and span for centuries by some unseen custodian. The crystal key, though a work of art in its own, held no enchantment but did fit within the locks of all three doors leading into the room. Foremost of these at the moment was the lock whence Quanth discovered it.
Turning the key, the adventurers found the steel door opened into a closet where a gleaming, polished greatsword seemed affixed to the back wall. A quick divinatory scan of the sword revealed it was possessed of a powerful enchantment against all thing demonic and that it was mounted to the wall with a pair of simple invisible hooks. Though none among the adventurers could properly wield the blade, Grundimir carefully removed the sword from the wall and tied it to his pack. Considering none among the prisoners’ enchanters could produce such a weapon, the sword was too valuable to leave behind.
Deeming the sleeping chamber a perfect sanctuary for the tritons, the adventurers moved on, exploring one final tunnel before returning with the good news. A door in the southwest corner of the sleeping chamber opened into a tunnel which connected to the intersection which had led to the oozes, but a branching tunnel also ended at a pitted iron door from which a horrible caustic smell escaped through tiny holes burned through the metal. Throwing open the door, the adventurers found a thick wall of acrid, yellow smoke billowing up from the floor of the chamber. Lupin attempted to blow the smoke aside with a gust of conjured wind but the effect was short-lived. The smoke reasserted its dominance of the corridor within seconds, but the spell did reveal the room was actually a long passageway that exceeded the length of the gnome’s gale. Though Grundimir offered to enter the corridor, his companions deemed it best to simply close the door and mark the area as dangerous.
Returning to the tritons, Grundimir and company made their report and warned Wroe of the vile yellow fog handing him the crystal key to the sleeping chambers so that he might secure the chamber from anything that might creep out of the mist. The adventurers then helped the tritons into their new digs and made camp, Morg adamantly refusing to share space on his new “air matress.” Though lost as to how to deal with Thorodin, the adventurers now had a mission worthy of heroes, to slay the dragon and free the victims of his terrible reign.
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Can you give us any info on the characters, like domains and bloodlines?
Nothing in depth, just that. Morg has been around a while, and a Vivisectionist is self explanatory, so no need to say anything about them.
Hmmm familiar. I guess the gnome is an Arcane Bloodline.
I will say I am disappointed The Rock isn't staying around. He was a kick in the pants.