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I'd like to share the progress of my players in Age of Ashes.
First, the cast:
Zim (Spellscale Kobold Fighter) is a "pointy stick" (polearm) specialist with an extreme love of dragons. Following the logic that dragons have treasure, treasure is found by adventurers, and adventurers are sometimes called heroes, he naturally became interested when he heard of a town's "Call for Heroes". His player has been playing since I started GMing last year with Little Trouble in Big Absalom.
Ortzi Crevan (Tiefling Kitsune Life Oracle) is a follower of Qi Zhong plagued by visions that have led him to Breachill. His only knowledge of Tian Xia was through his grandparents, so his knowledge of the language is almost exclusively food. His player is also returning; they joined for the Fall of Plaguestone/The Slithering double-feature.
Orbeck Vitreus (Seer Elf Wizard) is a magic scholar who has studied at Magaambya and follows Nethys. He is surprisingly fond of Telekinetic Projectile. His familiar is Garry the Aeon Wyrd. (He is not Ekujae, as far as I'm aware.) His and the remaining characters' players are new to me.
Gargrun Emberfury (Beastkin Dwarf Fighter) is a Breachill local that has decided to put his curse to use. It took him a bit to figure out what kind of fighter he was: brawler. He may have been in a relationship with Roxie Dean? (If you're going to establish a connection to an existing NPC, please inform your GM BEFORE, not when, the NPC is introduced. Zim: "Could have been worse; could have been Voz.") I believe his player is new to Pathfinder in general.
Epsilon-2 (Alchemical Investigator[-Witch] Artisan Android) is, like Ortzi, driven by visions of fire which drew him to Breachill. He has been contacted (vaguely) by an unknown patron which has given him a poppet familiar resembling his deceased friend, Helena. As expected for an Investigator, he tends to spot things before the rest of the party.
Guest featuring: Roll20's Die Roller that hates PC's animals, companion or summoned. Its opinion on Construct Familiars has not been tested.
The story began with the members of the party-to-be mingling with townsfolk. Orbeck specifically met a nervous goblin, Warbal Bumblebrasher, fretting about her nearby community. The town council meeting soon began, but before Warbal could begin her request, a guard warned of a fire. As the flames, and the Fire Mephit that spread them, burst into the room, so did our heroes-to-be burst into action. The little kobold rushed to confront the elemental near (and soon, unfortunately, IN) the flames, while the rest of the group fired upon it from a distance, the townsfolk panicked, and the council tried to lead toward the exit. Combating the creature was easy, but the flames would not be drowned out. Orbeck suggests to Greta (Head of the Council) to have those fleeing the building form a bucket chain. During the escape, Zim passed out from smoke inhalation, but was saved by Epsilon. Their bravery and ability to think under pressure proven, the group was declared to be the Heroes tasked with helping the Bumblebrashers and with capturing the local that started the fire, a miscreant named Calmont.
The group hiked up to the ruined Citadel Altaerein, aka Hellknight Hill, current of home of the suspiciously quiet goblin clan. They decided that the front door was too obvious and would first circle the perimeter. On the northern wing, they found a corpse on a small mound in a pool of water where part of the citadel's wall once was; when Epsilon attempted to examine it, the mound attacked. (Neither the corpse nor the mound were Calmont, it should be noted; the arsonist is a halfling.) The similar mound further along the wall didn't rise in time to assist it's fellow graveshell (the name of the creature, Epsilon recalled) as the pond-dweller had a head smashed in by a rock from Orbeck. Orbeck threatened the surviving creature that, along with some food from Ortzi, convinced it to inform them of any goblins or halflings it had seen. None, but one human (dead) and some worgs.
Leaving it to its own devices, they continued counter-clockwise around the building; Garry scouting ahead. The next opening they found presented a corpse and rats of unusual size. Zim interacted peacefully with one rat before the party continued. The third hole was into a training room filled with mannequins. These objects were clearly less trustworthy than disease-bearing rodents and the immovability was to be tested... by rocks. A single silver piece fell from one and, intending to return, the noted its position.
In spite of all this caution, they would immediately attempt to open the next door. It was of the southern wing, it was locked or barred, and it had something behind it, something that was now alert. The party's curiosity was peaked and they returned to the training hall with coin untouched. Before they could proceed westward, the heard a commotion in the opposite direction and decided to prioritize it. It was an armored man, a Hellknight named Alak, fighting a group of imps with his strange sword-that-looks-like-a-halberd. Following the party's easy victory, they agreed to assist him in finding his "ring".
The group, with Alak as rearguard, passed through the kitchen without touching anything and barged into the bunkroom. A bed fort with a crude Goblin banner whose inhabitant would have attacked, had she not been smart enough to realize that six-on-one is terrible odds. The party, fortunately, both is not keen on attacking without reason and was on a quest to help goblins, which they believed her to be. The fuzzy, grumpy, goblin-looking thing informed them that she was not a "Bumblebutt" and Ortzi realized this scrawny girl was a bugbear. Regardless, Yoletcha (later found out to be a homeless teenager) told them what they needed to know: the goblins would be underground.
The party's new goal was stairs. To this end, the proceeded counter-clockwise through the citadel, while Alak would double-check around the training room. After deciding to let sleeping Goblin Dogs lie, the heard a commotion from above.
Unknown to the party, it was at this time that Calmont took Helba hostage. He had been waiting near the goblins awaiting an opportunity to appear.
The party decided at a crossroad of exiting out a hole in the structure into the courtyard (where shouting can be heard) or going north (which is a distinctly different direction, incomparable to "above"), they would take that later. This led them to other side of the graveshell's pool and to a surprising discovery: worg puppies! The little creatures were harmless (now), but their yelping alerted the daddy, who broke through a nearby door for dinner. Upon recalling that worgs are intelligent, Orbeck attempted to diffuse the situation; the party meant no harm to the worg or his puppies. The worg did not care... about the puppies. This declaration, alone, led the party to assume (correctly despite having no actual evidence) that worg would be willing to eat the puppies and promptly killed him.
Now the party has a pair of defenseless puppies, what should they do? They can't leave them here; the graveshell will eat them (they incorrectly assumed in spite of reasonable evidence that it cannot enter the room without considerable effort). They can't bring them forward; they might get hurt. That leaves the party with two options.
- They can take the puppies to Alak, the Hellknight that was offering them carte blanche on whatever they find if they found his ring and was also willing to help them fight the dangers in the citadel to assist their quest.
- They go to Yoletcha, the skittish, homeless girl wearing knives who had demonstrated no positive opinions of the party and was of an ancestry specifically known for psychopathy, sadism, and psychotic violence.
While that (rather short) debate was occurring and Gargrun was healed from worg bites, Zim found a book that was possibly written by relative of Alak and the group decided to return that to him. Alak had just entered the bunk chamber, when the party arrived. He was touched by their gift and, seeing their trust in her, he decided to give the bugbear a chance. Yoletcha upon hearing the puppies was immediately interested and gave them unidentified meat. Ortzi requested Yoletcha watch the dogs for him, which she was willing to do.
Once more ignoring the kitchen, the party searched the rooms they had not explored in the southern wing. They discovered a secret trapped room, in which they found, among other things, a hand of the mage which is not mage hand but the severed hand of a mage that will allow one to cast mage hand.
The party then found a gate leading out to the courtyard. The commotion since had quieted down, which had led to a certain creature losing interest one more until a group scurried out in front of it. This crocodile-esque creature is a grauladon, a distant relative of dragons, much to Zim's disappointment. Zim, it should be noted, is hard to chew, much to the grauladon's disappointment. Zim's soul was caught in a tug-of-war between Ortzi and that which is not a real dragon, so it is only fitting that Zim's pointy stick would slay the beast.
This reignited the stand-off between Calmont and the Bumblebrashers on the barrister, which the party would immediately climb onto. In all the excitement, Gargrun temporarily forgot that the party had been sent to help the goblins. He and Zim rushed the halfling, attempting to hold him down, while their colleagues pelted him with projectiles. He eventually surrendered.
Interrogating Calmont and interviewing Helba, the leader of the goblins, gave the party several interesting pieces of information. First, Calmont was also after a "ring" which the goblins knew nothing about. Second, the not-dragon had chased the goblins upstairs when it and several other monsters emerged from the basement of the basement. Third, Calmont's ring was a series of "elf gates" which the party assumed to be the origin point of the homewreckers. Finally, the attackers called themselves Cinderclaws and they were delivering violence and screaming and not holiday cheer.
Leaving Calmont under the watch of the now-armed Bumblebrashers, the party set forth to
loot secure the remainder of the citadel's ground floor. The group distracted the previously encountered rats with food, so as to grab the belongings of the likewise previously encountered deceased fellow. In another room, there was an unlucky encounter with a giant bat. Unlucky for it, as when it flew into the faces of the party, Zim and Gargrun reacted by flailing their weapons wildly; Gargrun's clan dagger pierced its heart.
Afterward, the reached what seemed to be the final room: a small jail with four long dead bodies. They did not remain dead for long. Then, they did not remain undead for long. Orbeck realized the energies that had arisen the dead was coming from beneath them. Thus, the party finished looting- wait, no. Thus, the party remembered they never searched the kitchen. They found something surprising: spiders. Then they found something actually surprising: arsenic! Which is a real item in this game, with stats and everything.
The party then brought Calmont to justice and summarized the events to Greta. The councilwoman was understandably concerned, monsters from another land, necromantic energy, and demons? The group was paid for the arsonist's arrest, but was requested to return into the depths of the citadel to tackle these threats to Breachill and to assist this effort, the town's wares and services would be discounted for them.
That closed the first two chapters and sessions. This post is long enough and took longer to write than I expected, so I'll save the remainder for another post. I hope you had fun reading about my party's interesting decisions. Also, I only listed the interesting items found; it'd clog up the flow to list all the unremarkable stuff that they'd just end up selling.
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First of all, big thanks to both the GM Reference and Community Creators Threads, especially MSAbbadon for all those maps!
Day two of the adventure and Orbeck already wanted to magically brute force through the collapsed stairs. However, Helba had remembered a secret passage into the basement the group could use and gave them a map and a request: free the Bumblebrashers’ bear. With Alak joining them, the group snuck into the dark dungeon. The bear was (along with dragons, to Zim’s excitement) to the north. So, they quietly avoided the suspicious figures in the central passage and eavesdropped on the Cinderclaws in the western most room. Zim and Orbeck came up with a plan: with ghost sound, Orbeck would make Zim sound like a mighty dragon to impress/terrify the boggards. Sadly, this did not work and the boggards mocked this new kobold. The fight followed quickly with Gargrun knocking out one cultist and Alak tearing through the other.
With one cultist captured, the party went east. Gargrun, who opened the door, was immediately shot by Werrt. Orbeck threw out a color spray to disorient the cultist and his charau-ka followers and the rest of the party focused their effort on the archer, killing him quickly. The monkeys surrendered and were moved back into the bedroom. Alak would guard the three prisoners here, while the party continued.
After a sequence of unbearable barricade bear puns, the group located Big Bumble. Ortzi convinced the bear that they were okay to not be mauled and the group attempted to lead him back outside. (Orbeck also found information about Hellknight burial customs, more on that later.) But a bear is not subtle, especially not one squeezing its way through narrow halls. The birds guarding the central passage were provoked by, and swiftly killed by, the bumbling bear. Epsilon realized that these colorful birds, like the grauladon, were native to far warmer climates than Isger. The bear would escape into the woods upon reaching the surface, but Helba was alright with that.
Returning into the basement, the group decided to search the southern wing next; Orbeck didn’t want to mess with dragons. This wing was a tomb with several animated skeletons. The group took a defensive position behind a splattering of grease. Ortzi was the MVP of this fight: he unleashed a healing torrent on the undead and his divine lance vaporized their leader. The floating helmets in the next room confused the group as to what exactly they were, but a threat, they were not.
Investigating further, the group found the remains of a ritual and a passage leading away from the citadel. That would have to wait, as they also found some rings, scrolls, and a symbol of the elven goddess Alseta. One of the rings had been sought by Alak. He was grateful to its return, answered their questions about the undead, and, when asked, gave them permissions to take the weapons from the tomb, if it would aid them in dealing with the threats in Altaerein. You see, the party had come to a unanimous agreement previously that taking from the dead was acceptable unless it involved grave-robbing.
The party also took this opportunity to interrogate the Cinderclaws. They realized they were dealing with two unrelated incidents. First, the Cinderclaws had indeed entered through a portal deep under the citadel for reasons related to draconic god of destruction, Dahak. Second, a necromancer had attempted to commune with the dead Hellknights and accidently triggered a ward that raised some of the buried corpses. The necromancer had apparently came from, and fled back to, a long eastward tunnel.
The group decided to investigate the “dragons” next. Upon entering the northeastern chamber, the group was assailed with rocks by screeching monkeys. Zim and Gargrun were taken down immediately. Ortzi healed the fighters, while Orbeck and Epsilon fired back at the charau-ka; the former copying their tactic, the later with arcing electricity and crossbow bolts. In the end, Gargrun KO’d one of the cultists while the other two were shot and stabbed to death. Orbeck then decided to sneak around while invisible. He found the “Mitey Dragons” empty lair and a pool with a pair of boggards. Ortzi ended up showing what exactly happens when a frog is struck by divine lance.
The party then investigated the strange, apparently doorless passage in the central hall and found a secret area of the tomb… and two wights. The party attempted to lead the undead through the narrow hall with Gargrun keeping himself in the way as a living shield. The group were caught off-guard by one of the wights tumbling past the dwarf, so the duo could assail him from both sides. A clever shot by Epsilon removed her head and her companion was smashed by Gargrun. The prize for this, a glimmer of proof that undead ward had been disabled and a bunch of weapons. Zim attempted to extol the merits of pointy sticks to his companions, but only Gargrun was interested… or he would have been if it hadn’t been for one of the Hellknight Lictors had her Handwraps of Mighty Blows in her coffin. However, the party wasn’t prepared to deal with affliction that the wights had inflicted on Gargrun and so they returned to the surface along with their prisoners.
The group rested until dusk and, feeling stronger than before, returned to the basement once more. The eastern wing was all that remained and it was obviously the area that would be the most difficult, right? The arrangement of doors at the end of a wide corridor just screams, “This is where the climax shall occur!”
Inside, the party smashed a creepy doll and found a work of art made by another of Alak’s relatives. Orbeck summoned a giant solifugid to scout ahead and discovered a pair of kobolds. Zim got along well with Pib and Zarf and the duo were pleased that their home had been saved.
Finally, the group discovered a gelatinous cube. Gargrun and Ortzi decide the best course of action is to punch and kick the ooze. Ortzi is agile enough to avoid being engulfed by it, but Gargrun… Thankfully, Zim was able to cut him out, along with a skeleton which Ortzi immediately dusted. (Shout out to Ice Titan for that addition.) This area also prompted some OoC discussion about other campaigns and their tropes.
Now feeling like the basement was secure, the party decided to investigate the necromancer’s tunnel. The passage led them far and up into a basement. Gargrun recognized this as the Pickled Ear, a tavern in Breachill. As the business was closed for the night, the party decided to return to the citadel and go to the tavern during the day.
The tavern’s owner, Roxie, was willing to speak about the tunnel after the party helped drum up some business. Zim demonstrated remarkable arm-wrestling prowess, by the by, undefeated. Turns out Calmont’s employer, Voz Lirayne, does “weird skull magic” and has used that tunnel multiple times. Ms. Lirayne hasn’t been seen for a few days too. The book store was the party’s next destination.
Unsurprisingly, the store was locked up. Epsilon pried open a back window and no townsfolk noticed him despite his skin glowing as he did it. As the group had no evidence that Voz was connected to any crimes, it was unlikely they’d be allowed to barge in legally. Inside, Gargrun
triggered discovered a dangerous trap, Orbeck stole found some spell scrolls, and Epsilon and Zim located actual clues: Zim, that Calmont’s method of summoning the fire mephit had been stolen from his employer, and Epsilon, that Voz believed herself to have found a back-door to Alseta’s Ring. Gargrun recognized the name “Guardian’s Way” as an old wooden fort further from town than Citadel Altaerein. Voz’s other notes gave the party insight into her personality, but again, nothing criminal.
As the fort was the only lead, the group followed the wizard’s trail. Upon finding the fort, the group crept under the trees. Zim, clad in heavy armor, snuck up on the rangers in the tree-fort. He motioned to his companions, “Stabby or talky?”
“Talky,” they gestured back.
Zim attempted a peaceful discussion with the half-orcs. They were uninterested and, when he refused to leave, attempted to kill him. Epsilon, who now recognized the rangers as wanted criminals (Bloody Blades), electrocuted one to death. Gargrun rushed to his friend’s aid and knocked out the remaining two. The party briefly saw another member dart into a small building just behind the platforms they had claimed. While the rest of the group attempted to sneak up on another Blade, Orbeck decided to wave at him from the central perch. The ranger responded with arrows and Gargrun, in turn, responded with fists.
The Bloody Blades’ leader, a hobgoblin named Dmiri, entered the fray with her remaining follower. Her defensive fighting style proved very difficult for the fighters to deal with, but was no match for the Power of Rock. The group took the equipment from Dmiri’s stash and prepared themselves for entering the cave Orbeck had found while he was throwing rocks at the mountain’s moss. During this time, Gargrun hauled the three living bandits back to town. They’d deal with the dead ones later.
Gargrun returned to the party just in time to enter the cave. Evidence pointed east, so the party went north. An armored corpse caught Zim’s eye and he attempted to free it from some spider webs. Where did the webs come from? Maybe it’s the spider-esque creature that just tried to bite Epsilon. When the creature released a large quantity of spiders, Ortzi splattered the swarm with a sound burst. Violence led to the creature’s surrender, but the party let Epsilon decide what they should do. He asked what the Tixitog (the word the creature claimed humans called her) what she could give them. She offered them first spiders (her food), then the armor of the corpse (Zim liked that), and information. She warned them the “Skull Lady” who arrived recently and the goblin that isn’t a goblin who’s been here long before the Tixitog.
The party realized that the two paths they had both would lead to Voz, so they split in two groups. Orbeck, Epsilon, and Zim would sneak from the north while Gargrun and Ortzi (in human guise) would approach peacefully from the west. Voz had prepared for an attack; the sound burst had been blatantly obvious, but still was willing to listen to the duo. They claimed to be from Breachill, which wasn’t completely false and Voz wouldn’t consider much of the town as worth acknowledging, but their lies about why they were there (Voz isn’t a librarian, for one) and claims of ignorance regarding the bandits made Voz too suspicious of them and ordered her minions to attack.
The fight was short-lived, with only the weaker skeleton was destroyed and a few arrows and spell being flung before Orbeck shouted for the fighting to stop. More honest discussion followed, albeit still cloaked in secrecy. Neither the party nor Voz were fully open about why they were there, but both knew of Alseta’s Ring and were willing to work together to reach it. The party treated her with caution; they spoke nothing about the incident at the citadel, the arsonist, and obviously their investigation of her home.
Voz claimed her belongings and informed the group of where her progress had stopped. She led them through miles of tunnels that her minions had cleared and into a chamber of spiders. Voz’s undead champion ironically proved a useful meat shield for the group as they killed all but one of the spiders. (Gargrun with another KO.)
Soon after, the party met Renali, from whom Voz kept her distance. While she tended to the surviving spider, she weaved the tale of how she came to be in this cave. She had entered through the same portal as the Cinderclaws and had no way home. The group rested and prepared to deal with the dangers that Renali warned them of.
The party once again decided to have part of the group sneak from one side while the rest approached their target openly. The target this time was a goblin sitting on a bone throne surrounded by goblinoid skeletons. Zim hopped down in front of the self-proclaimed king and asked for permission to pass. Not impressed with Zim’s visible equipment, King Ralldar demanded a skeleton with the head of a spider and Zim retreated to fetch.
The party did find another human corpse in this area and there were plenty of dead spiders too. Easy enough, but Voz had a better idea and put a spider on her champion. Not trusting Voz in the slightest, Ortzi prepared to destabilize the undead if Voz had it attack. The skeleton impressed Ralldar, who would now allow the kobold to pass, but Zim asked if his tall friends could come with him. The goblin king demanded tribute from each that wish to pass. His next demand was the arms of an elf.
Zim returned to the group and asked Orbeck how attached he was to his arms. Very, it turns out. However, Zim had a clever idea. He had Orbeck take a few of the spare weapons the group was carrying and the two returned to Ralldar. In full view of the goblin king, Zim took these arms from the elf and laid them before Ralldar, claiming to have solved the king’s clever riddle. The ego of the goblin stroked, he would allow the elf to pass, but he had more demands for the kobold’s remaining tall friends.
Ralldar had been offended by a spider that walked like a man. He demanded her. The party however was completely oblivious to who, or what, the goblin was demanding. Orbeck summoned his solifugid once again and tasked it with the acrobatic stunt of walking solely on its back-most pair of legs. It almost succeeded, but this displayed offended Ralldar who revealed his true form and attacked.
The greater barghest was toughest opponent the party had encountered. He easily crushed Orbeck’s summon and brought Gargrun down as well. Voz and Renali stayed out of the fight, but the champion was already in place to assist. The killing blow belonged to Zim. While Ortzi tended to Gargrun, the android and kobold squeezed into the fiend’s treasure horde.
As the group continued forward, Gargrun hung back to keep an eye on Voz, who seemed too interested in the bone throne. (His player was sick this session.) Zim and Orbeck bumbled into some mushrooms with some moderately annoying effects, but once they discovered that Prestidigitation removed the spores, clearing a path was easy. Garry was sent into the hole the mushrooms had surrounded to confirm a safe landing before the group descended. They would have been able to spy on the Cinderclaws in this pit, if Orbeck hadn’t been carrying an everburning torch.
The crowded collapsed chamber proved advantageous to the party. Orbeck enlarged Zim who effectively served as impassable wall to the Cinderclaws. The cultists were pinned down and most of the fight was a shoot out with both sides struggling to hit each other past the armored dragon. Malarunk, the leader among these cultists, smote a solifugid that Orbeck summoned and worked his way toward Zim to do the same. He kept his healing magic reserved intending to use it on himself, but misjudged his ability to dodge an arc of electricity from Epsilon.
Claiming his tools (Ortzi is collecting religious symbols), the party proceeded cautiously into Alseta’s Ring. They identified the statues and discovered that one of the arches reacted to an arrowhead that Malarunk had. The portal inside was unstable, too dangerous to use for now. The only thing worth examining was the large door to the north. When Zim attempted to open it, it spoke in elven, which Orbeck translated for the party. The door’s demand was met by Ortzi, who still held the symbol of Alseta. To the party’s surprise, the door was actually a statue that walked out of the way. The room it guarded contained almost nothing… except for the deed of ownership to the citadel. The door returned to its post before Gargrun and Voz arrived.
Voz was pleased; she now had a clear path to the Ring. These “heroes” had been very useful. While she examined the arches, she idly mentioned that in her research she had heard of a monster that emerged from the doors. The party claimed that they dealt with it and that sadly there was nothing of value in this lower vault.
The matter of how to leave the chamber finally came up. Orbeck’s suggestion of using magical attacks to tunnel up the stairs was quickly shot down and the group (with Voz) returned the long way around. Renali would follow some distance behind.
Thus, the party was ready for the next adventure: home ownership!
The party checked the deed with Greta and confirmed that they were now the owners of Citadel Altaerein. The group permitted the Bumblebrashers and Kobolds to remain in the citadel and pseudo-hired Yoletcha to take care of the warg puppies. The group spent the rest of the day (and several more) working on the citadel. However, repairs were interrupted by the arrival of a warg, the puppies’ mother. The group returned the puppies to their mother, advising her to leave the area. The wargs left without conflict, hopefully far away from Breachill. The group was concerned about Yoletcha but she’d still help with the goblin dogs and rats.
Most of the repairs were done before the group turned their attention to Alseta's Ring and restored the Huntergate. They then were almost killed by the Huntergate, as it contained a fiery dragon. The dragon teleported around the narrow passage raining fire upon them and the group fled.
The group decided to split up to pursue information. Epsilon checked with Voz (who was glad to assist), Ortzi with the priestess/bartender, Brynne, and Orbeck with the Priest of Desna, Kellen. Meanwhile, Zim and Gargrun interrogated a captive Cinderclaw. The group collectively figured that the dragon was derived from Dahak, possibly a trap that could be disabled, and that one could just run past it as the cult had. With Kellen’s assistance, the group failed to defeat the Vision yet again. Also, now the whole town basically knew about the gates. Ortzi realized it may have been more useful to visit the temple of art instead of the bar a little late.
On the third attempt, Orbeck successfully dispelled the Vision of Dahak and cleared the path through the Huntergate. The group traveled through and found themselves surrounded by armed elven warriors. These are the Ekujae (specifically, the Leopard Clan) and the party was welcomed as guests due to being mutually opposed to the Cinderclaws.
Traveling to Akrival, the party was informed of the general knowledge the Ekujae had about the Cinderclaws and met the town's translator, Nketiah. While she guided them around, Zim and Gargrun won a dance contest, then Gargrun, Epsilon, and Ortzi amazed Akosa with their combined hunting skills. The party failed to impress Harriet the lion, but did impress Ose Panin and Ose Atsu with their abilities.
Each party member also spoke more about their past. Ortzi was raised by his grandparents and father. Epsilon was following the example of his body’s prior consciousness. Zim was in pursuit of a patron (Dragon) for his clan. Gargrun was raised by orcs (in Breachill; it’s an open-minded town). Finally, Orbeck spoke about his studies in Magaambya.
Following the feast, the group set out to deal with the Cinderclaws, but found a camp of sick kobolds first. They were escaped workers from the Cinderclaws' mine and were sick with arsenic poisoning. Epsilon (in spite of being hit by their trap) and Ortzi identified and treated the kobolds, who told the party more about the cult, including directions to the mine and that the leader of the mine was a member of their clan. Epsilon returned to Akrivel to inform the elves. (This is where his player had to quit for RL reasons.)
The rest of the party decided to follow along the river to reach the mine, with Zim taking the lead. On this route, they encountered Gerhard Pendergrast, a self-proclaimed scholar of the Mwangi Expanse. He was attempting to take a blue dragon pillar that he had liberated from the Cinderclaws. He offered them money to assist him in moving it to his boat. Convincing him that the curse was still active, Orbeck attempted to remove a jewel from the pillar and was (temporarily) turned to stone. Zim immediately began attacking the pillar and destroyed the artifact. Gerhard swore vengeance, but the party were more concerned with the stone remains of Gerhard’s employees. As the party had no way of helping them, they marked their map, hopeful the Ekujae would be able to.
The party found another dragon pillar almost immediately, this one green, that was guarded by a pair of jungle drakes. Zim forced the pillar onto its side after Orbeck covered it in a fog, while Gargrun drew the drakes’ attention. Killing the drakes and destroying the pillar weren’t difficult tasks.
As the group continued on, they saw an interesting temple sitting on the edge of a cliff above them. Upon making their way around to it, they found Gerhard attempting to destroy it. The group questioned his activities and attempted to stop him. This led to violence. Orbeck summoned a naiad to wash away the trail of black powder leading into the temple. While the group were impressed by his Manly Left Hook and his (admittedly shoddy) blunderbuss, they were still victorious. Zim cutting the explorer’s legs off in a failed attempt to trip him.
Unbeknownst to the group, their activities in the jungle were beginning to be noticed...
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Thanks, glad people are enjoying this. The dice roller giveth and the dice roller taketh away.
Oh, I forgot in the first post, that this campaign is using the Ancestral Paragon rule, as each book does focus on a base ancestry.
Heading off from the temple, the group found the mine in the afternoon. The party got close and examined the large area from the west. What was seen was not a great sight: a large vulture-man on a pile of bones (Ortzi recognized it as a demon) and a caged dinosaur (just an animal, Orbeck knew) to the north, a bat-like-thing (unidentified) and several cultists to the south, two buildings to the east, and huge hole in the center. Garry was sent (invisibly) to peer into the hole and found a dragon pillar, weird worms, and, naturally, more cultists working in the mine. Garry also sneakily opened the northern shack’s door, allowing the party to see a small, reptilian humanoid inside. Was this Hezle?
A bit of debate about what their goal followed, but the mine was clearly too dangerous to just charge in. There was no way for the party to know how any given group would react to their presence. Orbeck suggested trying to turn the demon against the cult, but the rest of the party were not convinced. Instead, the party decided to sneak back into the jungle and re-approach the mine from the east. Zim was able to the keep the party from getting off-track and was also picked to approach Hezle.
Zim snuck into Hezle’s office and attempted to talk to her. She was surprised to see another kobold and he did name-drop the Thornscales, so after he confirmed her clan was safe, she was more than willing to answer his questions. She told him why the kobolds had joined (and later abandoned) the cult. Zim was excited to hear that multiple dragons were close to the cult, but not as happy to hear that one of them was locked up. He signaled for the group and they arrived to ask a few questions of their own. Namely, why the cult was mining poisoned gold, the location and defenses of the cult’s base, and what was up with the demon.
The Scarlet something or other had given a golem and chimarae to Belmazog and taught her the ritual that created the pillars in exchange for the tainted gold. The pillars, as it turns out, were not just an anti-Ekujae trap, but powered a defensive trap for the fortress. Hezle gave the group a map of the locations of the pillars and the fortress. She also warned them that the mine's pillar had attracted strange creatures to the water.
Now, the party had to deal with that pillar. While Orbeck could drop a fireball or two on the pillar from above, that could lead to the cultists on the surface surrounding them. Then again, since Hezle mentioned the internal conflict of the Cinderclaws, disguising himself as a boggard and actively antagonizing the charau-ka might work too. In the end, the group decided that most of them would hide near the building to the south (ready to strike) while Orbeck found a vantage point on a tree some distance south of the mine. He realized too late a problem with the plan; after erupting a fireball from over four hundred feet away, he had no other ways of attacking from the distance and apparently no ways to expedite his return.
If you were a… doctor, er, how would you react to your patients just being reduced to ashes by a surprise explosion of flame? The swampseers of the Cinderclaw mine scattered, searching for its magical source with one finding the rest of the party. His destructive croak alerted the rest of the mine to intruders. The party had no problem removing two of the druid-like boggards before the Vrock (the vulture demon) saw them.
As the party began their toughest fight yet, one of the swampseers alerted Hezle to the attack. She decided that the best way to deal with them was to release the dinosaur and agitate the mud spiders. This was part of the plan the party had thrown together. Unfortunately, the Mokele-mbembe was drawn to the smell of burning meat and attacked the butchers to the south-east, who slayed it.
The Vrock’s attacks were hard and fast; it disoriented Ortzi and Gargrun with a screech and thrashed the fighters. Orbeck, in his haste to return, ended up passing by a pair of swampseers and evaded/endured their attacks, but they backed off when he neared the demon. The demon protected by mirror images danced up a lightning storm downing Zim, who was healed by the pair of spellcasters. Before it was stabbed to death by Gargrun, it even infected the dwarf with some kind of spore. Of course, the MVP of this fight was Ortzi who was already ready to take down a (non-fiery) demon thanks to his Searing Light spell.
The party then dealt with the two swampseers that had followed Orbeck, as vines burst out of Gargrun’s skin/fur. [TO BE CONTINUED=>
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Mine, part 2: Chaos Reigns!
The party quickly tried to figure out what ailment had befallen Gargrun and Ortzi realized good magic could deal with the vines. In the process of this, the butchers made their move. The party was able to deal with them (and the sabosan) easily. Although Gargrun had knocked out one of the butchers, Zim would later kill it.
The party’s next move was to investigate the noises that had started coming from the bunkhouse. Zim and Gargrun rushed in, attacking wildly. Orbeck wanted to try a new spell and hit a line of the charau-ka in the bunk with it. To his surprise (and mine), they powered through it. After clearing the bunkhouse, the party again discussed if they should continue their attack or back away so the spellcasters could recharge. They decided to push their luck.
Orbeck’s plan was simple: he would use his Wand of Web, while Zim and Gargrun threw Gerhard’s black powder bombs, then Orbeck would hit the pillar and its sticky, flammable guards with a fireball and Ortzi would throw down some divine wrath. This worked almost perfectly! Except the butchers avoided much of the blast, the pillar itself was entirely unaffected, and the explosion woke up a couple of creatures living in the pool of water nearby.
The party realized they had a problem when the strange creatures, naunets, swam into the air after them. The pillar, which missed its first shot on Orbeck, struck Zim, stunning him for some time. The butchers and the swampseer that had escaped them earlier quickly emerged from the pit. There was also a boggard warrior that had avoided the web and was racing up the ramp to join the fray.
The party ended up pulling back toward Hezle’s office. Zim, who had been dragged back by Ortzi, was the primary target and ended up downed first while desperately swinging at cultists. Hezle joined the fray, intent on driving the chaotic beasts back, as the party fought the remaining cultists. With Ortzi collapsed, Zim dead, and Gargrun and Orbeck fleeing from the fight, the nauntets lost interest and returned to their pool. Gargrun double-back around Hezle’s residence to save Ortzi, but the former Cinderclaw beat him to the punch. The surviving party was able to kill the last few cultists, including the boggard warrior who finally reached the fight when it was almost over and never even managed to attack.
The party has now considered returning to Akrivel to attempt to resurrect Zim, but it’s not clear what effect their failed attack on the pillar will have. The pillar itself remains completely unharmed and its incredibly dangerous guards (who themselves are essentially unharmed!) make changing that very unlikely.
These two sessions turned into a pillar toppling bonanza.
Returning to Akrivel turned out to be uneventful and the party was able to afford Zim’s resurrection with a trade of the Cinderclaw’s fancy tridents. The party debated whether they should tackle the close pillar or, to give Zim time to recover, head toward the human village. They decided to target the pillars between Akrivel and the mine.
The first one was guarded by a frustrated draconic charau-ka. As she was complaining about Belmazog, the party thought they could approach her peacefully. Zim stepped out to speak to her and was immediately blinded by the Black Dragon Pillar. During the fight, the charau-ka boasted that she would burn down the entire jungle for Dahak and the party quickly gave up on peace. The blind, ill Zim still managed to knock over the pillar and the party took Racharak down soon after.
The next day was spent handling the other pillar. This one protected by a grippli ambush. Orbeck quickly realized that the grippli were being controlled by the pillar and he and Ortzi attempted to dispel this effect. Unfortunately, because of this, Zim became mind-controlled by it as well. Still the Indigo Dragon Pillar was easily defeated by the art of shoving. Once freed, the grippli thanked the party and told them about the area. The new information here being that there was a ruined temple to Dahak far to the south, where Hezle had marked another pillar.
The group returned to the mine and found new cultists there. Sneaking around, they asked Hezle about this. It turns out the Cinderclaws had noticed the pillars being destroyed and a priest had followed the party’s tracks to the mine. The party lured the priest and his squad away from the pillar and disposed of them a safe distance from it.
Next, came redemption! The second attack on the Violet Dragon Pillar… began very sadly. As the party stood close enough to the edge to quickly enter and exit the pillar’s sight and rain attacks upon it, there were repeated stunnings and failed attacks galore! Until Ortzi managed a solid crack on it with a spiritual weapon. The plan, you see, was to lure the naunets out of the hole and away from the pillar, so as to fight them safely; safer than with the simply stunning pillar’s ray flashing them, anyway. But what a difference having spells prepared (and less enemies around) makes. The party won this fight without too much effort. Then Orbeck made Zim invisible, so he could just topple the pillar once again. Garry also recovered a few more gold nuggets from the sluice water. The party convinced Hezle to work the arsenic out of the gold and gave her directions to where the Thornscales were and what direction they had been planning on going.
The party then headed across the river. Ortzi somehow nearly drowned, but Zim saved him. The next pillar, Orange, was in a bell-filled swamp. Zim snuck ahead to get a closer look, but when Ortzi attempted to follow, he tripped ringing the bells far louder than the weather had been. Strange croc-men emerged from hiding and attacked the party, but Zim toppled the pillar before it could be too much of a threat. Outside of Orbeck summoning a bear and the initial fear of more mind-control, this fight was uneventful. Gargrun, back in form, knocked out one of the attackers, allowing Orbeck to interrogate him. The biloko (these fairies) were using the pillar to assist in hunting and a few more of them were with the
Cinderclaws frogs and monkeys. They released him, with a threat, mind you.
The party proceeded back across the river to deal with the next pillar. Garry was sent ahead this time, but was spotted and destroyed by a powerful electric blast. Still, despite alerting the sabosan nearby, the Yellow Dragon Pillar was helpless to stop an invisible Zim just rushing down and flipping it over. When Ortzi and Gargrun approached, however, the sabosan swooped down to attack. Grabbing at the party and attempting to drain them didn’t work out to well though. Between slow, enervate, and two strong swingers, only one of the bat-people escaped the fight. It fled south across the river, where the party already knew the Cinderclaws’ Fort lay.
With only one pillar remaining, the war against the Cinderclaws is nearing its end.
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The party traveled down to the ruined temple of Dahak, where the last pillar stood, the Red one. As they approached, they noticed its guardian, a serpentine dragon. Zim was naturally excited and believed the creature may have been enslaved like the Grippli. Orbeck turned Zim invisible and, for the last time, Zim overturned a pillar. Zim then engaged the bida in conversation. The dragon seemed interested in the prospect of a kobold clan serving it. It had no loyalty to the Cinderclaws, merely mutual distaste for the Ekujae. The bida would think about Zim’s offer, considering how far away it would be. The rest of the party were concerned, but were not interested in fighting it.
The group then made their way to the Fortress of Sorrow, where Belmazog was up to who knows what. Scouting the perimeter, the group decided they were not ready yet. However, as they returned to Akrivel, Orbeck caught dysentery and the group encountered a pair of pterosaurs. After scaring the creatures off (and failing to infect them with malaria), the party met a trio of half-orcs. Ifiok, was the leader’s name, and she sought to kill a monster. After some questions, the party agreed to assist and tracked the fae down over the course of a few days. Ortzi attempted to peacefully speak to the kishi, who was carrying a bag the oracle thought contained a celestial, but the shapeshifting target charmed him. When Orbeck frightened the kishi, it bit Ortzi’s face. The fight was easily won, even discounting the bear Orbeck called in. The bag did contain an angel and they healed Orbeck’s disease before heading back to their interrupted task.
Upon reaching Akrivel, the party received a few gifts, including some items Renali found in a boat; she would be taking the golden idols that she found with them back to their proper places. The group took some time to visit Breachill as well to finish preparing for their confrontation with Belmazog.
However, the party had one last goal before that. They had heard of a human settlement and wished to see it, but they arrived too late to save it from a fire. The ruined town was no longer on fire, but it contained a pair of rather upset elephants. After confirming that elephants cannot breathe fire, they attempted to subdue them. Hearing a voice, Orbeck flew over and discovered a trapped man. Eventually, Gargrun freed him and in turn, Edka (the villager) calmed the elephants. Ortzi tended to the elephants’ wounds as an apology for the group hurting them.
The group’s plan to attack the fortress encountered a snag, though. They got lost. Gargrun was separated from the group and the rest were attacked by vampiric sloths that dragged them into the trees. The group barely survived thanks to their magic, Zim’s surprising agility, and the exploitation of a mindless ooze (which Orbeck later froze to death). Meanwhile, Gargrun had dealt with another group of Cinderclaws. The dead cult members’ blood was used for emergency blood transfusions right there.
Sneaking around the Cinderclaws’ fortress once again, the party encountered a crocodile and lured it away. It swallowed Gargrun whole, but he ripped his way out of its mouth and the creature fled further from the fortress. The next part of the plan was to lure the guards off their watchtowers. To this end, Orbeck summoned a giant mantis to grab one and drag him over the swamp. The swampseer’s croaks alerted the other guards (and likely the whole fortress) who came running. A well-placed fireball and some good ol’ melee dealt with them. Zim even got to show off how good he is at fighting blind.
All that’s left is the fortress’s internal defenses and they’ll save the dragon from the
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Two more sessions in the Fortress of Sorrow.
The party went up against the Clay Golem and discovered it's infamous curse. A kobold's cold breath and a little holy water were able to take it down, but both fighters were cursed in the process. Then hammer-wielding monkeys showed up and the group was forced to retreat into the swamp.
After healing their curse (I reduced it to a 5th level effect, but kept it's DC), the party returned to discover new guards around the fortress. Once again, they lured them down and removed them. Then they dealt with the Hammer Bros.
Zim and Gargrun attempted to kick in an enchanted door and viewed Dahak's face. Ortzi also got to see him before dispelling the cursed energies, thus clearing the way forward. Zim was unaffected by the vision and actively sought to see it again with every door in the building.
The party then decided to check the side rooms and met Izoleth the Hellhound. The group peacefully approached, fed her, and tried to leave the route open for her to leave. Unfortunately, none of them speak Infernal, so the result of this action is unknown, for now.
One of the eloko in the next chamber surprised the party with a size change, but the party's cautious healing would keep them safe. Orbeck's bear, though, is becoming more outclassed the further they go. Throwing rocks, on the other hand, still going strong.
The chimera prompted some interesting questions, but as Zim and Orbeck (the Draconic speakers) aren't the most charismatic, the group had to fight one. The loyal one was KO'd by Gargrun and the other dragged him away. The party debated the morality of letting more of these creatures just wander into the jungle.
Finally, the group reached Belmazog and overheard her desperate prayer to Dahak and that she was attempting to sacrifice Kyrion. Zim rushed in and was immediately shot by the skull of Dahak, but pressed on to attack one of the priests. Gargrun followed suit, with Ortzi soon after. Orbeck decided to cast Darkness onto the skull's flaming eyes to hinder it's attacks and also to become invisible while the fighters wrecked one priest. The other priest ended up looping around and onto Ortzi's rear which took Ortzi a round to realize.
The whole group was shocked when Belmazog sprayed acid all over the fighters and the priest that Gargrun knocked out. Black, blue, close enough. (Amusingly, due to all the fire immune things throughout the Cinderclaws, they never tried using fire on the cult leader, even after this acid attack. Although, Orbeck did suggest throwing her into the bowl Kyrion was in.)
Zim kept himself glued to Belmazog, Sudden Charging to keep up as she tried to cast spells. Leading her around to a KO of Opportunity from Gargrun, while Ortzi's hooves smashed the other priest. I was surprised that she successfully saved against Orbeck's touch of idiocy during this runaround.
During this time, the skull of Dahak was still trying to see through the darkness, occasionally getting a successful shot. With two nat twenties (one against concealed, one as the attack), it took Orbeck down. While he did survive, him being invisible, and still in the danger zone, meant rescuing him was a team effort as well; with Zim serving as a target for the skull as Ortzi released an area heal.
The party was then able to attempt to deal with the skull, eventually resorting to Zim just prying the eyes out of it. Then the group broke Kyrion's chains. But conversing with the dragon and interrogating the cult leader will have to wait for next time. There are several questions to ask, including: what is that thing in his chest?
So, this session was interesting for me. Mostly RP.
To begin with, the party now had the chance to speak to Kyrion. Naturally, Zim was ecstatic. He was also ready to kill the unconscious Belmazog, but stayed his hand when Kyrion did not accept the offer because, as the group learned in the conversation, Kyrion viewed her somewhat as his mother. The group heard more about the Scarlet Triad, but Kyrion knew little and could only speculate on their goals. He suggested that Belmazog could know more, but also that she was an idiot. With the group's main inquiries handled, Zim made his offer: that Kyrion become the patron of his kobold tribe. Having literally nothing else, Kyrion accepted this, but would make his way there himself. He also permitted them to his (former) treasure hoard.
During the interview, Orbeck took to looking through Belmazog's notes, but it was just faster for the party to force the cult leader awake and interrogate her. Quickly, they learned that Kyrion was right: she is an idiot. Gargrun helped Zim break through Belmazog's bravado revealing the pathetic creature beneath. Hearing her abridged life story gave Zim mixed feelings on the boggard; he approved of her pro-dragon philosophy, but still felt that she has committed crimes against dragons. On the topic of the Scarlet Triad, they learned very little. For one, there was a member named Laslunn. They were also involved in
Ketephys Katapesh. However, the party was able to tell that the boggard wasn't intentionally lying to them; she's just ignorant. She wasn't even aware that the Cinderclaws burned down the Elephant People's village.
As they left the fortress (with Bel), the group saw Izolith lurking at the gate. Orbeck, now with Tongues, could talk with the hellhound who wished to return to Hell. The party had the "powerful ritualist" return the creature to her home. (I don't know if there's a legal way for her to do it, but I figured that if Bel could summon it then she could un-summon it.)
Dragging their prisoner along, the party took a detour back to the bida. Zim had to inform the serpent that the patron position had been filled. The rest of the party was concerned by the appearance of a mysterious woman, but Zim knew it was just the bida in disguise (well, more of a convenient size change). The bida didn't mind losing out on a distant kobold clan, when a new opportunity had arisen. They could use Belmazog to lure out the Ekujae and kill them off slowly. The former leader of the Cinderclaws objected to this plan (as it involved her death) and, fortunately for her, most of the party was opposed to killing the elves.
The bida gave then gave the signal for the last remaining dragon priest to hit the party (and Bel) with a fireball. They were accompanied by a hidden, but ultimately useless squad of boggard warriors. The bida focused on the nearest fighter, Gargrun, while the priest and Belmazog stabbed, slashed, and bit each other. Orbeck decided to show off his new flame drake summon. In the end, Zim slayed two frogs, Gargrun KO'd one (which let him show off his new Quick Reversal), and Belmazog ended up killing the last boggard, the priest, and the bida in a blind rage. Before the bida was slain (It was the last standing.), Zim attempted to talk it down (as he still thought it was under the cult's control). Ortzi decided to wait to see its reaction, but Gargrun kept punching, Orbeck used both fireball breath (from the drake) and actual fireball, and that's when Bel ripped its throat out.
Zim was upset with Belmazog: again, she had committed crimes against dragons. The rest of the party was more understanding. Bel went the through the motions of funeral rites for the bida, while Orbeck looted its hoard. Zim decided that Belmazog's punishment should be to serve Kyrion at his clan's cave. Orbeck suggested, inexplicably, that she could be the party's gardener. No one knew why, not even him.
On the way back to Akrivel, Orbeck and Ortzi decided to fly over the river rather than the risk of nearly drowning again. The group also showed surprising faith in Belmazog's repentance (or her stupidity?) and let the amphibian swim across the river unrestrained. In fact, they never bothered restraining her after she sent Izolith back.
Upon reaching Akrivel, Ortzi went forward to explain the situation (and the group's belief that the Scarlet Triad were the real threat) to Nketiah, who in turn spoke to the Twin Leopards. It was deemed acceptable, as the party was taking responsibility over Bel, that the former cult leader be forever exiled from Mwangi. Nketiah also bestowed the group with the Eclipse, a special starknife that could open the Dreamgate, and told them what the other, missing keys looked like. Also, Epsilon would be heading off to investigate the Scarlet Triad separately.
The group then returned, finally, to Citadel Altaerein. They found Balka the Tixitog lurking in their basement. She told Orbeck that she was just trying to block up the hole, so her spiders didn't escape down it and that the "skull lady" had been lurking around, measuring things. Orbeck decided he should stone shape the passage closed.
As for other happenings at Hellknight Hill while the party was gone: the final repairs to the Citadel battlements were finished, Pib and Zarf had started a new "treasure" hoard, Yoletcha had taught the goblin dogs some tricks, one of the goblins had taken to teaching a pair of charau-ka Common, and the other two Cinderclaw prisoners had escaped... into the graveshell's new pond.
The group sorted what loot they wanted to keep and sold off the rest, then began investing, mostly into upgrading the citadel, but Gargrun had realized that maybe it was time for armor. Then there was some downtime: Orbeck worked on bringing Garry back, Ortzi retrained, Zim took Belmazog to his clan, and Gargrun... we're not sure yet. He is interested in spending some time with Roxie and I... I know what comes next as Tomorrow Must Burn.
After that quiet week, the group was awakened very early by Warble. There was a break-in at The Pickled Ear and a mysterious letter left for Mr. Emberfury. The poorly-conceived job offer directed the party to the wainwright's shop. The group is confronted by the mysterious Heuberk Thropp, who arranged this meeting for two purposes. First, to find out what the party knows about Alseta's Ring (which is basically nothing) that his subtly hinted local contact doesn't. Second, when asked about the job, he instructs them to take three people that will not be missed. Ortzi put his foot down against this and Heuberk duck into the backroom, activating a trap.
The group panicked as a spinning machine launched shrapnel everywhere until Zim forcibly stopped it. That's when Heuberk had his two agents rush the group while he attacked the groups' minds with spells. As the fighters distracted the sneaks and Heuberk, Ortzi slipped around into the backroom and Orbeck teleported after. The third sneak, seeing a problem, slit the hostage (Roxie)'s throat, but Orbeck healed her. In the struggle, Heuberk's Mirror Image failed to protect him, as he and a sneak were cut down by Zim. Another was knocked out by Gargrun. The last was Drained, Doomed, and otherwise thrashed, but was still standing (next to a flame drake) when Orbeck pulled out the Rod of Wonder and... put almost everyone to sleep. Ortzi woke up Roxie and Orbeck, while Zim tied up the sneaks and woke up Gargrun.
After some coercion, the sneaks revealed that they worked for the Scarlet Triad, a mercantile organization in Katapesh and that they were going to rendezvous with Laslunn at an import business in Kintargo. The sneaks were then handed to the authorities.
The group then celebrated with Roxie and returned to the citadel and, after some debate on what to do, found Voz in their basement. She was primarily interested in opening the gates permanently (or just duplicating the keys), but was willing to reveal a likely related discovery: a flake from the Goblinblood Caves or, rather, a gold dragon's scale. There are no records of a gold dragon around Breachill, so she presumes it must related to the wizard, Lamond, and his connection to (and possible use of) the elf-gates.
When she left, Ortzi (in fox form) and Garry stealthily followed her through the secret tunnel to The Pickled Ear and back to her bookstore. The group debated killing her, but as she hasn't done anything wrong as far as they know and may be completely unrelated to anything happening, they decided to just have one of Bumblebrashers spy on her while they're away.
With nothing else to do, the group entered the Dreamgate and found... a dead woman, er... dead night hag. And took her unidentified magic ring. The group voted on whether to go left or right and went left. Zim went first and saw a large tree statue which attacked him when he approached.
Thus began the battle of the tree. The whomping willow thrashed the group; it could react much faster and attack far more efficiently than any living opponent. Even removing a few limbs didn't slow its assault. Zim and Gargrun were both plagued with terrible visions (reliving his own death and the near-death of Roxie, respectfully), and along with Ortzi, were lucky to escape from the room. Orbeck, however, made the conscious decision to simply never enter the room, but used his to try and help the others escape. The fighters had managed to disable three of the tree's branches, but the group was fine simply not going that way as it appeared their attacks were not having much of an effect. And so, the battle was deemed a draw. Perhaps, they will have better luck taking the right door next time.
Minor correction: It wasn't Zim's attack that killed the sneak, but he was the main source of damage. It was the persistent damage from enervation that killed him. I somehow forgot that the sneak had dodged Orbeck's lightning and died immediately after. The bolt did hit Heuberk though.
Due to internet issues, one week had to be skipped, but the story is back on.
After the party patched themselves up, Zim entered the next chamber and attempted to talk to its inhabitants. Kellini was quite shocked by his audacity and attacked alongside Coalgnasher the nightmare. During the fight, Orbeck and Ortzi were sickened by the hellish horse, but expert blind-fighter Zim was able to face off with it with no issue. Gargrun kept on Kellini while the casters took their shots at her. Realizing the battle was lost, Coalgnasher escaped, but that left Zim attack the hag. Coincidentally, the kobold blocked the door, trapping Kellini and killing her as she thrashed and casted in desperation. He claimed his victory was due to the flame drake Orbeck conjured, which had otherwise done nothing. (Orbeck also tried the Rod of Wonder again in this fight and got the exact same result as last time: a useless sleep spell that only annoyed Gargrun and unknowingly alerted Kellini's coven to their presence.)
In the next room, Zim was ambushed by Rusty Mae and Senna. Gargrun managed to slip into the room, but ended up with a lot of damage to his new armor for his trouble before Zim was locked in a cage (blocking the doorway). Mae's shouting in Infernal caught Orbeck's attention, but he initially believed she was calling for Coalgnasher. His attempt to talk to the hags in Infernal, however, drew Haznazak's attention in turn.
After Zim escaped Rusty's cage, Senna trapped Gargrun in one too, but it was less effective. In the end, both hags were KO'd by the dwarf and Haznazak was willing to appear. He questioned what Orbeck wanted and made an offer: he would search for answer to repairing the Lotusgate for 300 gp and the lives of the two hags. This put the party in odd position: a double-feature moral quandary. Should they make a deal with this devil, killing two defenseless individuals for their own gain? They may have killed them in the fight anyway, right? And if they let the hags live, what will they do? Is the party now responsible for whatever the hags do next?
In the end, the party did not make a deal. It was too suspiciously in their favor. Haznazak took his leave and the party was left to deal with the hags. It was around then, the party found the dreamstones; Ortzi took one, Orbeck the other.
When Rusty Mae woke up, Zim questioned her. She told a little about how she and the others had gotten here. When it became clear that the party were not violent, she forced Senna awake and had her fetch Abelstia's corpse (but not Kellini's, the party failed to notice). The duo disguised themselves and traveled through the Dreamgate after the party. They climbed down the cliffside there and left the party behind. Who knows what consequences this may bring?
The party (sans Ortzi, who flew) clambered out of the cave and looked toward a nearby town. It was on fire.
This was an eventful three weeks (or single day for the characters). The party made their way into the burning town and heard a commotion. They approached and Zim attempted to speak to the group they found. Unfortunately, this group were slavers (and a captive) and their leader demanded the party’s surrender. The fight began with the slavers’ pig charging at Gargrun. One of the sneaks attempted to strike Orbeck, but he took to the sky (and managed to avoid taking damage for the entire day), another sneak worked his way around the building to try and attack from another angle, and the third rushed the fighters with the pig and the thug leader. A sneak managed to make Gargrun bleed, angering the boar, but Gargrun knocked out the piggy. The sneaks and thug fell to the typical arrangement of Orbeck’s rocks, Zim’s pointy stick, and a Gargrun KO. The group bagged the pig and tied the surviving sneak up.
During the fight, Orbeck took advantage of his mobility to try and free the captive. This man was Leppin, who informed the group of the situation. They were in Cypress Point in Ravounel and this attack had begun only a few hours ago. He told them of three locations he’d heard the slavers talking about that the party could go to if they intended to help: the smokehouse, the old boathouse, and the slaver’s own ship in the quay. The group decided to go to the smokehouse first, but sent Garry to look at the boathouse. Also, the group now recognized the criminals’ symbol: the Scarlet Triad’s insignia.
Approaching the smokehouse, the party noticed a patrolling dwarf with a pig in the street and a man standing on the roof. Orbeck made Zim invisible and the kobold snuck onto the roof. As he did, he noticed two sneaks lurking in the buildings. He attempted to throw the one-eyed man from the roof, but the brute caught the ledge and Zim fell trying to drag him down. The dwarven thug rushed to the roof to help her boss, One-eye Amnin, climb back up, who then called for his drakes; this also signaled the three sneaks and the boar to attack the kobold. Gargrun rushed in to assist.
Seeing flame drakes, Orbeck summoned his own. It would distract one drake, along with Amnin and the thug, but wouldn’t last long. The thug then rushed into the fray, but Amnin was content to let his crew handle the fight. Despite their intimidating presence, the drakes were fairly inconsequential. The sneaks fared no better: one was slain, one was captured, and one fled. Again, Gargrun would KO a pig. Despite the dwarven fighter being particularly upset with the dwarf thug for being a part of the slavers, she would be felled by Zim stabbing her in the back as she attempted to retreat back toward Amnin, who had begun slowly walking down the stairs. Gargrun still thought that end was fitting.
His crew defeated, Amnin accepted the challenge of fighting four opponents at once, and man, did he almost win. He left Gargrun a bloody mess on the ground, manacled Ortzi, and tripped Zim for a beating too before Zim tripped him and Orbeck smashed his head open with a roof tile. (The wizard also tried to use the Rod of Wonder again during this fight and got a useful Lightning Bolt out of it.) Orbeck tried to free Ortzi, so the oracle could heal Gargrun, but then remembered he had prepared Stabilize anyway. Zim found the key to the manacles on the one-eyed brute.
The group noticed the smokehouse’s door was barricaded and unsure of what awaited them, they took time to heal. Garry was recalled (nothing happened at the boathouse), sent down through the vent in the roof that Zim had noticed earlier, and confirmed the prisoners were okay. Working to clear the doors (from both sides. I’m sorry, it was confusingly written! The villagers barricaded themselves in and then the Triad locked them in), the group met the town elder. She was thankful for their actions and, after a few questions, asked them to check the old boathouse the slavers were planning on using as the base of an arson attack and to free the slaves taken aboard their ship. She also informed them of something she heard the brute say, something about “Sunset Imports”.
The arson attack seemed the most immediate threat to the party, so they took off there next. Garry scouted the interior and detected motion in the ocean. The party breached the storeroom on the side and found the arson tools and a map confirming the Triad’s intention, but no sign of the would-be fire starters. Orbeck had Garry drop a fish from the smokehouse into the water revealing a creature. While Zim debated fighting the creature (which had obviously killed the Triad members), it climbed onto land and made that decision for him. The group surrounded it (except Orbeck who stayed outside) and quickly killed, but while they were doing that, two more surfaced and attacked Zim and Ortzi. Orbeck released an Obscuring Mist to protect the fleeing Ortzi and Gargrun (who was carrying a downed Zim). The group struggled to deal with the fangs the creatures had stuck into them, using their healer’s gloves as a stop-gap as Ortzi worked on removing them. The group decided there was no reason to deal with these creatures as their main goal was accomplished. They would go on to deny any knowledge of them and were healed by the town elder and another cleric back at the smokehouse.
The party still had to deal with the Scarlet Triad’s ship, The Genie’s Smile. Garry again gave the group a view of the situation: three pigs on the dock and a demon with two sailors on the deck. Seeing an overturned boat on the dock, Zim had an idea. They lured one of the pigs toward it and Gargrun lifted it, intent on capturing the boar, but there was a woman already there! Gargrun slammed the boat back onto her and jumped onto it, but she was able to push it up and slip out. The commotion drew the other pigs in, too. The three little pigs would get cooked by Orbeck’s electricity and the sneak was slain by Zim, but the party knew the sailors had heard them; they need a cunning plan. Orbeck was insistent on fire, Zim was opposed.
Zim and Gargrun took the little boat and hid under it, walking up onto the ship while the casters attempted to climb the side of the ship. Orbeck used his any-tool and some rope as a grappling hook and carried Ortzi in fox form on to it.
Bullbutcher (the demon) was amused by the fighters, but ordered the sailors to attack anyway. The warriors threw their boat at one of them and split up. Gargrun rushed the demon (and would be the only party member to get hit the entire fight), while Zim hung back to deal with their boat’s victim. Orbeck summoned another flame drake to distract the other sailor. The first sailor fled almost immediately; he’d been hit with a boat, lit on fire, shot with divine magic, and slashed by a weird weapon and he wasn’t staying around. The other sailor stayed long enough to kill the drake and see Bullbutcher die before she fled. To the demon’s credit, he stabbed the hell out of Gargrun, nearly killing the dwarf, and temporarily enslaved Ortzi’s soul (after failing to do so to the fighters), but he still died to another running gag: Zim cutting people’s legs off while trying to trip them.
While Ortzi healed Gargrun, Orbeck swiped some of the Triad’s treasure, including a magic cape belonging to someone named Sedranni Vashnarstill, but didn't think too hard about that fact. Zim also took a key from the demon and would be the first to descend into the hold, seeing the large number of prisoners and met the slavers. He attempted to talk, but they weren't having it.
One of the slavers died to a series of lucky strikes from the fighters right out of the gate. One of the slavers pinned Ortzi in a corner, locked him with manacles, and was still barely able to hit him. One attempted to lock up Orbeck, but when the elf fled, he managed to slap the cuffs on the kobold instead and trip him too. The terrified prisoners made the encounter a bit harder, but Gargrun took charge in the end. He KO’d one, but he was so angry about what his fellow dwarves had taken to, he tore the remaining two of them apart with his ursine jaws in rapid succession. Bite the guy on Zim, stride, bite the guy on Ortzi, what a beautiful last turn.
As Orbeck again looked for loot (some metal) and Zim unlocked manacles, one of the prisoners both thanked the party and apologized for the captives’ panicked behavior. He offered his old war gear to them and told them were to find it (which they did). They debated on what to do with the ship, but rather than burning it down or taking for themselves, they just ended up leaving it to the village.
Swiftly did the village hold a feast to celebrate their survival and their new heroes! The group was given some money, as well. During this event, one of the men from the smokehouse approached the group; he was a diplomat from Nidal named Halleka Shadeborn. He spoke with the group about why they were both there and, upon realizing their shared destination (due to Orbeck realizing the importance the magic cape he found), asked them to accompany him to Kintargo. The group agreed to set off the following day and gained some information about Ravounel on the way. But first, they found someone to buy the still magical heartstone they took from the hags
before it lost its value.
Also, during the first night on the road, Orbeck realized the Dreamstone he had was cursed. Ortzi’s worked fine though.
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Alesta's Ring isn't next to Guardian's Way - it's just another way to get TO the portals. Page 48 notes that Guardian's Way is "6 miles northwest of [Breachill]", while page 12 notes that the citadel "stands just over a mile northeast of Breachill...." The caves between Guardian's Way and Alesta's Ring are "6-1/2 miles" long as noted on page 54.
Additionally, the Cinderclaws trapped in Alesta's Ring can't climb to be able to get to the Goblinblood Caves, and the ones that are in the citadel above can't go back down the collapsed staircase.
For more info on why the Cinderclaws are separated, take a look at the "What Happened Here?" sidebar on page 22.