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    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
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    Tue Nov 12, 2019 5:51 pm  
    Post 90: The Keep, outside and in

    DM's Note on Sources: This post contains spoilers from module C2: The Ghost Tower of Inverness.
    Numbers in (bold) refer to keyed areas in the module.

    DM's Note: I estimate Highfell to be at about 25.5N Latitude. On 6 November, sunrise should be around 6:37am.


    Post 90: The Keep, outside and in

    6 November, 570. Highfell Keep
    (4am) Long before sunrise the party assembles in a common room, and then proceeds to the stables. All of their gear is packed on a single mule; the other one will be left in the care of the Speaker. Tyrius explains the plan to Eddard in hushed tones while the destrier nods thoughtfully. The Speaker and Sage arrive, both clad in thick leathers and furs against the chill air. The Speaker dismisses the stable hands with a parting word for them to open the postern gate, but to leave it unmanned for a quarter hour, at his command.

    When he is sure there are no other eyes about, the Sage removes from under his robes a thick bronze amulet ornamented with jewels secured in heavy sockets. He whispers to the party that the amulet will return them to the keep when the center stud is pressed. It will work wherever they may be, even if the Ghost Tower itself exists on some other plane. He further warns them that only the persons holding the amulet, and all things touching them, will be returned - so that they will need to cluster together, join hands, or otherwise make sure they are all in contact before activating it. Even unconscious or lifeless bodies may be returned, so if one or more of them should fall in their quest for the Soul Gem, they must needs make sure the bodies are brought along as well - if they plan on reviving them.

    The Speaker hands Willa a folded piece of parchment. She opens it. In the Speaker’s own hand, affixed with his seal at the bottom, it says in the Common script “The bearer is hereby granted title to, and ownership of, any and all treasures (save only one gemstone previously agreed upon) personally removed from the ruins of Castle Inverness and its grounds.”

    The party gathers in a small circle, hands interlocked with one another, or intertwined in the manes of Eddard and the mule. The Sage makes gestures over the amulet, and the gems light up briefly, glowing colors in a rapidly-changing display. “It is set to take you to just outside the ruins, and the return set to my chambers,” he whispers. “Good luck and may all the gods smile upon you." He passes the amulet to Aurora and takes a step back. She presses the center gem.

    There is immediately a sickening feeling of being spun about at great speed in the air with nothing to support them. The dull browns of the pre-dawn stable whirl swiftly in the air about them until they can see only one another, and that with features long and distorted as if reflected in a polished metal urn. The amulet remains in the center, hovering up and down, as if at the center of a whirlpool, while all else revolves about it, the farther away the faster. The mule brays frantically and struggles against the grip of those holding its mane.

    Fortunately the giddy feeling lasts but a few seconds, and then they fall to the ground. The mule bucks and disappears off into the darkness. The scent of pine is about them and the dark sky above.

    (4:30am) The humans and halfling can see little. Those with darkvision relate that they are high on a hilltop, on a wide, sloping trail leading up to the ruins. Below them is a misty forest; above them loom the walls and towers of Inverness. The castle's four towers pierce the dark clouds above, its massive walls anchored deep in the living rock upon which they rest. It must have been potent forces, indeed, that brought this once proud castle to destruction. Far below them and to the south, some eight or ten miles down the valley, faint torchlight from the walls and towers of Highfell Keep, where they were seconds ago, is faintly visible.

    The party dusts themselves off and arranges their gear, while Eddard trots off to speak soothing words to the mule, eventually guiding him back to the group. Together they ascend the wide ramp of ancient stone and earth that leads to the front gate of the castle. The walls are 50' tall and 8' thick, with numerous large crumbling holes piercing them at various places. The four towers are each 150' tall - the tallest structures many of them have seen, outside of Castle Ravenloft. A large, rusty portcullis (1) blocks the 15' wide tunnel-like entrance.

    Thokk strains his massive muscles, but is unable to break through the portcullis without the aid of Willa. In the end, the ancient, rusted bars yield, their agonized screams of being severed echoing about the courtyard within.

    “Thokk not like this place,” muses the half-orc. “Dark magic make Thokk feel weak. Thokk kill this wizard dead.” With one bar broken, the rest prove easier, and Thokk soon has a hole wide enough for even Eddard to enter.

    (5am) Inside it is even darker than without, for the high walls block much of the night sky. The courtyard was once stone flagged, and here and there stone actually pokes through the millennia of dead plants and soil that have built up.

    Willa looks about. “We be wantin’ ter be long gone afore yon knight shows up, but we be wantin’ him ter believe ther Speaker t’at we war ‘ere. Methinks we should set up a false camp.” She adds that with centuries of Highfellers searching the ruins, there has to be an abandoned campfire about. The party splits up, and soon a small ring of trodden vegetation is found, with bare stone and ash in the center. Willa hobbles the mule, lays out some grain on the ground for him, and distributes most of the gear he was carrying among the party. Meanwhile others have found a door (3) in one of the corner towers.

    Leaving the mule at the “campsite,” the party congregates in front of the tower. On the way there, Aurora notes large glyphs and sigils carved into the base of the rock walls. She thinks they translate as symbols of strength and protection, and suggests they are why the walls and towers remain standing a thousand years after the place was built. Thokk spits and makes a sign to ward off magic. “Bahh,” he says, “you read them backwards. Bad writing is draining Thokk’s massive strength. This bad place.”
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    Master Greytalker

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    Tue Nov 19, 2019 11:54 am  
    Post 91: The First Tower (Southwest)

    DM's Note on Sources: This post contains spoilers from module C2: The Ghost Tower of Inverness.
    Numbers in (bold) refer to keyed areas in the module.

    For the "glyphs representing times and stasis", I gave the party copies of the following runes from the Guide to the World of Greyhawk: "Time", "Infinity / Endless", "Lifespan", and "Power".

    Post 91: The First Tower (Southwest)

    6 November, 570. Ruins of Inverness Castle near Highfell

    The symbols found along the courtyard walls also cover the large iron door to the tower. The stone surrounding the door is weather-beaten but solid; it is decorated with ancient scroll work and designs that Aurora believes are decorative, not magical. Barnabus first checks it for traps, then examines the lock, which is set into the very center of the door. The entire lock mechanism is rusted solid, and as such is unpickable. It will have to be forced open. Thokk throws his shoulder against the door, and curses in pain. He batters it a second and third time, his howls of frustration filling the courtyard and likely echoing down the hillside as well. Finally Tyrius pulls him away, and aims a mighty swing of Molly (his magic warhammer) directly at the locking mechanism, punching a hole halfway through to the other side of the rusting iron. With that, Barnabus is able to free the long bolts holding the door in place. Thokk wrenches the door back and out of its frame (though it was made to open in), snapping the failing hinges and tossing it with a great clang and clatter to the weedy courtyard.

    Babshapka asks why the door would be locked - wouldn’t defenders need access to the tower, were the keep under attack? Tyrius explains that it was most likely locked on both sides, inside and out. Castle defense, he continues, is about creating secure “compartments” of resistance. Should the courtyard fall to invaders, defenders could still fire at them from the safety of securely-held towers. Should assailants take one corner tower by an assault from the top of the wall, that would not grant them access to the central keep.

    The tower interior is as black as night, obscure even to those with darkvision. Tyrius calls upon Pelor to light his shield, then holds it in the open doorway. Behind the door is a large, open circular room with a wrought iron spiral staircase in the center of the chamber, leading down. In the far end of the chamber, worked into the wall, is a stairwell leading upward, but clogged with boulders, rubble, and rotting timbers.

    The party files into the tower. Larry pokes and pulls at the stone rubble and fallen wooden beams blocking the stairway up, then shakes his head. He says it is likely that while the outside shell of the tower persists, all of the interior floors above have collapsed and are blocking their way. If the secret access to the ghost tower lies in the upper portion of the tower, it will take them hours, if not a day, to clear the way, and the knight will be upon them by then. They might climb to the top of the walls, and from there up and into the likely hollow tower from above, but any attempt to ascend would furthermore risk collapsing the roof over this floor that is, for the moment, intact, and thus bury their access to the stairs going down.

    “Nay, we be not goin’ up when ther way down be clear,” says Willa. She sets a foot cautiously on the iron stair, then shifts her whole weight to it. It creaks and groans, but holds.

    “Well, I won’t be going down that stair,” says Eddard resolutely. “I wouldn’t trust it to my weight, even if I could make the corners. I will stand here and guard the doorway - you can explore below, confident that I have your backs.”

    “Just so,” replies Tyrius.

    “But none of this makes any sense,” objects Aurora. “The Suel brought ironwork to the Flaneass - the best the Flan had at the time was bronze, and that was not even universal. How could a wizard from an unknown pre-Migration civilization rule townsfolk who made doors and staircases in wrought iron without there being any historical record?”

    The others ignore her academic objections and move onto the staircase, leaving a full circle turn between each one of them to avoid concentrating their weight. The wrought iron staircase spirals down to a stone landing (4) in the center of a circular chamber 60' in diameter, which is dusty and filled with cobwebs. A 20' wide corridor of worked stone leads into the darkness, through a passage cut into the bedrock of the hilltop. Following it, the party turns a corner and finds the way blocked by an ancient wooden door, rotten with time.

    (5:30am) The room beyond the door is caked in a thick layer of dust, with here and there a cobweb-covered rusting iron helm poking through. Other low shapes are piles of rotting leather that could have once been armor or raw hides, so indistinguishable have the ravages of time made them. Another sagging door leads to a hallway beyond, and a smaller room off that has heaps and piles of rotting wood, perhaps the remains of boxes and crates.

    There seems to be nothing of interest at all in these dusty subterranean corridors until Thokk takes a step into the chamber beyond. From beneath him, there is the briefest of flashes from the floor. Aurora calls for everyone to freeze in place, while she moves forward in the marching order. Brushing away the dust from the floor, she finds a thin line etched completely across the hallway, wall to wall, and on the inside of the line carved glyphs representing time and stasis.

    Whatever magical effect that has been triggered is now done, so they proceed into the chamber beyond (7).

    The room is 50' square; its 20' high ceiling has collapsed in two places, leaving rubble, rotten timbers, and two piles of rocks (8' high) beneath the holes. A 10' wide passageway continues north from the opposite wall, visible in the narrow gap between the collapsed sections. As Babshapka slinks into the room to scout the rubble (he being lighter than Thokk), a massive creature climbs into view. It appears to have a leonine body, but is winged and heavily muscled. Whipping its tail over its head, long, wickedly sharp spikes fly forward and impale themselves in Babshapka. The creature then spreads its wings to their full extent, half charges and half glides down the face of the rubble pile, and launches itself at Babshapka with its massive jaws.

    The battle that follows is brief, as the party rushes into the room to confront the creature, and it is soon slain. Searching the piles of rubble afterword, with one eye toward potential ceiling collapse, the party finds curiously little sign of the creature: no scat, no acrid smell of cat urine. They do, however, come upon several skeletons — at least some of them are human — covered with dust. There are also various rusted suits of armor, rusted weapons, rotting pouches, and so forth. One of the skeletons is wearing a suit of chain mail, remarkable for the fact that it is not rusty, but rather it gleams brightly in the light of Tyrius’ shield. In a holey leather pouch are two intact glass vials filled with liquid, an ivory scroll case lies beneath one skeleton, and a flat piece of metal with a circle on one end partially covered by rocks is in one corner. Aurora finds the scroll case to have a piece of thick vellum with the spell rope trick on it, much to her chagrin (having traded some of her own spells for a copy of this from the Sage not yet a day ago).

    The metal piece is a blue-gray flat and rectangular bar six inches long, one inch wide, and a quarter inch thick with a two inch diameter circle on one end. The other end is slightly indented with a curve exactly matching the relief of the circle. The whole thing is smoother than glass but harder than steel. Aurora inspects it carefully, as its shape and size are indicative of a magic wand, but finds no runes or glyphs. She takes the metal rod and the scroll tube. The chain mail is packed away and Willa takes the vials.

    The passageway beyond the partially-collapsed room is immediately noted to be much cleaner than that which preceded. There is dust on the floor, to be sure, but it is a thin layer, and the few cobwebs are in the corners, not crossing the hall. Less obvious, but still noted by Larry, is that there is a slight uphill slant to the passage. It is barely perceptible as they walk, but one of Barnabus’ marbles let loose on the floor rolls smoothly back to the rubble room.

    (6am) After a number of twists and turns, they come upon another door - this one with the wood intact (not that that saves it from Thokk’s massive booted foot). After he kicks in the door with a great crash, they search the small room beyond, but find only a few empty pegs in the walls.

    After two more bends and twists they arrive at not a side door, but one which bars their way. Thokk opens the door and barely has time to catch a glimpse of the room beyond before a massive boulder, nine feet across and perfectly round, comes hurtling toward them from a steep ramp in the center of the room.

    Those in the second rank see Babshapka and Thokk attempt to leap into the room before they themselves turn and dash down the hall, there being no time to enter the room before the stone is upon them. There is the sound of a sickening crunch, and then the boulder is after them, rumbling and crashing as it strikes the stone walls. They lose time turning the corners, but so does the boulder, so that when they reach the first side room, most of them are able to enter. Larry is last and but a step ahead of the boulder. He attempts to leap through the doorway, but his rear foot is caught underneath the stone and then his whole body jerked back. Those in the room see him disappear beneath the great boulder, sparks flying as it grazes the wall.

    The rumbling, roaring sound diminishes in the distance, and they move back out into the hall. Larry’s body lies in a rapidly-expanding pool of blood, crushed and broken except for one arm, with the hand reaching through the door frame into the safety of the room. They check him quickly, but the back of his head has been caved in and he is long gone.

    Returning to the room from which the boulder came, they find an ill-looking Babshapka kneeling beside the body of Thokk. Thokk is sitting on the floor, his back to the door frame, legs crushed, rib cage stove in, and no light in his open eyes.

    “Tyrius, do something!” pleads Aurora, but the paladin shakes his head.

    “He is far beyond my meager powers,” the paladin says, but he kneels and places his hand on the half-orc’s chest notwithstanding. Tyrius closes his eyes and whispers a prayer to Pelor. [DM's note: One point of “lay on hands” used] At the gentle pressure of Tyrius' hand, the jagged edge of a splintered rib erupts through the pale green skin.

    Thokk inhales sharply, his smashed chest quivering. “Metal-man leave Thokk alone!” he commands. “Thokk is dead, smashed by stone while bravely leading party.”

    “Uhhh, Thokk? I don’t think you are dead, dear,” argues Aurora.

    “No, no. Thokk very dead. Stone crush life from Thokk’s massive limbs,” the half-orc insists. “Such was tragic demise of Thokk,” he sniffs sadly. Tyrius helps him to his feet nonetheless. As he stands, his form seems to shimmer and his mortal wounds fade away, until he is just Thokk, standing before them unharmed (except for the scratches he suffered from the creature in the rubble room).

    “An illusion?” gasps Aurora, then turns and dashes down the hall to Larry. Sufficient slapping and shaking of the crushed corpse of the dwarf dispels that illusion as well, and soon Larry is standing in the hall as if nothing had happened, the erstwhile blood-slick floor now just dusty stone again.

    After a few hearty but nervous laughs, the party assembles in the room with the ramp (8). When the last one through the door allows it to close behind them, a second boulder appears poised at the top of the ramp! The party carefully moves to the sides of the room and out the opposite door. Intrigued, Aurora is the last one to leave, and uses her mage hand to open the first door again. Instantly the boulder shoots down the ramp and through the open door. She can hear it crash against the walls, feel the tremors in the floor. It must be a powerful illusion indeed to covey sight, sound, and sensation! When she closes the door, a third boulder appears atop the ramp.

    (6:30am) Down a short hallway and around a turn, the party faces a curious sight. The 20' wide corridor ends in a gleaming wall (14) of blue-gray metal, smooth enough to reflect their forms as they approach. In the center of the wall, at about waist height, is a semi-square channel cut into the surface of the metal, eight inches on a side, one inch wide, and about one inch deep. There is a circular shape at each corner of the square.

    Aurora takes out the metal rod - it is a perfect fit, with the round end fitting into the corner circles of the cut channel, but nothing happens when she places it so. Not giving up so soon, she tries all four, no eight, possible arrangements. Each of them fits perfectly, like a lock and key, but to no effect. Then Babshapka tells her to flip the thing over, and she tries another eight combinations, but to no avail. Finally, she sighs. “This must be the key…” she muses. “Or maybe part of the key? Shall we try the other towers?”

    “Hold a minute,” orders Tyrius. He carefully examines the great metal wall. There are no hinges, and the edges are flush with the stone all the way around, with less than a hair’s breadth gap. He raps at it, pushes it. Finally he shrugs and the party starts back.

    (6:40am) Eddard greets the party at the top of the iron staircase. The rosy light of dawn fills the courtyard, though the sun has not cleared the high hills around them yet. It soon will. They can now see clearly all four towers of the castle, as well as a huge pile of collapsed stone in the center of the courtyard. Fully twenty feet high in the center, it consists of old but worked stones which range in size from pebbles to boulders six feet across.

    Now that the entire courtyard is visible, as well as the trail leading from the valley below up to the ruins, the party suggests that Eddard stand watch at the gatehouse. They are less concerned about anything sneaking up behind them in the tunnels, and more concerned about the arrival of the knight. The steed agrees amiably, but asks Tyrius to remove his stall blanket first, now that day is almost upon them and he will be in the sun.
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    Last edited by Kirt on Tue Nov 26, 2019 4:16 pm; edited 1 time in total
    GreySage

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    Fri Nov 22, 2019 7:11 pm  

    It has been an interesting start to the adventure in the Ghost Tower. I was terribly disappointed that Larry died, but Thokk is always a hoot. 😉😋

    SirXaris
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    Master Greytalker

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    Sun Nov 24, 2019 1:21 pm  

    SirXaris wrote:
    I was terribly disappointed that Larry died, but Thokk is always a hoot.

    Fortunately, the reports of Larry's death were greatly exaggerated.
    _________________
    My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Mp7Ikko8SI
    Master Greytalker

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    Tue Nov 26, 2019 4:27 pm  
    Post 92: The Second Tower (Southeast)

    DM's Note on Sources: This post contains spoilers from module C2: The Ghost Tower of Inverness.

    Numbers in (bold) refer to keyed areas in the module.

    Post 92: The Second Tower (Southeast)

    6 November, 570. Ruins of Inverness Castle, Highfell
    With Eddard standing watch, the party moves to the corner tower in the southeast. The same carven glyphs, the same rusted iron door are present. Thokk alone is insufficient to batter it down, but between him, Tyrius, and Willa it yields. The sounds they make are far less foreboding set against the backdrop of the dawn chorus of mountain birds than they were in the blackness of night.

    Inside, the round tower is nearly identical to the previous one - an iron spiral stair is unobstructed and leads downward into darkness, but the stone stair up is blocked by a different assortment of fallen rock and rotting wood. Without bothering to test the rubble the party heads down.

    This time, the underground base of the tower (4) yields to a long west-running passageway cut through the bedrock, as dusty and cobwebby as before. A single room to the side is empty but for a single copper piece.

    (7:20 am) When the party turns a corner, a large room is visible ahead through an open doorway. They already suspect that the magic runes on the floor in the other tower triggered some sort of temporal effect, releasing the winged lion creature from stasis. Under Aurora’s direction, Thokk waves his shield vigorously over the floor until the whole passageway is filled with clouds of dust, but the floor is visible. No runes are to be seen, so the party enters. Dust-covered and rusted shields line both walls, some flat on the floor and some propped against the walls. Rotten spear shafts and rusted spear heads are strewn about near the walls. Cleaning a few of the shields, the party finds them embossed with the prominent design of a single tower.

    Larry looks at the tower design for an inordinate amount of time - it is rare for the party to see him this deep in thought. Finally, he declares that the keyed room, the room they are seeking to enter, must be under the center of the courtyard - beneath whatever structure is collapsed there. When Willa asks him how he can know this, he takes her two maps, overlays them so that the towers above match the towers below, and presses them against Tyrius’ shield, so that the light shines faintly through the superimposed images. Indeed, if the scale is correct, the room they are seeking to access appears to be in the center of the courtyard.

    [DM's Note: Larry gains an Inspiration point]

    (7:30am) With nothing else of interest in the open chamber, the party moves into the corridor beyond. It travels north, turns a corner, and ends in an intact wooden door. A rotting wood door is along a side wall.

    (7:40am) The side room is empty, save for a single ceramic urn. Aurora uses mage hand to lift the lid, creating a minor cloud of dust and a soft whooshing noise as the seal is broken. The urn is empty inside, but around the bottom of the interior are salt stains. Babshapka suggests dropping the copper coin inside, but before that can happen Thokk lifts the urn up to inspect it, and the vessel crumbles into shards at the pressure of his hands.

    The presence of an intact door which blocks their advance clues the party that they may be transitioning to the “timeless” part of the ruins, and a quick search of the floor in front of it finds a similar line with glyphs as was outside the rubble room with the winged lion. The symbols, as before, are those of time and stasis. These glow briefly as the first party member crosses over.

    Now warned to possible danger, Thokk enters the room. As he crosses the threshold, an entire ten foot square section of the floor under him flashes, and there is a sizzling sound as a giant snake appears — out of thin air! — blocking the opposite door. It slides quickly over the stone floor and attacks Thokk. Venom drips from its huge fangs, but Thokk keeps his shield between himself and the serpent. As he maneuvers, however, he steps to the left of the door he entered and a different ten foot square section of floor lights up. This time a giant lizard appears in the room, attacking Thokk from behind. As Tyrius, Willa, and Barnabus enter the room more monsters appear - a giant spider, a strange giant armadillo-like creature with feathered antennae, and a hound of hell like those they fought before in the crypts of Ravenloft. The party dispatches these creatures almost as fast as they appear, although the fiery breath of the hellhound roasts Aurora’s familiar, Buckbeak the hawk.

    The final creature to appear is a curious large dog with cloven hooves instead of paws. Rather than attack, this fixes Thokk with its gaze, and the half-orc becomes convinced he needs to subdue the creature as his mount.

    “Don’t hurt dog! Dog is mine!” he bellows at the party. Ignoring him, Aurora sends a massive firebolt at the creature, burning it to death. Enraged, Thokk turns and charges at her, knocking her back against the wall of the hallway with a blow from his axe. Only Larry saves her from a fatal follow-up blow, as he throws himself at Thokk, taking his legs out from under him. By the time Thokk regains his feet he has come to his senses and leaves off his attack.

    At this point, floor squares in the room (5) continue to light up when the party crosses them, but no further monsters appear.

    (7:50am) After the monster-generating room, the hallway turns three times and ends in another door, but with a side door on the way. Both of the next two rooms are searched, but found to be empty.

    (8:10am) Beyond the second empty room is a short corridor opening upon the largest chamber they have found yet. Approaching cautiously, they find that glyphs have been etched completely around the door frame, rather than the ground in front of it. Peering inside, they see that the 90' x 90' room (6) has a 20' high ceiling; there is a 10' wide passage in the center of the west wall. Spread throughout the room are 16 bugbears without weapons, standing perfectly still; however, they do not appear to be statues, but live and hairy, albeit frozen. In the center of the north wall is a 10' long, 5' wide, 5' tall stone sarcophagus engraved with lettering.

    With one eye on the bugbears, the party discusses plans in the hallway. Aurora calculates the volume of a fireball in her head, and concludes that while it will be compressed by the ceiling and spread out further on the sides, its diameter will not fill the room or imperil blow-back into the hallway. Babshapka checks the ceiling of the room, and finding it to be carved from bedrock but not supported by timbers, agrees to the use of fireball. With the fighters blocking off the hall, the plan is to activate the bugbears, get them to bunch together, and then have Aurora cast her spell.

    Willa enters the room, and immediately four of the brutes turn and move toward her. She pulls back behind the threshold, and another four join their comrades. Aurora waits until they are clustered together as they gather at the doorway, then launches her fiery missile, detonating it about a third of the way across the room. Six of the moving bugbears go down, another two are shambling forward but still in flames. The force of the blast has not damaged any of the stationary ones, but it does seem to have activated several more. Feeling that the number left is now manageable, the party enters the room and engages in a general melee, not taking long to kill the ones remaining.

    The party gathers around the sarcophagus. The letters are unintelligible to anyone - not even their language of origin is recognized. Aurora begins a ritual casting of read languages while Thokk and Willa between them manage to lift off the heavy lid and carefully set it aside. There is no coffin inside - instead, the bottom of the sarcophagus holds hundreds of copper coins. Stirring them around with a pole brings several silver coins up to the surface. All of the coins are heaped to one side of the sarcophagus, and then pulled to the other side one at a time. The copper is left there, the silver pieces are pulled out and collected, more than a hundred all told. Along the way four gems are found as well as another bar of metal - this one identical to the first except for the fact that it is glowing!

    [DM’s Note: 600cp, 200sp, 4 gems, key. No coins taken. 4 gems taken by Tyrius]

    Aurora is still working on her ritual, but Babshapka fishes through her gear until the first bar is found, and finds now it, too, is glowing. As he holds both of them in his hands he feels an attraction between them, as a lodestone is attracted to metal, but stronger. He brings them together, ball-end to curved end, and there is a bright blue flash. When he can see again he finds that they are no longer glowing, but have fused together in a perfect right angle and such that no joining line is visible - they have become a single piece.

    Soon after this Aurora finishes her spell - she deciphers the lettering as saying: “Beware the death that will someday end."

    (8:30am) Leaving the great chamber, the party passes through a smaller chamber, then down a hall. After a brief search of a side room, they continue on until arriving at another metal wall. This one has the same four-sided indentation they take to be the lock. They try their new key eight different ways, to no effect. At this point they are tired and wounded enough to consider a rest. “I ain’t restin’ down ‘ere,” says Willa, “but up in ther open air.”

    Tyrius pauses and clears his thoughts, reaches out to find the mind of Eddard. The horse tells him that, “Well, the sun is up. The mule is thirsty. But I haven’t seen the knight.”

    (9am) The party congregates in the courtyard, just inside the gatehouse. Many wash and then bind their wounds. Some rest. Willa sees that the mule is watered. Aurora unpacks her brazier and begins casting the hour-long spell she will need to summon another familiar.

    Babshapka stands for a long time looking out of the gatehouse, down the valley. He can see Highfell Keep on its bluff, and the fields around it, but most of the way between there and here is obscured, behind ridges or on the pine-covered slopes. Without seeing the knight’s party actually leave the keep, they could be well on their way here and not visible until they were quite nearby.
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    My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Mp7Ikko8SI
    Master Greytalker

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    Tue Dec 03, 2019 11:16 am  
    Post 93: The Third Tower (Northwest)

    DM's Note on Sources: This post contains spoilers from module C2: The Ghost Tower of Inverness.

    Numbers in (bold) refer to keyed areas in the module.

    Post 93: The Third Tower (Northwest)

    6 November, 570. Ruins of Inverness Castle

    (10:30am) The party, now including Charlotte the spider, forces entry to the third corner tower. Like the previous two, its upper stories have collapsed into rubble, but the way down an iron stairway is clear.

    The landing at the bottom (4) is as dusty and cobweb-filled as those previous, and opens onto a wide corridor leading to a door. The door itself is in good condition, and a brief inspection finds the telltale glyphs of time and stasis just outside.

    The room beyond (9) is 30' square, with the ceiling 10' high; a door is in the center of the opposite wall. In the center of the room is a three foot tall crystal pedestal with an eight foot diameter crystal ball on top of it. There are engravings on the pedestal.

    (10:40am) Entering the room, Aurora finds the engravings to be in the Suelese script. They are pronounceable, but not words that she actually recognizes. Moving around the sphere, she finds the same four words engraved on each of the pedestal’s four sides. Babshapka is close behind her, and he notes movement within the ball. Upon examining it more closely, he sees that there are four different (but unidentifiable) shapes moving around inside the crystal ball.

    Others move into the room and read the words to themselves. Babshapka is the first to note that the words appear to each person to be in their own language, for he sees the engraving to be in elven. Thokk and Larry, both illiterate, just see incomprehensible symbols.

    In each language, the words are pronounced:

    IXAM
    ALRASTIL
    PENTUKO
    MYRG

    All of the party are in the room when Babshapka, deliberately testing an idea, asks the others, “Do you see the first word as Ixam?”

    At his pronunciation of the word, the floating figures in the sphere suddenly change direction, then there is a flash in the room itself and a huge, muscular ape with great canines appears. For several moments no one does anything, as Aurora gestures everyone to stand down, hoping that the creature might be friendly. Once its summoning daze has worn off, however, the brute bellows and charges, and the party is forced to put it down.

    As the ape lies dying, there is another flash from the sphere, and though the party crowds around, they still see only four shapes within - and the body of the ape is gone. A more careful inspection follows - the party notes that when they touch the sphere, the shapes moving within react by changing direction - not toward or away from the touch, necessarily, but they change the course of their drift, to be sure.

    Barnabus tries the door on the south wall. Though it appears to be a normal wooden door, he cannot open it, either through force or his tools. It appears impervious to anything he does to it. The crystal appears equally immovable from its position atop the pedestal.

    Babshapka and Larry peer intently into the sphere, and Babshapka says “Ixam” again. Ignoring the fight with the ape that appears, this time he confirms that when the creature appears, one of the floating shapes disappears from the globe, but when it is slain, the floating figure appears again.

    This is all well and mysterious, but many in the party now remember the knight and their need to move beyond the door. A few ideas are suggested, until Babshapka says, “Well, what about the second name? “Al-”

    “Don’t!” shouts Aurora.

    “-rastil,” finishes Babshapka. Into the room now appears an improbably large toad, larger than a war dog. It is dead white, with undertones of pale blue. This time, the party does not hesitate in attacking, but even as they rush forward, those in the front rank are hit by a wave of bitter cold.

    Though they had all emerged unscathed from the fights with the apes, by the end of this fight, several of them are now nursing wounds from frostbitten skin. The door is tried again, but still there is no way past, and still four shapes float within the crystal.

    “And if we say all four words?” asks Babshapka.

    “DON’T!” shouts Aurora immediately. And then, seeing that Babshapka is not going on, and realizing that she has no better ideas, continues, “At least until we are all ready.”

    The party arranges themselves around the room, spread out and covering all areas. Babshapka and Larry are still at the sphere, watching the figures. When everyone nods their agreement, Aurora gives assent to Babshapka, and he says all four words in rapid succession.

    In addition to the ape and toad, this time there appear both a minotaur with a great axe, and an owlbear, with three of the creatures in one corner of the room, near Babshapka.

    At the time all four creatures appear in the room, the figures in the crystal all disappear, and almost immediately the crystal begins to shrink - decreasing in size until it is less than a foot across and is rolling around in the curved depression at the top of the pedestal. Larry jumps up, grabs the ball, and attempts to smash it by hurtling it to the floor, but it bounces across the stone and rolls off.

    This fight is considerably more bloody than the previous ones. The ice toad’s cold affects several in the party, but fortunately seems to wound the other monsters as well. Willa takes two massive blows from the Minotaur’s axe. Her plate protects her from being cut in two, but she lies battered and unconscious on the floor. Larry uses his thorn whip to pull the owlbear to Tyrius, but when the creature dies it collapses on top of the paladin, pinning him to the floor. Eventually the party wins out, with the minotaur taking a truly massive amount of damage before it collapses. This time, all four bodies of the slain monsters remain in the room. When Tyrius is pulled out from under the owlbear, he is able to revive Willa, but many in the party remain wounded.

    Aurora recovers the crystal ball and places it carefully within her backpack. When Barnabus tries the door, he finds it now opens easily.

    (11:20am) The party makes their way into the hall, which has only a thin layer of dust on the floor and minimal cobwebs. There is a long corridor continuing south, with several doors leading off of it. Aurora reminds them again of the need to move quickly, before the knight and his forces arrive. She suggests they proceed to the end of the tunnel, and then work backwards if they do not find the key in the last room.

    Willa and Tyrius, however, insist on being more cautious, and not leaving anything behind them. When Thokk opens the first door and finds only an empty chamber with no exit, Willa and Tyrius enter to search more carefully while the rest of the party pushes ahead.

    (11:30 am) The main party continues down the hall, pausing only to verify that the next two rooms appear empty, before turning the corner into a larger chamber.

    (11:40am) Tyrius and Willa move down the hall toward the rest of the party, standing at the threshold of the open room. The room (10) is 30' x 50', the ceiling 20' high; a 10' wide passage continues from the center of the south wall. Four irregularly-shaped tunnels open into the room in the northeast, north, northwest, and southeast walls; each is roughly cut out of the rock and about eight feet tall. Between two tunnels, in the northwest corner of the room, is a large chest of iron, secured with a lock.

    Aurora sends Charlotte into the room. The spider crosses the floor, passes by the chest, and enters the tunnel to the north. The tunnel is huge to the spider, and it takes her some time to reach the back, which finally appears to dead-end. She does not see or feel anything about.

    By this point, the arrival of Tyrius in the corridor behind them (and with him his lighted shield) has brought a dim, shadowy light to the room - enough that Barnabus dares enter. He crosses the floor, and then begins to examine the chest from behind. At this point Charlotte and Larry feel through the floor the arrival of something large - most of them hear rocks falling and stone shifting in the tunnel to the south.

    Still hesitating in the open doorway, the party pushes themselves against the walls and attempts to hide as a creature emerges from the south tunnel and crosses the room. The creature is huge and bipedal, but with beetle-like mandibles and four eyes - two on the sides, and two on the front of its head. These eyes produce a faint red glow in the dim light.

    When the creature is in the center of the room, it turns to look upon the corridor. It obviously sees the party, but does not immediately react - rather, it turns to face them squarely, its two front eyes blinking in the light of Tyrius’ shield. Aurora, now returned from merging her consciousness with Charlotte, again urges the party to stand down and see what the creature wants.

    As it stands there, though, those in the front rank begin to see the front eyes glowing with a multitude of colors - not only reds, but purples and blues as well. Soon Thokk is staring at it slack-jawed, until his grip relaxes and his sword clatters to his feet. Only then do they realize that the creature is using some sort of gaze attack on them. At that point, they enter combat, but many of them are already transfixed, or worse, wandering off or even attacking one another. Larry casts a moonbeam, which does affect the creature, but also those trying to melee with it. By the time the creature is finally slain, Thokk and Tyrius are in a bad state and several others in the party have been wounded as well. They all agree that they cannot proceed much further.

    (11:50am) The lock on the chest is in good repair, and Barnabus soon has it open. The chest is filled with coins - hundreds each of gold and silver pieces. Dumping them all out, a third key is soon found, and, when brought in contact with the others, it fuses itself to make a three-sided piece.

    [DM Note: total 400sp and 700gp. Barnabus takes all gold coins, party leaves the silver]

    Tyrius has been speaking with Eddard telepathically, and when the party is ready to move he tells them that his steed has spotted the knight and all his entourage. They are more than an hour away, by the horse’s estimation, but they are on the road to the ruins and closing.

    The party agrees to quickly check the rest of this passageway and then return to the courtyard. The exit to the south turns a corner and then passes through an empty room.

    Not pausing to search any more than just checking for obvious signs of traps, they continue on. What follows is a long corridor which finally turns and ends in the reflective metal wall (14) they know well, complete with the four-sided “keyhole”. Aurora quickly works the key through its eight possible combinations, then they return briskly through the hallways and up into the courtyard.

    (12:10 pm) The noon-day sun beats down on them and the courtyard is abuzz with insects. Joining Eddard at the southern gate, they can indeed see the knight and his force coming up the road towards them, though still miles off. Their shining mail glints in the sun and their tabards stand out against the dull green of the pine trees. They are going at the walking speed of the infantrymen, thankfully.

    In a rapid conversation, they all agree that they need to rest before they are capable of facing either the last tower or the knight, but that they will not have enough time to rest before the knight arrives. They do have Aurora’s rope trick - but where to use it? It is quickly agreed that they will enter the last tower, but take every precaution to make it look like they have not entered, and use the rope trick once inside. With luck, the knight will waste time searching the three towers that have had their doors forcibly removed, allowing them to complete their rest and hopefully stay ahead of their pursuers on their way to finding the last key.
    _________________
    My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Mp7Ikko8SI
    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
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    Tue Dec 10, 2019 2:54 pm  
    Post 94: The Fourth Tower (Northeast)

    DM's Note on Sources: This post contains spoilers from module C2: The Ghost Tower of Inverness.

    Numbers in (bold) refer to keyed areas in the module.

    Post 94: The Fourth Tower (Northeast)

    6 November, 570. Ruins of Inverness Castle

    Walking single file, Tyrius and Barnabus approach the last tower door. With the halfling’s guidance, the paladin manages to break the lock without harming the door or its hinges, and get the heavy iron portal open. One at a time, the party crosses the grassy courtyard and enters the final tower. The last to cross is Larry, who sweeps the area for tracks, obscuring footprints and bending back any trampled patches of grass. As the party proceeds down the iron staircase, Larry throws handfuls of pebbles from the collapsed stairs above across their passage, then uses his shield to whip up a great cloud of dust that will settle to the floor and cover the signs of their passing. Babshapka, before descending the stairs, casts alarm on the door.

    (12:30 pm) From the base of the tower (4), they proceed into the first abandoned room they find.

    Aurora begins a ritual casting of identify on the crystal ball she recovered, while Larry tends to the others’ wounds, including casting a cure light wounds spell. The party readies themselves for a short rest. At a certain point in her ritual, Aurora has to crush a pearl - the last 100gp pearl she had purchased (with party money) in Seaton. “Well, that’s a waste,” mumbles Barnabus. At the end of her spell, Aurora learns that she can use the crystal ball to cast a scrying spell - a spell more powerful than she could normally cast, even if she knew it! This will be very useful for keeping track of the knight - but first she needs to attune with the crystal ball, and that will take an hour.

    (12:40pm) Aurora casts her sending spell (learned from the Sage) for the first time, attempting to contact her mentor in Ulek. She must speak the words of the sending aloud, so all present hear her plainly say: “Found Chronicle of Secret Times - Strahd Zarovich. Book seized by Keoish forces. Conspiracy? Malhel not fled. Summoned evil in Dreadwood - Valadis. Self-destroyed. Fled to Yeomanry.” She seems to be waiting for a response, and a moment later, her face registers that she is hearing it - but it is only audible to her.

    Aurora’s lips move silently as she repeats the message to herself several times to memorize it. Then, she produces the scroll tube recovered from the manticore lair, unrolls the parchment, and reads the spell of rope trick.

    As Aurora chants the symbols on the ancient sheet of parchment, the ink figures liberate themselves from the page, one by one. Floating through the air, they arrange themselves in a vertical column in front of her, each one hovering an inch above the last as they build upward. When she says the last word on the page, the parchment turns to powder in her hands, while the last symbol flies to the top of the column. A second after it lands in place, the vertically floating symbols turn themselves into a normal looking hempen rope. Normal looking, that is, aside from the fact that it is floating in air, the bottom at Aurora’s waist and the top about a foot from the ceiling of the chamber.

    The rest of the party looks at it dubiously until Willa shrugs and grasps it in her gauntleted hands. As she pulls on it it stretches taut, as if tied off to something at the top. Willa shimmies up the rope and it bears her full weight plus armor. When she gets to the top, the others gasp - as soon as her head clears the top of the rope it disappears, as if it were going behind a screen, but it cannot be seen from any angle. Willa lowers herself and looks about curiously, then pulls herself up so that her head disappears again, followed by the rest of her body.

    One by one the other party members follow. What they experience is like passing through a trapdoor into some sort of attic chamber. The space at the top of the rope trick is bare and cylindrical, with gray walls and a ceiling made from a soft, resilient material of some sort, like a woven fiber basket. The portal to the space is a three foot diameter round hole in the center of the room, and those standing above it can see perfectly well down into the room they climbed out of, as if through a clear window. Sounds from “outside”, however, seem to be muffled.

    When Tyrius ascends he suddenly realizes that while inside the space, he cannot contact Eddard, but sticking his head down through the hole is enough to reestablish contact. The horse tells him, by the by, that the knight’s host is approaching up the trail to the keep, and is less than a mile off - he will need to leave the keep soon to avoid being seen.

    When Babshapka enters, he finds that he has lost his mental contact with his alarm spell, but that he can also find it again merely by sticking his head out the hole.

    Aurora is the last one up, and she pulls the rope up after her, so that anyone entering the room itself will see nothing amiss.

    Inside, the space is cramped - there is room for eight people standing or squatting, but there are six and a half of them (with Barnabus as the half), so only a few of them at a time can sit with their legs out or lie down completely. Willa makes sure that at least one of them with darkvision is always near the entrance hole. Still, they can remove their helms, set down their shields, drink from their skins, and otherwise relax - the mat-like floor is softer and warmer than cold stone. They pass an hour in short rest [and most of them spend all the hit dice they have remaining to heal].

    (1:45pm) The space inside the rope trick is lit with a suffuse, wan light, but after an hour it begins to dim and brighten in rapid succession. Aurora takes this as the signal to leave, and they all lower themselves quickly down the rope. Babshapka leaves behind a single coin. A few seconds after they all are out, the rope disappears, and a half-second after that the coin seems to fall from nowhere to the floor.

    They have barely had time to re-adjust their packs after the climb down when Babshapka hears the mental “ping” of his alarm spell, at the same time Larry holds his hand up for silence, then whispers that the metal door of the tower above has been opened. Tyrius checks in with Eddard, and the steed says that he went to the back of the keep, but there was no way off of the steep hilltop, so he had to come back around to the front again. Here and there at breaches in the wall he could see that the courtyard was swarming with the forces of the knight. Soldiers guarded the front gatehouse but he was able to slip unseen, he thinks, into the forest nearby, and is even now hidden, watching the main gate.

    Thokk proceeds to the inner door of the room, ignoring the glyphs that flash as he reaches for the handle. The party moves quickly into the room beyond. Larry gestures at the obvious tracks they are leaving in the dust of the room, but Willa shakes her head. There is no time. This next room (11) is smaller than the last. It is only faintly dusty, conforming to the expectations of the party after the last three towers - the roof timbers don’t sag and there are few cobwebs about. There is a single wooden door in good condition on the wall to the right. In front of them is a curious sight - the entire twenty-foot section of wall, from floor to ceiling, is a curtain of beads. Thokk has seen bead curtains before in a house of ill-repute in Seaton, so this does not surprise him. Rather, he is confused that he cannot see through the beads into the area beyond.

    The party closes the door carefully behind them, not knowing when the knight will be upon them. Willa gestures Thokk at the door on the left while she and Aurora examine the curtain. Unsupervised, Thokk grunts and brings his heavy boot up and into the door, splintering the wood around the latch and bursting it open. Beyond appears to be an identical chamber, but without the curtain.

    “Nay, Thokk, careful-like!” hisses Willa, as she hustles the half-orc into the next room. The dust is faint on the floor, but they are leaving tracks. Thokk opens the next door using the door handle, and finds a third identical room. “We hain’t time fer mazes” mutters Willa.

    Meanwhile, Aurora and Barnabus are examining the curtain - realizing that it is not beads that it is hung with, but gemstones. Barnabus estimates that the curtain itself contains more wealth than the party has obtained since they began their adventuring career. He reaches forth his hand and Aurora immediately steps back. He tries to grasp a single gem but finds he cannot get his fingers around it, for the strands to either side refuse to give way as if they were frozen in place.

    By this point Tyrius comes over to inspect the curtain. He pushes on it with all of his force, but only gets it to move slightly, as if each cord holding the gems weighed hundreds of pounds.

    Willa speeds up their search of the side rooms by not looking beyond an initial glance, then heading to the door and opening it. The room beyond is the same, identical and equally empty. She is beginning to suspect an illusion, or a magic mirror trap of infinite rooms, but the next room has the door on another wall, and the room after that is a dead end. “Waste o’ time” she curses, and returns quickly to the beaded room.

    Upon their arrival, they find most of the party straining at the curtain, pushing or grasping. Larry has his ear pressed up against the opposite door, trying to determine if the forces of the knight are approaching. He hears sounds of boots on stone, but does not think they have entered the erstwhile rope trick room yet. When he whispers this to Willa, she hisses at the party that they need to speed things up.

    Thokk knows that to move something really heavy; you have to use your weight, not just your muscles (massive though they may be). He lines himself up on the opposite side of the room and charges the curtain, slamming himself into it. The bead strings part and he manages to break through, though he is immediately lost to the sight of the others.

    On the other side of the curtain, Thokk stumbles down the hall, but does not fall. He is immediately surrounded by six gnolls - large, hairy, hyena-like humanoids. He knows an individual gnoll is superior to an individual orc in combat, but he also knows that a half-dozen gnolls are no match for Thokk, slayer of demons! He readies his sword, but the ones in front of him keep him busy while the ones behind him strike - in seconds he has been wounded by four different spears. Thokk gives a great bellow of pain, frustration, and rage.

    On the other side of the curtain, most of the party hears Thokk’s muted cry. “C’mon, people!” hisses Willa, straining at the curtain. Aurora and Barnabus are trying to find patterns and sequences in the gem colors, something that will allow them to bypass it. With a mighty heave, Tyrius manages to part the curtain and stumble through into the hallway beyond. By the light of his shield, he and Thokk can now see to the end of the hall, some eighty feet distant (12).

    An enraged Thokk, and Tyrius, are now giving battle to the gnolls, and a few moments later Willa forces the curtain and is able to join them. This leaves Aurora, Larry, Barnabus, and Babshapka still on the other side, each trying ineffectually to open it - Babshapka pushing but simply not strong enough, Larry striking with his thorn whip, Barnabus and Aurora still trying to deduce a pattern to the colors.

    They can hear, faintly, sounds of battle - Thokk’s enraged cries, the curses of Willa, the curious barking laughter of the gnolls. “We have to rush it!” says Aurora. Larry charges the curtain, shield in front of him, but succeeds only in hitting himself in the face with the back of his shield from the recoil.

    “No, all together!” insists Aurora. “Linking arms - none of us is strong enough by ourselves!” Larry reluctantly agrees. With Barnabus in front, they make a wedge formation, Larry and Babshapka with their arms around his waist to drive him forward, Aurora pushing his back. The four of them run across the room and plow into the curtain - then bounce off and land in a heap on the floor. The strangled cry of someone mortally wounded - Thokk or a gnoll? - comes from the other side of the curtain.

    “Again!” shouts Aurora. The others shake their heads incredulously but line up again in formation. This time Larry and Babshapka lift Barnabus off the ground, hold him horizontal with his arms outstretched in front of his head, and charge with him in front of them like a battering ram. Finally, the curtain parts for them, and though they land on the ground in a heap again, this time it is on the far side. Tyrius has just dealt a killing blow of his hammer to the last gnoll standing.

    As they dust themselves off, Willa counts heads, satisfied that all of them are now through. “I reckon yon curtain will keep ther knight’s men out fer a fair patch.” She leads them at a leisurely pace to the end of the hall (12), where the wall is lined with five cubicles. Each has a human-shaped indentation in it, surrounded by scrollwork and other ancient carvings. Close inspection reveals that they are designed to accommodate people's’ backs, so that it appears that one steps into the indentation backwards. After a bit of mental wrangling, the five largest people in the party agree to step into the indentations, though some face forward and some back.

    As soon as they are all in position, metal bands spring out from the sides of the indentations and quickly pin their wrists and ankles. The stone cubicles pivot, and with a slight grinding of stone on stone, they recede down tunnels beyond the wall. After a second, five new cubicles appear in their place. Barnabus and Larry, the only ones remaining, regard them warily.

    Meanwhile, those locked in the cubicles feel themselves moving rapidly through the stone tunnels. They emerge in a huge, square room (13). The metal bands disappear into the stone, and they stumble forward (or in some cases, backward) onto the floor, which is a parquet of large square tiles, each about five feet on a side, in four different colors. When they first step foot out of the cubicle, the squares they step on glow with a bright white light.

    [Note: the “breaks” in the east wall are where the party emerges - from top to bottom, Willa, Tyrius, Thokk, Babshapka, and Aurora]

    The squares in the 40' x 40' room are gray, blue, green, and yellow. In the center of the far wall is a 10' wide passageway. In front of the opening, straddling two squares, stands an intricately detailed statue of a handsome man, 7' tall, wearing a richly jeweled crown. His left hand is resting on the hilt of a longsword, and his right arm is outstretched, palm down, toward the center of the east wall, as if in greeting — or in warning. Besides the statues and themselves, the floor is bare.

    After the light fades, Thokk looks down to see that he is standing on a yellow square. There is another yellow square diagonally in front of him and to his left, so he strides forward on to that - and it, too, flashes white briefly. He chuckles. “Funny magic room,” he says to himself.

    Willa, on a grey square, attempts to move forward and diagonally as Thokk did - but when she steps foot on the new square, it flashes red, there is a buzzing sound, and she is jolted by a lightning-like force. Afterwards, her square briefly glows white. Thokk admonishes her, “Willa, step like Thokk! Need to use head for this.”

    (2:30pm) Over the next half hour, the party attempts to deduce the pattern for crossing the room safely, to no avail. Some, like Thokk, cross virtually unscathed, while others, like Tyrius, resort to healing themselves just to make it across. Despite careful observation even Aurora is unable to crack the code. In the end she bitterly repeats phrases such as “but Babshapka went from green to green, why can’t I?” None of them are completely across yet when Barnabus and Larry arrive - the former on the shoulders of the latter, so as to fit together in the man-shaped indentation. As each person, one at a time, arrives at the squares of the statue they both flash white, and a clarion call is heard. From that point on, that person seems unaffected by the magic of the floor squares and can walk whither they will.

    Each of them in turn examines the statue, and a square outline around the chest cavity is easily found, but how to open it eludes them for quite some time. Eventually, after examining the crown, and trying to hang their now three-sided key at various places on the statue, they discover a similar but smaller outline on the outstretched hand. Pressing this releases some catch that allows them to open the chest of the statue, and inside the fourth and last part of the key is revealed! Pressing the new key with the old results in their fusion in a great flash of light. The resulting square frame, Babshapka notes, looks very much like Willa’s map view sketch of the walls and four corner towers of the keep.

    (3pm) Satisfied that this puzzle, too, should occupy the knight’s men for quite some time, the party reforms their order and continues down the hall. They find nothing more than a succession of empty rooms and hallways for a time.

    (3:40pm) Eventually they arrive at the familiar dull grey wall with the four-side key-hole. Babshapka pulls forth the square key and holds it out to the wall.

    “Wait!” cries Aurora. “There are still four possible combinations, and we need to do the correct one!”

    “Eight,” says Babshapka, reminding her that the key looks the same back and front. “So which combination is correct?”

    “Well,” says Aurora, “we found each key beneath one of the towers - so we should orient it so that the key we found in that tower lines up with the corresponding tower of the keyhole.”

    Babshapka turns the device over in his hands. All of the keys were identical when found - and when brought together, they fused so perfectly that it is impossible to tell where one starts and another ends. Perhaps if they had marked it at the time they would have a hope, but now there is no way of knowing which side of the frame was found in which tower.

    Babshapka turns the device over a few more times, then holds it out at arms’ length and fits it into the indentation on the wall.

    The entire wall lights up with an eerie blue glow, then there is a flash, and the key disappears! A few in the party later swear that they saw the key break into four parts again just before it vanished, and Aurora immediately has the feeling that each key has returned to one of the towers. “NOOOOooooo….” she starts to shout, but her voice trails off as the faintest of seams, a hairline crack, appears in the center of the wall, running from floor to ceiling. Slow and silent, the wall parts in two and opens as if each entire ten foot section were the massive valve of a doorway.
    _________________
    My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Mp7Ikko8SI
    Master Greytalker

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    Tue Dec 17, 2019 9:51 pm  
    Post 95: The Ghost Tower (Entrance)

    DM's Note on Sources: This post contains spoilers from module C2: The Ghost Tower of Inverness.

    Numbers in (bold) refer to keyed areas in the module.

    Post 95: The Ghost Tower (Entrance)

    6 November, 570(?) Ruins of Inverness Castle (?)

    Beyond the opening is a 40' x 40' room (15) with a 10' high ceiling. The walls, floor, and ceiling are all made of the same smooth, blue-gray metal that the keys were fashioned from. The room is bare except for eight thickly padded reclining chairs.

    One by one the party enters the room, some probing the chairs, some simply standing. Barnabus is the last to enter, hesitating in the doorway as the others explore the room. Finally they yell at him until he, too, ventures inside. As soon as he crosses the threshold, the doors swing shut behind him, and as he climbs onto a chair, the room suddenly bucks.

    Those on chairs are pressed deep into the padding, while those nearby collapse into them. Fortunately no one is far from a chair, for they are unable to stand and would be slammed violently into the metal floor. For several seconds there is the feeling of acceleration, as if the whole room was shooting rapidly into the sky. Colors swirl before their eyes. Their stomachs churn, and then suddenly the pressure stops. As their vision clears, the party notices that a five foot diameter hole has appeared in the center of the ceiling; it was not there before.

    Thokk is considerably wounded from the fight with the gnolls, and many others took damage from the strange parquet room - it is agreed that they need to rest. Aurora has the strong feeling that they are somewhere else - or perhaps somewhen else. She is not sure if the knight can follow them here, even if he manages to recover all four keys. If they are in another time, would it matter how long they rested? Perhaps they could be here for years before he showed up. Or perhaps it would take him hours to recover the keys but he could appear before them in seconds. In any event, she has no immediate concern about resting, other than the danger of resting in this room, if it is some sort of conduit between worlds and times. She counsels the party that they need to get to some other place, and then they can rest.

    Even as she reflects on this, she can feel her mind expanding. She is sure no other living wizard has both summoned the Ghost Tower of Galap-Driedel from beyond time and then actually entered it!

    [DM's Note: As a "story-reward" for entering the Tower, Aurora is now at 6th level].

    Larry is much more pragmatic. He brushes aside any thought of time travel, and simply says that since they were deep beneath the keep, and just went up, they must now be at the base of the central tower, the one in ruins. The hole in the ceiling must lead up into the courtyard, or whatever lower floors of the collapsed tower survived intact.

    Looking up through the hole, they can see a long chute carved from rough-cut stone. It goes up more than 50 feet, perhaps as much as 100, maintaining the same diameter all the way up. There is light at the far end. The first twenty feet or so is bare stone; after that, rungs that look like they are designed to allow human-sized creatures to climb are set into the wall. Given that the ceiling of the room they are is ten feet high, it is thirty feet from the floor to the first rung.

    Thokk looks up through the hole, then down at Barnabus standing beneath him but also looking up. The half-orc squats, grabs the halfling’s sides under his arms, and hefts him a few times to assess his weight, then sets him down and looks up again. “This easy,” he says confidently.

    Barnabus stares up at the barbarian, then looks around at the party. “I get first pick of whatever’s up there,” he says, offering his terms for agreeing to be a projectile.

    “First pick of whatever’s at the top of the hole - not the entire tower, if it be a tower,” says Tyrius.

    “‘old up - “ interjects Willa, ever the voice of reason. “...tie a rope ‘round ‘im, first.”

    After Barnabus has a rope fastened securely about his waist, Thokk squats, interlaces his fingers, and has the halfling step onto his massive hands. Tyrius is reminded of the "caber toss", a game said to be played by the Flan tribesmen in the mountains of Geoff, though he has never actually seen it. When Barnabus says “ready”, Thokk stands suddenly and heaves him straight upwards. The halfling flies cleanly through the center of the hole and up into the chute (16). He clears the first rung and is still going up. He waits until the exact second his upward flight stalls, just before he begins to drop down, and steps neatly onto the nearest rung. “You see, you see Willa?” asks Thokk while Barnabus unties himself, then ties off the rope on the rung. Not waiting for anyone else to ascend up the rope, Barnabus moves quickly up the ancient bronze rungs.

    Emerging from the chute, Barnabus finds the air is full of a warm, thick, rolling mist that limits his vision to 10' or less. The ground is broken and uneven, with loose rock all around. He can see no ceiling, but the entire area is dimly lit from above. It is not clear whether he is outside, or in a very large indoor space (17). He considers venturing off into the mist to claim his first pick of treasure, but decides against it - at even a few feet away from the hole, he is already starting to lose sight of it in the mist.

    One by one, the others in the party emerge from the hole and into the misty, rock-covered space, with the last one bringing up the rope behind them. It is quickly agreed that this is a safer place to rest - they will easily be able to both detect and fend off any forces of the knight attempting to climb the chute - the ground nearby even has an ample supply of large, loose rocks to drop on them if needed!

    They make camp, Willa constantly reminding the others not to venture off. At even twenty feet off, standing figures are nearly impossible to discern. It is warm, so they use their bed rolls to cushion themselves from the rocks rather than slipping inside them.

    It is difficult to track time in the unchanging mists, but they rest a good eight or ten hours without interruption. Larry comments that he is now sure this is not a natural setting. A heavy mist could obscure the sun for hours, to be sure, but the level of the light should change over the course of the day as the hidden sun rose and fell. The mists, too, are as constant as the light. The only thing that has varied in their entire long rest has been the occasional sound of distant but raucous bird calls, which remind Willa of gulls but larger. No sound has come from the chute down.

    After their rest, the party is in considerably better condition and they are ready to explore upon breaking camp. Willa lights her lantern and walks away a bit - but even the flame is quickly lost to the others in the mist.



    New abilities in bold.

    Aurora of Tringlee
    Sixth level wizard (School of Enchantment) / Half-elf (Sage)
    Str 13 (+1) Dex 10 (0) Con 12 (+1) Int 18 (+4) Wis 8 (-1) Cha 18 (+4)
    Hp. 38
    Languages Keolandish (S/W), Elven (S/W), Common (S/W), Ancient Suel (Written only), one open slot
    Skills: Arcana, History, Investigation, Medicine, Performance, Persuasion
    Staff, ring of protection+1, scroll of protection from undead, wand of magic detection, wand of polymorph, crystal ball
    Ability: Hypnotic Gaze, Instinctive Charm
    Cantrips: Prestidigitation, Fire Bolt, Mage Hand, Message
    First: Detect Magic, Mage Armor, Find Familiar, Magic Missile, Sleep, Comprehend Languages, Silent Image, Unseen Servant, Shield, Identify
    Second: Magic Mouth, Invisibility, Web, Knock, Blur, Rope Trick, Crown of Madness
    Third: Fireball, Sending
    _________________
    My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Mp7Ikko8SI
    Master Greytalker

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    Tue Dec 24, 2019 11:16 am  
    Post 96: The Ghost Tower (Air)

    DM's Note on Sources: This post contains spoilers from module C2: The Ghost Tower of Inverness.

    Numbers in (bold) refer to keyed areas in the module.

    Post 96: The Ghost Tower (Air)

    Unknown date and time, Summoned Ghost Tower(?)

    The party decides to divide into scouting groups. Four ropes are produced, and each tied to the top rung of the chute. The four groups walk out a few feet and then re-adjust until they are at approximately right angles to each other. Thokk and Larry go to one side, Aurora and Babshapka to their right, Tyrius and Barnabus to the right of them, and lastly Willa with her lantern. Within a few strides each group is completely obscured to the other three, but they let out their ropes and walk as straight as possible. The noise of their feet over the loose, shifting, rocks, and the gravely crunch of the rocks sliding past each other, covers any other, more distant, sounds.

    At about fifty feet out, each group is at the end of their rope but has found nothing other than rocks and mist.

    At this point, and without communicating with one another, each group adopts a different strategy.

    Willa builds an arrow from larger rocks and arranges it pointing it to her left, sets her lantern next to the rocks, and lays her rope taught on the ground. She then begins walking off to the left, ropeless.

    Thokk and Larry, and Aurora and Babshapka, each have a second rope with them. These two groups tie their ropes together, then proceed directly away from the ladder as before.

    Tyrius and Barnabus keep to the end of their taut rope, but begin to walk to their left, sweeping out a counterclockwise arc over the ground at the furthest extent they can.

    As Willa walks, a large shape begins to emerge in the mists, as of a huge rock pile ahead of her but to the side. She alters her course slightly and heads for it.

    Thokk and Larry, and Aurora and Babshapka, reach the end of their second rope. Ahead of them, they can barely make out a wall. Letting go of the rope, they walk the last few feet, and find a vast, high wall of stones, composed of huge blocks reminiscent of the towers and walls of the keep, but clean and fresh, not weathered and aged. The wall rises at least thirty feet and then is lost in the mists. Aurora recognizes the same symbols of strength and protection she saw before carved into the stones, but crisp-edged. The wall has the barest hint of curvature, indicating that they may be inside a huge tower, much larger than the others of the keep. Aurora reaches out with her message, but no one is close enough to contact. They decide to return to the rope's end, and move to their right, clockwise in sight of the wall.

    Tyrius and Barnabus, after less than a quarter-turn of their single rope, come across another rope, held taut at waist height. Barnabus simply ducks under it and continues, but Tyrius insists on stopping and tugging at it. Eventually Aurora and Babshapka appear, having doubled back on feeling the pulls to their rope. It is agreed that the paladin and halfling will continue their counterclockwise sweep of the middle ground while the elf and half-elf will keep working their way clockwise along the wall.

    As Willa keeps making her way to the mound, she has the sensation of being watched. Stopping in her tracks, she suddenly hears a rush of air. Turning to the sound, she sees a huge form emerging from the mists - a great winged creature, with the body of a lion, and the head of some kind of bird of prey, swooping down on her from behind and above.

    She draws her sword and enters a fighting stance as the thing dives at her. At the last minute she throws herself to the ground. The creature sails overhead, claws scraping at her plate armor, but too high and too fast to gain purchase. It lands a dozen feet from her and quickly turns around, even as she stands and turns to face it. “‘ELP!” she yells into the mists at the top of her lungs. “ATTACK!”

    By this point Thokk and Larry are fairly close to Willa’s position, and they hear her call for help. The other party members are too far away to hear her over the sound of the loose rocks as they walk. Thokk immediately drops the rope, turns and dashes off into the mist. “WILLA!” he bellows as he runs. “THOKK COMING!” Larry keeps a tight hold on the rope and tries to dash off behind Thokk, but after taking just a few running strides, his ankle rolls on a loose stone and he spread-eagles across the hard ground.

    Willa hears Thokk’s cry and takes heart. She adopts a defensive stance. The strange bird-lion creature closes to ground combat with her, swiping with its paws and striking with its massive beak. She takes blows on her armor, parries with her sword, and dances out of the way. She takes a few bruises and scratches but is doing alright while she stalls for time. She knows that one slip, one false move on the unstable rocks, and the huge creature will knock her to the ground and be on her like a bird on a worm.

    “WILLA!” cries Thokk, his voice getting closer to her. He nearly trips on her lantern, then, with a kick of his foot, unknowingly scatters the rock-arrow she made. “WIIIILAAA!” he cries as he continues past her obliquely, and his voice grows fainter again.

    By now, Aurora has heard both Thokk and Willa. She reaches out to find their minds, but they are too far away. She is able to contact Tyrius and Barnabus, though, and they reverse their direction. Aurora, Tyrius, and Barnabus are all walking quickly toward the sound of Willa’s calls for help, while Babshapka has sprinted ahead into the mists.

    Willa dodges another flurry of blows from the bird-lion. “‘ELP!” she cries again. In response she hears the twang of a bowstring. Babshapka stands on top of the rock mound in front of her, and an arrow now sticks out of the side of the creature. It shrieks, a hideous, piercing shriek like that of a huge falcon. By now, Willa can hear other people approaching in the mist. “‘ERE!” she yells, as she parries a paw-swipe with her sword.

    Swish! A whip of thorns wraps around the creature’s neck, and it lurches to the right, then turns and charges at Larry, landing a blow that sends his shield crashing into his side. And now it is surrounded, with Thokk, Larry, herself, and Babshapka all attacking, and Aurora hurling firebolts (now at double strength, due to her new level). From the mists comes the clanking sound of Tyrius’ armor approaching.

    The creature takes a number of hits. Bloodied, it refuses to go down. Suddenly Barnabus dashes between Thokk’s legs, slides to his knees under the chest of the great beast, and plunges his dagger into its heart. It jerks up, then collapses down, with Barnabus rolling out from underneath it at the last second. Tyrius, the last to join them, is just in time to see its death throes.

    Once they are sure it is dead, the party climbs up the rock mound (18). The top has a huge, bowl-like depression, in which are heaps of silver and gold coins and the occasional bone. From the height, though, Babshapka can see another shape in the mist - a tall column not far off. Investigating, they find it is a wrought iron staircase vanishing up into the mist (19).

    Willa and Barnabus stay at the creature’s “nest”, going through the coins, while the rest of the party returns to their campsite and unties the ropes, recovering Willa’s lantern on their way back.

    There are hundreds of coins of both silver and gold, and Willa finds a gleaming iron mace and a rusty sword. She does not see Barnabus pocket a glass vial filled with a thick liquid or several pockets' worth of coins.

    [DM’s Note: 400sp, 300gp, potion, mace, sword
    Barnabus takes 200 gold and the potion for himself
    Willa takes 100 gold and the mace as party treasure]

    The party arranges themselves at the base of the spiral stair. It is narrow, and they will be going up single file. Thokk leads the way, followed closely by Larry. They are some 40 feet off the ground when the mist is rent by three huge flying forms. The creatures look like some kind of giant petrel, but without feathers. They have huge, piercing beaks and strangely peaked bony heads. Almost in formation, they swoop down on Thokk and Larry, trying to knock them off the staircase as they soar past with thrusts of their massive beaks. Thokk wounds one on its flyby, and then all three vanish into the mist. None of the party have ever seen such creatures before, but Thokk has heard of them. An old orc shaman of his tribe, the oldest orc he ever knew, said that deep in the mountains were hidden valleys heated by the oearth, and the “skinwings” nested in these valleys.

    Thokk and Larry keep their eyes peeled, and it is not long before the creatures wheel around and make another attack. This time Thokk knocks one from the sky with his sword, while Larry manages to wrap his whip around the neck of another. The dwarf braces himself against the central pillar of the stair, and when the whip goes taut, the skinwing is jerked back, crashing violently on the stairs between Larry and Thokk. Thokk finishes it with one blow and laughs heartily.

    On its third pass, the single remaining skinwing flies straight at Thokk, but banks hard as soon as he begins his swing. His sword catches only air, and he teeters at the edge of the stair. [Critical fail on attack roll] Faced with the choice of letting go of his sword, or holding on and following it over the edge, Thokk unhesitatingly maintains his grip and plummets to the ground. He lies dazed for a moment. By the time he is again on his feet, Larry and Babshapka have killed the last remaining skinwing.

    “Thokk, wha’ be ye doin’?” asks Willa incredulously, after she has descended to his side.

    The half-orc laughs at her foolishness. “Silly Willa,” he says, “Thokk fall off mountains all the time - but Thokk only have one sunsword.”

    When no other bird-creatures appear, the party re-orders themselves and proceeds upwards. The spiral stairs rise fifty feet through the mists, and then continue through a hole in the stone ceiling.
    _________________
    My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Mp7Ikko8SI
    Master Greytalker

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    Tue Dec 31, 2019 11:37 am  
    Post 97: The Ghost Tower (Oerth)

    DM's Note on Sources: This post contains spoilers from module C2: The Ghost Tower of Inverness.

    Numbers in (bold) refer to keyed areas in the module.

    Post 97: The Ghost Tower (Oearth)

    Unknown date and time, Summoned Ghost Tower(?)

    The staircase leads upward to a large, well-lit area full of trees and dense undergrowth. The ground is rich loam, soft and dark brown. There is a narrow pathway through the otherwise impenetrable vegetation. The air is hot and humid, and the ceiling is 30' above, although much obscured by the many trees that grow to that height.

    The party assembles in the small clearing (20). Larry and Thokk sniff and poke at the vegetation. Larry says it is not natural, but it is attempting to simulate nature. He points out how thick is the vegetation between the trees, and how open the path is - the trees ought to be growing across the path, but they are not. Nor are they cut - some magical force is controlling their growth, turning them away. Thokk prods the loose soil, expecting it to be quicksand, but finds only more dirt beneath.

    Thokk attempts to bushwhack into the vegetation with one of his axes, while Larry carefully monitors the trees and bushes for a reaction. It is slow going, far slower than the trail would be - but at least the vegetation does not appear to be responding to the half-orc’s hacking - it does not appear to be animated.

    With Larry reassuring them that there is no immediate danger, the party forms into marching order and starts off down the path. They proceed cautiously, watching the thick vegetation all about them, the sound of their steps muffled by the thick loam.

    “'Tis odd,” Willa wonders aloud. “Tain’t no bird calls.”

    “Nay,” agrees Larry. “No crickets, cicadas, nothin’. This don’ be a natural jungle.”

    They have not gone far when the path branches (21).

    The party splits, scouting just ahead down each trail cautiously. Silently, with just the trembling of leaves to betray it, a large monkey-like creature ventures out on a branch near the path, then leaps nimbly down, landing on Thokk’s broad shoulders.

    The big gray monkey would be nearly four feet tall were it upright and erect, but it crouches low on Thokk’s back. It has large bones and muscular limbs, but appears a bit underfed, with its ribs and vertebrae showing prominently. Its long, prehensile tail has already wrapped around Thokk’s bicep. Its hands and feet are virtually alike, each having three long, thick fingers and an opposable thumb, all equipped with claws. Short, dirty gray fur covers most of its body. Its face and tail are black, while its paws are bloody red.

    Even before Thokk can react, Aurora says a few soft words and her eyes become swirling patterns of light. The monkey’s eyes reflect the hypnotic pattern, and it goes limp, beginning to sway gently on Thokk’s back. The half-orc lifts it carefully over his head, sets it on the dirt, and quickly trusses it with rope.

    Aurora kneels next to the bound monkey. “Now, let’s see if our friend knows anything that can help us,” she says confidently, and reaches out with her message, attempting to contact the monkey’s mind.

    Instantly the monkey squints, the glow gone from its eyes. It bares its fangs at Aurora in a silent scream. The mage grabs her head with both hands, face contorted in agony, and falls over onto her back. [Note: Aurora takes 13 points of psychic damage]

    The restrained monkey is quickly dispatched by the party, but not before another one leaps from the trees to attack. That one takes a few more moments to slay.

    When both monkeys lie dead, Larry carefully inspects their long, pointed teeth. “These things don’ be eatin’ leaves,” he grunts, “an’ I don’ see nothin’ hereabouts ta eat bu’ leaves.”

    “There’s us,” says Barnabus.

    The party continues down the trail, carefully exploring the branching pathways, double-backs, and dead ends. All along the way they are shadowed by a third monkey. This one keeps in the vegetation, paralleling their every move but not crossing the open trail.

    Larry in particular is careful to document the smooth stone walls when he sees them so that he can know the extent of the tower floor, and make sure they have not missed the access to another level. At one point he is peering into the vegetation off the trail, trying to see the wall, when a monkey drops into his sight. Holding on to a branch above itself with its tail, it turns all four of its paws on Larry, savagely ripping his face with its claws. Bloodied, Larry staggers back onto the trail and the rest of the party finishes off the monkey.

    The party next picks a path leading to a 20' x 20' clearing with three other paths leading out of it. There is someone in the clearing, tending a garden of roses. The figure’s back is towards the party as they enter. It is slender and about 5' tall, wearing a brown, hooded robe of coarse cloth, like that of a monk. They hear a soft, liquid singing in an unknown tongue with lilting vowels; the music is very beautiful, but does not sound bewitching.

    “Hail, friend!” calls Aurora, and the figure stands and turns. Throwing back its hood, it reveals the face of a beautiful maiden...but with hair of writhing serpents!

    [5E Note: When a creature that can see the medusa's eyes starts its turn within 30 feet of the medusa, the medusa can force it to make a DC 14 Constitution saving throw if the medusa isn't incapacitated and can see the creature. If the saving throw fails by 5 or more, the creature is instantly petrified. Otherwise, a creature that fails the save begins to turn to stone and is restrained. The restrained creature must repeat the saving throw at the end of its next turn, becoming petrified on a failure or ending the effect on a success. The petrification lasts until the creature is freed by the greater restoration spell or other magic. Thokk and Aurora make their saves, Babshapka fails his first save by less than 5, but makes his second save].

    “Don’t look, don’t look!” cries Aurora, and pulls out her wand of polymorphing. Firing a beam at the medusa, she turns it into a slug!

    Even as the remainder of the party begins to rush into the clearing, Aurora sees the slug crawling into the thorn bushes. “Get it!” she cries, and Thokk dives in after it. Ignoring the scratches from the thorns [and making his save vs. Poison], Thokk pulls the slug out, and Barnabus sequesters it in an empty flask.

    Safe for the moment, the party scouts about the clearing (22), but finds nothing. The footprints of the maiden / medusa surround the “garden”, but do not go down any of the trails.

    “It be good luck none o’ ye lot war statuefied,” says Willa, when the powers of the medusa are explained to her.

    “Indeed,” says Tyrius. “It is our good fortune especially that Aurora was not petrified - for she carries the disk that will return us all. Had that been turned to stone with her, we would all be trapped in this tower forever.” His words send a chill through all present, for none of them had considered that. In disgust, Barnabus throws the flask containing the slug-medusa deep into the vegetation.

    “My spell ends in an hour - and now we don’t know where she will appear,” chides Aurora.

    Barnabus shrugs. “So let’s make sure we are gone in an hour.”

    Before they explore further, though, Aurora insists on using her mage hand to poke through the thorny rose garden. It does not take her long to find an odd pile of earth, and sweeping that aside, a copper coffer.

    She pulls the coffer out from the bushes and the party examines it. Inside are eight zircons, a tiger eye, a black pearl, an emerald, and a large and obviously valuable star ruby. The coffer, gems inside, is packed away in the bottom of Larry’s bag.

    Only one unexplored trail remains. Going forward, the party finds a clearing (23) that is a mirror-image to the one they arrived in. A wrought iron staircase leads upward through a hole in the 30' high ceiling.

    Babshapka ascends the stair, reporting that it passes through some twenty feet of stone, then opens onto another landing. Above, he says, he can hear the crackle and roar of flames.

    “Flames?” says Willa. “If it be fire above, and ‘twar air below...t’en t’is be ther level o’ oearth. And next’d be water, I reckon.”

    [Note: Willa receives an inspiration point - she now has three saved]
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    My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Mp7Ikko8SI
    Master Greytalker

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    Tue Jan 07, 2020 8:54 pm  
    Post 98: The Ghost Tower (Fire)

    DM's Note on Sources: This post contains spoilers from module C2: The Ghost Tower of Inverness.

    Numbers in (bold) refer to keyed areas in the module.

    Post 98: The Ghost Tower (Fire)

    Unknown date and time, Summoned Ghost Tower(?)

    The staircase (24) leads upward to a stone landing with two pathways projecting laterally from it, right and left. The pathways and the landing are about one foot above the surface of what appears to be a sea of fire (25). The flames lick upwards to heights of two to three feet above the surface of the sea, and breathing is difficult due to the smoke and sulfurous fumes. Across the 160' diameter circular chamber from the party is a wrought iron spiral staircase leading up to the ceiling 20' above, but the view of it is somewhat obstructed by the giant (26)standing before it. The giant glares at them menacingly, but for the moment does not move. It could easily reach the ceiling by lifting its arms overhead, and has to be at least eighteen feet tall. Its features seem squat, however, as if it were a giant dwarf rather than a giant man.

    Staying low on the stairs, the party briefly discusses strategy. Aurora says they need to get close enough for her to use her wand - but she is surely not going first down the trails through the fire. The stouter party members agree to draw the giant’s ire, so that Aurora can come in safely behind them and then polymorph the giant when she is in range.

    Babshapka casts Hail of Thorns and pulls out his bow, while Aurora uses Invisibility on Barnabus. It is only later that she realizes this spell has broken her polymorph on the medusa, and it may even now be seeking them from the base of the staircase. Larry says that the giant can’t throw the boulders piled around it if it can’t see them, and so prepares his Fog Cloud spell.

    When they are ready, Willa yells “Go!” Thokk dashes out from the stairs and takes the curving pathway to the left, while Barnabus, invisible, heads to the right. Babshapka follows behind Thokk, and Tyrius behind Barnabus. Larry has barely left the stairs when he stops and begins his spell, and soon the pile of boulders, sarcophagus, and giant are enshrouded in fog. Willa advances slowly, shield held high in front of her, making sure that Aurora is protected to her rear.

    Thokk has rounded the first corner and is headed back to the main path when the giant staggers out of the fog, a huge boulder in his hands. The giant heaves the boulder with a deep grunt and it sails through the air. Thokk has plenty of time to stop and change direction, so that the boulder goes wide and lands in the sea of fire, but the huge impact and spattering of flaming liquid in all directions is fearsome indeed. Babshapka fires an arrow and activates his hail of thorns, all of which land squarely in the giant’s chest. It looks more annoyed than wounded by the impact. It turns and heads back into the fog, but even now it is more of a light mist, being rapidly burned off by the heat of the place.

    Barnabus is on the main path, skirting the edge and heading for the second wending way when the surface of the flaming sea erupts nearby. A huge, two foot long bat-like creature, engulfed in flames, shoots out of the sea and flies straight at him. Ignoring his invisibility, the bat lands on his shoulder and sinks its fangs into his neck, simultaneously burning his skin and sucking his blood.

    The giant reaches the boulders and hefts another one. By the time he turns around, the fog has burned off enough so that he can clearly see the room. For some reason he ignores Thokk and Babshapka, who are much closer and on the main trail, and heaves his boulder at Tyrius, who is on the farther back of the two right trails. Tyrius, in his heavy plate armor, barely dodges the boulder. The boulder crashes into the ground, and the pathway jumps, sending Tyrius falling off the trail and into the sea of fire, whereupon he immediately is burned. Thrashing about, burning, and sinking, there is no way he can save himself. Larry dashes out onto the side trail and uses his thorn whip to secure Tyrius and pull him back onto the trail. Liquid fire rolls off his armor and his red, scalded skin, forming puddles of flame all about him on the rock of the trail. The giant grunts in satisfaction and turns around to head back to his pile of boulders. “Och, nay ye dinnae,’” mumbles Larry to himself, and begins his moonbeam spell.

    With a straight shot to the giant now, Thokk bellows a war cry and charges down the center of the main pathway. He has taken but two great strides when the whole room suddenly flips about him, so that the ceiling is underneath him and he is falling head first! He did not notice before, but while most of the ceiling is solid stone, over the center of the path is a ten foot square hole of a deep blue color (27), and he is headed straight for it! Thokk twists and turns in the air, straining himself to his full reach, and manages to grasp the far lip of the hole just as he is about to fall through.

    Babshapka has been shooting arrows ineffectually at the giant, but he is distracted by the screams of Barnabus, as a second fire-bat, and then a third, alight on him. The elf begins picking the bats off his invisible comrade, trusting that his arrows won’t pierce the halfling’s armor. As he lines up for another shot, Babshapka sees Thokk suddenly tumble upward through the air, nearly passing through a hole in the ceiling but managing at the last second to hold on to the edge. The half-orc now dangles upside-down, hands holding the ceiling and feet lost to view in the hole above him.

    Just before the giant reaches his boulder pile, Larry completes his spell and the whole pile is illuminated by white light. The giant grunts and ignores the visual effect, but as he reaches for another massive rock he sucks in a gasp of pain and surprise and quickly withdraws his hand, then stomps his foot angrily. Larry chuckles - his moonbeam has successfully deterred the giant from gathering more ammunition.

    Tyrius, Willa, and Aurora continue to advance along the pathways, grateful for the respite from boulders.

    Thokk pulls himself up and out of the hole, then crawls a few feet away across what is, for him, the smooth stone floor. Suddenly the room switches again, and he is falling back to the main pathway, landing sprawled on the stone. The giant turns and sees him, gives up on the boulders, and advances, pulling forth a massive sword longer than Thokk is tall!

    Barnabus starts to attack the bats around him, even as more erupt from the flaming sea. He is now visible to the party, his features streaked with blood, sweat, flame, and panic. He swoons, then passes out, fortunately collapsing on the trail and not falling into the burning liquid. “Ye best be close eno’ fer yer wand,” says Willa to Aurora, and leaves her side, dashing off toward Barnabus.

    Thokk has just managed to stand up when he is felled by a blow from the giant’s sword, knocked back with a gash in his side large enough to kill any man. He curses and stands again, though his legs appear about to buckle any second and blood streams freely down his side (Relentless Endurance - Thokk is at 1 hp).

    The giant grins wickedly and raises his sword. He squares his hips and prepares to slice the half-orc cleanly in two. “Metamorph!” shrieks Aurora shrilly, and a purple ray from her wand strikes the giant’s chest. To the rest of the party the giant appears to disintegrate, but Thokk can see him shrinking down to the size and shape of a slug and crawling away across the hot stone. He tries to follow the slug, but the rest of the party is shouting at him something about a rope and he is distracted.

    Willa clears the bats away from Barnabus’ body, but does not see his chest moving. She curses him and pulls forth a vial filled with a magical healing potion, pouring it down his throat. By the time his eyes flutter and she turns back to the party, she can see that Thokk and Larry have a rope strung between them. Tyrius is crossing the rope laboriously, but he is hanging upside-down, feet dangling ridiculously up to the ceiling, and a fire-bat attempting to gain purchase on his armor.

    More bats continue to emerge from the flaming sea and harass the party, until finally the fighters have shot or swatted all of them from the air. Then at last they can cross the strange anti-gravity field by means of the rope and join Thokk on the other side.

    With the party more-or-less intact and on the far side of the anti-gravity field, Tyrius goes looking for the giant, in slug form, and soon finds him. He stores him carefully in a tin mess cup, and pours a little water on him, as the creature already looks dry and shriveled from the heat.

    Barnabus has reached the sarcophagus and, finding it full of copper coins, climbs over the stone lip. Standing knee-deep in coins, he is rooting about frantically, trying to find some other treasure before the rest of the party arrives.

    Meanwhile, most of the party are staring at what they took before to be the staircase up and out of the level. Now that it is not obscured by smoke and flame, it is revealed to be no staircase at all, but a massive column of stone and iron. The dark wrought iron gives the appearance of a spiral stair, while the pale stone they took to be air - but it is quite solid. There is no way up, and no hole in the ceiling above it.

    Barnabus gives a quiet chuckle of satisfaction, and pulls forth a crown triumphantly from the coins. He glances at it - wrought platinum, set with all manner of diamonds, rubies, emeralds, opals, and fire opals - easily the single-most valuable item the party has recovered thus far in their adventuring careers. It is halfway in his sack when Tyrius, now standing next to him, thunders his name. Barnabus looks up sullenly. “That’s party treasure,” the paladin says, and holds forth his hand.

    “That’s party treasure,” sneers the halfling mockingly, but hands over the crown. “If I make it out of here alive…” he thinks to himself.

    By now, the party has gathered around the hole in the ceiling, concluding that this must be the way to the next level. Willa, noting the azure color above them, says, “That’d be ther water.” They secure a spike in the stone floor, carefully tie a rope about it, and begin to lower Larry down. “Lower” is relative, for as soon as he walks beneath the hole in the ceiling, he falls upward and begins letting himself up the rope while dangling upside down.

    It is twenty feet to the ceiling, and the hole proceeds through ten feet thick of stone before opening out to the next level. Larry calls to them that he is some twenty feet above a crystal-blue water that itself seems fifteen feet deep. He can see some sort of reef, like the coral reefs he saw on the Azure Sea near Saltmarsh, as well as a sandy island with two palm trees.
    _________________
    My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Mp7Ikko8SI
    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
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    From: Sky Island, So Cal

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    Wed Jan 15, 2020 12:01 am  
    Post 99: The Ghost Tower (Water)

    DM's Note on Sources: This post contains spoilers from module C2: The Ghost Tower of Inverness.

    Numbers in (bold) refer to keyed areas in the module.

    Post 99: The Ghost Tower (Water)

    Unknown date and time, Summoned Ghost Tower(?)

    After a brief discussion, Babshapka takes his cloak out from his pack and shakes it, then drapes it over his shoulders. He runs, then leaps into the anti-gravity area, instantly feeling like he is diving head first from a great height. The fifty-foot drop straight down should drive him hard into the sea bottom, but at first contact with the salt water his form becomes that of a great manta ray, and he turns and glides easily through the water.

    Almost immediately, Mantabshapka sees a dark shape in the water nearby, and as he turns, he becomes aware of a great, armored fish. The creature is enormous, and could easily swallow him in one gulp. Panicked, he puts on a burst of speed, and finds if he keeps at it, he can stay just ahead of the behemoth.

    Mantabshapka first cruises around the back of the island, pursued by the great beast, then comes around and heads out over the reef. There his pursuer turns away, for the jagged coral growths are near the surface or even above it, and the water is far too shallow for it to continue. Flat Mantabshapka can carefully choose a path through the coral pillars, however. Along the way, though, he sees other things moving along the reef - flat and broad like himself. He is contacted by Aurora’s message spell, and relays all this information to her.

    By continually moving, Mantabshapka can stay ahead of the other manta rays in the reef - by skirting the edges of the reef and the open water, he can stay out of the mouth of the giant fish. With him providing perspective, Aurora soon instructs the others in a plan to get everyone down.

    First through the hole is Barnabus, dangling from a second rope. He stays high and close to the ceiling, but immediately begins rocking back and forth, pumping his legs as if on a swing. At each pass he lets out a bit more rope, so that the pendulum arm of his swing grows longer and lower. The great fish has ceased to follow Mantabshapka, and now circles beneath the dangling halfling. When the far arc of his swing at last takes him over the island, Barnabus releases his firm grip of the rope and falls, letting the rope slide through his hands but retaining it. He lands lightly in a spray of soft sand, then shimmies up a palm tree and begins securing the rope at the top.

    Once the rope is secure, Larry lowers himself through the hole. He has his legs crossed around the rope and lets himself down by moving hand over hand. The rope sags from his weight, and he is lower and slower than Barnabus was - apparently enough to give the fish a chance. It swims away, then turns sharply and heads for the surface with enormous speed. Breaching the water, it leaps completely in the air and flies straight for the dwarf, mouth agape.

    Larry gasps in terror and lets go of the rope, plummeting into the warm, salty water while the fish sails overhead, then crashes into the water with a huge splash. Both Larry and the fish are stunned for a half second, then Larry turns and begins swimming for the island, with the great fish in pursuit. The beast is hot upon the dwarf and about to swallow him whole, when Larry suddenly changes his form to that of a sleek reef fish and darts to the side. The great jaws close on empty water. As the huge fish looks about in vain for the plump dwarf, the tiny fish flops onto the beach and then turns back into Larry even while he crawls through the sand.

    [Note: The fish would have had a second attack on Larry, this time in the water and not at disadvantage. Larry used an inspiration point to re-roll his initiative and so beat the fish to the island].

    Next on the rope is Thokk, but he is on the loose rope, not the tied one. He lowers himself just within reach of the huge fish, and then amuses himself by jerking himself up after the creature has leapt from the water and cannot propel itself more or change its trajectory. As the huge jaws snap shut and the bony teeth crash together just below his feet, Thokk chortles and mocks the fish. Meanwhile, Tyrius and Willa together manage to roll a boulder laboriously from the giant’s hoarded pile over to the edge of the anti-gravity effect. Staring up at the hole in the ceiling and taking careful aim, they roll the huge rock forward at just the right moment. It plummets upward, gathering speed until it crashes into the head of the beast with a resounding crunch. They appear to have broken one of the armored head plates, and the beast now leaves a trail of blood in the water, but it swims on undaunted.

    Tyrius and Willa are soaked in sweat from their labors in the heat of the room. Aurora takes out her staff and lashes one hand to it, threads the rope through it and has Willa lash the other hand, so that there is no way she can let go or fall. When Thokk calls out that it is clear, Willa shoves Aurora forward roughly. She slides down the rope, shrieking all the way, but lands in the tree with nothing worse than some rope-burn on one forearm. Larry is stabilizing the rope for the next person, and it amuses Barnabus to pretend not to hear Aurora’s entreaties for him to unbind her wrists as she dangles from the top of the palm tree, feet not quite reaching the ground.

    Tyrius next slides down the rope, passing it easily through his gauntleted hands, then Thokk. Finally Willa joins them on the island, and Mantabshapka beaches himself and resumes his elven form. They move to the center of the small island, making a little camp and resting.

    [The party takes a short rest. Most of the characters spend hit dice to heal.]

    After an hour of rest, the party debates their next step. No egress is visible on this level, but Babshapka argues that the exit is likely to be “down,” as that will lead up to the next level of the tower. They dig out the sand from around the boulder on their island, and then Willa, Thokk, and Tyrius together manage to flip over the rock itself - but underneath find only more sand. Convinced the exit does not lie on the island, they decide they will need to search the seafloor. Larry casts spider climb on himself and prepares for a scouting trip.

    Larry and Thokk walk to the far side of the island. The huge fish lingers in the narrow channel between the island and the stone wall. Thokk stands with his back to the wall and makes a stirrup of his hands, into which Larry steps. Thokk bends his knees, asks if Larry is ready, and before the dwarf can answer, he straightens up explosively and hurls his hands over his head. Larry flies up and over him, lands hard against the wall, but manages to scramble up and out of the reach of the great fish even as it leaps from the water. Thokk turns, chuckles, and makes a rude gesture at the fish.

    Larry climbs to the ceiling, well out of reach of the fish, and makes his way slowly and methodically around the room. Now and then a shape darkens the hole in the ceiling above him - he takes this to be the fire giant, restored to his true form, but is unsure. He notes that the water is a uniform depth of about fifteen feet except for the island and the coral reef. The reef is full of jagged spikes and deep basins, completely uneven. Nowhere is it as deep as the seafloor. Many of the coral pinnacles protrude from the water. The average depth is too shallow for the great fish to enter, but allows plenty of room for the flat manta-like shapes to cruise just beneath the surface. Larry estimates them at a dozen, but is unsure, as they are in constant motion and often hidden behind the rock formations. Near the center of the reef he sees an open hole, going down into the depths. It is dark at the bottom, shielded on all sides except above from the light which inexplicably permeates the air. Occasionally a mantid emerges from the dark shaft or dives into it. This, he believes, must be the exit. He finishes his circuit of the walls, then leaps from above down into Thokk’s ready arms.

    After Larry explains his reconnoiter to the group, they agree that they need to make their way to the dark hole in the coral reef. They can walk in the shallows of the reef easily enough; the difficulty will be getting across the ten feet of open water from the island to the reef, without getting attacked by the giant fish.

    The first two across are Thokk and Babshapka, both of whom run down the length of the island to gather speed and then make great leaps across the water while other members of the party splash at the water’s edge to distract the fish. Next up is Larry, who pauses on the beach and then begins barreling down toward the shore. The fish may be a dumb beast, but it is apparently capable of learning. After being legitimately distracted the first two times, it only pretends to be interested in the diversion this time. Then, as Larry approaches the water, it turns suddenly and shoots straight at him. Larry freezes, then begins to backpedal, but it is too late. Maw agape, the great fish drives itself up the beach with the force of inertia and great thrusts from its huge tail. Its jaws close about Larry with a sickening crunch of bones, even as it lists over, unable to right itself or return to the water. Larry tenses and then goes limp, unconscious.

    Once the beached fish feels Larry’s lack of resistance, it opens its jaws wider and prepares to swallow him whole. Aurora rushes to the side of the fish. Ignoring Larry, she finds the eye facing skyward and stares into it intently while her own eyes glow. The glow is reflected in the fish’s eye - and then taken up by it. Its thrashing body goes still, its tongue lolls, its jaws relax. “Quickly!” hisses Aurora, not breaking her gaze.

    Tyrius grabs the body of Larry and hauls him out of the fish’s mouth, while Willa and Barnabus seek the fissures between the great armored head plates and bury their blades deep inside. By the time the glow fades from the fish’s eye, it is dead and Tyrius is busy healing Larry.

    Thokk and Babshapka, seeing that Larry is in good hands, begin to advance across the coral. It is difficult going with uncertain footing, sharp and jagged rocks on all sides, and water that ranges from ankle to waist deep. A group of four rays try to rush Thokk as he wades across a deep pool, biting at him with wide mouths, but he and Babshapka slay two and drive the other two off.

    Aurora insists that they slice the fish open, and after she asserts that its stomach could contain treasure, Barnabus obliges. They find nothing but fish guts and an oily smell, however. With the fish slain and passage safe, Willa and Tyrius dog-paddle across to the reef and join Thokk and Babshapka in standing around the dark shaft in the center of the reef. A still-wounded Larry, a shorter-than-tidepool-depth Barnabus, and a cautious Aurora remain on the island.

    As Babshapka kneels and puts his face under the water to see down the shaft, the group of four on the reef is swarmed by all of the remaining mantids, eight in total. This time there is no retreat, and they fight until slain. The water is thick with blood at the end, and not all of it from the mantids.

    Maneuvering for position during the fight, Tyrius saw something under the water that did not appear to be coral. Wading over to it, he finds a large metallic hatch with a wheel-like device projecting from its center. The metal is not rusted or corroded.

    Meanwhile, Babshapka lowers himself into the shaft and assumes his manta form. The circular hole in the coral goes down at least ten feet, and at the bottom he finds a cave entrance to one side. The cave is just large enough for his outstretched wings, and the floor is covered with gold coins and bones. Searching through the coins, Mantabshapka finds several gems: one lapis lazuli, two pieces of smoky quartz, a bloodstone, three amethysts, a large topaz, two peridots, and one lustrous black sapphire. In twos and threes he brings the gems to the surface but leaves the coins where they are. Once Tyrius has shown the strange hatchway to the others, they retreat to the island. Larry produces the coffer found on the earth level and unites the newfound gems with those from before, and then the party packs up camp.

    Together, the whole party returns to the reef to stand around the hatch, Barnabus riding on Thokk’s shoulders. A brief investigation reveals that the wheel on the hatch turns freely. Willa explains that she has only ever been on one vessel with sealed hatchways - a ramming galley of His Majesty’s fleet. There, a screw mechanism on each door below-decks could seal off the compartments to delay sinking if the hull was breached. When she asked how it worked, the bo’sun touring her shrugged and said “righty-tighty, lefty-loosey”.

    Tyrius squats in the water and grabs the wheel with both hands. After turning it three complete circlets to the left, he feels it shift under him as if a locking mechanism has been removed. He braces himself and lifts, but it opens easily. A five foot diameter shaft leads straight down into the water. The shaft itself is dark, but there appears to be light at the far end.



    Note: for having successfully passed through the layers of Air, Earth, Fire, and Water, Larry is now at 6th level, and may style himself, “Master of the Elements”.

    New abilities in Bold
    Larrenthal of the Crystalmists (Dirty Larry)(Larry, Master of the Elements)
    Sixth Level Druid (Circle of the Land - Mountains) / Hill dwarf (Outlander)
    Str 9 (-1) Dex 14 (+2) Con 16 (+3) Int 11 (0) Wis 18 (+4) Cha 4 (-3)
    Hp. 56
    Languages (all spoken only unless noted): Flan, Common, Druid (including written runes), Bear
    Skills: Athletics, Nature, Perception, Survival (Mountains)
    Wild shape includes the ability to become a creature with a swimming speed
    Chain mail +1, shield +1, scimitar
    Spells known: 4 / 3 / 3
    (Cantrips): Thorn Whip, Poison Spray, Guidance
    (First): Cure Wounds, Healing Word, Thunderwave, Fog Cloud, Entangle, Speak with Animals
    (Second): Spider Climb, Spike Growth, Darkvision, Moonbeam, Enhance Ability, Locate Object
    (Third): Meld into Stone, Lightning Bolt, Daylight
    _________________
    My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Mp7Ikko8SI
    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
    Posts: 696
    From: Sky Island, So Cal

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    Wed Jan 22, 2020 7:34 am  
    Post 100: The Ghost Tower (The Soul Gem!)

    DM's Note on Sources: This post contains spoilers from module C2: The Ghost Tower of Inverness.

    Numbers in (bold) refer to keyed areas in the module.

    Post 100: The Ghost Tower (The Soul Gem!)

    Unknown date and time, Summoned Ghost Tower(?)

    Mantabshapka does a few loops around the open hatchway (31) to gather speed, then enters. After swimming down for ten feet, he feels queasy as he leaves the reverse gravity effect and is now swimming up. After five more feet the water ends, and his head breaks the surface. There are thirty more feet of air-filled passageway leading up, with metal rings set into the wall. Above that it opens into a large, lit chamber.

    He returns to report, and then one-by one the others swim through the hatch until they are all treading water in the circular hatchway. Tyrius holds on to the lowest rungs of the ladder - his platemail would quickly pull him to the “downest” spot where the gravity switches, and hold him there underwater without a constant, furious effort to swim.

    Babshapka climbs over Tyrius, up the rungs, and pokes his head out through a hatchway (33) into the chamber above.

    He sees a 120' diameter circular chamber with a domed ceiling 50' high at the apex. In the center of the room, about four feet off the floor, floats a multifaceted, opaque white diamond about the size of a melon — the Soul Gem! Suddenly part of the room is lit with an intense, dazzling white light and a filled with buzzing sound. As the spots fade before his eyes, the room seems exactly the same - but for a faint smell of ozone. The object of their quest is before him!

    Babshapka watches for a while, counting. Roughly every six seconds, an eighth section of the room explodes with light and sound. The light seems confined to one section at a time.

    Babshapka crouches just below the entrance to the tower floor, waiting for the light. When it comes, but in another section, he launches himself out, even though he is blinded for a second. He runs along the border between two sections, hoping he will be able to dive out of the way if one of them is lit up. Counting in his head, he easily reaches the gem in three seconds, and stretches forth his hand to take it - but his hand impacts on a spherical, perfectly transparent surface, as if the gem was enclosed in a two foot diameter invisible crystalline sphere. He raps sharply with his fist, but the unseen sphere doesn’t move and he counts “four”. He turns and begins sprinting for the hatchway. He is in the air and diving for it when the room lights up - but not in his section. He takes some bumps and scrapes from the wall on the way down but lands safely in the water.

    [Note: Babshapka’s move is 35 feet in 6 seconds, 70 feet when he is dashing. The gem is 40 feet from the hatchway. Even without the protective sphere, he cannot get to the gem and back between flashes.]

    Aurora climbs into position just below the opening and begins to study the flashing, trying to deduce the pattern, while Babshapka returns to the water level. He cuts a large wing tip off one of the dead mantas and returns with it. At this point Aurora has seen more than thirty flashes, with no discernible pattern. Babshapka throws the piece of meat out just beyond the hatchway, then waits on the ladder until a flash has gone off above. He retrieves the wing tip - it has become completely pale, a dead-white color. Where it had been slowly oozing blood, it is now dry and lifeless.

    Over the next several dozen minutes, the party probes the gem room, trying to develop a strategy.

    Aurora casts mage hand - it floats out to within a few feet of the gem, then fizzles.

    Babshapka shoots an arrow at the gem - it is deflected before it even gets close, he suspects by a protection from missiles charm.

    Aurora shoots a firebolt - which fizzles when it gets nearby.

    Babshapka moves forward and swings his sword at where he estimates the protective sphere to be - he feels it connect with a solid clang, and then immediately feels a jolt of electricity course from his sword through his body. [Babshapka takes 10 points of damage]. The flash then goes off - but not in the section where Babshapka is standing.

    [Note: Babshapka cannot dash when taking the attack action, so he does not have move enough to attack and get back before the flash]

    Aurora sends her spider forth while she inhabits it from below - the spider climbs up on top of the protective sphere. It explores all over the surface, but finds no means of entry before it is caught in a flash. Aurora feels excruciating pain for an instant before the spider dies. Its body is discovered to be bleached white.

    Aurora reaches out with her message and attempts to contact the mind of the gem - instead, she finds hundreds, perhaps thousands, of minds, all clustered about or within the gem and screaming in torment. She quickly breaks off the connection.

    Aurora casts her sending spell, hoping for advice from her mentor - but she cannot seem to find him, and gets no response. The sending should work at any distance and even on other planes. This leads Aurora to speculate that either the tower is strongly shielded against magic, or they are in some other time, or outside of time, and her mentor does not currently exist in her reality!

    The party returns to their camp on the island to discuss options. Aurora struggles to remember what the Sage said about the gem…

    ”Legend says that it was like a great white diamond and that it glowed with the brilliance of the sun. In years long past it had fallen from the sky and landed in the Little Hills where Galap-Dreidel discovered it as it lay in the fires of its glory. Through magicks most arcane and knowledge forbidden to mortal men he did bend its power and shape the stone to his will. Stories say that the light of the gem dragged the souls of men screaming from their mortal flesh and trapped them within its many facets. Galap-Dreidel, it was said, harnessed this power and used it against all those who opposed his will. They also say that he who controlled the gem could call forth the stolen souls of men and make them do his bidding. For this stone Galap-Dreidel raised up the great central tower and filled his castle with many horrible creatures and deadly traps and, using a great incantation, he did wrest the tower from the very fabric of time and set it apart so that those within would not be affected by the passage of years. Thus it was that his traps never faltered nor did his guardians age or need food. Townsfolk whispered that Galap-Dreidel would, at times, set a prisoner free in the tower merely for the sport of his beasts. Some legends tell that his power was so great that he even taught the gem to protect itself from those who would take it from him.”

    It is clear that they have found the gem, and Aurora is disquieted to realize that the “minds” she felt are most likely the souls trapped in the gem itself. As far as the gem defending itself, that would account for the strange light. Fortunately, it seems a passive or random defense, and not specifically reacting to their presence or targeting them.

    With this in mind, it is agreed that they need some way to reach the gem as quickly as they can - before the light engulfs them - and that they need some way past the invisible barrier that guards it. “But how can we pass it?” asks Barnabus. “You’ve tried spells, and missiles, and striking, and nothing had any effect.”

    “Well…” says Babshapka. “I wouldn’t say they were all equally ineffective. Aurora’s spells didn’t work at all.”

    “That’s right,” says Aurora. “They failed completely as soon as they got close.”

    “But my arrow didn’t fail - it was just knocked off course. It is still up there in the room, it didn’t disappear.”

    “That’s splitting hairs,” objects Barnabus. “It still did no good.”

    “Perhaps not,” agrees Babshapka, “but my sword actually hit something. I felt it.”

    Barnabus shrugs. “But it didn’t break.”

    “True,” says Babshapka. “But didn’t break is different from can’t break. We know we can’t affect it at all by magic and missiles. But we know that we can hit it with a melee weapon.”

    Barnabus still looks doubtful, but Tyrius has now caught on to Babshapka’s conjecture. “So what you are saying,” asks the paladin, “is that maybe we can affect it - if we hit it hard enough?”

    Babshapka nods. “Maybe. I don’t see that we have any other options.”

    “Alright,” agrees Tyrius. “So we need someone who can get in and out before they get hit, but who can hit hard enough to break whatever protective field is around the gem.”

    “Bu’ remember,” chimes in Willa, “Babs got ‘it ‘imself when ‘e ‘it ther sphere - them wha’ goes needs t’ be able t’ take a ‘it, too.”

    “So speed, strength, and fortitude,” muses Tyrius. “Babshapka is our fastest, but is lacking in the other two areas. Thokk is fast and swings hard, but that giant nearly did him in - he’s in no condition to take a hit right now.” (Thokk, bored by all the talky-talk, is pacing the sand island on guard, and doesn’t hear this comment) “You’re strong enough and in good shape at the moment,” says Tyrius to Willa, “but you are hardly our fastest.”

    “Normally,” agrees Willa, “bu’ wi’ this…” Reaching into her backpack, she draws forth a vial, obviously a potion flask. The others struggle to remember where she got it, since she carries several and has since their first adventure. “This be ther flask from ther firs’ tower,” she reminds them, “from yon monster wha’ shot spikes. And it be a potion o’ flyin’” she says with satisfaction.

    It is agreed that they will return to the chute below the gem, and see how fast Willa can fly. Maybe she can zoom in, strike at the sphere, and zoom out before a flash. It seems like a long shot, or as she herself admits, a “crazy plan”, but it is the only idea they have at the moment.

    At the bottom of the chute Tyrius insists on casting a sanctuary spell on Willa. He says it may help if the gem does try to target her with the flash effect. She then tries various flight patterns, with and without her great sword in hand, with the others in the water calling out a time count for her. She thinks her great sword will do more damage, even if it is not magical.

    In her tests, Willa finds that she can easily get to the gem and back by concentrating on flying only, but if she has her sword out to attack, she can only get there and about half-way back before the next flash. The one that goes off is not in her section, but she is not eager to repeat that test.

    [Note: It is 40 feet to the gem, and 40 feet back to the hatch, and the flash is going off every six seconds. Under the [i]fly spell, Willa can move at 60 feet in six seconds, or 10 feet per second. She can do 120 feet with a dash, there and back safely to the hatch with two seconds to spare, but making an attack drops her speed to 60 feet and she cannot return before the flash[/i]]

    “I’ needs t’ be faster,” says Willa glumly.

    “Okay, we need to think about this,” announces Aurora.

    “How much time will that potion be in effect?” asks Tyrius. “How much time do we have to think?”

    “No idear,” says Willa.

    Tyrius’ brow furrows. “What goes faster than something flying?” he asks aloud. “Could we pull her faster than she can fly, if she were on a rope?”

    Aurora has Tyrius lock his legs into the rungs of the ladder and pull measured sections of the rope while the others keep time. “No, we can’t pull her fast enough,” she concludes.

    Tyrius tries to remove a leg from the rungs and nearly falls down the chute. Aurora looks at him, inspired.

    “Tyrius, you asked what is faster than flying. Falling is faster than flying!”

    “What?”

    “It is! Well, eventually…” Aurora tries to remember the maths. “After just one second of falling, an object is moving at 16 feet per second - that’s half again as fast as Willa is flying, and it just gets faster after that! We tie a rope to Willa, and the other end to someone on the top rung of the ladder...they jump off when Willa is returning - no, just before she returns, with some slack in the rope - so that by the time she is returning, they are already moving faster than she is, and they pull her into the hatch faster than she can fly by herself!” Aurora finishes triumphantly.

    The rest of the party looks at Aurora in a mixture of disbelief and hope. “Correction,” says Willa, “now t’is called ther “crazy stoopid plan.”

    Nevertheless, Willa assents to a rope being secured about her waist, and the other end being tied around Thokk, who has been recalled from the island. There is about 45 feet between them, and Thokk is carefully instructed to let Willa fly past him on “six” (at the flash), to climb out of the hatch on “three”, and then to turn and jump back into the hatch on “four”. By the time the rope goes taut, Willa should be on her return flight and Thokk should be falling swiftly down the shaft.

    When all is ready, Thokk hangs off the top rungs of the ladder, head below the hatchway, while Willa hovers in the bottom of the chute and the others keep time with the flashes. On “five!” Willa starts making for the hatchway, building speed even as the flash goes off in the room above her on “six!”

    Willa soars into the room and straight at the gem, drawing her greatsword as she flies. She lands her first blow just before “four!” and grunts as she is shocked in response. She swings again, then immediately turns and begins to fly away, even before she realizes that at her second blow there was a curious sound, as of shattering glass, barely audible above the buzz of lightning in her ears. [Willa took ten points from the first blow, and eight from the second]. Before her, the rope is rapidly snaking into the chute, and then she feels it pull her forward with a jolt. She is headed for the lip of the chute and about to crash into the floor! She tries to overfly the chute and barely misses the near edge as the rope again has slack, but she hits the far wall of the shaft on her way down as the room above her flashes with light.

    A second later, bruised and bobbing in the water, she is cursing like the sailor she is.

    “Perfect!” grins Aurora, “we heard your sword connect, and you were safely inside the chute before the flash!”

    “Safely?!” sputters Willa incredulously, trying to move her bruised shoulder under the plate armor.

    “Thokk made masterful jump into water,” says the half-orc happily. “No gem - we go again?”

    Willa says through gritted teeth, “Aye, Thokk, we go ag’in.”

    Before they return, however, Tyrius insists on renewing his expired sanctuary on Willa, and Dirty Larry casts “Cat’s Grace” (enhance ability - dexterity) on both her and Thokk. They then set up as before.

    “Five!” Willa makes for the hatchway. “Six!” the flash goes off, and ends just before she enters the room. “One!” “Two!” Almost there, she draws her sword. “Three!” she makes her first cut, but the sword slices through the air unimpeded, and she is too confused to make a second slice. “Four!” Could it be that she already broke the invisible sphere on her last flight? [Willa uses her action surge to take another action]. Willa sheathes her sword, then reaches out with both hands to seize the gem in her gauntlets, just is she is jerked backwards by the rope. “Five!” Willa rights herself, so that she is flying at the chute rather than being dragged backwards, but she already knows she will not make it in time. “Six!” call those below just as she crosses the threshold of the chute...but there is no flash!

    Willa slows her descent, hovering in the middle of the chute, now brightly lit by the glow from the gem in her hands. Another six-count goes by. Still there is no flash from above. And then the party breaks into raucous cheers.

    After waiting several minutes and still not seeing a flash, the party cautiously ascends into the domed chamber. Tyrius takes the gem from Willa, for safekeeping. “We have the object of our quest,” he says to the party. “Do we return to the Sage?”

    “How long do you figure it has been since we entered the Ghost Tower?” asks Aurora. “If the knight has given up the search for us, he could be back at the keep by now. If we need to face him, I would rather be rested first.”

    “Rest here?” asks Tyrius incredulously.

    Aurora explains that as dangerous as the room was moments ago, it now, with the capture of the gem, seems the safest place to rest in the tower. There is only one access point, it is farthest from the entrance, it is completely bare and without cover, and anyone arriving would need to climb up the water-filled chute. Although many of the others are still unsettled by their recent experience, they cannot argue with her logic. Babshapka is wistful that they never learned what would happen to a living creature caught in the flash from the gem, but Aurora tells him that the death of Charlotte settled the question.

    They quickly explore the room. There are few features - the grooves in the floor marking the boundaries of the eight sections, Babshapka’s arrow, the discarded piece of manta meat being the principal ones. In the center of the room are numerous pieces of shattered crystal - not invisible, but perfectly clear. Willa organizes a watch next to the hatchway, and a resting area on the other side of the room. This is a long rest, and bedrolls are taken out, food eaten, etc.

    Babshapka announces that he will be casting alarm on the other side of the water hatch, in the coral reef, and Tyrius asks him to bring back sand from the island. With a half-sack full of sand, Tyrius spends more than an hour methodically scouring his suit of plate armor, especially the joints, while he laments its immersion in salt water. When he is done, he wipes it down thoroughly with an oil-soaked rag.

    Aurora uses her time to perform a ritual casting of find familiar, bringing back her hawk, Buckbeak. Then she has Larry open the coffer containing all of the collected gems, sets it next to the gem-set crown from Tyrius, and she casts detect magic. She feels the clear presence of novel magic, but it is not coming from the crown or any of the gems! First she, then Barnabus, examines the coffer, and he quickly finds a false bottom. Opening it, they discover a huge, flawless, blue-white diamond - larger and more valuable than any of the gems found so far. There is also a beaten-bronze vial with a viscous liquid inside (which is magical), and a pair of hard metal bracers, such as those an archer would wear. These are the principal source of the magic she detected. After an hour of attuning with these, Aurora finds them to be bracers of protection. They will function to protect their wearer in combat - but only provided he or she is not wearing any other armor or carrying a shield. Thus, at present they can benefit only herself, and she does not mind claiming them for her own.

    Barnabus attempts to convince Tyrius to let him see the Soul Gem, and Tyrius flatly refuses. It is obviously an item of great power and evil, the paladin says. Its corrupting influence will be your undoing, he says. Barnabus keeps after him persistently - he does not want to take it, just to see it - just to say he held an item of that inestimable value in his hand. Tyrius will have none of it. Their conversation drags on and on, until those in the party trying to rest get involved just to get it over with. Finally, to put an end to the conflict, Tyrius agrees to terms. Barnabus will remove all of his gear, anything he might secret the gem inside. With the others in a ring around him, he will touch the gem with gloved hands, as Tyrius holds it firmly.

    When Tyrius pulls the gem out, they all gasp, even though they have all seen it before. The light it radiates, the pure power spilling from it, is overwhelming. As Barnabus stretches forth his hands, his face changes from triumph and greed to actual reverence, and his always-sure hands actually tremble as they touch it. Tyrius rapidly pulls it from him and secures it again. “That’s enough of that,” he says firmly.

    [For having actually touched the gem, worth an unimaginable amount, Barnabus is now level 6].

    After many hours of rest, they are all ready for their return. They gather around Aurora, linking arms, as she pulls forth the amulet given to her by the Sage. Activating the gems, she passes her hand over it, and they all feel the Tower begin to spin around them...


    New abilities in bold
    Barnabus the Minstrel
    Sixth Level Rogue (Assassin Archetype/ Halfling (Entertainer))
    Str 15 (+2) Dex 18 (+4) Con 12 (+1) Int 15 (+2) Wis 14 (+2) Cha 13 (+1)
    Hp. 41
    Languages Hobbniz (S/W), Common (S/W)
    Skills: Acrobatics, Deception, Perception, Performance, Sleight of Hand, Stealth (doubled), Thieve's Tools (doubled) - may choose two more for expertise
    Fighting Style: Two daggers, shortbow
    Uncanny Dodge
    Leather Armor+1, glamoured, Ring of Protection+1, Ring of Free Action, Staff of Shock, Potion of Healing, shortsword
    _________________
    My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Mp7Ikko8SI
    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
    Posts: 696
    From: Sky Island, So Cal

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    Tue Jan 28, 2020 4:48 pm  
    Post 101: Return to Highfell

    DM's Note on sources: So far as I remember, the description given of Highfell as a mining town and the presence of the Sage of Highfell are my own invention, although the Sage and the Speaker fulfill the same narrative roles as the Seer and the Duke of Urnst in the module C2: The Ghost Tower of Inverness. There aren't many spoilers in this post aside from the passing descriptions of the Soul Gem itself.

    Post 101: Return to Highfell

    Unknown date and time, unknown location

    After many hours of rest at the top of the Ghost Tower, they are all ready for their return. They gather around Aurora, linking arms, as she pulls forth the amulet given to her by the Sage. Activating the gems, she passes her hand over it, and they all feel the Tower begin to spin around them...

    As the spinning white gives way to spinning gray, the party collapses, heaving and gasping, on a cold, stone floor in a small, dark room. Their breathing slows, their heads clear, their eyes adjust to the dim light, and they struggle to their feet. This is not the stable they left from - nor is it any place in the Keep they remember.

    They are in a circular room of bare stone - with no apparent means of ingress or egress! A prison? The whole is lit dimly, but from what source is not apparent. The only thing in the room besides themselves is a chest of lacquered wood on the floor, closed and iron-bound.

    Tyrius is the last to his feet, and has to be helped up given his heavy armor. He places his hand to his temple, then shakes his head. He still cannot find Eddard. Looking about the room, he considers it just as well that the steed did not come with them - in this small chamber, he would easily have crushed someone during their “landing”.

    Suddenly the light in the room flares, and they can see the source - a thin double circle has been chalked on the floor around the chest, and sigils drawn in between the lines are now glowing brightly with white light, clearly illuminating the figure of Barnabus, frozen in the act of reaching for the lid.

    “Back away slowly,” advises more than one in the party. “And don’t cross the lines,” adds Aurora.

    By the brighter light they can now see chalk drawings on many of the walls. Not sigils though, but outlines, as of several windows and one door. The lines drawn cross over stones and mortar but seem to be normal chalk, not glowing.

    Several minutes of searching reveal no hidden means of exit, and more than one of them is beginning to suspect they have been double-crossed by the Sage. Aurora examines the amulet carefully, while Tyrius surreptitiously checks that he still has the Gem. Barnabus tries unsuccessfully to convince the others that the way out must lie in the chest. For the moment Aurora is refusing to open it with her mage hand, but she is beginning to consider it.

    Just as her will wavers, the chalk outline of the door flashes, and suddenly a real stone door is opening inwards, pushed from behind by the frail Sage. Beyond the open door is a narrow torch-lit hallway and ascending spiral stair. The Speaker is a stride behind the Sage.

    “Do you have…” begins the Sage, his old voice thick with emotion. Tyrius draws forth the Gem, flooding the room with light, and holds it up for them to see.

    Overcome, the two old men clap each other on the back then congratulate the party excitedly. Regaining his composure, the Sage crosses the floor and opens the chest, then gestures to Tyrius to place the gem onto the velvet-lined interior. “Quickly,” he hisses, when the paladin hesitates, “we don’t want any more residue than there already is - elsewise the Silent Ones will be able to find this before we have a chance to move it to a more secure location.”

    Dubious but convinced, Tyrius places the gem in the chest and then steps back. The Sage closes the lid, makes a mystic gesture with his hand, and a pearly-white globe of force surrounds the chest, its size precisely delimited by the chalk markings on the floor.

    [Note: For turning over the Gem as promised, Tyrius is now 6th level]

    The party begins to pepper the two men with questions, but the Sage shakes his head. “Not now” he says, “we need to seal this door as well”. The Speaker returns to the stairs, and the Sage motions to the party to follow him out into the hallway. Once they have all left the room, the Sage tugs heavily on an iron ring set into the outside of the door, which slowly swings shut. Just as it is flush with the doorway, the door becomes solid stone again - a blank wall save for a chalk outline of the door and the ring.

    The party follows the Speaker up the stairs, with the Sage coming last. Aurora, near Larry, asks how long they were in the Ghost Tower. The dwarf sucks at his lip and counts on his fingers as they ascend, finally whispering back, “a day, more o’ less, twenny-fer hours ‘roundaboots…”

    At the top of the stairs the Speaker undoes a bolt and heaves a trapdoor overhead. The party follows him up into a room that Aurora now recognizes as the entry floor of the Sage’s tower, where she spent a day copying spells. Once they are all through, the Speaker closes and bolts the door behind them, and the Sage carefully arranges a rug over top of it.

    “You returned the gem, and without losing a man besides,” begins the Speaker, “it appears we judged you well…”

    “What of the knight?” interrupts Aurora, and Tyrius makes a face at her discourtesy. “Is he still encamped at the ruins? Has he returned, or left the valley?”

    “Left the valley?” echoes the Speaker. Apparently his good humor permits him to ignore Aurora’s rudeness for the moment. “No, he is still encamped there - at least by the last report of my sentries. It has been just a few hours, after all.”

    “A few hours?” asks Aurora, incredulously.

    The Speaker opens the tower door, allowing them to see the sunlight-filled courtyard. “You left this morning, before dawn. It is now the waning afternoon.”


    6 November, 570. Highfell Keep (Note: at c. 25.5N, sunset 4:52pm)
    The party look at one another, confused and then realizing that all the time they spent in the Tower counted for naught. Tyrius frowns. “Then Eddard’s still up there. I have to go get him - or at least get close enough to communicate with him.”

    “I should think you first need to decide where you are going next,” says the Speaker. “We agreed the Sage would send you all to one place of your choosing - but that needs to be done before the knight realizes you are back at the keep.”

    Tyrius frowns. “I’m for my homeland,” he says, “Sterich. The rest of you are welcome to come. But I’m not going anywhere without Eddard.”

    Willa looks pensive. “I be goin’ w’ ye t’ ther ruins fer Eddard,” she says. “Me armor’s a might bit less clanky t’en yers, an’ we still be needin’ ther mule we lef’ in ther ruins.”

    Aurora looks about, confused by the sudden actions and declarations. “Willa - that mace you found at the nest in the fog…”

    “Wha’ o’ it?”

    “That’s party treasure, right - you didn’t mean to keep it?”

    “I suppose nae - wha’ use be ye havin’ fer it?”

    “We’ll, if we are leaving soon, we may need to trade it to the Speaker for...supplies.”

    Willa harrumphs, but fishes the mace from her backpack before setting out toward the postern gate with Tyrius. The Speaker waves at a guard to go with them and convey his permission to open the gate.

    With Willa gone, Aurora finds it easy to convince Larry to leave the gem-filled coffer with her before he heads off to the kitchens, followed by Thokk. Barnabus is already gone, though none saw him leave. With just the Speaker, the Sage, and Babshapka remaining, Aurora opens the coffer and shows them the gems the party recovered. The Speaker whistles. “I’m glad your bravery was not unrewarded,” he says dryly.

    “Yes, well,” says Aurora, “I was wondering if we might agree on a value for these, and consider having the Sage grant me more spells from his book…”

    By the time the sun has set, Tyrius and Willa are well along the trail leading to the ruins. Thokk and Larry are amusing themselves by having an eating competition in the kitchens, seeing who can consume more of a roast pig fresh off the spit. The Speaker has sent for a jeweler from the village, who has assessed the value of all the treasure from the Ghost Tower: a magic mace, a hundred coins of gold, twenty-eight gems, and a gem-encrusted wrought platinum crown. Babshapka guards the door of the Sage’s tower, while Aurora works within, transcribing two spells into her book: Fly, and Counterspell. The Sage is also hard at work, making copies in his own notation of two other spells, Greater Invisibility and Mordenkainen’s Private Sanctum. These latter two were desired by Aurora, but are as yet too powerful for her to understand and transcribe into her own book. Should she have his copies on hand in the future though - when her knowledge of the arcane is better - she could then copy them over. Aurora has traded all of the aforementioned treasure in return for these four spells, plus three pearls, a week’s worth of rations and supplies for the party, and seven small purses of coins. Barnabus, for his part, has not been seen by any of them since their arrival.


    7 November, Highfell Keep (low 36F, high 60F, thunderstorm 3am-4am)
    It is well past midnight when Tyrius and Willa, Eddard and the mule, finally arrive back at Highfell Keep. For the last hour they have been watching heat lightning dance between clouds as a storm makes its way north up the valley toward them.

    Tyrius calls up to the watchmen at the gate and eventually convinces them to raise the portcullis and allow them entry. The massive wooden gate itself was left open at the command of the Speaker. Babshapka, still on guard outside the Tower of the Sage, whistles across the moonlit courtyard at them as they head for the stables.

    Inside the stables Tyrius rouses a sleepy stableboy and sets him to fetching brushes for Eddard and then helping him off with his armor. Willa, with the mule in tow, tries to find the same stall the party’s other mule is in, so as to bed them together, but after peering into all the stalls twice, she cannot find it. She asks the boy, but he just shrugs.


    It is hours after midnight but still hours more before dawn when the first patters of rain hit the stones of the courtyard, followed by the low rumble of thunder. Babshapka curses in Elven, then lets himself into the Tower of the Sage. Both Aurora and the old man are hunched over the big oak table, quills moving deftly in hand and surrounded by candles. They don’t even look up as Babshapka enters. He sighs, draws a bar across the door, and goes to tend the embers of the fire.


    An hour before dawn, Aurora finishes tracing the last sigil on the thick vellum page of her spellbook. She pushes her chair back and stands. As she works the cramped muscles of her hand, she is suddenly aware of the knots in her shoulders and neck, the numbness in her rear. At the table, the Sage takes no notice of her. His hand seems to move across the page of its own volition, and his heavy-lidded eyes look not at her, nor the page, nor even the inkwell as he lifts and dunks the quill for the thousandth time. By a low fire, Babshapka sits cross-legged in trance. Aurora paces the room stiffly, hunched over but rolling her shoulders and trying to stand straight. Eventually she collapses into the Sage’s cushioned chair by the fire, and the room returns to quiet, with just the gentle scratching of a single quill to keep time.

    New abilities in Bold
    Tyrius of Sterich
    Sixth level paladin of Pelor (Sacred Oath of Devotion)/ Human (Oerid) (Noble)
    Str 15 (+2) Dex 9 (0) Con 12 (+1) Int 19 (+4) Wis 14 (+2) Cha 17 (+3)
    Hp. 49
    Languages: Keolandish (S/W), Common (S/W), Flan (Spoken only)
    Skills: History, Intimidation, Medicine, Persuasion
    Fighting Style: Dueling
    Plate armor, shield +1, "Molly" (war hammer+2)
    Spells: (4/2)
    (Cantrip): Light
    (1) Bless, Compelled Duel, Divine Smite, Cure Wounds, Detect Good and Evil, Heroism, Protection from Evil (oath), Sanctuary (oath), Divine Favor,
    (2) Aid, Find Steed, Lesser Restoration, Protection from Poison, Zone of Truth
    Ability: Aura of Protection
    Scroll of Protection from Undead, Scroll of Hold Person
    _________________
    My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Mp7Ikko8SI
    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
    Posts: 696
    From: Sky Island, So Cal

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    Tue Feb 04, 2020 3:12 pm  
    Post 102: Willa's Choice V

    Note: The contents of this post are known only to the player of Willa.

    Post 102: Willa's Choice V

    Back in "Post 90: The Keep, Inside and Out", the party explored the ruins of Inverness and set up a false camp to fool the knight while they explored the towers.

    Unbeknownst to the rest of the party, Willa left a message for the knight in the camp...

    After their meeting with the Speaker and Sage, when it was decided that the party would accept the expedition to the Ghost Tower, Willa wrote a note in the privacy of her bedchamber:

    “Knight: Still following Aurora. Why are you in the Yeomanry? Change in plans? Will continue on agreed-to plan. Leave note with mule if change in plans. SW.”

    Once the ink is dry, she carefully folds and slips the note into her smallclothes.

    (5am) Inside the courtyard is even darker than without, for the high walls block much of the night sky. The courtyard was once stone flagged, and here and there stone actually pokes through the millennia of dead plants and soil that have built up.

    Willa looks about. “We be wantin’ t’ be long gone afore yon knight shows up, but we be wantin’ him t’ believe t’ Speaker tha’ we war here. I say we set up a false camp.” She adds that with centuries of Highfellers searching the ruins, there has to be an abandoned campfire about. The party splits up, and soon a small ring is found, bare stone and ash in the center. Willa hobbles the mule, lays out some grain for him, and distributes most of the gear he was carrying among the party. While she is tending to the mule and unpacking gear, Willa has a chance to slip the note she previously prepared into one of the mule’s bags.

    Meanwhile others have found a door (3) in one of the corner towers.


    In "Post 101: Return to Highfell", Willa and Tyrius returned to the ruins to gather up Eddard and the mule.

    Unbeknownst to the rest of the party, Willa met with the knight in the camp...

    Willa and Tyrius are not far away from the keep when the sun sets. They continue to walk on in the gathering dusk for a while until it is truly dark, then stop to rest until the large moon rises as a waxing crescent. The smaller moon is new and will be so for a few more days. Not the darkest of nights, but not enough light for two humans to see much.

    While they rest, Willa confides to Tyrius that she intends to meet with the knight in the ruins. She explains that he is actually her contact with the King of Keoland, and the person to whom she reports about Aurora. She needs to know why he has followed them beyond the borders of Keoland, and what this mercenary company and pursuit is about.

    Tyrius agrees that it is important that she speak to the knight. He will not go with her. He appreciates that she is keeping as close a watch on Aurora as he is.

    After the large moon rises, they continue their walk up the trail through the pine forest, not stopping for a meal but chewing jerky and dried fruits as they walk. Hours later they pause where the forests thin as the land rises steeply to the bluff on which the ruins sit. If the knight’s camp has sentries, they are likely to be seen if they approach any closer. Tyrius says that Eddard is nearby, but that they will need some time to find one another. Willa says that she is proceeding on to the camp and they part ways.

    Willa rummages in her pack for a cleaning rag and fastens it to the hilt of her sword, then holds her sword over her head as she walks toward the ruins. She is within sight of the base of the packed earth rampart when a voice calls at her to halt. “Parley, parley!” she answers.

    From that point on, she is guided up the ramp by at least two voices. Her plate armor glints in the moonlight, but whatever sentries are guiding her must be in darker gear - they seem to stay just out of sight and tell her to stop when she gets too close. They speak Common well enough, but have odd accents and she remembers being told these mercenaries are from far to the north.

    When she draws level with the top of the bluff she can see that several campfires burn in the courtyard. A squad of men is at the portcullis, and they intercept her. She tells them that she wishes to speak with the knight. They relieve her of her helm, her sword, her mace, her crossbow, and her pack - but not, she reminds herself, the knife in her boot. Thokk had removed enough of the bars of the portcullis for Eddard to enter; Willa sees several horses among the camp after she steps through.

    She is taken to a campfire near a command tent, and once there she recognizes the scarred face of Sir Runnel. He is in a quilted gambeson but not heavy armor. He looks up, recognizes her, and waves both her escort and some nearby guards away. She joins him seated next to the fire.

    He tells her that he read her message on the mule, and left a response in lemon ink - she would have to have heated the note to see it. He also left a lemon next to the paper so that she would get the hint, but that otherwise the mule and its goods are unchanged.

    Willa says that she has done her end of the deal, making sure that Aurora left Keoland, but she wants to know why he is pursuing them.

    His voice drops even further. He explains that at first he was just shadowing them, making sure they stayed out of Keoland and the Dreadwood, rather than losing him and doubling back. Willa nods, knowing that even now Aurora is considering another attempt to find Valadis. But, he adds, as soon as it became apparent that Aurora was headed for Highfell, he realized that he needed to act more aggressively. He says that there is a certain magical item nearby, and he has been charged with making sure it does not fall into Aurora’s hands at any cost, and recovering it if possible. He knows that he doesn’t have any authority in these lands, but the risk should Aurora have the item was too great to remain at a distance.

    “Aye, ye speak o’ the s…” begins Willa, but the knight claps his hand over his mouth and she takes the hint.

    With a cinder from the fire, she scratches “SG” on a flat rock, for “soul gem”. He nods, then vigorously wipes away her writing. “So you know of this item?” he asks, but it is more a statement than a question.

    “Aye,” she says, but feels curiously conflicted about telling him more.

    “And the mage?”

    “Never touched it - tho’ it war in ther possession o’ our band fer a while. Now it be safe from her an’ others besides.”

    He looks at her carefully. “You swear there is no way she can get it?”

    “On me honor as a servant o’ the King - she dinnae ha’e it now, an’ by tommorer ‘twill be out o’ her reach fer good.”

    The knight looks at her for a long while, obviously wishing to ask her more, but constrained by the circumstances of their rather public meeting. Willa finds herself relieved she does not have to answer more questions, but tries not to show it. Let him be the one who worries about her loose tongue.

    [For keeping the gem from Aurora, and reporting to Runnel, Willa is now at 6th level]

    When he doesn’t speak more, she asks, “An’ wha’ be me orders, now? Fer whar I be sailin’?”

    “Stay with the mage, and wait for my next contact. Hopefully I won’t have an army behind me and can be more discreet. Take her away from the item, and away from the Dreadwood, if you can - the further, the better.”

    “Will ye be pursuin’ us?”

    “Yes, slowly - the farther and faster you can move, the less likely you are to see me any time soon.”

    Willa nods and rises - and he does not object. At the edge of the firelight a copper-skinned man stands, one hand on the bridle of the mule. Willa takes it from him and heads back to the portcullis. She receives her gear back from the men at the gate and tells them to “stay warm tonight,” in a gently mocking tone, then takes her leave.

    She has not been waiting on the trail long when Tyrius and Eddard appear. The four of them walk back to the Speaker’s keep together. Most of the conversation is between Eddard and Tyrius. They speak in Common so as not to exclude Willa, but she adds little to the exchange. Tyrius walks, taking turns with Willa at leading the mule.

    It is well past midnight when they arrive back at Highfell Keep. For the last hour they have been watching heat lightning dance between clouds as a storm makes its way north up the valley toward them.

    Tyrius calls up to the watchmen at the gate and eventually convinces them to raise the portcullis. Babshapka, still on guard outside the Tower of the Sage, whistles across the moonlit courtyard at them as they head for the stables.


    New abilities in bold

    Special Agent Willhemina Stoutly (Willa)
    Sixth Level Fighter (Martial Archetype: Champion) / Human (mixed race, predominantly Flan) (Sailor)
    Str 18 (+4), Dex 17 (+3), Con 14 (+2), Int 10 (0), Wis 9 (-1), Chr 9 (-1)
    HP. 62
    Skills: (Fighter): Insight, Survival (Sea and Coast), (Sailor): Athletics, Perception
    Fighting Style: Great Weapon Fighting, Improved Critical, Extra Attack
    Plate armor +2, greatsword, dagger, mace+2
    Potions of neutralize poison, healing, cure disease, sweet water
    _________________
    My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Mp7Ikko8SI
    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
    Posts: 696
    From: Sky Island, So Cal

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    Tue Feb 11, 2020 3:55 pm  
    Post 103: Good does not mean Stupid

    DM's Note: The End of an Era
    Attentive readers might recall from posts 1 and 12 that I started this game with three co-workers and one of their sons, and later added my daughter as Shefak. A few months before the play session in which the party obtained the Soul Gem and gave it to the Sage, a crisis of administration at my school resulted in four people being fired and another dozen resigning, several in protest. As people found new jobs, our play group went from meeting around a table in Utah to having people in all four time zones - eventually California, Utah, Iowa, and Florida. The play session described in posts 101 and 102 was our last time physically together.

    This post was written after e-mail exchanges in which we were trying to decide what to do. "Player 2", the player of Barnabus, was no longer with us, so it seemed a good time for the larcenous halfling to go his own way. That player also ran Tyrius, and while the remaining players wanted the paladin to remain in the party, it was not clear who would take him on. This post was Tyrius as a DM-run NPC in an attempt on my part to give a clear "thesis statement" on his character and motivation to see if anyone wanted to assume the challenge of playing a paladin. "Player 3", the son of "Player 2," was also no longer with us, which meant that Dirty Larry and Babshapka were also up for grabs.

    Post 103: Good does not mean Stupid

    7 November, 570 - Highfell Keep

    Aurora is shaken awake a few hours later by Babshapka, who claims the tempting smell of baking bread won’t let him trance further. Aurora smells nothing and tries to return to sleep, but her guard insists on her rising and accompanying him to the main hall of the keep. They leave the Sage behind, still scribing. When Babshapka opens the door of the tower, the chamber is flooded with light and the sounds of the courtyard. The Sage looks up briefly, then bows his head and returns to his page.

    (8am)
    At the Speaker’s table they find the rest of the party - excepting Barnabus - eagerly awaiting breakfast. Aurora makes to sit near the Speaker, but Tyrius intercepts her before she can take a chair. “Not yet,” he says sternly. “First we need to talk.”

    “About where we are going?” asks Aurora sleepily.

    “No,” says the paladin, “about where you have been.” He turns and politely requests that the Speaker send his servants from the room.

    Aurora conceals her annoyance (poorly) by fixing herself a cup of coffee as the small folk depart. The Yeomanry is the only country in the region that produces coffee, and it is known throughout Keoland. If the tales be true, it is grown far away from these Little Hills, in the southwest Yeomanry, on the slopes of volcanoes!

    “Now, what’s this all about?” asks Aurora, a bit too casually.

    “I have prepared zone of truth,” says the paladin, “and I would like you to answer a few questions.”

    “About what?” she says, her voice rising from casual to nearly shrill.

    “About the book, and the knight, and why he is still pursuing us, and what came before, and what your real goals are.”

    “We’ve been through this before!” she explodes. “I answered your damn questions, and you promised that if we made it to the Yeomanry, you would defend me against him.” [See Post 84, 27 October]

    Tyrius waits for her to apologize for swearing in front of the Speaker, but when she does not, he replies, “I promised nothing. I said the knight had no authority here, so I would defend you as a trusted party member. But now I am wondering if I trust you. And,” he adds, “if you recall, at the time, I agreed to ask you about the book and the knight only - at your request. But I think there is something larger going on here, and now is the time for you to answer for it. The knight has the book - if he is still pursuing you, it is for another reason. We need to know what that reason is.”

    At this, Aurora is silent, as she casts about for another way out of the situation.

    “This is hardly something I can speak of in front of our host. This is party business,” she eventually offers.

    “Our host is the lord...” (and here the Speaker harrumphs), “...excuse me. Our host is the representative of this valley, and he is responsible for defending all of the people hereabouts. Your actions, whatever they were, have brought an armed, foreign host into his lands and endangered his people. He has as much a right to know why as we do.”

    Cornered, Aurora grinds her teeth and sinks into a chair. “Fine,” she says, “cast away.”

    Tyrius casts his zone of truth and asks Aurora if she has any idea why the knight is still following her. “No,” she says angrily, “I don’t know him, and my only interaction with him has been when he tried to arrest me. He said the charge was 'use and possession of forbidden knowledge.' You told me,” she continues, “that he had no authority in the Yeomanry, and so was unlikely to follow us here, and I believed you.” She thinks for a moment more, then flashes a wicked smile. “Although I can truthfully say that it is possible he is a paladin, and if so he could have a stick of duty so far up his holy **** that he is compelled to complete the mission of arresting me.”

    Tyrius is practiced at ignoring her barbs and does not rise to the bait. Rather, he stands, pondering, then says. “He said you were charged with 'use and possession of forbidden knowledge,' but he did not say that you were specifically charged with having or reading the book?”

    “He asked me whether I had read it - and when I said I had, he immediately charged me.”

    “Yes, but he did not specifically charge you with reading it?”

    “I suppose not.”

    “So it is possible that he was asking about the book, but he was also charging you with use and possession of some other forbidden knowledge - independent of, or in addition to, the contents of the book.”

    “That is possible, yes. I had not considered it before.”

    “So what other forbidden knowledge do you possess, Aurora?” As the import of the question registers with her, Aurora’s eyes go wide.

    “I...well...I know about the item we recovered for the Speaker. But the so-called-knight followed us here long before any of us knew about that.”

    “Indeed. Now, you have said that you do not believe this knight is a servant of the crown.”

    “I don’t…” Aurora considers her answer carefully, and the fact that she is under the effects of a spell that will detect lies. “I have said that, yes,” she agrees brightly.

    “Well, let us suppose that he is. What knowledge do you possess that the King of Keoland might forbid someone like you from having?”

    “I have already told you that the contents of the book present a different version of the history of the settlement of the Sheldomar Valley than the official one - and one that is not as flattering to to the King’s ancestors.”

    “Yes, what else?”

    “And you know that I was interested in the ruins of Valadis, because I am trying to figure out what happened to the Suel house of Malhel. I have read conflicting accounts of whether they were driven from Keoland by the Neheli, or whether they destroyed themselves through dark magic. I would like to know what actually happened.”

    “Why do you think this knowledge might be forbidden?”

    “An old elf told me so.”

    “What exactly did he tell you?”

    “He told me that when the Neheli were forced to retreat from the northern Sheldomar, they contested with the Malhel for control of the plains and eventually won by enlisting the aid of the other houses. He said the when the Malhel were driven off, they took refuge in the deep Dreadwood and vowed revenge. He said that the fact that they took refuge in the Dreadwood was a secret - something that the elves had promised the crown to not tell the humans. And he said that the ruins of the Malhel could be found in the city of Valadis, but that elves agreed to seal it off and keep humans from approaching it.”

    “So from this elf you learned something you are not supposed to know about a city that the elves are supposed to keep secret from humans.”

    “I’m not a human.”

    “But neither are you an elf, of one of the tribes that has been charged with protecting this city and which has been sworn to secrecy.”

    “No, I am not.”

    “How did you come to suspect that these “Malhel” might have retreated to the Dreadwood? Why were you looking for information about that to begin with?”

    “Initially my mentor in Ulek suggested I investigate the issue. Later I found clues in several books of histories.”

    “And how did you obtain these books?” Before Aurora can answer, Tyrius continues, “Did you tell their owners what you were looking for?”

    Aurora squirms. She is not ashamed of anything she has done, of course, but the way the sanctimonious paladin is forcing her to “confess” in front of the Speaker...perhaps she would rather take her chances facing the knight.

    “Some of them I looked at without permission. Others I misled the owners as to what I was actually looking for. In no case did I tell their owners what I was actually interested in.”

    Tyrius pauses in his questioning, and Babshapka breaks in. “Wait...so those pages you had me steal out of the book in Gradsul…”

    Aurora sighs. “...were not about my family history. I lied to you. They were about the Malhel, yes.”

    Why you little…” begins Babshapka, but Tyrius holds up his hand.

    The paladin continues. “So it is possible that the King sent the knight to arrest you for any of these forbidden knowledges - the existence of Valadis, the fate of the Malhel, or even just your persistent research into the history of the Sheldomar continually perpetuated by fraud.”

    “It is possible, yes.”

    “Our host spoke of how he wanted to keep the item we recovered out of the hands of the Silent Ones. Did the knight mention the Silent Ones to you?”

    “No, he...actually, yes, yes he did, now that I recall. He said the Silent Ones had told him that the arcane boundaries around the lands of the vampire had fallen - and that their divinations were now able to penetrate and discern the book.”

    “So, this knight has some arrangement with the Silent Ones. He might be working with them, as well as for the King?”

    “I don’t know. But it is possible, based on what he said.”

    Tyrius pauses again, and this time no one interrupts. “At any time have you been interested in learning more about the Malhel so that you could replicate their power?”

    “Necromancy? Demonology? No thank you. There are plenty of fields of magic to study, and I am an enchantress. I have no interest in the dark arts for their own sake.”

    Tyrius nods. “Then I think we are done.” He smiles patronizingly. “And about time - I’m ready for breakfast!”

    The Speaker raps a staff loudly on the floor and after a pause the doors of the hall open and servants return to serve breakfast. The party digs in with gusto, all except Aurora, who petulantly picks at her food. Tyrius finds cockroaches floating in his coffee, but when he tries to take them out, the minor illusion is dispelled. When his plate is spilled into his lap however, he rises, apologizes to the Speaker, and moves to the far end of the great trestle table, out of reach of Aurora’s mage hand. Deprived of a target for her ire, Aurora finally looks about and begins to notice the others.

    “Hey,” she says, “where’s Barnabus?”

    “Long gone, I’d wager,” says Willa, wiping the ale-foam from her lips on the back of her sleeve (she regards the foreign coffee with suspicion). “Ain’t nobody seen ‘im since yesserday, nor ‘is mule neither. An’ this mornin’ when ye be abed, I got all our gear t’gether in order t’ pack out - ther only thing what were missin’ were all ‘is things - includin’ ther cold weather clothes we ain’t never worn wha’ were in a separate pack an’ all.”

    “Well, he’s free to go of course,” says Aurora, “but it is odd he would take off before we divided our treasure from the Ghost Tower. He’s forfeiting his share.”

    Willa snorts and spews foam across the table. “Divide wha’ now?” she asks rhetorically, then lifts a new leather purse that hangs at her side. She shakes it, so the sound of a few jingling coins can be heard. “Also while ye be abed, yon Speaker told us ye had made a deal t’ trade all o’ our booty fer spells, such that these ‘ere coins be all wha’s left fer us. Ther halfling walked off wi’ more’in all our “shares” combined!”

    “Yes, well,” mumbles Aurora, “the Sage was kind enough to offer us many spells in trade that we might not have access to in the future, all for the good of the party. It’s an investment, really. If you think about it.”

    After that Aurora continues to pick at her breakfast sullenly, although the others, with the encouragement of the Speaker, begin to discuss among themselves where they might want the Sage to send them. The Speaker reminds them that there will be one magical transportation, only - if they are not all going to the same place, some of them will be walking out the gate. Tyrius repeats his invitation for the party to travel to his homeland of Sterich. Willa says she will not be going back to Saltmarsh any time soon - at least not with the party, as it appears that nowhere in Keoland will be safe for Aurora. Larry is non-committal, and Babshapka is duty-bound to stay with Aurora. Thokk has lots of ideas of where they can go, but the places and their names sound so fanciful that the others figure they are derived from orc mythology rather than the real world. Aurora half-heartedly says that she would like to check back in with her mentor in Ulek, but that she wants to speak to the Sage first. She mumbles that it is still a good idea to try to return to Valadis, especially since the Sage may be able to bypass some of the wards around the place if he sends them there.

    It is at the end of the meal, when servants are clearing plates, that a soldier enters to inform the Speaker that the knight has broken camp in the ruins and his company is returning down the trail to the keep.

    “I will see to the Sage,” the Speaker tells the party as he leaves. “It appears you have a few hours left to make your decision for those who will be leaving magically. Those who would leave on foot should be gone long before that.”

    “Right,” says Willa, “let’s get our gear t’ the stables - we want the Sage t’ send our mule wit’ us, if possible. Each o’ ye be responsible fer yer own things, an’ I’ll get ther party supplies as well.”

    Tyrius answers her, “We’ll stop by our rooms to get our things in a bit, but Aurora and I need to see some people in the keep first. The Speaker was supposed to be having my armor cleaned, and Aurora needs to see that the food supplies we are being given are everything she negotiated for.” Willa nods her assent as she leads the others from the hall back to the guest chambers.

    Aurora doesn’t remember assigning herself any such task, but she does know that the Sage still owes her two spells. However, now that she is alone with Tyrius, her ire boils forth. “How dare you treat me that way in front of the Speaker! I didn’t tell him anything you didn’t already know, or at least suspect. What was the point, just to humiliate me so you could proclaim your holy superiority?”

    Tyrius remains calm, his face unmoved. “Two things,” he says simply. “First - we’ve already lost Barnabus, and we are facing a decision that has the potential to split the party still further. I wanted everyone in the party to understand that the knight may be after you because you possess “forbidden knowledge” independent of the book, but the point is, we all have that knowledge now. Any one of us could be a target of him. If people understand that, I believe we will be more likely to stay together and defend one another than to go our separate ways. I did tell you that if we came to the Yeomanry and the knight followed that I would defend you. The best way I have to defend you right now is to make sure the rest of the party knows that they have a common cause with you so they will fight alongside me to protect you.”

    Aurora stares at Tyrius, still angry, but now confused, as well. “Wait - that whole zone of truth was you trying to help me?”

    “Second,” continues Tyrius, without acknowledging her question, “consider what is about to happen. Most or all of us are about to be transported together, magically, instantly transported to anywhere the Sage chooses.”

    “Sure, but we’ll tell the Sage where we want to go, so what’s wrong with that?”

    “What’s wrong is that we don’t know the Sage, or the Speaker, and they don’t know us. They know we all know about the Gem, and they are desperate to keep the Gem out of the hands of the Silent Ones. Why should they want us walking around with knowledge about what happened? The safest thing for them to do would be to teleport us all to the bottom of the Azure Sea and be done with it. Eight people can keep a secret as long as six of them are dead, to borrow a saying.”

    “But...but...but why would they do that?”

    “Why wouldn’t they? I’ve felt them, Aurora - felt their souls. They are not Evil men - but neither are they committed to Good. They want to protect their people more than anything. They hate and fear the Silent Ones - how do they know that we are not working for them? Half of us are from Keoland, or countries that share a friendly border with Keoland. And we just show up here all of a sudden, just before the Silent Ones’ knightly emissary does? How can they not think that is more than coincidence?”

    With her anger fading, Aurora’s intellect is finally unimpeded. “So you making me say in the zone of truth all the reasons the Silent Ones and the Keoish Crown might want to arrest me…”

    “...was to make sure the Speaker believes that there is no way you, or we, could be secretly working for the Silent Ones.”

    “But, Tyrius, what about your vows of Honesty? That was downright deceptive.”

    “No, not deceptive. What you told them was the truth. And we really need them to understand the truth about us - to know that they can trust us. We could have simply told them that directly, but they still would have no reason to believe us. I admit the whole thing was a bit staged, but neither you nor I said anything false in that exchange. My vow of Honesty commits me to telling the truth - not bent, not twisted, not colored. I must speak the truth. But how and when and how much of the truth I tell are up to me and what I believe is in the best service to Pelor.”

    “I don’t know what to say. I haven’t seen this side of you before.”

    “I’ve been talking with Eddard a lot. He is indeed a great strategist, and that is why he was sent to help me. He reminds me of a teacher I had in seminary, an old priest who taught logic and rhetoric. He would start every lesson by telling us, “Students, always remember - Good does not mean Stupid.”
    _________________
    My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Mp7Ikko8SI
    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
    Posts: 696
    From: Sky Island, So Cal

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    Tue Feb 18, 2020 3:32 pm  
    Post 104: Preparing for the Jump

    DM's Note: A new era begins
    As mentioned above, this was our first session played live and online. We use Roll20. Arranging play times with our work schedules and disparate time zones is difficult, but worth it.

    For my sources on Asberdies and Nholast, I used fannon from Greyhawk author Samwise:
    http://www.canonfire.com/cfnew/modules.php?name=News&file=print&sid=716
    http://www.canonfire.com/cfnew/modules.php?name=News&file=article&thold=-1&mode=flat&order=0&sid=733

    Also, note that the description of teleport below is decidedly not RAW. In my campaigns, there is no such thing as instantaneous travel, a minor conceit to real world physics. Spells such as blink and dimension door take one in and out of the Border Ethereal briefly. Spells such as teleport create journeys through the Deep Ethereal.

    Post 104: Preparing for the Jump

    7 November, 570 - Highfell Keep

    (10am) An hour later, in the stables, the entire party is gathered, with all of their gear. The talk is again of where to go next, this time more in earnest. Aurora is more vocal that they should return to Valadis, but she is the only one in favor of that. They all agree that Tyrius’ suggestion of Sterich is a safer alternative - yet it holds little draw for anyone besides him. They are not looking for safe, but rather for somewhere challenging enough to be rewarding. Valadis is judged to be too challenging, and unlikely to reward anyone but Aurora.

    Finally the Speaker and Sage show up, the latter more stooped and bleary-eyed than they have seen him previously. He hands Aurora a stoppered bronze tube, and she quickly verifies that it holds vellum sheets with the two spells he had promised.

    The Speaker asks whether they have come to a decision about where they are going, and Willa admits that they haven’t. Aurora interrupts by asking if the Sage can tell her anything about the Yaheetes. The Sage looks surprised, the others confused. “It’s something I haven’t had a chance to ask you until now - and I wanted to make sure to ask you before we left.”

    The Sage spreads his cloak over a pile of straw and sits wearily. “That is an old tale, and long,” he begins, “but I will make it as short as I can, considering that even now the knight is marching on this keep. Long ago, but after the migrations, there was a great and evil wizard named Asberdies. He ruled all of what is now the Yeomanry, and more besides, and the ancestors of our people suffered under the yoke of his oppression. Some say it was his tyranny that has made our people suspicious of magic to this day, and that may be so. Asberdies had as his chief assistant a Suel scholar and historian known as Nholast the Unforgiven. While not as great in arcane abilities as Asberdies, he was very resourceful and skilled, and continually unearthed relics and items of power for his master. Together these two ruled our lands for decades, perhaps centuries - the records are sparse and unreliable. Finally, the atrocities of Asberdies grew too great, and the people staged a general rebellion against the wizard. The nascent nation of Keoland joined them, taking the opportunity to rid its borders of a dangerous neighbor. Although losses were great on all sides, eventually Asberdies was overthrown and slain. Nholast, however, escaped and disappeared.”

    “Decades later, Nholast resurfaced in Keoland, leading the Yaheetes in a great civil war against the nobles of Keoland. The Yaheetes were a Flan tribe that had been subjugated since the arrival of the first Suel in the Sheldomar centuries ago. They had long suffered under Suel rule, but it had been thought for generations that they were a broken and dispirited people. Somehow Nholast had united them in secret, and they rose up against their oppressors in a violent and bloody rebellion. Nholast eventually lost this conflict as well, and this time he was slain, as his master had been in the last war.”

    “Fascinating!” says Aurora eagerly, “Do you have any written accounts of these people and events?”

    “Of course,” answers the Sage, “but none I will let you take with you, and none you can hope to read before the knight arrives. Now, where is it that you want to go?”

    “We...uhhh...is there anywhere we can learn more about these people? A library in your capital city, perhaps?”

    Now the rest of the party are beginning to grumble. This was not part of the plan.

    “No, our capital is not much of a center of learning - I wager my library is the best in the Yeomanry, at least on this particular subject - I’ve spent my life acquiring any texts that exist. The only other ones are still in situ.”

    In situ?” gasps Aurora. “You mean there are still sites from this time with intact writings?”

    “A few, in the more remote regions of the Yeomanry. All of the towers of Asberdies were torn down and his writings destroyed, for they had been centers of administration used to dominate the populace. But Nholast was fond of placing his towers in more remote places, suitable for research and away from settlements. A few of these have survived, more or less intact - the ones whose specific locations were lost.”

    “Specific locations? But you know of their general location?”

    “One. Far to the northwest of here, deep in the Little Hills. I don’t know the actual location, but I have seen a crude map and I possess a drawing of the tower itself. From time to time I have even tried to cast divination spells on it, thinking if I could locate it better I might visit it someday and add to my historical texts. Alas, my time is short and it will not happen in this life.”

    Aurora’s eyes are bright. “But if you have located it through divination, then you could teleport us there, even if you don’t actually know where it is.”

    The Sage frowns thoughtfully. “I suppose I could…”

    “Lower those sails,” interjects Willa, “wha’ be ye goin’ on aboot now?”

    “Look!” says Aurora excitedly, “It’s perfect! We all want a place away from the knight, with challenge and reward, right? Well, if the Sage sends us to this tower, it’s got everything! It’s an old ruin, so there is bound to be some monsters around. Tyrius can smite evil, and we can collect their treasure. Plus it surely has information about Nholast and the Dreadwood and this whole conspiracy of history that I am after. It is far from here, and farther from Keoland, so it will get us away from the knight, and it is to the north, so closer to Sterich. And,” she adds with a final flourish, “if the Sage doesn’t even know where it really is, he can honestly tell the knight that he doesn’t know where we went!”

    The party looks from one to another. They have all developed a pretty skeptical reaction to Aurora’s suggestions, moreso when she tries to convince them that a plan is perfect, but in this case they have to admit that it does sound like an ideal compromise.

    Willa, the lead skeptic, weighs in. “Fair wind there, an’ a good eno' port - but how be we sailin’ out? If we be in ther middle o’ nowhere, wi’ no idear o’ where we be, how be we leaving?”

    Aurora answers confidently, sketching a map in the air. “The Sage says this tower is in the Little Hills - they are not that extensive. No matter where we land, we should be able to see the Joten Mountains to the west. So wherever we are, we simply leave moving north - eventually we will find a stream, which has to be a tributary of the Javan - so we follow that and end up on the south bank of the upper Javan, back in civilization.”

    At this, a deep clanging comes from the courtyard - the alarm bell is tolling. The Speaker looks up, “That means the tower has spotted the knight’s company close at hand. You don’t have long - less than an hour.”

    “Send us now!” calls Aurora, but the Sage holds up his hand.

    “It’s not that simple,” he says. “Sending you somewhere I don’t know personally is dangerous - you can wind up off-course, and could come out beneath the oearth or a mile up in the sky. I need to study that picture of the tower so you have the best chance of all getting there intact.”

    Willa starts to object at the word “intact,” but the old Sage has already shuffled out of the stables. Guards are rushing in, and the Speaker is giving them orders. He turns to the party and tells them to stay out of sight until the Sage returns.

    Aurora did not have a full night's rest in the Keep, but she was at full spells from the last full rest in the Ghost Tower. She casts mage armor, but the others make no preparation besides checking that all their gear is on the remaining mule.

    Some thirty minutes later the Sage returns, and he draws the stable doors closed behind him, chuckling. He carries an ancient leather-bound book, which he opens to a page containing an illustration of a curiously-shaped tower. The sepia ink is faded by centuries and hard to tell in places from the yellowed page itself, but the tower is visible nonetheless.

    The sage asks them all to join hands, or hands with manes, in the case of Eddard and the mule. Those who are ignorant of magic, he says, incorrectly assume that teleportation is instantaneous, because it can be used to cover vast distances in short amounts of time, and further assume that objects can simply “wink out” and come into existence somewhere else. But those capable of such feats know better, and that the laws of metaphysics do not allow things to simply “disappear” and “reappear” somewhere else. Rather, for short distances, teleportation sends creatures through the Border Ethereal - a plane that is everywhere contiguous with the real world, but where travel is faster. For long-distance travel, however, it is necessary for travelers to enter the Deep Ethereal, which retreats from the real world both in space and time. It is through the Deep Ethereal that he will now send the party. He warns them that objects in the Deep Ethereal move at the speed of thought, and that they may see other travelers while they are there. His spell will project them to the vicinity of the tower, but it is essential that they remain holding hands and let their only thoughts be that of staying together. Should one of them think too hard of another place, they may be torn from the group and end up lost and stranded in the Deep Ethereal.

    Looking around at one another, the group forms a small circle. Aurora stands to the left of the mule, with Thokk to her left, then Willa, Larry, Babshapka, Tyrius, and finally Eddard. Eddard has no hands to grab Randy with, so he simply leans in close and drapes his neck over that of the mule. Despite the Sage’s advice that they join hands, no one seems to worry that Randy and Eddard are next to one another in the circle. The Sage looks around expectantly, then shrugs when they don’t react.

    The Sage pulls out the familiar gem-encrusted disk. Touching the gems in rapid succession, he stares intently at the faded drawing of the tower.

    “Ugh,” says Willa in disgust. “Thokk, yer 'and be sweaty.” The Sage sighs.
    _________________
    My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Mp7Ikko8SI
    Master Greytalker

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    Tue Feb 25, 2020 5:17 pm  
    Post 105: The Deep Ethereal

    DM's Note on Sources:
    For the Roll20 backdrop map I used: https://triplecrit.fandom.com/wiki/Deep_Ethereal

    For the background music / sound track, I used "Sanctuary of Ether" by Rauros92.

    I made up some rules for group travel through the Deep Ethereal, based on the idea that movement is at the speed of thought but also allowing for physical interactions.

    The party was traveling approximately 150 miles northwest. I calculated movement through the Deep Ethereal as "flying" with the Dash action, prorated by Wisdom (to a maximum speed at Wisdom 20), in the subjective time of the Deep Ethereal. Real time on the prime passes ten times faster. Fly is 60 feet per six seconds, or with Dash 120 feet per six seconds (this is about 8 mph). The average wisdom in the party was 12, so 12/20 times max rate. They left at 10:30 am, traveled about 90 minutes subjective time, and arrived about 5am the next day (November 8th).

    Once their journey was under way, Randy the mule immediately begin to react. He needed to make a DC 10 Wisdom save (Tyrius gave +3). Since his head was not covered, the save was with disadvantage. If the person next to him made a DC 12 animal handling check, he could be calmed enough for his wisdom check to not be at disadvantage. If the mule failed his check, he would begin to pull away from the group - keeping it in the circle would require the people on either side to make a Str save (Tyrius gives +3 to all others) on DC 10 (the Wisdom of the mule). Failure for either partner would it had broken free of their grasp - breaking both sides free would cast the mule adrift in a random direction.

    Those facing roughly SE could make a DC15 perception check (Larry and Thokk at disadvantage) to see that one “door” was particularly bright and open. Those facing roughly NW would see the same. These doors were where they were coming from (Highfell) and going to (the Tower of Nholast). All the other "points of light" were possible portals back to the Prime. Trying to see the NW one better required a DC10 Arcana or Investigation roll; success would reveal the tower on the other side of the door. There would be no ill effect from this. Trying to see the SE door required a DC15 Arcana or Investigation roll to see that the courtyard on the other side of the door; however, making this roll counted as “thinking of another place” and would then immediately necessitate a DC 10 Wisdom save (Tyrius gives +3 to all others). Failure would then indicate that that individual would begin to be pulled away from the circle - keeping them would require those on either side to make a Str save (Tyrius gives +3 to all others) (DC is the Wis score of the straggler) to keep them in the circle - failure would mean they had broken free of that hand. Breaking both hands would cast them adrift in the general direction they were thinking of, possibly returning to the Keep if that was what they were investigating.

    If a character was cast adrift and realized the need to focus on the tower, a DC 15 Wis save would get them headed back in the right direction - otherwise, they would be lost. If traveling independently of the party, I would compare their Wis to the average Wis of the party - if theirs was higher, they could overtake the party and possibly rejoin them. If not, they might arrive at the tower later.

    After 45 minutes of subjective travel, everyone needed to make DC10 Wis save (Tyrius gives +3) to keep their minds from wandering to other places and times. Results of failure as above. Anyone who failed a check could not help their neighbor stay in the circle.

    If the mule made its initial save, it would be fine for the rest of the journey, but if it failed, it will need to check again at this point.

    After 60 minutes of subjective travel, anyone facing northeast would make a DC15 perception check (Larry and Thokk at disadvantage) to notice that one light had been open quite a long time. If they investigated, they could see (DC15 Arcana or Investigation) a ruined city and DC18 a single humanoid figure on a path toward them. Deliberate investigation would require another Wis save (DC10, +3 from Tyrius) to not be ripped from the group.

    After 75 minutes of subjective travel, anyone facing northeast would make a DC12 perception check (Larry and Thokk at disadvantage) to notice that one light has been open quite a long time. If they investigated, they can see (DC18 Arcana or Investigation) a ruined city and DC15 a single humanoid figure on a path toward them. Deliberate investigation will require another Wis save (DC10, +3 from Tyrius) as above

    After 90 minutes of subjective travel, the tower destination would become clear and the portal would loom into focus. It would grow to meet them, and then they will be standing on the grass, outside.

    Tyrius' new Aurora of Protection ability proved instrumental in seeing the party through this challenge.

    Post 105: The Deep Ethereal

    7 November, 570

    Before, the sensation was that of spinning rapidly about the center of a circle. Now, however, it is very different. The world around them - the stable, the courtyard of the keep, appears to grow wan and transparent and smaller - or perhaps they are growing larger? As if they were a circle of giants, the courtyard shrinks between them and pales. They find themselves standing, or rather floating, in a vast dark space. In all directions - around them, above and beneath them, are lights like stars - but they are fewer and do not twinkle. Rather, the lights appear, last several minutes, and then disappear completely. A wind seems to be blowing, but it is hard to determine the direction. They can hear each other's’ words, but muffled as though in thick cotton.

    Immediately Randy begins to bray nervously and thrash about. No one had thought to prepare him for this, and he does not like it!

    Aurora tries to grab Randy's mane tighter, but her tugs seem to be setting the beast off more. She considers sending it a message, but she needs her hands for that. Aurora looks at the others is desperation. “That mule has all our gear!” she shrieks. “Do something to help!”

    “Mule good food!” shouts Thokk. “Don’t let go!”

    “Aye, hold t'at beast, wench!” shouts Willa.

    Just as Randy is on the point of breaking free of Aurora’s grasp, Eddard whispers soothing words to the mule. Lacking hands, he uses his broad head to gently nuzzle the mule's neck. Slowly the mule calms. Tyrius, hand intertwined in Eddard’s mane, says a prayer to Pelor.

    [Eddard’s animal handling roll calms Randy enough to allow for a Wisdom save against fear - he fails based on his roll, but the +3 he gets from being within range of Tyrius’ Aura of Protection makes the difference for him to make the save.]

    Finally Randy’s struggles cease. The party is able to look about them. To some, it appears as if they are in a night sky with but few stars and no moons. To others, it seems more like they are in a vast, dark attic. Distant doors and trapdoors open briefly, creating outlines of light, and then close again. All of the party are facing inward, looking at one another. Of them, Tyrius, Babshapka, and Larry are oriented so as to be able to see in the direction they are heading. Tyrius has his eyes closed in prayer, and Larry just sees faint lights. Babshapka, however notices that there is one pool of light that does not wink in and out, but stays constant. It is toward this light that the whole party seems to be drifting. If he stares hard enough at that circle of light, he finds that he can see a tower in a wooded field - a tower much like the one in the Sage’s drawing.

    Thokk and Aurora, on the other hand, are in a position to see from where the party is coming - and Randy as well, for that matter. While Aurora is concentrating on holding the mule, Thokk is staring deep into the limitless space. He too sees that there is one light source that is unwavering, and it appears to be directly behind them. However, the more he concentrates on trying to see it, see into it, the more he feels drawn to it. Soon Aurora and Willa feel his body being pulled away from the group.

    “Uh, Thokk, what are you doing?” asks Aurora, but he ignores her.

    “Light beckoning Thokk,” he mumbles.

    The words of the Sage come back to Willa - 'be careful not to think of any place other than your destination, lest ye be torn from the group'. “Thokk, stop thinking!” she yells at him, jerking his arm. “THOKK NO!”

    “What, huh?” he says confused. “Oh, yes. Thokk good at not thinking.” Thokk stops looking at the light behind them, and the tension pulling his body away relaxes. Aurora and Willa feel him return to the group.

    After some more time, Aurora cranes her neck around, trying to see where they are headed, and if they are any closer to the light where Babshapka saw the tower. It is hard to tell how fast they are moving with so few landmarks, or how long has passed with so little happening. Larry, who has the best sense of time when underground, estimates later that they are perhaps halfway to the light and have been drifting and floating for the better part of an hour by the time their concentrations wandered. Unfortunately, many of them simply were not able to stay focused for that long.

    [At this point, everyone needs a Wisdom save to stay focused. Aurora makes it, but only thanks to Tyrius’ Aura. Willa, Larry, Eddard, and Randy also make their saves. Thokk, Babshapka, and Tyrius do not.]

    When Thokk starts to drift off again, Willa strains to hold on, but cannot! Instead, it is Aurora that now manages to retain her grip on the half-orc and keep him from drifting into space. Aurora is also sustaining Randy, such that Eddard is able to stretch out his neck and bite ahold of Tyrius’ cape. With Tyrius distracted himself, Larry is unable to maintain his grip on Babshapka, and Babs is actually completely torn from the group and slowly begins drifting away. Thinking quickly, Larry retains his hold on Willa, but casts thorn whip, entangling Babshapka and pulling him back. For the next several moments, those in the party still able to concentrate try to rein in those drifting away. Eventually everyone is brought back and the circle is reformed. Aurora points out that they could have roped themselves together beforehand, and Willa retorts, “Well, if ever we be crossin’ ther Deep Ethereal ag’in, I’ll be makin’ sure as we do!” For the moment, their ropes are stored in packs on their backs or on the mule - and they would need both hands free to get them out.

    After more travel, everyone together, Larry informs them that it has been more than an hour. Willa tries to guide everyone in staying focused on the tower. Tyrius notes that with all of the other lights blinking on and off, the one that is their destination has remained steadfastly illuminated, as has one directly behind them. But there is a third light, smaller and off to the side, that has remained unwavering ever since he noted it. He stares at it, but does not allow himself to be drawn from the group. He does not note anything in the light itself, but thinks he can see a figure, silhouetted and backlit against it. The figure appears to be gaining on the party.

    After a quarter hour more of travel, they approach the open doorway of light. It grows and becomes more substantial. The image of the tower takes on form and color as it increases in size. Other shapes come into view - trees and fields, hills and mountains. When the whole scene has grown to normal proportions, they find themselves actually standing in a grassy field dotted with clusters of trees. The dark, starry sky is overhead, but on one side it is gray rather than black. Their overwhelming impression is that it is cold. The courtyard of Highfell Keep at noon was in the 50’s, and the journey through the Deep Ethereal was comfortably warm - but here it is well below freezing and the dead grass crunches with frost underfoot. Several of them are already beginning to shiver. The tower can no longer be seen in the darkness of the night - but ahead, a distant light far off the ground could be coming from one of its windows.
    _________________
    My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Mp7Ikko8SI
    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
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    Tue Mar 03, 2020 2:41 pm  
    Post 106: Meetings and Reunions

    DM's Note on Sources: The tower and its inhabitants come from David Prata's "Tower of Azal'Lan".

    https://www.dragonsfoot.org/php4/archive.php?sectioninit=FE&fileid=368

    Although I changed the location of the tower and the identity of its master, this and subsequent posts will contain many spoilers.

    In my personal life, after her year away in Costa Rica, my daughter returned for our move to California. Thus, Shefak returned to the party.

    And, there is now a mysterious stranger. Who is she? Whose side is she on?

    Post 106: Meetings and Reunions

    The Tower of Nholast, Little Hills
    Date Unknown

    “Brrr…” says Aurora. “Didn’t we buy winter clothes?”

    “Aye, they be on ther mule - help me find 'im.” Willa is at quite the disadvantage compared to the rest of the party - she can barely see the shapes next to her, let alone the mule. She takes off her backpack and begins feeling in it for her lantern and tinderbox.

    Larry, Babshapka, and Aurora look about with their darkvision. They can see everyone present, but cannot see farther than the trees that surround them. Thokk seems suddenly in his element, inhaling deeply and tasting every scent on the wind.

    “Thokk hear many birds;” he says, “dark now, but will be dawn soon. That mean light sky is in east, and tower is north of here.” He points at the wavering torchlight through the trees. He chuckles, “Little Hills were not mountains - now you all know what real mountains are - breathe real air and feel good cold. Even you, funny kicking woman. I remember you.” Thokk seems to be addressing someone who is not in the group - and then they all realize with surprise that there is one more figure among them then when they left Highfell!

    “Greetings, Thokk,” says a familiar voice. “I remember you as well. Yes, I have returned.”

    Tyrius says a brief prayer and produces a small light, just enough for those in the cluster to see one another’s faces, and for Willa to find and spark a flint to light her lantern. In the wan glow they all recognize the dark copper face of Shefak Ishu.

    Ever practical, Willa has Larry hold hold the mule’s bridle and her lantern while she goes through the packs and bags, pulling out the winter clothes they bought in Bottom. Randy is nosing the frozen grass and snorting, happy to be out of the ethereal void. As Willa unpacks things, Tyrius uses the light of Pelor to help distribute them among the party. “Cold weather gear is one thing,” he says to the group, “but shouldn’t we be working on getting out of the cold? What lies in the tower?”

    “Yes,” agrees Shefak. “Do we want to start moving or are we making camp here?” She seems unconcerned that she has no idea where “here” is or where they might be moving to. Although she has shown no sign of being cold, she adds, “I did not bring clothes for the mountains. Would you have any extra?”

    Thokk has just been handed a huge pile of clothes by Tyrius, but he thrusts it at the Bakluni woman. “Kicking woman use Thokk’s - Thokk need only thong.” His words are belied by the tight gooseflesh and standing bristly hair across his bare arms, chest, and back. Nonetheless, Shefak looks through the items. The furs and woolens would be comically large on her, but she gratefully accepts a heavy hide cloak and he begrudgingly dons the remainder.

    Once all the clothes are handed out, Willa turns her attention back to the party. “Thokk says it is almost dawn,” she reminds them. “As soon as it is light we are headed for the tower. Don’t unpack anything - we won’t be here long. Stay here, stay together, and stay on guard.” She checks the hood on her lantern so that only a sliver of light comes through, just enough to see the ground in front of her, and moves off through the trees.

    “I’ll stand guard,” grumbles Babshapka, and makes to move off from the group.

    “Hold, friend elf,” demurs Tyrius. He comes over and uses his light to examine the marks on Babshapka’s skin that were made by Larry’s thorn whip. Laying his hands over the wounds, he murmurs and removes them, one at a time. Babshapka huffs what could be taken as a wordless thanks and slips away from the group.

    The sky in the east is growing lighter. Willa moves forward through the trees, until she can see the outline of the tower against the lightening sky. Behind her, the party huddles together and whispers.

    “Ugh, it’s got to be warmer than this in the tower,” whines Aurora.

    “Why is it you wish to go to the tower anyway?” asks Shefak.

    Aurora, teeth chattering, tells Shefak about how since her departure from the group they have been hounded by a wicked man masquerading as a Keoish knight. The so-called knight is bent on “arresting” her for having seen a book presenting an unofficial history of early Keoland, unflattering to its current rulers. The party sought refuge from the knight with the Sage of Highfell, in the Yeomanry, but the knight pursued them even there, which just proves that he is no real knight. As a reward for their services as adventurers, the Sage transported them to this place, just outside the tower. The tower was built long ago to oppress the Yeoman people by an evil Suel wizard named Nholast the Unforgiven. The Sage believes that within the tower there may be more clues to this secret history of Keoland, which is why Aurora is here. There are undoubtedly evil monsters for Tyrius to smite and riches for the party to recover, as well. Tyrius listens to Aurora’s account, arching an eyebrow when he thinks her version of events is more self-serving than strictly truthful, but not interjecting.

    “I see,” replies Shefak simply.

    “And what have you been doing?” adds Aurora out of courtesy, and then, “And how did you get back?” with real interest.

    As the black sky turns to indigo, and then cerulean, Shefak recounts her journey away from the party. For two weeks, Shefak walked south through the Dreadwood. The road out of Barovia was very clear at first, but became smaller and fainter the further south she traveled. Along the way, she avoided many creatures of the forest, but noted that they grew larger and more twisted as she went. Occasionally she was forced to fight them.

    On the morning of the fifteenth day a curious thing happened. Her crystal of clear thought led her west through the forest, off the trail, and to a huge, but crumbling, stone wall. Climbing it, she saw the remains of an ancient city spread before her.

    In the city she found a colosseum, though little remained of it. Beneath it was an underground chamber with a placid pool. It was this very chamber where her god, Zuoken, meditated until he had attained Enlightenment! The pool contained a preserved memory of himself, and from this memory she learned much, including a clue as to where he was imprisoned. However, she also learned that she was not yet perfect enough to free him. She realized that she would need to improve herself further before she could hope to continue looking for him, so she desired to return to the party. By thinking of them, and looking into the pool, she was transported here, after a long journey through a star-lit void!

    By the time Shefak has told her tale, dawn’s rosy fingers have painted the trees around the party. Pines and firs have come into view, and then the tower itself, in a deep violet color. At first they assumed that it is a white tower, taking on the colors of the dawn, but as the sun rises, they realize that the tower is actually made of a pale, violet-colored marble, the likes of which they have never seen.

    They are in a broad plain, in a mix of dead, brown grasses and light conifer forest. The plain is in a bowl, for all around them rise high mountains, many of them topped with snow.

    “Och, I dinnae ken this,” says Larry unhappily. When the others ask what is troubling him, he explains that they left Highfell in late morning, and spent perhaps an hour and a half in the void, two hours at most. And yet, here it is dawn. Aurora said they would be able to see the Joten mountains to their west, but here they are surrounded by mountains. Did something go wrong? Are they some other place? Is it the next day, or the previous day, or some other time? His experience in the Ghost Tower seems to have unsettled him.

    Willa returns and leads them through the trees to the edge of the clearing in which the tower stands. The sunlight on their skin feels good, and the day promises to be above freezing, but for the moment it remains quite cold.

    Eddard sniffs the air and looks skeptically at the tower. “Well, a thing like that's going to have an awfully good view,” he says.

    The tower stands alone on the plain. No other structures are visible, and no roads or trails are in sight. The tower is 40’ in diameter at its base, tapering to 20’ diameter at the summit 90’ above. The pinnacle is surmounted by a well buttressed, saucer-shaped dome, measuring 50’ in diameter and adding another 15’ to the tower’s overall height.

    Four 2’ x 4’ open windows pierce the tower’s face, the lowest of these standing about 35’ from the ground - the torch that was there has either gone out or is no longer visible in the daylight.

    A single 4’ wide by 7’ high opening allows ingress at the base of the tower - there is no sign of a gate or even a door to block entrance.

    The party leaves the cover of the trees and begins to cross the open grass toward the tower, their feet crunching on the hoarfrost. Willa and Thokk lead the way. As they approach the tower, the wind shifts and their stomachs balk. The strong scents of rotting flesh and fresh ordure come their way. Thokk grins in anticipation of the fight ahead. Willa holds up her hand and calls for them to be alert, and not just focus on the tower.

    A few dozen yards from the tower entrance are two features - one to the left, one to the right. To the left of the entrance and farther back from the tower is huge pile of bones and rotting flesh. A few rats and beetles scuttle about the greasy, frozen grass and among the bones, but it is fortunately still too cold this morning for there to be flies buzzing about. To the right and close to the tower, a half-hearted attempt has been made to dig an open pit midden or latrine, but whatever denizens of the tower use it, they appear to be none-too-fastidious in their aim and placement. Broken crockery, a few bones, and loose mounds of dung surround the pit - they won’t be able to see what is actually in it unless they approach much closer.

    Larry takes a long look all around the clearing. Thokk edges in closer and Willa draws her greatsword, but Larry holds up his hand and they freeze in place. Larry has spotted a slight figure breaking from the cover of the trees and moving toward the tower - he whispers this to the party and points at it, though no one else sees anything. He says it is moving slowly, crouching close to the ground, and is in a green robe that almost matches the color of the grass. Shefak strains her eyes but sees nothing - she looks at the others, but they all shake their heads.

    “Is Larry enchanted?” she says concernedly.

    “Thokk trust spoon-buddy,” says the barbarian. He takes off at a charge in the direction Larry pointed. Willa curses and follows behind. The rest of the party comes soon after, with Aurora tugging at Randy’s bridle.

    A huge figure emerges from the shadow of the tower entrance, and the party ceases their advance. A massive brutish humanoid strides forward - easily ten feet tall and over a thousand pounds. He is dressed in ill-tanned hides and rough furs. He carries a battered metal urn in one hand and a massive club in the other.

    Thokk is visibly impressed at the size of the newcomer. “Ssshh!” he says, turning to the others. “Larry, is this who you see?” Larry shakes his head, and gestures toward the figure he still claims is hiding.

    The huge figure squints, furrowing its massive brow. It tries to clumsily shade its brow with one hand, realizes that it is holding the urn, then tries the other hand, and realizes that it is holding the club, then grunts in frustration.

    “He be nay ther sharpest tool in ther shed,” whispers Willa.

    Shefak makes a small gesture with her hands and disappears from view. Willa grins, thinking “‘Tis good t’ hae ‘er back,” to herself.

    The brute has walked over to the midden pit and set down his club so as to grab the urn with both hands. Aurora calls out in her shrill voice, “Hello there friendly fella! We come in peace! Giants are so attractive and gentle. Let's be friends!" He looks up at the noise, then suddenly realizes the ground in front of him is swarming with little folk. His face reddens in anger, and he raises the urn to strike before realizing it is not his club.

    Tyrius studies the urn intently - it is large and wide, old battered bronze. As the brute moves it around, a pungent mix of piss and dung spills over the brim.

    Suddenly Shefak appears behind the brute and unnoticed by him. Leaping into the air, she swings her staff with two hands and brings it across the back of his head. “Crack!” sounds the wood, and the brute sucks in his breath with pain. A blow like that could have crushed the skull of a human. He drops the urn and raises both hands to his head. The contents of the urn spill out into a wet, stinking mess across the frozen grass. Shefak leaps again, wielding her staff overhand to bring it down on the top of his head with another resounding crack!.

    He turns to face the slim Bakluni, and bends down to retrieve his club. His lowered face now in range, Shefak performs a spinning kick, shooting her heel squarely between his eyes. He staggers back, reeling from the blow.

    Aurora runs forward to him, her eyes filled with a myriad of colored lights. Soon the lights are matched in the brute’s eyes, and he slumps to one knee listlessly. “Tie him up!” hisses Aurora.

    Thokk chortles at her command, strides forward and slashes the brute quickly across his arm and chest. Blood spills freely onto the ground. Aurora and Tyrius are aghast. “Hold Thokk…” begins Tyrius, but the lights disappear from the brute’s eyes. He inhales deeply, preparing to bellow at the top of his lungs.

    Willa slashes at his throat, then pivots and tries to decapitate him, but gets her greatsword lodged in his neck as he sinks to the ground. Instead of a bellow, his last breath comes out as a bloody gurgle.

    So far, no more figures have appeared at the tower entrance.

    “Really, Thokk,” says Tyrius, “Aurora had called to tie him up. This creature may look vile, but it had harmed us not and could easily have answered our questions as a prisoner.”

    Thokk shakes his head sullenly. “No. Eiger not make good prisoner. Too strong for rope. Eiger die like warrior.”

    “More importantly,” says Aurora to the whole party, “when I have something mesmerized no one should harm it, as that breaks my spell. We practiced this, people! Right, Thokk?” The half orc cleans his nose and pretends not to hear her. “And if I am staring someone down, it is so we can question them. Thokk? Look at me, Thokk!”

    Willa tries to bring the ship back on course. “Who saw the green figure? Only Larry? Where is it now?”

    Larry says in a hushed voice, “it is near the entrance, watching us, but watching the entrance, too. Follow my toes…” he points a foot in the direction of the tower.

    Tyrius kneels next to the dead creature and prays for the mercy of Pelor on its soul. Aurora, calming somewhat, has a better look at the creature. “Oh well, pretty brutish anyway. I suppose if it was an eiger, we wouldn’t have gotten much more from it than grunts. I’ve read about them but never seen one before, if this is one.”

    “Thokk said it was eiger,” Thokk offers petulantly.

    “Oh, now you can hear me,” responds Aurora.

    “It was smart enough to live in the tower,” interjects Eddard sardonically.

    “True enough,” agrees Aurora. “And by the look of these middens, it is not living alone…”

    “There could be any number of them, watching us,” says Shefak, looking up at the windows, dark against the lightening sky. “When do we investigate?”

    Aurora sends her hawk in the direction of Larry’s toes, followed by Willa. Neither of them see anything, but then Larry hisses at them that the figure is on the move, and a second later, that it has passed into the entrance, slipping between the shadows. Buckbeak returns to Aurora’s shoulder, and the wizard begins to examine the body of the eiger.

    “It slides between shadows?” asks Tyrius, with a note of concern in his voice - perhaps remembering the shadow demon he fought in the bowels of Castle Ravenloft.

    “Aye, that be how it moves,” affirms Larry.

    Willa starts for the tower entrance, but Thokk breaks into a run and passes her.

    As Thokk reaches the open doorway, he sees a slight figure just inside. It looks to be an elven maiden, holding up her hand in warning. He stops his advance. Willa and Shefak are a few paces behind him and can barely see the figure as well - her form is indistinct, as they are standing in sunlight and the figure is in shadow.

    “Sssh!” the stranger whispers to Thokk. “There are two more of these just inside; I have been watching the tower all night.”

    Thokk turns and says to the party in an unhelpfully loud whisper "She elven lady. She scout. She out all night long and she lonely. Thokk going to help her. You all stay here."

    Willa shakes her head “Aye, let's be doin’ t’is ther ‘ard way.” She calls for Tyrius to come forward and speak to the maiden.

    Meanwhile, Aurora is investigating the fallen eiger. The hides he wears are rough-cut, but show a certain level of work: crude tanning, cutting, and sewing with thin cords of leather. His club, a piece of stout wood, has several stones wrapped to it with more leather cord. She even finds a folded piece of leather tucked into his braided grass-cord belt. Unwrapping the leather, she discovers 30 pieces of silver and a small piece of brightly-colored coral.

    “Greetings, I am Tyrius of Sterrich,” whispers the paladin when he nears the doorway. “We mean you no harm.”

    “Greetings,” the elven maiden responds. “I am Umbra, of the City of Autumn Leaves.” She speaks in a perfect, unaccented Common.

    “What is this city?”

    “My homeland, far to the north. But I have not been there in many years. Why have you come to this tower?”

    Tyrius gestures at Aurora, still bent over the body of the eiger. “The half-elf believes there may be a book of interest to her here. May we enter?”

    The woman holds up her hand. “Just inside this chamber there are two more of the creatures like the one you slew.”

    “So we kill them,” shrugs Thokk.

    Shefak, invisible again, slips by the maiden and into the darkness beyond.
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    GreySage

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    Wed Mar 04, 2020 8:01 am  

    Well, I am all caught up! Smile

    I am familiar with David Prata's 'Tower of Aza 'Lan', but have never read through it. I have not yet decided if I want to read through it first so that I recognize any changes you have made, or just read your campaign blog to see what happens. It may depend upon how much time I have to spare. Razz

    I was slightly dismayed that your child... uh, Shefak... was so quick to attack the ogre. I am not certain if that was due to meta-gaming (her, personally, having known that ogres are always a threat), or just 'playing her character'. I quickly remembered that my youngest (14 years old) is just as impulsive when playing D&D. He plays every character he makes up as an attack-happy barbarian, whether it actually is one or not. Laughing

    SirXaris
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    Thu Mar 05, 2020 10:18 pm  

    SirXaris wrote:
    I was slightly dismayed that your child... uh, Shefak... was so quick to attack the ogre. I am not certain if that was due to meta-gaming (her, personally, having known that ogres are always a threat), or just 'playing her character'.

    I asked her last night about her motivation at the time and she said "How should I know, that was two years ago, I was 13!"

    I do remember that when she created the character at 11, one of the reasons that she wanted a monk was to be able to knock people out. She specifically told me that her character would not kill - just render foes unconscious and then it was up to the rest of the party what to do with them.
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    Tue Mar 10, 2020 11:15 pm  
    Post 107: What happened with Shefak

    DM's Note:
    In Post 106 Shefak gave a brief account of what happened to her in the weeks in which she was separate from the party.

    Here is a more complete version.

    In the middle there is a link to a montage video of her adventures.

    After Shefak leaves the party in Barovia...
    For the next two weeks, Shefak walks south through the Dreadwood. The road out of Barovia is very clear at first, but becomes smaller and lighter the farther south she travels. Eventually she spends just as much time looking for the trail as following it. Along the way, she avoids many creatures of the forest, but notes that they grow larger and more twisted as she goes. Occasionally she is forced to fight them, but her skill in the Way always prevails.

    On the morning of the fifteenth day, while she is at her morning meditation, a curious thing happens. The crystal of clear thought, the focus of her meditations, seems to hold an image. Concentrating on the image, she sees the ruins of a city, and feels a pull to the west. Trusting the crystal, she sets out west through the forest, leaving the trail behind.

    Over the next several days she plays cat-and-mouse with a large tribe of goblins, leaving many of them unconscious behind her. On the third day she comes to a huge, but crumbling, stone wall. Climbing it, she sees the remains of an ancient city spread before her. The fallen remains of stone buildings are everywhere, and great trees grow through their shells. In the center of the city is a large plaza, and the crystal directs her there.

    For a video montage of Shefak's journey, see https://youtu.be/GRFme3FbXjI

    The plaza, it turns out, is actually an arena or colosseum, though little remains of it. Exploring the ruins, the stone gives way beneath her, and she tumbles into an underground chamber with a placid pool. The crystal now glows, illuminating the chamber. Again acting on faith, she sets the crystal into the pool. Immediately an image forms in the pool, as if it was some sort of scrying device. With great excitement, she realizes that the man she sees inside is Zuoken!

    Without words, just his mind to hers, he tells her that he is not actually Zuoken, but a “preserved memory” of his. When Zuoken the man walked out of Barovia eighty years ago, he found this fallen city and meditated for days on the impermanence of man’s achievements. Buildings fall and flesh ages - only the perfection of the spirit remains. If was soon after that that he attained true Enlightenment and ascended to divinity.

    However, after only a decade or so as a god, he was captured by a powerful archmage. When he realized he was about to be imprisoned, he sent out fractions of his divine mind across the world. They lodged in places that were important to his history, including here. Shefak is the first person to have discovered and unlocked this particular memory. This memory does not know where the other memories are, or whether they have been found. It does not know what happened to the real Zuoken - but only that it happened near a place called “Greyhawk City.” After it relates all of this to her, the memory disappears.

    Shefak meditates on this for more days, and attains sixth level with her new understanding. She now has a destination - Greyhawk City - but she knows that she is not yet perfect enough to free Zuoken. If the most perfect monk was overcome by this archmage, how can she hope to best him? She realizes that she will need help - and will need to join forces with her old adventuring comrades. But how to find them? The pool seems key. There is just enough of Zuoken’s divine essence remaining in it, that she believes it can show her where they are.

    She thinks of each of them in turn, focusing on their memories. After still more days, the pool begins to glow. An image forms, and she leans in close to see it.

    She finds herself in a dark place surrounded by stars, without a firmament to stand on. In the far distance is a brighter light, backlighting the shapes of what she takes to be her former companions. By concentrating on them, she finds she can float towards them...
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    GreySage

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    Wed Mar 11, 2020 9:37 am  

    That was a cool video of Shefak. Did you make that with your daughter, Kirt?

    Oh, and if your party ever gets to adventure through the Greyhawk Ruins, I will be delighted to read that. Happy

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    Fri Mar 13, 2020 10:48 am  

    SirXaris wrote:
    That was a cool video of Shefak. Did you make that with your daughter, Kirt?

    Oh, and if your party ever gets to adventure through the Greyhawk Ruins, I will be delighted to read that. Happy

    Yes, that was my daughter, the player of Shefak. I took the video and stills and she did the effects and editing. The wolf, panther, giant spider, and crocodile are from the stuffed animal collection I use in my Biology class. Although my daughter is a bit blonde to be a Baklunni, at least she has trained in the jo staff.

    Certainly Shefak would like the rest of the party to accompany her to Castle Greyhawk to look for Zuoken. For the moment, she has wisely judged that they need to level some more before that happens.
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    GreySage

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    Fri Mar 13, 2020 11:37 am  

    Kirt wrote:
    SirXaris wrote:
    That was a cool video of Shefak. Did you make that with your daughter, Kirt?

    Oh, and if your party ever gets to adventure through the Greyhawk Ruins, I will be delighted to read that. Happy

    Yes, that was my daughter, the player of Shefak. I took the video and stills and she did the effects and editing. The wolf, panther, giant spider, and crocodile are from the stuffed animal collection I use in my Biology class. Although my daughter is a bit blonde to be a Baklunni, at least she has trained in the jo staff.

    Certainly Shefak would like the rest of the party to accompany her to Castle Greyhawk to look for Zuoken. For the moment, she has wisely judged that they need to level some more before that happens.


    :)

    If I recall correctly, they should be plenty high enough to begin the Greyhawk Ruins adventure. In fact, as written, the first level or two of the Tower of Power and the Tower of War may prove too easy. You will have to power them up a bit to give this party a challenge.

    You'll just need to help them avoid accidentally following a passage taking them from level two of the Tower of War to level six of the Tower of Power, for example, if you don't want them to suffer a terribly 'realistic' campaign. :)

    Oh, and warn them off of the Tower of Zagyg until they are at least 8th level. ;)

    SirXaris
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