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    Joined: Jul 26, 2010
    Posts: 2649
    From: LG Dyvers

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    Wed Sep 04, 2019 3:02 pm  

    Tyrius' trials were very cool. Eddard Allen Lane seems a beautifully colored stallion, but you didn't say what kind of horse he is. I note that in your list of types you mentioned Rounceys, Palfreys, and Jennets; coursers, destriers, and chargers generally, but I desire more specifics. Is Eddard a Shire, Clydesdale, Belgian, Friesian, Gypsy, Percheron, Andalusian, what?! Smile

    Secondly, I appreciated most of the personal goals for the characters, but Barnabus' personal goal encouraged his player to play him in a greedy fashion, which seems detrimental to the party and the player. Did the other players ever know his goal was to pilfer from the party? How did that information to over with the other players?

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    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
    Posts: 965
    From: Sky Island, So Cal

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    Sat Sep 07, 2019 6:55 pm  

    SirXaris wrote:
    Eddard Allen Lane seems a beautifully colored stallion, but you didn't say what kind of horse he is. Is Eddard a Shire, Clydesdale, Belgian, Friesian, Gypsy, Percheron, Andalusian, what?!

    I would be uncomfortable using any of those terms as they relate to specific places in RW Europe, and thus they take me "out" of Greyhawk. I try to avoid such words - I'm even on the fence about turquoise! But if I had to specify a RW breed for Eddard, I would say he likely is close to a Grand Boulonnais but with feathering.

    SirXaris wrote:
    Secondly, I appreciated most of the personal goals for the characters, but Barnabus' personal goal encouraged his player to play him in a greedy fashion, which seems detrimental to the party and the player. Did the other players ever know his goal was to pilfer from the party? How did that information to over with the other players?

    Most of the characters shared their personal goals - Barnabus did not.

    I am not a fan of PvP as it promotes hard feelings and ultimately shortens the lifetime of a campaign. As a DM I might play on pre-existing party tensions for dramatic effect, but giving a character a leveling goal specifically to create conflict in the party would be off my table. For your question, it is important to understand that Barnabus' character had been established by the player as selfish and larcenous from the very start - way back in post 10, the very first treasure found by anyone was a magic ring which Barnabus found and kept, not mentioning it to the party. So they have known for a long time that that is how Barnabus is played. With the leveling goal of acquiring 500gp, I didn't see myself as promoting division in the party, but rather as rewarding role play and character goals that had already been well established.

    As far as how the other characters react: Aurora has always been an occasional ally of Barnabus. When arguing for more risk / more reward, they can count on each other's votes, and she is happy to use him as a counterbalance to the other two leaders, Willa and Tyrius, both of whom are more lawful than she is.

    Willa doesn't much care for Barnabus, but she finds him useful, both for reconnescence and in combat (rogues in 5E have a great "burst damage" - when he hits with "sneak attack", he is equal to any of the fighters). She begrudgingly accepts him, knowing that constantly being on the lookout for his petty thefts is the price of his being useful.

    Tyrius is the only one who really "objects" to Barnabus' attempts to steal from the party - but he also feels responsible for trying to "save" him. For him, the loss to the party treasure is not as important as the danger to Barnabus' soul. Barnabus and Tyrius play a constant cat-and-mouse, with Barnabus trying to pocket valuables before being detected, and Tyrius trying to discover him and force him to turn things over. Certainly this dynamic might threaten to devolve into PvP if one of them "beat" the other one with frequency. But the interesting wrinkle is that both Barnabus and Tyrius are played by the same player! So there are no hard feelings regardless of who wins.

    Finally, it is worth noting that Barnabus has never and would never steal directly from the party members. That is, once a coin or gem has been declared party treasure and is in someone's pocket, it is off-limits due to his own personal sense of honor. He spends his effort in trying to discover treasures and take them for himself before the rest of the party knows that they exist. "The chest was empty when I found it" at every opportunity, but never "When no one is looking I go through Larry's bags."
    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.
    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
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    Tue Sep 10, 2019 12:04 pm  
    Post 81: The Price of Forbidden Knowledge

    DM's Note: Done with Ravenloft, the party has now returned to a wilderness journey.

    By far the best source for maps of Greyhawk comes from the work of Anna B Meyer. I used for the party's travel.

    This post centers around the area of the Dreadwood labeled the "Owl Stream". I would highly encourage any DM to use her work, and anyone with the means to do so to support her Patreon at

    Post 81: The Price of Forbidden Knowledge

    24 October, 570 - Owl Stream outside Barovia

    The party (minus Tyrius) move swiftly down the ravine, and the log proves far easier to control running downstream than it did coming in and up. It is only a few minutes later when they are pulling up to the embankment where they first felled the trees and mounted the log. Four men stand on the shore.

    (2pm) One of the men is obviously a knight in full plate armor (though he holds his great helm in hand and his head is bare), the second a squire or retainer in studded leather. The two remaining appear to be common foot soldiers, with shields and chain shirts.

    The party disembarks cautiously, facing the four men. “Hail!” calls the knight. “Are you Aurora of Ulek?” A scar runs down the length of the man’s face.

    “I am,” replies Aurora. She and Thokk move to the front. Aurora carefully studies the devices on the tabards of the men. The squire and footmen are in the livery of the Baron of Greyhill. The knight wears the black lion on a red field that signifies the Kingdom of Keoland - but he has no personal device - neither on his tabard nor helm, and he does not bear a shield. A common soldier might wear only the arms of his liege, but a knight typically bears a personal device as well.

    The knight continues speaking. “The Silent Ones told me that the arcane boundaries around the lands of the vampire had fallen - and that their divinations were now able to penetrate and discern a book, called the “Chronicle of Secret Times”. Do you bear such a book out of those cursed lands?”

    Aurora swallows. She remembers that the Silent Ones are sorcerers - a powerful group of sorcerers who serve the King of Keoland. Can she trust this knight? She pauses as long as she dares to let those behind her position themselves.

    Barnabus, in the rear, is scanning the woods. He sees elven bowmen, under cover - both up the embankment behind these men, but also on the other side of the stream behind the party, even a few on the ridge far overhead. They are completely surrounded. He wants to warn Aurora, but not interrupt the conversation and draw the suspicion of the knight. Why doesn’t Aurora contact him through message?

    “I say,” repeats the knight, “do you bear such a book?”

    “Indeed I do,” says Aurora. “I recovered it from the castle of the vampire lord.”

    “I thought as much - may I see it?”

    The man’s words are polite but his tone is commanding. Aurora takes off her pack, then removes the large, leather-bound book. She offers it to the man.

    The knight takes the book carefully from her and begins to leaf through it. “Hmm,” he says, “it is in Suelese.”

    “Yes,” affirms Aurora, “ancient Suelese. Can you read it?” She tries to think quickly. The most powerful houses of Keoland are the Rhola and Neheli, both descendants of the Suel refugees who founded the Kingdom. They still speak Suelese at court, rather than Common, through pride, and any of them that were literate could read modern Suelese. But it would take a true scholar to be able to read ancient Suelese, the form of the language used a thousand years ago. Other noble houses in Keoland are of Oeridian origin - they might, or might not, be able to recognize the writing as Suelese, but would be highly unlikely to note the difference between the ancient and modern forms or be able to read either.

    “No,” demurs the knight. “Fortunately, I cannot. I take it you can?”

    “Yes, good sir. I am a scholar.”

    “I see. And have you read it?”

    “Well, not completely, but I have begun, yes.”

    The knight nods, then closes the book and passes it to the squire. He draws his sword. “Aurora of Ulek, I declare you to be under arrest in the name of the King. Surrender, and neither you nor your companions will be harmed.”

    <Oh ****. **** **** ****.> “Arrest?” Aurora tries, but fails, to make her tone sound unconcerned. “On what charge?” Behind her, Willa takes a step backward, to the log, and Barnabus ducks out of sight.

    “Possession and use of forbidden knowledge,” the knight says. He gestures to the footmen, “Seize her.”

    As the men stride forward, Thokk draws his sword and bars their way. The squire, clutching the book tightly to his chest, backs away.

    <Curse me for a fool>, thinks Aurora. <Why don’t I just use mage armor every morning?> She takes a step back, smiles at the knight, tries to surreptitiously cast her mage armor spell.

    From the forested embankment behind the knight, a voice calls out in elven, “Casting!” Instantly the air is filled with the thrum of bowstrings and the whish of arrows. A volley of five shafts, all directed at Aurora, shoot forth. Despite her armor, she is hit. They are followed by a second volley - Aurora collapses, unconscious.

    The knight raises his hand. “Hold!” he calls, “Hold your fire!”

    “errrrrARRRRRGH!” screams Thokk, setting upon the footmen in front of him.

    Willa dashes to Aurora’s side, drags, lifts, and lays her body on the log, trying to shield her from more arrows. She pushes the log away from the bank and out into the current of the stream.

    The knight and squire fall back from the melee, leaving the two footmen to face Thokk alone. “Raise the net!” calls the knight. Downstream, two men hidden in the brush stand, then begin hauling on ropes. The ropes go up into the trees then down again into the water. A thick net, as wide as the stream bed, begins to rise, dripping, out of the water into the air.

    “Babshapka!” yells Willa. Aurora’s bodyguard had begun to move into the brush to flank the archers, but now turns and sees his charge unconscious on the log.

    From the reeds along the riverbank Barnabus slips forward, unseen. He comes up behind the squire, strikes the book suddenly from below with both hands. The startled squire loses his grip and the book flies into the air. The squire turns and draws his rapier, but Barnabus catches the book upon its descent and begins to back away.

    Thokk has begun to trade blows with the two footmen.

    Babshapka sprints to the stream, and does a leaping dive, becoming Mantabshapka when he hits the water. Swimming downstream, he is easily able to pass in front of the log. Gathering speed, he leaps from the water and sets upon the men holding the ropes that sustain the net. By the time Willa reaches it, both men and and one corner of the net are down - she cuts open the second corner and the net, now freed from the ropes, drifts downstream with the log.

    The squire approaches Barnabus in a curious sidelong stance. His arm darts forward, faster than Barnabus can follow, and the rapier plunges into Barnabus’ arm, just above the elbow. The halfling grunts and drops the book, then is forced to backpedal as the rapier thrusts at his throat. He parries with a dagger, but the squire is now standing with one foot on the book and the rapier between himself and Barnabus.

    The knight calls out, “Units 1, 3, and 5, pursue and engage! Take them alive!” Instantly there is movement in the woods on both banks of the river. Bowmen begin loosing arrows at the log as they pursue downstream - footmen start crashing through the underbrush.

    At the sudden appearance of what is easily a score of opponents, Larry doesn’t like the odds. He sends a healing word in the direction of the log (making Aurora’s eyelids flutter), checks the wind, then calls into being billowing gouts of fog. The fog starts to fill the valley bottom first, then creeps higher up the embankments. In a matter of moments it is so dense that vision is limited to a few feet at best.

    “Let’s go!” cries Willa behind her, while she holds the limp body of Aurora on the log. Thokk takes advantage of the fog to retreat from the combat, then wades into the stream and begins swimming, although the pack on his back makes his strokes awkward. When he reaches the log he grabs onto the back with his arms, but begins kicking with his massive thighs, propelling the log forward faster than the current.

    Larry is using the stream bed to find his way downstream in the fog. He comes upon Barnabus facing off against the squire. Barnabus is bleeding from several different rapier wounds. “Thanks for the fog…” he begins, but when Larry gets close enough to see that the squire is standing on the book, the dwarf slams his staff into the ground and summons a great thunderwave. Barnabus is thrown up into the air, does a backflip-and-tuck, and drops down into the stream. When he comes up, the fog prevents him from seeing Larry, so he begins swimming downstream.

    The two footmen are knocked to the ground by the force of the thunderwave, and don’t get up. The knight is unsteady on his feet; the squire has gone down to one knee but is still on top of the book.

    Aurora, face down with her body draped over the log, struggles to sit up. Behind them the streambed is obscured with a dense layer of fog, but the higher slopes are visible. Along both sides of the river, numerous elven bowmen in the green and brown of scouting troops move silently through the trees. Now and then they pause to take a shot, and arrows are hitting the log, the water, and Willa’s plate armor. Suddenly Aurora feels dizzy, and spots an elven mage surrounded by a circle of human footmen who are having considerably more difficulty at moving through the forest than the bowmen are. <Sleep?> Aurora asks herself. <Mage, please, my father was an elf!> She sends a hail of magic missiles at the caster. He falls to the ground, rises, then takes cover.

    Willa does a headcount. Aurora is back in the fight, thankfully. Thokk is propelling the log. Mantabshapka is swimming ahead, checking for large rocks and other obstacles and maneuvering the prow of the log around them. Barnabus has just dragged himself aboard. That leaves...Larry? Where is Larry? From behind them, deep in the fog, comes another great peal of thunder, and spray flies off the stream. “Thokk!” yells Willa, turning and shouting at the half-submerged barbarian. “Go back and get Larry! Get Larry!”

    Thokk stops kicking, lets go of the log for a moment, and seems to be thrashing about in the water. <What is he doing?> Willa asks herself, but is then answered by his sodden pack flying toward her. It is all she can do to catch it without falling off the log, and by the time she rights herself, he is disappearing back into the fog covering the stream.

    Without Thokk’s propulsion, the log slows to the leisurely speed of the current. The footmen are now gaining on them, the bowmen are loosing more and more shots. The mage sticks his head up, sends magic missiles of his own at Aurora. Willa sees the flash and hears the hiss of the missiles, and then the enchantress beside her collapses unconscious again. Willa tries to paddle with her greatsword still in its scabbard, but the blade is too narrow and slices ineffectually through the water. <We are literally up **** creek without a paddle>, Willa thinks giddily to herself as another arrow lodges into the log inches from her leg.

    Thokk emerges from the fog upstream of the log, pulling himself forward with strokes of one massive arm while the other drags Larry, coughing and sputtering, behind him. Ignoring the arrows, Thokk pulls up alongside the log, allowing Larry to grab it before he moves back and resumes his kicking. Is he...grinning? <Yes>, thinks Willa. <Thokk is enjoying himself!>

    Larry hauls himself up on the log, looking about at the bowmen on the banks as if seeking a target. “No!” Willa tells him. “Get Aurora up first!” Larry lays a hand on the slumped body of the wizard and whispers a healing prayer. Aurora sucks in a great breath and again sits up.

    As Aurora looks about her, arrows continue to fly. “What, still?” she says incredulously. She turns over her right shoulder and moves her hand as if throwing something. She lobs a ball of sulfurous-yellow in a long, low arc. When it hits the ground near the elven caster, a fiery explosion rocks the embankment. Earth, stones, and splintered wood fly into the air - bodies of elves and humans alike are knocked down. Low flames burn fitfully in the bushes. Willa hopes the ground near the stream is damp enough that the fire burns out without spreading through the forest.

    “Stop following us!” shrieks Aurora, as if that would somehow sway their pursuers. Then, with a complicated motion of her hands, all along the embankment thick black webs appear, stretching from tree to tree and blocking passage. Within moments, their only pursuers are a small squad of bowmen on the south bank. Aurora turns that way, blocks their passage with webs as well. But as Willa watches, every strand strung from a tree on the south bank seems to erase one on the north bank, until that way is clear again. Willa taps Aurora on the shoulder, points at the north bank.

    “Oh, right,” Aurora says. “Concentration spell.”

    But after the fireball, their pursuers are more cautious, moving from cover to cover and not chancing as many bow shots. The stream is picking up speed, passing through a more steeply sloped section of miniature rapids. They leave the footmen behind, and even after the stream levels out the bowman fall back as well, only occasionally appearing in the distance, tracking them but not firing arrows.

    Willa picks out a large tree far ahead, estimates the distance, counts the seconds until they pass it. They are not moving fast, but are certainly going faster than Larry and Barnabus can walk. “We’ve got to stay ahead of them,” she says to Aurora. “We should stay in the stream for now.” Aurora nods.

    Eventually Thokk tires and his kicks grow slower, but the log doesn’t seem to be slowing. Willa realizes the current is picking up - the stream is deeper and wider than when they started, having gathered with it several tributaries since their escape. The trees in front of them are thinning as well. “Thokk, rest!” she says, then “Hush!” to the others when he ceases kicking. The forest is still, with only a light wind and birdsong to be heard - but also a low, rushing noise. “Thokk, eyes back!” Willa says. Panting heavily, Thokk hauls himself up on the log, straddles it facing backwards, and scans the forest behind them. “Babshapka, eyes front!” Willa calls to the manta-elf, and he dives, moving forward rapidly through the water. As they wait for his return, the rushing noise grows louder. Willa always knew she would be captain of her own vessel someday - she just didn’t know it would be a log!

    When Babshapka pulls himself half out of the water, he tells them, “Waterfall ahead!”, then gestures at the north bank. He and Thokk kick the log over to the side of the stream where it slows, and finally grounds in the soft earth.

    Willa and the others move quickly forward along the stream bank to see. They are at the top of a cliff face, and the stream plunges over a cataract and down some eighty feet into a small pool below. To their left and right runs a steep-fronted forested escarpment. The trail is nowhere to be seen. It would likely take the better part of an hour to find a safe path down without rappelling. Before and below them, at the base of the cliff to the west, is deep forest as far as they can see, with hints of the stream peeking out here and there. To the north, the escarpment rises abruptly into nearby mountain peaks. To the south, a lone mountain looms above the forest, some ten or fifteen miles away.

    “That’s a long way down,” says Aurora.

    “But t’is ther fastest way,” counters Willa. “I be wagerin’ they returned t’ the trail when t'ey couldna keep up - at least t'eir main host did - an ther trail down yonder ridge be slow and all switchy-backed.”

    Aurora nods. “That’s a long way down,” she repeats.

    “C’mon,” says Willa invitingly. “I’ll lash ye t’ ther log, so we cannae lose ye.” When Aurora looks at her incredulously, she adds, “Ye best be rememberin’ t’is ye they be wantin' t' arrest, nay us.”

    Thokk stands on the cliff top for a minute, until he finds what he thinks is the deepest spot in the pool, then leaps into the air, falls into the water. Even the deep spot is shallow enough that he hits the bottom going fast, but it is soft and gravelly, not hard and sharp, and he emerges and swims to the far side of the pool. Larry changes into a salmon, and he and Mantabshapka dive into the stream and then go over the falls one after another. They are bruised, but also swim away. Finally, Barnabus, Willa, and Aurora, each tied to the log, take it out into the stream, over the edge, and for two-and-half sickening seconds fall through the air. The log lands well enough, splashing down entirely in the pool, but the jolt when they hit the bottom is hard, and Aurora and Barnabus are dashed forward, crash into the log, and knocked unconscious. Once the log emerges and settles they are untied, dragged to the bank, and Larry - now a dwarf again - revives them. “Well, that’s et,” he says grimly, “I’m oot o’ healin’.”

    [DM's Note: On Anna Meyer's map, where the dotted white trail crosses the Owl Stream, the party left the trail, went upstream (SE), and found Barovia. Now they have gone downstream (NW). The waterfall is roughly in the middle of the “m” of Stream.]

    (2:30pm) From the banks of the pool, the party looks at the cliff face above them. The trail itself is not visible, but the escarpment is so broad, the trail must cross it somewhere - and wherever that is, there will need to be switchbacks. That will delay their pursuit, at least for a while, and especially for any horses.

    After a brief discussion, the party decides to remount their log and continue to head downstream, trying to keep ahead of their pursuers. They find broad fallen branches that will serve as crude paddles. For about ten minutes, Thokk and Willa paddle, while the rest of them balance on the log. Mantabshapka leaves the water to become Babshapka, and walks alongside the stream on the south bank, keeping his eyes peeled for pursuers or the trail.

    (3pm) After a bit of traveling, it becomes apparent that they are moving faster than any of them could walk, at least through the forest. The current is strong and Babshapka is having to jog to keep up with them. While that is great for making an escape, none of them are resting. The leg-notches cut by Thokk notwithstanding, this is not a canoe, and no one can simply lie down to rest. Even those who are not paddling are actively balancing, as the log sways, dips, bobs, bumps rocks, bottoms out, and occasionally threatens to roll.

    With no sign of pursuit and many of them wounded, a decision is made to slow their progress. Thokk and Willa cease paddling, and concentrate on stabilizing and steering the log. In the front, Willa makes sure to keep in the slow, deep parts of the stream, while Thokk, aft, centers himself and keeps the “top” of the log up. The others take the time to bind or clean wounds, eat and drink a little, and even try to doze, leaning back to back or sprawled over the log.

    (4pm) With the benefits of a “short rest” now under their belts, Willa and Thokk return to paddling, the others to active balancing, and the log is off again. It is not long after that when Babshapka spies, running parallel to the stream and perhaps seventy yards from it, the trail - this is the first time he has seen it since the waterfall and likely the closest to the stream it has been.

    [DM's Note:They are now closest to the “e” in “Stream” and have gone about four miles downstream from the falls.]

    Babshapka flags down Aurora and has a quick messaged conversation with her, then moves to the trail. In the center of the trail he places an alarm spell, keyed to signal him whenever any creature enters the area, so long as it is not a non-humanoid. He then turns and starts making his way back to the stream.

    Almost immediately, the alarm sounds in his mind. He continues to the stream and alerts the party on the log. Thokk and Barnabus disembark immediately and follow him to the west, running along in the direction of the stream but slowly getting closer to the trail. The log continues down the stream, now with just Willa paddling, and Babshapka uses it as a moving reference point as he hopes to emerge on the trail ahead of whatever triggered the alarm.

    Finally satisfied that they are well in the lead, the trio of ambushers move to the trail itself while Willa beaches the log on the south bank in a clump of vegetation hidden from view of the trail. Barnabus climbs a tree overhanging the trail, Babshapka hides at the base of the tree, and Thokk takes cover in the brush on the far side of the trail. It has not been a minute when Babshapka hears soft but rapid footfalls approaching and signals his companions to ready themselves.

    Around a corner of the trail an elf runs into sight, clad in the mottled green-and-brown of a scout. He appears alone, but immediately skids to a stop as if he has seen the ambushers. As he turns to look behind him, then brings his fingers to his lips to whistle, Thokk charges from the underbrush.

    Just as Thokk reaches the elf, he turns to gauge where his companions are, but Barnabus is still in the tree and Babshapka is deep in the woods to the north of the trail. Confused, Thokk lets the elf give him the slip, but then pursues him, crashing through the forest to the south.

    Using Thokk to flush the elf out, Barnabus waits for the perfect shot. When the elf passes through a clearing, he lets fly an arrow that pierces the elf’s side and causes him to collapse, unconscious. Thokk scoops him up and begins heading for the stream when a hail of arrows heralds the arrival of more scouts. The unconscious elf is leaving a copious trail of blood as Thokk hauls him down the hillslope, bumping and jolting with the shaft still in him, and he is nearly dead by the time Babshapka is able to pull out the arrow and bind his wound. Barnabus runs down the slope behind them.

    The party hustles the unconscious elf onto the log and shoves off. In the rear, Thokk holds up his shield behind them as arrows from the scouts rain down. Willa has to paddle furiously to finally bring them out of range.

    When the prisoner appears stable, his hands and feet are bound and Barnabus goes through his possessions, with initial interest but eventual disgust. “Bread?” he mutters to himself - “The best thing this guy has on him is bread?”

    (5:30pm) After about an hour, the elf regains consciousness. At first, he struggles weakly against his restraints, but soon calms when he realizes his situation. In fact, he seems unnervingly calm, despite the fact that Thokk is right beside him, holding his arm in such a way as to threaten all the joints. He doesn’t seem cocky - just resigned to his fate.

    Aurora questions him in Elvish and for the first part of the conversation he answers unhesitatingly. This is even more unnerving, as Aurora had been prepared to “force” the information from him.

    The elf tells Aurora that he is from a clan of elves of the Dreadwood, and that his clan, under its leader, Prince Silverleaf, has been tasked with keeping humans and humanoids out of a “forbidden” part of the forest - the area around Valadis. The clan has an agreement with the Baron of Greyhill and the King of Keoland that goes back hundreds of years, and which is based on the idea that the knowledge in and of Valadis is better-off kept from the world. Many other local elven clans assist in this endeavor, as do some of the druids of the Great Circle.

    Several days ago, a human knight appeared in his village, claiming to have been sent by the King. He had with him ten human footmen, soldiers of the Baron of Greyhill, as well as a sergeant of foot. The knight met with Prince Silverleaf, requesting the aid of the Prince in bringing to justice an adventuring party who had violated the protections around the city. Although this particular scout was not privy to their negotiations, in the end Prince Silverleaf agreed to lend the knight the use of 20 elven scouts from the clan, as well as a spell-caster. The elf remarks that he does not know how many of these scouts remain in pursuit, as several of them went down from Aurora’s fireball, and he was not able to see how many survived before they were ordered to pursue the party.

    The elves have been following the log ever since the battle, with one lead runner spotting them along the trail, and taking turns to relieve that runner, while the main host of scouts travels just behind and the human footmen follow as best they can but rather farther back. When the party captured him, it was his turn as lead runner.

    Before the battle, the knight told the elves that the party was powerful and had access to high-level magic. They were told that the knight would attempt to negotiate a surrender, but that the elves were to open fire immediately on anyone in the party who looked like they were spell-casting.

    Aurora asks about the lands around Valadis, and for the first time the elf hesitates in his response. After a few moments, he says that he is sworn not to reveal information about the city, but that it appears that the party already knows all about it since they are returning from the forbidden lands rather than trying to enter them. He says that he will not provide them with new information, but that he will be willing to confirm or deny anything that they tell him they already know. When Aurora talks about Valadis as being the city of the Malhel, destroyed by their own evil sorceries, he agrees. When she asks him where the Malhel went, he says that some stories say that they were all destroyed by the demons they summoned, while others say that a small band of survivors was able to escape across the Javan river into the lands of what is now the Yeomanry. Personally, he knows these as tales but not whether either is true. Aurora tries to get more from him by saying that Larry is a druid of the Great Circle, but he preempts that by saying that if it is true, Larry surely knows more than he does.

    Aurora then asks him about “Barovia” and the elf seems confused - as if he does not recognize the name. After the place is described to him he recognizes it as something he calls “The Valley of the Mists”. He says that the guardians of the forbidden lands learned of the arrival of the vampire several hundred years ago. At first they were concerned that he intended to use Valadis to bring more evil, but the sorcerers of the King told them that he did not. Eventually, after the vampire summoned the mists, it was decided that his presence actually further protected the forbidden lands from intrusion, so he was allowed to remain.

    Aurora then attempts to convince the elf that his prince has been duped, and that the knight is no agent of the King. The elf says that is indeed possible, but his honor lies in following the commands of his liege lord, the prince. He will certainly speak with the prince about it, and voice Aurora’s concerns - if he is allowed to leave. Aurora asks how far the elves will pursue the party. He says he does not know, but that already they are out of their own territory - technically Prince Silverleaf only commands within the Barony of Greyhill, guarding the access to Valadis from the west. The knight must have received special permission from the Prince to take his forces out of the Barony and into where they are now - the Dreadwood Protectorate. If the party continues half a day’s travel downstream, they will eventually leave the Protectorate, and at that point the knight would need to be very persuasive to retain the services of the elves.

    After this, Aurora discusses rather vocally with the party whether they should return to Valadis, knowing that this knight is pursuing them, and it is ‘decided’ that they should. They steer the log to the north bank and haul the elf ashore. Willa unties the hands and feet of the elf, then re-ties them in sailors’ knots designed so that he can undo them himself after ten or fifteen minutes of work. Aurora explains that by the time he gets himself undone, the party will be long gone. She suggests that he cross over to the south bank and tell his fellow clanmates not to pursue the party.

    [DM's Note: The elf is set ashore on the north bank roughly under the “r” in “Stream” and about six or seven miles downstream from the falls.]

    (6pm) Without an unconscious prisoner to keep on the log, or a conscious one to interrogate, Thokk and Willa return to paddling and the party picks up the pace. They continue on for an hour and a half through the forest, with the stream they are in growing broader and deeper with each tributary that joins it. As the late afternoon sun turns to dusk, Babshapka re-enters the water, using his darkvision to scout ahead and guide the log for Willa.

    (7:30pm) The sun has long set and Willa is navigating in dim twilight. She has been checking her direction against the stars directly above, but gradually she gets the sense that the trees are receding from the stream banks and she can see more and more of the sky around her. Luna, the large moon, has not risen yet (and will be but a sliver when it does rise), but Celene, the smaller of the two moons, is up. Celene is but a waning crescent but still provides enough light for those with darkvision. Willa steers the log to the bank and asks for a report.

    Larry looks about, and explains that they are leaving the forest and coming into open meadows. They have been descending for quite some time, even after the falls, and have now reached a broad valley bottom. Before them is an open, high grasslands.

    The party has a brief conversation about whether they should keep going or make camp. They haven’t eaten since lunch and have been traveling non-stop since breakfast. Again, the log is not a boat and even those not paddling are not well-rested. Pushing on will threaten to exhaust them. On the other hand, the human footmen are almost certainly stopping for the night, and this is a great chance to put some miles between them and their pursuers. Even if one of them does fall to exhaustion, their pace will not be slowed so long as they remain on the log. Larry points out that now that the slope of the land is less, the stream will be going less fast, and meandering more, making it less direct and efficient compared to the trail - but the others decide that is all the more reason to keep going and get what advantage they can from traveling at night. “Well, alright,” mutters the dwarf, “boot I dinnae like tha look a’ yon clouds.” He jerks a thumb at the southern horizon, where the stars are obscured by low clouds that stretch a great distance east and west.

    [DM's Note: At the “S” in “Stream”, the party leaves the forest and enters into open grasslands.]

    The party shoves off again into the stream. Willa is relying on Mantabshapka more than ever as the sky darkens and the last pale colors fade in the west. Thokk tries moving at a walking pace along the bank, flanking them. Indeed, the broad stream is now moving slower than most of them could walk, although Larry and Barnabus would still have to jog to keep up.

    Larry spots irregular shapes low on the horizon against the starlit sky - he and Thokk are sent to investigate while the log continues to drift downstream. They find the remains of a peasant village, a handful of wattle-and-daub huts surrounded by falling-down cattle pens. The place is abandoned, long abandoned - Larry estimates 10 or 15 years, by the size of the saplings growing up between the huts. All of the thatch roofs have collapsed. They poke around a bit in the houses but find nothing of interest. One house has a completely disarticulated skeleton they take to be human. The only evidence for why the place was abandoned is a rusty war-axe, buried deep in the timber corner post of one of the huts. Thokk and Larry return to the log, Larry having to huff and puff to catch up to it. Over the course of the next several hours, they can see the outlines of several other such villages, all with collapsed huts and no sign of inhabitants.

    [DM’s note: By 8pm, Aurora is at Level 1 of exhaustion]

    [DM’s note: By 10pm, Babshapka is at Level 1 of exhaustion]

    [DM’s note: By 11pm, Barnabus and Larry are at Level 1, and Babshapka at Level 2 of exhaustion]

    As the night passes, the party notes a steady breeze picking up from the south. The clouds Larry warned of are now obscuring a good quarter of the southern sky - temperature is in the fifties and dropping, and many on the log are starting to shiver. A few talk of having a fire when they stop for the night, but that is decided against - here on the open plains, a fire could be seen for miles. Their bedrolls will have to be sufficient for keeping them warm.

    [DM’s note: By 12am, Aurora is at Level 2 of exhaustion]

    Finally, around midnight, Aurora insists that they stop. Her teeth are chattering, she is cramped and sore, and cannot concentrate. It does not take much to convince Willa - the southern wind is continuing to increase, and wetting everyone with spray off the stream. She thinks that somewhere, far to the south, there must be a tropical storm in the Azure Sea - a typical fall occurrence - and they are at the very edge of it.

    Thokk is sent to the north bank to scout, and he soon returns saying that he has found an abandoned village just a hundred paces from the stream bank. The log is hauled up a sandbar and the sodden party trudges wearily toward the village.

    [DM's Note: At midnight, the party comes ashore west of the “O” in “Owl”, near the border of the Dreadwood Protectorate in dashed orange.]
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    Tue Sep 17, 2019 2:59 pm  
    Post 82: Have Swords, Will Travel

    Post 82: Have Swords, will travel

    Up until now, I had been willing to hand-wave movement, and had just used a standard pace for the party when they had traveled from Gradsul to the Owl Stream. Now, however, we had the main party fleeing ahead of a mixed group of elves and human footmen, and all of them being followed by Tyrius astride his warhorse. I decided that it was time to get more detailed about wilderness movement rates.

    5E has a fairly detailed combat movement system, with different base movements for characters based on their race and sometimes modified for class abilities and the optional variant of encumbrance. Terrain can be classed as "difficult" which costs twice movement.

    However, this level of detail is lost upon the transition to overland movement and wilderness travel. In particular, a party moving at the scale of a wilderness map simply chooses their speed as "fast", "normal", or "slow". These speeds affect their ability to notice dangers and to move stealthily. It is possible for all members of a party to move at "fast" speed together, for example, even if they have markedly different combat movement rates or different responses to terrain.

    Similarly, in 5E the only modifier for terrain is whether or not it is difficult.

    Given this, I set about creating a system to translate the 5E RAW combat movement rates to the WoGG wilderness travel rates by terrain.

    First, base movements in a combat turn:
    Barnabus (halfling), Larry (dwarf): 25 feet per combat turn
    Aurora (half-elf), Willa (human), Tyrius (human-dismounted), Thokk (half-orc): 30 feet
    Babshapka (wood elf): 35 feet
    Eddard: 60 feet - but 50 when "encumbered" (carrying more than 180 pounds) - easily met by Tyrius, plate armor, tack, and gear

    Given this distribution, I decided to peg 30 feet per turn as "standard" movement for future comparisons.

    WoGG (p.3) gives "Afoot, unencumbered" at 30 miles per day for road, track, and grasslands.

    Thus, 1 foot of combat turn movement will equal 1 mile of daily movement for bipeds on road, track, and off-trail grasslands.

    WoGG gives horsed movement as 60 miles per day on a road, but 45 miles per day on a track or in grassland. So we will assume Eddard can go at the limit of 45 miles per day in grass and on tracks, even with his current 50 feet per combat round. It is reasonable that overland speed for a horse would be proportionally slower than combat speed, compared to a biped, since combat speed will likely be at a trot or canter, while overland speed will be a mixed in with periods of walking.

    Note that Anna Meyer's maps show the route from Silglen to Lavienth as a "tertiary road," which I will treat as a track.

    Finally, I use a ten-hour day for movement, divided into two five-hour marches. Typically these marches occur from roughly 7am - 12pm, and 1pm to 6pm. Assuming ten hour days, we can calculate base walking speed (mph) for characters as well.

    Thus in grasslands and on tracks:
    Barnabus (halfling), Larry (dwarf): 25 fpt, 2.5 mph, 12.5 miles per march, 25 miles per day

    Aurora (half-elf), Willa (human), Tyrius (human - when dismounted), Thokk (half-orc): 30 fpt, 3.0 mph, 15 miles per march, 30 miles per day

    Babshapka (wood elf): 35 fpt, 3.5 mph, 17.5 miles per march, 35 miles per day

    Eddard (not ridden): 60fpt, 6 mph, 22.5 miles per march, 45 miles per day
    Eddard (ridden): 50fpt, 5 mph, 22.5 miles per march, 45 miles per day
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    Last edited by Kirt on Tue Sep 24, 2019 12:00 pm; edited 1 time in total

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    Thu Sep 19, 2019 10:05 am  

    I think I misunderstood. The party decide to go back after the knight who was following them, but then they continued on downstream. (?)

    Secondly, I agree with your travel assessment, except for Eddard. Your limit of 45 miles per day makes sense for a normal horse, but Eddard is a paladin's warhorse - specifically one from another plane, a celestial mount. It seems reasonable to grant him the slight advantage of 50 miles per day (ridden) that his movement rate would indicate.

    Finally, the Grand Boulonnaise is a fantastic-looking warhorse! And, I had never come across it before. Thanks! ;) Sir Xaris' celestial mount is a cross between a Friesian and a Gypsy: black with white feathering on his fetlocks.
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    Master Greytalker

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    Thu Sep 19, 2019 8:18 pm  

    SirXaris wrote:
    I think I misunderstood. The party decide to go back after the knight who was following them, but then they continued on downstream. (?)

    They talked in front of the captured prisoner about how they were going to go back to Valadis - and then after they left him, they continued downstream. They had planned on continuing downstream all along - but hoped that the scout would tell their false plan to the knight and thus slow their pursuit.

    In truth, Aurora is interested in Valadis, but it is a little hot right now with the knight - she would like to double back once the heat is off.

    SirXaris wrote:
    Secondly, I agree with your travel assessment, except for Eddard. Your limit of 45 miles per day makes sense for a normal horse, but Eddard is a paladin's warhorse - specifically one from another plane, a celestial mount. It seems reasonable to grant him the slight advantage of 50 miles per day (ridden) that his movement rate would indicate.

    I did want Eddard to play the role of sardonic adviser to Tyrius - his mind being more important than his hooves. As it is, I do not require Eddard to eat or drink. I might have him make a Con save to boost his movement - but not penalize him with exhaustion if he failed, so that the worst that might happen is he would be restricted to the slower movement. In practice, Tyrius is seldom in need of going faster than the party so except for trying to find them right now it has been a moot point.

    SirXaris wrote:
    Finally, the Grand Boulonnaise is a fantastic-looking warhorse! And, I had never come across it before. Thanks! ;) Sir Xaris' celestial mount is a cross between a Friesian and a Gypsy: black with white feathering on his fetlocks.
    The Friesian is beautiful, strong, and graceful - a great warhorse for a paladin - but due to Pelor's association with white and gold it was important to me that Eddard carry those colors.
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    Master Greytalker

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    Tue Sep 24, 2019 11:59 am  
    Post 83: Willa's Choice IV

    DM's Note; a replay of the events of 24 October (see post 81), but from Willa's perspective.

    24 October, 570 - Owl Stream, Dreadwood

    They move swiftly down the ravine, but the the log proves far easier to control running downstream than it did coming in and up. It is only a few minutes later when they are pulling up to the embankment where they first felled the trees and mounted the log. Four men stand on the shore.

    Willa is used enough to Aurora’s message that she is not surprised when someone contacts her mind. It is not Aurora - but it does sound like an elf.

    Special Agent Stoutley?” it asks. “I have a message for you from Sir Runnel. He asks that you inform him of what Aurora has been doing in the Dreadwood - her reason for coming. He also asks whether she has, by any chance, come across a book entitled “The Chronicle of Secret Times”

    Willa scans the figures on the bank. One is obviously a knight in full plate armor. Since he holds his great helm in hand, his face is visible, and recognizable to her from her previous meeting (see Post 44) as the man who called himself Sir Runnel. The second man is a squire or retainer in studded leather. The two remaining appear to be common foot soldiers, with chain shirts and shields.

    Willa whispers, in reply to the message, that “yes, Aurora has the book”. She gives a quick summary of what they did in Barovia while the knight is speaking to them.

    The party disembarks cautiously, facing the four men. “Hail!” calls the knight. “Are you Aurora of Ulek?”

    “I am,” replies Aurora. She and Thokk move to the front.

    The knight continues speaking. “The Silent Ones told me that the arcane boundaries around the lands of the vampire had fallen - and that their divinations were now able to penetrate and discern a book, called the “Chronicle of Secret Times”. Do you bear such a book out of those cursed lands?”

    Willa’s report is interrupted by the message. “The book must be turned over - that it not negotiable. The penalty for possessing and reading the book is lifelong imprisonment - but the Viscount of Salinmoor has argued on Aurora’s behalf to the King, explaining how instrumental she was in defending his realm against the Sahuagin.”

    Stoutley,” the message continues, “Sir Runnel is giving you a choice - you may help him apprehend Aurora, knowing that she will be the King’s prisoner for the rest of her days, but you will be well done with this matter. Or, you may help her to flee - without the book. If you choose this path, you must continue to watch her for the time being, especially noting whom she contacts, submit reports when you are contacted, and make sure that she never again enters Keoland.

    I understand, I choose the second,” whispers Willa.

    “I say,” repeats the knight, “do you bear such a book?”

    “Indeed I do,” says Aurora. “I recovered it from the castle of the vampire lord.”

    “I thought as much - may I see it?”

    The man’s words are polite but his tone is commanding. Aurora takes off her pack, then removes the large, leather-bound book. She offers it to the man.

    (...Battle ensues. The party escapes over the waterfall. They capture a pursuer. As the party discusses where to leave their prisoner...)

    Willa would like to write a message to leave on the elf, but she does not think she can pull quill and ink out of her bag without anyone noticing. She takes a scrap piece of leather and, with her knife, surreptitiously carves:

    “To Knight
    Valadis or Yeomanry?
    Doesn’t know much”

    After this, Aurora discusses rather vocally with the party whether they should return to Valadis, knowing that this knight is pursuing them, and it is ‘decided’ that they should. They steer the log to the north bank and haul the elf ashore. Willa unties the hands and feet of the elf, then re-ties them in sailors’ knots designed so that he can undo them himself after ten or fifteen minutes of work. As she is easing his back against a tree trunk, she slips the piece of leather into his pocket without the party seeing. Aurora explains to the elf that by the time he gets himself undone, the party will be long gone. She suggests that he cross over to the south bank and tell his fellow clanmates not to pursue the party.
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    Master Greytalker

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    Mon Sep 30, 2019 11:05 pm  
    Post 84: A Series of Reunions

    DM's Note on sources:

    Anna Meyer's map of Keoland shows no settlements on the Javan trail from Millen to Lavienth, nor any on the trail from the river to Silglen.

    Rich Trickey, who publishes as chatdemon, has a map of the Barony of Westgate that does locate two settlements, though - the grugach village of Brokenoak (on the Silglen trail) and the human / wood elf / halfling community of Archer's Bluff, at the intersection of the Silgen trail and the Javan trail, or what he calls the "King's Highway". Note that chatdemon's Silgen trail may be a bit further north than the one shown on Anna's maps, however.

    See: and

    Gary Holian, in his extensive "Kingdom of Keoland" article, describes this region in the section on the Viscounty of Nume Eor. He says it was once part of the County of Eor, but that is was overrun by lizardfolk from the Hool Marshes and abandoned for a great while before being reclaimed in CY 587 (note that this is 17 years after the current date of my campaign). Although Gary does not put a hard date on the fall of the County of Eor, chatdemon places it as prior to CY 503.

    Chatdemon's account of Brokenoak says it "is a small village standing in an ancient glade in the forest. Local legends say that this was the ancestral home of the Brokenoak Grugach tribe, who were all but slaughtered by the Malhel Suloise clan as they looted and defiled the woods before dissapearing [sic]. The village now serves as a base of operations for many of the Elves and rangers of the area who have taken it as their sacred duty to keep the curious and foolhardy away from the mysterious ruins two or three days walk to the southeast." I liked the idea of elven guardians of Valadis, but not that their village would be readily accessible on the trail. This village became the elves that Babshapka sensed watching the party back on 10 October in Post 58, and it also, under Prince Silverleaf, supplied the scouts and archers used by Runnel in his attempt to apprehend Aurora.

    However, since the party was now fleeing Runnel ("the knight"), I wanted to maintain the dramatic tension of the chase scene for a bit longer. I felt the party would relax too much if they arrived at a refuge, somewhere civilized like Archer's Bluff, so I decided to have the land be depopulated all the way from the Owl Stream down to Lavienth. I kept this desolation as being the result of lizardfolk raids (in my narrative called the "Long Summer"), but moved up the date of this so that it could be a childhood memory of Willa.

    Finally, Babshapka's run-in with the river tribesmen, and the main party's contact with the elves of the Falling Leaves, were both rolled as random encounters.

    Post 84: A Series of Reunions

    25 October, 570: Owl Stream, west border of the Dreadwood
    In the abandoned village, the party locates the strongest-looking of the remaining huts and begins to set up camp. Opening packs, several of them find their gear completely sodden from the stream. Their bedrolls are wet, and will be impossible to sleep in. Their rations are spoiled - the flour given to them by Ismark has turned to a gooey mess, the jerky and dried fruit has swelled up from the water and then been ground into a nasty paste by their travels. Not all of the packs are wet - between them, they have enough food for dinner and breakfast on the morrow (including the lembas that Barnabus liberated from the scout they ambushed), but after that they will need to hunt. Willa has an oilcloth tent - she and Aurora can sleep without bedrolls, and the two dry bedrolls are apportioned out, leaving two people short. Thokk and Larry, the two most accustomed to sleeping out of doors and unprotected, curl up in the leeward corner of the house and stay close for warmth.

    [DM’s note: Both Thokk and Larry make “aided” survival checks and are not harmed by the night’s exposure. After food and a full night’s rest (two full rests for Babshapka), the only remaining exhaustion is Aurora at Level 1. After a full night’s rest, Barnabus and Babshapka have gained access to all of their 5th level abilities. New attributes in bold

    Babshapka of the Silverwood
    Fifth level ranger (Hunter Archetype: Giant Killer)/ Wood elf (Folk Hero)
    Str 12 (+1) Dex 18 (+4) Con 12 (+1) Int 12 (+1) Wis 13 (+1) Cha 7 (-1)
    Languages Elven (S/W), Common (S/W)
    Hp. 41
    Skills: Animal Handling, Insight, Investigation, Perception, Stealth, Survival (Temperate Woodlands)
    Fighting Style: Duel-wielding, Extra Attack
    Human-sized Chain shirt+1, broadsword+1, cloak of the manta ray, ring of protection+1, shortsword, longbow
    Spells: Alarm, Ensnaring Strike, Hunter's Mark, Hail of Thorns

    Barnabus the Minstrel
    Fifth 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. 35
    Languages Hobbniz (S/W), Common (S/W)
    Skills: Acrobatics, Deception, Perception, Performance, Sleight of Hand, Stealth (doubled), Thieve's Tools (doubled)
    Fighting Style: Two daggers, shortbow
    Uncanny Dodge, Leather Armor+1, glamoured, Ring of Protection+1, Ring of Free Action, Staff of Shock, shortsword]

    The south wind continues to build through the night, until the gusts top forty miles an hour and the walls of the hut creak and groan - several of the party’s poles are set to reinforce them. Once in the night there is a nearby crash as a neighboring hut is flattened.

    It is no fit day to travel and the party allows themselves to sleep late, then finish what remains of their food. The gale-strength winds are still blowing, and there is a spray in the air. Not a rain, but just enough mist that it will be damp traveling all day.

    Willa has been down to the stream side. The log is still there, driven even further up the sandbank by the wind and waves and, to her satisfaction, all traces of their footprints in the sand have been washed away. The southern sky is dense with clouds and the waves on the stream are tall - there is no way they will be able to take the log without it rolling on them, so she leaves it there.

    The party sets out at a walking pace for most of them, though they are slowed considerably by the wind and stinging spray. Barnabus and Larry alternate walking and trotting. Thokk acts as a walking outrider, his great loping strides carrying him in large circles around the party. Before midday he comes upon a young antelope, weaned but not a year old, huddled in a high tussock of grass. As the small creature looks at him with great black eyes, he grabs its thin neck and tiny head and wrenches his hands in opposite directions. Jogging back to the party with the body draped over his shoulder, he yells “Lunch, lunch!” but his words are carried away by the wind and they can only see him gesticulating happily.

    The party travels some eight miles downstream until they arrive at an abandoned town set on a ford. As with the other settlements they have found, there are buildings aplenty but not a soul in sight. The ford is also the intersection of the east-west trail they had been following out of Silglen (before they took to the stream), with a north-south trail that runs parallel to the Javan River. The trail from above enters the town on the south side of the Owl Stream. The river trail is wider and looks considerably more well-traveled than the forest trail - there are wagon ruts and horse droppings aplenty. No travelers are out today, though, which is not surprising given the weather. The Javan River looks wide and deep - perhaps a half-mile wide. Willa doesn’t think they could cross it by swimming, but they could easily raft it with log floaters. Not today, though, for the waves on its surface are even larger than those roiling the Owl Stream. On the far side the land slopes steeply upward, rising from the valley bottom through a scrub forest and into some dry highlands.

    The town itself has a wooden palisade, though the gate is open, and numerous one and even two-story timber buildings. They find an abandoned inn with a stone hearth and chimney and cook Thokk’s antelope for a late lunch, cutting what is left into strips and cooking that as well for transport. Over lunch, they discuss their next destination. Thokk and Larry passed down the Javan River just three months ago, but have no recollection of which part they are at currently. Willa has never been on the Javan, but she has seen enough maps and cargo statements to try to remember. She believes the next port city to the south would be Nighford (in the Yeomanry) and to the north, Millen (in Keoland). After some conversation, they agree to head south, trusting in Father Donovich’s assurance that Tyrius will know how to find them after he awakens.

    It is already late afternoon when they set out. There is no bridge across the stream, just a natural ford that is a broad expanse over the hard, flat, rocky stream bed so that they must wade knee-deep through the rushing water. The town on the southern bank is not only abandoned, it is mostly burned, with collapsed and hollow shells of houses and shops. The southern gate lies smashed in pieces on the ground, and just outside is the meeting of the river trail and forest trail. Babshapka takes a good, long look up the forest trail before ushering them out of the walls of the town.

    They make it perhaps five miles south along the river trail before leaving the grasslands and entering the forest again. All the way the wind has been lessening, and Larry predicts that the storm will blow itself out some time during the night. They find a hollow a few hundred yards from the trail and set up camp, making a fire that is blocked from direct view of the trail by two massive fallen trees.

    26 October
    [wandering encounter; patrol (elves)]
    It is shortly after midnight. Larry and Thokk are curled up by the fire, Willa is in her tent, Babshapka and Barnabus are in their bedrolls, now dry from an evening hung by the fire before they retired. Aurora is the only one awake, on guard. She sits near the fire but facing away from it so that the light does not spoil her darkvision. From all about her come the night sounds of the forest - crickets, frogs, the occasional owl. As she scans the forest in front of her she suddenly gasps. There, a stone’s throw away, is a single figure, wrapped in a cloak and with its features obscured by a cowl. A second ago she saw only a tree.

    Aurora swallows once, then says in a voice calculated to be calm, but loud enough to wake the others, “Welcome, stranger. Will you come and share our fire?”

    The cloaked figure steps forward, raises a hand and lets her cowl fall back, revealing the face of a wood elf.

    Aurora repeats what she just said, but this time in elven, and the elf responds in the same tongue. By the timbre of the voice, Aurora takes it to be a female.

    “Your fire is on our lands,” she says simply.

    “My apologies, we did not know. What lands are those?”

    “We are the Tribe of the Falling Leaves. Our lands flank the count’s road from the edge of the forest in the north, to the human lands in the south. Who are you, and what is your business?” Her tone is matter-of-fact; not welcoming, but not overtly hostile.

    “We are travelers, adventurers. We are merely traveling south along the road. We mean no trespass.” Aurora notes immediately that the elf does not mention the knight, nor Valadis, nor the captured scout. So much the better - she will not bring them up either.

    “You are free to travel the road, and to camp here - but I am concerned about the presence of the orc.” The elf gestures at Thokk, sleeping happily by the fire, oblivious and seemingly engaged in an unconscious contest with Larry over who can snore louder. Aurora thinks she has seen movement near the bedrolls of Babshapka and Barnabus - perhaps one of them is awake and still pretending to be asleep? Or it could be just the flickering shadows cast by the fire.

    “The orc has saved the lives of two elves in our group countless times. I will vouch for him.”

    The elf pauses, considering Aurora’s pledge. “I will hold you to that,” she says. “Keep him on a tight leash. And keep yourselves less than half a bow-shot from the road when you camp. Any further into our lands we will consider an aggression, and respond accordingly.”

    “We will stay near the road.” Aurora smiles invitingly. “We have roast antelope. Would you have some?”

    The elf looks at Aurora pointedly. “You do not have enough for all of us,” she says, gesturing at the woods all around. Then, she turns and moves silently off into the darkness.

    The party travels all morning. The trees around them have just started to change into a blaze of reds and golds. It is a beautiful, clear morning after the storms of the previous days, though Larry notes clouds to the south that grow closer as they travel. As the morning wears on, their road ascends. The road itself is clear and easy to follow, though it has not seen much use of late. There is grass in many of the wagon-ruts and saplings growing at the crown.

    As the road ascends, the trees thin to their right. They make camp for a mid-day meal on a ridge overlooking a broad bend in the Javan river. They can see for miles, but there are no settlements in sight, nor even ships on the river. On the far side of the river, dry hills rise up sharply.

    After an uneventful night, Tyrius and Eddard breakfast and then break camp at the edge of the pool in Barovia. Eddard prances a bit in the water, getting used to the cold and testing the depth. Near the outlet between the cliffs it is over his chest, and he believes he will have to swim. He comes out of the water, dripping and steaming, and stands near Tyrius on the shore.

    “I think I can manage the packs, but it has been a long time since I have swum on this plane. If I start to founder, send me back and call for me when you reach the other side - you have not cast any spells today so it should be fine.”

    Tyrius nods, but takes the rope out from the gear sack. As he burdens Eddard, he loops the rope through both packs and the saddle. If he has to dismiss the horse, he doesn’t want to lose all his equipment in the stream.

    Eddard re-enters the water, leading the rope. Tyrius follows some twenty feet behind, holding the other end. He gasps from the cold. Eddard starts forward, massive legs churning to keep him afloat as the current takes him toward the cliffs. Tyrius swims after him. There are a few tense moments as they enter the dark channel, steep rock walls rising above them and blocking the sun, the water rushing them forward. Eddard’s shoulders disappear beneath the waves and he sticks his head out straight up, but by the time they break through into the forest again he is touching bottom.

    Eddard and Tyrius climb, shivering, onto the northern bank of the stream, where a broad, flat sward makes it easy to leave the water. Tyrius quickly strips the gear from Eddard and then his own soaked travel clothes until he is down to his sodden small clothes. Wan, dappled sunlight filters through the trees and does little to warm them. Tyrius finds a worn wooden scraper in the tack bag and does his best to scrape the water from Eddard’s coat, but they both are trembling from cold by the end. During the procedure they have time to look around the clearing. The soft ground near the streambed is marked with the impression of many feet, and in one spot cracked and rippled as if a great concussive force had hit the ground. Along the northern bank there is a large section where the underbrush is blackened and burnt away, and even the trees are charred.

    “I don’t like the look of that,” says Tyrius.

    Eddard nickers. “At least it means your companions were here.”

    “Most likely,” Tyrius admits. “It does appear to be their handiwork.”

    Opening his own gear bag, Tyrius finds that the thick leather has kept the insides dry. He removes his quilted gambeson and dons it, soon feeling warmer.

    “They didn’t send a blanket for you,” he tells Eddard, “not even a quarter sheet.”

    “I’m sure they did what they could, poor folk. Let’s just get moving before I stiffen up.”

    “Alright - but which way? We came in from the east, from an elven city called Silglen - but I don’t know what direction they would have left. Aurora deceived us into entering Barovia, but she found what she was looking for there, so I don’t know what she would do next.”

    Eddard closes his eyes and goes still - his shivers subsiding for a moment. “I feel them west of us and much lower,” he says. “We take the trail to the west.”

    Tyrius repacks all the gear on Eddard, but without the rope, and together they walk across the ford and up the trail on the other side. The trail soon narrows, and Tyrius walks in the lead. After fifteen minutes of walking both of them are beginning to feel warm and limber, and Eddard tells Tyrius he can mount if he wants.

    After that it is easy going along the trail, slightly downhill, for another fifteen minutes, until they come to the edge of a great escarpment. There, the trail narrows to a ledge, and crosses down the face of the escarpment in a series of switchbacks. Eddard sighs. “Back on the Prime,” he says resolutely, “why don’t you dismount?”

    Tyrius lets Eddard go first, picking his way forward with caution along the narrow trail. He follows several steps behind, trying to keep one eye on the trail beneath him and one on the horse in front. By the time they reach the bottom, their muscles are again quivering, but not from cold.

    After a bit more walking Tyrius again mounts and the ride is thenceforth pleasant. Now and again the stream can be seen off to their right. By mid-day the forest has given way to an open grassland. “Now that’s more like it,” says Eddard, and neither complain about the light rain that soon arrives.

    By early afternoon Tyrius and Eddard are moving rapidly west along the trail, with the stream to their north and a thin, secondary forest interspersed with meadow to their south. By late afternoon they have come upon a ruined town, walls intact but with a fallen gate and burned buildings. Here the trail turns south, but also north through the town.

    Tyrius dismounts to study the tracks around the gate. “I suppose it could be them,” he says doubtfully, “but there are so many tracks! It wasn’t just them. And from the look of the town it was burned quite a while ago. I don’t think that’s Aurora’s work.”

    Eddard noses at a pile of horse droppings, twitching his mane at the flies he disturbs. “That’s recent,” he says, “earlier today.”

    “North or south?” asks Tyrius.

    “Your companions are south of here,” says Eddard, and Tyrius remounts.

    The party continues traveling along the road all afternoon. The trail continues south, but curves lazily to the west as it rises. Here and there when the trees thin or they ascend a ridge they can see the Javan alongside them.

    By day’s end Tyrius and Eddard have gone some 15 miles south of the burned ford town. They make camp along the trail in light forest, overlooking a broad bend in the Javan River. A few bones and apple cores along the roadside indicate a small group has eaten there recently.

    The party camps for the evening on the trail.

    27 October
    [wandering encounter; men (tribesmen)]
    The day dawns fair and clear for the party, but now that the road is easily traveled, Aurora begins to worry about pursuit. By the end of breakfast, she has convinced Babshapka to stay behind after they break camp. He should be able to spot any pursuers from a great distance with his keen elven sight, and traveling through the woods he can easily catch catch up with the party. Discussing with the rest of the party, they agree to stop at noon and wait, if Babshapka has not already caught up with them.

    The party says their farewells, and Aurora thanks Babshapka as they break camp. They continue along the road, which gradually curves to the south to follow the course of the Javan.

    Babshapka withdraws off the road to the west, finding a nice hiding spot where he can easily watch the road, north, and south, without being seen. He has been resting there, with his cloak wrapped around him for warmth on the chill morning, for a half an hour or so, when he hears the first rustle, gentle as the wind. The party is certainly out of earshot by this time. He turns casually, without giving away that he has heard a sound, and his hand goes to the hilt of one of his swords.

    A man creeps closer to him, obscured by the forest, his outline indistinct as he moves from shadow to shadow. Around him, behind him, Babshapka can spot other figures as well, but cannot even tell if they are men.

    Babshapka gathers his feet under him and stands. The man freezes for a second in a crouch, then he, too, stands and takes a few more steps toward the elf, at the end moving from the shadows and allowing the sunlight to fall upon him so that Babshapka can see him clearly. Despite the chill, the man is nearly naked, wearing only a rough loincloth. His skin is a dark tan, though, and covered with blue-black tattoos. His hair is coal-black and in braids. The sandals on his feet are of worn leather and nearly the same color as his skin.

    The man gestures at Babshapka, and speaks a heavily-accented Common. “Forest-man have two bows.”

    “Why yes, yes I do,” replies Babshapka, who is currently carrying his own, which is strung, and the one they took from the scout along the Owl Stream, which is not. The tan man does not appear to carry any bow, but he has a long knife, almost a machete, at his waist and a number of javelins strapped across his back.

    “Winter coming. People in my village hungry. You have many clothes. I thinking you have much food, much things. Maybe too much for one forest-man.”

    “I do alright for myself,” says Babshapka casually. Behind the man, the understory plants are in motion. He could likely down this man quickly, but the others would be upon him soon after the man fell.

    “No man can use two bows, even a forest-man. You better leave one here, so my people can eat this winter.” The man holds up his hand, weaponless, and another four men, dressed similarly, emerge from the brush.

    Babshapka reaches behind him, lays the fine ash bow down on the forest floor. He is going over the terrain in his head. He thinks he is a few hundred yards from the cliff edge, with the Javan river beneath - and his cloak of the manta ray already on. It can’t be a longer drop than the waterfall was.

    One of the men in the group behind says something in a thick language that Babshapka does not recognize. The man who spoke before continues in Common. “He say one bow okay, but not have string. He say you have coin to give us, can feed many children.”

    Babshapka smiles and loosens a pouch hanging from his belt. He takes out a single gold lion, holds it in the air for all the men to see, then tosses it forcefully at the man closest to him. Out of instinct, the man’s hands go up, away from his knife, and catch the coin, but by then Babshapka has already turned and is dashing away through the brush. Three javelins sail after him, but all miss their mark.

    Babshapka runs, swift and silent as a wood elf, toward the cliff. Behind him the men, slow and loud as humans, crash through the brush. He judges himself nearly a minute ahead of them when the thinning trees and open horizon mark the edge of the cliff. Babshapka sprints to the edge, prepared to launch himself into the water far below, but then digs in his heels at the last instant.

    Beneath him the cliff face drops some fifty feet - no more than the waterfall did. But there is not the broad Javan below. Instead there is a tumble of jagged fallen rocks, and then a wide swath of high reeds. The river itself is farther away than the cliff face is high. With a running jump he could easily clear the rocks - but even jumping from a tree he cannot clear the reeds and make it to open water. The reeds are likely in standing water, but not even a foot deep, with thick, clinging mud beneath. A jump from this height could easily break bones and sink him deep into the mud, perhaps deep enough so that he would be unable to pull himself out. His eye catches something else - just around the corner of the cliff face is a village at the water’s edge - a squalid, disorganized cluster of reed houses and dugout canoes. Human folk are everywhere around the village.

    A crash from the forest behind him tells him his pursuers are closing. Babshapka retreats from the cliff edge and melds into the light forest, turns and begins silently moving south. He is going slower now, stealthily and leaving no sign of his passage. He has not gone far when he hears hooting cries from the men behind him, and distant answering calls from the village.

    Tyrius and Eddard wake rested but cold from the night. They walk awhile in the morning light until Eddard is warm enough to allow Tyrius to mount. The road is soft grass and dirt and Eddard moves along at a brisk pace.

    The party continues for most of the morning, with the trail steadily climbing and retreating from the river. Babshapka was supposed to wait for an hour to see if they were being pursued, and then use the second hour to catch up to them. When they enter the third hour they assume he was delayed. They crest a ridge and start down the other side, now able to see the river again. By the end of the fourth hour they are concerned and Aurora is clearing her throat nervously. When they reach a small stream bed, Willa calls for a halt to refill their skins.

    Aurora takes her spider out from the curious extra-dimensional space it has been traveling in. “Charlotte, I dismiss you,” she says. “Return to me in the form of Buckbeak.” As the party begins to make camp for lunch, Aurora sets up her own brazier and puts incense on it. In ten minutes the hawk, last seen in an explosion of feathers at the end of an iron statue’s sword, appears on her shoulder. “Take wing!” commands Aurora, and the hawk rises into the air.

    It is soon apparent that the hawk will spot nothing of interest while remaining close enough to Aurora to be telepathically linked - there is no one along the trail within a mile of them. Aurora commands Buckbeak to fly north out of range, to go between the road and the river, and to come back and tell her of everything he has seen.

    The party is just finishing their lunch when the hawk returns. As Aurora contacts its mind, a flash of images appear. A solitary knight on horseback, riding rapidly south along the trail. A single wood elf, making his way furtively through the forest at the edge of the cliff above the river. She tries to concentrate on the details that would let her identify the man, or the elf, but the hawk did not look for the things she would, and its memories do not suit her purposes. It has no recollection of the man’s tabard, but can recall in great detail the woodmouse flushed from the road by the horse’s hooves.

    Aurora tells what she saw to the party. “Well, yon solitary elf be Babshapka, are me name t’aint Wilhemina,” says Willa thoughtfully. “But yon knight's a’tother story. 'e might be Tyrius - but 'e might be Aurora’s special friend, as well.”

    After packing up camp, Aurora arranges them in an ambush, with Thokk enthusiastically participating, the others less so. Her initial ideas of pit traps, deadfalls, and giant logs swinging from ropes are met with skepticism by the others. Finally she settles for positioning to attack the knight before they can clearly see him (or he can see them, as Aurora insists). She writes a message on a small scrap of parchment, rolls it in a tube, has Buckbeak clench it in a talon, and tells him to go after the elf and lead him to them.

    It is not long after that when the party hears the soft hoof-falls of the mounted knight approaching. Aurora, crouching behind a fallen tree, has just summoned a firebolt to her hand and is preparing to launch it when from beside her Larry cries out, “Tyrius!” and bounds forward. By the time she comes out from the brush, the dwarf is happily embracing the leg of the mounted man.

    “Well met, well met, one and all!” calls Tyrius heartily as the rest of the party emerges from hiding. His horse clears its throat, pointedly. “Excuse me,” continues Tyrius, “it is my pleasure to introduce you to my celestial mount, and new trusted companion, Eddard.”

    The party, now two members larger, returns to their campsite by the stream.

    Babshapka works his way silently through the forest. He has been back to the cliff face a dozen times, without luck. If anything, the cliff appears to be getting higher, but the waters of the Javan are never closer than he saw the first time, and are often farther. There is no way for him to jump down. Climbing down might be an option, but at this point, how would he climb back up - and where would he do so? He has no idea where the party is, or whether he has already passed them. He could turn inland to the road at any point - he has no doubt lost his pursuers - but how would he know upon finding the road whether to go forward or back?

    So he continues to move south through the forest. He consoles himself with the fact that he is nearly invisible, a wood elf in the forest, moving stealthily. None will note his presence nor his passing. He moves like an unseen shadow through the trees. Above him, a hawk circles, then plummets down, landing on a branch in front of him, and squawks. It balances awkwardly on one leg, while holding forth the other at Babshapka, a tiny piece of rolled parchment in its talons.

    Babshapka takes the offered parchment and unrolls it. Hastily-written and rolled before dry, the smudged ink has but three words in elven - “follow the bird”.

    Over the next half hour, Babshapka moves through the forest to the southeast, at a faster pace now. The hawk hops from branch to branch ahead of him, occasionally breaking free of the canopy, circling to get its bearings, then returning to him. It is perhaps an hour after midday when Babshapka emerges beside a small stream, where the rest of the party waits.

    Aurora and Tyrius are in a heated discussion. Tyrius was quite content to listen to the party describe how they waited for him in Barovia, how Father Donovich convinced them to leave over the protestations of Aurora, and how they returned to the forest trail...but were immediately set upon by the knight, foot soldiers, and elven scouts. Here the tale breaks down somewhat, as they each offer different versions of what transpired, but Aurora’s version has her being attacked without provocation by what was obviously an impostor knight.

    Tyrius is concerned over the possibility that the knight was real - he reminds Aurora that she did trick the party into entering a land that was off-limits to visitors and guarded by the elves and druids against passage, and she did emerge from that place with a tome of ancient knowledge that was obviously valued by a vampire lord, valued as much as his own diary. Aurora continues to claim that it was clear the knight was not real. Tyrius asks her if she will agree to submit to a new spell that he has been granted, Zone of Truth. She considers it, knowing full well she will need Tyrius’ support should the knight appear again with a host behind him. Finally she agrees, under the condition that Tyrius ask her only about the book and the knight and nothing else.

    Once inside the holy Zone of Truth, Aurora explains again that the book does not have any malevolent powers, it was a simple history, but one that runs counter to the official history of Keoland. And that the knight was acting strangely, bore no recognizable device, and that she honestly believes that he is working on behalf of some nefarious power, although he likely convinced the good elves and soldiers of Greyhill to help him, in the name of a king he does not actually serve.

    When she is done, Tyrius studies her, and Eddard, too, is looking intently at her. Uncomfortable, she demands of Tyrius, “So what are you going to do when this knight appears, huh?”

    “Well,” says Tyrius carefully, “I know of a few questions that should get him to reveal his true nature, and I’m sure Eddard can help me think of some more. If he is indeed a false knight, that is a grave crime against the crown, and I will help you subdue him and turn him over to whatever local authorities we can find. I would even consider using my zone of truth to interrogate him as to his real purpose, intentions, and master.”

    Aurora grins in satisfaction, but as Tyrius continues, her grin fades.

    “Of course, if he is truly in service to the king, than I will help him complete his mission of arresting you. It is entirely possible that it was, in fact, a crime for you to read that book. You should count yourself lucky he did not accuse you of entering Barovia, for we are all of us guilty of that.”

    “A crime to read the book! But I did not even know. If it is secret knowledge, how could I have known? What kind of crazy law condemns you for doing something that no one would even tell you is a crime? And what kind of king would enforce such an insane law? How could you serve such a king?!”

    Despite Aurora’s anger, Tyrius remains calm. He has heard these objections before many times, posed in his theology and ethics classes. “Let me remind you that I serve no king, I serve an immortal and infallible god. Kings are mortal men, and they can make mistakes. But it is our duty to obey their laws, nonetheless, so long as the laws are just. And I can believe a law forbidding transaction in knowledge, even true knowledge, would be just - if such knowledge posed a threat to a good realm. A dangerous but secret truth may pose more of a threat to a peaceful kingdom than an invading army - and it is the duty of a king to protect his people, even from such truths. And,” he adds pointedly, “ignorance of a law is no excuse, if the law is just. If you are guilty of breaking the law of Keoland, and if this knight is a representative of Keoland, he is well within his rights and duties to arrest you, and I will help him.”

    Aurora has been turning scarlet as Tyrius lectures her, but something he says at the end distracts her and she seizes on it. ‘A representative of Keoland?’ She forces herself to calm down so she can think. “Tyrius,” she says finally. “The other side of the river is not Keoland.” She points at the nearby Javan.

    “No, I believe it is the Yeomanry, from what Willa has told us.”

    “What if that knight met us over there and sought to arrest me?”

    “A knight of Keoland has no authority in the Yeomanry. As a companion of mine, I would help you resist such an unlawful act.”

    “Even if he was a true knight - which of course he is not.”

    “Even if he were a true knight,” says Tyrius, emphasizing the subjunctive tense that marks his speech as noble, “and even if you had committed a crime in Keoland, neither that crime nor his authority could follow you to Yeoman soil.”

    “And you will help me get over there?”

    “I see no reason to stop you - at least not until we know the truth of the situation. If he is truly a knight of Keoland, it should be easy for him to catch you on foot and make his claim to me.”

    “Well then, let’s get moving!” shouts Aurora, turning and striding across the stream and down the trail.

    They camp along the banks of a river, a small tributary of the Javan. The fading afternoon light reveals a broad natural ford of flat rocks. There is a thunderstorm that evening - mostly light and noise, but a good bit of cold wind and rain as well. Aurora and Willa remain dry in Willa’s oilskin tent, but the others are soaked and shivering by storm’s end. After the rain finally passes, Thokk builds up the fire to dangerous proportions and the rest of the party huddles by it for warmth and to dry their clothes and bed rolls.

    28 October
    The party is woken before dawn by a cold rain with occasional bursts of hail. It is a dismal morning even after sunrise, but Thokk keeps the fire high and when the rain finally peters out around eight in the morning they depart. With wet clothes, wet gear, and wet sleeping rolls, they are all of them hopeful of reaching Nighford, or at least a town large enough to have an inn, by nightfall.

    It has already been a full day of travel and Willa is about ready to call a halt to camp when the trail emerges from the woods into a great vista. Before them, the land slopes gently down to a grassy river valley, with the river itself some two miles distant and the trail passing through a town at the ford. Kine in the fields and smoke from the town tells them that this town is occupied, not abandoned. Sloping up again on the other side of the valley, the land is dotted with fields and pastures, thorps and crofts until it attains a plateau at roughly their elevation. There, at the edge of the plateau, is a great city, the largest they have seen since Dearwald, and likely larger than Seaton. It can’t be Nighford, for it is clearly on the Keoish side of the river, and far inland from the Javan at that.

    Willa judges it some five miles to the city, and unlikely for them to arrive before dark, but the thought of a table-meal, hot bath, and soft bed soon has nearly all of them agreeing to continue. Thokk’s thoughts are more of table-ale, no bath, and a shared bed, but he is all for continuing, too. Larry decries the so-called “comforts” of civilization and bemoans his sore feet, saying that he would like nothing more than some acorns and a bed of leaves, but he agrees to go on for the sake of his companions.

    They reach the ford just before sunset, which is fortunate, for the tiny river-town is walled and the gates are about to be shut. The gate guard asks them all manner of questions, but his respect for Tyrius finally overcomes his suspicions of the rest of them, and he makes it quite clear that he would not let the lot of them in were it not for the word of the paladin. They pass through the town and over a great wooden bridge. The guard, having closed the gate behind them, accompanies them with his squad of men. He remarks that they seen to be carrying quite a bit of weaponry, and informs them that drawing a blade is illegal in both the low town and the city above, which he names Lavienth. When they ask about inns he begrudgingly admits that there are inns in the town, but immediately suggests the ones in the city as being of better quality, and it is clear he would like nothing more than for them to move along. There seems little of note in the town besides mills, granaries, butchers, and tanneries, so the party agrees to continue even as dusk draws about them.

    It is indeed dark by the time they get to the city of Lavienth but they find neither wall nor gate, just a hazy outline of cattle and goat pens before the streets are paved and the houses start. Aurora spots a beggar-man and asks for a guide to the city’s second-best inn. He replies that it is a long walk in the dark and thirsty work, and she jingles her purse.

    Once they are in the better part of the town the streets are lit by torches and oil-pots. The beggar proudly shows them the inn, “The Painted Cow”, follows them in behind, and goes immediately to the bar while Tyrius is arranging for rooms, dinner, and stabling.

    They seat themselves at tables and are served quickly, as the dinner was ready an hour before and just needed to be reheated. At the rate the beggar is drinking, Willa decides to question him quickly before he passes out or needs to empty his stomach in the alley. The party, or at least those in it who ponder such things, is most curious about why the land to the north along the river is so desolate, with only burned and ruined villages and farms.

    The beggar tells them that when he was a lad, all the lands to the north, “the lands of the old Count”, were indeed fertile and populated, and the trail they used was much-traveled, for there was land traffic as well as river-trade between Lavienth and Millen. Of course, the river being the border between Keoland and the Yeomanry, there were many raids as well. The Keoish bandits crossed the river to steal goats and waylay mining caravans, and the Yeoman raiders crossed over to capture cows and poach crown timber for ship masts. Local authorities on both sides ignored these brigands so long as they confined their activities to the other side of the river. Still, there were unwritten rules - few people were slain and no villages razed, for that would lessen the future income of everyone. “Ye might steal the milk from yer neighbor’s cow,” the beggar chortles in his ale, “but if ye kill the cow ta make steak, there’ll be no milk tomorrow, eh?”

    This happy state of affairs ended some 15 years ago, during what the man calls “The Long Summer”. That year saw the addition of a new force to the mix - lizardfolk raiders. The “flickers” would come out of the Javan in large parties, raid the coastal communities, and disappear beneath the waters before the militia or soldiers of the Count could respond. As they grew more bold, they began capturing not just livestock but people, and putting towns to the torch. The brigands, seeing their livelihood slipping away, grew more desperate in their own raids, no longer sparing people and towns and raiding on their own side of the river as well as across it, building up their stores to survive a desolate winter. The local militias were overwhelmed and even the forces of the Count outnumbered by the three different enemy factions. The small folk deserted the lands of their lords and fled to cities north or south. The first refugees were hung as runaways, their Lords hoping to discourage others, but when the numbers turned to hundreds, the King himself intervened and forbade further executions. By the end of the raiding season, when the winter rains started and the roads turned to mud, there was not a town left standing between Lavienth and Millen, nor a human dweller remaining. Come springtime no one returned to plant or sow. The lands have been deserted ever since.

    As the beggar speaks, Willa is returned to her childhood. She can just barely remember “The Long Summer”, and how all the adults were fearful at the time, talked of troubles in lands far away, and lit candles and prayed that the troubles would not come to Saltmarsh. It has been many a year since she has recalled that memory.

    Thokk has been reminiscing as well, but warmly remembering his lizardfolk army, and at the conclusion of the beggar’s tale, he raises his stein. “A toast to the flickers!” he shouts, inviting all in the common room to drink with him to the martial successes of the lizardfolk. He doesn’t understand why all the townsfolk present glare at him and whisper or why Tyrius reddens as if embarrassed.

    Not long after this, the beggar’s speech begins to slur and his tales grow less coherent. The party, bellies full and a long trail behind them, decide to retire upstairs for the night.
    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.&nbsp;

    Joined: Jul 26, 2010
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    From: LG Dyvers

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    Wed Oct 02, 2019 8:41 am  

    Poor Tyrius! He seems to have his hands full between Barnabus, Aurora, and Thokk. It is a good thing Willa is there to give him a hand. Smile

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    Master Greytalker

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    Wed Oct 02, 2019 12:37 pm  

    SirXaris wrote:
    Poor Tyrius! He seems to have his hands full between Barnabus, Aurora, and Thokk. It is a good thing Willa is there to give him a hand. Smile SirXaris

    And now Eddard as well! To lend a hoof, anyway.
    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.&nbsp;
    Master Greytalker

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    Tue Oct 08, 2019 11:03 am  
    Post 85: Lavienth to Nighford

    DM's Note on Sources:
    I don't know what the original source of Lavienth and Nighford are; neither are on the Darlene maps so they are possibly Triad work.

    This site: describes Nighford as a "small farming community" of 600, but I imagine it as a rather larger center of river trade.

    Anna Meyer's maps give both Nighford and Lavienth the symbol of "Small Town" (population 200-2000) and adds a "ferry" symbol to Nighford. Her maps show Lavienth to be inland. I reasoned that there must be a geographical reason for the town to not be on the water, as normally that would make more economic sense.

    Post 85: Lavienth to Nighford

    29 October, 570 - Lavienth
    The party is up late, sore from their forced march the previous day. It is still early for drinking, though, so they have the common room to themselves and can engage Hartan, the barkeep, in conversation about the city.

    Lavienth is the northernmost city in the County of Eor, and was so even before the Long Summer, for there was nothing similar in size all the way to Millen. It is far from the Javan, a day’s travel by foot, but the river trade is still important. A road leads to a port town on the Javan some 12 miles away, across the river from Nighford in the Yeomanry. The party will easily be able to obtain crossing there, if Nighford is their destination - though why they would want to go to such a place of lawless anarchy, where neither gentle blood nor the gods themselves are respected, is beyond Hartan. The port town is built on a raised, rocky spit, but the land all around is low and often flooded by the river, which is why a city like Nighford never grew on the Keoish side of the Javan.

    Lavienth is the “hub of the north” and the focal point for all the goods produced in the region. It has any number of bakers, brewers, tanners, butchers, leatherworkers, cobblers, weavers, dyers, clothiers, and so forth who take the raw materials of the hinterlands (principally wheat, corn, cotton, and cattle), produce all that the good folk of the city need, and sell the surplus to the river trade. The Count of Eor mostly stays in his capital of Jaedre, south along the river, and seldom ventures up here, more’s the pity, leaving most of the power in Lavienth to the guilds and the wealthy merchant houses, chief among which is the Verdunn.

    The party tells Hartan that they are interested in buying provisions and perhaps barding, and he gives them directions to the open market and armorer’s way. They spend the day in the markets, restocking their supplies of oil and torches, having minor mending and repairs made to their clothes, bags, and armor, and also purchasing rations - traveling food for another ten days of journey. It is an abundant fall and Thokk has had no problem supplying them with game on the road from the Owl Stream to Lavienth, but now that they are in civilized lands, Willa does not want him foraging. Thokk is confused, and tries to explain that it is even easier to forage here, for the countryside is swarming with chickens, pigs, goats, and cows, but in the end he takes the word of his evil advisor that with all the strange people about they need him close to the party and not off hunting by himself. They spend all afternoon on armorer’s way, with Tyrius looking to purchase barding for Eddard. He inquires about the prices for different kinds of barding - leather, chain, splint, half plate, full plate. He considers selling his own suit of splint mail to raise money. In the end he purchases a set of chain barding with help from the party, most members contributing a fair amount of coins. Eddard makes sure to thank each of them formally and individually. The armorer that fits the suit is honored to arm the mount of a true paladin, but is obviously flustered that the steed himself is giving him direction about the fitting of the pieces - telling him in no uncertain terms which straps are tight and which are loose, where the padding needs to be augmented and where it can be reduced.

    In the evening they retire to the inn for dinner. Aurora and Willa are eager to ask about local news. Most of it is banal - which villages have their harvest in, which are shorthanded because of fall fever, which merchants are planning on hosting Masquerade Balls and whether they will serve food to the small folk outside. The only “big news” is the summer campaign against the Sea Devils, where the Viscount of Salinmore led a coalition of strange sea-races against the vicious Devils that had blockaded the mouth of the Javan, resulting in a brilliant and decisive victory. “I heard there were some adventurers involved in that fight” mentions Willa, which gets the room abuzz with conversations about the nature of the adventurers, most of them foreign, many of them not human, and what role (if any) they had in the victory of the Viscount. After a few minutes, Barnabus stands up on a table in the center of the room, lute in hand. “I happen to know a few songs about that campaign,” he says, “perhaps if Hartan could compensate me for my bill for this evening, I could entertain his patrons?” A roar fills the common room, and Hartan looks up from the stein he is filling, glowering. Then he grins, “As long as ye finish with some drinking songs to get the custom flowing, I’ll give ye tonight and last night on the house.”

    Barnabus strums a few chords and begins…

    “Oh, the blades did flash, the blood did flow,
    the Viscount waxed political,
    but through it all, there shone the smile,
    of Barnabus the minstrel!”

    30 October
    The party rises much earlier this morning, settles accounts with Hartan, and is out in the cobbled streets of the city even as most of the shopkeepers and merchants are just opening for business. They leave the city by following a road leading southwest and spend the morning on a high bluff overlooking the Javan below. River traffic has now resumed after the storm they weathered, and there are numerous barges and galleons going both directions on the broad river. The road is as well-traveled as the river, and they are continually being passed by riders, themselves passing heavily-laden carts pulled by oxen, and meeting both types of traffic going the opposite way.

    By late morning the road begins descending a long, gentle slope down off the bluff and approaches the river. They can see the port town clearly, and Nighford across the water vaguely through a humid haze. Their last mile of travel is on a road shored up with rocks and stone above the level of the surrounding marsh. Here and there is evidence that whole sections of the road have been swept away in floods and then replaced. Mosquitoes and blackflies follow them in great swarms, desperate for one final good meal before the first hard frost, which could come any day. Eddard tosses his mane and flicks his tail and almost loses his composure, but contents himself with ruminating aloud about the trials of the lands of the living and how not all tests of faith are to be found in combat.

    Finally the ground rises just a few feet and turns rocky and they arrive at the port town, where a cluster of wooden warehouses fight for space along a narrow stony spit. The low-lying lands about the town are given over to corrals and wagon-yards, and wooden piers of all shapes and sizes jut into the river. The narrow streets teem with people, beasts of burden, and goods, and the party resorts to sending Thokk first to force a way through the crowds. With the half-orc clearing a path for them, they eventually arrive at a dock that looks to have a number of passenger ferries available.

    Willa negotiates a price for the exclusive use of a larger, flat-bottomed skiff that has just enough room on deck for them, their gear, and Eddard. There is a bronzed man at the tiller and four darker men on the oars - as dark as the ones who waylaid Babshapka, but without nearly as many tattoos. The helmsman steers them into the current and they drift downstream for several minutes before he brings it about and the oarsmen begin to pull. The afternoon is warm and within minutes the men are sweating freely. Fortunately the breeze picks up once they are out on the open water, dispersing the rancid smell of the men and the cloud of biting flies. With the men crossing the wide river laterally but fighting the entire time to not be carried downstream, it will be a long passage, and Willa opens their bags to bring out jerky, dried fruits, and waterskins for the party. The oarsmen have a dull look about them, and if they secretly desire the cool water the party is drinking they do not show it.

    It is more than a mile across the river and the men must have rowed some three times that when they finally make landing in Nighford. Of the several coins the party gave the helmsman, he hands one over to a dockmaster, and then helps them unload their gear. The local stevedores watch with curiosity as Eddard, without reins or halter, waits for the skiff to be made fast before he calmly steps to the dock, then proceeds a few feet forward to give the party room to disembark.

    Nighford is a strange mix of familiar and unfamiliar. The houses and shops seem nearly identical to those in Lavienth, but the people are markedly different. Beggars and prostitutes are conspicuously missing from the streets, but so are fat priests in robes and gentlemen in colored silks. It is as if everyone in the city were gainfully and honorably employed, sparing only the occasional cripple or drunkard. Craftsmen, laborers, and tradesmen abound but there is nary a wretched hovel nor sleek polished carriage to be seen - a very curious city, indeed. Even more curious is the abundance of weaponry - small folk everywhere are armed, and not just with utility knives at their belts, but with staves and spears and even the occasional short sword.

    The afternoon is wearing on when the party begins their search for an inn. They pass several as they leave the docks; places with large common rooms full of drinking, swearing, fighting men. Thokk looks wistfully at them but Tyrius and Eddard insist that they head inland. Along the way they are passed by numerous squadrons of soldiers or watchmen. These may be recruits in training, for they carry the shafts of long spears without heads, and they are invariably running in formation while some sergeant or other jogs along beside them barking in the Yeoman tongue. Willa notes that in any group of ten or fifteen there are one or two women, dressed in the same tunics and sandals and mixed indiscriminately among the formations.

    When the buildings have turned from wood to stone Tyrius tells Thokk that he can have his pick of any inn he can find, but they all look staid and boring now so the half-orc delegates the choice to Willa, who selects one with an ample stable and the strong smell of roasting meat coming from the kitchen. Even as the party is dividing their gear between rooms and figuring out who is sleeping in which bed, Barnabus is tuning his lute.
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    Tue Oct 08, 2019 11:55 am  

    October 30th

    ...River traffic has now resumed after the storm they weathered, and there are numerous barges and galleons going both directions on the broad river.

    Did you mean 'galleys'? Galleons may be correct for your campaign, but they seem a bit large, even for a river the size of the Javan.

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    Tue Oct 08, 2019 2:29 pm  

    SirXaris wrote:
    Did you mean 'galleys'? Galleons may be correct for your campaign, but they seem a bit large, even for a river the size of the Javan.

    The Javan is the longest river in the Flaneass and has equivalent depth and volume. It is navigable by deep draft ocean-going vessels, including galleons, all the way to Cryllor.

    See also:
    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.&nbsp;

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    Mon Oct 14, 2019 6:50 pm  

    Kirt wrote:
    SirXaris wrote:
    Did you mean 'galleys'? Galleons may be correct for your campaign, but they seem a bit large, even for a river the size of the Javan.

    The Javan is the longest river in the Flaneass and has equivalent depth and volume. It is navigable by deep draft ocean-going vessel, including galleons, all the way to Cryllor.

    See also:

    Great answer! Thanks for the links. I was imagining a galleon as a Man-O'-War, but apparently, they aren't that big. 🙂

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    Wed Oct 16, 2019 8:12 am  

    SirXaris wrote:
    Kirt wrote:
    SirXaris wrote:
    Did you mean 'galleys'? Galleons may be correct for your campaign, but they seem a bit large, even for a river the size of the Javan.

    The Javan is the longest river in the Flaneass and has equivalent depth and volume. It is navigable by deep draft ocean-going vessel, including galleons, all the way to Cryllor.

    I was imagining a galleon as a Man-O'-War, but apparently, they aren't that big.

    It's a slippery term - if you go into the 17th and even early 18th Century I think there are still things called galleons hauling gold from the New World to Spain, with two or three full decks of cannons, etc. But no, I wasn't trying to imply anything nearly as big (and my Greyhawk certainly doesn't have cannon). Just the late Medieval galleons like in the links.
    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.&nbsp;
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    Wed Oct 16, 2019 8:35 am  
    Post 86: Nighford

    The party can recognize a plot hook when they see one!

    Post 86: Nighford

    October 31, 571 - Nighford
    Aurora is glad to be out of Keoland and away from the jurisdiction of the self-proclaimed knight, but for the moment the party is unsure of what their next move is. After they contribute to Tyrius’ purchase of barding for Eddard, many of them are low on funds, and a brief talk over breakfast at the inn reveals that all of them are amenable to seeking employment - as caravan guards, monster slayers, or adventurers. There must be some work in the Yeomanry for folk of their talents. The only one who seems uninterested in this is Barnabus. He announces that he will be visiting the market and purchasing two riding mules, so that he and Larry no longer slow the party as they travel. He is tired of the japes of Thokk and grumblings of Willa with regards to his speed overland, and his overtures to Eddard over the last several days have all been rebuffed, with Eddard saying in no uncertain terms that the only way he would allow the halfling to ride him would be if Barnabus were unconscious and bleeding out and being carried to healing.

    The market seems like a good place to seek employment, so the party leaves their equipment at the inn and ventures forth. The market square is large and offers a dizzying array of goods - tropical fruits, coffee, tea, meats, bolts of cloth (linen, cotton, and silk), rice, wheat, and corn by the bushel, jewelry, salt, spices, pipeweed, leather...There is a disorderly array of market stalls lining the winding paths, but no clear routes, so that they have to wend their way along, unsure of their direction, with loud Yeoman tradesmen hawking their wares on all sides. Here and there are larger empty spaces where no tent-stalls have been set up - invariably these are filled with tight clusters of people betting on dog fights and boxing matches.

    Eddard sticks his nose in the air and sets them in the general direction of the stock yards, but there are no straight routes and they move back and forth across the true trail as if tacking before the wind. When they finally arrive they are all hot, thirsty, and over-stimulated by the sights and sounds. Thokk treats the party to the shade of a beer tent while Barnabus negotiates the purchase of two mules and tack, including packs and frames.

    Many of the horse traders have large operations, and appear to be prosperous merchants - of more importance than the simple tradesmen of the city. These merchant masters do not display their wealth in silks and jewelry like the wealthy of Keoland, but the party notes that the clothes they wear are of far better quality than the people around them - fine linen shirts with toggles of horn, not wood. Their heavy cotton pants show neither patches nor wear. They have high leather boots and wide belts with decorative tooling, often with slink or kid gloves tucked in. These men barely stand out from a distance or in a crowd, but up close their superior means are readily apparent.

    Willa, Tyrius, and Aurora speak with several of the merchant men, but none of them seem to be hiring - at least not hiring people like the party, who are effectively foreign mercenaries with no references. A few of the harder men remark that they are not fools, and that they may as well turn over their caravans before the journey starts, as to pay a party of strangers to turn cloak on them and take their goods by force in the middle of the journey. A few of the more pleasant men suggest that the party register themselves with the Nighford Captain of the Guard if they want mercenary work.

    Once Barnabus has his mules, and with no prospects forthcoming, the party leaves the market and heads for the offices of the City Guard, lunching at a cafe along the way. The Captain of the Guard shows little pretense and agrees to see them soon after they arrive. After listening to them, he says there are, at the moment, no jobs requiring their talents in the city. Of course, he can find them work guarding warehouses, doing night patrols in cemeteries, killing rats in the sewers, and such, but these things will neither pay for their fancy inn nor the upkeep on their armor and mounts. He suggests that they head north into the Little Hills. There are many small mining communities there, but it is a rugged and wild land and monster-hunters can often find a lair simply by going off-trail for a day. Furthermore, with winter coming, many mines are sending out their “last caravan of the year” and frequently need extra guards if locals are in short supply.

    Since the Captain seems friendly and talkative, Aurora questions him about the nature of the Yeomanry. In broad terms, he says he knows that “you Keoish” (Aurora does not correct him to say that she is, in fact, Uleki) think of the Yeoman as lawless anarchists. In fact, they have just as ordered a society and just as many laws as in Keoland - but they don’t believe in the privilege of blood and birth. There are wealthy men in the Yeomanry, but no nobles. Laws are made by the Speakers, men (and a few women) elected by local communities and representational districts. Anyone who has served in the Yeoman military, man or woman, is allowed to vote or run for Speaker. Or, in the words of the Captain, “everyone who has carried a spear for our country has an equal say in our laws”. He also notes that the Yeomen follow almost all the same gods as the Keoish do, “we just don’t allow the fat priests to get into bed with the nobles and squeeze coppers from peasants to build fine churches that serve their own egos”.

    Aurora asks him how magic and mages are viewed by the populace. The Captain says that the Yeoman value their freedom above all else, and are thus suspicious of mages, who are said to be able to bewitch men’s minds and rob them of their volition. That being said, the practice of magic itself is not forbidden. Should Aurora wish to practice the Craft while in the Yeomanry, she should be careful not to cast a spell on a Yeoman, but aside from that she should be fine.

    Aurora asks whether there are many mages in the city, and he laughs and says “None of any power. Oh, sure we have apothecaries and hedge wizards, women who will tell your fortune and men who can entertain with pretty lights, but no true mages. The only wizard of any real power hereabouts is the Sage of Highfell.” When Aurora presses him on that, he explains that Highfell is a mining community high in the Little Hills on a spur off the north road out of Nighford. The Sage is known to have a great historical library in his tower, and is rumored to be a wizard of quite some power as well.

    “So what you are saying is that, high in the monster-infested hills there is a mining community that may need caravan guards before winter, and the community is overseen by a Sage who has both a library of ancient lore and can cast spells?” The Captain nods, and the party has their destination.

    They return to the inn for the afternoon, and prepare for an early start on the morrow.
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    Last edited by Kirt on Tue Oct 29, 2019 10:41 am; edited 1 time in total
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    Tue Oct 22, 2019 1:30 pm  
    Post 87: Nighford to Highfell

    DM's Note on Sources:
    I used the stone bridge over an unnamed tributary of the Javan, Fort Rockturm, and the "village" of Highfell because of their inclusion on Anna Meyer's maps of the Yeomanry, but I do not know their original sources.
    None of them are on the Darlene map. As far as I can tell, these locations are not from the LG Player's Guide to the Yeomanry.

    Rich Trickey (chatdemon) has a map of the Yeomanry with Nighford and Highfel [sic].

    The same site I referenced in Post 85 ( describes Highfell as a community surrounded by vineyards and producing wine.

    Thus, so far as I remember, it is my own invention to describe Highfell as a mining town. The Sage of Highfell is also my own invention, although the Sage and the Speaker fulfill the same narrative roles as the Seer and the Duke of Urnst in the original module to which the players are unknowingly headed.

    DM's note on 5E Equipment
    The Player's handbook has the following listing for clothes:
    Common 5sp 3lb
    Fine 15gp 6lb
    Traveler's 2gp 4lb

    I told my players that if they wanted their characters to be active in temperatures below freezing, they would need to purchase "cold weather gear" for 5gp and weighing 8lb. I imagined this consisting of woolen cloaks, pants and tunic, a thick waterproof leather jack, and boots. The boots and jack would both be lined with cheap furs.

    Post 87: Nighford to Highfell

    1 November, 570 - Nighford, the Yeomanry
    [Thunderstorm, 5-6pm]

    The party leaves the city of Nighford at first light, three riding and four walking. Just outside the city the ground rises steeply but the road is well-paved for the first mile, and has gravel and crushed stone with drainage ditches after that. They pass by farming hamlets and thorps that are little more than huts in the middle of pastureland. The ground here is drier and rockier than on the Keoish side of the river, the forests smaller with scrub trees, not the towering pines of the Dreadwood. It is not a lush or particularly fertile farmland, and the freemen they meet are poor but proud and do not bow their heads like peasants when the party passes.

    By mid-morning they have crested a ridge and work their way down the other side, eventually arriving at low, boggy land alongside the river. Here the settlements are few and the bugs are many. They spend the rest of the morning and then the afternoon traversing this barren country. In the late afternoon they begin to climb again, finally leaving the bugs behind. They are still an hour or more from making camp when a sudden thunderstorm sweeps over the hills above them from the west, drenching them for an hour. By the time it ends, Willa says they will use what light they have left to gather firewood among the thorny scrub trees of the slopes so as to dry their things before they bed down. The night passes uneventfully. Far beneath them on the Javan, a few daring river captains sail by night, lanterns lighting their tiny ships like aquatic fireflies.

    2 November
    [Wandering encounter; subtropical patrolled hills; Giant Owl]
    The party rises early for another day on the road. The trail climbs higher and further away from the river as it passes over several miles of rugged hillside. There is little life on the dry slopes besides the occasional band of wild goats. In the afternoon the trail descends to a deserted high moor, with huge rock outcrops in the high places and stagnant mires in the low spots. The party sees no sign of other people until the very last hour of their march. Then, they ascend a steep slope to the edge of a deep gorge. At the narrowest spot of the gorge, a massive stone bridge crosses the span. Far below a foaming whitewater river cascades through the bottom of the gorge before spilling out into the lazy Javan.

    On the near side of the bridge a company of Yeoman soldiers is encamped. Their officers talk with the party, are immediately suspicious of the band of well-armed foreigners, and demand to know their business. Upon learning that the party seeks the counsel of the Sage of Highfell they are somewhat placated, and when they give the name of the Nighford Captain of the Guard and say that he sent them this way, they agree to let them pass. They advise the party to take the next left, for the trail splits soon after the bridge, with the lower path continuing along the river and the upper one leading to Highfell Valley.

    There is a similar encampment of soldiers on the far side of the bridge, and the party manages another mile beyond that before Willa calls a halt for the night. Those on night watch report seeing a huge bird circling silently above them, occasionally blocking out one or the other of the moons. Babshapka swears it is a giant owl.

    3 November
    Some four miles from the bridge, at the end of their first hour of march for the day, the party finds a large cairn at the edge of the road, marking the place where the river trail continues north, but the side trail leading to the Highfell Valley branches off north and west. The side trail is steep and narrow, and lacks the wagon-ruts of the main trail - passage here is by foot or mount, but not any wheeled transport. As the morning wears on they climb higher and higher until Willa and Aurora would swear they are in mountains, but Thokk and Larry scoff and say these are but foothills.

    Just as they are considering stopping for a midday meal, they crest a ridge and can see down into a small valley below. High on one of the walls of the valley is an imposing stone fort. The trail descends to the valley floor, passes through a small village, and exits the far end of the valley without arriving at the fort itself. Willa declares that they will lunch in the village and gather information about Highfell.

    The fort is Fort Rockturm, a stronghold which allows the Yeoman to guard the only access to the Highfell Valley. The village is called simply “Bottom”, and although there are a few shops, dairy barns, and butcheries, most of the buildings are taverns, brothels, and bathhouses for the soldiers of the fort. It is easy enough to find a hot meal and hear gossip about their destination.

    Bartenders, serving wenches, and off-duty soldiers alike are all friendly enough, and tell the party that Highfell is less than a day’s journey ahead. It is a peaceful and prosperous mining community, like many here in the Little Hills, but it is remarkable for the presence of the Sage of Highfell, an ancient wizard who possesses the best library of lore outside of Loftwick (the capital city of the Yeomanry). The Tower of the Sage admits few visitors these days, and any petitioners are carefully screened by the Lord of Highfell. The Tower is within Highfell Keep itself, above Highfell Town. The “Lord” is really the Speaker of Highfell, elected representative of the community, but he has been elected so many times that he has been in continuous residence at the Keep for longer than most citizens of Highfell have been alive, and folk simply call him “the Lord” - though never within his hearing! The party is warned to refer to him as “Speaker” or “Venerable Speaker” in his presence, and further warned to keep their business in Highfell to less than a month in duration, if they don’t want to be there for the winter. The first snow of the year usually closes access to the valley until spring. When the party asks what could possibly take them a month there, they are told that it is rare that visitors are allowed to see the Sage, and often must wait for weeks or longer.

    Bellies and ears full, the party prepares to leave Bottom, but not before they each purchase a full complement of winter weather gear - fur-lined boots, woolen cloaks and breeches, and heavy leather jackets. It is still too warm to wear such things now, but they are packed away on the two mules. The trail passes by the base of the cliff face on which the fort perches, so that there is a long stretch with the walls and towers of the fort looming high above them. Babshapka says that he can see ballistae and catapults along the battlements and doesn’t doubt that the trail could be fired upon. Once beyond the valley, they spend the afternoon climbing higher and higher into the hills before finally making camp for the night.

    4 November
    [Heavy Rain, 5-6pm]
    It proves to be less than fifteen miles to Highfell from their morning camp, but the way is ever-ascending up switchbacks and through narrow passes, over rockslides and across icy streams. It is early evening when they finally look upon the broad Highfell Valley. It is a pleasant and well-ordered place - a neat village below with green fields now mostly harvested and fading to the brown of fall, whitewashed houses, mining shacks and tunnel mouths on a hillslope above, and a small keep on a bluff overlooking it all.

    In hopes of getting as early an admittance to the Sage as possible, they pass through the village without stopping and proceed directly to the keep. They are held for a time at the gate while heavy black clouds gather and the sun sets. When they are let in they are surprised that they have been invited to dine with the Speaker himself. Well, not all of them are surprised - Tyrius takes it as customary for someone of his status. And, not all of them are invited. Eddard is lodged in the stables of the keep, a fate he endures stoically.

    Ushered directly into the dining hall, they find the Speaker to be an affable old man, well-used to command, who interviews them at great length about where they are from and what they have done - he says they seldom get adventurers, or any strangers for that matter, in Highfell. When Aurora tries to steer the conversation to asking about seeing the Sage, his tone turns somewhat sharper, and he says that the Sage is elderly, has limited time and energy, and has entrusted him with seeing that only appropriate demands on him are made. Other than that he is happy to answer questions about Highfell, its people, and its economy.

    The valley is prosperous thanks to the mines, which produce mostly tin with a vein of silver here and there. The land is not terribly productive - just enough farmers and herders are on hand to support the miners, and the mining operations are limited in scale to the amount of men that can be supported by local food production. Of course, some food is imported, but it is a week’s journey by laden pack mule from Lavienth, making the imported food expensive. The party will be able to find most things they might need in the village - there is a blacksmith, leatherworker, cobbler, and so forth, and the Speaker encourages them to patronize the village shops when they have a chance - he recommends that they try the local goat cheese, a source of pride in the small community. When Thokk asks about whores, the Speaker scowls (and Willa kicks him under the table). “Yeoman women,” he says, “are as free as our men. Should a Highfell woman choose to favor you, she may make whatever negotiation she wants. But do not expect to find a den where women are enslaved for your pleasure or the profit of my townsfolk.”

    As it is already late, the Speaker invites them to be his guests in the keep - and they gratefully accept. By the way the fire hisses in the hearth there must be a heavy rain indeed outside.

    When they ask specifically about any local work for adventuring types, the Speaker chuckles and says that the valley is a peaceful place, though there are plenty of monsters in the wild lands of the Little Hills beyond the valley. The subterranean horrors that were often found in the mines generations ago are long gone. He does mention as of passing interest the local ruins, and this piques the party’s interest. A half day’s journey from Highfell Town, further up the valley, lies the ruins of an ancient keep - over a millennium old.

    “Pre-migrations?” interjects Aurora breathlessly.

    “Oh, most assuredly, it is no work of the Suel, that place.”

    “But the Flan did not have the technology to erect…”

    The Speaker simply shrugs and waves his hands. The ruins consist of four round towers joined by walls, with a great central keep, although that tumbled down centuries ago. There is little to find there, and it is something of a rite of passing among the youths of the valley to spend a night there, often on a dare. Many adventuring parties have explored the ruins and found nothing, and the place would be of little interest...except that sometimes people don’t come back. No one that has come back has had anything to show for their efforts, but very occasionally those who set out to explore the place simply do not return.

    After answering some further questions about the ruins, the Speaker returns to questioning the party about their deeds. Eventually he pieces together a few things they have said and asks Aurora whether she is an arcane caster. “I...I’m a scholar, an historian!” she protests, but the Speaker waves her objections aside.

    “That is what you profess, and that is fine fare for the villagers,” he says. “But you want to meet with the Sage, and he wants to know if it is worth his time. Visitors are few here, and casters fewer still - he seldom has the chance to improve his repertoire. If you have spells he does not know, arcane spells he could copy from your books, he would be willing to meet with you on the morrow. Otherwise he has his studies and his health to attend to and I do not know when he will next be available.”

    With the choice presented like that, Aurora admits that she does have some passing skill at magic, and would indeed be interested in possibly trading spells with the Sage in return for him discussing some matters of historical import with her. The Speaker says that he will speak with the Sage this evening, and that Aurora should prepare to meet him in the morning. With that, he bids the party good night. They retire to guest rooms that are certainly not luxurious, but are indeed worthy of a good inn. Besides, they are free.
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    Last edited by Kirt on Tue Oct 29, 2019 10:42 am; edited 1 time in total

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    Wed Oct 23, 2019 4:23 pm  

    I haven't figured out which adventure the party is headed into yet, but I am looking forward to reading about it. Any more clues you want to offer?

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    Wed Oct 23, 2019 5:47 pm  

    SirXaris wrote:
    I haven't figured out which adventure the party is headed into yet...Any more clues you want to offer?

    Rather than more clues, how about I separate the wheat from the chaff?

    "The Sage of Highfell is also my own invention, although the Sage and the Speaker fulfill the same narrative roles as the Seer and the Duke of Urnst in the original module to which the players are unknowingly headed."

    "The ruins consist of four round towers joined by walls, with a great central keep, although that tumbled down centuries ago. There is little to find there, and it is something of a rite of passing among the youths of the valley to spend a night there, often on a dare. Many adventuring parties have explored the ruins and found nothing, and the place would be of little interest...except that sometimes people don’t come back. No one that has come back has had anything to show for their efforts, but very occasionally those who set out to explore the place simply do not return."
    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.&nbsp;
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    Tue Oct 29, 2019 10:52 am  
    Post 88: Knight comes to Highfell Keep

    Post 88: Knight comes to Highfell Keep

    5 November, 570 - Highfell Keep
    In the morning Aurora is admitted to the Tower of the Sage. Barnabus decides to “look around” the keep. Willa and Thokk keep busy sparring with the soldiers in the yard, while the other members of the party relax or mend gear.

    The Sage of Highfell is a tall man, once powerfully built but now wizened and gaunt with age. His fine robes bespeak resources and comfort. He greets Aurora cordially in the open first floor of the tower, which is furnished as a sitting room or casual work room. The Sage rises from a comfortable chair next a small hearth - apart from this there are several desks, benches and tables, quills, bottles of ink, sheaves of parchment, and so on. There are no windows, but many unlit candles are placed about the room and a single lit lantern, burning brightly, rests on a table near the center of the open chamber. Against one wall there is a bookshelf with a few well-worn leather-bound volumes on it, but hardly a library - perhaps the trove is on an upper floor? A plain stone staircase spirals up the far wall, but the way is closed at the level of the ceiling with a trap door.

    After the formal courtesies, wherein the Sage asks Aurora where she studied with and under whom, he immediately jumps into the negotiations. Magic is not common in the Yeomanry, he says, and Highfell is an out of the way place - he seldom has the chance to add spells to his book, and is eager for this opportunity. The spells may be of little use to him in the time he has remaining, but he wishes to have them available to whichever sage inherits the Tower after him, for the good of the valley. He tells Aurora that he is a Conjurer, with an especial interest in transportation magic, so any novel spells of that nature that she has would be of great interest to him. He proposes several possibilities of exchange, but what they finally agree on is an even trade of spell levels, with them each paying for their own inks - he will use his own supplies and will sell Aurora the ink she will need at a fair price. They agree to the following exchange of five spell levels:

    Aurora provides:
    Identify first level, divination, ritual
    Detect Magic first level, divination
    Fireball third level, evocation

    The Sage provides:
    Rope Trick second level, transmutation
    Sending third level, evocation

    Since both spells she is receiving are of use to the party as a whole, Aurora trusts that she will be able to convince them to help her pay for the inks.

    Both Aurora and the Sage pass the day copying spells [5 levels = 10 hours of work and 250gp from each of them], with servants bringing them lunch and seeing to the fire. Occasionally they make polite conversation between pages. It is early evening, and Aurora has just finished her final copy, when there is the deep tolling of a bell from the courtyard. The sage looks up from his work, as yet unfinished. “Odd, they haven’t rung a dinner bell since…” His voice trails off as the tolling continues. “That’s no dinner bell - that’s the alarm bell!”

    Most of the party has already washed and changed for dinner, and is now milling about, waiting - it appears that the table will not be laid until Aurora and the Sage arrive from the Tower. At the tolling of the bell, soldiers and servants alike begin filling the courtyard, and then the soldiers ascend the walls. Soon the party joins them.

    Far down the hillside, out of bowshot of the keep walls and about halfway between the keep and Highfell Town, there is a large host of men. Willa and Tyrius estimate them to be about three dozen pikemen, two dozen heavy crossbowmen with large pavises, and a command unit of five cavalrymen. Babshapka is the only one with any hope of making out their devices at this distance. He tells them that the pavises are simple, consisting of a red-and-white pattern in quarters, with the red above and below, and the white left and right.

    There is only a small banner flown by the cavalry, and he takes it to be a black beast, perhaps a griffin, on a yellow field. One of the cavalrymen is in heavy armor, and his tabard, says Babshapka, bears the same black lion on a red field that the “knight” had when they fought along the Owl Stream.

    A few minutes later the Speaker arrives on the walls, knocking aside any soldiers not able to get out of his way quickly enough. He takes a long look at the company assembled below, then orders a sergeant nearby to send out messengers to ask the host their business in the valley. To the party, the Speaker says that it is time for dinner and that they are expected in the main hall. When Willa suggests that they would just as soon stay on the wall to see what happens, the Speaker’s tone turns commanding. “Let me make myself clear. I want you down from this wall before any of you are seen by whomever those men are. I have to arrange some things in the courtyard, but I expect you to be seated at table by the time I arrive.” He waves a hand at another officer nearby, and a squad of men forms, with the clear intention to remove the party from the walls if necessary. Willa nods at the others to come along, but as soon as the Speaker turns away, she whispers something to Barnabus.

    The party descends a spiral stair inside a short tower from the wall. With them spaced out, Barnabus is in the center and a complete turn away from the soldiers in front of and behind them. By the time the party reaches the courtyard, he is no longer among them. The party, sans Barnabus, passes by the Speaker giving orders in the courtyard on their way to the main hall.

    When the group of mounted men sallies forth, Barnabus slips out the gatehouse with them. Although they are moving at a gentle canter, he is running all-out and still losing ground. They have arrived at the host outside the walls, been admitted to parlay, and spoken with them for more than five minutes before he finally arrives within earshot, and they immediately turn and begin making their way back up the hill-slope. Barnabus has just enough time to recognize that the man in the lion tabard is indeed the knight who took Aurora’s book before he turns and begins laboring up the hill after the retreating horsemen. The gates open to admit the returning messengers, but close long before he reaches them.

    When the party reaches the table, they find Aurora and the Sage already seated, and a short time later the Speaker arrives. Servants bring in food. When Willa begins to ask about the people outside, the Speaker bids her be silent for the moment. Eventually one of the messengers who sallied forth arrives, bends and whispers in the Speaker’s ear. He is dismissed, and then the Speaker and the Sage have a brief, hushed conversation. Aurora leans close and listens surreptitiously, but they are speaking in Yeoman and she only catches a few words like ‘Highfell’, ‘Keoland’, and ‘Perrenland’.

    By this point the table is completely laid. The Speaker orders the servants to bring in more pitchers of wine, and then to quit the hall. Once the doors have been shut and they are alone, the Speaker addresses them. “The host below is a mercenary company from Perrenland. They have been hired by a knight of Keoland, a man who claims that he is here to arrest Aurora for crimes against his nation.”

    “Venerable Speaker,” replies Aurora hotly, “That man is no knight. We have met him before, and he is an impostor. Furthermore, even were he a knight, surely he has no authority in your lands.”

    The Speaker nods. “Impostor or not, that man has the gold to hire an entire mercenary company - he represents someone with power that is real enough. While Keoish law holds no sway here, Highfell and all the Little Hills border Keoland. Our mines do as much business with the Keoish as we do with our own people. I cannot afford to flout the desires of their King, or my people will suffer in one way or another. You are not Yeomen, and I will not risk a war for you - be it a war of arms or one of trade.”

    The Speaker pauses, to let the realization sink in among the party that regardless of the legitimacy of the knight, he has no intention of harboring or protecting them.

    “I intend to tell the knight that you have left the keep to explore the ruins up the valley. I call upon you to actually make my words true. Should you be willing to cooperate, the Sage has the means to transport you there this evening, which will give you nearly a day’s head start on those men. If you can be of further assistance to us, we may be able to send you even farther away. If you will agree to this, we can discuss the details in my chambers.” Aurora begins to question him, but he refuses to talk more on the matter in the hall.

    The party holds a hurried conversation, focused on their chances against the mercenary company. Tyrius tells them that Perrenland is a nation far to the north, famed for their exports of cheese and mercenaries. A Perrenland mercenary company is renowned for its discipline, and only the best companies serve this far afield. Thus, it is a near certainty that the force below is considerably stronger than the one they faced on the Owl Stream - albeit without the elven mage. It is quickly agreed that they will at least hear out the Speaker’s proposal as an alternative to fighting.

    When Aurora announces that they will indeed join the Speaker in his chambers, he smiles resolutely and bids them finish their meal first. “However,” he adds, “it will need to be all of you, and you seem to be missing your halfling…”

    “Not missing,” comes a voice from under the table, and Barnabus emerges, one hand holding a roast drumstick. “I’m afraid one of my stature is often not noticed, my lord, but I have been here all along, of course.”
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    Tue Oct 29, 2019 6:57 pm  

    Lol, Barnabus! 😁

    This knight reminds me of my use of Sir Bluto Sans Pite as a tormentor of neophite PCs until they gained enough skill and power to track him down and end his mischief under White Plume Mountain. 🙂

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    Tue Oct 29, 2019 9:57 pm  

    SirXaris wrote:
    This knight reminds me of my use of Sir Bluto Sans Pite as a tormentor of neophite PCs

    Certainly Aurora feels she is being persecuted.
    And Willa...hasn't let on that she is actually working with him. ;)
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    Wed Oct 30, 2019 12:25 pm  

    Kirt wrote:
    SirXaris wrote:
    This knight reminds me of my use of Sir Bluto Sans Pite as a tormentor of neophite PCs

    Certainly Aurora feels she is being persecuted.
    And Willa...hasn't let on that she is actually working with him. ;)

    As a reader, I am uncertain of the knight's true allegiance.

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    Wed Oct 30, 2019 3:09 pm  

    SirXaris wrote:
    As a reader, I am uncertain of the knight's true allegiance.

    Good! It is deliberately vague, from his strangely non-descript arms to his mysterious appearances and disappearances. Certainly, the elven prince and the Viscount of Salinmoor trusted him - but as Aurora contends, he could have been duping them. At a deeper level, he claims to be working on behalf of the King. Willa trusts the King but that is more on principle than anything else. Aurora distrusts the King, again on basic principle rather than through direct experience. So..."Sir Runnel"'s ultimate goals, motivations, and loyalty - that will be a long time in being revealed!
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    Tue Nov 05, 2019 8:26 am  
    Post 89: Know you this!

    DM's Note on Sources: This post contains spoilers from module C2: The Ghost Tower of Inverness. I did move the setting from Urnst to the Little Hills of the Yeomanry but otherwise changed little of the content.

    Post 89: Know you this!

    5 November, 570. Highfell - The Tower of the Speaker

    The Speaker leads the way to his private chamber, the party files in after him, and the Sage brings up the rear, closing the heavy wooden door behind him and making a few mystic gestures with his hand. It takes some doing to find enough chairs for them all, and the Speaker has to retrieve a pair from his bedchamber, but eventually they are all seated, with the party in a semi-circle around the pair of old men.

    Know you this,” begins the Sage in a booming voice the party has not yet heard from him, “in the fullness of my power, I was a wizard of no small ability. I was, as I have already told your enchantress, a conjurer, with an especial interest in transportation magic. I used my skill to help the mines of Highfell prosper - through lightening the loads of the beasts bearing ores, shortening the distances they traveled, removing water and dangerous gasses from the mines themselves, rescuing men trapped behind collapsed walls, and other practical magicks. From time to time I even transported whole cargoes directly to Nighford myself, when they were valuable enough. There was a time when I could have teleported your entire party to the ruins with a single spell.”

    Aurora draws in her breath audibly. (Later, after the meeting, she explains to the party that teleport is a spell of seventh level - and thus can only be performed by the most puissant wizards, those who have attained the thirteenth level of power or greater!)

    If the Sage hears her gasp, he does not give sign. “Now however, in my twilight years, using such powerful arcana would certainly imperil my health. Fortunately, even in my youth I possessed a modicum of good sense. I made many magic items to store my spells, so that I could call upon them when I was unprepared. I have found that using these is much less taxing to me than actually casting the spells myself. Since I have a finite supply, I do so only when it is of great benefit. I am satisfied with our exchange of spells and in order to avoid any conflicts with the knight outside, I am willing to use one of my devices to send you all to the ruins, so that in the morning when the Speaker tells the knight that you have already left for there it will be no falsehood, but you will have more than half a day’s head start on him.”

    Now the Speaker holds up his hand, and takes over. “However, the Sage and I have been conferring. We have waited quite some time for a group possessing your skills and talents to arrive, seemingly by chance, in Highfell, and we do not want this opportunity to pass fruitlessly. There is an item of great value within the ruins. Should you be willing to recover it for us, the Sage would grant you another teleportation: not just a half-day’s journey ahead of your pursuers - but to any destination in the world you desire.”

    “I though’ ye said ther ruins be empty - t’at no one never found nothin’ thar?” Willa asks skeptically.

    “Indeed,” agrees the Speaker. “If the ruins themselves once held anything of physical value, it has been plundered centuries ago. But the ruins still hold a secret known to the Sage. More I will not say unless and until you agree to do us this service.”

    Aurora considers. “Answer me this first,” she counters, “as a Sage who has studied the history of this region. A history book recently came into my possession. Ever since then we have been dogged and attacked by the false knight outside. Who do you think is behind this?”

    “That would depend on the history book,” replies the Sage vaguely.

    “The book tells the history of the Sheldomar Valley, of the Suel migrants before the founding of the nation of Keoland. And…” she pauses, trying to gain insight into their reactions, “the history it tells is not as flattering to the young nation as the ones you hear at the Keoish Court.”

    The Sage nods. “Know you of the Silent Ones?”

    “The Court Wizards of Keoland?”

    “Not courtly, no - they are a body apart, an order to themselves, though indeed beholden to the Crown, at least in name. And not Wizards - they are Sorcerers, an ancient inbred lot. They are uniformly Suelese, and mostly Neheli. They have an inordinate interest in ancient lore. It is merely conjecture, of course, but I would not be surprised if the knight outside was in service to them - for such a book would be among the things they covet.”

    Reading more in Aurora’s face than she can in his, the Sage continues. “More to the point, it is precisely that sorcerous body we wish to frustrate. The Speaker and I have long believed that the Silent Ones have designs on the item we are asking you to obtain. That they would dare send agents to our valley does not bode well. It is imperative that we recover this item before they do.”

    “Well, you have me so far,” says Aurora, not bothering to gauge the reaction of the others. “I’m willing to get this thing for you, whatever it is, so that we can leave that knight far behind, but we will need to know a lot more than you have told us up to now.”

    Taking Aurora’s statement as an agreement to their terms, the sage smiles grimly, then thunders at them: “Know you that in the elder days before the Invoked Devastation and the Rain of Colorless Fire, when Flan tribesmen were but newcomers to the land, there existed in our valley a great fortress called Inverness! The walls of this castle were said to be proof against enemies and all things magical or natural. Know you also that here was said to dwell the great wizard Galap-Dreidel at the height of his power and glory, and that he did lift the Castle Inverness from the very foundation of rock upon which it rested! Most grand and terrible of all Galap-Dreidel's work was the keep's great inner tower; for it was there that the wizard's most prized possession, an eldritch jewel known only as the "Soul-Gem", was said to rest. 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 very 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.

    But despite his great power there came a time that Galap-Dreidel did leave on a journey northeast, across the river Sheldomar, and did not return. At this time there came a great multitude of superstitious peoples from surrounding lands who laid siege to the castle and threw down the great tower. And it came to pass that despite this seeming victory over their feared former master the people did shun the area was said...that on fog-shrouded nights the great central tower of the Fortress Inverness could still be seen!”

    The Sage pauses to study each and every member of the party. “While the ruins themselves are empty, somewhere within them is the means to either summon forth the Ghost Tower or transport yourselves to it - this is the only explanation for those individuals who have disappeared while searching the ruins. However, what your group possesses and all previous explorers did not is, first, a means of escape from the Tower - the amulet I will provide you. And second, knowledge of what you are searching for - the Soul Gem itself, which is surely at the heart of the Tower.”

    The entire group sits in an uncomfortable silence for some time. Finally Tyrius clears his throat and inquires. “Begging your pardons, masters, but this wizard Galap-Dreidel and the Gem he fashioned appear quite evil.”

    “Indeed,” agrees the Sage. “And that is why we must not let it fall into the hands of the Silent Ones. They already have far too much power as it is.”

    “But what assurance do we have that once we obtain the Gem for you, if we do so, that you will not also use it for evil?”

    “Use it?” gasps the Sage. “Gods forbid! No, my good sir, our goal is to simply prevent those sorcerers from obtaining it. Once we have it, we will safely lock it away some place neither they, nor anyone else, will be able to access.”

    “And would you be willing to swear to that, while within a zone of holy truth provided by the grace of my god?”

    “We would,” answers the Speaker.

    Tyrius prepares himself and summons forth the Zone of Truth. Once inside, the Speaker relates that the Soul Gem is both powerful and dangerous, that they want to prevent the Silent Ones from recovering it, that they have no interest in using it themselves but only want to protect it, and that they are sincere in their desire for the party to recover it for them. At the end, Tyrius nods.

    “Well then,” says Aurora, looking at them all in turn, “it is settled. We are hunting a Ghost Tower. But first, I need to rest and prepare an entirely different complement of spells. It can’t be much later than eight bells right now - if we retire immediately, we can be rested and ready by four bells on the morrow. If you don’t let the knight into the keep until sunup, we will still have a half-day's head start on them.”

    The Sage and Speaker both agree, and the party immediately retires to their guest chambers.
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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

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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. 😉😋

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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.
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    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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    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:


    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.&nbsp;
    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
    Posts: 965
    From: Sky Island, So Cal

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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.&nbsp;
    Master Greytalker

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

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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.&nbsp;
    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
    Posts: 965
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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.&nbsp;
    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]
    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.&nbsp;
    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
    Posts: 965
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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.&nbsp;
    Master Greytalker

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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.&nbsp;
    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
    Posts: 965
    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!”


    “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.&nbsp;
    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
    Posts: 965
    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”

    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.&nbsp;
    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
    Posts: 965
    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.&nbsp;
    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
    Posts: 965
    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.

    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. “ 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.&nbsp;
    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
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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:

    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?”

    “ 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.&nbsp;
    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:

    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.
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    Master Greytalker

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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".

    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.
    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.&nbsp;

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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

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    Master Greytalker

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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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    Master Greytalker

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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

    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...
    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.&nbsp;

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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.
    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.&nbsp;

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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. ;)

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    Tue Mar 17, 2020 9:11 am  
    Post 108: Battle Royale

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

    This and subsequent posts will contain many spoilers. The identity of rooms is indicated in bold. I used the maps as given in the module, and for this battle used "Clash of Kings" by Tabletop Audio for the background track.

    DM's Notes: With the party at full health and all sixth level, and the help of the mysterious elf, will they be able to withstand the onslaught of ogres about to be unleashed?

    One advantage to playing online is documentation. I was able to go to the chat log when writing up this account, providing a much higher level of detail to the fight than I have previously based only on my recollection.

    Observant readers will note that both sides are taking damage from friendly fire and that people, especially the party, are falling down a lot in this fight. As a general rule I require that anyone who fires a missile weapon into melee and misses than make a separate attack on their nearest ally involved in the melee. Also in general, a natural attack roll of 1 (critical fail) often forces a dexterity save at my discretion, with failure resulting in dropping one's weapon or falling down. In this fight specifically, I required a successful athletics or acrobatics check to move through spaces with fallen adult ogres (with failure knocking prone the PC or ogre attempting the move). The tower space is not that large and I reasoned that it would fill up quickly with the dead and unconscious. As Drowning Pool says, "Let the bodies hit the floor..."

    Post 108: Battle Royale
    Somewhere in the Little Hills, date unknown

    Round 1
    Tyrius enters the tower. After passing through the thick walls, the inside (1) is one large, circular chamber, with stairs up to the left and stairs down to the right, both stairwells open to the room on one side and along the wall on the other. At the far end of the room, across from the door, is a throne on a low dais, with piles of refuse around it. Inside the chamber squat two huge, brutish humanoids much like the one recently slain. They look like they are engrossed in some sort of game on the floor involving small white objects. At the clanking of Tyrius’ armor and the sudden appearance of the light emanating from his shield, one of the two leaps to his feet and grasps clumsily for a crude weapon. The other remains staring at the floor and complaining about the results of the last play in a series of deep grunts.

    Tyrius bumps into an invisible Shefak, but soon rights himself and prepares for the creature’s charge. The eiger snatches up a huge club and raises it as high over its head as the ceiling allows, then rushes forward and brings it crashing down on Tyrius. He takes the blow with his shield, but is still wounded by the massive force and knocked back against the stairs (Tyrius at 41/49).

    Babshapka draws his bow and moves to the doorway, but remains outside. Now that the chamber is illuminated by the light of Pelor, he can easily see inside, and can see at least the left half of the eiger attacking Tyrius. Ignoring the mysterious elven maiden in the entryway and the fact that somewhere in the chamber is an invisible Shefak, Babshapka lets fly with two arrows, both of which sink into the thick flesh of the brute. (Babshapka has used 2 arrows)

    The elven maiden turns and moves from the entryway to the chamber proper. As she enters, Shefak and Tyrius see shadows dance - but then the shadows seem to lose their moorings and rush to greet her! Her face registers surprise and then insight, and her amber eyes flash briefly. She moves to the far side of the room, unseen by either eiger. [Umbra attains 5th level]

    Willa is the next into the chamber. She sets down her lit lantern on the floor beside the entryway and draws her greatsword. Her first swing sinks deep into the eiger’s flesh, but her second nearly slices through Shefak as the wounded eiger stumbles back.

    Thokk charges into the room, bellowing at everyone to get out of his way. He draws his sword, but by the time he has pushed his way past Tyrius, Willa, and Shefak, he has missed his opportunity for attacking.

    Shefak bounds up the stairs to gather height, then turns and leaps, landing in between Tyrius and wounded eiger. Now visible, with a sweep of her staff at its legs, she brings the hefty brute down on his back, and then knocks his head into the stone floor with another blow. The eiger lies unconscious before them.

    Larry follows Aurora into the chamber, both of them moving to the right to avoid the cluster of warriors surrounding the fallen eiger. The unwounded eiger is only now beginning to realize that there are intruders in his home. Just as he looks up from the floor, he gets a firebolt in his face, followed by a spray of poison! He tilts his head back and howls in rage, and the sound of his cry echoes up and down the tower. He snatches up his club and charges the tiny woman who just felled his companion. With a mighty underhand blow, he knocks Shefak so hard that she flies through the air and crashes into the wall behind her. (Shefak at 22/39).

    At the end of the first round of combat; one eiger down

    Round 2
    With another eiger in clear sight, Babshapka looses two more arrows (4 used), shooting over the heads of his companions in the tower.

    Tyrius moves between the standing eiger and Shefak before it can follow up on its attack. His first swing of Molly smashes into the side of the eiger, but as he swings again he stumbles over the body of the fallen eiger and crashes to the ground. (Tyrius is now prone).

    Aurora shoots another bolt of magical fire at the eiger, then moves outside to retrieve Randy the mule in case eiger scouts or watchmen are drawn in by the sound of battle.

    Willa moves forward, kicking the knucklebones on the floor out of the way with her booted foot. She kills the eiger with one blow, then looks back toward her lantern, noting muddy footprints on both set of stairs, going up and down. “Prepare fer more!” she shouts to the party.

    Larry moves forward into the center of the room, looking about carefully. He does not hear any approaching footsteps, either from above or below, but he does hear distant bellowing from the tower floors above, as well as skittering noises coming from in and among the refuse piled near the throne - leaves and branches, bones, bits of cloth and leather. The throne is sized for a human and made of the same violet marble the walls are. The ceiling of the chamber is 14 feet overhead. The stairs are three feet wide - to the left of the entrance they circle up and pass through a hole to the floor above. To the right they descend and go beneath the earth. A rough, unlit branch is set in a wall sconce. Untouched by sunlight, the room is even colder than was the outdoors.

    Shefak jumps to her feet. Looking around and seeing no fighting, she closes her eyes and inhales deeply. As she breathes rhythmically, the nasty bruises on her abdomen lighten, fade, and finally disappear. (Shefak has used her Wholeness of Body, and is restored to her full hp).

    At the end of the second round of combat two eigers down

    Round 3
    With no opponents in sight, the party starts to prepare for the suspected next assault.

    Willa moves to the stairs running up. As soon as he can stand, Tyrius does the same. Thokk moves to block off the top of the stairs going down and Larry follows him. Babshapka moves to the center of the room, where he can shoot at either stairs.

    Shefak and the elven maiden try to focus on the noises elsewhere in the tower, but are distracted by the party’s shouts to one another. Aurora ties off Randy’s lead to the arm of the dead eiger so that he is secure but she has both hands free.

    Eddard contacts Tyrius telepathically and suggests that he guard the doorway while watching the clearing, and Tyrius agrees.

    Round 4
    At the sound of heavy footsteps approaching, Thokk braces himself at the top of the stairs, but the eiger that appears is coming down, not up. It barrels down the stone steps, swinging its massive club at Tyrius. The paladin has just enough time to bring his shield up to protect himself from the blow. He is knocked back, but unharmed.

    Suddenly, a bolt of darkness streaks across the room. It has no apparent source, but its terminus is clear - it strikes the chest of the eiger, causing him to gasp in pain. It leaves a tracing of frost on his sweat-soaked hide. “Hee haw!” exclaims a startled Randy, and Aurora looks about for a source for the bolt but sees none.

    Taking advantage of the eiger’s pause, Tyrius advances, returning the battering blow he received with two from his own warhammer. Now it is the eiger’s turn to be knocked back, staggering. A single arrow from Babshapka, followed by a shower of thorns, fells him (Babshapka has used 5 arrows and has cast hail of thorns as a second-level slot).

    An eiger climbs the stairs and emerges to where Thokk awaits. He lifts his club over his head to strike, but gets it caught behind him under the floor of the chamber (or the ceiling of the room from which he is coming). Thokk takes advantage of his awkward position by striking him twice with his sword. There are at least two more eigers on the stairs behind the one Thokk is fighting, but they cannot make it past their comrade and up into the room. They hurl crude spears over the head of their comrade, one of which strikes Thokk in the shoulder with great force. (Thokk at 45/56).

    An eiger clomps down the stairs. Seeing his comrade at the bottom engaged with Tyrius, he jumps off the stairs themselves, landing heavily next to Shefak, then smashes his club down on top of her in a bone-jarring blow (Shefak takes 17, at 22/39). Shefak summons a blast of energy, and leaps up faster than the eiger can follow. She whirls at him with a barrage of staff strikes and kicks, until he is left reeling but does not topple. (Shefak used a ki point for flurry of blows, making a total of two staff attacks and two unarmed strikes - one of the unarmed attacks provoked a dex save but the eiger made his save).

    Willa strikes twice at the eiger Shefak is fighting. It has taken a tremendous amount of damage, but is still up. Larry rushes over, shooting a poison spray in its face, and it finally drops to the floor, turning green before it expires.

    At the end of round 4; four eigers down but three trying to ascend the stairs from below

    Round 5
    Babshapka, seeing that Thokk has the closest eiger on the stairs well in hand, moves so that he has a clear shot on the second one, which is barely in view above the level of the floor. He launches two arrows. One hits the eiger in its thick, muscled neck - and immediately sprouts vines that grow over the brute’s face and head; the other sinks into its chest. (Babshapka has used 7 arrows and has cast ensnaring strike at first level).

    With his party members now firing onto the stairs, Thokk sees no reason to end this fight quickly - he begins to move defensively, satisfied that his dodges and feints are keeping three eigers from reaching the party. “Thokk is master tactician,” he thinks happily.

    From the upper stairs, a new eiger emerges - but a much smaller one, at only four feet high and not even two hundred pounds. It skips down the steps and attempts to hit Tyrius with a small club that bounces harmlessly off his armor. The paladin clouts it with his hammer, and it collapses on floor. Tyrius took care not to deal it a mortal blow, and is reasonably sure it has merely been knocked out. “Don’t kill the children!” shouts Tyrius to the group, but Thokk chortles, and Aurora sniggers at the command. Tyrius turns and moves to support Thokk. Larry is already there, shooting more poison at the eiger highest up the steps, but this time his spray harmlessly soaks the hides covering its chest.

    Shefak prepares for the next eiger to come down the stairs from above. A second later one emerges. It is one of the brutish giants, to be sure, but a female one, judging from her huge, uncovered dugs. Her hair is longer than the males’, as well, though still filthy and matted. Shefak leaps in the air and trips the eigeress with her staff. As she tumbles forward down the stairs, a kick to her head knocks her unconscious. Her massive bulk half slides and half tumbles off the open stairs, forcing Shefak to dive and roll out of the way and Willa to step aside as the eigeress plummets to the floor.

    Another of the “small” eigers appears on the stairs, but pauses as it sees Shefak standing over the body of the adult female. “Maaaawr!” it screams in rage, then launches itself off the stairs and through the air at Shefak. It lands near her, but she finds the blows from its club slow and easy to dodge. While it is attacking Shefak, Willa steps up behind it and strikes the broad side of her greatsword hard against the back of its skull. It collapses to the floor and Tyrius nods his approval.

    The eigers on the stairs below continue to throw spears at Thokk, but he dodges them neatly while still engaging the one in front of him. Suddenly a second frigid beam of darkness streaks through the chamber, hitting the uppermost eiger and seeming to paralyze his club hand with cold. Aurora looks around, trying to ascertain from whence the rays are coming (Perception check: 2). “The Tower!” she shouts. “The Tower is defending itself!” She is now convinced that they have somehow activated ancient warding magics and the tower has animated to fight on their side against the eigers. She smugly sends her own firebolt against the eiger at the top of the stairs to the floor below, felling it. It collapses in front of Thokk, blocking off the stairs from its companions beneath it.

    At the end of round 5; five eigers down, two trying to ascend the stairs, and a female with two cubs all three knocked out

    Round 6
    A third bolt of darkness streaks from the center of the tower, hitting the eiger lower on the stairs.

    Shefak listens, but hears nothing coming from above, so she moves to support Thokk.

    With the combat in the room itself over, Thokk decides to back up and let the remaining eigers up the stairs so that everyone can attack them. However, at this point, he has Babshapka, Shefak, Larry, and Tyrius all pressing in behind him, and he is unable to withdraw. He continues to dodge the thrown spears of the eigers in the chamber below, however.

    Babshapka continues to loose shafts, sinking more into the body of the closer eiger (total 9 used). The vines from before grow thorns and rake at its face. The eiger howls in rage and pain and rips the vines from its head, casting them aside. It climbs unstably over the body of its dead companion, then desperately lunges forward on all fours, trying to grab Thokk with its massive fist. Thokk sidesteps the grab and the eiger collapses on its stomach on top of the body of its companion. The second eiger throws a spear at Thokk, but misses badly, and the spear sinks deep into the back of the living eiger above.

    Larry, Tyrius, and Willa are prepared to strike any eigers in range, but for the moment the fight is confined to the stairs.

    Randy tugs at his lead, and manages to get close enough to the throne to nose through the piles of refuse.

    At the end of round 6; five eigers down, two trying to ascend the stairs, and a female with two cubs all three knocked out

    Round 7
    The eiger on his belly slides back down and stands on the first unoccupied stair. Eager to take the fight to him, Shefak runs up behind Thokk and, using her staff to vault, launches herself into the air. She slides down the wall, landing in front of the eiger. He has seen her coming, however, and blocks her first staff strike with so much force that she is knocked to the ground in front of him. As he raises his club over his head to strike at her prone form, she brings her staff up in a hard thrust under his hides and between his legs. As he bellows in agony, she drops the staff, sits up, and proceeds to pummel him in the groin with a flurry of blows from her hands. At the end of this, he collapses unconscious from pain, threatening to land on top of her. She slides down the stairs between his legs, behind him on her back at the last instant, then rolls to the side before the third eiger can charge her, dropping ten feet down the open shaft and landing prone on the dirt floor of the chamber below. Unfortunately, her staff is pinned beneath the fallen body of the eiger on the stairs above. (Shefak has used her second ki point for flurry of blows and her slow fall to avoid taking damage from her drop).

    Randy squeals in terror - “Eeeehaw!” Larry spins, and sees a horde of rats, each three feet long or more, emerging from under the piles of refuse. Larry strides forward and sprays poison from his hands, and one of the rats chitters in annoyance, before five of its nest-mates swarm over him, looking for any gaps in his armor. One latches onto the back of his knee, another his leather gauntlet. (Larry at 50/59). Randy is overrun by fully six of the beasts. He tries to flee, but his lead is tied firmly to the dead eiger in the center of the room. He squeals again, then thrashes as he goes down, rats on top of him, ripping pieces of flesh from his hide.

    Aurora yells “Randy’s getting eaten!” but moves away from the rats and to the entrance of the tower. She points a finger back at the northern half of the tower and mouths the words “fireball, fireball” faintly, though she does not summon the spell itself after she realizes how small the space is.

    A shadow glides silkily past Thokk, the two fallen eigers on the stairs, and the standing one at the bottom. The stairs descend through several feet of the solid, violet marble, and then the left side opens out into the empty space of a chamber while the right side transitions to a wall of gray, rough hewn stone down to the basement floor, which is of muddy dirt. A torch gutters in a wall sconce. The ceiling in this circular room (D1) is black with soot and arched to 12’ height. There is a hogshead in the center of the room; a stoppered bunghole and a set of knucklebones on its top. A considerable breeze blows up the stairs and the torch flames dance wildly. Shefak lies face-down on the dirt floor near the stairs. The stairs are covered in muddy footprints; there are footprints all over the floor but deeper impressions around the barrel. The room reeks of stale urine.

    Thokk, holding his sword in front of him, climbs over the two fallen eigers on the stairs and advances until he is practically on the bottom steps and face to face with the last remaining eiger. He slashes it twice and drives it back into the underground chamber. It tries to drop the spear it was holding and switch to its club, but drops that as well, and Thokk slashes it again.

    Willa turns and runs to Randy’s side, dispatching two of the vile rats that are even now feasting on his flesh. His frenzied thrashing has ceased and he is still, though a crazed look is frozen in his wide eyes. Babshapka kills one rat with a bowshot and wounds another (total 11 arrows used).

    “Hang on, Larry!” calls Tyrius and crosses the room to his former charge. His warhammer crushes two of the rats into paste.

    At the end of round 7; nine eigers down (including a female and two young unconscious) and one still fighting in the room below, but a dozen giant rats have joined the combat and seven of these are still left

    Round 8
    The eiger facing Thokk suddenly goes stiff - his eyes frosting over - and it collapses on the dirt floor, with no apparent cause. Thokk guffaws. “Ha! Eiger so scared of Thokk he dies! Haw, haw!” Thokk looks around the basement chamber, where a torch gutters in the breeze. “Why kicky woman on floor?” he asks Shefak.

    Babshapka shoots at and wounds the rat gnawing at Larry’s hand - it releases its hold and scurries back. Then he tries a harder shot - the rat on Larry’s shoulder, trying to bite his nose through his helmet. Thunk! The shaft parts the chain link and sinks into Larry’s neck. “OCH, ye FOOL!” shouts Larry. (13 arrows used, Larry to 38/59).

    Still muttering, Larry rushes to Randy’s side, hoping to use one of his cure spells - but he finds the mule too far gone, the stone floor around him slick with blood and the rats making good progress at working his organs free of his belly. “Bullocks!” curses Larry dejectedly.

    Shefak stands up, brushes herself off, and looks around the basement chamber, but finds nothing to keep her interest. She moves to the stairs.

    Between them, Tyrius and Willa slay three more rats. Aurora firebolts one more, and Thokk dashes up the basement stairs to kill two more. Giant rats are not as worthy opponents as eigers, but battle is battle, Thokk sighs.

    At the end of round 8; ten eigers down (including a female and two young unconscious), and only a single giant rat left in the fight

    Round 9
    Babshapka skewers the last rat with an arrow (total 14 used), then jumps up on the marble throne to survey the refuse. He does not see any movement.

    Shefak climbs the stairs and spends the round prying her staff out from under the body of the collapsed eiger.

    An eiger barrels down the stairs from above. He tries to swing at Larry, but immediately trips on the body of another eiger and sprawls out prone. As he crashes to the floor, his shoulder slams into Aurora’s legs - she bobbles but manages to keep her feet. The southern half of the tower is nearly filled with fallen eigers, and movement is difficult with nary a spot of open stone floor.

    Spirits buoyed by a new non-rat opponent, Thokk whoops, runs, and jumps to clear the bodies of the fallen. He lands by the prostrate eiger, which is even now struggling to stand up. Thokk buries his longsword in its back, and laughs at its struggles. Willa takes a more circuitous route to the eiger’s side, but she slashes it twice when she reaches it, ending its attempts to regain its feet.

    Aurora prepares to firebolt the next eiger down the stairs, and she does not have to wait long before another one appears, her bolt singing its hairy chest. Tyrius has worked his way over to where the stairs are about waist high for him. He slams his warhammer overhand into the knee of the eiger that Aurora firebolted, but when he raises his weapon to take another swing, the eiger snatches it from his grasp, then tosses it up the stairs to the floor above.

    Another eiger appears on the stairs, but cannot get past his standing companion. He throws a spear at Tyrius, but the shaft ricochets off the paladin’s heavy plate armor.

    At the end of round 9, Randy is dead, along with a dozen giant rats. Fully eleven eigers, either dead or unconscious, lie in the chamber, on the stairs, or in the basement below. Another two eigers are still fighting on the stairs from above, and there are sounds of more approaching!

    Round 10
    The southern half of the tower is cluttered with bodies and movement is difficult, though the huge eigers seem to have less trouble stepping over the bodies of their fallen than the party does. Larry can barely see over the bulk of the brutes, even when they are flat-out on the floors.

    Willa leaps over the body of the unconscious cub at the base of the stairs and climbs the steps to engage the adult further up. With two slashes of her greatsword, she fells the hulking giant. As its body collapses, she presses herself against the wall and out of the way.

    From his mount atop the throne, Babshapka shoots forth another arrow. It misses the last eiger standing on the stairs by a great deal, and in fact comes closer to Tyrius, standing at its feet. Babshapka’s second arrow hits the eiger (total 16 used).

    Thokk climbs awkwardly over the bodies of the fallen and to the wall. He jumps and gains the stairs above him with his hands, then tries to pull himself up to the landing behind the eiger, but his feet slip along the smooth marble, and he cannot ascend.

    An eiger cub dashes down the stairs. Ignoring the adult standing over Tyrius, it darts past him and swings a club as thick as Willa’s thigh into her shoulder, but the blow is absorbed by her plate armor and she keeps her feet.

    An eigeress appears at the top of the stairs. She leaps down, landing heavily on the floor below. She charges at Tyrius, but trips over the body of a fallen companion - as she crashes toward him, Tyrius backs up, and she ends up sprawled at Tyrius’ feet.

    A second eigeress appears on the stairs. With the battle raging in the southern half of the tower, she leaps off the stairs and heads for Babshapka on the throne. She brings a club down on him, but he jumps off the throne at the last second, and the club thuds into the marble chair. Standing confused over the throne, the eigeress is suddenly surrounded by a green glow, and Babshapka sinks a shaft deep into her side. [Babshapka’s reaction: Giant Killer. Bonus Action: Hunter’s Mark. 17 arrows used, three left in quiver.]

    Shefak leaps from body to body, crossing the room without even touching the floor. With two blows over her staff, she knocks unconscious the cub fighting Willa on the stairs, then slips past both of them and springs up the steps. The eiger above her swings a club at her. She leaps out of the way and the club hits the marble steps.

    An eigeress appears on the stairs, leaps to the floor, and joins her sister trying to smash Babshapka. The wood elf darts in, under, and around the throne, avoiding their clumsy blows.

    Tyrius tries to pull himself up to the stairs, but his heavy armor weighs him down. He fares no better than Thokk, and is left struggling at the base of the stairs.

    A third eigeress leaps down the stairs and crosses the room. Babshapka has run out of room to maneuver, and the eigeress knocks him back into the wall, taking the wind from him. (14 damage, Babshapka at 34/48).

    Larry turns to help his companion. The area around the throne fills with a pale but oddly piercing light (moonbeam). The skin of two of the eigresses begins to redden and burn. They shriek in pain and confusion. Larry moves away from the stairs and towards the throne.

    The tower continues to defend itself, or perhaps Babshapka. Three bolts of ebony appear in the air and strike at the one eigeress not in the moonbeam.

    At the end of round 10, fully fourteen eigers, either dead, unconscious, or prone, lie in the chamber, on the stairs, or in the basement below. One eiger is still up and fighting on the stairs going up, and another three are surrounding Babshapka! A dozen giant rats and Randy lie dead inthe chamber.

    Round 11
    Given the three eigresses around him, and his movement further restricted by the moonbeam, Babshapka ceases attacking, and takes purely defensive action, dodging the clubs and kicks of the giants. Aurora sends a firebolt to support him, but it misses an eigeress and explodes harmlessly on the high stone ceiling.

    Willa steps by Shefak on the stairs and slices both the legs of the remaining eiger in front of her. Blood flows freely from the giant, making the marble slick underfoot. He staggers, but responds with a club-blow that glances off her magic armor.

    The eigeress that was prone at Tyrius’ feet stands unsteadily, then brings her club down in a blow that is absorbed by plate and padding.

    A huge eiger, even larger than the others (if that is possible), appears at the top of the stairs. He surveys the room angrily, but does not immediately move into action. Thokk takes the opportunity to heave himself up onto the steps and stand. He tilts his head back and bellows his rage and battle lust, then attacks the eiger facing Willa. He chops it twice across its back, then bellows again, daring either of the eigers on the stairs to face him. The closer one spins and bashes its club into the wall with tremendous force. Thokk avoids the blow, but the impact is so great that the eiger tumbles off the stairs and onto the floor below, narrowly missing Tyrius in his fall.

    Larry makes a gesture, and a long vine appears in his hands. He flicks it forward, and it coils around the neck of the great eiger at the top of the stairs, then suddenly grows thorns, biting into his flesh. Larry throws all his weight backwards, and the surprised eiger is jerked off his feet unexpectedly. He plummets to the ground, landing on both the fallen eiger from a moment before and on Tyrius. The other eiger, already greatly wounded, is slain by the impact, while Tyrius is trapped under a half-ton or more of giant! (Tyrius at 8/49).

    The three eigeresses surrounding Babshapka rain blows down upon him. Two connect, and he is badly bruised. He continues to dodge, but fires an arrow when the opportunity presents itself. (Babshapka at 8/48. Giant Killer as reaction. Two arrows remaining).

    An eiger cub at the top of the stairs tosses his weapon to the floor below. He turns and lowers himself down the wall, seizes his club, and runs forward to attack the elf that is assaulting his mother and aunts. He stops short of passing through the moonbeam, however, growling and hopping in frustration.

    With no eigers left on the stairs, Shefak turns to the eigeress that has just stood up on the floor. Level with the chest of the giantess, she strikes twice with her staff, then leaps off the stairs to kick it in the face. Using the force of the recoil, she flips in the air and dives back to the stairs.

    The next eiger at the top of the stairs is different than the others. He is smaller than the adults but more muscular, and is clad in a great suit of gleaming black armor. He looks warily at the battle below but does not descend further.

    For the first time in the battle, the mysterious elven woman throws back her hood. Her skin is alabaster, her hair long and as white as bone. She holds forth her hands, fingers spread wide. Her amber eyes flash, and four bolts of jet-black force shoot from her fingers, slamming into the largest of the three eigeresses surrounding Babshapka. The giantess roars in pain.

    Round 12
    Shefak inhales deeply, then sprints past Thokk and attacks the armored eiger at the top of the stairs with a flurry of blows. She hits him with her staff then lands another three unarmed blows before he manages to draw a sword and slash at her. She backs away, bleeding. The blade would be a bastard sword to a human, but he wields it one-handed without difficulty.

    Willa jumps off the tower stairs and forces her way through the bodies on the floor of the room. She strikes twice at one of the eigresses attacking Babshapka.

    Larry uses his thorn whip to jerk the armored eiger off the stairs and away from Shefak.

    The eiger cub on the floor finds a way around the moonbeam and swings at Babshapka. The elf avoids the new attack, but in doing so is clipped by the club of an eigeress. (Babshapka now at 4/48). Aurora firebolts the eigeress in response, and she drops to the ground ablaze. Babshapka leaps over her body and away from the throne, heading towards Willa.

    The eigeress in the center of the room charges Aurora and lands a glancing club blow. (Aurora takes 13, now at 20/33).

    The great eiger on top of Tyrius struggles to his feet. Apparently he has had enough of this fight. He stumbles to the doorway, then bellows in rage to find it blocked by Eddard (facing out and unaware of his approach). With a massive underhanded blow, he crashes his club into the horse’s rear flank, knocking him into the wall. Tyrius receives Eddard’s telepathic cry for help, but the paladin is still prone on the floor. (Eddard is at 13/24). The armored eiger appears to agree that the battle is lost - he crosses the floor and impales Eddard on his bastard sword, burying the blade up to the hilt. (Eddard takes 15). The horse spasms and then disappears in a fine mist - his saddle, quarter sheet, and chain barding dropping to the stone floor. The armored eiger, his bloody sword now free, continues out the entry tunnel. Too late, Tyrius struggles painfully to his feet, then slips on the blood-slick floor and goes down again.

    Thokk screams a war cry and jumps off the stairs at the eigeress attacking Aurora. He lands poorly and goes to his knees. From across the room Umbra points her finger and a ray of darkness streaks toward the eigeress. Her skin goes a clammy blue and she drops stiffly to the floor.

    Round 13
    With no combatants in range, Shefak slips on her ring of invisibility and proceeds up the stairs to the next level. The stairs ascend along the wall of violet marble, pass through a foot thick stone floor, and then the right side opens out into the empty space of a chamber (2) while the stairs continue more steeply up to another level. A wall sconce with a torch is about halfway up the stairs. A battered and stained wooden table is in the center of the room. Arranged haphazardly about the room but away from the table and stairs are four clumsily woven reed mats. A single battered copper pot rests on the floor, its contents covered by a lid. Shefak doesn’t have time to see more before she has to get off the stairs and out of the way of three more brutes coming down from the level above. She plans on attacking the last one once the other two have passed into the chamber below.

    Thokk yells and charges at the great eiger in the doorway. He trips on a body and sprawls at the eiger’s feet. The eiger grins and clouts Thokk with his club. Thokk howls in rage, rolls around, and beats his fists in fury on the stone floor.

    Free of the eigresses attacking him, Babshapka moves toward the door and the fleeing eiger leaders. He shouts for Aurora to do the same. Willa backs away from the eigeresses and spits. “I tire o’ fightin’ women an’ bairns,” she mumbles to herself. She turns and moves with Babshapka across the room, ready to defend her wounded companion. Spying Thokk hale but on the ground, she shouts at him, “Get up, man! Ye be embarrassin’ yerself an’ me!”

    Umbra glides smoothly across the floor and offers her hand to Tyrius. He takes it gratefully and rises, finally steady on his feet. Her hand feels cool to the touch, even through his leather gauntlets. He grasps his holy symbol and says a brief prayer to Pelor. (Tyrius lays hands on himself, healing 7 hp; now at 15/49).

    The great eiger, rather than flee, has decided he enjoys hitting Thokk while the half-orc is defenseless on the ground. He raises his club overhead, and brings it down in a massive blow to the barbarian. (critical hit does 26 points damage, halved to 13 because of Thokk’s rage)

    Larry turns his attention to keeping the moonbeam centered on the eigresses around the throne. One goes down, slain by its searing rays. The other, accompanied by the cub, withdraws from the throne to the stairs, trying but failing to scale the wall.

    Above, the first eiger of the trio who ran past Shefak down the stairs is shocked at the carnage below. He stops, turns, and begins to urge his companions back up the stairs with grunts and gesticulations.

    Round 14
    Babshapka tries to slip by the great eiger and out the doorway, so as to shoot at the fleeing armored eiger. He stumbles on a body and lands near the great brute. The eiger chortles and bashes Babshapka unconscious with his club. Aurora responds with a firebolt, and he grunts.

    The eigeress attempting to flee upstairs takes the cub, lifts him over her head, and sets him on the landing above her, just as an invisible Shefak comes down the stairs. The monk knocks the cub unconscious with two blows of her staff while the eigeress howls in dismay and flails her arms in a vain attempt to shield the child. For good measure, Shefak turns and kicks the eigeress in the head.

    As more of the party converges on the exterior doorway, the great eiger receives another firebolt, and two slashes of Willa’s greatsword, and then two more from Thokk’s longsword once the barbarian is on his feet. The brute snatches up the lantern Willa left at the entryway with its offhand, then swings it with full force at Thokk. The glass shatters, the iron belly is rent, and Thokk is covered in flaming oil. More oil spills out on the floor, blocking the entryway. The brute hops over the flames, though not before Willa stabs him in his retreating back (attack of opportunity). Larry jumps over a fallen eiger and lashes his thorn whip through the flames, but he misses the retreating brute.

    Umbra guides Tyrius to Babshapka’s side and the paladin heals the fallen elf.

    Round 15
    Ignoring the fact that he is still on fire, Thokk runs out the entryway. He easily overtakes the fleeing great eiger and buries his sword in its back. It collapses on the cold ground, writhing in death throws and gushing blood. As he wrenches his sword out, Thokk looks up and sees the armored eiger, some sixty feet away and heading for the trees.

    Larry climbs over eiger bodies, then broad jumps across the pool of flaming oil. “Larry - leave’em be!” calls Willa. Two eigers outside the tower is not an issue - surely there is no help to summon - but if they completely divide the party, drawing off its best healer, what happens when the next wave comes down the stairs? Larry either doesn’t hear or doesn’t heed her, though, and keeps moving down the entryway.

    Shefak sprints down the stairs and leaps easily over the flames. She runs out of the tower, overtaking Thokk in seconds, and nearly gains the armored eiger.

    Willa moves to the stairs going down. She slaps the unconscious eiger, but he does not stir. She hears distant shouts from the floors above.

    Umbra shoots a ray of darkness at the eigeress attempting to scale the stairs. The brute is frozen in mid-climb, then topples over on the floor, dead.

    With the chamber clear of combatants, Babshapka starts looking about for arrows. He recovers three from his missed shots, all intact.

    Round 16 and beyond
    Thokk taunts the fleeing eiger and launches a javelin that lodges in its armor. It turns and draws its sword. With three swift strokes it slices through Shefak, leaving her unconscious and bleeding on the frozen grass. A fourth stroke misses Thokk just as he arrives. (Half-eiger fighter uses his Action Surge for four attacks this round).

    From the doorway of the tower, Larry shouts an eldritch word, and sends forth a great shaft of lightning. Neither the eiger nor Thokk can get out of the way of the bolt, and they gasp and spasm as it arcs through them. Fortunately it passes harmlessly above Shefak, who is already on the ground. The eiger and Thokk collapse, smoking. The eiger is dead, Thokk unconscious for a second, before he rises weakly to his knees, then his feet. (at 1 hp: Relentless End).

    “Haw, haw, good shot, Larry!” Thokk says good-naturedly, poking his sword at the slain eiger. “Next time, Larry warn Thokk to jump out of way!” he adds, with just the slightest hint of menace.

    Inside the tower, Tyrius is using cure spells on the wounded party members, while Babshapka looks for more arrows. Eventually he begins pushing them through bodies and pulling them out the other sides. Some have their heads nicked on bone, the fletching peeled, or even the shafts warped from his pushing and pulling. Not ideal, but he has a feeling he will need them all nonetheless. Eventually he has four arrows in good condition and sixteen less than good. (Note; the damaged arrows will be at -1 to hit and damage).

    Willa keeps alert for signs of more eigers, but begins moving the cubs to the top landing, where the one that Shefak knocked out most recently lies. They are a head shorter than Willa, but she can barely get her arms around their stout chests as she half drags and half carries them up the stairs - she is confident they weigh more than she does. Tyrius helps with the last two. With all four cubs on the top landing, they may slow down the next assault, or even be pulled upstairs to safety by adults. At any rate, they will not be on the chamber floor below, should a melee break out again. Aurora makes rude faces at Willa for her “motherly concern”, but only when Tyrius is not looking.

    Outside, Thokk binds Shefak’s wounds until her breathing stabilizes, then turns his attention to the fallen warrior. Thokk realizes he is actually a half-eiger, which explains his smaller stature. Typically these come about when eigers keep human female captives, though the women seldom survive the births. The warrior has a large metal shield and huge bastard sword, but the quality of both of them is poor. His armor is more interesting - it is scale over leather, and Thokk had assumed the scales were of horn, since they are gleaming black. However, closer inspection reveals them to be more likely the exoskeleton of some giant insect, hard and with just a little flexibility. Thokk cuts the bindings on one of the black scales and takes it as a trophy.

    By this point, Aurora has emerged from the tower, and eagerly engages in searching the bodies. Her first thought is to gather the arms and armor into a pile and use a charge from her wand of detect magic, but seeing the poor quality of what is present, she changes her opinion. Instead, she contents herself with opening the course cloth pouches that are tucked into their belts. The half-eiger’s pouch has 13 silver coins, a garnet, and a large iron key. The great eiger’s holds 80 silver coins and a peridot.

    When Aurora starts counting the coins, Thokk loses interest. He slings an unconsciousness Shefak over his shoulder and he and Larry walk back inside. Willa is now checking the eigers on the floor of the tower, determining which are slain and which are merely unconscious. “This one is stirring,” Thokk hears her say to Tyrius. Thokk lays Shefak at the paladin’s feet, strides over to Willa, and slits the unconscious eiger’s throat.

    “Good job, evil advisor,” he says. “Thokk almost let that one live.”
    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.&nbsp;

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    Sat Mar 21, 2020 9:36 am  

    I figured the smaller-stature eiger was a half-ogre. :)

    I was dismayed at Eddard's death. I wonder if you allow him to return from his celestial kingdom, or if Tyrius will have to summon a brand new warhorse.

    I am curious about your use of females and young when it comes to battling evil humanoids.

    When my friends and I were in high school, we had serious problems (arguments) over the killing of such creatures - especially when they were non-combatants. I solved that problem (as DM) by deciding that in my campaign, humanoids are devoid of agency. I reasoned that (back under AD&D rules) since their godly pantheons were made up of purely evil gods - not a single good god of orcs, goblinkind, gnolls, ogres, etc. - that those pantheons created their mortal worshippers as mini-me's. With no good representatives to argue about it, they were simply created as evil beings. Thus, humanoids are basically fiends in mortal flesh.

    After that, no one in the party ever worried about killing orc women or children. They were to be stamped out like cockroaches.

    If I wanted to force my players to make difficult moral decisions like that, all I had to do was have the bad guys be human, demi-human, or another race that had the agency to choose between good and evil.

    Your players, Kirt, seem to be unaffected by such concerns. :P

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    Master Greytalker

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    Mon Mar 23, 2020 3:33 pm  

    SirXaris wrote:
    I was dismayed at Eddard's death. I wonder if you allow him to return from his celestial kingdom, or if Tyrius will have to summon a brand new warhorse.

    I like Eddard as an NPC too much to lose him. He will return the next time Tyrius has a chance to cast Find Steed

    SirXaris wrote:
    I am curious about your use of females and young when it comes to battling evil humanoids...If I wanted to force my players to make difficult moral decisions like that, all I had to do was have the bad guys be human, demi-human, or another race that had the agency to choose between good and evil. Your players, Kirt, seem to be unaffected by such concerns. :P

    The players are indeed affected by such concerns, even if some of the characters are not. Even the player of the two least-good characters (Thokk and Aurora) afterword said that he felt bad for having made widows and orphans in the battle.

    While I have not asked the characters to choose alignments, I have tried to set the world up so that a good-aligned character would generally be concerned with preserving the life of a sentient creature, even one whose goals are opposed to their own. However, the world also acknowledges the reality of itself as a violent setting of feudal justice and holds absolute the right of self-defense.

    As far as the nature of humanoids, my world-building agrees that the humanoid races were the creations of evil gods, and as such they have inherently evil tendencies and instincts. However, they also have Free Will, because it is their actual choice to worship evil deities that provides said deities with power, or at least far more power than could be obtained from worship by creatures without choice. Thus, individual humanoids can certainly choose to not be evil, and culture and environment are key in supporting that choice. Way back in Post 2, I explained that Tyrius originally spared Thokk upon their first meeting by remembering the case of "St. Jalnir the Gentle, a half-orc Peloran priest of legend."

    It was important in this particular combat that both the females and young took up arms against the party (even if they did so in defense of their homes). Had the females and young instead surrendered, or at least not attacked, my guess is that they would have been spared by everyone except perhaps Thokk. And certainly Tyrius would have not only spared any who surrendered, but actively intervened against his own party members to prevent any of them from attacking a foe that had surrendered. Note that as it was, even after being attacked by them, Shefak, Willa, and Tyrius were all deliberately striking to knock the females and young unconscious and move the unconscious young out of harm's way, while it was Thokk who was executing them. The irony of the last line of the post comes from the fact that Willa was checking on who was alive and who was not in order to save and take prisoner anyone who was unconscious, while Thokk thought that she was doing so in order to make sure that they were all dead. A lot of the humor of Thokk comes from the contrast between what he thinks is happening with what is actually happening - for example, he imagines himself to be the leader of the party.

    If you are interested in ethical dilemmas and the different responses of the characters to such, you might want to re-read Post 11, in which the party had to decide what to do with the two captured smugglers from the Haunted House after they refused to talk.
    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.&nbsp;
    Black Hand of Oblivion

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    Mon Mar 23, 2020 5:50 pm  

    You cut arrows out of the dead to recover them in very good condition, not push them through to likely damage them. Wink

    Good commentary though! Like reading a detailed after-action report. Cool
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    Mon Mar 23, 2020 8:03 pm  

    Cebrion wrote:
    You cut arrows out of the dead to recover them in very good condition, not push them through to likely damage them. Wink

    I must admit ignorance, I have never fired an arrow at a live target.
    So, pushing the arrow through is only to remove it from a living, but wounded, target to minimize the damage in getting it out?

    Mechanistically, at this point I was having the player make luck rolls (4dF) for all shots fired to determine how many could be recovered intact, how many damaged, and how many not usable at all.

    Since then, I have read

    I now have the player count that hits are recoverable (unless they crit) and misses are not.
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    Master Greytalker

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    Tue Mar 24, 2020 7:18 am  
    Post 109: Exploring the Tower

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

    This and subsequent posts will contain many spoilers. The identity of rooms is indicated in bold.

    Post 109: Exploring the Tower
    Somewhere in the Little Hills, actual date unknown
    6:15am, Tower Day 1

    Willa makes sure Shefak receives healing and then shares her tally with the party:

    Randy: dead, near throne

    Eddard: sent back to Celestial realm

    12 giant rats: dead, spread throughout northern half of the room

    Dead eigers (16): [numbers in brackets are their designation in the module]
    Three, outside the tower [1, L1, H]
    One, in the chamber below [4]
    One, on the stairs going down [5]
    One, on the stairs going up [7]
    Ten, in the first floor chamber [2, 3, 8, 9, 10, 11, F2, F3, F4, F5]

    Incapacitated eigers (6):
    (Willa correctly guesses that Thokk doesn’t understand the meaning of the word incapacitated and so does not move to slay them):
    One, on the stairs going down [6]
    One female, at the bottom of the stairs [F1]
    Four cubs, on the landing at the top of the stairs [Y1, Y2, Y3, Y4]

    Fled eigers (3):
    Three, to the third story or higher

    Once her tally is confirmed by Tyrius, Willa opens the discussion to what they should do next. The party is agreed that they should find somewhere defensible to rest and heal, and that the chamber is not such a place. The eigers have ceased their attacks for now, but who knows when they will start again? Several of the party are of the opinion that the tower is magical and can produce a never-ending supply of eigers.

    Aurora suggests they withdraw outside and make camp, but Willa quickly overrides this. A camp would not be defensible at all, and their taking of this chamber was too hard-won - she does not want to have to repeat that. A few suggest pushing forward, pursuing the eigers up the stairs, but there is not a general consensus for this. “At least we need to recover my hammer,” says Tyrius modestly. Shefak slips on her ring and disappears. A few minutes later Tyrius’ hammer flies down the stairs and into the chamber.

    Others suggest that they try the chamber below. Willa is not keen to move them someplace they can be trapped, but she does admit the idea of a room with stone walls and a single entry point is reassuringly defensible.

    Nothing has been heard of the eigers for the last quarter hour. Willa gives the party leave to scout as they desire; depending on what they find she will make a decision.

    Shefak continues up the stairs into the third level of the tower (3). The stairs ascend along the wall of violet marble, pass through a foot thick stone floor, and then the right side opens out into the empty space of a chamber while the stairs continue more steeply up to another level. Rotten cushions and pillows litter the stone floor of this room. Between them is a large overturned wooden box, from which furtive scratching can be heard. The room is about 12 feet across. Shefak creeps slowly closer to the box, fascinated and repulsed in equal measures. As she approaches, the scratching sounds grow more frantic.

    Willa, Tyrius, Umbra, and Babshapka remain in the ground floor chamber. Babshapka carefully examines the marble throne, while the others post themselves looking and listening downstairs (Tyrius), upstairs (Umbra), and outside (Willa). Willa, in the entryway, checks her lantern, and finds it incapable of holding oil, so rent is the iron. She leaves it.

    Aurora, Thokk, and Larry go down into the basement level (D1). As Thokk saw before, the stairs descend through about eight feet of the solid, violet marble on both sides, and then the left side opens out into the empty space of a chamber while the right side follows a wall of rough hewn stone down to the basement floor, which is of muddy dirt. A torch gutters in a wall sconce. The ceiling in the circular room is arched to 12’ height. In the center of the room is an upturned hogshead; a stoppered bunghole is apparent. A considerable wind blows up the stairs and the torch flames dance wildly. The stairs are covered in muddy footprints; there are footprints all over the floor but deep impressions around the barrel. The room reeks of stale urine. There is a dead eiger at the bottom of the stairs, and Thokk grins broadly, recalling the eiger dying of fright upon facing him.

    Thokk crosses the dirt floor and rips the stopper from the bunghole. He sniffs suspiciously, and then deeply. He lifts the hogshead and drinks, wine spilling out onto his chest and running down his torso. He offers the hogshead to Aurora and Larry and, when they refuse, he unstoppers and fills his wineskin, although as much wine makes a muddy stain on the dirt floor as enters his skin.

    Umbra slips into the shadows, moves up the stairs, and examines the battered table and woven mats of the second level. When she does not find anything of interest, she returns down the stairs to the first level.

    Thirst slaked, Thokk looks about the room suspiciously. The guttering torch gives him pause - there certainly is a strong draft here - but they are inside, and downstairs. Where is the draft coming from? When he mentions this to the party, Aurora begins examining the walls for cracks. She lifts the torch from its sconce and walks slowly around the room. The flickers and feel of rushing wind are strongest along the west wall. She replaces the torch and begins feeling along the wall with her hands. A stone at about chest level feels loose, but she cannot budge it.

    Thokk shoves her out of the way and presses hard against the stone. It recesses several inches into the wall. With a sound of stone grating against stone, a door-sized hole appears as a large section of the wall sinks into the floor. A rush of wind and a low moaning sound comes from beyond the door. The wind carries with it a heavy, dank, moldy odor. The room beyond is separated into two long east-west running galleries, with a thick wall or stone support column between them.

    Aurora messages Willa that they have found something, but receives no response. She finds she has to get to the base of the stairs themselves to send the message - the floor must be a foot thick or more of stone to be blocking her spell.

    Willa descends to the basement level, sees the open doorway, and tells Aurora to get Shefak. Aurora ascends the stairs to the first level, tries and fails to rouse Shefak with message, and begins to climb the stairs to the second level. Babshapka moves to her side.

    Shefak kneels by the trunk-sized box. It has no lid or cover, but appears to be an open box that has been turned over to trap something inside. She tries to make comforting sounds to the creatures inside, but their scratching and scrabbling just becomes more frantic.

    On the second floor, Aurora again messages Shefak, asking “What’s up there? We found a secret door in the basement.” This time, she feels her message being received, but there is still no answer. She continues up to the third level, and finds Shefak kneeling beside the box.

    “We need to see what is in here,” says the monk simply.

    Aurora motions her back to the stairwell, then flips the box over with her mage hand. Immediately a half dozen giant rats, as large as those in the throne room below, emerge from the box and begin running wildly about the room. Shefak, Aurora, and Babshapka sprint down the stairs, and the rats soon give chase.

    Umbra and Tyrius hear the trio running down the stairs and follow them into the basement at their appearance, without asking questions. They turn at the bottom, prepared to defend the stairs, but the rats have not followed them.

    (Unbeknownst to the party, the rats paused at the landing to the first level, sniffed at the bodies of the eiger cubs, and began gorging themselves.)

    6:30 am
    The party clusters around the open doorway, peering into the darkness beyond. “Should we explore?” they ask Willa.

    “Nay,” she shakes her head. “We be looking’ fer a place t’ hole up an’ rest, not t’ expose ourselves t’ whatever be lurkin’ in yon dungeon.”

    Aurora looks for, but does not find, a way to close the secret door.

    Now this place be jus’ as exposed as the upstairs,” grouses Willa. “We were s’posed t’ be scoutin’ fer summit more defensible, nay openin’ doors t’ make it less so.”

    Aurora scowls at Willa’s criticism, but then quickly brightens. “Rope trick!” she exclaims. “We’ll make a rope trick rest with the door open. Then if any of the eigers come down here they will find the door open and assume we went into the dungeon. And if anything from the dungeon gets out, it can go bother the eigers...and the rats.” She shivers.

    “Fair eno’,” begrudges Willa, and Aurora proceeds to cast her spell.

    When the rope rises and disappears into the arched ceiling, Umbra looks at it dubiously. She has heard of the spell, of course - but cramming herself into an extradimensional box with these seven bloodthirsty adventurers…

    “It’s that, or you can wait outside for the eigers,” says Aurora shrilly, “or whatever we just freed from the dungeon.”

    In the end, they all ascend the rope, Umbra included. It is cheek-to-jowl inside the nondescript space, but they do have an hour’s uninterrupted rest. [A number of them spend hit dice to recover faster from wounds: Larry (3), Shefak (4), Thokk (4), Babshapka (4), Tyrius (6). Also, Thokk and Babshapka, the only members of the party who did not level in the Ghost Tower, increase their maximum hp for having attained 6th level during the combat. In terms of story awards, I had planned for Thokk and Babshapka to level after the slaying of the Fire Giant in the Ghost Tower; Thokk, because he levels after defeating new and more powerful worthy opponents, Babshapka, since he is on the path of the Giant Killer. However, when they managed to polymorph the giant rather than defeating it in combat, I did not have them level after all. The next trigger would be for Babshapka to be with the party when an ogre was slain, and for Thokk to either slay an ogre himself (no damage from other PCs) or to be in a combat where the total ogre HD exceeded the party's hd]

    (Unbeknownst to the party, while they were in the rope trick, the remaining eigers ventured down the stairs and saw the carnage below. They killed the bloated rats that were feasting on their young. They found their dead leader and hero outside. They even cautiously ventured into the basement, and found the door to the dungeon, hitherto unknown to them, open. The remaining leader and the chieftain then debated their next course of action. While they considered following the party into the dungeon and attacking them there, in the end they were cowed by the party's ability to slay so many of them without taking any losses. They packed and prepared to abandon the tower.)

    (One hour since the dungeon has been open)

    When the party emerges from the rope trick room, there are no signs of eigers or rats, either in the room or in marks on the floor. Neither does anything appear to have emerged from the dungeon, though both the wind and the moaning continue unabated.

    Babshapka cautiously moves to the doorway to check for tracks, but Thokk strides past him into the chamber, kicking up dust and obscuring anything that might have been recorded.

    The room beyond (D3) is separated into two long east-west running galleries, with a thick wall or stone support between them. Against the northernmost wall are wooden shelves, and an open hallway exits to the south. There is a vaulted ceiling, arching to twelve feet high at the center.

    As the party files through the open doorway, Thokk and Babshapka advance to make room for them. They can now see that there are shelves on the west wall as well as the north. These are bookshelves, though they are sparsely populated - fewer than a hundred volumes in all between the two sections. Each book is large and leather-bound.

    Aurora opens her eyes wide and, just behind her, Umbra gasps at the sight. Aurora turns on her. “So, you are interested in books, too?”

    The elf’s features harden. “Yes, though the knowledge I seek is very narrow and specific. And you?”

    “Oh, mostly recipes,” says Aurora.

    “Recipes?” repeats Umbra incredulously.

    “Yes, well, you know, the life of an adventurer. So many nights with camp food, one is always looking for something a little different to spice it up. Oh,” she adds, almost as an afterthought, “and anything that might give us a clue as to Willa’s true parentage, of course. There were so many sailors on that ship…”

    Willa spits in Aurora’s direction and moves off to guard the southern hallway.

    Together, Aurora and Umbra examine the volumes. The leather covers of the books are fuzzy with mold and flaky with dry rot. Most of the pages, however, appear to be intact except for the borders and margins.

    All of the writing is in Ancient Suelese, such that Aurora is the only one able to read them, and she with much effort. The first book she examines is an herbology, and she can only tell that from the scant and faded illustrations and occasional illuminations. It will take her considerable time to determine the contents of each volume, hours to go through them all.

    In the meantime, Babshapka has made a complete circuit of the galleries.

    The dirt and dust in the floor recount decades, if not centuries, of creatures passing, each with their tracks passed and re-passed over so many times as to be indistinguishable. The northern corridor seems to be the source of the wind and moaning. The southern exit is calmer, warmer, and more humid. For its part, it appears to be the source of the moldy smell.

    Dungeon open for 1 hr 15 min

    The second book is on how to use the weather to determine omens, Aurora announces.

    “Stow it, we be movin’” says Willa.

    “But these books are what we came for. Or at least, what we came for could be in these books. I have to check them all,” objects Aurora.

    “An’ yer welcome t’ check ‘em all. But not while we be standin’ in the hall,” says Willa sternly. “First we be findin’ a safe spot t’ take a long rest. Then ye can be readin’ as many o’ th’ books as ye want while the rest o’ us be sleepin’ an’ such.”

    Aurora carefully sets aside the two volumes she has already looked at. By her quick count, there are seventy-some volumes remaining to examine. The party moves into the corridor to the north, which has a lower ceiling than the gallery. It seems to be the source of both the wind and the moaning sound - the smell of mold is lessening as they travel that way.

    From the low-ceilinged corridor they emerge into a large (30’ x 50’) room (D13). The ceiling here is arched to fully 16’ in height. There is scant dust except in the corners, and the wind still blows, though less than in the corridor. There are scattered ashes and burn marks on the walls, floor, and ceiling, but there are no furnishings and the room appears unoccupied. Three wooden doors lead out of the room; the one to the east has large gaps where the planks have rotted away, and much of the lower third of the door itself is missing.

    Babshapka makes sure to move ahead of Thokk before the barbarian disturbs the tracks. The room has many, but these run mainly from the rotten door in the east, across the floor, and out the southern corridor. The dust is less disturbed along the northern wall and around those two intact doors.

    (Dungeon open for 1 hr 25 min)

    Looking for a secure place to rest, away from traffic, Willa tries the door in the northeast first. It is stuck but not locked, so she forces it. The small (10’ x 10’ x 8’) cubicle within (D14) is crowded with a bed, a bathtub, a chair, and a small table. All of them show signs of great age. There are no inhabitants. Investigating, she finds upon the table a plain quill, a pot of dried ink, and a mortar and pestle.

    As more and more of the party presses into the room, Willa urges them out. This will not be a place for them to rest - it is no bigger than the rope trick room, but is packed with furniture. One of them could be comfortable in the narrow bed (if the ancient wood held) and another in the bath, but there is no way the rest of them could pass several hours here comfortably. She tells them to check the other door, while she searches more thoroughly.

    (Dungeon open for 1 hr 35 min)
    Willa pokes through the ancient straw mattress, moves the heavy copper bath, opens the drawers on the desk, but finds nothing. In the meantime, the party enters the next room (D15), which has the ceiling arched to 12’ height. A number of padded armchairs (mostly rotted to their frames) are scattered about the airy room. A silver pentacle is etched into the southern end of the east wall.

    Once Babshapka confirms that the room is safe, Aurora moves to examine the pentacle. She instinctively traces its lines with her finger, and a door appears in the wall, then swings silently inwards.

    New attributes in bold
    Babshapka of the Silverwood
    Sixth level ranger (Hunter Archetype: Giant Killer)/ Wood elf (Folk Hero)
    Str 12 (+1) Dex 18 (+4) Con 12 (+1) Int 12 (+1) Wis 13 (+1) Cha 7 (-1)
    Languages Elven (S/W), Common (S/W)
    Hp. 48
    Skills: Animal Handling, Insight, Investigation, Perception, Stealth, Survival (Temperate Woodlands, Temperate Hills)
    Abilities: Favored Enemy (Hobgoblins, Kobolds, and Giants), Natural Explorer (Woods and Hills), Primeval Awareness
    Fighting Style: Duel-wielding, Extra Attack
    Human-sized Chain shirt+1, broadsword+1, cloak of the manta ray, ring of protection+1, shortsword, longbow
    (1) Ensnaring Strike, Hunter's Mark, Hail of Thorns, Cure Wounds
    (2) Lesser Restoration, Spike Growth

    Thokk of the Crystalmists (Thokk)
    Sixth Level Barbarian / Half-orc (Outlander)
    Str 18 (+4) Dex 14 (+2) Con 16 (+3) Int 5 (-2) Wis 13 (+1) Cha 12 (+1)
    Hp. 66
    Skills: Athletics, Intimidation, Nature, Perception, Survival (mountains)
    Primal Path: Totem Warrior (Wolf)
    Unarmored defense, Longsword+1 (The Sunsword), Shield+2, ring of protection +1, hand axes, javelins
    Extra Attack, Fast Movement (also while stealthy and tracking)
    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.&nbsp;
    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
    Posts: 965
    From: Sky Island, So Cal

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    Tue Mar 31, 2020 11:21 am  
    Post 110: An Infernal Fury

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

    This and subsequent posts will contain many spoilers. The identity of rooms is indicated in bold.

    For the soundtrack while in the Dungeon level, I used "Dungeon I" by Tabletop Audios.

    Post 110: An Infernal Fury
    Somewhere in the Little Hills, actual date unknown. First day in the Tower

    Beyond the secret door is a small chamber (D16), bare except for markings on the floor. Aurora calls for light, and peers in. The floor is inlaid with a 7’ diameter circle with magical markings in powdered gold, platinum, and gems. Aurora believes it to be some sort of warding or protective device, and says as much.

    She backs away from the room, motions the others away, moves to the opposite side of the larger chamber, and withdraws a caltrop from her pack. She sends it slowly across the room with her mage hand. When it breaks the plane of the doorway, something appears in the circle in a flash!

    It is a woman, naked, and kneeling on the stone floor. Her head is bowed, but her arms are held forth pleadingly. Her features appear to be those of a half-elf, at least to Babshapka, who is second-closest to the door and one of two who can see into the room. Thokk has not gotten beyond leering at the woman’s lack of vestments to notice her race.

    Aurora calls out greetings to her in a handful of languages, but before she can finish, several in the party hear a pleading voice in their minds. “Help me…” it whispers, “free me…”

    Thokk takes a step forward, and many in the party call upon him to halt. The woman begins shuddering, and her mental entreaties grow more agonized. Thokk steps forward again, and again the party tells him to halt.

    “Woman cold and naked,” he says, “she need help of Thokk!” In a stroke of orcish genius, he holds forth his 10 foot pole - he does not have to move to pull the woman out of the cursed circle. He offers the pole to her, and when it crosses over the circle carved on the floor, there is another flash.

    The woman stands, her bearing more regal now than pleading. She is still nearly naked, but now with immodestly revealing spiked armor and her pale half-elven skin has become a reddish-copper, her hair dark, her features sharp. Huge wings unfurl in the small room and she begins a deep, throaty, exultant laugh.

    Before the party can respond, the woman-creature strides out of the small secret room and stands just beyond the doorway. She lashes out with a thick, corded rope that flies toward Larry seemingly of its own accord, but the dwarf side-steps it. Unconcerned, the woman slashes at Thokk with a dagger. The half-orc is shocked by her less-than amorous advance, but his combat reflexes enable him to avoid the wicked, curved dagger even as he protests.

    Round 1
    Hurt and confused, Thokk strikes at her with his longsword - the blow slices across her bare abdomen, and others in the party notice the blade is not glowing - whatever this woman is, she is not undead. Aurora fires off three magic missiles that explode against her skin. She grinned at Thokk’s slice, and laughs off the missiles, although they have obviously wounded her. Babshapka shoots two arrows - the first misses her widely, the second she slices out of the air just before impact, cutting it in half with her dagger so that the two pieces fly on either side of her. Umbra shoots a ray of shadow at her, but she bats it out of the way and laughs again. Her laugh is strange - mirthless and mocking, exultant when she is being wounded, frustrated when she misses in her attacks.

    Round 2
    Still in the nearby bedchamber, Willa hears the shouts of her companions and the explosions of spells. She lets fly a string of curses and dashes out of the room as fast as she can, leaving the wooden door open behind her.

    With a lilt of the winged woman’s head, the rope flies back to her and coils tightly around her waist. She rears up with a great rush of her wings and slashes at Thokk with her dagger - one, two, three times! He darts to one side and the other, avoiding each blow, and she howls in wrath. Larry shoots a spray of poison in her face, but she simply ignores it. Umbra shoots a second ray of shadow, and this one actually impacts her, which seems to give her a moment of fleeting pleasure. “Burn woman!” shouts Aurora, and hurls forth what she considers her best firebolt ever - the woman is momentarily surrounded by raging flames, but emerges entirely unscathed. Tyrius strides heavily across the room, his plate armor, well dented from the fight with the eigers, protesting noisily. There is no room for him next to Thokk, but he kicks forward with a booted foot, and the ancient upholstered chair in front of him is shattered in pieces. Taking the position of the erstwhile furnishing, he swings his hammer once and it is batted away by great wings. “Back to hell, evil mistress!” he calls, and swings again. This blow crashes into the woman’s armored shoulder. Convinced that the creature is from some nether plane, Tyrius shouts “BEGONE DEMON LADY!” and channels two levels of spells into a divine smite. An explosion of golden light knocks the woman back into the stone wall. [11 weapon damage, 26 radiant damage, total 37hp].

    At the great flash of light coming through the long holes in the door and out into the larger adjoining chamber, Willa exclaims “Holy Mother of a Sea Cow!” but keeps running.

    Babshapka sends forth two more arrows, but neither hit. Shefak inhales and her fists and feet glow with ki. She runs up, inserting herself neatly in the narrow gap between Thokk and Tyrius. Her blows strike the woman, and she shrieks in a mix of pain and glee. Thokk howls in rage, and steps closer to the wall to give Shefak room. He swings his longsword, but mis-judges, and the sword impacts the stone wall long before it hits the woman - Thokk’s arm is jolted up to the shoulder from the blow, and he drops his sword. He howls again, and strikes with his fist, but the blow deals far less damage to the woman than Shefak’s glowing fists did.

    Round 3
    Recovered now from Tyrius’ blow, the woman steps away from the wall. She makes wide, arcing sweeps with her dagger, menacing all three of the warriors in front of her. The blades slides harmlessly off Tyrius’ armor, but cuts through the flesh of Shefak and Thokk. For a slight slice and little blood drawn, the wounds throb with unnatural pain. Larry completes an entangle spell, and the flagged stone at the woman’s feet cracks open. Green tendrils lash out, growing gigantic as they rise from the floor. Thick vines wrap around all four of the melee combatants - the woman, but Tyrius, Shefak, and Thokk besides. Three of them strain for an instant and then break the vines, but Shefak remains held tight. “Larry,” she cries, struggling feebly against the living restraints, “what have you done?!” With no clear shot, Babshapka drops his bow and draws forth his magical broadsword. Umbra fires forth another shadowy bolt, but this one slams into the wall, leaving a patch of frost on the stone. Tyrius strikes another blow with his hammer, and once again lights the room with the holy radiance of Pelor. The woman screams in agony, and then - did they imagine it? - cries out “Yes!”

    Willa bursts into the room. Before she can draw her greatsword, Babshapka shouts at her, “Willa, magic weapons only!” This gives her pause, and the sight of the demon-woman more so. She pulls out her mace from its loop in her belt.

    Thokk, hearing Willa’s name, shouts over his shoulder, “"Evil advisor, look at this wondrous, beautiful, enemy Thokk brought forth with my pole!"

    “Thokk, what ‘ave ye, done, lad?” she says in awe.

    Round 4
    Umbra summons forth a disembodied, skeletal hand and send its across the room. It goes for the demon’s face, but she bats it away with the back of her wing. She screeches at the three warriors in front of her and slashes at each of them. Tyrius takes the dagger blow and feels its unnatural sting - he looks down to see black ichor dripping from the wound and the blade. Unable to move, Shefak cannot avoid the blow. She passes out from pain when the blade slices across her legs, and now hangs limply in front of the demon, still supported in the air by the vines. Thokk, too, feels its sting, and the creature roars in satisfaction. Aurora lets fly with another volley of three magic missiles. This time when the woman exults at taking damage, her cry is ragged and labored. Larry pushes forward against the vines and touches Shefak, healing her. She gasps as she regains consciousness, but finds herself still entangled, with the demon woman still brandishing the dagger in front of her. “Larry!” she cries again in frustration. Babshapka slashes at the vines with his broadsword in one hand and tries to pull Shefak free with the other, but she remains held fast. When the demoness turns slightly to strike again at Tyrius, Thokk crouches down to recover his sword from the floor, but a buffet of her wings knocks him prone in front of her, and she sinks her dagger into his back in triumph. Before she can attack him again, Willa leaps forward, straddling Thokk’s fallen body with a foot on either side. Her first mace blow catches only feathers, but the second slams into the woman’s body and knocks her back, reeling. Tyrius follows up with a hammer blow, and then a second hammer blow filled with an explosion of holy light.

    This last blow, or perhaps the light from it, seems to rend the woman’s form asunder. As her outline grows blurry and the room goes dark, she turns her head to Tyrius and silently mouths the words “thank you”. A rent in the air opens, and those near at hand see a burned, hellish landscape beyond, a barren rocky plain of smoking craters. The intact spirit form of the woman is yanked backwards through the rent, while scraps from her body - bones, armor, and feathers - simultaneously collapse to the stone floor. As the rent closes, the smell of brimstone fills the room. The desiccated husk of her body lies on the floor, slowly emitting a thick, black smoke. Her rope, and dagger still dripping ichor, lie near at hand.

    As the party look at one another, relieved and confused, the eastern wall of the room begins to glow with a golden light. A second later, a man emerges from it - an old, brown-skinned man clad in a simple white robe bound at the waist with a braided gold cincture. For Tyrius, the room has vanished and he stands alone in a grassy field facing the man. The rest of the party sees the field vaguely, superimposed transparently over the room. As the man approaches Tyrius, the paladin takes a knee.

    “Tyrius, faithful warrior,” the man says is a low, rolling voice, “you have bested an Erinyes, or infernal fury, and sent her spirit back to the hells. Her material form, or what is left of it, remains here, but that is something it is my pleasure to resolve.” With a pass of his hand, the husk of the demoness is covered in glowing sparks, then fades into nothingness. The smoke and smell of brimstone fade away. Larry had picked up the dagger, and was examining it to see whether it was still producing poison, and the man turns a reproachful eye on him. “Already her devices are causing mischief, so it is better to be rid of them, as well.” With another pass of his hand, the cord and dagger disappear.

    “Should you face one such again, it is better to be armed with knowledge,” the man continues. “Know you this - such devils are resistant to cold and non-magical weapons, and completely immune to fire and poison.” Tyrius nods, and pledges to use this knowledge wisely.

    “While you bested the Fury, Tyrius, you did not do so alone. The assistance of your companions was essential in your victory. Receive also this knowledge, that you might better support them in their journeys unto the light.” The man raises his hand, and a small golden sphere floats from it to Tyrius’ brow. When the sphere is absorbed into his head, Tyrius finds that he now knows the prayer for casting the Aid spell.

    Tyrius bows his head and thanks the old man. The man, rather than return through the wall he entered, walks deliberately across the room and passes through the west wall. As he does so, the field fades from view and Tyrius finds himself back with the party. The entangling vines shrink and shrivel and Shefak is finally able to free herself.

    Willa looks about the room, satisfied that they have found a more appropriate place for resting than the small bedchamber. “‘ave ye searched it all?” she asks.

    Tyrius rises to his feet. “Nay, but first we must needs destroy that summoning circle - I’ll have no more devils brought to our world from it.” He enters the small secret room, Aurora close behind him, and reaches out with his divine sense. He then tells the party that the circle itself is not evil or unholy - nor is it for summoning as he thought. It exists only to bind other-worldly creatures once summoned, and that the summoner of the devil was likely a powerful mage, not an evil priest. “Do with it what ye would,” he says, and Aurora hurries forward to sweep up the powdered precious metals and gem flakes into a sack.

    They return to the main room, where the party is already setting up camp. Shefak and Umbra have rolled out bedrolls; but the rest of them have most of their gear still in the packs and bags on the body of Randy in the tower above. Larry has stripped the upholstered padding from several of the chairs and made himself a nest of sorts; the others make do with rolled up winter clothes, for at least out of the wind it is comfortably warm in the dungeon, equal to a brisk and cloudy day and not the freezing temperatures they found above ground. An away team is dispatched to carry all of the books from the shelves to the room for Aurora to peruse during the rest. Willa has Aurora figure out how to close the secret door, which she does by simply tracing her finger over the pentacle in reverse. Tyrius lays hands on Shefak and Thokk, and casts a healing spell besides. Larry casts six different healing spells, exhausting his stores before the planned rest. Once the books and everyone is back inside the room, Thokk hammers two pitons into the floor to keep the door closed. It looks like it would be far easier to break through the rotten wood of the door than pry the pitons from the stone floor.
    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.&nbsp;
    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
    Posts: 965
    From: Sky Island, So Cal

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    Tue Apr 07, 2020 8:56 am  
    Post 111: R&R (Rest and Reading)

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

    This and subsequent posts will contain many spoilers. The identity of rooms is indicated in bold.

    The contents of the books were rolled on the table of 120 possibilities in and then adapted to the time period and context of Nholast's interests. Any time I rolled a duplicate result I treated the book as illegible.

    Post 111: R&R (Rest and Reading)
    Somewhere in the Little Hills, actual date unknown. First day in the Tower

    As Willa sets the watch schedule, Umbra glides about the room, investigating the walls. She is sure there is a secret door in the northeast corner, but does not know how to open it. She reports as much to Willa, who decides to keep the knowledge to herself rather than having Thokk or Aurora or some other fool opening a door they shouldn’t out of curiosity or boredom. Willa drags a chair over to the general area, puts the back to the door, and says her watch has started.

    8:30am (Dungeon at 2hrs) First Watch - Willa and Umbra

    During the first hour of rest (8:30 to 9:30am), Aurora manages to check eleven books.
    1. An illustrated book of human anatomy
    2. A personal history - not clear whether it is a historical account or a work of fiction
    3. Interpreting visions
    4. Illusion magic - not actual spells, but discussion, commentary, and theory
    5. Sacred symbols in the religions of the ancient Suel Imperium
    6. A book of anatomical sketches and figure drawing techniques
    7. A cultural history of the Suel people
    8. Magical properties of gemstones
    9. Folk tales of the Baklunni people
    10. Rotten and illegible
    11. Arbology

    During the second hour of rest (9:30am to 10:30am), Aurora manages to check eight books.
    12. Smithcraft and metalworking
    13. Healing rituals of the Flan peoples
    14. Healing herbs and their uses
    15. Mining technique and strategy, ore refining technology
    16. Fiendish bargains - strategy, terminology and conditions, enforcement
    17. Important trade routes of the Suel Imperium
    18. Folk tales of the Roka, Chebi, and Hochebi
    19. Summoning rituals used to bind spirits to flesh

    10:30am (Dungeon at 4hrs) Second Watch - Larry and Tyrius
    Larry yawns as Willa shakes him awake - he had been curled up and sleeping in his chair-stuffing nest. Tyrius is awake, but kneeling in prayer. He has removed some of his armor - the helmet, gauntlets, and spaulders, so as to rest more comfortably, but has not taken the armor completely off, knowing that he has second watch. Willa whispers to him about the unopened secret door, and tells him to pass the information on to the next watch. She then returns to the chair she was in, but allows herself to relax and nod off. Umbra moves to her bedroll, but does not lie down. Rather, she sits cross-legged, eyes closed and meditating.

    About half an hour into the watch, Larry, sitting near the door, sees red lights shining through the cracks and gaps in the wood. He puts an eye to a hole, but sees only red lights in the dark room beyond. He goes to Aurora and tries to get her attention, but she brushes him off distractedly, telling him that he is on watch, not her. He returns to watching the lights, but they soon fade from view.

    During the third hour of rest (10:30 to 11:30am), Aurora manages to check eleven books.
    20. An economic history of the Suel Imperium
    21. A military history of the War of the Suel Imperium against the Fiery Kings of the Hellfurnices
    22. A book on working with corpses. At first Aurora takes it to be a text on embalming or funeral practices, but she soon realizes it is actually about preparing bodies for animation. It may be related to book (19) as part of a multi-volume work.
    23. Moldy and illegible.
    24. A book of poems and commentary
    25. A book of Baklunish Elemental Magic Theory
    26. Landmarks and Terrain features of the Helfurnices and the Lands Beyond
    27. Another account of the war with the Fiery Kings, but as a collection of Epic Poetry
    28. A book on the Baklunish Language (still written in Suel, it appears to be geared at learning Baklunish)
    29. The sky houses, constellations, and other astronomical phenomena, with math.
    30. Mining and Metallurgy

    During the fourth hour of rest (11:30am to 12:30pm), Aurora manages to check twelve books.
    31. Sculpture (from the artistic point of view)
    32. Dry and brittle; illegible
    33. Summoning magic; elementals, infernals, fiends
    34. Astronomical phenomena; the sun and eclipses; dates
    35. Regional landmarks and Terrain of the Suel Imperium
    36. Astronomical phenomena; stars, using star measurements as location indicators on Oerth
    37. Surgery, Bone-setting, and other Healing Arts
    38. Trade routes of the Baklunish Empire
    39. Ink so faded as to be illegible
    40. A historical play set during the early years of the Great War
    41. A satire of court politics in the Suel Imperium
    42. Consumed by mold and illegible

    12:30pm; (Dungeon at 6hrs) Third Watch - Babshapka and Thokk
    Tyrius rises from his chair and goes to wake Babshapka, whispering to him about the secret door and Willa’s command. Seeing this transfer, Larry goes to wake Thokk. The half-orc had fallen asleep in Larry’s nest. Now he stirs, yawns, farts, stretches, stands, and farts again. Those awake protest, but Thokk pays them no heed.

    Babshapka has had a full four hour trance, and he is rested and refreshed. [In addition, he has now finished his transition to 6th level, and has decided to replace his alarm spell with the ability to cure wounds.]

    During the fifth hour of rest (12:30 to 1:30pm), Aurora manages to check eleven books.
    43. Divination using tea leaves
    44. Phrases in Flan for travelers
    45. Herbology of common roots - food and medicinal properties
    46. A dramatic play about a slave revolt
    47. A study of another language - it seems like a form of Flan but different
    48. Translations of Suel to Roka and vice versa
    49. Interpreting prophetic dreams
    50. Pages are falling into pieces - illegible
    51. Divination using anthropomancy
    52. A study of the Chebi language
    53. Properties of Vampirism

    During the sixth hour of rest (1:30 to 2:30pm), Aurora manages to check ten books.
    54. Saints and Martyrs of the Faith of Phaulkon
    55. Most pages stuck together - illegible
    56. Baklunish understanding of Energy Centers in the Palm
    57. Completely devoured by woodlice, illegible
    58. Stonemasonry: Principles and Techniques
    59. The Tragedy of Xodast
    60. Beast Handling
    61. Infernal Languages
    62. Book found off shelf, on floor - torn and trampled - illegible
    63. Exorcism and Protection from Possession

    2:30pm; (Dungeon at 8hrs) Fourth Watch - Babshapka and Shefak
    Thokk prods Shefak with his flute, and the monk rises from her bedroll, while the barbarian returns to Larry’s nest, only to find it occupied by Larry. He tries to curl up there, but Larry grumbles at him that it is not cold enough for spooning. Dejected, the half-orc finds another corner and tries melodies on his flute, drawing curses from most of the party.

    Umbra has finished her trance. While Thokk is distracting everyone, no one notes the traffic of shadows that is flitting back and forth between her and the room. Perhaps Babshapka notices, but he is as terse as usual.

    During the seventh hour of rest (2:30 to 3:30pm), Aurora manages to check the remaining books.
    64. Grammar and punctuation in (Ancient) Suel - A Guide for Scribes
    65. The language of the Derro
    66. Dry and brittle, illegible
    67. Dry and brittle, illegible
    68. The language of the Oerid Tribes
    69. Summoning and Binding Spirits and Souls
    70. A romance between members of rival houses in the Suel Imperium
    71. Military Strategy in the first hundred years of the Great War
    72. Moldy and illegible

    None of these books offer the historical information about Nholast, or especially about Keoland, that might support Uhas’ account in the Chronicle of Secret Times. Thus, none of them are the information that Aurora came for. They will have to explore more - and they still have no idea how extensive the dungeon complex under this tower is.

    Although the books do not contain the specific information she seeks, they certainly do represent a trove of historical information, being centuries old and written about events even older. There are many of them that Aurora would like to take with her, and she carefully sets these to one side. They are, however, heavy and bulky. With Randy slain, they are unlikely to be able to take many, more’s the pity.

    By around 4pm, Aurora has finished organizing the books and has gone to rest herself. She does not note the thin, gray form seeping under the door. An oozing pool of a creature, it is either transparent or naturally of the same color as the floor. Whichever, Babshapka, on watch near the door, also fails to notice it. The puddle surrounds his feet and begins crawling up his boots. Some moments later, as he shifts his weight and feet, he feels the tension holding down his boots. Only then, looking down, does he notice the creature. As he moves suddenly and with alarm, the creature reacts by sending forth a long pseudopod that slams into his chest, leaving both a bruise and an acidic coating that quickly tarnishes the links of his chain shirt.

    Umbra fires forth a bolt of shadow, and a portion of the ooze-creature congeals at its impact. Willa swings her torch at it, and its slimy form sizzles at the touch of the flames. The blow of the torch seems to have torn open a rent in the pudding-skin-like surface of the ooze, and it starts dribbling acidic fluids out onto the floor. Seeing it is susceptible to physical damage, Willa smashes her mace down into the mass, rupturing its surface and spraying hissing gunk about. Another ooze creature slides under the door. Aurora shrieks, and stumbles out of the way to the back of the room.

    Shefak, unwilling to risk her staff or her fists, grabs a chair and smashes it on top of the new ooze. She tears several holes in its surface. It strikes at her in return with a strange pseudopod. A third creature slides under the door. Babshapka abandons his boots and pants to the creature and retreats across the room. It slowly seeps after him.

    Babshapka, pants-less, returns across the room. He slashes with his magical broadsword and one ooze’s form is completely disrupted. It ceases moving, remaining a still, acidic gray pool. There are two other oozes he could attack, but he is unwilling to wade barefoot through the slain one in front of him.

    Umbra sends a ray of freezing shadow at another one. Shefak continues to beat furiously on those remaining with her chair. Between them and Willa, they manage to disrupt the last two. No more slide under the door.

    Willa carefully cleans her mace with rags and scraps of chair upholstery. Babshapka examines his gear. His magical chain shirt is tarnished but intact - the links pitted and corroded in a large patch. His sturdy leather boots, after cleaning, appear fine. His pants are faded and foul-smelling. They appear undamaged, but he decides to use the dry parts to clean his boots and sword, and then discard them. He has a single spare pair in his pack.

    After some discussion with the rest of the party, Babshapka decides to don the chain shirt they recovered from the manticore lair in the Ghost Tower. At the time, they suspected it to be magical, but they have not yet had Aurora attempt to identify it. It is human-sized and a little large on him, but after putting on his belts and straps and such over top it fits well enough to function. [In fact, it is a set of chain +1]

    With the combat over, Larry comes forward to examine the creatures. He identifies them as gray oozes, amorphous creatures that live in the darkness of caves and suchlike environments. He says they corrode metal with their strongly acidic digestive fluids, and are resistant to both flame and cold.
    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.&nbsp;
    Master Greytalker

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    Tue Apr 14, 2020 11:23 am  
    Post 112: 'Splorin'

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

    This and subsequent posts will contain many spoilers. The identity of rooms is indicated in bold.

    For the soundtrack while in the Dungeon level, I used "Dungeon I" by Tabletop Audios.

    Post 112: 'Splorin'
    Somewhere in the Little Hills, actual date unknown. First day in the Tower

    Half an hour later, Shefak’s watch ends. Willa’s initial plan had been for Babshapka to take another two-hour watch by himself, so that she and Shefak could complete a long rest. However, since they both fought against the ooze, their rest has been spoiled, and they would need to begin again. There is no point in the entire party waiting another eight hours on them. Shefak grumbles in a very un-monklike fashion, but in the end decides to proceed with the party.

    The first order of business is the exploration of the secret room (D17). To their disappointment, it is found to be both empty and a dead end.

    There seems to be little more to do than continue to explore the dungeon, so the party readies to proceed. Thokk’s pitons are so firmly wedged into the floor that it is easier to rip apart the rotten wood of the door (and use it to lay across the acid pools for those unwilling to walk through them). Upon doing so, however, the party is confronted by a great mass of fungi that have somehow sprung into being. They are all about the floor and around the doorframe.

    Aurora immediately suggests fireballing the mushroom patch, saying that “Fire always beats fungi,” as if it was an oft-repeated maxim. Willa tells her to not be so eager. She calls Thokk over to the open doorway, and tells him to toss her across the patch to the other side.

    Thokk forms a stirrup with his hands and Willa puts in her foot. With a mighty heave he chucks her through the doorway. Willa goes flying up and over the fungi, landing pretty gracefully on the stone floor beyond for someone clad in full plate armor. She even manages to keep her torch lit, burning Thokk just a bit in passing.

    However, Willa swears that some of the fungi turned toward her when she landed. Now, however, they remain perfectly still. She tells Aurora to investigate.

    Aurora uses her prestidigitation spell to create small effects over the fungal patch - lights, sounds, smells. She elicits no response with colored lights or puffs of acrid smoke, but the noises she creates do seem to draw the attention of the mushrooms. They turn and twist in response, almost as if cocking their tiny mushroom-cap heads. “Well, I don’t think everyone wants to be thrown over them,” says Aurora excitedly, “and if we miss and land in them, something bad will happen for sure. It’s firebolt time.”

    At her words, Willa, Umbra, and Shefak hastily take out cloth rags and hold them over their mouths and noses. Thokk looks on cheerfully, waiting to see who he gets to throw next.

    Aurora shoots a single firebolt into the patch. The fungi go rigid, except for one which is writhing as it burns. Holes open along the tops of all of the mushroom caps, and a horrifying squeal comes from dozens of orifices. The shrill sound echoes across the stone walls - it can likely be heard throughout the entire dungeon complex, as it easily drowns out the moaning sound and the noise of the rushing wind.

    "Damn you, woman! What be wrong wit' ye!" shouts Willa, as she takes out her crossbow.

    Aurora yells at Willa to run, and begins the incantation for fireball. Willa recognizes the opening lines of this spell - that, conjoined with Aurora’s advice to “run”, are sufficient to cause her to run like hell, south and around the corner to the gallery of shelves. She begins praying to her maker and the gentle Sea Cow of the South as she flattens herself against the wall.

    The explosion that follows is louder than any wind, louder still than the shrieking of a dozen fungal patches. Flames fill the large hall, jet down the southern corridor into the gallery, blow open the wooden doors to the searched bedchamber and the as-yet-unexplored section of the dungeon. The flames even shoot into the room where the party is resting, turning the wet puddles of acid on the floor into ash, but stopping a few feet short of Aurora’s face. She is knocked back by the force of the blast but unharmed. As the ringing in the ears of those present fades, it is replaced with the sound of Aurora laughing in triumph.

    "There you are, everyone. There's precious few problems that a handy fireball can't fix.”

    Willa sighs, and returns to organize the party into a marching order. The room beyond is now completely open to them, the remains of the door in pieces and smoldering beyond the open door frame.

    The ceiling here (D21) is arched to 16’ height, similar to the chamber they have come from (D13). Apart from empty torch sconces and a rug by the east wall, the large room appears bare. Four vaulted galleries proceed, to the north west, north east, east-by-north, and south east. The moaning sound comes from the one to the northwest; the wind from both that and the one to the south east. The dust on the floor is greatly disturbed, and the tracks seem to parallel the direction of the wind.

    Aurora inspects the rug and finds it to be dyed wool. Once costly, it has faded from centuries. It still is likely worth something, but is heavy and bulky. The party leaves it behind as they follow Thokk toward the source of the moaning sound.

    The party moves down the hall towards a large room (D23). The height of the ceiling is hard to determine, as it is shrouded in cobwebs. There are rotten tables and chairs along the walls. One door at the far end is slightly ajar. Thokk is looking for spiders - big ones - but finds no traces. He urges the party forward, making no attempt to mask his disappointment.

    Peering through the open door, Thokk finds the ceiling in the next room (D24) to be arched to 12’ height. A hearth stands in the northwest corner, vented with a 4’-long x 6”-wide chimney that comes out from the wall but then disappears into the ceiling. In the southwest corner is a large circular hole in the floor, surrounded by a lip of raised stone.

    There is some dust on the ground, but it is as much mud as dust. The tracks of various creatures are all over the room, but mostly run from the open doorway to the hearth and the hole in the floor. The moaning is louder and is coming from the direction of the hearth. The air smells damp and the wooden door is rotten through.

    As the party inspects the room, they find that the moaning is the sound of the air being drawn up the chimney. It is spacious and probably could be shimmied up by any of them. It goes straight up beyond the range of their torchlight. It likely goes all the way to the surface, though when they pull the torch away, they see no light at the far end.

    Around the hole in the floor are mildewed pieces of wood and extremely rotten hemp. There also seem to be noises from something moving in the hole. Thokk peers over the edge and finds that the walls go down farther than he can see, but are covered by moss and fungus. Given the sounds he hears and the footprints around the edge, he suspects that the hole is filled with vermin - rats, land crabs, and the like. Willa surmises the hole is a well and Tyrius seconds the notion.

    With the source of wind and moaning explained, the party is momentarily directionless, so Willa calls for a more careful search of the room. A loose brick is found in the hearth - when depressed, a whole section of the stone wall slides open. The hallway beyond has no tracks on the floor, just dust - apparently they have found another untrafficked part of the complex.

    At the north end of the corridor is a small chamber (D18) with a 12 foot vaulted ceiling. The room is bare, although it does have a wooden door.

    “Drop anchor,” says Willa. “What be all this? And why be it so barren? Tyrius?”

    The noble paladin considers what he knows of defensive fortifications. “Well, obviously this is not a “dungeon” complex - if by dungeon, you mean a place for prisoners. The tower above was not particularly large, just a single tower. But all this complex is for sustaining a large host. We have passed through a library, mage quarters, mess hall, kitchen and water supply. A large number of soldiers, perhaps led by a mage or mages, lived here.”

    “An’ this room?”

    “I’m not sure. Perhaps there is a clue behind this door.”

    “So ye be sayin’ all o’ t’is be a castle - but a castle unnerground?”

    “Yes, it appears so. And another thing - this castle was not taken by force - we have seen no signs of struggle. It was abandoned - and not swiftly. No, there was a deliberate and methodical retreat from this place. Nearly everything of value has been taken, even from the rooms that have been hidden for centuries behind secret doors, and what was not taken was left neatly out of the way - like those tables and chairs in the dining hall.”

    Willa nods thoughtfully, then agrees to have Thokk open the door at the north end of the secret hall, which he interprets as wrenching the ancient wood off the rusted hinges. There is no room beyond, but a ten by ten square shaft that descends into darkness (D19). Thokk calls for Willa to bring the torch over and looks down. The bottom is some eighteen feet below, uneven, not man made, but brown and crusty.

    Thokk takes the largest piece of door and hurls it down as hard as he can. It breaks through the surface crust and kicks up a great cloud of powder. There is the faintest smell of human feces. “Ugh, an open privy,” says Willa.

    At the other end of the hall is another empty room (D20), this one with numerous rotten wooden pegs in the walls and holes for many others that have since rotted away.

    “Do this all be a servant’s quarters?” wonders Willa. “Why would ye need a secret door fer ther staff t’rough ther kitchen?”

    Tyrius shakes his head. “The rooms next to the privy were barracks - and this, their armory. At least, that is what I would wager.”

    “But again,” questions Aurora, "why the need for access through a secret door? Why have a secret barracks accessed through the kitchen?”

    “Whoever designed this complex was keen to hide their numbers,” says the paladin. “The simple tower above belies the garrison below. Even if you enter the underground halls themselves, it would be hard to tell the numbers of your hosts. Perhaps you go as a guest to the dining hall and station your guards by the door - and suddenly find a whole squad of soldiers entering from the kitchens, catching you by surprise and overwhelming your retinue? The place is built to confuse anyone who does not know it.”

    With no way beyond the kitchen complex, Willa directs the party back to the rug-room nexus (D21), and has them take one of the eastern hallways out. It ends in a double-door. At the bidding of Willa, Thokk listens at the door, but hears nothing. He opens the doors and finds an empty, but oddly triangular-shaped room (D26) with a twelve foot ceiling. “Bahh,” he says, disgusted by the inactivity. “We climb tower now, fight more eigers!”

    “Nay, Thokk, not yet. Aurora has t’ find ‘er special recipe book aforehand,” demurs Willa. “Tyrius?” she asks, when the paladin enters the room.

    He shrugs, unsure. “Guard captain’s quarters? Perhaps a chapel.”

    The party grows less cautious, their march formation more open, as they continue to explore, finding numerous branching pathways and another empty room (D22).

    After a thrice-twisting corridor that finishes with a dead-end, Willa again asks Tyrius what is going on - if this is living quarters for a large complex, why all the mazes?

    The paladin responds that the tower above was likely built to observe the valley, but is not particularly defensive by itself - there were no ramparts, no motte, not even a gate on the doorway. If the underground portion is what is meant to be defended, it makes sense that it would be maze-like.
    Invaders are meant to get lost in the twists and turns, and then be surprised by the defensive forces emerging from secret barracks, like the ones they found.

    “So ye be sayin’ tha’ any o’ these twists an’ turns could be hidin’ more secret rooms?”

    “I think that likely, yes.”

    Willa has the party spread out, each taking a different section of the dead-end corridor, from the last turn to the end. They spend twenty minutes searching their assigned area as carefully as possible.

    None of them find anything, but Aurora does note an interesting feature. When she raps on the east wall, there is just the dull sound of stone on stone. To the south and west, however, her half-elven ears detect the faintest of echoes - not that the stone beyond is hollow, per se, but perhaps much thinner. Checking the crude sketch map she is making, the wall to the south likely lies close to the corridor they have already passed through. But the one to the west, she thinks, should have ended. Perhaps there is a hidden room in that direction? If so, she cannot find the entrance from where she is.

    Retracing their steps, Willa takes the party down another branch - this one connecting to the most southerly corridor emerging from the rug room. There is a single door in the wall, and wind flowing through gaps in the rotten wood of the door.

    Entering the room (D29), Thokk is startled to see two huge snakes - or is it four? Each of the snakes has another head in place of a tail!

    Shefak darts in front of the party, bludgeoning the closer snake with her staff and feet. The creatures strike back, snapping at her with fangs dripping with poison. More and more of the party file in, adding their attacks to Shefak’s. The snakes are cut, crushed, bolted, and whipped - but they keep coming! Until, that is, that the party realizes they can regenerate all damage except for fire. Eventually both snakes are slain.

    The room itself is empty, but there is another door, rotten enough that the snakes could easily have slid through holes in its lower section. The torch that Willa had carried guttered out when she tossed it to the floor before drawing her sword. She picks it up, but it is just a stump - she is now out of torches and her broken lantern has been discarded above. Thokk passes her two torches, two flasks of oil, and his lantern. She takes a moment to fill and light the lantern, then nods to Thokk, who charges the door to the next room - reveling in the explosion of rotten wood as he bursts through into the next room (D30).

    The ceiling here is arched to 16’ height. Numerous workbenches line the walls, holding assorted masonry tools, and a half-finished statue of a regal-looking man holding a staff stands in the center of this large room. There are two exits to the east, and another two to the south - the wind is exiting the east.

    When the party enters the room, Aurora examines the statue, checking for secret compartments and the like. The rough form is blocked out and is recognizable as a mage of some kind, but the details have not been carved yet and she finds nothing hidden. Shefak examines the tools on the workbenches. Their metal parts are rusted, the wood rotten away, but the stone parts largely intact.

    Willa and Thokk lead the way into the corridor in which the wind is going. It appears to open into a room at the end, but is choked with webs.

    Willa raises her lantern and peers into the chamber (D30) as Thokk bats at the webs. The ceiling is arched to 12’ height. A small forge stands in the northeast corner, the wind seeming to exit up its chimney. A workbench, an anvil, and a tub round out the furnishings here, but are mostly obscured by the thick webs that cover the eastern three-quarters of the chamber.

    “Seems t’ be gettin’ less deserted,” says Willa to noone in particular.

    “Indeed,” responds Tyrius behind her. “Those tools on the workbenches are the first useful things we have seen in some time, left behind by the former occupants.”

    “Did someone stay to finish the statue after the others left?” wonders Shefak aloud.

    Suddenly, a giant spider materializes in the thin air between Larry and Babshapka. It is nearly eight feet long and of a bluish hue, but low to the ground and shaggy. It buries its fangs into Larry’s calf. He grunts in pain but his natural dwarven resistance protects him from the poison it pumps into the wound. Aurora turns to see what the noise was. Seeing the giant spider, she begins to shriek “Where did that damn thing…” but she is forced to dodge out of the way rather than finish her sentence as another spider appears next to her and lunges! Apparently the creature is immune to her “instinctive charm” [actually both DM and player forgot about this recently-acquired ability].

    Larry turns and sprays the spider with poison - it shudders, but does not back away. Aurora scorches the one attacking her with a firebolt, doing a considerable amount of damage, but it stands fast as well.

    Thokk whirls at the flash and whoosh of the firebolt. “Nooo!” he yells. “Save spider for Thokk!” He charges, knocking Aurora out of the way and down to the floor, then burying his longsword in the spider’s thorax. The spider shudders, twitches, and expires. “Twang!” sounds Babshapka’s bowstring. He uses one of the damaged arrows, and it flies awkwardly from his bow. Instead of hitting the spider, it barely misses and sinks deep into Larry’s side. “Och!” Larry cries. “Mind yer target, elf!”

    Willa groans exasperatedly. “Thokk, get that last one,” she says, and pushes deeper into the webs. Sheffak turns and leaps gracefully over Aurora’s prone form, tumbling as she lands and coming up next to the spider. A sweep from her staff fails to trip its many legs, but she follows up with a kick to its body as she stands, and then brings down an overhanded staff blow. By the time Aurora is able to stand up and launch another firebolt, the second spider is dead as well.

    The whole party now moves deeper into the room (D31) and investigates. The webs are full of the desiccated bodies of wrapped and mummified creatures - giant rat husks, giant beetle exoskeletons, etc. They gather the webs into piles that Aurora cheerfully sets ablaze. As they work, they reveal dozens of copper coins on the floor, which they leave intact, but five gemstones, which the party takes - large jade, a large spinel, a sardonyx, a star ruby, and a small black sapphire. They look up the chimney of the forge. It is considerably narrower than the kitchen hearth, but might allow Shefak access to the surface - provided it doesn’t narrow further, turn sharply, or have a grate of some kind. The airflow up the chimney is steady and continuous.

    One wall of the forge room has a rotten wooden door, which Willa listens at. The modest room (D32) beyond contains a bed frame, a bureau, and a small table. It is unoccupied. Aurora searches it carefully, but finds nothing of interest.

    After this, the party returns to the statue room and tries the corridors to the south. With no visible enemies, and their last fights having been easy, they soon drift apart, exploring different areas. Eventually they end up so far separated that even yelling between the two groups is barely audible. The group led by Thokk finds a corridor ending in a patch of yellow mold, while the one led by Willa starts down a corridor that opens into a large, fungus-filled chamber.

    The mold at the end of the hall (d37) for Thokk’s group covers a small section of wall, perhaps some five feet across and floor-to ceiling, but no more. Larry suggests throwing something at it, and Aurora responds with “Yes; a firebolt, obviously.” She launches two incendiary bolts at the patch, completely burning it off of the wall and leaving only soot and charred mold behind. However, in the light of a torch, they can see that myriad golden spores now fill the end of the hallway, drifting lazily upon the air and slowly moving toward them as they disperse.

    Meanwhile, Willa’s group advances cautiously. The chamber (D33)at the end of their hallway is filled with various molds, slimes, and fungi. Some of the mushroom caps come two or even three feet off the ground, and could conceal any number of creatures.

    Shefak throws a dart into the chamber. In response, the group hears something - or some things - move. The noise comes with almost metallic clicks and clacks. Willa decides that this is better faced as a party, and starts calling for Thokk to lead his group back. In the other hallway, looking at the spores advancing through the air, Aurora decides she would rather give them time to settle anyway, and goads Thokk into responding to Willa’s call.

    Once all of the party is together again, they look on into the fungus-choked chamber. Aurora raises her hand with the start of a mystic gesture, and Shefak darts to the back of the party. Shaking her head at the caution of her colleague, Aurora launches a firebolt into the room. More clicking noises are heard, but nothing emerges. Unlike the completely destroyed patch of yellow mold in the other hall, which was just a thin coating on the stone, Aurora’s bolt here tore up a small patch of fungus and revealed it to be several inches thick but did little to its neighbors in the room. It would take hundreds of such bolts to strip the “vegetation” in the large chamber down to bare stone.

    Thokk is certainly not going to wait for hundreds of bolts. Besides, in the flash from the first one he spied moving black forms, low to the ground. He unsheathes his longsword and advances. As he enters the room, he spots with darkvision several giant beetles, but they scurry and scuttle away. He thinks back on his lessons with the tribal shaman, and recalls something about some giant beetles tending fungal gardens, like humans tend farms. Only the beetles killed things and dragged the bodies to the gardens to grow their fungus, which seems far more sensible to him than the silly humans planting seeds or waiting for rain. He takes a few more steps and bangs the flat of his sword against the ground, trying to draw the beetles out into a fight, but they do not come. He sighs and walks further into the room, swinging his sword low so as to slice through mushroom caps and fungus mounds as he goes. Willa moves to the entrance of the room, sets down her borrowed lantern, draws her greatsword, and follows Thokk’s path of destruction into the room.

    The two of them are perhaps a third of the way into the room when a buzzing sound splits the air and a half-dozen giant beetles scramble out from under hiding places and run forward. In the span of seconds Willa and Thokk are surrounded!

    Willa and Thokk face the initial onslaught of beetles, Willa trusting in her armor and Thokk in his inherent virility to protect them from the clumsy jaws. They land several blows on the beasts, but the hard carapaces turn many of them as well. Babshapka sets down his bow and draws both his swords, while Shefak moves up. Larry is looking carefully at the beetles - were they normal sized, they would be boring beetles - boring under the bark of trees, that is. However, at the size they are, he doesn’t think them capable of boring in much of anything. Umbra shoots a ray of shadow, but it bounces off the hard carapace of a beetle. Aurora looks at the room, estimating the ceiling to be twelve feet high, and tries to calculate the volume that would be filled by a fireball.

    Shefak moves into the room, raining a flurry of blows down on the beetles - nearly all of which bounce ineffectually off their exoskeletons. She slips in the spongy flooring and falls to the soft ground.

    By now the beetles have gotten grips on the legs of Thokk and Willa. They bear down with jaws that are surprisingly strong - even Willa finds her legs bruised beneath her magic grieves. “Get in ‘ere!” Willa calls to the rest of the party, with just a touch of concern in her voice.

    “Rarrraaaww!” roars Thokk in rage, as a beetle slices deep into his calf muscle.

    Babshapka sighs, muttering something in elven about not blaming these beetles for defending their home, and runs into the room, spinning and slashing his swords at the insects. He heads for the beetle that is even now moving at the fallen form of Shefak. A dark bolt from Umbra flies by him and hits the beetle, slowing its advance. Tyrius completes a spell, calling forth the strength of Pelor for Thokk, Willa, and Shefak.

    As Willa and Thokk defend themselves, landing powerful blows, Aurora decides to end the combat with a web - but ensnares her comrades as well as the beetles.

    Thokk breaks free of the web, then kills a beetle for good measure. Willa grins and wipes the spray of beetle-juice from her eyes with the back of her hand. She wrenches herself free, then lands a blow so hard it submerges the new corpse of the beetle down into the mold. A shadow bolt from Umbra freezes another, and it falls over, still.

    The remaining beetles turn and flee, though one remains stuck in the webs. They attempt to hide, cowering under pieces of fungus, but the party roots them out one at a time, slicing, piercing, spraying them with poison, or shooting them with fire. Soon the last fleeing insect has been slain. Tyrius enters the room but immediately flounders with the unstable footing and sticky web strands. Aurora releases the webs and moves into the room herself.

    Several of the party start looking for doors, but it is a difficult task - the thick fungus could easily conceal a normal door, let alone a secret one. Thokk, however, has other priorities. He grabs his lantern from where Willa left it and begins looking high and low at the fungus. At some he frowns or sticks out his tongue, others just result in a quizzical look on his scarred face. Then he finds a patch he likes. Using his hand axe, he chops up a creamy white fungus in large chunks and stuffs them into his bag. “This good!” he calls excitedly to the party. “This very good! Come get food!”

    Willa looks over and shudders. Still, collecting food is not a bad idea - they haven’t had a meal since breakfast in Highfell. Using her dagger, she pries open the exoskeleton of a beetle and sniffs suspiciously at the stringy grey leg muscles inside. “Cannae be worse t'an rock lobster,” she thinks to herself, then begins butchering beetles. The leg and wing muscles seem the most worth the effort. The mandible muscles are huge, but hard to extract without getting them mixed up with sacks of foul-smelling liquids near the throat, so she leaves them be. Shefak, too, seems to be butchering the carcasses, but oddly she is taking bits and pieces of exoskeleton rather than meat.

    The others are scouring through the fungi and ripping large hunks off of the walls, with Aurora burning anything that resists or comes off in tatters instead of sheets. They probe the ground, and find things like coins and chalices covered in mold. When Babshapka tears off a particularly large section of fungus on the west wall, Umbra investigates and finds a secret door - but it leads only to a small, empty room (D34). At least the room can serve as a temporary repository for the items they are pulling out of the mold, which now include a statuette with gem eyes.

    When Babshapka tears a section of fungus off the north wall, Thokk wrinkles his nose, snorts, and looks up. He wanders over to where the wood elf is working, sniffs deeply, and licks the stone. A crack runs along the stone wall at about chest height, and here and there a bead of water trickles out. Grinning widely, he takes out his wineskin and unstoppers it, then convinces Babshapka to hold it for him. “This good water,” he gushes, “clean water from rock! Thokk find spring!” He takes large pieces of fungus that were growing over the seep and crushes them in his hands, producing a flush of grey water with bits of fungus. It splatters down, some of it even making it into his skin. He wrings out the fungus with a twist, then finds another sodden piece to repeat the process until his skin is full. Thokk sighs contentedly as he works and begins to babble to Babshapka stories of amazing mushroom patches he found in his youth.

    Larry comes over and heals Thokk’s wounds from the beetle battle - Babshapka takes the opportunity to excuse himself and Thokk recruits Larry to hold his skin. Babshapka heals Willa, while Tyrius heals Shefak and Thokk as well.

    By this time the floor is criss-crossed with patches of bare stone and piles of fungus and beetle bodies. In the secret room are gathered 50 silver and 97 gold coins, a gold chalice, a silver chalice, a gold pin, a silver seal, a silver & gold necklace, a silver statuette of a horned humanoid figure with emerald eyes, and a bone tube. Aurora stands in the secret doorway, and uses a charge from her wand of detect magic to feel her way through the room, probing under and through the remaining fungus in search of anything important the party missed. When she does not sense anything, she turns and looks at the pile of collected treasure, feeling immediately drawn to the bone tube. Unstoppering it, she finds an ancient and mold-damaged piece of vellum, covered with rows and rows of mystic symbols. She recognizes it as a spell scroll and carefully returns it to the tube.

    Treasure collected, wounds healed, and food stores re-provisioned, the party leaves the beetle room. Aurora has told them of the other corridor, but Willa says there is a passageway they need to explore first. They head east out of the room and down the hall. The hallway ends in two rotten wooden doors which Thokk smashes open. The first room (D36) is a small bed chamber with a bed, a nightstand, and a desk with a chair. All are rotten and useless. The place is otherwise bare, and a search by Aurora reveals nothing. The other room (D36) is simply a large, empty vault with a twelve foot high ceiling.

    Aurora leads the party back to the easternmost corridor. Lantern light reveals that the golden spores from the yellow mold have settled - mostly on the floor, but some on the walls as well. Many in the party cover their faces with cloths nonetheless as they walk to the end of the hall.

    With the mold mostly burned away, Aurora traces the faint outline of a secret door along the rock wall. Apparently the mold patch was growing directly atop it. Investigating, she finds a loose stone and presses it. A door-sized section of wall sinks into the floor.

    This secret room beyond (D38) contains a desk and chair, a workbench with various alchemical supplies, and two fine rugs. The glassware on the workbench is of exquisite craftsmanship, but obviously very fragile. Umbra slips past Thokk and enters the room just after Aurora.

    Underneath the workbench are jars and boxes of alchemical reagents - Aurora searches among them to find which containers look strong enough to survive a time in her backpack, and carefully packs them in, then adds the stubs of a few candles from the workbench’s top. While she is doing this, Umbra flips through two ancient tomes on the desk. “Look Aurora,” she says, as she turns the pages that are covered in alchemical symbols, “recipes!”

    “Yes, well, indeed,” hems Aurora. “A pity we won’t be able to take any of the glassware needed for them.”

    Back out in the hall, Aurora announces that she can’t believe they haven’t found the volumes they are looking for even though they have been all over the dungeon.

    “We must ‘ave missed summit,” says Willa. “Thar be secret doors aplenty all about. Let’s be checkin’ more walls.” They seem to have had some luck listening for hollow spaces, so Willa puts the two best listeners - Babshapka and Umbra - in front. They walk before the party, every three paces pausing, putting their ear to the stone wall, and rapping with a piton on the stone. The other party members walk at a distance behind them, as quietly as they can. They spend an hour slowly passing through the maze-like corridors of this section of the dungeon, and are convinced they have passed nothing but the solid stone of bedrock.

    With nothing to show for their searches, they take a brief rest in the statue room. Willa and Larry draw in the dust of the floor, comparing recollections of the size of the complex. “That be...mayhap one part in six o’ the whole dungeon?” asks Willa. “Shall we be tryin’ ther same t’ing in ther north?”

    “Oor,” suggests Larry, “we can jess scout a wee bit o’ the part we hain’t been yet.”

    Willa arches an eyebrow. Larry continues, “At ta verry start, froom the room wit’ all ta books. T’were atother hallway we hain’t been yet.”

    Now Willa remembers. Right as the party entered the dungeon from the base of the tower, into the library chamber - they went right to follow the wind, but there was a left branch that smelled moldy. That was half a day ago, at least, and no great surprise that she forgot.

    Going somewhere new sounds better to Willa than walking in circles while tapping ancient stone walls. She forms the party into a march order and leads them back to the library room - its shelves now empty of books.

    They have not gone far past the library room when they find the ceiling is lower, the wind drops, the humidity and smell of mold increases, and the temperature increases considerably.

    The corridor to the south branches - the branch ahead seems to dead-end with no features, while the one to the right has at least one door on the south wall. It is long enough that they cannot see the end from the intersection.

    Curiously, Aurora seems more interested in the dead-end than the open corridor. “Dead-end means dead-sure there is a secret door,” she explains.

    Sure enough, after a bit of searching, she finds a stone in the wall that does indeed open a secret door. Heretofore, all of the secret doors the party has found (with the exception of the obvious pentagram over the summoning chamber door), have been triggered by loose stones, and the door itself has somehow sunk into the floor, with no way to make it rise again. This door is different. When Aurora presses the stone, the door rotates - half going in, half coming out, as if on a great vertical axle running through its center. The door only opens partially, turning clockwise, but it is enough to see the bare stone room (D11) beyond.

    The opening is narrow - Thokk, Tyrius, Willa, or Larry would have to squeeze through - and might get stuck.

    Tyrius, Thokk, Aurora, Umbra, and Babshapka enter - the ten-by-ten room barely sufficing to hold them all. Investigation reveals splinters of rotten wood and grains of sand along the west wall, and scratches all around the room, from floor to chest height on the walls. Larry, looking at the scratches on the part of the secret door that now protrudes into the hall, says that they are of some great cat sharpening its claws, but Aurora is not convinced. What sort of great cat has claws that can scratch stone? Despite searching, they find nothing else.

    Returning to the hall, they try the door that was visible - and now see another, at the hallway’s end. The nearer door, of rotten and cracked wood, opens on a small and nearly bare ten by ten room (D5), eight feet high, with no egress. The only object in the room is a portrait on the wall directly opposite the door. It is covered in dust, but not mold. The floor of the room is also dusty - there are no prints.
    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.&nbsp;
    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
    Posts: 965
    From: Sky Island, So Cal

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    Tue Apr 21, 2020 10:32 am  
    Post 113: Nholast?

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

    This and subsequent posts will contain many spoilers. The identity of rooms is indicated in bold.

    For the portrait of Nholast, I used

    For the soundtrack while in the Dungeon level, I used "Dungeon I" by Tabletop Audios.

    Although the slain ogres were not undead, I certainly wanted the party to think that was a possibility. When they returned to the tower I "mentioned" that it was getting close to midnight, and switched the soundtrack to "Nightmare" by Tabletop Audio.

    Post 113: Nholast?
    Somewhere in the Little Hills, actual date unknown. First day in the Tower

    Aurora takes the portrait down from the wall and tries to blow its surface clean, but soon finds herself coughing in a cloud of dust. When she recovers, she wipes the dust away with her sleeve. Beneath the layer of dust is a portrait of a man in rich clothing. Despite his white hair, he appears middle-aged. The oil paint is flaking and there is some mould damage, especially to the wooden frame, but the portrait itself is largely intact.

    Shefak recognizes the general features of the man as matching those of the statue. Aurora carries the painting out into the hall and props it up against the wall, and has Willa shine the lantern full on it. “What can you tell us, Tyrius?” she asks.

    Tyrius studies the painting carefully. “The richness of the robes implies he is wealthy, of course, but the rod he holds says that he is a ruler, not a merchant. He does not rule by force of arms, though - there is no weapon or armor on him. I suspect he is a mage of some sort, and likely the former master of this tower. The color of his skin and hair tell us that he is a Suel - likely pureborn. I do not recognize the style and patterning of his robes - but this is ancient fashion, to be sure.”

    Aurora thinks they are on to something, but finds nothing further in the room. She reminds the party of the last time they spread out and took twenty minutes searching the end of the hall, then assigns each of them a spot along the corridor. “Take your time,” she says, “slow and careful. Touch everything, twist, pull, press, feel in every crack!”

    At the end of twenty minutes of searching, both Aurora and Babshapka have found secret doors! Larry has an obvious door of iron, and locked, as well. There is some debate over which door to try first.

    “As long as we be paused,” interjects Willa, “why don’ we be checking on are rations above - I wager I’m nae ther only one as is gettin’ hungry. An’ I don’ mean fer fungus.”

    She gathers up the party and heads back in the direction of the “library”, and then the basement of the tower. Umbra lingers behind, a strange expression on her face. Noting it, Aurora hangs back as well. “Umbra, are you not coming?” she asks.

    “Someone should stay,” the mysterious woman demurs. “We are so close…” her voice trails off.

    Aurora frowns and places a finger to her temple. She whispers, “Willa, Umbra isn’t leaving. Have you considered none of us really know her or why she is…”

    “So stay an’ watch ‘er,” interjects Willa. She is speaking in her normal ship’s deck voice, and Aurora can hear it almost as loud echoing down the stone halls as she does in her mind. “But don’ be openin’ any doors.”

    When Babshapka notes that Aurora has remained behind, he does so as well, but farther down the hallway - one eye on his charge, one on the open doorway to the basement of the tower. As the light from Willa’s lantern, and the noise from the party, fade in the distance, the three elves, Aurora, Babshapka, and Umbra, are left in silence and darkness.

    Thokk and Willa are first on the stairs, with the party behind them. The eiger slain at the bottom of the stairs is still there, but his body is now tense with rigor mortis, and the air stinks with the contents of his bowels. A cold wind blows down the stairs, and his filth is frozen to the muddy floor.

    As Thokk and Willa emerge into the chamber above, Willa’s lantern plays over a grisly and macabre scene. Willa whistles lowly, and tells the others to stay below.

    The entire floor of the chamber (1) is covered in dead eigers - more than a dozen, nearly a score. They are not where they fell during the battle, though. Rather, they have been laid out, arms spread wide, on their backs, all with their heads to the north. Their wounds have bled freely, and the floor is covered with blood and filth.

    Even hard-eyed Willa is taken aback, and she pauses to run her lantern slowly around the room. The eiger cubs are there as well - she flashes the beam up to the stairs - they have been removed from the landing, and placed next to the bodies of the female eigers. She can’t see where Randy fell. There are too many bodies in the way - “Thokk,” she hisses, then shines the beam near the throne, “get over yon an' bring back all ther packs an’ such.”

    Thokk clambers over the bodies, but slips and falls more than once. By the time he reaches the spot where Randy fell, he is covered head-to-toe in gore and filth. He looks around bewildered, as there is no sign of the mule. “Argh,” he grunts in frustration, and waves away the light.

    Willa turns the lantern away from Thokk and uses it to check the stairs again, and then the entrance to the tower. The tunnel leading to the outside has been completely blocked off with rocks - dozens of huge stones, each heavier than a man could lift. She tries to swallow, but finds her throat dry.

    Without the lantern, Thokk’s eyes have grown accustomed to the dimness. With his darkvision, he can pick up more details. He notes that the faces of the eiger cubs are disfigured - their lips, noses, and ears have been removed, their eyes gouged out. He finally finds Randy’s body - or what is left of it. Mostly the spine, tail, entrails, and skin. The legs, head, and most of the torso are gone, and the floor all around it is slick with blood. There is no sign of any packs. “Bah,” Thokk says to Willa. “No packs here. Now everyone will know how good Thokk is at finding food. Soon they thank Thokk for good mushrooms.”

    Willa swallows again, and moves to the stairs. She ushers Thokk to follow her, and he begins his clumsy slipping and climbing over bodies until he is again at her side. As he approaches and the smell intensifies, Willa is thankful a lifetime of gutting fish has given her a strong stomach, and grateful for the cold and lack of flies. Together they mount the stairs.

    The stairs ascend along the wall of violet marble, and then the right side opens out into a 15 foot diameter chamber (2) while the stairs continue even more steeply up to another level. A wall sconce is about halfway up the stairs; in it is a crude torch - once burned, but now out. Willa removes a gauntlet and touches the torch tip gingerly, then firmly. It is cold, and has been out for hours.

    A battered and stained wooden table is in the center of the room. Arranged haphazardly about the room but away from the table and stairs are four clumsily woven reed mats. A single battered copper pot rests on the floor, its contents covered by a lid.

    They continue up the stairs, pass through a foot thick stone floor, and then the right side opens out into the empty space of a chamber (3) while the stairs continue more steeply up to another level. Rotten cushions and pillows litter the stone floor of the room. Between them is a large overturned wooden box. The room is about 12 feet across.

    An opening for a window is about halfway up the stairs, while another lies directly across the room from it but lower on the wall. Willa climbs the stairs to the opening. The tower walls are about five feet thick, so she must needs set Thokk’s lantern on the stairs and crawl into the tunnel and out to the open window to see. Wind blows freely into the chamber - it is certainly below freezing outside. Willa looks out over the valley, dark save for wan moonlight and stars. By the stars she judges she is looking northeast - it is a clear, cold night with no clouds. She scans the horizon for campfires, but sees nothing but empty forest and fields. She returns to the stairs, crosses the chamber, and looks out of the southwest window. The view there is no different, save that the mountains surrounding the valley seem lower but closer.

    Willa prods Thokk to continue, and they ascend to the fourth floor. The right side opens out into a seven foot diameter chamber (4) while the stairs continue even more steeply up to another level.

    An opening to an even-more recessed window is about halfway up the stairs, while another lies directly across the room from it but lower on the wall. The cluttered room contains a worn couch and five small wooden chests. Willa and Thokk step as quietly as possible into the room, but find all of the chests are open and empty. Thokk, however, notes a rectangular outline in the dust of the floor. Amidst all of the eiger tracks and dirt, there is a clear and clean space. Willa surmises that a sixth chest was once there, but was recently removed. They continue up.

    The stairs now open onto more of a landing than a chamber, barely four feet across (5). The stairs continue up to another level, although at this point the runs are so narrow and the rises so high it is effectively a stone ladder. An open recess for a window is about halfway up the stairs, while another lies directly across the room from it but lower on the wall. There is a single scratched and dented heavy wooden chair in the center of the landing, turned so as to look out the lower window. However, the height of the window prevents Willa from seeing out of it unless standing. Even Thokk, sitting in the chair, sees only the upper half of the frame.

    (12:00am; Tower Day 2)
    When Willa tells Thokk to mount the next flight of stairs, he hesitates. “Evil advisor,” he scoffs, “This boring. We return to others now.”

    “Thokk? Ye be nae scared, now?”

    Thokk snorts derisively. “Thokk never scared. But if we fight now, no one see Thokk’s glory. No fun to fight without friends to see.”

    Willa shoves Thokk toward the stairs. “Git up thar, ye big baby!”

    “Thokk not scared,” the half-orc sniffs petulantly. And yet, he seems more cautious than normal as he climbs the stairs slowly, one hand on his sword and the other on the steps themselves.

    The sixth floor is another small landing (6). The stairs continue up, ending in an open trapdoor in the ceiling. An open recess for a window is about halfway up the stairs, while another lies directly across the room from it but lower on the wall. A brazier sits upon a stone pedestal in the center of the landing, and several gnawed bones are scattered about the floor. The duo examines the room’s contents - Willa finds the brazier to be cold and empty. Thokk says the bones are mostly giant rat but there is some mountain goat in there as well - the gnaw marks are likely from the eigers.

    Willa again prods Thokk to continue up the stairs. He peeks his head carefully through the trapdoor, looks quickly around, and ducks back down. They must have finally reached the dome of the tower, for the constricting walls have opened up to a 20 by 20 foot square chamber (7). Each of the four walls has an open wooden door near the corner. “Git up thar, ye coward,” hisses Willa. Thokk continues up the stairs until he is standing waist high in the room. There is a worn, stained couch and a porcelain urn nearby. Thokk considers the couch for the shape of the “missing” rectangle below, but it is too large. Willa pokes him with her blade until he is standing in the room itself and she can see from the stairs. She raises the lantern and lets its light play across the open doorways, but there is no response from the rooms beyond. She climbs into the room herself. The ceiling is twelve feet high in the center, but lower near the walls as it follows the smooth curve of the dome. The pair of them examine the marks on the floor - lots of eiger prints, and a few drag marks from something heavy, as well from one of the doorways to the trapdoor.

    “Alright,” Willa says, “we be headin’ back now.”

    “Good!” says Thokk, decidedly. “Because creepy cold tower is too boring for Thokk.”

    The party is now reunited in the dungeon. Aurora and Umbra agree that the secret door off of the secret room, and not the one near the portrait, is the first that needs to be tried. They pass easily through the partly-open door, and are followed by others who have to squeeze through. Aurora shows Thokk where the loose stone she found is, and as he presses it the wall opens. This door, like the last, pivots about a fixed axle, leaving little space to enter.

    Aurora waits for Thokk to stick his head in one side, and when he doesn’t react, she slides in the other side, followed immediately by Umbra.

    Inside, the room (D12) is ten by ten, bare and dusty, with an eight foot tall ceiling. It contains a desk with a high stool, and a large cabinet. As Umbra enters the room, the cabinet starts to rattle, and then one of its doors bursts open. Dark shapes explode forth and circle the room at great speed - Aurora at first takes them for bats, but then realizes that she can see through them. After several circuits of the room, they converge upon Umbra and seem to meld with her form. Her face shows shock, but also recognition.

    “Umbra!” shouts Aurora. “Dark shapes are entering you! What is happening?”

    Umbra laughs at the look of fear on Aurora’s face, then smiles and smooths the shadows into her skin. “Don’t worry,” she says placidly. “I am fine.”

    Aurora tries to contact Willa through message to relay her suspicions, but the stone wall between them is too thick. None of the other party members have heard this exchange or seen the shadows.

    [DM's Note: The eigers finally decided that they were not going after the party into the dungeon. They gathered up their treasure and consolidated it into a single chest to take with them. They butchered Randy and took his meat for their journey, as well as all the party's rations and packs and supplies he was carrying. Eddard's chain barding became a cloak for the chieftain, and his leather saddle a headrest / pillow. They arranged the bodies of their fallen companions, and used all the boulders they had gathered in the dome rooms above to wall off the tower entrance from the outside, hoping that the party would die in the dungeon and that they were thus sealing the tomb of both their tribe and its killers.]
    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.&nbsp;
    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
    Posts: 965
    From: Sky Island, So Cal

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    Tue Apr 28, 2020 9:21 am  
    Post 114: The Scriptorium and Beyond

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

    This and subsequent posts will contain many spoilers. The identity of rooms is indicated in bold.

    For the soundtrack while in the Dungeon level, I used "Dungeon I" by Tabletop Audios.

    Although the slain ogres were not undead, I certainly wanted the party to think that was a possibility. In the above-ground tower while it was still dark I used the soundtrack "Nightmare" by Tabletop Audio.

    For a 5e version of yellow mold, I used Uder's post at which states that "The playtest bestiary for Barrier Peaks has yellow mold. It gives the mold a 50% chance to puff spores. They do 7d6 damage, CON save DC13 for half. Kill it with fire, radiant or necrotic damage only; AC0 & 10 hit points per 5 foot patch. DC12 Investigation or Perception to identify."

    Post 114: The Scriptorium and Beyond
    Somewhere in the Little Hills, actual date unknown. Second day in the Tower

    Aurora moves distrustfully to the cabinet and opens the other door. Inside there is a bronze stoppered tube, four great volumes bound with thick leather, and a rolled-up sheet of vellum. Umbra gasps and the vellum twitches. She steps forward, and the vellum is drawn to her like metal to a loadstone. Aurora reaches out with her mage hand, but too late - the vellum tube flies to Umbra’s hand. She tucks it swiftly down her bodice without even pausing to look at it.

    “Umbra! What in the nine planes is going on here?” demands Aurora shrilly. Babshapka hears the panic in her voice and slips into the room.

    “Is everything alright in here?” he asks coldly, in Elven.

    “Babs! There were shadows flying around the room, and she took them in, and then she conjured a scroll into her hand from that cabinet! Something is going on here!”

    Babshapka looks from Aurora to Umber, who is standing calmly. He arches an eyebrow but says nothing.

    Aurora huffs angrily, then reaches through the opening of the doorway and drags Tyrius into the room. By the light of his shield, they can now see that there are two sheets of parchment, an ordinary quill, and a pot of dried ink on the desk. With one hand gripping Tyrius’ mailed arm fiercely, Aurora turns back to Umbra. “You never did tell us what you were doing here, mage! Why are you in this tower?” she demands.

    Umbra smiles. “Why are you here, Aurora? Shouldn’t you be looking in those books for recipes?”

    “What’s the deal with the shadows? Do you serve the powers of darkness?”

    “Of course not. The shadows are my friends, my confidants.”

    Aurora turns to Tyrius, triumphantly. The paladin shrugs. “Pelor judges people for their actions, not their friends.” Aurora throws up her hands in exasperation and stomps back to the cabinet. Umbra has not made any further moves toward it.

    Aurora pulls out the third of the three tomes. She leafs through the pages. It is free of mold but the paper is dry and brittle. The ink is faded and difficult to read - she thinks it is spell symbols - a spellbook! However, she doubts whether many, if any, of the spells are intact - especially the longer (higher-level) ones, since hardly a page goes by without a spot where the ink has faded completely.

    She sets the tome on the ground, pulls out her wand of magic detection, and uses a charge. The first three volumes, including the one she pulled out, are weakly magical - most likely the result of their inks and symbols, if they are spellbooks, rather than being inherently magical items. The bronze tube is more clearly magical - or at least something in it is. Aurora has not used the wand in the presence of Umbra before. She feels a number of influences in her area - but when she stretches out her senses, Umbra frowns and her aura becomes occluded.

    “What are you trying to hide, shadow-mage?” harrumphs Aurora, but the others pay her no heed, least among them Umbra. Aurora takes the fourth, non-magical, book from the cabinet and opens it on the desk. She calls Tyrius over to shed light on it.

    The writing is not the magical symbols of spell formulae, but a neatly-lettered script. It is in ancient Suel, and very faded - it will take Aurora hours to decipher it. She spends several minutes making out that it is a journal, or diary, with dated entries. The inscription on the front page reads “Nholast of Linth,” she says aloud, then regrets it when Umbra asks who Nholast is.

    “Nholast? Hmm. I don’t know. I’m not sure I have heard that name before,” she replies.

    Tyrius holds up his hand, before she can prevaricate herself further. “Nholast was the master of this tower, apparently,” he says. “The Sage of Highfell called him Nholast the Unforgiven. Aurora is here to research more about who he was and what he did and how he is connected to the history of Keoland.” Aurora flushes with anger.

    “Well, I’ve never heard of him,” says Umbra, “truly.” She comes closer to the desk and notices that the first page of the journal is on the point of coming completely free of the binding. She reaches out, and Aurora clamps down defensively on the book. Umbra, however, merely stretches forth a finger and hums to herself while she runs it along the edge of the page. As she traces the paper’s edge, the frayed binding threads reform, and the page is held securely in place.

    “That’s a mending cantrip,” says Aurora. “I know it too, of course...I’ve just never learned to cast it.” She pauses, then asks, “Can you mend the others as well?”

    Babshapka shakes his head, in disbelief that Aurora dares to ask a favor from the woman she just accused and then lied to less than a minute ago, but Umbra simply nods her head. “I can, but you saw how long it took to fix that one page. It will take me an hour or more to do all the pages of all four. Better at our next rest. And I can restore the paper and binding and normal ink, but not anything magical, so those spellbooks…”

    “May still be spoiled, I know,” interjects Aurora. “But at least they will survive our journey out of here.”

    From the far hallway comes Willa’s shout. “‘eave ‘o in there! Time t’ weigh anchor!”

    Aurora reluctantly allows Umbra to gather and stack the four books, and to hand the bronze tube to Tyrius while she goes through the desk. The inkwell is quite dry; the blank parchment was originally of scroll quality but is now brittle.

    The party moves out into the hallway and prepares to enter the next secret door. As they walk, Babshapka falls back and helps Umbra carry the weighty tomes. “Mistress,” he whispers in elven, “why are you here?”

    Umbra responds simply, “I am seeking answers to questions about the history of my people.”

    Babshapka broods on this. It is rather too similar to the answer Aurora once gave him when he asked about why he was helping her steal materials from a library - and that turned out to be a patent falsehood.

    The party decides to first examine the secret door that Babshapka found (D5). Babshapka shows Thokk the loose stone on the wall. When he presses it, a door-sized section of wall sinks into the floor like most of the secret doors they have found (just not the most recent two leading to the study with the four books).

    Through the secret passage Thokk sees a small chamber beyond, and then a corridor leading south. The walls are of the same stone as the rest of this level, but the floor is covered in dust, with no disturbance or tracks visible.

    Thokk pauses in the doorway, sniffing. Are there more mushrooms ahead? He leads the party down the corridor. The father south they travel, the damper the air becomes and the more it smells of mold. Finally they reach the south wall, whereupon the corridor turns to their right. About halfway up the wall, a crack splits the stone surface for its entire length, as far down as they can see. A natural seep drips water all along the rock face. From the crack down, the surface of the rough-hewn blocks is damp. Green, grey, and yellow molds cover the walls and spill out onto the floor beneath the seep.

    The corridor runs west for a while, then turns back north again. However, the mold at the end comes more than ten feet away from the base of the wall, such that it completely blocks off the end of the corridor. They would need to walk through the mold patch, or jump over it - and the floor is damp, the footing treacherous.

    Aurora asks Larry about the mold, and he says it looks like the yellow strains are the same as the one outside the door of the alchemy workshop was. Aurora has Willa shine the lantern at the nearest patch of fungus on the floor, and she sends a trial firebolt at it. A large section of mold is burned away, but all the patches around it send forth a shower of golden spores into the air. The spores drift leisurely down the hall toward them.

    “Keep that beam going,” says Aurora. She begins launching bolt after bolt down the hallway into the mold as she slowly backs up. Fire and spores fill the hallway, the cloud growing more dense and creeping toward them. As the spore cloud approaches, Willa backs away and takes the lantern with her. “Keep the light going!” insists Aurora, continuing to send flashes of fire into the darkness ahead of her.

    “Get yerself outta t’ere!” countermands Willa, finally grabbing Aurora by the robe and dragging her back up the hall out of reach of the spores.

    Larry whistles appreciatively as Willa shines the lantern across the surface of the dense, advancing spore cloud. “That’ll be takin' a right while ta settle.”

    So as to not waste time while they wait, Willa leads the party back through the open secret door and to the end of the hall where the iron door that Larry examined still stands.

    Larry listens, but does not hear anything at the door. He steps out of the way for Thokk, who slams his shoulder into the door as he has a dozen other ones one this level. This door is not of rotting wood, however, but thick iron. It gives a resounding clang as Thokk’s shoulder hits it, but does not move a fraction of an inch. The half-orc hoots in pain and rubs his shoulder.

    [Str. check 10, 1 pt of damage. I had set the DC of opening the locked iron door at 25]

    Willa holds the lantern up to the door. There is a locking mechanism, with a stout deadbolt sunk deeply into the stone wall. The keyhole is so clogged with rust that she doubts they could open it even had they the key. “Thokk, it be rusted shut,” she scolds. “Use yer head now ‘n agin .”

    Aurora comes forward to examine it, then backs up to the opposite end of the hall, bidding Willa keep the lock in the light. With a single arcane word, the enchantress casts a knock spell. Immediately a loud clang sounds, echoing up and down the hall, louder even then Thokk’s attempt to open the door, but it remains stubbornly shut.

    Aurora approaches the door to examine it again. A pile of rust and shavings has exploded from the lock and bolt, and the metal fittings beneath shine dully. It should be no trouble at all to open it now - if only they had the key, or were Aurora willing to use a second spell.

    “Hah - door not stuck. Now Thokk open!” says the barbarian. This time, Larry guides Thokk into using his shield directly on the deadbolt itself, and Willa sets the lantern down and waits by the door. Thokk gets a running start, and as he passes Willa, she swivels and shoves him hard at the door. He throws his shield forward as he crashes into the door. The resulting clamor surely must be audible in the tower above, but still the door does not move. This time Thokk howls in pain.

    [Str. check 8, +1 guidance, +5 aid = 14. 3 points of damage]

    As Thokk winces and rubs his shoulder, Willa squares off against the door. “Whar be I hittin’ ‘er?” she asks Larry, and Larry points to just below the lock. Willa steps back, then runs up, leaps in the air, and kicks with both of her feet at the same time. Her heavy boots slam into the door and she falls hard on her back on the stone floor, cursing.

    [Str. check 5, guidance +4 = 9]

    Thokk chuckles as he helps her to her feet. “Together?” he suggests, and Willa nods.

    Willa and Thokk back away down the corridor, then begin jogging back, gathering speed as they go. Thokk holds his shield in front of him as Larry directed. Thokk slams into the door with Willa pushing him from behind, so that he hits the metal with the strength of them combined. This time, in addition to the resounding metal clang, there is the fractious sound of stone splintering.

    [Str. check 16, guidance +3, aid +5 = 24. Almost!]

    The deadbolt of the door is intact, but the stone wall into which it is set has cracked, meaning that the door now has a bit of give, and can be worked an inch or so each way. After she pulls herself off the ground, Willa bangs it back and forth a few times. Chips of stone and stone dust tumble to the floor, but the bolt does not look to give. As she moves the door and thus stirs the air, however, they catch the scent of mold in the room beyond.

    “Oh, hey!” says Aurora brightly, “what about this key?” She pulls forth from her pocket the large iron key she took from the body of the half-eiger slain outside the tower.

    Willa snatches the key disgustedly from Aurora’s hand and tries it in the lock. Perhaps it once fit, but it is impossible to tell now. The metal around and inside the locking mechanism is so battered and twisted from their attempts to open it, that she can barely get the key through the keyhole, let alone fit it snugly into the tumblers. She sighs and hands it back.

    Aurora points at the narrow gap that has just been made between the stone wall and the iron door. “What about a pry bar?” she suggests. “We have a few of those, right?”

    “They were all on Randy,” says Willa acidly. She sighs and turns away from Aurora, then sets down her pack and pulls out the magic mace she recovered from Strahd’s castle. At first she thinks to use its tempered steel shaft as a pry bar, but it is too thick to fit through the gap. She adjusts her gauntlets, flexes her knees, and spins around in a complete circle as she accelerates the mace ahead of her. The mace head crashes into the door and the bolt groans and twists.

    “Thar she be,” says Willa, and spins and hits it again. This time the bolt snaps, and the entirety of the thick, iron door is ripped off its hinges. It topples to the floor inside the room beyond with the loudest crash yet.

    [Str. check 20, +3 proficiency, +2 mace = 25]

    The room beyond (D4) is ten feet deep, twenty feet wide, and eight feet high, with no egress. The walls are of the same rough cut stone as the corridors they have been following, and are hung with a dozen paintings or more, but all of them are covered over with green and yellow fungus, canvas and wooden frames both. The original artwork cannot be seen beneath the mold.

    After some discussion, they decide to burn the mold away so as to search for more secret doors. Larry volunteers to cover the walls in oil, and collects a flask from Willa and another from Thokk. He ties a rope about his waist, just in case, and casts resistance on himself.

    Entering the room, he finds most of the mold on the paintings themselves, and the canvas and wood completely rotted away. The walls have plenty of mold as well, though it is less thick than on the paintings. He opens the flasks, and sets them down, ready to start dousing the walls. But first, out of curiosity, he reaches out and pokes at the mold with a grubby finger. A ripple of energy spreads out from the point of contact and runs through rhizomes all over the room. Almost at once, yellow mold from every surface sends forth spores in a soft whoof of air. Larry is engulfed by the golden cloud; he covers his mouth and runs out of the room, nearly tripping over one of the flasks. In the hallway he sinks to his knees, coughing, lungs burning, then crawls on hands and knees toward the party, which has retreated to the end of the hall. He coughs for several minutes, in the end hacking up phlegm and spatterings of blood.

    [29 points of spore damage, Larry saves for half damage]

    Willa tells the party to stay put while she and Thokk gather “kindling”. They return to the room the party camped in “overnight” (D15), smash all of the chairs into piles of splintered wood, and come back with armfuls. Thokk then returns to the “library” (D3), ripping the heavy plank bookshelves off of the walls and carrying them back in loads.

    Thokk stands in the doorway and throws a chair leg at the wall. Some of the mold is scraped off from the force of the blow, but it does not elicit more spores. Taking deep breaths in the hall and holding their breaths while in the room, Thokk and Willa lay the shelf planks against the walls, pile the kindling at their base all around the room, and then empty the flasks of oil on the wood. Once all is prepared they retreat and Aurora sends in a firebolt to set the room ablaze with a roar. Thick smoke billows out, but the eight foot high vaulted ceiling of the corridor keeps it above most of them, though Thokk’s eyes water.

    After several minutes the fires die out. Willa and Babshapka check the soot-stained walls, but find no secret doors. Willa moves the party back to the southern corridor, where the mold spores have now mostly settled to the floor.

    Here and there are still patches of mold on the dampest stone, but Aurora burns them with judicious applications of her firebolt, and no further spores are released. After turning the corner, they move north along the corridor, away from the seep, the air growing dryer and the oppressive odor of mold fading behind them. Ahead, the corridor opens into a large room (D7).

    The ceiling here is arched to 12’ height. Several divans and low stools are scattered about this otherwise vacant chamber. Wall sconces hold long burnt torch stubs. The furnishings carry a thick layer of dust. Three wooden doors, their planks all rotted and split, are apparent.

    Thokk sniffs suspiciously at the first door, then gingerly lays his sore shoulder against it but can’t get it to budge. The wood has swollen and stuck in the frame. It takes both him and Larry to force it open. The room beyond (D9) is ten by ten by eight, and is dusty but bare. The back side of the door is covered in mold, but they find nothing else when searching it.

    The door to the next room (D8) opens easily, the wood being dry. Inside, it appears empty and identical to the previous room, and a second search reveals nothing as well.

    The third door leads to a much larger room (D10). The ceiling here is arched to 12’ height like the previous chamber. A number of straw mattresses and throw rugs (sufficient to sleep sixteen) cover the floor, and eight rotting wooden buckets line the south wall. The place is currently unoccupied and covered in dust. A few of the buckets contain hard dry turds, but nothing else. Aurora quickly checks the walls, but they do not yield secret exits. Willa and Aurora exchange words about the “army” that is following them - Umbra is interested at first, but quickly becomes concerned that the entire nation of Keoland is after this enchantress.

    They seem to have come to the end of this section of the dungeon, which Tyrius speculates is another one of the secret garrison complexes. With no tracks on the floor but their own, and a single entrance, it seems very defensible, so Willa agrees to let them take a short rest. They spread out among the dry straw mattresses. Aurora keeps one eye suspiciously on Umber at first, who continues to hold hushed conversation with Babshapka, but soon she becomes engrossed in reading the diary of Nhoast.

    [Willa, Thokk, and Larry spend hit dice to heal. Aurora and Larry use natural and arcane recovery to get back spell slots]

    [Note: Aurora’s initial investigation roll is 20. She can add 1 to this for each hour she spends after the first one reading the diary. The total number indicates the DC of the information she has deciphered to this point.]

    This journal of Nholast does not refer to himself as “the Unforgiven”, although on the initial page he styles himself “Nholast of Linth”.

    (DC16) There are dates by the entries. If Aurora remembers the calendar conversion of Suel Reckoning to Common Year, the dates are about 750 years ago. She reflects on the furnishings found so far. They are remarkably well-preserved for being over seven centuries old, but not unrealistically so, if they have been shut off and sealed underground.

    (DC17) The dates in the diary are sporadic. There are multiple entries for several weeks each, but often months apart.

    (DC18) The last entry mentions that Nholast’s current work, binding an erinyes to his will, has been interrupted by a command from Asberdies to assist in putting down yet another petty uprising. He laments the the erinyes is not completely dominated so that he could send her in his stead, as these rebellions are tiresome. He writes that he will be returning soon.

    (DC19) It appears that Nholast came here to this tower to do research and experimentation, free from the distractions of working for Asberdies. He had a small complement of guards and servants with him.

    (DC20) Some of Nholast’s experiments included necromancy, summoning and binding demons and devils, the creation of golems, and alchemy. He used his time between experiments to make spell scrolls. Asberdies did not begrudge him resources.

    Forming up after their rest, the party leaves the sleeping chamber and returns back through the secret door in the portrait room to the soot-stained art room. Aurora firebolts the remaining mold, and carefully searches the walls, especially the northern wall.

    “Ye be havin’ ther di-ary o' Nholast now, what more be ye lookin’ fer?” Willa asks her.

    Aurora says that she is not at liberty to say in front of her (and she rolls her eyes at Umbra), but Willa is not convinced that Aurora actually knows what she is looking for.

    Short of doing a long search on every section of dungeon wall (which Aurora seems up for but few of the others), it appears that the dungeon level has been played out. A few of them suggest finishing their exploration of the tower above, and this is agreed to by the majority. They retrace their steps to the bottom of the tower, and then up the stairs to the entry room. Those who had not yet seem the strangely displayed eiger dead, or the blocked off exit, are concerned, but Willa ushers them quickly through.

    The party ascends through the tower levels - the second (with the wooden table and reed mats), the third (with the cushions and rat box), the fourth (with the couch and empty chests), the fifth (with the chair watching the window), the sixth (with the bones and brazier), and finally up through the trapdoor into the seventh level with the domed roof.

    Of the four open doors off of the central chamber, they try the north one first (7a). This wedge-shaped room extends to the wall of the tower, where the domed roof lowers to a mere five feet high. Murder holes line the north wall, as well as the floor at its base, but are as dark as the night sky beyond. A battered workbench sits against the south wall, and an empty cresset hangs from the ceiling. A small barrel is near the bench. A number of hides laying over piles of rushes looks to be a huge communal bed. Several dented metal urns are obviously used as chamber pots, and there is a pile of cracked and reasonably fresh bones near the bed. A 7½’-tall misshapen humanoid form stands motionless as near the north wall as its height will allow.

    Thokk and Willa inspect it carefully, but it does not appear to be moving. When Aurora enters, she says “Oh, a golem! Nholast mentioned that in his diary. I wonder what the command words are?” She then begins trying various words in ancient Suel in an attempt to animate the figure, until Willa makes her stop, in part from feeling she is wasting time, in part from dread of what might happen should Aurora actually succeed in animating it.

    Thokk examines the bones near the bed. They are so well-gnawed that he cannot make much of them, but from the musky smell in the room, he strongly suspects this was an eiger den. The murder holes have fresh scratches along the floor and a number of chips and flakes of stone about. Perhaps the boulders that even now block their exit came from here. Of course, reasons Thokk, these holes are big enough for them to climb through and jump to the ground - they are not really trapped in the tower, after all.

    They next try the chamber to the west (7d). A few hides laying over piles of rushes looks to be a large bed with a nearby pile of bones. A smaller bed is near the door. Several dented metal urns are obviously used as chamber pots. They look about, but find nothing of interest.

    The chamber to the south (7c) has the same dimensions - wedge-shaped, extending to the wall of the tower, murder holes in the wall and floor. The furnishings are different, however - the beds are smaller and individual rather than communal. There are three here, and each has a single threadbare hide laying over a pile of rushes. The room smells strongly of rancid sweat with undertones of seawater. Several dented metal urns are obviously used as chamber pots. Thokk guesses that if the previous chambers housed eigers strong enough to have females, this room is for the weaker bachelors. Nothing is found in a quick search, though they are disgusted by the beds themselves.

    The final room of the dome (7b) is as the others, and could be a mirror-image of the one to the west. A few hides laying over piles of rushes form a single large bed with a nearby pile of bones. A smaller bed is near the door and several dented metal urns are chamber pots. A quick search reveals nothing. By this time, the icy wind blowing through the murder holes has chilled the party, and all of them are ready to depart the dome - but to where? Aurora talks about the unsearched walls of the dungeon, as well as the thick walls of the tower that could easily conceal small chambers - but Willa is still unsure what specifically they are searching for.
    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.&nbsp;
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    Tue May 05, 2020 10:40 am  
    Post 115: Waiting for the New Day

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

    This and subsequent posts will contain many spoilers. The identity of rooms is indicated in bold.

    For the soundtrack while in the Dungeon level, I used "Dungeon I" by Tabletop Audios.

    Since the players were all either new to the game or new to 5E, none of them knew what the rules were for exhaustion from thirst and hunger; when checks needed to be made and what the results were for failed checks. I told them that they would eventually find out through experience.

    Post 115: Waiting for the New Day
    Somewhere in the Little Hills, actual date unknown. Second day in the Tower

    The party decides that they would like to use the murder holes to look outside the tower, but it is still night. Luna, the larger of the two moons, is quite full, so they have a good view across the valley, but not in detail around the base of the tower, which is what they are after. Willa scans the horizon in all directions, but doesn’t see any lights or campfires - just wide open wilderness in the pale moonlight. Larry points out that with Luna full, and the smaller Handmaiden still new, they can’t be that far off in time from when they left Highfell - provided it is still the same year.

    Willa decides that they can search the eiger quarters at the top of the tower while they wait for the sun to come up. In one of the rooms she finds a hollow, stoppered bone tube in the pile of discarded bones. It looks like it might be a scroll tube, so she passes it unopened to Aurora.

    Once the rooms are searched the party retires to the central chamber, closing all the doors to block the chilly wind but leaving the door to the east open just a crack to see when the light comes in. It is still cold (in the twenties outside the tower and just below freezing even behind the doors) and their stomachs are all grumbling, but they are adventurers and used to resting when they can. Aurora reads while they wait.

    Less than two hours later it is light enough to see the ground outside, though the sun has not yet cleared the mountains at the east end of the valley.

    The grass outside is still white with frost, except for a ring around the tower just under the murder holes. There, the grass has been trampled and there is no frost, or much less. After some consideration, the party surmises that there was a large collection of boulders in these tower rooms, but sometime after they entered, the rocks were pitched from the tower (creating the trampled circle), then taken from the ground outside and used to block the entryway, sealing the party inside.

    The ground is some ninety feet below them, but after carefully studying it, Larry announces that he can see a trail leading through the frost. The trail is the tracks of large humanoids, most likely the eigers. It leads away from the tower to the northwest.

    Aurora considers the murder holes to be an alternate exit, should they not be able to clear the stones from the entryway below. With a hundred feet of rope they will be able to lower themselves outside, and all of them but Larry should be able to fit through the murder holes.

    With nothing more of interest above ground, the party goes back to the dungeons, all the while discussing where something else might be hidden below. On a hunch, Willa leads them back to the room (D5) where the portrait they took to be Nholast was, but find they actually left the painting in hallway outside the room. By Willa’s lantern, Aurora carefully examines the back of the portrait - but doesn’t find anything. They re-hang it where it was before, and Willa asks Umbra what she sees in it. The elf agrees with Tyrius’ previous assessment, but adds that the fashion of clothing indeed appears to be post-migration Suel, making it plausible that it could match the purported dates of 750 years ago in the diary.

    They take some time to look around, searching the walls carefully for secret doors, but finding nothing. Their thirst is getting the better of them. Since they entered the tower yesterday before dawn, they have now gone a full day with only a half-day’s ration of water. Thokk opens his skin of squeezed mushroom water and drinks deeply, then offers it to the others, but after Willa shakes her head, they all decline. He finishes the skin, and checks that the two others he has are still full.

    [7am - DM’s note. At this point all of them but Thokk need to make a DC15 Con check. Umbra, Willa, Tyrius, and Shefak fail these checks, and are now at the first level of exhaustion. Until they drink, they will have disadvantage on all ability checks. Among other things, this means they will be less effective at searching for secret doors. They have all, except for Aurora and Umbra who had rations on them, also been a complete day without food. They learn that even those among them with the lowest constitution can go without eating for 24 hours without penalty.]

    Willa finds her thirst is making her slow and clumsy, and not up to the task of finding any secret doors. As she takes a break and looks about, a few of the others seem similarly affected. Babshapka, Larry, and Thokk all seem fine - she tells them to continue searching with their darkvision while she leads the others back to the kitchen to see if there is water in the well. She collects everyone’s empty skins before they set out, and the two ones that Thokk has which are full of mushroom water. They have six skins between the eight of them - there were lots more on Randy. Each skin holds enough water for half a day or so. Aurora is busy reading by the light of Willa’s lantern, so Willa leaves her where she is, and they rely on the holy light of Pelor to find their way.

    After a few wrong turns and confused consultations of Willa’s charcoal sketch map by Pelor’s light, the away team finds themselves back in the kitchen. Tyrius casts light on Willa’s silk rope, then lowers it down the well. The stone walls are thick with moss - and a dozen furry bodies! At the appearance of the light, giant rats scamper up the sides of the well and pour out into the kitchen, attacking the four people there.

    “Nutmeg and feck!” curses Willa, as she yanks the rope from the well and draws her greatsword. She motions with her hand for the others to fall back defensively to the door before they are overrun by the wave of rats. Although the team is slaying rats every second, more and more continue to come forth. By the time they have their backs to the door and have killed more than a dozen of them, the rats’ courage breaks and they begin running out the open secret door rather than attacking the party. Umbra continues firing freezing bolts at them and Willa yells and swings her sword, hoping to herd them all out the door. She estimates that as many as another four dozen emerge from the well and have run through the room before the flow slows and then stops. Willa works quickly to pull, push, and twist the loose stone that opened the secret door until she finds the means to close it, sealing the rats on the other side.

    Panting and bloodied, the party takes stock. Fully 16 giant rats lay sprawled dead on the kitchen floor - three frozen from rays of chilling shadow, four cleft in twain by a greatsword, four smashed into paste by a hammer, and five kicked and bludgeoned to death by a staff. Umbra was bitten once (4pts), Willa and Shefak twice (9 points each), and Tyrius thrice (16 points).

    Listening carefully, they hear nothing more coming from the well, so Willa lowers the still-glowing rope down again. Water is in the bottom, just below the reach of the rope itself. Someone will need to go down - and Shefak is the lightest among them, though there is not enough room in there to wield her staff. She agrees to the task, but insists that the rope be tied about her rather than her climbing down. She loads up with all six of the empty water skins of the party (Willa having poured Thokk’s mushroom water out upon learning that there was in fact water in the well). When Umbra ties her rope to Willa’s, they have a cord long enough to lower Shefak to the bottom of the well.

    As she is lowered by Willa, Shefak calls up that the walls are pockmarked with dozens of caves - all rat-sized and too small to enter. Pushing away the moss, she finds that the caves are mostly shallow, and filled with bones and rat droppings, though a few are tunnels and go back farther than she can see. Near the bottom, the moss grows thicker on the walls and the caves less frequent. Willa looks over at a slain rat on the floor of the kitchen and sees that its fur is damp though not wet - they will need to find some way to clean the water, or else she is not letting anyone drink it.

    Shefak sniffs suspiciously at the water, then begins to fill the skins one at a time. As her weight increases with each full skin, Willa calls Tyrius over to help her hold the rope and then pull the monk up. Once Shefak is back in the kitchen, Willa explains that they will be boiling the water, and asks for suggestions. A hearth is on hand in the room - and next door, the chairs and tables will provide as much wood as they could possibly need - but what to boil the water in? Umbra says that she carries a mess kit in her pack, and it includes a small pot.

    While Umbra tends the fire, boils the water, and refills the skins with boiled water one pot at a time, the other three search the walls of the kitchen and the dining room beyond. The first skin that is filled is passed around between them, and all drink deeply until it is empty, and then the second. Only by the time Umbra is filling the third skin is she actually storing up any water.

    They find a secret door on the north wall of the kitchen itself, in the part that is not occupied by the hearth. Willa tells them to hold off on opening it for the time being. She is trying to work out the logistics of their water use, since she knows they will need at least two skins per person per day, and they will not get that amount anytime soon with Umbra’s tiny camp pot.

    When they have finished searching all the nearby walls, Willa takes Tyrius with her and they return to a room she searched the day before, a small bedchamber (D14). Something about the room is nagging at Willa, and when she enters, she immediately sees what it is - there is a small, beaten copper bathtub in the room. Between them, and with several pauses to rest, Willa and Tyrius move the tub into the kitchen and set it down in the hearth itself. Umbra empties all of the unboiled water from the skins into the tub - not even filling it to a sixth of its depth. The others in the team smash chairs and bring wood and soon have a raging fire going. Shefak is sent on several more trips down the well until the tub is half full. The smoke is venting nicely up the chimney and not filling the room.

    Finally content, Willa tells them to open the new secret door, but it takes three of them and several minutes to figure out the mechanism. Ultimately, a loose stone is discovered near the hearth but beneath the body of a dead rat. Once the door is open, they can immediately smell the dampness beyond. The small ten by ten chamber revealed is obviously a wine cellar, with rotten, sagging shelves and numerous glass bottles. However, the shelves and walls are covered with a thick green carpet.

    Not sure if it is moss or mold, Willa covers her mouth with a cloth and enters to assess whether anything important is beneath the green, but as she gets closer she is not seeing bulbous fungus, or spongy sphagnum, but rather thick, ropy slime. A slime that was hanging from the ceiling detaches itself and falls directly on her. Now covered in the viscous goo, she stumbles blindly back out the door.

    She recalls tales of a green slime that can grow in ship bilges, feeding off organic waste. It is supposed to be acidic to the touch - and as she thinks of this, she can feel her face start to burn where the slime is seeping through her helmet. She wipes it away from her mouth and shouts “Get t’is armor orf me!” [Willa takes 18 points of damage]

    After ripping her helmet off and fumbling with a few buckles, Willa realizes that she is panicking and it will take far too long to strip off her plate armor. The slime that covers her breastplate and back is already oozing up and through the chain coif, burning her neck. At least she can see now, can see how she is covered in slime and in fact is dragging a trail of it out of the room with her.

    She waves her companions off and yells instead “Shut ther damn door!” as she grabs a flaming chair leg from the fire. The slime turns into a flaky powder at the application of the flame and Willa grimly steps as close to the fire as she can get without falling into the tub. Shefak strikes with her magic staff at the slime trail, managing to sever it as Tyrius closes the door. The monk then summons her ki, turning her fists and feet into magical weapons as she pummels the slime on Willa’s armor, doing damage to both it and her.

    The slime seems most threatened by the proximity of the fire, however. It shudders, and suddenly the side toward the fire shoots forth a cone of acid. Umbra is doused with the spray [and takes 24 points]. The fire hisses and spits and nearly goes out.

    Umbra staggers away, her own flesh now burning from the acid spray, then summons forth a skeletal hand that she sends at Willa. The hand starts clawing at Willa’s armor, freezing pieces of slime and ripping them off - but Willa does not know where the hand has come from or that it is controlled by Umbra and she starts screaming for Thokk’s help. With her chair leg torch, she beats and burns the slime and the hand both.

    Seeking to calm Willa, Shefak summons more ki, and with glowing hands pulls the remainder of the slime off her and then stomps it into the stone floor with glowing feet. Breathing heavily, Willa makes sure that every last trace of the slime is burnt away.

    After Tyrius lays hands on Willa she feels somewhat better. Making eye contact with the other three, she says in her most commanding tone, “When Aurora gets ‘ere, ye DINNAE let ‘er open t’at door, nae matter wha’!”

    The team in the south has continued to search walls, but to no effect. Aurora, however, has come across an interesting passage in her last hour of reading.

    (DC23) While Nholast refers to his lord Asberdies by name, he also refers to one called “The Master” - apparently a different individual.

    At this point, the searchers rouse Aurora from her tome and the four of them together travel to the kitchen. Upon entering, Thokk looks at all of the dead rats on the floor and exclaims, “Willa find water AND food! Good job, evil advisor.” He happily sets about gutting and dressing the rats, though when he is done Willa sees him heading for the bathtub just in time to keep him from rinsing his bloody hands and knives in the water.

    Willa unpacks the beetle strips she made - they have been more than twelves hours in her pack, raw, and are starting to smell gamey. She doesn’t know for sure that the beetle is edible. While she can’t personally say she has ever had rat, she knows plenty of sailors who have resorted to eating it on long sea voyages when the food stores ran low. It might not be a bad idea to ditch the beetle meat for the rat.

    Larry uses the time to heal those who fought the rats and the green slime.

    Aurora examines the bone tube found by Willa in the eiger lair and finds inside it a scroll of protection from petrification.

    Those who have not yet drunk, drink deeply from skins that are filled, then filled again from the tub. Everyone finally leaves the room with their water balance restored, carrying all of their skins full, and with some boiled water still left in the tub besides.

    They spend the next four hours (10am to 2pm) with seven of them searching walls in the dungeon while Aurora reads in the kitchen.

    Aurora had originally considered spitting the rats and roasting them over the fire, but that would take far too much of her time and attention while she is trying to read, so she decides to just quickly cut them into smaller pieces, put them in the tub, build the fire back up, and boil them. It does not take long before the tub is full of rat stew and she can get back to the diary.

    During the time the party is away, she gleans the following from the book:

    (DC26) Nholast was able to penetrate the defenses around Valadis after its fall. He was sent there by Asberdies to recover lore and items of power on more than one occasion.

    This excites her to no end, and she tries to read further but is now distracted by trying to think of how she is going to convince the party to return to Valadis.

    At the end of the four hours, the party returns to Aurora to tell her that as a result of their searches they have found one secret door, and one locked iron door, with both in the north-central part of the dungeon.

    When Aurora reaches the “T” in the corridor, she is incredulous at the sight of the door. “Was this on your map, Willa?”

    “Ther corridors, aye, but nae ther door.”

    “Well, who saw it? Someone walked past it!” No one seems to want to admit they searched the hallway before but did not note the door. Willa tells Aurora to get over it and get on with the search.

    They move first to the secret door at the end of the hall. “Always check the dead ends,” says Aurora, as she studies Willa’s map again. “Huh, I think we were on the other side of this wall, wondering why it sounded hollow - must have been whatever is beyond here.” It takes nearly everyone in the party before the mechanism for opening the door is discovered - it is the smallest and most concealed activation stone they have found yet, but finally it yields and the door opens.

    The room beyond is a scant ten by ten, and empty, except for three large wooden coffers on the floor. “Check fer traps,” says Willa instinctively, then stops herself - has it been two days yet since Barnabus abandoned them?

    Thokk is unconcerned and strides into the room. He squats over a coffer and opens it. Each coffer is metal-bound - the brass hinges protest, but do open, and reveal that the coffer is full of coins. Most are gold, a few are a metal that he does not recognize. He dumps the coffer out on the floor, sorts through, and takes a handful of the unfamiliar ones to the doorway. “Platinum!” say several voices at once. Thokk shrugs and throws the coins back on the floor, then opens the other coffers. Aurora estimates there to be several hundred gold and two dozen platinum. They leave the coins intact, and Aurora closes the secret door while the party goes to the other end of the hallway.

    Thokk tries running at the iron door, but it holds strong. Aurora tries mage handing the key she recovered from the dead half-eiger, but it does not fit the lock, so she resorts to a knock spell. The lock is free of rust and easily clicks open at the application of the spell.

    Inside the small chamber is a skeleton, clad in rags, hanging from a set of manacles in the center of the room. A large number of silver coins are heaped about the skeleton’s feet, and a pair of brilliant stones (one clear spindle, one iridescent spindle) circle about its head, continually in motion.

    Shefak and Babshapka enter the room and try to catch the stones in their hands. At their approach, the stones change course as if they are animate and avoiding being caught. They remain in revolution about the skeleton, but continually alter their speed and direction. Babshapka brushes against the body of the skeleton, and it collapses into a pile of disarticulated bones. The stones continue to circle the skull, which has rolled several feet across the floor. Shefak continues her pursuit of the stones, and after several attempts finally proves nimble enough to catch them both. Babshapka continues to stare at the skeleton, even picking a few bones up to examine them critically. “That was an elf,” he says.

    Shefak gladly turns the stones over to Aurora, who accepts them eagerly. Babshapka continues his examination of the skeleton. “There’s no meat on it - just dried bone...and these coins are of a mint with the ones from the other room - very old. Whoever this was, they died long ago.”
    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.&nbsp;
    Master Greytalker

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    Tue May 12, 2020 9:26 am  
    Post 116: Every last nook and cranny

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

    This and subsequent posts will contain many spoilers. The identity of rooms is indicated in bold.

    For the soundtrack while in the Dungeon level, I used "Dungeon I" by Tabletop Audios.

    Post 116: Every last nook and cranny
    Somewhere in the Little Hills, actual date unknown. Second day in the Tower

    Shefak gladly turns the stones over to Aurora, who accepts them eagerly. Babshapka continues his examination of the skeleton. “There’s no meat on it - just dried bone...and these coins are of a mint with the ones from the other room - very old. Whoever this was, they died long ago.”

    “Why would a pris’ner have magic stones?” wonders Willa aloud, before she turns and addresses Aurora directly. “An’ wha’ ther feck are we lookin’ fer ‘ere, anyway?”

    Aurora, as usual, dodges the question and merely says that they have nearly all of the dungeon searched and must indeed be close to the end. She sits down in the hallway, turns the wick up on Willa’s lantern, and opens Nholast’s journal. Willa gives an exasperated sigh, then directs Babshapka to search the room with the skeleton (D27), Thokk the secret treasure room (D28), and has the rest of the party follow her down the hall. When they reach a previously unsearched section, she lights a chair leg at one end of the hall, has Tyrius cast the light of Pelor on the other end, and the rest of the party searching between them.

    After 20 minutes, Babshapka has found nothing else in the prison chamber, so he comes out and stands guard over Aurora. At some point she looks up from her reading and notices him. “See if you can do anything with these,” she says, and hands him over the two strange flying gems.

    Thokk, during his search in the treasure room, notices a hollow sound when he taps on the stone wall near the floor. It doesn’t take long before he has found how to move a stone out of the way and discovered a space in the wall just large enough to contain one more coffer like those in the room. This one, however, doesn’t have coins inside. Instead, as far as he can tell in the darkness, it has little pieces of cut glass.

    Thokk wanders about the dungeon until he finds where Willa is directing the search, and shows her the coffer. By the light of the torch, she finds the “glass” is actually thirty-some gemstones. She smiles, but says, “All ther same, we cannae eat ’em.”

    The party continues to search, methodically checking all the stone surfaces for any remaining secret doors.

    (3:20pm - Aurora has read through DC 28 in the book)

    (3:40pm - Babshapka has identified the clear spindle. It is an ioun stone, and whilst it is in orbit about someone’s head, he will need neither food nor drink. However, to use it, he would need to attune to it first - and since Babshapka already has two of his three possible attunements used, he sets it aside.

    (4:20pm - Aurora has read through DC29 in the book. She finds an interesting reference, presumably to the skeleton of the elf: Nholast caught an elven thief trying to make off with money and magic. He sentenced him to 30 years imprisonment, and is interested to see what the state of his mind will be in 30 years.

    The next time the party returns to Aurora to check on her and go over the maps of the dungeon to decide where to search next, she tells them what she just learned from Nholast’s journal, and Babshapka relays what he learned about the stone. Willa asks whether something happened to Nholast in the thirty years so that he could not check on the prisoner, or whether he just forgot. Aurora thumbs through the journal, cross-referencing dates. “The elf was imprisoned just a few years before the last entry - and in the last entry, Nholast says he is leaving to help Asberdies “put down a rebellion”. But the Sage of Highfell told us that Nholast and Asberdies were deposed by a rebellion and Nholast had to flee the Yeomanry, so one could surmise that he was never able to return to this tower…”

    “And the elf stayed here, left behind and trapped?” asks Umbra, aghast.

    “Unable to leave,” says Babshapka, “and with the ioun stone, unable to die.”

    “So ‘ow did ‘e die?” asks Willa.

    Babshapka shrugs, then says darkly, “Old age, perhaps.”

    “But that would take…” Aurora’s words trail off.

    “Hundreds of years,” confirms Babshapka bitterly. “You said the journal is from seven centuries ago, right? That would do it.”

    For several moments they all stand in silence, contemplating just how cruel and evil this Nholast must have been, and the horrid fate of the elf. Tyrius’ jaw muscles clench, and Umbra shudders.

    “An’ t’at t’ing Thokk found - ther demon...” asks Willa.

    “Thokk find with his pole!” Thokk interjects brightly.

    “...would she hae been bound since t’ese times o’ yore, too?” she finishes.

    “Demons don’t age,” says Tyrius. “But I understand now why she was so eager to be free - even if that meant provoking us into destroying her material form.” He frowns, remembering how the erinyes actually thanked him for her destruction.

    Sobered and pensive, with some of them apprehensive at what other atrocities might lurk behind secret doors, the party resumes their search of the corridors while Aurora goes back to reading. Babshapka remains with Aurora, contemplating the stones as he guards her.

    (5:30pm - Aurora has read through DC30 in the book. Babshapka has identified the iridescent spindle. It is another ioun stone, and whilst it is in orbit about someone’s head, he will not need to breathe. Babshapka can’t stop himself from looking at the tight seal of the iron door of the prison cell, and imagining the suffocating feel and smell after having been trapped inside for centuries.)

    The party travels south, and searches all of the walls of the fungus and beetle room, including the bare secret room beyond. Then, finding nothing there, they go to the dirt-floored base of the tower above. The corpse of the ogre still lies at the bottom of the stairs, but it is now, after a day and a half, bloated and reeking of rot. The wind from the tower above carries the scent of a score of bodies more. Trying to keep from gagging, Willa tells them to be quick, but Thokk and Umbra, checking the north wall, converge on the same secret door.

    (6:30pm - Aurora has read through DC31 in the book.)

    The secret door leads to a small chamber, walled with the same rough blocks that the basement was - but the floor is also of rough stone, not dirt. In the center of the room is a circular pedestal. The room is otherwise bare. It measures ten by ten with an eight foot high ceiling. When Thokk and Umbra enter, they find that the room, isolated from the frigid wind rushing down the stairs, is noticeably warmer than the tower above or the basement floor. Umbra looks carefully, but does not find any markings adorning any side of the pedestal. Thokk jumps up on the pedestal and poses as if a statue, his head bumping the ceiling. Nearly retching, Willa tells Thokk to stop fooling around and come out of there if they cannot find anything.

    Retreating from the stench, Willa checks her map. She is confident they have searched the entirety of the dungeon - except the secret area beyond the kitchen, which for all she knows is now full of trapped rats. She gathers the party and tells them that it is time for dinner.

    In the kitchen, they all eat heartily of the tub full of rat stew. Thokk and Larry don’t care, of course, but even the others set aside any reservations - it has been a day and a half since any of them have eaten. Tyrius says that it “tastes like chicken,” which brings a snicker from even Willa.

    (7:30pm - food reset to this time. Aurora has read through DC32 in the book.)

    Belly now full, Willa is thinking a little clearer. Another place that hasn’t been searched is the secret wine cellar beyond the kitchen. But she is in no hurry to fight the slimes that remain. She directs Thokk to bringing in stout table legs and smashed chairs, and soon has a raging fire going in the hearth. She opens the secret door, and the party quickly tosses in burning wood. The fire drives the slime back, and it retreats into the corners of the room, revealing more of the rotten wood shelves and ancient glass bottles. Several minutes later, Thokk and Willa attempt to see into the room, hoping that secret doors have been revealed. Instead, they find that room itself is full of smoke, and even harder to see into than before. In fact, the smoke is rolling out and beginning to fill the kitchen. A lively current of air is going up the hearth chimney, but that opening is at waist height and the smoke is lingering on the kitchen ceiling, such that soon everyone is sitting or squatting to avoid coughing. Willa tells Thokk to stop feeding the fire in the wine cellar and to let it die out.

    Eventually the fire has burned down to cinders and ash. Willa has told Thokk how she and the party fought and killed one slime, and he decides that he will kill the others so that his evil advisor can look for doors. In truth, he has found far too few things to fight in this dungeon and he is bored of looking for doors.

    Thokk strides confidently into the room, stands in the pile of ash, and takes note of the three slimes, each cowering in a different corner. He laughs and steps forward, striking at the one in front of him with his sunsword. The magical blade slices through the creature and deep into the wooden shelving. A half-dozen glass bottles crash to the floor and break, splashing Thokk with ancient wine long turned to vinegar. Thokk starts to feel a burning sensation on his forearm. The wine? No - the slime he struck has shot some sort of acid at him! Then, the three slimes ooze forward, dropping on him, creeping up his boots, and firing off streams of caustic acid. [In rapid succession, Thokk takes 37 points of acid damage, and another 10 points of bludgeoning damage. He is feeling decidedly worse than a few seconds ago.]

    Tyrius casts a sanctuary spell on Thokk and yells at him to get out of there. Bellowing in pain and confusion, Thokk staggers from the room and runs over to the copper tub. He splashes the dregs of the rat stew on his face, trying to wash off the acid and burning slime. Larry and Umbra try to force the slime back into the secret room with sprays of poison and freezing shadow (although the poison has no effect) and Willa activates the stone that closes the secret door again, then carefully uses a flaming torch to burn the slime dripping off Thokk and running in a spotty trail from him to the door. She looks into the tub, where patches of slime are even now beginning to grow as they dissolve pieces of rat meat. She notes sardonically that they should probably bring that to a boil again.

    Once Thokk has been thoroughly checked for any lingering pieces of slime (which is hard to see as it is green against his green skin), Larry grants him two cure wounds spells.

    The party clusters around the other secret door, this one to the west of the hearth. Willa has little respect for the rats as opponents and does not broach any discussion of strategy beyond asking the others if they are ready, but not waiting for their response. She opens the secret door.

    Tyrius is the first one through the doorway and smashes two rats with his hammer as he makes room for those behind him. Larry is next, and as he enters the narrow hallway he can see that the floor is wall-to-wall packed with rats in both directions. He turns to the south and fires off a lightning bolt without a second’s hesitation, not even bothering to estimate the distance. The bolt streaks down the hallway, arcs from rat to rat, bounces off the stone wall at the end, returns all the way back up the corridor, and ends a scant ten feet from where Larry and Tyrius are standing. Between them and the south wall, fully twenty-two giant rats now lie dead, still twitching and smoking. With two-dozen rats already fallen, the remainder in the north try to withdraw, but now Thokk, Umbra and Willa join the fray, and in less than a minute it is all over. As the bodies are piled in the garrison room (D18) Willa counts them - thirty four in total, most of them flash-fried. A good source of meat for their trek out of here, if the pointy-eared harridan ever lets them leave.

    With the hallway clear, Willa organizes a search along its entire length, in the store room at the end, and Thokk even lowers Larry into the collapsed-floor latrine room, but no further secret doors are found. With the exception of the slime-guarded wine cellar, Willa is now confident that they have searched every square inch of this gods-forsaken dungeon.

    (8:30pm - Aurora has read through DC33 in the book.)

    While Aurora is engrossed in her tome, Babshapka has not heard from the party in hours, and decides it is time they checked in. He forces Aurora to pull herself from the book and they set off in search of the others. Eventually they are reunited in the kitchen, where Willa is directing the party in setting up a camp to rest for the night. She tells Aurora that they have searched the whole dungeon, and found no other secret rooms. “Oh, that’s good,” says Aurora distractedly, “I’m almost done with Nholast’s journal myself.”

    “If we war only searchin’ t’ keep us busy so as ye could read…” begins Willa, but Aurora has already turned away and is asking Thokk to bring one of the upholstered chairs from the room they rested in on the first night. With furniture, carpets, and mats scavenged from all parts of the dungeon, with water, fire, and as much rat as they can eat, the party settles in for a reasonably comfortable rest, certainly better than they have had in days. They use all of their healing spells and abilities in preparation for the long rest.

    Umbra and Tyrius take the first watch (9:30pm to 11:30pm). Most of the others doze fitfully, but Aurora continues to read (to DC35 in the book). Just before she is about to give up and turn in, she hits a surprising passage. Scanning it over, she carefully translates it again, checking for meaning. She looks around excitedly - hoping to share the news with someone - but Tyrius shakes his head and puts his finger to his lips. It will need to wait until morning.

    Aurora turns in, and Thokk and Larry take the next watch (11:30pm to 1:30am).
    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.&nbsp;
    Master Greytalker

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    Tue May 19, 2020 10:13 am  
    Post 117: Powerful Revelations

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

    The map, both in concept and the actual graphics file, was taken from Mike (Mortellan) Bridges, although I had to pretend that the words in elven were in Suel.

    Post 117: Powerful Revelations
    Somewhere in the Little Hills, actual date unknown. Third day in the Tower

    Babshapka completes his trance and spends the next six hours on watch while the others complete their long rest. (1:30am to 7:30am).

    In the morning, as a breakfast of rat stew is prepared, Aurora eagerly translates for the party the passage she read the night before. (DC35) “About a year before the last entry, Nholast writes of the appearance of a great “planet” or wandering star in the heavens. In the course of a single night it streaked across the sky and crashed to the Oerth far to the north. He says that he would be interested in traveling to the sight of the crash to see if there is star metal to be had, as it would be extremely valuable if recovered. He mentions that the sword that the “Cruel Lord” used to slay “The Master” was made of star metal, and it could hold enchantments far more powerful than any metal from Oerth.” Aurora suggests that now that they are done searching the tower, they should try to track down where this star fell, and see if, indeed, there is any of this “star metal” there.

    “Would it still be there, after 750 years?” asks Tyrius.

    “As long as it fell in the wild, I don’t know why not,” responds Aurora. “I doubt anyone else at the time would have been able to track its location. And if it fell in the lands of men, there would surely be an historical account I could find in the local area.”

    “‘Ow would ye be able t’ ken jess whar it fell?” asks Willa. “‘Ther north be a big place.”

    “Actually,” says Aurora, showing the party a yellowed journal page full of faded, indecipherable symbols, “Nholast included a detailed map of star positions, angles and calculations. He very carefully tracked its progress across the sky, and from the precision of these measurements I have to believe that magic was involved somehow. I would need to find something that would allow me to correlate the azimuths and altitudes of those star positions with landmarks and measurements on the Oerth - but I think...” She starts shuffling through a few papers in her pack with recently-made notes on them. “Yes,” she says, pointing to her own shorthand, “one of the books we found in the library would allow me to do that - book 36 - Astronomical phenomena; stars, using star measurements as location indicators on Oerth. By correlating Nholast’s records with the conversions in that book, I can derive precisely the latitude and longitude where the star fell - then I would just need an accurate map of the north, and a way to find our current position on that map and on the Oerth.”

    Willa shrugs. “I kin navigate, an’ I carry ther tools ye need. I kin tell ye what our latytood an’ longytood be if I kin see ther stars.”

    Umbra frowns pensively, then pulls forth a folded vellum sheet. It looks to Aurora like the same sheet she took from the cabinet where Nholast’s diary was found. “I have a map of the north,” Umbra says. “But it is in Suel. I was actually hoping you might help me translate some of the names.”

    She carefully unfolds the map and spreads it out for them to see:

    “Some of it I understand, of course,” she continues. “Taurewelk” is the Welkwood, and “Taurepeliko” is what the ancient forest was called centuries ago, before the Axewood and Silverwood were sundered from one another.” Babshapka smiles wistfully as his home is mentioned. “But “Talathpesh” I don’t understand, and what is this skull and spiderweb in the Rushmoors? What does “Liante Malhama” mean?”

    Aurora scours the map with obvious interest. “Talath means plains or flat lands,” she says, without even looking up at Umbra. “Pesh I don’t know - my Ancient Suel isn’t perfect. But Liante Malhama is the “Spidered Throne,” whatever that means.”

    While Aurora is occupied with the map, the others in the party see Umbra’s eyes go wide at the mention of the Spidered Throne. Then her eyes roll back in her head and she faints, crashing to the stone floor. Aurora looks up, confused.

    Tyrius is at Umbra’s side, examining her. He places his hand on her chest, his ear near her mouth. He shakes her, says her name, pinches her arm. Finally he turns to the others. “She lives,” he says, “but is in some kind of fugue state - see how fast her eyes move!” Indeed, Umbra’s eyes are closed now, but under her lids they can be seen to dart back and forth as if she is caught in an intense dream but cannot awake. “Let us get a cloak about her,” says Tyrius. “Her skin feels as cold as stone and I worry she may go into shock.”

    Aurora turns back to the map. “I wonder what all those towers are,” she says, unconcerned.
    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.&nbsp;
    Master Greytalker

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    Tue May 26, 2020 12:56 pm  
    Post 118: Backstory for Umbra, Grey Elf Sorcerer, Level 4

    At last! The mystery of who the mysterious elf woman is revealed!

    Post 118: Backstory for Umbra, Grey Elf Sorcerer, Level 4

    She was born deep in the Hornwood Forest to a tribe of gray elves. The decades of her infancy and childhood passed swiftly and happily, with her cared for by all her parents and her tribe. She remembers what seem like endless years of singing to encourage the new growth in the spring, counting the stars in the summer, gathering acorns in the fall, and listening to stories in the winter.

    Her idyllic youth grew into a troubled adolescence, however. Lithe and nimble, she was nevertheless a mediocre shot with a bow. Nor did she have much success with snares and traps. Although she was precocious with respect to sensing and understanding people’s emotions (the basis of elven medicine), her knowledge of herbs and healing was passable at best. She lacked a passion for the arts or weaponswork. She struggled to get through the most basic of incantations and cantrips. While it is expected among elves that adolescents will require decades to find their true vocation, as the years passed she became increasingly anxious that she would have little to offer her tribe as an adult.

    Her amiable disposition and keen insights into others’ feelings eventually led to her being allowed to serve on an ambassadorial mission to a nearby tribe. There she shone, offering well-crafted words when spoken to and shrewd commentary when alone with her delegation. Upon their return to her village, she thought she had at last found her calling. She was increasingly included in diplomatic ventures and began a formal apprenticeship with several tribal leaders.

    Her travels afield gave her disquieting insights into her own tribe, however. She quickly learned that other elves (high elves, wood elves) looked to the grey elves as the natural leaders of elvenkind - they were treated as the most cultured, the most wise, the most artistic - and the least influenced by contact with humans. And yet, she did not objectively see these traits among her own people - compared to the other elves she met, her own people did not seem special or distinctive. She discovered that other elves often acted with abandon, with unrestrained joy. Comparatively, her own people seemed to have a repressed sorrow - a sadness that was ever present, but never spoken of. While they achieved artistically, while they reveled and courted and loved in the way of all elves, there was always something holding them back, something keeping them from greatness. The most obvious difference, however, was that other tribes placed great emphasis on their history - and that seemed strangely absent among her people. She could not broach the first two without seeming like she was criticizing her own people, but she began to question the third. At first, her inquiries about her tribe’s past were ignored or met with vague deflections. As she persisted, she received veiled warnings to desist. Her apprentice meetings with the tribal leaders grew shorter and less frequent.

    At about this time the dreams started. Each one different, and yet with a single, repeated theme. She walked alone in a city of shadow. Great stone walls and towers, intricately carved, surrounded beautiful gardens - but all pale and lifeless. Sometimes she would catch glimpses of movement in the darkness of alcoves, or see glimmers of light in distant windows, but they were always long gone by the time she arrived. Each dream filled her with an ever-greater sense of dread. She spoke to a few of her parents about the dreams, the ones to whom she was closest. They reassured her that the dreams were a common occurrence among adolescents, and would soon pass - but she could see a fear and sadness in their eyes that belied their words. Once, she overheard a whispered conversation about herself, about something needing to happen, “lest the shadows take her.”

    She had always been good at stealth - one of the few woodcraft skills that had seemed natural to her. Now she tried to walk even softer, to let her form blend with trees and houses - to not be seen, and yet never to look like she was trying not to be seen. She overheard more - that they did indeed fear for her, that they talked of her dreams, and of how others like her, before her, had such dreams and “had been lost”.

    One fall day she had surreptitiously followed an elder in his walk to the house of a village leader. She lingered outside, listening, as she sat and worked at embroidering what would be a winter robe. With slight moves and natural adjustments of her body, she inched imperceptibly closer to the window as she continued to eavesdrop. Suddenly, there were footsteps toward the door - the elder was leaving quite abruptly. A wave of fear at being discovered spying washed over her, and she stood. And then, just as the door opened, she found herself on the other side of the clearing. How had she gotten there? The elder stared at her - he had seen something. She had passed from shadow to shadow, darting at fantastic speed as if she could pass through the very spots on the ground that were darkened by the shade from the trees above. She knew enough magic to know that it was magic - but how had she done it? She had memorized no spell, said no words. He called after her, but she ran off in fear.

    The next day she was summoned before a council of elders. Not all of the leaders of the village were there, just the oldest of her tribe, including the ancient women many treated as lost in dreams but from whom she had pried a few actual comments about history.

    She learned more of history in the next half hour than in all her years of asking, than her lifetime in the village. Their tribe, the elders told her, were descendants of the City of Autumn Leaves. The city itself had been destroyed by a great evil, by a magical calamity involving death and shadow. The curse of that destruction hung over them still. They told her but little, and claimed it was all of the information they had. The sorrow she sensed in her people had its origin in that event, as well. All the adults of the tribe knew this, they told her, and knew one more thing besides - that sometimes the shadow reached forth and claimed a member of the tribe, as it had done with her. The adults had been told, her own parents had been told, that she was being banished from the tribe, that this was necessary lest the shadow that was growing in her, that would eventually take her life, should overcome them all.

    Even though the elders were spreading this tale among the adults, they knew it to be a lie. They believed not that she was marked for destruction, but rather that she had been chosen to save them. The shadow would give her power, they said - she had felt that power the day before. She was to develop that power, they said. She would need no tutor, no mentor - she had the ability to cast magic by her will alone, with no need of memorized spells. And she was to use that power to discover their true history - the history that they had deliberately hidden from themselves. She was to find the City of Autumn Leaves, the ancestral home that none of them had ever known. She was to learn what had happened to it - and how the curse upon it could be undone. She had their blessing and their highest hopes. When she asked why the others could not know this, she was told that the burden of sorrow was already too great upon the people - the possibility of a failed hope would be their destruction. The elders had lived long enough to see this before - had seen an elf claimed by the shadow each generation - they knew that if she failed, there would be another.

    On the day she left her village, she set aside her birth name and took her adult name as Umbra.

    It has been fifty years since then, and she has traveled all the lands of the Sheldomar, elven and human. She has worked as a tutor to human noblemen, teaching their children in return for food, a hearth, and access to their libraries. She has worked as a scribe, a translator, and when necessary, a thief. Among the humans she has hidden her magical talents, for humans are a suspicious and superstitious lot. Among elves, she is known to be a sorceress, and a shadowborn one at that. The elves not of her village have given her much sympathy, but little useful information. Whatever disaster destroyed the City of Autumn Leaves, it was both rapid and thorough, and she has found but scant bits and pieces of records. Occasionally a scrap of information has been found in a tome, a tale or historical account from two millennia ago. The best of these have offered contemporary accounts of places, and a few have led her to ruins for exploration. In one of these ruins Umbra found her Crystal of Shadow, her most prized possession.

    Recently, Umbra has been traveling in the Yeomanry, attempting to find accounts or artifacts of a human called “Nholast of Linth”. In an ancient libram in Cryllor, Umbra came across a reference to one Nholast being a “servant of the Whispered One”. References to the “Whispered One” are common in what few books give accounts of two thousand years ago. Although the accounts of Nholast of Linth place him as a much more recent figure than that, she is investigating his connection to the “Whispered One” nonetheless, assuming that the servant and the man of Linth are the same person. A month ago she learned the approximate location of one of Nholast’s towers, and she has been scouring the Little Hills ever since, searching for the edifice.

    From The Tower of Nholast the Unforgiven (Posts 106, 108-118)
    Having found Nholast’s Tower at last, Umbra is poised to investigate it, when suddenly an adventuring party appears at the same time! This is fortunate for her, for the upper tower is controlled by a large group of ferocious eigers.
    Even just entering the tower, Umbra could feel the power of the shadows present - they exalted in her coming, she attained 5th level, and they taught her the spells Entropy and Shadowbind. It is clear that there was something in the tower which the shadows wish to reveal to her.

    The party’s wizard attempts to deceive Umbra as to their intentions, but the paladin reveals that they are in search of a book. Under the tower is a secret dungeon complex, and that holds a library, the collection of Nholast’s works. Although steeped in power and evil, none of the works interests Umbra, for she is not concerned about Nholast himself, but rather his connection to the Whispered One, and his library gives no hint of that.

    They find a portrait of Nholast, which Willa, the party’s champion, eventually takes. Umbra believes it dates to about 750 years ago - long after the Whispering One - how could Nholast be his servant?

    Later, they find a scriptorium - with Umbra being led there by the shadows. There, the shadows present her with a map, although doing so in front of the ever-suspicious wizard Aurora, it would be some time before Umbra could look at it. Aurora claims a book that is the diary of Nholast of Linth. This is of interest to Umbra, but unfortunately the book itself is in ancient Suel, which she cannot read. Tyrius mentions that the tower they are in is of “Nholast the Unforgiven” and Umbra says the she does not know who that is - technically true, since she has only ever heard of him referred to as Nholast of Linth before. What she is most interested in, is whether this Nholast is indeed the one that is a servant of the Whispered One, and whether anything in the diary can lead her to more information about the Whispered One, the true object of her quest.

    Over the course of many hours, Aurora reads the diary and announces what she finds to the party, while Umbra pays careful attention:
    (DC35) “About a year before the last entry, Nholast writes of the appearance of a great “planet” or wandering star in the heavens. In the course of a single night it streaked across the sky and crashed to the Oerth far to the north. He says that he would be interested in traveling to the sight of the crash to see if there is star metal to be had, as it would be extremely valuable if recovered. He mentions that the sword that the “Cruel Lord” used to slay “The Master” was made of star metal, and it could hold enchantments far more powerful than any metal from Oerth.”

    Umbra frowns pensively, then pulls forth a folded vellum sheet. It looks to Aurora like the same sheet she took from the cabinet where Nholast’s diary was found. “I have a map of the north,” Umbra says. “But it is in Suel. I was actually hoping you might help me translate some of the names.” She carefully unfolds the map and spreads it out for them to see:

    “Some of it I understand, of course,” she continues. “Taurewelk” is the Welkwood, and “Taurepeliko” is what the ancient forest was called centuries ago, before the Axewood and Silverwood were sundered from one another. But “Talathpesh” I don’t understand, and what is this skull and spiderweb in the Rushmoors? What does “Liante Malhama” mean?”

    Aurora scours the map with obvious interest. “Talath means plains or flat lands,” she says, without even looking up at Umbra. “Pesh I don’t know - my Ancient Suel isn’t perfect. But Liante Malhama is the “Spidered Throne,” whatever that means.”

    While Aurora is occupied with the map, the others in the party see Umbra’s eyes go wide at the mention of the “Spidered Throne”. Then her eyes roll back in her head and she faints, crashing to the stone floor. Aurora looks up, confused.
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    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
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    Tue Jun 02, 2020 10:53 am  
    Post 119: Leaving the Tower

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

    I must say, I quite enjoy playing Eddard, the Celestial Mount, as an NPC. I am by no means a sadistic or "gotcha!" DM, but using DM perspective and hindsight to chide the players for tactical failures is enjoyable!.

    Post 119: Leaving the Tower
    Somewhere in the Little Hills, actual date unknown. Third day in the Tower

    The party builds the fire back up and moves Umbra closer to the hearth. Tyrius tries casting a lesser restoration on her, but it produces no change in her condition. Reflecting on the demon, and on the fate of the elf prisoner, he says that this tower is an accursed place and they will all be better off once they have left. Willa agrees, and sets about organizing for their departure. When Aurora says that there is a book or two she wishes to take, Willa checks her own notes, and then tells her that while she is gathering things, she should pick up the coin from the secret treasure room (D28) as well as all the treasure from the beetle room (D33). Just before Aurora and Babshapka are out the door, Willa adds, “An’ wat ther ‘ells - bring ther portrait o’ Nholast, too.”

    While Aurora and Babshapka are rounding up treasure, Willa orders Shefak and Larry to start preparing all of the dead rats. With the loss of Randy, they are extremely short on packs and bags - Willa wants them to eat as much as they can at one last meal in the tower, and then forage as they go. Tyrius she leaves to tend to and pray over Umbra, while Thokk she takes with her, back aboveground.

    It is cold in the tower above, most likely hovering around freezing outside, and the inside reeks of dead ogre. Somehow, corpse flies have found their way into the chamber despite the absence of windows on this level, and they crawl about the bloated bodies, feeding, mating, laying eggs. Thokk seems not to notice, but Willa is glad for the cold, knowing she would not last long in the room if the bodies, now two days dead, had been in the heat as well.

    With Thokk, she examines the exit critically. The rocks are huge and piled high, but they appear loose and have not been packed between with dirt, let alone mortar. Thokk tries one at the base - it is all he can do to shift it, with the weight of the other stones above it, and before he moves it a few inches a smaller stone from above crashes down and nearly hits them both. Willa tells him to hold the torch while she works.

    Willa climbs to the top of the entry arch and begins tugging at the top-most boulders, tumbling them down into the room. She works to open a crawl-space at the top, just wide and deep enough for Larry to squeeze through. If these rocks go the length of the entryway it will be impossible, for she won’t have the leverage to move them if she has to enter a tunnel on her hands and knees, but after the first two are out of the way she can see daylight through the others. The barrier itself is only a few feet thick, likely just thick enough to block off the entryway, and much wider at the base than the vaulted ceiling. This allows her to stand on the face of the piles as she pulls. When she tires, she trades with Thokk, and eventually they have an exit hole cleared.

    Sweaty from their efforts despite the cold, Willa and Thokk scramble down the rock face and out of the tower. Willa takes deep gulps of fresh air, thanking the Great Sea Cow of the South that she is at last free of that stifling dungeon. There is frost on the ground in the shadow of the tower, but the wilted grass is free of it in the morning sun. Willa turns and slowly surveys the broad valley. They are leaving soon - and yet, they don’t know where they are. The Sage told them that the tower was in the Little Hills, but these are no hills. The lightly forested, roughly circular valley is a low point, but it is surrounded on all sides by mountains - true mountains. Those to the south, east and west seem equally high, but the ones to the north are even higher, and capped with snow. Willa looks at the height of the sun and lengths of the shadows - it is late morning, but they still have several hours before noon. She walks well away from the base of the tower, marks the top point of the shadow of its dome with a deep furrow in the ground.

    By the time she returns to the entryway, she finds Thokk bent over and studying the ground. “Eiger tracks?” she asks. “No,” he grunts and gestures to the northwest, where the broad tracks of the departing brutes are obvious but don't look anything like what he is examining. “Wolves.”

    Thokk explains that a small pack, maybe five or ten wolves, was here recently - sometime after dawn. He shows Willa where they gnawed a few bones in the refuse pile, licked the old blood off the grass where the three eigers were slain outside, and even pawed at the rocks in the entryway. In fact, the entrance to the tower is full of paw prints - they must have missed them on the way out as their eyes adjusted to the light.

    “Be t’ey still about?” she asks Thokk. Even ten wolves is little concern for them in the day - but would mean they would need extra guards at night, especially if Umbra continues to be unconscious. Thokk sniffs deeply, looks about, and shrugs. It must be frustrating for the pack, he reasons, to smell all those dead eigers inside the tower and not be able to get at them. He even looks sad for them. Willa laughs at the sight - it is the most empathy she has seen Thokk display since she has known him!

    They climb back up the rock pile and descend to the kitchen, Willa promising herself this will be the last time she has to "go below” for a while.

    Umbra’s condition is unchanged. The lunch is nearly ready. Aurora and Babshapka have returned with not only the treasure Willa sent them for, but a stack of books and piles of silver coins besides. They eat, with Willa continually encouraging them to have more, as it may be their last for a while.

    After the meal, they take stock of their supplies and all of the treasure they might carry out. They will possibly be traversing mountains - Willa’s first concern is survival gear. If it is freezing in the day on the valley floor, how cold will it be on a mountainside at night?

    Most of them have cold weather gear - just Shefak and Umbra are lacking heavy clothes. Shefak not having winter gear makes sense - she says her god sent her here through a magic pool. But Aurora seizes on Umbra’s lack of clothes as suspicious. Indeed, now she notes closely the clothes Umbra is wearing - a long black and green robe with fine embroidery, and delicate sandals. “She claimed she had walked here,” Aurora says accusingly, “but those aren’t traveling clothes - that gown should be torn and stained if she traveled in it, and it would not keep her warm at night at all. Something strange is going on - I don’t trust her story.”

    Babshapka shrugs. “Maybe she cached her travel gear before she approached the tower. We didn’t ask her if she had a camp - or even where we are. Too bad, since she is the only one who knows.” He looks over at her unconscious form.

    “Regardless,” says Willa authoritatively, trying to draw them back on track. She points out that Umbra’s pack does include a bedroll, so she can be packed in that for transport, and that will hopefully keep her warm enough in the day. As for Shefak…

    “I’ll manage,” says the Baklunni woman. “Cold, like all discomforts of the flesh, is an illusion that I must practice dispelling for myself.”

    Willa concludes that they should be warm enough during the day, if they keep moving. At night, what do they have? Umbra, as mentioned, has a bedroll. Shefak and Willa have their own bedrolls, as well. Everyone else’s bedroll was on Randy, and is now missing. They briefly consider some of the rugs found in the dungeon, but they are far too bulky for the minimum protection they would give. Willa has her two-person tent, as well - though it is summer-weight and more designed for keeping out wet and insects rather than cold. “It’s wat we got,” sighs Willa. The valley at least is forested, so they can look for campsites with wood for fire, if possible. If anyone gets too cold at night, they can be rotated through the tent the next night.

    Water is their next concern - between the eight of them, they have just six skins, enough for less than half a day. They will need to forage for water sources as well as food as they travel. Babshapka nods thoughtfully.

    Finally, they start dividing up packs, testing their weight, adding treasure, and testing the weight again. Willa carefully cuts the purported portrait of Nholast out of its frame, rolls the canvass up, and stows it in her pack. The books that Aurora wants to bring are huge, leather-bound volumes, and take up far too much space in packs. She carries the diary of Nholast herself, and convinces Thokk to take two more by complementing how strong he is. It is not hard to convince him - the books are worthless to him, but the coins the party is rationing out hold little appeal to him either. He does mumble sadly about “Edgy,” his prized battle axe that was lost with Randy. Thokk takes the book of star positions that Aurora says they will need to find the fallen star, and one other. Aurora is disappointed to have to leave another half-dozen books behind.

    Aurora mentions, in the way she often does, talking about her concerns as if anyone else in the party shared them, that the other book she insists on taking is about “Infernal Bargains” and she hopes to use it to better understand what happened to the Malhel. Tyrius looks at her skeptically. “The only thing you need to understand,” he says firmly, “is that if you try to strike a bargain with an Infernal Power, you lose.”

    In the end, they manage to take all of the gems and other obviously valuable treasures - chalices, statuettes, and so forth. But they will be leaving a considerable number of gold coins behind, and all of the silver. Babshapka leaves 27 of his own silver pieces behind so as to carry the same number of gold; Larry, Thokk, and Aurora do the same with some of their personal treasure.

    “Who’s carrying Umbra?” asks Aurora, as she tests the weight of her pack again.

    “I will summon Eddard,” says Tyrius. “We can secure Umbra to his saddle.”

    Willa shakes her head. “Better build a travois,” she says. “‘Tweren’t no sign o’ yer saddle, neither yer barding, in ther tower above. Mights be unner all t’em rocks, but if ther eigers took all o’ Randy’s bags, ‘twould nae be a surprise t’at they took Eddard’s as well.” Tyrius nods solemnly.

    Once everyone has decided on their final pack contents, Umbra is bundled in her bedroll, Willa encourages them all to eat, drink, and fill their waterskins one last time, and then they head for the surface. With Thokk on one side of the rock barrier and Willa the other, they pass Umbra and the packs through the small hole between them and then assemble outside the tower.

    The fresh air smells of smoke, and wisps can be seen rising out of the ground to the northwest near the tower. Investigation reveals a weed-choked, rusted and pitted iron grate covering a black hole descending into the earth - likely the egress of the kitchen chimney. Babshapka takes just long enough looking at the tracks to confirm that they are indeed eigers, and then begins looking for tall saplings with which to fashion a travois.

    Willa keeps watch on the shadow of the tower, and when it reaches its shortest length, she uses her navigator’s tools to measure the angle of the sun, then determines their latitude to be 27 degrees north. With Aurora, she then looks over Umbra’s map, as well as a more modern version that Aurora has sketched out from memory. The Sage told them that the tower was in the Little Hills, but they both agree that they are not. However, at this latitude, they could easily be close by - most likely on the southern slopes of the Jotens, the mountain range that forms the northern boundary of the Yeomanry. With Willa’s estimate of latitude, they believe their most likely position is at the edge of the Jotens, in the region of Tuckville.

    They know they want to travel north to the star fall location, but agree that they should not strike true north through the Jotens, if that is indeed their current location. “Joten” is an old Flan word meaning giant, but tales are divided over whether the mountain range is named that for the size of the mountains or the presence of numerous tribes of giants dwelling therein (or both). In any event, such a crossing would be difficult even if they were well-provisioned with food, climbing gear, and cold weather gear, and they have little enough of each of those. No, they agree, their best course of action is to leave the mountains as soon as they can, come down into the Yeomanry (if that is where they are), and book passage on a river vessel traveling north.

    South of the Yeoman city of Longspear, the Javan River is the boundary between the Yeomanry and Keoland, and a Yeoman vessel is likely to be found to carry them north, perhaps all the way to Geoff. North of Longspear, however, both sides of the Javan are ruled by Keoland, and it might be more difficult to reach the river without encountering the knight or others looking for them.

    Willa and Aurora discuss their plans. Aurora insists out loud, perhaps suspecting that they are being scried on, that they will be heading south as the quickest way out of the mountains, but whispers to Willa that they should go east. Willa calls her daft and says loudly that they will be traveling east until they find a trail or otherwise pick up their bearings, since all the trails run SE to NW, paralleling the edge of the Jotens.

    Aurora works to transfer some notes from Umbra’s map to her own sketch map. Together, she and Willa then estimate where the starfall may lie. Using the diary and the other book she is taking, Aurora knows the exact latitude and longitude of the starfall - but she does not know exactly where that is in the world, because the maps she has seen have largely not included accurate scales on them, and she is drawing from memory. Her best guess gives an area hundreds of miles across, but one that does not include the Rushmoors and putative location of the “Spidered Throne”. Rather, it is about half of the nation of Geoff and a good portion of the Barrier Peaks mountains.

    However, if Willa continues to take measurements as they travel, she can make the maps they have more accurate, by tying the features they know to specific latitudes and longitudes. Thus, the closer they get to the location of the starfall itself, the smaller the area in which it could be will become.

    Tyrius begins the ten minutes of prayer he hopes will summon Eddard. At the end, the huge white stallion appears. He tosses his mane, sniffs the air, and looks about.

    “Well, that took awhile,” he says with typical understatement. “When I got sent back to the Celestial Realms I knew we were in trouble, and I kept waiting for Tyrius to appear after me. When he didn’t, I knew that he still lived and that you might have won - but wondered why you didn’t call me back.”

    Tyrius fills him in on the end of the battle with the eigers, the past several days exploring the tower, and their new goal of looking for the fallen star. Eddard nuzzles the dry, dead grass and nods thoughtfully as Tyrius speaks. When the paladin gets to the part about how they are short on food, gear, and how he needs to ask the steed to pull a travois with Umbra, Eddard interjects. “Well now, hold on there - what happened to Randy and all your supplies?”

    “They are gone - Randy was killed by rats and, we believe, the eigers took all of the supplies that were on him.”

    “Ho, they took the supplies, did they now? So they held the field after the battle, and you were forced to retreat after I was slain?”

    “No, actually we held the field. There was a long pause in the fighting, and we decided to rest in the basement of the tower, and we left the supplies on Randy’s body on the first floor.”

    “Oh, I see, you thought you had beaten all the eigers but when you set out to explore the tower, you had left some enemies behind without knowing.”

    “Actually,” interjects Shefak, “we knew there were more. At the end of the battle, we saw several of the eigers pause and then retreat up the stairs instead of pressing the attack.”

    Eddard snorts in disbelief. “So you knew there were more eigers in the tower, and you left your supplies behind you in a room you knew the eigers visited?” Eddard now has his head high, and is turning his neck back and forth, looking at everyone in the party. “Not an hour before, hadn’t you all gotten a fright when you almost lost Randy to the void of space? Did you not remember the value of all that gear?”

    “At the time,” answers Tyrius, “I believe that we felt the tower itself was magically generating eigers - I don’t think we thought they were quite real, or that they could actually leave the tower and take the supplies with them. Maybe they would take the supplies, but then we could recover them when we searched the upper floors of the tower.”

    “Magically generating eigers?” says Eddard, his tone even more incredulous. “Wasn’t your first kill the eiger who was out emptying a shite-bucket next to a pile of bones? What would they need to do to convince you that they were real?”

    This time no one answers Eddard’s question. The party just sits in embarrassed silence, except for Thokk, who chuckles, then says “Magic horse talk a lot.”

    Eddard sighs and tosses his mane. “Very well. I was chosen to help Tyrius develop a good head for tactics. I see now that my mandate is broader, and that I am here to help you all learn a thing or two.”

    “Lesson One: You are all soldiers - you are fighting units in an army. Yes, even you, Aurora,” Eddard says, as the half-elf tries to interrupt. “You, in particular, are an artillery unit, but you are still part of the fighting force. Now, the fighting units are very effective at fighting, but in the long term they still need support units. They need more food and water and gear than they can carry themselves. So there are units that don’t fight, they carry things. They are called the Baggage Train.” Eddard pauses to make sure everyone is paying attention.

    “As an army, it is your job to defend the baggage train, because it is a soft target that is easily disrupted by the enemy. Hopefully Randy’s loss has taught you that lesson. The easiest way to defend the baggage train is to keep it well to the rear, out of harm’s way. Then you don’t have to burden fighting units with actively protecting it, which is not efficient. Speaking of which, whose idea was it to bring Randy into the tower in the first place?”

    Again, there is only embarrassed silence. Eddard tosses his head back, looking at the sky as if that will help him remember. “Ah yes, if I do recall, it was Aurora who brought Randy in. Please explain.”

    Aurora flushes and responds hotly. “We had cleared out the first floor of the tower - all of the eigers were dead. I was trying to keep us together, instead of spread out and less defensible.”

    Eddard nods. “Fair enough. So in the future, when you move the baggage train forward into a disputed area, you need to be prepared to defend it. That means assigning a fighting unit as a dedicated guard, ideally one that is tough and can take attacks in place of the train, but one that doesn’t do a lot of melee damage so you are not wasting potential attack capability. I recommend myself, or the dwarf.”

    Eddard lets Aurora and the rest of the party reflect on that before asking, “So, Aurora, did you have any spells left at the end of the combat with the eigers?”

    “Spells? Why, yes. Mostly I was using firebolt for attacks, so I had plenty of spell levels left.”

    “Then you could have cast a mage armor on Randy, right?”

    “Well I...I mean...yes, I could have,” she admits sullenly.

    “Okay, so keep that in mind. The people who would most benefit from your spell, at the moment, are yourself, but also myself and Umbra. It would provide a minimal benefit to Shefak, and would even be slightly better for Babshapka than wearing the armor he has - but he would have to take his armor off. Assuming you want to save three spells for yourself, you have one more a day you can use if you think someone needs a boost.”

    Eddard seems to be done lecturing for the moment, so the party prepares to set out. Babshapka and Tyrius cut strips of leather to bind the staves of the travois together and fasten it to Eddard, then load the bed roll with Umbra, her backpack, and a bag from Tyrius to it. Willa plans on having them go a half-day’s march to the east, up the side of the valley into the mountain slopes if they reach it, but make camp before dark. The day is fair and cloudless, and has even climbed into the forties this afternoon, though it will surely drop below freezing again after nightfall.

    Willa leads the party due east across the lightly forested valley. After half an hour of walking, it is clear that Babshapka is a bit faster than Eddard, while Thokk and Larry are significantly faster. That Larry is faster is perplexing, for he has always been the slowest member of the party, and they had to travel at his speed after they left Barovia. Nevertheless, Willa sends the three of them ahead, to both scout and forage - Babshapka just ahead and remaining so unless he spots trouble, Larry to the southeast and Thokk to the northeast, with orders to check back with the main group every so often.

    For the first mile the going is flat and easy, with the travois gliding smoothly over the dead grass and avoiding thick copses of trees. The temperature is in the 40’s and slowly dropping. As they continue, though, the ground begins to rise more and more steeply, until Willa has to carefully choose their path of ascent up the dry mountainside. Although the tower grows small behind them, it is still clearly visible as the tallest object in the valley. Larry returns to the main group several times to hand off full waterskins and take empty ones, as he seems adept at finding streams and springs along the way. Willa looks for natural switchbacks so that Eddard can manage the ascent, and they gain one ridge after another as they travel up a long draw between higher peaks. Finally, as the sun is nearing the western horizon, they attain the highest ridge yet and look down the far slope. Although that slope is now in shadow, they can see that it descends for at least ten miles in front of them - they appear to have attained the local summit of the mountains encircling the valley of the tower.

    The three scouts have found more than enough food (in the form of small game) and water for the day, so the party eats well that night after they set up camp in a hollow just below the ridge line. Willa sets her tent up carefully, and helps Tyrius carry the unmoving form of Umbra inside. Willa has been watching the group all afternoon, and those who appear to be shivering the most are Aurora, Shefak, and Tyrius. She tells Aurora that she can use the tent this first night and watch over Umbra.

    Willa, Thokk, and Dirty Larry take first watch. Aurora, once in the tent with the flaps closed, removes her crystal ball from its wraps in her pack. She concentrates on it for ten minutes, trying to bring up an image of the knight, but fails.
    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.&nbsp;
    Master Greytalker

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    Tue Jun 09, 2020 10:17 am  
    Post 120: A long, cold journey

    As DM, I wanted to squeeze the loss of Randy the Mule and with him the party's supplies for all of the narrative juice I could. Thus, I made it very clear to the party that they were out of food, had little protection from the cold, and would need to traverse difficult terrain to get back to anywhere they could effectively resolve those two conditions. To their benefit, Babshapka had selected "hills" as a favored environment upon attaining sixth level after the first fight in the tower. This would help his chance to forage and, if he was continually guiding the group, eliminate their penalty for difficult terrain (as it turned out, they were more interested in having him scout ahead and forage than increasing everyone's speed). Thokk had similarly acquired "Fast Movement." Also, I had planned to allow Larry to learn create water after his first full rest in nature (that is, outside the tower), although I did not tell anyone of this plan until after it had happened.

    I have written before (Posts 51, 82) about movement rates, and how I wanted to use the Greyhawk Glossography to provide a little more granularity to the 5E wilderness movement rates. Here are the rates I would now use for traveling in hills:

    Base movements:
    Larry (dwarf): 25 feet per combat turn
    Aurora (half-elf), Willa (human), Tyrius (human-dismounted), Umbra (grey elf - when conscious): 30 feet
    Babshapka (wood elf): 35 feet
    Thokk (half-orc, fast movement): 40 feet
    Shefak (human, unarmored movement): 45 feet
    Eddard: 60 feet - but 50 when "encumbered" (carrying more than 180 pounds)

    30 feet per turn as "standard" movement for comparisons.
    WoGG (p.3) gives "Afoot, unencumbered" at 30 miles per day for road, track, and grasslands.
    WoGG (p.3) gives "Afoot, unencumbered" at 20 miles per day for trackless hills.

    Thus I assumed their movement in trackless hills was 2/3 of what they could do in grasslands. If they eventually found their way to a trail in the hills, I would allow them to resume their grassland rate movement. I also applied this 2/3 reduction to Eddard, even though WoGG gives horsed movement in both grasslands and hills at 45 mpd.

    Thus in trackless hills:
    Larry: 25 fpt, 2.5 mph, 12.5 miles per march, 25 miles pr day. Note that Larry is not slowed by hills since he has Land's Stride.
    Aurora, Willa, Tyrius (dismounted), Umbra: 30 fpt, 3.0 mph, 10 miles per march, 20 miles per day
    Babshapka: 35 fpt, 3.5 mph, 17.5 miles per march, 35 miles per day. Note that Babshapka is not slowed by hills since he has Natural Explorer.
    Thokk: 40fpt, 4mph, 13 miles per march, 26 miles per day
    Shefak: 45fpt, 4.5 mph, 15 miles per march, 30 miles per day.
    Eddard (pulling travois): 50fpt, 5 mph, 15 miles per march, 30 miles per day

    5E DMG wrote:
    EXTREME COLD Whenever the temperature is at or below 0 degrees Fahrenheit, a creature exposed to the cold must succeed on a DC 10 Constitution saving throw at the end of each hour or gain one level of exhaustion. Creatures with resistance or immunity to cold damage automatically succeed on the saving throw, as do creatures wearing cold weather gear (thick coats, gloves, and the like) and creatures naturally adapted to cold climates.

    As with movement, I wanted a little more granularity with this, with increasing penalties for colder and colder conditions. Here are my current house rules for exposure to cold:

    In order to successfully complete a rest (long or short), treat the cold conditions as one ranking colder. Either automatic or successful saving throws are necessary for any time period spent in such conditions to count as rest.

    Below 60F
    Whenever the temperature is below 60F, a creature exposed to the cold must succeed on a DC 6 Constitution saving throw at the end of each four hours or gain one level of exhaustion. Creatures with one factor of protection automatically succeed on the saving throw.

    Below 30F
    Whenever the temperature is below 30F, a creature exposed to the cold must succeed on a DC 8 Constitution saving throw at the end of each two hours or gain one level of exhaustion. Creatures with a total of two factors of protection automatically succeed on the saving throw, those with one factor have advantage on the save.

    Below 0F
    Whenever the temperature is below 0F, a creature exposed to the cold must succeed on a DC 10 Constitution saving throw at the end of each hour or gain one level of exhaustion. Creatures with a total of three factors of protection automatically succeed on the saving throw. Those with two factors have advantage on the save, one factor has a flat +2.

    Below -30F (including from wind chill)
    Whenever the temperature is below -30F, a creature exposed to the cold must succeed on a DC 12 Constitution saving throw at the end of each half hour or gain one level of exhaustion. Creatures with a total of four factors of protection automatically succeed on the saving throw. Three factors grants advantage on the save, two factors +2, one factor +1.

    Below -60F (including from wind chill)
    Whenever the temperature is below -60F, a creature exposed to the cold must succeed on a DC 14 Constitution saving throw at the end of each quarter hour or gain one level of exhaustion. Creatures with a total of five factors of protection automatically succeed on the saving throw. Four factors grants advantage on the save, three factors +2, two factors +1.

    Things which grant one factor of protection
    Continuous physical activity at least as strenuous as walking
    “Traveler’s Clothes” (tunic and breeches, sandals or boots)
    Small, enclosed space (tent, pavilion, sleeping roll, blanket, snow cave, etc.)
    Heat source (campfire, brazier, camp stove)

    Things which grant two factors of protection
    “Cold weather gear” (wool cloak, wool breeches, undershirt, wool tunic, waterproof leather jack, leather boots lined with cheap fur, leather mittens)
    Fur-lined sleeping roll
    The heavy “winter coat” of a living mule for that animal

    Things which grant three factors of protection
    Extreme cold weather gear (fur-lined leather cloak, cotton undergarments, wool garments, waterproof leather pants, fur-lined and hooded waterproof leather jack, fur-lined leather boots, fur-lined mittens)
    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.&nbsp;
    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
    Posts: 965
    From: Sky Island, So Cal

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    Tue Jun 16, 2020 11:49 pm  
    Post 121: Not so lost after all

    DM's Notes: Done with The Tower of Nholast, the party has now returned to a wilderness journey.

    By far the best source for maps of Greyhawk comes from the work of Anna B Meyer ( I used her work for the party's travel. The track they discover today is on her map of the Yeomanry - but where they are on that map has yet to be revealed. I would highly encourage any DM to use Anna's work, and anyone with the means to do so to support her Patreon at

    Predawn and morning:
    Wandering Monster check (Mountains, Wilderness: None)

    Below 30F from 11pm to 9am
    Con checks (10) for
    Aurora (winter gear, tent), no save required
    Willa (bedroll, winter gear), no save required

    Shefak (bedroll, no winter gear) - Con 12, roll 18, pass
    Tyrius (no bedroll, winter gear) - Con 12, roll 18, pass
    Babshapka (no bedroll, winter gear) - Con 12, roll 19, pass
    Thokk (no bedroll, winter gear) - Con 16, roll 23, pass
    Larry (no bedroll, winter gear) - Con 16, roll 23, pass

    Foraging DC15
    Babshapka: 18+7 = 25, 4 pounds food (no foraging after mid-day = 2 pounds)
    Larry: 17+7 = 24, 14 pounds food (no foraging after mid-day = 7 pounds)
    Thokk: 6+4 = 10, fail
    Total party food 9 pounds brought in, 6 pounds eaten.

    Post 121: Not so lost after all

    Actual Date unknown; fourth day after arriving at the Tower
    Actual location unknown, suspected to be somewhere between the Jotens and Little Hills

    The night watches pass uneventfully, aside from the cold. No lights are seen, no sounds heard besides the wind rushing over the ridge.

    In the morning, Aurora prepares a sending spell, among her other spells for the day. After she renews her own mage armor, she uses the sending to transmit a message to her mentor. She is still in Willa’s tent, and her words are muffled, but anyone who gets close to the tent can make out:

    “Visited Tower of Nholast, summoner lieutenant to Asberdies. Mentions another "Master"? Information about Spidered Throne? Valadis? (and . . . ? - Advisor?)”

    The response of her mentor is heard only by her.

    “Nholast already trained when he found Asberdies - who trained him? Master? What Spidered Throne? No records - missing, or destroyed? Tread carefully; keep distance from Keoland.”

    There is still meat left over from the previous day, so no foraging is necessary before breakfast. They cook the game over a small fire from what little dead brush can be collected on the dry, rocky slopes. [Six people eating is two pounds at breakfast, two pounds left in reserve]. As they eat, Larry relates exciting news to the party. Last night sleeping outside, under the mountain stars, has done him well (this has been his first time sleeping outdoors since the party arrived in Highfell, since before the Ghost Tower). The spirits of the mountain have shown him how to summon the power of springs and seeps - he can now cast the spell create or destroy water. Even casting it at first level will create ten gallons of water, more than enough for the party for a day - although he will likely have to cast it twice during the day, since the party does not currently have the means of storing more than three gallons of water at a time, most of their skins having been with Randy. Larry casts his new spell after breakfast and it is, in fact, a wet mess - a fountain of water appears in the air, falling and splashing all about. Those with water skins quickly fill them in the torrent, but as much water falls on the ground as enters the skins, leaving the rocks all around slick and muddy.

    While the camp is being packed, Willa and Babshapka survey the mountain slope in front of them, now more visible in the morning light than it was the night before. Due east the slope descends precipitously, appearing to enter a deep gorge which likely has water in the bottom. While direct, that route appears neither easy nor safe for Eddard and the travois. They decide to head slightly south of east, along a more circuitous route but one with a more gentle descent. Unfortunately they will be in a valley between two ridges and will not be able to see much, but should make good time.

    With the same three scouts as the day before, the party sets out. The route chosen is indeed easy, and Eddard has no trouble maintaining his footing on the gentle downhill slope. The farther they descend, the greener the land becomes, with the rocky slopes giving way to alpine meadows. By mid-morning, grey clouds can be seen cresting the ridge to the south. When they reach the end of the valley, the mountain slope opens up broadly in front of them. The way ahead is now to the north and east, but down a long, gentle slope until it intersects the gorge. They will need to enter or cross the gorge eventually, but not for several miles yet. As they work their way down the slope the clouds thicken, and before long a light rain is falling. It is well above freezing by this point in the day, so there is little danger to them immediately. Bushes get thicker and sparse trees appear as they descend.

    After an hour they come upon the gorge cutting across their path. Willa calls for them to make a mid-day meal, as there is plenty of dead brush about for a fire. The wood is wet after an hour of rain, but several firebolts from Aurora convince it to burn. Babshapka returns with a cloak full of nuts, while Larry has such a large brace of mountain hares that it will not be necessary for any of them to forage on the morrow. [9 pounds food remaining after lunch].

    Thokk brings no food to the meal, but says that his foraging has been interrupted by tracking the gorge along his route. As Willa and Babshapka suspected in the morning, there are steep cliffs all the way down the walls of the gorge that would be impossible for Eddard, let alone the travois, to traverse. At the bottom of the gorge is a rushing stream.

    While they eat, the rain lightens to a drizzle, and finally becomes a fine mist as they prepare for their afternoon march. Everyone’s clothes are wet. If they want them dried before they pass another sub-freezing night, they will need to make their evening camp in trees, with actual logs to burn, not scrub brush. Trees enough won’t likely be found unless they can descend more in elevation, but without going down into the gorge that won’t be possible at first - turning due east looks to take them across a flat upland plateau. Still, they have half a day’s march ahead of them, so Willa is confident that they will find a forested place to camp before nightfall. This time, when Larry creates water before they set out, everyone has their skin on hand and ready, and the pots and pans from lunch arranged on the ground beneath them besides, so that when the ten gallons of water comes rushing out their skins are filled and half the washing up is done as well.

    After two more hours of travel, the party comes upon a track crossing their descent. Hoof-prints and dung show that the track is used mostly by horses, but the size of the prints are far smaller than those of Eddard - these would be mountain ponies, at best. Babshapka examines the prints and finds evidence that they are shod. Aurora sends Buckbeak aloft to scout. The track runs roughly NW / SE. It crosses the gorge a mile north of them, at a narrow spot with a rope bridge of thick braided hemp. Nowhere along the track, north or south, looks to be forested, but if they ignore the track and keep heading east, there appears to be lightly forested mountain slopes an hour or two beyond which they could reach before nightfall.

    Willa confers with the others and decides that they will start heading north along the track, with the goal being to cross the gorge and then camp on the other side. Since that is but a mile away, it should give Thokk, Larry, and Babshapka plenty of time to gather wood on the forested slopes to the east and still make it back to camp before dark.

    Thokk agrees to go look for wood, but takes off his backpack, weighing nearly sixty pounds, and tries to convince the “magic talky horse” to carry it on the travois. Eddard reminds Thokk that he is not a “beast of burden,” and is pulling Umbra only because her life may depend on it. Willa, Shefak, and Tyrius take the packs from Thokk, Larry, and Babshapka. They will be slowed by the extra weight, but with just a mile more to go it doesn’t matter. Aurora sends Buckbeak ahead with instructions to scout the bridge, looking especially for any horses or humanoids, and report back.

    The main group is halfway to the gorge when Buckbeak returns, telling Aurora that the area immediately around the bridge is free of anything larger than a hare. Aurora tells him to keep circling and reporting back. They soon reach the bridge. The thick hemp ropes have been treated with tar to last longer in the elements. A cross-section of the bridge is in the form of a trapezoid, with the wider part above at the width of a man’s outstretched arms, and the narrower part below, at the width of a man’s shoulders. The floor of the bridge is covered in thick planks of weathered lumber. The ends of the bridge have numerous guy lines, anchored with stout wooden posts in the ground and more than one iron spike driven into rock outcrops. The bridge looks wide enough for Eddard, barely, but not the travois. In the end several trips are made across it, carrying both Umbra in her bedroll and the extra packs of those out foraging, but eventually everyone and everything is across without event.

    Willa picks out a campsite on the far side and they begin to unpack, while Aurora sends Buckbeak farther up ahead to look for humanoids or horses, on the track or off. By sunset it has dropped to the low 40’s and they are all shivering when Larry and Babshapka return with great armfuls of wood. Thokk has looped a rope through the arm bands of his great shield, loaded the shield with a huge stack of wood, and is pulling the whole thing like a sledge. The fire is kept low to cook dinner [7 pounds food remaining] but then built up so high that all of them can stay warm in their small clothes while their outer clothes and cold weather gear dry out.

    Watch shifts are set as the night before (Willa/Thokk/Dirty Larry: 8pm-10pm, Aurora/Tyrius: 10pm-12am, Babshapka: 12-2am, Babshapka: 2am-4am, Shefak/Babshapka: 4am-6am). Aurora seriously considers continuing to read Nholast’s diary during her shift and letting Tyrius do the actual watching, but when she takes the book from her pack she sees again the brittleness of the centuries-old pages and the rotting leather cover. She finally decides that reading it is better left for indoors, where a stray breeze won’t blow pages away. Before she turns in, however, she does try to find the knight in her crystal ball, but again without success. As her last act before bed she casts a sending to her mentor:

    “Found ancient map. Meaning or dating of Talathpesh? Knowledge of starmetal? Nholast mentioned "Cruel Lord" that slew "The Master" with starmetal weapon. Sound familiar?”

    The reply, again, is known only to her:

    “Plains of Pesh” place name - loan word from Flan? Cruel Lord was seneschal - Master could be Emperor of Ykrathian Empire? Remember your history! Starmetal unknown.”

    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.&nbsp;
    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
    Posts: 965
    From: Sky Island, So Cal

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    Tue Jun 23, 2020 9:06 am  
    Post 122: Giant Troubles

    DM's Notes:
    By far the best source for maps of Greyhawk comes from the work of Anna B Meyer. I used for the party's travel. The track the party follows today is on her map of the Yeomanry - but where they are on that map has yet to be revealed. I would highly encourage any DM to use Anna's work, and anyone with the means to do so to support her Patreon at

    Predawn and morning:
    Wandering Monster check (Mountains, Wilderness: None)

    Below freezing from 1am to 9am
    Con checks (DC10) for:
    Aurora (winter gear, tent) Con 12, no save required
    Willa (winter gear, bedroll) - Con 14, no save required
    Shefak (bedroll, no winter gear) - Con 12, roll 6, fail, no rest, Level 1 exhaustion
    Tyrius (winter gear, no bedroll) - Con 12, roll 6, fail, no rest, Level 1 exhaustion
    Babshapka (winter gear, no bedroll) - Con 12, roll 4,fail, no rest, Level 1 exhaustion
    Thokk (winter gear, no bedroll) - Con 16, roll 20, pass
    Larry (winter gear, no bedroll) - Con 16, roll 10, pass

    Level 1 exhaustion = disadvantage on all ability checks.

    Post 122: Giant Troubles

    Actual Date unknown; fifth day after arriving at the Tower
    Actual location unknown, suspected to be somewhere between the Jotens and Little Hills

    The night is cold, and the echoes of the rushing water in the gorge below don’t help those shivering in the camp above to sleep. By dawn’s light, neither Shefak, nor Tyrius, nor Babshapka have had a good night’s rest, and they struggle through breakfast bleary-eyed [5 pounds of food remaining]. Willa tells them to walk it off and promises them that they can draw straws in the evening to sleep in the tent - or even have two of them in it, since Babshapka will need it for only four hours.

    For the first ten minutes or so they walk together along the track, as Willa wants to assess their pace. Away from the gorge, the track climbs a steep mountain slope. The track will assure them they are not lost or wandering, but does little to improve their pace, especially that of Eddard pulling the travois. With Larry creating water and enough food already on hand for the day, Willa tells Thokk that he should concentrate on looking for foes rather than game. Since they left the valley of the Tower, he has been the least productive of their three foragers in terms of gathering food, but she does not mention that to him. With no need to navigate, she will also be able to spend more time looking for danger. For his part, Thokk is insulted. “Thokk look for food AND foes,” he says huffily.

    Aurora sends Buckbeak ahead to scout the trail for humans or horses. Thokk, Babshapka, and Larry set out. About an hour later, around 8am, it is still below freezing, but the main party is warm enough after an hour of walking with full packs. The track has climbed steeply and steadily away from the gorge. They are approaching a ridge or saddle point but still have a ways to go before cresting it. In ravines and gullies off the sides of the track are thick scrub bushes and even stunted trees, but the high slope on which they travel is largely bare and rocky. Just ahead of them the track wends through a boulder field, with some of the passages between outcrops too narrow to fit the travois, and Eddard and Tyrius have paused to choose their off-track route carefully. Tyrius, still groggy from lack of sleep, pours a palmful of cold water from his skin into his hand and splashes it on his face, then glances over his shoulder and stiffens. “Willa,” he asks, “when was the last time any of us looked behind us?” [Tyrius Perception roll with disadvantage, 20!]

    The main group, except for Eddard, look down the track behind them. It is perhaps a mile and a half back to the gorge, which is still clearly visible. At a mile distant, but on the near side of the gorge, are three large figures. They are walking steadily toward the party up the rough slope, near the track but not really on it - they walk abreast and are too large to fit on the track. Willa estimates them to be each at least twenty feet tall. The morning sun glints off their arms and armor.

    Willa looks back at their little band - Umbra still unconscious; Thokk, Larry, and Babshapka all off scouting. Only herself, Tyrius, Shefak, and Aurora will be of any use in a fight. And perhaps Eddard. “At least we ‘ave a mile on ‘em. Gods ken 'how close t'ey would hae got if Tyrius 'adn't looked aft. Tyrius, if ye twaren’t a pallydin, t’at alone’d be worth a kiss.” She scratches her head. “Do ye t’ink we all can slip off…?”

    By now, Eddard has awkwardly maneuvered himself perpendicular to the track, so that by craning his neck, he can see the figures’ approach. “Against a superior opponent, the order of preference is run, hide, fight,” he says contemplatively. “Running's not an option - they are moving faster than any of us, except maybe Shefak. Hiding - maybe we could slip off the trail into one of these gullies - if they haven’t spotted us yet. But that doesn’t do much for Babshapka or the other scouts if those giants come upon them later. And where we would want to hide may not be the best ground for us if we do need to fight. Aurora, do you have your rope trick prepared? What about fireball?”

    Aurora doesn’t answer Eddard, as she is busy calculating distances and times in her head. “If we stay put, we have maybe half an hour for them to get here, half that again if they have seen us and start running. We could try to keep ahead of them by setting out ourselves - maybe stretch that time out to an hour or two - and in that time one or more of the scouts might check back in.”

    Eddard looks at the slope above them, and the number of large boulders about. “That’s true enough - Babshapka will almost certainly check back in with us within an hour, and the others probably before two. But we could reach that ridge above us well before then. If we have to fight, I’d rather stay on the high ground than continue on and have the giants above us. And this boulder field would at least give us cover - we have no idea what is on the other side of the ridge. So, about that rope trick?”

    “Yes, I have it ready - but I don’t think you’ll fit inside.”

    “I won't, but don’t worry about me. The giants can’t kill me, just send me back to the Celestial Fields - I am happy to serve as a distraction or diversion.”

    “If we dropped the travois and put Umbra in the rope trick, do you think you would be faster than the giants?”

    Eddard tosses his mane. “Maybe, maybe not. I’d say we are pretty evenly matched in mountains. On flat ground I could easily outrun them.”

    Aurora announces, “If we can get everyone but Eddard in my rope trick, I can send to Babshapka, and tell him to round up the others and warn him about the giants.”

    “True,” agrees Eddard, “but that sending would mean one less fireball if we had to fight. You all need to decide now whether you are hiding or fighting.”

    “Hide,” says Aurora.

    “Hide,” says Shefak.

    With a high-pitched screeee, Buckbeak glides down the slope in front of them. When he gets within telepathic range of Aurora, her mind fills with the thought, “No horses or humans ahead - but did you know there are three giants behind you?”

    Without waiting for Tyrius’ vote, Willa announces that they will be hiding in the rope trick, but that first they need to get behind the largest boulder they can find, to block their operation from the giants’ view, if indeed they are being watched. Once they have maneuvered Eddard behind the massive rock, the party unharnesses the travois. Aurora tells him that he should continue to lead the giants away as long as he can and she will send Buckbeak after him to report on the party - if the hawk alights on his neck, their hiding has been successful, whereas if he lands on his rear haunches, the giants are camped outside the trick and Eddard should return - preferably with the three scouts. Eddard says that he understands, and that he will try to draw the giants as far away as he can before he finds his own hiding spot. Before he leaves, Aurora casts a mage armor on him, and then one on Shefak for good measure. “Obliged,” says Eddard, while the monk just nods.

    As Eddard begins to climb the slope, Aurora casts her sending spell, targeting Babshapka, and saying out loud, “Three giants approaching behind. Alert Thokk/Larry. Rope trick'd to buy hour. Eddard continuing ahead: luring giants hopefully. He'll know result of hide attempt."

    A second later she can hear the response of the wood elf: “I am just over the ridge from you and was returning - it will take some time to find the others. I will start with Larry.”

    As soon as Aurora relays Babshapka’s response to the others, she casts her rope trick spell, and the party climbs into the extra-dimensional space, then passes up their own packs, the parts of the travois, and unconscious Umbra, still wrapped in her bedroll and cold to the touch.

    Eddard pauses at the highest point of the ridge and watches the giants cross the boulder field. It does indeed appear that they had spotted the party, as they spend a few minutes near the largest boulder in the vicinity of the rope trick, bending and sniffing the ground, lifting small boulders and pushing larger ones over. It is not long before they give up and continue on up the path, however. Once he is sure that they are again following him, Eddard turns and disappears over the ridge line. The track now curves much more to the east as it descends a long rocky slope.

    After receiving Aurora’s sending, Babshapka reflects on what he knows about giants. Just about everything he knows, he has learned from repeatedly questioning Larry around hearth fires over the last three months. [Babshapka began with no more information about giants than the fairy tales the rest of the party has heard, but chose giant slayer as his ranger archetype at level 3 in Saltmarsh and giants as his favored enemy at level 6 in Nholast’s Tower. Ever since then he has been asking Larry, who was raised in the Crystalmists, for more specific information]

    As far as Babshapka remembers, giants have their own language, but it is primarily a spoken tongue with some supplemental runic symbols but not a true form of writing. While a particularly clever giant leader might know spoken Common, it is highly unlikely that the three scouts or warriors would be able to read it. He finds a large boulder at the edge of the track and marks it with stone on stone, scratching the message “left trail here” for Eddard’s benefit. He knows the horse speaks Common, but has never before thought to wonder whether he can read. Then he leaves the track, setting off to the east in an attempt to locate Larry. [Babshapka survival role with disadvantage for exhaustion, 10]

    Inside the rope trick space, the party stares intently down through the “glass bottom” entrance. They briefly catch sight of a giant leg, but that is all. Some half an hour later Willa agrees that they can check outside. Aurora takes out her steel mirror and begins binding it to Willa’s belaying pin, planning to lower it through the hole and check all around. As she works, she begins to lecture about how her mastery of the arcane arts has saved the party twice, with her sending spell and rope trick, and how now her superior intellect and preparation with the mirror will save them again. Before she can finish her speech, however, Shefak slips on her ring of invisibility and drops lightly down through the hole.

    Shefak looks carefully all around the slope and sees no sign of the giants, then leaps up, grabs the lip with her hands, and pulls her head through the entryway, telling the others that the coast is clear. They lower the gear, the disassembled pieces of travois, Umbra, and themselves down. Aurora sends out Buckbeak, who flies up and over the ridge, avoids the giants, and eventually catches up to Eddard on the track, alighting on his neck. Eddard nods his understanding and Buckbeak returns to the party.

    They have by now been waiting the better part of an hour, so Willa agrees to finish the hour out here and count it as a short rest. Aurora recovers three of her first level spell slots (the three mage armors she has cast today), while the rope trick and sending remain as spent slots.

    Willa reassembles the travois and then has the others hook her up to it, adjusting its size to try to put most of the load on her shoulders but soon realizing she will need to do a good deal of the pulling with her arms. As they start up the track it becomes clear that they are traveling much slower than before. Tyrius offers to pull with her, but Willa tells him that his keen eyes have already saved them once and she needs him paying attention. By the time they reach the crest, it is ten in the morning and the giants are so far ahead of them as to be visible to only Buckbeak.

    All morning Thokk has been moving north, parallel to the track but well ahead of the party. He has been throwing his javelins at the few pika and mountain hares he has seen, and he has had several near misses but has not bagged any game yet [Survival check = 14]. He has also been indulging in his secret pleasure, turning over rocks to find late-season moths and then watching them dart about in the sun, trying to find new rocks to hide under.

    By late morning his stomach is growling and he becomes increasingly unable to think of anything but the meat being carried by the main party. Eventually he turns and makes for the track, intending to work backwards along it until he comes upon the slower party. Willa told him that besides scouting he should be stealthy, so on his way back he is moving along gully bottoms and darting from boulder to boulder, not spending any more time on the open slopes than he has to. As he rounds a large outcrop and steps out onto the track itself, he freezes - less than seventy-five feet away down the track are three giants, each at least twenty-three feet tall, and rapidly approaching. [Thokk perception check, 9].

    Thokk eases himself slowly back around the outcrop and then flattens himself against its side, his desire to enrage and charge at the giants at odds with the knowledge that they far overpower him. For the moment his internal conflict allows him to do nothing more than hide [Thokk stealth roll 20, giant perception check 17]. Eventually he arrives at the same thought he told Willa in the dome of Nholast’s tower - it is not that he is afraid, since Thokk claims not to know fear - it is just that there is no glory to be gained by defeating these giants when the party is not there to see him. No, he will allow these giants to go now so that he can beat them another day when he has an audience.

    Crouching behind his rock cover, Thokk watches the trio lumber up the mountainside in front of him. They have deep blue skin and a patchwork of mismatched pieces of armor. Two of the giants bear great axes, so large that no human could lift one, while the remaining giant carries a human-forged two-handed sword in one hand.

    Thokk reflects on what his father told him about giants, and the scraps of information he overheard the shamans tell other orcs, since they never would deign to speak to him. The blue skin means that these are frost giants, fierce warriors of a race that lives on the highest snow-covered peaks. They come down to these elevations only in the winter, for any day above freezing feels like the hottest of summer days to them. They delight in battle, but have little patience for anything else, a proper attitude for a warrior. His father told him that sometimes, in the harshest of winters, they would come down to where his tribe lived, and then the orcs would hide themselves in caves. While the giants were certainly strong enough to dig the orcs out, they would bore of the task long before it was accomplished and move on. “And if we had to fight them?” Thokk asked his father once, when he was young and naive and still dreamed of succeeding his father as chieftain. His father told Thokk that he should, in that case, prepare many giant-sized caltrops to restrict their movement, and then attack them from just outside their melee range with as many well-disciplined javelineers as he could field. And that he should expect to lose one or two dozen strong tribesmen for each giant they managed to slay. [5E Note; orcs are Challenge Rating ½, while frost giants are Challenge Rating 8].

    Buckbeak spots Thokk returning along the track as the party is going down the slope on the other side of the ridge. After he and Willa exchange stories, he moves to be rear guard for the party. He takes a vantage point to their rear, hides and waits until they are just out of sight, then jogs along the track to catch up to them before selecting another lookout point at which to wait.

    As they walk, Aurora presses Tyrius for information about Eddard. “He is still in the mortal realm, but more than a mile away, so that I cannot converse with him,” is all the paladin will say.

    “Shouldn’t he have hidden by now, shouldn’t you call him back?”

    “So long as we are not at full strength, I know he would rather be out there. If the giants finding him means that they do not find Larry and Babshapka, that is what he would prefer, to be of service. If we have not found him by the time we are all reunited, I will call for him.”

    By 11:30am Buckbeak finally spots Larry and Babshapka returning up the track to them. Willa, tired of pulling the travois, immediately calls for a halt. As the group prepares for lunch (with Willa allowing them a smoky fire of dried grass and scrub brush), Tyrius first sends a prayer dismissing Eddard from his service, wherever he is, and then, moments later, summoning him back to the mortal realm.

    Babshapka tells them that Larry was far off the track to the east and that it took all morning to find him. Larry appears more concerned with showing off the ten pounds of mountain hare he has brought back [after lunch, 13 pounds of food remaining] and complaining that he missed the opportunity to hurl a lightning bolt at the giants.

    Upon his appearance, Eddard explains that he spent all the morning just ahead of the giants, never losing them as they trudged forward. On the bare slopes, he never had a chance to hide from them, but at least he will be able to describe to the party the terrain they will encounter for the rest of the day’s march.

    After lunch Willa and Tyrius gratefully harness Eddard back into the travois and the whole party sets out. Knowing that the giants are nearby, even if ahead of them, and with two days of food on hand, even Willa is now willing to keep their scouts close and aware rather than foraging far afield. Thokk remains as rear guard, while Buckbeak circles directly above them, watching the track both in front and behind. Babshapka and Larry scout ahead of the group, but always within thirty minutes of them and not too far off the track to either side.

    The track is now nearly level, only slowly gaining in elevation as it works its way mostly east along a flat layer between two slopes. Beneath them, the slopes are forested and have numerous streams, but for the entire remainder of the day they remain above treeline. As the sun drops behind the high mountains to the west, Willa calls for camp and dinner [11 pounds of food remaining].

    Before she turns in for the night, Aurora uses her crystal ball. This time she checks not on the knight, but on his assistant, the one charged with recovering the book back in the Dreadwood. Aurora reasons that he may be less well protected from scrying than the knight, even if he was not present at Highfell. This time, she is successful. For the next ten minutes she watches carefully. The man is indoors, with a few candles burning in an otherwise darkened room. He is reading a book, but Aurora can not get close enough to make out the print. She is reasonably sure it is not the huge, leather-bound Chronicle of Secret Times, but rather a smaller and thinner work. He is in comfortable robes, but arms and armor hang upon the stone walls of the room, and a low fire burns in the hearth. The room is silent aside from the crackle of the fire and the turning of pages. Aurora doesn’t object when Willa tells her that she is forfeiting her place in the tent to those who did not sleep the night before, and offers only the warning that if she doesn’t sleep, she won’t be able to recover her spells.

    As soon as the tent is set up, Umbra is hauled within it. As soon as Babshapka finishes eating, he enters the tent to trance, and remains there until after midnight. Refreshed and renewed, he then cedes his place to Shefak, who accepts it humbly. Tyrius had earlier insisted that the monk sleep in the tent rather than him. When he did so, Willa approached him in private, saying she figured as he would insist on Shefak taking the tent, but that she needs him better on the morrow and having recovered his spells, so she insists on him taking her bedroll for the night. Besides, she says, she has always slept hot and her fisherman’s shack lacked the stone walls and wool blankets he grew up with in his palace. Tyrius smiles at her gentle barbs and reminds her that he grew up in a manor house, not a palace, but graciously accepts her bedroll.
    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.&nbsp;
    Master Greytalker

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    Tue Jun 30, 2020 1:27 pm  
    Post 123: Out of the Unknown

    DM's Notes:
    By far the best source for maps of Greyhawk comes from the work of Anna B Meyer. I used for the party's travel. The track the party follows today is on her map of the Yeomanry - and the party will discover in this post that it is the track between Tucksvale and Fort Thomas. I would highly encourage any DM to use Anna's work, and anyone with the means to do so to support her Patreon at

    Anna's Maps include both Tucksvale and Fort Thomas. As far as I know, there are no canon sources for these, but Fort Thomas is referenced in the Living Greyhawk Module Yeo3-05 (A Friend in Need), which also lists both the Spear and the Pickled Eel, although the descriptions of these, as well as the fort, are mine. Fort Thomas and Tucksvale both are also referenced in Yeo 4-01 (Flesh and Spirit).

    Post 123: Out of the Unknown

    The night is below freezing from 2am to 7am. Con checks (10) for
    Shefak (bedroll, tent, no winter gear) - Con 12, no roll needed, exhaustion removed
    Tyrius (winter gear, borrowed bedroll from Willa) - Con 12, no roll needed, exhaustion removed
    Babshapka (winter gear, tent, no bedroll) - Con 12, no roll needed, exhaustion removed
    Thokk (winter gear, no bedroll) - Con 16, roll 28, save
    Larry (winter gear, no bedroll) - Con 16, roll 10, save
    Willa (winter gear, no bedroll for tonight) - Con 14, roll 21, save
    Aurora (winter gear, no bedroll) Con 12, roll 11, save

    Night encounter check, patrolled mountain, none

    Actual Date unknown; sixth day after arriving at the Tower
    Actual location unknown, suspected to be somewhere between the Jotens and Little Hills

    Morning encounter check, patrolled mountain, none

    This day dawns a bit warmer than the previous, with a fine mist hanging in the air. As it lightens, they can see that downslope from their camp thick rain clouds blanket the verdant forests. Here they are above the clouds, though, and only a thin layer of damp settles on the rocks and brush. After breakfast [9 pounds of food remaining] Willa gives them their assignments for the day; the main party will be as before, and Thokk will take rear guard again. Larry and Babshapka will walk ahead of the party, staying close as the day previous, with Larry upslope to the north and Babshapka downslope to the south. Buckbeak will keep an eye on the track immediately ahead of and behind them.

    The march is fairly level all morning long, along the rocky bench between the two slopes, with the lower slope continually obscured by rain clouds. Every so often there is a steep switchback leading to a higher bench, but then the going is level again. Thus they slowly gain elevation all morning, and by their midday meal [7 pounds of food remaining] they are considerably higher above the clouds than they started. Babshapka, back with the main party for the meal, spends some time checking the track both in front of and behind the party and finally asks them at what point the giants left the trail. He explains that there were clear giant tracks ahead of them on the trail when they broke camp this morning, but now there are no signs of them - the giants must have left the trail at some point during the stretch covered by this morning’s march. Apparently no one in the main group was tracking them, however, and no one can answer Babshapka’s question.

    Soon after they resume their march, the nature of the track changes. Rather than continuing laterally along the face of the mountain, they turn and begin to scale it directly in a seemingly unending series of switchbacks. Both outrider scouts return to the main group, for without climbing gear the switchbacks are really the only way up the cliff face. Pausing frequently to help the travois negotiate corners, or just to rest, they spend the better part of the afternoon gaining elevation. By the time they finally crest the last ridge, Thokk and Larry agree that they are now higher than they were in the valley of the tower.

    The switchbacks back down the northern face of the ridge are just as steep, but they need to rest less so progress is faster. Having left both clouds and mist behind they can see the other side of the valley clearly, but for only a limited distance. They are entering a small bowl, perhaps two or three miles both long and deep, and ringed with higher mountains. As they come out onto the valley floor, the scouts are able to spread out again, and Babshapka returns to their evening camp with more hares [collected 7 pounds of meat, 12 pounds remaining after dinner]. The valley is sparsely forested, reminding them of the valley of the tower, and as they sit around a good campfire in the evening, watching the setting sun color the peaks to the east of them, they discuss sleeping arrangements for the night and plans for the next day’s march.

    When the conversation dies down and some in the party assume their watch duties while others arrange themselves to sleep by the fire, Aurora takes out her crystal ball and unwraps it. She mutters and passes her hands over it. Inside the ball appears an image of an ancient elf, sleeping peacefully underneath a blanket with intricately woven patterns. His bedchamber has earthen walls through which thick roots protrude, and a wooden door that seems to be carved from a single piece of wood. For the ten minutes she watches he does not stir, although he does sigh heavily from time to time.

    Night encounter check, patrolled mountain, none

    Below freezing from 11pm to 9am. Con checks (10) for
    Willa (winter gear, bedroll) - Con 14, no roll needed
    Shefak (bedroll, tent, no winter gear) - Con 12, no roll needed
    Thokk (winter gear, no bedroll) - Con 16, roll 15, save
    Larry (winter gear, no bedroll) - Con 16, roll 23, save
    Aurora (winter gear, no bedroll) Con 12, roll 21, save
    Tyrius (winter gear, no bedroll) - Con 12, roll 11, save
    Babshapka (winter gear, no bedroll) - Con 12, roll 19, save

    Actual Date unknown; seventh day after arriving at the Tower
    Actual location unknown, suspected to be somewhere between the Jotens and Little Hills

    Morning encounter check, patrolled mountain, none

    It is cold in the predawn, dropping into the low 20’s, cold enough to rouse Tyrius from his sleep. He starts the fire going from the embers of the night before. Over breakfast [10 pounds of food remaining] Willa assigns duties: Thokk hidden rear guard as before, Babshapka taking the trail ahead of the party, scouting but remaining hidden as he does so. Larry, so far their best provider, she gives leave to roam as he wants, on either side of the track, near or far from the group, as he needs in order to forage, so long as he checks in at meal times.

    The party spends the early morning covering roughly three miles across the floor of the forested valley until they reach its northern end, where a high mountain awaits them, higher than the ridge to the south. The rest of the morning sees them climbing the steep slopes of the mountain, gradually leaving the trees and alpine meadows behind until by the time they stop for lunch [8 pounds of food remaining] they are again on rocky slopes above treeline. Larry, empty-handed, joins them.

    Due to the steepness of the slope, Larry stays on the trail with them in the afternoon, but continues to try to forage by walking ahead of the main group with Babshapka. By mid-afternoon they have crested the highest ridge yet and together are looking down at the valley beyond while the party continues to work their way up the slope behind them. The track snakes down the mountainside before them and then enters a narrow valley of low grass. There are no trees apparent, although a curving line of scrub brush might indicate the course of a stream. Some two or three miles to the north, the track passes in front of a large fortification. It looks to have wooden palisade walls with stone towers rising above. There may be some outbuildings nearby but it is difficult to tell at this distance. There is no obvious movement of occupants at this distance, but human-sized individuals would be hard to spot. They are confident that the party can reach the structure before nightfall.

    Larry and Babshapka remain at the crest of the trail, scanning the valley below, while waiting for the main party to arrive behind them. When they do, Willa tells Aurora to send out Buckbeak to scout from the air while Babshapka and Larry move ahead stealthily. The hawk takes to wing while Larry selects his wild shape, opting to become a mountain lion. Babshapka and Mountain Larry begin moving down the slope toward the structures. Babshapka has continuously been using his ioun stone up until now to lessen the food demands of the party, but now he stows it so as to be less visible.

    By the time Babshapka and Mountain Larry have reached the valley floor and are starting forward, Buckbeak has reached the structures. From her vantage atop the ridge, Aurora can see the hawk make one wide, looping circle high over the buildings, then lose elevation and go in closer, then sink from view. He does not return to report. After he has been gone several minutes and remains lost to view, Aurora says the silent words that would temporarily dismiss him, then tries to call him forth again, nearby. Nothing happens. Aurora tells Willa that Buckbeak may have been “killed”, and Willa tells the party to descend the mountain slope to the valley floor at normal speed, but then to proceed with caution. She says they will not approach the fortification itself until they hear back from Babshapka and Larry.

    Babshapka and Mountain Larry approach to within about half a mile of the place. From there, it is clear that there is a large wooden building, of at least two stories, outside the main walls of the fort. The fortification itself is small, with a square of wooden palisade walls perhaps fifteen feet high. High round stone towers are inside each corner of the walls, and a lower stone tower is outside the center of the west wall. A square stone building is in the center of the complex, just higher than the walls, and a plume of smoke comes from it. Neither the walls nor towers have roofs - all are flat and open to the sky. The wooden outbuilding has a peaked and likely shingled roof, and a thin plume of smoke rises from a chimney. Neither Babshapka nor Mountain Larry sees any figures moving outside the walls or building, and since the wind is behind them Larry is unable to scent anything. The fields immediately outside the fortification are flat and close-cropped as if they are regularly grazed, but nowhere is any sign of domestic animals - no barns, no fences, no paddocks. A few huge crows pick through the grass near the fortification.

    There are no planted fields to be seen, no plow furrows in the flat fields of dead grass. To the east of the fortification are perhaps a dozen mounds that might be small and regularly-spaced haystacks, but they are odd in both shape, size, and position.

    As they approach, Babshapka keeps them near, but not on, the track leading to the place. All along the track at least there is still signs of the mountain ponies - both hoofprints and droppings. The most recent are more than a week old but less than a month.

    Babshapka and Mountain Larry separate, with the crouching elf moving through the high grass to the east, while the slinking lion goes to the west. Babshapka draws close to the haystacks. Each mound is small, perhaps three feet high and three wide, and kept together by thick cords of twine. On their north face they have been painted white, with a blotch of red in the center. There are a dozen of them in all. Babshapka is at the very edge where the high natural grass meets the close-cut grass near the fortification - to get closer, he risks being seen. From this distance, the sound of numerous voices bounce off the stone of the place, and an occasional, deeper grunting noise. Both the palisade walls and the round towers have battlements, and he can see a figure moving along one of the walls.

    Mountain Larry moves to the wooden outbuilding, several hundred yards away from the fortification. Here the high grass comes almost up to the walls, so that there is just a small cleared yard. As he approaches he can see that it is actually two buildings, one next to another. The larger of the two is two stories, the smaller little more than walls around a large room. The track passes in front of the buildings and continues on north - a side branch goes to the fortification. Both of the buildings are entirely of wood, although the larger has a small, stone chimney and several cords of wood neatly stacked outside. The source of this wood is unclear - there are no actual trees in the valley, and neither are there stumps. For that matter, the huge timbers of the wooden palisade have no obvious source either. Both buildings have wooden doors and shuttered windows. The smell of humans is thick about them - sweat, and smoke, and nightsoil.

    Babshapka remains in the high grass as close to the walls as he can without being seen and listens for a quarter hour. He watches the figure walk around the walls - there must be a catwalk inside the palisade. Just before he is ready to go, the clanging of iron on iron sounds and voices are raised. He stiffens, but soon realizes this is not an alarm. Rather, the voices are raucous and laughing - he suspects that was a dinner bell. Babshapka retreats from the fortification and moves silently to the wooden buildings at the crossroads. There, Mountain Larry crouches, sniffing the air and twitching his tail. He is not very well hidden, and Babshapka is glad Larry did not pass closer to the watchman on the walls, and that all the windows of these buildings are shuttered.

    Babshapka and Mountain Larry withdraw from the crossroads and move along the track to the south, meeting up with the main party advancing cautiously at about a mile from the crossroads. Just before they are within speaking distance, the party can see a group of a dozen figures sally forth from the fortification and begin making their way up the road.

    At the appearance of the figures, Willa calls for a halt, at least until Babshapka and Larry have reported in. She tells Tyrius to be ready to unharness Eddard. Aurora says that it would be nice to have Thokk present by the time those figures reach them, and Willa agrees. She tells Shefak to find the half-orc swiftly but return stealthily - they can set up near the party if it looks like surprise is needed. Shefak receives a mage armor from Aurora, slips on her ring of invisibility and takes off up the track behind them.

    Babshapka reports to the party about what he saw around the fortification, and Aurora uses message to see what Larry would like to add - in his Mountain Lion form, he can understand speech but not speak (nor can he cast spells, although at some point he would like to cast speak with animals to get the local perspective on the situation - perhaps from one of the crows near the fort). Aurora relays what Larry saw around the wooden buildings, and he adds that if the party would advance just a hundred feet or so, there would be an excellent spot of high grass in which as many party members as wanted concealment could hide. When Aurora passes this along to Willa, she agrees to advance to the point where Mountain Larry slinks off into the grass to hide (Stealth check 16), then again calls for a halt. Tyrius unharnesses Eddard, who receives a mage armor from Aurora.

    Shefak runs rapidly up the track and quickly (Perception Check 17) locates Thokk, who is well concealed from the south of an outcrop, but rather obvious from the north (Stealth Check 8). Together, the two of them begin to return to the party, who are now set up defensively on the track as the dozen men approach from the fort.

    The men are obviously carrying shields, but moving rapidly enough that they must be in light armor and without packs. The closer they get, the more they resemble a standard patrol from a fort - identical uniforms, the matching stride of disciplined men, not bandits. Willa tells the party to stand down and look inoffensive - Babshapka joins them, leaving only Larry hidden. She tells them to have their weapons ready, but not drawn.

    At a quarter-mile it is apparent that half the men carry longbows, the other half spears. All are in chain shirts and long leather breeches - only the spearmen have shields. At fifty paces the bowmen stop, and fan out in formation. They have arrows nocked, but pointed at the ground and their bows are not drawn. The spearmen continue on unhesitatingly.

    At twenty paces, five of the spearmen stop and assume a formation abreast across the track. They have the copper-colored skin and long, black hair of the Flan - their features are similar enough that they could be cousins. A sixth spearman continues on another ten paces in front, and Tyrius walks forward to meet him. When he is just within striking distance of the man’s spear, but not close enough to use his own war hammer, the spearman holds up his hand, and Tyrius stops. “Hold, stranger,” says the spearman. “What is your business in the League?”

    “I am Tyrius of Sterich, Paladin of Pelor, and these are my companions. We travel in peace, and seek only passage to the north.”

    “You are on the wrong side of the Jotens for a Sterishman, but Pelor is respected in the League. Hail and welcome to Fort Thomas.”

    [At the mention of “Fort Thomas”, Aurora now knows where they are. (History check 17). She casts a message spell, surreptitiously (Sleight of Hands check 17) pointing at and whispering to Willa and then Tyrius that they are, as they had thought, between the Jotens and the Yeomanry. Had they turned south when they reached the trail rather than north, they would have arrived in Tucksvale.]

    “We thank you for your welcome. We have been traveling the wilderness for quite some time, and would enjoy a night under a roof and a chance to buy supplies, if such is to be found at the fort.”

    “The fort itself is an installation of the League Militia. You will not be allowed to enter. The two buildings you see at the crossroads are inns - the larger is the Spear, the smaller, the Pickled Eel. Both are closed for the winter, but they are run by free folk and you look as though you might have the means to convince them to open for you. I warn you though, it is a grave crime for a foreigner to threaten a citizen of the League.” (The man clearly emphasizes “free folk” in his speech - Tyrius’ earlier encounters with people of the Yeomanry in Nighford and Highfell lead him to believe that the man is drawing a pointed comparison between his country and Sterich, where the majority of people are serfs, not free men).

    “Of course. You have my word as a paladin that we will only appeal to their faith and desire for profit; we are not here to threaten your countrymen. Should they refuse us service, we will make our camp outside their buildings, if that is acceptable. A hot meal and soft bed would be most desirable, though. Would they or you have supplies? We are in need of both food and camping gear.”

    The spearman shakes his head. “This is a fort and two inns, not a trading post. Winter is upon us and what little we have will be sorely needed. If you wish to purchase supplies for your travels, you will need to continue on to Singleton.” Tyrius nods his head in agreement. The spearman continues, “There is one more thing. Earlier in the day a bird flew over the fort. We have reason to believe it was sent by a sorcerer or witch to spy upon us. This would also be a serious crime.” Although he is speaking to Tyrius, the spearman is looking directly at Aurora as he speaks.

    “I understand,” says Tyrius gravely. “You have my word that we will abide by your laws within the jurisdiction of your fort.”

    The spearman looks at each of them in turn, meeting their gaze as if evaluating them. When he gets to Umbra, still unconscious and wrapped in a bedroll, his brow furrows in concern. “Is she ill? We will not have you bringing sickness to the fort.”

    Tyrius carefully considers his answer. “She is...resting. I believe it is a condition of her people. I cannot say that I understand it, but on my honor I do not believe it can pass to other people, at least not to humans.” When the spearman, who still has not given his name, continues to look doubtful, Tyrius adds, “If any of your soldiers are of the faith of Pelor, and are in need of healing, I would be happy to share the blessings of the Sun God with them.” That seems to have tipped the balance in their favor, and the spearman says that they may proceed to the fort.

    It takes a few minutes for Tyrius and Willa to harness Eddard again, and in that time both Shefak and Thokk have arrived. Seeing the party readying to leave, Thokk seems prepared to walk into their midst and check in with Willa, but Shefak lays her hand on his forearm and he remains hidden. Neither they nor Larry seem to have been spotted by the soldiers.

    When the party is ready to move, the spearman returns to his five squadmates. They pull off the track and allow the party to precede them, then follow behind. The bowmen do the same, so that eventually the party is headed for the crossroads with all dozen of the soldiers following behind them, and Thokk, Larry, and Shefak being left behind, still in hiding.

    When the figures before them are about halfway to the crossroads, Larry resumes his dwarven form. Thokk and Shefak emerge from the grass on to the track and begin walking, no longer attempting to conceal themselves, as if they had all been in a rear guard, or hunting, the whole time.

    For the group in the lead, the fort and two buildings at the crossroads come in to view. What Babshapka earlier took to be two stone towers along the middle of the west wall is revealed to be a barbican with an iron door. All four of the corner towers have ballistae, with crews manning them, slowly turning them to keep them trained on the party.

    At the crossroads, the soldiers leave the party and head to the fort. Willa notices that the iron door is just wide enough for them to enter single file, and it is not kept open long. Looking between the wooden buildings, the larger one two stories, with a stable and smoke coming from the chimney, and the smaller one with none of these things, the party opts to try the larger of the two, what the spokesman called “The Spear”. All the windows are shuttered and the door closed, but they bang on the door and wait. When the door opens, Tyrius moves to the front of the party. Facing them is a grizzled man in advanced middle age, muscled but with a clear paunch, and hobbling on a single wooden crutch, his leg held at an odd angle. Tyrius asks for shelter for the night. The man looks out at their group suspiciously and says that they are closed for the winter. Tyrius says that he is a paladin of Pelor and would be happy to use his healing abilities on the man’s leg if he would consider lodging them. The man sucks on his lip, and finally responds that a priest of the Sun God is always welcome, especially during these dark days of winter when the sun is seldom seen. He opens the door wide and hobbles back inside.

    The five members of the party present pass in to the common room, where a low fire burns in an open hearth. The room smells of smoke and earth and manure - despite the abundant wood pile outside, he is burning a mix of peat and pig dung. There is a trestle table that is taken apart, and a dozen chairs that are stacked up. The man introduces himself as Marcus, waves his hands at the table and chairs, and says it will take him some time to get the inn ready for their stay. A meek-looking young woman emerges from the kitchen, followed by an older woman with a lined face and poorly-dyed hair.

    Willa says that they will be grateful just to sleep in beds, and that if he can direct them to work they will help prepare the inn. The older woman scowls and leaves through the front door, while the younger one goes upstairs to begin preparing bedrooms. Willa says that Aurora can help get the dinner ready. Aurora ignores her and moves to sit next to the fire, opening her pack and taking out the diary of Nholast. Willa removes the meat from their packs and goes to the kitchen. Tyrius and Babshapka remain in the common room, setting up and arranging the furniture according to Marcus’ directives, and then carrying Umbra into the first floor bedroom, which she will share with Tyrius.

    By the time the common room is nearly ready, the door opens and Shefak, Larry, and Thokk enter. Marcus’ face reddens at the sight of the half-orc and he begins sputtering - “You didn’t say that...If I had known…” Tyrius moves to his side and gently helps him into a chair. The paladin apologizes and explains that Thokk is a brave warrior, but is loyal to the party and will not harm anyone in the inn. Marcus is silent but fuming, and Tyrius distracts him by removing his boot and unwrapping his foot. The ankle has been broken and healed at a bad angle, the whole foot is inflamed, but more seriously, half of the foot itself is missing. Marcus explains that he was a member of the Yeoman Militia in his youth, until he lost his foot defending the land against an orc raid. “Huge brute though he was, I killed him myself with my spear, but not before his axe took off half my foot.” He had been a frugal man and saved much of his wages, and his pension would give him more besides, so he inquired at the time about whether the foot could be healed. This wound, the loss of a limb with bone and all, would require regeneration - a seventh level spell requiring a 13th level priest, and beyond the abilities of any paladin. The cost would be far beyond what any soldier or innkeep could make in a lifetime. Tyrius shakes his head sadly. Marcus took what savings he had, built this inn, and retired here to Fort Thomas. There are few travelers, mostly soldiers on patrol and the occasional merchant men who supply the fort, and that is just as well. Marcus would rather his clients understand him as a former comrade-in-arms than pity him as a cripple. Tyrius lays his hands on the wound and can see the obvious relief in Marcus’ face. His ministrations will lower the swelling and inflammation, ease the pain for a few days, maybe a week, but he cannot do more.

    Once Marcus’ boot is back on he goes to the kitchen to help Willa with dinner. She talks to him about giants, and whether the inn is defensible or not. He chuckles. The wood walls of the inn are thick, he says, there are barred shutters and double-barred doors, and there is a cistern in the basement. The inn can stand its own against goblin raiders, and has! But against giants? More than once since Marcus built it have giants been spotted. Then he leaves the doors open and retreats to the fort. Fortunately frost giants are more interested in battle and glory than looting. They engage the fort, trading thrown rocks for ballista fire and arrow volleys, and are usually driven off or become bored, or die once they reach the yard and try to batter down the doors of the keep. They have no interest in sieges, which is fortunate, since when it snows the tracks to Singleton and Tucksvale are impassible and there are no relief parties. Willa mentions that they saw giants on the trail two days ago, and Marcus replies that the militia men of the fort would likely want to know that. (Later, Tyrius slips out to tell the soldiers of their sighting. Most seem appreciative, but one man complains that the captain will have them doing ballista watch all night).

    When the dinner preparations are going well and Marcus has shown Willa around the kitchen, he hobbles upstairs, sighing in relief at the relative ease with which he can navigate the steps now that his foot is not swollen. He checks that the girl has prepared the rooms to his satisfaction. When he comes down, Tyrius asks whether it is possible to have their clothes laundered, and he says yes, but they would need to stay all the next day. That prompts Willa to ask whether they can at least have a hot bath after dinner. Marcus sucks on his lower lip again and says politely that baths means firewood, and the firewood is for paying customers. Apparently everything he has done so far has been in exchange for Tyrius’ healing! Tyrius assures him that they are paying customers, and Marcus tells the girl to bring in wood from outside and water from the basement. Shefak moves to work alongside the girl. She smiles her appreciation shyly but does not speak.

    The party insists that Marcus joins them at table. Over dinner (which includes the game the party has brought, now deliciously salted and fried in pig fat, along with potatoes, and winter greens - 5 pounds of food remaining) they ask him about Fort Thomas and the surrounding area of the Yeomanry. At first reticent, he grows more loquacious when Thokk wolfs twice his portion of food and then goes upstairs to his bed.

    Fort Thomas, he begins, is a simple defensive border fort - of no economic importance, it just exists to protect the communities of the Yeomanry from anything that might emerge out of the Jotens. No travelers besides patrols have been through in at least three weeks. The soldiers of the fort see long stretches of no action but constant drilling, interspersed with occasional desperate goblin or orc raids and, in the winter, giants. Thus it is an ideal “first posting” for green militia recruits and staying at the fort any longer than a first posting is considered less than prestigious. Veterans of the fort frequently patrol the tracks between it and Singleton to the northeast and Tucksvale to the southwest, but as often as not they are the only traffic on the trail.

    Tucksvale is a small halfling town, famed for breeding long-haired mountain ponies. Their own militia, mounted slingers and bowmen, acts as auxiliaries to the Yeomanry militia and also patrol the trail to Fort Thomas. They are a self-sufficient community, but have few exports beside the woven products their women make from the long hair of the ponies. These are taken to the market in Cottonton to the south, though, and do not pass through Fort Thomas.

    Singleton is a market town of more than a thousand souls, the largest settlement outside of Longspear in the northern Yeomanry. It receives the produce from all the sheep crofts and farming villages in Singleton Valley, as well as the ores of many mines besides. Largely it serves as the commercial nexus of the region, keeping the whole area interdependent, but it does export goods to Longspear and Baransford (in Keoland). If the party is looking to buy supplies, they should be able to find anything they need there. The town is on a small river that flows into the Javan.

    The party asks how long it will take them to get to Singleton, with Umbra being drawn by travois. Marcus says two or three days with fair weather, but warns them that should it rain or snow the track becomes either unfindable or impassable. He asks them where they are going after Singleton, and they look from one to another until Willa confidently says Sterich. In that case, says Marcus, the easiest way would be to try to find passage on a river boat on the Javan. There are fewer this time of year, but they still run since the Javan up to Sterich is ice-free even in the depths of winter. The most direct way would be to go north from Singleton to Eldmyn, and then to Baransford on the Javan in Keoland. It would take longer to go south to Longspear, but if they did that they could try to find a good Yeoman captain instead of a Keoish one.

    From Marcus’ tone it is clear that he bears no love for the Keoish, so Willa asks him to expound on relations between the two countries. He says that the two nations are currently at peace and enjoy mutually profitable trade. In the case of the Yeomanry League, that trade is even vital, for Keoland is the largest export market for Yeoman goods. Despite this, no true Yeoman can forget that the Yeomanry was once conquered by Keoland and its people forced to toil in an exploitative colony. Nor would any of them doubt that should Keoland annex them again, their proud freemen would be made into serfs, just like all the feudal nations around them. Thus, the Yeomanry remains polite to Keoland, but wary.

    Willa asks Marcus about local ruins, such as towers in the Jotens, and he says he has no idea. Occasionally patrols will go off the track and deeper into the Jotens to check for humanoid lairs, but he has not heard of ruins. Who would have built them, giants?

    After dinner, while Marcus does the washing up, his girl draws the water that has been heating during dinner for baths for those in the party who are bathing (Thokk and Larry abstain). After they change into their cleaner sets of dirty clothes, Aurora returns to reading by the fire, while Willa and Tyrius clean and sharpen weapons and tend to their armor. Babshapka moves between rooms upstairs until he finds the one with the best vantage point, opens the shutters to the cold night air, and takes first watch. Shefak helps with the washing up and baths, while Thokk and Larry snore away.
    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.&nbsp;
    Master Greytalker

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    Tue Jun 30, 2020 1:28 pm  
    Post 123: Out of the Unknown

    Double post.

    Moderator, please delete.
    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.&nbsp;

    Last edited by Kirt on Wed Aug 12, 2020 10:47 am; edited 2 times in total
    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
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    Tue Jul 07, 2020 6:11 am  
    Post 124: Fort Thomas to Singleton

    DM's Notes:
    By far the best source for maps of Greyhawk comes from the work of Anna B Meyer. I used for the party's travel. The track the party follows in this post is on her map of the Yeomanry, from Fort Thomas to Singleton. I would highly encourage any DM to use Anna's work, and anyone with the means to do so to support her Patreon at

    Fort Thomas is referenced in the Living Greyhawk Module Yeo3-05 (A Friend in Need), which also lists the Spear Inn. Fort Thomas is also referenced in Yeo 4-01 (Flesh and Spirit).

    I know of no canon sources for Singleton, and it is not on Darlene's map. It receives a single-line mention in the Living Greyhawk Player's Guide to the Yeomanry. It is described in more detail in Living Greyhawk Module YEO6-04 (Blood Shadows) and also by GMGhostmaster at

    Post 124: Fort Thomas to Singleton
    15 November, 570 - The Spear Inn, Fort Thomas, the Yeomanry League
    After nine days sleeping on the ground or stone dungeon floors, the party greatly enjoys their beds in the inn and more than one of them is late to breakfast [3 pounds of food remaining]. Tyrius, however, is up before dawn to lead a sunrise service for a handful of soldiers from the fort. How many are faithful followers of the Sun God and how many are merely curious about the strange Sterish priest is not clear, but at least a few of them know the words to the hymns and the others murmur along.

    Bags are packed and Eddard harnessed to the travois. Marcus the innkeep asks for two gold and five silver a head, not including Eddard or Umbra. The price is a bit high considering the quality of the establishment, but factoring in the off-season and its remoteness it is not that far from fair. Many in the party give him three gold without hesitation. He takes their coin with a smile, but looks perplexed when Babshapka hands his over.

    “Is there something wrong?”

    “These coins - they're gold all right, but what is the mint? It’s not Yeoman, and not Keoish neither.” Marcus holds out the coins for them to see - the writing cut on them is in Suel, the heraldry, a device that none of them recognize. Most of them instantly grasp that Babshapka has, without thinking, passed off some of the gold coins the party took from the tower of Nholast - coins that are eight centuries old at the least (although the relief on them is still sharp, as they have not been in circulation). “Where are these even from?” asks Marcus, still confused.

    “I’m well-traveled,” shrugs Babshapka, and quickly offers Keoish coin instead, which Marcus accepts gratefully. Once they are out of earshot of the inn, Aurora says that they must add something else to the list of things to do in Singleton - exchange all their coinage so as to not be so conspicuous. She is in favor of visiting a blacksmith or jeweler and simply having it melted down into ingots, while Willa says it should be sufficient to visit a money changer.

    Once on the trail north, they quickly resume their standard practice of having Babshapka, Larry, and Thokk scouting and foraging while the rest of them travel as a group. In the morning, at least, they are absent Buckbeak. The open meadows of the valley which surround the fort soon narrow and eventually close to a steep-walled canyon with a stream running alongside the track. Throughout most of the morning they continue down the canyon, occasionally climbing to the rim above when it is so narrow they would have to walk through the stream or bushwhack through the riparian scrub brush.

    When the scouts have returned and the party is stopped for lunch on a saddle pass between two valleys, Aurora takes out a block of incense and her brass brazier and summons Buckbeak. Then as they settle in to their lunch [1 pound of food remaining], she tells them of an interesting passage she read in the diary last night (DC38). In it, Nholast recounts that on one trip to Valadis, he recovered something called “the remains of the master” and later he refers to them as “the relics of the Whispered One”. At this last phrase, Umbra twitches violently - the first any of them has seen her move in days. Tyrius is at her side in an instant, feeling her brow, checking her pulse, but there seems to be no change from before, and she does not move again.

    “We nay be goin' thar,” says Willa flatly.

    “Where?” says Aurora distractedly, more interested in Umbra’s reaction.

    “Valadis. We nay be goin' thar. Nay more fishin'.”

    “Oh, that. Yes, fine.”

    In the afternoon they descend from the saddle and follow the track down a lower, broader valley. Soon after Willa has selected their campsite, Larry appears with a kid mountain goat and a bag full of wild onion bulbs. Since they have been following the stream all day, he has not not had to even create water for them. [9 pounds of food remaining]

    In the evening, Aurora uses her crystal ball to scry on the old elf again (for the second time). This time, she again sees him in bed, but there is a young elf maiden making tea over his fire, and then serving it to him. The maiden sits next to him and looks on lovingly as he sips it.

    [Night of the 15th: Freezing from 11pm to 9am
    Larry, Thokk, and Aurora make their Con saves, Tyrius does not.
    In the morning, the paladin has one level of exhaustion.]

    16 November, 570 - North along the Singleton trail, the Yeomanry League
    Babshapka, as usual, has last watch before the morning, and he makes a circuit around the camp as soon as it is light enough to see well. When Larry rouses, Babshapka asks him whether he used his wild shape in the night - when the dwarf says he did not, Babshapka shows him the tracks of a mountain lion that approached but did not enter their night. [wandering monster, patrolled hills]

    After breakfast [7 pounds of food remaining] the party sets out. All morning they pass through narrow, rocky canyons just wide enough for the track and the stream bed. At noon Willa has them camp on a high spot with a good view of the surroundings. From there they can see that east of them the land opens up into a great, green valley - although the track they are following turns north.

    After lunch (5 pounds of food remaining) they set out again. On the slopes above the valley, they can see spread out near them dense forests and open meadows. Lower and closer to a river are fields, villages with herds of sheep or kine, and brown patches that might have been cropland in the growing season but which has since been harvested and frozen over. On a rocky promontory to the south of them, several miles off the track, they catch repeated glimpses of a large, lonely stone tower.

    After lunch they leave the stream from Fort Thomas behind as it spills down into the valley below while they continue along the mountain track. By going down into the verdant valley, the foragers find the hunting easier and the prey more abundant. All three of them return with food for the dinner meal (Babshapka 2 pounds, Thokk 6 pounds, Larry 20 pounds; 31 pounds remaining).

    After it is well and truly dark, Willa sends Babshapka back along the trail to the spot from the best vantage point of the valley below. All along the river are the tiny lights of fires; myriad villages and shepherd’s crofts. The forest above the river is as dark as the night. When Aurora scrys the old elf (third try) she sees only his darkened room and him sleeping peacefully.

    With Tyrius ending the day as exhausted as he began it, Willa loans him her sleeping roll, trying to ensure that he gets a good night’s rest.

    [Night of the 16th: Below freezing from 10pm to 10am
    Tyrius recovers from his exhaustion. Larry, Thokk, and Willa make their Con saves, Aurora does not. In the morning, the wizard has one level of exhaustion and has not recovered any spell slots. Since she used three mage armors on herself the day before, she can use only one today, and thus is protected from only 7am to 3pm.]

    17 November, 570 - North along the Singleton trail, the Yeomanry League
    (29 pounds remaining after breakfast) The morning’s work is to climb the switchbacks of the rocky ridge separating the valley they are in from the valley of Singleton. As the party climbs, they occasionally catch glimpses of the stone tower far to the south. Close to midday it is lost from view, and where they camp for lunch offers a vista of the forests of the Singleton Valley to the north (27 pounds, plus 12 more from Larry is 39).

    As they descend into the next valley, the scrubby slopes quickly become thick with pines, and still lower, broad-leaf trees whose leaves have been shed for the winter. Their horizon shrinks from vast mountain vistas to less than a hundred yards of trees all about. However, the soft, leaf-covered ground and gentle slopes are much easier for Eddard to negotiate, and their travel pace picks up. (from 7 miles per 5 hour march to 10 miles). Long before dark they emerge out of the forest into the grassy plains above Singleton and continue on another two miles before making camp for the evening. They can see the town beneath them, some five miles distant, but before they arrive they will need to pass through numerous thorps and dorfs along the way. Thokk brings 12 pounds of meat to dinner (49 pounds remaining). The land that lies ahead is pastoral, and it is likely that the plants and beasts therein belong to someone. Willa is glad they have built up a considerable surplus of food, for from here on out she doesn’t dare send any of them foraging without having them accused of poaching or worse.

    Aurora’s scrying of the old elf in the evening (fourth try) is unsuccessful - perhaps the ancient one has finally made a save against her ball!

    [Night of the 17th: Below freezing from 9pm to 10am
    Aurora sleeps in the tent and recovers from her exhaustion. Babshapka, Thokk, and Tyrius make their Con saves, Shefak and Larry do not and have one level of exhaustion each. The next morning, even Larry admits that he was cold the night before and will be glad for a fire in the evening, if not a room or bed at an inn.]

    18 November, 570 - North along the Singleton trail, the Yeomanry League
    The track into Singleton from this point out is well-traveled, and Babshapka decides to stow his ioun stone so as to be less conspicuous. They pass all manner of Yeoman farmers, herders, and traders on their way to the town, arriving well before noon, and are able to find a suitable inn and have lunch, with the afternoon still open for exploring and shopping.

    Shefak and Larry, still exhausted, agree to remain at the inn and guard the party’s belongings (and Umbra!). Willa convinces Thokk that he needs to stay at the inn as well and challenge to a drinking contest any Yeoman who enters.

    The party soon finds that today is not a market day, although the next day will be. Apparently Singleton is a small enough town that market days (when the public spaces are crowded with stalls and traders come in from the countryside) are held only two days a week in the winter (three in the summer, when there is more trade). Today only those merchants who have permanent store fronts are doing business, so the party will have to content themselves with the higher-end purchasing and trading they need to do, and leave the acquisition of normal supplies ‘til the morrow.

    They start with a few shops selling custom leather work, and Tyrius purchases three bits and bridles, a military saddle, two pack saddles (for the pack mules they plan to purchase when the stock yards fill on the morrow), a set of saddlebags, and some heavy winter gear for Umbra and Shefak. The conversation then turns to barding, with Tyrius arguing that his heavens-sent steed deserves the best, while Aurora points out how expensive it is and “look what happened to the last set”. When this debate spills out on the street, Eddard clears his throat pointedly. Tyrius looks up sheepishly and says that they should the steed's opinion, since he is the one who will be wearing it. Eddard explains that he is honestly not that impressed with the quality of workmanship seen in the equestrian goods available here. Singleton is just a town, not a city, and the Yeomanry does not have a strong tradition of knights or even heavy cavalry. Eddard suggests that they purchase leather barding for now, which will give him a minimum of protection but will likely be safer for him should they find river passage. They can look into chain, scale, splint, or even plate barding once they reach Sterich and can find something of better quality. This seems like a reasonable compromise, so after a bit more searching they buy a set of leather barding sized for the great war horse.

    The next store mostly deals in high-end pipe weed (an important Yeoman export), but does have a small selection of incense for Aurora to consider; she buys three blocks.

    The rest of the supplies they need can better be bought at the market on the morrow, so they turn to selling. Willa finds an authorized money changer and Tyrius explains that they need to change some obscure currency into local coin. He shows the man one of the coins from Nholast’s tower and he is impressed. After first ascertaining that it is real gold, he begins to pepper Tyrius with questions. Tyrius readily admits that they are adventurers and that they got the coins plundering ancient ruins before Willa and Aurora force him to stop. The money changer says that he can trade only up to 100 gold, but that he will give them ninety gold in Keoish or Yeoman coin for a hundred of theirs. After some more negotiation he agrees to give them the equivalent value in Keoish platinum griffins instead and the party finds the deal quite favorable. The money changer says he could change even more for them later but will need some days to draw together the coin.

    As they stroll jeweler’s row, the party briefly considers selling the three dozen gems they recovered from the tower, but ultimately decide that the gems are a more portable form of wealth than coins. They do resolve to free themselves of some of the more bulky items of treasure, however. Working the shops for the rest of the afternoon, they manage to sell the following treasures for gold coins (they ask for Keoish gold lions, which seem readily available in this border town):

    Gold and Silver Necklace for 45 gold lions
    Silver Chalice for 50 gold lions
    Gold Chalice for 70 gold lions
    Gold Pin for 85 gold lions

    Furthermore, Aurora trades in her powdered gold and platinum for 50 gold lions, and purchases a pearl suitable for use with her identify spell for 107gp.

    Willa insists they keep the silver seal. The statuette with emerald eyes is identified by Shefak as being a representation of a Baklunish god, and the party gifts it to her. Aurora decides that the powdered gemstone will likely prove useful in the future for spell ingredients and is of little value otherwise so this she keeps as well.

    They also visit blacksmiths, weapons-makers, and armorers to have their gear serviced and repaired.

    It is nearing dark and the shops are closing when those out finally return to the inn. After a hearty dinner of their own game supplemented with all the inn has to offer, they retire to their shared rooms, but keep to their customary watch schedule. Upon deliberation, Aurora decides not to take out her crystal ball - there are too many prying eyes at the inn, and staring into a glowing orb for ten minutes or more will certainly mark her as a wizard. She can still maintain plausibility as a scholar, however, while reading Nholast’s diary, which appears like any other erudite tome. Even in the common room, the faded Suel letters would have to be carefully studied to read, and casual passersby should have no idea of its nature or contents.

    This night she reads for two hours (DC39 and 40 in the book). At one point, Nholast refers to Asberdies as “a typical Malhel”.

    [Dinner; 42 pounds food remaining]
    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.&nbsp;

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