RPG@QUT Matt's D&D

DM log-- Gloomwrought 5

When we last left our heroes, Brad and Zepher had gotten into a spot of trouble in a tomb. Now let’s talk about what the others were up to. As Zora, Brad, and Zepher headed toward the Fettered Ward, the others peeled off to split up the pursuing guards of the Deathless Watch. Then Bastian split off down an alley to further foil the pursuers. But Bastian never made it to the end of the alley, and here is why, as told by him:

Bastian was with the party as they left the Three Crowns under the leadership of Zora. During the first
interaction, Bastian was preoccupied with her scars, thinking that they might be similar to his own, and so Zora dismissed him and after that he prudently did not make his voice
known. He noticed as they slipped around that the party was getting a lot of second glances, but that he
in particular was getting the lions share. There was a few who seemed fascinated, whose eyes followed him
with wistfulness or with glee. However, there were many more displaying revulsion, with one shadar-kai spitting
on his boots as he passed, but luckily he was fleet footed
enough to avoid most of it. As a result of this, he decided to be more retiring than usual and attempt to stay
out of the public eye. He did the same when the party interacted with House Treyvan, and soon enough was
with the party attempting to gather clues as to the location of their quarry.
During the course of this investigation, the alley the party was walking along opened out into a wide boulevard
(wide for Gloomwrought, anyway). It seemed as if the buildings lining it were unusually static, as if standing
to attention (or being held in check). There was a long procession progressing along this boulevard, and holding
up all traffic. The citizens, however, were unusually silent in the face of this inconvenience. Each alley
was guarded by two or three burly individuals who would peel off the front, and who would rejoin the rear of the
procession. In the centre was a veiled palanquin, borne by eight muscular dragonborn. Their scales were oiled,
and they were in pairs of identical colour, ranging from sand at the front to russet at the back. A ring of
guards encircled the palanquin. They stood out for while they were polished and oiled like the rest of the procession,
their gear had obviously seen lots of hard use, and the guards wore it with the confident ease of long use. All of
these pointed to a rich and powerful figure residing in the palanquin, someone obviously respected, or feared.
The palanquin passed the party seemingly without incident, but soon after an officious scribe was escorted to the
party by a guard. The crowd parted before them, and the scribe addressed whoever was in the lead with a sneer, asking
how much they wanted for ‘That Fey Beast’. He ran a down a list, noting things such as: “Of course, it seems to
have been well-trained, so you’ll ask more for it. It is, however, quite extensively damaged, just look at the
face, so that reduces its value somewhat. I see it has a lute, so it must have at least a little ability, and
I’m sure it can be trained to play properly…” And so forth in that vein. It was quickly made clear that Bastian
was not, in fact, for sale (overriding some potential grumbling from Theren), and the clerk departed in a huff,
leaving an ominous parting message: My master Lord Norduvian always gets what he wants.
Rather unsettled, the party continued on, collecting their clues. In Carradh Keep, after catching the attention of
the guard, an officer seemed to be paying more attention to Bastian than to the rest. As they left to the acropolis,
the officer made a show of intimidating Bastian, grabbing him by his shirt and slamming him against a wall. Unbeknownst to the party, he attached a small golden clip to the back of Bastian’s collar.
The clip was inscribed with runes and set with a very small ruby, but somehow seemed… slippery to the eyes, as if
it was trying to avoid notice. In their investigations, after mounting attention from the guard, it resolved to an all-out chase. As the party
came to a cross-alley, Bastian directed them to go one way, whilst he ran another direction, using all of his
skills of projection (aided by a Shout of Triumph) and performance to make enough noise to mimic a party
trying to run away. A detachment of guards came after him, and despite his best efforts he eventually came to a
blind alley. Seeing no other option, Bastian attempted to Fey Step out of harm’s way. It was then that the pin
activated. A band of energy, the same colour blue as Bastian’s eyes, shot out from either side, forming a collar
that tightened around his neck, inhibiting his magical abilities and preventing him from teleporting. They later learned this device is called a feytamer. However, the
energy from his spell still escaped, and interacting with the binding qualities of the collar created a small
unstable portal, centered on Bastian, into the Feywild, that sucked Bastian and two guards in.
Perhaps these two guards were more resourceful than most, or perhaps the Deathless watch is just that good. They
were quite competent in terms of survival and combat, and quickly cottoned on to Bastian’s skills as a healer and
negotiator. For several hours they wandered, combining skills to survive the dangers of the Feywild.
Bastian cooperated, as he was reasonably helpless due to the collar prevented him from using most of his magic. Meanwhile, the portal around his collar
continued to be unstable, pulling in and spitting out random things (including a displacer beast into the streets of Gloomwrought), until it flared with a new dark energy, pulling Bastian and one of the guards (a monk) into the tomb.

Meanwhile, Theren, Amos, and DTIS were caught by the Deathless Watch, who knew the shifting streets far better. As with Brad and Zepher, they were knocked out, shackled, and put into a cage inside the main station, in a different semi-underground room with a wooden ramp leading up to a wide window. When the ceiling started to press down, the residents of another cage heaved their way over to the ramp and were hauled out by the panicking guards. When our heroes were similarly hauled up, they did not make it: stuck at an angle against the too-narrow opening, the ceiling continued downward, forcing the edge of their cage through the floor below. The floor broke into pieces and they fell, still in the cage, into a long-abandoned dusty room. They could escape the battered cage but had no way to go back up—the ceiling of the jail room was now the ceiling of this room they were in. After wandering through several rooms and corridors, a weak light bled up from one corner of a room that had crumbled into ruin; the smell and roar of the sea wafted in. Looking down they saw that the hole broke through the upper crust of a sea cave, its opening glowing in the twilight gloom of the Shadowfell, foaming with waves pounding their way in. Flotsam came and went. For quite some time our heroes tried to find an alternative, but then decided to jump into the sea, waiting for a particularly large chunk of ship decking to wash under them.

Holding onto the decking, they tried to swim out of the cave mouth. But the force of the waves was much stronger than they had reckoned, and even after they abandoned their float and swam full pelt, they could not prevail. After minutes of struggle they wondered if this would be their watery grave. Then, below them, a light glimmered. Deep underwater was a narrow round passage cut into the stone, and bits of sea life were flowing into it, as if pulled by a current. From the passage came a weak, dim, strange light. Their soul link switched on like a snap of the fingers, and they saw through Brad and Zepher’s eyes the tomb, Zepher’s light, and a round passage pouring sea water into the tomb. They knew this was their chance.

They dove to the passage and discovered that it was covered with a fine grating of spinning lathes, shredding anything that got sucked onto it, including our heroes’ fingers. DTIS was distracted by a small treasure chest {which he spent PP to find, and contained a standard loot roll which surprisingly rolled up an amazing item}. This he scooped up. Holding their breath in the gloom, they considered how to get through the grating. Then the shark appeared.

They fought off the shark, which became increasingly frenzied as their blood started to cloud the churning water. Some used their strength to pop the rivets holding the grating in place and some fended off the flashing teeth. The grating soon fell away and the heroes swam into the passage. The pressure of the rushing water shot them through like a cork from a bottle of bubbly and they landed with a splash in the tomb, at the feet of Brad and Zepher, who were now knee-deep in rising sea water. Then the shark popped in.

Also popping in were Bastian and the monk: after cartwheeling through space, flung into the abyss by a tentacle, they fell through a whirlpool of light and were spat out into the tomb through a similar portal.

The fight continued against the undead and the shark {a combination I reckon you might never again encounter in D&D}. The water rose until they were wading, then swimming, then fully submerged when it reached the ceiling. Zepher used his magical freezing fist to bang against one of the doors of the tomb and the others chopped at it with weapons and pummelled it with judo kicks when they were not chopping at their foes. They broke the door enough to start letting the water out, and they used a switch on the wall to stop the water from flowing in. After a hectic fight, the undead and the shark were no more, and they were left exhausted and dripping in the tomb. They chopped down the rest of the door and continued deeper into the tomb, at last reunited.

In the chest they found quite a bit of gold, and a fascinating item. It was a wide brass ring set with precise notches and gems, with screw threads on the inside edge. Theren and DTIS realised {with an impressive memory of the game and leap of reasoning, so give 1 Plot Point to each of them} that this could be screwed into place around the compass Theren had found on the ghost ship, the Blanche-Nef. The gems faintly glowed, but faded again, and they reckon they need to be outside for the compass to find its bearings and for the new addition to show its power.

{Combat foes (including trap) were 1900 XP, divided by 5 combatants (but as usual all party members get the same XP) so 380 XP for each!}

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DM log-- Gloomwrought 4

Our heroes reported back to Zora, who was impressed they had gotten some clues, but alarmed about the attention they had drawn from the hated Deathless Watch, who was combing the streets looking for them. {The party at this point had 2 failures in the skill challenge.} She hurried them away from the Dust Quarter but the Watch pursued closely, and were gaining. DTIS stopped and put on his bravest face (perhaps literally; he is an automaton after all). He told the others to go on; he would throw the guards off their trail. Theren, perhaps wanting to share the heroic spotlight, said he would join the effort. Bastian announced they would need a healer. And Amos just liked the idea of running around barking to attract attention. So Zepher and Brad hurried on with Zora as the main body of the party headed down a different alley, brazenly taunting the guards. {In fact Scott and Rachael were on holiday, as was Amos, and Aerro had a last-minute conflict. Only Kat and Callum remained in this cozy little play session, which was a fun change of pace. The bit about them distracting the Deathless Watch reduced the number of skill challenge failures by 1, to give the remaining pair more of a fighting chance to succeed.} We will return to the tale of the others; for now we will follow Zepher and Brad. Strangely, Zepher soon very quickly lost his soul link with all the others, so their tale remains untold for now.

After some hurried dashing through buildings which were becoming increasingly restive (and which squished Zepher at least once), Zora halted them at the edge of what she called the Fettered Ward. Here the buildings were in constant motion and the statues displayed a wide and ever changing range of passionate emotions, of lust, anger, and merriment. It was crowded here with many drunken, desperate, partying, or angry residents thronging the streets, and the architecture seemed to pick up and amplify their emotions, whipping everyone into a frenzy of passions. As if to keep the city from flying apart, chains connected all the buildings to one another, forming a web overhead of pulling, slacking, clinking, and tightly snapping chains. Some residents deftly balanced and swung on these chains to avoid the crowded and filthy streets.

Zora said she had “a fund set aside for bribes and bail, which obviously we don’t need all of, at the rate you are going.” She made them promise not to tell any of her confederates later about the following exchange: she’d give them 1400 gold, keep some of the fund for herself, and none the wiser—as long as Zepher and Brad stuck to the story that they needed to spend 2000 gold in bribes at the Harskel Acropolis. Our heroes agreed and pocketed the money. {This was a loot reward for a successful phase of the skill challenge.}

Zepher and Brad knew they next needed to find a “K. H.” at a place called The Red Door. Brad’s keen sense of the streets led them to a gambling den, where he planned to get some information. The residents there, contemptuous as usual of our natural-world heroes, intimidated Brad into playing with loaded dice. Brad still came out ahead in the ensuing gambling and gained enough trust to get some information from them. This was aided by Zepher buying them some strong drinks with an extra dose of knockout drugs, loosening their tongues and eventually rendering them legless.

Using their new knowledge, they found the Red Door, which was obviously a brothel, and talked their way in with the “K.H .” handkerchief as an aid. They were escorted into a waiting room by a huge half-orc who referred to their hostess as “mom”. This mom came down the stairs and Brad could not help laughing, which got them off to a rocky start. This woman they sought, Kryssa Halfheart, was a beautiful half-elf. If the half-orc was truly her son, there was some imaginative coupling in the old days. In any case, Zepher and Brad tried to convince her that Ferrens, in league with Marek, could not be trusted and they were besmirching the good reputation of Kryssa. Meanwhile Kryssa was trying to seduce Zepher, to no effect, though perhaps it made him miss fellow elvenkind in this city so devoid of that race. Trying to use every advantage {and the players did this very well, in this continuation of the linear skill challenge} they tried to talk Kryssa into giving up the location of Ferrens. However, Kryssa was powerful and wise, with more than a century of adventure under her finely-wrought belt, and deemed these upstarts too green of a branch to rest upon. Her questions became more pointed and dubious.

Suddenly, a figure burst out of a large, gilded chest which was in a corner of the room: a male clad in a very tight leather suit, covered with zippers, and face hidden by a leather hood. “Ferrens!” Kryssa exclaimed as the man dashed out of the room. Zepher and Brad followed in hot pursuit. Kryssa called in the streets for the Deathless Watch. Ferrens soon took to the chains over the streets to make his way faster. Ironically, though Brad was the athlete of the group, he was the one who failed rather spectacularly. Reprising his Tarzan yell, he tried to swing on a chain to catch up the Ferrens, only to end up in half a somersault and crashing into Zepher. Both of them fell into the street and were surrounded by the Deathless Watch {the third failure of the skill challenge having been met}. The resulting fight was very quick. The Watch were highly skilled and ruthless, and in just a few exchanges, Brad was knocked out and Zepher realised that surrender was the only option.

They were put into a prison under a building seemingly dedicated to the Deathless Watch. For some reason they were in moveable iron cages inside the underground stone-walled room. Zepher gasped to see that etched onto the stone on one of the walls was his father Malik’s sigil again, and an arrow pointed down. Across the way was another prisoner in another cage, with a sleeping woman. His name, he said warily, was Link, and he bristled when asked if his wife’s name was Zelda. Link was mostly preoccupied with getting a smoke. He complained about the uncomfortable cages since “Everyone knows the Keepers won’t ever close this building—the Watch have their noses so far up the Keeper’s asses. It’s been years since even one brick of this place moved.” But after some time—hours or days, it was hard to tell—our heroes woke to rumbling and Link was screaming for rescue. The ceiling was slowly grinding downward. Guards ran in and urgently looked for some particular of pry bar they needed to get the cages out of the room, but in a panic they failed to find it, and fled. The ceiling pressed on the tops of the cages and soon the bars started bending. Link and his wife scrambled into a stairwell but it closed up just behind them. Our heroes tried to open the chest that held their equipment and behind it found the pry bar. Zepher propped it on top of the chest and used the force of the lowering ceiling to crack the wood asunder. They grabbed all their things and wondered if they would be squashed. The floor started to crack and fall away brick by brick, revealing a black void below. Soon there was no floor left, and they fell.

They landed in a dusty stone room that looked like it had not been touched for many years. Its exits were closed off by old collapsed brick rubble. There was no way back up and out—the ceiling of their prison room was now the ceiling of this one. Zepher saw Malik’s sigil next to a grate in the middle of the room, so they pried it open and entered an old sewer drain. This they followed to another grate with another sigil. Dropping down from there they entered a natural cave system with only one viable way through. They emerged into a natural underground chamber, one sided of which seemed like a hillside that had somehow been buried. Very old withered grass still covered it. In the side of the hill was a rectangular tomb entrance, and Malik’s sigil glowed on the postern. The stone door that had sealed the tomb was shattered. Zepher looked at the door’s markings and recognised it as the signs of Nemeia, a powerful queen who ruled a tiefling empire in the Shadowfell centuries ago.

Zepher and Brad carefully crept down the stone passageway into a large square room, Zepher’s dim arcane light revealing walls with a line of tieflings in a procession. In the center of the room the floor was badly cracked and filled with rubble. In a square near the edge of the room were a series of runes, which Zepher reckoned might be activated by being stepped upon or over. And in the darkness ahead they heard rattling breath, smelled long-dead flesh, and knew they were not alone. Feeling vulnerable in their pool of light, they moved around the edge of the room quietly. But they were not the stealthiest pair. {They both rolled a 1 on their stealth rolls, and decided to play it up to the hilt, so Brad and Zepher each get 1 Plot Point for rolling with it.} Brad glanced at the wall he was sliding along and saw it was crawling with hundreds of bone white, blind spiders. He screamed. Zepher, startled, jumped away from the wall and landed on the runes. A great rushing noise came from the center of the room. Brad, pinwheeling his arms to brush off imagined spiders, crashed into Zepher, who clutched at Brad to stay upright. They tripped over the rubble and fell into the middle of the room. They coughed: the rushing was noxious gas. In the rubble, Zepher sat up. Brad sat up. A skeleton sat up. Zepher screamed in surprise and his light went out. And in the darkness they heard the clatter of bones, the grating noise of two large iron doors sliding shut at either end of the room, followed by a final-sounding boom. Then a creak. Then the crash of water hitting the stone floor.

{Give the party standard 250XP each (1 monster of same level) for general good adventuring. Bastian had 6 Plot Points left over from Fallcrest he had not converted, so give everyone another 6×12=72XP each.}

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Foul Dimensions
Theren's Log

Thankfully, dear readers, I have struggled through the worst of the Shadowfell madness that I was subjected to – I think. For a time I couldn’t find the will to survive let alone to record my adventures, however all that has changed! Allow me to recap –

We ran to save the young elf girl who had so captured our concern. She was dangling above what appeared to be a nest of giant flesh eating maggots. DTIS surged forward to save the lady, sweeping Zephyr aside in order to do so (Zephyr refused to get out of the way). The wizard went flying, and with an ear flinching pop DTIS used his teleportation powers to swap places with the lass. Our relief lasted only a moment. With a sigh of relief her skin began to peel off her body. In the same way a cicada might peel away its outer shell to reveal a larger bug beneath the skin, so too did the elf lady peel her outer shell away revealing the vile Vilma. She revealed that she was the dark version of Vilma, and that she used this dimension as some kind of resort or getaway, before proceeding to invite disgusting amphibian-humanoids with thick powerful tails to attack us. Every time we struck them they would slap at us with their tails and knock us down, sending out waves of the mucky slime water.

I fear Zephyr had the worst of the battle, however, as Vilma (who was standing over his prone body) sent him into a magical slumber, and squirmed her way into his ear to infect his dreams with a nightmare of her own device. It was bad enough to share a mind link with him – I cannot imagine the horrors he himself faced.

It took us a great deal of time to get the upper hand in the battle, but as soon as Vilma disappeared from the fight we were able to whittle down her warty warriors. At that point I realised that even if we won this battle, it was likely we would die somewhere else in this dark hell hole. Obviously it was some mind trick of the Shadowfell, for I would never die here. A man of my calibre is destined for greater things than to die in the dark and the mud, amidst wheezing crones and treacherous wizards with no one to marvel at my prowess or mourn me as the greatest loss of the last ten generations (at least).

The others felt fit enough to explore Vilma’s Holiday Cabin – at the time I was too disheartened to want to pick through the hag’s inventory. They claim to have found three voodoo dolls of themselves that seem oddly alive, some money, as well as a vast cauldron of tea. They must have been up to some funny business in there, however, as the cauldron of tea exploded, taking the building with it and showering us with the foul concoction.

Such brews seem to be Vilma’s special-tea in more ways than one – we were left reeling (or maybe I should say we were unrealing) as the world around us warped and twisted in ways it hadn’t been doing before – difficult to achieve considering the Shadowfell’s penchant for being twisted. I had no idea if I was lying on the ground for a minute or an hour (I’m developing a theory of time where-in a minor form of time travel is tea-time, due to the discrepancies caused between perceived personal time and external time, but I shall need a new notepad to go into that) but eventually I got up and re-joined the other party members, who decided to press on. Luckily they were insistent, as I had little will to carry on, and if left to my own devices I would have sat in the mud until I was eaten by something, such was my disposition.

Zephyr had not recovered from the attacks Vilma made against his mind, and so was carried by DTIS to start with. We passed by what seemed to be the most extraordinary and unlikely sights while under the influence of the tea. I was in no mood to appreciate it, but in retrospect I have never seen anything quite so strange and marvellous – giant tortoises with stones balanced precariously on their back were eating at cabbages that rose from the ground. Where they bit into the cabbages, swarms of bugs would buzz out of the vegetables and attack fruitlessly at the giant creatures. Amoss was enthralled by the violent, hungry giants, and has since been acting the tortoise. He tried to balance Zephyr on his back but the wizard must have fallen off somewhere – it’s all a little hazy. I do recall that one of the rocks fell from the back of the tortoise and crushed my legs. The others helped me carry on – again – I owe them a debt of gratitude for their insistence.

Vilma, apparently not finished toying with us, hunted us down and took advantage of our sorry state. She offered us two grubs that she held like squalling babes to her chest. Infusing us with a lust to claim the babies as our own she set us upon one another. I recall that I hid myself tidily in a bush, and egged on by what I thought were words from my stalwart companion Polly, I targeted Bastion and attacked without mercy. As soon as he went down, we were released from the compulsions to attack. Horrified at what I had done I offered the healing draft that I had about my person to Bastion to make amends. I can’t help even now feeling the guilt of injuring a friend so recklessly.

Next on the agenda we travelled through a forest that was home to foul and filthy creatures called ewok. If you are wondering what an ewok is, they are grubby little poop-flinging drop-bears, with an ill-temper. Too cowardly to fight, they hung and flung dung from the tree tops. The next time I see them and I am NOT under the influence of tea, I will be making myself a coat of their furry hides. Amoss, ever an impressionable youngster, took up their cries, hoisted himself into the treetops & joined their ranks, flinging poop at our entire party. Whether he was flinging ewok poop or his own I honestly don’t know, but I copped a mouthful and I am not like to forgive and forget – AND after I sprung the funds for warhorse training for Concord from my own pocket. On that note I wonder how Good-For-Mince is going. I hope he has something to occupy his mind.

When Vilma showed up again no-one was surprised (well… Brad might have been) but Bastion was terrified when he found himself bound hand and foot while the rest of the party squared off against one another yet again. Thankfully the guilt I felt from the previous match left me the presence of mind to comfort Bastion and opt out of the fight, but that did not stop DTIS from attacking me. Luckily the others were drawn to him when I knocked him down (self-defence only, I did no damage to him myself) and they beat him bloody while he lay defenceless on the ground. This released us.

We bolted through a bog with relative ease – skeletons and shadows were jumping around everywhere buoyed up on bilious bubbles of bile. This leg of the journey seemed relatively quick to me, as soon we were in a glade listening to the susurrus of sanguine leaves that looked bloody familiar. Before we could examine further Vilma showed up again, demanding her pound of flesh. My eyes met Brad’s across the glade, and we moved in on Amoss. He must have sensed our intent, however, and in a flurry of blows he attacked, making capable use of the wounds I had received earlier to bring blood to the surface. Thankfully this was enough. Vilma awarded them their grub children gleefully and stood back to admire her work as the grub heads burst open to reveal the squalling faces of humans. I should have been appalled but there was something about the faces that triggered a thought or a memory. I watched, sickened, but with a strange sense of having forgotten something, as Brad and Amoss allowed the grubs to suckle blood from their bared breasts. It was only then that I realised what the faces were reminding me of – we had left Zephyr behind.

I was concerned, but Zephyr could take care of himself, and I was fascinated by the trees around me. Their leaves were just like my armour – which seemed to be coming alive with some sort of energy. Coming from a woodcutter background, and being an elf, of course I know the way of trees, much like Amoss knows the way of animals. Mimicking the trees I gained their acceptance and found an inner sanctum of treeness where a magnificent ancient central-tree brooded under a shadowy cloak. Moving towards the tree my armour began to borrow its power, leeching the darkness from the tree to increase its own power. It’s almost as though it still shares a sympathetic bond with the grove as I do with my companions and was relieved to be reunited, however briefly. At the base of the tree I also found a mark etched deeply in th bark with an arrow, and a small burrow containing ruined eggs with cores of gold inside. The last item that I discovered, and have kept for myself thus far, is an amulet meant for a necklace. It’s a twig with three thorns on it, and seems largely unremarkable. For now I’ve added it to the piece I’m using to secure my ship’s compass to my person, but it seems to have no value that I can discern – a trinket. Still this tree is a strange place to lose such an item. We shared out the golden eggs, and I ate some of the spoiled eggs to win one of Amoss’ gold nuggets as well. The rotten eggs were surprisingly disgusting – I would advise caution when sampling these culinary delights as they are not for the uninitiated pallet, and are certainly what one would call an acquired taste. I look forwards to not ever acquiring it.

Finally Zephyr caught up as I knew he must. He took immediate offence at the grub children, claiming wildly that they had his face, and had come from Vilma, making them rape children. I think no one has ever sat down and explained to zephyr the birds and the bees, and most importantly the moths and their life cycle which most certainly does not BEGIN with a larval form. Still when he started attacking and attempting to kill the ‘babies’ no one was particularly surprised at the betrayal (well… Brad might have been). I tried to stop him, DTIS tried to stop him, even Vilma tried to stop him, but eventually he exploded Brad’s grub in a messy waste of human-grub life. Amoss’ grub survived as it was shielded when Amoss slunk away from the action, knowing what Zephyr is like sometimes. I had to stop here & I asked Zephyr to promise to never again attack a member of our own party. Thankfully he saw the error of his ways and made a sacred oath that he would never again attempt to mentally or physically harm another member of the party or steal their gear. I call this Zephyr’s Promise, and I really think it’ll keep!

We pointed out the mark on the tree, but Zephyr was not interested in telling us anything as he was sulking, so we set out in the direction indicated, hoping for a city that communally we decided must exist. We took a route that ran along the shore of a vast fresh-water (if I can use the term seriously – in this case let’s just say salt was the least of this lake’s worries) lake. Once we had become one with the insects by ingesting them in much the same way as a whale might incidentally ingest krill we were still no closer to finding Zephyr’s dad. Gradually Amoss’s grub stopped suckling and moved to sit on Amoss’ head. It began to harden until finally it became some sort of living, glaring helmet with eyes-on-stalk horns and all. This sent Zephyr further into his sulk as he said the hat was evil when he tried to talk to it, claiming it was telling Amoss to ‘kill your friends’. Honestly the things Zephyr will make up just to get his own way.

Just when I was starting to think that we should just leave the Shadowfell altogether we came across a pier and a sleeping Kenku on a ferry. The ferry promised a faster passage to the city, so we approached cautiously. I decided to scout stealthily – my armour seemed to tap into its shadowy powers, hiding me entirely from sight, a trick I must remember. I primed the ferryman to look upon us kindly as a group of benevolent heroes before allowing my companions to make their approach. Everything has been set up.

NEW ENTRY

There must have been a terrible misunderstanding somewhere along the line. The Ferryman really didn’t appreciate our haggling, and we didn’t appreciate him taking the ferry out into the water without us, so we boarded it forcefully – just to explain ourselves of course. The Ferryman fled, leaving us his boat. We left him a handsome sum, considering the trouble he had put us through.

After a bit of struggling Brad took over the poling of the boat and we practically left a trail a foaming wake, such was our speed. In the meantime Zephyr had gone from sulking quiet to kind of constipated-quiet, as he was performing some complex ritual over the raft. I think at one point he was cooing about shapely tiller and woody appendages, but maybe that was my imagination. In any case he quickly came to and went back to sulking.

Relatively quickly we reached an impressive looking black wall, complete with huge heavy gate. There were guards on top that seemed boisterous and cheerful, but before we could hail them the water boiled, churned, and spat out a monstrous tentacle that swooped in and grabbed up Amoss, dragging him down into a gaping maw. Shocked and tired it took us too long to react. We had to save him, of course, but knowing Amoss he was probably perfectly at ease. In any case we battered at tentacles, and urged the raft towards shore, realising that if the monster closed in on the gates that the guards would be forced to fight for our cause. Thankfully this all seemed to work out smoothly… smoothly except for the hag. As soon as the guards opened the gate for us she flew from the water like a cork from a bottle, trying to gain entry to the city. Duly the gates were closed in our faces, trapping us outside with the hag and the tentacle monster. After THAT however, everything went smoothly, kind of. The monstrous urtiog was soon ready to flee, but with a swiftness distilled from desperation we managed to get in the last few attacks to kill the beast. Amoss floated up to the surface with what looked like a trunk on his face, and the hag generally made a nuisance of herself.

I dived in, rope attached, to retrieve Amoss, bravely fending off the attacks of the hag while Brad and DTIS helped to haul me in through the muck. Zephyr ‘helped’ by trying to steal Amoss’ helmet in order to destroy it, breaking his promise several hours after making it, but luckily his plans were thwarted. The Hag was badly injured and made to escape, however DTIS used his teleportation powers to bring her out onto dry land, where the insects that we’d been happily ingesting in various ways for the past few hours swarmed around her wounds and made a meal of her. Disgusting. I can’t wait to leave this place.

NEW ENTRY

Well the guards were not at all friendly, or indeed boisterous. They extorted a large entry fee from us which left Zephyr gasping for breath as his outrage caused him a mild tantrum where he cried for the guards to sling him in prison to get away from us. Ultimately he couldn’t leave, however, because of that thing. On the note of that thing I think Brad has it too now, at least a little bit. Anyway a band of mercenaries forced themselves upon us. I did not want to pay more for a bunch of hired muscle. At least with them around people will underestimate our awesome power, so I deigned to keep them around even though they’re always on and on in our ear ‘hey listen!’ with bits of idle gossip that they think is of vital importance. I think Brad and Bastion wandered off at some point but I couldn’t honestly be certain, as there was just so much going on! We finally had a chance to look at all the amazing things – the city itself seems to be built out of stone bodies that are mashed grotesquely together, and it can shape and change itself without warning. We noticed gargoyles that watch teh streets from the tops of buildings, and seem to be alive. There are mysterious beings that control the movement of the city called ‘keepers’ that it is possible to gain favour with or to fall out of favour of course. The citizens of this city seem to be all kind of people – as long as they are also the dregs of society. I think that there was not a single person that didn’t try to rip us off. We saved some people from a urbsforming building, saw a city-gollum formed and unformed (eventually), ran into a lady who got us to hold onto an opal while she was frisked by the guards & then took it back again (but not before someone tried to steal it), and completely negated some sort of brawl to be with a guard (he now thinks his girlfriend has urtiog warts).

Finally after a tiring day we had to go and find Bastion and Brad before we could knock off. Apparently they had managed to find a shady club called the murky hole… it was pretty much as the name implies. We entered through a giant mouth down a tongue ramp (much to the disgust of our hired muscle).

Murky Hole

Slobber was the least of our worries when we hit the ground floor – I won’t describe in too great a detail what was going on in there, except to say my ol’ mum would have a thing or two to say to those people, and there would be crossed arms, shaking head, and the tapping of the feets involved. Probably soap as well. I would say that she’d tan their hides, but you shouldn’t reward bad behaviour. The air was so humid you could almost see the bass line (I should mention that it was all drums & bass) and the walls and floor were dreadfully organic. Dancing in one cage, and centre of a vast group of admirers, was Brad. In the other cage, slightly less admired, was Bastion. Brad’s celebrity status assured us a more comfortable place in the company of the club patrons, but I really don’t know if that was a good or a bad thing, with everything considered. Amoss became roaringly drunk off some sort of oozing secretion at the centre of the club, while DTIS did his best to ignore the surroundings and clean some teeth with a hitherto unseen broom attachment. I was halfway through dragging Amoss away from the booze when I was approached by a mysterious broad. I think she took a shine to me, but I played it cool, because chicks dig a smooth dude. I don’t usually flatter women with my attentions because my natural magnetism draws so many down on me, and it can be a bit of a chore spurning them all, and dealing with jealous lovers and all that biz, but I could sense she was different – maybe I could feel her deep, poetic soul resonating with my own. I guess I’ll never know though because before I could make a real connection Bastion ran in and chased her off like a novice, claiming she was a vampire (of all the stupid excuses).

Well anyway I will take a break here as Zephyr looks like he is going to try and take Amoss’s helmet again, and someone needs to step in.

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DM log-- Gloomwrought 3

The party awoke in the Three Crowns in Gloomwrought. Without sun or timepieces, it was hard to tell how much time had passed. {As such, the timeline cannot be updated.}

When they came down, the Crimson Sashes were arguing with a scowling, formidable-looking human woman in leather armor, bearing two gleaming shortswords. She had long, dark hair, quick eyes, and the backs of her hands and bits of her forearms visible through the bracers were covered with scars and tattoos. This was Zora, their contact for the job the party had accepted at The Murky Hole. Apparently she and the Sashes had a bit of history, and the Sashes made it very clear that if the party wanted to go on a little “job run” with Zora, their guarding duties would consist of staying at the Three Crowns to guard their things, and not to wander around the city with a “known terrorist”, as they called Zora.

Over breakfast, the task was laid out impatiently by Zora. She worked for “an organisation that gets things done for people”, and had been tasked with tracking down a thief. A prominent house of dwarves, called House Treyvan, had taken in a newcomer from the natural world—a tiefling named X {I need to fill this in later as I don’t have the materials with me.} X had been entrusted with some security duties for the House, but betrayed them, stealing a lot of gold and fine equipment of a magical nature. It was Zora’s job, and now the party’s, to track down X and return him dead or alive, with everything he has. The party would get a generous share. Zora and her operatives wanted to subcontract this one out because X revealed that he had apparently quite a bit of arcane power, a department in which her organisation was not strong. Also, X having come from the natural world, our new, fresh, happy heroes might have a better time gathering information than well-known, well-worn longtime denizens of the city.

The party followed Zora, who showed a remarkable sense for how to move unseen through the constantly shifting alleys of the city. It was a time of day when the eyes came out—it turned out that the mortar joining together the stones and statues of the city was made of the same sluglike material used in Amos’ helm and the Mugwump {this fact thanks to Scott spending a couple Plot Points}. They ended up in a part of town called the Dust Quarter, old and rich. By Zora’s direction they introduced themselves at House Treyvan and got some fake letters of passage to help them pretend they were gathering donations for a party with a theme “The Natural World”, allowing them to gather clues about where X may have gone. Also, Brad found a cure for his rash in the cream filling of some popular biscuits; Amos and Pickin ate a psychoactive mushroom {Give 1 Plot Point to Amos for the substantial disadvantages this gave him}; and DTIS regaled the party with stories he recalled about Fellwroth Ruin, which was just across the street.

Passes in hand, they went to a plaza containing a statue knows as the Dark Lady, surrounded by cold water and which changes its expression if people nearby tell lies. They gathered information there, largely by Brad who got a kiss (and a peacock feather) from a weird old man, who led him to a group of street punks. There he learned that X was associated with a shady character named Ferrens in a part of town called the Fettered Ward.

They went into a place called Carradh Keep, full of grim soldiers. There, a sit-ups competition went badly and they caught the attention of the Deathless Watch. {This was all part of a Skill Challenge in which failure got increased attention from the Watch as they drew attention to themselves as fake “party planners”. Give 1 Plot Point to Zepher for pursuing a bold, reckless action in character which I can’t remember but have in my notes. Give 1 Plot Point to Theren for effectively role-playing the “jealous” trait that he got on his Despair Card, to the disadvantage of himself and the group.}

They reached the Harskel Acropolis, like a small city unto itself behind a wall and gates. Bustling with traders coming from the nearby harbor, there were plenty of people to talk to. Theren snuck around to listen to conversations, aided by the distracting antics of DTIS. Some tries went wrong, and got the attention of the Watch. An attempt to intimidate a serving girl named Dorothy, which involved glue and a multi-purpose room, also went wrong. But they found another hapless servant to terrify into giving up that she helped give X access to the stuff he stole, since X had charmed her into believing that someone in the Fettered Ward needed to assess the items. And by searching the area near where she had last seen X, they found a handkerchief behind some crates which looked like they had been positioned to allow escape over the wall. The handkerchief belonged to a “K.H.” and gave them confidence that they were ready to go to the Fettered Ward to try to find X, Ferrens, and this K. H.

{This was a very hard Skill Challenge and the party did very well, using every advantage and great imagination to get past a number of difficult checks. This passed the first phase of this multi-phase challenge. Give 300 XP to each party member for adventuring and skill challenge success.}

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DM log-- Gloomwrought 2

As our heroes were settling in the for night at the Three Crowns in Gloomwrought, suddenly their soul link with Bastian—and perhaps, in a very dim way, with Brad—kicked in full blast. Bastian was in a dark, murky place thudding with noise, and he seemed to be in some kind of cage. They were overwhelmed by the need to reunite with their soul brother, so wearily the party searched for their lost companions.

They roamed the streets near where the big mouth was last seen, escorted by the Crimson Sashes. They found, several blocks away, a slowly-moving lump in the street being skirted by aghast people. They got close to it and, as before, the stones fell away as the lump rose to reveal a fleshy, dark mouth-like opening which dispensed a tongue-like flap with a wet slap onto the stone. The Sashes refused to even look at it, saying there was no way they were going in there, and our heroes were sick for even considering it. But in they went, sliding down into the gloom.

It was dark, foggy, and hung with the smelly funk of many people. This journal cannot describe the details for fear of being accused of unnecessary obscenity. {In the game the DM exhorted players to fill in with their imaginations what was going on in The Murky Hole, with no details given. It was evident that much imagination was used. And let the DM hasten to say that this entire venue theme came from player suggestions.} Let’s just say that what clothes there were, were black leather; there were very many people in very close quarters; and there was no small amount of consensual violence being perpetrated among its patrons. Our heroes were regarded like pathetic tourists, accused of smelling like grass, flowers, and milk, and the mood was rapidly turning against them. As they edged toward the sides of the room, which by the way seemed to be entirely organic in nature, they bumped into a metal cage, looked up, and in it was Brad! He was apparently in pain because his shirt (at the very least) was off, his arms were above him, and he was twitching spasmodically. The noise in the room was deafening, a series of booms, pops, growls, and moans coming from a distant murky corner, and the sound seemed to be torturing Brad. But in a moment, it all resolved into a kind of crazy sense. The noise had a beat. It was music. And Brad was dancing to it. The burly town guard was shaved and oiled and having the time of his life. Brad saw his companions and greeted them, and the circle of appreciative men and women watching Brad dance in the hanging cage regarded the newcomers with a new surprised respect. As word got around that these bumpkins were friends of Brad, they felt somewhat accepted, and less threatened. {This change in fortune was thanks to Kat spending all of Brad’s Plot Points to bring about this improbable—but let’s face it, not entirely uncharacteristic—turn of events. } They soon found Bastian in a similar cage, dancing in a more fey and elegant manner, and the subject of at a few fans who bathed in the warm glow of Bastian’s eyes. Some in the Shadowfell crave the light.

Brad at this point eagerly gave a translation of what the demons had said to them in Abyssal during the fight with the gnolls in the forest {see DM log— Fallcrest 2-6}. Brad had memorised it very well {thanks to rolling a 20 in his Intelligence check} and had recited it to a helpful half-demonic man who was in a corner of the murky hole, studiously using a razor to carefully etch a sigil into the skin of squirming, but evidently willing, volunteer. The translation was something like the following argument between the two demons as they apparently disagreed about what to do to our heroes: “Don’t kill them…they are useful to us…shard…lies…no, it is true…they set the gnoll’s shard free…lost it?…they must have wanted to lose it…they will bring about the doom of Fallcrest…it will cause more destruction than you ever could…I want to kill them…if you do I will kill you…keeping them alive will help us…they are capable of much destruction…”

Now settled and Brad out of the cage to take a break, the group looked around. The music was coming from a corner that was especially crowded and stumbling away from it were people with huge horns (literally horns) full of a thick amber fluid. One patron had an extra and Amos gladly took it and drank it down. It was warm, pungent, not entirely bad tasting, and instantly intoxicating. Amos quickly became drunk and eager to find more. He found the source of this bounty: in the corner was a huge lump, about the size of a sitting elephant, of amorphous shape. It has various mouths and orifices and appendages, a kind of shapeless, morphing organic mess. On top were two eye stalks, which Brad cheerfully recognised as just like the eye stalks on Amos’ helm, and indeed, they locked gaze with each other. They learned later that this thing was called the Mugwump. It was the center of the action, again leaving details to the imagination. Many patrons crowded around and against it, some of them partially encompassed by its many folds and nooks. Everyone seemed very drunk, and frequently filled their horns by pulling on one of the Mugwump’s many udder-like appendages, which dispensed drinks of various colours, flavors, textures, and apparent mental effects. In brief, it was a one-stop party lump that met every conceivable need. Some scooped out of its recesses an apparent kind of food that had the texture of black caviar. It was referred to as “black meat”. The Mugwump emanated with noise, the beat of its music coming from its various membranes and mouth-like openings, and everyone moved to its rhythm. DTIS {spending Plot points to make his broom a convertible toothbrush as well} brushed the teeth of one of the Mugwump’s mouths, scrubbing them until they gleamed quite handsomely.

Amos was enthralled by the Mugwump, both its promise of intoxication and its kinship with his helmet. Throwing caution to the wind, he refilled his horn with more fluid from a teat and drank deeply, soon becoming wildly drunk. {Give 1 Plot Point to Amos for sticking to his character despite the risks, and general grossness, of this scenario.} One patron asked Amos what his helmet did. Amos explained that it was great for running into things. The patron asked what else it did. Amos said that’s it. The patron seemed puzzled and amused: hadn’t Amos wished for something more than that? Amos shrugged and said he was very happy with his helmet.

They saw a figure waist-deep in one of the Mugwump’s openings—a human, wan in colour, fairly old or at least very worn. His face was slack and eyes unfocused as he sucked on one of the Mugwump’s appendages. He seemed kind of ignored by the boisterous crowd around him but one said, “Lee is looking a bit hungry” and another scooped some black meat into Lee’s mouth and tilted his head back until he swallowed. Amos got closer and Lee became a bit more conscious, looking fixedly at the eyes on Amos’ helm. Lee asked, “So you got one too?” and they conversed a bit as Lee recommended that Amos an especially prime teat nearby. It turned out that Lee had gotten one of those pupa long ago, and what he wanted more than anything was a nightclub of his own where he could party all the time. He got what he wanted, he slurred as the eyestalks of the Mugwump briefly looked down at him, and the Mugwump wriggled to prop Lee up. Lee looked like he was seized with panic and his fellow partygoers seemed to notice, pulling a Mugwump stalk over to him and spraying it into his mouth. They chanted his name, though soon a nickname spread through the crowd and they chanted this instead: “Shaky! Shaky!” And indeed, Lee was a shaky mess. The new round of drinks energized Lee who talked faster, making less sense. Suddenly he pulled close the nearest of our heroes and said, hoarsely and desperately, “Kill me.” He repeated this with more volume and vigour until the other patrons pulled him away, deeper into the crowd, and plied him with more drink, slapping him on the back is a way that may have been supportive, or perhaps just stimulating him. The more insightful members of the group saw something less than charitable, that the partygoers did not really care for Lee’s safety, but were intent on keeping him distracted. Brad suddenly realised: they were keeping Lee alive because if he died, the Mugwump would die, and the party would be over forever. {Give 1 Plot Point to Brad for putting the pieces together for this revelation.}

Zepher had seen enough. He decided Lee needed to be rescued, and tried everything short of outright violence (which certainly would have gone against the party given the number and strength of the patrons) to lure, cajole, and even wrestle Lee away from his companions. But in the end, he had to give up. The light of hope went out of Lee’s eyes, so he turned to one of the Mugwump’s appendages, and drank deeply into oblivion. {Give 1 Plot Point to Zepher for greatly risking the anger of the partygoers in his insistence for rescuing Lee.}

During this, Theren had caught the attention of a girl who started chatting to him. She was a young adult human, very pale, with quick eyes and short, fashionable hair. She wore a fetching black leather corset and miniskirt with awesome boots. Her name was Lena and she loved how Theren smelled. Lena revealed that she used to live in the natural world and almost missed it sometimes. But she moved to the Shadowfell because she was a writer, and the natural world was so boring. She got closer and closer, virtually pinning Theren against the wall. Theren’s log Foul Dimensions captures this scene the best, up to and including the revelation that Lena was “kind of” a vampire and wanted just a little taste, swearing that “It won’t turn you into one, you know” to which Theren replied nervously, “What, a girl??” It was not clear which aspect of Lena’s was scariest for our farm boy. She made her move, the nuzzling of his neck giving way to the first touch of small, sharp teeth. But Theren was too quick and pushed her away, the others in the party intervened, and Lena slunk off glumly without her little taste. {Give 1 Plot Point to Theren for some especially good and entertaining role-playing during this sequence.}

Meanwhile, Bastian was gathering information {doing very well with a Streetwise roll} and discovered something about Zepher’s father Malik: a human wizard who looked quite a bit like Zepher had been in this part of town a few years ago. He was intend on finding someone named Shia (the name of Zepher’s elven mother) who was in the Shadowfell, perhaps dead, perhaps travelling, perhaps captive. Malik did not reveal much. But he needed allies, money, and powerful magic to continue the search. To get those, he took on a mission to help a prominent mage in Gloomwrought. Unfortunately, Malik was not very powerful compared to the crowd he got mixed up with. Something went very wrong as Malik tried to complete this mission, and he was taken captive by the Deathless Watch as a troublemaker. He has not been seen or heard of since. The Watch sometimes keeps prisoners for a long time; sometimes they are essentially enslaved into doing dangerous work for them; sometimes they are exiled from Gloomwrought.

The Murky Hole had one last surprise: after Lee fell asleep, the Mugwump went dormant as well and the disappointed crowd dispersed. Among the few left behind were a man and woman drinking, the woman with a black eye. They were the ones our heroes had seen earlier in the streets, the man beating up the woman, the ones who deftly jumped and climbed out of sight as soon as the party intervened. Now they were talking like old friends. They offered our heroes a little job to get a lot of money and get connections to some useful people. With the quest to find Zepher’s father in mind, they accepted. A representative would meet them at the Three Crowns in a while.

To the inn our weary heroes went, and slept like the dead. Brad woke up with a rash.

{Give each in the party 250XP for general good adventuring and making progress on the quest to find Malik.}

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DM log-- Gloomwrought 1

The adventurers stood just inside the gate of Gloomwrought, filthy, tired, and starving. Then things got worse as the guards taunted them. Our heroes had the flush of the natural world on them and felt like grade schoolers coming to high school for the first time. Even the common people in the streets looked fit, strong, and armed. The gatehouse was a bastion of the “Deathless Watch”, though it was unclear if these men were an official police force, a local gang, or an occupying army. There were a couple of archers and a couple well-armored swordsmen. One of the archers was shadar-kai, with grey skin and white hair; the others were humans, but pale, sallow, and with a sharp look that comes from a lifetime of alertness. The historians of the group knew that though some are trapped in the Shadowfell, most are here voluntarily. Passage between this and the natural world is easier than any other planar travel. But most find it ludicrous to live in the natural world, which they consider sickeningly bright and cloying, full of dull, dull people and things, and obsessed with rules and societies. In the Shadowfell, everyone is out for themselves, answerable only to the Queen of Death, and that’s the way many like it. The Deathless Watch sneered at the adventurers, finding them naive and laughably weak.

Then out came a log book and it was time to pay an entry tax. They named 100 gold. DTIS helpfully asked, “For all of us together or for each?” The guard looked bemusedly at his fellow and said, “Ahh.. that’s each, of course.” Zepher got aggravated and said they would not pay. The guards showed them the gate. The heads emerging from the black walls watched and added to the raucous laughter. Zepher challenged the guards to a bet, for double or nothing. A battle of wits. The first guard balked but the second one taunted the first, saying it’s not a surprise he was avoiding a battle of wits, the idiot. The first guard bristled and asked the terms. A riddle, Zepher suggested. The guard accepted. He waited with his arms crossed as the party conferred: they had no riddle at the ready. DTIS quickly constructed one. It was something about something in a vessel but when the vessel is broken it can’t be put back? Or something? The guard {and the DM} thought about it and guessed blood, in the heart. He was right. Faced with 1000gp charge, Zepher said they would leave. The Watch became menacing and said you can leave if you like… but you’re going to pay first. They started grappling and searching the party, who had to take the humiliation as they knew they were far outmatched. The archers laughed at them, the shadar-kai especially raucously. Two gems lighter, the party went on its way.

A moment later, three armed human men with red sashes around their waists offered their services as escorts and bodyguards, since obviously the newcomers needed help. They warned that some group called the “Ghost Talon” would victimise them as soon as they were alone, easy targets that they were. Only 500 gold for a whole day of protection, and sure, they could escort them to the inn and start the clock tomorrow. They were called the Crimson Sashes. Wearied, DTIS gave them the money. And off they slunk through the streets.

The Crimson Sashes walked ahead of and behind them, fending off threats, so our heroes walked in a kind of bubble through the streets of Gloomwrought. These streets were passing strange: the whole city was in a perpetual state of movement. Not only was every building and wall covered with statuary faces and bodies, each in constant motion, but the very streets and buildings often moved, though at first they were not sure if they saw what that thought they saw from the corner of their eyes.

As they walked the streets, they passed an alcove where an assault was apparently taking place: a man beating a woman as she cried out. He demanded promise of payment. Zepher leading and Amos following, they struck at the man. {Give 1 Plot Point each to Zepher and Amos for acting in character, even at great personal risk.} The thug dodged the flames and sword blows expertly, and retreated by leaping far up onto the building’s wall, then climbing, falling thanks to the snapping jaws of a statue’s face, grabbing purchase again, then climbing out of sight. More strangely, the woman did the same, leaping high into the air to grab a windowsill two stories up. And the altercation ended as suddenly as it began.

They walked past a row of shabby houses which definitely were in motion. They passed one house very slowly widening, new bricks sliding up from underground to form column after column of new wall, as the house next to it slimmed by the same amount. Neighbors were overheard gossiping: “Ah, that’s typical. They’re just the type of suck-asses that the Keepers would smile upon. Too bad that scabby shadar has to get it in the bum, though.” Apparently they believed the movement of the buildings followed some set of rules and judgements poorly understood and regarded as far beyond their ability to control. As the mused over this, they saw ahead one house under dramatic transformation: it was sinking into the street at a rapid pace. Outside, a human man shoved two distraught children into the arms of collected bystanders and turned to the house, but the neighbors grabbed him and held him back. He cried, “I have to go back in—my wife and baby are still inside!” His captors told him it was too late, he’d be crushed too if he went back in, let the Queen take them. Our heroes flew into action. DTIS started to climb the sinking building. The others bravely ran into the door, which was already only half height and quickly getting smaller, as if the whole building was on a lift descending into a shaft. {Give 1 Plot Point each to all there— Zepher, Amos, DTIS, and Theren—for taking this enormous risk to hew to their characters’ values. A roll of initiative determined who was able to take the next action fast enough.} They stood in a rumbling stone living room filling with dust. A wooden stairway went up to a higher floor but was already snapped and useless. A door on the opposite side of the room was narrowing, shutting like a stone mouth, and they heard the wailing of a baby on the other side, and the murmuring of a woman praying to the Raven Queen. Zepher was the only one fast enough to slip through the door before it snapped closed. Theren and Amos climbed back out of the room to the street just before the doorway was completely blocked, and reassured the man. Meanwhile, Zepher found himself in a bedroom in which the floor was sinking into a bowl shape and gaps in all the stones were widening, some of the floor pavers dropping away into darkness. All the furnishings had slid to the middle of the room, a wooden bed in the middle. It was from under this bed that the voices came. Zepher {rolling very high on Diplomacy} commanded the woman to take the baby and follow him. She did. Zepher pushed her up and out of a window, giving her a boost with his Icy Hand spell. He followed {succeeding his Athletics check} just in time as the window, along with the rest of the first storey, sank into the street. Dumbfounded, and standing with the reunited family, our heroes watched the house sink into the street, a mounting pile of rubble covering it up. Then emerged from the stones a creature of stone. Make of bricks, pillars, and bits of statuary that used to comprise the collapsed house, it was a golem. It set to work on the pile, stomping it flat and occasionally picking up a choice bit to add to its body. Everyone stayed clear of it except DTIS who helpfully tried to sweep up just before the lumbering hulk. For his trouble he was knocked down and bashed soundly. By the time the party walked on, there was no sign of the house, only flat cobblestones, and the golem was clomping down the street.

Later, a woman approached the Crimson Sashes in the lead and seemed to exchange some words, and maybe more—it was hard to see. The woman asked Amos to hold onto something for her. She opened her drawstring pouch before she handed it over: inside it was a brilliant gem worth many thousands of gold pieces. She told him the Midnight Watch were looking for her, keep it safe and hidden, and don’t look in the bag. Amos dutifully kept it under his living helmet. {Give 1 Plot Point to Amos for sticking to his innocent character.} They looked back to see the woman being caught and searched by the Deathless Watch. Soon a man approached and asked for the bag. He said the woman had sent him. They refused. A bit later, the woman appeared again, bruised but undaunted. She asked for the bag again, and Amos faithfully handed it over. She looked at the knot, nodded, and walked on with it, without any word.

They approached the inn that the Crimson Sashes said would give them quarter for the night, called the Three Crowns. They passed two men holding a third violent man back forcibly; he had a kitchen knife. The violent man struggled and called out to our passing heroes. He said that his wife was in the kitchen of the Three Crowns, and a guard of the Deathless Watch was becoming increasingly aggressive toward her. He was certain that tonight he would do far worse—assault or even rape her. He was determined to stop the guard at any cost, and pointed him out as the guard walked up the road toward the inn. He pleaded for our heroes to attack him. DTIS ran into the inn to warn the wife. Theren strolled toward the guard and bluffed that he knew that the woman the guard was after had a horrible contagious malady called Otyugh Warts. {Got a +2 on Bluff for tying in world knowledge.} The trick worked and the guard turned tail. Meanwhile, DTIS charged into the inn to look for the woman but the man in the kitchen said no such woman worked there. When they returned to the man who was raring for the fight, he and his two friends seemed a bit like actors who had gone off script, but the party’s insight revealed nothing more about what was really going on.

Bone-tired, the party got rooms at the Three Crowns. They vaguely wondered where Brad and Bastian were, but their soul link was not active for whatever reason; they had no idea where the pair were and had no burning desire to find them, so they began to settle in for the night.

Give each member 200XP for overall good adventuring.

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DM log-- Shadowfell 5

For hours they poled across the water to the southeast. It was a lot harder than one would guess and they often spun in a circle instead of moving forward. They were exhausted and though the sky gave no indication of the passage of time, they sensed they were far past their bedtime. Sleep was impossible, though, with the flies trying to get into every orifice, and they discovered all their food was rotten and teeming with maggots. So they soldiered on. Eventually they saw a huge, dark wall of a city, and they headed toward the gate.

However, the passage was made dangerous by an otyugh, an unnatural tentacled beast which stayed near the city gates to eat the corpses discharged from there. The guards on the gates hooted and made bets with each other as the party struggled to pole their way toward the gate as the otyugh did its best to upend the raft and eat the inhabitants. It started by looping its coils around Amos, who was paralysed with fear, and stuck the ranger into its horrid toothy maw. {Darcy was gone this session.} Our heroes had to balance between propelling and stabilising the raft, and fighting off the beast, and then a green water hag. {This was a combat/skill challenge mix. The otyugh and hag rolled horribly and the skill checks rolled very well, so this was a shorter sequence than expected!} Eventually the party prevailed, slaying the hag and bloodying the otyugh, which made it dive under the surface. {Being bloodied in this fight was a very bad thing, because the flies try to penetrate wounds.} Amos was belched out in the process, with a disgusting tube shoved up his nose and bloody chum dribbling out of his mouth. Apparently, the otyugh was keeping Amos alive in its digestive tract until it finished processing a corpse it had recently eaten.

The guards inspected everyone for wounds—apparently having goreflies in one’s wounds would have been reason for exclusion. The gates opened and the party entered Gloomwrought, a metropolis in the Shadowfell.

{Give everyone 260 XP for the combat and skill challenge.}

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DM log-- Shadowfell 4

{Callum came to this session, so Zepher finally left his catatonic state.}

Zepher saw Theren flexing, and recognised that the tree had the same dark leaves as the armour. {Give Zepher 1 Plot Point for connecting world knowledge.}

Zepher saw the two slugs sucking at the breasts of Brad and DTIS, and that the babies had his face. He thought {by making very bad Insight rolls} that Brad and DTIS had conspired to bring this about. He wanted to kill the horrible things. Theren convinced Zepher {with Bluff} that killing the babies will would him. But Zepher attacked anyway.

Vilma popped up and screamed, “What are you doing??” and tried to restrain Zepher. But the wizard had his magic missiles at the ready and fired twice at the fleeing Brad, splattering the slug all over the warrior’s chest. Amos hid and evaded the same fate. Theren talked Zepher out of his paranoia and got him to agree not to attack Amos or his slug. {Give 1 Plot Point to Theren for trying in these clever ways to prevent PVP}

The party trudged on, heading out of the swamp, and made it out unharmed. {Strength and Endurance checks.} As the hours went on, Amos’ slug crept to the top of his head, gripped it, and stopped moving, its skin gradually stiffening and then flaking away. Amos scraped off the gunk and found he was wearing an impressive Helmet of Charging. It was made from an organic-looking greenish metal. Its two horns were the eyestalks of the slug, now made hard, and still with a blinking, swivelling eye on each horn. The eyes looked just like Zepher’s. The helm seemed to be somewhat sentient: it looked at each member of the party, seeming to especially be interested in Deep Speech, and when Zepher made cutting remarks about it, the eyes narrowed in dislike. As Amos adjusted the helm, which had a tendency to creep around on his head a bit and get out of position, it made a muffled noise. As Amos rubbed it more, the voice became clearer: “Killll yourrrr frrrriennnnds”. That’s pretty much all it ever said. {Plot Points of course can develop this further!}

The party made it to the edge of a huge, still body of shallow water pooled above the mud. Tiny flies were everywhere, getting into eyes, nose, and mouth. They saw a lonely walkway, pier and raft. Sneaking up, Theren saw sleeping in a lean-to of the raft a Dark One: rather like a kenku but with completely black features, and a pool of dark mist rolling off it. Theren knew what to do {with a natural 20 History check} and whispered in its ear an old tale of a brave Dark One who helped a group of heroes cross the water. So when they woke up this ferryman, he was in an accommodating mood. He smoked and coughed as he listened to their tale. At last Bastian sought to close the deal, but managed to give the impression the party, being so heroic and accomplished, was also very rich. {He failed the Diplomacy roll, despite the bonuses from Theren’s prep and other clever things said. Sometimes the dice just decide.} So the Dark One named them a high price of 200 residuum. Insulted, the party proceeded to argue. The Dark One pushed off from the pier. Everyone jumped on board. The ferryman vanished in a puff of dark smoke, and they never saw him again. They decided to leave a little pile of 50 residuum on the pier.

Zepher did the ritual Object Reading on the raft and saw the following key scenes in its existence: the day its assembly was finished, by a Dark One with one leg, different from the ferryman the party had met; the day that the one-legged Dark One gave the steering pole and ownership of the raft to a younger (but already coughing) version of the Dark One they met, who gave his solemn promise to take care of the raft to perpetuate the family business; and an event too heart-breakingly romantic and erotic to publish online. Let’s just say it involved another raft.

Give the party 100XP for adventuring, albeit without a lot of progress. But a good time was had by all!

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DM log-- Shadowfell 3

We last left our heroes in the Shadowfell, tripping hard on Dark Vilma’s tea blast. A weird tone filled the air in a minor key from far away and the disoriented adventurers followed it, as good as any a direction to pick. Their hallucinations got stronger as they waded through the dangerous bog. First they wobbled through a herd of giant turtles with glowing eyes and rocks on their backs. The team deployed various skills to avoid being crushed, most memorably Amos getting on all fours and channelling his inner turtle. {This was a skill challenge with the Obsidian rule set, making for group checks with a lot of creativity. By the way, Callum was away, so for this section Zepher was catatonic, too stoned to do anything more than flop over Brad’s shoulder.} Once they were free of the turtles, the bog belched up a figure: it was Dark Vilma again, with a wicked grin and holding two bundles. She called them her babies, and they were wriggling pupa. Vilma said, “Look at my two babies! And two of you will be the lucky parents. Each of these little pretties will grow up to become into something you desire if you keep it close to your breast… suckling. Ahh ha ha ha! But only two babies… so only two winners. Only two of you are real, my dears. The rest of are just my tea bubbling in your stomachs. The only way you can tell is to make them bleeeeed! Ahh ha ha ha! So bleed, bleed my dears!” She collapsed into the bog again and our heroes were overcome with paranoia. Each was suddenly certain the others were evil ghosts, and meant great harm. In a spasm of violence, the party began to fight. {The rules were explained: the first one bloodied would end the fight, so negotiation, alliances, and backstabbing were encouraged. Initiative and map placement order were determined by the skill check each had done in the previous challenge.}

Bushes were hidden in, most skilfully by Theren, most memorably by Brad. Amos remained on all fours and attacked anyone who was not. DTIS powered through the muck. Bastian was hit several times and was the first one bloodied. At this, Vilma reappeared with her “babies” and pointed at the bleeding Bastian with a cackle, declaring him out of the competition, no baby for him. Left alone again and their paranoia gone, but their brains melting from the tea, the party again followed the sound, now closer, mixed into a faint whirring noise.

The party wandered through a maze of tall grass filled with sucking mud and sinkholes. Rustling in the grass and the belching up of rotting skeletons from the depths kept them all jumpy. {This was another phase in the skill challenge.}

Again the paranoia set in, Vilma appeared to MC, and the party fought. As the loser of the previous fight, Bastian was bound up in vines that emerged from the mud, making him freak out. The terrain and mid-day(?) sun (?) left no opportunity for stealth. Soon DTIS went down, ganged up upon.

Next the party went through a forest of trees with very dark leaves and low-hanging limbs that reached out to grab and tangle the party. Shadowy creatures scurried around above and pelted them with wads of stinking moss. They beat drums louder and louder, making the heroes’ steps take on a strange rhythm that kept them off balance. {Last phase of skill challenge}

In the last fight, with Vilma watching, Brad, Amos, and Theren faced off. Theren surprised everyone by passively accepting all attacks, reasoning that there was no point weakening the party further with a big battle. {Give 1 Plot Point to Theren for this noble show of party unity.}

Vilma appeared with her “babies” and gave them to Amos and Brad: “Now, put it to your breast, my dear. It needs to feed to know what you most want.” They took the babies into their arms, dazed, and opened their shirts. The top of the pupa peeled back and inside was a hideous face with a toothy maw. Perhaps it was the tea, perhaps it was the mental violation visited upon Zepher, {and perhaps it was because certain people spent Plot Points to take full advantage of Callum’s unprecedented absence from the session} but the hideous faces of these babies were strangely familiar. With a gasp they realised they looked like Zepher! Each baby bit their new “mother’s” nipple and latched on. The party freaked out. {Everyone drew a Shadowfell Despair Card.}

{For great creativity and in-character actions during the skill challenge and combat, give 2 Plot Points to each member of the party.}

{Due to full success with the skill challenge} As the drugs wore off, what looked like a ring of mushrooms on the ground resolved into an amulet. It was an Amulet of Psychic Interference, claimed by DTIS.}

The strange harmonic noise was very loud and coming from a huge tree with dark leaves. Black mist rolled off the tree, making its trunk nearly invisible. Theren walked closer to it. The leaves stirred more strongly, propelled by a wind that seemed to come up from the ground, and the noise became deafening. With a great rush, the dark fog swept into Theren’s darkleaf armour. The leaves became glossy and supple, alive with dark power. The armour fitted itself more snugly, making Theren look, frankly, badass. {This is now Epic level armour, completing the long quest chain. It is now level 10 Gloaming armour as written. +2 item bonus to AC; stealth check remains as written (with another +2 in foliage); Utility Power (Illusion) Encounter (Standard Action) Effect: You become invisible until you attack or until the end of the encounter. You can end this effect as a minor action. Note: this armour probably can keep levelling up with further quests for shadow energy.}

When they searched the area, they found:

  • Carved into tree is a symbol that Zepher’s father used, and an arrow
    • This points southeast
    • {DM gave party choice of combat if they follow the arrow directly, skill challenge/combat mix if they leave the swamp and go the long way around to where the arrow points, or they can go back home. They chose the 2nd.}
  • Among the roots of the tree is a charm that looks like it could be put on a necklace. It is a green metal in the shape of a twig with three thorns.
  • Under the roots, a nest of mouldy eggs
    • In the eggs are odd etched gold spheres that seem to be a kind of currency. 640 GP worth.

{Give each in the party 290 XP for the skill challenge success plus combat}

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DM log-- Shadowfell 2

Our heroes picked their way across the dark and stinking swamp to rescue the captured elf. DTIS triumphed when he used his powers to swap places with her. He fell into the worm nest and squished many of them dead. The elf ended up on an island with Zepher underneath and Amos nearby. She said, “Oh praise Avandra! At last I can be free!” She swept from her clothes and skin the clinging mud and moss of the swamp. And then the skin on her arm slid off. Then the other arm. The soft elven skin fell in melting splatters all over Zepher. Underneath was a glistening, sticky black flash, knotted with wiry muscles. Her voice deepened as she said “Ahh, much better to be clean from all that muck. Now let’s have a nice pot of tea…” Her clothes swept off along with the skin underneath, she rose to her full height, cupped her hands on her sagging elven face, and pulled the flesh apart, revealing underneath a hooked nose, pointed jaw, and glittering, malevolent eyes. She shook her head, the flowing blond tresses flapping off her head like a massive scab being picked away, to reveal thick, matted grey hair. The cackling in the hut had been drifting closer and now came from the hag’s mouth, turning to a wicked old growl they recognised as Vilma’s. “Hello again, my dears. Did you miss me? I come here to the Shadowfell when I’m in a dark mood.” At this an aura of darkness grew around her, darkening all the light and plunging dim areas into total darkness. Zepher heard rather than saw the whistling of claws before they sank deep into his sides, ripping the flesh easily and stunning him. She strode away through the darkness and they heard her mutter, “Do it now, you ugly lump!” A froggy croak rang out in the darkness with the shaking of a bone rattle. Vines leapt up around DTIS to tie him fast in place. The light revealed a black-skinned froglike creature with humanoid legs and a long, strong tail, raising a totem in its webbed hand, and soon others rose from the mud to surround the party. The fight was on.

Vilma breathed out with a strong scent of herbs and some in the party started to get sleepy. Soon Zepher was asleep, and as her minions attacked the others with massive hammers and powerful tails, Vilma strode over to Zepher. She breathed in his ear, “Sweet dreams…” and inky black mist poured from her mouth. It was like she was turning inside out, flowing out of her mouth into his ear, and vanished entirely. Zepher started to thrash and froth at the mouth as his mind (and by virtue of the soul link, that of his companions) was filled with a horrible nightmare about Vilma. We can only speculate what that dream was about, to render Zepher so psychically scarred. Soon, Bastian woke Zepher up {with an extra saving throw}, dispelling the dream. Though Vilma’s cackling voice echoed all around them, she did not attack. The frog creatures were tough, but they party eventually got the upper hand and Bastian intimidated them into surrender and flight. But the party was shaken by the awful things they had seen, in particular the elf’s creamy skin sliding off to reveal that horrible darkness underneath. They all suffered various ill effects {by taking Shadowfell event cards}.

Searching the small hut they found a bubbling cauldron which smelled medicinal. Someone got excited and hastened to fill a flask. Packed into a nest of muddy, rotting cloth they found quite a bit of gold, a fine obsidian gem, and three exquisitely crafted dolls, made in the style that Vilma did in the material world. But instead of nasty bits of bone and sinew, these were made of a glossy black wire that seemed alive, gently moving. They were in the form of humanoids… and the three in the hut realised it looked remarkably like them. There seemed to be no other magic about them. Perhaps they can be sold for quite a lot of money.

Bastian looked into Zepher’s eyes and saw there a dark flicker, a malevolence like that in Vilma’s eyes. Zepher felt fine, and the others saw nothing unusual.

Just as they started to breathe a bit easier, the swamp started to bubble. So did the cauldron. In a few seconds it was at a fever pitch, and the liquid burst out violently. The hut cracked open and the inhabitants were flung into the swamp. Hot rain fell all around them and the air smelled powerfully of tea. All of them got a nice big dose. When they raised their heads out of the muck and looked around, all the trees were waving. The ground was tilting and warping. Their arms seemed incredibly long. Oh dear. They were in the Shadowfell, and now they were tripping balls…

{Award 250XP to each for the monsters vanquished (not counting Dark Vilma). Keep in mind you all will get a bit of bonus XP as you tell me how many Plot Points you had left over when they all got reset!}

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