RPG@QUT Matt's D&D

DM log-- Daggerburg Keep 11

Jorn’s corpse flew through the air, straight at the paralysed Theren. Jorn’s eyes shimmered between glowing light and inky darkness, mesmerising the young rogue. Head to head they crashed together and Jorn lay on top of Theren. A stream of darkness poured from Jorn’s eyes into Theren’s. Now Jorn’s eyes were glowing, and Theren was blind, his eyes completely black. In a few moments, though, this cleared and Theren could see again. The pillars had all gone dark at the spending of the ritual to raise Jorn from the dead, leaving the room in only dim light, but Theren could see quite well. {In fact this character had chosen the feat Low Light vision at level 4, but the DM and Rachael conspired to reveal this new ability in a more dramatic way… though Rachael no doubt did not expect this particular drama!}

Jorn, unlike Ercullum, was very much animate after the ritual completed by Vilma, and stood up. He staggered to Fenstrom’s side. He turned to the party with those glowing eyes and started to sing a song of praise to his god. The party despaired: surely this god was now Orcus and their doom was complete. But all, especially Fenstrom, gaped in surprise as the holy name PELOR passed Jorn’s lips, and a blast of Pelor’s holy power rang in everyone’s ears, dealing Fenstrom a strong blow and rattling his defences. {At this point control was given to Scott, since Jorn was in fact raised from the dead as alive, not as undead, and was fit to fight Fenstrom.}

This turned the tide considerably. Somehow, Vilma and Lev were on the side of the heroes, and started attacking from behind the altar. Vilma used her pestering spells effectively, and Lev did his best, though none of his arrows found their mark. Vilma crowed at Fenstrom, “Take that, you crusty old bastard! Nobody messes with my tribe and gets away with it. You house-builders are always trying to use us. But turning fierce warriors into disgusting undead mindless troops to help you civvies build yet another repulsive, hopeless kingdom? That goes too far. Fortunately, your death magic is no match for my twenty-herb tea.” At this, Jorn burped loudly, and the room filled with the scent of a whole shelf-full of pungent herbs.

Fenstrom fumed: “Gah! This is why I stopped using live goblins. You get so ANGRY that you do stupid things!” He sounded a bit desperate. “This is not a problem. I’ll take you all on. Come here and fight, Vilma!” But Vilma replied, “No thank you, Fenny I will stay over here. Have fun with your new friends.”

Things went badly for Fenstrom from there. Soon all his skeletons were dispatched, his wight was banished, and his hulking zombie cut up into its constituent parts, to lie still and dead once more. In a desperate move, Fenstrom retreated to the crusty black surface of the closed portal, slashed his wrist with a sharp spur of his shard-tipped staff, and thrust both against the portal. From a crack snaked out the tip of a black tentacle, which wrapped around him, binding his wounds and protecting his vitals. But it was not enough to save him from the assault and soon he was entirely spent. The tentacle slithered out further, binding up his arms and neck, and started to pull him in. Then Fenstrom changed tacks and began to beg for his life.

“I have failed to open the portal. Orcus wants me drawn into the Shadowfell where I will be torn to pieces. But Zepher! You can still save me, save yourself from an ordinary life, and most of all, save your father.” Zepher stood aghast and speechless. His father had been killed a few years ago by a goblin raid on his caravan. Young Zepher had been whisked away to safety just as he saw his father slain. Fenstrom continued, “Your father, Zepher, his spirit dwells in the Shadowfell and yes, I even have enough of his body there to bring him back. Your father wants to return, Zepher, he tells me so. But he does not trust me. We have had… a rocky past, your daddy and me. So he does not return when I call for him. But he will trust you, dear boy, he will know it’s the right choice to come back. Zepher, come with me to the Shadowfell. We’ll bring your father back to the material world. You can see him again, learn from him. He was a great wizard, and together, imagine what the three of us can accomplish.” The tentacle squirmed and Fenstrom began to slide into the hole a bit more quickly. “Quickly, Zepher, you must decide this instant. Grab my hand and your fate as a great wizard will be sealed!”

Zepher was wrought with doubt and desire to see his father again. In a great act of will, Zepher refused this offer, this desperate trick. Fenstrom’s last chance plucked from his grasp, the tentacle started to slowly tighten and drag Fenstrom into the crack in the portal. Being much smaller than a body, this entailed a folding of flesh and popping of bone, making the following verbal assault all the more furious, gruesome, and hateful. “May you rot in the hayfields, you country clods! Have your ordinary, cheese-making, chicken-herding life. At least I tried for something better. Your dear father, Zepher, was so beloved and popular and powerful. He could have ruled Nentir Vale if he had as much ambition as I have in my little pinkie. But no, he wanted to travel around with elves— like your mother Shia— and delight the crowds and do good things. Feh. I came with him at first, but nobody paid attention to me. My tricks did not dazzle. My good deeds were misunderstood. People said I was… unpleasant. Those sheep-shearing, buttermilk-drinking, quilt-sewing simpletons never could understand me! My plans! My desires to bring order and productivity to this sleepy dumb Vale! So I left your precious father’s retinue and tapped into the Vale’s real power: goblin power. It took years to work my way in, years of toil and slaughter and sacrifice. Then, when I had amassed enough power, I used it. My best clan of hobgoblins sought out your daddy’s little travelling troupe of good-doing, Pelor-worshipping, elf-and-human-mixing merrymakers. They put an end to all the fun and games. If only they had killed you as well, you bothersome, sneaky child. With your daddy out of the way, I could clear out this Keep and build a stronghold here. More years of blood and sweat and madness went into this place.” The tentacles gripped harder, sliding around his neck, and started to pull more strongly. Fenstrom choked out the words: “Now it’s over. But I can say I tried! That I dared for more! That I faced down you happy simpletons, burned down your village, and held my head up high as I—” then the tentacle pulled off his head. Both head and body were pulled into the portal with a grating, slurping noise, leaving nothing behind.

Fenstrom was dead and gone. Now, time to loot the place. Behind the door through which Lev and the others came was a small room, apparently where Fenstrom lived. Another door led up a long set of stairs to a part of the Keep they had not explored. Only Lev remained, by the way: once Fenstrom was destroyed, Vilma and the goblin guard had taken off after quickly looting the place.

Treasure:

  • Cloak worn by wight: an Elven Cloak +2 (level 7).
  • Chest which has been broken open (by goblins) with most of its contents taken. 528 gold remains.
  • Hidden under a paving stone: Armor of the Charging Wind (Level 5 Uncommon)
  • Books on every magical subject, including necromancy
  • 2 ritual scrolls which teleport back to the portal, on the material side. (They would not work to bring you from the Shadowfell back here, though, as that is intraplanar travel).

They found a ritual book containing the following rituals:

  • Undead Servitor
  • Wizard’s Escape
  • Silent Image
  • Hallucinatory Item
    • These last two had scribbled in the margins notes that Fenstrom apparently made as he tried to work up a magic show to entertain villagers and their children. The later notes got more and more erratic and bizarre, with the “entertainment” taking on a more macabre, cruel, and terrifying nature. It could not have been a successful magic show.
  • Transfer Enchantment
  • Undead Ward
  • A ritual similar to Dark Gift of the Undying, but which cannot be used without a chaos shard and a pact with Orcus.

Fenstrom had notes about a teleportation circle he was researching with reference to the Lost Library. He had figured out about half the runes in this circle. With research, perhaps the other runes can be deduced and this can become a viable destination for portal travel.

In the room was also another basin to restore the Wizard’s Escape effect. The rest of the room had nothing of value. It had apparently been lived in for many years. The temple next to it had served as Fenstrom’s necromantic workroom.

They found Fenstrom’s journal. {Follow the link for its contents.}

Under Fenstrom’s pillow was a locket, in which was a curl of hair that Zepher somehow was certain had belonged to his mother, Shia.

The party studied the runes around the closed Shadowfell portal to use it as a teleport destination—it is effectively a permanent teleportation circle. They realised that with an advanced ritual, they could travel to the Shadowfell side of this circle instead of the material side. Theren sensed this would be a way to find out where the Dark Leaf (which is now part of his armor) came from, and this might be the boost the armor needs to come into full power. {Use the Dark Leaf page for the jumping-off point of this adventure hook.} Theren sensed that while the hole through which Fenstrom had been pulled was not yet healed over, he and others could slip into the Shadowfell right now—but decided against this, choosing the route that allowed more preparation.

Now the party has many choices. With the big bad Fenstrom finally dispatched, the world beckons. There are literally a dozen or more choices for what to do next, by following each of the many hooks they have come across in their adventures so far—places to go, topics to investigate, items to track down, mysteries to solve, people to talk to. The consensus has gathered around going to Fallcrest, since many of these hooks reside there. At first it will be some light housekeeping, item-fetching, selling of booty, and raising of the dead from what will hopefully be sufficient resulting funds. Then more momentous tasks beckon.

This group of adventurers is truly extraordinary. They are growing in power and skill far faster than average. Already, after only several days of questing, they have the mettle of adventurers who have spent decades on their craft. Something about them is destined for greatness, to become paragons of their people in a way that only one in many tens of thousands of people across many decades of history ever can. They have the power to shape this vale, then this land, then this very plane of existence, if they survive. What will they do with these gifts?

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DM log-- Daggerburg Keep 10

It all came down to this, literally. The only way out of the temple was down. The body of the Orcus priest grew cold as the party looked into the pit to guess whether the hot rocks down there would fry them before they slipped through the cracks and into Fenstrom’s redoubt. Being adventurers, the guessing phase lasted only a moment before they decided there was only one way to find out. So down they went.

Luckily, the layer of rocks was only a couple of meters thick, and in the lower layer, the heat became just tolerable. The party, squeezed into odd shapes thanks to the Wizard’s Escape effect, peered down the cracks to a large room. The smoking blood was still dripping down around them and spattered on a stone floor perhaps 30 feet below, making a pool of dark, burnt red ichor. The room was bright, but not much could be seen until the stoutest (or rashest) of the group, DTIS and Amos, popped out of the bottom crack and held onto the bars of a thick metal grille that was holding the rocks up in the chimney. Soon all but Theren popped down to similarly hang and take in the sight of the room below.

The pool of blood below them fed two streams of the stuff which curled around a large, glowing runic circle, stained the base of the large glowing pillars which matched the same pillars they had seen in the Orcus temple, and oozed, rippling with increased speed, into the mouth of a large archway set into the wall. The archway breathed out clouds of the black mist with which they were so familiar, and it seemed to be quite hot, as it rose quickly to the ceiling, making a thick layer there until it got sucked up into the chimney. But everyone’s eyes were drawn to the arch, for just within it was a perfectly round hole in the wall. This was no ordinary hole. It was utterly black, and had a rippling, oily skin over it. This skin pulsed and stretched as if something was behind it, trying to push its way in. Whatever it was, it had huge, long claws, the knuckles of which made a clear impression on the pulsing surface. This sight sent chills down their spines with a feeling of deep dread and horror. The arcane and religious of the party recognised this as a portal to the Shadowfell, and it was on the verge of bursting open. When it did, it would let the horrifying denizens of that dark world into this material plane. This was why the Keep on the Shadowfell was built centuries ago: to protect this sealed-up portal from ever being reopened. Reopened by whom? Well, Orcus worshippers of course. A gigantic statue of Orcus towered at a point across the room from the portal, pointing at it. The party realised this muscular, bull-headed demon’s face had been drawn on the floor of the temple, its mouth the pit into which the blood had been flowing. Now that blood fed into the portal, to call Orcus’ minions forth.

Quickly the party looked around the room, the floor of which was strewn with bones and decaying goblinoid body parts.On either side were yawning pits, in each of which was a platform, surrounded by the empty moat. On each platform was an altar. And at one of the altars was a standing figure. His back was to them, his body hidden by long black robes. The bald, wrinkly, pale head bobbed as it chanted. His arms were stretched out over a body lying prone on the altar. The body was in black chainmail. The party recognised the face. It was Ercullum.

Not willing to hang there forever, the group started to work its way, hand over hand, toward a knotted rope tied to the middle of the grille. The rope was slick with dark, clotted blood, but would serve as a way down. Just as they moved, a gurgling hiss echoed throughout the room, from where they could not tell. At the hiss, the figure at the altar turned around.

“Well, well, well, it’s about time you got here, country clods.” The figure coughed. It was Fenstrom. But he was much changed from the elderly, white-haired and bearded wizard they last saw. He was bald, beardless, gaunt, and hollow-eyed. In his hand he tightly clutched a bone staff, similar to the one that Malareth had used, but on its top was a jagged chunk of dark metal. The party gasped; it was the chaos shard taken from Malareth’s workshop in the Twisting Halls. Fenstrom’s bare arm was exposed under the robes, and infected-looking black lines ran from the hand clutching the staff and up his arm. On the same side of his body, the same lines crawled up the side of his neck and across his face, turning to spiderwebs of dark purple at his temple.

Fenstrom: “Oh, don’t look so horrified. I know I look a bit… peaked. It’s the demands of leadership. Once I become king of this land, you smooth-faced baby-fat cream-skinned simpletons will be quite out of fashion. I have a little something called gravitas.” He coughed. “Now all I need to do is knock off you lot, raise the better ones of you from the dead like I’m about to do to your cleric friend here, crack open this portal, and then I lead the march on ”/campaign/rpg-qut-matt-dd/wikis/nentir-vale" class=“wiki-page-link”>Nentir Vale. And the first stage of my glorious ascent will be decimating your beloved, dumb, cow-stinking, mud-farming, slack-jawed little squatters throughout Harkenwold. Oh, sorry, I mean OF Harkenwold. You dopes are too unschooled to realise that seven different villages there all call themselves Harkenwold. Ha! Ha!" He coughed again, more violently.

Fenstrom: “While you’ve been bumbling about the Keep, I’ve had quite a while to prepare my defense, as you’ll see. Though I admit I am a bit surprised my worshippers up above did not send you back to lick your wounds for another day. Last time I use Upper City vampires, they are obviously more bark than bite.” He wheezed as the party tried to reply to this tirade; his breath was getting short. “Enough chatter—you lot could not hold up your end of a conversation with a horse.” He raised his staff, which whirled with ribbons of black mist. “Conquer them!”

With this the battle was joined. Skeletons rose from the piles of bones on the floor, drawing bows. As the party climbed down the rope, they were quite vulnerable, and took damage from the arrows. Zepher struck back with a scorching burst, taking down one skeleton… who rose right back up again. This was accompanied by another gurgling hiss nearby, which they traced to a figure squatting on the outstretched arm of th Orcus statue. This was identified as a wight, an undead creature animated by pure hate and anger. It apparently could revive the skeletons as they fell, though as the party later discovered, not quite as quickly as the party could dispatch them. {It could revive a fallen minion as an immediate reaction, but per the rules, only one such action can be taken per round.} With a combination of climbing, jumping, and falling, the party all ended up on the floor, except Theren, who for a while longer dangled and shot his crossbow. Fenstrom hunkered behind the altar and blasted them with black rays of necrotic power. Amos pursued the wight, easily climbing the statue and flushing him out. But between the wight’s ability to immobilise and Amos’ usual luck, it survived to scamper to the other pit, cross it, and kick the little bridge away. The rest of the party took on the skeletons, trying to kill them faster than the wight could revive them.

Meanwhile Bastian had fey stepped to challenge Fenstrom and laid on him a resounding song that rattled him. But Fenstrom reacted by stabbing the prone Ercullum with a jeweled dagger, and then Fenstrom clutched an amulet which teleported him to the magic circle in front of the portal. A moment later the altar on which Ercullum lay quickly swung up at an angle, catapaulting its cargo toward the middle of the room. This was designed to throw the newly raised undead Ercullum to the perfect position from which to wreak unholy havoc on the party. Ercullum sailed through the air, landed on his feet… for only a moment, as the corpse’s momentum made it fall flat on its face. Because Ercullum was not raised from the dead as Fenstrom planned. Because Zepher, at the very beginning of this adventure, had the foresight to cast Gentle Repose on Ercullum’s corpse. Fenstrom screamed in anger: “WHAT? How could the ritual not work? I’ve raised dozens of the dead without a hitch. There’s nothing special about that dumb cleric. Unless…” His eyes narrowed and he glared at Zepher. “You! Gentle Repose? Really Zepher? I am so disappointed in you. That’s… churchy work, bleah!”

From his magic circle Fenstrom taunted Bastian, who had to lay across the pit a thin, wobbly bridge on which to cross back. From this bridge Bastian fell into the pit {with a failed Acrobatics check}, sending him 30 feet down to a stone floor wet with gory water. The climb back up was slow until DTIS tossed down a rope.

Being in the circle helped Fenstrom quite a bit, giving him and his fellow undead better defenses. One only can guess how much worse the battle would have gone with Ercullum in the mix. Fenstrom used his skeletons as a shield as he blasted with his dark rays, and occasionally raised his bone staff and waved it at the other pit, saying, “This would be a lot easier if I had that cleric helping me… thanks a lot, Zepher.”

The effect of this waving was apparent a few moments later as a terrible smell of death rose from the pit and from out of it appeared a gray, decaying, huge hand—or rather, a beheaded, rotting goblin with its arms twisted to point forward like two crude fingers. Emerging from the pit was a huge zombie, obviously made on the same pattern as Malareth‘s. It was a combination of several goblins to form a large humanoid shape. Fenstrom crowed, "Just look at that stitching. I’m so much better than that dope Malareth."

The portal itself was a serious threat. Whoever was closest to it heard a whispering in his head, a voice calling his name. Zepher succumbed to this call once, and walked dreamlike toward the gaping oblivion. Once close enough, the claws stretched out and attacked, keeping enemies away from Fenstrom and pumping him with life. But during the battle, various members of the party remembered arcane and religious rituals to disrupt the portal’s magic and weaken Orcus’ influence. {This was a skill challenge, done with free and minor actions.} Though Fenstrom tried to undo the damage, the portal soon was nearly shut down. Desperate, Fenstrom shot blow after blow at Zepher in a screaming vengeful fury. Zepher, distracted by the attacks, tried to use his religious knowledge to close off the portal once and for all, but mixed up the ritual. In triumph the portal blasted Zepher with dark energy, which felled the wizard. As he lay dying, the claws latched onto Zepher’s body and slowly started to pull him into the darkness. But just before it succeeded, the last religious utterance was cast, and the portal was closed. It wavered and crusted over like a rapidly drying scab. Fenstom screamed with rage, his great work foiled, but he was determined to fight on, now with the help of the gigantic zombie.

Just as things were getting bad, they rapidly turned worse. From behind the altar at which Fenstrom began, a hidden door flew open. Through it walked a gobin—in fact, it was one of the guards who had escaped from the battle in the first room of the Keep. Over his shoulder was a body. A long beard poked out from one end. From the other end poked out two stilts. It was Jorn. The goblin said: “Wait! Fenstrom! Master!”

Fenstrom: “Goblins? Feh, I am done with you ditch-diggers. I have found a more reliable source of power.” He raised the rod with the shard and coughed.

Goblin: “It because of your power that we bring offering, O mighty Fenstrom. We goblins know we been beat by you. We just zombie fodder now. We propose truce. This the cleric from country clod party. Fresh.” He spanked Jorn’s body. “You raise him, he fight his friends.”

Fenstrom: “Bah, what use is that to me? They undoubtedly have cast that irritating ritual on the dwarf’s corpse as well. It cannot be raised.”

Goblin: “But my lord, their companion say no ritual done.”

The goblin gestured over his shoulder at the companion. And in walked Lev. He was looking well, cured of the fever, though instead of a leg he had a gnarled, polished oak branch. There was something familiar about that branch…

Lev: “Thaaaat’s right. Hi Fenstrom. Love your work. Hi guys. Sorry about this, but… well you left me tied up in the forest, kinda DYING, and this really nice goblin found me and cured me. I owe my life and well, I never liked you guys anyway.”

Fenstrom: “Who cured you, that stupid guard? He couldn’t cure a case of the hiccups.”

Lev: “No, I mean this gobin.”

Lev gestured over his shoulder at a new figure coming through the door. And in walked Vilma. The wizened goblin hexer crooned: “Hellllooooo, my pretty little do-gooders. Are you having fun with Fenny? Thanks for the nice fresh body. And so easy to carry. It’s true, Fenny, there is no gentle repose on the body. I checked it myself.”

Fenstrom: “Vilma? I would not have expected you to… acknowledge my superiority. But it’s not like I have a choice; the ritual needs to be tapped soon or else it will be lost. Put the dwarf on the table, then stab him with the dagger.”

At this revelation, Zepher became apoplectic with rage. He insisted that he had in fact performed the ritual on Jorn. But others in the party recalled the facts as they happened in that horrible ghoulish crypt: Zepher wanted to start the ritual right then and there, but others pointed out that the Wizard’s Escape was going to wear out soon, and with Lev’s terrible condition, they needed to get up and out of there before more ghouls came. So out of the Keep the party had rushed. In the confusion, Jorn was never given the ritual to spare him from being raised as undead.

Amos bravely ran and jumped the gap to where the trio were preparing Jorn for the raising ritual. Amos grabbed the body and tried to drag it off the altar, but lost a wrestling contest with the guard. Strangely, during this struggle, Lev hissed in Amos’ ear: “Dude, don’t blow this.” Vilma said the same, but in what might have been a mocking tone, imitating Lev. The party quickly tried to assess what the hell was going on, but in the flurry of battle, time was short. Amos was certain Lev was being deceitful and only was trying to stop Amos from ruining an evil plot. Others thought that Lev seemed genuinely frustrated that Amos did not believe him, and that Lev was sincerely trying to convince Amos of something.

In any case, Amos was unable to keep Vilma away from the dead Jorn, and she stabbed the corpse with the same dagger Fenstrom had used. And again the altar sprung upward, catapaulting Jorn’s body toward the magic circle. But unlike Erullum, this time, as Jorn sailed through the air, his eyes opened. They were glowing with light.

The odds look insurmountable for the party now. Despite doing everything as well as they could, cruel twists of fate have conspired against them: the gentle repose never cast in the chaos of the ghoul crypt. The home court advantage enjoyed by Fenstrom. The appearance of Jorn’s body. The return of Vilma and the betrayal by Lev—or is it a betrayal? What did he mean as he hissed at Amos? But what else could it be but the cruellest betrayal? In a moment the party will fight not only the necromancer Fenstrom and his skeleton minions, but also a giant zombie and an undead cleric. This sounds like a fatal combination. This feud which began in a paddock in Harkenwold will end here, far from home and deep underground. Will the victor be the spiteful wizard with an inexplicable hatred for Harkenwold’s simple country ways? Or the plucky party which defeated Fenstom’s Cloaked Wonder that day when Fenstrom came for conquest?

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Terrific Tall Tales
Theren's Log

I am sure you are keen to read what has most recently befallen the group, dear reader, and I am (as always) your humble servant and narrator in the fantastical tale of Theren and his band of gay followers - Theren, and his nearly competent gang! - The Easily-Mislead Eleven! (if you count the mad chicken) — The New Adventuring Company and their Brilliant Leader, Theren! This is their most daring tale yet!

[TITLE]:
The Tale of the Terribly Complex Puzzle, Wherein the Eladrin Bastian Plays a Key Role in Defeating the Black Game Pieces, and the Human Amos Befriends a Foul Fowl.

We soon left the cursed catacomb, taking Lev with us. It took some time, but when the others had finally finished hauling Lev out of the foetid ghoul hole, and to safety (they were as slow as an old woman with lead shoes) we moved a safish distance away, attempting to hide both Concorde, Lev, & Yawn’s corpse in the same place. At the time I wasn’t really listening to their plans, but clearly this only goes to show that I’m the brains of the outfit here – when I looked up from an important heart to heart with Polly (my loyal creature companion that is required for all true adventurers) on the subject of why we don’t eat feathers, everyone had buggered off without me. They had left (get this) Lev, with Yawn’s body, and Concorde. NOTHING COULD GO WRONG. I mean it’s not as though Lev had earlier expressed an interest in turning Jorn in for the cash reward or anything, or is a traitorous lying sneak-thief who wouldn’t know what honour was if he looked it up in the dictionary*. To assist Lev in remaining calm, collected, and honest, I bound him before I left, and took his journal with me. If he wants it back he will have to wait for my return, which might dissuade him from taking off. In hindsight I should have left a note or something, but being the natural master of knots that I am, I am sure that Lev will not break free of the ropes.

So we (or should I say ‘I’) entered the keep again. It was extremely clean when I got in there, but what do I care what Fenstrom gets up to in his spare time? He’s probably finished with sewing on his sequins by now and has moved on to some house cleaning just to keep himself busy. No – I didn’t think it was Fenstrom because there were no spiteful messages left behind. He’s probably just given up on us arriving, or maybe he’s just upset because we didn’t write back last time? Maybe he ran out of fancy scented writing paper? Who knows. On entering the place I discovered that everyone had left me behind, presumably they simply forgot to wait for me. I am not sure how they managed without my hilarious and insightful comments. In any case I caught up with them as quickly as I could, but alas at precisely the time I was about to ask if the floor looked funny to anyone else, it crumbled under our weight and dumped us into a cellar of some sort not too far below. It was a game board. I’m starting to think the person who designs keeps and castles takes the term ‘game room’ far too literally. Anyway the architect who made this game room must have had a stroke of inspiration, because we were trapped in there by some sort of forcefield, as if they realised that’s the only way they could get someone to play this game with them.

Well I had a bit of a look around, as did everyone else, and the general consensus was that the keep hadn’t been particularly fond of this game, as the room had been turned into a kind of communal attic, in that it looked like everyone in the keep had taken to storing their junk in it. On the board itself there were fewer bits of trash, but they included a live rat, chicken and snake. There was also some sort of desk with a skeleton on it. Bastian jumped onto the desk and kicked the skeleton off, but it seemed to activate something, and the platform rose to the ceiling. Reading the notes, Bastian discovered that he was in sole possession of the controls, which required quite a thorough knowledge of magic to operate. He also discovered we could make gold on this game or something. I don’t know about you, gentle reader, but I’m not one to fall for the old “Play one game! EARN $$$!!!!” Still it seemed the only way out. From his perch Bastion controlled the white game pieces, of which there was a veritable army.

Well the game progressed. I have to be honest we made what seems like a fair amount of gold. I ended up with the bundled remains of the vendor’s corpse (apparently he’s called Michelevi), and Swiftblade came away with a psychotic chicken hopped up on mushroom. I got the time to see the new member of our group – DTIS. He used to be around the village a long time ago, when I was a boy. I don’t really remember much about it except that he was driven out viciously by the townsfolk. He used to train people how to fight, and he used to be good friends with Zumtleheath.

and now onto a new tale!
[TITLE]:
The Tale of the Two Stupid Guards who Unwittingly Allow the Group to Gain Access to a Large, Important Room Filled With Many Under-dressed Vampires, and One Useless Priest, Wherein The New Adventuring Company Slays Said Villains.

After we escaped the board game Amos and I grabbed cages for our various pets, and the whole group was on its way. We soon came to a new area. There was a medium sized room – probably a waiting room, which adjoined to a larger court via a tall archway. The large room beyond had glowing pillars, and there was the strong scent of blood with its unmistakable oily tang. There was an imposing column of darkness in the middle of the room stretching from floor to ceiling, in a seething sea. High above a loud many bladed device that is much like a pin-wheel created a vortex of air to suck up the darkness. It is somewhat beyond even my comprehension, although I looked at it for some time. On an alter at the farthest end of the room was a goblin, laid out and cut open. It was clearly still alive, but only in that it had a pulse. That’s where all the blood was coming from – mind you even though I say ‘all’ there was a damned lot of blood.

At the archway there stood a pair of guards. Above the noise of the pin-wheel we heard them arguing between themselves, and using some cracks in the wall we crept closer. One of them (apparently someone else was using the family brain-cell at that point) wanted to sneak further into the room, abandon his post, and stand on top of some glowing powder. His friend seemed to indicate that this course of action would be unwise, and that there would be a punishment most severe. The banter continued until the stupider of the two couldn’t resist the powder in the end. As the New Adventuring Company moved to keep pace with the idiot guard, we noticed a flock of vampires inhabiting the room further back. They looked as though they’d only had enough money for one set of leather clothes, and had been forced to share it between themselves. Let’s put it another way, there was a lot of vampire and not a great deal of clothing. One in particular looked as though she belonged on the front page of Lev’s reading material – she was clearly the boss. The stupid guard made it as far as the pile of powder, which obviously had some sort of effect on him, but that vampire lady strode over and dug her fingernails into his parts with which he did his thinking – and I am not talking about his head. Obviously it was unpleasant, but hey I guess we always knew Fenstrom was into some kinky stuff. I can only hope this will dissuade Zephyr from joining him. When she let the guy go he ran off to his partner in more than crime, and the two had a heart warming cuddle. Meanwhile the New Adventuring Company was busy with killing vampires.

The battle was short and brutal. Although we had a plan to separate the vampire group and gain the advantage of the power powder, it seemed as though we needn’t have bothered. The vampires fell quickly to our attacks, but before they did they scratched up DTIS’ paintwork pretty bad. I’m really glad that it wasn’t anyone else out there ‘cause I don’t think we would have fared quite so well. Luckily Zephyr dived in and killed off a few of the buggers. Steak joined the attack with the two knuckle-head guards, and we found out they were made of tougher stuff (physically) than the blood suckers. Naturally I dived in to help Steak, as did Bastion, and together we fought to tip them into the hole in the middle of the room. Almost as soon as we accomplished that, some kind of shadow apparition attacked me, and boy could that thing hit. Anyway, the others had troubles of their own in the priest, who seemed determined to attack with his whip, although he could probably have benefited from not having such a stupid ill-fitting hood over his head, because every attack he made seemed to miss.

Anyhow, the battle ended with Zephyr cutting the vampire twins into itty bitty pieces with his cloud of daggers spell, with the priest being shot through the neck by none other than your humble narrator (that’s me), and with bozo and bozette being knocked out. We gave them a ration and a note telling them to run free and whatnot. Let’s just hope they can read. We are currently contemplating getting down to the next level by slipping through the red hot coals at the bottom of the pit. I don’t know how the blood is supposed to get through if they are hot without … drying up or something. Still I’m not going to back-seat evil magic ritual drive. I do know now that apparently Fenstrom is “still reviving” the Pelor cleric (I can only assume this means Ercullen) but really? I think he’s just putting off the final step until we arrive, so that he can dramatically have his ‘creation’ come to life before our very eyes. I mean you have to admire the sense of the dramatic. There’s no style to some people, but at least Fenstrom has a touch of the theatre to what he does. I appreciate that. I’ll write again after we crush him into a fine paste and use him to decorate the dungeon a new colour called ‘shade of internal organs’.

*Which is unlikely in any case, because the dictionary lacks the large fold-out pictures that Lev holds essential for the inclusion of a literary work in his personal library. The Nentir literary canon, according to Lev, starts with the limited edition magazines of Girls in Full Colour! and ends with the works of a bard called Orgoo the Ravishing Libertine Lover. Visitors to Lev’s room note that you need a small step ladder to get into his bed these days due to the extent of his devotion to collecting scholarly works such as these.

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DM log-- Daggerburg Keep 9

When the party got to the bottom of the stairway, they were in dim light. Up ahead was a pool of bright torchlight, so they stopped short and looked into a huge room. It had many tumbled-down walls, and though it started with a hallway, the wall to the south was collapsed and opened into a dim space. However, up ahead in the hallway were two guards. They were musclebound, fitted with impressive spiky black leather armor, complete with collars gleaming with steel spikes. Their mostly bare arms twitched with power as they gripped their greataxes tightly. They faced each other and chanted guttural words in a strange language the party did not know. It looked like they were effectively guarding the entrance and would see anyone who ventured into the bright light. Beyond them rose a column of black mist and there was a bright, hazy glow. More voices could be heard beyond these guards. It looked like the only choice was to fight their way in, with a disadvantageous position and a very uncertain set of foes beyond. But the party soon got a break when the two guards started to argue.

One guard, who they later learned was named John, started glancing to his right, looking east. This distracted him more and more until he fell behind in his chanting, to the apparent irritation of the other guard, Jake, who soon pointedly stopped chanting and looked at the first with eyebrows raised in a challenging glare. Then they started to exchange words. But it was hard to hear what they were saying over a loud mechanical racket and whistling of wind that steadily droned from beyond them. The party realised this was as good a chance as any to quickly sneak through the bright light and through the hole in the hallway, while the guards were distracted. They did so, and worked their way east to the large open room, where the light got bright again. A fallen pillar lay so that they could crouch and stay out of sight of the guards, who stood at the point where the guarded hallway opened up into the huge room. The party, led by Theren, crouched close and listened to the argument, especially after Theren’s ears were pricked by the overheard phrase “magic pillar dust”. The guards continued to argue:

John: “I jus fink I should get a bit of a nudder hit mate. Fenstrom sez da attackers might come any minnit.”

Jake: “John, yer a shithead. Dem fleshrippers will tear you a new one. Remember dem fangs? Stay ere and guard.”

John: “But mate when yuz stand on dat magic dust where da pillar was it’s such a rush mate. I’ll go dere and flex for yuz, you’ll see, me muscles get all bulky like. We fight dem lot when on dat dust, we smash em right good.” From this angle the party could see what he was talking about. Surrounding the column of black mist rising from a pit in the floor in the center of the room were three pillars, glowing brightly with blue energy. The arcanists recognised these as conduits of magical energy. Where a fourth pillar used to be, there was a stub where it broke off, falling to create the blockade they hid behind. This pillar was not glowing and was of a cloudy crystalline material. Where the pillar had broken off was a patch of glowing dust on the floor. Zepher knew that this was the residue of the magic that had been coursing through the pillar when it broke, which then fused into the floor. It still had great magical power, and when standing on it, one could be expected to get some kind of benefit. It was this patch that John was telling Jake about standing on. But Jake continued to argue.

Jake: “John. Mate. Fangs. AND claws. And such icy eyes, they freeze my blood and no joke. That girl, you know the one, the one with the em… chesty top—”

John: “Dat’s why yuz don’t wanna go over dere, mate. I fink yuz don’t want to get shot down by the bird aggin. She’s not yer type, mate, she’s DEAD for Orcus sake. What do yuz fink would happen to yer willy if yuz got it out widdin a mile of her, eh Jake? You’d never geddit up again!”

Jake: “Fuck off ya! Yer talking shit! Go stand on the fucking pillar dust all ya want ya stupid tit! I’ll watch dem rip out yer heart and eat it and I’ll be laughin!”

John: “Watch me mate I’m gonna sneak up, those cold bastards won’t even see me.”

With that John started to sneak over toward the glowing spot. It was more a parody of sneaking: he was in bright light and on the wrong side of the pillar compared to the figures at the far side which he intended to hide from. The party crawled along behind the fallen pillar and took peeks over it. Soon they could clearly see a dais with an altar, and clustered around it were several figures which were too distracted to see the plainly visible John. A figure with a black hood faced the altar, his face turned away from the party. A few pale humans in shiny, tight black clothes were looking over the central figure’s shoulder and seemed to be talking and pointing at the altar. From the dais flowed two vivid streams of blood, which formed two thick streams slowly oozing through the room, then dripping into the pit.

When John got near the pillar, he looked a bit worried. Then after a deep breath, he suddenly ran out and stood on one of the glowing spots on the floor. The effect was immediate. Veins bulged out and his muscles swelled up. In a frenzy that seemed a lot like a berserker orgasm, he shouted, “Yes! Yeesss! Oh yesss!”

This noise got the attention of one of the figures. She was very pale and thin, and her shiny black outfit seemed painted on, it was so tight. Her ample cleavage spilled out over the top of her corset. John started to titter maniacally while looking at her chest like an adolescent. She talked to John in a syrupy, dangerous voice: “So… couldn’t stay away, could you?”

John, defensively: “Oi girly, it’s not me who wants to put the root in yer icebox, it’s me mate Jake. I’m just here for da powwwwwerrrr, oh yessss!” And he again submitted to the joys of the magic dust.

The woman sidled up to John and touched her pale neck with what the spying party noticed were wickedly long, strong, sharp claws. She smiled and showed her sharp fangs. The more religiously trained in the party recognised her as a vampire but they could not tell what type. John smiled back at her. She snickered seductively. He snickered uncertainly. She repeated his words to him.

Busty vampire: “Power, eh?”

John: “Power, yeh…” Then with a fluid motion she grabbed John’s crotch and squeezed. “How’s this for power, meathead?”

John: “Och! Leggo or I’ll fump you!”

Busty vampire: “Ooo… such a threat. Do you know what I can do to you… with just… my… eyes?” She demonstrated an impressive glare.

John: “Oi! Stop that! Oh! I feel so cold. Jake! Help me! She’s givvin me the heebie jeebie eyes!”

Busty vampire: “You see, mortal,” as she twisted her clawed hand, “we are doing something important. The sacrifices must be maintained. The shadow portal must be fed warm blood. Or else Fenstrom will come up here.” John shuddered at the name. “And what should I say if Fenstrom asks me, his most trusted confidante, what went wrong? Shall I say a power-tripping dogbrain interrupted our ritual because his… sweaty… bulging… muscles made a stink so foul that even with the ventilator we could not concentrate? ON? OUR? WORK??”

She let Jake go. He ran sobbing back towards John, who had crept closer during this exchange but was hovering out of range. Jake hugged and patted John comfortingly. The dangerous, seductive vampire sidled back to the group at the altar.

With John gone, the party could peek better around the end of the pillar. They could clearly see the altar now, because the female vampire, as she returned, caused the others to move away from her. The figure in the black hood had a whip at his side, a religious medallion around his neck, and a black leather apron. He was rather fat, and did not look like a vampire, just a rather pale and spotty priest. The hood did not seem to fit well; he kept adjusting it. He was leaning over the altar on which was a prone body, the apparent source of the blood streaming off it and across the floor. The body was a goblin, tied down, and he was still moving and writhing in pain, his screams muffled by a ball gag. The other figures were also apparently vampires who all seemed to have the same fashion sense. Two females with short, spiky, white hair looked like twins, and wore shiny boots with fashionably ridiculously thick soles. They hovered near the stream of blood, and when they thought nobody was looking, would in unison bend over and stick their fingers in the blood then lick it off. The busty vampire was in the middle. Two males, with tight, shiny, black pants and black mesh shirts, were hovering next to the priest at the altar, looking over his shoulder at the body the priest was poking at with metal instruments.

Priest: “That’s not a liver, you idiot! I’d think you flesheaters would know more about anatomy!”

Snide vampire: “I assure you, your unholiness, that this (raising a bloody lump) this IS a liver.”

Priest: “That is a… a spleee.. eencreatic lobe. Often mistaken for a liver by amateurs.” The snide vampire sighed and put the organ back into the goblin’s body cavity with a wet splat. The priest continued: “If you’re such an expert, why don’t you go help Fenstrom raise the cleric? Or does Pelor still give you azzzsthema?”

After a pause, the priest, to the other male vampire: “I smell shadow mist. Are you … emitting shadow mist? Do it over by the ventilator.” The vampire slunk off and stood by the pit.

Snide vampire: “The blood is congealing again. Fenstrom said that’s why the ritual is taking so long down there. I told you, that broken pillar is simply ruining the arcane flow.”

Twins, in unison: “And it looks like shit. Make the berserkers sweep it up.”

Priest: “Oh! What a great idea! Yes, let’s have the two huge, uncontrollable, naturally enraged men with axes sweep up the magic dust! What could possibly go wrong? I think they could use a bit of a boost. You two are so helpful. And stop licking the blood!”

The party figured this was as good a time as any to attack. Theren, hidden in the shadows off to the side, opened fire at one of the twins. She saw him, however, and was able to twist away a bit just in time. The bolt lodged in the thick leather in her side. Both twins were instantly furious. One screamed, “Ahh! My armor!” The other screamed, “Ahh! Her armor!” They started to follow Theren into the hallway, but soon thought better of it, sensing an ambush. They came back to the main group, who were all readying for an assault.

The assault it came, with everyone fulfilling their roles admirably. The priest came under attack, making him scuttle about. He became even more annoying as he healed the guards, who turned out to be the biggest threats—the vampires were mere posers {minions}. All the same, when they stood on the glowing floor, they did quite a lot of damage to Zepher with their long claws. The party used the glowing spots as well to good effect. {It gave a +4 to attacks and damage.} The fight was complicated by the appearance of a dark creeper, a shadowy creature with daggers who did some impressive damage while flitting about in a shadowy manner. When it died, a black burst blinded Amos and Bastian, the latter of whom did not take it well—darkness held many horrors for him.

Theren dispatched the priest with an impressive long-range crossbow shot, while standing on the glowing floor, firing through the column of dark mist to catch the priest unawares. Gouting blood from his neck and cursing his errant whip {with which he had two critical misses} one last time, he fell in a heap. The vampires went down like the flimsy, albeit dangerous, mainstreamers they were. The guards were captured: John was knocked out, just as he told Jake to run. Jake nearly made it through the northern door the party passed up earlier, but was chased and brought down at the last moment by Zepher. Now they are tied up with a ration and the comforting message “We forgive you” written in chalk on the floor next to them.

{The party got 975 XP, split 6 ways, for 162 each, attaining level 4.}

Bastian became wary of how easily he had been getting hit lately. He decided to sacrifice his skills a bit in order to start wearing hide armour in battle. So he went back to the artificer’s lab. He remembered where he had seen some armour while everyone was scrounging around earlier, so he quickly got and put on a decent suit. In keeping with the theme of the earlier crypt, and most likely to Amos’ delight, the armour has a crest with Kordian runes, apparently of quite old vintage—at least 150 years old. {In a side message Aerro asked to scrounge for some. With a very good Intelligence check the DM decided he remembered where he had seen the hide amongst the piles of junk Michelevi had accrued.}

Now the party looks down into the pit, the only way out of this room besides from whence they came. And sure enough, the jumble of hot, black rocks down there has plenty of cracks wide enough for someone with Wizard’s Escape to pass through. The vampire had said that Fenstrom was down here, receiving the stream of blood. This next room must be the last, where their nemesis works on the dark ritual which is creating the shadow mist, and using the chaos shard he stole to ready his assault on Nentir Vale. Was Sir Keegan right, that Fenstrom is merely working to close the portal to the Shadowfell? Or can the party possibly believe that, knowing all that they do about Fenstrom? Soon, they will find out…

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DM log-- Daggerburg Keep 8

The party continued its effort in lab of the long-dead artificer, Michelevi. They had figured out how the dead man’s console worked and were adroitly moving the mote pieces around on the board. They quickly got the white pieces ahead by one, which seemed to hold promise of quite a nice gold reward. But they wanted more, and plenty of arcane fluid was left in the tanks, so they strategised even more deeply. Some bizarre but effective combinations of objects were put into the hands of the motes, making them much better at pushing around the enemy black pieces. The snake was soon reduced to a meat tube, all the better to lure the chicken. The chicken’s ardour was augmented further when Amos urged it to eat part of a huge mushroom with immediately apparent psychotropic effects. The chicken’s eyes blazed like pinwheels as it scratched and pecked at the dead snake, and therefore helped it mote win the pushing contest a few times. Meanwhile one mote, equipped with sword and shield, attacked a black mote which had been fitted with a target. A statue in the hands of a black mote was defaced, making it lose its will to fight. And so on. After a long struggle, the sixth black mote was dispatched, with only one white mote lost in the game. The giant mechanism dimmed and dome of force vanished. The tube containing the roiling mix of gold and antigold opened up, scattering its contents on the floor. There the two opposing elements mixed and flashed, mostly cancelling each other out, but leaving a flying spray of molten, then rapidly cooling, gold droplets—the result of the white motes outnumbering the black ones. When the party scoured the area to get each fleck of gold, they got a mighty sum. When weighed with jeweller’s scales they found on the artificer’s desk, it was equivalent to exactly 1166 and 2/3rds gold pieces!

This lengthy effort honed the party’s brains and skills, and they felt on the cusp of breaking through to a new level of personal attainment. {The party got 750 XP, split 5 ways for 150 each, and is now nearly level 4.}

They searched the room for a solid hour, but found it was common junk, nothing of great value, but the party picked up a few odds and ends for personal use. Michelevi’s sleeping area was as bare as a monk’s: he had apparently been shut up there for months, going through all of his rations, and obsessively working on his wonderful machine to reap gold from the void. The party completed his experiment with great success. However, it required a great deal of arcane fluid to run, and the tanks were empty. They noticed the wall behind the tanks was lined with thousands of tiny cup-like metal collectors or dishes, each one carefully pointing to the east and downward. From the best they could guess with their arcane knowledge, these were collectors which would slow accrete magical energy into the tanks. The source into which they were tuned was a mystery, though Dungeoneering might examine the direction in which they point more precisely to figure this out. In any case, it was obvious that the accretion was incredibly slow and it would take many years, if not decades, to refill the tanks. Perhaps a generation hence will revisit Michelevi’s Laboratory to reap more gold, or put it to another use entirely.

Convinced that the room had nothing of further value, the party went through the eastern door, which had been strongly barricaded from the inside and showed signs, on its far side, of an attempted assault both by the undead and by martial weapons. However, this door was like a vault’s, and never was breached. The party looked up to see a hole in the ceiling with a knotted rope descending from it: this would lead, they deduced, to the end of the cracked corridor they were following before they broke through the floor into the lab. To the east was a wide stairway leading down, with many tracks leading into it, including (thanks to an impressive feat of tracking) Fenstrom‘s bootprints. The other tracks made a trail back and forth from the stairway to a door to the north. But Fenstrom’s trail, as well as the noises coming from the stairway, led the party to choose the stairway as their next direction.

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DM log-- Daggerburg Keep 7

We resume our story just after Jorn’s death and Lev’s babbled realisation that the ghouls ate his leg, and he won’t be able to dance at those wild eladrin parties that Bastian said he could get Lev into. The party did not hear any more ghouls, so they took a few minutes to heal up and catch a breath. Zepher examined Lev and determined that he had a nasty case of filth fever, in an early stage but which had a good chance of getting worse if untreated, and might end with Lev being unable to gain any benefits of healing until it were cured by an involved ritual which nobody in the party knew. The party also realised that they must be outside the keep, because the Wizard’s Escape effect seemed to be wearing off. Though they might be able to rush back the way they came, there was a chance it would wear off while still in the subterranean cracks, which would be unpleasant. Also, Lev no longer had the effect, having been in the ruin for more than a day. They party had to decide to keep going into the ruin, which hopefully had a way to the surface, or back to the cave passage under which the ghoul footprints first started following Lev. A tough choice but they took the latter, leaving just a few minutes after the combat ended. Stek carried Jorn’s body and the others shared the load of Lev.

At the cave passage they speculated on why the footprints started there, wondering if the ghouls, with their climbing ability, had stayed off the floor that way. But the dungeoneers ruled this out as a likely possibility. It also revealed that some of the stone on the floor did not look natural. They lifted it to find it was chips and plates of stone glued to a dirty piece of fabric, affixed with some kind of goo. This flexible stone-like blanket was about the right size to cover up the upward cave passage. So the party speculated that the ghoul came from the ruin on patrol, heard Lev coming, and started hiding in the passage while it was covered by the camouflage, then dropped down to follow Lev when he passed it by. Hoping this was the case, because it would mean there were not any more ghouls ahead, they went up the cave passage, single file, having to occasionally squeeze. The wizard’s escape effect was definitely now gone but they could manage, groping in the dark, sniffing the air for ghoul stench. But soon they smelled fresh air and make it into a more sizeable cave covered with bat guano. With a bit of exploring they found a way up and out, emerging from the side of a hillock in the forest. They could tell the Keep was nearby. It was delightful to smell fresh air again after two days in the Keep, and the sun was warm on their skin after so long in the chilly, creepy dark.

This enjoyment was short lived as they got closer to the keep, where the forest thinned, became bereft of all life, and the sun seemed dimmed by a slight pervasive shadow. They worked their way around to where they had left Concorde. They got a fright when they saw goblin tracks leading from the Keep to the part of the forest where they hid Concorde—these were apparently the tracks left by the hobgoblin soldiers they had fought in the first room, and who escaped. {The DM openly rolled for the chance that they randomly picked a direction that would take them near Concorde. The roll had to be 3 or lower. He rolled a 1.} They went to the hiding spot hoping not to see a severed rope with hoof prints leading away, or even worse, a feasted-upon carcass. But Theren had hidden Concorde well enough {with a retroactive Stealth roll} for the goblins to not see the horse in their haste. Concorde was safe. However, he was hungry, having eaten all the grass within the radius of his hitch. They spent an hour gathering enough food to last him a couple days, and he ate half of it immediately. There they left Lev, the body of Jorn, and Theren {who was not being controlled by anyone, Rachael coming late}. They told Theren to wait until Lev woke up, assure him they would be back, and then catch up with them. They went back into the Keep.

They took a miserable breath as they went underground again into the supernatural dimness and feeling of dread and sorrow, only partially relieved to know Sir Keegan’s own misery was finally at an end. At the bottom of the stairs they stopped, for the room ahead was extraordinarily clean, without the general slovenliness left by the goblins and the bits of charred wood and cooked dwarf that Jorn had left behind with his burned corpse barrel. But further examination revealed this could not be the word of another gelatinous cube; there were little bits of organic matter left behind. The place had simply been swept very well. From the room they heard a sweeping, scraping sound. Sneaking ahead, they peered down into the pit to see a tall, thin, skeletal figure moving down there, making that noise. A closer look revealed it was not literally a skeleton, but a thin figure seemingly made out of metal. It swept up a last bit of charred dwarf, gave a satisfied hum, and climbed back out of the pit, seeing them. Zepher was surprised to realise he recognised this figure. It was someone who had lived in Harkenwold about five years ago when Zepher had passed through with his troupe. “Hello little circus man!” said the figure in greeting. Zepher, after correcting this misapprehension, shared that this was DTIS, a person of a strange race, made of magically animated, constructed metal or other material. DTIS was just as sentient and intelligent as anyone else, but quite a rarity and Zepher did not know much more, only that the villagers had grown to accept him. DTIS had come to the village a little while before Zepher met him, and had been spreading the civilising word of Erathis, founding the jousting tournament for example. Asked what he was doing there, DTIS replied he had heard Zumtleheath had been killed, and he came to help vanquish the evildoer responsible, catching up with them here hoping to find them. {DTIS is the new character being played by Scott, replacing Jorn for now, at least until Jorn is revived. DTIS is a warforged swordmage, a kind of defender with good damage prevention abilities.} On hearing him say that name, Zepher remembered {with a retroactive Streetwise check} that in the village there had been a rumour going around that DTIS was having an affair with Zumtleheath, which was especially scandalous because the halfling was married at the time. The rest of the party introduced themselves, and DTIS and Amos seemed to click especially well, talking of sword techniques. But their mission called, and on they went.

They went to the next room, which DTIS had also cleaned up and straightened out, even making the beds. He said, “Say, I found this under one of the beds; is it yours?” and pulled out, from under the bed of the goblin warchief, an ornate chest. The party realised they had never searched the room after the battle was over. The chest was of a very exotic design, obviously from a foreign land. It was made of worn brass and shaped and decorated like a boxy ship. It had gunwales, portholes, and decks. But its masts were broken off and it was easy to see why: Clutching the ship was a gigantic octopus. Its arms were covered with wicked hooks and its huge eyes bulged out. It was frightening to behold. But it was definitely a container: a fine line ran around its upper edge and in the belly of the female figure serving as its masthead was a keyhole. Bastian, being the most accomplished lockpicker in the party, gave it a try and the lock popped open. Then all the hooks from the octopus fired off in all directions, peppering everyone with poisoned barbs. Most took damage, except for Stek, who on hearing the popping sound, sighed “oh bugger” and raised his shield in time to deflect the damage. That done, they looked in the chest. It was sloshing full of a spicy, sweet mead unlike anything they had tasted. The realised this was an exotic Cask of Liquid Gold, which refills with the stuff endlessly. {See the card I handed out for details.} Delighted, Amos drank quite a bit of the mead, getting drunk in the process. This plunge into the mead revealed that it also contained more than liquid gold: at the bottom, covered by the mead, was a gleam of gold coins of local origin worth 120gp. Bastian closed the chest again, knowing it would reset the trap but thinking this best, especially with Amos’s enthusiasm for the mead jeopardising the party.

They drank from the basin again and quickly caught up their trail. They navigated around the gelatinous cube much the same way they had before, but more efficiently, and soon found themselves at the point where Lev’s footprints departed from Fenstrom‘s. They followed Fenstrom’s tracks east, moving slightly down as they went.

The narrow cave fissure ended in rubble, beyond which was a hallway, running east. This hallway had been badly damaged by the earthquake and was riddled with cracks, as well as collapsing it at either end. At the far end was a hole in the floor. Fenstrom’s tracks wended carefully back and forth along the floor of the hallway, seeming to pick its way around the largest cracks. The party endeavoured to do the same. However, they were a lot heavier than the weedy old wizard, so the floor collapsed under them, and they fell.

They fell perhaps 20 feet down, but something cushioned their fall: a strange repulsive force. They landed on the floor below with a light bump. The room was pitch dark at first but at their touch lines started lighting up on the floor, a light blue glowing pattern of hexagons. Moments after that a wall of force leapt up around them, its light blue glow casting everything in bright light. They were on a hexagonal floor of polished stone and metal, strewn with many ordinary objects. The force field was transparent and they could see a large rectangular room around them. This room was filled with junk, as if every spare item from the Keep was stockpiled here: furnishings, old plates of food, weapons, armor, stone, metal, planks, clothes, and many other things. None of them looked particularly valuable, though, and they were all very old and dusty. A path had been cleared through the junk here and there, and they saw in the corner a table and a bed. The force field formed a dome around them about 8sq across, surrounding the edge of the relatively uncluttered hexagonal floor.

A loud hum came from the north. On the north wall, beyond the force field, were two very large tanks of glass, banded with bronze. They were filled with a flowing blue liquid which the arcane among the party recognised as a kind of pure liquid magical energy sometimes used by a certain kind of wizard, rather like residuum but for specific purposes. These tanks fed thick tubes which went down the wall and across the floor to connect to the edge of the hex floor on which they stood. The similarity of colour suggested this liquid was what was powering the floor and making it glow. On the wall, fed by small tubes coming up from the floor, was a gauge marking either side of a vertical chamber, like a sealed tube. Moments later the floor became populated by about two dozen figures, arranged on the hex floor like pieces in a board game. They were humanoid shaped but abstract and somewhat mechanical looking, hovering and made of geometric planes of force. Half were emitting light and half were absorbing it, reminding the party of white and black pieces in a game. They swayed slightly, with arms and hands outstretched, but without apparent volition.

On the hex floor were quite a few diverse objects, and a desk. Hunched over the desk was a skeleton dressed in rotting fine clothes. The desk was covered with papers, and reading them they soon discovered that the skeleton belonged to a kind of wizard called an artificer, whose name was Michelevi. This was his lab, and here he was trying to discover the secret of making “gold from the void”. With a kind of magic-infused alchemy he toiled here long ago, and died here while at work. By reading the papers the party realised that Michelevi used the magical power in the fluid to create equal numbers of gold and antigold. These would normally cancel out. And the gauge on the north wall bore this out: it roared with energy as two kinds of fluid fed into it from both sides. From one side the tubes passed through white hex markers, which rattled loudly with the thrum of power. It emitted into the chamber what looked like liquid gold, perhaps molten. From the other side, going through black markers, was a strange dark purple liquid. Where these two fluids met was a bright burst of sparking energy. They seemed to be annihilating each other in the chamber. Eventually the party realised this gauge was matched to the pieces on the board, and when a black piece was later destroyed, the highest-reaching of the tubes on the black side went dry. With 14 tubes of gold feeding in from one side but only 13 tubes of antigold feeding from the other, floating and roiling at the top of the chamber was a blob of liquid gold. So apparently the more the white pieces outnumbered the black, the more gold was left behind by the unequal reaction.

Now, how to make the white pieces win? Bastian, as a fine arcanist, took control of the desk after unceremoniously kicking the skeleton out. The platform rose above the floor, perhaps 3 squares up, nearly pushing Bastian’s head against the overarching dome of the force field. Amos had discovered that touching it was a bad idea: when he did, it zapped him painfully and did not let him past. Surveying the desk and the notes, Bastian discovered he could command a set of either white or black pieces (which the notes called “motes”) to move, and the opposite colour moved next on their own, controlled by some kind of unseen intelligence. When the motes met, they pushed to shove each other back. They later found that the goal was to shove the opponent into the force field, which dispelled the mote with a flash and changed the balance of gold and antigold in the reaction chamber. The outcome here between the motes was looking to be somewhat random, so how to give the white motes the advantage, beyond the use of cunning play? This is where the objects on the floor came in. With controls on the desk, Bastian could telekinetically move objects into and out of the hands of the motes. With experimentation, they found that some objects helped a mote push, and some hindered it, with logical outcomes. For example, a mote holding a candle seemed to have a bit more pushing force against a mote holding a snake as the candle burned the snake. The other party members, as well, could use their skills to help or hurt a mote. Amos used his nature skill to boost the power of a huge mushroom held by one white mote, giving it more power for its column to shove the black motes around. Bastian combined a sword and shield on one mote, making it look ready for battle. Zepher used prestidigitation (after a few false starts) to enlarge the candle flame, making flare up against the snake still held by a black mote, producing a small explosion as it lit up a cloud of white chalk dust the unfortunate snake was being repeatedly dipped into by the mote. Theren shot a few well placed bolts at things held by opposing motes, sometimes knocking them away. Even DTIS is getting into the business of putting objects into the hands of the motes, though without high arcane skill it’s not always successful. So everyone has something to do, and do it quickly: the pieces are on the move, and have shown an ability to shove people around, even into the force field. The blue tanks of arcane energy are draining, taking an especially big dip when the black mote was destroyed. So this risky game cannot last forever. How much gold will there be to gain by playing well, making smart moves and choosing how to use items and skills to tilt the odds in their favour? The party may succeed where Michelevi failed, and become rich with gold from the void.

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Safe and Sound and Slaughtered
Theren's Log

I’m afraid my dear readers, I have some terrible news – I have failed in my duties as an adventurer, and as a friend. I just want to get it out of the way before the good news, because everyone knows it’s best to have bad news before good news. The bad news is that Polly might have eaten one of the feathers on the hat that I so righteously won from the lizard guy. I don’t think I’ll be able to get it back, at least not in-tact. It was a really nice feather. Perhaps I need to have more of a hard-love approach to prevent Polly from eating any more of my fabulous apparel… Oh! and Lev lost a leg – that was unfortunate, but now he can have a neat nickname, ‘One-Leg Lev’. I suppose it’s not a great nickname, but that’s what I am going to call him hahahahahaha. Well he’ll have the rest of his life to think of a better one anyway! I feel like I am forgetting something… Oh yeah! Yawn died or something. I mean I think that’s bad news because it means that the dwarf is going to be heels up for the big attack on Fenstrom – talk about lazy, huh? Not to mention heavy. When we revive him, I’m going to suggest Yawn goes on a diet. If I was dead I’d make more of an effort, you know?

On a positive note Zephyr has been practically dancing around singing ‘ding dong the dwarf is dead’ (what’s that even about? I didn’t know he was a fan of musicals). He’s been in a really good mood, which is unusual for him. For a while I was sure he’d top himself, so I suppose you can call his sudden change of heart the ‘good news’. He probably won’t be as happy when Jorn isn’t there to heal him during the big battle, but hey, I’m sure people in Fallcrest who revive adventurers from the dead have an occasional two for one deal, so I figure it’s like a bargain if one of us dies during the next battle… I really love a good bargain.

‘Well what happened?’ you might ask – basically, we were following the trail of Lev and Fenstrom (mostly a trail written in recently congealed blood). It was pretty easy to follow, because there was quite a lot of blood, along with weird mixture of acid and skin and stuff. I donno it was pretty gross so I didn’t really want a close look, but Amos suggested it might be coming off someone who had tangled with the gelatinous cube. The trail of Lev eventually diverged from that of Fenstrom, but there was no question about what we were going to do. Despite Lev being a pain in the neck, and a pain in the arse (that’s an expression by the way. He’s never been a pain in my arse, let’s get that clear) and a pain pretty much everywhere else you can have pains, he’s still a relatively good, and mostly helpless creature. Also he had a priceless treasure cup with him… but I didn’t really care why the others were going so much, I was just glad to have them with me. I didn’t want to force anyone to save Lev with me, because I had the feeling it wouldn’t be pretty and people have to make up their own minds when it comes to almost certain death.

Anyway we followed the trail through the crack in the wall, steadily working our way further and further from our real goal, until the passage widened out to an area where a medium sized person could reasonably be expected to fit. It was there that we saw a lot more blood, some extra footprints, and an ugly fingernail. Whatever went down it was Lev against some thing or things that are severely lacking in personal hygiene. More blood, more following, and I was starting to get more nervous. There was talk of ghouls but I had never really heard of them, let alone seen them myself. I reckoned maybe one bath and they’d be dissolved into nothing, judging by the fingernail. Eventually the rocks around us turned to crumbling bricks, and I knew that we were outside of Daggerburg Keep. We would either have to be quick, or resign ourselves to going through the keep YET AGAIN from the very beginning. I didn’t mention this though, as we were all more concerned with Lev than anything.

Once the walls changed to bricks, we found ourselves in some sort of crypt. I wanted to continue following the blood trail but it became confused with a whole lot of other blood trails and spatters. Let’s just say the owner of the crypt must have been really fond of the red through brown spectrum for interior decorating. Personally I prefer pastels and blues but each to their own, I suppose… a touch of colour might have made the place seem more roomy though, that’s all I’m saying. In any case, the group rushed in, discarding our own safety in favour of getting to Lev as quickly as possible. It was mitigated somewhat by the desire to stick together, especially after those spectres and that flaming skeleton… oh I didn’t cover those? Well long story short, Yawn became a crispy, fried dwarf but we won out in the end. Yeah, I don’t know what Yawn has been doing with himself but he’s like an ever-burning torch. Set him alight and he just stays burning for ages. It’s quite a spectacular sight really.

So where was I? Oh yeah we rushed in, each of us taking our best guess at which direction Lev would be in. We could hear him sobbing and muttering and singing from somewhere up ahead. The sound made tingles run down my spine. My gut clenched, and my blood raced… Lev was never a very good singer at the best of times. Most of us went left, but Yawn went right. Zephyr tried to be diplomatic, and requested that Yawn rejoin the group. The dwarf reluctantly accepted the proposal – BUT! Before Yawn could get to us, Stëk ran ahead and found Lev somewhere off quite a distance into the crypt. Wherever it was, Yawn could see the light of Stëk’s torch, and hurried forward to help, assuming we would regroup at Lev’s position. We were all about to make our way over to them, when down from the ceiling dropped a group of what can only be described as ugly on legs. It was probably Fenstrom’s extended family or something.

Ghouls. Well now I know. Old grandma Fenstrom ran teeth first at me and took a huge bite of my arm. Blood started gushing out everywhere, adding my own decoration to the already well painted dungeon floor. There seemed to be no way forwards through that slavering thing so I tumbled back to regroup with the rest of the party. Soon we were surrounded, cut off from Lev, Stëk, and Yawn, and fighting fiercely to clear a path. Unfortunately the small group of dwarves were also beset by the ghouls, and I can only imagine Lev’s horror. Apparently he was previously engaged in being eaten alive and they’d already polished off a leg. I can’t really imagine wanting to eat Lev’s leg personally, but then I know where it has been, and even if they had been aware of Lev’s questionable comings and goings, ghouls don’t really seem the type to nit-pick over issues of sanitation.

Well things happened as they happened. Amos showed his skill and finished off grandma ghoul all by himself (although I have to say it wasn’t the brightest of the bunch – kept locking its jaw up and ended up tearing itself open trying to get around a corner) while Bastian helped us manoeuvre in the limited space by shifting us all around into more fortuitous positions. He’s pretty handy in a tight spot. Even Zephyr chipped in with unusual relish, blasting the ghouls with his magic daggers. Of course I played a main role in defeating the creatures, dealing massive damage despite my arm being nearly chewed off. It was practically dangling by a thread, but I just grit my teeth and stopped the bleeding through sheer exertion of will. There are techniques taught by monks, you know, to slow your heartbeat so that you can slow or stop blood loss, but I reckon I have it figured out by myself.

Despite our heroics, however, by the time we broke through to the others they were in a sorry state. Lev had come around and was screaming in horror as a ghoul crouched over him, Yawn was lying in a puddle of his own blood, and Stëk was the only one still standing, possibly trying to revive Yawn, or perhaps just accidentally stomping on his beard, I couldn’t really tell which. Naturally everyone rushed over to try to save Jorn but it was as though he didn’t want saving. I mean COME ON! It was just like Harken Village. There was nothing I could do except watch while In the end it came down to Stëk. He could either try to save Jorn, or he could try to save Lev. In a rare moment of insight he chose to try to save Lev, and managed to kill the ghoul that was about to suck Lev’s face from his skull. It was what that do-gooder Jorn would have wanted, but also conveniently what Stëk wanted as well (let’s be honest, he excels more in cracking skulls than in mending them). Unfortunately Jorn slipped away during the last moments of battle. It was an ignoble death in a squalid little crypt with a group of people who didn’t like him very much and didn’t appreciate his efforts. No songs will be sung of his sacrifice to save a thief and a villain, and no stories written about his aggressive kindness – in fact most of the world will unfairly remember him only as a fiend and assassin. The last few moments of Jorn’s life were not spent in the light.

At that point I can’t help but to feel we had saved the wrong person. Bastian looked as though one of the ghouls had scored a bite in his most sensitive of areas as he stared down at Jorn’s body, and Zephyr had a small smile playing around his lips. Lev babbled crazily before falling unconscious. Other than what looks like some sort of sickness (filth fever if my limited experience and minimal knowledge of medicine is anything to go by) he doesn’t seem to be in mortal peril… except for the fact that some sort of god wants him dead, I suspect. I also suspect that he knows something about Fenstrom. It was clear that Fenstrom was walking in Lev’s still setting blood (from the carefully created boot-prints we found), so he could hardly have been unaware of Lev, despite the fact that Lev wasn’t mentioned in his nimminy pimmeny little letter. The blood was only a day old or so, meaning that it’s possible it was meant as a diversion for us, should we get through the cube, and the skeletons, and the flaming skeleton, and the spectres yesterday… but according to the letter we received, Fenstrom no longer needs to buy himself any time. In any case it’s likely that Fenstrom had some sort of interaction with Lev, although I doubt we will be able to coax Lev into recalling the last few days without some serious counselling first.

It’s not really a cause for concern, though. It doesn’t matter how long Fenstrom has to prepare, because even his best efforts are not enough to defeat us. I am a little worried about where to stash Yawn’s lazy dwarven corpse though, and I am certainly not going to spend days taking Lev back to Harken village. Lev’s backpack was almost as broken as he was, so I tried to find out if there was anything I should be carting back with us. I found a stupid notebook with codes in it and crappy treasure maps. As if anyone would be interested in his disgusting diary even if they could read it – it’s probably full of dirty stories about women he hasn’t even met… Maybe I will make a copy of some of the more interesting pages in it though, just in case the treasure maps aren’t utter crap (of course, not the private stuff or anything).

Taking a page from Lev's book

Might have to have it decoded by someone I trust. I also found my compass. I can’t believe he stole that, it was my key for proving Jorn’s good name! No one would believe me about a flying ship unless I can find the proof, and Lev should know that. I am threading the compass onto my golden chain to wear around my neck for safe-keeping from now on. I grabbed Jorn’s lantern for him as well as seeing to it that his pack was taken with us. He’ll need all his stuff when he’s revived so he can pay us back, although I don’t think he has that much gold… I wonder what he’s been spending it all on? Well he can still buy us all a drink at the pub, and that’s all that really matters! Then we’ll all laugh and tell him the adventures he missed out on, and he’ll light some candles and be annoying and stuff, like he always is.

I think the best thing to do now would be to find a secure place for Lev to wait (and I’m talking secure like a castle dungeon, cause he has a serious penchant for getting into trouble) and at the same time, some of our other people taking Yawn’s corpse to stay with Concorde (and casting gentle repose, because although it was discussed I don’t think it was ever performed, and we really don’t need a rotting dwarf corpse, because he smells bad enough as is). One method that seems really popular is putting the body in a barrel. I don’t know why but whenever we find barrels they have corpses in them, often dwarven in nature. Anyway I had better get back to the others before they freak out or something trying to think of what to do.

Ghouls can't catch you if you're on fire.

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DM log-- Daggerburg Keep 6

The party continued its fight against the phantom warriors in the crypt, with the enraged flaming skeleton behind them. Jorn, in the front line, took a few hard hits as he fired off his Turn Undead, which knocked them apart. The group held a good formation as they battled the phantoms, who were protected by their insubstantiality {they took half damage from everything except for force, and nobody had force attacks.} Meanwhile, the flaming skeleton repeatedly targeted Jorn with its flame orbs, croaking, “I want my lantern back!” Jorn tried to fool the skeleton into taking the lantern from the pirate ship instead, but the skeleton saw through this ruse and replied by setting Jorn on fire repeatedly. When one of the phantom warriors fell, its misty blood spreading across the crypt floor, the other warrior croaked out a name in an old, nearly incomprehensible tongue. Zepher recognised it as the tongue of the land of the mountains to the north of Nentir Vale and its capital Vlekstaad. These often-called barbarians are hale folk used to cold and war, using their longboats to raid up and down the coast of the sea on which Vlekstaad sits. Before the fall of the Nerath Empire, mercenaries from this area were often paid to add to the ranks of the King’s forces, and this is the likely origin of these phantoms, who fell long before the fall of the Empire, when the Keep was new. This also explained the Kordian influence in this tomb, as this is the chosen god of these tough northern people. The final room of the tomb showed mosaics, carvings, and altars to Kord. Realising this, the party decided to stop looting the skeletons of their burial jewellery. Soon the second phantom fell—without his fellow soldier his attacks were not as strong—and only the flaming skeleton was left. It threw itself at Jorn in a fury, clawing and burning him, but was soon dispatched.

The party earns 1800 XP, split 6 ways = 300 each

The party looked around this final room. In the corner were cracks leading downward. Scattered around the room were splashes and gouts of blood, but it was not theirs—the healers in the party recognised it was about a day old. The more perceptive members noticed smears and footprints in the blood that match Lev’s, so they deduced Lev might have gotten into a fight here. Also in the blood, set down very sharply and perhaps deliberately, was another pointed bootprint: Fenstrom. Looking at the cracks, on the sharp edges of the stone was a tacky slime of what seemed like semi-dissolved skin, which smelled of acid. Perhaps Lev had taken some damage from the gelatinous cube before fleeing down the cracks.

Though a door led out of the crypt, the party was confident they knew which trail to follow, and soon they confirmed they were correct: after slipping down the cracks they entered a narrow cave passage, and in the green slime on its floor they saw Lev’s footprints clearly, as well as Fenstrom’s. The party followed the cave passage roughly east for a while. Then the tracks parted: Fenstrom’s continued east, but Lev’s went up a different passage, which led south and upward. The party decided to go after Lev—though was sneaky, annoying, and deceitful, he did not deserve to die in this place. After a few minutes, the cave passage widened enough that a medium-sized creature could walk and occasionally squeeze along. They passed another fair-sized cave fissure leading sharply upward. It seemed strange that Lev had not taken this passage up, since he apparently was seeking a way out. But his tracks passed it by. Just at that point, a new set of tracks joined Lev’s, and the perceptive ones in the party could detect a few disturbing things. The new tracks were on top of Lev’s as if following him. Also, the tracks were bare foot and hand prints, humanoid, but apparently with long, sharp, clawlike fingernails, and the flesh of these hands and feet must have been withered and desiccated. After some distance they came to signs of a struggle: in the slime were scuff marks as if there had been a fight between Lev and whatever was following him. More blood was splattered on the stone—it did not look like enough to kill someone, but serious. They also found a long, sharp, broken-off fingernail which was so old and tattered it looked like it could have come from a corpse. This, and flakes of skin that also looked long dead, gave Jorn a terrible certainty that Lev had been pursued by ghouls. One had dropped down behind him and followed him into a waiting ambush from another ahead. They flanked Lev and took him down. These creatures, the undead remains of those who lived lives of cannibalism or gluttony, plague graveyards and battlefields by eating corpses. But even more they love living flesh. It was likely they did not kill Lev, but captured him and took him back to their den. They sometimes control themselves for a while, eating a prisoner bit by bit while he is still alive, to keep the meat fresh. But they always eventually lose patience and devour their prisoner within a few days. If Lev were still alive, it would not be for long. So the party bravely decided to continue.

Jorn told them what he knew about ghouls: they were stealthy and good at climbing. They attack with claws and bites that tend to immobilize and stun, the better to attack victims. They are often vulnerable to radiant damage, and being undead, resistant to disease and necrosis. The tracks led into a tunnel which had been hacked into the sandstone to join the cave. Shortly this tunnel opened up into a wider space. The dark shadow mist was here as well so it was hard to see, but it was apparently an underground room finished with crumbling brick. The walls, 10 feet high, were made of uneven brick, and most of the interior and edges were simply tall piles of collapse, leaving narrow, tight passages winding through the rubble. The earthquake must have devastated this place. It did not look anything like the Keep’s architecture and likely was not connected to it—which made Theren realise that the Wizard’s Escape effect might wear off quickly here.

Then they heard singing, an agonised voice echoing through the ruin ahead. It was Lev, singing what Theren recognised as a ballad often sung at far happier times in the Snake’s Head. Now it sounded like Lev was fending off insanity with this song. He sounded delirious and filled with false bravado. Also, they heard echoing horrible sounds of slurping, chewing, and eating. The party decided to move in quickly, with Stek in the lead.

There was blood spattered here and there but it was all over, as if the ghouls had set Lev free for a while to run in a panic around the ruin, providing the thrill of the chase. It was very difficult to tell from which direction Lev’s voice came due to the echoes in this crumbling ruin. The first few who entered did their best {the DM rolling Perception in secret, with a failure more than 5 resulting in a random direction} and chose the left passage as the one leading most directly to Lev. Jorn, however, thought the right passage was the better one, and set off on his own. The party pleaded with him to stick together, but Jorn did not heed them and soon was away and down a corridor. Zepher started to follow but was stopped in his tracks as a ghoul dropped from the wall to which it clung and blocked the narrow passage between Jorn and Zepher. It was gangly, covered with greenish skin that looked stretched too tight. Its long, sharp, nasty fingernails clacked in the echoing dark as it waved a horrifying greeting, matched by an evil grin with long, crooked teeth. It slashed at Zepher and dug its nails into the wizard’s flesh, pinning him in place. {Claw attacks from these solider type ghouls immobilize the target, save ends. This also sets them up for a devastating bite attack against the immobilised.}

Meanwhile, Stek had ventured ahead of the party enough to create a gap, into which dropped another ghoul. Now the party was broken up into three pieces, and as more ghouls appeared, they were flanked. These abominations were on their home turf and knew very well how to take advantage. Battles broke out on all fronts. Eventually they were up against three ghouls with greenish, leathery, tight skin and hooked claws {the soldiers} and two ghouls with grey, puffy skin and enormous jaws {the brutes}. The latter could at times unhinge their jaws for a devastating bite attack, and otherwise could stun their victims with hammering fist blows. Theren called out for Lev, who in turn stopped singing for a moment, then started chuckling. His echoing voice said, as if to himself, “Oh man, I must be getting ready to die if I am dreaming this. The heroic last minute rescue… that’s too cliché, even for Theren…”

Jorn was isolated, and plunged ahead, following Lev’s voice. Soon he came upon Lev. He was lying in a nest of bones shoved into a corner, his arms shackled behind him through loops of a pelvis bone. It took a moment in the gloom for Jorn to realise that Lev’s leg was gone, gnawed off to the knee. A tourniquet of his own sinews was tied tight to stop the bleeding. Lev was delirious and sweaty; the leg was obviously infected. Lev looked up at Jorn and started laughing hysterically, cackling, “And now the dwarf! Of course he would be here too! It wouldn’t be a rescue without the dwarf! Ha ha ha!” Jorn replied by using his most powerful healing spell {a daily} to bring Lev up to nearly full health. Meanwhile another green ghoul had dropped down to savage Jorn from behind.

Stek knew Jorn was in trouble and gambled a run ahead into dark passages, and came to Lev and Jorn from the other direction. The grey and green ghouls pinned them there, but the grey one’s snapping horrific jaws were no match for the dwarf’s plate armour. The green one, however, did terrible damage to Jorn, who needed to heal himself to stay alive.

The rest of the party engaged with the other three ghouls, Zepher pulling back to a safe distance while Theren and Amos did savage damage to their foes. Bastian used healing and guiding strikes to coordinate the party, and though the damage was high on both sides, they started to turn the tide.

After a devastating bite, Jorn went down with a gurgle, Pelor’s name bubbling from his bloody lips. Stek desperately fought the ghouls as the party tried to get close enough to stabilise Jorn. The greyish ghoul, near destruction, retreated and hid, giving Stek just one target. Jorn started to go into convulsions {having failed two death saving throws} so Stek tried to stabilise him, as unpractised as he was, but did not manage it. Then the ghoul who had retreated dropped down again from the ceiling. He had snuck around for one last try at his precious saved meal: Lev. The ghoul’s freakishly stretched jaw clamped around Lev’s waist and Lev screamed in terror. Stek dispatched the nasty creature before it could kill Lev. The rest of the party rushed in to try to stabilise Jorn. {Bastian was out of healing spells so these were stabilisation checks with Heal vs. DC 15.} What with the chaos and ill fortune, none succeeded. Jorn took a shuddering breath, fighting for life— and then exhaled one last time, parting with both his dying breath and the warm glow that always seemed to suffuse his skin. Jorn was dead.

The party’s stunned realisation was made all the more surreal by the babbling Lev. First he demanded, “This is real? Are you really here?” then, with growing fear, “I don’t want to look down. How is my leg?” When he realised it was gone, he babbled: “Oh shit. My leg. Oh shit. I want my leg back. Get it out of the stomach of the big one. I need it. Bastian… Bastian said he’d get me into those wild eladrin parties in Fallcrest. I can’t dance with an eladrin princess with only one leg!” Lev shivered and sweat broke out; the infection from his leg was severe and looked like a bad case of Filth Fever. He continued as his eyes fluttered: “It’s fine. I’ll grow a new one. I know a unicorn. Met her in the woods. She ate spiderwebs, did you know that? But I owe the Snake’s Head a debt. Maybe it should be a cheese shop. I’m not all that good an adventurer.” Lev sobbed. “Ercullum. I should have shot at the skeleton. He would have told the ghoul I’m dangerous. But if I had some grapes I’d be fine.” With this, Lev passed out. Theren, no sentimentalist, started going through Lev’s backpack. The treasure from the tower puzzle was not there, but a notebook had encrypted notes that seemed to indicate Lev had buried it near the puzzle. Also Theren found the compass from the Blanche-Nef. Lev must have stolen it from Theren days ago.

The party earned 1000 XP, split 6 ways = 166 each.

The party is reeling from this turn of events: Jorn dead, Lev diseased and traumatised beyond the brink of sanity, and uncertain if they can squeeze back the way they came. Lev certainly cannot, having been here for a day since his last drink from the basin. They must choose whether to go farther into the ruin, to find a way to the surface which surely must exist, or up the cave passage from which the ghoul tracks first came. And then what? Rest again while Fenstrom builds even more power? Where to leave Lev? What to do with Jorn’s body? It is a dark day when a cleric of Pelor is lost, especially one as cheerful and peaceable as Jorn. Though the dwarf often let his devotion overpower his sense of self-preservation, he always meant the best, and perhaps it was most fitting that he died while single-mindedly seeking out a tormented soul crying in the dark, and granting him one last burst of holy light before himself falling into the abyss. Farewell Jorn, and whether you come back to the material plane or dwell in Pelor’s heavenly temple, we will never forget you.

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Regrettable Retreat
Theren's Log

As we have all found some brief respite, I have decided to update my notes, as I fear that if events continue to progress as they have in the past hour or so that everyone will soon be dead, and I would like to leave behind a legacy, or maybe just a warning to the traveller who picks this up. If you are that traveller, I hope you heed my warning well – your team is your armour, your weapon, and your honour when you have none. Without them you will perish, or perhaps you will only wish you had perished when you look back at the acts you have committed whilst in the thrall of madness. If you have made it this close to the rift, my advice is to throw away petty rivalries now, and make your peace with your fellows, because you will need them in the trials to come. If you are alone, then turn back now.

All of my companions had exited into a relatively narrow hallway. The only thing we knew about that hallway was that a skeleton had already floated down it, first one way, and then another, as though on patrol. As I readied myself to enter into it myself, I saw that Kat had been sucked up into the air which was distorted and agitated. She was floating, just as the skeleton had been, thrashing as though pained or angry. Bastian hurriedly informed me that the attacker was no mystical force, it was a gelatinous cube – a dreadful dungeon skulker that is almost impossible to best unless with a volley of ranged attacks. I asked if he needed help with freeing Kat but he seemed certain that he would be fine on his own. I assumed we would flee, and so I hurried in the opposite direction to the fearsome geometrical giant. I did turn briefly, intending to lay down some cover fire, but the darkness in these halls is such that I couldn’t see my hand before my face, nor even the light, once I had stepped out of its pathetic glow. Thus fearing that I might accidentally hit a friend by mistake, and worrying that I hadn’t yet come across the other half of the party, I pressed onwards through the darkness.

The darkness was smothering, and for a time I felt displaced, as though I might have accidentally wandered into an alternate dimension. It was eerie the way I was so totally cut off from my team mates, listening to the sounds of my own breathing, and seeing nothing but imagined spectres in the gloom. I think my eyes rebel against having nothing to see by inventing all manner of phantasms, and each minute felt like an hour.

Now let me explain myself. When you are in total darkness, with no one to hold you back or bear witness to your acts, when you are fearful of unseen attackers, knowing there is danger both behind and ahead, and aware that you are utterly alone, wondering if you will even live to regret your mistakes – time slows. Temptation whispers in the back of your mind, enticing you to give in to first minor sins, and then greater ones. I admit that with no one to temper my whim I fell to looting the crypt, despite the fact that my team almost certainly required assistance. I discovered later from chatter that Bastian, Zephyr, and Kat had decided to stay behind to fight the cube thing, while I was soon to discover that the others were facing a flaming skeleton and hordes of lesser skeletons. I curse myself even now but when I reached Swiftblade and Yawn I could concentrate only on plundering the shattered tombs around me, rather than freeing them from the peril they had waded into.

Eventually Zephyr ran over and berated us all for not assisting with fighting the cube. Without receiving assistance, however, Bastian and Kat were forced to fall back and join us. They looked in bad shape, and worst of all they failed to close the doors in time to keep the cube from pursuing them and the rest of us. We were trapped between an acidic blob and a flaming skeleton. Heedlessly I pushed ahead, eager for more treasure, only to find myself confronted by two vengeful spectres who berated me for my greed. This was the final straw. The team realised we had to flee with all speed, and I was quickly brought to my senses by a hearty blow to the head from the spectres.

Unfortunately, such was the speed of the blob, and the stealth that I knew not where it resided, only that it had probably blocked off all escape passages. I was glad I urged the rest of the party to flee, as I suspected I wouldn’t be getting out alive. Once again alone in the darkness, I warded off fearful thoughts with the warm glow of a sunrod. I admit it made me think of Jorn, and it was almost like having him with me. Perhaps that is what gave me the idea to throw the sunrod to the floor to use it as a marker for when the cube had passed. I did so, squeezing myself into an open tomb, and waiting anxiously for any sign that the thing had passed me by. All I could hear was the eerie disembodied tapping of Zephyr’s mage hand, until that too died out, and I knew the party must have reached a safe distance. The light moved slightly, and although I was tempted to wait indefinitely, I knew I had to try my luck while I had a relatively good idea of where the thing was, or forever cower in the darkness.

Luckily no attack came my way, although I was expecting it. The party regrouped and fled, slamming the doors to the crypt behind us. When we reached Zephyr, who had run ahead, we discovered that he’d almost gotten himself killed in what could have only been an attempt at suicide. As the danger had passed I gathered up the remains from the attackers, and then Zephyr’s unconscious body, before dragging him out of there (with Jorn’s help). We retreated back through the cracks, past Keegan’s tomb, and out the way we had come.

The group has decided to rest in the goblin’s bunk beds. I thought to sleep in the larger bed, but Stëk seems to have come back to conciousness, while Kat has passed out. Jorn has started making smoke come through here. I doubt I will ever get to sleep at this rate. Zephyr’s madness worries me a little.

I had a strange dream – just writing this quickly before we head off again! It was something to do with going up a fissure, but instead of going to Keegan’s tomb directly I was in some sort of hallway with knee high mist. I was very worried about pitfall traps, as I would be in such circumstances. The darkness was the same as always, and my armour was eating it up just as greedily. After a while I reached some spider webs and I remember a deep feeling of dread at the thought of spiders, so I changed tack and went east, until I came to a dead end. There was another crack there and then things get a little vague… but eventually I got to Keegan’s tomb and then I woke up. I must stop writing though because Zephyr is giving me a very strange look – perhaps Polly has gotten out and pissed in his backpack or something. I should feed her.

We found a note from Stormy the master baiter goading us about our recent failure. He seems to know what we were up to, and it seems he is trying to take the high moral ground or something. All I really care about is that he never once mentioned Lev. I don’t know if it is good or bad, but at least he has the good sense to stay hidden. We took our water from the fountain and were once more granted Wizard’s Diet, before hurrying back to the grounds of our last defeat.

Unfortunately Stëk woke up more well rested than anyone else, and a lot less battle weary. While we made cautious plans to get around another battle with the cube, he must have been off chasing dust motes, because when the time came to flee the cube, he fled in the wrong direction – that is to say he charged the thing and promptly got stuck into it (literally). I tried to grab him away from the thing but he was intent on attacking it. Luckily everyone else was ready to work well together, but even so, what should have been a simple matter of minutes was turned into a long drawn out battle during which many of our number nearly became one with the cube. At one point Stëk was hit so hard on his thick head that he couldn’t walk, and I took my chance, performing a nimble retreat with Kat and Stëk, but mostly for Kat’s benefit as at that point I was more than happy to leave Stëk behind.

Since then, with all our members participating, we managed to foil the cube and lock it behind us, gaining room to breathe. I can only hope that after this rest we will be primed to get through this damned place in one piece.

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DM log-- Daggerburg Keep 5

The party, bloodied, battered, and DM-scolded from their last chaotic encounter, retreated from the Crypt and the Cube. They took Zepher’s unconscious body up with them as they ascended the cracks and shortly ended up in Sir Keegan’s Tomb. All looked as they left it. They went into the hallway and down into the cracks there, following a familiar route, wending northward, under the spot that dripped water, then up some cracks into the storage room. This too was as they had left it, rotting dwarf and all. Jorn set about to properly burn the dwarf, while he was still in the barrel. The ceiling being low and the ventilation being nonexistent, the room quickly filled with a smoke so foul that everyone gagged in the next room. This interrupted their sleeping arrangements and Stek (who had clambered off the back of the unconscious Kat) smothered the fire, and bid Jorn to get rid of it. Jorn tried to roll the still-smouldering barrel with his spear. The barrel tipped over and broke open, spreading chunks of charcoal and burned dwarf across the floor. Eventually he got most of the pieces into the pit in the first room of the dungeon. There Jorn started making a pile of kindling to try again to make his pyre, but Stek pointed out that there was still no vent, so Jorn relented and left the dwarf to rot in the pit. Later he realised that the note that had been attached to the barrel had been consumed in the flames.

The party slept, with Bastian keeping watch in trance for part of the night. While they slept, they all shared a strange dream. Some forgot parts of it, but shared what they heard to compose the whole thing. The dream was this:

You had a strange and very vivid dream. You and the others were coming back from the crypt. You crawled up the crack from the crypt but entered a long corridor. The corridor was very straight and well-built, of an architecture you have never seen or heard of before, seemingly ancient. You did not remember seeing this corridor before, but something about it was still very familiar. There was a thick dark mist on the floor, same as what was in the crypt, but thicker and only ankle-deep. You all were cautious about pits so you tapped along in front of you as you went. You all went west but were stopped by thick, fresh spider webs and a dread that very dangerous spiders may lay beyond it. You all then went east. You saw some cracks and a collapse blocked further progress. You came up the cracks and very soon ended up in Keegan’s tomb.

On waking, they talked about this and what it might mean. In trying to figure out where this corridor might be, Stek used his deep sense of dungeon navigation {a Dungeoneering check} to realise that Keegan’s Tomb is not directly over the crypt, though twice now they climbed more or less straight up the cracks to get from one to the other. The tomb was laterally quite far from the crypt. But that made no sense. They puzzled over this and later looked for side passages in that area, but found nothing.

Also on waking, Zepher felt that Theren was looking at him a bit strangely, maybe nervously. The party noticed Zepher’s eyes narrowing {as Zepher did an Insight check} as he watched Theren and questioned him. Theren defended that he had done nothing wrong but did not like the way Zepher was eyeing his splendid ship captain’s hat. Zepher was not convinced. The party wondered if this was shadow madness. Jorn {rolling a Heal check, stretching himself as shadow energy is quite an advanced subject} was certain that this behaviour of Zepher’s was a sure sign of growing shadow madness, and Bastian, on hearing this, wracked his brain and remembered something similar, though with less certainty. The party considered different remedies, some thinking it was incurable, Amos thinking a nice bath in a mountain stream might fix it, Jorn thinking that exposure to the plane of positive energy would fix it. But none of these were at hand, so down the crack they decided to go, and quickly before the influence of the place got stronger. They rushed out of the room with no further distractions.

Well, one distraction. They needed to use the magic basin, filling it with water to gain the Wizard’s Escape effect again. This effect, as predicted, had expired in the night and hopefully could be renewed to again follow Fenstrom’s shortcut route through the cracks riddling this dungeon. But when they came to the basin, in it was a note:

Dear country clods—

How clever you must think yourselves. You dim bulbs figured out how to use the basin. Congratulations: you now are as clever as I was when I was five years old. And what did you do with your new-found knowledge? Lumbered into a perfectly lovely crypt and wrecked the place like a herd of mad cows! Nice reverence for the dead you have there. Why didn’t you piss in the funeral urns while you were at it? And thanks so much for letting a gelatinous cube into the place. Do you have any idea what you are doing? I had nearly forgotten about that thing, the result of a little summoning experiment of mine. Of course it’s no challenge for me to evade but may the gods help you idiots. Here’s a hint: don’t walk into it. At least the cube has cleaned up the crypt a bit… but I don’t think the crypt’s guardians appreciate the makeover.

Speaking of guardians, I see now that your veneer of do-goodiness is only skin deep. I know this from inspecting the remains of my skinless friend Sir Keegan. So you attacked him and stole his sword. Bravo— so heroic. I can only guess that Sir Keegan was testing your fibre when you surprised him with your brutality. How can you live with yourselves? I never much cared for the kind of moral limits adhered to by your cow-milking simpleton tribes, but even I know how to use an ally to gain advantage. Are you naïve, hypocritical, nasty, or all three?

I hope your cowardly retreat does not mean you are about to run away like little chickens. I welcome the challenge of repelling your wimpy onslaught. Every day I learn more about the chaos shard and my defences become stronger, so you can rest here as long as you want. I’m ready for you. Soon you will see the full extent of my genius. I might even let all of you work for me.

Your future master,
Excellus M. Fenstrom, Supreme Arcanist

They made sure the basin had not been messed with, but they found nothing, and after all, Fenstrom needed to keep using this to get around. So they filled it with water and gulped it down. They were once again noodly and could continue their travels.

It was the morning of 27 Patchwall (see the timeline). They went back down the cracks and ended up back in the crypt. This time they were resolved to stick together, be more careful, and avoid the cube at all costs. They crept forward, probing ahead as they went with bones and lights. They noticed the corridor was lightly webbed; the spiders had been busy overnight. Reasonably confident the cube was behind the doors they had closed on it, they looked more closely at the broken window on which Lev’s pant leg material was still hanging. Stek noticed {with Dungeoneering} that the “wall” behind the window was not building material; it was a fine stone, a kind of marble. Looking even closer {having rolled a natural 20}, it was apparent that there was a very thin crack between the window sill and the slab, as if this slab had been slid into place here and did not quite make a tight fit. However, nothing they could do shifted this slab. The crack was too thin for them to get through with their Wizard’s Escape effect. So they gave up. Stek’s best guess was that this window used to be a normal one looking into a room beyond, but someone or some mechanism moved this slab into place, and it might not be able to open from this side. Theren recalled that Lev was quite athletic, so it was conceivable that Lev had moved the slab into place.

Amos reverently put his old scimitar on the altar to Kord at the end of the corridor—a nice moment— as well as the bits of gold jewelry which were resting at the altar’s base.

The party approached the doors and got ready in formation, with Theren in front, reasoning that he had the best chance of dodging the cube’s sucking-in attack. The place was as they had last seen it, but spotlessly clean. The bones and shattered glass were still there, but pushed to the sides of the corridor. Theren ventured ahead slowly, aware that the cube could be anywhere, invisible until it attacked. He did not have to wonder long. Upon his first strides into the room, he walked into the cube. {The DM swears the location and direction of movement of the cube was entirely random while it had no other stimulus to orient it toward the party!} A wobbly pseudopod swept out but Theren artfully dodged it, then retreated. The party resolved to move back, keeping an eye on their foe. Stek adjusted the plan slightly by charging forward and chopping at the cube with his axe. The cube replied by sucking him in. After a bit of sizzling, Stek wrestled himself free of the grabbing glop inside the cube, moved out, then got slammed by the cube into a head-ringing immobility. There was a bit of a mess as the party tried to get free, but they used their tactics well. Theren even grabbed the prone dwarf and rolled him out of the way. Eventually the party got down the corridor ahead of the cube and through the glass door in the urn cases, safe on the far side. There was a daring moment as Zepher kept himself in peril as he used Mage Hand to tap on the ground near the now-invisible cube, its location betrayed by the dissolving of the webs in the corridor. Thankfully the cube followed the tapping, as if it had learned that things on the other side of the glass could not be eaten. With the cube hopefully clear, the party dashed to the doors and shut them, with Bastian doing a clever fey step and quick thievery skills to get the doors free first. All in all, an impressive feat of coordination.

The cube now safely on the other side, they faced the crypt. After a short rest they ventured ahead in formation. When they entered the fourth row, in the same spot where Theren had been nearly killed by the two phantom warriors, the warriors again appeared, shouting in their hollow voices, “Defend the Keep!” Theren {with some gentle reminding by the DM} resisted the urge to run ahead of the tank, and instead gained stealth. The warriors, showing shrewd tactical skill, moved in place and attacked not the armoured Stek but the more vulnerable-looking Jorn, who was also in the front row. Two massive slashes penetrated Jorn’s armor, spreading necrotic energy through him, bloodying him and demanding his attention. {The warriors seem to get combat advantage when they are both adjacent to the same target, and they mark those that they hit.}

The battle is joined! With the cube out of the way and a new resolve to work as a team, the party’s odds look much better… but having seen a flicker from the blazing skeleton in the distance and aware that Fenstrom might be watching them, they can’t exactly relax. Will Fenstrom release the cube? Will they pick up Lev’s trail again? Will Zepher go mad? Is Theren’s hat in peril? Time will tell…

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