The Shade Isle Campaign

The Story So Far...
The first dozen sessions or so

Rather than reproduce everything here, I’ll just link to the blog posts where I’ve already written everything up:

1. Four months into the campaign, here’s how much hex the party has crawled
2. The story so far…
3. …the middle of our story…
4. …and this should bring us up to date.

Alrightythen. From here on out, I’ll start posting session reports both to my blog and this portal simultaneously. I’ve never done anything like this before, so here’s hoping I can actually keep up with it…

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Session Report #13
Shade Abbey, levels 1A and 0A

I’m arbitrarily calling this post “#13”, because I’m not certain exactly how many sessions this campaign has involved so far. I’m just going to say that up until now, it’s been an even dozen, and have done with it. Last night’s game is heretofore officially designated “session #13,” which makes this post heretofore officially designated “game session report #13”.

I think it would be prudent now to start with an updated party roster, especially since the Nameless Warrior finally has a proper name: Klaus Bleowulf (the surname meaning “blue wolf” in the Old English, and also a cute pun on Beowulf; as an amateur Anglo-Saxonist, I approve wholeheartedly). Now that the party has six regular player characters, that’s a six-plus-way division of the experience points each game: everybody earned a little over 600 XP at the end of last session, and maybe 650 XP apiece at the end of this session. And this is with a party of six PCs (four 3rd level and two 4th level), one 2nd level retainer, two hired men-at-arms, and one or two charmed followers, basically steamrolling their way through most of the dungeon’s first-level sub-sections.

At the end of the previous game session, the party consisted of:

Connor MacLeary, Neutral Gnome Green Wizard, 4th level
Henrik Iverssen, Lawful Human Technologist, 4th level
Viktor Forsman, Chaotic Human Brawler, 3rd level
Lady Deliah the Black, Neutral Human Sorceress, 3rd level
Gibli, Chaotic Human Expert, 3rd level
Klaus Bleowulf, Neutral Human Fighter, 3rd level
Freida Waldenkrieger, Lawful Human Fighter, 2nd level [henchman]
Naeyl Røddenbald, Lawful Human Man-at-Arms, 0th level [hireling]
Sven Edgren, Neutral Human Man-at-Arms, 0th level [hireling]
Fritzhelm, Chaotic Human Fighter, 1st level [presently charmed by Deliah]

Connor’s class is “green wizard” and Henrik’s class is “technologist” because both are 4th level and have therefore moved up from the rank of Basic-level adventurer to Expert-level hero. The default ranks for each class are as follows (1st-3rd level > 4th-8th level > 9th level and up):

  • Fighter > Knight > Paladin
  • Expert > Specialist > Professional
  • Brawler > Champion > Grandmaster
  • Artificer > Technologist > Inventor
  • Druid > Wizard > Sage
  • Sorcerer > Warlock > Magus

- – - – - – - – - -

At the end of the last session, the party had been trying to decide what to do with a couple of odd dungeon features. One room had a headless bronze statue overlooking a sacrificial altar painted with fake blood. Another room had a three-headed stone statue of the cultists’ doomy deity, Domstag; and this statue had a kind of socket behind the necks of the three heads, which looked identical to the socket in the neck of the headless bronze statue. Finally, there was an altar in a polished-marble chapel, inscribed with the words, “rest here, ye faithful, and reap the boon of thy worth.”

Now, the party had detected danger from this altar; they had tried placing inanimate objects upon it, to no effect; and Connor even attempted to place a living animal (a spitting cobra that he’d snaked charmed last session) on it, again with no result. The three-headed stone statue, meanwhile, was protected by some kind of barrier abjuration that deflected all damage and either reflected or destroyed missile-weapons shot at it; and the doors at the top of the great stair leading south and up from this room were likewise protected, and therefore impossible to open.

The party chose to ignore all of this for the time being and continue exploring. Moving south from the chapel, they came to a room roughly in the center of this dungeon-level, occupied by a dozen moaning and kowtowing cultists, all of whom had recently plucked out one of their eyes and placed it as an offering before another Domstag statue. The party SWAT-teamed most of the cultists with grenades, took a prisoner, and decided once and for all to see what that inscribed altar in the chapel was all about.

They knocked out their captive, threw him onto the altar, and this caused the room to quake, and a dark voice boomed, “UNWORTHY!” The cultist received scarring burns to his face and fell off the altar, sobbing and praying. After this, the party took him back to the room where the cultists had been praying; they’d also found some stairs down to the next level here. They knocked out their prisoner yet again and threw him down the stairs, apparently just to see what would happen. The party cast a light spell out of a mana stone, illuminating the bottom of the stairs, just in time to see something drag the concussed cultist into the shadows. A few seconds later, they heard the cultist wake up, scream, and then die with a bloody gurgle.

So… maybe not that way just yet.

They ran a few trip-wires attached to grenades across the stairs and then kept exploring. They moved west from the offering-chamber and came into a throne-room, lined with gallery seating, but presently empty of occupants. The throne on the south wall proved to have a hidden switch the armrest that swung the whole south wall, throne included, around into a secret room to the south. Here, they found some half-finished stone statues, all headless and limbless, and a few articulated stone arms and legs that animated and flopped around harmlessly when a party-member approached. The pieces seemed to be some queer combination of mechanical handwork and golem-craft: whatever it was that animated them was beyond the knowledge of both Henrik and Deliah.

Also within this secret chamber, they found a secret door with a kind of slide or chute, possibly an escape-hatch, that slid down into darkness below. The party noted this and then went back into the throne room and back out into the corridors to do more exploring.

Now, earlier, Connor had gotten an idea: if the cultist on the altar had been burned for his unworthiness, perhaps magic could prevent that. He’d found a grimoire of resist fire in the library just west of the chapel; if he could learn the spell, perhaps that would prevent ill effects. So Connor retreated back outside, to the party’s campsite, where he would spend the next two days trying to learn the spell.

The rest of the party took to searching out the final southeast quadrant of this dungeon-level: they found an area with both a forge and an archery range, where a few of the cult’s servants, a dwarf smith and his goblin assistant, were hard at work forging swords, and a gnomish archer in woodsman-green was practicing his aim. Deliah charmed both and learned that neither was particularly loyal to the cult; they were hirelings or mercenaries. The dwarf, Lunkin, outfitted the temple-guards with arms; the gnome, Quissler, taught them archery and occasionally led squadrons of guards out on scouting or slave-taking missions.

The party managed to convince Quissler to come with the party, to “show them around the place”; but they left Lunkin and the goblin to their work. (So now the party had two charmed followers, Fritzhelm, the slave-trader from Dolheim, and now the gnomish scout and range-master). From there, they moved to the last unexplored area on this level, the goblin-barracks in the extreme southeast of this floor. In one room, gnolls* shrouded in shadows hissed and laughed. In another, a ring of goblins laughed and cheered while some other goblins wrestled and fought with hobgoblins. The party decided to sneak-attack the goblins, which drew everybody into a protracted fight; their mercenary, Naeyl, got a little banged up in the fight, but he was easily healed afterward.

(*Gnolls in my campaign are not hyena-headed beastmen. Instead, they are a race descended from the mingling of goblin and troll stock. They’re utterly psychotic, finding everything that happens around or to them hilarious, and they have a strange supernatural power to absorb and negate light, even magical light; shadows seem to follow them everywhere. The inspiration for my version of gnolls comes from two sources: their creator, Lord Dunsany, who called them “gnoles”; and a creature called a growleywog, invented by none other than the famous L. Frank Baum.)

In the goblin barracks, the party finally found a good-sized treasure: a chest full of silver and a big, sealed clay urn with a slot like a piggy-bank, full of silver and copper and iron coins. They also discovered here an object that they’d been seeking: a great bronze head. Now, all of the statues of Domstag that they’ve found in this dungeon, as well as a couple of defaced and broken statues of two of the northern gods, Thünor and Freya, have been in a very Nordic art style. This bronze statue head looked more Grecian or Babylonian in style. They also noticed that the neck had a sort of plug or peg, made of the same gray basalt-like stone that many of the Domstag statues they’d found were made of.

The party decided to simply take the head. It wasn’t wasn’t exactly solid bronze, but it was still heavy as all hell: it took three of them to roll this thing down the dungeon-corridors, and there was no way to do it quietly. The party encountered wandering zombies drawn by the clattering echoes; Gibli used a scroll of protection from undead that he’d found to ward them off while Henrik wasted them with combustion bombs.

Once outside, Connor paused in his studies to examine the head. He found that the stone plug could be removed from the bronze head. On its own, the stone cylinder, about two feet long and five or six inches in diameter, looked rather key-like; he suggested that it would be better to try and slot this thing in between the three heads of the basalt Domstag statue near the stairs up and the warded door; the bronze statue standing over the fake altar was probably a decoy and a trap. The party decided not to go back into the dungeon again that day: they waited for Connor to finish learning resist fire.

While they waited, Quissler, whose Intelligence was greater than Fritzhelm’s, managed to shrug off the charm person spell: the party was forced to restrain the gnome while Deliah attempted to re-charm him, using two spells that day before it finally worked. Also, during this “day off” from spelunking, Connor chose to memorize speak with animal so that he could talk to the cobra that he’d snake charmed earlier; and he made such a fine impression that the snake agreed to become Connor’s animal companion. Connor learned the snakish (Parseltongue?) commands for actions like “spit venom” and “attack” and so forth; and the cobra, in turn, got to ride around on Connor’s shoulder rather than inside the party’s bag of holding.

The morning after that, the whole party went back into the dungeon. First, the party went back to the marble chapel. Connor cast resist fire on himself and lay down on the altar. Again, the room shook and a voice boomed, “UNWORTHY!”, but by virtue of the +2 bonus to saves vs. fire accorded by the resist fire spell, Connor just barely managed to roll away from the altar before he could be burned and disfigured. After that, they followed the wizard’s suggestion and slotted the great stone key into the Domstag statue before the stairs. Sure enough, this deactivated the barrier, and now the party was able to ascend the stair and access the first level above ground.

Up here, the party found a font of unholy water; on a whim, Viktor dipped his elfsteel war-axe in the water, and Connor and Gibli each filled a phial. The hallways beyond that contained mostly bedrooms, and these mostly empty. There were only a scant few monks in this area of the temple, saying their matins in their bedrooms. The party left them to their business and searched in a southerly direction first, where they found a secret passage that seemed to twist and turn and wind in a generally south-by-southwesterly direction; after following this bare tunnel a full hundred yards with no end to it in sight, they decided to abandon this direction and return to exploring the rooms and corridors.

At one point, they passed a kind of weird ossuary, where human leg and arm bones had been stacked into a perfect pyramid shape with a single skull at the top. Gibli took the skull, and Viktor destroyed the rest of the pyramid with a grenade; but they found neither magic nor treasure here.

Pressing north, they found more bedrooms, a gymnasium populated by training monks who attacked after a bit of confusion; they were quickly slain. Then the party found themselves in the north wing of this floor, where they found a sculptor’s studio, a painter’s studio, and a great art gallery full of disturbing artwork. The irate priest in the painter’s studio attacked the party on sight with his paintbrush; the party named him “Evil Bob Ross” and beheaded him. In the art gallery, they found only a single silent monk, who they also killed. Then, while they were searching through the works of art, Gibli got his hand stuck to a painting of messy, abstract color-splatters. The painting started pulling on his arm, trying to draw him in. The whole party then grabbed onto Gibli and pulled back. They yanked him free, and the paint on the canvas came with him, lifting off the ground and animating as a rainbow-colored spectre. This was by far the most formidable monster the party had encountered yet: it touched Gibli and life-drained his hit point maximum from 12 down to 2, before the group rallied and started pounding the ghost with spells, elfsteel weapons, and elemental blasts from their DDF guns. (Viktor’s axe, doused with unholy water, caused the spectre to hesitate for a round without acting.) The spectre was reduced to a puddle of smoldering ectoplasm; and hanging within the picture-frame, where the spectre had been lying in wait, was a cloak of protection +2. This they gave to Gibli, in the hopes that it would keep him alive until he could recover from the undead’s life-draining touch.

From here, they moved westward and found a suite of rooms apparently owned by the Patriarch of the temple: a sitting-room, a bedroom, a wine-closet, and so forth. The most interesting feature here was a journal, left behind by the Patriarch of Acrefatum, which confirmed that they were indeed producing the mana stones here, and trading them to Dolheim, in exchange for a constant supply of slaves and prisoners—some delivered directly to the priests, and others merely abandoned on the shore of the island, as all of the player characters had once been. This was a bit baffling, but things are on the verge of making sense, if the players manage to do a bit more exploring in this direction next time.

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Mass Alignment Shift
You guys have been good-guying

The last few sessions have seen the party take on the Dwerport Assassins’ Guild and then turn around and start sticking it to Shade Abbey. Regardless of each individual character’s motive for doing this, or what any individual character might be doing while this going on, it’s had the effect of shifting the alignment of everyone in the party one step towards Lawful.

Connor, Deliah, and Klaus are now Lawful.
Viktor and Gibli are now Neutral.

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Session #14: The Final Naeyl in the Coffin
Shade Abbey, levels 0A and 0B

Well, this was an eventful session. When we’d last left the party, they were raiding their way through the Rectory of Acrefatum, one level above the ground-floor entrance to Shade Abbey. To be more precise, they were raiding the private wine-closet of Patriarch Pallidech, the head of the foul death-cult which styles itself the Church of Acrefatum. After drinking some of the best vintage there, the party headed west through a secret room and found a trapdoor and a pair of murder-holes overlooking the dungeon entrance some sixty feet below. They explored the guard-towers north and south of here and found them almost deserted, except for one animated skeleton hiding amidst a pile of burned corpses.

Gibli, who had earlier been energy-drained down to 2 hit points by the paint spectre in the rectory art-gallery, decided to rope down from the trapdoor above the dungeon-entrance and sneak back to camp to rest; Gibli’s player took over running the party’s NPC fighter henchman, Frieda, for a while.

The party now backtracked to the winery and found themselves exploring a series of rooms beyond: a kitchen, manned by two scarred chefs, both fanatical devotees of Acrefautm; interrogation revealed that they’d received their scars as part of a test of devotion in one of the “lower temples”. A nearby pantry and rubbish-room contained only food, trash, and a patch of green slime, but the great dining-hall east of these chambers was occupied by a priest and several acolytes conversing around a great table as they waited for their dinner to be served.

The party decided to try some tactics. They trip-wired the door between the dining-room and the kitchen with a grenade trap; then they split up, half the party waiting to burst through the north doors and half circling around back through explored hallways so that they could SWAT-team their way through the south doors. Things didn’t quite work out, though, as the southbound half of the party encountered a wandering patrol of abbey guards who moved right into the dining room… just as the party camping out by the north doors burst in and attacked. Henrik wasted the guards and many acolytes with a combustion bomb right away, and the survivors fled for the only escape route… the trapped doors to the kitchen. One kaboom later, all the bad guys were dead.

Now the party moved south and found a kind of lounge where some drugged-out priests were stoned on “incense”, most of which was promptly confiscated by the party (and then weaponized by Henrik, natch). The room south of the “incense” lounge proved to be a pleasure-chamber occupied by a priest and a priestess, embarrassed at being interrupted. The party then moved west of there, and that’s where things took a rough turn.

They discovered an alchemical laboratory being tended by Clern, an evil sorcerer in the employ of the cult. Clern was working over three strange cauldron-like machines, enclosed glass bubbles set within metal frames, with tubes running to control panels covered in levers and dials. Deliah tried to charm the crotchety old mage, but he was too quick to spot her spell and threw a lightning bolt at the party instead. All but three party members were struck down by the bolt and badly wounded, although thankfully nobody died at this point: the few standing characters (Henrik, Naeyl, and the charmed gnome, Quissler) rushed and slew Clern, but now they were in trouble.

Between Connor’s spells, Henrik’s devices, and the jug of Jordha, the party could certainly marshal enough resources to heal everybody back up in two or three days; but would they risk a slow crawl back through the dungeon to drag so many wounded to safety just yet, or hole up and rest for the night somewhere first? The party chose to rest in a room just south of Clern’s lab that they’d cleared out, a room earlier filled with compost and populated by giant bombardier beetles and shriekers (easily dispatched by hand-grenades). Problematically, sleeping in a room full of rotting compost and fungus caused Fritzhelm (another of Deliah’s charmed followers), Frieda, and Viktor to come down with a disease that wouldn’t become apparent for another few days.

Most of the party then exited the dungeon, although Connor stayed behind in Clern’s lab to keep tending to his weird cauldron-machines to see what he could get out of them, and Klaus stayed as well, so as to guard Connor. The gnome wizard learned that the three cauldrons were distilling some kind of elemental plasm down into crystal form, growing three exceptionally powerful mana stones. Clern’s lab-notes allowed Connor to tend to the machines over the course of the next three days and eventually retrieve the stones, which were found to contain a fire ball, a lighting bolt, and an ice storm—far more powerful than anything the party had found in a mana stone before.

This was rather alarming, so they decided to sabotage these cauldron-machines, and to take the stones (and some samples of the elemental plasm that Connor had taken) to Matriarch Garavel in Dämmendell for further study. Plus, the party needed a safe place to rest and recuperate and study more spells.

Now, in the meanwhile, Fritzhelm, still wounded and unconscious, had come down with a bad fever; the party decided it would be best to put the bastard of a slave-trader out of his misery, so they offed him right then and there. Also while camping outside the dungeon, Quissler finally made a saving throw to shrug off the charm person spell, and this time he was clever enough to play nice until he could slip away unnoticed, which he did early one morning thanks to a bit of escape-artistry. The Abbey range-master hasn’t been seen since.

The party now made the three-day journey up to Dämmendell. Along the way, Viktor and Frieda also fell visibly ill, but Matriarch Garavel was able to cure their disease with magic. The party wasn’t able to learn much here about the mana stones or the elemental goo, but they did have manage to get in a good week and more of downtime, so that Deliah could scribe some more spells into her grimoire.

Refreshed and revitalized, the party now returned to Shade Abbey. More than two weeks had passed since they’d left, but the place now seemed even more eerie and deserted. They passed through the Rectory level and then decided to make their way up to the top floor, the Keep, to learn what they could once and for all about the source of the mana stones.

After exploring a side-area to the northwest with some guards watching a tower-like passage that seemed to cut upward through the mountain, straight up to the top of Thunder Table, the group rallied and decided it was time to search the keep’s central chamber. Gibli peeked in through the main door, only to find the high priest of the Abbey, Patriarch Pallidech, seemingly waiting for everybody. He was holed up in a great domed chamber with a handful adepts and another one of those three-headed stone statues of Domstag.

The Patriarch used a magical command to compel Gibli to enter the chamber; then he told everyone else hiding in the hallway not to be shy; he wanted to parley first. Like a good Bond-villain, he offered the PCs the chance to cease their crusade against his cult and instead work for him. While Gibli kept Pallidech talking, Connor sneaked along the edge of the room and positioned himself to use the lightning bolt mana stone. This killed three of the four adepts and wounded Pallidech; and then Henrik lobbed a combustion bomb which wounded the Patriarch even further. They were not, however, able to bring down Pallidech before he was able to whisper a command-word to the statue in the center of the chamber, animating it as a stone golem. In the brawl that ensued, the Patriarch was slain, the golem was destroyed, and Pallidech’s very nice equipment (elfsteel plate, shield and knuckles) were claimed by the party.

Now, at last, they moved into the heart of the keep: the chamber east of the central dome, where the Church of Acrefautm kept its foul creation, the Soul-Still. Here, they discovered a great glass-and-metal vat filled with unholy, glowing green ectoplasm, and writhing, agonized human souls sloshing around therein. Forges and controls attached to the vat were distilling the pained souls down into mana stones, crystals that contained a single casting of a spell, much like magic scrolls, but which could be activated with mere concentration and no knowledge of spell-casting whatsoever.

Upon discovering that the mana stones were made from souls—that the ammunition in their beloved Dämmendell Furies was, in fact, people, the party now resolved to destroy the Soul-Still and put an end to the cult’s little scheme. So Connor and Henrik rewired some of the tubes and pipes between the forges and the still, so that pressures and feedback loops and so forth would cause the thing to blow. Most of the party got a good head start down the escape-tunnel south from the rectory level; they were maybe half-way down the 500 yard passage, and Connor and Henrik were only just reaching it, when the Still went up in a great green-orange (grorange?) blast of slime and flame that actually completely collapsed the southeast guard-tower on the keep level.

The party moved back up to the keep to survey the damage. The whole southeast quadrant of the keep, all of the Soul-Still chamber, and a fair chunk of the eastern part of the central dome-chamber, were completely collapsed. Thankfully, the two treasure-chambers to the northeast and southwest were intact. The party searched one and found a treasure vault full of coins and magical arms; this vault was also trapped with a self-closing door and sleeping gas trap, more of a delaying tactic meant to allow guards to catch up with and fall upon robbers than anything lethal.

The other chamber, though, was more sinister: here was kept the Domstag Codex, the holy text of the Church of Acrefatum. It was guarded by a couple of phantoms who managed to life-drain Naeyl to death before the party could dispatch them. On that sad note, Connor wrapped up the obviously evil, human-skin-bound and blood-inked Codex in tight leather bindings and chucked the fell thing into the party’s bag of holding. with that, the group withdrew back to their camp outside Shade Abbey to spend a chill October night resting and planning their next move.

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The Wiki is Now Up-to-Date
Time for me to hit the bourbon

At long last, the campaign wiki is now caught up with where the player characters are right now. Everything they’ve discovered or encountered, everyone they’ve met, all the relevant lore, is at last up for browsing.

It took a while, but damn, what a feeling. I’ve never done anything like this for a campaign before. It’s cool, it’s useful, and it’ll probably impel me to collect everything into an adventure module worth publishing someday. So… totally worth it. Enjoy!

EDIT: And everything is much prettier now that I’ve figured out how to do tables.

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Session #15: Crawlin' Southern Hexes
...and not much else.

This week’s session was a bit less exciting than the last couple of games. That’s what happens when the party turns away from the dungeon and goes hex-crawling: the tension is more of a slow burn than a roller-coaster. And the truth of the matter is that most of Shade Isle’s three-mile hexes are empty of anything except wilderness: there’s only a chance of wandering monsters with most areas the adventuring company travels through. The chance that they’ll stumble into a lair by accident depends on the nature of the monsters living in that area, and the one time it happened this game, there were clear signs of monsters that the party was duly able to avoid.

The progression of events that took place this session (which, in game time, covered about a month and a half—nearly all of October and half of November in the year 916, Imperial Reckoning) is at least straightforward and easily recounted this week.

1) After sending Sven and Partrix along with their cart back to Dämmendell, the party decided to ascend the guard-stairs in the uppermost level of Shade Abbey to the top of Thunder Table. They spent about two weeks tramping through the mountains and rocky flatlands at the top of the plateau, and they found only some interesting geography: they spied a few high, sharp peaks to the north, and they found that the center of the plateau actually had a waterfall spilling into a lake, which emptied into a river flowing through a canyon that winds approximately northwest through the plateau. There was no easy way to get down to the lake from atop the table-mountain, though. The party had one random encounter during this expedition, with a common rock-hydra dwelling in the mountains.

2) In late October, they returned to Dämmendell, where King Bjornstraand summoned them to his throne-room and asked them to investigate some goings-on in Dwerport. Apparently, no word had come from Deputy Vice-Mayor Fruben Flinthelm in a while, and none of the king’s messengers had yet returned either; the king’s bodyguard, Fundin Flinthelm, was starting to worry for his brother’s safety.

The party agreed to investigate, but they needed to take time off to train and prepare first. Frieda finally got to level up to 3rd level as a fighter, by training under the king himself. The rest of the party busied themselves with spell and gadget research. When they were finally ready to leave, they went to Dwerport and arrived there on Halloween, which is what makes the next part so amusing.

3) They found the town under martial law, occupied by soldiers of Dolheim. The gates were shut, so they dressed up like Shade Abbey guards, cultists, and monks. Namely, Gibli wore the uniform of a guard-lieutenant, Connor and Deliah dressed as mid-to-high-ranking Lamas of the abbey, and the rest wore plain black cultist robes.

They discovered that Dwerport was now under the control of Baroness Skaadi of Dolheim, one of Prince Svartsen the Black’s Twelve Peers of the Realm. She had been keeping Vice-Mayor Fruben chained up in his own basement while she occupied the mayor’s manor in the middle of town. The party, posing as an emissary from the abbey (this grift’s official name: “the Dolhemian Rhapsody”) got in tight with the baroness.

4) When Baroness Skaadi demanded to know why the mana stone shipments had stopped, the “priests” claimed that roguish raiders and adventurers had become a serious cause of trouble in Shade Abbey. They requested more defenses, which the baroness provided to the “lieutenant of the guard” (Gibli) in the form of a detachment of fifty men-at-arms (a third of the force occupying Dwerport; the baroness had already crushed any opposition, so she felt that she could spare the men). The party also convinced her to let them take Fruben to Dämmendell, to “ransom” to King Bjornstraand; she agreed and wrote a letter to the king demanding 2,000 pieces of gold for the dwarf’s safe return.

5) The company marched the 50 soldiers and Fruben to Dämmendell, where they left the solders at the gates and went inside to “negotiate”. They had the dwarves mock up a chest of fools’ gold (artistically flawless, as is the wont of dwarves) to take back to Dwerport and give to the baroness. Into this chest of “gold”, Connor slipped his mirror of narcissism as a nice little “bonus”.

Back in Dwerport, the baroness didn’t seem affected by the mirror, so the party let her take the fools’ gold and forsook any attempt on her life at that time. Nevertheless, they did help the Thieves’ Guild instigate a small riot, during which they burned down and blew up two warehouses where the Dolhemian forces were keeping their munitions.

6) Now the party took off southwest of Dwerport, over the mountains and into the Merkbog. Here, the found the Brunflow river at its source and followed it until they came within sight of some dunes-and-beach-grass terrain. There, not far from where the peddlers’ treasure-map that they’d bought had marked an “X”, they found a Pirates’ Cove with a three-mast galleon in port.

“Lt.” Gibli ordered the soldiers to attack, and while the party completely wiped out the pirates, their men also took 60% casualties (turning a force of fifty pretty loyal men into twenty shaken and pissed-off men). From the Pirates’ Cove, the party claimed a positively huge treasure… and their ship, which they now crewed with the (borderline mutinous) Dolhemian soldiers, momentarily placating them with promises of a share of the pirate-booty.

Oh, and one of the three magical items found in the pirate-hoard was a cursed scroll that turned Connor into a tropical parrot.

7) For the next two weeks, the party took that pirate ship, the Mad Slasher, all along the southern coast of Shade Isle. Along the southwest coast (the Merkbog), Connor the parrot (flying inland to scout) spied a few ruins in the West Merkbog region.

Back at Sægen Village, Connor sought out Father Onnus Eagan for another curse-removal ritual. The old padre was more than willing to help, and spent all day working the magic, but it also proved to be a huge strain on his person. When all was said and done, Connor was a gnome again, but the shrine-priest was in a coma. Connor took Frieda, hired a wain and draft-team, and took Father Onnus straight to Dämmendell to seek aid from Matriarch Garavel.

8) The rest of the party remained aboard the Mad Slasher and explored the southeast coast of the isle, all along the Lornwood. Just as they were getting up around the east coast, though, the weather started to turn bad. Rain became a hurricane became a November blizzard, and the crew of soldiers, now fully mutinous, tried to take over the ship and wouldn’t parley. They all wound up deader than dead, and the party was forced to steer the ship for shore as best they were able and drop anchor off the coast.

9) About four leagues south from where they left their pirate-ship, the party came across an old abandoned house on the eastern shore of the isle. The party detected magic coming from the entire house, so they chose not to shelter themselves from the blizzard there; they plunged back into the Lornwood instead, exploring the eastern part of it (but mostly avoiding any monster-lairs and suspicious clearings they stumbled across) along the way back to Sægen Village.

After that, the party once again turned back north, to Dämmendell, where all of the 3rd level party-members (Klaus, Deliah, Gibli, and Viktor) were able to at last train up to 4th level. So now Klaus is a Knight, Deliah is a Witch, the Gibli is a Specialist, and Viktor is a Champion.

This was by far the coolest development of the whole game-session, in my humble referee’s opinion. By virtue of that pirate-hoard (let’s hear it for Treasure Type A, ladies and gents!), all of the player characters have now made “hero” level—the experience level at which they’re not mere tomb-robbers; but rather, fully-competent badasses, starting to master their professions. This is also the experience level at which a party of adventurers can make long treks into the wilderness, and the random encounter tables from the D&D Expert Set will produce more or less balanced and challenging encounters. Hex-crawling and dungeon-crawling actually both get quite a bit more fun from here on out (although the party will have to seek deeper dungeon levels before they actually start meeting suitably challenging monsters and finding suitably rewarding treasures).

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Session #16: These guys must be SO unlucky at love
(y'know, because cards...)

This session may be the easiest one so far to describe. In-game, the session took place over the course of twenty days or so, from the 1st of December in the year 916 (Imperial Calendar) to the 20th of December, with pretty much all of the action taking place on the 5th, as the adventuring company finally delved down into the next sub-level of Shade Abbey, area 1B, the Temple of Spiritual Devotions. This area seemed to be a kind of proving-ground or series of trials for Abbey Monks in training, consisting of a series of riddles and puzzles all sequestered off in their own rooms.

The party made the three-day trip from Dämmendell by wagon back south to Shade Abbey, arriving there on the evening of the 4th. On the morning of the 5th, they went inside and found that the large central rooms of the first floor had been occupied by a small tribe of hobgoblins. Connor hobnobbed with the hobgoblins and made friends; the party learned that the mysterious creature in the shadows guarding the stairs down to the next level was in fact a vampire named Edmund.

After some hesitation, the adventuring company ventured downstairs to confront Edmund (at area 1B.1). There, they found a pasty, angsty teenaged lad with poofy hair who informed them that they were welcome into the Temple of Spiritual Devotions if they could get past him. Henrik answered with a combustion bomb, and Edmund let them pass, retreating to his coffin to recover.

The party moved through the next few areas in level 1B until they came to area 4, the Hall of the Golden Calf; the maze there delayed the party for a good long while, since only Connor deigned to explore the dwarf-sized labyrinth-passages at first, and he went about this with extreme caution, tying a rope to himself and never venturing beyond its reach, and always slowly checking for traps and mapping the whole way. This tedium dragged on for white a while to no avail; only the closest few passages were mapped, and they didn’t seem to go anywhere anytime soon. Connor was fighting rats in this maze, but once he spotted the shadow of what must have been some kind of dwarf-sized minitaur (ha-ha), the company decided to explore elsewhere.

The explored the Hall of Isles at area 6 and solved the riddles of the Hall of Cards at area 8; the King of Cards in the secret room there dealt cards out form a deck of many things. Henrik and Deliah chose not to pull cards; Connor earned enough experience that he’ll be able to level twice and might just be level six two games from now; Klaus also sort of broke even, getting a fat XP bonus and a free level of his own out of the deal, but he also got slapped with a permanent penalty to saving throws against turn-to-stone (which may or may not have been cured by overdosing on some anti-petrification medicine a short time later).

Viktor came away with a pile of bling and a couple of wishes, both of which got wasted to no effect. (“I wish for everyone in our party to go up a level!” zapped them all back up to level 1A of the dungeon. “I wish for everyone in our party to go up a character level!” caused them to be teleported to precisely their own height, spilling them all three-to-six-feet back to the ground in an awkward tumble. Yuk-yuk.)

And Gibli… poor Gibli. He pulled a bad card. Not one of the really terrible ones that just takes you out of the campaign forever. This was one of the bad cards that takes you out of the campaign if the ref is in a bad mood; otherwise it’s just a great inconvenience. The card left Gibli’s body comatose while his soul was sent “elsewhere”. I determined that “elsewhere” would be room 19 of this very dungeon-level, the “Hall of Heads.” The King of Cards snickered that they could all find Gibli’s soul if they “kept their heads about them, took care not to lose their heads, got ahead in life, etc., etc.” For the most part, though, they wound up stuffing Gibli’s body into the bag of holding and trusting that his heart-rate was now low enough that he wouldn’t need that much oxygen. (Don’t worry, they aired out the bag between encounters to make sure he was still breathing.)

That lasted until they found a treasure-cache in another room where piles of copper coins basically filled up their bag of holding; they had to carry Gibli the old-fashioned way after all. (You know, because treasure is a priority in these situations.)

Anyway, the party passed through the next set of rooms—the riddles of the statues, blade, and nun at areas 9, 10, and 11. Beyond room 11 was a sort of back hallway with some store-rooms, nothing too interesting there, and a suite of rooms belonging to one of the ranking abbey priests, Canon Voth. They killed the canon and took his stuff, and they found two interesting clues among the papers in his study: 1, the possible location of a Starshrine atop Thunder Table; and B, a letter indicating that high-ranking monks Abbot Mokor and Inquisitor Tyroelius were off visiting “Shade Abbey’s northern stronghold”, wherever that might be.

At this point, the party was starting to really worry about Gibli, so Deliah asked her new familiar—an adorable (and still unnamed) puppy which is the personified spirit of her Signature Spell, charm person. The puppy sniffed at Gibli’s body to catch a whiff of soul (“Not the nicest soul I’ve ever smelt,” the familiar commented of the recently ex-Chaotic thief); then, like a bloodhound, he followed the trail to room 19, the Hall of Heads.

Therein, the company found various museum displays of heads in strange positions and configurations. They didn’t pay much attention to these; game-time in the real world was running short by now, and the party was more taken with what they found in the center of the room: a beholder of some kind guarding an obviously magical sword on a pedestal. The beholder-kin told them that they’d better not take its shiny sword, or they’d face its wrath. They weren’t really willing to face wrath at the moment; they just asked if they could have Gibli’s soul back, please. “Yeah, sure, you can take that,” said the monster. They found a mana stone near one of the head-displays, from which Connor was able to conjure Gibli’s soul back into his body.

Gibli woke up debilitated (0 hit points, but no physical wounds); the party retreated from the dungeon and went back to Dämmendell at that point. They traveled over the course of the 6th, 7th, and 8th of December. On the morning of the 9th, Connor started training himself up to 5th level as a druid, under the tutelage of Matriarch Garavel. And after ten days, he completed his training. On the morning of December the 19th, Connor woke up in his quarters in the dwarf-palace to discover that his new Signature Spell, cure light wounds, had manifested to him on the material plane as a spirit-animal (the druidic equivalent of a sorcerer’s familiar), the reincarnation of his dead pet snake, “Salazar Slithering”, who’d been eaten by a hydra during the party’s explorations of Thunder Table the game-session prior.

So, all told, the party got really, really, really, REALLY freaking lucky with that deck of many things this adventure. As the saying goes, “lucky at cards, unlucky in love”, which means that this group must be the most romantically-challenged band of adventurers in the history of D&D.

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Game Session #17: This, That, and the Other Thing

This

This week’s adventure began with Connor spending a week and a half in Dämmendell training up to level six as a green wizard. A lucky pull from a deck of many things has made the party’s sole non-human character out to also become the party’s highest-level character.

Once that was done, the party struck out to explore the frozen northern leg of the Schönflow River (it now being the middle of December, 916). They rented three teams of dogs to pull sleds and hoped to find an easy way up to Thunder Table; but alas they only discovered that the leg of the river which flows west out of the canyon after cutting through the plateau merely empties into the Schönflow. At this point, they sent the dogs back to Dämmendell on their own recognizance (Connor used speak with animals to give them instructions; the dogs claimed that they knew the way back just fine, and liked their dwarven masters better than the adventurers anyway). With both the Yule and a new moon coming up, the party decided that it would be best to pass the holiday and the new year back in Dämmendell, which they did.

Just before the end of the Yule-week, though, the party headed south to the Ancient Battlefield, where, at the stroke of midnight during the new moon, they witnessed a ghostly vision, just as rumor said would be the case: they witnessed a great battle between cave-man shamans in animal skins, who summoned up hordes of undead; versus giant creatures that looked like ten-foot tall skeletons wreathed in flame, which summoned fire and lighting from the sky. The shaman-conjured zombies pulled down and snuffed out one flaming giant after another, until at last all the giants raised their arms to the sky, and a great comet fell and struck the battlefield… the whole vision was nothing but an insubstantial and silent image, but it was impactful nonetheless. The party dug a short ways down into the ground and found the whole ancient battlefield rested on a bed of pure iron that been melted and solidified long ago.

Returning to Dämmendell, they informed King Bjornstraand about the huge iron deposit and asked for miners to start digging it up. Then they headed back out, this time bound for Shade Abbey, so that they could once again climb up to the top of Thunder Table and follow the lead on the map they’d found last week, indicating the location of another Starshrine. They headed north, only to be foiled again by the presence of the impassable canyon; on the way back south they espied a gigantic roc overhead (which they managed to hide from). They circled east around the lake, spied a strange cave, and continued north until at last they discovered the Starshrine to Thünor.

Here, they met the shrine-keeper, a silent pech who was able (by means of some gesturing and marking their map) to inform the company that there was a cave full of pechs in the northwestern part of Thunder Table. The party slept that night at the Starshrine, where they received a vision from Thünor, who told them that the evil sleeping beneath Shade Isle was a dark god called “Izatu-Bal”, although his deluded followers know him by another name. That morning, the party discovered a hammer of returning +2 on Thünor’s altar, a shrine-gift that Klaus took up (hammers are sort of becoming his thing).

On the way back down from the plateau, the company got into a minor skirmish with a band of eighteen berserkers. They stopped over in the Pech Cave indicated on their map by the shrine-keeper, but the denizens of this cavern seemed even less communicative; they couldn’t even gesture meaningfully, deigning instead to imitate whatever the adventurers did.

Arriving back in Dämmendell some days later, they discovered to their amazement that Baroness Skaadi had apparently been recalled back to Dolheim; the martial law within Dwerport had ended, even if the naval blockade had not. King Bjornstraand appointed Matriarch Garavel the new baroness, enfeoffing the high priestess with a noble title and essentially giving her autocratic power in Dwerport.

That

The party accompanied Garavel to Dwerport and learned that, indeed, Skaadi and her men had been recalled in disgrace, and Skaadi herself had been chewed out by a so-far unknown “huge man in red armor” who marched her aboard his ship before they all sailed off.

Garavel decided that the old mayor’s manor wouldn’t fit one of her stature; she resolved to take over Dwerport’s Temple of the Æsir from the local bishop, Darby O’Dell. As an afterthought, she gave the mayor’s manor to the adventuring company. Exploring the basement in the vault, the party discovered signs of a major hissy-fit, with all the fool’s gold that they’d given to the old baroness scattered about… and the mirror of narcissism gone.

At this point, Connor decided to try and put in a good word for the Thieves’ Guild with the matriarch. He called upon his contact, local gnome thief Lannet Annwn, to set up a meeting between Matriarch Garavel and the guild-mistress of Dwerport’s thieves, the elf Jonétticel. Meanwhile, Deliah bought a map indicating an overland route to Rorgan Village along the Durdäs Rapids and the south edge of the Dimmenwald.

That night, the party gathered at the Harbor’s Haven Hostel, where Richard Rankine and his grumpy barkeep, Erb, had set up a nice, private table. Matriarch Garavel was the first to arrive, followed shortly by Guild-mistress Jonétticel. Just as they were about to begin negotiations, the (locked!) front door to the hostel slid open, and in strode none other than Grandfather himself: a pipe-smoking dwarf whose mottled green-and-brown ranger-cloak hid his face. Grandfather sat down, and Matriarch Garavel seemed both shocked and barely able to contain a sudden seething rage. She informed both guild-masters that she’d just decided she would never tolerate any sort of crime in her new barony, and that a crackdown on both thieves and assassins was imminent.

Jonétticel answered that if that was the case, they had nothing further to discuss; she left quickly (but not before Gibli and Connor could flag her down outside and ask to join the Thieves’ Guild). Shortly thereafter, Garavel likewise left the meeting in a huff. Grandfather informed the adventurers that if they were curious about his history with Garavel, their best bet would be to follow up on King Bjornstraand’s request and find his missing niece, Princess Ingridine, who was last seen heading into the Merkbog by herself. Then the master-assassin made his exit by ninja-style, puff-of-smoke disappearing-act.

Gibli started asking around about making contact with the Assassins’ Guild and was approached by Erb, the barman of the hostel, who informed Gibli that he was in fact a contact-man for the guild.

Nevertheless, the next day, Connor, Gibli, and Klaus resolved to join the Thieves’ Guild. They went to the guild-house, passed some sneaking and pick-pocketing and burgling tests, and joined up, with terms being a 5% cut due to the guild for any jobs pulled within a town or village on Shade Isle, in exchange for access to guild resources like equipment and fences. Guild-mistress Jonétticel also told the three new recruits that if they could burgle the mansion of Mayor Klaus Klaussen in Sægen Village and steal his badge and writ of office (bestowed on the mayor by Prince Svartsen the Black), that their loyalty to the guild would be proven.

The Other Thing

Now the company turned its attention to the Merkbog, where they attempted to make a bee-line for one of the ruins that Connor had spotted earlier, back when he’d been cursed with a parrot’s form; but on the way, they noticed a black stone tower atop a hill within the middle of the swamp. This was something of an “ooh, shiny” distraction that consumed the rest of the session.

They discovered six grotesque and sickly-looking creatures which appeared to have been stitched together from human and either puma or wolf parts; these creatures proved to be more undead than flesh-golem in nature and were vulnerable to Connor’s turning power. Inside the tower, the party fought a couple of living iron statues, a few more of the hideous undead moreaus, and a ghoul. They discovered one of the creatures, an undead man-wolf, reading scrolls of philosophy in a library; it attacked Connor in a berserk fury when it sensed a threat to its creator (called variously “Father” and “Dr. Hellstrommus” by the creatures).

The party sacked the library and discovered a side-room with a trap-door down into a basement. Here, they discovered a couple of gargoyle statues (ordinary statues, since Viktor was able to pummel them into rubble in mere moments with his bare fists) and a great stone sarcophagus that, try as they might, nobody could open. The lid simply wouldn’t budge to any means they applied. That was where we left things off.

Next week… the secrets of Hellstrommus Tower. (Ooh, spooky…)

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Game Session #18: Skating o’er the Frozen Bog
...or, "Walking in a Winter Wonder-Swamp"

This will be another quick session report. A lot happened, but it’s easy to describe.

1. Party finished exploring Hellstrommus Tower. They ganked, questioned, and killed Dr. Cornelius Hellstrommus, the necromancer who lived there. They took his stuff, including his spell-books, some clockwork spring-heeled jackboots, and his magical wand of frost and orb of knocking. But the company chose not to use the orb on the sarcophagus in his basement, for fear of disturbing a nosferatu that the necromancer claimed was lurking down there.

2. After that, the players resolved to spend the rest of this session exploring the rest of the Merkbog, or at least getting the layout of all the terrain. They fought some ghouls in a graveyard, they met some crazy Deliverance-Gnomes, they hiked hither and thither over lots of frozen quicksand as Feburary of 917 wore on into March, and they found both an evil artifact (the Eye of Izatu-Bal) and the Starshrine to Baldur. On the way out of the bog, they tangled with some harpies, and then they headed back to Shade Abbey.

3. There, they once again descended down to sub-level 1B, the Temple of Devotions, where they (mostly) finished exploring areas 4 (the Maze of Minos), 18 (the Fairy Forest), and 19 (the Hall of Heads).

And that’s all I have to say about that. (Close to five months’ worth of gaming now, and the party has explored about half of Shade Isle, but they’re still on level one of Shade Abbeysmiley-rolleyes008.gif)

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Game Session #19: Riddles in the Dark

At the start of this adventure, the party had spent most of April, 917 in Dämmendell, training and studying. During this time, the dwarven nobles forced King Bjornstraand to declare his niece, the Crown Princess Ingridine, not just missing but dead. After an eight-day period of mourning (customary for the dwarves: one day for each of the eight ancient dwarf-clans), during which all the dwarves of Dämmendell hid their faces with hoods and all the folk of King Bjornstraand’s house shaved half the length off their beards, the nobles then called a moot to decide who would be named the next heir to throne.

Matriarch Garavel missed the mourning period but arrived in time for the dwarf-moot. The party considered this somewhat suspicious, wondering whether the matriarch hadn’t possibly been corrupted by her brief contact with the Eye of Izatu-Bal; they informed the king of their suspicions and were permitted to scan the matriarch with detect evil, but they sensed no evil coming from her. The matriarch was a little put off, but she deemed the PCs’ suspicious actions to be in the best interests of the kingdom and actually praised them for their care and caution. Then, as a recently-elevated noble-woman, she joined the other nobles in the dwarf-moot.

Before he went back to head up the proceedings, King Bjornstraand informed the adventuring company that in all likelihood, succession would follow the royal bloodlines and wind up falling to the king’s cousin, Count Orrin Eisengant, who the king deemed a schemer and a fool, someone who would risk a reckless attack on Anarxis of the North before the dwarves were strong enough to actually succeed, for the sake of whipping up popular support.

The company actually left Dämmendell before the moot was concluded, though, choosing instead to continue exploring Shade Abbey. They delved back down to level 1B, the Temple of Devotions, where they explored rooms 20–29, 31–32, 34–37, and 39–41. Much hilarity ensued. It was these explorations, mostly involving riddles and puzzles, that consumed practically the entire game-session. The details can be found on the page for Shade Abbey dungeon sub-level 1B.

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