Jan 14, 2018

24th Day of Reaping, 580 CY - Out of the fortress

This was definitely not the most fun game day for most of the players (or even the DM, for that matter). I think it was because we took too long of a break between sessions, and so players didn't quite have their head in the game. Frustration over how long it was taking to explore this fortress was causing stress, and as room after room turned up empty and clueless, player frustration reached peak levels. But the day had a truly epic ending, so all is well. . . 

We picked up where we left off, with the party in a room with a now dead minotaur, whose head Pontus immediately cut off to keep as a trophy. Exploring some secret doors eventually helped everyone map out the rest of the area of what appeared to be Markessa's private quarters and those of her bodyguard. One room had a pentagram on the floor, with a gold necklace in the middle. The party has learned their lesson about messing around with such obvious arcane/demonic traps, and left it alone. During the time spent searching, they also had time to look through the papers they had collected from Markessa's desk and found the following letter.

Lady Markessa,

It is agreed that old Klim has grown soft hearted. I shall look forward to having you sit on the Inner Council with me. There will soon be many openings. It is imperative that the operations fail at the hands of the outsiders. Others will be blamed for their escape and any destruction they have caused.
Do not concern yourself with this decision. Turosh Mak grows too strong and we would need to move the base anyway. We will deal with him once we have dealt with the others, but for now, everyone must play their part.

- E

Despite the fact that it has been almost 48 hours since Pontus saw Markessa packing up to leave, the party felt that she was their only clue as to where Dame Gold and the other slaves might have gone, and they needed to track her down. They explored another branch of the escape tunnel she used, allowing Pontus to set off a pit trap which did a small amount of damage to the barbarian. After working around that, they followed the tunnel to a secret door which opened into a natural cave tunnel the went left and right. Hearing some sounds coming from the left, they decided to check them out.

The sounds were coming from a about a dozen drow in a large cave, standing around some wagons. Behind them was a large tunnel opening the went south. In front of them, the cave opened up into the wide hallway of the lower level of the fortress. The drow appeared to be a merchant of some sort and his guards. By the looks of the shackles on the cart, it would seem they were here to buy slaves, although there were no slaves loaded yet, and the pack animals that would be pulling the carts were not around at the moment. Two of the drow guards saw Pontus and immediately fired crossbows at him, which missed. Sarril then dropped an Ice Storm into the cave, killing all of the drow and almost killing Cassius, who had snuck into the cave to attempt a backstab.

The party assumed Markessa must not have come this way, and backtracked through the cave to follow the other path, which eventually led to an abandoned encampment, and a small tunnel leading out to the hillside, too small for a caravan of slaves to be led out. From the hillside, the party could see the road and look back on the fortress. Turosh Mak's forces were surrounding the fortress and orcs could be seen along the battlements of the walls.

This is the point at which the party started to become frustrated. Backtracking yet again, they decided to check the remaining doors of the lower level fortress that they hadn't checked before. They found another natural cave leading to some warg breeding pens (the wargs did not bother them thanks to some herbs they had managed to get earlier). The breeding pens led to a large goblin cave where dead goblin and warg bodies were strewn about from the previous day's encounter. This cave wound around to the east and ended in a door from which Cadwin could hear buzzing sounds coming from the other side. The party decided to leave that door alone. Backtracking again, they went to the northern end of the fortress and checked all previously missed doors (Note: I played "Yakety Sax," the Benny Hill theme song, whenever the party decided to backtrack - this might have added to the frustration, I'm not sure). All doors led to empty kitchens, dining halls barracks and a latrine. All except two final locked doors.

After failing to open the door through any other means, Sarril cast Shatter on the door to destroy it. Inside was a large room with row and row of cages full of human slaves in terrible condition. Some were missing, many were dead, others were lethargic and non-communicative. But the few that could speak told the party that the "overseer" took about a dozen slaves two days ago in a hurry. They could not see where he went. One slave was able to confirm that Dame Gold was with them at some point, though he didn't know if she was one of the ones taken. Since they party could not find Dame Gold, they assumed she must have been taken. Pontus gathered some food and water from the kitchen and distributed it to the slaves. Sarril then cast Strength on Jarrus, who was able to break open all of the cages to free the slaves.

The slave room was split into two halves and the northern half had three large cells. Two of the cells contained lethargic slaves unable to speak and barely able to move. The last large cell contained a white circle on the floor with a statue in the middle of it. The far wall had a hole blown through it that opened into a dark cavern. When Jarrus tried to break the door of this cage, he found that it was unlocked. When Pontus went inside to examine the cell, a pile of rags in the corner lifted up to expose a disgusting abomination. A "human" with no eyes, ears or nose - only a mouth, and no legs, but four arms. It crawled on four arms up to Pontus and said "Be ye the thrice cursed messengers? Woe to the world!" Pontus replied "Yes, yes we are" but being without ears, the thing did not hear him. Since it did not attack, the party left it alone and decided that the slaves must have been taken down the drow tunnel into the underdark, and that's where they needed to go. So off they went (queue more Benny Hill music).

The drow cave spiraled down into the mountain for a long way. The party followed it for about 30 minutes, before realizing they didn't really want to play around in the underdark and started discussing giving up on the slaves and trying to get back to Greyhawk. Turning around, they walked back up and took the other cave exit out to the hillside where they picked up Markessa's tracks and were about to head out.

At this point, the group had a long discussion about where the slaves could possibly have been taken. They reviewed the map multiple times, made some conclusions, and were about to quit out of frustration. I decided to drop some hints. Primarily that at each apparent cave exit they spent the time to look for tracks - everywhere except for the cave leading out the back of the slave pens. And no one questioned why the slave pen with cave opening in the back of it was unlocked. Well, it turns out it was too difficult to lock from the other side, and that's exactly where the slaves were taken. The party headed back up to that set of saves. While the tunnel entrance from the back of the slave pens was too narrow to fit a wagon through, slaves could be chained and walked through there just fine. On the other side, the tunnel opened up into a wide cavern where there were wagons, pens for pack animals (which were gone), shackles and chains, and barrels of food and water. There were also a recent set of tracks leading out one of the many tunnels - obviously the direction the slaves were taken. The party followed.

It took a couple of hours, and it was evening when the party finally emerged on the other side of mountain, overlooking a valley. From here an obvious trail wrapped around this mountain peak,
down into the valley and up into the mountain on the other side. The party decided to camp for the night. All night long they watched a half dozen flying creatures circling over the opposite mountain peak, occasionally passing nearby when they swooped over the valley. As they flew closer, the party could see they were wyverns. The party was safe for the first couple of watches, but by the third watch they were spotted by two of the wyverns who swooped in to attack. After the first round, Jarrus woke up Cadwin who calmly said "Wyverns, you say? I'm a druid. I got this" and started to cast his highest level Monster Summoning spell, summoning 6 animals of up to 8 HD each from the surrounding area - which happened to be wyverns (wyverns are considered animals for the purposes of the spell because they have low intelligence). It worked, and not only did the two wyverns fall under the command of Cadwin, but the other four flew over to join the group. The Bad Ass Motherfuckers now each have a 35-foot wyvern under their control, and there is one to spare.

It is morning on the 25th Day of Reaping, 580 CY. The Bad Ass Motherfuckers are coming for the Slavelords, and yes, they are riding on the backs of wyverns.

Dec 19, 2017

23rd Day of Reaping, 580 CY - The Party Hunts for the "real" Markessa

This week was a short session because we all decided to stop early and go see The Last Jedi. I highly recommend it. Go. Now. D&D can wait.

The party was hurting after the the fight with Blackthorn, the ogre mage. Cadwin was still unconscious from earlier, Jarrus was now at negative hit points - stabilized, but at risk (I recently updated the house rule on what happens when characters recover from death and near-death. Pontus was extremely hurt, Sarril was completely out of spells and Luapan was still a statue, so the party really had no choice but to find a safe place to retreat and rest. Upstairs was not an option, as they knew that Turrosh Mak would be marching an orc army into the keep first thing in the morning. The current level was not yet safe, as evidenced by a small patrol that came by (and saw the dead werewolves, so wisely decided to back away - for now). So, after searching the room and finding a secret entrance to a treasure vault that they had no way of accessing at the moment, the party decided to retreat back into the secret hallway they explored earlier, hoping that anyone else who knew about it was dead or gone. The plan seemed to work, as the party was able to spend the rest of the afternoon and evening there, and then get a full night's rest without being found. It would have been peaceful if it weren't for the torturous screaming coming from somewhere in the distance.

Getting to spend some quality time together, Sarril decided to ask the new thief, Cassius, about his background. He explained that he comes from a merchant family in Greyhawk, and were captured not long ago outside the city when they attempted to leave. Someone captured them and sold them to the Slave Lords. Sarril then asked for an update regarding what news he has missed from the city in the last year. Cassius informed the party of the following:

  • War broke out between the Shield Lands and the Horned Society about a year ago and has been raging continually since then.
  • Furyondy did not come to the aid of their ally, due to its own internal political strife. It is rumored that King Belvor is being influenced by his advisors to stay out of the conflict. It is no secret that most of his nobles are resisting any additional taxation as the economy has severely suffered since trade through Celene had been cut-off, and Keoland and Nyrond were dealing with struggles of their own.
  • In Nyrond, King Archibold was dealing with problems to its north and south. The recent collapse of the Theocracy of the Pale into civil war, removing a necessary buffer between Nyrond and the Duchy of Tenh to the north, and Duke Szefrin's move against Almor to reclaim the lands into Aerdy (the Great Kingdom) to the south. Without Almor, Nyrond was most certainly looking at a full-scale war with Aerdy in the near future. For these reasons, Nyrond could not send much help to The Shield Lands, though King Archibold did send a naval fleet to Admunfort to at least protect the capital, which may be the only thing keeping them from losing the war at this point.
  • The war has created a massive refugee crisis in Greyhawk, which is exacerbating an already strained economy. Desperate people also make good recruits for evil cults who take advantage of their situations. As such, the problem of evil cults within the city has grown, and has strained the City Watch
  • The city is in near economic collapse, and merchants have been leaving the city to seek their fortunes elsewhere - of course this is having a progressively negative spiraling effect, which is weakening the guilds as well. At this point, it is primarily the Rhenee who are bringing goods into the city
  • The churches, many of which have been helpful in fighting cult activity in the past, are mostly gone. The Temple of Pholtus was overrun by a renegade cult of proclaimed Pholtus followers, the Temple of St. Cuthbert emptied out to send all of the help they could to support the war effort, and several other temples, such as Xerbo and Zilchus, simply left without explanation, leaving only empty buildings behind.
  • The Guild of Wizardry and the College of the Magical Arts seem to be functioning, but people aren't seen walking around the campuses anymore
In summary, Cassius made it clear that going to Greyhawk is not advised, as it was quickly turning into a dump. Of course that made Sarril that much more interested in getting there as soon as possible.

Resting in the the hidden hallway worked as the party was able to avoid detection and get a full rest and prepare spells in the morning. After healing up, they headed out in the direction of Markessa's room, which Blackthorn had previously pointed them to. When they go there, Markessa and her bodyguard were prepared. Cloaked in invisibility from Dust of Disappearance, Markessa unleashed a lightning bolt at the entire party as soon as Pontus opened the door. The bolt hit everyone in a nice, clean line. It hurt, but everyone was still able to push forward. Jarrus and Pontus engaged the bodyguard while Sarril, Cadwin and Cassius focused on dealing with the invisible Markessa who was tossing spells in their direction. The battle took a minor toll on the party, but it was over quickly. Sarril, using his Gem of True Seeing, looked over Markessa's body. It looked like her, but like the woman they encountered upstairs, this one had no equipment of value on her. Pontus, who had seen Markessa loading up with magical equipment when he scouted previously, insisted this was not the real Markessa.

The party then searched the room and found some secret doors, one of which lead to what looked like Markessa's bedroom. They found a safe that they could not open (Cassius, the new thief, has not yet acquired any thieves tools). They then found another secret door behind the fireplace leading to a narrow passage which looked like it had some footprints from use. The party then heard a booming sound in the distance and felt the floors shake. Turosh Mak and his forces had arrived upstairs, they assumed. The passage led to an intersection where it forked south, and turned northwest, looping back up into the keep. They decided to follow the northern loop and ran into a minotaur lair. The minotaur was an easy fight, but the wounds are starting to add up again.

This is where we were forced to pause until after the new year. It is 8:00 am on the 24th Day of Reaping, 580 CY

Dec 3, 2017

23rd Day of Reaping, 580 CY - Back into the Slaver's Fortress

We began the session with Sarril using his aerial familiar to locate Pontus. Soon, Cadwin and Sarril were able to connect with Pontus and Jarrus, and Pontus was able to tell the rest of the party about the deal so they could make plans. They decided the best option would be to cover the outside of the fortress with fog using Cadwin's Concealment spell, and then levitate up onto the wall, clearing out the battlements and towers one room at a time. For Jarrus, who was now mostly healed thanks Sarril and Cadwin, this was an easy task. It wasn't long before most of the upper level was clear (although the party didn't check every room, so who knows for sure).

Along the way, they came across a room full of slaves, entranced by some kind of swirling shadows that surrounded them. The effect, the party soon discovered, was caused by a Cloaker, which caused the party some difficulty, but they managed to dispatch it, freeing the slaves. One of the slaves named Cassius agreed to join the party in the hopes that together they might find his family and other members of his merchant caravan that had been captured.

The lower level started off just as easy. There were two main rooms that Pontus had already scouted. This first was a large cave where goblins and worgs were busy healing up. That was nothing that one of Sarril's wands couldn't handle. The next room was Markessa's Lab, where Pontus had previously seen a very much living Markessa speaking with a monk. Though Markessa was not present, there were plenty of goblin archers and a couple of owlbears in the room. A well-placed Ice Storm from Sarril's wand took out the goblins and then Jarrus and Pontus finished off the owlbears. Easy so far.

Pontus had previously found an alchemy storage area through a secret tunnel and was hoping to lead the party there to find healing potions and a Scroll of Stone to Flesh. The party found the secret door and investigated the area, picking up a few items. While looking around, Pontus bumped into a candelabra. . .  or maybe it was setup to fall over on purpose. A chemical reaction took place when the candelabra dumped some interested liquid into some other liquid, which filled the room with red smoke. Cadwin began acting strangely, casting spells and eventually attacking Pontus. The party was forced to subdue Cadwin, taking him out of adventure for a little while.

From there, things took a turn for the worst. The party encountered three werewolves, who weren't that difficult by themselves, but after the leader was killed, the other two ran for shelter in another room. When the party chased them down, they encountered a tall, thin man behind a desk counting money. Blackthorn was his name, and he acted annoyed by the party's presence, wanting to know what they wanted. When Jarrus said they were there to kill Markessa, Blackthorn gave them directions to her room and then told them to leave. Jarrus decided to attack instead. It turns out that Blackthorn was actually an ogre mage, and his first move was to blast everyone with an 8d8 Cone of Cold, nearly killing Jarrus. Jarrus was able to get a nice blow against Blackthorn, but it did not kill him. When Blackthorn retaliated, it put Jarrus below zero hit points - dying for the second time in two days. The party was able to finish the fight, but this is where we paused.

It is the afternoon of the 23rd Day of Reaping, 580 CY. Jarrus and Cadwin are both out, Luapan is turned to stone, leaving Pontus, Sarril and Cassius to decide what to do next.