Apr 23, 2017

14th Day of Flocktime, CY 579

DM's Note: As I mentioned before, my players were getting a bit anxious to finish this module. A lot of hints have been dropped about things going on in the "outside world" that have got them excited to move on. I've been playing with this same group of people for many years and we like to play hard and do epic things, which may be because we all know we have limited times we can get together. I have to balance the desire to push forward with the pace of the overall campaign story, which can be challenging. The good news is that, this week, the PCs figured out how to speed-up it up on their own, and were able to bring things to an epic climax and are nearly finished.

The revelation came between two of the players (and maybe a DM hint about re-reading the powers of the Golden Skull). As the party was making its plans for how they were going to safely tackle the Air Node, some ideas were bounced around for how to limit their exposure to elements. The random lightning strikes and blue dragons flying overhead meant they need to get to the caves around the perimeter of the place pretty quickly. Sarril realized he could cast Fly on each of the party members, then hold hands, touch the Air gem (which would make them appear on top of a mountain peak in the center of the demi-plane) and then, instead of climbing down the mountain and running across the open, they could just fly directly from cave to to cave. It was an okay plan, but at the last minute, Sarril remembered that when the gem is inside the skull, he can Teleport Without Error to anywhere within the Air Node he wants. Given that Shan-Ju and Gerard already knew the layout of the place (my excuse for basically handing the players a map), this would allow Sarril to teleport the entire party from cave to cave at-will. The party decided to use this process to bounce from cave to cave, using Detect Magic to sense if the next power gem was present and, if not immediately apparent, teleport to the next cave. They would ignore any monsters they encountered until they had to fight the elemental grue that they knew by now would be protecting the item they sought.

The plan worked perfectly. Looking at the map, the players stated a number and were teleported to that section safely. After a quick Detect Magic, they teleported to the next cave. A few monsters were encountered, but the party teleported away without fighting them, until finally they wound up in a save surrounded by fog, which immediately attacked (Ildris Grues - the elemental grue of air). At this point, the party's AC ranges from 0 to -4, thanks to all of the fantastic gear they have been acquiring on this adventure. Between that, and Gerard the Paladin's Protection from Evil aura, the grue's were unable to hit the party (pretty much most of the things encountered at this point require an 18 - 20 to hit one of the party members), and the party was soon victorious. They grabbed a couple of unidentified magic items from the treasure stash, along with the power gem, and then decided to head straight to the Water Node to repeat the process while they still had their flight spells activated.

The water node proved to be even more dangerous. Although it didn't have random lightning strikes from overhead, it also provided no shelter whatsoever, so every area of the map was open to the sky above, where a family of white dragons were constantly on the hunt. The party randomly picked an area of the map to start with - a floating sheet of ice on the west side of the node. It just happened to be the right place, and they were immediately beset upon by Vardigg Grues (the elemental grues of water). These nasty beasts have an instant-kill on 1 out of 6 hits (they blind their victim, then follow up by drowning them in one round). But to get a kill, they have to hit first, which again, for this party, was nearly impossible. The issue this time wasn't whether or not the party could kill the grues. That was a given. The issue was whether or not they could do it quickly enough, and Sarril familiar reported that three white dragons would be on top of them in less than 5 rounds. Once the party killed the grues, they briefly considered having Jarrus and Gerard fly up to meet the dragons and slay them, given that their current strength spells would allow them to do ridiculous amounts of damage. Then someone remembered that the damage from their cold breath would likely be doubled in this node, and no one had protection from cold. They instead grabbed the gem and teleported away quickly, without searching through the loot first.

Sarril then inserted the last gem into the skull, expecting a magical light show that would open up a portal back home. But no such thing happened. After some consideration, he decided to try messing around with the portals in the Fire Node. Standing inside the portal to the air node, Sarril held the skull to see if he can control where it took him. As he did so, he saw the room around him changing from node to node as he moved between corresponding portals in each node. When he saw the recognizable Greater Temple, he and the party stepped through, finally out of the demi-planes. It was quite an emotional moment for some characters. For Sir Gerard, especially, it had been 6 years since he knew freedom. The party discussed what to do, and decided to return to the ruins of Hommlet to see if Jaroo had returned. Jaroo was, after all, searching for the answer of how to destroy the Golden Skull - or at least he was before the village was destroyed.

The party spent two days in Hommlet, resting in the ruins of the Temple of St. Cuthbert one night, and in the ruins of Burne's tower the next. They never saw Jaroo, or anyone else for that matter, but being fully rested with all of their spells returned, and the fact that there was an hour left in the game session, they decided to return the temple to face Zuggtmoy herself. And so, off they went on the morning of the 17th Day of Flocktime.

The party snuck back into the temple the same way they have been. With all of the leaders dead, and Iuz pre-occupied, they were able to easily make their way to the ground floor to use the skull to operate the throne that would lower them sealed off third level where Zuggtmoy was trapped. Being experienced dungeon crawlers at this point, they new that the wide steps leading to the west likely led to the big bad, while the smaller doors around the room likely led to other distractions. They were on a mission. The spellcasters hit Jarrus and Gerard with strength spells, and were ready to cast Haste as soon as the battle started. Sarril decided to read his second (and last) Scroll of True Seeing - which of course proved very useful. Sitting at the far end of the room on a throne of gems sat an old feeble crone, who begged the party to leave her alone. She told them they could take the pillars of precious metal that stood at the east side of the room if they would just leave. The party knew this was Zuggtmoy and knew better than to do anything she asked. She then fiddled with some dials on the throne causing a prismatic spray that burned her to ash, but Sarril saw through this illusion, pointing out that there isn't actually anyone sitting in the throne at all. Behind the throne was a purple curtain similar to the one encountered in the greater temple, which the party knew could be burned away, and so they hit it with a fireball to destroy it. Behind the curtain was Zuggtmoy, still in her crone form, but now angry, She immediately transformed into her true fungoid form and appeared within a circle of dirt in the center of the room and began to attack with her large, elephant-like appendages.

Unlike other opponents, this 42 hit die demon queen and lesser deity could actually hit the party members. Her attacks basically consisted of stunning her opponents by hitting them with two of her appendages (which she could do to two people at once), and then trampling them to death while stunned. The amount of damage she could deal was incredible, but with two healers in the party, the fighters were able to keep up. Sarril was able to use Remove Paralysis to counter the stun effect and keep Jarrus swinging twice per round in his haste and strength-enhanced form. At one point, Jarrus and Gerard together were able to deal 90 HP of damage in a single round. But of course, this is the big bad boss, and she had well over 200 hit points, so this continued for a bit. Lucky for the party, Zuggtmoy was still bound inside the temple as no one had broken the seals. This meant that she did not have most of the innate spell-power of a lesser deity (like Finger of Death, Gate, etc.). She did have Fear, which was countered by the presence of a paladin, and Improved Invisibility, both of which she used. The invisibility did make her slightly harder to hit, but that was mitigated slightly by Luapan casting Prayer. At some point, Sarril read a "Detect Invisibility" scroll on Jarrus to give him his edge back.

But Zuggtmoy still had one more trick up her sleeve, and summoned five Violet Fungi to her aid. Violet Fungi have a "save or die" attack that was sure to take out at least one or two party members. But Sarril quickly responded with a Wall of Fire (that Wand of Fire he picked up sure has come in handy) to surround the fungi and cut them off from the party so they can remain focused on Zuggtmoy. After a few more rounds, the damage added up, and Zuggtmoy fell. In her final death throes, she found peace as she realized her essence would return to the abyss, finally free of her entrapment. Her look of contentment turned to horror and she screamed as both her essence and her physical body withered away. It appears she may have been destroyed for good - an act that Sir Gerard stated firmly is a victory for Heironeous. Sarril then tossed three fireballs over the wall of fire to destroy the violet fungi, clearing the room.

And so we ended the session. It is the afternoon of the 17th Day of Flocktime. Zuggtmoy is dead. The Golden Skull is complete with all of its gems - but not destroyed. The Temple of Elemental Evil has been cleared, for now. And Iuz is still out there, ready to come after the party at any time. The group has the next two weeks to think about next steps. . .

Apr 9, 2017

12th Day of Flocktime, CY 579

DM's Note: You know how sometimes you play an entire day, and you know lots of things happened during the session, but in the end you feel the ball just didn't move forward? That was this session. A full five-hour day, and the entire thing consisted of just one encounter. To be fair to the players, much of this was my fault as we decided to play two weeks in a row instead of our usual every other week, and I just didn't have as much time to prepare as I would have liked. I spent entirely too much time looking things up and flipping between pages of the books.

But this encounter was important, as it really helped the new party members to learn how to work better with each other. And another player character died, which always makes for an interesting session, if nothing else.

We started with the party having just finished off some Vortexes in a cave inside the Air Node and, having no place to rest, decided to keep exploring caves until they found the next power gem. Another cave off in the distance, up high on a cliff wall, with a steep, narrow, and very dangerous ledge going up to it looked like the perfect place to start. The party would just have to get there, avoiding random lightning strikes and hoping the blue dragons were not out on the hunt as they ran across an open area the size of a few football fields. They decided to stay close to the cliff wall so they can handle the wind better, and dive for cover into the closest cave if the dragons showed up.

As they ran toward their destination, Sir Gerard noticed someone looking out of one of the caves up ahead, and darting back inside. He knew that particular cave led to the Water Node portal, and suspected that might be Grank or one of his bandits, and they may have to deal with them. Jarrus was definitely on-board with killing some bandits, so the party took a detour into the cave. Inside was a large cavern 100 ft. wide at the front, and even wider further in. There wide shelves on either side, 30 ft. up, as well as multiple large columns in the middle of the largest part of the cavern. There were more than enough places for snipers to be hiding. The party recognized right away that they were about to walk into a trap. Unfortunately, the monk was out of invisibility for the day, and couldn't effectively scout what was going on, but Sarril was able to send his invisible familiar around and count up the enemies. There were at least a dozen bandits, four on one shelf and three on the other, with hiding behind columns. There were also three zombies dressed in armor and clothing, a cleric and another spellcaster.

The party walked to just below the closest shelf and started arguing about their plans. At some point, they decided that Sarril should cast Ice Storm (using his Wand of Ice Storms) on top of the shelves to clear out the snipers. Of course they heard that, and while they would have preferred for the party to be further inside before attacking, they knew they needed to take out the spellcaster before he could do what the party was discussing. No less than eight arrows flew at Sarril, who was covered by Sir Gerard and Shan-Ju. Sir Gerard stopped several arrows his shield and Shan-Ju was able to deflect some as well, but Sarril still got hit. This action started the initiative, and the fight began.

More arrow fire, followed by an Ice Storm clearing out one set of snipers. Shan-Ju decided to climb the 30 ft. up to the other shelf. It would take one round to get to the wall, followed by a climb rate of 10 ft. per round, so off he went. Sir Gerard heard the shouts of prayers coming from around the corner and rushed in that direction, while Jarrus headed for the closes column to take on the snipers hiding behind there. Sir Gerard turned the corner to see Ashrem, former high-priest of the Air Temple who had been exiled here after betrayal by his brother Allrem, high-priest of Fire. Ashrem was commanding the zombies to attack as he started to lift off the ground and wave a wand at Sir Gerard, putting up a Wall of Fire. Sir Gerard jumped forward to avoid the flames, and was now trapped in an alcove with two zombies, Ashrem and two bandit snipers.

Shan-Ju slowly started climbing the wall to get the shelf above with the snipers, taking some arrow fire along the way. Unfortunately, a monk cannot deflect arrows while he is climbing. Jarrus began taking out his opponents as he generally does, while Luapan attempted, and failed, to dispel the levitation that was raising Ashrem up into the air. As Ashrem levitated higher up, he began to unleash fireballs at Sir Gerard, killing two of the zombies and the bandits in the process. After a couple of round of taking fireballs, Sir Gerard was taken down to -3 hit point, and lost a magical dagger in the process, but he stood proud as a paladin/cavalier would - even while his burnt skin was sloughing off his body.

In the meantime, after finishing off two bandits and taking a few magic missiles from the spellcaster, Deggum, Jarrus rushed Deggum to finish him off but Deggum went invisible before he could get to him. Shan-Ju continued to climb, finally reaching the shelf at the top to see there were two bandits left, as Sarril had already gotten impatient and taken the other two out with another Ice Storm. He might have gotten three, maybe even all four, if he had tried, but he thought that would be unfair to Shan-Ju, who had spent all of that time climbing. Seeing that Deggum had gone invisible, Sarril reached into his scroll case and pulled out a Scroll of True Seeing and cast it on himself. He didn't see Deggum, and determined that he either ran into the Water Node portal, or behind on of the large columns. As Sarril looked around, he saw an invisible woman standing near the cavern wall in the distance, watching the fight take place. The woman looked like Darley, whom Sir Gerard had previously described, except that she has vestigial horns and small bat wings. He decided to shout to Sir Gerard "Darley is here, invisible, watching us!" to which Sir Gerard replied "Do not trust that woman! She is here to see which group comes out on top. She will try to manipulate you!"

Sarril decided to cast Fly on Jarrus so he can fly up to Ashrem and kill him. Jarrus would not be able to reach him in one round, even with the 120 ft. movement granted by the spell, and he wanted to get a surprise attack, so he used his Frostbrand to make a break in the Wall of Fire to run through so he can fly up to Ashrem next round. Luapan used the break to run through and heal Sir Gerard. Meanwhile Shan-Ju finally got to attack and killed the bandits he was facing. Deggum then appeared and tried, and failed, to cast Hold Person on Sarril as Sarril turned and noticed a Bodak running toward him, about to unleash its dreaded Death Ray attack. The Bodak needed to be within 30 ft. and wasn't quite there yet, so Sarril cast Dimension Door to move over behind Deggum and next to Darley. It would take at least another round for the Bodak to reach him.

The next round, Jarrus leapt into the air and flew at Ashrem while brandishing his frostbrand. He connected with a devastating blow, killing the cleric. Shan-Ju saw the Bodak and leapt down off the shelf to run at it and engage it. Sarril then unleashed a lightning bolt at both Deggum and the Bodak behind him. In the Air Node, lightning does double damage. Even after he saved, Deggum could not take the damage and he died. The bodak, however, was still coming at Sarril, but he still had one more round to act. He used Spider Climb to get up the wall, but it was not far enough to avoid the Death Ray, which it unleashed on him. After failing his save, Sarril dropped to the floor, dead. The bodak, with only a few hit points left, was killed shortly thereafter by Shan-Ju.

The rest of the party, far on the other side of the cavern, saw all of this from a distance and began to run over to Sarril. As they did so, they noticed as Sarril's leather sack carrying the Golden Skull lifted off of his body and started floating toward the portal. Luapan moved to block the portal and used a scroll of Spike Growth to cover the floor between the invisible Darley and the portal. Jarrus took a blind swing at where he thought Darley would be and managed to connect pretty hard with his frostbrand sword. Darley, the Alu-demon, then cast Suggestion to tell Jarrus to kill Sir Gerard (DM's note: we had much debate about this, because the players argued that Suggestion cannot be used to make someone do something that is against their nature or that they really don't want to do. This is not true - they are thinking of basic charms. The spell says that the victim cannot be made to cause direct harm to themselves, but doesn't say anything about harming others. We continued to debate it as the party realized that Jarrus would very likely kill the already wounded Sir Gerard. I finally compromised with a ruling that Jarrus would be allowed to resist the spell one more time just before performing the act, given how heinous the actual command was. This amounted to a second save, which he was able to make). Even though Jarrus was able to shake off the suggestion, it still gave her the time she needed to get to the portal. As she ran forward, she hit the spikes, fell forward and impaled herself. Jarrus cut off her head just to be safe.

The party then checked Sarril and determined that he was, in fact, dead. He did happen to have on him a Scroll of Raise Dead, which Luapan was able to find and cast, bringing him back to life. As the party looted, they were able to piece together what happened. Ashrem was previously a lone survivor hanging out in the air node. As a 6th level cleric who could pray for spells each day, he had enough power to survive, but not to be a formidable force against anyone. That is, until Deggum, Barkinar (Hedrack's second in command)  and the zombie body of Senshock (Hedrack's wizard) came wandering into the Air node portal after having been turned by Luapan in the Greater Temple. The party was just wondering what happened to those zombies, who still happened to have the equipment of their former selves on their bodies. Now they had their answers. As an evil cleric, Ashrem was able to command the zombies and take all of their equipment, which included some nice bracers, and ring of protection, boots of levitation and a dreaded Wand of Fire. With these items, he became powerful, but when he ran into Deggum and Barkinar, a fight broke out, as Barkinar was involved in throwing Ashrem down here to begin with. Ashrem was able to defeat Barkinar, due in part to his new equipment, and Deggum joined forces with Ashrem right after. Ashrem was able to animate Barkinar and bring him into his service along with Senshock, which was less about having undead body guards as it was about gloating over his enemies.

Darley knew that the party had the skull and that it was the key out of this place, as she had been spying on them for some time. She also knew that they allied themselves with Sir Gerard, and that paladin would never accept her into the group. So when she saw the fight take place between Ashrem and Barkinar, she realized she could use Ashrem to help her get the skull, so she charmed him into taking on Grank in the Water Node and taking control of his bandits so they could set a trap for the party. What she didn't reveal is that the bodak is her companion, and their plan all along was to watch the fight invisibly and take action depending on who came out alive. The whole time, if she saw a chance to take the skull, she would. The chance came when the rest of the party went to the far side of the cavern, leaving Sarril alone. That's when the bodak attacked, intending to kill Sarril quickly so Darley could grab the skull and run. Fortunately, Sarril's Dimension Door prolonged the encounter long enough for the rest of the party to get there and block Darley's escape.

The party decided it would be safe to rest on top of one of the shelves. It wasn't. They were able to get a full rest in, but realized they would need a couple of days, so decided to rest again. Of course, unlike the video game version where you can click the Rest button any time you want, the party would have to wait on top of this shelf for 16 hours. Wandering monster rolls are once per turn, and most of the things in the Air node fly, making the shelf not so safe. The first encounter occurred within the first hour after the party woke up. Two strange alien creatures called Mihstu, which Sarril quickly learned are stunned by cold attacks. This allowed the party to take them out while they couldn't move, though even that was a close call as the killing blow occurred just one round before they could have attacked with their devastating constitution drain attacks. Realizing it wasn't going to work to stay here, the party went back to the Fire Node where they could rest behind a locked door. They then took a two day rest before deciding to head out again. It is now the morning of the 14th Day of Flocktime.

Apr 2, 2017

Meet the Player Characters - Sir Gerard

Sir Gerard - Human (Oeridian) Paladin 

Sir Gerard of House Hugard is a valiant Knight of the Hart and dedicated servant of Heironeous from Furyondy. As the second son of a minor noble family, dedicating his life to Heironeous and the knighthood was an expectation from birth that was never to be questioned. Though his high intelligence and bookish ways might have led him down the path of a wizard or sage or court advisor in another life, Sir Gerard was proud to embrace his destiny and join the knighthood at Castle Hart in all its glory.

Gerard was physically weak compared to the other men, which made his training incredibly difficult, but he worked twice as hard to prove himself, honor his family, and break the family curse that has haunted them for generations. His work paid off when he received the blessing of Heironeous that imbued him with all of the divine powers of a full paladin. After his knighting ceremony, Sir Gerard was selected for the most honorable task that could be bestowed upon him. He was selected to be part of Prince Thrommel's host as he travelled from Chendyl to Mitrik in Veluna to be married. The story of what happened to Prince Thrommel on that fateful day in CY 573 is known throughout the Flanaess. Perhaps the Hugard family curse is real after all.

When Prince Thrommel's cavalcade was attacked, Sir Gerard was knocked unconscious almost immediately, and never saw the attackers. He awoke in a cell inside the Temple of Elemental Evil sometime later. For several months he was tortured endlessly while being asked questions about Castle Hart and Furyondy's defenses, which he did not answer. Out frustration, Hedrack, priest of Iuz, threw him into the Fire Node. Sir Gerard's cunning wit allowed him to survive within the elemental demi-planes for several years. Though he could not escape, he was able to spend his time praying to Heironeous, waiting for the sign of what he was supposed to do. That sign finally came when Sarril found Gerard inside the fire node and told his story. The golden skull - artifact of pure evil. That was why Heironeous had placed him here. This was what he was supposed to do. Help this party to destroy the skull.

The Hugard Family

Sir Roldan Hugard
A stout man of 52, Roldan Hugard is the head and master of Hugard Hold in the Viscounty of the March. Standing 5’10”, black of hair with a strong jaw line, and weighing a bit more than he did in his prime, he still looks every bit the noble knight. Today he swings a quill more often than a sword and is one of Viscount Luther Derwent’s trusted friends. He is the father of two sons, and two daughters. He served as a Knight of Furyondy in his better days and has risen to a 6th level Cavalier. A Lawful Good follower of Heironeous, he has inculcated the teaching of the Arch Paladin into all his children.

Lady Evelyn Hugard
A beautiful woman even at the age of 45, Lady Hugard is the Mistress of Hugard Hold in every way. Her auburn hair naturally curls in locks that frame her face as perfectly as one can imagine. She supports her husband on all matters and often assists him in political dealings behind the scenes with the wives of the other well-to-do families of the March. She does this keeping Sir Roldan none the wiser, always remaining in the background allowing her husband to stand tall.

Master Desmond Hugard
Master Desmond is the eldest son of Sir and Lady Hugard. Although not a Knight, he looks every bit the part and inherited his mother’s political prowess as well. He is in line to inherit the wealth and power of Hugard Hold and spends every bit of his time preparing to do so. He is 30 years of age and is often seen at his father’s side.

Sir Gerard Hugard
The second son of Sir and Lady Hugard has a tragic story. If his brother Desmond looks the knight, Sir Gerard does even more so and has spent his short life dedicating himself to becoming everything his father desires in a son. At the age of 20, he was Knighted. He eats, drinks, and sleeps the tenants of Heironeous and is a picture perfect Paladin of the Hart. At an early age, he garnered the eye of Prince Thrommel II.  Once he became a Paladin and Knight was chosen for the Prince’s personal cavalcade to Veluna to wed his betrothed, Jolene. That was the year 573 CY, just before the date of the wedding, Prince Thrommel and his entire host disappeared on the road to Veluna. Neither the Prince, nor any of his cavalcade has been seen since. They, including Sir Gerard have all been declared dead.

Miss Julianne Hugard
The eldest daughter of Sir and Lady Hugard possesses a beauty unmatched by her mother, or any other female in the kingdom. With long auburn hair to match her mother and eyes of green she entrances nigh any man who has the honor to gaze upon her. Unfortunately, she was born both deaf and dumb. Living in a silent world where she is often the center of all attention would be unnerving itself, but the added curse of not being able to communicate as left her with nothing but dazzling smiles and sparkling eyes to express her wonts and desires. She is known as the beautiful Doll of Hugard.

Miss Susanna Hugard
Only one year the junior to Miss Julianne, Susanna is everything her sister is not. She was born with a hideous disfigurement of the back that causes her to stoop over with a grotesque hump that stands taller than her head causing her to naturally face the ground. Her hair is a dark brown and straight. She keeps it long to hide the equally disfigured face that needs to look up, arching her neck unnaturally just to see forward. Despite her physical appearance, Miss Susanna possesses the most intelligent and charming demeanor of all the Hugards. Her voice is pure honey, and her wit is as sharp as her father’s sword. At only 14 years of age, she speaks 8 languages, and is the most well-read of any in her family. She and her sister are inseparable. Throughout the March, Miss Susanna is known as the Voice of the Doll.

The Hugard Family Curse

There is talk around the March of a curse that haunts the Hugard Family. It is not known what Sir and/or Lady Hugard has done to warrant such a curse, but nearly all the Hugard children have been struck down by it.  The second son dead at a tragically young age and their two daughters will each make but half a Lady at best. The families of the March talk and chat and await the inevitable end of Master Desmond. How he has escaped the curse is a mystery.  

9th Day of Flocktime, CY 579

We started the session with Jarrus, Luapan and Shan-Ju in the earth node cavern, wounded, wondering what just happened to Sarril. After some brief discussion, they decided they needed to go find him, and decided to try the portal to the Fire Node. Shan Ju led the way, which happened to go through the cavern of a Dracolisk. They decided to have Shan-Ju turn invisible and walk silently into the room to see if the creature was there. As the invisible Shan-Ju stomped loudly into the room, the creature came forward to investigate the noise. The rest of the party held back, but Shan-Ju ran forward, into the narrow passageway that led to the portal. Due to his monk speed, he was able to stay ahead of the Dracolisk as it chased the sound of his feet down the narrow tunnel.

The rest of the party chased after it. Shan-Ju realized that in this narrow part of the tunnel, the creature would not be able to turn around, and so stopped to face it before the tunnel opened back up wide again. By stopping it in the tunnel where it couldn't turn around, Jarrus and Luapan were able to attack it from behind without worrying about its gaze or breath attacks. Shan-Ju, on the other hand, was vulnerable, but still invisible (he uses a psionic form of improved visibility, so the duration is limited, but he is able to fight). He was able to avoid the gaze while fighting, so the creature decided to use its breath weapon instead. Fortunately, Jarrus was able to deliver the killing blow before the breath weapon went off.

The party then went back to the Dracolisk cave to search for treasure, and found some clerical scrolls that Luapan was happy to have. They then headed down to the Fire Node Portal where Sarril and Sir Gerard had just stepped through. After some introductions, the tired, hungry, thirsty, wounded and spelless party recognized they needed to rest, so Sir Gerard took them back through the Fire Node portal and led them to his secure room, where the party held up for two full days.

During this time, Sarril identified many magical items, Luapan healed everyone, and Sir Gerard and Jarrus got to know each other very well. It seems Sir Gerard recognized the breastplate that Jarrus was wearing - the breastplate from his father that signifies both House Sunleaf and the Order of the Knights of Luna. Much discussion was had about how each felt about knighthood, with Sir Gerard making it his personal mission to show Jarrus the way. Jarrus was wondering if he could stand two whole days locked in a room with a paladin, or if he should take his chances outside with the red dragons.

After a long rest and recovery, the party knew what they needed to do. Sarril had recovered books about elemental grues from each of the elemental temples and after the party fought the Chagrin Grues in the earth node to find one of the power gems, Sarril deduced that somewhere in the fire node would be Hargin Grues protecting another gem. He described the Hargin Grues to Sir Gerard who confirmed that he has, indeed seen such creatures in one of the rooms, which he avoids for good reason. But with a well-prepared party, they should easily prevail. On what they guessed to be the morning of the 12th day of Flocktime, the party prepared for action by first having Luapan cast protection from fire on everyone, then Sarril putting a strength spell on Jarrus. Just before entering the grue room, Sir Gerard drank a potion of Fire Giant Strength.

There were eight grues in the room, and although their fire-based attacks normally would do double damage while in the fire-node, the fire protection spells negated that, making them due just normal damage. Being 4+4 HD creatures, they really couldn't hit well. Since the fire protection spells allowed the party to put their armor back on, their ACs ranged from -2 to +2. With Sir Gerard's protection from evil, the grues pretty much needed to roll 20s to hit them. It was a very easy fight, but the credit goes to the party for being so well prepared.

In the center of the room was a chest that contained the object they were looking for. The rest of the party argued that Sarril should insert the fire node gem into the Golden Skull before doing anything else. Since it required touching the gem, which doesn't teleport you if you are already in the node. Sarril was very nervous to touch the skull, as each time he had done so in the past, Iuz could tell where he was. But he went ahead and did it anyway, and the gems popped right into place. As soon as the gem was placed, Sarril became aware of its powers, which were pretty significant. He told the party what those powers were, which included "Teleport without error" anywhere within the fire node. Sir Gerard warned Sarril not to be tempted to use the skull for any reason. This prompted the party to wonder what Athan would have done at this point, and they all agreed it might be best that he is dead. The good news for Sarril is that, whether it is because of the strange place they are in or something else, when he touched the gem, he did not feel the presence of Iuz or Zuggtmoy watching him. He felt something else, though. Something much stranger. If it was an intelligence, it was very alien and not recognizable in any way.

The party decided to all hold hands as Sarril picked up the next gem, which instantly teleported the entire group the air node. The air node is considered the most dangerous of the four nodes by those who have visited. It is full of narrow ledges and hurricane force winds. Large masses of rocks float high up in the air - the home to cloud giants and the dreaded blue dragons that dominate the sky. The winds pelt unprotected adventurers with continuous debris. Storm clouds constantly swirl overhead, causing lightning to strike all around (10% chance per person of being hit by a bolt of lightning each turn). Sir Gerard knows that a bandit named Grank lives here with some of his men, as does the former priest of the air temple, Ashrem, who wants revenge on his brother Allrem and Kelno, the current (now deceased) air priest. How these men survive here is a mystery, as Sir Gerard never tried to venture very far. This means that while the party had a general lay of the land, they didn't know where they should go first.

The party appeared at the peak of a small mountain with a narrow spiral ledge circling down. Jarrus used the 50' of rope in the coil dispenser he bought from the gnome that took over Rannos Davil's shop (the poor gnome was the same one the party rescued from the moathouse, but he is probably dead now). It was put to good use tying around each of the party members waists so they stay together. It worked well. Even though the wind gusts would occasionally blow a party member off the ledge, they were always able to pull the person back with the rope. After an hour, the party emerged on solid ground below, just as Sir Gerard was hit by a lightning bolt. They realized they needed to get to shelter quickly, and started running toward a cavern they saw at a distance to the south.

As they ran, they occasionally looked up to see if there were dragons overhead. They think they saw some dragons in the distance, but they weren't spotted in return. While looking up, there was an occasional break in the clouds, through which the party was able to see that this place curved around a massive black and purple swirling orb, which had random tendrils appearing and disappearing throughout. A strange sight indeed.

The inside the cavern, the party made their way (using the rope and spikes) up a steep incline to a shelf above where they fought several vapor rats. They were easy to kill, but let off a noxious gas when they died that incapacitated Jarrus and Luapan. The party was able to drive off most of them without killing them, which is probably a good thing. The party then climbed another steep incline to another shelf, whereupon they were hit by several Vortexes. One grabbed Jarrus and began spinning him to death. Another grabbed Sarril and began to do the same. The party was able to figure out that a grapefruit sized mass inside each vortex could be struck with a weapon and they freed Jarrus and Sarril, allowed Jarrus to do what he does best and finish the others.

Not necessarily a cliff-hanger, but this is where we left off until next week.