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.