Tuesday, February 8, 2011

night of the living dead (kots, session 4)

[Ed]: Any zombies out there?
[Shaun]: Don’t say that.
That. The Z-word. Don’t say it!
Why not?
Because it’s ridiculous!
All right— are there any out there, though?

~ Shaun of the Dead (2004)
* * * * *
There were no changes in the party’s roster for Session 4 of our Keep on the Shadowfell adventure. Back to do battle against the forces of evil were Caliban (avenger), Greth (ranger/seeker), Harold (fighter), Korlon (warlock), Sulader (paladin), Tar (warlord), and Tosdar (cleric).

A Funny Thing Happened On Our Way to Sunderpeak…

While taking the shadow dragon heart to the Sentinels of Bahamut at Sunderpeak Temple, we came upon a small temple of Erathis that served as a way station on the road up into the Cairngorm Peaks. We planned to rest there on our trek to Sunderpeak, but as we approached the place, we could see that the temple’s front doors looked as if they had been violently torn asunder.

While the rest of us moved off the road and took cover a short distance away from the temple, Caliban and Greth stealthed up closer to the building. Their reconnaissance confirmed that the front doors had indeed been violently breached. They also observed the arrow-riddled corpse of an orc lying amidst the tombstones in the small cemetery behind the temple. They signaled the rest of us to join them at the rear of the temple, and then we all snuck up to the back door. The door was ajar and we could see a body crumpled just inside the doorway. Having spent almost forty-five minutes of real time just sneaking up to the temple, most of us were ready to hit something, so Caliban, Harold, and Tar rushed through the rear door, ready to take on all comers.

The sanctuary, however, was empty, save for the scattered bodies of several humans and orcs. Everywhere we looked, there was evidence that a violent battle had taken place within the temple. We were shocked to see that the statue of Erathis, up on the dais, was toppled over and the altar had been foully desecrated. As the rest of the party came in through the rear door and joined us in the demolished sanctuary, Harold felt a wave of foreboding. He began to suspect that the party had walked into a trap. No one else seemed overly concerned, so we split up to search the rest of the temple. (Yes, I know you’re never supposed to split the party, but this was simply a matter of some of us going upstairs while the rest looked around the ground floor a bit more.)

Greth, Harold, and Tosdar (and Splug) stayed downstairs while the rest of the group went upstairs. The downstairs crew found a trapdoor that led down to some catacombs below the sanctuary. After discovering a clue in a mural of Erathis at the back of the sanctuary, they checked the altar and found a secret drawer that contained four potions of healing and eight vials of holy water. Meanwhile, the upstairs group had found a small floor safe that had been opened and its contents strewn about. The safe appeared to have held ledgers and blueprints of various religious houses. Sorting through the scattered papers, they noticed that any blueprints for Sunderpeak Temple were conspicuously absent. A desk sat near the safe, and a badly scorched kobold body lay beside the desk. Korlon detected that the desk was trapped and (since the party doesn’t have a rogue) they decided to steer clear of it.

After coming back together and sharing their discoveries, it was getting close to dusk, so the party decided to spend the night at the temple. They carried bodies outside, barricaded doors, cleaned up the dais and altar as best they could, and then set watches for the night.

Remember the Alamo!

Korlon and Sulader had the second watch of the night. Midway through the watch, Sulader was struggling a bit to stay alert, but then he popped wide awake as he noticed a black mist seeping out of the pack containing the shadow dragon heart. Opening the pack, he could see that the nasty lump was pulsing rapidly. He and Korlon took the pack to the altar, but that made no difference in the heart’s strange behavior. At that point, they saw black mist beginning to seep through the barricaded doors and broken windows around the perimeter of the sanctuary. A faint scratching sounded at the rear door, followed by an alarming “THUMP.” The half-elf and goliath decided this would be a good time to wake the rest of us.

What followed was a series of skill challenges punctuated by a number of extremely chaotic battles in which we frantically attempted to keep swarms of undead from overrunning our makeshift fort. During the skill challenge portions of the encounter, we could either attempt to strengthen the barricades at the doors and windows or we could assist with the ritual to reconsecrate the temple. The attempt to reconsecrate the temple was moving at a snail’s pace until someone thought to take Splug upstairs and convinced him to use his thief-ery skills to open the desk. Lo and behold, inside the desk was a magical implement, a symbol of Erathis, which markedly sped up the reconsecration ritual.

Combat was insane, with unending waves of zombies trying to claw through every door and window that opened into the sanctuary. They were even coming up through the trapdoor in the middle of the floor. When we’d beat them back and were able to start on the skill challenge again, we could still hear them outside, moaning, shrieking, and shambling around the building.

Just when the barricade at the front doors was finally breached and the zombies down in the catacombs actually ripped a hole in the floor through which Korlon fell, who should make an appearance but Kalarel. Woo hoo! Welcome to the party, good buddy! In the midst of the fierce battle, his spectral apparition phased through a wall and floated into the sanctuary. He waved his skull-capped rod around the room and said, “Give me the heart and you will walk away from this alive. Refuse me and you will still walk away… as my undead minions.”

With Kalarel’s appearance, any attempt to continue the reconsecration ritual was abandoned as we fought for our lives. Harold went down trying to hold back the flood of zombies pouring through the front door. Korlon managed to teleport up and out of the catacombs, with several undead creatures in hot pursuit. Tosdar used a timely application of Turn Undead to sear a number of the zombies inside the sanctuary. Greth cut down a zombie who was making a beeline for the altar and the shadow dragon heart. Sulader took out a wraith that was also making for the heart. Caliban and Tar kept the Kalarel-apparition occupied.

The surviving heroes somehow managed to clear the sanctuary of undead and to hold off the spectral apparition of Kalarel. As they helped Harold and took stock of the situation, they looked outside and noticed a faint glow beginning to illumine the eastern sky. Sunrise! As the flaming ball of the sun rose above the horizon, all manner of panicked screeches, howls, and screams sounded from the shadows around the temple. As sunlight banished the last of the gloom from around the battered building, the exhausted adventurers took grim satisfaction in the gruesome demise of the remaining undead.

After bandaging our wounds and getting some rest, we continued our journey to Sunderpeak Temple. When we arrived at the temple, we were met by two very serious dragonborn in plate armor who escorted us into the small fortress. Valthrun had sent word of our mission, so the Sentinels were expecting us. After taking the shadow dragon heart from us, they were dismayed to learn of what had happened at the small temple to Erathis. They thanked us for warning them that an enemy might have stolen the blueprints to their facility and that our information might explain the kobolds they’d seen skulking about the last day or two. After seeing the stronghold for ourselves, though, it was obvious that Kalarel would need a small army to storm the place. The Sentinels invited us to spend the night at Sunderpeak Temple and we readily agreed.

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