We recently finished up our Keep on the Shadowfell mini-campaign with a marathon six-hour-long Saturday session. It featured everything you’d want in the finale of your D&D adventure: creepy organ music, a new character joining the party (better late than never), a frustratingly difficult boss fight, and a surprise trip to the Shadowfell for one unfortunate PC, who shall remain nameless (…but he was the only minotaur in the party).
A Rude Awakening
Our slumbering extended rest in the Hobgoblin Barracks was brought to an abrupt end by the appearance of an obviously distressed ghost of Sir Keegan. Keegan went on a bit of a rant about how the breach was near opening and how something had already passed through from the Shadowfell. Then he attempted to take back his magic longsword, Aecris. Sulader wasn’t amused when Keegan turned out to be an Indian giver, and the paladin refused to return the weapon. Keegan flickered and actually became corporeal for a moment, during which time he briefly tussled with Sulader, unsuccessfully attempting to wrestle Aecris away from the goliath. As Keegan once again resumed his ghostly form, he seemed to regret his unseemly behavior. Just before he disappeared from view, he urged us, “Hurry! The barrier is weakening!”
Look Who We Found In the Ghoul Warren
We somehow lost Greth and Tosdar on the way down here, so they missed the first three rounds of this fight. And when they did show up, they kept trying to tell us something about a gelatinous cube that was in hot pursuit of them. Since gelatinous cubes have a speed of 3 and since we were up to our armpits in undead by that point, none of us paid much attention to their crazy talk.
As you’d expect in an area of the dungeon called “Ghoul Warren,” we fought a crapload of ghouls, zombie rotters, and zombies down here past the Chamber of Statues. The most interesting thing to happen in this area, though, was that we came upon someone else who was also battling the foul undead creatures. When the combat was finally over, this strange human wizard was like, “Hi, guys. How’s it going?” And we were like, “Who the heck are you?” And she was like, “I’m Zanne. I was with a caravan heading to Winterhaven. We were attacked and the next thing I knew I was a prisoner in this dungeon.” And we were like, “Sounds like the Bloodreavers got you. Say, if you aren’t busy, would you like to join our awesome adventuring party and help us kick the tar out of a death priest of Orcus we’re hunting down?” And she was like, “Sure. No problem.”
Cathedral of Shadow (Cue Creepy Organ Music)
Near the close of the fight in the Ghoul Warren, Harold heard some weird organ music coming down a hallway to the east. Harold thought perhaps there was a hockey game going on somewhere deeper in the dungeon, but no such luck. The eerie music came from an unholy area where Kalarel was up to some nasty, evil stuff.
In attempting to sneak down the corridor and into this shadowy cathedral-like chamber, we failed a group stealth check and so alerted Kalarel and his two human berserker bodyguards to our presence. During the ensuing fight, Zanne proved a valuable addition to the party, blasting the bad guys with neat stuff like Sleep, Ray of Frost, and Shock Sphere.
Kalarel and his hard-charging berserkers received reinforcements when several vampires appeared during the third round of combat. Unfortunately for Kalarel, the blood-sucking creepers were too little, too late, and our unrelenting assault continued to sweep forward into the vile Cathedral of Shadow. Remaining fixed on the goal with laser-like intensity, it wasn’t long before we were pounding on Kalarel himself. During the sixth round of combat, Greth used Split the Tree to KIA a berserker and bloody Kalarel. Following hard upon the heels of that successful attack, Tar masterfully Steel Monsoon’d Kalarel. Smelling blood in the water, Tosdar whipped out a daily he’d been saving for just such an occasion and he crit’d Kalarel’s sorry butt with Avenging Flame!
Being hit with three successive attacks that dished out 2[w]+modifier damage proved too much for our favorite death priest of Orcus and he went doooooown! Woo hoo! Game over!! The good guys win!!!
Um… not so fast, good guys.
What the heck is the DM doing? Is he pulling out another map? We’re not done? But we killt Kalarel! We still have to fight what? The Master?! No, no, no… we killt Kalarel, we… we… we’re done, right?
Hey, why are we sliding down these bloody chains?
“You Descend Into a Nightmare…”
“You descend into a nightmare. Crimson streams spill from above and form a pool of blood in the center of the chamber.
A yawning, black portal dominates the northern wall of the chamber. Something strains against the darkness within, as if it were a thin film keeping back a vicious clawed beast. A set of blazing runes has been inscribed on the floor before the portal.
Opposite the portal, a massive stone statue of Orcus stands. It points toward the darkness with a skull-capped wand.
To the east, a series of steps leads to a platform where a small pit is flanked by two smaller statues of Orcus.
To the west another set of steps ascends to a bone altar. The Master, a human clad in heavy armor and carrying a skull-capped rod, stands before the altar. He is flanked by two skeleton warriors.”
As you can see from the photo below, our first wave (Greth, Korlon, Tar, and Zanne) went down the chains and did their best Omaha Beach reenactment. Everyone ended up in the icky pool of blood, and everyone except Tar ended up prone in the icky pool of blood. Not a very auspicious start to our final battle.
Our second wave fared a bit better. Tosdar came down his chain and deftly swung over onto dry ground, avoiding the blood pool altogether. Sulader lost his grip on the slippery chain and fell, splashing into the pool of blood. Harold followed Tosdar’s example and managed to swing over onto dry ground beside the blood pool.
Once we were all up and out of the icky pool of blood, we moved west and focused our attacks on The Master. Well, we tried to. One of the skeleton guardians came down the steps to block the advance of our melee guys, while the second skeleton remained adjacent to The Master so it could block our ranged guys’ attacks with its shield.
During our struggle to ascend the platform and reach The Master, Zanne did something pretty cool. She summoned a jade macetail behemeth (large natural animate). It’s the horse token you see in a few of the photos taken during the final battle. Anyway, the macetail was a very welcome addition to the party, especially since…
Sulader completely wasted SEVEN ROUNDS obsessing over the large Orcus statue, even after the DM made it abundantly clear that sometimes a statue is just a statue. No one could quite figure out what the goliath paladin thought he was doing, especially considering we were in the midst of the climactic battle of the adventure and needed every hand on deck. Finally, after SEVEN ROUNDS, the DM took the drastic measure of having the Raven Queen appear, bitch slap her paladin halfway across the map, and tell him in no uncertain terms to stop dicking around with the statue and get into the fight.
Meanwhile, those of us who were actually engaged in the final battle had managed to take out the skeleton guardians, only to have The Master teleport to the evil magic circle. And that’s when our troubles really started. Between the buff The Master received from being in the circle (+2 to all defenses and heal 5 hit points at the start of his turns) and having the Thing in the Portal watching his back, we just could not gain any traction toward taking him out. We got him outside the evil magic circle once or twice, but before we could take advantage of the situation, he would maneuver himself right back into it. Harold even managed to grab The Master at one point, and by that time was ready to carry him right into the rift just to end things, but within the evil magic circle his Fortitude was so stinkin’ high that Harold couldn’t move him. In fact, after The Master broke the grab, Harold ended up being the one to go through the rift. The Thing in the Portal had used Death’s Claws to slide Harold adjacent to the portal and then The Master bull rushed the minotaur (yes, yes, very ironic) and pushed him right into the rift.
To be honest, by that time— what with the teflon The Master shedding everything we threw at him and vampire minions running around and deathlock wights reanimating the slain skeleton guardians— I had pretty much lost interest in what seemed to be a frustratingly unwinnable fight, so getting pushed through a black portal leading to a temple of unspeakable evil within the Shadowfell didn’t seem like the worst fate in the world.
The rest of the party fought on, however, and although Korlon and Tosdar were both down by the very end of the battle, Tar finally somehow managed to push The Master through the portal. During the split-second that the rift was open, Tar and Zanne managed to reach through into the Shadowfell, grab Harold, and pull the unconscious and dying minotaur back to safety. For which they have my eternal gratitude.
Woo hoo. Game over. The good guys win. Et cetera, et cetera.