Friday, March 30, 2012

Madness at Gardmore Abbey... Session 4

Let’s cut right to the chase, dear reader… One of the adventurers wouldn’t make it out of this session alive.  So who bit the dust?  Hint: Even before this, he had already died two times during the course of the campaign… and Boojum has been wearing a necklace made from two of his pointy vampire teeth.

Before we get to the highlights from the fourth session of our Madness at Gardmore Abbey adventure, let’s review the members of our adventuring party:
  • Dagon— a watersoul genasi artificer (played by Robert)
  • Gaultis— a goliath warden (played by Chad)
  • Boojum— a pixie wizard (played by Steve)
  • Blake— a razorclaw shifter barbarian (played by Andy)
  • Silas—an eladrin vampire (played by Drew)
  • Lord Falkirk Bothwell is an NPC.  He is an aging knight of Bahamut who wishes to see evil purged from the ruins of old Gardmore Abbey.  The guys have taken turns playing Bothwell.

Our last session ended with the players in the Great Hall in the catacombs beneath Gardmore Abbey’s temple (see map below).  A mad priest of Tharizdun, Vadin Cartwright, had turned the enormous chamber into his lair.  Besides Vadin, our heroes had battled a venom-eyed basilisk, a snaketongue vampire, and 5 vampire spawn in Encounter 27: Great Hall.  Once they defeated the monsters and Vadin Cartwright, the party claimed 3 cards from the Deck of Many Things that had been in the crazed priest’s possession.

Since the players now have 4 cards from the Deck of Many Things (the Ruin, Skull, Sun, and Balance of Power cards), we spent the beginning of last night’s session reviewing how the cards work during an encounter.  On the way to the game, I had stopped at Staples and made copies of the cards’ powers (found in Book 1, pages 23-27) and gave the relevant ones to the players so that they’d have handy references to use during combat.

After taking an extended rest in the Great Hall and divvying up the cards, the party was ready to move on.  Rather than backtrack, they chose to investigate the closed set of doors in the southeastern corner of the enormous chamber.  Cautiously opening the doors, Boojum saw a small alcove.  To his left there was a dusty curtain composed of many dragon scales, blocking the pixie’s vision of what lay beyond.  Deciding that discretion was the better part of valor, Boojum backed off and let someone else take point.  Silas stepped forward and entered the alcove.

Inspecting the strange curtain, Silas saw that it was formed of small red, blue, black, green, and white dragon scales.  This curtain, and another one— also made from the scales of chromatic dragons— that the party would discover shortly, were the cause of much speculation during the course of the upcoming encounter.  The heavy curtains, though, were simply meant to provide testimony to the courage of the four knights who were laid to rest within the next chamber.  The four sarcophagi in that chamber all held the remains of knights who carried the honorific title of Dragonslayer.

Looking closely at the curtain in front of him, Silas saw that it was dusty but that in several small areas the dust had been smudged or wiped off. (Vadin Cartwright left those marks when he drew back the curtain to explore and loot this chamber.)  The eladrin vampire carefully parted the curtain and stepped through it into the next chamber.  This triggered the start of Encounter 26: Dragonslayers’ Tomb.
Silas saw that beyond the dragon scale curtain was a chamber containing more sarcophagi.  He also saw that emaciated undead creatures stalked among the stone coffins, looking at him hungrily as he pushed the curtain aside.  As Silas and Dagon boldly charged into the room, several creatures seemingly made of shadow rose from the sarcophagi.  Two of them resembled whirlwinds shot through with flashes of purple lightning.
  • 2 Vortex Wraiths (Level 9 Soldier)
  • 3 Ghasts (Level 6 Brute)
  • 2 Wraiths (Level 5 Lurker)
This encounter took up all of last night’s session!  Two hours into the session, the party had only managed to kill two of the monsters.  After that, things went a bit more quickly, but still… Yeesh.  The fact that the 4 wraiths were insubstantial, and therefore took half damage from all attacks (except those that dealt force damage), definitely prolonged the encounter.  Plus, the 2 vortex wraiths had regen 5.  I won’t lie to you, dear reader, this was a looong combat, and I thought of cutting it short several times, but a lot of fun stuff was happening, so I let it play out to the bitter end.

There was actually quite a bit of discussion among the players after the encounter had gone on for a while and they weren’t making much headway against the wraiths and ghasts.  Silas was the loudest voice advocating a retreat (especially after Bothwell discovered a secret door in the alcove back on the other side of the dragon scale curtain), but Boojum convinced the party to stay in the dragonslayers’ tomb and slug it out with the monsters.  The pixie said— and I quote: “These wings don’t run.”

Once the party decided to stay and fight, Blake rose to the occasion.  Taking advantage of the fact that he has multi-classed in Bard, the shifter used Skald’s Aura to inspire his allies with a song, allowing them to draw the strength to battle on.  He started to belt out, “Now you’re messing with a son of a bitch!” (from the title track of Nazareth’s 1975 album, Hair of the Dog).  The monsters must not have been very impressed with Blake’s singing (no doubt because there was no cowbell accompaniment) because the shifter soon found himself sprawled on the floor, unconscious and dying.  Seeing Blake fall, Silas quickly stepped toward his dying friend.  A pulse of shadow left the vampire’s hands, granting Blake strength and vigor, but leaving a dark stain on the shifter’s soul.  Despite the fact that we probably have over twenty years of higher education sitting around the game table, there was much middle school-ish joking about the nature of this “dark stain.” (This power was Silas’ Cleric Utility 2, Blackened Soul, which allows a dying comrade to spend two healing surges. Until the end of the encounter or until he regains full hit points, that comrade also gains a +2 power bonus to attack & damage rolls but grants combat advantage.)

Shortly after helping Blake, Silas used some other tricksy power that allowed him to teleport and become invisible.  But as a vortex wraith rushed by him on its way to attack Dagon, Silas couldn’t resist taking an opportunity attack against it.  Silas missed the wraith, but his attack made him visible to the monster.  (This is when things started to go downhill for Silas.)  The wraith stopped in its tracks and attacked the now-visible eladrin vampire with its Spiral Strike.  It crit’d with the attack, doing 22 damage.

Meanwhile, Gaultis had activated the Sun card across the chamber, so if Silas— down to 7 hit points— could somehow make it to the card’s token, he would be able to use Sun’s Refreshment and spend a healing surge.  But Silas was almost surrounded by enemies who were closing in on him!  No problemo… Boojum was up next and helpfully sprinkled Silas with pixie dust so that the wounded vampire could soar to safety.  But first, Silas would have to survive an opportunity attack by the vortex wraith.  As Silas and his 7 hit points flew by the monster, it struck out and shot him down.  Ouch.

As Silas lay there in a crumpled heap, unconscious and dying, Dagon’s turn came up and the artificer managed to get to the fallen vampire and use a healing infusion.  Whew.

But then on the vortex wraith’s turn, it noticed that although Silas was still lying there in a crumpled heap, the vampire was no longer unconscious and dying.  So it used its spiral strike on Silas again.  And that quickly, Silas was once again unconscious and dying.  Bummer.

But! Dagon once again came to the rescue, drawing a healing potion and pouring it down his dying friend’s throat.  Yeah!

But but! The dastardly wraith once again noticed Silas moving around a bit, so it whacked the vampire yet again with spiral strike.  And that quickly, Silas was once again unconscious and dying.  That’s the third time in three turns, just in case anyone is counting.

And then Blake KIA’d a ghast, which meant the monster’s Death Burst was triggered.  As nasty ghast parts splattered all over, (and your humble DM thought this was sooooo funny) the unconscious and dying Silas was hit.  That attack did just enough damage so that when Silas started his turn in the vortex wraith’s vortex aura, the 5 force damage killed him.  Killed him dead-dead!  That’s the third time Silas has been dead-dead during the course of our campaign, just in case anyone is counting.

Silas immediately started to try and guilt Boojum over the not-retreating-out-of-the-room decision, and also over the more recent incident with the pixie dust, but since Silas was dead-dead, Boojum didn’t hear anything.

After combat was over, Boojum did helpfully chop off one of Silas’ pinky fingers so the party could take it back to Bree and hopefully find someone who will be able to perform the Raise Dead ritual.  (When no one was looking, the pixie also did a little postmortem dental work on Silas’ corpse, adding two more pointy vampire teeth to his necklace.)

While Boojum was attending to Silas’ body, Blake and Gaultis checked out the sarcophagi in the chamber.  They could see that although the stone coffins had elaborate carvings venerating Bahamut, someone had defaced the names on each of them.  They also noticed that small amounts of mortar, dust, and gravel were scattered around each sarcophagus, as if they had already been opened and resealed.  Deciding they had nothing to lose by opening the sarcophagi again, the two levered the lid off the one in the northeast corner of the room.  Inside it, they found the Bowl of Io’s Blood!  That’s one of the three sacred vessels Lord Bothwell needs to purify the temple.

Thanks so much for joining us on our adventure!  We hope you tune in next week to see what happens as we continue to have fun playing through Madness at Gardmore Abbey.   

Friday, March 23, 2012

Madness at Gardmore Abbey... Session 3

The gaunt and hunched human advanced toward the conveniently clustered group of adventurers. The man didn’t seem all that imposing except for the madness in his eye and the unmistakable aura of evil around him… and also, of course, the wicked looking +2 vicious mace clasped in his sweaty hand. Stopping a short distance away from Dagon, Blake, and Lord Bothwell, the creepy Level 10 Elite Soldier (Leader) with 212 hit points opened his mouth and let loose with a Howl of Madness. Under the piercing psychic attack, the three heroes’ will defenses crumbled faster than Newt Gingrich’s presidential aspirations. Each of them took 1d8+8 psychic damage and was stunned (save ends), prompting a chorus of “Stunned? What does stunned do? … Whaaaat? NO actions?!?”

For our third session of Madness at Gardmore Abbey, the party was a man down since Drew couldn’t be with us, so you won’t find any mention of rash actions or snarky remarks by Silas, the eladrin vampire, in this post. But not to worry; Blake (razorclaw shifter barbarian), Boojum (pixie wizard), Lord Bothwell, Dagon (watersoul genasi artificer), and Gaultis (goliath warden) continued to explore the catacombs under the ruined husk of the abbey’s once-glorious temple. 

We started this session with the continuation of Encounter 24: Font of Divine Health, which we had to break off last week when we ran up against closing time at our FLGS, Total Escape Games. 

As the party battled the skeletons in this room, the first time one of the undead monsters was destroyed, the dusty and chipped mosaic depicting the dragon-head symbol of Bahamut began to glow with a dim golden light. Every time a skeleton was cut down, the light increased in intensity, small motes of fire burnt away the dust, and the damage to the mosaic began to magically repair itself. When the last skeleton fell, the mosaic was once again in pristine condition, and each member of the party regained hit points as if he’d spent a healing surge. 

Once combat was over, everyone drank from the font of clean, clear water bubbling softly on the northern wall of the chamber. As Silas had discovered last week, the font not only allows a character to regain hit points, but also allows him to gain resist 5 necrotic (until the effect has blocked 20 necrotic damage or until the character leaves the catacombs)

Besides the mosaic and the fountain, the only other objects of interest in the chamber were the two stone sarcophagi. Both were decorated with elaborate carvings venerating Bahamut. One bore the name “Errin of Moonstair,” while the other was inscribed with the name “Dorgia Vann.”

After taking a short rest, the party decided to head through the doors in the northeast corner of the room. That triggered Encounter 27: Great Hall. As they cautiously passed through the doors, their footsteps echoed throughout an enormous chamber. They could see at least half a dozen stone sarcophagi arrayed around the shadow-draped room, and more probably stood in the darkness deeper inside. A strange reddish glow tinged the shadows, apparently emanating from something near the wall across the way. In the glow, our heroes could see several dark figures moving stealthily toward them. Something heavy was also dragging across the floor nearby but out of sight. 

  • Vadin Cartwright— Level 10 Elite Soldier (Leader)
  • Venom-Eye Basilisk (Level 10 Artillery)
  • Snaketongue Vampire (Level 10 Controller)
  • 5 Elder Vampire Spawn (Level 10 Minion Soldier)

This was a villain encounter. Vadin Cartwright had three cards from the Deck of Many Things: the Skull, Sun, and Balance of Power cards. In a villain encounter, the bad guy’s collection of cards enhances that creature’s power and its capabilities, exerting a powerful and dynamic effect on the battle. Each villain has a number of hit point thresholds determined by the number of cards in its possession, as specified in the villian’s statistics for the encounter. Crossing a threshold triggers the use of a card. Vadin used the skull card at the beginning of the encounter. The sun card triggered when Vadin’s hit point total dropped to 141 (out of 212). And then the balance card came into play when his hit point total dropped to 70.

This was a long, difficult encounter for the party— mostly because the players didn’t focus their fire once the minions were out of the way. Blake took on Vadin Cartwright. Bothwell tried to take down the snaketongue vampire. Gaultis and Boojum had their hands full with the basilisk. And Dagon was kept busy healing whoever needed it. Blake even went down at one point, but Dagon stepped in with a timely healing word and quickly brought the shifter back into the fight. 

Oh, and it warmed your humble DM’s heart when— after the vignette you read at the top of the post— Blake proceeded to fail 3 or 4 saving throws, so he was stunned for quite a while after Vadin’s howl of madness attack. Hee hee. 

I guess WotC felt they just had to insert something about the stupid abyssal plague into Madness at Gardmore Abbey because the strange reddish glow from across the room was coming from an altar to Bahamut that was now home to some of the Voidharrow. Vadin Cartwright was supposed to be a mad priest of Tharizdun who found his way into the vaults below the abbey and discovered the strange red substance in a tiny vial among the forgotten trophies of the knights. He was using it to experiment on the undead in the catacombs; he himself was at stage 1 of the illness. Ugh, enough about that nonsense. 

So after they captured Vadin, our heroes took a look around the enormous chamber where the encounter had taken place. It appeared to be a mansion for the dead knights of the abbey. The heavy stone sarcophagi were each decorated with elaborate carvings venerating Bahamut. Near the statue of Bahamut (depicted as a human knight in plate armor) in the northwest corner of the chamber the party found the resting place of Gardrin the Hammer, founder of Gardmore Abbey. Besides relieving Vadin Cartwright of the 3 cards in his possession, the adventurers also snagged his +2 vicious mace. In a sack near the Voidharrow were 850 gp and a magic longsword (special item: “Moonbane”)

Tune in to the next post to see what other trouble the party can get into as they continue to explore the creepy catacombs below Gardmore Abbey’s temple.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Madness at Gardmore Abbey... Session 2

Madness at Gardmore Abbey is a 4e D&D super-adventure that takes heroes of levels 6-8 into the ruins of a monastery that was once the base of a militant order of paladins devoted to Bahamut. According to legend, the paladins brought a dark artifact back from a far crusade and stored it in their abbey for safekeeping, and evil forces gathered to assault the abbey and take it back. What the legends don’t tell is that this artifact was actually the Deck of Many Things, a force of pure chaos. 

The party started our second session of Madness at Gardmore Abbey by conducting a more thorough search of the temple where they had just defeated the crazed harpies and angels (Encounter 21: Temple).

Though the roof was half collapsed and the building was blackened with soot and decay, some hint of its ancient grandeur still shone through in the abbey’s great temple. Mighty columns rose into the shadows beneath the crumbling roof, lifting the eye toward the heavens. Smaller pillars of graceful shape and elegant decoration hinted at the temple’s lost beauty. Altars to several different gods surrounded the towering statue of Bahamut, depicted as a human knight in armor. A pool of clear water stood near the south entrance of the temple. The water was bitterly cold, like the freezing breath of Bahamut, but a successful Religion check let our heroes know that anyone who drinks of the water gains a temporary blessing of clarity: Once before the character takes an extended rest, he can reroll a single d20 roll with a +2 bonus. A character can only gain this benefit from the pool once. Needless, to say, every single member of the party was immediately slurping up some of the water. 

Since the party had found the Ruin card from the Deck of Many Things in a hidden niche in Bahamut’s altar, I spent some time explaining to them how the environmental effects of a card manifest automatically at the start of a combat encounter. They thought it was interesting that a creature in the same square as the card token gains access to a power associated with the magic of the card. For example, any creature in the Ruin token’s square can use the encounter power: Touch of Ruin

After the party had thoroughly explored the temple, finding a stairway near the priests’ cells that led downward into the catacombs, everyone gathered back in the sanctum. Lord Bothwell sighed and said, “It is as I suspected, my friends. I cannot perform the ritual of purification without the temple’s sacred vessels. Our next task, then, must be to find them: a chalice, a bowl, and a brazier. In all my research, I found no mention of those items appearing outside the abbey, so I believe they are still here somewhere. It is only a matter of finding them and bringing them here to the temple.” Silas wasn’t very pleased with this news, but— in his defense— during the journey to Bree, Bothwell had told the party that he would need the 3 sacred items (Brazier of Silver Fire, Bowl of Ioun’s Blood, and Chalice of the Dragon) in order to complete the ritual. 

After discussing their options, which included searching the other 3 ruined buildings on the plateau, the party decided to stay in the temple, head down the stairs they’d discovered near the priests’ cells, and explore the catacombs. As our heroes descended the stairs, from somewhere ahead, they heard the unmistakable sounds of battle. From the bottom of the stairs, they were able to see into a chamber where another group of adventurers was locked in combat with undead monsters. 
(Encounter 23: Altar of Glory was the second time the players reached a marked encounter. Each marked encounter is keyed to a card from the Deck of Many Things in the rival adventurers’ possession. The party might come across these rivals— or signs of their passing— as many as four times over the course of the adventure.) 

One of the other adventurers, a woman with curly blond hair showing beneath her helmet, was already bloodied. When she saw our heroes descending the stairs, she exclaimed, “Thank the gods! Please, friends, help us!” Silas wasn’t certain that helping these strangers was such a good idea, but Boojum— noticing that the wounded woman was quite fetching— convinced his companions that assisting the other adventurers was a great idea. So our heroes entered the fray, helping the strangers battle the undead monsters.

  •  Havarr, Pale Reaver Lord (Level 8 Elite Controller)
  • 2 Pale Reavers (Level 5 Lurker)
  • 4 Pale Reaver Creepers (Level 6 Minion Controller) 

As the party waded into the fight, Boojum attempted to use the Ruin card’s power, but since it was the first time anyone had tried to use the card, the pixie didn’t quite have a handle on the magic involved, and the attack sputtered and failed. A few moments later, our heroes noticed a pattern of light and shadow start to shimmer on the floor adjacent to one of the strangers, Kurik the dwarf, and they suddenly realized that the other adventurers must also have a card from the Deck of Many Things!

Once the PCs and Lord Bothwell were fully engaged with the pale reavers, the rival adventurers started to withdraw from the fight. With everyone else caught up in melee across the chamber, Boojum edged back toward the stairs to block the exit. But then, Lenna teleported past Boojum and up the stairs, Arvan used Cloak of Darkness to escape past the pixie, and Kurik the dwarf used Frightful Presence to stun our poor hero. As Kurik, Grosh, and Tam rushed by Boojum, Kurik tried to pick the pixie’s pocket and snag the Ruin card, but luckily the dwarf failed. Boojum was feeling rather dejected as the rival adventurers escaped up the stairs, but his heart lifted when he heard Tam whisper, “Sorry. Call me, sweetie,” as she slipped past him. 

Silas really wanted to charge up the stairs and chase after the dirty rotten so-and-so’s who had just done the party wrong, but the eladrin vampire was clear over at the northern end of the chamber, by the ornate altar, and so he himself really couldn’t do anything terribly vengeful. Bothwell, Dagon, Blake, and Gaultis were tied up with the pale reavers, so they couldn’t do anything about it either. And Boojum, of course, was just lying stunned at the bottom of the stairs, treasuring Tam’s parting words, even as he wondered what she meant when she said, "Call me."

After the party finally dispatched the last of the pale reavers (made all the more difficult by the monsters’ repeated use of their Insubstantial Transformation power), they investigated the irregularly shaped chamber where the battle had taken place. Four sarcophagi, one open, stood in the outer portion of the chamber. On each of the heavy stone sarcophagi, there were carvings venerating Moradin, Pelor, Ioun, and Erathis. Each sarcophagus also bore a name: Rombert, Toren, Fror, and Sefgar. During the course of the encounter, anyone who ended his or her turn within 2 squares of the open sarcophagus had taken 5 necrotic damage. Now, as they took a closer look at that particular coffin, our heroes could see that a shattered skeleton amid moldering burial garments lay inside it. They also couldn’t help noticing that the skeleton’s skull was missing. By that time, Silas, who had been over at the altar getting his implement buffed in some sacred fire, came back over to see what everyone else was doing. He went over to one of the closed sarcophagi and made as if to lift the lid off it. When everyone else started to back away, asking what exactly the vampire thought he was doing, Silas scoffed, “What’s the worst that could happen?” 

As he levered the lid off and to one side, the vampire could see that inside the coffin was a skeleton lying amid moldering burial garments, and this skeleton still had its skull. At the same moment that the lid hit the floor, Silas felt a painful tingling sensation run through his body. By opening the knight’s sarcophagi, he had just incurred Bahamut’s ire. Silas will take a -1 penalty to attack rolls until the catacombs are cleared of evil influence. 

After Silas’ little sacrilegious faux pas, the party took stock of their situation. They could head back up the stairs and attempt to pursue the rival adventurers, or they could explore what lay behind one of the doorways that led off this irregularly shaped chamber where they’d just defeated the pale reavers. They chose to take a short rest, stay in the catacombs, open the northern set of doors, and see what was on the other side of them. 

As they opened the doors and advanced into the chamber that lay beyond, our heroes could see two ornately carved sarcophagi occupying one side of the room. Past the sarcophagi, they could just see a font jutting from the opposite wall, bubbling with clean, clear water. And then, with a clattering of bones, skeletons attacked! 

  • 2 Blazing Skeletons (Level 5 Artillery)
  • 2 Skeletal Tomb Guardians (Level 10 Brute)
  • 4 Skeletal Legionaries (Level 7 Minion Soldier) 

On his first turn, with his companions already locked in combat with the skeletons, Silas made a beeline for the font bubbling on the chamber’s northern wall. Without even hesitating, he took a drink of the water. He found that any character drinking from the font (a minor action) regains hit points as if they’d spent a healing surge, and also gains resist 5 necrotic until the effect has blocked 20 necrotic damage. Each character can gain the font’s benefits only once per day.

As the clock ticked ever closer to closing time at our FLGS, Total Escape Games, the party had handily eliminated the 4 skeleton minions, but they were still locked in combat with the other monsters, so we had to break things off mid-battle. We’ll continue the encounter at the beginning of next Thursday night’s session. 

Thanks for joining us on our adventure. I hope you tune in to the next post and see what happens as Blake, Boojum, Dagon, Gaultis, Lord Bothwell, and Silas continue to explore the ruins of Gardmore Abbey!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Madness at Gardmore Abbey... Session 1, Part the Second

Note: This is the second post relating the events that occurred during our first session of Madness at Gardmore Abbey. The session took place on Thursday, March 8th at Total Escape Games in Broomfield, Colorado.

When our heroes arrived at Gardmore Abbey, they could see that the abbey grounds covered most of a hillside at the end of the overgrown path that led from the King’s Road. Surveying the scene from under cover, they noted that the main gate was flanked by squat, square towers. To either side of the gate stretched a curtain wall showing signs of its age, supported by occasional towers and buttresses. Above the wall, a caved-in temple yet stood proudly on the hilltop. 

Our heroes arrived at Gardmore Abbey about midday. After seeing movement atop the towers flanking the gate, they spent most of the rest of the day making a stealthy circuit around the ruins of the abbey. Besides the wall, they found that the natural features of the hill also formed part of the abbeys’s defenses. The western and southern slopes of the hill were steep enough to serve as walls in their own right. The northern and eastern slopes were gentler, and there lay the ruins of the village that once supported the abbey. The party didn’t see any guards stationed atop the walls or towers except at the main gate. Except for a breach in its southern extent, the wall remained mostly intact despite the siege that brought the abbey low a century and a half ago. Beyond the breach, our heroes could see a tangled expanse of forest sprawling over the hillside, wilder and far greener than the surrounding landscape.

“Once more unto the breach, dear friends…” 

With the sun beginning to set to the west, our heroes decided to use the single breach in the wall to scout the abbey grounds. From atop the breach, the party could see that the entire southeastern part of the abbey grounds, from the lip of the temple plateau to the outer wall, was covered in a thick, riotous tangle of trees, bushes, vines, and ferns. The woods seemed ancient, undisturbed since the dawn of time, though the abbey wall hemmed it in and had checked its spread. Our heroes could see that a bell tower lifted its head above the canopy a short distance down the slope from the temple. The remains of a small cottage lay near the outer wall toward the northern edge of the grove. And a small stone building— a shrine or tomb, perhaps— stood in a small clearing near the south end of the forest. To the party’s left, near where the outer wall met the steep cliff of the hillside, a lone watchtower rose above the trees. 

As the sun slipped below the horizon, the party carefully made their way down into the abbey grounds. Brambles and vines clutched the boles of trees and, overhead, thick branches draped in silver webs hid the darkening sky. In the shadows beneath the trees, our heroes could see immense spiders lurking. Knowing of Silas’ almost crippling arachnophobia, everyone turned to look at the eladrin vampire. Silas shuddered and whispered, “Spiders. Why’d it have to be spiders?” As Silas started to back away, his companions noticed something strange about the spiders lurking in the deepening shadows— the big, creepy monsters were dead! The spiders’ slashed and blasted bodies were scattered about under the trees. 

Mea Culpa #1: I remembered that Encounter 9 was a marked encounter (four potential encounters with another group of rough-and-tumble rival adventurers), so that’s why our heroes found the spider threat already removed… but the party shouldn’t actually have been playing through Encounter 9 at this point. Once they made their way through the breach, they should’ve played through Encounter 13: Font of Ioun. Oops. Not a catastrophic mistake, by any means, since it can be easily rectified the next time the party enters the Feygrove, but it irks the perfectionist in me. 

Anyway, since night had fallen by the time they realized the spiders had already been slain, our heroes decided to retreat back out of the breach. Once outside the walls once again, they made their way back to the cleared area near the main gate. Blake and Silas used the cover of darkness to stealth closer to the two squat, square towers flanking the gate. Once they were close enough, the shifter and vampire could see several orcs and an ogre patrolling the gatehouse. After this discovery, the group decided to move a bit farther north, away from the main gate, and have Boojum fly over the wall and recon the ruined village. The pixie wizard found that among the sagging roofs and toppled wrecks of the houses, throngs of savage orcs made camp in filthy tents clustered around small, smoking fires. Boojum estimated about 150 orcs and associated human, half-orc, and hobgoblin mercenaries inhabited the village. In addition, it looked as if a handful of ogres, hill giants, and dire wolves supported them. 

Back to Bree 

Arriving back in Bree (a round trip to Bree and back typically takes about three days), the party reported to Lord Harkness with their assessment of the orcs’ defenses. He was very interested in their discovery of a breach in the southern wall and the overgrown area beyond. Harkness thought perhaps that approach might be the best way to approach the village and launch an assault, so he asked our heroes to enter the grove and scout it thoroughly when they returned to the abbey. He paid them 600 gp as an incentive to keep working for him. 

Rounding up a reinvigorated Lord Bothwell, the party headed back to the ruins of Gardmore Abbey. 

“Hey, I just remembered something!” 

As our heroes once again approached the abbey along the overgrown path, they stopped so that Bothwell could survey the scene. As Bothwell took it all in, he suddenly snapped his fingers and exclaimed, “Now that I am here, seeing Gardmore with my own eyes, I have remembered an old story about the abbey.” Bothwell told the party that he had suddenly recalled how the knights of Bahamut had built a secret stair on the western hillside that led directly to the Dragon’s Roost. 

 After making their way over to the western slopes of the hill, it took the party about two hours to find the well hidden stairway. The stairway was steep and partially blocked in places, so climbing to the top required significant effort. About halfway to the top, the party noticed a cave entrance in the steep hillside, north of the stairs. Boojum flew over to check it out. He found a rough tunnel leading back into utter darkness. After casting Light on a coin and pitching it back the tunnel, he heard the sound of unseen creatures scurrying about and whispering to each other. Deciding that discretion was the better part of valor, the pixie left the tunnel and rejoined his companions on the secret stairway. 

Dragon’s Roost 

Dragon’s Roost, the plateau at the top of the hill, was once the heart of the abbey, the home of its monastic knights and the center of their worship. When the abbey fell, this area took the brunt of the damage. Fire consumed the wooden buildings that stood on the plateau and destroyed the roofs of the others, leaving the majestic temple gutted and scarred. Now only four structures remain.

Arriving at the top of the secret stairs, our heroes decided to head straight for the temple so that Bothwell could get started on the ritual of purification. Unfortunately, the party found that the ruined husk of the temple housed crazed harpies and maddened angels, as detailed in Encounter 21 of Book 4. 

  • 2 Harpies (Level 6 Controller)
  • 3 Angels of Valor (Level 8 Soldier) 

In a nice touch, story and roleplaying notes included with the encounter gave each of the harpies a distinct appearance and personality.

Mea Culpa #2: After combat was over, this is where the party found their first card from the Deck of Many Things in a hidden niche in Bahamut’s altar. However, I completely forgot that in every encounter in which one or more of the cards are present, the cards have a significant effect. In this instance, environmental effects should have manifested automatically since a card was located in the temple. During the encounter, I should’ve placed the token for the Ruin card in a square adjacent to the altar. My bad. 

We quickly were coming up against closing time at Total Escape Games, so we really had to hustle to conclude this encounter in the temple. After defeating the harpies and the angels, our heroes just had time to find the Ruin card, 1600 gp, and Dagon was lucky enough to claim a level 9 or 10 rare weapon of his choice. 

At the beginning of our next session, the party can make a more thorough search of the rooms in the temple and Lord Bothwell can get started on the ritual of purification.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Madness at Gardmore Abbey... Session 1, Part the First

Treona Hoyt was very excited when Blake offered to play some music that evening at the inn.  “Wonderful!” she exclaimed. “It has been much too long since we’ve had a bard to perform for us here in Bree.”  Treona tried to hide her disappointment when Blake said that he wasn’t actually a bard, and she hardly knew what to say when he mentioned that his instrument of choice was the cowbell.  But Treona needn’t have worried, because that evening, as the shifter pulled out his cowbell and played a rousing rendition of “(Don’t Fear) the Reaper,” the patrons of Hoyt’s Inn went wild.  As Blake’s bemused companions watched from a corner table, the locals showed plenty of fist-pumping, crowd-surfing appreciation for the shifter’s virtuoso cowbell performance.

Before we get to the recap of what happened during the first part of this past Thursday night’s session of Madness at Gardmore Abbey, let’s review our ongoing D&D campaign’s dramatis personae…
  • Silas—an eladrin vampire (played by Drew)
  • Dagon— a watersoul genasi artificer (played by Robert)
  • Gaultis— a goliath warden (played by Chad)
  • Boojum— a pixie wizard (played by Steve)
  • Blake— a razorclaw shifter barbarian (played by Andy, a very talented, real-life musician)

Welcome to Bree

As Lord Bothwell and our heroes journeyed to Bree (the settlement nearest to the ruins of Gardmore Abbey), Bothwell shared many tales from his days as an adventurer.  Silas did a lot of surreptitious eye-rolling during Bothwell’s stories, but the rest of the party listened politely to the aging paladin.

After arriving in Bree, Bothwell went to pay his respects to the area’s hereditary lord, Eric Harkness.  While Bothwell headed for Harkness’ manor house, Blake and Gaultis decided to wet their whistles at Hoyt’s Inn, the local watering hole.  A tall tower standing in the center of the village sparked the rest of the party’s curiosity, so Boojum, Dagon, and Silas went off to check it out.

Blake and Gaultis met Treona Hoyt, the inn’s owner.  She was friendly and open, quick with a smile and a warm welcome.  When they asked her about Gardmore Abbey, though, she said she wouldn’t know it from a hole in the ground.  But she told the two adventurers that some of the locals who would be at the inn later might know about it.  As the shifter and goliath settled in at a table to enjoy some ale and wait for the locals to trickle in, Blake mentioned to Treona that he’d be happy to play some music later on.

Meanwhile, after knocking on the tower’s door, Boojum, Dagon, and Silas were greeted by a servant who told them the tower was the home of his master, the renowned scholar, Ranklo the Crescentic.  After a bit of confusion at hearing the word “crescentic,” our heroes rallied and asked if they might speak to Ranklo.  The servant said his master was with another guest, Kharas the Just, but that he could send word to the inn when his master was free to meet with them.  Thinking quickly, Boojum said that they were actually associates of Kharas the Just and that Kharas had asked them to meet him at the tower when they arrived in Bree.  A successful Bluff check sent the servant upstairs to announce their presence to Ranklo and Kharas.  When the servant reappeared, he looked a bit suspicious, but asked them to follow him upstairs to his master’s study.

As the servant ushered them into Ranklo’s study, our heroes saw two men waiting for them.  One was a dwarf in leather armor emblazoned with the symbol of Erathis.  He was slowly slapping the head of a warhammer into the palm of a calloused hand.  The other figure in the room was a very, very tall elderly human… or the elderly figure in the scholar’s robes would’ve been very, very tall if he weren’t bent over so far that his long back formed a perfect crescent.  The dwarf looked our heroes up and down, and then said, “I’ve just been told ye be my associates and that I asked ye to meet me here at me friend Ranklo’s tower; the only problem is that I don’t seem to remember ever meeting ye before.”

Boojum quickly started to explain about how they were adventurers in Bree with Lord Bothwell and that they were going to Gardmore Abbey and…
But as soon as the pixie mentioned the abbey, Kharas exclaimed, “Gardmore Abbey!  Erathis be praised!  I see her hand in this.  I don’t know who ye are, but Erathis has obviously brought us together.”  Kharas went on to explain that he’s a cleric of Erathis, teaches at the University in Hume, and is an expert on the history of the area now known as the Lake District.  His particular area of focus is the minotaurs who ruled the area centuries ago.

“According to me research,” Kharas explained, “Gardmore Abbey might have been established on the site of an ancient temple built by minotaurs hundreds of years before humans settled these lands.  I’m searching for hardy souls, such as yerselves, who be willing to explore the abbey and unearth the ruins of that temple.  If ye bring me useful knowledge or relics of the minotaur civilization, you have my word, I will pay ye handsomely.”

Since they were already going to be at the abbey with Lord Bothwell, the three adventurers accepted Kharas the Just’s quest on behalf of the entire party.  They then questioned the dwarf and Ranklo about the history of the abbey— especially about the “dark artifact” that Lord Bothwell had mentioned— but neither scholar could tell them much more than they’d already learned from Bothwell’s story.
Back at the inn, Treona had steered Blake and Gaultis to an aged human farmer who had come in for some liquid refreshment. She said the fellow knew more stories about the history of the area than anyone else.  The farmer, Hepplewhit the Old, was happy to let the shifter and goliath buy him ale, but he couldn’t tell them much more about Gardmore Abbey than they’d already learned from Lord Bothwell.

Just as Blake and Gaultis were thanking Hepplewhit for his “help,” the rest of the party came into the inn, accompanied by Bothwell and a tall, slender man dressed in finery and with a longsword at his belt.  The man was none other than Lord Eric Harkness; he and Bothwell had met Boojum, Dagon, and Silas as the adventurers were leaving Ranklo the Crescentic’s tower.  As Harkness made his way across the inn’s crowded common room, he had a smile, friendly word, or hearty slap on the back for all of the locals.

After Bothwell introduced Harkness to Blake and Gaultis, the group sat down around a large table that a servant hurriedly cleared for them.  Harkness said the evening’s meal and drinks were on him, and then said how pleased he was to finally meet his neighbor, Lord Bothwell, as well as Bothwell’s “esteemed champions.”  Harkness was a former soldier himself, so he was keen to hear of our heroes’ exploits while hunting down the chaos crystals, which Bothwell had already mentioned to him.  After the meal was over, Harkness said that he had a proposition for the party.

“Travelers on the King’s Road of late have been attacked by orcs,” Harkness said.  “The attacks mostly occur in the vicinity of the old ruins of Gardmore Abbey, so I suspect the orcs are using the ruins as a lair.  If I could, I’d raise a militia to go root out the monsters, but the good folks here can’t see past the village walls.  If it’s not a direct threat to Bree, they don’t think it’s our problem.  But the orc attacks affect merchants and traders coming here, so it is our concern, after all, and I need to deal with the monsters.  To start, I’d like to hire you to scout the abbey and find out whether the orcs are lairing there.  Come back and tell me what you find— as complete a picture of their lair and defenses as you can.”

Looking to Bothwell, our heroes saw him nod in agreement, so they told Lord Harkness that they’d accept his quest.  As Harkness rose to return to his manor house, Bothwell said he’d stay a few moments with his “champions.”  After the local lord’s departure, Bothwell hemmed and hawed a bit before finally admitting that the journey to Bree had taken more out of him than he’d expected, and that he obviously hadn’t bounced back from his recent wound and the poisoning like he thought he would.  But, he went on, if he could rest for a few days, he was certain he’d be as good as new.  If the adventurers would be willing, perhaps they could leave him in Bree while they scouted the abbey for Lord Harkness, then they could return with their report and by then Bothwell would be strong enough to accompany them back to the ruins.  Our heroes, sympathetic to their patron’s plea, readily agreed to the change of plan.  A grateful Bothwell stayed to see Blake’s cowbell performance and then exited the inn, explaining that Harkness had invited him to stay at the manor house.  Before he left, he gave the adventurers gold to pay for their rooms at the inn and said he’d return in the morning to see them off to the abbey.

What will our heroes find at the ruins of Gardmore Abbey?  Tune in to the next post to find out!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Madness at Gardmore Abbey... Prelude

In just a few hours, we’ll be starting Madness at Gardmore Abbey at our Thursday night D&D group that meets at Total Escape Games in Broomfield, CO.  After an accelerated schedule of advancement during our campaign, we’ve zoomed right along, have arrived at Level 6, and are ready to have a go at the monster-infested, ruined monastery.

I’ve read through all four 32-page books several times and meticulously organized all the minis, tokens, markers, and dungeon tiles I’ll need to run the 30+ encounters.  I’ve prepared several handouts to give to my players during the course of the adventure, including a map of Winterhaven— which in our campaign’s world is going to be named “Bree.”  I’ve changed the names of some locations and NPCs since several of us have played Keep on the Shadowfell, etc and I wanted Gardmore Abbey to be unique to our campaign’s world.
Anyway, I think I’m locked and loaded, and ready to lead our D&D group through what looks to be an excellent adventure from the folks at WotC.  Y’all are invited to watch as we head into the ruins of Gardmore Abbey—a place warped and twisted by the chaotic forces surrounding the infamous Deck of Many Things.  As usual, I'll take lots of pics to share with you.

Below is the back story that Lord Bothwell is going to use this evening to ‘hook’ our heroes into accompanying him to the abbey…

(btw: I don’t think I’ve mentioned it before, but at the end of Bothwell’s plea, you’ll find the name my players chose for their adventuring company way back during the first session of our campaign…)

Gardmore Abbey was one of the first settlements in the Lake District, established by knights of Bahamut during the rise of the (now fallen) Empire around 350 years ago.  Along with Bree, the combined abbey and village at Gardmore defined the far northeastern boundary of the Empire.

The abbey was built as a defensive fortification, combining the natural slope of the land and a strong stone wall to protect the village and the home of the monastic knights in the abbey proper.  A prosperous settlement grew up between the outer wall and the cloister of the abbey, supporting the knights and enjoying their protection.

During the height of the Empire’s rule, the holy knights of Gardmore Abbey fought valiantly in Bahamut’s name against any monstrous and evil forces that encroached into the Lake District, and on occasion launched campaigns to bring down bastions of evil in the world beyond the district.  They destroyed thousands of orcs in the Stonemarch, brought low a temple of Zehir in the depths of the Witchlight Fens, and journeyed to the Dragondown Coast, far to the south, to sack the Infernal Bastion of the terrible hobgoblin warlord Hur-Tharak.

According to legend, that southern campaign ultimately spelled the doom of Gardmore Abbey.  As the story goes, the knights brought a dark artifact back from that crusade for safekeeping, but evil forces gathered to assault the abbey and take back the artifact.  About 150 years ago, a force of orcs from the Stonemarch descended on Gardmore Abbey.  Aided by ogres, hill giants, and demonic embodiments of chaos, the orcs laid siege to the abbey, but even against such terrible foes the knights held firm.

But then something terrible and unexplained happened.  During the battle, in a roar of infernal wind, a new wave of attackers was unleashed upon the abbey, this time from inside its mighty walls.  Scores of undead monsters, from skeletal legions and sword wraiths to nightwalkers and fire demons, emerged from the space between worlds and spread throughout the abbey, bringing terror and destruction in their wake.  The walls were breached, the Stonemarch forces spilled inside, and a titanic battle among knights, undead, and orcs wrecked the abbey.  For well over a century now, Gardmore Abbey has been a monster-infested ruin.

This recent brush with death has made me realize that it is time to complete my lifelong goal of cleansing Gardmore Abbey.  As a devout paladin of Bahamut, my goal is nothing less than the purification of the abbey.  I would like you to accompany me on this holy quest.  Your job will be to keep me alive and help me reach Dragon’s Roost, the temple that stands at the highest point of the abbey.  Awaken the Slumbering Hurt, will you accept this quest?”

Sunday, March 4, 2012

"Is it hot in here, or is it just me?" (The Pillars of Night, Session 2)

Trapped inside a death cult’s temple, the heroes did what any D&D adventuring party worth their salt would do in the same situation—  they decided to ignore the pounding and shouting at the temple’s shut and barred front doors, and instead poke around and see what was behind the two closed doors at the far end of the entrance hall.

Opening Door #1, they discovered an immense chamber that was obviously once a chapel, but had fallen into disuse.  After many Perception checks, they finally convinced themselves that there was nothing hidden in the long-abandoned Hall of Faith.

Opening Door #2 revealed another dusty chamber.  This chamber appeared to be a former armory— it was, in fact, the temple’s Hall of Warriors.  Four suits of rusted plate armor stood in alcoves built into the room’s western wall.  More pieces of armor and old weapons were strewn across the floor. After many Perception checks, our heroes finally discovered that the suit of armor in the farthest corner could be swiveled aside to reveal a secret door at the back of the alcove.

Beyond the secret door was a chamber with a narrow corridor going off to the north and a set of double doors to the west.  While Boojum and Silas opened the double doors just enough to peek inside, the other three PCs checked out the corridor.  Boojum and Silas saw some cracked and broken stairs leading down into a darkened chamber.  They decided to shut the doors and see what their companions were finding down the corridor.  The party never returned to those doors nor ventured down the stairs, which disappointed me since there were 2 big old Zombie Hulks (Level 8 Brute) waiting down there.  Oh, well.

Meanwhile, Blake and Gaultis weren’t having much luck finding anything down the corridor except a dead end.  Dagon, however, made an awesome Perception check and discovered a secret door hidden in the wall of the hallway.  Once Boojum and Silas rejoined their friends, everyone started down the stairs that lay beyond the secret door.  Cautiously making their way down the stairs, the party was hit by an immense wave of heat.  They could also discern sounds of battle coming from somewhere ahead— shouts and the clash of weapons could be heard.

Going around the corner at the bottom of the stairs, the party found a humongous chamber where fountains of elemental flame were shooting across the room.  The heat was intense, so every other round during the course of the encounter, to portray the debilitating effects of the heat, I had each member of the party make a DC 15 Endurance check.  In the center of the chamber stood a monstrous, 10-foot tall creature with rippling muscles and an immense, fiery scimitar.  Two smaller, flame-shrouded companions flanked the figure.
  • Efreet Fireblade (Level 6 Soldier)
  • 2 Fire Archons (Level 9 Skirmisher)

Several human figures lay scattered around the floor, their scorched and smoking gray cloaks evidence that they had fell to the elemental monsters’ attacks.  However, two battered and bleeding figures were still on their feet, gamely battling the efreet and archons.  Our heroes immediately recognized one of the figures— it was the doppelganger from the Citadel!  The other figure— a male tiefling— was unknown to the party.

The efreet’s foul voice echoed from the stones as it hissed, “You stupid fools little know the worth of what you possess. Give me my master’s crystals!”  And with a hideous bellow of rage, it slashed at the tiefling with its fiery scimitar.  The doppelganger screamed, “Nooo! Kalarel!”

Just then, one of the archons spotted the PCs.  Drawing the efreet’s attention to the newcomers (still wearing their disguises), the efreet grinned evilly and said, “Ah, welcome to the party.  Come in, come in.”  Silas quickly tried to explain that they weren’t really cultists, but had come to the temple to recover something that the doppelganger had taken from them.  The efreet considered Silas’ words for a moment, and then said, “Very well.  Help me finish off these two fools and I assure you, you will be richly rewarded.”

So the party waded into the battle, siding with the elementals against the doppelganger and Kalarel.  After Silas cut down Kalarel, the efreet quickly reached down and searched the cultist’s body.  When he withdrew his immense hand, the PCs could see that there were four chaos crystals cradled in it.  The monster grinned, “My prince will be well pleased to have these in his possession once again.”

Once Kalarel was taken care of, the archons moved to cut off the party’s line of retreat.  Turning to our heroes, the efreet waved his scimitar threateningly and told them, “Now it is time for the reward I promised you.”  And the inevitable battle between the fiery elemental monsters and the adventurers was on.

Meanwhile, across the chamber, Silas was locked in combat with the enraged doppelganger.  The vampire finally managed to strike it down and then searched its corpse.  Besides two wicked-looking daggers, he found a black pearl and a vial of clear liquid.  He assumed the vial held the poison that Sora needed in order to whip up an antidote for Blake and Lord Bothwell.  He was correct.

I won’t bore you with the details of the long fight versus the elementals, except to say that it was a close run thing.  At the end of combat, the party regained possession of the chaos crystals, but Boojum was down, Dagon was down, and Silas… well, Silas, dear reader, was dead-dead

When I told them that they could probably find someone back in Erstlin who would perform the Raise Dead ritual on their slain comrade, but that they would need to have a part of Silas’ corpse with them when they returned to the town, Dagon reached down and cut off one of the vampire’s pinky fingers and popped it into a pouch.  After that, as Dagon, Blake, and Gaultis were searching the large chamber for loot, they noticed Boojum doing something to Silas’ corpse.  Going over, they saw the pixie was, uh, “appropriating” the vampire’s sharp, pointy teeth.  When he noticed his comrade’s disbelieving looks, the pixie grinned and said that he was going to make a necklace out of Silas’ cool teeth.  Asked what he thought Silas might have to say about that after he was restored to life, Boojum shrugged and said, “But he won’t need these teeth… he’ll have new ones.”  Oh, man.

So after that, while searching the chamber, the remaining heroes discovered a rough tunnel behind a secret door.  The tunnel led through the mountain, eventually emerging a safe distance away from and above the temple grounds.  The settlement was a scene of chaos, with people fleeing the area in droves.  Kalarel’s death had been discovered and his mostly-unwilling followers were starting the long journey home.  Thanks to our heroes’ heroic efforts, this band of Orcus cultists was no more.

And with that, I told the guys to level up their characters (to Level 6) and that next Thursday night we’d be ready to start Madness at Gardmore Abbey.  I said that when they levelled up, to go ahead and pick 3 magic items (one from a level above, one from their level, and one from a level below) and equip themselves with the items, as a grateful Lord Bothwell would allow them to choose special gear from his armory when they returned to the Citadel.

DM Tip:  For that last encounter, I used one of the maps in WotC’s recent D&D map pack release: Haunted Temples.  The pack contains 3 full-color, double-sided 21-by30-inch battle maps with 1-inch grids.  One of the maps features two brand new, never-before-seen maps.  Two of the other maps are from out-of-print sources.  All of the maps are must-have tools for any DM, so I highly recommend you pick up the pack at your favorite local game store.  Haunted Temples retails for just $11.95.          

Saturday, March 3, 2012

"Don't Mind Us. We're Just Death Cultists." (The Pillars of Night, Session 1)

The Last Moonboat

As the party journeyed deeper into the Frontier, they unexpectedly came upon the fortified town of Erstlin.  Many refugees, driven out of forest villages or remote mining communities by vicious bands of cultists, were camped outside the well-defended enclave.  Guards at the town’s main gate directed our heroes to the Sundial Tavern.

Talking to folks in the busy tavern, the party learned that the abandoned temple being used as a base by the Orcus cultists was two weeks north along the rough track known as the Black March.  But everyone agreed that travel north of Erstlin along the Black March was suicidal.  In the villages razed by the cult, those the cultists don’t drive off or kill are taken to the abandoned temple at the Pillars of Night.  The locals told our heroes that the strongest and toughest villagers are forced to join the cult.  One old-timer said, “Only safe way north is the river, but you’d need a moonboat for that and the boats are long gone.”

Shortly after the PCs heard of the moonboats, a taciturn dwarf motioned them over to a quiet corner of the tavern.  From beneath a flat cap, the thickly muscled dwarf gave a deferential nod.  “Name’s Glasur. Heard you’re looking for a way north.  People tell you the March’s death, and they’re right. People tell you the moonboats are gone, but they’re wrong.  I’ve seen the Pillars of Night from the river many a time. I can get you there in four days.”

Glasur turned out to be the last of the captains who once sailed the river.  He told the party he could have his moonboat ready the next morning for the journey upriver.  In response to a question about payment, the dwarf said that a mere 10 gp would cover his coasts.  When asked why he wasn’t charging more for the trip, Glasur’s mood darkened and he said: “I had family in a village a few days up the March.  Not anymore.  Cult saw to that.”

Fire on the Water

The next morning, an hour of steep climbing brought the adventurers out above the waterfall.  Along banks of dark shale lay a deserted dockyard.  Where a dozen boats might have once been moored, a ramshackle 35-foot cutter floated.  The name “Blacksnake” was etched on its prow.  Glasur was amidships, tying off ropes.  He acknowledged the party’s approach with a nod.

The heroes noticed Glasur’s boat had no mast, but even as they wondered whether the dwarf expected them to row against the raging current, they saw movement down in the foaming water.  Two dire pike thrashed there, both creatures harnessed to the ropes Glasur was setting.  “Been a while since my girls got a chance to run.  We leave when you’re ready,” the dwarf said.

For three days, the moonboat made steady progress north.  Glasur’s dire pike pulled the boat with unceasing strength by day; the dwarf unharnessed them each night to hunt in the river’s frigid depths.
Late in the afternoon of the third day’s travel, the party saw a heavy plume of gray-black smoke rising into the sky beyond a bend in the river.  When asked what lay ahead, Glasur said, “There’s a small village up ahead… or there was a village, by the look of it.”

When Glasur piloted the Blacksnake around the bend, the adventurers saw a burning village along the river’s edge.  Three dragonborn in scale armor were torching buildings.  Some human villagers were fleeing into some trees or up a nearby hillside.  With a whoop, Glasur drove the moonboat right up onto the shoreline and yelled, “Go get ‘em, boys!”
  • 3 Dragonborn Soldiers (Level 5 Soldier)
  • Bugbear Strangler (Level 6 Lurker)
  • Death Cultist Mage (Level 5 Artillery)

Once Blake, Gaultis, Dagon, and Silas had jumped ashore and engaged the dragonborn, the mage showed himself.  He stayed inside a building and popped Boojum with Magic Missile.  As Silas got into it with one of the dragonborn soldiers, the bugbear slipped out of a hut and used its Strangle attack on the eladrin vampire.  The highlight of the battle (at least for me) was when Dagon targeted the bugbear with an attack, but the monster used Body Shield as an immediate interrupt and Silas became the target of Dagon’s attack instead.  And did I mention that Dagon’s attack actually dropped Silas?  Hee hee.  My delight didn’t last very long, though, since the chagrined artificer then healed his fallen friend.

All five of the cultists fought to the death.  All of them sported Orcus talismans and also wore distinctive gray cloaks over their armor or robes.  The adventurers snagged these items, thinking they might come in handy sometime.  One of the dragonborn had been wearing a nifty horned helm that caught the fancy of both Blake and Gaultis.  Blake offered to armwrestle the goliath for it.  Armwrestling a goliath might not seem like the best idea in the world, but darned if the shifter didn’t end up claiming the helm when he rolled a natural 20 on his Strength check.

DM Tip:  For the series of encounters set in the Frontier, the wild and woolly areas north of Newhaven, I’m using material from an adventure by Scott Fitzgerald Gray called “Heathen,” which was published in Dungeon 155.

The Pillars of Night

After the encounter with the cultists at the riverside village, the party continued the moonboat journey toward the Pillars of Night.  The next day, as the sun was setting and the dire pike were thrashing against the current, they saw a twisted pillar of dark stone rising in the distance.  Its lower third appeared to be carved into perfectly aligned upright slabs.  As the peak disappeared into the descending dusk, the pillars appeared to hold up the dark sky itself.  The temple lay before them, a day’s march away.

For the better part of the next day, our heroes hiked toward their goal.  They finally slipped through a screen of trees and up to a low rise.  A mile or so off, they saw the Black March end where it met the base of the mountain.  At the base of the peak was a temple.  On both sides of the road, a settlement spread beneath the peak.  While some people went about the ordinary communal business of any northern village, other people could be seen training with sword and shield.  Everyone wore the gray cloaks that apparently served as the cult’s “uniform.”

After observing the settlement for a while, and with the sun getting low in the sky, the party decided to don their gray cloaks, make their way through the settlement, and approach the temple.  Down in the settlement, our heroes encountered many cultists making their way home from the day’s training or labor.  One cultist, assuming the adventurers were new arrivals that had just come up the Black March, started to chat with them.  When the man noticed Boojum and thought it was odd that a pixie would be a member of the group, Boojum rocked his Bluff check and the cultist’s suspicions were successfully allayed.

As the sun finally slipped behind the mountains, the party came to the base of the Pillars of Night, where a wide flight of stone steps led up to the temple’s entrance.  Torchlight flared from within the entrance hall and several guards could be seen inside.  Thinking their disguises had worked pretty well so far, the confident adventurers decided to just waltz on into the temple and bluff their way past the guards.  Unfortunately for them, it was very unusual for anyone to approach the temple that late in the day, so the guards were instantly alerted that something strange was happening.  As the party entered the temple and were challenged, the they rather spectacularly failed their group Bluff check, and so the guards slammed the temple doors shut and attacked our heroes.
  • 6 Advanced Human Berserkers (Level 5 Brute)

The confined space of the temple’s entrance hall made this a close-in, vicious fight.  The elite guards were armed with greataxes, which did d12+4 damage with each hit.  On a crit, the greataxes would actually do a wicked d12+16 damage, so I was really hoping to roll quite a few nat 20s during the encounter. But, sadly, I just rolled one.  Bummer.

When only two wounded guards were still standing, one of them made his way over to the doors, opened them, and started to yelled, “Help! Intruders in the temple! Help!”  As the sound of shouts and running feet from outside the entrance grew louder, our heroes frantically cut down the last two guards and then just barely managed to shut and bar the doors ahead of the enraged crowd of cultists.

With our heroes now trapped inside the death cult’s temple, what will happen in the next exciting session of our campaign?  Tune in to the next post to find out!