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, 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.