The party follows the tracks to a small hole in an earthen mound in the forest. The hole is barely large enough for a large human to walk through, but soon opens into a larger passageway with ornate carvings on the walls, which opens into a room with a large eye emblazoned on the floor in blood and a bonfire beyond it. Three kobolds, in scale mail and wielding swords and shields stand guard.
This was a pretty easy encounter. In the first round, six kobold minions enter and surround the paladin who foolishly ran up, but many of them were killed by the wizard's area attack. After the first round only two dragonshield kobolds and two minions remained, and if the melee characters could only hit their targets there surely wouldn't have been a third round. I think this room lasted four rounds, with Richard (the NPC Guard), the Ranger, and the Wizard doing all the dirty work. The others just stood around taking damage as necessary.
The party gathered up the kobold's spears, because it's always good to have a few extra thrown weapons. The rusty shortswords and tiny shields of the dragonshield warriors were left behind. There are two exits from this room (not counting the entrance): a narrow corridor to the north with an erie green light coming from it, and a large dark corridor going east. Since the kobold minions came from the north, the party goes that way.
The narrow corridor goes to a room with two coffins flanking a pool of glowing green ooze. A raised wooden deck along the far wall goes over the pool of ooze and leads to a door to the north. Two short stairways lead up to the deck on either side. A large hole makes it impossible to get to the nearest stairway unless they are willing to walk over the top of the nearest coffin. (As Skamos put it, 'Don't mind me, I'm just uneasy about standing on a coffin between a pit and the deep green sea.') Two kobold archers are on the platform, one in the middle of it and one on a ledge on the far side. A kobold skirmisher stands near the far coffin.
Unfortunately, this was an encounter where initiative was really important, and the party rolled poorly. No sooner had the warrior stepped into the room than he was surrounded by several kobold minions who swarmed up from the pit, as well as the skirmisher who had charged him. This made it extraordinarily difficult for the rest of the party to even enter the room - they essentially had to kill kobolds just to make room to stand. Eventually they had cleared out the minions, and only the archers and the skirmisher remained. For some reason, no one could hit the skirmisher - and it really didn't have that high an AC! Riardon shot one of the archers, which made both the archers start shooting him. Since everyone else was concentrating on the invincible skirmisher, this really put the hurt on the Riardon. Eventually the skirmisher went down, and everyone made it around to the archers.
At the end of the battle, Riardon had used all but one healing surge, but the paladin still had his full suite of lay on hands, so the party decided to push on. Before moving on, they collected all the remaining spears and arrows from the kobolds, and searched the coffins, finding a black silk robe. The wizard quickly discovered that it was magical and used a scroll of identify. It was the Cloak of Resistance, which was given to Riardon since he seemed to be the most vulnerable.
They went through the north door, into a square arena with a large pile of bones in the middle. At the north end of the room a stairway lead to a crenelated balcony which ran along the north and east edges of the arena. Several kobolds could be seen poking thier noses out from behind the crenelations. (At this point things could have been somewhat worse since I forgot to tell the players that there wasn't much light in here - the human and halfling would have needed a better light source.)
Several things made this an interesting fight. Since the kobolds had effectively full cover, the casters were having to guess where their targets were and fire blind. Nonetheless, they did an extremely effective job with several lucky rolls in a row! The kobolds were flinging pots of glue onto the characters, to root them in place. At the end of the first round, a large boulder fell from a hole in the west wall, narrowly missing the warlock as it rolled towards the center of the room. When it hit the bone pile, it was redirected randomly and rolled right towards the halfling, who managed to dodge out of the way! The warrior, paladin, cleric, and guard charged up the stairs and made short work of the minions at the top. For some unfathomable reason Riardon thought it would be a good idea to stand on top of the bone pile. This turned tragic when the boulder, slowed only slightly by its impact with the wall, returned to the bone pile and rolled right over Riardon, knocking him down. Also, being prominently displayed in the center of the arena atop a pile of bones made him a prime target for the kobolds. In response, the Paladin made a swift retreat from atop the battlements to heal Riardon, as the other fighters finished off the remaining kobolds. (The paladin had to heal him because he was down to one remaining heaing surge, which he would need for his second breath. The clerics healing prayer, while ranged, uses the healing surges of the target. The paladin's Lay on Hands uses the paladin's healing surges to heal the target.) Everyone got out of the way of the boulder, which eventually came to a stop near the door they came in. A short, ornate passageway from behind the balcony lead toward tall, ornately carved wooden doors.
The players decided to rest here before discovering what lay beyond these great doors. They searched the bone pile, where they found and identified the Belt of Vigor.
Finally, they opened the large doors to reveal a large ornate hall. Statues of warriors flanked the entrance while a large gargoyle statue stared down from atop a stairway, with a burning brazier at its feet. The ranger and warlock decided to scout ahead, Riardon going left and Skamos going right. Each of them found a small cell with a child in it! They told the children to remain calm (Skamos, being a tiefling, had a bit more of a challenge here!) Riardon returned to the party as Skamos surveyed the situation, noting four vampires behind a set of pillars in the center of the hall, and a mage sitting at a desk next to a bookshelf at the end of the hall! Skamos uses Ghost Sound to whisper this to the party (and, somewhat humorously, the Paladin tried to whisper something back, but I had to tell him it didn't work that way). Then, ominously, the mage locked eyes with Skamos, laughed a rauckus laugh which resonated throughout the hall, and said, 'Go forth, my minions, and feed!'
Two of the vampires were immediately atop Skamos, and one hit for more than half his HP! The other missed, luckily, because it certainly would have killed Skamos immediately. The warlock cast a Ray of Frost at the vampire furthest from the group, hoping to slow it. She did better than that, though, as the vampire froze and shattered! Then the cleric used Turn Undead on the remaining three, who had clustered near Skamos. His diety was definately with him, and a burst of light turned the three vampires into small piles of ashes.
This did not please the mage, who remained in the glowing blue square around his desk and chair. The fighter had run up next to the bookcase, and the paladin was just to the left of the pillars in the middle of the room. Suddenly a huge fire erupted right where the fighter was standing, extending twenty feet from the bookcase! The paladin was similarly engulfed in the middle of a 40 foot arc of lightning! This set the fighter on fire and dazed the paladin. Then the mage cast a spell on the warlock, bringing her below half her HP! and -2 to all her defenses!
The cleric spent the next couple rounds healing the warlock and the wizard, who were both nearly unconsious at this point. The warlock used her daily power, Acid Arrow, but it went right through the mage, exploding against the far wall! The fighter, still on fire, ran up and swung at the mage, but missed. The paladin ran up to just outside the mage's glowing blue square, falls to his knees and recites a prayer (On Pain of Death). That's his daily power, and he also misses, but it does half damage.
Richard, the town guard, stays back and tries to free the children from their prisons.
When the turn comes back around for the mage, he sets off another trap; a cloud of poisonous gas engulfs the paladin, blinding and confusing him. The paladin's player remarks that if this were an ongoing campaign, the paladin would have some serious issues to deal with: He falls to his knees in prayer, and then he's blinded and confused! The mage then cast his ranged attack against the ranger, but missed.
The next round the Warlock tries to hit the mage with a Force Orb, and again it goes through him! When it gets around to the paladin's turn, he retains control, but is still blind, confused, and dazed. As a result he runs forward, blindly slashing with his sword until he runs into the mage's desk. He makes his save against the dazed effect from the lightning, but he's still blind and confused. The fighter runs over to the mage and attempts his daily power, Brute Strike, and misses! Unlike the other's, the fighter's daily power is not expended on a miss. The fighter fails to put out her fire.
During all of this the ranger is making careful strikes, as his daily power, Split the Arrow, is useless against a single foe. I know the arrows hit once, and went through the mage once, but I'm not sure when. Also, at this point the group was convinced that the mage was, in fact, invisible, and that the image of the mage was merely an illusion to throw them off. As a result, the warlock, archer, and cleric tried to go around the cloud of gas to get at the large section of runes near the mage, where they supposed the actual mage was hiding. In actuality, the mage was where they saw him, but had a power that, once per round as a reaction, he would phase out, causing a ranged or area attack that hit to do no damage.
The mage touched the fighter, severly wounding her. The attack did a great deal of necrotic damage, as well as dazing her. The mage then shifted away from the fighter.
Having decided that her abilities were worthless, the Wizard decided to run through the fire by the bookcase (since Tieflings have Fire Resist 5) to get around to the runed area. The wizard had to spend his standard action to move in order to get so far, and therefore did not get an attack. He begins to study the runes. The ranger, warlock, and cleric ran around the other way, but did not make it to the runes. Similarly to the previous round, the paladin managed to keep control of himself, but being blind there was little he could do. He managed to save against blindness, but was still confused. The fighter used her second wind; a minor action for a dwarf, and attacked the mage with Brute Strike again, hitting and bloodying the mage. The fighter finally succeeds in putting out her fire.
The mage activates the last trap, a huge whirling inferno, under the wizard. Even though the teifling resists fire damage, the sheer amount of fire is enough to damage him, and set him on fire until he saves. The mage then touched the fighter again, knocking her unconscious.
The warlock and ranger continued to use ranged attacks against the mage, which generally missed. The cleric had already used all his healing abilities, so tried to use his Lance of Faith against the mage, but missed. The wizard stepped out of the fire and tried to run around the mage, hoping to get into position to bull rush him into the fire. The problem with this tactic was that the mage was two squares from the fire, and bull rush will only push the target one space. Still, the fighter can also push a target one space, so the wizard gets into position. The paladin is still confused, but no longer blinded. He sees his downed ally and uses his lay on hands to bring her back up.
The mage uses his ranged area affect attack to hit the fighter, paladin, and wizard all at once. This drops the fighter (again) and the wizard.
The warlock and ranger continue their ranged assault, scoring a little damage. The cleric begins to run around the poison fog to get to his wounded friends - even though he can't cast healing spells, he can still stabilize them and bring them back to consciousness. The paladin fails his roll to maintain his wits against the confusion, and runs into the fire!
The guard finally succeeds in freeing one of the children.
The mage turns off the fire at the bookshelf, and flies past the fog to the center of the room. Everyone is surprised that he is suddenly fleeing! Then they worry that perhaps he is chasing after the guard, who is attempting to free the second child.
The warlock starts running around the fog to chase down the mage. The ranger teleports across the inferno to get a line of sight to the mage, but misses. The paladin gets control of himself, runs out of the fire and heals the wizard. He fails to save against the burning, though, and is still on fire. He does, finally, save against the confusion, and so is now in complete control of his painfully burning self.
The mage flies past the doors of the chamber, out of line of sight for any of the players. The players valiantly give chase,(through the lightning field) with the warlock getting close enough to cast Eldrict Blast against him, which unfortunately pass right through him. The paladin tells the cleric to chase down the mage, and he'll heal the fighter, which he does.
The mage's ranged area attack finally refreshes, and he uses it to little effect against the warlock and cleric. He then continues his flight to the middle of the arena. The players know this is their last chance to stop the mage before he gets away, because the players don't fly and can't afford to risk 2d6 falling damage. The players still haven't figured out why their attacks keep missing, and they're despairing their inability to vanquish this foe. What else they don't know is that the mage has 6 HP remaining, so all they need to do is hit twice (since the first one will pass through) and he'll be dead.
The warlock casts Eldrict Blast, which, expectedly, passes through the mage. The cleric casts Lance of Faith, which misses. The ranger, in reluctant desperation ('Shall I fire? It won't do any good! But I must!') makes a final Careful Attack, and hits for 13 damage, slaying the mage at last, to everyone's amazement. The players had been consoling themselves that at least they had survived to fight another day and had driven the mage from his lair - they were already anticipating an extensive search for the mage after some rest, healing and research about their foe's powers.
As it's after 1:00 am, we called the game there. There were still two rooms the players hadn't explored: one with a blazing skeleton and a boneshard skeleton in a room with four caskets and a bunch of pressure plate poison traps; and the final room with a cage and a cell, each containing one of the missing children. This room had a single skeleton warrior guarding the cells, and two cavern lurkers waiting to strangle unwary passers-by.
If you'll recall, there were 8 children captured, and only four remained in the dungeon. This raises the question, what happened to the other four? Well, speaking of raising things, there were 4 vampire minions in that last boss fight...
Yep, that's right. The mage had been studying immortality in these chambers for decades. He'd recently come across the secret of vampirism, and while it was far too crude to use on himself, he determined that an army of vampires could be a useful tool. The kobolds had dug into his lair, so he had killed their leader and subjugated the remainder as minor guards. Then he sent them to kidnap the children which he would use to create the first batch of vampires. Kobolds really can't be asked to kidnap grown adults very effectively, and the process for creating a vampire without an existing vampire on hand causes rapid aging of the subject.