ZEITGEIST: The Gears of Revolution Ormazd's Campaign Log - Page 4




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  1. #31
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    The group returned to Gallo's Fend and spent some restless days recuperating and preparing itself for war. Some character-specific backstory, involving the Prince of Frost and his handling of the pitchlings, in response to their destruction of Fern, dominated the free time. Finally, Steppengard's army arrived, looking a bit worse for wear after their travel ...

    With Lord Steppengard's forces massed just outside of "siege territory", the party did what they could to hinder his assault before the battle. Thanks to Dashgoban's talented sappers, they were able to swiftly dig a passage underneath Steppengard's camp to where the siege engines/artillery stood relatively unprotected. Under cover of darkness, and thanks to Alain's shadowy magic and their inconspicuous size, Fiona and Merrick sneaked past the guards and disabled the machines without drawing alarm.

    Next, Gallo's scouts had reported that Kelkin Thravanvost, Steppengard's Chief war-wizard, had built his camp at a remove from the greater host, and would be an easy target. The dwarves went into motion again, allowing the heroes to assault him directly before the rest of Steppengard's forces were able to come to defend. While there was some talk of possibly bantering with the wizard and seeing if he could be reasoned with (since the fall of Gallo's Fend might result in the Ragesian Scourge coming quickly to Dassen), the encounter quickly escalated and ended up becoming a straightforward assassination.

    Again Fiona and Merrick snuck in while the rest of the group attacked from the flank to serve as a distraction. There were a number of guards including three Hippogriffs which were quite capable on their own. Entering the wizard's tent--which really was more of a fortified cottage--the halflings proceded to battle him directly, but the confines hindered Merrick's storm magics, and one of the hippogriffs squeezed in through the door and effectively blocked their escape. In the end the heroes were victorious, but exhausted and battered.

    Returning through the tunnel, the party were assured their actions would hinder Steppengard's forces in the upcoming battle, but there was little more to do besides get a few hours of rest and prepare for war. Duke Gallo hoped that by meeting Steppengard in the field, he could break Steppengard's numbers and prevent a siege, and so the battle line was drawn in strategically narrow terrain south of Gallo's Fend.

    The party decided they might be best suited along the edge of Dashgoban's forces, to hold the line nearest where (they hoped) Lady Timor's forces would arrive to supplement the defenders.

    As Steppengard's forces marched closer and war horns blared, our brave heroes took their place near the base of a small watchtower containing handful of archers. The enemy host charged; the party stood confident, although vastly outnumbered, and did what they could to beat back the tide. A small dragon swooped down and hurled a boulder at Merrick.

    A surge led by a nefarious war troll, punctuated by the untimely arrival of a couple of manticores, tested the heroes' mettle and wore them down. Exhausted, but determined to hold the field, they had a chance to catch their breaths and then the next surge came: A fearsome undead-looking warrior leading two horned behemoths, and backed up by rock-tossing giants! Retreat looked inevitable, but they stared death boldly in the face and said "hell no!". After a bloodied battle the second behemoth fell and Kwin charged to meet the giants toe-to-toe, relinquishing their tactical advantage.

    The worst was over, but the battle raged on. Lady Timor's forces had joined the fray and the momentum was shifting. After a few more hours Gallo's bannermen announced a great victory. Cheers rose across the battlefield as Steppengard's troops withdrew.

 

  • #32
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    The Battle of Gallo's Fend. I loved how that one turned out. Groups always seem to get into the Braveheart spirit as they hold the line against waves of enemies. It's where the PCs go from being 'heroic adventurers' to 'big damn heroes.'
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  • #33
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    Psst! Don't eat the soup, it's poisoned. Pass it on.

    As told by Fiona, halfling rogue:

    Naturally, everyone was in a much better mood after winning the battle – the soldiers were resting, the wounded were being tended, and so forth. Steppengard seemed to have learned his lesson and didn’t continue the fight and after a few days he sent over an emissary to declare peace. We were called back to Gallo’s command center and a grateful Lord Gallo let us know that he received word from the king that he was withdrawing his troops and planned to throw a 2-day festival! Everyone who’s Anyone was going to be invited and there’d be games and a tournament and TONS of food (I was looking forward to getting some of that spice bread I like). Gallo Knighted us and invited us to attend as his special guard. It took 3 days to reach Bresk and Van followed us in secret. We all got our names in the Book of 8 Lands, listed as nobility of Dassen, and what’s even cooler than that is Gallo has promised each of us a boon which we can ask for at any time. I thought I could ask for the Torch, but Merrick reminded me that he’d probably just send us to get it, so that would be a waste. Maybe a neverending bag of donuts…? Or pancakes! I’ll have to think about it some more.

    The townsfolk seemed nervous when we got to Bresk with the rest of Gallo’s retinue. We were at the head of the procession to the castle where we met Steppengard and the other 7 nobles. There was a ceremonial guard but not a lot of soldiers. Merrick saw the Ragesian ambassador and his flunkie in the courtyard and wanted to kill them right there. The king looked a bit healthier than he did when we last saw him and shook Gallo’s hand and talked a lot about unity and peace, etc. Merrick thinks the king’s hiding something though and Alain couldn’t tell whether he’d been magicked – one of the powers of The Book of 8 Lands is protection against divination and poison, which would be handy in other circumstances, but wasn’t right then. Steppengard said we could stay at any inn for free, but Gallo has a friend with a big house, so we decided to stay there. Gallo and the other nobles had to stay at the castle, but Merrick suspects Glibglammer of being in league with the Ragesians (shocking), so we worked out a way for him to stay with Gallo to protect him.

    We walked around the festival – that was fun! There weren’t a lot of people at the jousts, but we saw dwarves fighting with wooden swords, half-elf dancing girls, a man with no arms putting on a show, and another man playing an accordion that Merrick and Alain recognized. I guess they knew the guy who used to own it (ambassador Balan?). Merrick asked him where he got it and he told us he found it at Bosch’s Pawn Shop. Ran into another guy who was hiring people for the banquet. Merrick and I don’t have a dog and a pig so we were out, but he seemed kind of interested in Alain. Played some games – I somehow lost the archery contest (must have been the lack of donuts) but Merrick won a giant teddybear at the strength game. Go Kord! We met the King’s chef freaking out about having to come out to the festival. Then a guard came to take him back to the castle ,and I tried to follow them but Guard Valdor and his buddy wouldn’t let me in though I tried to explain that the little chef needed me to taste things. They kept going on about permission I couldn’t get and were basically unhelpful and didn’t make any sense. Jerks. Anyway, Kwin entered the joust in Lady Timor’s name and I managed to get a favor from her for him. She seems Interested, and said she’d send him a message after the banquet, and then he won the joust! She can’t help but be impressed now I’m sure. I still might try to find him something nice to give her though. I’m certain I can find a shop that would be happy to contribute to true love. Or at least to a budding romance… or well… to Kwin.

    Talked to a magician who told us that all the alchemy shops have been closed for 3 days, and something’s been going on at the castle. Got a letter from Gallo giving Merrick permission to go to his suite in the castle, though he continues to think we’re being paranoid. Merrick looked for the halfling chef, but a human told him that HE was the head chef and didn’t know anything about the Halfling. So Merrick looked around but didn’t see anything suspicious and headed to the dungeon where he found the real chef in jail! Then he was told he had to talk to the captain of the watch who was at the Watch House.

    While Merrick was doing all that, Alain cast a spell which lets him know all the surrounding rumors. Some guards had been relieved of their posts for the festival – one guarding the back entrance of the castle, one guarding the vault where the Book of 8 Lands is kept. They thought the visiting nobles were using their own guards. When Merrick got back we snuck through the graveyard to stake out the back entrance of the castle while Kwin walked in the parade. Unfortunately we didn’t know that he’d have to go straight to the banquet and couldn’t meet up with us. There were no guards at the back door, and no magic that Alain could detect, but we did find wagon tracks. Followed the tunnel inside and came up on the wagon which was splashed with a spice that is often used to mask the flavor of other spices – or POISON. Alain used a sending to let Kwin know what we found and he informed Lady Timor and stopped the banquet. Informed that the Book of 8 Lands prevents any of the nobles from being poisoned and Kwin's concerns were silly. The rest of us continued on and found a room with some guards and the Ragesian inquisitor who was reading something, and the Ragesian ambassador.

  • #34
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    Madness

    The party had swiftly defeated the Ragesian ambassador and his inquisitor comrade, and summoning the Inquisitor's thoughts from beyond the void, Alain saw visions of his harsh upbringing, brutal initiation into the ranks of Inquisitors, and most urgently, a conversation between he and Nina Glibglammer, Steppengard's suspicious gnome adviser, basically outlining a plot to poison the nobility and drive them insane.

    There's a catch: the Book of Eight Lands specifically protects the nobility from poison. If the Book is removed from this plane of existence, then the protection would no longer apply.

    Alain describes the visions; "We must get to the book!" he declares. "Shouldn't we warn the guests?" Van suggests, emerging from the shadows. "There's no time!"

    They run off to the Vault. "Can I just use this moment to say I told you so?" says Merrick. The heroes' desperate conspiracy story seems dubious to the guard, who repels them at first.

    "I'm Merrick. I'm in the book, that means I should get to see it."

    "Very well. I will allow you to examine the book, but you mustn't remove it from the ch-"

    THE BOOK WAS GONE.

    "It's worse than we feared. The guests have already been poisoned."

    The guard was flabberghasted. "How could this happen?" The party demanded to know who had been there recently. Nina Glibglammer? The Ragesian ambassador? "Why, yes, the ambassador examined the book not long ago."


    "We didn't have time to properly search the bodies. We must return to the ambassador and see if we can't find something. You, good sir, go now and warn the nobility that the Book of Eight Lands is gone and their protections are likely gone with it."

    The guard shuffled off reluctantly, and the party returned to the scene of their earlier battle. The book was nowhere to be found, but the ambassador had carried a scroll that they quickly determined was a scroll of Dimensional Hideaway.

    "Now that we have a shred of proof, I'll get to Kwin and try to put the gnome under arrest." Van replies, heading off toward the banquet hall.

    "Just kill her!" Merrick quips wholeheartedly.

    "The spell would have left a magical trace we should be able to detect," Alain proposed. "Back to the vault!"

    Van charged up the stairs and found himself in a hallway filled with guards. "The Book of Eight Lands is GONE! The nobility have been POISONED!" he shouted.

    "Er, what's this now?" replied the most senior of the guards.

    "You heard me! Nina Glibglammer has conspired with the Ragesians to wipe out the nobility of Dassen in a single stroke--tonight!"

    The guards shifted uncomfortably. A creepy tiefling popping out of nowhere and shouting apparent nonsense set them off a bit. "Er, that's quite an accusation, you know."

    Van's pleas weren't getting through. "The book is gone. Go and see for yourself. If that isn't proof enough, my companion Kwin is attending the banquet and can tell you more. Please, I need to see him."

    The guard who had been sent off earlier and had finally mustered the courage to report to his superiors chimed in: "The book *is* gone; I can vouch for him."

    Flames smoldered in Van's eyes. "If you don't open that door and warn the nobility, everyone in the castle could die tonight--starting with you.

    Muttering, the guard went to the door of the banquet hall, and in dismay, found that it had barred from the inside.

    Meanwhile, Alain and Merrick had returned to the vault and were carefully searching for the entrance to a pocket dimension. Alain spotted an indescribable inconsistency in the reality of the room and reached into nothingness, withdrawing the Book of Eight Lands. "Aha, here it is."

    Screams from the banquet hall filled the air. "Get that door open!" cried Van, blasting the door with arcane force as the guards hacked at it with their halberds.

    "I. Told. You. So." said Merrick as he and Alain rushed to meet the commotion.

    Van's second blast splintered the door and set it off his hinges, just in time to see Mad King Steppengard, in a bloody ecstasy, bring his heavy sword down on poor lady Namin. The nobility seemed to be snapping out of a mystical haze, which was quickly replaced by terror as they became aware of the carnage around them.

    Nina Glibglamer cackled delightedly in the midst of the bloodshed, and met Van's eye before shrugging off her gnomish form. From within her tiny body spewed an incomprehensibly huge mass of fleshy, bulbous tendrils and horrific screaming faces.

    "How dare you shed the blood of innocents!" Van shouted, summoning infernal chains that pulled the Mad King to the ground.

    Merrick and Alain arrived to join the battle against an opponent unlike any they had faced before. The thing that had been Nina Glibglamer had a terrible presence that tore at the minds of anyone nearby and filled their thoughts with dark compulsions. The heroes were driven temporarily insane one by one, used as tools of evil, killing their ally Duke Gallo. Alain was compelled to cower in the hallway and his spells were sorely missed.

    The king struggled at his infernal chains, crawling maniacally toward his next victim, lord Megadon. The king's guards, entranced, attacked anyone who tried to harm Steppengard, and crossed swords with Kwin, who had stepped up to defend Lady Timor.

    Things went from terrible to worse when the Glibglamer-monster somehow forced itself into Merrick, using him like a puppet and blasting the crowd with surges of lightning. When the halfling was able to force the creature out, he was wracked with terrible psychic pain and fell unconscious before being revived by Lord Dashgoban.

    The phasing-hideous-slime-abberation flickered out of sight for a moment and the party used the small reprieve to kill the Mad King, ending his bloody killing spree. His oddly loyal guards stopped fighting immediately, and the surviving nobility were able to flee.

    The tentacle monster reappeared and forced its way into Kwin. Forced to attack their friend, they were able to expel the malevolent force only after Kwin lay dying on the floor. They continued to pound on the monster with powerful spells, but it had entered an incorporeal state which resisted damage. Van stooped to stabilize the dying knight, only to be be invaded by the horrific thing before he could help. Kwin gasped his last breath.

    Filled with malevolent energies that sapped his (usually unrelenting) will to live, Van struggled against the monster's control, his weak will unable to withstand the sheer insanity emanating from their foe. His companions attacked him to damage the thing inside, and it was expelled, but the presence hadn't left him completely, wracking his soul with a terrible madness. Unleashing firey spells in the face of death, his infernal power finally failed him, and he succumbed to the pain.

    Merrick urged the bewildered guards to fight, and with their help he and Alain finished the thing off. It shrieked and writhed before shrinking down into nothingness. The monster had been defeated, but at what cost? The king was dead, along with a third of the nobility. Only intensive study of the book of Eight Lands would determine who might be next in line for the throne. And it seemed the Ragesians were in league with monsters far more terrible than giants and dragons.

  • #35
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    Ouch. How many PCs was that? Did Kwin and Van die, or just Kwin?
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  • #36
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    Yeah. It was a rough battle. I used the revised Madness II stats but didn't upgrade her to MM3 damage levels, since I thought she would probably be tough enough with all the domination. I also didn't have her become insubstantial until she was bloodied. That said, she was still pretty rough.

    We also had a small group last night: only 3 PCs and Kwin created as a companion character, since his player is taking some time off. So it was really 3.5 PCs versus a 12th level solo and 3 9th level elite soldiers (the king and his Kingblades). The Blades retreated as soon as Steppengard went down, since they were obviously pretty unsure about the whole business and were only defending him out of loyalty. Steppengard killed Namin and Megadon (the nobles were all 5th level human nobles), but Madness dominated Van and Merrick into blasting Gallo to Hell, which led to some guilty consciences after the fact (the party really liked Gallo). I also allowed Dashgoban, Timor, and the other nobles' guards to help out a bit here and there, as dramatically appropriate, when the PCs needed a quick boost (Dashgoban used his Heal skill on Merrick to get him back in the fight, for example). Amusingly, the PCs were disgusted enough with some of the nobles that they weren't terrible careful with their area-effect spells, and dealt some damage to Iz, but nothing fatal.

    At the end of it all, Kwin and Van both died. Van will almost certainly be raised one way or another, but I have to figure out some cool way of managing it, since he's a revenant and has already been sent back once by the Raven Queen.

    Anyway, it ended up a big, memorable, and climactic fight ... so I think things went well, all said.

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    In the aftermath of the battle, the injured are hustled away to the Chapel of the Aquiline Cross to be tended to, while the dead are carried to their respective royal/noble holdings. The bodies will be dealt with appropriately over the coming days. Missives are immediately sent to the lands of Gallo, Namin, and Megadon, in order to begin the transfer of power to those next in line. Gallo is succeeded by his sister, Lady Hayaera, known for being nearly as military-minded as her older brother. Namin's seat passes to her cousin, Thersos, though his young age (he is only 14) means that the role will be temporarily filled by Namin's current proxy, Darvin Tallstag. Control of Megadon's land passes to his eldest son, Bardeid, a young man said to be nearly as noble as his father. The remaining members of the Council of Nine confer briefly and decide, for the interim, to grant Lord Rego the power of Prime Minister, until such time as a new king can be chosen (Since the murder of Steppengard's family, The Book of Eight Lands is no longer specific as to the line of succession.).

    When news of the tragedy gets out, the response is one of dull sadness. Most citizens of Bresk seem to have known that there was some serious malady afflicting their king, and the news of Nina Glibglammer's sudden, but inevitable, betrayal and subsequent defeat meets with only muted applause and a sense of relief. Clearly, the people of Dassen are weary and see only further conflict on the horizon, as the armies of Ragesia lurk on the border. Rego wastes little time in officially declaring Dassen at war with Ragesia, as there is now no doubt that the Empire was responsible for the attempt to destroy the smaller kingdom. Weather mages and military advisers indicate that it is likely that the Third Ragesian Army will be upon them within two weeks, leaving the survivors barely enough time to arrange a defense.

    The only good news is the sudden resuscitation of Van. Without any warning or indication, Van rises from his dormant state to his previous undead existence. He seems changed, though, darker and more menacing, if that's possible, although the names of devils cross his lips less often. Also, the lords of Dassen reward you, knowing that they are in your debt for their kingdom and their lives. From the royal vault they produce two magic rings, one that blazes with magical fire and one that streams lightning like a caged storm. In a lead-lined box they also present a cloak, matte black leather with black stitching, its only adornment a black raven emblazoned across its back.

    With little else to accomplish in Bresk and their mission completed (though not, perhaps, as they had hoped), the Heroes of Gate Pass begin plans to return to Seaquen. A formal escort is arranged to lead them back to Vidor from Bresk, and all honors possible are arranged. The weather is finally growing warmer, and spring is arriving quickly. The Nasham River is thawing, though snow still covers much of the ground. If nothing else, the actual land of Dassen, the soil that is most sacred to its people, is visible again in places. This is an omen that life still has a chance to prosper.

  • #38
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    Seaquen and Trolls

    As told by Van, revenant/tiefling warlock

    Still haunted by Steppengard's banquet hall. Lady Namin being cut down by the king. Nina's tiny body being shrugged off by the enormous welling of flesh and madness within.

    My father appeared. He looked strong, renewed by his infernal dealings. It didn't occur to me that he's been dead for ages. I lunged at him, and the vision faded to reveal a poor guard with my knife in his belly.

    The waking nightmares worsened. The walls crumbling into ruin. Merrick pledging his heart and soul to Leska. Being slowly dismembered by the thing that had been Nina Glibglammer. The pain of the illusion was too much.

    I had grown used to the magics I wielded without questioning their source... Or how they might have been holding me back. The Tome of Shadow has shown me the way to greater power, and the Raven Queen has given me a second chance at achieving it, here on the edge between life and death.

    We returned to Seaquen. The news of Gate Pass falling to Ragesia is worrisome, but I have faith Reogar and the resistance will continue to delay the enemy's advance.

    Tasked by Simeon to reach the Torch before Ragesia does, we set out with two Eladrin and Sheena Larkins of the Wayfarers. Our destination is the Monastery of Two Winds, and the storm summoners within that might be able to divert the firestorm around Castle Korstull. Reportedly, the monastery has been besieged by Ragesian forces; It's likely our enemy had the same idea.

    Imbued with anti-fire magic, we should be able to teleport and shave days off our journey, getting there before the Ragesians have time to subvert the monks. However, the teleportation process is complicated by a mystical node that blocks transport within a few miles of Lyceum, so we will be leaving as soon as we are far enough away.

    Determined to reach the Monastery of Two Winds before it was too late, the party hurried out of Seaquen, through the swamp to the outlying town, Vidor, which was in a state of grim emergency. Asking around, the party was greeted by the mayor, who was delighted they had arrived to save the day. He informed them that five horrible creatures (probably trolls) attacked the town the previous night and kidnapped some women, including the Mayor's wife.

    The party was in a pickle: The Monastery of Two Winds could fall under Ragesian control if they didn't hurry, but the town was weak (they were working on constructing a chest-high wall that would be their only defense beyond run-of-the-mill guardsmen) and could be wiped out by the trolls if the heroes didn't intervene.

    Mayor Leto's face drained with color as the party waffled over what to do. Surely the heroes of Seaquen wouldn't rest until the abducted women were rescued?

    Merrick voted to hit the road but everyone else was pretty sure saving the town would be a good thing. Mariel, one of the eladrin now in the party, was appalled that no one in town was brave enough to attempt the rescue, or even to guide the party through the swamp.

    Sheena Larkins said she'd hang out in town until the party returned. Then they set out on the trail and picked their way through the swamp without too much trouble. It appeared that a second set of prints, humanoid, was also following the trolls.

    Rumors of strange beasts in the swamp hadn't worried them but there was some conjecture that killing the coven of tiefling witches a couple months back had created a power vacuum that had been filled by new beasties.

    A huge fox with mystical markings on its haunches ran through the underbrush. Van thought it was reminiscent of the old elf civilization that had once existed in the area--if they were still around it would be pretty exciting. No time to ponder--the trolls loomed!

    There were three trolls and two lizardlike beasts. The fight was protracted and awkward as the party learned how to fight together. Van seemed out of his element--or perhaps in a new one, battering the trolls with a wicked flail, and the eladrin Monk, Karuna, was knocked around a bit by one troll that wouldn't stay down.

    Eventually the party learned to hit them with fire and the trolls stayed down. They were victorious. But unless the townsfolk were idiots (a strong possibility), two trolls remained, and the hostages still needed to be rescued (if they were still alive). In addition, they hadn't seen the humanoid which evidently had been following/accompanying the trolls.

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    More from Van:

    The party battled trolls in a long-abandoned Taranesti laboratory. Heroes and trolls alike were battered by the laboratory's automated defenses: animated statues that grew stronger when nearby statues were vanquished.

    The party was able to quell the trolls (despite a conspicuous dearth of fire magic), but the leader, a huge troll wielding a monstrous black sword and scars inscribing the numeral 6 on each cheek, was able to escape in the confusion.

    The heroes were surprised to find that one of the troll's alleged captives was the ever-suspicious biomancer/mind-controller Haddin Ja-Laffa, hacking and coughing as always. The other prisoners were two of the six women that had been abducted from the village (the only survivors), including the mayor's wife, Hagenild. With some insight Karuna realized the woman was apparently having an affair with Haddin, to everyone's mild dismay. Merrick explained that it was a sure sign of mind control and suggested they execute the old man on the spot.

    The laboratory bore evidence of what the Taranesti had been up to before it had been hastily abandoned decades ago. Old maps and letters suggested that they had been summoned to fight Drakus Coaltongue in the Taranesi homeland, a forest called Ycengled , in what is now eastern Shahalesti.

    After removing some interesting books and valuable materials from the premises the party led the survivors back to town. On the way Merrick and Van interrogated Haddin about his presence at the ruin. He explained he had followed the group of trolls out of town and then been captured when he attempted a rescue of his own using summoned creatures. The party had noticed signs of creepy aberrant tentacled animals--Haddin explained these were the products of Biomancy, an (obviously evil!!!) combination of magic and science. Merrick was then even more ready to kill the guy, but since the party had just rescued him and he wasn't posing an immediate threat, it didn't seem like an opportune time for a gangland-style execution.

    When they got back to town Hagenild broke the news to poor mayor Leto, who really wasn't having a good day. Sheena Larkins could only say "Wow." about the whole thing.

    Sooner or later the party would put the pieces together and realize that Haddin's creations have been terrorizing the swamp around Vidor for some time and they would have to have a climactic confrontation with the hideous biomancer. But not today.

    The party was weary from their adventure and decided to set out the next day. In the middle of the night the devil Kazyk appeared to taunt Van, who stoically reinforced that he would never again deal with devils. Despite the devil's insinuations about the tragic existence of Van's true love, Van told Kazyk to get lost and vowed that someday he'd find the devils responsible for his suffering and kill them all.

    In the morning, Sheena Larkins cast the fire immunity spell. Flames in a circle rushed into and imbued the group with magic. Then it was time to go. Another circle was inscribed, this time for the magical gate spell that would get them to Ostalin... And then, well...

    Flames surged around them. Instead of nearly instantaneous travel to their destination, the party appeared to be travelling at high speed through a fantastic landscape. They were presented with a thousand unbelievable sights: Columns of fire intertwined with tendrils of water flashed by. A city of metal glinted in the distance while strange beasts the likes of which had never visited their world peered back at them.

    For this was the Plane of Elemental Chaos. For heretofore unknown reasons, instead of journeying through the Astral Plane as intended, they were hurtling through the primordial chaos instead. As time ticked by and their ten minutes of fire immunity grew closer to expiration, the party became anxious. A rumbling noise surrounded them, getting louder and louder until the voyage suddenly ended.

    They popped into existence in a large room, the most immediate feature of which was a tall white obelisk, similar in shape (and, they assumed correctly, function) to the teleportation anchor they had encountered in Seaquen. After a brief period of confusion, the party made it known that they had been the victims of a teleportation mishap, and the wizard they had surprised explained that they had, in fact, arrived in Ostalin (but, of course, not where they had intended to show up). However, despite their journey only taking a few minutes, it was night time, revealing that many hours had passed since they departed Vidor.

    After recognizing them as the Heroes of Seaquen, he suggested they meet the Khagan, leader of Ostalin, which was a great honor. Not long after, the party handed over their weapons, and the Khagan came in, greeted them politely, and thanked them for visiting. The heroes mentioned their errand, and the mysterious tidings from the Monastery of Two Winds, and Khagan Onamdammin shrugged them off as nothing to worry about. He appeared quite confident, in contrast to his reputation as a poor leader beset by numerous brothers who wished to depose him. He spoke highly of Master Pilus and suggested that Ragesia was too weak to threaten the monastery.

    When Van pressed the issue, suggesting that, at the very least, Leska herself was someone to contend with, the Khagan postured and responded that she was a nobody who had stumbled into more responsibility than she could handle. "She's no Drakus Coaltongue," he said.

    The Khagan then inquired upon the late Kwin, but his stony face was not forthcoming when informed of the warrior's brave demise. "He was a relative." He called for his harem and suggested the party make use of it before taking his leave.

    Despite the darkness and the snow that covered the ground here in Ostalin, the party decided to set out immediately. Riding upon Alain's mystical steeds they made good time over the snow and rode hard all day, finally reaching the Last Stop, the last village before the roads went into the mountains and became too treacherous for regular use.

    The next morning, with Karuna leading the way, the party headed into the mountains. The snow was deep and the paths had not been used in a long time. Occasionally the route became very steep, and winches had been erected to help pull horses and heavy loads up old stone stairways.

    As they came wihin a few miles of the monastery, they approached the final winch setup. However, someone had destroyed the stairs, which now consisted of a treacherous slope covered in loose rocks and gravel. Just as the party began to attempt the ascent, the trap was sprung; a wall of fire erupted behind them, trapping them in the trench-like scree. A goblin wizard, mounted atop a worg, cackled in delight as he bathed them in fire, while archers in Ragesian tabards took up advantageous positions on the high ground to either side.

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    The Ragesian ambush had been sprung, and the heroes fought for their lives.

    "You will all die!" cackled the goblin warg-rider as the archers pelted Alain with arrows. Caught off balance on the edge of the ravine, the wizard was attacked from behind by a crafty infiltrator who had scampered up the rock wall. His trusty Iron Cohort deflected well-aimed blows that surely would have felled him otherwise. Wilting, he found himself bolstered by a prayer from Merrick, who was dealing with his own problems in the manner most common to him: Destructive retribution.

    Soaring through the air, the halfling pummeled their enemies with thunderous gusts and crackling lightning bolts. As the Ragesians reeled from this onslaught, the monk Karuna darted across the jagged cliffs with ease, delivering powerful kicks and crippling blows to any within his reach.

    Van dueled with a Ragesian, who slipped past the tiefling's guard and plunged a dagger through his scale armor. 'Twas Van who had the last laugh, though, as he lashed out with his scourge, flaying the man's soul as it departed in terrible anguish, forming a dark conduit of unlife which sent three more enemies to meet Van's master in the afterlife.

    Knocked from his mount, which was quickly dispatched thereafter, the goblin wizard was enraged and kept fighting to the bitter end. The Ragesian numbers were dwindling; their ambush had become a bloodbath. Finally the heroes were victorious, and after pilfering some magical trinkets from the goblin's corpse, continued on through the winter wastes to the village beneath the monastery of Two Winds.

    To their dismay, a Ragesian encampment of some approximately two hundred was camped on the outskirts of town, just outside the lightly defensible city walls. However, the scene was strangely subdued. The obviously burned remnants of what might have been a guard tower was visible, but from their vantage, nothing was happening at present; a few people moved along the city streets but by and large it was eerily quiet.

    The heroes decided to bypass the Ragesian camp and make for the monastery immediately, via Alain's summoning of giant eagles. Riding on the backs of the great birds they were able to fly above the long, meandering switchback and landed, without incident, right at the entrance to the monastery.

    They knocked. After some time, a slot opened in the door and a woman's eyes appeared there. The woman said she knew who they were and why they would come, but by order of the masters, would not allow them (or anyone else) entry. Insulted by her rude greeting, but undeterred, the party asked what could possibly have caused the monks to be so cautious when the Ragesians were far below and apparently of little concern.

    The woman, who notably was protective of/enamored with master Pilus, told them of a terrible curse which had befallen the town not long ago. Apparently the people there had been lulled into a state of passivity by an unknown malevolent force. As none of the monks had ventured down into the town to investigate, they didn't know much, but after further inquiry the party learned that the cleric Torrent and her companions had visited the monastery a few weeks ago (and been turned away), having allegedly "brought the curse with them".

    The party pledged to return after they had investigated--and likely dealt with--the problem in the village. (The party did not realize just then how mysterious this frosty reception had been, as given the dire circumstances in the town, the monks' caution seemed justifiable enough.) Alain suggested they proceed with caution, and attempt to detect any dangerous magical emanations from the village before they could be potentially fall under the curse. And so, accompanied by Karuna, the wizard began patiently walking down the long switchback, stopping occasionally, and concluded that there was in fact some sort of magical charm effect present that got stronger as they moved closer to the village.

    Meanwhile, Van and Merrick took to the skies again to reconnoiter. Merrick suggested heartily and at some length that they bombard the Ragesian encampment with terrible spells to kill as many enemy troops as they could, but two against two hundred seemed like a bad idea--for now. There wasn't much going on in the town, but they learned two important things from their reconnaissance: 1) The few people moving freely about the town were Ragesian soldiers and 2) They seemed to congregate near an inn, the Peak's Shadow, appropriately slumped cozily in the shade of a prominent spire of rock which jutted up near the center of town.

    They returned and the party updated one another on their findings. Van wished he could know the whereabouts of Torrent, and presently a spectral raven appeared from the shadowy realm to assist him. It listened intently to his request and flew off, returning after some time to croak "She is roughly a half a mile away, in a dark, underground cavern, in that direction," (pointing with its beak to a neighborhood on the north side of the village).

    Unsettling, and not incredibly helpful, but at least they knew they might reach her and get more information. "Why would she be in the dark, though?..."

    It was decided that the party would act in haste to lessen the likelihood of their indoctrination by the strange curse, and so they climbed once more onto the eagles and soared into town, landing at a distance from the most active thoroughfares so as not to arouse suspicion, and to perhaps see if they might locate Torrent straightaway.

    As they soared down from the sky and dismounted their eagles, they realized their descent had been monitored by a pair of Ragesian guardsmen, but to their surprise the latter turned away, seemingly disinterested, to continue along their patrol as if nothing at happened... (to be continued)

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