Aphonion Tales: Ravenskrag and the Shadowline, a preteen D&D game (lightly edited notes, COMPLETED on 1/20/23)

CPaladin

Explorer
Session 47 (April 9, 2022)

1 Chund
They report to the Dogaressa’s palace first thing in the morning. They are quickly passed through to the Dogaressa.

“We are here to talk about something different from our holdings. We may have found a city inside the Shadow that is not controlled in the Shadow that we can teleport to.”

“So you have been exploring the network.”

“Yes, the city was made by the Firstcomer elves, and they still worship Eru and Morgroth. That seems to protect their city from Shadow, though their population is dwindling—apparently that happens among humans who follow Eru and Morgroth.”

“Most unusual.”

“They told us that there is a crystal that if we could recover would allow them to extend their protection to the coast, which would allow us to resupply them and provide them with reinforcements.”

“Yes, that would certainly distract the enemy, at least. But the swamp is very dangerous. The great oblex are there. They are the cast off spawnings of the chaos lords and a demon prince. They are not pleasant to happen by. If you are heading to that lake in the Palood from the north… you shouldn’t run into anything more dangerous than a great oblex, unless you happen to run into a greater demon. I want the Bishop to bless you first, and to supply you with holy water.”

The Bishop brings them a bandolier of twelve vials of holy water. He calls them the bravest men and women he knows, and blesses them (though the blessing, while powerful, will only last for three days).

“With the oblex, the most dangerous thing is fire. It will either cause them to flee, or make them attack with even more viciousness. The odds are slightly in favor of causing them to flee. The lycanthropes we know of in the Palood are best met with silver or silvered weapons. There are also ghouls and ghasts, some of which have been bolstered. The great frogs can be harmed with normal weapons, but they are enormous. There are some black dragons within the swamp, though as far as we know all of them sleep. A few demons dwell there. And last but not least, shambling mounds are quite common. I’m sure there are minor demons wandering about as well.

“It has been said that on rare occasions the Worm that Bores Beneath has entered the Palood, but it is mostly ignored by the great lords of Shadow. There are some truebloods living in the swamp, likely degenerate. There are some trolls, or were at one time. I have heard of no major leadership, though, although I might not know of it.”

The Dogaressa says, “Take what you need from the provisioners, and the royal smith can silver weapons for you. I have a royal smith now.”

They decide to gather supplies, recruit some people to build a stockade and begin trade with The City, silver their weapons, and the like. They also begin looking for gnomes who follow Whimsey. They gather 40 eager volunteers, with minimal military experience, but better than nothing. They are competent with bows, but at best know which end of the sword to hit things with. But they are reasonably well equipped—mostly with leather, some with scale, armor. Some of them plan to bring family out later, while others have no family yet. Merreep and Runor review them carefully, and conclude that they’re good but green. Runor also begins drilling them hard.

They also buy 500 sp worth of spices to trade to The City.

Merreep gets 20 silvered arrows and a silvered sword. Ulgorio has a silvered rapier, and also gets 10 silvered arrows. Ashaltir gets a silvered sword and 20 silvered arrows. Runor gets his hammer silvered.

They bring a mule with about 30 gallons of water, 2 weeks of emergency rations (planning on using create food and water for most days), rope, oil, and other camping supplies.
[cont'd]
 

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CPaladin

Explorer
[Session 47, cont'd]
2 Chund
They head back to Vinehome, without any difficulty. Runor teaches the troops basic drills in the evenings.

6 Chund
They arrive at Vinehome and set the volunteers to building the stockade—one tight around the ruined tower facing inwards, and one wide around the tower facing outwards. They then travel through the teleport pad to The City.

They then go through to The Far Away. The winds are low, so they can see the city clearly from the tower. Runor can see clouds of sand blowing to the northwest, however, which almost seem to be cut off at one point, with only a small thin cloud blowing out from that storm.

They head in to the city. They realize that the city sort of sets a guard in this direction. They see another person keeping watch out some distance from the city, who recognizes them and waves. They then meet the gate guard. The guard is a little confused by a mule, which he has never seen before, but pays no mind to the owlbear. He leads them in to see the council.

The council asks, “Are the ways clear? We saw ones of the one you mentioned, that came through at night. We immolated him. I think he was already wounded by the protections, though.

“We have convinced an old sorceress to give us what knowledge she can of the tower, the old matrix, and the creatures that overran it all those years ago. The Sorceress, Adele.”

The Sorceress Adele introduces herself to the party. “We are very near the border of the Palood. Unfortunately, we are very near the part of the Palood that is somewhat organized.” She shows the party a crudely drawn map of the Palood. “The part of the map within this red line in the Palood is the part where they have sorted themselves out to the point where they can be more dangerous.” The red line travels north-south, perhaps 50 miles inland from the ocean, until it cuts to the east well south of the great lake. The organized area is the eastern, inland area, including the area around the lake. “The threat there isn't simply an enormous frog's mouth, begging your pardon, that rises up out of the murky water and consumes half of you instead. It's more a well-armed band or group of trolls, or on occasion a demon. In the other area you should just be afraid of random things. In fact, I was with a group the last time we tried this. I'm the survivor. We thought it would be best to skirt along the border of that area until we got to the closest point to the lake. Something came out of the water, and while it was consuming one of my colleagues, it was attacked by something else that came out of the water.

“Now, unfortunately, being a sorceress, not a wizard, I'm not extremely scholarly, but I’ll still answer your questions as best as I can?”

“Would you recommend that Aleep's friends also follow that plan and travel down outside the organized area and then cut in?”

“It will avoid any form of hierarchical response, which you may well suffer in the area that they've organized if anything escapes from a meeting. It may have something to report to that will bring more.

On the other hand, for the most part they have driven things like the froghemoths out of their area through organized action. You will find those creatures, and the bodacs, of course, out in the deep swamp.”

“Bodacs?”

“Yes, there are a number of them here. They would love to gain control, but they can't.”

“Aleep is not familiar with word ‘bodac.’”

“Oh, they’re a form of demons, mostly nobles. Nasty pieces of work.”

“So to summarize, more dangerous, bigger creatures outside organized area. But much less organization, and so the choice is between individually riskier things and things that might bring allies.”

“Smart lad, that is exactly right. And that you must decide for yourselves.”

“Do you know where the Tower is?”

“Yes, the tower was at the southern bump of the lake.” She indicates on the map. “Yes, it was well fortified, and had a deep underground structure for their psionics works. I think the psionicists who were working on the creation of the matrix were what drew the enemy, but that's only my guess. They were not of the greatest power, you understand.”

“Do you know anything of the matrix itself that Aleep's friends should know?”

“By now, it has become sentient. That was unavoidable without guiding minds. Before the tower fell, it had already begun to respond intelligently to its proctors, I understand, but I also think it was young and curious, and it may have reached out to see the surrounding area and alerted something.”

“We all make mistakes,” says Runor.

“Oh, yes, I cannot blame it, because it was a child—a baby really-- and babies are always careless, my young dwarf,” she chuckles.

“Young dwarf? I’ve lived longer than you have.”

“Perhaps, but I am older than you, even if you've lived longer than me, friend dwarf.” They have a slightly confusing conversation about age—Runor thinks she was saying that she had more of the wisdom of age than him, but it’s unclear exactly what she meant.

One of the councilors pushes to get the meeting back on track. “Adele, what advice can you give them?”

“I don't know what advice they need. They must ask. We reached the Tower, but we did not managed to assail it. We entered the broken grounds of the fortification, and we entered the tower proper. Two days later, I and the other survivor left the tower and tried to make our way back here. He was consumed on the fourth day of our travel.” She shakes her head sadly. “I hid myself as a tree for a time, and then, when they'd given up looking for me, I scurried like a cur with its tail between its legs all the way back. It’s a miracle I made it. I was sick for months. The water there is not something you should drink.”

“What type of creatures does the tower itself hold?”

“There's a mix of them. There is a hierarchy of some sort of cross between snakes and men. They're like snake centaurs. I had never seen the like before. They called themselves something like yank-tea? Yu kzi? They had magical abilities among them, and powerful warriors and servants. They had both trolls and lizardmen as servants. When we were there, I did not see any of the True Born, as the humans of the Shadow call themselves, but there are True Born in the Palood and they may be there.”

“Were the trolls of the usual type, vulnerable to fire?”

“Yes, yes, ordinary swamp trolls, but you could not break their will. It was very, very odd. If you face trolls and defeat a couple of their people, particularly with fire, normally the rest flee. These would not flee. It is as if somehow the yanti, yin tai, whatever, could control their minds and prevent them from flight. Or perhaps their terror of whatever the yangti overlord is was so great that they did not dare retreat. They're stupid, but not totally bereft of sense. You must reach the sixth deeping to reach the matrix room.”

“So the matrix is in the basements, too.”

“They must have thought that it would shield it from notice until it was older and more powerful.”

“Do these snake things have weaknesses or protections that we should know of?”

“I assume that they must, but there were none that we discovered before we were forced to retreat. Avoid them, if possible. If not, let none survive to return to their fellows. That was the mistake we made. The first group we encountered, we slaughtered them, and a couple of the younger, smaller ones fled. We thought that each band was separate, so we let them go. They were young and small. We should have killed them. After that, more powerful ones came. The first group of them failed. Shortly thereafter, another one came. I expended nearly all of my spells, and we were overextended, so the wizard expended all of his. The lyan stood firm, but it was not enough. The priest called upon the Two Great Ones but still ran short of healing. It was a disaster, and only I and the rogue escaped, and he was consumed on the way back.”

“It's a shame but maybe someday we can claim it for ourselves.”

“You’re a kind lad. It is a shame that it fell. It is a shame that we were not prepared for them to be organized. If perhaps a little bit of knowledge I've imparted will help your group, it might make our defeat mean something. Does anyone else have questions?”

“We were warned of great oblex. Are there any near that tower that we should know of?”

“My suspicion is that there are some in the lake. If you do not draw them out, at least alert them to your presence, I do not think they will bother you. They're most comfortable in the water. If you bring them out, use fire as quickly as possible. You're more likely to encounter oblex, however, outside their zone of control. There’s even at least one elder oblex, but I think he's deeper in the south.”

“What do oblex look like?”

“A mass of translucent, or sometimes blue, gelatinous material, somewhat similar to a gelatinous cube, or some of the other of that ilk but much more powerful. They are some sort of a union between the Worm who Bores… or rather I should say, they were born from from a short union between the Worm who Bores Beneath, and the Lord of Slime, and then left to roam the swampy waters to dissuade intruders. Or perhaps not to dissuade. Who knows the mind of the Worm? Prod ahead of yourselves with long polls when you're in water more than a foot or so deep. They often lie along the bottom, and this will at least rouse them before they can engulf you, which is their favorite attack. They wait until you are literally on top of them, and then they engulf you.”

“What if you opened a flask of holy water as they engulfed you?”

“That would certainly harm them if you got them to eat holy water.”

“I’ve always wanted to use holy water like a poison—put some in some blood, get a vampire to drink it, that sort of thing.”

“Yes, that would certainly do them damage. Their form comports in such a way that the damage of most weapons is reduced. They are susceptible to fire. The greater ones also are intelligent. They are capable of attempting to hold people still magically so they can engulf them. That is an unpleasant ability. If you are engulfed, while it’s digesting you, anyone who attacks and tries to free you almost inevitably also stabs you.”

“Can you stab them while trapped?”

“If they engulf you without controlling your mind, you can try with short weapons--daggers, perhaps or maybe dirks. If they consume you when you are held one of the greater ones, then no, you will not be stabbing them. You'll be quietly being digested.”

“One more question. Are these yanti, or whatever they are, part of the broader hierarchy in that area?” asks Runor.

“I think so. I do not know who their ultimate lord is, though we were never in a position to even consider searching for that information. There's probably something above them. There was some great lord or snake thing there as well. With luck you will never see him. I do not think he will come close to the matrix. By its nature it will hurt him, even in captivity. But yes, young dwarf, I think you are correct, and their great lord is somehow connected to their hierarchy.

“Does anyone else have any other questions? Then I shall head off and offer up a candle to the Brothers for your success. They'll be surprised to see me. Sorceresses don't usually visit their shrine.”

The party discusses among themselves and decides to follow the same plan Adele’s group did: they will head south through the wilder, less organized part of the Palood, risking encounters with more individually dangerous monsters, until they are near where they need to cut east to reach the tower.

[End session 47. We're now up to date, and we'll be missing this weekend's game, so there will be a delay of a couple weeks before the next post. I'll make bonus posts in the Archducal Council thread during the meantime.]
 

CPaladin

Explorer
Session 48 (May 7, 2022)

7 Chund
They crest a hill as they approach the Palood. They can smell the swamp. Along the edge of the desert, there is a whole line of trees, perhaps 100 feet wide, with surprisingly healthy leaves. Even the elves do not recognize the trees. They have bright red berries. The area around them seems almost wholesome. Beyond that, they hear grunting, and sounds like large animals, though they don’t see them.

The group moves cautiously forward towards the trees. The sounds are clearly from beyond the trees, and almost sound like groaning noises. Most of the group goes up to right near the trees, but Aleep hangs back a little. When they get very close to the trees, where there is a nice smell of cinnamon, they can hear the noises just south of the trees. They still can’t see anything in the swamp, though. The sound is loud and disturbing, like the sound of wounded elephants dragging themselves along the ground, occasionally punctuated by a groan of pain. Merreep looks carefully on the other side of the trees. There is a small strip of grass before the trees, a small strip of grass beyond the trees, and then a very corrupted looking swamp. There are three large masses, each green, throwing themselves towards the grassline, and then retreating back away from it. There seems to be an invisible barrier holding the strange green masses back.

Merreep goes back to the rest of the group and describes what she saw.

“That sounds sort of like the Shadow Line, but maintained by trees instead of by the Hastur.”

“Why would trees keep out large green mounds? And how could they?”

“If those trees are holy to the elven gods, perhaps they could.”

“Trees can do that? Can they be holy?”

“Aleep is a wizard, not a priestly type. But Aleep has heard legends of the great powerful trees in the great elven forests.”

“If we try to cross it, would the same thing happen to us?”

“Aleep would not think so. If it is like the Shadow Line, Aleep’s friends can cross without being harmed.”

“Would we be able to return?”

“As long as Aleep’s friends are not corrupted. If they cross the Shadow Line, and then become corrupted, and then attempt to cross back, bad things would happen.”

“What do we think the green mounds are, anyway?”

“They could be minor oblexes. They don’t seem very intelligent.” Aleep comments.

Behind them, a figure rises out of the grasses. It looks elf-like in shape, but is made of peat and bark and the like.

She greets them.

“Who are you?”

“I am a construct of the lothlorien that still try to survive here. They are not mobile. I am.”

“What would your thoughts be on our expanding the trees? How would we do that?”

“You are kind to ask. Bring a great elf-lord, or nuts of a lothlorien tree, and it will grow and expand. I know that it is not as a lothlorien tree ought to be, but it is a struggle. And we have no pollinators, and thus our berries are sterile. We will never allow Banahog and her servants to triumph.”

“Who is this Banahog?”

“Mistress of the Abominable Swamp beyond for some distance. We don’t know how much distance. I am the only one who is mobile, and the trees do not wish to risk me. Those three are her servants.”

“What are they?”

“We think they are some type of demon. We are not a wood of wide experience.”

“What if we just killed them?” asks Runor. “We might be able to.”

“You could do that? We would appreciate it. We might be able to grow more leaves. But they do regenerate, even from the spark of life. I think fire would stop them from regenerating.”

Merreep steps to a location where she can be seen from the other side and calls out. “What are you doing?”

All three rear up out of the swamp, 8 or 10 feet tall, and seem to regard her. They have no eyes, no mouths, and no apparent organs. But they do stop.

While they are focused on Merreep, Runor strolls up and smacks one with his hammer. He really drives the hammer in, doing 15 points of damage. Runor notices that the goop that was the monster spilled down his hammer, but he avoids getting it on his hands. The goop makes pits in both the metal of the hammer and the wood of the lower shaft. Aleep responds by casting fireball, positioning it so that it catches most of their mass but does not come within 5 feet of the grass verge of the trees. He does 32 points of damage, although one avoids much of the blast. Ulgorio slides forward and drives his rapier in with a critical, doing 16 points of damage. He avoids any splash, but the metal does pit. Bartix slashes it with his longsword, doing 8 points of damage. It shudders, and falls into a heap, slowly sliding back into the swamp. Merreep shoots one of the creatures with her bow, hitting twice and sinking two shafts deep into the creature.

Merreep shoots it twice more, and it makes that horrible howling noise again. One of the creatures slams towards Runor, missing and slamming into the ground next to him. The badly wounded one tries to hit Ulgorio. It slams into him, and he has to make a Constitution save, but gets a 0. He takes 9 damage from the impact, and 7 points of acid damage. He can clearly hear, through the air, “Blight! Blight! Blight the Light!” The other is calling “Banahog! Banahog!” Neither is speaking aloud in any language he knows, but he can still understand what they are saying.

Aleep casts another fireball, doing 26 damage. Ashaltir smites the last remaining one as it begins slumping away into the swamp. Runor casts a guardian of faith, which blasts the last one as it tries to flee. It howls, and then disintegrates into the swamp, with a strange green sulpherous light.

“You did it! We will have a respite, and we can likely expand by a few inches before they send more. Beware of the undead ram. It is half as tall as a tree, and made of smaller rams that are also dead but moving. You’re the first mobiles I’ve seen in many years, since that unfortunate woman.”

(They have made an enemy of Banahog.)

They head into the Palood proper.
[cont'd]
 

CPaladin

Explorer
[Session 48, cont'd]

8 Chund
(Hex 745, 344)

9 Chund
(Hex 746, 345)

10 Chund
(Hex 746, 346)
After a few days of uneventful travel, they approach a large tree reaching out of the water, with branches weeping down around it. Under it are a bunch of mounds of moss. They also see what looks to be the corpse of a mule-sized reptile. They are not certain that it is dead, though—the membranes on its eyes still seem to open and close periodically.

Merreep calls out, “Hello!”

They eyes definitely move and look at her. “Why?”

“Why what?”

“Where?”

Runor joins in. “Who? Which?”

“The tree.” They eyes look up at the weeping tree above it. “Beware!”

“About what? The tree?”

“The tree. Beware here.”

Merreep says, “Are you in pain? You don’t look like you should be able to talk.”

“The tree does not permit any to pass.”

After a little more discussion, they confirm that it means that it can’t die near the tree.

They make a lasso, and throw it over to the reptile thing. They pull it away from the tree, which roars and throws a barrage of small sharp seeds in their direction. They slowly but steadily drage the lizard thing out of the root system, where little roots keep grabbing up at it, trying to pull it back in. They pull it out.

Runor heals it so its wounds will close, but it’s missing one leg.

“Thank you. Thank you. You do not know... That thing is so vicious. My tribe was angry with me, so they brought me there and sacrificed me to it. I must offer you something in repayment. Thankful I am. I know this area. I can give you information, tell you what tribes there are, and where to avoid the great ram.”

Runor is shocked to find out that it doesn’t know what a dwarf is, and asks about legends that it might have heard about. It doesn’t recognize the story, but it knows what giants are—there are swamp giants farther south, though not around here. They are very dangerous.

It does recognize the elves as looking like Makers. Some discussion makes it clear that the Makers were the ancient elves. It asks whether Aleep is one of the froglocks that follow the Worm that Bores Beneath, but he explains that he doesn’t.

Runor regales the lizardperson, Amet’alox, with tales of Glordiadel.

“I am in your debt, though my tribe, the Long Arms, are not, because they cast me into the great tree.”

They ask if Amet’alox would like to accompany them. He agrees. They find a small normal tree, and make him crutches and a peg-leg of sorts.
[End Session 48. There will be a gap of another couple weeks before the next post.]
 

CPaladin

Explorer
Session 49 (July 2, 2022)

11 Chund
(Hex 747, 346)

They continue onwards, with Merreep scouting about 200 feet ahead of the group.

Merreep trots back and tells the group that she started to hear something up ahead. Just as she is about to describe it, the whole group begins to hear a sibilant voice calling out words of endearment in sweet tones. Bartix and Ulgorio begin walking towards the voice, as if charmed.

“Friends, Aleep is not sure you want to go towards that voice,” warns their wizard. “Aleep fears magic!”

They continue dreamily walking forward. Finally, they stop in front of several tall mushrooms. All of a sudden, Bartix looks extremely startled, and the dreamy look fades from his face. Ulgorio, however, remains glamoured.

The rest of the group suddenly sees Bartix hacking at the area around his feet as he hacks a set of vines—thin, long, and white off one of his feet. The vines around the other foot retreat, while Ulgorio continues to take damage, not that anyone but Bartix can see.

Bartix says, “Strange plants are attacking us!”

Aleep casts a fireball at the grove of mushrooms, doing 20 points of damage. A keening wail brakes out. The vines on Ulgorio retreat. Ashaltir, Amet’alox, Runor, and Merreep all are knocked flat. Ulgorio and Bartix retreat, just in time as a large cloud of brown spores erupt from the mushrooms.

The group then presses on, sweeping quite wide around the mushrooms.

The rest of the day passes uneventfully.

12 Chund
(747, 347)

Uneventful.

13 Chund
(747, 348)

Bartix, the rear guard, hears something from behind the group. It seems to sound sort of like “Bloop. Blub-blub-blub-blub-bloop. Bloop. Blub-blub-blub-blub-bloop.” Bartix runs forward into the main group and tells them that there’s something approaching behind them that could be there in a matter of moments. The group begins rushing forward, while looking around cautiously.

They then begin to hear drums, which is answered by a bullroar or calling horn. The calling horn does not seem to be moving. Amet’alox says that he thinks that they are likely froglocks, and likely ones who serve The One Who Bores Beneath.

Ulgorio sends his pet squirrel to investigate and distract them.

Merreep sees a few froglocks at the far end of her range of vision, with two creatures on leashes like dogs, but with the heads of badgers and the hooves of stags. They also have a banner, with some form of giant fungus in the middle of their banner.

The group decides to move quickly, figuring that if the froglocks are barely at the edge of Merreep’s vision, the froglocks can’t see the group. The rangers try to conceal the tracks of the group and mislead anything trying to follow them.

The bullroarer does not catch up, and gradually starts fading. Maybe it was moving, but at the same speed as they were. As they pass forward, Merreep notices that the pools of water in the swamplands are trembling. As she moves forward, the water is trembling more. She then sees a large, humanoid figure, female, covered in moss and fungi, moving with purpose in the direction of the bullroarer. It’s twelve or fourteen feet tall. She falls back to the group.

“Amet’alox, is that a swamp giant?”

“Could be a swamp giant. Could be her.”

“Banahog?”

“Uh-huh. She could be coming to treat with your relatives.”

They all hunker down and try to move carefully past her while she rushes towards the froglocks. They all see her as they pass. In her wake, a number of mobile fungi follow along behind her.

They travel on and make camp for the night.

14 Chund
(747, 349)

Uneventful.

15 Chund
(747, 350)

They finish another day of uneventful travel, and turn east.

16 Chund
(748, 350)

After another day of travel, they can see the lake. Its water is startlingly blue, and they can even see fish—which they have generally not been seeing in the Palood. In the morning, they plan on following the lakeshore around until they reach the ruined tower.

17 Chund
(749, 350)

Most of the day passes uneventfully. In the afternoon, all of a sudden, a large face, covered in baby fat, wit a five foot tall toddler-like body, pops up from behind a hummock. He gasps in shock, and then runs off, before returning with a 15 foot tall woman in a smock. She looks them over carefully, especially Aleep.

“Wee folk. Are you slaves to the hopper, or free?”

Runor says, “Free, I guess? I’m a priest.”

“Great hopper, why do you and your companions come here?”

Runor says, “We want to find something we lost.”

“You lost it here?” she says increduously.

“In tower,” says Aleep.

“Ah, yes, in tower. You want to go to tower?” She gestures for them to follow. As they begin to walk, she carefully positions the whole group between her and Aleep. She then quietly says to Runor, “You seek to take hopper to tower, to get free from him? Good plan, could work.”

As they walk, Aleep asks, “who do you serve, if any?”

She cringes a little. “I do not serve any hopper, great one. What service do you need from me?”

“Aleep not need any service from you. Aleep will not be happy if you tell anyone of Aleep and his friends. But Aleep not need any service from tall ones.”

“Your people will not like you for saying this.”

“Aleep is from far distant tribe, and he is knight and chieftain of far distant tribe, far from here. Aleep’s friends are also knights.”

“Oh! Shiny stones. You seek shiny stones.”

“Yes, definitely those,” says Runor.

“Another group, not people, hoppers, seeks to get shiny stones for long time. They seek to bring great demon to get stones. But it will not matter--the stones always win.”

“Do they not want to be taken?”

“They serve other things, not in the swamp. They do not wish to be one with the swamp, but they make water clean. They make fish live, they give life to my tribe. We can eat because they are here.”

“Will your tribe be in danger if the stones leave? Stones will want to come with Aleep’s friends.”

“If stones leave, the lake will die. The lake will die, and then we will die.” She sounds completely sure of this.

“What do Aleep's friends think about this, if there is tribe of giants that do not follow demons and depends on the matrix?”

“Could you come with us?” Runor asks.

“Must ask brother. My dear brother leads tribe. Still camped outside tower. Those that enter die.”

“Are the snake people still at the tower?”

“Yes.”

“Do they kill hoppers?”

“Yes, kill hoppers. Kill strange, shiny humans that came, too.”

The group agrees to meet her brother to discuss the idea of allying with them and trying to bring them out with the matrix.

She leads the group into a small settlement, with about a dozen giants, on the shore of the lake. The leader bounds out and jabbers with her.

“This is my brother, Quick-Axe.”

“Sister say, you okay. Wait. You priest. Met priest when shiny humans came here. Went in, didn’t come out. Been many many eats since then. Fish? Come eat with us. Do not ensorcel us now.”

After a little eating and some more talking in their language, he continues. “You here for shiny rocks. Everyone come for shiny rocks. That why we not live closer to tower. Shiny rocks clean water, clean air, make safe to live here, not like our cousins who have changed over the years.”

“Yes, there is large group of humans that have protections, but need the shiny rocks to expand the area that is protected so they can push back the Shadow.”

“The old stories say that we once lived in a clean land with small people. And then the Shadow came, and we fled and ran without small people. And then one night we found ourselves here. Many of our other people drifted away and changed, but we stayed near the lake, near the fish. Many generations later, we are still ourselves.”

“They think the shiny rocks will go with them, brother.”

“So you guys need the shiny rocks obviously,” says Runor.

“We need the water, the food, the air.”

“Yes, you need what the shiny rocks give you. You do not need the rocks themselves. But you cannot travel to the edge of the Shadow.”

“We very large. We stay near the lake. The water of the lake is poison to other things, as their water is poison to us. If we travel, even if we know where, we would attract too many other creatures.”

“Even if you have the gems during the travel?”

“Hmm. Oh. That thought.” Quick-Axe seems pleased by this idea. “How would we get them? The camp around the base of the stone spire--the hoppers never leave. They stay outside and send their servants into the tower. Their servants do not return, but they remain. Too many of the hoppers couldn't stop us, their powers to compel to make us obey. They do this with our-- are they still our cousins?--they do this to those who were once our cousins. It is almost impossible for us to resist.”

“They keep your people as slaves, but we could resist, and we are strong fighters. We may need to plan a jewel heist,” Runor says. “How many are in this camp?”

“About five hands, sometimes as many as ten hands, plus their servants. And some of them also have other magic-- bolts of lightning. I have seen them use when we were spying on them from afar with the magic glass that the humans left us.” He proudly pulls out a telescope.

“It sounds to Aleep like they are primarily enchantment specialists, but that they also are of at least the fifth circle of power. If they are enchantment specialists, but also can cast lightning bolt, they may well be closer to the seventh circle of power—roughly our capabilities, at least their strongest.”

“You might be able to sneak in, but once you're inside the tower, I do not know what to tell you-- I do not know where stones are. We don't fit in tower.”

“We know there are the snake people, and we know that we would need to go deep beneath the tower.”

“The snake people sometimes come forth, or did in my father's day. Even now, they sometimes exchange spells with the hoppers from the tower itself. But no longer do they come out in force.”

“Are the snake people high in the tower or at base of tower?”

“Both. They also have slaves who fight, but I do not know where they got those. Their type we have not seen before. They do come forward. Sometimes I think that is why the hoppers keep their slaves with them always.

“My sister was wise to bring you here. We will do what we can to help you. Avoid the hoppers.”

“We have anti-venom for what good that will do.”

“Good. The snake people use powerful poisons, and they are uncaring of on who.”

The group spends the night in the encampment, sharing fish with the giants and providing them with some magically created food for variety and to strengthen ties. In the morning, they intend to press on towards the tower, with a plan of bringing back the matrix and then traveling with the giants back to the city.

[End session 49]
 

CPaladin

Explorer
Session 50 (July 16, 2022)

18 Chund
(750, 350)

They leave the giant encampment in the morning, and begin the final approach towards the tower. They expect to reach the tower this day, or possibly the next day.

Even at the giant’s camp, it seems less oppressive than it had been elsewhere in the Palood. As they approach the tower, there start being even more signs of health, with some green plants that do not look sickly and clear water.

They approach a fortification—an 80’ diameter tower, with crenellations and fortifications. The outer works extend out about 340’, but are in ruins. Mereep, as the scout, can see figures moving around in the ruined fortifications. There are a handful of huts, set up in three areas. Along the shore of the lake, a giant lumbers slowly, dragging something. Mereep makes her way back and reports what she saw.

Aleep suggests that there may be a sally port that would allow the group to bypass the froglocks. They do not appear to be very sophisticated, so may not have known to look for it. The snake-people inside would almost certainly have found it, but it still might be a way to get inside.

Bartix smells something foul on the wind behind them. It smells sort of like orc or goblin, but with a foul tinge to it that those would not. He goes to investigate with Runor, and they begin hearing chanting, closing in towards them, in a language they don’t speak. They can hear the word “Banahog” periodically, each time followed by a thump. Bartix estimates that there are more than 20 in the group, some with reedy voices similar to Aleep’s, and some basso profondo voices.

Ashaltir reports that some of the pools of water seem blessed. The group moves to hide within those pools, seeking to avoid the approaching force. Two of them are closely placed together, so the group hides within those two.

They note some sort of scaly being on the top of the tower, at the crenelations, looking out in the inland direction, towards the chanting of “Banahog.” The figure on top of the tower begins chanting a counter-chant of “Amongorla.” Runor recognizes the name as the demon lord of nightmares. A white mist seems to be spreading down the tower from the figure on top. Over the following several rounds, the mist surrounds the tower and seems to muffle the cries of the followers of Banahog. Runor believes that the figure on the top is defending the tower from the other group.

Bartix reports seeing a snake-like figure that slithered out of the corrupt pool nearby, traveling very fast, and headed out towards the shore.

Aleep suggests that, since the snake-people are inside the tower, this may imply that there is a path into and out of the tower in or near that corrupt pool.

After some whispered discussion, the group decides to withdraw about half a mile west of the tower, and to set up camp for overnight, to see whether anything significant happens. The night passes peacefully. There are not many animals here, even though they are within the area that the matrix keeps clean. In the middle of the night, at perhaps two or three in the morning, they see flashes and crackling sounds, and even a few shrieks, in the direction of the tower. After about twenty minutes, it falls silent for the rest of the night.

19 Chund
In the morning, Mereep heads towards the tower to scout. The white mist is still drifting around the tower, out to a distance of about 20 feet around the tower. Bodies surround the tower. Many of the froglock are dead—about 30—along with the bodies of two snakepeople and a giant body. The froglock appear to have withdrawn to further away from the tower.

The group decides to see if they can ally with the froglocks against the snakepeople. They take a wide route around to meet up with the froglocks. A sentry calls out, in a language, Aleep can vaguely speak—well enough to know that the sentry is warning the people that there are True Born coming. As they get to the camp, they realize that there are more of the froglocks then there had been when they first approached—about double what they saw initially.

A froglock approaches cautiously, and then after spotting Aleep, relaxes and salutes the group. “Welcome cousin, and your servants. Banahog will have our heads. We sought entry, and we were driven back.”

“Greetings, cousin. Do not insult Aleep’s companions by calling them servants. They are mighty knights.”

“Knights of Banahog?”

“No, no! Knights of another.”

“Well, welcome knights. We hope to take your help if you offer it. That was a bitter loss. We know few of the great lords. Forgive me, none of the greatest lords, but even of those who contend here we know but few. But I know that Banahog would willingly share the treasures of the Tower--there's only one item within the Tower that she seeks.”

“The matrix.”

“Yes, a great matrix of blue stones. I fear it, but we will do as we are commanded. She gives us life. Come, come, eat slime with us.”

Runor says, “I love slime. It's my favorite snack.”

The froglock gives what they recognize from Aleep as a smile for the froglocks. “Our slime pot is this way.” He hops over to it. “What does bring you to us?”

Aleep mutters in Common, “Don't eat any of the slime it might be corrupted.” He then continues in Froglock, “For reasons that are our own, and that that do not concern Banahog or the forces of Banahog, we have an issue with Amongorla and his snake followers. We would see them discomfitted, but in a way that had not our our markings upon it.”

The froglock smiles broadly at that. “Your master does not wish his markings upon it. We can work with that. What if Banahan wants to claim a glorious victory?”

“Banahog is as she is, and if you want to claim a glorious victory for her, what does that have to do with us?”

He nods. He takes a generous serving of slime out of the slime pot, which looks much like its name, and which Ashaltir immediately recognizes as highly corrupt--they have demon energy running through that stuff.

The group takes bowls, and then slosh it out onto the ground by talking with their hands without ever eating any.

“The shields are powerful. Amongorla commands the spirits of nightmare. We underestimated the priest of Amongorla. It's very potent. More come to join us, but a frontal assault will not work. You say your men are mighty knights-- powerful.”

“Yes.”

“And you are strong in magic.”

“Yes.”

“We have learned,” he says as he gestures negligently towards a giant who is chained in what looks to be a terribly uncomfortable position, “that there is a hidden entrance. It is inhabited by one of the ulith. If we all go there, they will know what we've uncovered, and we will be met with death in the tunnel. But… if we make a distraction at the front when our new reinforcements arrive, you and yours, who are unknown, could sneak into the tunnel beneath the waters…”

“And we can be the knife in the back while you are the sword brandished in the face.”

“Correct, and you and yours will remain unknown. All that will be known is sword that was brandished in face. I will tell you what is necessary. The high priest of Amongorla must fall, for when he falls, that shield will fall. Until that shield falls, I do not think we have the strength to enter unless Banahog herself comes and joins us, and she has many other duties.”

“And if Banahog herself came, she would not view you well.”

“Now, no, for we would have failed her. She would eat me. It would be a great honor, but nonetheless I think that your coming is providence of the greater lords beyond.”

“Can you yet provide a diversion while there's still the shield?”

“Yes, we can get close enough. We can shoot darkness, we can throw fire, although that means one of us will have to make it, but we can throw fire if we have enough guards.”

“Will they sally forth again?”

“I do not know. They lost two. They do not like losing their people. I do not know if they will make another sally or not--at least not for a day or so.”

“Do you have a count on their numbers, not counting the slaves and the animals and the beasts within?”

“There are forty of them. I do not know how many slaves.”

“Are they all so strong that two of them can account for thirty of you?”

“Yes, but there's much territory for them to cover. The tower does not look big above the ground, but just for you, cousin, it is much larger below the ground. That is where the tunnel opens. I am told that no more than one of them will be guarding that if they do not think we are coming that way, and they do not know we have the slave.”

“That is an advantage of fighting people who keep slaves instead of treating them decently for loyalty. The slave was theirs before you claimed it?”

“Yes, we would not impart such with important intelligence. More slime or are we all full?”

“I am—we thank you for the good slime.”

“There is much of the power of Banahog and her minions within it.”

“Indeed, mighty slime.”

The froglocks keep them in the camp for several hours until they start hearing that chant again, and shortly thereafter another fairly large infusion of froglocks enter.

“Aleep must speak with other knights.”

The other froglock goes to talk to the newcomers, and Aleep turns to his friends and describes what was said.

Merreep says, “I think it's a great plan. The other thing is, we might want to make sure that the priest doesn't die, because then they can't get into the tower and can't try to take the matrix away from us once we get it.”

Runor says, “But on the other hand, letting them fight the snake people for us is also good.”

They decide to leave that decision for once they have gotten in.

“We need to remember that we've been warned that if we meet any of the snake people, we have to kill them all. We can't have them spreading warnings back. It sounds like one of them will be a tough fight for us. Defeatable, but not easy.”

[Next session to begin by going through the pool, which is corrupt, and has an ulith in it.]
[End session 50]
 

CPaladin

Explorer
Session 51 (September 25, 2022)
20 Chund
They pass through the pool of corruption; Ashaltir can feel the corruption pushing against his holy bubble, but it holds. They quickly emerge into a room with a fair number of skeletons and bones; some froglocks, some snake spines, and a few human skeletons.

A dark shadow coallesces in the middle of the room.

“Who bids me pass? Thrice I will ask, who bids me pass?”

“A band of adventurers.”

“Adventurers, you seek the blood of those who serve the usurpers?”

“Was that a question or a statement?”

“Uliths are bound to speak in my way. What do you seek?”

“The matrix.”

“Wise, all seek the matrix. Even those who have corrupted this land and inhabit this tower seek to take and corrupt the matrix, though they constantly fail.”

Merreep says, “It’s good that they fail. We don’t seek to corrupt the matrix or the land, but to bring the matrix back to those who made it.”

“The land is already corrupted by the hands of the usurpers, but perhaps you will fare better with the matrix. What do you offer me for passage, that you may seek your deaths at the hands of those who now hold the matrix?”

“Aleep notes that you view the Shadow as usurpers.”

“For so they are, for they have usurped the planes of the ulith. They have extended those planes into this region, and seek to corrupt it as well. Once, we were the greatest, supreme throughout the abyss, and now we are but a handful hiding in corners. Only one of our princes remains. How are these creatures not usurpers?”

“Then perhaps the first thing that Aleep’s friends would offer you is that they plan to use the matrix to greatly discomfit them.”

“And what is the second thing you would offer? The first thing that you would offer was the death of our enemies and their discomfort and the destruction of their holding here. What else would you offer?”

Runor muses quietly, “I don’t suppose we could offer this the Palood. I don’t think we could guarantee it, or that it would be wise.”

“Some precious silver?” Aleep holds out a handful of five silver pieces.

“Yes, treasure! It has been so long since I sat on treasure. A like amount from each of your companions, and you must each swear that you will devote your life to the discomfiting of the enemy!” As the ulith speaks, her voice takes on an even more maniacal tone.

“I swear that I will spend my life struggling against the powers that currently rule in the Shadow,” says Runor. Once they have all so sworn, the ulith is satisfied.

“Take this. I do not know if any of you can use it. They thought to use it against me. It did not work. I am ulith.” The ulith rolls over one of the corpses nearby, and reveals a metallic rod of a reddish color.

Merreep says, “Why did it not work on an ulith? What are ulith, anyway?”

The shadowy form seems offended. “Why did you not bring a powerful and well-trained magus with you?”

Now it is Aleep’s turn to be offended. “Aleep is of considerable power. Aleep has seen mention of uliths in old books. They were ancient enemies of demons.” He does not add that most of the authors seemed to believe that the demons had wiped out the uliths.

“Yes. Most ancient enemies of the demons are no more. But my Prince escaped, and so I escaped.”

“Who is your prince, may Aleep ask?”

“You may not. If I told you his name, it would give you power over him.”

“Surely there is some title or use-name that would have no power over him.”

“Hmm. I fear that the Vails have been turned into rivers of lava and fire for the torment of those who meet them, but he was once known as the Prince of the Vails.”

Aleep suspects he was a minor princeling, forgotten and thus allowed to survive.

They turn to examining the brass rod. It is enchanted, with enchantment magic, and not inherently evil—if anything, it is inherently good.

Runor takes the rod.

The ulith says, “I believe it can only be used to bind two more.”

“Seems useful. I think I will likely encounter some demons in the future.”

“Oh, you will. There are several demons here that serve them. It is not like they have any major ones, except the one that serves the high priest. But they are not willing to risk it, because though it might defeat me, if it did not, they would have nothing that could stop me. They sought to use it to bind me, but they would have to know far more of the uliths than the savages do to bind me. Still, even without knowing all the words, you should be able to bind demons with it.

“You should not need to face the major demon, if you seek the matrix. It almost always remains at the top of the tower, with their high priest. It has only descended on a few occasions. Once, when the servants of Banahog breached the front door, it descended to fight them and drive them back. And at first, its master and it tried to take the matrix by force, and were thrown off by the matrix like a rag-doll. I’m not certain what a rag-doll is, but I like that turn of phrase. But I distract you… you must head on, and bring defeat to our mutual enemies.”

They travel out through the passageway of worked stone and into the tower proper. They begin traveling up a flight of winding stone. Suddenly, instead of being worked stone, the walls and then the steps turn to fused crystal—clearly ancient elven work. They have no choice but to climb at first, though they know that they ultimately wish to descend. They eventually emerge from the spiral stair in the center of a large circular room, with doors out in multiple directions. They have no indications at all of which way to go.

They decide on the southern door at random, and Ulgorio is eventually, with effort, able to pick the lock. They follow a series of winding passageways, past a few dead-ends that look like they were once cells before something burst the doors open from the inside with great force. Eventually, they come upon another door, which seems to have been formed from some sort of crystal stone. The handle turns easily, and they enter a large room. In the center of the large room, there is an unusual apparatus, almost like a forge, with an anvil and tools for working on it, but with no source of fire or heat. [This is a coldforge, which requires psionics to operate, but none of the PCs could recognize it.]

A group of humans stands gathered around the forge—most in dull gray robes with a leader in robes of black and red, with flames on them.

The leader looks at them with surprise as they enter through the door, and appears to assume that they are also servants of the snake-people.

“What are you doing?” calls out Merreep.

“We were attempting to operate this coldforge. But no matter what we do, nothing works. Our lord said that if we could make this work, we could make weapons that would strike down the servants of Banahog effortlessly. We've done everything! We have offered it blood, we have pounded on it with hammers, we have begged, we have pleaded, we have crawled --it does nothing.”

“It might need a blessing. I know some religious stuff and may be able to bless it,” says Runor.

“You think blessing it might help? By the way, welcome to the services of the Lord of Flame and Death. I have not seen you before, I think.”

“Are we trying to make it work?” asks Merreep.

“The lord said that we would be able to make weapons that would strike down the servants of Banahog if we could but make this forge work. This forge, which was left here in ancient days by the great enemy.”

Merreep has no doubt that by “the great enemy” he means elves. Since he hasn’t realized he’s talking to a group that contains elves, she figures that he’s never actually met any—they are all but unheard of in the Shadowlands, except in responding to assaults at the Shadowline. She says, “Perhaps we need to give them more fiery light.”

Aleep interprets that as a command to attack and unleashes a fireball.

The fireball immediately drops all five of the figures in the drab robes, but the leader remains. As the group rushes into battle with him, the priest calls out, “Ulfashi, attend me!” and with a sulphurous cloud of smoke, a glabrezou appears. He also casts a spell and closes many of his open wounds.

The glabrezou strikes Bartix with its two smaller claws, but misses with its two great claws and its bite. Ashaltir smites the demon mightily, drawing its attention away from Bartix.

Runor inflicts dreadful wounds on the priest with a spell, and while the enemy priest attempts to respond in kind, he misses. After some frenzied additional fighting, Runor inflicts more wounds on the priest, and he collapses to the ground with a terrible scream.

The glabrezou laughs at his master’s death. He reaches out a dreadful claw, plucks a tattered gray thing from inside the priest’s body, and says, “Mine.” With that, he disappears.

They find a few potions on the priest by detecting magic, as well as noting a strange power that isn’t quite magic, but still is visible with a detect magic effect, emanating from the forge. [This is of course psionic energy, which they are able to figure out—not the first time they’ve encountered it, though none of them have any psionic abilities. They have now slain the third-ranking priest in the complex.]
[End Session 51]
 

CPaladin

Explorer
Session 52 (October 9, 2022)

20 Chund (cont’d)
They begin by opening a door to the west; they can tell from their map, that there is not much space there. At the end of the short hallway, there are three miserable, chained humans.

Merreep holds her hands out, showing that she isn’t holding anything.

“You don’t look like cultists…” says the bravest of them, an old man. “Does that mean you might not be cultists?”

“We’re not cultists. We’re enemies of the cultists,” replies Runor.

“Oh, that’s very good to know. They’ve been raiding our village for some time.”

“Where is your village? Is it in Shadow?”

“Five days mule ride, and yes. But we are Trueborn.” The word means nothing to the group. “Our patron fears their patron, so he does nothing. Who is your patron?”

“Glordiadel,” says Runor.

“Does he not burn you and eat your children?”

“Glordiadel? Lord of Light and Holiness?” responds Runor increduously.

"Yes, that's what we were always told. That he is the light, and the sun hates everyone, and so he selectively burns and tortures."

The whole group is silent for a while, shocked by this. Runor then starts responding: "He's the greatest god of all. He protects those who cannot protect themselves, and he shines light into where there was dark."

The old man decides he has challenged Runor far enough and nods vigorously. "We are at your mercy and are your slaves."

"We're saving you, but slaves... that's not how Glordiadel works."

The old man looks very confused. "Everyone is a slave to someone."

Runor spends some more time arguing with the old man, whose understanding of the world is so different from his own.

"If Aleep's friends free you, can Aleep's friends know that you will not tell any of the snake people about us?"

"The snake people are enemies. They raid our village and kill our people."

After some more discussion of Glordiadel and the wonders of the world beyond Shadow, the prisoners decide that, when the group returns, they will go with them to the city.

"Do you know how to get down into the basement?"

"Go east, and then south, and then west, and then south, and there are stairs. It is not far. But there are guards. This be a maze. It is not far—but you are lucky you did not go north.”

“What is north?”

“Much, much complex. Mostly abandoned, but there is much of it. It would be long before you found your way out. And some things have crept into the abandoned complex. Unclean things. I do not think you fear the guards.”

“Are the guards snake-people?”

“No, minor eaters from the Shadow. Rutterkin. But they have an alarm bell. You do not want the alarm bell rung. That will bring snake-people. There is something below that they want to protect.”

They try to set the prisoners free, but the priest had no key. The prisoners tell them that the priest would simply pass his hands over the cuffs and say some words when he wants them to open.

Ulgorio picks the locks successfully and releases them. They can tell that the chains have been on long enough to leave marks.

“Be careful of the rutterkin. Do not let them ring the bell.”

The group travels east into a small, 10 by 10 room, with a pile of vestments in the corner. There are no obvious exits, but in a small alcove to the south, there’s a section of wall that has what seems to be a door concealed in the stonework. They can’t figure out how to open it at first, but they scrabble at it until Ulgorio slowly and painfully slide the door half an inch open. Now, with the door partially open, they each take turns pushing at it and sliding it further. With the door open, they see a passageway leading to the south and then turning to the west.

This corridor looks like it is somewhat regularly used. After traveling to the south, the tunnel travels some 25 feet to the west, and then comes to a 3-paneled, wooden door. It looks like it was fine workmanship at one time—elven make, likely—but then debased with dreadful carvings. Bartix can hear movement and gutteral tones of conversation beyond the doors.

While the group quietly argues about what to do next—Runor wants to travel through and kill the rutterkin, while Merreep argues that they can’t attack the rutterkin if the rutterkin don’t attack first—the voices beyond the door fall silent, and Bartix hears heavy footsteps beyond the door, much heavier than the noises they’ve heard before. The group immediately decides to run, fleeing back into the big room. When they arrive, they realize that the priest’s body is missing. They rush into the small area where the “Trueborn” are, along with the body of the priest. A short while later, they hear three heavy footsteps coming from the east, and then proceeding south. The rangers both note the smell of the troll-ogre things that the snake-people use to patrol.

They make their way back down to that door, and they listen. They hear much quieter talking and occasional dice rolls, sometimes followed by cursing.

The group tries to quietly open the doors and then move through. In the northwest corner, there are six small, bedraggled creatures crouched around a dice game with coppers in small piles in front of them.

One of them abruptly shouts, “You cheat, Snozzlenose!”

Another shouts back “Snozzlenose not cheat!” and lunges for him. The others start cheering as a fight breaks out. While the rutterkin are totally enmeshed in their own fight, the whole group quickly makes its way through the room and through a door out in the southeast of the room. (Snozzlenose is getting the worst of it in their fight.) They enter a 30’ passageway, which ends in a plunging staircase down.

At the base of the staircase, there’s a short winding passageway, which ends in a door and a short dead-end passage. They promptly go through the door, into a very large, empty room, with an open doorway to the north and two more doors to the east. Aleep pokes his head through the open doorway. There is a slight musty odor, and a pile of humanoid bones in the southwest corner of the room to the north. There are also a couple of doors out of that room, to the north and to the east.

Merreep looks around the large room, and finds that there is some sort of ancient looking frame in the north wall, with something in it that is completely covered by dirt. Merreep examines it carefully, and it appears to be a wide, full-length mirror set into the wall. The frame sparkles a little—perhaps with small gems set into the frame. Some of the crystals, on closer examination, twinkle with their own inner light.

Aleep mentions that crystals that glow with their own light are sometimes associated with psionics. As Merreep, Aleep, and Runor examine it closely, they see that at the base of the mirror, there are some disturbing runes that have been slashed into the sill. Aleep casts mending, and mends away the runes.

The dust also disappears, and the mirror suddenly glows with a soft light. It’s as if they were looking at banks of white clouds. A voice speaks softly into all of their minds.

<<Directions?>>

“Aleep’s friends seek the matrix?”

The back of the clouds parts, and they see a large circular room with an open screen, with different crystals of different colors and patterns glowing in it. Standing back some distance, there is one of the snake-people, five of the large things, a couple of humans, and a couple of what are obviously corpses that look like they have been electrocuted.

“Aleep thinks this is a scrying device, not a mirror.”

They also notice that one of the twinkling crystals is not twinkling any more. There are five remaining twinkling crystals.

Runor says, “Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who is the coolest of them all?”

The mirror clears again, and shows an enormous ice elemental. Four crystals remain twinkling.
[End session 52]
 

CPaladin

Explorer
Session 53 (October 23, 2022)

20 Chund (cont’d)
Merreep thinks, and then says, “Mirror, mirror, on the wall, can we have a guide to the stairs.”

There is a flash of light, and a tiny figure, about a foot tall, appears suddenly on the floor in the middle of the room.

“Hello,” says Merreep, to the confused looking little person.

“What kind of person are you?” asks Aleep.

“I am Snoz the Imp. Why have you summoned me, o great sorcerers?”

“We want to find the stairs down.”

“Snoz could say many things, but I fear that would get me pummeled. I can take you to the stairs down if you don’t pummel me too much.”

“If you show the stairs, Aleep’s friends will not pummel you at all.”

"I see no reason to in the first place," adds Merreep.

The imp seems more suspicious after that statement than before it.

"But Aleep's friends definitely will not pummel you if you take them to the stairs."

Snoz thinks, and then nods. "What we need to do is to get you all the way to the east. I know the way. I've been here for years ever since I got summoned."

"Who summoned you?"

"Big snake guy. He pummels me a lot."

"That narrows it down," mutters Runor.

"If Aleep's friends find what they seek, they may be able to free you from big snake guy."

“I promise to work very hard to get you to the stairs alive. At least you're not trying to do that thing downstairs that the snake guys always are trying. It’s better if we go through the south door. It’s very twisty-turny in every direction, but it’s less twisty-turny in that direction.”

“Aleep’s friends would also like to avoid snake-people and things like that.”

"Hard to avoid snake-people. If we go south, very very hard to avoid dead people."

"Dead or undead?"

"Dead people who wander around. They don't eat anything or go anywhere, they just exist. If you knock them down, they don't get back up for a hand of hours."

The group decides to take their chances with the undead to get a faster route.

“This first room, this first room is okay.” Snoz leads them through a series of rooms and passages, and then up to a metal curtain-like door. As they head through that, they can hear scraping, growling, and knocking.

The darkness around them becomes almost more palpable, and while their light spell continues to illuminate the area around them, the area it illuminates is getting smaller as they move forward.

They come to the doorway into a room, and the light flickers, barely illuminating the room ahead of them. Three translucent humanoid figures float in the air ahead of them.

A dreadful smell wafts through, and Aleep begins retching in the corner. Seven physical figures, seemingly the source of the odor, have gathered around the floating figures. That’s when Aleep casts fireball, doing 32 damage to any who fail to save.

The fireball incinerates the physical forms and blasts away two of the three floating figures. The blackness now presses in on them, extinguishing their light and bathing them in a wave of fear.

Aleep is touched by something in the darkness, draining away a few hit points and one point of constitution. The rest of the group attacks into the darkness, without much success, and Ulgorio lights an arrow on fire that illuminates almost nothing.

Aleep backs up a little and throws another fireball into the darkness, positioned to end just ahead of him. As the flames burst out, they can momentarily see, in the center of the darkness, an ogre-sized humanoid floating apparition.

Ashaltir leaps forward, smiting at the creature despite now being unable to see it. She does about 9 points of regular damage and 34 points of radiant damage, destroying the creature.

“I will be back…” says the entity as it dissipates.

Runor’s light suddenly springs back to full effect, and the light from the burning arrow as well.

Snoz says, "You dealt with them faster than the snake-people. They usually just throw a slave to them and slink past. I think I like your way better."

After leading them through a series of turning passageways, Snoz stops at a door. "There are guards behind this door--the only guards between you and the stairs to the next level."

They discuss a plan, and decide to pretend that they are a group of slaves being escorted by a guard. Ulgorio casts disguise self and makes himself look like a troll-giant creature. Snoz perches on Ulgorio's shoulder.

They enter the room and find three troll-giants and one snake-person. The snake person looks them over. "More sacrifices? Are you sure that you have them secured well enough?"

Snoz says, "He is mighty warrior, gesturing at Ulgorio."

"I suppose so. And you got one of Banahog's people!" The snake-person gestures at Aleep. "Always nice to take one of those alive. Well, take them down, don't make them wait. Give my compliments to the summoner."

They make their way through the room and to a set of stairs beyond it. Snoz is unable to descend the stairs--magically bound to this level of the complex. And so the rest of the group heads on without him.

At the bottom of the stairs, there is a room with exits in each of the cardinal directions. After finding that one leads a short distance to a spring, they decide to head west, figuring that if the levels are directly over each other, since they were all the way east, the exit to the next level must be west. The door to the west is locked.

It takes a minute or four, but Ulgorio finally picks the lock and opens the door to the west.

They enter a square room. Black and white tiles tesselate the floor, while a fountain sprays water into a bowl. Something about the fountain disturbs Runor. Perhaps most notably, a large, doglike humanoid in the center of the room leaps to its feet as they enter.

"Stop! Forbidden!" It crouches on all four of its arms. "Who you?"

"Snake-people said we need to go to the matrix room," says Merreep.

It looks at Aleep. "You from Banahog?"

"Not from Banahog. Need to go to matrix room. Aleep's friends are sacrifices."

"Sacrifices?" The dog-creature looks confused. It's clearly not very bright. "Sacrifice is dragged through here, kicking, screaming. These sacrifices walk in and say me on a way to sacrifice." It mutters to itself. "If you stop sacrifices, ritual will not go forward, severe punishment. If you let through people cleverly claiming they sacrifices that not sacrifices, that serve Banahog, severe punishment..."

"Aleep does not serve Banahog. If Aleep served Banahog, he would be scared to say: 'Curse Banahog and wish Banahog were destroyed by Light.'"

"No serve Banahog... You think you are the ones that will finally buy the matrix? So those that live be rewarded?"

Runor says, "Sure."

"Hmm! Paladin!" The dog-beast points to Ashaltir. "Not tried one of those. She sacrificed first?"

"Is likely."

"You go." It gestures to the north door. "You go through. Yipper stay here. You tell them when it succeeds that Yipper sent you through to matrix room." Yipper moves over, and unlocks the door with a key on a chain at its belt, along with a gold circlet and a rapier with runes that burn.

"Do you know where we should go beyond that door?"

"No. Yipper bound here. Yipper not go past north door. Yipper very good guardian."

They keep their opinions of that to themselves as they head towards the north door. They hear the door click locked behind them.

Aleep comments, "Is strange. That was demon. Most of stupidest summoned things are. But imp was devil. Perhaps priest is demonist, sorcerer is diabolist? Perhaps matrix is making some more lawful?"

They travel on and enter another room with a very attractive, scantily dressed woman in it. She immediately rises as they enter. "Now that's interesting... a priest of Glordiadel, and a paladin of Eiru? A ranger, a bard, and a froglock that obviously does not serve Banahog? How strange..." She tosses her hair for dramatic effect. "And I, a poor, unarmed, defenseless woman, who could do nothing to stop such a mighty, powerful band of adventurers as yourselves..."

They all need to save against the power of her charm. Ironically, Runor and Aleep, though in theory among the most resistant, both fail and pledge that they will keep her safe and help her escape this tower.

Merreep says, "Do not trust this woman!"

But the strange woman sidles up to Aleep and Runor, who promise to keep her safe.

"Beware. There are many traps that await you ahead of here."

Aleep asks, "Is maiden enslaved by evil? Aleep's friends could take maiden with them when they leave."

"I would be delighted to leave with you, my dear froglock."

"Could Aleep's friends rest here?"

"Of course, of course."

Despite their (obviously correct) distrust, even the non-charmed members of the group agree that resting and recuperating would be a good idea. They simply maintain a steady watch to make sure the "maiden" does not harm their friends. But offered with the possibility of being freed, she is all too willing to let them rest safely here. She gives Aleep a beautiful ring of obsidian set with malachite. "Take this with you. It is my good luck charm and will keep you safe from the traps ahead." [In fact, her magic has cursed Aleep and Runor to be more susceptible to the traps, but they do not know that.]

In the morning, she serves them a fine breakfast, and sends them off to the north.
[End Session 53]
 

CPaladin

Explorer
Session 54 (November 6, 2022)

21 Chund
Runor casts Divination, and asks: "What is the best way to get to stairs down to the matrix room?"

The response is, "Where the sun rises lies the stairs of your desire."

Runor says, "So... that's the west, right?"

The priest of the sun god who thinks the sun rises in the west is roundly mocked by his friends, who conclude that they should follow the east doorway out of this room and proceed eastwards.

They follow a passage that winds east and north quite a distance, passing a door to the north, and then approaching a sliding door made of bone, with a demonic face carved in the door.

As they approach, the demonic face opens its eyes, and Runor immediately smashes it with his hammer.

"Ow! Why do people always do that when I open my eyes? It's like they don't expect me to be sentient."

"Most doors aren't sentient."

"Well, I am. I am a new door." It keeps a close eye on the hammer. "Are you going to hit me again?"

"Not unless you turn out to be evil. We're just trying to go through."

"Hmm. I would have thought it would be safe to open for you, except I see a follower of Banahog."

"Aleep is not a follower of Banahog!"

"But how am I supposed to know that I can trust you? They told me I must not open for followers of Banahog."

Merreep says, "Runor is a priest of Glordiadel. Do you think a priest of Glordiadel would work with a follower of Banahog?"

"Hmm. That doesn't sound very likely, what with Glordiadel being a god of Light and all. And they never told me to not let through priests of Glordiadel. Hmm. I guess you can go through." The door slides itself into a pocket in the wall.

After being asked, the door tells them that to get to the stairs down, "go east as far as you can, then south, then enter the big chamber with the stairs down and talk to the half-dragon that guards it."

They pass through and keep going east, into a 10 by 10 room with a door heading to the east. They pass through that door as well, and then they can go no further east, so they turn south, and open another door.

Merreep walks in. A large man with red, scaly skin says, "Ah, my dinner guests." He puts down a book he has been reading on a large stack of books. "How interesting. Not yuan-ti. The door must have let you through, so you can't be followers of Banahog... So you must be intruders."

"We're not intruders," says Merreep. "We were sent by people like the people who built this tower."

"Be that as it may, why should I not eat you? What's in it for me?"

"Living," says Runor.

"I have less fear of death than I did when I was younger."

"How old are you?"

"Some hundreds of years."

"I have known several beings who were hundreds of years old who died."

"Oh, yes, it is within the relative realm of possibility, young priest, but it is unlikely against this group."

Aleep tries a different tack. "Aleep notices you have many books. Are you interested in such things?"

"Yes, yes. Particularly magic and summoning."

"Aleep is wizard."

"Yes, I see that. Have you read the Summoning of the Nineteen Demons?"

"Aleep has not read that. He is mostly a transmuter."

"Yes, transmutation is an interesting field, though not one I have been permitted to pursue. I have no particular loyalty to those who presently own this facility, and yet I have no particularly loyalty to you; but I have no particular animus towards you either, unless you cause it. It is no skin off my snout to let you through unless you irritate me.

"But there is one small problem. If you go downstairs and fail--which is likely-- I'm going to have to eat several of the people they send to punish me, and when I attain my other form this becomes uncomfortably cramped in here. So, as you can probably guess, I would prefer not to eat several people sent to punish me. I would prefer not to eat you actually--I'd much prefer a good cow. They're very difficult to get down here, you know."

"Yes, I think they generally sacrifice those," says Merreep.

"Why they do that, I don't know. It's so tedious. And Banahog constantly trying to storm the place, while whatever demon lord has its followers in here tries to seize the matrix..."

"Such a boring existence. Once we have taken the Matrix, maybe things will change and become more interesting."

"But what guarantee do I have that you will succeed, where all the others have failed?"

Runor says, "We're a group of reasonably strong adventurers."

"Obviously. But you also have some magical prowess and some information from those who owned this land in the before times. No, I must tell you, it would not disturb me if the Matrix were removed. Eventually they're going to find a way to break it, and I have no particular desire to become a part of Gnnnst's armies, even if I come of his stock. What do you think, mage? Aleep you said your name was?"

"Yes, Aleep is Aleep's name. Aleep thinks Aleep's friends are more capable and more savvy than others because Aleep's friends have made it this far."

"There is that. I have only seen one group of adventurers get this far before, and that was years ago. They unfortunately felt that they had to attack me. I'm inclined to let you pass based on your credentials, your courtesy, and the lame attempted to joke."

Aleep demonstrates some transmutations to the half-dragon, explaining some of the fine points while the half-dragon makes up a pot of tea.

"Oh, a fascinating power, youthful mage, probably more useful than summoning demons, because then you have to beat them into submission."

Merreep says, "That sounds annoying."

"It's very annoying. They don't like to follow orders. They constantly attempt to mess up what you tell them to do. You tell them to get a cow, you could end up with anything you imagine."

Aleep and the half-dragon copy some spells from each other's spell-books. The half-dragon has every summoning spell imaginable, though it looks like the eighth and ninth level spells are ones that he is still working on learning. Aleep doesn't copy demon summoning spells, but does copy spells for summoning regular monsters and spells for binding demons, because those can be useful for dealing with enemy demons.

"Interesting, interesting," says the half-dragon as it copies out various transmutations carefully. "I once considered attempting to bind an angel, but they're even more reticent than demons."

"Aleep's understanding is that angels need to be persuaded to help, not compelled."

"Oh, that might have been my problem! I'll remember that. Persuaded... maybe a nice cup of tea and coffee cake, when I can actually compel something to bring me one... You know, if you leave with that Matrix, I'm going to leave right after you."

"It seems like many people will be leaving quickly."

"Oh, I think so. I'd like to find a nice fiery lava-filled mountain to hoard some treasure instead of this, but I cannot leave as long as the Matrix is here."

After exchanging some spells, they head west through a door to the stairs. Another door leads out further west, while the stairs descend to the north. As they go down the stairs, the half-dragon bellows after them, "Keep going north! Otherwise you'll be lost in there forever."
[cont'd]
 

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