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Children of Sorrow


JENDI watches the murmuration of the crows, almost bewitched by the beauty of the movement. The sounds, while loud, soothes him after his long day of travel and travail. Echoes of sounds he has heard in his dreams, songs sung by and to his Duskqueen.

A sharp movement next to him draws his attention first to Mylistra, then to young Nemo. Neither seems particularly soothed by the sounds, and both watch the swooping and diving of the birds with looks of extreme unease, perhaps even distress. A glance at his sister reveals that she, too, is not enjoying the performance and lullaby.

But he, the Raven Queen's soldier, recognizes it for what it is: her blessing and protection. She has clearly sent these birds to reward them in their trials thus far. But perhaps the crows do not need to be quite so loud, quite so exuberant? The elfling stands and walks into the center of the clearing. Looking up at the glorious dance of feather accompanied by the percussive symphony of crow-song, he lifts up his arms, palms up, and quietly speaks to his Patron:

"My Lady, you honor us with this splendid evidence of your praise and protection! I thank You! You are all that I adore, all that I follow, and I see this dark blessing for what it is: encouragement for more acts of bravery, praise for following your demands. I am yours to will.

"But my companions are weary and unaccustomed such strong displays, however great and wonderous they might be. Might the murmuration become more sleepy and the symphony more ... murmurs, to soothe them and bring them succor in rest. I will listen to your music in my own rest. Again, I thank You."


Jendi's companion stare at him as he moves away from the fire and into the center of the clearing, directly under the terrifying dance of the murder of crows (murders?). When he lifts his arms, Toriq makes a move to get up and follow, but Mylistra's hand on her own stops her. The witch points upward, and they watch the wild dance of feathers calm down--not stop entirely, but slow down significantly. Similarly the cacophony of sound slowly becomes a gentle murmur. The two women look at each other in astonishment. Nemo uncovers his ears in wonder.

Then, the young warlock returns to the fire, unfolds his bedroll, and lies down.

* Jendi makes a Secondary Skill Religion check to recognize that this display is from The Raven Queen and is a sign of Her approval: +9 = Autosuccess vs. 9 Easy DC for a + 2 bonus to

* his Primary Skill Diplomacy check to persuade Her to tone down Her birds a bit so that his companions can get the rest they need: +14+2 = Autosuccess vs. 13 Moderate DC. Success.
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Skill Challenge, Make Camp in the Perilous Wilds successfully completed.


Take an Extended Rest.

XP: 125
/4 PCs= 31.25 = 30 XP/PC.

For a "procedural" Skill Challenge such as this, I'm not going to tally this towards Milestones accrued with regards to checking Grim Portents in Fronts (not that that is in play here; just FYI moving forward).

Within a few short minutes of Jendi's arbitration with the crows (or their Queen), their gravelly squawks die down completely as they begin to take wing singly, in pairs, a few at a time away, and dusk settles fully over the camp. The night passes uneventfully and you all sleep well enough, though your dreams are filled with black feathers and phantom kraas.

What comes next? You're aware, of course, of the Grim Portents I've checked off. Do you wish to return to Ravenswood and (1) address the crackdown on the Children of Sorrow and their allies or (2) make arrangements to travel to Blackstone and pursue Jendi's interests there? Will you (3) press on in the forest, in search of whatever destination this now-disrupted logging road anticipated, surely aligned in some way with the designs of the Cult of Orcus? Will you (4) pivot away from these present matters and begin engaging Mylistra's vengeful rival, her brother, and his deranged service to the goals of Lolth? (5) Something else?


Offthread, @Nephis indicated a desire to pursue option 3 above. So that's where we'll begin:

The next day you rise with the sun, itself rising later each morning as autumn advances towards winter. You wrap your fur-lined cloaks close about you as wind gusts through the forest, swirling the last of brown leaves from the branches in dancing spirals. Meek yellow light filters down through the bare canopy as you travel north for hours in the direction pursued by the now-halted logging road venture. You travel the full day and then most of another.

And then the forest comes to an end. Despite her far-ranging rounds throughout the region, Toriq has never been this far in this direction, but she is relatively sure this place hasn't always been this way, for surely word would have circulated among the Guardians of the Ruby Spire, so close (relatively speaking) to their own domain?

The vast clearing is a blight on the landscape. The occasional dessicated trunk still thrusts from gray earth, but there is no sign of greenery, a living conifer or grasses clinging to their greenth, unusual even in this advancing season. But what's worse is the utter lack of visibility beyond a hundred yards ahead, for a fine, pale dust like ashes swirls, lingers, obscures. This ash rises fifty, a hundred feet above the plain, challenging the low, mustard-beige clouds above. Occasionally, the ash clears just enough to reveal some crumbling stone structure deep within the gloom.

That's when you notice them. At first, you think it is the crows, returned. But these black-feathered birds have neither feathers nor flesh bedecking their heads, worse than vultures. No, their heads are white skulls, without beak and uncanny ... not quite the skull of a bird or reptile even, though that latter is closer. They are eerily silent as they seem to watch you through eye-less cavities.

What do you do? Whatever it is will be the first attempt against an obstacle in the upcoming L+2 Skill Challenge (DCs 10/14/21). In addition to your move, please articulate the specific goal(s) of that Skill Challenge, which will enable me to set its Complexity. I assume you are engaging the next Grim Portent in The Cult of Orcus (Divine Enemy) Front:
  • The Ashen Fane is consecrated as a site of Orcus worship in the woods
Thus, I imagine halting that consecration is your foremost desideratum. That could very well tie in to the second of these Quests of Toriq (depending on how you address it), but I'm curious if you seek to engage the first Quest in some way here, as well (you certainly don't have to! There will be plenty of opportunity for you to pursue that separately and later if you choose):

● Minor Quest: uncover Cosmo's connection to the Cult of Orcus

● Minor Quest: find and put a stop to Cosmo's excavation in the Forest


As soon as JENDI sees the black-winged creatures--a horror of horrors? He refuses to call it an unkindness of whatever they are--the young warlock realizes several things. First, the blessing his Queen bestowed upon them the night before last was also a warning, a portent, a dire message. These profane creatures were once of her beloved children but have been perverted--most likely by Orcus. They must be destroyed, for he sees no way to return them to true life, and to "live" as they are now would be an anathema to the Queen of Death.

His second realization is that their presence in this blighted landscape of Cosmo's excavation seems to indicate a clear connection between the the cult of the Goat-Horned Demon and Cosmo himself. Why else would this horror of winged creatures be lingering here? This is obviously (to Jendi's eyes, at least) Cosmo's work, this destructed clearing of felled trees and cloudy dust. Even one as untrained in Nature's workings can see that the once healthy soil has been changed by the devastation he, Cosmo, has wrought, through the work of his henchman.

Can this actually be the proof that Toriq is seeking? The presence of Orcus's transformed creatures in Cosmo's excavation? Is their presence mere coincidence? Unlikely. But surely they must find something more concrete than this supposition the warlock has pieced together through dreamed images and nightmare horrors.

The elfling's eyes linger on these horrors for a bit longer, sensing the inner voice of his Duskmaiden teaching him--through flashes of images--about rituals that bring about such blasphemous abominations. Jendi thinks of himself as having a strong stomach but these images of drugged and fetid food, of the removal of flesh and eyes, of the bathing of creatures in strange alchemical liquids transforming them and bringing fresh but false "life" in the animation of such transformed creatures. He struggles to keep down his gorge, already a difficulty in this strangely silent, dust-clogged clearing of undeath.

Then he turns to Riqqi to let her know what he has gleaned from his Queen and what he suspects--as surely they all suspect--to be true.

* Jendi makes a Primary Skill Religion check to understand what these winged creatures mean in terms of the cult of Orcus and this clearing (and, possibly, Cosmo): r18+9=27 vs. 14 Moderate DC. Success.

I think we might as well be efficient and tackle not only the Grim Portent but the two Minor Quests as well, since they all fit nicely together. How does that sound?
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Okay, considering the complexity and difficulty of your multifaceted goals for this scene, I’m setting this as a L+2 (L4) C4 Skill Challenge (10 Successes before 3 Failures), staged with 2 significant stakes: (1) uncovering Cosmo's connection to the Cult of Orcus achieved upon Success 6 and (2) putting a stop to Cosmo's excavation in the Forest achieved upon Success 10, which will also prevent the consecration of the Ashen Fane (a Grim Portent in the Cult of Orcus Front). This SC will include 2 Nested Combats of L+2 for 1 Success each in the Skill Challenge: the combat below and a confrontation with the Ashen Fane’s defenders as fictionally appropriate at or near the Challenge’s completion; additional combat is possible as a consequence for micro-failures.

I’m going to count Jendi’s great success with that Religion roll as both (1) the first success in this Skill Challenge (essentially, identifying the threat of the Bone Harbingers (see below) and causal link between Cosmo’s logging work and the Cult of Orcus) and (2) your Monster Knowledge check vs the Bone Harbingers (27 Religion skill check exceeds Hard DC 21; see below for full stat block). In addition, take +2 bonus to your attack rolls against them in Round One as you exploit Jendi’s knowledge of these creatures. You still need to make a Monster Knowledge Religion check for the Ash Zombies.

Skill Challenge: Prevent the Consecration of the Ashen Fane
, L4 C4 (1 Success/0 Failures; DCs 10/14/21; 3 Hard DCs; 4 Secondary Skills available; 4 Advantages available)

As Jendi describes the threat posed by these Bone Harbingers—and what they portend—the details of the immediate landscape come into better view. Once this must have been a crossroads, for amid the layers of ash the faint trail of an ancient road is visible without any living greenery to obscure it. A shallow, green-hued stream trickles through, emitting a noxious odor. The ash that covers the ground is of three shades itself, a predominating light brown plain interrupted by a shimmering silver-gray expanse and dark splotches along the streambanks and in a few other swathes.

Clouds of ochre ash drift across the plains, occasionally yielding a brief glimpse of dead tree or the crumbling edifice in the middle distance.

As you prepare yourselves for the impending onslaught from the Bone Harbingers, four small humanoid figures—corpses, really, of ash and desiccated flesh—rise from the earth to join in the attack!


Badlands: Ashen Fane Approach (EL 4 Combat Encounter, 624 XP)


Dead Trees:
These desiccated trunks and branches are blocking terrain but can be entered and climbed with a successful Moderate Athletics check (DC 13). They are 12 squares (smaller trees) or 14 squares (single, larger tree) high. They can provide Cover.

Ancient Road: Once, long, long ago, a well-maintained road passed through this area. Now, this crossroads is covered with a thin layer of ochre ash. This settled ash can be Stunted with (see Settled Ash below).

Ashen Plain: The predominating light brown badlands are beset by some necromantic scourge and are now defiled ground.

Defiled Ground​

Necromantic events leave unseen traces of their former presence. Defiled ground sometimes attracts undead.
Effect: Undead gain a +1 bonus to rolls to recharge their powers while on defiled ground. In addition, if an undead creature is reduced to 0 hit points while on defiled ground, roll a d20; on a 10 or higher, the undead creature rises with 1 hit point on its next turn. If radiant damage reduces an undead creature to 0 hit points, it can't rise again in this manner.

Silver Plain: This irregular area of the landscape must have been burned by some otherworldly heat, for it shimmers like glass and is called slipsand.


Blasted by some arcane energy, the ground is saturated with high quantities of glass particles, making its surface particularly treacherous.
Effect: A creature that enters a square containing slipsand must make an Acrobatics check (moderate DC 13). On a failure, the creature falls prone and takes 5 damage from the glass fragments.

Dark Brown Plain and Streambed: Both banks of the eerie green stream and two other areas are covered with a thick layer of dark ash and dust. Entering any of these dark brown squares activates the Hazard (see Chokedust Cloud below).

Green Stream and Pools: These bodies of water shimmer with a bright green hue and give off a caustic vapor. They are hindering terrain and difficult terrain for creatures without earth walk. They sink into the mire, muck clinging to flesh and clothing. In addition, any creature that starts its turn in a square of these acidic bogs takes ongoing 5 acid damage and is slowed (save ends both). They can be Stunted with (see Mud Sink below).

Bonepowder Haze: These clouds of gray ash waft above the landscape, posing banes for the living and boons to the undead. Fields of bonepowder haze are lightly obscured. Any living creature within a square containing this terrain regains only one-half normal hit points from healing effects. Furthermore, whenever a living creature receives a healing effect while in bonepowder haze, each undead creature within 3 squares of it gains a +2 power bonus to attack rolls until the end of the undead creature's next turn.

* * *

Chokedust Cloud Level 2 Lurker
Hazard XP 125

Powdery ash billows into the air, filling it with a clinging, choking cloud.
Hazard: These areas of ash contain extremely fine particles. The slightest disturbance kicks up a stifling haze.

When a creature enters a square containing chokedust or when a square in the area is included in a blast or a burst attack, the hazard makes the following attack.

Attack * Zone
Opportunity Action
Area the entire chokedust area (any contiguous dark brown squares)
Target: Each creature in the area
Attack: +4 vs. Fortitude
Hit: The target is blinded and takes ongoing 5 damage (save ends both). A creature cannot save against this hazard's effect while it is within the cloud.

✦ Acrobatics DC 15: A character can move into an area of chokedust without triggering its attack by succeeding on a skill check as part of the move action.
✦ Endurance DC 10: A character can make a skill check as a minor action to gain a +2 bonus to Fortitude against the chokedust cloud's attack. The bonus lasts until the end of the character's next turn.

* * *

Terrain Powers:

Settled Ash At-Will Terrain

A sickly ochre and gray ash coats the ground. The slightest disturbance kicks up an obscuring cloud.
Standard Action
You must be on or adjacent to a square of the ancient road.
Check: Athletics check (easy DC 9) to raise a cloud of ash.
Success: The ash fills the air, obscuring vision.
Target: Each creature in a close blast 3
Attack: Level + 3 vs. Fortitude
Hit: The target is blinded until the end of your next turn.
Effect: The area of the blast is heavily obscured until the end of the encounter.

Mud Sink At-Will Terrain

A patch of innocuous mud conceals a clinging morass that proves hard to escape.
Standard Action
Athletics check (moderate DC 13) to maneuver one creature adjacent to you and to the mud sink into a mud sink square.
Success: You slide the creature 1 square into the mud sink square adjacent to it. You then make the following attack against that creature.
Target: Melee 1; one creature
Attack: Level +3 vs. Reflex
Hit: The target is immobilized (save ends).
Aftereffect: The target is slowed (save ends).

Roll initiative (and Religion, if you desire) and place your PCs anywhere within 3 squares of the central “island” amid the crossroads.

* * *

Bone Harbinger Swarms: (black circles), L2 Skirmishers, HP 35, AC 16, Fortitude 13, Reflex 16, Will 13
Bone Harbinger Swarm Level 2 Skirmisher
Medium natural beast (swarm, undead) XP 125
35; Bloodied 17 Initiative +6
AC 16, Fortitude 13, Reflex 16, Will 13 Perception+6
Speed 2, fly 6 (hover) Darkvision
Immune disease, poison; Resist 5 necrotic, half damage from melee and ranged attacks; Vulnerable 5 radiant, 5 to close and area attacks

Hindering SwarmAura 1
Enemies in the aura take a -2 penalty to melee and ranged attack rolls.

Evasive Flight
A flying bone harbinger swarm does not provoke opportunity attacks when it moves.

The swarm can occupy the same space as another creature, and an enemy can enter its space, which is difficult terrain. The swarm cannot be pulled, pushed, or slid by melee or ranged attacks. It can squeeze through any opening that is large enough for at least one of the creatures it comprises.

Standard Actions
(⚔) Beaks and TalonsAt-Will
Attack: Melee 1 (one creature); +7 vs. AC
Hit: 1d8 + 6 damage. The swarm can slide the target 1 square to a square adjacent to it.

Feasting HarbingersRecharge
The bone harbinger swarm shifts up to its speed, can shift through squares occupied by enemies, and makes the following attack once against each enemy whose square it enters; +7 vs AC; 2d6+6 damage.

Move Actions
Blur of Black
and White
The bone harbinger swarm moves up to its speed, and can move through squares occupied by enemies.

Str 8 (0) Dex 17 (+4) Wis 10 (+1)
Con 11 (+1) Int 1 (-4) Cha 6 (-1)
Alignment Evil Languages -

Ash Zombies: (white circles), L2 Minions, HP 1; a missed attack never damages a minion. AC 14, Fortitude 14, Reflex 14, Will 12

Jendi's Monster Knowledge Religion check, r19+9=28. Exceeds Hard DC. Full stat block added below.
Ash Zombie Level 2 Minion Brute
Small natural animate (undead)
XP 31
1; a missed attack never damages a minion. Initiative +1
AC 14, Fortitude 14, Reflex 14, Will 12 Perception-1
Speed 5 Darkvision
Immune disease, poison

Standard Actions
(⚔) Grab and GnawAt-Will
Attack: Melee 1 (one creature); +7 vs. AC
Hit: 3 damage, and the zombie grabs the target (escape DC 13). Until the grab ends, the target takes ongoing 5 damage.

Triggered Actions
Cast Off
Trigger: A grabbed creature escapes from the ash zombie.
Effect (Immediate Reaction): The ash zombie shifts up to half its speed.

Skills Stealth +6
Str 11 (+1) Dex 11 (+1) Wis 7 (-1)
Con 10 (+1) Int 1 (-4) Cha 3 (-3)
Alignment Unaligned Languages -

Nemo (green circle), r10+6=16
Mylistra (purple circle), r12+4=16
Jendi (blue circle), r14+1=15
Ash Zombies (white circles), r13+1=14
Bone Harbinger Swarms (black circles), r6+6=12
Toriq (red circle), r6+2=8
Chokedust Cloud Hazard, TBD

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