Daggers & Deviltry


All art is by Storn A. Cook, who plays Kendrick and is talented enough to have done 3/4's of these sketches at the table.

First thing's first, I'm a player character. I'm not a character in a fantasy book and though me and those other fictions have some in common, there's tons that is just plain different. As of now, there's more of me that exists off the table than on the table. That is a damned lonely place for a player character to be. I've only been through one combat encounter of my first adventure, that's on the table. The rest is all back-story.

Back-story's nice, it gives my player something to build off of but it just doesn't have meat to it, like rolling a natural 20 while whittling at stick. But here we are, discussing back-story, let's get to it.


My name is Melech the Red and it isn't because I wear scarlet or because I have red hair. My hair's black, though I shave it bald to accentuate my horns, though I keep a black beard just like ole Asmodeus, the God-Tyrant of Hell, because the ladies find it dashing. I gained my moniker after my first kill. I was covered in blood like an amateur and my brothers thought it was all hilarious.

I'm a Dungeons and Dragons character, made up in that new fourth edition. I'm a Tiefling Rogue, grabbed that feat that allows me to take some Warlock nifties, mostly because my player had a vision of a rogue with a dagger in one hand and a wand in the other. My family used to kill for a Tiefling duke, back when we had an empire. We were the knives behind the throne. Nowadays, since the fall of Bael Turath, my family's nothing but thugs with knives. And I come from a big family. I have thirteen brothers and seven sisters, cannot even be bothered to count the cousins and uncles and aunts. We settled into an urban sprawl and carved out our place in blood.

Something happened, something I'm not ready to talk about just yet (my player hasn't made it up yet) and I lost my taste for the family business. I got the hell out, no pun intended. That was when I ran into the Fighter, Kendric Dell - Fafhrd to my Grey Mouser. Where I was raised in a family of devil worshipping killers he was raised by city guard, generations of them. His brothers all became city guards and his sisters all married city guards, or so he told me. Yeah, Kendric is a player-character too, couldn't you tell?


Kendric got into a duel with a noble and when he killed the bastard the city's rulers wanted him put to death. The Dell family saw differently and they let him go, told the ruling family that he had broken free. Nowadays he's on the lam, out into the world, adventuring with me. We were made as second level characters, which is a pretty swank way to start, I've got to say. We were joining two other P.C.'s after their first few adventures and the Dungeon Master wanted us to be of equal level. Our first level adventure was off-table, something our players thought up to fill in that gap between first and second level. If it was a module, it would have been called Night of a Thousand Knives; we ran like hell from my family, dozens of Tiefling assassins.

We joined two other player characters, Petal and Bok.


Petal is a Dragonborn Cleric, silvery lavender scales and a flower in her scaly mane for every time she's done good, every time she took out her morning star and thumped evil in the head, leaving the world a better place. Petal wants to take those points of light, those little pieces of the world that are just and right and weave them together to fight against the darkness. That is a nice thing. She wants to do it in Bahamut's name, breathing lightning and smashing skulls as she goes. That is a kick-ass.


Bok is an Eladrin Wizard, straight off the boat from the Feywild. Bok's pretty and carries a sword. He's more like me, morally flexible, Unaligned if you believe what the ole character sheets say. There is some debt from the Feywild that is eating at him but I only know about it because Petal's player mentioned it before Bok's player showed up and then Bok's player alluded to it when my player gave her a ride home. It is hard to remember that Bok is a man, in part because he's just so fey pretty and also because he is played by a pixie-ish lady. Bok and Petal had just cleared out some bandits and wouldn't ya know it, rather than meet up in some dingy tavern, Kendrick and I were on the trail of those same bandits. I love putting a knife in the face of a bandit; no one cares about a bandit.

We all had connections and reasons to head to Winterhaven (psst, I think the adventure's afoot in Winterhaven), so we all agreed to watch over a caravan that was headed over there to trade bolts of cloth for Winterhaven wheat. The roads are dangerous since the empire fell and they just seem to be getting worse all the time.

The lady selling the bolts of clothe mentioned kobolds. They attacked us on the road. Amateurs.

I was scouting ahead but I'm a city-boy, so that meant I went ahead a bit, nestled up against some rocks with some nice Stealth rolling and just took it easy. My Perception isn't so hot, so I didn't see the ambush coming but my Stealth was swank enough so they didn't see me coming either.

Bok noticed two of the Kobolds, Dragonshields, with heavy armor and pointed them out to Petal, who was on point. That was when the slinger jumped up on the boulders whose shadow I was hiding under and hit our resident priest of Bahamut with a pot of glue-crap. Until Petal made her save, it was going to be tough for her to maneuver. She was promptly swarmed with kobold minions. Those little bastards move fast.

Having an enemy, particularly the ranged attacker, end up next to a Tiefling Rogue like me is like Asmodemas morning (like Christmas, only bloodier). I put a hard whack on the Slinger as soon as the surprise was over. Shurikens shaped like pentagrams hit him in the neck, leaving him a bloodied mess, both in the fiction and on paper. Then the bastard hit me with some kind of pot and I went on fire. It didn't hurt but I hate being set on fire; it reminds me of my sisters, always setting me on fire for kicks when I was a boy. On instinct, I took out my wand, thinking I'd hit him with the Hellish Rebuke but by the time I cleared the smoke from my eyes, pointed the wand at the proper pot and hit, it would be too long by my player's reckoning. When it comes to murder and to love, my pa always said, keep it simple. I knifed him and he shifted, then ran.

On the other side of the battlefield, Petal was trying to get out from the midst of kobold minions so Bok could do her...his thing. Kendrick was wading in, last to step up but this gave him a good view of the battlefield and he slipped in when and where needed. The kobolds talked some smack to Petal in Draconic, a language I don't grok but I heard later they said something about her breeding being questionable...bad move. Once Petal hacked her way free, Bok dropped icy death left and right. I didn't see it, as I was on fire and taking a knife to a kobold down the road, but I did see several Dragonshields frozen solid. Their hands, once broken from their frozen arms, made lovely popsicles.

Koboldsicles. Yum.

Working with Petal was a good time. She strode up to the Slinger, healing my wounds with a glance and a prayer to the Platinum Dragon she worshipped, all six foot five of her bulk right in his face. Once he was between us, it was no big thing for me to come up behind him, shove his head into Petal's armored chest and knife him in the armpit.

"You like fire, now?" I asked his corpse.

Petal's chest had some kobold gore on it, from my little flanking-inspired murder; I apologized and offered to wipe it off when she turned for the remaining minions and Dragonshields.

We won the day handily.

One of the Dragonshields, the last remaining of his ilk on the road, threw down his sword and surrendered. "Please, leave my bloody armor here, so they think I'm dead. If they think I live, they'll kill my family."

Petal got him tied up.

"Is it Dragonborn tradition to tie up captives before we knife them to death?"

Kendrick and Petal looked at me with disapproving glances.

"He surrendered, Melech," Kendrick said, chastening me. Bok laughed, though. I'll have to give a visit to the Feywild some time. I bet they could find uses for a knife of my skills and temperament.

We ended there, Bok thought to ask about the treasure they might have on them but we never got to it that session. Sleep, salsa dancing and other real life stuff that players need to deal with meant an early end for our game.

We'd better meet again. I don't want to end up one of those sad character sheets in the back of a Players Handbook, the one that only got one half-session in before the game went south, the kind with all kinds of unanswered questions. I hope not; I'm curious to see what I become.

What does Bok owe and to whom? Will we run into my murderous, Asmodeus-worshipping family? Will Kendrick's past catch up with him? Will Petal make the world a better place in the name of Bahamut by smashing evil in the face with a morningstar? Who has this kobold's family under threat? We'll find out in future sessions, I bet and once we do, I'll likely knife our problems in the face, maybe setting them on fire from the shadows before I do so. I look forward to it.
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Jim DelRosso

First Post
I'm glad y'all are enjoying the game. I certainly hope that we get these questions answered -- if the sessions thus far are any indication, the process should be a damned blast. :)

(Is it bad that part of me wants to substitute ":close:" for "blast" above?)


Cerebral Paladin said:
A fun start! I like the narrator's voice, and the self-conscious meta-comments on being a PC are amusing.

Thanks for reading. Melech's voice comes very naturally, which is nice and writing him with Order of the Stick-style self-awareness is a hoot. Glad you enjoyed it.


Scheduling difficulties have been as aggravating as a horde of kobolds shifting around the battlefield.

But you should definitely check out Vor Kragal, City of Ash, a tale of the lost capital of my people. My great-grandmother claimed to have seen the city before it fell. She said she had a clockwork toy of Tiamat forged in the Hellforge Crucible by Rithzalgor. She spoke of the city with great romance for the past, telling stories about her dalliance with the ambassador from Sigil and how this affair angered the necromantic matron of House Barikdral, forcing her family to put her into hiding rather than face undead retribution. It was there, on the frontier borderlands between Tiefling and Dragonborn empires where she met my great-grandfather.

Maybe I will write her a letter if we ever get to play again.


Entering Winterhaven

We were on our way to Winterhaven with a Kobold prisoner. Since the prisoner could only speak Draconic, it was up to Petal, our favorite armored Dragonborn do-gooder for Bahamut to speak to him. I just stood behind her, making various hand-motions that let the little bastard know that I was going to kill him if I got the chance.

As the Kobold had asked when he surrendered, we left his armor behind, so folks from home would think he was dead. He claimed if they thought he had surrendered, they would kill his family. Nice folks from home he's got; I can relate a bit. I tied the little lizard to my hip and considered the pro's and cons of a Kobold pet.

We hit Winterhaven's outlying farms before the town proper. Emilia, the merchant we were protecting, said the town had degraded further. More farm-houses were vacant and there were sigils here and there, sigilsl to Orcus, we figured out. The Kobold (whose name we never got...does that make us bad people?) told us that the wyrm-priests from his home under a great waterfall had stopped their worship of Tiamat. No :):):):):) and they had begun to worship, what he called, the goat-headed god.

Kendrick asked me if my family worshipped the Demon Prince of the Undead.

"No, Kendrick, Orcus is a demon. My family worships devils and specifically, Asmodeus, God-Tyrant of Hell."

"Devils, demons, what's the difference?" he asked, between puffs of his pipe.

"Demons have no class," I replied, in lieu of a real answer that I didn't have. But looking back, I think my answer sums it up nicely.

I enjoy those little moments of buddy-dom between me and Kendrick. Bok and Petal have a similiar vibe, leading our adventures to feel like Elric and Moonglum out on the road with Fafrd and the Grey Mouser, a pair of pairs living by wits, blades and sorcery.

The crops were fecund but had a rot to them, as if some kind of disease had set in. It was foul, something rotten in Winterhaven.

One of the farmhouses was prominently marked with that Orcus sigil and we could feel eyes on us from within. I tied the Kobold to Emilia's cart and took a closer look, sneaky-like. There is a kind of myth among city thieves that out in the country, everyone leaves their windows wide open, maybe with a pie cooling on the sill. There wasn't a pie on the sill but the window was open. It was a little shack of a place, two rooms, dishevelled and it smelled like death. Inside was a farmer, kneeling, head to the ground, worshiping at a makeshift blood-smeared altar to a goat's head.

I took out my wand and my knife, thinking I would knife this infernal yokel and burn the barn to the ground.

But then I'd have to go out there and explain this to Kendrick and Petal whose Lawful Good alignment would impede their ability to see the pragmatic logic behind my murder and arson. I remain sure that if this farmer is willing to set in his own filth and worship a goat's head smeared with who knows who's blood on his fireplace, that we are going to have to end up fighting him later. With my knife and wand, I kill the guy while he prays to his goat-head, take out a worshipper Orcus wouldn't care about anyway and burn a message to the rest of the farmers who have taken up infernal religion.

"Don't be a jack-@$$," would be my message.

But my Bluff score isn't so hot and I really didn't want tensions to be high before we even got into town.

Mercifully and regretfully, I left the farmer and his home just as I found it, filled with death and sin. If we have to fight that guy later, I'm going to tell Petal and Kendrick just where they can stick their alignments. Bok would understand, us Unaligned see the world with clear eyes.


Hunkering Down in Winterhaven

When you walk into a small town with a human armed to the teeth, an Eladrin man from the Feywild who is prettier than any of the town's girls, a horned and tailed thief who has gained powers through a pact with infernal powers and nearly three hundred pounds of Lawful Good Dragonborn whoop-ass, all with a bound Kobold, you are going to raise some eyebrows. One almost has to feel sorry for the guard at the gate when a party like us saunters up.


He stuttered and summoned the Captain of the Guard. The Captain let us know that us Player Handbook races (species, really) would be welcome in Winterhaven. Apparently they have Teifling merchants and he actually knew the difference between an Eladrin and an Elf just by sight. And the kicker, really, was that he had fought alongside Dragonborn mercenaries in his younger days.

Yes, the Captain of the Guard had that whiff about him, as if he would be the Dungeon Master's player character were he able to get out from behind the screen and get his own character sheet. He shushed us when we brought up ole Orcus and didn't continue the conversation until we were safe at the local lord's manor.

The Captain of the Guard, whose name is written among my game notes on my character sheet that is stowed at the Dungeon Master's house, pragmatically took us to the local lord whose family name was Padrig or something to that effect. Turns out Lord Padrig was a lady who had a greatsword over her mantle and the chainmail to match. We could all sense some levels on her.

She was referred to as Lord and never Lady, must be a Winterhaven thing; I don't pretend to fully understand humans.

Lord Padrig and the Captain let us know that Orcus had been a problem of late and they weren't entirely sure who in town they could trust. In situations like this, they understood the value of trustworthy, out-of-town muscle. We were quickly hired to put this little demonic cult uprising down. Nothing like gold to get me to stab a cultist in the neck.

Bok was Petal's frontman and I believe I was going to discuss the Copper/Silver/Gold particulars on behalf of me and Kendrick.

But before that, some food and a hot bath at the Inn.

It is as if all D&D inn's are the same damned inn. It is a small town so they knew we were coming and had set up rooms. Everywhere you could see the evidence of that Winterhaven's grain wasn't the mercantile draw it once was. The inn gave us each our own room and their bath-house was all but empty; we each got our own tub.

If this is a taste of the adventuring life, count me in.

We each went to our room, Kendrick and Bok heading over without a backward glance and Petal looking at us kind of nervously; she was used to the mercenary's life and having this much personal space made her edgy.

I had a surprise waiting for me in my room. The surprise was a funny thing, becuase I had seriously consider inquiring about finding a lady to warm my bed but reconsidered, not wanting to be crass (in or out of character). Still, here was this lovely peasant girl who, judging by the Dungeon Master's grin, was not what she seemed.

"Nice, I was going to inquire about a lovely lady to warm my bed."

She replied, "Garlach wouldn't approve of you touching one of his brides. He would likely gut you daily for a thousand years."

"I am willing to risk it," I said, pouring on the panache.

"Are you?" she asked, as her illusion fell and a devil was sitting on my bed.

But a very pretty devil, mind you. And I would know.

I went for my wand and my knife but thought better of it. If she wanted me dead, if she'd been sent by my brothers, I'd likely have been killed while in the throes of passion already.

"Still willing to risk it, yes. At the rate I'm going I will likely be tortured in hell anyway. Why are you here? Did my family send you?"

She laughed. "Your family? Your family is a moribund clan of inbred thugs. They haven't had an original idea in their head in centuries. They've even used Raise Dead and killed the same people twice."

"Don't speak ill of my mother." That Raise Dead in order to kill them twice was her favorite trick, dear old mom.

"But you, you surprised us. We never thought one of your clan would make a run for it. We never thought anyone would hack and slash their way out."

For some reason, I felt like I had to explain myself. "Listen, Kendrick and I only killed who we had to kill. If no one had gotten in our way, we would've walked out of the city in peace and good will."

"We don't care who you killed."

"That said, every bastard we did kill had it coming and good riddance to them. Have you seen the company I am currently keeping? Aren't you worried about my six foot six Dragonborn friend with the Lawful Good alignment?"

"Bahamut does not concern us. His folk can be used. We are watching you now. We are intrigued by your forward thinking and initiative. If you are interested in living for a while longer, I would consider looking into the cemetary. There are dark goings on there tonight."

The dialogue was snappier than that; it had some pop to it. The Dungeon Master and my player have a long history of gaming together and it lended itself to a fun little dialogue not really shown to its fullest here.

The long and the short of it:

Devils are watching me.

Got it.

Dark goings on in the cemetary. I might need some help with that one. A minute or so later, I knocked on Petal's door.

"Are you having trouble sleeping too? These single rooms are not helping my-"

"Petal, listen, something is going down in the cemetary."

"How do you know of this?" she asked, over enunciating in that way she does, all naive and nice.

I took a deep breath. "Bahamut sent me a vision."

Bluff roll = 1.

I cannot catch a break.

Her tremendous brow furrowed. "I don't think so but Bahamut does work in mysterious ways. We should probably check it out."

Kendrick and Bok woke up quickly and we were off to the cemetary, as advised by a Devil, sent to tell me that they are watching me. It seemed like a perfectly reasonable reason to arm up and charge into the cemetary at night. We hadn't yet had a fight this session. It was past time.

Tony Vargas

Are you the same guy who wrote the story hour from the PoV of the monsters, starting with a Ghoul?

That was amazing.

I hope this campaign you'e in keeps going for a while.


First Post
I am deeply in love with Melech the Red. But, of course, it is a manly kind of love. The kind of love with brothers slapping each other's shoulders in congratulations over their recent slaughter.

I guess reading this thread is a bit like watching "The 300." Nice.


Winterhaven Cemetary Fight 1

I numbered this as our first Winterhaven Cemetary Fight because I'm kind of assuming this might very well happen again.

I gained new respect for Winterhaven (and our Dungeon Master's eye for in-game logic) when we were lead to their cemetery and it was outside the walls of town. In a world with undead, that just makes plain old sense.

As we approached the cemetery, a town guardsman frantically approached us with the fear most NPC's have for their own lives and all of the passion of a good plot hook.

"I was investigating some strange noises and *the other guard whose name Melech can't be bothered to remember* didn't come back. The Captain was always very clear that if our partner is grabbed, we don't go into the cemetery after them but go get help."

I'm sure Petal remembers the guard's name and likely Kendrick might remember if he had his weapons properly strapped on or what kind of mug he was carrying. Bok probably remembers a blurry human. To me, he's the guy who led me to the dark place where I could get stabby.

Y'know, I've skimmed over threads about other group's adventures in Winterhaven and my player even owns the damned module (but he promises he hasn't read it) and I can't for the life of me remember it being a damned horror story. Is this place in the Demi-Plane of Dread or something?

Some undead beast, a farmer, was eating the town guard who had been grabbed.

I stealthed in, eager to find the necromancer behind this late night shenanigans and introduce him to my knife's point. Kendrick charged headlong at the ghoul, cleaving some zombies as he went. Bok dropped back to the edge of the map and dropped some fine icy clouds into the battlefield. Petal totally botched her initiative and when the ghoul rushed by Kendrick to get her, it rooted her to the spot. She always seems to be getting stuck somewhere.

Her stuck state made her prayer to Bahamut and undead turning not as optimal as it could've been but really left her with no choice.

It was about then that the rats hit the board. They were a swarm, and in 4e, a swarm of critters is just plain nasty. They boiled out of one of the desecrated tombs and headed for Kendrick and Petal. As Bok's player put it, "They're like a moving area effect spell with claws and fangs." Luckily, her icy cloud spell was just the thing to end that little threat. Turns out, dead, frozen rats make a really satisfying crunch when you step on them.

Bok insisted on taking one of the frozen rats with him when we left. Eladrin are a mystery.

My second level utility feat allows me to run without it effecting my stealth, so I was making good distance through the cemetery without zombie roadblocks. Or if you need some more in-character mumbo-jumbo, here ya go:

"My family's training served me well. We often had need to run through the night in silence, in order to destroy our prey with assassin's knives. The fast, quiet pace my brothers had set in the city during my criminal youth served me well in this moonless cemetery, while zombies moaned hungrily to the left and right."


I got about halfway through the cemetary and from the look on the Dungeon Master's face, I could tell there would be no Necromancer to be found. Rather than waste the combat doing some in-character searching, I decided to join the fray and earn my experience points.

The ghoul was a nasty piece of work, quite a few levels above us and screaming incoherently about eating us and killing us and killing us and eating us. The bastard attacked his former comrad, knocking him over the short cemetery fence. Poor NPC was unconscious. Petal went over and saved his life with a Heal check, no one wanting her to waste any real healing on a non-combat non-player character.

It took me and Kendrick flanking him and Bok's ice ray to finally drop him. Kendrick danced with him for a long while, swinging at him while he jumped and ducked this way and that. It felt good being on either side of a snarling foe with Kendrick.

I'm not sure if we even took a hit that fight. It was a pretty handy victory and a good chip to have when we talk to Winterhaven's Lord about our pay for saving this little point of light.

"Wait a minute! Is that brutal ghoul the damned farmer I didn't kill to make you people happy when we got into town? Would we have passed this infernal hick's farm on the way in?" I asked.

"No," the healed guard replied, "No, his farm is to the south; you would have come in from the west."


I still should've killed that bastard.
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First Post
Thanks for the write-up -- entertaining as always.

Feels nice to be able to sneak-attack undead, eh?


Jim DelRosso

First Post
I gained new respect for Winterhaven (and our Dungeon Master's eye for in-game logic) when we were lead to their cemetery and it was outside the walls of town. In a world with undead, that just makes plain old sense.

Thanks for the kind words: I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about effective undead countermeasures. :)

I'm really enjoying these write-ups, both because they're fun to read and it gives me a different perspective on the game, which helps when I'm running it. It's been neat hacking a horror vibe onto Winterhaven/KotS, and I hope y'all enjoy the rest of it.

Though why you assume there'll be more fights in cemeteries I'll never know. ;)


This last Saturday's game gleaned a special doodle by me at the table. Although, nothing unusual about it on the surface. Thanks to Jim and the gang for making for one blast of a night. (C, aka Petal, is going to provide the commentary, as Paka aka Melech the Red could not make it to the game, I'll paste her stuff in next post).

This one has a bit of a story behind it.

I met Millie 23 years ago. She became my wife after 4 years of living together. We broke up a year later. But parted on very good terms. I always thought the world of her, but we simply where too young, too different (she is Puerto Rican, I'm a white guy without an ounce of religious upbringing, she comes from a huge family and is a twin, I come from a tiny family. I was a raving geek, she was not etc. etc.)

18 years pass and we meet again and rekindle our romance this last xmas. She is now moving to my home town and I'm very happy to have this 2nd chance.

One of our causes of friction was she thought role playing was "stupid". Now, many years later, and because she is a nurse instructor, she uses roleplaying as case study-teaching aides every semester. When we rekindled, she expressed large interest in trying out this odd hobby of mine (ours).

This picture is her first character, done during play. She played 4th ed D&D this last Saturday and had a great time, wants to do it again. She was very nervous, but my fellow gamers did a wonderful job of embracing her and her character. I had a great time. So... there's the story behind "Midnight aka Serielle, Paladin of Avandra".. Millie's first character.


These works are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 License.


Finishing the Keep on the Shadowfell

Daggers & Deviltry: Finishing the Keep on the Shadowfell
All art by Storn A. Cook

Ask most dungeon-masters and any player-character (not the player, mind you but the character) and they will tell you that the problem with role-playing games is that we are dependent on these damned players. There should be laws in the DMG about players being in graduate school; it is :):):):):):):):) and it is hampering my ability to be an effective player character. Why can't my player be a 13 year old boy who draws pictures of me on his social studies notebook and evenly divides his time between Elric novels, Dragon magazine and his dad's copies of Hustler magazine. No, I get a 33 year old library studies student with no time at all.

It has been months and the Keep on the Shadowfell has become distorted by time, not my time but by what you readers would call real time. It was months between our skirmish outside the dungeon with the kobolds to the grind down in the bowels of it all with the hobgoblins. If a kobold never uses its damned shift powers to get combat advantage and a kobold shield wall never bangs on me ever again whlie their archers rain hell on me and my friends, it wll be too soon.

But there is a purity to it all, clearing rooms, descending always lower, piecing together why this particular piece of real estate is so important. We were joined by Bael, a drow with two weapons. I'd tell you his story and how we met but my player wasn't there that game. Still, its fun to have another guy from a bad family life to skulk and stab along-side, another stealthy striker in the posse. Kendrik is great because he and I are so very different that we compliment each other but Bael and I seem like two sides of the same coin, one horned and one hooded.


The last of the hobgoblin archers surrendered after we slaughtered his friends. I told the players that I would be putting him in the spider cage, since I heard them yell, "Open the spider cage!" just before a giant spider started wreaking hell on us.

I killed that Hobgoblin archer for putting an arrow in me. In order to keep my word, I stuffed the corpse into the spider cage. That way when I came back to the party and Kendrik asked, "Melech, you didn't kill our prisoner, did you?"

I replied, "He's in the spider cage, safe and sound," without giving him any tells to my lie. Rolling a 32 on your bluff check allows for lies like that, keeps the party lubricated and moving right along.

We found Midnight, Paladin of Avandra's child. Turns out the Eladrin kid was now one of Orcus' top paladins in the region and was attempting to do some sorcery concerning the Shadowfell. There was a gate to the Shadowfell below the keep.

The kid got away from us in the next to last battle and there we were, standing over a pit, chains leading down into who-knows-what, where Midnight's kid-all-growed-up-evil and some other undead :):):):):):):)s would be attempting to give Orcus a hoofhold right here. I'd like to think that people can change and redeem themselves but y'know, when I was a kid I thought that Asmodeous snuck into my room on Asmodemas and put a shiny new knife under my pillow but that didn't make it so.

It is a scary thing whe you wake up in the middle of a moonless night to your dad trying to slip a knife under your sleeping head.

But I digress.

Bael's character was playerless due to out of state in-laws in town, so it was up to me to shimmy down the chains and see what was going on below in what we knew to be the final battle of the dungeon. Here, let me give you some pulp fantasy novel paragraphs about the descent:

Melech the Red, with a knife in his teeth, climbed slowly down one of the chains, while his comrade, Kendrick held the chain steady. The tiefling descended into a cavernous chamber with streams of blood flowing into gutters. The blood flowing was an impossible amount; there wasn't this much blood to be had in all of Winterfell and Melech knew, he kept a tally for such things. Magical blood streams,,,fantastic, he thought to himself, only real hard-bitten psychopaths use magic to make running blood streams.

Below, skeleton warriors were marching in guard patterns while Midnight's kid, Kaleel, read from a book on an alter. His plate armor was decorated with tortured faces, his shield carried the goat-headed sigil of his demon-god and his axe seemed impossibly big, too big to lift let alone wield. On the opposite side of the room a Wight, skin stretched impossibly tight over sinew and bone, kneeled before an altar of Orcus. Between them was the gate to the shadowfell, a roiling and living beast of shadow within and facing the gate as if it pleased him to see it, was a grand statue of the Demon-God of Undeath.

Enough of that.

It was at that point we realized that although we'd hit fifth level down here, we were still amateurs. I had no way to communicate with the rest of the crew without climbing back up, which just seemed wasteful to me. Figuring that the faster we interrupted Paladin Junior's reading time, the better off we'd be, I pulled on a chain twice and hoped they'd take that as a signal to follow me.

They did.

We descended out of the shadows, into the torchlight, ankle-deep in some kind of magical blood stream and did what all D&D groups do, we split the party.

Me, Midnight and Petal went after Kaleel, while Kendrick and Bael went to deal with the Wight.

It had been a while since I had killed a young bad-ass in front of his mother. Life hadn't called on me to do anything like that since I left the City. I am a Strike; this is how we do, go after the biggest bad-ass and draw blood and get out before anyone's the wiser. I had the Daily powers I was going to unleash on this kid all lined up and ready to roll. If all went according to plan, the big bad guy would be blind and limping in two, three rounds tops.

The d20 had other plans for us.

We screamed battle cries, blood from the streams staining the boots of those who didn't roll a high enough athletics to avoid dropping into the blood, while our players rolled initiative.


Kaleel summoned more skeleton warriors, as the faces on his armor drained away, malevolent spirits emptying into some nearby bone piles. Some more full-on Harryhausen skeleton warriors, others were just torso that would go after our ankles for the entire combat, slowing us down with every attack.

I managed to get by the skeleton warrios, only taking minimal damage, coming just before Kaleel in the initiative order, Dragonborn Cleric and Eladrin Paladin clearing the field for me. First I threw a shiruken at his knee, which would cause him to limp around for the rest of the combat if I hit just the right spot.

I said, "Things are about to get bad for you, my boy."

And the d20 said!


Hell and blood, man. That is a daily. Hell and Blood.

The Dungeon Master described the whiff in glorious detail: "Kaleel grimaces in pain as he wrenches the shiruken from his knee and rises from the ground." One of the most brutal attacks I can muster and it blows one of his minor actions and causes single digits in hit points' damage. Last round, Kaleel had already picked up that axe, now he uses it.


Natural 20.



The Dungeon Master described in loving detail, having the respect to wince while rolling damage: "The axe slams into you, glowing with an unholy power."

"Bad for me? Things are about to get worse, for you, much-much worse," Kaleel said.

The damage took me down to -2 hit points. Everyone at the table winced. Everyone in the battle shook their head at the thought of trying to take this boy-paladin of Orcus down (truth is he was in his late-late teens).

By the time the loving healing of Avandra and Bahamut, through their mortal agents, Midnight and Petal, had me up and moving again, the combat had passed me by. Kaleel, evil Eladrin that he was, had teleported to a glyph right in front of the gate to the Shadowfell. It seemed pretty clear from the behavior of a skeleton warrior that the glyph was giving off necrotic energy the way a fire gives off heat. The damned thing was healing him.

To make matters worse, everyone once in a while a pseudopod of shadow-stuff would claw out of the Shadowfell, grabbing at a skeleton warrior. The shadow-stuff's designation in the initiative order was: Thing.

As I trudged my way across the battlefield, Kaleel was re-gaining his lost hit points and a shadow-thing was clawing at anyone and anything who stepped too close to the gate.

What about Kendrick and Bael, who had gone after the Wight?

Good question.

Kendrick realized that we were in trouble and he picked up our flank, leaving Bael alone, assuming that the Ranger would be fine enough to handle the Wight. Kendrick, big fighter that he is, charged in to a fray with some skeleton warrior minions and some of the damned ankle-biting skeleton torsos. Whereas my rolling went to :):):):) for to-hit, Kendrick's :):):):) dice came in the form of damage. He didn't roll higher than a 4 on a d10 for the first half of the combat, leaving him surrounded by skeleton minions and getting ankle-bit for the greater part of the fight.

Bael's fight with the Wight was almost comical. The Wight would pin Bael down with some kind of undead magical bolt, Bael would fire at him with a crossbow in each hand, until finally, Bael went into a nearby pit. I'm summing up about ten rounds of combat there but Bael's player wasn't there and honestly, that is a pretty accurate summation of the ten rounds.

At about the time that my second Daily was a total wiff, also doing single digits of hit point damage but not blinding him as planned, we realized that the armor the Dungeon Master had lovingly described was giving Kaleel an advantage. His armor class was through the damned roof, nearly 30.

One of my At-Will strikes is all about getting by big armor guys, by making the attack roll vs. his saves. We needed to target his Will or his Reflexes and stop banging uselessly on his armor. By the time we pinned him down on the necrotic glyph, the only place where I could get a combat advantage and get my precious extra 2d8 damage was right in front of the gate. I stepped up and hit and hit.

"Worse? You want worse, kid?"

In the end, it was Petal, calling down a holy platinum lance from Bahamut that lit up the entire chamber and took Kaleel down. It was always a big deal that Petal never hit to kill if she could help it.

The Dungeon Master asked, "Do you kill him, Petal?"

Midnight's player looked over at Petal's player imploringly. "No, I take him down but do not kill him."

The Wight, still alive, desperately jumped into the gate to the Shadowfell. None of us cared to stop the thing. Maybe we just imagined that we could hear it screaming from the other side of the gate. Maybe not, maybe a place like that is home for a creature like a Wight.

Kendrick tied up Kaleel and we took off his armor, that seemed to be attached to his flesh.

Now it was a matter of playing with the fun toys Kaleel had left us:

- a gate to the Shadowfell
- the book he was reading from on the altar
- and that big ole statue to Orcus.

I used the statue to the Demon-God of the Undead to afford me some post-battle privacy to take a dump. Yeah, I used a statue of Orcus as a toilet. My player includes details like that and I, for one, appreciate it. Most characters don't ever get to take an on-screen/at-the-table dump and I got to to take one that befouled a statue to a goat-headed demon-god.

I approached Midnight when we had a moment alone. "Midnight, listen, if you want me to...I know this isn't easy but some people never change alignments, never redeem themselves. So, if you want me to, I could...take Kaleel and put him in a 'spider cage" if you know what i mean." I gestured to one of my knives in case she didn't get it.

"I don't think that will be necessary," she replied, "I believe me son will be fine. It might take a while but he'll be fine."

I nodded, shocked at her optimism.

We approached the altar with the book together, hoping to figure out how to put this place to rest, leave this mess less of brutal threat than how we found it. The book was written in Supernal, Abyssal and Draconic on what pages we could actually read, pages that weren't just entirely shadow.

We discussed the book and the gate while our players ticked off healing surges from their character sheets. The blood streams tinkled like bells, oddly soothing, or maybe it was just me.

Next: Conversations with the Gate, Conversations with Kaleel and Dreams of Platinum Dragons and God-Tyrants
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We through the book through the gate. The gate closed. The gate became a god. Let me know if I lose you.

I'm not sure if the Dungeon Master was going by the module here or was making :):):):) up and I didn't care. This was cool-ass :):):):). Turns out, Vecna had founded this dungeon first and in creating this gate, sealed one of his must trusted students here. Said student was a god of secrets, a domain that ole one-eye now claims for his own dead-self.

When one of us let that slip, the god wasn't that happy.

He was a golden image of a perfect human. Kendrick found faith immediately. Petal already had a god, a big platinum fella but she was still respectful. Bael, whose player was not present that game, just dug himself out of the pit he had fallen into. Poor sap. Midnight seemed more concerned with her hog-tied evil son.

Kendrick, though, he was hooked. I could see it in his player's eyes.

And me, how did I feel, having found out that our dungeon-delving shenanigans had freed a god of secrets into the world? Y'know, it made it all feel like it meant something, as if the world could be changed at the roll of a d20, at the flicker of a knife's blade. I like that feeling.

When I sit by the campfire at night and sharpen my blades and shiruken, it isn't just sharpening weapons, I'm sharpening the future, I'm preparing to make history.

He wasn't going to replace Asmodeus, God-Tyrant of Hell for me anytime soon but still, it isn't every day ya get to see a god unleashed into the world. He mentioned that he was in our debt, that we owed him a boon. From that moment on, I didn't speak to him. I didn't want to flub it, didn't want to spend my boon with my big mouth.

I know exactly what I am going to spend that boon on. Oh, it won't be for a few dozen levels yet but I know exactly what I'm doing now. My path, my destiny is clear. I only have to live to see 30th and I will change the worlds, rock hell to its bloody core. You watch what I can do with a few knives and a god of secrets' boon.

Level Up: Advanced 5th Edition Starter Box

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