Ghourmand Vale (3.5 campaign)



PC Roster:
Ageratum Purslane, halfling rogue 5​
Alastair Mandelberen Pastlethwaite, human sorcerer 5​
Chaevaris Noarunal, elf archer 5​
Harlan Starblade, half-elf paladin 5​

Game Session Date: 11 January 2023

- - -

"I say!" declared Alistair. "Would you mind explaining why we're to be working for a thieves guild? We have a paladin among our number!"

"Well, we're not exactly working for a thieves guild," Ageratum explained. "I'm being asked to do a mission for a thieves guild, and I'm to ask 'my team' to come along as additional protection."

"That seems to me to be splitting hairs," argued Alistair.

"Well, it's your dumb fault they even came looking for me - you and that stupid song about what a great thief I am!"

"I don't believe I even once used the word 'thief.'"

"Splitting hairs, Alistair!"

"Perhaps we should see what this mission is all about before we argue our involvement," suggested Harlan, ever the peacemaker. Then he turned to the little halfling and asked, "When and where are we to meet to discuss this assignment?"

"Dark and Light Club, tomorrow right before Carp's performance. But I don't think they're expecting any discussion, they're expecting to brief us on what we need to do and then we're to go out and do it."

"Unacceptable!" scoffed Alistair.

"Did they give you any indication of what the job might be?" asked Chaevaris.


"Well then," replied Harlan, "I suppose we'll just have to wait until tomorrow to see."

The next evening, Oleg Kulakov from the Hall of Collection and Revenue, Enforcement Division, was there to greet the band of four heroes. With him was Macrell Slade, the head of the town guard, and a bearded man with shifty eyes named Boris Predatsia. After introductions were made, Oleg explained the mission. "You are to escort Boris, keep him safe," he said in clipped tones. "You go to ship, he finds crate, you return crate, you get paid. Is easy."

"We're going to a ship?" Ageratum asked, knowing full well Ghourmand Vale was in a landlocked part of the continent. "What ship? And how are we getting there?"

"Ship does not matter. We teleport you in, teleport you back."

"So you're hiring us to steal cargo off of a ship," Chaevaris replied. Harlan, in full armor with the sun-symbol emblem of Pelor emblazoned upon it, said nothing - they could easily see his devotion to the forces of good; plus, he was concentrating on reading the auras of the three men present. Boris and Macrell were definitely of an evil bent, while Oleg was surprisingly not.

"No. You merely bodyguards, keep Boris safe. No stealing."

"Piffle and nonsense!" exploded Alistair. "Our mere presence means we condone the theft of this crate from its rightful owners."

"No," replied Oleg again. "Crate already stolen, we returning it to rightful owners."

Harlan at last decided to speak up. "May we ask what is inside this crate?" At that, Oleg looked uncomfortable. He took the paladin aside, out of the earshot of Macrell and Boris; naturally, the other three heroes followed. "Boris doesn't know contents of crate, is better this way. Crate holds statue of frost barbarian." The frost barbarians were one of several tribes who lived up in the northern reaches; why anyone valued a statue of such a person was beyond Alistair's imagination.

But then another possibility reared itself in the young sorcerer's mind. "How do we know it's just a statue?" he asked. "What if it's a real person, and this is merely a simple way to pass along someone captured and bound for slavery without having to feed him?"

"Keep voice down!" hissed Oleg. "How you know of this?"

"What?" exclaimed Alistair. "Then it's true? You're asking us to traffic in slaves?"

"No no no! Frost barbarian agreed to become statue. Is best way to sneak him from point A to point B. Then ship attacked by pirates, crate he in taken with other goods."

"Then, this is in fact a rescue mission," Harlan surmised with a slight smirk. "In future, it might have been better to lead with that."

Ageratum looked up at Harlan, the group's unofficial leader. "Are you okay with this?" she asked. Upon seeing the paladin's nod of approval, she spun back to Oleg and asked the most important question. "How much for the job?"

"Two-fifty gold, each."

"And don't forget my cut," pointed out Macrell, who had wandered over to see what all the furtive whispering was about. "Nothing happens in my town I don't get a piece of."

Alistair studiously ignored him and pressed on with a point of contention to Oleg. "If we're teleporting to a boat on the open seas, we'll need a potion of water breathing for each of us, Boris included, I guess."

"Preparations your job," countered Oleg.

"We're not going without those preparations," replied Alistair, bargaining for the team. "Harlan and Chaevaris wear armor that would be quite detrimental were they to end up overboard. If you want us on this mission, keeping Boris safe, then this is a non-negotiable requirement." Oleg bristled, apparently not used to there being any negotiations when he gave orders, but he was wasting time with this uptight nobleman. "Very well," he said, signaling for one of his men to approach. The man pulled out a wrapped bundle from a side pouch and opened it, revealing five narrow glass flasks of liquid. He passed one to each of the four heroes, giving the last one to Boris; apparently Oleg had planned for this contingency after all.

"We will return the potions to you if they prove to be unnecessary in the successful completion of this mission," Alistair promised. He'd already decided he'd be leaving his grackle familiar Ambrose behind, since if anything were to happen and they'd find themselves underwater, that was not the best environment for a bird.

"Yes, good, fine. You are now ready?" Nodding their approval, the group was herded together into a group in the middle of the balcony. Boris approached, unwinding a coil of rope from his belt. As he placed it in a circle around the four heroes, Oleg came up close to Alistair and whispered, "Be careful: is traitor," nodding his head in the direction of Boris. Alistair gave a start, and was about to exclaim "I say!" when he thought better about alerting Boris to the fact his status as a traitor to the mission was known.

Boris now had the length of silk rope - a magical device known as a thieves' coil, with cylindrical metal ends - wrapped around the group of five. Closing his eyes in concentration, he brought the two metal ends together and with a brief flash of light the five had vanished from the balcony level of the Dark and Light Club, where Holyrood Carp was just beginning his first song.

The group had expected to arrive in the cargo hold of a ship, and technically they did, although the experience wasn't at all as any of them had expected. For one thing, the ship's floor was canted at a 30-degree angle, causing everyone to fall over; only Alistair managed to keep his balance and remain upright. But more importantly, although this was indeed the cargo hold of a sailing ship - as evidenced by the curve of the walls, they were either at the very fore or very aft of the ship's lower deck - it was empty of all cargo. If the crate containing the petrified form of a frost barbarian had ever been on this ship (and if this was indeed even the right ship), it was no longer in evidence.

Ageratum scooted around on her bottom and pulled a sunrod from her pack. Activating it, they were able to more clearly see their predicament: there was an open doorway on the wall currently lower than the other walls, due to the ship apparently being at an angle, and in the room beyond the doorway were five creatures best described as "fish-men." The bottom section of this tilted room was covered in water, and there was a hole in the side of the ship through which one of these fish-men was passing a small crate - much too small to hold the statue of a frost barbarian, but a good indicator of where the rest of the contents of the cargo hold had been taken: out the hole in the ship's side and into the seawaters beyond.

Seeing the waters that filled the bottom of the room toward which they were currently canted, and the waters beyond the hole, Ageratum swallowed down the contents of her potion of water breathing. Without a word, Alistair did likewise and helped Chaevaris right herself. Harlan, however, had teleported in right by the open doorway and when he lost his balance he fell through the doorway. Fortunately, he had snagged the side of the door frame and was now hanging by his hands with the rest of his body in the room with the fish-men. One of the aquatic creatures noticed the paladin and gave notice to its associates in some garbly language. One of the fish-men ran up the slope of the floor and bit at Harlan's legs with a row of surprisingly sharp teeth; if these "fish-men" were patterned after any particular type of fish, a piranha would not have been a bad guess.

Boris had landed at the side of the open doorway after his spill and was now busily wrapping the thieves' coil back up around his left hand and elbow, his attitude seemingly that of "fighting off those fish guys is your job, not mine." Harlan kicked off his attacker and pulled his way back into the cargo hold, got to his feet, and pulled his flaming burst longsword from its scabbard; the light from the flames gave off more desired illumination in the darkened hold. But the paladin stood his ground, making himself the first obstacle if these fish-men wanted to get to any of the others on his team.

Chaevaris fired off an arrow that went streaking past Harlan's shoulder to bury itself into the head one of the other fish-men; Ageratum finished it off with a thrown kobold spear striking the same creature's stomach. It fell over on its side and floated in the water at the bottom of the ship's lower deck for a moment, before sinking below and out of sight. Alistair spoke the words to a magic missile spell and sent three missiles streaking from his fingertips to hit another of these fish-men, who buckled in pain after the attack but failed to die.

Another fish-man scrambled up the deck floor to try to get at Harlan, but the paladin's flaming blade came slicing across the creature's chest and torso, erupting in a blast of larger flame upon impact. Immediately, the tantalizing scent of fried fish filled the ship's hold as the fish-man fell backwards into the water, also quite dead. Another fish-man scrambled up the deck but was a bit more wary of Harlan's flaming blade; as a result, he avoided the dangerous weapon but was similarly unable to catch the paladin with its sharp teeth or wicked claws. But then Harlan fake-pounced in one direction, and when the fish-man dodged, his blade was there ready for it, skewering it through the stomach and burning its internal organs. It joined the other two fish-men in death.

Chaevaris shot another arrow into a fish-man, and once again a kobold spear thrown by Ageratum finished the creature off. Perhaps influenced by the scent of cooking fish, Alistair cast a scorching ray at the last remaining fish-man, burning him to a crisp.

Harlan, being the only one to have taken any damage in this initial skirmish, used his inherent ability to lay on hands to heal himself a bit, then cast a cure light wounds spell upon himself with a charge from his wand. "We ready?" he asked the others, as he drank down the contents of his potion of water breathing. Boris nodded his assent, the thieves' coil now once again in a loop at his belt, and those who hadn't already done so drank down their own potions. Alistair was secretly pleased that Oleg wouldn't be getting any of these potions back after the mission; it was a petty thought but an entertaining one nonetheless.

Sliding down the canted floor was the easiest way to get to the hole in the side of the ship. Ageratum went first, cautiously poking her head and her sunrod through the hole. Underwater, she could see, at the very edge of the sunrod's illumination, another fish-man or two lugging crates and heading for an underwater cave. Alistair ducked through the hole beside her and was surprised to see if he stood up his head was above water. There were two beaches ahead, each before a cliff that met at the top; the underwater cave entrance was between them. A bonfire was blazing at the top of the rightmost cliff, its light quite brilliant in the night air.

If the group wanted to retrieve that crate with the petrified frost barbarian, there was nothing else to be done but follow the fleeing fish-men. The group ran along the bottom of the sea, giving chase to the slower-moving fish-men burdened by heavy cargo. Both groups had made it into the cave, inside which was a grotto of sorts with a section of cave to the left that was above the water's surface; a few other fish-men were busy stacking up the crates of various sizes when Ageratum caught up to one of the ones still in the water. She stabbed at it with her silver short sword, causing it to drop its crate and fall over to the side, dead. Alistair, mindful that his magic missile spell hadn't been powerful enough to slay a fish-man with one strike, opted to point his wand at another fish-man and send off a barrage of not three magic missiles (all he could manifest on his own at present) but five. He was pleased to see that a blast of five missiles from the wand was indeed powerful enough to slay a fish-man in one fell swoop.

Two of the land-bound fish-men jumped into the water to attack these interlopers, and one took a swipe at Ageratum with its claws, but the nimble halfling handily dodged the attack. As Harlan and Boris ran to catch up, Chaevaris stopped her own advancement just long enough to send an arrow into the fish-man attacking Ageratum. It looked in shock over at Chaevaris, not having expected an attack from so far away, and that was all Ageratum needed to finish it off with a stab of her silver blade.

Alistair used up another charge on his wand and slew another fish-man as he leaped into the water; yet another fish-man made it safely into the waters and tried attacking Agertaum with teeth and the claws on all four limbs, but the nimble halfling avoided all of its attacks, much to the aquatic being's annoyance. Harlan waded up and tried slashing out at the creature, but he wasn't as fast underwater as he was on dry land and the fish-man likewise avoided the sword-strike. It was interesting to see his flaming sword didn't actually have flames along its blade while underwater, but the string of bubbles following in the blade's wake indicated there was as much heat there as normal, causing the surrounding water to boil. But then Chaevaris killed the aquatic beast with a well-placed arrow to the back of its head when it was concentrating on Harlan.

Ageratum waded up onto the shore of the cave and threw a kobold spear at one of the landbound fish-men, which stood on two humanoid legs. The spear hit a glancing blow, causing the piscine creature to hiss in anger. But then Alistair slew it with another blast from his wand. He followed the little halfling onto the shore, glad to be out of the water. He was also glad he'd left Ambrose at home, for the grackle likely would not have made the underwater trek with his master.

Three more fish-men approached from the back of the cave, each armed with a longspear giving them plenty of reach. One stabbed the tip of his spear at Ageratum, but had no luck in skewering her as it had hoped to do. Harlan charged up onto land, facing twin spears (one of which gashed him in the side as he approached) to bring his longsword - now once again sporting flames along the length of its blade after having left the water - slicing into one of the aquatic spearmen. It dropped its longspear and crashed to the stone floor of the cave, dead.

Chaevaris stepped fully out of the water and slew another of the spearmen with an arrow to the throat. Ageratum hit another fish-man with a thrown spear, Alistair tried to finish it off with a cast magic missile spell, but it stubbornly hung onto life. But it did at least back off, heading further into the cave where there was a small pool of brackish-looking water. It dove in and disappeared to safety; none of the intruders was particularly interested in slaying every one of these fish-men they saw, so much as driving them away so they could examine the contents of the chests and crates brought over from the partially-sunken ship.

The crate the fish-men had dropped in the water just before the shore was too small for it to contain the statue the group was interested in; nonetheless, out of curiosity more than anything else, Boris pried open the top of the crate and discovered it was full of apples. Snorting in disgust, he waded onto dry land and started examining the larger crates stacked there.

With the fish-men either dead or having fled, the five all spread out and started examining crates; Boris seeking a particular marking on the outside, the others by the more labor-intensive method of prying open the crates. The cargo they unearthed was quite varied, consisting of dried biscuits, suits of chain mail, and a small chest of pearls, before Harlan discovered a statue of a barbarian woman. He called the others over, thinking this might be the statue they sought. "I say!" declared Alistair. "I had rather assumed the frost barbarian statue we sought was a male."

"Is correct: we want statue of barbarian lord," replied Boris, speaking in the same accent and curt manner as Oleg; they likely came from the same foreign country. Then, realizing what he'd just voiced aloud, he added, "Oops - not supposed to know that." But that recalled Oleg's warning about Boris being a traitor, which Alistair surreptitiously passed on to the others via whispered conversations as they continued checking out crates. Ageratum placed herself off of crate-opening detail - much of them were much taller than she was in any case, making the process somewhat problematic for the three-foot-tall halfling - and onto "watching Boris" detail, so she could see if he started doing anything suspicious, like perhaps forgetting to bring them along when it came time to teleport back to the Dark and Light Club.

Chaevaris cracked open another crate to find rather damp furs inside, when there was a bubbling noise from the waters behind them. Alistair looked over from the crate of arrows he'd just opened, and Harlan, having just discovered a crate filled with small barrels of beer, did likewise. Rising up from the water stood a humanoid form, standing some nine feet tall with glistening skin like that of a newt or salamander. It had a mouth full of sharp, pointed teeth and claws of equal concern, which looked to be able to disembowel a man with one blow. "I believe that's a scrag!" Harlan called out to the others, dropping the lid to the crate of beer barrels and stepping in front of the others, once again offering himself up as the first line of defense. "Fire and acid works best!" he added, swinging his flaming blade back and forth before him in an effort to ward off the scrag.

The scrag, however, was not to be dissuaded from attacking these delicious, living morsels before it. Seeing it move towards Harlan, Alistair gave it a blast from his wand only because he already had it in hand, but vowed to send a few scorching rays at the beast to see how he liked being burned alive. It did not appreciate being shot at with magic missiles, in any case.

Chaevaris sent an arrow across the cave and into the scrag's throat, but it just plucked it out and cast it aside as if it had been little more than an irritation. Ageratum decided the scrag was more than she wanted to deal with in a hand-to-hand fight and continued prying open the little crate she'd seem, pleased beyond belief when she saw it filled with bloodstones. She gave a glance over at Boris to make sure he wasn't up to anything nefarious, but he was still examining the outer markings on the larger crates, apparently looking for a secret rune or glyph or something.

Alistair sent a scorching ray blazing from his fingertips, but it struck the ground before the scrag due to a bit of nervous targeting. "Blast!" scowled Alistair, which was exactly what he had not managed to do to the aquatic troll. But the blast of flame at least put the scrag into motion, for it charged forward at Harlan, raking him with a set of powerful claws. Fortunately for the half-elf paladin, his plate mail armor took the brunt of the attack, and he was able to retaliate in kind with a slash of his flaming blade. He was pleased to see the scar he opened across the creature's chest did not heal over, as the hole from Chaevaris's arrow had done. But just as he thought that, the elven archer sent another arrow burying itself into the scrag's side; it might not hurt the creature as much as fire or acid did, but it might at least slow it down some.

Alistair cursed aloud when another scorching ray went sizzling just past the scrag's head, failing for a second time to connect. Fuming, the sorcerer vowed to return to his magic wand; magic missiles, at least, never failed to hit their targets. But then Boris gave a cry of delight - he'd apparently found the crate they were seeking. Ageratum saw him starting to uncoil the silk rope from his belt and headed over his way.

The scrag continued his attack against Harlan - who had conveniently put himself in harm's way for that very reason - bending down and biting into the paladin's shoulder. Once again, the half-elf's armor took the brunt of the assault. But then Harlan channeled positive energy into his sword, recognizing the scrag as a source of evil. His next sword-strike seemed to stagger the bandy-legged beast, who staggered back a step from the force of the blow. Chaevaris shot another arrow into it and to her surprise, that was the straw that broke the camel's back: with a moan, the scrag fell backwards onto the stone floor of the cave grotto. With a look of determination, Harlan stepped forward to sever the creature's head with his flaming burst longsword - surely that would prevent the beast from rising back up.

"Over here, guys!" Ageratum called. "Boris found the crate with the right markings!" They helped lug the crate away from the others, to an open space on the cave floor. "Is right marking," Boris said, pointing to a shape painted on the top corner of one of its sides. He was laying the thieves' coil in a circle on the floor around the crate.

"Not so fast, there," reprimanded Alistair. "Let's make sure we have the right statue after all - no sense in having to come back if we grab the wrong one." Boris shrugged and stepped back, allowing Alistair to pry open the crate with his dagger. It was, in fact, a statue of a male frost barbarian, but Alistair noticed an unusual detail: the man's left hand was out at his side, palm to the back. "Let me check that female statue again," he said, returning to the other statue they'd unearthed earlier. Sure enough, the woman had her right hand off to the side, with her palm facing forward. Alistair was pretty sure if they were placed side by side, they'd have been holding hands.

"Help me lug this one over by the other," Alistair said to the others. "We're taking them both."

"That not part of plan," argued Boris.

"Yeah, well, the plan's changing a bit," replied Ageratum. "We're not in any particular danger now that we've fought off the beasties, so we're going to open up the rest of these crates and see what's what." Boris wasn't particularly pleased with the delay, but he held his tongue. In Ageratum's mind the delay was well worthwhile, though, as one of the unopened crates was filled with amber. And as long as the thieves' coil teleported everything it was wrapped around, with a little squeezing together, they could fit all five of the people on the mission, the two crates of statues, and the smaller crates of amber, bloodstones, and pearls - especially when the latter three smaller crates were stacked on top of each other with the little halfling perched on top.

"Another change," added Alistair. "You won't be piloting on the way home. Hand it over." He held out his hand to accept the ends of the thieves' coil.

"You don't know how it works," countered Boris.

"I saw you do it," Alistair counter-counterpointed. "And I know I trust myself to get us to the right destination more than I do you. No offense." Boris scowled, but when he saw Harlan's unsheathed longsword spouting flames and ready for action, he bit his tongue and handed the ends of the rope over to Alistair. The sorcerer examined each of the ends, saw how they fit together, and noticed an arcane rune on the top edge of one end, alongside a burned-out one that hadn't been burned out back at the Dark and Light Club. Apparently the thieves' coil held charges, like a wand, and was good for only so many uses. Placing a finger over the unblemished rune, Alistair closed his eyes and concentrated on the balcony of the Dark and Light Club. With a flash of light, they were suddenly gone from the cave and back where they had started.

Oleg, Macrell, and Holyrood were there to greet them. "Mission successful?" Oleg demanded, frowning in puzzlement at the pile of crates when he had only expected the one.

"Quite," replied Alistair, pulling the silk rope back into a loose pile and handing it back to Boris. "These two are yours, the smaller ones are ours. Now then, about our payment...?"

Oleg examined the statues and handed over four bags of coins. "As we agreed," he grunted, then motioned for some of his men to start lugging away the crates bearing statues.

"Let's not forget my cut," pointed out Macrell. "I get 25% off the top."

"For what?" demanded Alistair, appalled at the very notion. "You did nothing!"

"On the contrary, I was the one who put you in touch with Oleg here. It's because of my contacts that this mission even went down in the first place."

"Pshaw!" scoffed Alistair. "It was because of Ageratum's notoriety - thanks to my songwriting skills and Holyrood's excellent performance - that Oleg wanted her involved in the first place. I posit your involvement added nothing to the equation."

"Is that the way you want to play it?" snarled Macrell, not liking being cut out of a quick and effortless profit. "You really think you want me as an enemy?"

"Please, please," interjected Oleg, happy now that the crates were hammered back together and being lugged off by his men. He held out a fifth bag of coins, handing it over to Macrell. "Here is your cut: 25 percent of payment to others. Now everyone happy, yes?"

Macrell snapped up the pouch and peered inside it, mentally estimating the value of the coins inside. "Fine," he grumbled, leaving the group in a huff.

Alistair turned to Holyrood Carp. "Alas, this rescue mission of ours forced us to miss your performance," Alistair said. "How did it go?"

"Very well indeed!" enthused the bard. "They loved the new song about Chaevaris. You guys are getting a lot of good publicity out of these, and I'm getting very grateful audiences. Here: a portion of tonight's earnings." He gave seven gold coins to Alistair, who thanked him and dropped them into the sack of coins Oleg had given him.

"Then I will bid you a pleasant evening," Alistair said. "I, for one, wish to get out of these damp clothes." He shook the bard's hand, nodded to Oleg, and lifted one of the smaller crates of gems. Harlan and Chaevaris each hefted another one, and then the four heroes returned to their horses and wagon, where Ambrose greeted his master. The trip back to the Stout farmhouse was uneventful.

- - -

Dan went through several changes when designing this adventure; apparently it was originally going to involve the pirates at sea who stole the cargo from the ship originally carrying the frost barbarian, hence the punny "Arrr" in the adventure's title. The fish-men were skum, the transformed servants of an aboleth (who was on the other side of the passageway through the "pool of brackish water" and would likely have killed us all had we been foolish enough to abandon our primary goal to follow the wounded skum back to its master). And we would have played through this adventure a week earlier, but Dan hadn't finished the maps. (He and his family had traveled to another state over the Christmas break.)

We each earned enough XP from this adventure to send us to 6th level. Each player opted to advance another level in the same class their PC already has; I don't think any of us are interested in multiclassing or taking on any prestige classes in this campaign.
Last edited:

log in or register to remove this ad



To the Esteemed Bard, Holyrood Carp,

Alas, it has come time to write a song about myself, if only to round out the entire group. I must confess I have found the entire process somewhat embarrassing, but I hope it will meet both your approval and your needs.

The lyrics follow:

If you need a man who can wield a blade, you can find them by the score​
If you need a magic-wielder, there are spellcasters galore​
If you need a man who can do both, they are much harder to find​
But Alistair Mandelberen Pastlethwaite is a name that comes to mind​
I say!​
He wears a rapier at his hip - he's been training since age 10​
He's quite accomplished in its use, as he's shown time and again​
Though he's never studied wizards' tomes or even opened a spellbook​
He's a natural at the sorc'rous arts - one attempt is all it took​
I say!​
Born into the nobility, he enjoyed a life of ease​
And he could have stayed in luxury, doing just as he might please​
But once he started casting spells, he incurred his father's wrath​
And he made a vow right then and there to follow an adventurer's path​
I say!​
For although he lived a noble's life, adventuring's in his blood​
(Although he casts prestidigitation spells to clear his boots of mud)​
That he'd someday help out those in need was a straight-to-heart belief​
Spent his childhood preparing, reading Elfy "Danger" Silverleaf​
I say!​
As an adventurer he does his best; fighting evil is his life​
It's a dangerous profession - he's got no time for a wife​
And if he runs into trouble, and hasn't got a clue​
He thinks, "If I were Elfy 'Danger' Silverleaf, what would I do?"​
I say!​
He keeps a low profile, never one to blow his own horn​
He's no longer quite the dandy, his leather boots are now quite worn​
So who's that well-dressed man riding his horse up to the castle gate?​
Why, it's none other than Alistair Mandelberen Pastlethwaite!​
I say!​

Now, having completed songs about the four of us Trained Professional Adventurers, I fear I must cast my lyrical net further. I'm of a mind to write a song about Jasgund Singh, one that would depict him in a less-than-favorable light. I trust you would not find such a song upsetting? I must admit, the thought of a song belittling the fiend eventually reaching his ears brings me a modicum of joy, but I would hate to have any potential repercussions come back at you. I will start work upon it at once and allow you to decide if you wish to use it.

With Fond Regards,

Alistair Mandelberen Pastlethwaite



PC Roster:
Ageratum Purslane, halfling rogue 6​
Alastair Mandelberen Pastlethwaite, human sorcerer 6​
Chaevaris Noarunal, elf archer 6​
Harlan Starblade, half-elf paladin 6​

Game Session Date: 18 January 2023

- - -

Right as the noontime sun was reaching its peak, two horses and their riders rode up to the Stout farm where the group who called themselves the Trained Professional Adventurers - as if they were the only four to ever have earned that distinction - made their temporary headquarters. One of the riders was Caraban Montieson, head of the Merchants Guild; the other, a man named Oscar Poppert, unknown to any residing in the Stout farm.

Caraban insisted upon being heard first, telling Oscar to wait at the entrance of the farmhouse while he conducted his business. "We've an urgent matter that needs looking into," he told the four heroes. "The water in Ghourmand Vale is becoming fouled. We've taken our observations and complaints to the town council, but they insist everything is fine and refuse to do anything about it. But I tell you, each day the water becomes worse and worse! I've talked personally to Merton Funk, but he won't do anything without the council's say-so. We tried sending in a few folks to check out the sewers, but I think Funk had a few of his boys rough them up and send them packing, which is why we'd like you to go check it out - Funk won't be able to stop you four from checking it out and seeing what's what." He quoted a payment he was willing to hand over if the Trained Professional Adventurers would enter the sewers and determine what was fouling up the town's water supply. Harlan agreed that they'd check it out.

"Good!" declared Caraban. "I hope you can get to the bottom of it, and fast - before people start to get sick!" But, having gotten the answer he was hoping for, he remounted his horse and departed back for Ghourmand Vale.

"And as for you," replied Harlan, looking over at Oscar, "What can we do for you?"

"Are you Alistair?" the man asked.

"No, that would be me," replied the young nobleman, stepping forward.

"Well, I got a message for you is all. Lady name of Miss Rogers--"

"Nanny Rogers?"

"Yeah, that's her. She says your sister-in-law Julianna has given birth to a set of twins, a boy and a girl."

"I say! Did she say what she named them?"

"Nope, that's all she told me."

"But they're both healthy?"

"I guess so - she didn't say."

"And the mother? She's all right?"

"Listen, I've told you everything I was told." He held his hand out expectantly, and with a sudden realization about the expectations of the matter, Alistair opened his coin purse and dropped a piece of silver into the man's palm. Oscar pocketed it happily and returned to his own horse.

Alistair wheeled on the others. "I know we're to check out the Ghourmand Vale water situation," he began, "but I must check up on Julianna and the babies first. Do you want to go on ahead of me and I'll catch up, or...?"

"No, we'll go with you," Harlan replied. "Make sure your family is okay, then we can head over to the Vale and check out the sewers. This has been going on for days, so I don't imagine a few more hours will make that much of a difference."

"Yeah, let's go check out your niece and nephew, Uncle Alistair!" said Ageratum, nudging her elbow into Alistair's leg playfully.

"I say! I am officially an uncle now! And that makes Father a grandfather - twice over, in fact: I wonder what he'll think of that?" Chaevaris just made a quiet smirk but said nothing; as far as she was concerned, even Alistair's father was little more than a child himself, grandfather or no grandfather.

The group packed up their adventuring gear, got their mounts from the stables, and were off. They opted to leave the wagon behind so they could make better time; Ambrose flew off ahead and sat perched on a tree waiting for them to catch up, making a game of it while still keeping an eye out for trouble. But they arrived at the Stone Keep without incident, where Father Kilkenny took them to see Julianna and her twins. "She's fine - they're all fine," the elder cleric reassured a visibly nervous Alistair. "Cute little babes, too, the pair of them!"

Julianna asked Alistair if he'd be willing to return to Greyhawk City to inform his older brother Atherton that he was now a father, and that they were all safe and healthy. "But of course!" replied the newly-minted (and quite proud) uncle. Alistair wouldn't mind letting his parents know that he had made it just fine despite being virtually kicked out of the family; in fact, the more he thought of it, the more eager he was to return. "However, there's a matter we must first attend to in Ghourmand Vale," he told Julianna. Consulting with Harlan and the others, they determined to remain at the Stone Keep overnight and head to the Vale the next morning.

Caraban was there to open the locks to the sewer system personally. "I was expecting you yesterday afternoon," he grumbled.

"A personal issue demanded our attention," Alistair replied, waving him off. "Now then...ew." With the doors opened, the nobleman got his first look - and more importantly, smell - of a sewer system. He immediately cast a prestidigitation spell to mask the foul whiff of the sewer waters. Ageratum just laughed. "This is water from the river," she scoffed. "Look: you can see three different branches of fresh water coming in here from three different directions." Off to the left, the waters spilled about ten feet down over a dam. "That's where the sewer water is, over there!" she pointed out. "This water's perfectly fine."

"Perhaps, perhaps not," replied the fussy nobleman. "I smelled something quite foul."

"He's not wrong," pointed out Chaevaris. "Look!"

They were underground, in curved tunnels that held water about halfway up; along the one edge was a wooden walkway just above the waterline. There was a metal grate about 20 feet ahead to the right, and stacked up before this grate - and being pushed up against it by the flow of the water - were dozens of corpses. Or, in some cases, pieces of corpses.

"I think we may have found our problem," Ageratum pointed out wryly. There were torches hanging in sconces above the wooden walkway, and in their flickering light she thought she saw movement from the middle of the pile of bodies. She pointed it out, right as Alistair was climbing across to the other side of the pile of corpses, hanging on to the metal grating so he wouldn't have to step on any body pieces. Chaevaris fitted an arrow to her bow and sent it flying into the center of the mass.

"I say!" declared Alistair, in the middle of casting an unseen servant spell and then passing one of the torches to Ogilvy once he had taken his invisible form. "Give a fellow a bit of warning, if you please!"

"I'm not picking up any indications of evil in the vicinity," Harlan interjected, facing the pile of bodies and then slowly scanning all around him, until he was facing the dam leading to the actual sewer waters below. But then, after having given such a proclamation, the tangle of bodies rose up, with chunks falling off and to the sides as a roundish body popped out of the middle of the pile. "Leave my meat!" the creature demanded, as three tentacles rose up from the sections of human corpses. One of the tentacles went swinging towards Alistair and hit him with a wet plop; it was difficult to say whether the high-pitched squeak emanating from between the sorcerer's lips was caused by pain from the tentacle's rough spikes at its fleshy tip or the mere thought of being touched by a monster who ate pieces of dead bodies floating in a sewer grate. The other tentacle went crashing down at Ageratum, but the nimble halfling dodged out of the way. The creature's third tentacle stood straight up from the corpse-pile, for on its tip were perched the creature's eyes, which scanned on both sides of its food stash. It pivoted its thick torso and snapped its powerful jaws at Alistair, but the creature's teeth failed to catch the sorcerer.

Ageratum, having avoided the otyugh's tentacle attack, made as if to flee away from the beast but then doubled back, catching it off guard and enabling her to stab the blade of her magic short sword deep into its body. It roared in pain, and then Harlan came rushing up at it, hitting it with his own flashing blade - only his was sheathed in flames, which caused the offalvore to roar even louder. Alistair stepped back, away from the tentacle, and sent a blast from his wand of magic missiles crashing into its filth-coated body. The otyugh retaliated almost immediately against the sorcerer, raking him with the pointed barbs of its tentacle tip, then grabbing him up and squeezing him in a constricting vice. But then, almost as an afterthought, the creature spilled a gush of blood from its mouth and its tentacle loosened around Alistair, as its death belatedly caught up to it. With a final gasp of foul breath, the otyugh fell back into the waters and expired.

Alistair immediately walked farther away from the dead otyugh and focused his entire attention on his prestidigitation spell, cleaning his clothes everywhere the foul beast had touched him. Harlan, Ageratum, and Chaevaris grabbed up its tentacles and started hauling it - with most of its dead bulk floating in the river waters, buoyed by its own internal gases - before pushing it over the edge of the dam. Alistair, finally clean to his own satisfaction, put Ogilvy to work tugging bits from the corpse-pile and sending them on the same aquatic path; best these rotting bodies go to the sewer portion, not stay in the fresh water section, where the putrefaction was getting mingled in with the water the populace above rose up from their wells.

"Hey," pointed out Chaevaris. "Look at those markings on the necks!" Sure enough, the archer's keen elven eyes had picked out the unmistakable puncture marks common to a feeding vampire. "I'll bet it's Carly behind this!" she surmised. "Remember, we brought her down to mist form and she seeped through the ground, leaving us to deal with that plant monster? I'll bet this is what she does now with the bodies of those she feeds on!"

The fresher bodies had all been piled up on the north side, so it was assumed they'd floated down this way from the northern stream. Harlan, Ageratum, and Chaevaris crossed past the vertical grate over by Alistair and the half-elf paladin led them northward, along the wooden platforms just above the level of the slow-flowing water. After a bit, the platform crossed over to the other side of the river, where it dead-ended at a cave opening. The light from the torch Ogilvy carried and Harlan's flaming longsword allowed those with elven blood - Chaevaris and Harlan - to make out two figures within the cave: one, the unmistakable 14-year-old form of the vampire spawn Carly; the other, a human man in armor, wearing an unholy symbol showing him aligned with an archfiend.

Harlan immediately cast a protection from evil spell upon himself as he advanced. "There is evil in the cave," he announced, after having sensed a great deal of it emanating from the shadows within. Ageratum moved up to the point where the wooden platform made a left turn to lead to the cave opening, holding her silver short sword in her left hand and readying a kobold spear in her right - if Carly popped her hed out the cave, she was going to get a spear-point in the kisser! But the elves weren't the only ones capable of seeing in the dark, for Carly's voice called out petulantly from the back of the cave, "I know you! You killed my monster!" Chaevaris nocked an arrow and pointed it at the undead form, taking a very careful aim; she wanted her undead bane arrow do deal as much damage to the vampire spawn as it could.

As Ogilvy moved up and the torchlight lit up the cave even further, Alistair could see well enough to make out which shape was Carly's and which the cleric's. Pointing his wand at the teenaged vampire spawn, he fired off a shot, which went streaking across the river into the cave to hit Carly straight in the chest - and then dissipate harmlessly as it hit some sort of invisible barrier. Alistair cursed, realizing she was probably wearing a brooch of shielding, the surest protection against the otherwise nearly foolproof magic missile spell. Then he perked up at the thought that after they had managed to permanently kill her - something he was sure they'd be able to do this time, for her coffin was visible just behind her - he could claim the brooch of shielding for himself. But then his mood soured again at the thought that he's just used up a good portion of its protection with his five-missile attack.

The evil cleric, a man named Raten Splurgg, stepped forward and cast a spell in Harlan's direction. The half-elf felt a tingling in the back of his head but shook off the effects; later, he'd recognize it as a failed hold person spell. But the attempt to take him out angered the paladin and he charged across the cave, swinging his flaming burst longsword at the cleric, cutting through links of chain covering his broad chest and forcing the man to grunt in pain. He then felt another tingle in the back of his head and realized Carly was focusing her attention upon him as well, trying to dominate him, but she was stymied not only by his half-elven heritage but, more importantly, the protection from evil spell he'd cast upon himself earlier, which prevented such magics from affecting him. Now it was Carly's turn to curse aloud.

Ageratum raced into the cave and stabbed the cleric in the leg with her short sword, as Carly swung a fist at Harlan in frustration, swearing again when she failed to connect. Across the running water, Chaevaris followed Carly's movements with her aimed arrow, and when the vampire spawn stopped moving for a moment, the archer let fly. The arrow went streaking across the gap between the two, hitting Carly just below the throat. Carly screamed, partly in surprise - for she hadn't seen the arrow coming - but mostly in pain, for the arrowhead's enchantment ensured it maximized the damage to the vampire spawn's undead flesh. Alistair continued moving closer along the wooden walkway, firing off a scorching ray spell at Carly that hit her square on; the sorcerer was well and truly pleased that the undead teenager didn't seem to have any sort of special protection against flames.

Ogilvy entered the cave and stood in the back, his torch lighting up the whole place. There was Carly's wooden coffin in the back of the cave, and next to it a smaller coffin the size of a small child. Seeing it, Alistair hoped there wasn't some sort of vampire baby in there; slaying an undead teenager was one thing, but killing a vampire baby would be something else altogether and the sorcerer didn't know if he had it in him.

Raten stepped over behind Carly and cast an inflict wounds spell upon her, flooding her undead body with negative energy - for an undead creature, this was the equivalent of having a healing spell cast upon you. The burned flesh smoothed over, the wound from Chaevaris's arrow - which was plucked angrily by the vampire spawn and tossed away - closed up and healed over. While none of the heroes had voiced any particular overall plan, each had been hoping to focus their attention on the undead foe before them and put her out of business; now it seemed as if they might have to take out her clerical support staff to prevent him from prolonging her ability to stay in the fight.

But Harlan was still willing to give "taking the vampire spawn out first" a shot. He stepped forward, channeling positive energy through his flaming blade to bring it crashing down onto Carly's shoulder in a smiting blow. However, she must have anticipated such a move on the paladin's part because by the time the blade got to where she had been, she was no longer there. The positive energy dissipated from the blade as Harlan swung it in a sideways arc, hoping to catch her in his follow-on attack, but she managed to skip backwards just far enough for the blade to go whizzing by her without making contact.

Carly's expression was one of triumph - which immediately changed to one of irritation and pain when Ageratum stabbed her in the calf with her silver short sword. She cried out "Ow!" in surprise and hopped backwards by her coffin. She stared down at the halfling in an attempt to dominate her, and Ageratum was taken completely by surprise; her mind suddenly got fuzzy and she forgot what it was she had been doing, when the stray thought - "stab the paladin in the back!" - manifested in her brain. That's right, Ageratum thought to herself, I need to stab Harlan in the back! How could she have forgotten?

Chaevaris shot another of her undead bane arrows at Carly, hitting her in the chest and causing a lot of damage to her undead flesh. Carly turned to Raten to get him to heal her with his necromantic touch, but then Alistair entered the cave and blasted her again with another scorching ray spell. The flames coursing over her body were too much for the vampire spawn to handle; unconscious, her body dissipated into fine beads of mist, which started floating unaided over in the direction of her coffin.

Raten stepped forward, saw it was too late to help his mistress, and determined these four heroes would not get the opportunity to do anything to her undead body once it reformed in her coffin. The inflict wounds spell in his hand, which he'd intended to use to heal Carly (but couldn't now that she was a cloud of mist - it was too late for that to have any effect upon her now), he instead used to harm Harlan, his mere touch siphoning off some of the paladin's life force. But Harlan scooted around the cleric, thinking to catch him between himself and Ageratum where the little halfling would be able to get in a nice back-stabbing, and channeled another blast of positive energy into his sword, priming it to smite evil once again. That ought to keep his focus on me! the half-elf thought to himself as he brought his flaming sword crashing into Raten's side. However, Ageratum's back-stabbing abilities had no time to come into play, for the paladin's smite evil attack caused Raten to fall to the cave floor, unconscious and bleeding out. For some reason, the Blood Mirror in Harlan's belt pouch wasn't stabilizing the wounded cleric's body like it normally did. (Had Raten been conscious, he'd recognize that it was the desecrate spell he's cast upon the cave, along with the two protection from good spells on himself and his mistress when they heard the heroes fighting the otyugh, that was overcoming the Blood Mirror's normal ability to prevent death from those about to leave the mortal coil.)

But then Alistair stepped up, saw the current status of things, and cast a scorching ray directly into the cleric's face. His head burned almost to cinders, there was no way the Blood Mirror would have been able to do anything to keep him alive, even had the desecrate spell not been in effect. Unseen by any of the heroes in the cave, Raten Splurgg's dark soul went screaming off to its Hellish afterlife.

Harlan was temporarily surprised to see Ageratum veering around him in an arc, keeping her distance from the reach of his blade as she maneuvered to get behind him. With both of their opponents out, the paladin couldn't figure out what she was doing, unless--he spun around to face her and leapt back as she attacked, her silver short sword stabbing in his direction. He deflected the blade with his shield and then, not wanting to have to fight her off - and realizing the reason for her sudden betrayal - threw both shield and sword to the cave floor and leaped out at her with his arms open wide.

Had Ageratum been of her own mind at the time, she might have been able to take advantage of the opening to get in a good strike at his undefended chest, and possibly even pierce the armor he wore, in the split second before he was upon her. But then he had her in a bear hug, squeezing her tightly against him, arms pinned to her sides and short sword unable to maneuver enough to be able to stab him. She tried wresting herself free, but the half-elf had both a strength and a height advantage on her, and her struggles remained fruitless.

By this time, Carly's gaseous form had seeped into her coffin. Chaevaris was at the coffin's side in a moment, lifting the lid with one hand while snatching up one of the undead bane arrows she'd shot at the vampire spawn with the other. Looking down at Carly's body, once again taking on a solid form now that she was "safe" within her coffin, the elven archer snapped the arrow's shaft in half (knowing full well the "undead bane" magic of the weapon had already been spent) and stabbed the undead thing through the heart with the impromptu wooden stake. Carly's face animated just enough to show a rictus of pain before she slumped over, dead. Chaevaris knew that this dead state would only last for as long as the stake remained piercing the vampire spawn's heart, but right now there was nobody there willing to pull it out, so it ought to be safe for now.

"Get off me, Harlan!" came Ageratum's voice from underneath the paladin's body as he lay prone upon the stone floor of the cave. "Seriously, I'm no longer under that bitch's mental control!" Sure enough, as soon as Chaevaris had plunged the broken arrow through Carly's black heart, the veil had lifted from Ageratum's thoughts and she found her will back to being her own. Harlan climbed off the little halfling, stood up, and offered her his hand. He got her to her feet and then retrieved his discarded sword and shield.

Once Chaevaris showed the others what she'd done to Carly's undead corpse, Harlan sheathed his longsword and scooped her up in his arms. Doing so showed that mixed in with her burial dirt at the bottom of the coffin were a bunch of golden coins and a pair of potions; Ageratum gathered up the treasure from the bottom of the coffin while Alistair unpinned the brooch of shielding from the dead vampire spawn's garment and pinned it to his own cloak. "Please continue," he told Harlan after the brooch was in place.

Without a word, the paladin stepped back out of the cave and onto the wooden platform, where he sat, with his feet dangling into the water. Looking down into the water with his superior elven vision, he saw the bottom was close enough he could stand without being completely submerged. Saying a quick prayer under his breath - "Pelor, take this young woman's spirit; she did not ask to become an undead monstrosity" - he leaped into the river, holding Carly's body before him. The water only came up to his chest, but it completely engulfed Carly's corpse; only Chaevaris's arrow sticking up from her heart reached up above the slowly-flowing water. But within a few seconds the broken arrow began to wobble as Carly's body started dissolving in the slow current; Harlan could feel the weight of her decrease with each passing heartbeat as she was slowly washed away to nothingness. When the arrow started floating down the river and the paladin could no longer feel the teenager's body against his arms, he turned to face the wooden walkway and Alistair helped him climb back up. A quick prestidigitation spell helped dry the paladin and clean his armor.

"Let's go," he said to others. "I think we're done here."

- - -

This was a very satisfying adventure for the four of us players, as Carly had managed to avoid a permanent death at our hands twice before.

Incidentally, Dan explained after the adventure was over the smaller coffin had been built because Carly had gotten it into her mind to transform a living baby into a vampire; in her undead state, that was the only way for her to "have kids." We're all glad we were able to kill her before she went any further down that particular path!


To the Esteemed Bard, Holyrood Carp,

I hope you will not mind the sudden change in tone, but my next song is not broadcasting the positive virtues of one of my adventuring compatriots, but rather tearing down a vicious enemy. They say sarcasm can be a powerful weapon in the right hands, and I have full faith in your hands (and voice) in being able to bring down a downright cad through the power of your song.

The lyrics follow:

Jasgund a stuffy, old bore...​
Tricked into marrying a whore...​
Everybody laughed and mocked him so he turned around and socked 'em​
Jasgund Singh...likes to call himself a Lord...​
And he wants to be adored...​
Wears a filthy, smelly turban; what he does is quite disturbin'​
Jasgund a low-bred animal...​
A repulsive cannibal...​
And he eats the hearts of women; might as well, he sure can't win 'em​
Jasgund this next part just might shock ya...​
He's not human, he's rakshasa...​
He's got a tiger head, that's rich; he can't tell which hand is which​
Jasgund a tiger humanoid...​
And he's easily annoyed...​
He is always ill at ease, 'cause he's probably got fleas​
Jasgund Singh...trapped in a faraway land...​
He's got morons in his band...​
And he sends them out on missions but they vanish like magicians​
Jasgund as stupid as they come...​
I'm not saying that he's dumb...​
But it couldn't get much clearer he can't locate the Blood Mirror
Jasgund Singh...trapped in his desert land...​
Because that's where he's been banned...​
Having him here'd be no favor, 'cause he's such a crappy neighbor​
Jasgund Singh...sits and sulks about each day...​
'Cause he doesn't get his way...​
He's a whiny little wussy; a rakshasa's just a pussy​
Jasgund Singh...probably won't like this song...​
He won't listen very long...​
He'll hold his breath 'til he turns blue, wishing each word wasn't true​
Jasgund Singh...go ahead and throw a fit...​
Get so mad that you could spit...​
But it won't make you feel better, you'll always be a bed-wetter​
Jasgund Singh...might as well just face the facts...​
No one buys your "tough guy" acts...​
You'll always just be strange, for a tiger's stripes don't change​
It looks like you've got the mange​
You're stuck there, you got short-changed​
Your freedom you can't arrange​
From your family you're estranged​
And you'll never be exchanged​
'Cause your just so damned deranged!​

I understand perfectly if you decide not to potentially incur the maniac's wrath - even if you opt not to ever use the song, I certainly had a good time writing it! In any case, best of luck with your continued performances.

With Fond Regards,

Alistair Mandelberen Pastlethwaite



PC Roster:
Ageratum Purslane, halfling rogue 6​
Alastair Mandelberen Pastlethwaite, human sorcerer 6​
Chaevaris Noarunal, elf archer 6​
Harlan Starblade, half-elf paladin 6​

Game Session Date: 23 January 2023

- - -

Returning to the Stone Keep after their adventures in the sewers of Ghourmand Vale, the four heroes were surprised to see a trio of unfamiliar horses reined in the front of the building, along the hitching posts. "It would seem there are visitors here," observed Harlan.

Sure enough, when they entered the keep to check on Julianna and her twins, they found Father Scarborough holding the two babies as their parents embraced and spoke quietly to each other. "I say!" declared Alistair upon seeing his brother this far from Greyhawk City. "Atherton! When did you arrive?"

"Just this morning, little brother," replied Atherton. "The three of us." There were two strangers standing alongside Atherton; Alistair was fairly sure he'd never seen them before, yet they did seem awfully familiar. They were certainly nobody Alistair had met before in his previous circle of acquaintances among the Greyhawk nobility, given their rough-cut garments of fur and leather...with a start, Alistair realized where he'd seen them before. "I say! You're--you're the statues we rescued!"

Sure enough, these were the two statues the Trained Professional Adventurers had rescued from the fishmen after the ship upon which they'd been being transported had been sunk and looted, now returned to flesh and blood. The man stood with his arms crossed, a rather regal expression on his hard-weathered face, whereas the woman was much younger. These, apparently, were two members of the frost barbarian tribe which lived in the colder northlands above Greyhawk City.

"I'd like to formally introduce you to Larson Clearspike and his daughter, Gundrun Clearspike. I understand I have you four to thank for their rescue and return. Well done, all."

"Happy to have been of service," replied Harlan, as he started a series of handshakes all around, introducing the strangers to the members of his adventuring band.

After the greetings were finished, Atherton added, "I would like to hire you to continue your rescue efforts. You see, Larson here is the leader of his tribe, and they have been assaulted by slavers - most of his people, about thirty in all, have been captured and are being transported south. I would like to hire you to travel back to Greyhawk with us - to include my wife, children, and Nanny Rogers - and then, once there, I will take my family and the Clearspikes north while you investigate where the slavers have taken the frost barbarian tribe members. All we know at this point is that they were heading south from there."

"When would you want to depart?" asked Chaevaris.

"Tomorrow, optimally - I know you'll need time to prepare for a journey of that duration. I understand you have a wagon, correct? We'll let my family ride in the wagon, while the Clearspikes and I ride on horseback. I trust you all have steeds of your own?"

"Quite," replied Alistair, trying to impress the older brother to whom he'd always looked up. He quietly mouthed the words to a prestidigitation spell, surreptitiously polishing his boots and cleaning his garments of any mud he might have picked up since the last time he'd used such spellcraft to enhance his appearance.

The rest of the day was spent making preparations for such a long journey: the four heroes recalled it had taken them 19 days to travel via caravan from Greyhawk City to Ghourmand Vale, although they'd spent a full day tracking down a pair of kidnapped children who had been taken by hungry kobolds. They'd need food for themselves and the animals (although Chaevaris said she'd be able to hunt plenty of animals while traveling, as she had done on the caravan), extra blankets and tents for Atherton's family and Nanny Rogers, and little odds and ends like extra axle grease for the wagon. But they finished their provisioning by that evening, got a good night's sleep, and were on the trail not too long after sunrise the next morning.

Travel back to Greyhawk City was quite different from their initial caravan; they had but the one wagon, for one thing, and a pair of very young babies who needed constant feeding and changing, and who kept odd hours - those on night watch detail often saw Julianna up with one or both of her babies at all hours of the night, getting them back to sleep. Ageratum, Chaevaris, and Gundrun were occasionally pressed into service in rocking the babies back to sleep if they happened to be on shift, a task neither seemed to resent. And Nanny Rogers was always there to lend a practiced hand as needed, having raised Atherton and Alistair since they had been mere babies themselves.

All in all, the first week and a half on the road was pretty uneventful. It was on the 11th night that Harlan, during the first two-hour shift of guard detail, encountered a group of four people advancing towards their overnight camp. "Who goes there?" the half-elf called out, unsheathing his flaming burst longsword to show the newcomers he was prepared to defend himself and his companions, but also to add to the feeble light coming from the campfire, which had burned down almost to embers. The cloudy night sky, obscuring the stars and the moons, didn't help matters.

"We come in peace," called out one of the four, and they cautiously entered the ring of illumination so the paladin could see them better. They wore garments of skins and furs, and they held no weapons in their upraised hands.

"You look weary," Harlan observed. "Please, sit by the fire - I'll add some firewood to keep you warm."

"Thank you," replied the apparent leader of the four bedraggled men. "We have had a hard few days." They made themselves comfortable around the campfire and began their tale, but they only got as far as having been taken by orc slavers before Harlan interrupted them. "I think Larson should hear this," Harlan said, and at the name of their own tribal leader the frost barbarians gasped in astonishment and cheered. It wasn't long before the whole group had been awakened - including the twin babies, crying at the interruption of their sleep.

Larson Clearspike confirmed these were part of the 30 or so tribesmen who had been captured from his tribe. The tale they told was astonishing: the band that had attacked them had consisted of about a dozen orcs, a two-headed ettin, and their leader was an elf mage. Some of their number had been given to the ettin as food, and he had devoured them in front of the others, which made for a very effective bit of negative reinforcement, for the elf often threatened to feed the slower slaves, those who couldn't keep up, to the ettin when they stopped. Still, these four had managed to sneak off in the early morning, when the sun was first rising, and escaped north, bumping into the campsite quite by accident.

"Wait, I'm confused," said Ageratum. "I thought the frost barbarians lived north of Greyhawk. That's still eight days away from here."

"That is correct," replied Atherton.

"Then what are they doing all the way out here? That's way out of their way. I thought we were being hired to check south of Greyhawk for the missing slaves?"

"It would appear the slavers' plans have changed," relied Atherton. "Perhaps they are taking them further west than we had heard."

"But I was under the impression orcs didn't like bright lights," piped up Alistair. "Why were you all camped out overnight? I would have thought they'd want you to travel in the night hours, so they could sleep when the sun was up."

"Well, it's the elf that was calling the shots," the escaped slave replied.

"Still and all, it seems we should head south and track down these slavers," Alistair said. "We can head out the first thing in the morning; if it took these four all day to get here on foot, we should hopefully be able to cover that distance in three or four hours on horseback."

"Do you wish to head out now?" asked Atherton.

"Heavens, no!" answered Alistair, enjoying being the one with the most knowledge on a given subject for once. "Riding our horses at night, with any speed, risks one of them breaking an ankle in a gopher hole or something. Better we head out in the morning. Of course, the slaves will have been moved further south by then, but we should hopefully be able to track them without too much difficulty. Elfy here is an extraordinary tracker." Chaevaris just squinted her eyes, debating whether she was more pleased by the young fool's compliments or displeased by the nickname "Elfy."

"In addition, those of us who cast spells will require our sleep if we're to have a fresh allotment in the morning," added Harlan. That, then, was the plan - the next morning, the group would split up, the four heroes taking one of the escaped slaves with them on horseback to retrace his steps from the previous day, while the others continued on their trek to Greyhawk City. "Catch up with us if you can," offered Atherton, "otherwise, we'll see you in the city."

The next morning, one of the escaped slaves volunteered to go with the four heroes to backtrack to where the slaver force had made camp overnight two nights ago. The other three would return with Larson and Gundrun Clearspike to Greyhawk, accompanied by Atherton and his family. Alistair said goodbye to his brother and sister-in-law, then gave his best regards to Nanny Rogers. "You be careful fighting those awful slavers," she admonished the young sorcerer.

"It's alright, Nanny," Alistair replied, with a hint of pride in his voice. "This is what I do now."

Chaevaris offered to ride double with their barbarian scout, as she was the smallest hero who rode a full-sized horse. They made excellent progress, and the barbarian excitedly pointed out landmarks he'd remembered passing by as they made their way north. "We made camp in an old, abandoned mine," he told them. "We should be getting pretty close to it."

"Then let's slow down and go in carefully and quietly," suggested Harlan.

"Why?" argued Ageratum. "They should have moved on yesterday morning."

"Perhaps," agreed Harlan. "Still, humor me, just in case."

It turned out the paladin's hunch had been correct, for after securing their horses (leaving their barbarian guide with them) and making their way toward the mine entrance on foot, they saw five orcs spread out on guard duty, squinting in the morning sunlight. Harlan guessed it to be about two hours before full noon, and the orcs looked none too pleased out in the open on guard duty. The four heroes made their way to a line of trees, noting there were several sections of raised stone before the mine entrance, offering them plenty of passageways between if they wished to sneak up on the orcs.

"I've got a better idea," Chaevaris said in a low whisper. "You guys stay here and be ready to charge once they figure out something's going on. I'm going to head off to the right and see if I can't pick them off, one by one." And with that, the elven archer ducked and moved half a hundred feet to her right, positioning herself behind a tree where she could see all five of the bestial guards. Nocking her first arrow into place, she sighted down her bow and targeted the orc at the farthest point on the right. He looked to be armed the same as the others, with a falchion and a javelin. Taking in a deep breath and holding it, she let fly with her arrow, and it went whizzing silently a hundred feet or more to bury itself into the orc's throat. He fell over and died with barely a gurgle.

But the leftmost orc was about 60 feet closer to the heroes than the others, who were all bunched up at the mine entrance, and he had apparently seen Chaevaris's arrow come flying from the trees. "Guys!" he cried, "We got attackers!" He held his javelin ready to throw, but squinted into the sunlight, trying to pick out a target.

At that, one of the orcs turned and made as if to enter the mines, no doubt to warn the others. But Alistair was ready for him; standing up from behind a rock, he cast a magic missile spell that struck the orc in the back and sent him face-first onto the ground, dead.

One of the other orcs leaped down from his higher ground and ran along a channel towards the heroes. Chaevaris was able to track him with her next arrow, though, and it buried itself in the side of the brute's head. He died without even knowing what had hit him.

Alistair raced forward, running along a channel between the raised rocks on either side of him. Ambrose flew alongside him, keeping low so as not to be a target for any of the remaining orcs' javelins. As a result, the sorcerer didn't get to see Ageratum's first use of his new stratagem: days earlier, he had found a couple decent-sized boulders during their travels and cast shrink item on them, then gave them to the little halfling for safekeeping. She kept them in a separate pouch, all by themselves, so she wouldn't get them mixed up with her other sling ammunition. But now she loaded one of these magic stones into her sling and fired it off at the orc who had shouted out a warning. The sling bullet struck the orc in the forehead, and then, as per the specifics of the spell, was immediately restored to its normal size upon impact. As the initial strike had caused the orc to fall backwards a step, the boulder returned to its original size and immediately fell upon the orc's chest, crushing him beneath its weight. Of the four orcs taken down thus far, he was the only one within range of the Blood Mirror and thus while he was unconscious, his wounds were stabilized by the magic gemstone Harlan kept upon his person. (The other three orcs were quite dead.)

That left only a single orc still on guard duty, but seeing his companions taken out so quickly, he wasted no time in turning tail and running into the mine entrance, disappearing from view. "Drat!" cried Alistair. "He'll alert the others!"

"That may be for the best," returned Harlan. "Fighting them out in the sunlight works to our advantage." Now that their presence was already known, he unsheathed his flaming burst longsword and mentally set the blade ablaze. He then ran up to meet the reinforcements when they came spilling out of the mine entrance.

He didn't have long to wait. From the mine entrance spilled out half a dozen more orcs ready for battle, trailed by the one who had ran inside to fetch them; he dawdled a bit behind his brethren, already knowing how dangerous these attackers were. Alistair proved his point by sending another magic missile spell striking the first out of the mines right in the face, dropping him like a stone. By this time, Harlan had moved up enough that the Blood Mirror stabilized his wounds as well.

Ageratum was moving up as well, but unlike Harlan she wasn't charging straight into battle; she ran along the left side of the area before the mines, taking the time to stop by the orc she'd knocked out with her pebble-boulder and slitting his throat with her dagger. She knew the Blood Mirror didn't discriminate about who it stabilized, and the little halfling was determined to ensure those that should have died actually did.

Harlan charged the nearest orc, slicing him across the torso with his flaming blade, dropping him with a single stroke. The other six orcs all made for the half-elf, screaming curses, but then one of them screamed even louder as an arrow buried itself in his gut and he fell over, dead, before reaching the paladin. But Harlan was quickly beset by three orcs, and he was unable to deflect all of their attacks with his shield; one of the brutes' falchions got past his defenses and cut into the half-orc's flesh. However, if they thought a paladin of Pelor could be taken down by a single blow when there were slaves to be rescued, he'd show them the error of their ways!

At that moment, the half-elf saw another orc exit from the mine opening and behind him came a two-headed figure rising heads and shoulders above the orcs. So this was the ettin - let him come and taste his burning steel!

Alistair blasted another orc with a magic missile spell, glad to see he could take out an orc with every spell cast; he'd save his more powerful wand if needed against the ettin. Harlan cut down one of the orcs before him and then cleaved to the side, bringing down a second in as many seconds. There were now five orcs and an ettin on the battlefield; somewhere there was supposed to be an elven mage in the mix, but he had yet to show himself.

Chaevaris, still back behind the tree from which she'd started sniping at the orcs, set another arrow in place and lined up her shot against the ettin; not sure if a head-shot would kill a two-headed creature, she opted to aim for the creature's heart - surely he had only one of those!

The last orc to arrive couldn't wait to get into hand-to-hand combat range; he threw his javelin at Harlan, catching the paladin in the shoulder. The ettin approached Harlan as well, a massive spiked club held in each beefy hand, but then Chaevaris let fly with her arrow and it buried itself into his chest. He roared in pain, but remained standing; these ettins were a lot tougher than the orcs accompanying it.

At that point, unknown to any of the heroes, the elven mage - one Elessair Oronar, the head of this slaver party - exited the mine entrance and made his way out onto the battlefield, veering far enough away from Harlan and the orcs that he wouldn't get caught up in their melee. But he was secure in the knowledge that he'd had his battle-eager lackeys engage the enemy long enough for him to have cast upon himself the spells mage armor, shield, protection from good, and most importantly, the invisibility spell that kept anyone from knowing of his presence among them.

Alistair pulled out his wand and fired off a shot at the ettin, figuring the brute was worth sending five missiles to do the job instead of the three he could muster on his own. The ettin screamed and cursed with two different throats at the unexpected assault, but didn't let the pain distract him from his chosen melee target, Harlan Starblade.

By this time, Ageratum had moved up - completely unnoticed by any of the slaver party - close enough for her to throw one of her kobold spears when a target presented itself. She held the pose, ready to throw, waiting for her moment.

Harlan saw the evil intent in both pairs of the ettin's eyes and backed up, taking a moment to heal himself with a laying on of hands, allowing Pelor's healing power to flow through his fingertips and seal up the worst of his cuts. This also meant he'd delayed the ettin's eventual attacks by a few seconds, which the paladin well knew could often be the turning point in any battle. One of the orcs raced up at Harlan, but before he could cross the distance Ageratum had found her moment and took him down with her thrown spear.

But then the ettin charged, moving much faster than the half-elf had given him credit for. Chaevaris took her shot, hitting him in the side by one armpit as he ran, but he remained upright and his spiked clubs came smashing in at Harlan, dealing an impressive amount of damage. But just as the ettin refused to fall, so too did Harlan. He just grinned up at the two-headed brute, a trickle of blood running down his lip, likely from a punctured lung.

A blast of flame went whizzing past Alistair's head, close enough for him to feel the heat of the blast. He recognized it as a scorching ray and looked about for the attacker. There he was, a mere 15 feet or so from him - the blighter must have been invisible! The sorcerer was sorely tempted to respond in kind, to see how the elven spellcaster liked a taste of his own medicine, but he'd fumbled the spell twice in a row when fighting those fishmen and feared he might do the same this time. Seeing his hesitation, Chaevaris called out, "Take down the ettin first, Alistair! Harlan can handle the wizard!"

Trusting that the elven archer was better versed in combat than he was, Alistair ignored the suddenly-visible elf before him and shot another magic missile barrage from his wand at the ettin. That did the trick; four eyes crossed on the giant's faces and he fell over to the ground, merely unconscious due to the nearness of the Blood Mirror. But Ageratum was there in a moment to take care of that issue, leaping upon the ettin's back and stabbing her short sword through his kidneys, killing him for good. And then, proving Chaevaris's recommendation to be absolutely true, Harlan charged at Elessair and ran him through with his flaming blade, piercing him through the belly such that the point of his sword projected out of the mage's back. When Harlan pulled his flaming blade back out, the elven mage tried for a moment to cast a spell at the half-elf but then collapsed at his feet like a marionette with its strings severed.

Alistair cast a detect magic spell and examined the dead mage's body as Harlan ran off to engage the remaining orcs. Sure enough, he had a magic amulet of some sort around his neck, which Alistair removed as spoils of war. He also took the masterwork rapier from the elf's belt; Alistair already had two but this one was rather nicely made, and the elven slaver certainly had no further use for it. He felt for a pulse while he was at it, but Harlan's blade had apparently done more damage than even the Blood Mirror was able to handle.

Ageratum made herself useful moving from orc body to orc body, slitting throats where necessary, after first checking that Harlan's attention was on taking down the remaining orcs. You never knew with paladins - sometimes their morals stopped them from doing what was arguably right. She waited until he had gone inside the mine entrance to see about freeing the slaves before she dispatched the last few he had taken down.

The enemy forces slain, Chaevaris finally moved up to join the others. "That was a refreshing change!" she exclaimed. "I don't often get to put my sniper skills to much use!"

There was movement over at the mine entrance, causing Alistair to ready another magic missile spell, but it was only Harlan returning with just over a dozen slaves. They wore the same types of hides as the four who had come to the heroes' campsite the night before. "There are nine dead frost barbarians inside here," Harlan said gravely. "We'll need to build a pyre - it's the way of their people."

"I'll get right on that," Chaevaris promised, pulling a hatchet from her belt and heading back to the trees.

"Are we going to burn these others?" asked Alistair, looking at the bodies of the orcs, the elven mage, and the ettin.

"The slavers?" scoffed Harlan. "No, those we let rot under Pelor's rays." It was the answer Alistair had been hoping to hear.

- - -

We've figured out that with 14 frost barbarians traveling with us on foot, we'll never catch up to the others on horseback and in the wagon in time, so we'll have to meet up with Alistair and the Clearspikes at Greyhawk City. Dan has hinted that Atherton will be hosting a dinner party there at his house, inviting both Alistair and their father, Lord Ambrose Pastlethwaite, which will bring my PC's backstory to a close. That ought to be interesting.
Last edited:


To the Esteemed Bard, Holyrood Carp,

With this next song I return to singing the praises of our adventuring band. With luck, it will further expand knowledge of our exploits and further our fame. But I fear this is likely the last such song on this topic; in future, I will attempt to expand the field a bit and sing of other aspects of the life of an adventurer.

The lyrics follow:

I wanna tell you all a story ‘bout adventurers both brave and bold​
And the folks of Ghourmand Vale always feel comfort when this story’s told​
They call themselves the Trained Professional Adventurers and to this day​
There’s been nothing put before them that could stop Ghourmand Vale’s TPA​
Their unofficial leader’s a half-elf paladin named Harlan​
And all the pretty young single women dream of him calling them “darlin’”​
But I hate to break your hearts, my dears, when I tell you you won’t get your way​
‘Cause Harlan’s just too focused on leading Ghourmand Vale’s TPA​
Chaevaris is a wood elf and she’s quite the well-accomplished archer​
It was from Greyhawk City that she made a rather hasty departure​
But it worked out for the best that everything turned out just that way​
For she’s the greatest long-range threat in the Ghourmand Vale TPA​
Ageratum is a halfling and a well-valued part of the team​
She’s always up for an exciting adventure, or dare, or wild scheme​
And she’s as eager as any of the others to jump into the fray​
Ageratum’s made a place for herself in Ghourmand Vale’s TPA​
Alistair is a spellcaster who still carries the Pastlethwaite name​
He’s made quite a mark for himself in the respected adventuring game​
And if you ever see him surprised he’ll surely exclaim out loud, “I say!”​
But he’s the noted spellcasting expert in Ghourmand Vale’s own TPA​
So, there you have the basics on the whole mighty team and I’m just here to say:​
Nobody brings the action like the Ghourmand Vale's own TPA​
No, nobody brings the action like the Ghourmand Vale's own TPA​

I hope you don't mind this final description of our little group, after having already written a song about each of us in turn.

With Fond Regards,

Alistair Mandelberen Pastlethwaite



PC Roster:
Ageratum Purslane, halfling rogue 6​
Alastair Mandelberen Pastlethwaite, human sorcerer 6​
Chaevaris Noarunal, elf archer 6​
Harlan Starblade, half-elf paladin 6​

Game Session Date: 22 February 2023

- - -

"There's Larson!" cried one of the frost barbarians as the haggard group finished their week-long trek and entered the city of Greyhawk for the first time. As a group, the former slaves rushed over to greet their leader and his daughter Gundrun, who had been awaiting their arrival. Behind them, the group of Trained Professional Adventurers brought their mounts to a halt and watched the barbarians' long-awaited reunion. It had been slow going, these past days, but now their task had been completed to everyone's mutual satisfaction. Harlan wasn't sure what their plans were now they'd been brought back together, but he wished them the best - they'd been through a lot.

"Tokens of our gratitude," said Larson Clearspike, reaching behind him to his daughter. Gundrun dutifully handed over a quartet of amulets, which her father ceremonial draped around the heads of the four heroes who had rescued his men. "These show the esteem by which you will be revered by members of my clan," he intoned. Ageratum merely smiled in appreciation at the gesture, while mentally determining how much she could sell her amulet for on the open market - probably somewhere in the neighborhood of 350 pieces of gold, she estimated; not bad! Still, she figured it would likely be best to wait until getting back to Ghourmand Vale before selling her amulet; no good would come of the frost barbarians finding the amulet they had bestowed upon her sitting in the window of a pawn shop here in Greyhawk City!

"Gundrun will lead you to the house of your brother," Larson informed Alistair. Then he and the men turned and blended into the crowds, off about whatever business a group of rough barbarians got up to in a bustling city. Gundrun, having reached the city half a week before, had apparently learned her way about it fairly well, for she led the group directly to the townhouse of Atherton Pastlethwaite, nestled in the wealthier part of the city.

"Don't you already know the way to your brother's house?" asked Ageratum from the saddle of her pony, Munson.

"I fear not," the sorcerer replied. "Atherton and I were still living with my parents when I was kicked out of the family last year."

Atherton met them at the door, grinning widely. "You made it! Good show!" he beamed. "You'll stay here with us tonight, I hope? I'm planning a dinner party tomorrow to celebrate your success!" The heroes readily agreed, as Atherton's townhouse was much fancier than the simple farmhouse where they made their headquarters back near Ghourmand Vale. And it was good to sleep in a bed again after so many days on the road!

The next morning, Alistair announced his intention to do some shopping. "If we're going to go to a dinner party tonight, I shall need a new outfit!"

"What's wrong with the outfit you're wearing?" demanded Chaevaris. "It's already fancier than anything we've got."

Alistair's eyes goggled. "This is slightly out of fashion and has signs of having been used in combat situations," he argued, pointing out where the ends of his cuffs were slightly worn. "And surely you're planning on purchasing clothing appropriate to a dinner party at a nobleman's estate?" he gasped. "Elfy, please tell me you weren't thinking of wearing your combat armor?" Seeing the archer's expression, he turned upon Ageratum to talk some sense into her fellow female adventurer. "My parents are going to be here! I would like them to think highly of my new associates!"

"I thought you were kicked out of your family," the halfling mused. "So why do you care what they think?"

"Because...they're my parents!" was all Alistair could think of as a reply. "And I'd like to show them that we 'mere adventurers' can dress up just as nicely as they can."

Harlan stepped forward. "I will certainly pick up something more appropriate to wear than my plate mail armor," he said in a soothing voice to calm down the flustered sorcerer. Somewhat mollified, Alistair led the group to the shops where they'd be best served in finding appropriate garments. He purchased himself a full nobleman's outfit, while Harlan chose a courtier's outfit more fitting to his station. The women each chose an evening gown, and seeing Chaevaris in a woman's garb made the sorcerer wonder how he could have ever assumed she was a man, typical elven androgyny aside.

That taken care of, Alistair also purchased a pair of nets and then used the shrink item spell to reduce each to the size of a handkerchief. "I've been wanting to try this out," he admitted to the group. Chaevaris also had a small quiver custom fitted with a second strap, so she could wear it upside down around both shoulders. When asked whatever for, she admitted to wanting to try out an experiment of her own: the inverted quiver would be placed over the archer's immovable rod to provide a sturdy support while high up on a tree limb, over the edge of a cliff, or even while hanging freely in mid-air.

That night, while dressing for dinner, Alistair was a bundle of nerves. He made sure his tie was impeccably fastened and every crease in his clothes was in place. Not only would his parents, Lord Ambrose and Lady Druzelda, be there, but also his mother's brother, Uncle Conrad Mandelberen, a rather roguish man with a bit of a dark side to his nature. Alistair buckled on his finest masterwork rapier, completing the look of an elegant nobleman, before heading downstairs. His grackle familiar remained in the bedroom; Alistair had no desire to introduce a bird of such common appearance as his familiar, and especially wanted to avoid explaining to his father why he had given the grackle his name.

All four of the heroes were in place in the living area downstairs when Lord and Lady Pastlethwaite arrived, fashionably late. Atherton was there to greet them in person, taking his father's hat and cloak and his mother's wrap and passing them off to Nanny Rogers to place in a room down the hall. Fortunately, the twins, Alice Montjoie and Abelard Atherton were both sound asleep in their room, and Atherton's wife Julianna was there to greet her in-laws, wearing a stunning evening gown that showed off her post-pregnancy figure to best advantage. She led them into the living room to meet the other guests, and to Lord Ambrose's credit he merely froze in place for a second or so upon seeing his outcast youngest son before continuing on as if nothing were out of the ordinary. This was, after all, he mused, his eldest son's affair, and if he desired to invite his little brother there was bugger all Lord Ambrose could do about it without losing face.

Not wanting to rub his father's face into the situation any worse than necessary, Alistair addressed his parents by their titles. "Lord Ambrose, Lady Druzelda? May I introduce my associates: Harlan Starblade, Miss Chaevaris Noarunal, and Miss Ageratum Purslane." For the same reason, he had foregone wearing his Pastlethwaite signet ring - although he kept it in a pocket on the interior of his vest, close to his heart. Lord Ambrose harrumphed and shook hands all around, clearly uncomfortable but not about to give his son the satisfaction of making a scene.

Atherton poured drinks for the group, explaining, "I think we'll wait a bit to start dinner, to give Uncle Conrad time to arrive. Please, make yourselves comfortable."

Time passed slowly as the group waited for their final member to show, and Harlan took the opportunity to start the conversation going by mentioning he was a paladin in the service of Pelor - a topic he knew to be safe, as the Pastlethwaites had been raised as followers of the God of the Sun, according to Alistair. But as the minutes ticked slowly on and it started to seem as if Conrad wouldn't show after all, there was a sudden knock on the door. Nanny Rogers went to answer it, bringing inside a stranger holding a sealed envelope. "I'm t' deliver this t' Lord Ambrose, if it please you, sirs," he explained.

Lord Ambrose tipped the lad a silver coin and ripped open the envelope. His shaggy eyebrows raised as he read the words on the sheet of folded parchment within, then grunted. "Conrad's been kidnapped," he said, causing Lady Druzelda to gasp in astonishment and Julianna to take her by the hand. "They want Atherton to bring the Pastlethwaite diamonds to Balstrode's Warehouse to effect his release." Having read the note, he wordlessly passed it over to his older son and returned to his seat, focusing his attention on his brandy.

Atherton nodded for Alistair to come read the note. "I have several suspicions about this," he admitted in a low voice. "First of all, I've been expecting something like this to happen - I think someone's trying to have me killed. And...I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if Uncle Conrad were actually in on the deal. He's been suggesting I go along with some of my enemies' proposals, to the point I no longer think we can trust him."

"I say!" declared Alistair. "What should we do?"

"I'd like you and your team to go to the warehouse in my stead. If everything's on the up and up, then by all means hand over the diamonds and see to getting Uncle Conrad back safely. However, I want you to realize what you could be getting yourself into: this could very well be an assassination attempt, and whoever's trying to kill me will likely try to take you out instead."

"You can count on us, Atherton - we won't let you down!"

"I know you won't," Atherton replied, slapping his brother good-naturedly on the side of the arm in a manly show of support. He knew his little brother practically worshiped him and would do almost anything he'd ask of him; Atherton had full faith in his own combat abilities but now that he had a family to worry about...better to let Alistair and his team put themselves in danger.

Alistair quickly explained the situation to his adventuring companions and they all went back upstairs to dress for combat. Alistair stripped off his own new garments with remorse, putting back on the outfit he'd deemed inappropriate for dinner party wear. It was still a nobleman's outfit, and with any luck it was fancy enough to allow him to pass himself off as his older brother, especially at night, and no doubt by a group of lowborn kidnapping thugs. And if Uncle Conrad was there and alerted his "kidnappers" that Alistair was an imposter, well then that would be all the evidence they needed that Conrad Mandelberen was no longer to be considered an ally.

Gathering back downstairs in full combat gear - with Ambrose the grackle perched proudly upon Alistair's shoulder - Atherton passed over a bag containing the diamonds and gave the group directions to Balstrode's Warehouse, and the quartet was off. Ageratum hurried to keep up as Alistair stormed down the streets, heading to their destination with a fierce look of determination on his face.

Arriving at the warehouse with only starlight by which to see, Alistair sent Ambrose on a reconnaissance run. The grackle circled the warehouse twice and flew above it, then returned to his master's shoulder to give his report. The warehouse was about 20 feet tall, in the shape of an "L," with a single door in the back and two sets of double doors on the two walls on the inside of the "L" - which had an 8-foot-tall fence surrounding it and blocking off the rest of the rectangular block. There were no windows in the building, nor were there any noticeable holes in the roof.

"Three entrances," mused Ageratum, the group's expert on sneaking into places. "Let's try the back door first." They made their way to the north side of the warehouse, and while the halfling gave the door a thorough examination for any obvious traps, Alistair cast forth his unseen servant with the words, "Ogilvy, if you please!" He then reached into his vest pocket and passed over to Ogilvy a small pouch containing four pebbles, each a boulder the sorcerer had shrunk in size using a shrink item spell in the last several days. Ageratum had another such pouch, ready to be used as ammunition for her sling.

"No traps," she announced, then tried the door. The knob turned, but she couldn't get the door open. "It's stuck," she said. "Give me a hand." Harlan applied his own strength to the door, but it was no use. "Something's blocking it," he decided. "A stack of crates or something, most likely. Very well, we'll have to try one of the other sets of doors."

Chaevaris decided if they were going to be opening a set of doors from inside the fenced-off area, she wanted to be up on the rooftop, so she could shoot down upon anyone coming outside. To that end, Alistair had Ogilvy scamper up a pile of crates in the bend of the "L," taking with him Chaevaris's immovable rod, tied around the center of which was a coil of rope. Upon reaching the roof level, Ogilvy activated the rod and the elven archer started climbing up. Ambrose sat perched on the southernmost corner of the roof, overlooking the events. At Alistair's direction, Ogilvy moved over to just above the set of doors on the east wall of the warehouse, where Alistair would be soon announcing his presence. "Remember," he told the others, "I'm Atherton."

"Yeah, yeah, we got it," answered Ageratum, standing to the south of the doors, silver short sword out and ready. She'd used a dose of stone salve to grant herself the protection of a stoneskin spell. To the north of the doors stood an abandoned wagon, behind which Harlan crouched, his flaming burst longsword out but the flames currently inactive, so as not to give away his position. He quickly said the words to a bless spell, encompassing the entire group.

"Okay, here goes!" whispered Alistair, casting a mage armor spell upon himself before hammering on the closed doors with his fist. "Open up!" he demanded in a voice deeper than normal. "It's Atherton - I've brought what you asked for! Bring out my Uncle Conrad at once, you bounders!"

"Come on in!" called a voice from the back of the warehouse. "Dark work is best done in dark places!"

Alistair had no desire to enter the warehouse; they'd engineered a trap so they could all gang up on the kidnappers when they opened the doors. He tried another tactic, calling out, "At least bring him out here so I can see he's okay!"

"Get in here, or we'll bring him out in chunks!" came the reply. Alistair frowned; so much for their clever plans! He kicked in the doors, seeing the warehouse inside was lit by a few meager torches in sconces along the wooden pillars supporting the roof; the place was filled with all manner of crates stacked haphazardly upon each other. But despite the 20-foot ceiling, the warehouse was all one level - there was no upper story to the building.

In the flickering torchlight, Alistair could make out a shadowy figure standing in the back of the warehouse. He wore dark clothing, his form mostly obscured by the heavy cloak he wore, but the sorcerer thought he could make out the glint of a metal weapon held in his left hand - a mace, perhaps. He addressed his comments to the figure, who he assumed had been the one doing the talking. "Let me see he's safe!" Alistair demanded a second time, standing in the open doorway. Ageratum took the opportunity to scoot inside, hiding in the shadows between a pile of crates. From her vantage point, she couldn't see the man Alistair was talking to, but there was a second figure standing off to the side between piles of other crates and barrels, this one also wearing a dark cloak obscuring most of his features. She glanced nervously at him, but it didn't appear he had noticed her scurrying inside the warehouse. It looked like he had a short sword and a dagger strapped to his belt, but his hands were at his sides.

As it was apparent their ambush plans had failed, Chaevaris noiselessly walked along the roofline to the corner of the "L," lowering herself down upon the small stack of crates and from there to the ground. She readied an arrow, sliding over to the doorway until she could see inside the warehouse. As soon as any of the kidnappers headed for the door, she'd have a shot all lined up for them.

Harlan cast forth his senses and detected no evil emanations from inside the warehouse, but that was inconclusive, for he had no idea how many crates and barrels were piled up against the wall, likely blocking his divination attempts. He rounded the wagon, standing to the side of the open doors, just out of view.

Alistair, knowing full well they wanted him to enter the warehouse so they could kill him, took a tentative step forward. "I'm here," he called. "Now where's my uncle?"

"He's back here, in the office," came a wheedling voice from further north than the figure Alistair had assumed had been doing the talking. "Bring your little friends on in and see for yourselves."

Alistair froze where he stood. So the kidnappers already knew he wasn't alone! That did it; putting on an aggrieved tone, he announced, "Very well! If you have no intention on carrying through with your end of the bargain, I shall not allow any more of my time to be wasted!" And with that, he pivoted on his heels and made a big production out of storming back out of the warehouse, hoping to at least get one of the kidnappers to come out after him, where his friends could spring their trap. But Ageratum, a bit more attentive than the sorcerer, noted neither of the two cloaked figures had so much as moved a muscle during this entire encounter. Suspicions crossed her minds: were these merely mannequins, and if so, for what purpose? On a whim, she tossed a thunderstone at the closest figure; it exploded at his feet but produced no reaction from him.

With both Chaevaris and Harlan ready to spring into action, Alistair stormed over to the gate in the fence the group had used to enter the courtyard. And there stood a human-sized figure, waiting to pounce upon the young nobleman. "Hello, Atherton," it said in the same voice as the one in the back of the warehouse, as a set of wicked claws at the end of rather bony fingers came slashing out at Alistair, ripping through the front of his vest, shirt, and digging furrows in the flesh of his chest. Alistair staggered backwards in shock, and the babau demon followed, swiping at his face but missing this time. "Somebody's paid a lot of money to see you dead!" he chortled.

Ageratum came charging out of the warehouse, her silver blade flashing in the moonlight. She stabbed the babau in the leg, scraping her blade against its rough hide without any discernable effect. However, at this range she could see the demon was covered in a sheen of reddish sweat, which was causing her blade to start to bubble. With a shudder of disgust, she shook the droplets of acid off her blade, sending them shotgunning the ground at her feet.

Chaevaris spun about in place, rapidly targeting the fiend with her readied arrow. But then Harlan ran between her and the babau, detecting evil and confirming its existence as the paladin caused the flames to burst forth from his blade while swinging it in the fiend's direction. He channeled Pelor's positive energy through his blade as an extra touch, and the babau screamed in outrage at the crippling attack. Alistair brought up his wand of magic missile and fired a blast at his attacker, but the missiles merely spattered and sputtered harmlessly against the fiend's innate resistance against spells.

Despite having been directed to slay Atherton Pastlethwaite above all else, the babau demon recognized Harlan Starblade as the hero most likely to be able to prevent the demon from accomplishing his goal. With that in mind, he turned from Alistair and leaped at the paladin, clawing for his eyes and biting with his wicked teeth. Harlan's shield managed to deflect some of the attacks, but the demon's claws ripped a set of parallel scars down the half-elf's cheek. However, the fiend's intense focus upon Harlan allowed Ageratum to scoot up into position behind it, slamming the point of her blade deep into the back of its knee. She remembered to fling her blade back upon pulling it out, to rid it of the acidic slime the demon exuded.

Chaevaris found her shot and went for it, releasing an arrow that struck the babau in the head and seemed to send it reeling. But now that she knew they were up against a demon, she could use arrows with cold iron tips against him, which she believed would deal him even more harm than usual. Harlan continued his attack with his flaming sword, channeling a second burst of holy energy through his blade and dealing a considerable amount of pain to the demon. Alistair got off a second blast from his wand, this time managing to penetrate the foul beast's spell resistance, possibly due to it being preoccupied with the paladin's righteous attacks.

By now, the babau was looking fairly frazzled, blood dripping freely from numerous cuts on its armored hide. It leaped off to Ageratum's side and the halfling got in another stab with her blade, not that it was likely to have done much damage. But just that quickly, the babau was gone, having teleported somewhere to safety. "Is that it? Is he gone for good?" Ageratum asked, hoping that might very well be the case.

"Unlikely," Harlan replied grimly. "If he was gated here to slay Atherton, then he'll continue on until his mission has been completed, or he's died trying. Come on, we should go check out the warehouse, see if Conrad is in fact there at all."

Together, the group returned to the warehouse, Alistair waving off Harlan's offer to heal his wounds. "I'll be all right for now," he insisted. "Let's just get this over with."

With the light from Harlan's flaming sword, the group could see the closest figure - the one Ageratum had been eyeing - was the corpse of a human male with the blood drained from him. Worse yet, he only had one leg, the other one missing all the way up from the hip; the man's cloak had hidden that fact from view, as well as the fact he was only standing upright by means of a wooden brace, much like a scarecrow. The one in the back, to whom Alistair had thought he'd been conversing, was missing his right arm at the shoulder, the missing appendage obscured by the man's cloak. Moving through the warehouse, they found a total of six such figures, each missing a different body part, one of them a head and the other his entire torso; his limbs had been impaled upon a wooden framework that held them all together. "Creepy," Chaevaris admitted.

"Worse than that," Alistair informed them. "It would seem someone has been assembling the parts to build himself a flesh golem." There was a sudden crash behind them, and four boulders came spilling down from the roof. Alistair had forgotten about Ogilvy up on the roof, and once he'd gotten out of range the unseen servant spell had flickered out, dropping the pouch of four shrunken boulders. "I say!" declared Alistair, wincing at the pain in his chest as he had spun about, opening up the claw marks the babau had left in its initial attack.

"Listen!" hissed Harlan, straining his ears. He and Chaevaris, the only two of the group with elven blood, could hear the wheedling voice of the babau from even further into the warehouse. "You've got to help me!" he whined. "Come on, I'll definitely owe you one!" But whatever fiendish ally he was trying to bargain into summoning to the Material Plane to aid him was having none of it, much to the babau's chagrin. He started cursing foully in his own demonic language.

Chaevaris had started climbing silently up onto a stack of crates, hoping the higher view would allow her to sight her prey. She helped Alistair climb up beside her; the sorcerer by this time wanted no more to do with fighting off a demon at melee range and hoped to put his wand to good use. "There he is!" the archer hissed, nocking a cold iron arrow to her bow and letting fly. The arrow went whizzing in a bee-line towards the demon, only to have him inadvertently turn at the last moment and narrowly avoid getting hit. But he was now aware that he was being hunted by those he was supposed to kill! He responded by casting forth a darkness spell that overpowered the flickering light given off from the torches in the area. Chaevaris squinted and said she could still kind of make out his location; Alistair did the same but saw nothing. Harlan advanced on the area of magical darkness, undeterred when the light from his flaming burst longsword seemed to extinguish, for he could hear the cracking of the flames as he approached his demonic prey.

"Wait - there he is!" cried Alistair, making out a darker silhouette in the gloom ahead and below him. He fired off another blast from his wand, but once again the demon was able to suppress its power and it fizzled for a second time. Alistair exploded with a string of curses rivalling those of the babau a few moments ago.

Ageratum moved closer, spotting the babau in the darkness and thinking of how best to hurt him when her blade seemed to be insufficient to the task. Then, smiling an evil smile, she resheathed her sword and took out her sling, as well as one of the shrunken boulders from the pouch Alistair had given her. Had she targeted the babau directly from inside its bubble of darkness there was a good chance her shot would go astray, but by remaining outside the radius of darkness she could deduce his precise location: directly in the middle of the spell effect. With that in mind, she targeted the ceiling directly above the babau demon, firing off the boulder-pebble with her sling. Upon impact with the ceiling, it regained its normal size and then gravity took over, bringing it crashing down upon the demon's head. He cried out in pain and the little halfling hoped the boulder had done enough to penetrate its unholy ability to shrug off most non-magical physical attacks.

Whether the boulder had been effective or not Ageratum would never know, for the babau survived the attack but then was taken down by a final shot from Chaevaris's magic composite longbow. The fact that the demon's body remained after death was a good indicator it had not merely been summoned here to the mortal world, but stepped through a magical gate to do its foul work. With the babau slain, the heroes spread out and gave the warehouse a thorough search, but Conrad Mandelberen was nowhere to be found. "Curse the fates!" snarled Alistair. "I fear my brother was right, and Conrad is in league with Atherton's enemies!"

"Well, on the bright side, you've still got the diamonds," pointed out Ageratum. Then, realizing that wasn't necessarily a given, she asked, "You do still have them, don't you?"

Alistair patted down his pockets and found the pouch of diamonds intact. "Indeed I do!" he declared. Then, wincing in pain after having pulled the muscles of his wounded chest once again - such as they were - he turned to Harlan. "I say," he began, "if you were still up for a spot of healing...."

"But of course," the paladin responded, walking over to heal his friend.

- - -

So, with the whole adventure involving only one CR 6 monster, we ended up with a scant 450 XP each for the night's session. At that rate, it'll be seven more sessions before we finally hit 7th level! But Dan assured us that this adventure was somewhat of a fluke along those lines, and he's hinted it's very likely we'll meet up with those missing body parts from the six bloodless corpses in our very near future....

I managed to roll a natural "1" not once but twice out of the three times total I fired off my wand of magic missile in this adventure. Those curses Alistair let loose with after the second occurrence...well, let's just say I roleplayed that moment particularly well.
Last edited:



PC Roster:
Ageratum Purslane, halfling rogue 6​
Alastair Mandelberen Pastlethwaite, human sorcerer 6​
Chaevaris Noarunal, elf archer 6​
Harlan Starblade, half-elf paladin 6​

Game Session Date: 27 February 2023

- - -

The Pastlethwaite family was still at Atherton's townhouse when the four adventurers returned. "Well?" demanded Lord Ambrose. "Where is Conrad?"

"He wasn't there--" began Alistair, but he was immediately cut off by his father.

"How could you fail to bring back Conrad? I knew it was a foolish idea to entrust you and your group of commoners to a task of this importance!" He spun to Atherton, the older of the two boys and the one who had received all of the training on running the Pastlethwaite merchant empire. "You've always been my favorite, Atherton, but I'm afraid this time your judgment was faulty. Why you left this up to your idiot brother--"

But this time it was Lord Ambrose's turn to be cut off. "I have full faith in Alistair and his team," Atherton replied. "Furthermore, Conrad's not being there was not at all unexpected. I have suspected for some time he has been working contrary to the family interests. In fact, I've had people keeping an eye on him for some time now. The fact that Conrad was suspiciously not even present at his supposed 'kidnapping' is even further evidence that this whole charade was simply an attempt to have me slain in an ambush - an ambush to which Alistair and his team were quite willing to expose themselves, I might add!" Lord Ambrose harrumphed loudly and turned away, the closest he ever got to conceding a point or offering up an apology.

"Here are the diamonds," Alistair said quietly, handing over the bag of gems with which Conrad's ransom was to have been paid. Wordlessly, Lord Ambrose grabbed up the bag and returned it to an inner pocket. Alistair then quickly explained about the babau demon and the six corpses on display, each with a different body part missing. Lady Druzelda's face crinkled in discomfort at the unpleasant topic of discussion.

The awkwardness was broken by a knock at the door. Atherton opened it and was relieved at who he saw standing on his porch. "Come in, come in," he beamed, ushering a young man into his home. "Everyone, this is Konstantine, an associate of mine who has been shadowing Conrad's movements of late. What can you tell us, lad?"

"Well," began Konstantine, a bit nervous under the glare of Lord Ambrose, "I'm afraid, sir, we've - me and my lads, that is - we've been able to trace the recent piracy of the ship containing the two frost barbarians in statue form, to Conrad. It was his ship, the Silver Moon, that was used to sink the merchant vessel that was carrying them while they were in statue form. But they lost a lot of men in the attack, and before they could manage to dive down to try to fetch the treasure in the ship's hold for themselves, these four" - here he indicated Harlan and his band of Trained Professional Adventurers - "had managed to rescue Larson and Gundrun already." Lady Druzelda's face had whitened at hearing how her brother was implicated in these underhanded dealings, her face screwing up into a scowl.

"And where is Conrad now?" demanded Atherton.

"He's on the Silver Moon, sir. Taking on new crewmates, it seems like, sir. I'd reckon he'll likely be there the next two, three days at the very least."

"Very well. Good job, Konstantine!"

"There's more, sir," Konstantine said, looking worriedly over at Lady Druzelda. "It seems he's, well, he's been seen in the company of, like, well, fiends, sir."

"Fiends?" repeated Atherton.

"Yes, sir. A red-skinned woman with devil horns and a tail, for one, sir. And a six-year-old lad with shiny eyes as black as, well, my boots, sir. Scary looking, they are, sir, too - like a shark's eyes."

"Are you implying this devil-woman's boy is Conrad's?" demanded Lord Ambrose, finding his voice once again. Lady Druzelda looked positively aghast at the mere notion.

"As to that, I couldn't say, sir, begging your pardon," Konstantine stuttered. "She's only but recently been accompanying Conrad, sir, so very likely not - but it definitely seems like she's the lad's mother. It's unsure what all...uh, duties...she performs on the ship, but she's been berthed on the Silver Moon for almost a week, now, sir, her and her boy."

Atherton turned to his younger brother. "Your next mission, if you're willing: I'd like you to fetch Conrad from his ship and bring him here to me. Alive if possible, but if not...." he left the sentence dangling on purpose, and Lady Druzelda hid her face behind her lace handkerchief. Julianna did her best to comfort her.

"But of course, Atherton," Alistair readily agreed, and only after committing the group to the task at hand thinking to look over to Harlan for confirmation. The half-elf merely nodded his acquiescence to the plan. "Do you want us to head out directly?" the paladin asked Atherton. "If he's likely to still be there in the morning, I think we'd be better served getting up early and making a first-light raid upon his ship. That way we can go in will full spell complements and such."

"As you think best," Atherton told the paladin, then escorted Konstantine back to the front door. Lord and Lady Pastlethwaite made their farewells immediately after, Lady Druzelda refusing to make eye contact with her youngest son, for she felt an overwhelming guilt: it had been her haranguing about the evils of trafficking with demons that had spurred Lord Ambrose to kick Alistair out of the family when he had suspected the nascent sorcerer of having made a deal with a demon or devil to learn spellcraft. And now, come to find out, it was her own brother who had apparently been hanging out with demons and devils! The shame of it burned her cheeks a bright crimson.

"We'll need a plan," Alistair pointed out once it was just Atherton and the four adventurers alone in the drawing room again; Julianna had gone to tend to one of the twins, who had started crying in the babies' room down the hall. "How about this: we show up at the ship and tell Uncle Conrad that his sister is ill and wishes him to come visit her at once."

"Supposing he doesn't take the bait," asked Ageratum. "Then what?"

"Is he close to his sister?" asked Harlan of Atherton and Alistair.

"Not particularly," Atherton admitted.

"He's hiring on new crew," Ageratum pointed out. "We could show up as new sailors, recently hired on. That'll get us on the ship, at least. Then we can look around and find Conrad."

"He'll certainly see through any attempt at me trying to disguise myself as a sailor," Alistair objected.

"So we pick up a hat of disguise for you," the little halfling countered.

"Best pick up two," Harlan wisely pointed out. "Most pirate vessels - and this indeed sounds like a pirate vessel - tend not to hire women as crewmembers. Not even striking-looking young halfling women such as yourself," he hastily added.

"Well, that's just stupid," Ageratum sulked. Only then did Harlan realize he had unconsciously excluded Chaevaris from having the need for a hypothetical hat of disguise; not surprising, for she had gone over half of her adventuring career thus far with her three companions all assuming she was a male elf. The archer just rolled her eyes and shook her head as the half-elf paladin realized his error.

"I believe you're all overthinking this," Atherton observed. "Why don't you just show up at his ship, as yourselves, so you can inform him of my death? I presume he was involved in setting the assassination attempt in motion, and if the - babau, you said? - demon was the only one involved in the attack, and you killed it, he can't have very well have reported his failure to Conrad, can he have? With any luck, Conrad will assume the demon just failed to report back his success, if that had even been part of their plan."

"I like it," Harlan agreed. "Showing up as ourselves allows me to be in full armor aboard the ship, which will be handy if we're going there to fight your uncle."

"Have you thought about how we're going to get him off the ship when he's dead or unconscious?" asked Chaevaris.

"He should just be unconscious - we'll have the Blood Mirror at hand," pointed out Harlan.

"Hat of disguise," replied Ageratum, answering the archer's original question.

"The wearer determines what the disguise looks like," countered Chaevaris. "If Conrad's out cold, he can't very well alter his appearance. Nor would he even want to."

"Okay, then dust of illusion," countered the stubborn halfling. "We kill him - or knock him out, whatever - then sprinkle some dust on him and make him look like a sailor passed out from too much hooch. And then two of you carry his body back off the ship, under the guise of taking him to a healer or whatever." Seeing Alistair's look of incomprehension, she added, "'Hooch' is booze, Alistair. Alcohol."

"Ah, yes - quite."

It was as good a plan as any. Atherton promised to see to the purchase of a bag of dust of illusion - and two potions of spider climbing, at the halfling's insistence - and then sent them off to the kitchen to grab what they could of the leftover dinner party food (Lord and Lady Pastlethwaite had insisted on dining without "Alistair and his new friends" during their ambush at the warehouse) and then get some sleep.

The next morning, the group was refreshed and on their way to the pier before the sun rose in the morning sky, Ageratum holding onto her two new potions and the bag of magical dust. They approached the Silver Moon, Alistair recognizing it at once as his uncle's boat. "He's made some modifications to it," the sorcerer noted, observing the rows of ballistae at the ship's fore section, "but this is his ship, all right." The gangway was down, so they walked boldly up it and up to the ship. Alistair's grackle familiar Ambrose flew off to alight in the crow's nest, looking down at the morning bustle on the deck below him. "Permission to come aboard?" Alistair asked, recalling that was proper protocol.

The ship's first mate, a gruff-looking man named Talhomen, and one of the members of the crew turned to see who had approached. Their frowns indicated they were not particularly impressed with what they saw, although the crewmember's gaze soon found its way to Ageratum's ample chest and his attitude improved significantly. "What's your business?" demanded Talhomen.

"We wish to speak with my uncle, Conrad Mandelberen. I'm told he's aboard this vessel. It's a family matter of some urgency." Talhomen grunted and indicated with a nod of his head they were to follow him. he led them to the back of the vessel, through a short, doglegging hallway and into an expansive executive area. Two men were already there, standing in the back: Captain Muddletrot, the ship's captain, and Conrad Mandelberen, the latter wearing a dressing gown. Harlan instinctively scanned their auras and detected evil emanating not only from both of them, but also from a brown rat scurrying along the back of the room.

"Alistair!" said Conrad. "What brings you here at this ungodly hour?"

"Some rather sad news, I'm afraid. Um, it's a personal, family matter," Alistair explained to the captain and first mate. "Would it be possible for us to speak with my uncle alone for a few minutes?" Conrad nodded his agreement and the two men left, closing the door to the suite behind them. Chaevaris immediately stepped in front of the door, blocking it with her body.

"So what's this all about?" Conrad asked, although he suspected he already knew. But before answering, Alistair looked over at the rat scampering away. "Harlan?" he asked, and the paladin knew exactly what the sorcerer was asking. "Yes," he replied. "Both."

Conrad frowned at this quick exchange and started wringing his fingers in front of his gown. "Whatever this is about," he said, "I think you should come back in."

Alistair realized at once that his uncle was casting some sort of message spell, likely summoning the captain and first mate back to his side - it looked like the jig was up already, although Alistair was admittedly surprised at his uncle's abilities to cast spells, for he'd never known him to be a wizard or sorcerer, but perhaps that's where Alistair himself got his own spellcasting abilities, from his mother's side of the family? "I'm afraid there's no good way to put this," Alistair began, "but Atherton--look at the size of that rat!" As if just now noticing the brown rat, Alistair whipped out his wand of magic missile and sent a barrage striking the rodent unerringly in its back. It gave a startled squeak and rolled over, quite obviously dead - or, at the very least, well on its way to death but stabilized by the properties of the Blood Mirror Harlan carried in his pocket.

"What the Hell did you do that for?" screamed Conrad.

"There was a rat--" Alistair began.

"Of course there was a rat! This is a ship! Ships have rats on them!"

"Atherton is dead!" Alistair countered, trying to get the topic back on track.

"So what? I cared a lot more about that rat than your stupid brother!" roared Conrad.

"I say! Well, if that's true, then I'll be sure to replace him with another rat of equal value..." began Alistair, but that was when the door to the stateroom started opening back up. Chaevaris grabbed the knob and tried to hold it closed, but Captain Muddletrot was much stronger than the lithe archer and the contest was as short as it was one-sided: he forced the door open, causing the elf to fall back a few steps to retain her balance. But in one fluid motion, her composite longbow was off her shoulder and an arrow was put in place, aimed at the captain. At the same time, Harlan rushed forward, pulling out his flaming burst longsword from the scabbard at his hip and bringing it swinging into Conrad's side. He channeled holy energy through the blade, consecrated by Pelor Himself, and then swung the blade back out before thrusting it deep into Conrad's belly. The evil sorcerer never got a chance to cast any spells beyond the message spell that brought Captain Muddletrot and First Mate Talhomen back to his quarters; sliding down the back of his stateroom wall (and leaving a bloody trail on the wall behind him), he joined his rat familiar in near-death as his life force hung in the balance, protected from instant obliteration solely by the power of the paladin's Blood Mirror.

Alistair felt a disturbance in the empathic link he shared with his familiar. "Ambrose is worried about something on deck!" he informed the others. He was yet to realize it, but the commotion upsetting his grackle was a group of four wererat pirates bursting out of the fore section of the ship and running across the deck to the aft section. The bird wasn't the only one concerned about the quartet's sudden appearance, for the rest of the crew had been unaware that these particular crewmembers were able to transform into half-rat, half-human hybrids.

"I'm worried about what's already in here!" Ageratum replied, sending a pebble from her sling crashing into the side of Captain Muddletrot's temple. However, upon impact, it resumed its original size before Alistair had cast a shrink item spell upon it days ago, and crashed to the wooden floor at the captain's feet. Chaevaris then released her arrow, sending it flying across the room and unfortunately doing little more than ripping through the fabric of the captain's coat at top of his left shoulder.

Talhomen was there at the captain's side, his own blade in hand, but Alistair figured it was three against two in the adventurers' favor and calling out, "I trust you can handle them - I'll see about safe passage from the ship!" ducked to a door in the back of the stateroom, which - if his memory of how the ship was laid out was accurate - should not only be Uncle Conrad's bedroom but also the room in the very back of the left side of the ship. That would put it the closest accessible room to the docks, and the young sorcerer was pretty sure he could open a hole in the wall large enough for them all to jump through. Conrad was already out cold, so as soon as they could get the captain and first mate dealt with, they should be able to take their leave of the ship.

Unfortunately, this plan came to an immediate halt when Alistair entered his uncle's bedroom and saw a young lad of about 15 years standing beside the bed, after having just tucked the bedding back into shape. The cabin boy looked up at Alistair in surprise. "Stand aside, son!" Alistair warned, placing his hand upon the side wall and casting forth a shrink item spell that reduced a 10-foot-by-10-foot section of the wall to a mere sixteenth of its original size. Giving it a push, it fell down to the waters below - and upon impact was restored to its original size, now a virtual raft floating on the waters between the Silver Moon and the harbor pier. The cabin boy, however, had seen the frost barbarian amulet Alistair wore about his neck and called out, "Get me off this ship!"

"Off you go, then!" Alistair gestured, indicating the hole in the wall. "Leap to safety!"

"But--but there are ten more of us, taken as slaves from the frost barbarian tribes!" declared the boy, Ingmar.

Alistair's mouth opened and closed reflexively, as if he were some sort of fish giving air breathing a try for the first time. "Okay, then, new plan!" he declared. "You take the nearly-dead man over there - that's my Uncle Conrad, and he should be fine - take him, throw him over your shoulder, and leap down to safety. I'll send a black bird over to you; you follow him to my brother Atherton's house. Take the body to Atherton, and he'll be able to reunite you with your leader, Larson. In the meantime I give you my word we will go rescue your other ten friends. Do you know where they are?" Ingmar said five were in the front of the ship and five were held in the back, both on the lowest deck. Alistair hollered for Ambrose through the hole he'd made in the ship's side and, once the grackle appeared in a fluttering of wings, his master explained the new plan to him. Ambrose cawed his understanding and landed over on the bottom edge of the newly-made "window" in the Silver Moon, awaiting Ingmar to fetch Conrad's unmoving form.

Back in the stateroom, Harlan charged Captain Muddletrot, did a little bit of sword-on-sword thrust and parry, and made it past the pirate's defenses to stab him with the point of his flaming blade. Hissing in anger and pain, Muddletrot tried retaliating against the half-elf paladin, but Harlan was too quick for him, dodging back away from the point of the captain's cutlass. There was a short flight of stairs leading up to the upper deck, and Ageratum climbed about halfway up to give her a height advantage over the pirate captain, something she didn't usually get to enjoy during a combat against humans. Her short swords stabbed out at him, striking him in his unprotected left shoulder as he had foolishly decided the little halfling woman posed nowhere near the threat of the paladin of Pelor. That was a mistake he realized at once, as he was forced to wrest his wounded shoulder away from the halfling's blades, looking much the worse for wear. And then, as if he didn't already have enough to worry about, Chaevaris sent an arrow racing across the stateroom to catch the captain in the upper chest, causing him to tumble to the floor in a loose tangle of limbs. Blood started pooling from his wounds, but the flow stopped almost immediately, courtesy of the proximity of the Blood Mirror.

But by now the wererats had moved up to the doorway to the stateroom, and the assembled heroes got their first good look at what they were dealing with: lycanthropes! The closest in formation stabbed out at Harlan with a rapier held in a disturbingly rodent-looking hand. The hit struck true, getting past the paladin's defenses. The first mate also went for Harlan, hoping to take him down quickly so they wouldn't have to deal with any of his unknown paladin powers: those holy men were said to be able to do all sorts of odd things to those of a more flexible bent when it came to ethics and morality. He was also successful in his attack, but Harlan wasn't overly concerned just yet, for he'd taken much more damage than this in fights before and he wasn't even considering taking time out of this one to heal himself.

Alistair and Ingmar stepped back into the stateroom, the barbarian lad to fetch Conrad's body and the sorcerer to cast a scorching ray spell at the first mate. Unfortunately, Alistair's shot went wide, no doubt due to his fear of accidentally hitting the paladin while he traded sword-blows with both the pirate mate and a wererat in combat. (That was the reason he was planning on giving should anyone ask, in any case.) But Harlan was successful where Alistair was not, striking the wererat in the side with his flaming blade and singing the beast's fur; the burning stench quickly filled the room.

Ageratum leaned over the stair railing and stabbed down at the wererat with her silver short sword, smiling when the blade seemed to deal the beast extra pain (her blade wasn't ablaze like Harlan's was, but she was fairly sure she had heard it sizzle when impaled inside the wererat's flesh). And Chaevaris, seeing the lycanthropes eager to join the battle, grabbed up one of her silver-tipped arrows and sent it flying into the lead wererat's shoulder, dropping him unconscious to the stateroom floor to join the captain, where floor space was starting to be at a minimum.

Another wererat stepped up to take the place of his fallen brother, standing side-by-side with Talhomen, both of them focusing their blades against Harlan. Not surprisingly, they were able to overcome the half's defenses by teaming up on him in that fashion, and the elf started thinking that the first break he got he'd probably drop back and apply some self-healing. But then a second scorching ray from Alistair's fingertips hit the first mate straight in the face, causing his swordsmanship to suffer for a moment of distraction; Harlan quickly took advantage of the situation by striking forward with the point of his flaming burst longsword, dropping Talhomen to join his leader and one of the wererats into blessed unconsciousness. But the half-elf wasn't quite done yet: cleaving his blade to the side, he managed to clip off the whiskers on the left side of the wererat's face which carving a burning gash down his muzzle.

Ageratum continued pressing the attacks with her silver blade against the wererat, enjoying the burning sounds her blade made when striking lycanthropic flesh. And then that wererat was taken out by another silver arrow from Chaevaris's composite longbow. The last remaining wererats moved up to take the place of those taken out before them, but it was obvious by the worried looks on their faces and their twitching whiskers that neither was particularly pleased to have found themselves in this situation, fighting for their lives against foes who clearly outmatched their own fighting prowess. Their nervousness was evident in the first clumsy attack against Harlan, which the paladin easily deflected on his shield. Alistair cast another scorching ray spell at the other wererat and the beast's nervousness actually saved it, for in its fear it crouched before the sorcerer had even finished casting the spell, and the gout of flame went blasting harmlessly over his head.

Harlan, realizing these wererats weren't all that much of a threat, moved past one to set himself up in a flanking position against the other, who now had to worry about a stab-happy halfling on the stairs on one side and a wretched paladin with a flaming sword on the other. The other wererat tried preventing Harlan from getting into position with a feeble attack from his own rapier, to no effect: the blade was swatted away by Harlan's shield. And then the paladin brought his flaming blade crashing down upon the pinned wererat, dropping him from behind as the poor foe was concentrating on avoiding Ageratum's silver blade. The half-elf pivoted in place and brought his blade swinging the cowardly wererat's way and caught him by surprise as well. He followed up with a second swing but by then he had the beast's full attention and he managed to avoid the flaming sword that had already proven to be so deadly to his lycanthropic mates. However, Ageratum leaped down from the steps and stabbed the last remaining wererat with her silver weapon on the way down, staggering him to the point he almost dropped his own blade. It was simplicity itself for Chaevaris to take him out with another silver arrow.

While Alistair informed the team about the other barbarian slaves in the lower holds, the little halfling took the opportunity of Harlan's focus being upon what the sorcerer was saying and a chance to free more members of the frost barbarians to steadily move from body to body of their downed foes and provide a nice, clean sword-slit along each and every available throat. Blood Mirror or no, she was making sure none of these vile slaver-pirates ever worked their evil again! Harlan didn't notice at all; he had been laying hands upon his numerous wounds and allowing Pelor's healing energy to restore him to close to his full strength (even though it took the additional casting of a cure light wounds spell to get him back to that state).

"Where's the nearest set of stairs leading down to the lower decks?" Harlan asked.

"Too far away, at the front of the ship," Alistair replied, recalling the times Uncle Conrad had had the family over to join him on a joy ride over an evening meal (mostly to show off his vessel). "But never mind that: I'll make us a nearer entrance!" He bent down on his knees, placed both hands on the floor in the corner of the stateroom, and cast another shrink item spell. A 10-foot-by-10-foot section of the wooden floor shrunk down, and gravity tipped it off the top of the wall separating two different bunkrooms directly below, to land upon a poor crewman lounging in his hammock. "Bloody Hell!" he cried as the miniaturized chunk of floor bonked him on the head and then resumed its normal size, bring him and his hammock crashing down on the sleeping crewman below him. The two bunkrooms cleared out almost immediately, each of the occupants deciding there was somewhere else they'd rather be at that moment. Alistair was glad to see they weren't grabbing up weapons and moving to the attack, merely fleeing to save their own skins from whatever weird magical attack was under effect. Chaevaris activated her immovable rod over the hole and dropped down her rope, still tied to the rod's center, and led the others to the floor below. "Now that we're below decks, there's a set of stairs closer at hand!" Alistair told the others, stepping out of the bunkroom where the aforementioned stairs were already visible.

Once they got down to the second sub-level deck, they ran into five of the barbarian slaves they had been looking for. The fact that the adventurers were all still wearing the amulets Larson Clearspike had given them allowed them to instantly believe the heroes' tale, and they agreed to head to the main deck and desert the ship - from what the heroes had heard, it sounded like most of the ship's crew had been unaware there were wererats among them and were in somewhat of a panic. Alistair told them to hang around the area and await their own departure after they found the other five barbarian slaves, which this group said would be found at the forward hold on the bottom level; they themselves had been berthed in the aft hold. Now knowing exactly where to go to find the last of the slaves, Harlan led the team down to the lowest deck and from there, across an open section in the middle of the ship with crates and barrels lashed to the side walls in a somewhat haphazard fashion.

The first things the adventurers noted about the lowest deck were the stench - a miasma managing to be reminiscent of sulphur, rot, and decay - and the lullaby being sung by someone in the aft section of the ship. It was a feminine voice, but the words were unknown: at a guess, Alistair supposed it was one of the baser tongues used by those of the Lower Planes: Abyssal, perhaps, or Infernal. But the tune was one the sorcerer recalled Nanny Rogers singing to Atherton and himself when they were very young lads.

Ageratum ignored both distractions and tossed an activated sunrod toward the front of the ship; unlike the main deck, there was no way for sunlight to reach down here and Harlan's flaming blade was the only illumination they otherwise had on hand, and the flickering flames made the shadows seem like they were moving about - a rather disturbing notion. The sunrod landed before a closed door barred from the outside; following her source of illumination and straining her halfling ears, Ageratum heard a few ragged coughs coming from the other side of the barred door. "I think it's this one," she told her friends.

Harlan wasted no time; boldly stepping to the door, he lifted the heavy metal bar from its support hooks and set it aside, opening the door to see five bedraggled barbarians looking back at him in fear. The paladin held up his amulet and said simply, "Larson sent us to free you." It wasn't the exact truth, but it was close enough for the paladin's needs and it got the five slaves up and out of their wretched excuse for a bunkroom and heading up the stairs to the main deck and freedom, where the group promised to meet them and lead them back to Larson.

Chaevaris, however, was fairly certain the four of them wouldn't be following immediately; instead, they'd be checking out the lullaby woman, who was likely behind a closed door in the back of the ship. She stepped up onto a crate for a better vantage point, then nocked an arrow to her bow and took aim at the door; anyone who came out the door would be stepping right into her target space. Alistair, seeing the archer's preparations, took out his magic missile wand and followed suit. Ageratum stayed over on the far side of the stairwell leading back up to the upper decks, but placed one of Alistair's pebble-boulders into her sling and readied it for potential action.

Harlan approached the aft end of the ship and cast forth his senses - sure enough, there was a palpable sense of evil emanating from the other side of the wooden door from where the lullaby was coming. He channeled Pelor's smiting energy into his sword, ready to bring it slicing into whatever devil-woman might be hiding back there. But before he could open the door himself, it swung open, pulled inward by the red-skinned tiefling woman who was even now continuing the lullaby she'd been singing to her half-fiend son. Harlan was struck by Jacinda's curving horns, sweeping back from her forehead in the manner of a ram, and the pointed tail poking out from underneath her dress. He wasn't sure what had caused her to open the door - perhaps her fiendish hearing had picked up the stray sounds the heroes had made while they got into position? - but there was no ignoring the wave of evil emanating from her unseen aura. The black-eyed child in the bunk at the side of the room was a good indicator that these were the two fiends with which Conrad Mandelberen had been seen hanging about, and if Harlan had had any doubts about their evil nature, the fact that a flesh golem stood hunkered over in the back of the room, its obscene form crafted from the stitched-together parts of several different victims, was the final, conclusive indicator.

But before the paladin could strike the tiefling woman, Ageratum took any concerns he might have had of striking the first blow out of his consideration, for swinging her sling around her head a few times (an act she had started when she saw the door first open), she released the pebble and sent it flying across the hold to strike Jacinda in the middle of her forehead. The pebble returned to boulder size upon impact, falling at the woman's feet just as she herself lost consciousness and crashed to the ship's deck. "You killed Mummy!" cried the boy from his bed, part of it the cry of a little boy worried about his mother but another seemingly excited by the spilling of blood, no matter whose it might be. Harlan focused his attention on the lad and got an immediate indication from his aura that he was equally as evil, if not even more so, than his mother's aura had shown her to be.

Seeing the flesh golem stir and make its way forward, Chaevaris lowered her arrow and cast it aside, reaching into her quiver for one with an adamantine tip. She drew back the bowstring and waited for the perfect shot. When the golem's form suddenly filled up most of the open doorway, she released the arrow, to fly over Harlan's shoulder and bury itself into the construct's upper arm.

Recalling what he'd learned recently about flesh golems once they'd learned there was likely one being crafted from the remains in Balstrode's Warehouse - specifically, that they were immune to most spells but could be slowed by fire-based spells and healed by those wielding electricity - Alistair lowered his wand and cast a scorching ray spell across the open deck to strike the flesh golem in the stomach. It had the desired effect, for the construct started moving noticeably slower immediately. Harlan was able to squeeze past the massive brute and bring his blade crashing down onto the half-fiend child's form, dropping him to unconsciousness with one blow. Harlan opted to give him a second blow with his sword immediately and prevented him from rising again, having damaged his body beyond the Blood Mirror's ability to stabilize. The half-elf's grim and determined expression showed he was not allowing the fact that this demon wore the form of a little boy to prevent the paladin from doing what needed to be done.

The flesh golem turned and advanced, slowly, upon Harlan, hands raised as if to throttle the life from the paladin. Almost immediately, two more adamantine-tipped arrows sprouted from its back, shot there by Chaevaris's keen targeting in the dim light. Alistair, knowing his scorching ray spell had already done all he was able to do against the flesh golem, called out, "Ogilvy, if you please!" and summoned his faithful unseen servant to his side. Passing over one of the remaining pouches of four "pebble-boulders," he figured having Ogilvy drop them on the golem's head was the best way he could participate in beating down the stitched-together construct - it was either that or approach him with his masterwork rapier, and that particular stratagem held no particular appeal for the sorcerer, especially in these cramped quarters.

Ageratum moved up to the doorway and sent another of her own pebble-boulders crashing into the flesh golem's broad back. Harlan scooted past the golem and back out of the cramped bunkroom, where there was slightly more room to maneuver in the open deck. He took the opportunity to cast a bless spell upon himself and his three companions.

Spinning about in a lumbering manner, the flesh golem clomped its way to the doorway, where Ageratum stood. Chaevaris took the opportunity to pump two more adamantine-tipped arrows over the halfling's head at the flesh golem, hitting it in the stomach and neck. By then, Ogilvy had climbed up onto a stack of crates by the door and dropped the first pebble-boulder onto the golem's head, the boulder restoring to its full size upon impact. Ageratum, by that time, had retreated back over by the stairs, well out of the golems reach. She fired off her last of the shrunken boulders, hitting the golem smack-dab in the side of the head.

Harlan was standing in an attack stance, waiting for the golem to approach. Once he did, the half-elf let swing with all of his strength behind the blow, cutting not very deep into the creature's hardened flesh but leaving behind an impressive burn mark where the blade's flames had singed the dead flesh. Then he backed up out of the golem's immediate reach before it had a chance, in its slowed-down state, to counterattack. Chaevaris shot another pair of adamantine arrows at it, safely out of range on a large crate closer to the fore section of the ship than the aft, while Ogilvy stepped over to another crate and dropped another pebble-boulder on the golem's head.

Ageratum had no desire to engage the flesh golem with her short swords and thus started up the stairs, reaching the deck directly above while Harlan continued his wait-for-the-golem-to-get-within-striking-range-and-then-attack-and-retreat tactic that was proving to be so successful. Chaevaris continued shooting her adamantine arrows at it, and a third pebble-boulder from Ogilvy finally caused the golem to stagger, almost at the end of its unnatural endurance. Harlan finally took it out with a blow from his flaming burst longsword, and the golem crashed in a lifeless heap upon the ship's lower deck, having failed to land a single blow against the heroes who had slain the two fiend-blooded people it had been commanded to protect.

"That's it - let's go!" cried Harlan, leading the others back up the stairs, taking only a moment to return to the tiefling's cabin and ensure she was permanently dead - a task made unambiguous by the parting of her head from her neck. Alistair retrieved the small sack from Ogilvy before dismissing his unseen servant, noting there was still one pebble-boulder still to be used. But Ageratum, waiting for the paladin to catch up, had heard his call for retreat from the vessel and reminded him there was plenty of loot to be gathered from the cabins of the captain, first mate, and of course Conrad's own stateroom and cabin. "Very well - quickly, then!" the paladin conceded; he'd had an opportunity to rid the world of a considerable amount of evil this morning and couldn't begrudge the other three heroes their material rewards. Ageratum led the group back up the way they'd come, clambering up Chaevaris's rope and the archer deactivating and pocketing her immovable rod on the way back to the "good cabins" where the higher-ranking members slept. Under her expert eye for hiding places for loot, she managed to grab up several hundred coins, a nice diamond ring, a silver-and-pearl talisman of some intricate design, plus some decent armor and weapons from Captain Muddletrot and his first mate, Talhomen.

"Okay, enough - let's go!" finally decided Harlan Starblade, after he'd noted his greedy friends had emptied out the largest crate they could find from downstairs and were filling it to the top with the stuff they wanted to take with them; once he'd deemed it time to go, Alistair cast another shrink item spell on the now-full crate, bringing it down to a much more manageable size (to the point where the slightly-built sorcerer, no great heavyweight in the muscles department, was able to carry it by himself). Then they followed the remaining crew in evacuating the Silver Moon. They found the group of ten barbarians - the first group of five had seen the second group emerge from the ship and gathered them together into one group - and then all 14 headed their way back on foot to Atherton's townhouse.

It was a bit of a walk, but there was not a single complaint among the group the whole way there.

- - -

Ageratum ended up wearing the pirate captain's +3 studded leather armor (fortunately, in 3.5 magic armor resizes to fit the wearer, so the fact that Ageratum was half the pirate's size - and was a woman - made no difference, as it re-formed to fit her perfectly). Alistair ended up with his uncle's +1 rapier, as the rapier is his weapon of choice and his previous one was only of masterwork quality. Chaevaris got a pair of boots of speed and Harlan ended up with a scroll of remove curse, as he's the only one capable of using it (although Ageratum could certainly give it a try with a successful Use Magic Device check, but said success wouldn't be automatic). And we all earned enough XP that we're anticipating it to be very likely we advance to 7th level at the end of the next adventure.

Oh, and we made sure to kill the rat in the stateroom while it was still knocked out and stable - it was Conrad's familiar and there was no good reason to allow it to (eventually) heal. It got its head removed and tossed into the water before we left the ship.
Last edited:



To the Esteemed Bard, Holyrood Carp,

I hope all is well with you and you have continued to enjoy success with your performances. This next song I've written is a bit of a departure from the others, focusing not on any individuals but rather an aspect of adventuring to which not many outside the field will have likely given much thought.

The lyrics follow:

The life of an adventurer can be pretty rough​
You see a lot of fighting and you've got to be tough​
But there's an aspect of the job that quite frankly bites:​
Why are there no toilets at adventuring sites?​
An owlbear's been attacking travelers on the road​
You track him down to his lair, fight him in his abode​
And by the time you've slain him, you have made quite a mess​
Then you feel some gastrointestinal distress​
Why are there no toilets at adventuring sites?​
Adventuring is fun but that's not one of the heights​
Adventurers complain, be they swashbucklers or knights:​
Why are there no toilets at adventuring sites?​
You camp on the side of the road for weeks at a time​
You often find yourself covered in sweat and with grime​
But these are merely irritants, what really incites:​
Why are there no toilets at adventuring sites?​
The indignities of adventurers are beyond belief​
Do your business behind a tree and wipe with a leaf​
It isn't life-or-death, merely just one of our plights:​
Why are there no toilets at adventuring sites?​

I wish you continued success with your enjoyable performances.

With Fond Regards,

Alistair Mandelberen Pastlethwaite



PC Roster:
Ageratum Purslane, halfling rogue 6​
Alastair Mandelberen Pastlethwaite, human sorcerer 6​
Chaevaris Noarunal, elf archer 6​
Harlan Starblade, half-elf paladin 6​

Game Session Date: 8 March 2023

- - -

"I would like to say a few words, if I may?"

A chill went up Alistair's spine when his father, Lord Ambrose Pastlethwaite, stepped up to the front of the room where the elderly nobleman's grandchildren - less than three months old - had just had their official naming ceremony. So far, the gathering had gone well, with Alistair managing to keep his distance from his parents, who had after all jettisoned him from the family over his father's mistaken belief that his sudden sorcerous abilities had been the result of trafficking with fiends. Now that it had come out that his mother's brother, Conrad Mandelberen, had in fact been trafficking with fiends, Alistair was well aware the topic was even more of a sore subject. Alistair's older brother Atherton had taken the matter into his own hands, seeing that Conrad's intellectual abilities had been drained down to the bare minimum to sustain life, but he would spend the rest of his life as a drooling idiot confined to an asylum - and well out of public view, so as not to cause embarrassment to the family.

And the ceremony had gone so well up to this point, too! Atherton had publicly praised Alistair and his three companions, thanking them for keeping his wife Juliana safe during the last stages of her pregnancy with the twins, for bringing them back to Greyhawk City safely from Ghourmand Vale, and for ridding the Silver Moon of the evil elements Conrad had hired on as crew. He'd even told them after the naming ceremony had officially concluded, and the guests were now mingling amongst each other and lining up to see the babies, that he'd had 7,000 pieces of gold deposited in each of the adventurers' names with the Chandler's Guild, a sum that could be drawn upon here in Greyhawk City as needed. Things had certainly been looking up - until Lord Ambrose made his request and all eyes turned his way.

Lord Ambrose's eyes, Alistair couldn't help but notice, were aimed directly at him.

"I believe, Alistair, you are wearing a signet ring you should no longer be wearing," he announced.

Alistair visibly gulped. He was, of course, still wearing the Pastlethwaite signet ring he'd been given upon his thirteenth birthday; his only concession to having been thrown out of his birth family being he wore it with the family crest inward so it wasn't visible when in public, so as not to advertise the fact he was a Pastlethwaite in areas where it could get back to his father. (The young sorcerer proudly wore it normally when in Ghourmand Vale.) He was, after all, not fully sure of the implications of having been thrown out of the family: was he no longer to consider "Pastlethwaite" to be his last name? In that case, how did one go about getting a new last name? Still, if his father was determined to make a public spectacle of this whole affair, undoing all of the public good will Atherton had generated on his little brother's behalf, then by the gods Alistair wasn't going to make a poor showing of it: he'd take this new humiliation with his head held high. Slowly, deliberately, and without breaking eye contact with his father, he raised his right hand and made a show of removing the signet ring from his finger. A retort came to his tongue, and he wondered if he dared speak it aloud, but the opportunity vanished before he had to make a decision, for Lord Ambrose's next words were, "It is high time my son wore a signet ring more appropriate to his station!"

Reaching into his vest pocket, the heavyset nobleman pulled out an iron ring covered in platinum runes, with the Pastlethwaite crest in bold along its top face. "This is a ring of spell storing, much more suited to your proud new role as a Trained Professional Adventurer, bringing honor to the Pastlethwaite name!" Alistair moved forward through the crowd, blinking back tears, and shook his father's hand in the proper manner by which two members of the nobility displayed a public show of affection. But it was all Alistair could do not to wrap his arms around his father in relief.

Atherton took the Trained Professional Adventurers aside when he had a moment. "If you're up for it," he said, "I'd like you to escort Gundrun Clearspike back to her clan. Her father, Larson, took the barbarians you rescued, both on the way to Greyhawk City and from involuntary service aboard the Silver Moon, and headed back north to their homelands. They intended to have a go at the orcs who had captured them into slavery and wanted Gundrun left behind for a few days to ensure her safety. If you're willing, I've got a cargo ship that will take you to the northern shore of the Nyr Dyv and then it's about two weeks north from there."

Alistair looked to Harlan, the group's unofficial leader. "But of course," agreed the paladin at once. "We're ready to leave at your - and her - convenience."

And thus it was that two weeks later found the four adventurers, now outfitted in proper cold weather gear, riding their mounts northward through the increasingly colder lands. Gundrun rode her own rugged horse, purchased in the city for the trip, and she led the group unerringly to her family's traditional lands. But when they hit their small village, they found a slightly smaller number of the barbarian tribe than Gundrun had expected to see - and those, her father among them, that were about looked much the worse for wear, many sporting new scars and bleeding wounds.

"Father!" exclaimed Gundrun, leaping down from her horse. "What has happened?"

"We had it out with the orcs who'd ambushed us those months earlier," Larson replied, giving his daughter a fierce hug. "We managed to beat them back and slew them to the last, even though it cost us a few fighting men to do so. But then we ourselves were routed, by a giant and a pack of winter wolves. And when the dragon showed up...Hell, we lost seven there in one fell swoop when it attacked us out of nowhere. We had to fall back, tend to our wounds. But give us a day or two, and we'll give 'em another try!"

"How big was the dragon?" asked Chaevaris. The barbarian leader admitted it was a small one, not much bigger than a horse, and if that had been all they'd had to contend with they'd have been able to overcome it, but when added to a hill giant and a pack of five winter wolves, it had been more than they could handle at once.

"What do you think?" Harlan asked his three companions. "We know the slavers we fought employed an ettin, an elf spellcaster, and a group of orcs. This giant is obviously allied with the orcs, at least. I think we should take out this threat to the well-being of these free people." Chaevaris readily agreed, Alistair and Ageratum adding their support. Larson offered to bring along his men, but the half-elf had him stand down. "You are all in need of healing and rest," he told them. "We are all hale and hearty; let us see what we can accomplish on our own first. We will not hesitate to fall back and seek your assistance should their numbers prove too much for us to handle. And it seems you have done the majority of the work for us, in any case, taking out all of the orcs on your own." Larson, his barbaric pride thus assuaged, agreed to let the four heroes go off on their own to see what they could do about the situation. He gave them a brief overview of the lay of the land: directly north were the fens, beyond which lay a valley which branched off into a "Y" - it was to the right fork of the "Y" that the forces which had driven off the Frost barbarian tribe had laired.

Leaving Gundrun to reunite with her people and tend to their wounds, the four Trained Professional Adventurers rode north into the fens. Ambrose flew ahead, scouting out the way, alighting on a tree branch every so often to allow those on horseback to catch up. But Alistair felt an excitement and a feeling of immediate concern over the empathic link he shared with his grackle familiar, about the same time Chaevaris's keen elven eyes spotted a figure in the sky ahead. "Flying creature, approaching from the direction of the sun!" the archer called out, drawing her longbow and notching an arrow into place.

"Where?" asked Ageratum, pulling one of her kobold spears into position to stab up at anything that might approach her on her pony, Munson. "I don't see anything!"

"Nor I," added Alistair, pulling out his trusty wand of magic missile and shading his eyes to glare into the sun. Then he saw a dark figure, with leathery bat-wings flapping the creature forward through the air towards the group. "Wait a minute, got it!" he declared. "It's the dragon!" Ageratum slipped from Munson's saddle and gave her pony a slap on its flank to get it to move away; she didn't want him to be in the midst of combat with a dragon is she could help it. She then pulled one of Alistair's "pebble-boulders" - which he'd been restocking each day for the past two weeks during their northward trek - and dropped it at her feet. It returned to its full size upon impact, granting her a bit of cover in the otherwise open field in which they found themselves. She hunkered down behind it, spear raised and ready.

Chaevaris likewise slid from her saddle, but only to ensure she had a more stable perch from which to aim her arrow. As the creature approached, the elven archer could tell this was much darker in scale coloration than she would have guessed, for she had assumed the dragon the Frost Barbarians had encountered was a white, given its association with winter wolves. These scales were a reddish brown. But no matter; the elf could affix an arrow through its reptilian head no matter what color its scales.

Alistair dismounted from Zephyr and hastily cast a mage armor spell upon himself as Ambrose flew off to the side, well out of the dragon's breath weapon range. Harlan dismounted by the sorcerer's side and cast a bless spell upon the group before unsheathing his flaming burst longsword from its scabbard. But it was apparent to all by now that this was no white dragon coming towards them and lowering its elevation as it moved in for a dive, it was a--

"Wyvern!" Chaevaris called out, releasing her arrow and watching it streak through the air to bury itself in the reptile's shoulder, right by the wing. She could see the creature had no front legs, and its tail, raised high above its head in readiness to plunge downward when it got within range, was tipped with a scorpionlike stinger, dripping with venom. The wyvern hissed in pain and dropped closer, now a mere 60 feet from Harlan, who as usual stood in the front of the assembled group with his sword readied for action. Ageratum raised her spear in a throwing stance, waiting for it to get closer. Alistair opted not to wait, for the aerial beast was now well within range of his wand; firing off a blast, he sent five missiles streaking unerringly towards the monster to crash into it head-on. The wyvern by now was looking much the worse for wear and altered its dive, opting to allow a few quick wing-strokes to gain it back some of the elevation it had lost in its dive towards what it had mistakenly thought to be easy prey. The change of course, however, came too late, for Chaevaris brought the wyvern down with a well-placed arrow through its head. It came crashing down to the ground in a tangle of limbs, lifeless neck and tail swinging around madly as it crashed and then lay still.

Harlan almost seemed a bit disappointed that he hadn't gotten to contribute to the thing's death, but Ageratum was perfectly fine not having had the opportunity to throw her spear. After all, she found fighting things that didn't have any noticeable loot readily at hand to be not at all worth the effort. Still, just to be safe, she drew her short sword and slit the creature's throat - one never knew how much interference Harlan's carried Blood Mirror gem could mess with an otherwise clean kill. Then, without a further word, the four remounted their steeds and returned to their trek towards the "Y" shaped canyon further north.

Ambrose resumed his role as forward scout, until they got to the "Y" and took the rightmost fork. Soon thereafter, Harlan and Chaevaris, with their elven sight, saw a score of dead bodies lying on the cold earth before them: a few human barbarians, but a much greater number of orcs. Harlan noted a few of the corpses looked to have been chewed upon and partially eaten by large wolves, and there was more than one place where an impression in the ground - usually accompanied by a rather large quantity of dried blood - showed where a body had been but was no longer. Chaevaris pointed out the lack of drag marks by the missing corpses and voiced her opinion they had likely been taken away by something that carried it aloft. "This is the work of the dragon, no doubt," she asserted.

There was a hill directly ahead, with a cave opening facing the group and the scattered field of corpses. It was dark inside the cave, with just a glimmer of flickering light from the very back. Fortunately, the cave opening was tall enough for Alistair to ride Zephyr directly inside. "I don't like the idea of leaving the horses outside, especially when there might be winter wolves about," he whispered to the group before dismounting. Ambrose alit upon the back of the saddle, Alistair instructing him to look after the mounts and keep an eye out. "We'll be going deeper into the cave," he told his familiar. "You give us a warning if anything approaches from outside." Then the sorcerer cast an unseen servant spell to bring forth Ogilvy, passing the human-sized force one of the small pouches of pebble-stones he'd been carrying with him; judging by the number stitched into the pouch, it was the one with the four stones whose magic would expire later that evening if not used up before. "Drop these, one at a time, on the heads of anyone attacking us," he advised his silent servant.

Chaevaris rode Talkacha into the cave, swinging down from the saddle as she did so. Seeing there was no immediate danger in this first chamber - although her keen elven vision picked up what Alistair had failed to note in the back: a screen of hanging furs along the northwest, no doubt blocking off a passageway to another cavern - and lit her bullseye lantern, which she then shone down towards the back of the cave. There was another passageway off to the northeast, this one free of hanging furs.

Harlan dismounted from his white horse Law and strode towards the back of the cave, flaming sword in hand. He was headed towards the northeastern passageway, but as he got closer, he could see a hill giant advancing from the other side of the hanging screen of furs, stepping beside a campfire that was no doubt responsible for the flickering light they'd noted outside. He tightened his grip upon his longsword, holding his shield up before him and allowing the giant to advance upon him.

The hill giant looked down at the half-elf and, apparently making no differentiation between the well-armored paladin and the Frost Barbarian tribe he'd helped capture into slavery, grumbled, "Stupid barbarians, good only as slaves and meat." The fact that his mouth drooled as he said it showed which role Grolth preferred for Harlan at the moment.

Ageratum had been the last one to ride her mount into the cave and was busy slathering on a quick dose of stone salve; a hill giant, a dragon, and a pack of winter wolves all sounded like plenty of good reasons for a little halfling to have as much protection as she could!

A flash of motion caught Harlan's eye. Spinning to the right, he saw a quartet of winter wolves advancing down the passageway from that direction, as Grolth stepped forward and forced the paladin to give him his full attention for the moment. He dodged a massive greatclub that the hill giant swung his way, ducking beneath the weapon as it passed by overhead. As Grolth was momentarily thrown off balance, Alistair gave him a blast from his wand, while Ambrose suddenly gave a frantic cawing from near the cave entrance. He'd heard the flapping of leathery wings outside the cave, off to the left, indicating the dragon was coming in for a landing and would soon be entering through the front cave opening. Involuntarily, a stream of white waste exited the bird's body and splashed over Alistair's saddle; the sorcerer would no doubt wish to cast a prestidigitation spell before he once more rode astride Zephyr.

Sure enough, a white-scaled, reptilian face peered around the cave opening, balanced upon a snakelike neck. He sucked in air and sent a blast of frigid vapors encompassing Ageratum and the riding mounts all standing there; Ambrose managed to take wing and shield himself behind Zephyr's body, but the frost covered each of the mounts, harming them all to one degree or another. Munson, the closest to the cave opening, took the brunt of the attack and toppled over onto his side, while the other three horses, in a fit of panic, raced back outside the cave to take their chances out in the open. Ambrose followed them, knowing full well he had given his master all the warning he'd been expected to - Alistair and the others would have to take it from there. The halfling, however, had dropped to the ground beside her pony and shielded herself from all harm in that fashion; rising to her feet with her short swords in hand, she swore she'd cut the dragon's heart out herself if Munson had been slain by its frigid breath weapon.

Realizing there was no way the group could take on a hill giant and five winter wolves from the back of the cave and a young white dragon from the front all at the same time, Chaevaris took out the sole arrow from her quiver that contained one of the clothlike items resulting from one of Alistair's shrink item spells that wasn't a small boulder. Shooting the arrow at the stone floor in the corridor to the northeast, the archer let it fly; upon impact with the ground, the fabric covering the arrow's head resumed its normal form, that of a blazing bonfire that completely blocked the ten-foot-wide passageway. With yelps of fear, the four winter wolves approaching from that direction backed off from the fearsome flames; leaving a much smaller number of foes for the Trained Professional Adventurers to have to deal with at one time.

Pulling another arrow from her quiver in a practiced move, Chaevaris shot it at the hill giant menacing Harlan. Unfortunately, that one missed its mark, but the archer took comfort in the fact that the shot she really needed to pull off - the "bonfire reactivation shot" - had gone off completely as planned. She figured they had several minutes before they had to worry about the large blaze dying down to the point the winter wolves might try to push their way through it.

Harlan moved up to attack Grolth, accepting a swing from the giant's greater reach as the price for doing business. He took a glancing blow off his shield that rattled his arm up to the shoulder, but then struck true with his flaming blade, cutting and searing the massive brute along his side. Behind the giant, Harlan saw the white-furred face of another winter wolf, but fortunately the passageway coming out of that side-cavern was too narrow to allow it to move past Grolth and help attack the half-elf paladin just yet.

A little fearful of closing with a dragon that much larger than her own spare form, Ageratum grabbed up one of her kobold shortspears and hurled it at the reptile. It missed, but the dragon flinched away regardless, allowing the halfling to retreat further down the central cave, closer to the relative safety of her friends.

Grolth slammed his greatclub into Harlan's shield again, bending it out of shape and almost making the elf's entire left arm go numb. Alistair sent another charge from his magic missile wand flying into the giant bully, at the same time calling out for Ogilvy to help Ageratum with the dragon. Obediently, the invisible unseen servant moved over beside the dragon - who saw nothing but a small coin pouch apparently hovering in the air - and released a "pebble-boulder" while holding it above the dragon's head. Upon impact, it resumed its normal size, resulting in a rather fearsome blow powered solely by the force of gravity. Better yet, it caused the dragon to look around fearfully, trying to pinpoint the invisible attacker from nowhere who had thrown a large boulder at it without it even hearing it come flying into the cave. It spun about, peering across the field of dead bodies looking for a hidden giant, knowing from personal experience that both hill giants and frost giants liked throwing large rocks at their enemies to soften them up. The dragon released another blast of its frigid breath weapon just in case, but there was nobody within range the way it had been pointed. (And now the dragon was worried there was an invisible giant there in the cave with it - possibly with a spellcasting ally granting it greater invisibility?)

Activating her boots of speed to grant her a few moments under the effects of a haste spell, Chaevaris used her faster-than-normal speed to shoot three arrows in extremely rapid succession over at Grolth, hoping to take him out before he landed a lethal blow upon Harlan with his massive greatclub. But while only one of the three hit hard enough to pierce the giant's flesh, it took his concentration off of the paladin long enough for him to get in a perfect stab deep within the giant's midsection, burying the majority of his flaming blade inside Grolth's massive gut. He pulled out the weapon and brought it in a wide arc, but the hill giant staggered back out of range, almost trampling the winter wolf behind it as he cried out in pain, clutching his wounded belly. Behind the bonfire, the other four winter wolves tried getting past the fearsome flames, yapping and barking at it to no avail.

Realizing the advantages to be had by concentrating on taking down a single enemy, Ageratum charged across the cave, away from the dragon and straight for Grolth. Her short sword slashed across the front of a meaty shin, cutting to the bone and causing a flow of blood to spray from the wound. Then another blast from Alistair's wand sent the hill giant toppling backwards, unconscious and bleeding out, until the impartial Blood Mirror automatically stabilized his wounds based on nothing more than his proximity. (Ageratum promised herself she'd come back later and take care of that oversight.)

Ogilvy, continuing to obey his master's last orders, fetched another pebble from the sack, held it above the now-paranoid dragon's head, and released it, to plummet onto its noggin as a boulder and crash to the cave floor. He wasn't dealing the creature a whole lot of damage by doing so, but just enough to make him frantic in trying to fend off his unknown and unseen attacker. In a panicked frenzy, the dragon lashed out with the claws of its forelegs and its mouthful of sharp teeth, trying ineffectually to catch its invisible tormentor in its powerful jaws and grasping talons.

With Grolth down, the giant's favored winter wolf was able to scramble over his body and move in for the attack. Chaevaris responded with a trio of well-placed arrows, each of the three hitting its mark and burying itself up to the feathered ends in its furry pelt. Pain and fear in its eyes and blood spilling from its canine lips, the wolf howled in agony but still kept coming. Harlan scrambled backwards, hastily laying on hands and healing up the worst of the damage he'd taken from Grolth's swinging greatclub. The wolf expelled a cone of frosty breath, similar but less powerful than that of the dragon, which engulfed only Ageratum, but the halfling dodged to the side at the last moment, warned by a keen sense of self-preservation that bypassed her own conscious mind and allowed her act without pausing to consider her actions. She landed on her feet off to the side, unharmed by the frosty spray.

But rather than stay out of harm's way, she immediately charged the wolf, both of her short swords stabbing in at it in a pinching maneuver. The wolf, in trying to dodge one blade, only made it that much easier for the other one to pierce the side of its shaggy neck. And then Alistair stepped up, casting the scorching ray spell he'd stored inside his ring of spell storing (it had ended up being a minor version of the ring, but no matter - although it figured his father wouldn't publicly broadcast the fact he'd spent the minimum amount possible for his gesture of forgiveness to his youngest son). The gout of flame flew over Ageratum's head to strike the white-furred wolf straight in the face, scorching its muzzle and causing it to stagger on its feet, barely able to stand.

Ogilvy, in the meantime, dropped a third "pebble-boulder" onto the white dragon's head, causing it no small amount of panic. It decided to change its strategy thus far and ignore its invisible attacker, in the hopes it might do likewise. Instead, it raced deeper into the cave and bit Alistair on the shoulder, causing the young sorcerer to cry out in pain. Chaevaris spun about at the cry and sent a trio of arrows at the dragon, hitting with two and burying them deep through the young dragon's still relatively soft scales. (Soft, that is, only in comparison to how tough they'd be if the dragon were allowed to grow to many times its current size, although that was looking less and less likely as the combat continued. Only now was it starting to get the idea that fleeing back to its own cave might not be a bad idea, for these "barbarians" were much tougher than the last batch that had shown up here.)

Harlan focused his attention onto the dragon's aura long enough to determine to his own satisfaction its evil nature, and then charged, channeling Pelor's evil-smiting energy through the flaming blade of his sword as he did so. The dragon fell back at the strength of the blow, a deep gash having cut a line of pain through the scales above its belly.

The wolf took in a deep breath and exhaled, sending a blast of frost breath at Ageratum; the halfling easily skirted out of the way, but the attack took every last ounce of strength from the staggered wolf, and it collapsed, unconscious, onto the stone floor of the cave. The little halfling, finding herself now closer to Grolth's unconscious form than anyone else, took the opportunity to run the edge of one of her blades across his throat, opening it up wider than the Blood Mirror could fix. Best of all, Harlan's back was turned as he faced the dragon, not that Ageratum was necessarily concerned that the paladin might not approve of that particular action in Grolth's case, given his role as a slave-taker.

Alistair dropped to the ground, rolled, and cast a scorching ray up at the dragon, catching him in the underside of the jaw. As anticipated, the cold-based dragon didn't like the fire-based spell any more than had the winter wolf. Ogilvy advanced from behind on the dragon and dropped the last of the four "pebble-boulders" onto its head, before moving back to its master to receive further instructions (or, failing that, another pouch of four more magically-shrunken pebbles). Doing its best to ignore the pain of its most recent wounds, the dragon made a full-out attack against Harlan, biting, scratching, and even buffeting the paladin with its wings in a desperate attempt to bring at least one of its attackers down. Harlan weathered the barrage of attacks, but it was evident he wouldn't be able to take too much more, for he almost stumbled under the frenzy of natural weapons. But then the hasted archer pumped another three arrows into the dragon, leaving it just as ready to fall as Harlan. It was anybody's guess which of the two would drop first.

Anybody's guess but Harlan's that is, for the paladin had full faith in his combat training and the protection of his deity in the face of adversity. He stabbed forward with his blade using all of his might, slicing effortlessly past the dragon's scales and piercing its heart with the tip of his flaming blade. The dragon dropped to the stone cave floor like a rock, and Harlan made a desperate - and ultimately successful - effort not to join his reptilian foe sprawled out on the ground.

That left only the four winter wolves pinned behind the bonfire. Chaevaris walked steadily toward the flames, popping open a flask of lantern oil as she did so. Peering through the flickering flames, she grinned wildly as she saw the side cavern was in fact a dead end; the wolves had nowhere in which they could retreat. Holding the flask alongside the end of her bow in her left hand and dipping the tip of one arrow after another into the oil, she fired them through the bonfire, igniting each arrow in turn mid-flight, to strike a helpless winter wolf. It was, she decided with a grim grin, very much like shooting fish in a barrel. It didn't take her long to take them all out, especially not when Alistair stepped up beside her and started casting his daily allotment of magic missile spells from the store of arcane energy he was able to wield on his own.

Although still fairly wounded himself, Harlan staggered over to the front of the cave and cast a cure light wounds spell upon Munson, bringing the wounded pony back to full consciousness. Ageratum would need him, he realized, to ride back to the Frost Barbarians' village. Then, with all of their foes slain (Ageratum having made sure the deed was permanent with a good throat-slitting as needed), the Trained Professional Adventurers explored the entire lair, seeking treasure. (Dragons, Ageratum informed them, were well renowned for their love of treasure.) Sure enough, there was a sloping passageway behind the giant's cave that led up to the dragon's lair, complete with an opening at the ceiling to allow it to come and go as needed. There, they found two cases of Furyondy fire schnapps, golden place settings, and bars of silver. At the halfling's suggestion, Alistair cast a shrink item spell upon the white dragon's corpse, for Ageratum said a dragon's hide could be valuable if sold to the right person - an armorer, for example. The sorcerer picked up the shrunken body - now in a clothlike fabric form that hopefully wouldn't decompose - and placed it carefully in his pack, while the others distributed the dragon's meager hoard into their own pouches, after the sorcerer had likewise reduced them in size with his spells.

"Well," said Harlan with a vigorous enthusiasm, "I think we can report back to Larson a fully successful mission!" He mounted back up onto Law and led his horse back south. The others mounted up and followed.

- - -

Not knowing what Frost Barbarians do to their deceased (burial? pyre?), we left their dead where they lay for now, figuring the way was now safe so we could return with the members of the tribe able to travel and they could tend to the matter as befit their beliefs.

As expected, this adventure brought us to the lofty heights of 7th level. Alistair opted to learn the spells acid splash (it can't hurt to learn a few more combat spells, no matter how low their damage output!) and flame arrow, the latter for the benefit of Chaevaris because I promised Logan I'd do so. (Plus, Alistair has a light crossbow as a fallback weapon, so the spell might prove to be useful to him as well.) But from now on, Alistair's going to focus on making himself the best Trained Professional Adventurer he can be, for he has a reputation to uphold - and that means making the most of the few spells he'll be able to master over his 20-level career as a sorcerer. After all, he "wasted" a few spell levels on comfort spells before even realizing he was a sorcerer.
Last edited:



PC Roster:
Ageratum Purslane, halfling rogue 7​
Alastair Mandelberen Pastlethwaite, human sorcerer 7​
Chaevaris Noarunal, elf archer 7​
Harlan Starblade, half-elf paladin 7​

Game Session Date: 22 March 2023

- - -

The four Trained Professional Adventures rode their mounts south through the Phostwood on their way back to Greyhawk City. They approached the village of Luminaxa close to dusk, when most of the shopkeepers were closing up their places of business and ensuring the shutters were closed nice and tight against their windows. But there was a tavern still open, the Aca Balaur, with lanterns visible through the windows and a hearty fire in the fireplace. The heroes dismounted from their steeds, tied them by their reins to the hitching posts outside, and headed for the door. Alistair bid his grackle familiar to keep an eye on the horses and call out if anyone tried to bother them.

Inside, the tavern was warm and toasty compared with the bitter air outside, and the place was filled almost to capacity. There was a table free over in the corner and the four headed that way, Chaevaris getting there first and choosing a seat that allowed her to face the building's only door. The others took their places and waited for the barmaid to approach to take their orders.

In the meantime, they listened to what the locals all had to say. Talk had stopped momentarily at the presence of strangers, but once the locals got a good look at the four and decided they weren't bandits or troublemakers - the holy symbol of Pelor emblazoned upon Harlan's armor no doubt helped a great deal on that front - they resumed their conversations where they'd left off. But more than a few of the tavern customers were commenting amongst themselves about Harlan's holy symbol of Pelor being so prominently displayed. Finally, an older tavern wench came by to take their drink orders, saw Harlan's armor, and asked, "Hey, are you here about the children?"

"I'm sorry?" Harlan asked, puzzled but with a look of concern on his face. "We're travelers, unfamiliar with this region. Is there a problem with children in the village?"

"There's been seven kids gone missing in the past two months," the barmaid replied. "Three of their mothers, too."

"What can you tell us about them?" the paladin asked.

The barmaid told them all she knew, and then the others at nearby tables, their own conversations having broken off again, filled in the gaps. It seemed in the last two months, seven of the village children had gone missing, often disappearing right from their own yards while their parents were just inside the house, and had heard nothing. Sometimes, a mother and her child were returning from the village store back to their own homes and were never seen again. But the disappearances happened about once a week or so, always at or just after dusk.

"How long ago was the last disappearance?" asked Ageratum.

"Been six days now," came the reply from an old farmer, whose wrinkled face told of many years spent out under the sun. "Y'ask me, it were prolly goblins. Got us lotsa goblins in the Phostwood, that's for dang sure."

"But why all of a sudden would they start attackin' kids right here in the village?" demanded another of the servers. "I could see them snatchin' kids what wandered into the forest all alone, but that's not what's been happenin'. No, I think it's undead, comin' outta Knight's Hall."

"Bloodhand Hall, you mean," corrected the elderly farmer.

"Please explain," replied Harlan, and the villagers informed him there was a ruined keep outside the village in the Phostwood forest, that used to be called Knight's Keep or Goldenbeams, back when a rich servant of Pelor named Balaur Luminaductor was alive and dwelt there. But then the knight turned to evil - stories varied on the details of exactly how - and he became known as Balaur Bloodhand, and the keep was then referred to as Black Hollow or Bloodhand Hall. Balaur had a wife, but nobody had seen her since he turned to evil, so it was generally believed that he'd killed her. In any case, Black Hallow was said to be haunted by undead, and the area was generally shunned by the villagers.

"Couldn't pay to get me out that way," professed a village farmer. He was about to elaborate when the door to the tavern opened and a young woman burst in, out of breath and with a panicked look in her eyes. "My daughter--" she gasped, "--she's missing! Valeria is missing!" And she collapsed into a chair, sobbing violently.

Harlan was at her side in a shot. "We will look for your daughter," he promised, kneeling before her and looking her in the eyes. "Tell me her age, and describe her for me." Wiping back her tears, Valeria's mother provided the paladin with the information he requested. Once he had a good description of the missing girl, he turned to the crowd of customers. "Tell me how to get to this Black Hollow," he said. "We will look there first."

The villagers said the ruins were about a 30-minute walk out of town, to the east, and there was a forest path that practically led the way there, although the end of the path had become somewhat overgrown over the years since the place fell to ruin. Harlan nodded to the other adventurers and they rose from the table, heading out the door. "We will do our best to return with your daughter," he promised Valeria's mother. "And we will put an end to whatever monster is behind these abductions." He didn't voice his main concern: that while it might not be too late for Valeria, the other seven children and the three mothers had likely been slain shortly after their own abductions.

A half-hour's walk through a forest path took considerably less time on horseback; Harlan, riding his white horse Law, took the lead. They were deep into the forest when the various animal sounds around them - the hooting of owls, the scrambling of squirrels in the branches overhead - suddenly ceased, as if none of the forest creatures wanted to draw any attention to themselves. Chaevaris, riding her gray horse Talkacha just behind Harlan, heard a crashing in the trees off to her right and readied an arrow into her composite longbow, calling a warning to the others. But they had also heard the commotion ahead, and before long a massive creature emerged onto the moon-lit path: a monster as big as a full-grown brown bear, but an oddly-shaped bear indeed, for it had the head of an owl, with feathers along its front legs. It rose up on its hind legs and Harlan and Chaevaris, the two adventurers with elven eyesight that allowed them to see better than the halfling and human members of their adventuring team, saw another such creature, slightly smaller than the first, exit through the clearing the first one had made through the underbrush.

Harlan leaped out of the saddle and drew his flaming burst longsword, the fire-tinged blade aiding Alistair and Ageratum in seeing what they were up against. Then, as fearless as only a paladin can be, he charged the mother owlbear, swinging his blade across her chest and belly and eliciting a cry of pain. Alistair, further back and still in Zephyr's saddle, whipped out his magic missile wand and fired off a blast, hitting the same creature as it dropped back onto all fours and swiped a paw filled with sharp claws at Harlan. The other owlbear, nearly an adult, came shambling over to Harlan's side and made an awkward attempt at biting his sword arm, but the half-elf dodged by moving further into the middle of the forest path.

Chaevaris, astride her horse's saddle, took careful aim at the mother owlbear and sent her arrow burying itself in the beast's shoulder. And Ageratum remained in the saddle as well, using the greater height sitting astride Munson provided her to shoot a shrunken "pebble-boulder" at the hybrid monster with her sling. Upon impact, the stone returned to its original size before Alistair had reduced it to one-sixteenth scale with a shrink item spell. As it squawked in outrage at the unusual attack, Harlan stabbed his flaming blade deep into the beast's chest, piercing her heart and bringing her rampage to a sudden end. But just that quickly, he yanked the blade out of the fallen owlbear's body and swung it in a flaming arc to come cleaving down at the younger menace, cutting deep into the beast's shoulder.

Alistair aimed his wand at the remaining owlbear and fired off a second barrage, five magic missiles streaking across the path to hit the creature unerringly in the top of its feathered head. But as Harlan was right there at hand, it devoted its retaliatory attacks upon the paladin, rearing up to bring both sets of front claws swinging at him while snapping his beak at him as well. Fortunately, Harlan was able to either avoid the attacks or get his shield up in time to deflect them away. Ageratum used her sling to send another "pebble-boulder" crashing into an owlbear's head, and then Chaevaris shot another arrow into it, dropping it as well. Once both owlbears were lying unmoving on the forest path, Harlan approached each beast in turn and slit their throats to ensure their deaths, preventing the Blood Mirror from stabilizing them at the last moment, as was its wont. Then the heroes mounted back up and returned down the path towards the Black Hollow.

The ruins stood at the top of a hill, appearing initially as a black silhouette against the star-lit sky. As the heroes approached, they could make out more details: the "ruins" were actually in better condition than they'd been led to believe, with no visible gaps in the stone walls. A pair of solid-looking wooden doors looked to be the only way in, and while the wiry scrub-brush and ivy growing up around the building gave silent testimony to the fact there had been nobody tending to it in a long time, the place looked perfectly defensible. If this were indeed the place where the kidnapped children and mothers had been taken, it didn't look to be a place offering any easy escape-ways.

The heroes tied the reins of their respective mounts to nearby trees, Alistair casting a quick mage armor upon himself and telling Ambrose to once again look after the horses and give a warning if anyone - or anything - approached. Ageratum approached the doors, giving them a good look-over before announcing they looked to be in normal working order, did not seem to be trapped, and had likely seen recent use lately. Then, reaching up on her tippy-toes, she pushed them open to reveal the keep's interior.

The interior, from what they could see, was all one big room, with what looked to be a set of stairs leading down to a lower level off to the left, at the far end of the keep where it was harder to see in the gloomy darkness. Up towards the front were four large tables, each with a set of wooden benches providing seating. One of these tables was empty; the other three had various warriors seated and slumped over in death, each reduced to little more than a skeleton in rusting armor. A cold fire pit sat on the floor in the middle of the tables, the ashes looking to be ancient. At the far end of the hall was a longer table, with some sort of statues on either end, covered in so much shadow it was impossible even for those with elven blood to make out any details. Chaevaris took care of their lighting problem by taking the one arrow from her quiver that had the clothlike results of a shrink item spell cast upon a blazing bonfire; aiming the arrow at the center of the firepit, she released the arrow and returned the bonfire to its full size and effectiveness as a light source.

In the glow of the bonfire's flames, more details could be made out. There were five tapestries hanging on the walls, one in the far back behind the banquet table, and two others on the walls to the side. There was another door on the right-hand wall, but it was boarded up and the detailed carving of Pelor's holy symbol inscribed upon its upper half had been covered in scratches and deep cuts, likely made by an axe. The skeletons were covered in a layer of dust, indicating they'd not risen from their current positions despite the tales of undead haunting Black Hollow. But more importantly, there was the body of a little girl fitting Valeria's description laying upon the banquet table, which was flanked by the two statues of what were now recognizable as gargoyles. Before each statue stood a pile of smashed and broken bones of various sizes.

Harlan cast a bless spell upon the group as they advanced towards the back of the keep. Ageratum felt for a pulse on the girl, but her skin was already cold - she'd been dead, it seemed, for some while. Harlan was able to determine there was no evil aura emanating from the girl's body - a definite concern given the two puncture marks on her neck - but in checking out her aura he was able to pick up a definite evil emanation coming from the gargoyle statues. "These are real gargoyles!" he warned the others. He could also sense evil from the stairs heading down to a lower level.

Alistair had been thoughtfully examining the tapestries and discovered they told a tale: in the first, an armored knight (presumably Balaur Luminaductor) being consecrated by an elder cleric with a sword; in the second, the Pelorian knight at his wedding; the third showed the Pelorian knight fighting a demon while his wife was being seduced by another knight in dark armor; the fourth depicted the wife embracing her husband while a squire kneeled before them; and in the fifth, the Pelorian knight now wore black armor and stood over his squire, who was horrendously wounded, while corpses bowed down before the black knight - or possibly to the glowing ruby he held in his right hand. However, the young sorcerer looked up at Harlan's cry and fired a scorching ray spell at the leftmost gargoyle, causing it to flinch in pain and reveal its living nature. Alistair had no compunctions about attacking gargoyles, knowing they were wholly evil - at least according to the acclaimed children's book, Elfy's Exploits in Castle Perilous, which he had enjoyed reading (or having read to him) as a kid.

Chaevaris nocked another arrow to her bow and took careful aim at the second gargoyle, which had yet to move. Ageratum flicked a third "pebble-boulder" from her small pouch onto the head of the first gargoyle, causing it to restore to full size and roll off the creature's head to crash to the floor at its feet. It launched itself at Harlan with its head lowered, trying to skewer the paladin on its horns as it reached out at him with its clawed hands. Harlan accepted the damage from a set of claws as he brought his flaming sword to bear, catching the winged creature in the side of its rocky torso, before another scorching ray spell from Alistair brought the creature crashing down to lay prostrate before the half-elf paladin. Ageratum scrambled over to ensure its demise - she didn't want the Blood Mirror, which was occasionally (she thought) more trouble than it was worth, stabilizing the unconscious gargoyle and allowing it to return to unholy life.

At about the same time the second gargoyle launched itself from the plinth upon which it had been standing, but Chaevaris was ready for it and released her arrow, sending it directly into the creature's neck. It made it as far as the closest table before the elven archer had released another arrow at it, this one piercing its eye and sending it crashing into the pile of warrior skeletons collapsed upon the table; the impact splintered the rotting wood and sent armored bones flying about in all directions.

This close to the banquet table upon which the dead body of poor Valeria lay, Harlan saw silver tableware laid out as if for a feast, but covered in dust - indicating the kinds of feasts now performed in the keep needed no such accoutrements. He laid on hands, channeling Pelor's holy energy into his torn and battered body and healed up some of the wounds he'd taken in battle, before giving the entirety of the upper floor of the keep a sweep with his senses. Having found no further sources of evil, he recommended the group head downstairs.

Alistair concentrated for a moment and cast a flame arrow spell upon Chaevaris's quiver of Ehlonna. "Sorry, Elfy," he apologized. "I had meant to do that earlier, but I forgot." He then cast another spell, bringing forth Ogilvy, his unseen servant, and handed him a small sack containing four "pebble-boulders." He also gave another such bag of magic pebbles to Ageratum, who was down to one stone left in her original sack of ammunition. She took the proffered sack without comment and then went to ensure the second gargoyle was truly dead (helping it out with the blade of her magic short sword).

Chaevaris nocked an arrow at the ready and headed over to the top of the stairs. They led down into darkness, but the elf's keen vision picked out what looked to be a coffin on an upraised plinth in the middle of the chamber below. But then a figure stepped into view, standing at the bottom of the stairs. He wore heavy armor, with a shield and longsword, but his face - about all the elf could see of his actual body - was taught against its skull, desiccated like a mummy. This, at last, gave credence to the view held by the villagers that the keep was haunted by undead creatures, for there was no way the armored warrior below her could still be counted among the living, in the archer's estimation. Still, it called out, in a dry, whispery voice, "Come down to your doom, interlopers!"

Harlan stepped in front of Chaevaris with his own shield and weapon in hand, ready to strike if the armored mummy tried climbing the stairs. Then Alistair stepped behind the paladin, and whereas Harlan and Chaevaris had been able to face the undead monstrosity without incident, the sorcerer felt a chill of dread go up his spine and he froze in horror at the very sight of the deathless mummy. He'd planned on hurling a scorching ray spell down at it, but his mind was frozen; he couldn't think of the proper incantations that had normally just rolled off his tongue when in combat earlier. Ogilvy stepped next to his master, awaiting orders, but Alistair was speechless in his paralyzation and the unseen servant merely stood there until ordered to do something.

Chaevaris sent two arrows in rapid succession down over Harlan's shoulders to strike at the mummy, but he caught them on his shield instead. Ageratum ran in front of the archer, looked down at the mummy and felt a moment of fear (which, unlike Alistair, passed briefly without incident) and tossed a pebble-boulder at him, catching him unawares with the unusual attack.

Then another foe entered the combat. Dropping down from the wall, upon which he'd been spider climbing, Magda - a young woman looking very much like the wife depicted in the tapestries above - stood there among a host of mirror images, for there were a total of five copies of her shifting around and making it impossible to determine which was the true foe and which were mere illusions. But then the mummy, apparently not liking standing there and getting magical boulders tossed down on his head, stepped up the stairs to engage with Harlan, who stood ready for the undead thing's attack. The paladin's flaming burst longsword struck the mummy, and the flames covering the blade seemed to give an extra whoosh of blazing fire upon impact. The mummy brought his own weapon slamming towards Harlan, but the half-elf deflected the blow with his shield.

Harlan channeled Pelor's smiting energy into his blade and hit the mummy again, cutting through its armor and striking the withered body within with its flame-covered blade. The undead thing staggered under the blow, nearly losing its footing on the steep steps. Chaevaris managed to pop two arrows into the mummy as it was teetering, dealing it additional damage as it struggled to remain upright. Ageratum tossed another pebble at it but the stone went wide, striking the stone floor beside the shifting mirror images and restoring itself to boulder form, harming absolutely nobody.

Magda - all five of them, actually - raised a hand and pointed a pale finger at Harlan, and five beams of energy came blasting his way; only one of them was the true ray of enfeeblement, but whichever one it was it did its job, stealing a portion of the half-elf's strength, which Harlan could feel taking effect in the way in which his sword suddenly seemed heavier in his hands. The mummy then lashed out at Harlan and the paladin was too slow to dodge the blow, but although a puff of rancid dust accompanied the impact, the power of the paladin's deity which coursed through his body prevented the mummy rot from having any effect. But then, gritting his teeth at the extra effort it cost him in his weakened state, he brought his flaming blade down twice at the mummy, finally taking him out; the armored undead form collapsed backwards and rattled down to the bottom of the stairs.

Seeing the mummy's demise had an invigorating effect upon Alistair's paralyzed mind, but seeing the mummy had already been slain, he switched tactics and instead of casting a scorching ray spell as intended (for he knew mummies were particularly susceptible to flames, as per Elfy Fights the Mummy Lord), he brought up his magic missile wand and fired off a burst, sending an individual missile streaking towards each of the five potential Magdas. Four of them, upon being struck, popped like bubbles, while the other seemed unfazed at all by the attack - she no doubt had a shield spell active! Well, drat and bother!

Chaevaris shot two more arrows at Magda, but the pale woman was much quicker than she looked and dodged them both. Ageratum tossed her first sack of pebbles away (as it was empty) and threw the first pebble from her restock down at the vampire. It conked her on the head as it reformed to full size, causing her to hiss in surprise and reveal her prominent fangs, as if anyone had been in doubt about her true nature. But it appeared as if she had managed to ignore any potential damage from the boulder as easily as she had the magic missile, and belatedly Ageratum recalled how Carly had been able to shrug off many physical attacks as well - and she had just been a vampire spawn! This woman seemed, if anything, even tougher than Carly had been!

The four heroes were all standing in the stairwell, making the vampire wizard wish she had a lightning bolt spell prepared, but she made do with a slow spell instead; the two women were able to shrug off the intended effects while the two men were not. Harlan took a moment to cast a cure light wounds spell upon himself, healing up more of the damage he'd taken at the hands of the mummy, while Alistair slowly made his way down the stairs, his unseen servant following obediently at his side. "Go check out the coffin!" Alistair commanded, and Ogilvy moved to comply.

Chaevaris climbed down the steps, fitting a silver-tipped arrow to her bow as she did so, and she fired it at the vampire upon entering the lower chamber. Unfortunately, Magda managed to dodge that one as well and it crashed against the side wall, the shaft snapping. But Magda kept going, sunning straight up the wall at the side of the opening for the stairs, until she stood at the very top of the 30-foot wall, near the ceiling.

Ageratum entered the chamber next, unstoppering a potion of spider climbing and scampering right up the wall after the surprised vampire, who hadn't expected any of her mortal foes to be able to reproduce her maneuver. But she concentrated not upon the little halfling but rather the elf archer below, staring at Chaevaris and sending forth the power of her will. Chaevaris's eyes widened in shock as she heard the vampire command, "Shoot the halfling!" and the archer, as if in some sort of remote control, fitted an arrow to her longbow and took aim at Ageratum.

"I say!" cried Alistair at this sudden but unwilling betrayal, as Harlan moved past the sorcerer out of the staircase and into the chamber below. Poking his head around the corner from the stairwell, Alistair sent a scorching ray spell up at the vampire, hitting her with his single blast of flame. There was a creaking noise as Ogilvy lifted the lid of the "coffin" (it was actually a sarcophagus, but none of the heroes had determined this yet at the time) and found a longbow laying there at the bottom. But, having performed the task commanded of it, the unseen servant left the bow where it was and awaited its next instructions.

Chaevaris shot an arrow at Ageratum but it missed; Alistair let out a sigh of relief until the archer placed another arrow into place, took careful aim, and hit the archer on her second attempt. "Hey!" cried Ageratum as the arrow pierced the top of her shoulder. But, not being able to do anything to stop her adventuring companion from shooting at her directly, Ageratum decided the best course of action was to try to take out the vampire herself. She stabbed the tip of her silver short sword at Magda, catching the undead wizard in the gut. No blood spilled from the wound, but the halfling could tell by Magda's pained expression that she had hurt the undead thing - good! Magda stepped back and retaliated at Ageratum with a scorching ray spell of her own, but the nimble halfling dodged the spell with ease, even while standing sideways on a wall, and then stabbed forth again with her blade and caught Magda once more in the belly.

Harlan, unable to reach the vampire up by the ceiling, thrust forward his holy symbol of Pelor up at her and channeled positive energy of the Sun God through it. However, vampires are notoriously difficult to turn and this proved to be the case this time. But Alistair cast another scorching ray up at her, striking her and causing her undead body to lose its full cohesiveness - it burst into a cloud of misty particles, which flowed down the wall and started floating over towards the back wall. Ageratum kept pace with it, running down the wall but taking another two hits from Chaevaris as she continued obeying her most recent order, to "shoot the halfling." "Elfy, no!" cried Alistair, but Ageratum tried taking things into her own hands; since the vampiric mist was traveling fairly slowly, she took the opportunity to run in close to Chaevaris and tried cutting her bowstring with her short sword. It was a good attempt, but the archer pivoted her bow away at the last moment.

Misty Magda hit the back wall and started seeping through a crack in it, more or less announcing the presence of a secret door in doing so. Harlan used his wand of cure light wounds on Ageratum, closing up the arrow wounds after the halfling plucked the offending shafts from her body and tossed them aside. Alistair prepared a shrink item spell, ready to try to shrink Chaevaris's bow to a size too small for practical use, but he was still slowed and couldn't make his way over to the archer with any kind of speed. But then Chaevaris pointed her bow down at the halfling and tried shooting her from a position so close at hand that Ageratum was successful in slitting the bowstring in twain with her blade; the readied arrow spilled to the stone floor at the archer's feet. But Ageratum was still in motion, breezing past Chaevaris to position herself beside the last of the mist squeezing through the crack in the hidden door, so she'd be in place to figure out the mechanism to open the door. By the time the vampire's misty form had passed fully through the wall, Ageratum had gotten the door open and kept pace as the mist flowed into one of two coffins positioned side by side in the chamber hidden behind the one holding the mummy's sarcophagus.

Once inside her coffin, Magda resumed her solid form, but she was the undead equivalent of unconscious: unable to move, unaware of her surroundings, having flowed over to her coffin as an automatic, unpiloted action. When the halfling raised the coffin lid and brought her silver short sword down upon the helpless vampire's neck, severing Magda's head from her shoulders, there was only a brief moment of awareness when the vampire's closed eyelids raised in surprise and pain, and then the woman once known as Magda Luminaductor was no more.

Chaevaris shook her head like a dog coming in from the rain, trying to clear it. She looked over at Ageratum and said, "I am so sorry...." Alistair imagined he knew just how the archer felt, for he was himself ashamed of having frozen up at the sight of an undead mummy when the others hadn't been affected in the least...although his extended inaction was probably preferable to actively trying to do one of his friends harm. "Not your fault, Elfy," he told Chaevaris. "These blasted undead are all sorts of unpleasant."

The team opened the second coffin, hoping to find a vampire in dark armor waiting to be staked or decapitated, but it was empty. There was, however, a ruby embedded onto the coffin's lid, which Ageratum appraised at around 200 pieces of gold as she pried it loose with her dagger. They also found a hidden stash of coins, and Magda had worn a valuable diamond necklace and a ruby ring, which Ageratum dumped into the chest of coins to lug back with them. But then Alistair had Ogilvy start bringing down the bones from the piles before the two gargoyle statues on the level above - bones he now knew to be those of the missing children and the three mothers - and placed them into the vampire's coffin; Harlan gently placed the body of Valeria inside as well, before Alistair cast a shrink item spell upon it and the chest of treasure for easy transport. "Other than Valeria, they probably won't be able to determine which bones are which," Chaevaris said sadly, "but at least they'll have some sense of closure."

"I'll recommend they take the coffin somewhere in the middle of the town, out in the open, away from the trees," Alistair said. "They can drop it down, restore it to its full size, and then set guards over it until daylight. That way, when that Bloodhand chap shows up looking to rest in his coffin, they'll have him - they can just wait for full daylight and then pop open the lid."

"Vampires often have multiple coffins, for just this very reason," pointed out Harlan Starblade.

"Yes, well, fine, but at least it's a chance," pressed Alistair. There was no arguing about that.

"Who's gonna tell the villagers their missing people are all dead?" asked Ageratum, placing the shrunken chest of treasure into one of Munson's saddlebags.

"That task will fall to me," Harlan admitted with a stoic sigh. Alistair just swallowed hard, glad for once that the intrepid half-elf paladin wore the mantle of leadership of their little band so well - that was not a task he envied him!

It was a quiet and introspective group of heroes who rode their mounts back to the village of Luminaxa.

- - -

This adventure was not Alistair's finest hour - not only did I get frozen in paralytic fear at the mere sight of an animated mummy (while the other three PCs shrugged it off like champs), but I then almost immediately fell victim to a slow spell. I think undead are rapidly becoming my sorcerer's least favorite type of enemy.

We took the longbow from the mummy's sarcophagus - I think we're going to talk Harry into having Harlan carry it as a backup weapon, as fighting Magda while she was 30 feet up a wall just brought home the fact that he's a melee combat machine but fairly useless if the enemy isn't right there on the ground with him. Plus, that way I can use a flame arrow spell at the beginning of each adventure (if I remember - sorry, Logan!) to allow him to deal +1d6 fire damage with each arrow that successfully strikes a foe.
Last edited:



PC Roster:
Ageratum Purslane, halfling rogue 7​
Alastair Mandelberen Pastlethwaite, human sorcerer 7​
Chaevaris Noarunal, elf archer 7​
Harlan Starblade, half-elf paladin 7​

Game Session Date: 12 April 2023

- - -

The adventurers were traveling by horseback, returning to Ghourmand Vale. The eight-day trek was at about the halfway mark, with the group having already passed by the Gnarley Forest and making their way north of the Welkwood. They had all spent quite a bit of coin before departing Greyhawk City; Chaevaris had picked up a pair of gloves of Dexterity, an amulet of health, and a Heward's handy haversack, providing enough extradimensional storage that Alistair begged the elven archer to allow him to swing by his family home and collect his entire "Elfy Danger Silverleaf" series of children's books to store in her new haversack until they got back to Ghourmand Vale. (Knowing she'd probably regret it, she begrudgingly agreed, feeling the 19-year-old sorcerer was in any case just a child, after all.) Alistair had used all of his collected cash from his adventuring career to upgrade his ring of protection, increasing the level of deflection it provided him against incoming attacks. (He actually found himself just short of the total cost, so he sold his masterwork rapier to make up the difference, feeling his magical rapier was weapon enough for him.) Harlan purchased a cloak of Charisma which enhanced the amount of healing energy he could provide each day with his laying on of hands. And Ageratum made two purchases: the first bothered Alistair more than he cared to admit, for she added a human bane dweomer to her magic short sword (he vowed not to get on her bad side any time soon); the second was a cloak of arachnida, which granted her the ability to spider climb, gave her limited resistance against spider venom, and not only allowed her to pass through spider webs but also cast a web spell once per day. All in all, the four were pleased with their purchases and were also looking forward to getting back to Ghourmand Vale and seeing what had transpired there in their absence. (Besides that, Alistair would be glad to meet up with the bard Holyrood Carp, a potential source of additional cash if the sorcerer could come up with any new songs in the meantime.)

But as they rode across the plains, they saw a trio of mounted riders heading their way - quite deliberately, for they altered course slightly to intercept the four heroes. "Elves," announced Harlan, squinting at the newcomers from his customary position in the front of the heroes' formation. Chaevaris gave a brief curse in her native tongue, forgetting each of the others in her group also spoke Elven.

"Problem?" Ageratum asked from the back of her pony, Munson. She dropped her hand to the short sword belted at her hip, wondering if these elves meant them ill will.

"Possibly," replied Chaevaris. "It's my parents, and my older sister." Sure enough, as the trio approached, the family resemblance was quite evident, although Chaevaris's older sister had quite a few more feminine curves than her tomboy sibling. "Hopefully this isn't about the arranged marriage they cooked up with Captain Oakcrown, because that is not going to happen."

Introductions were made as the Noarunal family got within range; Chaevaris's father was Waesven, her mother was Venvyre, and her quite lovely sister was Ennala. They smiled and nodded politely as Chaevaris introduced her three adventuring partners, although they no doubt were a bit puzzled about what their daughter could possibly have in common with these strange people. But Waesven Noarunal got straight to the point. "We have just had a rather interesting proposal, which we were forced to turn down. But it is one that might be of interest to you and your...compatriots."

"Oh?" Chaevaris asked, clearly wondering where this was going.

"There are a pair of married druids living just south of here. They craft bespoke armor, woven from leaves, vines, and grasses and then magically treated to become as hard a metal. They have been there for many decades, but recently a chimera has moved into the area and has been causing quite a disturbance, killing off much of the game and digging countless holes in the forest floor, for some reason. They wished us to hunt it down for them."

"And you turned them down?" asked Chaevaris.

Waesven tilted his head in puzzlement, as if unsure why his youngest daughter wouldn't have instantly realized why this wouldn't be a hunt in which they'd have been interested. "You know our ways," he declared. "We use every piece of the creatures we slay. We have no desire for chimera meat, nor can we use the mismatched hide of such a creature. However, knowing your views on our ways, and our traditions" - and here Chaevaris noted a potential dig about her rejecting the arranged marriage her parents had set up for her - "we thought it worth mentioning to you and your friends, once we recognized you riding by."

"I say!" piped up Alistair. "That's quite a coincidence, running into you all the way out here from Greyhawk City!"

Now it was Chaevaris's mother's turn to look puzzled. "Why ever would you think so?" asked Venvyre. "This is the area in which we live. We are not from Greyhawk City." That only made Alistair look puzzled, as they had first met up with the elven archer in Greyhawk City and he'd thus assumed she was a local. "Ah, uh," he stuttered, before finding a reasonable topic over which to turn the conversation. "Would you happen to know what color dragon the chimera's body contained?"

"You would have to ask the druids; they shared no such information with us."

"We will do just that," said Harlan, looking back towards his friends, his demeanor stating quite perfectly clearly that he had no intentions of allowing an evil chimera to run rampant through the forest if he was there to put a stop to its rampages. "Thank you for the information, and it was nice to meet Chaevaris's family." Then, kicking Law into action, he turned his white horse and headed south. The other three heroes followed on their own mounts, and the Noarunal family went their own way, bows over their shoulders until they caught sight of game they were willing to slay for food.

It wasn't difficult finding the home of the druids they sought, for a large structure rose up from the ground in a forest clearing, the walls clearly having been grown together rather than assembled from chopped-down trees. Chaevaris considered the dwelling to look rather like wall of thorn spells had been used in its construction, although the leafy walls seemed to have more vines than thorns among them, and the wooden front door was traditional in build. The single word "Haven" was carved in the top of the door, apparently the name the druids chose for their home and place of business. But standing just outside their tall home - for the walls rose up to a full 25 feet or so - were an elven couple wearing the traditional druidic robes over what looked to be a suit of well-fitted leaves and vines. They were tending to a bunch of local plants just outside their home, alongside an oak tree that towered some 60 feet in height.

The pair looked up at the approach of the four strangers. "May we help you?" asked the male.

"It is possible we might be able to help you," Harlan replied. "We have come to hear details of this chimera menacing the area." At that, both druids smiled warmly. "It showed up fairly recently, and it has been quite the menace, slaying wildlife not just for food but also, seemingly, just for the fun of it. And it's been digging holes in the area for some reason."

"That's weird," Ageratum agreed. "Chimeras don't normally dig holes, do they?"

"Not that I'm aware of," admitted Chaevaris.

"We would gladly provide each of you a suit of bespoke armor if you were able to slay this foul beast," the male druid declared.

Alistair frowned in irritation. "You mean those...leaf things you're wearing?"

"It provides the comforts and flexibility of clothing, while likewise being magically treated to be as hard as iron." Seeing the human sorcerer didn't seem to be impressed, he added, "The flexibility ensures it will not hamper your ability to cast spells. Imagine: it would be like being able to wear a suit of full plate mail, like your paladin friend here, and still cast your spells as freely as you do now!"

While looking like I'm wearing a bush, Alistair thought to himself with distaste. As far as he was concerned, wearing bespoke armor was a mere step up from wearing a barrel; surely only the poor would stoop to wearing leaves and grasses as clothing! He changed the subject slightly, asking, "If someone were to purchase a suit of this armor, would they pay you in coins and gems?"

"Often, yes," agreed the female druid. "We occasionally take payment in barter, as well."

"Ah, well then!" exclaimed Alistair. "When we slay this chimera for you, I will take my payment in coins and gems, then, if you please!" Harlan voiced his own preference to be paid in the same manner, not wanting to replace his trusted full plate armor with the shining sun holy symbol of Pelor engraved upon it, for a suit of grasses, leaves, and vines, which would make him look like a worshiper of Ehlonna or Obad-hai. The two women, however, seemed to like the concept, Ageratum because of the extra protection it would provide her while still allowing her to move silently, and Chaevaris because it would help her blend into a forest environment, hiding her from view of those she targeted with her bow.

That settled, Alistair had two final questions for the druidic couple: what color the dragon part of the chimera might be, and where it was last seen. To the first, its mismatched body was partially composed of a white dragon's head, wings, and tail; to the second, it had last been sighted some three miles or so to the east. Harlan thanked the pair and promised to see what they could do about slaying the chimera. "Shall we bring you back its heads?"

"No need for proof," scoffed the male druid. "I will gladly take the word of a paladin that the deed was done. We will see you when you return here for your payments, and for us to take the measurements of the two of you willing to be fitted for bespoke armor." He went on to explain that unlike normal magical armor, bespoke armor had to be fitted to size for the wearer; it did not magically alter its dimensions to each new wearer. Much like regular armor, bespoke armor had to be tailor-made to each user. As if to reinforce this point, as the four heroes remounted their horses, a lone elven woman approached the dwelling, for a fitting of her own. She smiled at the heroes as they passed, then went to talk to the druids.

Alistair gathered Chaevaris and Harlan together, and they each held out their quiver of arrows so the sorcerer could cast a flame arrow spell upon them. Then, heading east, the heroes soon found themselves in a large clearing between clumps of trees, and it was there that the chimera they were hunting found them. It dropped from the skies and landed at one end of the clearing, just as Harlan was entering from the other side, with the other three mounted heroes just behind him. Chaevaris immediately brought up her bow, arrow already placed for firing, and got a bead on her prey. She took a few moments to focus her aim, so she could place her arrow just where she wanted it to go.

But before she could fire, Ageratum rode her pony Munson off to the side of Harlan and fired off a web spell, using the power of her new magic cloak for the first time. A mass of sticky webs went flying from her outstretched hand, to completely encompass the chimera, with strands reaching out to anchor themselves between the ground and the overhanging limbs of the trees alongside the chimera. It roared its displeasure with three different throats, but the jaws of each head's mouth were webbed up so the vocalizations were not as loud as they might have normally been. It struggled to free itself, to no avail - the most it could manage was to move a few feet closer to the group it had planned to attack, entangled as it was in the thick webbing.

Alistair cast a magic missile spell at the beast, sending four blasts from his fingertips to strike unerringly at the creature's chest. Harlan cast a bless spell over the group, while Ambrose flew from Alistair's shoulder over to perch in a tree some distance away, well out of the range of a breath weapon should the dragon's head of the chimera somehow get free. Chaevaris released her arrow and it caught fire during its brief journey into the chimera's breast, while Ageratum sent Munson on a wide arc through the trees, angling to sneak up behind the wounded beast.

The chimera continued trying to wriggle free from the webs, but once again only managed to take a few hobbled steps closer to Harlan, still astride his white horse Law. While Alistair cast another magic missile spell at the three-headed creature, his familiar turned his head sideways, for off in the distance he heard something large crashing its way through the trees - whatever it was, it seemed the chimera was not the only monster about in this area! The grackle took wing once again, flying to his master's shoulder, to inform him of what he'd heard.

"Something big's headed this way!" Alistair called out to the others, pointing in the direction from which Ambrose had heard the noisy approach. "Here's hoping this chimera isn't just a baby, and its mother's on the way to come deal with us!" That was certainly an unpleasant thought!

Harlan wasn't planning on having to deal with two threats at once; leaping from Law's saddle, he charged the entangled chimera, bringing his flaming burst longsword coming in an overhead arc to slice deep down between two of the creature's heads, causing a spurt of blood to spray up from the wound. Chaevaris shot another arrow over the paladin's head to strike the lion's head right between the eyes, and just like that the chimera was down - at least unconscious and stabilized, thanks to the presence of the Blood Mirror Harlan kept upon his person at all times. But the archer sent another arrow striking deep into the creature's body, right between the area where the dragon-wings attached to the leonine body. Seeing the creature down, Ageratum altered Munson's course immediately, riding the pony up to the fallen chimera so she could leap down from the saddle and slit the thing's throats, letting the pools of blood accumulate upon the ground and ensure the beast's demise. The little halfling was sure the Blood Mirror wouldn't be able to stabilize that much of her handiwork!

By now, the heroes could hear the approach of the oncoming second monster on their own. Alistair cast an unseen servant spell and passed over two of his pouches of magically-shrunken boulders, now all the size of a pebble - or a sling stone. Ageratum had two such pouches herself, for each night, in camp, Alistair reapplied the shrink item spells to the pouch of "pebboulders" whose magic was about to run out. Harlan stood in a readied stance, shield held out before him and flaming blade ready to strike at whatever monster might approach within range. Chaevaris readied another arrow to her bow and sighted down the length of the shaft, seeking to find whatever it was that was crashing its way through the forest. Ageratum, her bloody work with the chimera finished, remounted Munson's saddle and backed away from the bleeding corpse before her, back towards the relative safety of Alistair and Zephyr's side. Alistair sent Ambrose to the air, to circle the clearing and try to get a good look at what might be approaching. He cast a shield spell upon himself while they waited.

And then, all at once, the group got a look at the approaching beast. It was armored, like a turtle, but with a sleeker build; its head came to a point, and it had a rather sharklike fin rising up from the back of its dorsal plates. "A bulette," Chaevaris announced, focusing her arrow to try to strike one of its eyes. Ageratum reached down and fetched one of the kobold shortspears she had strapped to the side of her saddle, readying it to throw once it came within range. Harlan, seeing how far away the bulette still was, jumped back up into his saddle to close the distance between them, but Alistair was able to target it with a magic missile spell just fine - all he needed was a good look at the beast for his four missiles to find their way unerringly to its body, where they exploded in a burst of energy.

Chaevaris released her flaming arrow as the bulette continued its charge through the forest, knocking over saplings in its way. Her arrow struck true, right through one of the creature's eyes, and it roared in pain as it seemed to cry tears of blood from that eye. But just that quickly, the elven archer had another arrow in place and was focusing her aim to best advantage.

Alistair cast a scorching ray spell, and by this time in his adventuring career he'd advanced enough to send two separate blasts of flame roaring at the oncoming beast. Both blasts struck true, burning the bulette's right side. It staggered and seemed ready to fall, and Chaevaris's second flaming arrow took it completely out of the fight, the landshark collapsing in a heap where it had stood. Smiling, Ageratum rode Munson over to this second corpse and slew it where it lay, bleeding but stable - until the halfling's blade made it stable no more.

"Alistair, you feel like shrinking the two corpses, so we can show them to the druids?" Chaevaris asked. "I know they said they'd just take Harlan's word for it, but I wouldn't mind having proof of our deeds." Alistair dismounted from Zephyr and hurried to comply, using the variant of the shrink item spell that not only shrunk the corpses to one-sixteenth their original size, but also gave them the consistency of a piece of cloth. Alistair rolled up the two silken corpses and slid them into a scroll tube for easy storage.

Returning to Haven, Chaevaris's keen elven hearing picked up somebody saying, "That's too tight!" in a deep, masculine - almost guttural - voice. Recalling the young female elf who had gone into the building with the druids and realizing the voice could not possibly have come from her, the archer signaled to her friends for silence as they dismounted from their horses and crept quietly towards the door. Harlan cast forth with his paladin senses, and sure enough, there was the presence of evil on the other side of the wooden door. He indicated as much to his friends, and Chaevaris moved off to the side of the building to climb her way up the 60-foot oak tree, high enough for her to peer over the 25-foot hedge wall and see who it was the druids were measuring for a suit of bespoke armor. Alistair sent Ambrose flying above Haven to do the same, reporting back to his master that the two elves were measuring a blue-skinned ogre with ivory horns rising up from his brow. "An ogre mage!" whispered Harlan, although the term meant nothing to either Ageratum or Alistair.

Still, certain that the ogre mage had somehow charmed the druids into serving him, Harlan pointed to the door and Ageratum silently checked it out for traps. Seeing none, she motioned to the paladin, he nodded in return, and she pulled the door open wide and stepped aside. Harlan went through the open doorway, to be faced with the back of an ogre mage wearing nothing but a breechcloth, his chain armor and greatsword laying upon the floor beside him. Alistair fired off a magic missile spell at the ogre mage's broad back, but while it struck the horned giant his innate resistance to spells allowed the spell to fizzle out upon impact. But that was all right, for by then the blade of Harlan's flaming burst longsword came stabbing into his lower back, while from above a flaming arrow came shooting down from the depths of the oak tree. The ogre mage collapsed where he stood, while the druids scattered to either side of him.

The giant wasn't out for long, though, for as Harlan watched his wounds healed over, the ogre mage's regenerative powers kicking in immediately. But as the paladin was standing over the ogre mage, it was simplicity itself to bring another couple of sword-strikes crashing down upon the nearly-naked foe, driving him deep into unconsciousness from which it would take a few moments to regenerate. And those were moments Ageratum - and the gleaming blade of her short sword - were determined the ogre mage would not have.

The battle done - the third one this morning without any blood spilled on the part of any of the heroes - Alistair unrolled his shrunken corpses of the chimera and bulette and showed them to the druids, who confirmed the "elf girl" who had shown up as the heroes were departing was in fact an ogre mage, magically transformed into a less frightful form so he could get the jump on the druids. They thanked the heroes profusely, offering them the ogre mage's gear - the armor and greatsword, plus a leather sack containing a pair of onyxes - as well as the payment to which they'd already agreed. Chaevaris stuffed the items into her new haversack, figuring they might be able to sell them once they got back to Ghourmand Vale, while the druid woman went in the back to fetch the payment for Harlan and Alistair - gemstones valued at 500 pieces of gold each, the sorcerer noted with approval. Then he and Harlan stepped outside with the horses while Ageratum and Chaevaris removed their current armor so they could be measured for bespoke armor.

Nearly an hour later, the two women stepped back outside, back in their original garb. "What happened?" Alistair asked them. "I thought you had decided to wear leaves and vines and such."

"It'll take weeks to craft," Ageratum answered him. "Once they're ready, the druids will send them to us in Ghourmand Vale."

"And you believed them?" the young sorcerer scoffed. "Elfy, really? You're very likely getting ripped off!"

"These are elves," Chaevaris informed him, as if this made all the difference in the world. "I trust them to keep their word."

"And if they don't," replied Ageratum, "we know where they live." And she patted the hilt of the sword with which she'd cut five throats that very morning. Giving Alistair a wide grin, she climbed back into the saddle on Munson's back. "Coming?" she asked sweetly.

"Indeed," replied Alistair, once again realizing what a bad idea it was to get on the little halfling's bad side.

- - -

This was an odd little adventure, in that none of the PCs took so much as a single point of damage. Of course, when designing it, Dan had had no idea his wife was going to purchase a cloak of arachnida for her halfling PC, nor that the chimera would roll so poorly when trying to break free of the web spell she used upon first seeing it. But that's the way it goes, sometimes; the DM just sets up the encounter and then the dice do what dice do best: cause all kinds of chaos when least expected!



PC Roster:
Ageratum Purslane, halfling rogue 7​
Alastair Mandelberen Pastlethwaite, human sorcerer 7​
Chaevaris Noarunal, elf archer 7​
Harlan Starblade, half-elf paladin 7​

Game Session Date: 20 April 2023

- - -

The four heroes dismounted from their steeds and led them into the Stouts' barn, each horse - or pony, in the case of Ageratum's - being stripped of its saddle and saddlebags, rubbed down, and left in its customary stable with a sufficient supply of hay before the adventurers made their way into the farmhouse to say hello to the farmers who allowed them to stay there when they weren't out of town away on adventuring business as they'd just been for the past month or more. "It'll be nice to have a home-cooked meal!" enthused the little halfling, and she was quite right, for Mrs. Stout was an excellent cook, although Alistair occasionally missed some of the fancier repasts to which he'd been accustomed as a nobleman's son.

"Well, you're back!" greeted the farmer's wife as they entered the dwelling, tired from so many days on the road - it had been over a week ago they'd left Greyhawk City behind. "Have yourselves a seat and I'll whip you up some vittles!" Alistair didn't even wince any more at the thought of his cultured palate scarfing down "vittles" - he'd been an adventurer, among these common people, long enough now to appreciate a good, hearty meal despite the simplicity of the fare. "Oh, and this came for you while you were gone," said Mrs. Stout, dropping a folded and sealed sheet of parchment in Alistair's hands.

The sorcerer took a look at the seal, recognized it as the bard Holyrood Carp's emblem (a fish, naturally), and hurriedly opened it. "He's recently arrived back in town after weeks of travel himself," Alistair told the others after scanning the contents of the letter, "and invites us to the Dark and Light Club when we get back to hear him sing - and he has some interesting tidbits of information about the Blood Mirror!" At that, Harlan looked up with interest; the half-elf paladin was always curious to learn more about the magic ruby gemstone he carried, which helped stabilize the wounds of the dying around him.

"We should go catch up with him," suggested Chaevaris. "But tomorrow - I think we've all earned a good night's sleep in an actual bed with a straw mattress!" Thus it was the following evening, just as dusk gave way to full night, that the four adventurers entered the Dark and Light Club and found the bard waiting to go onto the stage for his night's performance. He greeted them and passed over a small pouch of platinum coins to Alistair. "Your payment for your last batch of songs," he explained, and the sorcerer took a moment to peek into the pouch to try to see how many coins might be in there before tying it to his belt.

"You have some information about the Blood Mirror?" pressed Harlan.

"Well, kind of," replied Carp. "I have information about where to find information about the Blood Mirror." He went on to explain that the gemstone had once been in the possession of a holy man named Balaur the Lightbringer, but it was rumored the Blood Mirror somehow turned him to evil. At that, the heroes looked worriedly at Harlan, the "holy man" now currently possessing the gemstone, but he had shown no tendencies to turn to evil himself - and besides, they were pretty sure "Balaur" was the name of the missing vampire whose empty coffin they'd dragged into the town square after slaying his wife Magda and their mummified servant. If this was the same person, they were confident his fall from grace had not been caused by the Blood Mirror, but rather by the fact his wife turned him into a vampire after having succumbed herself.

"There's a journal, written in the hand of the servant of this Balaur," Carp explained, and the heroes assumed that would be the one who had later been transformed into an undead mummy, "which details all he had learned about the Blood Mirror. And that journal recently came into the possession of a wizard in our own small boomtown here - although it was apparently just stolen from him."

"Who might this be?" demanded Chaevaris.

"That sad sack at the end of the bar, crying into his drink," replied the bard, pointing at a robed individual with a sour expression sitting by himself. Alistair recognized him immediately: it was Blorkane, an elderly wizard to whom the young sorcerer had often gone to have some particular bit of arcane esoterica explained to him when he found himself first walking the path of an adventuring sorcerer. Heading over to say hello, Alistair soon had Blorkane's story out of him: his place had been robbed while he'd been out, no doubt by the local thieves' guild, who were keeping extra busy with all of the visitors in town.

"Yeah, I thought this place was a bit more crowded than I remembered," Ageratum piped up. "What's going on?"

"There are delegations from both Celene and Veluna, come to determine once and for all which country owns Ghourmand Vale," Blorkane replied. "The thieves are out in full numbers, picking pockets and robbing the houses of even the most respected of scholarly wizards!"

"What all did they take?" asked Harlan, so far only aware of the mummy's journal having been stolen.

"Just about everything of arcane import!" complained Blorkane. "My books on aboleths, my potions of water breathing, my wand of dispel magic, my maps of the underground river systems in the area..."

"Aboleths?" Harlan interrupted. "Are you doing research on aboleths?"

"You're not still thinking about crossing them with pigs, are you?" demanded Alistair.

"No, no, nothing like that," Blorkane replied. "It's just that my sister, Porcelene, has likely run afoul of an aboleth, and I had been hoping to hire a group of adventurers to rescue her. But those thieves took the reward money I was going to use to pay them as well...."

"These thieves," Ageratum interjected. "They wouldn't be the Wild Guys, would they?"

"The very same," Blorkane answered, returning his attention to his mug of ale. "I've barely enough for the occasional drink now, and there's not much I can do about it, either, what with our illustrious head of security turning a blind eye to their depredations."

"The Wild Guys is the local thieves' guild around here," Ageratum explained. "They're headquartered in the Wild Coast Social Club, just a few blocks away from here, near the stream."

"I think we should pay these Wild Guys a visit," suggested Harlan.

"Hang on - I'm due on stage," said Holyrood. "At least wait to hear my first song - it's my first performance of 'Jasgund Singh' at this location." And he grabbed up his lute and made his way to the front stage, cheered on by the tables of people who had come to hear him perform, many of them several drinks into their night's allotment and already feeling no pain. The song went over well, although Alistair wondered if any of the people in the audience knew just who this Singh fellow truly was, before deciding they didn't really care; they just liked the fact the lyrics were taking down someone in some sort of authority. The sorcerer made a mental note of that, wondering if he should write any songs about the movers and shakers in Ghourmand Vale: Kasselban Picksmart, the mouthy dwarf in charge of the Slippery Shaft Mines came immediately to mind.

Harlan led the four heroes outside and allowed Ageratum to lead them to the Wild Coast Social Club, which turned out to be a single-story building made of sturdy stone, squeezed in between a couple of other shops. It had several latticed windows, with dirty amber glass that was translucent, not transparent - you could make out shapes and shadows inside, but that was about it. "So, how do we want to approach this?" the halfling asked the others.

"We're recruits?" suggested Alistair. Turning to the little halfling, he said, "You're the leader of our little group of would-be thieves, eager to prove our worth."

"Harlan hardly looks the part," Chaevaris explained patiently - and indeed, the paladin's gleaming full-plate armor, emblazoned as it was with the shining sun holy symbol of Pelor, made the half-elf a very unlikely-looking thief.

But Alistair had that figured out as well. Turning to Harlan, he suggested, "All you need to do is to keep quiet - you can't actually lie if you don't say anything. We'll just insinuate that the original wearer of the armor...doesn't need it anymore. Because we killed him. Because we're evil thieves and murderers."

"You don't really come across as a low-born thief, either," Chaevaris pointed out. "You look more like a foppish, spoiled-brat baby nobleman, who's more comfortable in a--"

"Why, whatcha mean, Elfy?" replied Alistair, cutting her off with a truly horrible attempt at talking like a stereotypical commoner - while visibly scratching himself, just for good measure. "I'm just a flea-bitten common man, same as any. I drinks me my beer and eats me down my vittles." Poised on his master's left shoulder, Ambrose took a step to the side as if wishing to distance himself from this performance.

Harlan put a hand on the sorcerer's other shoulder to get him to stop. "I will agree to the charade," he offered, "if you promise not to talk, either. We'll let Ageratum take the lead and do our talking for us."

"Fair enough," agreed Alistair, although he couldn't for the life of him figure out what had been so bad about his plan. "Before we go in, though, I want to cast a few spells." He placed a mage armor and shield enhancement upon himself, then cast a flame arrow spell upon both Chaevaris and Harlan's arrows. Finally, with the words, "Ogilvy, if you please!" he cast an unseen servant spell. "I don't dare have him carry any sacks of 'pebble-boulders,' but it might help having someone along that nobody else can see." And then he passed two sacks of "pebble-boulders" to Ageratum. For her part, the little halfling passed over her potion of misdirection to Harlan and had him drink it down, thinking it might be helpful if anyone tried checking up on the paladin's story using magical means.

Ageratum pushed open the door to the Wild Coast Social Club like she owned the place and the three men followed her inside. It was a fairly typical layout, with chairs pushed up around round tables and an open doorway to the kitchen visible at the back of the room; the only people there at the moment were a pair of men at a table in the back and another in the kitchen. One of the men at the table, a young fellow wearing wizard's robes, called out, "Hey, halfling! This isn't open the public - it's members only!"

Wracking her brain at top speed, Ageratum pulled up the name of the seedy man who had hired them to steal the "statues" of the petrified barbarians from a cargo ship some months back. "Boris sent us," she replied. "He said you might be looking to expand your ranks."

"You know Boris?" asked the wizard, clearly impressed, then frowned at Harlan's paladin accoutrements. Ageratum quickly went with Alistair's cover story, that they had rolled a paladin earlier and stole all of his stuff. "Figure having one of us look like a paladin might get us into some places that'd be otherwise harder to get into, and of the four of us, he fit in the armor the best," she explained.

"I like your moxie," Harold Hecuba replied, nodding to himself. "Okay, we can't let you into the rest of this establishment until you're officially voted in, an' that ain't gonna happen tonight because most everyone's out takin' advantage of all the visitors we got in town, but you're welcome to start making your trade pickin' pockets if you want to. Standard rates apply, though: we get 40% of everything you bring in."

"Thirty," Ageratum countered.

That got Harold laughing out loud. "I like your moxie -- but not that much! This ain't a negotiation, darlin', I'm just tellin' you how it's gonna be: 40% of everything you take within the confines of the Vale. You wanna go on up into the mountains and try your hand against the trolls and ogres, you go right on ahead and feel free to keep the full 100% of your take - I hear there's even more of 'em around than usual, for whatever reason - but you work in town, you pay your dues. Got it?"

"Got it," Ageratum replied, not wanting to cause any animosity against the wizard, although she did want to check out the rest of the place, for she could see a set of stairs leading down to a lower level over by the kitchen, and another door behind the wizard and his fighter pal. But it was the fighter, a dumb-looking thug who went by T-Two, who inadvertently caused a reason for the heroes to end up fighting their way deeper into the "social club," for he was staring at Chaevaris with a suspicious eye. "Hey!" he suddenly called out, causing Harold to look over at him questioningly. "Ain't you Chaevaris? The hero archer from that song?"

The archer took a moment to glare over at Alistair, his stupid song about her having blown their cover, all while simultaneously standing up from her chair, whipping a sleep arrow from her quiver of Ehlonna, drawing it to her bow, and firing it into Harold's chest in a few seconds' time. When that failed to knock him out, she followed up with a regular arrow that hit him in a spot a mere few inches from the first, and that had the wizard falling backwards from his chair to land in a heap on the floor, all before he'd had a chance to cast a single spell.

Quick as a wink, Ageratum followed suit, stabbing T-Two in the side with her human bane short sword without even getting up from her chair. He grunted in pain while trying to rise himself, his hand still fumbling at the hilt of his own weapon. Seeing the sudden battle, the thief in the kitchen, Tongo, ran out the door, turned the corner, and headed down the wide stairs to the lower level. There was a pair of double doors at the bottom of the stairs, which he slammed shut behind him.

Harlan, having already determined through the reading of their auras that both Harold and T-Two were of an evil nature, unsheathed his flaming burst longsword and brought it slicing down at the burly fighter, cutting deep into his flesh and causing him to spill off his chair onto the floor beside his wizardly partner. Knowing the Blood Mirror would likely ensure neither of the two would die of their wounds (and forgetting, in the heat of battle, Ageratum's penchant for frequent follow-up visits to those he rendered unconscious to ensure a more permanent disablement), Harlan went to follow Tongo down the stairs.

But Alistair, who had been seated on that side of the table, got there first. Passing over a sack of pebble-boulders to Ogilvy, he instructed his unseen servant to toss one at the doors at the bottom of the stairs. The pebble returned to its normal size upon impact, smashing open the doors so that by the time the sorcerer reached the bottom of the stairs, he had a good shot at Tongo when he fired off a magic missile spell. The missiles struck the fleeing rogue in the back, almost causing him to lose his footing and fall face-first onto the stone floor in a tangle of limbs; only a brief bit of floundering allowed him to keep his footing.

But then Chaevaris was standing beside the sorcerer, releasing an arrow that flew into the small of the thief's back and burst out of the front of his chest, leaving him to fall lifelessly to the stone floor. There was no doubt about it: the Blood Mirror would not be stabilizing this particular thief's wounds any time soon, nor would Ageratum's blade be needed to ensure his death. (Which was all for the best, as she was currently slitting the throats of Harold and T-Two, now that Harlan's back was turned.) Harlan joined the pair in time to see the evil fade from Tongo's aura, for dead bodies are inherently neither good nor evil.

The hallway in which the three heroes now found themselves went straight ahead for some distance before turning to the right; there was also a doorway about halfway down its length, also on the right. Alistair sent Ambrose flying down to the end of the hallway to check it out, and the grackle found it to be an area overlooking a combat arena some ten feet below. As there was nobody down there - nor in the "gladiator prep room" on the far side of the arena, blocked off by a lowered iron portcullis - Ambrose flew down to the arena floor and had a look. There was another lowered portcullis off to the right, through which the bird could see a rectangular room with several passageways leading off from it - and another human figure rising up from a set of stairs leading into the room. Ambrose flapped his wings and returned to his master to report back what he'd seen.

Chaevaris and Harlan had moved up to the closed door in the side of the wide corridor, but they preferred to wait for Ageratum to get there, as she was the one with the skills needed to determine if there were any traps waiting for intruders - a not unreasonable fear in a guild devoted to thievery. Once the halfling arrived and gave it a look-over (during which time Harlan cast a bless spell upon the group), she announced it to be safe and pulled the door open, revealing a short flight of stairs leading down into the rectangular chamber Ambrose had seen through the portcullis. Harlan and Chaevaris went down immediately, while Ageratum activated her cloak of arachnida and scampered up the wall, moving over to the ceiling once she hit the room below. She'd tucked the bottom of her cloak into her belt so it wouldn't dangle below her as she traversed the ceiling. Shrugging at the little halfling's antics, Alistair went down the stairs in the normal fashion, his familiar once again perched upon his left shoulder.

Roy, the rogue coming up from the guild's lowest level, saw the group of strangers advancing upon him with weapons drawn and spun about to flee back the way he'd come. Harlan was in fast pursuit, but then Roy entered a lower chamber where he had two companions there providing additional combat support. "Intruders!" he gasped as he burst into the room, and a fighter, Jonas, stepped up to block the doorway and prevent Harlan from entering - not without first dealing with him, in any case. He swung his longsword at the paladin, catching him with a nick in the side before he could get his shield up to deflect the blow. Behind him, off to the side, the cleric Father Gilligan started casting some sort of spell.

But Harlan was well up to the challenge Jonas provided. He brought his flaming burst longsword crashing against the fighter's own blade, but it took several thrusts before he was able to get past the fighter's defenses and penetrate his armor. But then Ageratum struck down from just above the doorway, standing inverted above Harlan's head, and Jonas couldn't block the halfling's blade in time, not having expected an attack coming from that direction. Ageratum's human bane short sword split open the top of Jonas's head, causing blood to flow into his eyes - at which time he was taken out when Alistair tossed a "pebble-boulder" over Harlan's shoulder to crash into the temple of the guild warrior, spilling him backwards onto the floor, unconscious, only now with a full-sized boulder perched upon his chest. The doorway was now clear of any resistance and Harlan stepped into the room, but not before Roy decided that fleeing was what he did best, and proceeded to do just that, running down a short corridor off to his right. Ageratum followed along the ceiling, cutting off his escape with a web spell that blocked off the far end of the passageway; Roy barely had enough time to prevent himself from running head-first into the sticky strands.

Still at the top of the stairs leading down into the room with the others, Alistair cast a touch of idiocy spell upon his familiar and instructed Ambrose to go employ it against the spellcaster below. With a flap of his wings the grackle was off, flying into the room and heading straight for the robed cleric, who had stepped even further back when Harlan had entered the room. There was a moment of hesitancy when the grackle tried getting closer to the cleric - almost as if some unknown force were trying to keep him away - but then Ambrose shrugged off the effects and flew right over the cleric's head, casually tapping him on his bald pate with a clawed foot in passing. The touch of idiocy spell, thus triggered, reduced Father Gilligan's mental faculties to such an extent he found himself not able to cast any but his most basic of spells. Ambrose, his job completed, flew to the far side of the room - well out of immediate combat range - and alit upon the rung of a wooden ladder leading up to a hidden door in the ceiling.

Chaevaris had activated her boots of speed to enter the room in time to prevent Roy from escaping and seeking additional help from any guild members still in the area. She shot the rogue in the back with a sleep arrow as he stood helplessly before the webbing that blocked off his escape, but that failed to bring him down.

Harlan spun to face Father Gilligan and found himself up against the same force trying to prevent him from attacking the cleric, but he forced himself to ignore the sanctuary spell and attacked him with his flaming blade while the cleric was casting some other unknown spell. The paladin, after determining Father Gilligan was as evil as they came, channeled Pelor's holy energy through his blade and brought it down upon the cleric in a smiting attack which caused him to stagger backwards, barely keeping on his feet. Alistair, finally entering the lower room, tried finishing him off with a magic missile spell but found himself unable to attack for some reason, the sorcerer having a more difficult time in ignoring the cleric's previously-cast sanctuary spell. With nothing better to do, he ordered Ogilvy to block the passageway in which Roy was trapped; although the unseen servant couldn't out-and-out grapple with the thief if he tried rushing past, he at least was a perfectly invisible form the size and shape of a man that might hamper Roy's efforts to escape.

Chaevaris turned in place and sent an arrow into Father Gilligan, hesitating for the merely briefest of seconds as she overcame the effects of the sanctuary spell. Her arrow pierced all the way through the evil cleric's neck, and then he was dead, far beyond the Blood Mirror's ability to do anything about it. At the same time, Ageratum went creeping down the corridor ceiling and unleashed her sword's human bane blade upon Roy, cutting him down to pieces. Then, once he was dead, she removed the webbing from her spell so the heroes could exit through the open doorway she'd blocked Roy from using.

The group looted a potion of cure moderate wounds from Father Gilligan's belt and Harlan helped himself to the cleric's masterwork heavy mace (after determining the weapon itself was not of an evil nature); Ageratum found a small pouch filled with black pearls upon the cleric's belt and freed it. Jonas had another healing potion and one of undetectable alignment, which the heroes pocketed as well, before moving on and searching the guild for Blorkane's stolen goods. "They'll likely have it stashed where they keep the rest of their treasure," Ageratum explained, "which works to our advantage because I intend to loot this place down to the last copper coin!"

Fanning out, Alistair explored a room holding four upright human dummies, puzzling at their possible use until he realized they were a means by which the thieves could practice their pickpocketing skills; Ambrose, in the meantime, flew on ahead and found an empty barracks. Ageratum followed the grackle, opening a door at the far end of the bunkroom which turned out to be an empty office; a quick perusal found nothing of note. Chaevaris, however, had found an underground dock with nearly a dozen two-person rowboats, with water-filled tunnel exits to a stream to the north and a smaller passageway leading back to the south. She chose this smaller passageway, finding the water in this area to be ankle deep before leading to a side passageway back on solid ground with a pair of impressive-looking doors, one of them looking rather like a vault door. "Guys!" she called out to her friends. "I think I found the treasury!"

While the others converged upon the underground dock (and Ageratum followed the archer's path but on the ceiling, avoiding the muddy waters below), Chaevaris decided to give the non-vault door a try - it was, she figured, the least likely to be trapped. The small room beyond contained only a chamber pot, a small washtable, and a full-length mirror - nothing of real interest. But by then Ageratum had caught up to her, and the halfling applied her attention to opening the vault door.

The door had a lever which apparently served as a doorknob, and the greedy halfling, eager to get to the riches no doubt held within, gave only a cursory glance at the handle before trying to open it - thereby directly touching the contact poison that had been smeared on the handle's surface. Fortunately, while she cursed herself for not having noticed such a simple trap, the guild members had apparently not been very attentive in keeping the poison refreshed at a regular rate, for most of it had dried up and become ineffective; Ageratum felt none the worse for wear for having blundered into such an obvious trap. Wiping her hands upon her pants, she used the end of her cloak as a barrier to prevent skin contact with what was left of the poison, and determined the entire lever system itself was a ruse; the lever didn't actually move at all! Looking desperately for a hidden lever or something, she was dismayed when she came up empty on that front as well. Ageratum gritted her teeth, trying not to scream in frustration: to be this close the treasure and not be able to get inside!

"Wait a minute," murmured Chaevaris, recalling the mirror inside the other room. "I'll bet the mirror is the real way in!" She called for Alistair to come cast a detect magic spell on the mirror, and while the fussy sorcerer insisted on wasting time with a prestidigitation spell to clear his shoes and stockings of mud after wading through the ankle-deep waters, the elven archer examined the mirror herself - while being careful not to look directly at her own reflection, in case this was some sort of a magical trap. There were markings on the top and bottom of the mirror's frame, which - if you squinted just the right way - looked like the word "KNOCK" appeared once in each location. On a hunch, Chaevaris said "Knock knock" aloud and found herself pulled into the mirror's interior, only to be cast out again through another mirror, this one inside the vault they'd been trying to enter. Grinning at her success, and then even more so when she saw all of the sacks of coins and other valuables stored on shelves along one wall, she also spotted the vault door and noted it had a much simpler handle from this side. Wary of possible contact poison, the archer opened the door with her sleeve, revealing Ageratum and a grumbling Alistair. "I say, Elfy," he complained, "are you going to tell me I waded through that muck for nothing?"

"I found the treasure," Chaevaris replied, lessening the severity of Alistair's mood. She pointed to a large sack of Blorkane's pilfered goods, including the journal written by the mummy servitor to the vampire pair before he had been slain and reanimated in the undead form in which the heroes had met - and killed - him. But there was also a carrying case of some sort and 17 assorted bags of coins and such, all of which (after Ageratum had examined them for potential traps) Chaevaris stashed in her extradimensional haversack for easy transport.

"It's a shame, but we'll have to leave the magic mirrors behind," the archer said. "They won't fit into the haversack."

"Then by all means, let's smash this mirror and then close up the vault door," suggested Ageratum. "We'll leave the mirror in the other room intact, but with the one in the vault smashed they won't know why it isn't working - that ought to eat up some time before the theft is confirmed." She did the honors herself, smashing the glass in the vault with the hilt of her short sword. "Okay, let's go."

"One moment," pressed Chaevaris, reaching into her own coin purse. "I want to add a little salt to their wounds." And then, fishing out a single copper piece from her pouch, she flipped it to the floor in the place where there had once stood 17 bags of coins valuing a total of 3,500 pieces of gold. Ageratum frowned, recalling her desire to rob the guild of every last copper coin, but then she saw how much better this would be. "Okay," she agreed, "let's go!"

The trio returned to Harlan's side and the paladin reported there had been no further encounters during their excursion to the vault. "We can exit using a couple of these boats," he suggested. "That way, we won't run the risk of bumping into the rest of the guild, should they return early from their pickpocketing exploits." That said, he helped Ageratum into a boat while Alistair and Chaevaris took their places in a second small craft. Then they paddled their way down the tunnel to the north, which Harlan figured would take them to the stream that meandered along that side of Ghourmand Vale.

Right as they were entering the tunnel, another pair came running down the dock to stop them: a rogue in leather armor and another cleric. They got to the edge of the dock and the cleric swore, enraged that the heroes had gotten away - and ignoring the numerous other rowboats with which he might have tried to follow them. "Oh well," sighed Father Bouchard Coletrane, the vampire from Mitrek who had been responsible for the creation of the vampire spawn Carly who had given the heroes so much trouble before they were finally able to see to her permanent demise. "I suppose you're not much use to me now, are you?" And with that, he pulled the dominated thief's head to the side and plunged his fangs into the man's neck, draining him dry as the heroes rowed to safety.

At the very least, he knew who now had the journal with the notes about the Blood Mirror. And while he wasn't able to cross the running water to get to them at the moment, it would only be a matter of time....

- - -

Besides the 3,500 gp and Blorkane's items, the carrying case contained a stone with a permanent light spell cast upon it, a wand of knock, a wand of arcane lock, a scroll of rope trick, a potion of gaseous form, a potion of spider climb, and a small bag of holding: the perfect kit for a thief up to no good. We've decided to keep it all on hand, as there's no telling when any of that might come in handy.

We've also decided it's time for our PCs to move out of the Stout farmhouse. As nice as they are (and despite Mrs. Stout's wonderfully filling meals), it's not right to continue to put them in danger, especially now that there's at least one vampire gunning for us. Instead, we plan to move into the Stone Keep, since the extra rooms are no longer being used by Alistair's sister-in-law, her twins, and his former nanny.

We've pretty much decided we need to go rescue Blorkane's sister from the aboleth next. Then we can focus our attention on the vampire(s) after the journal once she's been rescued and returned.



PC Roster:
Ageratum Purslane, halfling rogue 7​
Alastair Mandelberen Pastlethwaite, human sorcerer 7​
Chaevaris Noarunal, elf archer 7​
Harlan Starblade, half-elf paladin 7​

Game Session Date: 10 May 2023

- - -

After returning Blorkane Trotter's stolen loot to the wizard - loot that had been taken by the local thieves guild, and which the Trained Professional Adventurers had stolen right back from them from their own Guild Headquarters - Harlan pressed him for details about his missing sister. After all, rescuing missing sisters was right up there on his list of heroic paladin exploits, the very type of thing to which a worthy paladin of Pelor should be applying himself and his talents.

"She's been missing for some time now," Blorkane informed the group. "Taken by an aboleth. But I've got a book of maps here" - and here he took one of the tomes which the heroes had recovered for him and flipped through its pages until he found the one he wanted - "showing a series of underground rivers and streams connecting to larger subterranean bodies of water." He laid a greasy finger upon a particular spot. "This, I believe, is the summer lair of the aboleth who has kidnapped my sister, Porceline." Harlan looked at the location with interest. Chaevaris and Alistair glanced over at it in curiosity, expecting this was where they'd next be headed. Ageratum furrowed her brow and wonder to herself what kind of parents would name their daughter "Porceline Trotter."

"If you're willing to go rescue her, I'll donate these items for your use," Blorkane said, placing a number of recovered items onto the table into a small pile. There was a potion of water breathing, a wand of dispel magic that he said had 13 more uses available, an arcane scroll containing the spell protection from evil, a tome of aboleth lore entitled Lords of the Dark Water, and the aforementioned subterranean waterway map book.

"If I'm reading this correctly," Harlan observed, "this summer lair is about half a day's travel from here by horseback."

"We'll want to bring someone along to watch over our horses," pointed out Chaevaris. "Especially if we're going to be traveling underwater once we get to the lair."

"Well, one of us will be able to breathe underwater," Ageratum added. "There's only one potion - we'll need to pick up three more if we're all going to be underwater for any length of time."

"We could ask Holyrood Carp to accompany us," Alistair suggested, answering the first of their concerns. "I'm sure he wouldn't mind staying with our mounts."

"And we can pick up three more potions in the morning, before we head out," said Chaevaris.

"In the morning?" spluttered Blorkane. "But my sister--"

"Your sister has been missing for some time now," Harlan interrupted the heavyset mage. "It's the middle of the night, we don't have all of the potions we'll need, we'll need to talk to Carp before we head out to see if he'll accompany us, and - most importantly - we will make a poor showing of any attempted rescue if we don't get some sleep beforehand. Besides," he reasoned, "if the aboleth hasn't already turned her into one of its skum servitors by now, it's unlikely he'll do so in the time it will take us to get to his lair. And if he already has, then there's no further harm in waiting until morning to head out. We'll leave as soon as possible in the morning; you have my word on that."

Blorkane sighed and nodded his understanding. "Very well," he agreed. "It's just that my sister and I are very close. I'm sure you understand." Harlan acknowledged that he understood completely and the band of four heroes took their leave of the worrying wizard.

The next morning, after a sufficient amount of sleep (for those who slept; Chaevaris underwent her nightly elven reverie instead), the heroes were a bustle of activity. Ageratum figured out the cost of three potions of water breathing, divided the figure by four, and got that much money from each of the heroes, then went to go see to their purchase. Alistair went to hit up Holyrood Carp, who agreed wholeheartedly to accompany the Trained Professional Adventurers on their latest mission - in fact, he was ecstatic about the possibility of being able to craft a song about their exploits from a first-hand vantage. Harlan continued poring over the maps while Chaevaris examined the tome of aboleth lore. But once everything was in readiness, five figures rode their mounts southeast out of Ghourmand Vale, heading to the location where Blorkane's maps said the aboleth kept his summer lair.

The lair was easy enough to find, once their half-day trek was at its end - the entrance was an open cave, right where they had expected to find it, at the start of hill country at the edge of a wooded forest. They found a forest glade not too far away, where the horses could drink their fill at a brook and Carp had a fallen log to serve as a seat while he watched over the mounts. "Best of luck to you, gentlemen, ladies!" the bard exclaimed. "I shall look forward to hearing the tale of your latest exploits!"

Harlan led the group back towards the cave, where they decided to load themselves up with their pre-combat spells before even entering. Harlan cast a protection from evil spell upon himself and another upon Alistair. (The young sorcerer's chest filled with pride at the thought it was because the paladin deemed him the most valuable member of the team; in reality, the half-elf had recognized that of the four of them, Alistair was the one with the weakest mental strength and thus the most likely to be enslaved by an aboleth's mighty willpower.) Alistair cast both a mage armor and a shield spell upon himself, then cast a flame arrow spell upon the group's assembled ammunition. He also summoned his unseen servant Ogilvy, passing on a small sack of shrunken boulders to his loyal manservant and two others to Ageratum. The halfling pulled out the stone with the permanent light spell cast upon it from her box of thievery, and Chaevaris placed it inside her bullseye lantern, then handed it to Ogilvy - once again, the unseen servant would be providing the light by which they would see. Upon Harlan's suggestion, they opted not to drink down their potions of water breathing until right before they encountered the underground stream they'd be entering; the potions would only last for so long and it would be foolish to use up any time before it was actually needed. Then, signaling the others to follow, the half-elf paladin entered the blackness of the cave.

They didn't get too far into the initial tunnel before they could make out the sounds of voices and the unmistakable clamor of weapons striking armor and shields. The voices sounded dwarven, although none of the heroes spoke that tongue - still, it was a distinctive enough language that they were certain that was what was being spoken even without understanding any of the individual words. The tunnel opened up into a wider cavern, and as the light from Chaevaris's lantern spilled into the chamber, the group could see before them five gray-skinned dwarves - duergar - sparring among themselves and drinking heavily at the same time. It was easy to see this was no life-and-death struggle but a playful practice session, with duergar hammers striking duergar chainmail, but usually with not enough force for either combatant to spill their tankard of ale.

Still, Harlan's paladin senses informed him the auras of the five playful figures before him all reeked of evil, and he was well aware of the duergar reputation as slavers; aboleths were noted slavers as well, so it was entirely possible these duergar were in league with the aboleth said to lair here. Without any hesitation, Harlan charged into the chamber before the duergar had even, in their drunken state, noted the presence of the top-siders' sudden illumination in their makeshift arena. The paladin's blade, breaking into flames as he swung it into the closest duergar's side, cut down his foe and had him bleeding out on the cavern floor with one strike - although the presence of the Blood Mirror meant the gray dwarf's wounds would quickly heal over and he would be stabilized before bleeding out completely.

Ageratum rushed into the chamber next, stabbing a startled duergar in the lower back before he even had a chance to register her presence. Then he too was on the stone cavern floor, unconscious but stabilized due to the presence of the Blood Mirror. Still, the crafty smile on the little halfling's lips told she knew the Blood Mirror was only granting them a few seconds of extra life - she'd be sure their throats were slit once all of them had been dealt with.

Alistair stepped forward and cast a magic missile spell at a duergar farther back, sending all four missiles into the drunken gray dwarf's face. The surprise attack caused him to spray out his mouthful of ale - for which the sorcerer was particularly glad he had stayed far enough out of weapons range that he was also out of ale-spew range - before falling to the ground as well, all but dead. Ogilvy stepped up beside his master, shining his lantern light into the cavern and catching the two remaining gray dwarves in its beam.

That was enough for Chaevaris to step up beside Alistair and send an arrow straight through the throat of one of the duergar. He fell over, dead in a heartbeat, the damage too much for even the Blood Mirror to stabilize.

Just that quickly, the duergar's amiable combat-and-ale session had ended in a bloody scrum, and the realization shook all of the drunken haze out of the last gray dwarf's body. Faced with four potential enemies (for he could see the lantern was just floating there in midair by itself, not being held by a fifth foe), he made an instant decision and made a bee-line for the stream of water flowing along the far side of the combat arena cavern. He waded into the water, trying to escape...only to find he'd been trailed by Harlan Starblade, who slipped his flaming burst longsword between his ribs until the tip of the blade stuck out from his stomach. Choking blood, the duergar's life flashed before his eyes as he collapsed into blessed unconsciousness. He didn't feel it as Harlan dragged him out of the water, not wanting a floating corpse to warn anyone downstream that there was danger about. He also was spared the sight of Ageratum Purslane doggedly moving from duergar to duergar, slitting throats as needed to ensure the Blood Mirror wouldn't save the lives of those not worth saving. And, perhaps most mercifully of all, he was unaware when the halfling's blade sliced his own throat into two, allowing his life's blood to spill down his neck as he died a final death.

Chaevaris removed what jewelry looked to be valuable from the duergar corpses: a few nice rings, mostly, none of which Alistair's detect magic spell registered as magic. They also each had a few small jars of an odd ointment on their person, which the sorcerer deemed intriguing enough to examine; the substance smelled rather strongly of fish, although the paste had a violet color quite out of place for anything derived from a fish, as far as Alistair was aware. Ageratum noted the same smell coming from the mouths of the duergar whose throats she'd been cutting, so apparently whatever the paste was, it was meant to be taken orally. Still, none of the heroes wanted to experiment with an unknown substance in the middle of a rescue mission, so the vials all went inside Ageratum's bag of holding for later perusal.

With Ogilvy shining the bullseye lantern about the cavern, the group saw some movement over in the corner and discovered it to be a few growths of violet fungus. Harlan kept them at bay by dragging a duergar corpse over by them and blocking the way to the rest of the cavern with his body. The paladin reasoned the slow-moving fungus wouldn't be able to climb over the gray dwarf's body, and they'd likely be more interested in absorbing what nutrients they could from it while it decayed in any case. Regardless, they could expect the violet fungus would not be bothering them as they explored down the stream.

"I suppose it's time for our potions," suggested Alistair, opening his potion of water breathing and drinking it down. The others followed suit, and then Harlen led them wading into the stream. He could see it flowed into a cavern wall ahead, no doubt filling a narrow tunnel. As they approached, the slope of the floor increased and the flow of the water increased as well. Not wanting to be helpless passengers down a fast-flowing stream with no means of steering - especially since Chaevaris's keen elven ears picked up what she thought was the roar of a waterfall ahead - the group stood their ground for a moment and thought up alternatives. Ageratum finally came up with a solution to their dilemma, by activating her cloak of arachnida and climbing up to the ceiling of the tunnel, with one end of a a 50-foot length of rope tied around her narrow waist. The water pulled the rope out ahead of the inverted halfling, allowing purchase for the other three heroes as they traversed the stream ahead of her. With any luck, despite the water's tug it wouldn't dislodge the halfling from the ceiling and her three companions could prevent themselves from falling over any waterfalls by hanging onto the rope. As Ageratum advanced along the ceiling - and breathing was no longer a problem if the passageway became totally submerged - the other three could ensure they advanced no faster than she did.

Sixty feet further down the subterranean stream, they encountered the waterfall, which spilled into a larger cavern, easily three or four times as big as the duergar combat cavern had been. The beam of light from Ogilvy's held lantern showed the group there were three rock "islands" poking up from the body of water before them (for the entire cavern was flooded, with a pocket of air along the top 40 feet or so to the cavern's ceiling) and two other waterfalls spilling water into the cavern's pool of water. There were apparently some other passageways or a stream or streams exiting the pool from below the waterline, for the surface level of the pool was not rising in any noticeable way. And fortunately, the opening where the waterfall rushed into the pool below - a drop of some 15 feet to the waterline - was tall enough for Ageratum to breathe air while she stood on the tunnel ceiling; the potion allowed her to breathe the water just fine, but she found breathing water to just be weird.

Harlan had been in the lead along the rope, and thus he was the first to climb down the rope into the pool, which he found was less than five feet deep at the bottom of the cascading water. He detected for evil as he approached the pool, and sure enough, there were several distinct emanations approaching his way: as they surfaced, he could see it was six skum coming from all directions and a chuul off to his left. The paladin waded east and attacked the closest skum - a slime-covered humanoid whose once-human features were now closer to that of a fish - with his flaming longsword, glad to see that the magical flames springing from his blade were not hampered by all the water flowing around and spraying over him. The skum fell over with one strike from the paladin's blade, falling unconscious and becoming stable from the nearness of the Blood Mirror.

Ageratum, still perched upon the tunnel ceiling, pulled out one of Alistair's shrunken boulders and tossed it at another approaching skum, but her throw was way off - it was difficult throwing while upside-down! The pebble hit the surface of the water, enlarged to its full size, and sank to the bottom of the pool.

Alistair, second behind Harlan on the rope, cast a magic missile spell that took out the skum Ageratum had missed with her magic pebble. Ogilvy moved up beside his master, keeping the lantern's beam above water. Chaevaris was right behind Alistair, but she decided not to join him and Harlan in the pool below - up here at the top of the waterfall was just fine. Pulling out her immovable rod and activating it at belt height, she used it to lean against so she'd have a steady perch for shooting her bow despite the water cascading behind her legs, trying to push her into the cavern. She shot an arrow at the chuul, deeming it to be the greatest threat, but her arrow glanced off its hardened carapace.

Another skum swam up to Harlan, biting and clawing with the sharp nails on each of its four appendages. The half-elf managed to fend off most of the attacks, but one set of claws managed to get past his defenses. Two more swam up to attack Alistair, but none of their attacks managed to pierce the sorcerer's magical protection. Another skum swam up to join the melee but was similarly unsuccessful. Despite not wearing a scrap of armor, between Alistair's mage armor and shield spells, it was as if the sorcerer wore armor as heavy (and effective) as Harlan's.

The chuul moved up, snapping its lobsterlike pincers around Harlan's waist and pulling him in towards its chitinous body. Eight waving tentacles dangled from its mouthparts, ready to try to paralyze its half-elven prey. Chaevaris recalled reading in Lords of the Dark Water that chuuls often worked with aboleths, but just as she was aiming an arrow at the lobster-thing a flash of movement caught her eye and she spotted an aboleth rising up to the surface from between the two rightmost rock islands. Then movement back over by the chuul turned her attention that way, only to see Harlan had channeled holy energy through his blade and smote the chuul, cracking its carapace where the blade struck. Ageratum ran along the side wall and dropped behind the chuul, slamming her blades into its back on the way down and sinking them all the way to the hilt. Alistair also sent a magic missile spell at the chuul, wishing to free Harlan before he could be paralyzed and taken out of this fight - a fight the Trained Professional Adventurers all realized could use the power of his flaming blade. However, by casting the spell the sorcerer left himself open to attack and one of the skum made full use of his inattentiveness, ripping a series of parallel scars across his chest with a pair of foreclaws. Ogilvy tried dropping a shrunken boulder upon the offending skum, but it missed.

Fortunately, Chaevaris activated her boots of speed and fired off a series of arrows down at the chuul, peppering it until it sank beneath the water, unconscious and stabilized. She even had time to fire off another arrow at a skum, killing it outright with a well-placed blow to the head.

Three more skum ganged up on Alistair, who recalled why he did not like front-line fighting: there were too many foes to deal with! He dodged the attacks of two of the fish-people, only to have the third bite down on his shoulder with a set of teeth that would not have been out of place in the mouth of a piranha. Another skum went for Harlan but was much less successful, the paladin easily pushing it away with his shield.

The aboleth, in the meantime, had made a lazy U-turn in the water and, in a burst of speed, catapulted itself up onto the leftmost rock island. Then it did something completed unexpected: it pulled back its head and its body vanished, revealing a woman fitting the description of Porceline Trotter, wearing what was apparently an aboleth version of a cloak of the manta. She busied herself casting some sort of spell, although which particular one none of the heroes was able to determine. However, a second aboleth swam up onto the middle rock island, this one much bigger than Porceline's illusory version.

Harlan swung his flaming blade at the skum attacking him, while Ageratum, not at all trusting that Porceline wasn't in league with the aboleth (why else would she be swimming freely and using a magic cloak that gave her the appearance of an aboleth herself?), used her own magic cloak to cast a web spell at Blorkane's sister. The strands were anchored along the front and back walls of the cavern, and the halfling's targeting had been spot on, catching her in the middle of the webs. Try as she might, Porceline couldn't move from the spot at which she stood, nor could she move her hands for any further spellcasting. Ageratum smiled quietly to herself and congratulated herself for a job well done - they could afford to ignore the female wizard for now and concentrate on the aboleth and its remaining skum allies.

Alistair cast a scorching ray at the aboleth, and then noticed it was a bit slow to react to the flames burning its body. He focused his attention on the tentacled fish and realized it wasn't really there at all - the thing was an illusion! He called out his findings to his friends, knowing full well that knowing it was a fake would aid them in seeing it as a fake themselves. Ogilvy raised another pebble over the head of a skum and let go, but the fast-moving fish-man had darted out of the way by the time the stone hit the water's surface and the boulder resumed its full size.

Chaevaris's next arrow caught a skum in the chest and staggered him; the one after that knocked another skum into unconsciousness; and her third shot missed entirely. The staggered skum sank beneath the water's surface, pulling at the arrow in its chest. Another resumed its attacks upon Harlan, but couldn't get past the paladin's shield to put its teeth and claws to use. And up on the leftmost island, Porceline continued to struggle ineffectively against her sticky bonds.

History seemed to repeat itself when another aboleth leaped up onto the middle rock and resumed the position the first, illusory, one had taken. Alistair assumed this was the real one that had cast some sort of illusory double to draw off a few spells before joining combat itself. It focused its impressive intellect upon Harlan, trying to dominate the paladin into doing its bidding. It was surprised when the half-elf made no effort to resist, yet seemed unaffected - and then the tentacled fish-thing realized he must be shielded from such effects by a protection from evil spell (as indeed he was). But Harlan must have at least been aware of the attempt, for his retaliation was sudden and decisive: rushing past the skum he'd been fighting (and easily bypassing its clumsy attacks as he raced by), he dodged a tentacle strike by the aboleth as he leaped up onto the rock and swung his flaming blade at the fish-thing trying to compel him to obey its mental commands. The aboleth turned its glistening body at the last possible moment and Harlan's blade missed its mark.

Ageratum ran across the webs she'd brought into being - her magic cloak allowing her to avoid getting stuck or tangled in them herself - and used the higher perch to stab down at one of the remaining skum. Unfortunately for the little halfling, it managed to duck down below the water's surface before her blade could strike true.

Alistair moved a bit to the side to get out of clawing range of the nearest skum and fired off another scorching ray spell, this one striking true and giving off a sizzling, fishy smell the sorcerer was fairly sure no illusion spell could duplicate so accurately. Nearby, Ogilvy missed with another pebble-boulder being dropped onto a skum - but he was littering the pool floor nicely with boulders. The skum made a rush for Alistair, but the sorcerer handily dodged out of the way in time.

Chaevaris pumped three more arrows at the aboleth in rapid-fire sequence, hitting her target with two of them. In retaliation, the aboleth reached out at the elf with its impressive mind and the archer felt her own will giving way to that of her new master. <Kill the armed paladin!> it demanded directly into Chaevaris's mind, and the archer notched a new arrow into her bow and moved to obey. But by then Harlan had stabbed the aboleth in between two of its three eyes with his flaming burst longsword, knocking it instantly unconscious. Just like that, Chaevaris felt the alien compulsion fade away before she had had time to act on it. And then Ageratum had leapt from the web to the middle rock and was stabbing the thing in its narrow eyes, making sure it was dead and no longer a threat.

Alistair cast a magic missile spell at a fleeing skum, and by now it was just a clean-up action; the skum knew their master had been slain and that they were outmatched without him. Chaevaris looked over at Porceline, still trying to escape from the webs and giving a cry of horror when she saw the aboleth had been slain. Fitting another arrow into place, Chaevaris took careful aim and sent the shaft flying straight at the female wizard. "Elfy!" Alistair cried out in horror. "We're supposed to be rescuing her, not killing her! What are we going to tell Blorkane?"

"Relax," the archer chided the upset sorcerer. "I used a sleep arrow. She's out cold, not dead."

"But that could be easily fixed," offered Ageratum, holding a wicked-looking blade in each hand. Alistair knew full well one of them had an enchantment making it particularly dangerous to human foes.

"Miss Purslane!" Alistair cried out. "Not you too!" But Ageratum merely deactivated her web spell and let Porceline fall to the rock island where she stood. A quick detect magic spell allowed Alistair to determine what items the wizard had were of a magical nature (the cloak of the masters she wore, a ring of protection, and an amulet from around her neck); Ageratum removed each item as Alistair identified them as magic, and then Harlan bound her tightly with the length of rope Ageratum had worn around her waist. Then, with their potions still active, the heroes dove down to explore the underwater cave from which the aboleth had exited, but they were surprised to see while it opened up into a cave - the back half of which was on dry land - there was no treasure there to be found.

"That's not right," Chaevaris said with a frown. "Aboleths are notorious for collecting large amounts of treasure, at least according to that book of Blorkane's!" Then, on a hunch, she turned to Ageratum and said, "Let me see that necklace." Flipping it around, she saw the word "brother" had been engraved on the back. Slipping the chain around her neck, Chaevaris called out "Brother!" - to have a door suddenly appear along the back wall of the cave.

The four heroes explored the interior of the dwelling on the other side of the door. It was, Alistair realized, very similar to a Mordenkainen's magnificent mansion spell, although he'd only heard tales of such things. There were four separate bedrooms, each with its own bathing chamber (and the two in the front also had separate dressing rooms; the women immediately decided those were their rooms, and Harlan and Alistair could have the two rooms in the back). There was also a small library, a lounge area, a full dining hall, a kitchen, and a larder and separate storage room for herbs. The aboleth's treasure was stored in chests in the lounge area, consisting of 8,200 pieces of gold and several arcane sticks of incense of meditation. One of the books in the library area caught Harlan's attention: it was a libram of gainful exercise. But Alistair was more interested in the empty bookshelves. "Look, Elfy!" he called to Chaevaris. "There's enough room for the entire Elfy Danger Silverleaf collection!"

Harlan revived Porceline, who was surprised to find herself bound tightly. She cursed the heroes for having slain the aboleth, Karagath, which she claimed had been an excellent arcane tutor. When Alistair made the mistake of asking why she didn't simply have her own brother, a renowned wizard himself, tutor her in the wizardly arts, she cursed even louder. "That fat pig!" she spat. "He has a bloated opinion of his own spellcraft mastery, and an outdated view on a woman's place in the home! He expected me to do all of the housework, cooking and cleaning for him while he spent his time on his own wizardly studies! I hate him!"

"What are we going to do with her?" Alistair asked. "We can't very well just turn her over to Blorkane."

"We could kill her," Ageratum suggested. Then, seeing the astonished looks she was getting from her comment, she added, "What? She was willingly in league with an aboleth, who not only kidnaps people, but turns them into fish-men, and dominates others into doing its business!"

"He did try to have me kill you, Harlan," Chaevaris admitted.

"We'll bring her to the Stone Keep," Harlan decided. "The clerics there can determine her guilt, and deal out any punishments deemed appropriate." That seemed fair, although Ageratum seemed a bit dejected that nobody seemed to like her "Let's just kill her and be done with it" plan.

"Fine," the halfling sighed, putting away her short swords. "Let's get back to Carp, then, so we can dump her on the clerics."

- - -

So the Trained Professional Adventurers now have a mobile headquarters they can take with them when they travel - that will no doubt come in handy! And we all made it to 8th level at the end of this adventure.

As for the jars of ointment, that was something Dan had created for this adventure. Crafted from violet fungus extract (I'm not sure why), they allowed anyone who ate a dose to hold their breath for twice as long as normal. I suppose that was for in case we had forgotten to purchase additional potions of water breathing.
Last edited:



PC Roster:
Ageratum Purslane, halfling rogue 8​
Alastair Mandelberen Pastlethwaite, human sorcerer 8​
Chaevaris Noarunal, elf archer 8​
Harlan Starblade, half-elf paladin 8​

NPC Roster:
Orchid, elf druid 8​

Game Session Date: 31 May 2023

- - -

"There's some elf chick looking for you," said one of the bartenders of the Dark and Light Club.

"I say! An elven woman? Looking for me?" repeated Alistair with surprise.

"Yeah, a good-lookin' one, too. But she was specifically looking for Ageratum and Chaevaris."

Alistair's look of excitement and surprise turned to one of disappointment and puzzlement. "Oh. I wonder what--Ah! It's probably the delivery of their armor made out of plants! How long ago was this? Do you know where she went?" Alistair realized the elf would have a difficult time finding the women, given the Trained Professional Adventurers had taken to living inside the extradimensional space linked to Chaevaris's magic amulet - the entrance to which was a removable door only the four of them could see. The bartender gave Alistair a quick description of the elf and told him where she was last seen, and the young nobleman high-tailed it from the nightclub as quickly as he could.

Eventually their paths crossed, and Alistair came up short when he saw she had a full-grown timber wolf trotting at her side - the bartender hadn't mentioned anything about a wolf! Since the last "wolf" the sorcerer had encountered had turned out to be a barghest intent upon his death, Alistair brought the words to a magic missile spell to the tip of his tongue before the young elven woman called out his name.

"Ah! You must be Alistair!" she said. "You look just like the description I was given. My name is Orchid. I have the armor from the druids of Haven for Ageratum and Chaevaris. Are they nearby?"

"They are indeed," Alistair replied, looking nervously down at the wolf.

"Oh, don't worry about Shushitan," scoffed Orchid. "He won't attack anyone unless I tell him to, or if they're trying to hurt me." Shushitan let his tongue loll out of one side of his mouth, and Alistair had to agree it made him look more like a friendly dog than a vicious predator. "Very well, then, this way, if you please," he said to Orchid, leading her down to the end of an alleyway in one of the rougher parts of Ghourmand Vale. Seeing it was a dead end, Orchid started to become a little suspicious of the sorcerer's intentions, but upon reaching the end of the alley he reached out and opened a door that hadn't been there a moment before and ushered Orchid and her wolf inside.

Ageratum and Chaevaris were excited at the arrival of their new bespoke armor and excused themselves, rushing off into their respective bedrooms to change. Harlan approached while they were changing, and Alistair made the introductions. Orchid offered up that she was a druid herself, a friend to the druids responsible for the crafting of the bespoke armor. "But you choose not to wear such armor yourself?" Harlan asked.

"I've never really seen the need," Orchid replied. "I'm pretty much just a traveler, not really an adventurer - although I certainly would be willing to give the adventuring lifestyle a chance, given the opportunity."

"You know, we could use a full-time healer on the team," suggested Alistair. "Someone to tend to our wounds during battle, instead of having to rely upon you or a couple of potions."

"I do have a staff of healing, fully charged," pointed out Orchid, causing Harlan to smirk out of the side of his mouth.

"You volunteered to deliver the armor for the druids of Haven specifically for an opportunity to join a band of adventurers, didn't you?" he accused with a smile.

"Well..." Orchid stalled for time. Fortunately, Ageratum and Chaevaris returned from their rooms wearing their new armor and asked the men what they thought. Harlan expressed the view that the armor looked to be comfortable and agreed with Chaevaris's assertion that the armor would make it easier for her to blend into the background in a forest environment. Alistair thought they looked like a couple of deranged tree-huggers, but recalling the human bane enchantment on one of Ageratum's blades and the little halfling's dislike for being mocked, he wisely chose to hide his views. However, his mind started putting together a few lyrics to a potential new song about their plant-based armor....

"So, what's on the agenda today, Harlan?" Chaevaris asked. The paladin had spent the last week poring over the pages of the manual of gainful exercise they'd unearthed among the aboleth's treasures - which had included this very dwelling.

"Ageratum's been scouring the town, seeing what's been going on. Ageratum? Anything to report?"

"Yeah, Funk's men have continued dumping bodies over at the Mistbrenner Farm. The Wild Coast Club has been on lockdown since we broke in and recovered Blorkane's stuff - they only go out at least in pairs now, armed, and always with a cleric on hand. Seems they're aware there's a vampire in town, and that he's been inside their little clubhouse. The Cuthbertians, including Father Kilkenny himself, went up to Mitrek to consult with the Archcleric up there. They left a skeleton crew at the Stone Fort, but Porceline's still in custody there until they decide her permanent punishment for her trafficking in slaves with that aboleth we killed. And speaking of pigs..." - here Ageratum smirked at her own little joke, for it was no secret she had no love for Blorkane's sister Porceline Trotter - "...the merchants are complaining about the ongoing pork shortage. With almost all of the local cows relegated to dairy, they've been eating mainly goat and an owlbear some of the hunters managed to bring down."

"Any leads on the whereabouts of the vampire?" Harlan asked.


"What's with the pork shortage?" asked Chaevaris.

"No idea. Apparently the Mistbrenners haven't been sending any of their pigs down for slaughter."

"Let's go talk to Karl Armbust," decided Harlan. "He's the merchant leader and head of the farmer's guild." The paladin turned to Orchid. "You and your wolf are welcome to accompany us if you wish."

"Sure!" agreed Orchid, and Shushitan picked up on her mood and began wagging his tail.

Karl gave the heroes directions to the Mistbrenner Farm so they could speak to the husband and wife who ran the farm - where they raised pigs, goats, and chickens - and see for themselves what the problem might be. The farm ended up being a mere fifteen minutes or so past the Stone Keep, by horseback. As Orion had traveled on foot to Ghourmand Vale with her wolf, Harlan offered her the use of his horse, Law. "Thank you, but what will you ride?" asked the elven druid.

In response, Harlan raised his hands out above him and called down a celestial pegasus from the heavens above. "This," he replied, climbing up onto the winged horse's back. "It's a shame his first task will be to remain earthbound as we all ride to the farm, but so be it - I'm sure I'll have plenty of opportunities to ride through the skies with him in the future."

"Oh, by all means - go ahead and take him for a spin," suggested Alistair, and with a grin, Harlan did just that. Upon doing a couple of overhead passes, the pegasus returned to the ground and led the procession to the Mistbrenner farm. "I've decided to call him Nova," Harlan told the group.

Upon arriving at the farm, the first thing everyone noticed was the complete lack of people and the sound of hungry pigs calling out from their pen at the back. Alistair send Ambrose out for a quick scout around the buildings - there was a farmhouse, chicken coop, barn, and goat enclosure, along with a well - and the grackle returned with reports of not having seen any farm workers. Orchid volunteered to go see what was going on and cast a speak with animals spell as she approached the pen on the far side of the barn, where dozens of rather large pigs were stomping around, noses buried in the mud, looking for food. Leaving Nova to watch over the mounts, the others headed over by their new druid companion to see what they could learn.

"They're hungry - they haven't been fed in days," Orchid reported. "The farmers who work here have been ignoring them. They were last seen going into their farmhouse, several days ago." Upon hearing a question from Harlan and asking the hogs, the druid said the meat normally fed to the pigs had usually been already dead when plopped into their pen for consumption - usually, but not always. Harlan detected evil on the hogs, just to be sure, but they were just normal animals - very hungry animals, about to eat some of their own if they didn't get some food soon. Orchid promised they'd go look for the farmers and get the pigs some food if they'd just be patient for a little longer.

With her spell still active, Orchid led the group to go see what the goats had to say. They were doing much better, for they had bales of hay in their pen which they had yet to finish. But they reinforced that they'd not seen the farmers for several days. The chickens in the coop complained their eggs had not been taken for several days; as a stopgap measure, the heroes gathered up the eggs that had been laid thus far and took them over to the pigs, promising there would be more food soon. But when asked if anything ever came out of the well - for Harlan had wondered if some creature had arisen from there who had slain the farmers - the goats responded with, "The farmer, sometimes."

That bore investigation. Activating her cloak of arachnida, Ageratum climbed over the top of the well and walked down its interior. It went down for 10 or 12 feet and was bone dry, but she noted there was a passageway at the bottom leading south, towards the henhouse. She shone Chaevaris's bullseye lantern - into which the stone with the permanent light spell had been placed - but the tunnel extended past the range of her illumination, the passageway sinking lower into the ground as it went. She returned to the surface and explained what she had seen to the others.

"Shall we check out the farmhouse first or the dry well?" asked Harlan.

"I vote the well," replied Alistair. "It seems suspicious." The others concurred, and they started getting ready for potential battle with whatever evil forces were interfering with the normal operation of the farm. Alistair cast his traditional flame arrow spell upon the group's combined ammunition (now including the arrows in Orchid's quiver) and both a mage armor and shield spell upon himself, before summoning Ogilvy with an unseen servant spell. Ogilvy accepted the two things he was usually asked to carry: the bullseye lantern and a pouch containing four shrunken boulders, now each the size of a small sling stone. Harlan cast protection from evil and bull's strength spells upon himself and a bless spell upon the group, while Orchid cast a barkskin spell on Harlan, a goodberry spell upon a handful of berries she brought forth from a belt pouch, and a greater magic fang spell upon Shushitan. Alistair decided he didn't want Ambrose hampered in a subterranean environment and sent him over to watch over the mounts with Nova.

Then it was a matter of getting down the well. Fortunately, there was a study rope attached to a bucket at one end and a wooden support beam overhead, so climbing down wasn't too difficult. Ageratum went first, then Harlan, then Orchid. The druid then called up for her wolf to leap down at her and Shushitan willing obliged, getting caught by his mistress with an assist by Harlan. Chaevaris climbed down next, followed by Alistair and Ogilvy, who clung to the sorcerer's back on the way down.

Heading down the sloping passageway, with Harlan and Ogilvy - holder of the group's two light sources, the lantern and the paladin's flaming burst longsword. held at the ready with fire sputtering along the blade - in the front, the group found a ladder leading up after about 50 feet. They took a brief moment while Ageratum scampered up it, found it led to a trap door, took a peek around in the room above, and returned to report that it appeared to be a secret entrance to a bedroom with a rather rich carpet on the floor beside the bed; the trap door was apparently underneath said bed. She had scooted forward just enough to see four windows along the front half of the room, and this was enough to identify it as the easternmost part of the farmhouse, for they'd seen the same four windows from the outside when they were over by the chicken coop. They group pressed on, going further down the sloping tunnel past the ladder.

Harlan's ability to detect evil at a range suddenly alerted him to the presence of evil beings ahead: at least three of them. The tunnel ahead was blocked by a hanging curtain of pig-hide, right where it narrowed to the point they'd have to traverse it single file. Waving the others to silence, Harlan crept up upon the pig-hide curtain, ready to brush it to the side and charge into the room. But as he swept the curtain aside with his shield arm, he found himself staring into the face of an armed and armored man, with two animated zombie corpses standing just behind him. The fighter caught the paladin's initial sword-strike on his own weapon and slid it aside, then counterattacked with his own blade, only to have Harlan catch it on his shield. Neither was able to make much progress in overcoming his foe, until Harlan managed to get in a lucky strike that passed by the fighter's defenses, catching him in the side of his belly. But still he stood fighting, blood now flowing freely down the left side of his torso.

Ageratum activated her magic cloak again and ran up the side of the wall. The ceiling was 20 feet up, so she was able to run along it without the combatants beneath her getting in her way. But once into the large cavern beyond the pig-hide curtain, her mind found itself under immediate attack. <That's right,> said a telepathic voice in her head, <continue approaching me along the ceiling.> Looking down from her upside-down perch, Ageratum could see the telepathic summons came from a man standing in the middle of the cavern, near a small pile of bones upon which something black sat.

Orchid cast a spike stones spell, causing sharp shards of stone to burrow up from the ground in the cavern beyond. It did nothing to those already on the cavern, but it would prevent them from moving around without harm. Behind the druid, Chaevaris leaped up and activated the immovable rod strapped to her belt, allowing her to hang in midair so she could target the wounded fighter currently in battle with Harlan. The archer sent an arrow whizzing past Harlan, grazing the side of the head of the man he was fighting - Lurgen Mistbrenner, as it turned out. But that was enough to send him falling over backwards, where he was impaled upon a bunch of the stone spikes rising up from the cavern's floor.

Alistair sent a magic missile spell blasting past Harlan to strike one of the zombies behind where Lurgen had stood. Then he got a shock, for in the light of Ogilvy's held lantern, the sorcerer recognized the man he had shot: surely that was none other than Shambles McGuffin, a man they'd killed weeks ago in the market district of Ghourmand Vale. The shambling corpse grunted as the missiles struck, but he remained standing afterward. Alistair sent Ogilvy forward into the cavern, certain that as a magical collection of force energy in the rough shape of a man, he would not be impeded by the spike stones spell. The zombies ignored the floating lantern and pouch of pebbles as they floated right past them.

Shambles shambled forward, getting caught up in the spikes and pitching forward, impaling himself and remaining motionless thereafter, apparently having done himself in just by trying to move forward. The other one shuffled over, blocking the doorway where Lurgen had once stood, and where he now faced Harlan Starblade with his flaming burst longsword out and ready. Just past them, up on the ceiling, Ageratum reached the point just above her roguish master and, telepathic command fulfilled, stood awaiting further orders. She looked down at Lurgen and found an ever-increasing pool of blood seeping out from his prone body, which was unusual: was there something impeding the Blood Mirror's normal powers? Usually its presence healed up the wounds of the unconscious in the vicinity, and with Harlan standing right there he was certainly close enough to be within the radius of its effect.

But Harlan noticed no such thing - he was busy cutting down the zombie with his flaming blade. After attacking, he took a step back, knowing the slow-moving undead thing would allow him to get in several strikes before it could get close enough to try to attack the paladin itself. But then Orchid cast a produce flame spell and tossed a ball of fire at the zombie's face, and Chaevaris fired a pair of arrows through its head in rapid succession. It toppled over, the filthy turban now planted firmly on its head by the protruding arrow shafts. Harlan looked into the cavern and saw the other zombie had also been wearing a turban - were these Jasgund Singh's men?

Alistair stepped up to the cavern entrance but feared to enter it while the stone spikes spell was still in effect. However, he could see the dark figure standing directly below a strangely quiescent Ageratum Purslane, and he cast a scorching ray spell his way, causing the man's entire body and clothes to immolate, right as he was giving the halfling a further set of orders. And then, strangely, the man's body discorporated, the flames going out as he drifted further back into the cavern as a vaguely man-shaped cloud of mist. "I say!" cried out Alistair in surprise. "He's a vampire!" Ageratum ignored the sorcerer, walking along the ceiling (as instructed) to the back of the cavern, where she was to alert the master that there were intruders needing to be dealt with.

Ogilvy turned his lantern to keep illuminated the floating mist of what had once been Roy Hinkley, the thief the heroes had seen get attacked by the vampire as they rowed out of the Wild Coast Club thieves guild - he'd been turned into an undead minion by the master vampire, none other than Father Coltrane, the cleric from Mitrek who had earlier sired Carly as his previous vampire spawn. With no more visible foes in the cavern, Orchid dismissed her spike stones spell, the shards sinking back into the cavern floor.

Harlan immediately charged into the room, for he had sensed the darkskull sitting on the pile of bones was radiating a particularly strong aura of evil. But as he got close to the skull he was overcome by a powerful stench that almost made him miss with his sword-strike. Fortunately, it didn't come to that and the flaming blade of his longsword sundered the darkskull in twain, shutting off the necromantic effects it had been providing to those within the cavern - like suppressing the effects of the Blood Mirror. Unseen by the others, Lurgen stabilized immediately, his wounds sealing up although his unconsciousness state remained.

But then the cause of the horrid stench revealed themselves: a pair of ghasts rose up from the ground, a thin covering of dirt spiling from them as they stood and exited the twin depressions in which their bodies had been stored. Harlan recognized the bodies as they attacked, despite the alterations to their faces caused by the transformation into ghastdom: these were Gurdeep and Gurpeet, the two weretigers they'd killed at the same time Shambles met his own demise. They were in their human forms rather than the hybrid forms in which they'd been when Harlan last fought them, but that made sense, for they'd resumed human form upon death and undeath had apparently stripped them of their animalistic forms. Harlan brought his flaming blade crashing down upon Gurpeet as she scrambled to her feet; she lashed out at him with her claws but was unable to connect. Gurleen approached, snarling and slashing with her own ragged claws, but Harlan brushed her attacks away with his shield.

Orchid entered the cavern, tossing another ball of fire from her palm at one of the ghasts. Shushitan was at her side but was quickly overcome by the overpowering ghast stench; he snapped at Gurpeet but was unable to connect. Then Chaevaris sent an arrow directly into the middle of Gurpeet's forehead, dropping her instantly. The elven archer spun in place and sent another arrow into Gurleen's chest, piercing her heart but failing to drop the undead monstrosity.

Past the cavern in which the fights were currently occurring, Ageratum reached a dead end on the ceiling where she'd been told to stay. A set of double doors stood on the wall below her, but the 20-foot ceiling, her short stature, and her dominated orders to stay on the ceiling prevented her from opening the doors and alerting "the master" - whoever he might be. So, no longer under her own will, she stood in place on the ceiling and awaited further instructions. Behind her, the gaseous form of Roy Hinkley continued its slow passage through the air towards her - for the vampire spawn's coffin was on the other side of the double doors, beside his master's.

Back in the cavern, Alistair cast a scorching ray spell that engulfed Gurleen's undead form, causing her to fall in place upon the stone floor, her undead flesh burning. Then, combat currently curtailed, Harlan, Orchid, and Shushitan headed over towards the back of the cavern, entering a diagonal tunnel which ended in a pair of double doors. Chaevaris deactivated her immovable rod and activated her boots of speed, using her faster movement to catch up to the others. With Ageratum away, Alistair took it upon himself to first slit Lurgen's throat before moving to catch up with the others, doing so with the very tip of his rapier's blade so as to ensure he didn't get any blood on his clothes or boots. Ogilvy silently followed, bringing up the rear.

Arriving at the wooden doors, Harlan cast his senses forward and detected two distinct auras of evil behind them. Pulling the left door with his shield hand, he found an empty room just beyond, with enough ritual runes inscribed on the floor to convince him this is where the corpses had been restored to an unholy semblance of life. But there was another door on the far wall, and the paladin stormed towards it, pushing it open as well. The room beyond held a coffin in the middle of the room, and mist was spilling across the floor from an open doorway in which another coffin could be seen. He sensed an invisible enemy behind the door and swung his blade at where he thought it might be, but failed to connect with anything solid. Orchid came up to the door behind the paladin and saw him attacking an unseen enemy, so she flung another ball of flame in that direction, but she also failed to connect.

Then Shushitan entered the room beside his mistress, and his lupine senses allowed him to detect precisely where the invisible foe stood. He clamped his teeth along an invisible shin and tripped the unseen foe, dropping her to the floor. Chaevaris took a shot at the unseen foe but missed, while Alistair and Ogilvy took the opportunity to enter the zombie preparation room behind the others.

Suddenly the foe on the floor became fully visible as she cast an inflict light wounds spell at the wolf chewing on her leg, revealing herself to be a human woman wearing the robes of a cleric of Iuz - Bea Mistbrenner, in fact. And two sets of mist continued rolling toward each other, one - Roy - heading for the first coffin while the other - Father Coltrane - sought to escape from the area before these heroes could slay him; Ageratum had failed to warn him of the intruders but the sudden "death" of the link between him and his vampire spawn Roy informed him all the same.

Harlan, sensing Bea's aura of evil, hit her prone form twice in rapid succession with his flaming blade, the flames flaring up with his second strike and slaying her instantly. Orchid moved through the open doorway to the second coffin and dropped another ball of fire onto it, setting the wood ablaze. Grinning in admiration at the ploy, Chaevaris did the same to the first coffin with a flaming arrow, and soon both wooden coffins were burning rather nicely. This was particularly bad news for Roy, for he, having been rendered unconscious by having his physical form overcome by damage, was now "auto-piloting" his way back to his coffin to recover. When he reformed inside his burning coffin, his once-again physical form started burning, destroying the spawn irrevocably.

Father Coltrane resumed physical form, realizing he needed to slay these intruders so he could put out the flames burning his own coffin before it was too late. But Harlan was there in a flash, swinging his flaming blade into the vampire's side with his full strength behind the blow. Orchid threw another ball of flame at the vampire, catching his sleeve on fire. Chaevaris shot a silver arrow at Father Coltrane, the shaft catching him in the chest and apparently causing him excruciating pain. Alistair tried another scorching ray spell but the gouts of fire went by either side of the vampire's head without hitting him, causing the sorcerer to cry out "Bugger!" in disgust. Father Coltrane took a step away from his enemies and healed himself up a bit with an inflict spell, but it only prolonged his eventual death, for Harlan hit him twice again with his flaming burst longsword (with one attack infused with Pelor's smiting energy for good measure), and then Chaevaris pumped three more arrows into him in rapid succession, her speed powered by her magic boots. That was enough to cause him to burst into mist, which moved involuntarily to his blazing coffin. His screams of torment when he remanifested into solid form in a wooden coffin already engulfed in flames were quickly cut off when his solid form was burned alive.

A quick search of the two coffin rooms unearthed a bit of treasure, and a full exploration of the farmhouse revealed a bit more. (Ageratum, her mind her own after the final slaying of the vampire spawn responsible for her domination, was particularly helpful in that regard.) Orchid took one of the suits of magic studded leather armor form one of the ghasts for herself, and then the heroes took a bit of time to drag the corpses they'd slain (several of them for the second time) up to feed to the starving pigs.

"I'm not sure I'd wish to eat a pig that has feasted upon undead flesh," observed Alistair, blanching slightly at the thought.

"You're welcome to dine upon owlbear," Chaevaris pointed out.

"Or take up a vegetarian lifestyle," suggested Orchid.

Alistair thought over both options. "I think I'll take my chances on the pork," he decided.

- - -

Dan rolled up a druid NPC as an addition to the party, after deciding we needed a permanent healer. It was scheduled to work out rather well, for my granddaughter Samantha was in town on the day we were originally to play through this adventure, but then a sudden business trip emerged that I had to go on, and the adventure session got bumped by a week - at which point Sami had already flown back to Pennsylvania. But now she has an NPC that can be swapped over to PC status any time she's in town. (She chose her druid's name, the image on her initiative card, and chose and named a wolf as her animal companion. Her only requirement to Dan was she wanted Orchid to have a longbow.) But Logan ran her at the beginning this first outing, since his own PC is also a female elf. (We've decided that orchid will be sharing Chaevaris's room in the extradimensional house connected to the magic amulet the elven archer wears - after all, neither one sleeps, so they can share elven reverie together.) However, once Ageratum was dominated and pretty much taken out of the game, Vicki ran Orchid for the rest of the session.


And for the record, here's the image Sami chose to represent Orchid for her initiative card:





To the Esteemed Bard, Holyrood Carp,

I have penned another song for your consideration. It involves bespoke armor, a type of natural armor grown from plants by a strange pair of elven druids we encountered not long ago. We performed a quest for them and the two female members of the Trained Professional Adventurers opted to take their payment in the form of a suit of bespoke armor made specifically to their exact measurements. (Harlan and I wisely opted to be paid in coins and gems.) In any case, I hope it meets your favor.

The lyrics follow:

Harlan wears his plate mail 'cause it offers protection​
And on it's the holy symbol of Pelor's shining sun​
Alistair wears noble's clothes, but when it's time to fight​
His mage armor and shield spells keep him protected all right​
Ageratum and Chaevaris once wore armor, too​
But recently they changed their minds, as women often do​
A somewhat crazy notion entered each one's silly head​
And they decided that they would wear shrubbery instead​
Bespoke armor, bespoke armor, it's the latest fad​
'Cause wearing plants and vines and twigs will make you look all rad​
Put away your chain mail suits, I'm sure you will agree​
That things are so much better when you look just like a tree!​
When your armor's made of plants, there are things you should know​
Like, if you're stuck out in the rain, will it begin to grow?​
Donning it and doffing it might be quick as you please​
But suddenly you need to worry 'bout attracting bees!​
The armor's of elven design - what else would you expect?​
They coax the plants to intertwine, to weave, and to connect​
The elven druids who tailor-make it call it, "bespoke"​
But hopefully when crafting it, they skipped the poison oak​
Bespoke armor, bespoke armor, folks will be impressed​
When in the middle of your suit there is a robin's nest​
Wearing it into battle, I hope you're not a prude​
For with a single blight spell you'll be fighting in the nude​
Chaevaris will argue that it offers camouflage​
And that may well be true when her armor's a big corsage​
But for an elven archer once known for her sexy tush​
She's now the only elf around who proudly shows her bush​
And as for Ageratum, well, this might be just a phase​
'Cause it won't help disguise her in the streets and alleyways​
The best that she can hope for, as I'm sure you will concede​
Is someone might mistake her for a tumbling tumbleweed​
Bespoke armor, bespoke armor, fire's a concern​
Especially in autumn, when dry lives are prone to burn​
And in the winter season, when the trees have all gone bare​
Let's hope the wearers of bespoke armor wore underwear!​

Wishing you continued success with your enjoyable performances.

With Fond Regards,

Alistair Mandelberen Pastlethwaite



PC Roster:
Ageratum Purslane, halfling rogue 8​
Alastair Mandelberen Pastlethwaite, human sorcerer 8​
Chaevaris Noarunal, elf archer 8​
Harlan Starblade, half-elf paladin 8​

NPC Roster:
Orchid, elf druid 8​

Game Session Date: 21 June 2023

- - -

It had been a week since the Trained Professional Adventurers had taken down the evil forces at the Mistbrenner farm. During that time, they had come to an arrangement with the owner of the Dark and Light Club and had made the upper floor their semi-permanent headquarters - that is, that's where Chaevaris "parked" the door to the extradimensional space leading into the Mordenkainen's magnificent mansion-like spell effect. The elven archer had designated the owner and a few selected individuals who worked at the club as "door-worthy" - she allowed the door to be visible to those people in addition to the adventurers who lived inside the extradimensional space - that way, anyone seeking the TPA could inquire at the Dark and Light Club and those members could see where the door was, unobtrusively positioned along the back wall, out of the way, to knock upon it and summon the adventurers.

Alistair sat at a table on the upper floor of the club, struggling with ink and parchment with the lyrics to his next song. It seemed only fair that Orchid should be the focus of his next tune, but he didn't really know her all that well yet and was having difficulty coming up with anything beyond the first four lines. Fortunately, a pair of visitors gave him a good reason to put it away and worry about it later.

"'Scuse me," said Brother Scrimshaw, "but if ye've a mind to it, Karl Armbust here's got a bit o' trouble he'd like ye and yer friends t' look into fer him," the cleric of Cuthbert said. Karl, Alistair knew, was Ghourmand Vale's head of the Farmers Guild, and he looked to be nearly in tears. "One minute, please," requested the young sorcerer, as he gathered up his writing implements and scurried off to the extradimensional door. "I shall fetch the team." To the confused farm leader, it appeared as if the young aristocrat simply stepped through the wall and disappeared. But he took it as a good sign that the man he was hoping could put an end to his guild's problems was so obviously powerful he could simply disappear at will.

Alistair returned a few moments later with the rest of the team, including their new addition Orchid and her wolf Shushitan, who gave Karl a bit of a start when he first saw him exit from the wall. Alistair waved the two to the table at which he'd been sitting moments ago and said, "Perhaps you'd like to start at the beginning."

"Yes, well," stammered Karl, "there have been attacks on a number of farmhouses in the past week or so - five, to be exact. In each case, the raiders killed everyone on the farm, and then stripped the flesh of all but one of them, which they used to leave a message, carved into his belly or across his chest."

Harlan frowned at the barbarity of the attacks, but he steeled himself to hear more. "What were the messages?" he asked.

"The first one, from an attack six days ago, was simply 'MEDDLERS.' On the second raid, five days ago, they left 'COME OUT OF YOUR LAIR' carved on the dead victim's stomach. Four days ago, it was 'HUNT OR BE HUNTED.' Naturally, once the guild found out what was going on, we warned the other farmers in the area and sent out a party of men to try to hunt down the raiders. They never came back - we're not sure what happened to them, but we fear the worst. Three days ago there was another raid, and the message sent was 'SLAVES OF THE TWISTED CAT.'" That got the team's attention, for they immediately realized the "twisted cat" could be a reference to a rakshasa - likely Jasgund Singh, who was one faction they knew of seeking to gain control of the Blood Mirror Harlan kept with him at all times. Karl continued with his tale. "The fifth raid occurred just yesterday, and was intercepted by a team of Cuthbertians from the Stone Keep we'd asked to look into the situation - only they didn't fare too well; of the team, only one of them made it back, and he says he's not sure what happened to the rest of his team, but he was lucky to get out alive."

"Did he see the bandits?" asked Chaevaris.

"Aye, an' 'e says they was hobgoblins," replied Brother Scrimshaw.

"Was there a message from that last raid?" asked Ageratum.

"Sure enough: 'GIVE ME MY STONE' was carved onto a dead man's forehead."

"Jasgund Singh!" swore Alistair.

"Unlikely," corrected Harlan. "Remember the quip about the 'twisted cat' - it's likely this is another faction seeking the Blood Mirror, in opposition to Singh."

"Ah, quite, yes," agreed Alistair, feeling stupid that he'd already forgotten that clue.

"So that vampire guy, from north of Greyhawk," surmised Ageratum. "The one whose vampire wife and mummy servant we killed."

"That would be my guess," agreed Harlan. He pulled out a hand-drawn map of the local area from a pouch at his belt. "Can you show me where these attacks occurred?" Karl pointed out the general vicinity of each farmhouse that had been attacked; they were all about four to eight hours west of Ghourmand Vale and, more importantly, were each less than two hours from an old, abandoned watch station perched more or less in the middle of the five farmhouses. "I'd recommend we check this place out first," the half-elf paladin suggested. "It's the obvious place for the bandits' lair."

"Isn't that a bit too obvious?" Alistair asked.

"They're leaving messages, most likely intended for us," Harlan reasoned. "I'd imagine they want us to be able to find them without too much trouble, if they're looking at getting hold of the Blood Mirror."

"Perhaps we should leave it behind when we go," offered up Orchid. "Not that I don't think we can handle the bandits ourselves, but if they're allied with a vampire, well...we don't want him to get it in his possession, do we?" Harlan thought it over, then decided it was worth the risk bringing it along, for its healing properties had proven to be too useful in the past for him to want to leave it behind.

"It's about one in the afternoon," the half-elf announced. "If we head out immediately, we can make it there with still an hour or more left of sunlight." The group went to fetch their mounts - although Harlan merely had to step outside and summon Nova from the celestial planes - and then they were off, headed west. The paladin had once again offered to let Orchid ride Law, his more terrestrial mount, but she demurred, opting instead to wildshape into an eagle and fly off ahead, scouting the area. Suitably impressed, Alistair made a mental note to add that ability to the song he was working on in the back of his mind.

Once they got to the abandoned watch station, Orchid and Ambrose flew over and around it, looking to see if anybody was there. The grackle dropped to the ground and listened at each of the doors, straining to pick up sounds of inhabitation. When he returned to his perch on his master's shoulders, he was able to report he'd heard the sounds of a single person in a room at the middle of the south part of the building, and two or more in the next room over to the west, all speaking some sort of guttural language.

The group had been tying up their mounts to trees as close as they dared approach the watch tower; a good 50 yards of open clearing stood between them and the two-story, stone building. There was nothing to do but make a dash for it, and when they hit the main gate - the only way in at ground level, according to Ambrose, Orchid was there, back in her elven form, opening it just enough for them to sneak in one by one.

The center part of the watchtower was a courtyard open to the air, with an enclosed stables in the northeastern corner. But as Ambrose had heard voices from the south, that's the way the group went. Alistair cloaked himself in mage armor and shield spells and then cast another spell to bring Ogilvy into being; the unseen servant was handed the traditional bullseye lantern into which had been placed a stone with a permanent light spell cast upon it. Then, gathering up the group's assembled ammunition, the sorcerer cast a flame arrow spell upon the whole lot. Ageratum received her daily pouch of four stones, each of which was a boulder upon which a shrink item spell had been previously cast. Orchid cast a barkskin spell upon Harlan, a magic fang spell upon Shushitan, and then bull's strength and greater magic fang spells upon herself, thinking they could come in handy if she wildshaped into a more fearsome creature to fight it out with these hobgoblins. Finally, Harlan cast a bless spell upon the entire group, then led them to a door to the south.

The room beyond was filled with dusty, unused bunks, but there was a set of stairs leading up to the barbican along the top of the southern wall, which led to the room in which Ambrose had heard a single individual stretching and yawning. Another set of stairs to the north led across the barbican over the gate and to a door into the stables; Ageratum checked it out to make sure there was nobody there to sneak up on them while they went south and, seeing the stables were empty, the halfling retraced her steps and followed the others.

Orchid was the first to reach the door leading into the room they sought, but rather than open it she wildshaped again, this time into a three-foot-long viper. Shushitan loped right behind her, apparently unfazed by the sudden change in form of his mistress. Harlan stepped over the viper and cast his senses toward the door; sure enough, he got a distinct sense of evil from the other side. Ageratum then approached by having walked straight up the side wall and onto the barbican, courtesy of her cloak of arachnida. She readied her short swords and nodded at Harlan to open it. Chaevaris stood behind Harlan, bow readied to send an arrow into whoever might be on the other side of the door, and Alistair ambled up behind the archer, not wanting to get in the way of her aiming.

After a moment's concentration told Harlan there was but a single source of evil behind the door, he swung it open and bumped into something almost immediately. That turned out to be a hobgoblin, who had been about to open the door from the other side, but who instead was bumped down over the edge of the raised platform to land on a table in the room below. He started bellowing at once in his guttural language, and was answered by similar voices from the room beyond. Without a moment's hesitation, Harlan made the leap onto the table behind the hobgoblin, swinging with his flaming burst longsword. His single sword-stroke brought the raider to unconsciousness, although the Blood Mirror prevented him from bleeding out. Up on the ledge from which Harlan had just leaped, Ageratum made a sly smile to herself - she'd be undoing the Blood Mirror's work soon enough.

Orchid slithered off the edge of the platform, landing on the floor below and raising her head to strike at any foe who might come in through one of the doors to the west. Shushitan leaped down beside his mistress, growling at the doors for good measure. Ageratum leaped down onto the table since Harlan had by that time vacated it, and she slid the blade of her sword along the hobgoblin's neck, nearly severing it. He died, drowning in his own blood, and the halfling took a moment to wipe her sword on his armor before hopping down off the table beside Harlan.

Chaevaris went down the steps and opened a door over at the northeast corner and found a small gallery, empty of foes. The statues and paintings stored here were covered in dust, so she closed the door and returned to the banquet room. Alistair stood at the top of hall, up on the platform with the stairs leading down, where he figured he'd have a good shot at any hobgoblins charging into the banquet room. At his master's direction, Ogilvy shone the lantern onto a door to the west, from where the hobgoblin shouts seemed to be emanating. The sorcerer also sent Ambrose back outside, to patrol the area and report back if anyone started advancing upon the guard station.

Harlan was concentrating on separating the overlapping auras of evil he sensed from the other side of the wooden door - there seemed to be six in all. Pulling open the door, he saw a large, mostly empty room with a raised platform supporting a long table along the south wall. He ran up the short flight of steps to get over by the table, where he figured he'd have a height advantage over the approaching hobgoblin raiders. Shushitan leaped up onto the platform as well, as Orchid slithered over into the back corner of the room and cast a spike stones spell across the floor of the entire chamber. The hobgoblins all yelled in pain as their momentum brought their feet down upon numerous spikes and their mad rush across the room suddenly came to an abrupt halt, as the druid had been sure it would.

Ageratum entered the chamber, avoiding the spike stones by climbing up the wall and across the ceiling, courtesy of her magic cloak. She stood directly above a hobgoblin and dropped a pebble onto his head, the small stone reverting to boulder size upon impact. The raider cried out in pain but feared to step away, not being able to see where the magic spikes covering the floor were actually located. But each hobgoblin carried a javelin, and they all realized at about the same time that they could throw them without moving from their individual spots. Three went flying at Harlan, who ducked behind his shield in time and was unscathed by the attack, while the other three were thrown up at Ageratum. Of these, one pierced the little halfling in the top of her shoulder, upside-down as she was.

By then, Chaevaris had maneuvered over to another door and opened it, finding herself behind the hobgoblins who were all facing Harlan at the front of the chamber. She silently placed an arrow into her longbow and lined up her shot. In the meantime, Alistair came down the stairs to stand in the doorway Harlan had used to enter the chamber, and he cast a magic missile spell at one of the hobgoblin raiders, knocking him out and causing him to fall forward, where he impaled himself on a cluster of spikes stones which penetrated his skull and killed him outright.

With a snarl (and a Halfling curse), Ageratum plucked the javelin from her shoulder and threw it back at one of the hobgoblins below her, following it up with one of the kobold shortspears she carried with her. She had the grim satisfaction of watching both thrown weapons hit for full impact, slaying the raider outright.

Having thrown their only ranged weapons, the hobgoblins started tentatively trying to move forward, but found the spikes everywhere they tried to step. Chaevaris released her arrow and brought down another hobgoblin with a well-placed arrow through the skull, while Alistair's second magic missile spell killed another after he fell over unconscious, face-first into the spikes. Knowing the hobgoblins, who couldn't see the magic spikes in any case, likewise wouldn't know they were no longer there, Orchid dismissed her spike stones spell and slithered forward to bite one of the two remaining hobgoblins on the thigh, dropping him with a combination of the successful bite and the virulent venom she pumped into his system immediately thereafter. Ageratum killed the remaining raider with two more kobold shortspears, and the group suddenly found themselves without any enemies to fight.

But that didn't last long, for a door across the way from where Chaevaris stood suddenly opened, and while the archer readied another arrow to shoot at whoever might enter the room, nobody seemed to do so. That wasn't actually the case, though, for two hobgoblin sergeants and a barghest, the latter of which had just cast an invisibility sphere spell on the trio, had just silently entered the room and were sizing up the heroes. The barghest started off combat by using a crushing despair spell-like ability, affecting everyone who stood in the front of the chamber but Alistair. Of course, this magical attack rendered the three visible; to the heroes, it was as if they had suddenly just materialized in the room with them. But Chaevaris shot her readied arrow, reloaded with a silver arrow from the quiver on her back, pulled back the string, and sent it arrow streaking towards the barghest, an oversized wolf with a goblin's face, all in the matter of a second or two. The arrows struck true, striking the foul creature's left shoulder. It howled in pain and surprise.

Alistair cast an ice storm spell into the back half of the chamber, knocking both hobgoblins to the floor, unconscious. The barghest was also struck but managed to stay on its legs in an upright position, at least until Harlan came charging across the room, slicing into the goblin-faced fiend across its broad, lupine chest with his flaming burst longsword. Then it, too, lay unconscious on the floor, until Ageratum advanced and brought all three lives to a final close with her own blade. She tut-tutted to herself when she found nothing worth looting upon their bodies.

There was a set of stairs leading down to a lower level and, after a quick perusal around the other rooms on the ground floor, the group headed down. Harlan led the way, with Ogilvy just behind him shining the way with Chaevaris's borrowed bullseye lantern.

At the bottom of the stairs was a large, open room filled with cobwebs and dust - and a conference room table and chairs in the middle of the room, all of which had seen better days. There were two passageways leading off from the chamber, one heading north and one off to the east. There were small prison cells interspersed along the corridor to the east, which is where Harlan led the others. But Alistair, not wanting anything to come sneaking up behind them, went peeking down the north passageway before Ogilvy's light got too far away and while he couldn't see anything, he could distinctly hear the sounds of footsteps approaching from the darkness. Hissing quietly to the others, he moved to just around the corner from the northern passageway, the words to a magic missile spell ready at the tip of his tongue. Harlan redirected the group that way and Ogilvy's lantern beam shone down the corridor, revealing an armored figure turning a corner from the east. Pierced in the light, the figure found himself the recipient of Alistair's released spell and an arrow through the throat courtesy of Chaevaris. His eyes flashed in anger and pain and he thrust out a hand, attempting to dominate Chaevaris into submission, but the stubborn archer's willpower was too strong. Her eyesight much better than that of a human in low-light conditions, she recognized the figure as Father Brewster, one of the Cuthbertian clerics from the Stone Keep who had been sent out as part of the group seeking to put an end to the farmhouse raids - he'd apparently been taken down by the vampire and turned into one of his undead minions in the meantime.

Alistair cast a scorching ray spell at Father Brewster's undead corpse and set it ablaze for a brief moment before it collapsed into a column of mist that went slowly wafting back down the side corridor from which it had come. Keeping pace - for they knew it would be heading straight for its coffin - the group followed. Ageratum pulled out a vial of silversheen as they did so and passed it over to Harlan, who applied the magic substance to the blade of his flaming longsword. Orchid resumed her elven form, realizing snake venom would be useless against a vampire, and they were hoping to find the vampire who had brought Father Brewster to his undead state, for he was the likely leader of this gang of farmhouse raiders.

The side corridor led to a large, open chamber. By the lantern light, they could see a coffin on a raised platform in the back of the room, and the fact that Brewster's gaseous mist-form was headed straight for it led them to believe it was his. Harlan searched for evil emanations in the room (specifically the back half, where the coffin stood) and found nothing. Casting a produce flame spell that caused a ball of flame to appear in her palm, Orchid stepped up to the wooden coffin and set it ablaze. In doing so, she saw a line of several iron maidens standing along the north wall of the chamber, and a human-sized figure in the southwestern corner. Alistair approached the supine figure (bringing Ogilvy along with the light source), and recognized it as Brother Caspian, another Stone Keep Cuthbertian. He, too, had been slain and was now awaiting the full conversion to a vampire spawn. But Harlan prevented that from happening by severing the slain cleric's head from his body with one slash of his flaming blade. Then, as the paladin went over to detect evil emanations he was picking up from the first iron maiden, Alistair pocketed a holy symbol of Saint Cuthbert that had been lying upon the ground beside Caspian's now-headless body.

As Orchid supervised the burning of Father Brewster's coffin - ensuring a permanent end to the vampire spawn when his misty form re-entered it and reverted to solid form, which blazed brightly as it caught flame and then burned to a crisp - Harlan directed Ageratum's attentions to the first iron maiden. It took her only a moment to uncover a hidden latch that allowed the entire torture device to swing forward like a door - but then, to her great surprise, she saw a pack of wolves lined up on the other side of the secret door. She tried slamming it closed, but a wolf on the other side was pushing it towards her, preventing her from relatching it into place. Harlan helped her slam it shut and heard it click into place. "Good luck opening that back up without any thumbs!" he scoffed - and was thereby quite surprised when he could hear the wolves attempting to do just that. Chaevaris came over and readied an arrow to shoot into the pack of wolves if they made it through the secret door, while Alistair prepared to cast a scorching ray spell in the same direction if they made it through. Through the closed iron maiden, Harlan could sense a strong source of evil on the other side - but just the one.

The iron maiden suddenly burst forward, as the wolves not only managed to unlatch the secret door mechanism but push it back open despite the best efforts of Ageratum and Harlan to keep it closed. The first wolf bounded into the room, dodging past Harlan's swinging sword blade but not Chaevaris's arrow, which struck him along the side of his neck. Alistair caught the wolf with both blasts of his scorching ray spell, although when Orchid tossed a ball of flame at it she missed.

The wolf loped further into the room and Ageratum swung at him with her silver short sword, catching him in the left shoulder. He howled in pain and bounded past the halfling, reverting to his once-human form as he approached Chaevaris. By his black armor, the elven archer recognized this must be Balaur, who had been depicted in a series of tapestries back at his own ruined keep, many days north of Greyhawk City, where they'd slain his vampiric wife and his mummified servant. Behind him, eight other wolves loped into the room, tongues lolling in hunger for a potential meal.

Orchid threw another ball of fire Balaur's way, this one striking true. Beside her, Shushitan bit at an approaching wolf, catching it on the leg and pulling it down to the ground, where it quickly exposed its neck in an "I surrender" motion - these wolves weren't inherently evil, merely summoned by the vampire who until recently had been wearing the form of a wolf himself. But Ageratum swung her silver blade at another wolf approaching her with a hungry look on its face; she had no intention of becoming his snack!

Chaevaris took a rapid step away from Balaur and raised her bow at him, shooting him at almost point-blank range with a pair of silver arrows shot in rapid sequence due to her boots of speed. Alistair sent another scorching ray spell Balaur's way, hitting with only one but that one causing enough damage to - judging by the look of pain on the vampire's face - nearly cause him to release his own solid form into mindless mist. Hissing in pain and fury, Balaur brought a dark sword of his own swinging at the young sorcerer while his other hand, balled into a fist, struck at Alistair from the opposite direction. The sorcerer dodged the undead fist but the black-bladed sword cut into his side, draining a portion of his vitality in the process.

Harlan found himself under attack from a wolf, while two more ganged up on Ageratum and another three went for Chaevaris. None did any significant damage, nor did the two going after Alistair. Harlan accepted a pair of snapping jaws as he raced past two wolves to bring his flaming blade down upon their undead master, Pelor's smiting energy coursing through the weapon. The cut caused Balaur to burst into mist, just as his minion Father Brewster had done earlier. And, just like his vampire spawn, once in mist form Balaur had no choice but to make a bee-line for his closest coffin, in this case passing back through the still-open iron maiden secret door.

Balaur's sudden death had an immediate effect upon the wolves; shaking their heads in irritation as if coming out of a fugue, they one by one retreated back the way they'd come, no longer interested in trying to take down a group of well-armed and well-armored adventurers. The heroes followed the mist's slow drift through the secret door, and fortunately for them his coffin was hidden just around the corner. After removing what they could from his now-solid-but-unmoving body (it would take him hours to regenerate enough to bring him to full wakefulness), Orchid set the coffin ablaze with a few flame-balls from her still-active spell, and then the vampire Balaur was no more. Harlan decided he'd wear the vampire's magic full-plate armor, which offered better protection than his own, while Ageratum took custody of the ring of force shield he wore. As for his blade, the group decided to turn it over to the clerics of the Stone Keep, as they'd be heading that way after leaving the watch tower; Alistair wanted to cast some shrink item spells on the bodies of the slain Cuthbertian cleric and paladin for proper burial. After all, it wasn't their fault they'd been turned - or were in the process of being turned - into undead monstrosities.

Once Alistair had converted the dead bodies into small pieces of cloth (which he then rolled up and stashed in a pouch at his belt), Harlan announced it was time to saddle up. "We'll spend the night at Stone Keep and then report back to the Vale in the morning," he decided. It sounded like a good plan to the others.

- - -

This "short" adventure went much longer than Dan had planned - we normally try to end up around 9:00 PM, but this one went past 10:00 PM and Vicki was really feeling it towards the end. Dan used both sides of a Paizo Flip-Map he'd purchased for this adventure ("Watch Station"), and it was a pretty cool set of maps.
Last edited:



PC Roster:
Ageratum Purslane, halfling rogue 8​
Alastair Mandelberen Pastlethwaite, human sorcerer 8​
Chaevaris Noarunal, elf archer 8​
Harlan Starblade, half-elf paladin 8​

NPC Roster:
Orchid, elf druid 8​
Skree Mauldrive, stone giant​
Talus Legturner, stone giant​

Game Session Date: 28 June 2023

- - -

The five heroes had returned to Ghourmand Vale to report back the slaying of the raiders who had been attacking farmhouses in the general vicinity, much to Karl Armbust's relief. Then they returned back to the Stone Keep the following day to observe the internment of the bodies of Father Brewster and Brother Caspian, two Cuthbertians who had been slain and turned into undead minions by the vampire blackguard Balaur. The adventurers were surprised to see the return of Father Kilkenny and his entourage, who had spent the past few weeks up in Mitrek. They had some interesting news, too, upon their return: Veluna and Celene had come to an agreement; Ghourmand Vale was to be a Free City, officially under the suzerainty of the Archclericy of Veluna but allowed to govern itself. As part of this agreement, the Stone Keep was to be expanded upon, to accommodate a full temple and training compound as part of their increased mission.

"It's that last bit we wish t' talk t' ye about," said Father Kilkenny after giving the adventurers the news. "Our numbers've been depleted by the past actions and the increase in duties here in the Vale. I ask ye t' carry a written contract an' a partial payment into th' Lortmil Mountains, t' th' Karkaletch Stone Giant Clan and return wit' their reply. This clan provided the original stone for the Keep an' we 'ope this contract'll expand our relationship an' enrich th' clan. Whaddaya say, then? Will ye do it?"

Harlan looked to the others for confirmation before replying, "Of course. We can leave as soon as we have the items in question." The Cuthbertian cleric motioned for a few of his underlings to approach; one handed over a sealed parchment envelope and another a small iron chest. "Last I heard tell," Kilkenny offered, "th' stone giants're workin' deeper than ever, an' they been hittin' pockets o' magma an' such. Inside th' chest's a medallion o' fire resistance fer their boss, Krag Splitshriek, an' five scrolls o' fire resistance; that oughta be enough fer his spellcasters t' figure out how t' cast th' spell themselves!"

Harlan accepted the offerings and passed them over to Chaevaris, who activated the door to their extradimensional dwelling just long enough for her to drop them off inside and return back to the Stone Keep courtyard. "Ready as ever," she advised the half-elf paladin.

"Then we will be off!" remarked Harlan, summoning forth Nova from the heavenly realms. The celestial pegasus manifested before his master and allowed Harlan to climb up into the saddle. Orchid climbed up into the saddle of Law, Harlan's original warhorse, and the other adventurers each climbed up upon their respective mounts. Then they were off on their two-day trek southwest to the Lortmil mountain range.

The first day of travel was uneventful and Chaevaris, after ensuring the mounts and Shushitan had everything they needed, activated the door to their extradimensional dwelling upon the ground. When so configured, the door opened to a set of stairs leading down to the interior; when activated upright, the door opened directly inside. It was one of the oddities they'd discovered since gaining possession of the magic amulet linked to the extradimensional living area. But they spent a peaceful night resting up, resuming their trek in the morning.

It was during their second day of travel that events came to them. They were heading west down a road, with open meadow on either side. Harlan figured they still had about an hour's ride ahead of them before they got to the quarry at the base of the Lortmil Mountains - quite visible in the distance ahead - when cresting a hill before them staggered four stone giants, one supporting another who could barely walk. All four wore charred, tattered clothing and had no weapons. Upon seeing the approaching heroes, they cried out (some in Common, some in Giant), "Run! He's hunting!"

Chaevaris leaped off her horse Talkacha and readied an arrow into her bow as Alistair sent Ambrose flying up to the top of the hill to see what was hunting the stone giant quartet. The grackle returned and reported back, "Big, red sky-lizard!" Blanching at the thought of a sudden combat with such a powerful foe, Alistair yelled out to the others, "We have a red dragon approaching!"

The elven archer swatted Talkacha's rump and the mount understood that as a signal to "get to safety." There was no cover anywhere about, but the horse trotted off perpendicularly from the road. Ageratum dropped from Munson's saddle and likewise sent her pony off to safety. She placed one of her "pebboulders" into her sling and got it ready to fling at the dragon once it showed. The giants hobbled on down the hill, making their best time given one of them was limping as if it hurt to put weight on one leg. "It's Akai Uzumaku Shi!" one of the giants called out, as if that meant anything to the heroes - it was apparently the red dragon's name.

Harlan took a moment to cast a bless spell on the group - including the four stone giants - then sent his celestial pegasus winging into the air to get a better look at the incoming dragon. Akai Uzumaku Shi was flying about 20 feet above the surface of the road, keeping low, hidden from view by the others by the intervening hill. The paladin judged he was still a good 600 feet or so away, but his powerful wings were eating up the distance quickly. It was difficult to tell by the distance involved, but Harlan estimated the dragon's body was as least the size of his pegasus, and that wasn't counting its lengthy neck or tail. So at least it was a relatively younger one; he realized dragons could end up taller than a house and there was no way they'd be able to take on a creature of that size!

Orchid dismounted from Law and cast a speak with animals spell, specifically so she could talk to Shushitan, her trusted timber wolf companion. "Look after the horses," she instructed. "Keep them safe, and keep them together." Shushitan, pleased as he always was when his mistress figured out how to talk (he was still a bit puzzled as to why she couldn't do it all the time), trotted over by Munson and Talkacha to do her bidding to the best of his ability. "Stay together!" Orchid called to the horses. "Shushitan will protect you!" Fortunately, frequent time spent with the wolf during travel had gotten the mounts over their instinctive fear of this particular wolf, and they had already accepted him as a part of their group, not a predator out to eat them.

Chaevaris switched from a normal arrow to a sleep arrow, having forgotten the dragon immunity to sleep magic, when Alistair called over to her. "Elfy! Can we let the giants in the door?" The one helping the wounded stone giant looked an awful like the description of Krag Splitshriek, the leader they were to have sign the contract with Ghourmand Vale, and it wouldn't do to allow him to be slain by this red dragon. Chaevaris lowered her bow and touched the amulet around her neck, softly calling out, "Brother." A door materialized in the middle of the road, and she pulled it open, indicating for the stone giants to squeeze inside. Krag helped his wounded companion inside and then turned to the other two stone giants before he entered himself. "Stay to help fight the dragon," he commanded, and Skree Mauldrive and Talus Legturner each thumped a fist to their chest, a sign of obeisance. Then Krag ducked through the doorway and closed the door behind him.

Ageratum looked around for some cover, realized there was none at hand, and then realized that she had the means to create some herself. Fishing out another "pebboulder" from her pouch, she dropped it onto the road before her and it resumed its full size, a boulder perfectly sized for a small halfling to crouch behind. She still had another of the magically-shrunken boulders in her sling, but at least now she felt like she had some protection, for her bespoke armor, while perfectly suited to help her blend in with surrounding vegetation, made her look like a shrub incongruously growing in the middle of the road.

Alistair finally realized the wisdom of allowing his horse Zephyr to seek the relative safety of "not right here in the middle of the upcoming fight with a dragon" and sent him off to join the others. He took a moment to cast a mage armor spell on himself and then said to Ambrose, "You'd better stay back as well." Ambrose didn't need any further prompting; he was off like a shot flying in the vicinity of the horses and wolf.

Harlan had Nova fly even higher, and the dragon locked eyes with the paladin, seeing him as a potential threat to his game with his four released stone giant captives. Akai Uzumaku Shi opted to deal with this new threat first, for he could see the paladin's gleaming armor and flaming sword - not that he had anything to fear from the blade's flames, but where there was one adventurer there were usually others. He began to rise above the hill, making a bee-line for Harlan and Nova. The other adventurers had yet to get their first sight of him, as the hill was still in their way, but that wouldn't hold true for too much longer.

Orchid wildshaped into an eagle and took wing, speeding as quickly as she could towards Harlan, praying she could get to him in time. Chaevaris backed away from the now-closed door in the road, giving herself plenty of room before the dragon would be able to reach her with its flaming breath. But she lined up an arrow shot, ready to track the dragon's movement through the sky once it came into view. Alistair cast a shield spell upon himself, as was standard practice for the sorcerer, when he recalled he knew the resist energy spell as well. He hadn't had much reason to cast it before during his adventures, but if ever there was a time to protect oneself from flames, this was it!

Nova dropped altitude as Harlan cast a bull's strength spell upon both himself and his aerial steed. The dragon veered to match course. And then Orchid, in eagle form, dropped briefly upon Harlan's shoulder - just long enough for her to cast a resist energy spell upon the paladin, helping to protect him from the fiery breath weapon she knew red dragons could bring to bear in a fight. Then she was off again, flying back towards the others on the ground: Alistair and Chaevaris standing their ground where they stood, Ageratum crouched behind a boulder with her sling at the ready.

Alistair cast a resist energy spell upon himself, granting himself (he hoped) the ability to withstand the red dragon's horrid breath. He looked behind him at Ageratum and Chaevaris; they were too far away for him to reach easily and provide them the same protection before the dragon would likely be in range. He swore quietly at himself for his lack of preparation and forethought. This was hardly the best footing of a Trained Professional Adventurer!

The dragon suddenly rose up over the hill that had been blocking sight of him, and the heroes on the ground got their first look at the first red dragon they'd ever encountered. It was impressive in size, but had fortunately not yet reached the size by which mere sight of it turned a foe's limbs to jelly and shattered his resolve against daring to combat so majestic a creature. Skree, however, wasn't looking skyward at the moment; the two unarmed giants were frantically looking about for any kind of weapon and Skree had noticed Ageratum's boulder. He snatched it up, despite an aggrieved "Hey!" of complaint from the halfling, and hefted it to throw at Akai Uzumaku Shi when he came within range.

At Harlan's direction, Nova quickly landed and the paladin leaped off his aerial steed, telling Nova to keep the other mounts safe. Then he swung about in place, flaming sword held high, and confirmed what he pretty much already knew: that the red dragon was evil in nature. Orchid dropped low to the ground, casting a resist energy spell on herself while she did so. Chaevaris sent her sleep arrow flying at the red dragon, but it bounced off the great beast's scales and fell harmlessly to the side. Still, the red dragon was seemingly surprised at the sudden attack, for he was well out of the range of most bows. That green-leafed elf (what was she wearing?) was a greater threat than he'd first assumed. The archer quickly fitted another arrow to her bow and lined up her shot, but its erratic movement as it flew made it difficult for her to lock on a shot.

Ageratum, feeling exposed without her boulder to hide behind, sprinted towards the door in the road and pulled it open. She scrambled inside, telling herself she wouldn't have been able to deal much damage to a dragon of that size with her little sling in any case, pebboulder or no. She checked to see how the wounded stone giant, Hauler Bagfull, was doing, trying to tell herself she came into the safety of the extradimensional dwelling to see to the giants they had rescued. She pulled a pair of healing potions from her belt, handing them over to the two wounded guests.

Alistair cast the spell he'd been waiting to cast, and an ice storm suddenly dropped pieces of hail onto the red dragon, buffeting its body and causing it to wobble a bit in midair under the onslaught. Then the sorcerer moved laterally across the road, away from the stone giants (in case the dragon was still focused on taking them out first). It was definitely headed their way, about 50 feet away now and back to around 20 feet above the surface of the road. Skree yelled and threw his stolen boulder with all of his might. It hit the dragon in the side but bounced off without having dealt much damage at all. Harlan began charging the dragon, intending to meet him when he landed, but the flying beast soared over his head, still maintaining its elevation above the road, and the paladin had to spin in place and run back the way he had come, now chasing the dragon from behind (and still well below).

Orchid flew behind the dragon as well, casting a greater magic fang spell upon herself as she did so; the ability to cast spells while in the form of an animal was one of her greatest combat strengths. She did a full arc and was now behind the dragon, struggling to catch up.

At this distance, Chaevaris had no trouble getting a strong bead on the dragon with her aimed arrow; now it was a matter of just fine-tuning the shot until it went exactly where she wanted it: right at the base of the throat. Alistair cast one more ice storm spell up at the dragon, before he got too close to the sorcerer's allies and the spell would no longer be prudent. Once again, he could tell its effects were felt - and felt hard - by the flame-breathing lizard; cold-based spells were often the best to use against those with an innate affinity to fire. Chaevaris let loose with her arrow, but the shot went wide; whether it was true or not, the archer was willing to blame it on having been deflected by a hailstone from Alistair's spell. But then the dragon breathed out a gout of flame encompassing both stone giants and Alistair (who hadn't skedaddled far enough away, it seemed), before passing over them and ending up directly before Chaevaris, who was scrambling to get another arrow into place at her bow. The giants howled in pain, taking the full brunt of the fiery attack; Alistair's resist fire spell lessened the effect drastically, but he was still singed rather badly.

Unarmed but thirsting for vengeance, the stone giants leaped up at their tormentor. Skree got hold of the dragon's tail and tightened his grip, while Talus was kicked away when he tried getting a grasp upon the dragon's back right leg. But Skree's extra weight was not only slowing the dragon's flight speed, it was dragging him down to the ground. Harlan increased his speed towards the dragon, seeing his chance to deal it some damage with his sword.

Orchid was still pretty far back from the dragon, so she cast a summon nature's ally spell, calling forth a pair of giant eagles, which manifested on either side of Akai Uzumaku Shi's head. They shrieked in rage as they scratched at the reptile with their curved talons, to no great effect. Chaevaris activated her boots of speed and sent three arrows racing toward the dragon in rapid succession, one of them burying itself deep into the beast's rugged hide.

Ageratum, feeling a tad guilty at having hidden inside in safety, opened the door again and peered outside. To her surprise, the dragon was now down at ground level, with one of the stone giants hanging almost prone with a death-grip on the reptile's tail. Well, that certainly changed things! Slamming the door shut behind her, the little halfling unsheathed her silver short sword and readied it for bloodshed.

Alistair cast a magic missile spell at the dragon and was surprised to see it absorbed harmlessly by a shield spell; what on earth had ever possessed a dragon of that size to cast a shield spell upon itself when hunting down four wounded stone giants with no spellcasting abilities among them? He was almost certain it hadn't cast the spell since the sorcerer had seen the dragon - and by logic, since the dragon had first spotted the sorcerer among the foes it was now up against. Strange, indeed!

Akai Uzumaku Shi shrugged and twisted, trying to get rid of Skree Mauldrive's unwanted extra weight so he could regain the freedom and safety of the skies, but to no avail; the stubborn stone giant was hanging on for dear life - a quite apt phrase, for it was completely true. Talus stepped up to the dragon and pounded at it with his fists, but was unable to connect as it thrashed about, seeking its freedom. The giant eagles fared a little better, one of them managing to slash its talons along the dragon's face, drawing blood as red as the reptile's scales.

Then Harlan charged in at full speed, his flaming burst longsword sliding in deep between the dragon's scales - and while the flames along his blade did no extra damage to the great reptile, the additional smiting energy he had channeled through it from the God of the Sun certainly did. Coming up behind Harlan, Orchid dropped to the ground and wildshaped again, this time to a small viper. Chaevaris pumped another three arrows at the dragon, two of them finding their marks and the other being deflected off a hardened scale. Then Ageratum got within striking range, sliding her small blade between a pair of scales along the dragon's spine, near the base of the tail.

Alistair advanced towards the dragon rather slowly, grumbling to himself. There was no way he could cast another ice storm spell without similarly blasting most of his friends; the reptile's shield spell made magic missiles pointless; scorching ray was a non-starter against a creature that spewed raw flames from its mouth. He could try touch of idiocy spells, but he feared it would take quite a lot of them before they had any noticeable effects. Stab it with his rapier or pull out his crossbow? He didn't like the apparent thickness of the creature's scales. Oh, bugger all - he finally cast an acid splash spell at the irritating beast and watched as one of its scales started bubbling. Alistair had no doubt he'd barely even damaged the dragon, but he held out hope that maybe the simple spell had at least hurt a bit.

Unable to dislodge Skree, Akai Uzumaku Shi did the next best thing: he craned his pliant neck around and belched another gout of flame at the offending stone giant. Of course, Alistair, Harlan, and Ageratum were all within the blast area as well. Alistair survived - just barely - by the protection of his resist fire spell, although he was woozy on his feet and he felt as if his entire face and hair were covered in soot, a most uncomfortable feeling indeed. Ageratum had seen the blast coming and dived to the side at the last moment, taking a smaller blast than normal. Harlan was also protected by a resist fire spell, and this was his first blast of fire-breath - he was fine, although a lesser man might have fallen under the attack. But poor Skree, wounded as he'd been from the get-go, succumbed to the full fury of the blast, and his lifeless limbs released the dragon's tail, freeing it to make for the skies again where it could fight off these foes in its own element.

Talus wasn't about to let that happen. He lunged forward, attempting to replace Skree in pinning the dragon down with the weight of his own body. But the dragon's wounds actually helped him out here, for the giant couldn't get a good grip on the reptile's blood-smeared scales. Harlan performed another smiting attack with his longsword, hoping to slay the beast before it could take flight. His blade struck true and struck deep, but the dragon still lived. Orchid's viper fangs slid past the creature's scales, but the venom she pumped into him had no apparent effect, for dragons were sturdy creatures with hearty constitutions. The giant eagles attacked in a frenzy, but they couldn't seem to pierce the dragon's scales with their talons and beaks. Chaevaris shot another three arrows into the beast, and these at last made the red dragon stagger a bit on his feet and nearly stumble. Finally, it was the group's smallest hero, Ageratum Purslane, who got in the final blow that took down Akai Uzumaku Shi: crawling underneath the frantic reptile, she stabbed upwards with all of her might and cut right through his belly scales (then had to scramble to safety before the collapsing dragon's body crushed her beneath it!).

Due to the presence of the Blood Mirror, Akai Uzumaku Shi wasn't dead, merely unconscious, his bleeding wounds already sealing up to prevent him from dying while lying there.

Due to the presence of Ageratum, the dragon's throat was slit within a minute of it having been downed, and there wasn't a whole lot the Blood Mirror could do about that.

Harlan went immediately to the body of Skree, feeling for a pulse. No such luck - the final blast of fiery breath had pushed the wounded stone giant well over the threshold of the Blood Mirror's ability to keep him alive and breathing. "Somebody go tell the other stone giants it's safe to come out," the paladin said sadly, feeling bad that this giant, a stranger to him mere minutes before, had fallen so the rest of them could live. Orchid resumed her elven form and went over to comply with the half-elf's wishes.

Once everyone was back outside, Krag was able to fill the heroes in on what had transpired. "The red dragon attacked us three days ago," he said, spitting to the side of the road in disgust. "He came in with a bunch of hill giant minions, taking us by surprise and overwhelming us with sheer numbers. We'd have been able to fight off the hill giants ourselves, but against a red dragon? We were outclassed, sure and simple. Our women and children were separated from us and locked away, while the damned dragon had sport with the rest of us. In groups of four, he released us, with the following options: fight him, or try to flee. If they could remain safe from him for a full day, he'd let them live, and if they could manage to kill him, he had orders for the hill giants to let everyone go. The first two groups tried to fight him, and they were taken down rather quickly. We tried to flee, thinking we could get word out to someone capable of helping free the rest of us." He smiled down at Harlan and the others. "It's a good thing we happened to meet up with you lot on the road."

"It wasn't entirely happenstance," replied the half-elf paladin, gesturing for Orchid to bring him the chest and sealed parchment. "We were sent here by the clerics of the Stone Keep, over by Ghourmand Vale...." And Harlan filled them in on Father Kilkenny's proposal.

"Well and good!" agreed Krag. "But before we can get Kilkenny his stone, we'll need to free my tribe!"

"And we'll all be there at your side," promised Harlan. He looked towards the others for confirmation, but Alistair had just summoned Ogilvy with an unseen servant spell and was having him comb out the sorcerer's hair and retie the ribbon that held it on place (with a new hair ribbon, as the first had been burned too much to be salvaged); Ageratum was watching the fussy sorcerer with amusement as she cleaned dragon blood from her sword with a rag; Chaevaris was picking through the arrows she'd shot at the dragon, seeing if any of them could be salvaged; and Orchid was heading over to Shushitan to thank him for watching over the mounts and keeping them safe during the dragon attack.

"They all agree," Harlan assured Krag with a smile.

- - -

There was a little disgruntlement at the set-up of the dragon fight, because in Dan's mind the dragon had always been hidden behind the hill, 750 feet away, but in his description to us it seemed as if the dragon was high in the sky, looking down for the prey to which it had given a head start. Once he said it was 750 feet away, I looked up the range of an ice storm and voiced aloud I could cast it from 720 feet away, and Logan was commenting how his archer PC's sniper skills could (finally!) be used in the way in which he'd always intended, to shoot at enemies from a great distance. Then, when Dan said, "No, no, you can't even see the dragon yet, he's flying down low and there's a hill in the way." it sounded to all of us as if he'd suddenly changed the parameters of the fight once he realized we'd be able to get in four rounds of attacking it before it could attack us in turn. Then, the fact that it had a shield spell already active when we fought it seemed like an additional way to make sure we didn't kill his precious dragon too soon. (Dan claimed after the fact the dragon only cast shield on himself when he spotted Harlan and Nova.) In any case, it was a difficult fight, and we confounded Dan by not using the resist energy scrolls (and medallion) he thought he'd cleverly seeded into the adventure. (I informed him the next day at work we all considered using those as a non-starter, for to use them for our own protection we'd be breaking the contract with Krag before he even got a chance to sign it.) I guess we'll have to chock it up to different views and poor communication, but the encounter almost killed two of us. (Alistair was down to 3 hp and Ageratum almost didn't survive the blast of its fiery breath weapon at the end of the fight.)



PC Roster:
Ageratum Purslane, halfling rogue 8​
Alastair Mandelberen Pastlethwaite, human sorcerer 8​
Chaevaris Noarunal, elf archer 8​
Harlan Starblade, half-elf paladin 8​

NPC Roster:
Blue Lichen, stone giantess​
Hauler Bagfull, stone giant​
Krag Splitshriek, stone giant​
Orchid, elf druid 8​
Talus Legturner, stone giant​

Game Session Date: 5 July 2023

- - -

Alistair cast a shrink item spell upon the corpse of the red dragon Akai Uzumaku Shi and transformed it to a piece of cloth he could roll up and pass over to Harlan. "I imagine you might make a fairly good impression on those hill giants if you plop this down at their feet and it restores to its full size," the sorcerer declared. "Then you can say something like, 'Who wants to be next?' - and they might well just surrender right there and then."

"It's...definitely a possibility," agreed the paladin, taking the proffered cloth and storing it in a pouch at his belt. Personally, he doubted a force of hill giants was going to just give up that easily, but he didn't want to dampen the sorcerer's enthusiasm. Alistair then cast the spell again, this time on the corpse of Skree Mauldrive. This piece of cloth he rolled up and placed in a vest pocket. "Once we've driven out the hill giants, the stone giants might wish to give him a proper burial," he explained.

Chaevaris approached, asking, "Do we head to the stone giant lair now and try to rescue them, or rest up overnight and take the hill giants tomorrow when we're at our full fighting strength?" The question was directed at Harlan, but it was the stone giant leader who answered. "Tomorrow is time enough," Krag declared. "The hill giants will not suspect anything if the dragon spends a full 24 hours hunting us down - those were the conditions of the challenge. Best we strike tomorrow at full strength." Harlan said nothing, as that was what he had decided as well.

The group - all five heroes, the three remaining stone giants, and Shushitan the wolf - slept inside the extradimensional dwelling attuned to Chaevaris's magic amulet. The healers among them, Orchid and to a lesser extent Harlan, did what they could to heal up the worst of the stone giants' wounds (as well as those taken by the heroes, primarily among them Alistair and Ageratum), but a good night's rest added quite a lot to their healing efforts. Harlan apologized for the lack of giant-sized accommodations, but Krag waved them away, stating he and his two remaining men were fine on the floor with a few pillows.

And thus it was the next day saw the assembled group refreshed and ready to take back the stone giant lair from the hill giants who had conquered it with the aid of the red dragon the heroes had slain the day before. Krag told them what they could expect to find at the quarry: six women and 11 children (the three stone giants with the heroes were all of the adult males remaining from his tribe, the others having been slain in the dragon's "games"), captured and guarded by an unknown number of hill giants, ogres, orcs, and dire wolves. They were only about an hour away from the stone quarry where the Karkaletch Stone Giant Clan laired.

Harlan, as usual, rode in the front mounted upon Nova, his celestial pegasus. The other heroes trailed on their own mounts, Shushitan trotting happily alongside his mistress Orchid, who rode Harlan's warhorse law. The three stone giants strode beside the heroes, pointing out the way ahead.

They entered a small grove of trees and Chaevaris's keen eyes spotted a set of drag-marks in the path ahead. Someone - a giant, by the looks of the size of the footprints - was dragging along something heavy, accompanied by a quartet of human-sized companions. Holding up a hand for silence, the archer gestured there were enemies ahead and the group surged forward quietly. Soon, they could hear a gruff voice calling out something in the Giant tongue; Krag translated the phrase as, "Pull harder, bitch!"

Rounding a corner along the path, the group could finally see who it was they faced: a female stone giant was pulling a makeshift sledge, upon which were lashed several barrels, and sitting upon the top barrel was an ogre. A pair of well-armed and armored orcs kept pace on either side of the stone giant, ensuring she didn't drop her burden and try to flee.

Harlan urged Nova into action, and the pegasus dashed forward, rearing up to kick the ogre in the back of the head with a sharpened hoof. Harlan swung his flaming burst longsword from the back of the pegasus, bringing the blade slicing along the ogre's broad back with one strike and then reversing course and catching it again from the other side. The ogre cried out in pain, toppled off the side of the barrel, and landed in a heap face-down in the dirt of the forest path, unconscious from his wounds but stabilized by the power of Harlan's Blood Mirror gemstone.

Ageratum urged her pony Munson forward, leaping over the downed ogre to lash out at the nearest orc with a hoof, while the mounted halfling stabbed her silver short sword into the orc's back. Together, the attacks of the little rogue and her pony mount brought the orc down, not only unconscious but already well and truly dead, far beyond Harlan's magic gem's ability to stabilize. Behind her, the stone giants all rushed forward, eager to join in the fray but not as swift as the heroes' mounts.

Orchid sent Law rushing forward, and the druid cast a produce flame spell in her hand as they advanced. She threw her first ball of flame at the orc on the other side of the sledge from the one Ageratum had just slain, but the flames missed. Then Alistair brought down not only that one but the orc beside him with a simple magic missile spell, splitting the number of missiles between the two foes. Neither was dead, thanks to the Blood Mirror, but the sorcerer well knew that was only temporary, for their bloodthirsty halfling companion didn't like leaving enemies still breathing behind her.

Chaevaris shot an arrow into the back of the last orc's head, killing him instantly. With the foes all brought down, the stone giantess stopped and set down her burden. The three stone giants recognized her at once, calling out "Blue Lichen!" It turned out she was the wife of Skree Mauldrive, the giant who had died yesterday taking down the red dragon. "What's all this?" Krag demanded, indicating the barrels lashed to the sledge.

"Some sort of stinky hill giant liquor," Blue Lichen replied. "They sent us out to the old hill giant lair to fetch the booze for some sort of celebration they're planning back at the quarry."

"Well, that's where we're headed," Krag explained. "Only they won't find they have too much to celebrate once we get there - these heroes here are going to help us liberate our people."

"Hang about," interrupted Alistair. "If these barrels are filled with liquor...." He explained he wanted to shrink down four of them after first having set them on fire. That way, Chaevaris could attach them - in harmless cloth form - to four of her arrows, and when they struck their targets, the flaming barrels would return to full size, where they'd then explode, splashing burning alcohol in all directions. Orchid helped him in his task by setting four of the barrels on fire with her still-active produce flame spell. "You know," Ageratum remarked, "when you first started using that spell, I kind of wondered why you wasted your time on it instead of something flashier, like fireball or lightning bolt. But it's been a really useful spell."

"Ah, yes, which reminds me..." replied Alistair, his face burning red in embarrassment. He reached inside his vest and pulled out a bit of rolled-up cloth. Handing it over to Blue Lichen, he said, "I'm rather afraid this is your husband's body. You'll want to hang onto it, I'm sure, until this business with the hill giants is over." Blue Lichen's stony face looked about ready to burst into tears, and for an awful moment Alistair feared she would use her husband's cloth-form corpse as a handkerchief and blow her nose into it, but she regained her composure at the last moment. "Thank you," she said, stuffing the cloth into her top.

"We're about ten minutes out," reminded Harlan. "Now's as good a time as any for any long-term spellcasting any of you want to do." Alistair gathered up everyone's ammunition and cast a flame arrow spell upon it, but the others opted to wait until they were closer to the quarry to do their preparing-for-combat spellcasting. Abandoning the corpses behind them (after Ageratum had ensured they were in fact all corpses), the group pressed on towards the quarry.

Once the quarry was within view - and the group was still amply hidden by trees, so they could remain unseen by their foes - the spellcasting began in earnest. Harlan boosted his combat prowess with a bull's strength spell, while Orchid cast the barkskin spell three times: on herself, Harlan, and Ageratum. Alistair cast mage armor and shield spells upon himself, then sent his grackle familiar Ambrose forward to scout the terrain ahead. The black bird flew over the open quarry, spun about, and returned to tell his master what he had seen.

The hill giants had made a few modifications to the quarry since Krag and his three companions had been sent out to try to avoid the dragon for 24 hours the previous day. There was now a 10-foot-deep pit in the middle of the quarry, around which the entire hill giant contingent was ringed, looking on at the activities below. Inside this new pit were three stone giant women, each wearing a set of manacles, and seven of the stone giant children, the children all lying in a pile, looking to have been drugged. And snapping at the giantesses were three dire wolves, trying to get past them to eat the unmoving children while the hill giants cheered them on from above.

The quarry itself was about 40 feet deep on three sides, with the south side - the direction from which the heroes were arriving - bearing the opening to the quarry at ground level. The ground rose up on either side of the entrance, and there were two cave openings at the back end of the quarry. One of these was at ground level and led down to the lower mines where the stone giants had recently unearthed a series of magma tunnels and veins of rich obsidian; the other was about 20 feet up the north wall of the quarry (and reachable by an inclined walkway paralleling the northern quarry wall) that led to the stone giant habitations. But of immediate notice to Chaevaris was the tall tree at the southeastern corner of the quarry, from which she felt confident she could use her sniper skills to best advantage. Dropping down from her horse Talkacha, she scurried over to the tree, confident that the hill giants were too engrossed in their blood sport to notice her approach.

Once at the tree, the nimble archer scurried up it, careful to keep the broad trunk between her and the giants, before climbing over to a thick branch and making herself comfortable - with any luck, she'd spend the entire combat right here. She pulled out an arrow and attached the first of the four shrunken "flaming barrels of alcohol" cloths to its tip, such that when the arrow hit its target (or anything, really) the shrink item spell would be negated and the flaming barrel would return to its full size - and continue its interrupted burn. Lining up her first target, a hill giant facing her way at the far western side of the combat pit, she let fly. The arrow missed, hitting the ground at the giant's feet instead of his chest, but the explosion occurred regardless, splashing the giant's neighbors on either side with burning alcohol. The response of the giants hit was predictable (shock, surprise, and pain) while those of the rest of the hill giants was not what Chaevaris would have expected, for they merely laughed and pointed at their burning fellows, not stopping to wonder where the sudden gout of flames had come from.

But the fiery explosion also served as a "combat has begun" signal for the rest of the attacking group. Seeing the flames, the three stone giant males were off like a shot, each gripping the new wooden greatclub they'd scored for themselves by grabbing living branches off of trees back in the forest and stripping them down as they traveled to the quarry. Blue Lichen ran after them, although she hadn't bothered crafting a makeshift greatclub for herself.

In the combat pit, one of the stone giant women opted to take matters into her own hands, by going on the offensive. Her rock-hard fist went crashing into the side of a dire wolf's head, staggering it for a moment and at least slowing down its attack for a bit. Seeing her success, another giantess approached and hit the woozy dire wolf on the other side of his head, causing him to regret his current role as a punching bag. The third giantess punched at another wolf whose darting approaches were getting too close to the drugged children for her liking.

The hill giants who'd been splattered with the flaming alcohol managed to pat down the fires burning on their hide clothes, while the others enjoyed the spectacle. Only one of the audience of 12 kept his eyes focused on the blood games down below; he punished one of the stone giantesses for fighting back at the dire wolves by throwing a fist-sized boulder at the back of her head.

As for the heroes, they too were advancing upon the quarry. Ageratum, wearing her bespoke armor made entirely of magically-hardened plants, ran erratically towards the quarry entrance, dashing and then stopping, trying to take on the appearance of a harmless bush should anyone be looking her way. Harlan had leapt from Nova's back and was charging towards the quarry entrance, casting a bless spell on their four stone giant allies and the rest of his band (except for Chaevaris, who was already out of the spell's range) as he went. Nova, knowing his role, retreated back to the other horses to keep them safe.

But of the other mounts, Zephyr was not in hiding, for Alistair had decided he might want the added speed and mobility as he cast his combat spells at the hill giants. His first such spell was an ice storm cast up at the northeastern corner of blood sport spectators, catching a full five hill giants in his blast of falling hailstones. As for Ambrose, though, Alistair sent him back out of harm's way to stay by the other mounts, for he didn't want the little grackle getting hit by any of the hill giant's nasty clubs or thrown rocks, any one of which could easily squash a bird his size in one fell swoop. Ambrose, for his part, did not bother to argue against the idea.

Law also broke forth from the other mounts, Orchid urging him forward. Once she had gotten a good look at the hill giants ringing their new combat pit, she was able to cast a spike stones spell directly underneath each of the giants' feet and spreading out away from the pit for a good 20 feet or so. The nearly invisible spikes couldn't be used to actively attack the bottoms of the giants where they stood, but as soon as any of them tried moving they'd be in for a world of hurt. But the druid had similar feelings about Shushitan's survival likelihood in a battle against hill giants and sent him back to help guard the other horses.

The dire wolves snapped at the stone giantesses, two of them missing but the third grabbing hold of a tough-skinned wrist wearing a manacle. He tried pulling her prone, but the stone giantess was too large a foe for that to be an easy task and she retained her footing. Up in her tree, Chaevaris took aim at another hill giant and let loose with another barrel-tipped arrow, this one striking the target right in the chest as intended and exploding into a ball of flames which engulfed several of his neighbors. Roars of surprise and pain erupted from the burned hill giants, who were just now coming to realize they were under attack.

And now the stone giants had reached the quarry. Hauler slammed his greatclub into the head of the closest hill giant on the west side of the pit, while Talus leaped down into the pit and brought his weapon crashing down upon the skull of one of the dire wolves, knocking him into immediate unconsciousness. Krag remained at the pit's edge but reached down and struck another dire wolf with his own greatclub. One of the manacled giantesses lashed out at the same dire wolf, and between the two of them they managed to kill it for good. Blue Lichen and one of the other manacled stone giantesses managed to bludgeon another of their lupine foes into unconsciousness, this time undisturbed by the hill giants above who were looking about for attackers.

The hill giant under attack by Hauler swung his own greatclub at the stone giant, and the one behind him moved to aid his companion but in so doing tread upon the stone spikes and howled in pain, the sudden attack upon the bottoms of his feet ruining his swing at Hauler. Several other hill giants opted to toss rocks at their attackers - or at the stone giantesses in the pit below, just for good measure - but they missed more times than they hit. Krag took a lucky hit to the side of his head but shrugged it off.

Ageratum had, by this time, maneuvered herself into throwing range and tossed a kobold shortspear at the wounded giant who had tried flanking Hauler. Her weapon bounced off his thick hide armor so she threw another, with no better luck. Alistair sent Zephyr forward towards the entry to the quarry, casting a scorching ray spell up at the hill giant closest to Chaevaris's perch, and thus the one most likely to be in a position to try to yank her down from her sniper-spot should he catch sight of her. But now the giant had other things to worry about, as he was encompassed by the spell's blasts of fire.

Orchid cast a call lightning spell and brought a bolt of flashing electricity arcing down from the skies above. It hit the same giant Alistair had just targeted, but the ferocious foe still refused to fall. Up in the tree, Chaevaris shot the third of her "exploding barrel special" arrows into the broad chest of another hill giant, splashing those around him with flames. Several of the hill giants found themselves on fire as a result, their ragged hides catching aflame.

Hauler slammed his club into the hill giant he'd been fighting, as Talus did likewise from below in the pit, striking at the hill giant's knees. Krag went rushing uphill to the east, slamming the wounded and roaring hill giant who'd just been targeted by spells from both Alistair and Orchid. And with all of this going on, the manacled stone giantesses saw an opportunity and started grabbing up their unconscious children, scooping them up in their arms to deposit them upon the south side of the combat pit, the one side not covered by hill giant spectators (and thus likewise not covered by the spike stones spell effect). Some of them took hits from hill giant clubs from above as they did so, but Blue Lichen joined them in their efforts.

The hill giant being pounded by Hauler and Talus opted to make discretion the better part of valor, but in his attempts to flee he tore up the bottoms of his feet something fierce on the stone spikes and ended up collapsing forward into unconsciousness, which only managed to impale his face and prodigious belly upon the hard-to-see spikes. The other hill giant nearby focused his attention on hitting Hauler with his greatclub, taking special care not to move from the spot he was on so he didn't tread on any more of those treacherous spikes. Another nearby giant found out about the stone spikes the hard way when he tried advancing to aid in the attack upon Hauler, who had figured out by now not to do any advancing himself, but to let the hill giants come to him.

Two other hill giants stepped on the hidden spikes and stopped right where they were, fearful now of moving in any direction. That at least kept them occupied for a bit and out of the present rumble. Another couple of hill giants figured out it seemed safe inside the pit and leaped down into it, to attack the unarmed stone giantesses. They seemed to have no compunctions about attacking unarmed, manacled women with weapons of their own. One of the giantesses fell down under a flurry of such attacks, but she did so knowing they'd at least already gotten the kids to relative safety.

One of the hill giants wearing smoldering hides threw a rock at Krag, but the stone giant merely caught the hurled missile and threw it right back at his attacker. Another giant tried the same tactic but his rock missed, sailing harmlessly by the stone giant leader's head. Two other hill giants nearby took a moment to pat out the fires on their worn hides, while another was close enough to whack his club at Krag while he was dealing with the rock-throwers.

Ageratum threw another pair of kobold shortspears at the hill giant fighting Hauler, and this time she hit with both, each weapon striking deep. Harlan raced up past the halfling and brought his flaming burst longsword into the side of the same giant, nearly causing the foe to drop right then and there. Alistair cast another ice storm spell at a clump of five hill giants, buffeting them with hailstones from above. This was enough to knock one of the giants out, who them further damaged himself by falling into the spike stones spell effect. Orchid then cast a flame strike spell onto three of the same hill giants, knocking out another.

Activating her boots of speed to allow her to get in additional shots over the same span of time, Chaevaris sent a flurry of arrows at a range of targets. Her first shot brought down her first target, dropping him face-first into the spike stones and instant unconsciousness; her second shot hit the targeted giant but failed to bring him down; and her third shot had the last of her "exploding barrel" cloths attached to it, and it knocked out its initial target while simultaneously splashing flaming liquid onto those nearby.

Hauler swung his greatclub in rapid succession at the two nearest enemies, killing the first one outright. Talus moved along the edge of the pit, swinging up at a hill giant who hadn't been expecting attacks from this direction. dropping him backwards to be impaled onto the spike stones and into unconsciousness. Krag continued his attacks upon the hill giant closest to Chaevaris's sniper perch, slamming him with his new greatclub. Down in the pit, Blue Lichen helped the other two conscious stone giantesses - each still bound by manacles on each wrist - up and out of the pit, so they could carry the drugged children away to safety. The one who had been knocked out earlier they had to leave there, but she was likely safe from the hill giants with so many other more pressing foes to worry about.

Several of the hill giants tossed rocks at their enemies, one going for Krag and another aiming at Talus. One leaped down at Talus, opting to fight him in the pit where it was likely somewhat safer. Another forced himself to ignore the pain from the stone spikes as he moved up to engage Krag in battle. Another managed to get in a swing at Krag before passing out from the blood loss from his own sliced-up feet; he fell sideways into the pit to lie in a heap.

Ageratum advanced as close as the pit's edge and threw the last of her kobold spears at a hill giant too afraid to move and be stabbed on the bottoms of his bare feet. It pierced him in his ample belly. Harlan leaped into the pit to help Talus fight off one of his attackers, the paladin's flaming sword-blade cutting through thick hide and prodigious belly fat with equal ease. Alistair targeted one of the healthier-looking hill giants with a scorching ray spell, searing him with the rays of his spell. Orchid brought down another bolt of lightning from the sky and then silently dismissed the stone spikes spell, realizing the hill giants wouldn't know she had done so and also aware that many of the heroes were now right up at the edge of the spell's area of effect in any case and otherwise might accidentally stray onto a few spikes themselves.

Another flurry of three arrows came flying down out of the tree, each aimed at the same target, and the hill giant fell over backwards with three arrows sticking out of his chest and a dumbfounded expression on his face. Hauler leaped into the pit and started wailing on one of the hill giants down there, slamming him with his greatclub. Talus did likewise, and between the two of them the hill giant was soon dead beyond recovery. By then, the stone giantesses had gathered up the seven children and were running off with them out of the quarry, over by the edge of the forest where Nova and Shushitan guarded the heroes' mounts.

While one lone hill giant stood frozen in fear to the north of the combat pit, unaware that there were no longer any spikes surrounding him, another managed to hit Krag with his own greatclub. Krag had by this time taken quite a lot of damage, but he was still very much in the fight to free his diminished tribe. Ageratum, seeing the fight was all but over at this time, decided to get a head start on the aftermath and drew her silver short sword, ready to start slitting the throats of the hill giants who were merely unconscious, not dead - and heck, even the dead ones, just to be sure. In the pit, Harlan brought down one of the surviving hill giants with his flaming sword, while Alistair, still astride Zephyr to the south of the quarry, cast another scorching ray spell that took out one of the remaining hill giants going after Krag. And soon thereafter, after a few more bolts of lightning from the skies and swinging clubs by vengeance-seeking stone giants, the hill giants had all been taken care of, with nothing left but to ensure the death of those brought into mere unconsciousness. Despite Ageratum's preferred method of overcoming the Blood Mirror's life-saving properties - a slit across the throat with a well-sharpened blade - the stone giants seemed to prefer to bash in the skulls of their foes with their greatclubs. A shattered head was as good an indicator of a permanent death, in any case.

The stone giantesses warned the heroes there were two more hill giants inside the stone giant lair, guarding the rest of their captives, but Harlan assured her they'd go take care of them next. And the two hill giants were no match for the five heroes, falling without much fuss at all. Once they were slain, the giantesses said there were still others of the invading force, but none of them were here at the quarry at the moment; like the team that had been sent ahead to fetch a sledge's worth of hill giant brew, others had been sent back to the hill giants' former lair to fetch their belongings in preparation of moving into the stone giant lair on a permanent basis.

"You need have no fears about them," promised Harlan. "Blue Lichen knows where their old lair is located - we'll make that next on our list, to go take them out." Then, turning to Krag, he said, "But I believe the red dragon laired nearby, in the obsidian tunnels you unearthed? I'd like to go check that out first, while we're here." Krag agreed at once, leading the group down into the recently unearthed tunnels, where the red dragon's lair was soon discovered - and plundered, the numerous coins and gems being brought into the extradimensional dwelling tied to Chaevaris's amulet.

"And then I believe we have only one more bit of business before we go take out the rest of your invaders on their own home turf," declared Alistair, removing the contract from a vest pocket. He proffered it to Krag to sign, and the stone giant leader did so carefully, holding the undersize pen in his overlarge fingers and dipping the quill into the bottle of ink the young sorcerer offered up before signing the contract with the clerics of Stone Keep for an order of more blocks of stone for their additions. "With our decreased numbers, it'll take a bit longer than normal to get them their stone," Krag admitted, "but we'll see to it that they get what they need!"

"Most excellent!" agreed the sorcerer.

- - -

This adventure brought us right to the cusp of 9th level - we each only need a few scant hundred XP to level up. Naturally, our next adventure will be tracking down the remaining hill giants (plus any ogre, orc, and dire wolf allies, in addition to anything else Dan might choose to pile on), so we can see to the continuing safety of the Karkaletch Stone Giant Clan. But due to some scheduling issues (a vacation and a business trip), we won't be playing through that adventure until 27 July 2023.
Last edited:

Level Up: Advanced 5th Edition Starter Box

An Advertisement