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D&D 5E Surprise Lizard Theater presents Tyranny of Dragons!


Love the poetry!
Thanks! It was really fun to listen to that session. Everyone laughed really hard while we were improvising those poems.

I forgot to mention that the bodyguard attacking Ariana was a mistake on my part. I didn't realize that the calm emotions spell would end when the target was attacked. However, it made for a good story, and I figured it made sense that the guards wouldn't necessarily realize what Frulam Mondath was doing.

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Hatchery Exploration, part 3

Realizing they wouldn't be able to finish exploring until the acid fumes in the shrine dissipated, the group settled down to get some sleep. Landin climbed into Mondath's bed, but he climbed out again in a hurry when Ariana started to lie down next to him. Instead, he took a blanket from the cultists' sleeping room to replace the one that had been ruined by acid.

During the fight in the barracks, they had knocked out and tied up a cultist (henceforth known as Joe). Aric took the first watch while the others slept. Joe made an attempt to sneak away during the night, but Aric sternly told him, "Now, listen, boy. You can sit there and wait out the night, or I can just bonk you on the head again. Eventually you'll get brain damage, which will make it hard to talk to you, so just sit still!" Joe sat quietly after that.

When they awoke, they checked the shaft leading to the shrine and found that it was safe. Atex, Landin, and Ariana climbed down that way while Aric led Joe the long way around by the stairs. As they emerged into the hallway, they came face to face with a bleary-eyed man looking around in confusion and holding his head. It was the drunken cultist from the treasure room, now very hung over. Aric told him that everyone else was dead and he'd better leave. The cultist looked from Aric to his prisoner, gave a little salute, and dashed away.

Meanwhile, the other three went through the shrine to the last remaining cavern that they had not checked. It turned out to be where the dragon eggs were kept. When Aric arrived, he immediately identified them as eggs of a black dragon and urged the others to destroy them. "It's sad, but we can't have any more of those." They destroyed two and then asked Joe if there were any more. He said he had never been allowed into this cave before, so he didn't know.

Aric Makes a Convert

The PCs questioned Joe further, but it soon became evident that he didn't know much. He didn't even know exactly where the caravan was going, just "up the coast somewhere." The group was now faced with the decision of what to do with him. Despite the fact that he was a mere scale-less human, Aric decided it woud be worthwhile to try converting him to worship "a better dragon." Aric's idea of persuasion was to get in Joe's face and roar, "So you like dragons, do ya? Let me tell you something, Bahamut's much better than that f***ing b**** Tiamat!"

No one else expected it to work, but Joe suddenly cried, "You're right! Why didn't I see it before?" From then on, he became very eager to help the PCs.

When they were satisfied that they'd learned everything they could in the cave, they started back toward Greenest. Aric untied Joe, gave him five gold pieces, and advised him to seek out a priest or temple of Bahamut in Scornubel. Joe proudly showed him the new hand-signal he'd invented for Bahamut (just one head!) and then set off northward.

On to Elturel

The PCs returned to Greenest around midday and reported to Governor Nighthill. They showed him the papers they had taken from Frulam Mondath's study, including the dragon poetry. "Surely you're joking with me!" he said. "This is terrible!"

"It's not that bad," muttered Aric. "Very appreciative of dragons."

Looking over the map, Nighthill agreed that the cult appeared to be finished raiding in the area. He paid each of the party two hundred gold from what remained of the town treasury in thanks for their services, but Landin said he would donate his reward back to the town to help with rebuilding. Governor Nighthill was touched and impressed--"but then I should have known that a paladin would be so charitable."

Embarrassed, Landin admitted that he was not a paladin. Nighthill thanked him all the same. Then he told them that Leosin Erlanthar had gone to Elturel to meet with Ontharr Frume and confer with the Order of the Gauntlet. Leosin had asked the PCs to meet him there and had arranged horses for their travel.

Governor Nighthill invited them to dine with him and stay at his home for the night. Dinner was a festive affair. The party met Governor Nighthill's family, including Patchy, who was recuperating and seemed in good spirits. Ariana danced and sang for the group, which was appreciated by all. When they retired for the night, the men shared a room with only two beds. Landin offered to sleep on the floor, but Aric just spread out his new pile of coins and slept on that.

In the morning, they set out for Elturel. Ariana danced at inns along the way to earn her room and board. Landin watched all of her performances, and Ariana eventually began teasingly dedicating dances to "brave Landin." Also, each evening she checked the mysterious book she had received after her dream. Shadows were appearing on the pages, but nothing she could read just yet.

They took the road through Scornubel, where they stopped to buy supplies. Aric visited the temple of Bahamut and learned that Joe had arrived shortly before them. "He seems to be interested in becoming a monk or a paladin or something," the bemused temple priest told him.

DM Notes: For Aric to convert Joe, I let the player make a Persuasion check against Joe's Wisdom save. The player got a total of 4, hence Aric's less-than-polished conversion attempt. Then Joe rolled a 2 for his save!


Landin climbed into Mondath's bed, but he climbed out again in a hurry when Ariana started to lie down next to him.
What was that all about? Has Ariana got a crush on Landin, or does she just not respect his personal space?

Also, each evening she checked the mysterious book she had received after her dream. Shadows were appearing on the pages, but nothing she could read just yet.
Is this part of your homebrewed spirit dancer class, or has she MCed into warlock?

DM Notes: For Aric to convert Joe, I let the player make a Persuasion check against Joe's Wisdom save. The player got a total of 4, hence Aric's less-than-polished conversion attempt. Then Joe rolled a 2 for his save!
Ha. That bit made me chuckle. Little things like these are what make a session memorable!


What was that all about? Has Ariana got a crush on Landin, or does she just not respect his personal space?
He has a crush on her :D , but her attitude was more like "We're all tired, so stop hogging the best bed."

Is this part of your homebrewed spirit dancer class, or has she MCed into warlock?
Neither--the book was her trinket, and we tied it to her backstory (it was one of the mysterious items that appeared after her dream of being trained). The player was interested in it, so I improvised something to buy me time while I thought about what to do with it.

Ha. That bit made me chuckle. Little things like these are what make a session memorable!
No kidding! We still laugh about that almost a year later.

I've been traveling for the past few days, but I should be back and have another update soon.


He has a crush on her :D , but her attitude was more like "We're all tired, so stop hogging the best bed."
Ah OK. He does come across as the honorable sort. No wonder the governor mistook him for a paladin.

Neither--the book was her trinket, and we tied it to her backstory (it was one of the mysterious items that appeared after her dream of being trained). The player was interested in it, so I improvised something to buy me time while I thought about what to do with it.
Sounds good! Will be interested to see what you ended up doing with it.


Ah OK. He does come across as the honorable sort. No wonder the governor mistook him for a paladin.
Now that I think of it, there may also have been an element of flirtation in her action, just to watch Landin get flustered. Especially considering her behavior in the next sequence. More on that soon, I hope!



Harvest Festival in Elturel

After seven days of travel, they reached Elturel, spotting the glowing orb on the horizon from miles away. Landin explained that it kept the undead out of the city. The others wanted to know how the inhabitants managed to live in constant light, and as they entered the town, they noted with interest that all the houses had shutters and heavy curtains. They also quickly realized that they had arrived in the middle of the annual harvest festival. Banners decorated the streets, bards performed on corners, merchants bargained with farmers for wagonloads of squash, and vendors offered various fun or tasty items.

The group first went to Ontharr Frume's home, where his manservant greeted Landin warmly and (much to his discomfort) congratulated him on passing his paladin trials. Ontharr himself was not at home, however, having gone to the Pair of Black Antlers for "the games," so the PCs headed in that direction. Landin stopped at a street stall on the way and bought Ariana a candy apple with a pinwheel speared in the top.

They found a large group of people gathered in the innyard behind the tavern. Nearly all of them were members of the Order of the Gauntlet; Landin recognized several people he knew, and he tried to shrink into the background so they wouldn't notice him and ask about his paladin trials. Meanwhile, Ontharr Frume, a burly paladin who looked like a dwarf except that he was six feet four, stood on a platform gesturing with a tankard of beer as he announced the upcoming competitions. There were to be four events--an archery contest, an arm-wrestling contest, a drinking contest, and "the dash for the lady in lace"--and the order was to be determined by the crowd's applause. All events were open only to members of the Order of the Gauntlet, or guests of members.

Archery Contest

The archery contest was first. Ariana fluttered her eyelashes at a tall, skinny young fighter named Tilon and got him to sponsor her as his guest. She took her place alongside five other competitors. The first round was an easy shot at a target, and they all succeeded. Then the target was moved back. One man's bowstring broke on his first attempt, and he was forced to withdraw. Two others missed the target and were eliminated. The target was moved back again. Ariana shot straight into the bullesye; both of the other remaining competitors hit the target, but farther from the center. Then the target was suspended from a tree and pulled with ropes to make it move. One more competitor was eliminated after making three quick shots which all missed. The second aimed carefully and managed to hit the target. Ariana tried to aim; her first arrow went wide, but she had caught the rhythm of the target's movement, and a fast follow-up shot landed once again in the center.

Ontharr Frume announced that there would now be a tiebreaker elimination round. The target was taken down from the tree and moved back even farther than before, and the round length was shortened. Ariana's rival aimed carefully but missed the target; Ariana once again sank her arrow right in the bullseye. Her competitor congratulated her, and her sponsor beamed with pride.

Ontharr Frume held up the prize for all to see: a quiver of Ehlona with ten enchanted (+1) arrows. "We proudly award this to--er, what's your name, young lady?"

"Ariana yr Nusrah el Jassan," she rattled off.


In addition, he placed a crown of leaves on her head which would entitle her to free food and ale in the tavern for the rest of the day.

Drinking Contest

Next was the drinking contest, to see who could drink the most ale in the space of thirty seconds without throwing up. Aric and Atex quickly found sponsors so they could enter this event. Ariana decided to give it a try as well, as did a barmaid and a squire.

Atex started in strong, downing three mugs of ale in the time it took for Ariana to drink two and the barmaid and the squire to drink one each. Meanwhile, Aric was the first to be eliminated, throwing up after only his second ale. "How can you people drink this?" he sputtered. "It's terrible!"

Atex continued at his breakneck pace, slurping down three more mugfuls to Ariana's two. The barmaid and the squire both dropped out, leaving just the two of them. The speed of their drinking caught up with both of them at once, and they were eliminated simultaneously--but Atex had finished seven ales, while Ariana had only five. As soon as Atex was finished throwing up, Ontharr lifted his hand and hailed him as the winner. The prize was a pair of eyes of charming (symbolic of beer goggles).

Arm-Wrestling Contest

Ontharr then announced the arm-wrestling contest. Aric stepped forward eagerly. Ariana mischievously held up Landin's arm, pointing at his muscles, to volunteer him. Ontharr spotted Landin for the first time and urged him onto the platform. Ariana also entered the competition--the only woman to do so--as did her sponsor, Tilon. Atex declined to enter this event, saying he preferred to cheer from the sidelines.

The event was organized as a series of elimination matches. In the first round, Aric faced a powerful-looking man with a black beard. Aric took an early lead, but the other man rallied and forced his arm down to the table. "How do you people handle being so weak?" Aric moaned in frustration as he stepped down. "A year ago, I would have snapped your arm off!"

Landin won his fight quickly. A still-tipsy Atex led the crowd in three huzzahs. Landin blushed and did his best not to look at Ariana.

Ariana tried to use guile to win her match. She winked at her opponent as they started, throwing him off somewhat, but he still was able to push her arm halfway down. She then frowned as if in pain; the man looked at her in concern, and she took advantage of his distraction to push his arm back up to the starting position. He grinned and pushed her arm back harder, saying, "I won't fall for that next time!"

"Pop out a boob!" Atex shouted helpfully from the crowd. "It's the only way you're going to win!"

But the man was simply too strong for Ariana. He forced her arm the rest of the way down, saying, "Sorry--can't go easy on you just because you're a girl."

"That's okay," she answered sweetly. "I wouldn't want to hurt your pride."

Tilon, taking his seat at the next table, called out to her, "Don't worry--I'll avenge you!" He defeated his opponent in short order and then told Ariana, "Milady, if I win, you may have my prize."

She gave him a dazzling smile. "Oh, how generous of you! How gallant!"

In the second round, Landin faced the black-bearded man who had defeated Aric. He pushed the man's arm halfway down; the other man forced Landin's hand back to the starting position, but with a burst of strength, Landin pinned his arm to the table.

Meanwhile, Tilon quickly defeated Ariana's former opponent. It would be Tilon against Landin for the final! Ontharr presented them both to the crowd. "Cheer on your favorites--and the winner gets to wrestle me!"

For a moment, it looked as if Tilon might win, but Landin came back from behind to slam his arm down. Tilon was left massaging his wrist and exclaiming at Landin's strength. He apologized to Ariana for his failure to win for her and offered to make it up by buying her some ale later.

Landin smiled at Ariana, then blushed. Ontharr held up his hand and announced, "The champion! C'mon, lad--you've already won, but let's see if you can beat me!"

Ontharr won the friendly match, but with some difficulty. "You've gotten much stronger, but it's good to know I've still got it," he said, tousling Landin's hair. He then presented Landin with a ring of protection and told him to wear it in good health.

The Dash for the Lady in Lace

Finally, Ontharr raised his arms one more time for silence. "It's time now for the event I know everyone has been waiting for--and then we can get down to some serious drinking!" (Cheers from the crowd.)

"More drinking? You're trying to poison me," muttered Aric.

"It's time for the dash for the lady in lace! As usual, Farmer Grigorin has volunteered to let us use his paddock for the event, so let's head over there." The group moved to a large, fenced-in area abutting the innyard. "The good farmer has also supplied the lady for today's event," Ontharr announced, gesturing toward a steward holding a young black pig with a lacy veil attached to its head.

While Ontharr explained the rules of the chase, Ariana whispered to Landin, "Hold your shield out before you on the ground."

"Why?" he asked.

"Just do it!"

When he did as she requested, she crouched down behind the shield and changed into the plainer of the outfits she'd taken from Frulam Mondath's clothing chest. Landin turned eighty shades of red but couldn't resist sneaking a peek or two.

All of the PCs decided to enter this competition. They lined up at the entrance to the paddock, along with several other contestants. The rest of the crowd clustered just outside the fence, shouting encouragement. At a signal from Ontharr Frume, the pig was released. The chase was on!

The pig promptly took off toward a patch of mud, with the crowd in hot pursuit. They soon found themselves slogging through ankle-deep mud, and Atex fell flat on his face. Aric, right behind him, tripped over him and also fell face-down.

While they tried to navigate the mudpit, the pig suddenly turned around and ran straight back toward them! Landin reached for it, but met only empty air. Ariana got her arms around it briefly, but it wriggled free and dashed back onto the grass over the backs of Aric and Atex. Landin and Ariana dashed after it, followed by Aric and Atex once they were back on their feet. The rest of the pursuers blundered into each other and fell down in a tangled heap in the middle of the mudpit.

The pig reached the fence and veered to the side, hugging the edge of the field. Landin intercepted it at an angle, but it kicked him in the chest and ran off again--straight toward Ariana, who picked it up and just managed, with difficulty, to hold onto it! The crowd cheered wildly.

But the event wasn't over yet. Ariana still had to carry the squealing, squirming "lady" to the paddock entrance. And from the way the other contestants were eyeing her as they struggled to their feet, it appeared that tackling her was considered fair play. Landin helped Ariana keep hold of the pig while Atex used his mage hand to throw mud in the face of the woman at the head of the pack. She fell forward, the rest of the group tripped over her, and they all thrashed about in the mud pit again.

But Aric lunged forward with a gleam in his eye, shouting "I'm not going to lose again!" and tried to grab the pig away from Ariana. He missed, however, and Landin conked him with an elbow. They promptly got into a shoving match. Ignoring the mayhem behind her and encouraged by the shouts of the spectators, Ariana hurried to the paddock entrance, where Ontharr Frume was waiting.

"One more thing before you claim your prize," he told her. "You have to kiss the lady!"

Ariana screwed her eyes shut and gave the pig a quick peck. A wild cheer went up. Ontharr announced, "And the winner of this event is this young woman ... what was your name again?"

"Ariana yr Nusrah el Jassan."

"Yes--she is the winner!"

More cheers. Ariana put down the pig, which ran right back to the mudpit and wallowed in it. Tilon stepped out of the crowd, applauding wildly. Ariana bowed to him. Ontharr then presented her with a pair of boots of speed as her prize, and the spectators started drifting back toward the tavern.


Sounds like the festival was a hit! I'm curious to know how you adjudicated the outcomes.
The rules are outlined in this post. For the "lady in lace," I also used the article on chases en5ider #8, though I played a bit fast and loose with it, just rolling a single die to give me an idea of what the group of other competitors was doing. Catching and holding the pig was a grapple check. I think I used the stats of some other creature to represent a small pig--maybe a goat?



Once they had all cleaned off the mud, Tilon showed up to escort Ariana to dinner in the tavern. Landin sulked, but Ariana told him he'd have his chance another time and sailed off on Tilon's arm. Aric was also sulking because he was the only one who hadn't won anything in the games, and he couldn't even drown his sorrows because the ale was so awful. Only Atex was cheery as the three guys sat down at a table for supper.

One of Landin's classmates recognized him and stopped by to ask why he hadn't completed his final trials to be formally installed as a paladin of the Order of the Gauntlet. "Did you just run into some bad luck?" Uncomfortably, Landin tried to dodge the questions until Atex helped out by jostling the other guy's mug with mage hand and spilling ale all down his front. He excused himself to go clean up; Landin finally cracked a smile and bought Atex another drink in thanks.

Tilon did his best to make a good impression on Ariana. She listened politely, but secretly was rather bored and kept glancing surreptitiously at Landin. Since she was looking in that direction, she was the first to see Leosin Erlanthar enter the tavern. He exchanged a few words with Ontharr Frume, and the two motioned the PCs to meet them upstairs.

In a meeting room on the second floor, away from the noisy festivities in the taproom, the group reported to Ontharr and Leosin on the recent happenings in Greenest and their findings at the cultists' camp. (Aric also showed them the dragon poetry, which he had kept because he kind of liked it.) Looking at the map, Leosin surmised that the treasure would be transported through Baldur's Gate, because the cultists would find it easy to lose themselves there; who would notice a few more merchants carrying crates? They could even disguise the treasure as another sort of cargo when it left the city.

Leosin now extended an invitation to any of the group who might wish to join the Harpers. Ontharr slapped his hand on the table and told them not to answer until he'd had a chance to make a case for the Order of the Gauntlet. They each described the ideals of their organization. Aric immediately pledged himself to the Order of the Gauntlet, despite thinking they were a little soft on chromatic dragons. Atex and Ariana both liked the sound of the Harpers but wanted to think it over. As a paladin trainee, Landin already was a provisional member of the Order of the Gauntlet, but he wriggled uncomfortably when Ontharr (who had heard by this time that he had not completed the final trial) offered to make sure his membership continued.

As the meeting broke up, Ontharr invited both Aric and Landin to stay the night at a guesthouse belonging to the Order of the Gauntlet. Aric accepted immediately, but Landin just mumbled something. The others went off to rent rooms at the tavern--or, in Ariana's case, to arrange to dance in exchange for room and board.

Landin asked if he could speak with Ontharr privately. He told Ontharr that he was not going to become a paladin and that he was not sure he was worthy to be in the Order of the Gauntlet. When Ontharr asked why, Landin said he was a coward. Ontharr refused to believe it, but Landin insisted it was true. Neither seemed to be able to convince the other, so finally, Ontharr said they should speak more the next day. Landin decided to stay at the tavern with the others that night.

Ontharr walked to the Order of the Gauntlet guesthouse with Aric. Noticing that Ontharr seemed down about something, Aric asked what was troubling him. Ontharr said he feared that Landin was losing his way and asked Aric if he'd ever seen Landin behave in a cowardly fashion. Aric admitted that there had been times when Landin had allowed others to step up in his place. "But he is just a child," Aric continued, "so you can't necessarily blame him." Ontharr sighed that sometimes he forgot what it was like to be so young. But then, he added, when he was Landin's age, he was always ready for a fight.

Meanwhile, Landin was back at the tavern watching Ariana's performance. Later, she came to his room and danced for him privately there. Just a regular dance. But he had pleasant dreams that night.

The Golden Stag

Next morning, Aric awoke just before dawn with a feeling that someone or something was calling to him. The call seemed familiar, reassuring, but he couldn't quite place it. He stepped out of the Order of the Gauntlet's guesthouse into the bright light of Elturel's glowing orb and saw, at the edge of some woods, a flash of gold. He was excited for a moment, but then realized it was an animal of some sort. "Real gold would have been better," he muttered as he walked through the dewy grass toward it.

Just then, the sun peeked over the horizon. A ray struck the animal, making it glitter as if it were actually made of gold metal. Aric could now see that it was a stag, standing still and waiting for him. As he drew nearer, it changed into a humanoid shape with gold hair, skin, and clothing. It greeted him by his full name, Aricanthalykrythicos.

"How did you know my name?" Aric asked. "Who are you?"

"My name is not important," answered the figure, "but I come with a message for you. Bahamut is pleased with your efforts on his behalf, and I have been sent to bring you his favor and a message--if you will hear it."

"I will," said Aric.

"I am bidden to tell you, 'Follow the river of gold until you reach the castle in the sky.'"

"I like the sound of that."

"'Yet the way will be filled with hardship, and not all will survive.'"

"I don't like the sound of that!"

The figure faded from view, but where it had stood, a little box rested in the grass. When Aric opened it, he found that it contained a periapt of wound closure. Thoughtfully, he returned to the guesthouse.

DM Notes: This sequence, beginning with the harvest festival, was our first chance for extended roleplay. Listening to the recordings, I feel that this is where the characters and their relationships really started to take on new depth.

By the way, in case anyone's wondering, Landin and Ariana are played by a married couple.


A Plan of Action

Later that day, the group met once again with Ontharr and Leosin on the upper floor of A Pair of Black Antlers. Atex was astoundingly chipper after all the ale he'd had the previous day. He and Ariana were also newly minted Harpers, having told Leosin in the morning that they had decided to join the organization.

Ontharr spread out a map of the area on the table, noting the locations of Elturel, Greenest, and the cultists' camp. If the treasure was going next to Baldur's Gate, where would it go after that? And would it be going by land or by sea? Leosin suggested that if the PCs traveled by boat down the River Chionthar, they would reach Baldur's Gate before the cult's wagons, which would be going overland.

Aric asked if they knew of a "golden river" anywhere in the area, but neither Ontharr nor Leosin had heard of a river by that name. When Landin asked Aric why he wanted to know, Aric just replied, "Never you mind."

Ontharr gave the group a letter of introduction to a friend of the Order of the Gauntlet in Baldur's Gate and said he would talk to a merchant friend with a boat who had come to Elturel for the harvest festival. He asked the group to be ready to leave first thing the next morning. As the meeting was breaking up, he asked Landin to stay behind for a moment.

Looking a bit sad and tired, Ontharr said that although he had had hopes for Landin, he had never meant to push him into something he didn't want to do. He said he didn't understand why Landin had such a low opinion of his own abilities; Landin said it was merely honest. Ontharr sighed and said that if Landin wished it, he would speak to the headmaster of the training academy and see that Landin's name was quietly withdrawn. Landin said that would probably be best. However, Ontharr continued, it wouldn't be difficult to see that Landin remained in the Order of the Gauntlet, given the present crisis. "We will be proud to have one of our own helping out in this endeavour," he said.

"Well, you've got Aric," said Landin. "Although he's a little ... odd."

"True, I think he will be a credit to the order. But I think you can be too, if you will just let yourself."

"All I can do is try, I suppose."

"That's all we can ask. And meanwhile, I'll feel better knowing that you have the resources of the order at your disposal on this journey." Ontharr clapped a hand on Landin's shoulder. "May Torm be with you."

Meanwhile, Ariana settled down in a quiet place and started flipping through her book. A few words were beginning to take shape; she saw the word dragon several times, and in a few other places, she was pretty sure she saw the word Purple, capitalized.

Aric visited the Order of the Gauntlet's archives and spent the afternoon looking for any information on rivers of gold or castles in the sky. The only clue he found was a traveler's tale of visiting the floating castle of a cloud giant. He also found a reference to "surprise lizards" being called ambush drakes, but he simply snorted in derision at how wrong the book was. He came away from his errand thinking that the "river of gold" might be just a metaphor for the treasure.

After leaving Ontharr, Landin strolled through Elturel looking at the shops. He stopped in a jewelry store and bought a jade and tiger eye necklace as a gift for Ariana. It cost more than he'd originally meant to spend, but none of the cheaper options were pretty enough. He presented it to her that evening. She was surprised, pleased, and a little flustered at the gift, telling him that it was lovely, but he surely had better things to spend his money on. Landin merely smiled and said it was all right.

Down the River

Next morning, the group met up with Beyd Sechepol, a half-elf merchant who transported goods up and down the river between Scornubel and Baldur's Gate. Leosin and Ontharr were there to see them off.

The first day passed uneventfully. Atex studied his spellbook. Aric immediately declared himself seasick and went to lie down. Ariana stopped teasing Landin and sat by herself at one end of the barge, trying to puzzle out some more of the writing in her book. Confused by the change in her manner, Landin sat at the other end of the barge looking gloomy. Beyd tried to cheer him up by chatting with him. Meanwhile, Beyd's dog ran from person to person, looking for attention.

On the second day, they encountered another barge which had run aground on a sandbank. Four people were on the shore trying to pull it free with ropes. As they strained to move the barge, one of the men threw his back out and fell to the ground in pain (rolled a 1). The woman who seemed to be in charge waved her arms and called for assistance.

The PCs came ashore to help, but it quickly turned into a fight when Landin recognized the leader as one of the raiders from Greenest! He immediately charged at the leader and tackled her to the ground before she could jump out of the way. The other PCs looked on in confusion as Landin proceeded to sit on the woman and she shouted for the two healthy men to pull him off her. "They're dragon cultists!" Landin explained.

Belatedly, the others sprang into action. Atex cast hold person on one of the cultists. The second one charged Landin in an attempt to free his leader, but his scimitar bounced off Landin's armor. A second later, Ariana skewered the cultist with both her blades, and he fell dead. The distraction allowed the leader to wriggle free; she attempted to run, but Aric cast hold person on her as well.

The cultist with the sore back was still writhing on the ground in pain. "I surrender!" he shouted. "I'm in no condition to fight! Tiamat will be revenged on you all when she returns!"

They quickly disarmed the cultists and tied them up before the hold person spells wore off. Aric searched their barge and found that its only cargo was three or four crates full of treasure. He curled up on top of them happily while the others looked through the cultists' belongings. In the leader's backpack, they found a letter signed by "Wyrmspeaker Rezmir" directing them to go to Baldur's Gate and speak to Aravax Foxtraveler.

After some discussion with Beyd Sechepol, they decided to tow the cultists' barge behind their own to Baldur's Gate and turn the captives over to the authorities there.

DM Notes: I wasn't expecting to need a name for the barge owner in a hurry, so I had to cannibalize the list of NPCs for the caravan!
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Baldur's Gate

During the night, there were some bumps and thumps from wheelhouse of the second barge, where the cultists were locked, but they weren't able to escape. Landin had the last watch before dawn, and he spent most of it fishing, catching one large fish, two small ones, and a boot. When the others awoke, he cooked a fine breakfast for them. (The fish, not the boot.)

The rest of their journey to Baldur's Gate was uneventful. Upon arrival, they turned over the prisoners to the Flaming Fist, the mercenaries who serve as guards and police in that city, explaining that they had been involved in the raid on Greenest. The burly mercenary on duty roared, "My mother lives in Greenest!" and was more than happy to lock up the cultists.

The PCs also reported that more wagons would be arriving with treasure stolen from the city, but the guards couldn't do much about that without a list of specific items to look for. They also said that the letter from Rezmir, although suspicious, wasn't grounds to arrest Aravax Foxtraveler immediately. If the PCs could actually catch him doing something dangerous, they would have a much stronger case.

Next, the party sought out Ackyn Selebon, Ontharr Frume's contact in the Order of the Gauntlet. She proved to be an elven woman who welcomed them warmly once they presented the letter of introduction. They mentioned that Beyd Sechepol was going to transport the treasure taken from the cultists' barge back to Elturel, and Ackyn agreed to go with him to help protect such a valuable cargo. She didn't know much about Aravax Foxtraveler, however, so she suggested that they find a Harper to get more information.

At the Hasty Wizard

The PCs found a tavern called the Hasty Wizard which had the Harpers' symbol scratched into the roof supports. It was a bit shabby, but cheerful. A barmaid--really more of a bar matron--asked what they'd have. Atex ordered ale.

"What do you have that won't make me ill?" asked Aric.

The barmaid looked him over. "You look like a wine drinker to me. We have some Calisham reds; they'll cost you a bit more, but they're pretty good."

Aric and Ariana both ordered the wine. Landin asked for some milk or another non-alcoholic option. The barmaid said the closest they had was some ale that was barely alcoholic. Landin ordered that and tipped her a silver piece.

"You're insane! That's a hundred percent tip!" Aric sputtered.

Landin shrugged. "Well, if I was as cheap as some people..."

"Cheap? Cheap? Perhaps some of us just recognize the value of this wealth more than others!"

"Cheap," said Landin with a grin as he took a sip of his very weak ale.

"Some of us weren't taken care of our whole lives! Some of us had to earn our hoard!"

While Atex ordered several ales in a row and proceeded to get happily buzzed, they looked around at the other customers. There were six other people in the tavern, in three groups. First, there was a male halfling who sat on a table and seemed to be people-watching for his evening entertainment. Then there was a fresh-faced young human woman talking to a female dwarf. They were both dressed as mercenaries or adventurers, but the human woman's gear was all brand-new, while the dwarf's was not. Finally, three human men sat talking business at a table. One of them looked like a sailor, one was well over seven feet tall, and the third was grey-haired and slightly better dressed than the others.

"I think we can rule out the human woman as a Harper," Aric told the others in an undertone. "She looks fresh off the farm. Just too young and new and shiny." Landin, who hadn't noticed her before, looked with interest at the attractive young woman. She had started sharpening her sword, and the dwarf seemed to be telling her she was doing it wrong.

Some discreet questioning of the barmaid led her to suggest they might want to talk to the well-dressed man. By this time, Atex had started singing a popular drinking song. The sailor and the halfling joined in, while the dwarf turned and glared at them. At the end of the song, Atex bought another round of drinks for everyone who had joined in. The halfling parked himself at the party's table and struck up a conversation with Atex, leading to the wizard telling his life story starting from when he was a young lad.

Meanwhile, Landin wandered over near the two women--partly to listen in on their conversation, partly to discreetly ogle a pretty girl, and just maybe to make Ariana jealous, since she'd been (he thought) cold to him since they left Elturel. By this time, the dwarf had taken the sword and whetstone and was sharpening the human's sword herself.

"Just one stroke at a time, see? You don't want to do little ones--you want to do long ones. Now, as I was saying, tomorrow morning we'll go to the north gate. That's where you get on with the caravans. Just stick close to me. They know me, and I'm sure I can get us both hired at the same place. They may want me to be a sergeant, because I'm more experienced. That's okay, because I can make sure you learn what you need to know. It drives me crazy when people do things wrong!"

The girl could hardly get a word in edgewise, so she let the dwarf talk. She looked up and made eye contact with Landin, giving him a smile and an eyeroll as if to say, "Can you believe her?"

Landin looked at the floor, blushing, and then immediately checked to see where Ariana had gone. She was at the table with the three men. Under cover of apologizing for her companion's boisterious behavior, she discreetly showed her Harper token to the grey-haired man. However, she was having a great deal of difficulty keeping her eyes off the tall young man, who was well-built and extremely handsome in a shy way. Landin noticed and took a couple of steps toward the group, but stopped short of confronting them.

The grey-haired man got up for more drinks and, behind the backs of his companions, pointed to the stairs. Then he said he needed to retire for the night and went up. Ariana drifted back to her companions' table so as not to follow him too obviously.

"I think your farm girl is looking out for you," she said sweetly as she passed Landin.

"Oh yeah?" he growled. "Well, what about tall, dark, and dorky?"

One by one, Ariana, Landin, and Atex drifted up the stairs after the Harper, leaving Aric to be monopolized in conversation by the talkative halfling.

The grey-haired man introduced himself as Quimby. When the PCs explained their mission, he said he could take them to Aravax Foxtraveler's shop, but he would be recognized there. He could stay outside and serve as backup, but any infiltration work would be up to them. After some discussion, they decided to pretend to be the cultists they had intercepted on the river.

With their plan made, they trooped downstairs to where Aric was still nursing his wine. The halfling had moved on to chat with a newly arrived customer by this time. The others who had been there earlier had all left. Ariana asked Quimby about the tall, handsome young man who had been sitting at his table.

"Oh, him? His name's Sulesdeg. He's from the Shaar."

"Does he live here?"

"I gather--" Quimby began, but Landin interrupted.

"Don't we have things to do?"

"There's always time to be polite," Ariana told him with a smile.
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Chapter 4

Hiring Out

The infiltration plan went off without a hitch. Aravax Foxtraveler had never met the cultists whom the party had captured on the river, so he suspected nothing when the PCs showed up at his shop pretending to be them. He told them to join the next caravan headed north to Waterdeep. The cultists would be mixed in with (and posing as) legitimate travelers so as not to attract notice.

They had one day to get themselves into the caravan before it was to leave, so they went to the north gate to see whether they could get jobs as guards. The scene there was chaotic, with at least twenty wagon owners looking over prospective employees. They spotted some familiar faces from the Hasty Wizard: Sulesdeg, the tall young man; Orvustia Esseren, the farm girl; Eldkin Agetul, the dwarf; and Enom Tobun, the halfling, who immediately recognized Atex as his drinking buddy from the night before.

With a little help from Enom, both Atex and Landin secured well-paying jobs with Oyn Evenmor, a rather grouchy merchant who was hauling a wagon full of rare birds. Landin was to be his personal bodyguard, and Atex was to care for the birds. Aric didn't fare so well: for only half their rate of pay, he was hired by Achenry Ulyeltin, a foul-smelling fur merchant. And Ariana landed a job working alongside Sulesdeg. Their employer was Edhelri Lewel, a moon elf with a cargo of exotic wood from a faraway jungle.

The caravan was to leave at dawn the next day. On their last night, Atex decided to go out on the town. He stayed out all night but showed up, bright-eyed and with jingling pockets, on time for departure. Little did they know as they left town that his exploits were being remembered and retold with awe in the taverns of Baldur's Gate!

The Caravan

So the group set out on the long trip to Waterdeep. They knew that cultists carrying treasure were mixed in with the caravan, but they didn't know who they might be. Could Lasfelro, the gloomy-looking guy with the gargoyle chained to his wagon, be one? Nyerhite Verther, the silk merchant? Lai Angesstun, the dwarf hauling cooking oil and perfume? Samardag the Hoper, with his cargo of fragile porcelain? Noohar and Selvek, the moon elf brothers with their wagon full of woodcarvings? Grisella and Whelgar, the newlyweds with the cow walking behind their wagon? Lodar, with the load of hay? Oyn? Edhelri? Achenry? And what about the caravan master, who bore an uncanny resemblance to Beyd Sechepol?

Aric started his investigation by asking his employer what sort of ale he liked best. "Do you like black ale?" he said with a significant look. "Or maybe green ale? Or red ale?"

Achenry shrugged. "Ale's good. I like 'em all. Buy you some later."

"I always prefer the flavor of five ales mixed together, don't you?"

"Take what I can get. As long as it gets me drunk."

Meanwhile, Ariana was having a little success at getting to know Sulesdeg. He was pretty quiet at first, but when he happened to make a chance remark about how green the landscape was, Ariana took the opportunity to start a conversation about their desert homelands. This got him to open up a bit.

From his place on Oyn Evenmor's wagon, Landin could see Ariana and Sulesdeg chatting. He moped helplessly while Atex blithely tried to console him: "Oh, it's not so bad. She's probably just doing that to be nice. We've got a long way to travel, you know."

When they stopped for the evening meal, Orvustia sought out Ariana. "You're an adventurer, aren't you?" she asked rather breathlessly.

"I suppose you could say that."

"And you were with a group, weren't you, in the tavern the other day? I think I saw you there."

"I was traveling with some other people for a little while, yes," Ariana admitted cautiously.

"So you're not really a group?"

"We're ... all doing our own thing now."

"Well, what I wanted to know--" Orvustia looked embarrassed and lowered her voice. "Your friend--the blond guy--is he a paladin?"

"No, I'm afraid not."

Orvustia looked pleased. "So he hasn't taken any kind of--of vow or anything?"

Ariana shook her head. Orvustia thanked Ariana excitedly and then excused herself, as Eldkin was beckoning to her--no doubt to show her how to do something else "properly." (They had been hired by Lai Angesstun.)

Meanwhile, the caravan master had let down the wagon tongue on his vehicle, revealing that it converted into a fully stocked bar. He immediately started doing brisk business selling ale and other drinks. Determined to solve one mystery, at least, Landin asked him directly about his resemblance to the half-elf who had ferried them down the river. "Oh, you've met Beyd? He's my twin brother! Let me introduce myself--I'm Reyd Sechepol." He went on to explain that they often coordinated transport of cargo and passengers all the way from Waterdeep to Scornubel and added, "Hey, for any friend of Beyd's, the first mug is free!"

Landin accepted a free ale, as did Atex. (Enom Tobun tried to get a free ale as well, but Reyd told him he'd already had his "free first drink" three trips ago.) They all sat down, and Landin was beginning to soothe his wounded feelings with the stronger-than-usual drink when they saw Ariana approaching them. "I'm over her," Landin muttered, but Atex urged him in a stage whisper to talk to her. Landin and Ariana made awkward small talk, and she bought him another drink. He accepted somewhat grudgingly, once again largely due to Atex's encouragement.

Hay Is for ... Cultists?

The first several days of travel were quiet, with beautiful weather, as they passed through the green, rolling countryside that had been the site of so many battles in centuries before. During this time, the PCs learned the names of the others in their caravan but made no progress on discovering who was hauling the stolen treasure.

They questioned Enom Tobun to learn which of the other travelers had made the trip before. Enom said that, besides Reyd Sechepol, he'd seen Samardag, Achenry, Eldkin, and Sulesdeg on previous trips. It seemed safe to rule them out.

Lodar attracted their suspicions, though; why would anyone transport hay all the way to Waterdeep? He was selling the hay to anyone who needed it, but it was so cheap that he surely couldn't be making a profit on the trip. So the group decided to make him their first target of investigation. One night when Atex was on watch, he sent his mage hand to dig through the cart. He found some crates well concealed in the hay, although they were nailed shut, so he couldn't confirm what was in them.

The PCs decided to buy hay for all their horses from Lodar every day. They figured they'd see what he did when his supply started getting low. "I might start eating hay myself!" said Atex jovially as he paid for his purchase.


One day, as they passed through a sparsely wooded area, they happened across an upturned cart with two dead horses next to it. A merchant and her two guards were sheltering underneath with crossbows and barely managing to hold off the hobgoblins who were attacking them. The caravan guards immediately ran to the rescue. Atex flushed the hobgoblins out of hiding by setting fire to their cover with scorching ray, while Ariana used her boots of speed to dash forward and attack.

With some difficulty, they drove off the hobgoblins. The merchant and her guards came out of hiding and surveyed their cargo. They had been hauling cider; four good casks remained, as well as one that had been broken in the fray and was now gushing onto the ground. Since no one had any horses to sell, the merchant asked if someone could take her and her cargo to the next town. Landin slyly suggested that Lodar could unload some of his hay and give her a ride; with a glare, Lodar said he'd make his own decisions about his cart. Then Reyd Sechepol pushed forward and offered to take the merchant in exchange for a portion of her cargo.

While they retired to discuss terms, the PCs noticed that Orvustia was looking shaken. They guessed this had probably been her first serious combat. Eldkin patted her back. "You need a stiff drink, lass," she said, and filled a mug for her from the leaking keg. That gave other bystanders an idea, and they all started to cluster around. Landin bought the damaged keg from the merchant, and there was free cider for everyone.

"Now, how many colors of cider are there?" asked Aric.

DM Notes: The group found the cow hilarious. Although it never did anything but walk behind the newlyweds' wagon and give milk, they called it the Tiacow and insisted it was a cult sympathizer.

Notice how smoothly I covered up for using Beyd Sechepol's name prematurely!
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The Search Continues

After several more days of travel, the caravan stopped at a wayhouse. Everyone looked forward to the chance to bathe, get supplies, and sleep under a roof for the night--or, for those who wanted to pay for a private room, in a real bed.

The wagons were pulled into the walled compound and left relatively unattended. The PCs took advantage of this to have Ariana burrow into the haywagon and check out the hidden crates. With a little work, she was able to pry the top off of one of them and confirm that it was full of treasure.

They knew there was more, but where? Atex cast detect magic on the weapons and found that two of them radiated abjuration magic. After investigation, though, the group was satisfied that neither of those wagons was hauling stolen treasure.


A few days later, while fording the Winding Water in the Trollclaw Hills, the newlyweds' cart listed abruptly to one side. A crate slid off the back and broke open, revealing some objects that looked far too valuable to belong to them--random items like a folding spyglass covered in gold filigree and a beautifully worked copper neck-ring. Enom Tobin rushed forward and offered to help gather up the things that had spilled into the river, soon joined by Aric and Landin. Whelgar jumped down from the wagon and tried to shoo them away, barking, "We can handle it ourselves!"

"This is nice stuff," Aric commented as he continued to pick up fallen items. "You must be planning to set up a shop and secure your future."

Grisella stuck her head out the back of the wagon. "Oh, no, no, no," she said hastily. "We got this stuff from my mother. It looks nice, but it's not worth very much."

"Your mother must have been a highborn lady," suggested Landin.

"No, no, it's just cheap metal painted to look nice."

"One could say it looks fit for a queen," said Aric with a significant look.

Grisella was getting flustered. "It's just paint, I tell you! Now, really, it's embarrassing. Say no more about it."

"Of course not," said Aric, grinning.

Landin continued putting things back in the crate. "So, where are you from?" he asked casually.

"Candlekeep," answered Grisella.

"Elturel," said Whelgar at the same time. Realizing his mistake, he added, "Well--she's from Candlekeep, and I'm from Elturel."

"How did you meet?" asked Landin.

"It was an arranged marriage," said Grisella hurriedly. "What about you? Where do you come from?"

"I lived in Elturel for a long time. Where in Elturel are you from?" asked Landin, turning to Whelgar.

"Er--well, not really in Elturel. From a small farm just outside of town."

Landin retrieved the last of the fallen items. "Well, it was nice meeting you both," he said cheerily.

Grisella and Whelgar smiled back through clenched teeth.

Musical Chairs

Later, Enom confided excitedly to the group that he had seen a notice in Baldur's Gate about the daughter of a wealthy merchant who had run away with some of her father's treasure. He thought Grisella must be the missing woman, and he wondered how he could collect the reward. Atex suggested that he take a pony and ride back to Baldur's Gate. Enom said he didn't want to ride back across the Fields of the Dead by himself, so Atex used his eyes of charming to convince Sulesdeg to go with him as a guard.

(And thus without knowing it, Atex probably saved Enom's life.)

Ariana was annoyed when she found out that Atex had persuaded Sulesdeg to leave the caravan. Atex acted innocent and downplayed his role in the incident, but later he told Landin, "Now it's wide open. You make good use of that, now."

Meanwhile, Enom's departure opened up a well-paying teamster job, so Aric offered to take it on. He wasn't an expert with the animals, but he did well enough. So he found himself working for Nyerhite Verther, the silk merchant.

There was also a passenger on his wagon: a gnome named Radecere who always looked depressed. When Aric tried to strike up a conversation with him, he quickly discovered that the only thing that would get his interest was gambling.

"You know," Aric said casually one day, "it's been such a quiet trip. I'd be willing to wager that we don't run into any more trouble for the next three days."

Radecere perked up immediately. "Wager, huh? How much would you wager?"

"Oh, I don't know, maybe ten or fifteen gold? Keep it modest."

Radecere thought for a moment. "How about eight?" When Aric agreed, Radecere talked him into three-to-one odds, and they shook on the deal.

Atex overheard the conversation and later told Aric he could arrange to make some trouble in the next three days. "If you do this, I'll kill you!" Aric growled. "You're interfering with my pillow!"


On the second day after the crossing of the ford, Landin, Aric, and Atex all came down with what seemed to be food poisoning, forcing the caravan to stop temporarily. Atex was particularly stricken, so Aric dragged himself out of bed to doctor him. Radecere showed up and demanded payment for their bet, on the grounds that this incident was "trouble."

"That doesn't count! It's not monsters!" cried Aric indignantly.

"We didn't say monsters; we said trouble."

"That's too broad!"

"Pay up! You owe me twenty-four gold. Oh, and I'm sorry you're not feeling well," Radecere added belatedly.

"It doesn't count!" Aric insisted. "We haven't been attacked!"

"Of course it counts!"

"No it doesn't!"

"It counts," groaned Atex. "Pay up."

Aric and Radecere continued to argue until Landin, who was trying to get some sleep nearby, ended it by giving Radecere twenty-four gold out of his own pocket. The gnome scampered off happily while Aric scolded Landin for paying.

"Did you lose any money in this deal?" Landin asked.


"Did. You. Lose. Any. Money?"

"No, because I'm not paying him for that!"

"Then shut up."

Orvustia stopped by several times to inquire anxiously about Landin's condition, but she always seemed to find Ariana hovering over him. Orvustia asked if there was anything she could do, but Ariana told her everything was fine and shooed her away.

Aric turned his attention to trying to figure out what they were suffering from. He eventually concluded that they must have been poisoned at dinner, and he remembered that Grisella had done the cooking the previous night. He spent much of his day's reserve of magic counteracting the poison, with the result that the caravan was able to set out again with only a half-day's loss of time.

Very early the next morning, once he had regained his spells, Aric walked among the wagons casting detect poison and disease. He examined the traces of poison in the party's mess kits and searched for more of the same kind. He expected to find a store of it in the newlyweds' wagon, but to his surprise, there was none. However, there was a large quantity in Nyerhite Verther's wagon! Aric searched the back and found several wooden crates hidden underneath the bolts of silk. One of them contained several vials of a dark liquid. Swearing angrily, he grabbed the vials and told the rest of the group what he'd found.

Let's Make a Deal

Knowing they had only a little time before the rest of the caravan awakened, the PCs woke up Nyerhite Verther and hustled him off out of earshot before confronting him about the poison. While he admitted that it had come from his wagon, Nyerhite insisted that someone else must have found it and used it, pointing out that since they had found it with relative ease, someone else could have done so as well. They knew he was lying, and he knew they knew it, but he stuck to that story, even in the face of threats (Ariana), intimidation (Landin), and another spectacularly vulgar tirade against Tiamat (Aric).

Finally, Nyerhite made them an offer: though he still admitted no guilt, he would guarantee no further attacks until they reached Waterdeep, if they would guarantee not to attack him. On reaching Waterdeep safely, he would pay each of them four hundred gold pieces. The PCs asked for the location of the cultists' meeting place as well; Nyerhite said he would give it to them when he reached Waterdeep. Realizing that they would have a lot of explaining to do if he just disappeared, the party agreed.

On the way back to the wagons, Landin pulled Aric aside. "I don't like this--working with those guys."

"Our only alternative was to just kill him and leave him on the side of the road."


"I agree; I'm fine with that. But this way we can get information on Rezmir. Besides--" Aric pulled Landin closer and whispered in his ear. "We only promised not to kill him before we get to Waterdeep. I can wait. I'm patient. Sort of."


At the Wayhouse

The caravan pressed on. Everyone's spirits were raised by the knowledge that they would soon be coming to a wayhouse, where they would have a chance to bathe, cook in a proper kitchen, and even (for those lucky or wealthy enough) sleep in a private room. The PCs agreed between themselves that they would buy up all the private rooms to keep the cultists from taking them over.

Landin told his employer, Oyn Evenmoor, that he would pay for him to have a private room for the night as an apology for leaving him unguarded the previous day (while they were confronting Nyerhite Verther). Atex and Aric shared another, and Ariana had the third to herself.

At the wayhouse, they saw that several people with travel packs were waiting to join the caravan. Once they were settled into their rooms, they wandered into the common area to check out the new arrivals, wondering if any of them might be cultists. Everyone seemed to be engaged in relatively innocent activities: chatting, drinking, playing games, and listening to a party of four well-dressed travelers who looked to be adventurers telling of their exploits. One of them in particular, a handsome man with long hair and a neat goatee, was holding his audience spellbound as he described how he and his friends had fought off an entire flock of griffins.

Landin realized that this man was enjoying his tales of mortal danger more than any other adventurer he'd met. He suspected the man was, at the very least, embellishing his story. As he continued to listen, he realized that the man was also getting details wrong, and that he was mentioning monsters that no one in the room was likely to have encountered--things that, for the most part, did not live anywhere near the Sword Coast. "That's a load of crap," he whispered to his companions.

"Should we call them out on it?" Atex whispered back.

"I don't want to ruin anybody's fun," Landin answered with a shrug.

"Don't be so jealous," said Ariana.

"I'm not being jealous--I'm being honest!" responded Landin. "They're lying."

"Everyone else seems to be enjoying it," said Atex.

"Right, so we won't ruin the fun--just don't take them seriously," said Landin.

The storyteller paused a dramatic point in his story, milking it for all he was worth and sweeping his eyes over the audience. His eyes met Ariana's, and he winked.

Meanwhile, Landin noticed Orvustia in the front row drinking in everything the man had to say. "Now, her I might set straight, because she's kind of naive," he muttered. He casually sat down not too far from her and made little scoffing sounds whenever the story became too outrageous. Orvustia frowned and shushed him.

It didn't last much longer. The speaker bowed, saying, "That is all for tonight; I have no wish to bore everyone with any more of our tales of grand exploits!" Landin half-expected them to put out a hat for donations, but they didn't. They got plenty of free drinks from people who wanted more stories, though, and a circle formed around them on one side of the common room.

Orvustia started to move in that direction herself, but Landin stopped her.

"What is it?" she asked impatiently. "I wanted to hear more about this."

"You know that about eighty percent of that was lies, right?" Landin asked.

"How do you know? Have you ever fought a yeti?"

"No, but I know a lot of people who have. The details were off. It was a good story, but it's just a story. There's no harm in it; just don't take it too seriously."

"Yeah, all right," she said sulkily. "But I still want to hear more."

"Remember that if you lie in one thing, you might lie in others. Just--be careful. That's all."

Orvustia frowned, but she seemed to be considering what he was saying.

Atex indulged himself by waiting until the well-dressed man reached a very dramatic point in the story he was telling and then shook the table with mage hand to spill his drink into his lap. The man stood up hurriedly, looking exactly as if he'd just wet his pants. He blamed one of his companions and stalked off to attend to the problem, complaining about how hard it was to get stains out of the material.

Soon after he left, Radecere the gnome sat down in his spot and got a dice game going. Spotting Aric across the room, he called out, "How'd you like a chance to win back some of your money?"

"Forget it," Aric responded sourly. "I don't play with cheaters."

"Bring your own dice--I don't care. I just want a game."

"Oh, you'll make up rules in the middle and say you won out of the blue!"

Radecere rolled his eyes. Atex overheard the conversation and volunteered for a game. A few rounds later, he was ahead by five gold. Radecere took the loss gracefully, and they went off ot have an ale together.

Meanwhile, Landin wandered through the wayhouse, watching people get ready for bed and looking for anything suspicious. The known cultists had gone to the stables and were all resting quietly when he checked on them. The well-dressed man and his companions chatted with the other travelers until quite late and then unrolled their bedrolls. Satisfied that nothing out of the ordinary was happening, he headed back toward the room he was sharing with his employer.

After Atex finished his ale, as it was starting to get late, he drifted back to his room. He found Aric spreading out his hoard on his bed in preparation for sleep.

"Looks like I added to my hoard tonight," Atex observed cheerfully.

"Just you watch--it'll all be gone by morning," growled Aric.

During the night, Atex tried a couple of times to shuffle Aric's hoard around with mage hand. But somehow, every time he started to cast the spell, he heard a growl from Aric's bed.

On his way back from the stables, Landin passed the door to Ariana's room, which was open.

He peeked in. "Staying awake late?"

"Just seeing if anyone was coming to talk," said Ariana.

Landin smiled. "If you're looking for a word, I suppose I could talk to you." He went in and sat down. "So...what are you looking to talk about?"

"It depends on if you're staying or not."

"I'm supposed to be watching the guy in the other room..."

"Then you'd better go."

"But you're more interesting than he is."

"Well, I wouldn't want you to get in trouble." Ariana shrugged and started to undress for bed.

"I can stay." Landin looked around nervously. "Don't you think you ought to shut the door?"

"You're closer."

Landin shut the door.

[Fade to black.]


Adventuring Life

In the morning, Landin sneaked into the room he was supposed to be sharing with Oyn Evenmoor without waking his employer. But he wasn't able to keep himself from grinning broadly and humming happy little songs. It was perhaps fortunate that a distraction arose to keep the others from noticing.

As the caravan was making ready to set out for the day, Orvustia came to Landin in tears. She explained that she had just been fired and asked if she could ride the rest of the way as a passenger in his wagon. When Landin asked what had happened, she explained that Lai Angesstun had said he could get a whole party of more experienced adventurers--the well-dressed man from the night before and his companions--for less than he was paying Orvustia and Eldkin. Eldkin was busy trying to find them a new position, but Landin quickly stepped in and arranged with Oyn Evenmoor to share his bodyguard duties with Orvustia. This suited Landin in more ways than one because now he didn't have to be by Oyn's side all the time, freeing him to hang around Ariana more.

Bane of the Mountains

The day's journey took them through a flat stretch of land winding between high hills. The PCs were clustered close together in the driving order, with Aric's wagon furthest back of the group. Just behind him, he could hear Samardag the Hoper talking to his driver about some large, odd-looking shapes flying overhead. The driver thought they might be vultures, while Samardag insisted they were eagles. Radecere, riding on the back of Aric's cart as usual, piped up, "I'll give you two to one they're eagles!"

Aric took the bet and talked Radecere into stakes of fifty gold pieces. Although Radecere admitted that he didn't have that much on him, he decided that he was sure enough to risk it. Aric grinned at the thought of getting his revenge on Radecere, because he was equally sure that they weren't eagles. "Those are flying surprise lizards if I ever saw them," he muttered.
Meanwhile, Atex was staring at the sky in growing consternation. "They aren't eagles--it's much worse," he announced. He explained that the flying figures were perytons, monstrous winged stags that enjoyed feasting on human flesh. As he spoke, they folded their wings and went into a dive, straight toward the party!

Landin raised a hand and cast a firebolt, missing one of the perytons. It was the first time he'd cast a spell since he'd begun secretly studying Atex's spellbooks, but everyone else was too focused on the creatures to notice. Orvustia hit one with an arrow, but this didn't slow their attack. Aric quickly blessed the party before ducking beneath the wagon, while Atex shot off a magic missile.

One of the perytons dived straight for Ariana, screeching, with its head down and its talons open. She held her sword ready and raked it along its side as it arced down, but it caught her as well with its sharp horns and gashed her deeply. Meanwhile, the other one pounced on Orvustia, instantly knocking her unconscious, and began raking her savagely with its talons. Aric cast a spell to stabilize her, but he knew it would only last until the creature's next attack.

As the first peryton came back for another pass, Ariana drove her sword deep into its body. It snarled at her through foamy teeth, rolled over, twitched, and then lay still. She immediately spun around and ran to attack the second peryton. It threw back its head with a horrible cry as she struck it, but then it knocked her weapon aside with one wing and resumed trying to rip out Orvustia's heart.

Attacking from the other side, Landin just managed to wound it in the neck, severing an important artery. The peryton squawked one last time and collapsed, trapping Orvustia beneath its heavy body. Atex and Landin rolled it aside so that Aric could slide in to heal both Ariana and Orvustia.
The whole fight was over so quickly that none of the other travelers had even had time to react. Now everyone clustered around, slapping the PCs on the back and expressing concern for the injured. Eldkin thanked them for saving Orvustia and regretted that she hadn't been able to help, since she felt responsible for the girl.

The well-dressed party were also present, loudly congratulating the PCs and declaring that they would have helped out if only they hadn't been so far back in the line.

"You shouldn't have taken that shortcut under the wagons," Atex said sarcastically, having seen them crawling out of their hiding places when the fight was over.

"It's a shame your employer saw fit to fire a true hero who actually fought and nearly died for this," added Landin, gesturing toward Orvustia. One of the well-dressed party had the grace to look ashamed at that.

Meanwhile, Radecere looked at Aric with a horrifed expression. "I don't have fifty gold," he said in a small voice.

"Well, you'd better start finding it," growled Aric.

Radecere promised to pay before the trip was over.

Musical Chairs Again

The caravan decided to stop for the midday meal and recover from the attack before trying to continue onward. During the break, Landin suggested to Oyn Evenmoor that Orvustia take over his position as Oyn's bodyguard.

"So you want to be released from your contract--is that what you're saying?" asked Oyn.

"Well ... it's not that I don't want the contract, but ... you see, there's this girl working on another wagon ..."

Oyn held up a hand. "Stop--say no more. I don't want a bodyguard who's distracted. I'll take her."

Landin then went to introduce himself to Edhelri Lewel and offered to fill Sulesdeg's vacant position as her second guard. Favorably impressed by the skills he displayed in the peryton fight, she agreed to hire him. Meanwhile, Eldkin was hired by Achenry Ulyeltin, taking over the position formerly held by Aric.

DM Notes: This brings the thread back up to date from before the data loss.

If you've enjoyed this recap, check out the "Fall of Magic" Replay Thread as well! Don't worry, it's just a short diversion from this one.


Atex Dreams

The caravan was subdued that evening after the attack. Orvustia was the center of attention and concern, as she was still recovering from her wounds even with Aric's healing. This distracted her so much that she didn't even notice that Landin spent the entire evening hanging around Ariana.

Atex had his familiar dream that night with the ten evil eyes, but this time a wall of flame sprang up behind them, showing the silhouette of a five-headed dragon. He had suspected for some time that the dream was related to Tiamat, but this confirmed it.

Then suddenly Aric appeared in the dream standing beside him. "Ah yes," he murmured sagely. "The five-headed fire gecko."

Atex woke up suddenly, promised himself to lay off the venison before bed, and went back to sleep.

Fungus Humungous

The next few days of travel were relatively uneventful. Radecere won a little money by gambling with Atex and used it to make a down payment to Aric. As a result, Radecere considered Atex a pal and promised to take him to the Yawning Portal when they reached Waterdeep.

It began to rain. Most people slept in their wagons, but Nyerhite Verther refused to let Aric sleep in the wagon with him, saying, "I'm not quite that much of a fool." Aric then informed Radecere that he'd take over the place in Oyn's wagon as partial payment for Radecere's debt. The gnome agreed and scampered off to find another place to sleep.

After three days of cold rain, mud, and dampness, everyone was beginning to speak longingly about the next wayhouse. In the morning, they woke to find that the rain had let up for a short time, but the ground was covered with purple mushrooms. Hoping they were not poisonous, Ariana poked one with her sword, and it let out a bloodcurdling shriek.

Aric cast a silence spell around the wagons so that people could get the horses harnessed, and they plowed through the screaming field. Fortunately, they quickly wore a track that was clear of mushrooms, so the noise decreased as more carts left the field.

No Room at the Inn

The encounter with the mushrooms slowed the caravan down, but they decided to press on, even though it would mean reaching the next wayhouse late the next evening. Aric rode in the front wagon and cast a light spell to guide the caravan over the last few miles in the dark. When they arrived, however, they received bad news: the entire inn, including the stable, had been rented out by a private party who were not willing to allow anyone else to enter.

Reid Sechepol, as caravan leader, tried unsuccessfully to convince the innkeeper to come up with a compromise. When he came back in defeat, the PCs went into the inn to see whether they could do any better. They were joined by Gedsel, the leader of the well-dressed adventuring party, who cheerily announced, "I'm sure I can convince them!"

When they entered the inn, they found that the guests were a small group who seemed to be noblemen. Aric began badgering them about why they wouldn't let anyone else in; while they were distracted, the innkeeper told Landin in an undertone that the guests were dangerous and he was too afraid of them to give the caravan any help. Atex used detect thoughts to probe the guests' minds and got a confusing, jumbled reading that resembled nothing human. While the PCs tried to work out exactly what was going on, the the guests grew angry with their interference and revealed their true form as slaads!

The slaads were tough opponents, but the PCs eventually prevailed--no thanks to Gedsel, who dived under a table at the first sign of trouble. The innkeeper helped by throwing beer mugs at the slaads. One of them flew wide and knocked out Gedsel as was attempting to sneak out the inn door.

When the slaads were finally defeated, the innkeeper thanked the PCs and offered rooms to the whole caravan for free.

DM Notes: Yes! I'm back!



News of the well-dressed group's failures to help out with the slaads at the inn soon spread through the caravan. The next morning, Lai Angesstun dismissed them and tried to hire Eldkin and Orvustia back as his guards. Eldkin accepted for a sizeable raise in pay; Orvustia decided to stay in her position as Oyn Evenmoor's personal bodyguard.

A day or so from Daggerford, the caravan came to an unexpected stop, and word filtered back to the PCs that it was because of "a head in the road." Sure enough, when they made their way to the front of the line, they saw the head of a human man, with the word "OATHBREAKER" carved on his forehead, protruding from the ground. He appeared to be breathing, but he was fading in and out of consciousness and wasn't able to answer any questions.

With some urging from Edhelri Lewel, the PCs finally decided to rescue the man. As they were digging him out of the road, Atex noticed a Harper tattoo on the man's side. Once he was free, they revived him, gave him some food and liquid, and borrowed some fresh clothes for him from one of Gedsel's companions. (The outfit was surprisingly badly made, almost like ... a theatrical costume.)

Reid Sechepol then questioned the man, whose name was Carlon, about how he came to be buried in the road. Carlon explained that he had been traveling to Daggerford a few days earlier with his intended bride and her family: "I agreed to an arranged marriage. I thought it was time I settled down, and she had a respectable dowry and seemed like a nice person. But I didn't learn until I was almost to Daggerford, where the ceremony was to take place, that all of her relatives were bandits--and furthermore, that if I married into their family, I would be forced to join them. I had not desire to do that, so I broke off the contract there and then.

"They didn't take kindly to that, since they said I knew all their secrets. However, something in their code prevented them from killing me on the spot--or maybe they thought I would change my mind if they left me there for a few days. So they just buried me in the road, and ... what does my forehead say, anyway? I know they did something with a knife."

Landin helpfully told him what it said, and Carlon sighed. "I suppose it was to be expected."

Reid accepted the story and said he would consult with the other wagon owners. But once he'd left, and after Ariana identified herself as a Harper, Carlon told them the real story: he had been following a caravan from Baldur's Gate several days before. "There have been some suspicious shipments coming through there recently. I have reason to think that it's a large amount of stolen goods--money, art treasures, possibly some magic items. I was trying to learn who was moving it and why. But they caught me prying into one of their wagons, and, well, you see what their punishment was." When asked why the word "Oathbreaker" had been carved on his head, he answered, "I think they thought it would make anyone who found me less likely to dig me up."

The group quickly shared what they had learned about the plans of the Cult of the Dragon and mentioned that their own caravan was also full of cultists transporting treasure. They also told Carlon about their uneasy truce with the cultists. Carlon promised to inform some high-ranking Harpers of these matters as soon as they reached Daggerford.

"But you still should have gotten married to that girl," Aric added disapprovingly.

DM Notes: I was a bit heavy-handed in making Edhelri urge the group to dig up the man in the road. But the players were being probably far more cautious than their characters would have been. I suppose they suspected a metagame trap of some kind.
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During their stop in Daggerford, Aric used clairvoyance to see if the cultists were up to anything, but they seemed to have no special business there. He did, however, see the newlyweds grimly bouncing on the bed in their room at the inn, keeping up the charade in case anyone should listen at the door. It was pretty clear that they didn't especially like each other when they were "offstage."

Four new travelers joined the caravan: a female gnome, a crabby lawyer, a Thayan with a shaved and tattooed head hidden under a hat, and a mysterious woman enveloped in a long cloak. None of them appeared to be cultists. The cloaked woman bought a passenger's spot on Samardag the Hoper's wagon full of pottery. The lawyer was forced to ride on Lai Angesstun's fur wagon, which smelled terrible. The PCs regarded the Thayan suspiciously, suspecting that he might be a Red Wizard, but he did nothing unusual. The new gnome started hanging around with Radecere, flirting with him, and even giving him the money to pay off his debt to Aric; but the PCs noticed that she was keeping an eye on them--and on the cultists.

Atex had a short conversation with her, trying to feel out whether she might be a Harper. She didn't respond to the symbol that he showed her, but she hinted that she might be interested in trading some information with them later.

Spider Attack

Shortly after leaving Daggerford, the caravan came to a river, where only one wagon at a time could go over the bridge. Most of the carts had crossed, with only a few still waiting on the near side, when some ettercaps and giant spiders burst out of the undergrowth and attacked Samardag the Hoper's wagon. They seized the horses and dragged them back into the woods, toppling over the wagon in the process. There was an almighty crash and a feminine shriek from within.

The PCs dashed back across the bridge as soon as they saw the attack. They found Samardag standing with shards of porcelain in his hands, moaning, "Whyyyyy?" Aric helped the cloaked traveler out of the wagon, noticing in the process that her hair and skin were bright green.

After making sure everyone was all right, the PCs plunged into the woods in pursuit of the spiders and ettercaps. With judicious use of fire, they defeated the ambushers. They were able to rescue the horses and bring them back unharmed.

When they returned, Samardag was cradling one unbroken ceramic pot that he had found in the wagon and gazing sadly at the remains of the rest of his cargo. "It's not like anyone can put this back together again," he said. "I don't know if it's even worth taking the rest of the way."

"You know, I might be able to help you with that, friend," Atex offered.

"How can anyone help with this? Look at it!"

"Well, take a look at this." Atex picked up a couple of shards, held them together, and cast mending.

Samardag's face lit up as the shards started growing back together. "You can do that?"

"Sure can. I can fix your stuff for you, if you'd like."

"You could save my cargo! Listen--if you can do that, I'll make you a half partner in this wagon. I can't pay you now, but when I sell this in Waterdeep, half of it's yours."

"Let's shake on it, then," said Atex. "Do we have a deal?"

Samardag readily shook his hand to seal the bargain. Atex spent his free time over the remaining days of the journey fitting together broken pieces like a jigsaw puzzle and mending them. He even got creative and put some of them together in new and attractive shapes.

Who's Your Friend? (Part 1)

The caravan had only a few days left in its journey when the PCs were assigned to cook breakfast. When they'd served everyone and were finally sitting down for their own meal, the gnome, Jamna Gleamsilver, approached the party and told them not to eat. Grabbing Atex's bowl, she dug around in it with her dagger and lifted out an oatmeal-covered ball made of bone. "It would uncoil in your stomach and poke holes in your guts and kill you slowly," she explained.

"How did they get into our bowls if we were cooking the breakfast?" Atex asked.

"There's been lots of people around here," Jamna answered. "Cultists. Did any of them come back for seconds?"

"I'm going to have a talk with Mr. Nyerhite," Aric growled. He took Atex's bowl and walked over to where the silk merchant was sitting.

"Now, you know, I could have sworn we had an agreement, and I was keeping to our end--but you haven't been keeping to yours. So I think it's time for you to eat some nice, delicious breakfast."

"What?" asked Nyerhite Verther in confusion. "I have no idea what you're talking about."

"See this thing in the bottom in the bowl? One of your people put it there."

"I don't know what that is. I've never seen it." He seemed sincere, which puzzled Aric.

Meanwhile, Atex and Landin were beginning to suspect that they had been set up. They checked the other bowls without finding anything--even after Atex put in his lensless monocle, which he claimed helped him to see better.

"I don't think this is what she says it is," Atex murmured.

"Shall we rescue the fool, or shall we let him make a fool of himself?" Landin asked.

"Maybe we should say something. I have a feeling our 'friend' is trying to start a fight, and she's putting us in the front."

They walked over just as Aric finished giving Nyerhite a stern warning that he was watching him and his friends. They pulled him aside and told him in an undertone of their findings. Then they ate their oatmeal.
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