• The VOIDRUNNER'S CODEX is coming! Explore new worlds, fight oppressive empires, fend off fearsome aliens, and wield deadly psionics with this comprehensive boxed set expansion for 5E and A5E!

The Kordovian Adventurers Guild



Game Session Date: 12 March 2016

- - -

Twilight was nearing and the heroes began looking for a good place to camp for the night. As they traveled down the road in their mule-driven wagon, with Binkadink and Finoula riding Obvious and Daisy, respectively, they turned a corner in the road and saw a sight none of them had expected to see: hanging from a branch directly in front of them was a man, his hands digging into the noose choking the life out of him. His legs kicked feebly, his actions slowed down, as his very breath was stolen from him.

Binkadink sent Obvious dashing forward, dipping his furry head beneath the hanged man and then raising his antlers to support the man's legs, as the gnome pulled his glaive from its holder at the jackalope's side and cut through the rope above the noose with a single swipe of his blade. He had hoped the man, thus freed, would steady himself on Obvious's antlers; no such luck - he plopped backwards onto the dirt of the dusty road beneath him, grunting in pain as he landed.

Castillan checked both ways down the road, looking for anyone nearby who might have done this. Despite the rapidly-setting sun, there was still ample light to see among the trees that dotted the landscape; nobody else was visible.

Ingebold leaped from the mule-wagon and raced to the man's side, channeling healing energy through her hand via a simple word of prayer to Moradin. The man groaned, stirred, and then bolted upright in alarm.

"Be at ease, friend," said Ingebold in a soothing voice, placing a hand on his shoulder. "Now then, who did this t'ye?"

"Did this?" repeated the man, bewilderment evident in his voice. "I did this. You shouldn't have cut me down!"

"Why not?" asked Finoula, stepping forward.

"Because I'll turn into a werewolf and try to kill you as soon as the sun sets and Luna rises!"

"Whoa now, hold on," said Castillan. "Maybe you'd better start this story from the beginning." At the man's hesitation, the bounder added, "There are enough of us here to take you out if you start growing fur and try to kill us. We're practiced adventurers, after all."

"Okay," replied the man, rubbing his sore neck and looking up at the seven adventurers standing around him in a ring as he removed the remains of the noose. Seven -- that should be enough, he thought. "My name's Hugo," he began. "I raise sheep."

"Again with the sheep," muttered Gilbert.

"It's sheep country," hissed Finoula to the heavyset wizard. "Let the man finish."

"Two nights ago, two of my sheep went missing from their pen," Hugo continued. "I found the prints of a wolf in my yard, so last night, I stayed up with my bow and arrow, hiding behind the well, ready to catch him if he came back. Well, I must have fallen asleep or something, because the next thing I knew, it was morning, I was naked in my yard, there was blood all over my hands and face, and Fuzzy was half-eaten."

"Fuzzy is a sheep?" guessed Finoula.

"She was, yes," confirmed Hugo. "There's Fuzzy, Wuzzy, Fluffy, Buffy...and Shaggy-Muffin. The two that went missing were--"

"We don't need names of sheep," interrupted Gilbert. "Get on with story." Then, at a stern look from Finoula, he added, "...Please."

"That's about all there is to it," finished Hugo. "I may be a simple sheep farmer, but I know what's what. I got bit by a werewolf, and now I'm a werewolf, too. I got it confirmed by a fortune teller and everything. So I decided I needed to end it all before I hurt anyone. It took me all day to find the courage, but as twilight got closer and closer, I knew I had to do something."

"Wait," said Gilbert. "When this fortune teller show up?"

"Late this afternoon. They had a big wagon, pulled by two horses. Vistani, I think they're called. The people, not the horses, I mean. They were just passing by. But anyway, I told the fortune teller my story, showed her my bite mark, and she confirmed my worst fears. What's worse, she said eventually I wouldn't be satisfied with just killing sheep, neither - I'd go after people!"

"Can we see this bite mark of yours?" asked Finoula. Hugo obediently stood up and lifted his shirt, exposing his left side. Sure enough, there were teeth marks on the side of his back, just above the waistline. "Ingebold?" Finoula asked, frowning.

"Oh, aye," the dwarven cleric confirmed. "Those be human teeth marks, all right. Ye weren't bitten by a wolf, Hugo - ye were bitten by a human!"

"A human?" exclaimed Hugo. "That can't be!" He turned in a slow circle trying to look at his own back.

"Well, it might be an elf," admitted Ingebold. "But it weren't no wolf, that's fer sure."

Darrien rummaged around in his coin purse, then approached Hugo. He placed a silver coin directly on the back of the sheep farmer's hand, held it firmly in place, then removed it and and examined the skin. It was unblemished.

"I don't know what's going on here," the half-elf ranger said, "but you're not a werewolf, Hugo. You don't react to silver. You weren't bitten by a wolf, but a person."

"Maybe the wolf bite turned into a human bite when the werewolf transformed back into human form," suggested the confused sheep farmer.

"I don't think it works that way," replied Castillan.

"Plus, if you bitten by werewolf only last night, you don't transform into werewolf last night," piped up Gilbert. "You transform tonight, for first time."

"And Luna's now up over the treeline, and you're not a wolf," concluded Darrien. It was true: this was the last night of the full moon, and Luna's rays now cast a warm light over the nighttime scene. And there stood Hugo, clearly still a human.

"Hmmm," he said. "I wonder what's going on?"

"Let's go check out your farm," suggested Finoula. "Maybe there's something there to indicate who's behind this."

"Do ye have any enemies?" asked Ingebold. "Anybody who might want ye dead?"

"None that I know of," replied Hugo. "I'm a sheep farmer. Who's enemies with a sheep farmer? Anyway, come on - my farm's over this way."

Hugo lived in a simple, two-room structure, with a small bedroom to the left and an open living area to the right. The only other structure on his land was a small building for the sheep, surrounded by a wooden fence to form a pen. A stone well provided water, there were a few apples trees in the back - and that was about it.

"Cozy place," commented Gilbert.

"This is where I woke up this morning," said Hugo, pointing to an area in the front, next to the sheep pen. "See? There's the remains of the clothes I was wearing yesterday." Darrien examined the clothes in the moonlight - and the everburning torches tied to the antler's on Binkadink's helmet - and grunted. "Look here," he said. "These rips look like they were made by claws after the fact, not torn apart during transformation."

"Prints!" called Finoula, her elven eyes picking out the paw-prints of a large wolf in the dirt of Hugo's land. "Two pairs of them, and - huh! It looks like they were standing on their back feet."

"So we're looking for two people wearing boots with wolf paws on the bottoms?" asked Binkadink. "This is sounding like something Jinkadoodle would come up with."

"Could be gnolls," offered Gilbert.

"Which ones are gnolls again?" asked Finoula.

"Hyena people!" replied the portly wizard. "We fight really big one in forest after fighting beetles in lair!"

"That was a gnoll?" asked Finoula.

"Well, maybe," admitted Gilbert. "It far too big for normal gnoll. Maybe it gnoll made big with spell or potion."

"Smoggety!" called out Aithanar suddenly from behind the well. Pointing to the ground, he added, "Flinkerdy snorkus!" Despite his nonsensical words, he had found yet another set of footprints - these made by a human or elf, probably a woman by the size of the feet, wearing moccasins or something similar. "Good eye!" said Finoula, and the young fighter's chest filled with pride.

Following the tracks, both sets of wolf prints and the woman's prints all led across the yard and out into the road. Tracking became more difficult there, given the hardness of the road's surface compared to the fresh dirt and grass of the farmer's yard. Checking through the house, Hugo confirmed nothing was missing - not that he had much in the way of goods to steal; Finoula noticed he had but one fork, one knife, one spoon, one cup, one bowl, and one plate.

"So where does this leave us?" asked Binkadink.

"I think we find Vistani wagon," answered Gilbert. "Hugo - which way wagon go?"

"It went right down the road in front of my house," the farmer replied. "Headed east."

"Saddle up," commanded Gilbert. "We follow road east."

Fortunately, it was a fairly straightforward section of road for the next dozen miles or so, with no major intersections. By simply staying on the main road, the group found the Vistani wagon about five miles from Hugo's farm. A simple camp had been set up, with two Vistani women cooking over a small campfire. Two black horses stood nearby, their reins tied to trees, and the brightly-colored wagon had a pair of sturdy logs wedged against one of the wheels to prevent it from moving. Hugo confirmed that one of the two women was the fortune teller he'd spoken to that afternoon.

"I greet thee," said the taller woman as the group pulled up, in what was apparently a ritual greeting. Both women wore head scarves over their dark hair, and their garb seemed to be many different layers of material in a variety of colors. Finoula's eyes were drawn to their footwear: soft leather boots in each case. Not conclusive by any means, but either one could certainly have made the footprints they'd found at Hugo's farm.

"Would you care to--Aaaah!" began the other woman, clearly frightened in mid-sentence upon recognizing Hugo. "Mark of the Beast!" She made some type of warding gesture with her hands.

"Beast? Me?" sputtered Hugo. "But they said--"

"Ladies," said Darrien, sidling up to the Vistani women - a role usually reserved for Castillan, but he had opted to sneak over to the Vistani wagon from the north, apart from the group, to see what he could learn, and thus had dropped off the side of the mule-driven wagon as soon as the Vistani camp had come into view. "I understand you've already met Hugo, but as you can see, the full moon is out and Hugo is not a werewolf."

"But, how can this be?" asked the fortune teller, Djolbana. "I myself heard his story, saw bite of wolf upon his back."

"It's not a wolf bite after all," said Hugo, lifting up his shirt and showing Djolbana his scar, already mostly healed by the spells Ingebold had cast upon him. "It's a human bite. See?"

"This very strange. Earlier today, it was bite of wolf. I have not heard of such magics as these before. But it is good you are not wolf! Come! Join Anelka and I for dinner! There is food for all - it is only simple stew, but we have wine and bread to share as well." As introductions were made all around, Castillan approached the enclosed wagon and saw the only door visible seemed to be the one at the vehicle's rear. The hinges showed it opened outwards; the rustiness of the hinges warned of a possibly loud squeak if he tried opening the door.

"What kind of stew this?" asked Gilbert.

"Mostly mutton," replied Djolbana, serving up a bowl. "But we add to it with what the gods provide. The men are out hunting now - perhaps they return with rabbit, or squirrel, or pheasant."

"Mutton, huh? You get mutton from Hugo, maybe?" asked Gilbert.

"Hmm? No, we buy lamb from farmer, three, four days ago."

"Hey, maybe you help us. Aithanar here, he hit head, now he talk funny."

"He's not the only one," added Darrien in a stage whisper.

"You shut stupid half-elf tongue!" scolded Gilbert, before turning back to the Vistani women. "You have way to help him?" Anelka waved Aithanar over to her side and looked at the back of his head, running her fingers through his hair. "I have herbs that may help," she said, then excused herself and went straight for the wagon's back door. "Fetch more bowls while you're in there!" called Djolbana, and Anelka waved her acknowledgement as she entered the vehicle. Castillan saw her coming just in time and ducked around the corner of the wagon, then rolled underneath it. As Anelka entered - confirming the squeaky hinges as she opened and closed the door - Castillan examined the wagon's bottom as best he could in the shadows, looking for either a trap door or a space between the wooden boards that would give him a peek into the vehicle's interior. He found neither, but he heard Anelka talking to herself inside the wagon, in a language he'd never heard before.

About this time, Finoula's hair suddenly changed color. She generally kept it in a long braid at the back of her head, the best to keep it out of her way during combat, and although it was a light, silvery color, in the moonlight and the glow of the campfire it seemed almost a pearly white. But then, in the blink of an eye, it darkened to a shadowy color, which only proved to be a deep purple once it had been pointed out to the ranger and she scooted closer to the campfire to get a better look.

"What in the world?" she wondered. Binkadink immediately began looking around for his cousin, although that explanation seemed less likely this far from home.

"Do you think it's faeries?" asked Darrien. "They like playing tricks, and some of them can turn invisible - or so my mom always said."

"Faeries, sprites, pixies," muttered Gilbert. "I wonder...."

A loud howl rang out across the clear night, seemingly from the northwest, cutting off Gilbert's mumblings. All other noise - the hoot of an owl, the chirping of crickets - ceased at once. "It's the werewolf!" shouted Hugo, the fact that all indications pointed toward there having been no actual werewolf involved in his attack the previous night immediately evacuated from his mind upon hearing the lupine howl. He jumped up and ran straight for the mule-driven wagon, hiding first behind it and then cowering underneath it. The heroes had other responses: they leapt up as well, but rather than flee in terror they held their ground, pulling out and readying their weapons. Binkadink jumped upon Obvious's back, while Djolbana stood up and huddled by the rest of the group, clearly frightened.

There were crashing sounds coming from the northwest as something large came pounding through the brush. Not wanting to be caught hiding underneath the Vistani wagon, Castillan rolled back out from beneath it the way he'd come, got to his feet, and snapped his shortbow into his left hand. He pulled an arrow from his quiver and drew the bow - and just in time, too, for an enormous dire wolf ran through some low scrub into the clearing and made a bee-line for the elven bounder, his closest target. Castillan saw the beast's eyes glowing an infernal red and lined up his shot to hit right between them. He launched his arrow but the beast dodged to the side at the last second, taking the feathered shaft in his furry back instead of the middle of his lupine face. And then he pounced at Castillan, biting down with his razor-sharp teeth and nearly knocking the elf prone.

"Screw this!" yelled Castillan, looking for a safe perch, and finding one at the top of the Vistani wagon. His muscles propelled by fear as much as by training, he ran up the side of the wagon and huddled flat upon the curved roof, snapping his bow back into his glove on the way up so he'd have both hands free to pull himself up. The dire wolf spun to face his foe and seemed ready to pounce up the side of the wagon in pursuit, but then another pair of targets presented themselves. Hippity-hopping around the front of the wagon from the west, Obvious raced up to the side of the great beast, allowing Binkadink's glaive to come crashing down and slice a wound deep into the wolf's flank. It howled in pain and spun to face this new threat.

Djolbana took the opportunity to race to the Vistani wagon, open the door, and join Anelka inside - where it was relatively safer. She slammed the door behind her, and when Gilbert went to follow he found the door closed and locked. "Hey!" he cried. "Open up!" But neither Vistani woman deigned to reply.

While Binkadink fought the dire wolf to the north of the Vistani wagon, Darrien raced along behind Gilbert and was perfectly placed to see another wolf come crashing through the foliage, this one from a bit farther east. He was the size of a normal-sized wolf, but his eyes blazed the unnatural red of his larger cousin. Darrien shot at the new arrival with an arrow from the Arachnibow, eliciting a howl of pain from the beast.

By then, Finoula and Wrath had followed Obvious's path and were adding sword-strikes and fangs to the fight against the dire wolf. Against the two warriors and their combat-trained animals, the dire wolf fared poorly and in short time he collapsed upon the ground, dead - only to vanish in a puff of rancid smoke after taking his last breath on the Material Plane. Wrath immediately shifted targets to the fiendish wolf Darrien was fighting, giving the half-elf ranger enough breathing space to summon forth the mantis-spirit stored in his amber necklace. The giant mantis materialized behind the fiendish wolf, striking out at him with its wicked claws, and before long the smaller wolf too had been slain - sending his form returning back to whatever foul plane he dwelt upon.

Collectively, the group looked around for any other foes, saw none, and breathed a sigh of relief. But then Castillan, still up on the roof of the Vistani wagon, called out a warning, just as two more lupine figures crashed through the underbrush and into the clearing. While these two had the lupine heads and shaggy fur of the two previous combatants, they stood upon their hind legs - they were, for all appearances, a pair of male werewolves in their hybrid forms. Fortunately for Hugo, he still cowered under the heroes' wagon and didn't see the actual, real-life werewolves, for the sight of what had overnight become his greatest fear would likely be too much for him.

There was shock on the faces of the assembled heroes, who had all come to believe that this whole werewolf business was all just some kind of elaborate hoax - but the giant preying mantis saw the two werewolves merely as another pair of enemies and struck out with its spined forelegs, catching the first of the lycanthropes, Andrei, in its deadly embrace. Ingebold took advantage of a pinned opponent and sent a spiritual weapon in the form of a glowing, dwarven warhammer crashing into Andrei's frame.

Snarling, the other werewolf, Stefan, made a rush at Obvious, the largest of the available targets within easy reach. The jackalope nimbly dodged aside - nearly spilling Binkadink from his back in the process - and then darted forward to catch the lycanthrope's fur between his rodent teeth. Stefan quickly learned just how deadly a big ol' fuzzy bunny rabbit with antlers could be in a battle, as the jackalope kept a firm grip on the hybrid's body with his sharp teeth as he shook him around like a rag doll. Stefan's growls of surprise soon turned to howls of pain.

Gilbert tried forcing his way into the door to no avail and fervently wished he knew the knock spell. Instead, he tried reasoning with the women, first jumping the gun just a bit and saying it was safe to come out because the werewolves had been dealt with (this was far from true, for while they were both being grappled by a large creature neither one was close to being killed just yet); then, when that produced no reaction, he tried taunting them by telling them they had just killed both of their werewolf husbands - hoping one of them would rush outside to verify his claims for herself. He was wrong on both counts there; not only were both werewolves still alive but they were also the brothers, not husbands, of the two Vistani women. But the end result was the same: no response from the women locked inside.

There were two small windows at the front of the wagon; at Gilbert's urging, Castillan peered over the edge of the roof and tried peeking inside, but couldn't get a good view from his perch. He did see an owl leave its tree branch perch and come flying straight for the other window, though - this was Dvani, Djolbana's familiar. Aithanar saw the owl fly through the window but realized he'd never be able to communicate that to the heroes given his current inability to speak anything but gibberish. On the roof, Castillan strained his ears to try to hear what might be going on inside the wagon's interior, but try as he might he heard nothing. So, seeing as how both fiendish wolves had already been slain and the two werewolves were both being contained by the jackalope and the mantis, the bounder leaped back down from his safe perch on the wagon's roof and reactivated the short sword he kept stored in his right glove.

Getting no results from the Vistani women, Gilbert decided to apply himself to the battle at hand. He cast a pair of scorching rays at Andrei, still pinned in the mantis's embrace, and did manage to strike him with one of the rays; the other, unfortunately, overshot the werewolf and smacked the mantis right in its triangular head. Each ray did similar damage, but the mantis looked to have come out the worse for wear of the two of them. Worse yet, the surprise of the "friendly fire" momentarily loosened the mantis's grip on its prey and Andrei wriggled free. He leaped for Castillan, sinking his claws into the bounder's shoulders and biting the startled elf at the side of the neck. Castillan shrieked and fell back, and Andrei turned to attack Finoula next. But Binkadink, struggling to keep his seat on Obvious's back as the jackalope jumped up and down, worrying his prey, the gnome fighter managed to swing his trusty glaive down upon Andrei, keeping him away from Finoula.

Stefan, meanwhile, was having a much more difficult time than he ever would have imagined escaping Obvious's grasp; what he had originally thought was a pushover creature of prey - he had visions of a cook pot full of rabbit stew for weeks - was actually doing him serious harm. He looked over at Andrei just in time to see him slain by a barrage of magic missiles from Gilbert's wand; the distraction was enough for Castillan to strike out with a thrust from his short sword, cutting through the startled werewolf's jugular vein and spilling his life blood onto the ground. Both lycanthropes fell to the ground within seconds of each other, changing form as they did so. Fur receded back into skin, lupine muzzles retracted, and two naked human men were left sprawled in the grass under the rising full moon.

"Okay, Castillan, we need you open this lock now," stated Gilbert, returning to the wagon's back door. The bounder put away his sword and pulled out his lockpicks, and after a minute's work he had popped the door open with a now-familiar creak.

The wagon's interior was somewhat cramped, with hanging curtains that could be pulled closed to wall off two "bedroom areas" with bunks that folded up into the walls, a set of cabinets along the left wall, and a table for eating in the front. There was a small, round table and two chairs at the back - complete with a crystal ball that Gilbert's practiced eye told him was not magical in any sense of the word - and a rocking chair in the far corner, toward the front of the wagon. But of Anelka and Djolbana (and Dvati) there was no sign.

Castillan swung his arms wide, feeling all around the cramped interior in case the two women were present but invisible - no luck. Gilbert poked his head back outside and asked if anybody saw them teleport or dimension door outside - no luck. But then the rocking chair began rocking of its own accord, and pots and pans started spilling out of the cabinets and hurling themselves at Castillan. "Ow!" he cried, after getting beaned in the head by a copper pot. He backed out of the wagon, noticing a humanoid form coalescing out of nothingness in the rocking chair. "Ingebold!" he cried.

The cleric rushed to the back of the wagon, expecting the bounder to need a healing spell or two. But he merely pointed a thumb at the rocking chair, and the scowling, wrinkled old lady sitting there, and said, "Undead, I think - she's all yours." Then he stepped aside, making room for Ingebold to enter the wagon.

Ingebold raised her holy symbol of Moradin and aimed it at the spirit, who snarled in irritation, faded from view for a moment, and then returned. "You invade my home," said Zolfina, the one-time leader of the Vistani family who owned this wagon. "I protect our home," she announced stubbornly, throwing up a pair of arthritic hands and sending more pots and pans flying telekinetically at the cleric.

"We defeated th' two werewolves outside, and sent th' two women fleeing," replied Ingebold, channeling positive energy through her holy symbol for a second time. This time, Zolfina reacted for more than just a moment, a look of astonishment crossing her cramped features. "They are defeated," she repeated, then disappeared from view - but not before the dwarven cleric saw the hint of a smile cross the elderly woman's features. "It's done," Ingebold called to the others when the ghost failed to reappear and the rocking chair stopped moving.

"So where women go?" asked Gilbert. "I all out of detect magic spells - you have any?" Ingebold replied by casting the required spell and looking around the room. "Up there," she said, pointing to the ceiling. "There's an aura of transmutation magic right there."

Gilbert puzzled it out for a moment, then announced, "Got it! Rope trick spell! They hiding in extradimensional space!" Then addressing the ceiling, he called out, "We know you up there! Come out now, we let you live!" When there was no reply, he asked Ingebold if she had a dispel magic spell ready, but she didn't - nor did the wizard. "Crap!" complained Gilbert. "Now we have to wait - maybe for hours."

"Maybe that would be a good spell to have on a scroll, for times like these," pointed out Darrien. Gilbert just harrumphed in irritation.

It took nearly seven hours for the rope trick spell to wear off and the two Vistani women to come crashing down to the floor. The owl also fell from the ceiling, but it managed to flap around until it made it out the nearest window. But by the time the rope trick spell had expired, the heroes had thoroughly explored the wagon, finding a hidden trap door on the floor leading to a cargo compartment, inside which they found a small bit of coins and gems but - of more interest - a handful of magic weapons, including Andrei's longsword, Stefan's short sword, and a whip with retractable thorns that belonged to Anelka.

"So," commented Gilbert casually, "you lock us outside wagon so werewolves can eat us. That not very nice."

"They did not eat you," pointed out Djolbana. "So no real harm was done."

"That not the point," countered Gilbert, his eyes narrowing in anger. "You try to kill us! And you try to blame Hugo for wolf attacks caused by your husbands!"

"They're not our husbands, you idiot," snarled Anelka. "They are our brothers!"

"Were your brothers," corrected Darrien. "...They're dead."

"Bastards!" cried Anelka, her face contorted with rage. She made to claw at the half-elf's eyes, and the sudden movement caused a necklace to slip out from her blouse. It held an image of Erythnul, the evil god of slaughter. That was all the heroes needed to assuage any guilt they might have had about fighting the Vistani sisters. The women fought savagely, but they were hampered by the close quarters in their wagon and were quickly brought down by the steel blades of the heroes.

Upon Anelka's death, the rocking chair started moving again, and Zolfina's image returned briefly. "You have slain my slayer," the elderly ghost said in a whispery voice. "Anelka wanted to lead family, killed me to make room for new leader. Always she was impatient, even as little girl. But now you have freed me. For this, I grant you boon.

"I can peer into future," she continued. "Sometimes it in pictures, images; others it like reading words from a paper. In either case, visions hazy, hidden – like reading or seeing through thick mist." The ghost's form became insubstantial, as if seen through a thick mist as well.

"For you, I see words," she whispered, her voice dissipating as well as her insubstantial body. "Ma," she said. "Returns," she added, then, squinting as if trying to make out the form of someone far away, "Later." And the final word she whispered before discorporating forever was "Minus...." Then she was gone.

"That was kind of creepy," admitted Castillan.

"She gone?" demanded Gilbert. "For good this time?" He had a fireball spell at the ready and was willing to burn the whole wagon down to get rid of the undead monster, if that's what it took.

"Looks t'be," replied Ingebold, stifling a yawn, looking out at the rest of the camp. Binkadink was fast asleep, still in his armor, snuggled up against a snoozing Obvious for warmth. Aithanar had ensured the mules and Daisy were brushed down and tethered to the wagon with plenty of reach, but then he had curled up in the back of the adventurers' wagon and was firmly in his nightly elven trance, blocking out Hugo's snores - for the sheep farmer had fallen into a deep sleep once he saw the werewolves had been taken care of.

"So what was she talking about, there at the end?" asked Darrien. "Whose Ma is returning? From where? And without what?"

"She just crazy old lady," scoffed Gilbert. "Probably just crazy old lady talk."

"No," corrected Finoula. Her hair had returned to its normal silvery coloration about an hour after its abrupt shift to vibrant purple, and now she seemed just as pale as her hair as the blood suddenly drained from her face. "Those weren't all words, just parts of them - and she got them in the wrong order. It wasn't 'Ma returns later minus' - it was 'Ma later minus returns.'"

Finoula held herself in her crossed arms, suddenly very cold. "'Malaterminus returns,'" she concluded.

- - -

This was an interesting change of pace. The players figured out almost immediately that Hugo wasn't a werewolf, coming up with a proof or two I hadn't even considered. They were fairly sure the Vistani women had something to do with the hoax by the time they met up with them, but they were afraid of jumping to a wrong conclusion - perhaps after killing the innocent aspis drones in a case of mistaken identity a few adventures back. But the arrival of the werewolves threw them (momentarily) for a loop, as by then they had convinced themselves there likely weren't any werewolves involved in pranking Hugo. But the Vistani family had gotten their practice down to a science. Kill farm animals on the first night of the full moon, do it again on the second night of the full moon and find a patsy, then leave incriminating evidence that the patsy's the one responsible for the killings. Then move on to a new town or village by the three days of the full moon the following month and repeat the sequence all over.

In any case, the group got three magic weapons out of this adventure, as well as an enclosed Vistani wagon and two black draft horses to pull it. (Jacob immediately came up with the names Castor and Pollux for the horses, and the names have stuck.) I made up the whip of thorns because the image Vicki chose to represent Finoula has such a weapon coiled in her left hand, and I decided to let the campaign catch up to the image. (Vicki recognized it for what it was immediately and called "Dibs" on it for Finoula.) They also got a wand of false life that I'm sure Gilbert will be able to put to good use in future adventures.

I also decided Zolfina hasn't fully left the Vistani wagon. Having spent years in the wagon as a ghost, now that she's passed on she's left behind "the ghost of her ghost" - basically, a permanent unseen servant spell effect that's limited to the wagon's interior. It will function as normal unseen servant with one main difference: it doesn't like anyone sitting in Zolfina's rocking chair. Anyone sitting in her chair - or setting something down there - results in a close-radius lowering of the immediate temperature as a warning, possibly followed up by a poltergeist-like telekinetic temper tantrum if the offender doesn't immediately clear the chair. I'm pretty sure Gilbert's not going to like that bit.

- - -

T-Shirt Worn: As we played through this adventure on the same day as "Communion with the Sea Mother," I was still wearing my shark T-shirt. While I do have a wolf T-shirt that was perfectly suitable for this adventure, and I'm not against bringing a shirt to change into between adventures, I had failed to suitably plan ahead - my wolf T-shirt was in the wash.
Last edited:

log in or register to remove this ad



Game Session Date: 23 April 2016

- - -

Binkadink rolled out of bed knowing it was going to be a great day. It was the morning after they had finally rolled into the town of Garonis and he had at long last been able to pick up the masterwork gnomish glaive he'd ordered several weeks ago. Four days after the recent werewolf attack, he finally had a masterwork weapon - and one that had been crafted finely enough that, given time, he'd be able to have enchantments crafted onto it!

Although the last four days had seen nothing in the way of combat, they had been eventful nonetheless. Ingebold had been concerned that the bite wound Castillan received from the werewolf Andrei had scarred up; normally the application of healing spells smoothed over any resulting scar tissue. Worried that this might be the first signs of lycanthropy in the elven bounder, she'd asked Gilbert to read up on the affliction. Gilbert did so, paging through the books from the Purple Mage's library that he'd absorbed into the Omnibook, and the results of his investigations were somewhat grim. There were several suggested methods, most of which were infeasible given the amount of time that had passed since the elf had been bitten. But there was still one possible avenue left to them: Ingebold could cast a remove curse spell on the bounder under the light of the full moon. Of course, if Castillan had contracted lycanthropy the light of the full moon would cause him to begin transforming into a wolf, so they'd have to take precautions to prevent his escape if the spell didn't work. Fortunately, the next full moon was a whole month away, so they'd have plenty of time to make their preparations.

They'd also met up with a wandering bard two days out from Garonis who had shared their campsite and a meal. In return for their generosity, he'd sung several ballads from his repertoire, including several songs about the famed hero-king Galrich Slayer the First and his amazing exploits as an adventurer. It turns out Galrich had been paying bards to create songs about his combat prowess and his very powerful fellow adventurers, all as a means to pass the message: "Don't mess with Kordovia." To the group's further astonishment, the bard's latest song involved details of their own exploits; apparently Galrich had decided to spread the word that he had a new band of powerful adventurers working for him as well.

The other item of note was the continuing, if erratic, hair discoloration. Over the past four days, Castillan had returned from behind a tree (where he'd been relieving his bladder) with lavender hair; Gilbert had exited his tent the first thing the next morning with a bushy, green beard; the following day, after a lunch break on the road, Wrath had emerged from underneath one of the wagons sporting light blue fur (which he didn't seem to like much at all); and finally, right before entering Garonis the day before, Aithanar's long hair went from a deep black to a bright orange (he wore his hood up for the duration of the effect). In each case, the new coloration only lasted about an hour before the hair (or fur) in question returned to its normal color; of more immediate interest, on several of these occasions there were sounds of childish laughter and the flutter of invisible wings, although no culprit was ever spotted. Since the fairies - for the group was now convinced that they had somehow attracted the attention of prank-loving faeries of some type - weren't doing any real harm, the group decided to try ignoring them and seeing if they'd just go away. Gilbert, however, picked up some honey at a shop in Garonis and tried leaving it by the wagon as an offering to their unseen pranksters.

The others met up with the little gnome in the inn's common room, all sharing the view that it had been nice to eat a well-cooked meal, luxuriate in a warm bath, and get a good night's sleep in a comfortable bed before hitting the road again.

"Guys!" called Castillan, uncharacteristically clomping down the stairs in his haste. "I think I found us a big stash of loot just waiting to be claimed!"

"What this all about?" asked Gilbert.

"I was up late playing cards with some of the locals and I picked up some details about a dungeon that's supposed to be about ten miles out of town. Seems there was this retired adventurer named Arrogan who built himself a tower fort some time ago. The fort's in ruins, but the dungeon below it is still intact, with a bunch of treasure ready to be taken by anybody who can go get it."

"It's been there for decades?" asked Finoula. "And nobody's claimed it in all that time?"

"That's the thing," replied Castillan. "Arrogan's supposed to have been a distrustful sort, so he built a bunch of traps in it to kill trespassers. Oh, and get this, Gilbert - he especially distrusted wizards, so his dungeon is called 'the Magekiller.'"

"Lovely," snorted Gilbert.

"It gets better," replied the bounder. "The Magekiller is said to be extremely dangerous. Several adventuring groups have entered it over the years, but none have ever returned."

"I'm not sure that makes it better," pointed out Finoula.

"Sure it does!" argued Castillan. "That means the treasure's all still there!"

"I suppose..." offered Finoula. "What do you guys think?"

"Sounds good to me!" enthused Binkadink. "It'll give me a chance to put my new glaive to use!"

The group decided they'd give it a shot. So they finished a quick breakfast at the inn, paid their tab, and headed over to gather their animals and wagons. Once there, they started gearing up in their armor. "I get to try out my new armor, too!" gushed the little gnome. He'd decided to upgrade to a suit of gnomish full plate once he saw there was an armorer in town who catered to gnomes and halflings. This was indeed going to be a good day!

And so, half an hour after breakfast the Kordovians were on their way down the road, heading west out of town, following the directions Castillan had gotten from his card-playing buddies. It was an overcast day that threatened rain before nightfall. The group hadn't gotten too far down the road before Ingebold's hair was suddenly bleached of all color.

"Ach, not again!" swore the dwarven cleric. "Ye're pesky little buggers, ye are!"

"You look like a little old grandma," chuckled Darrien from the back of the mule-driven wagon.

Any reply from Ingebold was cut off by a scream from the road just around a bend ahead. Finoula and Binkadink, astride their respective mounts, sped to the front of the group and were therefore the first to see a young elf maiden staggering at the side of the road. It wasn't her screaming, though - the cries for help were coming from a cave about fifteen feet up the side of a rocky hill to the left of the road.

"No, stop - leave me alone!" called a female voice from the cave. At the same time, the young elven woman approached the Vistani wagon, trembling and clearly frightened. "That's my sister!" she cried. "She was grabbed by a--by a giant caveman! What do I do? What do I do?" And then she collapsed in tears at the side of the road.

Aithanar pulled on the reins of the Vistani wagon, bringing it to a sudden halt, and leapt down from the driver's seat to help her. In the back of the wagon, the door opened up on its squeaky hinges and Gilbert stepped out, plopping his hat of disguise onto his head and taking on the form of a young woman from his mother's faraway land. He had heard the elf's statement and in typical Gilbert Fung fashion was immediately suspicious that this was some sort of trap.

"Let's go!" called Binkadink, urging Obvious up the slope to the cave opening. Finoula dismounted from her pony and called for Wrath to stay with the wagons, then raced behind the hippity-hopping jackalope. Darrien and Ingebold leaped from the mule wagon in the back of the two-vehicle caravan and followed, joined by Castillan from the front. "Stay with the girl!" he called to his brother, who nodded in return.

"What your name?" Gilbert asked the elf in a falsetto voice - his magical hat altered his appearance but did nothing to disguise his voice.

"My name is Marielle," replied the tear-filled elf. "My sister Danielle and I, we were running away from home to get away from our brutish stepfather. Then, out of nowhere, this, this caveman rushed up and grabbed at us." The elf showed where the shoulder of her blouse had been ripped. "He almost got me, but I pulled away, and he grabbed up Danielle instead!" As if to punctuate her story, Danielle screamed again from deep inside the cave, "What are you going to do to me? No, no--HELP!" Marielle cringed at the thought of her sister in the hands of a creature admittedly even more terrifying than their cruel stepfather. "Will they be able to save her?" she asked, clinging to Gilbert's robes - which, fortunately, felt no different than the skirt they were currently masquerading as.

"They very strong heroes," Gilbert replied in his falsetto voice. "They save your sister, you see." Then, turning his attention to Aithanar, he said, "You give girl drink of water, I go into wagon and get her some food." Extracting Marielle's clutching hands from his robes, he went back into the wagon and waited patiently. Ever the distrustful sort, Gilbert had decided to put the elf maiden's loyalty to the test: if she was what she claimed, Aithanar would be fine upon his return; if she was playing them false, perhaps in league with the caveman, she might try to overcome the elf fighter if she thought it was only one against one. The wizard strained his ears to hear what they were up to, but it sounded like Aithanar was simply handing over his waterskin and the elf girl was drinking from it.

Meanwhile, in the cave, the rest of the group had an opportunity to make a quick perusal. Upon first entering the cave, Finoula noticed a square, wooden structure some 15 feet to a side leaned up against the wall of the cave to the left of the entrance. There were three poles, each about 20 feet in length, piled next to it. There also seemed to be two passages from this central room, veering off to the east and the west. Danielle's screams were coming from the west, so that's the direction Obvious headed with Binkadink still on his back. They bounded into a larger cavern containing only the ashes from an old campfire, but there was another passageway out of this larger cavern to the northwest. Obvious scampered down it, following a set of natural steps leading down another ten feet or so. Behind them, Castillan and the two rangers followed, with Ingebold bringing up the rear.

"Stop, please!" cried Danielle from ahead. "Leave me alone!" Binkadink saw the next cavern was split down the middle by a 15-foot vertical drop, with another natural set of stone steps along the eastern edge of the cave leading down to the lower level, which held further passageways to the northeast and northwest. But Obvious had no need for steps; a 15-foot drop was nothing to the surefooted jackalope. Leaping over the edge, Obvious landed gracefully on the lower level and turned the corner to the northwest, where the volume of Danielle's voice told them she was just around the bend.

Turning the corner, Binkadink and Obvious came to a sudden stop, for there was only a small, dead-end cave there. Two crude beds of straw and grasses lay along the wall in the back, and two female ogres wielding javelins stood at the ready to greet the jackalope-mounted gnome fighter. They both let fly at the startled jackalope with their javelins, one of them catching him in the shoulder, before each grabbed up a greatsword leaning against the wall. Of Danielle there was no sign; the gnome at first thought these two giants might have eaten her, but there was no blood, no cast-off elven garments, just a smirking ogress pleased with her efforts at reeling in the ogre band's next meal. As if to prove her point, she cried out "Help me, gnome, help me!" in the voice of the apparently non-existent Danielle while her counterpart chuckled.

The ogre mancatchers, Grinka and Jorza, swung their greatswords at Obvious, who hurriedly backed off out of range. His new glaive in hand, Binkadink jumped from the back of his jackalope steed, the better to shield Obvious from their attacks. Fifteen feet above him and to the south, Finoula and Darrien had just exited the steps and could see Binkadink in a combat stance, but they couldn't see who he was fighting as the ogres were behind a corner, hidden from view. But while the gnome caught their movement out of the corner of his eye, there seemed to be even more movement below them. Daring a quick glance in their direction, Binkadink saw that the 15-foot-tall vertical cliff housed two openings into another, larger cave, from which spilled out three more eager ogre combatants. Like the females he was already fighting, these three males wore tattered animal skins and carried javelins in their meaty hands, but instead of greatswords they each wielded a greatclub that looked to have been made from a tree trunk. They hurled their javelins at Binkadink and Obvious, and as the two hurled his way clattered off his full plate, the gnome fighter was glad he'd upgraded his armor. But Obvious took another javelin wound and was now bleeding heavily; at Binkadink's urging, he raced back up the steps out of harm's way.

As the three male ogres rushed at the gnome, the heroes on the ledge above saw them come into view. While Finoula and Darrien skidded to a stop, Castillan increased his speed to a full-out sprint and launched himself off the edge of the cliff, snapping his magic short sword into one hand and grabbing the dagger from his belt with the other. He landed on the westernmost ogre's broad back, plunging both blades in deep and hanging on, letting the weight of his own body carve the blades deeper into the ogre's flesh and muscle. He roared in pain and swung his body around. "Get it off! Get it off!" he cried in the Giant tongue to his fellows, and the middle ogre was more than happy to oblige, bringing his greatclub into a fierce swing straight at the bounder. But Castillan's reflexes were well-honed and he released both weapons, dropping nimbly to the floor and ducking under the blow - which went crashing into the wounded ogre's spine, sending him smashing into the side wall of the cave. He slid lifelessly down the wall; Castillan grabbed his weapons back in both hands and with a mighty tug extracted them from the ogre's corpse, spinning around to face his attacker with a grin of pure enjoyment on his face.

Darrien summoned the magical mantis from the amber necklace he wore around his neck, allowing it manifest directly behind the third male ogre while Binkadink was focused on the females. The giant insect caught the ogre in its claws, but not tightly enough to pin it; the brute spun around and smashed at this new threat with his greatclub. Up above, Ingebold was just entering the cavern from the longer set of steps to the south. Obvious called out a plea for healing to the cleric in the only language he knew, that of burrowing mammals, but the cleric didn't even register the jackalope as having spoken. Instead, anticipating a sudden need for a lot of healing spells in the course of the rest of this battle, she cast a sanctuary spell on herself.

In the larger cavern further south with the cold remains of the fire, a boulder shifted near the ceiling, and yet another ogre leaped down onto the floor, greatclub in hand, and raced down the steps Ingebold had just traversed. He stoked his rage as he ran, eager for bloody battle and the flesh of slain enemies that always followed immediately thereafter.

Outside, Gilbert had removed his hat of disguise and approached Aithanar and Marielle with a drawn wand in each hand, hoping to startle the elf maiden into thinking he was onto her - if, indeed, she had been up to no good. However, she seemed to have ignored any opportunity to get the jump on Aithanar while the two of them were alone, and the wizard began to think maybe she was actually on the up-and-up. But then the ogre barbarian's roar emanated from the cave and Marielle sprang to her feet. "I guess I'll have to deal with you later," she said offhandedly, then dissipated into a cloud of mist, which narrowed into a thin column and raced away into the cave.

"I knew it!" declared Gilbert, mentally patting himself on the back. You rarely get disappointed by expecting the worst from everyone, he thought as he raced up the slope to the cave. "You stay here with wagons!" he called to Aithanar, then turned back to the cave to get quite a surprise, for a cone of crystal snowflakes came blasting out at him. The cone of cold spell almost knocked him off his feet, but although he staggered in place he didn't give Marielle the satisfaction. Only Marielle was no longer an elf, he noted - she was now a blue-skinned, male ogre mage with two curving, ivory horns jutting back from his white-maned head. He held a greatsword in one hand and had a longbow strapped to his back. Oni! Gilbert thought, remembering stories his mother had told him when he was young. He cast a fireball at the creature in return, but the ogre mage's natural resistance to spells allowed him to shrug it off.

Seeing Gilbert almost knocked over by the ogre mage's spell, Aithanar abandoned the wagons and went racing up next to the wizard, ready to pull him to safety if necessary. But the ogre mage, Shin Sao, turned away contemptuously and was swallowed by the pitch darkness of the cave. Gilbert swigged down a healing potion, then turned to Aithanar and said, "Let's go get him!" Aithanar, pleased at being included as more than a wagon-driver and horse-tender for once, pulled out his longsword and followed Gilbert cautiously into the cave network.

Deeper in the cavern, things were getting hectic. Finoula had raced down the steps to fight at Binkadink's side, and together they had managed to slay one of the female ogre mancatchers and another of the three male ogres. But from the tunnel to the northeast came yet another pair of foes, a female ogre spellcaster of some sort with a dire rat familiar. The adept managed to catch Binkadink, Finoula, and the mantis with a burning hands spell, slaying the mantis outright and causing it to return to Darrien's necklace until its next use. The rat then went straight for Finoula, who fled halfway back up the steps with the vile creature in hot pursuit, nipping at her feet with its foul teeth. The last of the male ogre trio slammed his greatclub into Castillan's side, wounding the bounder to the extent that he decided to race up the cliff wall out of range of the brute's attacks. But just as he was pulling himself up to the upper level, the ogre barbarian, Burrak, made his appearance, slamming his massive greatclub into the first target at hand - Obvious. The jackalope crumpled under the barbarian's brutal assault, several ribs shattering from the blow. His life blood stained the floor as he lay literally only a moment from death.

Fortunately for Obvious, Ingebold was immediately at hand and she cast her most powerful healing spell on the wounded jackalope, mending his shattered ribs and bringing him just over the edge back into semi-consciousness. But the jackalope, still far from fighting strength, opted to rely on a trick fervently believed by bunnies the world over: If I don't move, you can't see me! He lay there on his side, breathing heavily but playing dead. Trusting that the violent ogre barbarian would seek active combatants over a prone and unmoving jackalope, the cleric started heading down the steps to the lower level, casting a spiritual weapon at the ogre adept on her way down. A field of energy shaped like a dwarven warhammer slammed into the enemy spellcaster, causing her to snarl in pain.

Burrak took another step into the cavern and slammed his greatclub into the next available target - Castillan. The bounder cried out in pain and willingly dropped back down over the cliff side to the lower level. That left Darrien as the barbarian's only target on that level. Rather than retreat, the half-elf ranger shot at the advancing brute with his Arachnibow, peppering his torso with arrow after arrow. But the barbarian was skilled at ignoring pain until after battle had concluded, and he continued his advance. His greatclub came smashing down on Darrien twice in rapid succession, and the ranger's lifeless body dropped off the edge of the cliff to land in a broken heap on the level below. Seeing this, Castillan dragged Darrien into the large cave beneath the upper level, noting as he did so there was a steel shield and a light mace propped up as decorations on small ledges in the cave, which was apparently the living quarters of the trio of ogre males. He almost grabbed up the Arachnibow for his own use, but at the last second recalled that doing so would only cause it to revert to a giant spider that would then fight him off. But the last of the male ogres on that level had unwisely turned his back to the bounder to face the deadly gnome fighter, and Castillan took advantage of his error to stab him in the back, slaying him instantly.

Out of victims on the upper level of the split-level cavern, Burrak leapt down off the side of the cliff and landed adjacent to Binkadink, who was doing his best to carve his glaive into the ogre adept and getting another burning hands spell in his face as a result. He turned to face the larger threat, allowing Finoula - and Ingebold's spiritual warhammer - to deal with the enemy spellcaster. But Burrak was a more powerful threat than any of the other ogres the gnome fighter had faced and he feared he might be brought down before he could do the same to his foe. So he called out, at the top of his lungs, in the secret language of burrowing mammals, for help.

Coming to his master's aid, the jackalope leaped off the cliff and stabbed Burrak in the back with his antlers, then jumped up and down on him for good measure. The ogre barbarian, already bleeding from a dozen ignored wounds sustained thus far in battle, was slain - quite an undignified death for a brute who had until then thought himself as a combat machine. Binkadink thanked his partner for the assist and Obvious skipped back out of the way of combat.

In the room with the ashes from the campfire, Gilbert spun around the corner, expecting to find the oni he'd been chasing, but there was nobody there. Aithanar came up behind him, sword at the ready, but there were no enemies within sight. And then Shin Sao suddenly appeared behind Gilbert, popping back into the visible light spectrum as he brought his greatsword crashing down at the portly wizard. But Gilbert spun around at the last moment and the ogre mage's strike missed by the narrowest of margins. Aithanar stabbed at the ogre mage, then followed Gilbert's lead and raced down the stone steps, fleeing before the ogre mage's flashing blade. Shin Sao followed the pair, his sword slashing out and catching Aithanar in the back, dropping him instantly. Fearing he'd soon follow the elven fighter in death, Gilbert tapped himself in the head with a wand and instantly assumed gaseous form. Deprived of his next intended victim, Shin Sao followed Burrak's earlier reasoning and leaped down to the lower level, where there was a pair of active combatants wielding dual swords and a glaive, respectively. By this time, the adept had retreated back to her own cave, but Ingebold's spell effect followed her unerringly, battering her even as she desperately cast healing spells on herself.

If Shin Sao expected to repeat his success with Aithanar, he was sadly mistaken. Binkadink gathered all of his strength and stabbed forward with the point of his glaive, which penetrated all the way through the surprised ogre mage's body, slaying him in one fell stroke. That left only the ogre adept in her own dead-end cave, and with only one exit there was nowhere for her to run. She was brought down by a combination of Finoula's swords, Binkadink's glaive, and Ingebold's spiritual warhammer.

However, any exultation over the vanquishing of their foes was soured by the high price it had cost the group, for Darrien and Aithanar both lay dead where they had fallen in battle. Gilbert reassumed solid form and helped bring their fallen friends out to the mule-wagon. Castillan was all for immediately returning to Kordovia to have his brother raised, but the wizard insisted on giving the ogre caverns a full once-over for loot. "It cost plenty coin to have both raised at temple - it only make sense we use ogres' treasure to pay for it," he reasoned.

"I don't have but the one scroll of gentle repose," Ingebold said, "and I don't have the spell prepared meself today. I can cast it on the one right now, and on the other tomorrow morning, if ye like. We can probably make Kordovia in five days, if we push it."

"Save scroll for later," Gilbert replied. "We only going as far back as Garonis. They have Temple of Pelor there, I pretty sure they can raise our dead."

"Hey, good," agreed Castillan, thinking about how little he wanted to roll into Kordovia with his little brother's corpse. If his father found out he'd broken Aithanar out of the Ravencroft Sanitorium, only to get him killed....

The ogres' accumulated treasure paid for about three-fourths of the cost of a pair of raise dead ceremonies; the rest was donated by the heroes. Ingebold didn't even flinch when they opted to forego saving half of the ogres' treasure for the kingdom of Kordovia; even she agreed that the need to return their slain to the land of the living was an overriding priority, and she was sure her father and King Galrich would agree.

- - -

This adventure was tougher than I had anticipated! Of course, it didn't help that neither Vicki nor Joey recalled that "giant" was their respective rangers' "+4" favored enemies until halfway through the adventure. It also didn't help when Gilbert more or less excused himself from combat for most of the adventure by being all suspicious about Marielle, but I should have come to expect that. (Dan never trusts any NPC if he can help it!) And while Aithanar's death was probably preventable (there's a reason the 2nd-level fighter doesn't usually adventure with the 7th-level party!), Darrien's was just some bad luck and high damage rolls. (Burrak hit Darrien twice in one round, bringing him down from 12 hp to -33, well beyond his ability to survive even with our "dead at your Constitution score below zero" house rule in place.) This was the first time Joey had experienced a PC death, too, and he took it kind of hard at first. But after Dan had an encouraging chat with him in a back room, he came back to the table and finished the adventure out by running Ingebold, who had been controlled by Dan up until that part. (It was his turn.)

The mace Castillan found in the male ogre trio's cave was a +1 light mace of ranged healing I had stocked there specifically for Ingebold. The group has already found itself in situations on numerous occasions where it would have been extremely helpful if Ingebold could heal the party members without having to physically touch the wounded PC; this was a way for me to integrate that ability into her, given that she's the party heal-bot/spare PC.

The players had hoped that having Aithanar raised would fix his speech problems, but as the raise dead spell description specifically states that any missing body parts (say, a finger) remain missing after being raised, I ruled that the damaged part of his brain is still damaged. So he'll continue only being able to speak gibberish for awhile. (And no luck at the Temple of Pelor for a heal spell, either - we've decided that most NPCs cap out at 10th level, and heal requires an 11th-level caster.)

We finished this adventure at about 4:30 PM after having started at noon. I had brought the original adventure I had led them to believe they were going to go through that session - "The Magekiller" - and the group opted to get a start on it, even knowing that we wouldn't be able to finish it that session. So we played through the first half of that one as well, but I think I'll wait until we finish the entire adventure and post it all at once as a single story instead of breaking it into two chunks.

One final thing I want to record for posterity: "Ogre Eight" is a pun, sounding phonetically very much like "Oh great!"

(Because puns are cool, that's why.)

- - -

T-Shirt Worn: My Dalek T-shirt, with the word "EXTERMINATE" directly above the image of the Dalek. Given that that was the intention of the ogre band - to exterminate (and then eat) the PCs - it seemed appropriate. And unfortunately, it proved to be doubly prophetic, as I killed off Darrien and Aithanar during this adventure. It also was an appropriate T-shirt for "The Magekiller," given the entire nature of that trap-filled dungeon.



I have an adventure coming up that will play off the fact that the PCs are starting to have songs sung about them, so I thought it might be appropriate to actually come up with a sample song extorting their prowess. Here then, is "The Kordovian Band," the song sung by the wandering bard with whom the group shared a dinner and a campsite immediately before the events of "Ogre Eight."

- - -

The kingdom of Kordovia is but a speck of land
But in that tiny country there are heroes well at hand
They travel 'cross the countryside, fight monsters for their kicks
Their power's near unlimited, though their number's merely six

To start with there's Finoula with her wave of silv'ry locks
She's tougher than a grizzly and she's crafty as a fox
With her twin blades in hand she races into mortal danger
But her heart holds no fear, for she's an undefeated ranger

Finoula is a powerhouse, but she's not all at hand
For there are five more heroes in the Kordovian band

Castillan's a bounder, he can race right up a wall
He'll leap right into battle, and you'll never see him fall
You'll watch his mighty exploits and then wonder if you saw it
He'll slash out with his short sword though you never saw him draw it

Castillan's a powerhouse, but he's not all at hand
For there are five more heroes in the Kordovian band

Binkadink's a little gnome but he is fierce and brave
He's slain a hundred monsters with his trusty gnomish glaive
His foes might try to run away but they have little hope
For Binkadink will chase them down on his fearsome jackalope

Binkadink's a powerhouse, but he's not all at hand
For there are five more heroes in the Kordovian band

And when it comes to wizardry, the band's got Gilbert Fung
His mastery of spellcraft's astounding for one so young
His knowledge of the arcane arts is always at its peak
And you know you're talking to him once Gilbert begins to speak

Gilbert Fung's a powerhouse, but he's not all at hand
For there are five more heroes in the Kordovian band

Darrien's an archer and he has a magic bow
That turns into a spider when he tells it to do so
His accuracy's amazing and it never seems to ebb
He'll shoot an arrow 'tween your eyes or wrap you in a web

Darrien's a powerhouse, but he's not all at hand
For there are five more heroes in the Kordovian band

Ingebold's a cleric and she worships Moradin
She steps right into battle with an eager dwarven grin
Though she is short in stature her warhammer is a whopper
And it's already proven that not even death can stop her

Ingebold's a powerhouse, but she's not all at hand
For there are five more heroes in the Kordovian band

So put them all together and you've got a fighting force
A band of strong adventurers forged in the Goblin Wars
They've beaten orcish armies and they've slaughtered the undead
You best not fight against them, or you'll likely lose your head!

There are six adventurers in the Kordovian band
And they're the fiercest combatants to ever cross this land!



PC Roster:
Binkadink Dundernoggin, gnome fighter 7
Castillan Ivenheart, elf bounder 7
Darrien, half-elf ranger 6
Finoula Cloudshadow, elf ranger 7
Gilbert Fung, human wizard 7​

NPC Roster:
Aithanar Ivenheart, elf fighter 1
Ingebold Battershield, dwarven cleric 6 (Moradin)​

Game Session Dates: 23 April 2016 and 14 May 2016

- - -

"How are you feeling?" asked Finoula, concern in her voice.

"I'm...okay," replied Darrien slowly, sitting upright with a confused look on his face. "What happened?"

"Ye don't remember?" asked Ingebold.

"The last thing I remember, I was fighting that big, burly ogre in the--aw crap, I got killed, didn't I?" The half-elf ranger looked around, surprised to find himself in an unfamiliar temple. But he recognized the sun symbol of Pelor and quickly put two and two together.

"Yeah, little bit," confirmed Gilbert. "But you all better now."

"How about you?" asked Castillan, looking down at his younger brother.

"Squabbedy stomash," replied Aithanar, a sudden look of disappointment on his face once he heard the nonsense still coming out of his mouth. "Forkibble! Pespy nonshabbadoo norkle finshimble!"

"My goodness!" exclaimed the Pelorian cleric who had personally overseen the raise dead spells that had returned life to the two fallen heroes. "Was he talking like that before he was slain?"

Ingebold saw Gilbert silently assessing whether or not he was likely to get away with asking for a partial refund from the cleric for returning Aithanar to life in a less-than-pristine state and cut him off before he could give it a try. "Aye," she answered quickly, "he were." Gilbert just glared silently at the dwarven cleric, wondering how much money her honesty had just cost them.

"Hey, let's not bother telling my mom I got killed, okay?" suggested Darrien, standing up for the first time since being raised. "She worries enough about me."

"Likewise, I don't think we need to mention your recent death and return to life to Dear Old Dad," Castillan said to Aithanar.

"Shonka freeble," agreed Aithanar.

After the excitement in the ogre caves and the raising of their two slain members, the group unanimously decided they'd be best served with another night in a comfortable inn, making a fresh start for the Magekiller dungeon in the morning. After all, if they were going to take on a subterranean tunnel network specifically designed to slay intruders, they wanted to be at their strongest, with a full complement of spells available. And so it wasn't until the following morning that the Kordovians finally made their way to Arrogan's abandoned ruins. They were easy enough to find, as was the set of stairs spiraling clockwise down into the ground. Aithanar promised - with a grim nod - to stay with the animals and the wagons this time and Finoula gave him a big smile of support as she told Wrath to stay with him. The group lined up single file - for the stairwell was rather narrow - and Binkadink led the adventurers down into the Magekiller, the twin everburning torches tied to the antlers on his helmet providing the group's only illumination.

Binkadink lost track of the number of circuits they made as they circled their way deeper into the earth, but it was at least five or six before the spiraling stairs leveled out into a large room. This first chamber was rectangular, about 25 feet wide and 35 feet long. A sculpted pillar stood in each corner, the columns carved in the shapes of fearsome female warriors with swords. There were open passageways in the center of the walls to the east, west, and south. A set of four straight stone steps led directly into the center of the room from the north.

"Here we go," called Binkadink to those lined up behind him. He stepped onto the first of the four steps. As he did so, the statue-woman to his left said, "You are not Arrogan." The gnome fighter whipped the blade of his masterwork glaive in the direction of the statue that spoke, but it seemed to have only been a magic mouth effect, for the statue didn't otherwise move, nor did it make any further utterances. Binkadink stood his ground and peered at the other three statues, but they likewise didn't seem ready to animate and attack. He took another tentative step down the stairs.

"These levels are intended for Arrogan alone," said the statue to the southeast. Again, Binkadink turned to face the speaker, but that was all it had to say on the subject. "Probably just scare tactics," the gnome said nervously over his shoulder to the others, and took another step.

As expected, doing so triggered a magic mouth spell on the woman carved into the pillar to the southwest. "If you are here to take that which belongs to Arrogan, then know that you will die here," the statue intoned, rather matter-of-factly.

Binkadink took the last step, staring over his right shoulder at the fourth statue as he did so. Sure enough, it said, "Arrogan has designed these rooms to kill people like you. And Arrogan has never made a mistake in his life."

Behind the gnome, the rest of the party had moved forward, filling in the top three steps. "Here goes," said Binkadink, stepping off of the bottom step and onto the chamber's floor. If the statues were going to animate and attack, surely it would be when intruders actually enter the chamber, he thought. But the statues remained motionless. The gnome was almost disappointed.

"Boy, this dungeon really a killer so far!" scoffed Gilbert from the safety of the very back of the line.

"Which way do we want to go?" Binkadink asked. "Always right, always left, or straight down the middle?"

"I vote right," offered Finoula.

"Right it is, then," replied the gnome, heading through the tunnel to the west. This went straight for 20 feet before a set of six steps led down into another room, similar in size to the one they had just left. This chamber had no other visible exits, though, and the wall directly across from the six stairs leading into the middle of the room was filled with a vast assortment of hanging weapons, mostly swords, axes, daggers, and a few scimitars. In the flickering light of his helmet torches, the gnome noticed most of them were dinged and nicked as if from heavy use.

Standing at the end of the corridor and directly in front of the first step down into the weapons chamber, Binkadink flipped his glaive around and tapped at the first step with the back end of his weapon. When that produced no effect, he cautiously stepped onto the first step, then repeated his actions for each of the six steps in turn. Tapping the floor produced no effect, but as soon as he stepped off the stairs the mounted weapons all rose up from their hooks simultaneously and massed into an animated swarm, slowly heading towards the intruder. Binkadink jumped back onto the steps and when he saw the animated weapons were still approaching, ran back up the stairs and out of the room, back into the corridor where the rest of the group waited. The gnome breathed a sigh of relief when he saw the weapons weren't going to chase him out of the chamber they were in, but rather retreated and hung themselves back in place once there were no longer any intruders present in the room.

"Let me try something," suggested Castillan, pulling a potion vial from his belt. It was a "Winkidew special" and even though it was labeled "potion of gaseous form" in neat handwriting, the bounder knew it contained vapors that needed to be inhaled rather than imbibed. He blew out a big breath, popped the cork while holding the vial under his nose, and inhaled deeply. Almost immediately, his form started to discorporate and he floated serenely into the weapons chamber. He was pleased to see his presence in the room didn't activate the weapons, which he had thought would be the case as they had only first been triggered when Binkadink physically set foot onto the floor of the chamber. But before the group moved on to other sections of the Magekiller, Castillan wanted to ensure there were no secret doors leading out of the room, so he floated along each of the walls in turn. It was while doing so he noted the bottom five feet of the outer walls were covered in narrow holes, each no wider than his thumb. Squeezing his amorphous body into one such hole, he saw a sharpened, spearlike device inside, ready to be shot at those who might somehow activate it. He then checked the six stairs, and while they were free of the holes the bounder did note each step was a solid, vertical, stone slab of a different size rather than the whole set of stairs being carved from one solid slab of stone. As the floor of the weapons chamber was five feet lower than the floor of the tunnel leading to the room, he surmised the stairs each probably lowered into the ground, making leaving the room that much more difficult while in that configuration - and practically impossible for somebody as short as Binkadink.

Before leaving the room, Castillan decided to examine the weapons. As Binkadink had previously noted, almost all of them were nicked and gouged, likely from numerous collisions as a mass of animated blades flying through the air, once activated. Two weapons in particular seemed almost brand new, though - possibly magical! thought the elf. He had no way to talk to the others while in gaseous form, but he did manage to narrow the tip of his amorphous cloud and use it to "point" to the two weapons in question, a longsword and a greataxe.

"Hey, what's up with Castillan?" asked Darrien, squinting into the darkness of the room. But he finally figured out what the bounder was trying to communicate, and he aimed his Arachnibow at the first weapon, letting fly with an arrow that became a string of spider-silk in mid-flight. Unfortunately, his shot missed, hitting the wall instead. He tried a second shot with similar luck. "It's the flickering light throwing off my aim," he groused to Binkadink. "Why can't your permanent, illusory light source give off a steady light instead of flickering around like a flame?" But his third shot hit true, adhering to the longsword still in pristine condition. Smiling, he gave the silk strand a tug - and the sword remained where it was, stuck on its stone-carved hooks. All the tugging in the world wasn't going to lift them up off their supports.

"All that for nothing," Gilbert snorted. "Here, I get those for you!" And then, casting an unseen servant spell, he commanded it to go fetch the weapons Castillan the cloud of gas was pointing to. The unseen servant was much more reliable than the Arachnibow in this instance and the two weapons floated over to the rest of the group without triggering the animating effect on the other weapons. "This dungeon a pushover!" the portly wizard chuckled.

Seeing no other way out of the weapons chamber, Castillan returned to the tunnel with the others but decided to remain in gaseous form for a bit - you never knew when it would be useful.

"Well, looks like we have to backtrack already," Darrien said. "You guys wanna go east or south?" The consensus was east, so Binkadink, the self-appointed "meat shield" of the group, led the way back to the statue-chamber and then through the doorway on the east wall.

Another 20-foot-long tunnel led to a set of six steps that were a mirror-image of those in the weapons chamber, although these stairs were situated along the northern wall of this new chamber instead of plunging straight into the middle of the room. The hallway itself was a bit more festive, too, with the last 15 feet taken up by full-sized mural paintings of three distinct people. The first of these was a stern-looking man dressed in finery; the middle portrait was of a pinch-faced woman in frills and lace; and just before the stairs going down stood a painting of a rakish-looking fop in a feathered cap. Each bore a familial resemblance; it was likely these were members of Arrogan's family.

Castillan, still in gaseous form, fled ahead to check out the chamber at the bottom of the stairs. Unlike the weapons display chamber, it was empty but contained another passageway further into the Magekiller - namely, a short tunnel along the south wall leading to a circular room with a 10-foot circular pit in its center. The bounder dropped his gaseous cloud-body into the pit and saw a number of potentially useful items mixed in with the slimy bones of several people who had apparently been slain in the dungeon in previous years. Unable to pick them up himself in his current form - and wishing to subject Gilbert's unseen servant to any potential dangers that might lie lurking in the pit rather than himself - he started floating back to the group, when his keen elven senses detected a slight crack in the eastern wall of the chamber with the stairs. Flying slowly over to it, he discovered a secret door - and then realized there were actually four of them, side by side, all along the eastern wall. As the crack ensured it wasn't exactly air-tight, he flowed into the tiny room just beyond one of the secret doors and found himself face-to-cloudlike-face with a withered specimen of decaying human. The creature stood upright in what was little bigger than a sarcophagus, its dead eyes staring ahead at nothing in particular. Castillan wasn't sure what he was looking at, but it was some sort of undead - in fact, it looked rather like those zombies they had dealt with at that inn earlier in their adventuring careers. Fortunately, the zombie wasn't attacking the bounder, not that he thought it would be able to harm him much in his current form anyway. But all of this was stuff the others needed to know about, so he flowed back out of the hidden room and returned to the corridor, floating past the others until he was back in the room with the four statue-women, where he returned to his solid form and described everything he had seen.

"There dead people inside walls?" reiterated Gilbert.

"Yeah, zombies, it looked like," confirmed Castillan. "Not really doing anything, but probably waiting to attack if we go in there."

"Peh! We deal with zombies before!"

"What do you think triggers them?" asked Finoula. "Touching the floor, like in the other room?"

"We don't need to touch the floor," remarked Darrien, looking over at their wizard. "Why don't you send in your unseen servant to go get the stuff out of the pit?"

Gilbert considered it, but he had no idea how far away the pit was from his current cramped position nearly at the back of the single-file line. "Don't think spell reaches that far," he said, rubbing his bearded chin in thought.

"Here, let's give this a try," suggested Darrien, speaking the words to a spell and summoning a timber wolf at the bottom of the stairs. It immediately jumped down to the floor and padded over towards the pit. However, Finoula's assessment had been correct: as soon as the wolf's paws touched the floor the four sections of the eastern wall swiveled open, releasing the undead forms of the bodies stored there in their individual niches. And that wasn't all, for the three sections of wall containing the mural portraits of Arrogan's family members also swiveled open, revealing three more corpses standing there. Awareness instantly bloomed in their unliving eyes, and with astonishing speed they struck out at the three adventurers standing immediately in front of them: Ingebold, Finoula, and Binkadink. At the same time, the four zombies stepped out of their niches in the lower room; three of them raced up to the stairs while the fourth veered south to chase the timber wolf.

The wolf didn't even notice the undead form fast approaching it from behind - his attention had been drawn to the pit where a skeletal hand was even now grabbing for a purchase and pulling the rest of its fleshless body up to the floor level. The bones were all covered in some sort of slimy mucus, and as the first slashed out at the wolf with its claws another skeleton climbed out of the pit behind it.

In the meantime, the three zombies attacked the startled heroes above, scrabbling with their ragged claws. Finoula shrieked in surprise, not expecting a zombie to move so fast - and belatedly recognizing the frills and lace on the moldering outfit the undead thing was wearing as matching that of the pinch-faced woman in the painted portrait. Ingebold instinctively pulled out her holy symbol of Moradin and channeled a blast of positive energy at the undead, causing the two zombies in front of both her and Finoula to cower in fear, trying to shrink into the back of their individual hidden niches. Finoula overcame her initial shock and stabbed at the cowering undead woman in front of her with her twin blades, causing it to crumble into a heap as its body lost its animating force. Just ahead of her, Binkadink came to the sad realization that his gnomish glaive was a great weapon for fighting those some distance away but not particularly suited for close-quarters combat. So he did the unexpected: he stepped forward, leaving an unguarded juju zombie at his back, and lowered his glaive before him to fend off the three racing his way up the stairs, confident his friends would keep him safe.

Finoula did just that, slicing into the undead flesh of the juju zombie the little gnome had abandoned to fight the other three on the stairs. She handily dispatched it, while at the same time Ingebold's dwarven warhammer came crashing down on the skull of the zombie cowering before Moradin's holy might before her. Binkadink's glaive went swinging past the head of the first juju zombie in line, its blade cutting through the dead flesh of the second one directly behind the first, but the next in line climbed over its fallen form to get to the gnome, even as the first one stepped up and tore at Binkadink's flesh with its filthy claws. Seeing only bits and pieces of the battle ahead, Gilbert squeezed his bulk past Ingebold and shot a magic missile at the juju zombie currently attacking Binkadink, but was unable to see if it had much of an effect.

On the floor behind the two remaining juju zombies, the timber wolf had been pinned in the corridor between the skeletons in the pit chamber and the juju zombie in the chamber beyond; its pitiful yelps attested to the wounds it was receiving at the undead claws of the two types of foe. Darrien winced sympathetically, but realizing the wolf had been absorbing attacks which otherwise would have been directed at the heroes, gathered up the remaining spell energy he was able to hold within his mind at one time and summoned a second timber wolf just as the first winked out of existence. Stuck as he was at the back of the line with Gilbert and Castillan, he was only able to have it manifest at the bottom of the steps, where it wasted no time in attacking the juju zombie fast approaching Binkadink. The undead beast spun and attacked the wolf after he had taken a bite out of its rotting flesh, giving Binkadink the perfect set-up to bring his glaive crashing down diagonally through the zombie's shoulder, practically decapitating it.

"These narrow corridors are a pain!" complained Darrien. "I can't see what's going on up there!" He wasn't the only one who felt that way; Ingebold was itching to move forward to where she could try to turn more of these undead, but three of her companions were bunched up ahead of her, preventing her from advancing. Then Finoula dropped off the side of the stairs and ran forward to help the second wolf fight off the skeletons, which opened up a space for Gilbert to move forward. He blasted the sole remaining juju zombie with another magic missile and this time was able to see it seemed to have absolutely no effect on the undead thing. Binkadink cut it down with his glaive, just as Finoula did the same to the first skeleton and Darrien's second summoned wolf dissipated, the short duration of the ranger's spell having expired. Binkadink and Finoula took down the last skeleton, the little gnome noting it was the slicing through the gloppy layer of snot that seemed to hurt these particular undead; once the mucus had been severed the bones fell into a heap. In fact, he even doubted the skeletons were undead at all, but rather controlled by the amorphous blobs coating their outer surfaces.

Seeing no further immediate threats, Gilbert sent his unseen servant into the pit to fetch out the items lodged down there. He was excited to see it excavate a spellbook, but when he opened it in eager anticipation, he saw the pages stained with blood and other bodily fluids, smearing and obscuring the magical inks encapsulating who knew how many magical spells. "No!" he cried. "This outrageous waste!"

Castillan wasn't interested in any moldy old spellbook, however - his focus was on the small pile of other items being brought up out of the pit. He ignored the rusty old short sword and even the pair of hand axes that looked to be in serviceable condition. Instead, he grabbed up the dusty vial of what could still be a viable healing potion and quickly snatched the pair of well-made leather boots once he saw their fine condition was a likely hint at a magical effect. He was still trying them on when the unseen servant brought up a dented light steel shield, a wand, and several coin pouches, but the jingle of coins from the latter brought his attention back their way. Spilling their contents out into his palm, he counted a handful of coins and a few small gems. Ingebold was examining the wand, but she handed it over to Gilbert once she discovered it was arcane in nature. "Here, a consolation prize fer ye," she said, "since th' spellbook's of no use." Gilbert took the proffered wand and swung it around, getting the feel for it and allowing it to attune to him if that was necessary. In any case, his spirits were temporarily brightened over the acquisition of the new magical bauble, and he left the ruined spellbook on the floor without a further thought.

As the pit room had no further exits, the group had to backtrack to the first chamber with the women-shaped columns. Binkadink peered closely at each one, still expecting them to animate and attack - perhaps now that they had acquired some treasure from the Magekiller dungeon? - but they were as immobile as ever. Shrugging to himself, he took point again and headed down the southern corridor, the others falling into line behind him. They went down a short set of stairs but the tunnel kept them on a constant bearing due south. Then the corridor opened up into an unusual circular chamber.

The ceiling height was about ten feet, the same as the tunnel had been, but the curved wall was metallic for the first eight feet or so, leaving about two feet of stone continuing on to the ceiling. There were seven metal rods sticking out equidistant from the circular wall; had there been a rod where the doorway opening had been it would have been a perfectly uniform eight. Each rod stood parallel to the floor at a height of about three feet.

"You know what this is?" asked Binkadink. "It's one of those revolving door deals, like we saw in that dungeon where Finoula found...." He didn't finish the sentence; by unspoken agreement, bringing up Malaterminus was thought to be in poor taste.

"What's with the bottom edge here?" asked Darrien. The bottom of the metal was zigzagged, so the whole structure was supported on the tips of the triangular sections all along the bottom edge.

"No idea," the gnome admitted, walking up to the nearest rod. "So I guess we all lift it and walk in a circle? Or just all push in the same direction and let it drag on the ground?"

"Before we do that, I want to see where it goes," said Castillan, dropping down to his hands and knees and crawling along the circumference of the circular room. He was looking at the sections of stone wall visible through the triangular gaps along the bottom of the metal structure. After making a full circuit, he reported back, "There's just one other hallway, directly across from the one we came through. So I guess it doesn't matter which way we push the thing - it'll be the same distance either way."

"But, if the tunnel just continues straight south from here, why put this metal thing in the way?" asked Finoula. "What's the point?"

"Could be to slow us down," suggested Gilbert. "Or maybe make sure you can only go this way if you strong enough, or have enough people with you. Or," he said as if a brilliant idea just popped into his head, "maybe it just there to make silly elf women ask 'How come?'" Finoula gave him her best glare and walked over to another rod, positioning herself to help push it counterclockwise. The others fell into place, with Ingebold and Binkadink - the two shortest of the bunch - complaining about how high up the rods were.

"One, two, three, push!" called the little gnome. Everyone pushed, and the metal cylinder barely budged. "Let's try that again. One, two, three, PUSH!" With a loud scraping sound, they managed to move the cylinder a few inches further around the circuit.

"Hold up a minute," suggested Gilbert, leaving his station.

"Tuckered out already?" asked Castillan.

"You shut silly elf mouth," countered the wizard. "I make things easier for us." And with that, he cast a grease spell in a circle all along the outer edges of the circular room, making sure to get underneath each of the triangular openings. "Everything better with lubrication," he said, giving Finoula a knowing look which she studiously ignored. Gilbert returned to his station, gave Binkadink a nod, and the countdown began again.

"One, two, three -- PUSH!" This time the revolving door was noticeably easier to move, but it still took the better part of a full minute to swing the metal structure around so its doorway now lined up with the tunnel to the south. "Whew!" exclaimed Binkadink, wiping sweat from his brow, and peered into the tunnel before him. After about ten feet of tunnel, it opened up into a square room, 35 feet to a side, with side passageways centered on the east and west walls. But the most significant feature of the room was the large, circular indentation in the middle of the room, a bowl-shaped depression with a 25-foot diameter. It was filled nearly to the brim with scummy green liquid, looking like a nonfunctioning fountain clogged by algae.

"Is that green slime?" asked Darrien. "I'll bet that's green slime."

"If it is, we don't want to go touching it," advised Binkadink, trying to remember how to get rid of green slime. "I think it burns," he said, pulling out an actual torch from his backpack and setting its tip aflame with a spark from his tinder box. "You guys stay here, while I go check this out."

Binkadink entered the room, burning torch in one hand and two illusory ones strapped to the antlers of his helmet. He stood at the edge of the corridor and tossed the lit torch into the pool of scummy water, expecting it to burn the green slime away. Alas, it wasn't green slime in the bowl-shaped depression at all, but rather an inactive arcane ooze. The torch landed on it and started to burn its protoplasm, causing it to arc up and send a pseudopod writhing towards the gnome. "Uh oh," Binkadink managed to get out before a thick wave of greenish glop came racing his way, engulfing him instantly. He immediately felt the burning of acid everywhere the protoplasm touched his skin. The little gnome tried backing away but was immediately entangled in the ooze's embrace, so he slashed at it with his glaive as best he could.

At the same time, Ingebold, Gilbert, and Finoula all yelled out in pain and grabbed their heads. "What's the matter?" cried Castillan, gripping his twin blades. He hadn't seen the ooze do anything but smother Binkadink and couldn't imagine what a blob of green matter could do to the others from that far away.

"Damn thing ripped spell right from brain!" yelled Gilbert. "Aye, same here," confirmed Ingebold, for she noted one of the most powerful spells she'd prepared that morning was now gone. Worse yet, the arcane ooze was using the stolen spell energy to repair the damage Binkadink had done to it with his torch and glaive.

"If that thing keeps eating your spells..." began Darrien, realizing the only reason he'd been spared from the creature's spell-draining attack had been because he'd already used up both of his for the day.

"We gotta get out of here!" reasoned Castillan, suddenly realizing why the revolving door had been placed where it was - and worse yet, why there were triangular openings all along the bottom edges of the metal cylinder. It would take them nearly a minute to get the doorway positioned back to the northern corridor, during which time the spell-draining creature could easily ooze its way into the cylinder with them.... "We're screwed!" the bounder cried aloud.

"We just gotta kill it!" called Binkadink, swinging his glaive into the amorphous creature's protoplasm body even as it constricted goopy strands of its body around him. The others quickly realized the truth of the situation; Castillan stepped up and slashed out at the bulk of the creature's body where it was filling the corridor on either side of Binkadink's struggling form, while Ingebold used her new mace to channel a blast of healing energy at Binkadink, keeping him as healthy as possible while being constricted by a creature whose very body oozed acidic fluids that burned into the little gnome's flesh. Gilbert cast a haste spell on the group, reasoning that giving everyone an extra attack would certainly help bring it down that much faster, hopefully faster than it could heal by stealing spell energy.

Castillan was soon engulfed as well as the arcane ooze's body surged forward, keeping Binkadink where he was but still managing to project part of itself into the circular room. Finoula activated her whip of thorns, extracting the thorns along the whip's length and sending it cracking into the advancing mass of protoplasm. Darrien sent arrows flying into it and Gilbert cast a pair of scorching rays down the corridor to strike the creature's back half - far enough back that he wouldn't hit Binkadink or Castillan - but was disappointed to see both rays strike true but have no effect on the ooze. And while still bound by the thick strands of protoplasm, the fighter and the bounder stabbed and slashed with their blades, slicing into the ooze's shapeless flesh. It was an uphill battle, as the ooze continued ripping spell energy from the minds of the spellcasters and using it to heal itself of the wounds constantly being inflicted upon it, but at long last the adventurers were successful; Ingebold's ranged healing spells managed to keep the two victims alive long enough for the group as a whole to destroy the vile creature. When it died, its amorphous body lost all cohesion, falling off of Binkadink and Castillan in globs and clumps, its entire body bubbling away as if being eaten by acid itself. Within minutes, there was only a series of foul-smelling green stains showing where it had been.

"I'm calling it a day," suggested Castillan. "We all need healing, and your most powerful spells are all gone. I say we go back topside and camp out - we can return again in the morning."

"Sounds good to me," agreed Binkadink, as Ingebold healed up the worst of his acid burns.

"No," countered Gilbert. "We go back up, maybe this place reset. We stay here tonight."

"Spend the night down here?" asked Darrien. "But all of our stuff's upstairs with Aithanar: blankets, bedrolls - heck, the new wagon's got four beds in it, and there are tents for the others! Plus our food--"

"Pshaw!" scoffed Gilbert. "What kind of adventurer you? We have trail rations, waterskins - that plenty for one night. We be fine."

Ingebold had no qualms about sleeping on a solid stone floor - as a dwarf, this was nothing particularly out of the ordinary for her. "We'll want t' set up guard shifts," she suggested.

"Agreed," said Castillan. "I'll take first shift." In the end, the group decided to make camp in the corridor between the room with the four carved statues and the circular revolving door room, the latter of which was declared the women's quarters for the evening. Castillan designated the circular pit south of the zombie chamber a makeshift privy, christening it as such himself. Binkadink extracted himself from his plate mail armor, realizing he'd never be able to sleep in it. But the group settled down to their evening routine and eventually they did sleep, one of them at a time spending two hours or so guarding the others from any unknown denizens that might show up.

The night passed uneventfully and in the morning they rose, donned their armor, prepared their spells, and were ready to press on with the unknown dangers of the Magekiller. "There were two side passages from the room that ooze came from," pointed out Castillan. Re-entering the revolving door, the group took their positions and pushed it a half rotation, getting the door opening synched up with the southern corridor. Gilbert looked nervously into the chamber, but the arcane ooze had not reformed - the greenish stains on the floor were all that showed it had ever been there.

The group opted to take the eastern corridor first and Castillan took the lead so he could check for traps as he went. He only made it about halfway down the corridor before he found his first anomaly: a small glyph of some type etched into the floor. "Hey, Gilbert, there's some kind of glyph on the floor here - you want to come check it out?"

"No," replied Gilbert from the back of the formation, thinking it might be a set of explosive runes or something similar. "You get good look at it?"

"Yeah, but I don't know what it might mean."

"Give it best shot. You doing fine."

Castillan shrugged and set about trying to disarm it as best he could. Generally, for a rune carved in a stone surface, the best way to render it harmless was to etch along it until the rune was different from its original shape. He bent over to scratch some side-marks into the thing, but accidentally triggered it - and found himself five feet in the air, floating harmlessly halfway between the floor and the ceiling. "Hey!" he called out, thrashing and swinging his body around wildly. He managed to turn himself sideways, such that he could reach one wall with his feet and the opposite wall with his hands, and walked himself sideways along the wall until gravity returned to normal and he plopped back down to the floor. "Uh, watch that bit there," he offered somewhat shamefacedly.

Binkadink was next in line. He tried jumping over it, but got caught in midair; fortunately, he was able to use the wooden end of his glaive to pull himself along the floor like a gondola pilot using a punt, until he joined Castillan on the far side. The others took the opportunity of a relatively harmless trap to simply leap into the air, get caught, and then pull themselves along the end of Binkadink's offered glaive-shaft.

"Well, that was different," admitted Finoula, "but what exactly was the point? It's not as if it actually harmed us in any way."

Gilbert gave it some thought. "No," he agreed, "but what if we ran this way from ooze? We stuck in air; ooze slides over, grabs us up. Then we yummy snack." It made sense; presumably that arcane ooze hadn't happened to have wandered by and decided to make that chamber its home but was rather added to the Magekiller dungeon by Arrogan.

Turning the corner, Castillan saw a 10-foot corridor to the south which ran into a wall. It wasn't a solid wall, though; rather, there was a two-foot-tall opening into a room beyond. Not wanting anyone to go crawling into an unknown room, Gilbert cast an unseen servant spell, handed it his activate sunrod, and sent it in to check the place out.

By peering through the floor-level opening into the room, the group saw a wooden chest against the far wall of the small room. The chest was inside a cell of metal bars; there didn't seem to be a cell door allowing entry. "That looks like trap," commented Gilbert.

"Possibly..." admitted Castillan, scampering around to check out the edges of the opening. It looked like the two-foot opening was the only entrance into the small room, and the wall directly above it was a stone slab that could easily be triggered somehow to come crashing down and seal anyone inside the room off from the rest of the dungeon. "I don't like the looks of this," the bounder said, after explaining his findings to the rest of the group.

"I have unseen servant open chest," Gilbert decided, instructing his still-active spell to do just that. The floating sunrod meandered over to the bars around the chest, but that was it - apparently the chest was locked or the lid was too heavy for the unseen servant to lift.

"I dinnae like th' thought of any of us goin' in there with no way t' get back out again," said Ingebold. "Hang on, though - I've got a stone shape spell that oughtta do th' trick." Casting the spell, the dwarven cleric carved away a five-foot section of the corridor and a chunk of wall to the left of the opening, making another way into the room. "That's better," she said, pleased with the results. Everyone funneled into the room, and Binkadink stuck his old glaive through the bars of the cage, first tapping it against the chest - "Well, it's not a mimic," he said - and then sticking the tip of the blade in the narrow crack between the chest's bottom and lid. Getting it in as deep as he could, he used it as a lever, and once Castillan and Darrien leant their strength to the task, they managed to pry open the chest's lid, finding out in the process why it was so difficult to open up: there were heavy chains attached to the lid's inside, which apparently went underneath the floor and pulled out the pins holding the door in place above the two-foot-tall opening. With a mighty crash, the door came slamming down, sealing everyone inside the room - or it would have, if not for Ingebold's side exit.

"It was just a trap," groused Castillan, looking inside the otherwise empty chest. "Not even a token copper piece for our efforts."

The group backtracked to the arcane ooze chamber and went through the corridor to the west, the bounder once again taking point and checking for traps. He found what looked to be a hidden pit trap, noticeable by the fact that the same five-foot square of floor didn't appear to be attached to either of the side walls. Binkadink passed the bounder a couple of metal pitons, which he used to wedge each side of the pit trap door into place. However, all he got for his efforts was a dead end around the corner with a closed door promising more rooms beyond. But that promise was a false one; touching the knob blasted the bounder with a bolt of electricity, and the door was a fake in any case - it didn't even open but was rather a permanent fixture of the wall.

"This bites!" Gilbert cried aloud. "Everywhere a dead end? Where that stupid Arrogan's stupid treasure?" Then, mentally envisioning the layout of the Magekiller thus far, he called out to Castillan, "Hey! Elf boy! Go check for secret doors in ooze room!"

"Hang on a minute, I'm getting healed up," the bounder groused back at the wizard. Ingebold finished her spell, healing over the electrical burns on the bounder's hand where he had foolishly touched the doorknob. But then he gave the ooze's chamber a thorough check, finding nothing.

"Is that it?" asked Finoula. "Maybe the whole thing about treasure's just an unfounded rumor."

"That make no sense," snarled Gilbert. "Why go to all this trouble if there no treasure hidden? We just missing something." He racked his brain, going over the layout in his mind. "Wait a minute!" he exclaimed. "We go back to second room!"

The group had to reposition the revolving cylinder once again, but they made their way back to the room where the weapons had animated when Binkadink had stepped foot into the room. The wizard sent his unseen servant into the room to fetch each of the remaining weapons, one by one. The wizard examined each in turn as it was handed to him, but as expected they were of poor quality, no doubt exacerbated by clanging against each other when they formed a mobile cloud of attacking weapons. He sent the others in a line leading to the circular pit to the south of the room where the juju zombies had popped out of their hidden niches, and one by one the weapons were all unceremoniously dropped into the pit, three rooms away from the room where the weapons had all been on display.

"Aha!" said Gilbert as the last of the weapons was removed and sent to join the others in the pit. He pointed into the room, specifically at the wall on which the weapons had been mounted. "There our way to treasure!" Now that the weapons had been removed, four narrow indentations could be seen in the far wall, which had been covered by axe blades and the like when the weapons had been in place. Each indentation was about four inches wide, a foot or so tall, and several inches deep. More importantly, each held a lever raised in the "up" position. The four indentations were arranged on the wall in a diamond pattern, with the highest one directly above the lowest one, and one halfway between the two on either side.

"How did you know those were there?" asked Finoula, frankly astonished that their irritating wizard had figured out the hidden way to the rest of the Magekiller dungeon.

"I remember those stairs," Gilbert replied. "Elf boy here say they six separate columns, not one big piece of stone. One of those levers lower steps to ground level, and I bet there a door behind stairs, right below where we standing."

"So, which lever?" asked the elven ranger. "Is this some sort of puzzle?"

"Don't matter. We have unseen servant pull levers until we find right one." With that, he directed the unseen servant to pull the top lever. With a shriek of rusting metal, the lever flipped position, and oil started dripping down from thumb-sized holes in the ceiling, spilling onto the floor.

"Okay, not that one!" called Gilbert, directing his spell to return the first lever to its starting position. "Try one on right side!" The unseen servant followed its instructions and sure enough, each of the steps started lowering into the floor until they were level with the floor's surface. However, they didn't stop there - they continued sinking into the floor until they had formed an inverse set of stairs, one leading down into a lower level, but going from west to east instead of east to west. However, this new level was ten feet below the level were the adventurers stood, so Gilbert had the unseen servant return that lever to its starting position long enough for the heroes to step carefully into the room - and sure enough, the weapons that had been in the room were now far enough away that they didn't activate into a swarm to attack the intruders. Pulling the rightmost lever back down, the stairs reconfigured themselves and the group entered the lower level of the Magekiller.

The stairs ended at a T-intersection, with a short corridor going to the north and south. Opting to go south, Castillan turned a corner and found a large, square room, 25 feet to a side. There were three wooden chests each along the north and south walls, while the western wall held a shield, a longsword, two heavy flails, three daggers, and a heavy mace. "Now we're talking!" exclaimed Castillan enthusiastically, entering the room to examine the chests. None was trapped, but each was locked, the keys having been no doubt lost in the years since the Magekiller's construction. But Castillan's lockpicks had each chest open in but a moment. The chests each held coins and gems, to a total value of 24,000 pieces of gold; Castillan almost started hyperventilating at the thought of that much money. Gilbert cast a detect magic spell and determined both the longsword and the mace were magical; investigation of the masterwork shield - which held Arrogan's family crest: a ferocious, black griffon - revealed a scroll tube tucked into one of the straps. Binkadink opened the case, expecting to find a scroll to pass on to Ingebold or Gilbert; instead, he pulled out what looked to be a black handkerchief. Unfolding it, he saw it was circular, almost like a tablecloth for a round table.

Gilbert emitted a squeal of glee from halfway across the room. "You know what that is?" he asked. "That a portable hole!" After explaining the mechanics of a portable hole to the others, Finoula pointed out they could dump all of the coins and gems into the hole and carry everything out in one trip. "I love this place!" exclaimed Gilbert, his previous feelings towards the Magekiller all but forgotten.

There was only one more room left, the one at the end of the northern corridor at the bottom of the secret stairs. This room was the same size and shape as the other treasure room, although this one had only three chests lined up against the far wall. "More coins?" squealed Castillan, as excited at the prospect of more cash as Gilbert had been at the sight of the portable hole.

"Hold on," cautioned the wizard, holding the bounder back from entering the room. "One feature very common in dungeons like these: false treasure vaults. This maybe a trap." He sent the unseen servant to open the first chest, while Castillan watched in eager anticipation from the corridor just outside the room. It opened easily, revealing...hundreds, if not thousands, of little metal spheres - the chest was nearly filled to the top with them. At Gilbert's direction, the unseen servant brought one over for the wizard to examine. It had a small glyph on one side, which failed to explode even as Gilbert winced upon seeing it. He looked it over, then passed it on to Binkadink at his urging. "You think it's explosive?" the gnome asked. At the wizard's shrug, the gnome went back to the treasure room and hurled it against the far wall. It hit, bounced, and rolled across the room - but failed to explode.

Gilbert had his spell open the third chest, revealing it to be filled nearly to the top with similar metal spheres. But the unseen servant was unable to open the middle chest. Castillan went to go check it out, after promising not to touch anything. He didn't see any visible traps, but curiously, the chests all seemed to be securely attached to the floor.

"I'm kind of hesitant to try to open the chest," the bounder admitted.

"I have an idea," said Darrien, calling forth the mantis from his amulet. He waited for Castillan to leave the room, then instructed the mantis to lift open the middle chest.

It did so, with some effort - and the entire floor hinged down along the far wall, sending the mantis dropping into a 40-foot deep pit, thousands of metal spheres from the two outer chests pummeling it once it hit the bottom. Looking down into the pit, the heroes could see the spheres moving around, then rushing together to take on the form of a four-headed lizard. The orb construct hydra towered over the mantis, nearly touching all four walls at once. It didn't take long at all for the mantis to reappear in Darrien's amber necklace, its physical form having been utterly destroyed by the four-headed guardian in the pit below.

"False treasure vault," repeated Gilbert knowingly, noting with satisfaction that the orb construct had no way out of the pit. "We go back to wagons now."

Retracing their way out of the Magekiller, Gilbert was the first to step onto the first stair leading back up to the surface. Doing so - putting weight on the lowest step first - alerted the room's magical sensors that someone was attempting to depart the Magekiller. As a result, the four statue-women all activated at once. The two at either side of the stairs swept out with their swords, slicing into the surprised wizard and forcing him to jump back down off the stairs to avoid being further cut. Bleeding heavily from two deep wounds, Gilbert silently assessed his ability to take another set of blows like that one and pulled out his wand of gaseous form. "I out of here!" he called to the others before discorporating into a cloud of vapors and drifting towards the stairs.

Ingebold was next in line behind Gilbert, and she quickly assessed the situation: there were two statues flanking the stairs up, but once past them she knew there was a winding set of stairs spiraling up the surface, which were likely too narrow for the statues to be able to follow. "Run!" she yelled, doing just that. She took a hit from one of the caryatid columns' sword, but her armor deflected the worst of the damage - and then she was past them. The others raced in her footsteps, Binkadink taking up the rear. I knew they'd animate eventually!" he thought to himself on his way up.

Aithanar was surprised at the group's sudden appearance, a full day after having gone down into the ruins. "Squintific nonshass patine!" he exclaimed.

"We missed you, too," said Finoula with a smile.

- - -

This was a fun dungeon crawl. None of the players figured out the "trick" I had planted in the dungeon, although Logan scared me almost immediately upon entering the first chamber with the four caryatid columns, to the point where I was worried this adventure would take all of a half hour to complete. I had made it a point to mention, both in the plot hook up front (from Castillan's card-playing buddies) and from the caryatid column's magic mouth spell, that "Arrogan has never made a mistake in his life." Another way to say that is "Arrogan is always right." I had designed the Magekiller (which in-game had been designed by Arrogan himself) such that "always right" was the key to navigating the Magekiller safely. If you go into the caryatid column room and take a right, you end up in the room with all the weapons. Arrogan would stand on the steps - not stepping foot into the room - and use a mage hand spell to first move a specific weapon out of the way and then to pull down the rightmost lever, which formed the hidden stairs. Turning around and now going down the stairs in the other direction, two more rights would get him to the real treasure vault.

So, Binkadink's first words when they found out the caryatid columns weren't going to activate and attack them? "Which way do we want to go? Always right, always left, or straight down the middle?" But they didn't pick up on it, and the adventure took us two sessions to play through.

The two magic weapons from the treasure room went to Binkadink and Finoula. To a Medium-sized wielder, it's a +1 heavy mace; to Binkadink, it's a +1 greatclub. Logan made the case that's it's really just a big, heavy thing to smash enemies with, and I agreed. So Binkadink finally got his first magic weapon, in the adventure after he finally got a Small masterwork glaive. As for Finoula, this is where I finally made up for the subterfuge with Malaterminus; her replacement magic longsword is a +2 variable energy longsword; what that means is that you can "load it" with a spell (much in the same way as a spell-storing weapon), only doing so "aligns" it to a specific energy type. A burning hands spell (or higher-level fire spell) cast into the sword allows it to deal +1d6 fire damage; likewise, Melf’s acid arrow, shatter, shocking grasp, and sleet storm (or a higher-level spell of the same energy type) give it the ability to deal +1d6 acid, sonic, electricity, or cold damage, respectively. In addition, a magic missile spell makes it into a ghost touch weapon instead. In either case, it only retains the energy type of the last spell cast into it, but it stays attuned to that energy type until a new spell is cast into the sword, realigning it to the new type. Vicki was suitably pleased with Finoula's new weapon; now she has two main goals: to come up with a cool name for it, and to use it to kill Malaterminus the incubus who tricked her into killing Ingebold. (Logan jokingly suggested the name "Malaterminus-terminus," or "Evil Slayer Slayer.")

- - -

T-Shirt Worn: We got up to the part where the PCs had encountered the arcane ooze before we ran out of time during our first session, and I was still wearing my Dalek "EXTERMINATE" T-shirt from the first adventure we had played through that session. For the second session, where we finished off this adventure, I opted to stick with the same shirt, since it had subsequently been cleaned in the three-week span between game sessions.



Game Session Date: 21 MAY 2016

- - -

Six days after cleaning out the Magekiller dungeon, the group drove their wagons into Kordovia. The trip back had been relatively uneventful - if you didn't count Binkadink's hair turning bright red one day for about an hour and Daisy's mane and tail turning as bright yellow as her namesake for an equal amount of time on another. At Ingebold's insistence the first stop was straight to the castle, where they split up all of their accumulated loot, first giving half to the kingdom's coffers and then the other half being split up equally between the adventurers. After that, they each went their separate ways, some of them to pick up supplies (a few bought potions from one of Winkidew's competitors while Gilbert restocked his piton supply), others to check in with their respective families. But at dinnertime they all met back at Battershield Keep for one of Helga Battershield's famous "welcome home" banquets. Several hours later, bellies filled with food and drink and heads filled with local gossip, everyone stumbled off to their own quarters.

Hours passed. The moons rose, playing hide-and-seek behind windswept clouds. In the six converted bedrooms filling the two northern towers of Battershield Keep, the adventurers slept the sleep of the weary; Finoula, Castillan, and Aithanar - being full-blooded elves - cast their minds into reverie instead, reliving old memories, both good and bad.

But as Castillan reviewed his memories of when he first taught himself to run up walls, an outside noise disturbed him. Oddly enough, it was a sound that fit seamlessly into the memory he'd been reliving, the sound of boots scraping on a wall...but something was off. It took the bounder a moment to realize the discrepancy: it was the sound of two pairs of boots climbing down a wall. Castillan couldn't recall ever having met anyone who could do what he did and his memory had been of himself alone, so what exactly was going on? Fully awake now, he strained his ears and sure enough, he could hear someone - two someones, actually - climbing down the wall of the tower outside the narrow window-slit of his room.

"Aith! Wake up!" he hissed quietly, shaking his brother out of his own reverie as he climbed out of bed and slipped on his boots and gloves. He didn't want to waste the time with his armor; it would take too long to gather up and put on, and if somebody was climbing down the interior wall of the keep, time might very well be of the essence.

"Shombooty?" asked Aithanar drowsily. Being shaken out of elven reverie was similar to being awakened out of a deep sleep.

"Intruders!" whispered Castillan. "Grab your sword and follow me."

The two elves were in Castillan's room at the top floor of the northeastern tower. They crept down the steps to the mid-level room and rapped on the door. Inside the room, Wrath perked up his ears as Finoula was similarly awakened out of reverie. She stood from her lotus position on the floor in one fluid motion, opening the door and seeing the two Ivenheart brothers standing their in their night-tunics. She herself wore a short tunic over her leather combat pants, having removed the jacket when she retired for the evening. But as Castillan filled her in, she grabbed up her new longsword - she'd decided to call it Tahlmalaera, "The War Song Blade" - and followed the group downstairs to the ground level, where they could hear Ingebold snoring quietly in her room, the snores becoming even louder as they opened the unlocked door to her room to wake her up.

But that wasn't all they heard, for the sudden grinding noise and the clattering of chains told them the drawbridge was being lowered.

They weren't the only ones who heard that. Over in the northwestern tower, Binkadink on the ground floor and Darrien on the top floor both woke up from their slumbers at the sound. Neither could think of any good reason why the drawbridge would be lowered in the middle of the night, and each hastily grabbed up weapons and rushed for their respective doors.

Over by the recently-acquired Vistani wagon, parked in the middle of the keep's courtyard, Obvious snapped awake as well. The jackalope's night vision was good enough to pick up the shapes of two strangers, one at either side of the drawbridge, pulling on the chains which raised the keep's portcullis. Worse yet, approaching the lowered drawbridge from the access road were a dozen or so goblins. Obvious wasn't a brilliant tactician by any means, but he knew they meant harm to his friend, the gnome with the funny name that didn't actually mean anything, and he also knew which tower Binkadink had entered, so he lowered his antlers and hippity-hopped across the courtyard, goring the orc who stood just outside Binkadink's door. He struck true, eliciting a grunt of pain from the surprised orc, but the brute had a weapon at hand - a greatclub leaning up against the wall - which he grabbed up and slammed into the side of the jackalope's head with one practiced motion. Four of the approaching goblins also took the opportunity to send sling stones hurling at the jackalope's body, three of them striking true - and stinging more than Obvious would have thought.

The sounds of battle finally did what nothing else had done thus far - woke Gilbert up. "Now what?" he groused, throwing on his robe and drinking down a potion of protection from evil - one of the ones he'd just picked up this morning, and already he was using it! Then he stomped down the steps to the lower level to see what was going on, meeting Binkadink and Darrien at the bottom.

Across the courtyard, the door to the northeastern tower opened and Castillan stabbed at the orc standing there. But by then the portcullis was fully raised and the orc had grabbed his greatclub back up. He swung his weapon at the elf, who staggered back from the blow and then tried tumbling his way past the foe and into the courtyard. But the orc blocked his way, slamming the bounder again with his greatclub against the side of his head. Castillan's legs grew weak and wobbly, and it was only Finoula grabbing him and pulling him into Ingebold's room that prevented him from being knocked around further. Ingebold, fully awake now, cast a healing spell on the bounder, and then seeing Obvious bleeding in the courtyard used her light mace to send a blast of healing energy into the wounded jackalope as well.

Finoula, meanwhile, stepped forward into Castillan's place at the door and stabbed at the orc with Tahlmalaera. Wrath darted his head out of the doorway and bit at the orc's leg at the same time, then ducked back into the building where it was safer. Behind him, Aithanar had his sword at the ready but was stuck behind the bottleneck at the door into the courtyard.

Outside, the goblins advanced, the first row entering the courtyard of the keep. Obvious was the only obvious choice of targets for them, so they let fly and struck the jackalope several times with their slings. Obvious cried out in pain. He knew Binkadink was an accomplished fighter and hoped the gnome would fare well against these foes, but Obvious was bleeding from several wounds now and his every instinct told him to flee. So flee he did, racing to the south of the keep's courtyard and leaping atop the flat roof over the dining hall. He crouched in the back corner, against the southern wall, shivering in fright and pain.

The southwestern door suddenly flew open and there was Binkadink, magic greatclub in hand and ready to be used against its first victim: the orc standing immediately before him. As the orc turned to face this new threat, nobody saw another orc climbing down the steps along the eastern rampart, leading down into the courtyard. He - and the other two orcs - had been up on the highest level of the keep; how they'd gotten up there was anybody's guess at this point.

From behind Binkadink, Gilbert cast a slow spell at the line of enemies directly in front of him: the two orcs standing by the doors to the two northern towers and the four goblins standing between them. The spell affected the nearest orc and three of the goblins; Gilbert nodded to himself in quiet satisfaction.

Fully healed now and ready for action, Castillan slipped past the orc guarding the doorway then spun around and stabbed at him as he turned to meet the threat - just a moment too slow but just in time to see the bounder's blade slide deep into his side. The orc crumbled to the ground, bleeding profusely. Satisfied with his handiwork, Castillan somersaulted past the row of goblins, slashing out with his blood-slicked blade at the nearest during his maneuver. Back in the northeast tower, Finoula stepped up to block the doorway once again. She was focused on the goblins before her - her nearest foes - and thus did not notice the stealthy orc had finished climbing down the stairs from the rooftop and was sneaking behind the Vistani wagon, closing the distance between them.

The words of several prayers to Moradin spilled from Ingebold's lips: a bless spell, followed shortly thereafter by a prayer spell. Bottle-necked as she was behind Finoula, whose body filled the doorway and prevented enemies from gaining access to the tower's interior, the dwarven cleric figured it was the best way for her to assist her team at the moment.

Suddenly, a hell hound appeared in front of Castillan and blasted at him with its fiery breath. It caught Finoula as well, but neither was particularly hurt by the puff of flames; Castillan handily dispatched the beast, then, not wanting to bother with battling goblins, leaped up onto the roof of the stables along the western side of the keep, pulling himself up with hardly any effort.

About this time, an explosion blasted high in the sky. This was a signal arrow, cast by Chalkan or one of his arcane archers, who patrolled inside the borders of the Vesve Forest. The signal was a fireball cast onto an arrow which was then shot straight up into the sky, and it signified the orcs and goblins who had been plaguing the kingdom for the past dozen years or more had returned once again. All along the edges of the kingdom, garrison towers saw the fireball and blew on their signal horns, passing the warning on to the rest of the kingdom. Battershield Keep had such a horn, but situated as the keep was at the far southern border of the kingdom and never having been a target of the waves of orcs or goblins before in the past, it rarely saw any use. However, the timing of the signal arrow was interesting: as Chalkan's forces patrolled inside the border of the Vesve Forest and they were just now signaling the approach of the orcish and goblin forces, this meant the foes currently plaguing the inhabitants of Battershield Keep were either an advance army that had made it past the vigilant eyes of the arcane archers or perhaps were not even associated with the waves of attackers heading to the middle of Kordovia.

In the open doorway of the northwest tower, Darrien stood behind Binkadink but had a clear shot over the small gnome's head. He shot two arrows in rapid succession, striking the orc trading blows with Binkadink with both shots. The orc staggered and fell on his back, dead. But the first line of four goblin warriors advanced and started shooting at any visible enemies their slings. One hit the gnome, but Binkadink shrugged off the pain and advanced. However, before he could retaliate, the goblin fell over dead, as did two of his companions - as did every one of the eight goblins in the rear ranks. The remaining goblin, clearly shaken by this turn of events, sped away to the back of the keep as fast as he could. But inside the northeastern keep, Ingebold smiled grimly at the success of her holy smite spell.

Seeing the way had been cleared of enemies, Finoula stepped out of the doorway of the northeast tower. However, she felt the peculiar energy of a spell being directed at her, and all of a sudden her elvish vision shut down. "I'm blind!" she called out to her companions, finishing the thought with, "There's a spellcaster in the vicinity!" Darrien stepped out behind Binkadink and sent an arrow into the back of the goblin who had fled to the back of the keep and was trying to enter the door to the dining hall. The arrow struck true, and the goblin died on the spot. "Got him!" Darrien called out, assuming this was the spellcaster as it was the only enemy still visible to the half-elf ranger.

But from his vantage point on the stable roof, Castillan saw the sole remaining orc stealthily approaching Finoula. He leaped across the span from the stable roof to the top of the Vistani wagon, then dropped behind the orc, driving both blades into the brute's back. The orc grunted in obvious pain but didn't drop as Castillan had expected - instead, he whipped around and met the bounder's attack with one of his own. Startled at the orc's ferocity, the bounder slowly gave way, backing up against the savage fury of the orc's attacks. But at least I got him away from Finoula, the bounder thought to himself as he battled for his life.

Unable to see a thing, Finoula groped for the wall to the north and found the release mechanism for the portcullis. She might be out of the fight for now, but she could still see to the keep's defenses. As the portcullis came crashing down, Finoula called out to Ingebold, "Can you cure my blindness?"

"Not t'day I can't," the cleric replied, adding a dwarven curse for good measure. "I c'n cure ye, but I've not got th' spell prepared now! I'm sorry, but I cannae cure yer affliction until I've had time tomorrow t' prepare meself a new batch of spells."

"Crap!" swore Finoula, realizing how little she'd be able to contribute to defending the keep while blind. Darrien, seeing Castillan finally drop the orc he'd been fighting, saw no further enemies inside the keep and dropped his Arachnibow at his feet to help Finoula to raise the drawbridge. Wrath stood at Finoula's side, sensing her distress and protecting her from anyone who might try to harm her. Once the drawbridge was raised, Finoula felt a hand on her shoulder. "Spadinkinny kelpish," Aithanar said, leading her back to the safety of the northeast tower.

"Look around!" called out Binkadink, racing over to the steps that led to the top of the keep. "There might still be a spellcaster around here somewhere!" He traipsed up the steps in his gnomish stilt-boots and sure enough, as soon as he reached the top a trio of spiders - each larger than the little gnome - suddenly manifested on three sides of him. A distinctive whiff of brimstone informed the gnome that these particular spiders were likely from the Lower Planes. He fended off the one in front of him with his greatclub, but that only allowed the one behind him to scurry up and bite him on the back of the neck. With a roar of pain, the little gnome spun around and bashed the spider that had bitten him, crushing its squishy body with the power of his blow. In almost the same movement, he swung his weapon around and slammed it into the side of the third spider, which was even now moving up to bite him as well. It skittered back, wary of the gnome's powerful weapon.

Gilbert cast a fly spell on himself and took to the skies. He did a quick perusal of the keep's interior courtyard, but saw no enemies save the two spiders fighting Binkadink at the top of the stairs. He flew up to the top of the northwestern tower, and that's when his human eyes made out an unnaturally dark globe surrounding the top of the northeastern tower. Recognizing it as a darkness spell, the wizard surmised this was the location of the hidden spellcaster still plaguing them. Gilbert opened his mouth to call his suspicions down to his friends, when he was struck by several blasts of energy - a magic missile spell, no doubt. He wasn't sure from which direction it had come, but he did manage to warn the others that there was a enemy wizard hiding in the globe of darkness spell atop the northeastern tower.

Castillan heard the wizard's warning and looked up - he was standing in the northeastern corner of the courtyard, between the parked Vistani wagon and the tower. With a quick dash at the tower, he raced up the wall, alternately setting foot on the southern wall of the northeastern tower and the western side of the eastern exterior wall, and making his way up the 30 feet elevation of the tower until he was able to put his hand over the rampart and pull himself onto the roof. Sure enough, this part of the rampart was completely dark - so dark Castillan's keen elven vision could see nothing at all.

"Get out of there, elf boy!" called Gilbert, as he began the words to an Evard's black tentacles spell, centering it in the middle of the globe of darkness. Only when Gilbert saw Castillan racing south along the ramparts out of the range of the darkness spell did he complete the incantations causing writhing tentacles to rise up from the roof of the northeastern tower. He then flew about 30 feet above the rooftop of the northwest tower, focusing his attention on the tower across the drawbridge from him, hoping to hear the muttered curses of a trapped enemy spellcaster.

In the meantime, Darrien raced up the steps, shooting and killing one of the two remaining fiendish spiders as the other one tried webbing up Binkadink, but missed. Binkadink had the last arachnid slain by the time Darrien reached the top of the ramparts; each spider exploded in an acrid puff of smoke and brimstone upon its death on the material plane. Castillan continued running along the rampart until he had joined the fighter and ranger at the top of the stairs.

More energy slammed into Gilbert's hovering form, the result of another magic missile spell. The wizard dropped in altitude, hovering behind the western side of the northwestern tower, using the solid stone of the keep as a shield against the unseen spellcaster as he tried to figure out why his Evard's black tentacles spell had failed to capture his foe. But yet another series of magic missiles slammed into the wizard's body, from a position that had to be over on his side of the keep. "Crap!" he called out, coming to a sudden realization: "Spellcaster's invisible!! He over here on this side!" But the heavyset wizard was getting woozy from the magical onslaught he'd taken in the last few moments; he opted to race around the front of the keep over to the eastern side, hoping that the enemy spellcaster was on foot and couldn't keep up with Gilbert - and even if he could, he'd have to run into the black tentacles spell effect.

Hearing the wizard's warning, Gilbert, Darrien, and Castillan raced along the ramparts, across the southern section over to the eastern part of the keep. Realizing they were up against an invisible foe, Darrien realized the futility of shooting arrows at someone he couldn't see but popped a few arrows at random sections of the eastern rampart, possibly keeping the spellcaster worried if nothing else. Castillan took it another step, pulling out a tanglefoot bag and tossing it at the end of the eastern rampart, right before it opened up to the roof of the northwestern tower. But it flew through the air and landed as targeted without hitting the spellcaster; Castillan knew the goop in the bag would harden almost immediately, rendering his attack pointless.

The unseen spellcaster obviously saw Darrien as the greatest threat of the three combatants, for he chose him as the target of his next casting of the magic missile spell. The approaching heroes could hear their invisible foe's running footsteps on the stones of the keep tower's roof. Binkadink opted to try pushing him off the roof, holding his greatclub sideways before him in the hopes of striking the foe even if he couldn't see him. But luck was not with him; he reached the end of the rooftop and slowed to a stop without having hit the spellcaster. However, a 3-foot-tall gnome raised on stilt-boots to human height was apparently too much of a temptation for the spellcaster to ignore, for he followed Binkadink's tactics and bull-rushed the gnome off the side of the tower roof. The gnome fell the 30 feet to the ground and landed in a heap just shy of the moat.

But succumbing to that sort of temptation was contagious; Castillan couldn't actually see his invisible foe, but he now had a pretty good idea of exactly where he'd have to be standing to have just pushed Binkadink over the edge.... The bounder raced directly to that same spot at full speed, slamming into an unseen body and toppling it over the edge of the tower's northern wall, following through over the wall himself in the process. However, while the spellcaster fell the 30 feet at full speed and landed on the poor, battered gnome, the bounder used his proximity to the tower wall to slow down his speed significantly, until he was able to nimbly leap off to the side to avoid landing on Binkadink himself.

Gilbert had taken this moment of reprieve to drink down the contents of a newly-purchased healing potion, restoring a bit of his vitality without the nasty after-effects that Binkadink's Uncle Winkidew's potions always seemed to contain. He then cast a detect magic spell and flew over to the front of the keep, where Binkadink was attempting to stand back up and grab his weapon and Castillan was swinging his short sword around at potential areas where the spellcaster might be standing. While Gilbert's spell wasn't strong enough to overcome the greater invisibility spell, it did allow him to spot a wavering in the air, kind of like a heat mirage, which indicated the rough area of where the invisible spellcaster was likely standing.

"He to your left, gnome!" called out Gilbert, and Binkadink swung his weapon at the area indicated - but missed. The end result was the same, though, for the sorcerer, still cloaked in a greater invisibility spell, decided he'd had enough. No point in fighting to the death when he could easily escape and live to fight another day. With a few arcane syllables - which Gilbert was now close enough to recognize as the words to a dimension door spell - the unseen opponent was gone.

The door from the southeastern tower suddenly opened, and into the courtyard stepped Aerik Battershield, his dwarven greataxe in hand. He looked disappointed that there were no enemies left to fight, but he had no regrets in getting Helga to safety before leaving her to enter the battle with the Kordovian Adventurers Guild - who, it might be said, had handled themselves rather well in his absence. Ingebold filled him in on what had happened, the portcullis was raised and the drawbridge lowered, and the heroes all regrouped in the keep after dragging the bodies of the orcs and goblins outside on the access road to deal with in the morning.

An hour or more later, the group had determined to their own satisfaction that there were no more invisible enemies inside the keep. The sounds of battle from the north had ceased as well; apparently the Kordovian forces - including the mercenaries hired with the gold the heroes had unearthed thus far - had routed the orc and goblin forces once again. Helga came out of hiding and insisted on cooking up a quick meal for everyone, and then, by full agreement of all concerned, the group opted to go back to their beds - although Castillan volunteered to remain awake and on guard for the next hour or so, after which he'd wake Darrien to take a shift, and so on until the sun rose.

"Thank you," Finoula said to Aithanar, who had helped her to her room and settled her down against the wall where she preferred to perform her reverie. "Sambayu," he replied, and Finoula smiled at his nonsensical word, while perfectly understanding the "You're welcome" he most assuredly meant. Wrath settled himself at her side, Aithanar smiled down at her form, and then quietly closed the door to her room, leaving her in darkness that equaled the sightlessness of her blinded eyes.

"I've never tried undergoing reverie without sight," she confided to her wolf, who merely chuffed in response and laid his head on his forepaws. But sight or no, reverie was a matter of focusing inward, sifting through past memories and ordering the mind for the next day's activities. She'd be glad to have her sight restored in the morning, after Ingebold received her spells after her own period of mental preparation....

With a start, Finoula realized she was no longer alone in her room - there was somebody else there besides herself and Wrath. "Aithanar?" she asked, before the sound she had just heard finally registered as the flapping of leathery wings and the full weight of a human-sized body landing on the floor of her room. Ice water suddenly flooded her veins as a familiar voice replied, "No, not Aithanar...although I could certainly make myself look like him if you wanted."

Finoula slapped the floor to her side, desperately trying to find her sword, while calling out, "Wrath--attack!"

"Pfft!" scoffed Malaterminus, waving his hand and causing the wolf to vanish. Then the incubus looked down at Finoula, saw her blindly groping for her sword, and laughed. "You're blind!" he chuckled, picking up her sword and examining it. "So this is my replacement, huh?" he asked. "Not bad workmanship--but it will never truly replace me, will it, Finoula?" He casually tossed it behind him, and there was no sound of it landing on the floor; it just vanished, as Wrath had done.

"What do you want?" Finoula asked, knowing full well what an incubus would want with a pretty young elf. Knowing full well the demon could see her, she nevertheless started feeling the floor on the opposite side of where the longsword had been, hoping to find her whip of thorns.

"What do I want?" repeated Malaterminus, a smirk in his voice. "Well, that's the real question, isn't it? What do I want?" He looked over again at Finoula, whose hand was now inches away from her whip. "Hey, hey, enough of that," he chided. "It's not going to work. Haven't you figured it out yet? Weapons won't work against me, calling for help won't get you anywhere. There's absolutely nothing you can do to stop me from doing whatever I want...because, my sweet, this is all in your head!" As if to demonstrate, he waved his hand and Finoula's clothing suddenly disappeared as well, leaving her just as naked as himself - she still couldn't see a thing, but she could feel the sudden lack of clothing and sense the cool air on her bare skin.

"Now then, to business," said the incubus, making an effort to continue what he was saying while staring lustfully down at Finoula's body. "Oh, yeah, right. I want you to know that I haven't been ignoring you since you set me free from the form of that accursed longsword, I just had some business to deal with – specifically, getting my revenge on the enemy who trapped me in that form all those years ago. It was a succubus, by the way – an uppity bitch who didn't approve of me killing off my mortal victims after I'd seduced them. Like it's any of her business what I do? But I got my revenge; I did to her what I do to all of my victims, after I was done with her." Blind, Finoula was spared the visible evidence of Malaterminus's excitement at the memory.

"Anyway," he continued, "I had fully intended to finish up that business and head back your way, to deal with you as I deal with all the other mortal women I have dealings with. It's just kind of how I relate to them, you know?" He looked around the room for a bed, found none, and simply sat down on the floor next to Finoula. "But then I got to thinking. If it weren't for you – and your gullibility in killing that little dwarf friend of yours on my say-so – I'd still be stuck in that damned sword form. So I guess I owe you for that. It's kind of a new thing for me, owing a mortal a favor. Part of me wants to just kill you to avoid the debt, but I don't think I'd like living the rest of my life – my immortal life, mind you – with the memory of that debt being unpaid. So anyway, I came to a decision: I'm not going to have my way with you and then kill you, like I normally would." He gave Finoula a big grin as he said that, as if expecting gratitude for his extreme kindness.

"Nope," he reiterated, "Instead I'm going to do you a big favor. Two favors, really, when you consider the whole 'not killing you' thing. Nope, I'm also going to switch targets to whoever you want, and then we'll be even, and my debt to you will be paid in full.

"I noticed your little dwarf cleric friend is back among the living. Does she give you any grief about having killed her? Because even though dwarf chicks aren't really my thing, I'd be more than willing to do her for you. Or if not her, you got a mom always on your case? Just say the word, and I'll give her a night she won’t ever be able to top – because she'll be dead by the end of it." Seeing the expression on Finoula's face, he said, "No? How about a sister? Cousin? Some elf chick who stole your first boyfriend? Just give me a name, and she'll be my top priority. What do you say?"

Finoula steeled up all of her courage, not knowing whether she could trust the word of a demon that this was all merely in her mind - it made sense, if you thought about it, that a succubus or an incubus could mentally "prepare" their victim to receive them physically, but this felt awfully real! - and replied, "I want you to leave. Now. And never return."

"Really?" asked Malaterminus, surprised at this foolish mortal's response to his offer - an offer not likely to have been made my most demons, after all. "You'd rather have me as an enemy than point me toward someone you want killed?" He frowned. "Okay, whatever. Regardless, my debt to you is now paid in full. I won't actively seek you out, but if our paths ever cross again, I won't have any qualms about treating you like I would any other mortal woman."

"Oh, they'll cross again, you can count on that," promised Finoula. "One day, I will hunt you down and kill you for what you've done, and what you tricked me to doing to Ingebold."

"Then I look forward to our next encounter," smirked Malaterminus, stroking Finoula's chin tenderly. She moved to slap his hand away - but it was gone, as was the rest of the incubus; it was as if he had never been there at all. Finoula realized she was still fully clothed and she could hear the soft snoring of her wolf at her side.

"Damn," Finoula swore under her breath. She was unable to perform any reverie for the rest of that night.

- - -

This was an adventure I realized I wanted to do as soon as we had decided that Battershield Keep was going to be the de facto headquarters of the Kordovian Adventurers Guild. After all, I already had the cardboard keep built from our previous campaign, and the starting status of the campaign was that there had been these orc and goblin attacks going on for years; it only made sense that they'd eventually have to defend the keep. However, there were certain irregularities that didn't escape the notice of my players, such as why these particular orcs and goblins had apparently broken off from the rest of the group (which Chalkan's forces had discovered later, heading for the main section of Kordovia). So, while Dan had Ingebold prepare a remove blindness/deafness spell to cure Finoula's affliction, he also had her prepare a tongues spell and three speak with dead spells, one for each of the three slain orcs. (They reasoned the orcs would likely know more than the goblins; plus, Ingebold - and Aerik - wouldn't trust a goblin's word at anything.) So, here's what they asked:

1st orc:
Q1: "Why did you attack Battershield Keep?"
A1: "It had never been targeted before, seemed to be minimally defended, and likely had weapons we could take." (This seemed to tie in to the orcs and goblins who had attacked the garrison keep in the group's second adventure.)
Q2: "Who planned the attack"
A2: "The strike leader."
Q3: "What is the strike leader's name?"
A3: "Jaenryth." (The players decided this sounded like an elven name, which was intriguing.)​

2nd orc:
Q1: "Who does Jaenryth report to?"
A1: "Menriss."
Q2: "What does Jaenryth look like?"
A2: "Whatever he wants to." (This brought suppositions that Jaenryth might be a doppelganger.)
Q3: "What race is Jaenryth?"
A3: "Elf." (The players have suggested that that could mean Jaenryth is an elf, a half-elf, an elf/orc hybrid, or a drow - or even a doppelganger who normally appears as an elf when dealing with them.)​

3rd Orc:
Q1. "Does Jaenryth live in the Vesve Forest?"
A1: "No." (This caused speculations that the orcs and goblins - and Jaenryth - might be extraplanar.)
Q2: "What tribe are the orcs and goblins from?"
A2: "Baelrenoth." (The players have decided that this name sounds fiendish.)
Q3: "Are the orcs and goblins hired mercenaries?"
A3: "We fight to live."​

I also knew I wanted to keep the Malaterminus plot line active, but I had kind of written myself into a dilemma. While it had made perfect sense to me to have Malaterminus the magic longsword actually be an imprisoned incubus, I had kind of hoped he'd have been killed off during his initial encounter - but that didn't happen. So I now had, basically, a rapist demon on the loose with a perfectly reasonable (to him) desire to rape and kill my only female player's PC. Not wanting that to actually happen in the campaign, and definitely not wanting to have to role-play that particular encounter, I came to the realization that I could have Malaterminus offer to switch targets as a result of the debt he felt he owed Finoula. Even though she didn't take him up on the offer (had she thought to sic him on Feron, I had already figured out that the 20th-level druid, who's now a hierophant and a Sister of Ehlonna, would have made short work of him - although that would be a uncomfortable conversation to have the next time Finoula and Feron met up!), I figured I could have him decide his debt was paid and quietly leave the campaign, never to be seen again.

But no such luck. Vicki is adamant that when Finoula gets higher in level she's going to figure out a way to summon/gate and bind him in such a way that she'll be able to slay him permanently. So it looks like we'll be seeing Malaterminus the incubus again, much later in the campaign.

- - -

T-Shirt Worn: "Chaotic Evil Means Never Having To Say You're Sorry." It seemed like not only a good fit for the orcs and goblins, but for Malaterminus as well.



PC Roster:
Darrien, half-elf ranger 7​

NPC Roster:
Caliandra, human sorcerer 6
Kizzie Birdsong, halfling bard 6
Quincy "Jorg" Battleborn, half-orc fighter 6
Thomas the Seeker, human monk 6
Vance Pelorian, human cleric 6 (Pelor)​

Game Session Date: 2 July 2016

This game session was a bit different, as shown by the PC/NPC rosters above. Due to Darrien having been slain by the band of ogres in "Ogre Eight" and subsequently returned to life via a raise dead spell, he was lagging one level below the rest of the party. (So was Ingebold, for a similar reason, but as she was the party NPC and "backup PC," I wasn't quite as concerned about her.) So the only reason this adventure came about was I wanted an opportunity for Darrien to catch up to the rest of the group on the XP front. I didn't even bother calculating the XP for this session, just hand-waving it that Darrien would end up with the exact XP count as the rest of the PCs at the end of this adventure, so when they next level up they'll all do so. (Again, Ingebold leveling up separately wasn't really an issue, as I generally level her up myself and can easily do so at home between gaming sessions.)

- - -

Darrien was alone, several miles deep into the Vesve Forest. He'd been patiently tracking a deer and the past few hours of silent work was about to finally pay off. The buck stood in a clearing, looking around but failing to notice the half-elf ranger. Darrien pulled back on the Arachnibow, lining up his shot...

...And then the deer panicked at the sound of terrified screaming coming from the south, accompanied by the noise of rapid footfalls tearing through the forest undergrowth. Darrien lowered his bow, his shot – and the prospects of venison for dinner – ruined, and turned to see what the commotion was all about.

Tearing through the underbrush came a half-orc in shiny, half-plate armor, a look of total panic in his face. Right behind him raced a scantily-clad human woman with long, dark hair, her face also showing an expression of abject horror. Behind them trailed three figures: a male human in brown robes, effortlessly carrying under his arm a halfling woman wearing a long skirt, with a bluish lizard bringing up the rear. Assuming the lizard was chasing the group of four, Darrien raised his bow and aimed at the trailing reptile.

"Don't shoot!" cried the halfling woman as path of the man carrying her veered over by Darrien. "That's Zapper -- he's with us!"

Once again, Darrien lowered his bow without having gotten off a shot. By then, the armored half-orc and the barely-dressed woman had slowed down, and the brown-robed man followed suit, placing the halfling gently on the ground on her own two feet.

"Are you two all right now?" asked the man in the brown robes, lowering his hood. Darrien could see his head was shaved completely bald.

"What the--?" sputtered the half-orc. "Why'd we run like that? And where's my greatsword?"

"You dropped it in your haste to flee," responded the dark-haired woman. "And we ran because we were under the effects of a fear spell. That damned beholder got both of us, after turning Vance to stone."

"Beholder?" asked Darrien, looking around. "Near here?"

"About half a mile or so back that way," responded the bald man. He extended his hand to Darrien. "I am Thomas the Seeker," he said by way of introduction.

"Darrien," replied the half-elf, shaking the monk's hand.

"'Darrien?'" asked the half-orc. "I thought you looked familiar. You was at Bunnihilde's party, wasn't you?"

"Uh, yes, I was," Darrien admitted. "I take it you were there too?"

"Yeah. Up until recently, I was one of Bunnihilde's bodyguards. Now I'm the leader of Lord Cavelthorne's adventuring band. M'name's Jorg."

"Lord Cavelthorne wants you to use the name 'Quincy Battleborn,'" pointed out the tall woman, smoothing out the silk of her skin-tight dress and causing Darrien to stare in obvious approval as she did so. The blue-skinned lizard walked over to her and rubbed up against her ankle.

"'Jorg' is short for 'Quincy'," argued Jorg.

"So you claim. In any case, Darrien, my name is Caliandra, and this is Zapper, my familiar. And this," she said, indicating the little halfling, "is Kizzie Birdsong."

"Very pleased to meet you," replied Kizzie, looking up at Darrien in undisguised awe. "We have all heard very much about you and your band; in fact, Lord Cavelthorne decided to fund our little team here based on the success Kordovia was having with theirs."

"We should consider going back to face the beholder," suggested Thomas. "There's no telling what he might do to Vance if we don't get back to him in time."

"Yeah -- and I wanna get my greatsword back."

"Darrien," asked Kizzie, "Would you consider coming with us? We could certainly use the assistance, if you're willing. Cali has a vial of stone salve that can restore our petrified cleric, and now that we know that we'll be up against a beholder we can take precautions. He kind of took us by surprise, popping out from behind a tree like he did."

"I'd-- uh, sure, I'll help," answered Darrien, forcing his gaze away from Caliandra's low-cut dress. "What's the plan?"

"I think invisibility's the way to go," replied Caliandra. "Between Kizzie and me, we can cast enough spells to cover all five of us. Hopefully, that should allow us to get close enough to the beholder without it seeing us."

"Just remember to stay away from its central eye," suggested Thomas. "If you fall into its arc, you'll become visible again in an instant. And likewise, the spells will hold only until you first attack a foe." And then he vanished into apparent nothingness, Kizzie having cast the first of the invisibility spells upon the wandering monk.

Caliandra faced the half-orc. "Are you ready, Quincy?" she asked.

"Wait!" Jorg answered. "Hey, Darrien, you got a sword I can borrow?"

Darrien unbuckled his weapon belt and passed it over to the half-orc fighter. "Just this scimitar," he replied.

"That'll do," said Jorg, buckling it on and pulling the gleaming weapon out of its scabbard. "Okay, now I'm ready," he said to Caliandra. "And it's 'Jorg,'" he belatedly corrected her.

Once everybody was invisible, Darrien took the lead, suggesting the others stay back a bit from him - he didn't want Jorg's clanking armor to alert the beholder of intruders. Following the trail they had left was child's play; apparently nobody in Lord Cavelthorne's band had any ranger training. Darrien had no trouble finding the spot where the group had encountered the beholder, for it was marked by Jorg's shining greatsword lying abandoned in the dirt. However, there were no signs of either the beholder or the cleric it had petrified.

"C'mere, you!" said Jorg's disembodied voice as the greatsword lifted up off the ground. "Here's your scimitar back, Darrien." The half-elf and the half-orc waved their arms around, neither being able to see the other, until their hands collided and Darrien felt the leather of his scabbard pressed into his palm. It popped into full visibility once it left the half-orc's hand. Putting the belt on and buckling it around his waist, Darrien was surprised that once on it remained visible - as did Jorg's held greatsword.

"You two are going to blend in just perfectly," remarked Caliandra. "That beholder will never see you coming."

"So where's Vance? An' where is that blasted beholder?" snarled Jorg.

"Look here," said Darrien, pointing at a set of scrape marks in the dirt by a half-buried boulder, and then realizing nobody could see where he was pointing. "There, by the boulder," he articulated. "It looks like the stone was dragged to the side and then something else heavy was dragged over to it. Give me a hand lifting the boulder, will you?"

The group all approached the boulder, inevitably bumping into each other in doing so, as again, nobody could see anything other than Jorg and Darrien's general positions due to their floating blades. Once everyone was positioned around the boulder, they lifted it up - it ended up being a relatively flat slab of stone, not the upper part of a round boulder after all - and carried it off to the side. Hidden beneath it was a tunnel drilling straight down into the ground. "I'd bet anything your friend's down there," Darrien remarked.

Jorg peered over the head of the shaft, using his inherent darkvision to see how far down it went. "Quite a fall," he declared. Caliandra took the time before the descent to cast a mage armor spell upon herself and Zapper, while Kizzie and Thomas downed potions - she drank a potion of spider climb and he quaffed a potion of darkvision.

"So, who's got rope?" Darrien asked the group at large. Surprisingly, for a group of four professional adventurers, nobody had any rope on them. "You guys don't do a whole lot of underground explorations, do you?" Darrien asked, as he pulled out his own 50-foot length of sturdy rope.

"As a habit, no," replied Caliandra. "Most of our encounters have been above ground." Darrien tied one end of his rope to a sturdy tree limb - a process made immeasurably more difficult by not being able to see what he was doing, until he wised up and dropped the rope completely, allowing it to return to its visible state, before picking it back up and tying it off.

"Anything worth seeing down there, Jorg?" the ranger asked.

"Nah. It goes down for about 30 feet or so, then it widens out for a bit, then goes back to this size for another 30 feet or so."

"This may help," said Kizzie, sending a dancing lights spell down the shaft to hover in the center of the wider section. Darrien peered over the edge, saw nothing approaching, and apprised the group of his intentions. "This rope won't go all the way down to the bottom," he said. "So I've tied the end around my waist, and I'll go down as far as I can go. I have a way to make more rope once I get down that far."

"You do? Interesting," commented Thomas.

Lowering himself down the shaft, Darrien kept his feet against the wall and both hands on the rope. Jorg's estimates were pretty accurate; the vertical shaft from the surface was about 30 feet deep before opening into a spherical chamber with a 40-foot diameter - Darrien entered this chamber via the hole in its ceiling and dangled just above the "equator" when he ran out of rope. He could see four side tunnels spaced equidistant around the equator, and a fifth tunnel directly below him, continuing on for some distance. In addition, there were four other tunnel openings about halfway down between the equator and the lowest opening; these were centered diagonally between the four tunnels along the equator.

The half-elf climbed back up a couple of feet, tied himself off in this new position, and then pulled out his Arachnibow. He aimed for just above one of the four equator tunnels and let fly with an arrow, having it convert to a strand of spider silk as it hit its target. Holding on to the silk line, he untied himself from the end of the rope - and jumped. He landed hard on the lower curve of the bottom hemisphere of the chamber, but kept his hand gripped on the line to prevent himself from sliding all the way to the tunnel entrance at its bottom center.

"Next guy, come on down!" he called up to the others. "And let me know when you get to the end of the rope!" In the meantime, he rummaged through his invisible backpack until he found an invisible metal piton by touch, and tied the end of the silk rope to its middle, again letting go of both so he could actually see what he was doing. This invisibility stuff makes life difficult! he thought to himself.

"I'm in position!" Thomas called from the end of the rope. "What do you want me to do?"

"I'm going to throw this piton up to you!" Darrien replied. "If you can catch it, tie the end of the silk rope to the end of your rope, and then you can all climb straight over to one of the tunnels!" It took some doing, but Thomas eventually got the two lines tied together, and then Jorg climbed down, followed by Caliandra (with Zapper perched on her back).

"Who does that leave? Kizzie?" called up Darrien.

"I'm right here, beside you," said the halfling.

"What? How'd you get down here?"

"I drank a potion of spider climb and walked down."

"Hmmm. Just out of curiosity, it didn't have spider legs in it when you drank it down by any chance, did it?"

"Ew! I should say not! Why ever do you ask?"

"No reason," muttered Darrien.

With everybody finally in the central cavern, standing carefully around the 10-foot-diameter hole at the bottom to prevent them from falling in, it made sense for Kizzie to go exploring. "I'll just pick a tunnel, go peek, and report back," she promised. She had her dancing lights spell travel along with her, providing illumination.

Kizzie decided to try the lower tunnels first, as they would be the easiest for the others to gain access to. However, the first tunnel sloped down at a 45-degree angle, swerved off to the right, and ended up in a smaller, spherical room, this one about 20 feet in diameter. It was covered in sheets of thick webbing, and the halfling thought she saw the shadow of a spider about her size traversing one of the webs. Deciding there was no way Vance would be in there, she retreated back to the others and reported her findings.

The next tunnel she tried also veered downwards before opening up into a 20-foot-wide spherical chamber. This one was occupied by a pair of strange-looking creatures. Each had a snakelike build, with a head containing a parrotlike beak flanked by four tentacles. Kizzie had heard of these creatures - they were called gricks. But she didn't recall them having a fifth tentacle at the top of their heads, ending in an eyeball. These two did, though, and they had some way of detecting her presence as well, for each one shot a ray out of its eyeball. Fortunately for the little halfling neither ray hit its mark, but they were both too close for comfort. "Guys? Help!" she called.

Caliandra was the closest to the tunnel Kizzie had gone down and thus was the first to respond. Hiking up her dress, she ran up the curved section of the hollow sphere's exterior, grabbing at the bottom of the tunnel with both hands and pulling herself up. Zapper, being a shocker lizard and better suited for climbing, had an easier time of it. They each reached the top of the tunnel at the same time, and then the sorceress let herself slide down the winding shaft as her familiar ran alongside her. Caliandra managed to steer herself between the two gricks, and fearing to attack them this early and thus make herself visible, she opted instead to cast a shield spell on herself.

Zapper had no such hesitation; he blasted the closest grick with an electrical charge, ending the duration of his invisibility spell in the process. Kizzie, in the meantime, followed Caliandra's lead and found a way to be helpful without attacking directly; she started singing an inspiring tune to aid her friends' attacks.

Jorg was the next to slide down the tunnel shaft, and unable to see his two invisible female companions, plowed straight into Caliandra, sending her sprawling across the room. Back up at the central chamber, both Thomas and Darrien initially failed to make it far enough up the sloping wall to pull themselves up to the tunnel, but the ranger made it on his second try. Unfortunately, his path was identical to that of Jorg, and he went crashing into the invisible half-orc, sending him prone. But that only got the fighter's dander up; rising up to a standing position, he sent his magical greatsword crashing down into the grick at his left, nearly cleaving it in half with one stroke. Then, in a practiced maneuver, he swung around and sent his blade slamming down into the other grick's body, cleanly severing it in half. Writhing half-gricks flopped around the room spewing blood, and Jorg stood - now fully visible - grinning down at his handiwork. "Now that's what I'm talking about!" he said.

"Thanks, guys!" said Kizzie. "I'm going to go try out another tunnel." Jorg gave the grick chamber a quick once-over, at first seeing nothing but small rocks and pebbles - but then noticing that a trio of the rocks was actually leathery eggs. He took great satisfaction in smashing them each underneath his boot heels.

The next tunnel at the same elevation turned out to lead to a chamber filled with a pile of rotting animal parts. Kizzie gave it a quick once-over with a hand over her nose to block out the stench, when a slight movement caught her eye. Amidst the carrion and rotting meat, an eyestalk popped up, followed by the head of what looked like a giant caterpillar - only one with eight writhing tentacles ringing its mouthparts. Recalling how the gricks-with-eyestalks were able to sense her presence, Kizzie opted to immediately exit back the way she had come.

Meanwhile, back in the grick room, the other adventurers were trying to do just that, but the slope of the tunnel was just too steep. They managed to figure out that by shifting their sideways direction back and forth they could use gravity to their advantage in the curved tunnel to get a boost of speed, but it was still tough going. Finally, in frustration, Darrien shot another arrow up to the top of the tunnel, having it turn into spider silk that allowed Jorg, Caliandra, and himself to climb back up to the central chamber, with an invisible Kizzie and an invisible Thomas. (Zapper didn't need the silk strand and looked down pityingly at the struggling humanoids as he passed them climbing effortlessly up the tunnel.)

When they did get back, though, they saw the carrion crawler exit its own tunnel shaft. "Look out!" called Darrien. Thomas spun around and instinctively punched out at the wriggling beast, turning himself visible as he did so. Darrien shot at it with his magical bow, likewise returning to visibility. Kizzie began singing again, encouraging the efforts of the monk and the ranger, and together, they got the monster on the ropes before it could hit anyone with its paralytic tentacles or its grafted-on eyestalk. But it was a well-targeted magic missile spell from Caliandra that finally slew the beast.

"Well, that's all of us but you visible now, Kizzie," remarked the sorceress. "So much for us being able to sneak up on the beholder."

"What's the deal with all of the eyestalks on these beasts?" asked Jorg. "Did somebody carve up our beholder and hand out the pieces?"

"Whatever process was used, it wouldn't have happened that fast," replied Caliandra. "When we first encountered the beholder, it had all of its eyestalks in place. One would assume it's been grafting eyestalks from others of its kind onto these...guard-beasts, I presume."

"Unless it has a means of regeneration," pointed out Darrien. "Then it could be using its own eyestalks, and allowing them to grow back."

"That...is disgusting," decided Caliandra. "But also a distinct possibility." The half-elf beamed at the implied praise at his deductions; he found himself wanting the shapely sorceress to think highly of him.

While this discussion was going on, Kizzie was checking out the fourth and final of the lower tunnels. It arced downward for a bit before leveling out, and as the halfling turned a corner and the inevitable 20-foot-diameter spherical chamber came into view, so did a hideous creature with a large, central eye, an open mouth filled with sharp teeth, and numerous eyestalks growing out from its spherical body. Kizzie stifled a shriek of terror at the sight of the beholder, but then realized it wasn't moving at all. Daring to step closer, she discovered to her immense relief that it was simply a carving, a three-dimensional projection from the far wall. She also noticed that it seemed to have more than the usual amount of eyestalks, but Kizzie didn't stop to figure out why - Vance wasn't in this room, and neither was its beholder captor, and that was all that mattered. She returned to the others and described what she had seen.

"We'll have to focus on the higher-level tunnels, then," reasoned Thomas. "I'll try this one." With that, he raced up as high as he could along the curved wall, then spun around, raced back down the way he had come - making sure to skirt around the pit in the floor - and up even higher on the opposite side of the chamber. He pulled himself up to the tunnel's level, gave the group a thumbs up, and cautiously explored the horizontal shaft, his potion-granted darkvision allowing him to see perfectly fine in the blackness of the winding corridor.

About this time, Kizzie's dancing lights spell expired. She gave a little shriek of surprise and Darrien called out for nobody to move - they were standing around a 10-foot diameter hole in the floor and he didn't want anyone to fall in. Feeling around in his backpack, he pulled out and activated a sunrod. "That's better," he said, passing it to the halfling before activating a second one for himself.

"I'm not gonna be able to run up that far like Thomas did," admitted Jorg. "Not in this armor."

"Yeah, me neither," agreed Darrien. "But this'll help." And he shot three more arrows, sending silk strands up to the other three upper tunnels. Jorg took one, Kizzie another, and Caliandra a third, with Zapper climbing up on her back as she pulled herself up the silken cord. Darrien spent almost no time at all in deciding which tunnel he'd explore, following Caliandra up the rope to the west.

Jorg pulled himself up into the southern tunnel and was pleased to see that while it veered off to the left, it remained level. Furthermore, the tunnel ended in the typical 20-foot-diameter spheroid, but this one had a floor level with the rest of the tunnel. But while Jorg tightened his grip on his weapon in anticipation of a potential fight with a beholder, when he reached the room he found it filled with statues of animals: a deer, a bear, a turtle, a rabbit, and even a racing snake.

"Hmmph," he snorted and turned to leave, but a bit of motion caught his eye - up near the ceiling, there was a bobbing form, like that of a balloon. Stepping further into the room, he saw a beholder from an unusual angle: directly below it. With a grin on his face, he swung his greatsword up into an arc, slicing into the eye tyrant's spheroid form. "This's for Vance!" he called as his blade bit deep.

The beholder roared in pain and swung around to face its enemy. "Who's there?" it demanded. "Who attacks Jvirniqqa the Maimed?"

Jorg's mouth opened in surprise. The beholder he faced had a gaping hole where its central eye had once been, and each of its ten eyestalks was nothing more than a severed stub. Apparently the fighter had found the source of the beholder eyestalks that had been grafted onto the gricks and the carrion crawler - and perhaps the spider as well. "You're not the beholder who turned Vance to stone," he said.

"No, I am not," agreed Jvirniqqa. "The one you seek is an Evil Eye, an abomination that must be slain, for it is a mutant deviating from the perfect image of the Great Mother. I will help you slay it, and then you can lead me out of his lair. Agreed?"

Jorg actually thought about it for a moment, then gave his answer with a two-handed slash with his greatsword, which carved another gash in the side of the maimed eye tyrant - or eyeless tyrant, as the case might be. Jvirniqqa roared again in pain and frustration and tried dropping down to Jorg's level, the better to bite his head off, but the half-orc fighter easily avoided the blind monster's fumbling bites. He gave it another deep gash, then realized he was wasting his time and turned to leave. Jvirniqqa tried following him, teeth gnashing and eyestalk stumps twitching in helpless futility, but he constantly bumped into the wall and bounced off. Jorg got to the end of the tunnel and climbed back down to the bottom of the central chamber, then started climbing up the way Caliandra had gone.

In the meantime, Kizzie had come to the end of the eastern tunnel. It was much shorter than the others, reaching a mere 10 feet or so before angling straight down. The spheroid chamber at the end of it was filled with water up to its equator. Standing on the side of the tunnel, Kizzie squinted to see through the water without actually entering it, and finally tossed in the sunrod Darrien had given her. It splooshed into the water, causing no creatures to fly out of the pool, and the water was clear enough for the halfling to see to the bottom once the sunrod had fully submerged. Chocking it up to a source of drinking water for the denizens of the underground network - which, Kizzie suddenly realized, consisted of creatures capable either of levitation, like the beholder, or climbing vertical surfaces like she was currently doing, and thus would have no problems lowering themselves down for a drink - she cast an unseen servant spell to retrieve the sunrod from the bottom of the pool.

Thomas was exiting his tunnel as Kizzie headed over to the tunnel Caliandra and Darrien had entered. "Anything?" she called.

"An empty chamber," the monk replied. "Possibly a beholder bedroom, for all I could tell. But no beholder."

"Then it's either in the western chamber, or the tunnel leading directly below us," reasoned the halfling.

"Let's catch up with the others, just in case."

The western tunnel, like most of the others spreading out from the central chamber's equator, remained level, although it did take a hard turn to the right halfway down its length. Caliandra opted to send Zapper down the corridor as a spy, thinking he'd have a better chance of remaining unseen by the beholder if it was in the chamber beyond. The brave little shocker lizard crawled forward slowly on its belly, scootching up silently to the spheroid at the end of the tunnel. Before he got to the end, though, he got a good idea of what was stored here: humanoid statues. He could make out a gnoll, an elven archer - and there, in the front, was the petrified form of Vance Pelorian, shield held before him and mace at the ready. "I found him, Mistress!" he called back to Caliandra in the private language they shared.

"Finally," Caliandra replied, passing the goods news on to Darrien. "We found your friend," Darrien passed on to Jorg, who had approached the half-elf in the meantime. Behind Jorg, Thomas and Kizzie were entering the tunnel as well.

And then, without warning, Vance shuffled forward, causing Zapper to retreat in confusion. He looked back at the cleric's form to confirm that he was still petrified, and sure enough, his entire form was still that of solid stone. "He's moving!" Zapper explained to his mistress.

"Vance is okay!" Caliandra exclaimed to the others, and as a group they turned the corner, expecting to see a revived Vance, somehow hale and hearty once more. Instead, Vance swung his mace at the nearest target, Thomas, who easily ducked the blow.

Thomas wasn't sure what was going on, but his combat training kicked in, and without conscious thought he ducked around Vance's stone form, positioning himself directly behind him so that one of his companions could get into a flanking position. However, in doing so, Thomas saw what hadn't been patently obvious from in front of Vance - there was a beam of light extending back from between the cleric's shoulder blades. Following the beam back to its source with his eyes, Thomas saw a beholder floating up at the top of the ceiling, one of its ten eyestalks aimed directly at the petrified form of Vance Pelorian, connecting the two with a barely-seen ray.

"Beholder!" called the monk to the others, as he rushed forward and leapt up to drive the side of his hand into the Evil Eye's underside. He had hoped it might be softer there, but the monk was disappointed in the sheer hardness of its armored form.

Jorg rushed up, eager to do battle with a worthy foe, as Darrien notched an arrow to the Arachnibow and let fly. Caliandra pulled the vial of stone salve from her pouch, popped off the top, and scooped its contents up into her fingers. Then, rushing forward and dodging a blow from Vance's mace, she wiped the salve onto the side of his arm. It glowed where it hit, and almost immediately began spreading across his arm, down his torso, and outward in all directions until his entire body glowed with an aura of transformation magic. Then, with a gasp of expelled breath, Vance Pelorian stumbled forward.

"Welcome back," Caliandra smiled at him.

"It looks like I have the opportunity for several new experiments," said the Evil Eye, a beholder mutant named Gzornyx. Addressing Thomas, who was attacking it with a flurry of hand-to-hand blows to little effect, it pondered, "I wonder what you'd look like with an eyestalk growing out of your face?" As it focused its verbal attention on the monk, several of its eyestalks suddenly shot out various-colored rays. The one that had been constantly shooting at Vance's petrified form turned off, then refocused on the gnoll statue, bringing it instantly to a semblance of life. It swung at Thomas with a stone paw, while Darrien was hit with another ray that sapped him of both his strength and dexterity. And while the monk was busy evading the petrified gnoll, he was hit in the back with another eye ray; fortunately, his inherent focus on physical perfection allowed him to shrug off whatever effects it might have brought.

Vance spun around, facing the creature that had petrified him what seemed to him like only seconds ago, back up on the surface. Deciding his best contribution to the group effort was a prayer spell, he stepped back out of the field of battle. Kizzie had similar thoughts and burst into a hearty song that bolstered her friends' fighting abilities.

Caliandra sent a lightning bolt spell cascading into Gzornyx's body; in immediate retaliation, he sent an eye ray crashing into her that caused her to turn to stone. Zapper flipped out at the apparent death of his mistress, and immediately fled down the tunnel back to the relative safety of the central chamber. In the back of the familiar's mind, though, he wondered how the eye ray - and Cali's spell, for that matter - had managed to work while within the arc of the Evil Eye's central eye. Wasn't a beholder's central eye supposed to negate all magic?

Darrien managed to get a small barrage of arrows into the Evil Eye by moving forward as he shot, narrowing the distance each arrow had to fly. Thomas continued his flurry of blows, darting around to strike the creature here with a fist and there with a well-placed kick, but it was Jorg - and his magic greatsword - that felled the vile creature. A deep gash running along its side, the Evil Eye started lowering to the floor of the statue room. The eye ray that had been animating the gnoll statue shut off, and the hyena-man froze in its new position. Gzornyx's final words were muttered in its own language, and thus had no meaning to anyone there in the room with it.

"Great, so we got Vance back but lost Cali!" grumbled Jorg. "Now what are we gonna do? We don't have any more of that gunk she used, do we?"

They did not. But Darrien offered to fetch a wagon to transport her petrified form to the Temple of Moradin in Kordovia, if they could figure out how to get her out of the underground lair in one piece. Going through their items, Jorg finally realized he had a potion of gaseous form, and that if he hefted Caliandra up into his arms while somebody fed him the potion, she ought to turn to mist along with him. There was some discussion about possibly saving the elf as well, but as he was unknown to the group they had no way of knowing his status; for all they knew, he could be a force of evil better left petrified. (In addition, Jorg was certainly strong, but not strong enough to carry them both at the same time.) Darrien promised to send word of the petrified elf's description to the elves of his small kingdom, and see if he could be identified and rescued.

But before the group left, they finished exploring the network, just in case. The bottom shaft led to a fungal garden, fortunately a source of food instead of a den of mobile monsters. The shrine with the carved beholder gave up 20 good-sized gemstones, one at the end of each of its eyestalks - Vance suggested this was likely a representation of the beholder deity, as conceived by the Evil Eye. By mutual agreement, the gemstones were sorted into five shares of four, with Caliandra and Vance splitting one share between them and a full four stones going to each of the other adventurers. Darrien pocketed his share, thinking to himself he'd rather have forgone the treasure and had Caliandra unharmed. But he made sure everybody got up to the surface safely, then hurried off on his own to Battershield Keep, leaving the others to guard their fallen sorceress's form.

Hours later, Darrien returned to the group with his teammates' mule cart, pulled by Franco and Tantrum. Caliandra's body was hauled up onto the back, and then Darrien drove it back to Kordovia, the others walking or riding with him. He knew the dwarven clerics would likely be able to restore Caliandra back to her normal flesh and blood (especially once Jorg assured him that Lord Cavelthorne would repay the dwarves the cost of the required spellcasting). During the whole ride back, Darrien thought only of how good it would be to have Caliandra back among the living. To hear her voice again, to see the warm glow of her skin...

There was no doubt about it. Darrien was smitten.

- - -

This was a welcome change of pace and an opportunity for the players to get to try out some new races and classes that they hadn't had the opportunity to play before. Vicki has lamented the fact that my well-known hatred of halflings made a halfling PC unlikely (or at least short-lived), so I thought I'd give her the opportunity to run one - and a bard at that, a class she had wondered whether it would be fun to run. (Her verdict: it was okay for a single session but she didn't think she'd have much fun running a full-time bard PC. I concur.) Dan enjoyed the relative simplicity - and high damage potential - of running a half-orc fighter, and Jacob has a newfound appreciation for the monk's good points and bad points. Logan's played sorcerers before (even a female one, in a prior campaign) so that was nothing new, but I wanted to round out the party a bit and I knew he wouldn't mind playing a PC of the opposite gender.

I don't envision having to use these NPCs as "stand-in PCs" to catch one of our normal PCs up to the others in the XP department like I did for this adventure, but they're there if we ever need them. And who knows, having a rival adventuring band, even a friendly rival one, can't be a bad thing in a campaign - we may be seeing Lord Cavelthorne's group again sometime in the future.

Oh, and after we finished this adventure Joey leveled up Darrien, so now everyone's at 8th level except for Ingebold. Joey opted to spend 2 skill points to have Darrien learn the Draconic language. I asked him to justify how Darrien would have done that, and sure enough, checking the PC sheets Caliandra speaks fluent Draconic. So I figure she was more than happy to teach him the basics in a "crash course" between this adventure and the one that follows, which I had already decided would take place a week or more later in game time. Darrien having rescued her petrified form from a beholder's lair and getting her restored to flesh and blood, I'm sure she saw it as a well-deserved reward. (And I'm sure Darrien enjoyed the one-on-one time learning the basics of Draconic from her.)

- - -

T-Shirt Worn: A light blue Red Cross T-shirt I received recently when donating blood. I figured it was a good way to represent the "new blood" of Lord Cavelthorne's band of adventurers.



PC Roster:
Binkadink Dundernoggin, gnome fighter 8​
Castillan Ivenheart, elf bounder 8​
Darrien, half-elf ranger 8​
Finoula Cloudshadow, elf ranger 8​
Gilbert Fung, human wizard 8​

NPC Roster:
Aithanar Ivenheart, elf fighter 1​
Ingebold Battershield, dwarven cleric 7 (Moradin)​

Game Session Dates: 2 July 2016 and 10 September 2016

- - -

It had been weeks since the latest assault on Kordovia by a band of orcs and goblins. As always after such an attack, the time was spent burning the bodies of the enemies, laying to rest those who had fallen while keeping Kordovia safe, and generally getting things back to normal. Darrien had spent quite a bit of time with Caliandra learning the basics of the Draconic language, and while he'd have been perfectly content continuing on with his lessons for as long as the shapely sorceress was willing to tutor him, at last the time had come for the adventurers to move on. With a saddened heart, the half-elf ranger bid farewell to the human sorceress and her shocker lizard familiar, and they each went their separate ways - Darrien to meet up with the rest of his band at the castle and Caliandra to meet up with the adventurers of her own small kingdom to the south.

The others were packing up when Darrien arrived. He threw his gear into the back of the Vistani wagon as Castillan and Aithanar made sure enough feed was loaded up in the back of the mule-driven wagon. Once everything was in readiness, Ingebold climbed up into her father's wagon and grabbed the reins of Franco and Tantrum, while Aithanar climbed up to the front seat of the Vistani wagon, ready to drive Castor and Pollux off into unknown adventure. But first....

"Pishutant?" said Aithanar in surprise, picking up a folded bit of parchment that had been lying on the seat.

"What's this?" asked the bounder, taking the parchment from his little brother.

"What what?" groused Gilbert from the back of the wagon. "Why we not going yet?"

"Somebody left a note for us," replied the bounder, flipping the parchment over and noting the seal in the wax holding the paper folded consisted of the seal of Kordovia. "Looks official," he added, popping open the seal with his dagger.

Binkadink and Finoula were already on their respective riding mounts, so rather than dismount they steered Obvious and Daisy over by Castillan. "What does it say?" asked Finoula.

Castillan unfolded the parchment and read aloud. It said:
Time is of the essence. Depart immediately for the southern part of the Vesve Forest. All will be explained to you shortly.
"Well, that's pretty straightforward," noted the bounder.

"Is it signed?" asked Binkadink.

"Nope. Got the royal seal on it, though."

"That's definitely a woman's handwriting," pointed out Finoula. "Could it be from Princess Kaelanna?" King Galrich had rescued Kaelanna as a newborn, as her elven mother wanted nothing to do with a half-dragon daughter. Opting to raise her himself, she had lived almost all of her life in Castle Kordovia, and as she was Galrich's adopted daughter, when he was elevated to king he made her a princess as one of his first royal decrees.

"Who cares?" piped up Gilbert from the back of the wagon. "We not decide which way to go yet, royal note says go to south part of forest. We go to south part of forest. Let's go!"

Without further discussion, the group got underway. As usual, Ingebold led the way in the mule cart, followed by Aithanar in the Vistani wagon, while Finoula and Binkadink trailed off to each side, Finoula's wolf loping along after Daisy. Castillan often walked ahead when exploring new territory, but as they were traveling through the kingdom to get to the Vesve Forest, he opted to sit in the open mule wagon with Darrien and Ingebold.

It was an uneventful trip, for the first hour or so. Then Gilbert, sitting in the back of the covered wagon reading through his Omnibook, got a surprise when the hidden hatch in the middle of the wagon's floor popped open and a young woman started climbing out.

"Phew!" she sighed. "It's stuffy down there! Not to mention I could feel every bump in the road!"

"Whoa, whoa, whoa!" cried Gilbert, leaping up from his seat and pulling out a wand. He had it aimed at the blond woman before she turned to the sound of his voice and he finally recognized her.

"Your Highness!" he said, awkwardly lowering his wand. "What you doing here?"

"We're on a secret mission," Princess Kaelanna responded. "But enough time has passed, and we've put a sufficient number of miles behind us, so I no longer need to hide my presence."

"Shombick fleedle scrimbooly?" asked Aithanar through the open windows on either side of him. He was certain he could hear Gilbert talking to some lady, and the fighter was sure the portly wizard had been alone when they started their journey this morning....

Gilbert approached the front window, stuck his head out, and called to the others. "Everybody stop! We have situation here!"

Several minutes later, everyone stood in a circle behind the back door of the Vistani wagon, while Princess Kaelanna held court of a sort while sitting in the open doorway. It was the closest any of the group had gotten to the princess, as she spent most of her time alone in her tower in the castle attending to her studies. She's quite beautiful, Finoula noted to herself - despite the slight greenish tinge to her skin, she had classically sculpted elven features and a head of hair so blond it was almost white. It took close scrutiny to notice the crown of narrow spikes she wore on her head was not actually a crown, but a series of thin horns jutting up through her hair.

Gilbert started the discussion. "This not a good idea! Anything happen to princess and king have our heads."

"Quite the contrary," argued the princess. "First of all, nothing is going to happen to me, as I'm traveling under the protection of the finest of Kordovia's adventuring heroes. Secondly, Father would never have you killed simply because I came to harm on this mission."

"May I ask what this mission is, Your Highness?" asked Finoula.

"It is a mission of the highest importance to Kordovia," replied Princess Kaelanna. "I would prefer not to say anything more until we get there."

"Get where?" demanded Gilbert, belatedly adding, "...Your Highness."

"I will direct you as we travel. It should only be another four or five hours. And I should like to get a move on, so we can get to where we're going, I can have my discussion, and we can be back to the kingdom before nightfall."

"Discussion? May we ask with who, Your Highness?" asked Binkadink.

"If'n she wanted ye t'know, likely she'd've told you," snapped Ingebold. "She is King Galrich's daughter; it's our responsibility to do as she says, an' t'see her safely there an' home again."

"Ingebold is correct," replied Princess Kaelanna. "As a Princess of the Kingdom, you are technically bound to obey me. And furthermore, me risking my life out here is no different than Ingebold risking hers. If Aerik Battershield can allow his daughter to go out on adventures, then how can King Galrich do any less?"

"I no sure..." mused Gilbert.

"Plus, if you don't take me on this mission and return me to the castle instead, I'll just sneak out on my own. Then I'll be gone much longer, exposed to greater dangers by myself, all alone, without a band of heroes to keep me safe."

"Wait, 'sneak out'?" repeated Darrien. "Your Highness, does King Galrich know you're on this mission?"

"Well...no," admitted the princess. "But if he knew about it, I'm sure he'd agree it's in the best interests of the kingdom for me to go meet him!"

"'Meet him?' Your Highness, you aren't trying to elope or anything, are you?" asked Finoula, imagining how angry King Galrich might be at those who helped his daughter sneak off to get married without his knowledge.

"Married? Don't be ridiculous! He's my brother, you don't get married to--" Princess Kaelanna stopped her sentence right there, aware that she'd probably just given too much away. Maybe they won't pick up on it, she thought to herself.

No such luck. Gilbert not only picked up on it, he took it one step further with a leap of conjecture. "This brother of yours, he not a dragon by any chance, is he, Your Highness?"

The princess's guilty expression told all. "As it happens, yes, he is," she admitted. "But he's really nice! And Kordovia would greatly benefit having a green dragon as an ally!"

"Whoa, whoa, whoa!" repeated Gilbert. "Green dragons -- they evil!"

"Clauguthrax is not evil!" objected Princess Kaelanna. "And I'm part green dragon! Are you saying I'm evil as well, wizard?"

Gilbert quickly thought through the ramifications of King Galrich finding out he'd tarred his daughter as evil because of her draconic heritage. After all, the King of Kordovia himself had orc blood running through his veins, and orcs were nothing but a scourge on the kingdom, but none would dare say King Galrich was evil as a result. "No, Your Majesty," he muttered quietly.

"Then we're done discussing it," she said, standing up to signify an end to her impromptu court. "We will press on and meet with Clauguthrax; I will get him to ally with Kordovia; and we'll all be back to the castle by evening. Father won't even know I've been gone, and in the event he does find out I promise I will shield you from all blame. Now then, back to your positions! Let's get back on the road!"

Everyone hurried to comply. Some stole quick glances at each other, managing to express "I've got a bad feeling about this!" without saying a word. But they were soon back on the road, winding their way through the Vesve Forest, headed south. As promised, Princess Kaelanna directed them where to go whenever they approached a fork in the road; nobody dared ask her how she knew where she was going, or how she had been in contact with a green dragon many hours from home when she seldom even left the castle, let alone the kingdom.

About four hours later, they were ambushed.

The small wagon train turned a corner on the dirt road they'd been following, and there was a downed tree ahead of them, blocking the path. Castillan, who'd been riding in the mule wagon, leaped down and raced up to check it out. Thinking to get a good vantage point from atop the downed trunk itself, he dashed forward with all his speed, leaped high into the air - snapping his fingers in mid-flight to bring his blades to hand - and only during his descent onto the trunk realized this was no tree at all. Instead, it was a mock-up constructed of intertwined webs and covered in places with branches and leaves. The bounder landed on both feet, sank into the construct nearly up to his knees, and was held fast in place.

"It's a fake! I'm stuck!" he called back to the others.

Both wagons had come to a halt at the sight of the obstruction. Darrien stood up from the back of the mule wagon and notched an arrow to the Arachnibow, looking around for danger. He spotted a spidery leg from behind a nearby tree and called out a warning to the rest of the group. And then, as if on cue, the attackers leaped out as one.

An ettercap dropped from a tree next to the mule wagon and immediately fired a strand of webbing connecting the wagon to the trunk of a sturdy tree. Another dropped down onto the top of the Vistani wagon and did the same. A third of these spider-creatures dropped down onto the false tree they had made out of webbing and moved to attack Castillan.

Inside the Vistani wagon, Gilbert hurriedly cast a false life spell on himself. "We got trouble, Your Majesty! I think you better go hide in trap door in floor!"

"What? I can help fight!" Princess Kaelanna argued.

"Spindooky flammajam!" called Aithanar as he scrambled into the wagon by crawling through one of the front windows.

"What is he saying?" asked the princess.

Aithanar had opened the trap door and was beckoning for the princess to hide inside. "He say 'Gilbert absolutely right, like always!'" the hefty wizard replied, guiding Kaelanna to the opening in the floor. Reluctantly, she dropped down into the hidden compartment and Aithanar closed the lid and stood atop it, sword raised as ready to be the last line of defense, if it came to that. "Good lad," Gilbert commented and, opening the back door to the wagon, stepped outside into a combat zone.

Three massive spiders, with leg-spans of 10 feet or more, had darted forth from their hiding spots behind trees and gone for the mules. Franco had been bitten and was rearing up, and Tantrum was doing his very best to keep another one at bay by kicking at it with his forehooves. The third had been intercepted by Binkadink and Obvious, and before the gnome could bring his glaive to good use his mount had bitten deep into one of the multijointed legs, then used that grip to bounce it up and down into the air, finishing up by jumping up and down atop the wounded spider. Binkadink took the opportunity to slide off of his mount right before the vigorous stomping began, not wanting to subject himself to that level of rodeo showmanship - past history indicated he'd likely have been thrown from the saddle in any case.

Up on the fake tree, Castillan was battling it out with one of the ettercaps. They'd traded blows a few times, but Castillan's general immobility limited his ability to get in any truly devastating strikes. He was managing to get a stab in here and there, however, while avoiding the spider-man's own venomous bites.

Finoula and Wrath were fighting the ettercap on the ground by the mule wagon, while Ingebold's attention was on a spiritual hammer she had attacking the spider that had been going for Tantrum. Darrien took a moment from shooting arrows at the spider attacking Franco to summon his giant praying mantis, and it manifested immediately behind Franco's assailant. In a blur of motion, the mantis struck out with its claws and grappled the massive spider, pinning it in place long enough for Binkadink to finish it off with his glaive. Likewise, the spider under assault by Obvious decided it had had enough and attempted to retreat back into the forest. But the jackalope was having none of that; it raced after the fleeing arachnid and stabbed it to death with his antlers, leaving its legs twitching in post-death spasms.

Gilbert saw the third ettercap was still on top of the wagon. It had managed to attach strong webbing from the wagon's top and sides to no less than three different trees, ensuring it wouldn't be going anywhere soon. The wizard blasted up at the spider-being with a charge from his wand of burning hands. In response, the ettercap shot webbing down at the wizard, immobilizing him. He then leaped down off the wagon, landing perfectly in place before Gilbert, its mandibles open wide, venom dripping from the ends of its fangs. But while Gilbert was entangled in webbing, he still had his wand of burning hands in one hand - and a false life spell providing him an extra bit of padding from true harm. He fired off a blast at point-blank range, burning through the webbing and blasting the ettercap right in its spidery face.

Ingebold stepped down from the wagon, approaching the last remaining spider with her warhammer in hand. While her spiritual hammer continued attacking the spider from the back, she did likewise from the front. Before long, it too was dead.

After she and Wrath had killed the ettercap they had been fighting, Finoula used her magic longsword to slash through the webbing adhered to the mule wagon by her now-dead foe. Then she turned and went to do the same to the webs anchoring the Vistani wagon in place. At the front of the wagon train, Castillan finally managed to slay the ettercap he'd been fighting, and then spent some time extricating himself from the web-tree.

That left only the singed ettercap by Gilbert of the original ambush party. It looked behind it and saw at a glance that all of its partners were now dead. Deciding that the mules and horses were no longer worth the effort - or the danger! - it shot a web-line into the tall branches of a nearby tree, intending to haul itself up into the trees and flee. But by then, Finoula and Wrath had approached the back of the wagon, and the wolf bit hard on the ettercap's leg as it tried to jump up onto its web. The wolf didn't manage to trip the ettercap but it held it in place just long enough for Finoula's blade to cut deep into its side. Hissing in pain, the ettercap pulled itself up onto its web and fled up to a high branch. Then, spilling a yellowish ichor from its wounds, it hissed down at its would-be prey in anger and staggered away through the branches.

After making sure that everyone was okay, the rangers used their healing skills on the mules while Gilbert burned away the fake tree made of webbing. Princess Kaelanna was released from her hidey-hole, given a full explanation as to what had occurred, and then the group was once again off to their unknown destination to meet with a green dragon that the heroes were all afraid they'd end up having to fight for their very lives, Princess Kaelanna's reassurances notwithstanding.

- - - [The first gaming session stopped here] - - -

After another half-hour of travel, Princess Kaelanna led the wagon train to a spot in a small clearing. "We shall leave the wagons and animals here," she commanded; as per the normal routine, Aithanar remained behind as well. Exiting the wagon, she led the way through the forest as if knowing exactly where she was going, although to the best of the group's knowledge the princess almost never left the castle in Kordovia.

"I still not like this!" hissed Gilbert, certain they were walking into a trap. Darrien lagged behind, far enough so he could quietly cast a spell on himself that would partially shield himself from the effects of acid-based attacks.

Finally, after about a ten-minute hike, Princess Kaelanna turned to the rest of the group and said, "Be ready, but there should be no danger. I will do all of the talking." And then she strode forward past some bushes into a small clearing, calling out "Clauguthrax! I am here, as we discussed!"

Almost immediately, a reptilian head rose up from a cave opening in the forest floor some fifty feet before her. As the great beast exited his subterranean lair, the heroes marveled at his size; Gilbert blanched, realizing this gargantuan dragon was much more than they'd be able to handle, if it came to a fight.

"Kaelanna, my dear little half-sister, it is good to finally meet you in person. So, you're an elf – how exactly did that come to be?" asked the green dragon good-naturedly. He didn't even seem to have even noticed the rest of the group.

"How did I become dragonblooded?" asked Princess Kaelanna. "My first father was an elf, of whom I know nothing; the green dragon Antharvalos was my second father, by imbuing his essence into me while my elven mother was still pregnant; and now King Galrich is my third father."

"King Galrich, you say?" asked the dragon, bemused. "Then I am in the presence of royalty?"

"Adopted royalty, in any case, but yes," replied Kaelanna.

"And these others?" the dragon asked, finally looking at the assembled heroes for the first time. "Did you perchance bring them to me as a snack?"

Here we go! thought Gilbert. If I start with an Evard's black tentacles spell, I can hopefully immobilize him, so all we have to worry about is his breath weapon.... But before he could start the words to his spell, Princess Kaelanna made a "calm down, I've got this" motion with her hand. "These are my loyal retainers from the Kingdom of Kordovia," she responded. Clauguthrax seemed a bit miffed at that.

"Well then," he decided, "if I'm not to eat them, then perhaps I can put them to good use while we have our little chat. See if they can do something about these blasted squirrels! Their incessant chattering drives me crazy!" The heroes listened carefully, but nobody could hear any squirrel chattering - it must be true, what they said about enhanced draconic senses.

"You want us to leave, go hunt squirrels?" reiterated Gilbert, relieved at the opportunity to get away from this dangerous threat.

"Whatever it takes to get them to be silent!" agreed Clauguthrax.

That sounded like a great idea to Gilbert Fung; he'd be willing to go square-dancing with squirrels if it meant getting away from the presence of the immense green dragon who might change his mind at any moment about gobbling them down as a snack.

"We cannot be leavin' ye behind, me Princess," argued Ingebold.

"I am perfectly safe here, with my half-brother to protect me," replied the princess. Ingebold couldn't think of a good way to voice her concern that it was the half-brother she was worried about, but the dragon interceded on her behalf, amused at the thought that the little dwarf thought she could actually protect Kaelanna from him, if it came down to that. "You're certainly welcome to keep your bodyguard close at hand," said the dragon.

"Then I'll be here, at the end of th' clearing," offered Ingebold, stepping out of earshot to allow them their privacy, but still near enough to come running at the first sign of trouble.

"Are you sure about this?" asked Finoula.

"I cannae leave th' princess," replied Ingebold. "Ye go on; I dinnae think ye'll be needin' much healin' in a fight against squirrels. An' if'n ye do, ye've plenty of potions t' tide ye over."

"She right - let's go!" suggested Gilbert, ushering the rest of the group away from the dragon's lair. Once at a sufficient distance, he said, "Okay, how we deal with squirrels? Kill them all?"

"What?" replied Finoula, shocked at the thought. "Slaughtering squirrels, that's your solution? What will that solve?"

"Dragon gets good night sleep, we get plenty of meat for cookpot."

"Squirrel meat's pretty good," admitted Darrien, who had killed his fair share of them in the past.

"There's got to be a better way."

"Why don't we see what the squirrels have to say?" asked Binkadink, elevating himself up to his highest with his gnomish stilt-boots and making chattering noises up at the trees. His queries, in the language of burrowing mammals, were quickly answered; although the others hadn't picked up on it, the further away from the dragon's cave the group had walked, the louder the squirrel-chattering had become.

"What seems to be the trouble?" asked the little gnome. Given their relative intelligence, their answer was provided in little snippets of words.

"Snakes. Men. Both. Badsnakes. Sing. Bad. Badsong. Sing badsong. Climbers die. Gulp! Eaten. Climbers run. Climb. High. Badsnakes climb. Badsong. Fall. Die. Eaten. Bad. Warn climbers. Badsnakes come!" The squirrels were visibly shaken at the memories, and several fled at the repetition of the events of recent days.

"Can one of you lead us to where we can find the badsnakes?" asked Binkadink, but the squirrels all fled, screaming their warnings to their neighbors. The gnome translated his findings to the others.

"You think these are the same snakemen from the Henderson farm?" asked Castillan, thinking back to the group's very first adventure together.

"They called 'yuan-ti'," replied Gilbert. "And who knows? Could be. They not normally found here, anyway - like hotter climate. Weird to find one group, weirder to find two. They probably same ones."

Wandering around and letting Binkadink call up to the trees, the group eventually found a squirrel of braver demeanor willing to lead them to the "badsnakes." He was only willing to get as close as eight or ten trees away, though, before pointing out "that way," and scampering away in the opposite direction at maximum speed. The group headed in that direction with weapons drawn, the rangers Darrien and Finoula leading the way. Before long, they found a small pile of assorted bones, not only of numerous squirrels but also small woodland creatures like the occasional badger or woodchuck. Darrien recalled for the group that many snakes swallowed their prey, digested them whole, and then disgorged the bones.

"The lair's probably close by," offered Finoula - and she was right, for hidden in the shadows of the surrounding trees was a hole, not quite three feet in diameter, angling down into the earth from between the roots of a great oak tree. "This looks like it," said Binkadink, crouching down and walking in, only to return after a few moments, crestfallen.

"What's the matter?" asked Darrien.

"Sharp turns," replied Binkadink. "My glaives are too long to fit."

"Give 'em here," offered Castillan, taking the two ten-foot-long polearms and balancing them across a pair of low branches. "We'll come back for them after we've dealt with whatever's inside."

Binkadink made do with his greatclub in hand, then crouched over and re-entered the low tunnel. Finoula followed, crawling on hands and knees. "You coming?" she asked the others, but they opted to let the first two check it out first.

The low tunnel of hard-packed dirt made frequent dips and turns but eventually opened up into a larger chamber. The twin everburning torches tied to the antlers of the little gnome's helmet lit the way; just ahead, Binkadink saw a stick lying across the floor in the place where the tunnel opened out into the greater chamber. Not trusting it, he reached in and tried pulling it into the tunnel with it, and doing so he triggered the trap: one end of the stick jostled one of a pair of upraised sticks on either side of the tunnel entrance, allowing the small branch they were supporting to come crashing down - on the spot Binkadink would be occupying had he simply walked or crawled into the chamber. The branch had several sharpened rib-bones sticking out of it in all directions, which could have done him some harm - but it hadn't, so Binkadink congratulated himself as doing as fine a job of trap-avoidance as Castillan could have done. He stepped into the empty chamber, beckoning to Finoula that it was safe to follow.

Looking around, the two were in a roughly circular chamber with a curved ceiling, about eight feet tall in the center. There was the occasional root coming out from the ceiling, but the ranger noted there wasn't enough materials to work with to fuel an entangle spell. The only other feature was another low tunnel leading north.

"It's safe to come on down, you big sissies!" Finoula called up to the remaining heroes - and simultaneously alerting the rest of the inhabitants of the underground den that there were intruders about.

Once Darrien, Castillan, and Gilbert had entered the larger chamber, Binkadink scouted head through the low tunnel to the north. Behind him, Finoula, Darrien, and Castillan got down on hands and knees to follow, while Gilbert loitered around at the entrance, examining the crude workmanship of the bone-branch. As the gnome approached the end of the short tunnel, he could see it opened into a much smaller chamber, with a diagonal tunnel leading down to a lower level - and a guard popping around a corner from the right!

The snakeman slithered along the floor of the chamber, bent low to face the tunnel, opened its mouth wide, and gave forth a sonic howl that rattled the teeth in the little gnome's head. He, along with those behind him (except for Gilbert, who was safely out of range), cried out in pain, while the snakeman doubled back the way he'd come. By the time Binkadink entered the small guard chamber, the snakeman was gone. The gnome raced down the sloping tunnel - the only way the snakeman could have gone - and very nearly lost his balance, as the tunnel dropped at about a 45-degree slop, before angling straight down for a few feet, finally opening into another round chamber from the ceiling.

Binkadink plopped onto the floor of this lower chamber. It too was about eight feet tall at its highest point and had a large steel shield propped up against the northern wall, but the gnome's attention was focused on the two snakemen in the chamber with him, one to the north and one to the south. Each held an odd-looking weapon, a long, metal shaft with a small, round ball on the end, rather like an extra-long mace. Binkadink got to experience these "floggers" in action, as each of his serpentine foes closed and whacked the gnome with their weapons. Binkadink raised his arms to fend off the blows, and was completely surprised by the direction of his next attack. Finoula, having entered the diagonal tunnel behind the gnome but having opted to travel head-first, lost her balance along the steep slope and came crashing down onto the befuddled gnome. The yuan-ti applied their floggers to the elven ranger with vigor, causing her quite a bit of damage, for her armor wasn't metal like that of her gnome companion. She got out a hit against one with her longsword, but was disappointed to note that the additional sonic damage didn't seem to faze the serpent.

Castillan was the next to enter the chamber; using his training as a bounder, he managed to land on his feet along the western edge, Snapping his fingers as he landed, his blades popped into his hands, ready for combat.

In the guardian chamber above, Darrien took the time to unstrap his Arachnibow from his back, allowing Gilbert to enter next. The heavyset wizard cast both expeditious retreat and spider climb upon himself, then sped-crawled down the sloping tunnel, scampering along the ceiling of the lower chamber once he got there. Behind him, Darrien followed Finoula's earlier example and entered the sloping tunnel head-first, hoping it would widen at the bottom and he could shoot arrows at the enemies below. It didn't work out that way for him; he had to forego his bow-shots in the cramped tunnel, and thus did the only thing he could do from his current position: raise a hand to his amber necklace and summon forth the giant praying mantis stored within.

In the chamber below, the yuan-ti Binkadink had chased into the chamber bellowed forth a sonic attack that once again hit all but Gilbert (and the mantis that was just now forming along the eastern side of the chamber); the gnome, crawling out from underneath Finoula and receiving a bash from a flogger for his efforts, belatedly recognized this as the "badsong" described by the squirrels topside. Finoula collapsed into immediate unconsciousness from the sonic attack, having already suffered many blows by the odd flogger-weapons. Seeing this, Gilbert cast a hasty fire shield spell on himself and dropped from the ceiling, positioning himself between the southern snakeman and the unconscious ranger. Hoping to draw the yuan-ti's attacks onto himself, he grabbed up a magic wand - his wand of false life - and waved it in the reptilian foe's face.

Castillan took the opportunity of the yuan-ti's concentration on Gilbert to stab his blade between the reptile's scales. It slid in deep, sliding back out covered in deep, red blood. At the same time, the mantis struck from the other side, catching the snakeman in its claws but failing to purchase a hold. Binkadink stood up and slammed his greatclub into the yuan-ti as well; everyone was hoping to kill it before it could produce its own blast of "badsong."

Given a plethora of enemies, the yuan-ti did just what Gilbert had hoped and struck at him, slamming him twice with his metal flogger weapon. Each blow activated the wizard's protective fire shield spell, but Gilbert was disappointed to see the reptile shrug off the effects of the retaliatory fire attacks. These sonic yuan-ti resist fire as well! he thought to himself.

Castillan got in another good attack against the southernmost snakeman; this attack was enough to finally slay it. Gilbert took the opportunity to apply his wand of false life to Finoula's unconscious form; the elven ranger woke up with a splitting headache from the sonic attacks, but struggled to her feet with her blades in hand.

Binkadink focused his attention on the remaining of these sonic yuan-ti, smashing his greatclub against the beast's side, while it returned a couple of blows with its flogger in retaliation. Heavily wounded by this time, Gilbert, Finoula, and Castillan each took a swig from their potions of healing in an attempt to stay in the fight, each fearing the remaining snakeman's next "badsong" might otherwise take them down.

The mantis struck out at the yuan-ti with blinding speed, grasping it in its foreclaws and biting deep as it grappled the snakeman. Gilbert looked around and his eye caught what looked like a hole behind the shield propped along the north wall. "This not good!" he called, kicking the shield away and revealing another narrow tunnel sloping upward to the surface.

Darrien dropped to the chamber, just as the last remaining yuan-ti was slain. Pointing to the revealed tunnel, Gilbert said, "There might still be third yuan-ti alive!" The truth of his statement was indicated by an angry hissing from the tunnel coming from the ceiling above, as the third sonic yuan-ti, having escaped from the chamber before the heroes entered, had raced back to the front entrance in hoped of catching the intruders in a pincer maneuver.

Darrien quickly deployed his mantis to the upper tunnel; the great insect flew up into the tunnel just as the third foe crawled into view. The mantis snatched out with its grasping claws, catching the surprised reptile in a grapple and then biting at it with its mouthparts - but then it simply vanished, its duration having expired. Looking down at his amber amulet, Darrien saw the mantis had returned to its normal stasis within.

However, the temporary reprieve had given the heroes time to magically mend their wounds with more frantic swigs of healing potions. The sonic yuan-ti surprised the heroes by not entering the chamber to fight them; rather, it kept the bulk of its serpentine length in the tunnel above and dropped its humanoid torso down from the hole in the ceiling, swing at the nearest target - Finoula - with an oversized scimitar. Once again, the elf dropped to unconsciousness from the blow, and Gilbert swore under his breath at their lack of a cleric on this "perfectly safe squirrel-hunting" mission. He cast a grease spell up at the tunnel, causing the surprised snakeman to come plopping down in a heap of serpentine coils onto the hard-packed floor of the lower chamber. The air knocked out of it, it didn't stand a chance; ringed by angry adventurers, it was pummeled by various weapons until slain.

As Gilbert carefully pulled one of Finoula's healing potions from her belt and poured its contents down her throat, Castillan checked out the large steel shield. It had a scroll tube wedged in a compartment on its inner surface. He pulled it out and removed the sheet of parchment from inside, but it was covered in arcane runes he couldn't read. Passing it along to Gilbert, he focused his attention on the exit passageway. It was lined with sharp sticks pointing towards the exit, apparently so that exiting would be a simple matter but the sonic yuan-ti need not worry about anyone sneaking in from that direction.

"Bah!" scoffed Gilbert, after having cast a read magic spell to determine the scrolls' contents. "It a reincarnation spell, for druid! What we do with that?" But by then Finoula had awakened yet again, and slowly sat up, looking all around her. "What happened?" she asked.

"You asleep on job again!" groused Gilbert, hiding the fact that he had worried about her safety throughout this entire battle. Finoula noted his arm was still wrapped protectively around her shoulder; with a look at the wizard, he quickly removed it. "Let's get back to dragon, see if he eaten our princess and cleric yet!" he said.

Fortunately, both Princess Kaelanna and Ingebold were in fine health upon their return. Binkadink had called out to the squirrels during their return, telling them the "badsnakes" had been killed and they need not worry any more, and that furthermore they should avoid nesting in the vicinity of the dragon's den.

"Are you sure you need all of your retainers?" asked Clauguthrax. "I could do with a snack." The group, not sure if he was just kidding, offered to bring him forth the slain bodies of the trio of sonic yuan-ti. Doing so meant slogging back over to their den, but the portable hole - which they had to grab from Ingebold before they set off - made the job much easier than it would have been otherwise. Satisfied with his snack, Clauguthrax said his farewell to his half-sister and the group returned to the wagons, eager to get the princess back to the castle before she was missed. Inexplicably, Princess Kaelanna's white-blond locks turned a bright pink on the way back to the Vistani wagon.

"So, were you successful, Your Highness?" asked Finoula as she rode Daisy back alongside the Vistani wagon as they trundled on home to Kordovia.

"I think so," Princess Kaelanna gushed. "He said he'll think about it, but I think he can be swayed to assist the kingdom in times of need."

However, once Princess Kaelanna had been successfully smuggled back into the castle - her hair having returned to its normal color after an hour or so of its sudden pinkness - the group was faced with another dilemma. Before they let her depart, Finoula - who the group had tasked with being the one to give her the ultimatum, thinking because they both shared an elven heritage Kaelanna might heed Finoula's advice where she might not if it were given by someone else - asked for a final word.

"Your Highness, you have to tell King Galrich about what we've done today," Finoula said.

"I will, in time, once I've received Clauguthrax's final decision. He will be pleased with our efforts, I think."

"I'm not sure that will be his first reaction," argued Finoula. "I can't imagine he'll be too happy with your sneaking away from the safety of the kingdom - or with us having assisted you."

"I've already told you, I'll make sure Father does not punish you for assisting me."

"And you're assuming the dragon will agree to aid us," added Finoula. "It's possible that he may opt not to assist us, or - worse yet - to attack us. That Antharvalos -- isn't he the green dragon that King Galrich helped slay as an adventurer? Isn't it possible that Clauguthrax will seek revenge, especially now that he knows where King Galrich is to be found?"

"He'd never do that -- he's my brother!" replied Kaelanna. "He'd never do anything to harm me!"

"Your Majesty, I hope that you're correct. But King Galrich needs to know about what we've done, at the very least so that he may make preparations for the worst - even though that'll likely never come to pass," she hastily added, seeing the anger rise in the princess.

The half-dragon seemed to think on Finoula's words. And then the elven ranger added the ultimatum: "If you don't tell His Majesty, Your Highness, then I'm afraid we will have to do so ourselves."

Princess Kaelanna's eyes narrowed in anger. "You would do what I expressly forbid?"

Finoula was resolute. "Our loyalties are to the kingdom, and to King Galrich, before to yourself, your Highness."

The half-dragon princess seemed to be exerting a great effort to calm her emotions. Finally, she trusted herself to speak. "Very well," she conceded. "I will talk to Father myself."

"Very good, Your Highness," Finoula responded, bowing low at the princess's exit.

The others sidled up to Finoula after the princess had stormed out. "Hey, nicely put," offered Castillan.

"Yeah, good job!" added Darrien.

"Yeah - it almost make up for you sleeping on job during fight with snakemen!" interjected Gilbert, earning him a swat on the arm.

- - -

Wow! When we played the first half of this adventure on the 2nd of July, I had no idea it would be a full ten weeks before we'd have another opportunity to game. But we had all kinds of things pop up to block our potential gaming weekends, and it was only last Saturday before we were able to finish the adventure. We gamed for a full six hours, finishing this adventure and then going through the adventure that follows. And we've already set the next game day for two weeks from last Saturday, so hopefully we can avoid ten-week gaps between sessions in the future.

- - -

T-Shirt Worn: We started this adventure at the end of the same session that we had run through "The Evil Eye," so I was still wearing my Red Cross T-shirt. But that was still thematically appropriate, as Kaelanna was seeking a "blood relative." For the second gaming session, I went for broke and wore a black T-shirt with a green dragon on it - there was no need to keep it a surprise, since by that time the players all knew they were headed into an encounter with a green dragon.
Last edited:



Game Session Date: 10 September 2016

- - -

I'm going to break one of my own self-imposed rules for this campaign - and this Story Hour - and detail the events of our next adventure, "Rimbule the Metamorph." I had originally fully intended not to use any published material for the entirety of this campaign, but "Rimbule the Metamorph" is an adventure I had written and submitted to Dungeon magazine, where it was rejected - but then subsequently printed in Mongoose Publishing's Signs & Portents magazine when I decided to give it a shot there. Hopefully, those of you reading this write-up won't be running your own PCs through this adventure, but given that it was published in 2004 back in issue #7 of a magazine that's now been out of print for years, I'm hoping my spilling these details will have a very minimal impact on anyone reading this.

- - -

After returning Princess Kaelanna to the castle, it was kind of pointless to head back out again given the scant amount of daylight left in the day, so the Kordovian Adventurers Guild members opted to spend the night at Battershield Keep and get a fresh start in the morning. Now, several hours past the light of the new dawn, the team was once again traveling through the Vesve Forest - but Ingebold, in the mule-driven wagon, opted to avoid the roads that would take them anywhere near the lair of Clauguthrax. Aithanar followed her lead in the Vistani wagon, while Binkadink and Finoula rode their respective mounts to either side as usual, Wrath loping alongside the pony of his mistress.

A sudden scream from just ahead brought both wagons to an immediate halt. Binkadink, riding on Obvious on the right side of the dirt road near where the scream had come from, sent his jackalope scampering over to the underbrush, seeking the point of origin of the scream. They arrived just in time to see a young woman's face twisted in apparent agony, her right hand clawing at the ground in an attempt to stop being pulled backwards into the scrub - and then she was gone.

"Over here!" called the gnome to his companions, before sending Obvious plunging through the undergrowth.

Castillan, who had been riding on top of the Vistani wagon's roof as a lookout, leaped down to the right and went scouting ahead towards where Binkadink and his jackalope mount had left the road - and where further screams were now emanating, including what sounded like a gasp of surprise from the gnomish fighter. The door at the back of the Vistani wagon opened and Gilbert Fung stepped out, grumbling about having stopped. He stormed over toward the mule wagon, but came to an abrupt halt at the movement along the growths between the trees to the side of the road, as eight dark figures stepped out from the forest. Each was the size of a man, but stood in a hunched posture as better fit their ratlike build. Whiskers twitching, pink tails dragging behind them, their faces grimaced in what were apparently broad smiles as they called out to each other.

"Dibs on the fat one!"

"I got the one in the wagon!"

"The dwarf chick's mine!"

"Guys, there are plenty to go around! We'll all get points for this lot!"

Darrien, having gathered from their conversation that these ratmen meant them no good, stood up in the back of the mule wagon where he'd been riding, took aim with his Arachnibow, and placed a second arrow into the chest of a ratman before the creature had even noticed the first arrow the ranger had placed there but a second prior. With a high-pitched squeal of pain and surprise, the ratman fell backwards, dead.

Finoula led her pony Daisy around the back of the Vistani wagon, uncoiling her whip of thorns. Wrath followed her, then made a rush for the ratman the furthest back from his fellows. As the ranger's whip caught up the second ratman in line and pulled him prone, the wolf bit deep into the first ratman's leg and dragged him to the ground. Between the wolf's teeth and the whip's thorns, neither of the two ratmen got back up again alive.

Ingebold dropped the mules' reins and leaped to the ground, her warhammer in hand. "Dwarf chick, eh?" she repeated, swinging her weapon menacingly.

In the meantime, three of the ratmen had surrounded Castillan in a semicircle and had gotten in a few bites, causing the bounder - with the threat of wolf lycanthropy still hanging over his head - to wonder if he was facing wererats, and if so, what would happen if he caught rat lycanthropy on top of the wolven strain he'd likely already picked up. The bounder snapped his weapons into his hands and went to stab at the ratman at his left, only to have him drop to the ground, one of Darrien's arrows embedded in his throat. Castillan switched targets over to the next one, only to have the same thing happen. He was quicker than the ranger the third time, though, his short sword plunging into the ratman's side. "Nice of you to leave me one!" he called back to his friend.

Past the ring of roadside trees, Binkadink and Obvious saw who was pulling the woman back - and just how much of a "woman" she really was. The aggressor was a male centaur with elven facial features, tugging on a rope tied to the woman's back leg. But her back leg was that of a tortoise, as was her other leg and her left arm and hand - complete with a hardened shell covering her entire body. Only her head and her right arm and hand were still human. But, odd hybrid creature or not, Binkadink was moved by her screams to do what he could to help - which consisted of encouraging Obvious forward enough to bring his gnomish glaive to bear, slicing the rope in twain with a single downward thrust. The centaur staggered backward, and Obvious turned to face him. Binkadink raised his glaive to ward off the centaur, but the tortoise-woman called out, "Don't hurt him! He's been charmed into preventing my escape!"

Back at the roadside, Gilbert cast a burning hands spell over Ingebold's head to set the fur of an approaching ratman ablaze, while the cleric brought down the last of the eight with her warhammer. Seeing no further threats, the group jointly decided to leave Aithanar and the animals with the wagons, while they went to find Binkadink and Obvious on foot.

Stepping between the trees, Gilbert's highly-attuned magic senses were triggered. "This an illusion," he said, indicating the trees and heavy undergrowth all around them. It was a very accurately-cast hallucinatory terrain spell, or rather a series of overlapping spells of the same type, cast to prevent anyone from outside the perimeter of the ring of spells from being able to see inside. Only once inside the ring did the hidden grove come into view.

A broad clearing, roughly circular, covered hundreds of feet straight ahead. Right about in its center stood a two-story, circular stone keep surrounded by a palisade and a moat. There was a pond nearby and a small obelisk, with a few figures here and there. But of immediate interest were the tortoise-woman and the centaur directly in front of Obvious and Binkadink. "What the Hell?" asked Gilbert Fung, never one to let his true feelings be hidden. "What you supposed to be?"

My name is--well, you might as well call me Turtle," said the hybrid. "The centaur is named Valgard. Until recently, he was an elf." Valgard nodded his agreement, or possibly it was intended as a welcome, for he was not actively trying to fight the heroes, as none of them were attempting to leave the hidden grove.

"There are a few more freaks up ahead," said Turtle. "I'll introduce you to them." And she started crawling towards the pond and the obelisk at tortoise speed. Valgard and the heroes followed her.

"All of us were, at one time or another, captured by a wizard named Rimbule, or by the ratmen he has in his employ," began Turtle.

"We killed eight of them on the road," offered Castillan.

"You did? Did you happen to remove their rings?" At the bounder's negative reply, Turtle explained: "The ratmen are the only ones allowed to exit the grove. There are magical alarm symbols hidden all the way throughout the edges of the grove. Once you get too close, they start causing you intense pain, which gets increasingly worse with every step you take towards safety. I was trying to fight my way past the pain and get out, but Valgard dragged me back. He's been charmed by Rimbule to keep those of us with our own free wills from escaping. So has Gandlebain here, too, another elf captive." Another beast-man loped up to the group, his upper body that of an elf, his lower half that of a goat. "Rimbule's made a satyr out of him."

"So what were ye supposed to be?" asked Ingebold.

"The gods only know," lamented Turtle. "Some sort of humanoid turtle, I imagine. I was one of his earliest human test subjects. As you can see, he got increasingly better over the years. Come on down here, Jolinda, they're not here to hurt us." A bird-woman flapped her wings and alit from the top of the nine-foot-tall obelisk, landing on the ground by Turtle. "Jolinda was a trader, traveling through the forest, before she was abducted by the ratmen and turned into a fake harpy." The heroes could see that despite the harpy build, Jolinda's human part was quite beautiful - unlike any true harpies, who were universally ugly in appearance. She was also a harpy in build only, lacking any of the magical song-based abilities of a true harpy.

"This is another one of Rimbule's early works: we just call him Snake." Turtle pointed out a shambling form, a man-sized reptile with a human left leg and right arm jutting out from an otherwise serpentine form; the creature tried walking upright like a man, shuffling along on his one leg and using his curved snake body as an impromptu second standing limb. "Snake's mind's all gone," Turtle said, as Jolinda flapped her wings and made for the safety of the top of the obelisk once again. "He'll try to eat you, but he's slow enough we can all pretty much avoid him."

Turtle led the others to another hulking form, this one looking like a man-sized minotaur - until he turned around, exposing the udders hanging between his legs. "We call this one Minotaur," Turtle said. "His mind's that of a cow. He's a nice enough sort, does nothing but eat, sleep, and low when he wants milked." Castillan couldn't help sneering at the concept.

"And that's all of us, except for Tukio," said Turtle, changing direction and heading for the pond. "She doesn't need to be charmed to stay where she's at, as you'll see." A ripple in the middle of the pond became an arrow-shaped wave as an unseen form headed towards the group. Surfacing, the heroes saw a lovely young woman, with almond eyes like Gilbert's...and the lower half of a giant trout. "Rimbule's very own mermaid," Turtle commented.

"So, I assume this Rimbule lives over in the keep?" asked Binkadink. "Maybe we can convince him to change you all back."

"I'm not sure if that's even possible," lamented Turtle. "But we'd all appreciate it if you were able to."

"What can you tell us about him?" asked Finoula.

"He's a wizard - a transmuter, not surprisingly. He has three women helping him. I don't know what their deal is, but he never uses them for his experiments."

"Watch out for the dark-haired one," offered Tukio. "Her name's Tchiu -- she's crazy!"

"You can't miss her: she has a demon-skull tattoo across half of her face," added Turtle.

"Sounds lovely," muttered Darrien.

Turtle picked up a stick and started drawing a map of the keep in the dirt. "There are two floors above, and at least one level underground," she said. "I've only ever been in the upper rooms, back before...you know." She explained the layout she'd drawn, pointing out the rooms where Rimbule spent most of his time.

"We'll have to get past the moat, and the wall around the keep," pointed out Darrien, squinting at the keep.

"There's an owlbear in the moat," warned Turtle. "The ratmen feed him spare parts from Rimbule's experiments."

"What their deal?" asked Gilbert. "He turn them into monsters - why they work for him?"

"They have an exclusive deal with Rimbule," explained Jolinda from her perch. "They can buy their way back to human form - after a ratman supplies Rimbule with ten victims, he'll return him to his human form."

"So he say," scoffed Gilbert. "And they believe him?"

"I've seen it happen, at least twice," countered Turtle. "Each time, the former ratman strolled out of the grove a free man."

"Hmmm," Gilbert mused. Then, changing subjects, he turned towards Jolinda. "You! Bird-girl! You think you can fly to top of keep carrying gnome?"

Jolinda blanched at the very thought, and rapidly shook her head. "No way. That's too high! I'm...I don't like heights." Gilbert rolled his eyes and made a rude noise with his lips.

"I know of another way in," offered Tukio. That got everyone's attention, and they turned to face the young mermaid.

"At the bottom of the pond, there's an underwater passageway that leads to the keep," she said. It ends at a well, in a pitch-black room somewhere in the keep's lower level." Darrien looked over at the keep, judging the distance. "I don't know," he said. "That's an awful long distance for us to be holding our breath underwater," he began.

"Not so hard if we inside portable hole!" replied Gilbert, turning to Ingebold. "Open up hole, so we all climb inside!" The dwarven cleric scowled at Gilbert's choice of words, but pulled out the portable hole - which she kept rolled up in a scroll case at her belt - and explained its usage to Tukio. The mermaid agreed to roll up the item, swim to the well, and open the hole on the side of the well.

"You stay here, and look after the others," said Binkadink to Obvious in the burrowing-mammal language they shared. The jackalope nodded its antlered head in response, and hippity-hopped over by Turtle.

"Anything else we should know about before we go in?" asked Finoula.

Turtle and Tukio looked at each other, thinking, before they both blurted out "Batcat!"

"Rimbule's got a cat familiar that he upgraded," explained Turtle. "Now it has bat wings and a bat's head. It's a creepy little thing. Anyway, he often spies on us, making sure we're not up to anything, and reports back to Rimbule."

"If you see it, kill it," recommended Tukio. And with that, the heroes stepped into the extradimensional space of the portable hole, Tukio rolled it up, and they waited while she swam through the underwater tunnel to the keep. There wasn't much air inside the space, and the air that was there was stale, but at least the two everburning torches on Binkadink's helmet-antlers gave them enough light to see by. After several minutes, there was a breeze of equally-stale air, bringing with it the smell of fresh water. "There you go," said Tukio," and suddenly, there she was, her wet skin gleaming in the light of Binkadink's torches as she spread the portable hole open along the side of the well's interior. "Good luck!" she called to the heroes before ducking back down beneath the surface of the water.

Darrien stepped up to the edge of the hole, now in a vertical orientation although it had been flat on the ground when they stepped into it. Aiming at the ceiling in the magical torchlight with his Arachnibow, he shot an arrow that became a web-strand by the time it hit. He gave it a good tug to make sure it was secure, then passed it over to Castillan, their resident climbing expert. The bounder was up the line in no time, kicking himself over the top of the well and looking around in the dim light. The room wasn't much bigger than the well, with just enough room to walk around it. But then, as Darrien started climbing up the web-line, Castillan's keen elven senses detected a hidden door along one wall. As Castillan worked out how to open it, Gilbert called back to Darrien to fold up the portable hole on his way up the web-line.

"Anything to prevent a little effort on your part," scoffed Finoula.

"Actually, that was a pretty good idea," remarked Binkadink. "I wasn't really looking forward to climbing that line in this armor."

"Nor I, now that ye come t' mention it," added Ingebold. Finoula just shrugged and waited for the extradimensional portal to open back up. By the time they climbed out, they were no longer in the well room - they were in the room on the other side of the secret door Castillan had unearthed. This was a storage room of some sort, filled with clutter from a half-dozen merchant wagons - likely those attacked by the ratmen while in search of victims for their master's experiments. Now that the adventurers were out of the magical hole, the bounder wasted no time filling the extradimensional space with everything of value he could find in the room. Elven wine, chain mail armor, assorted weapons, blankets, pottery, carved stone gargoyle statuettes - in it all went. "We'll sort through it all later," he explained.

After rolling the portable hole back up, Castillan opened the only door leading out of the room a crack and peered out. There were everburning torches in sconces along the wall, providing enough illumination to see a couple of doors on either side of a short hallway and a set of stairs leading up to the upper levels. "Clear," he said, just as the sound of a slamming door came from the door to the left.

Quickly tiptoeing up to the door, Castillan opened it an inch and peered through. The narrow corridor on the other side was curved like a rainbow, with a series of four metal cell doors visible - and probably another two or three around the bend that the bounder couldn't see. Castillan heard a feminine voice say, "That should hold you for awhile," then a rattle of keys.

Quickly whispering the details of what he'd seen to the others, they decided to set up station for an ambush. Finoula went halfway up the stairs to keep watch for any intruders from that direction, while a few steps lower Darrien had his Arachnibow trained on the door to the cell block. Castillan had the best position for which to strike the jailer; as soon as the door opened and she stepped through, he'd be able to strike with both blades. The others were out of immediate visibility but ready to strike out as needed.

They weren't needed; as soon as the jailer stepped through the doorway, Castillan struck. Seeing a very good-looking redhead standing before him, though, he had a sudden change of heart and swung his blades around before striking her with them; as a result, he struck her with the blunt ends of his weapon-hilts, one at each temple, and she crumpled in his arms.

"Give me a hand with her," he hissed to the others. Gilbert stepped forward and grabbed her legs, and they carried her back into the storage room. There, she was thoroughly bound and gagged and stashed in the corner.

"And just what do you plan to do with her now?" asked Finoula.

"I want to interrogate her," replied Castillan. "I only gagged her in case she wakes up before we're ready. Ingebold, do you have a zone of truth spell prepared?"

"Aye," replied the dwarven cleric, beginning the words to the spell. At the same time, Gilbert cast a magic circle against evil spell upon himself, then stood over at the other end of the room. "We see if her answers change once I walk forward and she in spell's range," he declared.

The young woman's eyelids began to flutter and she looked around her in sudden fear, finding a group of strangers huddled around her. Castillan stepped forward. "We're not going to hurt you," he said. "I'm going to remove the gag from your mouth. You won't scream, will you?" The frightened woman shook her head rapidly and the bounder released the gag. "What's your name?" he asked.

"Morghan," she responded in a fearful voice.

"Why you helping Rimbule?"

"I--I don't want to end up a hybrid freak, like those others."

"How many others does Rimbule have working for him?"

"Two others, like me," Morghan replied. "Their names are Tchiu and Kharn." Even without the zone of truth spell active, Tchiu's name tracked with what Tukio and Turtle had told the group earlier. "And he has a bunch of rat-people working for him, too."

"We took care of them earlier," Castillan reassured her.

Gilbert stepped forward and took over the questioning. "You spellcaster?" he demanded.


"You a cleric?"


"What you do before you work for Rimbule?"

Morghan took a moment to compose her thoughts before answering, which Finoula noticed immediately and attributed to her trying to evade the truth while under a spell preventing her from out-and-out lying. "We traveled, the three of us," she said. "We had various interactions with different people along the way."

"That's a pretty evasive answer," pointed out Finoula, already placing Morghan firmly on the "people we shouldn't trust" list.

"Who guys in cells?" continued Gilbert.

"They're future experiment victims," Morghan replied. "They were captured by the ratmen."

"Why Rimbule make freaks?" demanded the wizard.

"He wants to learn transmutation, build himself more powerful body," replied the redheaded captive. "But he wants lots of practice first. He doesn't want to make any mistakes when he's putting his own body on the line."

Gilbert leaned forward, pressing into the captive's personal space. "What you do if we kill Rimbule?" he asked.

"Escape from here, and move on," replied Morghan, with a wistful tone to her voice. "We never expected to be in this position."

Gilbert turned to the others. "I think we hear enough," he declared. "Now listen," he said, turning back to Morghan. "We put gag back on you, put you in cell until business done with Rimbule. We come back and get you after we done." The redhead hastily nodded her agreement to this plan and willingly opened her mouth so the wizard could put the gag back in. Then she was carried back to the curving hallway, Darrien fumbling with the ring of keys they'd taken from her until he found the one that opened the first cell. Morghan was placed inside, then locked in. The cell was wedge-shaped, with a solid iron door containing only a small, barred window with which to look inside.

"Who's there?" called out a voice from the next cell. Gilbert ambled over and looked inside the window. "Who you?"

"My name's Roger," he replied. "The guy in the next cell over's Walthern. Are you setting us free?"

"Maybe later," replied Gilbert. "First we deal with wizard Rimbule. Then, after that, we come back, let you out."

"Okay," agreed Roger, not really wanting to help deal with a wizard who could turn people into ratmen - or worse. "Just don't forget about us, okay?"

"Let's go," said Binkadink, leading the way up the stairs, his gnomish glaive at the ready. All of this talking had been necessary but boring; he was eager for some wizard-stabbing!

The first door they opened on the ground level led into a large dining room, with a dozen elaborately-carved chairs around an equally impressive table. But it was empty of enemies; Binkadink closed the door with a frown and moved on to the next room.

This was the kitchen, and it had an open doorway rather than a door. As Binkadink rounded the corner into the room, he heard a soft, feminine humming. Darrien raised his bow at the ready, and Castillan placed a hand on the gnome fighter's shoulder, holding him back. Through hand signals, he indicated he wanted to sneak up on her rather than alert her to their presence through the clanking of the gnome's metal armor. Binkadink tightened his grip around his glaive in anger, but nodded his acceptance of the bounder's logic and gestured with his head for Castillan to go on in.

The bounder got a single, silent step into the kitchen when the humming stopped and Tchiu spun around, favoring the bounder with the demon-tattooed half of her face first. The tattoo covered the entire right half of her face, seeming to pull her mouth into a twisted grin filled with razor-sharp teeth. Castillan froze for a moment in shock, but Darrien had no such qualms - he sent an arrow flying across the room, to the left of the bounder, to impale the right side of Tchiu's upper torso, just below the shoulder. Without a word, Tchiu bent her neck at an awkward angle, glanced down at the offending shaft, then turned her gaze back at Castillan with her half-demonic grin, her head still at a tilt. Castillan was wondering just what kind of a fiend he was up against when Tchiu suddenly dropped to her haunches and scurried up the chimney.

Snapping out of his frozen trance, the bounder dashed across the kitchen to the fireplace and looked up. There was a humanoid shape scurrying up its length above, headed for the upper level. Castillan braced himself against the opposite walls of the narrow chimney and started to follow, when his instincts told him there was something coming down the chimney at him, fast. He dropped back to the bottom of the fireplace, only to have Darrien's arrow plunk harmlessly off his shoulder, Tchiu apparently having plucked it out and discarded it on her way up.

"She's going up the chimney!" Castillan shouted to the others while he started back up himself. Binkadink, elevated to his full height on his gnomish stilt-boots, raced back to the stairs; across from the stairs to the dungeons was another set leading up to the top floor of the keep. Finoula followed behind the gnome, with Darrien, Gilbert, and Ingebold trailing behind her. As the gnome raced up the curved stairwell, he visualized in his head exactly where on the upper floor the chimney would lead to. There were two possibilities: Rimbule's study or his bedroom. The study was the closer to the top of the stairs, so that's the door he kicked open first.

The wizard Rimbule was ready for him. He cast a quick spell at the gnome, who through sheer force of will managed to shrug it off - although he got the impression the transmuter had just tried to alter his body in some way. Finoula dashed in behind and around the gnome, spotting Tchiu crawling up out of the study's fireplace. As she ran towards the transmuter responsible for the half-animal hybrids outside, she managed to get a close look at the necklace Tchiu was wearing: it was a wire necklace, through which several fishhooks had been attached; to most of these, a live mouse had been impaled, and their writhing attempts to escape made the whole thing jostle this way and that. Seeing Finoula's gaze and enjoying her discomfort, Tchiu's human smile widened almost to that of her facial tattoo.

Finoula's temporary distraction cost her a shot at the transmuter. Rimbule opened the door behind him - which led to his arcane library - and cast a magic missile spell that sent multiple streaks of energy cascading into the elven ranger's chest. Then he casually kicked the door shut before him. Behind her, Tchiu began battering Finoula with fists that struck blows as solid as those from a mace or hammer. Then, climbing out of the fireplace, Castillan stabbed Rimbule's raven-haired assistant from behind, his short sword impaling her through the stomach.

As the bounder pulled his blood-soaked blade back out of Tchiu's body, Finoula saw her features start to melt. The tattoo soaked back into her flesh, along with her nose and her hair - and, even more surprisingly, her clothes. What fell to the floor dead was a gray-skinned, bald humanoid with an oversized head.

Binkadink missed all of this occurring mere feet away from him, for he was focused on kicking open the door to the library and stabbing at the transmuter with his glaive. He was successful at both, but after a line of blood was ripped across the transmuter's chest, he staggered away with a grunt - and then disappeared from view. Binkadink swore a gnomish oath, thinking the wizard had just teleported away.

In the meantime, another figure came into the battle. Emerging from a set of stairs that led to the roof, a blonde woman wielding a crossbow pointed her weapon at Darrien, but the half-elf archer was quicker than she, and arrows suddenly peppered her body before she could even get off a single shot. She fell to the floor, her voluptuous body undergoing the same sort of transformation as Tchiu's had done mere moments earlier. "They doppelgangers!" Gilbert called out to the others, getting a first good look at the corpses littering the floors.

"If they're both doppelgangers," reasoned Finoula, "how much do you want to bet that Morghan tramp downstairs is one as well?"

"We worry about that later!" advised Gilbert, trying in vain to open the door from the stairwell into the library - where it sounded like Binkadink had trapped Rimbule. But it was no luck - the door was apparently arcane locked.

Inside the library, Binkadink had a sudden idea and started swinging his glaive out horizontally, making sweeps across the room. One swing hit an invisible form - not with the blade, curse the luck, but with the wooden shaft - but it was enough for the gnome to determine Rimbule was still in the room with them. "He's in here, invisible!" he called to his friends, but then heard the muttered words of another spell emanating from the library.

Gilbert rushed the long way towards the library, through the transmuter's study. "Everyone stay out of library!" he called, preparing the words to an Evard's black tentacles spell. But he was promptly ignored by Finoula, who burst into the room to help Binkadink find their invisible foe with their slashing blades. Neither of her blades hit.

Cursing his teammates' refusal to follow his directions, Gilbert switched spells at the last moment. If he couldn't cast an Evard's black tentacles spell to capture the transmuter, he could at least undo the effects of his greater invisibility spell, and put all of the combatants on the same level. With that thought in mind, Gilbert cast a darkness spell in the room. He mostly got the effect he wanted, but only by nullifying the everburning torches in sconces around the room - as well as the two tied to the antlers of Binkadink's helmet. A bit of light leaked in from Rimbule's study.

"Close the door!" advised Binkadink, aware of what the heavyset wizard had intended. Gilbert turned to do so, but a flitting noise whizzed by his head. "I think he invisible hummingbird now!" reasoned Gilbert.

Rimbule was indeed a hummingbird, having polymorphed into that shape while still under the effects of his greater invisibility spell. He wasn't sure who these adventurers were or how they'd gotten into his keep - blast that Batcat anyway, what had he been doing to keep him from warning his master? - but he wasn't going to worry about that now. The first order of business was to escape; he could always sneak back afterwards and pick them off one by one while they were otherwise engaged. These thoughts filled his hummingbird brain as he flew past Gilbert, angled out of the study, and flew past Darrien and Castillan.

But Castillan had heard Gilbert's warning, and his keen elven hearing helped him to pinpoint the location of his invisible foe. He swung with his short sword, hitting something in midair and sending it staggering away. Darrien dropped the Arachnibow, pulled out the scimitar at his belt, and tried to follow suit, but his blade-swings were uneventful - at first, anyway. A lucky strike managed to hit the dazed wizard in his hummingbird form, and he dropped to the corner of the stairwell, dead.

With Rimbule and two of his doppelganger assistants slain, Finoula wanted to go back to the dungeon cells immediately to check on Morghan. Sure enough, the cell was empty, save for the discarded gag and ropes that had bound her. As a doppelganger, Finoula realized, it would have been a simple matter to transform into a much smaller form - like that of a goblin or halfling - shrug out of the ropes, and them change into something that could either fit through the barred window or reach the lock to open it. Whether it was something extremely thin and flexible or something with long arms, the doppelganger had managed to open her cell door and escape while the heroes had been busy with fighting Rimbule above.

After a room-by-room sweep for treasure - carried out under Castillan's watchful eye, so that they wouldn't miss anything of value - the group released Roger and Walthern from their cells. They were glad to have been released, and even more thankful that they had not been turned into ratmen or anything worse.

While the others had been looting the rest of the keep, Gilbert had spent the time transferring the contents of Rimbule's library into his Omnibook. In doing so, he'd discovered Rimbule's spellbooks, and found a couple of spells as of yet unknown to the portly wizard. Gilbert smiled at the thought of deciphering their contents and learning how to cast those spells, increasing his own spell repertoire.

Unfortunately, the wizard found nothing in the way of restoring Rimbule's previous victims to their normal selves. He had several ideas - there were a number of spells that could alter a person's appearance, but all of the ones he had personal knowledge of were only temporary - so it looked like Turtle and the others would remain trapped in their current forms until a more permanent solution could be devised.

This came as a major disappointment to the victims, once Gilbert explained the situation - especially Turtle, whose form was the most debilitating of those who had retained their normal intellect. (Snake's form was equally clumsy, but his mind was gone, and the group universally decided he's be left behind when they all departed.) The hybrids were able to confirm that Morghan had indeed escaped, as they saw her fly off on Rimbule's hovershell, a magical crossbreeding of a large turtle and a giant dragonfly. That at least suggested that the group could escape the pain-inducing defenses of the hidden grove by flying over them, so the decision was made to place everyone but Binkadink into the portable hole, after the gnome had received spells from Gilbert that nor only increased his inherent constitution (and thus pain tolerance), but also granted him the ability to fly. The gnome had the time of his life flying over the treetops of the hidden grove, and would have continued doing loop-de-loops in the air if not for the thought of the minimal air supply inside the portable hole - it would have done no good for him to have suffocated all of his friends, including his faithful jackalope, while he had fun flying about. So he landed by an astonished Aithanar and opened the hole allowing the heroes and the unfortunate experiment victims out.

"Where shall we go?" asked Gandlebain the pseudo-satyr.

"We'll take ye back to Kordovia with us," decided Ingebold. "I'm sure ye can stay at th' Temple of Moradin, while we do what we can to find a way t' return ye t' yer normal forms." And so that was what happened; the temple clerics agreed to look after those victims who needed tending to - like Minotaur, who grazed contentedly on the grass behind the temple and provided fresh milk for breakfast to the clerics. Valgard and Gandlebain needed no tending to; they opted to explore the Vesve Forest in their current forms, and check back occasionally with the temple to see if any progress had been made. Turtle and Jolinda stayed at the Temple of Moradin, desiring the protection a dwarven temple could provide; Turtle didn't want to interact with the rest of society in her present form, while Jolinda feared being mistaken for an actual harpy and slain on the spot. But she took a liking to the dwarven temple chants, and soon added her own voice to their ceremonies - a strange sight indeed: a bird woman perched on the back of a stone pew chanting the words to a dwarven hymn.

Tukio's condition required her to remain wet, or her fish-scales started to dry out and cause her pain. She ended up "living" in the largest fountain of the king's castle, where she was a favored addition. The mermaid spent her time partly on exhibition but mostly in conversation with those who came to see her. While still desiring her human form back, she decided to make the best of her situation and came to enjoy the frequent visits.

"You know," said King Galrich, several days after Rimbule's "freaks" had been incorporated into the kingdom, "the neighboring lands already refer to Kordovia as 'The Monster Kingdom.'"

"Do they, Your Majesty?" asked Aerik.

"They do. After all, we have an orc for a king and a dragon-elf as a princess."

"Half-orc," corrected Aerik.

"Orc, half-orc - it's all the same to most people," responded King Galrich. "And now we have a mermaid in our castle, a minotaur, harpy, and...whatever that Turtle woman is, living in our largest temple, with a centaur and a satyr coming into the kingdom at will and the possibility of a green dragon allying with us...it's no wonder they call us that."

"Perhaps some good will come of this, Your Majesty," suggested Aerik.

"Perhaps; we shall see," said King Galrich.

- - -

T-Shirt Worn: We went through this adventure on the same day we finished up "An Audience with the Princess," so I was still wearing my green dragon T-shirt. And, as I had nothing particularly appropriate for "Rimbule the Metamorph," I was fine with not changing into anything else.
Last edited:



Game Session Date: 10 September 2016

- - -

"Are you sure about this?" asked Castillan, stepping out of the Vistani wagon in his undergarments.

"It be our best course of action, given th' timeframe," replied Ingebold. "Now climb up into th' mule wagon like a good lad."

Castillan complied, climbing into the back of the flat, wooden wagon the dwarven cleric generally drove. The two mules, Franco and Tantrum, were tethered nearby and contentedly eating grass by the roadside where the group had opted to set up camp for the evening.

"Now give me yer leg," commanded Ingebold, taking Castillan's left foot and tying it securely with a sturdy rope. Once satisfied with its tightness, she pulled the length of it through the spokes of the right rear wagon wheel, wrapped it around a few spokes for good measure, then passed the rope beneath the wagon and did the same using the left rear wagon wheel, before passing it back up onto the back of the wagon, where she tied the loose end around Castillan's right ankle and pulled it tight.

"Ouch!" complained Castillan, his legs now spread wide and bound in place.

"I'm surprised at your griping," teased Finoula. "I'm sure you've paid good money in the past to be tied up like this."

Binkadink approached with a glass vial and extended his gnomish stilt-boots so he could pass it to Castillan over the side of the wagon before the elf's hands were bound as well. The bounder took the flask from the gnome, who marveled it had been many months since he'd last seen Castillan without the twin gloves of storing that usually kept his blades from view. "What's this?" the bounder asked, before upending the contents and drinking it down in one swig. He made a face at the taste, then guessed, "One of your uncle's concoctions?"

"No," answered Binkadink. "He got it from an acquaintance of his -- it's poison."

"What?" gasped Castillan, as Finoula bound his left hand tightly with another length of rope. It followed a similar course as the rope binding his legs: through the spokes of the right front wagon wheel, under the wagon, through the spokes of the left front wagon wheel, and then over to the bounder's right wrist, which Finoula was even now starting to wrap with the loose end of the rope. "What are you trying to do, kill me?"

"Nothing so sinister," replied Binkadink. "It's liquefied insanity mist -- it'll just dull your senses for a bit. With any luck, you won't instinctively try to ward off the effects of Ingebold's spell."

"Yes, none of that," scolded the cleric. "I kin only cast th' spell so many times, an' each time ye try t' fight it, that's that much less 'f a chance we'll be havin' fer a successful outcome."

"Yes, ma'am," Castillan answered, lowering his head back down against the wood of the wagon, now that he was tightly bound in a spread-eagled fashion. Already, his mind was getting fuzzy and it was getting harder to speak. "Howm...how much longer?" he asked.

Ingebold cast her glance at the twilight sky. "Not much longer now," she reassured him.

"You think this work?" asked Gilbert, ambling up now that it was almost time.

"It'll work -- ye're th' one who came up with th' process," answered Ingebold.

"You got spells ready?" Gilbert prompted. "Remember, if first spell fail, start casting second one right away. We probably don't have time for you to cast it as many times as you have stored in head."

"I know what I'm doin'," chided Ingebold, shooing the irritating wizard away. "Why don't you worry about what ye'll be doin', instead of pesterin' me?"

"I know what I be doing," replied Gilbert. "I have Evard's black tentacles spell all ready to go."

"And I know what I'll be doing," added Darrien, taking a silver arrow from his quiver and fitting it to the Arachnibow.

"I'm sure it won't come to that," said Finoula hopefully.

As the sun set and the sky grew darker, Ingebold stepped up to the front of the wagon and looked back at Castillan, spread-eagled before her, his head by her feet. "I'm sure Moradin will understand me use of this spell," she said, then cast a bestow curse spell on the already dazed bounder, forcing his mind and willpower to recede even further.

The first rays of Luna crept over the tree line and cast their wan light upon the group of adventurers. Castillan tensed, then bucked under his restraints as a spasm of pain shook his frame. Without a moment's hesitation, Ingebold began the words to her first remove curse spell. It was the one with the best chance of success, as this casting would strip away the bestow curse she had just cast upon Castillan; any further castings wouldn't have the additional chance of success provided by his further addled state of mind. But the cleric needn't have worried; the group had taken all of the precautions they could think of, and the spell was a success. Just as a light fur started sprouting from the nearly-naked bounder's flesh, it suddenly halted its growth and began receding as quickly as it had grown. Castillan's head slumped to the right as he lost consciousness from the ordeal.

"Squentiffick blastulong!" suggested Aithanar, pulling at the ropes of his brother's left wrist. Castillan was untied, and then left where he was in the back of the wagon. Aithanar threw a blanket over his brother's body so he wouldn't be cold during the night.

"He'll likely be out th' night long," commented Ingebold.

"Well, that's one way to get out of patrol duty," commented Darrien, stowing away his silver arrow and glad that it hadn't been needed after all.

"I'll take the first shift," offered up Finoula.

- - -

Unconscious, Castillan did what elves almost never do at night, since they enter a trance rather than sleep -- he dreamed. In his dream, he was running through a dark forest, pursued by an enormous, ravening wolf. The bounder raced between trees and leaped over rocks, but the wolf not only kept pace with him, it was slowly gaining on him. And then the impossible happened: the sure-footed elf, capable of running straight up a wall or leaping from one rooftop to another without breaking a sweat, tripped over a root and went tumbling headfirst onto the forest floor. Hastily, he flipped over onto his back, snapping his fingers to bring forth the short sword stored in his magical glove -- only to find he was no longer wearing either of his gloves. Nor his leather armor, now that he noticed it.

The wolf loomed above him, its mouth open in hunger and drool spilling over its black lips. Castillan instinctively knew that if the wolf got a bite of him, his life would be over.

And then, in the near-darkness of the dream-forest, a light came blazing forth. At its touch, the ends of the wolf's fur began to singe and the creature backed off, howling in pain. With one last, evil look of pure hatred in Castillan's direction, the beast loped off, away from the light to be swallowed up in the darkness of the forest.

Castillan turned toward the light, instinctively raising his had to block out the worst of it. It was the hammer-and-anvil holy symbol of Moradin, chief god of the dwarves, which had driven off the massive wolf.

Bathed in Moradin's light, Castillan dropped back against the forest floor. It had an earthy smell, the scent of growing things, of life. It was restful here, Castillan decided, as consciousness drifted from him in the dream world of his imagination.

And in the morning, when Castillan awoke, he no longer had the taint of wolven lycanthropy running through his veins. Furthermore, the bite mark he had received from the werewolf Andrei - which had failed to heal over despite numerous curative spells cast upon the bounder since - was now completely gone.

Castillan smiled. Today was going to be a good day.

- - -

T-Shirt Worn: Still the green dragon T-shirt, as it was still the same session.



PC Roster:
Binkadink Dundernoggin, gnome fighter 8
Castillan Ivenheart, elf bounder 8
Darrien, half-elf ranger 8
Finoula Cloudshadow, elf ranger 8
Gilbert Fung, human wizard 8​

NPC Roster:
Aithanar Ivenheart, elf fighter 2
Ingebold Battershield, dwarven cleric 8 (Moradin)​

Game Session Date: 24 September 2016

- - -

While the members of the Kordovian Adventurers Guild were in town, a traveler came down from the mountains to the north. He told of a vast plain on the northern side of the Clatspur Range, where barbarian tribes held sway, a land containing a lake bigger than many seas - but of the greatest interest, especially to Binkadink Dundernoggin, recent owner of a masterwork gnomish glaive, was the tale of a group of blacksmiths and wizards just past the mountain range who specialized in the creation and upgrade of magic weapons.

"Let's go north!" pleaded the little gnome. "We've been south many times before, and we've been in the Vesve Forest quite a few times now, but we've never been through the Clatspurs!"

"The Ravencroft Sanatorium is in one of the mountains of the Clatspur Range," reminded Castillan.

"Yeah, like the closest mountain!" argued Binkadink. "I'm talking about going through the pass and checking out what's on the other side!"

"There's plenty more to see of the Vesve Forest," pointed out Finoula. "That place is huge! We could spend our entire careers searching through that forest."

"Who wants to do that?" argued Binkadink.

"We might find out where all those damned orcs and goblins are coming from," added Darrien. "That would be a definite plus."

"Aw, come on, guys," wheedled the gnome.

"Quit with th' teasin' already, you lot," chided Ingebold. "Ye kin see th' poor fella's gonna just about die of frustration if we don't go check out this weaponsmith group we heard about."

"I will!" agreed Binkadink. "Right here, on this very spot! And it'll all be on your heads."

"Can I have your stuff?" asked Darrien.

"What all this fuss about?" demanded Gilbert. "We go north, check out weapon guys. They have wizards there, maybe I trade some spells."

"Yes!" shouted Binkadink, then turned his attention to his masterwork glaive. "Don't you worry, I'm going to get you enchanted. You'll like that, won't you? Of course you will."

Gilbert shook his head in disbelief. "You a twisted little freak," he said.

"Maybe," agreed Binkadink. "But I'm a twisted little freak who's going north to get my glaive enchanted!" And he did a little jig, dancing in a circle holding his glaive as if it were his dancing partner.

Binkadink was in a state of near-ecstasy for the next full day. Riding along on his jackalope, he realized that each hippity-hop took him that much closer to getting a magic weapon. The others were lucky: most of the weapons they had run across in their adventuring careers thus far were sized for humans, elves, and dwarves; Binkadink well knew their chances of just happening across an enchanted gnomish glaive in the course of their adventures were practically nil. Nope, if he was going to get an enchanted blade, he was going to have to take matters into his own little hands.

By the morning of the second day, his ecstasy had hardened into a realization that it would be well over a week of travel to make it through the mountain pass, if what the visitor had said was accurate. He'd have to be patient, there was no way around it. And while the path thus far had them winding along the valleys between the mountains, he knew there would be places ahead where they'd be climbing up into higher elevations, where they'd be dealing with colder temperatures than those the gnome had been accustomed to.

But all of his thoughts about upgrading his glaive and the journey ahead were dashed from his mind once he saw the two horses running across the sky.

"Do you see that?" he asked Obvious in the language of burrowing mammals.

The jackalope snorted in laughter. "They can't do that!" he observed. "They're silly!"

"Apparently nobody told them they couldn't. Hey guys -- look!" The gnome pointed up at the sky ahead, where the two equine figures were banking in a turn and heading directly for the two-wagon train.

"Are those pegasi?" asked Finoula, looking up from atop her pony, Daisy. Wrath trotted along at her side as she shielded her eyes in the glare of the sun. "I don't see any wings." Darrien got out his Arachnibow, just in case they weren't pegasi, or weren't something else of an equally pleasant demeanor.

As the two groups converged, the sky-horses dropped in altitude, lowering themselves almost - but not quite - to the level of the road. The group - all but Gilbert, who preferred traveling in the comfort of the roof-topped Vistani wagon - could see these horses were built more like unicorns. They each had an ivory horn jutting from their forehead and silvery-white manes flowing behind them, and they even had tufts of beard in the manner of goats. But these creatures had draconic scales along their front legs, like no unicorn any of the group had ever seen, or even heard of, before. Both wagons came to a dead stop, as Finoula and Binkadink on their mounts did the same just ahead, and the horned sky-horses slowed slightly as they got within reach of the group.

Ironically, although Gilbert was the only one of the group the two equines couldn't see, it was he whom they addressed. Using some means of telepathic communication, they "spoke" in unison directly into the heads of the whole assembled group.

<Gilbert Fung, time is of the essence – the life of your honorable mother is at stake! Prepare to return to her side at once!>

"What the--" sputtered Gilbert, rushing out of the wagon's rear door to see what was going on. As he did so, the spirit ki-rin trotted - still several inches above the ground - past a startled Binkadink and Finoula on their respective mounts, past Ingebold and Darrien in the mule wagon, one on either side, and up towards Castor and Pollux at the front of the Vistani wagon. Castillan, who had once again been riding atop the roofed wagon, leaped down, standing beside Gilbert as the portly wizard rushed to meet the spirit ki-rin who had brought him dire warnings about his mother.

But before he could ask aloud any questions, the spirit ki-rin became insubstantial. Looking like misty outlines of their equine shapes, they drifted towards the black horses hooked up to the Vistani wagon. Then, their misty bodies narrowed and shrank, heading directly into the horses' nostrils.

Finoula, anticipating what was going to happen next, leaped off from Daisy and ran towards the Vistani wagon. "Everybody into the wagon!" she called, grabbing a startled Ingebold on her way. "Aithanar! Swap with Ingebold!" Without a moment's hesitation, the elven fighter leaped down from the seat of the Vistani wagon, helping Ingebold climb up when she got there.

"Stay with Aithanar, and keep him safe!" called Binkadink to his riding mount, as he extended his gnomish stilt-boots and raced to the back of the Vistani wagon, climbing in with Castillan and Darrien. "Come on!" he yelled to Gilbert.

"What they doing to horses?" asked the wizard in wonderment.

"You're going to be left behind if you don't hurry!" yelled Finoula, half dragging Gilbert to the back of the Vistani and stuffing him through the door. She jumped in and slammed the door shut as Castor and Pollux reared up, kicked their forelegs, and then leaped forward into the sky. Aithanar ducked as the Vistani wagon raced just above the mule wagon, the two pitch-black draft horses rising up into the sky, pulling the roofed wagon behind them. "Boojagga!" he called to a clearly frightened Ingebold at the reins.

Once at a sufficient height, the two horses banked and raced back the way the group had come. Although it had taken them a day and a half to get as far as they had, they could tell the trip back home would be significantly faster.

Inside the crowded wagon, Finoula fretted about Aithanar. "We probably should have told him to start on back home," she said. "I don't want to have to walk all the way back there once we've dealt with whatever this is about."

"He's a big boy -- he'll figure it out," reasoned Castillan.

"This about my mom," Gilbert reminded the group. "We worry about Aithanar after we deal with my mom."

"So where is your mom?" asked Darrien. "Any idea what's going on?"

"She back at home," snapped Gilbert. "We find out when we find out."

Time seemed to crawl inside the cramped wagon, with Gilbert worriedly going through his spell repertoire and wondering what they'd be facing when they returned to his parents' cottage. The others were curious how Gilbert's mother, an unassuming housewife, ranked a warning and rescue attempt from a pair of dragon-horses coming down from the sky. It was apparent Gilbert wasn't in a talking mood, but it was also apparent that he could use having something to do besides wait for the trip through the sky to conclude. Castillan broke the silence.

"So, Gilbert, any idea what those cloud-horse things were?"

"They ki-rin. My mom tell stories of them when I little."

"Ki-rin, okay. And, any ideas why they're helping us go rescue your mom? They seem pretty powerful; I don't imagine they just show up every time somebody's in danger. What's so special about your mom?"

"My mom just my mom."

"Is she, like, somebody famous?"

"She just my mom, okay? She a sorcerer. Not an adventurer, just a sorcerer. She wanted me become druid like my dad, but that not work out so good. And I don't have natural talent for magic like she does - I study spells from books. She a sorcerer, I a wizard."

"These ki-rin, are they from her homeland?" pressed Finoula. "I've never heard of them before."

"Yeah, they from where she born. Way over on other side of world."

"How long ago did she leave?" pressed Finoula.

"Long time ago! When she just little girl!" exploded Gilbert. "How about you save questions for my mom, ask her after she safe?" The others took the hint: Gilbert was too worried about his mother's safety to be distracted by a bunch of background questions. The heroes sat in an uncomfortable silence for the remainder of the trip. Finally, though, Ingebold ducked her head through one of the windows at her shoulder and called back to the others, "We're goin' down!"

Fortunately, this was a controlled descent. Just as sure-footed as the spirit ki-rin had been when the group had first encountered them in the mountains, Castor and Pollux dropped gracefully to just above the ground, then went a step further and returned their hooves to solid earth once again. With a slight bounce, the Vistani wagon touched down and the two horses slowed to a halt. Before the wagon had stopped moving, Gilbert was out the back door and around the side of the wagon. From this vantage point, he could see Castor and Pollux panting heavily, blowing clouds of smoke from their nostrils. Not surprisingly, the vapors took on the forms of a pair of familiar-looking equines, and the spirit ki-rin were once again in their normal forms - and still not quite touching the ground.

<We dare approach no closer from the air, for fear of alerting your enemies to your presence,> they said in their twin voices. <Be cautious! Your enemies are already in your mother’s cottage.> And with that final telepathic warning, they turned in unison and cantered up into the sky.

"I know where we are!" exclaimed Gilbert. "This fishing pond, half mile from cottage!"

"Wh-- what in the world is going on, son?" asked a new voice.

As the others climbed out of the Vistani wagon and Ingebold jumped down from her perch - her legs shaky after being out in the front of the wagon as it flew across the sky - an older man approached. He wore patched robes of brown and green and held a simple fishing pole in his hand. Unkempt brown hair fading rapidly toward gray spilled out from his head and face.

"Dad!" greeted Gilbert in surprise. "Come on! Mom in trouble!" And with no further explanation, the wizard cast a fly spell upon himself and was gone.

Without time for introductions, the group of heroes started running in the direction Gilbert had taken, urging Verdant Gristwold, Gilbert's father, to come with them. He needed no argument, racing as fast as he could go up to the top of a hill that had shielded the low-flying wagon from the Fung cottage.

Binkadink, running as fast as a gnome in stilt-boots could run, cursed at having had to leave Obvious behind. "Here!" called Darrien, pulling out his new acquisition - an ebony fly he'd looted from one of the doppelgangers' rooms in Rimbule's keep - and calling out a command word. At once, a housefly the size of a pony manifested on the ground just ahead. "She's all yours!" Darrien offered.

"You sure?" asked the gnome as he leapt up onto the insect's back. But the fly buzzed off before the ranger could reply, and Binkadink rapidly caught up to, and passed, Gilbert in mid-air. "It that house!" pointed out the wizard as he was passed by gnome and fly - but Gilbert needn't have bothered; there was only one house in the direction they were flying, and the fact that there was a sinister-looking, black-clad man standing on the roof and two more prowling around the house from each side gave away the potential danger.

As Binkadink closed the distance, the roof-top assassin pulled a couple of items from inside his robes and flung them at the gnome's direction. The first one whizzed by his head, but the other hit him smack in the chest. It wasn't enough to penetrate the gnome's armor, and it didn't stay in one form long enough for Binkadink to get more than a quick glimpse in his peripheral vision that it looked like some kind of flat, metal sculpture of a spider with sharp, pointed legs sticking out in all directions, before it began morphing into the real thing. In a mere second, Binkadink found himself riding a pony-sized fly through the air at over triple the speed he could manage on the ground on his fastest day, only now with a large fiendish spider biting at his throat and injecting its fiendish venom.

Realizing the spider was much too close for his glaive to be of much use as a weapon, Binkadink swung it around beneath the fly's throat and caught the end in his other hand, then mentally ordered the fly to flip over while in flight. He had hoped to knock the spider from its perch, but no such luck - the blasted thing had a good grip on the fly's back and wasn't about to be dropped that easily. Binkadink's mind raced for a new plan - but then that turned out to be unnecessary when the fly crash-landed onto the Fung cottage's roof. The gnome went sprawling in a heap, the spider right beside him. And now here raced over the rooftop assassin, armed with a sturdy bo staff that came crashing down at the gnome's head. Binkadink dodged just in time, then sent his own glaive stabbing up at the ninja, managing to graze his side.

As Gilbert approached his mother's cottage, he could see Binkadink getting to his feet and trading blows with a black-clad ninja on the roof, while a large spider menaced the gnome from behind. Worse, there were two more ninja at the ground level, and as the wizard watched, each sprang up the wall and climbed onto the roof as easily as Gilbert had ever seen Castillan do the same. But they were at each end of the roof, whereas Binkadink was fighting over in the middle of the roof's front slope. Gilbert aimed to the right of the ninja with the bo staff, throwing a blast of magic missiles into his face as he sped past. But he had no real interest in the rooftop fight: his concern was for his mother, and the fastest way he knew of to get inside the cottage was to head for the hole in the center of the roof.

A woman from the Far East married to a man from the West, Harriet Fung had had the house Verdant built for the two of them - and then later three, once Gilbert was born - built in the shape of a large rectangle, with a rectangular hole in the middle. The entire front section was built in the style of the Western world, with chairs around a dining room table and a study for Verdant, with wooden doors closing off those rooms that weren't accessible through open doorways, while the back half was built with an Eastern aesthetic, with sliding wall panels and low tables for eating while kneeling on the floor. The rectangular section in the middle of the building was Harriet's meditation garden, a simple, dirt path winding through a pebbled ground with an oval reflective pool in one corner. Three of the sides were surrounded by a raised wooden floor, and wooden pillars at each corner marked the boundaries of this area of serenity.

Currently, Harriet Fung was bound to one of these pillars, the one in the northeastern corner of the pebble garden. A black-clad ninja held a blade to her throat, while directly before her stood another Eastern woman, one Gilbert had never seen before in his life. She was speaking in the singsong, almost musical language of Harriet Fung's homeland, a language the wizard had heard spoken in snippets over the course of his life, but one his mother had refused to teach to him, for she wanted her son to speak like those who lived around him rather than like someone from half a world away. Her face was an impassive mask, refusing to look at the plaque the other woman held in front of her.

With a start, Gilbert recognized it. It had been taken from the wall of the front dining room, and had Gilbert's handprints from when he was four years old in the middle of a baked clay slab, into which had been carved the words "I LOVE YOU MOMMY." Verdant had helped little four-year-old Gilbert make it as a gift for his mother over a decade and a half ago.

Up on the rooftop, Binkadink was holding his own against the nearest ninja and the fiendish spider, but now two more ninja were entering the combat. Three enemies were more than the little gnome could keep track of, and the newcomer on the left managed to get in a good strike with his short sword - which, judging by the way Binkadink felt immediately afterwards, had been poisoned.

Fortunately, help was at hand. The ninja approaching on the right never did get a chance to actually enter the fray, as he was downed by a series of arrows courtesy of Darrien and his Arachnibow. Darrien had slowed to a stop, allowing Finoula and Verdant to continue on ahead of him while he lined up his shots. Behind him, he could hear Ingebold's heavy breathing as she struggled to catch up to the rest of the group, hampered by heavy dwarven armor and stumpy dwarven legs.

But next on the scene was Castillan, his bounder training having allowed him to pull ahead of the others and race up the front wall of the cottage and climb up onto the roof in one seemingly effortless motion. He had veered left during his approach, such that he ended up behind the leftmost ninja who had stabbed Binkadink. Sensing the bounder's approach, the ninja broke off from attacking Binkadink to deal with this new threat.

Gilbert flew down through the building's central opening, coming to a landing immediately before the woman holding his plaque. When Harriet saw him, she cried out, "No! Run, Mudpie! Save yourself!" But the woman, Ryuko, had a tongues spell in effect and understood the strange Western language Harriet spoke. Her almond eyes widened in disbelief as she realized the heavyset half-breed standing before her was the child she had been questioning Harriet about. Ryuko's face curled into a sneer of contempt as she practically spat out syllables in her own language, which were immediately converted to the Common tongue of the region.

"Step no further!" Ryuko commanded, "or your mother's life is forfeit!" When she saw Gilbert pause in frustration, she continued. "You do not realize it, but back in Kozakura there has been a successful coup against the former Emperor. The new Emperor has decreed that all members of the previous ruling family are to be slain. And that includes your mother here, even though she is but a distant cousin. When we teleported in to accomplish our mission, we found signs that she had birthed a child, but I see now that you are but a contemptible half-breed, ineligible to rule from the Jade Throne. Therefore, your life will be spared, as well as those of your companions. I will return to the new Emperor with your mother's head as proof of her death. I warn you this: do not attempt to have your mother raised from the dead. We will be scrying here occasionally, and if we see her returned to life we will return with a much larger force – to slay her again, as well as you, all of your friends, and all of your neighbors. I trust you will not be so foolish as to cause this action to pass." Ryuko raised her voice, calling out to her minions. "Back to me! Prepare to depart with our proof!"

Up on the rooftop, Castillan ensured the ninja he'd been fighting had no chance to respond to the wu jen's summons, for his twin blades got past the assassin's guard, skewering him on the spot. Likewise, Binkadink finally bested the ninja with the bo staff he'd been fighting since his arrival on the rooftop. (The fly, he noticed, had crawled away from danger as soon as it had gotten its bearings.) As for the fiendish spider, it exploded in a puff of nauseous gas upon its death, the vile creature the second rooftop victim of Darrien's marksmanship with his Arachnibow.

During Ryuko's explanation, Gilbert had remained rooted to the spot, not wanting to have the ninja threatening his mother slit her throat as the result of any actions on his part. But he hadn't been helpless; he'd stealthily slipped his wand of gaseous form into his hand, and was even now judging the distance between himself and his mother. Could he touch his mother with the wand before the ninja threatening her could slit her throat? It was a question he'd been scared to have answered, but now it looked like he had no choice. He started forward, but in the blink of an eye the ninja's weapon sliced through Harriet's delicate throat. Her head remained in roughly the same location, only now it was being supported solely by the grip of the ninja holding her by her long, black hair.

"NO!" Gilbert screamed, unable to reach his mother in time - he'd hoped to turn her into mist, so she could escape on her own - and dropping back into a hasty Plan B: Evard's black tentacles. If he couldn't save his mother, he could make damn sure these bastards didn't escape with her head. And screw the warnings - his first action after slaying these assassins would be to have his mother restored to life, and to the Nine Hells with the consequences.

Two more ninja, who had been searching the cottage for clues as to Harriet's offspring, exited the rooms they were in at their field commander's summons. One stepped out of Gilbert's bedroom and stood right next to the decapitator; he ended up caught up in Gilbert's spell as rubbery, ebon tentacles sprang up from the floor to encompass the Eastern trio. The other had been searching the master bedroom; he exited to hear the clomping of footsteps on a wooden floor, and spun to face Finoula and Verdant as they arrived in the area, having had to go through the front door of the house and around to the left of the interior.

Ryuko cursed, unable to touch her ninja and teleport away. The ninja closest to her, seeing their predicament and putting the mission ahead of all other concerns, attempted to fling Harriet's head to his field leader, but the tightening tentacles ruined his throw - and Ryuko's own attempts to catch it. But seeing that she'd likely not be able to retrieve Harriet's head, Ryuko chose to teleport away to report the mission's success, even without the proof of a decapitated head. She reasoned to herself that she could always scry upon Harriet's headless body if the new Emperor needed proof. With a single arcane syllable, she vanished from the room.

Binkadink and Castillan dropped down into the meditation garden, careful to land in the half of the area not covered in writhing tentacles. The gnome had his glaive out and ready to slash out at either of the trapped ninja that might find a way out of the mass of tentacles, but the ebon appendages choked the life out of the two victims before they had a chance to escape. Seeing this, Gilbert deactivated the spell with a word. Behind him, Finoula slew the last of the ninja, and Verdant ran up to the body of his lifeless wife. Gilbert had retrieved her head and placed it gently next to the body.

Ingebold finally made it to the scene, completely out of breath, and the others filled her in on what had happened. "Can she be raised?" Gilbert demanded.

"Nay," replied Ingebold, sadly. "Not without...th' body needs t' be intact," she explained.

"Would bringing her back be the safest course of action?" broached Finoula. "If they'll be scrying on her and they see her, they'll just be back with a larger force...." The ranger hated bringing this up, and perfectly understood how she'd feel had it been her mother slain, but she still felt they needed to discuss the ramifications of their next move. She expected Gilbert to explode at her, but he just stood there, his hand on his chin, rubbing his beard.

"Gilbert...?" Finoula began.

"Be quiet. I thinking," Gilbert said softly. The others stood silently by his side, as Verdant held Harriet's delicate hand in his own. Then Gilbert's head snapped up, a wicked grin on his face. "Fly boy!" he called out to Darrien. "What we do with scroll we found in yuan-ti nest, with shield?"

"It's...I think we left it back at Battershield Keep, to be sold."

"You get on fly, fetch it, bring it back here!" Gilbert ordered. Darrien and Castillan went back outside to go fetch the ranger's ebony fly, still active from Binkadink's wild ride to the rooftop.

"What's the scroll?" asked Finoula, not remembering what spell had been on it, only that none of the group had been able to use it.

"It a druid spell: reincarnate!" Gilbert announced triumphantly. "Dad can cast it, Mom returns in new body, stupid Emperor's goons can scry all they want! -- they never see her!"

Verdant had to be talked into using the spell; as a druid, he understood the circle of life and that all things must die eventually. Still, he knew Harriet's death was a crushing blow on their only son.... He eventually decided he'd cast it, knowing if Harriet didn't want to return to life in a new body, her spirit could always decline the offer. "We'll leave it up to your mother, then," he told his son.

Darrien returned with the scroll, Verdant studied it - for he'd never cast the spell before, it being much more powerful than those he'd mastered thus far - and the group gathered around Harriet's body as he performed the spellcasting. Harriet's body began glowing with a spiritual energy, soon becoming too bright to look at directly. As the spell finished, the glow diminished and Harriet sat up in her new form.

Her hair was the same: a deep, glossy black, long and straight. She was still in the same kimono she'd been slain in, for the spell did nothing to alter the garments of the reincarnated soul, merely its body. Her skin was now an olive green; her painted nails long and sharp; several of her teeth were sharper than she was used to, and her voice was much deeper than Gilbert and Verdant were used to. "Husband?" she said. "What happen?"

Verdant helped his wife to her feet and they were both shocked to see his petite wife was now as tall as he was, and nearly as tall as Gilbert.

"You were...you were killed. A little," Verdant explained, gulping heavily and fearful that his wife would be less than pleased at the results of their attempt to restore her to life.

"And now I an orc," she commented, almost to herself. "Mudpie! This your idea?"

"Yes, Honorable Mother," Gilbert replied sheepishly, using his best "suck-up-to-the-parents" voice. "But I have hat of disguise you can wear! Just...maybe don't make you look like...you know, you."

Harriet blew out a sigh of exasperation. "If this what Fate have planned for me, who I to argue? But look! Blood all over favorite kimono! This never come out!"

"You're okay...looking like an orc woman?" asked Verdant.

"I still me inside!" replied Harriet, before furrowing her brow. "Only maybe we let neighbors know what happen, so they don't kill me when I show up at marketplace looking like orc who attack kingdom."

"What made you remember the scroll of reincarnate?" asked Binkadink.

"Purple Mage," answered Gilbert. "My mirror prophecy say, 'Some books always judged by their covers.' And then it say, 'Remember this upon apparent sudden death.' Only now, I realize it really 'a parent's sudden death.' It warning, not to bring mother back to life looking like she used to."

"It's kind of creepy, having our prophecies all come true like this," admitted Finoula.

"Tell me about it," grumbled Castillan. "I'm supposed to end up mating with an insect."

- - -

In the end, the players eventually decided that Harriet would keep Gilbert's hat of disguise so she wouldn't have to spend her whole life looking like an orc, especially in a kingdom that had been periodically attacked by orcs for the past dozen years or more. They also decided Harriet should wear the ring of mind shielding the PCs took from Rimbule's dead finger, on the theory that if Ryuko ever scries on Harriet Fung to see if she'd been returned to life, all she should get is "static," which might plausibly be caused by Harriet still being dead.

Of course, I decided once the events of Harriet's death and rebirth were made known to King Galrich, he immediately invited her to the castle for an introduction. Dan was initially a bit concerned that the half-orc king might be "putting the moves" on his PC's married mother, but I explained that Galrich had a longer-term goal in mind: he'd be teaching her the Orc language, so she could be sent on a mission to infiltrate a future band of orcs and goblins attacking the kingdom, specifically so she could escape with the survivors and see where they went once they retreated. Of course, since it will take Harriet quite some time to master the Orc language (especially considering she's mastered Common in the same pidgin version that Gilbert uses), this ploy is probably another 8-10 levels away.

Harriet's back story: she was a distant cousin to the Emperor of Kozakura, one of the lands of Kara Tur. When she was 12 or so, her family decided to marry her off to some 60-year-old whose family they wanted to bond into their own. Twelve-year-old Harriet (birth name unknown; I imagine "Harriet" was one of the first women she met when she got to the Western world and she adopted it for her own to help her blend in) ran away from home. She snuck aboard a merchant vessel (one of Cal Trop's, one of Dan's PCs from our previous campaign in the same game world), was discovered by the cook, who took her under his wing and helped her hide, in exchange for her assistance preparing meals during the voyage. (I imagine those were some of the best meals the sailors had had on that whole voyage, as Harriet's quite the cook.) When she got to the Western world, she made her way steadily inland, gradually picking up snippets of the language, and she eventually settled down in Kordovia after having met an older man, Verdant Gristwold, who she'd end up marrying.

Incidentally, the PCs leveled up to 9th after this adventure, and that was the level Dan had planned for Gilbert to gain the Improved Familiar feat, with intentions of summoning a Small earth elemental he'd call "Mudpie." I worked that into Gilbert's back story, having decided it was a childhood nickname since toddler Gilbert liked playing in the mud. (That also explained the "I LOVE YOU MOMMY" plaque which tipped Ryuko off that there might be another potential threat to the Jade Throne out there somewhere.) Gilbert now knows the polymorph spell, so he's planning on having Mudpie become Medium or Large as the situation dictates, and Gilbert's gained himself a combat stand-in, much like Logan's wizard did with his own improved fire elemental familiar in our last campaign.

- - -

T-Shirt Worn: I have a T-shirt with an image called "Jade Warrior," featuring an Asian swordswoman in very minimal attire - basically, little more than what Red Sonja wears in the comic books, only with armored spikes on her shoulders. I chose this for several reasons: the adventure featured Gilbert Fung's mother, the equivalent of an Asian woman in the Oerth campaign setting, so it was thematically appropriate; but also because my wife is not particularly a big fan of this T-shirt, so I generally only get to wear it on rare occasions. This one certainly qualified.

Remove ads