4E The Shadowfell Crusade: 4E heroic game

In the tenth century after the foundation of the church, a crusade was declared. All nations protected by the church were instructed to send soldiers to aid in the holy war. Within a year the greatest force of fighting men and women ever recorded in history had gathered in the distant land where the great portal to the Shadowfell was located. Leaving their own lands drained of experienced warriors, the kings and nobles of all nations marched through the portal and into the land of the dead, for the greater glory of the church, to crush the infidels.

Meanwhile, hundreds of miles away, a group of would-be crusaders find themselves delayed and trapped in a snow-filled mountain valley. They are Kurelie, a high-elf swordmaiden; Elight, a wizard; and Ingrid, a reformed criminal. Baron Gunder - the lord of the valley - has taken his knights and most of his soldiers with him on the crusade, leaving his domain in the hands of his seneschal and a small crew of inexperienced guards.

On this dark and stormy night only the thirstiest villagers have braved the snow and the cold to visit the inn of Dalsvad - "The Bridgehouse" - to get their beer and gossip. The gossip is all about the crusaders congregated near the fire. The mysterious high-elf. The somehow even more mysterious wizard. And the seemingly ordinary ranger. Despite their differences, a few days of drinking and talking in the warm comfort of the inn while the snow kept piling up outside has brought these former strangers together and bound them in an intricate web of fate.

Like so many stories, it begins with a scream. A female scream from outside. "Sounds like Rut in the smithy. What's that all about?" one of the villagers asks as he gets up, opening the door and letting in snow carried on the cold wind. Before anyone else has had time to react, the poor man is grabbed and pulled outside. A shambling thing takes his place in the doorway and walks inside, followed by three more.

They look like dead men, walking on frozen stumps. The ice seems to be all that is keeping their rotting bodies together. At the sight of the undead the remaining inn patrons as well as the staff all try to escape or hide, screaming or cursing. Only the crusaders are brave enough to fight back.

And so they fight.

Elight tries to recall what he knows about the undead, but unfortunately his knowledge of zombies does not provide any particular weakness that might prove useful in this situation. He decides to cast a spell to trap the creatures in the hallway, but the stress of the prospect of having his brain eaten is too great and the grasping shadows fail to manifest themselves.

Kurelie, the swordsmaiden - initially uncertain of how to treat this kind of situation - flies into action. Running up to the door she takes off from a table and springs into the air, cleaving two of the zombies on the way down as she lands in a well-practiced pose. Two more zombies stumble forward, one of them hitting the high-elf with a frozen fist, sending her into a fit of loud protests. Ingrid decides to help the elf at the door, presenting her axe to a zombie's rotting face and putting it to a final rest.

Shuttered windows are smashed by undead arms and more of the creatures crawl inside the inn from three different directions. These zombies look stronger, having recently fed on the living. Two of them catch a hapless villager cowering in a corner and try to grab him, unsuccesfully. The third staggers up to Ingrid but is unable to find a way past her whirling axes.

Kurelie bravely runs away from the door to rescue the villager, stabbing both her short swords into the chest of one of the zombies which distracts it enough to let the poor frightened man scurry away and hide under a table. Elight abandons the advanced spells in favour of the standard magic missile, sending a tight formation of force bolts through the skull of one zombie, killing it instantly and showering Kurelie with frozen brains - again the high-elf complains rather loudly. "So that's their weakness", Elight muses, making a mental note to record this in one of his books later.

A door in the back of the inn opens and another patron enters from a corridor, chased by a zombie. Ingrid dispatches one of the zombies by the door with a quick off-hand strike and gives the other a murderous glance, trying to figure out how to kill it faster. She gives it a quick but effective chop with her other axe and dodges its counterattack easily, running past the villager to protect him.

Both zombies gang up on Ingrid but fail to make any lasting impressions. Kurelie and Elight finish off a third zombie but not before it has slammed the high-elf into a wall, knocking the wind out of her. She takes a moment to catch her breath. The remaining zombies don't provide much of a fight and pretty soon the inn is silent, except for the wind blowing through broken windows. Ingrid looks outside quickly and sees a zombie feeding on the man who was pulled out earlier, so she quickly closes the door to keep it out.

The inn-keeper ushers everyone into the cellar where they plan to hide until it's safe to come out. She asks the heroes to find her husband, Markus, who is also the town sheriff and captain of the guards. He should be in the customs office on the other side of the bridge.
 
The crusaders leave through a window to avoid the zombie outside. Kurelie acrobatically flies out and rolls into a crouching position, swords at the ready. Elight gets a stool to climb on, struggling with his cloak getting caught on the window sill, but finally emerges unscathed. Ingrid simply jumps up and out with little finesse. The zombie she saw earlier is gone, the body it was feeding from still steaming in the snow.

Peering through the whirling snow they can make out the smithy across the road, its lean-to stable on fire and the fire quickly spreading to the main building. From the top floor they can hear Rut screaming for help, and against the growing flames they can see the outlines of shambling zombie silhouettes, keeping Rut trapped in her house.

They circle around to the side of the building, trying to avoid the attention of the zombies. They almost make it. Two of the zombies approach around a corner and Kurelie engage them in a blur of whirling swords. Elight throws magic energy at one of the zombies and Ingrid helps Rut jump down from a window. With Rut safe they make quick work of the undead, including a third straggler. The smithy will burn down but Rut is grateful to be alive. She runs off to the inn to join the rest in the cellar.

The heroes can hear the bells of the town church ring out a warning but since they are right next to the bridge they decide to go find Markus. The bridge is very long and the other end is lost in dark and swirling snow. A madly swinging lantern marks the door of the customs house, far away on the other side. The bridge spans a partly frozen river. Only a narrow stream in the middle remains.

The wind and snow cloud their senses and as they pass the middle of the bridge they are almost run down by a horse and cart that come charging out of the darkness. The horse is panicked and the driver fails miserably to hold it. Another man on the cart is wrestling with a zombie, while a third man, a merchant called Verner, is limping along after the cart on a sprained ankle. After him comes death, in the form of two slavering zombie hounds and three hungry zombies.

Kurelie tries to slide underneath the cart to avoid it, but slips on a patch of ice and lands prone in its path. She disappears into her own shadow and re-emerges from the feywild on the other side, safe from the crushing hooves and wheels, but unfortunately not safe from the gravehounds. They gang up on her, their black necrotic dribble sending her on a downward spiral of death.

Elight on the other hand, decides to run back across the bridge to avoid the cart. He sends a magic missile against the zombie on the cart and blows it apart. Again, frozen zombie flesh rains down on Kurelie - surely not for the last time. Ingrid tries to stop the horse herself, grabbing it by its reins and straps, but it is coming too fast and she is knocked down and under. The force of the blow almost sends her off the bridge but she manages to grab hold of the railing and pull herself back, although she will later come to regret that she didn't end up in that river.

The horse and cart reach the end of the bridge closer to Elight, but the cart suddenly strikes the bridge railing and wobbles dangerously a few times before flipping over on one side, sending the driver Stefan and the passenger Efraim flying into a nearby snow drift. The horse tears itself loose and runs away. Elight climbs up to use the wagon as cover and sends more magic missiles down the bridge, to little effect.

Kurelie manages somehow to get on her feet and avoid the gravehounds to aid Verner the merchant who has been caught up by the zombies and is being pummeled on the ground. She cuts down all three of the shambling corpses with a few elegant swipes of her blades. Taking a moment to catch her breath she sees Ingrid on the ground, a gravehound gnawing on her leg - its black drool rotting away cloth, skin and flesh within moments. Kurelie gasps and runs to help her companion.

With the gravehound's foul breath on her face she is unable to help Ingrid properly. Dark streaks of necrotic poison spreads through her veins and ends her life. The gravehound turns on the elf and infects her as well with its corruption. She falls and fades away. Elight is assaulted by the other zombie dog and before he has a chance to help either of the women he too falls victim to the filth-ladened saliva.

All seems lost as the dark cold waters of death rise to swallow the heroes.
 
Nothingness gives way to light. The heroes feel warm life flowing through their bodies once again and as their eyes adjust to the brightness they find themselves inside the town church. Three men stand nearby: Markus the sheriff, Ingvar the town priest and behind them, Efraim From, the fat passenger from the cart, reading from an impressive tome.

"They are back!", Markus blurts out.

"Of course", Ingvar says, making a religious sign with his fingers. "Praise the light."

The fat man closes his book, clutches it to his puffy chest and introduces himself: "Efraim From, astrologer and historian, among other things." He explains to the somewhat shakened crusaders that he is in possession of certain rituals that allowed him to save their lives. Their sacrifice saved both him and the merchants, so it was the least he could do.

"They saved me as well", Markus adds. "Without you I'd still be trapped in the customs office, and probably dead by now. We put you all on the cart and made it here just in time, it seems."

"What has happened? How are things out there?", Ingrid asks, once she's overcome the initial surprise and chock of being alive.

"If anything it's worse. We've been trapped in here for about eight hours now, while they read over you. The dead have surrounded the church but they can't seem to get through the door. We hope."

After a brief discussion of whether they will have to pay Efraim for bringing them back to life (they don't - for now), Markus recruits them as replacement town guards. Ingvar provides them with a couple of potions of healing in case they need them while they try to save the town. Then they all ascend the clock tower in order to get a good look at their situation.

A throng of zombies are mobbing the church doors just below the tower. More zombies are standing or slowly walking around on the square further away. It is still hard to see very far due to the whirling snow and darkness. Elight decides to deal with the zombies. He sends a scorching burst of flame into the zombie mob on the stairs. Half the zombies fall right away, and others are on fire.

"Fantastic!", Markus exclaims, "We might have a chance after all!"

"Watch this." Elight drops another burst on the remaining zombies, then another and another. The zombies are too stupid and slow to move away. Within seconds the zombies are gone. Markus is astounded. Kurelie gets an idea. "Wait here and keep doing that!" she says and bounds down the stairs and out the door.

Kurelie and Ingrid run around and "herd up" the zombies on the square. The zombies are too slow and too dispersed to be any real danger to the quick elf and the tough ranger. They bring the undead back to the church where Elight and Markus easily can finish them off with flame bursts and magic missiles and crossbow bolts.

The villagers caught in the church as well as Ingvar and Efraim are absolutely elated. The priest praises their courage and fighting prowess. "Truly, you have saved us all many times over. Keep your potions, and do not worry about the cost of the rituals." He lowers his voice to a whisper, glancing at the members of his flock. "I have noticed something troubling about these revenants. They all come from the same village: Gröten, northwest of here. My brother Arvid is priest there and I recognize them."

"That is troubling indeed. We will have to look into it, once we have cleared the streets and made sure none of them are left alive", Markus says, giving the crusaders meaningful glances indicating that this will be a job for them.

The rest of the night is spent hunting down zombies in the streets. With the aid of the remaining town guards this becomes a trivial task, and by dawn the zombie invasion is over. The corpses are burning in a funeral pyre outside of town and the heroes are being congratulated and praised by the entire village. Gun, the innkeeper, tells them that they will live for free at The Bridgehouse for as long as they have to, and everyone else they saved, directly or indirectly, show up to thank them or offer them rewards to the best of their abilities. Verner the merchant gives them 100 gold pieces each for saving the life of him and his driver.

Our heroes spend the day cleaning up, resting and patching up their wounds. Ingrid can't believe how nice everyone is and still worries that someone will show up and demand money for the magic ritual and potions. Five hundred gold pieces! She can't believe anyone would have that much money, or if they did, that they would spend it on her. Kurelie seems to think that this is just natural and that she deserves all of this and more. Elight remains mysterious but makes a lot of notes in his books about everything that has happened.

In the light of day the zombie delivery system is revealed: an ice floe with pieces of zombies still attached sits on the river bank. Apparently the zombies must have floated down the river from Gröten but when the floe reached the shallow waters near Dalsvad it got stuck and broke apart to release its deadly cargo.
 
Before they leave for Gröten the next day, Markus asks them to check in on the old saw-mill on the way. People have told him that they have seen goblins around there, and he doesn't like that they are coming this close to town. Now that the baron and his soldiers are away on the crusade the goblins seem to think that they can do as they please. Unfortunately they might be right. Markus doesn't have enough men to patrol the roads, much less the forests. He informs them that there is a bounty on goblins: two gold per ear, and one hundred gold for a chief's head. If they can find out where the goblins live, that's another hundred gold.

With a basket full of tasty food provided by Gun at the inn, the crusaders begin their journey. According to Markus it's a two day journey. They'll arrive at Skogstorp, a small village at the edge of the forest, in about 6 hours. They can rest there and continue to Gröten on the other side of the forest the next day. The saw-mill is just an hour or so up the road from Dalsvad.

They arrive at the mill without any unexpected surprises. Even at a distance they can see a large amount of tracks outside the doors to the mill and the attached warehouse. The mill's great waterwheel stands still now since the river is partially frozen. At the back of the warehouse they can see a wooden pier jutting out into the unfrozen center of the river.

After some deliberation, the heroes approach the warehouse and open the door to reveal two separate lofts, a back door and a side door. Within, from piles of sawdust and cut timber, large rats emerge to defend their winter dwelling. A disease-riddled dire rat seems to lead the rest. The fight begins, but the rats are no match for the crusaders. The dire rat manages to bite Kurelie, and a few of the other rats scratch and bite Ingrid. Elight considers the benefit of burning the entire mill to the ground but reconsiders and decides to summon a cloud of grasping shadows to crush the rats instead.

Then the goblins show up. A big goblin swinging an axe almost as large as itself barges out of the mill proper, catching Elight without a proper guard just outside the warehouse. Three lesser goblins enter the warehouse through the side door and join in the fray, gibbering in their pigeon language. The battle flows back and forth with the axe-wielding goblin chasing Elight inside the warehouse where he is confronted by Kurelie and Ingrid. Elight sends goblin cutters flying with liberate use of his thunder wave spell, one of the bursts blowing away the back doors to reveal the pier outside, with a small boat tied to the end.

Elight walks past the open door to avoid the goblin axe-man, and a crossbow bolt hits him in the thigh, fired by a goblin sharpshooter hidden in a barrel on the pier. He sends a magic missile back which blasts the barrel to pieces but doesn't kill the goblin.

Meanwhile, Kurelie and Ingrid manage to hurt the large goblin enough to send him into a fit of rage, and he swings wildly all around himself, but doesn't manage to land a single blow. Kurelie sidesteps his axe but in doing so she enter the sharpshooter's line of sight, and a crossbow bolt hits her in the side of her neck! Elight has had enough. He steps out on the pier and a thunderous wave of power knocks the goblin sharpshooter into the cold river. Ingrid finishes off the goblin skullcleaver.

The mill has been cleansed and the heroes find a bag of coins and gems hidden on the goblins' boat.
 
The mysterious mage Elight disappears mysteriously on a mysterious errand.

Instead, we follow our friends - Kurilie and Ingrid - on the way to Gröten. As they reach the edge of the forest they find a fortified inn called Skogstorp. They decide to spend the night at the inn instead of daring to sleep in the forest. At the inn they find another would-be crusader who has been trapped in the valley by the winter snows; a dragonborn warlord called Inzidiouz. He immediately makes an impression on the ladies with his worldly manners and he agrees to join them in investigating the zombie plague that seems to originate in Gröten.

The next morning is cold and foreboding. Snow falls from thick black clouds and is whipped into a frenzy by strong gusts of wind. Our heroes are not deterred by something as simple as bad weather though, and they trudge on through the forest. The so-called road is barely visible so instead they follow the half-frozen river that is also supposed to pass by the unfortunate village.

After walking for almost the entire day they anticipate to find Gröten at any moment, but instead they are attacked by a band of hungry goblins. As if from nowhere the small evil critters erupt from bushes and snow drifts, hurling spears and firing crossbows. Screeching starved warriors attack with large rusty knives, followed by a well-trained murderous battle-rat. The battle is brutal and desperate. The killer rat proves to be the most deadly opponent, tearing Inzidiouz' throat open with a vicious bite, and leaving Ingrid dying in a pool of her own blood.

Fortunately Inzidiouz is able to provide a healer's touch to stave the bloodflow and bring Ingrid back on unsteady feet. In the end the crusaders are victiorious and Ingrid collects the ears of the fallen goblins to cash in the bounty later. The victory greatly improves their morale, and they continue their journey. (They levelled. Ding 2!)

About two hours after dark they approach Gröten along the river bank. Despite the wind and snow they can't fail to notice the smoke and smell of burning charcoal that fills the air near the village. Ingrid who is experienced in such things note that it smells like a coaler's pile has caught fire. That is usually not a good sign. The group decides to investigate.

Soon enough they find the burning piles, obviously unattended. A nearby cabin with light shining from a window still seems to be inhabited, though, so Kurilie skips ahead to peer inside. She notes three individuals, a woman and two children, tied to chairs and seated around a table. A large man wielding an axe is lurking near the cabin door. The high-elf shouts a report of her discovery back to her friends, just before the axe-wielding maniac bursts through the door.

"Stay away! I won't let you have them!" he screams, clinging to his axe like a drowning man to a piece of driftwood. He is obviously crazy, skin and clothes caked with dirt, soot and dried blood. If his appearance and behaviour wasn't disturbing enough, he is followed by what looks like four severed animated forearms, running on the fingers of their hands. The crawling claws firmly grasp the ankles of our heroes, slowing them down.

Kurilie is not so easy to catch though. She cuts the zombie hands into thin slices and dances around the coaler in an almost hypnotic manner, stabbing him with her swords to draw his attention. She got it. He stares at her as if she was one of his own inner demons and brings his axe down hard. Another swing like that might prove fatal, but by now the other heroes have cut down the remaining crawling claws and joined the high-elf, so the insane coaler never gets another chance. Kurilie eventually knocks him unconscious with the pommel of her sword and he collapses into a twisted heap.

The people inside the cabin turn out to be dead, yet not entirely dead. They also lack arms and legs. Someone had chopped off their limbs at the elbows and knees, to prevent them from hurting anyone, and then tied them to the chairs to keep them still. The maimed zombies were obviously the coaler's family. He had even been trying to feed them something horrible from a pot on the fire. Inzidiouz destroys the zombies with a few blasts of icy breath, and ends the axe-man's life in the same manner. Afterwards he dumps the bodies in the forest away from the small clearing. Our heroes decide to spend the night in the cabin and get some rest before checking up on the village proper. Kurilie refuses to sleep inside with all the dirt and soot and stench of zombies, so she sits down and meditates near one of the burning piles to keep warm.

As dawn breaks the high-elf notices a pack of starving wolves glaring at her from the edge of the forest. They had found the dumped zombie carcasses quite inedible and were now hungry and desperate enough to approach through the stench of the charcoal smoke. Their attempt to sneak up on the morsel of prime elf was unsuccesful, though. Kurilie gets up and runs to tell her friends that some wolves have arrived. Ingrid pulled the somewhat naive elf inside and shut the door, informing her that wolves in this world aren't sweet, fluffy puppies of love and friendship. Meanwhile, Inzidiouz surprises everyone by opening the door and running outside to blast the wolves with a whirlwind of freezing air. Two wolves fall immediately, covered in ice. Inzidiouz hurries back inside, followed by the rest of the pack.

Several wolves are cut down as they try to rush inside the cabin in order to tear down their intended victims. Only the alphas survive the initial attack. This time their prey turned out to be too tough for them, and in less than half a minute the entire pack has fallen to axes and swords. Ingrid spends some time skinning the wolves, planning to sell the furs when they get back to Dalsvad, which makes her friends look at her funny and complain about the lack of loot in this adventure. No wait, that was the players. Let's move on.
 
Finally - Gröten! Once a logging site that has grown into a permanent dwelling for about three dozen families, the village sits in a large clearing next to the river. Simple sharpened poles and a low ditch is all that protects about 30 small houses and a church on a hill near the center. The low, miserable houses are almost buried. Nothing and nobody has disturbed the snow for what seems like days.

As the crusaders come closer they notice what looks like a freshly dug shallow grave. A bloated corpse sits at the edge, chewing on something. As the putrescent zombie sees fresh meat it burps and gurgles and four more dead people rise slowly from the grave. Hands reach up from the frozen dirt and start groping around for living flesh. None of our heroes want to end up near those hands but the zombies lurch forward intent on making that horrible nightmare come true.

Inzidiouz blasts the zombies and the field of undead arms with his icy breath. A few of the hands freeze and break off but new arms take their place. A seemingly endless supply of dead bodies crawl under the thin layer of dirt. The bloated corpse at the far end of the grave stands up and vomits a gob of black, rotten slime into his hand and flings it with deadly accuracy at the dragonborn. It hits him square in the chest and the deadly chill of necrotic energy saps his strength. Kurilie screams. The idea of getting hit by something that disgusting fills her with elven rage and she runs around the grave to confront the source of uncleanness.

While the elf warrior fights the vomiting horror, Ingrid and Inzidiouz slowly but surely cut heads and arms off of the other four zombies. Two more zombies crawl out of the ground and close in on Kurilie, who is still fighting the corrupted corpse. She stabs its bloated abdomen but the wounds are immediately filled with goo bubbling out from its festering innards, and seal up faster than she can open them. However, when the heroes gang up on the remaining undead, victory is almost inevitable. After washing off with some snow, they move past the primitive defensive works and into the village.

(It seems obvious now but the corruption corpse should have been standing in the middle of the animated grave instead of behind it. Live and learn.)
 
The crusaders slowly walk through the village, looking out for more undead. They don't see anyone, living or dead, until they find the small town square nestled between the church and the inn. A creature that once was the village priest - Arvid - standing next to a slime-filled old well. He looks like a broken shell of a man, tortured to death and brought back by foul magic to preach the message of dark lords. "You are all doomed", he crones, and with a gesture from the dark priest half a dozen zombies rise from the layer of snow that had been hiding them. "Darkness will rise and swallow the world. This is just the beginning." He aims a bony finger at Inzidiouz and a bolt of black fire tears through the air next to the warlord.

Kurilie rushes past the throng of zombies to get their master, and is savagely pummeled by their frozen fists. Ingrid follows her, taking a beating as well, but far, far worse - as she runs past the well something stirs in its depth. A headless torso on a long spine reaches out and tries to grab her, but she dodges it and both the warriors end up near Arvid, prepared to take him down. Meanwhile, Inzidiouz takes care of the remaining zombies with his icy breath, turning most of them into slush.

Arvid turns to face his attackers, and as they get a good look at his face under his hood they shriek and recoil, fear tearing at their minds and making them run away, not caring about the dangerous well. Kurilie gets close enough for the thing inside to heave its bloated form over the edge and reach out for her with not just one but two torso puppets. A third spine holds a jawless skull which apparently serves as its sensory organ. The entire thing looks like as if a mass of rotting corpses has partially melted and fused together, and it smells even worse than it looks.

The torso puppets grab hold of the elf and pull her closer to a rend in the sack-like body that seems to serve as its mouth. It is filled with sharp bones and slimy unrecognizable organs, and now it seems intent on adding Kurilie to its mass. Inzidiouz tries to come to the rescue, but he is hindered by a quartet of new zombies rising to stop him.

Ingrid overcomes her panic and follows Arvid, her axes finding gap in his defenses. He stumbles and groans, "So soon?", touching the deep gash in his chest. "I will have your soul!" he hisses and grabs her with a blackened claw-like hand, tearing not only her flesh but also her very life-force. She retorts with another swing of an axe and ends the former priest's tortured existence, and then runs to assist Inzidiouz.

Just as the Thing is going to push Kurilie into its gaping maw, the high-elf disappears into her own shadow and reappears in a burst of faerie sparkles next to her friends. Together they finish off the last of the zombies and then it is just a matter of seconds before the thing from the well is also destroyed. Our heroes are once again victorious.


Desperate for some kind of reward, Inzidiouz peers down the stinking well. The walls are covered with half-frozen slime but there doesn't seem to be much water or slime left at the bottom. He thinks he can see some items half-buried down there so he climbs down to investigate. His bravery is rewarded by a soggy but strangely intact leather bag containing quite a lot of coins and a gem, as well as a suit of magical sylvan hide armor which Kurilie reluctantly puts on after the dragonborn has frozen the slime and brushed it off.

He also finds a black skull wrapped in iron bands, carved with runes and symbols of some kind. He tosses it to Ingrid who seems to collect disgusting dead things. The ranger and the elf study the skull and conclude that it must have been used to magically poison the well. It has lost any power it once had but they keep it for future research.

The leather bag is marked with a merchant guild's brand. It turns out to be much larger on the inside than on the outside and doesn't seem to weigh more no matter how much they put in it, which Ingrid will prove later when she stuffs an entire dire wolf in the bag. There are no clues to how it ended up in the well so they decide to keep it.
 

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