Princes of the Apocalypse

The Bard's Tale, Session 30
Of Guards and Glass

Maul O’War falls in the water and starts to sink, along with his armor. The water is dark, but he powerfully swims back to the surface and to the boat. Nogara is the first to spot what looks like a giant octopus; Ophelia lights her Dancing Lights underwater, but immediately the giant squid sprays ink. They can’t see it anymore. They all manage to get to the surface, but the boat is upside down. They wait for the squid to reappear, but nothing happens, so they decide to try to swim the boat towards their destination. Bree-Yark precedes them at the dock. While they swim with the boat, Alexander is suddenly pulled down. He tries to break free from the grapple, but fails. No one sees much, but Nogara, thanks to his flawless vision, throws a deadly arrow and the giant octopus is dead, releasing the cleric.

They make their way to a cave-beach on the western edge of the lake. While the others settle the boat in a ready-to-leave position, Bree-Yark and Ophelia keep watch over the corridors. Bree-Yark hears voices from a closed door on the corridor to the north. The western corridor that Ophelia is checking is blocked by a locked gate, but according to their map, the corridor would lead off the map. Nogara, communes with the earth, trying to sense how many enemies might be behind the door; however, he is not able to feel them, meaning that they are not humans, orcs, or elementals. He goes forward to explore, but besides eternal-burning torches, he finds nothing.

They debate the opportunity to rush into the room and spread mayhem, but Maul accidentally scrapes his maul against the wall and the voices go quiet. They immediately open the door and they find hobgoblins inside. Bree-Yark shots dead one, and Mephelon misses another. But Maul walks in and kills two in one go. Another flees through a door to the north, screaming in fear, and joins what sounds like a room full of voices. Maul opens the door and sees eight figures, mostly humans with blue tattoos (or blue skin, it’s hard to tell). “You have one opportunity to surrender, or we’ll kill you all”, says a voice from behind. Bree-Yark shoots, from a slit of a door, behind three rows of people, and he hits their leader. Mephelon casts a scorching ray at the guard and chaos magic sizzles around him, but nothing happens for the moment. Nogara magically conjures spiked bushes that prevents the water guards from moving without being hurt. Their leader stares at Bree-Yark from across the room. “You wanted my attention? You have it!” And he shoots a blue ray from his eyes, freezing him. Then he orders his men forward, though the thorns; the spikes kill one of them and wound all the others, one of which is taken down by Alexander. The leader hides himself behind one of his guards. The party takes down the guards in the front and try to attack the rest from a distance. Mephelon watches as the leader becomes a blue mist, and the guard in front of him is mortally wounded by Bree-Yark’s javelin. Mephelon finds out that he can teleport for a short distance, probably due to his chaos magic, and he finds himself out in the corridor with Croco, when a guy that probably was the same that fled from the second door of the other room shows up. Alexander runs to Mephelon’s rescue, while Bree-Yark finishes off a bugbear. Finally, Maul gets his bow working and shoots dead the cultist that was attacking Mephelon. The leader is gone, but as they examine the table in the room, or what’s left of the instruments on it, Ophelia guesses that they are fabricating something using the power of Elemental Water. Of particular note, they find a ten-gallon (40 liters) tank of blown glass and sculpted bronze with a backpack-like carrying harness fashioned from tough leather. There is a valve on top of the tank to open it, but it is currently empty.

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The Bard's Tale, Session 29
...Ghoul me Twice, Shame on Me

Nogara and Ophelia open the door of what looks like a prison, but it is empty. Listening carefully, they seem to hear voices from afar. They approach a stone door and Nogara senses six humans inside. Back on the dock, Maul realizes he lost his weapon and tells Alexander that he’ll be back soon, and dives. The rest of the party goes forward to explore the room, and find five guards and a priest there. But thanks to Mephelon’s fireball, and to Croco’s skating skills, they soon take everybody down. They forgot to cast silence though, so the explosion might have tipped someone off. As Ophelia loots the room, the others that stand guard. It seems that from the other side of the bridge outside the door, there’s an apelike creature standing guard. They decide to check the prison more thoroughly, to no avail. But while Ophelia checks the narrow slit window, she spots a big, yellow eye, belonging to a quite big creature, watching back at her. She hides immediately, but she’s not sure she did it in time. They decide to go and check an island that they left unchecked on the southern side of the lake. Bree-Yark flies there before the boat can reach the place and spots ghouls. The undead see him and start crawling to attack, so the party decides to cleanse the area of their presence. Mephelon shots a fire bolt and Alexander turns a few of them, then retreats, and attacks with his spiritual weapon. Bree-Yark shoots from the back; Ophelia tries to cast faerie fire on them but only a few are hit. One of them goes after her and grabs her by the leg, wounding, and therefore paralyzing her.  Mephelon gets to safety and casts a fireball, killing several of them, but his magic “goes wild” and he becomes a giant. Alexander runs to rescue Ophelia and Nogara finishes her ghoul off with an arrow. The few remaining ghouls still put up a good fight, until only one remains. All but Bree-Yark and Ophelia, who don’t really want anything to do with the ghouls’ den, inspect the cavern. There are wells, which seem to contain sacks with rope around them. Alexander probes one of the sacks and fights against nausea as he finds out that the sack contains the decomposed remains of half a body that seems covered burns. It also spots the brand of the fire cult on its body. Alexander alone takes upon himself the responsibility of getting as many bodies out of the wells as he can, but there’s too many and they are too heavy. So he settles for the few that he manages to get, and says a prayer for them.

After a short rest, they decide to go to the other cavern on the lake. They take the boat and try to avoid the view from the bridge by passing behind a rock pillar. As they pass, Ophelia sees that the torchlight on the bridge, far away, seems like its flickering, but her attention is diverted as the boat is suddenly upturned!

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The Bard's Tale, Session 28
(First) Blood in the Water

Six men on the road to their fortune and fame, 
To treasure and blessing and to win the game!
Down under cave and water below,
Into the tunnels they go, they go…

Fair Dwarven city ‘twas maybe back then, 
But dark, dead and dump, a true ghoul’s den
Turned out to be under Crushing Wave’s rule.
All good people mourn old Besilmer’s jewel!

Dark as betrayal, vicious as age,
This water’s been death to both fool and to sage;
“Will it mark the end of our storyline too?”
- Our heroes were thinking, while drowining in goo.

Gruesome grim ghouls, sleek slimy squids
Play with our heroes as if they were kids;
But courage and skill push dismay aside,
And water’s behind now, tunnels they stride.

No crab-shaped shield, no saw-toothed sword
Can stand the pace of such formidable horde!
Their courage’s unyielding, their arrows shoot true,
Weak foes flee from them, and powerful too.

Six men on the road to their fortune and fame, 
To treasure and blessing and to win the game!
Vengeance is powerful, but Water as well:
Will they be in time to break this obscure spell?

 
The dark water is agitated by hands, who grapple Maul and pull him down. Other slimy hands upturn the boat, and all of our heroes fall into the water; thanks to Alexander’s spell, they cannot sink; however, even seeing in this dark waters is difficult. Bree-Yark manages to lift in flight before even touching water and immediately slays what looks like a ghoul. Croco is surrounded by their hands, and Ophelia misses them with her spell. Maul pulls himself together and, although his Maul is slower in the water, his blows are powerful enough to slay two ghouls in one mighty blow. Ophelia is charged by a ghoul, but dodges the first attack and Bree-Yark pierces the ghoul’s body in one mighty javelin throw, saving the bard. Alexander, using his glaive, deals powerful blows by standing on the surface. Nogara and Croco tear to pieces the remaining ghoul. Another one hides in the dark water, but as soon as Ophelia manages to shine light in the water, Maul dives and smites him. There’s silence around them, and as they have no idea how deep they are in the tunnels, Alexander decides to cast Water Walk again. Mephelon finds out, to his astonishment, that the blue color from his skin is melting away, thanks to a mixture of a remove curse from Alexander and… a bath.

As they delve deeper into the temple, they all fall silent and they separately start to questioning their intentions and directions. After another half an hour of rowing, they see a light ahead and hear voices casually talking. Nogara touches the wall of the cavern and listens intensely, sensing five humans. They decide to keep going calmly, pretending to be water cultists. Four guards are standing to what looks like the entrance to the dwarven city. The guards wear the crab shields and sawtooth swords that they’ve come to know as the hallmarks of the Water Cult. At the sight of the party, the guards stop them, but don’t attack when they show the sign of the Water Cult. Our heroes tell them they are here to see Shatterkeel, but the guards get suspicious and when they ask who they are. Alexander casts Silence.

Bree-Yark immediately flies behind them and shoots an arrow at the one in the back, simultaneously blocking his escape. Nogara shoots an arrow and Croco attacks the guard that is closest to the water, but misses with his bite. Mephelon, seeing a good shot, casts a fireball into the middle of them; the wounded guard dies on the hit, another one runs away but Bree-Yark intercepts him and guts him with a beak attack. After the fireball, the guards are easy targets and in a few seconds they are all on the floor. Just as the group thinks that the danger is gone, a cult knight riding a shark emerges from the water close to Ophelia. The bard is pierced by a lance and bitten by the shark, both of which then sink again into the water. Ophelia runs to safety and Maul, with Alexander, run onto the water to intercept the shark again.  Maul deals a powerful stroke, but it’s not enough to take him down. The knight swims away from him and shouts in a language they don’t know. Another guard, with blue skin, comes from behind Bree-Yark and the aarakocra hits him with a mighty blow, causing him to burst into mist. Bree-Yark doesn’t understand what happened – has he teleported? Or gone invisible?

Maul and Alexander take down the shark, but its rider disappears under water. They try to reach him with arrows, but he’s difficult to see. In the meantime, the man who “turned invisible” on Bree-Yark grasps onto him by taking him by surprise; his hands suck the life energy from the birdman, healing the foe. But Bree-Yark is no easy prey; he draws his rapier and shield and attacks him savagely. Nogara and Croco manage to hit and grapple the swimming knight, who is finished off by Alexander. The blue man that was attacking Bree-Yark tries to escape, but the bird flies over to him, blocks his way and pierces him with his rapier, causing him to explode into a burst of water. They dump the rest of the corpses in the lake. Nogara and Ophelia go explore the corridor and the water beyond the landing pad. They check a door which seems clear of traps, and they stealthily open it.

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The Bard's Tale, Session 27
Oaths of Flame

Six men on the road to their fortune and fame, 
To treasure and blessing and to win the game!
Six men that have played too much with fire,
And that now are bound to walk on the wire.

Wild magic is strange, impenetrable, unplanned,
Does not often hit you, but then you are stranded;
Not, though, if you’re witted and quite quick of mind:
Being blue might then save you, and luck you might find.

Six men on the road to their fortune and fame, 
To treasure and blessing and to win the game!
Unwillingly sworn, Oaths are still Oaths:
Death to the Wave and to those whom Fire loathes!

 
Our heroes surrender. They tell the cultists that the reason why they were attacking is the fact that the Cult of the Crushing Wave commanded them to, and they were forced to obey by the curse they put on their friend, Mephelon, as shown from the fact that the sorcerer is, well, blue. They say that their friend is to die in a week, if the curse is not lifted.

One by one, the party is bound, hooded, and knocked unconscious. When they awake, they find they are all placed in a small, lightless cell, still bound, and with little hope for escape. No one knows how long they’ve been there, and time passes slowly. Ophelia attempts to keep their spirits up with song, but the darkness and heat are oppressive. Then suddenly, unexpectedly, the doors are shoved open and armed guards enter with hoods for their heads again. Blinded, they are force-marched through a series of chambers, each as hot as the previous, the party straining to figure out where they are being taken. The stifling heat and rhythmic pounding of metal on metal lead Alexander to believe that at least one of the room is a smithy.

When the sacks are finally removed they find themselves in what looks like a throne room. A tiefling stands on a dias in front of them while they are all made to kneel before her. The tiefling’s features are quite extreme and evident; she introduces herself as Vanifer. Mephelon starts telling the story of his curse by the Crushing Wave cult. Ophelia tells her that if she lets them go, they would seek vengeance against the Cult of the Crushing Wave, a mutual enemy of the fire cult. But how can Vanifer trust them? And then the tiefling has an idea – if the paladin, the great Maul O’War, swears an oath of vengeance, she will be able to trust them. Maul, reluctantly, agrees. He is branded on the arm with a fiery symbol as he screams in pain. Their bounds are removed and a table is brought in by two hobgoblins. A map is unrolled and she tells them that their task is to go to Rivergard Keep, which is now being held by knights of Summit Hall, get past them, go to the tunnels underneath, find and kill Gar Shatterkeel, and bring back his claw. She shows them a map of the temple under the keep, and she tells them that “she’ll know” when the claw is out of the temple. She then gives them a wand and they agree to be knocked out. They wake up with all our equipment and money somewhere in the Sumber hills.

They rest and try to find their way to Rivergard keep. Nogara forages for food as it takes a few days to reach the keep. During the travel they try to remove the curse of Mephelon to no avail. Ophelia spend some time attuning to the wand that the fire cult has given to her, coming to the realization that it holds four charges of Leomund’s Tiny Hut. Nogara, by meditating, realizes he knows a way of bringing the good Coco back to life. They finally arrive at Rivergard Keep and they are welcomed by knights from Summit Hall. Capt. Varonis is in charge. She brings them to the main hall where Ophelia asks her to speak privately and tells her the whole story. The captain is kind of overwhelmed by the information, but she gives them full permission to go to the dungeon. A storm is approaching: during the stormy night, Nogara performs the ritual to bring back Coco in the new body of a crocodile, whom he names Croco.

The party takes a boat to row back up the stream, pausing for a moment to pay their respects to Fluffy and is brave sacrifices, and Alexander casts a ritual to make them walk on the water. For about 45 minutes they roam upstream. It’s all too quiet. From the light that he is holding, Maul thinks he sees something moving in the water, but it’s just a moment, and then it’s gone. Ophelia casts dancing lights on the surface of the water and she thinks she sees two things, like eyes, just on the surface of the water. Then suddenly the water breaks loudly on the right of the boat. Maul falls flat onto the surface of the water.

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The Bard's Tale, Session 26
Welcome to Chez Dryflagon!

The tower is almost a 100 ft high and it is surrounded by a wooden scaffolding which is burning down. Bree-Yark flies around and spots a door on the side. They are all quite beaten up, so they decide to take a short rest. Bree-Yark, after having rested, decides to have a look on a door that is 30 ft high (the scaffold that led there is now ashes), he flies there and sees that the door is unlocked. Two figures are inside, together what seems like a burning a dwarf! Bree-Yark remembers something about that creature being a servant of the Efreet.

They decide to stealthily climb the tower and enter from the top trapdoor, instead of entering the tower from the bottom, to have the element of surprise. The tower doesn’t seem to have windows, so if they are quiet enough they won’t be heard. Bree-Yark hangs a rope and Nogara climbs, then Mephelon, and together they pull up Ophelia, Maul and Alexander. Bree-Yark keeps the people on the other half-height door occupied. They check the trapdoor for traps, and they get inside. It’s pitch black. Nogara gets in and sees the floor covered in what looks like large bat droppings. Maul gets in too and lights up a torch, and the floor falls below their feet. They hit the floor hard, a priest is in the room waiting for them. He has gray-streaked hair and a pipe. “I have been expecting you.” Bree-Yark charges to save them, as all the others ready to jump together, so that Ophelia can cast feather fall on all of them. As Mephelon floats down, a giant bat tries to leap at him from the dark ceiling, but it misses and Mephelon lands gracefully. Alexander is also attacked by a giant bat, as many more dive on our heroes on the bottom floor. There seem to be 4 of them. The priest blows smoke from his pipe, which turn into a toxic cloud. All of our heroes besides Ophelia, who is still upstairs, are caught by sickness and are drowned in smoke. Ophelia casts faerie fire on the bats, who, scared by the sudden light, flee from the trapdoor, just right after she managed to hide behind a corner. She then gets in, but she can’t see what’s happening below – namely, Mephelon failing a shocking grasp and turning suddenly blue. Bree-Yark pukes in a corner, while Nogara senses the priest moving in the smoke and follows him, stabbing him in the back. Maul, getting on his feet, senses the noise of the fight and hits the priest with his maul. The blow is powerful but the priest’s will is strong, and the spell does not break. But the priest is almost done for. As he runs away, he get a backslash from Nogara and he is left barely alive to cast a spell of thunderwave. The stinking cloud is vanished, and Ophelia jumps down in time to follow the priest down the stairs and to lash a cunning insult drenched in powerful magic. The brain of the priest can’t stand the mockery, and he falls. But three men, two crossbowmen and a spellcaster, fire at the bard, who calls for help. Mephelon rushes in, casting a magic missile, and Bree-Yark almost pierces to death the spellcaster with his arrows; he is barely standing, but has enough strength to cast a fireball; all but Nogara are hit by the spell, the floor opens under Maul who falls down 20 ft and unconscious. Alexander is also down. Mephelon hears steps from the floor below and Bree-Yark rushes to defend Maul, but finds the body of the paladin surrounded by the people he had seen from the door before: two humanoid figures and an Azer. The situation looks desperate.

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The Bard's Tale, Session 24-25
I've Seen Fire and I've Seen...Flame

[Bree-Yark] “Get out of there, Ophelia!” we yelled, after she gave the hairy man a royal dissing. “You shouldn’t have said that ’bout his mama…” the man on the left whispered, as his body began to bulge and stretch in unnatural ways. His speech grew more and more slurred as his jaw pushed out to become a lupine muzzle, full of bloody fangs! “His mama wuuuzzz a zaaiin’!” Then he let out a blood-chilling howl that echoed through the fog like a runaway horse. 

This terrifying display kicked the hindbrain of everyone present, spurring a couple of PCs to flight. Meanwhile, the man on the right went through the same transformation, but still weeping from the hurtful insult, ran away into the hills.

Smoke billowed over the campsite, and when it cleared, Bree-yark was on the opposite side of the clearing firing arrows into the drooling monster that has once been a man. Alexander was fighting off its claws with his glaive, but the beast was too fast for him, and managed to bite him in the arm. Then the second beast-man returned, and Bree-yark had to drop his bow to defend, but he too got bitten. A shout of triumph erupted from the east side of the camp, as bolt after bolt of searing red flame plunged into the first beast-man’s side, followed by a white-hot crackle of lightning that cooked it from the inside out.

“What are these things? Wolfmen?” Someone shouted through the clamor of battle. “I don’t know!” Alexander responded. He and Bree-yark were grimly hacking away at the second wolfman, but their weapons had trouble biting deep through the creature’s thick hide. It was bleeding from a dozen shallow wounds, but didn’t seem to care, slowly and deliberately ripping both of the heroes to shreds. Help had already come to the wolf-man’s call, in the form of a smug druid and three cronies. They immediately spread out and started keeping Nogara and Mephelon busy fending off blows from flaming greatswords. Mephelon tried flinging a fireball at the druid and a couple of rangers, but it only seemed to invigorate them. Nogara was coughing on smoke, making it hard for her to strike a telling blow, but her valiant falcon, CoCo, kept diving for the man’s face, offering a crucial distraction.

At this point, a reinforcement arrived: Maul O’War ran clanking into the battle! But the party was already weakening rapidly, unable to strike a decisive blow on any of their opponents. Alexander kept praying for Lathander’s support, and time and time again we felt our spirits rise… only to be let down again when our weapon slips from numb fingers or the enemy sinks its claws into our side. Things weren’t looking good for our heroes! Mephelon and Maul O’War were both unconscious, and Alexander was bleeding from a dozen wounds and barely hanging on.

But the tide finally turned. A magician of some sort stumbled into the campsite, and seemed to recognize the flaming druid as an enemy. She cast a spell and managed to freeze the druid in place, preventing him from casting more spells at us. Bree-yark recovered from a stunning blow enough to pick up his bow and fly a hundred feet away from the main battle, where he started sharpshooting the wolfman still attacking Alexander, the druid, then the rangers.
And Mephelon finally finished off the second wolfman with a spell, allowing the rest of the party to focus on mere humans who died MUCH more easily.

When the battle was finally over, the friendly magician came over to greet us. She looked us over uncertainly, and made a strange sign with her hands. When we didn’t return it properly, she grew pale, suddenly realizing that she was among enemies. Bree-yark tried to reassure her that she could leave in peace, but all possibility of diplomacy failed when Maul O’War started bragging about his exploits against the Cult of the Crushing Wave. The magician fled, and after a brief debate the party started attacking her so that she couldn’t return to take revenge on behalf of the water cult.  A few moments after she died, a couple of her friends (also cultists, we presume) arrived at the campsite. After a brief and tense conversation, they took her body and left. (Luckily, the smoky air hid how badly wounded everyone was.)
“Let’s get out of here.” Alexander muttered. “We need to rest and heal, and it isn’t safe.” On the way back, Nogara stopped in to see her druid acquaintances, who had come hoping to join the cult. They had been murdered in their tents, which made her sad but also feel slightly better about attacking the water cultist.

Finally the party was able to find a clearing out of view of the main road where they could bind their wounds and rest.
“Does anyone have any fresh meat?” Alexander asked. “I’m hungry.” Bree-yark nodded in agreement.

[Ophelia] The small chance that the fire cult was a more reasonable bunch of people shattered before them. It’s night and everybody is silent, lost in their thoughts. The next morning, Nogara goes scouting early in the morning, and she finds the corpses of yesterday’s battle still in the camps. Closer to the castle, there are tents that look inhabited along a wall in ruin. Inside the wall circle, a giant humanoid figure made of branches, who looks like it would really nicely take to fire, is surrounded by a rhythmic chanting in an unknown language. Nogara senses about 12 humanoids around, probably 5 or 6 just in front of him. While deciding what to do next, Nogara expresses his uneasiness to attack camps by surprise, since he has no assurance that these people are really evil. Alexander tries to convince Nogara that being allied with werewolves is a bad sign. In the end, they agree on heading towards a western camp.

The fire is no longer burning, but there are three tents there. The campfire there is cold, and the tents are basically empty, besides a few personal effects with no value. Following the path to the next camp, they find themselves on the western side of the hill. In front of a campfire, sitting on a log, there’s what looks like a druid with a couple of sprites around. The druid unsheathes a… violin! It’s in fact a she, and she introduces herself as Gariena. They realize that they have heard about her from Nogara’s friends, who are now dead. The sprites are called Afid and Flix. Gariena seems like a nice person and seems confident that the fire cultists are nice too. Ophelia decides she’s a good person, and decides to tell her what they know about the cults. She’s not quite trusting them, so Nogara decides to tell her about the fate of his two druid friends. She knew them too, and she’s shocked at the sight of their bodies. She decides to leave, not before leaving the party a couple of scrolls, skywrite and lesser restoration.

The cult is presenting itself to druids as the Circle of the Scarlet Moon. Their true name is Cult of the Eternal Flame. They are still not sure about the intention of the cult, but the only feasible way up (besides some openings in the wall on the back of the hill that are not accessible to Maul and Alexander) is through the breach in the courtyard with the wicker giant. They approach with a friendly smile, but as soon as the two druid see them, they attack. Ophelia is able to block a fireball, and the battle starts. The druids are chanting, “Arise, and cleanse this place of the unworthy!” Alexander rushes forward and calls guardian spirits, while Coco, with an unwordly sweep of talons, chops off the head of one of the druids. But it’s too late, the wicker giant turns into a giant elemental of fire. Ophelia blocks another fireball, but the elemental attacks set fire to both Maul and Nogara. Infernal hounds and crossbowmen soon join the fight, and Coco dies bravely under the paws of one of the hounds. Nogara, devastated, falls back and puts out his flaming clothes with his own tears. Ophelia manages to temporarily send away the elemental, but the remaining druid sends scorching bolts towards her. She is hit, but not too badly. An infernal hound breathes fire and Maul is down. Alexander and his guardian spirits bravely contain the attackers, while spellcasters fire from the back. The battle is as fierce as their enemies’ fire. Alexander revives Maul but he is soon to fall. Ophelia chases away the elemental a second time, but he lashes back at her and Mephelon. Maul raises up just in time to deal the last, deadly blow to the elemental, who explodes in a cloud of ashes. But a crossbow bolt takes him down again. With many of her friends down, Ophelia tries to charm the enemy, but only a pair fall. Maul takes down a hound. The situation is desperate.

Mephelon, seen the situation as dire, decides to cast his most powerful spell, fireball, against the crossbowmen. It seems like these guys have resistance to fire, but they do seem to take the hit. The tower they are standing on catches fire. Alexander gets up, dodges the charmed soldiers and attacks the swordman, who takes him down. Mephelon is also down, and while Ophelia tends to them, Bree-Yark emerges from the fog, flying, and from above he has a perfect view of the last standing spellcaster, who is crouching behind a small wall. The second he peeks out, he just watches hopelessly as Bree-Yark’s arrow describes a perfect arc and lands in his eye, killing him. On the same split second, Bree-Yark’s second arrow takes down a crossbowman, making him fall into the flames. The second one, seeing that he is the last one standing, flees on the back to the tower. The hell hounds are slain, and the battle is over.

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The Bard's Tale, Session 23
Nogara's Night in Beliard - It's All a Haze

They debate what to do with the Nettlebee’s loot, but Maul is increasingly restless. The next morning he speaks to Alexander and confesses that he feels the need to avenge orcs, and leaves suddenly for Summit Hall. The priest is worried and silently utters a prayer to Lathander to protect his fellow. They then decide to keep half of the loot, go to Beliard to have the two halflings imprisoned for murder, then go looking for the fire cult.

Beliard is a pleasant-looking ranching village full of trees, friendly and, at least appears to be, civilized; a bright spot in the surrounding wilderness. There’s a well and a pond, a tanner, a smith, other shops, an inn called the Watchful Knight. Some people seem also quite able to defend themselves – like retired mercenaries. Beliard is also the last place where the dwarven delegation was reported alive. The party brings the prisoners to the local constable, who puts them in prison. The old halfling looks at them with a murderous stare, but that’s not enough to scare them.

After dropping the prisoners, Ophelia craves a bath and drags Mephelon and Alexander with her. Nogara prefers the animal pond, but they convince him to go to the civilized place. Thinking that they might have, in the end, forgotten to take the dwarven manuscripts from Riverguard Keep, Nogara thinks of looking for bookstores, to see if any of them got here. (Ophelia plays along, although no one remembers that it was she that had the manuscript last when they got in Waterdeep!!!! But no one remembers and nobody will do because no one reads recaps!!!!! And if you do, you can’t know it in-game because it would be metagaming, and metagaming is really bad!!!!! Muahahahah. And yes, I wrote this while looking you all in your faces.) The rest of our heroes go to the town’s inn. The owner, Neshor Fleurdin, greets them in and takes orders for dinner. Ophelia offers to perform, and manages to earn their meal and rooms for the night. While Ophelia plays, Nogara tries to talk to a woman that comes here often about the dwarven delegation, but she misunderstands completely and thinks he’s hooking up with her. In the end she tells Nogara that she remembers a dwarven delegation, and also of a figure with a golden mask that was following them around. Nogara then thanks her and leaves, leaving her puzzled.

After the show, they go talking to Neshor. Mephelon asks about the name of the inn, and he tells them it’s named after a coat of armor that one day walked away, hanging around and keeping watch. Ophelia asks him about the dwarves, and he tells them he’d seen them. They were headed towards Summit hall, to bring the body of a slain knight. A drunk bystander adds that he ran into the delegation south of Beliard a few hours later, and after them, what looked to be flying knights from Feathergale spire.

They have a lengthy discussion as where to go next. Ophelia and Mephelon think that they should go back to check the secret entrance they had spotted in the vale under Feathergale Spire. They had been told by Brundelthar and the other prisoners they freed from the Earth Cult that prisoners were taken by the Air Cult. If there’s a chance that they’re hidden somewhere, they need to know. Alexander is afraid that the secret entrance might just be a way into the dwarven city, which they don’t feel like entering yet, but in the end they persuade him to check the Spire first.

The next morning, they are ready to leave, and strangely Nogara can’t stop smiling weirdly, when Mephelon casually remarks that Nogara didn’t come back to the room last night. They get on the road, and soon they reach The Stone Bridge, a lieu of pilgrimage for dwarves. It is told by the dwarves that Moradin appeared to rally the Ironstar Clan against the orcs, and Torhild Flametongue, the founder of Besilmer, died here fighting a hill giant. He’s the guy who had the Orcsplitter blade! He should be buried somewhere in these hills.

As they start to cross the bridge, the day becomes hotter and hotter. It’s nothing like they ever experienced, and Alexander needs to remove his armor to go on. After a few hours, they manage to find some shade, and eventually the sun sets, bringing a bit of solace. The next day they keep on walking towards Feathergale Spire, and in 5 days since they left Beliard they are now close. The draw bridge is down and aarkockra are still around. They are stopped at the entrance and their identity is checked, then they are allowed to enter the spire. The aarkockra chief tells him that they killed the manticores and some gnolls that were lying around the vale, and now the situation is quiet. They get the authorization to check the perspective entrance of the caves they spot before for prisoners, and maybe free them.
They get into the crevasse and it seems like a dead end, but Ophelia, with the help of Alexander’s faith, finds a secret door that leads into a tunnel. The tunnel seems to go on and on forever; it’s clearly carved, but no big architectural masterpiece. At some point, a chasm opens; a stairway leads to the broken dwarven city. No prisoners here, and they still don’t feel comfortable with entering the city. They are worried for the fate of the prisoners, but they decide to make their way towards the fire temple, since they have no further clue.

When they reach the area indicated on the map by the Uthgart people, a smoky haze covers the landscape. They follow a path up a hill, from which they can see a square tower surrounded by ruined walls and 7 campfires down the hill all around it. Nogara and Ophelia go scouting around the hill, but there’s a steep slope behind the hill, impossible to climb. They debate for a long time whether to attack the campfires right away or try to talk to them, and they decide to step up and ask them about the dwarven delegation from Mirabar. The man that they talk to doesn’t know about any dwarves, but he knows Nogara! Nogara remembers camping with this guy before, back in Goldenfields; he was seeking an obscure druid circle called the Circle of the Scarlet Moon. Since he became a druid, he felt like he had to look for something more meaningful and ancient, and he thinks he finally found something. The chief druid around here is called Elizar Dryflagon. They perform a lot of rituals, many including fire, but he’s not sure that everybody else is a druid. Elizar coordinates all camps. They are going to perform the Rite of the Wicker Giant uphill. He talks about other druids around:
-Careena, who walks around with two sprites.
-The people here arrive from all over the place.
-Them, they are waiting to see if they are “accepted” in the cult – I mean, religion…group..whatever.

The party decides to stay the night and then go to talk to Elizar in the morning. When they wake up, the 4 druids in this camp are awake, and a couple of elks are pacing nearby. They climb the path on the hill, passing by a camp of ragged and very hairy men. They stare at them and say: “Turn around. You don’t belong here”. They insist on wanting to see their boss. “I have no boss. Go away.” Alexander understands that they may be some kind of werewolves and says “We are all sentient humanoids, I’m sure we can sort it out peacefully,” but the stranger scoffs at him. Ophelia says “what are you, guard dogs?” “I’ll give you guard dogs!!” the stranger barks and clutches her neck with a clawed hand, as he suddenly transforms into a humanoid wolf; but the bard was ready, and she enchants him with a dissonant melody that wounds his mind and compels him to lose his grasp and run away.

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The Bard's Tale, Session 22
A Bit of Earthy Halfling Mischief

The farm that they are heading to is in a few day’s ride towards the hills close to Beliard. The fields around are full of cattle and sheep, which seems suspicious to Ophelia – this does not seem the landscape of an Orc raid. Nogara studies the footprints around and states that he is sure that there’s no Orcs in the area.

A two-story house is in sight, an unnatural hill made of possibly stone, like a borrow, behind. Trees have been chopped all around. People from the house come out to check who is there. When Maul introduces himself as Paladin of Tyr, a large man leaves from the front door. They look skeptical and the party explains to them that they were asked for help from the guy at the Dellmon ranch. They look amazed at their presence there, and at the fact that they are here to help, and they welcome them in the house. Jane, the matriarch of the house, serves them delicious food. A whole family is in there. They are all halflings. The muscular halfling that invited them in (Bertram) goes to fetch his father, a very old halfling named Wiggan. “Good, you’re here to help, right? About time they sent someone. We sent notes and requests for help everywhere.” He looks not really sure about whether they’re up to the task or not, so Maul tells him that they killed 40 orcs yesterday.

“If you really want to help…a few days ago, that burrow caught fire and burnt for days. My grandson also noticed there was a brand on our animals” and he shows them a sign, which looks like a half circle with three lines coming from it. They put watch at night, but they saw no one. His grandson Watson came to investigate the burrow. “Buried within that tomb, there’s a woman who can control fire – a fire witch – and Watson saw that the tomb was open. The whole family is scared out of their mind”

The rest of the kids are named Derrow, Elisa and Ignitus. Alexander thinks that it’s possible that the cult of fire came to desecrate the tomb. Wiggan and Bertram take them as close as they are comfortable to the mound and they leave them there. Maul tries to sense if there is an unnatural presence, but he feels none. The stone slab has been rolled over. Alexander detects magic coming from inside, a magic of evocation. Maul detects slightly older human tracks, and newer halfling tracks, probably Watson’s. Ophelia detects no traps and they make their way in. The wall is lined with perpetual flames, but it is incredibly cold. Alexander finds the cold impossible to bear. It’s really weird that it’s this cold – the place seems quite charred all around. The tunnel goes on until an arch makes way in the burial chambers. It has three scorched altars, one with a tiger, one with an elk, and the third one a bear. In the middle of the room there’s a stone bier with a blackened and burnt skeleton. To Ophelia and Mephelon, this looks like a Uthgart barbarian. But why would a barbarian, whose creed abhors magic, be buried in a tomb with perpetual flames? This doesn’t make any sense… as they talk about this, a sudden frost, even colder than before, fills the room and the spoils on the bier are inundated with light. A pale but solid figure rises, the figure of a barbarian named Javor.

“I return from a warrior’s rest to find my tomb desecrated and burning. Who are you and what are you doing in my tomb?” They introduce themselves and they explain why they are there, and tell him that they were looking for the desecrators, and that they were told that this was the tomb of a fire witch.

“My name is Javor, I was a leader of the Elk tribe of the Uthgar people”. But as he talks, a rumble like that of an earthquake comes and the hall behind them collapses. They are plunged into darkness, as they realize that they are trapped. “The desecrators! They are nearby,” exclaims Javor, and runs down the hall while Alexander and Maul follow him, but before everybody can leave, an earth elemental comes up from the floor and stomps Ophelia.

Javor starts taking boulders away from the cave-in, while Maul charges back at the elemental. Physical attacks don’t seem to hurt the elemental. Ophelia and Mephelon hide behind the stone slab to target the elemental with their spells. With the side effects of Nogara’s spell of thorns, Maul goes down, but Mephelon deals the final blow as Ophelia and Alexander patch the paladin up. Javor, in the meantime, has managed to create an opening in the cave-in and rushes outside. Our heroes go to his pursuit, hearing the noise of horses and a strange language outside. Javor is surrounded by 12 warriors, of which 2 are mounted, and they are talking in a language none of the party understands. They are probably Uthgart people. They treat Javor with evident reverence. As Maul tumbles out of the tomb, all warriors draw their weapons, but Javor stops them: “They are with me”. The woman on the horse, Fennor, asks them if they are on Javor’s side. Alexander states that they are there to fight Javor’s enemies that are also their enemies. So Javor and the barbarians charge… the Nettlebie’s farm.

Our heroes are puzzled. Why would the halflings desecrate a tomb and burn and scatter the bones of an Uthgart warrior? Alexander tries to make Javor reason, but it’s quite the task. He says that the people that he’s looking for are two; the party tries to convince him to spare the innocents, but he’s not listening, nor he cares. The barbarians search the whole house and they finally find Wiggan and his whole family, including the 12, 19, & 23 year old children, scared to death. Only Watson looks fierce and ready to fight. Ophelia, seeing the situation going bad, puts herself between the family and Javor and demands explanations.

Wiggan and Bertram admit that they did all of these to trap Maul and his fellows. He wanted revenge over the death of Hellenrae, the monk that they fought after the lich’s room in the Sacred Stone Monastery. They tracked the group down and lured them in by burning the burrow and branding their sheep with the symbol of the fire cult. Hellenrae was the temple’s head and Marlos Urnrayle’s servant; she was the one that recruited Wigggan. Jane is devastated and shouts at her husband and father in law. They also speak about other important things of the earth cult, of Mirage Vizaan, the mud sorcerer, and of the passphrase to enter the Earth temple: "I serve the black earth". They know that the name of the fire cult is Cult of the Eternal Flame.

Javor walks slowly to a wall and takes away one panel of wood; he takes out a chest and gives it to Maul. “This is for you. Whatever is my treasure, I want it returned to my tomb. The rest you can keep.” It contains one helmet with horns made of animal skulls, clearly of no material value but probably a precious relic for them; also a sword bound in leather with notches and bear claws on the handle, and four animal figurines in semi-precious stones or metal. The halfling’s treasure contains: a sack with 775 cp, 2512 sp 1553 gp 196 pp, 9 rose quartz stones, and maybe 50 gp each.

Our heroes realize that the halfling that called for their help at Dellmon ranch is not there. Jane stares intently at her husband, urging him to speak, and he confesses to her horrified surprise that he killed him. Javor demands that the two culprits remake his tomb as it was within 24 hours. Alexander and the others decide to stay and wait for them to be done, so that after they can take them to justice in the closest city.

Ophelia asks to Fennor how they knew that Javor had been disturbed. She answers: “My daughter has the gift of sight. She saw what was happening, she saw him. And those people you are looking for, she saw them too. I know where you can find them. Do you have a map?” They finally have the location of the temple of the fire cult.

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The Bard's Tale, Session 19-21
Ode to the fell men of Dellmon

The Bard’s Tale [Sessions 19-21]
This is the story of good Dellmon kin,
Of bravery, mourning and love that has been.
There in the plains of Dessarin Vale,
There is the ranch of this mournful tale.

Kerbin the valiant was greatly renowned
For kindness to people and for wisdom sound;
That’s why, when danger approached the Vale
Dozens of people sought here shield from gale.

Marka the good took everyone in,
comforting friends and strangers like kin;
Perd the judicious, first son of the two,
Prepared the defenses as best as he knew.

Dreena the wise, who took druids’ vow,
Was hoping that elves would be coming by now.
But Fyndrick the Brave, the youngest of all,
Thought he could slaughter them with his own maul.

When finally Orcs were charging their walls,
The only defense from that evil that crawls,
Great was the courage of all five of them
Fighting up front, the first wave they stem.

Dreena the wise, with mastery of spell,
Entangled them all, and face down they fell,
So that Perd and Kerbin, with mastery of blow,
Swiftly reduced them to fine Orog dough.

Fyndrick and Marka were striking with bow,
But young Fyndrick’s heart was in battle below.
All peasants along were fighting with forks,
But strong, ancient evil was guiding the Orcs.

As brave as they might be, too powerful spell
hit with all his power, and Kerbin did fell.
The heart of good Fyndrick, gashed with pain,
Filled only with vengeance as he cried in vain.

Dropping his bow, unsheathing his sword,
The boy ran after the fleeing foe horde.
Helpless his mother watched him wound his foe,
Until Fyndrick fell, among enemies and woe.

Another horde came, this time stealthily,
And Perd wasn’t ready as he fell helplessly.
Marka, heartbroken, her sons on the floor,
Fell under Orc’s sword just in front of her door.

But great was the damage they did to the Horde:
Together with peasants and six men from abroad,
The Druid repelled what was left of their foes.
Silence, heartbreak, quiet crying. Time froze.

Elves finally arrived and the ranch is now free.
To what cost though? Was it worth it? Was it better to flee?
Nay, friends, not the Dellmons: their courage was great,
Don’t yield to your fear, even in darkest of fate.

This is the story of good Dellmon kin,
Of bravery, mourning and love that has been.
None it is dead when eternally sung:
This is my lesson for old and for young.

The homestead down in the valley is on fire, and screams can be heard from afar; but no sign of orcs from uphill. They approach the burning house, leave the horses some 30 meters away and enter the house, Nogara and Ophelia from the window, Mephelon and Alexander from the door. Nogara finds a half-elf, with a gash on the forehead, coughing on the floor. Alexander brings him out, crying for his wife Maygan. Unfortunately, the whole house is burnt to the floor within 30 seconds. Maygan was apparently taken by the orcs. Nogara unsuccessfully looks for orc prints. Maul knows that the Iceshield Orcs come from the High Forest, but we are far from that now. The half-elf, Selwen, begs them to find his wife. It seems like his cart is missing, so maybe they took it. Fresh cart tracks lead east. Selwen, healed by Alexander, is thirsty for blood, but Ophelia manages to calm him down. He is still following them, but he promises to keep safe.

After following the tracks for a while, they hear in the distance the noise of four orcs celebrating in their language. Unfortunately for them, Maul understands their language, and their talk about feasting on the prisoners only makes him more angry. Maul is ready to charge, but Alexander urges him to use caution. They try to approach stealthily until they are at reach. Maul attempts to intimating them into to surrendering, but they attack. Ophelia casts her faerie fire spell on three of them, and then they all attack. Alexander and Maul run forward; Maul dodges two javelins in a row, and Alexander sheds mayhem on them. Nogara shoots arrows from the rear. Maul asks the orcs who is their chief, but he refuses to say and threatens him; so Maul takes him down with a slash of his maul and with the next rapid blow takes down another one. They easily defeat them all, but they save one for interrogation; they free the prisoners, who are exhausted but not in life danger. Maul starts to interrogate him. The prisoner tells them the name of their chief; Maul knows about orc titles, and it seems strange to him that the name of this orc does not imply a very high status. Maybe a lower level guy that broke off from the main group might have been able to take about 50 people. But why so far north from the High Forest? “Grumsh has spoken. The shamans said that the weather was the sign.” Maul considers freeing him to tell his clan of his name, but Ophelia knocks back some sense into him, arguing that their strongest point is the element of surprise, so they kill the orc. They escort the freed prisoners to a ranch nearby, owned by the Dellmon family. The ranch has been there for generations; while smaller farms have been evacuated at the sign of orcs, these guys mean to put up a stand by uniting all the people that fled. When they get in sight of the ranch, they see a small crowd of people standing on the barn. Our heroes are brought into the house and interrogated, and soon they become the talk of the camp. The ranch has been arranged for some defense, with wooden fences and ammunitions strategically placed. Kerbin is the chief of the ranch, he decided to stay and fight with his son Perd, who is not as sure about this decision. His wife Marka is somewhat skilled with a bow. The distress signal to the Emerald Enclave was issued by Dreena, younger sister of Perd and a druid. The third brother, Fyndrick, is eager to fight; in camp there is also a halfling, a couple of dwarves and about ten fighting peasants, 4 guards, a couple of hunters and some 16 others that can’t really fight. Erned Stoutblade, a knight from the Order of the Gauntlet, just arrived; he’s bringing news of about 40 orcs that will be there soon. They don’t have much time to set the defense. They spread the defense at the best of their possibility, and soon the orcs are on them. What with the effect of surprise – the orcs weren’t expecting skilled adventurers – and the power of their spells, they are able to repel the first wave of orcs with no casualties, but this is just the beginning – more are due to come soon.

A second wave of attacks is repelled, but at great cost. Although one of the fearsome shamans of the orcs is taken down, Kerbin falls bravely defending his home. Fyndrick, his youngest son, blind with rage, pursues the retreating orcs and falls under their strikes. Many peasants die too. The front of the house had suffered a lot of damage and Dreena’s entagle spells are almost out.

Before having the time to rest, a crushing heatwave hits the land. A short time after, smoke rises from the east, and under cover of smoke, orcs attack. Once more, after a few seconds, their advantage is absorbed by Ophelia’s faerie fire spell. But their enthusiasm is short lived: they didn’t notice another group of orcs, with powerful warriors and two shamans, attacking from the west.

Man after man, the farmers die, along with them a dwarf. Marka and Dreena watch helplessly as Perd, Kerbin’s oldest son, falls bravely at Maul’s side. The situation looks dire until Dreena’s entangle spell finally hits. But some orcs are not restrained by it and climb the fence, charging Mephelon, and savagely slaying Marka. Of the Dellmon family, only Dreena survives, barely, on the roof of a barn, with Ophelia. Of the mighty warriors fighting alongside Maul O’War, only Sir Stoutblade still stands. Alexander watches as the Orog slays Marka, and he understands that that might be it for the farm’s family. Doom in his eyes, he rushes to protect Mephelon, who is just in front of the Orog. With an unexpected powerful blow, shining with the light of Lathander, the Orog’s heart is impaled on Alexander’s glaive. The awesome scene draws everybody’s eye, including Maul, who can swear he saw that scene before… But his attention is drawn back to his Orog, of which he makes soon pulp.

Bree-Yark finally drops his javelins and joins the melee, bringing death from above. Ophelia and the archers drop their bows and join the fight. The last shaman and Orog corner Mephelon in the house, and they take him down. All the others enter to mob the two foes. Maul takes down the shaman by smashing his jaw, just after he tried unsuccessfully to charm Alexander. Bree-Yark finally takes down the last Orog, as they hear the sound of approaching horses. The elves are finally here! But too late for the farmers. Only Dreena survives, along with a fistful of farmers, and Sir Stoutblade. Dreena is devastated with grief, and Ophelia tends to her. While listening to her remembering the family, she composes a mourning ode for them. Maul goes to Alexander to question him about the shining light he emitted before, but the cleric does not seem to understand or having noticed. Maul confesses him that when he was a child and orcs attacked and killed his mother, his fleeing was protected by a figure emitting the same light. One of the bystander asks where this happened, and Alexander remembers – it was him that saved Maul, many years ago. He tries to hide his surprise, but fails. Maul hugs him, sobbing in gratitude, for having saved him. Bree-Yark, with enthusiasm, takes one of his feathers and seals in Maul’s blood the bond between the two.

Dreena presents Alexander with a ornamented mug of ale, as a token for her gratitude. She gives to Bree-Yark a golden cage, with the hope that it might always stay empty that it might represent a token of friendship among her and his people. Bree-Yark appraises her and breathes on her: the greatest lesson he can give the druid is that as they all breathe the same air, such is the bond that will bind the aarakockra and her. Dreena leaves a potion of healing for Mephelon, and gives Ophelia her family’s Bag of Holding. Moved, the bard promises her to sing about her family as the heroes that they were.

Sir Stoutblade goes to Maul and tells him that he owes his life to him. As a token of gratitude, he gives Maul his magical Boots of Striding and Springing.

They spend the night resting, with Ophelia’s mourning song echoing and easing their pain.

In the morning, one of the laborers that survived steps up and finds the courage to tell them why he was here. Nettlebee Ranch, where he is coming from, is under threat of a similar attack, and he came here to look for help before getting trapped here. So he is asking now to them to come and save his farm too. They have no other choice than to answer they call: they pack their stuff, get back the horses and ride towards Nettlebee Ranch.

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