Monday, May 27, 2013

Westmist Session #45 - Kicking Around the Untamed Lands

At first light the next day, Erijay and Kern were surprised to see Darnorth come bumping into camp on horseback. The dwarf had decided, with all the military activity going on about Westmist, to get out of town and follow the pairs trail into the Untamed Lands. Hopefully, the dwarf said, the rest of the party would join them once they were able to get away.  Partly reunited, the party decided to sift through the ruins of Barksis’ Hold for clues and collectables. They remembered Braksis saying something about staying away from the cellars on their last visit, so they immediately went looking for those cellars. A little digging in the charred rubble uncovered stairs down, which the trio descended. The cellar, through smelling of smoke, was still in good shape and filled with crates and barrels. In these they found a mix of food and drink, much more than would be need by an isolated inn such as the Hold. They also found crates with armour and weapons, all in hobgoblin style. That explained a few things. Also uncovered was Braksis’ retirement fund, a pile of coin hidden under a barrel and protected by a blade trap.

 Their curiosity satiated, the three mounted horses and continued west towards the Castle of the Golem. About noon, they were descending into a hollow when they encountered three ogres coming the other way. Both sides eyed each other warily, but when it was obvious the party presented to immediate danger, the lead ogre (Gor) was ready to talk. In broken common, he told them they were out hunting giant flightless birds (a brace of which each ogre carried). They were headed back to their home in the ‘ruins to the south’, but also said they moving out of those ruins to find new homes to the north because the ‘little men like you’ had paid them to leave. That raised three sets of eyebrows. Further questioning narrowed down their home to the ruins of Nasper where the party had scouted before, and the identity of the ‘little men’ as Jax and some of the March Baron’s troops. Before parting ways with the ogres, Kern paid them off with more gold so the brutes wouldn’t reveal that the party had learned from them details about the March Baron’s dealings.

Another couple of hours ride and the party found themselves nearing a small keep on a low rise to the north: the Castle of the Golem. Approaching, they first noticed a bloody mess of slain hobgoblins about a hundred yards from the gate. They looked to have been stomped to death by elephants. Approaching closer, they were now unnerved to see that instead of towers, the gate was flanked by two 20’ tall statues. And then even more unnerved when the statues heads turned to watch them. Cautiously they knocked on the gate, and after a few moments it was opened and they faced an unusual gatekeeper; an exceptionally tall man, ebony skinned, wearing nothing but a bejeweled loincloth, and with eyes with no pupils. Challenged by the man in a sepulchral voice, the party was able to talk themselves into an audience with Zoloren to deliver the mirror of aging.   Led inside, they found themselves waiting in a long hall with steps and a set of double doors at the far end.  After a while, the doors opened and another strange sight emerged. Out came a small frail man in crimson robes, sitting on a levitating ebony throne, which in turn was being pulled by four tattooed Zevistian harem girls in gauzy silks. Flanking all were two ‘guardsmen’ seemingly carved out of bronze or amber. Zoloren greeted the party politely in a voice of dry whisper, and the mirror was turned over to him.  To test it, Zoloren had his guards fetch a hobgoblin prisoner and exposed the unfortunate creature to the mirror with the expected aging effect. Satisfied, the archmage gave the party directions to the wish ring he promised in payment . He said to go north from his castle, and ford the Shinning River. From there strike northeast until three hills were encountered. There under one hill they would find the ring.

Business complete, Zoloren was about to leave when the party asked a few questions. Brushing aside questions of mundane matters such as hobgoblins and war (“I’ve seen men and nations come and go; I care not for those when I have my own realms and creations here”), he showed some interest in the Iza’ka artifacts the party carried. The cylinder and cube held by Darnorth he identified as some sort of power source. When told of the strange green cylinder they had seen in Mor, he informed them that it could be used to recharge the power cube and cylinder. With that, he impatiently motioned for the three to leave. Taking the hint, they quickly left and climbed back into the saddle to ride north. Making good time, they reached the river and rowed across in Kern’s floating boat and then struck north east. Just as the sun set, they reached the three hills as described by the archmage. Camping for the night, they examined the hills closer the next morning. Each was just about a hundred or so feet high, and on two could be seen some kind of posts or pillars. Climbing the bare hill first, Darnoth noted it was not natural, but seemed to be a man-made mound of dirt. A little digging confirmed this, but revealed little else. Climbing the next hill (this one natural according to the dwarf), they found at the top a large number of statues. These were all weather worn, and were placed in a circle around a central group of figures. They seemed to all be statues of men and women in arms and armor, and one of the figures in the centre had a hand with a ring extended and a crown on his head. Thinking that this might be the ring they sought, Darnorth tried to remove it. But it seemed part of the statue, and it took some chopping with the dwarf’s magical blade to remove. But it proved to be nothing but stone. Pushing the apparently useless statue over (a party tradition), the trio headed for the last hill.

This hill, again a man made mound, was crowned by a circular ring of stone. From the base flowed a small stream, where the party pitched a camp and staked their horses before climbing. Once at the top, they could hear a strange moaning/howling sound as the wind off the nearby mountains whistled between the standing stones. Erijay and Darnorth found the sound eerie, but Kern was absolutely frightened stiff by it. Literally, as the elf and dwarf found the merchant standing completely stiff and immobile. A bit of poking and prodding was followed by a collected shrug as the two decided to explore the stone circle while waiting to see what happened with Kern.  At the base of one stone, Darnorth discovered a narrow spiral tunnel leading down into the bowels of the hill. Finding little else of interest, they returned to find Kern still paralyzed. Hoping the condition would pass with time, the lugged him back down to camp, and Kern shortly returned to normal. So back up the hill they went again, and again Kern was frozen in fear. Back down the hill and a couple of hours wait latter, the wily merchant stuffed wax in his ears and the trio marched back to the top. This time with no issue. Heading to the hole, they tied a rope around Darnorth and the dwarf started to crawl down. And down. And down. Three lengths of rope later, he hit bottom and Erijay and Kern followed him into the dark.

The three found themselves in a rough dirt cavern. There was little to distinguish it, except on closer inspection the walls and floor were embedded with bones, bits of armor and weapons, and other battlefield detritus. Cautiously moving forward, they rounded a corner to find another chamber. This one was completely covered in a red fungus with white puckered protrusions. Three tunnels exited the room, so Darnorth decided to trudge through the growth. This set off a cloud of spores which made the dwarf cough and sputter, but caused no other harm. Rather than risk further exposure, the three brainstormed a plan to make a path. Noting that the spores came from the white protrusions, they decided to use bolts and arrows to set off enough to form a path. 40 missiles later this was done, and they headed for the first exit from the room. After just a few short feet they found their way blocked by a group of giant ants, behind which could be seen a small tunnel. Deciding to avoid conflict at this time, they headed for the next exit and soon found themselves in another chamber similar to the first. Sensing that this was not going to be a simple search, the trio elected to head back to camp to rest and plan a strategy to further explore the caverns on the morrow.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Westmist Session #44 - Invasion! ... And Lots of Running Around

With Bjorn left once more in Rikar’s care, Kern and Erijay turned their thoughts to next steps. The question at the top of both of their minds was the “what is the March Baron planning”. Once more putting aside any thoughts of following/confronting Jax or the March Baron alone, they instead hatched a desperate plan to ride for Sir Janus’ camp and see if he could provide any information. Sensing time was running short now that spring and the campaigning season has arrived, the two purchased swift horses, and left Sweet Jenny and Fin behind to ride hard and fast for the mountains. After just a couple of days, they found themselves once more climbing the hill towards the ruined village, having been briefly held up by a band of goblins on the way.  After a few tense moments with the picket, Sir Janus arrived on the scene and waved the two into his headquarters.  They first discussed Duncal. Kern updated Sir Janus on their search so far, and asked if the knight had a portrait of the heir (since none of the party had any idea what Duncal looked like). Sir Janus provided them with a locket, inside which was a small portrait of Durgan the Bold, his wife, and Duncal as a young man. Who unfortunately looked a little mousey and frail, causing Erijay to mutter under her breath that hopefully the young man grew up into someone a little sturdier looking or they were all in trouble.  Questioning Sir Janus about his plan once they did recover Duncal, Kern and Erijay quickly realized that while the knights’ heart might be in the right place, he obviously wasn’t a deep thinker and hadn’t considered in any detail how he was going to overthrow Lord Merdwyn. The best he could come up with was to use Duncal to recruit followers and raise a rebellion, and assume that the King would not intervene because it was all done out of “honour”. Overall, not very reassuring.

Next laying out what they knew about the March Baron’s activities, they asked Sir Janus if he had any news or information. Alas, he had little to offer in new information. He told them Jax was one of the March Barons’ youthful comrades, with a reputation as a man to help keep things quite at any cost. As for the March Barons’ possible plans, he could shed little light other than to say Lord Merdywn had made it clear from day one that Westmist was to be a platform to launch himself back into a position of greater power. As for hobgoblins, his men had reported none in the last few weeks. The few hobgoblin patrols seem to have disappeared from the hills.

Taking their leave of Sir Janus (having had a request for men to help them bluntly refused), Kern and Erijay headed back towards Westmist. However, just as they reached the end of the mountains and prepared to turn east, Kerns keen eye spied movement on the hills below them. Hobgoblins! Thousands of them! Marching towards Westmist! After a swift debate, discretion was chosen over valor, and the two tried to keep out of sight of the army until they could ride hard and warn the town.  Unfortunately, there was too little cover on the bare hills, and they were sighted by the first cohort. As Erijay cast a haste spell to now speed them on their way, a rain of crossbow bolts fell on them, nearly killing their horses. They survived, however, and moving with magical speed, they pulled ahead and reached Westmist at the crack of dawn (after riding through the night). And found the commons around the town mostly deserted; the troops were gone. Questioning the town guard as they entered, they learned Lord Merdwyn had received word that hobgoblins were marching on the Citadel of Amrath, and hurried his army west to meet them. Since the party had taken care of their base in Stonehell, no one had expected a hobgoblin force to come from the north. Mild panic ensued, as the town was defended by just the town guard, a couple of companies of peasants and one mercenary company in the Keep. Swift riders were sent to recall Lord Merdwyn, and a flurry of activity saw town gates closed and barred, townsfolk laying in supplies for a siege and barricading their homes, and everyone looking west hoping the army would return in time.

With nothing to do right now but wait on events, Kern and Erijay checked in on Riker and Bjorn. Riker, excited and nostalgic for battle, asked permission to draw weapons and armor from the house stash and attach himself to one of the companies. Given his leave, the old solider did mention Bjorn was acting strange in his recovering. Puzzled, Kern looked in on his henchman to find that the man’s face had started to elongate and he seemed to spend a lot of time twitching and snarling at them. And then they remembered that Bjorn had fallen to the fangs of the wererats. With haste, they bundled him onto a stretcher and headed for the Temple of the Three Virtues. There they were able to get an audience with Lanthan the Under Virtue (the Highest Virtue had ridden with the army). The sour cleric confirmed that Bjorn was suffering from the disease of lycanthropy and would soon become a wererat.  Asked by Kern if he could help, Lanthan agreed to cure the henchman of his disease for the usual fee.

That done, Bjorn was returned to bed to continue his recovery. Meanwhile, Kern and Erijay debated what they should do next. Kern decided to scout around Stonehell for the hobgoblins, but they were not yet in site. Various plans were hatched to get out of town and save their necks, dig deeper into the March Barons plans, etc.  In the end, they choose to sit tight for now and see what happened, confident they could escape if need be when the time came. And so they saw Lord Merdwyn march into town several days later at the head of this host, just hours before the hobgoblins debouched out of the hills. Not content to wait out a siege, Lord Merwyn marched out of the town and hit the hobgoblins before they could get organized. The battle that followed was brief and bloody, but the hobgoblins were well outnumbered and destroyed. The town breathed a collective sigh of relief and broke into a celebration of victory by troops and townsfolk. Erijay and Kern, however, took this as their chance to ride out of town when everyone was too drunk to notice. Leaving Bjorn once more with Rikar (who survived yet another battle) they picked up the mirror of aging from Aflain the Fence, planning to combine a scouting trip into the Untamed Lands with a stop as the Castle of the Golem  to deliver the mirror to Zoleren (and perhaps gain some information from the archmage on what was going on in the west). One days ride brought them to the Citadel of Amrath, to which they were given  shelter and rest for the night. The garrison, blasé as usual, pointed out the campfires of a hobgoblin army on the other side of the Great River. They were waiting for Lord Merdwyn to come with his army; meanwhile, the garrison was simply keeping watch on the hobgoblins.

Next morning, unable to cross the river under the eyes of the hobgoblins, Kern and Erijay headed north into the Marsh of the Whispering Mists. Their plan was to get far enough to be able to cross the river (thanks to Kerns folding boat) without being seen. Alas, that plan almost ended in disaster as they stumbled upon a lizardfolk war band and got tangled up in a messy fight. Erijay led off with a sleep spell which took out half the creatures. But then a combination of good luck on the part of the lizardfolk , and rusty melee skills from Kern and Erijay, left the pair in a dire situation. Badly hurt, and their horses having bolted into the marsh, Kern yelled to Erijay to hold his hand and follow him no matter what happened. The merchant pulled out a pair of pyrotechnic bombs he’d had Synthini prepare, and with a flash and bang he and Erijay were hidden in a cloud of smoke. Temporarily masked from the lizardfolks’ view, Kern slipped his ring of invisibility onto Erijay’s finger, and then relied on his own skills to hide himself from their scaly foes. Given a temporary respite, Erijay now cast a web on most of the remaining lizardfolk, leaving just one for her and Kern to cut down with their blades. Finishing the webbed and slept lizardfolk, Erijay next cast haste so she and Kern could chase down their horses. That done, they decided to get out of the marsh, cross the river right here and try to at least reach Braksis’ Hold to spend the night. This they did, but were greeted with a grim sight. The Hold had been recently burned to the ground, and hanging on gibbets in front of the ruins were a number of bodies. These they recognized as Braksis, his stable boy, and his servants. Below them was a sign that read “See the punishment for those who help the hobgoblins”. Disgusted by the sight, the two had little choice but to find somewhere in this grim place to make camp for the night and continue their journey in the morning.  

Friday, May 3, 2013

Westmist Session #43 - Treasures and Ambushes

After several weeks of rest, both Erijay and Bjorn had fully recovered from their recent trips to the afterlife. Which meant it was time for another delve into Stonehell, this time with a much smaller crew as Kern was the only other one available (with, of course , Sweet Jenny and Fin the War Dog). But before heading into the dark, Kern hoped to shed some light on the recent information he’d uncovered about the March Baron.  The March Baron was keeping the news of the party’s successful mission to kill “He Who Walks in Metal” from the King. And he is still getting the Kings’ support against a full hobgoblin invasion. He is also hiring tradesmen (stonemasons, carpenters, laborers) from lands to the south for no visible reason and hiding them amongst mercenaries. This was being kept secret from all but a few trusted retainers and only the Baron, and the mysterious fellow Jax, seem to know exactly what’s going on. Kern learned that Jax and the Baron leave Westmist for trips to the South and that Jax is frequently traveling to the Untamed Lands to the West.  

Hoping to uncover some information on Jax, Kern headed off to see The Tongue, finding him at his usual table at the Foam and Whistle. Kern pulled up a chair, bought the old fellow a couple of drinks, and started to pump him for information. Scattered among the drunken, half coherent ramblings of the old coot, Kern managed to snag a few facts and hints about the mystery man. The Tongue warned Kern that Jax was a dangerous man, from whom no secrets stayed secret for long. Pressed for further details, the old fellow suggested that Jax was looking out for the good of the March Baron, but not necessarily the March Barony itself. And to better understand what’s in it for Jax, Kern would have to look into the March Barons’ past to find the key.  At which point, The Tongue dropped his head to the table and promptly passed out.

Somewhat better informed but with questions still, Kern and Erijay briefly contemplated a little spying on Jax themselves. But in the end they decided to heed The Tongue’s warning and put the plan aside for a day when the rest of their companions were available to support them. So back to Stonehell it was, to first check out the locked and trapped room left for Kern during the last delve, and then to further explore the third level. Passing once more through the secret entrance, the trio plus animals made it to the third level without any troubles. There they once more encountered Lachesis and her ogre bodyguards, headed back to her quarters after meeting with some ‘clients’. Kern, having been forewarned by the ogre’s heavy footsteps, donned the ring of invisibility. This left Erijay to engage in a little polite, but guarded, banter with the spy mistress. Turning the discussion to Duncal, Lachesis seemed to hint that her information (generally) is only as reliable as her sources. But that her information on Duncal could be trusted; her source for that information was both impeccable and intensely interested in the party’s endeavors. 

Leaving that tidbit of information hanging in the air, Lachesis and her guardians moved on, while the party continued on their way in the opposite direction. Reaching the corridor with the boulder, Kern first listed at the door where bugbears had been heard last time. Finding nothing there, he moved onto the boulder. Here, the merchants’ keen ears could hear the faint sound of feet scuffling around. And finally he came to the trapped door. Locating the wire found by Darnorth, he studied it intensely for a few minutes, then proceeded to swiftly cut the line and thereby easily disarmed the trap. Finding the door locked, and unable to open it by his own skills, Kern waved Erijay into place to bash the portal down. Much noise ensued, but the door still stood. Pushing the elf maid aside, Bjorn took to the door with muttered curses, and after a few more minutes of bashing the door swung open. Inside was a fairly spartan bedchamber. An old leather apron and hood hung on one wall, and a wardrobe stood against another. Kern checked the wardrobe for traps, and then opened it up to find a few moth eaten bits of clothing, but little else. Erijays’ keen eye, however, noted that the inside of the wardrobe was not flush with the floor. A little poking about uncovered a pair of handholds, with which the elf lifted out the base to reveal a pile of silver coins and gems.

At this point Bjorn, standing guard at the door, shouted a warning. Kern swiftly donned the ring again, and headed for the door. Bjorn reported seeing, at the limit of his light, a half dozen small creatures leaving the rock blocked corridor and heading east. Kern silently approached the spot and watched for awhile, but nothing further was seen. Taking care to now watch their backs, the party loaded their newly acquired treasure onto Sweet Jenny and head further west into as yet unexplored territories. Coming to a pair of archways, the party chose the north and found themselves in an open area with multiple doors leading off of it. Kern started listening at doors, but soon halted when he encountered a strange reddish amoebae-like creature blocking his way. The merchant backed away, and Erijay hauled out her crossbow and fired a shot at it. To their surprise, the pulsating blob simply split into two and started to slide towards the brave adventurers. Backing slowly away, the trio lobbed oil flasks and torches at the creatures until they were consumed by the purifying flames.

Now resuming their investigation of the hall, the party started searching room near a placid fountain. It didn’t remain placid for long, however, for when Bjorn got too close, the water formed into a grotesque toad-like shape and lashed out at the magic user. He managed to dodge and back away, but now the rest of the party turned to engage. Erijay cast a web to pin the thing inside the fountain, while Bjorn fired magic missiles from his wand and Kern followed up with bolts from his crossbow. The thing continued to strain against the web, which slowly started to give way, but not before the efforts of the party caused the thing to dissolve back into the fountain.  Stepping forward, Kern cut away the remaining web to better see inside the fountain. At the bottom he could see a scattered collection of jewelry, and a gem studded sword. Distracted by all the shiny stuff, Kern didn’t notice the water begin to stir as the toad-like creature reformed and lunged at the merchant. Caught, Kern found himself pulled into the fountain and pinned under the water.  Erijay and Bjorn instantly leapt into action, with a rain of magic missile and sword blows to end the creature’s threat once more. The elf then pulled Kern’s unconscious body out of the water and dragged him away to safety. A few chest thrusts later, the merchant was coughing up water and back to consciousness. And determined to find a way to recover the treasure in the fountain. Going through their options, Erijay suddenly remembered the potion of sweet water she’d been carrying for so long. Could it be used to ‘purify’ the thing to death? Deciding it was probably as good a plan as any, Kern first tied a rope around Erijay’s waist to pull her to safety if the creature grabbed her. The elf then glided forward until the creature started to reform. She then hurled the potion flask at the back wall of the fountain, where it smashed and poured its contents into the water below. The thing dissolved once more into the water, and it did not reform again. At which point Kern jumped in the water and started hauling out the pile of jewelry and the sword, packing it all carefully onto Sweet Jenny.

That danger and treasure taken care of, the party next turned their attention to the doors around them. Behind each was found a 20’x20’ room with similar furniture and fixings (beds, pallets, dressers, tables, and so on). Each did have its unique features though:

  • A stool with an invisible sack, which Erijay found by sitting on it. Contained rope, thieves tools, 3 cloves of garlic;
  • Pit viper, in a skull, in a chamber pot (slept by Bjorn), and a trapdoor on the ceiling that on closer examination proved to be painted there;
  • A wall of tally marks, written neatly in chalk and charcoal at first, then degenerating into scrawls in what appeared to be blood. Ended at an old blood stain on the floor;
  • A table with a skeletal hand, pinned to the tabletop with a dagger;
  • A round wooden box containing a pale red salve or ointment, and a taxidermy rat nightmare nailed to the underside of the table;
  • An old campfire with humanoid bones, giant red centipede (slept by Bjorn), and a gold and silver torc;  and
  • Walls full of watercolor paintings (claimed by Kern for the house) plus a small hoard of silver coins hidden behind one frame. 

Now loaded down with treasure and collectables, the party turned to head back to Westmist. They didn’t get far before Kern’s keen ears caught the sound of bugbear voice ahead. Donning his ring, Kern snuck silently around the corner, to find the bugbears waiting in the intersection by the boulder.  They didn’t seem to be going anywhere, but were instead casually on the lookout for something or someone. There being no other way out, Erijay cast a sleep spell and the four critters fell into slumber. Kern then silently moved past them to see what was further ahead. At this point a snarl came from behind Bjorn and the animals, and three rat-men fell on the rear of the party.  Trapped between mule and rat-men, Bjorn fell to their fangs. They then turned on Erijay and Sweet Jenny, who happened to be in their way. The elf first stopped to force a healing potion into the fallen magic user, before turning her sword on the nearest attacker.  Joined by the still invisible and now vengeful Kern, the two slew the creature in short order. Shocked, its companions turned and fled, earning a swift kick from Sweet Jenny in retaliation. Erijay and Kern likewise pulled out crossbows and should have dropped both in their tracks. But their bolts seemed to have no effect on the beasts, who were quickly swallowed by the darkness.  Quickly looting the one rat body and the (now slain) bugbears, they pair then loaded Bjorn’s body onto Sweet Jenney for the thankfully uneventful journey back to the surface and civilization. There they cashed in their treasures, discovered the sword and container of salve were magical, and deposited the unfortunate Bjorn back in bed just two days after recovering from his last death.