The Resurrection

A Dragon Reborn, Part I

CemeteryAfter concluding the fierce battle with the werewolf and friends, Pel rejoins the party quite suddenly. He updates them on his study at the Academy, concluding with the revelation that he’s learned much from the Shaman there, and his bond with Posket is stronger than ever. After everyone is caught up, the heroes of Kombat Advantage notice a clearing in the woods several yards off the road. As they approach, they recognize the clearing as an abandoned cemetery, not overgrown with weeds and vines. They go closer to investigate, and find remnants of a recent picnic. While the blanket seems recently placed, the food is strewn about the area and appears to have been appropriated by the local wildlife. Beef and Gord try to see if the picnic attendees had wandered off into the forest to pitch some woo, but see no sign of them. Pel recognizes evidence of a struggle, and footprints leading back to the road. He also noticed a small drop of blood on the door of the nearby mausoleum. Immeral inspects the blood and quickly concludes that it came from a magical creature: either one from another plane or a powerful hereditary spellcaster. The blood itself radiates with strong magic. Beef attempts to open the mausoleum, but is unsuccessful, and notices from the growth in the area, it appears not to have been opened in quite some time. Melthos expresses concern about the apparent kidnapping, but is curious about the source of the blood. He wonders aloud why there is only one drop, not a trail or a splatter or anything that would give them a clue about what happened.

They decide to follow the trail back to the road, but are unable to tell which direction it leads after that. The wisely decide to continue on, and ask about the picnic when they get to a city or village. They proceed toward Fort Morninglord, to check on Caom and Ydal. The road is long and they stop to rest for the night. Pel takes first watch, hoping to squeeze in more drinking time. HypnotoadUnfortunately, his personal revelry is disturbed by an unsettling sound, like a low, loud croak.

He wakes up the party. At first, Beef ignores the alarm, unimpressed by the threat of imminent danger presented by hearing frogs in the middle of the forest. After some prodding by the party, he manages to get upright and open his eyes. Due to his lowlight vision, he sees what the rest of the party cannot: four enormous, man-sized toads approaching the campsite. Gord activates the floating lantern, illuminating the area and exposing the slimy beasts to everyone else. Several of the heroes recall stories they heard when they were little of altered beasts coming out of the High Forest, touched by the thin veil between that place and the Feywild. As they’re considering how to respond, one of the toads begins lurching toward Pel, who simultaneously heard a rumbling voice in his head. “Hungry,” it growls.

The party swings into action. They quickly discover just how different the toads are from the kind with which they’re familiar. The Hypnotoads use psionic powers to dominate and blind the party, attempting to subdue them and use their own powers against them. The heroes focus one one enemy at a time, taking each one out until they are victorious. After the enemies were dispatched, and thus no longer hungry, the brave victors went to sleep and were not disturbed again until morning.

They arrive at Fort Morninglord in the mid-morning hours. When they ask after Caom, they learn that he’s left the fort to go study at the Monastery of the North Wind, in the service of Bahamut. Apparently, the clerics of Lathander believed that, if in fact Caom was prophesied to be a great tyrant, giving him the opportunity to answer the call of Bahamut and be reborn as a dragon would change the course of his life and avoid that dire fate.

The party visits Caom’s father, Ydal, who is staying at the fort and learning from the clerics there. His emotions are mixed about his son’s future. If he should receive and accept the call of Bahamut, he will be forced to forsake everything about his former life. The alternative, however, would be risking the fate of the world. He told them that Caom had been writing to him, and seemed very happy. As they left, Ydal asked if he could contact them if he needed them, and told him they would be staying at the Yawning Portal in Waterdeep for the foreseeable future.

Yawning PortalWhen the heroes arrive in Waterdeep, they settle into the inn to catch up on their drinking. Melthos finds it serendipitous that the party discovered a prophesy scroll of Bahamut and then came to learn that Caom is now seeking to become a follower of the dragon god. They decide to return their attention to the scroll. Immeral again reads the inscription, written in Draconic: “A great evil that has long been departed will seek to forge an alliance and return to the material plane. He can be defeated by those who seek justice. The final battle will take place at a location known only to the spirits. In each of the places depicted on this scroll, the heroes will meet a dragon. The dragon will tell them about the place of the final battle and bestow a boon to aid them in their quest.” The first picture is clear, a gargoyle that appears to be sculpted on a wall. The other pictures, while somewhat discernable in a broad sense, are hard to make out. Whenever someone tries to examine them more closely, he finds himself unable to focus his eyes. The only information they gather is that the second picture is a dragon, the third is a unicorn, and the fourth is a pair of griffons.

Beef decides to ask Durnan the Wandrer, the inkeeper who has extensive adventuring experience, if he knows anything about the first picture. Durnan, says he’s surprised to see the scroll, as he heard it was lost at the Academy. Beef is reluctant to give up information, so Durnan adds that he heard an implausible story that it was being guarded by poltergeists. Beef says it wasn’t as hard to acquire as all that. Durnan responds that the party might want to consider whether it’s really intended for them: how do they know they’re the heroes who seek justice? Melthos, always wise, says they don’t know with any certainty, but that finding the locations on the scroll will assist those heroes, whoever they may be.

Finally satisfied that the party’s intentions are genuine, Durnan informs them that the gargoyle is part of a navigation system in the sewers beneath Waterdeep. He can’t really tell them anything more than that. “The Undermountain is bad enough, and I have no desire to explore the sewers. The sanitation workers have a guildhall in the trade quarter. Ask around over there and they might help you.”

The next morning, the adventurers have breakfast and head over to the trade quarter. As they enter the sanitation guildhall, the taller members of the party have to duck to get in. Once they get inside, they realize why: the sanitation guild was made up almost entirely of dwarfs and gnomes, and Beef feels suddenly right at home. He greets the young, female dwarf receptionist and shows her the picture of the gargoyle. She chirps and flirts as she explains, “The gargoyles are carved in the passage that runs beneath High Street, but their distance from Sewerthe floor determines the location. Since the elevation of the sculpture isn’t apparent from the picture, it could be anywhere along that corridor. If you want to, just go down through the entrance at Lamp Street and ask one of the workers. They’re all so nice! I’ve only been here a month, and everyone is SO nice to me!” Beef says he’s fairly sure he knows why everyone would be nice to such an attractive lady, causing the clerk to blush deeply.

The heroes, as directed, proceed to Lamp Street. They lower themselves into the sewer and see that the clerk was correct, the gargoyles are all positioned at varying distances from the floor. Those to the south are lower and those to the north are higher. They do note that, although all the carvings are identifiable as gargoyles, there are distinctions such as length of horns, shape of ears, and expressions. They go off to seek some of the sanitation workers and ask them if they can help locate this particulate fellow on the scroll. Just as they begin to proceed north, they hear a scream and someone calling for help.

When they get to the source of the screams they find two dwarf sanitation workers. A large boulder that was formerly attached to a rope and pulley system has fallen, crushing the legs of one of the workers. The other is trying fruitlessly to free his friend, who is bleeding out. They send the dwarf to go get help, and proceed to the valiant rescue of the injured worker. Through feats of strength, insight, and cooperation, the party manages to free him just as the members of the medica guild are arriving. They have some trouble getting him on the stretcher, but the medica whisk him off for further work and observation.

The injured dwarf’s friend introduces himself as Tito Farfire. He thanks them for their help, but is clearly in shock. Gord directs Tito to the nearest inn, tells him to have a beer and get some rest, and informs him that they’re staying at the Yawning Portal and he can find them there later, once he’s recovered his wits. Before he leaves, they show him the scroll and ask him if he knows the location of the gargoyle depicted. He says it’s just around the corner, and points to a nearby passageway. He depart in a daze, mumbling a bit to himself, and crawls upward towards the street.

Picture 1The party proceeds to the passage that Tito indicated, not knowing that’s in store. They arrive and inspect the gargoyle. Just as they’ve determined that it is indistinguishable from the one depicted on the scroll, a breeze rolls in from the north. It’s particularly noticeable because the air in the sewer is otherwise completely still. As the breeze rolls past them it carries a mist which lingers for a moment before clearing and leaving in its place a young boy. He looks just like the boy Caom, but his skin has taken on a slightly platinum sheen, his eyes are wide and reptilian, and he has small scales on the back of his neck.

To be continued…

White Lotus Academy, Part II

After the encounter, the adventurers are seen to by the school’s medical staff, and take a brief respite, while attempting to forget the horrible plant assault that just occurred in the school’s arboretum. A student informed the teams that Instructor Tevors was at Headmaster’s Hall and once recuperated, they head there immediately.

In the cramped administration building, a narrow hall led back and around a corner, and a narrow Spellweaverflight of stairs led up. Directly to the left is a reception desk, and the student sitting there smiled as the group approached. “You must be Pel and company,” she said. “How can I help you?” and then immediately responded that, “Instructor Tevors is meeting with Headmaster Marovic at the Headmaster’s Residence. You could probably meet him there if you want to talk to him.”

When they reach the gate to the Headmaster’s Residence, they discovered something is wrong. Through the wrought-iron fence, the team sees a person in a heavy sky-blue robe standing over Headmaster Marovic, do something in an odd, bothersome manner. Once closer, the group could see what bothered them about it. Six thin, blue-skinned arms emerge from beneath the robe, two of which are tracing patterns in the air toward Marovic, and the creature’s head looked completely alien. It turns toward the group, and they know immediately it was malevolent and dangerous and soon to be dead if they had anything to say about it. WHICH THEY DID.

They immediately drew weapons and began the fight to save the White Lotus Academy and the life of Headmaster Marovic. The Spellweaver immediately moved, and in a motion, banished Beef into an exitless, entirely mirrored room. The next few harried minutes were spent shunting various melee attackers into this particular room, while fending off psionic attacks from Immeral, keeping them at bay while he focused his strongest attacks on Pel, looking to capture his arcane essence. Eventually, the amount of focus required to simultaneously deal with five strong-willed attackers takes it’s toll and the spellweaver falls to the sharp blades, strong fists, and agile minds of Kombat Advantage.

After defeating the Spellweaver, Headmaster Marovic stood under his own power, if barely. He was more cogent than he was when they first met, an event Marovic barely remembers, because he Keg Partywas using most of his energy to protect the academy and its students from the spell weaver’s hidden efforts to steal their arcane power.

The headmaster was suitably grateful. He honored the deal the party made with Ibok for their services, no longer tied to what surely would have been a illuminating lecture on butterflies, and threws in some extra treasures from the school vault. All members are named friends of the school and a raucous frat party ensues at the Phi Lamba Magi house where kegs of mead are rolled in and enjoyed by all. This helped make up for the disappointing news from school stablehand, who informed the party that they actually did not have fanci animal amounts, but actually just horses enchanted to look like fantastical steeds of legend. To Beef’s disappointment however, Noodles actually WAS a glittery pink pony. The stablehand offered the opportunity to keep the enchantment on, if they preferred it, which Pel immediately agreed to, but the rest of the party politely declined.

Pel had long been perturbed to find out only after leaving the academy of his natural gifts, believing the whole time that his powers came from books and spells. After a few kegstands, he finally gets the courage to ask Instructor Ibok what happened. “Dear Pel. I am sympathetic, but there are certain things one must learn on his own. Just as I felt that any direction I gave after summoning you here to the Academy might hinder the apprehension of the party responsible for the mischief, so did I feel, when you were under my tutelage, that any explicit instruction on your natural abilities would only obfuscate their source and magnitude.” Ibok invites Pel to stay behind, now that he’s found more of himself through his travels, and study a bit more to see if he can refine his gifts. Pel accepts, and promises to rejoin the others back in Waterdeep.

The rest of the party traveled back towards Waterdeep to pick up where they left off. On the way there, they happened to encounter a werewolf, with two hyenas and an evil festering rotted Evil Dwarfdwarf. They put up a suprisingly difficult and often vile fight, with the dwarf oozing acidic blood and causing painful welts in addition to the biting and awful laughing that all hyenas will participate in if you give the chance. The werewolf, at one point, changed shape into a crying little girl (assumedly the girl it was before being bitten by a lycanthrope), attempting to fool the group into holding back attacking it. Beef and Melthos were momentarily startled, but it just made Gord more angry (Gord is possibly allergic to crying children) and he delivered a fierce, cutting blow with his greataxe that would have rendered the girl in two if it hadn’t been a dastardly dirty ploy. While this made the werewolf twice as angry, it didn’t help him survive the encounter.

White Lotus Academy, Part I

Arriving in Silverymoon, the heroes drop off Vlayn at the High Court. They are confident that proper procedures will be followed. In fact, they get the impression that the urban government of Silverymoon would like to properly try more cases from the outlying areas of Luruar, rather than seeing so many communities engage in frontier justice.

The heroes visit the markets and Pel finds an excellent deal on a Griffon mount. It doesn’t fly, but at only 150 gold, who could say no? The others are content with their horses. In fact, Beef is so content that he gets distracted, allowing Immeral and Gord time to dress up his horse in ribbons and glitter and begin insisting that its name is “Noodles.”

Bronze Sunrise Gate At long last, the party arrives on the outskirts of Silverymoon at the fabled White Lotus Academy. They reach the bronze, east-facing Sunrise Gate of the White Lotus Academy at mid-morning. When they reach the guard house, a short man with receding brown hair and a ready smile walks up the path to greet them. “Welcome to the White Lotus Academy,” he says, “I am Instructor Tevors. Once you’re settled, I’ll give you a tour of the campus and introduce you to the headmaster.”

Instructor Tevors is a teacher of sorcery at the White Lotus Academy and aide to Headmaster Kovaric. He sees to the heroes’ immediate needs and shows them rooms in Umberlin Dormitory that they can use while on campus. Once he has accomplished this part of his agenda, he shows them around the White Lotus Academy.

Instructor Tevors seems unpracticed at showing visitors the comfortable dorms; he points out the many-windowed library; the stained-glass conservatory; the squat, impregnable-seeming laboratory and classroom building; the varied vegetation of the arboretum; and the arcane-shape of the academy’s original building. However, his descriptions seem stilted, as if he is reading from a dry history text. After describing a large circle on the inside of the school’s multi-colored wall, Tevors stops outside the wrought-iron gate of a large house.

“The Headmaster’s Residence,” he states as he looks at the building. He leads the party inside. The interior’s wood paneling has an old, worn look that bespeaks age. Tevors leads them up a broad stairway to a landing and through the door at the top into a study that feels cramped due to the numerous bookshelves. In the center of the study, an aged man with gray hair sits with his head on his desk, snoring softly.

Tevors gives you a small smile that wavers after a couple seconds, then he clears his throat. A few moments later, he steps forward and shakes the headmaster, who sits up with a start and looks at Tevors, then the heroes, with bloodshot eyes and sticky drool on his cheek. Before Tevors can speak, the headmaster sways to his feet and yells, “Tevors!” leaning forward as though to counter the force of his voice. “Leave me! My work is urgent and my time is valuable. Begone, and take these petitioners with you!”

With a small shrug and a warning glance at the heroes, Instructor Tevors ushers them out of the office and closes the door behind him. “I’m, uh, well. There’s a student duel due to begin any time now. I was hoping you would enjoy the demonstration and perhaps share wisdom from your practical experiences. I have some administrative duties to attend to, but I’m sure Pel can show you the way.”

Eager to reunite with his old instructor, who invited him to the Academy in a somewhat cryptic manner, Pel leads the group to the dueling grounds. Instructor Ibok greets him, and the whole party, warmly, but says he cannot talk presently, as he is in the middle of a lesson. He looks disconcerted, but invites them to stay and watch.

Student DuelAt Harrid Yard, two combatants square off against each other. Each wears the White Lotus uniform—one in the form of heavy practice armor with a dulled blade, and the other in light practice armor with a wand. Neither is older than 16. Ibok shouts encouraging remarks and constructive criticisms to the students as the battle proceeds. The warlock is just getting the upper hand when the sound of metal grinding on metal grates in everyone’s ears, and the party turns to see the practice mannequins tearing themselves free of their support and advancing with weapons held at the ready.

Foremost, Ibok’s concern is for the safety of the students. He rushes off to seek help and leaves the heroes in charge of quelling the attack, knowing that they are well-suited to the task. One student ignores their demands to get out of the way, and insists on “helping” with the fight. When threats of death and pain do no good, Beef succeeds in convincing him to step down with a threat of something much more grave: expulsion from the Academy.

With some amusing results, springs and cogs flying everywhere, the party dispatches the rogue mannequins with little trouble. Almost immediately, Instructor Tevors arrives.

Tevors is nearly breathless after his run to the practice field. “I’m . . . ” he gasps, “ . . . so incredibly sorry. Nothing like this has ever happened before. The enchantments on those practice dummies have been unchanged for at least 50 years.” Then he doubles over and breathes heavily for a minute while the Instructor Ibok talks with the students and makes sure they are all safe, trying to calm them.

“I’m going to be examining the records of their maintenance and then I’ll ask Instructor Westbrooke to examine the mannequins directly.” Tevors looks at the party. “If you’d like to help me figure out what happened here, you could find me the book in the library that details how they were created originally. I’d send a student, but it’s likely to be in one of the more dangerous parts of the stacks.”

He continues, “If I could use your experience and knowledge any other way, I would. But both the maintenance records and the creation instructions are confidential and proprietary, and we can’t allow you to see either without permission from the headmaster who . . . who might not be forthcoming, as you saw. This is something you can do now.” Tevors gives the party a crystal the size of a finger that, through warmth and chill, will guide them to the correct room in the Lost Secrets Library.

Lost Secrets LibraryAfter arriving at the library, the guiding crystal leads them quickly through the first floor, which is a well-lit warren of book-filled nooks and crannies thoroughly seeded with comfortable chairs and desks. Once the party reaches the back stairwell, the journey becomes more surreal. The crystal guides them down several flights, then leads them out onto a floor that appears identical to the first floor but has no windows or students. It glides up a flight of stairs, into a small corridor that opens into another flight of stairs, and then down another two levels to a door. After performing a few checks, they decide to open it.

A large sphere set in the ceiling gives off a flameless glow as the heroes enter the room. The dry smells of cracked leather and ancient paper assault them from the shelving in the wall and the freestanding wooden shelves.

As the last of the party enters the room, the door slams shut behind them, and the room falls into complete darkness before the sphere in the ceiling flickers back to life, though it does not shine as brightly as before. A pair of luminescent eyes watches you through the gaps in the freestanding bookcases, and a chorus of whispered voices sounds in your ears, “I was never allowed to leave. Neither shall you be.”

PoltergeistThe poltergeists attack the party. They use the walls and freestanding bookcases to their advantage, phasing through them to avoid attacks between their turns and knocking over bookcases to trap and injur the party. The battle is long and somewhat arduous, but the heroes fight well. Not only are they protecting themselves, but they know that by defeating the ghosts they can give peace to the spirits of the students who once died here. When the last ghost has fallen, with a whisper of thanks, its insubstantial body collapses inward and manifests a scroll case, which drops to the floor.

Melthos recognizes the designs on the scroll case. It’s engraved with a symbol of Bahamut, and cases of this type were used for only one purpose at his monastery: to protect scrolls revered as containing prophecy. The scroll depicts four stone carvings, and judging from the surrounding architectural details, the heroes recognize these as being similar to the building styles they saw in Waterdeep. On the scroll are words in Draconic, which Immeral reads for the party: “A great evil that has long been departed will seek to forge an alliance and return to the material plane. He can be defeated by those who seek justice. The final battle will take place at a location known only to the spirits. In each of the places depicted on this scroll, the heroes will meet a dragon. The dragon will tell them about the place of the final battle and bestow a boon to aid them in their quest.” The party decides it’s worth investigating, but for now return to the task at hand, finding the book they were sent for.

The Lost Secrets Library is not done with heroes yet. As they continue to search for the book, they realize that the Library itself is interacting with them, and begin to respond. They soothe, cajole, and finally bluff their way to victory, promising the library they will return the book once they’re done with it even though they are not sure that will be possible. They manage to jump out a window just before the library catches on, and escape safely with Holman’s Treatise on the Imbuement and Maintenance of Armed Conflict Training Mannequins, and with some modicum of sanity still intact.

As the heroes step out of the library, a rolling baritone greets them: “Ah, just in time! Tevors needs to speak with you.” They find the dwarf, Instructor Ibok, approaching. “He asked you to meet him at the arboretum, by the sundial.” depite their protestations, he encourages them to hurry and says he is working and unable to talk at the moment. Pel is frustrated, as he not only has questions about the goings-on at the Academy but about his own past, and he can tell that his old mentor is being intentionall evasive.

At the Aboretum, the exotic foreign trees and bushes exude several scents, some sharp and some soothing, and they are engaging to the eye. Even the small landscaped fen is pleasant to walk past. A short stone-and-brass sundial stands at a widening of the path ahead, and a bench stands near it, but Instructor Tevors is nowhere to be found.

Shambling MoundDespite the riot of sensation, the party notices that they hear no sound of birdsong or of animal life of any kind. They also notice bark-skinned humanoids camouflaged against the bark of nearby trees, and see writhing masses of vines rise from the nearby swampy ground. Blades of grass shift, and they see the faintest ripple in the air. Something invisible is here.

The party senses that a binding may have been removed, as the plants begin to attack them mercilessly. All the monsters hunger to indulge their vicious natures after feeling bound to be peaceful within the academy’s exotic arboretum for so long. The battle is brutal and intense beyond anything the heroes have yet experienced. The shambling mound attempts to consume the heroes one by one, while arborean beasts keep the others immobilized. Many fall and are stablized just in time. After what seems like ages, they emerge triuphant, but only barely, and their wounds are deep.

Will the heroes recover? What is causing the problems at the Academy? Why is Instructor Ibok being so evasive? The adventure continues next month!

The Tyrant's Oath, Part II

Symbol of KordAfter hearing the ruckus outside, Gord devises a plan to intimidate the bandits. Beef peeks outside so freaking stealthily that even his own allies don’t see it, and tells Gord what he sees: five bandits surrounded by villagers they’ve taken temporarily hostage to ensure their own safety. At Gord’s request, Beef gives him a solid deadleg to activate his teleport ability. Gord appears amidst the bandits, bangs his longspear on the ground, and is surrounded by a cascade of lightning. What an entrance.

“You all seem to be trying really hard to piss me off, so give me one good reason we shouldn’t just kill you right now.”

Taken aback, one bandit tries to recover his composure and stutters, “You have been summoned by Skarn Felstorm to her fortress. Declining this invitation is not an option.” The ruffian leans forward and fidgets with his weapon, “I… I hope you don’t decline.”

The rest of the party emerges from Vlayn’s cottage, and agrees to go with them if they release the villagers they’ve commandeered. The do, and the party proceeds toward the fortress. On the way, other bandits join the escort, prowling out of the forest or approaching on horseback from their circuit as a mounted outrider. Having not seen the impressive display in the village, they attempt to goad the adventurers into a fight. The party keeps their cool, trading verbal barbs and trash talking all the way back to the bandit fortress.

The forest opens onto a rocky plateau overlooking the region, revealing a recently built wooden fortress. There are barracks, smithies, stables, a great hall, even a mine. Guards, both mounted and on foot, patrol the perimeter. The camp is enclosed by a wall of sharpened wooden pickets. Most of the surrounding trees have been cut down to build the fortress, but enough remain to hide the structure from a distance. A stairway carved out of the mountain winds up the steep slope to the sculpture of a bronze fist that rests atop a peak. Men, women, and children are at work in the camp.

Skarn Felstorm Melthos recognizes the fist as a symbol of Kord, god of athletics, storms, and courage. He and the rest of the party deduce that this was the statue commissioned and finances by Arlen Felstorm when he was leader of the village. It’s strange that the exiled and estranged daughter would build her base of operations so close to a symbol of her father’s god.

Every structure in the fortress is occupied with human bandits. The heroes are escorted to the great hall, surrounded by a crowd. It is warmed with two enormous hearths and adorned with ill-gotten furs and tapestries. Four long rows of harvest tables and benches span the room from front to back. Across the front of the hall is a wide platform. A wooden throne sits atop the platform, and a stunning, full-bodied woman clad in scale armor reclines confidently on the throne. She is attended by two exotic cats, five brawny men, and twenty rough brigands. The men stand resolute in their contempt, while the woman is piqued by your entrance. The woman is Skarn Felstorm, a human blade of Kord. The two exotic cats are fey panthers, and the five brawny men are human ambushers.

“I am Skarn Felstorm, and you have become quite the thorn in my side. My men advised against bringing you to my home. One even suggested slaughtering you outright. I consider such behavior unworthy of Kord. Besides, after hearing how you dispatched my men at the roadblock, I had to see the thorn for myself. Now that we stand face to face, I ask—why shouldn’t I pluck this thorn and cast it aside? Why should I spare your lives? What can I or my people gain by extending you mercy?”

Skarn has been looking forward to meeting the party. She is gregarious, hearty, arrogant, flirtatious, even sensual. She has no patience for flowery words and she sees right through flattery (although she does enjoy it). The bandits in the hall laugh at all her jokes and jeer whenever she sneers at the strangers.

She is not, however, blind to the opportunity the adventurers represent. Skarn didn’t become queen of the bandits by being beautiful. She is also ambitious and wily. She knows only too well how dangerous the snaketongue cultists are becoming and that they must be crushed somehow. Despite her exile, she feels great pain over the murder of her father. Regardless of how well the heroes comport themselves, Skarn must appease the bandits under her command. Eventually, she makes the following speech.

Bandit Ambusher“Hear me bandits! I care little for wild boasts or claims of bravery. Every member of this clanhold has proven themselves in deed; every member is the extension of one beating heart, and that heart’s blood has been spilled. We must have satisfaction for that injury . . . not with apologetic words, but with the spilling of their blood! Our fellows died in battle against these strangers, and died well. Before these outsiders can stand among us, they must pass the judgment of combat. You know of what I speak. Ready the pit!”

With a cheer, the men and women in the great hall begin pulling up floor boards and quickly reveal an ingeniously concealed gladiatorial arena, 35 feet square and sunk 10 feet into the ground beneath the hall. The five human ambushers who share the podium with Skarn do not prepare the arena but ready themselves for battle.

Four training posts fixed with sharp blades and spiked flails are spaced in the arena. Four turnstiles are brought out of storage and socketed into the floor around the arena. When manually operated, they cause the training posts to spin. Setting up the arena takes about half an hour. During that time to part engages in more trash talk and some ale and snacks with the bandits. Beef almost steps over the line, however, when he jokingly asks if the five men are the clan’s best warriors. “Our best warrior is no man,” Skarn retorts.

Through focus fire tactics and moving the bandits into the dangerous spinning posts, the adventurers defeat Skarn’s champions. When their leader is bloodied, the remaining bandits call to one knee and surrender their weapons. The heroes are inducted into the Stormbolt Highland Clan as honored members. Defeated bandits relinquish their gear to the characters as spoils. While Pel is excited about the possibility of having a dagger, a quick assessment of the cultural protocol makes the characters suspect that gear must be returned if the defeated foe can pay the price.

Bandit FortressThe party is cheered by their new friends, and given a tour of the fortress with access to the armory and storerooms. There they discover some fancis as well as a meal kit. The kit includes a bowl, a carved wooden spoon, and chopsticks, and it unlike anything the party has seen before. They also get an opportunity to speak to Skarn, and she explains that she is set upon avenging the death of her father, whom she believes was murdered by the cultists. She has been unable to do so because her forces have been at least partially dedicated to protecting the village. Throughout the fortress, the heroes notice villagers working as servants, probably against their will, and being treated a bit roughly and rudely by the bandits.

Just before the evening’s feast in celebration of the new alliance, Vlayn appears on an exhausted horse, an untreated cut bleeding on her forehead. She rides unopposed into the great hall and angrily addresses Skarn.

“Kylar has been abducted by the cultists! If you ever planned to do something with your bandit army, now is the time. You want to be a leader? Put your pride aside and let these heroes guide your men through Nettleblight Swamp! Lay the ghost of your father to rest, Skarn. End these cultists and save your sister before it’s too late!”

Vlayn relates a tale in which she and Kylar were attacked in her cottage by two snaketongue assassins with uniquely curved daggers. They grabbed Kylar and ran into the forest. Skarn appears resolute as she marches onto the promenade of her fortress. Every man, woman, and child stops to listen. She declares the heroes trusted allies, states that she plans to commune with Kord atop the Stormbolt Highland mountain, and rallies the bandits to arm themselves against the snaketongue temple, because they will be riding out in force on her return. The fortress roars in anticipation of battle. Skarn heads for the stairway that twists up the mountain.

Blue LightningAs she is leaving, Pel calls after her and asks to come along. She nods her assent and continues the long trek up the steep cliff of the mountain. She leads them to an open-air shrine where a giant symbol of Kord has been cast in bronze. Skarn kneels before the statue and speaks:

“Kord, I kneel before you at the temple of my father, humble but also enraged that the land he protected is despoiled by followers of Zehir. I ask you to cross blades with the snake god and favor my men as we ride into battle against his zealots. To that end, I pledge the glory of our brave deeds to your fearless courage and offer this hero, Pel, as a vessel that may bring your vast might to bear. Let my silence be filled with his words.”

Storm clouds form over the Stormbolt Highlands as Skarn kneels in prayer, fullblade in hand. Pel says some stuff. The storm clouds darken, rumble with thunder, and flash with lightning. A fork of blue light strikes the metal sculpture, and then another, followed by several more too quick to count, until the bronze fist becomes a glowing nexus of electricity. In the moments between bolts of lightning, the ghost of Arlen Felstorm appears where Skarn stands and the two seem to trade places. They invite Pel to touch the illuminated symbol.

When Pel touches it, the elemental storm coursed into him and fused with his own elemental powers. He felt his strength renewed and also, for the first time, was certain that Skarn had absolutely nothing to do with the death of her father. A torrential rain begins and blankets the entire region.

Pel and Skarn return to the fortress, where Skarn climbs atop a prepared horse and wordlessly leads her army out of the Stormbolt Highlands. Horses have also been prepared for the heroes, and they follow.

Cultist TempleDuring the march toward Nettleblight Swamp, Skarn explains that she will use her bandit army to harry the snaketongue cultists, allowing the heroes to infiltrate the temple. She also authorizes the characters to command her bandits as they see fit to help them win the day.

When the bandit army arrives at Nettleblight Swamp, the heroes safely guide it through the quagmire, avoiding the explosive poison bramble hazard, which is easier since they have been drenched by the downpour. Soon the occultist temple looms in the distance, and it’s clear that the cultists are on full alert. An overwhelming force of snaketongue cultists stands ready to battle the army Skarn has marshaled. It is clear that the siege will be engaged and fought without surprise.

The adventurers use their wits to devise a strategy to weaken a portion of the snaketongue line, breaking through to the temple’s entrance. Some use their adept knowledge of history to recreate a classic line of attack, while others rally the bandit army with battle cries and combat humor. Immeral gets naked, but this tactic is met with only limited success.

Eventually, the heroes enter the ziggurat and proceed down a winding, serpentine tunnel. The tunnel opens into a cavernous dome where a giant snake skull hangs over the entrance. To the left and right, on opposing sides of the sloping walls, three levels of timbered catwalks have been built. Each level provides access to ten barracks mined out of the rock. A circular arena bordered by wooden pillars occupies the center of the floor, in which archery targets and training posts are spaced. A ring of Draconic runes ten feet across is inscribed in the middle of this arena. Against the furthest wall stands a massive, three story statue of a creature whose entire body is intertwined snakes, meticulously carved from the cavern wall.

Immeral speaks Draconic and reads the runes inscribed on the arena floor. “For the serpent we train, by his mercy we live, unto the snake we become.” Beef scans the room and determines that the floor within the Draconic runes is designed to retract via some remote mechanism. As they move into the room, the heroes hear Kylar’s voice calling out from within the statue. “Can anyone hear me? I’m trapped in the snake statue!”

They approach the statue and talk to Kylar. She explains that she was kidnapped and locked behind a stone gate which is activated by moving one of the statue’s many snake heads. Several of the more cautious members of the party get a sense that Kylar is lying about something, but proceed to attempt to release her anyway.

KylarAn examination of the statue reveals that five of the sculpted snake heads have closed mouths, while the hundreds of others are hissing or snarling. These five snake heads can be pulled out, turned, and pushed back into different positions. As soon as the party manipulates one of these heads, the stone gate trapping Kylar drops into the floor. At the same time, another stone gate rises up and seals the entrance to this chamber.

The sound of an enormous stone wheel can be heard overhead, rolling into an unseen socket within the wall. A thunderous boom shakes the cavern, followed by a gout of marsh water spewing from the alcove in which Kylar stands, and then from every snarling and hissing stone mouth that comprises the statue of the snake-creature.

Kylar flies into a rage. “It wasn’t supposed to be you! I set the trap for Skarn, to punish her for killing our father!” Pel attempts to reason with Kylar, explaining to her what she saw at the altar of Kord, but the young girl is too furious and too convinced of her own belief in her sister’s guilt. Her eyes glow yellow and reveal snake-like, vertical pupils. She attacks the party, as do the other denizens of the temple. It becomes clear that she is in control of the fight, and the party believes she has also been behind the kidnappings in the village.

The party focus fires all their attacks onto Kylar, forcing a quick surrender. She orders her priests to stand down. She listens to Pel’s description of Skarn’s communion with her father’s spirit at the temple, and seems confused. She explains that she became convinced of her sister’s guilt many months ago. Her sister had been exiled, she had much to gain from their father’s death, and indeed rose to great power after he was gone. She had originally joined the snaketongue cult to suss out the murderer, but had since gathered ample evidence that the killer was not among the temple residents, and was only made to look that way. This added to her sister’s guilt, in Kylar’s mind, because it would give her an advantage in the subtle contest between the two factions for control of the village. While she believes Pel, she is disappointed to be back at square one in finding her father’s killer, and feels like all her work up to this point has been a waste.

The party leads her out of the temple where she calls off her armies, as Kombat Advantage does the same with the bandit forces. Kylar and Skarn reunite and return to the village with the party to continue the investigation. After catching up, the girls decide that they are united in finding their father’s murderer and intent on killing him. Vlayn has since started to act shifty, and asks the party to find the murderer before her daughters do and promise that the person will get a trial.

The adventurers agree and head into the swamp, where they once again find help from the ghost of Arlen Felstorm. He leads them to his corpse, which is decomposing at another edge of the swamp. Near it, they find a sending stone, which appears to have been recently placed there. They decide to activate the stone and listen in silence, not wanting to alert whoever might have its counterpart, and hear background noise of clanking metal and multiple voices, the sound of people working.

They return to the village and investigate Kylar’s cottage, still suspicious of her motives and knowing that she has already lied to them multiple times. They found her diary, but nothing in it connected her to the murder or illuminated anything about the events of the past. They did learn that after joining the snake cult to discover her father’s murderer, she killed its previous leader, a powerful priestess. She then turned the full might of the cult to the task of luring Skarn into the temple and avenging her father’s death.

In Vlayn’s cottage, they find, among the expected, a chopstick identical to the ones they discovered in the store room at the bandit fortress. Because it was so unusual, they suspect a link. They listen to the sending stone once again and conclude that what they’re hearing must be a workshop or kitchen at the fortress. They decide to go investigate and see if they can locate the owner of the meal kit they found in the store room.

LilaAfter searching the kitchen and experimenting with the sending stone they have, the party manages to find it’s partner wrapped in a cloth in one of the cabinets. With some study and research, they determine that both the fabric and the meal kit are from the Chult region, and decide to look for someone of that origin. They go out to the quarters where the impressed villagers live and, though it’s late, knock on doors until they locate a woman named Lila. She’s breathtakingly beautiful, and after only brief inquiry into her relationship to Arlen Felstorm, confesses to their love affair.

She tells the heroes that she met him when she came to the village as a young girl, and that they were close until his death, after which she was sent to work at the fortress. She said that she placed the sending stone near his body so that she could always be close to him, and that sometimes she would just listen to the sounds of the swamp and remember the times they had stolen moments there together. She tells them to keep the other sending stone and use it to help find Arlen’s murderer.

Concluding that Vlayn certainly knew of the affair, the adventurers return to the village and confront her. Matlock style, she breaks down and confesses tearfully, saying that after Skarn’s exile, the discovery of the infidelity had felt like the final fracture in an already fragile family. She believed her daughters would never forgive her, but consented to being escorted to Silverymoon and tried there.

Before they leave, Melthos gives Skarn and Kylar several inspirational words, advising them that they have to grow up and become responsible leaders of the village. He gives them the sending stones and tells them they’ll never have to be apart again. The bandit army gives each adventurer a horse, except for Gord, who finally gets his riding lizard.

As they embark back on their journey, the ghost of Arlen Felstorm appears once more. He approaches Vlayn, his wife and his murderer. She begins to cry. He pressed his forehead to hers and strokes her cheek, as they finally forgive one another. He steps back and vanishes, leaving a small magical figure of himself as a boon to the heroes to aid them in battle.

The scaly tail of Gord’s riding lizard, Buttercup, is the last visible sign of Kombat Advantage as they waddle back down the road toward Silverymoon.

The Tyrant's Oath, Part I

BanditWhile in Waterdeep, Pel received a letter from an old instructor at the White Lotus Academy. Professor Ibok was Pel’s mentor, and knew him well. For this reason, Pel was alarmed to read that he’d been summoned to give a guest lecture on the care and identification of butterflies, which had been one of his weakest skills during his time as a gardener. He knew something was amiss, and recruited Melthos to accompany him and find out what was the matter. They were eventually joined on the road into Luruar by Immeral, Beef, and Gord.

They were seeking a place on the road to rest for the night, and came across horse tracks going down a small side path. When they followed this path, they were met by a barricade and, when they refused to turn back, a bandit ambush. While Kombat Advantage won the day, some bandits escaped and all cried out that they fought and died in the name of Skarn Felstorm.

The adventurers proceeded on the path, and at the top of a ridge noticed that the path diverged. One direction led down into a thick swamp with a stone ziggurat protruding from the top. The other led towards the village, beyond which was a rocky crag with a glimmer of something shiny on it. Because it was getting late, the party continued on to the village, expecting to be greeted as heroes and offered some ale and a good night’s rest in return for vanquishing the bandits.

On seeing a group of heavily-armed strangers, parents protectively held their children. A woman carrying a torch rode out on horseback to meet the characters and appeared surprised when she does not recognize their faces.

Vlayn “You’re not the patrol. Neither are you snaketongue cultists. Your arrival is either foretelling or fortuitous. Some of our friends and neighbors have been kidnapped by cultists, and the bandits who are paid to keep us safe are nowhere to be found. What brings such well-armed travelers to Elkridge this night?”

Taken aback and worrying that they had killed the de facto town guard, the adventurers greeted the woman warmly but discreetly. She introduced herself as Vlayn, the villager healer. They agreed to help retrieve the missing villagers, and Vlayn led the party to a cluster of homes where the abduction took place.

“The snaketongues headed toward Nettleblight Swamp, but their lizards are slowed by carrying the kidnapped victims. If you have the skill, please track them now. Time is against us. My daughter, Kylar, already pursues the cultists on foot. She is brave and strong, but she is but one young woman and they are many.”

The party could tell that Vlayn was concerned about the villagers but very afraid of what might happen to her daughter. She wouldn’t come with the characters, explaining that she must tend to villagers who were injured in the attack.

They venture into the Nettleblight Swamp, easily following the trail of the kidnappers. The party can see the snaketongue stronghold from the edge of the forest, at least the parts illuminated by torches or sunrods, and the shape of the promontory can be picked out as a dark silhouette against the moon and stars.

They catch up quickly. It is dark, but the first figure in the column carries an ignited sunrod for the others to follow. The cultists were stalled at the river, where they needed time to reorganize their balky lizards.

At the river, the swamp transitions into a vast marshland about 2 miles across. A towering promontory of rock dominates its center. At this range, you can just see a broad set of carved stairs that leads from the base up to a roughly hewn opening. Snakelike creatures enter and exit through this fissure, and many more stand guard outside. Snaketongue warriors on giant lizards glide over the marsh as they make wide patrols.

Lizard Rider The convoy of cultists and their human prisoners was crossing the river and moving toward the outcropping. They dispatch the enemies with some effort, taking care not to harm the villagers or the lizard mounts, since Gord is hoping to adopt one eventually. After the fight, it is late in the evening and they want only to return to the village. They begin to take some time to caucus with the kidnapped villagers, but a mounted snaketongue warrior emerges from the marsh reeds about 50 yards away. He draws a bow and launches a single arrow high into the sky. A sunrod lashed to its head makes it easy to follow as it arcs down toward you. Moments later, a cone of missiles fills the sky, all converging on the party.

The characters realize that the villagers cannot survive these arrows. Fortunately, a young woman arrives and offers to guide the villagers to safety. She thinks they can make it back faster and more safely if they split up, points the party in another direction, and disappears with the villagers into the swamp.

As the heroes explore swamp on their way back, they learn how to safely negotiate the explosive pollen brambles. They then notice a glimmer in the distance, and approach it to find that it is the ghost of a man. He nods expressionlessly to the heroes, then turns to walk away, revealing a uniquely curved dagger buried in his back. He strides through the swamp, frequently disappearing in the dense growth only to reappear in the distance. He always stays ahead of the party. Eventually the ghost guides them to safety at the edge of the swamp and disappears. It’s only then that they notice the same young woman waiting for them.

Kylar On the trip back to Elkridge, the party talks to the girl who helped them escape. She is Kylar, daughter of Vlayn. She admits to patrolling the region frequently with her father before he died. When asked about the uniquely curved dagger she carries, she becomes quiet, but Melthos recognizes it as the blade they saw in the ghost’s back. When pressed, she says that it was the dagger she found in her father’s back when she discovered his body. She kept the weapon to use against his assassin. The heroes sense that Kylar knows more about the dagger than she is revealing. She refuses to say more, explaining only that her father’s murder and her quest for vengeance are too personal and painful to discuss with strangers.

When the adventurers return to Elkridge, Vlayn and the villagers welcome the heroes and the rescued captives. The party, however, notices a few stoic villagers who do not appear impressed. They sense a mixture of fear and scorn from these peasants. As these villagers will not speak to the heroes, Vlayn explains their behavior.

“The bodies of several bandits were found on the road. Nobody is blaming you for defending yourselves, but people fear what will befall Elkridge if we offer you shelter. I don’t share their fears.”

When the characters ask why Vlayn doesn’t fear the bandits, she answers directly.

“Because Skarn is my daughter and Kylar’s older sister.”

Vlayn offers to explain everything but only after she tends the rescued villagers. She tells them to come see her at her cottage in the morning, and points them toward the local inn, The Pale Wolf. While taking in drink and food, the heroes also take in a substantial amount of local gossip:

✦ Arlen Felstorm, a retired human warlord, protected Elkridge up until his death. He crafted the bronze symbol of Kord atop a nearby mountain and married Vlayn, producing two daughters. The sisters, Kylar and Skarn, were inseparable.

✦ Growing up, Skarn fell in with a group of scoundrels. When Felstorm saved a merchant from bandits, he found Skarn among the outlaws. The unforgiving warlord exiled his daughter.

✦ Arlen Felstorm fought tirelessly to secure the autonomy of Elkridge from any ruler. When he was found stabbed and drowned at the edge of the swamp, Skarn returned to take his place, albeit by force of arms and as a formidable bandit queen.

✦ Skarn is fiercely protective of her younger sister, Kylar, who looks up to and idolizes her older sibling. Skarn is a tough character, more like her father in disposition than her mother Vlayn. Kylar has run wild ever since her father died, but she hasn’t yet joined with the bandits.

They get bunks at the inn and sleep through the night, taking watch just in case.

Inside her cottage the next morning, Vlayn is revealed to be a primal healer with a storehouse of dried plants, herbs, and roots. Vlayn has mastered several rituals and alchemical processes, all of which she is willing to perform for the party’s benefit or share with them.

Vlayn offers to house the characters for as long as they need to stay in Elkridge. She explains that while the snaketongue cultists have long occupied Nettleblight Swamp, they only began abducting villagers after her husband was killed. The snaketongue cultists have grown in number as villagers have disappeared.

Curved Dagger With the exception of Kylar prowling the old border, nothing has been done to stop the abductions. Without Arlen Felstorm to lead it, the village militia disbanded. No one remaining in the village commands enough respect to assume command. With Skarn’s return as a bandit queen in command of a small army, there seemed no need for the militia. But Skarn turned out to be as much a curse as a blessing. She forced the artisan community to make armor and weapons for her followers and took possession of the Stormbolt Highlands, where she pressed villagers into constructing a wooden fortress.

The bandits that follow Skarn offer some protection to Elkridge from the snaketongue cultists, but her guards are lax and too few to attack the snaketongue temple. At the same time, the bandits themselves prey on the villagers, although their demands and “liberties” are less atrocious than those of the swamp raiders.

The heroes sense that while Vlayn is not lying, she excluded parts of the story regarding Skarn, probably those things they heard at the tavern the night before.

Suddenly, they hear a ruckus outside. Hoof beats echo between cottages as mounted ruffians pound on doors.

“We know they’re here! Tell us where the strangers are and spare yourselves a beating you won’t forget!”

To be continued.

Stormcrow Tor, Part I

After defeating Avonathemon, the heroes scour the room for more clues about what he was up to. They find a journal that indicated that he was, as they suspected, a follower of Bane and not the Raven Queen as he had claimed. They also learned that his proposed sacrifices were part of a scrying ritual, intended to discover the location of an artifact that he believed could be used to restore the demigod Karsus to full power and help in his fight.

The journal mentioned that he had sent a star chart with the results of the most recent scrying, which had narrowed down the location considerably, with a courier party recently but had not heard back from them. The heroes recalled that they had defeated a small ambush at the abandoned school house whom they now remembered, thanks to the DM’s retcon, were dressed as followers of the Raven Queen.

The actual priest of the temple, Ren Deepmace, comes in and, in the typical Scottish brogue common to all dwarves in fantasy settings, thanks them for their help and offers them a place to stay for the night and any further assistance. He sets them up on a tour of the mines and gets them free ale at his favorite pub, as well as the services of the finest dwarven whores in Faerun.

The next day, they hit the road and investigate the school house further. They notice a bulge in the stomach of one of the slain cultists, and cut him open to reveal a small scroll casing. Inside, they find the star chart that Avonathemon wrote about. None are able to read it with any degree of accuracy, so they decide to seek out an astronomer when possible.

They also stop back by the village of Harmona, where the inhabitants are putting their lives back together after the curse was lifted. They don’t have anything to offer, but they appreciate not being zombies anymore.

Back in Luskan, Governess Neelani is back in the saddle, but riddled with guilt for her lack of good judgment in appointing and trusting Avonathemon. Melthos assuages much of this with a heartfelt speech about her leadership and willingness to change and accept counsel. Oliver has since been appointed head of the guard, and Ren Deepmace, the dwarven priest of Mirabar, has sent one of his acolytes to act as an advisor until a replacement is found.

Oliver sends a letter to his brother explaining the situation, noting that he didn’t want to report until he had good news. The party then boards a trade ship to return to Daggerford and report on their progress with the Mayor. He rewards them as promised and tells them he’s heard there’s an observatory in Loudwater, but it’s at Lady Moonfire’s manor and she clearly isn’t the one using it, as she wouldn’t know which end of a telescope to look into. Still, he suggests they give it a try and see if they can find out who actually uses the observatory.

Upon their return to Loudwater,

To be continued.

Tariff of Luskan, Part I

The party made the journey home without incident as the weather began to clear, and were met with a hero’s welcome back in Loudwater. The joy was dampened when the townsfolk noticed the absence of one party member, the lovable dwarf. They suggested the party visit the temple and see if Sister Linora could set things right. When they got to the temple, Sister Linora said she was able to perform the resurrection ritual, but could not afford both the ritual and the 500 gp reward she had promised. Upset by the thought of haggling over the life of his friend, Pel stormed out. The rest of the party remained and agreed to forgo the reward so that the money could be put towards the ritual. The adventurers decided to remain in the temple for the ritual, out of curiosity.

Sister Linora began by taking parts from the eight trees that stood at the cardinal and ordinal points of the temple. She gathered berries from one, bark from another, leaves from a third, and so on. She placed these in a chalice in the center of the room, along with the lock of Beef’s hair, and lit a small candle beneath the chalice. She then knelt before the chalice, near the statue of the goddess Chauntea, and began to chant. She was chanting in a mixture of languages, from Common to Elven to Supernal. As she chanted, the statue of the goddess began to glow with a faint green light. Linora’s chanting became more intense and insistent, and the green light intensified.

Suddenly, a small breeze seemed to emerge from the temple walls and converse in the center of the room. As the breeze became a wind, it began carrying with it small bits of organic matter: twigs, leaves, cones, and grasses. Linora continued to chant and began rocking back and forth, as if in a trance. The wind became a gale, and it carried with it small song birds. The birds began to collect the debris from around the room and appeared to build a nest on the floor beside the chalice. As the chanting continued and the statue’s glow pulsed, the nest grew larger. Eventually, it became to take on a vaguely humanoid shape. Eventually, the shape became a dwarf and the dwarf became a startling likeness of Beef.

The wind died down more suddenly than it had begun, and Sister Linora slowed to stillness and silence. She rose from her position and approached the statue, putting her lips near the lips of the goddess. The green glow seemed to flow out of the goddess’s lips and into the mouth of the priestess. She then knelt before the effigy and breathed into his mouth. Slowly, beginning with his face and spreading to his whole body, the twigs and leaves and branches became flesh. As Beef coughed back to consciousness, he caught a glimpse of Sister Linora’s glorious cleavage as she murmured, “Welcome back,” just before she passed out from exhaustion.

The party welcomed home their fallen comrade, and averted their eyes as her dressed himself and gathered his belongings. They moved Sister Linora onto some cushions in the corner of the temple so that she could rest more comfortably, and returned to the Green Tankard for some food and respite. Pel had slept and was having his breakfast and morning ale, and greeted his friends. He volunteered to keep watch by Beef’s room while everyone else got some rest.

After Gord and Immeral awoke, they approached Pel, who was still guarding the door of his beloved friend’s room. Gord described the resurrection ritual and said he thought it would be funny to play a prank on Beef by putting twigs and feathers in his bed that he would discover when he woke up. Pel was reluctant to put Beef through further trauma, but decided it was too funny to pass up. Gord gathered some chicken feathers from the kitchen scraps and some twigs from nearby trees, then Pel unlocked the door and sent Posket in to distribute the detritus. One by one, Posket dutifully carried each item into Beef’s room and placed it on his bed, even placing a few pieces onto his sleeping form.

When finally woke up, he was puzzled by the mess of feathers and leaves in his bed. He brushed them off, collected them, and tossed them out the window. He emerged from his bedchambers and confronted Pel about whether anyone had been in his room while he was asleep. Pel assured Beef that no person has entered the room, and he’d been there the whole time. Beef visited the temple, concerned that this might be a side effect of his resurrection. Sister Linora’s pert bosoms heaved as she explained that, while resurrection rituals differ depending on the diety, there shouldn’t be any side effects, since his friend had performed the gentle repose ritual on his body.

The party split up to gather information about the tip they received from the mist gnome about trouble in a nearby village. Pel remained at the inn and assists the innkeeper and his head chef plan for an upcoming banquet (held by Lady Moonfire, naturally) by sharing one of his rustic vegetable stew recipes from his upbringing on the farm. The rest of the team learned that the mayor in the coastal city of Daggerford was about to implement an unreasonable tariff. Depending on whom they asked, the tariff may have involved slavery, prostitution, human sacrifice, body parts, or large quantities of soft, imported cheese. They deduced that the most reliable informant was one of those who suggested body parts. When they return to the inn, they find a note from Yaffa, explaining that Melthos was called away to an emergency at his monastery, and that she insisted on going with him. She relays the intel that managed to gather and promises to meet up with the rest of the party soon.

As they dined on the hearty stew, Beef approached Pel again and told him about the feathers. After having some fun with him, Pel admitted to being a part of the prank but suggested that they counterprank. He said he would convince Gord and Immeral to forgo any further feather placement, but that Beef could continue to place the feathers himself, confusing the original pranksters and causing them to worry whether they’d done any real damage.

Thoroughly creeped out by the possibility of body part taxes, the party decided to pack up and head out to Daggerford, taking the road towards the coast. They arrive close to nightfall, and see a fairly unassuming city, similar in area to Loudwater, surrounded by city gates which stand open and apparently unmanned. After a thorough visual scour of the area, Beef spots an ugly, used up looking lady of negotiable virtue, and approaches her for information. She insists that time with her, however spent, doesn’t come free and, knowing that adventurers have money, demands a price of 10 gp. Beef attempts to renegotiate, but Pel laughs and tosses her the money, telling Beef to make it worth the cash.

Beef chose not to avail himself of the lady, who gave only the name “Barbarella,” in her usual capacity, but instead asked her for information about the mayor or any new tariff. She was less than helpful. In fact, all the adventurers could gather from their thorough investigation of the city’s pubs and night market were that the mayor had his quirks and the tariffs were high but fair for a port city of such importance. They ended up renting the penthouse at the Silver Snake, an inn near the docks, and crashing for the night, resolved to visit the mayor the next day.

At the mayor’s office, the party was shown into his private conference area immediately. The mayor leveled with them, explaining that he had started the rumors himself, and that although there is no such tax in Daggerford, no would there ever be one, there is such a tax proposed in Luskan.

Menace of the Icy Spire, Part II

Ice Touched GoblinsHaving seen the shadow of the icy spire from off in the distance, the party began a trek in that general direction. The group halted behind a set of hills, hearing some goblin chatter from off in the distance behind them.

The decision was made to form a scouting party, made up of Beef and Melthos, the two stealthy members of the party. Unfortunately, they were not stealthy enough as the goblins heard them coming and ambushed them from atop the hill and the fight was upon them all. According to Beef’s estimates (made later after several pints at the Green Tankard), somewhere between five and one thousand goblins then attacked, including somewhere amongst them three sharpshooters with crossbows, and a hexer. Gord immediately charged one sharpshooter atop one hill, while Melthos and Beef began to dispatch the sharpshooter on the other. Yaffa and Pel weaved in and out, dueling with the hexer, and taking out many of the lesser goblins at the same time. In the distance could be heard muffled, angry words sputtered in an elven dialect. Yaffa, who speaks Elven, knew them to be of a particularly vulgar nature. Eventually an Eladrin appeared from behind the the backmost hill and began assaulting the minds of the goblins who attacked him.

Despite all the enemies seemingly focused on killing Beef, the entire group emerges from this conflict relatively strong and somewhat unharmed. Much of this is due to the hexer’s near obsession with attacking but not actually hitting Yaffa. The Eladrin then initiated formal introductions (his name is Immeral), a common cause is decided and his presence is tolerated (and later appreciated) for the further assault upon the icy tower.

Icy SpireThe path immediately in front of the tower was lined with many fearsome statues vaguely resembling mechanical dogs. A proper inspection of these statues revealed that four of these statues weren’t statues at all, but actually subtly placed canine-shaped defenders of the tower, who would attack upon attempted forced entry. While the idea of forced entry enticed some, more level-headed members decided upon a more defensive and strategic positioning, enabling the group to burn down the dogs before any of them could successfully damage the party.

Flush with success, and blinded by pride, the party approached the front of the tower, and a burning spray by Pel successfully melted away the door’s icy shell for all to enter, but before anyone could move inside, a large clay golem stepped outside, and began to lay waste to the party using their own attacks against them. Gord, suddenly acting oddly, as if an obnoxious dullard was suddenly in control of his actions, delivered a harrowing avalanche strike on the innocent, helpful Beef, nearly knocking him unconscious. But Beef battled back, breaching the golem’s defenses and ensuring victory in the toughest battle this group had yet faced. It would not by the last time that Beef would put himself in harms way for the greater good of his friends and colleagues.

Ice GolemAs soon as everyone stepped foot inside the tower, the icy fortress sprang to life, its very furnishings providing powerful defense. Intricate shardling-shitting fireplaces were present in nearly every room, and everyone split up, so as to dismantle the fireplaces from shitting out further enemies. As the last fireplace was destroyed, two larger shardlings shambled down each set of stairs, and were also defeated after a breathtaking and suspenseful battle upon the stairs. More icy defenders came barreling down the stairs, and four more creatures were defeated before too long.

The party crept cautiously up the stairs, and used a floating platform to ascend to the third floor. They briefly investigated a finely preserved library, frowning slightly at the decidedly infernal nature of most of the books, before finding a secret passageway leading to another floating platform that took them all to the roof. The sent Posket to investigate, but he did not return. Fearing the worst, they proceeded. On the roof was a glowing crystal emanating waves of cold and frost, and clearly the source behind advancing winter that has plagued Loudwater and emboldened the local goblins. Also, there was Posket, fascinated by the shiny crystal and seemingly unharmed.

Spirit of WinterUpon attacking te crystal, a large yeti-like creature called the Spirit of Winter emerged from the gem, and the battle atop Draigdurroch’s tower began. The yeti first knocked Beef and Pel off the side of the roof, where Beef was only barely able to hold on and hoist himself up. Yaffa was able to protect Pel with a featherfall spell, and Pel made the laborious journey back up while the battle on the roof continued. Attacks were made, spells were cast, and eventually the yeti was beaten down to about half his original strength, which triggered a bestial wave of frost, forcing poor, persecuted Beef off the side of the tower. There would be no returning from this, as Beef knew, and his final words to his friends as he plummeted to his death were “I haaaaate yetiiiiiis.”

No doubt influenced and inspired by Beef’s noble, selfless sacrifice, Pel looked deep within himself and unleashed his most powerful attack, crippling the yeti with a critical hit, and throwing him off the tower, where he landed not too far from the corpse of the dearly departed Beef. It slowly rose, and began to make his way back to the top.

During that time, knowing full well that the yeti was attempting to ascend back to the top, everyone left alive pooled their power, channeling each attack into the crystal, and shattering it before the yeti could make it back up to the apex.

The triumphant few gathered their gear, investigated and perused the library, removed a lock of Beef’s hair for resurrection purposes, and began to make their way back to Loudwater, victorious. On the way out, a gnome made entirely of blue mist confronted the party and scolded them (especially Immeral, whom he’d warned before) for disrupting his countermeasures. He explained that Draigdurroch had unleashed potentially devastating magic, and the tower’s delicious, frosty coating was a protection from that. Yes, it had the unfortunate side effect of opening gateways to an elemental plane, but he’d considered it a small price to pay. He said that, while the rumors of the death of Karsus were close to the truth, Krasus had actually survived his ritual, weakened beyond imagination, and sauntered off to who knows where. He left with the warning that he was very disappointed in them, they should be ashamed of themselves, and they’d be expected to make it up to him in the future.

Menace of the Icy Spire, Part I

Ice GoblinsAll the members of Kombat Advantage, independently or in small groups, arrive in Loudwater and learn of the blue-skinned goblins that have been attacking travelers outside of town and that the winter has been coming early.

An evening spent in the Green Tankard yields all sorts of rumors and wild speculation. Farmers are worried about their crops, which might freeze in the fields before the harvest comes in; woodsfolk tell stories of freak snowstorms occurring in the middle of the day and then vanishing as if they were never there; hunters spread tales of strange blue-skinned goblins lurking around the outskirts of the Dire Wood. Everyone has a pet theory about what or who is behind the problems, but mainly, the common folk are just worried.

Travelers say that the cold temperatures appear to be more pronounced in the area of the Dire Wood. Rumors even tell of blizzards in broad daylight. Some claim it is the work of evil faeries, but the town’s leaders believe that a more likely source of the problem is Draigdurroch Tower. No one has seen or heard from Draigdurroch in 30 years, and the tower’s cursed history is well known.

Beef and Pel witness the first actual incursion by the frosty goblins, working together to defeat the small but sturdy band of fiends and defend the town before too many people are hurt or killed.

Sister LinoraTheir actions catch the attention of the town’s leaders. Sister Linora, the priestess of Chauntea, contacts the loose-knit party and ask them to help the town. They learn that the goblins might be related to the unnatural winters that have been occuring for several years now. Winter is getting longer and the growing season is getting shorter.

She explains that, although winter is a natural part of the cycle of the seasons and therefore not a bad thing in and of itself, its early arrival is clearly a perversion of the natural order and as such it is of grave concern to the Great Mother. The balance between the seasons must be preserved.

“We would be in your debt if you find the source of this unnatural winter. If things continue as they have, the crops will die in the fields and Loudwater’s next Deadwinter Day will be a lot more than symbolic. I suggest you start by investigating Draigdurroch Tower, near the Dire Wood. Considering the tower’s history, I can’t imagine it’s just a coincidence. I’m sure that Lady Moonfire can tell you more.”

As Loudwater’s civic leader, the half-elf Lady Moonfire is responsible for the town’s protection. She has been getting an earful from the local farmers, who are concerned about the early onset of winter. If the harvest fails, then the entire Gray Vale will have a lean winter.

She is also intrigued by the tower, and any artifacts it might hold.

“By Mystra’s lost spell, I’m certain that the tower must be connected to this somehow. Nobody knows what that dwarf Draigdurroch was researching or what triggered the calamity that encased his tower in magic ice, but any time powerful magic is involved, these things have a way of spiraling out of control. It appears the Dire Wood is drawing a lot of attention these days. Even if the tower isn’t the source of the problem, perhaps you can find a clue among the warlock’s notes or possessions.”

She gets a little starry-eyed at the word possessions, and Gord presses the issue.

“Oh, you know, shiny things. I mean, you see I have quite a collection of beautiful artifacts. I’d love to add to it. Also, as Draigdurroch was a warlock, like me, and a powerful one, I’d be interested in his books and, like, general research, and stuff.”

Gord asks if there’s anything else she knows about the tower and the missing warlock. She explains that about 30 years ago, a dwarf warlock named Draigdurroch came to the Gray Vale. Draigdurroch was part of a cabal of warlocks, and his particular research dealt with the creation of new types of eldritch pacts. He believed that the Dire Wood contained a particularly potent source of untapped energy. She then goes back to talking about beautiful artifacts, and can’t seem to regain focus.

Although nobody currently living in town has ever been to the tower, many have a good idea of its approximate location near edge of the Dire Wood, so the party is able to procure a reliable map. It’s less than a day’s travel to reach the tower from Loudwater, so the adventurers should not need to make camp along the way. However, given the situation, they decide to prepare for cold weather, and head to the town’s general store from some winter clothes before leaving town.

The Gray Vale is beautiful in the late summer, although a pronounced chill in the air even during what should be the hottest part of the day indicates that something is definitely amiss with the weather. The first few hours of the journey pass uneventfully, but as the heroes travel through the High Forest, the temperature drops steadily and a sharp wind carries with it the promise of winter, even though the leaves have not even begun their annual autumn change.

BlizzardMore time passes, until finally the sight of the stark white wood of the albino trees that mark the boundary of the Dire Wood informs them that Draigdurroch Tower should be within a few miles of here. However, none of the landmarks indicated on the map are visible for reference. The horizon is shrouded by a blanket of solid white. A cold fog appears to issue from the very heart of the dark forest and snowflakes begin to fall from the steel-gray sky. The way ahead is quickly obscured, as is the way they have just come.

The storm’s intensity continues to rise minute by minute until the party is caught in the middle of a full-on blizzard. To find their way through the driving snow, they must survive the harsh conditions while staying on the right path to reach Draigdurroch Tower. They use their skills and knowledge to choose the right direction and protect themselves against the storm’s hazards.

As the snow clears, the adventurers see a small, ruined tower. While its appearance is more that of an old watch tower than a warlock’s fortress, they decide to investigate, just in case. It’s also getting late, as they were delayed by the blizzard, and they’re intrigued by the possibility of resting in a sheltered location.

Ruined TowerBeef stealthily peeks in a window. Some goblins loudly argue while standing around a table covered in playing cards, while another dips its mug into a boiling cauldron. Toward the rear of the room, a block from the sagging ceiling has smashed down onto the floor. A hobgoblin stands near a gong. A set of stairs on the eastern wall goes up to the next floor. Looking closer, he sees a pair of dice roll out from behind the stone block, and a small fist quickly snatches them up before retreating.

The party decides to take the tower, lured both by shelter and by the sudden promise of ale. One the ground floor, they engage in battle and eventually defeat the frost-touched hobgoblin Big Grigbad and his blue goblin minions. They aren’t quick enough, however, and one goblin manages to hit the gong, alerting the rest of the tower to the arrival of the intruders.

Using Posket as a scout, they carefully ascend the stairs to the next level. The floor in the center of this room is a sagging ruin that looks dangerously unstable. To the west is a pile of broken stones and bones. In the southwest corner is a low wall covered in a faded tapestry. In the shadows of the southeast corner stands a wooden platform of recent construction; it is nearly 10 feet tall. North of the platform, a spiral staircase proceeds up to the next level.

They exmaine the room more closely, and notice a flicker of red light in one of the skulls focusing on them from the pile of bones. They also note flitting shadows on the wooden platform above and arrowheads poke out from behind the tapestry-covered wall.

As one might expect, there are goblins hiding, both on the platform and behind the tapestry. Additionally, the piles of bones become animate as ice skeletons. The party experiements with knocking the goblins prone, but for the casters that only makes them more difficult to hit. Eventually, they dispatch the enemies on this floor and reward Posket with a piece of the tapestry. They move up to the next floor with only Posket’s description of “sleepy dogs and smelly blankets.”

Frost Touched BugbearsSunlight fills this room. The roof is gone, and the spiral staircase continues up to nowhere. Much of the southern half of the room has fallen away. A large stone throne sits to the west with a pile of soiled bedding directly across from it. A circle of runes, interrupted by a gap along one of its sides, glows faintly on the floor. A shadow on the wall behind the staircase moves cautiously, giving away the position of a hidden foe. There are no sleepy dogs in sight, and Kombat Advantage engages, a bit confused. As the battle begins, frost-touched wolves emerge and defend their master, the goblin underboss. His bugbear companions fight bravely, as well, but Kombat Advantage manages to best their foes once more by using the false floor pit trap to their advantage.

After clearing the tower and recovering several gems and mundane weapons, the adventurers make camp and rest for the night. In the morning, they arise and finally see the icy spire of Draigdurroch’s tower in the distance.

To be continued.


Here you’ll find synopses of the games we ran to introduce the characters to the 4e system, the world, and each other.

Introducing: Yaffa and Melthos

Yaffa, an Eladrin wizard of noble birth with an affinity for ice and frost spells, set off to find her way in the world. Her travels led her to the village of Secomber, in the Gray Vale, where she stopped by the local inn for a meal and some reconnaisance. Melthos, a seasoned monk with a focus on healing and protecting the populace, happened on the same inn one night. There, they were both engaged in conversation by a charismatic yet possibly slightly off-kilter sorcerer with a head full of dreadlocks and a small, adorable sugar glider familiar named Posket.

Just as they were starting to warm to each other and sense a common purpose, the general righting of the world’s wrongs at the very least, they noticed in another corner of the bar a group of brigands threatening an acolyte. Pel considered seeking a diplomatic resolution to whatever the conflict might be, but as soon as Melthos saw that the acolyte wore a symbol of Chauntea, a benevolent goddess of nature, he sprang into action. Not wanting to be left out of a good bar fight, Pel joined in. Yaffa, not wanting her potential new friends to meet an untimely end before she had found out whether they were worthy of her company, stepped in, as well. The three dispatched the riff raff — a large, burly thug and two foxy femmes fatales — with little trouble.

The acolyte thanked them, and told them he’d been sent out from the nearby village of Loudwater to seek adventurers who might help them with a problem they were having. They’d had a resident party of adventurers who helped with a trade route problem some time before, but they had dispersed and he heard one of them went crazy. His orders, from Sister Linora of the Loudwater Temple, were to try to find those previous adventurers or, for that matter, any adventurers who might be willing to help out, and of course there would be a reward. The crux of the problem was that winter keeps coming earlier, and the locals are afraid it will start to seriously interfere with the crops or worse.

While they’d just met, the three adventurers now felt somewhat familiar to one another. Bar fights bring people closer. So, they set off together to Loudwater to see what the problem was and meet with this Sister Linora.

Introducing: Beef

Yaffa, Melthos, and Pel have an uneventful trip to Loudwater. As they settle in and begin conversing with the local authorities about the early winters, they learn that in recent weeks, goblins have been sporadically attacking trade routes. This wouldn’t be that uncommon, but the goblins are funny looking: their skin is ice blue.

The following morning, Pel awakes with a cold. It’s decided that Yaffa and Melthos will scout the trade routes, just a cursory day trip, and return with any information. Pel promises to get some rest and Melthos gives him some healing herbs.

Midmorning, Pel hears a terrible commotion downstairs. Feeling somewhat better, he decides to investigate. The patrons are flooding into the cellar, and when he asks what’s the matter, one of them shouts, “Goblins! They’ve breached the walls!”

Pel proceeds cautiously. He peeks around the door into the square. He sees six goblins attacking fleeing villagers. Pel wrestles with the question of whether he should act boldly or cautiously: he doesn’t think he could take all six by himself. He could wait for the town patrol, but how many lives might be lost if he hesitates? Suddenly, he sees something unexpected. A dwarf steps out of the shadows and engages the goblins. He decides that, with what appears to be a competent although unknown ally, he has a chance of victory, or at least of surviving until the patrol arrives.

After leaving his home in East Rift, Beef swore off fighting for a while. He wandered between towns, doing odd jobs in exchange for food and lodging. Eventually, he returned to fighting; although he couldn’t deny his skill, his heart was no longer in it. He fought in underground pub leagues, and took contracts from local nobles to fight off bears or kobolds who were molesting villagers. When he arrived in Loudwater, he was prepared for it to be one more town for him to pass through on the way to wherever he was going. He hadn’t yet figured out where that was, but was about ready to give up hope. A dwarf without a clan is no dwarf at all.

As he wandered into the town, he started exploring, making his way toward the inn on the south square. Just as he entered the square, however, the south wall exploded and came tumbling down, and a band of weird looking goblins streamed in and began slaughtering villagers. Beef’s old instincts kicked in. He knew he was outmatched, but maybe he could get the goblins to focus their attacks on him and save the villagers until the town patrol arrived. Even if he went down, he knew this would be an honorable death.

Beef threw himself into the battle. It wasn’t looking good, but at least the goblins were no longer attacking villagers, giving them time to escape from safety. Beef didn’t know how much longer he could stay alert, but he was determined to keep fighting. Suddenly, a bolt of lightning shot past him, searing the goblin leader. He glanced over his shoulder to see a mage of some sort with wild dreadlocks, staring down the goblins with a crazy gleam in his eyes and readying another deadly spell.

Thus ensues a prolonged battle. Both men act bravely, and work cooperatively to defeat their apparent common enemy. As they speak to each other in brief, pointed shouts to coordinate the battle, the dwarf starts referring to Pel as “Dreadlocks.” As in, “Nice shot, Dreadlocks!”

During the fray, two goblins escape and run towards the magical curiosities shop. After a brief respite to heal up (though not a rest), they manage to intercept the thieves before they make it out of town with their ill-gotten booty.

Just as the last goblin falls, the town patrol arrives, ready to save the day. When they see that the battle is over, they begin cleaning up the corpses: both those of goblins and the few unlucky citizens who could not escape.

The dwarf introduces himself as “Beef.” Curious. Pel introduces himself as well, but the dwarf continues to refer to him by the synecdochic nickname. Pel also very briefly fills Beef in on how he and his companions came to Loudwater. They go to retrieve the stolen goods from the head goblin, and find a note written in the goblin tongue. They decide to hold onto this as it might hold clues to what’s causing the early winters.

They return the stolen items to the magic shop and find that Garwan, the eponymous proprietor, was out for the day and the shot was being guarded by his son. The boy survived mostly unscathed, and Beef bandages his minor cuts and bruises as Pel helps clean up the shop, as much as he can.

Pel decides that Beef is acceptably trustworthy and asks if he’d be interested in meeting his companions and joining them on their quest. Beef says they should talk it over in the tavern, and Pel agrees. As the men sit down at a table with a strong ale, Yaffa and Melthos walk in the door, looking rather surprised.

Introducing: Immeral

Immeral approached Loudwater, thinking it to be like many other average towns that he’d visited. Upon talking with townsfolk about the existence of interesting magic or ancient artifacts, he was informed of Krasus, who had attempted a ritual to attain godhood, and of Draigdurroch who was also somehow involved. Thinking that Krasus had probably failed spectacularly and left behind helpful items, Immeral decided to investigate further. Maybe he would catch up with another party that had gone that way previously. Immeral wondered why Draigdurroch–a warlock–would be investigating Krasus, but decided that he’d either find out or not as things progressed.

Immeral was directed towards the Dire Wood, where he noticed an unseasonably cold winter (especially considering that it wasn’t wintertime). Upon investigation much of this seemed to be illusory, leading Immeral to believe that he was on the right track. The magic was Fae in origin, which piqued his interest. He came across an old abandoned guard tower which had signs of a recent battle, and continued onward.

Immeral came upon an area with three plateaus and an obviously magical tower some distance beyond them. A gnome made entirely of blue mist popped out of thin air and ordered Immeral to stop and leave the area. Curious, Immeral asked for an explanation and was repeatedly told to leave. The gnome insisted that even though there was probably fantastic treasure or magical artifacts in the tower, Immeral should turn back immediately. Finally the gnome disappeared to be replaced by a group of writhing ice worms. Immeral was able to defeat the ice worms. While resting he came to the conclusion that the warlock had unlocked some kind of dangerous magic that annoyed the gnome and his friends, and the gnome had responded by warding the tower with this unnatural winter.

Continued study of the surroundings was interrupted by an attack from an icy blue hob goblin. Immeral was able to bloody the goblin, but was eventually knocked unconscious. He awakened in a goblin camp to find himself bound and unable to move. Immeral waited for a better chance of escape and developed an intense dislike of goblins.


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