It was a cold and windy night. As we stalked the deserted concrete corridors of learning, the echos of my footsteps sounded a mocking political smear campaign: “Flip-flop… Flip-flop… Flip-flop…” The taxidermy raptors in the display case and the mousepox culture incubating down the hall stood in mute testimony to the night’s dark fell dire fey events.
As we waited for the gathering to complete, we discussed tactics for the upcoming battle, and tried to explain 4e rules to my dad. Although he seemed a bit overwhelmed, he soldiered on nonetheless and acquitted himself quite well over the course of the evening. Then Allan spread out the battle map and we got down to bidness. We gave out a cheer when the owlriders came – four of them, all skilled in mounted ranged attacks. They approved of our plan, and were willing to serve as bait. We scouted out a shallow pond about an hour’s walk away from Rhest, and Raughnall prepared his water-lowering trick. He rocked his nature check roll, which meant that when the water drained out we got a 9×9 square of non-difficult terrain, which we arranged off to the side of the pond, such that the middle was surrounded by 10’ high walls of water, and the edge was bounded by the edge of the pond, which was then surrounded by swamp (difficult terrain).
We set the trap. First, we arranged ourselves for maximum effect and John did an assisted group stealth check (30!). Raughnall and Trellara were on the edge of the pond ready to cast ranged stuff. In the middle of the pond Wolff, John, Orrin and Tor were on a hillock. The owlriders lured the dragon and Wyrmlord perfectly so they flew low right over our heads. Then Wolff triggered his daily power, which allowed him to shift the dragon and rider down two squares onto the ground. Roll for initiative!
The dragon and wyrmlord won the initiative check, so they went first. The Wyrmlord taunted us defiantly and then hopped right back up on the dragon. Whups. So much for our grand plan to separate the two of them on the ground… He (the wyrmlord) shot two arrows straight into Wolff’s chest, doing a ton of damage and bloodying him immediately. Then the dragon cast a wicked zone of darkness, inside which he had total concealment (-5 for us to attack him or his rider) and anybody else inside the zone was blind (granting combat advantage). We settled in for a looong fight… The next turn Orrin found out the hard way that whenever someoen missed the dragon with a melee attack (fairly likely given that !@#$ zone of darkness) it got an immediate reaction tail lash attack. Then the wyrmlord targeted John and again bloodied him in one hit. Ouch. Things weren’t looking so good for our heros, so we started popping dailies.
First Trellara cast a daily (without sustain minor, which was important later) that gave the closest ally +4HP every time the dragon made an attack roll. Then Tor cast his daily with +5 resist, which also was able to knock the Wyrmlord off his dragon again. This time Orrin was in his grill, and it wasn’t so easy for him to get back up. John got the Wyrmlord with a crit, which (thanks to his shiny new dagger) dazed him for a turn. Then the dragon busted out his daily which was an attack vs. will to stun everyone in sight. It unfortunately got Tor so we lost our Pelor-inspired sustain-minor resist 5, but not Trellara’s +4 HP per dragon attack bonus. Then Tor cast the divine C.H.U.C.K. – my memory is hazy here, but I think we kinda ignored the dragon for a while and focused all our attacks on the Wyrmlord. Trellara’s daily kept the melee-types from going down, and our focus paid off when Orrin dropped the Wyrmlord (choosing to knock him unconscious instead of killing him).
At this point the dragon started having second thoughts, and positioned itself to make a run for it. By cleverly shifting instead of moving it was able to elude Orrin’s movement interrupt opportunity attack, but that meant it could only make a single move and ended up 8 squares away diagonally up and over. It still had 100HP left and we only had one turn to bring it down. Tor cast Command – and hit! There was some discussion about shifting it backwards vs knocking it prone. We finally decided to knock it prone, and everyone swarmed. We all spent our action points and made whatever attacks we could. I don’t remember who got the final hit, but we ended up doing an impressive amount of damage and took out the dragon before he could get back on his feet. WHEW.
Out of combat, time for RP. First we searched the Wyrmlord and the dragon corpse. Allan/Brian should correct me if I’m forgetting anything, but I believe we found a nice set of armor for Tor, a shortbow whose enchantment will be transferred to Orrin’s longbow, and a bag of holding with a bunch of cash from the dragon’s hoard. We also skinned the dragon just like last time, to bring back to Elf City with us. We tied up the Wyrmlord and Wolff busted out his brand-new interrogation daily (I see… FOUR LIGHTS!!). We got to ask six questions, shown below. Brian/Allan – could you fill in the blanks and correct me if I got anything?
1) Q: What is the one thing that the High Wyrmlord would most want us NOT to know? A: That he’s invading Elsvir Vale. Commentary: In future we need to add the qualifier “that we don’t know yet” or rework this question somehow. It did not have the intended effect.
2) Q: What was your plan for the Ghostlord? A: By stealing his phylactery we are forcing him to give us an army of undead to help with the invasion. Commentary: Cool! So the Ghostlord might not be a bad guy after all (well, apart from that whole being-a-lich thing)
3) Q: What is the connection between the Red Hand and the Arcadian Guild? A: They give us weapons, I don’t know of anything more than that. Guest commentary from JtB: Why doesn’t ANYONE know ANYTHING about the Guild??? They are evil! Evil! EVIL!!! (John wanders off to stomp some more spiders)
4) Q: What is the one thing we could do (that is within our power) that would most damage the invasion of Elsvir Vale? A: Stop the Ghostlord from adding his army of undead to the invasion. Commentary: Okay, so this is the answer that really drove a lot of our RP decisions for the rest of the evening.
5) Q: Tell us the name of every creature you know that is working to further the cause of the Azar Kull and the invasion of Elsvir Vale. A: A ten minute recitation of every single goblin, hobgoblin, wyrmlord etc that was known to him. Most importantly, no names of anyone we recognized that we didn’t already know about.
When we were done with our six questions we gave the Wyrmlord over to the Elves for their justice. The Owlrider leader didn’t hesitate a second, and sliced him open from bottom to top with his longsword. Then John borrowed Chuck from Tor and finished the job with a squished skull. Raughnall and Trellar took the dragon corpse and started walking back to Elf City, while the others hopped on the owls and flew back to Rhest to make sure no stone was unturned. When they arrived in the middle of the lake, they found the tower a smoking, acid-pitted, claw-marked pile of rubble that was obviously the result of misguided draconic frustration. Good thing we didn’t decide to fight the dragon there! The hoard was gone, and we didn’t find anything else. After satisfying Tor’s curiosity, the heros headed back to Elf City, passing Raughnall and Trellara on the way.
At this point we took some time out for pizza, and Allan started furiously scribbling calculations behind his DM screen.
When we arrived in Elf City the party headed in different directions. John and Wolff went to see mumblemumblemumble the elf sage, who was the one person who might know something about his eyepatch. He took a look at the runes, then John opened up the eyepatch and the elf examined the interdimensional portal. After a while he told John to put the eyepatch back down, and he said that the magic involved in creating such a thing was very very powerful and very very evil. He (the sage) said he was not able to figure out why it was done, or what it was meant to accomplish. He said that he only knew of one person who would be able to tell me more, The Dark Man. He (the sage) furthermore said that he did NOT recommend that we seek this person out, as he was Bad News. Wolff concurred vehemently, and added that when he (Wolff) looked into the portal the face that came to him was that of The Dark Man.
Brief diversion about Wolff and The Dark Man. After lots of wheedling we discovered that Wolff wasn’t always sweetness and light and rainbow-colored ponies. In fact, hiding behind that golden crown of perfect hair is a veritable rats nest of tangled darkness. He (Wolff) used to be a student of The Dark Man, but they had a falling out and he (Wolff) fled to witchcross, where he was taken in by the Circle. We surmise that Wolff has since been working to atone for his previous badness, but The Dark Man still gives him the willies.
In any case, while John and Wolff were meeting with the Sage, Tor and Orrin paid a visit to the armorer who helped us out with the green dragon skin. It was finally decided that the armorer would take a week to make a set of black dragon-skin leather armor and have it sent down to Brindol by Owlrider when it was done. Tor also got a Jaunty Cap that was crudely fashioned from the dragon’s waddle. Meanwhile in the royal hut Trellara and Raughnall gave the Elf Queen a complete and total report on everything that had taken place in Rhest.
When everyone was done we were all summoned to the royal hut, and the Queen addressed us. She said that while her natural inclination was to remain neutral, recent events had shown her that that was no longer possible. She said that a contingent of elves had been dispatched south to Brindol to aid in the defense against the Red Hand. Furthermore she said that each member of our party was to be given an Owl to speed our travels overland. SCORE! In a moment of meta-gaming Allan told us that he had been keeping a running tally of all our actions with respect to the Elves, and we’d been given points for each success, including the funeral of Trellara’s brother. We apparently got a 15 (out of a possible max score of 20), which was good enough to convince the elves to help us out.
We spent another day in Elf City getting trained in the Care & Feeding Of Frickin’ Humongous Birds, and figuring out what we wanted to do next. There was much discussion of going back down the river by Drellin’s Ferry to go visit the Ghostlord, but in the end we decided that it was more important to get in contact with him as quickly as possible, and Wolff said that the Circle at Witchcross should be able to do that for us.
Brief diversion – retcon! Given that we spent some time in Elf City (and later in Brindol), we assumedly were able to walk around and take a look at the local wares. We also have a ton of loot that we haven’t really been able to spend yet. So you should tell Allan in general what you’re looking for in terms of magic items, armor or weapons, and he’ll let us know what was available that we could have bought.
So, onward to Witchcross. When we arrived we found it deserted, with only three of the inner circle left in residence. We gave them the phylactery and told them to send the following message to the Ghostlord, “The Red Hand no longer controls your phylactery STOP. You should feel free to pull back your troops at once STOP. Your actions will show us your true intentions STOP. We sincerely hope that you STOP.” The members of the circle joined hands into a (you guessed it) circle, with the phylactery in the center. They muttered their incantations and a GoogleMap™ of Elsvir Vale popped up overhead. They panned around and finally zoomed in on the southwest corner until we could see a sphynx-like structure that was the Ghostlord’s lair. At that point the picture blanked out to be replaced with a blue face that was obviously half-dragon. The only half-dragon that we’re currently aware of is the High Wyrmlord Azar Kull, so it’s a pretty sure bet that was him. He chastised the circle for meddling in affairs that they had no business being in and then started to reach for the phylactery. The members of the circle screamed in agony, and then just before his hand closed around the necklace the face disappeared and the three circle members fell down stone dead.
Ummmmmm….... well…... that was…... unexpected. We finally figured out that Azar Kull had the power to physically reach through the mental signal of the circle, and they killed themselves to prevent him from getting his grubby mitts on the phylactery. After a moment of shocked silence we retrieved the phylactery and prepared full funeral rites for the slain circle members. Now there was only one circle member left in the area, our old friend Zyrixa whom we rescued from the crypt of Rivenroar. Since we’d been meaning to go down to Brindol anyway to check in on Eofram, it seemed that the stars were aligned.
We arrived in Brindol in a much more heroic manner than when we last left. We circled around the city a few times in our shiny new owls, as Wolff’s hair was carelessly (and perfectly) blown by the wind, and Orrin flexed his mighty thews for the appreciative ladyfolk. Before we went in to talk to Eofram, Tor cast his ritual of discern lies, which effectively gave him a +40 insight for the rest of our conversation (hint – Eofram was telling the truth). We filled him in on recent events and asked him if there’d been any further news about the Guild or Xaivier’s key (nothing in either case). The one new piece of information that we got from Eofram was about the “Encryption Cardinal” from Xavier’s notes (the encrypted location of the cave of Fenris). Eofram told us that the encryption must have been done using the Conundrus Engine, which was an encryption device used by Dornath during the war. It’s a small box with lettered keys that can encode messages in an unbreakable code, which can only be decrypted by another Conundrus Engine. There were 5 of these boxes used in the war for passing coded messages. 3 were carried by generals and other high ranking officers in the field, including Xavier, and would have been destroyed in the Desolation Event. Eofram knows that another one was located in the capital of Sevenoaks, but isn’t sure where the fifth one was stored. The only way for anyone to decrypt Xavier’s code would be by using one of these Engines. Then there was some comic relief provided by John (we call it “comic relief”, Eofram calls it “breaking a priceless vase passed down through generations of my family”). Then we headed our different ways – John went to Smallville to talk to his halfling contact, Orrin and Tor went to have a beer with Cicily, while Wolff and Raughnall went to visit Zyrixa to give her the personal effects of the late Circle members, and to learn the recipe for those delicious medicinal brownies.
The last discussion that we had was about our next move. We all agreed that our next move should be to get in contact with the Ghostlord and try to get him to pull back the undead army. Although the three circle members were unable to withstand the power of Azar Kull, Wolff believes that The Dark Man is more powerful and may be able to get a message through where the circle failed. He (Wolff) is willing to pay the personal price required to face his old master if the outcome could be saving the world from evil. And John, while severely sketched about a magic dude who’s into powerful bad mojo, would really really like to get some answers about his eye, godsdammit. The Dark Man’s tower is in the forest just south of Brindol, so it’s a fairly quick trip. Our plan is to go there first, and if that scene turns hinky then our backup plan is to fly WSW, hopefully avoiding the Red Hand army already on the march, and go visit the Ghostlord in person.