So there we were in Brindol getting ready for the trip down to see The Dark Man. The previous day we had all gone our separate ways – John to see his halfling friend, Tor to the temple, Raughnall and Wolff to go bake brownies, Orrin with his not-quite-adopted little scamp. Later that afternoon we regrouped at Cicely’s tavern, which is just off the main square of Brindol. We observed a commotion in the square and when we checked it out it was Harrik (http://www.obsidianportal.com/character/15570) with a couple prisoners, all set up to have hisself a good ole fashioned lynchin’. Orrin recognized one of the prisoners as an old childhood acquaintance of his from the clansmen territories up north. As we approached he recognized Orrin and begged us to intervene, said he was innocent and that there had been a huge mistake. The group argued with Harrik for a while, but only after Wolff and his perfect hair made a rousing speech to the crowd did Harrik agreed to allow us to interrogate the prisoners. We all went back to the local jail while John snuck off to get Eofram, who came down to witness the proceedings.
Then Harrik put the prisoners in adjoining cells and we got to work. Tor performed a very impressive version of his discern lies ritual, with lots of smoke and pyrotechnics. We then asked the tough questions. It turns out that the clansdude had a pamphlet o’ vecna in his backpack, which he had gotten from a local clanspriest. He couldn’t read, so he had no idea what it was. He reported that the clansfolk were getting more and more enamored of Vecna, since the clanspriests promised Vecna would restore the clans to power and prominence and blah blah blah. Oh and he hadn’t heard any recent news about Orrin’s sister. The other guy was a tavern owner who reported Brindol defense force troop movements to a couple Guild cronies for a few gp. Harrik still wanted to hang’em, so we argued with him for a while. After a few skill checks he agreed to set one of the prisoners free. Tor wasn’t too happy, but the rest of us were remarkably okay with that solution (especially John). So we set the clansdude free and sent him over to Cicely’s tavern to help her packing up and told him to guard Cicely and the kid as they evacuated up north and around to Sevenoaks. With another disaster averted, our heros slept the sleep of the just, woke before dawn, and mounted up on the owls.
Just before we took flight, Wolff gathered us around and said (of course I’m paraphrasing here), “Guys let me give you a hypothetical situation. Let’s just say, hypothetically, that there was a powerful mage who was into portal magic. And let’s just say, hypothetically, that he was married and had a son. And let’s just say, hypothetically, that the son thought the portal stuff was cool and started messing around with it on his own. And let’s just say, hypothetically, that during one of these unsanctioned experiments the son hypothetically made a mistake that hypothetically resulted in his mother getting sucked through a hypothetical portal to her death. Just hypothetically. Look, it was an honest mistake it could have happened to anyone, it’s not like I had… I mean, it’s not like this hypothetical young son had any idea what was likely to happen. In any case, if you can imagine yourself in that position then you can hypothetically guess what the hypothetical young son did next. That’s right, he got the heck outta dodge, and hypothetically he hasn’t seen nor spoken with dear old dad ever since. So now you know what we’re hypothetically heading into – a Very Special episode of Life Goes On, where Corky kills Elizabeth, runs away from home, comes back 25 years later, and gets the everloving snot beat out of him by Drew.”
The rest of us took it pretty much in stride, since it did help explain some of the shadowy past of “The Fixer.” We flew down south following the road, then headed west. Wolff reached back into his memory, and eventually he found the path to the house of The Dark Man. As we dismounted and approached the house on foot, we were greeted by a most interesting Igor-type character. He had two mouths, and tentacles instead of eyebrows. He greeted us, talked to Wolff about what had happened since he left, and told us all about the wonderful “gifts” that had been given to him. Wolff told us that Igor was always eccentric, but at this point the wheels had really come off the wagon. In any case, Igor bade us welcome into the house and told us that he hadn’t seen the master for some time (bad!). However, he knew where the master was (good!). The master was in the study, and the only way to reach the study was through the lab (bad!). However, Igor could open the door to the lab (good?). Given that there didn’t seem to be any other way to do it, we told him to go ahead.
John rolled a group stealth check and Igor opened the door. Inside we saw an octagonal room where the walls, floors and ceiling were covered with what looked like undulating, squirming flesh. In the middle of the room a big tentacley thing with a central eyestalk was planted underneath a dark portal. On successful perception checks we could make out two additional forms to each side of the tentacle thing, one hominid-like and one not. John kept up the group stealth and we edged around the side of the room, vaguely squicked out by the feeling of stepping on moving flesh. Once we were fully into the room the door slammed closed behind us, and the eyestalk swiveled around. Roll for initiative! We could have had a surprise round given our group stealth, but instead Wolff announced in a loud voice, “I am Wolff, son of The Dark Man. I have returned and I seek an audience. We do not intend any harm, please let us pass.” The only answer he got was the sound of readied attacks, and so combat was joined.
John went first, and he attacked the creature to the left of that resolved itself into a gorilla with four arms and more rubbery skin than usual (henceforth called the ape). I’m not entirely clear who else was able to attack in the first round. When it came round to the turn of the tentacley thing (henceforth known as the Abominable Abomination, or AA for short), it stunned us all. Suck. Then the ape thing attacked John with all four arms and did a ton of damage. The other form resolved itself into a blobby thing with a lot of mouths, also known as a Gibbering Beast or Gibby for short), which moved over to stand by AA. Wolff (I think) saved, and cursed and attacked the ape. Orrin saved and charged the ape. Tor didn’t save, then Raughnall didn’t save, then John didn’t save. Then the ape attacked John again and took him to very few HP. Then AA attacked Wolff and his attack was against whatever was the target’s lowest resistance! Then Gibby went, and as a free action dazed everyone within 5 squares, and then as his standard attack hit everyone who was dazed with biting things coming out of our own skin, doing damage and ongoing 5. John went down. It turns out that was Gibby’s standard attack! He could daze us and attack all dazed enemies every single turn! Good grief!!
My memory gets hazy here, but things were looking really bleak until at some point Tor managed to pop his daily to give us all resist 5, which nullified Gibby’s ongoing damage. He also healed up John, and we all focused our attacks on Gibby. We eventually took out Gibby and the ape, and then the only thing left was AA. It was then that we discovered that AA had an insane number of HP (500? 600?), could teleport 3 spaces as a free action whenever anyone hit him with any attack, and when he was bloodied he sprouted two more eyestalks each with different initiative, so he essentially got three attacks per round. Again – good grief!! Basically the rest of the battle consisted of AA trying to hunt down Tor (to end the resist 5) while Tor ran away like a little girl, eating brownies like they were candy. As a strategy, it worked out fairly well for us, and on his last charge Orrin thrust his sword deep into the eyestalk. Bits of tentacley gore spattered everywhere, and we breathed a sigh of relief. In retrospect, given that these creatures were obviously The Dark Man’s prized specimens, we probably should have just knocked them out. Ooops. On the other hand, given that he was watching us the entire time and could have opened the door at any moment to stop the fight, it’s difficult to feel too bad for him.
On a meta-gaming note, Allan told us afterwards that AA was a 10th-level solo (the equivalent of five 10th level “normal” monsters), Gibby was a 10th level controller, and the ape was a 8th level brute. Allan didn’t actually intend for us to fight them head on – rather he meant for us to be severely harassed while we made a break for the door on the other side of the room. But he didn’t count on our bullheadedness! Also upon reflection it seemed to me slightly suspicious that there was a stunner and a dazer in the same group, something that seemed tailor made to mess with our uber-strategy of “Use Tor’s Daily.” :-)
In any case, after combat was done we all gathered around the door. There were eight locks on it, and a bunch of nasty-looking magical writing. It turns out that John had to make a Thievery check on each lock in succession. If he succeeded then that lock opened and he moved on to the next one, if he failed then he got zapped. AND, Wolff noticed that more shapes were moving around on the other side of the portal in the middle of the room, so we only had a few minutes to get the door open before more nasty stuff dropped on us. Wolff and Raughnall arranged themselves on either side of John, the idea being that if John failed a thievery check then they could attempt to shield him from the zap with an arcana check. The first time John got about halfway through when the dice gave up on him, and after he failed three times all the locks reset, and he had to start from the beginning. Luckily Wolff and Raughnall were on the ball, so he didn’t actually get hurt. The second time he ripped through all the locks without fail, and the door opened. DUN.
Inside we saw a comfortable-looking study, with The Dark Man and his associated servants, each more hideous than the last. The Dark Man was tall, bald as an egg (Wolff must have gotten his hair from his mother’s side), cool as a cucumber and totally unimpressed that we had just fought our way through his experiments. We on the other hand were ragged, bloody, and panting after having been nearly exterminated by what amounted to his pet potted plant. (Side note – just for the record, I WAS RIGHT! http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/nonplussed (Gee that’s a good idea Judson – go ahead and antagonize the DM some more. <imagines> Allan: “Okay so as you all leave The Dark Man’s house, JtB is extremely NONPLUSSED to discover that he’s um… dead. Judson: “Wha?! Why? How? Don’t I get a saving throw or something?? Allan: “Freak accident – spontaneous human combustion. Look, I wish there was something I could do, but I rolled a nat 20. No saving throw possible. And because it’s windy out, John’s ashes scatter immediately so no resurrection either.” Judson: “But… But… I spent all this time on a new character sheet for him! And what am I supposed to do while everyone else is playing?” Allan: “Well you could spend the time making a new character – maybe this time you’ll roll someone who isn’t such an effing know-it-all!”))
Anyhow, time for RP! Most of the conversation was between Wolff and his dad, and most of it was (as you might expect, given the situation) somewhat strained. The Dark Man was not particularly pleased to see his son again, at least not in the “crack open a beer and have a party” prodigal-son sort of way. At one point Raughnall (Martin) pipes up, “Oh man this is tense, I gotta say something to defuse the situation….. So, ummmm…. Hey Mr. Dark Man, how’s the wife? DOH!!” The actual dialog is of course lost to me – here are the high points as I remember them (other people should totally correct me if I’m wrong and/or add their own comments):
- The Dark Man was upset that we killed his experiments, we mollified him by pointing out that he gained some valuable knowledge as to their mode of attack and relative strengths and weaknesses.
- He asked why Wolff hadn’t ever tried to make contact with him. (Kids these days! They don’t call, they don’t write, for all he knew you were dead in a ditch somewhere!) Wolff responded with a rousing speech that he had dreamed of and dreaded this moment ever since he left. Not a dry eye in the place…
- Wolff appealed to The Dark Man’s academic interest, and told him that we had brought an interesting specimen along with (ie – John’s eye). The Dark Man flipped up John’s eyepatch, scraped around the socket with a scalpel, did a few other tests. He didn’t want to tell us anything, but I’ve never met an academic who could resist the “but you’re sooooo smart!” line. It turns out (once we got him into lecture mode) that it’s a portal to the Plane of Death, and it wasn’t put in John’s head so much as left as a residue after something infinitely more powerful was removed. Holy crapola! Supposition time – it looks like JtB was a mule for the Guild, they stuck some baaad mojo in his head and shipped him off to the Karatanians. Maybe the thing in his head was the source of the Karatanian’s army o’ monsters? In any case John would have made the perfect carrier, just like those sweet little grannies who swallow kilos of smack stuffed into condoms. And once the Karatanians had extracted the payload they tossed John aside and left him to die in prison.
- However, the Dark Man refused to tell us more unless Wolff agreed to return and be his apprentice. After much thought and deliberation (I’ll have more to say about this in a separate email) Wolff politely declined, citing his previous commitment – that is, his Fey Pact, the source of his warlock powers, which he made to the Lord of the Forest(?). Daddio scoffed at the mention of his pact (“acting like a trollop, making lifelong pacts with the first powerful thing to come along”), but respected his decision. There followed was some more speech-ifying from Wolff about the importance of experiencing knowledge first-hand by being active in the world, as opposed to merely studying it by holding it at a distance. You know, standard post-modern discourse on meta-ethics, the limitations of Hegelian idealism versus the obligations imposed by an over-reliance on the morality of empiric pragmatism, and the tautological fallacies implicit therein. Or something like that.
- We told The Dark Man about the attempt we made to contact the Ghostlord, and the appearance of Azar Kull. He said it was a good idea in principle, but when we asked if he would be willing to attempt a similar communique he declined. He said that although he wasn’t scared of Azar Kull he didn’t see the point in needlessly attracting his attention. He similarly declined to safeguard the phylactery for us while we were out and about. He also mentioned that the Ghostlord was totally out of our league – he would basically mop the floor with us if we tried to fight him directly.
- He then opened a portal to the outside, so we didn’t have to go back through his lab. Then just before we left he gave Wolff a diagram of runes in a circle. That diagram was basically his address – with that info if we come across any teleport rings in the future we should be able to use the diagram to teleport to The Dark Man’s backyard. Allan’s comment was that with our diplomacy checks and speeches and whatnot we had made a favorable impression on The Dark Man, but given his situation and his personality he wasn’t really going to go out of his way to help us, unless we were able to give him a good reason.
So for purposes of the next session, we can consider ourselves about to take our leave of The Dark Man. If anyone has anything else they want to ask him or things we want to discuss internally then we could RP that over email (if Allan agrees?). We also (AFAIK) have no idea what we’re going to do next. Some random thoughts:
- We should probably revisit the calendar and the invasion plan to see where things stand on a more global sense, maybe a short-term strategy will become clear. I don’t have the calendar in my folder, maybe someone picked it up? I think Allan was planning to post it to the wiki anyway.
- If we choose to continue to try to contact the Ghostlord, we could potentially flood the southwest region with tons of animal messengers, each carrying the same message: “Dear Ghostlord: Azar Kull and his minions no longer control your phylactery. You are free to withdraw your troops. Lions totally r0×0rz.” Or something like that.
- If we do end up fighting the ghostlord then we’ll want to do it away from his home turf (preferably on holy ground with lots of radiant damage squares), with some heavy duty backup, and after we’ve leveled. A lot.
- It occurs to me that events might find us rather than the other way around. I mean, we haven’t been exactly subtle about our exploits – flying around Brindol on owls flexing our thews, with our green-dragon-claw spiked gauntlets and Tor with his jaunty black-dragon-waddle cap. If Azar Kull has any spies or scrying ability whatsoever then he knows exactly what we’ve been doing, and may be plotting some sort of counter-attack specifically targeting us. It’s worth considering…
- Since we blew all our dailies, we may want to ask The Dark Man if we could take refuge in his house and/or camp out in the yard for, oh I don’t know, about 8.00 hrs or so.
- I can’t remember if we asked The Dark Man directly if he had any ideas as to the Ghostlord or Azar Kull or the invasion, or what we should do next? From a purely academic perspective of course, more as a gedanken-experiment than anything else. <ahem>
- Is Wolff’s mother actually dead? Or did she just get teleported to a different plane of existence? If she was married to The Dark Man then theoretically she would have been a pretty strong character in her own right. And we’ve all seen enough movies/tv shows to know that it ain’t over until you see the body, and often not even then. Did The Dark Man go looking for her? Would that be a possible personal quest for Wolff after we’ve taken care of good ol’ Blueface? We’ve got Orrin with his sister, John with the Guild, Tor with his necromancer, why not Wolff trying to find/save his mom?