Previously in Winterhaven…
Having defended Winterhaven Keep from the Iron Circle’s seige, Lord Padraig sent the heroes to Albridge to recruit reinforcements. They made their way beneath the castle, through the tomb of Prator (a Wandering Warrior who was thought to be mythological), and emerged near Albridge – which was also occupied by the Iron Circle. Through stealth and disguise, they met with Dar Gremath, the stable manager, and Reithann, the druid. While the heroes followed Reithann’s advice and won aid from Bran Torsson’s soldiers and the Reedfoot halflings (by defeating bullywugs) and the Woodsinger Elves (by defeating Yisarn, a skeletal mage), the stubborn Dar Gremath liberated Albridge at great cost to the resistance. The resistance army then began open warfare with the Iron Circle entrenched at Winterhaven. When Dar Gemath was captured by Nazin Redthorn, the Iron Circle leader, the heroes infiltrated Winterhaven castle under cover of a supply cart. They gained the mess hall, ambushed the elite guard and systematically eliminated the sentries. They then assaulted the Great Tower itself and freed Lord Padraig from its dungeon. After a furious battle with Nazin Redthorn and his bodyguard, the heroes prevailed – but recovered only Dar’s head.
The Heroes begin this session at Level 4 / 5177 XP
Having retaken the castle, the people of Winterhaven were quick to bolster and re-occupy it – while the heroes settled down to a well-earned rest.
In the wee hours of the morning an alarm rose from the courtyard. The heroes found Father Zachary and his acolytes desperately enacting rituals to keep something confined to the chapel. With little information, the heroes entered in, found it wholly desecrated, and the headless form of Dar Gremath on the altar. Though the demons had found some means of summoning Dar’s headless spectral form to do their bidding, the Heroes stayed the demonic incursion from a dark portal in the loft. After the fight, upon the altar near the body of Dar Gremath, they found an ivory card depicting a Knight. Later Father Zachary confirmed that it was token of great power – and manifest evil.
The Heroes attain Level 5 / 5500 XP!
The following day, Lord Padraig awarded the Heroes official status as the “Defenders of Winterhaven” and privately expressed his concern that Winterhaven was still in jeopardy. He bid his Defenders to pursue the retreating Iron Circle mercenaries toward Gardmore – and report back their strength and numbers.
“While imprisoned I learned that the orc raiders supporting the Iron Circle are using the ruins of Gardmore as a lair – your ‘visit’ there from Albridge confirms it. lf I could, I’d raise a militia to root them out of their holes and put them to the sword… but alas my men are needed here to defend and rebuild. So in lieu of the militia, I’m once again asking for your help. To start, I’d have you to go to Gardmore and find out as much as you can without provoking them – as complete a picture of their lair and defenses as you can – and bring that information back to me.”
A grand feast was then held in their honor, and, ever humble, Finneal returned honor to the adoring populace. During the procession and reception in their honor, the Defenders gathered word of Gardmore…
From the elf queen, Eriyel: “A few months ago I welcomed travelers from our distant kin in the Feywild – an elven knight named Berrian Velfarren, his sister AnaLastra, and a small entourage. They had been traveling for seven years in search of their father. We fed them and sent them on their way with blessings. Last night I received a message from their home of Mithrendain asking for news of their travels. Berrian mentioned Gardmore Abbey. Please, as you travel in the Nentir Vale, send word if you encounter them. And tell them they are missed.”
From an aging dwarf, Sergeant Murgeddin: “Aye, I fought at Gardmore all those years ago. I stood with the forces of Fallcrest at the summit of the temple mount, and terrible things I saw, too. I watched Lord Markelhay, who was the great-grandfather of the current lord, disappear into the catacombs beneath the temple. He was clutching the ancestral sword of his line, the sword of Aranda Markelhay, called Moonbane. I don’t know why he went down there – he never did emerge from those catacombs, and neither did the sword, so far as anyone knows. Imagine what Lord Farren Markelhay would give to have that sword back in his hand! It’d be like the rebirth of Nerath, I tell you. Almost like we had an emperor again.”
From an exotic merchant, the Lady Alira Vond: “As you may know, in later years the knights of Gardmore became overzealous crusaders who killed innocents and plundered sacred sites. Don’t get me wrong – they started off as well-meaning champions of truth and justice, but with power came greed and corruption. Believe me, my ancestors witnessed their rapacious ways firsthand. Now I just want to recover the items they stole from our lands – two in particular. One is a silver dagger with a large amethyst, deep purple in color, set in the pommel. The other is a sort of rod or scepter crafted of adamantine. Bring these items to me, and I’ll pay you well.”
Traveling to Gardmore, the Defenders found the walled abbey as they had before, swarming with orcs and worse. But to the south, amidst the welcome cover of an almost primordial overgrowth, they saw a watchtower and a breach in the wall. Rather than take the gate house, the Defenders decided to take a walk on the feywild side. Suspicious of the imposing watchtower, they entered through the breach and found themselves at a font surrounded by high elves at camp – their leader was Sir Berrian Velfarren. After building an uneasy alliance with the distrustful elves, Berrian entreated the Defenders to aid in the search for his sister, AnaLastra, who had gone missing.
Upon finding a ruined cottage, the Defenders investigated and cleared it of two owl bears. Among rusty gardening tools, they found ancient leather parchments establishing an inheritance of land within the grounds of the Abbey for the high elves.
After a rest at the font, the Defenders drank of the refreshing clear water and were granted a vision from Gardmore’s past – and a boon. They then set out toward the temple mount.
Through the dense undergrowth, they stumbled across a grove of nymphs – but were able to tear themselves away from the lovely temptresses. They continued on toward the temple proper and came upon a ruined bell tower. As luck would have it, they almost literally ran into an elven maiden who was pursued by displacer beasts (and dire stirges). They were just able to rescue her and found it was indeed Berrian’s lost sister, AnaLastra. Electing to stay far from the nymph grove and return to the elves by an overgrown trail, the Defenders now escort the maiden home.
The Defenders end this session at Level 5 / 6320 XP (1143 XP this session)
Previously in Winterhaven…
Having defended Winterhaven Keep from the Iron Circle’s seige, Lord Padraig sent the heroes to Albridge to recruit reinforcements. They made their way beneath the castle, through the tomb of Prator (a Wandering Warrior who was thought to be mythological), and emerged near Albridge – which was also occupied by Iron Circle mercenaries. Through stealth and disguise, they met with Dar Gremath, the stable manager, and Reithann, the druid. While the heroes followed Reithann’s advice and won the aid of Bran Torsson’s soldiers and the Reedfoot halflings by defeating a tribe of bullywugs, the stubborn Dar Gremath (intent on guerrilla warfare against the Iron Circle) liberated Albridge at great cost to the resistance rebels. The heroes then won much needed aid from the Woodsinger Elves by defeating Yisarn, a skeletal mage, deep within their forest. The rebel army has now marched to Winterhaven Commons and begun open warfare with the entrenched Iron Circle!
The Heroes begin this session at Level 4 / 3915 XP (813 XP this session)
With the battle hanging in the balance and much of Winterhaven Commons burning, the heroes saw the rebel banner faltering across the battlefield. Dar Gremath, overwhelmed by mercenaries, was making his final stand. A group of lron Circle soldiers and two scaly humanoids with horns, tails, and globs of buming pitch dripping from their taloned hands watched as Dar was cuffed to the ground by a massively muscled human warrior in scale armor. Looking up the warrior saw the heroes.
“You!” the enemy lord cried. “You are the ones who have caused me so much troublel Know now that you face Lord Nazin Redthorn, champion of the Iron Circle. With your deaths my victory is assured!”
The heroes, though harried by the Tar Devils and a sneaky cut-throat, overcame the soldiers, but Redthorn escaped with the unconscious Dar. He was seen entering Winterhaven Keep, now fallen to Iron Circle control. The battle was won, but at great cost – much of Winterhaven Commons was burning or in ruin.
To rescue Dar, the adventurers now had to find a way to get into the very Keep they had recently (and so easily) defended. At first, Akhan attempted to quietly breach the wall of the keep to surreptitiously open a postern gate. But he was defeated by the daunting climb up the castle wall.
Noting that the Iron Circle garrison imports wagonloads of stolen goods every day, the heroes hid themselves in a supply wagon. The small one-horse wagon had enough room to conceal Akhan (in a potato sack) and the dwarves (in ale barrels), while Finneal posed as the peasant mule skinner. Approaching the closed castle’s gate, a bored-looking guard called out of one of the arrow slits in the gatehouse, “Hold on! What have you got there?” Through Finneal’s bluff, bluster, and a well-timed ‘ghost sound’ spell (imitating Redthorn) along with the steely resolve of the dwarves and elf, the party gained the keep’s kitchen and set up an ambush in the mess hall.
The elite guard and their hounds were the first to eat. The heroes, posing as other mercenaries eating, ambushed the guard and not only won the day but secured a Bag of Holding. Next, the keep’s 1st archer unit entered the mess hall and was defeated, but not before the alarm was raised. Fighting through dozens of archers, the heroes took to the walls and fought their way toward the Great Tower. Breaking through the barred door, they defeated the guards and remaining sentries then ran down to the Gaol. There, a priest, tar devil and guards held them at bay until the heroes were able to push some of their foes into the blazing hearth at the back of the room.
In the cells beyond, the heroes found Lord Padraig – beaten and bruised, but alive. Padraig told them of the secret stair that led to his chambers on the top floor (now occupied by Redthorn) and then escaped with the servants out the postern gate.
Upon opening the secret door, the heroes found themselves in a spacious suite that clearly belonged to the master of the keep. Comfortable carpets covered the wooden floor, and various tapestries and paintings hung on the walls. Across the room was a large canopy bed. The enemies in the room were all focused on a door across the room ready for an attack. Near the door was hobgoblin with a Morningstar. And at a table nearest the heroes stood a priest in Iron Circle scarlet and a tall, massively muscled man with short red hair and a great three-headed flail at his side – Nazin Redthorn.
After withstanding their first round of assaults, the warlord of the Iron Circle looked at them with contempt. “You think you’ve defeated us?” he snarled. “You are rabbits in the wolf’s den. We’ll hang your corpses from the battlements along with your old friend!” With that he tossed something that rolled awkwardly at their feet – Dar Gremath’s head!
A furious battle ensued, made all the worse when the door to the bedroom flew open and two more hobgoblin guards joined the fray. Already spent from the long battle through the keep, the weary heroes were first able to dispatch the priest, but not before he lashed out with a fiery burst of tendrils. Likewise, with a roar, Redthorn blasted the heroes with infernal flames that both dazed them and emboldened their enemies. The heroes dealt more heavy blows spread out among the hobgoblins and Redthorn – and were able to drop one of the hobgoblins. As Finneal moved from corner to corner desperately trying to cast, Akhan and Dau’um fell – but not before getting in their last blows and a final bit of healing on the pair of heroes that remained. With a final burst of arcane energy and the swing of an axe, Redthorn and the second hobgoblin both fell. Seeing his mates fall, the final bloodied hobgoblin surrendered and the battle was won!
With their friends revived, the heroes searched through the treasure room to find a Sunblade (+1), Boots of Elvenkind, and a Climber’s Rope Arrow.
The Heroes end this session at Level 4 / 5177 XP (1262 XP this session)
Previously in Winterhaven…
Having defended Winterhaven from the initial onslaught of the Iron Circle’s slavering horde, Lord Padraig sent the heroes to Dar Gremath in Albridge to recruit reinforcements. They made their way beneath the castle, through the tomb of Prator (a Wandering Warrior who by common wisdom was thought to be mythological), and emerged close to Albridge – which was also occupied by Iron Circle mercenaries. Through stealth and disguise, they met with Dar Gremath, the stable manager, and Reithann, the druid. The heroes followed Reithann’s advice and won the aid of Bran Torsson’s soldiers and the Reedfoot halflings by defeating a tribe of bullywugs. The stubborn Dar Gremath, intent on guerrilla warfare against the Iron Circle, liberated Albridge, but at great cost to the resistance rebels. At Reithann’s urging, the party sought much needed aid from the Woodsinger Elves for the march to Winterhaven.
The Heroes begin this session at Level 3 / 3102 XP
The elf Eriyel was firmly against the idea of sending her people into someone else’s war. She required that the heroes prove their sincerity (and demonstrate their competence) by dealing with a problem troubling the forest elves – a poisoned portion of the wood. Down a worn cart path into the wood, the heroes found a fetid pool, webs in the trees and a ramshackle wagon.
Akhan was able to discern that it had been pulled by lizard-like animals, though none could now be found. Sneaking into position, the party felled three goblins and the giant tree spiders that quickly emerged to consume the dead.
Descending into a dilapidated ruin, the heroes found a single hall ending in 20′ room – it’s only distinguishing feature a circle of arcane writing on the floor. Upon reading it, Finneal activated the ancient portal. The room disappeared in a pulse of blue light, and the heroes found themselves in one of two magic circles inscribed on the floor of what appeared to be a wizards’ laboratory or workshop. Several large tables and desks were littered with mildewed tomes, dusty bottles, and loose sheets of parchment.
A wide staircase climbed 10 feet to a stone loft, atop which rested a wooden desk and a chair made of lashed bones. Several goblins were gathered in the room, and they stared in surprise at the party with wide eyes. Near an iron-bound set of double doors stood two cages, each holding a man-sized drake with crimson scales and wearing a yoke. The drakes snarled and bared their fangs. As they recovered, one of the goblins freed the drakes – though too late. The heroes carried the day and vanquished their foes. Digging through a conspicuous sarcophagus under the loft, they found a potent magic weapon – the Magma Hammer – which was claimed by Dau’um the dwarf.
Beyond a locked door they found a vaulted chamber illuminated by fiery braziers. A magnificent mural of a forest scene covered the ceiling and one wall was framed by two statues of eladrin warriors. Between two braziers, atop a 2 foot-high stone bier, lay the partially assembled bones of a dragon. Web-strewn bookshelves packed with dusty tomes lined the far wall, and a thick curtain of gossamer webs obscured a set of iron doors. Nestled in the webs was a monstrous spider. Skeletons stood guard in the middle of the room. Another skeleton – this one wearing the tattered robes of a mage – raised bony claws that crackled with lightning and scowls hatefully. Rushing in, they found the suddenly revealed pit traps as their first obstacle – and the propensity of the skeletal mage to push them back inot the pits with his electrical and necromantic attacks, the second. The party was hard pressed, but by reviving fallen comrades, they wore their foes down and defeated the mage. Finneal secured the mage’s prize possession, a Circlet of Arcane Extension.
The Heroes achieve Level 4! / 3750 XP
When they returned to the elves, Eriyel was impressed and thankful for the healing of the poisoned wood. She committed two dozen elven archers to the Winterhaven cause. The party hurried on to meet up with Dar Grematch on the outskirts of Winterhaven commons. Over the following few days, the party laid out battle plans with the rebel leaders, trained the ragtag band, and harried the Iron Circle on numerous fronts. It wasn’t long before the mercenaries discerned the presence of the larger rebellion.
The battle opened with a straightforward attack by the Iron Circle soldiers.
Arrows and crossbow bolts flew as the two armies closed. The rebels gave ground, but their formation didn’t break. The battle quickly degenerated into a desperate, swirling melee that sprawled over several farms and fields just south of the town of Winterhaven Commons. The farm the party guarded was quiet at first, but a large band of Iron Circle soldiers, with a reptilian creature in tow, raised a war cry and charged! The battle-hardened heroes dealt quickly and efficiently with the onslaught.
Just then Willet Reedfoot galloped up on a pony. “Dar Gremath says he needs your help over by the Radden farmstead!” he pants, pointing across the battlefield. A couple of hundred yards away, the heroes made out the rebel leader’s banner, now under attack. Between them and Dar Gremath, a band of marauding soldiers was busy setting fire to farmhouses and killing off wounded. Some of the warriors were short, scaly creatures with black horns and lashing tails, surrounded in dark fumes. Running into the melee, the heroes again quickly dispatched the intervening foes and battled their way towards Dar Gremath’s position – but will they make it in time?
The Heroes end this session at Level 4 / 3915 XP (813 XP this session)
Previously in Winterhaven…
Having defended Winterhaven from the initial onslaught of the Iron Circle’s slavering horde, Lord Padraig sent the heroes to find Dar Gremath in Albridge to recruit reinforcements. They made their way beneath the castle, through the tomb of Prator (a Wandering Warrior who by common wisdom was thought to be mythological), and emerged close to Albridge – which was also occupied by Iron Circle mercenaries. Through stealth and disguise, they met up with Dar Gremath, the stable manager, and Reithann, the druid. Though Dar Gremath wanted to immediately begin guerrilla warfare against the Iron Circle, the heroes elected to take Reithann’s advice and win the aid of Bran Torsson. To do so, they needed to defeat a tribe of bullywugs that were harassing Tor’s Hold. Thus, they found themselves in Toadwallow Caverns surrounded by very unhappy frog-like humanoids.
The Heroes begin this session at Level 3 / 2605 XP
The heroes began an all out assault on the frogs, their magic wielding but cowardly leader, and a couple of gray oozes. Though the leader cast powerful spells from the relative safety of the large dragon skull, oozes threatened to melt their bones, and Soklo’s bear fell victim to a hidden quagmire, they overcame and secured a potion of healing, a flawed sapphire worth 50 gp, 160 gp and some magical arm bands – Feyleaf Vambraces.
As they took a quick breather, an inquisitive croak called from the mouth of the cavern. Akhan bluffed an answer in kind allowing the heroes to take a returning raiding party of frogs by surprise. Finneal sprung into action and did massive damage to the first of the frogs to enter the cavern. In the fray, Dau’um was swallowed whole by a giant frog, another regurgitated a recently swallowed Halfling boy, Finneal discovered a Lucky Coin and the heroes ultimately overcame the frogs. All survived, even the boy. Finneal escorted the boy to the Reedfoot Clan and secured their aid in the upcoming liberation of Winterhaven. The rest of the party returned to Bran Torsson with proof of their deeds and likewise secured his allegiance and that of his men.
Bran bid them to return to the outskirts of Albridge where he would meet them to make final preparations. However, upon their return a satiated Dar Gremath and his ragged band of rebels had already overcome the Iron Circle mercenaries occupying Albridge. Satisfied with their grim work, but fewer in number as a result of it, the rebels bid the heroes to secure additional help from the Woodsinger Elves of Winterbole Forest. The heroes agreed and found themselves on a lonely march northward into the humid wood.
It was warm, almost stifling, under the canopy of the forest, and not a breath of wind stirred. As they peered into the forest gloom, they heard a voice, “Hold there, strangers! We would speak with you.” A moment later an elf dressed in a short tunic of brown and green stepped into the open and advanced, a bow in his hand. “I am Israfen of the Woodsingers,” he said. “I see that you are not of the forest, and you do not look like mercenaries of the lron Circle. Who are you, and what is your business in the Winterbole?”
Upon hearing their plight, Israfen replied, ‘‘This is a matter for Eriyel. Come, follow me.” They were led to a small elven encampment in a clearing by a forest stream. There, Israfen introduced Eriyel, an elf woman of middle years with dark eyes and long green-gold hair – the chief of the Woodsinger clans.
Eriyel was reserved and patient. Though she let the heroes make their case, she was firmly against the idea of sending her people into someone else’s war. She required that the heroes prove their sincerity (and demonstrate their competence) by dealing with a problem troubling the forest elves – a poisoned portion of the wood. Whispering to their steeds, she imparted directions to the affected area.
The horses followed a worn cart path into the wood. Within a few miles, webs clung to the branches of the nearby trees. A ramshackle covered wagon was parked on the trail near a fetid pool. Akhan was able to discern that it had been pulled by lizard-like animals, though none could now be found. And three distracted goblins lounged atop a rotten wooden scaffold erected over the pool. Sneaking into position, the party felled the goblins and found that giant tree spiders quickly emerged to consume the dead – but turned on the heroes when they sensed the threat. The party downed the four spiders – and only then paused to take account of their surroundings.
The Heroes end this session at Level 3 / 3102 XP (497 XP this session)
I’ve posted this before online, but thought it might be of interest here also…
Since I have a background in Aerospace Engineering (and am employed developing fighter aircraft), I have a predisposition to theory-crafting (I know, I know – I’ve got the ‘knack’). I had a bit of time this weekend so I explored the idea that at any given speed (KPH), there should be a mech variant that allows for the best survivability (most armor) and lethality (most firepower) – as indicated by the highest possible free weight.
For my purposes, free weight is calculated as the amount of weight left over after internal structure weight and engine/cockpit/gyro weight are accounted for.
HOW TO USE THE PLOTS: Pick the speed range of primary interest for your mech design (on the x-axis) and then check the variant(s) that provide the maximum free weight. For reference, the number of available crit slots for each variant is denoted beside the mech’s name in the legend. I use the crit slot info in the event of a ‘tie’ as it’s always good to have extra crit slots.
CAVEATS: The plots make no concession for hard points – which can make or break a mech.
Attached are three plots…
Plot 1: Standard Structure / Standard Engine
Plot 2: Endo-steel Structure / Standard Engine
Plot 3: Standard Structure / XL Engine
To facilitate quickly picking out which mechs can equip jump jets, I’ve formatted the curves to make all JJ-capable mechs stand out with red symbols.
WHAT I LEARNED:
- Without this info, I tended to make Mechs that ran 5-10 kph slower than the ‘sweet spot’ (the four variants labeled on the plot are the first four variants I invested in and tweaked). Therefore, I have the opportunity to increase engine size to hit that speed ‘sweet spot’ or go up in weight class to increase lethality/survivability.
- Based on this plot (again, not accounting for hard points), the CTF-4X is a trap due to it’s engine rating limit of 255. At a speed of 59 kph, I’m short 5.5 tons of extra armor or weapons compared to a Stalker build. Once I unlock the elites for the CTF-4X, I’ll probably sell this one off.
- As expected, the XL Engine provides major free weight benefits (all the curves move up and also provide better separation between mechs – i.e., bigger mechs with bigger engines get more benefit). Of course, bigger mechs also tend to be more limited by available crit slots, rather than weight, so there is that.
- I’ll probably invest in a couple of 300+ series standard engines to upgrade my fleet – specifically the Cats and Hunchies.
- I’m having a hard time justifying keeping any engine (at least for the available mechs) below a rating of 250. Selling off a couple of those unused bad boys netted me a nice C-bill bonus.
Plot 1: Standard Structure / Standard Engine
Plot 3: Standard Structure / XL Engine
Previously in Winterhaven…
At Lord Padraig’s behest, the party had descended into an ancient tomb below Winterhaven Keep in an attempt to escape the siege and get help from his adventuring companion of old, Dar Gremath in Albridge. They defeated the traps, undead, insects and monsters within the tomb, but the collapse of the tunnels behind them has made retreat to the Keep impossible. At the well-protected heart of the tomb, they find an ornate sarcophagus surrounded by bas-relief murals of mythical heroes known as the Wandering Warriors – and two stone guardians who stand as the tomb’s final defense.
The Heroes begin this session at Level 2 / 2083 XP
After a rest to regroup, restore Aranthis to full health, and rejoin Belhorn to the group, the party once again made an all out assault on the stone guardians of the sarcophagus – with Belhorn even climbing atop the bas-relief itself for an aerial assault. The dwarves dug-in to withstand the guardians’ blasts that threatened to knock them from the tomb’s dais to the pit floor 60’ below. As each of guardians was finally defeated, it crumbled into rubble. The heroes then found that the sarcophagus was completely sealed, without even a seam indicating a lid. For all practical purposes it was a solid block of veined white marble with a bluish caste, impossible to damage. But as Dau’um, a follower of Pelor, took the pedestal the eyes of the figure on the lid slowly opened and turned to him. “Speak my name” it whispered. Thereafter, the chamber grew still.
Recalling the legends from the Chronicle of Ages, Soklo was able to piece together that the fifth wandering warrior, Prator, was depicted in the scenes around the room – most telling was the bas-relief of a paladin type figure entering the gates of hell and the stories that denoted him as the “blue” warrior. As Dau’um spoke the name “Prator” a bright blue light circled the sarcophagus lid, revealing a seam. Within the sarcophagus they found all that was recovered of the hell-bound Prator; a heavy set of plate armor with a thin layer of frost on the edges, a heavy shield that was dented and bore a cold blue burnishing, and a pewter box inscribed with ancient runes and sealed with melted tin. Cedric took up the armor and shield and Akhan gingerly secured the box. Aranthis was able to attribute the runes to the Queen of Chaos and, after some deliberation, Akhan pried off the top. Inside he found a segment of rod, about a foot long, bearing a strong impression of latent magic, but otherwise unadorned.
The Heroes achieve Level 3 / 2250 XP!
Collecting their prizes, the heroes retraced their steps to the ossuary and elected to chance venturing into the grick tunnels. After what seemed like days of travel through the winding, dark and cramped tunnels and overcoming a number of obstacles, they emerged into the bright light of mid-day – and luckily found themselves much closer to their objective, Albridge. Looking toward Albridge, they spied a pillar of smoke climbing into the clear blue sky. Hurrying to investigate, they found a farm with a burning out building. The cause of the fire was clear, since the farmhouse was surrounded by wolves and human brigands. The brigands, who were all wearing black cloaks that bore a crude circle insignia, were waving pitch-soaked torches and taunting someone inside the farmhouse.
The heroes rushed to the aid of the farmers and defeated the brigands – finding that more than one had his tongue cut out. From the farmhouse Ilyana, a half-elf woman of middle years accompanied by her two teenage boys, greeted her rescuers. After looking around the farm yard and frowning at the bloodshed, she kicked at the corpses and spluttered “My thanks, strangers. These Iron Circle jackals come to rob us. I barred my door, but they said they’d burn the house down – with me and my two idiot boys in it! You saved our lives and for that you’re welcome to rest here. If you venture on to Albridge, be careful. Find Dar Gremath or Reithann. They lead the resistance against these dogs.” Along with a few other odds and ends, the heroes collected the black cloaks from the slain brigands.
Continuing on to Albridge, the heroes found that the small town was occupied by Iron Circle mercenaries. Donning the black cloaks, they bluffed their way through Albridge and continued on, unmolested, toward Reithann’s Druid Grove north of town.
There they found a large grove of ancient trees, long separated from the forest proper and an old human druid, Reithann, living in a moss-covered lodge near a clearing in the center of the grove. With her were her apprentices Lorel (a Halfling woman) and Theren (a young human man). Reithann was firmly on the side of the rebels and believed that the first blow should fall on the bullywugs of Toadwallow Marsh. “They’re unnatural creatures, and they’re preventing Tor’s Hold from joining Albridge in open resistance.” She also advised that the elves of the wood might be persuaded to join the fight, if they could be found. The heroes decided to aid Tor’s Hold and asked for a way to identify themselves to the rebels. She gave them her symbol scratched onto white tree bark and described the route the Hold and Toadwallow Marsh beyond.
When the heroes returned to Albridge they found a host of mercenaries gathered near Dar’s stable as a result of some disturbance on the north edge of town. Impersonating mercenaries themselves, Aranthis engaged a few of the mercs and found that an uprising and skirmish had occurred near the edge of the wood. After securing an extra cloak for Akhan, the party approached Dar’s stable and quietly displayed Reithann’s symbol. With a bit of bluff and bluster to put on a show for the mercenaries outside, the party secured Dar’s aid in the form of horses and, despite his protests, bade him to forestall an outright attack on the mercenaries.
With that the heroes were on their way to Tor’s Hold, where they were welcomed by Bran Torsson and his own sons and treated with great hospitality. After a restful night and securing stabling for the horses, they set out to trace a tributary of the Winter River into the marsh and toward a large cavern.
In the face of a vine covered hill, they found the mouth of a cave atop a 10-foot waterfall that gushed into the stream they were following. As described by Reithann, they had found the entrance to the Toadwallow Caverns, The ground near the base of the hill was spongy, and clouds of insects harangued them. Scouting ahead, Akhan found that the cave mouth opened into a dank chamber. Behind a thick patch of fungus atop a pile of offal, he found two crouching froglike humanoids apparently keeping an ineffective watch. They wore poorly fitting leather armor and carried crude spears. Reporting his findings to the group, the heroes decided to try to lure the frogs out using Soklo’s bear as bait. When the bear presented itself at the cave mouth, the frogs drove it off and at the mouth of the cave were effectively ambushed by the party. Despite some reinforcing frogs and stirges, the party handily put down the monsters.
Peeking further into the cavern, Akhan found that a large dragon skull dominates the center of the cave and he heard numerous creatures shifting in the shadows. He suspects that they are well aware of the party’s incursion and are lying in wait.
The Heroes are Level 3 / 2605 XP! (522 XP this session)
Previously in Winterhaven…
At Lord Padraig’s behest, the party had descended into an ancient tomb below Winterhaven Keep in an attempt to escape the siege and get help from Dar Gremath in Albridge. They defeated the traps, undead, and insects within the tomb, but a collapse of the tunnels behind them drives them forward in search of a way out.
The Heroes begin this session at Level 2 / 1658 XP
Beyond the stone face at the end of the hallway the party found a long, dark room. The walls, ceiling and floor 8’ below were covered with decorative arrangements of bones, forming a memorial ossuary. A six inch wide beam of ebony spanned the ossuary chamber, leading straight toward a prominent carving on the opposite wall similar to the stone face behind them. But this one was of an immense skull. Below the beam, countless bones were neatly piled and stacked.
Suspecting a trap, the party spent some time examining the beam and the room. They found that at the far corner, ahead and to their right, the bones were in disarray and sunken. They seemed to have spilled into a fissure or tunnel, the top of which was just visible. From that same location, they heard the muffled rattle of bones moving deep below. Edging out onto the beam, Akhan got the sense that the ebony beam was a dangerous path. He expected it was trapped in some manner, though no mechanical triggers were evident.
From behind Akhan, Finneal launched a magic missile toward the ratting bones. Dau’um and Cedric dropped to the bones below and, sinking about a foot into them, prepared for an assault. The bones surged and scattered in a wave as a large form tunneled toward them. A grick that had been feasting on the bones below erupted from the bone pile. It was quickly followed by a second, burrowing its way from the tunnel in the corner. From above and below, the party rained down pain upon the two monstrosities and prevailed. Searching the bones, they found another skeleton in dried and cracked red leather bearing the familiar eight-point star, a rusty rapier, and 47 gp, 93 sp in coins that was over 200 years old.
Carefully approaching the skull from the bones below, the mouth dropped open revealing a tight alcove. In a guttural whisper, a voice spoke in an ancient tongue. They pieced together a rough translation of the message as “Sacrifice that of greatest value.” Though they tossed various items into the mouth, each was unceremoniously expelled and they heard “sacrifice … unworthy” in the same ancient tongue.
Knowing that their task was urgent and their options few, Akhan grasped the lower teeth of the skull and pulled himself in – not knowing if it would mean his own death. The mouth slowly ground closed, but as it did, a cantilevered stone in the back of the alcove slowly opened providing admittance to a Chamber beyond. The rest of the party followed.
This cavernous chamber consisted of a circular stone walkway around a deep chasm. Bluish light reminiscent of a late summer’s day filtered down from the ceiling about forty feet above. A quiet sighing breeze seemed to continually blow around the chamber. Four wide galleries framed the walkway, their walls covered with enormous bas relief vistas. Like spokes of a wheel, four bridges spanned from the circular walkway to a central pedestal – though two had collapsed with age. Sitting majestically upon the pedestal was an immense sarcophagus half encircled with a final bas relief vista serving as a backdrop.
The heroes found the central pit to be about 60 feet deep, ending in a featureless basin. They found that each of the four perimeter galleries portrayed a different scene. Though the sculpting appeared stylized from a distance, as the heroes approached, the images shifted and distinct impressions of movement became apparent.
The first gallery depicted a peaceful scene featuring several men relaxing in an idyllic country setting. Dozens of perfect circles filled the frame around the men. As the heroes drew closer, twisted shapes seemed to emerge from the sculpture’s edges and coalesced to form monstrous creatures, evil dragons, and demonic figures. As the creatures encroached upon the men in the scene, the circles in the frame seemed to burst one by one. This depiction struck a cord with the party as an ancient legendary theme – the peaceful civilizations of men in conflict with an ever-present threat of outside forces of beasts, evil and chaos.
The second gallery depicted a scene of seven proud noble warriors presenting seven regular fragments of a rod to a council of superiors. The central figure, who was obviously not a warrior, seemed to raise the parts above his head, where they coalesced into a single rod. From the carved glyphs on each of the seven warriors, the party identified them from the myth of the “Wandering Warriors” – men who abandoned the escalating war with Chaos to secure the secrets of a fabled segmented rod.
The third gallery depicted an epic battle between men and demons, Law and Chaos. As the image seemed to shift, the central figure (the mightiest of the Wandering Warriors) used the rod to impale a mighty demon – an entity that looked like a cross between spider, man and wolf. Finally, the Wolf-Spider, Rod, and Warrior vanished into a flaming rift that opened in the ground.
The fourth gallery depicted a lone Wandering Warrior armed with a mighty longsword and heavy shield, descending into the rift in search of the lost mighty warrior. As he entered, the rift seemed to transition into a stylized representation of the gates of hell. Crowds lining the rift were portrayed reaching out to him in various poses of anguish and grief, imploring him not to go.
Up a short step on the central pedestal rested a white marble sarcophagus, much more ornate than the one in the tomb of colored lanterns, complete with a sculpted humanoid figure carved into the lid. On a freestanding curved wall shielding the sarcophagus, a beautifully carved bas relief depicted the same warrior wearing a simple ancient garment, wielding a mighty longsword and heavy shield. At the feet of the warrior were numerous slain dragons. Over the figure’s head was a balanced scale, indicating a champion of justice. To the warrior’s left stood a cloaked demonic figure with two long curved horns tipped in darkest red. On each side of the bas relief, framing the scene stood an armored warrior, shield and sword at ready.
As Finneal stepped onto the central pedestal, the two armored warriors stepped from the bas relief and attacked. They were quite formidable and used knockback attacks to keep the intruders from the sarcophagus. But each time the party retreated, the guardians slowly returned to their places in the bas relief.
Working in concert and retreating when necessary, the party slowly whittled the two down until they decided to make an all out assault on the tomb’s protectors – but as the first of the guardians was bloodied, it blasted the group with an area knockback effect that sent the party flying and sent Aranthis to the edge of the pedestal. Missing a reflex save to catch the edge of the pedestal, she fell to the bottom of the pit, unconscious and at death’s door. Dau’um quickly braced a rope and dropped to the pit floor below to administer aid.
The Heroes end this session at Level 2 / 2083 XP (425 XP this session)