Saturday, October 31, 2009

Episode XXI: Night of Dissolution, Act III - The Temple of Deep Chaos I

Juliar 18

A column of black smoke rises from Oldtown as the lair of the Surgeon of the Shadows burns down. Vatex, Early, and Emeris flee the district and head to the Adventurers’ Square. In the Undercity, they try to sell the strange harness and steaming axe to Rastor. The liontaur believes they are chaositech devices and he does not deal in such things. The group wonders if Shilukar would buy them.

The group runs into Dziga, the missing rogue! The group stops by the Ghostly Minstrel for dinner and drinks and discussion. Dziga first tells of how something in the statuette of the star-headed thing had possessed him had entered his body at the Pythoness House. The entity lingered within much interference for many days, and then finally compelled him yesterday to take the star-headed thing up to the fortress of Goth Gulgamel. Unable to resist, Dziga acquired a potion of flight and ascended to the entrance of the abandoned fortress, about 1300 feet up the Spire. Surprisingly, the main door was unlocked. The entity had Dziga’s body place the star-headed statuette on the floor inside the entrance, and with that the rogue seemed to be free of the possession. Dziga felt great dread within the place, and took flight back to the city.

Jevvica Nor arrives and joins the group, asking about information concerning the Banewarrens. They tell her what they know – she is concerned by the so-called “Pactlords of the Quaan” and also that the Holy Order of Vigoor knows about this. She arranges for their payment and asks them to meet her soon to share what she learns about the Pactlords. If powerful monsters are trying to get inside, she wants to know how they might do that. The group seems not to trust her and the Inverted Pyramid, especially Vatex. He thinks they know more than they say.

Now there is considerable debate – should they explore Goth Gulgamel? It is interesting that someone can simply walk inside unimpeded whereas Jabel Shammar seems utterly impenetrable, but even so Elanian stories about the Skull King’s fortress invariably end in “and they were never heard from again.” They figure they should hold off. Do they investigate the “secret project” of the chaos cultists? They know the “joint project” involves the Society of the Tolling Bell somehow, and Khyron is their leader. Vatex also worries about this “Night of Dissolution” that the cultists are trying to bring about. Everyone in the group wants revenge for their defeat at the Pythoness House. On the other hand, Emeris has to find the 751st page of the Book of Inverted Shadows somewhere inside the Banewarrens, and believes they might find all kinds of other powerful items as well. Early thinks they should keep the Pactlords from plundering the place and releasing more “banes” like Tavan Zith. Emeris additionally cites the Book of Faceless Hate, which had said the Keepers of the Faith would like to get inside the Banewarrens.

They decide to tackle the cultists for now. They gear up and scope out the apartment building on Crossing Street. It shows no outward signs of cultist activity, so they enter through the front door. As Dziga enters, disgusting violet slime falls upon him from the ceiling and drains his strength. There is a dead woman in the first room. They hear metallic banging coming from another room. A large, hatched cocoon of some sort blocks a door, and from it emerges a swarm of red-and-black centipedes. They hit the swarm with spells and powder bombs, which alerts other creatures to their arrival. They are attacked by two monsters that are some twisted amalgam of insect and man. They defeat the monsters, but the their poisonous stingers have drained Early and Dziga’s strength. The rogue has been weakened considerably but they press on.

Dziga avoids another falling slime and they find the source of the banging noise. Two short, fat and disgusting demons are eating garbage and banging pots together. On a table in this room is a huge syringe and several vials of black liquid, and several empty vials. Vatex attacks one of the demons but its demonic traits resist both the cut of the steel and the flames around the blade. The fat demon hits back while its friend belches a nauseating cloud of fog that fills the room. The group retreats quickly back into the hallway, and one demon waddles after them in pursuit. Dziga and Vatex manage to cut it down, while the other resumes banging pots.

They decide to let the dumb creature be for now, and explore the rest of the first floor. They carefully avoid another hatched cocoon, then find another one that seems to have a gestating thing inside. This appears to be the source of the large insect-like monsters that attacked them. They cut through the cocoon and a human falls out in the gush of slime. He wheezes a few times then dies. They figure it is best not to take chances and they remove its head. Otherwise, for all they know, the body might yet become a monster.

They find a hole in the floorboards that goes far below the house into the darkness, then return to kill the fat demon. It tries to use some kind of magic, perhaps to summon another demon? But it fails and the group cuts it down. Behind a locked door they find five prisoners. They free the captives who reveal that they were captured by the cultists for horrible experiments. When the cultists inject something called “Askara” into people, they form a cocoon and then a venom-shaped thrall emerges. He says the cultists have been heard talking about a “Temple of Deep Chaos” which lies somewhere beneath them…

Next time: The companions battle the forces of chaos – is their revenge against Khyron getting close?

Random Elanian Factoid: Goth Gulgamel - “Castle of Darkness.” The name is the corrupt and somewhat awkward combination of an Elvish and a Dwarvish word, but that fact perfectly describes the nature of the place’s original master. Ghul stole what came before him and twisted it to his own ends—first and foremost, he stole the legacy of the Dread One. Some believe that his flagrant, self-proclaimed association with Eslathagos Malekith was his ultimate undoing.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Episode XX: The Banewarrens, Act I - The Broken Seal II / The Surgeon in the Shadows

Juliar 17-18

While Dziga flees to the surface due to a magical compulsion, Kalerecent attempts to detect the presence of evil among Emeris, Early, and Vatex. Kalerecent sees an aura of darkness around Emeris, and distrusts him, but the group convinces the paladin that they were hired by Brother Fabitor to find him.

Kalerecent explains that he has been alone in the dark for many days now. He and his monk cohort RSANIR had investigated the old manor in Oldtown following a request from a concerned neighbourhood resident who heard digging noises. They used potion of invisibility and followed the monsters down the tunnel into the unsealed part of the Banewarrens. Originally, there was Ios and Verochin, a second lamia, a green hag, a goblin rogue, and several goblin archers. The rogue opened some vaults and released Tavan Zith, who just ran off and the monsters forgot about him completely. In the chamber with the massive sealed door, they saw a green hag use a ring to cast a Wish spell and open the sealed door. Knowing the monsters must be stopped, they ambushed the monsters. They killed the goblins but the monsters were too strong. Rsanir sacrificed himself to close the sealed door, and Kalerecent was forced to flee. Only the green hag was able to get beyond the door before it closed. Ios and Verochin left the Banewarrens to get more goblins, while a second lamia remained behind and pursued the paladin. Out of lamp oil, he found himself in a cat-and-mouse game with the lamia for the next several days in the dark. It was then that the “Grailquest Team” returned with more goblins, followed by the warblade, shadowcaster, and urban ranger.

Returning to the surface via the umber hulk’s tunnel, the group heads to St. Gustave’s. Fabitor thanks them for finding the paladin and has the acolytes heal their wounds and restore their willpower drained by the lamia monk’s fists. Fabitor invites them all to the Grand Cathedral to speak with his superiors in the Holy Order of Vigoor.

At the Grand Cathedral meeting, they meet various figures in the church. First is Brother TOBIAS, who wants to consider exploring the Banewarrens in search of ancient lore from the time of the saint Danar rather than sealing it up immediately. Brother HETH believes the Banewarrens should be sealed quickly, but first he would like to learn more about the magic used by Danar to seal up evil banes. Sister DALIASANA is an elderly, stern woman who simply wants to seal up the umber hulk tunnel and be done with it. Sister MARA does not express much opinion. Finally there is TELESTIR, not in the clergy but a devout servant of the Emperor who works with the hierarchy in the Holy Order, who leans towards Tobias’ position.

Heth asks the companions to accept a new mission. He gives them a scroll that, if used at the sealed door in the Banewarrens, should reveal some information about Danar’s magic. Kalerecent volunteers to return to the Banewarrens and keep watch over the sealed door. Emeris takes the scroll but secretly cannot use it, and will need to find Dziga for that. Telestir gives him a token that will enable him to send a message to the Church should there be trouble.

After leaving the meeting, Emeris is overcome with horrible pain as his draconic heritage begins to emphasize itself further. Early and Vatex head back to the house and stay up through their friend’s painful transformation. The next morning, Emeris emerges more dragon-like – and more powerful – than before.

The next day, the group tries to find Dziga but he is nowhere to be found. At the Bull & Bear Armory, Early hears some rumors about an army of barbarians that has just…appeared in Willendorf to the west. The army, it is claimed, is now marching on the city of Elan! The Commissar is supposedly preparing the massive guns of Elan for the city’s defense. It seems highly implausible, but the man assures everyone that he has a reliable source. The man is also an ethnocentric jerk and gets beat up by Early for disparaging comments about northerners.

Hirus and his brother FEEK ask Early if he has seen Itumar, who didn’t show up for yesterday. Early thought he was fine, as the boy had safely left their house after the raid on the cultist meeting. But Feek explained that Itumar’s apartment was trashed and the boy seems to be in trouble. Itumar’s friend, bard named LAVIS, went looking for him and found his jacket with a spell in some by some old storehouse. But now she has been missing for a day herself. Early reports the information to Vatex, who deduces Itumar’s location using Lavis’ only hint and his extensive knowledge of the city.

Early the warblade-fighter, Emeris the half-dragon shadowcaster, and Vatex the elven urban ranger hurry to the old storehouse. Although it is set up to appear abandoned, they find a trapped secret entrance. Early is electrocuted and the group is attacked by a human aberration modified with chaositech. Fearless and aggressive, it fights with spiked gauntlets and a strange harness that controls swinging, serrated blades. A fury of attacks weakens the thing enough that Emeris' arrow of dusk can render it unconscious. Vatex descends on the fallen thing and hacks it apart. They take the strange harness it wears, and in the next room they find the gagged and bound Lavis. She tells them this is the hideout of the Surgeon in the Shadows, who is mythical in the Elanian underworld.

The bard joins them and they encounter the Surgeon in his nightmarish operating room, splattered with gore and reeking of old blood and chemicals. It is full of weird tools and diagrams. The Surgeon and his dwarven assistant RASTOR are preparing Itumar for some awful procedure. The Surgeon teleports away, but his Castor and another chaos-shaped guardian, once a human woman, with a stumbling gait are left behind and fight to the death. The group fights to save Itumar. Vatex fires his rifle and hits the dwarf, who charges after him with a steaming chaositech axe. The dwarf stumbles over a cable across the floor and Early leaps upon him with a flurry of attacks. Emeris conjures black fire around the chaos-shaped guardian, who gets across the room with surprising speed and agility thanks to chaositech-enhanced legs. She flanks Early and cuts him with her chaositech blade-arm, and Emeris chases behind to touch her with a surge of life-fading power. Lavis inspires the group with bardic singing and Vatex leaps onto one of the blood-stained operating tables and cuts down the dwarf. The guardian has armored plates grafted to her flesh, but it only keeps her alive a little longer before Early strikes the fatal blow. Itumar is saved!

Itumar explains that a couple of cultists followed him back to his apartment when he left Emeris and Early’s house. They captured him and eventually brought him to the Surgeon. He learned many things while he was with the cultists. They are up to something big, and they speak of Khyron who thinks he can bring about the Night of Dissolution. Itumar tells them the cultists are planning to destroy a powerful anti-chaos device in a place called the “Kaleidoscopic Temple”. He corroborates information about the “secret project” between the Brotherhood and the Ebon Hand in Oldtown as well.

Early takes a few things from the hideout for Shilukar to look at, then the group sets the twisted place on fire and flees the scene. It is time now to find Dziga. Where did he go?

Next: Does the company return to the Banewarrens, or investigate the cultists’ secret project in Oldtown?

Random Elanian Factoid: Kinion Luth is the real name of the “Surgeon in the Shadows”. It is said that for the right price he will alter you in horrid ways to grant you fantastic abilities.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Episode XIX: The Banewarrens, Act I - The Broken Seal I

Juliar 17

Emeris the draconic shadowcaster, Vatex the urban ranger, Dziga the rogue, and Early the warblade have decided to find the entrance to the Banewarrens. Before they can leave Emeris and Early’s house, they spot some ratlings coming from the alley and trying to steal their chickens from the backyard! The group rushes outside and hacks down the thieves mercilessly and the chickens are spared. An obnoxious neighbour complains about them bringing trouble into the neighbourhood. They drop the ratling corpses in said neighbor’s yard and head for the manor in Oldtown from which the dark elf Tavan Zith emerged.

The large old manor on Crossing Street is long abandoned. They enter what appears to be a quiet, empty place full of old furniture but little else. Vatex however hears some heavy breathing from a storage closet, and they get the jump on an orc warrior woman looking to ambush them. She fights but quickly realizes she is horribly outmatched. There is no escape, however – the company surrounds her and cuts her down easily. They search the body and find a strange, spiny bone ring around the orc’s finger.

They look around further, first upstairs, where Vatex sees in a cracked mirror the image of a silver haired elf woman who seems strangely familiar for some reason. The image fades abruptly and he wonders if it was even real. Vatex thinks perhaps the building is haunted, but there is nothing else to find upstairs. The group eventually descends to the wine cellar below. There they find a large tunnel dug into the wall, going deep into the west. Lighting a torch, the group enters the tunnel. Along the way, they explore a side passage to the north and find the lair of a fearsome umber hulk! The creature advances upon Emeris, who resists the confusing effect of the creature’s gaze by strength of will. The shadowcaster warns the others not to meet its gaze, throws up a wall of shadow fire to slow the monster’s advance, and the battle is on. The hulk charges through the stinging cold of the black flames, and tears a gouge the side of Emeris’ head with its claw. However, the umber hulk’s main advantage is denied as its opponents avoid its gaze. Dziga finds a gap in the hulk’s carapace and strikes a crippling blow with Asura. Vatex punches through a plate on its chest and pierces through soft tissue beneath, and when the monster slouches from the wound, the Flame of Elmekia’s burning blade arcs across and takes out its throat. They find that the umber hulk wears a bone ring just like the orc woman in the house.

Further exploration turns up the umber hulk’s eclectic stash of treasure, and an uninvited guest in the monster’s lair – an ochre jelly, which surges up from a fissure in the ground and attacks. Dziga hurls a dagger which merely causes the jelly to split into two like creatures. Emeris tosses a powder bomb at them, which nearly destroys one jelly. Early fires a shot with his pistol which separates the wounded jelly further. Vatex hurls a flask of alchemist fire which consumes one of the new jellies. The strange living puddles slide towards them, and one of them engulfs Dziga, constricting him with surprising strength and burning him with its acidic composition. Early smashes an ooze with his heavy flail, and Vatex burns away the last one with his flaming elven sword.

The group returns to the main tunnel and continues west. Three-quarters of a mile from the manor house, they find a dug out chamber containing unused digging implements and a bag of supplies for underground exploration. Inside the bag is a note:

Once you get inside the unsealed part of the Banewarrens, you will have to find a massive iron door. This is a warded door. It may be trapped, we do not know. It is, however, sealed beyond your capacity to breach. Therefore, you will use a Wish from the ring to open it – and even that will keep it open only for a moment. On what lies beyond that door, our spells are silent, except that you will find the Grail within Tremoc Korin. The second Wish in the ring will be your key to get out.
-- Yuinthu”

Immediately to the south, the group finds the entrance to the Banewarrens. They enter a massive chamber dominated by a strange tower-like structure. It is topped with a brass sphere covered in runes. Emeris cannot discern its purpose, but it seems incomplete or damaged in some way. A narrow walkway lines the chamber high above, and provides access to various other passages and a huge iron door. More exploration is considered when Vatex hears a group of people coming to the walkway from a southern passage. VEROCHIN the lamia monk, IOS the minotaur warrior, and four goblin archers arrive. Ios and Verochin wear the distinctive bone rings.

Between derogatory comments about humanoids and aggressive boasting, Ios reveals some facts about these other Banewarrens explorers. They are members of the “Grailquest Team” and they are “Pactlords of the Quaan,” and they seem to have tangled with the paladin Kalerecent at some point earlier. Goblin archers begin raining arrows down on the companions, while Verochin drinks a strength potion and Ios drinks a haste potion. Early runs to the base of the spiral staircase that connects the walkway to the floor level to face off against Ios. Verochin leaps from the walkway and lands below to fight the others.

Early discovers Ios’ audacity is at least somewhat justified as the minotaur storms down the stairs swinging his huge greatsword. Early can only hold back the quickened minotaur for a moment before being badly wounded and forced to fall back to the others. Dziga hurls a dagger, getting a goblin in the throat, and springs upon Verochin as the lamia recovers from his landing. The lamia monk strikes back with terrible blows from his fists that drain the rogue’s very willpower. Vatex attacks Verochin like a wall of blades but finds the monk is well protected by magic.

The battle is then joined by another – Kalerecent! He immediately takes the companions’ side when he sees their enemies. Emeris slays a couple of goblins with black fire, but is speared in the back by one of Ios’ horns as he charges after Early. Badly wounded, Emeris stands and breathes a wave of icy shadow across the minotaur which staggers the huge warrior. Dziga flips over Verochin’s strike and stabs the unsuspecting minotaur on landing. Vatex finishes off Ios, and Kalerecent beheads the last goblin. The group converges around Verochin, who uses an enchantment on Dziga and sends the mentally vulnerable the rogue fleeing back to the surface at top speed. The battle ends when Early finally drives Cryssegrym through the lamia’s chest.

The group knows it should try to catch up with Dziga, and Kalerecent too seems eager to leave this place. All are burdened with the knowledge that not only are the Banewarrens unsealed, but powerful monsters are trying to find something inside.

Next: A friend goes missing! And Kalerecent shares his story…

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Episode XVIII: Night of Dissolution, Act II - Dark Servants II

Juliar 15-17

Dziga and Vatex regroup with Early and Emeris in the afternoon to exchange information. Early and Emeris reveal their plan to infiltrate the Brotherhood of Venom’s meeting. Vatex and Dziga have had little luck finding the missing paladin Kalerecent, learning only that he and his monk cohort may have been looking into “monsters digging in Oldtown.”

The group receives a late invitation to one of Castle Shard’s extravagant dinner parties. They attend and encounter various famous people of Elan. They learn that Lord Abbercrombe has been restored but he’s a bit spaced out and they do not see him at the party. Instead, their encounters include the enigmatic, taciturn IRON MAGE, who comes and goes as he pleases without invitation and is perhaps the most powerful wizard in the city if not the Empire; ARGAEN RAVENWHISPER, a disturbingly frail and flamboyant elf sorcerer known for casting wishes at the drop of a hat; URLENIUS, an ogre-mage converted to goodness by the Brotherhood of Redemption; and JEVVICA NORR, a sorcerer of the Inverted Pyramid mage guild who is a beautiful woman with a glass arm. She is very interested in the incident with the dark elf monk that happened several days ago, and invites the group to join her at the Ghostly Minstrel to hear a proposition after the party.

The group also speak with Shilukar, attending the party disguised as a simple shoal elf using the name “Shaelukar Darkfingers”. They tell him they found nothing beneath the Pythoness House, and he seems disappointed. He reminds them even without the chaos weapons, his offer stands to pay 4,000 gold for the head of the Shuul scientist, Doctor Feagus.

The group feels socially awkward at the party and they are happy to meet Jevvica Norr at the Ghostly Minstrel. There she tells them the dark elf monk was called Tavan Zith, who was more than 20,000 years old! She says through divinations and research, her organization learned that Tavan Zith was a “bane” imprisoned by the great elven saint Danar in the impenetrable Banewarrens, because of his strange ability to release latent magical power in those around him. If Zith was wandering around the city, he must have escaped the Banewarrens somehow. She offers them a substantial amount of gold if they will investigate and provide substantial information about the opening (and resealing) of the Banewarrens, and they accept the mission. She tells them spells have revealed that Tavan Zith emerged from a wine cellar beneath a house in Oldtown, and provides the address.

Saharasahla summons Emeris, and they discuss the 751st page of the Book of Inverted Shadows, supposedly sealed up in the Banewarrens somewhere as well. The old shadowcaster tells Emeris that while it would probably be better overall that the Banewarrens be resealed and the Inverted Pyramid will probably be committed to that being done. But before that happens, it is vital that Emeris find the missing page, a coveted fragment of shadow lore said to grant great knowledge and power.

The next day, the group meets with Itumar and prepares for the Brotherhood of Venom’s secret meeting. They follow Itumar and a cultist into a nasty eatery called the Rat’s Nest, then to a house where the meeting is held. The use their fake Brotherhood rings to get access to the house to follow the young man and the cultist. Inside, they find meeting attendees must wear hoods. The guards are confused when there are more people than hoods, so only Early and Emeris are able to enter the meeting. The guards try to get Dziga and Vatex to leave, but the smooth talking rogue convinces them to all have a game of cards together while they wait for the meeting to end instead.

Disguised as cultists, Emeris and Early join the meeting on the lower level. There are seven hooded cultists with Itumar. Early’s preternatural scent detects what seems to be a horse in the backroom. The chairman of the meeting says they will be initiating their new “brother,” Itumar, discussing their “secret project” with the Ebon Hand, talking about poisons, then engaging in something that is implied to be a gross sexual act. The meeting discusses a joint project between the Brotherhood, the Ebon Hand (led by someone called MALEK), and the Society of the Tolling Bell (led by Khyron). They need volunteers for experiments, the nature of which are not revealed. Infighting between the Brotherhood and the Ebon Hand is also discussed, and the group seems psychopathically amused by the prospect of having to backstab their allies. Next they discuss poisons and ritualistically douse their daggers in a few samples brought by one cultist.

When the initiation begins, Itumar – foolishly brave until now – tries to back out, but the cultists will not allow it. Emeris tries to convince them to let the “blasphemer” leave, saying he is not worth bringing into the group. This seems to excite the cultists to instead want to murder Itumar on the spot. One cultist cuts Itumar with a poisoned blade, and the young man tries to flee. Early and Emeris cast off their disguises and attack. Emeris conjures a blast of shadowy cold that kills several cultists, and Early cuts down the depraved chairman. It looks to be a one-sided slaughter until a massive centaur fighter, apparent leader of this cult group, enters from the backroom, wielding a huge falchion and trying to crush Early beneath his hooves.

Upstairs, Dziga and Vatex attack the guards, cutting them to pieces in seconds. They join the battle below as Emeris consumes another cultist with supernaturally cold blackfire and spreads the effect around the centaur, who has Early badly pressed. The warblade hacks vicious wounds into his enemy. The centaur counters, hooves cracking into Early’s skull and falchion cleaving into his guts. Vatex comes down the stairs and fires a shot with his rifle and hits the centaur in the head. Still the centaur fights. Dziga enters the melee to take pressure off the dying Early, and fends off attack after attack from the frenzied centaur. The centaur is finally defeated when the rogue slams Asura into his chest.

The group sets up a gruesome display of dead cultists stuck to the wall with daggers, and take a set of documents carried by the centaur. Itumar is unconscious from the poison, so they take him back to Emeris and Early’s house. Emeris looks over the documents and finds the location of the cultists’ secret project – an apartment house in Oldtown. The companions wonder what sorts of experiments are being done there, and if it might lead them to Khyron.

The next day the group sells loot and rests. And the following day they sell more loot, and acquire items to keep them alive longer. Early buys an amulet that makes his skin like tough leather, and Dziga buys a ring that deflects attacks. Vatex has learned that Kalerecent and his monk where checking out the same house for which Jevvica Norr provided the address. The group then considers its next course of action. They decide they will investigate Tavan Zith’s emergence point for now, and hopefully find the paladin while they are at it.

Next: A legendary dungeon meant to forever lock away malignant forces of evil, sealed for thousands of years, and now opened…the Banewarrens!

Random Elanian Factoid: Although the Banewarrens had been Danar’s obsession, he was aided in his efforts by his mighty servants. These included a silver dragon named Saggarintys, a planetar named Bastion, and a solar named Averon.