Iriandel, Part I

Dramatis Personae: Calla, Keluak, Keth (and Elia)
Source: “Iriandel” (Dungeon 83)

Pebbleton
While out on a long patrol through the countryside, the PCs got caught in an autumn rainstorm and sought shelter in a fortified village called Pebbleton. The majority of the residents were halflings, but there were enough tall folk around to allow for buildings and furnishings that could accommodate them.

The guards at the village gates insisted on searching the PCs’ belongings, explaining that orcs were always a danger this year (looking pointedly at Keth while they said so). They then directed the PCs to Mayor Roscoe Thorngage’s house. The mayor greeted them warmly and invited them to share his meal and dry out in front of his fire.

After the meal, the mayor told them a story about a remarkable horse he’d come across in the woods nearby a year before. He then explained that a half-elf bard had recently come to town with an even more remarkable tale concerning the horse. He offered to take the PCs to meet her at the village’s common hall, a large, roomy area carved out of a low hill in the center of town. First, though, he took them to meet the horse, whom he’d named Treetrot: a fine, grey-maned stallion who fairly jumped with excitement upon seeing the PCs enter his stable.

There they found the bard, a “comely” half-elven woman with red hair, attempting to play her flute with accompaniment from two halfling drummers. The drummers were a bit bored, however, and ended up going off on a convoluted drum solo, so the bard sighed and wandered over to the PCs almost as soon as she’d spotted them. She introduced herself as Ruallin, and Mayor Thorngage asked her to repeat her tale to the PCs.

Ruallin launched into a lengthy legend concerning tribes of human barbarians and wild elves, as well as star-crossed lovers. A unicorn named Iriandel – the guardian of the elves’ forest – was also mixed up in the story. The legend stated that the chieftain of the barbarians, a man named Turiew, had fallen in love with an elf named Deleflin, who was the friend (and frequent rider) of the unicorn. Their love was forbidden, so they met in secret. Some time later, another barbarian tribe – said to have the blood of orcs and ogres running hot in their veins – came to the area to take the land away from the locals. The chief of the newcomers, Tamaich, challenged Turiew to a duel. Deleflin, against the wishes of her people, sought to aid her lover. She called upon the fickle elven gods for aid, and they granted her the power to turn Iriandel’s horn into a magic spear and Iriandel himself into a fearless stallion. But with the condition that if the horse and spear remained separated for more than three days, they would remain so for another three centuries.

Sure enough, while Turiew was able to kill Tamaich with the spear, he too succumbed to the half-orc’s poisoned blade. Tamaich’s people overwhelmed Turiew’s, and the spear was buried with Tamaich in a great barrow built over the tribe’s winter camp. Deleflin, overcome with grief, “went away to the place where elves are immortal”, and with Iriandel the unicorn gone, the forest and the elves that inhabited it dwindled away.

Ruallin was adamant that the halfling mayor’s horse, Treetrot, was the body of Iriandel. She urged the PCs to seek out the spear so that Iriandel could be restored to his true form and become the guardian of the forest once again. The PCs felt like it was Fate that had brought them here, so they readily agreed to help.

Keth decided he’d like to play a bit of music with Ruallin, so the two got up on stage and Keth accompanied the half-elf on his lute. The halfling drummers were impressed by the half-orc’s skills and got to chatting with him afterwards. One of them explained that he’d once found a strange glyph on an old oak tree in the woods to the southeast of town while out searching for inspiration. He warned the half-orc that it seemed like it didn’t want to be found deliberately … and sure enough, when the PCs went to look, it took them six hours just to find the old oak, even though it turned out to be less than 5 miles out of town.

Unsure of how to find the glyph on the tree, Elia decided she’d try talking to it. Everyone thought she’d gone mad until the tree seemingly replied. The voice had come from above, and when the PCs looked up, they discovered that it wasn’t the tree talking but an owl! It introduced itself as Tashek, and asked them what they were doing looking for Iriandel’s mark. This prompted the PCs to relate the story Ruallin had told them. Listening intently, Tashek expressed disappointment at having been left out of the tale before filling in the gaps. As it so happened, he had been a good friend of Iriandel’s and so had been around on that fateful day when the unicorn had become cursed to wander the woods as a mere horse for three centuries. He was pleased to hear that the time was now right for Iriandel’s restoration and offered to help the PCs. They asked him if he knew the way to Tamaich’s tomb, and Tashek said he could lead them straight to it!

The Brown Grounds
Unfortunately, this meant crossing a vast peat bog known as the Brown Grounds. The going was slow, but thanks to Tashek’s keen eyes, they were able to effectively surprise both a band of orc thieves and a band of ogrillons led by a half-ogre cleric of Grolantor. Although the priest tried to parlay with the PCs, Keth and Keluak were too overcome with bloodlust and struck him down while he was on his knees. This made Calla really mad and she shot a fire bolt at Keth’s head which luckily missed him.

The PCs took all the monsters’ loot for themselves – including the half-ogre’s cleric’s magical chain shirt, which appeared to be made out of an ultra-rare substance known as glassteel and which conferred resistance to force damage to its bonded wearer – and pressed on towards the Poven Hills, at the feet of which the owl assured them they would find the barbarian chieftain’s massive barrow.

As they drew closer, they discovered that the land was haunted. At one point, Keth glanced into a still pool and saw a number of mounted riders with lifeless eyes reflected in it. They all bore the mark of a blue horse leaping over a cloud on their wooden shields. As they raised their right arms in a salute, he saw to his horror that their hands had all been cut off. No one else had seen this vision, and when Keth asked Tashek if he recognized the symbol, the owl confirmed that it was the mark of the Iorai tribe – the people of Turiew, who had been slaughtered – man, woman, and child – by the Sya-Negan, Tamaich’s orc-blooded people. Upon hearing that name, a little shudder ran down Keth’s spine, for the Sya-Negan were the ancestors of his own people.

That night, while settling down around a campfire they’d built in a hollow, the PCs were roused from their sleep by sounds of fighting, although no one could see anything – not even the dwarf or the half-orc. Suddenly, their fire turned red and flared up, rising two meters into the air, and ghostly men and horses went running all around them, re-enacting a battle that had been fought here more than three hundred years before. This was too much for both Elia and Keluak, who turned and fled into the night, where they were set upon by a giant bat hunting in the darkness. Keth and Calla came to their aid and dragged them back to the campfire, where they were able to get some rest once the ghostly warriors had faded away.

The next day, Tashek guided them the foothills – an area the local orcs and ogres referred to as the Knuckles – to where Tamaich’s tomb lay: a massive mound over a 100 yards across, ringed by ancient standing stones. After a bit of searching, the PCs found the entrance, mostly buried. It took them a good few hours of work to unearth the stone slab blocking the entrance, and just as they were about finished, Tashek warned them that two ogres were heading their way.

Finding some adequate hiding places, the PCs were able to ambush the ogres, taking one down before it could react. The other, taken aback by the PCs’ ferocity, turned tail and fled. They decided to let it go, while they looted its dead companion’s sack instead. Along with some objets d’art and some coins, they found a vial containing a rose-hued, effervescent liquid in it. Keth dipped his finger in it and had a taste. Glancing over at Keluak as he did so, Keth suddenly found himself regarding the gruff dwarf more favorably. He decided he’d go over and help clean the mud off the dwarf’s armor. Both Calla and Keluak were taken aback by the half-orc’s strange behavior and wanted to know what was in the potion he’d just tasted. They surmised they’d come across a love potion of sorts and decided to keep it for later use.

Tamaich’s Tomb
Turning their attention back to the tomb entrance, Keth and Keluak managed to work together to move the massive stone slab enough that they could all slip past. The smell of damp earth emanated from the darkness beyond. Immediately inside, they found a circular tunnel running north and south – the remains of the outer edge of the old barbarian camp. They decided to head south first, with Calla’s dancing lights leading the way.

After a few moments, they came to an intersection which Keluak surmised was at the southern-most point of the circular mound. A ramp consisting of several large stone slabs led up into the darkness, while the outer circular passage continued on its curve, although from this point on, there were small stone slabs evenly spaced along the passage’s floor. Keth recognized them as traditional “pit-graves” in which the tribe’s elite warriors would be housed. Carved into each grave’s slab was a Dethek rune monogram indicating the name of the warrior interred within.

The PCs decided to head up the ramp. After 60-odd feet, they came to another intersection, with a tunnel heading west and a short passage leading into a circular room to the northeast. They chose to investigate the room first, in which a huge jumble of humanoid and animal skeletons were piled up against the far wall. They caught the gleam of something shiny reflecting the light of Calla’s dancing lights inside a hedgehog’s skull.

Fearful of traps, which Keth knew to be common in these old barrows, the PCs waited in the passageway while Calla used mage hand to retrieve the item from the skull. As the spectral hand closed around the item – which turned out to be a necklace of human finger bones set with precious gems – the skull glowed orange and the earthen ceiling melted and collapsed in a wave of mud. The PCs breathed a sigh of relief that none of them had been in the room, but then four stone statues that had been carved from the smooth stone wall of the room came to life, striding through the mud as if it wasn’t there. Since the PCs were huddled in the passageway, one even walked through the wall and appeared in the tunnel behind them!

The creatures’ fists were hard, as were their stony hides, but eventually the PCs won out and the creatures crumbled into pebbles. A further search of the room revealed a pendant bearing the horse and cloud symbol of the Iorai hidden in another skull.

Down the western passage, they came to another circular room containing a seven-foot-tall statue of an ogrillon, its visage menacing in the shadows cast by their lights. As they stepped into the room, the shadows seemed to come to life and attacked, draining the PCs’ strength away. Keluak took a gamble and activated his driftglobe‘s daylight spell, which fortunately sent the shadows cowering against the far wall. After two minutes, they all faded away and the PCs’ lost strength returned. It had all been an illusion!

Keth went up to the statue and swung his mace, Dragonthumper, at it. Much to his surprise, the statue melted and out oozed a horrendous monster covered in eyes and gibbering mouths! The horrible thing drove the PCs mad and blinded them on several occasions with globs of spit that flashed as they struck the ground. Keth suffered numerous bites as he tried to squash the thing with his magic mace. Against the combined might of the four heroes, the gibbering monstrosity stood no chance, and it too was soon nothing but goo. But by that point, the PCs decided they’d had enough, so they retraced their steps to the entrance for some fresh air and good night’s sleep. In the night, they heard wolves howling and retreated into the tomb to avoid them.

The next morning, they headed back in and continued on from where they’d left off, eventually coming to what appeared to be a trophy room, complete with rusty old weapons taken from the Iorai warriors. Keth noticed, almost too late, that there were a number of right hand gauntlets in the room … and sure enough, the hands were not only still in them, but they were also waiting for the living. A dozen crawling claws came rushing at the PCs, conjuring up bad memories of the necromancer’s cave near Lance Rock (see “Trouble in Larchwood, Part I”).

The foul undead hands proved to be little more than pests, however, and they were soon all dealt with. Keth vowed to take the Iorai’s things and give them a proper burial somewhere to put their souls at ease. Calla decided to take the time to cast detect magic as a ritual and, much to her delight, found some magical auras radiating from in and behind a rotten old chest. Inside the chest were two magic potions. Behind the chest was a handaxe made from stone with lots of precious stones embedded in its handgrip. Keluak took it for his own and soon discovered that he could will it to light up with green flames! A quick taste of the potions led Keth to believe they were some kind of strength-enhancing brew.

From here, the tunnel turned southeast and led into what was once the Sya-Negan’s feasting hall. Two long stone tables flanked a low, rectangular firepit. Seated on benches at the tables were clay statues of headless warriors. On the shoulders of these statues were actual half-orc skulls – with something in their eye sockets that was gleaming red with the reflected light from the driftglobe and Calla’s dancing lights. At the statues’ sides lay some rusty old longswords. At the far end of the room, the PCs could just make out another passage continuing east beyond a throne.

The PCs were immediately suspicious of a trap. They decided to backtrack all the way to the southernmost point of the tomb and continue on up the eastern side, where the Sya-Negan warriors’ pit-graves were. About halfway along to the eastern side, they came across a pit-grave with no marking on it. Elia knelt down for a closer look and discovered that the ground around it was unstable. Fortunately, there was room for them all to leap across that space. Unfortunately, at the eastern point, they discovered a passage heading west to a dead-end, where someone had walled up the passage with stones. Rather than try and take down the wall, they breathed a sigh and headed back to the western side of the feasting hall.

Concerned that the statues in the hall would animate as soon as they entered the room, Calla had the others wait in the tunnel while she attempted to gather all the longswords with her mage hand. Unfortunately, the moment she lifted one up into the air to pull it back towards her, it activated some kind of invisible magic trap that caused all the swords in the room to animate! A dozen longswords came flying through the air and started hacking and slashing at Keluak and Keth, who were standing just inside the entrance way.

After a few frustrating seconds of trying to fight back against flying swords, Calla ordered everyone to fall back deeper into the passage. She wanted to test out a theory that proved to be true – the swords couldn’t follow them out of the room! Calla used her fire to melt the swords down and then the PCs entered the room.

Euphoria Horrors

Dramatis Personae: Calla, Keluak, Keth, Tasklar
Source: “Neverlight Grove” (Out of the Abyss)

Interlude
After their adventures in the swamp, the PCs head back to Larchwood for some much-needed downtime.

During this time, Keth wanders off into the wilderness on his own, getting to know the land. He returns ten days later, looking rather worse for wear and with a fresh scar in the vague shape of a bird burned onto his face. He refuses to talk about his ordeals, saying only that he was on a spiritual journey.

Calla, meanwhile, returns from attending to some personal business and devotes herself to honing her magical skill under the watchful eye of Kaylessa, the proprietor of the Swinging Sword Inn and a fellow sorceress (though she keeps her abilities a secret from most of the rest of the villagers).

Gil goes spelunking with his bat familiar and hones his magical legerdemain skills, while Tasklar goes on a magical mystery tour, picking up a new cantrip and spending a bit of time honing his aim with it (in hopes of compensating for his lost depth perception). [In game terms, Gil pumped his Dex to 18, while Tasklar took the Spell Sniper feat, selecting eldritch blast as his cantrip.]

Keluak, who has become completely besotted with Kaylessa, gladly donates his time and expertise in helping redesign and rebuild the inn’s kitchen so that its chimneys function properly and no longer run the risk of causing fires. He also spends a bit of time improving on his defensive fighting style [by taking the Heavy Armor Master feat].

The Descent
To celebrate the reopening of the kitchen, Kaylessa serves up a fancy meal with roast veges, spiced potatoes, and mutton topped with mushroom cheese sauce. Plenty of wine and ale is passed around, and a good time is had by all.

That evening, after the inn’s other patrons have retired for the night and Kaylessa has also turned in, the PCs find that they have the common room to themselves. As they sit there relaxing, they begin to hear faint music and singing, seemingly emanating from beneath the floor. They decide to take a look in the inn’s cellar, first by sending the driftglobe down. They can’t see anything from the top of the stairs, but they can hear something scuffling around down there, so they figure they’d best “suit up” before going to check it out. Keth also rouses Elia and drags her back to the inn with him.

Down in the inn’s cellar, they find that one of three man-sized wine barrels standing against the far wall is open slightly. And at the other end, there’s a tunnel leading down into the dark, from whence issues the faint music they heard in the inn above. But before they can go investigate, a wine bottle crashes to the floor. As Keluak sends the driftglobe in that direction, a small cloud of spores puffs out and he hears a childlike voice call out in his head, “Please don’t hurt me!”

Out comes a squat little myconid sprout that introduces itself as Stool. It’s lost and wants to go home. The PCs reckon it must have stumbled through the secret passage in back of the wine barrel and gotten stuck in the cellar. After questioning Stool about its home (a wonderful grove full of fungus!) and its parents (what are parents?), they offer to escort it home through the secret tunnel.

After traveling for what feels like forever, they come into a cavern with a bunch of larger myconids dancing an eerily silent dance. A rather uncomfortable-looking drow is dancing with them. Two moldy quaggoth things stand off to one side, while another myconid sprout stands alone, looking somewhat apprehensive.

Stool recognizes the other sprout as its friend, Rumpadump. It takes the PCs over to its friend and introduces them all. Rumpadump is shy and uncommunicative, but the PCs get the sense that it’s feeling anxious about the other mushroom people’s strange behavior. Stool explains that it’s not normal for myconids to dance like that but doesn’t seem as bothered by it as Rumpadump is.

The PCs go over and try to talk to the dancing myconids. Their leader – who introduces itself as Voosbur – welcomes them and offers to let them experience the Lady’s Dream, just like they are. The PCs decline, and a short while later, the myconids – along with the scared-looking drow – disappear into some of the large, inanimate mushrooms around the cover. The PCs are a bit taken aback by this turn of events. They take Rumpadump under their wing, though, and offer to guide it home too.

Neverlight Grove
As the PCs neared the Rumpadump and Stool’s home, they passed through several caverns filled with fungus farms being tended by adult myconids, all of whom urged them on to meet Sovereign Phylo, who had great plans for its people!

Upon entering the grove, they were taken aback by its alien beauty, with its soft, multihued radiance emanating from numerous types of glowing fungi. The scent of rot and decay hangs heavy in the humid air, and the ground is squishy underfoot. Stool and Rumpadump lead them through the “fungal wilds” to a great mound at the base of a cliff. Here the music is a bit louder and seems to be coming from somewhere beyond the plateau at the top of the cliff. Here, also, they meet the grove’s two leaders: Sovereigns Phylo and Basidia. Phylo welcomes them and thanks them for returning their wayward sprouts. It invites them to stay and explore the grove but politely asks that they avoid the plateau for now, as the Circle of Masters is preparing a surprise in the Garden of Welcome. Phylo talks at length about the “Great Seeder” and the wonderful plans “she” has to bring about paradise for the myconids of Neverlight Grove.

As Stool eagerly drags them off to show them around its home, Sovereign Basidia catches them up. It indicates that it has reservations about recent changes in the grove’s social structure. Ever since the coming of the Great Seeder, Phylo has been coming up with all sorts of “progressive” ideas, such as only letting the leaders of the various circles rapport with each other, instead of having the entire community rapport as is traditional.

Basidia proceeds to take over from Stool, guiding the PCs on a tour of the grove, introducing them to the various circle leaders and indicating which ones are on its side, and which ones have been swayed by Phylo’s assurances of a future filled with shiny happy fun times. The PCs are mostly able to tell for themselves which myconids are the mad ones, though. For instance, Calla is able to discern snatches of the Circle of Sporers’ song to the little sproutlings and it is bonkers. Keluak, meanwhile, spends a bit of time answering the Circle of Builders’ questions about “softer” architecture, despite the obvious lack of any need for such structures in the grove.

When they get to the Circle of Hunters, the leader informs them that it has a job for them, if they’re keen. Taking it as a sort of “test”, the PCs readily agree. The job is to “put down” a shambling mound that is ruining part of the wilds and also hunt and kill an otyugh that has claimed part of the wilds for its own.

The PCs find the mound with little trouble, or rather, it finds them. The mass of writhing vines and organic filth lurches up from the ground and envelops Tasklar in one fell swoop. The bard struggles desperately to free himself while his comrades hack away from the outside. Calla quickly discovers that fire is not so good against such a wet mass of organic material, so she switches to using her crossbow (and to great effect!). Tasklar manages to wriggle free before it can crush the life out of him, and together they all chop the mound into little pieces.

Next up is the otyugh, which again surprises the PCs. Two nasty spiked tentacles lash out of a pile of rotting vegetable matter, wrapping around Keth and Elia and slamming them together. Elia is knocked out but Keth continues to struggle, fighting back with every ounce of strength he has as the monster reels him in for a quick chomp. Calla sends bolts of fire into its gaping maw, then sprays fire from her fingertips, while Keluak pounds away at it with his warhammer. Keth manages to free himself and proceeds to drag Elia out of harm’s way, healing her with the power of his faith in Freya.

The monster is soon defeated and its belly searched for treasure. The carcass is then dragged back to Basidia, who emits some spores at it and informs the PCs that after one cycle (which they presume to mean 24 hours) it will rise as a spore servant to help defend the grove. In thanks, Basidia gives them each a hollowed-out mushroom gourd filled with what it claims is a medicinal liquid it has brewed itself (and which would function as a potion of greater healing once drunk) and a single, moldy scroll case containing a scroll of protection from fiends in it. Basidia then asks if the PCs would be willing to investigate the plateau. The sovereign has become increasingly concerned that Phylo has caught some kind of disease. It is also worried because the leader of the Circle of Masters, Yestabrod, hasn’t come to the leaders’ melding in some time.

The Garden of Welcome
Basidia takes the PCs to the southern terraces, where the Circle of Explorers shows them a secret way up onto the plateau. The PCs soon find that Phylo’s Garden of Welcome is something else entirely. The flowers are all humanoid creatures, buried up to their necks in muck, with fungus growing all over them. A female drow is lucid enough to call out a warning that the Demon Queen of Fungi, Zuggtmoy, has come. She asks them to put her out of her misery, which Keth is only too glad to do. He asks for Freya’s blessing in freeing as many of the poor souls as possible.

Just then a horrible monstrosity slithers into view, bearing a closer resemblance to some kind of giant larva than a myconid. It speaks with both its mouth and its spore-borne telepathy, welcoming the PCs to the garden and inviting them to join Zuggtmoy’s wedding. Several of the wretched creatures planted in the garden rise up as spore servants – including the poor drow the PCs saw with the dancing myconids – as three myconids from the Circle of Masters come to the aid of their monstrous leader as it orders an attack.

The ensuing battle is a difficult one, with the monstrous Yestabrod able to cause corpses in the garden to explode. It also proves able to absorb the essence of the trapped creatures in order to heal itself. Calla burns the horrid monsters with fire, while Keth stands back and blesses his comrades in Freya’s name. Keluak hammers away at his enemies, while Tasklar stabs with his rapier. In the end, the PCs are victorious, but at the cost of Elia’s life.

Before the PCs can mourn her loss, however, a procession of fungus creatures wends its way up onto the plateau from the cavern beyond. The procession proceeds into the Garden of Welcome, whereupon two of the creatures move to the front as though they are bride and groom. Meanwhile, some more spore servants sprout from the garden and pick up Yestabrod’s corpse, moving it about as though it were the priest conducting the wedding. At this point, the PCs receive a vision of Zuggtmoy floating in the midst of a tower, while her fungal “bridesmaids” weave her mycelium into a bridal gown and veil.

Once the vision ends, the “wedding” procession heads back down into the far cavern. The PCs feel somewhat compelled to follow. As they enter the mist-shrouded cavern, they catch sight of a colossal mushroom tower – the great Yggmorgus that the Circle of Builders’ leader had mentioned to Keluak earlier. All around it are fungus creatures and spore servants dancing and singing to some strange atonal music. The PCs realize this is the source of the music they’d heard all the way back in the inn. As they approach warily, they catch sight of a drow partially consumed by fungus. Keth quickly puts an end to his misery, but a little while later, they see his reanimated remains emerge from the fungal muck and join the party.

Going Slightly Mad
At this point, the PCs have witnessed about as much as their minds can take, and several of them start to go a bit mad. Tasklar begins to feel like he’s got itchy patches of fungus growing on him that he just can’t stop scratching at, while Keluak suffers from partial amnesia – unable to recall how he got here or who his companions are – and becomes convinced that the way out is through the mushroom tower. Keth, meanwhile, starts babbling incoherently. Calla is the only one who manages to maintain her sanity, but she is powerless to stop her companions from wandering toward the tower. As they enter, they find themselves looking up at the massive form of the Demon Queen of Fungi herself! She appears to be meditating, and her bridesmaids come rushing forward to shoo the PCs way, telling them it isn’t right to see the bride before she’s ready! Keluak brushes past them, adamant that he must ascend the tower. As he comes face-to-face with Zuggtmoy, she opens her eyes. Seeing the intruders, she emits her mind control spores, ordering them to leave at once!

As the PCs trudge back through the mad dancers, the world spins and everything goes dark … and they wake up safe at home in their beds! Except for Keth, who strangely finds himself in Calla’s bed, much to their mutual horror. Was it all just a crazy dream, brought on by the mushroom cheese sauce Kaylessa had served with dinner, which they’d followed up with perhaps one too many ales? Perhaps. Elia is still alive, for one thing, and it turns out there’s no secret passage behind the middle wine barrel in the inn’s cellar. But then what are those gourds with liquid in them doing there? And how come Calla still has that moldy scroll case Basidia gave her? And why is Tasklar still scratching at his imaginary fungal infections?

Gil is gonna be so disappointed he missed out on all that!