Into the Woods

Dramatis Personae: Calla, Keth, Sorrel (and Iriandel)
Source: “DDEX3-7 Herald of the Moon”, Princes of the Apocalypse

Prologue
It took Keluak some time to come to terms with his new identity. He spent much of that time hiding in a cave near the wood elf settlement the others were staying in. A half-orc, of all things! What a cruel twist of fate. Now he could never go home. He needed a new name. “Sorrel” would do. He needed to practice swinging his axe lower, since he was no longer so short. He hated how everyone tried not to laugh when they saw him. Those elves were doing it on purpose. Calla and Keth too. Everyone seemed to think his predicament was hilarious! Everyone except him. But he’d show them. He’d get them back somehow. Oh, how he would get them back!

Iriandel
A day or two later, Iriandel the unicorn gathered his friends together and told them that he was still working on reestablishing his connection with the forest. During his centuries of exile, the elves had dwindled in number and the heart of the forest had grown wild and dark. He wished to seek out an old friend of his, a treant name Brightleaf, who resided deep in the woods. The elves didn’t go that way anymore, tangled as it was with brambles and thorns. He feared the worst.

The PCs agreed to accompany the unicorn on the three-day journey into the Heartwood. The outer rim of the forest consisted mostly of widely-spaced pines, with a soft carpet of pine needles underfoot. They spent their first night on the edge of the Heartwood, a section of older forest with a greater variety of trees packed more closely together. The PCs all had unsettling dreams that night, and when Sorrel awoke, he felt a strange urge to eat dirt. Keth and Calla teased him a bit, much to Sorrel’s annoyance.

The Heartwood
The next day saw them penetrating the gloom of the Heartwood. Iriandel was dismayed to see that this section of the forest was indeed overgrown with brambles. After several hours of slogging their way through the thicket, they came across a small glade in the middle of which was a harrowing sight: a dead stag whose alabaster fur was matted with blood. The body of an elf lay crushed underneath. Before they could investigate any further, the ground rumbled as a mighty hill giant and its giant boar companion emerged into the clearing. The giant bellowed and raised its huge club threateningly.

Iriandel implored the PCs to take out the giant but leave the boar to him. The giant proved a formidable opponent, and Iriandel was forced to dash in and heal Sorrel several times with the magic of his horn. Outnumbered, the giant eventually fell to the ground, at which point Iriandel used his magic to calm the boar and send it trotting back into the forest. The giant had a sack. Inside, the PCs found a moldy wheel of cheese, a giant-sized waterskin (which Keth claimed for himself), and a box of turquoise animal figurines that looked quite valuable, although Keth accidentally broke one of them.

The PCs turned their attention back to the dead stag and elf. It looked like they had been crushed by a big rock, perhaps thrown by the giant. The elf had a magic potion and a delicate magic scroll inscribed on a leaf, which Calla spirited away before Keth could accidentally break it too. It turned out to be a charm to protect against plant monsters. At Iriandel’s urging, the PCs spent a bit of time building a temporary grave for the elf and his mount before pressing on.

The next morning, Calla woke up with an irresistible urge to eat the moldy cheesy, which she promptly confiscated from Keth, who was incapacitated by uncontrollable fits of laughter, screaming, and weeping. This time it was Sorrel’s turn to tease the others. Iriandel, however, was becoming more and more concerned with his companions’ behavior. Something was seriously wrong in his forest! The sooner he got to the bottom of it, the better!

Brightleaf
Eventually the companions came to a grove surrounded by a wall of thorns. In the middle of the grove stood a solitary elm. Iriandel teleported himself and the three PCs into the middle of the grove to avoid the thorns. The unicorn strode forward and called out to Brightleaf. The ancient treant began to stir. Over the course of the painfully slow conversation that ensued, it became glaringly obvious that Brightleaf was completely mad. And the source of that madness was most likely the four vine blights crawling around in his branches, corrupting the treant’s mind with mad whispers.

Brightleaf was adamant that there was nothing wrong with his forest. In fact, he proclaimed himself to be the god of the forest. And thanks to the machinations of the blights, he didn’t appear to recognize Iriandel as his old friend but rather regarded him as a rival come to usurp his position. With no time to lose, Calla whipped out her tree feather token and indicated for Iriandel to come forward with her as she called out to Brightleaf that the unicorn had come with a gift.

As she placed the token on the ground, a mighty oak sprang up in front of Brightleaf. This gesture may have worked, had Sorrel not decided to grab hold of one of the oak’s branches and ride it up as it soared to its full height of 60 feet. The sight of a heavily armed and armored half-orc grinning at him from only a few feet away was enough to get Brightleaf’s hackles up. He uttered some words of primeval magic and caused both the oak in front of him and another tree in his glade to animate. Ordering them to destroy the intruders, he then picked up a rock and hurled it at the unicorn, who was nearly crushed by the blow.

Sorrel tried to leap from the animated oak into Brightleaf’s branches, with the intention of attacking the vine blights, but all he succeeded in doing was falling out of the tree. At this point, the vine blights dropped out of Brightleaf’s branches and used their own magic to cover the ground around the treant with grasping vines. They then made to flee into the forest.

Fortunately, the PCs managed to keep the animated trees occupied so that Iriandel could rush in and break the enchantment on his friend. Although Brightleaf tried to avoid the touch of the unicorn’s horn, he was too slow and soon found his mind clearing. With Iriandel and Brightleaf’s permission, Calla gleefully turned the fleeing vine blights to ash.

At last Brightleaf remembered his old friend the unicorn. He apologized to the companions and thanked them for clearing his mind. He promised Iriandel that he would work hard to help restore the forest to its former glory. Brightleaf then invited everyone to stay the night in his grove. The PCs listened enthralled as the treant and the unicorn traded tales from the olden days, when the two shared their guardianship of the forest.

The Return
In the morning, Calla awoke feeling absolutely certain that she needed to get as far away from Brightleaf as she possibly could. Sorrel, as well, seemed to be suffering from a case of extreme paranoia, although it was unclear whether this was the forest’s doing or merely some lingering existential dread from his transformation. Nevertheless, the companions took their leave of Brightleaf and hurried back through the woods towards the elven settlement.

Though they managed to resist the effects of the disturbing dreams during the first night of the journey, on the second night it was all just too much for their mortal minds to take. Calla soon found that she could no longer take anything seriously. The more serious the situation, the funnier she found it to be. Meanwhile, Keth came to the conclusion that the only way for him to be able to stay sane was to be drunk all the time. Last but not least, Sorrel’s paranoia took root as he became convinced that everyone was judging him all the time. Clearly curing Brightleaf had not had an immediate effect on the state of the forest. Perhaps something else was the cause and Brightleaf merely another victim? Iriandel was troubled, but he said nothing to his friends.

Back at the elven settlement, the PCs were paid a visit by Hroom*. The treant was overjoyed to hear the good news about Brightleaf. He also wanted his friends to try a special concoction he’d been brewing. They all agreed to have a taste and found it surprisingly invigorating and nourishing. In fact, it caused them all to grow taller! It had the most profound effect on Calla, who grew to be 6 feet tall, while Sorrel further increased his newfound height to a total of 6 feet 5 inches! Keth felt like something was missing, so he acquired some elven wine and mixed it into the brew. This caused him to shoot up to 6 feet 6 inches, at which point he decided all was right with the world, as he was once again taller than Keluak (now Sorrel). Hroom gave the PCs five vials of his brew to take home with them.

Pebbleton
On the way home to Larchwood, the PCs stopped in Pebbleton. Keth offered one vial of Hroom’s brew to the mayor, who quite liked the taste and wanted to know where he could get more. This was exactly what Keth had hoped, as he was aiming to improve the relationship between the people of Pebbleton and the creatures of the neighboring forest. The PCs then retired to the common hall, where Keth struck up a rousing drinking song while Calla challenged Sorrel to a drinking contest and won, much to the warrior’s chagrin!

Before leaving Pebbleton, the PCs decided to have a bit of a wander around in the countryside. While exploring, they came across a pair of hill giants sitting outside a cave, playing some sort of game using different colored rocks. One of them appeared to be getting rather frustrated. Sorrel’s blind and unreasoning hatred of his enemies and Keth’s obsession with winning glory in battle drove the two half-orcs to charge in amongst the boulders, while Calla watched with amusement from a safe distance.

The PCs were brought to an abrupt halt, however, when the frustrated giant pointed at them and declared that he wanted to play the game with them instead of the other giant. As the battlelust cleared from Keth’s eyes, he sat down on the other side of the game board and listened as the giant explained the rules. They were to play best two out of three and bet 100 sp each time. Keth won twice in a row. The giant looked like he was going to explode but he managed to hold his temper and declared that he would play the other half-orc now. He insisted that Sorrel bet his magic axe, and in return, he pulled a large amethyst out of his sack and placed it next to the axe. Sorrel proceeded to also win twice in a row, which was too much for the giant. He grabbed at the axe, but Sorrel was too quick, so he went for his club instead.

Chuckling to herself at the unsurprising result, Calla decided to launch a fireball into the midst of the boulders. But she was laughing too hard and let her companions get caught in the blast. One of the giants moved away and started hurling rocks, while the other played whack-a-mole with his club. It was a hard battle, but the PCs were ultimately victorious and the two giants ultimately dead. A thorough search of their sacks and reeking cave lair produced lots of coins (including some rare gold and platinum pieces!) and that beautiful amethyst.

The PCs decided to spend the night in the giants’ cave, where Calla challenged Keth to a drinking contest. She won again, much to the cleric’s chagrin. In the morning, they headed back to Pebbleton to do some more drinking in anticipation of the journey back to Larchwood.

 

*If you recall, Hroom sprang from a magic bean that the PCs planted in the middle of Larchwood’s market square. Keth later took him to see Iriandel, thinking the two creatures might become friends. Hroom has been hanging out in Iriandel’s neck of the woods ever since.

The Quick and the Dead

Dramatis Personae: Calla, Keluak, Keth
Source: “DDEX3-1 Harried in Hillsfar”, homebrew

Part I: The Quick
With Gil and Tasklar busy with family, Calla, Keth and Keluak decided to enjoy some quiet time in Dockalong before the long journey back to Larchwood. While relaxing in the inn with some cool beers, they were approached by a scholarly elf who introduced herself as Lady Ineddra. She said that Sheriff Savil had recommended them to her. When she asked the PCs if they could be discrete, Keth accidentally knocked everyone’s tankards onto the floor as he gestured in affirmation. The elf winced but sat down. “I need help looking for my brother, Seppremis. I dare not take this to the authorities, as it is somewhat embarrassing for my family. As you may know, this area is dotted with elven ruins. I believe that one of those ruins may have been a fey’ri outpost, and I believe that my brother may be trying to find it.”

When the PCs stared at her blankly, Lady Ineddra explained that the fey’ri were “foolish elves who consorted with demons and devils a long time ago”. She feared that her brother’s investigations would lead to nothing but misery. She offered to pay the PCs 1,000 sp in gems if they would go find out what her brother was doing. She gave them Seppremis’ last known address – a rothé ranch on the outskirts of Sowsville – and they were on their way.

Almost as soon as they’d arrived, they knew something was not right. The ranch was deserted, and the fields behind the house were dotted with dead animals, some of whom had been dismembered. There was quite a bit of blood in the barn, particularly around a trapdoor in the middle of the floor, under which they found a shaft with fresh wooden rungs staked into the side.

The shaft dropped below the limit of Keth and Keluak’s darkvision, so the dwarf volunteered to go first. Several hundred feet down, Keluak found part of an old mine shaft, crafted by dwarven hands, leading south. The floor was sticky with blood. As the others descended, Keluak lit up his driftglobe so Calla could see.

Heading south, the PCs found that the passageway ran for nearly a mile before ending in a bend leading to a large room. Keluak surmised that they were now under the woods to the south of the ranch. In the room ahead, they found a gauntlet of six statues – three statues depicting elves to the north, and three depicting demons to the south. Each pair of statues shared some features. For instance, the first pair wielded wicked swords, while the second pair held spiders and snakes in their hands. The last pair, both female, wielded scourges and arcane wands. In addition, the walls of the room feature delicated elven carvings and other stonework that nevertheless depicted shockingly terrible scenes.

At that point, the PCs noticed some writing on the floor. Someone had recently translated an Elvish phrase: next to some Elvish lettering etched into the foor, someone had written in Common with chalk: “To pass, you must speak the titles of each of the three, divided by three.” Next to that was a long string of letters: TLLHOAERDSDYLVAAEGYNOEONRMY.

Between the three of them, the PCs soon puzzled out the names of each pair of statues: The Slayer, Lord Venom, and Lady Agony. Keluak went first, speaking the names as he passed through the statues. Much to his surprise (and relief), each pair animated and bowed slightly as he passed. Keth and Calla quickly followed.

From here, the tunnel turned north again and quickly ended in another room decorated with ghastly depictions of elves and demons comingling. A blood-stained mosaic depicting the infinite layers of the Abyss with breathtaking and terrible beauty covered the floor. Amidst the carvings, nine gaping demonic maws adorned the walls, each one marked with a number from one to nine. While the maws were large enough for a person to climb into them, they were filled with magical darkness obscuring the other side.

Keluak decided to send his driftglobe through one to see what would happen. It got spat back out – lights off – and the maw closed with a horrible grating sound of stone on stone. Keth then tried tossing an iron spike through another. It too got spat back out, more violently this time (causing Keth to have to duck), and that maw also closed up. Thinking that maybe the maws didn’t like magic or metal, Keth broke off the metal tip from one of his crossbow bolts and chucked that into a maw. Nothing happened, so he chucked the metal bit in. When nothing happened again, Keluak decided to climb in himself. Meanwhile, Calla was busy obsessing over cleaning the blood off the floor with her magic.

The dwarf was nearly overcome by horrific visions of the Abyss before being flung back into the room, the maw closing up behind him. Keth decided to have a go, choosing maw #8 at random. The half-orc emerged into a short, narrow passageway leading to another chamber filled with strange lights and bubbling sounds. In the middle of the room, between four pillars of glowing purple stone around which were lashed several dead humans, sat a large slab of purplish stone on which a hideous monstrosity – a human body with the head of a rothé sewn onto its neck – lay chained. Behind the slab stood a hooded, blood-drenched figure, cackling maniacally. As soon as the figure saw Keth, it called out, “Perfect! When my creation rises, you will be its first meal!”

At that point, some vaguely humanoid lumps of flesh each crawled out of the bodies chained to the pillars. At the same time, several baboon-like demons moved towards the passageway threateningly.

Not knowing what was going on, Keluak and Calla climbed through the maw to see what had happened to Keth. They came through just in time to see the fleshy demons climb up onto the stone slab and be absorbed into the body chained to the slab. As Keluak pushed past his friend, two of the baboon demons moved forward to attack, one flatulating a sickly green gas as it approached.

Over the course of the ensuing battle, Calla attempted to set the room and its occupants on fire while Keluak hacked away at the baboon demons with his magic handaxe. Unfortunately, every time the fleshy demons either got absorbed into the body on the slab or were destroyed by the PCs, more appeared a few moments later. Same with the baboon demons. Whenever one was cut down, another would climb out of one of the cauldrons filled with body parts bubbling away in the corners of the room. Kel went and knocked one over as Calla finished off the mad elf with a trio of well-aimed fire rays.

But this did not stop the ritual! More fleshy demons crawled out of the dead humans and up onto the slab. Even as the mad elf breathed his last, the body on the slab grew and twitched and transformed into a demonic minotaur. It broke its bonds and charged Keth, who had summoned up some spiritual falcons to guard him. The minotaur cared not for such things and bowled the half-orc over onto Calla with a mighty blow of its horns. The creature was well and truly outmatched, however, and the PCs took it down without too much trouble.

They then spent a bit of time “cleansing” the room before heading back to Dockalong. Lady Ineddra was saddened to hear that her predictions had come true. Nothing good *had* come of her brother’s meddling. She thanked the PCs, gave them their gems, and informed them that she would arrange to have the site reconsecrated.

Part II: The Dead
It was time to say goodbye to Dockalong. The three PCs told Gil and Tasklar that they’d see them back in Larchwood and off they went. A few days into the journey, a thunderstorm forced them to seek shelter in an old abandoned temple. In the night, during Keluak’s watch, the dwarf heard a faint murmur and then everything went silent. He could no longer hear the patter of rain on the roof, or the rumble of thunder in the distance, or the snoring of the half-orc sleeping behind the altar. He turned to go and wake Keth up, but as he did so, a flash of lightning revealed a figure standing in the ruined doorway. Although the figure appeared to be that of a gnoll, with a twist of fear in his gut, the dwarf knew at once that it was actually the revenant.

With a silent roar, the creature dashed forward and fixed Keluak with its vengeful glare, freezing the dwarf in place. It then proceeded to pound him into the ground with its fists. At this point, Calla woke up, having subconsciously noted the sudden lack of ambient noise. As the dwarf battled for his life in front of her, she soon found herself under attack – another gnoll stood outside in the rain, firing arrows through the broken windows. She ducked behind a broken pew, trying desperately to figure out what she could do to help. Then it occurred to her that the magical silence most likely wouldn’t be filling up the whole building, so she crept down the aisle until she could suddenly hear normally again.

At this point, the dwarf lay dying on the floor. But he was not yet ready to give up the fight. He struggled away from the light and, with a silent gasp, found himself back in the land of the living [Kel’s player rolled a natural 20 on a death save]. Jumping to his feet, Keluak attempted to hold the revenant at bay while simultaneously knocking some of the debris atop the altar onto Keth. This woke up the half-orc, who was confused by the lack of sound. He tried to shout at his friends but couldn’t even hear himself speak inside his own head! Then he saw the revenant. And then he saw Calla under siege from the gnoll archer. He leapt past the revenant and ran to Calla, leaving Keluak to die as the revenant pounded him down again.

Calla, meanwhile, was exchanging fire with the gnoll. As the revenant came stalking down the aisle toward Keth, its wounds healing up before their eyes, she shot flames out of her hands at it. To her surprise, this seemed to stop the revenant’s regeneration momentarily. It had eyes only for Keth, though. The half-orc cried out to Freya to save him and summoned up her spiritual falcons. Their radiance also seemed to hurt the revenant quite well, but it was not enough. Keth was hurting badly, and then the revenant struck a mighty blow, killing the half-orc instantly. At which point the revenant’s mission was complete. A look of peace spread across its face as it slowly collapsed onto the rain-soaked floor. The gnoll wisely made itself scarce at that point, leaving Calla to look around her in disbelief. What the hell had just happened? The boys had told her about the revenant, but had they really been *that* unprepared to deal with it?! She could scarcely believe it.

With a sigh, she went and fetched the donkey and dragged the boys’ bodies over to it. She thought about taking them to see Iriandel, but the unicorn was too far away. She recalled passing through a city on the way to Dockalong, though. While the miracle of raising the dead was a rare thing indeed, it was not completely unheard of. Perhaps someone in the city would be able to help her restore her idiotic friends to life. As the morning sun burned away the clouds, she guided the heavily-laden donkey back onto the road and headed for the city.

Once inside, she discovered that, while there were no miracles to be had at the local Septry, they did happen to have a crypt consecrated with a gentle repose effect. For a small fee, she could leave her companions’ bodies there while she searched for a more permanent solution. Ten days and a considerable amount of sweet-talking led Calla to an enclave of halflings, where an old priestess of the Sisterhood claimed to be able to raise the dead. For a price, of course. She warned Calla that no one was ever the same after being brought back. Resurrection had a way of causing people to lose a bit of themselves.

Calla was nevertheless determined. She wasn’t going to let Keth stay dead! They’d been through too much together for that. Besides, who else was she going to take her anger out on and get away with it? She’d hurt Gil once before and had sworn never to do it again, and she wasn’t about to do the same to Tasklar. And Kel wasn’t around for her to accidentally-on-purpose burn his beard off. Dammit! Luckily, the half-orc – dumb as he was – had had the foresight to convert most of their party loot into easy-to-carry gems. Handing over the vast bulk of their accumulated wealth to the halfling priestess, Calla was relieved to find that the woman was true to her word. After a bit of religious mumbo-jumbo, Keth was back in the land of the living, though he seemed a bit different somehow. Calla wasn’t sure what exactly had changed, but she was sure she’d find out soon enough. So long as he’d learned his lesson about not attacking people after they tried to surrender …

As the PCs did not have the funds to raise Keluak as well, they paid the halfling priestess to cast gentle repose on his body and then carted it all the way back up past Larchwood to the ancient woods over which Iriandel presided. The unicorn agreed to help so long as they agreed to undertake a quest in payment. The duo had no qualms about that, and so Iriandel took them to see some elf druid friends of his. The druids called upon their ancient nature magic and crafted Keluak a new body for his soul to inhabit. They called upon his soul to return to this world, and as Keluak opened his eyes and drew in his first breath, he was stunned to find that he’d been brought back to life in the body of a half-orc!