The Amber Temple, Part I

In which our heroes seek the means to raise Berrian’s sister from the dead.

Dramatis Personae: Berrian, Karth, Tasklar (and Anton)
Source: “Tsolenka Pass” and “The Amber Temple” (Curse of Strahd)

Prologue
After Eligos discovered the location of the Amber Temple, the heroes set about putting their affairs in order before setting off on the lengthy journey to the distant Balinok mountains. The kindly sage even procured some cold weather gear for them before they left the city.

Tasklar returned to Aunty Wormtooth to see if she could restore the eye he’d lost (again) in the fight against the mind flayer. “Third time’s the charm!” she cheerily remarked as she produced a magical eye from among the many oddities cluttering her cottage. Not only did this eye restore the bard’s vision, but it also allowed him to see as well in the dark as his elf and half-orc companions could!

Aunty Wormtooth asked for nothing in return, and as Tasklar set off to rejoin his companions, he began to feel like the fatted calf of legend.

Tsolenka Pass
After a journey of many months, the companions arrived in a mountain valley. In a small village they acquired the services of a local hunter and wilderness guide named Anton Barthos. He knew of the Amber Temple, though he’d never been there himself. It was said to be haunted. He agreed to take them up into the mountains.

After some time trudging through the whirling snow and icy mountain winds, the group came to a narrow point on the mountainside where the trail was guarded by a formidable gate fashioned from black stone. The top was line with spikes and two statues of vulture-like demons. The heroes recalled the last time they’d encountered such a statue:  in the mind flayer’s museum of cursed magical curios. It had come to life and attacked them!

A portcullis stood closed in the middle of the gate, and through it they could see a flickering curtain of green flames! Beyond the gate walls, they could make out a squat tower of white stone, its battlements ringed with tall golden statues of fierce-looking warrior women.

Although the portcullis rose of its own accord as the group drew near, they did not like the look of the flames. Tasklar chose to walk up the side of the wall using Gil’s slippers of spider climbing, while Karth leapt up using Gil’s ring of jumping. Tasklar lowered a rope so that Berrian and Anton could climb up.

Tossing the rope over the far side, Karth proceeded to climb down. However, as soon as he’d thrown himself over the wall, a horrid grinding sound heralded the animation of the vrock statues atop the gate. A fierce fight ensued, in which the vulture demons repeatedly attempted – and failed – to grab any of the heroes and throw them off the cliff. The heroes, meanwhile, clustered together for protection and took swipes at the demons with their weapons whenever they drew close enough. Anton, meanwhile, impressed the heroes with his ability to vanish into the swirling snow, only to reappear somewhere else to let loose his bow at the frustrated demons.

It wasn’t long before both demons were dead. The heroes turned to look at their surroundings on the other side of the gate. They were somewhat surprised to find a dead body lying in the snow. Upon closer inspection, the body bore an uncanny resemblance to Berrian, but without any of his belongings. Much to their revulsion, when Karth prodded the body, the flesh fell away and dissolved, leaving nothing but the skeleton and its ragged clothes.

Leaving the body, the group went to inspect the tower. The entrance was barred, so Karth went leaping up to the roof, followed swiftly by the wall-walking Tasklar. As soon as the half-orc set foot in the snow on the roof, a voice on the wind warned him to begone. The snow swirled together, forming the shapes of six thin women who immediately proceeded to attack Karth with icy fingers.

The half-orc leapt away, leaving Tasklar to deal with the snow maidens himself. He tossed a few fireballs at them and they soon dissipated. Karth returned with another mighty leap to inspect the rooftop. There was a trapdoor leading down in the center. And several ancient skeletons dressed in guard uniforms lying half-buried in the snow. Under one particularly deep snowdrift, the half-orc found what appeared to be a thighbone that had been fashioned into a mace. Holding it in his hands, he could feel its power surging into him.

Yanking open the trapdoor, Karth descended into the tower, followed quickly by Tasklar. They hurried down to the front door and removed the bar so that Berrian and Anton could join them. There was little of interest in the tower, aside from the head of a dire wolf mounted above one the chimney on the upper floor.

The group took a short rest, and Karth took the time to examine the thighbone. Attuning himself to its magic, he discovered that it functioned as a mace of disruption, a weapon designed to be used against undead creatures.

The heroes then decided to push on. Around the side of the mountain they came to an old bridge. As Berrian moved forward to inspect the bridge more closely, Karth turned just in time to see a massive goat with bloodstained horns come charging down the mountainside. Much to his chagrin, he was unable to avoid it, and it bucked him off the side of the mountain. He went tumbling head over heels for quite a while before coming to rest on a ledge, deep in a sea of fog.

The burly half-orc picked himself up and then used the ring of jumping to get himself back up the mountain. When he returned to the path, he discovered that the others had already slain the beast. Anton explained that it was a legendary beast known as “Bloodhorn”. Karth decided to skin it. While he was doing so, Anton suggested that they return to the tower and rest there for the night, as the day was drawing to a close.

During the night, while Karth was on watch, he was sure he could hear, at one point, what sounded flapping wings above the ever-present wind … quite massive wings, in fact. He chose not to go and look, and in the morning, there was no evidence that anything had been outside the tower in the night.

The Amber Temple
After a light breakfast, the heroes took to the bridge. Though it was cracked in places, it seemed sturdy enough, and nothing untoward happened as they crossed it. From there, it was another few miles along a twisting track that took them higher up into the mountains before at least they reached a plateau beside a cliff. In the cliff’s face someone had carved a massive facade, complete with alcoves housing huge statues of faceless priests made entirely of amber. In the center of this structure yawned a dark passageway descending into the mountain. At long last, they had arrived!

Slipping down the icy steps in the entrance, the heroes allowed their eyes to adjust to the dark. They caught sight of arrow slits on either side of the hall. On the other side of these slits were empty guard rooms, though the one on the right did house a robed skeleton in one corner. No entrances into these rooms could be discerned, however.

Moving on, the heroes found themselves on a wide balcony overlooking a vaulted temple. Two sets of stairs at either end of the balcony led down into the darkness. The walls of this temple were glazed in amber. To the left, a set of amber double doors stood closed, a warm but wavering glow emanating through them from the far side. To the right, another set of doors stood open, darkness beckoning from beyond.

The companions chose to move to the right first, helping each other move soundlessly across the dusty floor. Peering through the open doors, they found a side room with a strange hole dug through the floor. The room below glowed faintly with a pale green light. A square alcove to the south housed a single door.

Sneaking over to the door, the heroes opened it to find another square room filled with broken bits of timber. Karth surmised that they had once been bunks and that this had most likely been a guard room of some kind. Closely inspecting the walls, the heroes soon found a secret door leading into the guard room with the robed skeleton. Clutched in its bony hand was a wand. It turned out to be a wand of secrets. They tossed it in the bag of holding along with the other one, sure it might come in handy at some point in this temple of secrets.

Back in the side room, the others watched with some dismay as Karth decided to toss an everburning torch down the hole. This disturbed some creatures that were waiting down there, and up rose three human skulls, wreathed in green flames! A furious battle followed, in which mighty magics were thrown about, and Karth leapt up and wrestled one of the skulls to the ground so Berrian could smash it with his sword.

The heroes nearly lost Anton before all three skulls were smashed. Their guide was most humbled and impressed with Berrian’s magical healing abilities. He had never seen such power before in his life.

Unfortunately, as the companions watched, the skulls slowly began to reform. This triggered some memories: these were flameskulls! Undead guardians that could only be permanently destroyed by having the magic that held them together dispelled. Tasklar cast dispel magic on one of the crushed skulls and it stopped rejuvenating.

Tasklar then decided to descend the hole to see what was down below. He found a small room with a red marble floor and three alcoves in the east, south, and west walls. A single amber door stood to the north. In each alcove stood a large block of amber. In the flickering light of the torch, it almost seemed as if a thin wisp of smoky darkness writhed inside each block.

At that point, a strange voice in the bard’s head urged him to reach out and touch the blocks. He found himself unable to disobey. He was offered several “dark gifts”. He accepted two of them before climbing the rope back to the floor above. His companions were horrified to find that Tasklar had undergone a hideous transformation while in the chamber below: his one normal eye now glowed a sickly yellow, and one side of his face drooped horribly, as if he had suffered a stroke.

Getting over their shock, the group opted to go back out onto the balcony … but without warning, a bolt of lightning shot out of the darkness shrouding the temple’s vast interior. To everyone’s surprise, it flashed from one to another until all four of them burned with great pain!

Anton was down again. Karth grabbed him and they ran back through the open doors and took shelter in the ruined guard room, barricading the door as best they could with the broken bits of timber. After receiving more healing, Anton awoke and proceeded to cycle through fits of laughter, screaming, and weeping for several minutes before his mind became his own again.

Berrian began to wonder what kind of place this was. Would he really find the power to restore Bhára to life here? And if he did, what would it cost him?

The Illithid, Part II

In which our heroes seek to destroy their mind flayer nemesis once and for all.

Dramatis Personae: Berrian, Tasklar (plus Karth and Gil?)
Source: “The Hall of Harsh Reflections” (Dungeon 127)

NB. This was a bonus session I arranged at the last minute. I once again only had Berrian and Tasklar’s players but they managed things much better than last time.


Help Wanted
Berrian awoke to find himself safe. Karth had rescued him. The big half-orc had even managed to corral the befuddled Tasklar. They were hiding out in the safehouse Dorn the watchman had arranged for them.

Berrian insisted they go and find Eligos. They trudged over to the sage’s mansion, where the aged elven manservant informed them that his master was away on their business. He reluctantly allowed them to wait in the parlor, however, where he kept a close eye on newcomer Karth.

When Eligos returned toward evening, he was surprised to find the PCs waiting for him. They gave him a thorough recounting of their interactions with the doppelgangers and the mind flayer. The sage was genuinely concerned that such creatures were causing problems in his city and offered to extend what help he could. He offered his home to them for the night, as it was warded against magical intrusion and would thus be safer than the Crooked House, where the mind flayer’s minions had already found them twice.

Research
After dinner, Eligos summoned Berrian to his study. He had some good news! He had managed to find a journal that had belonged to an old archmage name Exethanter. The mage had written about discovering the existence of a remote temple that some well-intentioned wizards had built long ago. Dedicated to a lost god of secrets, they’d meant it to be a hidden vault to contain their collection of “vestiges” (the remnants of dead, malevolent entities). Exethanter wrote that he intended to find the temple in order to unlock its secrets.

Eligos was able to establish that the archmage had set off on a journey from which he had never returned. He did not know if Exethanter had found the temple, but he was fairly confident he could locate it with a bit more time. Berrian thanked the sage and encouraged him to continue the search.

As Berrian turned to leave, Eligos asked him if his friends were all right. One of them, the bard, seemed to be rather befuddled, and the half-orc seemed very attached to that axe. Berrian explained that Tasklar had lost his memory. He also said he was suspicious that Karth’s axe was cursed. Eligos offered to help on the condition that Berrian convince the half-orc to let him touch him while casting a spell.

Berrian succeed and Eligos was able to successfully break Karth’s attachment to the cursed axe. The sage then offered to hide it away somewhere for safekeeping. The PCs were most grateful.

Fourth Time’s the Charm
In the morning, Tasklar awoke feeling somewhat refreshed. He still couldn’t remember much about the past few days, but he was fairly sure that his lesser restoration spell might help. He gave it a try and was pleased when all his lost memories come flooding back! Well, until he remembered seeing Galindan getting his brain eaten by the mind flayer, at least …

Eligos offered to provide the PCs with a few minor magics that might be of use: a scroll of protection against aberrations, a potion of lightning resistance, and a potion of psychic resistance. Tasklar took the scroll, since the other two expected to engage the mind flayer in melee, while Berrian took the lightning resistance potion and Karth the psychic one. Eligos wished them good luck, mentioning that, should they be succeed, he would be interested in getting his hands on the mind flayer’s collection of books and its notes.

On their way back to the sewers, none other than Gil found them on the street! He looked completely unharmed and claimed that he had managed to escape all on his own. The others were somewhat dubious, and Berrian quizzed Gil by asking about his wife. When Gil assured them that he had no wife, they were convinced it really was him. He agreed to accompany them back into the mind flayer’s lair a fourth time.

They succeeded in creeping past the rejuvenated naga, which appeared be sleeping, and made their way across the drow cave. They saw the three surviving prisoners sitting around looking dejected on the other side of the prison grating but decided to leave them for now. Pausing at the threshold of the cavern with the mind flayer’s symbol on the floor, Tasklar decided to cast dispel magic in case the magical acid-spraying trap had been reset. Sure enough, it had, and his spell power was enough to deactivate it.

Surprise!
As Karth made to smash open the marble doors again, the three prisoners (the elven craftsman, the surviving barmaid, and the surviving merchant) suddenly showed up in their midst and started beating them up. Though Tasklar took quite a nasty beating, Berrian used his mark of healing to keep him up, while Karth flew into a rage and started hacking away at their attackers.

As the elven craftsman fell, with one of Gil’s crossbow bolts in his eye, his form shifted into that of a doppelganger! The game was up! The barmaid was the next to fall, and she too turned out to be a doppelganger. The merchant, in desperation, shifted into the form of a young street urchin, begging them not to hurt him. Berrian struggled, unable to harm the creature, even though he knew it wasn’t really a child. The deception only fueled Karth’s rage, however. “How dare you impersonate an innocent child!” he roared, as he cut the creature down. Spitting on the doppelganger’s corpse, he then turned to see where Gil had gone off to …

The rogue popped back into a view a moment later, having gone to scout ahead in the lair, and urged his fellows to hurry. No time for resting! The longer they hung around, the more time the mind flayer would have to prepare. The others agree and hurried after him. Gil suggested they split up, with the warriors taking the long ramp from the museum, while he and Tasklar went to the balcony beyond the scrying room.

Karth and Berrian drank their potions, then ran down the passage. They shivered as they noted the disturbing murals on the walls, depicting mind flayers marching across the world under a sunless sky. The mind flayers’ ultimate goal, perhaps?

Stepping into the lair, the warriors discovered that the last octopin was waiting on the wall nearby. They backed up into the passage, but it followed and attempted to paralyze Karth with its eye ray. The big half-orc shrugged it off, then Berrian had the idea of casting earth tremor so it would affect the wall instead of the floor. This worked, knocking the octopin onto the floor. The two warriors quickly finished it off.

Meanwhile, the mind flayer laughed. “Back for more, eh? I relish the thought of devouring your brains. Especially yours, Berrian the elf!” He then cast mirror image on himself.

Betrayal!
Suddenly, Berrian heard Tasklar cry out and looked up to the balcony in time to see Gil dashing away, a bloody dagger in his hand!

As “Gil” taunted Tasklar, the shocked bar retaliated by casting a fireball into the scrying chamber. “Gil” just laughed as he avoided the worst of the blast, mocking him for his weak power. But just then, Berrian showed up at the door, having raced back up the ramp and through the museum and laboratory. The angry elf hit “Gil” with three scorching rays, causing him to screech in pain and run up onto the ceiling.

Tasklar shot his cousin down, and as his body fell, it morphed into that of another doppelganger! This creature had all of Gil’s stuff and, seemingly, all of Gil’s memories! What had happened to the real Gil?!

The Final Showdown
Meanwhile Karth had made to follow Berrian but found himself trapped inside an invisible bubble, the mind flayer’s alien laughter echoing inside his skull. The mind flayer then tried to dominate him, but Karth called upon Tasklar’s inspiring words and shrugged off the magic. This also meant that he was free of the invisible walls. He charged back up the ramp and around to the scrying chamber.

The PCs took a moment to catch their breaths and down a few healing potions, the Berrian misty stepped from the balcony onto the monolith to engage the mind flayer and his illusory duplicates. Tasklar swiftly followed, bringing Karth with him via dimension door. Though they managed to eliminate the mind flayer’s duplicates, the creature just laughed and misty stepped over to the balcony, drawing upon the power of the monolith to heal himself as he did so.

Berrian stepped off the monolith and floated gently to the floor, thanks to his ring of feather falling. Tasklar attempted to follow by climbing down the side, but it proved to be too smooth and he fell the full 40 feet to the floor. Karth, meanwhile, was in a rage again and decided just to leap off into the pool, suffering very little damage in the process.

As the mind flayer then teleported back to the top of the monolith, Karth roared in frustration and proceeded to start attacking the monolith itself. Unfortunately, he couldn’t even put a chip in its smooth surface!

Tasklar wondered if he could disrupt its power with dispel magic but he wasn’t strong enough to affect it. He made to run away but found himself being telekinetically lifted up into the air instead. He fired a few spells at the mind flayer, then found himself falling back to the floor as the enemy turned its attention to Karth again.

The half-orc, in his extreme frustration, had decided to start attacking the wriggling tadpole creatures in the pool. The mind flayer clearly did not like this, as the PCs could hear its screams of rage in their minds. It switched its telekinesis over to Karth and left him out of the pool, pulling him all the way up to the ceiling, 80 feet up, where he let the half-orc go.

Karth hit the ground with a splat and stopped moving. Berrian rushed over to heal him using his dragonmark. The mindflayer then hit Karth with a confusion spell and the poor half-orc found himself crawling over to the wall and banging his head against it stupidly. Berrian shot some fire bolts at the mind flayer, then he joined Tasklar in the pool, where the bard was busy firing eldritch blasts at the tadpoles.

Unfortunately for the mind flayer, it was running out of spell power. In desperation to save its little colony, it made the mistake of coming down to the floor. Berrian and Tasklar both moved to engage it in melee, with Tasklar even pulling out his rapier! At that moment, Karth shook off his confusion and came back into the fray with a roar. The PCs hacked and slashed and stabbed … and then the mind flayer telepathically cried “You haven’t seen the last of me yet!” and vanished.

Berrian was pretty sure that the creature had plane shifted away and wouldn’t be coming back any time soon, so the heroes dusted themselves off, slaughtered the rest of the tadpoles, then set about looting the mind flayer’s private study. They found a ledger written in Undercommon, a locked chest full of bags of money and gems, and a familiar starry cloak that gave Berrian the sudden realization that they had just been fighting the same mind flayer that had been behind all the chaos in Brindinford! No wonder!

Hurrying back to the scrying chamber, they relieved the doppelganger’s corpse of all of Gil’s things, then stuffed as much stuff as they could from the mind flayer’s macabre museum and laboratory into the bag of holding before sneaking back past the naga and heading back to the surface.

They headed straight for Eligos, who thanked them for their services to the city and paid them a hefty sum for the confiscated books and sundries. He also offered to help them sell or trade some of the magic items they had obtained but didn’t want to keep, like the cursed axe and the wondrous figurine that could turn into an evil nightmare. They decided to keep the petrified pseudodragon, though, in case they found a way to restore it to life.

Now they just had to decide whether to go back to the Sodden Hold and root out the rest of the doppelgangers or not …

The Illithid, Part I

In which our heroes go head-to-head against a brain-eating alien mastermind.

Dramatis Personae: Berrian, Tasklar (plus Karth, Gil, and Galindan)
Source: “The Hall of Harsh Reflections” (Dungeon 127)

NB. I only had two players for this session, but they were given permission to run Karth and Gil as well. I gave them a choice of two out of Karth, Gil, Galindan and Dorn. They started off with just Karth and Galindan, but later swapped Karth out for Gil …


Round 2

After the PCs revived him, a grateful Dorn led them to a safehouse where they were able to get a good night’s rest without interruption. On the way, they collected Tasklar from the Crooked House, as they did not feel it was safe to leave him there alone. In the morning, Gil suddenly remembered that he had something personal to attend to, while Dorn still needed some time to recover … so Berrian, Karth, Tasklar, and Bhára’s lover, Galindan, headed back into the sewers to delve deeper into the illithid’s lair.

As they passed through the naga’s lair, they caught sight of its ghostly form flitting in and out of sight. It was in the process of reforming, but in its current state could neither affect them nor be affected. They left it alone and moved on to the drow cave. Though the mage had survived their last attack, he was nowhere to be found.

Karth went up and searched the alcoves on the ledge. One contained a shrine decked out in spider motifs with a jade statuette of a strange spider/drow hybrid monstrosity. Karth took the statue, as it looked to be valuable, and destroyed the shrine. Galindan suggested that the statue depicted Lolth, the foul demonic being that the drow worshiped as a god.

The PCs then considered investigating the area beyond the locked gate. Tasklar, in particular, didn’t want to leave any enemies behind them. The others, however, were put off by the fact that four humanoid corpses with holes in their skulls were standing on the other side of the gate! So they moved on to the narrow passage down which the drow mage had fled before.

A short way down, they came to a wider area with a smooth floor, on which had been inscribed in glowing purple the same tentacle design they’d seen several times already. Galindan surmised it was the personal sigil of the mind flayer. Worried that it might be trapped, the PCs skirted around the edges of the chamber. As it happened, the room was trapped, though it was not necessarily the sigil on the floor. Acid rained down on the group from the ceiling. Both Galindan and Berrian complained about how their clothes had been ruined!

From there, the passage led to a large cavern with purple-veined marble doors barring the way to the north. In addition, a trio of strange octopus-like creatures with a single eye and two serrated claws came crawling into view from behind several rock pillars. The creatures had tough hides and a long reach with their tentacles, and they were able to fire rays from their eyes that caused various magical effects. The PCs had a difficult time until they opted to withdraw and have both Tasklar and Galindan toss fireballs into the cavern. That took out two of them, and then Karth finished off the third by bounding up the wall and hacking it down with his axe.

Karth then made short work of the doors, which were barred from the other side, by running up to them from the other end of the cavern and smashing into them full-force. The others watched as he continued into a circular room, at the center of which was a large slab of purple-veined marble carved to look like a brain. The barbarian suddenly stopped, and as the others drew closer to see what was the matter, he turned back towards them, a look of madness in his eyes, and charged towards them, his axe held high!

Tasklar reacted quickly and dispelled whatever magic was compelling Karth to attack. The PCs then proceeded to bombard the stone brain from beyond the doors. Once it looked to be badly damaged, Berrian bravely stepped into the room and stabbed his sword deep into its center. At once, it fell apart and the glow from the purple minerals winked out.

Up some stairs and the PCs found themselves in what appeared to be a laboratory. A large vat of murky green liquid filled much of the room. Berrian thought it might be filled with acid … and before anyone could stop him, Tasklar chucked a copper coin into it to find out! The liquid sloshed and a massive version of the octopus-like creatures they’d faced earlier came rearing out of the vat!

A might struggle ensued. The PCs were badly hurt, but Karth prevailed, delivering a terrible blow that not only slew the creature but also smashed the side of the vat, spilling the green liquid out onto the floor. After withdrawing to the drow alcoves for a short rest, the PCs returned to this chamber and gave it a good once-over. Galindan found some records on a desk that, with a casting of comprehend languages, turned out to be the mind flayer’s notes on the creation of the “octopins” and some theories on an as-yet-unfinished project referred to as a “mind worm”. The lab’s bookshelves contained a number of books that the PCs figured might be of some value. They decided to come back later with Gil and shove the whole collection into his bag of holding.

A door in the north wall of the lab led to a smaller circular chamber with a dark pool in the center. Galindan ascertained that it was some kind of scrying pool, so Tasklar attempted to use it. He thought about Gil, and sure enough, an image of his roguish cousin, sitting by himself in an otherwise empty room, appeared in the pool. Next they tried to think about the cave beyond the gate, and they found themselves looking at a number of zombies standing around doing nothing … but they were also able to see deeper into the cave, where they spotted a number of prisoners, along with the drow mage!

Back to the lab and then up some more stairs and through some more doors and they entered what appeared to be a rather macabre museum of sorts. The centrepiece was a life-size statue of what Galindan identified as a vrock. There were also several glass cabinets containing all manner of books and trinkets, all of a seemingly malign nature. On top of one case was an item that Galindan insisted was a petrified pseudodragon, but Berrian wouldn’t let him touch it as he was sure that the room was trapped and that the vrock would come to life if they touched anything.

His theory was proven correct when Karth snatched up a battleaxe. The vrock turned out to be no match for the PCs, though, and soon was nothing more than a puddle of foul ichor. Tasklar took a wicked-looking dagger off a silk pillow and decided it would be his forever. Galindan took down a book and, after one look, tossed it on the floor and started exhibiting signs of extreme paranoia.

Though they had not yet explored the whole lair, the PCs decided that now was a good time to call it a day. They made their way back through the various rooms and caverns, only to find the drow mage waiting for them, the illithid’s prisoners arranged around him like a living shield. He mocked them: “You didn’t think you’d be allowed to get away that easily, did you?”

As it happened, they did. Though the prisoners did little more than grab at the PCs as they dashed through the area, and the zombies came to join the fight, and the mage cast a nasty tentacle spell on Karth and Berrian, the PCs all survived and made it through to the naga cave and out into the sewers and back to Dorn’s safehouse.


Round 3
After another long rest, the PCs came back down to the lair entrance to find that the zombies had been stationed there. Karth lured them out into the sewer tunnel, then proceeded to hack at them with his new magic axe. One of the zombies hit him on the shoulder and, all of a sudden, the great half-orc was foaming at the mouth, with a berserk look on his face. He took a swipe at Berrian, who backed away, then went back to hacking at the zombies.

Tasklar got everyone to back up along the sewer tunnel then cast compulsion on Karth and ordered him to march off deeper into the illithid’s lair. After the remaining zombies had been dealt with, the PCs waited. Karth eventually repaired, having regained his senses. He claimed to have no idea what had happened to him but refused to accept any suggestion that his new axe might have anything to do with it. The others decided it would be best to leave him behind, and so they tagged him out and brought Gil in to scout ahead for them instead.

In the naga cave, they spotted a large egg by the pool but wisely decided to leave it alone. They didn’t find the drow mage until they got to the cavern with the marble doors. A few fireballs did him in.

They decided to chill out in the scrying pool room for a bit, only to have the mind flayer itself make an appearance, walking through the back wall as if it wasn’t even there! It attempted to stun them with a blast of psychic energy, and then, when it saw that they had all resisted, it retreated back through the wall.

It turned out a segment of the wall was illusory, and a short hall led to a balcony halfway up the wall of a massive room centered around a pool. The pool seemed to have things wriggling in it. At one end of the pool sat a large, squat stone column with glowing green runes on it. Hovering above the pool was the mind flayer! And clinging to the wall to either side of the balcony were two more octopins!

Berrian teleported to the far side of the pool and shot fire bolts at the mind flayer, while Gil turned invisible and crept along the walls and ceilings to get into a good position to snipe the mind flayer. Tasklar and Galindan stayed on the balcony and attacked with their spells.

Gil fired a shot at the mind flayer, hitting it hard enough that it lost concentration on its levitation and sank into the pool. However, it then teleported up onto the top of the stone column, looking like it had healed some of its wounds in the process. Berrian used his last teleport to come appear beside it, but the mind flayer then just teleported over to the balcony, where it – along with one of the octopins – pursued Tasklar and Galindan as they retreated into the scrying room.

Berrian had a hard choice ahead of him: stay and help Gil fight the remaining octopin or go to the aid of the spellcasters? He chose the latter, leaving Gil to his fate. When he arrived in the laboratory room, he found Tasklar on the ground and the mind flayer busily wrapping its tentacles around Galindan’s head. With a horrible slurping sound, it devoured the elf mage’s brain!

Horrified, Berrian hacked the octopin off the wall, then revived Tasklar, only to find that the bard was suffering from partial amnesia. Knowing who he was but not where he was or how he got there, and not recognizing Berrian or the elf whose brain was being eaten by a horrible tentacle monstrosity, Tasklar decided to make a run for it. Luckily, he chose the right route and soon found himself running through some caves. Berrian decided to run after him. He was stunned and knocked out by the mind flayer before he could get very far, but fortunately, Karth had decided not to sit around waiting up on the surface and had finally come to help his friends.

Having seen Tasklar run past with a panicked look on his face, the half-orc was expecting the worst. Sure enough, as he saw Berrian lying on the ground with the mind flayer closing in, he leapt forward, scooped up his fallen comrade, and made a run for it!

Tune in next time for the thrilling conclusion!

Down the Rabbit Hole

In which our heroes attempt to get to the bottom of things …

Dramatis Personae: Berrian, Gil, Karth (plus Galindan and Dorn)
Source: “The Hall of Harsh Reflections” (Dungeon 127)

Not knowing how to proceed, the PCs dragged Tasklar back to the Crooked House, where they found a seriously inebriated Karth being looked after by a city watchman – the same watchman that Tasklar had given a bit of lip to after the fracas with the doppelgangers the night before! His name was Dorn Greywood, and he informed the PCs that he’d drunken half-orc rambling about his friends being in town. Did they know him? Why, yes, they did!

Meanwhile, Tarquin the innkeeper let the PCs know that, in gratitude for having saved his life, he would be giving them free drinks and rooms for the next month!

Once Tasklar and Karth were installed in their room, the others thanked Dorn. The watchman wasn’t about to leave just yet, though. He wanted to know more about the doppelgangers. He listened intently as the PCs related what they’d found in the Sodden Hold warehouse. Dorn told them he’d send some guards to check it out on the morrow.

Dorn stayed in the inn’s common room, chatting with Tarquin, long after the others had retired for the night. Well after midnight, he heard a commotion from above and raced upstairs to see what was the matter. As it turned out, the PCs were under attack from drow assassins! Two drow had snuck into their room, while a third drow was firing poisoned bolts at them through a window. Berrian was looking quite hurt, having taken a shot to the back of his neck! The two assailants in the room went down quickly, one of them only unconscious, and then Karth and Berrian smashed through the window and leapt across the alley to land on the roof where the third assassin had been.

They chased the drow across the rooftops and through washing-laden alleyways before Karth, with his superior speed, finally caught up to her and grabbed her firmly. Berrian came up from behind and ran her through. Searching her body, Karth discovered that she was wearing a nice pair of magic stealth-enhancing boots with a spider motif on them. They were also covered in sewer muck and residue from a fungus he recognized as Beggar’s Gold, which was quite common in areas where there was run-off from forges and smithies.

In one of the drow’s pockets, the PCs found a crumpled up note from someone telling his “thrall” to meet him beneath the cold forge. There were some “troublesome small minds” that needed dealing with. Small minds?! Berrian and Karth tried not to feel insulted as they dragged the drow’s body all the way back to the inn.

Dorn questioned Karth about having stolen the drow’s boots but ended up deciding it wasn’t worth fussing about. Instead, he turned his attention to the still-living drow, whom he’d made sure to truss up securely. As the drow came round, they attempted to question him, but a strange tentacle-like sigil materialized on his forehead and he grimaced in pain, then keeled over dead.

When Karth showed Dorn the note, the watchman was able to help them puzzle out the clues. He knew of a smithy named the Cold Forge. They decided they’d check it out in the morning. Dorn opted to deputize the PCs, which enabled them to enter the sewers beneath the city legally.

As they slogged through the sewers, following what signs they could of the drows’ passage and the presence of Beggar’s Gold, they came across a spillway where a strange telepathic voice warned them that some “spawn of the Faceless Lord” lurked ahead. Sure enough, a large black pudding and several gray oozes with psychic powers were blocking their way. After dealing with the monsters, another strange creature emerged from the darkness ahead: it looked a lot like a floating jellyfish. Dorn freaked and fired a crossbow bolt at it, causing it to flee, but Karth ran after it and convinced it to return.

It turned out to be a flumph – a good-aligned parasitic being that fed on psychic energy. It informed them that they were close to the lair of an illithid. The flumph was quite keen to show them the way to the lair’s entrance in hopes that the PCs would get rid of it. Wondering if the illithid was behind the attacks, the PCs were reminded of the illithid that had been behind all the strange goings-on in the town of Brindinford. But why was this one targeting them? What had they done?

The PCs agreed to let the flumph guide them the rest of the way. It led them deeper underground to a point where a hole in the wall of the sewer opened into a natural cave tunnel. Just beyond, around a slight bend, was a large fungus garden carpeted with yellow mold! Stepping forward, the PCs also discovered the presence of several shriekers in the garden. So much for the element of surprise!

After hacking apart the shriekers, the PCs then set about burning their way through the yellow mold, only to come under attack from some drow guards positioned on a ledge further along the tunnel. Dorn was knocked out (by drow poison) and woken up again several times before the drow guards were dealt with.

Pushing on, the PCs came to a cave with a little stream ending in a pool. Gil sent his bat familiar into the cave to scout ahead. Through the bat’s eyes, he caught a glimpse of some treasure at the bottom of the pool, visible thanks to some phosphorescent fungus illuminating the cave. He then also caught a glimpse of a large snake with a humanoid face just before it killed his familiar.

This snake-like creature turned out to be a naga. It was incensed that the PCs had disturbed its rest and demanded tribute. Karth decided to attack it instead, but it turned invisible and slithered away, so they decided to press on deeper into the caves.

Next up was a larger cave with a bunch of drow in it, who were now poised in a defensive stance, having been alerted by the shriekers. One of the drow looked to be a mage, and he had a strange winged shadowy creature lurking next to him. Karth used his dragonmark to turn invisible and slink up behind the mage.

The ensuing battle was fierce! In the end, all the drow were dead except for their leader, the mage, who had turned invisible and then retreated further into the caves. The naga, which had reappeared in the middle of the fight, had also been slain at Karth’s hand, although the half-orc knew, thanks to Galindan’s long-winded ecology lesson, that it would return to life in a day or so.

Still, everyone was hurting badly, and Dorn had nearly died, so the party decided to withdraw and rest up before returning. Gil made sure to steal the naga’s loot from the pool on their way out, though. And that is where things stand.

 

 

DM Note: Bhára’s player had not yet finished up her replacement PC by the time this session came around, so she ended up playing Galindan instead. He is a high elf evoker. Dorn was a last-minute NPC I whipped up for a friend of Bhára’s player who joined us on the night. Gil’s player was not present, but he was happy to have the group manage him anyway. Tasklar sat out this session, but he’ll be back next time. We’ll be missing both Karth’s and Gil’s players, though.

Amaranthine

In which our heroes discover there’s never a dull moment in the big city!

Dramatis Personae: Berrian, Gil, Tasklar (and Galindan)
Source: “The Hall of Harsh Reflections” (Dungeon 127)

After hauling their asses out of the fire cult dungeon, the PCs went their separate ways. Tasklar headed back to see Aunty Wormtooth for some more restorative magic, while Karth headed off to the big city to see if he could upgrade his gear. Who knows where Gil went.

Berrian, meanwhile, lovingly wrapped his sister’s body in cloth soaked in linseed oil and alcohol and carted it off to Iriandel’s domain. Unfortunately, the unicorn and his wood elves knew of no way to restore Bhára to life in her own body. Not wanting to reincarnate her in a new body, nor willing to go home and tell his parents that he’d failed to protect her, he took a different path …

Back in Larchwood, Gil and Tasklar were hanging out at the inn when Berrian walked in with another elf, whom he introduced as Galindan Galanodel, Bhára’s lover. Berrian went and spoke privately with Kaylessa, who suggested he visit an old acquaintance of hers, a sage named Eligos, in the city of Amaranthine. She gave him a letter of introduction, wrapped up in a pretty little bow. The cousins agreed to accompany Berrian on his journey, and off they went.

When they arrived, Tasklar was able to talk the city guards at the gate out of searching them for contraband. Berrian led them into the swanky Garden District, where they found Eligos’ marbled mansion. He was shocked to see an aged elf acting as the sage’s manservant! Eligos himself was a rather impressive fellow. He agreed to help but said it would take him about a week to find out what he could, based on the rather vague clues Berrian had given him. He refused to say where he’d gotten these clues as well.

Eligos suggested they stay at an inn called the Crooked House, run by a friend of his, a gnome by the name of Tarquin Shortstone XXIV. The PCs spent the next few days wandering around the city, seeing the sights and getting to know the place a bit better.

On the evening of the third night, after Galindan had retired early to “study his spellbooks”, the elf suddenly came back down to the common room and proceeded to stab Tarquin in the neck with a dagger. Thinking it was very unlike a mage to use a knife, Gil leapt up and dashed after the mage as he ran back up the stairs. Berrian leapt over the bar and used his dragonmark of healing to save Tarquin’s life, while Tasklar found himself having to placate an angry, drunken crowd being riled up by a portly merchant.

After a bit of a scuffle, it turned out that the would-be assassin was not Galindan but a doppelganger who’d taken on his form! The merchant turned out to be one as well. Tasklar was convinced that Tarquin must be mixed up with the wrong crowd, but the gnome was equally adamant that it had had nothing to do with him. He suggested that someone had it out for the PCs!

The next day, Gil took a strange key he’d found on the body of the doppelganger assassin to a thieves’ guild friend of his named Archie. A few hours later, he’d learned that it unlocked the doors to an old warehouse on the riverfront called the “Sodden Hold”.

The PCs went to check it out. The main warehouse floor was filled with dusty crates and barrels. Some of them turned out to be mimics, much to everyone’s surprise. Gil found something he swiftly pocketed in a back room (a ring of swimming made of fire coral), and then Tasklar discovered that a section of the floor was trapped. Up on the catwalk at the back of the room, they found a secret door that led to a prison area! Two men dressed as city guards turned out to be more doppelgangers! There was also a human with a broken mind and a traumatized elf noblewoman, who let Tasklar keep her periapt of health as a reward for saving her life. She also told Berrian that her family now owed him favor.

The room beyond that was mostly broken apart, with river water swirling around below the few remaining planks and pylons that once held up the floor. An invisible stalker was guarding this room, but Tasklar lit it up with faerie fire and it was swiftly dispatched. Unfortunately, the good bard made the mistake of treading out onto a plank that tipped him into the water, where he ended up getting impaled on some hidden blades. Gil and Berrian fished him out and revived him, and that is where we left things.

Temple of Eternal Flame

Dramatis Personae: Berrian, Bhára, Gil, Karth, Tasklar
Source: “Temple of Eternal Flame” (Princes of the Apocalypse)

NB. This recap is the last in a series written by Karth (and edited by me) and covers two sessions of play.

After a short rest, we returned once again to the temple, half-expecting the remaining cultists to have fled. Sneaking in the same way we had entered the last time, it all seemed eerily quiet at first. Heading up the stairs, with our invisible rogue with his slippers of spider climbing scouting ahead, we re-entered the room with the large crucible. This time, however, the cultists had set a trap. It summoned a fire elemental and then all hellfire broke loose. Surging ahead, it engulfed me and set upon Berrian. The damage from being hit by the elemental was not significant, but the damage from me hitting it was moreso! After defeating it, we headed deeper into the dungeon.

Heading to a previously unexplored section of the temple, we came across a strangely cold room. After some time exploring, and discovering that one corner was extremely cold, I realized that there was brown mold there. With no way to harm it, we left it alone. Fortunately our bard, Task, was successful in locating a long unused secret door, thanks to his dragonmark. Heading down the dusty corridor, we came to an old dwarven armory. Looking around, we found a strange shield with a clockwork mechanism on it, which Berrian decided to use [Basically you can elect to roll a d6, 1 = slowed, 3-4 = nothing, 5-6 = hasted for 1 minute). At this point we all decided it was time to rest and regain spells.

The next morning, we followed the disused corridor to the other end, where we came to another area with locked rooms. Opening them, we found many enslaved creatures: salamanders and azers. At this point it all turned against us. It turned out they hated each other, but we had no real way to communicate with them. Rather than having an army to support us, instead they started attacking each other. We decided to support the azers. I killed one salamander, only to realize that its companions had killed several of the azers in the meantime.

We decided to leave them to their fight and run. So run we did, straight into an area we thought would be the main exit out but which still held several ogres. The battle itself wasn’t too bad, with our bard using his fireball spell (from some bard skill he has) to kill most of them. A search of the area found us some loot buried in the rubble, and a scout down long corridors made us realize this was not the way we wanted to go.

Scouting back to the great furnace, we found what we had hoped: the salamanders had gone on a rampage, killing most of those in the furnace area and dying themselves. It was now empty of enemies. We located what appeared to be a lift down, but we had no interest in using it just then. We headed back to the final area we were interested in searching, deep in the temple beyond the red door.

Now this is where it got crazy … we followed a long corridor down into a shrine area, where we found what we thought were the leaders of the cult. They had captured Bhára and were about to kill her. One of them was the damned mage who could turn invisible and still attack us … and the other was Calla!

To everyone’s surprise, I tried to reason with Calla. I was in shock that she was still alive. Before I could calm matters down, however, the elf raced in to attack those that held his sister. A mighty battle it was, the four of us (five once Bhára was free) managed to kill the other mage (I was convinced she was somehow controlling Calla but it turned out she wasn’t) and a couple of the guards, while Calla fled. We were all badly damaged with many fireballs thrown, and these somehow ignored my fire resistance, so even I was hurting. We were forced to hole up and have a short rest. We scouted around and found a secret room that held little of value beyond a scroll of wall of sand, which Berrian took. Bhára also explained to us that our druidic allies, Gariena and Sauruki, had also been captured. They’d been taken “down below”, whatever that meant.

Then it was time to leave. I had blocked the door into this area shut, though we knew someone had tried to break in at one point. Bhára used clairvoyance to scout the room on the other side of the red door, and we knew we were in for a major fight: four fire cult guards, two fire mages, Calla, and another fire cult leader of some kind.

But we were prepared! Opening the door, we took some immediate damage before our shatter spells, and more importantly, wall of sand went off. The wall of sand meant the mages lost line of sight to us, so they couldn’t attack us with whatever spells they’d prepared.

It was a mighty battle! I called out to Calla that I would save her as we quickly smashed through the soldiers even though spells of fire and necromancy rained upon us. Victory was in our grasp! Calla had been forced to flee with Berrian chasing after her. The two weaker mages were dead, and the other leader – a fire genasi – was forced to flee as well, misty stepping to Calla and Berrian … and then victory was taken away.

First Berrian went down, allowing the two enemy leaders to flee, then Gil fumbled his attempt to heal Berrian. And the rest of us reached our dying comrade just in time to be met with a departing fireball from Calla (I think). Fortunately, I’d taken out my healing kit and tossed it to Gil as I’d gone running down the corridor.

I awoke lying in circular room with a well in it. Tasklar and Berrian were still alive, but Gil had some bad news for us. He’d been unable to get to Bhára in time. There were simply too many friends to keep alive and not enough time (or hands). [DM note: Everyone was rolling death saves, and we had Gil, whose player was actually absent for this session, spending an action each round to use the healing kit on one of his allies. Unfortunately, there were four people he had to use it on, and he left Bhára for last, and her player rolled three failures in a row. Luckily, her player enjoyed the fact that her new character had been killed by her old one.]

I decided it was time to abandon my quest for revenge … for now. The remaining fire cultists would just have to wait till later.

Player’s note: OK, the final battle had highs and lows and definitely challenged us. We have all levelled up, and Bhára’s player is now deciding what she will do next. Karth is now a Barbarian 6 / Rogue 2, looking at the extra mobility as a means to get behind the front lines to attack the squishy mages! I prefer playing multi-class characters, even though I miss out on the top level buffs, because I like the extra flexibility and flavor. It means I am running behind the others stat/feat-wise for a bit but the aim is another 2 rogue levels (going for assassin), using a finesse weapon for extra damage and using sneak more to try and get surprise attacks in … The problem is stats or feats next … I like shield master with my advantage on dex saves at this point!

Fire & Blood

Dramatis Personae: Karth, Berrian, Gil (plus Gariena and Sauruki)
Source: “Temple of Eternal Flame” (Princes of the Apocalypse)

NB. This recap is brought to you by Karth (and edited by me).

Player Note: Now we were warned that this next section was above our level before we got into it … and our DM has done the odd TPK in the past. Karth in particular felt nervous as he seems to attract criticals from the DM’s dice, plus whenever there is a random chance of something bad happening, 75% of the time the dice roll the big bad orc.

After the valiant battle on the hill where the enemy was crushed and the brave heroes elected to strategically retire for some time, we decided to head back to look for allies. While we found Tasklar’s cousin, the rogue Gil, we lost our bard, who decided it was more important that he search for a cure before he turned into a werewolf. So the three of us and the two druids, Gariena and Sauruki (who seemed to be far too inexperienced), headed back to the hill. Given this was a week or so later, we were astounded to see the surrounding area blackened and burnt.

Before getting to the ruined tower, however, we heard the eerie sounds of baying hounds and over the hill came several hell hounds and their handler – one of the cultists, a genasi, whom we had fought on the hill. The battle itself went relatively well, though our druid allies were forced to retreat after some early bits. The fire-breathing hell hounds did little damage to me with my fire-resistant armor. We quickly overcame the enemy … as I stood over the genasi, someone shouted “Don’t kill her! She needs to be questioned!” I feigned temporary deafness – my anger at seeing my enemy once again surging through my veins – and I dashed her brains in before anyone could stop me.

Heading to the hill, we found the camps abandoned. The tower itself was nothing but a burned out shell. Gil put on his fancy magic slippers and walked up the wall, then threw down a rope for the rest of us. Making our way into the tower, we found a caved-in tunnel under the rubble piled up on the ground floor. I was not to be stopped so easily! We spent the next day or two hauling stones and rubble out while the elf watched.

Once the way was finally cleared, we found a tunnel descending into the darkness. We surprised ourselves by deciding to send the rogue ahead as a scout. Unused to this novelty, we spent some time discussing the mechanics of this unfamiliar task. In the end, the rogue turned himself invisible and snuck down the tunnel. A good thing he did, as first he found a guard post of hobgoblins and then, after heading down some steps, a strange room with two heavily armored warriors in it.

When Gil had returned to tell us what he had seen, we discussed options and then decided on a full frontal assault (well almost). Gil, still invisible, was to head down to the middle of the steps and wait to strike any guards that tried to escape, while I called upon the power of my dragonmark to disappear into the shadows, and with the grace of the wolf, I was still able to make it down to the guard post and strike their leader with surprise! The pathetic hobgoblins fell swiftly to our vicious attack.

Things took a turn for the worse when, midway through the battle, the armored soldiers decided to attack! Hearing Gil’s warning, I raced to his aid on the stairs … and was nearly stunned out of my wits as memories came flooding back. These soldiers with long flaming spears and fire in their hearts … they were there! They killed my people! But my rage was too great, and I did not hesitate, but brought the black blade of Tamaich to bear against them.

At this point, Berrian also decided to aid us. The soldiers were tough, and much to our surprise, they exploded in flames and twisted bits of metal when we struck their death blows!

The hall the soldiers had come from also had four big pillars that radiated intense heat. I was once again grateful for my armor. The others were more singed than I was after dashing through the room. Gil then scouted ahead again, using his bat familiar as an extra pair of eyes. Down the opposite hall, past some ancient dwarf statues, he found another guardroom occupied by ogres. Some were dressed in full plate armor! Taking one of the magical torches from the wall, we chose to leave that area alone and headed down the main wide passage leading towards an area that rang out with the sounds of the forge.

To the right, a set of stairs led up to a smoky guard room occupied by hobgoblins resting and cooking food over an open fire. To the left, a long corridor stretched away into darkness with heavy stone doors on either side. Straight ahead, a wide stone stairway led down to a huge forge and furnace area. Gil reported seeing lava flowing into the chamber! There were also fiery dwarves and giant fiery snakemen who appeared to be slaves, working away at the forges to make weapons while a huge red-skinned brute and some cultists drove them on.

Naturally, we attacked the weakest opposition first: the hobgoblins. They barely knew what hit them. Their captain had a nice wooden box with some potions in it. Some of the potions glowed like fire. The druids said they would make the drinker resistant to fire. Could come in handy for the others!

There were more rooms beyond, including one that was clearly the ogres’ room and another that opened onto a stone bridge over the river of lava, but we turned back and headed for the long hall that looked like a cell block of sorts. This turned out to be a mistake … we found two fire mages and two cult warriors who caused us a bit of trouble. One of them was able to hypnotize our druid companions, taking them out of the fight. The others used lots of fire magic on us. A little luck saved us, though, as the druids were able to break free at the last minute, and the weird swamp gnome paralyzed his attacker, allowing us to cut him down quite easily.

Definitely on our last legs, we headed off to lick our wounds and acknowledge how much tougher these creatures were than we are used to! My thirst for vengeance remains strong, however. I am hopeful that Tasklar will have found a cure so he can help us. Maybe the elf’s sister (?) will have come back from wherever she went, too. We could use her magic.