The Fair Streets of Brindinford

Dramatis Personae: Berrian, Bhára, Gil (and Bruce the Goose)
Source: The Speaker in Dreams

Dragonmarked
Over the winter, Kaylessa approached the Starflower siblings and invited them to receive the gift of the Platinum Dragon. Although they were somewhat dubious of the religious implications, they had no issues with swearing an oath to do good and oppose evildoers and the like in exchange for more magical powers! They both stuck their hands in the silver fire. Berrian received the mark of healing, which allowed him to heal with a touch, while Bhára received the mark of the storm, granting her the ability to rebuke attackers with stormy energy. (The late Keluak Frostbeard had the same mark.)

The Return of Bruce
In the spring, the rhyme-loving halfling peddler, Bruce the Goose, arrived in Larchwood in search of the brave heroes who had rescued him from the plant monsters many months before. He was somewhat disappointed to find that only Gil was in town, though he took an instant liking to the elf siblings. Bruce was hoping for some companionship on his way to Brindinford for the town’s annual street fair.

Kaylessa had earlier explained to the heroes that it was about time they took their talents into the wider world, so she urged them now to accompany the halfling. She promised to let the others know where they’d gone.

Brindinford
Some weeks later, the heroes arrived at Brindinford, a walled town of roughly 5,000 people situated on the banks of the Brinding River. The fair had spilled out onto the open ground outside the walls. As the heroes made their way toward the main gate, they came across an old beggar woman. Bruce nicked a copper from her bowl. Noticing this, Bhára and Gil both donated several coins. She thanked them kindly, then stared shrewdly at Bruce for a few moments. Berrian gave her some more money, at which point she turned to look at him, and in a harsh whisper, “Beware those who hear the whispers in their dreams! They sleep fitfully now, awaiting the Speaker’s plans!” With that, she turned to the next group of travellers.

The heroes made their way slowly to the front of the line, where they found four guards in red livery peace-bonding everyone’s weapons. Swords were secured in scabbards, leather sacks placed over axe and spear blades, and so on. Anyone who looked like they might be a spellcaster were politely asked to tie leather strips around their middle and ring fingers and tie their component pouches closed. The heroes grumbled a bit under their breath but acquiesced, knowing that this was fairly standard practice in more civilized parts.

Inside the gates, they found the town’s main thoroughfare crowded with people. Taking in the various wares and entertainments to be had, they noticed that everything got noticeably nicer and more expensive the closer they got to the hill on the west side of town, on top of which was a walled compound. Berrian decided he wanted to find a new jacket (and a dress for his sister), while Gil went in search of healing potions.

The Fair Gets Foul
As the heroes reconvened near the bell tower at the center of town, shouts from nearby signalled a disturbance. The shouts turned to screams, and the heroes soon found themselves up against a press of people trying to get away from the source of the commotion. Berrian used his lordly presence to clear a path, parting the crowd as if by magic. Within moments, the companions found themselves facing four rat-men with a bunch of giant rats busily trashing market stalls and harassing merchants and so on.

The heroes had all had the foresight to dispose of their peace-bonding devices on their way through the crowd, and with no town guards in sight, the heroes decided to take matters into their own hands. Berrian charged forward, swinging his moonblade at the leader of the rat-men, a particularly wily fellow who seemed to moving around a lot faster than ought to be possible.

Gil took aim at one of the rat-men with his bow, only to discover that his mundane arrows were of no use against these cursed creatures. He then attempted to put the rat-men to sleep with his magic but only succeeded in dropping two of the rats.

Bhára hung back, using her magic, while Bruce darted in and activated his magic wand, which turned him invisible. He turned this to his own advantage by surprise attacking one of the rat-men as it ran past him to deal with Bhára. Unfortunately, Bruce’s nonmagical dagger was as ineffectual as Gil’s arrow had been, and the rat-man just grinned at the little halfling.

Berrian soon found himself surrounded by rats and rat-men. As the leader stabbed furiously away, Bhára went to her brother’s aid by casting a shatter spell. The spell killed one of the rats and ruined some of the merchandise strewn about the road, drawing the ire of one of the merchants cowering behind an overturned cart.

When Berrian succumbed to his wounds and fell to the ground, Bhára cast a twinned ray of sickness, harming one of the wererats and slaying their leader! The surviving rat-men turned tail and fled. While Bruce chased after one of them, Gil and Bhára ran to help Berrian.

Once away from the main street, the rat-man Bruce was chasing shifted back into his human form and then proceeded to take a roundabout route back to the center of town, where he calmly entered the nearby bell tower. Bruce then ran back to his companions to tell them what he’d seen.

By this time, a contingent of guards had arrived. They thanked the group for their assistance in dealing with the rat-men and told them that they could keep their weapons un-bound from here on out.

Crime Scene Investigations
Bhára mollified the angry merchant by repairing some of his broken wares with her mending spell while her companions paused to catch their breath. Shortly after, another contingent of guards, this one led by a stocky woman, arrived to begin a proper investigation. As the woman was clearly some kind of officer, the heroes approached and attempted to share their own information with her. She made it clear she didn’t think much of adventurers, but she thanked them for their help just the same.

The officer, introducing herself as Lt Shella, told the group that she suspected the rat-men might be behind a series of grisly murders in Southspur, the city’s slums district. At that, a street urchin piped up with more detail: several people had disappeared off the streets of Southspur in recent times. No bodies had been found, but there was plenty of blood left behind!

Shella accepted the heroes’ offer to investigate the bell tower, although she almost instantly regretted doing so, for they proceeded to march over and bang on the door until the old caretaker, Turvin, appeared. Berrian tried to convince him to let them in so they could discuss some elvish methods that might enhance the sound of his bells. The old man was insulted and attempted to shut the door on the heroes, but Bruce got in the way and found himself wedged in the crack. As the heroes tried to overpower the old man, Lt Shella arrived and furiously told them to stop what they were doing, reminding them that this was the city and that they couldn’t just go barging into someone’s home like that! Bhára angrily snapped back at her and stormed off.

Gathering Information
Things didn’t appear to be going so well at this point, so the heroes decided to back off. Gil decided to see if there was a thieves’ guild in town. After greasing a few palms and wetting a few throats, he managed to locate the guild, based in a merchant company’s office. The head of the guild, a friendly human named Thos, was pleased to meet Gil and gave him a few tips. He suggested that Gil go and visit old Shoomma, an ancient dwarven smith who was well-liked by everyone in the city and knew just about everything there was to know about anything.

Gathering up his companions, Gil went in search of the dwarf. On their way to Shoomma’s smithy, Bruce and Bhára both noticed someone following them. The guy looked to be a thug, with long, slicked-back hair and a crossbow with a weird contraption on it. They suspected he wasn’t alone.

As Gil got down to business with the old lady dwarf, Bhára and Bruce kept an eye on the square outside. They could see the thug wandering around in the square, pretending to mind his own business. Another guy with much the same look came along shortly. Bruce decided to try and spy on them from closer up and attempted to sneak behind a statue but the thugs spotted him and headed towards him. They proceeded to get into a bizarre conversation (which Bhára was able to follow thanks to her ability to read lips) that started with the thugs attempting to lure Bruce into an alley so they could show him where the wererats were hiding and ended with Bruce attempting to convince the thugs that he was leading them into an alley to show them something.

Meanwhile, the others were able to glean some valuable information from the straight-talking Shoomma. She told them that she’d heard rumors that rats were crawling all over the old bell tower. The tower had been looked after by members of the same family ever since it had been built. Shoomma had known the previous caretaker quite well but didn’t really know the man’s son, Turvin, that well, since he mostly kept to himself.

She added that, over the past few weeks, a number of her fellow artisans and shopkeepers had reported being approached for protection money. Those who refused were frequently burgled shortly afterwards. She suspected that the wererats might be behind it, since it would be easy for them to escape detection via their shapechanging abilities.

Rats in the Alley
At this point, the rest of the gang noticed what was going on out in the square. Thanking Shoomma for her help, they followed Bruce as the thugs attempted to lead him (or was Bruce leading them?) into a narrow alley. There, they revealed themselves to be wererats themselves and proceeded to pump Bruce full of bolts using what turned out to be repeating crossbows!

Hearing Bruce cry out in pain, the others raced to the entrance. Berrian shot bolts of fire at the wererats, while Gil acrobatically bounced around the alley to get in behind the far wererat, which had succumbed to a fit of laughter brought on by Bruce’s magic powers. He was able to stab the downed rat-man several times with Reszur, his magic dagger, before it shook off the charm. Bruce pulled out his magic wand, but this time all he managed to do was read the surface thoughts of one of the rat-men (who was beginning to think about trying to escape, as well as wondering what would happen to “the plan” now that Squim was dead). Meanwhile, both rat-men were able to resist Bhára’s hold person. With both wererats quite hurt by now, though, Gil risked another sleep spell and was pleasantly surprised when one of them dropped to the ground unconscious.

At that, the one on the ground got to his feet, muscled his way past Gil, and disappeared into a maze of alleyways. Content with one prisoner, the heroes stripped the rat-man and tied him up. Along with the repeating crossbow and a spare cartridge, and some money, they found a small bag containing a strange white powdery substance. Suspecting that this may have been how the wererat leader had been able to move so quickly, they decided not to touch it for now.

They dragged the bound wererat into a backroom behind Shoomma’s forge. When he woke up, Berrian intimidated him into talking. The wererat told them that his gang did indeed live in the bell tower. No, there weren’t any tunnels underneath it. There were about ten wererats, including Turvin, and maybe a dozen giant rats in the tower. The tower had five floors. Turvin lived on the ground floor, while the rest of them lived on the second floor. The rats mostly lived on the third floor. The fourth floor was full of gears and pulleys and things. The top floor housed the bells.

Given how tough a time they’d had assaulting Feathergale Spire, the heroes were wary about trying to clear the bell tower. When their talk turned to setting the place on fire to smoke the rats out, Shoomma piped up that they’d be lucky to be run out of town on a rail if they tried a stunt like that. The bell tower was a believed landmark in the town, and wererats or no, the citizens of Brindinford would not appreciate it being damaged.

When Bruce got all up in the wererat’s face, he decided he’d had enough of the interrogation and shifted into rat form so he could escape his bonds. Bruce was too fast, though, and grabbed him by his tail and stuffed him into his handy haversack. Announcing to the rest of the crew that they had ten minutes, they hurried out to find a contingent of guards. They grabbed a large sack and wrangled the rat-man thug into the sack then handed it over to the guards with a hasty explanation that they’d caught one of the guys who had either taken part in the attack on the fair or was at least associated with those that had. The guards thanked them and then commandeered a cart to carry the wriggling sack back to their barracks.

At this point, it was late afternoon, the fair was winding down, and the heroes decided it was time to look for somewhere to stay. Suspecting that the town’s taverns would be overcrowded with fair-goers, the two Starflowers used their noble privileges to secure lodging with an aristocratic family living in the prestigious Keep neighborhood. They were able to vouch for Gil, as well, despite his rustic folk hero appearance. Bruce, however, opted to go and find lodgings with his friends in the town’s halfling camp, situated on the river just outside the north gate.

The Sowing of Death

Dramatis Personae: Bhára, Berrian, Gil, Saul, Tasklar
Source: “Feathergale Spire” (Princes of the Apocalypse)

Interlude
Iriandel could tell that Keth was struggling to come to terms with the idea that he was now a halfling, so the unicorn suggested to him that he go and spend some time with the halflings community in nearby Pebbleton. Keth, now calling himself Saul, reluctantly agreed, although before he left, he sought out Hroom and had another pint or two of his special brew, thus increasing his height ever so slightly above three feet!

In Pebbleton, Saul let only Mayor Roscoe in on his secret. To everyone else, he was just a halfling from other parts. Gil and Tasklar came to stay with him and help him adjust as best they could. Saul spent much of his time drinking, mulling over his anger and growing desire for revenge. He would make those snooty cultists pay!

After a few days, Tashek the talking owl came to visit. He informed the heroes that Iriandel wished for them to return to his grove, as he had some guests he wanted them to meet. Off they went back into the woods, where they were introduced to two rather androgynous high elves. One was wearing heavy armor and carried a rapier, while the other was dressed in the robes of a magic user. Iriandel introduced them as Berrian and Bhára of House Amastacia (or Starflower, in the Common tongue). Both of them came across as rather effete, and the more down-to-earth heroes had a hard time determining the elves’ respective genders.

Although Berrian was ostensibly on a quest to find his family’s long-lost ancestral moonblade, he was aware that he may never find it. In the meantime, he was in no hurry to go home and so would be happy to lend his sword arm to whatever endeavors Saul, Gil, and Tasklar had planned. And wherever Berrian went, his younger sister was sure to follow. Knowing what awaited them back at the cultists’ tower, the heroes were glad to have the extra help.

The Hunters and the Hunted
Tasklar, always keen to charge boldly into the fray, wanted to head straight to the spire. The group decided to swing back through Pebbleton first, though, and it was a good thing they did, for reports were coming in that a land shark was terrorizing the farms on the outskirts of town. Mayor Roscoe explained that land sharks, also known as bulettes, loved eating halflings.

The heroes needed no further motivation. Off they went in search of the beast. It didn’t take them long to find it. One farm with lots of disturbed earth and blood and before they knew it, the beast was burrowing up out of the ground and leaping at them! It soon had Saul in its jaws, and things looked dire for the cleric. Would he need to be reincarnated again already?! But no, his companions came to his rescue and slew the beast before it could make a proper meal of him.

A few days later, as the heroes were marching down the road towards Larchwood, they were set upon by a wyvern. As it made its first pass, it bit and stung Tasklar, who lost consciousness as the beast’s venom raced through his veins and collapsed on the ground. Seeing what they were up against — and seeing how useless her brother’s sword was since the wyvern never got close enough for him to use it — Bhára took charge of the fight, blasting the creature from afar with bolts of lightning and rays of frost.

The wyvern screamed in pain and made a strange cry, as if calling someone or something. Berrian roused Tasklar, flushing the poison out of his system, and then used his magic to protect himself against the beast’s venom. Just then, Gil came running back, having realized that the rest of the group weren’t still following him. He took aim at the wounded wyvern, only to see another wyvern flying in from the other direction.

While the group were able to chase off the first wyvern, the second swooped in and slew Berrian’s beloved horse. It then grabbed the corpse and made off with it before the heroes could slay the beast. Saddened by this tragic turn of events but determined not to get distracted, the heroes opted to let the wyverns go and continue on their way to Larchwood.

A Nasty Surprise
Upon their return to Larchwood, the heroes went up to their rooms to find out if Calla was around. They found nothing but some scales and some blood in her room, and if Kaylessa knew where the sorceress was, she wasn’t telling. She was able to recognize Keth in his new body, however. Perhaps she could sense the presence of his dragonmark, which had manifested on the back of his new hand, just like Sorrel’s had.

Up in the boys’ room, the heroes were surprised to find a small wooden crate waiting for them on the table. Tasklar went to open it and had a frightful premonition* in which he opened the box to find Sorrel’s head staring back at him. His friend’s mouth then opened and spewed forth a noxious yellow gas that rapidly filled the room and expanded out into the hall. His friends were all dying, gasping for air as the gas burned their lungs as well as their skin. But vision disappeared just as quickly as it had come, and he found himself staring at his hand, which he’d managed to stop only inches away from the crate’s lid. His dragonmark of finding flared up, enabling him to see a nearly invisible glyph inscribed on the crate. Had he opened it without noticing, it would’ve triggered some kind of spell effect. Instead, he and the others took the crate down to Kaylessa, who dispelled the glyph with little trouble.

Inside the heroes found Sorrel’s head, just as Tasklar had suspected, but this time nothing happened. Still, there was no denying what this meant. Their friend was dead. And they all knew who had killed him. (And who had tried to use his remains to kill them in a most underhanded manner!) Although the Starflower siblings did not know Sorrel personally, they were able to see the injustice of it and vowed to assist their new friends in seeking justice.

The heroes retired to their rooms for some much-needed rest. In the morning, Saul sought out Kaylessa and pumped her for information on the elemental princes. She informed him that there were good ones and bad ones. Yan-C-Bin was one of the bad ones, a mercurial demigod-like creature known as an archomental. Saul wanted to know if the half-elf had any magic she could lend them that would help in their fight, but she just shook her head. He wasn’t sure if that meant that she didn’t have anything, or that she didn’t have anything she was willing to part with. Troubled, he headed back to his friends and they got ready to head into the hills northeast of town.

Return to the Spire
As they headed into the hills, the heroes concocted a plan: Gil, as the only member of the party the knights would recognize, would use his magic to disguise himself as the elves’ herald, while Tasklar and Saul would pose as their servants. The elves would then seek entry to the spire as nobles searching for a lost relative.

As it happened, the plan worked swimmingly! Drelin, one of the knights with whom Saul had done a bit of drinking the last time he was here, was on guard duty. He welcomed the party into the entry hall but let them go no further. As Berrian prattled on about looking for a lost relative and wondering if the knights had seem him in the area, Tasklar gave in to his impatience. He couldn’t take it any longer! Out came the wand of magic missiles and three magical darts went arcing towards a very surprised Drelin!

The ruse was up. As Drelin shouted at the cult initiates lurking by the inner doors to raise the alarm, Gil had the foresight to slip behind the party and close the main gates. One of the initiates pulled a lever on the wall that released the giant steel-capped wooden eagle hanging from the ceiling. It swooped down into the hall, and had Gil not shut the doors, the party would’ve found themselves being swept out onto the drawbridge (or, worse yet, knocked into the canyon below).

Drelin died shortly thereafter, but the initiates managed to get away, shouting that intruders had breached the entry. The party opted not to chase after them immediately and instead took a more thorough approaching, sweeping each floor room by room. Gil found a cultist lurking in the kitchen, and Tasklar found some more in the solarium, along with the blue-skinned genasi monk, who gave them one hell of a fight before leaping out an open window and disappearing.

The heroes then headed upstairs, where they slew a cultist on the landing, then smashed through the barricaded doors to the great hall, where they were set upon by a number of initiates and knights waiting in ambush. Much magic was hurled into the chamber, and only two knights escaped with their lives, leaping out the windows and using their magic to float safely down to the stables level.

The heroes then had the idea of closing and barring the shutters on all the windows in the tower so the knights would have trouble flanking them. They took some time to close all the shutters on this hall, and as they were busy doing so, they heard someone raising the drawbridge on the floor below them. Once they were finished, they hurried down to the stables level, thinking they could close up the stable doors as well.

They weren’t terribly surprised to find the stables empty — the knights had all flown the coop, taking their vultures and hippogriffs with them — but they were dismayed to find that the stables could not easily be blocked up entirely. Abandoning that plan, they headed back up to the ground floor, where they were attacked by knights circling the tower on their flying mounts as they set about barricading all the windows.

The task complete, the heroes then ascended to the highest floor, where they set about shutting all the windows in the knights’ quarters. Every once in a while, someone took a pot shot at them from the top of the stairs. Not daring to head up onto the dreaded pinnacle, the heroes decided to shut themselves up in Lord Commander Merosska’s suite to catch their breath (with Gil standing guard via his bat familiar, which he’d posted in one of the other rooms). They also took the opportunity to ransack the man’s room, finding a potion and a few scrolls in the process, as well as written evidence that the Feathergale Society was mixed up with a larger cult devoted to Yan-C-Bin.

 

 

*I had arranged it so the crate carrying Sorrel’s head was booby-trapped with a glyph of warding with a cloudkill spell on it. But I had misread the spell description for cloudkill and thought it was supposed to expand in size by 10 feet per round rather than just move away by that amount, and I also mishandled who was doing what when and several PCs looked to be dead when they shouldn’t have been. I had given Tasklar inspiration for just bowling on up and opening the box without checking it for traps or anything, so when I realized my error, we decided that he could just use his inspiration to say that it had just been a horrible premonition of Tasklar’s as he’d gone to open the box. As I have expanded the uses of inspiration in my game to include some minor plot editing, I agreed and we rewound the clock back to just before he opened the crate. I then gave Tasklar a chance to spot the glyph, which he did, thanks to his dragonmark of finding (which gives him the benefit of eyes of minute seeing).

Wedding Bells

Dramatis Personae: Calla, Gil, Keluak, Keth, and Tasklar
Source: “Wedding Bells” (Dungeon 89)

[DM Note: This was the first time all five of my players were at the table at the same time since the campaign started!]

Prologue: Kaylessa’s Gift
One fine autumn evening, the PCs all found themselves sitting around Kaylessa’s table, sharing a delicious meal she had prepared for them herself. Afterwards, Kaylessa explained that she had called them all together because she had a gift for them. She’d been keeping track of their exploits in the region and was quite impressed. They had more than proved themselves worthy of the name of “hero”, and she wanted to reward them for it.

Leading them into an adjoining room, Kaylessa had them gather around the large silver bowl they had found in Tamaich’s tomb. With a few words of magic, the half-elf conjured up a silvery fire inside the bowl. She then explained that by saying a vow and placing a hand in the flames, the PCs would receive a blessing from the Platinum Dragon. At this, the group glanced around the room, finally taking in the preponderance of draconic imagery within. “Kaylessa must have a thing for dragons,” they all concluded.

The vow was to swear to do good deeds, to cause no undue harm to the innocent, and to gladly oppose those who would commit evil acts or harm the innocent. If they were to ever break this vow, they would lose the blessing. Upon hearing this, Keth and Keluak were both a bit hesitant, given that they’d seemingly caused undue harm to that half-ogre priest who was now haunting them as a revenant, but Kaylessa assured them that wrongs committed in the past had no bearing on their commitment to the future. Both gladly placed their hands in the fire, as did Gil and Tasklar. As each of them spoke the words of the vow, the fire passed through their flesh and inscribed a silvery dragonmark on the backs of their hands.

Keluak received the Mark of the Storm, while Keth was given the Mark of Warding. Gil was given the Mark of Handling, while Tasklar received the Mark of Finding. The marks sparkled in the light for a few moments, then faded away. Kaylessa explained that they would only show themselves again when their gifts were activated.

Then came Calla’s turn. Nervously, she approached the flames. Boldly, she stuck her hand in … but before she could say the words of the vow, the fire turned an angry red and the roar of a dragon echoed around the room. Calla writhed in agony, unable to pull her hand away even as the fire burned through her flesh. When she was finally able to free her hand, she was horrified to find an evil-looking scar etched onto the back of her hand. Unlike the others’ marks, this one did not fade away. In fact, when she tried covering it up with her sleeve, it just burned the fabric away. It did not want to be hidden! At the same time, Calla felt a newfound source of power welling up within her – the power to twist and shape the flames, to burn all her problems away!

Kaylessa was distraught. This was not what was supposed to have happened! Something had gone terribly wrong! She asked everyone to leave so she could have time to think. As she ushered them out the door, she begged Calla for her forgiveness. Tears glistened in Kaylessa’s eyes. She had broken her own vows! How could she have been so stupid?

An Invitation
Some time later, the PCs received invitations to the wedding of Gil’s teenage sister, Ghenna. She was marrying a farmer’s boy, Avan, in the faraway town of Dockalong. Ghenna wanted Keth to officiate at the wedding, and she wanted Calla to be her maid of honor. She also wanted her cousin Tasklar to perform some music for the ceremony. There was no question of Gil attending, of course, and he was invited to bring his dwarf friend along too. The journey to Dockalong would take a fortnight, and there wasn’t much time – if they were lucky, they’d get there a day or two before the wedding – so the group gathered their things, found some gifts and some nice clothes, and set off.

Heading south, they skirted around the swamp in which they’d battled the corrupted lizardfolk and passed through a city or two. As they headed back out of the settled lands and into the wilderness again, they found themselves walking along a wooded trail in the hills. Suddenly they realized it had gone very quiet … but before they could react, they found themselves under attack as someone in the woods off to their right spoke a few words of magic.

Tasklar and Keluak, leading the way, both found their limbs beginning to stiffen. Though the human was able to shake it off, the dwarf soon found himself paralyzed. At that moment, a naked female gnoll came charging out of the woods, swinging a huge flail at the dwarf. Hot on her heels was a quartet of slavering hyenas. Off to the left, another gnoll barked out a command before firing arrows at the PCs.

Unable to move, Keluak was quickly battered and bitten into unconsciousness. Tasklar quickly followed, as the hyenas and the gnoll berserker turned their attention to him. At that moment, a thundercloud developed suddenly overhead, and sizzling bolts of lightning began flashing down onto the road.

The ensuing battle was fierce, as the PCs fought for their very lives. Keth worked furiously to keep his comrades alive, while Gil and Calla took aim at their attackers from the rear, taking cover in the trees to avoid the deadly lightning bolts. Eventually they succeeded in slaying the berserker and all the hyenas, at which point Keth set off to find the gnoll spellcaster slinging magic at them from the cover of the woods. However, he didn’t get far before she caused a field of nasty, sharp thorns to spring up all around him, slicing him up no matter which way he turned. He gave up moving, but she inched closer and lashed him with a thorny whip, yanking him through the field of spikes until he succumbed to the pain and drifted into unconsciousness himself.

Seeing his friend go down, Gil pulled a Tarzan and used his grappling hook and rope to swing through the trees over the thorn patch to attack the gnoll spellcaster. He paused to pour a healing potion down Keth’s throat, and together they managed to kill the gnoll spellcaster before she could escape. The gnoll archer, however, did manage to leg it away through the trees.

Exhausted, the PCs searched the bodies, finding a few potions on the caster and a magical cat’s paw on a silver chain around the otherwise naked gnoll berserker’s neck. The paw, though badly preserved, turned out to be a good luck charm. The group decided Keluak needed it the most and gave it to him to wear. A few of the more observant PCs noticed that some of the gnolls’ items reeked of something worse than unwashed dog, though they couldn’t figure out what it was.

Dockalong
After spending the night in an old abandoned farmhouse by the side of the trail, the group pressed on towards Dockalong. They soon came to a lookout where they could see a broad river valley stretching away in front of them. On the near side of the river lay many fields and small hamlets, with the largest – clearly Dockalong itself – situated on the banks of the river. On the far side, however, lay unspoilt forest. Elf country, they were told. In fact, Dockalong was positioned in the elven borderlands – a region where non-elves were permitted to live so long as they paid taxes to their elven overlords.

As they trudged down the path towards town, they came across a pair of middle-aged halflings. The woman was fiercely berating the man, brandishing a switch at him. As the PCs approached, the halfling woman asked if any of them had seen her son – or his good-for-nothing girlfriend. When they replied that they hadn’t, she sighed and turned back towards town, tugging the man, who turned out to be her brother, along with her.

Shortly after this, they came across a human woman picking berries. When she spotted them, she dove into the bushes to hide, thinking the PCs might be bandits come to steal the fruits of her labors. But no, the PCs only wanted to inquire about the impending nuptials in Dockalong.

Moving on, they encountered an older halfling woman riding a donkey. She seemed quite pleased to see them and happily answered all their questions. She introduced herself as Jikk Hardwalk, a Blessed Daughter of the Sisterhood (that is, a priestess of the trinity of deities worshipped by many halflings) and the honorary town priest of Dockalong. She explained that she was just doing her rounds of the outlying farms and villages, but she would be happy to meet with them when she returned to town later.

A little further on, the group came to an old stone arch marking the entrance into Dockalong itself. A human woman sprang to attention, brandishing a halberd. She asked the PCs to identify themselves and then informed them that people were not allowed to bear arms into the town without Sheriff Savil’s permission. The PCs were happy to wait for permission, so the guard asked some of the curious children hanging about to go and fetch someone named Honesty.

A few minutes later, up road a hobgoblin bearing the seven-pointed star of the Andarian Septry on his breastplate! He introduced himself as Honesty, representative of Sheriff Savil. He asked the PCs’ names and business in town, challenging their answers and deliberately mispronouncing their names in response. He then asked each of them to hand over their most powerful weapon. Some of the PCs were rather cheeky, especially Keth, who claimed his most powerful weapon was his faith. At one point, it looked like the hobgoblin and half-orc might come to blows, but just then another person rode up – a middle-aged half-elven woman in a green cloak. She wore a wooden disk around her neck bearing a stylized tree-and-arrow emblem – the symbol of her office as representative of the eld lord Ulurishay, ruler of this part of the borderlands.

After having a quiet word with Honest, Sheriff Savil welcomed the PCs into Dockalong. As they passed through the archway, Honesty returned their weapons to them politely and respectfully. With that, the PCs made their way into town to find accommodations – and, in Gil and Tasklar’s cases, their relations!

A Series of Intriguing Events
With the wedding ceremony planned for the following afternoon, the PCs had a little over a day to relax and explore the town. Plenty of locals were interested in coming to see them too, although not always in the most appropriate ways. For instance, Calla received a nighttime visitor in the form of a small dwarf child who, upon being caught rifling through the sorceress’s personal things, tried to flee. Calla used her magic to shut the door in the child’s face and then jumped on her. The girl screeched and pleaded with Calla not to tell her parents. She’d only wanted to have a look at a real mage’s stuff! At that point, Keluak awoke and went to investigate. Upon being filled in, he was insistent that the girl be taken home to her parents, despite her fear of being sent “under the mountain”. Calla, however, took pity on the girl and promised not to tell if she promised not to sneak into anyone’s room ever again.

Earlier in the day, the group had been approached by a nervous townsman who asked if anyone in the group might be able to cure his wife of mindfire. Keth agreed to go and have a look. He openly prayed to Freya (since Dockalong appeared to be open to religions other than the Septry) and the half-elven woman was miraculously healed! The couple attempted to pay Keth, but he refused, instead asking them to pay it forward, perhaps by making a donation to someone of the Old Faith.

Meanwhile, a contingent of dwarves came to visit Keluak. They were keen for some news from “under the mountain”. Unfortunately for Keluak, he wasn’t as up to speed on news from the dwarf kingdoms as Tasklar the bard. Having been listening in, Tasklar came over and told some interesting tales – some true, some improvised. The dwarves appreciated the human’s efforts, but looked askance at Keluak. What kind of dwarf was he that he would allow a human to show him up in such a way? The Dockalong dwarves went away troubled, and Keluak tried to drown his embarrassment with more alcohol.

Gil met up with his family and was presented with the wooden leg of his old, now deceased, Uncle Hasken. Gil had once stolen the leg from his uncle, so he supposed that this had been the old man’s idea of a joke. His mother was insistent that he’d wanted Gil to have it.

On the morning of the wedding, the PCs were woken up by a disturbance in the street below. The missing halfling’s girlfriend had turned up, surprised to find he wasn’t in town. They’d arranged to meet in the usual trysting spot in the woods across the river, but he’d never shown up. The PCs went with the halflings to see Sheriff Savil, who arranged to have a patrol go into the woods to investigate. They took with them a standard that acted as a sort of “pass” so that any elven patrols who saw it would know not to attack. The PCs followed along. Halfway down the trail, Tasklar noticed signs of passage off to the west but chose to kept that info to himself until later. He wanted to see the trysting spot first.

The trysting spot, while idyllic, was devoid of any clues. The guards concluded that the elves must have got poor Noddy, the missing halfling, and headed back to town. The PCs hung around a little longer, and Tasklar revealed what he’d found. Calla was fearful of being ambushed by elves now that they were no longer under the protection of the guards’ banner, but they reached the side trail safely and followed it to a large tree, where Noddy’s footprints suddenly stopped. At the base of the tree were some foul bird droppings, which a few of the PCs recognized as bearing the same stench as the items they’d picked up from the gnolls. Tasklar climbed up into the tree and found more droppings on a large branch. Wracking his brains, he came to a sudden realization, thanks to his newfound investigative abilities: there was a harpy about!

The PCs immediately started to plug up their ears, but Tasklar assured them that this wasn’t its roost. No, it appeared to have perched her just long enough to lure Noddy off the path and then snatch him up and carry him away. At this point, Calla was sure that ferocious elves would pop out from behind the trees at any moment, so the group headed back to town and made their report. Sheriff Savil took their information seriously and sent out some patrols to investigate the various old ruins from a past civilization scattered around the valley. She presumed it was possible that a harpy could have set up a nest in one of them.

The news spread around the town, and the PCs soon heard grumblings about how it must have been someone named Laggo who’d taken Noddy. The townsfolk seemed reluctant to talk about him, but Tasklar applied his charm and soon found out that Laggo was a satyr who’d been raised in town after being orphaned at birth. He’d seemed all right at first, but he’d grown up much faster than human children and got himself into enough trouble that Sheriff Savil had exiled him from town. Unfortunately, he still hung around the valley, occasionally causing trouble in the outlying villages and the like.

The Wedding
At this point, the PCs could do nothing more to help with the search for Noddy lest they miss Ghenna’s wedding. Calla went to consult with her friend (and inform her of Keth’s plans for various barbaric rituals, almost all of which Ghenna vetoed). The ceremony went smoothly, and soon the happy couple were greeting their friends and relations on the feasting field, where a number of games and activities had also been set up. The PCs bestowed their gifts upon the newlyweds, among them some of the jewelry they’d plundered from the ancient tombs and the magical mirror that always presented a flattering image to the viewer that Gil had taken from the evil lizard queen’s belongings beneath the ruined fane.

Keth and Tasklar soon found themselves competing to catch a greased pig (which Keth won), while Gil and Calla had a go at each other on a log with cushioned staves (which Calla won, although Gil insisted that he’d “let” her). Tasklar also got into a friendly musical competition with the local bard, an elf named Willon Evesimere. Afterwards, he struck up a conversation with the elf, learning a bit more about the town, its inhabitants, and its history.

Keth and Tasklar also went up against Honesty in a game of fisticuffs, though neither of them was able to beat the burly hobgoblin. He was impressed enough by the gesture to buy them each a round of drinks afterwards, though. Unbeknownst to their comrades, Gil and Calla had both bet against them and thus raked in a bit of extra money.

The Wedding Crasher
As the festivities began to wind down, Laggo the satyr showed up. Charming nearly everyone with his pan pipes, he proceeded to hand the bride and groom a well-made dagger he claimed to have found in the ruins outside of town. Keth, shaking off the satyr’s magic, recognized the harpy’s stink on the dagger and demanded that the satyr talk about the harpy. When Laggo balked and denied knowing anything about a harpy, Keth punched him. Some of the other townsfolk who’d resisted the magical tune cheered Keth on in an attempt to whip up a mob to drive the satyr away. Those who were still under the influence, however, tried to placate everyone, insisting that Laggo was a friend and should be treated as such!

Eventually the PCs were able to persuade Laggo to take them to the site where he’d found the dagger, but when they got there, he quickly and quietly slipped away into the woods, leaving them stranded … luckily, Keth’s survival skills were good enough to get them back to town, where they found everyone heading back home to bed.

In the morning, Keth was praying at the town’s non-denominational temple when he heard the faint strands of Laggo’s pipes coming from the woods to the north. Gathering up his companions (all except Keluak, who couldn’t be roused from slumber [his player had gone home early]), the group went to investigate.

Laggo revealed himself and apologized for his behavior the night before. He admitted to knowing a harpy named Arekla, whom he had thought was a friend. But he’d gone and confronted her and she had berated him as a fool, and he’d realized that she was completely right. He said he didn’t know for certain but thought that it was quite likely Arekla had Noddy hidden away in her tree, where she could torture him for days before he died. He offered to take the PCs to her lair but refused to fight with them, saying that even though he knew she was irredeemably evil now, he still couldn’t bring himself to hurt her.

The Harpy’s Lair
Laggo explained that Arekla laired in a hollowed-out old tree in a clearing in the woods to the north. As the group neared the harpy’s tree, he told them to plug up their ears so they wouldn’t be taken in by her song. The tree was about 40 feet high and had a hole in the side about 15 feet up. The ground around the tree was bare for about 30 feet all around. A large number of crows perched in the tree’s dead branches.

The PCs soon found out that the crows were allied with Arekla, as they swarmed to the attack pretty much as soon as the PCs approached. They also discovered that Arekla’s lair had a number of magical defences, included strong winds, clouds of stinking fumes, and patches of mud that would suck them down and then trap them as it hardened.

Eventually Arekla herself appeared, and while the PCs were mostly immune to her magic thanks to the wax in their ears, they still found themselves hard pressed to make any headway against the evil harpy and her magic. The swarms of crows proved to be particularly vicious. Tasklar was nearly pecked to death by them.

At one point, Arekla emerged from her lair – in the process revealing herself to be of fiendish blood, with a tough hide and leathery wings instead of feathered ones – and magically polymorphed Calla into a tiny field mouse. Though Calla attempted to hide in the forest underbrush, Arekla soon found her and snatched her up in her claws. She then flew high up into the air and waited … but there was to be no negotiating with Calla’s comrades, none of whom could hear the harpy’s demands, so eventually Arekla grew bored and let go of Calla the mouse.

Calla’s life flashed before her eyes, and she saw it ending abruptly as she slammed into the ground, but suddenly something else arrested her movement – Gil’s bat familiar had caught her up in its own claws!

Wounded and frustrated, Arekla made for her tree with the intention of grabbing her satchel of treasure and fleeing the scene. That was her last mistake, for as she flew into range of Gil’s magic, he placed her in a magical slumber. She plummeted out of the sky and landed with a sickening crunch. As Arekla breathed her last, Calla was released from the harpy’s magic and found herself back in her own body again.

Eventually freeing themselves of the mud, the other PCs brushed themselves off and then proceeded to climb into the tree to see if they could find Noddy. Braving the foul, diseased air inside the tree, they not only emerged with the sickly halfling but also the harpy’s treasure! Keth administered to Noddy, healing his wounds and curing him of his ailments, and the group then escorted him back to Dockalong, where they were hailed as heroes!

Trouble in Larchwood, Part III

Dramatis Personae: Gil, Keluak, Keth, Tasklar
Source: “Alarums and Excursions” (Princes of the Apocalypse), homebrew

A Thorny Proposition
On the way back to Larchwood from Tricklerock Cave, the PCs heard the sounds of a scuffle coming from just off the road. Someone was calling for help! Being the fearless heroes that they are, the PCs rushed through the trees to the site of a ruined farmhouse, inside which they discovered a colorfully-dressed halfling peddler caught up in a mass of writhing vines. Catching sight of them, the halfling called out: “Please make haste and free me from this place!”

As they moved to rescue the merchant, several clumps of dead twigs knitted themselves into humanoid shapes and leapt to attack. Two larger humanoid shapes, covered in sharp needles, shuffled out of the trees. Blights everywhere!

Tasklar turned two of the twig blights and one of the needle blights into kindling with his wand of magic missiles, while Keluak smashed up the other two twig blights with his warhammer. Keth ran through the mass of vines to assist the halfling, grabbing him by the feet and trying to pull him free as the vine blight continued to constrict tighter and tighter.

Gil got caught up by the vines himself as he went to chuck a flask of oil on the vine blight. He was then attacked by one of the needle blights, but he managed to free himself just before his cousin Tasklar could do it for him. (Tasklar was intending to cut the vines with his rapier, and Gil was worried that his cuz would end up cutting him instead, which gave him added incentive to get free on his own!)

Keth managed to pull the halfling free and then Keluak walloped the vine blight with his hammer, only to have the thing wrench his weapon out of his hand and grab him for good measure. Keth lit the oil on fire and watched the vine blight start to burn before it was finished off for good.

Out of danger, the halfling brushed himself off, straightened his clothes, and said, “My thanks you have, good sirs, for saving me from those miserable curs.” As he began the arduous task of gathering up his things, he introduced himself as “Bruce the Goose” and asked the PCs if they would like some “juice” (as he brandished a wine skin). He informed them that he was a “peddler of various sundries” who travelled “all over the country.”

Out of gratitude for the rescue, Bruce the Goose gave the PCs a small leather bag with six small beans inside it. As he handed it over, he warned them: “Be careful not to spill this on the ground, if you still want to be around. Plant them one by one and then you shall have some fun.” With that, the eccentric halfling merchant went on his way.

The PCs decided to plant a bean to see what it did. After a minute, a nest grew up out of the ground with six marzipan eggs in it. The PCs each tried an egg, and through a combination of luck, inspiration, and divine blessings, they *all* made their DC 20 Constitution saves and gained a permanent +1 bonus to their lowest ability scores. They even gave one to Keth’s protégé, Elia, who got a natural 20 on her save. She’s now slightly more charismatic. They’ve saved the last egg for Calla the sorceress.

The Tomb of Moving Stones
As the PCs headed back into Larchwood, another tremor shook the ground. A sinkhole opened up at the crossroads in front of them, swallowing up a cart and the children playing on it (one of whom looked like Pell). A woman ran out of the house and fell into the pit when the edge crumbled away below her. As more people came running, the PCs knotted their ropes together, tied one end around a fence post and dashed to the edge of the hole.

Despite the protests of several town elders, including quarry owner Albaeri Mellikho, the PCs and townsfolk made quick work of rescuing the frightened but unhurt children and the housewife. The PCs then decided to explore the exposed underground area, especially after Keluak recognized the stone door as being of dwarven construction. Their suspicions and curiosity were also piqued by a) the cloaks left by the door and b) the elders’ comments about not disturbing the “delvers” or “moving the stones”.

They opened the door and descended down a dwarf-made tunnel until they arrived at two stone sentinels set out from the wall aways. Keluak recognized them as symbolic guardians and also doorways. One guarded a tunnel that led to an ancient dwarven long drop. The other led to a makeshift charnel house, in which several giant rats feasted on the corpses of three murdered humans. The PCs made short work of the rats and inspected what was left of the bodies. The humans were all dressed in traveling outfits but were no one any of the PCs recognized. They all had a strange occult symbol cut into their foreheads as well.

Moving on, the PCs came to a room with a large black rock levitating in the center. Keth accidentally-on-purpose bumped into Gil, who took a dive under the rock so as not to crash into it. As he came out the other side, he was astonished to find some of the coins from his pocket were left hovering in the air beneath the rock. [Later they came back and found out that the rock wasn’t magical but that there was a magical cylinder of air in the middle of the room that allowed inanimate objects to levitate within it.]

From there, they discovered a large room with the broken, petrified remains of an ancient dwarf held together by a wooden frame. Around the frame, at a respectful distance, was a circle of fine gravel, inside which had been placed a number of coins and gems and a fancy dagger with a night-blue leather grip (and bloodstains on the blade).

They headed back the way they came and discovered another room, this one occupied by a boy held in place by stones. He protested when they went to help him, telling them this was his punishment for not delivering a message to Ilmeth Waelvur, the wainwright, from his father. At this point, they noticed that the half-orc village simpleton, Grund, was also here, staring at them in astonishment from the other side of the room. He told them they had to go, and when they wouldn’t, he levelled a heavy crossbow at them. They rushed him and banged on his head enough times to knock him out, then tied him up. Keth was adamant that Grund wasn’t evil and therefore shouldn’t be punished more than necessary.

They questioned the boy a little more, learning about the existence of the town’s secret society, the Believers, who interpreted the portents of the moving stones in the tomb of the Delvers. The boy also told them that the tomb was guarded by an old man named Baragustas.

Feeling a bit worn out and weary after a long day, the PCs decided to take a rest before pushing further into the tomb. Unfortunately, after only a few minutes, their rest was disturbed by a gang of six thugs in stone masks, who announced themselves to be the “Bringers of Woe” and who had come to “reward” the PCs’ curiosity. Whoa indeed.

Fortunately for the PCs, the Bringers of Woe turned out to be more bark than bite. Before pressing on to meet Baragustas, they donned the cultists’ masks and tricked Baragustas into thinking they were the cultists. They informed him that they’d “taken care of” the nosy adventurers, and he told them to put the bodies with the others. Keth then rushed him and knocked him out with a swift blow of his mace. The old man was tied up and left with Grund and the boy.

The PCs then ventured into the vast chamber of the Delvers’ tomb. Here they found a random assortment of menhirs and trilithons, as well as the bodies of six humanoids placed on stone biers around the edges of the room. Here they also found Larrakh, the stone priest. He saw through their disguise right away, considering that he knew that none of his accomplices were short and squat like a dwarf.

Larrakh opened with the slow spell, which caught up Keluak and Gil. Keth rushed into the room and got behind a standing stone. Tasklar fired the last magic missiles from his wand (which fortunately did *not* crumble into dust), but Larrakh countered them with a shield spell. He then tried to knock Keth prone with an earth tremor, but the half-orc would not be moved. To the PCs’ astonishment, however, all the massive standing stones in the room proceeded to rise up a few inches off the ground.

Larrakh then used shatter on Tasklar and Keth. Keth managed to hang in there with his orcish endurance, but Tasklar went down, one of his eyeballs exploding due to the magical vibrations. Ouch! Keth broke off his attack to save Tasklar from death, while Gil, shaking off his slowness, pressed in to attack with his sword. He got a crit on Larrakh, who cast expeditious retreat and ran to the back of the room, where he opened a secret door in the wall. Gil dashed after him, but the dastardly cultist wrenched a support beam out from the wall as he made his way up the tunnel, causing it to collapse behind him.

The Aftermath
The townsfolk were most grateful for the PCs’ assistance. Constable Harburk found the murdered travellers and launched an investigation. The Believers were all exposed and shunned and ended up turning on each other. Albaeri Mellikho and Ilmeth Waelvur were found guilty of murder and hanged. Marlandro Gaelkur, the village barber, was also found guilty but he managed to skip town. Several of the other Believers, including their leader Elak Dornen, also fled town. Grund was cleared of wrongdoing, since he was just doing what the elders had told him to do. Baragustas knew about the murders but hadn’t committed them himself, so he was thrown out of town.

In the end, the townsfolk of Larchwood opted to elect their first mayor. Their first choice was Constable Harburk, but he politely declined, so they chose his partner and the town’s butcher, Jalessa Ornra, instead.

Kaylessa, the half-elf proprietor of the Swinging Sword Inn, also revealed herself to be something of a sorceress and offered to mentor the PCs as they sought to become Big Damn Heroes.