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.

Scarlet Moon Hall

Dramatis Personae: Berrian, Karth, Tasklar
Source: “Scarlet Moon Hall” (Princes of the Apocalypse)

NB. This episode’s recap is brought to you by Karth (edited by me)!

I was sitting at the inn, nursing another beer, my scowl enough to keep the other patrons from coming closer. My contacts had said they might finally have some information for me regarding the sigil I hunted. I thought back to how my life ought have been … actually not too different, a life of battle, but with my people rather than as a wanderer, the last of my tribe. I stroked Tamaich’s blade … something to be proud of, a remnant of my ancestors. I laughed to myself. The others looked on fearfully, remembering that septon who bad decried it as a cursed weapon.

The little halfling slid next to me, showing me the familiar bowl-like symbol of the fire cult. “A wagon heading north. A merchant carrying goods stamped with the symbol you had us watch for. He mentioned Scarlet Moon Hall, several days from here. Said he was gonna sell beer to the druids gathering there for a festival.”

I tossed over a small sack of coins.

The next day, I gathered what companions I could find, the elf and the bard. It would appear the elf’s sister (?) was off on a tryst with her lover, while my buddy Gil was on a heist. Or something. Though the elf is a dandy, he is deadly with the blade, and the bard has been a faithful companion for years. They would be sufficient. No need for the others … or so I thought.

The land was dry. The weather unseasonably hot. Following the merchant’s trail, we came across a hill, on its top a great burning effigy and a ruined tower or keep. Scattered on the hillside were several small campfires. We agreed that this was not a case of running in blades bared. For once, we would try talking first. Perhaps it was the absence of the elf’s sister, but more likely the thief, that made us act sensibly.

The first group we came across seemed harmless enough: a bunch of young tree huggers having fun. Apparently some grand druid was planning a ritual the next day that would stop the damn heat. A few pleasantries and then we moved on.

The next group were a strange pair of men in red robes. More druids, of the Circle of the Scarlet Moon. The hosts of this festival. They had a bear chained next to them. I didn’t like that, for bears are my totem animal. Fortunately, I was able to hold back the red wave and, literally biting my tongue, listened as Tasklar asked them of the wagon. They said they hadn’t seen it. Strange.

Heading further up the hill, we encountered an odd pair of hunters. Rough-looking men, but men who were still willing to share their beer. My type of men.

Further around to the right, we found another group of huggers, including a short stunted one from some swamp. They were dozing by their fire. They didn’t seem to know anything about a merchant either. Had the man not made it this far?

The group furthest to the right was different: three cloaked men and two enormous wolves, almost as big as me! As we got close, I heard one of the wolves speak, muttering something in Goblin. Stepping back in shock, I realized that these weren’t wolves but worgs! And the three men were actually bugbears in disguise!

A mighty battle ensued. The bugbears couldn’t get past Berrian’s shield as he gradually wore them down, while Tasklar attempted (and failed) to mark them with guiding bolts. As for me, I had held my temper long enough. As I felt the rage build up, I jumped towards the worgs, marking one as a new fur cloak and the other as a new bedroll for the bard. My shield and my furious resilience protected me from the worgs’ sharp teeth and claws as I hacked them down.

The nearest group of druids came running to see what had caused all the noise. They were horrified to learn that the druids they had previously met at this eastern-most camp had obviously been killed by the bugbears. Yet there was no sign of them anywhere.

With our enemies defeated and looted, I quickly cut out the heart of one worg. Searing it in the flames of the bugbears’ campfire, I offered to share it with the others, but they all turned the honor down. After a quick meal, I skinned the two worgs as I thought about how my new cloak would look.

Deciding to warn the other groups that all was not as it seemed, we headed off around the hill, past the hunters, and on to a larger group led by a half-elven druid in the same red robes as the druids with the bear. She did not seem concerned about the danger. However, when questioned of the wagon, Berrian let me know that she seemed to know more than she was saying. Curious.

Pushing on to the final fire along the western slopes, we met another druid, a painted wood elf named Gariena, who was making music with a pair of faeries! She seemed more with it than the other druids. I asked if I could make music with her and proceeded to impress everyone with my playing of the Orcish war screamer (aka “bagpipes”). Tasklar joined in too, but much to everyone’s amusement, he just made an awful noise. The faeries had a lot of fun teasing him after that. Gariena warned us not to stay the night with her because she couldn’t make any promises that her companions wouldn’t prank us. Fair enough!

I was still concerned about the bear, though, and managed to convince the others to head back down the hill. Instead of sticking to the trail, though, we went straight down to the first camp of druids, warned them of the danger and suggested they leave, and then headed over to the red-robed druids.

Ignoring their protests, I began a ritual to commune with the bear. The druids didn’t like that one bit and, attacking us, revealed themselves to be fire wizards! The battle was mighty, and the camp was soon a blazing ruin, but I was protected by my magic fire-resistant armor and my bestial rage. My friends and I cut down the hateful wizards, marked with the symbol of those that had destroyed my tribe!

Unfortunately, we also had to put the enraged bear down, but hey … it was war. And the bear had been about to maul the bard to death. I made my peace with the beast’s spirit as I committed its body to the flames. After that, we convinced the remaining druids to leave, explaining that the Scarlet Moon druids were really fire cultists. Most decided to leave at once, but the gnomish swamp druid said he would help. He claimed to have seen the fire mark previously. In fact, he seemed quite angry about it.

Heading back to the red-robed half-elf and her encampment, I crept up behind one of her guards and surprised him with a loud ”boo!”. A drawn sword wasn’t exactly the reaction I had been expecting, although he had looked pretty nervous about something! Once again battle was joined. The hunters from the next camp over joined in, revealing themselves to be werewolves as they clawed and bit at Tasklar!

Gariena and her faeries came down to help us, and soon the werewolves and the fire cultists all lay dead on the ground. Worryingly, though, the bard had been bitten at least once and was beginning to feel a bit funny. He will need watching in the future, especially around the next full moon …

After clearing out the last of the “false druids”, we headed uphill to the ruined keep … where it all turned to custard. As we crested the hill, we saw two fire mages praying in front of the burning wicker giant. Rushing forward, we focused our attacks on them, killing one mage before he could react. Unfortunately, the bard’s shatter spell also broke the giant apart, which unleashed a raging creature of fire that quickly enveloped Berrian and me in flames!

Though I was only mildly hurt, Berrian was not so lucky. With crossbowmen up on the scaffolding firing down on us, the surviving fire mage hurling flames at us, and hell hounds and a fiery-haired fighter bearing down on us, we were forced to flee.

Having been forced to put aside my desire for vengeance for now, I vow to return another day and finish the job …

The Sowing of Death Continues

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

A Few Surprises
As our protagonists set about discussing what to do next, the priest shouted down at them that he would give them 5 minutes to surrender or else they would regret it. “I reckon we don’t need much more than one minute,” Saul quipped to his companions.

But then, all of a sudden, Gil disappeared in a puff of black smoke, only to be replaced by a rather bewildered-looking Elia! She looked around at all the strange faces, then settled on Tasklar. “Where’s Gil?” she said.

“He was right there …” the bard replied, indicating the spot where Elia was standing. “You seem to have magicked him away.”

“Dammit! It was supposed to take me to Gil, not make me swap places with him!” Elia replied cryptically. She took a moment to compose herself. “Who are your friends, Tasklar? And where are we?”

After a brief round of introductory conversation, Elia got the feeling that she knew Saul somehow, but he wouldn’t admit to being Keth reincarnated. Tasklar also explained to Elia the current situation, and she agreed to help them out. As the group got back to planning the next phase of their attack, Bhára collapsed in a heap on the ground. No one had any idea why, and nothing could shake her out of her coma. Berrian decided to hide her body under the lord commander’s bed. He promised his sister he’d come back for her.

Hoping that would be the last of the surprises for now, the group resolved to tie a rope to the door handle, unbar it, then yank the door open in hopes that any spells or attacks the enemy had ready would be wasted. Then Berrian would charge out into the hall with his shield at the ready to protect the others.

Unfortunately, before they could enact this plan, a wispy form came down the chimney and whirled out into the form of an air elemental! It immediately attacked, attempting to pound the heroes with blasts of air and toss them about the room, but they proved to be too tough for it. Standing their ground, they slashed, poked, and magicked it away into nothing. During the fight, Saul was rather taken aback to see Elia using magic as well as she caused hellish flames to sear away some of the elemental’s substance. Where on Erathis had she learned to do that?!

The Plan of Attack
With the elemental dealt with, our heroes proceeded with their plan and yanked the door open from across the room. Nothing happened. Berrian advanced into the hall. Nothing. He checked the other rooms. Still nothing. As the others emerged from the lord commander’s room, the elven paladin gestured up the stairs. Tasklar turned Elia invisible and she snuck up to the pinnacle so quietly that no one could even tell that she’d gone. When she returned, she reported that a guy in white robes with a bird-like mask was standing at the ready on one side of the grassy lawn, while a bird-man was waiting on the other side. Several knights riding giant vultures were circling the tower. And it looked like a storm was brewing out there, too.

Nevertheless, they charged up the stairs, taking the fight to the enemy. Tasklar went up first and lost another eye to a readied magical strike from the bird-man. Ignoring his attacker, however, Tasklar turned to the air priest and unloaded fireballs on him. Unfortunately, the priest turned out to be quick enough to avoid the brunt of the blasts. Berrian ran out to engage him in melee, only to have the priest call down a bolt of lightning on him. The priest then flew up onto the roof of the pagoda, out of the range of Berrian’s blade.

Meanwhile, Elia was firing shots at the bird-man, who was blasting the group with spells. At one point, he swooped down and, as they were all nicely lined up inside the pagoda, sent a lightning bolt surging through them. At the same time, the knights on their vultures were flying past, taking potshots at the heroes with rays of frost.

Without Bhára’s spellpower, this proved to be too much for our heroes. They opted to retreat down to the armory by the entry hall. Grabbing bedding from the knights’ rooms (as well as the still unconscious Bhára) on the way down, they heaped it up in the stairwell on the ground floor and lit it on fire, then closed the doors to the entry hall and, at Elia’s suggestion, started cutting down the eagle-shaped battering ram with the intention of using it to barricade the inner doors.

Before they could, however, the doors burst open, revealing Whisper, the air genasi monk, and two initiates with crossbows. “Did you really think you could get away?” asked Whisper.

Tasklar attempted to parlay with her, but she was having none of it. She was dedicated to helping bring about the world’s destruction so that people could leave unfettered by physical things. She hit Tasklar with a fist of compressed air, blasting him back into the front doors and knocking him unconscious. The others moved in to retaliate, with Saul moving close enough that his guardian falcon spirits could do their work. The initiates died quickly. Whisper didn’t last much longer. The heroes rejoiced when the “blue bitch” collapsed onto the ground.

A Few More Surprises
While attempting to rest in the armory, our progatonists were surprised by another cloudy form slipping through the cracks. Only this one didn’t turn out to be an air elemental. It was Azoth the air priest himself! And in each hand he held a leather bag. “You must let go your earthly tether! Enter the void! Enter and become wind!” he shouted, as he shoved one bag into the other. Immediately reality was torn asunder and the heroes found themselves being sucked into a silvery void.

The priest was also sucked through, and then the rift closed. They were trapped! The priest continued to cackle maniacally until the heroes silenced him. They then tied each other together with rope so they wouldn’t get separated. Looking around, they found themselves surrounded by an endless silver sky filled with distant clouds. Here and there were strange roiling shapes of color. None of them had any idea where they were.

Suddenly the sky in one area started to rapidly darken, and the heroes found themselves being buffeted by a psychic wind composed of lost dreams and memories. All but Saul were able to resist the psychic storm; the halfling, however, was stunned by the overwhelming psychic surge. Saul was also dragged into a swirling pool of flaming red. Still attached to him by the rope, the others decided to follow.

They found themselves standing on a massive iron cube, cracked and pitted and rusty, floating in an airy void. It was cold here, unlike in the last place. They could see other cubes of varying sizes floating all around. As they watched, two cubes collided with a loud clang. They could also hear the sound of a massive battle taking place somewhere nearby. Wandering over to take a look, they found two massive armies of orc and goblin spirits attempting to slaughter each other. Not wanting to disturb them, they retreated to the edge of the cube and had a look over the side. They just found more of the same.

Where the hell were they?!

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).

Feathergale Spire

Dramatis Personae: Calla, Gil, Keth, Sorrel
Source: “Feathergale Spire” (Princes of the Apocalypse)

Shallow Graves
A shepherd by the name of Larmon Greenboot, known to frequent Lao Chen’s shop in Larchwood, had reported finding some freshly dug graves on a hill east of the town, near where he grazed his sheep. He took the heroes to go check it out. As they began to exhume the bodies, Larmon warned them not to anger the Stranger (the aspect of death worshipped by the Andarians) and cautiously retreated down the hill. In response, Keth mumbled a prayer to the Raven Queen, the Stranger’s counterpart from the Old Faith, and continued with the grim work.

What our protagonists found were the bodies of a well-dressed dwarf artisan and his female human bodyguard, plus the body of a human dressed in stony armor that conjured up memories of Larrakh, the stone priest who had been corrupting Larchwood’s town elders. Lastly, there was an emaciated man in white robes with a feathery mantle. An examination of the body revealed that the man in stony armor had been slain by arrows, whereas the man in the white robes had been hit with something blunt but hard, as had the dwarf and his guard.

Taking advantage of their vantage point atop the hill, the heroes noticed a tall, thin spire rising up from the hills to the north. They could see what appeared to be some rather large birds (judging from their size from such a distance) circling it. They were curious, as they’d never noticed the tower before, so they set out to see if anyone was living there. If so, perhaps they might have seen something that would provide some clues about the dead on the hill.

After about two hours, they came to the bottom of a wide, gusty canyon through which a small river wound its way south. The tower rose up from a rocky promontory at the far end of the canyon. Deciding that the canyon looked a bit difficult to navigate, our protagonists found a way up onto the western lip and proceeded along the relatively flatter ground. As they made their way along, one of the giant birds swooped towards them, and they could see it was a massive vulture with a human riding on its back! The man gave them a wave as he passed overhead. They waved back, and the man directed his mount back to the tower.

The Feathergale Society
They soon came across a path that led to a point directly opposite the tower’s raised drawbridge. A bell on a post stood nearby. When they rang it, a small window to one side of the drawbridge was opened, and a woman leaned out, courteously inquiring as to their business. The heroes replied that they were conducting an investigation of sorts and were hoping that the occupants of the tower might be able to help.

Much to the heroes’ delight and relief, their answer proved sufficient, for almost immediately the drawbridge lowered, revealing a set of double doors that opened once the bridge was completely down. Through the doors came the woman they’d just spoken with. She was dressed in a uniform of sorts, consisting of scale armor with blue and grey trimmings. Walking a little way out onto the drawbridge, she introduced herself as Savra Belabranta, a member of the Feathergale Society. As she invited the heroes in, Savra explained that they had good timing, as the society was planning on holding a feast to commemorate its tenth anniversary that very night! The heroes were most welcome to join them.

As the heroes entered the tower, they peppered Savra with questions about her group. She explained that she and her fellows were aerial mount enthusiasts. Mostly nobles from all over who liked to ride flying mounts like vultures and hippogriffs and go hunting in the skies.

While it was obvious from Savra’s eloquence and poise that she was of noble blood herself, the same could not be said of the two dour-looking men in drab robes standing guard inside the entry hall. In fact, these two men looked a bit under-nourished, as far as the heroes were concerned. They glowered sullenly at the heroes as they passed beneath a large wooden eagle suspended from the ceiling. Its wings and beak were made from steel. It looked heavy.

Savra ushered the adventurers into a central stairwell and led them up to the tower’s pinnacle, where, she explained, they could meet with with the society’s leader, Lord Commander Thurl Merosska. As they headed up the stairs, the heroes were vaguely unsettled by some ominous chanting coming through a slightly open door to the north.

The stairs wound up several flights before reaching a rotunda at the top of the tower. The heroes were surprised to find a grassy lawn spreading out around the rotunda, with four white stone paths indicating the points of the compass. Two knights mounted on giant vultures watched the newcomers warily as Savra introduced them to her commander.

An older man in his fifties, with faded blond hair and a muscular build, Lord Merosska had “aristocrat” written all over him. He was also pretty smooth, bowing to Calla and kissing her hand in gentlemanly fashion. He welcomed them to Feathergale Spire and repeated Savra’s invitation to join the festivities that evening. When the heroes attempted to broach the subject of the dead bodies on the hill, the commander waved a hand dismissively, telling them they would talk of such matters after the feast. After providing the adventurers with more details about the society and its goals, he directed Savra to give them a tour of the tower.

The top floor consisted of the knights’ quarters. Not much to see there. When Keth asked where they worshipped, Savra replied that they held their religious observances on the pinnacle lawn, in the open air, which didn’t really come as a surprise to anyone.

The next floor down contained some more living quarters (including some spare rooms where the heroes could rest later on) plus the great hall, complete with hunting trophies and tapestries and a long, curving table laid out for a feast. Two off-duty knights were already at the table, having a few quiet drinks. The outer wall contained several large windows, open to the air outside.

Back down on the ground floor, Savra showed them the kitchen, where several of the society’s under-nourished acolytes were huddled around a bubbling cauldron. According to Savra, they were attempting to become one with the steam – an initiation rite that she herself had undertaken. The idea, Savra explained, was to free yourself from worldly concerns and attachment to physical things.

Moving on, Savra showed them the solarium next door, where two more acolytes tended to a large variety of plants, while a blue-skinned woman meditated while standing on one leg in the middle of the room. As the group entered, the woman opened her eyes and greeted the heroes warmly. Savra introduced her as Whisper, a member of the rare genasi race.

Whisper asked if any one of them would be interested in sparring with her. She was keen to fight someone better matched than the acolytes. Sorrel stepped forward with a grin. The two bowed low then began trading blows. Whisper revealed that she could push and punch without ever touching her opponent, but Sorrel proved hard to move. He gave as good as he got, but he eventually yielded first in order to save his dignity, asking that perhaps they could resume the bout another time. Whisper thanked him for his time and congratulated him on holding his own so well.

Savra then took them down to the bottom floor, which consisted of a circular store room surrounded by open-air stables, some of which housed more giant vultures, as well as a few hippogriffs. The tour seemingly over, Gil took Savra aside and asked her to take him for a ride on her hippogriff. Blushing, she told the others that they could go back up to the great hall and relax, then started getting her mount ready. Gil paid close attention to how the saddle and all the fiddly bits worked.

While the two lovebirds went soaring out into the canyon, the others climbed back up to the great hall. Sorrel retired to one of the spare rooms to rest his aching back, while Keth went to have a drink (or two or three) with the off-duty knights. Calla hovered nearby, keeping an eye on the half-orc in case he did anything stupid. Keth ended up playing them a song on his lute, a song that turned out to be about Calla. That prompted one of the knights to ask if she was his girlfriend. As Keth spluttered out a no, the knight turned to Calla: “You better watch out, lady. He’s fallen for you. Hard.” Everyone had a bit of a laugh at poor Keth’s expense.

Feast, Interrupted
As the sun began to set, the knights of the Feathergale Society gathered in the great hall, clad in their finest garments. The heroes were invited to sit near Lord Merosska, who asked them to share some tales of their adventures. They spoke about the work they’d done in and around Larchwood, about the half-ogres they’d fought in the badlands to the north, and so on. The knights seemed suitably impressed.

As the meal progressed, Keth decided to broach the subject of the dead men on the hill again. Merosska’s face darkened, and he began telling his guests about the knights’ sworn enemies: cultists who worshipped Ogrémoch, the evil Prince of Elemental Earth. It was clear from the vehemence with which he belittled them that the lord commander despised the members of the Cult of the Black Earth, as he called it. When the heroes told him about Larrakh, the commander confirmed in no uncertain terms that he sounded just like one of the cult’s priests.

Later, the heroes noticed one of the society’s acolytes approach Merosska and whisper in his ear, glancing at them as he did so. Much to their surprise, they were sure they recognized the man. Although he had shaved his head and was unhealthily thin, he looked very much like Rotharr Hatherhand, one of Larchwood’s disgraced elders. The one who’d run out on his family after the Believers scandal had blown up in everyone’s faces. The one who’d thought crushing his son under some heavy stones for several days was a good way to punish him for failing to deliver a message. What on Erathis was he doing here?!

Before our protagonists had a chance to find out, however, one of the knights still on watch burst into the room, shouting something about a manticore. Rotharr scuttled away into a corner as Merosska leapt to his feet. Yanking a ring off his finger, the lord commander offered it as a reward to whoever brought him the manticore’s head. He then invited his guests to join in the hunt, if they so wished. When they all said yes, Merosska approached Calla and asked her to accompany him on his personal mount.

As the adventurers emerged onto the pinnacle, they were taken aback by the change in the atmosphere after dark. The wind had died down to a gentle breeze, and the canyon had filled with fog. A half-moon shone amidst the twinkling stars in the night sky.

Suddenly, a dark shape went flitting through the fog down below. Several of the knights, already mounted on their giant vultures, swooped after it. Gil rode with Savra on her hippogriff again, while Sorrel and Keth climbed onto hippogriffs flown by the two knights Keth had entertained with his music earlier in the day. As for Calla, she was not at all surprised when Merosska’s personal mount turned out to be a snow-white griffon. Despite the warnings from her dreams, she hopped up behind Merosska and they were off.

After a few minutes of flying blindly through the dark, foggy canyon, a horn sounded from nearby. The manticore had been found! As the adventurers and their escorts approached, one knight was already in retreat, having been struck by some of the manticore’s wickedly sharp tail spikes. As the hunt progressed, Calla let loose with not one but two mighty fireballs, scorching the creature badly enough that Gil was able to finish it off with a well-placed arrow.

Back at the tower, the knights cheered Gil (and Calla) for their excellent work. Gil received his ring. And everyone went back to partying. Some time later, after quite a bit of drinking and flirting, Gil found himself being led away by Savra for a bit of hanky-panky in her quarters. They were still going at it when the others began thinking about turning in for the night.

Ritual Sacrifice
In the middle of the night, the society’s acolytes came to wake up the adventurers and invite them to come up to the pinnacle for worship in the open air. Calla growled at them not to disturb her sleep and rolled over, while the two half-orcs began gathering their weapons. The acolytes convinced them that they wouldn’t be needing weapons and shields – and, furthermore, such things were not welcome at the service. They spouted some strange lines about emptying oneself into the void and becoming one with the wind and so on. Keth and Sorrel couldn’t make heads or tails of it.

After the two half-orcs had headed up the stairs, the remaining acolytes waited for a few moments before binding Calla’s hands and feet while she slept. Gil, meanwhile, was still with Savra in her boudoir, completely oblivious to what was about to go down elsewhere in the tower (or who, for that matter). Little did they know it, but our protagonists had been expertly divided and conquered.

When Keth and Sorrel reached the pinnacle, a man dressed in white robes with a black feather mantle was addressing the assembled knights and acolytes on the lawn in a language they couldn’t understand. They couldn’t see his face, as it was hidden behind a black, bird-like mask, but they could tell he looked just as emaciated as the dead man they’d uncovered on the hill, and he was wearing the same outfit. Just as the two were beginning to feel like something wasn’t right, the acolytes carrying Calla arrived at the top of the stairs!

Up to this point, Calla had not struggled with her captors, but when she took one look at the assembly on the pinnacle, she muttered a word of magic and teleported out of her bonds. As she did so, the Feathergales bounded into action. As the feathered priest began shouting about how the adventurers were to be sacrificed to someone named Yan-C-Bin, several of the acolytes and knights grabbed at Sorrel and Keth. The cleric responded by summoning his guardian falcon spirits, which flew around him in, slaying many of the acolytes in one go. Calla used her pearl of power to regain enough magical energy to cast another fireball, which wiped out a good number of the knights.

The strange emaciated priest conjured up gusts of wind and magical dust devils in an attempt to push Sorrel off the edge of the tower, but the warrior proved yet again to be nearly unmoveable. He slowly but inexorably fought his way back towards the central stairwell.

Merosska drew his greatsword and advanced on Calla, cutting her down with several powerful cuts. He then dragged her body over to the edge and tossed it off the side.

Meanwhile, one of the remaining knights swooped in on his giant vulture, which grabbed Keth in its mighty talons and flew off into the night with him. The half-orc managed to maintain his guardian spirits, which eventually slew the vulture, causing both Keth and the knight to plummet into the fog. The knight used air magic to slow his descent, but Keth plummeted the full five hundred feet in a matter of seconds and hit the rocks in the canyon with a sickening crunch.

Keth’s death was not entirely in vain, however: Gil had heard his friend’s scream and had looked out Savra’s window in time to see the half-orc fall past. This alerted him to the danger, and he began gathering his things. Someone knocked on Savra’s door, shouting that she was missing the fun. Realizing it would take too long to don his armor, Gil just grabbed his gear and fished around in his pack for the magic apple he’d been saving since forever. Biting into it, he turned his naked self invisible.

As Savra headed out the door, Gil climbed out the window and swung a grappling hook up to the roof to help him climb. He made it to the top in time to see Merosska throwing Calla’s body over the edge and Sorrel make a leap past the bird priest and into the stairwell. Gil cottoned on to the society’s true nature – a cult devoted to elemental air rather than earth – he decided not to hang around. Hastily climbing back down to Savra’s room, Gil grabbed the rest of his stuff and then made his way down to the stable level.

Sorrel, meanwhile, ran as fast as he could down the central stairwell as the surviving knights chased after him. He spotted Whisper coming up and barrelled past her. She tried to stop him, but he was not to be deterred. Even though she was faster than him, the half-orc was determined to get away. He made it all the way down to the entry hall, where he muscled his way past the two acolytes on guard duty. Much to his relief, the drawbridge was down! Not stopping to wonder why, he charged out onto it. Whisper dashed out behind him and tried to use her magic air powers to push him off the side but to no avail. Unfortunately, Sorrel could only withstand so much punishment. As he ran out onto the misty plateau, Whisper chased him down and beat him into submission with her fists and feet.

The Survivors
After a few false tries, Gil managed to find Savra’s hippogriff in the stables. It recognized her scent on him and was willing to listen when he used his dragonmark to speak with it (unlike the first two hippogriffs, who had refused to listen to him since he wasn’t their master). He managed to convince it that Savra was in trouble and needed help. Then, remembering what Savra had done with the saddle and all the fiddly beats, he got the hippogriff ready and escaped out the stable door just as some of the knights were coming down the stairs to get their own mounts. Gil directed the hippogriff down into the fog, successfully evading the knights’ notice.

He spent upwards of fifteen minutes scouring the canyon for any sign of Keth, all the while evading the knights’ notice. Much to his relief, he managed to locate his friend’s broken body at the base of the tower. He managed to convince the hippogriff to scoop Keth’s body up in its claws, but had a hard time convincing it that the body wasn’t food. By the time they reached the outskirts of Larchwood, there wasn’t a whole lot left of Keth.

Calla, meanwhile, had miraculously survived her fall [thanks to a natural 20 on a death save]. Her body was badly broken, though, and when she tried to move an arm to reach a healing potion she had in her pack, she blacked out. When she eventually came to again, she found she could move. Fearing that the knights would soon be hunting for her, she managed to get her scroll case in hand and pulled out her scroll of dimension door. The spell was not one she was able to cast normally, but she gave it her best shot.

Nothing happened. Calla watched in misery as the words faded. Resigned to her fate, she lay back on the stones, waiting to die. Some hours later, however, the spell kicked in [scroll mishap!] and she suddenly found herself up at the top of the cliff near the entrance to the tower. It was still dark out, and none of the knights seemed to be around. She was able to get a healing potion out of her bag and drink it, which healed her body enough that she could limp away.

Many hours later, Calla hobbled into Larchwood, broken but alive. Somehow she’d managed to find her way back in the dark. After a good rest and some mothering from Kaylessa, Calla sought out Gil. The two survivors mourned Sorrel’s loss as they bundled up Keth’s remains and headed off to see Iriandel and his elf druids. The party had amassed enough wealth to pay for the costly reagents needed in the druids’ reincarnation rituals. As the magic did its work, Keth returned to the land of the living in a brand new body. Standing up, he was shocked to find that Gil was no longer the shortest member of the group! Keth had been reincarnated as a halfling!

 

DM Notes: My players have sworn to get revenge, so we’ll be returning to Feathergale Spire next session. Even though I left Sorrel’s fate undecided, his player wanted to make a new PC. It looks like he’ll be bringing in an elf paladin of some kind. Still waiting for details.

Assault on Dellmon Ranch

Dramatis Personae: Gil, Sorrel, Tasklar (and a host of NPCs)
Source: “Alarums and Excursions” (Princes of the Apocalypse)

Prologue
When Gil and Tasklar finally returned to Larchwood, they were gobsmacked by the news that their dwarven friend Keluak had been killed and later brought back to life in the body of a half-orc. They were also rather surprised to find that Calla had grown quite a bit taller in the few weeks since they’d last seen her.

Orcs!
When reports filtered into Larchwood that orcs were raiding the homesteads to the northwest, the PCs set off to investigate. They soon came across a burning farm. Tasklar turned himself invisible and snuck into the yard, looking for orcs and any survivors. Although he could see plenty of boot prints and some wagon tracks, there appeared to be no one around, not even any bodies. Then he heard coughing coming from within the house. Hurrying to the front door, he found a bloody half-elf male struggling to lift himself off the ground. Still invisible, he called out to the man that, although he couldn’t see him, he was there to help!

As Tasklar pulled the man out of the burning house, the man started yelling for his wife, Maygan, who was with child. Turning visible again, Tasklar rushed back into the house, going room to room but finding no one. As he emerged, his companions joined him in the farmyard. Although Sorrel’s appearance alarmed the farmer, he was soon placated and calmed down enough to reveal that his farmhands also appeared to be missing. All he remembered was that orcs had come barging into his house, and one of them hit him over the head as he was attempting to shield his wife. Introducing himself as Selwyn, he thanked the PCs for rescuing him and begged them to help him find his wife.

After a quick but fruitless look around the burning farm buildings, the group set off down the trail, following the obvious tracks left by the orcs. An hour or so later, they spotted the orcs resting by a dry riverbed. The wagon appeared stuck in the soft sand, and they could see a woman hunched in the back of the wagon along with various goods looted from the farm. The two farmhands were resting at the front of the wagon.

The PCs were also spotted, however, and two orcs with bows advanced on them. Gil put one to sleep, but the other slipped into the trees and proceeded to flank them as its compatriots charged up the path to engage the PCs in melee. Unfortunately for the orcs, they proved to be no match for the three hardened adventurers, and Selwyn was soon reunited with his wife, Maygan, and their two farmhands. With no home to return to, however, they asked the PCs to escort them to the nearby Dellmon Ranch. On the way, Selwyn explained that the Dellmons had begun fortifying their ranch and had invited their neighbors to join them.

The Ranch
A few hours later, the group found themselves staring at a large compound protected by some crude fortifications consisting of wooden palisades, makeshift crenellations, and a large ditch on the eastern side. The windows of the various buildings had all been boarded up as well. Inside the compound, the PCs found the Dellmon family and a host of other farmers, ranch hands, and children, as well as a group of soldiers led by a holy knight and a trio of scouts. Last but not least were the ranch’s two dwarven smiths. The PCs were welcomed in with open arms and introductions were made.

The Dellmon family included a number of able-bodied warriors, led by patriarch Kerbin, who’d refused to flee from his ancestral lands. His oldest son, Perd, stood by him, determined to fight. Perd’s wife, Marka, a skilled hunter, was also fiercely determined to protect her children. Kerbin’s younger son, Fyndrick, was full of bravado and wanted to take the fight to the orcs instead of waiting for them to lay siege to the ranch. Lastly, Kerbin’s daughter, Dreena, was a member of the local druid circle. She informed the PCs that she’d sent an animal messenger to a nearby tribe of wood elves but hadn’t heard back. She hoped they would send aid in time.

The knight was one Ser Erned Stoutblade, a member of the Order of the Warrior’s Sons, part of the military wing of the Andarian Septry. Full of zealous bluster, Ser Erned had brought his contingent of faithful warriors to deliver retribution for the orcs’ wanton savagery.

The trio of scouts were led by a halfling named Flameran Verminbane. The halfling and his two human cohorts had been tracking the orc war band as it moved through the countryside and had come to the ranch to warn the Dellmons of its approach. When asked, Flameran explained that the war band consisted of about forty orcs.

The dwarves were twins named Stowal and Branikan Gorunn. They had a bet on to see which of them could slay the most orcs.

The First Attack
The PCs took a moment to catch their breath and then set about organizing the ranch’s defense. They ordered oil to be poured out in various places, hot coals from the dwarves’ forge to be carried up to the roof, zip lines to be strung up between the various buildings, and so on. Gil also activated his silver raven and sent it out to look for the orcs. No sooner had they positioned everyone to their liking but the orcs’ scouts were spotted on the ridges. The orcs soon came pouring into the fields and surrounded the ranch, approaching from all sides.

Then the drumming started. It seemed to give the orcs heart, while it chilled the defenders to their core. Not liking the unsettling beat one bit, or the demoralizing effect it was having on their fellow defenders, the PCs pinpointed its source and took aim. Tasklar fired on the orc war drummer with his wand of magic missiles, then Gil put him to sleep. As the defenders shook themselves free of the drum’s effects, a heavily-armored orc bent over and shook the drummer awake … which merely prompted Tasklar to unload his wand on the poor drummer, taking him out of the fight before it had even properly begun! [DM note: This prompted comparisons to that scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark where the Arab guy brandishes his scimitar theatrically only to have Indy pull out his gun and shoot him dead.]

While the defenders were able to pick off a few orcs as they approached, the melee was soon on as the orcs charged the barricades. A few of them clambered over the wall and got into the compound, but they were quickly dispatched by the defenders. During the course of the fight, Kerbin and both of his sons were taken down, only to be revived by Dreena. Fyndrick nearly lost his head when the war chief attacked him with a mighty sweep of his falchion. As the young human dropped to the ground, the chieftain roared in victory, seemingly growing stronger, much to Sorrel’s dismay. That said, although the half-orc was quickly surrounded, he was more than able to hold his own, even against the war chief.

When a number of orcs approached the front door with the intention of smashing through, the defenders realized they’d forgotten to place anyone inside to protect the noncombatants. Fortunately, the men up on the roof had the presence of mind to drop the burning coals from the forge down on the orcs, sending them reeling.

Before long, the orcs withdrew out of sight. The defenders were able to lick their wounds and count their dead, among them Branikan the dwarf and a number of farmers and ranch hands. Two of Ser Erned’s warriors had also perished. Fyndrick was now sporting a nasty scar on his neck from when the war chief’s falchion had nearly separated his head from his shoulders.

While they nursed their wounds, the PCs concluded that the ranch was too large for the survivors to defend properly, so they ordered everyone to withdraw to the southern side. All the noncombatants were moved out of the house and into the barn, and the majority of the defenders set themselves up in the space between the barn and the forge or up on those buildings’ roofs. They also laid out more oil for Dreena to light up with her fire magic.

The Second Attack
It soon became apparent that the orcs had plans of their own. Rather than make another mad rush across the open fields, which had proved too costly for them, they moved upwind and set fire to the fields, shrouding the compound in smoke and reducing the defenders’ visibility to thirty feet.

In response, Gil sent out his raven and his bat familiar to keep watch. As the bat’s echolocation picked up the orc scouts advancing through the smoke, Gil lit up the oil they’d placed in front of the house and then zipped across the yard to the forge to warn the others. Hot on his heels were several of the orc scouts, emerging from the smoke and peppering the defenders with arrows. As the scouts melted back into the smoke, a group of orcs rushed across the yard to assault the defenders’ northern flank. As the archers on the roofs fired arrows down, Dreena lit up the oil, burning them severely.

At the same time, orc scouts appeared out of the smoke from the west, just as several orc grunts came climbing up onto the forge roof. A number of the defenders were slain up there, and Marka Dellmon was knocked to the ground, where she was set upon and laid low by the orcs’ war chief. Her sister-in-law, Dreena, came to her aid, reviving her with the last of her healing spells.

More orcs came rushing out of the smoke to assault the southern barricades. Things looked pretty desperate for a while, but the defenders held out, and soon the orcs’ war chief was the last man standing. He spat at Sorrel as the half-orc approached, calling him a traitor to his race. The war chief, knowing that his doom was at hand, was determined to at least take Sorrel with him. Alas, it was not to be. Although the chieftain managed to take out one of Sorrel’s eyes, he was unable to kill him. Outnumbered, the war chief quickly succumbed to his wounds, with Gil delivering the killshot.

As the smoke slowly cleared, the result of the battle became evident. More than forty orcs lay dead around the compound. Though many of the defenders lay among them, their numbers were far fewer. Ser Erned had lost all of his men, and if it hadn’t been for Dreena with her healing magic, the Dellmons would all be dead as well.

And at that moment, the elves showed up!

Epilogue
As the ranchers settled into cleaning up the mess, the PCs went in search of the orcs’ camp, where they found all the loot that they’d stolen from other farms and homesteads. They gave a good portion of it to the common folk, keeping only a few choice pieces for themselves, including a pair of sending stones and a magic breastplate granting resistance to fire. Sorrel also claimed as a prize the hideous belt made of tanned dwarf skin that the orc’s war chief had worn. He sensed it was magical and found himself being drawn to it despite his utter revulsion. He spirited it away in his pack, determined to figure out what to do with it later.

After all was said and done, the PCs had proved themselves to be capable leaders of men, ensuring that their heroic deeds at Dellmon Ranch would be made known far and wide for years to come!