The Demon War

Prologue
The Unfolding of the World

Ages ago, in the unfolding of the world, it is said that a mad god planted the seed of evil at the foundations of the universe. Here is festered and grew, branching out to form the eternal realm of terror and chaos known as the Abyss. All that entered the Abyss was corrupted, defiled, and made altogether malevolent, and it grew to have such influence over all things that even some of the primordials were transformed into demon princes. The mad god laughed as his power soared, and he created an army of demons to conquer all things and achieve total dominion. Calling the forces of fire and darkness to him, he marched out from the Abyss and began a war against the other gods.

After many terrible battles in the heavens and upon the face of the world, the mad god and his demon army were ultimately defeated by the gods. The demon princes and their followers were cast back into the Abyss, but the mad god was taken to a secret place and chained there. And there he is still, living in an undying torment, forever imprisoned and forever seeking some way to escape. The Chained God, the Elder Elemental Eye, some name him, his older name now being accursed.

The Abyss endured its defeat in that first and oldest war, continuing to this day, the everlasting abode of the demon princes and their untold hordes of minions. There, evil does not sleep, and the forces of annihilation wait to be summoned once again to inflict devastation and terror on the universe and its inhabitants. They believe that by unmaking all things, they will release the Chained God from his prison and enable him to complete his mastery of the universe, remaking it in his own image, ruling over his horrific creation for all eternity. Even now, the Abyssal armies seek new ways to enter the world and wreak a most terrible vengeance. And soon, they will find one…

The war between Aurum and The Crimson has lasted for over 1,000 years, and none of those who initiated it yet live. Its roots are in the Shimmering Heights, a vast range of mountains that lies between the two great kingdoms. Here is the world’s greatest reserve of residiuum, the fundamental material used for the creation of magical items, the raw source of the world that was left when the gods had finished making their dominion. Both the mercantile power of Aurum and the warrior clans of The Crimson knew that possessing the Shimmering Heights would mean great power and perhaps even the dominion of the world. And so they have fought, century after century, battle after battle, with no clear victor in sight.

It began as a simple conflict between mining expeditions, but it quickly escalated into a border dispute, then into a proxy war fought by puppet rulers, then into a full blown war between the two realms. Generations of both kingdoms have known nothing but war, been taught to hate and fear their enemy, and died on the ruined landscape surrounding the Shimmering Heights. There have been countless attempts at treaties, seemingly conclusive victories on both sides, appeals made to the gods, and still it continues, the ancient hatreds and lust for power too great to overcome. The closest thing to an end to the fighting came in the relatively recent past, when the great human empire of Nerath intervened and claimed the Heights for itself. Renaming the disputed territory Sarek and appointing a Nerath governor to rule over it, it seemed that the conflict between Aurum and The Crimson had finally come to an end. But it was not to be.

The empire of Nerath suddenly fell into ruin and anarchy, and its tributary Sarek fell with it. With the Shimmering Heights and their precious residiuum deposits once again up for grabs, the latest generations of the two warring kingdoms have once more marched into the field, rolling over the intervening lands and forcing their people to swear allegiance to their own cause. Ancient fortresses and cities are razed and rebuilt again, soldiers die, and more and more civilians are left refugees without a home. Signs are, however, that this may be the last struggle between Aurum and The Crimson.

Unceasing conflict and vast amounts of treasure and lives have all but ruined these once great kingdoms, bankrupting them and ruining the morale of their people. Even the commanders of the military and the ruling classes have begun to consider alternatives for their future – alternatives that lie in some other land where peace reigns and life and death are accorded their proper reverence. The last gasp of both kingdoms has come at the Serak city of Geist, once a jewel in the wilderness beneath the Shimmering Heights, now a ruin. The expeditionary forces of Aurum and the massed might of The Crimson have fought each other to a standstill at the Iron Citadel, a fortress now held by the mostly volunteer Aurum army but surrounded by The Crimson’s mixed force of monstrous creatures, clan warriors, and mercenaries.

Your characters are privates in the Aurum army belonging to an elite unit that answers to Queen Avelda Patina herself. Known as The Gilded Lions, these commandos, knights, and sellswords have held out against The Crimson’s siege for six months, but at great cost. Most of the friends you made in training are dead, captured, or missing, and you have seen other Aurum outposts throughout the city fall to the enemy. You’ve lost track of how many mounts and commanders you have lost. It is only through the defenses of the Iron Citadel and your own skill and resolve that you have not also fallen. With food supplies running low, however, it may only be a matter of time before your time comes.

Weary of war and its horrors, you awaken on the seventh day of the seventh month to find dwarven Sergeant Dural telling you to go to the commander’s tent and receive special orders for a new mission. The sky is overcast and dark, with every indication of an impending storm. Your comrades are fatigued and hungry, keeping watch for signs of another assault on the Citadel. The camps of the enemy stretch out to the horizon, with tribes of goblin kin and orcs, companies of ruthless mercenaries, and The Crimson’s own clan warriors rising with the dawn or else settling down after a long night watch.

Your current commander is one of the few officers remaining, Captain Lanyard, a young human knight who was as green as you were when you first made landing in the nearby city of Kenting. He is now a battle-scarred veteran, and he has the respect and trust of The Gilded Lions. Rumor has it that he gave up a comfortable life as the scion of a wealthy mercantile house back in Aurum’s capitol, Beryl. Whatever the case, he must have something special in mind to call on your unique set of abilities. You have already made a name for yourselves, honing your skills in the forge of war, somehow escaping the fates that have befallen so many of your comrades thus far. It may be simple chance, but it may also be the sign of a greater destiny ahead. This day may well prove to be the last battle of this terrible war, but it is only the beginning of your adventure…

Heroes

Breagan (Kyle): Half-Elf Warlord. From a town in the foothills of the Shimmering Heights, he was pressed into service by Aurum, but quickly displayed charismatic leadership skills. He was raised among humans, and trained in the Aurum capitol city of Beryl. He earned the rank of corporal as a result of his most recent mission.

Gath (Greg): Human Fighter. A member of the Atmet tribe, once indigenous to the country of Sarek, his people have been split up and decimated by the war. His real name is unknown, as his people believe that knowing your true name grants others power over you. He volunteered to fight on the side of Aurum. He’s a private.

Kai (Holly): Elf Ranger. Kai was pressed into service by Aurum, along with the other teenagers from her elven village. The forest which had been home to her people was one of many casualties of the war. She’s a private.

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Chapter One: The Last Battle
The Heroes Perform a Desperate Mission

Breagan, Gath, and Kai were led by Sergeant Dural to meet Captain Lanyard and the Eladrin intelligence officer Briana to discuss their next mission. They were told that time was running out for the Lions and that they desperately needed to get word to General Tork in Kenting for reinforcements. All attempts at sending messages or runners had failed thus far. Intelligence acquired from a captured kobold indicated that an enemy watchtower had access to some sort of magical beacon, one which could be used to reach Tork and call for aid. The heroes were told they had been chosen to infiltrate the watchtower and contact Tork. If they were unable to complete the mission or Tork could not send help, Lanyard told them, they would have to attempt a dangerous fighting retreat. Surrender was not an option.

Dural led the heroes down into the lowest levels of the citadel, and they briefly encountered the impulsive and hotheaded fellow private, a dragonborn named Karsh. Dural showed them the way to an old city sewer system which had yet to be discovered by the enemy. He mentioned that Corporal Stone had led a small unit on an earlier scouting mission of the tunnels and had not returned, and also warned of the likelihood of rats in the sewer. Giving them their directions to the enemy tower, he wished them luck and watched them walk off into the darkness.

The trip through the sewer was uneventful, and the heroes came out of the indicated grate in an alley of the ruined market square of Geist. Across the street and through the rain they saw the tower and several Crimson guards outside. They quickly attacked the guards and killed them, but one escaped inside the tower to try and get help. Rushing in after him, Gath cut the man down but was attacked by a posted elven archer and two goblins. Breagan and Kai joined the melee and the party defeated their enemies. They also discovered and rescued Corporal Stone, who had been undergoing torture and interrogation by one of the goblin officers. Stone told the heroes how his unit had been wiped out save for him, and also shared what he knew about the tower commander, a goblin shaman named Kezzek. Kai took the sylvan leaf armor of one of his dead comrades, an elf named Zenna. In no shape to fight but able to walk, Stone fled the tower to escape back to the citadel through the sewers. The heroes ascended the winding stair to the top level of the tower. On their way up, they witnessed peculiar green lightning flashing across the city.

As they attempted to sneak up a hallway to the magical beacon, the party was attacked by Kezzek, a kobold dragonshield, and several goblin minions. The enemies were slain, but Gath was wounded and knocked out during the fight. After he had received medical attention from Kai, the heroes entered the chamber where the beacon was said to be kept. Here they encountered a floating glass orb with an image of an eye. The eye spoke to them, asking for their authorization for using the beacon. After negotiating with the eye and claiming to be sent by Colonel Zamos (commander of the Crimson forces in Geist), they convinced the magical guardian to activate the beacon and let them speak to Tork in Kenting. As they did so, however, they saw a nightmarish scene. Kenting was aflame, and so was the Aurum expeditionary force’s fleet. Tork began to explain that strange monsters had attacked the city suddenly and that he could not send reinforcements, but was slain by some terrible creature of the Abyss before he could finish. With this grim news, the heroes descended the tower to return to the sewer and then the citadel to inform the others.

On their way down, however, the tower began to shake and pieces of the ceiling fell down around them. Quickly escaping from the tower, they came out to find that it was in the clutches of some giant serpentine monstrosity. They also could tell that the Crimson forces in the area were being attacked by monsters similar to those which had destroyed Kenting. Running into the sewer, they escaped more falling masonry but were beset by a swarm of panicked rats. Kai was able to improvise a flaming arrow and burned most of them and scared off the rest. Eventually the band made it back to the citadel, and reported their findings to Lanyard.

Lanyard told the heroes that they should rest, but that he and the others would have to prepare for the fighting retreat he’d mentioned earlier. With the Crimson forces distracted by the appearance of the demons in their midst, Aurum knights under his command would charge out from the citadel to cut a path to a bridge leading out of the city. The infantry forces would move across the bridge as the knights covered their retreat. The heroes, meanwhile, would be tasked with setting up several explosive blastglobes to destroy the bridge and cut off enemy pursuit once they and the knights were safely across. He gave Breagan the rank of Corporal and then left to let them rest and recuperate from their watchtower mission.

Experience

I miscalculated the XP reward for the first five encounters of the adventure; it should have been 650 XP per character. Greg G’s character also gets this experience even though he wasn’t able to come to the session. Absent players will still accumulate XP assuming the rest of us play, allowing them and their PCs to keep up. Its not enough XP to make 2nd Level, but you’re close.

Treasure

Kai got Sylvan Armor +1 (named “Copperleaf”). The party also got 2 potions of healing, 220 gold pieces, and a gem worth 100 gp. It may be some time before you can spend any of this to get other equipment, but its worth noting.

Comments

All in all, I enjoyed the game. People are still figuring out what they can do, but I think each player got a chance to contribute something in and out of combat. It was mostly fight scenes, but despite our lack of experience with the system, it seemed to move along at a nice clip and not bog down into nothing but die rolling. Holly stated that she liked the Skill Challenge we did (the negotiation with the magical guardian), so I’ll probably include more of those in the adventure after this one.

One thing I noticed while making some NPCs was that Breagan could probably have helped keep Gath from almost dying in the watchtower. His Inspiring Word class feature/power only takes a minor action and lets himself or somebody within 5 squares or him use a healing surge. You can also use it twice in an encounter, if only once per round. Its no big deal, but definitely something to consider next time around.

I’m considering trying to speed up leveling somehow, since we won’t be able to meet that often. Its said to take about eight to ten encounters to gain one level in the current edition; I might tweak things to make it once every five or six.

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Chapter Two: The Ruins
The Dust War Ends, The Demon War Begins

After several hours of rest, Breagan, Gath, and Khai were once more rounded up by Sergeant Dural. The morning had come, and Captain Lanyard was gathering the Gilded Lions together in the Iron Citadel’s courtyard to discuss their next move. The Captain explained that the Lions would be making a break for Ulmar Canyon to the south, with several knights holding off the enemy while the main body escaped across a bridge to the Road of Steel Flowers. The party was joined by a dwarven war cleric named Ovan, and they were assigned the task of setting up demolitions on the bridge to cut off enemy pursuit once the retreat was achieved. Breagan was given four blastglobes and told the structure points he should place them at to make sure the bridge collapsed.

Lanyard drew his flaming longsword, Redtooth, and led the knights in a charge out of a hole blown in the citadel wall. Sergeant Dural led the infantry forces out after the knights, taking them in a long line across the bridge. The heroes positioned themselves on the bridge after this crossing was complete, then began trying to set the blastglobes up quickly. As they tried to accomplish this, several Crimson soldiers broke through the knights’ defenses and charged at the party. Distracted by the attacks, the heroes found it difficult to get the demolitions in place, and many knights under Captain Lanyard fell fighting a delaying action. As the surviving knights rode across the bridge, the Crimson forces began to turn to pursue them. Captain Lanyard was struck down by two crossbow bolts, but Gath recovered his body before the heroes themselves retreated and then set off the blastglobes, destroying the bridge. As they reached a blasted forest south of the city, they realized that Lanyard had died, despite Ovan’s attentions, having been struck by an enemy arrow while Gath carried him.

Entering Ulmar Canyon, the heroes found it to be a fatiguing, hot, and circuitous journey. They found a cave and made a cairn to lay Captain Lanyard’s remains in, with Gath claiming Redtooth as a replacement for weapons lost in the earlier battle. As they explored the canyon in search of the way to the Carrion Stairs, they saw that the Crimson was now hunting the place for any remnant of Aurum’s forces. While they evaded some of these patrols, one band of hobgoblins found and attacked them. After defeating these troops, they continued their search for a way out of the ravines. Along the way, they found and healed an injured horse amidst the wreck of a wagon and three Aurum soldiers’ dead bodies. They took the horse with them, though they did not give him a name. Eventually they came to a river and encountered a harmless kobold fishing on the bank. He gave them some information on the current situation and where the Carrion Stairs were located. Continuing on, they found the stairwell and ascended it to the Glimmering Forest, beneath the shadow of the Shimmering Heights.

They soon found the cathedral ruins which had been the pre-arranged meeting place for the Gilded Lions. As they approached the once proud edifice, they saw a green flash of light within the ruins and several refugees fleeing from it in terror. Quickly advancing on the ruin, they found themselves face-to-face with three Evistro demons. Sergeant Dural was inside, fighting one demon, and they also saw that the dragonborn soldier Karsh was lying unconscious nearby. As they engaged the demons, Dural was flung against a pillar and was himself knocked unconscious. The carnage demons tore into Gath, Ovan, and Breagan, taking numerous wounds before they succumbed. Ovan was nearly killed, but was saved in the nick of time by a potion of healing. Dural managed to hold off one demon after he regained consciousness, only to be incapacitated yet again. After a long and difficult battle, the heroes were able to slay the last of the raging monsters and tend to the fallen.

Once Dural and several other soldiers were revived, the heroes learned that the refugees had come from the ruin that had once been the port city of Kenting. They had come briefly under the protection of the hundred or so Gilded Lions who had come to the rendezvous point when the demons suddenly appeared in their midst in a flash of emerald light. The heroes were introduced to Henneth, the elven mayor of Kenting, who was now leader of the hundred refugees who had escaped the city’s destruction. She gifted Breagan with a battleaxe that had belong to one of her now deceased bodyguards, a weapon called the Wrath of Bahamut. Discussing their next move with Sergeant Dural, who they also informed of Captain Lanyard’s death, they learned that Dural still planned to make for the ancient stronghold known as the Stalwart Hall. While it had been abandoned 150 years ago, the Stalwart had never been found by Aurum’s enemies, and Dural believed it would provide shelter from the Crimson forces in the region and the demons which had invaded the world. Dural said that the Lions would go to the Stalwart and plan their next move from there. The party then met Old Thorn, a tracker who was with the refugees, and who reluctantly agreed to let Khai assist him in leading the refugees and surviving Lions toward the Shimmering Heights…

Rewards

The party earned 512 XP each (I’ve decided to award you for completing the canyon Skill Challenge since it was kind of screwy rules-wise). Gath got a flaming longsword +1 (Redtooth, which cut the claw from the white dragon Verax) and Breagon got a terror battleaxe +1 (The Wrath of Bahamut, once an Aurum weapon before that country fell out of favor with Bahamut centuries ago). The party also got 300 gold pieces as their share of the Gilded Lion’s remaining coffers.

Comments

Another fun session, though it took longer than I had anticipated to finish the adventure. It was only 3 encounters (the bridge, the canyon, and the ruins) and it took us around 4 hours. I had hoped to get you to 2nd Level and then do the first encounter or two of the second adventure, but there simply wasn’t time for it.

The dice seemed to be against you in both Skill Challenges, and as I’ve noted the canyon-based one was pretty unbalanced. Technically, you should have had to retry the challenge in order to get out of the canyon, with each failure resulting in a “wandering monster” encounter, but I sort of forgot it accidentally on purpose. That combined Endurance challenge was just too steep. With the bridge challenge, you probably should have just given the explosives to one character (Khai, probably) and let them focus on doing it while the rest of you held off the minions. Still, neither failure was a game breaker, and I don’t mind seeing the heroes struggle, personally. Its all the more heroic when they finally overcome adversity, I think.

The battle with the demons went more or less like I expected, to be honest; three at one time would have been too many, but two at once was okay. Again, people had bad luck with Daily Powers, but those didn’t prove all that critical in the final equation. Having two Leaders helped a great deal, as Gath would have fallen like Ovan at least once without healing. It occurs to me that we’ve had a lot of fights with close-combat opponents, but few with enemies who use ranged attacks. I’ll probably remedy this in the next adventure.

One thing I think we should guard against is getting so immersed in the tactical, wargamey aspects of the system that we let the story and character bits fall by the wayside. I don’t think that really happened in the second session, but I think its a real danger. I think the combat is so involved and entertaining that it could end overshadowing the things I prefer to focus on. Most of the responsibility for this lies with me, but you should also be careful about worrying so much about damage-per-round or hit ratios that you forget who your character is as a person, what motivates them, and what’s happening in the story.

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Chapter Three: The Stalwart
The Survivors Flee to the Stalwart Hall

Leading the remnants of the Gilded Lions and the refugees from Kenting, Breegan, Kai, and Ovan began the long trip up the side of Mount Whitetop, looking for an entrance to the Stalwart Hall. Fighting their way through a blizzard, they managed to force a path to a sheltered cliffside where the travelers made camp. Here they talked to some of their companions, starting with Sergeant Dural.

Dural told them a bit more about the Stalwart Hall, and its use of an elemental item known as the Tear of the Sun. He told how the Hall had been abandoned 150 years ago when the Crimson gained possession of Mount Whitetop. Dural also mentioned the attack on the Hall by the white dragon known as Verax, the same dragon that had fought an ancestor of the late Lieutenant Lanyard’s wife, and the same dragon slain by the sword Redtooth.

Kai approached Henneth, the elven mayor of Kenting who was now the unofficial leader of the refugees. Henneth thanked the heroes again for saving them from the demons, and explained that the refugees were holding up relatively well considering the circumstances. After speaking to Henneth, the heroes were approached by the merchant Wilem Tesker. Tesker asked them to consider working for him as hired bodyguards, suggesting to them that they would be better off than if they stayed with the Aurum military. The heroes welcomed the suggestion, and Tesker said he would get back to them about the pay rate he could offer.

Scouting the mountain passes ahead the next morning, the party moved in advanced of the rest of the refugee caravan. Going along a narrow mountain pass, they came upon a cave from which Kai could hear loud breathing sounds. They stopped, and Briana, the eladrin scout, approached to ask what was holding up their progress. At that moment, Ovan, in the midst of singing an old song, reached a crescendo which echoed across the pass, waking up the cave bear inside of the cave. The bear attacked, resulting in a difficult battle. The bear was finally slain when Briana was able to hamstring it and cause it to tumble off of the pass road and to a far ledge below. Badly injured in the melee, Briana returned to the rest of the caravan to update them about the incident.

With the pass cleared, the party finally located one of the doors to the Stalwart. Ovan translated the dwarven runes on its surface, explaining that it was a riddle that had to be answered before the door would open. After some thought and examination of the runes, the heroes solved the riddle, causing the door to roll back and reveal an old tunnel. Finding that the tunnel was obstructed with debris, they began trying to clear a path. Unfortunately, their efforts caused a rockslide that dropped some rocks onto their heads before collapsing a part of the floor. It did however result in the tunnel being passable, and they continued on into the main hall of the Stalwart. Here they found things cold but relatively quiet, with the place more or less as its troops had left it. They made two worrisome discoveries; one was the presence of insectoid kruthik, indicated by marks on the tiled floor, and the second was the fact that the Aurum forces had left behind several deadly traps before departing.

Navigating past the traps, they discerned that the Tear of the Sun had been taken from the Stalwart when it had been abandoned, apparently to ensure that it would not fall into enemy hands. The heroes battled several kruthik while investigating some barracks, then identified another infestation in what had been the place’s vault. Resting before going after this horde, they met with the rest of the caravan as it arrived and set up camp in the chilly Hall. Properly recuperated, they finally entered the vault and took out the remaining kruthik, reclaiming some of the treasure from the vault. This included a dwarven longbow named Stormsong, which Kai claimed as her own. Covering the hole that the kruthik had come up through, the heroes then turned their attention to locating the Tear of the Sun.

After some investigation, the party found something called the Sheltered Road, a glacial tunnel which led out of the Stalwart through a secret door. Following the Road, they found the bodies of several Aurum soldiers preserved in the ice. They also discovered tracks and other traces which indicated that an old orc had come up the path and dug up something, presumably the Tear, and then walked back down the path to a plateau below. Following the tracks, they saw a white dragon flying past in the distance, carrying the body of the cave bear that had fought the day before. Descending further into a forested part of the plateau, they witnessed an orc child being attacked by gray wolf. Coming to the boy’s rescue, they scared off the wolf and then asked to be taken to his village. The boy, named Sharuk, did as requested, leading them into the nearby village of the Stoneaxe tribe.

The heroes received a mostly chilly welcome from the inhabitants of the village, but were introduced to Uguld, the tribal chief, and Gnasher, the village shaman. Uguld was all for killing them for their trespass on Stoneaxe territory, but Gnasher spoke to the party about the Tear of the Sun and the white dragon Martax, son of Verax. Martax, a young and arrogant wyrm, had demanded tribute from the unfortunate tribe, stealing their crops and livestocks, and also killing many of their bravest warriors. Gnasher explained that he had found the Tear after a vision he had, and that he had hoped it would protect his people from the dragon’s next rampage. Unfortunately, the Tear was not a weapon, and Martax took it on his next raid, claiming it for himself as a sign of his lordly might. Gnasher spoke in confidence with the party about his desire to keep his people out of the war between Crimson and Aurum, and offered to try and keep the Stoneaxe from troubling their own people in the future. He also gave the heroes information on how to find the dragon’s lair.

Returning to the Stalwart, the heroes conferred with Dural, explaining the situation with Martax and the Stoneaxe. Considering their few options for negotiating with a dragon, they decided to rest and think about what their next move should be.

Experience

The party received 1150 XP apiece. I’m pretty sure you’re still a few points shy of 3rd level.

Treasure

The party found a Thunderburst Bow +1 (Stormsong), two healing potions, 190 gold pieces, and a pearl worth 100 gold pieces.

Comments

A fun session. I think using skill challenges more than regular combat worked out well, and we’ve finally had a sort of dungeon crawl. Shortly we’ll have our first encounter with a dragon, so we’ll officially be a Dungeons and Dragons game.

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Chapter Four: Old Enemies
The Heroes Face a Dragon and Crimson Forces

With Gath rejoining the party, they set out for the cliffside lair of the white dragon Martax. Here they found the cave entirely coated with ice, and the dragon himself lying amidst his treasures in a back room. Waking him up, the group tried to reason with the young wyrm and convince him to let them take the Tear of the Sun. Despite promises of gifts, Martax was in no mood for negotiation, and he turned on the four with every weapon in his arsenal. After a long and bloody fight, the party was able to kill Martax and save the people on the mountain from his rampages. Taking the Tear of the Sun, dragonscale armor, and a symbol of Avandra from his horde, they returned to the Stalwart Hall as conquering heroes.

With the Tear in place, the Stalwart’s magically powered facilities were once more operational, and the place could be safely used as a haven until the winter had passed. After some time to rest and recuperate, the party learned from Sergeant Dural that the refugees would need supplies to help them during the long cold. These would be simple materials and foodstuffs to stock the foundry and kitchen, and other basic necessities. Deciding to journey to the crossroads town of Shackleford, they took Tesker and Henneth with them, since both had contacts in the area.

The journey out to Shackleford did not go well, as the old maps in the Stalwart proved little use in the changed landscape of the wilderness beneath the Heights. After an exhausting search for the town, the party finally located a bridge which would lead to their objective. Unfortunately, it was guarded by the bugbear thief Headsplitter and his goblin minions. Demanding an exorbitant “toll”, Headsplitter quickly tired Gath’s patience and combat was joined. After slaying the bugbear’s small companions, Gath scared Headsplitter off and the party was able to take some of his ill-gotten gains (including an amulet of protection) before crossing the bridge.

Shackleford proved to be a welcoming place, with the dwarf merchant Bolbous Filigree and the town mayor Meritt Hill both greeting the party and their comrades. The heroes spent some time resting, shopping, and getting to know the town while Henneth spoke with Hill and Tesker negotiated with Filigree. They learned of reports of demons in the woods and a Crimson force that was traveling through the area. In addition to earning the trust of Shackleford, the group received gifts in the form of a suit of dwarven chainmail and wavestrider boots. Before they could get all the supplies they needed, however, a company of Crimson soldiers entered the town and took over the central market square. They had Headsplitter in chains, and marched him out to a post in the square for everyone to see. The party hid in the cellar of the local inn with Tesker, nervously watching the new development. The human commander, Phlagos, addressed the town, saying that Headsplitter had mentioned several travelers who were of interest to the Crimson. Cutting the bugbear’s throat, Phlagos then made it clear that he wanted to know what the town new about these travelers, or there would be consequences…

Experience

Everybody got 785 XP for this session. This counts the 310 XP I gave to you after defeating Martax and ending that particular adventure, so you got 475 more for the scenes you completed in the following adventure. Everybody’s 3rd Level now, with a bit extra.

Treasure

The party received 490 gold pieces via Martax’s hoard and Headsplitter’s chest. They got an ornate necklace worth 250 gp, +2 Magic Armor (white dragonscale), a Symbol of Battle +1, Amulet of Protection +2 (scarab-shaped), Dwarven Armor +2 (chainmail), and Wavestrider Boots. All in all, a big haul.

Comments

I enjoyed the session, but it was kind of short in terms of what we actually covered. The battle with Martax took a long time, but I suppose its appropriate given the fact you were fighting an actual dragon. The fight with Headsplitter was kind of a drag for me, since I really wanted to get on to the real meat of the story.

Everybody will have had time to fully rest before Phlagos arrived. The reason for this is that rest will probably be hard to come by however the adventure progresses, and I don’t want you going into it with no healing surges left following getting lost in the wild.

You also have your first opportunity to shop, and you have a good amount of gold saved up so far. I don’t know how you want to divide the gold pieces you’ve gotten – hopefully somebody’s been tracking that for the party. You’ll be able to buy any non-magical gear from the player’s handbook, within reason. You can let me know what you’re getting by email, or you can wait until we next meet to game.

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Chapter Five: The Black Siren
A Demonic Cult is Revealed

As the Crimson forces began searching the town for the heroes, they made their way to the rooftops. Carefully making their way over the heads of their pursuers, they attempted to reach Henneth, who was still at the residence of Shackleford’s mayor, Merrit Hill. Before they could get there, they witnessed Hill, his wife, servants, and Henneth being rounded up by Phlagos and put into a caged wagon. Sneaking back into the forest with Willem Tesker, they decided to follow the Crimson company to wherever they were taking Henneth and the rest, hoping to rescue them from enemy hands.

The party tracked the troops to a clearing in a bleak, autumnal part of the woods. The Crimson forces had made camp in an oversized keep which had once been used by a now dead clan of trolls. There were simply too many soldiers for the group to assault the place, so they discussed how they might infiltrate it and locate Henneth, Hill, and the others who Phlagos had taken captive. As they discussed this, Ovan noticed the ruin of an old temple which had an altar to a demon prince. Blood and other gory offerings had been made to the beastly visage of this demon, and the place had an oppressive aura of dark magic. As Ovan examined the altar, he suddenly realized he was under the watchful eye of an evistro demon, one who had probably been attracted to the unholy spot or summoned there. It was joined by a second demon, both of whom attacked Ovan and wounded him badly. The others raced to his aid, fighting off the evistros and slaying them both.

The merchant Tesker came out of hiding after the battle had ended, and he advised the heroes that he wanted to leave and return to the Stalwart Hall. Reminding them of their agreement to guard him in return for pay, Tesker demanded that they abandon Henneth and the rest and guide him to safety, far from the Crimson camp. The party objected to this and told Tesker their plan to enter the camp and rescue the captives from Phlagos and his witch lieutenant Sargassa. In disbelief at this apparently suicidal course of action, Tesker hid in the woods while the rest approached the walls of the keep.

Utilizing some cloaks, the party encountered a hobgoblin guard at the gate leading into the camp. Kai knocked the guard unconscious, and they entered the encampment unnoticed. Picking their way through the enemy’s midst, they overheard several soldiers talking about Sargassa and some kind of rituals she was engaged in within the castle dungeon. They then climbed into the troll keep proper, getting past some goblin guards and a half-ogre jailkeeper. Descending into the dungeon, they located the chamber where Sargassa was going through her bloody rites. Henneth and the other prisoners were hanging from the walls in chains, and it was clear that the ritual involved some kind of blood offering to dark powers.

Charging into the room, the party confronted the witch, Phlagos, and several Crimson soldiers as a black manifestation appeared in the room. Breagan was knocked unconscious by a berserking orc, but the Aurum soldiers battled back to defeat the guards. As Gath fought Phlagos, the Crimson officer taunted him about the powers he was confronted with, including the fearsome Demogorgon, the demon prince whose altar they had seen earlier. Phlagos further mentioned that “the hunters” would meet one of Demogorgon’s servants soon. Once the guards were dispatched, the party concentrated their attack on Phlagos and Sargassa, and after a difficult fight, both were slain. The black manifestation began to emit a high pitched screech, spinning wildly.

Before the party could celebrate this victory and unchain the prisoners, a rumbling came from overhead and a section of the ceiling collapsed, revealing a massive, ape-like demon. Realizing that the barlgura had been called by the black, spinning object Sargassa had manifested, Ovan and Kai concentrated on stopping it from luring any more demonic servants to the keep. Breagan and Gath held the barlgura at bay while the other two worked on a ritual to banish the black siren, castigating the evil spirits that it served. With Ovan’s faith and Kai’s grounding in the natural world, they were able to finally stop the siren and send it away in a flash of white light. They then came to the aid of the others against the large demon and were collectively able to defeat it.

Freeing the captives, the party fled from the dungeon to discover that the Crimson forces and their camp had been also attacked by some other demons lured by the siren. With the enemy in disarray, they made good their escape into the woods and were rejoined by Tesker. The group then returned Hill, his wife, and servants to their home in Shackleford, and took a well-deserved rest before returning to the Stalwart Hall, supplies in hand.

Experience

Everybody got 1320 XP for this session. This is more than enough to achieve 4th level. You receive +1 to two separate ability scores and 1 new Feat. Your level-based bonuses also go up by one.

Treasure

The party received no gold or magic items in this session.

Comments

A good session, but I think we all got a little punch drunk toward the end there. We had two instances of PCs falling unconscious, but you have sufficient healing abilities to bounce back from those setbacks quite easily. I was concerned that the final scene would have been too much for you, but as it turned out it wasn’t a big deal. You could have probably handled another encounter without much difficulty.

The story is creeping along, and you’ve had more clues to the backstory and the motives of some of the parties involved. I’ll probably try to have some more exposition in the future if time and circumstances permits, since I don’t want to keep you in the dark about everything for much longer. As usual, I’m impatient to get to the “good stuff”, but I don’t want to do it at the expense of your characters’ development.

The next adventure will take place after you have spent several months hiding out in the Stalwart Hall. You will have opportunities to engage in some activities separate from your regular duties in this time, so think about what sort of things your characters might be up to during the long winter. The Hall isn’t massive, but it has most of the basic amenities of civilization, and you can also take trips into the wilderness of the mountain and nearby plateau if you want. You can use this time to explain how you have gained new abilities, or simply to develop some aspect of your character or the plot that you’re interested in. Feel free to email me about what plans your PC might have, and I can incorporate them into the next adventure.

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