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Balinor/Morty/Tarplin (BMT) Adventure #4: Really Ugly Faces From the Past

Party Roster:
Balinor, 9th level Northerner fighter, 86 hp, played by Joel
Morty, 7th/6th human fighter/thief (bard), 74 hp, played by Jay
Robynne, 5th level woodsman, 38 hp, played by Rhonda
Bodkin, 4th level dwarven fighter, 36 hp, played by Katherine
Tarplin, 8th/5th elf druid/mage, 30 hp, played by Alan
Leo, 3rd level human Nevronian cleric, 19 hp, played by David (Jay this time)
Morhion, 2nd level Northerner Nevronian cleric, 18 hp, henchman of Balinor

[Events of 9/9/06 in Charlotte; Game world July-November 2192]

As mentioned in the BMT primer, the party had two main goals:

-Acquire treasure, XP.
-Pass very little game world time to allow Felix/Donald to catch up.

Things were a smashing success… but not without consequences.

(The adventure is somewhat episodic, so I’ve divided it into sections—perhaps I should have done this before!)

Morty’s Tattoo

We begin on July 5th, 2192. Morty had been tagged by a weird tattoo by the mysterious Xothan Enterprises of Carse (known to Balinor for his weird magic portal door that takes you to a dark room where you get quizzed on what you want and your mind is opened... not a particularly comfortable situation). The tattoo read, “There is always a better offer. –Xothan Enterprises”. Unsettling as it was, it was also nearly impossible to remove—Dispel Magic did nothing and a sage informed Morty that it would require a Mordenakainen’s Disjunction (9th level spell that destroys magic permanently in the area)—which really didn’t seem worth the risk or expense.

The Junior Band

Leo was training to 4th level cleric, picking up 6 hp in the process to stand at 25. But this took many weeks, and the rest of the party got itchy for something to do. Realizing that Bodkin and Morhion were fairly close to their next level, it was decided to send them on one of Baron Grellus’ mini-missions (too easy for the main party). The Baron of Restenford indicated that there were three ogres in a cave somewhere close by that needed to be eliminated. We sent out Bodkin, Morhion, and Robynne on a trio mission without support (the only precaution taken was for Morty to scout the general cave location for speedy corpse recovery should the mission prove… unsuccessful).

Morhion borrowed Leo’s new +2 platemail to achieve some rather nice defensive stats, and some magical bandages were lent to the group, but otherwise they were on their own. The junior members headed off into the forest looking for trouble. Sure enough, on the first night out, they found it.

Morhion was on the first watch when he suddenly felt a longsword enter his back. A slash and groan later, he felt poison coursing through his veins… but he resisted, shouted, and turned to face his adversary. A dark cloaked humanoid figure was dropping his sword to the ground and turning to run away. The shout awoke Robynne, but Bodkin kept snoring on. Robynne jumped up, pulled out her bow, and loosed an arrow into the darkness, but to no avail. Morhion began casting a cure spell… an arrow flew out of the darkness and pinged him in the shoulder… just enough to disrupt his spell.

Frustrated, Morhion paused and waited. Another arrow flew out of the darkness, but missed the now prepared cleric, bouncing off his shield. Quickly he hurled a Light spell at the darkness and in a flash the figure was revealed. Robynne loosed her arrow and sank it into the figure, who turned and ran once more, disappearing beyond the radius of the light. By this time Bodkin had awoken and the two of them sprinted after the figure. Morhion stopped his bleeding with a cure spell but lagged behind to guard the camp. Robynne and Bodkin, both unarmored, sprinted past the light and flipped on their infravision. They spotted the figure up ahead, quickly mounting his horse. Robynne fired at the figure, injuring it further, but it seemed it might get away. Bodkin dashed up to the figure and ran him through with his spear, dropping the man to the ground. The horse panicked and bolted into the darkness, carrying the saddlebags with it.

Quickly looting the corpse, the party set off to track the horse through the darkness. Unfortunately they were unable to find it, and after an hour or so, gave up and went back to sleep. In the morning the party set off to find the horse… or the remains of it, as it turned out. Fortunately whatever had killed the horse had not been intelligent, and the saddlebags were intact other than the food, which was torn and eaten.

Total treasure from the cloaked man: leather armor, black cloak, knife, longsword, four vials, magic bandage, short bow, 10 silver arrows, and other mundane gear. From the horse’s saddlebags: 76 gp, an intricate handaxe, potion vial with “8” printed on it, and 3 50 gp rubies. The handaxe and cloak were magical.

Continuing on to the ogres’ lair, the party traveled without being accosted further. They spotted the cave from a considerable distance off, and Robynne tracked around the area, noting that there were probably 3 ogres and a wolf or dog. At least there didn’t seem to be too many surprises in store. Robynne perched high on the rocks above the cave entrance, ready to shoot anything that emerged, while Morhion and Bodkin waited near the cave entrance.

Sure enough, when darkness began to fall, a large dog emerged from the cave. Hoping it wouldn’t notice them, they let it continue walking. Unfortunately it immediately smelled the party and howled! Robynne nearly slew it with a single bowshot, and the creature yelped and bolted back into the cave. The party waited for about half a minute, and heard nothing, and so motioned for Robynne to come down so they could advance into the cave.

Unfortunately Robynne was only halfway down the rocks when the three ogres came charging out, and so she had to clamber back up to her ambush position. Two of the ogres deployed behind the bigger one, pulling out rocks and hurling them at Morhion and Robynne. Morhion swung his hammer at the big ogre and fumbled, smacking himself, and took a rock in the side for his trouble. He slapped a magical bandage on himself to stop the bleeding (he couldn’t cast so close to the ogre) and tried to swing again. Bodkin fared much better and clocked the ogre, although it seemed amazingly difficult to hit.

Robynne had returned to her perch on the rocks and sank an arrow directly into the ogre… and it had no effect. Hmmm. Morhion missed on a miserable swing and decided to back off and try spells instead. Bodkin rammed the creature quite badly with a second spear hit, and Robynne bounced a magical arrow off the ogre’s armor. Morhion cast a light spell which blinded the fierce creature! The ogre was having a miserable time trying to hit the elusive Bodkin, who continued to stab it. Robynne was nicked by a boulder and decided to train her arrow fire on the other two targets, dropping them both in rapid succession. In exchange, the two doomed rock throwers collectively managed to drop a rock on their foot and achieve no further result.

The blinded ogre pulled out a potion and drank it despite Morhion’s attempt to knock it away with his hammer. Bodkin then dropped the ogre to ground… but almost immediately the healing potion took effect and he started to rise back up. Bodkin beat him back down, with three magical arrows from Robynne blasting into his back. With all three ogres down, Robynne quickly finished off the defeated war dog inside the cave, and the party looted the place, finding 232 gp, 2 potions, and a heavy silver chain necklace (150 gp).

After salvage tax, we kept the two potions (Extra-Healing and a blown ID—from sipping it we think it’s either an Invulnerability to Non-Magic Weapons, or an AC 0 all the time potion… weird either way). The ogre, by the way, was not magical when we checked a few hours later. We assume he had another of these potions and drank it before the battle started. The handaxe and cloak were both +1, and we kept the cloak, giving it to Morty to improve his AC without hurting his exceptional movement.

Nicely done, Junior Band!

(XP was about 650 each.)

Morhion gained 3rd level and, incredibly, 10 more hitpoints to stand at 28 (2 off maximum possible for a 3rd level cleric). This also makes him a LOT more useful as a henchman (and gives me something more creative to do as a player than “3 cures and a light or command”).

Zalk is (Partially) Stumped

On July 25th, the book we found a year earlier (in the weird Queen of Grottoes mansion, off the coast of Seapoint, in the adventure where Morty and company were freed from the mirror) was identified partially by Zalk. It seems that most of the book defies easy interpretation and seems to be a bit beyond him. Of the four sections, the second one seems to be a “how-to” book for turning yourself into a high-level undead monster. Zalk noted, “It looks disturbingly easy to do.” It seems to be written for an apprentice.

The first section is some sort of strange incantation that Zalk couldn’t figure out. The third section is completely indecipherable. The final section seems to be directions to a set of rooms where something seems to be stored. The starting point is the east foyer of the 37th great hall. They are very detailed, elaborate, bizarre procedures (“push this panel, wait thirty minutes, advance ten feet, turn right, drop a coin on the floor, wait five seconds…”). Not that we would even know where to start. Hmmm.

The book itself may have some powers that a cleric of Vecna could use. Some of the instructions may require a cleric of Vecna to be performed at all. Nifty.

Morty and Bodkin Tour the Island

While Morhion trained, Tarplin sent out notices to research some new spells, Balinor patrolled around Restenford for the Baron, and Morty and Bodkin traveled the island continuing research on Morty’s thesis, “A Hitchhiker’s Guide to Lendore.” Surprisingly, on the final leg of their trip back to Barnacus (near the undead infested Dead Wood surrounding Garroten), the caravan they were traveling with was attacked… by bandits!

And zombies. Lots of zombies.

Twenty five zombies surrounded the caravan, which consisted of the drover, the owner, ten generic guards, and two low-level fighters. A man in a dark cloak emerged from the woods and demanded that they surrender the wagon and its goods. Morty shook his head at the caravan master, who sighed and agreed to surrender the stuff. Morty realized that fighting immediately might result in the death of some of the guards.

Two more humans came out of the woods and jumped on the wagon, whipping the horses and riding off. When the bandit trio was about seventy feet away, the leader gestured.

“Kill them all.”

And the zombies closed in.

Morty drew out his undead disrupting longsword Inevitable and began hacking, going back-to-back with Bodkin, who was nearly as devastating with his spear. The guards formed a formation and managed to stay intact quite nicely for awhile. The two fighters slew seven zombies themselves, Morty took out ten in sprays of gore and disruption, Bodkin six, and the squad took out three while only losing three members… all of whom were saved by amazingly good healing checks by Bodkin and the other guards.

That left Morty to chase down the bandits. He raced after them, moving stealthily through the woods, and soon overtook the wagon about five minutes down the road. He passed by the wagon, unnoticed by the occupants of the wagon, and climbed a tree, waiting for the wagon to go past…

And suddenly he leapt out of the tree and brought his longsword down on the cloaked man, slaying him instantly!

The other two men looked at each other, and dove off the wagon and ran in opposite directions into the forest. In hot pursuit, Morty shouted for surrender, and quickly caught up to one of the fugitives. The man drew his sword… and was quickly run through by the savage bard. Morty whirled and once again yelled for surrender… and the other man lost his nerve and dropped his weapon.

Morty hoisted him onto the wagon along with the corpses, and was about to turn it around, when the man violently whipped the horses and set the wagon tearing off down the road, leaping off and dashing into the forest. Despite a lack of animal handling skills, Morty was able to calm the horses down quickly and set off once again in hot pursuit. He chased the fleeing man through the woods, dodging brambles, and finally the man realized he was cornered. He drew his sword and slashed out at Morty, holding the bard back and inflicting substantial damage! He slashed twice more, and the frustrated Morty could do nothing but wait for an opening. That soon came… and Morty slashed him twice, dropping him to ground bleeding.

Morty dragged the newest corpse back to the wagon and threw it unceremoniously on the coach, and turned the wagon around. He arrived triumphantly back as Bodkin was finishing up his superb patch job on the downed guards, and the caravan continued uneventfully to Barnacus. Total loot for the encounter was 298 gp (232 after tax).

Morty wondered why these three had attacked this caravan, and it turned out that the caravan owner had an answer. The trio had paid salvage tax in Garroten a month earlier, and the locals had assumed they were just tomb looters. They had had a lawful evil battleaxe confiscated as salvage, which was being sent to Barnacus and Archbishop Aware for destruction. Apparently the Garroten people had noticed that Morty was escorting this caravan and slipped it in without telling anyone except the owner. Our guess is that the trio used a potion of zombie control (which they had indeed paid salvage tax on in Garroten at the same time as the battleaxe), collected some zombies, and decided to get their battleaxe back.

Is this battleaxe similar to the one the Defenders found (ie. associated with the dark dwarves)? A question we should ask next time.

Tarplin’s Musical Ambitions

Lastly, during this training time, Tarplin attempted to expand his musical fame in Barnacus by playing in several taverns. As luck would have it, the first night he played he ended up matched against… Phargus-- the neutral evil bard who loves to pick fights and humiliate and kill people. He provided considerable “entertainment” for Faranyn in Middle back in 2180, and Morty has a history of hatred toward him as well. In fact, Morty had trained his final fighter level under Phargus, which was… not enjoyable.

(see http://blog.telvar.net/1997/04/summary_lxiii_another_faranynf.html#more)

Unfortunately Tarplin didn’t really know all this, and so he good-naturedly challenged Phargus to a musical duel. Phargus ended up challenging Tarplin to a PHYSICAL duel, slapping him hard across the cheek. When Tarplin flipped on his magical armor, Phargus turned, baiting the crowd toward violence and against the hapless druid. He said that if magic should be involved, then they should settle this fairly. With a nod toward one of the bouncers, he drew both his swords… and Tarplin decided to bow out. Humiliated, the musical duel went off, but Phargus handily won it (sort of like a decent professional musician going up against the first violin player for the London Philharmonic). Tarplin had the misfortune of seeming plain when cast against the charismatic bard, despite his considerable skill. At one point, one of the patrons walked up and took Tarplin’s (much smaller) collection of coins and dumped it into Phargus’ bowl. Tarplin had the feeling that Phargus had induced that, perhaps with a charm effect.

Whatever it was, it was mercifully over and Tarplin escaped otherwise unharmed. Phargus actually wanted to buy Tarplin’s flute, but he refused. And that was Phargus being relatively charitable.

The Baron’s Treasure Map

With the party reunited at last in Barnacus, we had to decide on a new mission. Our options included three “goodwill” missions to the Kharg in preparation for the diplomatic summit in which Duke Haermond would present the Kharg with the Bridle of Farin, the Khargish artifact recovered by the Band. We’ll come back to that, because for the moment we decided to attempt a different mission.

The Baron of Restenford, Baron Grellus, was becoming quite old and beginning to face up to his mortality (I believe he’s about 85 now?). He had a treasure map that local wizard Peltar had decoded about ten years ago. He was willing to go 50/50 (after expenses and salvage tax) with us. We accepted the deal and found out details about the mission:

The Sea King (a pirate king of considerable repute hundreds of years ago) had a great deal of treasure. One of his ships, carrying about 85000 cw of gold bars among other things, sailed into a volcanic area of atolls in the sea between Lendore Isle and the Korinn Archipelago, fleeing from an unknown enemy. The leader of the guards in charge of protecting the treasure decided that it would be better to scuttle the ship than let the treasure fall into the wrong hands. But he also decided to scuttle the ship in a way that the treasure could later be recovered, and sank the ship near one of the atolls, perhaps not that deep below the surface.

The Baron believed that there were likely guardians still active guarding the treasure, assuming they hadn’t been destroyed by the hundreds of years of underwater churning (or the heat from the volcanic vents). He lent the party a Wand of Stone and Metal Detection to use if needed, with the caveat that if we used it to find additional treasure, we’d owe half of that as well. (The range on the wand was about 1500 feet, so it could be used in limited sweeps, but was very limited on charges.)

Peltar also had something to lend us. In 2151, Peltar had purchased a dagger with the emblem of the Sea King on it from the Party of Allies. The dagger was the passkey of the Sea King. If there was a symbol of office that could get us past the guardians, this would be it… but he wasn’t sure. Additionally, the item’s primary function was as a compass that points toward the Sea King’s island. In any case, if it proved useful, some sort of reward might be nice… hint hint.

We made some rather expensive and extensive preparations for the salvage mission. First we had Philip of the Phaulkonian Church in Restenford cast a Divination spell on the area. The results were quite nice:

The strength of creatures in the region is significant.
The treasure contained in the region is great.
The influence of extraplanar force is negligible.

Given that the region was a volcanic atoll, the party worried about quantities of poisonous ash in the air. We knew the crew of the ship might not be able to survive without slow poison, and as such we would need to take a separate longboat. Thus in case of disaster or need, we would want access to a number of water breathing potions and spells. Tarplin could cast it, but he wanted to make additional scrolls in case we needed the whole party down there—so he made 3 successful (2 failed) Water Breathing scrolls, and we rented two potions as well (returned if not used). We also purchased a 9th level Nevronian Raise Dead scroll for 9000 gp. We also shelled out 1000 gp to rent salvage equipment (800 gp back on return).

Lastly, we decided to rent a boat for the trip. The Baron offered, and we accepted, to use his influence to get us the Eagle 10, a Petethalian Navy ship, for the bargain basement price of 10000 gp. The good news was that the Eagle 10 was a fast ship and quite capable of fending off threats, should they arise. (Given my historical preponderance for disastrous naval rolls, it seemed like a good plan.)

At last we set out (on September 3rd) on board the Eagle 10 from Restenford. In response to a question of ours, one of the crew noted that sailors on ships that sailed into the Bay of the Trenhurst Forest slowly go insane and eat each other. Charming fun.

On September 17th we arrived in the vicinity of the treasure map (uneventfully, thank you very much!). The volcano itself was located about five miles away, and the ship sank probably with about two miles of our location. At this point Tarplin and Morty decided to do aerial scouting (using bird form and fly spells plus Cloak of Gliding, respectively). The first day out, Tarplin nearly died when he hit a pocket of bad air without realizing it. Although slow poison prevented injury he somehow was unaware that he was suffocating from lack of oxygen and nearly crashed out of the sky before recovering. After that they were more careful.

The second day was also unsuccessful, but on the third day Tarplin spotted the boat! It was sunk just below the surface less than a half mile from the position of the Eagle 10. In preparation for the salvage, Tarplin decided to scry on the sunken ship, using one of the pools in the nearby rocky atolls.

The ship was sunk about twenty feet down, covered heavily in seaweed and coral, and there was a giant hole where the mast should have been. Scanning through the hole, Tarplin almost immediately spotted a large stone statue that appeared relatively undamaged, but encrusted in barnacles and other things. Nearby were stacks of clean gold bars in an arc-like wall.

And unfortunately, there was one other thing.

A woman of unearthly hideousness stared back at Tarplin through the scrying device. He felt himself go incredibly weak and faint, and the woman tried to slay him through the reflecting pool. Tarplin collapsed…

And awoke later on the ship. Morty had carried him back, and fortunately the poor druid had resisted the worst effect. Balinor knew what this creature was—an early Defenders encounter with one of these was the reason Balinor had joined the party… to replace fallen comrades…

Yes, it was a sea hag.

(See the Defenders vs. Brinea, Summaries 10-16: http://blog.telvar.net/defenders/)

The encounter between the Defenders and Brinea the sea hag had gone down in Defenders history as being among the best AND worst battles. As such, Balinor knew quite a bit about these creatures—they require highly magical weapons to injure, kill if you meet their gaze, strike very quickly to strangle you, and are unearthly strong, although physically not that impressive.

So it was decided to trek down there and destroy the creature. But since we had limited water breathing and protection capability, it was decided that only Balinor, Bodkin, and Morty would make the trip, and they would be blindfolded. Tarplin would start the combat with a lightning bolt in the area where the hag was (apparently the bolt explodes into a 10’ sphere when cast into water). The three fighters would be attached to ropes and levitated so that they could rise up quickly in an emergency, where the three spellcasters would be waiting in the longboat with quick heals.

Ultimately the key was get up to the hag and inflict lots of quick damage. The three fighters could handle this, but one of them would likely have to break off to distract the stone golem if it animated. Balinor knew his hammers wouldn’t work underwater, so the party lent him two magical daggers for the fight. He took along his bastard sword, Little Thoughtless, to shield him from mental effects, and in desperation, to use if he had to remove his blindfold and fight the sea hag directly. Bodkin actually had the best weapon for the fight, his spear +2/+3 vs. large creatures.

So the three fighters went underwater, blinded but ready for action, and they began tromping toward the sunken ship. The explosion of Tarplin’s lightning bolt was quite audible, and they headed toward it. Whether it hit anything, they never knew.

Suddenly Balinor was clobbered by something incredibly strong; simultaneously a huge number of small spikes penetrated his full plate (!) and stuck him in the back. But because of slow poison it appeared to have no immediate effect. Balinor stabbed upward and yelled for help, and found that his daggers bounced off the stone creature’s arm. Bodkin had substantially more success, sinking his magical spear into the creature and injuring it. Morty slashed with his longswords and realized he couldn’t effect it either. He started to pull out the dagger of office, hoping it might control the creature…

Balinor sensed something very big nearby, something new. He turned… and then a jolt of electricity hit the area! Had Tarplin betrayed the party?!

Probably not. The explosion knocked Morty and Bodkin unconscious, leaving only Balinor to fight whatever it was… not that he necessarily knew this. He ripped his blindfold off and saw that in front of him was a 20 foot long electric eel!

He stabbed it four times, inflicting substantial damage, but he knew the creature wouldn’t die. He had no choice but to take stock, relying on his protections to save him.

The situation was terrible. There were TWO stone golems heading straight for him, and the sea hag was bending over the fallen Morty to remove his blindfold, using her strength to keep the clerics from hauling Morty and Bodkin up.

Balinor turned his back on the electric eel and dive-bombed toward the sea hag. He crashed into the creature just as it was turning around. He tried to avert his gaze, but failed… and then suddenly the face of the sea hag erased from his memory… Mindblank had saved him! He closed his eyes and swung his daggers. The sea hag tried to strangle him, but missed, and he struck her four times. Then one of the stone golems reached him and bashed the besieged fighter in the back.

Fortunately his diversion had saved Morty and Bodkin, as they were hauled up/woke up from the effects of the stun, and heals hit them as they rose through the water. Now Balinor knew the other golem was near, but the sea hag was too close. He stabbed her twice more, and inflicted a wound at last… and then the final golem missed Balinor! The fighter was bleeding profusely from numerous wounds and would die in moments, so he decided to finish off the sea hag. He swung…and she collapsed to the ground! He tugged on the rope urgently…

Then the first golem swung again. The fighter fell limp, and the ropes pulled him upward to the surface. Immediately a cure serious and cure light hit him from Tarplin and Morhion, and he woke up!

Nothing emerged from underwater to fight, and the party rowed back to the ship. Balinor had apparently obtained five lethal doses of sea urchin poison when the stone golem had originally animated (perhaps they had been placed on the golem’s arm by the sea hag). It was like a sea urchin graveyard, Tarplin remarked. So sad, Balinor replied sarcastically as field surgeon Bodkin plucked them out one-by-one. Fortunately Tarplin’s neutralize poison saved him from instant death when the slow poison wore off!

So we had SLIGHTLY underestimated the forces we were facing, by an extra stone golem and giant electric eel. And Bodkin’s spear and two of Morty’s longswords were lying at the bottom of the sea. Oops.

But, assuming the hag was dead, we had a much better shot at this on the second attempt. This time, Morty would start with the dagger of office out, trying to shut down the golems before they could attack. We wouldn’t be blindfolded. And finally, Tarplin decided to cast speak with animals to convince the eel to go away. The eel was resistant (“Those little things look really tasty.”) But eventually it was convinced to back off (for some reason it didn’t like the gold bars, and was happy to hear that we would be getting rid of them).

So we trekked down underwater and approached the wrecked ship… and anticlimactically, Morty found he could control both golems when he got close. Although not that precisely. But at least he could shut them down. The hag was indeed dead, and the eel waited far off patiently, and so there was no second battle at all!

We looted the place, and hauled the golems back onto the Eagle 10, and sailed uneventfully back to Restenford…

XP was on the order of a few thousand for the main characters, and about half that for the henchmen. The treasure take was EXCELLENT:

10 bars of mithril (10 cw each)

ring of the sea king: a control ring for the golems, like the dagger

dagger+1/+3 vs. orcs

longsword “Bedeviled” in archaic: +1/+3 vs. sharks/+5 vs. sahaugin, double dice vs. both sharks and sahaugin, apparently blessed by Osperem and radiates LN aura (although there are no restrictions on the user)

chain mail embossed with the sea king’s symbol: +2 Shielded (ie. immune to magic missiles)

chain of the warlord – (like what Morgan carries) ignore dropped weapon fumbles; if you have the feint proficiency you have a small chance of disarming opponent, if you have single weapon combat you gain an additional point of AC

helm of underwater action – activate a visor which allows you to see 5x better under water (none above water) or create a globe of air

2350 gp
1100 sp
87000 cw of gold bars
2 controllable stone golems

Pretty awesome stuff. We got: four mithril bars, the longsword for Morty (of course he’s now filled his golf bag), the helm, the dagger (I think?), and considerable financial remuneration for the golems, who we gave to the Baron and Peltar (who could repair them).

While we were plotting our next mission, Tarplin traded for the slow spell.

And Bodkin had gained enough experience for 5th level! He trained in October and November (missing out on the rest of the action in this session). (Initially Katherine rolled a 1 on the hp die and was understandably upset, but realized that Bodkin had a 19 con and rerolled… a 9!). So Bodkin gained 14 hp to increase his total to 48.

“Goodwill” Missions to the Kharg

Next we considered setting up for our diplomatic summit with the Kharg in which we would return the Bridle of Farin and the other Khargish artifacts that we found in the tunnels near Rog. We knew that the Duke would be meeting with the Kharg in a huge gathering at the summer solstice in 2193, and he had some missions that would improve the chances of a truly significant settlement.

He had three possible missions:

First, we could kill six grotto beasts that had been harassing the Kharg. This seemed rather easy and possibly quick in both real and game time, so we gave it serious consideration. The possibilities for treasure weren’t so hot, though.

Second, we could wipe out a pirate group. This seemed pretty interesting but lengthier, albeit with a lot more potential for financial reward. Additionally, we enjoyed a good hack-and-slash as much as the next guy, so we were definitely interested. This would probably have to wait two months for the rainy season, as that was when the pirates would be anchored at their hidden port to avoid storms, and would be most vulnerable. Definitely a cool mission.

Third, we could do something a bit off the beaten track. There was a group of 25-30 Kharg that were almost exclusively wereboars. The lycanthropy infestation that runs through many of the Kharg was particularly prevalent in this tribe. Although wereboars are not evil, they are quite prone to sudden anger and are very capable of spoiling diplomatic summits… and so the Duke wanted us to wipe them out to a man. And not only wipe them out, but make it look like the Duke had nothing to do with it. If we couldn’t ensure complete success, we shouldn’t attempt the mission.

The Duke’s idea was to blame this on pirates… which seemed like a great idea until we found out the tribe was located several days inland. After smacking the Duke upside the head (we wish!) the party considered ways we could frame other groups. We considered trying to march them off as slavers and having them disappear, but it was risky. The portals in Seapoint could potentially assist with discarding the bodies without Kharg noticing, but it was definitely risky.

It turned out that Tarplin’s flute has some very interesting powers… including the ability to animate the dead as zombies every so often. Obviously we were drifting into slightly dodgy territory here, but it gave us some ideas. We had a book about Vecna clerics, and Tarplin’s flute could make it look like a cleric of Vecna had descended on the tribe, killed everyone, animated them, and then marched off into the sea.

Plausible… no. But it would certainly throw pursuers off the trail.

Ignoring moral quandaries for a moment, the main issue then became actually killing 25 wereboars without any escaping. Could we beat them in a straight fight? Probably not. We would need some sort of advantage over just an open field. Furthermore, none could escape, so we would have to trap them somehow. We considered inducing mudslides (wouldn’t work well enough), plant growth (apparently the area was just too large to hit it with fewer than four spells, and they might yet get away).

So we came up with a partial plan. We would wait until the rainy season when sighting distances would be short. We would lie in wait for a patrol of, say, four Kharg to leave the village, and ambush and kill it. The bodies would disappear, and so we would we for a few months. Hopefully the Kharg would simply interpret this as a random disaster encounter in the wilderness of Lendore (not improbable). Then, after they assumed everything had calmed down, we would reappear and wait for another patrol. We’d wipe THAT out, rest up and then attack the village. Hopefully 17 Kharg would be a lot easier to control than 25.

The Grotto Beasts

It was a partial plan, anyway, and it also didn’t go into effect until the rainy season.
So at this point we decided to wipe out the grotto beasts as a light experience diversion to pass the remaining few months.

I’m sure you can guess how well that went.

It started out quite smoothly. The Duke told us that we would meet up with some Kharg between Barnacus and Seapoint and that they would guide us to the lair of the grotto beasts. Remember that grotto beasts are evil sentient horse-like things with a ton of durability and very strong attacks (especially from their hind legs when you think they’re going to run) and incredible voice mimicry and ventriloquism abilities. Rule 1: don’t split the party, and you can’t be fooled by voice mimicry.

The Duke suggested that we would gain more respect if we came on good horses, so we rented some fine steeds for a few hundred gold and set off toward Seapoint. On November 3, 2192, we met up with two Kharg who explained the situation. Apparently the grotto beasts had become noticeably organized (usually groups bigger than about three break up from internal strife) and they had killed many horses and several Kharg. Perhaps the “weasel heads” were emboldened due to their own success, the Kharg speculated.

We headed off toward the lair on the southern slopes of the Farmin Mountains, and got there about half a day later. The Kharg warned us that there were many caves, tombs, and strange ruins in the mountains, and that if we traveled too far up the hills, we would encounter the Blue and the Gray, the giant bandit group that we had generally avoided tussling with.

The Kharg pointed out a particular cave that they believed to be the lair of the grotto beasts, although they had never approached within a hundred feet of it. We looked carefully at it and discovered that there were huge skulls and banners draped outside of it. This suggested rather strongly to Morty and Tarplin that this was the lair of an ogre mage, and that was probably what was controlling the grotto beasts, or at least keeping them organized. With that in mind, the clerics memorized endure cold to put on themselves in case we ran into a cone of cold. We left the horses behind with the Khargish guides, who agreed to keep them until we returned.

We decided that aerial scouting would be risky, given the nearby presence of the Blue and the Gray with their griffon riders. So we instead settled down near a rock to observe the cave and hopefully ambush part of the group when it emerged to hunt. Groups of three grotto beasts indeed emerged both at dawn and dusk to hunt. But they didn’t happen to take any paths close to the cover we were hiding in. Tarplin laid out snares to trap them, but they kept choosing different paths. The party couldn’t decide on a course of action and decided to wait until they came closer.

The next day, three of them emerged to go hunting. They returned looking quite injured. We let it pass, although it was tempting to attack, but they were simply too far away and would escape into the cave before we could do anything to stop them.

We left the area briefly to talk to the guides, who wondered if we would ever actually ATTACK… there was some grumbling. We were determined to try a different bit of cover, in the hopes that we had simply picked an unlikely ambush spot.

The next day, three more emerged, again along a distant path. At this point, we began to speculate that they HAD seen us, despite our precautions, and were taunting us. Perhaps the ogre mage had been watching us. Either way, we needed to check things out at least while three of them were gone.

We went up to the snare that we had laid out the night before and discovered that a deer had been caught in it. Tarplin spoke with the deer and discovered that it had been running from grotto beasts less than five minutes earlier. Apparently the things were hunting deer extremely close by.

Although in hindsight we certainly didn’t come to the correct conclusion from this odd piece of information, it did actually spur us to action. We headed to the mouth of cave and prepared to go inside. Morhion cast a find traps in case things were even more organized than they appeared. As we approached the cave closely, we noticed that the skulls and banners looked very tattered, as if the residence was no longer in use. Perhaps the grotto beasts had been relying on the appearance of the cave to scare off predatory adventurers like ourselves! Maybe there was no ogre mage!

Despite this thought, we still cast the endure colds. We weren’t THAT confident about it.

As we approached the cave, we detected a trap right at the entrance. Morty checked it out and discovered that the entire front of the cave was rigged to collapse in quite a cascade. Morty thought that he could disarm it, but unfortunately wasn’t quite successful. Still, the triggering would take several minutes, giving us plenty of warning and time to evade if someone tried to trigger it while we were in the vicinity. Moving forward, we entered the cave.

After a short distance down the tunnel we encountered another trap. It was apparently some sort of large pit trap, big enough that even Balinor couldn’t simply stride across it (although in all likelihood a grotto beast could jump it). Morty climbed across and attached some ropes so that we could cross, but it would take several minutes. There were three ways to go on the far side, and the pit trap was in the center of the intersection, so we were at a bit of a loss… until Robynne decided to check for recent blood drips. We knew the grotto beasts had been injured the last time they had come in, and indeed there was a recent trail heading down the rightmost passage.

We crossed the pit and continued down the corridor. After a short while we found ANOTHER trap, this one apparently quite old. Morty determined that some portion of the wall could move, but couldn’t figure out where the trigger mechanism might be. The trap was both mechanical and magical in nature, which made us nervous. Furthermore the find traps spell was on the verge of ending. Clearly we would need to return with more spells, now that we realized how dangerous this compound was. So we turned around and head back to the pit trap.

While we were in the middle of crossing, we suddenly heard a collapsing rocks sound from the entrance… someone had triggered the trap, despite our best efforts! Cursing, we headed quickly to the entryway, and realized that it would take DAYS to clear enough rubble out to get out of the cave. (Aside: that’s a LOT of rock.)

So our best chance to speed things along was to have Tarplin spell-shift for some stoneshape spells to melt away the rock and let us escape. We camped near the entrance, Tarplin and Leo sleeping and the rest of us all on guard.

Surprisingly, we were not hit by a cone of cold. Instead, two hours later a fireball roared down from inside the cave at us, exploding over the pit trap and rushing down all the corridors, blasting over the party. Leo was nearly dropped, but everyone else was generally alright (Tarplin’s protection completely absorbed the blast in his case). Morty scanned the corridor with his flashlight longsword, Stork, but couldn’t see anything there. Tarplin was shaken awake to the ugly sight of Balinor yelling, “There are invisible people attacking us!” We wanted Tarplin to throw a faerie fire down the corridor but he wasn’t convinced that it was actually invisible people. A minute later, a SECOND fireball exploded on the party, having apparently descended from the CEILING above the pit trap, which made no sense. This time Leo did go down, but a spectacular cure spell from Morhion brought him back up.

So Tarplin, it would seem, was right… some sort of automated defense mechanism was firing fireballs at us… but this would kill everyone but Tarplin fairly quickly. We were trapped, and it occurred to us that the far corridors had probably sealed themselves off (that was likely what the third trap in the wall did!) so that the fireballs would cook us alive. There seemed to be no way out…

Tarplin had a brilliant idea. “Into the pit trap!”

We ran forward, and triggered the pit trap. It dropped fifteen feet onto rusty spikes… not good. But there was little help for it. Morhion and Leo were each given half of a potion of climbing so that they could jump down without fear of dying, and the rest of us climbed down as quickly as we could. Moments later the pit trap sealed above us and a third fireball went off, a minute after the second. Sitting in the darkness, cramped between spikes, the party waited. TWO minutes later, another fireball. Hmm. Perhaps it wasn’t automated. A false ceiling with someone firing from above? But since they had continued attacking even after we had reached the safety of the pit trap, we reasoned that they apparently couldn’t see us… maybe there was hope yet. Did they even know where we were?

After the fifth (or sixth?) fireball, the explosions stopped. Silence reigned. The party found itself in a precarious situation. Would they assume we were dead? Would they assume we had escaped if they searched inside? And who was doing this? Suddenly this seemed like a lot of effort, a lot more than grotto beasts could manage, and the use of multiple fireballs suggested a wand user, rather than an ogre mage. In fact, there was a group that had given a fireball wand to a lackey to fire at the Defenders in the distant past….

It occurred to us that we actually couldn’t open the pit trap from the inside. This made our situation particularly special, because Tarplin hadn’t been able to finish his spellshift for stoneshape. So we would have to sleep in here. But how?

Tarplin changed into a bird and perched on someone’s shoulder and went to sleep. The rest of us just sat there and ached, although we were in quite good shape from healing spells from the clerics.

An hour passed, and then Morty could hear voices. They were indistinct, and in order to hear them Morty would have had to wedge his head into the hinge of the pit trap—completely safe unless the doors suddenly opened, at which point his head would crushed like a melon. But he could hear that someone sounded very angry, and that there were horse whinnies, separate from the deeper voice. The deeper voice was indistinct but irritated-sounding, but the higher voice sounded panicked. At one point Morty could make out some words, “But they HAVE to be here!”

The party tensed for a fight. We had two last ditch options if the trap opened—Tarplin had a teleport token that could get us out of there (although there was substantial question of whether it could get us out of the cave). But at least we could pop up in an ambush. The second option was Robynne’s dice of Anar, a chaotic wand of wonder kind of thing. Neither of these options seemed very palatable.

But the trap door didn’t open. Instead we heard the sound of metal impacting the top of the trap, like a heavy plate. Then we heard the sound of ratchets being put into place. Had the ceiling descended onto the pit trap? Or were our attackers sealing us in to our tomb forever?

With the top apparently sealed, we then heard the sounds of a drill. Someone was making a tiny hole in the top of the pit trap.

Which meant we were dead. The hole would open up and they could drop whatever horrible things they wanted without any chance of us retaliating. Without a line of sight and several inches of metal potentially on top of us, it was unclear if Tarplin’s token would even work. The party was looking at complete surrender.

Suddenly, Balinor came up with an idea. “Everyone drink potions of climbing or levitation and perch on the ceiling! If they can’t see us, they’ll think we’re gone!” he whispered. Two potions of climbing, a potion of levitation, and a charge on the feather were used, and Tarplin turned into his final animal form, a chameleon, and everyone was perched on the ceiling, watching as scraps of stone began to fall from the small drilled hole.

The hole was completed, and we could hear everything fairly clearly (I’m paraphrasing).

“#&!(! They’re not there!” A deep voice spoke in common, tinged with an orcish accent.

“What do you mean, they’re not there?” A different voice, higher pitched.

“They’re gone! Either they’ve escaped or they’re coming back to ambush us now! You guys have really screwed this up.”


We could hear grumbling in the background in orcish… something about not getting paid bonuses, as well as some whinnying.

“We used 7500 gp worth of charges and we didn’t even get them! The reward was 9000 gp for the heads of the tall one and the bard!”

There was a lot of frustration in their voices, and panic.

“You guys had BETTER get them,” the orcish voice said. “We’re out of here, and you’re going to be cut off. If you get them we’ll talk.”

The sounds of mass abandonment echoed down. After more arguing, eventually the metal plate was removed, and the sounds of conversation drifted away.

Although we weren’t sure if we were alone, we decided we had to get out of the pit trap while our magical effects were still ongoing, and the drilled hole provided us with the hook necessary to get out of the trap. We shoved a pole through, pushed, and sprang out of the trap… but there was nobody there.

The area looked essentially unchanged. Realizing that we still couldn’t get out the front door, we had two options—spellshift and get out in six hours, or chase after our ambushers, using the advantage of surprise. Given that our spells were only moderately depleted and our hitpoints were pretty good, we decided to continue down the corridor we had originally chosen.

So what were we following? Obviously the Blue and the Gray were rather suspect in this. Did they want vengeance for something? Balinor had been involved in the Defenders during a few encounters with members of the Blue and the Gray (all of which turned out disastrously for the Defenders and had essentially no effect on the Blue and the Gray), but Morty had never interacted with them at all! This grudge against Balinor AND Morty implied that it was due to events AFTER they had merged into one party, ie. within the last year or two. The only connection we could come up with is the King of the World mystery in Rog… the Blue and the Gray clearly use that town as a legitimate front for trading stolen goods. But we took no action against them, and in fact may have solved a problem, so it’s not clear why they would be interested in killing us. Furthermore, Tarplin was in that adventure too… isn’t he significant enough (actually MORE significant in terms of world fame than Balinor and probably Morty)? Strange.

If it wasn’t the Blue and the Gray, then who was it? The dark dwarves? But again, why would they want to kill Morty? Balinor had ticked them off with his Skull Mountain adventures, and prior to that with the Defenders, but again the Morty connection eluded us.

The Queen of Grottoes people? That was the only group that would have good reason to kill Balinor and some motivation to kill Morty, but none against Tarplin (because he wasn’t on the Seapoint adventure—he joined the party just afterward).

If it was the Queen of Grottoes that was behind the reward, why hire orcs? Assuming these orcs were associated with the Blue and the Gray, perhaps they took the mission solely for the reward?

Speculation aside, we continued to stalk our ambushers. We went past the “trapped” wall (which looked unchanged) and continued tracking the blood trail. As we explored the compound, we discovered that it had at one point contained thousands of gold pieces worth of high quality furniture… which had been totally ripped open and destroyed. Our suspicion is that it had belonged to the ogre mage, and the looters had been searching for hidden panels. Somehow this made us slightly sad.

Eventually we discovered the room from which we had been ambushed… there was a weird funnel aiming down below, and we estimated it to be directly above the pit trap. It seemed likely that one could point a wand, fire it into the tube, and have it shoot down into the tunnels below.

After passing several more rooms filled with wrecked furniture (including empty wine cellars) we eventually reached a room with a single intact object—a large tapestry. Except, oddly, it was showered with blood. Hmmm.

It turned out that the blood trail led right to the tapestry. The grotto beasts had been trying to trick us! They had smeared deer blood on themselves, and were using this tapestry as a giant towel! Fortunately for us, we were too cautious/dim to pick up on this, so the stratagem failed. But it did remind us that the grotto beasts were highly intelligent and tricky.

Behind the tapestry we discovered a secret passage. With no other obvious exits, it seemed they had gone this way. We followed the passage for several minutes, when abruptly we stumbled on a grotto beast!

Robynne got a single shot off, but the beast immediately fled down the corridor at high speed. Because of the boots of speed, Morty could actually keep pace with the creature (18”), while Tarplin (15”) lagged a bit behind, a sprinting Balinor (12”) behind him, and the rest of the party left behind in the dust. There was an ugly moment where Morty nearly slipped on a trick section of floor that spun around, but he deftly avoided it and warned Tarplin and Balinor, who got past it without issue.

Still, the chase wore on for several minutes, and then suddenly Morty found himself outside, in an area of dense foliage. It appeared that he had emerged from some sort of temple built into the rock. He could still hear the galloping sounds of the fleeing grotto beast… but he also heard the sounds of heavy breathing. Suspicious and recalling the grotto beasts’ incredible voice mimicry abilities, he snuck carefully into the foliage. There he discovered that there were three grotto beasts. One was obviously making the fake fleeing horse sound (still breathing heavily from the chase), while one waited to bash whoever emerged from the cave, and the third waited high above on the cliff face.

Morty, realizing that Tarplin or Balinor would be trashed if they emerged without warning, decided to distract them. He climbed up onto the cliff face and began sidling across… one of the grotto beasts tried to track him from below, while the one at the top of the cliff dropped a huge chunk of pillar… which glanced off of Morty, inflicting minor damage and crashing thunderously in front of the cave entrance… thus alerting the approaching Tarplin to the danger, who skidded to a halt to wait for Balinor.

(I’m a little confused about details here.)

Tarplin prepared a slow spell, and moved in behind Balinor as the fighter charged out (there really wasn’t any obvious better option, and Morty could need immediate help). Sure enough, the one remaining grotto beast clocked Balinor nastily, inflicting massive damage and wounds. Balinor decided to burn charges… he pumped his strength up with Wrath, and boosted his armor class with the boots. Tarplin sprinted out and threw a slow spell on the three grotto beasts… but unfortunately only Balinor’s opponent failed its save. The fighter reared back and smashed the creature for devastating damage, and crushed it to the ground.

The other grotto beasts were shouting confusing messages using their voice mimicry, including, oddly, “Retreat back to the guides!” in Morty’s voice. Were our guides on the up-and-up? Morty hit upon the tactic of repeating any false statement to invalidate it, and hopefully Balinor would figure it out.

There was no time to consider it. Realizing that Morty was still in trouble, Balinor chugged a potion of extra healing (in hindsight I should have waited for Tarplin’s cure) and charged into the foliage, looking for a second target. Morty and the other grotto beast on the cliff could both see what was going on, and were shouting confusing directions in an attempt to help Balinor and the other beast find each other. In the end, Morty won out, and Balinor was not surprised when he pulled back a fern to come face-to-face with the creature. They smashed each other for tremendous damage and more wounds, and the grotto beast broke for the hills. Robynne emerged from the cave and took a shot at the creature as it fled, pegging it, but not dropping it.

The creature on the cliff saw what had happened and took off in the opposite direction, running down the hillside. Leo and Morhion rushed up to heal Balinor, and Morty considered his options. Ascending the cliff face, he spread his wings activated by the ring of gliding and zoomed after the badly injured grotto beast.

Balinor and Robynne crested the cliff and began firing at the fleeing uninjured grotto beast, hoping we could prevent them from getting away to warn the ambushers of our escape. Unfortunately Robynne’s bowstring snapped on the first shot, and although Balinor was able to plug the creature a good number of times, it wasn’t even half the damage required to drop it, and it disappeared into the trees.

Meanwhile, Morty was soaring through the air toward the unsuspecting badly injured fleeing grotto beast. Morty realized that the rush of air would warn the creature if he swooped in, precluding the possibility of a backstab, and he had an idea. Cut the wings out in midair, and drop on the creature, stabbing downward. It didn’t have a great chance of success, but it would spectacular if it worked.

Instead, what happened what was this.

The grotto beast completely failed to notice Morty swooping in from behind. From about twenty feet above, Morty’s wings retracted and he dropped out of the sky. Unfortunately, his sword Kazaam wound up in a bad position and he struck himself, exploding as he fell (for a single point of damage). Morty had badly misjudged the creature’s position and crashed face-first into the ground, taking considerable damage.

However, the grotto beast was so shocked (four segments) that Morty had time to get up, draw a second longsword and clock the creature!

This left the grotto beast in very bad shape, but still standing. It considered attacking, but it decided to run. It dashed away as Morty dropped the second longsword and drew yet another one to go after it. He chased the creature, matching its speed across the plain, and it kept trying to evade. But when Morty drew near, he was forced to back off slightly to avoid being clicked by the powerful hind legs of the beast. Realizing this wasn’t working, he skidded to a stop, dropped his longswords, and drew out his sling. He fired a single sling bullet+1, nailing the creature and dropping it to the ground at stable consciousness.

The incapacitated creature begged Morty for healing, but he told it to wait until the rest of the party arrived. In the meantime it confessed that there had been six grotto beasts, and three of them had fled after they’d failed to catch us and their employers had abandoned them.

Our ambushers had disappeared a mere 20 minutes earlier, and the third grotto beast might not be inclined to loyalty toward them. It was quite possible that they didn’t know that we were still around. Could we take advantage of this?

Find out next time!


Note: XP still needs to be awarded for this section, but will wait until we return to civilization, or do something stupid and wipe ourselves out.

The party’s current status:

Balinor, Fighter 9, 86 hp
Morty, Fighter 7/Thief 6, 74 hp
Bodkin, Fighter 5, 48 hp
Robynne, Woodsman 5, 38 hp
Tarplin, Druid 8/Mage 5, 30 hp
Morhion, Cleric 3, 28 hp
Leo, Cleric 4, 25 hp


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