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Superstar! and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Horse

After the Circle of Ayrless adventure, wherein Superstar defeated the Final Cut (rather brutally at that), the party returned to Depwood in June 2192 and met with its Druidic and Ranger colleagues. Treasure was divided, cash and some minor magic items were handed over to the Druids as payment for the use of some of their items in the fight against the bad guys, arrangements were made for henchmen training, and finally the topic turned to a reward for our help with the small matter of the Circle.

The Druids offered some choices:
1. The Amulet of Spiritual Strength, which gives +1 to Turning and provides 1 hp/level of the cleric. (Cleric only)
2. A folding boat (a small handheld boat which can fold out into a small row boat or a ~dozen capacity small sailing boat)
3. A Robe of Stars, which has some save effects and protection on the astral plane, as well as giving a unique weapon when the stars sewn onto the fabric can be grabbed and thrown as moderately powerful and fast missile weapons.
4. They also had a number of woodland cloaks and boots, which give ~50% bonuses to hide in shadows/move silently abilities when in woodlands or similar environs.

We also discussed the previously offered "weird familiar-like" choices (sprites, etc.) but there were essentially two options: a Wise Old Bird friend for Star (which he could not actually receive until he was 9th level) or they could offer us a chance to be introduced to a Pseudodragon. The chance of success was decent, but by no means guaranteed. If we chose the Pseudodragon the druids would consider throwing in a pair of boots and a cloak or similar.

We talked about the abilities that Pseudodragons have (see invisible around them, provide magic resistance to their friend, scouting with perfect telepathy within a short range, etc.), Star and Rangorn realized they had met one before--this was what Thurmond (Ludo's friend from the Stone Soules) was! We never knew the proper name for this type of creature, but we had most definitely adventured with a Pseudodragon before. Based on this knowledge, the party decided to ask the Druids to attempt to introduce Star to a Pseudodragon.

And, thankfully, the introduction was successful (exact roll needed!) and Star welcomed a new friend into the party, Ceres. [AC 2, mv 6"/24", 2 HD, 12 hp, 35% magic resistance, chameleon 80% invisible, see invisible creatures with a certain range, 240' range telepathy with Star, a slow-regenerating sleep-poison attack from his tail, and a weak bite attack, also, he eats gems]

We also picked up both the Boots and Cloak of the Woodlands for Rangorn; with these he can be nearly undetectable in forests! (He passed his Cloak of Protection +2 on to Chiaro, who was very grateful for the upgrade.)

We also had nine mithril bars to trade for magic items from the Circle of Ayrless adventure. We traded five bars plus Star’s chainmail +1 to upgrade him to banded mail +2. We additionally traded the remaining four for Star to get the Amulet of Spiritual Strength from the Druids.

At this point, Chiaro decided it would be a good time to pick up a second henchman, and he managed to find a terrific candidate! “Sorcery Girl” is an elven magic user and druid. Her two great passions are magic and birds. She has a vulture familiar, and her druidic animal friends include two crows and two owls to help with guarding and recon. With such a good overlap between her interests and the themes of Superstar!, her future with the party is sure to be bright!

We finished training and preparing some scrolls (CLW and “hold person” batteries, mostly), purchased Holy Water, and some other gear from the Druids (e.g., Potions) and were ready to decide our next adventure by about October 2192.

Because of our success in eliminating the Final Cut, the word had gotten out to others with troublesome groups they could use help with. There were some minor local bounties, but they seemed beneath our notice. Two major bounties were brought to us: an evil ambush party operating out of the jungle near Port Elizabeth in the Indicara Jungle, and another small hit-and-run group in Western Cromwell, Chaotic Evil, with a number of archers expected.

We arrived in Sutton in Western Cromwell on March 30, 2193. Where we met up with two agents of the Cromwellian government who would guide and assist us in our efforts: Wanda Cooper, a wizard with many years of service in the government, and Flyer Pheraguat, an elven woodsman archer who rides a hippogriff!

Our party roster:
Rangorn, 7th level half-elf woodsman, 65 hp, played by Joel
Pheraguat, 7th level high-elf woodsman, 60 hp, played by Andrew
Chiaroscuro, 7th level human illusionist, 22 hp, played by Aaron
Star, 6th level human cleric, 37(43) hp, played by Kyle
Wanda, 6th level human mage, 19 hp, played by Jay

Zippo, 3rd level dwarf fighter, 34 hp, henchman of Star, played by David B.
Lewis, 3rd level human ranger, 23 hp, henchman of Star, played by Alan
Magic Lad, 2nd /2nd level cleric/illusionist, 13 hp, henchman of Chiaro
Alisan, 2nd level half-elf cleric, 17 hp, henchman of Rangorn
Sorcery Girl, 1st /1st level mage/druid, 5 hp, henchman of Chiaro

In Sutton, we also met a Nevronian Cleric named Noelle, who gave us a rundown on the circumstances surrounding the first bandit group:
1) They attacked transport wagons and small caravans. They didn’t leave survivors, and bodies of guards were generally full of arrows.
2) They seemed to have an uncanny ability to select targets, passing up wagons carrying little of value, but hitting the ones that were secretly carrying great loot.
3) When “speak with dead” was tried, dead bodies reported that they lost their vision immediately at the start of the combat (and then they got shot with arrows). “Silence” was also in effect in some cases.
4) They had been attacked from fairly good ambush sites terrain-wise. Government agents sent to scout the routes had missed these sites and they were officially reprimanded.
5) At the scene of the attack, the horses that were pulling the wagons were found to be decapitated.
6) A “divination” indicated that the bandit group did not show up as being too powerful. Noelle suggested that they might be something to the effect of “glass cannons”.
The third point in particular caught our attention. We didn’t know of any spells that could cause localized blindness on many targets at once. Of course, it could be accomplished with area-darkness spells, but then how did the attacking archers see their targets? Could our bandits have the ability to see through darkness? A necromancer with skeleton archers? Considering the possibility that the bandits were layering large numbers of darkness effects on their targets, we convinced Noelle to lend us 10 continual light objects that we could whip out to counter such an attack. The fifth point was awfully weird as well. It had the smell of a ritual from an evil religion or evil magic item or something. Star tossed off some speculation about an “evil hobby horse”, but we didn’t really know what to make of it.

Our plan was to head out to the area where the attacks were happening as secretly as possible (cover of invisibility, night), wait for an attack to occur, and then leap into action to investigate and pursue. There was a government warehouse where we could take shelter and wait, which we reached in 4 days. We didn’t have to wait too long for an attack, as the next one happened just 5 days later. Luckily it was just 25 miles away, off to the northeast, and we managed to hear about the same evening as the attack (which happened during the late morning).

We decided to have Pheraguat fly out to the attack site to get as fresh a tracking look as possible. The rest of the party would be following along on the ground (at our normal 9” movement). We couldn’t get there in a single night, so we would have to shelter in a random farmhouse during the day, paying the owners some gold for the trouble .

Pheraguat got to the site in about 4 hours. He landed and decided to track around in cougar form (using his Cloak of the Cougar). He observed that about 6 guards were killed and their bodies moved off to the side of the road, as had the large cart. There were many tracks, including another cart; it seemed clear the site had been searched since the attack. He found one set of tracks going south along a hedgerow and it seemed like a small-to-moderate party, about what we were expecting of the bandits. He followed those tracks for a few hours, before getting to a place where he smelled blood. He approached cautiously, climbing a tree to get a good vantage. What he discovered was a camp of eight humans. Only one was sitting up keeping guard. Most seemed to have leather armor, swords, and bows. Pheraguat decided to observe them for a couple hours. He did notice an odd religious-looking staff next to one of the sleeping people. He also noticed that the guards looked a bit on the older side, maybe in their 50’s. By now, dawn was approaching, so he decided to head back and follow some cart tracks that led away from the attack site. He tracked them to a farmhouse on the edge of a nearby hamlet, before deciding to go back near the attack site and take a nap so he would be well rested when the rest of the party got there. In the afternoon, he was awoken by a startled farmer, but Pheraguat was able to show his government papers and explain the situation. After getting a little more rest, he decided to get on his hippogriff and try to find the bandits from the air. They had moved on from the last night’s campsite, but he found them again further to the southeast. He then turned back to meet the party as they reached the site.

Pheraguat described the situation to the party. Star recognized the description of the strange staff, thinking the markings on it resembled the unholy stylings of Imberdarla, a chaotic evil god of darkness. At this news, we concluded there was a good chance they had some magic that would let them see in darkness. We decided that the best way to catch them was by moving at a 12” rate along their same path. This required Sorcery Girl to stay behind with Chiaro’s giant toads (following behind at 9”), and for many party members to put their armor and extra gear in the Bag of Holding. At this 3” speed advantage we were able to get within a few hundred feet of the bandits by the next evening.

We sent the pseudodragon Ceres ahead to scout the enemy position. He reported that the bandits had stopped and were setting up camp on a small hill. We waited several hours for the bandits to go to sleep, and then implemented our ambush plan. The party ascended the hill under cover of “invis. 10’ radius” and “cricket song” (which was placed on an object in Zippo’s possession). Zippo and Pheraguat had individual invisibilities. Alison pre-cast a “bless” and Chiaro pre-cast “detect invisibility” and “non-detection”. Pheraguat and Rangorn flanked around the camp to be on the opposite side as the rest of the party. We observed that there were two archers on guard, and six men asleep.

We got the party started with Zippo charging in, bringing “cricket song” to the camp, and slashing at one of the guards. He got two segments of surprise, but missed on the swing. That was the signal for the woodsmen to fire. The two archers both shot at the same watchman, skewering him for a total of 40 points of damage and dropping him. Lewis came in right behind Zippo, swinging at the remaining still-upright guard, and landed a solid blow. Chiaro cast a “phantasmal force” creating an illusion of seven additional attacking adventurers, (five of them reading scrolls), to draw attacks in case any of the sleepers were to wake up. At this point, Star, Alison, and Magic Lad, all finished reading the first “hold person” spell off each of their scrolls, targeting the alert guard and the sleeping cleric near the staff. The guard was paralyzed.

Our efforts then turned to delivering coup-de-grace attacks to the 6 people on the ground. While killing three of the bandits, one of the remaining three scrambled to his feet and began to flee. Pheraguat shot him as he ran. Chiaro attempted to “dominate” the man, but noticed that he seemed particularly immune to the effect. The woodsmen pursued him. Alison and Star shot at the figure but both missed. After their shots, the fleeing man turned invisible, but that still left him within sight of Chiaro, who proceed to point out that he had whipped around to the backside of a tree and was climbing it at a rapid pace. The pursuers started to converge on the tree. The man then started to swing between trees to get away. Pheraguat took a shot at the moving branches (at horrible penalties) with a “continual light” arrow and hit, marking the target! Rangorn finished his coup-de-grace and joined the chase with his falchion. Chiaro cast a “spectral force”, creating an image of the man overtop of his actual form, so that he was now effectively visible to everyone. Pheraguat shot him again, right before Wanda blasted his location with a fireball. The man was not felled, however, and he drank a potion as the party continued to shoot arrows at him. A series of hits dropped the man unconscious, and he fell out of the tree, dying instantly on impact with the ground. Two segments later, he turned gaseous. Meanwhile, Zippo and Lewis had killed the remaining sleeping bandits, and Magic Lad tied up the paralyzed guard.

We wanted to make sure the “gaseous formed” person was really dead and not fleeing as a vampire or something, so Star used his “empathy” ability on the area. Interestingly, he found a mind not in vaporous form, but concentrated in the man’s backpack. As we waited, we noticed that the pack began rocking a bit. Alison cast a “detect evil” spell and informed us that there was something neutral-evil inside. Star used his psychic-precognition abilities to contemplate opening the backpack, and got the sense that he would be “surprised, in a really perverse way”. With the party gathered around, Star opened the bag. Moving a couple objects out of the way, he finally found the rocking item: it was a small hobby-horse.

As the party sat around stunned at Star’s earlier “prediction” having come true, the hobby horse itself extracted itself from the bag and began to flop away from the party very slowly. Rangorn grabbed it to stuff it back into the pack, and as he did so, he felt the toy contact his mind. It informed Rangorn that it had “vast power” that could be used to help him and his friends. When asked to elaborate, it told Rangorn that it could do so, but Rangorn would have to “adopt” it first. Eh… maybe not right now.

The next phase was the interrogation of the bandits, both living and dead. There was a living, bound bandit who promised he could give us useful information if we agreed to spare him. Since he didn’t appear to be one of the leaders, we agreed. The story he told us is that this particular bandit operation had been around for a while. The four people with the money and magic items were, as expected, the ringleaders. The deal they made with a revolving set of archer lackeys is that said hirelings could obtain great wealth (through banditry) in exchange for ten years of their life (aged through “haste” spells). He himself had been “hasted” three times. The evil hobby-horse would tell the owner of the horse (“Thorwin”) when and where to attack. This was also the guy who executed the horses after the fights and appeared to be the leader. They had a wizard who used a magic vase to alter the terrain and build better ambush sites. To start the fights, the priestess with the magic staff would use the staff to blind the guards, and the archers would shoot them to death. If there was any significant resistance, the wizard would “haste” the archers. He had never been to their “home base” but he thought Thorwin had a place fairly far away, maybe a mansion. He had been with the group for about 3.5 months and participated in about a dozen ambushes. We let him go with food, and then turned to the ringleaders to ask questions via “speak with dead”.

Asking of Thorwin’s associates (in the field):
Q: “Where is Thorwin’s mansion?”
A: “Burned to the ground, in the war.”

Q: “Where does Thorwin keep his valuable possessions that he doesn’t have on his person?”
A: “I think back at the ruins of his old guildhall.”

Q: “What is the location of the ruins of Thorwin’s old guildhall?”
A: “Barleyton. But no one knows where in Barleyton.”

Q: “Where is the location of the ruins of Thorwin’s old guildhall in Barleyton?”
A: “Pretty extensive, but 20 to 30 feet down.”

Q: “How do we access the ruins of Thorwin’s old guildhall in Barleyton?”
A: “Use the secret entrance through the mansion ruins.”

Q: “How does one open the secret entrance to Thorwin’s old guildhall in the ruins of his mansion in Barleyton?”
A: “I don’t know the combination.”

Asking of Thorwin (back at Sutton):
The first two “SwD” questions were questions the Cromwell government wanted the cleric at Sutton to ask about Thorwin’s allies. Thorwin basically confirmed that they are all dead.

Q: “Where is the location of the ruins of your old guildhall in Barleyton?”
A: “It’s a distributed facility.”

Q: “How would I find valuables remaining in the guildhall”
A: “You wouldn’t. You killed the last person with access.”

Q: “What triggers the access?”
A: “A combination and a psychic impression.”

Q: “A psychic impression of whom?”
A: “A full member.”

Q: “What is the combination?”
A: “57-2-101.”

Q: “From the entrance to the Barleycorn Palace (a landmark in Barleyton) what are the directions to your ruined mansion?”
A: He gives us some directions. (Not clear how easy they how are to follow).

Q: “What is the cardinal direction of your ruined mansion from the front gate of the Barleycorn Palace?”
A: “Southwest.”

We had a one-to-two month timeframe to hit another group that Cromwell had alerted us to, but we decided to take the time to have Magic Lad ID the items from this first group (17 days):

• Hobby horse (evil) – “Horsing Around”. Detects hoofed creatures. Detects what they’re carrying. Large radius. Powered by ceremonial killing of horses (1 each week). Yes, this bad horse was feeding Thorwin info on which pack animals were carrying good loot! It also talked to anyone who got within a couple feet of it and tried to convince them to join with it.
• Priest’s staff (evil) – “Plunge Into Darkness”. Light manipulating staff. 20 charges / week. Used for “darkness”, “blindness”, and “shadow summoning” (1, 2, 3 charges each).
• Medium shield +1 (tax)
• Short sword +1 (tax)
• Short swords +1/+4 vs lawful (tax)
• Footman’s flail +1 (tax)
• Vase of Arranging (rearrange terrain based on flower arranging proficiencies) (tax)
• Dagger +1 (Zippo)
• Eversmoking Bottle (Pharragut)
• Hat (unidentified by Magic Lad, also failed by the sage. This has been sent away for ID.)
• Robe is a Plate Mail-Robe, takes 2 segments to transform from one to the other. (keep in Strangorn, somewhere).
• Plate armor +1 (in Bag of Holding for when Rangorn may need it)
• Bracers of “wrath” with (4 charges) (+4 to damage counts for wounds) (Zippo)
• Ring of shocking gasp (9 charges, 12th level) (Anybody can use. Lewis)
• Ring of invisibility 5 charges (Star)
• “Clothes of walking around” (add 3 inches to movement rate, fill armor slot) (Wanda)
• Bracers (5/10) (Pharragut, who transferred his Braces 8/10 to Sorcery Girl)

• Cleric scroll – clw x2 at level 7 (Alisan)
• Mage scroll – “magic missile” x3 at level 6. (Sorcery Girl)

• Potions(4): Healing (Zippo), extra healing (Rangorn), speed (Pheraguat), neutralize poison (Bag of Holding).

• Traveling spellbook: det magic, read magic, sleep, magic missile, shield, spider climb.
• Traveling spellbook: web, levitate, stinking cloud, haste, dispel magic, lightning bolt (pool ball)

We left formal resolution of salvage tax until after the next mission, since our plan is go after another bandit group for Cromwell next!

Pheraguat was ready to begin scouting the next adventure on April 18, 2193, with party then departing on April 30th to join him.

Next: “Superstar! and the Kingpin’s Payout”


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