Scaled Down Scales

Back to Overlook...
...to find out...

…someone is looking for them.

When Sarshan showed up, looking for answers, his captain (Thannu) was happy to provide them, telling him about the battle in the Library as well as the shadowy firefight that erupted in the middle of delicate diplomatic negotiations. Our heroes pretty much had to admit they were responsible.

Before he dropped his disguise, some of the party were able to identify him as the veteran from The Happy Beggar. They remembered him telling them to kill Modra before the dark creeper had a chance to kill them. Before they had a chance to show him Modra’s “body,” however, a group of Sarshan’s guard’s burst in with a prisoner.

Belinda had been caught snooping around the Forge. Grigore then revealed that the Umbraforge itself had been sabotaged, which was soon confirmed by more of Sarshan’s guards.

Sarshan offered the party one last chance, a deal: If they would work for him (and prove their talents by reconfiguring his personal portal for their use), they could return to their world (although he warned them it would soon become a dangerous place to be).

The party accepted this deal (except for Elyas, who was not so quick to give up on an entire plane of existence). They were taken to the portal, where they convinced Thannu to let them use Elyas to aid in the reconfiguration. When it was completed by Raven, the configuration allowed Elyas and Raven to escape with the rest of the party. This betrayal will certainly negate any agreement the party might have with Sarshan. No doubt about his vengeance: Sarshan will be seeking them throughout the planes, no matter where they hide.

Returning to Overlook via the the Black Shrine, the party found the White Shrine filled with dwarves. Also, Belinda’s mother, Lady Alyssa, who had been put onto Grigore’s decision to take her daughter to the Shadowfell by Roland. The rogue had told warden’s wife that Grigore had “rescued” Belinda from both a band of wraiths and from Roland’s own tender mercies. It quickly became apparent that the rogue had managed to transfer some of Alyssa’s maternal suspicions from himself to the Vryloka.

While Grigore Goldforge went off to find a way to invest in Jerath’s latest play (“Roland and Juliette,” a tragedy about star-crossed lovers based very loosely on the hypothetical relationship between Roland and Belinda) and Raven and Sam got distracted with rumors of maps to lost dwarven mines, the rest of the party discovered they were being sought by a messenger from Brindol, named Alyss.

Before she could find them, however, this messenger was kidnapped by the Lost Ones, who are still seeking vengeance on The Order of the Black Feather and their friends in the party for the damage to their reputation caused by Jerath’s parade through Tradetown.

After an exhaustive search, they ran the kidnappers down to their hideout in an abandoned temple in the Divine Knot section of Nine Bells. Their plan to free the messenger was delayed, however, by the need to round up Kane, who had found his own reasons to split the party.

This left open the possibility that the kidnappers might be alerted their hideout was compromised. In finding the exact location, Grigore DID pretend to be a new recruit to the Lost Ones. They decided to leave Sam behind to make sure the kidnappers did not fly the coop.

In the midst of all this, Elyas managed to jump to the conclusion that there might be some connection between the gnolls the party saw in Sarshan’s guest rooms and the gnolls who are reportedly terrorizing Elsir Vale. Kane jumped to a similarly unjustified conclusion about gnolls being some kind of monsters created in the labs of Sarshan’s tower, but Elyas wasn’t buying any of that nonsense.

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Intimidation by other means...
...is little more than...

…failed diplomacy.

Discovering a huge Great Hall at the heart of Sarshan’s Tower, the brave adventurers spied on a diplomatic discussion taking place there. One of Sarshan’s allies had sent an envoy to renege on a deal they had: Sarshan was planning to use a portal controlled by the ally to move a mercenary army to the material plane from his headquarters in the Shadowfell.

Sam sneaked closer to eavesdrop, but the rest of the party just tromped into the middle of the room and opened a secondary line of negotiations.

Fearing a betrayal, the Dark Envoy filled the room with a dark fog and sent his crew of Mad Wraiths in to disrupt any ambush. Repeatedly coming close to death at the hands of the wraiths, Grigore Goldforge began to mock Drake the Enforcer’s abilities as a tank.

Eventually, Elyas showed up to create a tunnel of light. Sam, despairing of his attempts to explain the situation to his comrades, used the tunnel of light and enlisted the aid of Raven (the gardener in an upstairs Aboretum) to help him intimidate the Dark Envoy into honoring his deal with Sarshan.

While this DID accomplish Sarshan’s main goal in the negotiations, Sam’s subsequent efforts to paper over the fact that his friends had disrupted sensitive negotiations failed to convince Sarshan’s minions that the party had nothing but Sarshan’s best interests at heart.

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Diplomacy by Other Means...
...is little more than...

…Intimidation!

After deciding to use their success against Modra to convince Sarshan to hire them, the brave adventurers proceeded through his secret entrance to his tower, the seat of his power in the part of the Shadowfell known as the Umbraforge. This led them to a secret door in the library.

Unfortunately, their efforts at diplomacy did little to convince Sarshan’s minions there (a couple of Shadar-kai witches and the various warriors and gloomblades who were protecting the entrance). They all knew that only Sarshan himself is allowed to use the secret passage between the forge and the tower. As the witches filled the room with writhing shadows, Rinoa rushed to the middle of the room and began blasting in all directions while Sam did more selective damage.

Once the guardians were all bloodied (and Elyas repeatedly blinded by the gloomblades, Grigore Goldforge discovered the true value of his mental powers by focusing his mind on the remaining gloomblade with such intensity that a wormhole was created. The gloomblade emerged from the wormhole a short distance away, only to be sucked back in and teleported to a nearby room (a shrine to Nerull, the ancient god of death defeated by the Raven Queen before she assumed her throne of skulls).

Realizing that his opponents’ made them vulnerable to his intimidation skills, Drake the Enforcer did some enforcing, turning his glowing eyes to blue and forcing Sarshan’s legions to surrender.

Being diplomatic can take many forms, depending on the point in the battle when they are initiated.

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After a Quick Trip to the Market...
...and a rendevous...

…between Grigore Goldforge and an old flame…

…the party decided that a surprise attack on the Forge might be a good idea. Well, not really attacking the Umbraforge itself, but attacking Modra just as he attacked the Forge. Acting on a lead from Elyas, Sam and Jesper found a broken wall to the rear of the Forge. Bracing the broken wall with rock, they were able to set it up so the wall could be partially knocked down without bring the whole wall down.

Then the party waited for nightfall, when Leena had promised that Modra would try to sabotage the magickal machinations of Sarshan (under the cover of a massive mercenary mobilization). The surprise came off without a hitch: Modra was killed as his minions were overwhelmed.

But Modra was able to release one of Sarshan’s evil creations before he died: a giant two-headed death boar.

When Jalene Lehr’s initial plan (taming the semi-intellegent boar) ran up against the difficulty inherent in taming two heads simultaneously, she improvised an alternative: She locked the beast back in its birth-vat.

Becoming concerned it might break out of the stone enclosure, the giantess switched to Plan C: She waited until the creature was charging the door of the stone vat and suddenly hit the release lever, hoping it would charge over to edge of the lava channel running through the middle of the forge. This worked even better than she anticipated: The Death Boar charged right into the stream of shadow and fire.

Caught up in the matador extravagance of Jalene’s move, Grigore tested the limits of his acrobatics and athleticism to bound cockily off the boar’s back to the other side of the lava. Unimpressed with this silly display of testosterone, Jalene drove her sword into the boar’s back, channeling the power of the earth through her sword to force it to the bottom of the fiery flow and pinning it there with the stone of the trench.

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Leading with his Jaw...
...after heading back to camp...

…without the rest of the party…

Drake the Enforcer ran into a group of ogres out to improve their reputations by taking on the new kids on the block. The crowd of trolls and ogres quickly became big fans of “Devil Man” (their name for the big revenant with the glowing eyes) when he began meting out some serious hurt on the Bonecruncher Clan.

As the party fought their way toward Drake (more out of concern for their own safety than his), Drake demonstrated how little concern a goliath has for death once he has already died and become a minion of the Raven Queen. As he slipped into a death-like state, Devil Man’s eyes only seemed to glow brighter.

And the crowd went wild.

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Volcanic Rift
Storm Johnson disappears...

…into a rift which appears…

…in front of the party as they make their way back from the slave pens at Umbraforge. Some wiseacre expresses sympathy for whatever entity pulled him through. Just when our heroes begin to worry they will have to face the Umbrahound and his Magma Bat buddies without a tank or a healer, a new friend appears on the horizon. Jalene Lehr engaged the Unbrahound without a hesitation.

More hesitant, Jesper Firebrand stalked the hound from the trees. Once he saw the trees around Elyas go up in flames, however, he began to place less faith in the gifts of The Traveler, who is well known for offering safety in forms that prove less than totally safe.

Their umbral enemies seemed to have more trouble with the broken-weapon rules than Drake the Unlucky, himself. First, a Magmabat lashed out at a several heroes and managed to break its fiery tether to the rift. This gave the crew a clue to an easy way to end the encounter, as part of the rift closed as the chains of fire and shadow were sucked back into the elemental void from whence they came. Then the hound was pulled back to chaos when all of his hellishly long teeth were shattered on a rock accidentally kicked up by Jalene as she dodged his awkward bite.

Meanwhile, three statues which had been standing (incongruously in the middle of a slave pen) nearby came to life, apparently animated by the shadow-fires of the rift. Drake tanked them and each returned to a solid form once it was killed. One was wearing a hide armor, which was apparently brought over from the Elemental Chaos. It has the ability to be banished back there and recovered with a thought, although the exact mechanism of this magic has not yet been divined by the arcanists in the party, who gave it to their new goliath tank, Jalene.

Assuming, of course, that the party proves able to hire the two mercenaries, Jalene and Jesper, who seem very much set on a salary.

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Waking alone...
...in a world he does not recognize...
Elyas found himself in a yurt…

…well, not quite alone: Belinda was sleeping nearby. And outside the yurt an enormous mercenary camp sprawled, a tower and a volcano looming in the background.

The rest of the party, who had leased the yurt from a barbarian entrepreneur, were out looking for a new blade for Drake the Enforcer whose blade was broken when he tried to recover from a bad swing by forcing it beyond its endurance. They found a magickal sword, but were unable to determine its value without the Invoker’s arcane expertise.

Reunited in a place called Umbraforge in the Shadowfell, the party figured out a method of making money in the sprawling bazaar which has grown up around the camps: They search through the wares of merchants selling weapons and armor of lesser quality, hoping to find magickal items which the less-skilled sellers have failed to notice the true value of. Then they buy the items in question and sell them to those who deal in higher-quality items. They made quite a bit of money this way, most of which ended up in Sam’s poke or Storm Johnson’s wallet. Sam told Grigore to think of him as a bank, without the worry that the bank might be robbed.

The heroes then set about finding out more about this strange place:

  • Storm discovered it took more than athletics (demonstrating his wrestling skills at the training ground) to give the rest of the party time to hear rumors. His endurance was put to the test. When Sam tried his acrobatics, he ran into much the same problem. Getting the high sign from Storm to keep tumbling to the limits of his endurance, Sam rolled a crit which triggered one of his favorite feats and chalked up two successes on the Endurance part of this challenge.
  • In this place of little diplomacy and no real street culture, the party had some success with these two skills until rumors of their snooping caused their sources to clam up.
  • In the process of doing this, Sam and Grigore were able to convince much of the camp that Grigore was some kind of official in the Umbraforge power structure. In doing so, however, Grigore was forced to play upon his Vryloka heritage. No doubt he is counting on that not being such a big deal in the Shadowfell.
  • Elyas was the only one to try his arcane sensitivities on the area, but he really didn’t have much success until he tried it in the vicinity of the foundry (the large, low building squatting in the shadow of the black tower).
  • The party’s final success was a group effort in the Intimidate department. Drake’s success revealed that this kind of tactic is particularly appropriate to the lawless environment, even if it makes it harder to do diplomacy.

All of which gave the party a lot of information from the rumor mill:

  1. “This is Umbraforge, dominion of Sarshan, a trader of great reputation and even greater wealth. The tower, foundry, and forges are his. The camps are those of the mercenaries and slaves whose services he sells across the Shadowfell and the world.”
  2. “Sarshan is shadar-kai, an outcast who made a name for himself as the leader of a legendary
    mercenary band known as the Black Arrow. At their height, the Arrow put so much fear in generals and kings alike that Sarshan would take payment to fight for one group, then take a bigger payment from their foe to stand down.”
  3. “Modra is known well in Umbraforge, but for all the wrong reasons now. He was one of
    Sarshan’s trusted lieutenants before he tried to a broker a weapons deal that Sarshan had already turned down.”
  4. “The job that Sarshan refused was some orc king’s raid on a dwarven citadel. Sarshan
    never makes a sale if it has a chance of coming back to him, and for good reason. This job went bad, they say, and people know that Modra sold the orc his weapons.”
  5. “Modra is long gone from Umbraforge and the Shadowfell, believe me. Sarshan’s got a long arm and a longer memory. The creeper would have to be crazy to come back here.”
  6. “The foundry is the new jewel of Sarshan’s operations. Its power comes from the fire and shadow driving its furnaces. Sarshan’s sages create beasts of battle there, born killers with
    magic in their blood.”
  7. “It used to be that Sarshan brokered mercenaries mostly within the Shadowfell, but that’s changing. Dark ones and shadar-kai are still his elite troops, but more and more, he brings creatures from the world to Umbraforge for training, then marches them off to places unknown.”
  8. “The Shadowfell is only a stopping-off place for Sarshan’s mercenaries. A force of archons from the Elemental Chaos was here not six months ago. I saw githzerai from the Astral Sea in Umbraforge once. I don’t know what job they took for Sarshan, but woe be to whoever got in their way.”
  9. “Sarshan’s slave bazaar is about more than just servants and soldiers. His experiments in the
    foundry only begin with dumb beasts. He’s building new soldier races there, born from the slaves he traffics.”
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On the doorstep...
...of a Dark Portal...

…our adventurers finally met Modra…

…who was trying to open the portal without a Key. He disappeared and summoned the wraith guardians of the portal. The preternaturally intelligent bat put in a few more appearances, apparently restocking the room with his friends from the mushroom-covered cliff.

The restocking effort forced Belinda and her boyfriend to rejoin the party. Modra took advantage of the situation to steal the key from around Belinda’s neck and use it to escape through the portal. Beset by multiplying minions — wraiths which might eventually overwhelm them — Grigore led the party through the portal…

…to the Shadowfell on the other side. Before they made the fateful passage to another plane, the ardent healer took it upon himself to separate the young lovers (Roland and Belinda, about whom Jerath, the bard, is creating a play) by setting the portal so it allowed Belinda through, but left Roland stranded among wraiths and bats.

They found there a veritable army of mercenaries being mustered. Seems Modra’s master has a much bigger operation here than anyone expected. In addition to the usual complement of shadar-kai and dark creepers one would expect to find in the plane of shadow, the party noticed many denizens of their own world:

  • Dwarves and humans, elves and even hobbits;
  • Drow and duergar;
  • Orcs and goblins;
  • Ogres and trolls; and
  • Still stranger refugees from their own world.

In fact, in the mercenary camp they found more of the familiar than they found of the shadow realms. Taking advantage of the fact that they were mistaken for wandering mercenaries, the adventurers secured lodging in a yurt-like tent within the mercenaries’ camp.

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Carried away...
...by a large undead bat...

Storm Johnson couldn’t help but notice…

…the preternatural intelligence the creature exhibited:

  1. It began screeching at the Shadar-Kai witch it found in the next room.
  2. It seemed to understand when she screeched back.
  3. When four Dark Creepers released the Shadowhounds being held in a cage on a cart in this room, it swooped into the cage and dropped the goliath there.
  4. When its efforts to claw Storm were inhibited by the close confines of the cage, it teleported out of the cage while two Dark Creepers closed the door on the cage.
  5. When the rest of the party arrived and were cornered at the entrance by the Shadowhounds and Storm Johnson teleported out of the cage (“Two can play this game!” he cried) to engage the witch, the bat brought new victims into the witch’s zone (which Storm Johnson was preventing her from moving into the corner where his squishy compatriots were trapped).
  6. When the witch was killed and her allies being slaughtered, the bat helped one of the Dark Creepers escape.

All that was left was to search the bodies. Sam the Foresworn found another Key on the witch’s body.

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Beneath...
...The Happy Beggar...

…the party found a narrow tunnel.

With Belinda and Roland providing cover with hanky-panky in the kitchen, they explored the passageway.

No sooner than Drake slide down the final, steep part of the tunnel, they were beset by large bats. One of the bats, which seemed a little more undead than the rest, grabbed the Blackguard, carried him past the edge of a 20-foot cliff, and dropped him in the deep end of the natural cavern they found themselves in.

The preternatural creature attempted the same trick on Storm Johnson, but the goliath was able to thwart it by grappling its legs. With Rinoa dishing most of the damage on the elusive attackers (the rest of the bats had a flyby attack that made it hard to hit them without ranged weapons), the bats concentrated their attacks on her. Fortunately, Grigore was able to stab at the bats on the ceiling while healing the sorceress at the same time.

Unfortunately, he and the enforcer did not figure out how to coordinate their abilities until the end of the battle. Speaking of Drake, he spent valuable seconds attempting to climb the cliff. Once he reached the top, he put his hand right in the middle of a patch of toadstools, which exploded into an obscuring cloud of spores. The spores attacked any open wound they could settle upon, so bloodied party members became vulnerable to attack if they ventured into the cloud.

Meanwhile the undead bat took Storm Johnson up to its perch among the stalactites on the ceiling of the cave. Wrestling with it mightily while tried to rake him with its claws, Storm tried to pull it free. When he finally managed to do this, they both plummeted toward the floor, but the bat used some kind of teleport ability to carry them both toward an opening in the lower part of the cave. By this time, the party had gotten the upper hand with the rest of the bats.

The bat carried Storm Johnson through the passageway to the next room even as the rest of the party finished off the remaining bats.

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