Scaled Down Scales

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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Massive outbreak...
...of roleplaying...

…overwhelms GM…

…with lots of STORY.

The Search for Modra skill challenge continued with heavy-duty roleplaying all around:

  1. The captured Lost One talked (at least as much as he knew) and revealed the location of a warehouse being used to tranship large quantities of weaponry.
  2. Sam broke into the warehouse and found a portal being used to transport canine creatures which had the taint of the Shadowfell about them.
  3. The party headed for High Hall to alert the dwarves to the security threat posed by a portal within their walls.
  4. The dwarves mounted a military operation to clean out the warehouse.
  5. They liberated a large amount of military-grade weapons and armor. (The party did a little liberating of their own, finding a number of wondrous-item bedrolls the dwarves had overlooked.)
  6. Jerath did some “meditating” on his Seek Rumors ritual at a local pub.
  7. Elyas took the party to see the tattoo artist he had previously rescued from Lost Ones. At first, Elyas had some difficulty convincing the purveyor of magickal tattoos to extend his discounts to the whole group, but once the drow bard told this merchant that THIS was the group of adventurers who had been so inconveniencing the Lost Ones his attitude changed.

The rumors unearthed included:

  • “The threat of the orcs might be ended after the siege of Bordrin’s Watch, but word from the fron­tier is there’s more trouble on the march. Just like Tusk’s clan, the rabble of the mountains are getting their hands on good-grade weapons and armor, and they’re looking to use it.”
  • “Modra met up with a shadar-kai witch a month ago. Some said she was doing a deal for weapons, but she didn’t look much like a warrior.”
  • “The dark creeper is just the front man for arms dealing in the city. No one knows who’s behind the operation, but rumor says it’s bigger than anyone in Overlook will ever know.”
  • “Modra was in the city three weeks past, but he was keeping a low profile. He had a squad of dark creep­ers with him, must have figured they’d stand out.”
  • “Last time anyone saw Modra was just before the raid on Bordrin’s Watch. I heard he’s been on the run since then. Some job that went bad.”

As the party prepared to leave the tattoo parlor with their new decorations, a half-elf named Reniss showed up with a crucial piece of intelligence: Modra apparently had some association with an almshouse in Tradetown, known as The Happy Beggar.

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Searching for Modra
Looking through Tradetown...

…on the rumor that’s where the Lost Ones…

…who attacked them are headquartered, our heroes began a systematic search for Modra and the portal activated by the Keys:

  1. They applied their Streetwise skills to ask around.
  2. They found a locksmith in Tradetown.
  3. And another in Elftown.
  4. Jerath led a parade of intimidation down the main street of Tradetown.
  5. They found a bar in a seedier part of Tradetown where Lost Ones were plotting in a back room. Storm Johnson cleared the bar by loudly implying his intent to pick a fight with the criminal gang. During the fight an enforcer for the Order of the Black Feather showed up along with some kidnappers employed by the Lost Ones. The party finished off the Lost Ones (with the exception of one unconscious member of the criminal terror gang, whom they carried off for further interrogation).

All of which led them to still more rumors:

  • “You get all races in Overlook, but the dark ones that pass through the city keep to themselves. More often than not, those you do see are in the company of Lost Ones bodyguards and enforcers.”
  • “Someone by the name ‘Modra’ was said to be buying information a few months back, looking for those with experience mining the old caverns of the Stonehome.”
  • “Modra is a dark creeper, and well known in the city’s criminal underworld.”
  • “It’s said that the dark creeper Modra brokers weap­ons and armor through the Overlook black markets.”
  • “The far traders coming into Overlook talk of more and more trouble on the roads. They say the Red Hand of Doom was behind what happened in Brin­dol a few months past, but there’s more cults than that on the rise across the frontier.”
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Questions and Ambushes
The sage...

…offered to answer one question…

…from each of the party members once she was freed from the threat of binding and slavery.

The first to take advantage was Belinda who asked her question before the rest of the party got back from burying the pillars. No one heard the question, but she seemed a bit embarrassed when the party came traipsing back in on the tail end of the answer.

  • Sam Dardano asked how he could ensure that the wererat curse would never haunt him again. The prophetess told him that the curse was on his clan. Since he has foresworn his clan, the only way the curse can return is if he again takes the name of Dardano. Henceforth he shall be known officially as Sam the Foresworn.
  • Rinoa took a pass on her chance at an answer.
  • Kane asked the location of some obscure relative and was rewarded with the obscure knowledge that the relative was in an obscure location known as the Horned Hold.
  • Lokki asked how to find his parents. He was told the path to this knowledge lay through his dreams.
  • Storm Johnson asked if there were more he could do to help Lady Saharel. She told him that, as a ghost, her physical needs were few. And she told him that, as a spiritual being, the efforts he had made to prevent her binding were the most she could ask of a mortal.
  • Jerath asked how he could reunite the dragonborn to take the Underdark from his own people, The Drow. The sage replied: “Worry not about about the treacherous many; worry rather about the treacherous one.”
  • Elyas asked for the location of the door to which the Keys fit. She told him that the keys were not to a door but to a portal somewhere beneath the streets of Overlook, a portal which leads to The Shadowfell.

Proceeding back to Overlook, the party was stymied at the gates by racial profiling: The dwarves did not take kindly to the presence of a drow (Jerath) in the caravan. Several party members stayed to help the bard, while the rest continued into the city to find the headquarters of the Order of the Black Feather. Kane was particularly interested in finding a holy symbol to use as an implement. The shrine beneath the order’s HQ, however, contained nothing which was holy to Kane’s deity (being dedicated, of course, to the Raven Queen).

Those exploring the possibilities of the area where the order is most influential had their idyl interrupted by the sounds of fighting. It took no special abilities to detect the plaintive tones of Jerath’s voice. The bard (along with the rest of the party) had clearly been ambushed.

Rushing to the scene (a wide spot in the back alley required to reach the obscure courtyard where the only public entrance to the The Order of the Black Feather’s headquarters can be found), the party was reunited in time to rescue the beleaguered (and tankless) portion of the party, who had been ambushed by some members of the Lost Ones.

Elyas remembered (and was recognized by) a Lightning Dancer mage who has been known to work for the Lost Ones. Elyas and Roland once rescued the proprietor of a tattoo shop who was being shaken down by this criminal gang (whose territory has been circumscribed to Tradetown by the presence of the order in The Forgeworks). In fact, the effectiveness of the order in keeping The Lost Ones out of The Forgeworks is one of the main reasons that people in Overlook think of the order as a competing thieves guild.

Shopkeepers in The Forgeworks, however, swear by the order and insist that no protection racket is involved. The order is secretive enough to operate like a criminal gang (and to be effective at keeping The Lost Ones out of their territory), but they claim to be nothing more than a band of adventurers.

Cynics abound, but the success of the order in helping to win the war has moved many citizens (even outside The Forgeworks) to accept the order for what it says it is.

Searching the bodies of The Lost Ones, the party found few clues as to what they were doing beyond a cryptic note. The note was signed by someone named Modra and had a crude drawing of the key the party is carrying.

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Writings on the Wall
Graffiti and plinths...

…became the focus for the party.

Well, at first just writings on the walls of Thoran’s bedroom: some of which was just chalked rantings about Modra; some of which were details about how to cast some powerful magic, binding a particular spirit. At great risk to his immortal soul, the paladin donned the black armor worn by Thoran’s captain. No one had been able to determine if it was cursed.

Upstairs the party found just such a bound spirit (although it turned out to be a practice spirit, not the actual spirit Thoran was targeting). At first it appeared to be an old man who had been tortured by Thoran, but once the party got close enough it revealed its true form (an Oni which breathed on them).

The Oni’s breath slowed those who failed to dodge aside and hold their breath (only the hobbit managed this feat). Eventually the surviving party members figured out how to awaken the fallen comrades, but not before the Oni did a lot of damage.

Once the Oni was defeated, the band of heroes was able to examine in greater detail the markings on the seven plinths which dominated the room. Four of the plinths had alabaster columns surmounting them. The markings on these were painted clearly in a manner deliberately intended to mimic the stylings of ancient Nerath. The other three had chalked-in versions of the same kinds of runic devices.

Arcane examinations of these writings enabled the party to deduce that the pillars were being gathered to bind and enslave the ghost of Saharelgard. The only way they could imagine for preventing some successor to Thoran from figuring this out was to disperse the pillars, burying them in the ruins surrounding the Sceptred Tower.

Once this was accomplished (using the immense strength of some of the party members) the threat to the oracle was eliminated and she appeared (in ghostly form) before them. The ghost thanked them for their service and offered to answer their questions.

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