Scaled Down Scales

Hobbit in a Box
Returning to the locked room...

…they had not been able to penetrate before…

…the party now found their set of alabaster pieces to be sufficiently complete to open the Arcane Vault.

Inside, they found a number of stone chests standing open inside a lead-lined room. Another stone chest turned out to be closed, locked and trapped. Rothe Draken threw his sword at it with sufficient force to trigger the trap: gouts of acid sprayed the room. Fortunately only Rinoa was hit.

The bard being missing in action, the task of disabling the trap fell on the halfling. The party piled the stone boxes, put Sam in the top one. He tried to disable the trap, but failed, causing all four acid spigots to spray at him. He got some protection from the stone box, but nearly died anyway.

He decided to concentrate on disabling the spigots. Eventually he got two shut down and the stronger members of the party pulled the trapped box out of the area sprayed by the other two spigots and the halfling was able to disable the trap at his leisure.

Inside, they found a sceptre (one of the special wands for which Spellgard was famed).

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Two Battles with Thoran
With the denizens of the tower alerted..

…to their presence…

…the adventurers decided to send the halfling ahead to scout the higher levels of the Sceptre Tower. Sam stole up the stairs behind the wizards’ quarters and managed to sneak through a room full of kobold kitchen help.

Listening at the kitchen door he heard the mages arguing with the front-door guard that they should ring the alarm bell. The plucky hobbit decided not to attempt to go up the stairs he had discovered in the middle of the room.

Returning to his comrades below, Sam warned them that a counter-attack was being organized above them. Rather than rush ahead and try to disrupt whatever preparations were being made for the counter-attack, the party decided to rest a short while and prepare a defensive position.

They found plenty of furniture and boxes in the mages’ quarters to prepare a barricade behind which they could snipe at the counter-attackers. Storm Johnson had different ideas. Not much of a sniper himself, he directed the rest of the party to pile furniture on boxes to form a narrow corridor leading to the stairs up to the kitchen. Then, when Thoran (who styles himself as the “master of the tower”) led the attack down the stairs, Storm met him in the narrow corridor and then toppled the pile of furniture.

Meanwhile, Thoran and his gnomish friends tried to infiltrate the party to its rear (behind the Wall of Illusionary Nakedness). While Thoran was successful in getting behind the party with the gnomes, Storm’s disruption of his plan of attack was sufficient to force a retreat.

Pursuing swiftly after Sam reconnoitered, the party scrambled up the stairs to the kitchen, where Ettercaps and Dark Creepers were waiting with a bunch of kobolds (tied up with bows). Flinging the kobolds into the party’s rear, the Ettercaps tried to gain some advantage in the cramped quarters of the kitchen while the gnomes and Thoran tried once again to attack from the rear.

With Rothe Draken in back to foil just such a tactic and the bard attempting to push forward to intimidate the misused kobolds, Thoran was killed, along with all the Ettercaps and most of the Dark Creepers. But Thoran’s Captain (clad in some strange dark plate mail) and the gnomes (like all good gnomes in a losing battle) got away and fled further up the tower.

In the process, some of the party were able to discern some interesting details of the fighting styles of the Dark Creepers and their Captain. Up to this point, Storm Johnson had been maintaining that these particular foes might be well nigh invincible for an inexperienced party of heroes like the one he was leading.

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Nakedness
Proceding up the Sceptre Tower...

…the party ran into a mysterious barrier.

They could see through it, but passing through had unfortunate results:

  1. All of the armor, weapons and physical possessions of the party member who passed through (in this case, Kane) immediately disappeared.
  2. An alarm was sounded bringing two wizards out of their quarters to stop the interlopers.

The wizards would ordinarily have been quite overwhelmed by such a party of heroes, but against naked opponents (they were well aware of the illusionary nature of the Wall of Disrobing) they thought they had a pretty good chance.

Once again, the githzerai seeker was able to save the day. Using his thrown dagger as a Serpent Arrow, he slid one of the wizards through the barrier, hoping to denude the wizard with his own barracks’ magic. The ploy seemed to work when all of the clothing the wizard was wearing disappeared, along with his staff. Lokki and Storm Johnson, the goliath tank, immediately noticed, however, that the wizard kept fighting as if he still believed he had a staff in his hands.

Correctly deducing that the disappearance of the clothing was illusionary, the perceptive pair saw Kane’s sword lying where he had dropped it at the edge of the barrier. (The paladin had left it there when he went back through the barrier, hoping this would restore his belongings. It did not.)

Even with the use of his weapons the apparently naked wizard was quickly subdued (surrounded, as he was, by the heroes). His partner quickly beat feet up the stairs to the next level of the tower. The rest of the party was able to get past the barrier using Jerath’s teleportation abilities.

Scouting ahead, Sam Dardano heard the escaped wizard alerting others to their presence. They heard him before he was able to overhear their plans, so he quickly descended to the lower level. He was surprised to see that Kane’s clothing had reappeared. But, when he pointed this out to the other members of the group, those still under the influence told him they still could not see the armor or even the sword which Storm had graciously returned to Kane’s sheath.

Thus the party was able to deduce that ascending the stairs caused the illusion to wear off. They began to prepare for an attack from the alerted guardians of the tower above them.

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Surrounded
With rescuers above them...

Sam, Rothe and the still-unconcious Elyas were still trapped…

…below the gnomes and ettercaps which had wasted the rest of the party (with the exception of the ever-resourceful Roland). And yet somehow it was their enemies who found themselves surrounded: The desperate trio below them was more than matched by Roland’s party of rescuers above them.

The only problem for the rescuers was coordinating their attack with the halfling and the former slave below. Belinda was able to supply the solution:

  1. She cast a Magic Mouth ritual on the door above.
  2. Roland’s mysterious friend, Madras, helped sneak her past the gnomes and their friends.
  3. She cast another Magic Mouth ritual on the door below and told Sam and Rothe to attack when the door told them to do so.
  4. She continued downward to tend the needs of the poisoned Elyas.

With the MMs set up to issue the attack order at the same time, a coordinated attack was launched.

With attacks coming from both directions at once, the ettercaps were mostly unable to execute their deadly surround-and-bite-and-poison tactic which had proved so successful in the previous battle.

Well, they were able to surround Kane, who seemed intent on emulating the brave tactics of an old acquaintance of his (the elven archer who precipitated the TPK). Kane, whose self-image seems to preclude the wearing of heavier armor, charged right into the middle of things. Chainmail proved insufficient for stopping the poisons of the ettercaps, but Lokki was able to come to his aid in time.

After the battle, the rest of the party was at least able to convince Kane to try on some magickal chainmail they found on one of the bodies the ettercaps were devouring.

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Recruitment
Interlude...

…with dead party members.

Roland‘s friend told him where the Dragonborn were holding Belinda. The warden’s daughter had told the leader of the dragonborn she had already seen the oracle (hoping he would let her go). Instead, he held her as a semi-prisoner in hopes she could help him find a mate.

Once rescued, Belinda stole a “treasure” from the militaristic leader of the dragonborn. The treasure turned out to be an ordinary playing card, depicting a pair of broken swords.

Roland and Belinda returned the Monastery of the Precipice in hopes of recruiting a team of seekers (adventurers seeking the oracle) two rescue their two comrades (Rothe Draken and Elyas) still trapped on the other side of the ettercaps and gnomes.

They found:

  • Heian, a dual-wielding ranger seeking to up his swordsmanship game,
  • Jerath, a capering drow bard,
  • Lokki, an enigmatic githzerai,
  • Kane, a damage-dealing paladin,
  • Reona, fledgling sorceress, and
  • Storm Johnson, a goliath warden

Meanwhile, Sam Dardano had finally caught up with the survivors.

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TPK, almost
Emboldened by their success...

…the party rushed into the next room…

…and suffered their most severe losses of the campaign.

Roland came up with a pretty good plan: He would shove open the door and their ranged fighters would shoot whatever waited on the other side (since he could hear a ettercap which had escaped the previous fight whispering on the far side of the door, he was pretty sure they were enemies).

The party’s archer threw a monkey-wrench into that plan, however, when he followed up his volley of arrows by rushing into the middle of a room full of ettercaps. The archer died eventually and became ettercap-chow. Most of the rest of the party died trying to save him.

Roland was able to slip into the shadows and release a gnome wizard being held prisoner and then slip out the back door, once he realized the battle was lost.

There he met an old friend, who helped him dispatch a roomful of gnomes and escape through a secret tunnel to the outside.

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Sleep and spiders
Finally out of the catacombs...

…our heroes were able to rest at last.

After their rest, they made their way down a long corridor which grew ever-more-filled with thick spider webs. After Roland alerted the inhabitants at the end of the hall to their presence by firing an arrow to clang against the heavy metal door, the party turned aside to assault a room occupied by ettercaps.

Fortunately, Taurson (a minotaur cleric they had befriended) was alert enough to guard their rear. When spiders tried to surprise them, he was able to tank them well enough to prevent most of the party from being surrounded by ettercaps (a fate that only befell Rothe Draken).

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Boss fight in the catacombs
Finding a sanctuary blocking their way...

…filled with smoky braziers giving off poisonous fumes,…

…the party turned aside to find another way south toward the Sceptre Tower. And chanced upon the Lord of the Catacombs, a vampire who summoned his minions. While the party was able to vanquish the minions and do grievous hurt to the vampire.

The Lord of the Catacombs was able to escape, however, by turning into a vapor and returning to his buried casket. Fearful that the vampire would regenerate and attack them with undead they had not yet cleared to the north, the party pressed on, holding their breath through the room with the altars and the braziers.

Roland was able to get them through the final room of the catacombs by spotting the trapped pressure plates on the floor.

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Clan Foresworn
Meanwhile...

the halfling managed to steal a little food and equipment…

…and was following the party through the Catacombs.

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Traps and Rats
Making their way...

…through the catacombs…

…the party began to come upon lots of traps. Springing them sometimes brought out rats from the waterways below the catacombs.

Eventually they began to encounter undead as well, pleasing Elyas no end as he was particularly well-suited for such enemies. It was Roland, however, who made a long-term enemy in one of the crypts, leaping atop the mausoleum and harrying the wraith who had hoped to have the high ground to himself.

The wraith managed to escape when his minions were vanquished. He went ahead to the next room and summoned several wights (along with skeletons) to waylay the rogue who had harried him. Roland and the rest of the party managed to kill him before he got away this time.

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