Scaled Down Scales

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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Fighting in the Dark
Up the stairs...

…to the dead boss’s bedroom…

the halfling climbed. Scouting the way up the tower, Sam found an empty floor which appeared to have been used as a mess hall. Further up, he found a well-guarded hallway.

Well-guarded in the sense that the Dark Creepers guarding the hallways saw the sneaking hobbit as soon as he peered into the gloom.

As he ran downstairs, he caught his first glimpse of the Lady Saharel, Oracle of Spellgard. He asked her his question: “How do I get rid of the curse of lycanthropy, which turns me into a wererat every full moon?” The oracle told him the curse was on his clan, The Dardanos. She told him he had already freed himself of the curse by foreswearing his clan.

The Dark Creepers did not seem to be following him, so Sam continued his conversation with the ghostly lady. She told him that she was in great peril.

When he got back downstairs, Sam told the rest what he had discovered. Once they crowded up the stairs to get at the Dark Creepers, a Dark Stalker (thought to be a lieutenant or captain of the defeated Thoran) emerged from a room protected by one of runic locks. The Dark Stalker enveloped most of the level in darkness. With Jerath (the only member of the party with darkvision) temporarily out of the action, the darkness proved to be a formidable problem for the rest.

Storm Johnson was able to tank, despite the darkness, but he eventually went down. Kane stepped up to tank, but was unable to stop the brave seeker from going down as well. He then cowered in the lighted end of one of the corridors, while brave hobbit became the tank of last resort.

Fortunately, this reversal of roles was all it took to eliminate the last of the Dark Creepers. But it looks like the drow bard (Jerath) may be tasked to adding at least one new verse to the traditional “Who’s the Paladin?” ditty.

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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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