Dragons of Blackminster

Shar Gazoth - 15 To the Shipyard

[GM: Three new players appeared unexpectedly – so we spent time building and introducing new characters. I decided to have them play the Red Orc allies, led by Magnus Hammerhand (and dropped the plan to have Hammerhand try to seize control of the Ship and kill the player characters!)]

When nightfall came, the Lich’s teleport spell brought them all back to the Tomb, burned and battered from the battle in the Gate of Norimass. Even Davidian returned from his solo mission to try and gain control of the Helmed Horrors at the bridge. It had not gone well for the half-elf priest. He had sent a fire elemental to fight the guardians of the bridge while he struggled with the control phrases. But there were too many orcs and wolves and his every command to the Horrors was countermanded by the “Favoured of Lillith” (another of the albino priestesses, similar to their enemy Skeksis). When the spell pulled him back, he arrived unconscious and naked and bound with manacles that Mulan quickly unlocked.

They rested an hour and recovered as best they could. Mulan slipped out into the night to await the red orcs and used her familiar, Mooshoo, to communicate with the others, when the small procession of robed figures approached.

As they opened the Tomb door, the two parties faced each other and did quick introductions.

[GM: Apologies if I get some names wrong]

Magnus Hammerhand was the red orc priest they had parlayed with a few hours before. He had spent the day gathering a few loyal followers who should be able to crew the ship. Some of those would meet them at the Ship. He hated the White Orcs who now ruled the city. His people were far less numerous, and a century ago the alliance had seemed like a good deal – but now the White Orcs and their hated leader – Lord Stagmork, were openly contemptuous of the Red Orcs and their religion. Hammerhand wants to fly the Great Ship and reach the stars in search of his god – Torkas, Lord of Storms.

Rakk, a burly warrior, always in trouble with the white orcs, seemingly unable to compromise. He could have been a captain of his own ship if he hadn’t argued so much – and if Lord Stagmork had not diverted all work on ships into equipment for his armies.

Raef, a warlock, shrouded in shadow. Like the others, he had been an officer on the Tempest, one of the iron ships lost to the war against the dragon cult a few years ago. He was unpopular with the “Favoured of Lillith” (worshippers of the Winter Queen) because of his strong faith in the Lord of Storms and some incident where he cast darkness on a group of enemies and friends alike. He could see through the darkness but the priestesses couldn’t. While he won the battle, the two priestesses caught in the spell were badly wounded.

The ranger, Anon [GM: no name on the character sheet!] was the last of the group. A scimitar-wielding warrior – another whose faith in the Lord of Storms made him unpopular with the White Orcs.

The red orcs had brought priestly robes to disguise the humans for the journey (approximately a 30 minute trek) across the night time city and through gates in two of the city walls. Davidian the half-elf and Mulan were too lightly-built to pass for orcs and Gaston and Abraham were in heavy plate mail so would not pass as priests. The red-orc warlock made the four of them invisible. They robed-up the rest of the group and the red orc ranger cast Pass without Trace to help with any sneaking and to shroud the humans’ faces, and slowly made their way out of the tomb, across the graveyard and through the small temple built-into the city wall.

The city was cut from ancient rock, had wide streets and was well-lit by gas lamposts. Despite the huge number of white orcs living here now, at night-time the streets were almost deserted.

When Shar Gazoth was first built there had been many thousands of red-orcs, but over the generations their numbers had shrunk. A hundred years earlier their Captains Council had agreed to accept a truce with the White Orcs and allowed them to use the Citadel as a base for their military conquest of Ustergard. More recently the Death Knight, Lord Stagmork (first servant of the winter goddess – Lillith) had assumed overall command,

The intruders had started to re-populate the city, re-purposed many of the Storm God’s ancient temples. For the red-orcs, things had slowly got worse and worse.

The events of the previous night – the loss of the Magical Mirror and the white orc’s plans to use it to make war on the nearby Kingdom, had made relations between White and Red even more difficult.

The Great Ship was in the Industrial Quarter – among the forges and warehouses and smelting works that belch out thick smoke all day. They had to cross the open centre of the cavern, skirting a huge shaft of lava. One of Lord Stagmork’s three wyverns flew out on patrol overhead, swooping low to examine the troop of robed figures. Fortunately, it did not penetrate their disguise and flew on. The wyvern patrols had been more frequent today – perhaps in case any of the humans were still in the city.

At the 25-foot-high wall on the other side, they arrived at a Gate Post where two Ogres and two white orcs lounged about on guard. The massive portcullis was down and Magnus told them the winch was inside the towers. He tried to bluff his way past the guards.
“Open the gate, we have to get through”.
But the white-orc in command was openly belligerent and scornful.
[GM: the red-orc rolled a 1 on his persuasion check!].
The guard began to prod Magnus and shout at him “You’ll get through when I say you get through and not before”.
Enraged by this disrespect for the priest, Rakk tried to intimidate the guard, stepping up close. The guard punched him and spat, Rakk drew his blade and then all hell broke loose.

Mulan suddenly appeared and crossbowed an orc, Clayton dodged into the shadows and fired his bow too. The other two invisible heroes (Gaston and Abraham) appeared and joined the fight. Then the two Ogres smashed into them and the remaining guard sounded his hunting horn to summon reinforcements. Davidian cast Blindness on the two Ogres and soon they were hacked down too.

The red orc ranger leapt in close, whirling his scimitar to attack multiple foes and
Magnus smashed into the orc captain with both hammers and he went down.

Raef teleported to the top of the guard tower, flung open the trapdoor and saw two more white orcs leaping to their feet and drawing weapons. He cast darkness on them and swarmed sown the ladder to attack them – he could see in the darkness because of his Devil’s Sight.

The guard who rasied the alarm tried to flee but Mulan stepped out of the shadows and gutted him.

[GM: we ran out of time so will re-start from there next time. The horn will have summoned reinforcements who will arrive in about 5 rounds from a nearby barracks in the Industrial area. More orcs, possibly ogres and possibly dire wolves – maybe even one of the albino orc priestesses. The heroes have to get past the massive portcullis – or clamber over the wall. It’s only a hundred yards or so further to the Shipyard.]

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Shar Gazoth - 14 - Side Trip to Trouble
Fire-starter, twisted fire-starter

Our heroes rested in the safety of the Lich’s tomb (not a sentence you get to use very often).

The Lich had left Jock with disturbing visions and whispered promises of power that left the Kaledonian with troubled dreams. [GM: Holly decided to accept 4 levels of Warlock, leaving Jock as Ranger 5 / Warlock 4]. The Lich, Arghul Norimass was expecting to “ASCEND” to the next level of existence once his purpose was completed (the launching of the Great Ship), so he will become the Warlock Patron for Jock.

Clayton also had a hard day as the Lich gave him a crash course in the religion of Torkas, Lord of Storms – via a mental transfer of training. [GM: Because of the way multi-classing works in 5E, as a Ranger 8 / Cleric 1, Clayton now uses the number of spell slots from the multi-classing table, but can only prepare the number of spells as usual, and can only cast Cantrips and First-level Cleric spells, but can cast up to 2nd level Ranger spells. He gets the slots as though he was a 5th-level caster (half Ranger level and full cleric level)]

After eight hours, Davidian made an unexpected suggestion! “Norimass has a Teleportation Circle at the Gate of Norimass, his family home…" This was the Fort, embedded in the wall between the mushroom forests and the Great Stair. About five days earlier, they had fought their way past a few gargoyles and a small force of orcs. The place had been mostly abandonded as its commander – the Albino Orc priestess, Skeksis, had the rest of her troops out searching for the heroes and she was currently guarding a bridge a mile from the fort. Davidian believed he could “…take control of a pair of Helmed Horrors who were stationed by the bridge – he remembered the words used to command them when Skeksis had assumed control”.

[GM: this was a total surprise to me, but fortunately I still had the map of the Fort and the stats of the full garrison (in case the party had been captured in the mushroom forest, I had noted the typical occupants). As the player of Gaston was missing, I decided Norimass would keep him at the tomb – the fictional reason was because Gaston would probably run off looking for the Keepers who were close to that area]

The Fort itself is a wooden four-storey structure inside a sort of brick curtain wall that barricades the entire section of cavern wall and protects the only passage through to the Great Stair. It contains living quarters and stores and offices for up to 40 troops.

They teleported into the Fort about 3 hours before sunset – the time they had agreed to meet the Red Orc priest at the Tomb door in order to go to the Great Ship. Norimass’ Teleport Spell would “rubber-band” them back to the Tomb at sunset whether they had succeeded or not. He insisted that the Horn of Torkas remain with him – if they all die, he can still give it to the Red Priest and the ship can still be launched.

They had a pretty good plan – Davidian would use a Wall of Fire to block off some of the Fort and they would race through and then run for the bridge where he would take control of the Helmed Horrors while the others fought off whatever other guardians were there.

Unfortunately, the blaze got a bit out of hand and there were a couple of Hill Giants at the fort as well as a dozen or so white orcs, a couple of dire wolves and Skeksis herself!

They got delayed by the enemy and the fire began to spread through the wooden building [GM: Randomly growing 1 or 2 squares in each direction each round] until it cut off their way through.

Only Davidian had pushed forward enough to get out the far side, the burning building cut-off the rest of the group and they had to retreat, back the other way, to the Great Stair. The building collapsed behind them, blocking the gate completely.

Davidian decided to press on alone for the bridge, relying on either his own Teleportation Circle spell to get him back to the tomb, or the “rubber-band” effect of the Lich’s spell.

[GM: we ran out of time and I didn’t want to run a complex encounter for just one player, so I offered a “Saving Throw” to decide if he had been successful or perished in the attempt. Or he could just wait for the “rubber-band” teleport to take him safely back. This was pretty drastic but it was a free choice.
I had decided the Bridge was pretty well guarded and had another priestess controlling the Helmed Horrors as well as a Winter wolf and six orc warriors at either side of the bridge with 2 Dire wolves at each end. It was designed as a reasonable (not deadly) encounter for the whole party but I figured it was potential suicide for a single character.

I made the target DC 15 for an INT save and allowed Davidian advantage (for role-playing his determination to get control of these magical beings – as he had been looking for a way to do it for a few sessions – this also simulated his chance to prepare and his range of spells).

Sadly, he failed, despite the Advantage, and so I declared Davidian DEAD]

The rest of the party stayed in the Great Stair for a couple of hours and were then teleported back to Norimass at sunset.

[GM: Looking back at that “Succeed or Die” thing, it occurred to me that, due to the time constraints, I didn’t think to include a middle option, it should really have been Succeed or Fail or Die. As the roll only just failed, I’m happy to transmute the result to a FAIL. Davidian was knocked out and captured by the orcs who were waiting for him to wake up so they could begin torturing him when the “rubber-band” teleported him back to the Tomb.]

The Red Priest is already knocking on the Tomb door, eager to lead them across the city (in disguise) to the ship yard. This side-trek has left them all injured and used up precious spells, so they are not quite as well-prepared for the Launch as they had hoped.

They suspect the Red Priest, Magnus Hammerhand, wants to seize control of the ship. He will have brought a bunch of loyal red orcs to act as crew.

They also expect the three Wyverns and Lord Stagmork (the Death Knight, Tyrant lord of Shar Gazoth and first servant of Lillith) will try to stop them from escaping with the ship.

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Shar Gazoth 13 - Mirror Mirror

[GM: Sadly 3 of the players couldn’t make it, but we decided to go ahead without them anyway. Holly, Frank & Carl – sorry that you missed the finale but the adventure can continue out the other side. We could take a break from these characters, or from D&D, or re-arrange the groups. I’ll turn up ready to run the next part of the adventure (Launching the Hammer of Torkas into space), but don’t mind if we do something different for a while if you all prefer]

The thunderclap from the trapped corridor struck Clayton and alerted the occupants of the “Dome”. It MAY or maynot have been audible outside the Dome. Fortunately there didn’t seem to be many guardians inside the Dome – only two barrack rooms – one beyond the door on the left the Lightning glyph had been and the other to the right.

From the Lightning door, they heard the scrape of furniture, swish of drawn blades and confused mutterings in Orcish. When the door opened a group of 10 groggy, naked red orcs (hob-goblins) rushed through, followed by a red orc priest of Torkas – hurriedly pulling on a robe.

Clayton immediately tried to speak with them, showing his holy symbol of Torkas, waving Norrimass’ letter of introduction and claiming to have important news about the Hammer of Torkas (the Great Star Ship).

They seemed partly convinced but there was a short exchange of crossbow bolts and Spirit Guardians, and a few of the guards died before they convinced the red priest to parley.

Meanwhile “Jock” (possessed by the Lich, Norrimas) triggered a glyph of cold, broke open the other door with a Knock spell and gleefully slaughtered the dozen white orcs within, including two Favoured of Lillith and one winter wolf. He used a more powerful Spirit Guardians spell and his life-drinking black scimitar to restore his own health.

The red priest – Magnus Hammerhand – agreed to help them when he read Norimas’ letter, spoke to Norimas himself and understood they were going to retrieve the third Horn. Clayton said they would fetch the horn and meet the red priest at sun-set at the tomb of the Lich so they could escort it to the ship. Hammerhand agreed but looked a bit sneaky – he probably intends to kill them to take the horn and the ship for himself.

Norrimas says the Ship can be steered clumsily with the wheel – as normal, but up and down are from moving the wheel forward and back – however, to get good speed and control, there are sails that catch the stellar winds so it ideally needs a trained crew. It needs a spellcaster to use the wheel – any spellcaster can do it regardless of magical prowess. [GM: Even a part-time spell-caster like a Ranger or Arcane Trickster should be able to do it]

There is concern that the thunderclap may have been heard outside the Dome, so Mulan rushes back down to un-jam the door lock and the now-friendly red orc priest, Hammerhand, tries to explain to a bunch of ogres that the explosion was caused by a careless guard. Mulan hides among the robes in the lower chamber listening. The robes belong to the Order of the Artificers who work in a chamber on the next floor up in the daylight hours – they are white hooded robes smeared with oils and burn marks and a symbol like a golden gear under a set of compasses.

The ogres are arguing with Hammerhand and seem to want to speak to one of the Favoured, so Mulan has to use Alter Self to impersonate one of the albino orc priestesses and gestures at them to go away. This prevents pursuit by 6 ogres and 10 more white orc guards.

They now have only the deadline of the “rubber-band” teleportation spell to worry about. It will take 1 hour for Davidian to attune the Portal Mirror and they have only an hour and a half left before sunrise, when the spell automatically returns them all to the Lich’s tomb.
Searching the dead Favoured, Davidian finds a keyring with three keys, 1 big, 1 medium and one small and intricate, topped with a tiny pyramid.

There are skeletons embedded in the walls in the two barrack rooms, who can be commanded to unlock and raise the portcullis. The command words are “Torkas” for the red orc’s side and “Lillith” for the white orcs. (Storm God and Winter Queen)

Under the portcullis, Davidian goes right and down to a store-room on his own while the others push on upstairs. The half-elf priest opens the store-room with the big key – which deactivates multiple mechanical traps. It is full of barrels, books, scrolls and scroll tubes, pens, ink. Also, three huge tapestries 16ft long by 6 ft wide, rolled into tubes. There are tattered and torn pieces of an ancient tapestry scattered about too. The walls are decorated with carved images of dice – d4, d6, d8, d10, d12, d20. It takes a while for him to spot it but the shape of the d4 is a pyramid, like the tiny key! Searching the carved image, he finds a tiny keyhole hidden in a shadow – it opens to reveal a small compartment with half a dozen potion flasks – all labelled in orcish. Later Clayton is able to read these and identify the potions.

Meanwhile the others went upstairs to the Hall of the Artificers – a large open-plan workshop/laboratory. The corridor goes past the wide entrance and around a corner to a huge disk of stone that looks like it would roll away into the wall if they knew how to unlock it.

The workshop contains several benches, a furnace (just lowing embers), gas lights, tools etc. Hidden around a corner is a sort of puzzle/combination lock that operates the Rolling Door. It appears to be trapped with magical summoning spell if the wrong choices are made, but Mulan works it out quickly as “Lord of Storms” and the door rolls open. There is another puzzle panel to lock it from the other side.

Before they left the chamber, they find a set of Jeweller’s eye-pieces [GM: Advantage on Investigation and Lock-picking, but disadvantage on anything else that distorted vision would hinder – continues for 3 rds after using the eye pieces]. Also, a set of +1 thieves’ tools.
In another corner, is a store of stasis-bound monsters – in for repairs! A Helmed Horror, a Shield Guardian (linked to an amulet in a vice on one of the benches, but the amulet has a hairline crack so Davidian chickens out of trying it), an Ogre-sized Flesh Golem with a half-un-stitched left arm and finally an Iron Golem. Davidian works out how to un-stasis any of these creatures but they decide not to risk it.

[GM: he could have taken control of the Shield Guardian – each time it absorbs some of your damage roll d20 and on a 1 it turns against its master – the others would all have attacked anyone not wearing one of the white robes from downstairs!]

They ascend the stairs past the rolling stone door to the Hall of Mirrors and lock it behind them. Mulan again manages to solve the puzzle panel very quickly.

The final chamber has stairs leading up into it. They don’t want to ascend for fear of being exposed to the mirror or mirrors – they think there is still a mirror of opposition here.

Clayton went back down to the Storeroom to examine the three tapestries and they are clearly for covering mirrors – one has a picture of the Portal opened to reveal a bunch of helpless humans dancing around a maypole. One shows a black and white figure – clearly mirror reflections of each other, standing on a reflected tiled floor. The last shows some sort of swirly colourful pattern.

Gaston still wears Mulan’s amulet of non-detection – that saved her, then him from being duplicated by the other mirror of opposition they discovered in the cellars of the Library, back in Eastport. He won’t be duplicated, so he goes up the steps on his own. Sadly, the swirly mirror leaves him standing transfixed. While the other look on in horror, some invisible monster slashes at him – despite a couple of terrible wounds he continues to just stand there.

It is an invisible Death Slaad, very tough, even without having Greater Invisibility. Its eyes have been gouged out, but it has blindsight. So, it can see the heroes but cannot be duplicated and cannot see the swirly pattern.

They fight the thing but take a lot of damage as it has a fire breath area attack and they have to stay grouped into a small area to remain out of sight of the mirrors.

Eventually Abraham drags Gaston back down the steps so he is freed from the paralysis. Clayton manages to track the thing as it has stepped in Gaston’s blood and finally they hack it down. Clayton takes its longsword [GM: a +1 weapon and 3 times a day it can do 2d6 additional cold damage].

There is a comical interlude as they almost run out of time…

Gaston turns his helmet backwards so he can’t see the swirly-swirly and Davidian decides to guide him by sending an Arcane Eye floating into the Chamber. The half-elf sees the swirly pattern through the Eye and becomes paralysed! Eventually, with his hat on backwards, Gaston carries a tapestry over to the swirly mirror and finds it is too high up to cover. He has to grope his way back so Mulan so she can cast Spiderclimb on him, then finally covers both the swirly mirror and the mirror of opposition. so the others can approach. All three mirrors are firmly bolted to the wall and seem impervious to harm.

The orcs have drawn a pentacle in front of the Portal Mirror and have a smaller portable mirror they are trying to attune to it. The pentacle helps Davidian attune more quickly and he activates the Portal with half an hour still to go before dawn. They pass through to Sapphire’s house in Eastport, where she has already prepared a mirror as the target. Her familiar monkey is waiting for them. As soon as they are all through (including the Lich in Jock’s body), the monkey pulls a lever and plates of adamantine lock into place around the mirror and are sealed by a magical spell. Sapphire’s mirror is now permanently encased the orc’s portal mirror is locked to it forever.

HURRAH!!! MISSION COMPLETED – the Portal Mirror is no longer a threat.

They have 30 mins before being teleported back to the Lich’s tomb – it is just time to race across to the Inquisition Temple in the Graveyard. Abraham is an Inquisitor and so easily gets them an audience with the Inquisitor Captain (his boss). The Captain is very pleased to hear that the renegade Inquisitor who joined the Keepers, has been killed and that two of the Keeper Helms have been lost in the bedrock.

They manage to get him to pass the Horn of Torkas around for them to “inspect” just as the sun reaches the horizon. They can see that “Jock” is prepared to slaughter the Captain (and probably all of them if they don’t get hold of the Horn). In an act of pure chaos, Clayton blows it, filling the room, the graveyard and the entire city with fog for an hour, just as the Lich’s spell draws them back to his tomb.

In the Tomb, “Jock” demands the Horn. Davidian forces Norrimas to release Jock before they hand it over. Jock shudders and slumps as the powerful presence releases him and then the Lich rises from its slab and gets the Horn.

Arghul Norrimass now has the missing Horn. He is willing to entrust Clayton with it, so that it can be brought to the Great Ship and placed with the other two – in a compartment behind a Chart on the ship. Then the Ship will rise and the Lich’s “purpose” will be complete. Its initial course has been pre-programmed – to follow the Storm God into the Stars. The ship should be carried out of the Industrial Sector on a train, to a long, sloping tunnel that it can fly up and out. As an alternative, if the Great Fan in the central Shaft could be destroyed, it could leave via that. It is likely that the three Wyverns will be sent to prevent them getting away with it – possibly with Lord Stagmork (the Death Knight, anti-paladin of Lillith riding one of them).

Clayton decides to accept some training from the Lich becoming an acolyte of the Storm God.

They agreed to complete the task for the Lich but have not been magically compelled to do so.

Mulan has also been asked by the Gnome Stilgar to reunite his small family of gnomes with the Gnome King. She has a Ruby that tugs her gently towards him – deep beneath the mountain. The third and final flower in her circlet still hasn’t been used.

[GM: All go up a level – to Level NINE]

Holly – decide if you want Jock to “remember” any of the powers of the Lich – he can lose any number of Ranger levels and replace them with Warlock levels – as Pact of the Blade, Fiendish Pact Warlock]

Cookie – Clayton will be a 1st-level Cleric with a few non-standard cantrips available to choose from (you don’t have to have these ones but the “Lightning Whip” is a spell most of the Torkas Priests use) – Druidcraft, Thorn Whip (acts as Lightning damage instead but still pulls the victim)
Priests of Torkas, the Lord of Storms, have the Tempest Domain but with a couple of minor changes to the Domain Spells.
Level One Spells Fog Cloud, Thunderwave & Arms of Hadar
Level Three Spells Gust of Wind, Shatter & Hunger of Hadar
Level Five Spells Call Lightning, Destructive Wave, Conjure Volley
Level Seven Spells secret only revealed when you get there
Level Nine Spells secret only revealed when you get there

Torkas is a god of Chaos, Strength, Courage, Freedom. The Kingdom of Gard (where you live) considers him one of the 5 Evil Gods and worship of him is illegal, but many from the Caledonian and Viking Islands worship him openly and many ship captains sacrifice to him secretly. It was his ship that brought the other Dark Gods into Jade, so he is “blamed” for much evil.

5 years earlier, Earl Ragnar (a player character) somehow enabled Torkas’ ship to leave Jade in exchange for passage into space. Jade is surrounded by a “Sea of Chaos” and Torkas could previously only enter the shallows of that sea and was always dragged back to Jade by the same magic that still imprisons the other Dark Gods.

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Shar Gazoth 12 - Arghul Norimas
The Lich Priest

lich.jpg

Outside, Mulan covers the scuffed ground and the mended lock with illusions. At night fall, the procession of Red Priests wanders through the graveyard, examining the locks and graves with their long lantern poles. The Crypt they have chosen is obviously special, as they bow at this one!

Jock and Davidian try to spot traps, Davidian wanting to go ahead and detect magic. However, Clayton’s insistence that they should wait for Mulan, turns out to be right. When Mulan joins, them, about 30 mins after nightfall – she and Gaston manage to spot the next trapdoor and disable it. It is very advanced clockwork/mechanical, not magic.

Past that they find four more Valkyries with Harpons carved into the walls, just before the final chamber. These radiate the same kind of animation/Trap magic as the ones near the entrance.

In the chamber beyond, short stairs lead up to a dias with a casket. Two “statues” of young rock worms flank it and a “Lich” slowly rises from the top of the casket where he had been lying.

“I am High Priest of Torkas – Arghul Norrimas – what is your business here?”.

Clayton politely asks about the Storm God, but Norimas is obsessed with “The Horn of Torkas – it was blown twice in the last month, where is it – I NEED IT!”

Gradually he draws it out of them, what they are here for and where the Horn is – with the Captain of the Inquisitors in the city of Eastport. He offers to teleport them there so they can fetch the Horn. He tells them his special Teleport spell will automatically bring them back to the origin point – if cast during the day, returns them at nightfall, if cast during the night, brings them back at daybreak. In life, he had a Teleportation Circle in a hidden chamber in the Sewers beneath Eastport, so he can get them there.

They agree a compromise, Norimas will teleport them closer to the Dome of the Mirror and his rubber-band effect should get them and the mirror back to the Crypt. Only then will they go and fetch the Horn from Eastport. Norimas reluctantly agrees.

They could also escape on the Hammer of Torkas (The Great Ship). He can’t fly it himself as he is bound by ancient rituals to this crypt – his obsession is just to have it launch.

Clayton wants a written letter from the Lich, to any other Red Orcs they meet that grants them free passage and amnesty. He is thinking that they might fetch the Horn and then give it to some red Orcs to take to the Great Ship.

Norimas tells them “Torkas, Lord of Storms, is my Master” is the password thru the Valkyries. Clayton goes forward to give him pen and paper to write a note to other Red Orcs, to assist and not kill the bearer and their friends. The note also explains that the Horn must be placed in a secret compartment in the Chart Room of the Ship. The Ranger has to step back quickly as just being close to the Lich drains some of his life-force and regenerates the Lich.

Abraham approaches, forgets to say the words and is almost killed by the first two Valkyries who impale him on harpoons and begin to reel him in – he stammers out the words just in time. Then he staggers close enough for the Lich to drain some of his life-force and almost passes out. [GM: all part of some cunning plan, known only to Abraham!]

Abe then sleeps in the corner of the Lich’s room, so gets to hear the bargains made by the others who “sneak” in to talk to the Lich during the long rest.

Clayton, impressed with the craft of the Citadel, the fine carvings and high power of the Red Orcs and with tales of Torkas and his magical flying ship hunting Star Whales, wants to know more. The undead high priest is able to give him insights into Torkas, who teaches strength through Chaos and battle. He asks for a Holy Symbol of Torkas (earning a frown from Abraham, as even though Torkas is secretly worshipped quite a bit by humans, it is officially heresy… and Abraham is a member of the Inquisition!)
The Lich opens his casket with a hidden switch and rifles through a mound of jewels and coins to fetch out an ornate silver and gold holy symbol – a miniature harpoon with stylized lightning bolt design. There is a lot of treasure in there and it glimmers with magic.

Later Gaston bargains to be teleported near to where the Keepers are. He hopes to go on his own, defeat a Keeper and steal a Helm. [GM: I’ve stressed that as soon as Helm goes on, he would not be Gaston anymore, just a host for the Keeper. It makes no sense to want this! So we are now assuming there is an addictive quality to the Helm and it isn’t really Gaston’s fault]
The Lich isn’t interested in Gaston or in the Keepers – his only concern is getting Torkas’ Horn and launching the Great Ship. Just to get rid of him, he agrees to teleport him further back up the Western Stair close to where the Keepers are (he has a Teleportation Circle at the Gate of Norrimas too). However, Abraham intervenes, he says he needs Gaston for the mission and will suicide (by walking up to the Lich and being life-drained) if Norimas sends him away.

Having decided Gaston isn’t worth the trouble, Norrimass tells him to fetch “the Caledonian”. Jock wanders in…
“What use are you, Caledonian?” the Lich says “You are an archer, no doubt a pretty good shot, but you are unlikely to want to shoot the Captain of the Inquisition for me. You seem to have no other useful skills for the return of the Horn, would you like me to help you ?”
Before Abraham can intervene, Jock mutters “yes” which seems to be enough for there to be an exchange of mystical energies between them. As Jock returns to the sleeping area, his face is glowing with excitement.

Davidian also confers with the Lich – he asks about getting back to the Gate of Norrimas as there are a couple of Helmed Horrors there that he knows how to control. Unfortunately, the bridge is guarded by one of the Favoured of Lillith (who also knows the command words!). He abandons this plan for now.

  • * * *

With two hours to go before dawn (when the rubber-band effect of Norrimas’ special Teleport spell should pull them back to the crypt) they all gather before the lich and are transported to a Church of Torkas, “close to the Dome of the Mirrors”.

As they are disintegrating, Norrimas lies down on his casket saying “Caledonian, there may be some discomfort… bwaaa haaa”, and Jock, who appears in the deserted church with the others, has an insane look on his face. He is now the host of part of Norrimas’ spirit, coming along to help, but also to ensure they fulfil their part of his bargain and inside, deep inside, Jock is screaming.

The Church of Torkas is disused, dust sheets are laid over the altar and pews, all the gold and silver candelabra have been stripped and the stained glass windows are thick with dust and smoke-stains.

“Jock” tuts about the lack of respect, but the Circle still worked even though obscured by dirt and blankets. They slip across a short courtyard – the city seems to be mostly sleeping and they can time their run to avid the patrolmen on the walls. The place is lit by gas-powered street lights and the patrolmen carry gas-bags and long thin copper tubes with the lights at the end.

The massive doors to the Domed chamber are locked, but Mulan makes quick work of them and they slip inside. It is a large building, carved out of a big rock that fell from the cavern roof a thousand years before. It looks like a smaller version of St Pauls cathedral. The only door is in the base although there is an open balcony around the domed section with inlets into the roof space. Jock tells them there are (or used to be Gargoyles along the balcony).
Norimas’ spirit is having some trouble squeezing his vast intellect into the archer’s mind, so he doesn’t remember much about the layout and contents of this place.

They sneak up some stairs (the Hall of Mirrors is on the 4th floor, just below the Dome) and find a crossroads with the two side passages each leading to a stone door, and each with two Orc Guards. Beyond them the corridor leads on to a T junction blocked by a portcullis.

Mooshoo sneaks past to wriggle between the bars but there is a flash of fire as a glyph goes off and The plucky little familiar is instantly destroyed. The noise alerts the guards and there is a short but bloody fight.

As soon as they are down, Clayton advances to the left-hand door but is blasted by another glyph – this time Lightning. There is a deafening thunderclap. It probably wouldn’t be heard outside the Dome, but will have been heard by any within.

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Shar Gazoth 11 - The Citadel of the Orcs

Stilgar the gnome leaves them in a dead-end side chamber close to the bottom of the Great Stair. Before he goes, he asks Mulan to deliver a message to the Gnome King, “The gnomes of Gnarlheart are still alive and still loyal, please send word inviting them back to the Tanglewood”. He hopes that Mulan will be sent to deliver the invitation and gives her an enchanted ruby that pulls directly towards Stilgar.

At the urging of Davidian, they sensibly decide to watch for 24 hours to get a feel for the security of the place.

Peering out from their tiny side chamber into the vastness of the cavern, they see for the first time exactly what they have got themselves into. The Wizard Agraven never saw this view of the Citadel from outside as Agraven’s Journal told of descending a vast chasm and crawling along the bottom of it to break out inside the Citadel itself, near to the domed cathedral of the Mirror.

They were in a vast flattened hemisphere, approximately 3 miles across and with a roof maybe half a mile high at the centre. At noon the sun shone down through a central shaft that must lead up to the volcano’s caldera. The golden beam cast light on the city itself but only dimly lit the outer walls of the cave.

citadel_map.png

The Citadel was a large town, encircling the lower part of the volcanic shaft. As the sunlight faded the red glow from the lava tube provided a dim twilight and glittered off sections of quartz embedded in the ceiling like stars.

The ground between the cavern’s perimiter (where they were) and the outer city walls was mostly flat, with clusters of boulders that must have fallen long ago from the ceiling and shattered. A wide paved road snaked across from the Great Stair to the Outer City Gate. The outer walls rose about 25 feet. As they were about 400 feet up the sloping cavern wall, they could see down into the city and to the inner wall, at least 30 feet high.

Between the outer an inner walls, looked mostly deserted ruins except for two sections – by the Gate, a sector including barracks and stables and to the western quarter, a large graveyard dotted with many crypts and rows of graves.

As they spied on the Citadel, they saw…

An encampment of Driders and Drow near the Gate – perhaps 4 Drow and two Driders and a few Goblin slaves?

Three Wyverns, roosting in the Castle on the far side of the City, every 5 hours, one of the three went on a long circling flight, spiralling out to the cave edge and back.

There were regular patrols along the inner City Wall, but none along the outer. The sentries appeared to be orcs, some were carrying long metal poles with bright blue flames.

The City itself was illuminated by streetlights of blue flame that were lit after the noonday sun had passed.

At sunset (as best they could judge) a procession of priests came into the Graveyard (again carrying the blue flame poles) and did a circuit.

They saw a War Party of White Orcs and Dire Wolves passing from the Great Stair into the City. These stopped to talk briefly with the Drow, before passing on through the Gate.

The City consisted of distinctive sectors (clockwise from the Gate)…

The Outer GATE Sector, Barracks, Stables and Trade, the inner sector there was similar, perhaps wealthier and more important.

Outer Ruins, occupied by packs of savage-looking dire wolves, the inner sector was Trade and barracks and residential.

The Graveyard, hundreds of crypts and thousands of graves, the inner wall from the Graveyard holds the largets of the temple Buildings, the carvings show it was once dedicated to Torkas the Storm God (worshipped by the Red Orcs) but now over-painted with white, dedicated to the White Orcs’ goddess – Lillith. The inner sector was all templates and wealthy houses. At the far side of the inner sector, just into the Castle sector stands the Dome of the Mirror.

At the “back” of the Citadel, furthest away from their hide out, more Outer Ruins, the inner sector there holds a Park and a Lake and the Castle (and the Dome of the Mirror).
Opposite the Templates and Graves stood many rows of chimneys, belching black smoke – an Industrial section. From this, a train track led straight out through the outer-wall, to massive Iron Doors in the cavern’s outer wall.

A huge fan in the upper shaft makes a constant clanking and droning noise, but at least it draws away the smoke.

They reviewed what they knew of the Orcs…

Red Orcs (now a minority faction – “Hobgoblins” – organised, military, with high technology) not happy with being ruled by White Orcs (who are much more numerous and bestial). Red Orcs built this place originally and worship Torkas the Storm God. White Orcs follow Lillith the Winter Queen.

Torkas is probably the “least evil” of the Five Dark Gods of Jade – he is god of Storms and the Sea and often sailors and pirates of all races make sacrifices to him in secret. He is usually depicted as a Storm Giant on a huge flying ship – flying through space, hunting Star Whales! It is widely known that it was his ship that crashlanded on Jade millenia ago and the other Dark Gods were his passengers, all fleeing from something. He had been trapped on Jade (or in the space near Jade) ever since but 25 years ago, it is rumoured that he escaped back into the Multiverse.

Lillith is one of the most evil and hated of the Dark Gods – 2000 yrs ago she almost conquered the entire northern continent, overwhelming it with the Fimbulwinter. Only the emergence of the True Gods, teaching men and dwarves the power of Divine magic, turned the tide and forced her troops back north over the white mountains. She dwells in the Tower of Glass, far to the North, and occupies the bodies of a succession of beautiful young women, often kidnapped for the purpose every 10 years or so.

Lord Stagmork is her representative and rules Shar Gazoth. He is probably a Death Knight – some sort of fallen Paladin who may or may not be undead.

Red Orcs do have the same spontaneous Undeath as humans and dwarves in Jade. However, in their religion, rising as undead is seen as a natural stage and they just keep the bodies locked-up until they decay to spirits and eventually pass on (Approx 100 years?)

Sneaking into the Graveyard…

They decided to try sneaking to the Graveyard and over the wall there.
Using Clayton’s “pass without trace” spell, they got most of the way, but attracted the attention of one of the Driders. He must have heard the clanking of Gaston’s plate armour! Davidian saw the drider start moving towards them to investigate. He shimmered and went invisible. They all hid and waited, hearing the creature pass close by but it drifted away and returned to its camp.

At the wall of the Graveyard, Mulan climbed over using “spiderclimb” and timed her trip to miss the patrols. She then held a rope in place both sides for the others to clamber over, again carefully timing it to avoid the patrols. Rabid dire wolves in the nearby ruined sector began howling but eventually grew bored and wandered away. They were down in the graveyard with a couple of hours to go before sunset and the likely arrival of the procession.
All the crypts in this part of the graveyard were similar and all had rusty old padlocks.

Davidian specifically looked for a smaller – unique crypt! [GM: Remember that, I offered you lots of non-descript crypts, but Tom insisted on one that was different!] It would certainly hold fewer corpses – some of them may have held dozens of warriors. This was smaller and more ornate and had ancient Storm God carvings with Valkyries all over it.

Davidian used Mending to fix the rotten/rusted padlock, so Mulan picked the lock fairly easily. Unfortunately, the gleaming new lock would be fairly obvious if the Procession was to catch sight of it. Abraham the Inquisitor suggested that checking all the dead were safely locked away was the probable purpose of the Procession!

Into the Crypt…

Gaston opened the door and stepped in, which triggered the magical defence – a SYMBOL of DEATH!!! Mulan was knocked out immediately, her familiar, Mooshoo, evaporated instantly from the massive damage. Davidian and Abraham were almost dropped [GM exactly 50hp of damage and they both had 51 hp!] Gaston and Clayton were badly wounded too. Only Jock saved and took half damage.

The Symbol glows brightly in a 60ft radius for 10 minutes and repeats its damage each round against anyone who stays in the area. They could easily have ALL died in the next round, but Davidian managed to turn it off with a desperate Dispel Magic.

The light had only glowed for 1 rd and they were lucky, it was a time when the nearest patrols were out of sight.

They hastily did some magical healing before Mulan sealed them all in the crypt and hid outside – intending to cast minor illusion on the lock to make it look rusted again when the Procession of Red Priests comes out. [GM: That bit was worthy of Inspiration]

The rest of them continued into the Crypt without the help of their professional thief! Inside, the carvings were ornate – a very rich Torkas worshipper must be buried here, The tomb was a couple of hundred years old. Davidian used “detect magic” and saw that the carved whalers with harpoons, either side of the corridor ahead, were magical (likely to animate). Gaston decided to risk running through [worthy of Inspiration]. The harpoons struck him, both hitting for big damage but he managed to pull himself off their hooks (avoiding on-going damage) and ran on.

He ran too far ahead and fell down a pit trap that snapped shut above him and dropped him 20 feet into a narrow chamber that slowly filled with alchemist fire.

The others tried to break him out but the trap was too cunning and tough. They had to call Mulan who had to unlock the tomb and then managed to disable the trap only moments before the hidden match that would have lit the flammable oil.

They dragged Gaston out just in time. Clayton filled a waterskin with alchemist’s fire (equivalent of 4 doses)

Mulan went back outside, locked them in again and they continue further into the Tomb.
Assuming they survive, there must be significant treasure in such a heavily-guarded place. Also they can probably stay hidden in a Tomb for days while scouting out a way to get to the Domed Cathedral where the Mirror is thought to be housed.

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Shar Gazoth 10 - Worms
Gaston Redeemed

They decided to take a long rest in the Chambers of Keeper Number Five. Although it had only been a few hours since they slept, they were all exhausted by the last fight.

Because Gaston was still looking furtively about, trying to locate the Helms, they decided to not let him take one of the watches.

During their rest, Clayton heard and felt some distant rumblings to the north east. One of the rock-chewing worms that made most of the tunnels around here was moving past about 100 yards away, grinding through a new tunnel.

Davidian thought he’d heard something about the creatures and that they spent a lot of their centuries-long lifespan dormant, only rousing briefly for mating. All the tunnels they had seen were very old so an active rock-worm was very unusual.

While Abraham was on watch, he heard a low wail, far off.

In the “morning” (although they had lost track of the time in the days they had been underground), they went to see the new tunnel. It passed through one of the older side passages, stretching a long way left and right, further than they could see either with darkvision or with the 40ft of light cast by the Inquisitor’s spell.

Davidian [the star of this week’s CSI Underdark!] found large splotches of blood on the side of the new tunnel and worked out that the creature was badly injured, probably a mortal wound and would not have gotten very far. They set off after it along the newly-created gravel-lined tunnel.

They found it about 300 yards further on, its bulky carcass blocking the passage. Davidian approached carefully to within 20 feet or so and could feel a soft breeze that ebbed and flowed. He realised with a start that this was the creature breathing – it was still alive! He started to sneak back when one of his companions asked, “Is it dead?” and the creature woke.

rockworm.png

The multi-segmented body was lined with horny spines, the nearest segment was encrusted with small gemstones and six enormous diamonds. The segments all began to rotate scattering gravel and dragging the creature towards them.

The others ran, a few shot first, then ran, but Davidian was too slow, the enormous beast would be on him in moments…

Gaston grabbed him and carried/dragged him a little further away, just out of reach of the beast’s first rush. Getting to his own feet, Davidian, realising the creature was already badly wounded, sent magic missiles into the huge creature, causing it to roar in pain and somehow making it glow. In the pale light the gems glittered strangely, illuminating swirling patterns marking each of the segments. Their pattern confused the eye.
Mulan tried a Firebolt spell and the sparkling spinning gems reflected back at her.
Abraham tried his sacred flame attack and it almost got reflected, but the beast couldn’t move quick enough.
Clayton and Jock fired arrow after arrow into it as they continued to back away.
There was no way out of the tunnel unless they could reach the place where they came in.

Once again Davidian was too close and the monster’s next lurch forward would crush him…
Gaston stepped forward into the maelstrom of flying gravel, stabbing the monster again and again with his greatsword. Somehow he managed to frighten the beast, causing it to pause for a moment and recoil. [GM: Menacing Attack feature – a battlemaster manoeuvre]

The warrior became blinded by the swirling patterns and flashes, but held his ground long enough for Jock’s final arrow to finish it. It exploded, sending stinking slime to cover Gaston and Davidian.

The monster’s corpse was a treasure trove – six fist-sized diamonds at each end and dozens of other gems encrusting its body, trapped between the segments. The diamonds were “grown” in place somehow, not just picked up on its travels!

[GM: each of the 12 diamonds should be worth about 2,000gp and there were 100 assorted gems worth about 50gp each].

Davidian hacked away one of the beast’s smaller teeth so he could later grind a diamond into dust to make a component for one of his spells.

Wiping off the slime, they made their way back to the Great Stair. It’s still another 8 hours or so to Cobweb Keep, then another 10 hours below that to reach the actual Citadel of Shar Gazoth.

Two hours further, Davidian hears the sound of spells (eldritch blasts) from further ahead.

They cast enough Darkvision spells so that everyone can see in the dark and then scamper into hiding as best they can – Mulan sneaks ahead to see what she can see.

A grey-skinned gnome, naked and carrying only a couple of small pitchforks with bent-over hooks, comes running up the stairs and is about to dodge into a side passage. The naked gnome seems very similar to the faerie gnomes from Tanglewood – except that they were mostly brown and green with skin mottled like bark and hair like grass. The new gnome was grey as granite and hairless.

stilgar_gnome.png

Mulan uses a minor illusion spell to whisper into the creature’s ear, “This way, up the stair, we are friends”

The gnome ducks back to the main stair and then its pursuers come into view. Two dark elves, no! As they climb into sight they have the bodies of dark elf women in chain shirts, black skin and long white hair, but the bodies of monstrous spider, big as horses.

drider.png

The first of the two casts two more eldritch blasts, one hits the gnome who is staggered but keeps moving. It then closes, apparently trying to take the creature alive. Then the ambush is sprung. Spells and arrows hit the leading Drider and then Abraham casts Confusion on them both and they stand still for a while as our heroes hit the leader again and again.

The little gnome runs up to Davidian, who greets him in Fae.
“You are Forest-Friends? What news of the Tanglewood ? Does it still stand?”

In the heat of combat, it’s hard to communicate the details, but it seems that the gnome (Stilgar) is one of the Gnomes originally from Tanglewood, but from an isolated part of the forest that got cut off centuries before when the orcs cut down lots of trees on the lower slopes of the mountain range. The gnomes there were forced to hide in the caves and tunnels, eventually taking on a form more suited to survival in the underdark.

Stilgar had sensed some great tragedy (probably the death of Gnarlheart the Ent) and that magic from the Tanglewood was now inside the mountain. So he had come up from his deep caverns to investigate, been captured by the Drow then escaped and been pursued – they want him alive as they want the secret of the Maker!
“If you can kill these two, the rest (a dozen drow) are at least ten minutes behind so I’ll have time to summon a Maker and get away.”
Then Stilgar begins an eerie dance, clashing together his hooked sticks and calling a sing-song hooting noise.

Meanwhile they kill the first Drider but the second breaks free from the confusion spell and engulfs himself and Gaston in Darkness. Then it attacks Gaston with a poisoned longsword – it can clearly see inside its own darkness!

[GM: I made these Driders a bit non-standard, making them Warlocks with Eldritch Blasts and Agonising Blast and Devil Sight, plus a few other Warlock spells instead of the Cleric spells suggested in the monster manual]

Davidian used Dispel Magic to drop the darkness and when they eventually kill the second Drider, Davidian interrupts Stilgar’s ritual.

Stilgar notices Mulan (probably notices the magical faerie circlet she wears) and bows low saygin “Greeting my lady, I did not expect to see the betrothed of the Gnome King in these tunnels”
There is some debate about “betrothed” and Stilgar seems to realise he has said something he shouldn’t.
“Please let me call the Maker before the rest of the Drow arrive. I can carry you all to safety”.

After further questioning it emerges that the Maker is a different type of giant worm. This one can burrow through rock by a magical process that leaves no tunnel, the rock around it just vanishes as it passes and reforms when it has gone. The magical field extends about 4 feet from its body so it can carry passengers.

Davidian asks if it can take them to the Citadel of Shar Gazoth and Stilgar assures them that it can. He will be only too glad to assist the future Queen.

They let him complete his summoning ritual and within a few minutes the walls of the chamber begin to vibrate and then a giant worm emerges from the floor and flops out onto the stair.

Stilgar runs up the body, digging-in his Maker Hooks to either side. The others clamber up, attaching grapnels and rope and bent pitons. Then, guided by slight movements of the hooks, the creature exudes its magical field and passes into the stone.

maker.png

It can’t “passwall” through living material so has to either go around major clusters of roots, or crash through. Where there are insects in the soil, the riders are pelted by the creatures. Everyone manages to hold on as Stilgar has told them that the tunnels reappear within about 18 seconds, reverting to solid rock. If they fell off, they would be lost forever.

Hearing this, Clayton decides to toss the Keeper’s Helm into the bedrock. [GM: Brilliant Idea!]
Mulan, who is carrying the other Keeper Helm, decides to do the same. Gaston grabs for it, unable to restrain himself, but it hits the edge of the magical field and is snatched away, lost forever in the solid stone.

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Shar Gazoth 09 - GASTON NOOOOO!

The Keeper (Tamric) wasn’t going to surrender and the fight continued with him raising the Zombie Corpses in plate mail and assuming control of the Inquisitor’s last remaining Skeletal Warrior and re-assuming control over the one that had been turned against him.

Our heroes were all badly injured and running low on spells. Abraham had been ordered to kill Tamric on sight, but was torn as the old man had been his mentor for many years before beteraying the Church of the Inquisition and fleeing to join the Keepers.

In the middle of the fight, Davidian struck at the other Helm (the one encased/hidden in clay). It made a noise and shed the dried clay, revealing the shining brass helmet but nothing else happened.

Nothing else until Gaston pushed forward, threw off his own helm, lifted the new one and ..
“Gaston Noooooo!” but it was too late
.. as it settled on his head there was a slurping noise, he jolted and then slowly looked around.

gaston_helm.png

It took a moment to get his bearings, but Number 3, one of the ancient immortal Keepers, was back in control of Flesh once more. These fools were attacking Number 5, they would pay for their impudence!

Number 3 began to strike out with his greatsword, pleased with the strength of his new host. Then he cast Arms of Hadar, sending black tendrils of force to strike at the others. Most fell, only Jock and Mulan were still standing and the two Keepers seemed about to finish them all.

Mulan used the second of the three flowers on her faerie circlet to Dominate Gaston, fortunately the Domination affected the Keeper as Gaston wasn’t really there at the time. The Faerie Artefact allowed for no resistance and Number 3 was completely dominated for the next hour.

Using one Keeper to fight the other, Mulan was able to use her other Fae gift and cast Mass Healing Word to restore her fallen companions.

Together they managed to kill Tamric (Keeper 5) and heaved a sigh of relief, until he rose again (Deathward!). He blasted them with a Fear spell causing Jock and Clayton to leg it. They just managed to kill him all over again. This time, as soon as he returned, Clayton snatched up the Keeper 5 Helm and ran off with it. He returned a few minutes later without the Helm and refused to say where he had hidden it.

Jock returned a little later, having struggled to overcome the Fear.

They had a long chat with Keeper 3 (the Domination spell let Mulan speak telepathically with him).

At some point in the confusion, Mulan order the Keeper to remove itself from Gaston. He cast Insect Plague and had the insects eat Gaston until he passed out.
The only way the Helm could leave its host was to knock out the Host, while it was dying, the Helm came loose.
For some reason, Gaston, as soon as he was healed, tried to put the Helm on again – the addictive nature of the Helm’s power perhaps, or just temporary madness? Fortunately the Domination was still running.

Davidian decide to take a look in the Keeper’s chambers and opened the door to find a thousand zombies (yes – you heard – a thousand!) all standing in neat rows in a huge room, lining the stairs up to large balconies.zombie_horde.png

Information about the Keepers…

_More than seven millennia ago, a Necromancer convinced the Demon Lord Orcus to send the 9 Keeper Helms into Jade. Ever since they have been building a Legion of the Undead, each one putting pressure on the Law of Death. Soon they will reach the limit and ALL THE DEAD WILL RISE in an Undead Apocalypse.

Putting on a Helm gives you no chance to resist the domination of the Keeper. The Host’s spirit only lasts a few days before it is totally consumed, but the body lasts for up to a hundred years or so, until the Keeper gets bored of it or it takes too much damage.

Normal spellcasters have a limit to how many Undead they can create. The Keepers don’t have a limit but each subsequent undead takes longer and longer to create. In order to keep the undead in a sort of stasis, they are mostly ordered to remain still in storage unless being used as guards or when the Keepers loan a platoon to the orcs. They have a truce with the orcs who let them keep building their Legion._

They send Gaston and the Helm into the Zombie Chamber to kill as many as he can before the dominate runs out. Then they smash Gaston unconscious again and remove the Helm. This time Abraham takes the helm and they watch Gaston carefully when he wakes up. He seems to be out of the Helm’s influence now.

Davidian used Speak with Dead to talk to Tamric’s corpse. He admitted to his crimes against the inquisition, he had made a bargain with the Keepers for one of the Helms (and what he thought would be immortality). In payment he destroyed all the books and scrolls of the inquisition relating to the Keepers. He apologised to Abraham, claiming his old-age and fear of death had forced him into this. However, he was clearly a complete git as he had sacrificed his own companions to the Mushrooms and to the Orcs and to the Keepers.

What little he knew about the Citadel itself was patchy, he only lived inside the Keeper for the first few days so had not gone down there. He believes the Cobweb Keep is more like a village of Drow with the Stair running straight through it. He advises them to seek the side tunnels and the great ravine that leads down to the Citadel, rather than go much further on the Stair.

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Shar Gazoth 08 - Now you see me, now you don't

Before they left the Keep of Norrimas, they quickly searched the rooms on the upper floors. In one of them (the chamber of Skeksis, Favoured of Lillith), Davidian found a full length mirror. With help from Clayton, he carefully carried it for half an hour or so, out into the Great Stair heading down towards the Citadel.

[GM: It will take about 20 hours of travel down the Great Stair to reach the Citadel. About 10 hours to the Cobweb Keep (the Drow settlement, mentioned in the Journal of Agraven). Each hour on the Stair will mean an Encounter Check, each time they go off into the side passages will mean an Encounter Check. Each 4 hours in Side Passages will mean an Encounter Check. Encounter Checks are 1d20 with 1-5 meaning an Encounter, 6-19 nothing and 20 is some kind of Discovery that does not immediately lead into danger. Three players were missing so the remaining players played an extra character each for this session.]

The majority of side passages around here seem to be ten-foot diameter cylinders. Clayton and Davidian worked out from the grooves in the walls, they had been made by some sort of rock-chewing maggot with hundreds of small claws in rings around a segmented body. There were a swiss-cheese of passages.

After half-an-hour, Davidian slipped into a side passage and tucked the mirror into a small side chamber.

[Encounter Check for the Side Passage – uneventful]

They needed a long rest and needed it soon, they had few spells left and had only had one short rest in the last 24 hours. They decided to head into a side passage and rest for 8 hours.

[Encounter Check for the Side Passage and two more for the 8 hours resting – all uneventful]

Moving on, they sent Mooshoo and Clayton (who cast his 8 hour Darkvision spell) to scout ahead.

[Encounter Checks 2 uneventful hours of descent, then an encounter!]

Clayton heard a noise like a single twang of an un-tuned harp string from a side passage, but decided to ignore it and keep descending. He began to feel uneasy, as though unseen eyes were watching him. The others decided to investigate and Davidian, with Abraham’s last remaining Skeletal Warrior as a bodyguard, sneaked down the side passage. He brushed against something and it gave another twang, but groping about in the dark he couldn’t find the thing he had touched.

Then, illuminated in torchlight the corpse of a dwarf hung half-cocooned in yellow goo, a couple of taut yellow strands seemed to be holding him five feet off the ground but the yellow strands didn’t reach the wall, they just vanished into nowhere!

Then two giant blue and translucent spiders appeared from nowhere and there was a terrifying fight. The spiders vanished and reappeared elsewhere. Gaston managed to kill one with his greataxe and the others took one down with spells from Davidian and Abraham (and his Skeletal Warrior) and missile weapons from Jock, Clayton and Mulan, but two more appeared. Their bite injected paralysing poison but Clayton managed to remove the effect with a Lesser restoration spell.

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Finally, they killed four of the things and no more appeared as they waited tensely in the tunnels, not knowing where the next spider might appear from.

The dwarf corpse was totally mummified, drained of all moisture and soft tissue, as though it may have been hanging there for a hundred years. It wore a slave collar and a loincloth.
Abraham, the Inquisitor cast Speak with Dead. The Dwarf’s name was Matthias and he was a slave to the Orcs in the Mushroom Forest. He had been blinded at birth and lived all his life as a slave labourer for the Orcs. He had escaped through a tunnel under the water in the pool in the Shroom grove and emerged in a side passage of the Great Stair. He didn’t get far before being captured by the Phase Spiders and eventually drained and killed. They had continued to use his dangling body as a lure for unwary travellers.

Matthias told them that (at least as far as he had been told during his life) the fortifications of Cobweb Keep had not been rebuilt since Agraven had burned them down. The Drow still lived there, but now the stair passed through their settlement and they didn’t bother with a formal Gate Tower. There were rumoured to be about a dozen Drow, some priestesses, some warriors and a few Driders and a few goblin slaves.

They cut down Mathias and buried him, then moved on down the stair.

[Encounter Checks 2 uneventful hours of descent, then a Discovery!]

Down one of the side passages, Clayton and Mooshoo spotted a couple of Zombie guards, wearing platemail with ornate brass helms. This area was made of stone blocks, clearly built, not burrowed by the mysterious rock-eating maggots. When they described the helms to Abraham, he swore them all to secrecy and explained about his secret mission for the Inquisition.

Keeper.png

His old mentor, Tamric Romarnus had betrayed the Inquisition and was believed to have come to Shar Gazoth to join an ancient order of Necromancers called the “Keepers of the Undead”. Tamric had stolen or booby-trapped all the books about this Order of seemingly immortal Necromancers before he left. It seems he wanted to gain immortality too (he was over 60 and his strength was failing).

The “Keepers” seem to be dedicated to raising a Legion of Undead with the intention of breaking the Law of Death (if enough Undead are created, then there will be a world-wide Zombie apocalypse).

Tamric has been judged and found guilty of being “Apostate” (a Necromancer and Enemy of the Church). Abraham has been ordered to kill him on sight.

It seems that these Zombies may belong to one of the Keepers. They decide to attack and there is a tough battle with half a dozen difficult-to-hit Zombies who are hard to kill without Radiant damage. Fortunately Davidian and Abraham both have Spirit Guardians spell which does Radiant damage. They both cast it. Sadly for Mulan, she hid just before the two priests cast their spell so they were unable to exempt her from its effects. Abraham cast his with a higher-level spell slot and soon Mulan was unconscious and bleeding.

They managed to kill the Zombies, except for one who was “charmed” by a Calm Emotions spell. They also managed to cast cures on Mulan so she wasn’t torn apart by the spirit guardians.

A Keeper, in the full plate and brass helm, emerged from a room further in. The voice and mannerisms were Tamric’s and he clearly recognised Abraham, but his words suggested a much different personality.

Abraham suggested he had come to join Tamric, but Tamric didn’t believe him, he knew the priest was loyal to the Inquisition. Davidian noticed that on an altar in the room, there was a clay skill and two candles. Under the clay gleamed another shiny brass helm.

[GM: we ran out of time just as Tamric was about to fight back]

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Shar Gazoth 07 - The Gate of Norrimass

With the death of Gorgamel, the two suits of armour, filled with living flame, floated over the centre of the bridge and slowly regenerated.

Gaston was restored to life by Davidian, using the “Revivify” scroll they found on the red orc. In the religion of the Kingdom, raising the dead is a deadly sin, but the Church of Mortus has ruled that “Revivify”, which has to be cast within a minute of death, does not break the Law. There is even a loophole using “Gentle Repose” that puts the corpse into a sort of stasis and can extend the period to a few days.

They were badly injured and running short of spells – the two rangers had no “Pass without Trace” spells left and the two priests used their last few spells hastily healing Mulan, Jock and Gaston, as best they could. The two Skeletal Warriors remaining were badly injured too. With help from the priests, Jock was able to shake off the Contagion that had blinded him.

They left Mooshoo hidden on the roof of the hut, watching the bridge and decided to head for the nearest patch of mushroom forest, half a mile down-stream, to hide and at least rest for an hour. Clayton and Jock managed to hide their tracks and Davidian dumped the body of Gorgamel into the lava where it was devoured by a pack of magma mephitis.

The forest had a pool of clean, warm water and had no wild life at all. Some of the towering mushrooms were larger versions of the red and yellow shrooms, Abraham had in his pocket – the ones they were warned about by Agraven’s Journal. They carefully made their way around these and lay down to rest.

Gaston (in a bid to get mentioned!) dived into the pool still wearing his plate mail. He sank like a stone and Mulan dived in to pull him out. As he scrambled out, treading on her head in a panic, they noticed a clump of seaweed was stretching out a tendril to grab them, but they managed to evade it.

They rested an hour and were then able to recover some of their strength. Abraham felt a stinging sensation in his leg and found that tendrils from the Shrooms in his pouch had forced their way through the leather seams and were trying to infect him. He carefully washed them off in the pool and dumped the two shrooms into the water.

Mooshoo reported telepathically that six orcs had arrived at the far side of the bridge and were shouting for Gorgamel. They sent two wolf-mounted orcs back down the road.
A half hour later an orc priestess in white, riding a snow-tiger, arrived with the two wolf-riders and pulled out a scroll which she read aloud in common.

“Gog and Magog, I hereby take command of the Bridge of Norrimass, Gog and Magog”

The floating monsters bowed and when she told them to let her and the orcs pass – they floated down into the lava beneath the bridge.

The orcs examined the scene around the hut and then she sent one rider back over the bridge the way they had come and the other one off in the other direction. The tiger kept sniffing around and mooshoo sneaked back to join them in the shrooms.

Mulan crept to the hut and used her Charm Person (from the faerie circlet) to charm the priestess. She managed to convince Skeksis, the favoured of Lillith, that she was a mercenary serving Lord Stagmork (at the mention of whose name all the orcs said “Praise his Name!”). The orcs and the tiger seemed very suspicious of Mulan, but she easily seduced Skeksis and the priestess told her servants to shut up and leave them alone.

Skeksis was in charge of the Gate of Norrimass, a small fortification a few miles to the east, blocking the only path to the Great Stair of Shar Gazoth (the way down to the Citadel). There were so many orcs out searching for a gang of pesky adventurers, that there were only about 20 orcs left, and 4 gargoyles.

Gorgamel was one of the Red Orc elders, but he had been exiled by Lord Stagmork (“Praise his Name!”) and was bitter and twisted – did not like the White Orcs – he worshipped Torkas the Storm God, not Lillith the Winter Queen. Skeksis had hated him and was glad he was dead.

Mulan convinced her to let the companions cross the bridge and as soon as they were all out of sight, they started running towards the Fort. Clayton got them all off the road just in time for half the remaining orcs to come running past, heading for the bridge with the wolf-rider. If Mulan’s girlfriend was to be believed, this left just 10 orcs and 4 gargoyles.

The Gate of Norrimass was a big brick wall with no windows but a few arrow slits near the top. There were no battlements as it reached the roof of the cave. There were two orcs lounging about at the single entrance, both portcullises were up. Four gargoyles perched in alcoves near the top of the four-storey wall.

Our heroes snuck as close as they could and then Davidian used a scroll of Confusion on the Orcs (catching a few more who were in rooms just inside). They ran in, easily overwhelming the Orcs. Abraham was attacked from behind by the gargoyles who swooped down and one of his Skeletal Warriors was torn apart.

They managed to kill the Orc Sergeant before he could do much and slaughtered the rest. They dropped the portcullises, trapping one gargoyle and keeping the other three outside. Mulan tinkered with the winches, jamming them in a way that would take at least a couple of hours to fix, but also setting them so that even when they were fixed, the first time they were raised, they would crash down again.

In the Sergeant’s room, they found a hidden pouch with a half-written letter, the ink still wet…

Dear Lord Stagmork
I wish to report that Skeksis is failing in her duty. We have had reports of a group of adventurers loose in the Forest. They have killed some of the mushroom men and Skeksis has sent almost all our troops into the forest to hunt them. It has been three days since the first incursion and she has not reported it to the Citadel as she is meant to.
I humbly beg permission to replace her as Captain of the Gate of Norrimass. She should be posted permanently to the Bridge (after flogging), replacing Gorgamel who is missing, presumed dead.
Your humb…

They passed through the Gate and into the wide sloping tunnel that forms the Great Stair.

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Shar Gazoth 06 - Gorgamel

[DM: Joined by another player who has taken over playing “Jock”. Mysteriously, the wasp poison seems to have robbed him of his scottish accent :) ]

They moved on from the campsite where the giant wasps had swarmed at them, carrying Jock and set up camp further into the mushroom forest. After a few hours, Jock’s paralysis wore off and they could continue their journey.

Their presence in the forest has been noticed by the Orcs due to thunderwave spells, guiding bolt spells and the slaughter of the Myconids near the entrance. However, the caverns are vast and the forest dense and full of strange smells. By use of Clayton’s Pass Without Trace spells and his knowledge of the underdark, they manage to travel far and fast and avoid the hunting parties looking for them.

They know they are looking for a river of lava, and the jungle gets hotter as they go west, there are bubbling mud pools and streams of gently steaming water. Inside his plate mail, Gaston is slowly cooking in his own juices.

While hiding from a main path and a group of Orcs and Worgs, they approach a clearing that leads to a shallow ford. Jock and Clayton notice the ground is disturbed ahead so start looking for a way to circle round to the ford. Abraham spots some very bright mushrooms, red heads and yellow spots and pushes through the bushes to pluck them. They were mentioned in the Journal of Agraven and give off hallucinogenic spores. He plucks them, inhales the spores and becomes confused. His companions all look like giant cockroaches and seem to be speaking in clicks and growls. He panics and crosses the clearing, triggering the ambush of the Ankhegs (giant cockroaches who lie in wait beneath the ground).

ankheg.png

The insects could have been dangerous, if they had managed to grapple and drag their victims into the tunnels below, but Davidian’s magic and the weapons of the others make short work of them. In his confusion, Abe attacks Davidian and Mulan with his sacred flames, but soon snaps out of the confusion. The two small shrooms are tucked away in his pouch.

Another day of travel brings them to the hottest part of the caverns and huge river of lava, flowing slowly left to right. They can just make out that there are creatures swimming about under the surface – visible only by the wakes they make. They speculate these may be some form of small elemental. There is the remains of a bridge, a pile of bricks left on either bank that once spanned the 100 feet or so of lava. It must have been destroyed 50 years before. Davidian starts to calculate how long it would take him to use a mending cantrip to re-attach one brick at a time to the broken bridge. Mulan starts to calculate the length of rope needed to swing over. The others continue to sneak down-stream and a couple of miles further on, find a second bridge, still standing. It arches up and over the lava in a single narrow span and there is a small stone hut on their side of it.

While they watch, two white orcs, mounted on dire wolves arrive at the far side. They stop and shout “Gorgamel!”. From the stone hut, a grizzled old hobgoblin warrior emerges (a “red orc”). He grumbles and mutters but eventually shouts back “You may pass”. His armour and greatsword are covered in painted symbols and he is heavily tattooed. He looks like a spellcaster, as well as a warrior.

red_orc.png

They wait for the two riders to vanish into the forest and then ambush Gorgamel.
As usual, it is Gaston, in his heavy armour who makes some noise as they sneak forward, the face of Gorgamel appears at the window and the sizzling lighting of a witchfire spell engulfs him.

Clayton, Jock and Mulan all fire arrows through the hut window, but Gorgamel is heavily armoured, and though a few shots hit, he seems to be a Warcaster and easily retains his concentration on the lightning.
The veteran hobgoblin then calls for assistance “Gog and Magog! Kill these intruders” and two floating suits of red plate armour, filled with swirling flame, rise from beneath the bridge and fly across to the hut.

horrors.png

Despite the arrival of these fearsome-looking creatures, Gaston has to run to the hut to get out of line-of-sight of the red orc, in order for the Witchbolt spell to drop.
Davidian sends magic missiles and Abraham uses a powerful scroll to summon three Skeletal Warriors, who appear in the hut itself, hacking at Gorgamel. Abe shouts at them to kill the orc and they reply “WE OBEY, INQUISITOR!”

skel_warrior.png

The red orc then raises a Spirit Guardians spell (the most powerful one the heroes have ever seen!). Despite the attacks of the three skeletal warriors and mighty blows from Gaston, he manages to retain concentration on it. It half-kills Gaston [GM: and should have half-killed the Skeletons too, but I forgot!]. The two Helmed Horrors fly over to hack at Gaston too as he is up there alone, and he goes down.

Because he is still in the area of the Spirit Guardians he will soon be dead if he gets no help. The red orc rushes outside to engulf Jock and Mulan in his spell too. He seems remarkably confident even considering his heavy armour.

Eventually enough hits get through that he should die, but a Death ward spell keeps him on his feet (and his warcaster feat keeps his concentration up. Davidian is knocked out by the Spirit Guardian, Mulan too. One of the Skeletal Warriors goes down.
Gaston gives a death rattle and is DEAD! Nobody managed to get to him with a healing spell (despite Jock, Davidian, Abraham and Clayton all having access to cure spells!).

The powerful red orc then managed to touch Jock and cast the Contagion spell. “Let’s see how good an archer you are now you are BLIND!”. His eyes go milky white and he can’t see.
Abraham resorts to hitting him with a stick but can’t get past the armour.

Finally Clayton, blind Jock and Mulan manage to kill him.

The two Helmed Horrors immediately disengage and fly back to hover over the centre of the bridge.

In the aftermath of the battle, they find a scroll of “Revivify” a spell that can return a person to life if cast within 1 minute of death. There is just time, Abraham casts it and Gaston gasps back to life.

[DM: the Contagion spell has some additional saving throws for Jock to see if it lasts for 7-days or not, we can do them at the start of the next session. If you had managed to sneak closer you would have heard Gorgamel muttering about how unfair it was that he – one of the inner circle of the red orcs, was forced to remain hear doing menial duty as a guard! There was a possibility you could have convinced him to let you pass – especially if he had been charmed by Mulan’s faerie circlet.]

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