Dragons of Blackminster

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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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!”

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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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Shar Gazoth 05 - Shrooms

Under the waterfall. Splashes, puddles, the water thundering away beneath the grating.
Gaston intrigued by a couple of triangles of wetness against the wall, starting about 3 feet
up and widening out towards the floor, swipes it with his finger and tastes just before he realises what it is.

He’s still spitting it out and muttering under his breath, when they have descended several hundred yards in the wide sloping tunnel.

They arrive at wider point, where two stairs vanish into the darkness, separated by a thick stone wall, investigation reveals that the flow of water is inside this partition. Mulan had studied the Journal of Agraven and realised that for the water to be thundering behind the right-hand wall, Agraven must have passed down the left-hand stair.

An hour’s descent later and they came upon three Orcs sat round a cooking fire on a wider landing.
There was a brief fight and they cut down the orcs (members of the hunting party they saw entering the place (I forgot to mention that these were all slightly injured – nothing an hour’s rest wouldn’t have fixed).

Among the orcs’ belongings they found a very tightly-sealed pot a few inches wide. Clayton unscrewed it to find it contained a foul-smelling paste. The smell clung to them for hours.

An hour further and they reached the foot of the stair and entered a vast cavern filled with a fungus forest and lit by glowing lichens. Away to the north (their right) they could see a veil of water spraying from the cavern roof, forming a rainbow curtain.

A large mushroom, just inside the cavern, suddenly opened its eyes and spoke to them in a cloud of spores. Within moments, they were in conversation and found that the spores filled their noses and mouths and. seemed to make mental communication with each other and with the Myconid.

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It asked them who they were and demanded a password. They didn’t know the password but tried to talk their way out of it. Sadly the Myconid could now read some of their thoughts, When asked if it liked the orcs, it replied that they had a truce and the orcs paid them with a living tribute – a few orcs (captives/criminals) who they transform into hosts for their own spores.

Gaston tried to offer them Mulan, she objected and Gaston then attacked the creature before further negotiations could occur. As soon as it was attacked, it released distress spores that activated a dozen Spore Servants (infected/possessed orcs). In a tough battle, our heroes prevailed, but Jock, Mulan and Gaston were all badly injured..Abraham managed to learn the password from the creature’s mind but even when he tried to use it, Gaston (still connected through the spores) was clearly not going to accept a peaceful solution.

They killed the Myconid and then had to fight a dozen more of the spore-controlled plant/orcs as there was nobody left to call them off! During the fight Mulan had to use a Thunderwave, so the boom of the spell echoed a long way across the cavern/forest.

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As soon as the fight finished, Clayton cast another Pass Without Trace and they fled into the mushroom forest. A couple of hours into the forest, they camped and rested. When they made breakfast a few giant wasps came to investigate. They easily killed the first wasp scouts but their combat pheromones attracted more and more. Fortunately Clayton remembered the pot of stink paste, threw it into the air and shot it so it dispersed all over the wasps. [GM a spectacular time to roll a natural 20!] The wasps panicked and fled. Only Jock had been poisoned, and he will be paralysed until the poison wears off.

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Shar Gazoth 04 - Dangerous Waters

They rested briefly after the fight with the Orc hunting party.

Davidian decided to place a Glyph of Warding on the body of the “Chosen of Lillith” so it would explode if disturbed. This was a very expensive trap – using the last of his supply of diamond dust.

Clayton and Abraham devised a plan to lead pursuers the wrong way, south along the lake shore. The ranger cleverly made a contraption to simulate footprints, attached to the back of the priest’s Skeletal Warhorse. Abraham ordered the warhorse to walk along the lake shore for a couple of hours and then cross the lake (two miles walk along the lake bottom), emerge on the far side and turn left and walk along the lake shore until it reaches the cliff or meets up with him.

As the horse tramped away south, they turned north with the two rangers carefully concealing their tracks, eventually paddling into the cold lake and then rappelling along the cliff face to get around the northern end of the lake valley.

As it grew dark and overcast, they struggled on. Only the elf Davidian and Mulan (with “elf-sight” granted by her circlet – given by the Gnome King) could see clearly. It was only a matter of time and suddenly the humans began to stumble – they were all roped together and all tumbled down into the water – except for Mulan who cut the rope to save herself.
There were jagged rocks and soon the water was tinged with blood. A hundred yards away there were muffled splashes and our heroes struggled (under the weight of armour and equipment) to get out of the water.

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Two huge crocodiles swam in and began biting and death-rolling at Clayton and Abraham. The priest was dragged under and passed out, but Mulan shot the monster through the brain and the priest bobbed back up where Gaston could drag him out and Davidian could stabilise him. They just managed to save Clayton from the jaws of the second one and then Davidian’s faerie Prayer of Healing restored them all.

A few more hours of scrambling round in the dark and they reached the other side, after midnight. Suddenly from back where they had been came a burst of fire and distant cries of pain. A couple of dozen orcs had been caught in the explosion and a few Wargs too. The flames lit up that section of the shore for an hour or two. It looked like maybe there had been 25-30 mounted Orcs in a war party. The few survivors seemed to have fallen for their trick as they followed the Skeletal Warhorse tracks in the wrong direction. Abe found his horse by the lake shore, dragging a huge mass of smelly seaweed. If anything crossed his trail on this side of the lake, it would have no trouble following.

It seemed that the lake was about 15 miles long and at the other end they could see there was an Orc town – probably an inland port. The rest of the night passed peacefully and they slept late into the morning and then spent half a day climbing ever steeper towards the hidden valley mentioned in Agraven’s Journal.

Keep of Statues.

Instead of a peaceful valley with an entrance to the citadel protected only by a waterfall, it seemed the orcs had been busy in the last couple of hundred years. The waterfall entrance was still there but the orcs had built a small fort to guard it and there were lots of tracks around as though the number of hunting parties was a lot more than they expected.
Somehow they got to the hillside overlooking the valley and spotted that the orcs on the battlements seemed to be stone statues and the big gates were open, more statues inside. They started whispering about a Medusa!

Suddenly Mooshoo the pseudo-dragon familiar of Mulan, let them know that monsters were approaching from behind them. They managed to hide just in time as a Hill Giant and 10 orcs and five dire wolves, all laden down with deer and wild boar, came trudging up the mountain towards the keep.

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As they got close to the gates, deep barking came from within and two hell hounds, red-eyed and breathing smoke, barred the way. Their barking and the answering dire wolf howls brought a woman with silvery snake-tentacled hair, to the gate. A few words seemed to pass between them and the hunters passed through. They could just see that the hill giant stood in the waterfall while the other passed through, then the massive humanoid passed through after them.

The Medusa and her hall hounds went back into the courtyard out of sight.
After much discussion they decided to try and sneak past using Clayton’s Pass Without Trace spell. This would mean climbing up into the roof and around the battlements to reach the waterfall. Abraham decided his Skeletal Warhorse would not be able to manage the trip so he reluctantly destroyed it (because he couldn’t summon a second one if the first one still existed).

They hid the pile of bones and the saddle and harness in bushes at the valley edge and sneaked through. The hell hounds were asleep in the courtyard and with the help of the spell they managed to climb over the walls and around the far side of the keep walkways (past the sightless eyes of the stone orcs). As they reached the far side they could see the floor where the Waterfall crashed down was a big iron grate. The water thundered down but passed through the grating into an underground river far below but the grating could be easily crossed.

At the last minute Gaston made some noise (failing his stealth check by 1 !) and the Hell Hounds began to look around. They all leapt into the waterfall and found that the weight of water actually hurt! But they passed through and reached the cave mouth beyond. They are only an hour or so behind the hunting party but for the moment, they are “safe”.

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Shar Gazoth 03 - The Perilous Forest
The Sap Is Rising

On the way to see Tangleheart, Davidian realises that the true lord of the forest is actually the Gnome King (he is probably the “special” faerie – as known to the religion of the Elves). The naked barbaric “gnomes” seem to be a cross between Pixies and Deep Gnomes and Duergar. Whatever their original form was, the centuries of war with the orcs has twisted them into darker, more savage forms.

Mulan is the first mortal female to enter the wood for a thousand years and judging by the signs, the Gnome King’s “sap is rising” and his feelings are stirring and bringing life (in the form of small flowers budding) back to the dark forest.

After half a day, they reach Tangleheart – a huge Oak Tree and the wizented face appears and speak with Davidian.

Tangleheart.png

Tangleheart explains that his brother Gnarlheart used to fight alongside him, but has succumbed to a sickness of the spirit that has turned his heart dark and corrupted. He has been bound into a small glade of dead trees, but Tangleheart cannot bring himself to kill his brother and asks the guests to do it (to return the favour of hospitality). Davidian agrees before even hearing the nature of the quest, but fortunately Tangleheart doesn’t take advantage of them and even remembers to lif the restriction on “Cut no wood” while they are in the Dead Glade.

Gnarlheart.png

The Gnome King argues with Tangleheart and orders him to explain to them about the gift of the Circlet of Vines that he is keen for Mulan to accept. Davidian assures her that the Faeries cannot lie and have promised that there is no magic on the Circlet other than what they have told him.
It will grant Mulan “elf-sight” (Darkvision 60ft). There are three flower buds on the circlet.
Touch the first bud with two fingers and it will cast a Charm Person spell duration 1 hour on a target of your choice in range against which there is no saving throw.
Touch the second bud with two fingers and it will cast a Dominate Person spell duration 1 hour on a target of your choice in range against which there is no saving throw.
Touch the third bud with two fingers and it will cast a permanent LOVE spell against which there is no saving throw.

Mulan agrees and graciously accepts the gift – the “gnomes” cheer wildly.

They go to fight Gnarlheart (the ancient, twisted black willow Treant). Their careful plans are disrupted when it animates two dead thorn trees right next to them. The battle is dangerous but (die to a forgetful DM) the thorn tree minions don’t attack very often. Gaston and Abraham hack down one of the two minion trees. In the process, Abraham’s Skeletal Warhorse is smashed by the tree’s mighty blows.

Gnarlheart is blasted by firebolts from Mulan, guiding bolts and sacred flames from Davidian and Abraham, as well as magically-enhanced arrows from Clayton and eventually falls. The moment he dies, the two animated trees stiffen and return to being just trees.
In the disturbed ground under the roots of Gnarlheart, Clayton digs about and finds many orc skulls and many rusted fragments of weapons and armour. There is one magical weapon – a Spear of Winter, magical +1 spear with a magical property (if attuned) for a once-per-day blast of cold. [DM: You will need to attune to it to find out the details – takes a 1-hour short rest to attune]

Davidian asks Tangleheart if he can help with the funeral/re-purification of the Dead Glade and is invited to the Dance. This is clearly a big deal to the Fae Folk. [DM: Joining the Dance requires a Religion check, with the result determining how successful you are – there is some risk!]

morris_dancing_gnomes.png

It is like a particularly violent version of morris dancing with sticks. Davidian understands the patterns of the Dance and becomes infused with Fae Magic from the Gnome King. He gets to learn a one-shot 5th-level spell.

Seeing how “easy” it looks, the other drift into the Dance with varying degrees of success.
Gaston, Mulan and Abraham dance well and get similar one-shot spell powers. The two rangers – Clayton and Jock – don’t get into the groove and get beaten around the shins by the laughing gnomes – both are infected by Wild Magic as a result.
The Gnome King seems to get stronger, taller and better-looking during the Dance – topping out at about 4ft tall.

the_gnome_king.png

The next day, they all wake refreshed (with 5 temp hitpoints). The Will of the Wisp leads them for a few hours to the far-eastern edge of the Tanglewood which cuts about 10 days off their journey and leaves them at the foothills of the mountain range containing Shar Gazoth – probably only about 4 days from the waterfall entrance described in Agraven’s Journals.

They decide (reluctantly) that their horses cannot make it through the mountains and they butcher them and spend a few hours cooking them so they won’t need to waste time foraging later and also so they won’t wander and be found by the Orcs and give-away the fact that they are in the area.

Abraham decides to replace his Skeletal Warhorse and kills, skins and polishes the bones and the companions watch in horror as the Inquisitor’s undead steed rises to its feet.

undead_horse.png

Clayton and Jock discover they have been infected by Wild Magic and their spells have crazy results, such as blasting Gaston with magic missiles while trying to Cure him and then banishing him for an hour to the Astral Plane and then causing a third eye to appear on Abraham’s forehead (granting him the Alertness feat but disadvantage on Persuasion checks). Both rangers used all their spells to dissipate the wild magic and should be back to normal casting tomorrow.

The forest trail skirts the foothills, leading to a huge lake so they head to it to wash off the blood and smoke.

Suddenly Abe spots three orcs riding huge wolves racing along the trail behind them. They all hide surprisingly well and could have even let the enemy ride straight past, but Gaston leapt out and attacked. To be fair, they were going to ambush the orcs anyway, but the warrior’s eagerness for battle sprang the trap too soon and the trailing Orc managed to turn his wolf and flee. The hunting party had seen or smelled the smoke from the horse barbecue and were trailing the party by scent – due to the Wild Magic they had no Pass Without Trace spells today.

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Shar Gazoth 2 - Pale Orcs and Dark Forests

They dragged the bodies into the bushes and headed east. They bypassed the village, leaving the orcs’ horses and camp untouched, and joined the road a few miles on. When they left the road just before dawn and returned to the hills, Clayton used “Pass Without Trace” to hide their tracks.
They could see a large orc encampment – maybe a raiding party of 30 Orcs, up ahead. Later they saw a Vee of giant crows heading west from the camp and along the road back to the west. They saw one crow flap down to meet and “talk” to an albino orc mounted on a huge white wolf. This orc was dragging a prisoner behind the wolf.

They recognised the albino as one of the “Favoured of Lillith” a mid-level priestess of the Queen of Winter. Clayton recognised the prisoner – it was his fellow-ranger, “Jock”. A big ginger-haired Kaledonian warrior, one of the men who brought them across the river.

While they hid in the hills, in what little shelter they could find from the heavy rain, the army of orcs moved out along the road, but the Albino, the wolf, one orc bodyguard and Jock, reached the empty camp and stopped.

There was much debate about what to do. Clayton was conflicted about saving his friend and sticking to the mission – eventually they decided that they had to either save or kill Jock to avoid the Orcs learning about the mission.

Mulan and Clayton were able to sneak up to the camp, staying down-wind from the orc. The others stayed back ready to gallop in if anything went wrong. The ranger and the rogue surprised the sleeping wolf and peppered it with arrows and bolts. Still it managed to leap to the attack, looming over Clayton (Mulan skulked back into the forest after every shot). The arrows and bolts had weakened it a lot, and finally Abraham and Gaston galloped in to hack it down and Davidian sent a powerful guiding bolt against the orc priestess when she emerged from the commander’s tent and she sent a powerful moonbeam spell to attack the Ranger. Despite the on-going damage from the moonbeam, they managed to hack down the orc bodyguard and send the priestess scampering back into the tent.

Out of spite, she tried to finish off Jock with a chromatic orb of cold, but Davidian and Abraham managed to heal him in the nick of time.

In the tent, Clayton and Gaston pressed the attack while the others attacked her from outside. Against the full fury of the heroes, she fell quickly. They took her distinctive ringmail armour, shield and spear and the hide armour of her bodyguard. Clayton helped Gaston skin the Winterwolf (very messy and bloody and smelly and then they moved on eastwards again.

Later that day, they were surprised as three giant crows flew low over the trees. Everyone managd to hide except Davidian, caught in the centre of a clearing. They had 10 foot wingspans and looked pretty terrifying as they swooped down, but the rest of the hidden heroes blew them to peces. The last surviving crow tried to fly off but was brought down by spells. The crows had panicked the horses but they managed to gather them back together again within an hour.

Abraham tried to pluck and de-bone one of the crows -hoping to use its skeleton to make an improved Skeletal Messenger, but it was too big and too messy. The trail of blood and gore is definitely getting more noticeable!

As dusk approached, they were looking for somewhere to camp and reached a long shelving hillside, strewn with the stumps of trees. From the crest of the hill a dark, foreboding line of trees remained. The rangers, Clayton and Jock, could tell there was something unnatural about the trees, something that said “keep away” to their experienced eyes. However, Davidian, the Priest of the Goddess, noticed tiny white star-shaped flowers – a clear indication of the presence of the “Song of the Goddess” in the area. He knew this meant there were Fae in the wood and decided to approach the tree-line warily to investigate. Speaking in the Fae tongue he greeted the forest and asked for parley.

A gnarled oak seemed to animate. An eye opened and a croaking ancient voice came from it.
It began by accusing Davidian of being an Orc. When he protested, it ordered him to approach and then grappeled him with a powerful root that tore out of the ground and hoisted him upside down. In the disturbed earth, the glint of hundreds of orc skulls could be seen.

The voice threatened and he was swung about menacingly, but kept his calm and spoke soothingly explaining they were the enemies of the Orcs and were on a mission to reach Shar Gazoth. The voice told him that the forest had once stretched all the way to the mountain but that the red orcs had come, Tangleheart had allowed them to cut trees at the fringes of the forest but they ad taken more and more, leading to all out war and centuries of aggression. The wood had become dark and dangerous.

Eventiually the tree-spirit, giving its name as Tangleheart, agreed to let Davidian and his allies and horses enter the forest for rest and fresh water and a meadow where the horses could graze. He made only one request “Cut no wood!”

They followed a floating light into a meadow by a lake and “rested”. Only Davidian and Clayton managed to relax. The floating light was an evil faerie – a Will o the Wisp, they knew its usual behaviour was to lead people into danger and feed on their souls! They also spotted hundreds of pairs of red eyes in the bushes around the meadow. These turned out to be hate-filled naked gnomes (lust-filled – when Mulan was getting ready for bed and almost went for a swim). One tried half-heartedly to trick Gaston into cutting some wood. With the eyes and the general sense of violence, the others did not get a peaceful sleep. At some point Mulan spotted that a small tiara of twisted vines and flowers had been left on the ground next to her. She decided not to pick it up.

Davidian and Clayton both felt magically invigorated when they rose (benefits of an Aid spell). The Wisp told them to follow and it would lead them to Tangleheart,

They don’t know what the ancient forest-spirit wants or how far away it might be, but nobody felt like arguing.

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Shar Gazoth 01 - Across the River

For his destruction of the mirror, Gaston was volunteered for what seemed like a suicide mission. As Mulan failed to prevent him smashing it, she was similarly invited to undertake the quest.

Father Abraham looked like he might not face the same doom, but was asked by the local Inquisitor Captain (his superior in the Church of Mortus) to tag along. The Inquisition are particularly keen to learn about the so-called “Keepers of the Dead” – rumoured to be a sect of Necromancers that live in the mountain that contains the Citadel of Shar Gazoth.

Sapphire (the wizardess who knows the most about the Orc’s Portal Mirror), offered the services of a friend of hers – a half-elf called Davidian. Davidian is a Priest of “The Goddess”, the Elven deity who created Jade as a playground for the Fae. Davidian knows a great deal about the magic mirror and magic in general (being an arcana domain priest) and is “far better suited to a trek across orc-infested wilderness than I am” she said.

As they wouldn’t have a “snowball’s chance in hell” of even finding the place without a guide, one of the Rangers of Eastmark, was volunteered to go with them. Clayton had been across the River into Ustergard before on scouting missions and should be able to get them there without becoming lost or starving to death on the journey.

The adventurers were given various gifts to help them on the quest…
Davidian was given five magical scrolls by the College Of Art.
Abraham was given a couple of magical scrolls by the Inquistor Captain. He also used his new-found powers to animate a Skeletal Warhorse as his own steed.
The rest of the party was equipped with horses, ropes for climbing and other essentials for the trip.
They all got a chance to read the three volumes of Agraven’s Journal about his journey to Shar Gazoth. Davidian knows how to reproduce Agraven’s trick of re-directing the Mirror to one in Sapphire’s house.

They debated trying to sail round the coast to reach Shar Gazoth more quickly, but the threat of Red Orc Pirate ships was thought to be too high. [GM: The Red Orcs are actually Hobgoblins – like red-skinned Klingons with access to advanced pirate ships – Galleons compared to the medieval clippers and longships available to the heroes].

There was much debate on how to cross the great River Stone without being immediately spotted by Orcish patrols. If they weren’t taking horses, they might slip across on low barges or canoes. To get horses across, they needed some magical help and the Inquisitor Captain – Septimus Kreed, accompanied them with the magical horn they had found on Beacon Isle.
As night fell, he blew the Horn of Torkas (the Dark God of Storms) and a vast area of fog rolled across the river.

Under cover of the fog a squad of Rangers rowed them and their horses across and dropped them off. Mulan (through her familiar’s eyes), Clayton (through his Darkvision spell) and Davidian (through his own Darkvision) were able to lead the horses and their companions through the forest. Behind them an Orc patrol attacked the boat. Several men died and the boat was destroyed by fire, but they were across, had slipped by the first line of Orcish patrols and the Quest was on.

They travelled on across the grasslands (once cultivated plains) through the moonless night stopping before dawn and out of sight in some low hills. Ahead they could see a ruined village where a small camp fire was burning.

They decided to hide from the Orcs at the village. As the light improved, Mooshoo spotted that people were working in the fields around the village with scythes and that the half a dozen orcs in the village had a few horses. Eventually they realised the “people” must be zombies as they never seemed to tire or stop. They were gathering corn and also clearing a road.

Our heroes rested until afternoon and then set off through the hills trying to bypass the Orcs. Despite his best efforts, Clayton struggled to find a way that kept them in valleys and away from crossing the skyline. At one point they became so skittish that they shot a “suspicious-looking crow”. [GM: to be fair, I had mentioned that the Orcs sometimes used Giant Crows as scouts]

Late afternoon they were edging back to the grasslands and had to hide as two orcs rode past arguing loudly in Orcish (which nobody speaks). One was a “Red Orc” and seemed to be in charge. The other was one of the horde of “white” orcs from the distant north – part of the invading army who conquered Ustergard more than a 100 years before.

As night fell, these two orcs stopped at the next village and lit a camp fire. They were right in the way! Our heroes tried to skirt past but leading horses in the dark and keeping Gaston quiet in his heavy armour was just too difficult. Some night-time beast caused a horse to whiney and the two Orcs wandered into the hills to investigate.

red_orc.png

They were only two, but they were pretty tough – especially the hobgoblin, who was some kind of Warlord. Davidian blasted the leader with a powerful Guiding Bolt, a searingly-bright blast! Clayton shot from cover, Abraham and Gaston hacked down the orc (taking his head off and spraying the clearing with blood) and Mulan brought down the hobgoblin with a shot through the head.

They found a couple of potion flasks on the hobgoblin – Davidian identified them as healing potions. They dragged the bodies into the bushes and considered what to do next. There were still a couple of orc ponies in the village about half a mile away. It was about 9 miles back to the previous encampment.

Hopefully nobody saw the sky light up as the Guiding Bolt struck home.
Hopefully the two orcs won’t be missed straightaway.

Despite a few setbacks, they have made good time so far. If their luck continues it might take as little as 15 days – maybe 20, depending on the terrain.
[GM: we won’t play out every step of the way – just the days with interesting encounters]

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City Watch 08 - The Priestess and the Portal
Seven Years of Bad Luck

Mulan and Gaston were still standing when the small magical turret was finally destroyed. Reluctantly, Sapphire the wizardess and her monkey familiar (Mr Flannigan) emerged from the shadows.

“By the sounds of her chanting, the drow priestess is on the verge of re-attuning the Portal Mirror – we have no time to lose”.

They pressed on into the next chamber, now plunged into darkness without Abraham’s light spell. Sapphire sent an Arcane Eye slightly ahead and spotted a great black spider hiding in an alcove, waiting to pounce.

Mulan, despite the lack of light, snuck forward and took a shot – it went wild and the spider pounced. The fangs sank into Mulan and poison gushed into her arm, sending her into spasms [GM: as the poison was “paralysing” rather than lethal, I allowed them to make 3 “death saves” looking for a 20 to snap out of it].

The Monkey and his Mistress blasted the spider with firebolts and in the light of the blasts, Gaston ran forward and hacked it to death.

Mulan pulled herself out of the grip of the poison, but was deathly pale [GM:1 hp].
They lit a torch and moved around the next bend – another small magical turret spat magic missiles. Firebolts (and Gaston who could still not be seen by the magical device due to the amulet of non-detection) smashed the turret.

They killed another giant spider and edged forward. In the final chamber the closing words of the ritual were being spoken. Sapphire ran in (under fire from a third turret) and used her Counterspell to cancel the last round of the ritual. The insane drow priestess stood by the mirror, the silent faces of the orcs on the other side (in the distant citadel of Shar Gazoth) were pressed to the glass, peering through.

It was a vicious fight with Sapphire having to repeatedly cancel the last line of the Ritual with counterspell, the monkey destroying the last turret and Gaston and Mulan constantly attacking the priestess.

She was tough, maddened by the counterspells, she attacked Sapphire with a poisoned scourge, taking her down. She hit Gaston too but somehow he stayed on his feet and hacked the priestess down. Then she stood again screaming “Death Ward – BITCHES!!” as the magic stopped her dying. Then, just before she could complete the spell, she was taken down for good.

It was over. They had stopped the Portal from being re-activated. The Mirror in Shar Gazoth remained locked to the mirror in the city and they could safely lock it back up.
Shaking blood from his eyes, Gaston raised his greataxe and, despite an agonised cry of “No-ooo!” from Mulan and uncomprehending gasps from Sapphire and the monkey, he smashed the mirror into pieces with one mighty blow.

[GM: I gave the player chance to pull his blow when Mulan shouted, but he decided to keep going. The mirror had 10 hp and he rolled maximum 12 with his attack]

All their efforts to re-capture the mirror and make it safe again, were undone in that moment.

Sapphire, the resident expert on the magical mirror told them that it would now take the Orcs of Shar Gazoth about one month to re-attune their Mirror to another one and soon they could be teleporting entire armies through the Portal Mirror. Nowhere in Jade would be safe!

  • * * * *

The party completed the adventure, gaining enough XP to reach 5th Level – the last section had been particularly deadly encounter level. Next they are to be sent on a “suicide” mission to try to penetrate the CITADEL of Shar Gazoth and destroy the Orc’s Portal Mirror before it can be re-focussed. This is like being sent into Mordor, to penetrate Sauron’s inner-sanctum, through armies of Orcs, Skeletons & Zombies all across the land, then into the Citadel, many levels of deeper and deeper danger – Orcs, Ogres, Trolls – all ruled by the undead anti-paladin Lord Stagmork, left hand of the Dark Goddess – Lillith. They have been given armour, horses, a boat to carry them across the great river and a potion of healing each. The hopes of the Kingdom ride with them.

This is an adventure I originally wrote more than 25 years ago! Thanks to Gaston, I get to update it to D&D 5E.

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