Arcanearth

Session 0: Debacle at Scylia
Sailors on the Seas of Fate

AE-session0-PIC-FortScylia_20170930.jpgA diverse group of heroes from across Arcanearth arrive one by one at the island of Scylia, southernmost of the Atlantean island chain in the center of the Earthsea. A small fort and nearby town serve as a trading outpost on this southern fringe of the Amurite empire. All things considered, a fairly unremarkable place. Most are destitute upon reaching Scylia with few prospects and little understanding of the geas or curse that has driven them to this remote location. The cursed rune-heroes wander the town and trading fort for several days. With the exception of Mesmer and Leelo, they fail to encounter one another until a surprise raid by a Lanun fleet on the 3rd day…

Dark roiling clouds fill the normally blue skies over Scylia. With no warning a line of ships appear off the coast, accompanied by towering water spouts and flashes of lightning. Three massive copper-plated warships are surrounded by a cluster of lesser vessels. Black corsairs of the Lanun pirate empire! Lanun Evokers ensconced in armored crows-nests doubtless concealed and sped the approach of their fleet. There have been troubles between the Lanun and Amurites for decades, both empires competing for control of the trade routes across this single vast ocean of Arcanearth, but a raid was not expected so soon. Terrified inhabitants flee toward the trading fort above the town, but too late.

AE-session0-MAP-FortScylia_20170930.jpgThe presence of Saryin Nures, a ‘Speaker of the Tide’ for the Octopus Overlords, is first announced by a green and black banner, then a massive rolling wave of water approaching the shore and growing taller every second. The defenders of Scylia are barely assembled when the unnatural tsunami blots out the horizon. The coastal town is smashed as a tower of water crashes over the shore. The massive wave pounds up and over the low cliff below the fort to batter down the south ramparts. A grotesque tangle of people, animals, carts, merchant stalls and soldiers are left behind as the waters recede. Monstrous water spouts trundle across the shore to roam about the remains of the broken town, blocking all hope of escape. The fort with it’s wealth of trade goods is left comparatively intact. Small boats packed with Lanun raiders begin to beach on the tattered shores well east of the fortress, probably to circle around and approach from the landward side.

Less than a minute later, foul shapes of once-human beings rise from the submerged shoreline to shamble forward over the shattered breakwater. They are accompanied by spitting rain and tattered fog blowing in with the onshore wind. Surviving townsfolk and merchants catching sight of the approaching creatures scream in terror. Some are swept up by the giants of living water as they flee through the gates in panic. Those few defenders still manning the walls begin to break and run. Above the wail of wind and rain can be heard panicked shouts of “Drown, the Drown are here…flee for your lives!” (1)

A squad Amurite Firebows and at least one sorcerer are stranded and unable to flee from a tower now isolated by destroyed connecting walls. Fiery arrows and streaks of flame glimmer through the haze of rain and mist. No less than 3 massive bolts of lightning strike down from the turbulent sky to crown the tower with a nimbus of cracking white fire.

Krag & Lodermulch

PC_Krag_profile_Chris.jpgKrag arrived at Fort Scylia ten days ago with little money and no friends. Fortunately, half-orcs are in high demand as guards and enforcers among the Amurite magocracy. Krag was quickly identified as an exceptional specimen and soon became embroiled in local intrigues of the House of Almeriaq in Scylia. The bemused half-orc was soon scapegoated and subsequently imprisoned in the dungeons beneath the keep. He now sits staring at a tiny man crouched as far away as possible in their shared cell.

PC_Lodermulch_profile_Chuck.jpgLodermulch was nabbed while trying to rob the home of a neighboring sorcerer. Unfortunately his lack of familiarity with magical wards of the sort used by Amurite sorcerers cost him his last penny. It would be no more than simple decency to put that monstrous half-orc in another cell! Though it seems we’re both cursed with the same magical rune.

When water begins to flood the dungeon, both halfling and half-orc spring into action. The half-orc guards out of sight down the hall are arguing loudly about what to do. Lodermulch attempts unsuccessfully to pick the cell lock using only the bent handle from a nearby water bucket. Krag tries to bend the heavy iron bars, but they are beyond his strength. By now the water is up to Lodermulch’s neck.

The halfling notices crumbling bricks in the ceiling. He and Krag are able to pry the rotten masonry apart once the water floats them high enough. Krag shoves the halfling through the gap. Beyond is a chimney flue filled with soot and smoke. Seawater pours down the hole, quickly extinguishing the fires below. Krag and Lodermulch manage to crab-climb up the filthy conduit.

The unlikely duo emerge upon a high parapet to witness the unfolding disaster in the courtyard and town below. Clearly there is no safety within the fort or hope of escape inland. Krag grabs a bronze-bladed halberd lying nearby. Lodermulch finds a sling abandoned by some terrified lad of the fortress guard. They sprint forward through blowing rain to the south end of the keep where they spy an abandoned galley beached on the shingles to the west.

Ulfmar & Keelo

PC_Ulthmar_profile_Chris.jpgUlfmar the dwarf bard has been making a good living at the Green Hag Tavern inside the trading fort walls. The trip hasn’t been too hard on him financially, so he’s managed to hang on to his precious iron battleaxe and other valuables. Also in the Green Hag is the elven druid Keelo, reduced to near-poverty with only a dirty robe and wood staff to his name. He sits distrustfully nursing a mug of small ale. Both have noticed the rune floating above the other’s head, but bide their time.

When the east wall is battered down by the unnatural wave, the tavern is quickly swarmed by terrified patrons, guards, merchants and refugees from town. A wild-eyed and ill-prepared young officer is making an ineffectual attempt to restore order and get people down into the cellar (which is still dry). He’s clearly making things worse. A fearful clamoring is heard over the din and even more panicking refugees squeeze into the tavern, some screaming in terror and bearing ghastly wounds. Ulfmar and Keelo find it impossible to easily exit the tavern at this point.

PC_Keelo_profile_Brian.jpgKeelo jumps up on a nearby table and successfully enspells the officer despite being pulled down by the mob. The charmed lieutenant is lost in the throng. In a burst of fury Ulfmar grabs a bench and batters a path to the doors while singing a sea-chantey at the top of his lungs. Keelo sees his opportunity and falls in behind the bellowing dwarf. At the doors to the trading yard they confront a scene of destruction left in the wake of retreating waters. Even worse, scores of undead thralls from the deep are clambering over the broken masonry and pushing the screaming survivors in this direction.

Mesmer & Leelo

PC_Leelo_portrait_Brian.jpgA few days after arriving in Scylia, the elf rogue Leelo found a kindred spirit in the disgraced wizard Mesmer. Neither acknowledged the glowing blue rune hanging above the other’s head, both thinking they might gain some future advantage by keeping it to themselves. The pair worked out a plan to rob the chambers of the sorcerous Baron Almeriaq of Scylia. After successfully infiltrating the keep, the thieves became trapped in an unused servant’s chamber just down the hall from the Baron’s chambers.

PC_Mesmer-Almeriaq-of-Scylia_profile_Chuck.jpgThree tense hours later the keep shakes to the impact of Speaker Nures’ destructive wave. Mesmer and Leelo observe a troop of elite guards arrive to ransack the Baron’s chamber, departing with a heavy pay-chest and various other articles. Undoubtedly sent to retrieve the choicest items for the Baron! Cursing this misfortune, both race from their hiding place to the open doorway.

Within the dim chamber is a heavy canopy bed, a wardrobe with contents scattered across the floor, open/empty chest and ornate writing desk harboring a maze of compartments, cubbys and drawers. On the wall above the desk hangs a shield and silver sword. Urged forward by the sounds of mayhem outside, both dash for the desk to see if any valuables or magic were overlooked by the guards. Mesmer waits impatiently while Leelo searches for and finds a poison trap in one locked drawer. She disables the trap and picks the lock with ease. The pair jostle one another as they greedily snatch for the items within. Leelo is quick as a serpent and comes away with a lambent green pearl of considerable value and a stoppered bottle of scrimshaw whalebone. Mesmer shoves the elf aside and manages to grab a glass bottle of fuming blue liquid and small purse filled with gold. While Leelo checks for hidden compartments, Mesmer crumples stacks of scrolls and other papers into his jacket. Who knows what bits of magic might be found within the Baron’s correspondence?

Both look up toward the silver sword firmly affixed to the wall above, then at one another. Without hesitation Mesmer clambers up onto the desk. With a sneer of disgust Leelo springs across the room to check the ransacked wardrobe for hidden compartments.

Mesmer stands atop the desk. He fails to notice the brush of leathery wings. Also he’s forgotten to ward himself with mage armor. The gifted wizard exerts his considerable physical strength to snap the gleaming sword from it’s cast-iron mountings. A valuable find indeed! How to keep it from that scheming little elf? Hopefully she’ll be entranced by some worthless bauble in the armoire and we won’t have to dice for it.

A moment later, Leelo is alerted by Mesmer’s strangled cry of terror. A tiny leather-winged demonling has appeared out of thin air…undoubtedly the Baron’s imp familiar. For a few seconds Leelo watches to see how things turn out. In a fantastic feat of desperate dexterity the screaming mage blurts out a spell of shielding and avoids the deadly whip-tailed sting, but his newly-won sword clatters to the floor. Mesmer’s will to survive is most impressive! Such an ally could be useful in the trying times ahead. She makes her decision and dances across the room in a whirl of mithril blades. The chittering little horror is quickly sliced into sizzling segments which soon evaporate in tendrils of stinking black smoke.

Mesmer lies sprawled across the desk in an undignified posture. Falling to the floor, the sweating wizard scrambles on all fours toward the blade. Leelo laughingly snatches it up and dances a jig of triumph across the room. Mesmer bounces to his feet, shouting “Its an odd-numbered item, dice for it you little devil!” Leelo’s face briefly twists into a leer of hate dark enough to eclipse the sun, were it not already masked by the magic of Saryin Nures. The thieves produce their respective dice and make a toss. Leelo’s cube balances on one corner, then inexplicably falls with the ‘6’ facing up. Leelo squeals in delight and repeats her victory dance around the room, “Mine all mine, silly wizard! hahahaha!”

Terrified servants flee from their path as the pair race through the keep and out into the ground floor feast hall. Mesmer lacks any weapons. He spies a pair of black obsidian mauls mounted above the double doors opening to the trading yard and pauses briefly to climb a table and wrest one of the barbaric implements from it’s mountings. Mesmer and Leelo step out of the hall into the stormy half-light of the courtyard. A half-dressed guard is being rended limb-from-limb by a hideous green and yellow-scaled zombie out of submarine nightmare. Dozens more perform similar grisly work all about the courtyard, slowing pushing the panic-stricken survivors toward the north gate. Those who flee out the gates are quickly sucked up by towering spouts of living water roaming the grounds around the castle and the shattered town below.

At this fateful moment the six sigil-cursed heroes spy one another. They are easily identified by the brightly glowing blue runes hovering overhead, apparently visible only to others similarly afflicted by the curse. Krag waves his arms from atop the keep’s south parapet and points his halberd west. Ulfmar and Keelo run to meet up with the tall ebon-haired noble and slight green-eyed elf who just stepped from the castle keep into the courtyard, smashing and dismembering a few Drown (1) along the way. The long-lost siblings Leelo and Keelo recognize one another, but there is no time for celebration as the four heroes fight their way toward the remains of the western wall.

Lodermulch slings accurate stones from the parapet above, smashing the putrid brains out of two icthyoid zombies blocking the path of those below. Krag tosses a discarded spear from the walls and pins one fishy monster to the flagstones where it spins in circles. Leelo lops legs, heads and arms from the clumsy Drown like an elf-powered fruit ninja. Seeing no Drown in the vicinity of the abandoned galley, all six clamber over the rubbled wall and race down the beach.

After successfully launching the ship into a stormy bay, a mysterious offshore squall blows up out of nowhere and drives the galley far out to sea. Lanun ships are nowhere to be seen through the swirling mist and rain. Night settles. The next day dawns clear and bright with clouds scudding across the horizon. The single mast is broken and only three oars remain aboard…not enough to scull effectively. Five days of food and fresh water are found in the hold, along with weapons, tools and supplies. (2)


(1) The Drown: humans, elves, humanoids and others transformed into undead thralls of the Overlords through secret rituals. The victims assume icthyoid characteristics including greenish-yellow scaly skin, protuberant eyes with nictitating membranes, webbed hands and feed. They can tread water as well as they can walk, or plod along the submarine surfaces of lakes, slow flowing rivers and shallow coastal waters. Otherwise they resemble zombies.

(2) 4 shields, 1 great-shield (+3AC, 20lbs), 8 spears, 2 military forks (reach/1d6/5lb), 2 knives, a short bow + 17 arrows, a short sword, 2 helmets and 3 shirts of heavy mail, a few tools and supplies: saw, 3 hammers, auger, nails, 100’ of rope, 3 square yards of sailcloth, jar of oil, jar of shellac.

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Session 1: Nininsnal

Spring of 389 AR (Age of Rebirth) AE-session1-PIC-Nininsnal_20180107.jpg

The rune-cursed refugees from Fort Scylia are lost amid the vast Earthsea where the small coastal galley was never meant to venture. By the second day the mast and sail is repaired, but no one is skilled at sailing or navigation. One the fifth day a storm blows up, capsizing the vessel which fortunately continues to float. The foundering ship is soon blown up on the rocks of an unknown shore, a narrow strip of white sand beach backed by dense jungle. In the distance a watchtower rises from the jungle along the coast.

After salvaging gear and equipment scattered along the shore, the adventurers head north toward the watchtower, passing a few small fishing villages carved out of the jungle. From the inhabitants Leelo and Mesmer learn that the settlement to the north is Nininsnal, a frontier city on the southern fringe of the Sheaim empire. Lodermulch trades a few bronze spears for local salted-fish, bread and fresh water. Three coastal cogs are anchored offshore. Ulfmar identifies Calabim, Illian and Svartalfar flags.

Guards atop the watchtower stare down in wonder at the approaching gaggle of ship-wreck survivors. There is no toll at this gate. Nothing lies south of the city except a few fishing villages and the vast jungle wilderness. This is Nininsnal, population ~4000, originally a far-flung colony established by monks from the Elohim Empire 45 years ago. In the year 368 the colony was conquered by the Sheaim after a short war with the Elohim, but retains some aspects of Elohim culture such as language, architecture and religion. It is truly a rough and tumble frontier town with all types of visitors from far lands coming to seek their fortune in the ivory or fishing trade and other more adventurous enterprises. Even stranger creatures are known to frequent the muddy streets, shadowy alleys, shabby inns and ale-houses, including devil-spawn, cambions, githyanki and in the last few years, fiendish visitors from the newly-established infernal empire far to the east.

Nininsnal hosts many establishments catering to hunters, adventurers and prospectors exploring the jungles to east and south. The sigil-heroes sell or trade much of the salvaged equipment and weapons in exchange for new gear, food and lodging. Steel weapons and armor are rare and expensive, most often made from strangely-lustrous iron imported from Infernal lands. Keelo uses a detect magic spell to determine that the green pearl and contents of the two bottles are magical. Tasting proves the potions to be healing and heroism respectively. Leelo notices the pearl is now dull, more like a typical if unusually-pigmented pearl, where it was positively glowing during the escape from Scylia. The antique silver sword is mundane, though still quite valuable. Leelo mentions she might be open to a trade with Mesmer, but the wizard bides his time.

A day of wandering around Nininsnal provides more details about the situation. This frontier city is far from the Sheaim administrative capitol in Galveholm, where the Grand Arch-Mage Tebryn Arbandi rules with a mostly-even hand, interspersed with bouts of terror when Os-Gabella goes on a binge. Slavery is a pillar of the Sheaim economy. Most live in miserable conditions, though skilled gnomes captured during the brushfire-war with the Luchuirp often gain privileged positions as high-caste engineers, tinkers and mechanics. But they are still slaves. The empire is represented only by a governing Marquess and garrison of archers, slaves and animated skeleton warriors shepherded by necromancers and lesser acolytes of the Veil. The Marquess and her retainers mostly keep to the fortified compound at the center of town. She seldom interferes in local affairs other than taxes and major projects. At present these include a nearly-completed log palisade enclosing the town and the beginnings of a breakwater and jetty to protect a future harbor.

Tensions between the local population and the Sheaim Marquess are high since the Ashen Veil is unpopular here. Krag discovers that a majority of the citizens still practice worship of The Order as preached by the original Elohim monks decades ago. Nantosuelta, the Goddess of Faith and War, is still popular. There are no major temples to any of the gods or religions, only small shrines and private worship.

Finch

PC_Finch_portrait_Alex.jpgThe Warlock Finch arrived ten days prior disguised as a Sheaim merchant prince from the far north, with attendant carriage, driver and footman retained to look the part (at 10 silvers per day). The factitious merchant is covertly approached on the fifth day by the agent of an unspecified ‘local merchant lord’ looking to sell a special item, a magical fruit said to be capable of bringing the dead back to life. The asking price is a staggering 10,000 gold! A fully crewed sailing ship could be had for such a fantastic sum. The agent, known only as ‘Todos’, dodges questions about the source of the fruits, but Finch manages to extract the following:

  1. Four different fruits are received yearly from a confidential source, each in a different season and with a different power (spring=life;summer=healing;fall=sleep;winter=death)
  2. Todos purchases the fruits from a bandit captain operating along the roads between Nininsnal and Kuldevind to the north.
  3. Todos is nervous and in a hurry to unload his mysterious merchandise…he’s picked a settlement on the ass-end of nowhere, far from the established centers of trade where sums like 10,000 gold are bandied about like so much pocket change.

A few days after Finch meets with ‘Todos’, he discovers a group of adventurers sojourning at a dockside inn of poor quality, the Drunken Mermaid:

  • A warrior from northeastern Sheaim: Talgen Hucrele.
  • A young wizard, the sister of Talgen: Sharwyn Hucrele.
  • A knight, likely an itinerant Bannor paladin, who arrived with Finch aboard the Tar Velas out of Cahir Abbey 10 days ago: Sir Pelor of Braford (very likely a pseudonym).
  • A silent half-elf ranger from the northern marches of Elohim: Karakas (likely a pseudonym, a place or a family name).

This group is planning to head north up the ‘Low Road’ toward Kuldevind to investigate reports of bandits, goblins, and a huge sinkhole that recently opened to reveal a buried ruin. The low road is no longer maintained or patrolled since completion of the better-engineered ‘High Road’ several years ago. Finch attempts to insinuate himself into the group, thinking to tag along and see if he can locate the bandit chief and source of Todos’ magical fruit. Finch fails to truly gain their confidence, or perhaps they don’t want to split treasure five ways. In any case, the group departs silently in the dead of night, leaving Finch twiddling his thumbs at the Drunken Mermaid.

Todos and Yandroon

On the third day of their sojourn at Nininsnal, the six original rune-heroes spot Finch getting out of his carriage along the main street in front of an expensive private wine-shop: a striking young man with piercing eyes of electric blue, dressed in the rich purple and gold costume of a Sheaim merchant-prince. A glowing blue run hovers above his head. Finch is about to meet with ‘Todos’ for a second and probably final time if he can’t produce a wagon-load of gold. Finch and the rune-heroes stare transfixed at one another across the main street. The Warlock thinks fast and uses the gift of his unnameable mentor to message Leelo, “Quickly, into this wine-shop as my guests”. Thinking to gain advantage from these newcomers, Finch relays the essential situation to Leelo, who whispers it to her companions.

Four brawny guards, two men and two half-orcs, wearing expensive iron chainmail with bronze axes and short swords are sitting in the antechamber to the shop, obviously retained by Todos. The guards were not present at their first meeting. The main party takes seats in the posh common room of the private wine-bar while Finch proceeds into an adjacent private room where he finds Todos already waiting. Leelo and Ulfmar can see the pair through a window between the rooms, though only Ulfmar is close enough to catch the gist of their conversation.

During their conversation, Todos commits a few blunders that reveal he is not an agent, but likely the principle in this matter. He’s in more of a hurry than ever. ‘Todos’ admits to selling three of the magical fruits since the summer of 388, all obtained from the Bandit Chief Sizymondo ‘the Great’. He’s been unsuccessful at learning Sizymondo’s source thus far. Finch is not able to divine who Todos in turn sells the fruits to (at a huge margin). With a flourish the false merchant prince presents a forged promissory note against a major bank from the far northeast of the Sheaim empire. To distract Todos from inspecting the note too closely, Ulfmar begins belting out a sea shanty from the common room. In annoyance, Todos quickly accepts Finch’s forgery. The two men agree to meet and finalize their transaction at the guild-hall in the keep of the Marquess eight days hence, allowing time for the note to be validated.

Later Finch asks around town about Todos. He soon determines that Todos fits the description of the notable merchant lord Yandroon Kuldevind (of the same name as the city to the northeast) who has been frequenting Nininsnal of late. Why would such a wealthy and connected merchant lord be slumming it in a frontier city where he is most unlikely to find a buyer for such fantastic magic?

Back in the common room Leelo notices a small inconspicuous man in a gray cloak utilizing subtle signs to warn other rogues in the wine-shop that he is a high ranking member of the local assassins guild, the ‘Black Stars’. An undisclosed number of additional operatives are in the area. Leelo later acquaints herself with ‘Draven’ and learns something of the guild, currently a small operation with no fixed premises, mostly engaged in protection and espionage for both Sheaim and foreign merchants. From one of Draven’s operatives Lodermulch discovers contacts in the local thieves guild where he might be able to replace thieves tools lost in Scylia. However, money to pay for such luxuries is a problem at this point.

Leelo and Lodermulch shadow Yandroon to the somewhat-comfortable inn Finch knows him to frequent. After Yandroon retires to the second floor, Leelo scales the alley-side wall. She falls and sprains an ankle, but Krag is there to heal her. A night-watch consisting of 20 armored skeletons and six living guardsmen troops past, but they fail to notice Krag and Leelo. On the second try she reaches the open window of an empty chamber being aired out. The elf picks the reverse lock on the interior door. Finch uses his telepathic speech to communicate the coming and going of customers and servants. Leelo is unable to locate the correct chamber until Lodermulch discovers the name ‘Todos’ scrawled next to a number in the innkeeper’s key drawer. Finch relays this information and Leelo is soon inside Yandroon’s chamber. The merchant-lord is not present. In fact the chamber is entirely unused. The heavy window shutter is wide open to the city street below. The only evidence of occupancy is crumpled paper in a somewhat-soiled chamber pot.

The papers record various accounts and personal notes from which Leelo confirm Yandroon’s identity and his reason for coming to this far settlement. It appears Yandroon has grown fearful regarding the purchaser of the first three fruits, who he has come to suspect is “the Queen of Storms.” Finch is able to recall that this is a common sobriquet for the immortal Queen Os-Gabella, arch-terror of the Sheaim Empire and many another. This goes far in explaining Yandroon’s festering fear and extravagant precautions. When one sups with the devil…

The seven rune-heroes spend a sleepless night at the inn. Mesmer conducts a ritual to summon his familiar, something he hasn’t bothered with until now. The crow sits outside the open window of Yandroon’s chamber all night, but the merchant never returns by means mundane or magical. Nor does he appear in Nininsnal over the following days. Either he’s away personally validating Mesmer’s note (which of course will be revealed as a forgery well before any meeting at the Marquess’ keep), or has truly flown the coop.

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Session 2: Ambush on The Low Road

AE-session2-PIC-KeepoftheShadowlords_20180120.jpgThe rune-cursed heroes go their separate ways for a few days. Each has business to attend to and contacts to exploit. Additionally, none want to be seen together given the forged promissory note and expected reappearance of Yandroon.

Mesmer

Mesmer embarks on a voyage to the Isle of Shadows and city of Dremmenstad forty leagues to the north. There he becomes an associate member of the Shadowlords, a mage guild specializing in illusion and necromancy. They are responsible for guarding the nearby node of shadow mana. The guild has access to both shadow and death mana. Like all major guilds of mages in Sheaim, the Shadowlords are a branch of the ‘Scions of Arbandi’ in Galveholm and pledge fealty to the great Arch-Mage and Emperor.

Food, common lodging and secure locker are available to associate members free of charge. Full membership gives access to private chambers, library, alchemy laboratory and once attaining a high rank, the coveted shadow mana and death mana energies. The yearly dues amount to 100 gold pieces per level.

Dremmenstad itself is small and the population largely devoted to providing services to the Shadowlords and the necromantic academics who teach at the nearby Tower of Necromancy. Sheaim necromancers who attend a term or two at the Tower come away with knowledge and power over the dark arts unknown anywhere else on arcanearth, as well as direct access to the death mana produced therein. A keep and tower is built over the nearby shadow-mana node located 20 miles to the southwest, guarded by wizards and sorcerers of the Shadowlords. A small order of shadow monks, the Darkwardens, protect the guild, shadow-mana node and the Tower of Necromancy in Dremmenstad.

At the grim tower of the Shadowlords, Mesmer commits himself to a study of illusion and shadow-magic. Mesmer trades the magic potion stolen from his father’s chambers for an additional spell. After learning all he can, Mesmer takes ship back to Nininsnal. He arrives rich in spells but poor in gold.

Leelo

Leelo solidifies her knowledge of the local assassins guild (the Dark Stars) and thieves guild. Both are informal associations with no permanent headquarters that anyone is aware of. The high-ranking assassin ‘Draven’ teaches Leelo how to make the most of her fantastic natural dexterity and speed, at no charge. Who knows what rank Draven really holds among the criminal underworld of Nininsnal? Perhaps he sees in Leelo a potential new recruit for his dark enterprises.

The stealthy elf also looks for traces of Todos/Yandroon but comes up short. Leelo and Finch’s paths cross on a few occasions. Both attempt to track agents recently arrived at Nininsnal looking for Finch’s former ‘merchant prince’ pseudonym.

PC_Mavrey1_profile_Harrison.jpgWhile lurking the streets and docks of the city, Leelo spots a thinly-disguised half-demon mercenary with the familiar blue rune above her head. With help from Finch’s otherworldly voice the vagrant hero is made aware of her unique curse and new companions. Mavriy is a demonling of few words and admits to no particular origin. Various signs give away the dour warrior as either a paladin, eidolon, or forsworn sister of exceptional potential. Since the rune-heroes are in dire need of a fighter, no one questions her background too closely. Best of all, she brings her own equipment: iron-studded armor and a fantastic steel pole-scythe. Not a small consideration for this cash-strapped group.

Finch

Finch quickly ditches the carriage and servants. He adopts the disguise of a simple tradesman. The warlock attempts to discover more information about the whereabouts and identities of Yandroon, but is unable to determine anything significant. A trip to Kuldevind 200 miles to the north will probably be necessary to learn anything new. He does however determine that agents of an unknown power are actively searching for his recently discarded identity. Thus far neither he nor Leelo are able to determine who these agents work for. The three identified so far are disguised as a dancer, dockworker and merchant.

Ulthmar & Lodermulch

Both ply their respective trades in an attempt to ease the relentless drain on the rune-cursed bankroll. Ulthmar recites poetry and sings songs of distant lands along the dockside taverns. He even makes it into a few low-class inns and taverns in the town proper, but fails to make much coin.

Lodermulch entreats the local criminal syndicate and is able to engage in some low-risk thievery, mostly pick-pocketing and shoplifting, and has somewhat more success than Ulthmar.

Keelo

Keelo uses his knowledge of field and stream to rough it among the farms, fishing villages and hunting camps outside the city. Also, he is penniless. Thanks to survival skills and locals appreciative of his talents, Keelo avoids disease and similar unpleasantness. In the nearby jungle Keelo identifies and harvests materials to concoct a single dose of general purpose anti-venom.

Krag

Krag remains in residence at the ‘Succubus & Incubus’ inn on the chance Todos/Yandroon returns. The scarred war cleric ranges the city looking for other followers of Xrarog. He finds that his lord is referred to as Aeron here, one of the 21 ‘Angels of Creation’ who defied the unjust decree of the One and rose to greatness during the Age of Dragons. Unfortunately, worship of the feeble god Junil and cowardly goddess Nantosuelta is common in Nininsnal.

Ambush on The Low Road

Five days later the rune-heroes regroup and set out for the Low Road to explore rumors of bandits (possibly Syzimondo?), goblin raiders, and a huge sinkhole recently opened to reveal long-buried ruins. After crossing the Black River ferry, they head north where a signpost points out roads in three directions: High Road (to Kuldevind), Low Road ( to Kuldevind ), and East Road (to Fort Velkyr). The Low Road is rough going. In places the flagstones are completely washed out. The jungle is quickly reclaiming the works of man. The hooting and ululating calls of mandrills and even stranger beasts echo through the jungle pressing on either side of the narrow path. No slave-crews or patrols are encountered during the three day trek.

AE-session2-situation_20180114.jpgLate afternoon of the third day, the party scouts Leelo and Lodermulch spot rustling among the dense undergrowth. Lodermulch, Krag and Keelo quickly take cover around a large boulder near the trail. A half-dozen shrieking goblins driven forward by two armored hobgoblins storm out of the jungle from the north. Arrows shot from the south whistle past Mesmer. A black bolt of necromantic energy aimed at Mesmer blasts a nearby tree, reducing it to smoking black goo.

Mavriy quickly proves her worth by drawing first blood. The grim half-demon casts a bronze spear six paces through the chest of one onrushing goblin, dropping it instantly. Krag directs a bolt of divine energy toward a hobgoblin but instead splinters a tree. A goblin leaps at Finch in an attempt to pin him to the ground, but succeeds only in grabbing one leg. The goblin suddenly gibbers in terror and staggers back toward the jungle. The wretched little humanoid pulps its head against a rock in an attempt to silence the terrible whispers.

These humanoids are well armed and armored. In an ominous turn of events they attempt to trip, disarm, grapple and subdue their victims, rather than kill them outright. Mavriy wages a terrible struggle against two opponents. The hobgoblin is a seasoned and clever warrior. Soon Mavriy is both disarmed and knocked down. The hobgoblin turns to finish Finch, who is still standing. A grinning goblin prepares to gut his downed victim, but in a desperate move Mavriy twists around and plunges her bronze dagger into it’s throat.

Finch attempts to draw his daggers but accidentally cuts through his belt, dropping his scabbards and pants down around his ankles. Luckily for Finch, cameras are not yet invented. Unfortunately the hobgoblin doesn’t die laughing and raises a bronze morningstar to finish the stumbling warlock. Mavriy intervenes just in time, swinging her recovered pole-scythe to send the hobgoblin’s head flying from its body. A goblin sees his chance and stabs Mavriy through the back. As Mavriy collapses, Finch kills the goblin with his recovered obsidian dagger.

Meanwhile, Mesmer and Lodermulch have identified the goblin shaman and several goblin archers down a side trail. As Mesmer prepares to blast them with magic, four thorn-covered plants animate and shamble forward. Keelo notes that they resemble awakened plants such as he has seen in the woods of his homeland years ago. They are obviously inhabited by evil spirits or the will of an evil shaman, having taken on vaguely man-like characteristics including a misshapen face, twisted legs and clawlike arms. Two succeed in pulling down Mesmer. The other pair attempt to pin Lodermulch and Ulthmar against the boulder. Ulthmar quickly shatters one with his iron battleaxe. Lodermulch is dragged down by the second. Ulthmar sees Mavriy fall and instantly shouts a word of healing. Leelo watches from up the road to observe how her compatriots handle the situation. She shoots a goblin in the back with a well-aimed arrow, then runs south through the jungle.

A roaring, cursing Krag is pulled down by two goblins. A leering hobgoblin shouts in triumph as it slams a morningstar down upon the half-orc’s helmet. Krag slumps to the ground with blood streaming down his face. Keelo scrambles atop the boulder while Lodermulch wrestles with the monstrous twig blight. Another necromantic bolt streaks from the jungle, narrowly missing Keelo to paint the boulder with eerie black phosphorescence. Keelo reaches down and heals Krag with magic. Krag breaks the legs of the hobgoblin standing over him, then staggers unsteadily back up the road toward Mavriy and Finch.

AE-session2-aftermath_20180114.jpgMesmer briefly escapes the grasping twig-blight and uses magical fire to turn one into a blazing torch. The second pulls him down again, but he succeeds in waving an arm to the south. Leelo runs past, toward the spot indicted by Mesmer, but the shaman and archers appear to have already fled the scene of battle. Leelo sprints back and slices open the back of the second-to-last goblin. She races fleet-footed across the road and into the jungle after the last goblin. Unfortunately the nimble little humanoid gives Leelo the slip after a short chase. No one will be taken alive this day.

Mavriy and Krag suffered near-mortal wounds. Both will require a few days of rest. Fortunately both were healed instantly so their recovery should be faster than normal. Leelo and Keelo search the area abandoned by the goblin shaman and discover a clear goblin-trail leading south.

Why did the goblins court disaster by attempting to capture their enemies? How did the shaman know the party was coming? Had the ambush not been spotted in time, the goblins might well have been successful and the rune-heroes dragged away to an unknown fate.


Loot

  1. 2x medium-sized suits of bronze-studded leather armor (22gp/16lbs)
  2. 2x shields (10gp/6lbs)
  3. 6x buckers (small shields: AC+1/light/3gp/2lbs)
  4. 6x small-sized leather armor (1gp/5lbs)
  5. 6x bronze short swords (5gp/2.5lbs)
  6. 2x bronze spears (5sp/4lbs)
  7. 2x bronze morning stars (7gp/6lbs)
  8. 2x bronze daggers (1gp/1.25lbs)
  9. 34 coppers
  10. 19 silvers
  11. 5 gold
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Session 3: The Sinkhole

Jungle Survival

AE-session3-Jungle_20180127.jpgBloody and beaten but victorious, the rune-heroes quickly strip the goblinoid corpses of arms, armor and a few paltry coins. They carry no provisions. Perhaps they came from close by? Mavriy and Krag are too weak to carry anything but their own equipment. Those without serious injuries shoulder the heavy burden. These penniless adventurers are determined to squeeze every coin out of their victory. At least they aren’t yet reduced to eating goblin flesh. The party trudges north up the Low Road for several hours before finding a decent campsite off the trail.

A few hours after midnight the next morning Leelo and Ulfmar are alerted by the arrival of a large troop of silent blue-faced monkeys. The fanged monkeys edge closer and closer, surrounding the camp from the ground and in the tree canopy. Keelo attempts to lure them away with food, but this only incites their lust. The horde of monkeys begin to rummage through the party’s store of rations. Keelo successfully charms one, but doesn’t identify the troop leader and ends up with a low-ranked female monkey companion. At this point the monkeys are shrieking and jumping about. One by one they begin to carry away all the rations. Keelo shouts for everyone to clear the area. A thunderous blast shakes the jungle. Monkeys fly through the trees along with most of the equipment and remaining rations. The few surviving monkeys (Keelo’s new friend is not among them) flee screaming. For thirty seconds the jungle is silent. Everyone hurriedly recovers the scattered gear, along with as many dead mandrills as they can carry, and staggers off through the pitch-black jungle. A cacophony of approaching beasts sounds from all around.

Four hours later the exhausted adventurers reach a high flat stone below an opening in the canopy. The next day is spent resting and recuperating. Keelo and Lodermulch clean and cook the monkeys, not nearly making up for the lost rations. Unfortunately the delicious smells attract a pair of humongous constrictor snakes that attempt to drop down on the sleeping forms of Mavriy and Krag. Mesmer and Finch spot them in time. Finch kills one with whispers of death. Lodermulch and Mesmer cripple the second. Mavriy staggers upright to finish the constrictor with her spear. The rest of the day is spent skinning 15 foot long snakes and cooking the plentiful meat.

That night a dozen jungle jackals are attracted by the smells. They ring the camp with a cordon of red-gleaming eyes. The yelping beasts are held at bay until morning with fire and torches. The rune-cursed beat a hasty retreat back to the Low Road as the jackals gorge on snake and monkey carcasses left too close to the campsite. The jungle off the road is proving to be an alien and deadly realm, even for a druid such as Keelo.

Five days later the filth-encrusted group straggles out of the jungle where the Low Road meets up with the newer High Road. A few miles further provides a vista of farmland to the north, fens to the east, and the beginnings of a river to the northeast. Simple accommodations are found at the first hamlet. A merchant caravan is about to depart for the high road. This gives the group an opportunity to unload all their heavy loot at a decent price. The resulting coins are split up. A decent profit remains after purchasing fresh rations. By morning Mavriy and Krag are back in fighting shape.

The party weighs whether to proceed north three more days to the city of Kuldevind, or head back into the jungle in search of the rumored sinkhole and exposed ruins. Luckily the caravan is heading back south along the High Road to Nininsnal. Even better, a Sheaim patrol arrives and will accompany the caravan south. The troop now consists of four ox-drawn carts, two elephants, 16 merchants and their guards, 20 armored skeletons and 6 mounted warriors (a few are likely priests of the veil or lesser necromancers). The party decides to take advantage of this and adds their strength to the caravan. The caravan is slow but makes good time along the wide and well-engineered High Road: approximately 20 miles per day. On the morning of the fourth day the rune-cursed bid farewell to the caravan and head off into the jungle in a direction that must surely intercept the nearby Low Road. Three hours later they find the pitted trail without incident, and only a few miles from the goblin ambush.

The Sinkhole

AE-session3-singhole_20180127.jpgApproaching cautiously, the scouts Leelo and Lodermulch find all the corpses are gone. Scavenged or removed, they can’t say. The old goblin trail leading southeast quickly wanes and finally trickles away into numerous random traces. The goblins have taken care that no one is able to track them straight to their lair. Soon afterward a pair of small lizard-like humanoids is sighted quietly observing the party from the nearby jungle. No one has ever seen humanoids of this type. They disappear almost instantly. Keelo, Leelo and Lodermulch are unable to find their trail.

Ahead lies a wide clearing in the jungle. The explorers peer down into a huge sinkhole over 100’ across. Far below huge tree trunks lie in a tumbled heap like so many sticks. A stream of water trickles among the huge trunks. A rope tied to a nearby tree drops 20’ down to the top of an exposed masonry wall on the near side of the sinkhole. The rope is still new and of a kind manufactured in Nininsnal. One by one the party climbs down and reaches the base of the wall by means of ancient switchback steps. At the bottom is a tumbled courtyard of shaped stones and masonry in all shapes and sizes. A high wall and rounded half-tower, one side of some large citadel, has been exposed by floodwaters and the collapse of the nearby subterranean stream. A huge stone double-door is visible at the base of the tower. Any goblin or human tracks have been washed away by rain and floodwaters

AE-session3-Jungleruin_20180127.jpgThe party manages to shove open the heavy stone portal which is secured only by a drift of water-borne silt. Beyond is the ruined interior of a tower containing three fairly fresh and looted goblin corpses. One is pinned to the wall with a spear. Finch detaches the crucified goblin to reveal crudely and recently-chiseled characters in ancient Patrian spelling out the word “Ashardolon”. In a stroke of luck, Ulfmar is able to recall that Ashardolon is an ancient dragon-god worshiped by semi-secret dragon cults popular in the middle period of the Age of Magic (perhaps 800-1000 years ago).

Over the course of the morning the party discovers various passages and chambers still intact and accessible. A more-or-less friendly tribe of small scaly humanoids, like lizardfolk but smaller and red-orange in coloration, struggles with a band of goblins for control of the ruins. They call themselves ‘kobolds’ in their own strange language, but also speak a goblinized dialect of the common trade-tongue. The kobolds are not at all surprised or hostile. The shaman ‘Yusdrayl’, a highly intelligent winged kobold wearing a loose gown of white linen, led her tribe here from jungles far south of known civilization. It seems she received a vision of an ancient warrior or king in archaic bronze dragon-sculpted armor. The vision bade Yusdrayl lead her tribe here to serve the priests of Ashardolon, and would not abate until she followed the ghostly warrior. She has not seen the vision again since arriving at the sinkhole. Mavriy carefully questions Yusdrayl to discover that the being in the vision was indistinct, with only a black smear and points of white light for a face, but the dragon-armor was bright and clear.

Even stranger, if that were possible, the ‘kobolds’ subdued and captured a black dragon wyrmling, now sadly escaped and departed during a recent goblin raid (the kobolds named it ‘Calcryx’). Dragons are rare and legendary creatures, but black dragons are not unknown in the wild jungles, swamps and mountains of south Sheaim lands. Yusdrayl seems sure the goblins have the dragon in their control. Calcryx is new to the world and still unable to speak or reason. The pathetic ex-dragon-keeper named Meepo is available to lead the rune-warriors to the goblin’s part of the ruins. Yusdrayl is desperate to get this dragon back for some reason, even though it’s eaten at least six of her tribe. She offers a rich prize to the party should they return the dragon. Part of the prize is a large dragon-headed metal key. According to Yusdrayl this key gives access to crypts or treasure-vaults in another part of the ruins (which Yusdrayl notes on the party’s map). She is willing to sell the key outright for 50 gold. After a lengthy debate, the party finally declines to buy. They’ll take their chances recovering the dragon.

AE-session3-hallway_20180127.jpgIt seems that the party of adventurers Finch met at the Drunken Mermaid in Nininsnal passed this way several weeks ago, prior to the kobold’s loss of Calcryx. Yusdrayl offered a reward if the newcomers could wipe out the goblins, consisting of the aforementioned key and other treasures her people liberated from their part of the ruins in recent months. She never heard back from them and assumes they met their end or escaped the ruins by some other means.

Meepo leads the party through a barricaded door and series of passages ending in a long hall with a dry stone fountain and carved stone door at the near end. Goblins have not come this way in a week or more judging by the tracks. The explorers manage to activate ancient magic still latent in the dry dragon-sculpted fountain. Mesmer retrieves a pint of sparking, smoking red liquid that briefly issues from the dragon’s stone mouth when a carved command-word is spoken. The heavy stone door carved with skeletal dragons is a tougher nut to crack. Patrian characters spell out “Rebuke the dead, open the way” upon the door, which is icy cold to the touch, as is the very air within 5’. Finch rashly pushes on the door. A scything blade loops out from above. Fortunately it only nicks his cheek as he jerks away in alarm. He uses a bronze goblin sword to jam the narrow slot in the ceiling. Krag correctly guesses that an attempt to turn or control undead is required to open the obviously-magical door, but as yet he lacks the gift from Xrarog necessary to perform such a feat. Krag falls to his knees and beseeches Xrarog to recognize him as worthy.

Meanwhile, Leelo explores the hall farther north, where a trio of doors are propped open along either side. The air carries a taint of corruption. Just as the elf thinks better of proceeding alone any further, a crescendo of squeals and squeaks echo along the narrow hall…

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Session 4: The Hobgoblin Chieftain

AE-session4-Xrarog-aka-Aeron-god-of-war_20180129.jpgMonster rats bolt from open doorways to leap at Leelo, who receives many nasty bites before she can get away. Leelo swings wildly then drops back as Keelo takes her place and casts a wave of thunder, blasting the huge rats back up the passage and killing several. Keelo is in turn bitten several times.

Meanwhile Krag is lost in supplication and unaware of the chaos around him. A vision appears before him: a dark angel with mighty pinions, tusks and blood-red eyes. The being drives a huge black greatsword through Krag’s chest. The half-orc war-priest screams with ecstasy as a rush of new power flows through him. Ignoring the shouts and thunder of nearby combat, Krag again presents his (un)holy symbol to the cold stone portal. The massive slab swings out into a frigid space lit by a tiny flickering candle atop a solid onyx altar. A crystal flask and small crystal object flank the candle. Five stone sarcophagi carved with images of tall nobles in archaic robes and armor line the walls to left and right.

Mesmer, Finch and Ulfmar shoulder the exultant Krag out of the way and peer into the room. Mesmer is the first to be overcome by greed. He rushes into the room to grab the ever-burning candle and small crystal object, which turns out to be a tiny whistle, then sprints back out. Finch passes Mesmer on his way in and grabs the crystal flask. The sarcophagi grind open. Animated skeletons in rotting robes with greened bronze short swords step forth as Finch dashes out with eyes bulging in terror.

Krag finally returns to reality. He steps forward to pacify the skeletons with newfound authority. They begin to ignore the interlopers and shamble around aimlessly. Ulfmar strides forward, thinking his companions will follow to help strike down the skeletons all at once. The dwarf attempts to climb up onto the black altar to get a height advantage on the skeletons, but trips and falls flat on his back. His friends are nowhere insight, and the stone door is swinging closed! Krag puts his burly shoulder to the stone and exerts all his strength, holding it open just long enough for Ulfmar to scramble through. The portal slams shut with a resounding boom of stone on stone. Krag never thought he’d be saving the life of a dwarf, but these are strange times.

Mavriy casts a spear up the hallway, misses her target and slices open Keelo’s thigh. It’s going to be a long day for Keelo. Together they finish off the last giant rats. Krag seals up Keelo’s leg wound and heals Leelo’s bites. Hopefully there is no disease.

In the small trash-filled cells the party finds a few handfuls of scattered coins. Beyond the cells is a large room with another dry fountain and diving dragon sculpture. Ulfmar tries to determine the origin of the stone work but can only tell it must be ‘really old’. Two trapdoors are spiked open at the entrance and before a closed door on the left. The pits are empty. Clearly someone came this way in recent weeks.

A foul reek of corruption emanates from the door. The party dispatches more giant rats in the filth-encrusted chamber beyond, which is also a dead end. Keelo manages to befriend a bloated, diseased ‘mother-rat’ that is bigger than Lodermulch. Among the rotting carcasses and garbage is a bloated rat-chewed body with much equipment still intact. Finch identifies the dead half-elf as ‘Karakas’, the Elohim ranger from the Drunken Mermaid tavern in Nininsnal. Several hundred coins are retrieved from the refuse. What became of ‘Sir Pelor’ and the Hucrele siblings?

Mesmer finds Patrian characters for ‘Let there by death’ inside the fountain and hightails it out of the area. He whispers the phrase to Leelo, who climbs atop the fountain and inspects the stone dragon mouth but finds nothing…no traces of dried liquid or any mechanism similar to the other dragon sculpture. The avaricious elf unwisely speaks the command phrase, thinking to get first dibs on a magic potion from the dragon’s mouth. A metallic clang is followed by a long hiss. Everyone in the room is slightly poisoned, except for Mesmer and Loder who stayed well away. Fortunately the death-gas has become weak with the passing of centuries.

The party blocks the doors to the original entry room and takes a short rest. A few hours later Finch and Lodermulch lead the way. Finch discovers a door trapped to ring a bell when opened. Loder disarms the trap and appropriates the bell, packing it with cloth to make sure it doesn’t ring at an inopportune moment. Beyond is a dim hall filled with bronze caltrops. The red gleam of coals from a charcoal fire illuminate the space.

Finch spots a couple of goblin archers lounging on the other side of a crude masonry wall obviously built by the goblins. The warlock quietly whispers a charm spell and uses his awakened mind to command the nearest goblin over to the door. The second goblin makes an annoyed sound and finally shouts at his oddly behaving friend, then disappears around a corner. Finch hurriedly interrogates the goblin. It seems the ‘Durbuluk’ tribe has been taken over by a hobgoblin chief named ‘Durnn’ and a handful of his cronies. Durnn is getting paid by some weird human that lives in caves below ‘goblin-town’. The interview is cut short when four goblin archers appear at the low wall and kill their charmed comrade with a volley of black arrows, then quickly retreat back out of sight. Mesmer sends his crow-familiar hopping ahead and finds the guard-post is abandoned. With the rest of the party watching through the door, Loder creeps forward and clears a path through the scattered caltrops.

Past the next door is a hall opening to what looks like a goblin target-practice range. Finch and Loder peek around the corner to see a large number of goblins crouching behind another low wall with arrows nocked. A pair of their hobgoblin masters stand behind cover. Finch jerks back as they loose a volley. A stalemate ensues for the next half-hour. Finally the rune-heroes come up with a plan.

AE-session4-IllusoryDemon_20180129.jpgMavriy and Mesmer cooperate to produce a terrifying spectacle that will hopefully send goblins and hobgoblins running. Mesmer creates the illusion of a huge imaginary demon down the hallway. Mavriy uses tricks she learned in Despero to shout Infernal speech in a huge booming voice and cause the ground to tremble. As Mesmer manipulates the illusory demon to stride out toward the goblins, Mavriy adds sounds of roaring flame and cloven hooves. Shouts of panic can be heard. Finch speaks into goblin minds to urge revolt. Sure enough, the goblins have fled the room, but their hobgoblin masters remain unconvinced. Mesmer, Finch, Ulfmar, Krag and Mavriy charge forward through the fading demon to quickly dispatch the two hobgoblins.

Meanwhile back in the first guardroom, Leelo, Lodermulch and Keelo see a goblin appear in the doorway to the caltrop-hall. Somehow the goblins managed to find a way behind the party! Three goblins race through the door in quick succession along the path where caltrops were cleared. The first is dropped by Leelo with an arrow to the chest. The 2nd takes Loder’s dagger in the eye. The 3rd is hit by a blowgun needle from Keelo but resists the sleep poison. The goblin attempts to stab Leelo, but his bronze short sword goes flying when it strikes the masonry barrier. Keelo’s giant mother-rat begins to feed on dying goblins.

A burly hobgoblin guard and huge chieftain in bronze splint mail charge through the door. They are backed up by a goblin shamaness behind the doorway. The little crone strikes Keelo with a black bolt of necromantic energy. He is thrown back against the wall. The charging hobgoblin sees his chance and stabs Keelo in the side with a spear. The druid slides to the floor unconscious. Leelo quickly slays the disarmed goblin at the guard-wall.

Finch and Mavriy spot a goblin tentatively peeking into the target-practice chamber. Finch chases the shrieking humanoid into a hallway and cuts him down, then keeps watch for more. Three closed doors give access to the hall, but no more goblins appear.

Krag, Mavriy, Ulfmar and Mesmer arrive from the target range. Krag, Mavriy and Mesmer triple-team the hobgoblin guard and take him down quickly. Ulfmar and Leelo save Keelo, who was bleeding out from the spear wound. The gesticulating goblin shamaness casts a bane or hex on Lodermulch and Leelo. Leelo ignores the magic, vaults the guard-wall and parkours past the hobgoblin chief. She loses her footing on the bloody caltrop-strewn floor and slides into the jabbering shamaness dagger-point first. The goblin drops to the floor with a leg spurting blood. Leelo bounces to her feet and cuts apart a twig-blight that was lurking near the doorway.

AE-session4-Durnn_20180129.jpgThe hobgoblin chieftain is now surrounded and alone. Mesmer attempts to put him to sleep, but the chieftain is too tough for such minor magic. ‘Durnn’ of the Durbuluk tribe lowers his weapon and approaches Krag to parley. The party learns that the hobgoblins and their captive goblin-tribe are providing muscle for an eerie human named ‘Belak’ who performs mysterious rituals in caverns beneath the ruins. Durnn helps Belak sell some kind of magical fruit to the bandit-chieftain Syzimondo, a name first heard during the intrigues at Nininsnal. The fruit comes from an evil ‘Gulthias Tree’ nurtured by Belak.

Durnn gives the party much information, but hopes to look strong in front of his tribe, which still number around 40. Durnn is wearing armor Finch recognizes as belonging to ‘Sir Pelor of Braford’. The chief admits to capturing three of the invaders. He became annoyed with Sir Pelor and killed him, but delivered Talgen and Sharwyn to Belak in exchange for coins. Why the crazy human wants them he doesn’t know. When asked about the dragon Calcryx, Durnn tells the party it went out of control a few days ago and has made a nearby trophy hall into it’s lair.

Krag is growing angry and has no love for hobgoblins. Durnn sees which way the wind is blowing. With a roar he tries to cleave Krag’s head with a battleaxe. The huge hobgoblin is put down before he can claim any lives. Mavriy claims the absurdly heavy bronze splint mail.

Leelo saves the goblin shamaness ‘Grenl’ who was only wounded. Grenl hated the hobgoblins and was preparing to stab Durnn in the back just before Leelo got to her. Grenl agrees to lead the party through the ruins, but is terrified of the wyrmling, which has mauled six of her people in the last week.

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Session 5: Dragons and Drinking Games

AE-session4-Grenl_20180204.jpgGrenl gives the rune-warriors a grand tour of ‘goblin-town’. She’ll soon find a new push-over goblin chieftain she can control from behind the scenes. In the meantime, the grotesque little shamaness uses her new liberators as muscle to reassert authority over the tribe. Grenl is overawed by Finch’s strange connection to otherworldly powers and soon agrees to serve him as a henchmen in exchange for magical secrets in the future. She helps the party avoid a number of traps and break into Durnn’s poison-trapped treasure chest.

The druid was sorely wounded and will require days of rest and recuperation before he’s again able to move and fight with competence. Mavriy will stay behind to watch over Keelo. After food and a night’s sleep everyone else is ready to continue exploring.

The adventurers find a goblin prison holding three emaciated kobolds hanging from manacles. Grenl ‘forgot’ to include this location on the ‘grand tour’ yesterday. A broken chain trails from a bronze rod driven into the stone floor, formerly attached to Calcryx, who escaped a few days ago and rampaged among the Durbuluk tribe before being corralled in the trophy room. In the corner a gnome is crammed into a tiny bronze cage. The party doesn’t immediately free the gnome, interrogating him first. The prisoner turns out to be an escaped Sheaim slave. ‘Tir-na’don’ goes by the nickname Erki to non-Luchuirp. He was carted away to a future of servitude along with thousands of others after the conquest of the Luchuirp city of Tia-na’dom by the Sheaim a decade past. The war continues to this day despite various short-lived truces and cease-fires. The Luchuirp empire has not fared well. The Sheaim now control the mighty Dragonfang fortress overlooking Luchuirp lands east of the Dragonspires.

AE-session5-Erki_20180204.jpgErki worked 8 years as an engineer in the Sheaim slave-legions. Finally he and five others saw their chance. They escaped from their road-crew working the High Road between Nininsnal and Kuldevind. The fugitives were unaware that home was over 900 miles distant on the other side of the Sheaim empire. Not two days later, all six were captured by the Durbuluk tribe. All but Erki ended up in goblin cookfires. The goblins still hold Erki in the far-fetched hope of a ransom sometimes paid for escaped high-caste slaves. Erki pleads that he is an acolyte of Kilmorph and can help the party survive. For now the desperate gnome is left in his cage. The feeble cries of the kobolds are ignored.

AE-session5-Calcryx_20180204.jpgThough Grenl is terrified by the trapped dragon Calcryx, she agrees to the adventurer’s plan to bust in to the trophy room and kill or capture the beast. Two goblins directed by Grenl wait nearby with chains ready. Finch unbars the heavy door and peeks into the dark space beyond. Ancient furniture, pots, vases, trophies and other brick-a-brak are piled up toward the back of the room. A broken bronze chain lies nearby. The black dragon wyrmling peeks out from behind an overturned table. Calcryx has grown on his diet of goblins, kobolds and other corpses, and is now almost the size of a horse. The wyrmling also appears to be molting. Its scaly hide is a blotchy pattern of black, purple and gray.

Finch tries to communicate using his secret voice, but the barely-articulate dragonling only hisses and demands food in response. Finch begins to whisper a spell of hideous laughter. The dragon knows enough to recognize magic, probably from seeing Yusdrayl and Grenl cast spells, and charges the door. Finch is faster and Calcryx stumbles, rolls over and begins heaving and trembling. A staccato series of choking roars burst from the dragon’s fanged mouth. A dragon incapacitated by gales of laughter, perhaps a sight never to be witnessed again!

Warriors flood into the trophy-hall. Finch and the goblins begin to throw chains over the thrashing dragon. Leelo, Ulfmar, Krag and Mesmer pound on the writhing monster with the flat of their weapons. Before the dragon can be fully subdued it recovers and launches a random blast of acid from it’s snapping maw. Leelo suffers only light burns as she deftly tumbles away. Finally Calcryx is beaten into submission.

The victors take possession of the few paltry valuables instinctively scraped together by Calcryx. Among the meager loot is a yellowed bone scroll case inscribed with Luchuirp (gnome) characters. Inside is a decayed scroll written in Luchuirp. A barely legible map depicts a location somewhere high in the northern arm of the Dragonspire mountains. Mesmer remembers Erki and returns to free the gnome. Erki experiences a glimmer of hope that he might one day make it back to his distant homeland. He agrees to translate the Luchuirp scroll if he is allowed to accompany the party on their travels. The scroll chronicles an expedition to a long-lost Luchuirp fortress and golem-foundry thought destroyed during the Age of Ice. The expedition turned back with losses after repeated attacks by mountain ogres and orcs in the high passes. The ancient Luchuirp empire during the Age of Magic created mighty golems of all types. Much of this knowledge is lost to the gnomes of today, who can manufacture only simpler golems from primitive materials such as wood or clay. Erki says there are sages in the Luchuirp capitol of Ithralia who will likely be able to glean more information from the tattered scroll…

The party quickly drags and coaxes the hissing, spitting wyrmling back to the Kobold halls. Yusdrayl is thrilled to have ‘her’ dragon back. Meepo is reprieved from his pending exile. The witch-doctor/prophet rewards the party with a number of artifacts her people recovered from the ruins. Among them is a heavy mithril ‘dragon key’ which Yusdrayl says opens a vault or treasure room at the other end of the ruins, a place she fears to tread as it seems holy to the long-gone dragon-cultists who built this place.

The party immediately heads to the other end of the ruins to explore mysterious chambers south of their original entry point. The dragon-cultists may be long gone, but their magic still lingers. A dragon-carved stone door accepts the mithril key and opens to a series of rooms and halls still in quite good condition despite the passage of centuries.

When Finch disturbs a glowing blue sphere of crystal, dark chanting music fills the nearby chambers. Mesmer is overcome by the ancient magic latent in the music. The rest of the party follows the ‘mesmerized’ wizard in hopes he will reveal some secret location, but Mesmer regains his senses when he reaches the nearby ruined entry-tower. The glowing sphere dims when taken outside the sealed areas. The intact sphere and three other broken examples are taken as loot.

Lodermulch finds a trap in the next corridor, a wide pit or pressure plate. Unfortunately the trap is triggered before it can be disarmed. A swarm of darts fly from scores of holes on the opposite wall, striking the halfling multiple times. The ancient poison coating the darts has lots it’s efficacy and Loder survives. The party skirts around the trigger-plate to reach the far door.

AE-session4-DragonStatue_20180204.jpgBeyond the trapped corridor is a wide and long hall. Against all reason, the white and blue marble masonry is in near-perfect condition. In the curved nave at one end stands a large dragon sculpture of blue and red marble almost eight feet high. The sculpture has only dark gaps for eyes. Mesmer boosts Loder up to inspect the eye-sockets. Clearly these once held large faceted gemstones, but there is no evidence of damage from prying tools. The entire chamber is searched top to bottom, but no secret doors, buttons, levers or traps are found. A detect magic spell reveals an aura of illusion magic on the dragon statue, but Mesmer can’t find any obvious illusion. The dragon seems real enough. A spot on the wall opposite the entrance glows with faint abjuration magic. Detailed inspection reveals an extremely faint seam delineating a four by eight foot rectangle of stone, very much the shape of a door. Another hour of noodling, poking and prodding provides no indication of how the door might be opened. The somewhat-deflated explorers head back to goblin-town.

After a short rest, the party plans to descend the wide and deep well leading to a deeper area in the ruins. Grenl warns this is the beginning of Belak’s domain. Goblin’s from the Durbuluk tribe work here in Belak’s various fungus gardens and chambers where the weird human conducts experiments with herbs, monstrous plants and unfortunate captives. The Durbuluks delivered the captured Hucrele siblings to Belak. Their subsequent fate is unknown. Grenl doesn’t really understand Belak’s ultimate motivations, but she covets his control of a monstrous tree growing in his domain, referred to as the ‘Gulthias Tree’ by Belak. He and the tree were here when the goblins arrived six months ago. Belak paid the goblins, then their hobgoblin masters, for various services including an important once-per-season transaction: transporting and selling the powerful fruit of the Gulthias Tree to human bandits. At this time of year, so soon after the spring fruit, Belak is certainly holed up in a huge cavern with the tree. There he spends days, sometimes weeks, studying and perhaps worshiping the magical tree.

Grenl agrees to guide the explorers through the areas she knows and provide safe passage past her goblins and a few skeletons controlled by Belak. Unfortunately a pair of bugbears working for Belak may be less than cooperative. The male, named Balsag but quickly re-christened ‘Ball-sack’ by the party, controls a pack of savage jackals at the mouth of a cave leading to the surface (where the goblins originally entered the ruins). The female could be anywhere in the ruins below.

Finch uses his creepy powers to take on the appearance of the recently-demised chief Durnn. The warlock has been practicing the hobgoblin’s harsh voice and mannerisms. He smears himself with goblin blood and wears a smelly cloak retrieved from Durnn’s corpse.

Mesmer sends his crow familiar flapping down into the purple-lit space to perform a reconnaissance. The wizard can see and hear through the crow’s senses. Below the well is a large room covered with soil, filth and fungi of various types, much of it glowing lavender and purple to provide a dim illumination. Two skeletons in rotting robes turn the soil with wooden trowels. These are servants Belak found in the ruins and somehow learned to command. Two jackals, more like hyenas or wolves, begin howling and barking at the mouth of a wide tunnel broken through one wall.

AE-session5-Bugbear_20180204.jpgBallsack, a huge shaggy bugbear armed with a massive iron morningstar, rushes from the tunnel and casts a javelin at the crow. The monstrous humanoid shouts up the well, “Drunn, what in the Seven Hells are you and your little shaman up to? You know Belak doesn’t like you down here between deliveries!” Finch shouts down in his best Durnn-voice, “Just seeing how you are holding up down there fleabag!”. Ballsack invites ‘Durnn’ down for a drink, on the condition that Durnn’s buying. Grenl sends a goblin to fetch beer.

It is questionable if the illusion will fool Ballsack for long. Nonetheless, Finch climbs down the rope ladder armed with a keg of goblin-beer. Everyone else stands ready to descend the two rope ladders when needed. The two skeletons ignore ‘Durnn’, but the jackals set up a chorus of howls and run around in mad circles. Ballsack whacks them until they shut up. Inside the bugbear’s lair Finch is forced to endure an unexpected challenge: apparently Durnn and Ballsack have an ongoing drinking game, of which this is the next round. Finch must quaff a full half-gallon horn of sour goblin beer.

Using slight of hand, Finch simulates drinking but pours most of the foul swill out over his own head, concealed by Durnn’s massive illusory chest. In a stroke of incredible luck, Ballsack chokes on a dead mouse floating in his beer and doubles over gagging. Warned by Mesmer’s crow-vision, reinforcements begin to descend the rope ladders. Will Finch subdue Ballsack before he manages to cough up the beer-soaked mouse? If not, he may be in need of rescue very soon indeed.

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Session 6: The Passing of Ulfmar

AE-session5-Bugbear_20180204.jpgMesmer and Leelo climb down the two rope ladders first. In the purple-lit grotto beneath the well they face two skeleton ‘gardeners’, now hostile, and a trio of savage jungle-hyenas. Leelo retreats to a corner and spits one with an arrow from her longbow (recently acquired from the dead half-elven ranger Karakas). Krag and Ulfmar climb down next. Krag fails to diminish the skeleton’s evil fervor. Ulfmar and Mesmer destroy the first with battleaxe and obsidian maul.

After several failed attempts, Finch finally succeeds in charming the recovering bugbear. ‘Ball-sack’ hears the sounds of a fight outside his cave and shouts a command to his jackals. Finch runs close behind in a vain attempt to distract the enraged bugbear. Ball-sack calls ‘Durnn’ to his aid without bothering to look back.

Krag, Mesmer, Leelo and Ulfmar make quick work of the jackals and skeletons. Mavriy and Lodermulch arrive from the rope ladders. Loder races across the fungus-laden turf and hides near the cave opening. Mesmer tries to hide opposite Loder. Mavriy is slowed by her new heavy armor and doesn’t get far before Ball-sack charges into the chamber looking for a fight. He stops to survey his enemies and command his remaining jackals to the fray. The shaggy bugbear fails to notice Loder, but quickly spots Mesmer who has unwisely boxed himself into a corner. Fortunately for the wizard, Ball-sack strikes the nearby wall. The iron morningstar cartwheels up and over the bemused bugbear to land right at the feet of Finch. Ball-sack attacks with a dagger, but Mesmer shields himself with magic. Finch, Ulfmar and Lodermulch quickly bring down the enraged bugbear after he is blinded by a spray of prismatic light from Mesmer’s hand. Leelo, Krag and Mavriy finish off the few jackals that fail to turn tail back up the cave and out into the jungle. A sizable number of gold and silver coins are discovered in the filth of Ball-sack’s lair.

Grenl guides the party through a long hall with chambers occupied by fellow goblins, workers earning coin and food from Belak in exchange for assisting with his ‘gardens’ and experiments. Within the various chambers are all manner of herbs, dried plants, poisons and tools. Belak seems intent on twisting nature to his evil purposes. Evidence of partially-grown ‘twig blights’ are found. Giant rats lie dead or barely alive, mutilated by bizarre experiments causing their hide to harden and erupt in woody boles. According to Grenl, Belak will be engaged in solitary study or worship of the ‘Gulthias Tree’ so soon after transacting sale of a magical fruit with the hobgoblins and bandits (perhaps ‘Syzimondo the great’?), so there is little danger of the human happening upon the recent scene of carnage. She commands her goblins to carry on as normal.

AE-session6-BlackPuddings_20180211.jpgBehind a barricaded stone door, Lodermulch discovers a narrow crack in the stonework leading to a long natural rift in the earth. A shadowy form moves slowly in the dim space. Light reveals a small pulsating blob of black jelly. The freakish pudding seems to detect Loder’s presence and picks up speed. Loder is just able to outdistance the beast.

Leelo manages to singe the dog-sized specimen with burning oil and attract it into Belak’s experiment chambers. Her companions quickly stab and burn it to death. The blobs seem to have internal organs subject to injury from piercing weapons.

Mesmer and Loder investigate the other stone door in the purple-glowing ‘garden’ chamber below the well. Grenl volunteers that Belak sends skeletons through this door to dump unwanted corpses and other garbage, but the goblins were warned never to venture here. Beyond the narrow stone door is a long passage ending in a 10’ drop to a natural chasm that looks to have been created by ancient floodwaters. It obviously connects to the crevice in the barricaded chamber 80’ to the northeast. Thrown torches reveal the presence of more black puddings. At least two are almost 5’ high and 7’ in diameter…true monstrosities of the underdark.

AE-session6-stirge_20180211.jpgMesmer sends his crow-familiar flying into the torchlit hall and crevasse. Mesmer sees that the other end of the brick hallway has been shifted a full forty feet southwest, or perhaps the floods that tunneled through this area obliterated the ancient connecting passage. Another bronze-bound stone door, this one somewhat larger, is glimpsed at the end of the far hallway. On the way back, the crow is hit by something and tumbles out of control. Mesmer attempts to recover the familiar only to discover it no longer exists. Loder peers around the corner to glimpse a weird bat-like creature flit away into the darkness.

Mesmer and Loder beat a hasty retreat behind the stone door. A horde of jellies large and small crowd the hallway behind them when the door is slammed shut. The bar creaks as something heavy pulses against the trembling stone.

Ulfmar devises a fateful plan: he and Krag will let one of the puddings through the door, then shut it, allowing the entire party to destroy them one at a time. Before everyone is quite prepared, Krag lifts the bar. The stone door flies open with enough force to slam a surprised Krag against the corner wall. A huge blob forces through the narrow opening and immediately strikes at the half-orc with a black pseudopod. The massive blob smacks the wall as Krag slides away. Stone smokes and sizzles with burning acid. The desperate half-orc puts his shoulder to the door and shoves with all his might, but another massive jelly already blocks the opening. Rather than flee and leave Krag to his doom, Ulfmar tries to help shut the door.

AE-session6-DeathofUlfmar_20180211.jpgMesmer unleashes fiery magic, Leelo drives arrows home one after the other, Loder casts his dagger, and Mavriy attempts magic to compel the next pudding toward her, all to no avail. Finch retrieves the corpse of a hyena and rushes forward thinking to lure the second pudding away. Grenl gibbers in terror. Erki is frozen in fear and shock.

A glistening mountain of black goo envelops Ulfmar, crushing him to the moldy turf. Only the dwarf’s arms and head are exposed. Lodermulch darts forward and pulls him free, but too late, far too late. Nothing remains of the brave dwarf but burning flesh and corroded bones. Mavriy steps forward and casts her spear with accuracy. The first pudding is now a smoking, quivering wreck. The second senses Krag and unleashes a flurry of blows. By sheer chance Krag escapes death though his armor smokes with burning acid. With nowhere to run, Krag exerts himself to the utmost and manages to close and bar the door against a third somewhat smaller pudding.

Mavriy strikes the remaining pudding with her pole-scythe. The huge mound is neatly split into two smaller but still active specimens! Her precious iron scythe is corroded by acid. The plan finally comes together, though too late for Ulfmar. The remaining smaller puddings are dispatched one after the other as they squeeze through the doorway controlled by Krag.

After the last jelly is burned, Krag gathers up the sad remains of his friend: a few corroded bones, a silver scroll-case, and a gold clan-symbol carried over 700 leagues from his birthplace in Mazark at the foot of the Pristinus Mountains. The silver case protects a scroll wherein Ulfmar chronicled his experiences since leaving Mazark, presumably including his final adventure with the rune-cursed. Perhaps one day Krag can somehow return these artifacts to the dwarf’s people. But will the Khazad be able to overcome their ancient prejudice against half-orcs, as did their wayward son? Perhaps Ulfmar’s chronicle will sway them, though it is written in Khazad script unreadable to the surviving rune-warriors.

The party investigates the crevasse and far stone door. A few stirges dive bomb the explorers but they are quickly dispatched with arrows. Krag and Mavriy force open the ancient stone door, which is twisted and jammed in it’s stone frame by tectonic forces. Beyond is a square chamber covered with scattered tiles that once adorned the cracked and broken walls. Magic is the only explanation for the continued existence of this chamber. In the center is a man-sized bronze sculpture of a three-headed bronze dragon sitting upright and holding an empty tray. Two red ruby eyes of exceptional size gleam from the central head. The eye-sockets of the other two heads are bare, though it is clear they once held large gemstones as well. Lodermulch creeps around the circumference of the room. After almost a full hour of checking for traps and hidden portals, Loder dares to pry the fabulous gems from the dragon’s greenish sockets.

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Nothing happens.

Erki the gnome is able to identify the sculpture as originating from the Age of Magic, when the open-sky dwarves were a mighty empire of engineers and enchanters able to manufacture powerful golems of all types. This sculpture is in fact an ancient magical robot. Fortunately for these treasure-hunters it’s magic has died with the passing of untold centuries. Only gnomes with skills unknown in this callow age could hope to disassemble, transport and repair such a fantastic machine.

Leelo leads the party back through goblin-town to the other end of the ruins. In the ‘room of blue spheres’ eerie music still reverberates. Several rune-cursed are overcome by the dirge and begin to wander back out of the ruins toward the sinkhole. All regain their senses without revealing anything new about the ruins, except for Finch. The warlock’s connection with voices from the outer darkness leads him back into the ruined entry-tower. He awakens staring at a wall.

Lodermulch checks the wall again and finds a very well-concealed brick lever. The still-recovering Keelo is called forth from goblin town. He detects magic originating a short distance beyond the curved stones. Everyone prepares weapons and spells as the halfling triggers the lever. A small 3×4 stone portal swings out and away to reveal a dark cramped space beyond. Arrow slits packed with rubble line the far walls. A trio of ancient skeletons in corroded brass armor lie along the walls. Evocation magic radiates from arrows in brass quivers, though the ancient bows have collapsed into dust.

AE-session6-PatrianSkeletons_20180211.jpgFinch is overcome by greed and acts quickly, before his avaricious companions can interfere. The reckless half-elf darts into the dusty tomb to snatch at the arrows. He fails to notice as red points of fire illuminate the eyesockets of long-dead Patrian archers. Krag and Lodermulch scream a warning, but too late. In unison the evil spirits stand, draw corroded green blades, and stab the screaming warlock repeatedly. Krag uses his authority to placate two of the undead, but the third ignores him and continues stabbing. STAB STAB STAB!

Krag and Loder grab Finch’s feet and drag the dying half-elf out into the tower. Erki the gnome ex-slave saves Finch with the divine magic of Kilmorph (spare the dying). Leelo screams as the third skeleton crawls from the opening. Mesmer smashes the last evil dead into a fountain of splinters with a single tremendous blow from his antique obsidian maul.

Finch was lucky. His wounds were flesh rather than mortal and his friends got to him before he could bleed out. After a day of rest and healing the warlock should be back on his feet. Tonight in the camp of the rune-cursed there will be much discussion of tactics, planning and the wages of uncontrolled avarice.

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Session 7: Asmoday's Sepulchre

AE-session7-AsmodayWight-detail_20180218.jpgAfter a much-needed rest in goblin-town, the rune-heroes return to the dragon-sculpture chamber. Lodermulch climbs the nine foot high marble statue. The large rubies pried from the bronze dragon golem fit perfectly into the empty eye sockets. A puff of stale air blows dust from the secret door as it slowly swings open into a green-lit space. Beyond the door is a wide hall flanked by alcoves where stand red-veined blue marble statues of ancient nobles in archaic dress and armor. A pair of stone kobolds kneel in supplication before each alcove. At the end of the hall is a pit and archway giving access to a mausoleum lit with flickering green. In the center stands a massive bronze-bound sarcophagus of black marble.

While Finch and Leelo watch from the door, Loder carefully inches his way around the hall. His route is marked by a trail through the dust of long centuries. Five of the alcoves are occupied by statues, each one subtly different than the next. The sculptures are stylized but clearly depict unique individuals. Bronze name-plates above each alcove bear names in Patrian. Finch and then Mesmer enter to decypher the ancient letters: Paimon, Dylantyr, Leucetios, Kezef, Asmoday and Greysun. Mesmer realizes these are the names of famous archmages from the Age of Magic. Here stand statues of six of the 21 wizards trained by Kylorin, the father of magic and ruler of the first great empire of man. Each of the 21 became powerful mages and discovered a unique source of magical mana. Many lived for hundreds of years. One statue is missing: Asmoday. From this alcove a trail of tiny clawed feet meander across the dust to the edge of the pit, where they disappear. Subsequent centuries of dust cover this trail. There is no sign of anything at the bottom of the deep bronze-spiked pit blocking entry into the mausoleum.

Grenl and Erki, an odd couple if there ever was one, fetch boards from goblin-town. Mavriy crosses the pit first. As soon as the demonspawn’s armored boot touches the far side, a high tittering voice sounds from about the chamber: “You broke the binding. My watch over Asmoday is complete! Heeehahahaa…”, followed by a brief flapping of leathery wings. Mavriy and Loder are close by, but still unable to pinpoint the source of the sound. Krag, Loder, Mesmer and Leelo cross the rickety footbridge. Finch was made wary of ancient tombs by his time in the catacombs beneath Cahir Abbey and maintains watch on the far side. His henchman Grenl stands close by.

Mesmer retrieves an ever-burning green torch from a bronze sconce in one corner. The other three sconces are empty. The sarcophagus is huge, almost twelve feet long including the massive dragon-head at the north end. The round-edged lid is six inches thick and fastened to the box with massive hinges of greenish bronze. Krag, a skilled blacksmith, estimates it will require ten minutes each or one hour total to cut through all six clamps.

Leelo and Lodermulch carefully inspect the room for hidden adits, traps, doors or spaces. By sheerest luck Leelo spots the faint outline of a narrow trapdoor. Loder finds the latch and lifts the heavy stone panel on hinges of bronze. Below is a secret escape-passage leading to a secret room just south of Asmoday’s empty alcove. A well concealed door opens into the back of the alcove. On the far wall of the chamber are inscribed the words: “An Archmage entombed alive for transgressing Kylorin’s Law still retains the honor of his position.”

A shout is heard from the secret door where Erki maintains watch. Finch glimpses a small winged atrocity attacking Erki. The gnome rolls and scrambles away, but is scratched the length of his face and neck by long black claws. The apparition disappears as quickly as it appeared, leaving only a tittering laugh and snap of leathery wings in it’s wake. It seems a tiny demonic guardian now stalks the party. Erki quickly cleanses the wounds with water. This and a native resistance to poison saves the gnome’s life. He hastens to join Keelo in the hall of alcoves. The druid quickly heals the ugly scratches.

Everyone takes positions as Krag and Mesmer prepare to break the last seal. The combined strength of Krag, Mavriy and Mesmer is required to get the massive lid moving. Suddenly the lid flips over and slams to the floor. The ever-burning torch dims to a feeble coal of green as a dark presence rises from the tomb. The form is indistinct save for eyes like points of glowing fire and a fantastical suit of bronze armor sculpted with stylized dragons. Mavriy recognizes the apparition described by Yusdrayl in her visions. Is this the fruition of Asmoday’s attempts to free himself from a prison established in the Age of Magic? What law of Kylorin could Asmoday have broken to deserve such a fate?

AE-session7-AsmodayWight_20180218.jpg

All but Mesmer, Leelo and Keelo are overcome by terror and flee. Even the brave halfling dives for the secret trapdoor and hides quaking beneath. Krag and Mavriy nearly trip each other into the spiked pit as they flee across the creaking footbridge. Leelo sees the dark wight fix Mesmer with pinpoints of glittering light, “Mortal wizard, do not interfere with my passage and you shall be rewarded!” Mesmer stands aside, not daring to oppose the wight since most of his companions lie curled in fetal positions in whatever dark corners they could find. With that, the remnant of the great archmage strides forth across the conveniently-laid footbridge, leaving a trail of swirling darkness in its wake.

The hideous being pauses briefly to turn its lambent gaze upon the uncowed Keelo. A low ironic chuckle issues from Asmoday-wight: “Thank you for your service, priest…” Leelo cautiously trails the apparition, eliciting a hiss of vexation, “trouble me not, alfar!” Leelo continues to shadow the wight until it ambushes her at the dragon-door beyond the room of blue-spheres. She dances back just in time to avoid the dark grasp and sweeping stroke of a bronze sword. Asmoday is allowed to exit the ruin without further inconvenience. What destination might this foul wight have in mind? More to the point, what new horror have these tomb-raiders unleashed upon creation?

Within Asmoday’s tomb, or prison, lie scattered copper coins and worthless trinkets. A last parting insult from his fellows? Perhaps research at a great library or institution of learning could reveal more about what went on here.

AE-session7-Ergza_20180218.jpgThe rune-cursed take a breather and recover their wits, then head back down into the domain of Belak. Grenl guides the party through a series of galleries festooned with fungus and twisted surface vegetation cultivated by the mysterious druid. Finally they happen upon the rumored female bugbear, “Ergza”, only slightly less offensive than her mate. Finch is magically disguised as the late Ballsack and attempts casual conversation. Unfortunately Ergza is not responsive to Finch’s advances, nor does she seem to even be aware of Ballsack’s unpleasant fate. It seems she is (was) estranged from her recently-demised hunk of bugbear man-love. The formidable bugbearess swings her bronze glaive with violent intent, all the while streaming a spate of invective sufficient to curl the ears of an ogre. Finch beats a hasty retreat.

When Ergza bursts through the door, the warlock is ready with a charm spell. Once again all is well in the house of Ballsack and Ergza. Finch pleads lassitude and declines the incipient nuptials with surprising fervor. Ergza is left to her own devices, but as the recently-dead bard might have quoted, “hell hath no fury like a she-bugbear scorned!”

Not long after, Leelo and Lodermulch discover a bronze-bound stone door, much like the others found throughout this area of the ruins, but this time fitted with a heavy lock of bronze. Naturally the door is locked. Another similar but unlocked door gives access to a partially-collapsed chamber. One wall is broken open to reveal the end of a vast cavern lit by luminescent fungus. The cave hosts a ‘twilight grove’ crowded with sickly briars, bushes, saplings and other woody plants normally foreign to caves. Low remains of ruined walls and collapsed tower shells protrude from the briars at various points. In the distance can be seen the twisted limbs of a dead tree reaching like clawed hands toward the lofty ceiling. The eerie grove is still and silent as death.

Opposite the collapsed wall is another locked stone door. Leelo and Loder cooperate to defeat the ancient mechanism. Beyond are the private chambers of a herbalist or druid, undoubtedly Belak. Shelves are crowded with scrolls, dried herbs, wood bottles, powders, pastes, shrunken heads and every other kind of smelly oddment. While the others keep a watch outside, Finch, Mesmer and Keelo quickly search the place.

A folio of notes, cycles, charts and observations of the countryside around Nininsnal is found, of the type a druid would record for the benefit of farmers and others living on the land. The records go back 12 years, but end suddenly about two years ago. It seems that until recently, ‘Belak’ was shepherding a flock and caring for nature as would be typical of any druid in the wilds around a frontier settlement.

A valuable book of great age titled ‘Druidic Theories on the Cycle of Life and Death’ is found lying open on a wooden table. A second folio titled ‘Tome of the Fire Lords’, this one bound in exotic red-scaled hide, is packed away for later examination. These heavy tomes should fetch good prices in a city if they can be hauled out of the jungle. A heavy box contains several hundred gold coins and a few minor gems. Tucked away among the mundane scrolls are two inscribed with useful druidic spells: Entangle and Protection from Poison.

Beyond lies the twilight grove of Belak, presumably absorbed in the study of his ‘Gulthias Tree’.

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Session 8: Belak and the Tree

AE-session8-Belak_20180304.jpgMesmer sends his newly-conjured familiar, the black rat ‘Dweezil’, into the eerie violet twilight of Belak’s subterranean grove. After a half-hour of nosing about, the rat passes through the remains of a keep wall. In the center lies a large tree of twisted black limbs, presumably the ‘Gulthias Tree’. At the base of the trunk is a wooden chair where sits a man in gray robes holding a staff in one hand and a burning book in the other. The rat’s poor vision can make out no other details.

Mesmer and the rest of the rune warriors inch forward through the tangle of briars, weeds and bushes. Leelo thinks to see the face of a twig blight in one of the thickets, but upon moving to a different angle can no longer make it out. A trick of the imagination? Unlikely. Lodermulch scouts ahead along the far wall of the cave to come up within 30’ of the tree and the robed man.

The rest of the invaders creep into the crumbled shell of a stone tower to survey the scene. All the while the man has moved not an inch. His face is mostly concealed by a hood, but Keelo recognizes his skin has the appearance of hard wood or bark. The burning book is clearly magical. Moreover, a glowing symbol burns upon the trunk of the tree, identical to the rune-heroes own in all but color. Ethereal forms drift among the dark branches. Finch recognizes the ghostly faces of the Hucrele siblings, Talgen the elder warrior and Sharwyn, his wizardly sister. Perhaps their late companions Sir Pelor and Karakas should be considered fortunate to have died relatively clean deaths.

Finch steps forward to address the silent druid, “Belak, what do accomplish here with this tree and grove? And what of the glowing symbol…we know it well”. Belak briefly turns to look up at the tree, for the first time exposing his pallid and shrunken countenance. He speaks without looking up:

“I see no symbol…I have been gifted with this child from the dead Tree of Life at the Well of Souls, where Emperor Arbandi cast Ceridwen’s mighty spell consigning this world to it’s doom. I do Arbandi’s bidding by giving the tree’s fruits to fools who unknowingly spread Armageddon across creation. Interfere with my work at your peril!”

The rune warriors conduct a whispered discussion. What could this reward be? In any case, it appears that Emperor Arbandi and Os-Gabella might not be on the same page in all respects. Further attempt at negotiation elicits an ultimatum from Belak,

“Submit and you will share in the reward after the remaking of the world. In the meantime, you will survive to serve me, after a fashion…”

The spirits of Talgen and Sharwyn enter two stunted saplings to the left and right of Belak. They quickly swell and grow into demonic-appearing trees complete with arms, legs and evil visages, not unlike twisted versions of treants Keelo would be familiar with from his time in the alfar forests. The 9’ tall tree-demons stride forward with creaking limbs. At the same time, everyone near the tower shell is entwined and held fast by masses of living vines and roots. Mesmer was hiding behind a wall and escapes the vines. Lodermulch is still hidden behind Belak and thus far avoids notice. Mavriy was already moving toward Belak. Ten stick-creatures animated by evil spirits emerge from the tangled briars all around the cavern: more twig-blights.

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Mavriy takes up her shield and pole-scythe and strides forward to confront the huge tree-demons. The young paladin is quickly dashed to the ground. Her shield arm is broken. She crawls away from the looming monsters, back toward where Krag and Keelo are held fast by twining branches. The half-orc and elf druid heal her quickly, restoring the use of her arm just in time. Then both are swarmed by approaching twig-blights. Erki the gnome ex-slave is cut off on the other side of the wall. Leelo fires magic arrows retrieved from the ruins above. They burst into magical flame which proves to be highly effective against the demon-trees, but perhaps not enough to save her companions. Finch attempts to charm Belak but the evil druid resists his voice with ease. Grenl fires arrows but they have little effect

Lodermulch steps forward and throws a dagger into Belak with accuracy, slashing one arm. The druid now stands to pull his robe free of the dagger embedded in his chair, still holding the burning book and staff. Mesmer torches an approaching twig-blight with fire magic, then drinks the smoking orange liquid extracted from the dragon-fountain in the ruins above. Smoke and fire begin to belch from the nostrils and mouth of the wizard! Finch destroys a twig-blight with dissonant whispers from his unknowable patron.

Leelo escapes the grasping branches and dances past the smoking tree demons. Lodermulch leaps over an approaching twigblight. The pair confront Belak, who has now lost his protective skin of bark. Leelo trips as she draws her mithril daggers and slams into Belak. The dark druid loses concentration and the animated vines return to normal, freeing the rest of the rune-heroes. He casts his staff to the ground nearby. The black wood twists and writhes, expanding into a 10’ long black viper which strikes at Loder. The halfling dodges nimbly aside. Belak conjures a man-sized ball of fire nearby…the heat is intense.

Mesmer breathes forth explosions of flame from across the cavern, turning Talgen the tree-demon into a raging pyre. Sharwyn tree-demon is likewise set alight and then chopped apart by Mavriy. The screams of Talgen and Sharwyn echo through the cavern as their immortal souls are freed from whatever hellish bond was keeping them from passing on.

Belak is stabbed to death by Leelo and Loder. He dies soundlessly. As the dark druid’s emaciated form slides to ground, the flaming book winks out of existence. Loder finds nothing at all within the bloody folds of Belak’s robe. The snake transforms back into a staff of black wood. Grenl is on hand to snatch it up. She runs screeching around the cave back toward Finch. Leelo gives chase and intercepts the goblin, who concedes defeat and hands over the staff, “I was getting it for my master!” The now-mobile heroes quickly save Erki from encroaching twig blights.

The glowing rune upon the tree shimmers and changes to violet hue, then disappears. The color of the symbols above the rune-warriors heads also changes to violet. The Gulthias Tree begins to shrivel and die. Within five minutes it is reduced to a black stump. Likewise, the glowing fungus and various other plants crowding the grove begin to go dim and wilt.

The group retreats from the dimming grove, gathers up all the items from Belak’s study and heads back up to the entry ruins, where much has transpired in the short time since Finch played his drinking game with Ballsack the bugbear. The kobold prophet Yusdrayl received a last vision from the wight of Asmoday, “Your service to Ashardolon is complete, you may return to the jungles whence you came…” Yusdrayl and her people plan to depart within the day.

The black dragon Wyrmling ‘Calcryx’ escaped its handlers for the last time, eating Meepo on the way out. The kobolds report the dragon reached the sinkhole and departed on black wings into the jungle night. Leelo is bitterly disappointed. She had plans for Calcryx’s hide, including a custom suit of dragon-leather armor. As a consolation prize the party discovers the scaly hide discarded by Calcryx after molting the week before.

After threats from Grenl, the goblins provide porters to help carry treasure from the ruins. As the Durbuluk tribe is not well-liked by the encroaching Sheaim civilization, they refuse to travel the high road or actually enter any human settlements, but do greatly reduce the party’s burden in the meantime. The rune-heroes deem Nininsnal too small to serve their purposes and decide to head northeast toward the city of Kuldevind. After covering a good 15 or 16 miles along the low-road, a very large man with a great black beard steps out onto the trail, flanked by four rogues.

“As you have no doubt correctly surmised, Syzimondo the Great stands before you. Now don’t tell me you’ve gone and killed my golden goose?”

The bandits are richly equipped and dressed, wearing shirts of iron mail and bearing both poniards and rapiers of precious steel. Clearly these rogues have benefited greatly from their association with Belak and Yandroon Kuldevind. And now they are looking for compensation. Farther back on the trail, Mavrey, Krag and Keelo notice that the goblin porters have dropped their loads and disappeared without a trace.

Finch steps forward to contest Syzimondo’s claim. The bandit chief observes, “Yer shenanigans have cost me a run of easy living, to be sure! It’s only fair me and my lads are justly compensated, don’t you agree?” The overbearing ex-pirate then instructs the party, “Kindly deposit your conveniently transportable wealth on the trail and you can be on your way.” Leelo sees her profit from this venture going up in smoke and urges immediate attack. The party conducts a hasty colloquy. During this conversation, Lodermulch disappears into the jungle unnoticed. Likewise, the crafty goblin Grenl sneaks off in the other direction.

Syzimondo grows impatient: “What?! All I get is grumbling and sullen looks for my trouble? Stand and deliver you dogs, or be spit by a score of archers in the trees yonder, not to mention burned by my wizard!”

Finch accedes to the murderous whispers of Leelo, who believes the bandit chief is bluffing. The warlock chants a spell of charming toward the odious black-bearded buffoon standing on the trail.

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Session 9: Kuldevind to Galveholm

AE-session9-SyzimondoTheGreat_20180311.jpgDuring the exchange between Sizymondo and Finch, Lodermulch and Grenl sneak through the jungle in search of bandit archers. Grenl finds nothing, but is now positioned a short distance behind the bandits flanking Sizymondo. Lodermulch reaches a tumble of ruins, the remains of some ancient fane. A twig snaps…within the ruin an archer with drawn bow turns to see Lodermulch coming up the tumbled steps. The arrow released point blank whistles through the trees.

Meanwhile, the pirate-turned-bandit notices Finch whispering a spell. With a signal, arrows fly from the nearby ruin, but only a paltry six rather than the promised scores! Sizymondo shouts with false bravado to urge his fellow rogues forward to the attack. However, the bandit lord turns tail and flees with surprising agility for one of his girth. Looks like this is not Sizymondo’s first such rodeo. Grenl gives chase and off through the jungle they run.

Finch’s spell fails when he is caught in the middle of the short, savage melee. The warlock suffers three serious cuts and one arrow puncture before dodging behind a tree. Mavriy, Leelo and Krag duel with the three rogues. Mesmer uses magic to send several archers off to dreamland. Lodermulch dances past recumbent forms to stab a wakeful archer in the back. No wizard is found hiding in the ruin.

The rogues notice their great chief has scarpered, decamped and skedaddled with such alacrity that one wonders if he was ever there at all. One flees north. Two flee west, using the tumbled ruins and their own slow-footed archers as interference. Leelo and Lodermulch pursue, teaming up to slay first one rogue then an archer. One archer and a rogue evade the elf and halfling after a short chase through the jungle. The rogue who fled north also escapes. No one else among the rune-heroes has the speed needed to catch him. Grenl returns some time later. Sizymondo ‘the Great’ has disappeared into the depths of the jungle without a trace.

Two of the archers waken to the unpleasant reality of interrogation by Finch and Leelo (the classic bad human / bad elf routine). The first is Thothra, an escaped slave who joined Sizymondo last year. He was a marine assigned to the crew of an Amurite merchant ship. Unfortunately his captain failed to pay certain fees to the portmaster in Kuldevind and a percentage of his crew became subject to capture and slavery per the laws of the Sheaim empire. Thothra divines that Mesmer is also an Amurite and begs for mercy.

The second archer is Goran, another escaped slave. He found his way into bondage by way of the sack of Cafes a decade past. With a shock, Mavriy recognizes Goran as the son of a family she knew well during her youth in the Elohim colony. She knows his family is gone and tells him as much. Goran throws himself on her mercy.

From the captured archers the rune-warriors learn that Sizymondo controls a veritable rebel army of ex-slaves, pirates, bandits and other assorted outlaws. The bandit king has numerous boltholes and hideouts within the extensive jungle wilderness between Nininsnal and Kuldevind where the Sheaim patrols fear to tread. As the goblin porters do not return, Thothra and Goran first serve the rune-heroes by carrying their burdens dropped beside the trail.

AE-session9-Zaugrum_20180311.jpgThe party crosses a stretch of jungle to reach the High Road where they will make better time. After two days uneventful travel the jungle begins to thin. On the 3rd day the party approaches a familiar signpost where the low and high roads merge. A large encampment of tents occupies the nearby field, with a red silk tent near the center. Heraldry indicates this encampment is associated with the Storm Queen. The rune-heroes think to skirt around the camp but guards have already seen them. It appears they were expected.

The small host of horsemen, elephants, skeleton archers and pyre zombies are led by Zaugrum, Priest of the Ashen Veil and special agent of Os-Gabella. Zaugrum is accompanied everywhere by Zaria, a sullen young woman in a hooded robe of red silk. Leelo and Mesmer speak with Zaugrum in his tent. Zaugrum was on his way to Nininsnal to deal with the party. It turns out Yandroon, aka ‘Todos’, was taken up by Os-Gabella’s agents upon his return to Kuldevind. At the Storm Queen’s palace in Galveholm the merchant lord babbled all he knew.

Leelo and Mesmer have little choice in telling Zaugrum about their recent activities in Nininsnal and at the sinkhole ruins. Os-Gabella has taken a “casual interest” in these affairs, as they bear upon the Emperor Arbandi’s recent activities. It seems that Os-Gabella and the Emperor might not always be on the same page. Finch and Grenl agree to guide Zaugrum’s expedition to the sinkhole ruins where Belak met his end. In return, Zaugrum ‘invites’ the rune-heroes to travel on to the capitol Galveholm and there make themselves convenient should their services be needed. Mesmer is given a gold and blood-red magical document, a writ of safe conduct within the imperial capitol Galveholm, signed by the Storm Queen herself.

AE-session9-Kuldevind_20180311.jpgFinch and his hench-goblin Grenl accompany the host of Zaugrum south on the High Road back to the Sinkhole ruins. Leelo, Mesmer, Krag, Keelo and Lodermulch continue on to Kuldevind to wait for Finch at the famous ‘Dead Man Inn’ where a zombie hangs from a pole above the doors, jerking spasmodically whenever patrons pass below. Kuldevind is not a place for the squeamish, but worse lies ahead in Galveholm.

Finch and Grenl guide Zaugrum’s party through the ruins beneath the sinkhole. The remaining Durbuluk gobins quickly flee the swordsmen and undead soldiers. The ruin is all but deserted now. Zaugrum and Zaria take careful notes about Belak’s activities. They are especially impressed to discover this was the ancient stronghold of a dragon cult led by none other than six of the original 21 archmages trained by Kylorin himself. Even Zaria becomes interested. Zaugrum seems agitated upon learning the wight of Asmoday was allowed to escape into the wilds. What could be Asmoday’s destination? The necromantic priest and fire-mage babble enthusiastically about the wonderful possibilities!

After a day spent sacking the ruins, Zaugrum’s company returns to the high road. Finch elects to accompany the troop onward to Nininsnal, after which he parts ways with Zaugrum and Zaria on amicable terms. The warlock begins to exploit contacts made by the rune heroes to find out what has transpired in the past weeks.

AE-session9-Laerlith_20180311.jpgFinch learns from Draven of the Black Star assassins guild that agents of the Overlords have been searching the city for a ‘green pearl’ and two individuals fitting the descriptions of Mesmer and Leelo. They arrived aboard the Lanun galleon Tethira only a week after the rune-heroes left Nininsnal. Finch shadows them for two days. They are led by a beautiful priestess in sea-green robes and complicated vestments: Laerlith, Priestess of the Waves. She seems to be an agent of Saryin Nures, Speaker of the Tide for the Octopus Overlords, whose banner was seen at the sack of Scylia.

Up to four anonymous, identical men in black and purple hooded robes accompany Laerlith. They are not obviously armed. There may be several other less obvious agents, but they are stealthy and Finch is not able to identify them. Laerlith is the voice of sweet reason until crossed. At such times she becomes almost demented with vindictive rage and spite. The Overlord agents leave at least 3 bodies behind before departing Nininsnal: a tight-lipped gem-dealer, a dockworker who saw something he shouldn’t have, and an overly-inquisitive officer of the Marquesses garrison.

Something she discovers in Nininsnal sends Laerlith back to her ship and north up the coast. Finch pays good money to arrive at Kuldevind ten hours ahead of Laerlith by way of the Sheaim war galley Stormcrow. There he warns his comrades of the danger. All agree that for now it would be best to stay one step ahead of Laerlith. The rune-heroes depart Kuldevind for the terrible black jewel of the Sheaim empire: Galveholm.

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