Shadows Over the Nentir Vale

Session 35-36

Session 35-36

You’re Not In Kansas Anymore

Arriving at Winterhaven the party decide to keep as low a profile as possible considering the number of enemies they have been racking up of late. A sensible policy you would think, and one that lasts approximately five minutes after coming in through the main gate – the time it usually takes for Mordzan to get into some sort of trouble.

This time it involves the hyperactive elf offering to fight any of the town guards for no other reason than it might be a bit of fun. The guards seem up for it too, and after various wagers have been arranged they bring forward their champion, a vast bulk of flesh called Anton, as wide as he is tall and with forearms like treetrunks he starts aiming brutal haymakers at Mordzan’s head. For while it seems that the elf’s speed of foot and acrobatic antics might be enough to stay out of range of the boulder-like fists but a couple of swinging thuds to the stomach soon put paid to the dance and Mordzan is laid out flat, much to the delight of the guards who have earned more in the last minute than they have in the last month.

Anton, meanwhile, is more than happy with his share of the spoils – a carrot – something he holds in the highest regard and is keen to share it with the reviving Mordzan, with whom he seems to have become quite attached.

Now absolutely everyone in town know the party are here it doesn’t take long to find Sir Oakley, who seems somewhat bemused at the high visibility of his new companions, and fills them in on the mission to the abbey to purify the temple, the ancient base of the legendary followers of Bahamut who once protected the Vale from all-comers before going down in a great battle 150 years previously.

With the heroes’ presence in town so effectively announced it is not long before they are brought in front of the master of Winterhaven, Lord Ernest Podraig, who outlines his own pressing concerns regarding the Abbey. He believes it may be becoming a base for a powerful force of Bloodspear orcs who might foreshadow the next invasion to threaten the Vale, just as they have done in the past, when the tribe would descend from the savage lands beyond to mountains to once again lay claim to the Vale.

Without the means to make aggressive military moves, Lord Podraig recruits the party to scout out the abbey and come back with a map of the orc base and an estimate of the sort of strength the orcs have to hand. With this information, he hopes to at least know what he is up against. A task the party is only too happy to take on since they’re going there anyway. And so, with only a night of prayer for Benedict and Sir Oakley, who seems determined to recalibrate the young paladin’s somewhat unusual interpretations of the god’s strictures, at last, the party are off on their latest quest.

After a day and a half of hard marching through rough moorland terrain the adventurers get sight of the abbey and its surroundings. The main abbey buildings are perched on a plateau on top of a hill, the flanks of which are dotted with the buildings and tracks of the ruined village that once supported the sacred order. Surrounding this settlement is a defensive wall that circles the base of the hill. The elves also notice a heavily wooded area to the south of the village, a richly green and dense area that suggests some sort of fey stewardship.

While the village is ruined, it is definitely not abandoned, as wispy columns of smoke rise from dozens of campfires. Moving closer and engaging the heightened senses of the elves, dozens of figures are spotted moving around the site. Definitely orcs and at least a few of the ogres such as the ones the party fought off on the road to Winterhaven.

The parry consider their options in order to carry out their quests – Sir Oakley knows of a secret stair that rises to the plateau at the rear of the hill – an ideal spot to spy on the orcs unseen while also giving him the chance to carry out his ritual. But the elves in the party point to a spot near the wooded area where there seems to be a breach in the wall, near to an impressively tall watchtower that commands a great view over both the village and the approaches to the abbey.

Stealthily approaching the area the party avoid detection and creep over the wall. Drawn to investigate the watchtower before advancing further into the abbey grounds they find it strangely barred to all attempts to enter it. It is soon apparent that some exotic magic is at work when Bodin’s brute assault on the tower’s wall causes strange blobs of black acid to erupt from the brickwork to attack the assailants. Easily dispatched, the party continue to be frustrated in their search for a way in until Glaudr links the strangeness of the tower to the strangeness of the card he has in his possession. Holding it up to the wall, a portal opens up, through which the party naturally dive through.

Ooops!

Wthout going into too much detail for fear my mind might break at the recall of such mind twisting horrors – the party find themselves in the middle of some sort of intrusion into this world by another world – a world where nothing makes sense and chaos rules, a world populated by foul unthinking monsters – and a world with no apparent exit, although, after battling their way through mind-bending vistas of cosmic terror that bear no relation to the tower they thought they were exploring, and now faced with some vast bally thing covered with eyestalks and a reality that shifts in focus like the sun shimmering off a desert floor, it seems unlikely that our heroes will ever know the comforts of their own world again.

Only Thorn and particularly Glaudr have some insight into what they have got themselves into – the Far Realm – a place so strange it has driven mad those who have chosen to study it – while Madran recalls tales from the underground, which he had dismissed as overblown nonsense before, which identifies the beast they now face as nothing less than a Beholder- a mad and ferocious monster that is renown for slaughtering parties with much more experience than our heroes.

Look, it’s not like I told them to investigate the Watchtower – I had to tell them it was there but they could easily have gone up the secret stair, or investigated the grove, or just gone home and taken up farming, growing carrots with Anton. I did not suggest that investigating the watchtower was in any way a good idea.

I just want to make that clear.

This is not my fault!

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Session 33-34

Session 33-34

Food, Glorious Food

The heroes are met with a welcome befitting kings as they march into Hammerfast at the head of the grain convoy. The hunger of the townsfolk enough to suspend disbelief at the barely credible story the party spin about how they came to get hold of it.

Town leader Marsinda Goldpsinner is keen to be seen with the adventurers, realising that her political capital would not be best served by doubting the people who have saved so many of her people, and so, at least for a while, the heroes are treated to the freedom of the town, feted wherever they go and guests of honour at the masked Founders’ Day celebration.

The slippery lawyer Beldrin Longbeard is less blinkered and sees the sort of trouble the party might have made for themselves and again offers his services in the belief that the future could bring many complications with such powerful enemies. The party, this time, decide that he might have a point and engage him on retainer

It is here that they are taken aside by the priest of Moradin, Grond Silverstar, who proclaims them as just the sort of people to help him rid the town of its orcish contingent and put an end to the shame of the so-called compact with the followers of Gruumsch, which Silverstar believes to be nothing more than a sham that will lead to the downfall of the dwarves should the Bloodspear tribe again march in rampage through the Nentir Vale. Indeed, Silverstar continues, a growing number of Bloodspear orcs have been seen in the region, a fact confirmed by some of the party themselves, who had spied on such a group at he very start of their Nentir adventure.

The medallion found around the neck of Vongan Kamroth is also identified as the sign of Tiamat – the evil chromatic dragon god of wealth, greed and envy, who commands her followers to hoard wealth, acquire much and spend little, with wealth being its own reward; to forgive no slight and leave no wrong unpunished and to take what you desire from others – those who lack the strength to defend their possessions are not worthy to own them.

One other mysterious figure introduces himself to the party during the festival – an ageing paladin of Bahamut who seems to recognise in Benedict someone who might need a little bit of moral readjustment – Sir Oakey offers the party a way to get out of the spotlight while the dust settles by accompanying hem on a quest to purify the temple at the heart of Gardmore Abbey, once a glorious base for the knights of Bahamut but now a ruined shadow of its former glory, its knights long dead, fallen in the final throes of the old Nerathi Empire a century past.

Seeing the sense in what the old man offers, the party agree to meet him in Winterhaven where they can make their plans.

Managing to leave Hammerfast without attracting too much attention, and wisely giving Fallcrest a wide berth, the party are within a day of Winterhaven when they discover the hideout of a band of orc raiders, not far from Gardmore Abbey. Deciding to flush them out the party is faced with one of its toughest battles yet, as the orcs prove to be tenacious and tactically astute opponents, although in the end they are forced to retreat as a nifty outflanking move by Makaria and Madran combine with the firepower of Thorn and the unorthodox methods of Mordzan and the ‘let’s just go through the front door, it’s always worked before’ approach of Bodin, Glaudr and Benedict to finally get the upper hand.

A tast of things to come perhaps, as the orcs are clearly members of the infamous Bloodspear tribe.

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Session 31-32

Swords Into Ploughshares

Yet again the party is faced with more agricultural issues, making their lives resemble an episode of the Archers, only with a bit less cake and a lot more gore.

Having tracked down the missing grain convoy to the outskirts of the great Winterbole Forest our heroes soon discover that it has not been hijacked at all, but is simply being deliberately delayed by its owners so the starving population of Hammerfast will be prepared to pay an extortionate price for cargo when it finally does arrive.

Standing in front of them with a smug grin on his face is Vongan Amroth, son of the powerful Fallcrest-based landowner Amros Kamroth, and at his side the tiefling Amara Azaer of House Azaer, the powerful Fallcrest-based trading organisation. Both very powerful, very influential people. Powerful, influential and probably not the sort you want to make enemies out of. Oh yes, and wealthy. That makes it powerful, influential and wealthy; extremely wealthy. All this, and both clutching the documents of ownership, meaning they can do whatever they want with the grain, since it is theirs to do anything they want with.

So all in all, an almost labyrinthine ethical dilemma for the heroes who cannot dismiss from their minds the sights of those sunken-cheeked Dwarven children back in Hammerfast, living off fried dung and boiled worms.

Needless to say, aware of their moral and legal responsibilities, the party take a short while to reason with grain’s rightful owners, with Glaudr doing his best attempt as reasonable oration before deciding that there was really very little point considering that Thorn had learned some new spells she was dying to try out, Mordzan and Madran were already notching arrows and could not even spell ethical dilemma, Makaria could spell it but could not be bothered, Bodin was his usual grumpy self and Benedict was already preparing his latest prayer of justification to Bahamut.

And so, true to form, the grey shaded morality of the situation was turned into something a little more black and white – a welter of swords and arcane power – including the first use of the card of Fate from the Deck of Many Things – that soon had the grain’s rightful owners lying dead in a heap, with the few surviving mercenaries that survived being allowed to leave, as long as they promised to keep quiet about what had gone on. To have slaughtered them was too much for Benedict (but only just).

Searching the bodies the party find a little loot and something more sinister, a medallion hanging from Amroth’s neck bearing the circular symbol of a red dragon devouring its own tail. The Religious experts can’t fully identify it, although its evil nature is clear.

It is soon apparent that the heroes are not the only thieves in the forest, as they find themselves surrounded by the notorious Wolfrunner bandits, led by the rather witty and world weary Sylish Kreed, who offers the party various deals over the selling of the grain in order to avoid bloodshed – a pretty forlorn hope all things considered, and yet again the forest glade is turned into a bloodbath.

This time the fight is more in the balance, as Kreed reveals his lycanthropic nature while his well organised allies launch a coordinated assault on the party – with wolves and dire wolves, a tiefling mage and a detachment of longbowmen.

Thorn almost falls under a savage assault by wolves before a fireball buys her some time, Mordzan at last meets his match as the longbowmen pick him off from his sniper’s hideaway in the branches, dispelling the mist he had cast over the battlefield, then, at the battle’s crisis point, Sylish Kreed himself spots Madran isolated from his allies and charges in with his greatsword, whirling the giant blade around as if it was as light as a twig. Before Madran has a chance to do anything Kreed launches the blade at him four times, each swing with enough force to decapitate a dragon, and misses with each one. An attack of such stultifying incompetence even Kreed is lost for words.

The crisis over, the heroes gain the upper hand as the Wolfrunners disappear into the forest, with Kreed calling on the assistance of some frosty allies to cover his escape in the shape of a pair of tumbling spheres of ice shards, but which are not enough to prevent Glaudr sneaking around and finishing off the leader with a well timed combination of dark sorcery.

Exhausted by all the influential and powerful enemies they have been racking up, the party decide to take an extended rest in the glade, warmed by the fire of the burning bodies of their foes (or getting rid of the evidence, as a less charitable interpretation might suggest), assuming there could not possibly be any dangers left to overcome.

How wrong they were, as they find out the cold allies Kreed had called on were more numerous and powerful than at first imagined, as their camp is attacked by more ice balls controlled by a evil looking witch with a personality as close to absolute zero as you could get.

Just about managing to fend off this latest attack the party finally decide to flee the forest, arming themselves with flaming staves in case they are attacked again.

But this time the forest seems almost keen to be rid of chaos that accompanies our heroes as they escape, exhausted, leading the wagons to the gates of Hammerfast, armed with grain and a cock and bull story about how they found the powerful, wealthy and influential Fallcrestians dead already at the hands of the likely to want revenge Wolfrunners.

Perhaps their lives aren’t quite as Archers-like after all.

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Session 30

Session 30

The Rule of Law

Finding themselves underneath Hammerfast with the prospect of the Winter King’s leaderless rabble following on behind them, it doesn’t take long for our heroes to destroy the portal and thus end the threat.

Tracing their way out through the dusty tomb-stacked corridors the party stumble into a grand chamber of ancient design: a circle of sarcophagi surrounding an altar upon which rests a giant golden hammer – something the more historically minded instantly recognise as a relic of the great Moradin himself, and valuable beyond imagining.

It is not something for the taking however, as the ghostly occupants of the chamber reveal themselves as the Paladins of Moradin, under their leader Lord Gathrak, who take their disturbance as a sign that Hammerfast must be under attack by a horde of orcs, rather than the clumsy meanderings of a bunch of exhausted adventurers.

Managing to persuade the spirits that they could in fact go back to sleep, the party eventually emerge from the tomb, only to be surrounded above ground by a detachment of town guards who are shocked that the hallowed Iron Tomb seems to have been disturbed by this raggedy bunch of ne’er do wells, among whom the figures of Bodin and Benedict are recognised, which is bad enough, but to have elves with them – well, there is only one thing for it – off to the Halls of Justice with the lot of them.

As they are led to the cells the party notice the town is starving – no grain shipments have arrived from Fallcrest, despite the weather having now turned from unseasonally freezing to unseasonally boiling in the space of a couple of days, although this does not seem to have stopped preparations for the approaching great masked carnival that is Founders Day, although some discontent can be seen with the preaching of a wild-eyed dwarven priest who warns a sizeable crowd that the pact with the orcs is an affront to Moradin and all dwarven kind, and that it won’t be long before bare orcish feet will again be marching through the Nentir Vale towards the town.

Faced with the inquisition led by the town’s High Master Marsinda Goldspinner, Mordzan decides to engage in a deft bit of stealthy acrobatics and manages to escape undetected, making his way to the safety of the nearest bar.

Meanwhile, the party’s only friend appears to be a slippery dwarven lawyer, Beldrin Longbeard, who soon makes them realise that their only chance of escaping the wrath of the town is to engage his services. They come at quite a price, although he is keen to inform the party that he can also provide all sorts of other, more clandestine services that incude ransom organisation, banking and tax avoidance schemes, particularly tailored for the adventuring kind.

Despite the fact that noone trusts him, it is soon apparent that the old adage is true. Dwarven law is so complex and arcane that it is thought only three people understand it – unfortunately one is dead, one is mad and the other has forgotten.

So, considerably lighter in the purse, and after a trying time in court, the party are finally believed and freed, enabling them to make for the nearest seedy bar – The Foundation Stone, where, reunited with Mordzan, they take part in a variety of ridiculous drinking games and feats of acrobatics.

Finally, they are brought to their senses with a job. Find the grain shipment which is still out there somewhere, on the road between here and Fallcrest.

Getting out to the Five League house on the trade road the party manage to track down the grain on the track to Nenlast, where they are faced with the same dodgy traders they had met in Fallcrest before their departure to the lair of the Winter King, all of them pointing out that the grain is rightfully theirs . . .

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session 28/29

Session 28/29
*
*An Army Looking For A Cause

With the demise of the Winter King the party’s attention falls upon the mysterious ice encased Dwarven temple and the keys required to unlock its secrets.

A battle with a tiefling, an ogre and a few blazing skeletons gains a key of fire, soon followed by the defeat of a white dragon, awoken from his slumber by a grab for the ice key hanging from his neck.

The fierce fight that follows proves most satisfactory for Bodin, who had become a little frustrated by the fact that so far he had only been playing Dungeons & . . .

The enemies dispatched by what has now become a formidable team, the temple is revealed as the party’s means of escape from the fast thawing dungeon – an ancient one-way portal powered by dwarven magic that leads to some unknown place.

Before the party are able to use it, however, there is the small matter of picking up Makaria and the elves, including Thorn’s sister, who have chosen to recupereate at the other end of the dungeon, with the small matter of the Winter King’s thawing and awakening army between them.

Despite some clever subterfuge by Thorn, creating an illusion of the Winter King to distract one force, and Glaudr disguising himself as the Winter King to distract another – a party of evil Duergar under the impression that it was time to carry out a longstanding plan to march on Hammerfast – it eventually dawns on the party’s enemies that there are too many chiefs and that something must be amiss – a point made obvious when Mordzan decides to bring the diplomatic maneuvering to an end by launching a flying kick at one of the duergar, decapitating him with the grace of Pele and Maradona rolled into one.

The usual chaos ensues with a hard fought battle putting an end to the Duergar’s plans as the party, reunited, wait for Thorn to activate the portal through which they pass through, finding themselves in some dank crypt – the style of which is recognised immediately by Bodin and Benedict as that common to the great Dwarven necropolis of Hammer fast.

Interlude

What Bodin and Benedict have told you about Hammerfast, the Dwarven powerbase in the Nentir Vale, not all that far from Fallcrest

History of Hammerfast

History walks the streets of Hammerfast in the form of the dead, the dwarves and orcs who died in this place more than a century ago. They are now ghosts consigned to wander Hammerfast’s streets until the end of days. Hammerfast was once a necropolis, a collection of tombs where the dwarflords interred their people. As the dwarves’ wealth grew, their burial chambers changed from simple stone sepulchers to lavish treasure vaults filled with the material wealth garnered over a lifetime.

Hammerfast transformed from a graveyard into a storehouse for treasure, and thus it became a target. A hundred years ago, the Bloodspear orc tribe conquered the necropolis but gained little from it. The orcs killed the priests and warriors tasked with guarding Hammerfast and started to loot the place, but the dwarves’ burial chambers yielded their treasures only grudgingly. The necropolis held street after street of unmarked tombs, some riddled with traps, many empty, and only a few containing great treasure. The orcs suffered great losses to the defenses of Hammerfast and, after butchering its guards and capturing a few of its treasures, they turned their attention to easier targets in other locations.

In time, the dwarves returned to Hammerfast. Due to the fall of the Nerath Empire, the citadels of the dwarves were broken, famine and plague grew thick across the land, and monsters and raiders prowled freely. In the face of such chaos, the dwarves made a fateful decision. Why waste fortifications on the dead? They had no use for it. Thus, Hammerfast was transformed into a town of the living. It has since grown into the largest and richest settlement in the eastern portion of the Nentir Vale.
Yet although Hammerfast has changed, its past lingers on. The remaining sealed tombs stand untouched on pain of death by decree of the Town Council. Ghosts still walk the streets, some of them orc warriors slain in the Bloodspears’ attack, others priests of Moradin or the necropolis’s doomed guardians, and even a few of them dwarves laid to rest here long ago. Such creatures enjoy full citizenship in Hammerfast, as long as they observe its laws. In a sacred compact struck with Moradin and Gruumssh, the one-eyed God of the orcs, the town’s founders agreed to respect the dead and defend their resting places in return for the right to settle here.

The Compact

Most inhabitants of Hammerfast can relay this story:

“When the dwarves first resolved to settle in Hammerfast. The priests of Moradin beseeched their god for guidance. The necropolis was once sacred ground, before the invading orcs defiled it.
A champion of Gruumsh named Tarrak led the assault on Hammerfast. He swore to Gruumsh to destroy the place and loot its treasures. Tarrak died in the assault, along with many other fanatical worshipers of Gruumsh. In Gruumsh’s single, baleful eye, Hammerfast became a monument to his worshipers’ ferocity.

With two competing deities laying claim to Hammerfast, only a compromise could avert a second war. Moradin and Gruumsh argued and threatened each other through intermediaries, until at last they reached an accord. Gruumsh had no use for the town, but he saw the chance to create a stark reminder of his champion’s victory. He demanded that the dwarves set aside part of the town for his priests.

Moradin agreed, but as a condition of his assent insisted on a strict set of rules that both parties must follow. Gruumsh gained his show of defiance, and Moradin ensured that his followers would be safe from Gruumsh’s treachery."

The rules set forth were simple but inflexible:

  • Worshipers of Gruumsh are not to be attacked or detained within the town as long as they
    do not commit acts of violence against Hammerfast’s residents.
  • Any priest of Gruumsh in the town must aid in its defense if it comes under attack.
  • The ghosts that dwell in Hammerfast are to be left alone, as long as they do not attack the living.
  • The temples of Moradin and Gruumsh are sacred ground. If either is attacked by the other, the gods will intervene.

The punishment for violating the compact varies. If a priest of Gruumsh is injured or detained, the dwarves must turn over a priest of Moradin for torture and execution at Gruumsh’s temple. Any priest of Gruumsh that violates the compact is struck blind and exiled to certain death in the wilderness. The town guard enforces the law regarding the ghosts: Any attack on the undead is treated as an assault on a living citizen.

The final rule spurs much speculation. The exact nature of the divine intervention was never set forth, but most residents believe that the gods would send a cataclysm to destroy the town if this rule is broken.

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Session 27

The Ice Man Cometh

After despatching the tentacled blob in the kitchens the party take a deep breath and move on, deeper into the ice-crusted dungeon, knowing the wizard responsible for Bodin’s short experience of life as a frog is still around somewhere, having scuttled away from the fight.

Soon, concerns about this minor villain become secondary as the party move from narrow tunnels and chambers into a vast hall, lit up by great chandeliers of ice, at its head a vast throne attended by several elves, frozen in place, one of whom sparks a cry of recognition from Thorn, who is finally face to frozen face with her long-lost sister.

But before this reunion can be complete there is the small matter of the throne’s occupant to deal with – a giant dazzling white humanoid figure upon whose head rests a crown of ice and who can be no other than the Winter King himself.

For a short while there is some to and fro between the monarch and the group over the return of the ice sceptre – something Glaudr seems unwilling to give up and, considering our heroes’ history of somewhat cavalier approaches to diplomacy a conversation that ends rather predictably in the standard ‘oh, let’s just hit it with stuff’ conversational gambit.

And so the great fight began, with Glaudr finding the ice sceptre less than useful as the King’s magic erupts from it, disrupting his attempts at invisibility and bringing him close to death. Both Benedict’s and Makaria’s healing resources are almost spent in keeping the party alive as the surprisingly nimble Lord of All That Is a Bit on the Chilly Side throws out ice bolts and evil sorcerous chest grips while bringing down upon the heroes’ heads the vast chandeliers, burying a few of them in shards of ice.

Hard pressed but determined, and with retreat a word not in their vocabulary, the heroes finally slay their adversary, Glaudr surviving the last potentially terminal sorcerous blast. With the King’s death comes a thaw, as the frozen elves begin to move, and the party is left to look down on his remains, only the crown remaining, along with a great sense on unease in Benedict’s heart, as the feeling of something very wrong persists.

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Sessions 25-26

Sessions 25-26
*
*The Big Chill

Beneath the icy obelisk ahead there seemed to be an opening in the cairn, promising some sort of shelter. Less promising was the discovery that, on closer inspection, the column was built not from stone but from thousands of skulls – human, dwarf, orc, elf, troll and several from creatures unknown.

Still, aware that this trip had hardly started with the promise of a warm welcome and a day pass to the Winter King’s World of Wonders and Magical Rides, the heroes stumble on into the cave, stomachs rumbling, drawn on by a sense of destiny and the smell of cooked food.

The scent of sweetmeats, pastries and roast beef pulled them down a stone corridor, which Bodin recognised as ancient Dwarven work, opening into a great hall and a welcoming sight – a friendly looking human warrior, a maid, a few snoozing hunting dogs and a table full of the greatest feast the heroes had ever seen. Introducing himself as the Winter King, the human tells the slavering visitors that they are welcome to all they can see, just as soon as they return what is rightly his.

After a short conversation it was soon obvious to the more perceptive members of the party that the human is lying through his teeth and that the whole setup is a trap, which gave the less perceptive members of the party the excuse they were waiting for to launch into a massive offensive.

The dogs turn into dire wolves, the maid turns into a gnome illusionist and the human warrior turns into a human warrior – just a bit more angry.

Without going into the details it was a tough fight but the heroes prevail, leaving Mordzan to gleefully celebrate the victory by diving into the feast before him, munching on anything he could reach – only to discover that the real trap has been sprung, the feast an illusion and what he was actually gorging on were the unidentifiable cold and rotten entrails that probably belonged to the owners of the skulls that made up the column outside.

Further curses follow when the party tries to rest in the beds at the end of the hall, only to be visited by terrible nightmares with an icy theme, until, eventually, after getting a few hours kip in the dog kennels, the party move on deeper into the icy complex.

It was soon apparent that they are in an ancient dwarven fortress, the walls covered in ice that is slowly melting. A door to a temple to the Dwarf God Moradin is frozen shut, defying attempts to open it, until a ghostly apparition of a dwarf priest sticks his head through the door to mouth something about getting keys of ice and fire to raise the curse.

The one-sided conversation is interrupted by sounds of clanging and smashing from the north, the party discovering a group of damp-looking half-frozen dwarves and a single human searching a kitchen for food. They hear mutterings about an army thawing out and questions about how long they have been frozen and what the king wants them to do.

When the party reveal themselves they are initially mistaken for more of the Winter King’s minions, looking around for food. Although they soon realise their mistake, it is not soon enough as they too are dispatched with clinical efficiency, despite the presence of a tentacled monstrosity suddenly appearing from a stinking refuse pit to add a bit of spice to the proceedings

Still hungry, and still no sign of the real Winter King, Thorn’s sister, or anything resembling a key of any description, the party move on.

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Sessions 20-24

Sessions 20-24
*
*The Rough and the Smooth

A lot has happened to our adventurers since they last had time to sit down and reflect on the events of the past weeks. Before they had met each other life had been a relatively peaceful affair for them all, where nothing really that traumatic or interesting would happen more than once or twice a year. But now, together, they have experienced a lifetime’s supply of glory and despair in the space of a season, and have managed to slaughter, maim and generally get in the faces of a small town’s worth of monstrous adversaries, evil adversaries, slightly misguided adversaries and adversaries whose last thought on this plane of existence went something along the lines of, “I only went out to buy some bread . . .”

It has certainly been a rollercoaster of ups and downs, and at the moment, freezing cold, hungry, stuck on some Pelor-forsaken mountain top, the biting wind whistling around them and only some dodgy dragon-headed flying longboat with a somewhat predictable line in conversation for company, it is safe to say the party have know better times.

In fact, had known considerably better times only a few days before, when they had been feted as heroes and basically given license to strut around and help themselves to anything they wanted. Only fair since, in the time we last reported on the adventuring party, bloodied but victorious at the end of the Battle of Albridge, they managed only to exceed expectations and get even more heroic.

Aided by the surprise arrival of Madran, Mordzan’s brother, found lying wounded among the detachment of the Woodsinger elves who had played their part in the battle. Soon healed, the expanded party moved on to Harken itself, to where the remnants of the Iron Circle had retreated to the castle to lick their wounds and wait for reinforcements from the south, a fact discovered when Mordzan shoots down a messenger bird let loose from the battlements.

Released from the tyranny of Iron Circle rule, the town below the castle is in turmoil, tearing itself apart as villagers turn on each other as accusations of collaboration soon escalate into potential lynchings – fortunately Glaudr retained his gift for the gab and managed to pacify the baying mob.

All friends again, the townsfolk plead for the heroes to free Baron Stockmer, still held in the castle, and point them to the ancient dwarf, Kellar, the local stonemason, who oversaw the recent renovation of the castle. He is only to happy to help, and reveals a secret entrance into the fortress.

Armed with this knowledge, the heroes soon come up with a plan and manage to infiltrate the Iron Circle’s last defence and, in what seemed like weeks of fighting but was in fact only twenty minutes or so, manage to rack up a body count worthy of a poem by the infamous Nerathian balladeer, Sawmise Peckingpower.

On one flank Benedict acted as a meat shield, soaking up enough damage to fell a tribe of Hill Trolls while Thorn blasted away with the full range of her magical blasts and bursts; in the centre the elves shot anything that moved while Makaria toyed with the disciples of Asmodeus in the castle’s desecrated chapel, while on the other flank Gluadr’s sorcerous tendrils aided Bodin who performed his usual combination of charging, falling over, getting up and performing a great deal of smiting.

Needless to say, Madran soon felt at home in the bloodshed, as everyone played their part with sword and spell, and even Nazin Rethorn, who had seemed so dangerous in their previous encounter, soon fell under a welter of blows and sorcerous entanglings, his last words directed at Mordzan and Madran, “Vhennyk has no heirs.” Words cast as he fell beneath the portrait of the Iron Circle leader, Lord Vhennyk, who seemed to bear a quite striking resemblance to the now reuninted brothers.

Although a few of the Iron Circle managed to escape through a magical portal into some hellish dimension, it was an overwhelming victory for the heroes, who release the Baron and are soon feted with honours and gifts and a range of personalised magical items presented to them by Eriyel, the Woodsinger leader.

The celebrations go on for days until, just when life seemed to be nothing but a series of slaps on the back and free beers, the convoy of grain wagons, sent out from Harkenwold to Fallcrest as it has done for many years, returns, still laden with the harvest, the drivers aghast that they could not get through because of some supernatural weather effect that has blocked the area around Fallcrest with oceans of snowdrifts.

“Without the grain, Fallcrest will starve,” declares the Baron.

“and we won’t get our money,” groan the farmers, full of empathy for the plight of their fellow man.

“Unnatural winter!” exclaims Thorn, “Whoopee! It must be the Winter King.”

And so the party discover once again that, while the upside of heroism is being able to flounce about, show off and get loads of free stuff, the downside is that whenever something goes wrong, they are expected to do something about it.

And so, before anyone can say, ‘better wrap up warm, then’, the heroes are on their way, trying to muscle the wagons through the snow, and, when that proves too hard, carrying sacks of grain across their shoulders to at least get some food through to the ice besieged town.

A scene of despair greets them, everything shut down, people scavenging for wood and food, and a tense town meeting taking place by the river where Warden Markelhay is doing his best to impose rationing and the redistribution of resources to keep everyone alive, much to the chagrin of those whose goods would be redistributed.

Just as a riot seems about to break out a strange rhythmic grunt of voices can be heard from above, recognised by Benedict and Glaudr from their several sea voyages to be akin to a sailor’s chanty, which is soon to be revealed as bizarrely true, as a great wooden longboat, its prow shaped into the head of dragon, soars above their heads, its oars pulling against waves of cloud, before it descends to the river bank, spilling out a ghastly rag tag crew of shambling uindead monstrosities, who soon get to work on slaughtering any townsfolk who get in their way while the dragon’s head starts growling about some ice sceptre that’s gone walkabout and if it isn’t returned to the Winter King (whoopee! shouts Thorn) then the ice will never leave and Fallcrest will suffer winter forever.

A tough fight ensues, the heroes gradually getting things under control and pushing the deathly crew back towards the river, cutting them down, seeing them get up, then cutting them down again.

As Benedict gets close to the boat, the dragon’s head turns to him,
“Do you carry the ice sceptre of the Winter king?”
“No” replies Benedict,
A reply that sparks a great bolt of lightning to spear past him.

As Bodin gets close the boat, the dragon’s head turns to him,
“Do you carry the ice sceptre of the Winter king?”
“No” replies Bodin,
A reply that sparks a great bolt of lightning to whip above his head

As Benedict again moves towards the boat, the dragon’s head turns to him,
“Do you carry the ice sceptre of the Winter king?”
“No” replies Benedict,
A reply that sparks a great bolt of lightning to hammer into him

As Bodin gets close to the boat, the dragon’s head turns to him,
“Do you carry the ice sceptre of the Winter king?”
“No”
Uh, wait, actually, yes?” replies Bodin,
The dragon’s head turns and nods its head, as if allowing him to board.

The battle over, the townsfolk start turning into a mob again, looking for someone to blame for their fate, someone who has brought this ‘ice sceptre’ among them and incurred the wrath of the mythical Winter King, a figure thought only to have been some ancient legend from before even the time of the Empire of Nerath.

Obviously suspicion initially falls on to the heroes, until Warden Markelhay points out how ridiculous that must be, considering what efforts the accused have put in to defending the town.

Then the party spot a half-elf trying to creep away, who is captured and, despite Mordzan’s best attempts to shoot first and ask questions later, is kept alive after he drops the strange bejewelled icy rod, obviously the ice sceptre this Winter King fellow is so keen on getting back.

“So who will save our town and return this thing to its master?”, asks Warden Markelhay, staring straight at the heroes, who, in the absence of any other volunteers, and with Thorn quite keen to get back on the trail of her sister, agree to take on the task.

Sitting on the longboat’s now vacant benches, with the dragon’s head humming out a beat to time the oar strokes, the party heave their way into the sky, piloting the craft through an endless storm, risking their lives in keeping the boat flying through the gale as sails are torn, hail lashes at their faces and ropes are snapped.

After an exhausting journey that seems to take them into a parallel universe even colder than the one they have left, the boat descends into a high valley cut into the roof of the world, surrounded by jagged ice-crusted mountain peaks. Sliding along the icy floor, snow cascading around them, the boat comes to a halt in this white hell, some 100 yards from a strange tall obelisk made out of what seems like oval ice encrusted boulders.

Exhausted, hungry and cold, the party stagger out of the boat to meet whatever cruel fate has in store for them.

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Session 18/19

And so, as the battle for Albridge rages around them, the heroes fight off the flanking attack led by another of the Iron Circle’s dark mages, commanding a horde of one hit wonders and some rather nasty little devils, who had the ability to spit out boiling hot (well, they are hellish, after all) balls of tar.

Again, through a combination of finesse, luck and bull-headed charge first, ask questions later enthusiasm, the heroes emerge victorious from the fight, if somewhat charred.

Around them chaos still ensues. Smoke drifts over the battlefield but cannot conceal the fact that the crisis is far from over for Albridge, as the screams of the wounded and the thuds and cracks of axe on shield reveal the point of decision has yet to be reached.

Before they can get their breath back, it is soon obvious that the field is to be won or lost by the heroes, as yet another wave of attackers falls upon them, only this time led by a huge warrior on horseback – none other than Nazin Redthorn himself, the commander of the Iron Circle detachment sent to subjugate the Harkenwold, escorted by another horde of humans and devils.

Alighting from his mount and only momentarily taking pause when he sees Mordzan as if recognising someone, the burly and heavily armoured human wades into the hoeroes, taking mighty swings at them with a triple headed flail, almost killing Benedict and Bodin with a single swipe and seeming to care little for the strikes he absorbs.

Eventually, however, the battering he is getting from sword and spell from those who remain takes its toll and, exhausted, he returns to his horse, badly wounded, and gallops away, but not before Mordzan lets loose what seems an impossible shot at the fast retreating figure. The mad elf’s arrow pierces Redthorn’s shoulder and for a moment it seems as if he might fall to complete an overwhelming victory, but somehow (by one hit point in game terms) he hangs on to the horse and completes his escape.

Shocked by the failure of their leader’s assault and with the arrows of Eriyel’s elven band falling around them and felling many, the rest of Iron Circle force flee the field, with the defenders of Albridge too exhausted to pursue and finish them off.

The battle is over, Albridge is safe. But the butcher’s bill is high – many lie dead on the barricades – the elves and the lads from Tor’s Hold in particular seem to have suffered many losses. And, as Dar Gremath grimly points out,

‘Albridge may be safe for now, but those Iron Circle bandits have returned to Harken and the Baron’s castle, and as long as they hold the castle and keep Baron Stockmer hostage, we will never be free – especially if they get word out to the south and another army of their scum come marching north – we could not fight another battle as vicious as this one, and we are not enough to break the walls of the castle.

‘What are we to do?’

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Session 17

Words of Steel

Scenes of panic and chaos greet the heroes on their arrival in Albridge. Villagers run around like headless basilisks without plan or purpose, while others stand around with the look of defeat already etched on their faces before a sword is drawn in anger.

Although Dar Gremath is doing his best to impose some leadership it seems the brave words spoken by the factions before this point are in danger of proving as empty as ale casks after a hobgoblin wedding. The halflings are looking to get back to their boats, other villagers are threatening to return to defend their homes and even the clans of Tor’s Hold seem to be wavering.

Just as everything seems to be lost a leader emerges from the chaos – It is Glaudr, who stands on a table and begins to speak. Quiet at first, the changeling’s words seem to weave and twist around the crowd like golden chain, pulling them together, hardening their resolve, turning them from shaking spears to hardened veterans like a scene penned by the great bard of ancient Nerath himself, Millwam Haketear.

Before long the party are conferring with Dar Gremath and making plans for the battle ahead, reinforcing the bridge that invaders from Harken seem sure to cross, providing some last minute training and then setting up an ambush at a forward farmhouse designed to disrupt any assault.
Soon night falls and the dark is punctured by a swarm of torchlight in the distance. The defenders take up their positions and the heroes man their station in the farmhouse, waiting for the storm to break.

As dawn rises, so does the dust of a stampede in the distance, heading towards Albridge, but the heroes must rely on the defenders to hold as they are faced with their own problems, as the strongpoint is surrounded by a dozen Iron Circle mercenaries, a couple of ferocious drakes and a huge berserker who leads the charge swinging a massive and ugly looking flail before him.

But even this vicious brute can do little to dent the heroes, as the attackers are soon taken out by swift combinations of magical and martial power, the berserker falling last.
Then, surprisingly, there is silence.

Returning to the bridge expecting to see an assault in progress by the main body of Iron Circle soldiery the heroes see only a herd of cattle, all with torches attached. Realising they have witnessed some sort of feint attack, the heroes are quickly made aware by a panicked messenger that the real assault is taking place on the other side of the bridge. Somehow the enemy has crossed the river and is approaching Albridge from the East. And it is not only humans and drakes that are the enemy now – it seems the heroes must face foes dragged from the blazing pits of Hell!

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