To the North...
After clearing out Diro's Tomb, the party's coffers were overflowing with silver and electrum. But Sægen Village is not the most exciting place ever if you're looking to buy better arms, learn new spells, or gather material components for mad science inventions. Everybody wanted weapons. Connor desperately needed to fill up his book of 1st-level spells. And Henrik needed tellurium-laced quartz and purified selenium ore to build the gadget described in a schematic he'd found. None of those things were readily available in the shantytown they called home, so it would be time to strike out into the wilds soon.
But first, they were going to make their home base into something a little more livable. Sægen Village was essentially run by two kingsmen bound to the service of the Prince of Dolheim: Sheriff Vinter, whom they'd already met and were on good terms with; and his immediate superior, the honorable mayor of Sægen, Sir Klauss Klaussen. Sir Klauss is a shrewd, thoughtful, and altogether level-headed man who has managed to run this village of exiles in spite of his fealty to an unpopular monarch, and he has done so through a mixture of political acumen, populist appeal, and the occasional, surgically precise application of brute force to demonstrate his authority.
The party approached the mayor with a request for a land grant: they wanted to build a house on the edge of the village. They bought an acre and set about hiring carpenters and masons to construct their new home base. The initial plan would be to build a nice big manor-house, something to rival the mayor's own manse in size and grandeur, and then expand it later, possibly into a shop, possibly into something defensible. Since it didn't seem likely that the players running either Vlad or Eben would return anytime soon, they and Viktor and Partrix were left behind to oversee the construction, while the rest of the party would strike out north, following the Schönflow River until they found some other sign of civilization on the island.
After all, according to the folk of Sægen, merchants from other towns---Dwerport and Rorgan---occasionally made dangerous treks through the wilderness for the sake of trade and profit. Dwerport, at least, was known to be four or five days' march almost straight north, so that was to be the party's ultimate goal.
The expedition consisted of Henrik, Connor, Tommy, Naeyl, Sven, and Frieda. By now, Frieda's remarkable luck in combat had manifested itself repeatedly, and the players decided that she was no mere huntress, but had the makings of a bona fide ranger. They chose to elevate her from the rank of 0-level man-at-arms to 1st level fighter. (By now, she was also decked out entirely in magical gear, with an elfsteel sword +1, ancient bronze shield +1 and elfsteel plate armor +1, all looted from various locales within Diro's Tomb.) It was also around this time that Ryan started referring to Frieda as "Fraulein Facemurderer".
The party followed the river north for a day and a half, until they came to a spot where the river widened out into a good-sized lake with an island in the middle of it. To the west, across the river, was a tall hill with visible cave-openings. To the east, on their own bank, a canyon-like cleft in the wall of the great plateau that the locals called Thunder Table led to the very gates of the Acrefatum cultists' fortress and temple, Shade Abbey. The party chose to ignore all of these landmarks for the time being, instead continuing their path north. They crossed the river here, skirted the western shore of the lake, and took the pass through the Zhadenalv Mountains. Their destination lay ahead.
Despite having a rough idea of Dwerport's location, they party spotted Dämmendell Castle first. Winding their way up a long, ominous pathway high into the mountains, the party first only passed small stone cairns to mark the path; then tall and impenetrable guard-towers manned by grim dwarven soldiers. At the gates of the palace, they talked their way in and were ushered under five enormous iron portcullises and into the dwarven stronghold, where they were granted quarter and then permitted to seek audiences with the inhabitants of the castle.
They met some of Dämmendell's more colorful inhabitants. Two were gnomes in the service of the dwarven king: Tarquin Tripscad, his majestey's flamboyant court jester and bard extraordinaire; and Kayla Klickenklamp, the court engineer, an exuberant and outgoing (if a bit bipolar) cute little gnomish girl-genius. Henrik and Kayla hit it off right away, conspiring over blueprints and material components and generally assisting each other with the science stuff. Henrik was able to complete the invention he was working on, a Geiger-counter for magical vibrations called an ætheric flux detector (think: steampunk PKE meter cum Dragonball-radar). Kayla also provided Henrik with a new schematic to work on, this time for a "ranged heartbeat sensor" capable of detecting living beings within a certain radius; but this would require a signification portion of phosphorus and radium, the latter of which could only be found much farther to the north, in a place known as the Desolation of Anarxis.
As it turned out, Dämmendell was the last remaining stronghold of a once-vibrant dwarf kingdom that covered the north of Shade Isle. But, a generation ago, a great black dragon, Anarxis, appeared out of nowhere and laid waste to all the northlands. The few surviving dwarves were driven out of their mines and fortresses, and they retreated to Dämmendell, where they've been ever since. They're not yet strong enough to strike back out at Anarxis, and they don't particularly give a crap about anything else, even if they're not exactly friendly with Shade Abbey or Dolheim.
Meanwhile, Connor MacLeary took up the study of 1st-level white magic under the wing of the dwarven high priestess, Matriarch Garavel. Garavel is a dwarven woman of stern and abrasive demeanor, and she hardly gives the humans in the party a second look, never mind the time of day, but she doesn't seem to mind the company of gnomes. She was at least cordial towards Tommy, and she was much more forthright and helpful to Connor, who was permitted to learn all of the 1st-level clerical spells that he didn't know from her. (Keep in mind, this is later-day OD&D: every clerical spell level has eight cleric spells and four druid spells. Connor only got the cleric spells from the matriarch. There are still a few 1st level druid spells that he hasn't found even yet. Of course, to balance out the fact that white mages in my campaign can learn both clerical and druidic spells right away and retain the power to turn or destroy unread, I've always made clerics keep spell-books and learn their spells with legwork and study, the same as black mages.)
Finally, at long last, the party was granted an audience with the dwarf-king himself, Bjornstraand of Dämmendell. They had a short conversation with the king, while the king's bodyguard, Fundin Flinthelm, eyed the party with wary suspicion. The king promised the player characters to aid and abet them if they should decide to attack Shade Abbey, but he didn't have the resources to commit troops to an endeavor like that---the dwarves are thinking long-term, and they're looking northward.
For the last few days of their first stay in Dämmendell, they met with Forgemaster Elrick, who re-shod Connor's oaken staff in dwarven steel and helped Henrik smith a couple of fine revolvers. This was to be only the first demonstration of a long and increasingly lethal weaponsmithing relationship between Henrik and the dwarves.
One last point about Dämmendell: the dwarves there knew the location of another Starshrine, this one dedicated to Alfader, the king of the northern gods. Once upon a time, King Bjornstraand had a court sorcerer in his employ, a half-elf by the name of Aristel Starbrow. Master Aristel, though, tired of the practice of sorcery and instead turned to faith. He sought out the shrine while on pilgrimage and decided to remain there as a priest of Alfader and tender of the shrine. When the party traveled up the northern leg of the Schönflow, nearly almost to the river's source, they found Alfader's shrine there, a stately stone mead-hall-in-miniature. Aristel welcomed the party graciously and allowed them to sleep in the shrine with something of a knowing twinkle in his eye. Sure enough, Henrik, Connor, Tommy, and Frieda (now a classed character with fighter levels, remember) received a vision in the night from the Odinic god-king, who told them that the Starshrines of Shade Isle comprise a seal---their power bars a mighty evil from entering this world. But the evil is pushing against the barrier, and the heroes must stop it before it breaks through.
In the morning, each PC had gained 3,000 XP, and each NPC, 1,500. This brought Henrik and Connor up to 4th level and Frieda up to 2nd level. They returned to Dämmendell for training and---now that they were 4th level, which is officially "Expert Set" or "heroic" level, as opposed to the "Basic Set" or "adventurer" band of 1st to 3rd level---promotion. Henrik was no longer a mere artificer, but a technologist now; and Connor no simple druid, but a wizard. In attaining the rank of wizard, Connor had to choose for himself a color (he picked a green robe, and is thus the Green Wizard of Shade Isle) and forge himself a weapon, traditionally a saber or sickle or other suitably curved blade. With the help of Matriarch Garavel, he reforged a magical short sword +1 with a cure light wounds spell bound to it that he'd found in Diro's Tomb into a scimitar with the same properties: and this newly forged magical saber became his official Jedi--*cough*--I mean wizard's weapon.
After that, the party then sought the road to their original destination, Dwerport.
Dwerport --or-- "Tommy Nofinger, amirite?" (Too soon, dude, too soon...)
From Dämmendell, the party traveled west, to the coastal town of Dwerport. Unlike the shantytown that is Sægen Village, Dwerport is almost a proper city---walls, buildings, paved streets with actual names, the whole shebang. The party learned quite a bit in Dwerport, and a bullet-point summary is probably the best course here:
- Dwerport's mayor was recently murdered. The murder itself has all the hallmarks of an assassins' guild hit, but as to the actual motive or the perpetrator(s) behind it, none can yet say.
- In the meanwhile, Dwerport is being run by an interim deputy mayor, a frazzled and stressed-out dwarf by the name of Fruben Flinthelm, brother to King Bjornstraand's bodyguard.
- Dwerport's law enforcement is in the hands of a dashing, swaggering, and possibly comically inept detective, Sheriff Jasper Capefeather. The sheriff is known to disappear for days at a time while he follows trails of clues, losing himself in long investigations.
- Dwerport itself is not by any means a prosperous town. It was once a bustling trading-port, years ago, but for a long while now, it's been blockaded by the Dolhemian Navy. Dolheim's gunboats won't let anyone sail very far out of Berserk Bay, the inlet where Dwerport sits, which doesn't stop fishing, but it effectively stymies trade by water. Thus, the merchants of Dolheim have to contend with the dangerous paths across Shade Isle, fraught with monsters, natural hazards, and slave-taking patrols out of Shade Abbey... and even then, the only markets to sell too are Dämmendell, Sægen Village, and Rorgan Village; it's hardly worth the trouble.
- The assassins' guild is somehow connected to an alliance between Dolheim and Shade Abbey. From time to time, the blockade allows Dolhemian ships to pass through and land at Dwerport; these boats are usually bringing Rûnish captives to sell as slaves. When the party broke into a warehouse on the quay, they discovered what Shade Abbey was giving back to Dolheim in trade: crates full of golf-ball-sized magical crystals called "mana stones".
It was a desire to assist Sheriff Capefeather in his investigations that led to the event. Following a trail of clues tipped off the assassins' guild to the presence of the party and the fact that they were poking into their business. After a few days of this, the guild sent a couple of assassins to their hotel to attack them in night, either to take them out or scare them off. Regardless, the party wasn't surprised and handled their two attackers easily. The sheriff put guards on their hotel, and some of the party members trapped their bedroom doors and windows after that. A couple of days later, investigating the Dwerport docks, they learned of a warehouse and safehouse owned by the assassins' guild and went to investigate. It was in this warehouse that they found the crates of mana stones. The party took most of the crystals out of one crate for themselves, thinking to leave the mostly empty crate behind with nothing else to show that they'd been snooping around.
But investigating the assassins' safehouse across the street proved ill-fated. They tried to break in through the back door, forgot to look for traps, and Tommy Twofinger took the lethal brunt of an electric shock trap that cooked the would-be-burglar instantly. After that, well, the PCs were a little ticked and decided to burn down both the safehouse and the warehouse, and the warehouse's contents went up in a Roman candle-esque display of magickally-fueled fireworks. So much for discretion, then.
Next, the party high-tailed it out of Dwerport and retreated back to Dämmendell.
Dämmendell, Take Two --or-- Enter the Fury
Back in the dwarf palace, Henrik and Connor first sought they aid of Matriarch Garavel. What were these mana stones? They came sundry colors---red, blue, gold, white, and black---and a ledger in the warehouse in Dwerport had implied that the cultists were somehow trading alchemical elements to the Dolhemians; ledger listed quantities of units of fire, frost, shock, light, void, and soul.
A bit of research revealed that each mana stone was, in fact, something like a magical scroll, in that each stone contained one casting of a particular 1st level spell, or a similar effect of equivalent power. The red fire crystals contained burning hands, the gold shock crystals contained shocking grasp, the white light crystals contained light, the blue frost crystals contained orb of frost, and the black void crystals contained a ranged vampiric touch. (As to the "soul" element mentioned in the ledger, the players haven't figured that one out yet.) Unlike magical scrolls, though, any character of any class could activate a mana stone, with nothing more than a round's concentration while holding the stone and focusing on drawing out the magic.
That gave Henrik an idea.
Was physical, flesh-to-crystal contact required to activate a mana stone? If yes, was there some way to transmit the required degree of physical contact, so that the stone could be activated while placed inside a device? As it turned out, the stone required both concentration and contact, either direct contact with the wielder's hand, or indirect contact through some suitably enchanted medium, like, say, mythrill etched with telluric circuitry. Henrick, Kayla, and Elrick set to work at the drafting table and the forge, and they came up with a kind of bazooka-meets-minigun for activating mana stones and aiming their effects. With a revolving drum suitable for loading the weapon with a dozen crystals, they had what amounts to a reloadable flame-thrower/plasma-blaster/frost-gun/flare-gun/life-sucking-zapper that anyone could activate. They made half a dozen of these monstrosities and equipped their entire party, including zero-level armsmen Naeyl and Sven, with the newly-christened "Dämmendell Fury" (or "DDF gun", for short). Additionally, Connor had his druid's staff re-shod with telluric circuitry so that he could keep a single mana stone in a setting on the tip of the staff, for activation in a pinch.
Now it was time to take the fight to Shade Abbey, to get revenge for Tommy's ignominious death, and to possibly secure for themselves a bigger supply of mana stones. They started with ninety stones, used up a few during the research & development process, and have been painfully aware ever since that their supply of DDF ammo is, so far, apparently finite.
They traveled all the way back down the Schönflow, making sure to stop at both Jorða's shrine and Nereus's, so that Frieda could make 2nd level as a fighter. In Sægen Village, they only stopped long enough to visit with Father Onnus, check the progress of the construction of their mansion, and pick up Partrix to help with the schlepping of the stuffs. Then they hiked straight up to the gates of Shade Abbey, readied the DDFs, and kicked in the gates.
Shade Abbey, Session One
On the ground level of Shade Abbey, the party discovered a complex of dark and sparsely-inhabited passageways. There were occasional guard-patrols, some human and some goblin, and a few run-ins with zealous worshipers or low-ranking acolytes, and the occasional adept or full priest. In a central chamber, the party stumbled upon a ritual, wherein a priest led four chanting acolytes through a long prayer. They were getting ready to throw four rope-bound prisoners into a spiked pit in the middle of the room as part of some sick sacrifice.
The party of heroes burst in, Indiana Jones style, and went to work slaying first the guards, then the priests. They managed to save three of the four prisoners from a spiky death, and that was how three players who sat down during this game session got to roll up their characters and join the party (huzzah!).
After that, the group explored a few more rooms, including a tabernacle inhabited by a priest and a troll, which Connor managed to take out by means of a well-placed powder-keg and well-thrown torch.
So, three new players joined the group that day, about half-way through the session. One was a guy who hangs out in the game shop and sat through some of the game, then left, then came back again, then left again... he rolled a fighter who still doesn't exactly have a name. We'll just call him "Nameless the Warrior" for the time being. The other two players were a nice couple who seemed to be looking to get into D&D---not just into a campaign, mind, but into gaming in the first place. That's always cool, and I especially love new players because they have no preconceptions. Just setting aside the fact that it means I don't have to explain my house rules contra the standard rules everybody expects (clerics have spell-books, you want to roll low on the d20 to make attacks and saves, &c., &c.), playing D&D for the first time is just plain magical. If you grok it, and the ref knows what he's doing (and I should like to think, modestly, that I do by now), it's nothing short of an amazing pastime to get into.
These two neophytes rolled up a pair of human characters, a sorceress of noble descent named Deliah the Black (hm, she uses the same epithet as the Black Prince of Dolheim... coincidence, I wonder?), and her roguish companion, a burglar expert who calls himself simply Gibli.
After their ordeal as prisoners of the Acrefatum cultists, Deliah and Gibli were sent back to the party's campsite outside the dungeon, on the banks of the Schönflow, where Partrix could allow them some food, some rest, and a bit of extra gear for equipment. Nameless stayed with the group for a while while they explored a few more rooms, but the most spectacular thing they found was, as mentioned, a troll who met the business-end of an improvised black-powder bomb.
Shade Abbey, Session Two
This was last Sunday's game, so we're finally up to date. Viktor's player came back! So, the first order of business this time was another pilgrimage to all the shrines, which gave Viktor, Deliah, and Gibli enough XP to bump them right up to 3rd level. This was, in fact, the very reason I put the Starshrines on the island in the first place: as a kind of "Easter egg" or "cheat code" for kicking new player characters up to a survivable experience level, without just starting them at that level by fiat. The original players had to do the legwork first of exploring the island and actually finding the shrines before others following in their wake could benefit in this way.
The party went back to Dämmendell first, where Henrik got together with Kayla and Forgemaster Elrick---yet again!---and designed another weapon. This time, he created a gauntlet which both spring-launches and automatically lights, like a match striking an ignition strip, cherry-bomb style grenades. This one was christened "the Fist of Bjornstraand" (Henrik is really out to flatter the dwarf-king; it's getting kind of shameless). The rest of the party have taken to calling it "the FoB" for short (or "the Fob-Omb" for fun).
Anyway, the party once again went upriver to Alfader's shrine, and then they swept south, back through the Lornwood to Jorða's shrine, and then once again back to Sægen, to Nereus's shrine. Now, at long last, their house was finally finished, and Connor set about hiring more masons and tunnelers, so that he could add a small wizard's tower to the grounds, along with a secret underground passageway between the tower and the house. (Note to self: charge the party 5,000 silver pieces for the cost of building and furnishing the tower, and digging the tunnel.) Viktor needed to level up, so he trained first with Fundin Flinthelm back in Dämmendell, and then with Hulda the sailor and dock-mistress of Sægen, and he made 3rd level as a brawler. Gibli got enough XP from the pilgrimage to jump straight to 3rd level in one go; he learned everything from Felgen the Useless, Sægen's resident blind, retired master-thief. But as for Lady Deliah, she needed training too, and yet Sægen had no sorcerer. Oh, sure, they could make the long trek all the way back up to Alfader's shrine and train under Master Aristel Starbrow, but that would be a trip of many days. It was already September now in-game (Henrik and Viktor had been initially dropped off on Shade Isle a week before Midsummer's Day, in the middle of June), and the party didn't want to waste time. They needed a local. And everyone in Sægen Village knew of only one nearby black-magic-user: Yelda the Bog-Witch.
At long last, it was time for the party to brave the Merkbog. Thankfully, their old companion Werterrix had actually explored a bit of the bog, and her notes indicated the location of the hag's hut. They began once again by skirting along the southern coast of the island, to get a sense of the shape of things, until they reached the longitude indicated in Werterrix's scribbled notes. Then they cut straight north, until they found where Yelda lived. Yelda proved to be a positively tiny, wrinkled, hunched-over crone of a woman, but she was indeed willing to train Deliah up to level three. Provided, that is, Deliah was willing to put up with more than a few snotty comments from the unsociable old bag, which she managed like a trooper. That accomplished, the party then did a little more wandering around in the southeastern part of the Merkbog, where they happened to meet a peddler from Dwerport who was taking a shortcut to Sægen. This peddler tried to scam them out of some gold by selling fake magical amulets; nevertheless, they did purchase from him a treasure map that at least appeared authentic, and this was what put the small section of the northeast Merkbog (and about seven miles of the Brunflow river) on their map, along with a potential treasure location.
Once all this was finally done, the party once again made for Shade Abbey. (It was around this time that Nameless's player sat down, and the players weren't about to go on yet another pilgrimage to all the bleeding Starshrines that session, so Nameless is yet a first-level fighter.) They saw that the gates were closed again, and the bodies of the many guards they'd slain in the foyer had been removed. Still, a couple of weeks had passed since they were last here, so maybe the locals wouldn't be on high alert. They crept in and stuck to exploring new rooms and passages, rather than passing through sections they'd already explored.
The first thing they discovered was a lounge, where an adept, Brother Boerhelm (C Drd2) was entertaining a Dolhemian slave-trader, Fritzhelm (C Ftr1) and his three men-at-arms. They were drinking and telling stories, generally laughing it up. To get a sense of the situation, Lady Deliah put on a cultist's robe and ring and ducked inside, asking if she could be of assistance. The adept was a bit miffed, but told her to get some fresh fruit and wine from the larder. Instead, Henrik rolled a canister of gaseous hallucinogenic compound into the room, and everything went to hell. The adept got high and zoned out, one of the guards got a bad trip and started freaking out, the other two guards became violent and attacked each other, and only Fritzhelm made his saving throw; he covered his mouth with a cloth and ran for it.
Most of the party took out the guards, while Deliah threw charm person at Fritzhelm, bringing the slaver onto their side. Then she did the same thing to Brother Boerhelm, charming him before he could snap out of the effects of Henrik's gas. Using these two as a resource and a cover, they started exploring the deepest, easternmost rooms of the abbey's ground level. They got into a big fight in a library with some acolytes and mediums (I had all of the mediums prepared with magic missile, but I'm now using an interesting variant on Holmes style magic missiles that I read about on Dragonsfoot; I'll have to comment on that soon in a separate post. It was very cool.), and they found some secret rooms with some interesting features.
In one room, they found what appeared to be a fake sacrificial altar, painted to look like it was covered in dried blood. Before the altar was a great, headless bronze statue with an obvious socket in the neck for placing a head of some kind. In another room, they found a great three-headed stone statue of the death-god Domstag, one face gazing ahead, one face scowling, and another contorted in agony. The statue was enchanted with some kind of abjuration magic, possibly connected to a great set of double-doors at the top of an ascending staircase connected to this room, which were likewise enchanted, and quite impenetrable. Curiously, the three-headed statue also seems to have a kind of socket on the top, similar to that in the neck of the bronze statue in the other room.
In yet another chamber, they found a kind of worship-fane, rows of pews facing an altar with an inscription on it, "rest here, ye faithful, and reap the boon of thy worth". The druid cast detect danger on the altar and found it to be dangerous; thus, so far, none have dared go near it.
Finally, just off the library, the party found a scriptorium with monks' desks and scraps from writing, ranging from the mysterious ("I mean to follow the prints in the dust") to the disturbing ("We give our eyes, so that he may see through us.") to the potentially useful ("Reunite the stone god to open the way") to the downright wacko ("All work and no play makes Janosz a dull monk, all work and no play makes Janosz a dull monk, all work and no play...")
The party barricaded themselves in the room with the bronze statue and the fake altar, and that was where they passed the night. The next session begins tomorrow, so I'll pick things up from there with a proper post about it.
Hey, I'm finally blogging my campaign! Sweet!