The Northern Alliance

Exit Scions: In which we finally, at long last, after many months and delays, finished a module

Man, we don’t get together often enough. Doggone those wives, children, jobs, responsibilities, moral obligations and DVRed “CSI:Miami”s!

Here’s how the end of “Scions of Punjar played out. Redgar, Lia and Gareth were abandoned by Maelgwyn (dentist’s visit, maybe?) but joined at the last second by a ranger played by Wukas (who shall hereafter be called Wukas, because I can’t find my notes).

First: The Windmill!

Windmill small

This was one of the more fun battles I’ve ever been a part of. After dispatching a squad of scarecrows and a fusillade of magic missiles from the high tower, half the party reconned the windmills base, while Wukas – what else? – climbed the blades of the mill.

When the terrestrial heroes went through the front door of the mill, they came face to face with the salt troll zombie, who put the gears of the mill into motion. Look out, Wukas! He just barely leaped onto the ledge of the upper window and scrambled in. The party is officially split!

What Wukas discovered upstairs was … nothing. The magical assailant had fled the room. But he did trigger the glyph trap that would have fried anyone climbing up the ladder. Here’s the cutaway view, sponsored by Planters Peanuts:

Windmill cutaway3story

Planters: Now made with pure sea salt! Anyway, a few rounds later, Wukas shinnies down ladders and stairs where he witnesses the zombie fight under way. What does he do? HE LEAPS ON THE SPINNING GEARS TO LAUNCH AN ATTACK!

Gear fight small

That’s what I’m talking about! After killing the troll – and learning that killing a 4E troll is only the beginning – our party descends some stairs, kills some spiders (that persistent bitch is still hiding behind an arrow slit firing magic missiles!), and down to an underground cavern where more undead nasties put up a fight.

Thanks to some fortuitous rolling and quick thinking, the party avoids the pit trap full of skeletal hands and the riverbed loaded with undead sentries. Instead they engage their prey – Cadavra the Necromancer – and take her down. With prejudice.

Their plunder includes one big mama-jama of a cauldron, bedecked in evil hieroglyphics and assorted goth flourishes. Coupled with a thick tome entitled “The Cauldron of Illserves” and a +2 cudgel of command, this is the tool she used to raise an army of undead…

... an army that is apparently scattered in hidden locations around Punjar. Notes and half-scribbled maps hint that there are scores of zombies lying in wait around the city, waiting for the chance to attack. What, oh what, will become of them? (Well, I bet you have a pretty good guess…)

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Take That, Banditos!: Second time's the charm

“Thoumont, we need some muscle.” Lia pressed her swollen jaw against the top of the desk where she had cast Icy Terrain. “These guys even bruised my bruises.”

“We don’t need more muscle,” huffed Redgar before sinking further into the big tub of soaking salts.

“What’s the matter?” asked Thoumont. “Did something violent and unexpected happen when you wandered into an underground lair populated by desperate graverobbers? I am shocked. Shocked!”

“Seriously, Thoumont, we were so weak sauce in there,” said Lia. “We’ll never get to the bottom of this mystery without more muscle.”

“We don’t need more muscle!” Redgar tried to shake his fist, but winced in pain. “Arrrgh!”

“Would you please let Gareth look at that damn arm?” snapped Lia. “Or are you going to kvetch it back to health?”

Redgar snorted. “The cleric’s the one who set the bone wrong in the first place. On purpose.” If Redgar had proof of this claim, he did not share it. Instead he withdrew deeper into the bath and blew angry bubbles.

Thoumont looked up from the tray where he had been sorting demon vertebrae.

“If you insist on going back to the underground death trap, I suppose I could recommend the services of a rough customer or two I’ve met in my travels,” said Thoumont. “I’m sure they could be put to work for a price.”

“Yeah a couple of totally ripped dudes with bigass swords and dirty tattoos!” said Lia.

“No dudes!” called Redgar.

“One dude,” said Lia.

Redgar splashed sudsy water at her and grunted.

“One,” he said at last.

“Very well, one,” said Thoumont. “I do know one nasty fellow who would tip your scales nicely. And as he is a caster of spells, our dragonborn friend here wouldn’t feel too threatened. Though I’m afraid that fails your request for a, uh, large-bottomed sword, Miss Xiloscient.”

“Well, does he have a dirty tattoo?” asked Lia. “Something really depraved and shocking?”

“I haven’t looked, my dear,” said Thoumont. “You can request a viewing, however, as Akmenos will be here within the hour to pick up this custom-made maraca of demon bones and devil teeth. Hnh. Evil maracas—it’s always the craziest things with warlocks.”

“Wait, he’s a warlock? You didn’t say that!” Lia’s eyes widened. “Cool beans… I wonder if he’ll let me feel one of those eldritch blasts. Just a little one. I’ll bet it makes your toes curl.”

“Bah, warlocks.” Redgar shook his head. “As long as he’s not a tiefling. Those are the ones you have to look out for.”

“Just keep soaking, my friend,” said Thoumont. “Try making more bubbles. It soothes the soul so, and buoys the spirit against disappointment.”

  • * * *

With the mercenary Akmenos in tow, Gareth, Lia, Redgar and Maelgwyn made a midnight return to the iron mine that last time sent them running in pain.

The guards and guard dogs at the gate provided little challenge, but they served their purpose. The outpost had been alerted. Behind a barricade in the mess hall, the bulk of the remaining bandits had overturned tables and entrenched themselves. Redgar battered down the door, and a brawl ensued. With pretty fey stepping and sidestepping, Maelgwyn infiltrated deep in the ranks, while Redgar stood up front and traded blows with the most heavily armed foes. A sneaky shadow-dwelling rogue was no match for the blasts of Akmenos. Gareth and Lia buoyed the crew with spellcasting until the room held nothing but five dead bandits and some shiny magical weaponry.

The well-appointed fighter who had poked his head in the room during the fight had barred the door behind him before scuttling deeper into the unfinished caverns. No problem. The team pressed onward, taking the time to examine rooms and loot footlockers. (What was lurking deep behind the altar to Crypticus? We would not find out that day…) Before long, they stood before Haledon the Mighty; Haledon the Defiant. Holding a flaming sword and shimmering chainmail of magical means, he dared the party to lay a scratch on him.

Oh, crap, did they ever.

Thanks to Lia’s COOLEST SPELL EVER, Haledon found himself up to his jodhpurs in clawing skeletal arms. By the time the party finished two rounds of attacks – including the warlock doling out an extremely CRITICAL magical masterstroke – the heavily armored Haledon had been bloodied and then some before he could muster a true attack.

A mighty taunt from the Akmenos found him with his will buckling, and he threw down his sword for mercy.

He sang like a canary. His band, the Crimson Hand, followed orders from a dark witch who called herself Cadavra. Their job: to recover bodies from tombs and deliver them to Cadavra at her windmill lair to the north of Punjar. For what purpose? Haledon could not say – even with Maelgwyn punching his teeth down his throat – except that Cadavra seemed to have a larger plan poised for some purpose inside the city. The only time they ever deviated from their routine of body-snatching was when they opened the Dev’shir family tomb; on that night Cadavra herself was present, and she animated the dead bodies in the crypts while the bandits stood guard.

What ever will the party do next? What, I ask, what? Will they face the horrors of the abandoned windmill? Or will they kick back for drinks at the Famished Froghemoth until this whole thing blows over?

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And They Call It A Mine: The party gets a little iron in its diet

A quick summation of our most recent outing. Has it been a month? Good golly, where does the time go? To bullet points then:

1. In the absence of Lucas (shanghaied by the Thieves Guild for horrible experiments at the hands of the shadowy figure, “The Trevian”) Maelgwyn joined the party. In his quest to discover what dark magical fate befell his comrades, he found his way to noted scholar of dark magics, Thoumont. The old shop proprietor hooked this eladrin ranger up with our band of fellow pointy-ears.

2. Following the lead of the turncoat half-orc who ratted out his bandint band, the party made a a pre-dawn visit to the abandoned iron mine where the tomb robbers lurked. They failed to notice the two outpost sentires in a a tree outside the mine entrance. A fight ensued with an elven archer and a daft human fighter. The archer pleaded for his life in exchange for information about what lay within. After a merciful Gareth released him, the archer bolted—but Maelgwyn dropped him with an arrow in his back. “Wow, the new guy is hardcore,” said Lia.

3. Turns out he deserved it: He lied. He directed the party straight into a crossbow trap, followed by a waiting band of filthy orcses, who had been alerted by the sentries’ bell. It was a nasty knife fight in a phone booth, but hey, all orcs fail in the end.

4. The party turned the corner and walked straight into the next trap: a mine cart booby trapped with lances, spears, and burning explosives. Boompow! The guys who pushed it down upon them stood at the top of the ramp peppering our party with arrows. Ouch! Despite the devastatingly deadly trap (and the freshly oil-slicked incline -and yes, Lia, the DM now agrees it should have ignited before the villain tipped it - sorry, botched call) the party pushed through, killing one of the two lurking bandits.

5. The escaping bandit slipped inside a door and barred it. Inside, it became quickly apparent that a sizable host of arms was being alerted and readied. “Come in, come in!” came the mocking voices within. “Are you selling Girl Ranger Cookies? We are hungry! Haw haw haw!” Our badly bleeding party chose the better part of valor in this delicate moment, and wisely retreated.

How will they prevail in the iron mines? Will they give up and move on to an Eberron campaign? Stay tuned!

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Whatever Happened to Lucas?: An off-panel departure for a beloved, doomed rogue

“Wakey wakey, Lucas,” said a whiskery voice in the thief’s ear.

“Nng – not on duty t’day,” Lucas mumbled. He rolled over in his pallet and covered his throbbing head with his ale-soaked sleeves. “Slag off.”

“T’aint Captain Thurg calling you to duty, lad,” continued the strange voice. “It’s Crippled Mince.”

“Mince?” Lucas sat upright, his heart pounding. When the High Collector of the Theives’ Guild made personal calls, it was never to be sociable. “Cripes, Mince, what are you doing here? The guards will see you -“

“Your fellow guards have been persuaded to give me a moment with you.” Crippled Mince set aside his little crutches and heaved his bulk onto a chair next to Lucas. The chair creaked. The old robber may have been grossly fat, but his arms were strong like a team of oxen … which is what happens when you cut off your own legs to settle a debt to your Guildmaster. “Quite a night you had at the Froghemoth, I understand. Don’t get there much meself. The tavern boss at the Frog discriminates against us cripples something fierce.”

Lucas licked his lips in a vain attempt to wet them. He looked around his empty barracks with growing panic. “Mince, you’ve got nothing to collect from me. I’m paid up in all my dues, and I haven’t pinched a penny since -“

“Lucas, my boy, there have been whispers around the Guildhouse,” said Crippled Mince. “Whispers. That there were more swag in the Beggar’s charnel house than what you brought back. Some even say there were more shiny stuff in his coffers than what were pilfered from us, and that any guest of the Beggarhearth might make himself a king with what he could fit in his pockets. Vicious rumor, I know, but there it is.”

“Mince, I swear, to you,” lied Lucas, “the Guild got everything we found.”

“Oh, I believe you, boy. You’d be a fool not give the Guild her due after a baggy score. As I say, I believe you … but Khazilas, now, he don’t. He thinks you’ve been amusing the choir with some pretty patter.”

“Pretty patter? I’m not lying, Mince!”

“Surely, surely. T’is a mute point, anyway, lad. The mucketies have had a chinwag – “

“You mean a moot point, Mince?”

Crippled Mince scratched his whiskers. “Moot? I suppose so, lad. Such a bright boy! See? I knew I was right about you. This fairly proves that Khazilas made the right choice.”

The fog of alcohol, blown back by the wind of adrenaline, was beginning to lift from Lucas’ senses. Though his head still ached, he began to unravel more about his surroundings. Two more bodies joined him and Mince in the barracks – two dark, cloaked shapes lurked at either end of his bed, and their hands were concealed under folds of fabric. His footlocker had been emptied. His weapon was nowhere at hand.

“Kill me in my bed?” he croaked. “A foul deed even for you, you legless gunnysack. Give me my dagger and let me go out swinging!”

“Ha!” Crippled Mince slapped his gut in mirth. “Never waste what you can still use, any mother’s son should know that. And Khazilas, he thinks you have great purpose yet for the Guild, my boy. He’s looking for clever, brave boys with special gifts, and who is more clever, brave or special than our Lucas? And too, you’ve picked up some swift flashie that do catch his eye – or not catch it, as the case may be.” Here, Mince leaned in and pinched a fold of gray skin on Lucas’ arm and rubbed it as if he were sampling the quality of fine silk.

“My- my skin?” Lucas fumbled. “My complexion? This is poison – picked it up in a trap in the Beggar King’s lair…”

“Your eyes, too, gray as a mare’s belly,” marveled Mince. “You’re touched by something, boy. Something that may or may not be useful to all us humble bung nippers. We need to educatify ourselves about your condition, and since the master of your Guild thinks you owe him some special service, you have been volunteered to go to the head of the class.”

“What do mean? You’re gonna experiment on me? Mince, I hereby un-volunteer,” said Lucas. “You can tell Khazilas I don’t owe him anything more than -“

Whatever the cloaked men concealed in their folds, it made quick work of Lucas. After a flash of light, his eyes rolled back and his words slurred out, and he slumped back into his straw.

“Nice work, boys,” said Crippled Mince. “Summon the Trevian. We begin at once.”

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Pub Life: A trip to a tavern, and everyone gets lit

(belated notes from our mid-July session)

The party began the adventure by informing the Dev’shir family of the desecration at their family tomb. Thanks to some supremely slick game-sense, Lia noticed the worried look of the servant who was ushering them out, and she totally Power Manipulated a little info out of the valet. Namely: daughters Dugesia and Lakaisha had both perished in a tragic barn blaze, though the servant made some oblique references about bad blood between those two daughters and internal worries about public opinion and the continued social standing of the Dev’shir family. This seemed to indicate there was more to the story than the public had been led to believe.

Lia was able to form a Promising Theory about the identity and motive of someone who would desecrate the family tomb. (Nice going, guys! I didn’t see that total fast-talking grifter maneuver coming, and you cobbled together some critical info a session or two early! Well done.)

After this, the party was hot on the trail of Latimer, the half-orc who pawned the Dev’shir heirloom. Following a tip from Oskar, the pawn shop owner, they entered the raucous tavern called The Famished Froghemoth. It was about 7 in the evening, and though many were already hunkered down with their mugs of ale and mead, none appeared to be the distinctive half-orc they sought.

And so, to blend in, they drank. And drank and drank. Gareth and Redgar nursed their mugs and watered them when possible, but Lucas and Lia took this opportunity to reclaim their college drinking days. And boy did they put on a good show. Lucas nearly got into a scrap over a drunken game of darts, while Lia was nearly convinced to “earn some beads the Mardi Gras way.” Redgar kept her under close watch.

The hours ticked by. No Latimer. Lucas got drunker.

Captain Thurg “bumped into” his guardsmen grunts in the tavern. Clearly he has known Gareth and Lucas are moonlighting and picking up good money and notoriety with the noble crowd, and he wanted a piece of the action. Gareth was, to be honest, a little brusque with the captain, who hung around all night waiting for things to happen.

Which they did. Around 9, Latimer walked in, to shouts of “Norm!” all around the bar. He quickly fell into drinking and gambling, losing as much as he won, until an opening appeared at his table. Gareth and Redgar moved in. Latimer talked them into a wager on a game of Punjar Hold ‘Em. Their cards stunk, but as it turns out, the sharp-eyed Gareth just barely noticed Latimer slip the extra pair of aces into his hand at the last moment. He decided to keep mum and let Latimer scoop up his winnings.

Their queries soon made Latimer uncomfortable. He slipped out the front door and the party followed. (Lucas mostly stumbled.) Captain Thurg tried to join, but Gareth bristled at his boss’ interference – the quarrel nearly allowed their quarry escape, but they heard a muffled cry from an alley. They arrived in time to see Latimer getting bound by a pair of shadowy thugs. When the party accosted these ne’er-do-wells, they were warned to leave or face the wrath of “the Slayers.” Lucas and Thurg instantly recognized the gang symbol these thugs flashed – the Slayers are an infamous league of Punjari assassins and mercenaries quite separate from the Thieves Guild; their agenda is their own.

A tiefling warlock on a balcony overhead warned them that Latimer was now “property of the Slayers” but did the party listen? Of course not. Despite Lucas falling down drunkenly at least once, they managed the thugs quite well. That slippery warlock nearly got away – BUT thanks to Thurg, who had moved around to the opposite end of the alley, they pinned him down and rendered him Not Alive. Lucas pinched a swank Cloak of Lurking.

Latimer was grateful to be rescued, and (since his life was forfeit now anyway) he spilled the beans: He had been a mercenary for a small band of bandits called the Crimson Hand. The Hand had been hired by a secretive, black-robed sorceress (whom Latimer had never seen directly) to exhume bodies from the City of the Dead. Easy work for good money. But thanks to his old debt to the Slayers coming due, he decided to go on the lam. He shared the directions to the particular abandoned iron mine where the Crimson Hand holed up.

I think we all know what’s coming next. Bring your miner’s hat and a caged canary!

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Scions of the Times: Another adventure in Punjar

In which we begin: “Scions of Punjar”

When last we left our heroes, Duke Farod had promised them a banquet for rescuing his daughter in time for her wedding, and boy, did he make good on his word. The gala event welcomed several prominent families of Punjar. (Though a visit from the Overlord was hoped for, and much-promoted by Farod himself, the sovereign was a no-show). Captain Thurg, Lucas and Gareth’s superior officer, was invited as well, since he was the mastermind of the rescue mission. He took all the credit. And drank most of the wine, too.

During the evening, however, a small nobleman took Gareth aside for a quiet chat in an empty hallway. Lord Dev’shir, patriarch of a lesser household in Punjar’s social strata, had a potentially embarrassing problem that needed the attention of some doughty (but discreet) agents.

Dev’shir’s son, Elam, discovered an heirloom of the Dev’shir family in a pawn shop of all places – more unnerving still, the amulet in question had been buried with a cherished aunt at the family crypt. Would Gareth and his friends consider themselves up to the task of quietly investigating?

Yes, they would. (I hope somebody wrote down what he promised to pay you…)

Armed with a key to the crypt and the name of the pawn shop, the party started the day in the neighborhoods of the Souk, at Oskar’s Pawn Shop, where the irascible Oskar proved a thorny subject for questioning. Before a fight broke out, sufficient coinage trickled his way for him to give up what he knew about the amulet:

  • It had been pawned by a half-orc named Latimer, an ugly character with a gold earring and an identifiable facial scar.* He was a known gambler who frequents the Famished Froghemoth in the Devil’s Thumb district (Punjar’s “Vegas quarter”).

“To the Famished Froghemoth!” cried the party, until they realized it was only about noon. Since the city boneyard was just to west, they decided to kill time at the Dev’shir family tomb. Their key was useless, as the doors had been forced open and were now protected by a magical glyph. Inside, things seemed quiet at first, until the party discovered an entire undead army of reanimated Dev’shirs lying in wait. It damn near took them down. But not quite.

Jinkies, a clue! A mural of the Dev’shir family tree depicted the current Heads of House: Lord Abir (who initiated this quest)and Lady Noura were represented on smooth bricks, as was their son, Elam. To the left of Elam’s name were two blank bricks that showed signs of having being replaced.

Behind the mural lay another burial chamber, this one from the modern era. One of the tombs had been smashed open, and the remains within were not animated, as the others had been, but slung to the back and onto the floor. “Beware the ghost of Burr Oak!” advised Gareth, but it was only the ghost of Dugesia Dev’shir who approached them. She reacted first with fury, but calmed when it became clear the party were not tomb defilers.

She seemed lost and confused, unable to explain who or what had happened to her tomb, but it was the cruel treatment of her corpse that led to her return as a ghost. The party (probably) returned her bones to the slab—her remains had only been decaying for few years, which helped retrieval and repositioning of her corpse. The party also retrieved pieces of a shattered brick, which bore Dugesia’s name when assembled; it had been smashed on the floor here.

Jinkies, another clue! Red footprints in the tomb hint at iron-rich soil. As Gareth and Lucas surely know, Punjar had once experienced an iron boom many years ago, spawning a slew of mines on its outskirts. But the iron proved to be of poor quality, and the mines that sprung up overnight were soon abandoned, leaving behind a vast playground for every bandido, evil sorcerer, and lurking beast looking for a quiet spot to call home…

Licking their wounds, the party limped back to their quarters to rest up that day and night. What ever will they do for an encore?

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Skull Session: A brief foray into slaughter

Updates all around from our June 15 session, which incorporated elements from an encounter in the “Open Grave” sourcebook:

  • Thoumont offered his shop in The Souk as a place for Lia and Redgar to stay indefinitely. It’s not exactly zoned as an inn, and the amenities are spare, but the price is right. He’ll exchange free rooming for a little extra security around the old homestead.
  • Lucas, under secret orders, returned some of the Beggar King loot to his masters at the Thieves Guild, who raised an eyebrow that the amount was so … paltry. Thanks to some fast talking, he staved off further inquiry into the matter with promises that he had an in to the House Ferod, where he had achieved great favor for rescuing the Duke’s eldest daughter from slavers. By curious circumstance, the Guild’s own agents inside the Ferod household had gone silent, feared dead – or worse, off on vacation with ill-gotten gains they did not share with the Guild. Lucas is allowed to leave the Guildhouse with his life…
  • Gareth, having identified in the Beggar King’s haul a stack of silver ingots stamped with the mark of House Ferod, offered to return the ingots to the Ferod estate. He met with the Duke himself who seemed taken aback at the sight of the lucre. He soon informed Gareth of his unending thanks and trust, and promised a fete for the band of adventurers as soon as his household recovers from the wedding revelry.
  • Until then, however, the duke had a delicate favor to ask: A family heirloom – no more than a curious onyx skull – had gone missing. He had bequeathed it to the church (the Sacred Cathedral of the Holy Breath of Podru) where his house had been a patron for generations. But he received word the day before that this worthless curio had been removed from the vault where the priestly scholars had stored it. Some of the duke’s retainers – skilled and doughty men, all – were dispatched to investigate at once but he had not heard from them since. Gareth agreed to round up his new allies and follow up with Father Rumpus at the cathedral, returning the onyx skull at once if possible.
  • To the cathedral! The big bloody corpse hanging from the altar was a dead giveaway: Something was amiss at the church. But the party didn’t know for sure what kind of trouble until the ghoul dropped out of the rafters and began to feast on their living flesh. Snicker snack, and that was that, except for the two ghouls who escaped out the back.
  • To the graveyard! Many prominent families of Punjar had crypts and mausoleums in the ancient bury patch, including a grand structure bearing the Ferod name. Lia heard plaintive cries coming from there. A separate mausoleum had its door wrenched open—Lucas saw bodies of dead acolytes just inside. But they followed the sounds into a room filled with zombies, skeletons and a tall humanoid, ghastly and white, with a fabulous mane of rock star hair. The beatdown resumed, the pale reaver found himself outmatched, and he ran away through a wall. Brother Tickles cowering in a corner warned the party that the reaver has captured Father Rumpus.
  • The party followed down to the undercrypt of the neighboring tomb. Bad things down there, including the two ghouls, some ratty minions and what was left of the pale reaver—which was still quite a bit. After Lia remembered she was Eladrin, she fey-stepped next to a sarcophagus where an onyx skull emitted purple light and generally whipped the undead into a frenzy. She pocketed the skull, debuffing the undead, who put up less fight and had the decency to die quickly.
  • The party rescueed Father Rumpus from inside the sarcophagus where he was bound, covered in arcane runes written in blood. He was unsure of what the beasts intended to do with him, though sacrifice is a pretty safe bet. All he can tell the party is that the vault holding the skull had been unsealed and removed improperly – all the priests permitted to study it know proper ways of handling it, but none was authorized to do so.
  • The party returned the skull first to Thoumont, at the mage’s request, so he could examine it. He turned it over in his hands a length and said very little, other than that it appeared to have been broken or sawed off from something larger. He listened to the stories of undead antics with interest, but stopped short of calling the skull evil. When Lia asked what they should do with the skull, Thoumont replied that it would be unwise not to return it to Duke Ferod as he requested. “How far and how fast could you run?” were his exact words.
  • Duke Ferod receives his lost heirloom happily, if a bit surprised to see these scrappy heroes survive the encounter. A feast is promised within the week to commemorate the heroes. The Overlord of Punjar himself has even been invited to make an appearance at the fete…
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Sellswords of Punjar; or: Beggar Me Silly

An Eladrin princess several steps removed from the throne; a Dragonborn bodyguard accompanying her on her globe-trotting journey of self-discovery; a roguish elven mercenary serving a stint in a company of city guards for murky purposes; a bright young half-elven warrior serving in the same company to pay his dues on the road to greatness…

These are the characters we’ve neglected pretty regularly for months as we very casually and slowly played Goodman Games’ rootin-tootin’ “Sellswords of Punjar.” It’s a great module full of fresh ideas and tasty flavors, set not just in the Lieber-esque city of Punjar, but in a nasty, scummy slum. What a hoot!

Here’s the summary of this, the Northern Alliance’s first foray into 4E:

Lia, hoping to understand what humans enjoy so much about gambling, dragged Redgar to Punjar’s infamous Lucky Lulu’s Palace of Chance and OTB, where she promptly gambled away what little coin they had left … and a whole lot of coin they didn’t even have. When the city guards dragged them off to the Dragonne post in the heart of The Commons, these two had little to look forward to but breaking rocks and making license parchments under lock and key at Blackwell Citadel.

Enter Capt. Thurg (name changed to protect the forgetful; that is, the DM didn’t write it down). He’s got two perps who clearly have more wits and combat skills than your average drunken gambler; meanwhile, he’s got a growing problem next door in the Old Punjar district known as Smoke: A war has been growing between the Thieves Guild and the Beggar’s Guild, and the disturbance is spilling over into the legitimate business of Punjar.

The captain has an idea: Offer these two young tourists a chance to clear their record in exchange for venturing into the heart of the slums and capture or kill the Beggar King. Capt. Thurg can even send along a city escort: two expendable young lieutenants who are fairly new to the force. Thurg (who wears a a “Human First!” pin on his jerkin) had himself a pair of fairy-blooded freaks tranferred to his unit the pervious week.

Gareth, a seemingly capable half-elf, joined the poorly paid, lowest rung of a para-military city guard with no hope of advancement excepting years of abuse from his superiors—how could you trust a creature who would volunteer for this? Then there’s Lucas, a full-blooded elf with a dark personality and need to crack heads. Thurg could almost admire the lad’s sensibilities if it weren’t for the pointy ears and that elven lightness in the loafers. Clearly, these two are perfectly choice for the task.

And they’re off at once, in a driving midnight rain. The slum isn’t easy to navigate - the locals quickly peg them as easy marks - and after a few skirmishes and chases they find themselves outside the fearsome gates of the charnel house where the Beggar King makes his home.

Lucas immediately springs a poison trap the wrong way. Over the course of the night, his skin and eyes turn slate grey before his body stabilizes his decline. (It would have gotten kind of nasty—Shadowstuff Toxin ain’t no H1N1.)

With just hours to go until dawn, the party crept methodically through the complex laying waste to the various characters of shady purpose who stand in their way. The fence and his thugs? Dead. The band of Dog Brother mercenaries? Dead. The tiefling warlock and her exotic bodyguards? Oh, you better believe they’re dead. Those chumps could barely get their weapons up before it was all over.

The party showed a real bit of ingenuity when they realized a locked barn door concealed a large group of men lying in ambush. They threw the warlock’s clothes over the dragonborn, and Lia cast a spell to mimic the witch’s anguish cries of help. The beggars-in-hiding threw open their door to investigate, and that was all she wrote for those poor bastards.

The enemies were falling like dominoes until Lia fell through the floor trap and ended up in a slaver’s cage dangling over an underground river. The party got her out, but was beginning to suffer some exhaustion from their efforts. They rescued a cadre of slaver prisoners before breaking for the night.

QUEST ALERT—Saved prisoners include:
  • Thoumont, aged sage and self-described scourge of evil, and his assistant Neveril. They had been investigating their own leads about the nature of the Shadowmagic leaking out of this area of the slum. Thoumont runs a magic shop in the Souk district, and offers hospitality and assistance to the party if they can return him to safety.
  • Lady Constance, of the prominent Punjari family House Farod, had been kidnapped in a brazen public attack on the eve of her wedding. She insists her family and fiance will greet her safe return with rewards beyond imagining for her rescuers.

The party holed up with their rescued subjects elsewhere in the complex (promising to return with them in a group once their quest concludes). The group crept closer through the dungeon of the slavers, finding little evidence of the Beggar King’s operation, but only more thugs and goons protecting their trafficking business.

They dispatched the main group of four lead slavers—but nearly lost Lucas when he leaped into a runaway boat to save the floating loot. Thanks to some timely skill checks, the boat got moored, the loot got saved.

But then they had to go and ruin the ride! Steal the Rat God’s pile of shiny coins? What were they thinking? They managed to whack the bejeebus out of the pseudo-deity animating the ratly statue, but that left the team panting as they faced… The Beggar King! (Actually I think they may have rested one more time…?)

Anyway, the BK did not disappoint, flailing his desiccated Shadow-infested corpse around the room and flinging fiery skeletons at everyone. When at last his charred corpse collapsed to the floor, everyone breathed a sigh of relief… until they realized that the smoky thing trailing from his zombie body was actually grateful to have the BK eliminated from the magical equation. As the dungeon started to crumble around them, the crew ran up the steps inside the charnel tower to discover… an Umbra Drake with a mad-on to destroy stuff.

It was established pretty quickly that they were lucky to have defeated one enraged uber-fiend for the day, and the conversation went like this:

YELLOW-BELLY 1: “It’s not like the Guard would let this shadow dragon tear up the whole city or anything, right?”

YELLOW-BELLY 2: “Sure. Someone’s bound to complain. They’ll send someone to slay it.”

And with that, they scarpered. Yep, they left the shadow dragon beast to someone else, and skedaddled with the loot, the rescued slaves and not a little bit of shame, I should think.

Does that about sum it up, gentlemen?

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Barrow of the Forgotten King, Part 4
It's been HOW long?

Oct. 7, 2007

So, it had been more than two months since we last played-two months!- so of course the first thing we did was ask ourselves, “How do you play this game again?” We spent the better part of the night reading various rulebooks and character sheets (“Oh, look, I have a high AC!” ... “Yeah? What’s an AC?”)

After a while, I realized I was what they called the “DM,” and that I was actually supposed to be “runnning the adventure.” Who needs rules, I said, let’s play this game.

So our heroes had conveniently ended their last session in the Barrow at a great stopping place where they could bunker down and heal up. (“Didn’t we kill some stuff last time?” “Yeah, like a dragon? Or maybe an owlbear?” Turns out it was a hobgoblin and some skeletons.) They had been pursuing some grave robbers who were mysteriously well stocked with muscle and magic. The trail led them directly to…

...a bizarre cavern whose floor was compsed of a series of 50-foot-tall “islands” connected by tenuous ropes. Fall off one of these, and you’ve got a long fall into a little bit of water.

Which, of course, the dwarf did. (He had even removed his clunky armor.) Once Redgar landed in the drink, a stand of tendons and eyeballs wrapped around his neck trying to strangle him. Could have been a bad day, but Lucas shimmied down a rope to help fend off the Lurking Strangler. How to get the great lump of warrior back up to safety? A little Oil of Levitate to turn him into a Macy’s T-Day balloon should do the trick.

And just like that, the party was ready to face…The Labyrinth! If you’re like me, you are immensley bored and annoyed by any suggestion that you should keep a party on pins and needles by putting them in an endless, aimless maze populated by tons of random monsters and no real point. So I made a compromise: Magical sentry statues at the mouth of the maze offered the party direct passage if they pledged to fight off the grave robbers who directly preceded them. Two catches: The extra-planar monsters who would be summoned within could not be prevented from attacking; and the “unclean one” had to crawl on hands and knees; that meant Lucas, the Would-Be Wererat, was out of action. The direct passage meant only a few monsters would get a swipe at the team, and verily, a Monstrous and/or Fiendish scorpion, wolverine, and weasel took turns taking chunks out of the team, but nothing made our heroes break a sweat. Particularly that wolverine; it fell apart at the word “Appalachia”...Ho, ho, just kidding Redgar & Mia!

And then…we were all sweepy. This is what happens when you play after your kids go to bed: You start yearning for your pillow yourself. And thus, with our heroes about to discover some really interesting things about their quarry, and with a few nicely nasty encounters ready to brighten the day, we retreated to our homes, our beds, our normal lives completely devoid of hobgoblin necromancers, lurking stranglers and spider-filled mummies. ...Did he just say “spider-filled mummies”? Oh, no he din’t!

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Barrow of the Forgotten King, part 3
In which it seems like we reached the end, but oh, not even close

August 1, 2007

Another after-hours session, and about 2-3 hours of gaming on a weeknight. Subversive!

We picked up right where we left off, withthe heroes wiping their rapiers dry after running through some nasty goblinses…who are a variety, apparently, known as varag (a species that didn’t exist until hybridized by a sorcerer known as Monster Manual XXIV).

The heroes passed through an elaborate vault, where an earlier battle seems to have gone poorly for some varags. A bubbling water weird warned the party to retreat at once, but those silver tongues devils convinced it that they intended to root out the evil that had passed before them. The weird was serioulsy hurting from the previous fight, so it relented.

They tiptoed past and entered a Hall of Heroes, where it seemed several cherished servants of the king had been interrred. They stumbled upon a snarling, rat-faced tomb robber who was trying to infiltrate a well-sealed vault. A fight broke out…if you could call it that. With this poor devil cornered, but with an intense Damage Reduction of 10, this was like some sort of Swap Meet for stab wounds and senseless violence. Redgar and Lucas had several excellent hits, but the damage only trickeld in. What…15, 16, 17 rounds? More? He dropped his rapier and got two good bites in on Lia and Lucas. Dirty, filthy fangs…oh, there must be something diseased in that saliva! At last Redgar made the tackle, and they tied the rat dude up. Garjuk, a mercenary wererat hobgoblin theif (how’s that for a job title?) tried to bargain for his release with information about what lay ahead. The party didn’t trust him though, and Garjuk got an inkling these goodie-goodies weren’t going to undo that knot, so he shifted into his dire rat form and made a break for it. “Oh no he didn’t,” said Gareth. He and Lucas chased the running rat, and it was Gareth who pinned him to the floor with a well-timed critical hit. Whew! Now if only Lia and Lucas didn’t have sinking feelings in their festering wounds…

The haul was good, though: four magic items from a vault bequeathed to good adventurers: +1 bracers, a quiver of Elhonna, a +1 rapier, and an Ephod of Authority (for pumping up that cleric level when turning). Sweet!

Garjuk revealed just enough info about Krootad, “the big boss,” who was in a room up ahead, animating some more undead nasties. The party went all SWAT team—loaded up on spells, did their best Move Silently schtick, and caught Krootad by surprise. After Lucas snuck up behind him while he worked (moving waaay too far on just one “move silently” roll, I later realized, but what the hell, it was getting late), the jig was up, and the battle over before it started. Krootad and his minions went down hard.

If Krootad was “the big boss” though, he sure was awfully alone, and there is evidence that a bunch more creatures had been through here, tromping through a broken door and down a ladder that descended into blackness.

The party carried Krootad body back to the surface, an excellent idea that won the trust of the water weird. The elemental spoke to them as they passed: “There are more like that one, and others, many others. An arcane sorcerer led them all, with mongrel goblins and humans. Return and drive them out!”

The townies were also grateful (horrified, but grateful) to see Krootad’s corpse. It gave them somthing to hang their hopes on. So grateful were they, in fact, the town healer produced the necessary scrolls to cure the feverish disease that was creeping over Lia and Lucas, and reward them with gold for the return of some plundered loot from the masuoleum. Lucas, however, still had a sinking sensation creeping over him. He looked up and the moon and felt a strang pang…

(Of course, after our nigh-deadly encounter wiht the wererat, we had to ask: What’s the downside of lycanthopy? Sure you have to be tied up once a month, but oh, the power! We suspect Lucas may wait a while before seeking a cure…)

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