The Seeking

Devils in the Dragon's Den

The night before Esry’s audition, it turns out that Gamlock had a really weird, super vivid dream while sleeping by his nightly fire. Huh. Wonder what that’s all about.

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Wherein the Party Starves

After their exploits with the Bard’s Guild, the party finds themselves quite peckish and go back to the Gay Unicorn to get some Leggalamb and drinks. Unfortunately, with a change in management comes a noticeable change in quality of service as Geran gets a practically inedible drumstick and Esry just straight up never even gets her food. It was like T.G.I. Friday’s, except less Guy Fieri and more douchebag who took over for Merrill.

While dining waiting for their food, the party discusses what to do next. Seeing as they are broke, the 10 gold fee for a simple audition is no small potatoes. Gamlock nearly volunteers the money right away, but after thinking about it, spawns a discussion on whether they should even care about this Bard’s Guild in the first place. After all, there’s this Blood God that’s trying to enter their plane to dominate the mortal realm or whatever, but what about their reputation? The group begins to come to a near consensus about this, until Frey hatches up a devious scheme.

The idea is that, since Geran has a bunch of assassins on his trail, Esry could score a spot in the guild and basically advertise that he’s in Fallcrest, right now, and he’s a kalashtar and that any assassins who are looking to wipe kalashtars out from all of existence should take note and find Geran and kill him, because he’s right there! The kicker is that Geran would be not in Fallcrest, and the rest of the party would take out all these well-trained killing machines with hopefully no problem, and then Geran is safe once again, which would make searching for dragons and, by extension, their search for the Philosopher’s Stone a lot less stressful. Thinking this is just a grand idea with no way that it could play out negatively, the party comes to an accord that this is their actual plan of action they decided on, and when you write it out all at once it just seems a bit silly, doesn’t it, like there is probably some kind of easier, less dangerouEventually, satisfied, the party retires to the room, less Esry, who actually went out and got some decent food and brought it back, much to the delight of the rest of the group.

The next day, it was time for Esry’s audition. For their plan to work, they need as many people as possible to hear her song about how Geran doesn’t even like assassins’ grandmothers’ cooking, and also if you have a beef with that you should hang out in Fallcrest for a while so you can bump into stab him. So they go about promoting Esry’s performance and actually do a pretty decent job, given the turnout that they managed to scrounge up.

Esry decided to open her set with her brand new club-banger “Geran is a Kalashtar (and He’s Here in Fallcrest) (Genocide Remix),” which, based off the crowd reaction, was a risky move, if not a bit controversial due to the song’s subject matter. It certainly had them talking through the intermission, anyway. Frey quickly realized what is probably the first of myriad flaws in their plan early on in the tune, trying to hide Geran’s identity by cuddling him into oblivion.

The second song Esry chose to perform was a little more standard fare, incredibly well-performed and well-received. For the second intermission, Gamlock decided to go talk to the dwarves he’d goaded into coming to the performance, only to find that they don’t seem to be all that friendly. Almost creepily motivated by rare gemstones and jewels, they proved to not be much for light conversation, though Gamlock did manage to strangle out that they came from a clan called the Bloodstones, a tribe known for their fierce barbarian warriors. The clan had been flourishing and had thus begun to expand in hopes of finding trade partners and allies. All the same, the dwarves seemed pretty suspicious, which, like, why is Fallcrest so filled with jerks and suspicious types all of a sudden? You leave for like, two years and come back to find it’s overrun with weirdos, and they’re just ruining everything.

The third part of Esry’s audition performance is about to begin, and despite how well it’s going, there’s still an air of tension in the… air. Something’s about to go down.

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Fallcrest's Got Talent

Having readied themselves for spending their first night back in Fallcrest, the group decides to wait until the next day to start researching the third lead they had on the location of the Sorceror’s Philosopher’s Stone and shack up in the Silver Unicorn inn, completely spacing on the whole wardrobe thing they have free lodging in. Luckily, Gamlock‘s personal bank account was separated from the rest of the party’s, so they do have some light, extra funds to use that weren’t completely drained by Solessa. The party learns that Gamlock keeps this personal account to hold for safekeeping any money he acquires in his travels but can’t donate to the temple. It has a reasonable amount of gold, but it’s an incredibly modest amount and, of course, to be used at the dwarf’s discretion. But, it’s something.

Interestingly enough, the old Unicorn seems to be under new management; the previous contact the party had, Marrill, had not worked at the Unicorn for quite some time. It also seems that the legend that has grown around the Heroes of Fallcrest has gotten a bit out of hand, the bards’ tales becoming more boisterous and portraying the heroes as (literally) larger-than-life titans of bravery and justice.

But in actuality, they’re quite ordinary, besides all those special magical powers, and traveling makes them smell just like any other ragtag, racially diverse group of adventurers. So, they all take baths, thankfully, and clean themselves up nicely before they remember that, before they left, there was this mafia of bards that employed someone who had been trash talking the group. Not ones to leave any ends loose, they set up a ruse: Esry would portray herself as an Esry-impersonator, using her lute to sing a brand new tale of how the Heroes of Fallcrest slew a gigantic purple worm with much valor and prejudice and how it was all quite magical and wondrous. This drew a significant amount of attention (and tips), which is precisely what the group wanted: a member of the audience had an angry exchange with the bartender about hiring a “non-Guild-approved” bard to perform. After the tender paid the fee, Daman and Frey followed this irate customer back to the Bard’s Guild of Fallcrest.

Meanwhile, a second attendee, wearing a prominent brown scarf, was visibly judging Esry, but less angrily so. After a while, he, too, stood up and left. In the interest of making sure Daman and Frey would not be ambushed or have their cover blown, Gamlock decides to follow this man. Not one for stealth, the dwarf abandons it altogether and, having piqued the curiosity and paranoia of the man he’d been following, has a brief encounter with him. The man tells Gamlock that he and his friends keep tabs on this neighborhood and know that he’s not from around there and, more interestingly, knows that he has no business there. It results in the man simply telling Gamlock that the dwarf was creeping him out and orders him to get lost, but not before pointing him towards the Guild Hall, and telling him to look for building “with all the stupid flags.” Very suspicious character, all in all.

Eventually, Esry (with Geran, probably) makes her way down to the Bard’s Guild herself, so all the group finds themselves there. The Guild Hall itself is fairly gaudy and under expansion, but it’s an ironic gem of apparent wealth located in a pretty rough, poor neighborhood. In order to get more information, Esry stops into the Guild Hall and inquires about membership. A clerk tells her that there’s a rather steep 10 gold application fee and an evaluation performance, where she would get to meet the person in charge of the guild and, upon successful audition, also get to see a list of others that are members, which would, hopefully, lead to the identification of a certain tiefling who’d been singing some unsavory tales of the fine Heroes.

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Worm Food

Geran fights off the worm as best he can, but the gigantic maw of the sand creature engulfs him, swallowing him whole, leaving him fighting the worm from the inside. With Harkin and Frey caught going toe to toe with a swarm of carrion crawlers each, Daman decides that he will have better luck piercing through the worm’s insides rather than trying to crack through its hard exoskeleton. The next time the worm lashes out at him, Daman willingly gets swallowed up by the creature, slashing and fighting at the worm’s vulnerable innards to try and bring the sand monster down.

Eventually, the worm gets slashed open and falls, leaking ichor and muck over the floor of the collapsed cave. Geran, having been rendered unconscious from the vicious worm’s attacks as well as its corrosive digestive acids, is stabilized and brought around. He lashes out at Frey initially, pleading that he doesn’t need to be protected, and laments that he appears to be a sort of weak link of the party. He is, however, quickly assured otherwise by the group.

Geran did, however, find a bundle of what appeared to be the possessions of an unfortunate victim of the worm, including some alchemical items and, much to Gamlock’s dismay, vestments indicative of someone of high ranking in his order. The dwarf expresses hesitation in keeping the personal affects of the deceased cleric, but determines that rather than leave it behind for someone else to find, that he should keep them and try and return them to his temple as soon as he can.

Venturing out of the collapsed cavern, the party heads to Fallcrest, finding out the city is in good standing, having prospered rather nicely since they’d last been. Meeting up with Noam, their legal counsel, they inform him that the large sums of missing money is due to the work of Solessa din Taaros via the letter left to Geran by Solessa. They are told that some of their gems have been sold off to pay debts, but the gnome has generally done a good job of managing their finances.

Now back in their home base of operations, the party must decide what direction to go next in their search for the Philosopher’s Stone.

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Of Wings and Worms

The party sticks around Morenor long enough to see the last effects of the Hierophant Malvoran’s handiwork dissolve into dust and sand. The palace melted and collapsed into a heap of sand as the gold from their activity likewise dissolved. Some of the merchants were driven to fighting as they realized their payouts were now literally turned to dust, but most looked on in stupefaction. A few gave measuring looks at the party, but wisely decided that anyone that could do that to lifelong immortal warriors is probably not someone to tangle with.

Having left the town, they make camp some distance into the desert. Frey shares a special moment with Geran off on a private dune, showing a ritual to Selene that grants Frey wings. Meanwhile, the rest of the party realizes that their message-box has been inoperable for some time and they are weeks late on their correspondence with their lawyer. Gamlock reads through them quickly to discover Noam’s increasing frustration and concern about their absence, and the missing wealth stolen by Solessa. He then performs his ritual fire gazing, seeing a ring of darkness surrounding two figures.

They discover to their horror that it’s the present his vision is depicting, and the party is beset by a gigantic Purple Worm and a swarm of carrion crawler hatchlings. The adventurers had been separated due to privacy and scouting, and had to fight their way through the hatchlings while Geran and Frey tried to fend off the Purple Worm in the darkness. Frey used her newly-grown wings to wrench herself free, while Geran had to suffer the full brunt of the worm’s mastication. After a brutal assault by Frey the worm retreated underground, and Daman and Frey went to help Esry and Harkin with the hatchlings.

It proved to be a fatal move, as the worm emerged to attack Geran once again, erupting in a shower of earth and teeth.

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Weep No More
Death of a Champion

The characters stumbled upon a chapel within the temple, a macabre spectacle made of solid gold bones that reflected the light weirdly. From the shadows cast by golden skulls the party discovered Delos lurking in silence. The party demanded answers, which they were eventually able to drag out of the reluctant and subdued Champion.

Delos revealed that some religious zealots had come to the town where he’d settled with Esry’s mother Nasri. His concern over the proselytizing and the dead look in their eyes lead him to take his family further out into the woods, while his adventuring background lead him to investigate the cultists. In the end he managed to successfully drive them out of town; however, his concern about them returning drove him to find out the source of the cult, or perhaps his wanderlust was reignited by his recent adventuring. In any case he left Nasri and Esry in search of the source of the dead-eyed cult.

After quite some time he came upon a mother and son who had also encountered the cult. The son had the dead-eyed look of the cultists but had been saved by the mother. “He seemed hollowed out, emptied somehow. Whatever he had been was gone, all that was left was a hollow shell.” The mother was on a quest to find a cure, either with the cultists or by some other means. Having no other leads, and perhaps feeling some sympathy with his own family, Delos went with them. At long last she heard of a place that granted eternal life and a fortune of gold to those capable of fighting for it.

They made their way to Morenor and discovered the place much as the party saw it now. The woman tried to register her son, formerly a capable enough fighter, but was refused (or feared for her son’s safety or chances of success given his condition). Delos’ adventuring spirit got the better of him, and registered to the lists on their behalf. He won his first combat, and returned with as much gold as he could carry, two heavy bricks in each hand. Unsatisfied, he entered again, was once again victorious, and won a fortune of gold and the side betting. Determined to find the secret to the Champions’ eternal youth, to help the boy and perhaps grant to his family, he entered a third time and once again gained the Champion’s favor. By the next day he had learned the secret, to his horror and regret, and was the newest member of the Champions.

In time he became inured to his condition, gave up his love of music and singing, and became resigned to killing feckless newcomers trying to prove themselves or get rich quick or whatever; it didn’t much matter any more, nothing did. He became a machine, numbed to the killing he was forced to do to live another day. He revealed that each dawn they were reborn by consuming the flesh of the fallen combatants changed by a dark ritual performed just before dawn. As the day progressed they aged, eventually becoming invalids before the next rejuvenation. The horror of his existence strove with his hope to see his family again, even as the killing deadened his soul. In the end he earned a reputation as a brutal and efficient killer, with none of the showmanship or flair of some of the other Champions.

Delos refused to go into detail about the ritual and forbid even discussing the possibility of recreating it to extend his life. He said it was an evil, hateful process that would permanently corrode and corrupt anyone involved in it, and forcefully dissuaded Geran from even attempting it. Geran’s latent telepathy picked up on Delos’ powerful feelings on the subject, however, and was soon overpowered by gruesome and traumatic images: the body of a challenger, beheaded and spurting blood; the body, tied to a post as if to restrain it, despite being deceased; lying on the sand, feeling weak and feeble and surrounded by other aged forms, as a decrepit figure chanted and the ape-like Custodians looked on; the body suddenly coming to life, straining against its bonds, and glowing with a brilliant radiant light.

Geran’s mind was filled with a hunger for that glowing flesh, a slavering bodily need, and in his mind’s eye saw himself crawling to the straining corpse. His fellow invalids approached too, and as one began tearing into the struggling form, pulling off chunks with teeth or fingers bent into claws by age and need. Geran felt the sweet, sweet taste of reanimated flesh pass over his tongue and down his throat, and life returning to his wasted limbs. Juice dripped down his chin, mixing with his drool as he gorged himself on life itself. Suddenly he came too, knowing the horror of the ritual performed each and every day for who knows how many years of Delos’ life, and how long for the rest of them. Given the age of the Deathpriest, perhaps centuries.

Delos excused himself, and became morose and subdued. He had no excuse for the horror he was party to, and said he only hoped that Nasri and Esry would forget him. Better that than see him like that.

Delos then spent a bittersweet day with his daughter, having revealed himself, his story, and how he came to be in this place. His interest in music rekindled by seeing his daughter following in his footsteps, he played a sombre song on her mandolin and passed on his wisdom and effects, an entire lifetime compressed into a day. In the end he passed telling Esry he loved her and dissolving into dust.

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The Avalanche

The party awakened after a night of revelry slightly hungover but not much worse for wear. Bargar woke them with his trademark booming knock and booming voice and told them today is his day in the arena. They shook off their headaches and watched the opening with a mix of trepidation and resignation.

Delos emerged as the Champion of the day (to Esry’s dispmay) as Bargar dug in and prepared for his battle to the death. The warriors circled each other before Bargar lunged to make the first attack. Delos countered with a dizzying series of slashes, and Bargar was quickly bloodied. He charged Delos, smashing two of the columns, but his attacks were only marginally effective. Realizing this, Bargar went into a defensive stance to fend off the Champion with his superior reach. In counter to this, Delos unleashed a torrent of magical energy through his blade that left Bargar’s muscles spasming.

In the end, Delos was too much for the Avalanche, and Bargar fell to his knees, defeated. As the crowd cheered in anticipation of the final blow, Gamlock unleashed a spell transporting Bargar to safety just as the blade went through where his neck would be. Almost as if that was the signal, several of the Champions revealed themselves in the crowd or burst out from the golden doors, along with a phalanx of Custodians and a new, decrepit-looking mage.

The party elected to flee, directing Bargar to lead their enemies away (after some patching up by Gamlock) while they took to the worm tunnels and infiltrated the palace once more. The palace was deserted, confirming their instincts, which the party used to their advantage to loot Angbar’s lavishly appointed room. The palace was quiet, at least until Daman found a treasure room and took a magical sword from the pile. The action unleashed a magical treasure golem that eventually exploded into expensive shrapnel; the party took the sword and ran.

As we left the session the adventurers were going to the second level even as they heard the sound of pursuing footsteps…

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A Horrible Discovery

The team spent a nervous night holed up in the room, though the wards provided by Geran’s “Wizard’s Curtain” and “Silence” spells gave them extra layers of protection, suppressing any noises they might make and disguising their presence in the room.

Throughout the night the party heard the sounds of footsteps, dragging and scraping, and occasional muffled muttering. Each watch in turn heard similar noises, only interrupted during Esry’s watch by the intrusion of none other than Delos himself, whose face was wrapped and eyes were haggard. The wards held however, and Delos closed the door and turned away, leaving the party to the rest of their anxious night.

After their rest, as the party prepared to venture out, they heard the sounds of slamming doors throughout the complex. Concluding the inhabitants were done dealing with the bodies and were now searching for them, the adventurers steeled themselves for battle, only to hear a knock on the door. It was Delos, looking much refreshed, and groping his way through the illusions that Geran had cast. It didn’t take long for Delos to discover himself surrounded by the party and grappled by Frey.

Delos explained that the wards had fooled him the first time, but process of elimination had led him back to them. He offered to lead the party past the patrols and searches. When asked why he would help them, his only response was, “Consider it the dying wish of a dead man.” The group made their escape, trailing through hallways and avoiding Custodians and Gladiators as well as an ominous column before getting to the exit. Before they could make their escape, however, a patrol nearly discovered them and they had to duck into a room while Delos attempted to deflect the search.

There they made a horrible discovery: three beheaded bodies hanging from meat hooks, one charred beyond recognition, the other two skinned and flayed like some macabre preparation. Closer inspection by Gamlock and Geran revealed bite marks on the blackened charred flesh, and when Geran reached to touch it the material crumbled into blackened dust, revealing bones made entirely from gold. At this point Delos returned, and though Frey threatened him and the others begged for an explanation he refused. The party made their escape and returned to their house.

Once there the party set to processing the events of the past few days. Esry, Daman, Geran, and Frey remained at the house practicing skills and sampling notagranate wine (dated a few years into the future) while Harkin wandered off to unwind. Suspicious, Gamlock followed, discovering a wake of carnage: bloodied noses, bashed skulls, and damaged property. He finally caught up to the fighter in the midst of destroying a bar, initiating a confrontation.

Harkin, enraged by the villagers’ complicity in the deaths of the combatants, was smashing a patron into – well, through – a table and demolishing the bar. Gamlock confronted him, using the full might of his blazing mordenkrad to get him talking.

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Slaughterhouse

After clearing the previous room of hostiles, the party continued exploring. Gamlock passed a doorway, but Frey’s curiosity got the better of her, revealing a room with several more enemies waiting in ambush. Despite their fatigue the adventurers drew upon on new-found reserves and, with help from some excellent tactics, wiped the floor with them.

At the end the party elected to hole up in a room and try to catch some rest to prepare themselves for the coming day.

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Cleaning House

The party is victorious! After a protracted battle with Custodians, Gladiators, Blademasters, and an undead challenger named Angban Sommos they party emerged drained of powers and exhausted, but little the worse for wear.

After initial skirmishing through the doorway where Esry was dropped to the floor multiple times and stabbed repeatedly, Harkin opened up another front by teleporting into the middle of the melee. Blademasters were no match for Harkin’s fighting prowess and armor, and Geran laid down supporting fire and healing zones. Gamlock helped everyone recover from the brutal unholy flames of Angban and blocked the doorway with Blade Barrier. Esry moved enemies in and out of the damaging zones, allowing Daman to get some well-placed backstabs off.

The question is, now, what will happen when the rest of the palace’s inhabitants find out?

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