Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Court of Just Too Many Damn Bones

You can hardly blame me for going a little out of bounds.  Where I come from, there's a certain cautious respect accorded to wizards.   In this crew, the prevailing attitude seems to be that if you're not hauling around a big sword (or maul, or spear) you're not pulling your weight.  I see my dagger as a cutting implement and weapon of last resort, not a proxy for my manhood, so I ignore Korviss's snide suggestions that I "upgrade" to a bastard sword.

The Ritual of Exaggerated Contribution seemed like just the thing to shut them up for a while.  I'd keep doing my thing, smacking down the bad guys, and my allies would simply see it all more... emphatically.  What I didn't account for was the effect it would have on me:  in hindsight, the extra few gold in components to exclude myself from the spell would have been well worth the expense.

Under the influence of the ritual, I decided to tackle the Court of Bones alone.  Erawin and Paelis agreed to proceed to the Horned Hold to help with the main battle;  in hindsight, I can see the fogginess that pervaded all our decisions. After making my preparations, I walked to the stable to saddle up our tame dire wolf Nefertiti, eager for her extra speed and aggressiveness to help get the job done quickly. I was "hungry like the wolf", and sought like companionship.

We rode fast, to the limits of our light, back to the cisterns, and from there followed Gendar's directions to the Court of Bones.  The large double doors were locked, but the silver key I'd carried since our chance encounter with flying wights unlocked and opened it.

Walking the wolf carefully inside, I saw a medium-sized semi-octagonal throne chamber, with a raised platform at the further side.  Seated on one of the thrones was a shroud-wrapped minotaur of some kind.  Four pillars, embedded with sharp fragments of bone, flanked the chamber, and the floor in front of me was dominated by a huge inlaid picture of a horned cow or minotaur skull.  I could not immediately see any evidence of the crystal that Gendar sought.

Moving around the edge of the room, avoiding the symbolic skull, I was suddenly pierced by bone fragments reaching out from the pillar.  The wolf yelped and we stepped away, chastened;  there seemed to be no way through but across.  I attempted to jump Nefertiti over the symbol, too aware of the possibility of triggering something fell, but we came up short and our fears were realized.

Out of the piles of bones in the corners of the room, a pair of Minotaur skeletons arose, followed by another pair of blazing skeletons.  Worst of all, a spectre of some kind materialized briefly from the throned minotaur before fading dangerously from insubstantial to fully invisible.

Surrounded by five undead, I put up the best fight I could, but tactically I was way out of my depth.  With no way to funnel or control their movement, I couldn't use my large-area spells to best effect, and the blazing skeletons rebuffed my strongest fire-based attacks.  My best weapon turned out to be a spray of blinding color, the radiant light unusually effective against these undead.  Finally, in desperation, I called on magic far beyond my abilities, conjuring up a wall of fire to stop their progress, but even that terrible risk didn't yield victory.

Scrambling to put out my burning robes, I fell unconscious, but miraculously remained in the saddle.  Nefertiti saved herself and me by fleeing back to the cisterns, finding her way by instinct and smell in the dark caverns.  By the time I awoke, the ritual had worn off, and I was equally aware of excruciating pain and inexcusable folly.  I repaired my robes, patched up my burns as best I could, and limped back to town to apologise to Gendar and get directions to the Horned Hold.

I was very late to the party and much the worse for wear, yet Korviss seems to be under the impression that "we" triumphed at the Court of Bones.  I'm in no hurry to correct him.  I'm not sure what Erawin and Paelis think happened.  At this point, I'm satisfied that the confusion is over and nobody died, much.  All's well that ends well enough, and if you come out smelling of roses then so much the better.

Friday, October 17, 2008

The continuing rescue

Back in town, we talked with the only non-untrustworthy individual in town: the halfling proprietor of the Halfmoon Inn. She said that she'd never heard of Murkelmor Grimmerzhul, someone mentioned in a letter we had found in the slaver outpost. However, she had heard of the Grimmerzhul Trading Post, which apparently are run by, surprise, Duergar. As we were resting up to talk with them the next day, the crazy sage, Vadriar, came to us yelling out omens of doom and gloom. He seemed quite emphatic in his ravings, and it was clear that he wasn't going to stop yelling and spitting out droplets of saliva into our dinner unless we agreed to follow him the next day, so we finally relented.

The next day, we set off to the Cisterns, and travelled through a maze of twisty corridors, all alike. Eventually, we came reach our destination, and was immediately beset by a Grick and several Troggies, including one that looked like a Shaman. We hadn't been expecting trouble, and it was just myself, Octane, and Paelis, not exactly the most fierce force in one-on-one fights. We were quite worn out by the battle, especially because there was some strange rune in the middle that the Troggies kept standing in that appeared to be giving them strength, but eventually we prevailed. However, (and I called it!), Vadriar turned into some sort of "Oni" as Octane called it. He looked like a giant flying Ogre that was very magey. The Oni tried to take us captive, threatening us with death, but Octane whispered to me that the Oni was more bluster than brawn, and we were able to threaten him into letting us free, or face death himself. It looked like we really rattled him, since he even paid us to leave him alone. Hah!

Octane did have a chance to examine the strange arcane circle that the Troggies were in. He said that the Troggies were Torog worshippers, and that they were trying to complete a ritual that would have collapsed the Seven-Pillared Hall. Another reason to distrust magiky types. Just as well had they succeeded, I think, so long as we weren't in the hall when that happened. But anyways, on our way back, we encountered Alvin who was stumbled in drunk. He said that he knew the way back, but I wasn't so sure. We ran into a group of undead that most certainly were not there on the way to the Cisterns. We dispatched them with ease, and found a curious silver key on them.

Back in town, we tried to find Orontur, but he was nowhere to be found. Doesn't he care at all that his city was just hours away from total destruction? He probably had foreseen it and chickened out.

We rested for an evening at the Inn, and set out the next day to the Trading Post. The Duergar there were (surprise, surprise) rude and unhelpful. They said that they didn't know who Murkelmor was. I wasn't going to let them off that easily. I politely informed them that it was of utmost importance that we locate this Murkelmor, and that we'd be happy to wait by their Trading Post, and petition their patrons for the whereabouts of Murkelmor. Despite the reasonableness of my proposal, the uncivilized and savage Duergar decided that they'd rather try to kill us instead. In contrast to their belligerent and overt actions, we instead showed our humane and enlightened nature by beating them to unconsciousness with our axes, arrows, swords, and thunderwaves.

After subduing our attackers, we informed them that since they had taken physical action against us, that we now had reasonable cause to search their premises and seize any evidence that may relate to our ongoing investigation of the kidnappings of the humans and halflings. We found a note that proved the complicity of these Duergar. It was from Murkelmor that requested provisions to the Horned Hold for the "merchandise". We also found a supply of gold and magical items that was no doubt involved in the slave trade, so we seized them under the forfeiture statue of section 2, subsection 15.1 in article 5 under the Adventuring Act of 525, 2e. We tried to talk to the "sheriff" about these criminals, but he seemed only to be upset at us. Doesn't he care at all about the law?

We asked around town, and found a Drow merchant,Gendar, who seemed to be well-versed in area. He was willing to tell us about the Horned Hold, but had three tasks for us. First, he wanted us to deal with some "witch" who lived high in the mountains and who was harassing his messengers with flying beasts. We set off the next day to strike out a bargain. I talked with the Shadar-kai witch, asking her to leave Gendar alone, in exchange for information about "softer" targets to strike. It seemed again, like a reasonable request to me, but again, the inhabitants of the Underdark showed their nature by attacking us unprovoked. It was a difficult battle, but Ocatne proved his worth. He managed to hurl one of her guardian constructs down the mountainside, where it landed in about a few hundred pieces. It was a tough fight, especially when the Gargoyles showed up, but when the combat turned against the witch, she decided to run away. Octane, again, proved his worth by running after her, and heroically slaying her by shooting her in the back with his magic missile. We again siezed the evidence of their wrongdoing before leaving for the Hall.

Gendar was pleased in our progress, and agreed to tell us the location of the Horned Hold if Ocatane, Erawin, and Paelis went to the Court of Bones for the second mission. The third mission was to retrieve a scepter from the Horned Hold. He had a Dwarf warrior, Rampage, show us the way, and we set off the next day. The Horned Hold looked like a series of tree octagonal towers overlooking a deep crevice, with bridges connecting the towers to each other. Trixie the rogue reported that it looked like the main entrance was guarded by several Orcs. We asked her to go back and secretly unlock the portcullis, so that if we needed to, we could enter in to talk with the Orcs face to face. I walked up to the gate, and asked the Orcs if they would let us in, so that we could speak with their leader. They were quite rude, and told us to get lost, so we decided that they needed a lesson in civility, as taught by the ends of our spears and axes. It appears that the lesson stuck, as they were much more agreeable after Trixie ran them through with her rapier.

We entered the next room, which appeared to be a forge of sorts, and encountered some Duegar and more Orcs. They were quite surprised to see us, and it wasn't long before we had pacified them as well. Continuing across the bridge into the next tower, we encountered even more Duergar, in addition to some sort of giant walking crossbows. They didn't appear happy to see us either (or at least the Duegar didn't; I couldn't tell with the crossbows) , though the situation was rectified in short order by Rampage's maul. However, one of the crossbows somehow managed to open a door to the third and last tower, giving away our presence. We barred the gate while we rested for a minute. Overall, I was impressed with the progress we made. Even without either of our finger waggers, we managed to subdue three groups of Duegar and Orcs with ease.

As we were resting, it looked like the rest of our group had arrived. They had finished the Court of Bones with surprising ease, and Erawin followed our tracks. Rampage and Octane ran off to deal with another group of Duegar, when the barred door had be broken through. A fierce battle ensued, and even though some sneaky ones got past us to inform another group, we were able to hold the line. However, a Cave Troll managed to run away, bringing back many of his friends. We fell back to the entrance, barring it again and resting for a few moments. While we were resting, Rampage returned, though Octane was nowhere to be seen. Rampage said that he was valiantly chasing fleeing enemies, in the finest traditions of Kord.

I knew the next battle would be difficult, so I gave a few words of encouragement, telling them that if we were slain, they'd probably toss our bodies into the chasm, so that we probably shouldn't let them do that. My speech must have worked, because even though during the battle, five Spined Devils showed up, peppering us with poisonous spines, we still prevailed. At first, I was concerned that Octane wasn't around, and that a we'd really need a wizard for this fight. Fortunately, we did have a wizard: their wizard kept attacking us, hoping to incapacitate us all, but all she managed to do was render her own devil allies blinded, dazed, prone, and poisoned. Rampage also was a flurry of action, repeatedly knocking Murkelmor off his feet, while I struck at him from afar with my spear. Kord also rewarded us for our valour, striking down Murkelmor for being too cowardly to fight me in melee combat after being knocked prone.

After Murkelmor fell, the fight left the remaining ones, and they fled (no doubt with Octane Stone ruthlessly pursuing them until they had all fallen to the sting of his magic missiles).