Friday, March 16, 2012

Carrion Crown: Broken Moon pt. 4

Time had come for the heroes to enter the ancient, sacred grounds of the werewolves of Shudderwood. The Stairs of the Moon. Once a mighty temple to Mielikki, now abandoned and ruined since the times of darkness, it lay as a silent reminder of former glory.
The heroes had bashed their way past a patrol of werewolves and now closed in on the complex. Around them they could clearly hear the sound of howling and clashing werewolf tribes in the forest, judging from the sound they could easily move closer.

They decided to explore the bottom level of the Stairs first, in which they just found the dead cultist and a map pointing them onwards to the tiny village of Feldgrau. On a plateau they noticed several scattered bones and fetishes from long dead animals, but no other signs of movement were visible there (It was 12 hours or so since they destroyed the Vilcasis spirit, so it wasn’t present). Entering the ruins they found a long abandoned room, which had sadly been looted through time. Galfur the inquisitor, however,noticed fresh footprints into one of the adjacent rooms, and they immediately headed there to investigate. Sadly, they also managed to trigger a symbol of pain trap, resulting in a nasty -4 penalty to Edgar the cleric, Vincent the sorcerer and Aldarion the Diviner. Inside the next room everything was just as scattered as the first, and for a few moments they stood pondering about its purpose. But they didn’t stay long before a secret door in the northern wall immediately opened and Estovion, former warden of Ascanor Lodge, jumped out. Maddening fray was painted all over his face and he sneered “I gave you the possibility of escaping several times! To run away and never come back! But it has finally come to this! I will NOT allow you to reach my masters!”
Then he cast a Black Tentacles. The initial grapple roll was a natural 1. Luckily, Estovion went second on initiative.

The entire party was grappled during the first round of combat, but Aldarion managed to escape the fields of hentai before things got ugly. He positioned himself at the other end of the room for a tactical advantage and cast Haste. Estovion went second and cast a Stinking Cloud on top of the tentacles to add insult to injury. Only Galfur the inquisitor fell to this and was nauseated. The rest of the party attempted to break free, Vincent to cast an enlarge person on himself. On his turn, Aldarion removed the mist with Gust of Wind.  Estovion began blasting and Mutt the barbarian made his way out of the tentacles and got into position to threaten Estovion. Vincent managed to cast Grease on himself and Edgar and Galfur remained in the tentacles.
On his turn, the warden moved back and cast Charm Monster on Mutt. With his +2 will save, the barbarian was instantly charmed and ordered to protect his new best friend, should anyone in the room attempt to do something to him.
Aldarion moved away and attempted to cast a spell. Mutt immediately was ordered to charge him and interrupt his spell, which meant he got a new will save for going against his nature. With his +2 he failed once again and disrupted the wizard with a mighty blow.
Vincent made his way out of the tentacle fields into the other room to the north and positioned himself so he had line of sight to Estovion. Sadly, Edgar was still grappled and Galfur nauseated.
In the following round Aldarion realized he was caught between tentacles and a hard barbarian. Mutt unleashed a full attack with power attack, and ended up killing the diviner on the spot.
Estovion laughed manically and yelled “Now, young cleric, you will DIEEEE!” (Couldn’t help myself there) and unleashed a lightning bolt at Edgar, who was luckily saved thanks to his improved lightning reflexes feat. Mutt was ordered to remain at his side, protecting him
The combat reached a stalling for a while, in which Estovion dodged Vincent’s line of sight from across the hallway. He barraged Edgar with magic missiles and buffed Mutt with grease so he could safely move out into the tentacle field and chop up his team mates. The situation looked quite grim they had to admit, but then a miracle happened:
Vincent remembered he had Dispel Magic.

Immediately, he dispelled Mutt’s charm spell, which made Estovion pale with dread. He fled to the back and began summoning a monster to his aid but was interrupted by the barbarian who unleashed his Ring of the Ram. At this time the tentacles were about to ebb out, Edgar and Galfur had gotten free, and the inquisitor was soon on his feet from the nausea. At this time Estovion realized things had changed and used his dimensional step ability to appear far away, out in the hallway, and then ran for it.
With expeditious retreat Galfur managed to catch up with him, and on his heels was Vincent hurling scorching rays in his direction. Not long after, Estovion succumbed with a gurgling sigh.
(Estovion proved to be a much harder fight than I had originally anticipated. If the party confronts him at Ascanor they won’t meet him here, of course. The effect from the symbol of pain is bad enough in itself, but there is very little room to maneuver inside the Stairs, making the tentacles and cloud really nasty weapons. Add in Estovion’s dimensional steps and you have a dangerous encounter. Besides from Auren Wrood, I’d say this is likely the most dangerous encounter in the chapter, provided he gets the upper hand. I didn’t play his summon monster till later in the encounter, though. I likely could have made it much, much harder by adding in another mob to crash the grappled heroes.)
Burying Aldarion
There was much sorrow to follow.
The heroes searched the rooms and found some gold, items and a strange shining stone on Estovion. Also, the found a strange ritual with instructions on how to purify the dusk moth and perform a ritual that would allow them to communicate with Mielikki.
They then carried the corpse of the mangled Aldarion outside the temple and gave him a proper burial while carving a small tombstone to the best of their abilities. Remaining in silence for a minute they afterwards discussed the following ascent at the stairs.
They took the direct approach up to the next level and landed at another wide platform with several pillars. Soon after, a group of werewolves set upon them with bows, snarling at them to leave or suffer the consequences. The heroes glared at each other, shrugged and attacked. They killed all but one of them in the first round of combat, but Galfur the inquisitor missed his attack, and thus the final wolf got to howl and alert the remaining werewolves upstairs. (This encounter is pathetically easy, and I suppose it’s there only to serve as an alarm to the remaining creatures. And XP.)
Further upstairs, inside the giant chamber, a dust moth lay in the stone-floor and seven werewolves with bows descended upon the party without mercy. A fireball failed to kill them, and Vincent was nearly gunned down on the spot. The fight lasted for some time, and the heroes couldn’t help but notice the sound of spellcasting upstairs on the roof. (I buffed this encounter, so the heroes would at least have some resistance. Besides that, the werewolves are only there to delay them before the final fight, so Mathus has time to buff). They also noticed that the weather had gone really bad. The sound of heavy thunder had started… (This isn’t in the adventure. I just wanted to be a bitch.)
As the fray settled, the heroes heard steps coming from below. As they turned their attention towards the stairs, they recognized a young ranger storming up the stairs, panic painted all over his head. His eyes were wide and his speech was short of breath. They remembered seeing him back at the lodge.
He told them that he got lost from Duristan’s party out in the woods and had made his way to here alone, closely followed by the werewolves. As he told them, the wolves had moved closer to the Stairs! They were coming, and they were coming fast. It was as if two tribes out there were fighting fiercely, but it would be a matter of time before someone would gain entry to the temple.
(Aldarion’s player wants to roll up an alchemist, but made a temporary ranger)
Confronting Mathus Mordrinacht
The heroes stormed up the stairs and were confronted by a mighty looking werewolf, gently feeding a hawk on the railings. The roof was a small platform engulfed in powerful winds and the sound of thunder roared above them.  A fall from here would be lethal.
The werewolf turned around and drew a sword and a dagger, all the time smiling. “I see you have made it,” he said. “Unfortunately, your journey and butchering of my loyalists ends here. Let me tell you, I shall not give in as easily as Estovion. I, and I alone, am the packlord of this forest. And you shall NOT deny me the honor!”
As the fight broke out, the hawk soared into the winds and with a howl called a lightning strike from the sky. It struck directly into Mutt the barbarian for 3D10 damage (again, bad weather; I wanted to be a bitch.)Mutt charged into Mathus and failed to hit anything. Mathus, on the other hand, full attacked and tore the barbarian for around 50 damage.  The ranger failed to hit anything, Vincent threw a stinking cloud at Mathus but the werewolf saved. Galfur and Edgar ran to Mutt and channeled their mightiest healing-spells.
Mutt inflicted a severe amount of damage on Mathus, who in turn sliced the barbarian. He luckily saved against the lightning, meaning he stood with 3 hit points left.  Vincent attempted to dispel the hawk’s magic without luck, and the ranger hit on all his attacks, inflicting massive amounts of damage to Mathus.
At this point the werewolf had enough. Mutt was healed but then blasted down again by the hawk, so he tried to crawl away. The werewolf followed up and struck the barbarian down where he lay. He rushed towards the ranger, but was slain by a hail of arrows before he reached him (the ranger’s favored enemy was ‘shapechangers’…how lucky). At this point the hawk charged Edgar with a poison spell, but the cleric saved and the bird was slain as it attempted to flee. It instantly reversed to its natural form.
Then silence settled, and the heroes quickly made their way back down.
(This encounter can be played better.  There is entanglement and other spells to consider from the druids, but at this point I didn’t expect them to last long. Mathus hits like a truck but he’s fairly simple to crowd control or out-position. His druid companion I simply decided to take to the skies and blast the party from afar. A surprisingly simple little encounter, which I mainly used for exposition.)
Meeting with the Prince’s Wolves
(Is it just me, or is it INSANLY annoyingly hard not to pronounce this as ‘The Princess Wolves’?)
The party decided to head back to the lodge to rest up, as the werewolf-fighting at the temple had subsided. They made their way into the forest and headed back along the old trail. On their way, however, they were stopped by a band of humans walking towards them with hands where they could be seen.
Their leader presented himself as Rhakis Szadro.
“Greeting friends, please hear me out;” he urged. “I must speak with you for a while. I hope you will listen to our plead and consider what we have to offer. We have witnessed your efforts for quite some time now, even though you might already have heard of ours. We are the Prince’s Wolves, vigilant guardians and proud werewolf tribe of Shudderwood. As you might know, our situation has been dire past the last three weeks, as our ranks were thrown into turmoil by the murder of our packlord; Kvalca Sain. I say murder and mean it like that. I have no doubt that Mathus Mordrinacht had a hand in this, along with his allies in the Whispering Way. Since then we have been fighting amidst our own ranks, foolishly, as we could set upon our true enemies. Already as we speak, the Way is taking the heart of Kvalca Sain to the far distance in the town of Feldgrau. We have dispatched our own agents in his direction, but the demon wolves are racing us to the goal. Under the leadership of Adimarus Ionacu, a blackguard, they intend to track the heart, consume it and seize control over every werewolf in Shudderwood. This must not come to pass. We therefore propose a truce between us. We shall take you to Feldgrau and brief you on the situation, even provide you with tokens to show your allegiance to our cause, so you can work with our allies inside the town. Only thing we ask of you in return is that you bring the heart to me, so that I may consume it and claim rulership. What say you?”
The heroes considered this for a while. They somehow felt that Rhakis was hiding something, but decided they had no better option and decided to meet up with him the following morning. For now they needed to head back to the lodge, recuperate and eat some Wolfsbane poison. They were concerned some of the wounds from the werewolf could have inflicted them with lycanthropy and decided not to take any chances. It cost them some constitution points which were quickly restored afterwards.
After a night’s rest they took off once more. They couldn’t help but notice that most of the guests at Ascanor had left and that Belik the porter had been promoted to the new warden.
(An interesting note is that at no time whatsoever, did my players consider searching Estovion’s old office).
They met up with the Prince’s Wolves shortly after and travelled towards Feldgrau.  On their way, Rhakis told them about the cult and the town. He didn’t know the exact purpose for them being there, neither where their leaders were placed. From what he had heard so far, their opponent was a mighty necromancer, travelling under the name “Auren Vrood”. A name that struck terror into the souls of mortals and a very dangerous opponent who shouldn’t be underestimated.
But before such concerns they had to make their way through the thickness of cultists, undead and demon wolves. Adimarus Ionacu was also destined to be there and seek out the heroes, so Rhakis urged great caution. The Prince’s Wolves would escort the party to the edge of town and from there they could sneak closer to the settlement. Finally he also warned them about the town in itself. Feldgrau was abandoned long ago, as it was slaughtered by a passing army, which had now left it a haunted town. There was much rage and despair there…
No time to hang around!
The heroes arrived at an old farmstead next to the road leading onwards towards Feldgrau. The building looked abandoned, and outside was an old massive tree from which four werewolves hung, apparently being dead for a long time. The heroes decided to waste no time and move onwards, which suddenly made them realize how pretty this tree was. Mutt and the ranger, however, failed to see the beauty, but suddenly felt three vines attack them and drag them towards the trunk of the tree. To their horror, the werewolves had suddenly turned into skeletons… 
They had little chance to resist before the Hangman Tree swallowed them whole, and hungrily set upon the remaining adventurers. Vincent snapped out of it and ran away, trying to bombard it with magic. Sadly, he failed to overcome its spell resistance.
Edgar and Galfur were immediately dragged along as well, failing to snap out of it. Mutt and the ranger eagerly tried to chop themselves out of the trunk, but failed to inflict enough damage. In mere moments later they were joined in by their other two party members, and damage happily started ticking away.
Staying outside of range, Vincent kept bombarding the tree, and the remaining four did their best to escape. Once they finally did, the Hangman Tree would eagerly snatch them up once more and eat them alive all over. This meant Vincent was just about the only doing any damage throughout the whole fight.
(I love these trees. Not much else to say than they’re a real pain and blatantly fun to throw at players. As a GM, remember it has the Strangle-ability, making anyone it grapples unable to cast verbal-spells)
Finally the tree gave in, the splattered and ooze-covered heroes crawled out and caught their breaths. As they sat there, they looked down the road, towards the darkened skies.
Not far away, there future lay in wait.
In the town of Feldgrau, and the final showdown with Auren Vrood.

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