Tuesday, September 30, 2014

"The Black Spider" Chapter 8 of the Lost Mines of Elder Flinch

In this episode, the team interrogates a red orc chieftain, find the lost mine of Elder Flinch, and finally confront the Black Spider and his evil henchmen!

Spoiler Warning! This is a prosaic retelling of the Lost Mine of Phandelver adventure included with the Dungeons and Dragons Fifth Edition Starter Set.

The party:

Aline, a Thaumaturge of half-Human/half-Sylvan parentage (Level 4 Half-Elf Wizard) 

Braxton Hicks, a Hillfolk Explorer and Trail Guide (Level 4 Halfling Ranger)

Ser Valerius, Errant Armiger, Executor of Justicia (Level 4 Human Paladin)
Syral, Sylvan Assassin (Level 4 Wood Elf Rogue)

Kost the Red Orc
When we last left our cadre of haughty adventurers, they had defeated a small band of Red Orcs and had taken their leader prisoner. They rested for the night which passed uneventfully. The next morning, they interrogated their captive. The Red Orc was named Kost and he spoke guttural Common. He was the leader of a small scout party sent to investigate what happened to the chieftain Grunch, he who wore the armor of Osgda, god-hero of the red orcs. He brought a war-band to Flinch several months ago. The chieftain had made arrangements with someone in the village who said the gates would be open. Kost hadn't heard from the chieftain since.  He had come down the mountain but had to stop here because the way was blocked by a necromancer down living in the tower with the well. The necromancer had held them at bay.

When asked about the cave, he explained that this was Wyvern Tor. It was once inhabited by a flock of wyverns but some goody-two-shoes adventurers took care of that a few months ago. He said that the passage in the back led to a dead end with the giant carving of a dwarf face barfing on one wall.

He said that he came and went so there were plenty of times someone might have come into the cave while they were out hunting.

Having gotten the information they could, the party let Kost go free, telling him that the chieftain was dead and that he was probably the chief now. All he needed to do was go back to the lair and claim his title. He ran off, clambering back up the mountainside.

The party delved deeper into the mountain, following the passage indicated by the arrow drawn on the wall. A few hundred feet in, they found a great stone face carved in the wall of a cavern. The mouth had at one time formed the entrance into a mine, ten feet wide and twenty feet tall. The entrance was filled with debris from a collapse, filling the cavern with rubble and giving the appearance that the carving was vomiting boulders.

A Dead Dwarf
Searching around, the party found another arrow drawn on the wall. Searching near the arrow, they found  a secret door concealed as part of the cavern wall. Opening it they found a hidden cavern. Within the cavern was the decomposing body of a dwarf, dead for at least a week. They also found a shaft dug into the floor and the remains of a campsite for two dwarfs. A rope was tied to a piton and descended into the shaft. After rifling through the campsite for useful items, the party descended the rope. Balatan was left behind to guard the entrance.

Everyone descended the rope easily save Aline, who lost her grip and fell ten feet, injuring her leg.

They found themselves in the middle of a mine passage. Off in the distance, they could hear the booming sound of surf, as if at the ocean.

Dungeonmaster's Note: I played an eleven-hour Youtube video of the sound of crashing surf on my iPad. It added to the experience of exploring the mines.

They came across a series of short dead-end passages which they carefully explored and mapped. At one point Braxton, who was bringing up the rear, saw something moving behind him. The shape quickly disappeared from view. The followed the movement down a dead-end shaft but found nothing save for some yellow-brown slime on the unfinished wall. Aline applied magical fire to the slime to be safe. With no reaction, they continued.

They soon came across a cave containing a large pool of dark water. Braxton swam into the water to search for anything beneath the surface. There he found the remains of a long-dead wizard clutching a wand. He returned with the wand and some other valuables.

The Black Spider
After drying himself off, the party climbed some stairs and took a right turn. They opened some heavy double doors made of ornately carved brass on the right and entered into what was at one point the temple to Ordain Stoneshield, god of the dwarves. There they encountered a mysterious elf with dark black skin and white hair commanding two bugbears. The elf and bugbears were examining some notes at a table. When he looked up and saw the player characters, he said, "So despite all my efforts, you still managed to find this place. I guess I will have to deal with you personally. KILL THEM!". At his command, the bugbears rushed to attack.
"I guess I will have to deal with you personally. KILL THEM!"

Aline reacted quickly, casting a spell that caught caught the wizard in a magical web. The bugbears escaped somehow and charged the party. Meanwhile, a yellow-brown gelatinous mass approached from behind the party, emerging from the darkness of the mines they had recently explored. The dark elf wizard became invisible but Braxton's arrow found its mark (DM's note: Critical Hit!), killing the mysterious wizard.
What's that coming up behind us??
Suddenly, three giant spiders descended from the darkened ceiling, catching Valerius in webs. One of the spiders wrapped the fallen wizard in a cocoon of webbing.  At one point, Braxton fell to a bugbear's attack but was soon saved by Valerius and a healing potion. A fierce battle culminated in the killing of the spiders and the bugbears.

Don't Move! I'm HIDING!
The party moved into the room and closed the door to avoid the yellow-brown jelly. The jelly squeezed through the cracks in the door, forcing it open and poured in through the gap. Braxton took cover behind Valerius. When Valerius shifted position to stay away from the jelly, Braxton yelled, "Don't move! I'm HIDING!"

A few arrows and fire spells soon killed the amorphous blob, causing it to collapse into a quivering liquid mass on the floor.

After the battle, they cut open the cocoon to learn that the dark elf was alive, saved by the spider's venom. They took the groggy dark elf as their prisoner. Examining the papers, they found a partial map of the mine with several areas listed with an "X".

Within the adjoining priestly chambers they found two dwarves, one poisoned and the other injured. The injured dwarf said that they were the Rockseeker brothers and that they had discovered the location of the mine. He said the dark elf was named Nezznar, aka the Black Spider. He had followed them to the mine and had attacked them while they were waiting for their brother, Gundren, to arrive. The poisoned dwarf was groggy and incoherent, the victim of a spider's bite.  They brought the two dwarves and the Black Spider with them as they continued to explore.

The Sudden yet Inevitable Betrayal
In the next chamber, they found a large cavern separated by a deep ditch. A dark elf overseer and three bugbears were managing the work of a dozen chained and enslaved Cragmaw goblins who were digging the ditch.

A battle ensued. Valerius ran forward and clashed with the dark elf while shoving bugbears over the ledge as they tried to climb up the rope. The injured dwarf betrayed the party by attacking Braxton with surprise!  Syral killed the dwarf, revealing it to be a doppelganger as it shifted through several of its forms: goblin, peasant woman, Valerius, young guard from Flinch, old drunk miner, etc. Valerius killed the dark elf, only to reveal that it too was a doppelganger. Eventually, the two surviving bugbears tried to flee, only to be taken down by arrows and spells.

The Wave Echo Cave
The party rested for a few hours as Braxton, Aline, and Syral took turns digging where the goblins were digging. They interrogated the weakened Nezznar about what he was looking for but he was of no help. Eventually, they found the body of a dwarf clad in armor and the magical treasures buried with him.

Suitably rested, they continued. They found a large chamber that connected to a vast underground lake. The lake surged as if driven by waves. The level of the lake rose and fell by twenty feet every few minutes. A ledge ran along the inner edge of the cavern connecting to another passage to the right.

The party explored the passage and found themselves in another larger cave. The ceiling of this cave glittered with glowing gemstones, creating the illusion of a night sky. A ledge split the cave into an upper cavern and a lower cavern, separated by a twenty foot drop. The party were on the northern edge of the upper level. A small stone structure, the shape of a forty-foot cube with a small attached out-building, lay before them. The entrance was a heavy brass door carved with ornate and arcane symbols. They forced the door open and were met by a large spherical creature with one large eye and multiple eye stalks who greeted them telepathically, "Hello."


Next week: the thrilling conclusion to the Lost Mine of Elder Flinch!

After Thoughts
I was kind of disappointed that Nezznar the Black Spider went down so easily, but a web spell followed by arrows from two strikers (a ranger and an assassin rogue), one of which a critical, will do that!

Technically, they killed him, sure. But I said the spider cocoon, whose job is to store prey at a state of near death for later, stabilized him. It allows me to roleplay him interacting with the party more as his prisoner.

I've got to say, too, that the standing tactic for my players is always ALWAYS take the path to the left. If you always follow the left, you will eventually explore every room in a dungeon and find your way out of any maze. I looked at the map of the mine, and of course left, left, left, will take you past all other threats and straight to the boss room!

I thought about putting a cave-in to redirect them to one of the other rooms, but I decided to run the module as-written. It makes for a slight anti-climax but eh, that's why it's a game and not a novel.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Elapsed Campaign Time

We started playing in the Xanthus River Valley back in January. I originally created the setting for Dungeon Crawl Classics. The first adventure was the funnel adventure "The Portal Under the Stars". I'm assuming that adventure takes place during the summer solstice, which places it on June 21st.

After a four months of DCC, my players wanted to switch to something more traditional, less lethal, and less random, so we switched to Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. I kept the chapter numbers consecutive because we were playing the same characters in the same setting. It was a straight continuation of events.

We played AD&D for four months and decided to switch to the recently released Dungeons and Dragons Fifth Edition. I restarted the chapter numbers because we were telling a new story with new characters, albeit in the same setting.

I have cataloged the elapsed time in the game world, adding up all the overnight rests and the various weeks of recuperation, training, and down time.

The following spreadsheet is the result.

Adding up all the elapsed days brings us to a current date in the campaign of November 1st, which is about what I've been describing. Winter is coming and the air is getting colder.

Of course, after I started describing the oncoming winter, I remembered that the Xanthus River Valley is set in a sub-tropical latitude, roughly equivalent to that of Kyushu island in Japan. The lowlands are steamy jungles while the highlands have an oceanic climate with little seasonal variation. At best, it should have a rainy summer and a dry winter.

So I've decided to make this discrepancy a plot point. Something for the player characters to investigate.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

"The Doppelganger" Chapter 7 of the Lost Mines of Elder Flinch

In this week's chapter, the team helps a lonely farmer deal with an ogre, gains two new adventurers, is ambushed by  hobgoblins, almost undone by a doppelganger, and take on a tribe of Red Orcs!

Spoiler Warning! This is a prosaic retelling of the Lost Mine of Phandelver adventure included with the Dungeons and Dragons Fifth Edition Starter Set.

The party:

Aline, a Thaumaturge of half-Human/half-Sylvan parentage (Level 3 Half-Elf Wizard) 
Braxton Hicks, a Hillfolk Explorer and Trail Guide (Level 3 Halfling Ranger)

Ser Valerius, Errant Armiger, Executor of Justicia (Level 3 Human Paladin)


Syral, Sylvan Assassin (Level 3 Wood Elf Rogue)

Balatan of Clan Brocktaw, Bronze Draconic Priest of Bahamut (Level 3 Dragonborn Cleric)

Clucks, Ser Valerius' Cart-Pulling Megallus (giant chicken)
Ogre in the Night

When we left our party, they were traveling from the tiny village of Flinch, recently the victim of a deadly massacre followed by being taken over by a gang of ruffians, to Swallow, a medium-sized town of several thousand inhabitants, to purchase needed supplies. They arrived in Swallow at dusk, just in time to make the closing of the gates.

Fitong, the half-orc barbarian, bade his farewell to the party. He had other plans elsewhere and did not plan to return to Flinch. Braxton and Aline took a room at the inn while Ser Valerius enjoyed the hospitality of a local peasant, as is his custom.

That night, a somewhat over-educated milksop of a farmer came into the inn begging for help! An ogre was plaguing his farm and he knew not what to do! He required the intervention of brave adventurers to thwart this brute and send it on its way! Braxton and Aline decided to lend the farmer a hand. The party interrupted Valerius' meal and took him away from his peasant hosts. They talked the gatekeeper into letting them out the city gate after dark and up the road they went. They traveled a few miles outside of town and turned up a path to a small farm carved out of the forest.

The forest was dark. A chill was in the air. A lamp and a torch provided the only illumination. The farm's split-rail perimeter fence had been knocked over and a wide swath cut through the crops to the main gate of the farm compound. The gate of the compound had been smashed in. Inside the compound, an ogre was holding a dismembered sheep's leg and drinking wine out of a barrel. Valerius stepped forth and challenged the giant brute as Braxton and Aline sneaked around. The ogre turned and attacked Valerius. The subsequent battle was short and resulted in the dead bulk of an ogre lying on the ground.

It was late and the party decided to stay at the farm. That night, Braxton heard bad singing coming from the compound. The farmer was in the barn, drunk and singing. Braxton offered to help him back inside. Farmer lamented that he had no friends and that no one liked him. Suddenly, he became paranoid and accused Braxton of orchestrating the ogre attack in order to take his farm!

"You can't have it!" he slurred.

Braxton extended his left arm hand out saying, "Look over here" When the farm looked, Braxton knocked the farmer out with his right hand. The diminutive ranger dragged the unconscious farmer back inside to sleep it off.

At dawn, Braxton made a hearty Bantami meal and Valerius left a gift of enough gold to purchase two new sheep. They left the farmer asleep.

That morning, the party followed the ogre's tracks back to its cave. The cave was just below the ridge at the edge of the plateau. They peered over the thousand-foot precipice and surveyed the jungle of the lower valley far below. Mountains towered to the north, west, and south. Mist constantly blew up from the valley, condensing into cool clouds that clung to the plateau. Braxton declared that he would one day build a home here. They found a bag with 20 gold in the ogre's cave.

New Companions

They returned to Swallow about mid-morning. Braxton and Aline went to gather their belongings and found two travelers in the room they paid for: a meditating sylvan and a sleeping draconian with bronze scales. The sylvan introduces himself as Syral and his sleeping companion as Balatan. Syral, Braxton, and Aline returned downstairs to talk.

Syral explained that he and his companion were headed to some small village in the north, Filch or Finch or something. Braxton corrected, "Flinch", and said that they were headed back that way if they wished to join them. About that time, Balatan groggily came down the stairs and met the rest.

After a Bantami second-breakfast, the party completed their shopping, had lunch, and rejoined with Ser Valerius . The reunited party, along with their new companions and Ser Valerius' cart pulled by a megallus (a giant chicken used as a draft animal), struck out to Flinch.

A Measly Bounty!
A few miles out of town, they came across a broken wagon blocking the road. A lone human female called for help. No one noticed the lack of cart animal. Nevertheless, they sensed treachery and stopped their caravan about forty feet away.

Braxton noticed dark figures lurking in the trees to either side of the road. Valerius called out "There seem to be some mysterious figures lurking in the trees behind you!", the woman replied "What? I'm sorry. You're going to have to come closer. I can't hear you!" To which they replied, "No!"

At that point, the woman, frustrated, shouted "It's them! Get them!" and four hobgoblin warriors ran out of the bushes and opened fire with arrows. The party responded quickly. Braxton put some arrows in the woman and she quickly fell to the ground. Valerius and Balatan closed with and fought the hobgoblins around the wagon while Braxton and Syral sneaked through the trees to flank them. One hobgoblin jumped up onto the wagon but was taken out by Aline and Braxton.

After the battle, they cautiously approached the spot where the woman fell, but she was mysteriously gone without a trace!

Searching the hobgoblins, they found papers with drawings of Aline, Braxton, Fitong, and Varis. Each was listed with a reward of 25 gold pieces and each posting bore the mark of the Black Spider! Braxton was offended by the paltry reward.

So the Black Spider put a bounty on their heads. Interesting!

Ser Valerius is a Doppelganger!
The party arrived in Flinch several hours after nightfall but encountered no further trouble. After paying the entrance fee, they retired to the Auld Dunn Inn where they caught up on the events of the past two days by talking with Exposition. As is his custom, Ser Valerius enjoyed the hospitality of a peasant family.

 That night, after going to bed, there was a loud banging on the door of Braxton and Aline's room. Braxton got out of bed and asked what was the matter. Ser Valerius exclaimed that there was trouble in town, and he needed Braxton and Aline's help in defeating Harra Thorntooth! Braxton opened the door to let Valerius in.

Ser Valerius immediately stabbed Braxton in the chest! Braxton fell to the floor, mortally injured.

Aline, who had gotten out of bed, tried to cast a Hold Person spell on Valerius but with no effect. Valerius then stabbed her. She fell to the floor.

"Valerius! What have you done?"

By this time, Balatan and Syral had come out of their rooms. Syral immediately rushed Valerius, tackling him. Both went bursting through a nearby window and fell to the ground ten feet below. Meanwhile, Balatan set about stabilizing Braxton and Aline.

Valerius was the first to his feet and he ran around the ruins of the Elder's house. Syral gave chase. When he rounded the corner, he saw the old miner Lanar, stumbling drunk, and another old miner Linar, stumbling drunk, both were exact duplicates.

Syral examined each one closely. One had bloody hands from the recent battle. Sensing its the discovery, the Lanar with bloody hands bolted for the rear gate. It arrived before Syral, climbed the steps, and stabbed the young guard standing watch over the gate, taking his keys.

Desperate Battle Atop the Gate
Syral caught up with the shape-changer and the pair battled atop the gate. Syral tried to swing around a post to double-kick the doppelganger in the head. The creature caught Syral's legs and morphed so that it was pointing the opposite direction. It then spun around, swinging Syral by the legs, in an attempt to throw Syral off the wall. Syral caught himself on the wall and pulled himself up. The doppelganger morphed one of its hands into a long blade and stabbed Syral in the chest! Syral fell and the doppelganger ran off into the night.

Back at the room, Balatan had revived Braxton and Aline and the trio ran outside. They followed the commotion to the gate and found the young guard and Syral both lying unconscious on the ground. Balatan revived them both with holy prayers of Bahamut while Braxton retrieved the "captain of the guard" and Aline went to gather the real Ser Valerius from the house in which he was staying.

All the guards were young volunteers, typically the teenage sons of recent settlers, and none had been on the job more than a week. The captain was one of the settler men, a farmer, with no experience guarding a village. He was unsure of what to do but followed the orders of Braxton, Balatan, and Ser Valerius.

The party set watches for the remaining hours of night, two at a time. The next day, they met in the common room at the Auld Dunn Inn and formulated their plan.

They would attempt to draw out the Black Spider by making it known that they were headed back to the Old Owl Well. There they hoped to lure one of his agents into the open, where they would capture and question one for information about the Black Spider.

An Afternoon by the Well
After breakfast, they packed up their gear, left the megallus at the stables, and started hiking up the trail towards the slopes of Mount Zinnober.

They bypassed the ruins of Balk, about three miles outside of Flinch, where they pointed out the tower of the green dragon to the new members of the party. Balatan was ready to fight but they explained that they were unready to deal with that threat.

They then spent the afternoon resting and waiting at the Old Owl Well. The air was cool and the sky was grey. At one point, a large dark shadow swooped overhead, flying down the valley to Balk. They watched as the green dragon disappeared from view within the walls of its ruined tower.

A few hours into their rest, they realized that their plan wasn't going to work. No agents of the Black Spider were attacking. So they decided to continue looking for the lost mine of Elder Flinch.

The Red Orcs of Wyvern Tor
The party continued their trek up the valley, following the direction of the arrow they found in the tower next to the Old Owl Well. They eventually reached the treeline at dusk and were enshrouded with fog and mist and gathering darkness. Visibility was reduced to a sixty feet at best. Based on something they heard from somebody, perhaps even a misunderstanding of something they heard, they were looking for a rock shaped like a wyvern. Partly due to the low visibility and partly due to there not being a rock shaped like a wyvern, they could find no such rock.

Braxton scouted ahead, he did find several cave entrances in the sheer face of the mountain. The scree and talus below the caves indicated trash and waste left by habitation.
Red Orcs of Zinnober camping in a cave

Braxton returned and reported what he found. He and Syral approached with stealth to within fifty feet of the cave. Braxton spotted an orc lookout sitting on a rocky promontory jutting out from the mountain near the cave. The lookout had not spotted the pair. Braxton and Syral took aim with their bows and fired two arrows. Both were sufficient to slay the lookout.

Braxton approached the cave entrance and listened. He heard many voices speaking orcine and a large voice speaking giantish, which he understood, saying "Hey! Let me eat some of that! Let me have some! I'm hungry!" Based on the echoing voices he heard, the smell, and the spoor at the cave mouth, Braxton estimated ten or so orcs and something bigger, and ogre or a giant!
The rest of the party approached noisily.

The rest of the party approached noisily. The noise of their approach caught the attention of the one speaking giantish. It bellowed out a call to battle, alerting the orcs, and the sound of its plodding footsteps echoed through the cave. From around a corner deep within the cave came loping an ogre! Before he could take another step, Braxton and Syral filled him with deadly arrows, dropping him in an instant!

The orcs began to swarm over the walls made of boulders they used to keep the ogre separate from their camp. A fierce battle ensued in the caves of the red orcs. Balatan and Valerius held the line, with Valerius fighting a mostly defensive battle. Braxton moved around the battlefield, firing arrows from various sight-lines. Syral darted back and forth, leaving dead orcs in his wake. Aline's witch-bolts failed to score any hits. At one point Syral fell under the axe of an orc and Balatan had to leave the line to save his companion.

Eventually, there was just the boss orc, a brutish individual wearing chain mail who spoke the common tongue. Aline tried to put him into a magical sleep but he brushed off the effects of her spell. The party soon defeated the leader and the battle was won.

Upon exploring the cave, the party found a treasure chest belonging to the leader, as well as a passage leading deeper in the cave. Next to the passage was an arrow drawn in chalk. This was Wyvern Tor! 
This was the way to the Lost Mine!

After dumping the bodies outside the cave, the party decided to rest for the night.

Next Week, part 1 of the final act of the Lost Mine of Phandelver as the party finds and explores the Wave Echo Cave Mine!

After Thoughts
In case you are wondering about the high character turnover lately, it's because we're using this adventure to experiment with the new system. I'm encouraging my players to play different characters to see what they like and don't like Play something different. Do something new. Once we finish with the module, they'll be fifth level and they'll have to commit.

I did a lot of ad-lib dungeon mastering this week. The farmer with the ogre trouble was a random event I rolled from the Midkemia Press Cities book. The hobgoblin road ambush was a random encounter from the module, which I spiced up with the doppelganger that escaped the goblin castle. And finally the doppelganger attack in the inn was something that was just too perfect to pass up!

The doppelganger fight, I might add, was kinetic, fast-paced, and lots of fun! I chose not to use minis for that fight and it kept the action moving throughout the scene. Trevor, who is playing Syral, is a dungeon master himself and loves descriptive cinematic fighting with lots of stunts. That fight allowed me to indulge him.

For anyone who has read the module, I have obviously taken some of the side-quests and put them in a direct line with the Wave Echo Cave mine. That was because the players skipped all that and their characters would have to tackle the mine at third level, so I added some additional encounters to beef it up.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

"Exposition" Chapter 6 of the Lost Mine of Elder Flinch

In this week's chapter, the adventurers ask the questions: If it's a necromancer, is it really murder? Was killing Glasstaff the right thing to do? Should we fight a green dragon? Are Banshees inherently evil? The answer to all of the above is "Hopefully Not!"

Spoiler Warning! This is a prosaic retelling of the Lost Mine of Phandelver adventure included with the Dungeons and Dragons Fifth Edition Starter Set.

The party:

Fitong, a Tribal Warrior of half-Human/half-Orcine parentage (Level 3 Half-Orc Barbarian)

Aline, a Thaumaturge of half-Human/half-Sylvan parentage (Level 3 Half-Elf Wizard) 
Braxton Hicks, a Hillfolk Explorer and Trail Guide (Level 3 Halfling Ranger)

Ser Valerius, Errant Armiger, Executor of Justicia (Level 3 Human Paladin)

Back in Flinch

It was a nine mile hike through the mountains from the goblin fortress to the East Gate of the Defile of Castragon, followed by a three-mile ride on a ferry-raft across the lake to the jetty at Flinch, a journey of eight hours. On the way, Garl Gembeard read and translated the map of his kinsman, Rungren Rockseeker.

The words in were in Daro script and read:








Varis Leaves the Group

Before arriving in Flinch, Varis informed the party that he had to take his leave. He needed to return to the wilderness to participate in the lunar rendezvous at the stone circle on the other side of Nightflame Mountain.

As the remaining party members entered the gates of Flinch, they encountered two Red Cloaks, now serving as guards. One of the guards rushed off into the village, no doubt to inform Harra Thorntooth. A gnome met them at the gate and informed them of the new entrance fee of two copper coins levied against all strangers. The fee was common in other villages throughout the Xanthus river valley but new to Flinch, so they paid.

It was late afternoon. The air was chilly with the approaching autumn. With no immediate plans, Braxton, Aline, and Fitong went straight to the notice board to catch up. There they met a young man clad in scale mail, carrying a shield bearing the symbol of the Executors of Justicia, Goddess of Justice. The man introduced himself as Ser Valerius, a land-owning armiger of Wince. 

Ser Valerius explained that he was a peregrine executor of Justicia, travelling the land, enforcing the decisions of the Justicars. He was currently without assignment and seeking to provide aid and protection to those who were worthy. The party said that they lived a life of danger and adventure and that they were generally law-abiding, and suggested that they needed protection and had encountered many people in their travels who needed help. Not to mention an official executor would lend legitimacy to their activities. Valerius decided to travel with them.

While they were talking, an acolyte was nailing a new notice to the board. The acolyte said that Sister Gareale needed someone adventurous to undertake a perilous mission. The party walked over to the ruins of the temple and met Sister Gareale, a devotee of Draven Windshard, the demi-god of bards, poets, history, and lore. Sister Gareale wore a broach shaped like a silver harp.

Sister Gareale asked the group to take a gift to a banshee named Agatha. The gift was a jeweled comb in a lacquered box. When the gift is presented, the presenter must ask Agatha the following question: What do you know about a spellbook belonging to a legendary mage named Bowgentle? In exchange for returning with the answer to that question, Sister Gareale would provide the party with three healing potions as payment. The party accepted the quest and took the comb.

After chatting with Sister Gareale, Fitong retired early to the Auld Dunn Inn.  The rest inquired Daran Edermath about another job on the notice board. Daran was a turnip farmer, another recent settler who came at the behest of Feisty, one of the nine survivors of the Red Orc ambush of several months ago. 

Daran invited them into his house, a modest home with an old gauntlet hung over the door. Daran's wife made them tea and they chatted about current events, noting that Feisty, the presumed elected Elder of Flinch, will take umbrage at the usurpation of her authority by Harra Thorntooth while she was away recruiting settlers. The party also learned that Daran was a retired adventurer and fortune-seeker who had retired to become a turnip farmer here in Flinch.

After the chit-chat, Daran explained the problem. He said that zombies were chasing prospectors away from the Old Owl Well, an ancient fresh-water well about ten miles up on the slopes of Mount Zinnober. Prospectors returning from the mountain often stop there for water and rest. The last prospector to visit there reported that it looked like someone was living in the ruins of the old tower next to the well. He'd like the party to go check it out. The party agreed to take on the mission.

After talking with Edermath, it had become dark so the party retired to the inn for dinner and relaxation. There they met up with Fitong who found himself being ignored by the innkeeper, a bantami named Tobey. Braxton took care of things and had a talk with Tobey, bantam to bantam. Tobey apologized and they were served immediately.

They spent time talking with the barmaid of the Auld Dunn Inn, a human female named Exposition. Exposition was also one of the nine survivors of the massacre. Exposition, as befitting her unusual name, was a font of information. She went on at length about the politics of the town, the recent troubles with Glasstaff and the Red Cloaks, the anticipated row between Feisty and Thorntooth, and so on. 

When asked about the history of Flinch, she exclaimed that history was a passion of hers! She had red several books on the subject before the massacre. She learned that the town of Flinch was founded by a dwarf named Elder Flinch who discovered a mine somewhere up on Mount Zinnober. The mine was productive and was the source of magical elements used to make enchanted weapons and armor. She told of how the location of the mine was lost after the war with the Red Orcs eighty years ago. 

After a while of exhausting conversation with Exposition, the party decided to talk instead with another patron, an old prospector named Lanar. Lanar told how he was recently chased away from the Old Owl Well by zombies! After providing what information he could, the party thanked the old man and went to bed.

Old Owl Well
The next morning, the party set forth, following Edermath's directions to the Old Owl Well. On the way, about five miles out of town, they came across the abandoned ruins of an old village. They got a bad feeling about the town and went around it.

Old Owl Well
By noon, they reached the ruins of the Old Owl Well. The well was within a rectangular enclosure of a ruined wall, little more than straight piles of loose weathered stones. Next to the well was the ruins of an old tower dating back hundreds of years. A small square structure, also in ruins, was attached to the base of the tower. It appeared as if someone had patched up the roof of the adjacent structure and was living within.

The party approached cautiously, calling out their presence. Zombies began shambling out of the tower. The adventurers sprung into action! Braxton began firing arrows at zombies. Valerius took a defensive position. Fitong ran blindly into the attached structure and attacked an unsuspecting bald wizard who cowered under the onslaught of Fitong's blade. Aline followed up with a witch bolt that killed the wizard before he can even speak or raise a hand in self-defense.

The battle continued outside the structure with half of the zombies going after Valerius and Fitong. The other half went around a breach in wall to attack Aline and Braxton. Aline and Braxton frantically ran around the wall and took shelter in structure while Valerius and Fitong defended against the clawing zombie horde. The battle was long and difficult but eventually zombies were defeated.

Going through the possessions of dead wizard, they learned that he was using zombies to excavate under tower in search of treasure. His belongings included a tiny jeweled box with a magic ring from the days of the ancient Nedula Madhya empire, a scroll, a potion, and assorted coinage. The wizard's notes indicated that his expedition had been harassed by a tribe Red Orcs from Wyvern Tor.

The party briefly questioned whether killing the wizard in such a way was murder and was, perhaps, unwarranted. They concluded that he was obviously a necromancer and up to no good. He probably deserved what came to him.

Searching the tower, the party found the basement excavated. They also found an arrow drawn in chalk on the wall, indicating a direction further up mount Zinnober, no doubt left by Rungren to point the way to the hidden mine. Who drew the arrow? Did someone else know the way? Concerned about these unanswered questions, they erased the arrow.

On the way back, they noticed a sign warning of danger and proscribing entry into Balk, a sign they did not see before. Curious, they entered the town. The town consisted of several small structures in various states of overgrown disrepair and ruination. A tower loomed atop a hill overgrown with twisted trees, thorny bushes, and especially evil-looking shrubbery. One house in town, however, was well kept with a sign in Druidic. They approached the house and knocked.

Fairuza of Balk

An old man dressed like a druid opened the door. He introduced himself as Fairuza. Fairusa was a laconic man. He offered them tea and goodberries and told them of the dangers that lurked within the town. He said that until recently, this town was simply abandoned, but that a few months ago a green dragon took up residence within the tower. After that, the presence of the green dragon began having an evil effect on the town. Twig blights appeared. Giant spiders occupied one of the buildings. Zombies and skeletons began to animate from the remains of the dead. He's even seen robed humans lurking among the ruins. Valerius guessed that they were probably dragon cultists. 

Fairuza said that he has been keeping an eye on the dragon and the other inhabitants of the town, but that he would be going to the lunar rendezvous soon. At that time, he will leave. The party weighed their chances and decided to leave the dragon alone for now, but to be wary of attacks on people or livestock. They left Balk and returned to Flinch in time for evening.

In Flinch, they informed Edermarth of the success of their mission and the nearby presence of the dragon. Edermarth rewarded them by telling them of the Order of the Gauntlet, and that should they ever need assistance, they should look for the gauntlet above the door, knock, and say the password, "Chevall". 

Go Ask Agatha

The next day the party borrowed two canoes and crossed the lake, following the directions given to them by Sister Gareale to the hidden lair of Agatha the Banshee on the slopes of Mount Pachuat.

They followed a small rocky stream up a steep valley. Mount Pachuat towered above them.As they neared their destination, the forest became darker, colder. The sky became grey despite the lack of clouds and the light lost all its color, becoming bluish-grey. They came across a kind of domed structure made of thick overgrown vines, thicket, and trees. A curtain of moss and leaves hung over a doorway.

Braxton announced their arrival but no one answered. He looked inside but saw no one. He cautiously entered the dwelling and a glowing form, the angry spirit of a female elf, materialized before him. It was Agatha the Banshee!

The spirit demanded, "What brings you here, mortal? You are in grave danger!"

Braxton carefully replied, "We come to ask a question for Sister Garaele."

Agatha became suddenly malevolent and frightening, "You insult me with your ill manners, halfling!"

Braxton courageously presented the gift of the comb, "We offer you a gift!" The banshee looked upon it and calmed.

"I know this thing. It once belonged to me, in another life. Thank you for returning it to me. By the pact that binds me to this place, I must answer you one question. What is your question?"

Braxton asked, "What became of the spellbook of Bowgentle?"

Agatha answered, calmly and thoughfully, "I have not heard that name in centuries. I traded the book to a necromancer named Tsernoth over a hundred years ago. I know not what became of the book afterward."

Afterwards, she looked upon them, "Do you have any other gifts?"
Fitong thought about trading something in in exchange for asking about how to become the Archon of Flinch. He thought about it hard, but ultimately decided to hold his tongue.

"Then I have fulfilled the pact. You are no longer safe here, nor are you welcome. You should leave this place!"

They left.

Green Orcs of Mount Pachuat
Orc Ambush!
On the way back down the valley, they crossed a rocky ford in the stream between two tall rocks. Braxton stopped the party. He sensed an ambush. Green Orcs from the forests of Mount Pachuat laid in wait atop the rocks. The party approached cautiously. Braxton notched an arrow and took aim at the rocks while Fitong began climbing. The Green Orcs leaped to their feet and  up and began throwing javelins. Braxton fired an arrow as Fitong engaged in battle atop one of the rocks. Aline targeted Witchfire at the others atop while Valerius engaged in hand-to-hand battle with an orc in the stream-bed.

Fitong was seriously wounded and fell from the rock, unconscious. Valerius revived him and the pair fought with the orc in the stream. Soon, all of the orcs were killed and the party continued back to Flinch.

Once they had returned to Flinch, they reported to Sister Garaele. She thanked them and gave them the potions she promised. She also offered them membership in the Harpers, a secret brotherhood devoted to fighting tyranny in the name of Draven Windshard. They politely declined.

After resting for the evening, they packed up their things on the following morning and headed downriver to Swallow to do some shopping.


Next week, the party return to Flinch to re-join Garl Gembeard and follow the directions to the Wave Echo Cave mine!

After Thoughts

The group intentionally followed through on some side-quests this week because Jeffy, the guy playing Garl Gembeard, was going to be out of town this week and asked us to wait for him to return before we headed into the mine, so we obliged.

I decided to re-do the map so that it was a list of way points that had to be reached in order. No one knew exactly where the next point was, but if you got there an arrow would point you in the right direction. If I had the time, I would come up with devilish location-based puzzled ala the DaVinci Code, but who has the time for that???

Here's a revised and expanded map of the area around Flinch including the locations of this week's encounters.
The areas around Flinch
I gotta say, I feel bad for Kost the necromancer. There he is, minding his own business, not bothering anyone, when a half-orc rushes in out of nowhere and attacks him with a sword! He's murdered before anyone even bothered to ask "What are you doing here?"

I thought about making some kind of lesson-teaching point by having there be repercussions to the slaying, but it's better to just let the players have fun and not introduce too many ethical problems. It's just an elf-game.

We joked that the necromancer wrote the following in his journal:

"I have managed to keep the zombies at bay for 6 days now. However, the spell that repels them also keeps me trapped here. I'm running low on food and I'm not sure what I'm going to do. If I lower the spell, the zombies will surely devour me!

"However, I have a good feeling about today. I get the sense I will have visitors, someone who can help me escape this imprisonment. I certainly hope they are friendly!"

Really though, I know why. It's because I built the scene using minis and terrain. That immediately told the players "Battle! And kill everything before it kills you!" I should have role-played it first, allowed the wizard to come outside first, maybe even be a dick, but show that he was a real person, even though he was a necromancer.

Is practicing necromancy a capital offense? Yes. But I think Ser Valerius should have called for a fair trial by Priest of Justica first BEFORE carrying out the sentence, and he might remind Fitong of that. 

Or I could ret-con it in their favor and say Ser Valerius had standing orders to execute the necromancer Kost on sight, thus justifying their actions. It's kind of a cop-out, but it's more fun that way, and I want my game to be fun and not angst-filled drama-ramas. 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

"HOOAT!!!" Chapter 5 of the Lost Mine of Elder Flinch

In this chapter, the adventurers seek out the castle hide-out of the Cragmaw goblinoids. There they encounter some devious goblins, hobgoblins, and bugbears, a duplicitous shape-changer, and a rampaging owl-bear!

Spoiler Warning! This is a prosaic retelling of the Lost Mine of Phandelver adventure included with the Dungeons and Dragons Fifth Edition Starter Set.

The party:
  • Varis, a Sylvan Shaman (Level 2 Wood Elf Druid)
  • Fitong, a Tribal Warrior of half-Human/half-Orcine parentage (Level 2 Half-Orc Barbarian)
  • Aline, a Thaumaturge of half-Human/half-Sylvan parentage (Level 1 Half-Elf Wizard)
  • Braxton Hicks, a Hillfolk Explorer and Trail Guide (Level 2 Halfling Ranger)
  • Garl Gembeard, a Daro Warrior (Level 2 Dwarf Fighter)
A Plan with Palok
Last week, the adventurers defeated the wizard Glasstaff, leader of the Red Cloak gang, only to learn that the remaining members of the gang had been recruited to serve Harra Thorntooth, the gnomish proprietor of the Miner's Hall and member of the secret society known as the Rahasya.

The adventurers had discovered that bugbears, as well as the timid goblin Palok, were allied with Glasstaff at the direction of the Black Spider. The presence of Palok indicated the alliance included the goblins that ambushed their cart in the Defile of Castragon, an inference that Palok himself soon verified. Knowing that the goblins took the dwarf, Gundren Rockseeker, and his map to the mine, to their secret headquarters, a place called Cragmaw Castle. At hearing their plans, Palok the goblin began jumping and repeating the only word he knew, "Meek! Meek!"

Interested, the adventurers began questioning Palok. Palok spoke only in pantomime, gestures, and various inflections of the word "Meek!". Using this crude sign language, Palok was able to express that he knew the way to the castle, and that he would help the adventurers in exchange for freeing his goblin brothers from the tyranny of the bugbears. However, they had to promise to not kill any goblins. The tall hairy ones, however, were fair game. 

The adventurers equipped themselves for the expedition and set out at noon that day.

"Isn't Garl a gnomish name?"
The journey across the lake and into the Defile of Castragon was uneventful until they reached the point where they encountered an ogre road-block the day before. There they met a daro (dwarf) who was examining the scene looking for clues. They cautiously approached and hailed the short fellow. 

The daro introduced himself as Garl Gembeard. Garl was looking for his kinsman, a dwarf named Gundren Rockseeker. Garl was expecting Gundren to arrive in Flinch the previous day. When Gundren failed to show, he came looking for him. The adventurers brought Garl up to speed on what they knew of the fate of the dwarfish daro. Seeing as their quests coincided, Garl took the adventurers up on their offer to work together and joined their band.

The party continued, led by Palok. They eventually came within sight of one of the ancient signal towers of the ancient empire of Nedula Madhyans, perched high on a steep ridge overlooking the defile. There was nothing special about this tower, several such abandoned ruins loomed over the Defile of Castragon. Palok, however, indicated that this one was special and pointed to an old staircase winding up the ravine. The staircase was ancient and eroded to the point that it resembled piles of weathered stones forming a path. 

The sun had long ago disappeared behind the mountainous folds of the defile and the sky was darkening into twilight as the adventurers reached the top of the stairs. Pairs of standing stones formed a path that led along the top of the ridge to the half-ruined walls of the ancient fortification.  Under the cover of darkness, Braxton ranged ahead to scout out the castle. He could find no signs of life outside the walls of the ruin but the stench of goblinoid permeated the place. Peering through the collapsed rubble of the outer walls, Braxton could make out flickering indirect light on some of the interior walls. He returned to the party and reported his findings.

A Stealthy Approach
Based on Braxton's reconnoiter, the party left Palok at the top of the stairs and climbed down along the steep slope of the ridge where it would be harder to see their approach. They then climbed back up under the ruined north wall of the castle. They traversed the route with stealth over the fallen stones. Only Braxton was halted when he almost set a pile of stones tumbling down the pile, threatening to give away his position. The rest scrambled into the room, surprising the four hoboblin warriors resting within. 

Braxton eventually caught up and joined the fight against the crimson goblinoids, Varis turned himself into a brown bear and began chewing on their red almost-feline heads, and Fitong and Garl cleaved a bloody swath through the hobgoblin warriors.  The four warriors were soon defeated.

The party advanced cautiously into the next room, a store-room filled with booty taken from trade caravans. Inside the adjoining chamber, they came upon a yellow goblin priest and two acolytes, praying to the blood-stained totem-like idol of their dark goblin god. The three were quickly overwhelmed. True to their word to Palok, the goblins were taken alive and bound.

A Grick for Garl
The adventurers pulled away some curtains to explore the next chamber. The room was tall and dark. Aline case a light spell to illuminate the shadowed recesses of the arched ceiling. Carved bas-reliefs of the ancient gods of the Uuani, those who would later be cast down by the Aslak to become devils imprisoned in the nine hells. One of the statues resembled a large boa constrictor with octopus-like tentacles for a face. As Garl the daro ventured in to take a closer for hidden treasure, the bizarre creature came to life and fell upon him! Garl was grievously injured by the monster! The rest of the group attacked the thing and it was soon killed. Garl was soon revived and the party continued on their quest.

Beyond the next door, they encountered a hall with many exits and several collapsed walls and ceilings. To the north, beyond a curtain, they found a ruined wall exposing the room to the elements. Behind another door, they found a short hallway. Varis, in bear form, covered the curtain to the south while Fitong opened the next door to the east.

King Grol of the Cragmaws!
Behind the door was the largest hairy bugbear they had ever seen! Near the bugbear was the unconscious form of a daro, none other than Gundren Rockseeker! A large wolf stood at attention as the door opened. The bugbear called out an alarm and stomped as hard as he could onto the head of the unconscious daro before he swung his heavy morningstar at Fitong!

Fitong fought a desperate battle against both the bugbear and the wolf, supported by Braxton's bow , Garl's axe, and Aline's spells. Varis heard the approach of hobgoblin reinforcements from behind the curtain. The snarling, biting, clawing bear was able to keep them at bay.

Suddenly, another dwarf, the spitting image of Gundren himself, ran up behind Aline, shouting "Hold fast! I'm here to help!" Aline, momentarily confused, was even more confused with the burly dwarf swung his hammer, knocking her unconscious!

Garl turned from the battle with the bugbear only to see Aline standing over the unconscious form of.. Aline? Aline called out, "I was attacked by some kind of shape-changer! Don't worry, I took care of her!"

Varis, who had witnessed the whole thing, was still in bear form and was unable to shout out a warning. Garl was taken in by the deception. Aline said, "I think I hear some more goblins coming from this way. I better go take care of them!" and ran off around the corner and out of sight.

Varis killed the second of his opponents and, exasperated, turned back into human form. "That's not Aline! THAT'S Aline! The other one is a shape-changer! Someone help the Aline on the ground and someone else go kill the OTHER Aline!"

By this time, the bugbear and wolf had both been defeated, leaving only the shape-changer. Fitong, still enraged by his berserk blood-lust, chased off after the shape-changer, followed by Garl, while Varis saw to the unconscious body of Rungren and Braxton administered aid to the fallen Aline.

Fitong ran into the room with many exits and ran south. He found nothing but an open door that led outside and a ruined gap that led through the wall into an adjacent tower.

Braxton heard a door opening, he looked down the hall into the room once occupied by the two hobgoblin guards. He saw the shape-changer Aline opening a door from inside. The false Aline grinned and stepped aside as a hybrid horror straight out of the Valley of Beasts, some kind of massive bear with the head of an owl, squeezed through the doorway and came rampaging through the room, bellowing a hoarse growling "HOOT!" exactly like some cross between an angry bear and an owl!

Braxton immediately grabbed the unconscious Aline and pulled her into the bugbear's room, closing the door behind him. Varis looked up and said "What did you do that for?" Braxton hooked a thumb towards the hall and nervously replied, "Owl-bear."

The owl-bear ran past, squeezing into the doorway into the room with many exits. Garl turned around just in time to see the terrible monster coming towards him. The massive bear claws reached out ahd grabbed Garl, pulling him into the gnashing monstrous beak! The owl-bear munched down on Garl's head before Fitong arrived to engage the creature in battle. Garl was left to collapse like a rag-doll to the floor.

The owl-bear pushed forward into the room with many exits with a mighty "HOOAT!" and clawed and bit at the orcine warrior Fitong. Aline, once more conscious thanks to healing potions administered by Varis, chanted a magical incantation to put the great ursine beast into arcane slumber. The owl-bear stumbled and blinked, but shook it off and continued fighting!

Varis turned back into bear form and charged the creature from behind. The owl-bear's great head swiveled around 180 degrees and bellowed, "HOOAT!!!"

Braxton was able to maneuver past the battle and revive the unconscious Garl. Together, with everyone's assistance, the mighty owl-bear fell to its many injuries.

A Short Rest
After the perilous battle with the owl-bear, the party performed a quick reconnaissance of the area for the shape-changer, who was now long-gone. They checked on Gundren, but the poor daro had expired after getting his head stomped. They searched the room and found a leather pouch packed with coins stashed under the mattress of the bugbear's bed. The pouch was completely sewn shut with no opening. Braxtomn cut it open to find the gold within. In addition, he saw markings drawn on the inside of the leather.

Aline took the pouch and turned it inside out, revealing a map! The map, written in daro script, revealed a route from Flinch to the lost Wave Echo Cave!

The adventurers took an hour to rest and discussed their options. They had what they came for and could just leave. However, they decided to explore the rest of the castle, just to ensure no one would follow them.

When they left the room of the bugbear leader, the body of the owl-bear had mysteriously vanished!

Nobody Likes Bullies
The party continued their sweep of the south face of the castle. They opened the next door and found a kitchen with two long tables. Seven starving miserable goblins were preparing food at the command of a large fat goblin wearing an apron and a chef's hat and carrying a meat cleaver.

Everyone froze as the door burst open. The goblins hesitated. The party hesitated. The goblin chef began grimacing at Fitong in the doorway. Fitong strode forth, glaring his fangs and and brandishing his axe. The goblin chef began backing away, quailing under the intimidating mien of the orcine barbarian.

The goblin chef mustered up his courage and attacked Fitong, missing. Fitong pounded the chef with the butt of his axe. The chef crumpled to the ground.

The rest of the goblins looked back and forth at each other like students at Hogwarts. Fitong glared at them and pointed towards the exit. The rest of the party stood away from the exit and allowed the frightened goblins to file out and flee.

Mopping Up
The rest of the castle consisted of the two towers at the entrance guarded by two goblins each. Doors were opened, goblins were told to flee or die, goblins fled.

In addition, a trap at the entrance was triggered by safely avoided by Fitong.

After clearing the castle, the adventurers decided to spend the night. Braxton went to retrieve Palok. Unfortunately, he found the little goblin dead, murdered, no doubt, by the evil shape-changer.

Palok's body was returned to the castle and a cairn was made for both Palok and for Gundren. Dwarf and goblin, eternal enemies, laid side by side in eternal rest.


After Thoughts
We had a lot of fun this session. For one thing, we were joined by our good friend Jeffy who has been absent from our group for eleven months due to the birth of his second son. Jeffy will be returning full-time in a few weeks.

I got a good reaction from the players when the grick fell from the ceiling. A grick is kind of a new monster for them so there was a sense of "AGH! What the hell is THAT! KILL IT!"

Personally, I squandered an opportunity with the doppelganger. I should have had her impersonate and injured Gundren and have the party deal with figuring out which was the real one. I always have a hard time being convincing with shape-changers. My players did a fantastic job role-playing being confused by the switcheroos.

Finally, the battle with the owl-bear was by FAR the best fight we've played in a while. First of all, my comical bellows of "HOOAT!!" were just hilarious. Everyone was saying it for the rest of the night. Second, the little owl things like rotating its head 180-degrees really made it feel like an OWL-mixed with a bear. Everyone said "Of course it can do that! Why didn't anyone ever think of that before?"

Next week, the group plans on taking one of the side-quests because Jeffy won't be back for two weeks. So, probably the abandoned village, maybe some druid stuff, maybe a necromancer. You know how it is.

Monday, September 1, 2014

"The Return of Meek!" Chapter 4 of the Lost Mine of Elder Flinch

This week, the party catches up to the wizard Glasstaff, then we switch to some action in the real world as the group becomes involved in a true crime story that involves Russian crooks, a late-night car chase, the intervention of the police, and the return of a stolen vehicle!

Spoiler Warning! This is a prosaic retelling of the Lost Mine of Phandelver adventure included with the Dungeons and Dragons Fifth Edition Starter Set.

Our party consists of:

Varis, a Sylvan Shaman (Level 2 Wood Elf Druid)
Fitong, a Tribal Warrior of half-Human/half-Orcine parentage (Level 2 Half-Orc Barbarian)

Aline, a Thaumaturge of half-Human/half-Sylvan parentage (Level 1 Half-Elf Wizard)
Braxton Hicks, a Hillfolk Explorer and Trail Guide (Level 2 Halfling Ranger)

Into the Night
Last week, the party explored the cellar beneath the ruins of the ancient manor house of the Archon of Flinch, looking for the wizard Glasstaff, leader of the ruffians known as the Red Cloaks. They found him and chased him out of the manor and into the night. Aline stayed behind to search the wizard's room.

The party tracked the escaping wizard by smell, following him down the hill and into the dark forest. They soon found a small cave, like a bear den, on the side of the hill. They slowly and cautiously entered, fearing a trap or an ambush. They found a long passage that led back under the manor ruins, opening into the cavern of the strange one-eyed creature. 

The party followed the muddy prints into the nearby passage and behind a door. At this point, Varis resumed his elfin form and Fitong burst through the door. 

The Wizard Glasstaff!
Within they found a 15'x25' room with Glasstaff the wizard commanding three large hairy humanoids, more bugbears like the one they fought previously. Palock the goblin (how'd HE get here?) froze in panic and fainted.

Glasstaff the wizard wore a mysterious porcelain mask that concealed his identity and carried a crystal staff. The wizard shouted, "Now, do your job! Protect me! Kill them!" 

The bugbears put up an excellent fight! Varis turned back into a bear and he and Fitong battled the brutes while Braxton supported them at range with arrows. Glasstaff found himself cornered with no escape. He begged for mercy, offering information. But to hedge his bets, he tried to cast a charm upon Fitong. Braxton, unmoved by the wizard's duplicitous plea, took aim and put an arrow through the wizard's skull, pinning him to the wall!
Glasstaff is killed!

The bugbears were eventually defeated, but not until after Fitong was seriously injured. The party took a short rest to recuperate. They removed the mask of the wizard revealing... no one they knew. Although, they did not recognize him, they assumed the wizard Glasstaff was actually Iarno, the wizard sought by Sildar. They removed the wizard's head to return to Flinch for easier identification.

Braxton took the mask and inspected it. The party concluded that the mask was somehow magical and that it turned good people evil and evil people good. They assumed that Iarno donned the mask and was corrupted by its magic. Braxton put the mask in his pouch for later.

Finally, they interrogated Palok, who was capable of communication only through gesture and the word "Meek!" They promised him safety if he helped them. He agreed.

The Black Spider
After their rest, they returned to the wizard's room to catch up with Aline. She had finished gathering together and cataloging all the wizard's belongings, including an illuminating letter from "the Black Spider"! The letter mentioned Cragmaw Castle, and at its mention Palok leapt about. They asked if Palok could lead them to the castle and he nodded affirmative, but gestured that only bugbears were to be killed, no goblins! The party agreed.

They packed up what they could and returned to Flinch with Palok. It was late at night and the gate was  open and unguarded. They entered the Auld Dunn Inn weary and exhausted. 

Sildar was still awake, waiting for them. He had arranged rooms earlier that day and had ensured that Tobey the innkeeper had kept some food warm for them. He asked to where had they disappeared, and they told their story. When they showed Sildar the head of Glasstaff, the warrior leaped up and drew his sword.

"You have slain Iarno! He is my friend and the object of my quest! Explain yourselves!"

At this, they showed Sildar the letter and the mask and explained that Iarno was Glasstaff, leader of the Red Cloaks. It was too much for Sildar to absorb, he left the inn in stunned silence. The party finished their meal and went to bed.

Harra Thorntooth and the Order of the Rahasya
The next morning, the party rose and strode forth into Flinch. Their first stop was the Miner's Hall to collect the bounty on the head of Glasstaff from the gnome Harra Thorntooth. The Miner's Hall was closed, with instructions to come back in an hour. Fitong noticed that the curtains were drawn in every window of the Worker's House. He investigated and heard voices inside. The front door was locked so he burst in!

Within he saw half-a-dozen Red Cloaks sitting around a table listening to the words of Harra Thorntooth, pacing back and forth on the table and giving a rousing speech. The Red Cloaks sprung to attention but Harra told them to stand down.

Fitong and Varis demanded to know what was going on. Harra told the Red Cloaks to take a break in the next room and that she would talk to them later. They obliged.

Once alone, Harra asked to see the head of Glasstaff. When shown, she produced a bag of one hundred gold coins and threw it on the table. "Very good. You earned it, boys!"

The party was wary but took the money. Harra continued, "You did a good job up there. You show promise. I have an offer for you. I represent an organization known as the Rahasya. The Rahasya is a secret society of powerful individuals who have banded together for mutual assistance and support. We were formed in Kalmath but we are seeking to extend our reach into the Xanthus River Valley."

Varis challenged, "You mean you are bandits? Smugglers?"

"By no means! Granted, we often see the laws of the political establishment as an impediment to our goals, but we are no common thieves' guild. We simply use secrecy and obfuscation to conceal our activities from our enemies."

Varis asked, "So now the Red Cloaks work for you?"

"Yes. Glasstaff was the only thing standing in my way from taking over. And you took care of him for me. I warned those loyal to me to stay away from the manor house last night, and they escaped your wrath."

"Why shouldn't we kill you all now?" asked Fitong.

"Because I have done nothing to provoke you. I have broken no law, and none of these boys have done anything to threaten you."

Varis interjected, "What makes you any better than Glasstaff?"

"Under my leadership, there will be no more petty thuggery in Flinch. I promise you this. The people of this village having nothing to fear from me and my boys. I have a more... productive use for these boys. My plans require circumspection and secrecy. Which is where you come in. I would like to offer you membership in the Rahasya. Your actions last night more than pass any kind of initiation. If you agree, I would be willing to induct you into our organization."

Varis took no time to answer, "No. We do not traffic in lies and secrets. We work in the light of day for the good of everyone."

Fitong and Braxton nodded in agreement. 

Harra continued, "Then all I ask is that you keep our little talk to yourselves. I don't want to hear later that you've been going around telling people about me or the Rahasya. It would be very bad for you. Do I make myself clear?"

Before they turned to leave, Braxton offered Harra a gift, "Here. We took this off of Glasstaff. It's the mask he wore. It must be some kind of symbol of leadership or something." Harra took the mask with thanks. Braxton smirked at the possible implications should she don the mask.

The party turned and left in non-committal silence.

Where do we go from here?
From there, the party walked over to the blacksmith. Braxton inquired about armor for Fitong. Yurgh the young blacksmith sheepishly explained that it would take weeks for him to make armor and would cost over seven hundred gold pieces worth of metal. Braxton's eyes boggled and Fitong explained that he wears no armor because he fights better without armor, and that the only armor that would benefit him would be exorbitantly priced. 

At this moment, Sildar came running up with a companion, "There you are!"

Sildar offered to pay the party the reward he was going of offer them to defeat Glasstaff and the Red Cloaks. He apologized for his reaction the previous night. Iarno was a good friend and he was sad that he became corrupt. He then brought the party up to speed on the search for the dwarfish miner who had been kidnapped by the goblins. Palok jumped up and down, reminding them about Cragmaw Castle. 

Varis declined the money. He told Sildar to use it to hire some real guards for Flinch, and to keep the town safe.

Sildar then introduced his companion, "This is Gravy. He's a priest of Thumina from Swallow. He has agreed to accompany you on your quest. 

It was at this point, I had to end the game. It was only 10:30 pm and we normally game until midnight. However, the driver showed up with my sister-in-law's RV. The driver demanded more money and drove off when she refused to pay. Trevor and I jumped in our vehicles and gave chase, dialing 911 to report a stolen vehicle!


What was this about a car chase???

Okay, let me back up. 

What follows is an account of true crime adventure that actually happened Friday night.

The Driver
My wife's sister left her entire life behind in Lost Angeles, CA, and moved up here to the Portland, OR, area two weeks ago. She's been staying at our place while her stuff is being shipped up here and until she arranged some place to live. She had packed all of her belongings into her RV.

She hired a broker to contract a driver to pick up her RV in California and have it shipped, not driven, to our house. She did her research and hired what she thought was a reputable broker. However, the broker chose not to hire a reputable driver.

The driver picked up her RV. When the driver was in Stockton, he called her and said he would abandon the RV in Stockton unless she wired $400 to his personal account. She notified the police in Stockton but they could not find the RV. She reluctantly paid the ransom.

The driver agreed to deliver the RV and said he would arrive Friday night. He also told my sister-in-law that she would need to pay him an additional $1000 if she wanted her RV back! She called the police and was otherwise freaking out. The police fraud prevention officer told her to not pay and that if the driver drove off, he was committing vehicle theft and to call the cops immediately.

Ludum Interruptus
So, it's Friday night, 10:30 PM. We're playing D&D in my garage. It's a warm night and the door is open. We see the RV drive past, being DRIVEN mind you, with a white Escalade as the driver's ride. They park down the street.

The driver comes up. My sister-in-law comes out. The driver demands money. My sister-in-law refuses and demands her keys. He says, "Let me talk with my partner," or something and moseys back. He then gets into the RV and drives off. My wife called the cops.

That's when we set our plan in motion. I abruptly got up from the table in the middle of the game and told my group, "Shit, I gotta go!"

The Chase
My buddy Trevor and I agreed that if the driver left with the RV, we would follow them to let the police know where they went. So we did. 

Almost immediately, the Escalade and the RV went down a cul-de-sac and had to turn around. I could have blocked him in, and really thought about it, but I didn't want to provoke a response or escalate the situation, so I let them out. 

Trevor and I followed them out of my neighborhood. I had my phone out and dialed 911 on the speaker-phone, letting them know I was following a stolen vehicle that belonged to my sister-in-law. I gave them a play-by-play. "I'm headed west-bound on NE 18th Street. We're passing 138th."  

At one point the dispatcher asked for the license plate. I said, "Shit! I'm too far away. Hold on." I pulled up behind the RV and read off the plate. The driver asked for the make and model, I said, "I don't know. It's... it's... square!" The dispatcher replied, "Square? Is that the make?", I said "No! It's a big boxy piece of shit!"

I should point out that at NO point did any of us exceed the speed limit. We were following them only. This was NOT a high-speed pursuit. 

A police car coming east-bound passed the RV and immediately turned around and pulled it over. I pulled up about a hundred feet behind and stopped, just like the 911 dispatcher suggested. It was now about 11:30 PM.

I sat there for about thirty minutes while the police took the driver out of the RV and questioned him. Trevor called me and said the white Escalade had pulled over about a block up the road and was waiting. He was hanging out watching. 

A few more police cars drove up and stopped. One of the officers came over to question me and I gave him the full scoop. He asked me to call my sister-in-law and have her come pick up the RV.

Ultimately, my sister-in-law got her RV with both sets of keys. The driver was released. He walked up to the Escalade waiting for him.

The police officer told us to not park the RV near our house tonight in case these guys came back to vandalize it or steal it. So my wife accompanied my sister-in-law to a nearby Wal-Mart to park it in their lot. Trevor made sure the Escalade didn't follow us.

At one point, Trevor called me and said the Escalade was driving back towards my house. I broke off following my wife and the RV and went home immediately.

The other guys in my game group were still hanging out in my garage, waiting for me to return. I apologized and told them they had to leave now. Get your shit and go. That these guys might be coming back to start something and I didn't want any of them to get hurt or anything. So they packed up their stuff and left in a hurry. 

Team Fortress
I then parked my truck a few blocks away. When I got home, I made sure all the outside lights were on, all the downstairs windows and doors and gates were closed and locked, and all the downstairs lights were off. 

Trevor arrived and said they stopped in some church parking lot and were just sitting there. I thanked him for his help. He helped me clean up the garage and then he went home.

Eventually, wife wife and sister-in-law came home. We were all still really freaked out about the events of the evening. It was now about 1:30 AM. 

A Early Morning Encounter
We all slept with one eye open that night, let me tell you. I got maybe two hours of sleep.

At 5:00 AM, my wife and I hear a car pull up outside. There was some kind of SUV parked in front of our house. Not the Escalade mind you. The driver inside was checking his phone, like looking at directions, then called someone, then looked around. I began to wonder, was this a repo-man or something? After ten minutes, he drove away and we went back to sleep.

Then, thirty minutes later, we hear a car pull up into our driveway! We look and it's that SUV again, turning around and parking in front again! Someone is getting out of the passenger side! HOLY SHIT! My wife told me to call 911. I had my phone in my hand and hesitated.  

The guy went around back of the SUV, opened the door, rearranged something, and went back to the passenger side saying "I didn't want my luggage falling down." or something. They drove away.

My wife and I breathed a HUGE sigh of relief. Someone was taking a friend to the airport! It was the perfect time of day for that kind of thing. It made sense. 

By this time, it was pre-dawn. I concluded that if the driver and his buddy were going to do anything, it wouldn't be after dawn, so we were finally able to relax and get some real sleep.

That was my thrilling story of True Crime. My sister-in-law is out $400 more than the contract stipulated, but we're not going to pursue this. It's done. She's got her RV back with all her belongings and that's good enough for us.