Monday, October 27, 2014

"The Flaming Skull" Chapter 10 of the Lost Mine of Elder Flinch

This week, Aline and Valerius recruit new party members in Flinch before returning to the mine to seek vengeance for the death of Braxton and Cyral.  Later, they learn the hard way that flaming skulls regenerate, and that wraiths aren't as tough as all that.

Spoiler Warning! This is a florid 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)
Note, I have been informed by the players that they now picture Aline wearing pince nez spectacles, and that I have been instructed to depict her with such going forward.  
Thaddeus, Under-City Scout from Swallow (Level 4 Human Ranger) 
Ser Valerius, Errant Armiger, Executor of Justicia (Level 4 Human Paladin)

and introducing...
Winterfrost, Silver Elf , Warrior Mystic from Iron-Shard Hold (Level 4 High Elf Eldritch Knight)
Aline arrived, alone, at the gates of Flinch around noon. Red cloaked bodyguards ran to alert their employer and de-facto town boss, Harra Thorntooth, of her arrival. Aline immediately sought out Valerius, the executor of justice, to inform him of the tragic events of the morning. She found him at the office of Sildar Halwinter, agent of the Archon of Thither. There she told him of the death of their comrades, Braxton Hicks and Cyral, and of her intention to return to the mine to seek bloody vengeance against the ghouls that took Braxton.

While in the village, Nundro Rockseeker thanked Aline and Valerius for escorting him safely back to town. He announced his plan to return to the mine to reinforce his claim as sole heir of the Rockseeker brothers. He expressed his condolences on the loss of their friends, then asked the party for their help in clearing the mine of the remaining dangers in exchange for ten percent of the profits and any valuables they find within. Valerius and Aline did not feel that his claim had merit and felt that instead they had a stronger claim. Nundro, offended, stormed off in a huff.

The pair decided to recruit additional help. They entered the Auld Dunn Inn and took a look around. Valerius immediately recognized Thaddeus, wearing rags, looking thin, and with a bearing of a man who had been surviving in the mountains. The two exchanged greetings.

Thaddeus then related to Valerius the tale of how he came to his current state. Two months ago, while escorting Princess Murti through the Defile of Castragon, the party was ambushed by a Cyclops who could fly and turn invisible! They were captured and taken to a mountain fortress. There Thaddeus and the rest of the party were held in a dungeon. Princess Murti is still held there along with Babu, Jalani, and Knott. He only recently escaped the dungeon of the cyclops and managed to survive in the mountains long enough to make it to Flinch. He would like help in rescuing the princess and later helping her to reach Horek.

Valerius pledged his help, however he asked Thaddeus for his assistance first. He must avenge his fallen comrades Cyral the Sylvan and Braxton Hicks of the hill folk.

Winterfrost, a silver elf warrior-mystic with blue hair, overheard the story of the death of Cyral and interrputed to inquire of his remains. She asked if she could join the party so that she may recover the fallen elf and return his soul to the Celestial Tree. The party agreed and welcomed her help.

Back to the Mine
The next morning, having rested and resupplied, the party hiked back up the slope of Mount Zinnober to the cave entrance of Wyvern Tor. They retraced their steps to the hidden niche containing the entrance to the lost mine.

They descended into the sinkhole by rope and proceeded directly to the ancient guard room where Braxton met his demise. Thaddeus listened at the door to verify occupation within before Valerius kicked it in. The full party, suitably equipped and prepared, eliminated the five ghouls with swift and righteous vengeance! 

The Flaming Skull
After defeating the ghouls, the party scooped up what they could of Braxton's remains and put them into jars. They then went to the other guardroom and recovered Cyral's body, which the ghouls would not touch, and placed it in a large sack.

After their grim work, they moved cautiously into the chamber of the blast furnace. The room was dominated by a huge blast furnace and a deep dry channel cut into the floor. A flaming skull stood sentinel above the furnace and the long dead remains of dwarven and orcine warriors littered the floor.

Once more prepared for the coming encounter, they first tried to talk with the flaming skull. The skull replied only with hissing shrieks and the words "None may enter this place!". Satisfied that the guardian was mindless in its endeavor, they entered the room. The flaming skull attacked with a fireball spell, catching Winterfrost in its full effect and Valerius and Thaddeus in its periphery. The party entered into futile battle with the magical construct. Their arrows had little effect and the flying skull was a whizzing blur, difficult to target and immune to all of Aline's magic.

Then the zombies rose. The remains, animated by the necromantic magic that suffused the place, stood and began attacking the members of the party. 

It was a pitched battle. Eventually, Valerius demanded the skull face him or suffer his divine righteousness. The skull obliged. Meanwhile, Thaddeus climbed atop the long dry water-wheel. Eventually, the flaming skull was defeated. The zombies, however, continued to fight but were eventually destroyed.

The group took a much-needed rest after the difficult battle.

After an hour, to the shock and horror of everyone in the room, the flaming skull re-formed and launched another fireball, once more catching Winterfrost in the explosion. The party decided to exit the room in a hurry.

Mormesk the Bitter
The party then entered the starry cavern and approached the house of Mormesk the wraith. 

Entering the demolished apartment, they attempted to parley. Mormesk materialized and conversed with the party via threats, insults, and braggadocio. The disembodied spirit took credit for the flaming skull, claiming that it was far superior to any fucking useless Spectator. He reiterated his low opinion of the wizard Noh-Nah-Meh and that wizard's choice of guardian. When asked what they could do to help Mormesk, Mormesk answered that he would grant access to his library in exchange for Valerius' magic sword or Thaddeus' magic mace. Thaddeus responded by attacking Mormesk. Valerius followed suit and the wraith was destroyed before it could react.

In one of Mormesk's books, the party found a passage that revealed that flameskulls could only be banished with holy water, dispel magic, or restoration.

A Long Rest
The party was by now low on magic and exhausted. They spent the rest of the day and a night of slumber in the starry cavern and the forge of spells, counting their coins, reading books, and learning to use new magical items. 

Return to the Flaming Skull
After their rest, they prepared themselves for an assault against the flaming skull. Thaddeus and Valerius rushed into the room and spread out while Aline and Winterfrost kept a safe distance in the hall. Eventually, Winterfrost ran into the cavern and she and Valerius was caught in the blast of a fireball spell, again! Aline, meanwhile, used her wand of magic missiles to force the flaming skull to deplete its magic shielding spells, eventually rendering the skull defenseless so that Thaddeus could destroy it with the mace Lightbringer.

So destroyed, Valerius sprinkled the remains with holy water. After waiting an hour to verify its demise, the party performed a final sweep of the mine. Satisfied that it was now empty, they returned to Flinch with the remains of their comrades.

Back in Flinch
Once back in the village, Winterfrost took the remains of Cyral into the forest to perform the ritual to return his soul to the Celestial Tree. The rest of the party met with Nundro Rockseeker, the sole surviving member of the Rockseeker clan, to take him up on his offer of ten percent of the mine's profits in exchange for clearing the mine of danger. Since the party had previously declined the offer, Nundro argued that he owed them nothing, and thanked them for clearing it for free. The party told Nundro that his claim to the mine was tenuous and reminded him that were it not for them, he would still be held captive and the mine would be full of monsters. Aline insinuated that she could restore the flameskull as guardian of the blast furnace. Nundro acquiesced and agreed to pay the party ten percent of the profits from the mine per his original offer. Harra Thorntooth, in her role as town banker, agreed to write up the contract and make all the arrangements. She even waived her usual fees and surcharges as a goodwill gesture to Valerius. Valerius smiled, politely but with as much implied menace as he could convey.
Harra Thorntooth, aka "Snaggletooth"

Thus Concludes the Lost Mine of Elder Flinch
On November 7th, the party begins a new quest: the rescue of Princess Murti from the magic cyclops of the Defile of Castragon.

Monday, October 13, 2014

"Not My Forte'!" Chapter 9 of the Lost Mines of Elder Flinch

In this episode, the team learn the value of having a healer and a defender in the party as they continue to explore the Lost Mine of Elder Flinch without the aid of Ser Valerius or a cleric. This week, they meet a deranged magical guardian, run away from a frightening apparition, eradicate a flock of bloodthirsty stirges, dismantle a troop of skeletons, barely defeat a pack of ghouls, lose one of their own against a room full of bugbears, bypass a glowing skull, and lose another of their own against the remaining ghouls.

Spoiler Warning! This is a florid 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)

Syral, Sylvan Assassin (Level 4 Wood Elf Rogue)

The Starry Cavern
As they stood in the starry cavern, its high ceiling glittering like the night sky, Ser Valerius bade his temporary farewell to the party. He was taking his prisoner, the Black Spider, along with the rescued dwarven survivor, back to Wyvern Tor to leave with Balaton of Clan Brocktaw.

The remaining members of the party, Aline, Braxton, and Syral, stood before the ancient sigil-inlaid door of a small stone structure. Unlike the other architecture of the mine, this structure was built for human habitation. Recalling the story of how human wizards cohabited with dwarfs and gnomes within this mine, they suspected that this was once the domicile of a wizard long dead.

They forced the door open and saw a large floating orb. The orb was a living creature. In the center of the orb was a giant single eye and a wide mouth filled with serrated teeth. Four tentacles sprouted from the orb. As the door was thrust wide the eye opened and the tentacles sprang to alert attention. A thought appeared in everyone's mind, "Hello!" 
The party was momentarily taken aback. It was Braxton that first replied, "Hello?"

"Is the battle over? How did we fare?" inquired the orb.

The party tried to explain that the battle was over eighty years ago and that no one survived.

"Oh, that's quite impossible. My master, Noh-Nah-Meh, will be along to relieve me shortly. In the  meantime, I am tasked to guard this place until his return. Hello!"

The orb began again as if the previous ten seconds of conversation had never happened. And so it went for several minutes until Aline came upon an idea.

"Hello, I am your master."

"Oh! Have I been relieved of my duty?"

"Oh yes," replied Aline.

"Excellent! Is the battle over? How did we fare?" inquired the orb.

"Not well, I'm afraid." said Aline.

"Alas. That is not good. Well, if you need me, you know how to summon me!" and with that, the orb tore open a purple burning hole in reality and slipped back to its home dimension.
"Is the battle over? How did we fare?"
Within the room, the party found several old book filled with technical formulas and charts of the properties of various metals and materials, most of which were written in arcane code and far above the understanding of anyone in the party.

In addition, the found a mace with a head shaped like the sun and a suit of armor adorned and emblazoned with a serpentine golden dragon. Aline determined both to be magical, along with the gauntlets and wand both found earlier.

The party proceeded down some stairs cut into an escarpment that separated the large cave into an upper half and a lower half. Below, the found another square building, a domicile like the previous structure.

Mormesk the Bitter
The roof of the structure was sagging and in poor repair. As they forced open the broken doors, they found the remnants of a room that had been blasted by an explosion eighty years ago. Across the room they could see a treasure chest and a shelf of books, well preserved despite the destruction. Aline used a spell to manipulate the chest. She found it filled with coin and too heavy to lift.

As Braxton cautiously entered the room, alone, to retrieve the chest, a ghostly wraith materialized out of the floor next to him. "You dare violate the abode of Mormesk the Magician? You dare invade my domicile searching to steal my treasures? Fools!"

The party attempted to bargain with the wraith for its possessions. "You may have one treasure if you fulfill for me a single task. You must KILL that fucking spectator next door!"

"But, why?"

"Because it belonged to that asshole Noh-Nah-Meh! And I always hated Noh-Nah-Meh! I despised that asshole! What a dick!"

The party explained that the spectator has already been returned whom whence it came. Mormesk said, "Good! Well then, I guess you have nothing else to bargain with. Therefore, your life is forfeit, and your deaths belong to me!"

Not My Forte'!
Mormesk the wraith became a frightening visage of terror. The party bombarded Mormesk with attack spells and arrows. They shouted for Braxton to engage the wraith in melee. Braxton attacked with a weak, half-hearted strike. Sensing the disappointment of his companions, he defensively shouted, "Not my forte!" and turned to run.

As he turned to flee, the wraith reached into Braxton and grabbed his heart! Braxton froze as he felt his very life essence being pulled from his body. Suddenly, just as his soul was pulled nearly completely out of his body, he regained his composure and willed himself to live, pulling his soul back and throwing Mormesk away. Braxton scrambled and ran out of the room with his fellow companions not far behind.

They looked back to see Mormesk's gaunt skeletal face filling the entire doorway, his piercing scream blasting them with cold necrotic wind. The doors, once broken off their hinges, slammed back shut on their own accord, leaving the cavern in eerie silence.

The party continued southwest and entered into a medium-sized cavern filled with giant mushrooms. The mushrooms were giving off an eerie green phosphorescence. There was little space to move through the room so they walked gingerly, careful to avoid stepping on a mushroom. It was Braxton who accidentally brushed against one of the massive fungi, causing it to release its spores. The event triggered a chain reaction. In a blink of the eye, every mushroom had discharged its spores, creating a thick choking miasma of glowing green motes.

The party ran from the cavern, covering their eyes and mouths and choking. Braxton barely made it out, but they ultimately escaped unharmed.

They continued west, entering a four-way intersection of rough-hewn mine with a high dark ceiling. Suddenly, a flock of bat-winged creatures descended upon the party, hungry for blood. Aline, thinking quickly, waited for them to close and unleashed a clap of magical thunder. The shockwave instantly killed the entire flock! Ten rat-like bat-winged creatures with long blood-sucking proboscises fell dead to the mine floor like so many bags of wet clay.

Assay Office
Exploring a passage to the south, they entered a door to the right, finding a room with a long counter and a wall filled with several rows of small niches. Within each niche was an ancient piece of parchment covered in dwarfish runes. All papers that Braxton touched crumbled to aged flakes. Behind the counter Syral found a strong box. Without thief's tools, Syral was unable to open the box. They decided to take it with them, piling onto Braxton's already laden pack. 

Guard Room
Across the hall, they entered another room. A portion of the ceiling in this room had collapsed and the floor was littered with the bones of various victims, orcine and dwarven. When they entered the room, the bones began to assemble into makeshift skeletons of amalgam bones. The skeletons moved jerkily. They lurched forward towards the intruders. The party easily defeated the clattering horde with little trouble.

Lost in the Mines
The party found where they originally entered the mine. Having made a complete loop of the perimeter, they decided to head inward. Ignoring the door near the four-way intersection for now, they explored the passages to the northwest. They soon found the labyrinthine mines difficult to navigate and impossible to reconcile on their map. Ultimately, they found a set of rough hewn stairs headed north and climbed them.

Eaters of the Dead!
They found themselves in a vast cavern, over a hundred and fifty feet across and a hundred feet high in places, with a sunken rift in its center. Lurking near a large stalagmite and column were seven hunched humanoids, some dwarven and some orcine, with pale eyes that glowed in the darkness.

Wary, the party stayed near the exit. Suddenly, five of the figures burst forth, charging the party! They were ghouls, immortal Eaters of the dead! Syral fought a retreat, his elven blood immune to their potent paralyzation. Aline cast a spell that filled the entrance and the area beyond with magical spider webs, slowing the ghouls as they ran back into the complicated passages of the mine.
Defensive Position
After running blindly through the corridors, they found themselves having run a loop and in sight of the passage with the stairs. The sound of ghouls running down the passage could be heard. Aline and Braxton took position in a doorway and prepared ranged attacks in case any ghoul came their way. Syral guarded their rear. The ghouls emerged from the passage and took random paths. Two came towards them and were attacked by Aline's eldritch blasts and Braxton's deadly arrows. The rest, hearing the death screams of the others, came running. Aline, Braxton, and Syral were able to fight them two at a time and, in so doing, were able to defeat five ghouls. Two of the ghouls hung back, waiting around the corner. As the battle ended, they fled back up the stairs.
Two at a Time!

A Brief Reprieve
Wounded and frightened, the party retreated from the dungeon, climbing the rope out of the sink-hole and returning to Wyvern Tor. There they reunited with Ser Valerius and Balaton, along with the prisoner, the Black Spider, and the dwarf survivor. They studied the mace, armor, gauntlets, and wand, becoming familiar with the abilities and limitations of each. That night, they rested and recuperated.

Back Into the Mine
The next day, Ser Valerius and Balanton instead took the survivor and the prisoner back down the mountain to Flinch. Meanwhile, Syral, Aline, and Braxton donned their gear and descended the pit into the mine, hoping to complete their exploration.

They carefully retraced their steps back to the great hall, which they found empty. After thoroughly exploring it, they took a passage to the north. There they found a stout door covered in claw marks. Syral tried to open the door but met resistance. He shoved with all his weight and managed to burst the door open despite its being barricaded from within.

The Sad Demise of Syral the Assassin
Inside they found five bugbears, brutal agents of the Black Spider assigned to guard the door. They had been interrupted in the midst of an argument over what to do since they found several of their brethren killed with no sign of their leader. Faced with an immediate enemy, the bugbears rushed the intruders.

The fight in the doorway was brutal. A lucky shot took sent Syral to the floor. One of the bugbears dragged Syral's unconscious body into the room, separating him from his companions. Although many bugbears were killed, Braxton soon found himself at death's door as well. Finally, Aline was able to defeat the remaining two bugbears with a magical blast of thunder.

Acting quickly, she rushed to Syral's aid, but it was too late for the sylvan assassin. She quickly ran to Braxton and saved him with a healing potion. The pair laid their fallen companion on one of the stone slab beds, vowing to come back for him.

The party explored east and found a large chamber containing a complicated mechanical apparatus, a water-powered blast furnace used to smelt ore. The floor was littered in the long dead victims of that elder battle. Above the blast furnace hovered a floating skull, wreathed in green flame.

The pair carefully backed out of the room, unnoticed by the arcane sentry.

The party traveled back south, through the great hall, and down the southeast passage. There they found an old pantry, its goods long ago rotted into dust or evaporated into the air, leaving empty bags and casks.

The Gruesome Death of Braxton Hicks
The party came to the last unexplored room. They opened the door and spied five hunched orcine and dwarven humanoids with grey clammy skin and gaunt fanged faces. They were faced with five more ghouls!

The ghouls rushed the door. Braxton immediately ordered Aline to run, proclaiming that he had a plan!
Swarming the door. What's that fifth one doing?
The ghouls swarmed over the diminutive archer, clawing him, pulling him into the room, screaming.

Aline shouted, "Was that your plan?"

Braxton cried out, "No!"
The Gruesome Death of Braxton Hicks!
Before Aline turned the corner at the four-way intersection, she looked back. The last image she saw was Braxton being dragged into the room by three ghouls while a fourth slowly closed the door, watching her, holding his finger to his mouth as if to say "Shhhhh...". Braxton's muffled screams were all she could hear as Aline fled back to the sink-hole.

Aline Escapes
Meanwhile, the fifth ghoul had exited through a side door and was trying to sneak up on her. She ran for the rope and pulled it up behind her. The fifth ghoul ran out and jumped for it, but missed. It sat there watching her. She hurled a witchbolt at it and it ran away.

At the top of the sink hole, Aline realized. All the party treasure was now in that room.


After Thoughts

This is what happens when you try to take on an undead-themed dungeon without a fighter front line and without a cleric for healing and turning. Scott's paladin, Ser Valerius, is currently fulfilling both roles admirably. Unfortunately, Scott was in Florida this week and the rest of the party decided to carry on without him.

To their credit, they knew when they were in over their heads and fled when they could. Their goal was to scout the dungeon, eliminating the opposition when they could, noting it when they couldn't, and come back later with their paladin and cleric.

Speaking of cleric, we were really hoping Jeffy, who plays Balanton and has been absent from our group for many months, would be rejoining us tonight. He had signified his intent to join us. Every car that drove by outside got us excited, then ultimately disappointed. A large portion of the decision to continue was based on the hope that Jeffy's cleric would show up any minute now. Unfortunately, Jeffy was unable to make it.

The death of Braxton was brutal. Woobee really had a plan to save Braxton. He just wasn't counting on me to roll two critical hits in one turn. Ouch.

Aline is heading back to Flinch, hoping she'll be able to recruit more adventurers to clear the mine. The next time the party returns, Trevor is hoping to bring back Thaddeus the Urban Ranger and Woobee is still thinking about what he wants to play. He's leaning towards a dragonborn fighter.

We're not gaming next week. Our next game is scheduled for October 24th. Then a week off for Halloween. The week after that is November 7th.

Lucinda, who plays Aline, is pregnant and is due November 8th, so she may or may not be there and even if she is, it will be her last game for a few months.

However, about that same time, Dodd will return and he'll be able to play Gravy, once and for all!