dungeons and dragons

D&D Chronicles: The Stars

We pick up the tale mid-battle with a treacherous black dragon, who is kicking our collective butts…

Zillah, Alix and Nightshade are cowering inside a building. They have no idea what has become of Blaze and Squirrel. (The story started here.)


BLAZE

We’re fighting the dragon – well, four of us, anyway: Squirrel, that cowardly snake, having slunk off to hide. Things are going well. I can feel it in my muscles, my bones. I’m wreathing myself in glory, all for my god, through whose grace I draw power.

And suddenly I’m not.

The dragon’s teeth snap around me. Burning. A wrench jolts me from middle to shoulders, and I’m dangling, airborne.

My fault. How could I lose concentration like that? Thinking of glory — fool!

The dragon’s wings push through the air, all strength, power. Thump, thump, thump. We rise. The ground jerks with each wing-beat, and nausea spills through me.

The tightness around my chest releases, and I’m plummeting, down, down. There’s water below. Rushing up. My armour – I’ll be dead weight.

But then I’m floating, still aloft. What? How? Of course! Feather fall. Squirrel’s spell.

I cast around. There. Squirrel! I do a double take. Surely not. But it is. This is no coward’s act.

He’s flying, cloak billowing around him, and he has never looked more magnificent, more brave or noble.

A screech pierces me. The dragon. Air gusts as she flies at me, talons outstretched. I still have my sword and swing at her, and we tussle, but Squirrel keeps coming as if to intercept me.

I’d never have guessed at such courage. Then the dragon seizes him, and there’s a spray of blood.

My back hits the water and I’m sinking, fast. I flail but go down. Nearby, something splashes into the water.

No air. Can’t breathe. Have to get this armour off. Can’t. Sunlight glimmers through the water’s surface, the last thing I’ll ever see.

No. Wait. I have an idea. Tree shape. I summon enough calm to perform the spell, and I am bobbing up and floating, a giant log. All I can see is blue sky above. Harsh sunlight.

No sign of Squirrel, but I know he’s dead. That spray of blood. There were limbs too.

It hits me hard. He died for me. He gave his life for me. The world is backwards.

The dragon blots out the sun, and I see a shape, limned against the sky, falling, walking. Squirrel – is he…? No, that’s Alix. Mercy, that dragon-bitch will have us all by the end of the day. The dragon screeches again, but I’m bobbing about with no control. If only I could stay still and see what’s happened to Alix.

Then I hit something. Solid. The bank. Only it’s the wrong one. I release the spell and haul myself ashore. Everything is in ruins. How can I get back? There. A lump of wood. I transform it to a small and not very stable raft, and carefully, quietly, launch myself back onto the water and propel myself to the other side.

In the middle of the square, her back to me, the dragon is focused on something; I sneak ashore…

tree-shape


ZILLAH

After a quick discussion, we down healing potions and get back outside to confront the dragon again. It’s all we can do. I want the Stars.

I take a few deep breaths then step outside, where the dragon waits. I get in some great blows! The dragon roars, spews acid (which I dodge)… then flies away.

All we can do is stare as it soars then descends into the middle of round building a couple hundred yards away. We’ve chased it off! We actually made it flee!

Now we have to finish the job before it recovers.

Blaze arrives as we’re scooping up the contents of the treasure chest left abandoned in the middle of the square. (So many coins and gems!) I’m enormously relieved to see him, but then he tells us what has happened to Squirrel.

My chest tightens with shock and grief — but I can’t let that overcome me now. Not until this is over. Not until that dragon is dead and we have the Stars in hand.

I’m still wrestling with the swirl of emotions when a stranger appears in the square. I stare at this decrepit little old man. Fenfaren he is called. I don’t have time or energy for him now. I don’t know where he’s come from, or why. I don’t care.

All I care about right now is killing that dragon.


ZILLAH

Nightshade and I stand side by side in the stands of an ancient stadium, magic, fire-spelled arrows nocked. Waiting.

Below, the arena is flooded and (we suspect) concealing the entrance to the dragon’s lair. Our plan — suggested and implemented by Fenfaren, who is full of surprises — is to drain the stadium to drive the dragon out.

The water starts moving, swirling, a sign Fen has begun the drain. Then, with a roar, the dragon bursts out of the water.

Nightshade and I take aim, launch the magic arrows.

They work beautifully against the dragon, which hovers nicely in range while it attacks Alix and Blaze, who fight back with gusto. We have no defence against this dragon. We can only hope to wear it down first.

Each arrow explodes into flame as it hits. I’ve never enjoyed my longbow so much.

flaming arrow2

Still, the dragon is fearsome and vicious. It munches on Blaze and tries to carry Alix away again. My heart jolts at the thought of losing another companion, especially Alix. But, just as I start to fear the dragon was not as injured as we’d assumed, it finally falls.

It crashes onto the lower stands, broken. Defeated. Dead.

I suppress the euphoria trying to sweep through me. First we must locate the Stars. Then we can celebrate. Then we can mourn.


ZILLAH

Fen is not a decrepit little old man, it turns out. Once his illusion died, he was revealed as a furbolg. Taller than an average human (nearly two feet taller than me). Bright red hair with some grey streaks. Strong. He says he’s been camped out on the hill, watching the dragon and the Rakshasa for a while.

He assists Nightshade and me to wade into the dragon’s underwater lair. Our attempt to drain the depths of the area succeeded in rousing the dragon, but the water has levelled. We’re going to need to swim.

We use the water breathing potion I’ve been carrying for a while. Two doses. Just enough for me and Nightshade, who is the strongest swimmer of all of us. Fen uses his mage senses to confirm the location of the dragon’s treasure.

The chest is made of stone, and heavy. There are six water-logged sacks as well. We grab those first, take them back to Fen and the others. Then we carefully carry the chest out of the water.

The chest has a complicated lock on it. A grid of stone buttons. Somehow we know that if we press them in the wrong order we will die.

Alix arrives at the solution. Alix, who often seems to come up with the right spell at the right time. She casts ‘stone tell’ and talks to the stone, asks the stone for the right combination to press. And it works.

We open the chest. No-one dies. And there they are… the Stars. The Stars of the Flail of Wind and Rain. (And treasure…)

The hour is late, but it is done.


ALIX

Poor Squirrel.

That foolhardy, light-fingered, ‘turn sideways and where-did-he-go’ young man who always seemed to be right next to me. Except for one time. The last time, when maybe it would have made a difference. And now he is gone.

He reminded me so much of Cal that I trusted him without thinking about it. I would even welcome the fights we will now never have. He backed us all up as much as he could and took some stupid risks. Oh, and he liked to throw fireballs and then ask questions. If there was anyone left alive.

Damn it, Squirrel, this whole thing has cost so many lives. Why did it have to cost me another mage who was my friend?

Oh, and don’t be throwing balls at the Gods, Squirrel. They probably won’t like it. And the shiny-shiny? Don’t be picking that up either.

BLAZE

Squirrel’s death sits heavily on me. I misjudged the man: thought him a sly, conniving and cowardly thief, not to be trusted, someone I could never call friend. And yet, in the end, he was the noblest and most selfless man I have ever met, and he not even a paladin.

How can this be? I thought I knew the world and its workings, but I know nothing. Now, I must atone for Squirrel’s death, but how to make amends? A donation to his church? Reparations to his family? Raise a statue in his honour? Offer my services to fight in his name?

Right now, prayer and solitude are what I need: I trust Nievor to give me guidance.

NIGHTSHADE

Damn everything, Squirrel is dead. Not just dead but EATEN by the traitorous Dragon’s water-dwelling pets, if Blaze saw it right.

At least the Dragon is dead as well now, which I’m sure would make Squirrel very happy were he here to know it. Imagine the magical ingredients he could have harvested from the corpse! He would have kept us here for days, stripping and preserving dragon parts.

I need to convince the others to retrieve Squirrel’s body from the water, even if it means catching and cutting open the belly of whichever beast ate him. Surely the Cleric will be able to resurrect him, if he is not too badly chewed? And his gear! The magic books, the maps and notes he was always scribbling down – we will be lost without them, our strength as a party severely diminished. I don’t see we have any choice but to look for him.

One other thing is certain: I will miss Squirrel sorely if he cannot be returned to us, not least because he was the last remaining member of the party I could count on to have my back. The other three – Zillah and Alix, and the oh-so-shiny Blaze – are such squeamish do-gooders they refuse to do what’s needed even when it’s pointed out to them at the tip of a sword. Squirrel, along with dear fallen Blizzard, understood that sometimes you need to get your hands dirty. The do-gooders bleat about the end of the world but think they can prevent such a thing without having to wring too much blood from their clothes afterwards.

Sometimes, I wonder whether I even belong in this party anymore…

ZILLAH

We will miss Squirrel sorely. He was smart. Crafty. Braver than he knew. His skills, forethought and fast thinking helped us navigate many a challenge and got us out of many a scrape. Yes, we will miss him.

I counted him a friend, even though I often felt I never really knew him. Not all his faces. But he was a true companion, as he showed at the end.

Farewell, Squirrel (or whatever your true name was). May your spirit dwell peacefully in the afterlife.

Vale Squirrel


ZILLAH

The master smith, Astra Khara, greets us with wild, bright eyes on our return to Kham Jhara. His fingers twitch as he reaches for the Stars, desperate to join them with the Haft we brought him weeks ago.

He says it will take several weeks to re-forge the Flail of Wind and Rain.

Astra Khara manages to mostly hide his surprise that we prevailed over the Rakshasa and the dragon, but it is there. The round trip has taken over a month. I think we’ll be recounting the tale in taverns for many months to come.

After slaying the dragon and obtaining the Stars, our return trip was uneventful. We managed to retrieve Squirrel’s pack from the depths of the lake the following morning, thanks to Nightshade’s swimming and magic from both Alix and Fen. The maps and documents he carried are vital for the success of our quest.

But Squirrel’s corpse was lost to us. I have no doubt those water monsters tore him to pieces and feasted. A sad end for our companion and friend.

Fen has accompanied us back to Kham Jhara. It will take some time for us to rely on him as we did Squirrel, but he has already proven a worthy companion.

Now we turn our attention to the final piece of the puzzle: the Right Eye of Varrien.


The DM says we’re ‘nearly’ finished… Considering we began in May 2012, it feels a long time coming! Let’s see what happens next.

Thanks to Tracey Rolfe (Blaze), Lita Kalimeris (Alix) and Kirstyn McDermott (Nightshade) for their contributions to this post.

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D&D Chronicles: One enemy down, a dragon to go

ZILLAH

The Rakshasa get what they deserve

I fucking hate Rakshasa.

They are lying, smarmy, evil, murdering bastards who have to die. You are the key, their leader told me. You are the point of the sword. I knew at the time he was full of shit, and I was right.

We are not your true enemy. Well, maybe they are not the enemy, but they sure as hell are one of them.

Despite our best efforts, they had little difficulty finding our campsite the evening after our battle. We’d crept as close to their village as we dared, and I guess we should be thankful they sought us out to negotiate, rather than simply attack us again. They offered us a counter-offer against the deal we’d previously made with the dragon.

Our deal with the dragon: kill or drive out the Rakshasa and return the treasure they stole, in return for the Stars of the Flail of Wind and Rain.

The Rakshasa counter-offer: kill the dragon with the aid of a dozen Rakshasa, in return for half the dragon’s treasure and free passage out of here. (With the return of my stolen longsword as a gesture of good faith.)

Basically, we’ve never trusted either party. So we agreed to the Rakshasa’s deal, since maybe there was a chance they’d actually help us defeat the dragon. We figured they would use us to get rid of the dragon, after which they’d probably turn on us.

It seems they’re not that smart.

We’d barely joined forces, when the Rakshasa were hurling fireballs and other spells at us. Twelve of them. Five of us. It was touch and go for poor Blaze, who isn’t so great at dodging fireballs, but in the end we prevailed.

We’ve taken two of them captive for interrogation. Nightshade is scarily good at this — and I’m glad it’s her and not me. At her command, Squirrel dispatches one to demonstrate our intent, and the final remaining one squeals all their secrets.

It seems the Rakshasa are clearing out of their village. This is excellent news — except we need to retrieve the treasure they stole from the dragon. No way are we going anywhere near that dragon without the treasure. Not to mention the rest of the stuff the Rakshasa stole from Alix and me when they killed us a few days ago. I am cursed well getting that back.

Fucking Rakshasa.


The dragon gets the upper hand

Outside, the dragon rampages.

We could honestly do with some Rakshasa allies right about now. But maybe they knew how utterly futile it is to take on a dragon. Maybe we ought to have known — or at least heeded our own misgivings.

But we need the Stars to remake the Flail to take down the goddess Varrien. We never really had an option. We must get the Stars from the dragon — or die trying.

The drowned city of Jhardhemeth shudders beneath the dragon’s onslaught.

She’s a black dragon. Huge. Spewing acid, slapping us with wings and tail. She’s already carried Blaze off and dropped his fully armoured form in the water. I have no idea what’s become of Squirrel, who fled into the bowels of another building.

Nightshade and Alix are, I believe, seeking shelter in the building across the square. It took me a few tries to get the door of this building open, but for a few moments Fleet and I are safe.

Once I’ve caught my breath, I peer outside into the square.

It would have been beautiful once, all marble paving stones and columned archways. The treasure chest we reclaimed from the Rakshasa (so much treasure!) stands where we left it in the centre of the square, right before the bitch dragon decided to betray us. Of course, we expected it. Dragons are not known for fair dealing. But the reality is so much worse than we could have imagined.

I can’t see any of my companions, but the dragon is attacking something over by the next building. I hear Alix and Nightshade shouting, so I run in their direction, just in time to see the dragon rise into the air with Alix clasped in her claws.

Nightshade is sprinting towards me as the dragon takes Alix up high, so high over the water, where there are beasts with long necks and sharp teeth waiting.

Oh, blessed Emrys. Is that how Blaze met his fate?

Where the hell is Squirrel?

With a triumphant roar, the dragon releases Alix. She drops, and my heart almost stops, but then her airwalking boots kick in and she’s sprinting through the air towards Nightshade and me.

The three of us flee inside the building.

dragon


Yep. We obviously called it a night in the middle of a somewhat tricky situation… Will we prevail against the dragon and retrieve the Stars of the Flail of Wind and Rain? (And the rest of the treasure hoard?)

That, my friends, remains to be seen.

But it does unfortunately appear that our party will not escape unscathed. 😦

D&D Chronicles: In which Rakshasa prove masters of the common ambush

ZILLAH

By the time I come around, I know I’ve fucked up. Badly.

Voices first… some familiar, others not. Someone sharpening a blade. The rustle of cloth. They’re all everyday sounds, as though we’re in some form of settlement. Beside me, Fleet is purring and nuzzling my face with her nose.

I blink up at Alix as she sits back, withdraws her hand from my brow. She looks weary but relieved. The expression is familiar and she doesn’t need to tell me what’s just happened. What she’s just done for me.

Blessed Emrys, how many more times must I die for the sake of this cursed quest? I think this makes three. Or is it four?

I have no idea where we are, although we appear to be in some form of hut. I hear the others asking how I feel, but I can’t bear to look at them. I’m too mortified. It was all my fault. Alix and me, two of us alone, facing six Rakshasa. Hopelessly outmatched and outnumbered. What the fuck was I thinking?


18 hours earlier

It’s early afternoon when I see a lone Rakshasa creeping through the forest. She’s only 100 feet away from our camp, and my blood freezes. Behind me, Blaze is hovering over his potion, while the others are recovering after an eventful morning dealing with six crawlers. We’re camped in the forest above the drowned city, preparing and planning how to defeat the Rakshasa. Surprise is going to be key. I have to do something about that spy I just saw.

I activate my airwalking and follow silently.

tiger

image from pixabay

The Rakshasa is moving stealthily, but I can’t figure out whether she’s detected our camp or not. To be on the safe side, I decide to take her out.

My entangle spell has no effect and she lets out a yell. But I’m committed now, and my swords are out. She gets off a fireball then flees. I give chase until she meets up with five more of her kind. More fireballs and other spells. Fuck.

I turn on my heel and flee, cursing myself. That did not go to plan at all.

There doesn’t seem to be any immediate pursuit, which both relieves and troubles me. What are they doing? I really don’t want them to get away with news of our presence in the forest. (Although maybe the fireballs have put paid to that already.)

Meanwhile, my companions have of course been roused by all the fireball action and three of them show up in one of the smouldering glades. I quickly update them and tell them I want to track the Rakshasa to see where they go. Alix comes with me, while Squirrel and Nightshade return to watch over Blaze who is still brewing his potion.

I have no trouble following their trail through the undergrowth, but when six sets of tracks become four, we stop. Oh no no no… I can’t see the missing two in any of the trees, but they can definitely see us… hence the fireball that explodes right in our faces.

Once more I’m fleeing Rakshasa through the forest, but this time they are pursuing with intent, flinging fireballs with abandon. All six of them are right on our heels, playing with Alix and me like cats with two pathetic mice. They’re faster than us. Stronger than us. Basically Alix and me against six Rakshasa have no hope at all…


It turns out we’re in a furbolg village, of all things. Apparently some furbolgs turned up in the forest yesterday afternoon to see what all the fireballs were about, and invited us here to regroup.

Both Alix and I were dead when the others found us, but Blaze was able to resurrect Alix with a potion… The Rakshasa took our best weapons and our belt pouches and I can’t help but wonder why my companions would bother resurrecting me, given my series of supreme fuckups. Especially as I no longer even have any decent weapons with which to make myself useful.

I spend the rest of the day feeling guilty and sorry for myself.


After a full day and two nights (during one of which I was dead) in the furbolg village, we set off to take on the Rakshasa. A few of the furbolgs are coming with us to help.

We still haven’t finalised a good plan, but we do know the only way we’ll have any chance is to a) dose up on protection spells and b) ambush them in small groups somehow. They seem most vulnerable in melee, impervious to most of our magic and heavily reliant on magic themselves. Added to that, they can move much faster than we can and they have the home ground advantage.

We’re camped for the night on an old overgrown road, when a fireball lights up the night. There are just two Rakshasa attacking us, but they create enough havoc, especially once they succeed in their slow spell. We chase them off and relocate camps to pass the rest of the night uneventfully.

In the morning, we proceed along the road, intending to diverge off it around midday. But those cursed Rakshasa get the drop on us again. And this time it’s a major ambush.

Blaze sets it off by falling into a pit trap. Nightshade and I are off the path, skulking through the forest either side of the party. We’re all too far away from Alix, our source of protection spells, and already our plans are completely unravelled.

There seem to be Rakshasa everywhere in the forest. Fireballs bombard our party on the path. Nightshade is surrounded. The slow spell is crippling us. Soon one of the furbolgs is seeking shelter in the pit after helping Blaze escape it.

Knowing it’s the only chance we have, I run back to Alix to get the protection spell. Then, wielding my borrowed short sword, I enter the fray. These fucking Rakshasa have to die and I will get all my stuff back if it kills me.

Dosed up on magic and rage, I feel invincible. Even if all I have is a short sword belonging to Nightshade.

But I’m only just getting started when the Rakshasa start to retreat, slinking away into the forest like cowards. Hollering in fury I would chase after them and kill all the fuckers, but they are too fast for us. Down on all fours, they scamper away like the cats they are, leaving us frustrated and fuming.

Now we must regroup fast and go after them while they’ve exhausted their magic for the day. No doubt there are more of them in their stronghold, but we cursed well have to try.

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D&D Chronicles: The lost city of Jhardhemeth

ZILLAH

We’re high up on the forested hillside, looking over the lost city of Jhardhemeth. It lies deep in a valley, drowned and half reclaimed by the surrounding swamp.

Crumbling buildings cluster at the edges of a lake. Stone gleams white in the sunlight, backed by the serene blue of water and the variegated greens of lush vegetation. The air is filled with birdsong and the whir of insects.

DnD_jhardhemeth

It looks to be a tranquil resting place for the Stars of the Flail of Wind and Rain.

But we know better. Jhardhemeth is not deserted, much as we might wish it were. Down in the submerged city lives a black dragon and its pet giant lizard. Above on the ridge line, several miles around from our camp, is the stronghold of the fearsome Rakshasa tiger people.

Now we have to figure out how to get the Stars and escape without dying.

Skulking in the forest

We arrived here yesterday afternoon, extremely happy that the Rakshasa so far appear to have no idea where we are. After our encounter with them a few days ago in the swamp, we have seen little sign of them.

This is probably thanks to Alix and Squirrel, who successfully located a break in the ancient anti-magic ward that extends along the escarpment on the other side of the ridge. We ascended undetected (we believe) and circled through forest to approach Jhardhemeth’s valley from the side opposite to the Rakshasa stronghold.

In this we were aided by a couple of local furbolgs we met in the forest. It was they who called the city Jhardhemeth (which is neither of the names we had previously heard) and told us of the dragon and its pet. It’s a young adult black dragon, who defeated an older dragon who had been here for thousands of years. Or so the furbolgs told us.

The results of today’s stakeout suggest the Rakshasa do not make a daily habit of descending to the city. We’ve seen glimpses of the dragon’s pet a few times. The dragon itself rose out of the city early this afternoon and we’re currently keeping watch for its return. On the whole, it’s been a rather uneventful day.

Sneaking through the swamp

The dragon returns early in the evening and descends into a round building, shaped like a colosseum. We’ve decided to confront it first, before the Rakshasa. Nightshade is confident she’ll be able to sneak into its lair if we can get close enough. It sounds like a mad plan to me, but we have to do something. Perhaps we can refine this plan as we travel…

Over the next two days we take a circuitous route down into the valley. Eventually the forest gives way to the bog. It’s muddy and wet and hot. Humid. There are giant snakes and other creatures. Not to mention insects. It’s unrelentingly dire. Poor Blaze has ditchd his armour.

We push on into the evening on the second day, driven by the need to find a patch of solid ground for the night. I can sense there’s solid ground on the opposite side of yet another water course, this one 60 feet wide. We’re contemplating how to cross it, when a large multi-legged creature reveals itself on the far bank. It’s purple and has reptilian features. I don’t think this is the dragon’s pet. I think this is something else.

I’m staring at the creature, hoping it will ignore us, since we’re not an immediate threat… when it screeches in fury and breathes out a blast of lightning.

Squirrel curses loudly and flees, gliding atop the swamp with his water-walking ability. Cursing at Squirrel (because I suspect he had something to do with the attack), I’m wading frantically in the opposite direction as well, trying to get out of range. Another lightning blast comes, and then we’re either clear or the creature loses interest.

By the time we find a patch of dry land to camp, it’s late and we’re all exhausted. When a furious Nightshade throws a very nice punch at Squirrel’s face, I’m secretly cheering.

It’s my watch first as usual, and I’m somewhat chilled to observe the distinctive silhouette of the dragon against the bright face of the moon. It looks very much like it’s searching for the source of the disturbance. Oops.

Hiding, watching, waiting

In the morning, we cautiously make our way through the forest to the edge of the river. We’re getting close to the dragon’s lair now and its pet must also be lurking nearby… so we stay put and keep watch all morning.

It’s still fairly early when the dragon appears, dives into the water and surfaces only 100 feet from our position. It’s about 30 feet long. Thankfully it’s oblivious to our presence and launches into the air almost immediately. After a few overhead circles, it flies off.

We breathe out.

We’re still waiting and watching, when we get our first glimpse of the dragon’s pet up close. Without warning, a huge head emerges from the forest to drink in the river about 500 feet away. Its jaw could tear us in two. It’s not a giant lizard at all. It’s a tyrannosaurus. On the same side of the river us us. Just 500 feet away. Oh, god.

Suddenly, I have a great desire to cross the river. But for now we wait, extra quiet, extra vigilant.

Dealing with the dragon

The dragon finally returns not long after midday. It’s carrying something in its talons, and descends not too far away. We think it’s feeding its pet. That’s surely a good thing, right?

Once it’s disappeared into its lair, we decide to brave the river crossing, still hoping to sneak up on the dragon unawares. Utilising our various air and water-walking abilities, we ferry everyone across easily… but almost immediately we’re attacked by not one, but two of the purple multi-legged creatures of last evening. Still, at close range and solid ground, we have a much better chance of defeating them. And we do.

But… gone are our chances of sneaking up on the dragon. The roar of the tyrannosaur rents the air, and the dragon is winging overhead, about to spew acid. Somehow I don’t think hiding among the trees is going to be much help. I have just enough time to cast protection from energy/acid on myself and Fleet.

dragon

The dragon breathes out two spumes of acid. Myself and Fleet manage to evade all damage. I don’t know how the others fair. They look mostly okay.

After the second acid bath, the dragon addresses us. What do we want, it demands. (Oh, god. I don’t think this is going to end well.)

But then Nightshade steps forward and greets the dragon. There’s something… some kind of connection between them. A rapport. She tells the dragon that we want to bargain, that we seek an artefact. (Blessed Emrys!)

The dragon guesses that we seek the Stars, and I fear all is lost. But — shockingly, amazingly — the dragon doesn’t immediately smite us down. Instead, Nightshade and the dragon reach an agreement.

The dragon doesn’t like the Stars, it says. In fact, the dragon will give us the Stars if we drive out — or kill — the Rakshasa and return the treasure they have stolen.

Bargain struck, the dragon flies away. It hasn’t killed us. This is a good thing. But, if we kill the Rakshasa, will the dragon honour this bargain? I think we have no other option than to find out.

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D&D Chronicles: Quest for the Stars

ZILLAH

Every so often I look at my life and wonder how I got here. It’s been not quite a year since I met Alix and joined her crazy quest; around 10 months since we first found the Left Eye of Varrien and came south. Sometimes it feels as though we will never see our homes in the north again.

Our other northern companions are long gone now: Calwyn, Ammonite and my cousin, Schill. Instead we find ourselves travelling with a disparate (and sometimes, it seems, revolving) mix of southerners. Squirrel has been with us a while now. He’s proven himself true to the party, even though he keeps secrets and I’m not entirely sure of his agenda.

Nightshade, on the other hand, has changed in the months I’ve known her: first she suffered from the zombie virus, and now I fear her encounter with the mummy has made things worse. She’s become secretive, almost furtive, and pragmatic to the point of callousness. Once, her mission was to restore the broken forest, but I’m not sure her goals align with ours anymore.

And now we have Blaze, a wealthy young paladin sworn to Nievor, god of the vine. Despite being temporarily killed on his first outing with us, Blaze has agreed to accompany us back to Kham Jhara. Although it is early days, he seems true of heart, although is doubtless motivated by reporting on our activities back to his church.

Sometimes I’m left questioning my own agenda. How did it fall upon me and Alix to save the world?

Onwards…

On the whole, this expedition to Reyim Baal and the Dust Plains has been successful — not counting the body and resurrection toll. We have found the Haft of the Flail of Wind & Rain. We have retrieved the Left Eye of Varrien from Elliana, who stole it from the Church of Elloran.

By rights we should return the Eye to the Church of Elloran, which gave us a down payment for its retrieval. However, on this I am outvoted. Instead, Alix is casting a Sequester spell on it daily. Nightshade, who snatched up the Eye and refuses to let anyone else carry it, is complying, but her reluctance is only too apparent. I sense this is going to become a problem…

The priests of Bahal lend us a barge propelled by a water elemental to take us upriver to Kham Jhara. Astra Khara, Master Smith, is frothing at the mouth when we present the Haft to him. It’s clear he yearns to be the one to re-forge the Flail, once the twin Stars have been found. And that is our next mission — undoubtedly our most challenging yet.

Tales of the Stars of the Flail of Wind and Rain

So where are the Stars? We’ve heard various stories and songs on our travels. In the tale of the mighty giant Horvath Goldenhair, the dragon Ovinha Blackscale took the stars to her lair.

But according to Jialara kar Tethem, the Flail of Wind and Rain lay in the depths of the Khor Sahar mountains until the dragon Yrujik took it to her lair. The haft was rent from the flail when Yrujik’s son tried to steal it — he took the haft, while Yrujik returned to her cave with the spiked flails (stars?).

Jialara also found evidence to suggest the haft was seen in the ruined city Toreth Jhand beyond the swamps bordering the Dharian Hills… and that a young dragon was there, blue or green, with sluggish minions and baleful guardians.

Abhorran (the Vahdrim mage  we met on the island of Mycross) called the ruined city Darham Abras. He also said the haft was there — and that the stars were in an abandoned Vahdrim stronghold in the Dust Plains… (Sounds familiar!)

It seems information about the stars and the haft is confused and conflated at best. But at least we now know where the haft is. Our latest information says the Stars currently lie in a lost city beyond the swamps, guarded by a dragon, protected by a vanguard of vicious Rakshasa (tiger creatures).

Whichever way it goes, it seems there will be a dragon.

dragon

Directions and warnings

To get to the stars, we must travel through the Dharian Hills to an old stone bridge across a river, cross a dangerous swamp, to a great hill (or temple or ridge?) shaped like a horse’s head.

The directions are vague, more rumour than anything. Except for the warnings about certain death. On that, everyone we speak to seems to agree. People claim the Rakshasa cannot be hurt, that a single one could kill eight men. (Which leaves me wondering about the dragon…)

But that is our road.

Thanks to the wizened creature, Oramoot, Astra Khara agrees to re-provision us. And fix all our weapons. And arrange for enchantments to be laid on our primary weapons. I’m sure there’s something — many things — we haven’t thought of. But, after over a week in Kham Jhara, we finally set off on our quest for the Stars.

Into the swamp

A local youth guides us as far as his village, which lies on the river that divides the Dharian Hills from the swamp. The villagers direct us towards the ruins of an old stone bridge; it’s not sufficiently intact for us to cross, but it does point to an overgrown road leading through the swamp.

swamp-2440663_640

We cross and follow this road for a few days — it’s hard going and wet for much of the time, and we’re forced to fend off attacks from a variety of creatures. On the fourth day in the swamp we see something that sort of resembles a horse’s head rising up in the distance. It’s still over a day’s slog away, but at least it seems we’re heading in the right direction.

On the fifth day, we encounter our first Rakshasa.

There are six of them, probably a border guard, waiting on the far side of a body of water submerging the road. They utter some threats (which we ignore) and then lob a fireball at us. We retreat a few hundred feet in order to strategise, then creep back towards them under the cover of the dense swamp foliage. They’ve crossed the river and are sauntering after us, looking overly confident to my mind.

We’ve decided our best strategy is to engage them in close combat, so I charge out of cover and attack. The battle is now on. They’re tossing more spells and no doubt Squirrel is too. All I’m aware of are the three in my immediate vicinity. Blaze is with me, and Alix. I can hear Nightshade swearing somewhere to my left.

Three of the Rakshasa have hit the ground and I’m about to enjoy taking out the other three — arrogant bastards — when darkness smothers us and not even my darkvision can penetrate. It’s lifted a few moments later, but the three surviving Rakshasa are retreating under its cover. We follow the blackness to the edge of the water and watch them go. I guess it’s a victory… of sorts.

Horse head mountain

We cross the water and track the rapidly moving Rakshasa along the road. They’re leading us directly towards the rocky peak, which we can now see is indeed carved into the figure of a horse’s head. The land is rising and, a couple of miles away, the road heads straight up the side of the hill.

Before we get too close and walk into an ambush, we leave the road with the view to circling around the side of the hill. I cast “pass without trace” on the entire party to conceal our movements, should the Rakshasa attempt to track us.

After a while, we reach a river. From this vantage, it’s evident that what looked like a hill from front-on is actually the tip of a ridge line with a cliff face that extends along the river. There’s a bridge back at the road, with at least one guard.

cliff-2414418_640

We head in the opposite direction along the river, seeking to stay out of sight of the guard on the bridge, and begin entertaining ideas of scaling the cliff face using magical means. We want to get onto the ridge without taking the main road.

The next day, however, Squirrel discovers there’s an ancient magical barrier along the cliff face. As far as he can make out, the barrier appears to cancel out magic that passes through it — so there goes our idea of using magic to ascend.

Or maybe not.

Alix talks to the stone in the ancient cliff and discovers there are weaknesses in the ward, caused by an ancient earthquake. If we can find one of those weaknesses… That could be exactly what we need.


Pleased to report no deaths this session; let’s see how we fair next time when we (presumably) go up against more Rakshasa and maybe even a dragon. Yikes!

See The D&D Chronicles Page.

D&D Chronicles: Temple of Death yields death (and bounty)

ZILLAH

D&D CHRONICLESAnother day, another attempt to clear out the Temple of Death… and hopefully find trace of Elliana and the Eye of Varrien.

It’s a daunting thought, given yesterday’s experiences. We don’t know how many undead priests are left, but the most powerful are undoubtedly yet to come. This could be our hardest task yet.

We have a new plan for today, though, and that’s to make use of a “hide from undead” spell the priests of Bahaal can cast on us. It will allow us to sneak into the temple without them detecting us. Hopefully the element of surprise will give us the edge.

Our first foray into the temple confirms that the first building, the one we cleared out yesterday, remains clear — except for an undead janitor who’s mopping the floor. The “hide from undead” spell appears successful, as he doesn’t detect us until Blaze storms over and tries to kill him. (All he succeeds in doing is alerting the fleeing janitor of the threat.)

temple_death

After replenishing our “hide from undead” spells with the priests outside the gates, we sneak across the bridge to the courtyard where we fought the golem yesterday. We split up and sneak into the rooms on either side, where enemies wait to cast spells through the murder holes, and we take them out swiftly.

Magic and mayhem…

We retreat and replenish the “hide” spells again… then move deeper into the temple precinct, this time entering the second building. It’s magnificent, what we can see in the darkness. I take point, sneaking forward under concealment of the spell and scope out the ambush they have prepared.

There are six of them waiting in the shadows, set up for attack. It’s uncanny to walk up close to our enemy and remain undetected, to describe to my companions what I see and have our enemy not hear or see or smell anything.

We position ourselves within striking distance, nose to nose, and engage.

Those of us who attack lose the protection of the hide spell immediately, and we get the sense this fight will make or break us. Their magic is powerful. Relentless. The hall is rent with crackling energy and pain and screams. I’m fighting creatures in front of me, but I know the real threats are behind. I can’t reach them.

I’m in the middle of melee when I feel Fleet fall. My mind freezes, but fortunately my limbs do not. Somehow I disentangle myself, and Fleet is in my arms and I’m running, running to the gates so I can use my healing spells on her.

I make it in time. She’s not dead. She’s not dead. I bid her wait for me outside the gates.

… and death

By the time I return, everyone is retreating. Hell. Alix is down. And Blaze. Squirrel is trying to haul Alix away, and Nightshade is trying vainly to budge the heavily armoured figure of Blaze. The energy spells keep on coming. I grab Alix from Squirrel and carry her out, but my breath catches because I know she is dead.

A moment later, Nightshade appears alone, breathless and bleeding. It’s just her and me left on our feet. Squirrel fell trying to help Blaze. They’re probably both dead by now and our party is in a shambles.

I pull out the resurrection stone Oramoot gave us before we came down the river. I’ve been saving it for Alix. I don’t know how fast it will work… turns out it works rapidly. She’s back almost immediately, bewildered and bemused as this is the first time she has crossed the veil.

The three of us confer desperately. We need to go back in and finish this, but we’re too injured and weak, Alix barely able to stand. If we wait until tomorrow, when Alix will be able to heal us, we’ll be facing all those enemies again at full strength — and likely our own undead companions to-boot.

We can’t let that happen.

The priests of Bahal can heal us using their terrible death magic. Nightshade accepts without hesitation… and Alix and I reluctantly do as well. The only other choice is to let our companions become undead and fail in our quest to retrieve the Eye from Elliana. It’s a bitter choice, but we need to finish this.

Three versus three

Concealed by yet another hide spell each, Nightshade, Alix and I enter the temple once again. We have no idea how many enemies are left to fight, or what we’ll find. We pass through the ornate hall of the second building, which has been cleared of all bodies, and emerge to find a second bridge leading to a third building.

Three figures await us. I think they are the magic users from before, so perhaps this is the last of them. In the light, we now see that one of them is Elliana. She is clearly dead. (It makes me wonder what happened to Tob. Did we kill him already and not notice?) One of the others has a red glowing stone around his neck, which is likely the Eye of Varrien.

They are clearly waiting for us, although the spell is doing its job and they do not know we’ve arrived. Nightshade suggests we bullrush them, and it seems as good a plan as any.

We knock one of them over and the battle is on. More energy spells crackle the air, sapping our strength with frightening speed and ease. I’m certain I’m going to die, and switch to a defensive fighting mode. One of the enemy drops, but Elliana and the guy with the Eye are still wielding their magic.

Then, without warning, Elliana breaks out of combat and charges the guy with the Eye. It happens so fast. She pushes him to the ground, screaming, and we keep attacking both of them, not having a clue what’s going on. The main guy stops moving and Elliana is shrieking at us to kill her. A moment later, she stops moving too.

Bounty

It’s over. Blessed Emrys, it’s actually over.

I can hardly believe we’ve tracked down Elliana and successfully recovered the left Eye of Varrien (again). Nightshade grabs the Eye from the corpse of the undead priest, who appears to have been controlling Elliana. In the next room, we find the corpses of our companions.

The priests of Bahal are beside themselves with gratitude for restoring their temple to them and freeing the souls of their priests. They resurrect Squirrel and Blaze and bestow us with riches in gold and gems.

There’s a portal here too, and instructions for using it. Perhaps we’ll get to that in time, but right now I’m feeling lucky to be alive.

D&D Chronicles: Temple of Death

ZILLAH

Now that we are returned to Reyim Baal, the Temple of Bahal awaits. It is hard to turn our attention to anything serious while grieving our fallen comrade, but we cannot ignore the fact that one of the Eyes of Varrien could be inside the spectre-infested temple. If the Eye is there, we need to at least try to retrieve it — before someone else does.

But the very thought of tackling the Temple of Bahal — known as the Temple of Death — is terrifying. The clerics of Bahal here in Reyim Baal have already tried and failed to reclaim their temple from the decades-old spectres of its guardian priests. If they cannot succeed, what hope is there for us?

A new companion

Without Blizzard, it seems a mad quest. But there is a paladin here who may lend us a hand if we can be persuasive enough. His name is Blaze and he’s impressively kitted out with armour and a warhorse, of all things. He serves Nievor, god of the vine, and has been sent by his church to find out what’s going on. (As well they might.)

We tell him that if he wants to find out “what’s going on”, he could do worse than aid us in our quest to reclaim the Eye of Varrien for the priests of Elloran, who commissioned us in this task. (A truth.) We tell him we believe the Eye to currently reside in the Temple of Bahal, since Elliana and Tob took it inside several weeks ago, never to emerge. (Also true.)

In return for his aid, we offer him Blizzard’s share of any reward and the loan of his most superior greatsword. Blaze looks understandably overwhelmed by our mission, but eventually agrees.

knocker-2163643_640

Fighting in the forecourt

We’re standing outside the gates of the Temple of Death. The clerics have warned us we’re likely to be attacked the moment we enter the forecourt… which is exactly what happens. There are 12 skeletal figures, all former clerics of Bahal, now the undead guardians of the temple. Alix manages to turn some of them, while Blaze and I lay into them with swords.

Turns out they’re not that hard to kill. Squirrel and Nightshade are lurking outside to work from a distance — one of them produces a flame, and I have a feeling it’s Nightshade. (When did she get that spell?) Then Squirrel’s up on top of the wall.

It’s all over pretty quickly and we drag the corpses out of the precinct for the priests of Bahal to perform last rites on their brethren. That’s 12 fewer undead guardians for us to face later.

One of the major challenges of this place is that most of our spells won’t work inside the temple precinct. So any healing needs to take place outside the gates. Once that’s sorted, we reenter and approach the entrance to the first building.

Ambush in the antechamber

We’re in a large antechamber, a group of shadowy figures at the far end. “Begone or die!” we hear. It figures. We could of course leave, but considering we’re here to find the Eye — and possibly clear out the temple while we’re at it — we’re not backing down just yet.

First a fireball hits us, then we split up and move down two side-aisles, which might provide some cover from similar attacks. Before too long, we’re surrounded by more of the skeletal guardian clerics. Ambush.

Nightshade and I are together on one side of the antechamber, and I have no real idea what’s going on elsewhere. We clear our side and retreat towards the entrance. Blaze and Alix are already there, just outside, and Squirrel rushes past through a fog of some foul miasma… Once we’re healed up outside we return to find the chamber deserted, save for all the corpses, which we again drag outside the gates.

There’s a library in the basement of this building, but not much else of interest. We prise Squirrel away from all the books, because there’s still more to do… plenty more undead clerics and probably worse still infesting the rest of the temple precinct.

Grappling with the golem

Opposite the main entrance to this building is a short bridge over water, leading to a second building with a courtyard. In the courtyard is a statue… hmm.

It animates, of course, as soon as we get close, and reveals itself as a golem. As we’re fighting this enormous creature, hidden magic users cast spells though murder holes, most notably an ice storm. The ice tears into our party, and as soon as we’ve defeated the golem we flee.

Back with the living priests of Bahal, we ask about healing, since we’ve exhausted our supply of spells. But unfortunately these clerics use vile magic to draw out the life force from their lackeys — which is absolutely out of the question for us. Although we’d prefer to finish clearing out the temple today, we’re going to have to wait at least a night to recover. Damn. That gives our enemy time to recover as well.

We do, however, decide it’s worth Squirrel and I sneaking back in under the cover of invisibility to see if we can push the golem into the water — otherwise they’ll doubtless reanimate it so we have to fight it again tomorrow.

We creep inside once more… to find four minions fussing with the fallen creature. Squirrel’s fireball scatters them, giving us a few moments to act before they return. With several giant heaves, the enormous clay figure makes a satisfying splash as it plunges into the water.

D&D Chronicles: The haft of the Flail (Tomb of Horrors – Part 2)

ZILLAH

The iron men of visage grim do more than meet the viewers eye
You’re left and left and found my tomb and now you all will die

The last two lines of the riddle echo through my head as we contemplate our next move. There are two heavily warded doors before us, one left, one right. We have two keys, each of which appears to fit one of the doors perfectly.

We need to choose.

If the riddle at the entrance of the tomb is to be trusted — and, no matter how obscure, it has at least proven true — we should obviously choose the door on the left.

Not that I’m too keen on the dying part.

The past two days have been hellish, but we’ve survived. Tomb of horrors, indeed. But surely this is the final test. Surely behind one of these doors is the true tomb, in which the haft of the Flail of Wind and Rain is sequestered.

We’ve just passed through the false tomb (If you find the false you find the true…) and battled the iron men, aided by a djinn who emerged from one of the urns.

DnD_TOH

Then a mummy rose from the sarcophagus (because someone couldn’t resist the pretty amulet around its neck) and we were forced to battle that too. Not so easy without the ability to use our magic. Three of our party were struck by the mummy — Alix, Nightshade and Blizzard — and I fear we’ve not yet seen the repercussions of that…

sarcophagus

But first we need to finish this and get out of here. I pray the haft is to be found within.

Back to the doors before us. The correct one must be the one on the left, I know it. Blizzard agrees and volunteers to open it using the tasselled key. We hold our breaths and stand back.

It fits, turns, opens. Blizzard kicks the door in and I flinch. But no explosion — or anything else. One by one we enter.

It’s here!

The haft is actually here. It’s in an alcove behind a statue. Alix and I move as one towards it. She murmurs, “Here lies the haft of the flail of wind and rain,” and I realise she’s reading a plaque above the alcove. Heart thudding, I wrap my fingers around the smooth, wrought wood.

A shimmering figure appears and I tense, because I’ve been waiting for something to attack us, but the figure bows and offers congratulations, tells us we may each take one thing before we leave. I clutch the haft tighter. I haven’t looked at anything else, but I’ve learnt my lesson on that score. The haft will be my one thing.

Alix nudges me, then looks expectantly at the haft. A moment later, she takes it out of my hands. Her message is clear. She wants to carry the haft. Her eyes bore into me, and I yield to her conviction.

A misty grey archway has appeared where the door used to stand. Hoping this means our sojourn in this horrific tomb is ended, we pass through. I’m so weary and desperate I care not where it leads… but it empties us out into the viewing hall, back in the town of Kyam.

It truly is over. The Tomb of Horrors is a mile or two behind us, and we have the first part of the Flail of the Wind and Rain. Maybe we really can do this thing.

Maybe we can truly prevent the rise of Varrien, goddess of destruction.


One week later

Oh, Blizzard.

I stare at his funeral pyre, hardly believing it has come to this. Not even Alix could bring him back this time. We were only a day out from Reyim Baal too, when it happened. Just one more day, and we would all have survived the trek out to Kyam and back — not precisely intact, but not dead.

The dust plains are dire indeed. It’s taken us a week to make it back to Reyim Baal from Kyam. A week in which we faced several different creatures, including air elementals and a lion-headed dragon.

It was also a week in which we laboured to keep Blizzard’s mummy rot at bay. Alix managed to heal herself of the curse, thank Emrys. And Nightshade hasn’t had any of the usual effects, probably due to her stint as a half-zombie. But Blizzard was slowly succumbing…

Not that it was the mummy rot that did for him. No, that was a monstrous earth elemental that pummeled him — pummeled all of us — in the dead of night. Blizzard took the brunt of it, though. He never stood a chance.

We’ve carried him to Reyim Baal to give him his last rites. The flames consume his earthly flesh as we each farewell our companion.

SQUIRREL

When I first met Blizzard, my instinct was to cut his throat in his sleep. His and his mate Abra’s, too. They were clearly plants from the church of Kaltan, intent on hijacking our quest.

But over time Blizzard’s abrasiveness became kind of endearing, and we were united in a common pragmatism. Blizzard knew what it took to get the job done, and was unwilling to compromise on mission or belief. We found ourselves in a few scrapes, just the two of us, and his commonsense and occasional flashes of brilliance were a large part of the reason we got out of them.

And then the god of tree huggers tapped him on the shoulder and pointed him in a new direction; one, sadly, he never got to follow through to its full realisation.

We’ve lost a bold, brash fighter; one whose mouth started many a battle and whose brawn helped to end. A solid and, at the end, dependable companion. His death came through happenstance, a collision of small moments that amounted to little. He deserved better. Let us hope his new god is kind in the next life, if there is such a thing.

I don’t expect we’ll meet again, but I say to him, for all the annoyances and occasional thoughts of murder, it was an honour to share the journey.

ALIX

Another companion gone. Yes, he started off a questionable ally, but he never hesitated to stand and fight for us. Even when he doubted the most. And then that change of heart and deity. Ah, it cost you, Blizzard, but it eased all my heart and mind. I would have hated for it to come to a bloody show-down — and it would have, had Emrys not taken you aside.

This journey has been costly. I do not want to consider if it will cost any more lives. So many come and gone, Lord, so many come and gone. But not moving forward has never been an option. I pray Shadrath welcomes you to his hearth as one who aided his cleric. As one who may have become a friend.

NIGHTSHADE

Blizzard. What can be said about such an unexpected, pointless, futile death? Better to speak of his life, our comrade in arms, our fellow in this arduous quest. He was always ready with his greatsword to defend his friends, and even those of us who weren’t always his friends.

It is odd to think of it now, but I remember not liking Blizzard at all when I first came to travel with the party. I was suspicious of his motives, and found his bluster and impulsiveness very irritating at times. Not to mention his infernal apelike turns! But he changed a lot in the time I knew him, proving himself a loyal and stalwart companion over and over again, and in the end trusted him as I would a brother — though I suspect he still kept some secrets close to his chest.

I will not soon forget how Blizzard was always the first to offer his wrist for blood-letting during those dark days when I came near to succumbing to the zombie disease. The first, and sometimes the only!

How I wish the others had listened to me when I suggested we kill Blizzard and preserve his body for resurrection, in order to forestall the mummy rot which was consuming him. It seemed a very practical solution to me and he might yet be alive now. Or all of us dead, I suppose.

We can never tell what fate has in store for us, and perhaps it’s better that way. I hope you are at rest now, Blizzard, and perhaps have found some measure of peace.

ZILLAH

We were never friends, Blizzard and I.

At first I detested him for his brash posturing and blustering tongue, distrusted him for his service to Kaltan. In time, I respected him for his unwavering loyalty, his fearlessness, his skill with a blade. I even came to rely upon him and value him as a member of our party. But friends… no. Not even once he swore his allegiance to Emrys, my god, for the sake of accord in our party. It is true this eased our relationship somewhat, but there was too much between us by then for us to ever truly be friends.

It didn’t help that I killed him once. And tried my best on another occasion. Both times I was bespelled, but he never truly forgave me. I suppose I cannot blame him.

When all is said and done, though, I will miss Blizzard. I’ll miss our verbal sparring, his never-say-die attitude, his creative and often wild solutions. His personal sacrifices for the good of our quest. And I’ll miss him in our next melee, when his big heart was worth almost as much as his mighty sword.

Farewell, Blizzard. May your spirit dwell peacefully in the afterlife.

Vale Blizzard

The D&D Chronicles page

Thanks to Jason Nahrung (Squirrel), Lita Kalimeris (Alix) and Kirstyn McDermott (Nightshade).

D&D Chronicles: Tomb of Horrors – part 1

ZILLAH

D&D CHRONICLESIt’s our third day in this godawful place — the garishly (yet aptly) named Tomb of Horrors. It is by far the most treacherous maze we’ve faced and, so soon after my 20th name day, I can’t help wondering if I will see the next.

We’re currently taking respite after an encounter with three monstrous cubes of goo that somehow animated out of glass vats holding a weird, whitish liquid. Squirrel touched something, the glass shattered, and suddenly we were fighting against gelatinous monsters that eroded our weapons and damaged our armour.

At least I kept my new Longsword (+3) out of harm’s way, and my bracers survived intact, but my magical dagger will likely never be the same again. Others of my companions have damaged items too.

I wish we didn’t have to go on. I wish I knew how much deeper into this place we need to go to find the haft of the Flail of Wind and Rain — assuming it is even here.

entrance

image from pixabay

I cannot conceive of why the mages sequestered the haft here, since it’s clear from what we saw in the town that this Tomb of Horrors is some sort of training exercise — albeit a deadly one. Back in the town we discovered the remnants of a viewing hall, where interested onlookers could watch teams of challengers through the maze and wager on the outcome.

It makes me shudder to imagine the past people of this land cheering and jeering the challengers through this death trap of a place, which has tested us greatly.

During the past two days we have negotiated mechanical pit traps at almost every turn, and magical traps of many different kinds.

There was the misty gateway that conveyed Squirrel and Blizzard to a trapped room with nothing but three levers and a 100-ft drop. And the voices that lured Squirrel down a tilting corridor that nearly conveyed him (and subsequently us) into a fiery pit of death. (Thank Emrys for Nightshade and her dagger, is all I’ll say!) And there was the altar out of which exploded first an electrical strike, then a fireball, setting an entire temple chamber aflame for the best part of a day.

big-bang-422305_640

image from pixabay

It feels like one step forward, five steps round and round, then two steps back. I’ve lost count how many times we have retraced our steps and gone in circles, trying to figure out the next piece of the puzzle.

The inscription at one of the false entrances to the tomb is at once helpful and unhelpful:

Go back to the tormentor or through the arch and the second great hall you’ll discover
Shun green if you can, but night’s good colour is for those of great valour
If shades of red stand for blood, the wise will not need sacrifice ought but a loop of magical metal
You’re well along your march, two pits along the way will be found to lead to a fortuitous fall
So check the wall
These keys and those are most important of all and beware of trembling hands and what will maul
If you find the false you find the true, and into the columned hall you’ll come
And there the throne that’s key and keyed
The iron men of visage grim do more than meet the viewers eye
You’re left and left and found my tomb and now you all will die

What does that even mean?

We figured out the ‘loop of magical metal’ was a ring, which we sacrificed to open one of the many secret doors we’ve found; and the two ‘fortuitous falls’ have revealed themselves as secret doors at the bottom of pit traps. But the rest? There are so many green things in this place and we’re shunning them all. And checking ALL the walls… between Squirrel’s rogue talents and Alix’s magic we’ve found so many secret doors.

So far we’ve also found some keys, which bodes well if the riddle is to be relied upon, but we haven’t found much else. We have gained a mysterious opalescent oval disc smeared in invisibility paste… a potion of healing… and a magical surcoat. The healing potion will obviously be useful, but we haven’t figured out what to do with the other two items yet.

On the whole, I’m feeling fairly useless. Aside from battling the odd foe here and there (the giant skeletons were fun), there’s not too much for a ranger and a desert cat to do down here in the bowels of the earth. It’s dark and dreadful. Fleet hates it too.

That cursed haft of the flail had better be here. Assuming we survive long enough to find it.


The next installment of the Tomb of Horrors will be forthcoming. Wish us luck!

Visit the D&D Chronicles page for the full story.

 

D&D Chronicles: To Kyam by water and dust

ZILLAH

D&D CHRONICLESThe haft of the Flail of Wind and Rain is to be found in the Tomb of Horrors. Or so the wizened creature Oramoot says.

The Tomb of Horrors. The very name makes me shiver.

Oramoot has produced a map to the tomb, which is a long-forgotten Vhadrim testing place near the town of Kyam, just outside Vhad. It lies deep in the Dust Plains — another name to give me chills —  beneath a hill shaped like a skull.

I can hardly wait.

After a few days of rest, we leave the relative safety of Kham Jhara for our long trek to Kyam and the tomb. First we head to the river and arrange for some locals to take us downriver on a barge.

luca-bravo-149740

Downriver by barge

The river soon borders the Dust Plains, the air blowing hot and bleak. But our journey passes swiftly and uneventfully until the second night, when we are attacked by three fearsome eight-limbed creatures, while Blizzard and I are alone on deck keeping watch…

SQUIRREL

When it works, it’s magnificent, isn’t it?

Raised as a spellcaster, then left to make my way with the resident miscreants, my path has been akin to that of two men hobbled together, Faldhu god of thieves and Elloran god of knowledge not being the best of buddies.

But on the river, in the dead of night, it all came together.

We were asleep inside our cabin on the barge deck, Zillah and Blizzard minding the way forward, the young chap on the tiller. The alarm was sounded – we’d been boarded! And then, Zillah, yelling, “there’s one of the roof”.

In the light of my hastily cast spell, beaming out the door, we could see the foredeck messed in webs and in the midst, Zillah in battle with two spider-like beings. No sign of Blizzard. A couple of magic missiles helped Zillah dispatch the two against her opponents. And then she was trying to throttle Blizzard! And doing a pretty good job of it, looks like.

Charm spell, eh. Cast by the one on the roof. In the kill zone, above our door, most like. Exit there, get stuck, get garrotted. Not bloody likely.

I’d been wanting to use the gaseous form spell for months. Conjuration cast, and me and all my gear were vapour. Weird, but somehow invigorating. Out I snaked through the port hole, and onto the roof. In time to see the spider thing return to its perch, enjoying the battle on the foredeck.

Closer I drifted, unseen in the moonlight, until I was right behind it. I coalesced into flesh and blood once more, and – wham! My new dagger, minted by the master smith Astra Khara, slid smooth as you like into the thing’s back. A twist for good measure. Blooded!

That got its attention.

I dropped the daggers, dodged and ducked, and conjured – magic missiles. It didn’t like that. It swiped me, and I staggered, felt some poisonous itch that failed to penetrate, then cast again. The creature fell, Zillah snapped out of it, hugs all round.

And I had the satisfaction of seeing two paths combine, spell and blade in deadly concert. Finally, I think I’ve found my calling.

ZILLAH

Blizzard hasn’t yet forgiven me for trying to throttle him the other night. At least I didn’t kill him this time. The way he’s acting you’d think I attacked him intentionally, despite him knowing I was under a charm. I think he just doesn’t like the fact he was bested by a woman. But I wish he would forget about it. Since his conversion to Emrys, we have been almost in accord.

We arrived in the (mostly) abandoned city of Reyim Baal today. The city, which is engulfed by the Dust Plains, is currently home to a few dozen priests of Bahal and their attendants, who have invited us to stay with them. For worshippers of the god of death they are surprisingly mellow.

We have learnt that Elliana and Tob entered the Temple of Bahal some weeks ago and never emerged. While there is a chance they left via the portal, it is believed more likely they fell to the darkness infesting the temple. The priests believe the temple is overrun by the spectres of priests – those priests of Bahal who remained to defend the temple during the great war with the Vhadrim. After two decades, they are powerful and malevolent — even to their own kind.

To make matters more complex, we now believe the Left Eye of Varrien, which Elliana stole, also lies within the temple of death. We briefly entertained notions of liberating the temple, finding the Eye, but the dangers seem more than we can handle. Particularly since apparently most of our spells will not work inside its walls.

So tomorrow we head deeper into the Dust Plains towards Vhad and, beyond it, the Tomb Of Horrors — which is probably just as bad.

dustplains

Into the Dust Plains

*

Vhad. Once the mage’s city, the city of Vhadrim. Now a cloud of darkness engulfs it, and we are taking care not to get too close to its dark magic.

It has taken us several days to get here from Reyim Baal. Days in which Blizzard managed to get himself killed by foolishly falling for a deception — requiring Alix to resurrect him. (More gold owed to Shadrath.) We also encountered a great burrowing earth elemental, giant skeleton creatures and more besides.

Oh, and apparently a couple of days ago was the festival of Vash. I am now twenty years old.

But there is no time to dwell on naming days…

As we circumnavigate the city of Vhad, yet more strange creatures launch themselves towards us, throwing up dust. These look like giant scorpions, about thirty feet in length. Their poison is debilitating and almost does for Squirrel, but ultimately we prevail against them — only to see them dissipate into thick black smoke. Their poison, alas, is real.

Monster_dust

Creatures out of the dust

After meeting one of these scorpion creatures, and then two more, we eventually make it to the town of Kyam by nightfall. Poor Squirrel is staggering, barely able to walk, and we are carrying his gear among us. But Kyam promises to be a refuge for tonight at least. It is surprisingly intact, given the war that happened here two decades ago, and we bunker down for the night in what looks to be a community hall.

Tomorrow will be soon enough to find the Tomb of Horrors.

SQUIRREL

I am reminded again of the weakness of flesh –- my flesh –- by comparison to the mind. Although it was the mind that cast me into the hand-to-hand battle against the scorpions when my magic was low, some ill-considered thought of helping Blizzard as he looked to be dying alone.

As if my dying with him would have been an improvement! He is already polluted by his turn to the treehuggers, all pragmatism lost. Just look at his suicide in the old inn, despite the warnings about the waiting trap. And now I have been infected as well, so desperate to “be of one accord”?

If ever there was a warning from the god of thieves to remember my calling, it was there, in the thin veil between life and death. Here on the doorway to the tomb of trials, it is a good time to remember it as I await my poison-leached strength to return. Bravery is for the bold; survival is for the cautious. I am alone in the shadows, but that is the way of the shadows. There can be no light without them.


Next… the Tomb of Horrors, and hopefully the haft of the Flail. We can only hope.

Thanks again to Jason Nahrung for channelling Squirrel. Check out the D&D Chronicles page for a full list of posts in order.