female ranger

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: 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.

D&D Chronicles: In the hanging gardens

ZILLAH

D&D CHRONICLESAlas, the Derros still have the skystone. The lump of star metal needed to forge the flail.

Our party is forlorn but, thanks to Alix, intact. Fleet’s purr rumbles with life against my chest, Squirrel’s mutterings echo against the rocky ceiling. I wish he would be quiet. Alix resurrected both him and my cat. It matters not in what order.

Once we are all at full strength we head after the Derros, determined to gain our skystone, deeper into the tunnels under the mountains.

We defeat a small party of the creatures awaiting us at the chasm, but not before they blow up the bridge. The rest of their party is easy enough to track, even in the darkness, and we eventually arrive in a chamber of light, filled with green.

Fortenbrand gasps and declares this place the legendary Hanging Gardens of Athengar. His tone suggests it’s a place to be revered, and I can see why. From the entrance we can see huge raised tiers of abundant foliage — many different varieties, all bearing fruit. The music of running water fills the chamber, which is naturally lit by some amazing feat of dwarven engineering.

It’s beautiful. Bountiful. A place of calm and spiritual peace.

It is probably the place where the Derros have set up an ambush. I enter the chamber, head to its centre. Within seconds, a barrage of quarrels fly out of the foliage. Ouch. I’m glad we all loaded up with poison protection spells.

The Derros have arranged themselves up on the tiers, so after Squirrel clambers up on one side, I head up the other. The foliage is so thick I can’t see much of anything else, but I progress along the tiers in search of the enemy, all the while praying Squirrel will not use a fireball in this sacred place.

hanging-gardens

The skystone is ours

It was a shambles, but the Derros are all dead. And we have the skystone.

Squirrel managed to forebear using his beloved fireball, but he did use the wand of cold to kill a bunch of Derros — as well as a bunch of plants. Nightshade, Blizzard and Alix ended up doing battle with a bunch of Derros in the centre of the chamber, Blizzard’s greatsword swinging mightily. After battling mostly foliage to get to the enemy, I managed to not fall on my face for long enough to kill a few near the end. Then Alix was almost killed by a massive lightning bolt the Derro mages let off… and it was all over.

Fortunately Blizzard was able to heal Alix somewhat, then she set to in her usual unflappable manner and doled out healing spells to everyone else.

Now we are taking stock of the weapons and armour the Derros have left behind, and gathering food from the gardens. We’re going to recuperate here for the rest of the day, and begin the long trek back to Kham Jhara with the skystone tomorrow.

In truth I am more than happy to sleep here tonight. There’s a statue of Ashengar here in the gardens and, although dwarfish, she bears a strong likeness to my god of the forests, Emrys. If these gardens are a shrine to Emrys, then there’s no place I’d rather be.

BLIZZARD

I’ve always believed that the measure of a man is his loyalty, and I have been brought humiliatingly low. This story starts many moons ago when the Elders of my church laid their geas on me: for the glory of Kaltan and your eternal position at his side, bring us back the Eye of Varrien. Even then, the weight of prophecy lay heavy on my shoulders, some mantle of doom that I must draw close, but a man does not argue with his god, not even with the sycophant leaders of his church, who seem to serve themselves more often than their god.

Even then, even as the words fell from their mouths, I knew I wasn’t the man for this job. They made it sound easy. Infiltrate some party. Pretend you’re there for treasure. Or glory. When they succeed, steal the Eye –- no matter how. Bribe them. Bewitch them. Assault them. Murder them in the night if you have to.

And while murder at three am isn’t exactly my style, it’s not something I’d baulk at either. But murder a friend? Now, that’s an altogether different thing.

So, with misgivings, I joined the group. Me and Abra both. We kept to ourselves, me at my abrasive best. After all, Kaltan does love his chaos –- more glory to him –- and I didn’t want friends.

But then Abra deserted me for his studies, and gradually… Well, Squirrel is more akin to me, more brother to me than Abra ever was, and Nightshade and I, we have a blood bond and are forever linked. And despite my dislike of Shadrath, Alix has won my respect with her quiet courage and dignity. And Zillah, she is some mean fighter –- I too well know the strength of her hands as she’s choking the life from me. A man has to respect that.

Over time, they’ve become more family to me than any I’ve ever known. I let down my guard and found my loyalties –- church or friends? –- pitted against one another.

Then the prophecy. All must be of one accord… But we weren’t, and no-one else knew it. So when we kept failing failing failing, I knew why. It was me. All me.

Troubled, I sought Alix’s advice. What is more important: faith or our mission? And though she offered hope that I could, indeed, have both, she reminded me of what our failure would cost.

In truth, I am not the clear-sighted cleric who set out on this mission. I am conflicted. Changed. Torn. Church or friends? And, strangely, somewhere along the way, I fell in love with the forest, the splendour of trees, the freedom of climbing, swinging on a vine.

So when Emrys came to me in a dream and offered me the wonders of the natural world -– and then Kaltan’s hand closed on my shoulder, leaden with the weight of chaos, trying to rein me back, I wanted to pull free. But a man is only as good as his pledge. Still, Emrys beckoned.

The trees.

My friends’ lives.

The most bitter of truths: the widening chasm between Kaltan and me.

And an answer. Only one more betrayal, the biggest betrayal.

Prising those fingers from my shoulder was the hardest thing I have ever done. And I have paid. My armour gone. My greatsword gone. My god-given powers gone. I have been brought low, and I deserve it. Welcome the pain and humiliation to scour away the guilt. Now, a humble warrior, I must square my shoulders and take what the coming months bring. Kaltan has exacted vengeance, and if I know anything about Kaltan, he has only just begun.

ZILLAH

Return to Kham Jhara

After many weeks, we have finally returned to Kham Jhara. Astra Khara, the master smith, is delirious with excitement, and he has whisked the skystone away, after paying us in impressive amounts of gold and weapons for our efforts. Tonight there will be feasting and celebrations, but all I really want is a bath and some sleep.

The journey back with the skystone was not without incident.

First, Blizzard has changed. And I mean changed.

Emrys visited each of us in our dreams that night in the hanging gardens. He was glorious. He blessed me and confirmed I am on the right path in this quest to stop the rise of Varrien. The relief I feel after receiving his benediction cannot be described. I know little of the others’ experiences — save that of Blizzard, who awoke transformed.

He has abandoned Kaltan, the god he has vociferously served for as long as I have known him, and pledged his loyalty to Emrys. None of us saw this coming — how could we? But he says he’s been troubled for some time. Confession upon confession poured out of him, and I think we never saw the true Blizzard until that day. His admission that he always intended to steal the Eye for Kaltan was not entirely unexpected. I have always known he had secrets and could not be trusted. But now? Time will tell, but I suspect he may now be a true ally. After all, we now share a god.

Fortenbrand the dwarf guided us back through the mountain tunnels towards Jeverd Dhar. Even so, it was a difficult journey, with many battles against metal-hungry xorns, which devoured Blizzard’s weapons and most of his armour. We might have thought it Kaltan’s retribution, had not Nightshade’s weapons not also been devoured.

But we’ve made it this far, and that chapter of this quest is over. Next we will head out again to find the pieces of the Flail of Wind and Rain, created by the goddess Gallea, said to be the only weapon that can stop Varrien, the goddess of destruction.

I pray to Emrys we succeed.


Thanks to Tracey Rolfe for Blizzard’s contribution.

More D&D Chronicles on the page.

D&D Chronicles: Operation Skystone not going too well

Race for the skystone

ZILLAH

D&D CHRONICLESBefore us lies a massive circular depression, rock and soil churned up in chunks, vegetation flattened for hundreds of paces all around.

The skystone. It’s so close, buried at the heart of this crater where it fell. We’ve travelled far to reach this place, crossed the treacherous dust plains with its unnatural creatures, entered the mountains, driven by our need to retrieve the skystone to fulfill our quest. When we came across the first felled trees marking the impact zone, my blood sang, the memory of the prophecy sharp in my ears.

The skystone is here. Right before us. But we’re in a race with a horde of dwarfish folk to unearth it.

Beneath our feet lie the caverns and tunnels of dwarven mines. Every so often, the ground shudders and a muffled boom rocks the air. The little folk endeavour to dig out the skystone from below, while we dig desperately from above.

Our worst fears are realised when another explosion racks the earth and a hole appears. Sunlight shines down onto a cart and dark shapes moving about it. They have taken the skystone. We cannot let them have it.

I leap into the hole with Blizzard. In the dark we’re at a disadvantage, but Squirrel’s light spell ensures we can at least see. The strange little men are gone, so we follow them through the tunnels until the poison arrows start flying and we are outnumbered.

We retreat, but they do not pursue, and after a time we creep back down the tunnel to find the cavern empty. We continue through the tunnel and emerge into daylight in time to see a familiar-looking fireball tear a great hole in the rising sphere of an airship. It crashes to the earth in flames.

SQUIRREL

So there’s this prophecy about how five must act in one accord to save the world, and I’m not sure it’s actually referring to us. The two god-touched northerners have their heads in the clouds, Blizzard is rather belligerent in his pragmatism, and Nightshade appears at best nonplussed, to say the least. Which leaves me trying to do what has to be done without fracturing the whole party. Unlike Blizzard, I know there’s a time to keep one’s hands in one’s pockets, and another to take them out … and cast that fireball. Sure, sometimes I get it wrong. No one said saving the world was easy.

Case in point. We stumble across these dwarves — what we think are dwarves. I’ve certainly never seen one before, but they match the general description (short, hairy, unhelpful). If they’d been orcs or goblins, no problems: Blizzard’s call to take out their scouts and send the rest of them packing would’ve been unanimously supported, I’m sure. But no. We try to negotiate. We need what you’ve got, we say. We’re trying to save the world, we say. But these little tunnel diggers, too caught up in their own greed to even bury their dead, aren’t having any of it. There we are, the ball of star metal within our each, and we’re still talking about the rights and wrongs of taking it. So: fireball time. Didn’t work out as well as I’d hoped, but hey, no one died. No one important, anyway.

Which leaves us here, cooking up a plan to get into the dwarven tunnel and retrieve the rock we need to save the world. We’ve shed their blood, blown up their weird airborne contraption, caused them grief. There’s no time now for hands in pockets. Let’s hope we are at least in accord about that.

Cavern of doom

ZILLAH

Having escaped with the precious skystone into another tunnel, the horde of enemies now awaits us in a vast, dark cavern, on the far side of a chasm spanned by a narrow bridge.

Or so we believe. Our sight cannot penetrate the darkness. Nor can the sight of our new companion, Fortenbrand, a pale dwarf who the dark ones imprisoned. After we liberated him, he agreed to help us retrieve the skystone from the ‘half-breed black fuckers’ he names ‘derros’. Since Fortenbrand’s priests have also foreseen the skystone is needed to forge the flail, he is now our ally.

We attempt to cross the bridge. The derros are great in number and their poisoned quarrels continue to fly. We reach a fortification in the centre of the bridge, dodging the strange arrows as best we can.

A terrible screech rips through the air and my heart almost stops.

Fleet. Fleet!

I spin to see my beloved Fleet plummeting downwards into the depth of the chasm. Her body twists and writhes for purchase that isn’t there. Her howl freezes my blood.

Oh no no no. Fuck fuck fuck.

I drop my weapons, heave my pack onto the stone at my feet. Pitch myself over the edge into nothing but endless air.

The drop is about fifty feet into cold, dark water. Gasping, I reach the surface and swim towards the motionless form of my beautiful cat. She’s a dead weight in my arms, fur sodden, green eyes closed. Sobbing now, I haul her out of the water, check her vital signs, refuse to believe what I already know. Desperately I paw at her, my hands shaking and useless.

Another splash in the water behind me, and I sense someone else has fallen. And then another. I don’t care. Nothing matters anymore, but Fleet who is unresponsive and immune to all my entreaties. My mind spins with chaotic nothing.

Then I hear Alix’s faint cry. Alix. I need Alix!

Alix is in the water and I plunge in after her, grab hold of her arm and drag her to Fleet. Help her. Please help Fleet.

The action has cleared my mind. It is Squirrel flailing in the water, weighed down by his pack, his struggles growing weaker. Nightshade is descending on a rope to help him and, although my chest feels as though it must split in two, I go to her aid. But my limbs feel like lead and I can barely breathe. By the time we retrieve Squirrel, he has been underwater too long.

Licking wounds

ZILLAH

As I hunch over Fleet, whose body is already losing warmth in my clutching arms, I’m barely aware of Alix using her airwalking boots to transport all of us and our gear upwards and away to safety. Somehow I put one foot before the other, stumbling back the way we came until we reach a safe chamber.

I lay my cat down gently, stroke her fur, gaze pleadingly at Alix.

She comes over. Says Blizzard has cast a spell over Squirrel to preserve him until the next day. This means she is able to bring Fleet back right now, and Squirrel tomorrow. I throw my arms around her until she fends me off and settles at Fleet’s side to work her magic. I stroke my cat’s fur, lay my hand over her heart. Life returns — a flicker of pulse, a faint inhale of breath. I gather Fleet to me and bury my face in her neck.

SQUIRREL

Back on Mycross, running with Ribald’s crew, we had a saying: it’s not the fall that kills you, but the landing.

How true it is. There was the plummet from the bridge into the chasm, then the save of the feather fall spell that lowered me ever so gently … into the river. Where the burden of pack and clothes bore me down. For someone raised on an island, I’m a useless swimmer — the ocean was a widowmaker where I lived. Besides, I couldn’t slip the pack, not when it had my spell books in it. I had to hope I could somehow make it.

You’d think I’d learnt better than to hope by now.

I remember drowning. The panic of it, the water and the darkness. Then waking, choking on that memory. I reached for my pack, as weak as I was, newly brought back from the great nothingness. (I know it too well.) My books and scrolls were thankfully secure inside their watertight bindings, the best gold I’ve ever spent — what is a magic user without this magic?

And my companions, abashed from the disaster of our defeat by the derro at the bridge, urged me to take up arms despite my power being spent, as though to die was no big thing, as though Alix had done no more than heal me of a scratch and set me back on my feet again.

I DIED, and only Blizzard seemed to care. Though his delight in telling me that they’d resurrected the damned cat before me was perhaps out of order. He needs an ally, that one, and it seems, as the only other pragmatist in the party, I may be it. Certainly not Nightshade, who seems to care not one whit for man nor mission.

There is a lesson here, one I should have learnt long ago on the island. Yeah, it’s not the fall, but the landing that counts.


Well, that was eventful. Actually it was farcical. We (the players) were mostly in hysterics as our characters floundered about in the water at the bottom of the chasm, while the DM shook his head in bemused disbelief.

Retrieving the skystone was not supposed to be this hard. We were not supposed to destroy the hot air balloon (that was our ticket home, says the DM). We were supposed to make quick work of the derro and return with the skystone in time for tea. Hmm.

More Operation Skystone soon!

Thanks to Jason Nahrung for Squirrel contributions.

More D&D Chronicles on the page!

D&D Chronicles: A prophecy and a falling star

Five must fight with one accord
Ere the lost eye be restored
Ere the drums begin to call
Ere the lost stars shine again
Ere the mighty golem falls
Ere the fighting on the plains
Ere the lost eye be restored
Five must fight with one accord

ZILLAH

D&D CHRONICLESThe words revolve around and around my mind like a washing stone. A prophecy. A prophecy too closely aligned with our own activities to be mistaken.

My skin prickles, beginning at the base of my neck and spreading down, as it does every time I remember the words spoken by that strange little creature as he read from that ancient and magical book.

And accompanying the words, a drawing, forever imprinted in my memory. A fiery ball rushing towards mountains. A weapon split in two, alongside a forge. All overlooked by two disembodied flaming red eyes.

For the first time in a long time I feel like an arrow flying through the air to its target.

The night is warm and clear, and starlight glints over the barren Dust Plains of Jhevherd Dhar as Fleet and I watch over our sleeping companions. We are some weeks north and west of Kelsen now, our purpose renewed. Our course recalibrated.

This may seem like a fool’s errand — retrieving a star that fell from the sky into the hills somewhere north of here. And indeed I don’t know how we’re to carry such a thing — which, being made of sky-iron, must surely be large and heavy as boulders. But it is written now into prophecy — the drawing is testament — and although I don’t know what part it is to play, the star must somehow be found.

And then we will search for the two halves of the flail that will defeat Varrien, Goddess of Destruction, whose Eyes have by now most likely been found by those who would raise her.

The Master Smith, Astra Khara, clearly has a role to play too. It was he who commissioned us to find the fallen star. And he who took us to see the wizened creature of prophecy, Oramoot. And it will be Astra Khara, Oramoot decreed, who will forge the two halves of the flail into one. It is also Astra Khara who has detailed maps showing the locations of the two components of the flail, based on years of research.

If we must find this star to prove our worth to the Master Smith, to gain his aid in finding the flail, then that is what we must do. Although I believe this mission has an importance we are yet to discover.

The priest in Udral Abbas, Durleth, saw the star fall into the mountains. To the mountains we must go.

But first we must somehow navigate these cursed Dust Plains. We have taken the longer path from Udral Abbas, heading east first and now following the river; but the way is treacherous. Trees that move and attack and devour. A flying terror that almost carried me aloft in its talons. Winged manticores bearing spikes and stings.

They look almost innocent bathed in starlight, deceptively serene spread out all around our camp.

All posts on the D&D Chronicles page.

D&D Chronicles: In which we leave Tippa in a tight spot

ZILLAH

D&D CHRONICLESWe never should have answered the summons from Tippa. She blinded us with gold and an express carriage ride, and I was actually happy to be returning to our house in Kelsen — even though I never wanted to purchase it in the first place. I was also keen to see whether Tippa had managed to unearth some of the magical items we’d requested.

But then she made demands of us, demands I couldn’t in all conscience meet. And everything fell to pieces.

My heart aches for the defeated little girl we abandoned in Kelsen. Gone was the confident young woman heading up the thieves guild, soaring high on the laurels we’d gained for her on our last visit. I remembered too late that her authority still largely depended on our strength. Or the rumour of it.

I do not regret the stand I took. I could never have done the deeds she demanded. Killed people simply as a show of strength. Acted as an enforcer to artisans struggling to feed their families.

But I do regret my naivete about the situation we left in Kelsen the first time, the deal we did indeed strike with Tippa. And I regret not leaving Kelsen as soon as I heard what Tippa wanted. Because I fear by showing our faces there — my recognisable features in particular — we only made things worse.

I have to tell myself that, although Tippa might not survive our recent actions, her life must always have been precarious if she was relying on us to give her credibility. I do not think we will be back this way. Our house in Kelsen is a dead investment. Our path lies north and west. And north.

ALIX

Kelsen. Whose idea was it to buy a house there? What a trap just waiting to be sprung.

I’m glad to be gone. We all have more important things to do than be a little girl’s weapon of choice. Circumstances being what they were last time, there was benefit for us in having Tippa in a position of power in the thieves guild. But she is still a child, with all the tempers and tantrums that go along with being a child.

How dare she whistle and we run. How dare she point her finger and expect us to do damage. As for demanding we attack those leather workers, whose families are starving, simply to set an example… Would coin have magically appeared in their pockets as their blood ran down the cobbles? Foolish, foolish child. I protect homes and hearths, I do not purposefully destroy them.

The others say Tippa is an old head on young shoulders. There is some truth in that, or she would not have risen to head up the guild, but she still has the vanity and insecurity and anger of the young. No matter. About now, I imagine she has no head at all.

And that is a shame. For she was an urchin who dreamed of more, a daughter who loved her mother, a tough girl who got to lead for a short while. But until the end she remained a frightened, vicious child, and perhaps there would never have been a space for her in this city. Not the way she was trying to carve it.

And so we are away. I imagine Tippa’s mother gathering her daughter’s body close, bereft, crying as we ride. As much as it saddens me, in truth I do not see how it could have been another way. Not if she wouldn’t bend when she feared it meant ending on her knees.

Gods! What a mess. How I long for the North.

SQUIRREL

This is all damned inconvenient, I have to say. We were onto a good business in Kelsen. Tippa was keeping the money flowing, even digging up a few handy magical items for us. And all we had to do was slit a throat once in a while to keep her position shored up. Of course our Northern, god-touched heroes paled about that. It’s business, innit? What’s so hard to understand? And now it’s flushed out to sea.

That pair, Zillah and Alix, walking out on us in the face of a couple of dozen het-up leather workers out there on the street; that could’ve gone bad for the three of us with the stones to do the job. We had to cut our losses — and Tippa loose. Didn’t we?

So now poor old Tippa is probably gonna wind up in the sea, and we’ve lost our safe haven (most like) and our income from the guild. All because of a bit of squeamishness.

And, to pour salt in the wounds, I still haven’t had a chance to transcribe the spells that are burning a hole in my backpack. Honestly, is a week of peace and quiet in a well-lit room too much to ask for? Maybe at the Dharian Hills we’ll have some RnR and I’ll finally be able to hit the books, salvage something from this mess. Maybe.

BLIZZARD

I dreamt of Tippa again last night: her face open with innocence, smiling, but then her eyes scrunched up and tears of blood streamed down her cheeks.

Perhaps it is Kaltan punishing me, these dreams. Perhaps he is reminding me that I serve at his pleasure. Or is Tippa herself castigating me for not doing more? She is dead. If not now, then soon. And that knowledge is a boot in my guts. I should’ve done more.

Tippa’s requests were simple. Kill some men who’d been fleecing her. Fleecing us, really, because we left her in Kelsen, managing our affairs. Kill a couple of men and beat up the ringleaders of a guild for refusing to pay their fee. Easy enough.

But then it started: Alix’s and Zillah’s blunt refusals. Their calling on morals. Fuck me – we kill for a living. It’s what we do. But no amount of sweet-talking, reasoning, arguing could sway them. I’ve never seen the party so divided, so fractured. For a while there, I thought this might be the anvil that shattered our steel.

And so it was up to Nightshade, Squirrel and me. We cornered the first upstairs in his office, until he escaped through a trapdoor. Zillah was guarding the backdoor but didn’t give chase. I could’ve knocked the smugness from her face.

Tippa insisted on accompanying us to the next place. I should’ve seen it coming, of course: she’d done it before. But to actually see her, all of fourteen years old, walk right up and open the woman’s throat with her dagger… I was gobsmacked – a little in awe. It was then I recognised her as a kindred spirit, the baby sister I’d never had.

It was the final task that did it. After much arguing, we persuaded Zillah and Alix to accompany us to the guild. This was just a dusting up. Nothing too serious. But these weren’t a people who were trying to subvert anyone’s rule – they were just struggling to subsist. Zillah walked. Alix followed. They left us stranded.

When we returned to Tippa, her eyes went wide and her face blanched. And we knew – all of us – we’d screwed her over royally. This wasn’t just a matter of one guild, but all guilds. We’d snuffed out her authority, as if it were a lantern wick.

Late into the night, we tried but failed to find her a way out. I even lit upon the idea of marrying her. The faces of my party… But if we were married, I could put her under Church protection.

She returned the next day, so brave and so collected. I blurted it out – offered my hand. But she refused. She came across to me, stood on her toes and kissed me on the cheek. “You are a beautiful man,” she said – rather ironic seeing I’d never felt more ugly.

And with that, she walked away, young, poised and radiating a fear she obviously didn’t want to show. And that was the last I saw of her, until she came to haunt me in my dreams.


Thanks to Jason Nahrung (Squirrel), Lita Kalimeris (Alix) and Tracey Rolfe (Blizzard) for the very different perspectives of some interesting events…

All posts on the D&D Chronicles page.

D&D Chronicles: Ghostly encounters

Picking up where we left off, Squirrel has just collapsed after attempting to dispel the ward applied to a border of trees around a strange villa in the middle of the desolated Dust Plains…


ZILLAH

The ghost in the villa

D&D CHRONICLES(18 April) Squirrel takes a huge breath and attempts to dispel the ward again.

It’s the third time he’s tried. The last two times he overcast and wasn’t much use for anything for at least a day. As a result we’ve been stranded outside the villa for three whole days. That’s three days of food and water we’re probably going to need on our journey to and from the Temple of Death.

Three days of keeping an eye out for the monstrosities that inhabit the region. Three days in which some unknown person is ransacking the villa, according to Alix, who has been listening in using a clairaudience spell. Smoke rising from a chimney suggests things are being burned. Will there be anything left for us to find? (And how the hell did said person get past the ward?)

Squirrel suddenly gestures with his arms and grunts, “I can hold it for about 20 seconds.” With that, we’re running through the gap in the trees towards the villa courtyard and its dry and dusty fountain. Squirrel arrives looking relieved and rather pleased with himself.

The door to the villa is open.

We gather near the door, uncertain at the sound of footsteps within. It sounds like someone is pacing back and forth. Blizzard uses a spell and detects high intelligence, seething anger and frustration. The footsteps approach and a warrior appears in the doorway. He’s wearing beautiful full-plate armour, black, bearing the markings of the Church of Elloran. He’s wielding an impressive greatsword and looks as though he knows how to use it.

“Help me, or die,” he says. Then tells us he’s looking for a particular book and gives us exactly one hour to find it.

We decide to oblige him, figuring we might discover other things of interest as we go. The villa itself yields nothing, other than a fireplace with the remains of burnt books. We turn our attention outside, and Alix eventually uncovers a hidden door leading to a tiny cellar. Inside are some items of extreme interest: a ring, a dagger, a box containing a wand, an empty backpack, and a… brick. Hmm.

The brick turns out to be a spellbook in disguise. It’s undoubtedly the book the Elloran warrior wants; Squirrel undoubtedly does not want to part with it.

The Elloran warrior strides up, takes the book out of Squirrel’s clutching fingers and leaves. We follow him around the building, into the villa and up to the fireplace. Squirrel almost swallows his tongue as the man throws the spellbook on top of the charred heap of burned books and kindles a fire.

Peace descends upon the warrior’s face as the book goes up in flames. He explains the Vahdrim mages killed his family… then, in the middle of speaking to us, he dissolves into thin air. His armour and greatsword clunk onto the ground.

Defeated by the Dust Plains

(24 April) In the end we’ve put it to the vote: to continue on towards the Temple of Death, or retreat to Issimbaal.

After the villa, we persevered onward through the Dust Plains for several days, encountering strange creatures and abandoned villages. But by my estimate we’re making much slower progress than we envisaged. The road is hard to make out in places, and although we haven’t encountered another dust storm, I don’t think we’ve come even halfway in our journey.

We simply don’t have enough water and food to get all the way there and back without starving… and, although there’s a chance we may find water in Baal, and a chance there’s a portal we can actually use to leave, do we risk our lives on that? Besides, we still need to find a cure for Nightshade.

We’ve voted and we’re heading back to Issimbaal. It’s frustrating as hell, given the time and effort we’ve invested trying to get there. But I don’t think we have much choice.

(26 April) Another night in this cursed barren waste that is the Dust Plains. We’re camping out in the open, when five swirling air elementals attack us out of nowhere. None is as big as the gigantic elemental that almost defeated us last night, but these five also look bent on our destruction.

The encounter doesn’t start well for me. One after the other, my two weapons fly off into the darkness. Nightshade thrusts the hilt of her longsword towards me, but the battle is rapidly escalating out of our control. One of them is pummelling Blizzard. I can’t see what’s happening to the others, because I have my hands full with the one attacking me.

It seems air elementals are to be forever my nemeses. This one is relentlessly gaining the upper hand and I’m growing weak. A healing potion revives me for a bit, but soon I’m slumping to the ground again and blackness descends…

I’m clasped in the embrace of Emrys, my god. He holds and comforts me, infuses me with love and peace and understanding. And a sense of wellbeing. Is this the end? I didn’t think I’d meet my god again so soon after Issimbaal. He is majestic and great...

When I open my eyes, Alix is hovering over me anxiously. I blink up at her, confused. How am I back here? The night sky is resplendent with starlight and I’m sure we’re still out on the Dust Plains. I was dead. I know I was dead. Who has brought me back…?

“Hush, rest,” Alix says and smooths unruly hair back from my brow.

Fleet snuggles up against my side, purring as she nuzzles my face and neck. I wind an arm around her and draw her to my side.

zillah_death3

A success of sorts

(29 April) Geretam, the cleric of Phanator, greets us warmly when we finally arrive back in Issimbaal. His people have created a potion they believe will cure the zombie virus.

Nightshade has deteriorated considerably over the past few days. She was nearly killed in the same battle that did for me. But Blizzard’s quick thinking saved her (I heard afterward). He force-fed blood into Nightshade’s mouth, which brought her around, but then she attacked him viciously. It seems recent events progressed her disease almost beyond recall, and it was only Blizzard’s ability to control undead that enabled us to bring Nightshade back to Issimbaal with us.

The clerics feed a ravening Nightshade the potion… Gradually the fury leaves her, colour returns to her cheeks, the redness leaves her eyes and she rasps a request for water. Food. Not blood. She realises the truth and smiles in relief.

Cheers erupt among the clerics who have witnessed Nightshade being cured. Then they all start talking at once. Their work here is done, they say. Time to leave Issimbaal and return to civilisation.

(5 May) The city of Toressen is wondrous after all those weeks of dust and decay and death. We arrived with the clerics’ party to the news that armies in the south are disbanding and returning home. There’s an air of joy and hope that the 8-year war might be finally over.

We visit the Church of Elloran to try to get a message to Vamis, the cleric who sponsored our quest to Issimbaal, about what happened with the renegade cleric, Elliana. Another cleric (Mikka) gives us a coded message from her, and we reply that we will continue our mission.

The Elloran priests are extraordinarily excited about the armour left by the ghost warrior. They recognise it immediately as belonging to the fabled warrior Olesh, who disappeared 30 years ago. They ask all sorts of questions. In return for restoring the armour to the church, they’re going to outfit us with provisions and other magical items for the next stage of our journey.

And so it continues. Our quest to prevent the rise of the goddess Varrien. Where will it take us next?


This brings our adventures around Issimbaal and the surrounding Dust Plains to a close (a total of six playing sessions). With four deaths and subsequent resurrections, plus a zombification and revival, it was rather a costly exercise. Next session will see us heading out on another phase of the adventure…

How many more lives does Zillah have, I wonder?

Links to all posts in order on the D&D Chronicles page.

D&D Chronicles: Of portals, dust and a strange villa

ZILLAH

D&D CHRONICLESWe’re finally leaving Issimbaal. It’s been over a week, but feels even longer. So much has happened.

After much deliberation, we’ve decided to brave the dust plains and head south-west towards the Temple of Bahaal and hope it doesn’t live up to its other name — the Temple of Death. We’re pretty sure that’s where Elliana has gone too. Last night’s research revealed, that in addition to possibly being the place the zombie virus was created, it’s the location of one of six known Vahdrim portals.

There’s another in Tel Marrenor. It figures. Elliana must be after the Right Eye. This is so not good.

But maybe — if we don’t all die — we can can find some hint of a cure for the zombie virus. And now I wonder if Squirrel and Alix between them can figure out how to use the portals (if we get that far)?

The six Vahdrim portals

Baal — Temple of Death (dust plains)
Tel Marrenor (broken forest)
Teras Arnor
Vahd (dust plains)
Tel Elenor
Capital Tuyar Empire (dust plains)

We’ve geared up for the dust plains as best we can. Water is going to be our main issue: we’ve scavenged two barrels and a cart, enough for 80 days (total rations). Hopefully we can make it to the temple and back in 20 days. It’s lucky (in this instance) that Nightshade doesn’t need rations.

We depart Issimbaal on 5 April. At first the road is easy followed, if overgrown and untended. But soon we begin to feel the full despair of the dust plains. They are bleak. Barren. And this is only the fringe.

The first day is not so bad, but on the second the wind picks up until our visibility is reduced to about 30 feet. Grit swirls into our faces as we push through through the cloud of dust. It’s well nigh impossible to pick out the road, and I’m trusting all my instincts to make sure we’re heading in the right direction.

We shelter in a ramshackle hut for the night, but it feels like we’ve been settled only minutes before we’re under attack. Two creatures lurking in the dust and the night are hurling magic at us — fire, cold, electricity. We manage to fight them off, but our shelter is in flames and our water barrels are destroyed. Again.

dustplains_firehut

Squirrel casts a magical shelter, and we huddle inside as the dust storms around us. Dawn comes and there’s no respite from the dust. Squirrel casts another hut and we wait out the day and another night. By the next morning, the storm has settled. We deal with a couple of giant scorpions… and then fight off three giant poisonous centipedes as we trudge along the road back to Issimbaal. We arrive back in the city, despondent and despairing, around midday on the fifth day after we left it.

The clerics have made some headway with the zombie virus. They tell us they need a special type of moss — Sorias moss — which is grown to the north and west. We discuss heading there instead, but ultimately decide we need to make a second attempt to get to the Temple of Death. We scavenge another couple of water barrels.

This time when we head out of Issimbaal, we have better luck. The ‘road’ is clear of creatures (mostly) and dust storms, until on the fourth day we reach a town. It’s in ruins and the wells are all empty, but it yields a few coins when we search.

The villa

On the fifth day, we see a villa on a hill in the distance. After days of lifeless waste and decayed buildings, the two-storey villa looks remarkably grand and intact. What is more, it’s surrounded by a thick border of living trees, vibrantly green. Clearly there’s magic at work, and we approach cautiously.

When we’re about 400 feet from the trees, we make out an array of withered corpses. It looks as though an attacking force fell foul of some magical barrier, and we halt about 30 feet away from the outermost one. Squirrel, Alix and I venture forward, but almost immediately feel the drain on our energy. We retreat, and Squirrel determines there’s a spell causing the trees to drain the life energy of living creatures in the vicinity of their root systems.

Nightshade crosses into the danger zone. Her zombie disease enables her to move through the field of corpses and get closer to the trees before the ward affects her. According to Squirrel, three of the corpses bear magic items and Nightshade drags them out. (There’s a ring, a suit of ring mail armour and an iron shield.)

We discuss how to get beyond the trees and reach the villa. I immediately veto Squirrel’s suggestion that he fireball the trees. I can’t bear the thought of killing these trees — it’s not as though the mages who cast that ward gave them a choice.

Instead, we circumnavigate the villa, searching for an entrance. There are more corpses, many non-human, and we discover a path and a gap in the trees. Beyond, there’s a dormant fountain in a courtyard in front of the building, and the doors to the villa tantalise us with their inaccessibility.

The villa is just too intriguing to abandon, and Squirrel eventually decides he will attempt to dispel the ward. It’s late in the day, so we make camp opposite the entrance to the villa.

Just before dawn, Squirrel casts his spell. It takes a while. He seems to be struggling. Sweat beads on his brow.

Then he reels and collapses…


Will we get inside the villa? I’ll find out tomorrow, so stay tuned for the next D&D Chronicles post. See the D&D Chronicles page for the full story.