After a long week of revelling in Mersey following their defeat of the white dragon and rescue of the farmer’s son, our heroes set sail for Shadow Port and a promised meeting with the Prince of Shadows aboard the river barge ‘Serenity’. Over the course of the first few days of their journey, they befriended (well, all but Banyan) a Dwarven survivor of the Sea Wall named Fergus and a wizard, Duncan, whose noble bearing appeared ill-matched to his apparent station.
But not three days into the trip, Banyan received a cryptic vision sent by the Elf Queen featuring a shadowy individual, the gem they had plucked from the dead white’s neck, and a cataclysmic storm that washed away all before it. The urgency Banyan felt was crushing, and the directive was clear. The Elf Queen wanted the gem, and it was at risk.
And so our heroes found themselves on the shores of the river just north of Foothold, their noses clogged with the smell of damp pines and their clothes soaked through to the bone by the heavy and ceaseless rain, watching the barge depart down river. Behind them, the wildness stretched on until it disappeared into the storm.
They set off into the woods and before long found evidence of some kind of banditry – a broken carriage and several bodies, amongst which was that of the mysterious Stranger they had met just over a week ago in Mersey, nearly beheaded. It appeared he would never make it to Shadow Port to arrange that meeting for them – and what was worse, he no longer had possession of the red jewel they had risked so much to obtain for him.
Following the trail of some poor soul who had crawled away from the ambush they soon found another recent acquaintance, the Gnomish wizard Fitz Glitterstave, dying beneath a copse of trees. Restored to health by the cleric Brynne, Glitterstave told them of how the caravan had been set upon on the road near dusk the previous night by a pack of chained ghouls, driven by a cloaked giant – frighteningly tall, he had fought with an immense bastard sword and had towered over even the tallest of the caravan’s guards. When a gust of wind had caught his hood, Glitterstave said, the monster had been revealed to wear an iron mask carved into the shape of a skull. He had taken something from the Stranger – whose true name Glitterstave had learned was Nick, and then driven his pack of ghouls into the night.
Asked whether he could help the party find this beast, Glitterstave said he could have cast a tracking spell had he still had possession of his spell book. Glitterstave lamented he must have lost it somewhere and would bring great shame upon his family for having misplaced it once again. After much searching of the immediate surrounds, Banyan found the spell book (if his pouch, where he had secreted it after removing it from the pack of the dying Gnome) and made a great show of returning it and reminding the Gnome who it was who was returning his valuable artefact. The trusting wizard thanked the ill-mannered elf and cast the spell, revealing a set of ghostly green footprints to follow.
And follow they did, right to a large cluster of weathered boulders. Thorny, tangled vines had all but covered them, however they appeared to have been hacked away in one spot to reveal a narrow passage leading down into a darkened cavern. Leaving Glitterstave to mind the donkey Sam, the party set off down into the dungeon below.
Over ancient hand-carved stairs and through dank passageways the heroes marched, for hours it seemed, until they came upon a heavy oaken door. The door opened upon a large chamber, within the centre of which rested a large sarcophagus upon which lay the stone effigy of some king of another age. Pottery shards covered the floor, presumably destroyed by looters in years past, and brackets upon which may once have hung rich tapestries hung loosely from the walls, victims of age and ill-care.
Yet of most concern to the group were the dozen shambling old soldiers, long since dead, the dry remnants of their flesh hanging loosely from their frames. Yet several more appeared newly risen, as though some magic had called them forth to bar the heroes’ way. About their feet, snapping irritably at each other, skittered several huge rats, dire in their appearance.
Our heroes made the most of the narrow passage down which they had come to funnel the undead into two rows and proceeded to pick them apart one by one. Brynne found her concentration lacking this day, failing to land more than a few minor blows, yet Banyan made up for her ill luck by dispatching three zombies, one of which he dispatched with a blade to the brain whilst standing atop its bony shoulders. Danton promised to write a great ballad about the heroic feat, though stopped short of undertaking that Banyan would be the hero of such a tale. Meanwhile, Duncan’s Ray of Frost felled many of the foul creatures clawing their way into the passageway (and nearly took of Brynne’s head in the bargain), and Fergus’ axe cleaved a path through the last of them.
Finally free to surge forth into the room, our heroes bickered about the wisdom in disturbing the tomb, particularly having partially translated a warning that indicated disturbing the lord’s rest would be a mistake. With Fergus and Banyan placing aside millennia of ill will in the common cause of loot, and Danton, Duncan and Brynne standing well back from what they were certain would be waves of undead to erupt forth, the Elf and Dwarf dragged the lid from the tomb to find… old bones.
The tomb looted, the party resumed its onwards march into the darkness.
The tomb looted, the party resumed its onwards march into the darkness. They soon came upon a deep crevasse, over which hung the rusting remains of a sconce. Our heroes looped a grappling hook around it and one by one swung across until only Brynne and Fergus were left. As Brynne swung across the chasm however, the sconce came free and Brynne began to tumble to her doom. Luckily, our resourceful heroes had tied a rope about her waist, and hauled her back up the other side. Fergus however was now trapped. Not to be troubled by such a trifling issue as a bottomless crevasse, Fergus took a run at the wall on one side and, more nimbly than any Elf could have hoped to appear, crossed without breaking a sweat.
After several more hours of cautious travel, our heroes came upon a treasure room of some kind, with a chest in the centre and a table off to one side for counting. Smelling a trap, our heroes were reluctant to push on without first solving the mystery of the room. Fergus, recalling a similar dilemma he faced some years before when chasing Nazgaroth, an Elven lieutenant of the Orc Lord(!) through a series of tunnels not dissimilar to these, realised this was a floating floor, and one wrong step was liable to send the hapless party member down into a pit and into the gnashing jaws of whatever awaited below. Unperturbed, the sure-footed Elven rogue Banyan raced out to the centre of the room, narrowly avoiding a plummet into the pit again thanks to the careful planning of the party, which ensured each party member was roped together. Balancing out the floating floor with Duncan, Banyan slipped through the door on the other side and set the floor with the lever in the corridor.
On they trudged through the labyrinth until they came upon a narrow passage, the walls of which had grown over with moss. Keen-eyed Brynne spotted some carving on the wall and, scraping the moss from the sight, translated a single word – duck. As one, the adventurers dropped, the whirling blades spinning out of the walls missing them by less than a second. Brynne realised with some shock that the word that had saved their lives was not written in any language known to man – rather, it had been scrawled in a language she had created as a child. She had written it, yet she could not recall how, or when. Was this some clue to her past? Surely so!
The party soon found themselves outside a great gilded door, the entrance to an old throne room. Within they spied a great chamber – threadbare carpets of the finest kind stretched from end to end, and at the rear of the hall sat an imposing throne crafted from the broken shields of, the party assumed, some lord’s defeated foes. Stained glass windows lined the walls, many long since destroyed, behind which were once lit dozens of candles. All of which lay beneath several thick and ropey layers of spider web. The party backed out of the room swiftly, setting the webs ablaze with oil from their lanterns. After time enough for the fire to consume the webs, they re-entered to find a giant web spider and two only-slightly smaller hunting spiders, flanked by several ettercaps who, it appeared, were seeking to appease the enraged beasts. At the sight of the party, the creatures attacked. Danton cast a spell that set one of the ettercaps against his brethren, whilst the party fought valiantly against the enraged spiders and their keepers. Before long, the last of the creatures fell, and following a search of the room that revealed yet more valuable loot and an exceptionally rare Symbol of Gathered Power – a golden wyrm eating its own tail – with Brynne’s name upon the back. Another clue to her past history with this place. But the mystery was to remain unsolved… for now.
For another hour they pressed on, clambering over ruined sections of tunnel and pushing through small rooms, long since looted. They could hear the sound of some mighty river raging for some time before they turned a corner and stepped out suddenly into a large cavern, cutting across which was a wild river. In the centre of the river, all but her bare chest and head beneath the churning water, was an exquisite statue with eyes of opal. She almost seemed to regard the party as it stood upon the shore, trapped by the rapids. The path continued beyond.
Brynne recognised the statue of the goddess Rhea, often depicted as a mermaid. Brynne told the party that, in mythology, Rhea often tested travellers with riddles for passage across wild waters. Duncan stepped forward and beseeched the goddess to present her riddles. The goddess responded, offering three riddles which our heroes miraculously solved with a minimum of consternation. The waters parted and they were permitted to pass.
The tunnel began to open up beyond the river, and rose towards the surface. After what felt like an eternity of hard marching, the walls began to appear clean and smooth, as though this area has been well cared for. In the distance, at the edge of your torchlight, the party saw before them two lanterns hanging before a double door of oak, and from within they could hear chanting in a foul, guttural language.
Entering, they found themselves at the head of a staircase that descended for, perhaps, 30 metres. Below, they saw an enormous cavern, about the walls of which lay hundreds, if not thousands, of cavities filled with mouldering bones. This was evidently a burial site. At the centre of the cavern stood a great stone ring upon which was carved dozens of glowing runes. Four pillars ringed a gathering of shambling undead creatures, at the centre of which stood a large figure who appeared cloaked in darkness. His hands outstretched, he was chanting in a deep, otherworldly cadence and, within his gauntleted palm, rested the jewel stolen from the Stranger. It glowed like a small star. Lightning roared between the stone, the pillars and the ring, and the stone ring was slowly beginning to rotate. Something was being summoned. Above, the tone of the ritual shook the softly glowing stalactites, hundreds of which overhung the ritual like the teeth of some gnarled beat.
The party acted swiftly to bring an end to this foul ritual. Banyan loosed an arrow that knocked the jewel from the hand of the creature and sent it skittering across the floor while Danton broke into song and unleashed a mighty sound wave at the ceiling, bringing the stalactites and a large section of roof crashing to the cavern floor. But not before the party glimpsed the furious visage of their opponent – a Lich Prince – mere moments before he was buried in rubble.
Fergus quickly wrenched a shield from a nearby statue and rode the ancient piece of armour down the stairs and into the settling dust in search of the jewel, while Duncan and Banyan raced down to aid in the search.
It was Duncan who found it first but, just as he sought to snatch it from the floor, the Lich’s hand broke through the rubble and grabbed his robes. Duncan tore them loose and ran as the Lich rose from the wreckage and pursued, his form snapping in and out of reality as it gained quickly on him.
Suddenly Brynne’s voice carried out over the cavern, alerting her comrades to a nearby exit. Duncan changed course and, the Lich Prince at his heals, threw the jewel to Banyan. But luck was not with either party this day, as the jewel flew astray and bounced across the floor, away from the exit. The Lich cast soul rend on Duncan as he passed, and strode on as the dead rose to drag Duncan to the underworld. Meanwhile, Fergus, spying the gem, made the agonising decision to pursue the jewel, and not his freedom.
As Banyan now raced towards the exit, he realised he knew this Lich – he had seen his rebirth some years ago whilst marooned on Necropolis. To buy his newfound friend (well, travelling companion) some time, Banyan called out his name – “Medregoth”. The creature stopped as if stunned, and Banyan took flight, joining his other friends at the passage. Yet Medregoth’s shock was fleeting, and further enraged by the party’s audacity, he let loose an arcane blast (GM Note: I rolled a 20 – critical hit!) that crushed every bone in the brave dwarf’s body (GM Note: I offered the party an opportunity to save Fergus via a campaign loss, but the party was unmoved – Fergus sacrificed himself in the caverns of the Lich Prince…).
Snatching the jewel with a ghostly mage hand, Duncan led the party up the passage towards the surface, the Lich Prince Medregoth at their heels. Ahead they saw the darkness begin to dissipate, and soon they stumbled out into the light to find themselves staring out over an expanse of nothingness. Below, several hundred feet below, the river carried on peacefully. They were trapped.
Turning, they came face to face with the iron mask of Medregoth, his great sword dragging behind him and his right fist crackling with arcane power.
Then suddenly dozens of bolts of light lanced past them as a dirigible swept into view, at its helm Fitz Glitterstave, one hand on the wheel and the other firing magic missiles at the party’s pursuer. He kicked open the door to the dirigible and barked, in his high, sing-song voice, “Come with me if you want to live!”
The party dove aboard the dirigible as Medrogoth sent a devastating blast of negative energy into the vessel, sending it careening out into space and into a spin. The party heard Glitterstave shout “We’re going down!”
And all cut suddenly to black.
GM Note: Just a quick note about ‘advantages’ – I changed the system in this session to allow players to decide when they wished to use and advantage and prompted them to come up with a story for how their relationship with an icon assisted them in any given scenario. Some of the developments above which might otherwise seem cute were a direct result of their creativity. These little vignettes really helped to flesh out the characters’ backstories, and I look forward to working some of these elements back in in later sessions.