RiverMoon

Grumbling Mountains

I was filled with joy, nigh uncontainable. To not only have met with a dwarf from me childhood mountain, but to be working for him? Aye, nigh uncontainable joy. At least, so long as ye relate the words “joy” and “thorn in ye side”. However, I stay with Tree throughout his quest…and once a dwarf gives their word, they’ll keep it til the mountains crumble to dust. I’m no’ an ordinary dwarf, sure, but ye’d be a fool to think I’d break a vow.

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Park

so after the whole “little tali” incident I’ve been needing to relax a little, figured I’d search out the local park see how interesting it is, and boy was it interesting, very well groomed, too well groomed, didn’t feel like a forest, but short of going outside the city walls it would do, I don’t think the locals approved of my relaxing in the park though… they act like they have never seen a Goliath shift into his primal form, I mean its only a willow tree after all, yes I can talk and move but its perfectly normal… with all the running around and yelling and such I would guess they thought I was some sort of giant creature out to eat them, that’s totally ridiculous, I’m Tree, I don’t eat people I defend, if you want to worry about people being eaten talk to my uncle, HIS primal form is a 6 ft tall black panther, and that I can see people running around screaming over, but a Tree? seriously? oh well here comes what looks like a group of people with some brains even if they are armed and armored, I should go talk to them to try to straiten out this situation, maybe I should switch out of primal form first….. naw, whats the worst that could happen??

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A visit from the stork

“ME-MOR-IA!!!”

Ultio burst into the dining hall. “Memoria!” He raced over to his sister, who was sitting at the table on the far side of the room sharing a meal with Tree, Bereyl, Eli, and Skaros. Annoyed by the interruption, she glared at her twin brother, but dropped the turkey leg she had been working on and stood up to meet whatever was coming through the door next. Ultio slid in behind Memoria. She stands at less than 5 feet tall and provided utterly insufficient cover for the tall Tiefling, but Ultio visibly relaxed with her as his guard. “Where is he?!” yelled a red faced man as he stormed into the room brandishing a heavy hammer. “Where is that bastard son of a whoring bitch?” Memoria’s horns immediately burst into flame. She was used to having to cover for her brother’s overly amorous ways with the local females, often the local married females, but the insult to their shared lineage pushed her past a desire to smooth things over. This human would learn a valuable lesson today about the proper way to address ancient blood.

“No!” Ultio pleaded. “Not the horns! Put out the horns! If I wanted him dead, I would have done it myself!” The commotion drew the man’s attention and he made his way angrily to the back corner of the room. Tree had been watching the exchange with cheerful curiosity. The ways of the smaller races were foreign to him and he generally found their behaviors quite amusing. But seeing the enraged man heading for Memoria made him stop eating. Tali was on fire. Flames were flicking down her hair and over her arms. Tali was only on fire when she was right pissed, and Tali was a dangerous little spitfire to have right pissed off. Clearly this indicated that they were going to fight now. He stood from the table and drew his weapon, towering over all of them.

The cuckolded man stopped short when he saw Tree. He looked back and forth between the furious little demon girl and the immense goliath. Not knowing what to say, he stumbled over his words and his anger. “You… he… bloody demons, you are, the lot of you,” he said motioning to Skaros.

“Devils,” Memoria replied through gritted teeth. “We are descended from devils. Fierna, to be exact.”

“Demons, devils, I don’t care! He had no right! No right! It’s all fine what you do with your own devil kind, but with us? With our women? I mean, you’re here! Why can’t he just take out his dirty pleasures on you?”

“I admit that Ultio does tend to cross a great many boundaries where the fairer sex is concerned, but bedding his own sister is not one of them,” she replied.

“Sister? You mean you actually have families? You’re not just spit forth from the depths of hell like the waste you are?”

The fire pouring over Memoria cracked loudly. “That is the second and the LAST time you will insult my heritage. I am sorry that my brother found your little wife so appealing, what he sees in you wretched, dirty, uncultured beings I will never know. But I’m sure she had a wonderful time with him and what’s done is done. There is no harm done here, but there will be if you do not leave this room very, very soon.”

“No harm? No harm?! Oh, do I have a surprise for you! Anna! Anna you get in here and bring that atrocity with you!” A young woman who had been badly beaten came slowly into the room. In her arms, she held a small bundle of… tiefling. The baby’s tale slipped out of the blanket it was wrapped in, an incredibly long tail, one of the traits of the Fierna line. The woman carried the babe forward, flinching when she got near her furious husband. Skaros let out a wild woop upon seeing the child. Tree set down his axe and tilted his head in a confused manner, resembling a giant befuddled puppy. Memoria’s fire went out immediately, like she had been doused with a bucket of water. She turned sharply on her brother, who’s naturally red skin had turned ashen.

“What…did…you…do?!” she roared.

“I didn’t know! Mori, I swear to you, I didn’t know. I thought he was just pissed because I gave her a good ride. I had no idea she was pregnant. She didn’t tell me! You didn’t tell me!” he said, turning on Anna. Anna flinched again, caught between the fury of two strong men. The man reached for the baby, but Bereyl stepped in front of Anna before he had the chance.

“That abomination is not living in my household. I’m taking it to the river and drowning it and you can’t stop me!”

“I’d think twice about that there, big boy,” Eli said in the man’s ear. She had suddenly appeared behind him with both swords drawn, one blade nestled where his neck met his shoulder. He drew a sharp intake of breath and looked ill. In all the commotion, no one had noticed her appear behind him. Of course the townspeople didn’t know Eli could simply teleport where she wanted to be. No reason to tell them and ruin the fun.

“Now, this is what is going to happen. You’re going to turn around and go home without that poor wife of yours. Looks like she’s suffered enough of your type of kindness for one day. Bereyl here will heal her up real nice and then let her decide what she wants to do. If for some god forsaken reason she wants to return to you, you will never lay a hand on her in anger again. We all make mistakes. This one is over now. And if I ever find out that you disobeyed me, well, I’ll be back for this.” Eli raised her second sword between his legs and smacked him hard in the groin with the flat side of her blade. The man crumpled in pain.

“Tree, see the man home,” Memoria said. But Tree was so fascinating by the small mewling tiefling he didn’t even hear her. “What is it with you men today? Skaros?” Still laughing, Skaros nodded and made his way to the man, still groaning on the floor. Skaros called in his fire warrior whose mere presence was enough to get the man on his feet and fleeing the inn. Skaros casually followed him out.

With her husband gone, Anna burst into tears. Bereyl was attempting to assess her injuries, but the baby was getting in the way. She gently pried the child out of the woman’s hands. She started to hand the child to Memoria, thought better of it, and instead unceremoniously shoved the small package into Tree’s enormous hands. Tree’s eyes grew huge as he looked down at the little creature.

Memoria looked over the scene, lingering on the sight of a goliath cradling and cooing to a newborn tiefling. “You’ve really done it this time, haven’t you Ultio?”

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DM Editorial 1
A new way to explore a dungeon

So rather than the traditional method of having the players pull out graph paper and meticulously draw a map based upon the DM’s description, in this dungeon, I tested out an alternate. The weaknesses of the traditional way are well-known, if generally ignored. It’s unrealistic to give good, accurate measurements and frustrating to the players to not have these things (doubly so since they are likely expecting them). Not to mention the eternal question of whether the PCs are actually drawing a map as they go, and the extremely unrealistic grid-patterned cave complexes which usually result.

What’s he alternative? Well, skip all that. Roll some dice to see how long they wander before the next encounter, roll some more dice to determine which encounter happens next, and roll yet again to see if they can find their way back to someplace they’ve been before. This allows players to get some use out of the Dungeoneering skill, and replaces player exploring ability with character ability (which is almost always preferable). It also allows the DM to make sure the players don’t meet the “boss” right away and have little reason to deal with the other encounters so carefully planned and designed in the dungeon, and allows the DM tighter control over which items they will have when they finally do get to the end fight. No more worrying what happens if they turn right instead of left and don’t find the magic sword before fighting the monster that can only be wounded by it (because everyone knows the odds of the players running from a fight are about the same as the odds of being struck by lightning while winning the lottery at the exact moment a meteor falls from the sky and lands in your dinner).

Do all those charts take time? Sure. About half the time it takes to plan a traditional dungeon, taking into account that I’ve been designing traditional dungeons for about twenty years and this was the first time I’ve tried this alternate method. I imagine as tie goes on, this will get even faster.

So how did it go? Extremely well. No problems on any front. In play is where you see he real difference, as what would have been thirty minutes of tedious “do we turn or go straight?” “How long is this hallway?” and “shouldn’t this line up one square over?” with two simple dice rolls. One for how long they wander, and one for which encounter happens next.

Will this completely replace the traditional method? In my games, it will not. Mainly because I kind of like designing a dungeon complex, and sometimes the layout really does matter. However, I’d say that the old twisty, grid patterned, annoyingly tedious series of caves will be completely replaced by this method from now on in my games. Unless, of course, the players just really want to break out the graph paper and see how well they replicate my sheet of graph paper using only verbal descriptions.

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Catacombs finale
What else is down here

Returning to their search of the Catacombs, the group wanders through the maze of tunnels beneath the Necropolis.Eventually, they encounter something they have no previously seen down here: a door. “Maybe we should take some time to prepare…”Skaros begins, but Tree isn’t having any of it.

“No time like the present!” The door crashes into the room, knocking a skeleton against the wall.

“You will not disrupt my plans, fools!” hisses a shrouded apparition as it vanishes from sight, and the walking dead press the attack, skeletons and zombies crowding into the doorway, eager to add the living to their ranks.

Tree stands fast, his massive frame growing larger and filling the doorway as he takes the primal form of the Willow Sentinel, holding the animated corpses at bay, shrugging off the grasping claws of the undead horrors. Arrows and spells fly past him as the monsters crash against him like the sea.Tho-Kag “Treewatcher” Gathakinathi stands steady as a mountain before the onslaught, preventing any from harming his companions… or so he thinks.

“Behin-” the shout of warning is cut off suddenly as a ghostly shriek fills the corridor behind them. A powerful mental barrage throws Memoria, Ultio, and Bereyl from their feet, pain searing in their brains. The spectre is among them, behind Tree’s guard. “All together now!” shouts Ultio, “as a team!” The magic of the bard’s words hums around the group, guiding their efforts, each success bolstering the next as they rain their most powerful attacks upon the head of the monster in their midst. With a scream of anguish, it vanishes from the material world leaving only whispered words of doom drifting through their minds: “My master will raise me anew… just as he shall raise you…”

Among the possessions of the dead, they find a scroll, written in Ezurian. A ritual performed back in town by Bereyl reveals its meaning:

“All is going according to plan. Continue your diversionary attacks upon the town and by the time they learn what is happening, my army will be raised and on its way to the city. The fools have walked right into our hands.”

Magistrate Schmiff, upon hearing of this, declares that he has no choice but to hire the team to discover the meaning of this, find the army, and discover its location and disposition as soon as possible. And so our heroes set out once again, tracing the path of the walking dead…

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Down into the dark
Taking the fight to the foe

Descending into the darkness of the Catacombs, the party prepares themselves for battle. After facing zombies and skeletons above, they prepare themselves to face more of the walking dead. The Catacombs are old and the weight of hundreds of years of death sits heavy on the air. The thick, humid air is filled with heady scent of death, and the darkness presses them like a physical object.

Striking a sunrod, Tree leads the way into the depths. The light will alert anything in the tunnels to their presence, but without light, they’ll be helpless to monsters in the dark. Throngs of the shambling dead shuffle slowly through the halls to be cut down by the intrepid band. Elastria is bodily pulled into a swarm of the animated corpses, but Ultio creates her an opening while the other quickly cull the herd.

Steel and spell flash in the darkness, and the dead are returned to their slumber… until they meet again the skeletal remains of Ezurian soldiers. Stalwart soldiers with swords and shields hold the adventurers in a doorway while a dozen archers pelt them from afar. A bend in the tunnel prevents the group from bringing the full might of spells against their foes and the solid armor of the dead protects from the blows of the living. Slowly they push into the room, only to be crowded into a back corner by the resolute soldiers of the long dead Empire. Determined, the team steels their nerves and presses forward. Elli calls upon the magic of her Fey heritage and steps between worlds, appearing behind the enemy lines.

It is the opening they need. Forced to deal with the ranger in close combat, the archers drop their bows and fight hand-to-hand. Relieved of the pressure of the hail of arrows, Tree and Bereyl seize the initiative and push the dead soldiers backwards. The twins, Memoria and Ultio tandem an arcane combo into the first of the heavy foot soldiers, who crumbles to dust. Tree quickly follows suit, his axe crunching through the skull of the other. The tide has turned, and soon the rest are returned to death.

Ultio wrenches free an arrow from his flesh. “Well, let’s see what else is down here…”

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Enter the Catacombs
From whence come the undead?

Following the trail of the attacker on Tent City, the group arrives at the Necropolis across the River Alahn. Searching the area, they find an old mausoleum with a walled-off courtyard. Behind the wall, armed skeletons wander the grounds. Surely this must be the source of the attacks, they observe, just as Ish vanishes from sight. The timing is impeccable, as usual.

Tree boosts Retaliation to the top of the wall in preparation for an assault (her magical amulet would allow her to jump down to safety without risk) when an incredulous cry of “Memoria!?” rings across the graveyard. Her brother Ultio seems to have been investigating (not grave-robbing, I can tell you that much) the same area. Not one to allow his fragile sister to risk herself without his aid, he quickly agrees to help clear out the undead infestation. The skeletons put up quite a fight, but are unable to resist the team’s combined magic and blades, falling one by one until they are all returned to death.

Investigating the bodies, the group discovers that their equipment is not merely old, but is in fact, Ezurian in manufacture. Indeed, one was even wearing Ezurian artifact armor. The mausoleum is over 100 years old, but not old enough that to house Ezurian soldiers. Only looking inside could clarify the mystery.

Within, aside from a half-dozen easily put-down shambling corpses, are ten undisturbed sarcophogi and an altar to the old Ezurian god Murathoin. Bereyl immediately recognizes this as an archaic version of the modern god Moradin the Maker. Careful searching reveals that a lever behind the altar causes it to slide to the side, opening a tunnel leading down into the ancient Ezurian Catacombs. Steeling their nerves for what may come, they proceed into the darkness…

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Two worlds
Seeing the line between the peasantry and the nobility

Having made a strong contribution to the city of RiverMoon, the group is called back to the offices of Magistrate Schmiff, who thanks them profusely for bringing to his attention this vital information. He offers to take them on as freelance troubleshooters for his office, as well as several letters of introduction to merchants and persons of interest in the city. Since they had no particular place to go a the moment, the group decides to stay. Among the letters is one addressed to Grandmaster of the 5th Circle, High Archwizard of Æthereal Magic, 7th Seer of Rundistere, Keeper of the Orb of Drananth, Camaelian Sage, and Protector of the Realm of RiverMoon, Master of the Tower Weyland Thorne. Master Thorne is intrigued by the tale of Ish, and agrees to seek a way to send him home in exchange for a chance to study the odd magical phenomenon of his abrupt and seemingly random flitting between places and worlds. After some research and study, Master Thorne comes to the conclusion that Ish has been affected by a miscast teleportation ritual, and that with further study, he and his associates should be able to determine the point of origin of the ritual, and send him home.

Soon, the group discover that a party is being held in the noble district, and decide that attendance would both help them to gain some knowledge of their new (if temporary) home, as well as allow them to enjoy themselves and relax after the stress of travels and battles. A few contacts are made, and the arrival of an “elven princess,” (for so they decide Elastria must be) causes quite the stir among the well-to-do.

The next morning, however, they learn that in the night, the Tent City had been attacked and several people are dead. Investigation uncovers that the attackers were recently dead. Someone or something is raising the dead in RiverMoon and sending them to attack the refugees…

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The Witch-Doctor Falls
We get by with a little help from our friends

It’s an odd thing to encounter a random stranger in the middle of a dungeon crawl, let alone two. Two unrelated, in point of fact. Still, one can’t afford to turn away help in this business. When Skaros, the teifling wizard showed up – seeking ancient knowledge, he claimed – he quickly joined the fight, using magic to dispose of goblins with a word. He and Memoria hit it off immediately. Blood is thicker than water, they say, and this goes double for the diabolic bloodline they share, it seems. When the other, Ish, appeared from nowhere, confused and lost, it seemed to stretch the meaning of the word “coincidence.” A mishap with a teleport ritual or somesuch sent him/her/it careening through space, to randomly land inside a cave complex inhabited with goblin bandits just a group of intrepid heroes closed on the ringleaders. The changeling sorcerer joined up in exchange for help finding his way (guessing that the goblins were far less likely to be of aid).

The added magical might of the two newcomers, combined with Memoria’s mastery of fire, turned out to be just what was needed to eliminate the remainder of the goblins. Among the loot were found a few more pearls, causing a few of the adventurers to wonder from where they came, as the goblins had been raiding dwarven barges from the mountains. Along with a magical shield and wand (“If I stick around, will I be able to have some of these magical items as well?” Ish asks), the group finds a map showing the city of RiverMoon and the River Alahn and a note written in a language they do not understand.

Bringing these back to the city, the Gate Captain immediately not only lets them enter, but suggest they bring these materials immediately to the magistrate. Upon hearing of the map, he listens eagerly to their tale and agrees that there is likely a traitor in the city. Declaring he needs to consider this information, he procures for the group a room at a local inn on the hill, and requests them to return the following day.

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Into the Wilds
And so their journey begins...

Their homes behind them, and adventure ahead, our heroes set out on the road to RiverMoon. Memoria, having made pacts with infernal creatures for magical might hoping to raise up her people once again to their once-mighty place in the world; Bereyl, priestess of Sehanine, on a quest to spread her faith to the unbelievers; “Tree,” the giant goliath, seeking an artifact to prove to his people that he is the one to lead them; and Elastria, running from the fate to which her family tries to bind her…

Along the wide Imperial highway, they encounter a small band of kobolds, obviously ambushing travelers. With some difficulty, the band dispatches them, discovering that the leader had been armed with a magical sword. That problem solved, they continue on their way.

Unfortunately, war is coming to the city, and the gates are closed to outsiders. Too many refugees seek shelter within already, and a band of foreigners passing through with a cart of weapons is too suspicious to let pass. The gate captain, however, believes their tale, and gives them an opportunity to prove their value – a band of goblins has been raiding barges along the river with uncanny timing. If they can find these goblins, end the raids, kill their with-doctor leader, and discover how they time the attacks so well, they will be welcomed as allies and indeed heroes.

A short hike upriver, and Elastria, a skilled ranger, spots a trail leading uphill. Not made by animals, it must be these raiders. The trail leads to a cave in the hills some few miles above the river, hidden among the trees. Around the mouth of the cave, several goblins squabble and argue among themselves. The group decides quickly that these must be guards, and that they must be eliminated. A short, but pitched battle follows, and the goblins which try to flee are cut down before they can even call for help.

After disposing of the bodies, the group decides to make camp a few miles away and return with the dawn… perhaps fear will rattle the goblins and weaken their morale. Tree covers their trail while Elastria finds them a secure camp. The night passes without incident, and returning to the cave in the morning, at first the site seems abandoned.

Further investigation, however, reveals that goblins lie in wait within. Tree tosses in a sun-rod to light the way, and the goblins charge… and die. This time, however, some manage to flee. This will not end well, for now the rest of the raiders are on alert… Indeed, within the caves, an ambush awaits… several goblins with javelins and crossbows nearly bring down the goliath and the eladrin ranger, and only the timely intervention of priestly healing keeps Tree alive. While each member of the team earns their share of the treasure in the fight, more surely awaits deeper in the cave.

How many raiders remain, they do not know, but for certain the goblins know they are there and that there will be no mercy for them… and somewhere within awaits the witch-doctor.

Note: This is a very short recap of the first two sessions. Sorry, it’s been a busy coupe of weeks for me, and when the choic is between writing the adventure log or preparing for the game, I chose the latter. In the future, these should be more detailed and generally awesomer. ;)

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