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The Darokin Campaign Chronicles

by Mike Phillips

(The inaugural adventure is an expanded version of Action on the Athenos, an adventure seed from GAZ11.)

Session the First:

Six characters: Jerra the Airsoul Genasi Swordmage, Zazenna the Wilden Warden, Varis the Elven Rogue, Larail the Elven Ranger, Igor Ingotson the Dwarven Priest, and Mim the Deva Wizard.

Bancohr Tydian, the last merchant of Tydian House has a shipment of fine porcelain which he must get from Darokin City to Athenos. He advertised for guards, and hired these six -- 100gp for the service rendered, 50 at departure, 50 at the destination.

Varis sniffed around slightly before departure, and learned that Tydian House was rescued from bankruptcy a few years ago by an expensive shipment of spices. The merchant has since fallen on hard times, and appears to be poised to make a similar gamble with this porcelain.

Bancohr hired a barge and the six guards, waved them off (after paying them the first half of their wages), and went back to the city to take care of some stuff.

Meanwhile, the barge began heading down the Streel. As they passed the hills south of the city, bandits attacked! Pain was dealt by both sides, but the guards easily defeated the bandits. (The crossbowmen who had been firing at them escaped, but the ones who jumped aboard the barge were slain -- including the apparent leader of these bandits.)

Varis, an urban elf with a background from Tenobar and environs, had spent a few days in Darokin prior to their departure. He recognized the leader as a thug among thugs in one of the seedier areas of the city, regular muscle for hire. (He did not, however, remember much more about him.)

When the party put in at Ameron for the night, the locals were surprised that there was a bandit attack so close to the capital. (The party ate in shifts at the Nine Bells...)

The following morning, they set out again, but as they passed the marshes where the Helleck joins the Streel, they were assaulted by a group of bullywugs. Again, the guards beat them back (although they were nearly defeated by the magic-wielding bullywugs on the shore), and one of the casters escaped into the marshes.

...and that is where the session ended.

(Details for the region are, of course, in the Malpheggi Swamp thread, and the new village details (e.g. inns/taverns) are in the village writeup.)

Session the Second:

The party searched the slain bullywugs, and found a sack containing some gold, a gem, and a potion of healing. (The latter they figured out after a short rest and some quality time with Arcana checks.)

The party continued downriver, settling in Hellwych for the night. There, much as before, they ate in shifts matching their nightly watch rotations.

The party ate at Bert's Place. The first pair (Larail and Igor) came in just as someone was finishing their story. They enjoyed the local Logger's Lager and a hot meal, and asked around about the attacks. The pair was told that attacks from swamp creatures were unusual, but not unheard of.

The second pair (Jerra and Varis) then ate. Jerra (who keeps halal) skipped the meal, but Varis ate and also tried the local brew. Like the previous pair, they asked about bandit attacks. Jerra (a genasi) was told one didn't see many like her in this place, which she took as an affront to her sex rather than race. Again, the refrain seemed to be "unusual, but not unheard of." They did catch a patron preparing to tell a story as they were leaving, and stuck around to see the story. At the end, Bert gave the storyteller a free meal thus revealing the house policy.

The third pair (Zazenna and Mim) then ate. Zazenna garnered a lot of furtive attention, as she was a wilden in a bar in a lumber town. Mim, however, had attracted the attention of a pair of red-haired humans to one side of the room. The older came over and introduced himself, Calum MacDavies. He asked if she was perhaps from Glantri, or even Klantyre. When she answered in the affirmitive, he was delighted and offered her a bottle of his recently bottled (scotch) whiskey. Although he himself had only visited a few times in his youth, his family taught him the trade and he and his son have set up in Woodhaven (MacDavies & Son). There they bottle Glen Marstrich, and this was one of the first bottles of 15-year whiskey*. He also gifted her with a second bottle, asking her to give it to an establishment in Athenos once she arrives, and gave her the contact information for his distilery. After the remainder of the meal (and reminiscing), Zazenna and Mim returned to the boat and shared the first bottle with the rest of the party.

(* Hrm -- what would "scotch" be here? Klantyrch? Klanch?)

During the watches that night (the party slept on the barge), Varis took a closer look at the crates to see if he could sneak a peak without disturbing any seals.

The following day, the trip downriver was uneventful. They put in at Bathel for the night. The first pair ate at the Lit Candle, but after their experience with the food the other two ate at Harnsby's Haunt. Again, the refrain about the attacks seemed to be "unusual, but not unheard of". The party did learn that this was the last stop before Lockport, and it would probably be three days from here to there.

That night, during his watch, Varis sneaked a look in one of the corner crates, seeing fine porcelain. He did not inform the party of this event.

The following day, a little after lunch grappling hooks flew from the embankment and yanked the barge hard against the shore, immobilizing it. Two burly human bandits tied the barge off as four genasi ran aboard and started stealing crates of merchandise. (The crate Varis had inspected was not among them.) A fifth, obviously the leader and lagging slightly behind the others, also came aboard. With their area attacks leaving people prone, they nearly made a clean getaway. However, pursuit from the party subdued two genasi and killed the two human bandits who had first immobilized the barge.

The archers who had been laying down covering fire, two of the genasi bandits, and the leader escaped (with five crates of cargo).

Once they had had a short break post-fight (spending healing surges), Jerra and Larail set out to track down the ones who had escaped. Eventually, they found a clearing where the bandits had met up post-fight, and had opened the crates. The crates and the majority of the contents were in a pile in the clearing (some broken). The items recovered were very crappy clay pottery, not worth much at all. When they repacked the crates, they discovered enough volume was missing to cover two layers in one of the crates (or one layer in two).

After the pair rejoined the party, they interrogated the two captured genasi (separately). They made a deal to release the genasi if the bandits told them what they knew. The genasi seemed to be very forthright. One said that they were waiting for this specific boat, but didn't know why the leader said it should be attacked. The other indicated he had overheard part of the conversation the bandit leader had had. Through questioning, they learned that the bandits had informants in Darokin city and Athenos, and they occasionally received information about shipments. In this particular case, one of the informants had sent a courier indicating someone in Darokin City was hiring people to hit this barge to retrieve the cargo. So, the bandits having heard about this prize decided to grab their own cut.

The party honored their agreement, let the genasi go, and then began discussing what this meant. A couple party members were concerned with shipping contraband, one was arguing that they were hired for a job and should just ignore it all and do the job.

The speculation ranged from smuggling precious material to contraband to insurance fraud.

They did talk the captain into flying a different flag along the river (at least until Lockport, when he has to put House Tydian's back up to match the manifest).

And now the group breaks for two weeks.

A couple quick notes:

The genasi bandits was an overpowered encounter (over 1000 xp for a party of 6, which is on the "very difficult" end of the 4e scale), but the bandits weren't built as a "hit and kill". They're more "smash and grab", so the primary grabbers were all chosen for an area "knock everyone prone" and/or an ability to fly or slide out of reach. They almost got away cleanly, too, given how the party was rolling (two daily powers used, both rolled 6 on 3 dice (3d6 for one, 3d10 for the other)).

Those who are familiar with Action on the Athenos already know the basic outline. I'll add that I've always viewed Bancohr as a GAZ11-style merchant (class) with some minor magical abilities to help. In this particular case, he divined the first three crates opened -- filled the first with really good porcelain, and the top layer of the next two (in case of a cursory examination). He was obviously not powerful enough to divine the full story, but that seemed a reasonable compromise (and adds a bit of a wrinkle the party may or may not eventually figure out).

I find it interesting that one of the speculations touched on what's actually going on, although obviously they're missing some details.

(It was the rushed and clumsy hiring of the first band of thugs which prompted the information to reach the bandits.)

The really funny thing is that I have a gnoll and orc encounter planned for the stretch between Strenny Keep and Lockport, then a lizardman and (last ditch) bandit attack on the canal itself. The party will probably think their dodge with the flag kept any more bandit attacks happening before that point. I have no intention of either reinforcing or correcting that perception

Session the Third:

(Curse these adult schedules! Conflicts all over the place! Six weeks since the last game!)

Due to a Sunday rather than a Saturday game, the session was cut short. Due to too long since the last game, it was slow getting started. Some brief administrative tasks were taken care of, including reminding the players to submit their wish lists for the rest of the treasure parcels -- specifically, hoped for magic items. Also, the Elf Rogue was swapped out for an Eladrin Rogue. The player had not had time to tweak Varis (the rogue in question) all that much, and the release of Martial Power 2 gave him access to a new build along the lines of his original intentions for the character. So, since it was the same class and same role, we just swapped him in place and pretended that's the way it's always been

And due to "I Don't Know What", the fight was by far the slowest fight we've seen yet, but at least it lasted about 10 rounds.

In short, after an uneventful night spent in Bathel, the party headed into the wilds along Streel's Knee, a journey which with this gently drifting barge will take three days to reach Lockport and the first locks in the Athenos Canal[*].

They pulled up a bit short of Strenny Keep, and camped on the east bank of the river, facing upstream. The idea was to make the barge look like it was traveling in the opposite direction, hopefully throwing off pursuers. Meanwhile, the barge has been operating under the captain's personal flag rather than the flag of the hiring merchant. This masquerade was also intended to prevent attacks.

A little before midnight, the party members on watch started hearing some high-pitched yowls and yapping approaching, and they quickly woke the rest of the party. With just pale moonlight and two members of the party unable to see well in dim light (the Deva and the Genasi), the Genasi swordmage tossed out a sunrod to illuminate the area. This revealed a pack of gnolls headed toward the barge.

The fight itself was fairly rough -- both the wizard and the ranger dropped below zero multiple times, and for some reason the players were just unable to roll well. (The gnolls were all regular gnoll types, but dropped a couple of levels in the monster builder (affecting damage dice, hit points, and defenses) in order to make them reasonable opponents for a first level party.) It was rougher going than expected, despite half the attackers being minions who were wiped out very early.

The two gnoll hunters hung back and were not engaged until near the end, which was most of the problem. Even then, the best the party could manage was to run them off, and it nearly cost them the swordmage and rogue as well.

As mentioned, for some reason combat ran slow, and this took way longer to play out than it should have. Still, since the next fight is planned to be an epic multi-barge defense against a decent attack force of lizardfolk (the players will be running the crews for several barges as well as their own characters), it was put off until next session.

Hopefully, the next session will wrap up this adventure, with the party beating back the lizardfolk, dealing with one last bandit attack, and (if the game runs fast) a potential attempt to scuttle the barge in the canal. Then, they arrive at Athenos and deal with the real situation...

[*] I've reworked the location of the locks for my game from the Gazetteer's brief description, due to the geographic development in the region.

Session the Fourth

This was an experiment which was timed well for a (shorter than normal) evening squeezed in around conflicting schedules, about four weeks ago. (I forgot to update.)

The party was halfway through the canal (which in my version of Darokin is only significantly raised through the hills, with Lockport on one side and a small fort/camp on the Athenos side -- the rest is miles of farmland, then Athenos) when night fell. There was enough traffic through Lockport that they only made half a day's journey...

Just as the various barges were tying up for the night, there was a massive lizardfolk attack from the north -- 30 lizardmen rushed the barges from the woods. As is the custom on the canal (explicitly mentioned in the Gazetteer), the barges worked together in defense.

To run this, I gave each player one barge plus its guards to control, and had an equal number of lizardfolk per barge. This was an experiment in running a non-minion large-scale battle while keeping the party involved.

It took about two and a half hours to run the full course of the fight (30 bad guys on 36 good guys, no minions). It was still fun, since everyone had a lot to do, and the players had a chance to peek behind the screen and see stat blocks (I used monsters/NPC not PC rules for the other guards).

It was my turn to cook, so interruptions for me to go check the stove (not a lot happens when the DM's in the kitchen) delayed things further, and I hadn't finished splitting the magic items into the parcels. So, when we hit the end of the combat, we called it there and broke for the night, bodies still littering the shore.

Incidentally, I should've used more lizardfolk -- the party itself went through them fast and started helping the other barges, the opposite of what I expected.

Session the Fifth

The various barge guards and the party gathered up the lizardfolk bodies and dragged them a distance down the bank to be burned (to avoid attracting scavengers). The raft of barges had dinner, swapping tales of bravery and generally expressing the camaraderie of shared battle.

The party discovered some coin, a potion of healing, and three magic items among the dead -- a staff of the war mage, a holy healer's mace, and a guardian's call warhammer.[*]

As folks settled in for sleep, the party went into their normal watch pattern. First watch was uneventful, but second watch (rogue in a tree at the treeline, swordmage patrolling the barge's railing) there was a sudden burst of flame and a wall of fire sprang up, isolating a section of the bank.

The rogue retreated (it was next to him, and it was causing significant damage in the adjacent square), and tried to sneak around to hit whoever was coming. In the meantime, the swordmage wakened the party with a shout as the barge was rushed by human mercenaries. Behind the mercenaries were a pair of oilpot-tossing guys setting the nearby barges on fire (modeled on kobold slingers and their firepots).

[The purpose of the fire mage casting the massive wall of fire was to isolate the barge -- I wrote myself in a corner by having these events in the wrong order, but it worked out well story-wise.]

The swordmage jumped forward to keep some of the mercenaries on the shore, while the rest were engaged by the warden. The oilpot slingers continued trying to set the barge on fire, but the wizard was able to use prestidigitation to keep the fires doused as fast as they started. The ranger ripped into the two mercenaries marked by the swordmage, who was also doing damage to both. The cleric and warden ganged up on her mercenaries, and the rogue ended up hopping onto the barge via a neighboring (on fire) barge in order to circumvent the wall of fire blocking his way. Meanwhile, the fire mage assaulting the barges was setting other barges on fire while maintaining his walls, ensuring that the folks on the other barges were busy.

Shortly thereafter, the wizard and priest noticed thuds coming from below, and the wizard looked over the side and could barely make out two figures hacking away at the hull.

The rogue got in a really nice sly flourish (with sneak attack) -- 25 points of damage in one hit, quickly freeing up the warden just as the ranger and swordmage finished off their mercenaries. The firepot hurlers suddenly found themselves with no frontline and two defenders closing and attacking. As one fell, the fire mage stepped forward and teleported away in an explosion, injuring both defenders (and the remaining firepot hurler).

As this happened, the ranger started firing at the submerged figures hacking at the hull, leading them to swim under the barge (and away) as the wizard finished dousing the remaining fires. The party assisted the other barges with their fire control efforts, then took stock of their own barge.

The crates were singed, and the hull was leaking a bit, but that was easily patched. They recovered three more items -- a vengeful scimitar, a flameburst hand crossbow, and a hunter's flint.[*]

The party was a little curious about being so obviously singled out, but that was a mystery left for daylight...

The following day, they finished the raised portion of the canal, and at midday began traveling through the farmland surrounding Athenos. By mid-afternoon, the city was in sight, and they entered late afternoon. Not too long afterward, they had made their way through the city and to the harbor.

Upon arrival, it was quickly discovered that the merchant had not made any provisions for the barge's arrival, and the harbormaster and the barge captain began arguing about that. The swordmage and rogue had accompanied the captain to meet the harbormaster, and the rogue asked the swordmage to return to the barge as he had something to share.

The rogue explained that he had opened a crate earlier and had found it filled with fine porcelain. He pointed out the crate, which the party opened and found was entirely filled with fine porcelain. They also had figured out that two of the crates from the earlier smash and grab had likely had a layer of real porcelain, but that everything else was basically cheap clay pottery and other such worthless stuff.

The party guessed (correctly) that this was an insurance scam, and they decided to figure out to whom this should be reported. Once the captain returned and they talked with him, they headed to Linton House offices (as any such shipment would likely be insured with a larger merchant house, and none are larger in Athenos than Linton). After being bounced around to a few locations, they spoke with a shipping clerk who had the policy on file. Linton House sent a pair of insurance investigators back to the barge with the captain, swordmage, and rogue.

There the story came out, and it became plain this was an attempt at insurance fraud. The investigators thanked the party for their honesty and suggested that if they needed employment in the future, their names would be on file as trustworthy individuals.

...and the game broke for the night (after giving them enough xp to get to 2nd level).

[*]I'm using the parcel system. I put all of the magic items (plus a second potion of healing) so that the distribution was fairly even. I also took the 4th level item and split it into a 3rd and 2nd to ensure everyone got something at first level. All items were selected from a wish list I had requested from the players (except the healer's mace -- the cleric never gave me a list, and I'm determined not to punish the healer!) earlier, and I put a "name tag" on each item. That way, there was no argument over division of treasure, and everyone liked this approach. The scimitar went to the swordmage, the staff to the wizard, the mace to the cleric, the warhammer to the warden, the flint to the ranger (he'll get a weapon next level, guaranteed), and the hand crossbow to the rogue.

Having tried it out now, I've become a big fan of the parcels for treasure. It gives an immediate guideline of roughly what item power level the game designers intended, and I don't have to guess.

Things the party figured out on their own: insurance fraud, and that it should be reported. (This keeps Linton House from considering them co-conspirators, and opens up possibilities with them.)

Things the party didn't figure out: Bancohr used divination at the outset to find out the first three opened crates, figuring the first would be a real inspection, and the next few would be cursory. So, he put real porcelain in the first, and a layer of porcelain in the next two. This would be enough for ordinary inspection purposes, but the inquisitive rogue busted that by opening a crate before anyone else did

Bancohr hired three sets of thugs. The first attacked just south of Darokin (in the hills there), and the third was a last ditch final attempt to sink the barge. He was desperate, as his way out of his current debt required the insurance payoff, and was willing to gamble that such a flashy way of sinking the barge would at least net him enough to recover before the investigation caught up with him (by which point he was hoping to be able to repay the payoff).

The second batch was completely avoided by the party's ruse of switching shipping flags on the barge.

The lizardfolk and bullywug attacks were both due to displacements further in the swamp. (I haven't decided on the source, but see below.) The gnolls were just a random raiding party, and a way of showing that there is also non-swamp humanoid activity in the area.

Future directions:

The party can seek employment with Linton House at this point, should they choose.

The party can investigate the bullywug/lizardman attacks, which might lead them to evil awakening deeper in the swamp.

The wizard, should she deliver the bottle of whiskey to a bar, will likely receive a letter from the owner of the distillery in Marstrich Moor. The son will be pleading for help as his father has disappeared while harvesting peat.

The swordmage is on a quest to find out who murdered her father and slaughtered his caravan as they returned from Selenica to Ylaruam. The only clue she had was a greatsword left behind, which bore the mark of a smith in Athenos.

The wizard is on a (sort of) quest to find out what happened to her sister, who had last sent her a letter saying she had uncovered something interesting and was going to investigate it. Her last known location was Athenos.

Unfortunately, both players (a married couple, the husband "cross-dressing" with his swordmage) are shortly moving out of the area -- he has a new job. sigh They had the best story hooks...

My general plan was to have the sister's investigations lead them to the Mossy Spire, which would have some Taymoran undead rising and something very dark awakening within.

The swordmage's investigations would have led her from the smith to the MacAlleyn clan's business dealings. The shipment would have been about 10-15 years ago, and destined for Fort Nell. This would allow the party to go that way, where the ranger's history (time spent with an elven adviser to the Darokin forces there) would also figure in. That, in turn, would lead them back to Fort Hobart/Selenica, and to the monastery where the cleric (orphaned when his family's caravan was destroyed -- he was the only survivor) was raised. Eventually, this would have been tracked down to bandits operating in the area who had stolen the equipment from Fort Hobart (or traded for it, actually), and had been hired by a rival merchant family to attack the swordmage's family. Or something along those lines...

Eventually, the wilden warden's past would also have manifested as something hooked into the good/bad magic points in Alfheim (leading to the Feywild and Shadowfell, respectively). This will likely still happen.

With the departure of the players, it looks like we'll be writing their characters out in the next month or so before he goes off to work for [An Impressively Cool Company I Wish I Worked For]. I suppose the letter from Marstrich will still arrive, and of course they have other opportunities via rumors, House Linton, and other things. I have to do some re-thinking, and maybe I can prod the rogue's player into doing a little more brainstorming on his background. That might open some possibilities as well...

Session the Sixth

(The big write-out game... We were short the rogue (alma mater baseball game) and cleric (car accident, but not so serious he couldn't e-mail from his iphone) but I was determined to get an in-game exit story for the departing players.)

The day following the arrival at Athenos, two characters had errands.

The genasi swordmage, following up on the greatsword she found at the scene of her father's death (and the destruction of the caravan) led her to a blacksmith. He remembered the commission, some fifteen years prior, as it was one of his first real jobs. He had made a set of blades for Clan MacAlleyn, a medium-sized merchant house primarily doing business with the Darokin military. He didn't know where the swords were destined, but suggested their main offices in Darokin city for further tracing.[*]

The deva (Klantyre Laterran) wizard had two errands. The wilden warden accompanied her, since they were eating together when the Marstrich Moor distillery's owner asked the favor. The wizard found an upscale establishment (scouted the night before) and spoke with the inn's owner. The inn was impressed with the bottle of whiskey and accepted both it and the contact information for the distillery. (Order promptly placed, but that's off-stage.)

Then the wizard turned to her primary reason to be in Athenos -- a sibling who stopped corresponding some time ago. She had a letter from him in Athenos, which led her to his lodgings (paid for quite far in advance, so still intact). The landlord indicated the brother had last been seen three months before, but (deva/obvious Laterrans being very rare) accepted that she was the sister and let her into his rooms. There, the wizard found his books and his journals, plus a letter and a small gemstone.

The letter read something to the effect of: "Dearest sister, I leave this letter with my journals in the hope that you will see it. You may recall the dark energies we felt in our homeland growing up, before the incident at the necromancer's school. I feel those energies again, and they are near. I will depart shortly to investigate, but just in case, I leave this stone behind so you can locate me after. If you are reading this, I have not returned from my voyage. Be well, your brother."

The stone only worked for her, but gave her a bearing to her brother (pointing to the hills to the east).

The party agreed to accompany her (yay!). They did not set out immediately, as they wanted to see if the merchant who had originally hired them would show up on the allotted day. Not surprisingly, he did not (although the barge owner had found a buyer for the one crate of porcelain and was using that to pay for the repairs his barge required).

The party set out on the fifth day, and the path led them from the farmlands into the hills, where the occasional bare remnants of old settlements were. By mid-afternoon, they were well into the hills and saw a palisade around what looked a bit like an excavation up one of the hills. The path led into there, but the belligerent, robed guards shooed them away. They kept going around, and found that the path led to a spot under the hill, a little distance past the excavation. With no tools to dig in themselves (and such frustrating neighbors), they returned to the palisade.

There, the guards refused entrance and drew daggers. The party, frustrated, tried reason but it was obviously going nowhere. (The wizard and swordmage determined that the markings on the robe were likely not arcane, or at least not of a type they were familiar with. The cleric and wizard could not place them, although the cleric thought they might be divine. Clearly not elemental either. Still, the designs were obviously ornamental -- so, either ancient enough to be lost, exotic enough to be unheard of, or extra-planar.)

The two guards outside the gate were quickly dispatched, and the fight proceeded inside where these robed cultists and the party fought briefly. Despite some front-line cultists and a couple bowmen in the back, the party did a lot of damage fairly quickly.

Once the guards were cleared, they looked at the hole which had been dug in the ground. A rope ladder led down, through what was probably once the roof of a building. Inside, only one hallway had been cleared, and it led into a mausoleum of some sort -- a room with alcoves in which mummified remains had stood, and a floor littered with ancient bodies.

As they carefully made their way across to the other hallway, exactly zero people were surprised when the corpses reacted and a fairly large number of zombies began clawing at them.[**] Although some were trivially dispatched (minions), others proved harder and did serious damage. Still, the party pressed on, seeking the chanting coming from further away...

The corridor from the Hall of Bodies led to a large room with a raised dias, stone sarcophagus, and an idol in the back.[***] The party saw nothing, but as they reached the end of the hallway the chanting stopped. They positioned themselves at the entrance to the one-time shrine and/or burial chamber, and saw the twisted spirit of a deva ascend into the ceiling. As they set up at one end of the room, the wraith (which was once the wizard's brother) stepped out from a wall and started in on one of the defenders. Meanwhile, the necromancer and leader of the cultists above (and animator of the skeleton/zombies in the previous chamber) popped up from behind the dais and summoned four more skeletons to fight for him. He also started hurling necrotic energies around, healing his guys and causing fair chunks of damage.

The rogue snuck around, but the others concentrated on the wraith and skeletons until they were well enough under control that the necromancer could be ganged up on. The wraith was tough (insubstantial (50% damage from any attack), and regeneration 3/round (unless radiant damage was taken the previous round)), especially with only a single, one-use attack which even did the regeneration-stopping damage type. Once they focused on it, though, it fell fairly quickly. As it died, the dark vapors faded and a golden spirit was left. The spirit of the wizard's brother thanked the wizard and party for freeing him from the necromancer's control and asked for his body to be taken back to his homeland.

The necromancer, frustrated with the loss of his pet wraith and bloodied by the attacks summoned a second set of skeletons. However, the combined might of the party very quickly finished him off, and his remaining controlled skeletons collapsed.

As he died, he said: "You fools! You may kill me, but the Master's work is already in motion!" (The party recovered some gems and gold when they looted his body.) They found the brother's body, set up for relatively easy relocation (it was required to control the wraith and keep the spirit trapped), and they returned to town with it.

The wizard is set up to return to her village to bury her brother, and the swordmage is set up to pursue her father's murderer. Meanwhile, the party is left behind in Athenos...

Footnote: on their return, the officials at House Linton with whom the party had been speaking said that Bancohr had disappeared but a judgement had been rendered in his absence. He is to be indentured to pay off his outstanding debts, once he's been captured.

...and the game broke for the night.

[*] The original intent was to lead the party there, and let them do favors for one of the minor clerks or to break in or otherwise get their hands on the records. This allows the character an exit since the party will otherwise stay in Athenos.

[**] I just grabbed a couple zombie types from the monster builder. However, one of the types (of which I placed three in there) had a "Feed the Hungry" power that let them, on a successful attack, slide their target up to three squares, and allowed an ally of the zombie to make any of their at-will melee attacks against same as part of the same action. The potential chain reaction is positively brutal, and the swordmage was chewed up pretty heavily by just two of the zombies pulling this on her in the same round. (It also wrecked the party's careful positioning, which is fun to do )

[***] I used a Cycladian figure to decorate the sarcophagus on the map, which led to some speculation about Grays (and lent a bit of eeriness). The necromancer was adapted from Tal Lorvas (Level 5 Dungeon Delve), down-leveled and tweaked. I named him Disciple of Acererak, but the name's a placeholder for now.

The new player has been integrated into the group, and we ran a test adventure (one of the recent Dungeon adventures) just to get the new player familiar with the rules. No one else felt like tweaking their builds, but the party is definitely going to need to adjust some tactics with the loss of one of the two defenders. The new character will be a half-elf (wrathful) invoker.

So, in preparation for the next game session tomorrow, the following letter has just been delivered to the party:

To my esteemed friends,

    Your kindness in delivering our products to the Frosted Mug in Athenos has opened a new distribution agreement, and I am grateful.  My father would be as well, had he not disappeared during his last outing upon the Marstrich Moor in search of new peat to test for flavor.

    As you appeared to be seasoned adventurers, and you have already aided us once, I beseech you now to assist me and discover what happened to my father.  I do not have great wealth to reward you, but I can provide you with a supply of our whiskey and a promise of any help I may ever be able to give in return. Please help me.

    Thank you,

                                                Angus MacDavies
                                                MacDavies and Son Distillery
                                                Woodhaven, Darokin

Session the Seventh

The party, in the wake of the departure of Jerra the swordmage and Mim the wizard (due to players moving to the other end of the state), received the letter seeking aid and decided to set out to help. They also decided to head up the west side of the river (closer to Malpheggi Swamp) to avoid crossing at Hellwych by the Marstrich Moor.

Before departing, they received word from House Linton that Bancohr Tydian was apprehended by his creditors in Darokin City, and that he now is serving serial terms of indentured servitude to pay off his debts. (House Linton will also be much more careful dealing with him in the future, but given that his insurance fraud was discovered and cost them nearly nothing as a result, they won't blacklist him should he resume the merchant trade when he's done.)

Meanwhile, a half-elven Invoker arrived in Athenos (new player), seeking evil to eradicate. He felt a pull to head upriver, and left the port city shortly behind the party. After he caught up, the party decided to stick together due to the relative danger.

The first night, they camped in a marshy area just past where the canal joins the Streel. Not surprisingly, their rest was interrupted by a roving party of bullywugs. Although the assault included some artillery support (Mud Lords) and no minions, the party made swift work of the frogmen.

They continued upriver, mostly alone on this side. Although there is a lot of trade on the river in both directions, the only travelers with them along the west path are oxen and horses pulling the occasional barge. (Foot traffic is generally on the safer east road.)

The second night, they camped a couple hours' travel south of Strenny Keep. Again, they were assaulted, this time by a patrol of gnolls. Despite having a round of free shots due to distance (and taking a toll on the minions leading the assault), the party struggled. The pack tactics of the gnolls dropped the ranger below zero, and the warden only survived due to the priest using every healing power in his repertoire to keep her alive. Even so, it was a tough, vicious, and nearly deadly fight.

The party recovered a magic sword (for the ranger) from the body of the gnoll leader, and the remaining couple hours of the night were uneventful.


Note: the gnolls were just an ordinary hunting party, foraging for their tribes. The bullywugs, like the previous encounter when heading downstream, are an anomaly. They generally live deeper in the swamp and almost never go near the river (or humans), but clearly something is pushing them to go further out.

If the party asks about it at the keep or an inn along the river, they'll probably hear that the last time this happened was when Thalkor moved into the swamp (or perhaps the last time his dominance was challenged)...

The next session will probably be another one or two encounters along the way, plus some roleplaying at Strenny Keep, in Hellwych, and once they reach the (not much more than a) lumber camp of Woodhaven.

Session the Eighth

The morning after the gnoll attack, the party continued walking upriver (on the swamp side of the river). They passed the occasional barge and boat headed downstream, but the only other folks they saw were the soldiers stationed at Strenny Keep and (a bit later in the day) the genasi-led bandit troupe which had ambushed them on the way south. The party did stop at the keep briefly and chat with the soldier at the gate. They learned that the gnolls were attacking more frequently and further away from the swamp than usual, and they learned a little about the overall way troops are deployed within Darokin's borders. (This keep is not an especially relaxing assignment, but it's better than rotating back and forth between Forts Nell and Hobart. For the most part, it's patrolling, keeping an eye on the gnolls, and "reminding" the occasional gnoll raiding party that they should stay well clear of the river traffic. Any serious gnoll activity would provoke runners to Darokin City and Athenos, and garrisons being called in from elsewhere.)

They subsequently passed the genasi-led bandits who had attacked them earlier, but simply waved as they passed. (The bandits were obviously setting up for another ambush on the river, and had no interest in the foot traffic. The party decided not to force a confrontation. Just as well, I forgot to bring the stats with me...)

That evening, camping a few miles south of Bathel (and on the swamp side of the river), an orc party ran across them. The orcs proved to be significantly less of a challenge than anticipated and were dispatched with minimal damage inflicted on the party (and virtually no healing handed out, for a change). The bodies were looted for a modest amount of gold and a modest gem.

The next day brought them to Hellwych by late afternoon, and they stayed in the Slumber Yard (the only inn in town). The elven ranger and wilden warden wandered around the taverns, picking up information about MacDavies the Elder's disappearance. Nearly everyone in town knew the MacDavies (father and son would come in to town to celebrate each new year's bottling, and to share a little of the product), and there was much speculation. They heard of the possibility that the son murdered the father to take over the business (although almost no one really expressed support of that view), that the father was eaten by a hellhound wandering the moor, that orcs (or goblins, or trolls, or ogres, or gnolls) killed him. The town had not been organized into a search, and although it is a tragedy for them to lose such a fine alcohol producer, people to disappear in this region. (More often than not, simply because they leave for other places, but they're close enough to the wilderness to occasionally lose people to monster attacks.)

The ranger also heard speculation that customers seeking lumber were leaving Hellwych disappointed, as it was all spoken for. The speculation among residents was that the military was procuring vast quantities of lumber and had been tying up all of the local production for months -- and showed no sign of stopping.

The following day, they headed upstream to the Birl Yard and ended in Woodhaven. They saw some logs being floated downriver. Woodhaven is really nothing more than a mostly-permanent lumber camp, with a couple bunkhouses, a ramshackle forge/repair shop/provisioning shack. Half or more of the 40 or so regular occupants were already out and about, logging. The part-time smith, part-time provisioner (Yevgenniy, a Traladaran) gave them directions to the distillery.

Once they arrived at MacDavies and Son, they knocked at the main door. Receiving no answer, they wandered the grounds until they found the building where the casks were aging, and Angus MacDavies (the son) in the back, working. He was delighted to see them, and they pitched in with the chores for a bit before retiring for dinner, fine whiskey, and sleep. Along the way, Angus explained that his father would harvest peat periodically from the moor, and that a week ago he had gone to the moor and failed to return before dark. Angus did tell them that he had searched, and later he had gotten some of the lumberjacks to join him in searching for his father. No sign had been turned up yet.

Since there were stories of fearsome monsters (and ghosts, and spirits, and lights, and... well, all the usual stuff) on the moors that roamed after dark and it was already fairly late, he suggested not leaving until the morning. For the second night in a row, despite the party's paranoia and maintenance of their regular watch schedule, no attacks occurred.

In the morning, the party (with Angus) headed toward the moor. Around mid-morning, they reached the site where Angus dug up his peat. While they searched for signs of what happened, parts of the ground formed themselves into humanoid shapes and attacked... This fight was a little rougher, as the shambling mounts (scaled down to party level) did successfully absorb PCs on a few occasions, and they were spread out enough to really split the party's attacks. More healing was spent, and the bog monsters were eventually dispatched.

A modest amount of treasure, plus a suit of magic leather armor for the rogue, were found in the remains of the shambling mounds.

The ranger did turn up some very faint traces of something probably being dragged north a week or so ago, but with the time (and intervening rain) that was all. (The player rolled rather well, but not well enough to learn anything by the strictest interpretation of the proper DC. So, I felt he should get something -- a 27 is nothing to sneeze at for a 2nd level character.)

Since it had been a month since the last game, we spent enough time visiting and just generally catching up (not to mention eating some excellent vittles) that the choice was to end the game slightly early, or to end it quite a bit later with the next fight. We broke early, and had a relaxed dessert.


Notes: The gnolls may be being pushed away from the swamp by denizens along the swamp's edge, who are in turn moving further out because of other events in the swamp. (Events are yet to be determined, although my current intentions involve a cult of some long lost ancient power trying to re-link with the Far Realm. We'll see.)

Yevgenniy has a backstory which could be used to link him to Sukiskyn if needed -- he left Karameikos after the death of his wife and child in a goblin raid. He ended up wandering until he found this place, where there was nothing around to remind him of his loss. I didn't have B10 handy when I named him, so I may have picked the wrong name (I think there was a smith in one of the other destroyed homesteads who sought refuge in Sukiskyn after the goblin attacks).

The next encounter will also be on the moor, as they follow the trail.

The armor (like the weapon the ranger found) was chosen from the player's wish list for his character's equipment. I've found that I rather like doing it this way, and they always want to use the stuff they find.

They will receive a crate of MacDavies and Son whiskey upon the completion of this adventure (the players know this, although the characters do not know this yet), and will have a bottle each set aside from each product's bottling for as long as MacDavies and Son continues to operate. From some player discussion about it, I won't count it as part of the monetary treasure. They're planning on using it in the future as bribes and to grease the wheels with movers and shakers back in Athenos.

I also managed to squeeze in some roleplaying with the taverns, Yevgenniy, and Angus. It was a nice change of pace, the party tends to be more tactical and that's the way everything has played out so far.

Session the Ninth

(This was almost exclusively a combat evening as the previous adventure wrapped up.)

After healing up from the previous encounter (and passing the cleric's character sheet to another player due to absence), the party resumed its trek. The ranger had just enough tracks, barely noticeable, to pick a rough direction to follow.

Suddenly, while on the moor, a pack of shadow wolves (three wolves and one (level-lowered) hound) jumped the party. These shadow beasts proved remarkably difficult to hit and surprisingly damaging[*], but the party eventually focused and took them out.

[*] It's been a long time since I've gotten something like five crits in on the party in a single encounter, and the party's attack rolls tended toward low single digits on the dice -- not good enough to succeed.

Although no treasure was found, the party did continue following the tracks. The ranger lost them here and there but was able to eventually pick up the trail again. As the party crested a hill, though, they saw a group of bullywugs before them. The ranger turned and alerted his party a little too loudly (Stealth roll of about 7), and the bullywugs stopped what they were doing and attacked. Unlike previous bullywug ranged attackers, who had belched poison and fire, these spat clouds of shadow, and the melee bullywugs could sometimes imbue their weapons with additional shadowy damage. Once the foes were bloodied, the party discovered that the blood coursed with dark streaks. After a very difficult battle (it took them a while to realize they should be concentrating on the guys hanging back and dropping area attacks), the party investigated further.

The bullywugs were interrupted in the middle of constructing something, perhaps a shrine or a crude statue. They had also carved a very rough and primitive sign similar to a sun -- a central largish circle with eight rays radiating from it -- into their own flesh. Given how recent this was, and how rough the tools doing the self-mutilation were, they only had a rough idea of what it could be. However, it did link back to some of the stylized designs on the robes of the cultist they found in a tomb in the previous adventure. The party figured out that the place under construction was intended as some form of worship.

About this time, the ranger lost the tracks (too many bad rolls in a row), but the invoker remembered that he had a ritual (Hand of Fate) which allowed certain limited divinations to be cast. The conclusion of this ritual led them further into the moor, and pointed them in the general direction of the mysterious Moor Ruins north of the lake.

Note: the party's resources were close to exhausted at this point, despite gaining an action point (milestone!) after the first combat -- the second since their last extended rest. The players have fallen into a routine of one to two encounters per rest, and tend to burn their dailies a little early. Also, one of the characters ran out of surges. After some discussion, they ended up using the invoker's ritual (Comrades' Succor) to swap some healing surges around before the (probable) final battle -- a battle they were entering with few action points, few healing surges left, and almost no daily powers at all.

Now early afternoon, the party set out for the ruins. A quick round of scouting showed that one of the areas of the ancient ruins was being reconstructed (a room with one entrance -- although it was not described as such, the intent was to build a new tower starting with the stones already present) and that there were some figures and a mysterious, shadowy portal within. In sneaking up, the party was insufficiently stealthy and alerted the inhabitants. A shadowy head poked out through the walls, and everything went silent. The party decided to wait to see what else might come out, with the intention of attacking.

...then the party heard the unmistakable sound of a chant of summoning. Determined to head things off before reinforcements were summoned to add to the foes of the already weakened group, the party rushed in.

Within were two shadar-kai (a witch and a chainfighter, made more level appropriate), two shadow hounds, and a shadow stalker (still hidden). The witch shrouded herself with an aura of shadow and darkness, and the chainfighter did his dance of death. Although it was tough with their limited repertoire, the party emerged victorious. Once they had time to examine the portal, they saw that Calum MacDavies was caught within the Shadowfell rift (suspended animation, of a sort). Among the bodies, they found two magic items (an amulet of protection for the warden, and armor of sacrifice for the cleric), and some monetary rewards. I also awarded the final treasure parcel as a reward for rescuing the father, although that will be played out later.

The players may have guessed that the things they ran into were all influenced by the shadowy forces coming through the rift, but nothing was expressed as we were already an hour over the usual time and I, for one, was getting tired. So, at this point, we broke for the evening.

The adventure conclusion will be moved to e-mail, for the most part, which should allow a little more flexibility in roleplaying it out and also setting up where things go from here. I'm hoping they decide to follow up on the bullywugs, which would potentially lead to a level-and-a-half adventure (or even two levels) as they venture into the swamp to figure out what's going on. I have some ideas on that, if they go that way, and it would really ease the workload on me for the near future.

(Basically, it involves heading into the swamp, reusing the map from the Temple of the Frog, and setting up a New Evil clan of bullywugs being influenced by ancient evils from the Far Realm vs. the Old Giant Frog Worshipping bullywugs who used to stay nicely deeper in the swamp. If they go this route, I'm hoping to try out the Penny Arcade loot card idea in the temple.)

Session the Tenth

The players having failed miserably to work through the overhead (picking a direction, etc.) via e-mail, we picked up at the ruins with Papa MacDavies having just been rescued. We also had a significantly shortened session due to starting late, shifting to Sunday, and having a month's worth of socialization to catch up on before getting settled in.

They escorted father and son back to the distillery, where they were rewarded for the rescue. They spent some time in "town" -- Woodhaven is barely more than a permanent lumber camp, and only has a noticeable population when logging is seasonally suspended (e.g. during large parts of winter). This let them to briefly meet with Yevgenniy Kalinov, a smith and provisioner for the camp, and to spend an afternoon with Bernard Woodridge. Woodridge is a halfling who settled in here twenty years or so ago, lured by the local tales (and desiring a quiet, off-the-path place for himself), and he has steeped himself in the local history. He knows little more than conjecture about most things, but if it happened around Marstrich Moor in living memory, he's the expert.

The party wanted to follow up on the ruins and tower on the moor, and Mr. Woodridge was able to tell them of the archaeologists who came from Darokin City to investigate the ruins. His understanding was that the ruins predated their knowledge, and the findings were inconclusive. He had no real information on the tower, other than no one knew much about it. When the party mentioned the bullywugs who seem to be everywhere, he suggested that they were normally inhabitants of the swamp and that it would be rare for them to be abroad. He also suggested that the party contact Rindall Damovar in Athenos for more information, as Mr. Damovar's area of expertise is the Malpheggi Swamp inhabitants.[*]

The party, determined to see the Moor Tower, thrust adventure and encounter improvisation (not always the easiest thing in 4e) into play. So, they headed back out onto Marstrich Moor. Rather than repeat encounters from the previous adventure (given that the Shadowfell rift has been closed), I opted for a quick encounter with some kobolds. Again, this was remarkable for the moor, and I tagged them with a couple indications of serving a red dragon.

Once they reached the tower, they found it to appear to be a single, pristine block of marble about 100' high and shaped into a beautiful, aesthetically-pleasing tower. After banging on the (stone) door for a while, they received attention from a somewhat aged voice. After some roleplaying[**] (not my players' strong suit, but I sort of forced it on them), they managed to convince him to let them in and talk to them.

He eventually introduced himself as Allystir, who was in the area observing the kingdoms of the dragons. He was interested in the kobolds they had encountered (as kobolds often serve dragons, and these were clearly not Thalkor's -- and thus could indicate a border skirmish), and he regaled the party with a little knowledge about Thalkor and Azem and their constant probing of each other. He had little to suggest for them to learn more of the bullywugs, other than Mr. Damovar in Athenos and, possibly, the scholars at the university (universities?) in Darokin City.

A few notes on the tower: it really is one block of marble, it's magical, and it's a bit TARDIS-like in that it is bigger on the inside and the rooms tend to change as needed. They had a sleeping hall, dining hall, and comfortable parlor out of the one room they saw on the ground level. In approximate D&D terms, Allystir is a high-level mage completely unconcerned with anything other than his research project of the last several decades (or even century, I left his age as "clearly old, but quite indeterminate"). I have him as a mobile wizard from Alphatia who has become a sage specializing in dragons, and moving (or re-creating) his tower wherever he thinks the most interesting maneuverings are at the moment. If he were to be attacked inside his tower, he'd likely simply vanish, then the room would shrink and eject the party. He might even not be mortal any more, but that's as yet indeterminate, and it's likely that the party won't even be able to make proper use of him for another ten levels. He may never be seen again, or he may become a key resource in a few years. The seeds of dragons fighting dragons have been properly sown, however...

The party eventually returned to the distillery, and (with the clear direction from not one, but two DM's mouthpieces) prepared to return to Athenos to speak with the sage Rindall Damovar.

[*] Per the earlier thread on sages, I've been working through regional and topical experts. So, Bernard Woodridge is, effectively, a Marstrich Moor (living memory) sage, although he tends to accept payment in tea and fine beverages -- and new tales -- rather than coin. He's also of limited value, other than knowing a few other experts in related fields (e.g. he knows of Rindall Damovar, but not Allystir or Bolios).

[**] It was fun to break out Russian, Scottish, and a very mild English accent during all of this. Perhaps the amusing and strong characterization of the NPCs will encourage more in-character work from the players...

Session the Eleventh

I was slammed by work projects, a paper for school, and a couple of exams, plus the players doing their best to avoid adventure hooks. This prevented me from preparing what I really wanted to run, and I ended up not having the time necessary to do a proper adventure of my own. Fortunately, Zardoz met 4e in a Dungeon Magazine Adventure (D&D Insider subscription required), and it provided a new sage (Bolios Whittish, specializing in the Elemental Chaos), a whimsical adventure involving a giant, flying, stone head, and a bit of a stall while I make sure the players will bite before doing the major adventure I have planned. One quick down-level from 7-9 to 3rd, and it was ready to go (and fit well into the local themes).

Heading south from Woodhaven, the party was startled by a giant stone head flying overhead, and a 60-something human calling out for them to help him. Although the party was unable to ascend to the head, they watched it crash. (Bolios sabotaged his own flying mechanism, captured elementals, to prevent the minotaurs who were attempting to summon the head from capturing it.) It crashed near a party of ettins, who promptly started to worship the statue to curry the god of the statue's favor. The party was able to dispatch the ettins with some difficulty (they're fairly brutal in 4e, having two full sets of actions per turn), and the encounter continued as they followed Bolios' voice inside to keep the magics from unraveling. Naturally, they failed, and the elemental spirits were released: air for control, earth for light weight, fire for power, and water for sustenance. The spirits focused on Bolios, but proved to be a challenge given that the encounter was continuing from the previous one (they were unable to get a short rest to recover encounter powers, and most were burned on the ettins).

Once Bolios was saved, the party had a break and the chance to start learning what was going on. Of course, combat took far too long to run, so that coupled with a short day pretty much finished us off in time for dinner, dessert, and planning for a group trip to see the new Harry Potter movie Thanksgiving week-end...

Next game: 12/5, I hope.

Next adventure: Bullywugs in the Temple of the Frog. I've been reading up on that via DA2, and my thought is this: I'm not adhering strictly to Blackmoor as written in canon, since it won't make a big difference to this specific group, game, or timeframe. Instead, I'm leaving the geographical location thereof pretty incoherent, and assuming that "somehow" the Temple and nearby town migrated into the area that eventually became Malpheggi Swamp. Furthermore, the Frog Folk created before and during DA2 are the ancestors of the Bullywugs, who have lived in the vicinity of the ruins of the Temple ever since. Some very small fraction of the ancient history has survived the intervening millenia, but not a lot has. The bullywugs, only vaguely intelligent, have picked up on the sudden rash of Shadowfell rifts opening and are hoping to infuse their temple with power once again, fulfilling the poorly-remembered racial myth of eventual dominance.

I wouldn't mind suggestions, if anyone has them, on which parts are worth salvaging or otherwise justifying as having survived (for a group of players who know little about Mystara, less about Blackmoor, and don't care that much about lore unless I beat them over the head with it). I've toyed with the idea of one or more of the aliens having survived in stasis, and I'm still deciding how much of the structure is actually intact. The town's gone, although parts of it may survive as ruins.

I've downloaded (but not looked at) Return to the Temple of the Frog. I'll probably read that later this week, and see if anything can be plundered.

The idea is that the party, following up on the Bullywug threat, ends up seeking the source of their sudden expansive aggression by seeking the fabled Temple. I'll run it as an extended series of encounters (enough for at least a level), and, in addition to specific treasure at specific locations, I'll be making some loot cards to handle "random" treasure for the bullywugs they kill along the way. This should feel more like a classic dungeon crawl than the linear encounters the adventures so far have been.

Anyway, suggestions or thoughts on running the Temple 4,000 years later, or what it has become, would be nice.