If Dwarven Defender Paragon Eberk remembered anything of his tumble from life to death and back again, it did not affect him in any significant way. Elroy Wick, on the other hand, found his death and brief afterlife so terrifying that it raised deep and profound questions in the Bard, ones that would re-define his outlook on life.
Two days before Wick and Eberk were raised from the dead by a local Cleric of Pelor, they and their friends were aimless in the city of Tannis.
Warmage Armst and Eberk had just returned from a harrowing encounter with goblins and Wargs. They were injured but recovery was swift. Magnus and Goa recently interviewed and hired MARTIN, a former House of Davis captain recommended by Lieutenant Richard. Retired from service by physical disability, Captain Martin has the insight and intuition the party needs to locate and recruit a trustworthy battalion of mercenaries to help re-take North Point and rescue the settlers at Gold Mountain.
Aside from that news, these are lazy summer days for Corun Dum’man and his friends. With an agent in the field to collect a task force, and flush with gold for helping the gnomes’ caravan arrive safely, the world (or at least the city of Tannis) lay at their feet.
Halfling Goa Finnbjorn picked up rumour of another Halfling in town, a master chef that may be open to teaching an apprentice. She seeks him out. Wizard Corun Dum’man asks after minerals in the local shops, Armst wants to rest, Øskur Røgnvaldurarsøn is off on a nature hike, and no-one has seen Kulich or Yorgenson Uberson in quite some time.
This leaves Magnus, Elroy Wick, and Eberk. Their interest is piqued by a passing comment by Lieutenant Richard. The scout officer mentioned Orc archers that have disrupted the main trade route to Tannis. The raiders have harassed caravans and lone merchants to the point that those traders still willing to make the trek have resigned themselves to a longer, indirect southern route to get here. Business in town is suffering for the interruption in the supply of goods.
Slaying Orcs sounds like an adventure, worthy of their ample spare time. First, Magnus needs a new horse. His former mount, “Killer”, was slain by Ogres. After endlessly debating the merits of five suitable heavy-warhorses (Handle Animal = 23, 17, 9, 10, 17), Magnus settles on one that he likes and shells out 800 gold for the animal. Next they visit a magic shop, and buy a Type IV Bag of Holding. It weighs sixty pounds, but the 250-cubic-foot extradimensional space within can hold fifteen hundred pounds.
Elroy Wick finally gets around to finding a local craftsman who sells musical instruments. A treasure among his wares is a Masterwork lute. Embracing the instrument, Wick strums out (With a Natural 20 rolled for Perform : Stringed for a total skill check of 40) the single most amazing musical performance the shopkeeper will ever hear in his entire life – unmatched by any Bard within a thousand miles and six Planes in any direction. The lute will do nicely; Wick pays the flabbergasted artisan and leaves the shop.
After lunch the three friends collect their horses and gear, and ride out of town. Their destination is the burned-out village along the trade route they passed when guarding the gnomes’ caravan. But by dinnertime their steady pace across the grasslands only delivers them to the edge of the forest, about halfway to the ruins. It will be safe to camp here; Eberk expects that the Orc miscreants have staked out territory well beyond that wrecked town’s blackened clearing.
It shapes up to be a pleasant night. Autumn is a couple weeks away; nightfall does not yet offer a chill that their campfire cannot handle. Eberk and Magnus fold themselves into their bedrolls. Taking first watch, Wick gently plucks out a memorable song (Perform : Stringed = 26), worth 1d6 gold. He lets a melody wander and drift off into the dark, before finally setting the instrument aside a half-hour later and attending the serious business of his sentry duty.
Two hours later, a Listen check. Eberk (Listen = 10) and Magnus (Listen = 11) are fast asleep. Wick (Listen = 30) and Magnus’s new horse (Listen = 23) pick up the sound of movement in the woods. At first meek and random sounds, these collect to a series of intentional, cautionary noises. Then all falls quiet again.
Wick has a bad feeling. Hand on his short-sword, Elroy considers what to do. It is not certain that he actually did hear something dangerous, and he knows how Magnus hates to be woken from sleep – whether for good reason or not. The Bard instead quietly rouses Eberk.
The Dwarf creaks out of sleep, hears Wick’s concern, and agrees to take a listen. Eberk is rising unsteadily from his bed when everything goes terribly wrong.
First comes a sudden blast of cold air, frigid beyond what Nature could muster on a night like this. The campfire extinguishes in an instant, plunging Wick and Eberk into darkness. Wick draws his sword and casts Light on it, to reveal a trio of Winter Wolves bounding into the camp. A Winter Wolf blasts Frost Breath at Eberk and Wick; neither succeeds on their Reflex save.
What happens in the next thirty seconds is largely a matter of perspective.
After illuminating the campsite with his Light spell, Wick raises a great song (Perform : Sing = 20, worth 3d6 silver) to Inspire Courage, with Inspirational Boost in the chorus. He is bitten twice and blasted by three harsh Frost Breaths in succession – the third of which kills him. Wick will remember a penetrating blast of cold, followed by a shock or jolt that shook his entire being.
Then there is water. The darkness, the forest, the Winter Wolves, a shouting Eberk and a Magnus leaping into the fray…all are gone. Surrounding him now is water; blue-green, endless, warm, no dark abyss below or shimmering surface above. Palpable currents and eddies scintillate with light from no apparent source.
Elroy Wick is not rising or sinking, drowning or breathing. He becomes aware, in a moment or an eon of introspection, that he has no physical form. Or no physical form in the way to which he is accustomed; he is awareness and consciousness and soul, manifest yet ethereal. The effect is simultaneously calming and terrifying, and the otherworldly nature of his environs shifts the balance between the two.
This is the Elemental Plane of Water. Wick’s soul arrived here at random (KR rolled a 96 on Table 5-7 : Random Planar Destinations in the DMG, page 151), the Bard having no deity and no professed hopes or beliefs regarding the afterlife. For what might be minutes or years, Elroy Wick’s soul slowly drifts the currents of this infinite sea. Then the Bard feels a Lawful Good force summoning him, seeking to draw him away from here. Elroy immediately consents.
Eberk saw Elroy Wick fall to a Winter Wolf’s frost-attack, and the Dwarf knew at an instant his friend was dead. Eberk himself is in dire peril. Without his usual armour and facing two Large creatures, the Dwarven Defender is losing the fight. But at least the Winter Wolves’ icy breath has iced over and stanched his bleeding wounds.
A Cure Moderate Wounds potion buys Eberk some time. The first Winter Wolf tastes enchanted Dwarven Waraxe, but the Large wolves and their Trip attacks inevitably best him. Eberk dies from a bite; he feels teeth sink into his neck then all goes black.
Magnus’s self-confidence never wavered in the fight. Startled awake by the sounds of skirmish and Wick’s brief, rousing song of courage, the Fighter swept up his Heavy Pick and clad himself instantly with Mage Armour, a spell stored in his magic ring. As Wick was flash-frozen to death, Magnus focused attacks on the second, largest Winter Wolf. Then the wily Fighter diverts attention to the fresh, third Winter Wolf, killing it with a single Critical Hit straight to the brain.
Magnus remains composed when his Dwarf friend is killed. He pushes aside his feelings and simply acts. Outnumbered for a brief round, Magnus kills the second Winter Wolf and directs his Cleave into the remaining foe. Building off his own momentum, Magnus pours controlled fury into his attacks and stills the last Wolf.
By the Light of the dead Bard’s sword, Magnus is alone in a bloodied, frosty, gory camp. He cannot stay here tonight, moderately injured and without support. He drinks a Cure Moderate Wounds potion then looks around and decides what to do. The bodies of his friends Magnus loads into the larger Bag of Holding. There remains enough space, so he stuffs in the near-flawless corpse of the Winter Wolf and the less-messy of the other two.
Magnus gathers all their gear, ties the reins of their horses, and rides back to Tannis alone by moonlight. Well past midnight, exhausted, Magnus makes it safely to the torchlit city. He returns to their inn and sleeps through dawn, morning, and noon, into that afternoon. Within the Bag of Holding the bodies are somewhat immune to decomposition, so Magnus does not feel guilty about taking extra rest.
Most temples here specialize in the healing arts. Magnus finds a Cleric of Pelor who asks 5,000 gold per Raise Dead spell. The Cleric will cast on Elroy Wick and Eberk tomorrow, not having prepared the spells today. Magnus pays 10,000 gold out of Party Treasure and leaves his friends’ bodies at the temple, where acolytes mend their physical wounds in preparation of a renewal of life.
The Fighter uses the late afternoon to find a tanner of sufficient skill to craft a Masterwork cloak out of the Winter Wolf killed by a single tiny blow to its skull. The tanner is impressed by the quality of the beasts Magnus produces from the Bag of Holding; in fact he will buy the second pelt for the cost of the cloak’s construction and pay Magnus some gold on top of the deal.
The following day, Fighter Magnus returns to the temple at the appointed time. The Cleric performs the Raise Dead spells. Eberk awakens on an altar, surprised to find he is not in a forest at night. As part of the Raise Dead ritual, the casting Cleric’s alignment is known to the soul of the departed – it was this that draws Elroy Wick’s soul drawn back to the Material Plane from its troubling moments-or-lifetime spent in the deep blue of the Elemental Plane of Water.
Both Eberk and Elroy Wick have lost a Level from the Raise Dead. But they only dropped to halfway between their current Level and the one they lost. The Dwarf is annoyed by this, but resigned to it. Wick is withdrawn and quiet.
Magnus helps them both back to inn to rest and recover; they have been returned to life with only a single hit-point. The Fighter is pleased to have his friend alive again; he leaves them in their beds and goes to find the others. Eberk quickly falls asleep in his room. Alone in his own room, Elroy Wick ponders his death experience, and decides that he must make changes in his life, for the sake of his afterlife.
(end of the session)
(1) Image isolated from D&D Monster Manual, illustration on page 256.