Crown of the Dead [D&D v.3.5] – Part 29

This adventure was Friday November 13, 2015. K.D., E.G., A.T., T.F., and C.H. were present.  Diesel-burner A.B. graced us with his presence as a railbird.

Offloading gear at their storefront cabin in Riddley’s Crown, the party remembers that they have been invited to send a proxy to the monthly residents’ meeting tonight. The remote possibility exists that some useful information may come of it.  Barbarian-Ranger Xorn and Cleric Joseph McMickelson immediately declare themselves ineligible to attend, for a variety of weakly supported reasons.  Thri-Kreen warrior H’ai-ch Q’a doesn’t mince words – he has zero interest in going.

That leaves Gnome Frenzied-Berserker Barbarian Wee Jack or Cleric Jere Collado. Neither can come up with an excuse, so the winner of Rock-Parchment-Blade will avoid the chore.  They pump fists and show.  The Barbarian chooses Rock, and the Cleric, knowing how barbarians think, presents Parchment.  A fair contest; Wee Jack sighs, stows his weapons, and trudges out the door.  He absolutely will not take notes.

Inside the main hall, one long table is formed in the center of the room. All but two of the seats are taken.  Administrator Lumberg, enclave guard captain Norrick, wizard-smith Lanna Riis, Dwarf trader Dredburn, Cleric Sister Janus, and newcomer JG Dumont have their places.  One empty chair is reserved, but never occupied.  As Wee Jack climbs onto his chair, Lumberg decides to get the formalities under way.

After a scripted preamble, the Administrator drones on about logistics : food, firewood, and water-well reserves; a progress report on the bridges under construction by lizardfolk; estimates of increased trade potential with a safer route through the bog.

At mention of ‘food’, Wee Jack sees and smells a spread of appetizers on a side-table, which half-Elf cook Jenny has provided for the attendees. The Gnome wanders over to take a look.  The most interesting selection is a reconstituted meat-jerky imitation of sea-prawns.  The card beside this platter reads “shrump”.  Wee Jack cautiously nibbles at one.  It is not terrible.

Lumberg moves on to other details – farm-labourers arriving next week; forecasts on the number of adventurers expected this summer, given economic conditions in the eastern cities. Norrick’s four-man guard team will rotate out at the start of May, after training a new guard platoon that will be here in two weeks.

The Administrator turns the room’s attention to Wee Jack by calling on him to summarize his encounters with goblins. The Barbarian is caught off-guard, busy madly stuffing “shrump” into his maw.  Washing the beef-crustaceans down with the pitcher of ale he assumes is for all of them, Wee Jack recalls most of the important stuff.  Dwarf Dredburn presses for specifics.  Everyone else is distracted by the Gnome’s capacity for hors d’oeurves.  Stunned Jenny will not re-stock the food table a fourth time.

Including casual table-talk after Lumberg’s main points are presented, the meeting runs almost exactly one hour. It breaks up by mutual assent.  Some residents collect their evening meals from Jenny before they leave.  Adventurers begin to trickle in after a busy day on the plains.

Wee Jack, carrying his bloated stomach, passes his friends on their way in. The Gnome is positively stuffed, and a bit queasy.  Time will tell if these “shrump” are Magical Beasts or Aberrations.

Xorn, Jere Collado, H’ai-ch Q’a, and Joseph McMickelson snag a table as the main hall fills up. They are approached by the newcomer Gnome, the lurker that Jacob Light-Bringer shadowed early this morning.

The Gnome introduces himself as MYLES BROADBOW (NPC). Catching Jenny’s attention with the telltale ease of supreme self-confidence, he buys Collado’s group a round of drinks.  Once pleasantries are made and nothing of substance is said about himself, Broadbow gathers as much information on the Goblins as he can wheedle out of the party.  Despite the skillful interrogation, the party does not let slip the secret of the letter found on the goblin commander.

As he leaves, Broadbow drops an odd turn-of-phrase. None of the party makes the Sense Motive check to read a deeper meaning.  In the back of his mind Joseph McMickelson thinks it may have been “thieves’ cant”.  He doesn’t share that with his friends.

No sooner has the Gnome bid good’eve than Flexor Retinaculum, leader of the Corinthians, drops himself into the vacated seat. His leather armor creaks and cracks.  The brawny, oiled, curly-haired warrior hails each man of Xorn’s party loudly, laying on praise and greetings in tiresome blank verse.  Eventually Retinaculum lays plain his purpose – a very familiar task set him by Sister Janus.  The Corinthians want Collado and his party to join them in raiding the Undead-infested church after the New Moon.

What Retinaculum lacks in planning, details, and tactics, he makes up with skill at spoken-word. The party will answer him tomorrow.  Thankfully this ends the conversation – the Corinthian captain returns to his crew and downs a flagon of red wine to catch up.

*          *          *

Mid-morning the next day. The weather is clear and the ground damp.  Wee Jack is fine; the “shrump” brought on strange dreams but the Gnome is otherwise unharmed.  He arranges for smith Riis to enchant his battleaxe to +1 and add the Flaming ability.  This, of course, after she has finished her work for Xorn and Jere Collado.

H’ai-ch Q’a asks Dredburn to use contacts in the capital city to find him a Gythka – an exotic two-handed polearm with a blade at either end, a weapon favoured by Thri-Kreen.

This morning’s gate guard, Cofey, calls the party over. Waiting outside the main gate is a lizardman, LYSANDER (NPC).  This Lizardfolk warrior has come specifically to speak with Xorn’s group, whom he has seen at the bridge construction site.

Lysander won’t enter the enclave, nor is he comfortable to stay long outside his familiar wetlands. He has come to recruit the party.  Lizardfolk working on the bridges have been attacked by evil creatures that inhabit the western half of the bog.  Not Undead; from Lysander’s simple descriptions, the party thinks Ogres and maybe hobgoblins.

The lizardfolk have always kept their distance and minded their own territory – these raids are unexpected and unprovoked. Lysander’s chieftain does not want the situation to escalate and draw his lizardmen warriors into a full-out war.  So Lysander has come to hire Xorn’s group to go in and destroy the evil for them.

The group hesitates to commit on the spot; they negotiate time to consider the undertaking. Lysander is neither excited nor disappointed.  A scout will wait for them along the bog trail, to guide them if they come.  The lizardman slinks back to his marsh.

An intriguing proposition, but the party has the dry well to finish exploring. McMickelson and others return to the cabin to gear up for adventuring.  Barbarian-Ranger Xorn goes to see Administrator Lumberg, find out what he knows to back up Lysander’s story.

The political machinations of marshland creatures are not something the Administrator cares about. Same goes for the lizardfolk builders’ safety.  But Lumberg is a shrewd bureaucrat and an opportunist.  He invents a need to hire security-men, at an inflated wage, to ensure the contracted bridges get built – knowing this ‘cost-plus’ expense will easily pass the scrutiny of Lord Oakesworth’s distant treasury.  Lumberg vaguely hires Xorn, his friends, and two or three of Xorn’s friends that don’t exist – each at a rate of ten gold per day, to say they will defend the construction sites until the project is finished.  Of course, the Administrator will expense four times those wages, and keep the difference.

As the party travels to the farmstead with the well, Xorn and his associates try to guess which Knowledge skill provides insight into ‘fraud’. Perhaps the less they understand, the better.

The well-head and their knotted rope are undisturbed. Possessed of superlative climbing skills and low-light vision, Wee Jack and H’ai-ch Q’a descend first.  The main chamber is as they left it.  These vanguards strike up torches and call up to their friends.  They stand guard as the party makes their way down.

Ready to proceed, the party follows the same path as last time. They stop at the first junction.  The route to the left was the corridor that led to centipede swarms.  That way is silent; all the insects were incinerated with lamp-oil.

The narrow tunnel to the right is unexplored. Down this way is the same whining, grating noise they heard last time.  Something is home.  Weapons at the ready, Xorn leads.

Around a bend is a pitch-black chamber. The sound is coming from in there.  Torchlight suggests the cave before them is empty – until a blot of shadowy form darts out from a corner and the whining suddenly becomes a babbling, nonsensical shriek.  Everyone needs a Will save; only Wee Jack fails.  The Gnome is hypnotized and is unable to act.  Cleric Jere Collado and, surprisingly, Barbarian-Ranger Xorn, make Knowledge : Religion check and identify the creature as an Allip – a tortured, hateful incorporeal Undead.

Xorn slams a potion of Protection From Evil. Joseph McMickelson casts Prayer.  Jere Collado follows with Consecrate.  The party moves to attack, and are rushed by more incorporeal evil – four Shadows, which lunge at them out of the walls.

The Shadows are not as powerful as the Allip, but are hurtful in a different way. They rake the party with ghostly claws, ignoring armor and draining Strength with each hit.  McMickelson’s Greater Turn and Jere Collado’s force-effect Spiritual Weapon beat them back and destroy them relatively quickly.

The Allip is not so easily bested. The creature focuses its attacks on Cleric Jere Collado, draining Wisdom but dealing no physical damage.  Before long, so much of Collado’s vaunted Wisdom is drained that he is unable to cast any spells.  He is a pale imitation of a Fighter until he can obtain a Restoration.

Outnumbered, the Allip reverts to a hit-and-run strategy. It strikes H’ai-ch Q’a or Xorn, then melts into a wall.  Then it re-appears further down the tunnel, where it attacks glassy-eyed Wee Jack or Joseph McMickelson.

This pattern repeats for several maddening rounds. Wee Jack’s hypnotic state ends.  The Gnome is surprised to find a fight raging around him.  Jere Collado is of little use; with barely any Wisdom left, he is especially prone to making foolish tactical blunders.  H’ai-ch Q’a flurries attacks at the ghostly Allip.

Finally the incorporeal creature’s luck runs out. Barbarian-Ranger Xorn cuts it down with Solace, his adamantine blade.  Searching the chamber turns up only a single valuable gem, near the back wall of this dead-end space.

Ignoring the litany of truly unwise suggestions from their erstwhile Cleric, the party members retrace their steps back to the main chamber. One passageway is left to explore.  Collado hangs back as Xorn, H’ai-ch Q’a, McMickelson, and Wee Jack grit their teeth and prepare to encounter probably the worst creature yet.

But the last tunnel is a short path to a dead-end. They find a really nice pair of masterwork leather boots, some coins, and a few weapons in good condition, but no Undead – corporeal, or in ghost-form.

The party is sure this dry well has now been completely cleared. As they climb back out into daylight, Jere Collado shares his terrible ideas about converting the tunnels into an underground team fortress, and how he’d finance the work with fanciful things called “payday loans” and “reverse mortgages”.  The group needs to get their friend to Sister Janus so she can cast Restoration and get his head put back on straight.

It is now midday on the 2nd day of April, by the local calendar.

 

(end of Part 29)

 

 

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About d20horizons

D&D player.
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