The first part of the session was that least fun element of gaming, bookkeeping. The PCs needed to spend their monthly upkeep and their retainer fees. We had to level some characters up, including a handful of the hirelings. I also realized I was handling retainer morale and calamities incorrectly. So after sorting that out, they set about seeing to it that the arcanists could learn new spells and ignore the weak ones that their masters wanted to teach them.
They remembered that they still had Otho’s spellbook, so they learned some spells off of her. I’m sure she’ll be happy. After that, they dumped 2000 gold on hiring mercenaries.
This level of detail, while interesting because it makes the gold economy tick over fast (no matter how much they find they are always scrounging for more) is getting a bit heavy on the book-keeping side of things. I wish I could figure out an easier way of dealing with it. I am also beginning to wonder how exactly they are supposed to end up with enough gold to build a castle. The highest level character, Long Tom, has only about seven grand in the bank.
Anyway, they accomplished all of this and, after a month of downtime, set off towards the Inverted Spire. Their sage had looked up the history of the spire. Built during the reign of Emperor Claudius the Seventh, it was created as an underground fortification to protect against aerial attack. Because, the sage assured them, Emperor Claudius was insane. Though, the players rattled off a number of flying threats that actually made it a pretty sound idea (wizards with the fly spell, dragons, flying cities, etc). It was the first recorded incident of such a structure and originally built to 10 levels. It had a temple built into it, numerous escape tunnels, and various amenities. It became the rage to then build such underground complexes (aha! See I slipped in another justification for dungeons! Go me!) for centuries after. The Inverted Spire was abandoned after renovations began and they began work on the 11th level. It was said they uncovered a cavern system below them, and then quickly left the spire. The sage couldn’t discover specific details on why or what they left behind, only that it was abandoned. Sadly, pre-Sundering history is sketchy at best, since the greatest libraries were on flying cities that plummeted to the earth during the Sundering.
They also identified their items. They discovered the Dawnbringer, when held aloft and the tryshallan name was spoken, it would burst into a golden light…that does NOT interfere with infravision. They really liked this. I also said that after a month of sparring and practice, they figured out what the pluses of their weapons and armor were. Frankly, I just don’t want to keep that stuff secret as there are like 12 characters thanks to PCs and henchmen and I don’t want to have to keep records on all of that. And since there are so many of them, I doubt they will ever get tired of finding ‘+1’ items…they’ll just have something else to pass to another hench person. Oh, they also discovered they had a helmet of Communication and a scroll with some Neutralize Poison spells. The snake mace, named Ophidius, could be thrown at a target and it would turn into a snake that would grapple and incapacitate a target (basically a +1 mace that also acts as a Snake Staff).
So, they set off with their mercenaries and headed west with Jayna in the lead. The countryside past the Caves of Chaos was even darker and more twisted than that around the caves. But they pushed on until sundown. They found a defensible hill to camp on and set up a parameter.
That night they had strange nightmares (except Nethren and Lucian who, being elves, don’t sleep). When they awoke, they found that they were in a foyer of a mansion rather than outdoors…and it was only the PCs, their animals, and their Henchpeople…no mercenaries.
The place was opulent, with a rich carpet and brass candelabras on the walls. The front doors were open (their camp spread from the foyer to the outside). They say a grey-black mist surrounding the grounds. One of their donkeys wandered away into the mist. Yanking on its guide rope they pulled back a dead donkey, with pasty white skin and a look of abject terror on its face. And the mist began to encroach upon them. They retreated to the foyer and shut the doors.
There was only one other way out, so they opened the other set of double doors onto a wide hall, equally opulent and lit by candles, that ended in more double doors. On the east there was a single door half way down the corridor. Alfric took one of the candles from the candelabra, marked it, and set it down on the tiled floor in the foyer.
So they went into that room first. The door wasn’t your standard Dungeon Co. Door, but just a regular (if expensive) wooden door with a polished brass handle.
Opening the door, they found themselves facing a vast room, its walls covered in expensive paintings. All the furniture in the room had been pushed against the walls, with seats facing towards the center of the room where a boxing rink was set up. Floating above each chair was a pair of glowing red eyes that swiveled towards the party as they entered. An unmoving figure with grayish, waxy skin, stood in the center of the boxing rink, it’s hands raised in a boxer’s position. On the opposite side of that sat a flamboyantly dressed man in silks and lace, with a large hat adorned by a single feather, and a goatee mustache. He clapped his hands when he saw the party and welcomed them to his abode. “Ah, the entertainment has arrived!”
He introduced himself as Jean-Louis d’Amberville, or Amber, as you prefer. He asked the characters if they were the betting sort, and proposed they take a turn competing against the ‘height of martial technology’ his Magen. At first the party hemmed and hawed, and Alfric debated just attacking him, but instead Long Tom decided to give it a go.
I know right? The priest in a boxing match? Granted, he is a blade dancer but still…
While talking to Jean-Louis, they picked up a few details from his mad ramblings:
1) His family controlled the castle they were in.
2) They were watching the fight (the glowing eyes).
3) He ‘didn’t use your Imperial calendar’ but at a guess he put the date at about 200 years in the past.
4) He wondered ‘who sent them here’ because the Amber family ‘often’ sends them guests.
5) Anika reminded Long Tom that Otho’s last name was Amber and in fact the Ambers were one of the most powerful ruling families in the Principality of Aardmoor (a mageocracy to the south east of Valas that was on cold and distant terms with the empire, since they had originally broken free of it and did not let the church control mages).
For all of his flamboyant enthusiasm, Jean-Louis did not seem threatening or hostile and even answered some questions they had. He seemed essentially just a very bored nobleman looking for entertainment. He asked if the party would bet on their companion, Lucian did as did Long Tom, but Alfric bet AGAINST him.
So Long Tom provided. He got into the ring and the fight started. He played defensively, trying to figure out weaknesses in the Magen (I let him have a +2 AC and gave him a +2 to hit on the next round). Though he had a faster reaction time than the Magen, it was fast, and got two hits in for every one of his. And its blows were real. As Jean-Louis had said, accidents happen in the ring if people don’t call the fight, and Long Tom realized after the second or third hit that this thing would casually beat him to death if he fell and no one called the fight.
The first ‘round’ ended after some good exchanges, and both boxers were bruised and battered. Long Tom realized he might not have been the best choice for this little endeavor. The magen showed signs of injury, so his blows were having some effect but he was definitely worse for ware. Jayna cast a cure light wounds spell on him while the rest made lots of noise to disguise her actions (he poured a bucket of water over his head and made a big show of refreshing himself). Alfric asked if he could swap in for Long Tom, but Jean-Louis said the fight had begun and would have to play out.
The second ‘round’ started and again, Long Tom delayed, looking for another opening or weakness while the golem-like humanoid continued to brutally pummel him. Then, spotting an opening, he launched a strike straight to the throat which dropped the magen like a sack of bricks (he rolled a nat 20 and did max damage, so following a slightly modified rule as presented in the module, he had a 15% chance of knocking the magen out and rolled a 12).
Jean-Louis was a good sport about the whole thing and took Alfric’s money while paying the party their winnings, and offered Long Tom a huge winner’s fee: 10,000 gp (yup, this module is officially nuts). He muttered about trying to fix his magen and see to it that the ‘throat weakness’ was bred out of the next set, but Long Tom pointed out that he could make it so strong there was no fight, and where would the fun be in that?
So the party took their loot back to the foyer where they found the candle, though still burning, was no shorter. This was bothersome to say the least.
They decided to try the other doors only to run into a group of 8 large wolven wearing livery of the Amber house. They had heard stories of the wolf-men, but none had seen them before. A quick reaction roll indicated the wolven had no interest in the party and were headed for Jean-Louis room.
“Um, so what are you guys doing?” Alfric asked.
“We heard there was a fight,” the leader growled. “We came to watch.”
“Yeah, that’s over. He won,” he said, pointing at Long Tom.
The wolven cursed their bad luck and then turned around to leave.
“Hey,” Long Tom said, “Is there a place we can sit down and maybe have a bite to eat around here?”
“Dining room, second door on the right in the main hall.”
So the wolven left with no combat, and the pcs were even more confused.
They followed the wolven out into the large hall and were immediately dazzled by the sheer massiveness of it. The entire thing was about 80 feet wide and hundreds of feet long. Polished mirrors adorned the walls, and the hall was lit by brass candle holders and glass chandeliers. At the far end of the hall, there was an elevated walkway that passed over the corridor with a door at either end.
When the last character entered the hallway, all the doors in the hall swung open and then slammed shut, the burst of air causing all the candles to go out. So Lucian raised Dawnbringer and called for light…and as the room lit, it burst into a blinding dazzle that left everyone literally blinded.
Dazzled, the party hunkered down, hoping for the effect to pass. After half an hour, they heard a door open and (one bad reaction roll later) they heard someone say, “Oh, this looks like fun.” Then they heard a stretching, tearing sound, and the sound of bones popping and breaking, and something heavy hitting the floor. Claws clicked on the tiles and Lucian made out four claw groupings (so one creature he figured).
With quick thinking, Alfric flung Ophidius at the sound. Unfortunately for him, the creature avoided it, but the snake was still in play. Initiative was rolled and Long Tom called out a command word, “Sleep!” and they heard the sound of something heavy hit the ground, followed by a rumbling snore. The snake made a second attempt and this time, it succeeded grappling the unknown monster.
Twenty minutes later, some of the party found they could see, and they saw a tiger bound by the snake. So they did what any reasonable person would do in such a situation and interrogated the animal. Eventually it turned back into a naked human man. By sword point he revealed that he lived with the Cazin (the cat people that lived next door to Jean-Lewis, something Jean-Lewis told them about already). He said they had money and would pay for him, even though he wasn’t one of them.
“How do we get out of here?” they asked.
“You don’t,” Raakaa (that was his name) said, “The only people who leave are the ones who can’t take it anymore and walk into the mist. That’s the only way out.”
They asked him how long he’d been here and whether he’d been trapped in the same fashion as they had. He seemed confused and then admitted he couldn’t remember a time before being here.
“Well,” Long Tom said, “we are getting out of here.”
“And when we go, there will be an opportunity for someone such as yourself, if you should join us. An opportunity to run and hunt and kill, with no peasants and pitchforks. And money, lots of money,” Alfric added.
Surprised by this turn of events, I had them make a reaction roll and rather than death, the Weretiger joined the party!
They gave him some spare clothes and asked about food and places to avoid. He mentioned a place that the Cazin avoided as dangerous and echoed the sentiment that food could be found in the dining hall. He didn’t know if it was safe as he hunted his food.
So they waited a bit longer and had another wandering encounter, a large stone statue that was immediately hostile. They took it apart before it could get to them with spells and ranged attacks. Then the rest of the party eventually started seeing again so they all head for the dining room.
At first they saw a scene of horrible decay and rot, an ancient vast dining room filled with moth-eaten clothes and cobweb covered furniture. Then, as ghostly visitors filed in by walking through the wall, everything seemed to shimmer and become new and beautiful again (though with concentration, they could see the true version beneath like a double image). AT the table, there were 12 places set (besides the places filled with ghostly humans, tryshallans, and dwarves) that had name plates for each of the pcs and their henchmen (12 was the max there could be and coincidentally, there were exactly 12 of them plus Darren).
After seating themselves, ghostly porters brought them wine and onion soup, the first course of many. Most of the party indulged, except the two elves who didn’t trust this necromantic appearing feast. Everyone who ate from it made a saving throw, those who failed gained +1d4 permanent hit points.
The wine healed all injuries and diseases, but they weren’t suffering except for Long Tom.
Needless to say, they were all shocked by this turn of events. Before we could go any further, a golden mist descended upon them and they appeared in a glowing golden plane, where they felt safe and protected. They did not hunger or want, and time had no meaning. I also told them they could sense other presences in the mist, people with strong connections to them. In other words, I left a door open for characters to be introduced should they start dying horribly… as they probably will next session.
I wanted to make it a bit further in the feast. As those who have read the module know, there are two ‘save-or-die’ effects coming up and I’m not a huge fan of those. I’d hoped I could use the golden mist to protect them from the fall out of the effect that might see them converted into more ghostly diners. I hope that maybe after they hit some of the lesser negative effects that they might stop eating. But I’ve warned them out of play that this is a high-risk, high-reward module.