Tagavorner Haykakan

The Perils of Mayordom
Caves of Chaos, parts 14 & 15

The as-yet unnamed party:

Arxire Coilbone, tiefling warlock (Rory)
Erdon Thistleborn, elf cleric (Michael G.)
Felix, gnome wizard (Nico)
-Belvedere, his familiar
Gogh, half-elf rogue (Brian)
-Esh, his donkey
Mathis, human monk (Zach)
Misty, elf paladin (Allie)
Naivara, elf druid (Janine)
Saul, human woodcutter (Michael D.)

RIP:
Beezmo, halfling druid
-Drex, his mastiff
Kiko, Naivara’s ferret
Lichen, drow warlock
Tyriel Morlane, half-elf ranger

Having discovered the tragic fate of Antsiss Whitebeard, destroyed every living creature in Malvern Manor, burned said manor house to the ground, and captured a half-dead dwarf who they assumed to be Old Man Malvern, our heroes started back toward town to inform Mayor Whitebeard that…well, therein lay the rub. What to tell the Lord Mayor?

Should they tell the mayor that he’d abandoned his gentle, unloved son to a hideous fate and present him with the pile of irrefutable evidence, knowing that the mayor’s primary concern was not for his son but for his own reputation? Should they lie and say that the rumors of Antsiss sneaking away on a pirate ship were true? How much should they tell him about the nefarious doings of Old Man Malvern? The group was divided, but in the end they decided to send Gogh, Hero of Fairbanks, to meet with the mayor, along with Arxire, who’d had his problems with the mayor but who possessed a considerable degree of tact. The rest huddled up in the woods south of town, with Erdon tending to their prisoner.

The sun was setting as the assassin and the warlock strode into the market square. They were shocked to see a small but sharply appointed schooner at anchor in the harbor. It was far too late in the season for merchants to risk the ice-choked waters of the White Bear Sea…who had arrived?

They proceeded to the Golden Stein, where they found the mayor in high spirits and surrounded by a hearty looking band of adventurers led by a stout dwarf who looked remarkably like him. Mayor Whitebeard was delighted to see his trusted agent Gogh, though somewhat less delighted to see the the forger Arxire; nonetheless he called them over and introduced his son Altwar and his famed band of adventurers the Altwarriors. They’d come to town to rid the region of the threat from Blackstar Canyon, get the damned road open, and save the town, by Moradin! Huzzah! And the packed public house rejoiced at the hero’s bold proclamation.

Though no doubt perturbed at the mayor offering the canyon contract to another party, Gogh greeted the haughty heroes cordially and asked the mayor for a private word in the back. The mayor insisted that his famous son join them as well.

When Gogh and Arxire returned to the party, they were escorted by Altwar, who took the half-dead dwarf prisoner into his custody and returned to town. They no longer possessed any of the journals, letters, or other evidence collected from Malvern Manor, though Erdon still had Antsiss’s novel. Gogh and Arxire related to the party that they were all to be well paid for their services, though none of them should ever speak of any of this again, on pain of death. Antsiss had hopped aboard a pirate ship some months prior, Malvern Manor had burned down accidentally, and there was nothing more to say about the matter, ever. The holy men Erdon and Mathis were displeased with these terms, though there was little to be done about it now.

Our heroes returned to town and were forced to take rooms in the seedy Winking Serpent (the Altwarriors had commandeered the Golden Stein). No doubt some slept better than others.

The next morning, much of the town was assembled in the market square where a dais had been erected, upon which Altwar and the Altwarriors were being feted and were regaling the commoners with tales of heroism (their own, of course). Naturally, the mayor was basking in the glory as well.

Our suddenly anonymous heroes decided to visit their old frenemy Carlin the Seer. There they gained a great deal of knowledge about the wide array of magical equipment they’d acquired at the manor house, but as usual, the price was steep. They were forced to trade several interesting trinkets, including mysterious bottles that turned coins into more valuable versions that couldn’t be extracted (Erdon was to learn that these were knowns as Lesson Bottles, and that by dropping his entire personal fortune into one, he’d learned an expensive lesson about dropping money into magical bottles). Mathis learned a great deal more about the monk hero Carrack, whose boot piece he carried, where he could find the other pieces of Carrack’s attire, and that his own dead brother was searching for him—but he was forced to give up his most closely guarded secret in order to do so. Now Carlin possessed information that could bring down the wrath of the Tahsatran Empire upon Mathis and his companions (not to mention several pints of their blood, samples of their bodily hair, and the promise of the paladin’s firstborn).

When they returned to town, they visited poor, ailing Sister Marla, then the warlocks headed for the archives to research godknowswhat and brew some potions. While there, they noticed a shadowy figure spying on them, but they were unable to prevent its escape. Anxious to try out his new rituals for corrupting and uncorrupting woodland creatures, Arxire captured a squirrel, and performed the ritual. He was unprepared for the evil monster he created, which sank jagged fangs into his hand and ran into the woods.

Fortunately, the druid Naivara was unaware of this travesty against nature, as she, Felix, and Mathis were about to engage in one of the most daring and astoundingly successful bits of espionage in history. Mathis used Antsiss’s magical box to shrink himself to the size of his thumb, Naivara turned herself into a spider, and Felix directed his familiar Belvedere, in raven form, to carry them to the window ledge of the mayor’s office, where he was conducting a private meeting with the Altwarriors.

Mathis and Naivara learned that the mayor distrusted Felix and was unsure if the new title he’d bestowed upon the gnome (“Most Excellent and Dignified Recoverer of Answers and Antiquities”) was enough to buy his silence and complicity in the Antsiss matter. He’d arranged to meet Felix that night near the ruins of Malvern Manor to discuss further terms, including a seat on the town council for Felix. But now it sounded as if the mayor and the Altwarriors were preparing an ambush.

Midway through the meeting, the mayor stepped out to meet with Gogh, and he returned with a signed contract that he secreted away in the stout floor safe beneath his desk.

With that, the mayor adjourned the meeting and instructed the Altwarriors to make all necessary preparations and await him in the Malvern orchard. He then locked the window and his safe, and departed for the Golden Stein, locking his door behind him.

But unbeknownst to him, mini-Mathis and spider-Naivara had already snuck into his office and were hiding behind a potted plant on the window sill. Naivara crawled into the keyhole of the mayor’s floor safe and against all odds was able to decipher how the lock worked. And against absurdly all odds ever, was able to pop the lock from inside it. Mathis then swung the safe door open, and before them lay reams of evidence of the mayor’s shady dealings with smugglers, extortion and bribery of the citizenry, even secret pacts with the cult operating out of Blackstar Canyon. They also discovered a fortune in gems and platinum pieces.

Mathis dragged every last piece of evidence—every hidden contract, every damning bit of correspondence, every pledge of secret support—out of the safe, bound it together along with as many jewels as he thought Belvedere could carry, and the three of them flew back to the Winking Serpent.

And now the great debate. What to do with all this power? Should they confront the mayor? If so, where? In the orchard at midnight, away from witnesses but where he’d be unable to call down the town guard? Should they stir up a revolution in town while the mayor was out of pocket? Were they any match for the Altwarriors? They sought the council of Sister Marla, who encouraged them to be brave and to speak with the furrier Pallock Pawstorm, a sturdy and respected dwarf who was one of the few citizens known to stand up to the mayor.

Pawstorm assured them that he was not in the mayor’s pocket, but cautioned them that he was one of the few. Impressed by his reputation and bearing, the party proposed installing Pawstorm as mayor, once they toppled the corrupt Mayor Whitebeard. He was willing to do what was best for the town, but he warned the party that the Whitebeards were allies of the Boldcrates, the despised but unquestionably dominant dwarf family, whose head sat on the Tahsatran Council of Three. Overthrowing a Boldcrate-appointed official would earn them enemies in the capital—but doing so would also win them a great many friends in Oldberk, the birthplace of every major dwarven revolution and the ancestral capital of the ancient dwarven kingdom.

While the party discussed their next move, a mysterious woodcutter named Saul, who’d sought out the party and expressed interest in joining their cause, slipped out of Pawstorm’s house on a mysterious errand.

Shortly thereafter, the alarm bells were ringing in the town square. Upon arrival, our heroes discovered the bodies of two town hall guards, cut down in cold blood. The second-story window of the mayor’s office had been shattered and foul curses were scrawled on the front door of the town hall in orcish. The town was in a panic, and the mayor and the Altwarriors were nowhere to be found. Gogh and Mathis talked their way past the guards and entered the town hall. Mathis distracted the sergeant and his troops, who were conducting a thorough search of the first floor, while Gogh slipped upstairs, picked the lock of the mayor’s office, looted the remaining treasure, closed the safe that Mathis and Naivara had left open, removed the stone that someone had thrown through the window, and snuck quietly back downstairs.

Meanwhile, Felix was rallying the townspeople, encouraging them to take heart and seek out the absent mayor and demand retribution for this invasion. Arxire created the aural illusion of orc howls and horns emanating from the south of town. That, combined with Felix’s persuasive powers, caused a group of 12 townspeople, including the sergeant of the town guard, to begin marching south—toward Malvern Manor where the oblivious mayor and Altwarriors were awaiting the arrival of Felix.

Sneaking ahead of the crowd, Gogh espied the mayor in a clearing just off the road, casually burning all the Malvern evidence in a merry bonfire. Mathis rushed ahead of the townspeople and spread all of the evidence from the mayor’s safe on the road in front of them. Then Erdon and Saul stepped into the bonfire’s light and told the mayor that the jig was up. They were in possession of evidence of his corruption and now so were the townspeople. The mayor looked with disbelief, then with horror as his citizens and sergeant pored through the contents of his secret safe. While Felix found himself fending off magical attacks from an unseen source, the mayor ordered them all back to town, but they were beginning to look at him with newfound distrust and loathing.

The mayor’s expression changed from near panic to grim, hateful resignation. “Biggsley, destroy the evidence” he said. A massive fireball hurtled out of the darkness behind him, incinerating the evidence and eleven of the twelve townspeople. Only the sergeant survived the explosion.

Altwar stepped out from behind a rock to stand at his father’s side, hefting a massive two-handed maul, and it was clear that there would be no peaceful resolution on this night.

Mathis charged forward but lost his footing and fell into the mayor’s bonfire, while Erdon got Saul back on his feet after the fireball from the Altwarrior’s terrifying hidden wizard Biggsley. Gogh misfired his crossbow, then snuck toward the mayor’s flank, coming face-to-face with Gondom LePag, the massive swordsman. Felix and Arxire launched ranged attacks on the mayor, who was urging his comrades on with tales and songs of Whitebeard bravery, and the Altwarrior’s dark dwarven priest Caleb Ironwheel. Altwar himself sent Erdon, Saul, and Mathis reeling with devastating blows from his maul, and all the while Biggsley stalked the shadows unseen, launching arcane attacks.

Then Felix the warlock stepped up, first putting the mayor to sleep then charming Gondom LePag into seeking out and attacking the hidden wizard Biggsley. Gogh’s and Arxire’s ranged attacks began taking their toll on Altwar and he staggered, near death. But Ironwheel revived him, and Mathis and Erdon turned their attention to the priest. Gogh and charmed LePag brought down Biggsley, and the priest fell before Mathis and Erdon. The monk then beat the half-elf thief Shish into pulp, and by the time the mayor woke up from his ensorceled sleep, he was surrounded by dead Altwarriors. He threw himself on the mercy of our heroes, begging for his life and that of his son. The party took him prisoner, stabilized Altwar, and sent the sergeant back to town with the news that the true heroes of Fairbanks were returning, and that change was coming with them.

View
Mutant Point
Mystery of Malvern Manor, parts 1-3 / Caves of Chaos parts 10-13

The as-yet unnamed party:

Arxire Coilbone, tiefling warlock (Rory)
Erdon Thistleborn, elf cleric (Michael G.)
Felix, gnome wizard (Nico)
-Belvedere, his familiar
Gogh, half-elf rogue (Brian)
-Esh, his donkey
Mathis, human monk (Zach)
Misty, elf paladin (Allie)
Naivara, elf druid (Janine)

RIP:
Beezmo, halfling druid
-Drex, his mastiff
Kiko, Naivara’s ferret
Lichen, drow warlock
Tyriel Morlane, half-elf ranger

Upon returning to Fairbanks, the party made for the Temple of Life to check on their beloved Sister Marla, and they were saddened to see that her physical and emotional states had further deteriorated due to the spiritual assault emanating from somewhere in Blackstar Canyon. But she had not been idle, having made a few key discoveries in the archives below the temple. She’d learned that an ancient and abhorrent dwarven cult known as the Sowbocks had once maintained a secret shrine to the evil god Torog somewhere to the east of the town. To please their patron, the god of enslavement and imprisonment, the dwarves constructed a labyrinthine network of tunnels with a monolith at its center—all of which was designed to capture the souls of dying dwarves. Marla believed that these souls’ desperate wails for help and liberation were the source of her malady. Arxire, Erdon, and Felix swore to redouble the efforts to free not only Marla from this curse, but the dwarven souls from enslavement as well.

Gogh was then summoned by the mayor and given an urgent assignment. The mayor had two sons, the war hero Altwar and the “worthless” Antsiss. The former was leading an adventuring company based in the ancient capital of Oldberk. The latter had been sent by the mayor to apprentice at the manor house of a wealthy farmer on the southern edge of town. Of late, there’d been a few strange rumors about the manor and its eccentric owner Mordecai Malvern. And there’d been no word from Antsiss either. Above all, the mayor was worried about his worthless son causing some sort of scandal that would undermine his position in town, so Gogh swore to investigate the matter with all due discretion. The mayor even agreed to lend them the remarkable shield and hammer that hung in his office.

While Naivara and Misty convalesced in town, Gogh, Felix, Erdon, Mathis, and Arxire restocked, gathered some information (including a rumor that Antsiss had never actually gone to the manor but had instead boarded a pirate ship some months ago and sailed off in search of adventure), and set off for the manor.

The Malvern family had once been prominent farmers, though our heroes noted that their extensive fruit and nut orchards were suffering from severe neglect. The once-impressive manor house itself showed evidence of some recent calamity—windows were shattered and broken furniture was strewn about the untended lawn.

With the late afternoon shadows lengthening, the group spread out and began poking around the front of the house. Peering around the northwest corner, Arxire was horrified to behold a group of hideously mutated abominations shambling toward him—goblins with tentacles for arms, a wolf-headed thing with a clacking beak, a huge golem-like monstrosity composed of human and aquatic animal parts. Our heroes employed brawn, magic, and tactical acumen to dispatch the grotesque creatures, but they were only the beginning of the horrors to be found inside Malvern Manor.

Venomous spiders the size of pigs descending from chandeliers, suits of armor and weapons attacking from shadowy corners, and odious two-headed dogs with purple disease dripping from their jowls—and that was just in the foyer. Pushed to the brink of annihilation, the party staggered back through the orchard—wisely evading a hungry owlbear—to spend the night in the comfort of the Golden Stein.

The next morning found them back on the grounds of the manor, but this time they eschewed the front door and explored the extensive rear garden. There they encountered a beautiful water nymph beckoning them from a small pond. She claimed to be a dryad who’d been enslaved by the weird sorcery of Old Man Malvern. Felix proved resistant to her charms and insisted that she wasn’t what she seemed. But Mathis, Erdon, and Arxire approached and offered her aid, while Gogh remained hidden in the shrubbery. Felix’s intuition proved all too sharp, as the thing that might once have been a dryad revealed its hideous, corrupted nature in a flurry of tentacles that sprung from the pond. Grasping tentacles and mind-dominating psychic attacks drew them one by one into the pond, where they faced death by drowning or being devoured by the hungry jaws that comprised the creature’s submerged lower half. Finally the cackling fiend was destroyed, and Erdon emerged from the scum-covered pond with a rare and fantastical sword known as the Blade of the Deep Waters.

The party then explored the small guest house, which they discovered had been the abode of poor Antsiss, the mayor’s unloved youngest son. A thorough investigation of the fireplace, his footlocker, and writing desk revealed that Antsiss was a gentle soul, who wished nothing more that to write heroic tales of a great and noble dwarven adventurer he called “Pantsiss”. They also discovered that Antsiss had hidden away a journal and a desperate note to his father, in which he expressed first curiosity, then terror about the unnatural experiments being conducted in the manor’s basement as Old Man Malvern searched for what he called “the apex predator”. It seemed that Antsiss had become a prisoner in the manor and he feared he might become the subject of the crazed dwarf’s next experiment.

After resting briefly in the guest house, they investigated a gazebo that overlooked the foul pond. They found tomes and runes to be used in a ritual for corrupting woodland creatures, which seemed to shed some light on the nature of the tentacled creature that had nearly lured them to their doom. Arxire took a particular interest in this ritual and its trappings.

Turning their attention once more to the manor house, they crawled through an open window into a music room that featured an elegant piano with several sheets of music lying about. When Arxire played the music, eerie illusions of tentacles and aquatic scenes emanated from the piano. Further explorations of the ground floor turned up a mysterious, though obviously magical music box devoted to the heroic dwarven thief Calibra Dalig. They also discovered the incubation chamber of the giant spiders, which they torched, and the bodies of several dead town guards, who Mayor Whitebeard had sent to the manor the week before. In the extensive library, Felix and Arxire laid claim to several rare and interesting tomes about botany, the region’s history, and dwarven commerce.

Though thoroughly ransacked, the ground floor seemed to hold no further danger, until the party espied the bottom half of a glistening orb dangling from a large central chimney. After a few tentative investigations, Mathis’s curiosity got the better of him and he grabbed the orb with both hands—and immediately found his hands irrevocable stuck to the glistening globule and his entire body being dragged up the chimney. First Erdon, then Gogh, then Felix grabbed hold of the monk, but they all lost their grip. Arxire made a brave dash up the heavily damaged staircase, but it collapsed under his weight, sending him careening to the floor of the great hall in a pile of dust and rubble. And Mathis continued to be dragged to some horrible, unknown fate in the backness above.

But Erdon had spotted a thin tendril connecting the globule to whatever was reeling it up from above, and he prayed to Mystral, summoned spectral blades, and called upon them to make a desperate slash at the tendril…and Mystral answered his prayer. The tendril was severed and the monk came tumbling back down the chimney, bruised but safe.

Making their way carefully up what remained of the staircase, the party explored the mostly empty, though trashed, second floor. But in the master bedroom, they came across an old, emaciated, nearly dead dwarf, who’d been severely beaten and mutilated. They assumed that this was Old Man Malvern, but they couldn’t confirm it, as the dwarf’s tongue had been ripped out. A search of the bedroom revealed a journal chronicling the eccentric dwarf’s obsession with octopi, which he revered as the “apex predator”, and his twisted quest to harness the power of the creature through inhuman experiments.

They located a trapdoor to the attic and steeled themselves to face whatever horror had nearly dragged Mathis to his doom. And it was waiting for them, a hideous amalgamation of giant bola spider and octopus that immediately snatched Gogh into the air and then sent a barrel crashing into Arxire and Erdon, knocking them through the attic wall and sending them tumbling to the manor lawn three stories below. Which left Gogh, Felix, and Mathis to face this eight-legged, eight-tentacled horror the size of an ox-drawn cart.

Free of the tentacles, Gogh used his elusiveness to strike vulnerable areas, while Mathis waded in with knees and elbows flying. So fierce was the latter attack, that the behemoth was knocked off-balance and flipped onto its back, and Mathis continued to pummel away. Meanwhile, Felix sacrificed a handful of valuable diamond shards in order to conjure forth chromatic orbs, which he sent hurtling toward the beast to devastating effect. By the time Mathis and Arxire had recovered themselves and made their way through the house and up to the attic, the abomination lay dead at Mathis’s feet, while Felix giggled maniacally and Gogh chuckled from the shadows.

But even this ghastly monster paled in comparison to the unholy horrors that awaited them in Old Man Malvern’s basement laboratory. Gogh was first to descend the staircase onto a metal catwalk overlooking a tiled room filled with bizarre apparatuses and equipment, several huge holding tanks containing vile fluid and tentacled creatures, several bookcases full of scrolls and tomes, and worst of all four giant leech-like creatures and one hideously mutated monstrosity with tentacles for arms, a giant beak grafted onto his face, and a horned helmet bolted to its bulging skull—the same type of helmet poor Antsiss was known to wear. Gogh’s skill in quiet murder were on display, as he quickly and quietly dispatched one of the leechlike creatures that was crawling about on the catwalk.

Then Mathis silently descended the steel ladder and took up position behind one of the large specimen tanks. Erdon descended into the chamber of madness next, but he was less stealthy, and the vile creatures swung their hideous gazes in his direction. Arxire gazed into the creature’s eyes and peered into its warped mind, searching for some sign that poor Antsiss was still in there, somewhere. But there was nothing but madness, rage, and hatred. Thus was the final confrontation in the doomed manor house commenced. Guessing that the dwarven music box had been among Antsiss’s most treasured possessions, Mathis used its song to draw the creature that must once have been the poor dwarf near the tanks, but its mutated appendages could no longer grasp the box. At that point, the thing became enraged. It thrashed about, shattering one of the holding tanks and sending noxious fluid spilling out all over itself and the floor. Mathis then lit a torch, dropped it in the substance, and watched as the thing became engulfed in flaming acid. Erdon then climbed from the catwalk onto an adjacent tank, and from there launched himself onto the back of the creature, sword-first. Felix then scuttled up the wall and onto the ceiling, and from there he began to launch withering arcane attacks on the creature. Arxire and Gogh were holding off two leech monsters that were attempting to ascend the ladder to the catwalk, when suddenly the creature that once was Antsiss grabbed the ladder with its tentacles, ripped the think out of the floor and sent the whole catwalk and those still standing on it tumbling to the ground.

After perhaps the most desperate struggle of their adventuring careers to that point, the abominations were finally put down, though our heroes were not out of danger yet. For the laboratory was filling with noxious fumes of burning chemicals, and the ladder to the only exit lay in a twisted heap on the laboratory floor. While Gogh, Arxire, and Felix rushed wildly about the lab gathering books, scrolls, alchemical equipment, and other valuable loot, Mathis scaled the wall and secured a rope to a sturdy banister on the ground floor. With mere moments to spare, the party staggered, choking and spitting, out of the now burning manor and onto the lawn outside. But suddenly they remembered the nearly dead dwarf on the second floor.

With blinding speed borne of his monkish training, Mathis dashed inside the house, now fully engulfed in flames. His companions watched the door for the monk’s return, but suddenly they heard glass shattering and looked up to see the monk, with the dwarf in his arms, crashing through a second floor window, just as the manor house exploded in a calamitous blast of alchemical ferocity.

The monk landed unharmed on ground below and rejoined his companions as Malvern Manor and all its horrors and secrets burned to nothingness in the slanting afternoon light of late autumn.

View
Draconic Necrosodomy and Other Feats of Bravery
Caves of Chaos, parts 8 & 9

The as-yet unnamed party:

Arxire Coilbone, tiefling warlock (Rory)
Erdon Thistleborn, elf cleric (Michael G.)
Felix, gnome wizard (Nico)
-Belvedere, his raven
Gogh, half-elf rogue (Brian)
-Esh, his donkey
Mathis, human monk (Zach)
Misty, elf paladin (Allie)
Naivara, elf druid (Janine)

RIP:
Beezmo, halfling druid
-Drex, his mastiff
Kiko, Naivara’s ferret
Lichen, drow warlock
Tyriel Morlane, half-elf ranger

The dust and kobold parts had barely settled after the explosion of Fingerpop’s powder keg, when our heroes heard howls of fury and the sound of charging feet coming from a side corridor. As Erdon braced himself for whatever might emerge from around the corner, Felix let loose a billowing cloud of smoke to cover their escape. Erdon was set upon by a wingless dragonlike creature the size of a pony—the kobold chieftain’s guard drake—which gnashed at him with claws and teeth. The cleric managed to hold the thing back long enough for Felix and Mathis to retreat back to cave entrance to set up an ambush of their own.

They laid a plank across the pit that Gogh had tumbled into previously, then called for their comrades to cross it post-haste. Once the party was safely across, they had all sorts of nasty surprises in mind for their pursuers. Unfortunately, things didn’t go quite as planned.

Misty was knocked unconscious by the rampaging drake, two kobold guards, and the winged chieftain himself. Then Arxire and Erdon, in their haste to cross the plank, lost their footing and tumbled into the pit. Mathis tossed a health potion down to the elf cleric, but it eluded his grasp and shattered on the pit floor. In desperation, Erdon lapped the potion from the filthy cracks, which helped restore his health a bit, but which also resulted in his contracting filth fever. Meanwhile, Felix’s plan went into effect: He cast grease in front of the pit, which sent one of the kobolds and the drake sliding into the pit—and on top of Arxire and Erdon. He then unleashed a hellish chromatic orb, which killed the kobold chieftain in one shot. Gogh and Naivara brought down the other kobold, then began firing into the gore-filled pit that has gone down in party history as “The Blenderdome”. Eventually, the evildoers were killed and the party set about looting their bodies.

Some subtle insight led Mathis to remove the metal eyepatch that was bolted to the chieftain’s skull. In the eye socket behind it lay a valuable emerald, but of much greater significance to the monk was the eyepatch itself, which he recognized as the toe of a sandal once worn by a legendary monk of Kord, who once ascended Thunderspire Peak to battle a dragon—although Mathis’s own monastery contented that the monk, known as Carrack, actually transformed into a dragon.

What led Erdon to inspect the anus of the drake is anyone’s guess, but unfortunately all he had to show for his investigation was a horrible intestinal parasite.

The party then looted the kobold chieftain’s quarters, where Gogh uncovered a cleverly hidden go-bag by letting the water out of a murky pool. The bag contained a number of useful items, including a note entitling its bearer to unmolested passage through areas controlled by the Cult of Orcus. Gogh also uncovered the chieftain’s hidden exit, which Misty explored before the group reconvened and decided to dispatch Mathis, Misty, Erdon, and Felix to investigate an orc cave while the rest guarded their rear.

As the foursome ascended the steep switchback that led to the orc cave some 70 feet above the floor of the canyon, they noticed a dozen or so heads—goblins, humans, dwarves, orcs—decorating the wall on one side of the cave entrance. To their surprise, they noticed that one of the orc heads was actually alive. They puzzled over this discovery for a moment, but when they turned back to it, they found that it was in fact dead—or had been replaced by a dead one, as it turned out.

Erdon ventured first into the cavern, but was immediately beset by a number of javelins flying out from the darkness. He retreated to safety, but Misty’s blood was up. She charged into the thick of the ambush and was immediately cut down by four axe-wielding orcs. Meanwhile, outside the cave, the dead heads had been withdrawn to reveal a wall pockmarked with small holes—and out of these small holes flashed spearheads. Erdon and Mathis moved forward in unison to meet the charging orcs, while Felix sent his Raven Belvedere in to recon the caves and harry their attackers. The heroes killed five orcs and managed to capture the sixth for questioning. Felix hypnotized the beast, whose name was Dunduck.

Poor Dunduck was just a lowly member of the lowly Broketeefs tribe, which was under threat of enslavement from the black-robed cultists and slaughter from the Severed Eye orcs, both of which resided in Blackstar Canyon. Dunduck’s stupidity won the sympathy of our heroes, and after he’s provided them with some intel about the Broketeef chieftain’s chambers, they let him go.

Felix, now invisible, then scouted ahead beyond a slipshot banquet hall to the edge of a large cavern that the tribe was using as its common area. Some 40 Broketeef orcs of both sexes and varying ages were there going about their daily business or sleeping. The party opted to leave them be for the moment and explore another cavern.

They cave across a door they couldn’t unlock but continued on with Felix scouting ahead. When the gnome pushed open a final door, he beheld a large, armored orc being tended to by two of his concubines. Unfortunately, that’s when Felix’s invisibility spell gave out, and he found himself on the business end of the chieftain’s battle axe. The diminutive wizard did manage to put both of the concubines to sleep before retreating behind his companions, who had rushed forward to his aid.

The ensuing combat was bloody, if brief, with the chieftain Big Munch getting the worst of it before finally retreating and disappearing behind a tapestry. But his concubines were awake now, and they proved themselves to be quite capable with spears and our heroes were forced to retreat.

Low on supplies and facing the possibility of having roused an entire orc tribe, they made once more for the road to Fairbanks.

View
Get Kobold of Yourself
Caves of Chaos, part 7

The as-yet unnamed party:

Arxire Coilbone, tiefling warlock (Rory)
Erdon Thistleborn, elf cleric (Michael G.)
Felix, gnome wizard (Nico)
-Belvedere, his raven
Gogh, half-elf rogue (Brian)
-Esh, his donkey
Mathis, human monk (Zach)
Misty, elf paladin (Allie)
Naivara, elf druid (Janine)

RIP:
Beezmo, halfling druid
-Drex, his mastiff
Kiko, Naivara’s ferret
Lichen, drow warlock
Tyriel Morlane, half-elf ranger

Having rescued Arxire from the headsman’s block, most of the company retired to the Winking Serpent for a well-deserved round of adult beverages and likewise well-deserved tongue-lashing from the barwench Demma Kickbride.

Felix was more interested in summoning a familiar, which he did, in the form of a raven named Belvedere. Arxire visited Sister Marla and offered her a hefty sack of gold and one of Carlin’s magical charms in recognition of her efforts on his behalf and in return for healing some of the grievous damage done by the Emperor’s Inquisitor Lady Wimsette. She was quite taken with the charismatic foreign nobleman, though she bade him walk a straighter path in life. Gogh swung by the blacksmith’s to pick up a set of curved knives he’d commissioned and to order a set of barding for his donkey Esh.

Back in the Serpent, the monk Mathis questioned Demma about the Emperor’s Justice and goings on about town. Getting little from her but sighs and eye-rolls, he approached the shady elf herbalist Pizzel. He forked over several gold pieces for information about the tribunal and Blackstar Canyon, but as the elf talked his stories became harder and harder to believe. Eventually Mathis realized he’d paid for nothing but lies. The loss of money meant little to him, but Gogh was not happy with what he saw. His threats caused Pizzel to throw Mathis’s coins in Gogh’s face, but the assassin slowly rose, told Demma the coins on the floor were her tip, and the party left town once more.

Mathis and Arxire paid a visit to Carlin while the rest of the group proceeded to the canyon. Mathis presented the seer with his treasured dragon scale, hoping to learn more about its origin and meaning. Carlin bade the monk descent the stone staircase and face a trial to determine whether he was worthy of this knowledge. Mathis did so and found himself faced with a puzzle involving a riddle, a small waterfall, and three empty jugs—in a room filling with poison gas.

Above, Arxire questioned Carlin about the Jampor and the tiefling invasion that took place some 120 years ago. Carlin divulged a great deal of information in exchange for Arxire’s promise to grow his tiefling horns out for an entire year, then return to the shrine and give them to him. Carlin then informed Arxire that Mathis was very close to dying in the trial below. Arxire offered to help him and the seer granted the request.

The clever warlock quickly solved the riddle and freed them both from the toxic fumes, but when they ascended the stairway, Carlin was there but Mathis’s dragon scale was not. The mystic informed Mathis that he had proven himself unworthy of the artifact, but that should he wish, he could attempt to prove himself again at a later time. Mathis swore to do so, and the two departed for Blackstar Canyon.

On the way there, Naivara had used the pinecone charm given to her by the elves to speak with trees near the edge of the pestilence in the soil that was killing all vegetation. Those still alive bade her speak with the sentinel oak in the middle of Blackstar Canyon, as it was planted by an archdruid eons ago to keep watch over the evil that lay in the ground below.

When the party arrived at the canyon, night fall was upon them. From two caves on the north side of the canyon, torch-bearing, black-robed figures emerged, with lines of creatures following them. The creatures were forcibly marched into the furthest reaches of the canyon where they disappeared into another cave. Some of the party members were convinced that the enslaved creatures were gnomes and suggested an immediate rescue. In the end, the party elected to hide and watch, and when the coast was clear, Naivara transformed herself into a mole and burrowed through the foul black soil to the foot of the sentinel oak.

This mighty tree told her the tale of his birth and why he’d been planted there by the archdruid Kassian. An evil seed had fallen from the sky and carved out the canyon in which they stood, and he’d been planted there to hold back that evil. He’d been able to do so until recently, when the black-robed figures had begun stirring up the evil while digging endlessly in search of it. Based upon this description, Naivara was able to deduce approximately where the seed was buried, likely somewhere beneath the cave into which the black-robed figures marched their prisoners. Naivara asked how she might help the sentinel oak, but it was too late. It did drop a large acorn from its highest bough into her hands, asking her to plant this seed somewhere safe so that its kind might live on. Naivara swore to do so and rejoined her comrades, who’d decided to scout the ground-level cave from which prisoners had been taken.

Gogh crept forward into the blackness while the party took up defensive positions outside. The floor suddenly gave way beneath the half-elf, dropping him into a pit, then re-closing above him. Hearing a commotion, Arxire investigated. He could find no trace of his companion, but he did hear the barking chatter of approaching creatures. He boomed out orders in his infernal tongue, which quieted them, then he retreated to warn the others.

The creatures, kobolds as it turned out, watched the cave entrance warily while they released the trap door and commanded Gogh to submit to them. Gogh’s intimidating presence bought him a little time, enough eat least for his companions to launch an assault. Mathis and Erdon charged in, while Arxire, Felix, and Naivara launched ranged attacks. After several moments of intense combat, the magical attacks of Arxire and Felix finally convinced the kobolds to retreat. Gogh dashed off in pursuit, while Erdon and Naivara explored a trash pile in an adjacent cave, where they managed to stir up a swarm of diseased rats and one particularly angry dire rat.

Gogh’s headlong charge had brought him face-to-face with the entire kobold tribe, some 40 strong. Their barrage of sling bullets brought him down, but Mathis rushed forward to his rescue before they could claim his body. Having eliminated the rodent problem, the company moved forward as one into the kobold lair. Felix spotted a group attempting to flank them from a side passage and quickly put them all to sleep. Gogh, revived by a healing potion, retrieved the powder keg they’d claimed from Fingerpop’s chambers, improvised a fuse and hurled the makeshift bomb into the onrushing swarm of kobolds. The group took cover in a side passage, which Naivara had doused with a flood of water for added protection. And none too soon, as the powder keg exploded with deafening fury, blowing an entire clan of kobolds back to Kurtulmak.

View
Trial and Errors
Caves of Chaos, part 6

Arxire Coilbone, tiefling warlock (Rory)
Erdon Thistleborn, elf cleric (Michael G.)
Felix, gnome wizard (Nico)
Gogh, half-elf rogue (Brian)
-Esh, his donkey
Mathis, human monk (Zach)
Misty, elf paladin (Allie)
Naivara, elf druid (Janine)

RIP:
Beezmo, halfling druid
-Drex, his mastiff
Kiko, Naivara’s ferret
Lichen, drow warlock
Tyriel Morlane, half-elf ranger

Our heroes made camp in Fingerpop’s chambers, while Gogh and Beezmo, who’d returned to the party after some solo exploration, took first watch. Before long, they spotted three hobgoblins approaching quietly from the storage room hallway. While sneaking back to the group, warning them, and formulating a coordinated attack strategy was an option, the two sentries and Drex elected to fire on the creatures from the shadows. The well-trained goblinoids returned fire, striking Beezmo with three cruelly barbed crossbow quarrels, and the Feathered Horde druid fell dead on the cavern floor. His loyal mastiff Drex howled ferociously and leapt forward to avenge his fallen master, but alas, he too was cut down by three swift longsword strokes.

The commotion alerted the rest of the party, who rushed out to help. Felix put two of the hobgoblins to sleep, then covered all three with an unctuous magical grease, which sent the third tumbling onto his back. Erdon and Gogh drew swords and leapt on top of the pile, while Arxire attacked from the rear.

With two of his comrades slain, the lone remaining hobgoblin fled back toward the storage chamber. Erdon and Gogh gave chase, but the elf priest was brought down by the fleeing hob’s crossbow. By the time the rest of the party caught up, the creature had disappeared through the secret door. Searching the bodies of the slain, they discovered orders from a Lieutenant Halwarg, instructing these three to ascertain from Fingerpop who had been attacking the goblins and how the chieftain’s final defense had gone. Felix also discovered a hobgoblin sergeant’s thumb ring, which he decided to wear as a bracelet.

Realizing that they were no match for a hobgoblin army in their current state, the party snuck out of the canyon under cover of darkness. They were surprised to hear the sound of hooves and carriage wheels on the road that was too dangerous for tradesman and civilians to use. They took cover in the bushes beside the road to see who was brave enough to travel here.

It was a single carriage, recognized by Felix as an Emperor’s Justice vehicle. These traveling tribunals roved Cavalcast dispensing what they proclaimed to be Tahsatran justice, and what most commoners whispered was persecution. The party couldn’t see who was inside the ornately carved black carriage, but sitting beside the driver was an enormous creature clad in sooty black plate mail.

Arxire stepped out from hiding and hailed the carriage, at which point the armored creature spread a pair of vast reptilian wings, swept down from the carriage, and held the gleaming blade of this claymore at the tiefling’s throat. The carriage thundered away into the night as Arxire introduced himself as a traveling dignitary who’d been waylaid and needed assistance. He presented the knight with documents backing his claim, which the knight recognized as forgeries. As the rest of the party looked on from the bushes, the hulking armored beast shredded Arxire’s documents, grabbed him by the neck with a gauntleted fist, and flew off into the night.

It was dawn when our heroes marched into Fairbanks, though the arrival of the Emperor’s Justice had clearly unnerved the citizenry. Shutters were pulled tight, taverns were empty, few people were in the streets, and those who were kept their voices down. Gogh and Misty made straight for the town hall, in front of which was parked the black carriage.

Inside they found Lord Mayor Whitebeard nervously presenting the latest news to a sharp-featured, black- and purple-garbed woman seated in a plush throne. Behind her and on either side stood the hulking knight and a plump, elderly woman who giggled quietly to herself.

The mayor introduced Gogh to the magistrate of the Emperor’s Justice, Baroness Talvea Quartermaine, stating that he had been proclaimed a Hero of Fairbanks in recognition of recent deeds. The Baroness peppered him with a few questions, which he fielded respectfully. He then gave a full report on the progress of his party’s mission to eliminate the rising threat in Blackstar Canyon, presenting goblin ears as evidence and for the bounty the mayor had issued. The paladin Misty spoke up as well, and her eloquent request for the return of Felix’s confiscated property was granted.

The Baroness informed them that her colleague Sir Hazzad had captured a brigand on the road the night before, and that he and two others in the town jail would be tried on the morrow. Gogh suggested that those found guilty be turned over to him, so that they might prove themselves useful to his mission or die trying. The Baroness was intrigued, and said that if the accused were found guilty of minor crimes, she would consider it. But that if any of them were guilty of major crimes, they would naturally have to be executed. Gogh and Misty took their leave and found their companions at the Temple of Life.

Felix had presented Sister Marla with a beautiful gold- and silver-threaded tapestry he’s found in Fingerpop’s chambers and had pledged to aid Erdon in his quest to vanquish the source of her labyrinthine nightmares. In return the priestess had named him a Friend of the Temple of Life.

Erdon had donated all of his gold to the temple and then questioned Marla about the Emperor’s Justice. He learned much about the tribunals’ bloody history and questionable interrogation techniques. Erdon confessed that his companion had been arrested the night before and requested that Marla vouch for him at the next day’s trial. She agreed.

Felix disappeared into the archives to learn more about the town jail. He discovered that the builder of the town hall was a prosperous green grocer who’d been elected mayor long ago. He’d used the town hall basement for food storage, and six chutes had been installed to facilitate access to it. When the basement had been converted to the town’s jail, the chutes had been clogged with rocks, and large potted plants had been placed atop their trap doors. Felix then visited the old farrier Pollack Pawstorm, who confirmed this information. He also told Felix that in his youth, he’d seen the dragonborn knight Sir Hazzad fight during Oldberk’s last rebellion. He’d witnessed Hazzad reducing entire legions of dwarves to charred piles with his fire breath, while cleaving hundreds more with his giant sword.

Felix sensed that a jailbreak was the only way to save his companion, so he used his affinity for small woodland creatures to summon a squirrel, who he instructed to sneak into the basement of the town hall and deliver a note to his incarcerated friend.

But Arxire had been plenty busy himself. He’d made contact with two other arrestees, a human and an elf, both accused of theft. The human was inconsolable, but the elf listened intently as Arxire explained his intention to escape the jail, fight his accusers, and escape. The elf swore to help.

Just then, Felix’s squirrel made its way into the basement, then panicked as the guard began chasing it around with his halberd. Eventually, the brave squirrel was cloven in twain, but the half with the note was within Arxire’s reach. The note helped Arxire recognize the plastered-over vegetable chutes in the ceiling, and he and the elf picked through enough of the plaster to reveal the tunnels, tightly choked with rocks but no mortar.

Arxire then engaged the lone guard, a dwarf named Quincy. He bribed the guard with his signet ring, and the guard agreed to speak on his behalf at the trial the next day, if he could do so reasonably and without endangering himself or his family.

Back above ground, our party was down to two options: attempt to break Arxire out of jail that night, or take their chances with the trail the next morning. Seeking guidance, Gogh had paid a visit to the mystic Carlin, who’d given him valuable insight into the nature of this particular magistrate, the Baroness Quartermaine. Armed with the knowledge that she was fanatical and harsh, but unquestionably devoted to justice at all costs, the party opted for the trial and retired for the night.

Unfortunately, Arxire’s evening would not be restful, as he was paid a visit by Lady Wimsette and Lord Hazzad. The latter looked on while the former tortured the tiefling to within an inch of his life. Arxire confessed much, but he gave only the truth, his strong will saving him from confessing to some of the wilder accusations levied at him. Hazzad then tossed him back into his cell to await his fate come morning.

The trial in the market square was sparsely attended. While commoners enjoy the spectacle of a good beheading, the threat posed by the Emperor’s Justice was enough to keep them out of the square, though no doubt many were huddled behind their shutters watching intently.

The elf accused of thievery was first on the docket. There were none who would speak on his behalf, and he could present no evidence in his defense. In desperation, he accused Arxire of plotting a jailbreak the night before and attempting to enlist his help in the scheme. But the guard Quincy stepped forward, stating that he’d been on duty the night before and that Arxire had been a model prisoner: quiet, respectful, and obedient. The Baroness proclaimed the elf guilty, and before he could utter a final prayer, Hazzad’s sword had separated his head from his shoulders.

Next up was Arxire, who stood accused of brigandry, fraud, and forgery. Gogh stepped forward first, stating that Arxire was in fact a companion of theirs who’d gone missing while scouting the canyon. Gogh said he’d been unaware that Arxire was the arrested brigand who the Baroness had mentioned, but that he was an important member of their crew. Felix presented the hobgoblin ring as evidence supporting Arxire’s claims of a direr threat than goblins existed in the canyon. The entire party spoke to his character, all of which was corroborated by the town’s priestess Sister Marla.

With Hazzad’s bloody sword resting on Arxire’s shoulder, the Baroness proclaimed him innocent of the major crime of brigandy. However, he was found guilty of the lesser crimes of fraud and forgery. She drew from him a drop of blood, which she smeared into a massive tome, registering him as a convicted forger throughout the realm. She then turned him over to Gogh, proclaiming that from that day forth, the two were inexorably tied in the eyes of the emperor. If Arxire were to ever commit these crimes again, he would be sentenced to death, and Gogh would share that fate.

Arxire was then released into Gogh’s custody, and after the final accused was found guilty and executed, the Emperor’s Justice took their places in the black carriage once more and drove out of Fairbanks.

View
Oh My God! They Killed Misty!
Caves of Chaos, part 5

The as-yet unnamed party:

Arxire Coilbone, tiefling warlock (Rory)
Beezmo, halfling druid (Michael D.)
-Drex, his mastiff
Erdon Thistleborn, elf cleric (Michael G.)
Felix, gnome wizard (Nico)
Gogh, half-elf rogue (Brian)
-Esh, his donkey
Mathis, human monk (Zach)
Misty, elf paladin (Allie)
Naivara, elf druid (Janine)

RIP:
Kiko, Naivara’s ferret
Lichen, drow warlock
Tyriel Morlane, half-elf ranger

The elf paladin Misty woke up in the Temple of Life, finally recovered from her brush with death at the hands of the Severed Eye orcs. Her companions left word that they were assembling at the mouth of Blackstar Canyon, near the tree of hands, but before she set off, she had a few errands to run.

She questioned Sister Marla about the Jampor, and the priestess referred her to the town farrier, a dwarf named Pallock Pawstorm. Pallock’s shop was littered with elven symbology and crafts, which was unusual, given the state of relations between the races.

Pallock himself was a weathered old hunter, who’d once gone hunting in the elven territories to the north with some elven suppliers of his. While stalking game near the edge of the Great White Forever, he’d sensed something on the ridge above, and when he’d looked up, he’d beheld a Jampor. The dwarf was awestruck, and he claimed his mind had been filled with thoughts sent from the creature. Though it was difficult for him to put the experience into words, he called it the greatest day of his life. As Misty made to leave, Pallock gifted her with a lucky rabbit’s foot, as she couldn’t afford any of his other wares.

On her way out of town, she came across a truly pitiful creature: an overweight gnome scholar who’d been beaten to a pulp and left bleeding and grunting near the Leaving Tree.

This was Felix, a scholar from a university in the city of Wake, who’d been teleported into town by his superior the day before, on a mission to learn more about the disturbances in Blackstar Canyon. Unbeknownst to his boss, Felix was also intent on finding out what had happened to his associate Lichen. Sister Marla had been unable to help him, but in the Winking Serpent, he’d come across the exiled elf herbalist Pizzel, who’d informed him that their mutual friend had never come back from an excursion to Blackstar Canyon. Pizzel lamented the loss of his drug distributor, and Felix lamented the loss of his drug supplier. Pizzel had suggested they come to some arrangement, though Felix had been noncommittal.

Then Felix had made his ill-fated visit to Lord Mayor Whitebeard. On the way in, a guard had warned the gnome that the mayor was in a foul mood due to the bold tongue of a foreign dignitary he’d had thrown out of town earlier that morning. But that hadn’t stopped Felix from alluding to the mayor’s occasional dalliances with the prostitute Lichen, at which point, the mayor had summoned the guards, had Felix dragged to the basement, beaten senseless, and tossed out of town near the Leaving Tree—but not before the mayor had confiscated his lore book, expensive new magnifying glass, and bag of sand.

Misty would allow Felix to accompany her to Blackstar, but on the way, she wanted to stop in to see the strange seer known as Carlin. When they arrived at his hilltop shrine, they found Misty’s comrade Erdon locked in a battle of wits with the mystic. Though he’d been forced to give Carlin a lock of his hair and a pint of blood, he did get a glimpse of his future (“You will find yourself in a stone courtyard with no entrances or exits. Overhead a storm is brewing. Don’t trust the ghost you meet there. Salvation is found on your knees.”). Though he was hoping to learn more about his nightmares involving swimming with vengeful dolphins, the cleric decided to quit before the stakes rose any higher.

The rouge Gogh then stepped forward to try his luck against the seer. Gogh was forced to tell Carlin a dark secret, then to hand over his treasured insignia momentarily, but one strong riddle won him a reach into Carlin’s bag of charms.

Felix was next. When he lost the first round, he resisted Carlin’s request for his blood, until he was convinced by the army of scorpion-tailed cats that suddenly surrounded the shrine. Felix also managed to win a charm before ending the contest.

Misty’s attempt to win knowledge or treasure did not go so well. She lost three straight rounds of riddles, and was forced to offer first a lock of hair, next a pint of blood, and finally a promise that she’d give Carlin her first-born child. Again, the mystic’s army of mutant felines helped convince her to comply.

With that, the group departed for Blackstar, where they reunited with Naivara, Arxire, and Mathis (noone was sure where the halfling Beezmo and his hound had disappeared to). Armed with new information from the scholar Felix, the group debated their next move until the gathering dusk and an approaching thunderstorm convinced them to get moving. They decided to finish what they’d started and put and end to the Burndog goblins by eliminating their leader Fingerpop.

What few goblins remained had been busy. They’d barricaded the entrance to the goblin cave and written crude warning on the surrounding rocks. Gogh decided to scout the ogre cave and its backdoor entrance to the goblin tunnels while the rest of the party worked to deconstruct the barricade. Gogh spotted a goblin lingering near the backdoor, but the creature had merely giggled and run away. Gogh turned back to warn the others, but just as he emerge from the ogre cave, he watched in horror as the barricade exploded, sending his companions flying backwards, singed and deafened.

From inside the goblin cave came hideous laughter and strange projectiles that emitted sparks as they flew and exploded upon impact. Misty was on death’s doorstep once more, until Gogh leapt forward and poured a healing potion down her throat. Mathis, Arxire, Naivara, and Erdon took up positions on either side of the entrance and made short work of the goblins who charged out. But when Erdon stormed inside, he encountered three tough-looking goblins with interlocking shields guarding one fat, wicked-looking chieftain standing next to barrel of fireworks—Fingerpop, no doubt.

Meanwhile, Gogh was running back toward the ogre cave in the hopes of outflanking the goblins, but he stumbled upon two of them emerging from the same cave with the same thought in mind. Firing his crossbow on the run proved to be too difficult, and Gogh ended up on his face, in the mud while the goblins pounced gleefully. Luckily, Felix saw what happened and came to his rescue, killing one goblin with a bolt of energy, which bought Gogh enough time to recover and dispatch the other.

Back outside the cave, our heroes were becoming unnerved by the ferocity of the thunderstorm—particularly those wearing metal armor. Back on her feet thanks to Gogh’s heroics, Misty promptly took a phosporant goblin rocket to the face, which left her blind and confused. She wandered out into the open canyon, was struck by lightning, and lay smoldering and dying once more. Mathis rushed to her aid, stabilized her, and placed her in relative safety just inside the mouth of the cavern—right next to Erdon who was locked in combat with one of Fingerpop’s elite guards.

That he was only facing one of the guards was thanks to Naivara, who’d entangled the other two and Fingerpop himself by calling forth vines and roots from the cavern floor.

Then the warlock Arxire went to work, casting a hellish hex that jumped to a new victim every time the current one died. He then unleashed two ferocious bolts of energy that left Fingerpop in a fat, sizzling heap on the cavern floor. Their leader dead, the remaining goblins were routed and the Burndog tribe was no more…though they weren’t quite finished with the party, as it turned out.

Back in the ogre cave, Gogh had stumbled through a tripwire strung across the backdoor, which brought about another explosion that left himself and Felix grievously wounded. Almost at the same time, Arxire was searching the body of Fingerpop when he noticed a thin wire running from the chieftain’s little finger to something under his clothes—but he noticed it too late, and again the cavern echoed with a deafening explosion.

When everyone was finished stopping-dropping-and-rolling, and healing was administered, Mathis was sent to explore a few remaining tunnels. He discovered the mechanism by which the goblins flooded the caves, then he ascended several staircases before coming across a stout door with four short, thick white stripes painted on it. This he recognized as the symbol of a tribe of hobgoblins. When he reported his findings to the group, they elected to loot the Fingerpop’s chambers and the storage room before taking on new foes.

The group took cover as Felix used mage hand to open the door to Fingerpop’s chamber from afar. Thankfully, the door was not rigged, but inside they beheld a skinny, terrified goblin holding a torch and standing over a line of black powder that led out of site. This was Smurg, who’d been instructed by Fingerpop to “make place go boom” if anyone other than he opened the door. But the little goblin didn’t want to die, and Gogh was able to convince him to come forward and hand over the torch.

Felix hypnotised Smurg, while the party bound his hands. Felix then set about looting Fingerpop’s chambers, which contained a laboratory for processing bat guano into explosive powder, while a few other party members explored the kennel and storage chamber that had caught fire when Tyriel and Gogh had entered it a few days ago. While rummaging through the charred crates, Mathis discovered large bootprints leading from the back wall and surmised that a hidden door existed.

Back in Fingerpop’s chambers, Smurg was whining about being set free and telling Felix what he knew of the “big hobs” and the “black cloaks” who occasionally visited Fingerpop, while the gnome discovered hidden caches of valuables. Suddenly Smurg saw his chance and sprinted out of the chamber. Arxire, Mathis, and Gogh rounded a corner just in time to see the little bound goblin incinerated by a blast from Felix. Arxire was angry that the gnome had broken the law of captivity, but Felix felt no remorse.

The group convened once more in the ogre cave to plot their next move.

View
Of Misdemeanors, Mystics, and Angry Mayors
Caves of Chaos, part 4

The as-yet unnamed party:

Arxire Coilbone, tiefling warlock (Rory)
Beezmo, halfling druid (Michael D.)
-Dres, his mastiff
Erdon Thistleborn, elf cleric (Michael G.)
Gogh, half-elf rogue (Brian)
-Esh, his donkey
Mathis, human monk (Zach)
Misty, elf paladin (Allie)
Naivara, elf druid (Janine)

RIP:
Kiko, Naivara’s ferret
Lichen, drow warlock
Tyriel Morlane, half-elf ranger

After their disastrous foray into a shunned cavern deep in Blackstar Canyon, our heroes broke camp, administered what little healing they had left, and prepared to stagger back to Fairbanks to resupply. But just before they left the ogre cave, they noticed a strange little figure standing at the back door. He was shorter than a dwarf and not as stout. With his crude armor and fearsome visage, one might mistake him for a goblin, but his features were more familiar, his skin less green.

Could it be a halfling? Could this be a cannibalistic barbarian of the Feathered Horde from the southern steppe? Indeed it was, and this one’s name was Beezmo. After some briefly alluded to tragedy and subsequent druidic vision, he had wandered up from the Charging Steppe with his loyal companion Drex the mastiff to seek aid—or perhaps to offer it. It wasn’t especially clear, and the barbarian was no wordsmith. But it was clear that he wanted to go into town for some reason, although Cavalcastians’ hatred of his people might make that difficult.

The party was intrigued by the bold-tongued druid, so they agreed to allow him to accompany them, provided he didn’t cause any trouble. Arxire delved into his kit and produced a passable dwarf disguise for the halfling, complete with a tremendous 6-braids-into-one-braid yellow beard, and they set off for Fairbanks.

It was late afternoon when they arrived, and they drew a great deal of attention as they made their way toward the Temple of Life: some villagers shook their heads sadly upon noticing that the drow prostitute and the half-elf ranger were no longer among them; some stared curiously at the additions of the well-dressed foreign dignitary, the skinny, yellow-bearded dwarf, and the giant dog; most were simply surprised to see them back from Blackstar Canyon at all.

At the temple, Sister Marla expressed her condolences at the loss of their companions, although it was clear that she was not overly fond of the drow prostitute. Since Erdon was himself a priest of Life, the party received her blessing and healing for free—and she even gifted them with several healing potions. She told Erdon that her nightmares about being trapped in a maze with the sound of cloven hooves behind her had not abated, and that her premonitions about some dark force rising in the canyon were torturing her. They again assured her that they would do all they could to help, and then they excused themselves to go on a number of very different, very educational, and in some cases, highly morally questionable errands.

Having learned from Marla and a shady elven herbalist that the town’s relationship with the nearby elf tribe had long been tainted by mutual suspicion and prejudice, the elf druid Naivara departed to visit them. She was greeted with caution by the elven guards and though she lacked knowledge of the local flora, her ability to make a flower spring forth from a seed impressed them mightily, and they announced her presence to the tribe’s rulers: a trio of elder female elves. They told Naivara that a plague was killing plantlife, and the epicenter was Blackstar Canyon. They could not tell here the cause, but they offered her a magical charm that would allow her to speak with trees, in the hopes that she might discover a cure. She thanked them and agreed to stay with them in their treetop village that night.

Back in town, Gogh and Arxire were planning a bit of skullduggery in the Winking Serpent. Convinced that the mayor had secrets worth discovering, the two decided that Arxire, whom the mayor had never met, would present himself to the mayor as the trade emissary of a foreign lord, keeping his lordship occupied in the Golden Stein while Gogh broke into his office in the town hall. When Arxire asked about including some of their more scrupulous comrades in the scheme, Gogh replied “I trust them to do the right things. I don’t trust them to do the wrong things.” And so they set off to do some wrong things.

Beezmo, who was busy getting drunk and teaching bawdy drinking songs to the locals, barely noticed their departure. His disguise appeared to be working well enough, and he lacked no confidence when introducing himself as Beezmo Hammerbeer the dwarf. He even boasted that if he soaked his massive woven beard in enough beer, he’d been known to swing it like a warhammer from his chin. After he was good and drunk, Beezmo decided to go visit this weird seer he kept hearing about, though he was told to mind his manners and watch out for scorpion-tailed cats.

Erdon, himself an alcoholic, approached the Winking Serpent’s sharp-tongued barwench Demma Kickbride to share the sad news about the death of Lichen. It appeared that the field in which Demma grew her fucks lay barren. She was, however, very sad to hear that they hadn’t yet recovered the bottle opener that her nephew had taken to the canyon some weeks ago. Erdon then paid a visit to the shifty-looking elf herbalist in the corner of the bar, who was a bit more sorrowful about the loss of Lichen, if only because that meant the loss of his drug distributor. The elf went on to say that he’d had a deeply disturbing encounter with a black-robed figure near Blackstar Canyon. The figure had floated in the air and asked the elf to “come see the colors” with him.

As expected, Lord Mayor Mustafa Whitebeard was holding forth in the Golden Stein when Arxire arrived, dressed in his nobleman’s clothes, armed with several expertly forged documents authorizing him to treat with important mayors and merchants on behalf of his patron Lord Adibudi Perotsiyan. The supremely self-important mayor was supremely pleased to meet him, and he then became supremely drunk on Arxire’s potent homemade spirits. Amongst the boasts and manufactured tales of glory, the mayor let slip various interesting bits of information, and Arxire succeeded in securing an appointment with him the following morning, as well as in distracting him while his friend broke into his office.

A few doors down, Gogh had no trouble scrambling up the facade of the town hall and through and open window. In the main council chamber, Gogh pocked twelve exquisite silver statues—all in the shape of merchant ships. He moved onto the mayors office, but the lock proved too complicated for his picks. It was no match for his brute strength, however, and he sent the entire lock flying out of the door with a forceful wedge of his dagger. The broken lock clanked loudly on the stone floor, and guards from outside came running.

But Gogh was already gone. Out the window, down the wall, and into a dark alley he went. The guards were causing quite a commotion, so he decided to ditch the twelve silver ships in the alley before making his way carefully back to the Winking Serpent, though none of his comrades were there.

Mathis had decided to pay another visit to the archives beneath the Temple of Life, where he discovered a great deal more about the mysterious Jampor who’d been coming down from the far north of late. He learned that this race rarely speaks aloud, for they believe words have great power and should not be expended idly. He even managed to unearth a dusty scroll that contained five characters in the Jampor’in script—symbols which were imbued with raw, mysterious power.

It was late that night by the time Beezmo found his way to the lonely hilltop shrine of Carlin the Seer. Carlin called himself the Shepherd of Answers, and the two engaged in a battle of wits. Beezmo lost the first round of riddles and was forced to give the seer a drop of his blood. He lost the second round as well, and was forced to tell the seer a deep secret that no one else knew. Beezmo won the third round, and Carlin confirmed for him that the dreaded artifact known as the Eye of Gruumsh was the source of the evil in Blackstar Canyon, and that a cult of another god had recently taken up residence there in the hopes of unearthing it. On the fourth and final round, Beezmo unleashed a mindblowing riddle that so pleased the mystic that he offered the halfling a pull from his bag of charms, an answer about the nature of a trinket he carried (“That lump of coal is nothing less than your soul.”), and a glimpse at his future (“One day you’ll meet a sculptor in a castle. Give him your soul and he’ll make you a god.”). Beezmo took his leave, very cautiously, and made his way back down the hill on a path lined with an army of scorpion-tailed cats.

It was dawn back in town, and Fairbanks was in an uproar. Mayor Whitebeard had every available town guard shaking down patrons of the Winking Serpent and scouring town for the burglar and his beloved silver ships. Gogh was getting wary of the heat, so he slipped out, snuck near the town hall, and with a sly flourish deposited a goblin armband he’d recovered from the canyon near the scene of the crime. It wasn’t long before a town guard found it and went running to the mayor with this valuable piece of evidence.

After a few minutes, Gogh recruited Beezmo and Drex, and visited the mayor, offering him his solemn pledge that with the help of the diviner Beezmo Hammerbeer, he would find the ships and punish those responsible. Then, with Beezmo standing guard, Gogh snuck back into the alley, recovered the ships, and returned triumphantly to the mayor. Mayor Whitebeard was overjoyed, as the ships were a Whitebeard tradition going back more than 1000 years. He immediately proclaimed Gogh, Beezmo, and Drex to be Heroes of Fairbanks and offered them silver broaches to signify their new standing. Furthermore, in light of new evidence, the mayor offered them a handsome reward for every set of goblin ears they brought him.

But then it was time for the mayor’s meeting with the newly arrived foreign dignitary. He ushered Arxire into his office and gave him a braggart’s tour of the decor and artifacts therein. Then they got down to business, hammering out the details of a new a prosperous trade agreement between Mayor Whitebeard and Lord Adibudi from a fictional land that the mayor was too cocksure to admit never having heard of. Sensing faint magic coming from a set a goblets nearby, Arxire suggested the two seal their contract with a drink, so the mayor hustled off to retrieve a bottle of his finest local wine. Arxire wasted no time in rifling though the mayor’s desk, where committed the mayor’s signature to memory for future forging and discovered several extortionary letters from an unnamed cult residing in Blackstar Canyon. Then he examined the goblets, noticing that on the bottom of one of them was a small etching of a mouth, while the rest had etchings of ears.

When the mayor returned, Arxire noted that the mayor took the mouth cup for himself, giving one of the ear cups to Arxire. The warlock suggested that they follow his country’s tradition and trade cups for the first drink, but the mayor refused politely, saying that while in Cavalcast, they will follow Cavalcastian traditions. Arxire then attempted to intimidate the mayor into complying, but he’d pushed his luck to far. The mayor became incensed, yelling loudly for the guards and having Arxire thrown out on his ass. He was bellowing about having him locked up, so Arxire decided to beat a hasty retreat.

The previous night had led them each on wildly different paths, but the morning found the companions together once more at the Leaving Tree, armed with new knowledge, fresh supplies, and renewed determination as they set of for their second assault on Blackstar Canyon.

View
Slime Gonna Get You Sucka
Caves of Chaos, part 3

The as-yet unnamed party:

Arxire Coilbone, tiefling warlock (Rory)
Erdan Thistleborn, elf cleric (Michael G.)
Gogh, half-elf rogue (Brian)
-Esh, his donkey
Mathis, human monk (Zach)
Misty, elf paladin (Allie)
Naivara, elf druid (Janine)

RIP:
Kiko, Naivara’s ferret
Lichen, drow warlock
Tyriel Morlane, half-elf ranger

Upon discovering a room full of goblin females and younglings, Gogh quietly snuck back to camp, recruited the ranger Tyriel, and returned to the noncombatants. Tyriel, who spoke goblin, translated Gogh’s message, which was “You have two options: Option 1: You tell us what you know about these caves, we give you 42 silver pieces, and you walk out of here; Option 2: We slaughter you.” The goblins took the shinies and told the assassin and the ranger a bit about the leader of the Burndog goblin clan—a large goblin who could apparently summon fire from nothing—and the surrounding area. The goblins then took their silver and their leave—all but two, who volunteered to show Gogh and Tyriel their storeroom and kennel. Once in the storeroom, the goblins lit their remaining three hounds on fire and leapt to attack. Filthy, tricky, lying buggers.

One of the beasts turned on the goblins, but the other two sprang toward Gogh and Tyriel—especially Tyriel, who managed to trip and fall on top of two wolves that had managed to trip and fall over themselves. They put both creatures out of their misery, but were savagely bitten and burned in the process. They began retreating out of the cave, which was quickly filling with smoke as the remaining wolf thrashed about and the crates and barrels in the storeroom caught fire. Still hoping to salvage a bit of treasure, the Tyriel braved the smoke, killed the final wolf, and discovered a small keg of very expensive brandy amongst the refuse.

Back in the ogre cave, where the rest of the party was encamped, Lichen and Erdan caught sight of the Burndog females and younglings slinking past the back door of the cavern, toward the goblin’s cave mouth. They remained vigilant but did not impede them. Ouside the cavern, Naivara spotted three orc scouts making their way across the canyon toward them. Upon hearing this, Lichen boomed out a few terrifying phrases in the demonic tongue, which caused the orcs to give the ogre cave a wide berth during their scouting foray. Though offput by Lichen’s deception, the orcs were delighted to discover several dozen Burndog goblin noncombatants attempting to sneak out of their cave, and they commenced hacking, slashing, raping, biting, puncturing, violating, and doing other awful orc things to them.

Elves are no friends to goblins, as everyone knows, but the elf priest Erdan could not abide such wanton slaughter, and he charged into the fray, his holy symbol held aloft. Inspired by his bravery, the rest of the party (all except for Lichen, who wanted nothing to do with this engagement) joined the battle. Naivara caused the very roots to spring from the earth and entangle one orc, while the monk Mathis came hurtling down from the tree he’d been meditating in like some terrible bird of prey with elbows and fists instead of feathers. Two of the orcs fell beneath his furious assault, and the third soon joined them.

After the skirmish, most of the party retired once again to the ogre cave in the hopes of snatching a few winks of much needed sleep. But Mathis and Tyriel inspected the orcs and discovered that these were, in fact, members of the Severed Eye tribe, a particularly ruthless and fearsome tribe that paid homage to their god of slaughter Gruumsh by gouging out one of their own eyes.

As it turned out, Arxire and Lichen were more interested in exploration than rest, so the two warlocks set out to the west, deeper into the canyon. They came across a cave mouth that reeked of dead things. The ground outside the entrance was overgrown and forbidding. Hoping to discover an abandoned cave that might serve as a goblin- and orc-free campsite, the two ventured inside. Lichen approached a stagnant pool, but when he stooped to examine it, he was set upon by three ravenous grey blobs of acid. The drow’s demonic patron attempted to come to his aid, but the mindless creatures overwhelmed him almost immediately. Horrified, Arxire retreated to the cave mouth and in desperation fired a bolt of energy into the sky and screamed for help. Mathis, Tyriel, and Naivara charged out to help. Erdan stayed behind to tend the wounds of Misty, who’d been savagely hacked apart by the orc scouts. Gogh, well, no one was entirely sure what Gogh did.

When the three reinforcements arrived, they walked into an utter horrorshow. Lichen was unconscious and being dissolved and dragged back into murky pool. Arxire had likewise succombed to his wounds and was being dissolved by the other two oozes. Mathis bravely charged in, punching and kicking to little avail. The creatures seemed to be immune or resistant to almost every form of attack. But Tyriel drew upon his ranger knowledge and surmised that alcohol might be an effective deterrent. He ripped the top off of the brandy keg, soaked his hempen rope in the alcohol, and whipped the creatures like a lion tamer. His ingenuity paid off and one of the oozes dissolved under the alcohol lashes of Tyriel and relentless punching of Mathis.

Mathis dashed forward, ripped Arxire from an ooze’s grip, and carried him to safety outside the cave. Hoping to somehow rescue Lichen, who’d been dragged beneath the surface of the pool by the first ooze, Tyriel continued to drive the other ooze back. He grabbed the keg and flung what was left of the brandy at the creatures, killing one. But one remained, and that one burst from the pool, laying the ranger low. Themselves grievously wonded, Mathis and Naivara struggled to free Tyriel with a lasso, but in the end, he was beyond help or hope. As the oozed disappeared beneath the water’s surface with Tyriel’s body in its acidic grip, Mathis and Naivara staggered out of the cave, gathered up Arxire’s unconscious body, and retreated back to the camp, while hideous laughter and javelins rained down from the darkness above.

View
Dances with Burning Wolves
Caves of Chaos, part 2

The as-yet unnamed party:

Arxire Coilbone, tiefling warlock (Rory)
Erdan Thistleborn, elf cleric (Michael G.)
Gogh, half-elf rogue (Brian)
-Esh, his donkey
Lichen, drow warlock (Nico)
Mathis, human monk (Zach)
Misty, elf paladin (Allie)
Naivara, elf druid (Janine)
-Kiko, her ferret [RIP]
Tyriel Morlane, half-elf ranger (Michael D.)

In the aftermath of the party’s first scrape with the Burndog goblin tribe of Blackstar Canyon, several questions remained unanswered. Such as, Where did the elf paladin go? For she ran out of the ogre cavern and back into the canyon as suddenly as she’d appeared. In her place stood another elf, this one decked out like a druid and carrying a pet weasel, and their prior companion Tyriel Morlane, the ranger from Fairbanks who’d failed to show up at the party’s appointed departure time. But, as the Halfswill dwarves say, “Voch inch”.

As the battered heroes again set up camp in the ogre cave—this time making sure to carefully watch both cave entrance and back door—the newly arrived druid decided to leave and scout the nearby goblin cave. Naivara snuck to the entrance and peered inside. The sounds of goblins moving heavy rocks were interrupted by a shrill squeal; shortly thereafter, two spears hurtled out from the darkness, one of them finding purchase in Naivara’s shoulder. The druid retreated, but hoping to gain more intel about the cave network, she sent in her beloved weasel companion Kiko. Intrepid, trusty Kiko snuck into the cave, a look of steely determination on his brave weasel face. Outside, Naivara heard a sharp squeak, the clang of iron on stone, the cackle of a goblin, followed by the crunches and squelches of very small bones and organs being chewed up.

Meanwhile, back in camp, Gogh had strung a bit of twine across the back door and hung a little bell on it. While taking a watch, Tyriel heard the sounds of large stones being moved around behind the door, but when he tried to sneak a peek behind it, he jangled Gogh’s little bell and received a goblin thrust in the arm from the cavern on the other side. Though concerned about the goblins’ machinations, the weary party wedged the door shut again and tried to rest.

After a few hours, they were ready to move out. It was decided to split the party and attack on two fronts. Mathis, Erdan, and Lichen were to lead a frontal assault on the goblin cave, while Naivara, Gogh, Arxire, and Tyriel opened the back door.

Mathis, Erdan, and Lichen immediately noticed that the stream of filthy water was no longer coursing out of the goblin cave. Inside, they could see that a great many stones, furniture, and other material had been stacked into two parallel walls, forming a sort of channel that let from the tunnel ahead directly toward the back door…the same door that the rest of the party were at that moment opening.

Naivara, Gogh, Arxire, and Tyriel saw the same hastily erected structures. The druid spotted a goblin standing on one of the walls, doing a poor job of keeping a watch. She fired an arrow that narrowly missed it, and it began screaming “Bree-Yark”, though none of our heroes could interpret the phrase’s meaning. Gogh, Arxire, and Tyriel advanced, just as a huge wall of water came crashing down the channel toward them. Naivara and Tyriel managed to hold their ground, but Gogh and Arxire were knocked off their feet and washed all the way through the ogre’s cavern and back into the canyon.

Having sprung their trap, the goblins sprang out from seemingly every dark corner and attacked. The monk Mathis surprised one such goblin and promptly bludgeoned him to death with two meaty fists. From behind him, Lichen and Erdan fired volleys of crossbow bolts and sacred flames, respectively, while Naivara and Tyriel pushed forward on the other front. Tyriel fell in a hail of spear thrusts, and Naivara was forced back with grave wounds. The monk and cleric pressed on and managed to stabilize the dying ranger and offer healing to the druid. Gogh and Arxire regained their footing and reinforced the party just in time, as the final goblin—a particularly nasty bugger with a freshly severed ferret head strung about his neck—was slain.

Lichen set about harvesting goblin faces. Really, the less said about this, the better.

The heroes gathered most bravely in a narrow side-passage, which turned out to be the goblins’ privvy (although in truth, in a goblin lair, it is difficult to tell where the privvy ends and the living quarters begin), to catch their breath. Erdan spotted a goblin scout sneaking around and warned the party just in time, as the little bastard’s yelping sent another wave crashing down the channel.

Scouting to the west, Gogh realized that several more goblins were lurking just around the corner from his position. Erdan and Mathis took up positions in a side passage nearby, when suddenly two wolves—engulfed in flame and mad with bloodlust—came howling around the corner. Gogh slashed at one, but quickly slumped to the ground, singed and bitten. Mathis and Erdan ambushed the other wolf, quickly dispatched it, and moved on to engage the first one and stabilize the thief. The rest of the party blasted away with spells, bows, and crossbows from the rear. Mathis even gave the Burndog goblins a taste of their own medicine when he picked up a smoldering wolf corpse and flung it at the remaining goblins. One of them made the mistake of spearing the tiefline Arxire, and it was quickly spattered on the back wall of the cavern as a result.

When the rest of their attackers had been killed and their thief revived, Naivara and Mathis announced their intention to give the poor wolves a proper burial, just as Lichen announced his intention to cut the pregnant female wolf open in order to harvest its unborn cub. Threats were made, deceptive explanations offered, invisibility potions quaffed, and things seemed to be heading down an unproductive path, when suddenly Arxire unleashed a bolt of lightning that turned the dead wolf and whatever was in her belly into glistening decorations on the cavern walls, Mathis, Lichen, and Naivara.

The party retired to the ogre cave they’d claimed as their own—all except for Gogh, who scouted ahead and discovered the goblin tribe’s women and children huddled at the back of a cavern. Things don’t look good for the non-combatants.

View
"The Lucky Ones Stayed" -Gogh
Caves of Chaos, part 1

The as-yet unnamed party:

Axire Coilbone, tiefling warlock (Rory)
Erdan Thistleborn, elf cleric (Michael G.)
Gogh, half-elf rogue (Brian)
-Esh, his donkey
Lichen, drow warlock (Nico)
Mathis, human monk (Zach)
Misty, elf paladin (Allie)
Tyriel Morlane, half-elf ranger (Michael D.)

You have no doubt heard tell of the legendary company of heroes that arose during the waning days of the Tahsatran Empire as the Great White Forever tightened its crushing, icy grip on the land of Cavalcast. But for all their hard won fame and derring-do, few folk know the beginning of their tale. And though their heroics would take them from one end of the world to the other, from the blistering depths of the Nine Hells to the cavernous wastes of the Underdark, from the luminous currents of the Astral Sea to the cobwebbiest corners of the Shadowfell, would you believe that their tale—and thus, our story—begins in the oddest of places: the windblown, forgotten port town of Fairbanks?

They arrived in early Vail, the first month of autumn, to the remote and sad little harbor town that had been robbed of any potential affluence or importance by the monstrous, cave-dwelling inhabitants of Blackstar Canyon. The creatures were no longer honoring the terms of the truce the town had signed with them, and the road from Fairbanks to the east—the only thing connecting Fairbanks with the rest of Cavalcast—was no longer safe for travel. And with winter being driven hard upon them by the accursed Great White Forever to the north, the merchant ship Flying Egret was the last glimpse of the outside world that Fairbankers were likely to have for the next six months or so.

But the ship carried more than trade goods. Disembarking that day were a couple of fellows who had the look of adventurer about them. One was a eastern monk, though his features were decidedly Cavalcastian, Tahsatran even, perhaps. He set about earning a day’s wage unloading freight, though several in town had taken notice of him. Another passenger of interest was a sick-looking elf holyman—but was he seasick or hungover? Either way, he made for the seedy establishment known as The Winking Serpent and proceeded to punish his liver.

Meanwhile, in the nearby market square, a newcomer to the town known as Gogh began recruiting for an expedition to Blackstar Canyon. He engaged the drow prostitute Lichen, who demonstrated his cunning by picking Gogh’s pockets. Gogh moved on to a local ranger known as Tyriel, who agreed to accompany the party. The crate-hefting monk, who called himself Mathis, seemed initially uninterested, but he eventually signed on, though he refused all offers of payment. Finally, Lichen managed to enlist the now-drunken elf cleric Erdon Thistleborn by promising him the ability to smite evil. And so the party was assembled, contracts were signed and initialed, oaths sworn, or perhaps just muttered. The motivations of some members seemed rather straightforward; those of other members remained clouded. Nevertheless, the band agreed to meet at the town’s only landmark, the tragic Leaving Tree, at dawn.

But a few of them had business in town before setting out. Gogh secured the company’s contract with the mayor, the most admirable and official Lord Mayor Moustafa Whitebeard, who mentioned that an old farmer had recently returned from a disastrous expedition to the caves and was presumed either dead or crazy. Gogh stabled his beloved donkey Esh and set off to visit the farmer. The poor, bedridden fellow was living in filth and appeared to be near death. When Gogh questioned him about the caves, the farmer’s eyes widened, a rivulet of blood crept down from one nostril, and he began to speak of “the colors, the horrible colors that get in your head”. Gogh pressed for details, but the rivulet of blood became a gushing spurt and the man died. Gogh burned down his house and left. A gentle soul, this Gogh.

Meanwhile, Lichen believed that the good mayor was holding back information, but when he attempted to engage the mayor in the market square, he was strongly rebuffed. Undeterred, the mysterious drow waited until evening when he knew the mayor would be holding forth in The Golden Stein. Lichen crept in unnoticed, sidled up to the mayor, and slipped a note into the mayor’s pocket. Whether it was the wording of the note or the look in the drow’s pale eyes, the mayor was suddenly terrified. And though he made a show of ordering Lichen to leave the premises, it was clear he received the message. The next morning, Lichen received a note from the mayor with a great deal more detail about the broken contract between the denizens of the caves and the town.

The monk Mathis was a bookish fellow. Having learned from the mayor that a young scholar had been spending time in the town’s archives, paid a visit to the dusty chambers himself, where he discovered the remnants of the scholar’s research, left exactly as it had been before the young man went tearing off to the caves screaming “that was no star that fell!”. Mathis learned that there were several theories about the formation of Blackstar Canyon, but all of them seemed to agree that long ago, some dark thing fell from the sky and landed there. Whether it was the scale of an ancient dragon, the eye of an orc god, or a chain link from an enslaved god—scholars could only speculate.

The troubled cleric Erdon Thistleborn paid a visit to Marla, the priestess of the town’s Temple of Life, who’d sent for him some months prior. Marla had heard rumors of a cult taking root in the caves, and she herself had been troubled by nightmares of being lost in a maze with the sound of hoofbeats behind her. Erdon made note and swore to help banish the darkness that was haunting her dreams.

And so, with no more errands to run, no more innocent farmers to euthanize, our heroes bedded down for the night. The next morning, the ranger Tyriel was nowhere to be found, but you know how rangers are. The remaining company—Erdon, Mathis, Gogh, and Lichen, set out from the Leaving Tree as planned. While traveling east, Mathis and Gogh discovered that they had something in common, both had been to the Underdark during the previous emperor’s War Below, and both were suffering from the effects of being two of the very few who ever returned from those campaigns. As Gogh put it, “The lucky ones stayed.”

Not far from town, the company was approached by a young nobleman who introduced himself as Arxire. He was on a ten-year mission to discover a cure for his ailing master, and his research was pointing toward the ancient caves of Blackstar Canyon. He agreed to join the group, though he admitted he wasn’t much of a sword hand.

As the sun sank behind the trees to the west, our heroes began to see the telltale signs of ambushed caravans. They turned off the road and got their first glimpse at the 150-foot high, cave-pocked walls of Blackstar Canyon. As they huddled near the mouth of the canyon, they saw a goblin raiding party driving a wolf-drawn cart from one side of the canyon to the other, attacking a tree that appeared to be guarded by orc archers. The goblins set the cart (and wolves) on fire and drove it into the tree, setting it ablaze. Several orcs leapt from the tree and were joined by others from another cave, who drove the goblins back to their lair across the canyon. The canyon was silent once more, except for the pop of burning pitch and howling of burning wolves.

The party gathered under a twisted tree decorated with severed hands—a cruel mockery of Fairbanks’s Leaving Tree and its coin tributes—and decided to avoid the caves of the goblins and orcs, opting for another entrance on the north wall of the canyon that was hidden by two large fallen trees, lashed together as a crude barricade. Gogh attempted to sneak forward but tripped over something that might have been his own foot, while Lichen disguised himself as a nonspecific cult member and walked across the canyon to the cave mouth.

Lichen snuck over to a large sack lying against a wall in the eastern chamber of the cavern, while trying not to wake up whatever large creature was snoring in the western chamber. But when he attempted to search through the bag, a number of coins spilled out noisily, and an angry—if confused—ogre woke up. Lichen and Gogh wisely hid in the shadows, but while the beast lumbered past Gogh, the rogue lashed out from the darkness and buried a dagger in its lower back. The rest of the party, having snuck forward to the cave entrance, joined the fray. Mathis leapt forward and landed two mighty blows to the ogre’s jaw, while Erdon blasted away with divine bolts and Arxire fired his crossbow. Brave Mathis was brought down by a combination of the massive club of the ogre and the necrotic tendrils that suddenly sprang forth from Lichen. But suddenly Arxire unleashed a hellacious curse that brought the lumbering best crashing to the cavern floor. Clearly this scholar knew something of the dark arts. But questions could wait. Now the party needed rest and healing.

They bedded down around coals of the ogre’s fire and Erdon took first watch. And he did a fantastic job of watching the cave entrance. He did a less than fantastic job of watching the door in the back of the cavern, which opened quietly in the night.

Goblins! Foul, stabby, ambushy buggers. Our heroes awoke with goblin daggers hacking at them—and poor Arxire had his extremely fine clothes removed. But underneath those clothes was not the pink, squishy, human body of a scholar, but the scaly gray skin of a tiefling! But the party had no time to discuss Arxire’s demon-lineage, as several of them were springing leaks. Lichen conjured up the illusion of a pile of shinies that fooled several goblins into forgetting about their prey for a moment. Mathis managed to battle back to his feet and, with Arxire, pursued the goblin fleeing with the noble’s clothes. Lichen and Erdon dispatched a couple of foes but were feeling a bit worse for the wear when suddenly a heavily armored elf came sprinting into the cave, immediately decapitating a goblin. The rest of their attackers were killed or driven off in short order. While the company attempted to catch its breath and congratulate Erdon on his watch-keeping skill, the selfless and noble paladin complained about no one rushing to thank her for bailing their asses out.

Thus began our heroes’ first foray into the chaotic caves of Blackstar Canyon.

View

I'm sorry, but we no longer support this web browser. Please upgrade your browser or install Chrome or Firefox to enjoy the full functionality of this site.