Southern Kingdoms

Nota quiesceret

(Marginal note: less mint, more juniper – the mentha arvensis is more aromatic than the alpha pinene, but the increased aggression makes it difficult to think strategically in the midst of a fight.)

We’ve left the ancient outpost behind – Dragda made sure that there was a note for Sirette, and she’s used her axe to blaze marks on the trees so that she can find us with relative ease. We’ve struck out to the east, and we had plans to cut back to the north, but we’ve found some intriguing ruins. It had been a castle – to be fair, much of it is still standing – but it has certainly seen better days.

It has also certainly seen worse days. Our first clue to its existence was the wreck of a siege engine pointed in its general direction. It had been a catapult, or perhaps a trebuchet. To satisfy his curiosity on this point, Keller started poking around the machine with his newly attuned staff. This had the unfortunate result of rousing the remains of the weapon’s crew. A massively broad, ten foot tall skeleton levered itself out of the rubble and began to reach for him.
Fortuitously, I had been discussing a mixture I was working on using some herbs that we had scavenged while traveling, and I had a sample on hand. I drank it back and grabbed Keller by the back of his robe, shoving him behind me as my elixir took effect: within moments I was the same height as the skeleton – if not quite as broad. And no where near as sturdy. Perhaps annoyed that I had taken his first target away, the skeleton simply swatted me down, knocking me senseless in a single hit.

(Margin – cutaway sketch of acorn with notes: Powdered paricarp of Quercus seed next time instead of the dried cotyledons. Extra size and strength are useless if they make you easy to hit.)

Dragda jumped up on the wreck of the catapult and began some virtuoso axe work, cracking and chipping away at the skeleton. Her quick thinking drew the creature’s attention long enough for Fungdark to cast a quick healing spell on me. Keller stepped back to a safer distance and began to pelt the thing with magical force bolts. The skeleton clawed at Dragda, but she was able to withstand the attack with relative ease, and continued to carve chips out of the animated bones.

Partially restored by Fungdark’s magic, I grabbed the heftiest wooden beam I could drag out of the ruined catapult and brought it down hard on the back of the thing’s skull. The wood shattered and it staggered slightly but continued to claw at Dragda, dealing out some serious gouges. Her riposte ruined several of its ribs, and Keller’s force-bolts knocked some more bones out of joint. Fungdark sent an arrow clattering through its ribs, but it didn’t seem fazed. If we didn’t take it down quickly we were in a bit of a pickle: none of us could withstand another hit from the giant skeleton. I’d gotten lucky with one swing, but Keller’s magic was nearly drained, Fungdark’s weaponry was entirely ineffective against the thing, and it was only through sheer strength that Dragda was able to damage it with her axe. Concentrating, I called up a wave of positive light, flooding the area with energy. With the damage we had inflicted, this was enough to disrupt the necromantic force that was animating the skeleton. It collapsed into a pile of inanimate bone shards.

We rested for a while, healing and recovering our energies. Keller found some gold in the ruins of the catapult – probably the pay for the giant that had been operating the weapon. He sighted along a line where the thing would have been firing and spotted part of a stone wall through a gap in the trees. Once we were rested, we set off in that direction.

The castle we found had been the site of a pretty intense battle. We walked around it carefully, scouting from a distance and looking for any signs of habitation. The walls were breached in several locations, but the main structure was mostly intact – a three story keep with an enclosed courtyard and a detached tower at the far corner of the yard. The battle must have gone badly for both sides – in addition to the breaches, there were more ruined siege weapons scattered around. If the defenders had won, they had abandoned the place without rebuilding. If the attackers had been victorious, they hadn’t bothered to repair their weapons or bury their dead.

We decided to investigate the tower first, entering via a gap in the outer wall. The interior was in disrepair, the floor of the second level sagging in the middle. A quick check of the stairs revealed that it was unlikely to support the weight of anyone other than Fungdark. Instead we followed a path downward, stairs into catacombs, catacombs into caves.

It wasn’t long before we found the remnants of some of the castle’s defenders. Or perhaps attackers. At this point, they all were bound to the service of some necromancer – skeletal figures and putrid zombies lurched into action, throwing themselves claw-first at us as we explored the frigid spaces underneath the keep. We positioned ourselves well, using natural narrowings of the cavern and the rough-hewn doorways to choke the flood of the undead. Dragda’s axe made short work of those that got close and I tossed a few bottles of liquid flame over her head and into the throng to drive them out of the shadows and into her blade. There were a few undead that were more than mindless minions though – casting spells past the knot of their rotting soldiers and into our midst. Keller’s arcane bolts and Fungdark’s mundane arrows made short work of them.

(Margin – Illustration of two nested bottles of thin glass sealed with a single lump of wax. The interior is labeled “cibus”, the exterior is marked with a circle crowned in flame. The entire drawing is titled “Hypergolic”)

After a rest, we continued. Exploring further, we found a number of peculiar areas – a corridor with five patches of glowing light on the wall, several locked or barred doors. At the end of one long corridor, we decided to open a door and see what it hid. A bit of acid on the door’s lock and hinges weakened things enough for Dragda to drag the whole door free from the wall, revealing our prize. We had found a cavernous room with several exits: the former door which we had demolished, a set of double doors on one side and a portcullis-sealed passage on the other. We were ready to continue our exploration when Keller and I spotted an odd cloudiness in a passage on the other side of the room.

In the spirit of experimentation, I heaved a rock toward it, expecting it to disperse the mist and land on the other side of the room. Instead, it struck something semi-solid in midair, rebounding to tumble onto the floor as a cubical mass of transparent gel slid across the cavern floor toward us.

The four of us quickly scattered, trying to avoid any attacks that it might level against us as a group. Dragda carved a slab out of its substance with her axe, and Fungdark struck up a Gnomish battle chant. In a matter of seconds though, it washed over us. I lost sight of Dragda as I was trapped in its gooey interior. As quickly as I could I shoved a flask of hypergolic reagent into the stinging jelly and pulled the stopper. Concentrating on the blessings of the Free Wanderer, I felt the ground beneath my feet and twisted sideways into a low leap, pulling free from the creature just as the chemicals I’d deposited burst into flame. The battle that followed was short and furious. I splashed the sides of the cube with my last two bottles of fire while Keller slammed it with arcane force. The creature quickly slumped into a pile of goo and we stepped back to take a much needed rest.

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Fragments from the Past
Ab exiguo Benedicti libros

The handspiders had been doing a pretty good job of keeping the place vermin-free for the past several thousand years. If we were thinking of using this as a remote base of operations I thought it might be a good idea to capture one of them rather than destroying them all, and the others agreed.

We were fairly certain there were some of them in the last room. Sure enough, when Dragda opened the door four of them rushed out at her. They might not be very sturdy, but they’re certainly quick! We made short work of three of them – Dragda crushed one, Keller blasted another with a spell and Fungdark picked one off with a well placed arrow. The third one was tripped with a whip, entangled in a cloak and finally bundled into a cooking pot for our later study.

The room itself was a sort of workroom, with clay cylinder tomes and all the trappings of a small lab. A pile of red grit on the floor indicated that someone had spent a great deal of time destroying some of the old books. The dead goblin in the corner was a late addition to the decor, and something of a distraction especially because Fungdark would occasionally give it a casual stab in an off-hand way.

Fungdark and Keller told us about something strange which had happened to them in the instants before the battle with the handspiders. The two of them had suddenly found themselves in a different building – a strange parallel to this place – where the only living things were a swarm of rats and a strange, spectral butler which cleaned up the corpses of the vermin when Keller and Fugndark were attacked. Dragda and I hadn’t noticed a thing, but it would explain where Keller’s new staff and Fungdark’s joke book came from. It might also explain where Sirette had vanished to…

Our earlier explorations had been cursory, mostly to get the layout of the place and to make sure there were no lurking threats. Fungdark and Dragda set out to make a more careful search of the building while Keller and I got to work seeing what we could learn from the remains of the handspiders. We confirmed that they were constructs, carved from bone and enhanced with a necromantic aura. They were small and simple, with very limited capabilities. We theorized that they were likely controlled by some external object of power – something which could be used to change their behaviour.

At this point Dragda and Fungdark returned. They had found a small hole in the floor and a couple more handspiders had crawled up out of it while they were watching. Fortunately, the critters were quickly disposed of and the hole was blocked with an upside-down table. The four of us decided to regroup for the search and see if we could find whatever it is that would let us control the remaining guardians.

Careful searching without the benefit of Sirette’s expertise was a bit nervewracking. Most of the nicer rooms and a few of the not-quite-so-nice rooms had chests and dressers with trapped drawers or lids. We were – for the most part – able to open them without getting blasted with a jet of red mist. Keller was the notable exception, but he was unharmed. As we searched, we also gathered the bodies of the former inhabitants to give them last rites.

There was a fair quantity of coins in the place, but the most ornate room provided some of the most unusual results. The chest by the dresser had a false bottom concealing a couple bottles of potion and a pair of engraved clay cylinders. The potions were Lesser Restoration, but the scrolls were something strange. Keller snagged his finger on a rough edge of one of the cylinders getting it out of the bottom of the trunk. As soon as his blood touched the clay, the cylinder collapsed into shards and Keller got a look of astonishment on his face. He then shocked the rest of us by deliberately jabbing his other hand with a shard and bleeding on the other cylinder, which also crumbled.

He then explained that the first cylinder had given him the ability to temporarily comprehend languages, and that the second had granted him a necromantic touch attack, similar to the power that the handspiders possess. Of course, in order to do that, they had permanently damaged his health.

This didn’t strike the rest of us as the best of bargains, but there was nothing to be done about it now.

With Keller now able to read the clay cylinder tomes, we returned to the workroom. Most of the surviving texts were simple instruction books (herb lore and basic arcane theory) but two of the texts were more in-depth. One of them was an book of oraclular lore that Keller quickly pocketed. The other was a description of the religious rites and practices of their ancient society – useful for last rites for their dead. It also included a mention of the spiritual requirements of their architecture. In order to comply with their strictures, buildings need to be constructed with the walls facing in cardinal directions and the number of doors on the walls must be even.

This meant that either this building was an anomaly, or there was a door that we hadn’t yet found…

Now that we knew what we were looking for, it didn’t take long before we located an entrance to a hidden workshop. The floor was littered with chips and shards of bones, and a large ogre skull with gems in the eyes was perched jauntily on a pedestal, watching the room. A clay cylinder tome was sitting amongst some rags on a table. Keller quickly determined that the tome was a how-to manual on creating and animating handspiders. And that the skull on the pedestal was where the critters went to recharge their chilling touch attack. And that there was a little gold whistle that would start or stop the creatures on their patrol.

Out of an abundance of caution, Dragda decided to put a bag over the skull on the pedestal before we did any more experimentation. Unfortunately, during the process, the skull got bumped and a pair of spiders crawled out of the nose socket… A quick tweet of the whistle sent them back inside, so it looks like things are working correctly. Two tweets will send them back out on patrol. We’re keeping the whistle with us. We still haven’t found Sirette. Dragda doesn’t seem terribly worried, but I’m nervous about how time has been behaving strangely.

At this point I’m preparing to conduct a funeral for the late Merithians – Fungdark and Dragda are digging graves while I’m preparing the bodies. There is one of the original inhabitants of the place who is still around. A young woman in a green toga is trapped in one of the silver mirrors in the bedroom. She looks physically unharmed, but her eyes seem to indicate that she’s in a catatonic state. No surprise considering that she’s been stuck, staring into an empty room for nearly two thousand years. If I can, I’d like to free her and cure her insanity. Unfortunately, I don’t know how she was trapped in there, and without that knowledge, there’s nothing I can think of that would be powerful enough to undo what has been done. Perhaps, in time, I’ll be able to help her regain her freedom.

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Beginnings and Endings
ex ephemeride Benedicti

The plan, as it was formed, was simple – two days out into the forest, two days back. A simple scouting, just enough to get a feel for what might be needed for a longer expedition.

The first day out we encountered a trio of goblins. The fight was suitably short. We spent more time discussing how to dispose of the bodies than we did in actual combat. We camped a careful distance away from the site of the skirmish and spent the next day’s journey keeping a cautious eye out for any goblin reinforcements or encampments.

That’s how we spotted the wall.

Three hundred years or so of vines and moss clinging to stone looks astonishingly natural – from a distance it could be a cliff or a ridge of rock. Sirette spotted the windows though, and closer investigation revealed a solid tower fallen into disrepair. It didn’t take long to find the arch which once held the front door.

Keller used his magic to detect a faint undead presence within the tower, so we proceeded with caution. Dragda and her battleaxe took the lead, with backup from Keller’s spells and my prayers. Sirette provided melee support and Fungdark alternated between songs of courage and carefully placed arrows. The two skeletons defending the base of the tower were rapidly dispatched.

From there, we began a careful exploration, working our way up the spiral stairs. Sirette jimmied the locks that were amenable to gentle persuasion. A solid kick from Dragda’s boot convinced the more recalcitrant latches. As we worked our way upwards we encountered several pairs of skeletons at strategic junctures – defending a long-rotted storeroom of food, guarding an officer’s quarters and so on. The heaviest resistance was in a barracks near the top of the tower where a half-dozen skeletons were lurking. Fortunately, we were able to keep them bottlenecked in a doorway where they could be dealt with in manageable numbers.

On the way up, Keller discovered a journal from the former captain of the troop that had been stationed at the tower. The tale it told was grim – a promising young officer of the old empire, traveling north with his family to take up residence at this outpost. An uptick in bandit activity, coupled with an ambitious underling. Betrayal. Siege. A last-ditch attempt to reach reinforcements.

As we approached the roof, Keller’s divination sensed a powerful undead presence. We prepared ourselves for a more dangerous foe than the skeletons we had been facing, but as it turned out our preparations were unnecessary. It was the ghost of the captain, still looking for reinforcements that would never arrive. We learned from him that there were two things keeping his spirit in this world: first, he didn’t know the fate of his wife and young child. Second, the tower needed to be garrisoned and secure.

The captain had told us that his troops had been defending his wife and toddler – hidden in a bolt-hole somewhere nearby. If they had succeeded it could have led into a months-long quest for information, tracing family histories in far off lands until we found his distant descendants. Tragically, the problem was much easier to resolve. In a chamber under the base of the tower stair we found the remains of a woman and a child. Her angry spirit appeared as soon as the bones were disturbed, but I was able to calm her and she let us conduct last rites.

And now we have a quandary. This tower could be a fine base of operations – if we can keep it garrisoned. The captain and his troops will only stay at rest if people make the tower their home. Will using this as a base be enough?

On a personal note, I find myself with a theological puzzle: the Wanderer’s Code calls us to help others on their journey. Would helping the unquiet dead reach their afterlife be considered part of this calling?

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2012–10–03
The Adventure Begins

The story so far…

Adventurers have begun to gather at the One-Eyed Cat in Iron Fort.

And continuing…

One overlooked new arrival was the human wizard Keller. He was eager to get started exploring the Southern Kingdoms in search of any old magic.

Naturally, Dragda drew his attention. Fungdark (the Magnificent—just ask him!), a gnome, had also arrived and was distracted distracting her attention. This made it easy for the also newly arrived Sirette, a half-elf, to sneak in and surprise her.

Introductions were made all around, including the nearby Ben. The five of them decided to set off in the morning into the Southern Kingdoms.

The next day looked to be a nice, clear day once the morning fog burned off. The party decided to travel near the Star River so as to not get lost. Entering into the forest, the party immediately noticed something odd: there were none of the normal noises of a forest. No birds chirping, no animals scurrying, only the soft sound of the river.

The party could still see the fort. An experiment by Brother Ben proved that objects could still leave the forest. Traveling on, the normal sounds of the forest started up, making everyone a little more relaxed.

That didn’t last long when they overheard the arguing of several goblins. Sirette sneaked closer and discovered the goblins were attempting some method of fishing in the river. They proved to have good hearing when Sirette tried to sneak away. The first battle had begun.

Disposing of the goblins proved to be well within the groups’ means. Following the traditional disposal of bodies by cremation, the party decided to travel on further south for another day.

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2012–07–04
First Session

Dragda, a half-orc barbarian, approached the edifice known as Iron Fort. The expected challenge to her presence was given, though being given entry into the town revealed that the defenses where undermanned; they didn’t have enough people on watch to lower the drawbridge and raise the portcullis at the same time.

She met the gatekeeper after that. Sabine let Dragda in after informing her of the rules, which boiled down to: ‘don’t make trouble’. After opening the final obstacle to entry, Dragda was directed to where the inn and tavern could be found.

It wasn’t long before the first caravan of the season arrived.

Joining the caravan for the journey were six newcomers. Somewhat oddly, five of them were related to each other in some way, the oddity being that they were a mix of humans, half-elves, and elves. There was Theraga, a half-elf fighter; Aderyn, an elven bard; Dore (like ‘dough-ray’), a human paladin; the half-elf sorcerer who only goes by Blue Eyes; Robin, an elven druid; and the outsider of them, Tair’vor, a magus.

Passage into Iron Fort was smooth, and the caravan stopped at the warehouse, while the passengers were directed to the inn and tavern.

Inside the One-Eyed Cat, Iron Fort’s only tavern, Dragda found a table in a corner. Brother Benedictus was nearing the end of his shift working. Working off his debt, that is. Ben had travelled south to Iron Fort to see what there was to see, and to avoid one or two previous bar bills.

Eventually, the six newcomers arrived at the bar. Not all at once; a couple of them had other things to do, such as reserving rooms at the inn. Most of them settled around one of the tables that resembled a picnic table.

Soon enough, the evening crowd came in. Ben’s replacement, Drogen, arrived. Ben switched from tracking other patron’s tabs to running his own, but stayed available if needed.

Dragda wanted to experience different drinks, so Ben thought it might be time to bring out the specialty beer he had created. Drogen, thinking the brewer mad for attempting his concoction in the first place, reluctantly went into the back and retrieved the small cask of drink. Putting a tap in, he poured out a mug for Dragda.

Dragda found the drink quite good, so Ben pronounced the brewing a success, relieved it hadn’t killed anyone. Yet.

The regular evening crowd started gathering, and noticed the number of newcomers in their midst. Drogen brought attention to this and called for people’s attention.

“It’s been a long time since we’ve seen so many adventurers gathered here. You are all adventurers, yes? Thought so. Last year we only saw two. The last time we saw more than four was… Grem! When was that?”

“Oh, five, no six years ago. Yes, six years ago,” Grem said.

“Right, six years. And when they explored the Southern Kingdoms, they made a map. A map carved out of the top of one of the tables just like that one,” Droga said, pointing to the picnic table most of the adventurers had gathered around.

The table was bare of any such carving, but that didn’t prevent some from looking at the underside to see if there was a map there.

“I’ve spent many a night under one or another of these tables, and I can assure you none of them have any maps on the underside,” Ben provided.

“What happened to the map they made?” someone asked.

“I think they took it with them when they retired,” Drogan said.

“Oh, I heard they destroyed it before they left,” Grem said.

“I heard they sold it to someone,” another tavern patron offered.

“Well, whatever happened to it, it’s gone now,” Drogan finished. “Heh. Guess you’ll be wanting to start one of your own, right?”

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