Aereth 2010

Session 2 recap: Underground puzzles and arrival of the beholders

At some point between the first session and this one, our group was subjected to the Retcon Virus. Remember Daanith, the tiefling warlock (played by the Group Gestalt in Felix’s absence)? This is not the tiefling you’re looking for… Daanith was Never Here. The group’s tiefling pal has always been the bard Manael. Got that? I mean, we would have been nuts to go into combat without a healer in the group, right?

Here’s the “new” lineup of our pack of 3rd-level heroes:
Mike: Tarthon, minotaur barbarian
Steve: Grumhorn, a.k.a. “Grue,” dwarf invoker
Felix: Manael, tiefling bard
Willie: Kheiron, githzerai seeker (!)
Me: Graaver Stormcry, longtooth shifter druid-fighter

We pick up right where we left off: in the cave complex within the cove. High tide is starting to come in, and there’s one passage as yet unexplored. It leads to a fairly large cave, with a massive square-shaped, altar-like stone in the center, about 12 feet to a side. Yeah, probably not naturally occurring. No other apparent openings. We move closer and notices that there are symbols on the top of the altar, largely obscured by muck. Tarthon scrapes away some of the gunk – and we all hear a grinding or whirring sound. Uh oh. Ahh, what the heck, let’s all scrape away some gunk and see what happens! [This “what the heck” approach will reappear later.] The “altar” is actually a puzzle board of nine square pieces. But what is the scrambled image? Hmm, could be a pirate fl— THUNK! Stormcry is hit by a crossbow bolt fired from a hidden recess in the stone wall! Message for you, sir!

[At this point, Rick places the nine scrambled pieces on the table and says, “You have 8 seconds before the next bolt fires. Starting…NOW!” Holy Jeff Probst, Batman! It’s a Survivor contest!]

A couple of more bolts fire before we’re able to put the pieces in the right order and avoid Tribal Council. Yep, it’s a very pirate-y symbol: a skull resting on top of crossed swords. [Insert shameless plug for my Foreshadows story here.] Upon completion, a massive stone slab slides down from the back wall to reveal a sharp stone decline down into a pool of brackish water. A flickering brown light is visible from somewhere in the pool – then it disappears. A strong odor of rotting seaweed – and something else – assaults our nostrils. More aquatic undead? Good bet. But if we’re to get a solid clue regarding Captain Longshanks’ treasure, descend we must! First, though, let’s search! We find a pearl-pommel dagger in an old leather sheath and a silver necklace.

Stormcry ties a rope around himself and, with Tarthon holding the other end at the top of the slope, he wades into the water. It’s very claustrophobic; the water level is up to his shoulders – and rising – and there are only a few inches of space above his head. But this hazard is minor compared to the aquatic undead that lunges at him from the vile water! It fails to wrap him in the type of deadly embrace that nearly slew Daanith, uh, I mean, Manael. Stormcry punches and grabs the undead and yells to Tarthon, “Pull me up!” Four more undead emerge! Manael and Kheiron hit with ranged attacks, Stormcry hits again (getting temporary hit points from Manael’s inspiring manner), and Grue zaps several with searing radiant energy. Just before Stormcry and his new date get back to the slope, another undead claws at him, dealing a nasty injury. Two of the undead sink suspiciously from sight. Another undead – different from others seen to this point – rips off a chunk of its disgusting flesh and hurls it at Tarthon’s face, blinding the minotaur. Ewww! The tiefling bard Manael uses Majestic Word on Stormcry, which nearly heals him completely! (Warlock? What warlock?) Stormcry then moves up the slope, and the group hopes to lure the undead into the Survivor Immunity Challenge room.

Stormcry’s summoning of spectral wolves destroys one of the undead, and Grue follows up with Radiant Wind, which deals undead-frying radiant damage and does more damage if the undead approach the dwarven invoker. Kheiron the seeker throws his hammer to deal an Elemental Spirits strike on one of the undead – and his weapon returns unerringly to his hand. By the golden locks of Thor! The brown, flickering light reappears, hovering in the center of the chamber’s very low ceiling, before it disappears with a barely audible, Nightcrawlerish “pop.”

The two undead who HAD disappeared now reappear at the bottom of the slope. And they stink like a pail of soiled diapers! [Trust me, it’s bad!] The stench overwhelms Kheiron. [That fits. Willie isn’t used to diaper stench.] As two of the undead move up the slope, they do take that yummy radiant damage from Grue’s previous attack. However, no sooner does Tarthon shake off his blindness does the flesh-lobbing undead succeed in blinding Grue! Kheiron succeeds with another attack, but the githzerai has clearly been weakened by the stench, and the strike doesn’t do as much damage as it should. Stormcry hurls a handaxe at another undead, which nearly destroys it.

Here’s comes the brown light again. It washes over the area, dazing most of us and compelling us to move forward toward the center of the pool! Oh that’s not good. Tarthon is now between several of the ghouls. Grue again summons Radiant Wind, which damages Tarthon but does a lot more damage to the adjacent undead.

Kheiron attacks Stencher #1, compelling it to strike – and destroy! – one of its allies. Tarthon sees no problem with the undead adjacent to him: He clobbers Stencher #2 and whacks Stencher #1 with the backswing! Stencher #2 sinks below the water. Manael strikes an undead with Impelling Force, which, after Felix rolls damage, forcibly impels the few rotting scraps remaining to slide up the slope.

The two Stenchers are the only foes left, but they’re tough. Stencher #2 reappears and attacks Tarthon. Stormcry wildshapes into a wolf and pounces from the top of the slope onto the creature, destroying it! The tide has definitely turned in our favor, but… the brown light reappears, dazing Stormcry, Tarthon, and Manael and pulling them Very Close to the center! Grue has had enough: Rebuke Undead! That destroys Stencher #1 and nearly wipes out #2. Kheiron finishes the battle with … a crit on #2!

Poof! The brown light disappears and does not return. We’ve all recovered our senses. Now what? Stormcry senses that there must be another outlet in this pool; otherwise, if the water level rose at every high tide, wouldn’t this chamber be completely flooded? The water level continues to rise, so we return to the storage chamber we previously discovered.

After waiting a couple of hours for the tide to lower, we return to the brackish pool, and Stormcry and Tarthon grab sunrods and make several dives into the pool to search for passages. They find three: 1) a dead end, 2) a set of stone steps leading out of the water (which they don’t want to explore further just yet), and 3) an above-water natural alcove, with a chest!

Within the chest is a ledger, written in a language unfamiliar to either the shifter or the minotaur. After Stormcry and Tarthon find a way to carry the ledger back to the others without getting it wet, Manael uses the Comprehend Languages ritual to try to read it. No dice. It’s not a language, it’s a code. After putting the ledger and the other found items in the storage room, the group decides to jointly dive and see where those stone steps lead.

We step up into another chamber. On the floor are a lockbox and a chest. Alongside the chest is a human (or humanoid) skull, and nearby is a human skeleton, lying motionless, one of its arms stretching toward the lockbox as its last living act. Yeah, there must be traps here. Hey, lookee that! Two crossbows sit in recessed niches in the farthest two corners of the chamber’s stone ceiling.

Tarthon steps forward toward the chest and the skull. The shadows in the chamber move! They coalesce into an ebon being who then reaches behind the chest to grab a silvery rapier! Initiative! Tarthon strikes quickly, but the shadow creature seems to roll and shift with the damage and instantly deals a nasty retaliatory strike against the minotaur. Grue blasts it with a radiant attack. Ohhhh, Grue, you got its attention! Stormcry wildshapes and rips at the creature with his claws, yet its shadowy, insubstantial form seems to negate much of the damage. Manael attacks with Stirring Shot (our first Daily power of the session!), which not only damages the creature but gives temporary hit points to anyone else who hits it. Good news! Hmmm, the shadow creature seems to be regenerating. Bad news!

And it really isn’t happy with Grue. It flows past Tarthon and strikes at the dwarven invoker, but it fortunately misses. Grue then uses his Daily power, Brilliant Beacon, creating a freakin’ zone of radiant energy! Regenerate THAT! Kheiron cleverly follows up with Winter’s Spirit, immobilizing the creature and preventing it from escaping the zone. Time to take down this bastid!

Tarthon uses his Battlecrazed Greataxe’s innate power and an Action Point to deal a world of hurt, but it’s not destroyed yet! It hurts both Grue and Tarthon. Wolfy Stormcry pounces again and – even with Shadow Boy’s resistance to damage – kills the creature. Nice teamwork and tactics. This could’ve been a much nastier fight.

The group catches its breath and proceeds to disable the automatic crossbow turrets. Tarthon and Grue take a quick acid bath for their troubles, though. Painful, yes, but now the two of them are thoroughly exfoliated. Now to see what’s here.

The skull is of primary interest because of the cryptic message found in the storage chamber, referring to the treasure’s whereabouts being in First Mate Yarrick’s head. Stormcry, after seeing that something’s inside the skull cavity, cracks it open. Within are 5 clay balls; 1 Cinnabon, which deals 2d8 points of fatty damage to arteries and… ohhh, cinnabar! – never mind – and an odd, roughly triangular plate of metal. There are no markings, but Manael soon determines that it has a strong magical aura.

The lockbox has a bunch of silver ingots. Nice! The chest has the Charlie Brown treasure: I got a bunch of rocks. Stormcry has trouble accepting this, so he works himself into a sweat to break open one of the rocks, which transforms into smaller rocks.

Tarthon suggests that he and Stormcry take a closer look at the spot where they found the chest and the ledger. Make it so! On the wall there, they see barely legible scrawling in the Common tongue: “I must go back to the Star.” (And yes, “Star” is written with an uppercase “s.”)

The group, feeling fairly certain they’ve explored enough and getting a bit worried about the weather, exit the cave area and return to the shallow waters of the cover. It’s VERY stormy out now! The clouds are quite dark – as are the eight bat-winged creatures swooping down! Kheiron takes no chances: With a nice sense of irony, he blankets the creatures with his Daily power of Swarming Bats, slaying four of the critters immediately. Stormcry tries to take out two of them with a druidic attack, but fails. Manael does not miss with his strike.

The remaining three critters head toward Stormcry and Tarthon – not to attack, but to swipe their stuff! [They’re like flying gremlins, interested more in mischief and thievery than combat … and they were created by Mike for a Pathfinder bestiary! Rick saw them, liked them, and converted them to 4e. Oh, the Frankenstein-like embarrassment of having your own creations turn upon you!] Two of them grab the newly acquired dagger from Tarthon – and the triangle thingie from Stormcry! Tarthon does a sweep attack that kills both before they can fly away, but the triangle falls into the roiling waves. It’ll be lost to the sea within seconds! Grue tries to grab it but fails. As Kheiron finishes off the last of these annoying beasts, Grue, Stormcry, and Tarthon make one last dive into the water – and they recover the triangle. Phew!

After a difficult swim from the cove to the beach (again requiring Stormcry to aid Grue, The Boulder Who Walks Like a Man), we’re wet, cold, and tired. We decide that the best course of action is to head back the way we came. Southwatch is about one hour away, while the next town in the other direction is probably two hours away – and that storm is going to hit soon. We walk along the side of the road, trying to keep to the treeline while maintaining a good pace. After a short time, though, we see a group of figures – a dozen, perhaps? – walking in our direction on the other side of the road. Do we hide, or confront them? Ahhhh, what the heck…! [See, I told you it would come back.]

Stormcry calls upon his inner Captain John Sheridan: “We won’t start this fight, but by Ildavir, we’ll finish it!” As it’s clearly a gaggle of goblins moving toward us – freakin’ nineteen of them – the fight is on! There are a couple of snipers moving toward us on the right, a squad of nearly a dozen coming at us from the left, and a group of five or six lingering in the back – one of whom is BIG. And another one looks a bit familiar! It’s the lone goblin who escaped the fight in the last session! Yeah, no point in parlay here. Get those Action Points ready!

Winning initiative, Kheiron does the proper controllery thing and attacks the nicely gathered group on the left. Good thought! Oh, a miss! Too bad, but there are nice consolation prizes in the form of damage if the targeted goblins move forward. Meanwhile, Tarthon does the proper berserkery thing by charging straight at the Big Guy with Howling Strike! Manael takes his own shot at the larger group with Shout of Triumph followed (via Action Point) by Impelling Force. Blammo! Seven goblin minions, shaken and stirred into oblivion!

The goblins still standing from that group rush forward and attack both Kheiron and Manael but – clearly stunned by the David Cronenbergian deaths of their buddies – miss badly. Grue zaps the group in the back with Lightning Revelation. Zzzax! [Man, invoker powers have the coolest names!] Heh heh heh, all is good – until the Big Guy retaliates with his own Lightning Revelation at Tarthon! What the—? He even fries one of his own goblin buddies in the process, though another goblin who took the full brunt incredibly still stands. Uh oh, he must be a Tough Guy! Burnt minotaur hair now stinks up the woods, and Tarthon gets the bad feeling that he picked the wrong group to tackle by himself! This is confirmed when the Big Guy morphs into a massive wolf-like form. Damn, it’s a barghest!

Stormcry, who had already shifted to beast form for a planned attack on the two snipers, sees his wrasslin’ buddy in trouble and Pounces on a goblin minion next to Tarthon, killing it, then he shifts back to humanoid form and (via Action Point) whacks the barghest with Grappling Strike and grabs it. Tough Guy Goblin sets up some sort of shadowy zone around Stormcry and Tarthon, obscuring their vision – but Stormcry isn’t letting go of the barghest!

The deft githzerai Kheiron avoids an opportunity attack from one goblin in order to kill another with Possessing Spirits. Across the battlefield, Tarthon is pissed off! He enters the Swift Panther Rage (his Daily power) and swings at Big Guy Barghest. Thanks to the shadowy field, the carnivorous creature ducks the worst of it, but still takes damage from the primal power of the barbarian’s backswing. Manael lethally zaps another goblin! The remaining goblins in what WAS the larger group attack Manael (miss!) and Kheiron (hit – ow!). Grue resumes his attack on the group in the back, blasting them with Radiant Wind and (via Action Point) Sun Strike. Two goblins are roasted divinely!

Big Guy Barghest escapes Stormcry’s fierce hold. It shifts – which, as it was marked by Stormcry’s fighter attack, provokes another successful whack from the longtooth shifter. “Come HERE, doggie!” And the barghest is grabbed again! It uses its second action to escape the grab – and fails – then uses its own Action Point for another escape attempt, which succeeds, and it backs away from Stormcry. While free, though, the Big Guy is now out of actions: no attacks this round. Stormcry shifts into beast form, Pounces on the barghest, and uses his armor’s innate power to push it away from the badly injured Tarthon – who is promptly bloodied when he’s hit by one of the goblin snipers and the Little Guy Goblin in the tougher group! Normally, Tarthon doesn’t mind being bloodied, but he’s clearly got a couple of major opponents nearby. Tough Guy Goblin, standing a dozen feet away, aims a potentially nasty bolt of force at Stormcry, which the shifter avoids.

Kheiron, already wounded and not happy to be in melee, attacks his goblin foe. His first swing is off target but the second one (Action Point) kills it! Tarthon, in trouble, swings at Little Guy and hits. Little Guy may be small, but he’s got moxie! Manael moves up to help Tarthon – which provokes an Opportunity Attack from the adjacent goblin – but the tiefling bard yells, “Talk to the hand, baby!” as his Infernal Wrath scalds the attacker! [A highlight of the evening from Felix.] He then moves forward and hurts Tough Guy. Behind him, another goblin runs up and injures Kheiron. The githerzai seeker is seeking a Band-Aid! Grue attempts to punish more goblins, but the dwarf’s attack misses.

Big Guy Barghest uses some latent talent to shift past Stormcry and get into a flanking position with Little Guy on Tarthon, and it rips into the minotaur. [Fourteen points of damage – and that was with a BAD damage roll!] Little Guy follows up with his own strike – and Tarthon drops! Manael uses Majestic Word to resuscitate Tarthon, then he gets up close and personal with Tough Guy and deals a nasty hit. Grue invokes Divine Call to pull Stormcry and Tarthon out of immediate danger, then he strikes at both Little Guy and Big Guy Barghest with a radiant attack, searing the barghest and convincing it to flee!

Stormcry, Tarthon, Manael, and Grue then focus all their next attacks on Little Guy and Tough Guy. It’s still a brutal fight. Tough Guy bloodies Manael with a bolt of force. Tarthon whacks Little Guy brutally – but the goblin isn’t even bloodied yet! [Maybe HE should have been Tough Guy!] Kheiron unfortunately is stuck in a frustrating battle with the one remaining goblin minion. C’mon, hit him! Oops, Kheiron is hit again by the pesky bugger.

Tough Guy makes a run for it, but he’s chased down and killed by Stormcry. Little Guy, after finally being bloodied by Tarthon’s Howling Strike, decides to book, too. Oh no, you don’t! Tarthon charges after him and hits! Stormcry and Grue miss, though, and Little Guy turns, ready to fight to the death. The seeker Kheiron slays his minion opponent (huzzah!) and next freezes Little Guy with Winter’s Spirit, holding him in place – and setting him up for Manael to deal the battle’s final blow. Guiding Strike!

Woof. That was a tough one.

After catching our breath and tending to our wounds (and, um, looting the bodies), we continue on. The sky looks more threatening by the minute. As we follow the contours of the cliffside road, we catch sight of smoke up ahead – coming from an outcropping along the coast, a few hundred feet ahead. Stormcry takes the shape of a fox and moves cautiously ahead to investigate, the rest of the party following several dozen feet behind.

Upon the outcropping is a large campsite … or what’s left of it. Fires burn in various spots, and many bodies are strewn across the ground. Goblins – a couple of dozen – all dead. Taking his normal form again, Stormcry examines one corpse … and discovers the goblin has been dead no more than fifteen minutes. The other adventurers, standing well back at the point when the outcropping juts out from the coastline, nervously look about for the beings responsible for what was clearly a massacre.

Grue sees two circular shadows move across the group. He gets the group’s attention, and we all look up to see two horrifying creatures floating in the air above us, one even more massive than the other, and both of them complete abominations – nothing born of Nature.

We see this…

Beholders. Two of them. Holy crap.

Malice and power radiate from them as they look down upon us with their obscene eyes. Have I mentioned that we’re only Level 3?

[I’ve been playing D&D a long time, and I can count on two hands the number of chilling, “Oh shit,” virtual-pants-wetting moments I’ve had as a player. This was one of them. Nicely done, Rick.]

Stormcry, still by the bodies, and the other adventurers stand completely still. We know – even if we don’t realize what these creatures are – that their power is FAR beyond ours. We make no move for our weapons … except for Tarthon. [Mike, playing his character perfectly, shrugged his shoulders when asked and said, “Yeah – he’s still going to hold his axe.”] The larger beholder sees Tarthon holding his weapon and, with a casual motion from one of its eyestalks, blasts the barbarian with a ray of force that hurls Tarthon several dozen feet back! [As Rick said, “Yeah, I think he hits … with a +30 to attack.”] Tarthon is knocked on his back – but is surprisingly unharmed. Still, the minotaur is wise enough to remain on the ground and not reach for his axe – even after the smaller beholder crackles at him in a Peter Lorre voice, “Lose your axe, minotaur? Hee hee hee!” At this, the larger creature turns a disapproving eye (or 12) at its companion, instantly silencing it.

The larger beholder then says to all, “A new player has entered the game. This audience has ended.” Instantly, from both of the beholders, beams of laser-like energy erupt from their eyes and begin slicing through the cliff. The outcropping – with dead goblins and a live shifter and minotaur – is about to collapse into the water 150 feet below!

Stormcry wildshapes and makes a dash toward his companions on the other side of the blasted earth! Tarthon, prone, spends a couple of valuable seconds just standing up. The minotaur runs, but the earth is already crumbling beneath him! Kheiron and Manael try to get a rope ready to throw, yet there’s no time. Stormcry leaps across and transforms back to his normal form the second he lands – just as the cliff starts to fall! Tarthon makes a final, desperate leap that’s fated to come up a foot short – but Grue and Stormcry reach out and grab hold!

The adventurers stand at the ragged edge of earth, looking down in shock as the goblin encampment – and the entire outcropping – fall into the crashing waves below. The two beholders are gone, leaving only a disturbing rippling in the darkening sky, as though they exited through a rent in space itself.

—Ken

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RickM

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