Malleus Machinarum

Session Eight
The one where the gang almost dies twice, and the ninja DOES die.

As the party approaches the entryway from the previous session, the Ninja, the Druid, and the NPC Bard Archaeologist find themselves whisked away suddenly – after brief, strange visions, they find themselves sitting in a shadowy, cool tent. The sounds of a bustling Osiriani market are heard from outside the tent, and the opening of the tent flap lets the hot desert air flood in.

“Welcome to my fortune parlor, kind travelers. These cards, you know, they can tell anyone’s story. In this case, they tell your story. And here are the rules. If you die, that encounter is over and you will be returned here, having lost. If you succeed, the rewards are yours to keep. You cannot say no. Let us begin.”

The old lady began to shuffle her cards several times, the cards passing over and under each other randomly, before dealing eight cards onto the table in front of her.

“You shall choose one at a time.”

The first card drawn had the image of an effigy, being beaten and burned by three squat goblins. The text read “The Idiot”. The tent began to fill with a dense fog, and just as the party could not see each other in the room, the fog dispersed to reveal their standing in a crypt or mausoleum of some sort. A squat, rough-textured sarcophagus sat in the centre of the room. Oswyn, the archaeologist, immediately went to work examining the hieroglyphs – “This is the pyramid of Pharaoh Sekh-pa-Mefer III, the Pharaoh of Sphinxes! Tread carefully, these ancient pyramids always contain deadly traps.”

The ninja carefully approached the sarcophagus – but just as he went to examine the lock, it changed shape, seemingly growing a wide jaw of razor-sharp teeth, and engulfed the ninja, pinning it in place. Try as the party might, they could not destroy the mimic in time, and the ninja was killed – eaten alive, by the mimic – in less than 30 seconds.

As his soul began to leave his body, the party saw the same dense fog as before, and found themselves sitting by the fortune teller again. She seemed disappointed. “Well, now we know who The Idiot was that the card was referring to. Go ahead, pick another card.”

The second card they drew was “The Keep” – it bore the image of a castle perched on a hill – walking on great mechanical legs and belching black clouds of coal-smoke. The fog came once more and they found themselves in a long, narrow hallway. The floor was covered by a half-inch layer of dry sand, and they proceeded very carefully. Eventually, they saw a short stone pyramid at the end of the hall, blocking entry into the room beyond. The party understood this was their challenge. As they approached closer, it suddenly came to life and stampeded towards them – trampling over the ninja once more. The druid sent her lion leaping over to the other side, upon which the animated object turned, and would have trampled the lion – if it hadn’t been ready and leapt on top. The archaeologist poured stonebreaker acid onto it, doing considerable damage.

The party considered what to do – their slashing weapons were having no great impact, and the archaeologist was out of acid. The object threw off the lion and trapped it underneath, crushing it each round under several thousand pounds of stone. Seeing how the animated stone operated, the archaeologist leapt over and ran down the hallway at full speed – pursued by the object. The object rolled over the archaeologist, crushing him – and the party followed, striking at it with their most powerful abilities. It was close, but they eventually cracked it in half – the fog lifting again and depositing them in the fortune-teller’s tent. “No treasure? That’s it?” They complained. “That was meant to be the very first encounter of the module,” said the DM, “Do you see what I mean now when I said ‘very difficult and not suitable for new players’?”

The third card they drew was ‘The Lost’ – and they were back in the pyramid again, within striking range of several undead guards in a room with four clay carts. Some were flaming skeletons, another had four arms, and two skeletal archers stood on the carts, peppering them with arrows. The party worked together, and destroyed the skeletons easily, collecting grave goods, art, gold, gems and magic items from the four carts.

The fourth card they drew was ‘The Desert’ – and they found themselves huddling at mid-day under the shade of a small bush in the lee of some dunes with a small water source. They had been travelling all night, and were taking their sleep during the hottest part of the day. As the third watch approached, the barbarian spotted a young lady, bloodied and dressed in rags, stumbling towards them. “Help… water…” she cried out, coming close and greedily drinking a cup of water given her by the druid. Regaining her senses somewhat, she looked into the Archaeologist’s eyes – “Please… it has been so long since I felt the touch of another… allow me just one kiss, allow me to feel your touch just once…” The Archaeologist shook off this mind-altering effect, and refused her. This caused her to fly into a rage, growing talons and removing her disguise before pinning the Archaeologist to the ground and clawing him into unconsciousness.

When the ninja drove his blades deep into the Dune Hag, it turned towards him, adjusting its visage and body to that of the beautiful woman once more. “Please… why do you strike at me… your closest friend and lover?” The ninja did not as well against this mind-altering effect, and believed the hag to be his friend – he pushed her to separate her from the others, who were clearly trying to kill her, and pulled her out into the dunes. But before she could sink her teeth into the ninja as well, she was struck dead by the druid and her lion. Searching the body, they found some minor items, before fog unrealistically rose from the desert sand and engulfed them once more.

The fifth card they drew was ‘The Tyrant’ – and they were immediately thrust in the entrance to the Pharaoh’s inner sanctum. The jeweled, golden mummy was flanked by a zombie heiracosphinx. In proto-Osyriani, he demanded the party kneel before his power. Oswyn, the archaeologist, kneeled. After some resistance – including a summoned creature from the Druid – the rest of the party kneeled before the Pharaoh as well. He laughed, and through his rough, grating language told them he was only interested in subjugating the strong. He ordered them to kill each other – the survivor to serve at his side.

At this, the Archaeologist stood and pointed at the Pharaoh, speaking to him in the same ancient language – “Sekh-pa-Mefer, nurat la shakar!” he shouted, firing his heavy crossbow to good effect. He turned to the party: “I would explain, but it -loses a LOT in the translation.” The party leapt to action, joining the melee. After a harrowing battle that left one unconscious and one paralyzed with fear, the Pharaoh evaporated into dust, and the heiracosphinx followed. Searching the ground, they found and took the Pharaoh’s hand, a magic item in its own right.

The sixth card they drew was ‘The Whirlwind’. A force of nature. The party was presented with a set of pillars, and accidentally summoned a sand elemental – and was about to summon a fire elemental as well, but the ninja removed the fire elemental gem that powered the device just in time, absorbing the brunt of its energy.

The seventh (and last) card they drew was ‘The Winged Serpent’. A powerful creature of good and law in the midst of great evil. A small room. On a plinth in that room, a battered old brass oil lamp. “Do you think it’s a genie lamp?” one said. “I wish we were that lucky,” another replied, “rub it anyway and see.”

The barbarian rubbed the lamp, but nothing seemed to happen. They waited a moment. “Well, that was disappointing, nothing happened.” The Genie said. “Yeah, I wish that had been a genie’s l—” The party turned around, and behind them stood a grinning, ten foot tall being made of air.

“Well, so I expect you want a wish – everybody always wants a wish.” The Genie said. “And normally I’d say ‘no thanks’, but… here’s the story. So this pharaoh, Sekh-pa-whatever, don’t remember his name, he binds me and demands three wishes and I let him go. The first wish is that I should serve him until his destruction – fine, whatever, you humans only live a hundred years or so. Second, he wishes to become an undead mummy. That was three thousand years ago, and he never even used his third wish! Anyway, you will have been killed (you haven’t killed him yet when this event happens, but you did just a few cards ago so I know that you’re going to)”

The party consulted for a moment. “If we ask for a wish, are you going to disappear immediately? We have some questions you might be able to answer.”

“Nope, can’t go anywhere until the pharaoh is dead. Which I know is going to happen in about 30 minutes, because you did it a couple hours ago, but that’s beside the point. No reason for me to go, and I can’t help you destroy the pharaoh, because that would break my first wish (and my binding)”

“Fine. We wish that the red gems, that Karras put into our chests, were all safely and harmlessly removed from our chests, and safely placed in a small bag somewhere nearby. Safely. Also harmlessly.”

The genie drew himself to his full ten foot height. “jesus christ you guys, I'm a damn Djinn, not an Ifrit. These aren't damn monkey paw wishes, there's no trick – you released me from the pharaoh's service, and I want to thank you. I get it though, you want the gems out of you. Gotcha.” He snaps his fingers, and a small bag appears nearby – with all of the six small red gems inside. “There you go, safely placed in a very safe bag. There’s even some cotton balls in there for extra safety. You know, for padding.”

“We have some questions for you, Genie. First, if you hadn’t done that, would Karras have honoured his agreement?”

“Yes, he would – and I can tell you the reason he put the gems in you in the first place was because he thinks the mission you’re on is of monumental importance, and he needed a way to trust you absolutely.”

“So, an ends-justify-the-means kind of guy.”

“Exactly. He believes his end is good for everyone – including you, by the way.”

“What about this Reliquary we’re entering, back on Markham’s Isle?”

“That’s the secret, isn’t it. Won’t you be surprised when you enter the second part of the ruins.”

With that, the party returned once more to the fortune teller – but sitting across from them at the table was the genie himself. “Allow me – want to go rejoin your friends now? I’m very glad I was finally able to escape that pharaoh. You don’t know how many adventurers I’ve had sitting across from me at this table.”

“Yes, please!”

With that, the party found themselves thrust from the heat of the desert into the cold of Markham’s Isle. They had just tripped the alarm, and were proceeding downstairs. The barbarian impulsively grabbed the torn alarm rope, and yanked on it repeatedly, creating even more noise somewhere deep in the dungeon.

Down the stairs, the party saw sconces for torches, and on the north wall a five inch square brass tile – with the symbol of Karras’ sect, the ‘New Church of the Master Builder”. It detected with a faint transmutation aura. As Oswyn, the archaeologist was examining the tile, the barbarian Runt stepped into the next room – and was struck with a poisoned blade, weakening him. The creature fled into the darkness.

The party stampeded into the next room. They found a priestly ritual area, with an overturned basin and a tiny silver symbol of the (regular) Church of the Master Builder. They saw a railing and beyond that a 15 foot wide great hall with crystals embedded in the ceiling. There they stood, ready for anything, but no additional strikes came until the barbarian looked over the railing into the other room. He looked down, at the thirty foot drop to the floor, and was struck by an arrow from off in the darkness. Chittering laughter echoed through the hall, and the party considered their options. Before they had decided, the barbarian took a flask of alchemists’ fire, and threw it off the balcony back towards the unseen archer – engulfing the archer in flames and driving him back into the darkness.

They proceeded down some stairs, and prepared themselves to storm a room they found. As the barbarian opened the door slowly, carefully, an arrow shot out and struck him again. He flew into a rage, charging through and cleaving the creature’s head in two. He also saw another of those creatures, desperately trying to escape through a trap-door set in the floor at the back of the room. As the one died, it burst in a flash of light, blinding its’ comrade and left behind its clothes – layers upon layers of ragged cloth and leather. The flash of light, the affinity for darkness, the big nose – finally, the Archaeologist knew what they were fighting. “Dark Creepers!” He shouted. “These are Dark Creepers! They are so attuned to darkness that they automatically fail any save against blindness!”

The barbarian peeked the trap door below, coming very close to being hit by an arrow. He threw more alchemists’ fire, burning several, and then they had an idea. “Oswyn! I saw his character sheet earlier during the fortune teller part. He can cast flare burst – does that do anything?”

Oswyn prepared to blind the room of creepers below, and the party got ready to storm in after. They counted down, the barbarian opened the door, and there was a supernaturally bright flash of light. The barbarian drove down the ladder and across the room, past four of them – cleaving the one at the end of the row in half.

The druid came through next, her lion leaping into action against the one at the front of the row. Next, the ninja, diving behind the one guarding the far door but missing.

The creepers shook out of their blindness after a short time, and turned their blades against the party – the barbarian took another hit, and so did the ninja, but the dark creepers were destroyed in short order thanks to good planning and good tactics.

Barricading the doors out of the room, the party settled in for a lengthy recovery time, surrounded by the miasma of sweat and feces that the Dark Creepers left behind. They search the room, finding four chests – the treasures of those creatures. The first chest contains a stash of about 12 to 15 severed cats’ tails, all with different fur patterns. The second chest contains a few dozen colourful shirt buttons – and 6 silver pieces with holes punched in them to be used as buttons. The third contains oats. Just oats. But the fourth contains some real treasures – a few potions of cure light wounds, a feathered headdress, and a dwarven rune crystal worth some real money. Searching the dirty rags of the creepers themselves, they found a brass key – with the head, amazingly, shaped into the symbol of Karras’ New Church of the Master Builder. It detected with a faint transmutation aura.

Session Seven
Cue the travel montage!

In the seventh session, the party comes downstairs at the inn the next morning after their encounter with Karras – and the innkeeper tells them that there's someone there been waiting for them all day.

Their suspicions are relieved when they see it is the orphan child from earlier in the week, and he's returned with a gift for Anius, the Magus. The child is so thankful to Anius – he's really turned his life around, you see, and he's stopped trying to con tourists into buying free pamphlets too – he's decided to give Anius a gift – a very fancy, rabbit-fur lined set of cold weather gear, perfect for the weather this time of year – along with almost 75 gold from the sales of furred clothing using Anius' furs.

The party spends time looking for anyone else who may have a job to be done between Flame Keep and Markham's Isle, but after a day of searching they are unable to find anyone. They have another caller the following morning, an acolyte of Karras come to drop off some necessary supplies for them. Six squat canisters in a padded velvet hard case, with a large space underneath. The canisters have a label in Common, but the party doesn't understand some of the words. It reads: "Emergency [word] Protection – Apply directly to the sternum. Body covered by [word] in less than 6 seconds. Guaranteed to last 24 hours – please breathe normally as [word] enters lungs."

The acolyte also gives the party three scrolls of "Teleport Without Error", with some metamagic adjustment that the party spellcasters are unable to comprehend before casting.

The party considers their options – a very long journey by ship along the edge of the Inner Sea, or a shorter journey on horseback through the Barrowood and then from Pezzack to Markham's Isle by ship. They decide to travel on horseback, and set off the following morning.

The journey into the wood is fairly uneventful. They reach the edge of the forest after only a few days travel, and then proceed inward. They see signs of a Fae presence, but none make themselves known.

Later, they are approached on the path by a very weary-looking gnomish merchant, a seller of paper, inks and pens who asks them to be led to the nearest road. As they approach the road, he runs forward ahead of them, calling that he can see the way… just moments before they are surrounded by a small party of bandits.

They engage in combat – the Druid being struck repeatedly by an enemy spellcaster, and the enemy barbarian rushing forward – but when the tables turn against them the enemy flees in disarray. The gnomish merchant is captured, and he leads them back to the bandit hideout in a shallow cave.

The other bandits agree to leave with their lives – and little else, as the party strips them naked and sends them bound together into the woods.

The party spends the night camping there – and during the night is watched from outside the cave by a creature with glowing red eyes. The creature flees when the person on watch stands up, but investigating the tracks later reveal the creature to have been a Barghest – a fearsome creature indeed.

They leave the cave, and have an uneventful few days up and over a mountain pass. At a narrow point in the mountains, fortification has been established, and Thranish military are collecting a toll. The party passes by, slightly poorer.

A few days later, they arrive in Pezzack, on the western coast of Thrane. They very quickly find an appropriate ship travelling to Markham's Isle, and find themselves travelling with an eccentric middle-aged archaeologist named Oswyn Thurgood – who happens to be interested in the very same ancient site they are travelling to – the ship had been waiting for weeks in port at Pezzack, waiting for enough passengers to justify making the journey.

Just as the party is boarding, the scoundrel Anius picks a fight with a large seaman – and is put in the brig for the duration of the voyage.

Besides the excitement at boarding, the voyage is itself very uneventful – brilliant ruby red skies every night give cause for the sailors aboard to celebrate. When the sailors celebrate with liquor, they also bring some down to Anius – and are more than happy to bring him part of the roast when Runt, the half-orc, cooks a delicious feast for the whole crew.

The druid spends time talking to Oswyn Thurgood, this archaeologist so interested in the ancient temple on the island – and he indicates that Thranish access to the island has been closed for the past hundred years on account of the war – and only opened recently. Compared to his work in Osirion, getting a grant to investigate this temple was "remarkably easy" – "I'd really be more interested in Osirion, but there's been so many archaeologists working there with the pharaohs and pyramids that the Society is loath to sponsor another expedition there. But when I suggest Markham's Isle, they were willing immediately. So here I go across the sea in the dead of winter."

The party learns that Markham's Isle, a volcanic island, was once a Thranish holding, but gained independence several thousand years ago. Since then, they've been fiercely independent – not permitting any ship from a nation taking part in the Last War to dock there for any reason, they ran a very profitable trade between countries of the far North and countries on the South side of the Inner Sea. These days, this trade is even more profitable. There have been several eruptions in the past few hundred years, including several during the Last War.

The party finally arrives in Promise, and the party druid breathes a sigh of relief to finally be somewhere the presence of druids is tolerated – even respected. They ask around about the ancient temple – most people know of it, and several warn them about a band of Dark Creepers that have recently made their residence there. They have been predating on the people of Promise for the past few years – but no one has been killed, and no one has done anything about it because most of the people who could are itinerant merchants unwilling to risk their safety. There is a reward for their destruction, however, and the bounty remains unfilled. Anius finds a working man and half-heartedly tries to convert him to the Church of the Master Builder – to which he replies: "That Thranish Cult? No thanks, I prefer freedom."

The party (plus Oswyn, the archaeologist) head off into the mountain on the island, and find the gates of the dungeon.

They follow a crude, cracked brick roadway that is almost entirely disappeared under the growth of plants on the island. It leads to a line of squat square marble columns and a grand archway. Above the entrance, a frieze depicts a bare-chested, dark-skinned man striking a hammer to some creation on an anvil. The party quickly identifies the classical depiction of the Smith-in-Exile.

In the entranceway itself, the ceiling has been cracked and lets in the elements – it destroyed all the wall engravings and murals on that side of the room – but the other side is intact, and depicts the same dark-skinned man, now dressed in spotless white robes, feeding thousands of people out of a small cloth bag.

As they enter, they fail to notice a tripwire, strung across the entranceway. It rings a bell deep inside the underground complex…

Session Six
If you thought that there were any good guys in this game, you're mistaken...

Sixth session Recap: "If you thought there were any good guys in the game of politics, you're mistaken."

The party proceeds behind the wall of electric lights and into the building behind, following a black 'rope' into the front doors. Inside, they find a tall, broad-shouldered man dressed in the red robes of the New Church of the Master Builder, and wearing a silver mask.

He introduces himself as Cadriel with a rasping metallic voice, and welcomes them to the building – a former ale-house, now set up to display the wonders and inventions of who Cadriel calls "the Prophet Karras". A row of display cases lines the walls, showcasing several of the inventions that they have seen previously – and several that they had not seen before, such as the 'sun-spheres' that light the room they are standing in.

He leads them downstairs, and shows them the generator that provides the power to light the building and the square in front. A hulking steel barrel, with a roaring coal fire underneath, and a rotor turned by the steam it produces. When prompted that such a device may lead to deforestation (to produce charcoal) or hardship (to produce the coal), Cadriel replies that he cares not at all for such problems – and besides, there is a greater design that uses a bound fire elemental to provide the heat – indeed, such a design could become a source of electrical power for the whole of Flame Keep.

The party examines Cadriel more closely, and discover that he, as well, is one of Karras' inventions – a "soul-forged", he calls himself, and not a mere construct or intelligent item but a creature with a soul. The party's divine spellcasters wax philosophical, but the metaphysics is clear: sentient creatures created or born on the material plane create souls. This is why the material plane is so important, it is the only plane where souls can be generated.

Cadriel, as many others have in the past, expresses mild revulsion at the Oracle's burnt arms – but remarks: "you know, we can have those arms replaced for you. You should speak with the surgeons at the New Temple of the Master Builder."

After the encounter in the museum, the party proceeds immediately to the New Temple of the Master Builder – only to find it shuttered for the day. They arrange to stay at an inn nearby, on the edge of the Foreign Quarter.

They awaken to a blood-chilling find: during the night, someone had snuck into their room completely undetected, and placed a note underneath one of their heads. They find a paper with a handprint with seven digits, and the message: "The Seven Watch Over You". They spend some time consulting the library and other patrons at the inn, and discover that The Seven is a truly ancient secret society – perhaps two or three thousand years old, and their membership has never been known. According to books of lore in the libary, one minor nobleperson was rumored to be a member, but they died one thousand years ago and left no heirs.

They also consult with an elderly elven man, living in the slums outside the city walls – the wise old elf suggests that The Seven must be a pretty terrible secret society, if they've been around so long and yet have no visible impact on rulership. The party mulls this over, and considers that perhaps the impact of The Seven on rulership is itself kept secret somehow.

Reaching a temporary dead-end with their research into "The Seven", the party decides to go meet with Karras and his surgeons at the New Temple in the Prison District. Karras allows the party to observe a surgery in practice, and offers the party various bodily improvements in exchange for service for the New Temple. Only the Oracle, with the burnt hands, agrees – and not only has both arms replaced with sleek, noiseless metal-and-wood constructions, but additionally implants a gem that can store the power to cast a first-level spell.

Karras advises them that he has two potential missions to send them on – both of the utmost importance, and both for the same ancient artifact, an "Eternal Core". The party has the choice of an auction to be held in two months' time in Osirion, or an ancient dungeon on Markham's Isle, off the east coast of Thrane. The party chooses to explore Markham's Isle.

Karras gives them each three hundred platinum pieces, and puts a small red gem into each of their palms. As they are considering the importance of the gem, he speaks a cruel-sounding command word. The gem sprouts extremely fine wire-like legs and vicious pincers, and burrows into their hands, their arms, up their upper arm and into their chest, where it nestles perceptibly against each of their hearts.

"This is merely a bit of security for me, I apologize for any inconvenience," he says, "the gem you have embedded next to your chest is a powerful magic device – I must speak a command word each morning, and the device will be prevented from exploding. On the other hand, if you disobey or betray me, I have merely to speak another command word, one linked to each of your gems, and they will explode quite violently."

"This is pure treachery!" "I would rather die than live as your slave, Karras!" "You've earned yourself a lifelong enemy this day, you so-called Prophet!"

The Barbarian, Runt, threw himself and his axe in a wild charge at Karras, but was stopped one foot away by some sort of circular wall of force. His blows were deflected without any seeming effort on the part of Karras, who stood idly waiting for the party to calm down.

"Hey, what's Nicodemus doing?"

Nicodemus was busily sawing at his wrist with a blade, trying to hack off the hand while staring Karras in the eyes. Karras approached him, and cured his wounds. Nicodemus glared and began slicing at his wrist again immediately.

After a few moments of this, it became apparent that Karras wasn't willing to let Nicodemus die.

Karras instructed that the party would be furnished with all necessary supplies for the journey, horses and a ship for the voyage to Markham's Isle once they reached either Pezzack or Kintargo. "I would ask what inn you are staying at, but I'm certain you would lie – and I can track you by means of those gems anyway. An agent will be there to drop off your supplies. He is permitted to accompany you, but I suspect you will strongly suspect him of being a spy – which he probably would be."

The party left, vowing revenge – eventually, somehow…

The rest of the session was spent brooding together over drinks in the inn – they have seemingly just arrived in Flame Keep, and put themselves between three powers – the Orthodox Church with it's 'holy necromancers', the New Temple of the Master Builder and it's so-called "Prophet" Karras, and this mysterious secret society called The Seven – all of which seem intensely interested in this adventuring group of outsiders.

The party hatches a potential plan – trigger the gem to explode, killing one of them, and then resurrect or use a scroll of raise dead to bring them back, gem-less but reduced in power. Unfortunately, even if they pooled all their resources, they would only have the funds to bring back two or three of their number.

Sighing into their ale, they realize their only choice is to go through with the task that Karras has set before them – and hope that they find a way to disable the stones next to their hearts or that Karras keeps his promises.

Session Five
Putsying Around the City, and Karras' Demonstration
David Alexander shared a link.

20 May at 21:55

Fifth Session Recap: The Party arrives in Flame Keep, stepping off the barge docked at the Flamekeep Southern Public Wharf, and is immediately approached by a scruffy, unwashed street urchin offering them a brochure and map "for a low price, sirs and madam, only 20 gold." They refuse, each time the urchin's price lowers, until the party even refuses to pay one copper, threatening the young boy with an axe.

After exchanging their bags of copper and silver coin for gold at the local money-changer (leaving the Dwarf gold and platinum from the village of Harn unchanged, as everyone knows Dwarven coin is PURER metal than Thranish coin)

The next step was to enter the city proper – waiting in line would take the rest of the day, and they would doubtless be forced to pay some additional "convenience fee" to the guards at the gate. They presented the letter to Baron Rudolf Macrin from Kyra, the new young leader of Harn – and the guard relented, allowing one of them to pass through and deliver the message. This was unacceptable, and the Magus, Anius Protrucious, whispered something to the guard that really put fear into his heart – immediately ushering the party through the gates with a face gone white.

The party proceeded at a slow pace, winding their way through the crowded streets to the Grand Library – finding for free one of the same pamphlets and maps that the urchin was trying to sell earlier, and speaking at length with the librarian about various topics – the reformer Karras, the Baron Macrin, and food preservation techniques. (Colder the better, and the specific spell 'gentle repose' can preserve food for quite a while. An Unguent of Timelessness does work to prevent spoilage, but the result is totally unpalatable, almost inedible.)

Re-emerging from the darkness of the library and into the cold light of a winter afternoon, the party was stopped by a very anxious looking city watchman – apparently, a group of thieves had run right past him, and disappeared into the city sewer. He would be a fool to rush in after them, as they doubtless had set an ambush for the guard near their headquarters, but he was anxious about being demoted or punished for failing to apprehend the criminals. The party was led down into the darkness of the sewer. Walking through the thieves' meeting hall, they came upon a defensive stand, and a leader shouting "Parley! Parley!".

The party was not in the mood to talk – and the thieves fell quickly as the Druid's lion leapt over their barricade and tore through two of them. Three of the remaining thieves surrendered, and were led away by the guard. This left the party to search the thieves' meeting place in peace, finding the gems (which were returned to their rightful owner) as well as some art pieces (including an ornate ivory drinking horn) and miscellaneous gold and silver pieces.

After dealing with the thieves, the party split up – the tiefling Magus Anius heading back to Thimble district with a hundred pounds of rabbit fur he found in the thieves' hideout and the rest of the party continuing to Marrick Manor, in the Riverside district.

Before long, Anius had dragged his crate of rabbit furs to Thimble, and gotten directions to a furrier. The sign above the door read "Mirt Laomedon, Master Furrier: Now 20% Furrier!". Anius was almost ejected from the store, but convinced the Master Furrier to hire an apprentice – someone that Anius knew was hard-working, intelligent and willing to work for monetary compensation – the street urchin from that morning.

He collected the urchin from before the South Gates, and realized that without the letter (which the rest of the party had) he would have to wait in line (likely overnight) "Not to fear, Anius dear!", cried the urchin. He led Anius away from the docks and down into a sewer opening that he apparently uses every day.

Back at the Furrier, street child in tow, the Master Furrier agreed to take him on, but "only after you both have washed". One life changed for the better, and the street urchin bursted into sobbing tears in thanks to Anius.

Back to the rest of the party, who admired the beautiful white stone and silver manor houses of Riverside as they got directions to Baron Macrin's Manor – showing the letter there the guard led them in. The entryway was absolutely opulent – chandeliers of crystal reflected a continual flame spell cast at their center, throwing light on the elegantly carved wood and sculpted stone fixtures and furniture of the room.

Baron Rudolf emerged, dressed in a bathrobe and visibly annoyed at the interruption, appearing as a very stern-looking, grey-eyed, grey-haired nobleman. He seemed remarkably unconcerned with the plight of Harn – after the PCs described the events of the past few weeks and delivered the letter, he declared that since the PC's had defeated the Deserters and even driven them from their fort, the threat had been dealt with and Harn needed little help from him. He did, however, promise to reply with a letter and send what help he thought they would need.

On their passage from the Library to Riverside, the party had passed through the Foreign Quarter, and there were a few shops and inns there that had caught their eye.

There they returned, finding an inn tucked away down an alley – it wasn't hard, as the sound of laughter and cheers carried out to the road. They followed that sound to the door of an Inn marked "The Dancing Satyr". The party approached the bartender/innkeeper – an astonishingly beautiful half-elf woman, who seemed very absent-minded and almost forgot twice to check them into the rooms they requested. Although the tavern was hardly packed, and everyone was busy watching the entertainment on stage, she seemed almost overwhelmed.

The Half-Orc approached a handsome half-elf bard sitting by the bar, and sat down beside. He begged, pleaded with the half-orc to cause some sort of distraction at the end of his set on stage. He was due third – after a poet and a ventriloquist act.

The first act (a poet reciting an epic of Thranish heroism during the war) was followed by a very familiar looking Tiefling – it was Anius, performing as a very convincing ventriloquist using his magic intelligent sword. He did all the usual tricks – even seeming to carry on a conversation with his sword while drinking a cup of beer.

When the half-elf bard took the stage, it became clear why he may want a distraction – as soon as he took one step on the stage, more than half the young women in the tavern rose to their feet, screaming and approaching the stage. They shouted at the bard, calling out that they wanted his children and various other salacious acts – several sets of undergarments were thrown on stage. This all distracted the bard, and he played an underwhelming set of three forgettable songs. After the third, he looked, pleadingly, at the barbarian – who called out "FREE DRINKS OVER HERE! ANIUS IS PAYING!"

Although the tavern didn't believe him, it distracted the crowd for just long enough that the bard could escape with his dignity intact.

The party settled into their rooms – the tiefling somehow having arranged a liaison with both the astonishingly beautiful bartender and the exceedingly desired bard.

In the morning, the party sat at breakfast and decided on two places to explore – the poor districts of Whipcrack and Dice End in the North, and the Cathedral of the Master Builder, Flame Keep itself in the Southeast. After considering the time in a day, they decided to first do one, and save the other for the next day.

They briefly stopped at Crissali's Fine Tomes, a gnomish magic dealer in the Foreign Quarter – the Half-Orc Barbarian agrily demanded a way to cast 'gentle repose'. "Well calm down sir, there's no need to get unruly. Let's see what Criss can do for you eh? I can transcribe a scroll of gentle repose for you for 150 gold. Can you read magic?"

"I can't read in general."

"Oh, then perhaps a wand would be more your style, yes? I can prepare a wand for 4502 gold. Is that acceptable?"

"I don't have that kind of money!"

"Then perhaps I prepare a wand with only half the number of charges – that's 2251 gold, 2 silver and five copper."

"I think I'll just leave."

"Thank you kind sir, and please come again! Crissali's Fine Tomes is open seven days a week!"

The party proceeded uneventfully north through the poorer districts, the apartments of the lower classes hazy in the smoke from oil lamps that lined the streets. In Whipcrack, they were a little creeped out by the open slavery on display – whip-wielding masters leading gangs of group-chained slaves from place to place, and slaves sitting by the porches of their residences. All of the slaves seemed to have tattoos on the back of their right hand (or on their forehead) declaring them the property of someone or other. The Freedmen present had tattoos as well, theirs being covered by a second tattoo – typically a wide black rectangle.

Whipcrack was also the venue for the Coliseum, and though today was not a bloodsport day, there was an event going on. The party went in to watch the "horse race" – six slaves were set at the starting line of a one kilometer race alongside one man on horseback, and set against each other in a race. The outcome was all too predictable, and the crowd jeered and laughed at the slaves' futile race.

The Barbarian wanted to fight something. When they passed through Dice End after the race, a group of three very drunk watchmen stumbled out of a nearby tavern and decided that the party looked like they were up to no good. The party tried the direct approach: "Where is the underground fight ring?" to which the drunkest guard declared that the best one was at a tavern , the Lawgiver's Rest. The others dragged that one away, apologizing to the party for their state.

They approached a run-down, two-storey wood-frame building. A gaudily-painted sign on the front declared it as the one they were looking for, and the image was of a Flame Keep watchman's helm stoved in by a cruel-looking hooked hammer.

A quick ask around led them to the "secret" underground fight club – more literally underground than literally secret, as it seemed just about everyone knew about it. Volunteering, the Barbarian was walked through signing the sheet that declared his willingness for either Lethal or Nonlethal combat (he checked the box for Nonlethal). Inside, the party found a very lively tavern almost packed full of people. To the Northeast corner, a long bar – and to the Northwest, a quarter-circle of metal fencing surrounded a packed sand fight arena, stained with the blood of countless fighters.

After a rousing Tankard Basher of a song, sung by a stout dwarven musician (and half the audience trying to sing the unfamiliar dwarven words) the fights began. The lights were dimmed in the room and raised behind the fence. An announcer dressed in bright purple and orange, with very poofy trousers, set the scene: a vicious evil Ninja had killed the Knight's family – and now, the Vengeful Knight had tracked the Ninja to his lair…

Two fighters emerged, one wearing half-plate and the other wearing all black, except for a red and white devil mask. They approached each other warily, striking when the other let their guard down a moment – but it ended when the "ninja" seemed to drive his sai through the neck of the "Knight", leaving him on the ground in a slowly growing pool of blood. The announcer shouted over the jeers and boos of the audience: "Our brave Sir Knight has fallen to his enemy! Is there no one present who will defend his honour and bring deliver vengeance for him and his family?"

Runt, the half-orc barbarian, was altogether convinced by this stage-acting, and shouted, trying to tear off the door of the cage. With that, the "knight" sat up, turning around to look at him. "He does realize it's not real blood, right?"

"Yes, I know, but I WANT TO FIGHT THAT NINJA!"

The Announcer led Runt in, and explained that only non-lethal combat would be permitted unless both participants had agreed to a lethal bout. Runt first tried to use his battle-axe, but he found it much too cumbersome to use non-lethally, almost accidentally killing the "ninja". For his part, Runt's opponent landed a few blows, but they were mostly ineffectual. When the ninja finally stabbed Runt in the neck with his (Runt discovered) totally blunt and unsharpened weapon, Runt flew into a rage, throwing down his weapon and bludgeoning the ninja repeatedly with his fists. After a few rounds of this, Runt grabbed the ninja around the waist, lifted him up, and slammed him over back-first into the sand in a gutwrenching suplex. The ninja lay motionless on the sand, and the crowd cheered as Runt left the ring to devour a pre-ordered mince pie. The party collected their winnings.

The next fight was to be a lethal one. The announcer left the ring. Compared to the raucous cheering, booing and yelling of Runt's fight against the ninja, the club fell silent as the two opponents circled each other. Finally, one fell dead to the sand, and the other left the ring wealthier.

Runt bought the man a drink, and Lori cast a cure spell. He was very thankful – and told them his story. He was a veteran from Nirmathas, and captured in a battle with Thrane. As the vanquished party, he was immediately enslaved and sold to a wealthy merchant of Flame Keep, who would keep the soldier "until the end of the owner's natural life". All hope of being free in his lifetime was quashed when this merchant re-sold him, bearing the same agreement "until the end of the owner's natural life". His new slavemaster was an elf. He had decided to use his skills in this arena weekly, eventually to either save the 250 gold necessary to buy his freedom and return home to Nirmathas, or to die in the trying. He commisserated and shared another drink with Runt, who passed him the ivory drinking horn, with a "Here, you clearly need this more than I do." The man burst into tears – his winnings from fights so far, with the addition of the value of the art piece, were surely enough to buy his freedom.

The Party decided to stay overnight in rooms upstairs. Once again, the Tiefling Anius left them, declaring his intention to work at a brothel – earning 25 gold but returning exhausted the next morning.

The next day, the party decided they needed to go to church. Specifically, they wanted to go to the Cathedral of the Master Builder and contact the Necromancer Gravus' master, informing him of goings-on in Harn. That holy necromancer, an elderly man with an almost skeletal appearance, was all too glad to hear of his former acolyte's death at the hands of our heroes – cursing Gravus as a deserter, traitor and power-hungry.

The party asked him of the Cardinal Karras, and heard from the necromancer that Karras was likewise power-hungry. The elderly deacon and high-ranking member of the church called Karras "heresiarch", "father of heresies", and "reprehensible". He claimed Karras meant "the death of all" – but without any proof of serious crimes, the church could not act against a cardinal without seriously undermining itself. After all, the party learned, Karras does not claim himself to be a prophet – merely claiming to have found pieces of the Master Builders' teachings that had been hidden by the mainstream church.

After meeting with the church, they wanted to see this Karras for themselves. As the sun began to set on Winter Solstice, the party proceeded through the streets now lit with candles and paper lanterns. They walked across the bridge, following a crowd to a stage set up on the edge of the prison district. Karras ranted against the church elders, speaking through a strange device that amplified his voice to be heard for hundreds of metres around, and standing in front of a bank of 100 glass orbs. At the climax of his speech, he signaled to an attendant, and the glass orbs behind him flared to brilliant life – almost blinding several members of the party with their (totally non-magical) light.

"Those who would deny these gifts of the Master Builder from his People are truly minions of the trickster! The Smith-in-Exile says, 'those who follow ME shall never walk in darkness, but in light!' I will leave these lights lit continuously for the remainder of the Solstice season, and afterwards make such devices and more besides available to the public!"

With that, Karras retreated to his church, which the party now noticed stood out in the otherwise dark prison district as a building lit brightly from within, shining unearthly light outwards through stained-glass windows.

The party investigated the bank of lights, finding them to be unmagical – but connected to a nearby building by what appeared to be a thick rope covered in several layers of waxed cloth. In front of that building stood several acolytes of Karras, and several armed guards.

Session Four
The Journey to Flame Keep

In the fourth session:

Winter is fast approaching, and the snow lies heavy on the ground.

The party examines the talking sword from before, and it tells about how it was found on the battlefield in the north. The sword was forged thousands of years ago, and given to the Paladin Kyra in her war against the demon lord during the founding of Thrane in the Age of Heroes. It fell in battle against Nidal, and Aeneas took it from the battlefield. The sword and the tiefling have grown accustomed to each other.

it tells them about how the villain Mercer, the leader of the deserter company imprisoned its wielder, a tiefling by the name of Aeneas. Mercer through Aeneas in the dungeon in order to encourage cooperation, threatening to have Aeneas killed if the sword did not comply.

That tiefling was later rescued by the party from the dungeon during their raid in the second session. With Mercer gone, the blade called Oath-taker demands to be returned to its owner.

The party takes Aeneas from where he's locked up, and not releasing his chains brings him with them as they go explore the deserter keep.

At the keep, he convinces them to return the sword and unlock the manacles. Sword in hand and unbound, he immediately flees into the forest, waiting outside the walls of the fortress.

In the courtyard of the keep, they come across five deserters who are packing a horsedrawn cart with valuables from the fortress and preparing to leave.

Inside, they find three totally demoralized deserters sharing casks of whisky and playing a depressive game of "high roll of a dice gets to hit the low roller". The half-orc barbarian with a taste for liquor joins in. One of their own knocked to the ground unconscious, the other two give a drunken cheer for their new friend.

The party proceeds up the spiral staircase to the necromancer's quarters, and finds four zombies waiting there at the top of the stairs. They lurch forward, following the party down the stairs as they fire arrows up at them from safely out of reach.

Inside the necromancer's quarters they find a book – the necromancer's Tome of Unlife, which is bound in the hide of a darkmantle and inked with blood. They also find a ragged cloak that detects as magical, and several scrolls and potions that the necromancer Gravus must have felt not useful enough to bring to the battle.

They also collect some tools from the storage room at the fortress.

When they return to Harn, Kara approaches them. She tells them that the true owner of both Harn and Noringard is the Baron Rudolf Macrin, who lives in Flame Keep – it is two weeks' travel by road, or about a week by road to East Rikkan and then five days by river barge.

The party sets out the next day. The first day is uneventful, but on the second day they are ambushed by a Snow-spider: a vicious predator that burrows itself into the ground near roads in hopes of catching prey. It launches itself at the first person to cross in front of its burrow, and tries to pin them and drag them away off the road to devour them. The party injures it badly, and loping away on six legs they kill it.

The party tends their wounds, and discover that the barbarian is poisoned badly by the spider's bite. He should recover in a few days' time.

The next day, weary after a long days' travel, they come across an inn on the side of the road standing by itself. An old wooden sign hanging from the post declares it as "The Necromancer's Beard" Immediately and intensely suspicious of their good fortune, they first examine it for the tell-tale signs of being a mimic or an illusion. One of their number draws the short straw, and goes to try pushing the door open. It doesn't move. They try knocking, and a Thranish man dressed in purple robes opens the door (outwards, towards them…). He welcomes them, inviting them inside, out of the cold.

The party steps inside, and scans the room. The whole wayside Inn has a very hallowe'en aesthetic – wooden candle-holders carved in the shape of skulls and bones, cotton strung up in corners like cobwebs, and a massive ogre skull above the fireplace that radiates a strong necromantic aura.

The oracle and barbarian approach the skull, and it speaks to them in a gravelly voice: "I am the great ogre-mage Zegruk, defeated in spell-battle by the necromancer Vecna, who runs this inn now. Leave me to my eternal rest."

The innkeeper invites them to stay overnight, introducing himself as "Vecna". The rooms are a little bit more expensive than they expect, but the stew has been cooking for the last 15 years, every day a little potato, vegetable, meat and water being added, and is well worth the extra price.

As the innkeeper prepares the room (by adding an extra bed to the already-cramped room and removing almost all other furniture) the party speaks to an acolyte of the Master Builder, and follower of the Cardinal Karras. The acolyte demonstrates a mechanical page-turner for books, and the party marvels at its construction, and especially because nothing about it detects as magical.

The acolyte is reading a new copy of a popular Thranish book of fiction, "The Honourable Child" – in the original, a child is abandoned by their parents, seeks refuge with a priest of the Builder, and grows up to be a judge. In his court, he strictly enforces the law. When his parents are brought before him on the charge of apostasy and heresy, he shows them no mercy and sentences them to death. The moral of the story is that the punishment for heresy is death, and the boy was being honourable by ordering his parents' execution.

In the new version, written by Karras, the boy turned judge still shows little mercy to his parents, but they are charged with lesser crimes (theft and fraud). He extols them to learn the error of their ways in prison. There is also an epilogue that explains how the parents do indeed repent. The moral of the story is that evil people will receive their just end, but can learn from their errors in punishment and learn to be good.

Settling into their room, the party's oracle decides to barricade the door with his quarterstaff – and finds a divot has been worn into the wooden planks from many travellers doing just that.

Setting out the next day after a warm meal and a hot bath, the party is not ambushed by any creatures, but around mid-day they pass a roadside guard post. They investigate, and find it has lain abandoned for many years, and has already been stripped of valuables.

A few hours later on the road, they are caught up by three men on horseback – dressed in the same padded armor, breastplate and red cloak as the deserter troops from near Harn, but with proper identification and insignia. They demand to see the party's papers – but the tiefling has none. They draw out their ledger book, but stop short of writing anything in it, obviously fishing for a bribe – the party leaves 20 gold poorer, the corrupt road watchmen riding back the way they came to wait for the next group of travellers.

The next few days are uneventful, and the party finally arrives at East Rikkan. They decide to take the river barge (which leaves in two days) upriver to Flame Keep.

In the meantime, they identify and examine the magic items they have collected, and find that they are eminiently useful, but low-power. Mercer's chain shirt deflects arrows slightly better than expected, one of the lieutenant's swords is magically sharpened to a hard razor's edge, increasing its' critical range. There is a ring of clotting, that causes wounds to stop bleeding quickly but otherwise does not heal, and a ring of avoidance that grants +1 to reflexes but otherwise doesn't improve dexterity.

The tiefling also seeks out forged identification papers, and gets some from a painter (who makes the pictures for them).

After two days, they load themselves onto the barge and proceed to Flame Keep. As they approach, they can see a long line stretching almost 500 metres from the main gates.

Session Three:
The Prelude and the Battle

In the third session: the party was rudely awakened by the alarm horn being blown, and a ruddy glow to the south. Five deserters on horseback had been sent, throwing torches and glass jugs of oil onto and into the outlying farms.

The party discovered that one of those farmhouses had already been ransacked before the alarm was raised. They repelled the attack, and in consultation with Guard Captain Roth, figured that the bandits would be preparing themselves for an all-out attack within a month. This was likely a raid intended to probe the village's defenses in retaliation for the jailbreak earlier.

The party spent the next three weeks preparing the village for the upcoming battle. The ninja assassin and Roth drilled the Harnish citizens relentlessly, practicing military maneuvers and group tactics until late each night.

Meanwhile, the Barbarian and Sorceror made their way to the elven queen to ask for the aid she promised would be forthcoming since they had rescued the elves from the deserters' dungeon.

Lacking anyone in the party who speaks Elvish, the party sought help at the Noringard Inn – and found a strange, dark-skinned man who spoke common poorly with a heavy accent: "I am name is Labashi. I am best merchant on this side of the Inner Sea. I am speaking Elvish, Common, and my language of the home, Qadathi. I am also can read Celestial!"

With the merchant Labashi in tow, the party went north into the deep woods, where they were escorted before the Elven queen. But there was a problem. As she explained, "you are clearly mistaken. I have no right to command these people. Unlike you savages, we need no kings or emperors or priests to control us and dictate our life. We are free people. I will go fetch those you saved."

The forest druid took them aside and explained that the specific four elves they saved from captivity have an obligation to help, and their families may fight at their side out of gratitude. Pleasantries exchanged, the four former captives indicated through Labashi (and the druid) that they would keep watch on the deserters' fort until they left in force, and follow to ambush them from behind.

The two returned to the village of Harn uneventfully, and began setting traps and snares around the outlying farms to winnow the enemy ranks as they approached.

One morning, three weeks later, the snow began to fall and a scout came running, shouting that the deserters are massing.

But several hours later, only one rider approaches – with an ultimatum: let the deserter band into Harn to take half of their food, or be destroyed.

Luthan and Kara consult with each other, and agree that this sounds like an obvious trap. The rider leaves, promising vengeance the next day.

In the morning of the next day, they see the whole deserter force approaching. Mercer, at their lead, ignores a few crossbow bolts fired at him, and demonstrates his intention by executing the citizens they abducted from the outlying farm a month ago.

The battle begins – with the Necromancer Gravus, his coterie, and twelve zombies to break down the rear gate, and the leader Mercer and his black blade at the front.

Captain Roth takes an arrow to the chest, and half of his men are incapacitated along the palisade. But the battle at the front goes well, the enemy unable to breach the gates and attacked from their rear by elves.

At the rear, the battle goes much less well – the zombies break through the rear gate, and the enemy storms through – first setting up a defensive zone around the gate on the inside of the wall, and sending a troop of horsemen to burn houses and cause chaos. When Gravus, the necromancer, saw one of the party along the palisade, he cast a vicious spell linking his own life force with the Ninja Wu's, and slammed a dagger through his own chest – doing the same damage to Wu. Later, he would cause the sorceror's own muscles to seize and work against him.

With arrows flying back and forth, Luthan, the leader of the Harnish militia, is struck in the throat and would have died without being rescued by Runt, the Half-Orc Barbarian. After the battle was over, there were twelve dead and eight wounded among the Harnish, and six dead, four wounded among the Noringard soldiers.

The deserters fared much worse. Among them, there were 54 dead, and only 6 wounded, having been left behind. There were also three horsemen who surrendered after they were trapped in the village and surrounded.

As the party searches the battlefield, they find a strange, pitch-black blade in the hands of the leader Mercer – the same blade used to cut the throats of the old man and girl at the outset of the battle, and one which they noticed reflects no light.

As the sorceror detects any magical auras among the fallen items, this sword almost knocks him down for its sheer power. The party, mulling to themselves that this may be an artifact of great evil, suddenly hears a voice: "Yeah but I'm not evil though, that's just slander."

Session Two
The Heroes avoid a group of bandits, arrange a marriage, and conduct a daring rescue mission.

Shortly before the party was to leave the inn in the morning, Guard Captain Roth approached them. He, (a 50+ year-old widower) suggested that he would be a good marriage match for the daughter of the Harn village chief (a 14-year-old girl), and that he would be more willing to defend Harn from the army deserters and any future trouble if he were it's de facto leader.  "Something to think about," Roth said, "I'm sure the chief of the village and the daughter would listen if you were to speak to them."

Leaving Noringard, bound for Harn with a wagon full of food, forward scouts reported a group of about 20 of these deserters in the spot where they had killed eight a few days ago.

After a brief consultation with the party, the decision was made to carry the grain through the marshes to the south and out of sight of these bandits rather than fight or try to carry it through the forest to the north.

Upon return, the party broached the idea of marrying Roth to the girl and her father – and to the party's astonishment they agreed!  The girl, especially, seemed to think she would be trading her youth for the safety of her whole village – a cruel choice to be made – but she felt that she would rather be alive and safe, married to the 50-year-old soldier than dead at the hands of a deserter or bandit.

It was early evening when a bedraggled, tired and injured soldier of Harn's militia stumbled in the front gates, telling of a secret entrance into the [[Deserters' Keep]] that led directly into the prison. The heroes recruited Roth, who saw his opportunity to gain favour in the eyes of his new father-in-law. They set off into the forest and found the tunnel exactly where the militiaman said it would be.

They entered cautiously and carefully, the Oracle lighting a stone and throwing it ahead, when they were nearly nauseated by the stench of rotting meat. They approached the next corner, ready for anything, only to be ambushed from behind by a terrifying caterpillar-like creature with eight facial tentacles covered in a sticky yellow ichor. It paralyzed Roth and took a bite out of his leg, but the other party members leapt forward and struck it down. The barbarian took his killing blow, chopping apart the front and back halves with his greataxe.

The threat dealt with, the party found the secret door where the militiaman described it, opening the way into the dungeon.

There were another militiaman and their leader, the girl's elder brother. There were also four of the forest elves, and one of the deserter band themselves.

They were about to leave, when they heard footsteps creak on the stairs and approach the dungeon door. The spellcasters prepared their spells, and launched them as soon as the door opened…

…paralysing and terrifying a young boy who had been pressed into working for the deserters as a slave.

The boy, the deserter and the two Harnish men in tow, they said farewell to the elves and crept back through the forest to Harn just before breakfast, their bones aching from the long day and night and the fight with the carrion crawler.  The chief's daughter presented them with their reward – a leather pouch heavy with oddly-shaped dwarven coin in both gold and platinum!

They could not know that it would be only two hours before they would be awoken again by the sound of horse hooves, fire, the alarm horn and screams…

Session One
The Heroes Stop a Robbery, Exchange Wool for Food, and Broker a Peace Treaty

Travelling through Northern Thrane, the party saw two rusted iron cages, hanging from a tall tree, and swaying in the wind.  Inside each was a Thranish Deserter, their corpses still wearing the red cloaks that marked them as members of the Thranish army.

While examining the corpses, the party hears shouts and violence further along the road – and stumble upon a merchant husband and wife being assaulted by three Thranish army conscripts – oddly, the insignia of which unit they were assigned to had been torn off of their padded armor.  They had hammered iron spikes through the husband's hands, and were in the process of assaulting the wife.  She saw them, crying out for help.

The party doesn't believe that these are smugglers trading in contraband, and quickly kill the three deserters – but they act too slowly to save the husband, who they discover died of his wounds during the melee.

Escorting the wife to her home in Harn, they discover a village in dire crisis.  A group of bandits has encamped themselves in the nearby woodland fortress, and has been harassing, extracting tolls from, and killing travellers on the road between Harn and nearby Noringard, upon which Harn relies for food.  To make matters worse, the Harnish militia is undermanned, many of their number not having returned from the front of the Last War.  Those that remain set off several weeks ago for the woods, led by Harn's leader's son.

Luthan, the leader of Harn, believes that involving the party will only add to their problems, but Kara, the 14-year-old daughter of Harn's leader, and the party convince him and agree to escort Harn's load of wool to Noringard and return with a wagon full of food for the struggling village.  In exchange, they are promised "gold, and plenty of it!"

On a part of the road between Harn and Noringard that passes through the nearby woods, they discover a grisly scene – what appears to be Harn's whole militia troop, massacred and butchered on the road.  They examine one corpse pinned to a nearby tree with arrows, and it lurches towards them, a zombie.  They quickly dispatch it and examine the local area, discovering a signet ring that is obviously the son's – but none of the corpses that look related to Kara or her father are the correct age.

Further on, the party encounters a roughly-assembled roadblock – and strike very lucky with an ambush, killing eight deserters before any of them land a strike against the party.  Searching the roadblock, they discover some useful supplies and one deserter already dead, apparently from an animal attack.

In Noringard, they are escorted before the 12-year-old Lord Fel, Captain Roth, and Priest Igan.  The Lord agrees to trade their wool for his food – but after a series of whispers between himself and Priest Igan only agrees to send guardsmen to defend Harn or defend the shipment if they somehow deal with an Elven threat.  Apparently, over the past few years, since Lord Fel's father died, the elves have been attacking the woodsmen who cut lumber for Noringard.  The Lord Fel knows of no provocation, and Priest Igan claims that the "Orcs, Elves, and the rest, point-ear bastards are all the same, The Builder himself only knows why they may attack us."

As they proceed north from town, they notice that the stumps of trees cut recently are growing thicker and thicker the closer they get to the lumber yard.

It turns out that there was an old treaty between Lord Fel's great-grandfather and the Elven leader Caelynn.  A treaty that Priest Igan was more than aware of, and who kept its existence secret from the young Lord when his father died.

Upon hearing this, Lord Fel imprisoned Igan in the town gaol, and gave the party what they asked – their grain and an escort for it to Harn.

Before the First Session

About fifty years before present, a great war consumed all of Golarion – nations fought against nations, and near the end of the war the party signed with a mercenary company in Molthune.  The company prepared to invade Thrane, a country known for its' use of undead soldiers made from the corpses of their enemies – according to an oft-cited saying among Thranish commanders, "our enemies fight against The Master Builder in life, but yet may fight for the Master Builder in death."

Before they could proceed over the border, however, Molthune signed the treaty of surrender that ended the Last War, the Flamekeep Compact.  With their country no longer paying their costs, and the end of the war, the mercenary company disbanded immediately.

However, several characters (the PCs) decided that they would rather stay together and go explore Thrane in search of honour (and coin).

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A quick tip: The “+” icon in the top right of every section is how to add a new item, whether it’s a new character or adventure log post, or anything else.

5. Write your first Adventure Log post

The adventure log is where you list the sessions and adventures your party has been on, but for now, we suggest doing a very light “story so far” post. Just give a brief overview of what the party has done up to this point. After each future session, create a new post detailing that night’s adventures.

One final tip: Don’t stress about making your Obsidian Portal campaign look perfect. Instead, just make it work for you and your group. If everyone is having fun, then you’re using Obsidian Portal exactly as it was designed, even if your adventure log isn’t always up to date or your characters don’t all have portrait pictures.

That’s it! The rest is up to your and your players.


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