The Turning Point

The Chamber of Rebirth

The PCs open the door to the Chamber of Rebirth and are immediately greeted by the sickly green glow of the pool. I replaced the Lesser Bonedrinkers with true Bonedrinkers bolstered by the Ghostlord’s Corpsecrafter tree feats, and also add an advanced Boneclaw, also boosted with Corpsecrafter feats. The PCs only manage to spot one of the Bonedrinkers in the gloom; the Boneclaw and the second Bonedrinker remain hidden.

Holden immediately charges toward the Bonedrinker he spotted, but his movement prevents him from getting close enough to attack. The Bonedrinker beats him handily in its full attack and grapple check. Seeing the tentacles, Lyka warns her superior to guard his backside.

Yelling for help, Holden calls out. “Damnit, this things going to drink my bones!”

“I’d be more worried about the tentacles,” Lyka quips.

Kikkeni entrenches herself in the narrow corridor leading to the Lion’s Heart, while Linnea and Lyka take up positions near the pool.

At this point the Boneclaw emerges, using its speed to squeeze easily past the lion statue and shanking Kikkeni from 20 feet away. The second Bonedrinker also emerges and begins to grapple Linny before she gets a chance to do anything offensive.

Things don’t go too well at first. With Holden grappled and unable to beat the Bonedrinker definitively, he quickly accrues a lot of CON damage. He takes a total of 9 CON damage across the encounter while Linny takes 3.

Linny’s Religion checks reveal the Bonedrinkers’ resistances and the Boneclaw’s immunity, so Kikkeni resorts to using electricity to attack them. Given their huge amounts of HP, however, they’re able to shrug off the fire for a while.

Linny (played by a substitute) attempts to blow the Bonedrinker grappling her away, but she fails to make the Concentration check. Kikkeni, however, lays down a curtain of withering fire. Eventually, the Bonedrinkers stop moving. Eager to get back in the fight, Holden leaps up.

Lyka gets attacked repeatedly by the Boneclaw, taking lots of damage in the process despite her high AC. Braving the Boneclaw’s massive reach and AOOs, she tumbles toward it and executes a Soaring Raptor Strike. It’s not fatal, but it opens up an opportunity for Holden to finish it off with a Bonecrusher.

Now if you were wondering where Loven was, he was off to the side, missing with his Bag of Boulders and his Wand of Scorching Ray. It was rather sad.

The party stops a moment to rest and begins to look around the chamber. They discuss the value of the Lion’s Heart and then look into the pool and try to figure out what to do with the dire lion within. Loven uses a rat from his Gray Bag of Tricks to test the effect of the liquid, and sees that the rat gets pretty much paralyzed.

Thinking it would be a great morale boost to the people of Brindol (knowing how the lion was their symbol), they rescue the dire lion by pulling it out of the pool via a rope.

They search around the room for a while and find the path to the Ghostlord’s Chamber.

The Ghostlord

The Ghostlord stands up from his meditation to regard the PCs, his hand on the byeshk great scimitar at his waist. A twisted bugbear, tainted so thoroughly by the touch of the Daelkyr that his body had to be bolted together with splints and metal bars, moves out of the shadows and walks up beside his master.

The Ghostlord demands the PCs explain themselves.

<Holden> “We bring a gift, my lord.”
<Ghostlord> “What do you have to give me? I have lost everything! I demand to see your tribute!”
<Holden> *flashes phylactery*
<Ghostlord> “…where did you get this?”
<Kikkeni> “We found it in a dragon’s hoard when we raided a Red Hand outpost.”
<Holden> “My lord, the Red Hand has nothing more to coerce you with.”
<Ghostlord> “…and what do you want in exchange for it?”
<Holden> “We wish that you would work with us to fight the Red Hand.”
*party facepalms*
<Holden> “…or at the very least stop aiding the Red Hand.”
<Ghostlord> “Do you think that after all these years I would serve anyone?”
<Holden> “We wish for you to withdraw your support from the Red Hand.”
<Ghostlord> “Rift.”

A tentacle slips out from the bugbear’s side and grabs the phylactery from Holden’s hand.
<Ghostlord> “Are there any remaining hobgoblins in my lair?”
<Kikkeni> “They’re all dead.”
<Lyka> “One got away, though—a gaseous form.”
<Ghostlord> “That would be Wyrmlord Ulwai—I have longed to push that bitch into the pool myself, but you have rid me of her.”
<Holden> “We would be glad to fight alongside with you—”
<Ghostlord> “You speak presumptuously, dwarf.”
<Holden> “Forgive me, my lord.”
<Ghostlord> “Now get out. I will withdraw my support from the Red Hand. Go, before I change my mind. GET OUT!”

The party hastily retreats, dragging out the paralyzed dire lion after them.

They get a massive XP doleout from the Ghostlord—4800 XP—boosting them to Lv 9. (I redid the encounter so that it would be an EL 15 instead of an EL 13)

Back to Brindol

The party camps fitfully outside the Ghostlord’s lion, since they came out in the middle of the night. Deciding it would be better than camping in the middle of the Thornwaste, they sleep fitfully under the light of the Ghostlord’s lion spirit vestiges.

The party travels for three days, arriving at a crossroads. They come upon a group of several ogres messing around with a wagon that has been pulled off the road. Four of the ogres are pretty normal-looking, while one of them is covered in spiked plate armor. A hobgoblin stands nearby, shouting orders and eventually calls the attention of the ogres as it spots the party. It changes shape into an ogre mage.

The party stays on their horses; Kikkeni and Linny share the same horse. Kikkeni lays down an energy ball, taking down two of the ogres, slightly damaging the berserker, and gravely injuring the ogre mage. The melee characters charge in on horses, and before the berserker in spiked armor is able to do anything, Linny drops a resilient sphere on it.

The ogre mage goes invisible, but Kikkeni is able to spot it with her new psionic true seeing. However, the ogre mage moves above the spot where Lyka is dueling one of the two remaining ogres. Instead of attacking them, though, the ogre mage instead dropsdarkness on Kikkeni, Linny and their horse. While Kikkeni can see through it, the horse is paralyzed in fear by the darkness and refuses to budge (I rule that it’s complete darkness instead of the silly shadowy illumination) and Linny can’t see the ogre mage either. Kikkeni responds with an energy bolt, but the ogre mage saves. Loven, sick of being useless, decides to take a shot. He deals enough damage to drop the ogre mage to 0 HP, and he falls out of the sky to his death. Holden finishes off the other two ogres. (They scavenge the bodies of the ogres for meat to force-feed to the still-paralyzed Dire Lion—they figure they don’t want to restore it to working order until they can bring it to someone who can communicate with and train it.)

They investigate the wagon and are thankful they convinced Kikkeni to not shoot her initial attack straight into it—they find the bodies of the Lions of Brindol as well as the letter for the Shining Axes, as well as the payment. Not wanting to have to carry the bodies on their cart, the PCs decide to cremate the Lions and set out for Hammerfirst Holds immediately.

Before the resilient sphere on the berserker wears off, the PCs (apart from Kikkeni, who didn’t want to waste PP) surround the ogre and attack it as the sphere goes down. They get in several solid hits before the ogre itself flies into a rage and drives it spiked shield into Lyka, chopping off more than half her HP. Then Loven downs the ogre with a crossbow shot.

The detour costs them a day, but it’s well worth it—they arrive at Hammerfist Holds and immediately get Captain Helmbreaker and his men onto the road. Helmbreaker is happy to receive the business, blows his horn and summons his brethren to kick some goblin ass, to which they respond enthusiastically. Loven recoils in shock, because he’s never seen so many Holdens (male and female) in his life. The Shining Axes march off with the PCs to Brindol.

The Plague of Brindol

The PCs arrive at Brindol on day 34. Immediately they set out to inform Lord Jarmaath of the arrival of the dwarves, but they can’t help but notice that the entire city seems more sedate than usual, and that several areas of the city have been cordoned off.

They ask Jarmaath about it and discover that the epidemic that was starting when the PCs first arrived has become a full-fledged plague and that the soldiers have been devastated by it. The clerics of Dol Arrah could only do so much. The PCs decide to investigate the city and ask the clerics about it, but before they could leave, Jarmaath pulls Holden aside to give him a sealed letter.

The worst has happened: Holden’s wife was found murdered in their home in Thrane. The initial investigation shows that there were no signs of forced entry and that she was killed with little struggle.

Holden flies into a screaming rage, pounding at the floor until his fists begin to bleed. The rest of the party decide to leave him alone while they attend to their business, but Loven shows a rare moment of humaneness and embraces his grieving brother. Holden vows to not stop fighting until he has bathed in the blood of every Red Hand man, woman and child.

Jarmaath knows that flippant shows of sympathy will be rebuffed, so he instead goes up to Holden and asks if he will still fight for them.

“To my last breath,” Holden replies.

They then leave to look for Soranna, who is said to have some experience in animal care and woodcraft (I gave her a couple of ranger and warblade levels so she wouldn’t be so boring in the later fights), but she then points them to Delora Zann, whose trade was animal husbandry before they left Drellin’s Ferry.

They find Delora Zann training cavalry soldiers, and although she welcomes them, they notice that she is wearing only one bracer over her forearm. The PCs are immediately suspicious, as they had never noticed this before. They ask her about it and she claims it’s nothing serious.

Loven and Lyka (Holden was left at Brindol Keep) convince Kikkeni to use her true seeing to examine Delora; this revealed nothing extraordinary. The PCs then convince her that they were trustworthy, with Loven hinting that they’d killed lots of Red Hand people already (a not-so-subtle threat if she were indeed an operative). She takes them aside and strips off the bracer to reveal a Dragonmark of Handling that she’d been hiding to avoid drawing House Vadalis’s attention; she refuses to work with a Dragonmarked house and so hid the mark to maintain a low profile.

They take her to the dire lion, and Linny un-paralyzes it with restoration. Immediately the lion springs up and roars, terrifying the horses and the cavalrymen, but Delora lays a hand on its forehead and taps her Dragonmark, pacifying the beast.

“Leave this to me,” she says. “Next time you see him, he’ll be a terrifying mount. Pay me when this war is done.”

Loven is exultant at this development, saying that it would be a great thing to lift Holden’s spirits with—then he remembers that Holden’s wife resigned her commission as a cleric of the Silver Flame due to her pregnancy.

The PCs go off to the Cathedral of Dol Arrah to consult the clerics, who are busy rushing about and tending the sick.

Tredora Goldenbrow explains that the plague is a mundane disease (shakes), and that it is spread by contact. However, those afflicted have spoken of noxious brown mists spreading throughout the marketplace; it’s said that these are the initial cause of the plague. Tredora is unable to explain what this might be; she asks the PCs to investigate.

The PCs seek a second opinion and consult Immerstal, mentioning their fascinating encounter with the Ghostlord and his necromantic engine. They also offer him Ulwai’s Tiamat opera, which he accepts and pays them 1000 GP for. He tells them that the clerics didn’t think to consult him regarding the plague and reveals that the brown mist in the marketplace is Contagious Fog—a short-term spell that nonetheless causes people to get sick and carry the disease. The spell would have to be cast repeatedly by a caster hiding out in the marketplace for it to last long.

The PCs immediately go and check it out.

Talons of Pestilence

The PCs arrive at the edge of the marketplace to find Holden staring into space, slowly imbibing his alcoholic gravy blend. They nudge him on, and so they walk off towards the dark of the cordoned-off marketplace.

As they walk down the abandoned lanes, they see a figure of a peasant woman walking out of the buildings. Knowing that the place is cordoned off, they are immediately suspicious and order her to halt. She looks listlessly in their direction and stops.

When asked why she’s there, she simply looks down limply. Kikkeni immediately uses her true seeing and identifies this as an illusion. Linny identifies it as a minor image spell, which meant that the caster was nearby.

Suddenly a cloud of brown mist envelops them—contagious fog. Holden and Linny fail their saves; Linny takes a full wallop of 8 Dex damage from the shakes while Holden takes 3. The cloud moves slowly down the street, and with Linny knowing that the cloud moves away from its caster, she can deduce that the caster was in a rather large house down the street. Linny dispels the cloud while Loven feeds Holden his potion of remove disease.

Lyka charges toward the house at the end of the street and gets zapped by two scorching rays; everyone runs into the house and up the stairs. As they enter, they hear the sounds of spellcasting; Linny identifies mage armor and shield being cast. However, they get to the house’s top room and realize that no one is inside.

Kikkeni enters and looks around, spotting the caster–a Rakshasa–hiding in the corner with her active greater invisibility. Kikkeni uses psionic grease to make the Rakshasa slip and fall facedown, while the rest of the party members enter and attempt to mob the fiend.

However, she casts web, trapping the PCs partially in the room. The PCs then embark on a rather frustrating exercise of attacking something with very tough DR and spell resistance. Cornered and outnumbered, the Rakshasa is barely able to do anything but keep casting spells that annoy the PCs; ultimately, after starting two fires and using up almost all of Kikkeni’s PP, Linny remembers to cast align weapon on Lyka’s short sword.

Leaping from a bed, Lyka plunges the weapon into the Rakshasa’s heart. Silver fire flares out of the Rakshasa’s dying body as it shatters and dissolves.

End of session.

Thoughts

That was another awesome session.
-The Bone squad did quite well; they were frustrating and dangerous without being annoying and tedious. I highly recommend this modified encounter if you have a tough set of PCs.
-The Ghostlord encounter was far quicker than I had expected; they didn’t beat around the bush.
-I had a very large and powerful ambush planned in Dauth, but unfortunately the PCs decided to skip the towns and cut across the plains with the dwarves. No outriders would dare to ambush such a large company. As such they were able to avoid a lot of the difficult encounters I’d planned along the way.
-I loved what they did with the dire lion; the bit about Delora Zann was completely improvised as I hadn’t expected them to take out the dire lion. I also didn’t want them to simply despair at the lack of a decent druid in Brindol. Now they have a mount in battle that will put war horses to shame.
-I finally killed off Holden’s wife. I’m going to add insult to injury soon, but I’ll need pull the PCs out of Brindol for the second attempt on the PCs’ lives.
-I’m not yet sure how to do this. I could have a supply wagon that needs protection, or maybe a mobile trebuchet crew that needs to be taken out.
-Although the Battle of Brindol begins 2 days after the horde arrives, I feel like I want to start it early by having the Red Hand set up a trebuchet to fling live prisoners, dead cattle, and severed heads into the city.
-Finally, I’m going to give the PCs the option to train and/or choose what training method their cadre of Lions of Brindol would use. There’s still a lot of time to burn, but mostly I’ll just have to give them emergency missions.

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