the Way of the Wicked

Fire Axe: Part Two
They still haven't encountered Fire Axe.

The boat sails ever onwards towards the frozen North. Odenkirk claims the boat is running low on water and says he intends to put in at Seal Isle. While there he intends to take a boat and go seal hunting in the richest fur seal hunting grounds in Talingarde. The party are free to take the other boat and do some hunting of their own.

 

On the first day Odenkirk claims 3 seals. The party catch precisely none. On the second day Kargeld does slightly worse, claiming a further two pelts. Each of these glossy furs is worth 50GP so this is turning into a fruitful stop for the captain. Impressively, the party manage to double their own haul on the second day, despite Sam being very emo about being in the boat at all and passive-aggressively reading a book.

 

On the third day they become the hunted rather than the hunters. This hunting ground is so rich because most hunters avoid it. A mated pair of bunyips hunt these waters. The first Kargeld knows about it is when they come up below his boat, rocking it and nearly capsizing it. The captain's skills are up to the challenge however, and he manages to steady the boat.

 

One of the bunyips roars, a supernaturally loud and horrifying noise. Sam, having recognised the bunyips from a brief glimpse as they bumped Odenkirk's boat, had just enough time to warn the party to cover their ears, however this gives very limited protection and Grumblejack, Fitch, and Adelea are all panicked, cowering in the bottom of the boat unable to act. Without enough rowers the boat drifts in confusion.

 

Over in captain Odenkirk's boat one of the sailors has been panicked into jumping into the freezing water. He tries to swim away but is soon overpowered and killed by a bunyip, with the blood in the water driving them into a frenzy. Odenkirk is within axe range through, and his axe, with some help from the short bows of his remaining men, kills the bunyip. In the other boat Sam has managed to be intimidating enough towards Adelea that she seems to be getting hold of herself again.

 

Another roar echoes across the icy bay and this time another sailor and Adelea both leap into the sea in panic. Sam is the only person on the party's boat who isn't cowering in the bottom or trying to flee through the freezing water.

 

Odenkirk gets his two sailors to beach their boat so they can get safely ashore, while Sam uses her last rope trick scroll to securely attach Adelea to the boat. Her powerful, terrified swimming starts slowly dragging it through the water while Fitch, Grumblejack, and now Creel rock uselessly in the gunwhales with their faces covered in tears and snotters.

 

After a surprising number of unsuccessful attempts the bunyip kils the fleeing sailor. It takes the corpses beneath the waves and swims off, now mateless. Soon enough the party calm down and Adelea is helped back into the boat.

 

With the Frosthamar now down to three crewmen plus Odenkirk our villains are now doing more of the less skilled sailoring tasks aboard. The boat continues northwards, with any further seal hunting abandoned.

 

A party of Yutak are encountered, and our villains choose to trade honestly and talk politely with them. The Yutak happily exchange 1500GP of walrus ivory and a rare and perfect eight foot narwhal horn worth 2000GP for the trident taken from Nerianus and a handful of assorted metal weapons. Both sides of the trade are pleased. The medicine man, as the best speaker of common, warns the party of “the laughing storm”, a capricious ice mephit known to haunt the seas ahead. He also tells a tale of the Lost Island of Taane-Thak or “She without Mercy”, an ice giant sorceress and her followers who were apparently trapped as ice statues generations ago by a wizard.

 

 

As they continue into the North they do indeed encounter Killiketz, the ice mephit. Perched on the mast he is impossible to spot in the storm but Fitch is able to locate him through the sound of his laughter, and Samra'el is able to shine her bullseye lantern on him. Another of the Frosthamar's crew falls to the ice elementals that accompany Killiketz before the mephit is driven away with bolts (of both the fire and crossbow variety), just before Fitch can reach it after climbing heroically up the icy rigging and using his rogueish reflexes to avoid a blast of icy breath. Is it possible that our villains were slightly slow to act to save the sailor, and perhaps even did futher damage to his dying body while moving to engage the last elemental? Surely not – Samra'el's condolences to Kargeld certainly seem sincere enough.

 

At the mouth of the mighty Taiga river Kargeld earns his pay, steering his ship unerringly through fields of floating, jagged ice with the two remaining crewmen and our villains scrambling to obey his barked commands. The ship moves South up the river through snowy pinewoods, passing through a great cleft in the mountains, and finally reaches Lake Tarik, the inland sea at the centre of the island. Nearby, in a wooded valley, there is a great camp of bugbears. Far more are here than would normally gather, as they are generally a rather fractious race. There are also polar bears wandering the camp, and the party sees the odd fur-clad cackling goblin amongst the bugbears, and even the occasional hill giant on the outskirts.

 

The Frosthamar glides towards the only landing, a rickety-looking pier. However, this is occupied by four bugbear warriors and they don't look friendly.

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Fire-Axe Part One
Boat trip!

 

The Frosthamar, captained by the extremely mercenary Kargeld Odenkirk, is a well-found ship, strongly clinker built to withstand the rough Northern seas. A knarr, she is much like a viking longship, but with a deeper, fatter hull to carry cargo. Heavily laden with 24 tons of assorted weaponry and arrows (but as it later turns out, not one single mace), she makes slow progress northwards as the party acclimatise to life on board. There are no cabins and no toilets. The party sleep on deck like the sailors, and like the sailors learn to defecate over the side.

 

As the ship passes the end of the Watch Wall, a keen eyed member of the party spots a patrol vessel bearing down upon them. It looks like our party may be in trouble, as in addition to the four spearmen and one bright-armoured sword wielding officer who have stepped aboard the Frosthamer, eight crewmen have stayed behind, sheltered by the gunwhale, with bows at the ready.

 

Luckily Captain Sambryl, in command of the “Blade of St Martius”, while conscientious and dedicated, is not the sharpest sea-knife in the tool chest. Samra'el, using her circlet to appear like an officer of similar rank, easily persuades him that the Frosthamar has been charted for official business – transporting weapons to Castle Balentyne! (It's barely even a bluff – she just hasn't mentioned that when they reach Balentyne the weapons will be in the hands of a ravening horde of bugbears).

Putting a capstone on the bluff Sam asks Sambryl for an escort North, but the brave but not particularly bright captain has to stay to patrol these waters and make sure no weapon smugglers get past.


Sam mutters to Adelea that if they do get in a fight it might not be a bad thing if the crew gets whittled down a bit. “Well I might have to fetch my sword, and what if it falls down behind a crate?”

Heading onwards into the North, Fitch's keen eyes spot a head popping up out of the water one night in the dim light from the watch lantern and the stars. He quickly wakes the crew and our villains by making loud cowardly noises.

“Fish men? Good fish men, which means they're bad to us? What are those ones, Tritons?” is the surprisingly accurate question just before combat is joined. Our protagonists are a tad more vulnerable this time as, not wanting to plummet 50 fathoms deep quicker than you can say “swimming in armour is really hard” they have doffed their full plate and scale mail. Sleeping in armour is also quite difficult, and getting into it takes time.

A fraught and complex fight takes place. The tritons summon water elementals which repeatedly try to push the people on the boat into the water, meeting success with several crewmembers and Fitch. Once in the water the tritons, a couple mounted on dolphins, try to kill them with pointy things.

Creel botches a swing at an elemental and watches his mace slip out of his hand, bounce off and over the rail, and disappear into the depths.

Sam attempts to charm Nerianus. It doesn't work. However her next plan, to summon a dolphin, works spectacularly. The dolphin rescues Fitch who does a forward flip off the dolphin and leaps off the rail of the ship back onto the deck – “sorry I couldn't find your mace”

Kargeld (literally frothing at the mouth in the grip of his barbarian rage) and Grumblejack (drooling a little, as usual) compete to see how many elementals they can kill, while the party attempt to kill the leader of the tritons from range. This does not go well – Nerianus the triton oracle has cast sanctuary, making it difficult for the villains and the crew to bring themselves to attack him, and he is well-armoured, making it difficult for them to hit him when they do. Sam's dolphin does manage to land a hit though – “Get in there dolphin!”

Creel starts firing rays of flame, channeling the fiery power of his god through his pointing fingers. However he does mess up one casting and gives himself a nasty blister.

The battle swings to and fro, with the villains' plan to kill the enemy leader hampered by his ability to heal himself as fast as any damage can be inflicted. Eventually though, Sam casts “botch”, followed by another charm attempt. Nerianus botches the will save. With their leader, who had spent weeks telling them about his prophetic dream that a great evil would be passing this way and must be stopped, suddenly entirely changing his tune and shouting at them to stop attacking, two of the three remaining tritons make a last desultory attack and bugger off. The last, surrounded, dies in place. Only one member of the crew, who spent the vast majority of the fight signally failing to climb back into the boat, has been killed.

Sam invites Nerianus to board the boat to discuss their new alliance, and is very persuasive. She gives him a hand over the side and into the boat, whereupon Kargeld, screaming in rage, cuts him very nearly in two with one frenzied swing of his axe.

You can just make out, through the bubbles of blood, Nerianus's last, prophetic words:

The shining sun has seen
the wickedness you hide in hearts. And thus it will be
the son who brings your doom.”

 

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The Cruel Lessons of Master Thorn, Part 2
Their favourite was the one about smashing their enemies

  

 

Moving on from the room with the mithral snakes the villains reach another door: “Suffer not the fool. Stupidity is our faith’s cardinal sin.”. Inside is a pedestal with a glittering silver amulet.

Adelea – isnt the pendant what we were sent to retrieve?


Samra'el – I dont think its that easy. We've only done 5 rooms. Thorn doesn't strike me as the type to let you just take the thing and bugger off. This absolutely reeks of traps

Adelea – what did the sign say again?

Sam- “don't be a fucktard wasn't it?”

After painstakingly checking for traps Fitch confirms it is safe to approach the pedestal.

Adelea – why dont we go to the stairs?

Sam – why, the secret exit is the other way according to the Squire

Fitch is spending a looooong time looking at things today. He finds a secret door which is not trapped. The rest of the party wish they had brought a kettle so they could brew some tea during these enforced breaks. 

Sam – “leave the thing alone, it's not the thing." (interestingly, this actually makes sense in context) "We know the secret door's the way out. Or are the stairs the way out? Did he mean the way out of the room or the dungeon”

Fitch – the obvious thing is to grab the necklace and run for the stairs so I am not doing that because it is obvious

Sam is heavily invested in a “Thorn only traps rooms” theory and believes that corridors are therefore entirely safe. It remains to be seen if this is true however she is convinced he is entirely predictable. They ignore the pedestal and move on through the secret door they found and into a corridor.

Almost immediately Adelea stumbles across ANOTHER secret door (and eventually tells everyone about it). Fitch painstakingly checks for traps. No traps. Bypassing the next room, which they believe will contain a shrieker, they find their way to a secret back entrance to the eighth room. The villains quickly discuss their plans.

Sam – it makes sense to take this room first because there's no shrieker, it'll just be these guys

Fitch – did we bring any butter to fry it? Heavies to the front!

Adelea looks rather askance at Fitch until he makes a graceful save with “heavy HITTERS I mean obviously”

The room contains eight coffins in poor repair, salt stained, barnacled, and draped with dried seaweed.

Adelea rushes into the room opens a coffin and slashes the corspe within for 8 damage.

Grumblejack picks another coffin – and smashes corpse and coffin to flinders with one mighty swing!

The corpse stabbed by Adelea animates and stands up. Another bursts from a coffin across the room. These are Draugrs, the undead corpses of drowned sailors. They wield corroded axes, with barnacles amidst the rust.

Fitch backstabs the one Adelea had previously hit and Adelea finishes it off.

Grumblejack smashes another one with his club and Fitch stabs it. The fourth and final Draugr bursts from its coffin and hits Grumblejack for 8. He easily shakes off a wave of nausea from being hit by the rotten thing.

Sam wanders in from the corridor to spectate a bit.

Adelea and Grumblejack manfully (womanfully? ogrefully?) take down the undead, with some help from Creel. However he forgets that his god's negative energy will heal rather than harm the undead, and has the confusing experience of simultaneously harming and healing his foe.

The party approach room 7, Sam expecting an inscription but Fitch correctly realising there won't be one as this is the exit from the room they've missed out. They go the other way instead toward the final room.

It has a strong door reinforced with iron bands, and an inscription: “Serve thy master well and be rewarded.” There is a good, strong lock, but the key hangs next to it.

Adelea – “that seems too obvious”

Sam – this is Sir Fuckwit in here. I'm doing my iron circlet thing to look like the squire

Samra'el whispers through the door “It's me Timeon, We'll get you out”. She then realises he cannot hear her through the thick door, but the plan works better when she whispers through the keyhole. The knight seems happy to hear from his squire. Sam then runs back to the party to prepare a CUNNING AND VICIOUS AMBUSH OF GREAT CUNNING AND CONSIDERABLE VICIOUSNESS.

Using silent image she makes it look like the corridor extends further into the room than it does, and positions Adelea and Grumblejack in hiding behind the illusory walls. (She explains carefully to Grumblejack that it's not a real wall and he can come through it when it's ambushin' time).

With the lantern aloft to slightly blind Sir Balin she gets Fitch to open the door (Fitch fiddles with the lock for a minute before remembering there is a key right there) and whispers “quickly sir we have to get out of here”. Her bluff skill is spectacular and is aided by the poor light and the disguise. Sir Balin is completely taken in. Overjoyed to see his faithful squire he proceeds down the corridor and into the illusory corridor. Ambushin' time has come, and Grumblejack gleefully clobbers him with his greatclub to start the ball rolling. Grumblejack really likes hitting things with his club, and he's proving to be very good at it.

Caught flatfooted Sir Balin takes a mighty 16 damage from Grumblejack's surprise attack

Fitch's daggers clang off his armour, and Adelea swings and misses. Even flatfooted Sir Balin has some fancy armour on. The surprise round is over. Can our villains do better in the fairer section of the fight?

Grumblejack again connects with his club for 13 more damage. Fitch misses once again.

Sam goes for a demoralise: dropping her disguise she says “well well well Sir Balin, surely you see the irony. You entrapped me, how the tables have turned.” – it is enormously successful and seeing his “faithful squire” turn into the heretic he thought safely consigned to the pyre at Branderscar leaves Sir Balin shaken.

Even a shaken Sir Balin is a dangerous enemy though. He cleaves through Fitch with his longsword, who collapses in a bloody heap, but is unable to also harm Grumblejack as the Ogre is naturally hard to hurt and is also encased in an enormous set of splint mail.

Zachariah Creel, his hand guided by Asmodeus and his mace channeling the dark power of his god, connects and does a further 8 damage, and Sir Balin, shouting incoherently about Mitra and death to heretics, is not looking well.

Once again Adelea swings and misses, but while Sir Balin is still contorting his body to avoid her attack a truly stupendous swing of grumblejack's club smashes the knight's helmeted skull right down into his torso, killing him instantly.

Adelea and Sam have a cheerful conversation about whether they should skin him and stuff him. Sam wants his eyes “just in case”. In the meantime Creel once again stabilises Fitch's unconscious, bleeding form. The villains decide to have Grumblejack tote his inert form out rather than waste healing scrolls on him. Later there is some discussion as to whether Fitch should actually wear his armour, as "having it quite near but not wearing it as it is a bit heavy" does not appear to be proving a particularly survival-oriented strategy.

Sam is feeling conflicting emotions. Glee at killing her nemesis wars with disappointment at not taking him alive to torment. “It was all about Sir Balin I was going to have some fun with him. Let's just kill the squire he's not worth getting fancy.”

They return to Cardinal Thorn with Sir Balin's holy symbol, which was of course the pendant they had been tasked to find.

The high priest holds the trinket and pauses as if in deep
contemplation. He watches the holy symbol glitter in the
light. “A pretty enough thing, eh?” he muses. “Tihs is a
holy symbol of Mitra in particular the sort favored by the
Knights of the Alerion. Perhaps you already knew that.
 

“Remember this symbol. This is the mark of those who
destroyed our faith and sought to banish all trace of the
worship of our Father from these shores. These, my friends,
are your enemies.”
 

Having spied upon their progress through the dungeon Thorn now has some measure of the villain's abilities, and over the next three months he mercilessly trains and drills them, both as individuals and as a team. He is aided by Tiadora who is soon revealed as a merciless sadist, but Thorn turns out to be an excellent teacher and his villainous charges soon blossom.

The party occasionally run into “the White Ravens” who are clearly also undergoing training of their own.

After a great feast and an infernal ritual involving blood and fire, our protagonists have graduated. "Behold", Thorn proclaims, “The Nessian Knot is forged!.”

Thorn then summons his “Ninth Knot”, our villains.


“Welcome, my children,” he says in a deep resonant voice
that has an almost inhuman quality to it. “Training is at an
end. You have proven yourself worthy. Now, it is time for you
to use that training and take on your first mission.
“Your mission is war, my children. You will bring war
to Talingarde.

 

“You have two objectives. First, you will see a shipment
of munitions delivered to a bugbear chiefain named Sakkarot
Fire-Axe. He makes his camp on the northern coast of Lake Tarik beyond the Watch Wall. With this shipment, the Fire-Axe will have resources enough to unite the
barbarous humanoid tribes of the north and light the fire of war.
“Sitting on the dock as we speak is the longship Frosthamar captained by Kargeld Odenkirk. Tomorrow when the ship is resupplied it will be your transport. The captain
is a ruthless mercenary and not to be trusted. He knows
nothing of the specifcs of our mission and you should keep
it that way. He knows he is smuggling cargo to the north
beyond the Watch Wall. Tat is all he need know.
“Once the cargo is safely delivered, he will take you just
south across the lake under cover of darkness and land you
near the town of Aldencross. There our contract with Captain Odenkirk will be concluded.
 

“It is shame how greedy he has proven. I had hoped to
let the captain serve me again but it seems he is too much
of a liability. Kill him. Kill his crew. Burn his ship and
leave no survivors. It is crucial that no one suspects our
involvement and that loose ends are taken care of. Be sure
to reclaim the coin I gave him. Best not to be wasteful.
“That done, you will begin your second task. We will
do more still to aid our ally the Fire-axe. The bugbears
are mighty warriors but poor siege engineers. You will infltrate the tower

Balentyne, keystone of the Watch Wall,
kill its commander and open the gate for Sakkarot’s horde.
“Once the shaggy monstrosities pierce the Watch Wall,
the bugbears will pillage and lay waste to the townships of
the north and the local garrisons will have no choice but to
meet the Fire-Axe in the open feld. Sakkarot is the most
brilliant, gifed and murderous bugbear of his generation.
I expect these battles will go poorly for the knights and yeoman of fair Talingarde.


“Do all of this and then when your task is done, break
this clay seal.” He hands them a delicately carved clay
seal adorned with a tangled knot of thorns surrounding the
holy symbol of Asmodeus. “I will have more instructions
then. Succeed and I will see you rewarded handsomely.
Fail or betray me and you will pray for the comfort of Hell
before I am done with you.


“The mission you start upon today is a holy mission.
The people of Talingarde think they have seen the last
of the mighty Asmodeus. Soon enough we will remind
them that there is no escaping the grasp of Hell. Let us
toast our success.”


He pours one glass of deep red
wine for each of the PCs and then
fnally pours one for himself. He
raises the glass and offers a
toast.
 

To War!

View
The Cruel Lessons of Master Thorn, Part 1
Five go dungeoneering

 

The party has 3 days of rest and recovery during which their requested purchases arrive and they get the chance to practice with their new equipment.

During this time our villains encounter another group of four who Cardinal Thorn appears to be grooming for another part of his plan. Led by the witch Elise Zadaria these adventurers style themselves “the White Ravens” after her albino familiar. They have been smuggled in by boat rather than breaking out of prison, but have also signed a similar pact.

 

Sam has a conversation with Grumblejack, with a view to persuading him to join forces with our villainous quartet.  Grumblejack strongly dislikes the knights of The Alerion, who had hunted him down and put a stop to his enjoyable occupation as a Highwayogre. Sam points out there's not much out there for Grumblejack as a hunted fugitive but the group have a plan and a patron, and “a plan to get rid of all these knights”. Grumblejack asks if there will be treasure and is assured there will be. Also Sam offers to buy him some armour. “Think bigger Grumblejack, you could be king of your tribe!”

He is very much convinced for the time being at least, and Sam chips in some of her funds and the party's to obtain a very large suit of splint mail and a solid greatclub sized for ogres.

On the evening of the third day Thorn summons them to his study.

“Have you enjoyed your gifts? The iron circlets allow
you to move amongst your enemies as one of them. The
silver amulets will remind you of your true loyalties. And
the other items – well, you need them now.


“You have done well to escape from Branderscar and
to accept my offer. However, you are still not ready for
my service. Tiadora will lead you to the basement of this
domicile. There you will find nine chambers each more
dangerous than the last. Somewhere hidden within these
chambers is a pendant of silver and sapphire. Recover the
pendant and bring it to me. Let nothing and no one stand
in your way.”


He stands up and looks out of the manor house window
across the grey moor. “It’s almost dusk. You have until
dusk tomorrow to bring me my prize. Do not fail me.

 

Escorted to the top of some stairs by Tiadora, who is completely unforthcoming about what they can expect, our villains enter the dungeon.

The first chamber has an inscription over the door: “Deception is a tool. Self-deception is death. Deceive always thy enemy but never thyself.”

The room is bare, save for a door on the far side. Fitch and Creel search the room for traps and assure the party there are none. The party then discover a pit trap through the cunning expedient of having Adelea and Grumblejack fall into it. Grumblejack takes consderable damage from the fall and the spikes and regains some from Creel's scroll of cure light wounds. Adelea takes damage from falling but her armour and agility allows her to avoid the spikes. Carved upon the wall inside the pit near the bottom is the phrase: “Thou wert deceived. Pain is thy reward.”

There is some grumbling about the rogue's inability to find the trap but Fitch points out that they all have eyes and can look for themselves.

Finding the door opens onto a blank wall the party are stymied. They spend a frustrating couple of hours searching for hidden doors before hitting on the idea of having Grumblejack bash the walls with his club and listening for a change in sound. This allows them to find two hidden doors. One leads to a small alcove with a pedestal, on which is a blue jewel, cold to the touch. After racking their appraise skills to the utmost and making use of detect magic, the party conclude that this is… a blue jewel, cold to the touch. The other door leads to… a corridor to another room! At long, long last they are making progress.

Room 2

This one has the inscription “Following the herd is for fools. Fear not their icy derision. Instead, fear only thy Infernal Lord.”
 

Our villains are quick to work out that they should not follow the tracks in the dust leading to the South or East doors. However the other door is blocked by a violet mold, and none of them have the dungeoneering experience to know this is a creature that sucks heat from its environment and is vulnerable to cold damage.

Adelea tries approaching the door with the gem in her hand thinking it is perhaps a key, but the mold sucks the heat right out of her, and she quickly retreats with 12 non lethal damage. The party consider using fire against it before deciding this is probably a bad idea – if it sucked the heat out of Adelea, maybe it would enjoy the fire?

Eventually it occurs to them to throw the gem at the mold, whereupon it shatters and reveals itself to contain alchemists' ice, a much, much colder version of alchemists' fire. The mold shrivels, blackens, and falls dead from the doorway revealing the inscription “Thou hast made thy own path.”
 

Room 3: “Know your enemy. Shatter all that blinds you and then burn thy adversary to ashes.”
 

This room is shrouded in impenetrable darkness. Adelea steps in and confirms that it's dark on the inside too, but that whatever is blocking the light allows sounds to pass unhindered. Luckily for her, although she is unaware of this at the time, she quickly steps back out again.

Sam uses detect magic to find that whatever is causing the darkness seems to be in the middle of the room, between about waist and head height. She asks Fitch to throw a rope inside, casts “animate rope” from a scroll and commands it to wrap itself around whatever is there, and hands the end to Grumblejack.

“What are you wanting me to do with that pedestal then?” he asks. At this point it dawns on the party that ogres have darkvision. He has been unaware they couldn't see anything, and increasingly puzzled by their antics.

He tells them there is a dark jewel on the pedestal, so Sam wraps the rope around it and asks him to pull it towards them. “Sure, but I don't think that mist thing is going to like it” he says.

A mighty yank on the rope plunges the party into stygian darkness as the source of the spell is pulled to where they are standing.

SMASH THE JEWEL!” they cry. Grumblejack cheerfully smashes the jewel into three pieces with his club, switching off the darkness instantly. In the newly revealed chamber the party see a pinkish misty form pass out of their field of vision to the left.

Fitch is standing in the doorway, and the vampiric mist is quickly upon him. A touch with a claw opens a bleeding wound, and he sees some of his blood be sucked up into the creature. Newly energised with stolen vitality it swiftly sinks through one of a series of small holes in the floor and out of sight.

The party, paranoid, stand with prepared spells and attacks at the ready, waiting for the creature to make a move, and Creel quickly stanches Fitch's wound. The creature is happy where is is, waiting for the bloodsacks to make their own moves.

This goes on for some time. Then it occurs to Sam to pour lamp oil into one of the holes and light it. A small orange glow comes through the hole. Adelea and Fitch have oil of their own and the party moves into the room, expanding the “underfloor heating” and attempting to smoke out the mist. It flows out of one of the holes and attacks Adelea, but misses. The party do enough damage to it that it flees back under the floor to cower, but the party pitilessly corner it with fire and finish it off. Vulnerable to fire damage it has little chance against an approaching line of burning lamp oil and a priest who can cast fire orisons through the holes in the floor.

Room 4: “Cruelty is a tool not a pastime. Be ruthless to thy enemy but reward those who serve thee well.”

The room is empty, save for a torture rack which stands ready for use. Our villains are shocked when Fitch successfully finds a secret door! Inside is the terrifed squire, Timeon of Balentyne. Young, gullible, alone, and terrified he is easily persuaded by Samra'el that our villains are a rescue party. Sam is darkly pleased to learn his master is none other than the witch hunter who consigned her to Branderscar, Sir Balin. “He's mine. This is going to be fun. But not for him”.

Sam's soft skills far outmatch Timeon's soft mind. He tells the party all he knows about the dungeon (It is clear that Thorn has allowed him to “escape” and overhear him while “searching” for Timeon, feeding him information so that the party could torture it out of him.) However Sam's a fan of lesson 1: deception is a tool, and has no need for torture. Timeon sings like a bird. The party contemplate how amusing it would be to say “present for you” and throw Timeon's head at Sir Balin, but Sam decides she'd rather use her iron circlet to pretend to be Timeon and get the drop on him. She persuades the terrified squire to hide again in his little cupboard, regretfully telling him that as a quick moving rescue party they are carrying no spare weapons, food, or water. This part is even true (except several members of the party have food, they all have water, and Fitch at least has spare daggers).

The party learn the following from the young dupe:

• there are vicious metal cobras in a
nearby room
• a secret door across from the stairs
hides the way out
• a shrieker screams when there is light
or movement nearby
• that four drowned men rise when the
shrieker cries

As the party head back down the corridor Sam's appearance warps and shifts until she looks like a somewhat oddly dressed double of the young squire.

Room 5. “The chosen are revealed by their might. The weak deserve no sympathy.”

The two mithral cobras in this room are small and fast and therefore hard to hit, and resistant to damage due to being made of metal. However they also have some trouble getting their fangs past the armour of the party's fighters, and, when they do get a solid chomp in, the party members' constitutions are proof against their poison.

Fitch's acrobatic skills allow him to move past one of the cobras to flank it without giving the ophodian automaton a chance to strike him, but his attacks do little damage due to the construct's damage resistance.

Eventually, after a hard fight, Grumblejack's club smashes one into scrap and Adelea's flashing blade, in a swift, yet powerful move, cuts the other into four unequal pieces. The head piece sparks briefly and the metal snake stops moving forever.

It occurs to Sam that mithral is valuable, and a quick appraise suggests the party now has about 1000GP worth of pricey scrap metal, which they load onto their ogre.

What awaits our party in the next room? Is it a secret door across from some stairs? Find out next week!

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Escape from Branderscar!
(spoiler alert - they escape)

In the sudden silence after the short but brutal dining room battle, Fitch's keen hearing picks up a whispered conversation from the next room. Two worried servants are discussing whether they should run to the guardhouse for the guards, or whether the noise was just a drunken brawl and they'll get in trouble for bothering them.

Fitch strides into the room and, brandishing a dagger that he has just carefully bloodied for dramatic effect, intimidates them into sitting down quietly and allowing them to be tied up. Questioning from Sam persuades them to spill their guts (metaphorically; perhaps surprisingly our heroes leave them tied up but otherwise unmolested). In between requests that they please not be killed, the servants tell them the rough layout of the area and approximate disposition of the guards, and the password to pass the gatehouse and bridge ("Hesterfield"). They also tell Sam that Blackerly is nearby, in his bedroom which can be reached via his office off the corridor, likely having a drunken nap before tonight's card game.

Sam is fired up to get revenge on the man who branded her and laughed. "Let's kill him while he's sleeping, it'll be easier!"

"Wait, let's rob these footlockers first!" comes the reply. The 12 footlockers yield the following:

potion of cure light wounds

a map

empty

silver holy symbol

bottle of whisky

a small supply of delicious cookies

A surprisingly well written love letter ending in
a proposal of marriage to someone named ‘Michelle’ and a sapphire engagement ring worth 100
gp
A masterwork lute (worth 100 gp).
Ink, quill and a personal journal that reveals thisweek’s password “Hesterfeld” – the Warden’s
home town – and the details of Blackerly’s illicit gambling sessions including exactly when the
next game will be (later tonight)


A small coin pouch with 3gold in miscellaneous coinage.


A bottle of absolute rot gut without label worth 5 gp.


A collection of cheap, tawdry, crudely printed
books (the so-called “penny dreadfuls”) about
dashing heroes, daring do and amply bosomed
damsels prone to fainting and outdoor bathing
(no resale value) (Adelea guiltily sneaks these into her clothing without anyone seeing)

Using Adelea's cunning suggestion of greasing the hinges with fat from the kitchen, Fitch ghosts into the sergeant's office. Unfortunately, however, he makes a complete arse of quietly opening the connecting door to the sergeant's room, dropping his thieves tools with a loud jingle.  “Oh for fuck's sake" mutters Sam to Adelea as the sergeant wakes up and looks around wildly, grabbing for his sword.

Creel is equally disdainful as Fitch steps forward to engage Blackerly, asking “sure you don't want to blow an alarm horn or something?”

The eagerly awaited battle with the hated sergeant proves to be something of a farce. Blackerley swings wildly and gets his sword stuck in the bedframe. With an angry ogre in front of him and an enemy on each side, Sam steps forward and intimidates him into surrender: “your only miniscule chance of survival is to do exactly as we say, drop your sword and on your knees”

Adelea tries to kill the helpless sergeant but makes a horrible botch of the swing, her sword missing entirely and clanging off the floor next to him. Making a successful bluff check she "styles it out" and pretends she was only trying to scare him. This works and he begs for his life.

The party proceeds to tie up Sergeant Blackerly and search his room, and then Sam asks Grumblejack “is that the guy who burned your arm? “- Yurr “would you like to pull his head off?” -Huhuh yerr “Go ahead and do that then”. Grumblejack flexes his mighty thews and pops the sergeant's head off. Adela comes back from the kitchen with a burning brand and expresses her disappointment that she cannot burn his eyes out now.

The party find 1245 GP in a chest in the room, plus some “medicine” which they realise is rotgut spiked with an excessive dose of sleeping herbs. They also find a map of the castle in the sergeants room. Adelea takes a masterwork longsword from Blackerley's body

Blackerly's keys allow access to a storeroom with some potentially useful items, and to the castle armoury. The party avail themselves of the contents, with grumblejack very pleased with his new “poky thing” (a glaive), Sam picking up a spear, and Zachariah Creel finding a heavy mace which gives him immense satisfaction as this is the favoured weapon of Asmodeus. Fitch picks up a rapier and swishes it around, while Adelea finds a shank made from a woman's metal comb in a pile of confiscated weapons,  and realises that this is a weapon that might be hidden in her hairstyle.

Returning to the kitchen they find the tied up servants sitting quietly exactly where they were left, and once again refrain from murdering. Using the "medicine" from sergeant Blackerly's room they create some spiked meat for the dogs and head for the guardhouse, with Fitch using sleight of hand to surreptitiously drop drugged meat into the kennels in passing.

With Grumblejack bundled in the large servant's large green cloak and trying to look small, and the others dressed as guards, the absconding criminals successfully bluff their way past the guards at the guardhouse and at the gatehouse at the head of the bridge, pretending to be a party off to collect firewood, passing the gatehouse with a masterfully bored and long-suffering rendering of the password (Hesterfield). Sam's bluffing skills are on fire tonight, and the guards' perception is very much not. One of them warns Sam to "keep an eye out for… well, you know" but it is not clear what this might mean.

Unbelievably, they have escaped without the hue and cry going up.

The party decide to head for their mysterious benefactor's mansion to lie low and consider their next move. This involves crossing the moors at night, and while Adelea's survival skills allow the party to chart a direct course for their destination there is one complication. The moors at night are the haunt of the cunning and vicious giant toad, Lashtongue.

Surging out of one of the network of black pools and boggy channels on the darkened moor this cunning ambush predator achieves complete surprise. Picking on Fitch in preference to the chainmail wearing Adelea and Creel, or Grumblejack who seems like an overlarge mouthful, the huge amphibian brutally hurts Fitch with one enormous bite, and positions his unconscious victim in his enormous batrachian mouth in preparation for swallowing him whole.

Luckily for Fitch the rest of the party are not in the mood to let some humungous toad mess with them after their hard day escaping from prison. First Creel uses his new mace to channel a trickle of the power of his god, then Adelea wounds the monster with the masterwork sword she took from Blackerly's cooling body, before Grumblejack's brutal swing ends the amphibian's reign of terror. The unconscious form of Fitch tumbles out of its now gaping mouth, close to death and covered in frog spit. Creel manages to stabilise him however, and Grumblejack is happy to carry his unconscious form to their destination.

The party are met at the door by Tiadora who summons some curiously meek servants to show them to their rooms and see to their needs. Healing draughts are provided for the wounded, as well as food and water and fresh clothes. 

Once they are rested, refreshed and restored to health they are finally introduced to Tiadora's mysterious patron.

“I believe you to be the first to ever escape from Branderscar
Prison. Well done! Of course, you had help from the outside,” he says with a wicked smile.
“But enough with the pleasantries. You must be curious why I’ve helped you. Rest assured this is no random act of altruism. I have brought you here for a reason. My name is Cardinal Adrastus Thorn. I am the last high priest of Asmodeus left on the island of Talingarde. Once the Prince of Nessus was rightly revered alongside the other great powers. Now, the king of Talingarde has become a
puppet to Mitran fanatics who wish to destroy any religion that does not bow to their insipid sun god.
“For their blasphemy, I will see the same people who imprisoned and condemned you suffer. I understand what you went through for I have faced it myself.” With that, he pulls down the sleeve of his robe and reveals his own runic ‘F’ brand. “I am going to burn Talingarde to the ground
and from the ashes I will build a new nation that knows its rightful master. I cannot do this alone. I seek servants worthy of our Infernal Father’s majesty. Have I found them in you?”
He rises and his eyes flash with hellfire and divine purpose. “Join me! Serve me well in this holy endeavor and I will raise you up in the eyes of gods and men. I will make you princes of the new Talingarde. Today, swear fealty to me and to Asmodeus.


“Put aside forgiveness and I shall give you vengeance.
Put aside mercy and be made powerful. Put aside peace
and become my harbingers of war. What say you? Will
you swear your allegiance or will you burn with the rest of
the blind fools?”

They all agree to sign a pact in blood. Sam intends to break this as soon as convenient, and cheerfully levels to Creel that she will do so. However Creel, knowing his patron Asmodeus is a god of Law as well as Evil and loves deals that bind one party more than expected, suspects it will not be as easy as Samrael believes. On the other hand Asmodeus is a god of ambition also, and may be charmed by Sam's ambition to rise to godhood herself.

Cardinal Thorn takes one copy of the contract and leaves another with the party. It is written in red ink on an unknown leather. He tells them to stay within the manor and prepare themselves, as in three days their training will begin.

After they leave the presence of the cardinal a servant meekly asks them what equipment they might need, up to a value of 200GP. While they ponder this, the scene fades to black

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Branderscar

In the kingdom of Talingarde, many crimes may send you to Branderscar Prison, but the sentence has but one meaning. You are wicked and irredeemable. Each of you received the same greeting when you arrived. You were held down by rough hands and branded upon the arm with a runic F. The mark signifies ‘forsaken’ and the painful scar is indelible proof that each of you has betrayed the great and eternal love of Mitra and his chosen mortal vassals.
Condemned, you face at best a life of shackles and servitude in the nearby salt mines. Others might await the “gentle” ministrations of the inquisitors so that co-conspirators may be revealed and confessions extracted. Perhaps, some of you will be spared this ordeal. Perhaps instead you have come to Branderscar to face the final judgment. In three days, the executioner arrives and the axe falls or the pyre will be lit. Through fre or steel, your crimes will be answered.
You have all been chained together in the same communal cell dressed in nothing but flthy, tattered rags. Manhandled and mistreated, any finery you once possessed is either ruined or
long lost. No special treatment has been given any prisoner – male or female, commoner or noble – all of the forsaken are bound and imprisoned together. Your feet are secured by iron cuffs tethered by one long chain. Your arms are secured to the wall above by manacles. A guard is posted right outside the cell day and night. Little thought is given to long term accommodations. At Branderscar, justice comes swift and sure.
Escape seems hopeless. You have all been well searched and every attempt to conceal anything on your person has failed. And if you could somehow slip your bonds and fly out of this prison, where would you go? Who from your former life would want anything to do with the forsaken?
Despised, alone and shackled – all that you can do now is await your doom. For each of you, your old life is over. For each of you, hope is a fading memory. For each of you, justice will be fairly meted. And who can blame fair Talingarde after what each of you has done?

Our four protagonists find themselves branded and shackled together in an unprepossessing cell. Discovering that speaking loudly brings a guard with a club "one warning – shut it!", they introduce themselves in whispers and mutters.

Fitch, the rogue, initially says he is in prison because of "a misunderstanding over a disagreement" but then speaks angrily of an interfering priest who ruined his racket on the waterfront, and blames his henchmen/dupes for being too incompetent and getting killed too quickly, meaning the priest's do-gooding associates got back in time to prevent his murder. "What do you have against priests?" asks Creel. "Well, at the time, it was a dagger" sighs Fitch. 

Adelea has dedicated her life to training with weapons in order to get her vengeance on a minor noble who assaulted her sister and got off Scot-free. Sadly for her, Adelea's sneaking skills did not match her killing skills, and she was caught in the young noble's room with a dagger in her hand and murder in her heart. "My only regret is that I failed".

Zachariah Creel is the son of a family who quietly continued to worship Asmodeus, the demon lord of ambition, proscribed for generations in Talingarde. His father was struck down for refusing to condemn Asmodeus at a public rally, and Creel was taken up for blasphemy after angrily railing against the crowd of villagers and delcaring his worship of Asmodeus.

Samrael Aluna used her wiles and dark magics to get the patrons of her tattoo parlour to commit crimes for her, but was helpless against the famed witch hunter Sir Balin of Karfeld. She's been sentenced for consorting with dark powers, and says "as you turn left for the gallows I'll be turning right for the pyre".

As Sam and Adelea discuss their respective stories they seem to find a certain mutual respect, and declare "turn about is fair play, if you help me get rid of my guy I'll help you murder yours"

Fitch starts working on his bonds, but then realises he is likely to only have one chance to attempt to escape the famously escape proof Branderscar Prison so he had better have an actual plan before he makes his move. Nobody has ever escaped from this former castle, with its high stone walls, perched on a rocky islet.

Perceptively, Samrael realises that for a famously escape proof prison there are fewer guards than might be expected, and the ones they have seen aren't exactly comporting themselves like crack troops. Listening hard, she overhears a conversation from the guardhouse indicating the place has gone downhill in the last couple of years since the previous warden left, as "the wizard" spends all his time in his tower, and Sergeant Blackerley seems to be spending more time and energy selling booze to the guards and running a crooked card game than on keeping the place running right.

Zachariah Creel receives a visitor, the beautiful Tiadora, escorted by Sergeant Blackerley who it becomes increasingly clear is under some kind of charm spell. She pretends to be his broken hearted sweetheart until they are alone, then her entire demeanour changes. She tells Creel a "mutual friend" awaits the four prisoners in a manor house on the Old Moor Road and gives him a magical veil containing some items that should come in handy for an escape attempt. Having done this, Tiadora becomes extremely coy about any other details until the guards return to escort her away.

With Creel returned to the cell and having shared his story (and some of the items from the veil) Fitch proceeds to unlock everyone's manacles, although for some reason he attempts a much harder 'escape artist' attempt first. Perhaps he was trying to show off? Thankfully this failed attempt does not make enough noise to alert the guards, and he is able to quietly and efficiently unlock the manacles and open the door.

Having previously seen the guards' modus operandi (one guard comes to the cell while the other waits in the door of the guard room with a horn, ready to call for help) a plan is hatched. Fitch lurks by the door the guardroom ready to stab the second guard, while the others lure the first guard to the cell.

The plan goes very well at first, with Sam charming the guard (who makes a miserable failure of his roll to resist and falls hard for her). She soon persuades him to hand his weapons to Adelea and to take off his armour and place it in a neat pile. Meanwhile Fitch makes an excellent job of ambushing the other guard, but a miserable failure of actually hurting him. With a bleeding scratch on his cheek, one undistinguished-looking escapee in front of him who is demonstrably not much of a threat, and no sounds of struggle from his colleague at the cell, the guard decides to club Fitch unconscious and lock him up again rather than blow for help. He is making a pretty good fist of it too, but has just enough time to get worried as Adelea runs up with a sword before she kills him with one efficient, brutal move. All that time practicing with her mentor appears to have paid off in spades.

Sam talks her new best friend, now in his underwear, into kneeling in front of her with his eyes closed. He has one flash of concern as he sees Adelea hand her a dagger, but his worries are no match for Samrael's sheer charisma and he is calm and relaxed as she… suddenly plunges a dagger into his neck and out through his windpipe! This guard is surprisingly tough however and he somehow survives, wild eyed and choking on blood - just long enough for Sam to put her dagger through his eye and into his brain with pinpoint precision. 

Our party encounter the only other prisoner on this level, an ogre going by the name of Grumblejack. Fitch attempts to talk to him but uses words of far too many syllables, losing the ogre somewhere in the middle of "we have effected a regime change in this immediate area of this prison" and failing to find him again with "I wonder if you might consider throwing in your lot with us as we seek our freedom from these unhappy environs". Grumblejack says he doesn't have a lot, he just has this loincloth because the guards took his stuff when they beat him and threw him in this cell, and why would he want to throw it, and let me talk to that one! (pointing to Sam).

Samrael is able to explain to the ogre using shorter words that the party plan to bust out of this prison, and that if he comes with them Grumblejack would get to bash some guards. Grumblejack is totally on board with this plan, and pleased with the magical healing from Zachariah Creel that restores some of his health. At least for now he appears happy to tag along with the party and follow simple instructions, although he is clearly still his own ogre. He tells them he liked being a highwayman and beating people up and taking their stuff, and hates it in here because it's rubbish and also the guards beat him up before they threw him in the cell so he hates them. He doesn't understand why they didn't just kill him though, the idiots.

Making their way downstairs the party gather in the stairwell. As Fitch spends a surprisingly long time finding a vantage point to spy through the door, Sam and Adelea, who appear to be forming a friendship, discuss the rest of their party. "This one has healing magic, but what is this one good for?" "Well, he did unmanacle us?" "True, but he tried to slip his bonds first, seems a bit style over substance".

Fitch eventually finds a wide gap under the door where the threshold has worn down, and spies a hallway with a couple of relatively alert looking guards, one with a signal horn. The four intrepid do-badders contemplate the classic Chewbacca Gambit using Grumblejack as a pretend prisoner, but instead go with a slightly simpler disguise plan, with Creel using his magic to appear like one of the dead guards from upstairs. It works fairly well after a slightly bumpy start, but one of the guards is alert enough to catch a slight movement from Adelea as she prepares to sword him and the chance of surprise is gone.

However the guard's attempt to sound his horn ends with a sad gurgle and a dribble of blood, as another surgically effective strike by Adelea ends his life. His comrade is soon surrounded and goes down fighting, managing to land a strike on Fitch that coupled with the non lethal damage from the earlier fight staggers him.

His shouts have alerted his buddies (although are unlikely to have carried outside the thick stone walls of the castle building). Three unarmoured guards in various states of undress try to make their way from the nearby barracks room towards the sound of the fight, however Sam has heard them coming and tells Grumblejack to hold the door shut then unexpectedly smash it into the guard trying to open it when she gives the word. Grumblejack laughingly complies, and laughs even more when he sees his door attack has been brutally effective, leaving the guard bent backwards over a nearby table with his hands over his smashed face.

The remaining two guards are engaged and dispatched to the grisly soundtrack of Grumblejack snapping the doored guard's spine and going "hurr hurr hurr", with Adelea once again proving lethally skilled with a sword.

Our party find themselves in what appears to be a mess hall, with what looks like a barracks room visible through an open door. What's in those footlockers? We'll probably find out next week.

 

 

 

 

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