Bjorn Berber: Dwarf/1
Wilber Wifflelinks: Halfling/1
Tim the Mad Healer Morgan: Healer/0
Morgren: Dwarven Miner/0
Alsace: Halfling Glovemaker/0
Nalo: Elven Forester/0
James the Warrior: Warrior/1
The opening scene shows Bjorn and Wilber at the pub (naturally). A little girl pokes in, her face streaked with tears. When asked what's wrong, she said she was looking for her parents. They'd left town unexpectedly, then come back, but they were monsters! Bjorn asks if she wants them to go find them...and kill them. She shrieks in terror and runs back behind the bar, wrapping herself around the barkeep's leg for protection. Comments are made about Bjorn being wonderful with children. His response: "Orphanages don't make money." Wilber tries to reach out, and she sobers enough to add that her friend Jeven's parents left too, but haven't come back yet. Meanwhile, James and Garrett are manning the shop while grousing about all the new co-op co-owners being absent, when a trader mentions having come from the mountain pass and gives a rough impression of the surrounding area. [Important news: A map of the area is created!] Among the notable points is an abandoned keep, and he imparts the rumor that wealth can be found in the sole remaining tower. Collaborating, the four decide to call in some other 0-level lackeys to run the shop and hook up mounts to a cart, expecting to find plenty of goods for resale. They also hook up with known explorers Steig and Garrik, forming an experienced party.
About 4-5 hours into their journey, they get to a point where the path becomes far too narrow and overgrown for the cart, so they park it and continue toward the one tower just within sight. They trudge on despite the pervasive smell of rot assailing them from the direction of the keep, but are stopped by the disturbing sight of vines that have grown through two humans, holding them upright & secured to poles staked alongside this path. Even more horrifying is the pulsating movement within the bodies. The group attempts to free the bodies by attacking the rope-like vines from afar. The first hit results in the vine withdrawing from the corpse -- and the corpse begins to shamble toward the offenders. Garrik tries to summon an animal in response, but just can't get his mojo going. James rushes in to chop at the vines, and takes a solid hit from the freed one. Steig is done with this; he meets the corpse and decapitates it...with style...and manages to dodge the eruption of black, mucus-covered seeds from the body. When the other corpse is killed (again), the two are recognized as the sons of Ulric, the blacksmith who used to own the shop they'd taken over by force. Nobody is very broken up over this. James snags the dagger that hit him, and they set about using their torches and abundance of weeds here to burn the bodies and creepy black seed goop.
Shortly thereafter, they find themselves at the rickety excuse for a drawbridge -- and each person makes it over uneventfully. Getting through the portcullis opening, however, is more of a challenge for the humans: Because the "welcoming party" drops it from above on the tail end of the group, Garrik just barely dodges out of the way but Tim is pinned and killed instantly from the weight. A bell then tolls from above -- and Morgren declares it to be in honor of their fallen friend!
Exploring the mucky courtyard for a bit reveals a low well marked with symbols. Garrik casts Comprehend Languages and gets a smattering of "chaos" and "permanence". [If not for the effect in this area, he would've failed.] Wiffle leans in to help decipher, and ends up leaning a bit too far into the yawning darkness. Thinking quickly, Garrett grabs his fellow halfling by the belt and hauls him back to his feet. "That was no fun...hey, let's go check out the burned-out inner building! There might be treasure in there!"
The word "REPENT" painted in red onto the doors that are barred from the outside doesn't deter them. However, Bjorn is shaken to find the human remains still hot to the touch, and Garrett has the vision of hot embers surrounding him. They ask their comrades to disable the doors so they don't get locked inside as well. Garrik and Steig both fail miserably at removing the door from its hinges. The rest of the group hangs back to assist on the doors. Bjorn finds an iron coffer but is unable to open it right away and tucks it in his bag. Garrett grabs the golden censer, figuring it has a great resale value. The heavy bronze doors are finally pulled off when Garrett decides to investigate the ruined fountain. It looks like jewels are set into the toad's face, but it's not recirculating water; instead, a foul-smelling black ooze rolls up and out of the basin when Garrett gets too close. Bjorn and Garrett both bolt out of the chapel and help in replacing and resealing the doors before the black stuff can get to them.
At this point, there's a lot of "I heard there was treasure! Where's the treasure already?" among the crew, and they head to the door at the base of the tower. It's barred from the inside this time, but Steig makes quick work of it, then rushes into the room. All the top-side beastmen have been waiting for him, but he takes minimal damage while delivering a good blow to one of the mutant monsters. The remainder of the party waits by the door to see how the inhabitants will react, some trying to shoot inside. Garrik tries to throw some mystical help but again fails; finally he gets into his casting groove and throws a potent but focused Choking Cloud into the tower (positioned to avoid the captives chained to the wall). Steig is affected as well, but within moments the only remaining opponent is the beastman champion; between Steig's stairway tactics and the incoming fire from James, there is soon no threat, and they're able to quickly rescue the 3 villagers being kept in the tower. A quick survey of the upstairs battlements reveals a stairwell leading below ground, and the gatehouse, where they raise the portcullis to (a) release Tim's body; and (b) allow the poor 0-levels to go back home. They also take down the banner that's been proudly proclaiming this as a place of Chaos -- which Morgren dons as a cape! Steig and Garrik decide to escort them back to town, as they may not be able to get through the viney path alone. [Read: Player had to leave.]
While back out here, the remaining crew decides to investigate the perimeter of the keep, having gotten a glimpse of a crumbled tower on the far end. They try from the courtyard first and stumble upon a half-sunken stone. After Wilber gleans the words "death" and "pass" from the inscription, Bjorn works to pry off the capstone, and they find a few dubious goodies: a stone idol of an unknown visage; a longsword of "milky steel" that Nalo immediately claimed as mithril; a fur-tufted longbow; and a pouch of green powder. A lucky guess led to Wilber pasting the powder onto James' wounds from the vine corpse.
Morgren, the dwarven miner, is stymied by the collapsed rubble here, and makes his way back to the portcullis and around the exterior wall. James is the lucky one who triggers the avalanche out here, and Alsace slides down the shaft to bring him a rope -- and reads the runes on the portal before them flawlessly. Of course, none heed the words. The dwarves take point and force the stone door open, both taking the bare minimum damage from the blast of flame. [That trap must've been really old!] It takes them a few rounds to realize what's going on with the tomb's icy insides, and by the time they're able to wedge the battle axe from the seven-foot lord laid out on the bier, they're suffering cold damage. With a bit of help from James, Alsace, and the halflings, Bjorn and Morgren climb back up to the surface with their ill-gotten gain. With Steig gone, none of the remaining adventurers are particularly strong... Circling back, they prop the giant axe against the gate, intending to retrieve it on their way back home, but not willing to haul it downstairs on the rest of their treasure search.
That's right -- rather than calling it a day, they decide to press forward, certain they'll find more worthwhile goods to infuse into their local economy.
They're not immediately disappointed. Descending the steps, they're surprised by the careless coinage strewn over the floor and suspect an ambush, but the nearby room turns out to be a vault empty of foes but with three chests. In addition to the spilled coins, Nalo finds a tooth carved with intricate schrimshaw techniques into creepy scenes of humans and sea-life. Bjorn finds a hidden compartment in one of the chests and slides his short sword in to reveal it -- unknowningly thwarting the razor trap -- and found a small stash. Of this, Morgren grabbed the silk tabard stitched with the sigil of Chaos, and paired it with his new cape.
Upon entering the next hall, Alsace and Nalo are gripped with the urge to inspect the pool in the center of the room and collect the skulls that float up to the surface. They do so unquestioningly, but seem unsure of what to do with them. Seeing the faint glow within their eye sockets, Wilber starts collecting the skulls, shaking off the black algae that fills the pool. He goes so far as to strap one above his own head, naming it Fred. The others go from alcove to alcove, collecting a total of 4 old hooded robes bearing Chaos sigils; Jim, Alsace, Bjorn, and Nalo each don one, with varying results in sizes.
The group continues through the passageway and find themselves on an expanse of beach with black sand, the faintest glimmer of light coming from what can only be called a horizon across this underground sea. A dragon-prowed longship floats about 50 feet offshore. The far-away rhythmic sound of drumming spurs them into action, and they rush toward the water's edge. Wilber focuses on the menhir at the shore, looking a bit too closely at the faces carved into the stone...and begins attacking Morgren. It takes Bjorn no time at all to subdue his halfling friend and tie him up, pulling off Fred. Clearly Fred made him do it, so Wilber stomps on the skull. The others climb the menhir to evaluate their situation and find the stub of a candle in a depression in the center at the top of the stone. Without discussion, the candle is lit, and the longship noiselessly glides over to them, the deck at just the right height to step on board. Wilber is placed in the small cabin belowdecks. The ship turns about without provocation and with sail unfurled. The sigils on its hull give off a sickly green glow just above the waterline. All is quiet, nearly peaceful with the soft lapping of waves as the longship cuts effortlessly through the water. A couple adventurers are lulled into a brief nap before their motion is abruptly stopped. Those on deck see a giant tentacle wrapped around the prow, with more reaching for targets on board. Morgren, Alsace, and Nalo are grabbed and held. Suddenly recalling the mosaic depictions from the hall with the pool of skulls, James rushes to his pack and digs out the censer from the chapel. Lighting the remaining incense and swinging it in the direction of their adversary. Two rounds into the encounter, the tentacles loosen and fall to the deck at James's feet before slithering over the rail and back into the water. After that excitement, the tension lasts as they near the source of the glow and the maddening drumming: A towering ziggurat on an island in the midst of this starless sea.
Disembarking with care, those in the robes (Bjorn and Wilber share one, Wilber balancing on Bjorn's shoulders, with another skull - Vinnie - under the hood) take point. Using the activity on the ramp of the ziggurat as inspiration, they shuffle their way up, crudely hauling their "sacrifices" behind them. The indignant yells from the rest of the party fit right in with the cries of the innocent kidnapped villagers being dragged up by beastmen. This works surprisingly well until just one shy of the summit. Only one beastman becomes suspicious; Vinnie glowing brightly, Wilber leaps on the chaotic monster from atop Bjorn, dagger first. Bjorn kicks the body off the side, creating a chain reaction down to the island, and everyone in the party books it the rest of the way to the top, shoving beastmen as they go. Alsace, Nalo, and Garrett make a stand on the highest ramp, doing their best to "bowl" the creatures back down. James and Morgren work on taking out the fiends on the peak, rescuing the villagers not yet sacrificed. Unbelievably, the shaman is the first to die: He reaches for Wilber but Bjorn & Wilber double-team him, toppling him into the volcanic pit....and the effigy goes in with him. A winged, crow-faced acolyte leaves his post and impales Alsace. The effigy emerges from the pit. Despite Vinnie's blinding light, Wilber continues to use his dagger against the other acolytes. The crow-man returns to his drum. Morgren takes great offense at this and attacks him with fervor. Nalo and Garrett form a pretty effect bottle-neck, preventing any other foes access to the peak of the ziggurat; on the lower ramps, beastmen begin fighting fellow beastmen in their efforts to climb higher. Just as the effigy's rock crust shatters, Bjorn and Wilber perform another magnificent tag-team move, and he is knocked back into the fire...but he's relatively unhurt, and this sacrificial magma in the pit is his lifeblood. He rises again. James whittles down the threats up here. Once more Bjorn faces off with the Chaos Lord's effigy, and with a little help from his friends, it's reduced to a pool of magma. Morgren reaches a level of Dwarf Rage or some such: He beheads the crow and marches down to Nalo's post, holds it aloft and gives one of the most inspirational "Rise and fight for yourselves" speeches I've heard since PotC:3 -- and rolls a natural 20 as he tosses the acolyte's head into the handful of beastmen remaining. Villagers pick up dropped axes and spears and begin to force the beastmen down the ramps...and eventually off the island, into the inky water of the unknown. Nalo moves to the top to retrieve Alsace's body. James and Garrett scoop up plenty of the coins from these sloppy beastmen and their failed attempts at sacrifice. Bjorn and Wilber see the Chaos lord's armor, and it takes both of them to run it down the ramp back to the boat -- their only known way of escape. James spies the blackened spiked flail and gives up his quest for gold.
About this time, a trembling roar rolls through the cavern, magma begins to seep through the seams in the ziggurat's stone blocks, and it becomes Time To Go. [My fellow Judges are probably agape at this point, saying, "FINALLY?!"] The rescued villagers are herded onto the longship. It's a tight fit: 28 surviving captives + 8 adventurers + 1 fallen comrade, but they make it in plenty of time. In the classic order of things, the cavern ceiling falls in giant pieces, creating towering waves that threaten to devour the ziggurat and the floating party, but the dragon-
... and the crew finds themselves out on open water on a calm, sunny day. Not a speck on the horizon in any direction.
Some are very unsettled by this.
In the meantime, Nalo sings an Elven dirge and lowers Alsace's body into the sea, determined to give his friend a proper burial.
And the rest wonder just where/what the hell . . .
Bjorn Berber: +21 XP
Wilber Wifflelinks: +21 XP, +1 Luck
Garrik: +8 XP, +1 Luck
Steig: +8 XP, +1 Luck
Morgren: +21 XP
Nalo: +21 XP, +2 Luck
James the Warrior: +21 XP, +1 Luck
Garrett: +21 XP, +1 Luck
Bjorn: steel vial with black liquid / iron coffer / 2 silver rings with emeralds (30 GP
Nalo: mithril longsword with jewel-encrusted sheath / carved tooth
Steig: silver torc hung with bleached skulls