Sunday, May 17, 2015

Session 19 Synopsis

The following morning as our heroes were eating their breakfast, a courier came into the inn and approached them. He said that the local lord, Lord Padraig, has heard of their commitment to go to Gardmore Abbey with Sir Oakley and wishes to meet with them before they leave today. Sir Oakely also thought it would be a good idea for them to meet with the local Lord, after all it would be the proper thing to do. The party was a bit taken aback that their business was already well known around the town, but did agree to meet with Lord Padraig. Along the way to the ruler's estate, the party was thinking that they recognized the name from somewhere but couldn't place it. When they arrived at the estate and were brought into a meeting room face to face with Lord Padraig, they remembered him from the dinner engagement at Lord Neverember's where they had first met Lady Lestra and had agreed to go to Undermountain for her to confirm her dirty deeds.

When they arrived in the meeting hall, Lord Ernest Padraig greeted the heroes, “It is very good to see you again. Degault speaks very highly of you as does Lestra. My situation, though not completely dire at the moment, is a growing concern and I could use your services. I suspect that a growing band of orc bandits have been establishing a base near the Old Kings Road a couple days away from Winterhaven at an old ruin called Gardmore Abbey, which so happens to be inside my territorial borders and my problem to solve. I could use some help with and seeing as how you were able to solve a murder mystery in Neverwinter and help Lestra with her problems, I feel confident that you would be able to help me with some scouting and maybe even some head bashing to show those orcs the error of their ways. I just don’t have the manpower to launch a full scale scouting mission and keep the town defended properly. In addition, the town council believes that anything outside the city’s walls is not our problem but someone else’s and they fail to define who ‘someone else’ is. So I am left without any resources except my own to help ensure the safety and prosperity of Winterhaven. So in lieu of the militia, I'm hiring you to deal with these orcs. To start, I want you to go to the abbey and find out whether the orcs are lairing there. Come back and tell me what you find - as complete a picture of their lair and defenses as you can. I’ll pay you 500 gold coins each for all the information you can gather."

So they agreed and headed back to the Wrafton Inn to meet up with Sir Oakley. They left Winterhaven shortly after and had a very uneventful journey for the next two days. They soon saw the ruins far off in the distance, being that the temple was on a fairly tall hill, some two hundred or so feet in elevation. Sir Oakley said that his research led him to believe that there was a secret staircase up to the top of the hill, which was called Dragon's Roost, and that this stairway would be on the backside of the hill cut into the cliff side. When they arrived at Gardmore Abbey, they made their way back around the cliff face and found the stairway pretty easily. it was now getting to be dusk so the party decided that Asphodel would fly up in the air and try to scout out the area by keeping his back to the setting sun, hopefully blocking her for anyone that may be looking up to the sky. When she got up to around 400 hundred feet or so, she took a long hard look at the surrounding area and noted the following:

Dragon's Roost: The ruined husk of the abbey's glorious temple stands forlorn at the top of the hill, a monument to its former majesty. Hints of silver and platinum ornamentation still gleam here and there through a coat of black soot that covers the entire structure. The arched roof of the temple is half collapsed and its windows shattered, but it still manages to convey something of its original purpose - to remind the viewer of the power and glory of Bahamut and the other gods of good. The other structures on the hilltop have fared worse than the temple with the passage of centuries and the devastation of war. To the west of the temple is a squat stone building ringed by crumbling columns that must once have suggested grandeur and elegance, but now seem tawdry. To the south of both buildings stands the ruin of a long, low structure, now little more than heaps of rubble and debris scattered among skeletal posts and beams. Only the gatehouse, guarding the road that runs up from the village, stands more or less intact, though its doors hang from their hinges.

The wooded area: The entire hillside,from the lip of the temple plateau to the outer wall, is covered in a thick, riotous tangle of trees, bushes, vines, and ferns. The wood seems ancient, undisturbed by the presence of humans and dwarves since the dawn of time, though the abbey wall hems it in and has checked its spread. Closer examination reveals that the forest's seemingly pristine state is an illusion. At the northern end of the wood, rotting trellises and moss-covered paths suggest that this wild grove was once a cultivated garden. From a higher vantage point, the remains of other structures are visible amid the trees, though they seem in danger of submerging beneath the vibrant green sea. A bell tower lifts its head above the canopy a short distance down the slope from the temple. The remains of a small cottage lie near the outer wall toward the northern edge of the grove. And a small stone building - a shrine or tomb, perhaps - stands in a small clearing near the south end of the forest. At its southern extreme, where the outer wall meets the steep cliff of the hillside, a lone watchtower rises above the trees. Everywhere among the greenery, the forest teems with life. Squirrels and birds chatter and chirp in the branches, bees drift amid blossoms, and the tracks of larger creatures crisscross the wood. Clouds of flies swarm in the air, and iridescent butterflies float on the gentle breezes.

Gardmore Village: In the shadow of the shattered temple on the hilltop and the abbey's deteriorating defensive wall, the ruins of Gardmore village stand like lines of broken teeth. Among the sagging roofs and toppled wrecks of houses, throngs of savage orcs make camp in filthy tents clustered around small, smoking fires. The village clings to the slope of the hill, forming three rough tiers along a weed-choked road that winds up to the temple mount. The lower tier lies close to the outer wall of the abbey and includes four structures built into the wall. The middle tier is dominated by a tall, square tower that appears to be intact. The upper tier's buildings are in general larger than the rest and show centuries-old scars of fire and siege. At the southern end of the village, Gardmore's squat stone keep looms over the squalor.

When she came back down, she told the party what she saw: many fires with some 8 to 10 individuals around each fire that consisted of a lot of orcs, some humans, possibly some ogres, and a few giants, possibly hill giants to boot. A short debate on whether they should go back ensued but instead the party climbed the staircase up to the top of the hill and then decided to split up in order to cover more ground. Zola, Zerak, and Blackwell went towards the gatehouse to check it out while the rest of the party, including Sir Oakley, went to the old temple. The three approached the gatehouse cautiously and Zola noticed that it appeared that some of the statues were moving almost imperceptibly. So the three decided to back up and rejoin the rest of the party at the temple. That's when they heard the shouts from Sir Oakley to come quickly for they were under attack. The three ran as quickly as they could to join their companions.

Meanwhile the others had entered the temple after surveying its battered condition and saw:

Though the roof is half collapsed and the building is blackened with soot and decay, some hint of its ancient grandeur still shines through in the abbey's great temple. Mighty columns rise into the shadows beneath the crumbling roof, lifting the eye toward the heavens. Smaller pillars of graceful shape and elegant decoration hint at the temple's lost beauty. Altars to several different gods surround a towering statue of Bahamut, depicted as a human knight in armor. A croaking voice calls from overhead, "All the faithful of Bahamut, come and pay him worship!" A flutter of feathers draws your eye to three wretched shapes, like hideous women with wings and talons, draped in bloodied holy vestments.

The battle began with Kel quickly getting in an attack, but then the three harpies each began to sing their alluring song. All but Jobi were able to resist the songs' tempting allure. She just stopped everything she was doing and walked towards the harpy who had captivated her with its song. Once she got right up close to it, she just stood there and allowed herself to be attacked over and over again, which the harpy was happy to oblige with. Were it not for Sir Oakley rushing to her side and healing her with his lay on hands ability, she would have died in only a short time into the battle. The other harpies moved in melee to engage with Asphodel and Kel. Kel made some very impressive hits against "his" harpy, including an excellent swing that lopped off one of its hands and stunned it till it died a few rounds later. By sheer coincidence, Asphodel also severed a harpy's hand a bit later in the battle.

Meanwhile, two more opponents entered the fray from the shadows. They looked like humanoid dogs and were quickly identified as hound archons. Normally lawful good creatures, these two began attacking the party with the same kind of reckless abandon that the harpies were. The first time one of them hit Asphodel, she was knocked to the ground and stunned. AS this happened, she had felt the card from the Deck of Many Things grow hot in her side pouch, and with a heroic effort was able to avoid being stunned and whipped out the card and used the Donjon ability against the hound archon. It immediately disappeared and Asphodel was hurled across the room and slammed into Kel, causing her to topple over onto her. The two disentangled and eventually stood up (but Asphodel first casted a haste spell to help everyone out).

The first of the others to get into the temple was Zerak and his animated skeleton. He resisted the harpies' songs and went after the harpy that was charming Jobi (and so did his skeleton). next to arrive was Blackwell and he too succumbed to the harpy's song and proceeded to walk right up to it as well. The last to arrive was Zola who engaged the hound archon who had just reappeared from being targeted by Asphodel's Donjon card. Her attacks were brutal and, amazingly, ended up with severing its hand too! The other hound archon went after Kel and successfully hit her and knocking her prone. The harpy on one of its last attacks against Jobi, knocked her prone as well. But eventually, the party killed all the opponents without suffering any casualties.

Then they al fanned out and started to search the temple. After a while, Sir Oakley stated, "It is as I suspected. I cannot perform the ritual of purification without the temple's sacred vessels. Our next task, then, is to find them: a chalice, a bowl, and a brazier. In all my research, I have found no mention of those items appearing outside the abbey, so I believe they are still here somewhere. It is only a matter of finding them and bringing them to me." He also stated that he would not be joining the group on their search for the sacred vessels, citing that he is just too old for a dungeon delve and fears he would end up dead before he had a chance to purify this temple. The party did find stairs leading down into the temple's basement and catacomb areas. Asphodel also found some treasure hidden away in the harpies's lair - one of the antechambers that they had filled with filthy straw and other debris used for bedding.

But when they started to search around the main altar to Bahamut, Asphodel once again felt the Donjon card get hot within her belt pouch. So they searched the altar and found a small rectangular impression on the front of the altar and saw that some bricks on the base of the large statue appeared to be about the same size. Holding up a brick to the indentation in the altar and pushing gently, the brick began getting absorbed by the altar and a small compartment on the top of the altar opened up revealing another card. Asphodel pulled it out of the compartment and held it. Again she knew instantly what the card was capable of doing and identified it as "The Fool." She then gave it to the rest of the party members to hold and learn what it did. They also gave it to Sir Oakley who then said it was an object of Chaos and had no place here in the temple. So Zerak kept this card and they left the temple, intent on going back to Winterhaven and reporting what they discovered to Lord Padraig.

Once they returned the told Lord Padraig the run down of the layout they had seen as well as that there could be as many as 400 to 800 inhabitants living in the Gardmore Abbey ruins. He was quite dismayed with the numbers the party quoted but did not back down from his convictions. He thanked them for this intel report and paid them their money. Then he turned to a new topic he wanted them to look into for him. He told them that a long time ago, before the orcs had taken over Gardmore Village, that some elves and other fey creatures had been living in those woods and were allies of the temple and of Winterhaven, but nothing has been heard from them in a long time. He asked the party to scout out the forest and see if any of those creatures may still be there and try to convince any that are to become allies of Winterhaven once more. He offered to pay them another 500 gold pieces each for this task and the party agreed to go back and see if they can find anyone still living there besides orcs.

So the party made the two day trek back and began their search at the southern watch tower. The tower was about 80 feet tall and was located at the end of the wall, which was 25 feet high, and the cliff face. They tied everyone together and Asphodel and Zerak flew (or floated) everyone up to the roof. There they found no access into the tower from the roof. So Asphodel flew down a bit and looked into the windows of the tower. She was startled when she saw several soldiers inside and looking out towards the horizon, obviously scanning for trouble. But hey failed to even acknowledge that she was there. Plus she couldn't get past the windows into the tower and detect magic revealed all sorts of magic types all jumbled together - transmutation, enchantment, abjuration, just to name a few. Then Asphodel and the rest of the party made their way down to the ground and approached the front door, which was the only door into the tower. Blackwell made a check for traps but with all that magic swirling about, he was unsure if he was right in saying that there were no traps. Nonetheless, he tried to open the door and found that it was really stuck and he couldn't. So Asphodel and Kel tried but they too could not force open the door. It was at that time that the cards in Asphodel's and Zerak's possession started getting warm in their pockets again. This prompted Asphodel to take out her card and hold it up to and touch the doors with it.

And a mystical swirling portal opened up and revealed the empty interior of the watch tower. But when they had all entered, the scene they saw was quite different:

The inside of the watchtower is a warped reflection of the outside. In place of a column of stone is a twisting conical dimension of unnatural shapes. Instead of walls, a thick, globular slime slowly oozes up, then down. Sometimes the goo strains inward in clusters of wriggling strands whose bright colors mock the pennants that once hung here. The floor is elastic and membranous, bowing slightly beneath your weight. Large, bubble-like nodes resembling flagstones shift beneath the filmy surface and gradually slide toward a dark crevice, at the bottom of which oozes a sinister black lake. From time to time, the lake emits globules that drift up through the still, stinking air. Set in the membrane on the opposite side of this twisted realm is a luminescent door in the shape and design of one of the cards from the Deck. The card-shaped portal opens and closes, morphing at intervals to resemble an oaken door. The floating globules slowly slide up to disappear into the opening. The chasm is spanned by a footbridge composed of two more large glowing cards, somehow joined end to end. A high, barely audible screech rings constantly from everywhere and nowhere, and nothing seems able to silence it.

When they looked back, the door that they had entered the tower from was gone. There seemed no way to go but deeper into this strange tower...

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