Raygun Encounters: Legacy of the Crystal Shard

The Attack On Bryn Shander
Yetis! Naked Barbarians! Flame on, Bro!

Week 1
Fred as Hogar, Half-Orc Slayer
Max as Mika, Dwarf Paladin
Pat as Hesken, Dragonborn Paladin
Dan as Incendius, Human Wizard
Steven as “Art”, Tiefling Warlock
Josh as DM

The adventure opens on the afternoon of Eleint 25 in the year 1485 DR, at the end of an 11 day trek from Luskan to Bryn Shander, the central trading hub of the Ten-Towns, the collection of civilized (or at least “civilized”) human villages and towns in central Icewind Dale. Mika, Hesk, and the Flame Bros (Incendius and “Art”) have been guarding the last caravan north before the harsh Icewind Dale winter sets in. It’s a good thing they came, too, because in addition to the awful snow storms slowing down the expedition, there were several unusual attacks by wild animals on the journey which has everyone spooked, and very excited for walls and warm beds on reaching Bryn Shander.

Hogar has lived around Bryn Shander for some time after abandoning a lesser barbarian tribe a few years earlier (as a half-orc he has never really fit in anywhere). He has been anxiously waiting for the caravan’s arrival, as a package for him from a distant relative in Luskan is supposed to be coming with it.

As the gates open for the approaching caravan, the guards hear a wild shriek to the north, and no sooner do they look but a pack of yetis is bearing down on them. After a few seconds to collect themselves and find their battle buddies, the yetis have charged in and the fight is begun! Other town guards cover the walls, while the caravan guards find themselves facing four of the beasts. Hesken and Mika bravely step in their path and cut them off from reaching the caravan, while the Flame Bros single out and take down the yetis one by one.

Another yeti, bigger and smarter looking than the rest, heads straight for the gate and starts wailing on Hogar who is standing nearby. It takes him a moment to come to his senses and draw his weapon, but then he lops off the beast’s left arm in one mighty swing, badly injuring it! The beast howls, knocking him back (his fall broken by a nearby apothecary’s shop) and heads towards the caravan and the Flame Bros. Fortunately Mika is there to intercept after her initial opponents are defeated.

Hesken is almost knocked senseless by his opponents, but is able to rally himself with some encouragement from Incendius and together they defeat his opponents. The whole group rallies to kill the final yeti at the gates, and as they take a moment to rest they notice that the town guards have driven the remaining yetis off. The guards walk back, complaining about “that barbarian” who they think led the yetis to town. Two adventurers cut open one of the yetis and find their diet to appear healthy and lacking in humanoids – this appears to be their first attack.

The apothecary walks out of his shop, hysterical about the damage from the fight and complaining that the money he paid Slim for protection has been wasted. Incendius, Hogar and “Art” talk to the shopkeeper and find out that Slim, a newcomer in town, seems to have started up a protection racket, and the shopkeeper offers half of what he paid if the adventurers can get the money back from Slim for his repairs. Slim is usually seen around the Northlook inn in town at night, and the adventurers agree to meet him there.

Meanwhile Mika and Hesken talk to the guards and find out that a barbarian came to town the prior day and has been locked up in the market square to die of exposure after being found guilty of theft from a fabric merchant (“But what does a barbarian want with fabric?”). As they are all leaving to go find the barbarian, a dwarf merchant from the caravan named Helda Silverstream offers them money to accompany her north to Kelvin’s Cairn, where her uncle resides with a dwarf settlement. She agrees to wait a few days for the adventurer’s to be ready.

After seeing Hogar’s prowess, the caravan guards are able to recruit him into the party promising a fair share of the gold. Bored with the town of late, Hogar agrees happily.

In the market square, the team finds Hengar Aesnvaard, a barbarian of the Tribe of the Elk, near-naked and tied up. They provide fire to warm him and ask why he came to town. He tells them that his people have been under attack by an Ice Witch, possible an avatar of the evil winter goddess Auril, and he came to Ten-Towns to seek an alliance before the Ice Witch destroyed them all. His people have encountered attacks similar to what the caravan saw on the way there. He says he did not commit the accused crime and is unsure why he was sentenced. Our heroes agree to get to the bottom of it.

They interrogate the fabric merchant, Brinna Alcott, who switches her story a few times and they realize something is fishy. After Mika and Hesken apply a little Good Cop/Bad Cop, she caves and admits that, although her lockbox was stolen, she has made up the evidence that it was Hengar as she doesn’t trust barbarians. She also mentions that she did not pay any protection money to Slim. The adventurers take her to the town sheriff to confess, and he sets Hengar free but refuses any of his men to help the Tribes, as they need to protect the town.

Hengar (predictably) asks if the adventurers will accompany him north. Finding out that Kelvin’s Cairn is on the way to the tribal meeting grounds, they happily agree but ask that Hengar wait for them to finish some business. As everyone else rests and shops, Mika tracks down the merchant Dunavan about a shipment that he was sent specifically to guard for someone named Aarun. Dunavan confirms he has the shipment in his warehouse, but Aarun is likely to come the next day and get it. Mika is not comfortable leaving it, but it is a large crate too heavy to lug around, so he resigns to stop by the next day and ensure the handoff happens correctly.

That evening, all five meet at the Northlook for dinner and to wait for the apothecary or Slim. After a dramatic lull, they hear a sudden scream from upstairs!! Everyone charges up, and hearing movement to their left, Hogar charges and knocks down the door, with the rest spilling behind him.

The sight isn’t pretty – one man is dragging a freshly deceased (still bleeding) corpse towards the window, while another looks on and three more are cleaning up the mess. Our heroes have found the source of the scream, and perhaps Slim. Everyone draws their weapons as the scene comes to a close…

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Slim's Gang
or "We don't need no stinking sleep!"

Week 2
Dan as Incendius, Human Wizard
Steven as Etain, Drow Cleric
Mike as Ryltar, Drow Mercenary
Pat as Hesken, Dragonborn Paladin
Paul as Badger, Pixie Slayer
Josh as DM

As everyone draws their weapons, Ryltar charges in, dropping his cloud of darkness to confuse the thugs so that he can make his way unscathed to the apparent leader in the back. The rest of the party begin trading blows (and magic missiles) with the muscle as Etain hangs back and keeps everyone alive and Badger flits around creating a distraction. Incendius is able to confuse one of their foes into moving out of position and striking his ally, creating an opening that the heroes use to press their advantage. Hesken yells out asking if Slim is there, and the leader begrudgingly acknowledges that he is Slim and ask what the adventurers are after.

After trading a few blows with Ryltar and watching the tide of battle shift against him, Slim suddenly shifts into a rat and scurries under the bed. Ryltar is unable to move it, but Hesken dives for the bed and unleashes his dragon’s breath. He is rewarded with a surprised squeak, but upon flipping the bed finds only a hole in the wall which Slim has apparently retreated into. He shouts for the others to keep the last one alive for questioning. After being surrounded and intimidated, he admits that the dead man is Aarun and that the gang has a hideout to the north on the slope of Kelvin’s Cairn. Searching Aarun’s body, they find some gold and a message from someone named Mithann. They bring the remaining thug to the sheriff, who locks him up and points them to the Shrine of Amaunator, where Mithann is the resident cleric.

Despite the already late hour, they beat on the door of the Shrine and arouse Mithann, who confirms that she was supposed to meet Aarun but is genuinely confused about the note. She reveals that they feared the new gang in town were wererats, and Aarun was helping her acquire a set of silvered weapons so the townsfolk could better defend themselves (this was the likely contents of the crate delivered by Mika earlier that day). She also points the adventurers to a hunter named Algonell who lives outside of town and had been robbed by thugs matching the description of those setting up the protection racket in Bryn Shander. She urges the acquire the weapons and try to help subdue the thugs before they do more damage to the town.

As the team is walking back towards the inn, arguing about whether to break into the warehouse to get the weapons that night or wait until morning, they smell smoke and rush to the scene of a raging fire – Dunavan’s warehouse! They rush inside, looking for the weapons, but are unable to find them (or much else of interest) in the inferno. Hearing shouts outside and loud cracks from the roof, they make it back out just as the roof collapses. As they catch their breath, Dunavan appears from the crowd – “What the hell were you doing?” “Looking for Aarun’s crate” “Oh.. it’s in my other warehouse.”

After the heroes explain the situation and Aarun’s tragic fate, Dunavan happily hands over the crate and they open it to find silvered weapons, which happen to be appropriate for each of them. So armed, they head out looking for Algonell as the darkness and snow grow deeper…

They find Algonell in his shack a couple miles outside of town and identify themselves as friends of Mithann, offering to help combat Slim’s gang. He confirms that the situation is dire, but says he knows of the cave where the hideout is and can take them there in the morning. After some discussion, the heroes realize that the gang may be scattered or not returned from town, and if they hurry they may catch them unprepared. Algonell agrees and they set out after midnight north, eventually reaching a hill where the two drow can faintly see Kelvin’s Cairn rising into the darkness beyond them, and the mouth of a cave entrance nearby. Algonell refuses to help fight, but agrees to wait until they have made contact.

Ryltar sneaks up to the cave entrance under cover of darkness, and overhears two guards just inside who are discussing how the job may be going in town. One mentions that someone named Marek is supposed to be returning with some of the crew just before dawn. Ryltar has an idea and returns to the group, proposing an ambush. Badger suggests tactical positioning outside the cave entrance and nearby, and Ryltar shouts “It’s Marek, he’s hurt! We need your help right away!” The two guards rush out and are completely surprised and almost immediately overpowered by the combined force of silvered steel, arrows and fire.

Sneaking further in, they see a light and hear a few more voices. With a few whispers and hand gestures, they set up the same ambush again, and Ryltar springs the trap. Three more thugs rush up the tunnel, shouting “Intruders!” as a few more of their friends wake up and also join the fray, with two transforming into hybrid wererats and attempting to bite the party.

They are little match for the adventurers though, who have the combined elements of surprise, superior positioning, an excellent healer and their potent weaponry and skills. Hesken and Badger take quite the beating but are able to stand strong and repel the attackers successfully. One wererat is able to bite Ryltar after he is knocked to the ground, and he feels ill but Etain and and Heskar are able to subdue the disease before it can gain a footing in his injured body.

Searching the premises, Incendius and Badger find evidence of even more thugs (at least a dozen) who have been there, as well as some alchemical fire which they suspect may have been part of the stash that took out the warehouse. They also find a chest which Etain is able to unlock with additional gold and a note to Slim. The note suggests that someone else is controlling Slim, someone who seeks to usurp the current Speaker of Bryn Shander, someone named Duvessa, in an upcoming public audience. It is signed with a strange symbol which Incendius swears he has seen (or at least something similar) but can’t quite put his finger on it.

With dawn only a couple hours away, and with it the return of more thugs and the mysterious “Marek”, the weary but adrenaline-pumped adventurers consider their options…

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Gant and the Council

Week 3
Dan as Incendius, Human Wizard
Neil as Bud, Ranger
William as Fib, Warlock
Sina as Alvenor, Human Paladin
Steven as Etain, Drow Cleric
Fred as Hogar, Half-Orc Slayer
Jacob as Kintama, Hengeyokai Thief
Josh as DM

Previously: a wererat named Slim killed a guy, and his minions then burned down a warehouse to get rid of a case of silver weapons which they (inaccurately!) believed was stored there. We were unhappy about this and decided to kill them all. We talked to a friendly cleric, who sent us to talk to a friendly ranger, who led us through the wilderness to a cave with some of Slim’s wererat minions in it. We killed the minions and found a sinister note, written to Slim, saying that somebody evil was going to try to get a position on the council. We stayed at the cave hoping that more minions would show up so we could kill them too.

This session: Kintama came up with a plan: he would set a fire trap in the cave, then set it off when the next wave of minions arrived. Then we’d capture them and interrogate their leader. We waited outside in the bushes for a few hours, which was probably quite unpleasant, but it all paid off when the next wave of minions arrived and were successfully ambushed.

The battle was marked by a giant wall of fire separating us from Slim’s minions. The wolves charged through the fire to attack us and were killed horribly after being locked down by Alvenor. We launched ranged attacks at the minions while Kintama wall-jumped over the wall of flames, then opened a gap in the fire for Hogar and Alvenor to charge through. There was disagreement over whether to capture or kill the enemy — “Guys! Keep Marek alive!” (Hogar: stab stab stab “I told you I was going to kill him”) “…Okay, keep this other guy alive, then!”

We interrogated the surviving minion and learned that Slim seldom comes to the cave, but he does have a drop-box in town which he uses to pass messages. We returned to town and checked the drop-box; it said he was staying at (mysterious arcane symbol). Mysterious.

We talked to our cleric friend, who sent us to an old wizard who turned out to be friendly, who told us there’s a new guy named Gant who might be associated with a rune like this. Kintama and the spellcasters investigated Gant’s office while the “muscle” (Bud, Alvenor and Hogar), and Fib did find a rune, but we found no other evidence of foul play. We went and talked to Duvessa, Speaker of Bryn Shander, and she was not receptive to the original “good cop/bad cop” routine and claims of wererats and hobgoblins, until Hogar pulled out a hobgoblin head (“I can’t believe you kept that!”) and we gave them the letter we found in the cave. The letter turned out to be in Gant’s handwriting, so she gave us permission to go arrest Gant and bring him to the town Marshall.

We went to Gant’s house and found another arcane sigil on the door. Kintama heard people inside and called everyone forward just as INCENDIUS tried to disarm it, but failed, and some people were injured. The session ended just before the battle with Gant.

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The Plot Widens..
Like when you plop jello on the table and let it sit

Week 4
Dan as Incendius, Human Wizard
Neil as Bud, Ranger
William as Fib, Warlock
Sina as Alvenor(?), Swordmage
Steven as Etain, Drow Cleric
Jacob as Kintama, Hengeyokai Thief
Josh as DM

…As the sigil of warding bursts, spraying the party with lightning, they burst through the door to find Slim talking with a robed figure who they (correctly) assume to be Gant. They tell him he’s under arrest, and when he asks what will happen if he doesn’t come peacefully, he is answered with a fireball to the face (compliments of Incendius). The rest of the team joins the fray as two more goons burst from the basement.

Kintama, thinking he has found his moment, creeps through the window and backstabs Gant for major damage, but one of the goons immediately heads in his direction, cornering him as the other moves to block the door. Alvenor successfully draws fire from Slim and the goon, allowing Bud and Fib to unload on them. But, a mysterious imp (Gant’s familiar?) suddenly appears out of nowhere and starts biting people.

Under pressure of steel, lightning from Gant, and the imp, Alvenor is taking massive damage, but the placid Etain is up to the task and is able to keep her up with his signature “STOPFUCKINGDYING!” of healing. Kintama, seeing himself outmatched, somersaults over a nearby couch, dodging swings from the goon and Gant as he charges into the fray. The combined force of the four party members quickly take down Slim and the thug.

Meanwhile Incendius has been seemingly muttering to himself outside.. Bud and Fib start wondering what he is doing when suddenly a huge sphere of flame erupts from thin air near the back of the house, following Gant and the goons around and scorching them over and over (oh, and maybe singe-ing the carpet a bit too…) With his allies falling and himself outmatched, Gant throws up a protective shield and threatens that his plans have already spread beyond Bryn Shander, and Easthaven will be his next victim, as he teleports away. The team quickly finishes off the imp before it can vanish again, robbing Gant of his familiar at least.

They run to Duvessa and fill her in on the situation (including the fact that he was trying to burn the house down and nearly succeeded with the carpet! That bastard!). She promises to send word to the other Speakers. After some persuasion from Incendius she also gives the party a hefty reward, at least for level two adventurers. They debate whether to head to Easthaven to try and finish off Gant, or keep their promise to Helda and Hengar to escort them north. They decide that any low level adventurers will probably be sufficient for Easthaven, and pool their gold to post a reward at the inn for a party of at least four level 1 adventurers to head to Easthaven, warn the townsfolk and stop Gant’s threat. Feeling this is sufficient, they take dinner at the Northlook where they meet Helda and Hengar.

Hengar is brooding, but Helda has a drinking contest with Incendius over dinner.. he learns quickly “never challenge a dwarf to a drinking contest” as everyone else laughs and heads to bed. They let Hengar and Helda know to meet at dawn, and Hengar complains that they don’t seem to understand the seriousness of his village’s situation. In the morning, Helda is waiting with her cart but Hengar is nowhere to be found, and the guards report he headed out a few hours before dawn. They make good pace towards the dwarven settlement at Kelvin’s Cairn throughout the day, and push on a few hours past nightfall to make it before stopping.

The guards at the entrance to the dwarven valley are terse and unfriendly. They agree to escort Helda to Stokely once they learn of the family connection, but refuse to let the heroes in. Something about their tone tips off Etain and Fib that things are not right, and they convince Helda and the party to retreat and camp just outside the valley for the night. In the morning, they discuss their options.. they could try to sneak through side tunnels into the main colony, but they might have to abandon the donkey in the tight tunnels. They decide to try their luck with the guards again, hoping the day shift is nicer…

Unfortunately, the day shift are just the guards that Kintama saw hiding inside the guard post with weapons drawn the night before, and they present the same story. Kintama presents a sense of urgency, and they begrudgingly agree to let the heroes come with them as half of them will take Helda to see Baerik before going to see Stokely. Apparently Baerik has taken over the colony as Stokely split, which doesn’t make much sense to Helda but they go with it.

Inside the dwarven tunnels, they reach a wide junction and Helda stops, claiming they are heading away from Battlehammer Hold where most of the dwarves live. The guards say that Baerik has moved the clan since Stokely left. They argue about whether to split up, and realize that the guards are not going to keep their deal if they get to Baerik. Kintama uses the argument to create a distraction, and everyone else gangs up to knock out the guards.

Investigating their equipment, they find the source of the problem.. each of them carries a weapon made from some unknown material that seems like black ice. Alvenor and Fib, who are attuned to such things, feel a malevolent energy coming from the weapons, and Incendius reflexively throws his to the ground and incinerates it when he feels a magical pull on his mind after taking the weapon. They realize that the black ice is warping the dwarves’ minds, and they must warn Stokely!

They rush to Battlehammer Hold, where guards (armed with normal metal weapons) recognize Helda and quickly move them through the living quarters into the central forge, where a large imposing dwarf stands, fully armed – Stokely! “So, what brings you to Battlehammer Hold with my neice in these dark times?”

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The Way to a Crazy Dwarf's Fortress
...is through his stomach

Week 5
Dan as Incendius, Human Wizard
Neil as Bud, Ranger
William as Fib, Tiefling Warlock
Sina as Alasaurus, Swordmage
Steven as Etain, Drow Cleric
Jacob as Kintama, Hengeyokai Thief
Fred as Hogar, Half-Orc Slayer
Allison as Eselda, Eladrin Templar
Josh as DM

The party’s expressions turned grim as Stokely explained the situation. “Baerik was a simple armorsmith, but about a month ago he returned from a mining expedition and began sowing dissent among the clan. Within two weeks, half of the clan was splitting to follow him, shunning my leadership and moving to the other side of the valley. Given enough time, perhaps we could have sorted this out, but around the same time the zombies started showing up…”

“Zombies?” Hogar and Eselda perked up. "Yes, " continued Stokely “they began attacking mining parties, and we would find what was left of the expeditions, but soon the very miners appeared as zombies and were attacking us too! Many of my comrades suspect some sort of plague, but I have never heard of a disease that could zombify a dwarf.. I suspect a necromancer lurks somewhere in the tunnels.”

Incendius and Fib quickly explained about the black ice which seemed to be affecting the minds of the guards. “We must destroy it all!” insisted Incendius, flames rising in his eyes. Stokely nodded, “That does match the odd behavior.. none of those here still loyal had taken any of the trinkets after Baerik returned from the expedition. But these are our brothers and sisters! We must reunite the clan!”

The party requested a quick recess to check on the guards they had taken prisoner after destroying their black ice weapons, to see if they were recovering. They awakened them in their cells and tried to bluff a drunken night, but the dwarves would not have it and where very hostile, demanding their weapons be returned. After some fruitless discussion, Incendius became bored and reached into one of their minds – he was surprised to find that something seemed twisted, wrong, as if the scars from the black ice ran deeper than he thought. “These dwarves will recover in time.. but if they had been affected much more the effect might be permanent!”

Returning to Stokely, the apprised him of the situation, and agreed to help with either issue (assuming reasonable payment of course). Hogar was insistent that the issue with Baerik seemed too much like a complex matter of internal affairs – he much preferred to split some zombie skulls. But Stokely insisted that he cared more for the safety of his dispossessed brothers and sisters who might still be saved, and pointed out that a united clan might be able to deal with the zombies. So the party agreed to enter the Halls of Black Ice and try to talk down Baerik (“Although,” pointed out Kintama “some of their minds might be too far gone… there could be casualties.” Stokely sighed and nodded, resigned). A miner was summoned who knew a back way into the Halls through an old mining tunnel, and the party set out.

Reaching the secret tunnel, Kintama scouted ahead and found that it led into a large, empty kitchen which seemed recently used and was adjacent to a meeting chamber where some discussion was ongoing. Getting closer, he identified a dwarven council including a leader who matched the description of Baerik, who seemed to be in tense negotation with.. a human? He was confused at first, but based on the conversation gleaned that she might be an emissary from Vaelish Gant, seeking to consolidate his power and acquire the magic of the black ice.

Kintama returned to the party with this information, and they discussed in the tunnel about the best approach.. should they barge in and try to cut off the snake’s head by killing Baerik, then deal with the rest as best they could, hoping for disorganization and passivity? Should they take a more directly diplomatic approach and circle around to the front gate, where they might talk sense into Baerik? What poisonous influence would Gant’s courier have, and how much time until Baerik and his inner council were completely insane and beyond reason? Where had Etain gone?

Wait… where had Etain gone? Down the passage, they heard him talking to a gruff, dwarf-sounding person.
“Who are you?”
“I’m the new chef.”
Beat.
“The one Thorfin hired?”
“The dwarf with the beard? Yeah, him.”
“Ah. I like drow cooking, and things have been terrible down here the last few days. Get to work on some soup and appetizers for the break in negotiations.”

A few moments later, Etain’s head popped around the corner. “Well, that went better than I expected – anyone want to help me chop up some cave mushrooms?” Hogar, excited at the prospect of chopping, followed readily, and several others came to help as well, uncertain what else to do.

After a while, they heard several of the dwarves leave as things wound down, and Kintama helped Etain serve the soup while the rest hid out of sight in the kitchen. Seeing an opportunity, Kintama suddenly drew his blade and stabbed the emissary, hoping to take her down before she could cause any trouble or escape to warn Gant! She drew a garrote and tried to twist around to strangle him, but he dodged and was able to finish her off with a final swing before retreating into a side room to hide, as the others charged into view and Baerik yelled “What is the meaning of this??”

Unsure how to negotiate at this point, the group took to subduing the other dwarves. Fib took on one, while Hogar and Alasaurus held a line against Baerik and two others, protecting Bud and the spellcasters who unleashed everything they had. Meanwhile, Kintama evaded the final guard and joined the fray. Eselda and Etain were able to keep everyone up until Baerik was subdued, and several of the guards were killed.

They dragged Baerik around to a back room, but he was raving about the Black Ice and the one who gave it to him, a mage named Akar Kessell. Incendius swore he has heard this name before, about something that happened a long time ago. Seeing no chance to negotiate and getting nothing valuable from Baerik, they knock him out. Meanwhile, Bud and Kintama have been scouting outside, and determine that this is another large settlement with at least 50 dwarves. Their odds of subduing them all and destroying the black ice seems slim, so they grab Baerik and return to Battlehammer Hold to consult with Stokely.

He is glad to see Baerik and hear what has happened, and offers the adventurers gold and dwarven weapons and armor. They discuss briefly and agree on a bold plan – the adventurers will seek out the necromancer and put a stop to the zombies, so that Stokely can rally his remaining forces to enter and subdue the Halls, destroying the remaining Black Ice and attempting to bring sanity back to the clan while things are in disarray with Baerik’s capture.

As Stokely begins planning his invasion, the heroes get directions to the last zombie attack, and set out deeper into the mine…

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The Deep Mines

Week 6
Dan as Incendius, Human Wizard
Neil as Bud, Ranger
William as Fib, Tiefling Warlock
Sina as Alasaurus, Swordmage
Steven as Etain, Drow Cleric
Jacob as Kintama, Hengeyokai Thief
Fred as Hogar, Half-Orc Slayer
Allison as Eselda, Eladrin Templar
Josh as DM

The heroes part ways with Stokely as he begins making plans and rallying his remaining dwarves to reclaim the Halls of Black Ice. But not before getting detailed directions to the site of the last zombie attack, at a large central area in the deep mines referred to as The Nexus.

As they pass the point where they previously turned off to find Baerick’s headquarters, the tunnel walls soon become rougher and the path less well maintained – clearly this area has seen less traffic of late and is focused on mining rather than inhabiting. Kintama takes the lead as the parties stealthy eyes and ears while the rest follow a few paces behind, ready for trouble. As Kintama turns a corner, he is distracted by navigating a large pile of rubble that had apparently collapsed from the ceiling when he feels a cold hand grip his ankle. He looks down and yells “Zombie attack!”

The rest of the party charges around the corner as Kintama breaks the zombies grip and stabs it. Arrows, fire and radiant magic fill the air as two more zombies lurch out of the shadows and the rest of the party charges in to attack. Eselda and Etain help Kintama recover as he dodges more attacks while Hogar, Alasaurus, Bud and Fib take down the one nearest the party. Kintama is able to finish off the one who first attacked him and leaps out of the way of a fireball from Incendius, his fur slightly singed as the last zombie collapses in a burst of flame.

They press on, even more carefully, until they reach the Nexus and find evidence of a great battle and a scattered mining party, although all the casualties seem to have gotten up and walked away. Bud immediately zeroes in on an overturned cart, and lifts it to find a dwarf cowering inside, who immediately begins screaming. Once they calm him down and ensure they are trying to protect him, he says his name is Paldrinor, and he has been hiding out the last few days, avoiding zombies and scavenging for food since surviving the attack, too scared to make his way back down the tunnels alone to find home. He points the adventurers down one of the side passages, saying the zombies seem to be coming from there and mentioning a ruined dwarven temple a ways down the passage. They set out, and Paldrinor decides to remain and hide rather than risk facing more zombies even with the party.

They quickly find the temple, which Incendius notes that it appears to have been originally to worship Moradin. Most of the party heads inside to investigate further while Etain and Fib keep watch outside.

After a few moments, Etain and Fib hear a whispering, ruined voice: “What brings you to down to the deep mines, strangers? What do you seek in my lair?” They are confused.. they don’t sense anyone, but the voice appears to be coming from nearby and not be any sort of projection they can detect. “We’re here to find and end the zombie threat.” “Ah.. yes, continue down the passage and you will find the source of the zombies.. but only death will await you after that.” “We aren’t scared! We will end this threat!” “Ah, yes, well by all means come on down the passage…”

They ask loudly about the source of the voice, and what it means, but they get no further response. A few moments later the others come outside, having found nothing of interest in the temple, and they report what they heard. After some brief discussion, the party agrees to press on. A little further down the passage, the voice taunts them again, admitting to being Akar Kessell and asking how they plan to deal with someone who brought all of Icewind Dale to its knees. The only response is a fireball from Incendius, but he is unable to pinpoint the source of the voice and only manages to fry up some cave mushrooms. “Yes,” cackles Kessell, “and this region will feel my wrath again – Lac Dinneshere and Easthaven will soon be under my shadow like these helpless dwarves.” Eventually they ignore the jeers and press on in silence.

After a few more moments, they hear a twisted laugh behind them a turn to see a ghastly, shrouded figure – Kessell! He leers, and they recoil in shock and magically-enhanced fright, as several party members find themselves compelled to run away, terrified beyond their senses. But just as they do, more zombies emerge from shadows and around corners, grasping at the spellcasters, and they hear a shout from down the tunnel.

Kintama, a little ways ahead, did not hear the laugh, but suddenly two giant spiders have jumped down from above and started trying to bite him! Alasaurus and Etain try to move down and join Kintama but are blocked by one of the spiders and a zombie, however Etain is able to offer some magical encouragement to keep Kintama on his feet as Alasaurus renders their foes attacks meaningless. Meanwhile Fib and Eselda have broken free of their attackers and the rest of the party begins taking down the zombies one by one. Kessell disappears again in a cloud of shadow as Hogar charges to the rear to protect his cloth wearing allies and spill some zombie guts. The force of his furious charge knocks one zombie clear of Eselda, allowing her to step back and provide support as he lops its head off and Incendius and Bud take down the other still moving zombie. Finally they are able to focus fire on the last spider which Alasaurus has kept tied down.

Kessell’s voice echoes from down the passage “Well done with the zombies, but I promise you will suffer when next we meet.” Incendius fires one final fireball which only servers to illuminate an escaping shadow – Kessell is moving too fast for them to catch up. Tired but satisfied that they have scared him off for now, they trudge back up the tunnel towards Stokely’s encampment, stopping along the way to pick up Paldrinor and return him safely.

Battlehammer Hold is quiet when they get back, and the only nearby sentry lets them know that most of the dwarves have gone with Stokely to the Halls of Black Ice to see if they can reclaim their kin. The heroes retire to the barracks for a quiet dinner and are soon about to fall asleep when they hear a sudden commotion outside! They rush out, but it is Stokely, returned victorious with his re-united clan!! Some of the dwarves have been shackled but many seem to have regained their senses, and once they swap stories about the zombies Stokely orders a feast and heavy drinking for all! The party continues well into the night, although some of the heroes (the ones with low Endurance modifiers) turn in to bed early. Eventually everyone is asleep, although Etain and Alasaurus will wake up in the morning with a vague memory of another sentry reporting in from the north slope late in the night, saying that he saw a dark figure fleeing from a tunnel a couple hours earlier headed towards Lac Dinneshere, and saw a few zombies wandering aimlessly and seemingly without any aggression on his return to Battlehammer Hold.

It seems that all is finally well again in the dwarven valley.. at least for now.

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Defend the Daledrop!

Week 7
Dan as Incendius, Human Wizard
Neil as Bud, Ranger
William as Fib, Tiefling Warlock
Sina as Alasaurus, Swordmage
Steven as Etain, Drow Cleric
Fred as Hogar, Half-Orc Slayer
Allison as Mardred, Dwarf Paladin
Paul as Badger, Pixie Slayer
Josh as DM

The heroes awaken from their hungover slumber to the sound of an alarm bell ringing loudly from somewhere in Battlehammer Hold. Fib rolls over, thinking it his head pounding, but soon realizes that the bell is coming from outside his skull, not in. Etain wanders out in his morning robe, thinking that this dwarven stronghold is surprisingly barren of coffee given the abundance of ale.

As they groggily gather, they hear Stokely in the central cavern shouting orders and approach to find out what is going on. “Our sentries reported in this morning that they had been attacked by some invading force from the north – yetis, barbarians and wild animals working together! We’ve never seen anything like it, and wonder if it might be the advance party to some larger army.” He calls a sentry over. “Yes, our group was attacked earlier this morning – they were heading towards the valley! They will be at the Daledrop soon if they are not already!”

Bud asks about the Daledrop, and Stokely says that it is the “back door” to the dwarven valley, the only way to enter from the north without trekking around Kelvin’s Cairn to the wide southern entrance they had used the day before. “If there’s an army coming to take our valley, the ‘drop is the most obvious place for them to take – but it’s also a natural defensive position. I’m in the midst of calling all our sentries back, as well as the guards we left at the Halls of Black Ice – we won’t stand a chance without our full forces. In the meantime, you have proven your salt in battle – is there any chance you could head up to the Daledrop with this sentry to scout the situation and try to hold the position until we arrive? We shouldn’t be far behind you.” Sleepily, our band of adventurers nod agreement, and set off with the sentry back through the tunnels up and beyond what they had seen before.

They soon see daylight creeping down the tunnel, and send Bud out ahead to scout the situation. He reports back that a group of yetis and a small pack of wolves seem to be searching and sniffing around outside! Badger organizes a quick plan to attack the nearest from range while the armored folks charge in, but unfortunately the hangovers and sleep have not yet faded entirely, and the first volley misses completely, alerting the enemies to their presence! One yeti howls into the forest while the others charge, the wolves moving in to bite at Mardred and Alasaurus. Meanwhile the other two yetis move up behind and let out the same magical shrieks that the party encountered back in Bryn Shander, hurting most of the party. Etain lets out a large burst of magical energy to heal most everyone while Incendius roasts the wolves and yetis – unfortunately crisping Mardred in the process, but Etain is able to keep her up.

Meanwhile Hogar is swinging away, Bud and Badger support from the rear, and Fib sneaks around the edge of the cliff face to spray magical bolts from behind the foes. He turns to look behind him and sees movement in the treelines – the yeti must have alerted more forces who are moving in to hold the position! Fib warns the others as they take down the last few yetis, also stopping to get some roasted yeti legs for later.

Incendius is able to warm the snow enough to create a large mud hole in the main ramp up from the forest while the others take a quick breather at the tunnel mouth. A huge bear and four barbarians charge out of the trees and beeline for the heroes, but the mud slows them down enough for everyone to recover and even pick off the bear and one barbarian before they can do any damage. The other barbarians sling arrows with some slowing poison that temporarily stops Hogar and Mardred, but Alasaurus is able to electrify the muddy pool and shock them, and distract them enough for Incendius to loose another fireball as they others pick them off one by one. Between Hogar’s steel, Badger and Bud’s arrows, and Fib’s magic they do not last long, although the heroes are hurt and they hear many more footsteps trampling through the trees not far behind.

Suddenly Etain turns as he hears something behind them, and Stokely bursts forth from the tunnels with a phalanx of dwarves. “Great to see you alive my friends! Thank you for defending our valley! What’s the situation?” They relay what they have seen and point to the forest, and Stokely’s jaw drops. “I have not heard of such collaboration between these forces in all my days! It must be the work of Auril and that Ice Witch we’ve heard rumor of! Speaking of which, a human showed up just after you left and said he must speak to you..” They see Algorell, the hunter who helped track down Gant’s gang earlier, emerge from the cave mouth with a grim expression. As Stokely orders his dwarves into position, Algorell shares that he too saw a large army of wild animals and barbarians moving towards Bryn Shander while hunting the day before – but it was led by a giant skeletal dragon being led by a woman in all white!! Is it the Ice Witch? The heroes ask Stokely if they will return to Bryn Shander and ally with the humans, but he graciously declines – “Nay friends, my place is here defending our home, but if that Ice Witch is moving on Bryn Shander then they could surely use your help – get on back down there and see what you can do! We will hold here and cover your escape.”

And with that, they see the battle being joined by the dwarves at the base of the cliffs below, and set off back down the tunnels with Algorell towards Bryn Shander and the woman who seems to somehow be in the middle of all they have seen so far..

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The Ice Witch?
(Betteridge's law of headlines may be relevant)

Week 8
Dan as Incendius, Human Wizard
Neil as Bud, Ranger
William as Fib, Tiefling Warlock
Sina as Alasaurus, Swordmage
Steven as Etain, Drow Cleric
Fred as Hogar, Half-Orc Slayer
Allison as Mardred, Dwarf Paladin
Josh as DM

The heroes took off with Algonell and quickly reached the southern end of the dwarven valley again, setting off through the Icewind Dale wilderness back towards Bryn Shander, hoping they could arrive before the wintery army (and the rumored dragon and ice witch leading the charge) could do too much damage to the town. The mood was quiet and serious, although whether due to the gravity of the situation or the hangovers that many members still felt, was unclear. Fortunately Etain was able to whip up some of his Underdark Bloody Mary Hangover Cure, which cheered everyone up right away – at least, until he started explaining the ingredients (it turns out that they make do with what is at hand when making cocktails in the Underdark).

Bud and Algonell were able to navigate a route through the wilderness that avoided any encounters with more yetis or wild beasts through the day, while still keeping a good pace, and by nightfall they reached the outskirts of Bryn Shander where they saw evidence of a gathered horde. Bud and Hogar snuck off to investigate and found a camp with 40 or 50 barbarians and yetis, and sign that wolves and bears had been around earlier too, but no sign of the witch or her monstrous companion. They reported back, and the team agreed to circle the camp and enter Bryn Shander to assess the situation before taking further action. As they approached the gate, a guard yelled “Who goes there?”, but the retort of “Well.. not barbarians?” was sufficient to gain them entry. Or maybe one of the guards just recognized them from saving the caravan a couple days prior.

They found Speaker Duvessa consulting with the guard captain about the city defenses and strategy. After filling her in on what they had seen (and the alarming signs of Akar Kessel under Kelvin’s Cairn), they asked if anyone else had seen the witch or the dragon. Unfortunately, no one had. They agreed that the city walls were their greatest asset and the best strategy was to wait for attack inside. The suspicion was that the attacking force was waiting for full strength and would begin the assault that coming morning. The main fear was that the witch’s magic or dragons might would be able to do more damage to the wall, allowing barbarians into the town and significantly weakening the defensive position. Everyone agrees that the best thing for the heroes to do is attempt to take care of that greatest threat, so that the more mundane foes could be left to the town guard. Incendius attempts to charm Duvessa into agreeing to pay, but she appeals to their consciences and Mardred, Etain and the other morally inclined heroes agree to help first and discuss payment later.

As the team reflects on why the witch was not spotted with her army, Alasaurus recalls what she knows of the evil winter goddess Auril who is rumored to be powering the witch. She knows the goddess is most appeased by sacrifices (preferably live), usually death by exposure to the elements, and her followers have a habit of often making these near moving water. Hogar speaks up that he knows where the nearest stream around Bryn Shander is, and they decide to do some scouting together to see if they can find her isolated at night and take care of the threat. They set out into the night in search of the stream. Although the unusually cold winter has frozen it over, Hogar locates it and they move forward with Bud in the front scouting. They move forward slowly for some time, and as they are beginning to get tired and long for their warm beds back at the inn, Alasaurus suddenly stops. “I sense something – there is evil about.” She begins conferring with Fib to determine what it is when Bud hushes them – “Wait, I hear something. Some kind of chanting? You stay here, Hogar come with me.”

Bud and Hogar carefully crawl to the top of the next hill and see a slender figure in white leaning over something, apparently the source of the chanting which has grown louder. As Hogar determines it is the witch and starts scrambling back down to the rest of the party, Bud stops him. Bud scans the rest of the area and notices several furry shapes in shadow a ways off from the stream, forming a rough perimeter around the figure. “Guards – Can’t tell what they are from here though.” But before he can finish the thought, Hogar has moved forward towards one of the shadows to get a better look. He gets close enough to determine it is a yeti and starts to head back when he hears the yeti stir, sniffing the air and start moving in his direction. Did it catch wind of his scent? Hogar moves back quickly and doesn’t see it follow.

Back with the party, Etain proposes to dress up as an evil cleric and try to parley to create a distraction, but Incendius instead proposes to set a distant tree on fire to create a distraction, hopefully dividing the yetis and then circling back to focus fire the witch with the rest of the party. “Hmmm.. a plan that doesn’t involve putting our only healer in the middle of the battle alone? Yes, let’s take that one.” Incendius sets off to find a suitable tree.

After a few minutes, he returns: “We should see smoke and flame billowing from a few hundred yards that way in another minute or two.” Fib gets in position and confirms the yetis have headed off to look at the tree, while Hogar, Bud and Incendius sneak within range before giving the signal and firing an arrow, a ball of lightning, and an angry half-orc slayer towards the witch all at once. As he cuts into her, Hogar gets a good look and realizes that she is smiling. Unnerving.

As the rest of the party joins the fray, she intones “Icingdeath, my pet, arise and show some proper hospitality for our guests.” Fib, Bud and Incendius, who had been keeping their distance, suddenly realize that white indistinct shapes in the snow that they assumed was some foliage are actually bones, which are rising from the ground and forming into a large skeletal dragon!! It begins trampling over them biting left and right until Alasaurus can intercept, protecting the casters and then teleporting away to confuse the beast. Ice rises from the ground around the ice witch, pushing back and slowing Mardred and Hogar, but Incendius summons his trusty flame sphere behind her and it begins to lick at her with white hot tendrils. Just then, the yetis return, apparently having caught scent of Hogar and not made it to the tree. Fib and Bud are in dire straits, but Incendius’s flame sphere is finally able to defeat the witch… but she merely melts into the snow, loosing two final spears of ice, and they realize that it was only a simulacrum, presumably the real witch had been projecting her consciousness and power into it.

Still, they are encouraged to press on by it’s defeat, Mardred and Hogar on either side of the dragon while Etain keeps them alive, Fib teleporting away from one yeti to step in front of Bud and keep him alive, and Alasaurus locking down the other yeti. Their combined forces finally cause the dragon to fall apart again, weakened by its masters magic disappearing as well. They clean up the final yetis before Fib or Bud can fall, and everyone cheers before collapsing, exhausted at the long battle. They realize that several of the dragon’s claws can be fashioned into powerful weapons, and take those before heading back to town.

Back in Bryn Shander, everyone but the night watch is catching a few hours of sleep before the uncertainty of morning. The heroes report their success, and the troubling business of the simulacrum, and the head night watchman agrees to wake them up if any movement of the barbarian/yeti army is spotted.

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How to Succeed in an Evil Cult
...without really trying

Week 9
Dan as Incendius, Human Wizard
Neil as Bud, Ranger
William as Fib, Tiefling Warlock
Sina as Alasaurus, Swordmage
Steven as Etain, Drow Cleric
Fred as Hogar, Half-Orc Slayer
Allison as Mardred, Dwarf Paladin
Josh as DM

The next morning, the heroes awake to hear an alarm bell ringing in the center of town, but the barbarian/yeti combined attack is beaten back without their ability to break through the gate via a skeletal dragon. Etain, who was trancing on the walls, also helps prevent (most of) the guard casualties from barbarian arrows.

A celebratory brunch is held as the invading army seems to have melted back into the wilderness, and the team gets together in the Speaker’s Hall where they are congratulated and thanked by all. But the festive mood is broken when a woman comes in crying, and says that her husband has gone missing! The Speaker asks an aide to take care of it, but Mardred’s conscience won’t let her get back to enjoying the food until she gets the full story. It turns out the woman’s husband is the apothecary who set the adventurers on Slim’s trail back at the beginning! And they realize that they still owe him some money. Awkward. “Well,” points out Hogar, “if we rescue him, that should erase the debt, right?”

The woman claims that a cult has been forming following the Frost Maiden Auril, seeking to appease her wrath with various displays of devotion. Several travelers had gone missing across Icewind Dale and were presumed to have been taken by the cult (there were rumors of bodies found in the wilderness..), but this was the first known incident of an actual resident. Speaker Duvessa and the guard captain said they had no hard leads and had been unable to identify any cultists connected to kidnappings so far, but all agreed that this was crossing a line. They are directed that a self-described prophet of Auril has been spreading tales as he travels his merchant routes – a man named Davrick Fain from Bremen. They agree to go there and seek him out.

They quickly find Fain, and Incendius and Fib enter his shop feigning ignorance and ask about the teachings of Auril. Fain seems to sense that something is up with Incendius and is rather dodgy, openly admitting his devotion to Auril but hotly denying any criminal activity. Fib comes back later with Etain and the tiefling and drow take a slightly different tact – trying to join the cult, playing up their racial stereotypes as less-than-good. This seems to work, although Fain asks some odd questions about whether they have friends or relatives nearby. He arranges to meet them at dinner that evening along with some other “brothers” at the nearby inn.

Fib and Etain meet the gentlemen in question at the inn a few hours later, and they strike up a rousing conversation about the followers of Auril, the heroes’ background and the local happenings in Bremen. Meanwhile the rest of the party position themselves at various places nearby and try to be discreet. The brothers mention a gathering in a few days and say they will be in touch, but offer to keep buying drinks and keeping the fun going. A little bit later, Alasaurus and Bud realize something is up as the inn is clearing out and they see the innkeeper exchanging glances with the cultists. They suddenly notice the innkeeper mumbling to himself and realize he is casting a spell! Everyone draws their swords as the other inn patrons also draw steel and attack!

The battle is fierce, particularly when they realize that both the innkeeper and the server are using dark magic to hold party members in place. Hogar is reduced to throwing javelins (although still strangely effective) as Alasaurus tries to push one cultist into the fire. Mardred keeps the innkeeper tied up although she takes some nasty cuts from the broken bottle he wields, and Etain takes a beating and is almost knocked out before Fib can slow down his attackers and get in the way, taking a few hits himself. Bud hangs out from the stairs and takes potshots, helping take down several cultists as Incendius bounds down the stairs to unleash Burning Hands over the bar, exploding most of the alcohol as Mardred (who has gotten quite good at recognizing the gestures for Burning Hands by now) ducks behind the bar to avoid getting scorched.

They finally kill all but one of the cultists, who Etain is able to keep from bleeding out and finally wake up just as someone shows up with a town guard. As he surveys the scene, Fib is able to threaten the final cultist to reveal that some of the other kidnapped people were being held at a hideout part way up Kelvin’s Cairn before he is taken away by the guard. The guard warns the adventurers that everyone they just killed had been living peacefully in Bremen for years, and while he understood they were acting in self defense, they were his friends too. He STRONGLY encourages the adventurers to leave town as soon as they can, and so they set out towards Kelvin’s Cairn, stopping to camp out for the night a few miles from the village.

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We use the term "rescue" loosely

Week 10
Dan as Incendius, Human Wizard
Neil as Bud, Ranger
William as Fib, Tiefling Warlock
Sina as Alasaurus, Swordmage
Steven as Etain, Drow Cleric
Allison as Mardred, Dwarf Paladin
Jared as Two Bits, Halfling Rogue
Josh as DM

The next morning, the villagers set out for Kelvin’s Cairn to attempt to “rescue” the missing apothecary (and any other intended sacrifices). Fib and Etain continue to joke about whether they are going to save him to consider the debt settled, or just make sure the cultists finish the job so they don’t have to cough up the 50gp. Fib continues to talk about joining the cult and participating in the sacrifices (“the benefits sound great!”), and Mardred continues to be unsure whether they are joking, and feeling vaguely uncomfortable…

Shortly after noon, they arrive within site of Kelvin’s Cairn. Bud squints and realizes that the windward side of the mountain would be very inhospitable, and begins leading them up the leeward side. As they start to ascend, Etain looks up and sees a ribbon of smoke against the backdrop of clouds. “There!” Bud leads them towards the smoke, and they soon climb high enough to be within a few hundred yards of where it seems to come from, when he realizes that they are following a track that seems to have been trodden many times. He stops everyone, and Two Bits and Bud sneak up and around, off the path, until they find they are above a cave mouth that was hidden by the angle of ascent. As they watch, they realize several camouflaged figures are hiding in the snow, waiting to ambush the party if they climb any higher.

They signal to each other and Bud maintains his perch, Two Bits going back to warn the others and then climbing again silently, completely blindsiding the foes. He bird calls, and Alasaurus and Mardred charge up, Mardred going straight up the slope to cut one off while Alasaurus uses her magic to lasso another down off his perch, while Bud shoots two arrows right in the head of a third, who falls out of his hiding spot, instantly dead – they all realize they are goblins!

As they stand surprised, a fourth one not seen by the others darts out of his hiding spot into the cave mouth and is around a corner and down the passage before they can do anything. Two Bits does a triple somersault flying leap slide down to the cave mouth and blocks the retreat, and he, Fib and Incendius finish off one, although the other is able to slide past Two Bits and escape as well! The party charges down the passage after them before they can regroup..

The cave surface quickly changes to something more refined, clearly a living area that has been inhabited for quite some time, and as they climb some stairs they see the second retreating goblin talking with another sentry. Bud shoots him in the throat before he can finish delivering his chattered message, and the other goblin darts into a side passage. The party charges up just as two more burst forth, but just as the heroes seem to have it under control, a giant verbeerg busts down another door and attacks with a giant mace!!

He roars defiantly and is surprisingly nimble on his feet, seeming to melt in and out of the party and swinging his mace frantically, but he seldom connects in his hurry. Even as several goblins swoop in and distract Etain and Alasaurus, the party is able to push him back towards the entrance through a series of feints drawingg him towards the casters. Meanwhile Incendius fries several goblins to a crisp, and they methodically take him down once he is isolated. At the last moment, the verbeerg cuts and runs back down the passage, dodging down a side tunnel as Bud’s final arrow narrowly misses him. Bud and Incendius give chase, back through his sleeping quarters and treasure room, then turn a corner to find him gone, with nothing but a dead end (oh, and 500gp. So, there’s that). Incendius searches for magical concealment and even sets a lot of stuff on fire while the rest of the party shows up and searches, but they are unable to find any sign of him. Alasaurus suspects a secret door of some kind based on the evidence, but they are unable to find it and give up, deciding to focus on the hostages.

They move back to the main area which shows no sign of cultists, but there is another tunnel leading deeper. Two Bits and Etain take the lead, with Etain using his darkvision to scout and Two Bits using his small stature and natural bluff to masquerade as a goblin. The see a few side chambers that seem to be goblin-inhabited (aka dirty and poorly kept) but then it transitions to rooms that seem to be much neater and likely occupied by humans. As a sense of dread comes over them, Etain finds religious charms and insignias that seem to be made of the black ice… Incendius immediately melts them, but everyone is more on edge as they approach a larger lit area and hear menacing voices reverberating down the passageway…

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