Ruins of Adventure

Episode I: A Tabletop Trip into Phlan

I’ve recently been feeling the love again for Forgotten Realms. Like an old codependent girlfriend, the Realms and I have had an off again/on again thing going pretty much since I started playing D&D in grade school. Sometimes I’m a historical snob and I kick them out of bed to pursue higher class settings with more “historical” flavor like Warhammer Fantasy or Space 1889. Other times I embrace the sheer size, opportunity, and wealth of support the Realms offer and welcome them back into my life for wild make-up sex.

Having recently attended my first PA Renaissance Faire I think I’ve finally worked out a stable relationship. Considered as a whole, the Realms themselves are pretty much a giant Ren Faire, with all the attendant anachronisms and blending of cultures and situations. When you can embrace that “what the heck…just throw in whatever sounds cool” attitude, you can really appreciate the value of Forgotten Realms as a setting. It also helps that I’m coming down after two years of running Iron Kingdoms, a setting that appears to me to have begun taking itself MUCH too seriously given the amount of support that exists for the D20 game.

So…back to the basics! Inspired by my recent rediscovery of the Gold Box series, I snagged the .pdf of the old Ruins of Adventure module and started work converting it over to 3.5. Ruins has a similar design philosophy to Keep on the Borderlands; it’s a bunch of adventure locations with a loose connecting plot. The advantage there is that you don’t have to convert the entire module before you run it. I basically had to roll encounters for the Slums, stick in a couple of twists of my own, and I was ready to go. The real work was in providing 3.5 stats for the encounter tables.

And so on Friday, three mighty adventurers strode forth to take up the cause of urban renewal in Phlan: a Fighter, Cleric of Tempus, and Sorcerer played by Scott, Marc, and Bob respectively.

After visiting the city council and receiving a commission to map and reconnoiter the Slums, the party got off to a shaky start by boldly entering the slums without any means of actually drawing the map. After returning with paper and ink, they started work in earnest, killing some Orcs and rescuing an “independent entrepreneur” (played by my girlfriend Cat) from a fate worse than death. Now equipped with a thief, they fought their way through several buildings infested with undead, haggled their way through a marketplace, and moved ever closer to a burned out shop with a subbasement that the Thief had heard contained a cache of loot. Inside, they faced their toughest challenge yet: a newly hatched Black Dragon whelp. Having dispatched the evil (but cute) monster, they loaded up the gold, some potions, and some potential magic items and headed back to New Phlan . Not bad for a first adventure!

All in all it was a nice break from running Iron Kingdoms with high level PCs for so long. There’s something very visceral about playing at low level, when both monsters and characters have few HP and a single hit can mean death. It was also nice to be able to use some more familiar tropes; Thralls and Farrow are very cool in their own way, but skeletons and orcs are the comfort food of monster-slaying.

Funniest moment: having dispatched a wight and two lesser undead, the party piled them up and burned them within sight of the walls of New Phlan. Understandably alarmed by the sight of smoke rising next to their wooden palisade, Phlan’s city guard turned out and promptly charged the PCs a five gold piece “burning permit” fee. Just another day in the life of a low-level adventuring party…

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Episode 2: Beck Darkmantle vs Raymo of Phlan

Last night, the intrepid adventurers Wulf, the fighter, Jerkxes of Cormyr, the sorcerer, The Cleric Who Had No Name But Later Adopted One From Call of Duty 4, the cleric, and Aeryn Completely Different From the One on Farscape, the “independent entrepreneur”, ventured back into the slums of Phlan in search of gold and glory.

After spending the night at an extremely shady inn and while acquiring new supplies at an equally shady merchant(lots of things in Phlan are shady…it’s like Lankhmar if Lankhmar were a little town in Michigan), Jerkxes discovered that said shady merchant had an extremely fine dagger for sale clearly marked with the noble crest of the Cadorna family, who are very powerful in New Phlan. After some discussion, Jerkxes purchased the dagger and brought it to Phlan’s City Hall, hoping to give it to Councilman Poryphrys Cadorna, who the group knew by name only. Poryphrys accepted the dagger (he said it was his mom’s) with good grace, a vague promise of support, and an evident desire to stop talking to the party and start drinking (the party later discovered that Cadorna had quite a reputation as a dilletante).

On their way to the slums, the party hooked up with the infamous Beck Darkmantle(played by Cameron, who sat in for a session). Beck was originally a character in my Iron Kingdoms game, where he was notable for acting before thinking, carrying his own sizable supply of alcohol, and not being a “people person”. Transformed into a 2nd Level Realms character, he accompanied the group into the slums after annoying the guards at the gate so much that they actually paid the party five GP to convince him to leave.

Once in the slums, the party continued their exploration mission, uncovering a wight lairing in a grocery store, several burned out houses, and a drunken bum who turned out to be a werewolf. The party really seemed to bond with this werewolf despite being suspicious enough not to let him travel with them. After careful consideration I have decided that this was because I was essentially running him as Ray from Chris Onstad’s webcomic supreme achewood (he is now officially Raymo of Phlan). Sadly, when Raymo eventually ambushed the party and attempted to devour Beck and Jerkxes and steal their alcohol, Beck smashed his head in with a maul.

All in all another good night. I have, however, reluctantly decided not to use the Bendy Dungeon Walls set I picked up a few months ago anymore. While it does look really neat on the map, the connectors that hold the wall sections together have a nasty tendency to snap off when pressure is applied. After losing four wall sections that way, I’m going back to flat maps.

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Episode 3: Attack on Sokal Keep

After dealing with their intoxicated werewolf issues, Jerkxes, Beck Darkmantle, Aeryn, Wulf, and MacTavish rested for a while in the small plaza where Mac had paused to pray to his violent God and regain his spells. After dispensing the obligatory healing, he and the party moved on. They slew a hippogriff that had made its nest in a burned-out house, then discovered the remains of an orcish war-ceremony in an abandoned warehouse. Tracking the orcs, they arrived just in time to foil their attack and discovered its object: a small hospice run by three initiate priests of Sune, whose mission was to dispense their Goddess’ love in the form of healing and aid, and their single patient, Vola (played by our friend Dave), an amazonian half-orc barbarian of indeterminate origin and little regard for personal space. Vola and Jerxes quickly became…er…intimately acquainted (Sune’s a goddess of passion; the priests were not scandalized though I certainly was), while the rest of the party talked to the priests of Sune, learning to their horror that they had discovered the dying Raymo in the streets and healed him after which he departed for parts unknown. Low on spells and needing more equipment, the party decided to return to Phlan before taking on Raymo again. Vola, having finished with Jerkxes, then set her sights on Beck (to Beck’s horror) and accompanied the party back to civilization.

Having been alerted by the guards at the entrance to the Slums, the party stopped by the Town Council building where the Council rather unenthusiastically (with the exception of their patron Poryphrys Cadorna) offered them 2500 gold pieces to clear out Sokal Keep and make it safe for use as a harbor fortification again. Bishop Braccio of the Temple of Tyr, speaking for the Council, hinted that the place might be cursed, lent Wolf his holy symbol, and suggested the party might try to find some password to get around whatever magical defenses remained.

After accepting the mission and securing seedy but comfortable rooms at Nat Wyler’s Bell, most of the party went shopping while Aeryn and Vola accepted a dinner invitation from Poryphrys Cadorna (Cadorna’s got an eye for the ladies…even half-orc ladies…and Aeryn’s pretty easy on the eye too). We will draw a tasteful diplomatic veil over what happened next: suffice it to say that it involved broken crockery, misuse of a buffet table, and an extremely scandalized butler. After it was over, Aeryn slipped Vola the key to Beck’s room in order to get Cadorna alone for her own nefarious purposes.

Later that night, Wolf awoke to discover a dark figure climbing out the window of the Party’s room. He, Jerkxes, and MacTavish gave chase, but the stealthy figure eluded them. Returning to Nat Wyler’s Bell, they discovered that the magical sword they had looted from the dragon hatchling’s nest was missing.

In the morning, Aeryn did not return from the Cadorna townhouse, and Vola had essentially trapped Beck in his own room (their players couldn’t make the session). Jerkxes, MacTavish, and Wulf decided to get a jump on them, clear out the Keep themselves, and keep the cash. In light of subsequent events this wasn’t the smartest choice, but of the three of them only Jerxes had any real pretension at being the brains of the group.

The three secured a rowboat from the Council and rowed through the morning fog to the scrubby isle where Sokal Keep stood. After exploring the perimeter (and discovering a skeleton bearing a scrap of parchment with seemingly nonsensical words), the Party headed inside and were immediately beset by animated skeletons forever cursed to defend the Keep. Moving out of the Keep’s courtyard to avoid the undead patrols, they then had the unfortunate luck to run into a grey ooze which had made its home in the rafters of an old stable. The highly acidic ooze dissolved their weapons one by one, until Wulf and CoT were reduced to using rusty scimitars from the skeletons. Eventually, Jerkxes managed to dispatch the monster with his magic and the Party moved on, always alert for more skeletal guards.

Their next stop was the remains of the keep’s smithy, where damp and dark conditions had created the perfect lair for a pair of giant frogs. Caught off-guard by the humor value of vicious frogs, Wulf and CoT were astounded to discover that these frogs packed a powerful bite. After a single exchange of blows, both Fighter and Cleric ran, leaving Jerkxes alone hoping to finish the hopping menaces with magic missile. Sadly, after only a single volley, the frogs mobbed Jerkxes and tore him apart. Wulf and MacTavish returned to the smithy only to find their Sorcerer companion’s legs disappearing down a froggy gullet. Fortunately for the two remaining adventurers, Jerkxes’ magic missile had weakened the frogs to the point where they were easily dispatched.

Now alone, in a hostile keep, and in freezing early Spring weather, Wulf and MacTavish barricaded themselves in the now frogless smithy for the night, burning the old tables and benches for heat. Their plans to return to Phlan in the morning were frustrated by a blizzard, and the search for more fuel drove them to Sokal Keep’s kitchen, where a black pudding had taken up residence. After dealing with this threat, they returned to the smithy with more tables, huddled close to the fire for warmth, and roasted giant froglegs for food. On the bright side, Wulf did discover a warhammer behind the furniture which seemed to be radiating magic.

The snow had subsided by the next morning, and the two returned to their boat and paddled for Phlan as quickly as possible. The cold wind and mist of the lake chilled them to the bone (nobody had thought to purchase winter clothing for the trip to Sokal Keep), and Wolf nearly dropped dead from hypothermia in the streets of Phlan before the soaked, chilled, and disheartened pair reached the safety of the Temple of Tyr.

Quotes of the Evening:

“I just got bit in the nuts by a giant frog, and you’re asking me why I’m running?”

-MacTavish

“You know I just realized…I got killed by frogs. That is the lamest thing ever.”

-Bob, approximately one hour after the death of his character

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Episode 4: The Defense of Sokal Keep

Having recuperated their strength at the Temple of Tyr, Wulf and MacTavish were ready for a second try at clearing Sokal Keep. But first, they needed help. Aeryn, Beck Darkmantle, and Vola were unavailable. Bishop Aram Braccio provided an extra hand by giving them charge of a halfling caught looting the temple (we had a new player who wanted to try D&D). They picked up a further party member in Phillipe (Bob, trying a cleric after the demise of Jerkxes), a mild mannered but strangely menacing cleric of Talona, whom the people of New Phlan were eager to get out of of town before his goddess of plague noticed them.

The four took their boat to the island and continued their explorations, noting as they landed two columns of smoke rising from the Old City…possibly signal fires. Searching the barracks, they were confronted by the bound spirits of the keep’s garrison, which terrified CoT and the halfling so much that they fled to the courtyard. Wulf held his ground and attempted to communicate, but was unable to communicate until he used one of the mysterious words from the parchment the party had found [[Sokal Keep, Part 1 | in the last episode]] (he wasn’t sure which one). The haunts begged him to free them from their eternal garrison duty, and one led him to a loose floorboard under which was stored a gemstone wrapped in diary pages describing the fall of Sokal Keep.

The party moved on and prepared to enter the main Keep building. Just as they did, a column of Orcs marched through the open gates of the Keep. vastly outnumbered, the party rushed into the entryway they had found and barred the door. A party of five orcs and a hobgoblin officer was soon attempting to batter its way in while the group hastily checked out two of three possible exits: an old chapel and a seemingly-empty armory, neither of which they explored in detail.

At this point, the orcs battered down the door and two of them leaped inside, only to be cut down instantly by Wulf and Phillipe. The remaining three orcs prepared to follow them, but were stopped by their CO who ordered them to attack at range with javelins. The party were sitting ducks in the narrow hallway, and were soon forced to abandon it, conducting a fighting withdrawal to the chapel as more orcs and hobgoblins arrived on the scene.

At this point, the halfling made a rookie mistake. Rather than retreat to the chapel with the rest of the party, he fled via the unexplored third exit, which turned out to lead to the old officers’ quarters and a hungry Cloaker. All too soon, the Cloaker had engulfed the halfling and the party now had to deal with both the Orcs and the monster. Indeed, a second squad of Orcs had already entered the hallway. Bravely, Phillippe leapt into the entryway and struck down the Hobgoblin officer with the power of Talona via Inflict Critical Wounds. After he brained an Orc with his mace, the rest of the squad fled outside as Wulf moved through to engage the Cloaker.

As the Hobgoblin officers tried to rally their Orcs for another assault, the party tried desperately to slay the Cloaker and rescue their Halfling. Unfortunately, their efforts to kill it also harmed the hapless thief, and he died before the Cloaker could be killed. The monster then turned on Wulf, who ran for the chapel with the rest of the party, who by this time had retreated there and locked the hallway door. There they waited, used the last of their spells, and prepared for the next attack.

It was not long in coming. Guided by the cunning of the Hobgoblins, the Orcs launched a two-pronged assault, one group breaking down the hallway door and the other coming through the officers’ quarters. This second prong ran into trouble when the Cloaker attacked it, but the monster had been badly weakened by the party and didn’t last long. The three remaining party members were now dealing with eight Orcs and a Hobgoblin. The clerics fell one by one. Only Wulf was left fighting the three remaining Orcs, and his strength was not enough. After cutting down a final foe he sank to his knees in defeat.

Phillipe, MacTavish, and Wulf awoke to find themselves prisoners of the Humanoid war-party, who had spared them in hopes of learning how to end the curse on Sokal Keep and claim it for themselves. A Hobgoblin officer tried via threats, blows, and stilted Common to get them to read the diary pages they’d found, but the party refused. Philippe punctuated his refusal with an unfortunate comment about the Hobgoblin’s mother, who responded by cutting out his tongue and using to make a tasty stew for the rest of the party.

Eventually, Wulf managed to free himself and the rest of the party, and under cover of darkness they reclaimed their boat and returned to New Phlan, poorer but still alive.

Quote of the Evening:

HOBGOBLIN (having kicked the crap out of Wolf and MacTavish): You read this!

PHILLIPE (tied and helpless): Why bother? It’s just a list of guys your mom <charming>

HOBGOBLIN: .......

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Episode 5: Battle at Kuto's Well

Upon mooring their boat at the docks in New Phlan, Wulf, Phillipe, and MacTavish were immediately arrested by the Phlan City Guard as possible spies from Zhentil Keep (when three sketchy guys in a rowboat show up at 3AM it’s a logical guess). After being interviewed by a cleric of Tyr in the morning and their story confirmed, they were freed to return to Nat Wyler’s Bell for some much needed rest.

There, they discovered that Beck Darkmantle had apparently got more than just a few bruises from his fight with Raymo, and had transformed into a rampaging werewolf the previous night. He leaped through the window of his room with Vola in hot pursuit and had not been seen since.

They also met up with Aeryn, who had returned from wherever she had been (she wasn’t forthcoming about it). Aeryn had a plan to recoup the party’s fortunes and pay for a cleric to restore Phillipe’s tongue: venture into the slums to Kuto’s Well, a major source of fresh water in the Old City, slay some bandits rumored to be frequenting the area, and steal their loot. The party agreed, not least because Aeryn bought them new weapons to replace the ones they had lost at Sokal Keep.

And so, the next morning, the intrepid adventurers ventured west through the slums to Kuto’s Plaza, where Kuto’s Well stood. As the party investigated the Well, Phillipe, hoping to spread Talona’s diseased blessings, tossed a vial of fungus he had collected at Sokal Keep into it. Immediately, the party was swarmed by kobolds, who had been watching them from the nearby houses. The situation looked bad: not only was the party outnumbered, but more kobolds were climbing out of the well to join the fray. MacTavish winged one kobold with an arrow and the angry yipping creature chased him around the plaza until the cleric of Tempus felled it with a mace strike. Wulf tried to throw a kobold into the well, but the little guy wriggled free and stabbed him. Eventually, the party triumphed, though Phillipe was badly hurt ( but not badly hurt enough to stop him from further attempting to desecrate Kuto’s Well with his bodily fluids).

After healing Phillipe, the party investigated the Well. They discovered that there were rungs along its sides leading down, explaining how the kobolds had come up. They tied a rope around Phillipe, and the cleric of Talona tried to climb down the rungs. Unfortunately his heavy armor made things difficult and he lost his grip and plummeted into the water. Had it not been for the rope tied aroud Phillipe’s waist, Bob probably would have had to roll a new character. As it was, the party struggled to pull him out and Wulf actually fell into the Well in the process.

Once everyone was safe and dry, the party explored the houses surrounding the plaza, finding little but debris and the kobolds’ bedding. They picked a defensible house and rested for the night, planning to decide what to do next in the morning. The party’s rest was briefly interrupted by another party of adventurers attempting to get water from the well (the dwarven paladin Bassana Rockmantle and her friends), but the two groups avoided combat and decided to rest together for added security. Tomorrow, they would have to decide wether to explore the Well, or continue deeper into the Old City…

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Episode VI: Beneath Kuto's Well

In the morning, MacTavish, Aeryn, Phillipe, and Wulf decided to venture down into the well a second time. Bidding farewell to the other adventuring party, they tied a rope to Wulf and lowered him into Kuto’s Well. Wulf managed to work his way into the crawlspace, and found that it was about 7’ wide…easily able to accommodate humans or humanoids moving in single file. A flickering orange light was visible some 20’ in. One by one, Phillipe, Aeryn, and Mac descended into the Well and entered the crawlspace as Wulf moved forward to investigate the light source. As he approached it, he found his way blocked by a large silk curtain.

Peeking around the curtain, Wulf found himself looking at a central chamber with several curtained exits. Two kobolds were keeping a not-so-vigilant watch on the curtain Wolf was hiding behind. After waiting for the rest of the party to move up behind him, Wulf burst from the crawlspace with Phillipe right behind him, cutting down both kobolds in a matter of seconds. As Aeryn and Mac emerged, four goblins appeared from behind the curtain of the southern exit and loosed a mostly ineffectual volley of javelins before retreating the way they came. Enraged, Phillipe rushed after them, only to plunge ten feet into a pit trap.

The goblins continued to run, leaving one of their number behind to harass the party as they negotiated the pit. Just as the last adventurer was on the other side, four orcs and another party of goblins rushed through the northern exit to the room they had just left. This group was led by a menacing armored half-orc…clearly the bandits’ leader. Reaching the edge of the pit, the orcs began to snipe at the party with their own javelins while the intrepid adventurers figured out what to do next.

Wisely, the party decided to pursue the fleeing goblins. Unfortunately Phillipe, punchy to the end, lagged behind to take a final potshot at the orcs with his sling. He was struck simultaneously with three javelins and killed instantly. The rest of the group cut down a single goblin who had remained behind, and pursued the rest down a north-leading hallway.

Meanwhile, the orcs had crossed the pit and were pursuing the party in turn. Wulf turned to deal with them while Mac cast Doom and Bless and Aeryn held off the goblins. After bringing up his spells, Mac scored a mighty critical hit on one of them, destroying his little helmet and raising huge bumps on his little goblin head. Wolf closed with the approaching orcs and slew them, then moved to finish the goblins while the half-orc leader moved to engage Mac.

Mac proved no match for the half-orc, who took him down in three strokes despite heavy interference from the cleric’s spells. As Wulf stepped back in to continue the fight, Aeryn slew the final goblin and then rushed to revive Mac with a healing potion. With the cleric revived, it was now the three of them against the bandit leader.

Now the party seemed to find its rhythm, with Wulf dealing and taking damage, Aeryn moving in from behind to deliver backstabbing attacks, and MacTavish providing spell and healing support. Between them, they wore the half-orc down, and he finally fell with Aeryn’s rapier thrust between his ribs and into his heart.

With the battle at an end, the party explored the remainder of the chambers beneath the well. They also counted up the bandits’ ill-gotten gains and discovered that they were more than three thousand gold pieces richer in coins and gems. In addition, the bandit leader’s armor and sword were clearly magical.

The party had, in essence, recouped its fortunes, but at the price of losing Phillipe. Only time will tell what they’ll do with it…and who they’ll find to fill his slot.

Line of the Night:

MARC: Do the bonuses for Doom and Prayer stack? Because if they don’t I might as well just go after him with my mace.

BOB: If they do not stack, then you must attack.

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Episode VII: A New Party Assembles

Along with the treasure the bandits had hidden in Kuto’s Well, they had also stashed two elven captives: a ranger, Inigo (Bob), and a wizard, Ginallath (John, in his first night playing with our group). Grateful for the rescue and in desperate need of a fresh infusion of cash, the elves agreed to join the party: with their numbers bolstered and access to an arcane spellcaster, the PCs began to consider a return to Sokol Keep to settle accounts with the Orcs. They discussed their options, then rested in the chambers beneath the Well.

Climbing out of the well the next morning, Inigo was greeted by a shower of rancid, regurgitated alcohol. This was, of course, Beck Darkmantle, who had chosen Kuto’s Well to void the combined aftereffects of a night on the run from Vola as a werewolf, and his natural Tucker Max-ian penchant for alcohol. A fight almost ensued, but fortunately Beck recognized MacTavish and Wulf, and rejoined the party as it made its way back to New Phlan. Here, they split up again, with most of the group stopping at Jerome of Melvaunt’s shop for supplies before heading back to their rooms at Nat Wyler’s Bell while Beck roamed New Phlan seeking a refill of his keg and a hot bath. Instead, he had to make a hasty escape from Vola at the Bitter Blade (a hangout for political malcontents with all the worst aspects of a caucus and an open mic night), was turned away at the Cracked Crown (a more upscale inn catering to locals), and after a cold bath in the Moonsea vowed revenge.

In the meantime, Ginallath had identified the magical items from the bandits’ stash (a +1 suit of chainmail, a +1 bastard sword, and various potions) and the party decided they would indeed return to Sokol Keep. Accordingly, they bedded down for a good night’s sleep at Nat Wyler’s…except for Beck, who convinced Aeryn to help him rob the Cracked Crown. The two arrived at the Crown, and Aeryn picked the lock. As they searched for the cashbox, Beck (not good at moving silently at the best of times) bumped up against a table, sending a mug crashing to the floor. The innkeeper woke and called for the Watch, and Beck made a hasty exit (but not without leaving some caltrops behind) while Aeryn hid in the Crown’s kitchen. Aeryn waited in hiding for the innkeeper to leave, and Beck managed to talk his way out of being arrested by the watch by convincing them he was looking for a lost puppy (the New Phlan watch must like puppies…Beck rolled amazingly well on his Bluff check). Finally, both characters slunk back to Nat Wyler’s Bell around 3AM…40 GP richer, as Aeryn had found the Crown’s cashbox.

The next morning, the party visited the New Phlan City Council and, while unable to see their patron Poryphrys Cadorna, obtained a writ from the Council Clerk for a new rowboat. Loading themselves and their gear inside, the party rowed out into the harbor towards the Keep.

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Episode VIII: Return to Sokal Keep

As the party approached the Keep in their boat, they noticed regular puffs of smoke rising from an area near the side of the keep facing the Old City across the harbor. Landing again on the gravel beach, they made their way around the Keep’s walls to the source of the smoke, rightly believing it to be signals from an Orc watch party. The orcs and their hobgoblin officer were quickly slain, but the party had already noted smoke signals rising in response from the Old City. Another humanoid war party would soon be upon them.

Having no other choice, they proceeded into Sokal Keep, skirmishing with more undead guards (their ranks replenished by the Orcs the party had slain in their previous attempt, as well as the tiny and unhappy skeleton of their former halfling companion) as they desperately sought a defensive position. Ginallath, Beck Darkmantle, and Aeryn searched the keep’s old Armory, which had appeared empty when Wulf and MacTavish had last checked it out, but which Ginallath and Aeryn’s more practiced eyes found to actually have an illusionary wall concealing several magical weapons.

MacTavish, Wulf, and Inigo gave fuller attention to the Keep’s Chapel, noting with trepidation that something had drained the life out of several orcs here, leaving them as mere husks. Upon approaching the altar to Tyr there, they found that the force at work was the spectre of Ferran Martinez, last chaplain of Sokal Keep, who fortunately recognized the passwords Wolf gave him. Martinez explained that his final spells were crafted to ensure that the keep would always be guarded; in doing so he had inadvertently bound both his own spirit and those of the original garrison to the place as well as animating the bodies of the dead. Wolf explained that Men again inhabited New Phlan and sought to reclaim the old city, and suggested to Martinez that the arrival of a new garrison might allow the curse to be lifted. Martinez agreed, but insisted that the adventurers must prove the ability of the new settlers to protect the Keep by fighting off the rapidly approaching orc war party. The party agreed, and prepared for battle.

The party rightly suspected that the Orcs would attack the front gate of Sokal Keep, the collapsed gate being the weakest point. To make up for this, the party rigged up several tripwires and concealed spike traps (shallow pungi stakes) in the gateway itself. Inigo mounted the section of wall to the right of the gate, Ginallath the left, and Beck stood near the gate itself, boasting that he would hold it alone. Wulf, MacTavish, and Aeryn stayed in the courtyard to provide support where needed.

The Orc assault force arrived in five ominous black longboats, and began to pour onto the beach – the party counted at least 40-50 orcs and hobgoblins. Immediately, the Orcs rushed for the gate, only to be repelled by accurate archery from Inigo and sorcery from Ginallath. But this was only an initial assault, a testing of strength.

The humanoids’ next assault came in three wings. The largest, a party of orcs stiffened by an elite all-hobgoblin assault team, struck directly at the gate. Some were killed or incapacitated by the traps. The rest faced Beck, who crushed many with each swing of his great two-handed maul. The other two groups each made for a section of wall, hoping to climb over it with grapnels while the defenders were occupied at the gate. The lefthand group’s attempt bogged down into a stalemate, as Ginallath used his spells and accurate sling shots to keep them from successfully gaining a foothold. The righthand group, however, managed to make it up the wall, where some descended into the Keep while others fought desperately to keep Inigo pinned until they could be reinforced.

Wulf rushed forward to help Beck at the gate, and the two of them tore into the hobgoblin elites while MacTavish and Aeryn shot down any orcs who managed to slip past the fight. A squad of orcs from Inigo’s position on the wall rushed towards them, and the defenders of the gate would have been overwhelmed had not the remaining undead garrison of the keep shambled forward to reinforce them. Unable to take the left of the gate, the orcs there resorted to sniping at Ginallath with their javelins, badly wounding him. All of the party was, in fact, badly wounded and MacTavish’s healing spells were gone.

But as Beck and Wulf, streaming with gore, cleaved down the last of the hobgoblins, the warparty’s morale broke and they ran for their boats with a frenzied Beck in hot pursuit. Quickly pushing their longboats back into the river, they rowed frantically home as Beck sent loud insults and a hurled vial of acid after them.

After searching the bodies of the dead, the badly wounded but victorious party returned to Martinez’s chapel, where the spectre gratefully released the keep to the City of New Phlan’s care. He also warned them that they faced further challenges, for the invaders of Phlan 500 years ago had been aided by a magical pool, and a great and powerful general, Tryanthraxus. Martinez advised the party to seek the library of the sage Mendor, then faded away, his task complete.

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Episode IX: The Temple of Bane

Upon their return to New Phlan, the group separated to buy equipment, relax at Nat Wyler’s Bell for a few drinks, and generally hang out. When they were rested and presentable, they headed over to the Phlan City Council chambers to recieve their reward from the harried and sarcastic clerk. They then began the semi-enjoyable task of spending their cash and looking for more work. Ginallath departed to take care of some business of his own (John couldn’t make it), while Aeryn checked with her shadowy contacts in Phlan’s dockyards.

Unemployment was, however, brief. At breakfast the next morning, the party was approached by a messenger boy from the Phlan City Council, who informed them that their services were needed. Beck Darkmantle, happy to have a new source for drinking money, was so happy he carried the kid on his shoulders all the way back to the Council Chambers.

There, they were brought before Bishop Aram Braccio of the Temple of Tyr. The Bishop, reasonably impressed by the party’s efforts to clear out Sokal Keep, asked them to aid the paladin Bassana Rockmantle (whom they had briefly met at Kuto’s Well) in recovering several relics of the Church of Tyr from the abandoned temple in the Old City, now converted by the humanoid invaders into a temple of Bane. Bassana’s group had stumbled upon the location of the relics, but were so badly hurt by a fight with ogres in the ruins that the dwarf paladin needed a new escort group. While the Bishop could not offer any direct reward, he did offer the party full rights to any treasure they might find in the temple – and his considerable powers of patronage. Flush with confidence after their victory at the Keep, the party accepted.

Ginallath’s business continued to delay him, so the party sent Beck to tell him where they were (Cameron had to leave early) and then left, taking their little rowboat up the Barren River (its waters had become mysteriously fouled generations ago) and then across to the Old City, where they picked their way through the orc-infested slums to reach the temple. Hearing what sounded like cries for help, they moved down an alley, only to discover an orc baby abandoned in a pile of trash. Not really sure what to do with a baby, the party picked the smelly, squalling brat up and took it with them.

Shortly thereafter they ran into four orcs in the livery of the Temple of Bane. Thinking quickly, Aeryn tried to convince them that they were bringing the baby to be sacrificed in Bane’s dark rites. The orcs seemed somewhat willing to believe Aeryn, but after a brief conference decided to send one of their number back to clear it with the temple’s priest, whom they referred to as “Mace”. At this point, Inigo’s hatred of Orcs got the better of him and he leaped forward to attack, cutting down three of them while the runner escaped into the slums.

After Inigo was throughly lectured by both Bassana and the rest of the party about the need for self-control, they pushed on into the slums, meeting curiously little opposition, until the ruined gothic spires of the temple towered over them, its beautiful statuary smashed and defaced by Orcs. In front of the massive oak doors stood three guards and an aged orc doorkeeper. Approaching the guards, Aeryn and MacTavish tried the same deception again – attempting to pass themselves off as Banites. The orcs were skeptical of Inigo’s presence (what with his being an Elf), and Aeryn explained that he was their slave -which the guards took great joy in verifying by having the proud Elf Ranger lick their boots and perform other demeaning acts -all of which Inigo submitted to while repressing his growing urge to kill.

Finally, the aged blind doorkeeper hobbled forward and began to feel at MacTavish’s neck. Realizing that the old orc was checking for Banite holy symbols, MacTavish realized the game was up and brained him, while Wulf and a very angry Inigo leapt forward to cut the door guards down and rush into the temple. Inside, the orc temple guardians rushed forth to deal with the intruders, but were outmatched by the party who killed them all in short order. While Wulf and Inigo guarded the door and MacTavish prayed to Tempus, Aeryn and Bassana searched the temple – uncovering the relics hidden inside a pillar, as well as several caches of magic weapons and scrolls. Now they really regretted not waiting for Ginallath – among the scrolls were copies of Melf’s Magic Meteors and Monster Summoning IV, both of which would come in handy against the angry horde of orcs building up outside the temple. Aeryn desperately searched for a second exit – but to no avail.

Lacking magic support, the party decided to barricade the temple door and try to cut the orcs down as they rushed in. Wulf, Inigo, and Bassana took positions on either side of the door, while MacTavish and Aeryn stationed themselves against a pillar with bows trained on the entrance. Soon they could hear the orcs battering at the door while a harsh voice that could only be that of Mace exhorted them to victory in the name of Bane. The carved oak doors splintered and a host of orcs rushed in – only to be cut down by the party wating in ambush. A second group followed and met a similar fate -but the party was beginning to tire.

Mace sent in a final group of orcs, then followed them himself, accompanied by his picked guards. The half-orc cleric of Bane ordered the party to throw down their equipment and the relics and they would be allowed to leave without further trouble, but MacTavish’s warlike god and Inigo’s hatred of orcs made an agreement impossible, and Mace’s troops moved in for the final assault. First to fall was Inigo, spitting hatred to the last. Then Bassana went down, surrounded by a pack of Orcs. Aeryn and MacTavish soon followed, leaving Wulf facing Mace, who moved in to face him himself. The last thing Wulf saw before he collapsed from exhaustion and blood loss was the grinning face of the Banite cleric…

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Episode X: The Rescue

Back in New Phlan, Ginallath had returned to Nat Wyler’s Bell, and discovered that the rest of the party had left without him. In the inn’s common room, he encountered Beck Darkmantle, who had been sidetracked from his original intention of finding the wizard by the prospect of drinking a lot. As Beck finally got around to telling Ginallath where everyone was, they were approached by three mysterious figures – a sun elf noblewoman, a dusky-skinned human woman dressed for wilderness travel, and a quiet, tattooed thief.

Over drinks, the elf woman introduced herself as Vilanestra, a former student of the mage Ren the White. Ren had disappeared into the Old City after contacting Vilanestra via sending, and the sun elf mage had traveled from Evermeet to find her old mentor. Having heard of the party’s victory at Sokol Keep, she had hoped to use their knowledge of the area to aid her search, but they had departed for the Temple of Bane before she could speak to them. The thief, Girald Authar of Luskan, and Vilanestra’s associate Rajmani, a ranger/druid of some skill, had tracked the party into the Old City, and witnessed their defeat by the orcs. Vilanestra theorized that Mace would probably keep the adventurers alive, planning to sell them to an orc tribe outside the city which routinely raided the area for slaves to sell to Mulmaster, Melvaunt, and Zhentil Keep. She offered to help Ginallath rescue Wulf, MacTavish, Inigo, and Aeryn in exchange for his promise to help her find Ren the White. Ginallath and Beck accepted, whereupon Vilanestra revealed that she had hired additional local help: Vola. Naturally, Beck was overjoyed.

Meanwhile, the party awoke to find themselves lying uncomfortably in a wooden wagon jouncing over the rough terrain east of Phlan. Soon, they found themselves approaching a large camp, fortified by rough wooden walls and towers. At the gate, they were met by Grishak, who combined the functions of tribal subchief and oily slavedealer in one unappealing package. After inspecting the party (and checking Wulf’s teeth), Grishak ordered them placed in the slave pen, which turned out to be a 20′ pit topped by logs and guarded by bow-armed orcs. Some of the prisoners turned out to be former New Phlan City Guardsmen, who recognized MacTavish as a cleric of Tempus and turned to him for leadership.

As MacTavish organized the slaves and Inigo sulked, Ginallath and his new allies tracked the Orc slavers to their camp. In the process, Ginallath’s willowy form attracted Vola’s attention, and the elf only escaped becoming another notch on her bedpost by casting sleep on the lusty half-orc and convincing her that something had, in fact, happened. The elf mage then volunteered to disguise himself as an orc (via change self) and reconnoiter the camp, while a similarly disguised GIrald infiltrated the camp and distributed weapons to the party.

At the gate Ginallath was met by Grishak. Fortunately, his disguise held up, and he was taken to inspect the tribe’s current stock while Girald disappeared into the crowded camp. After inspecting Wulf’s teeth (again) Ginallath purchased him from Grishak for 150 gold pieces, and proudly led his new slave out of the camp to safety. Girald, meanwhile, knifed an Orc guard and made it into the pit, where he informed the party of the attempt being made to rescue them and gave them the daggers he had brought with him.

At dawn, the rescuers executed their plan. Vilanestra and Vola provided a compelling diversion (courtesy of Vilanestra’s mastery of Abjuration spells), while Ginallath, Rajmani, Wulf, and Beck assaulted the gate. Their attack was met by javelins from the orcs, as well as the attention of the two ballista crews stationed in the towers on either side of the gates.

Beck swung into action immediately, using his grappling hook to yank Orcs from the walls and towers to their deaths, while Ginallath used his bow and his spells to pick off those that remained. One unlucky orc had the misfortune to be wedged between the right tower’s crenellations and caught. Acting quickly, Rajmani scaled the rope over the objections of the screaming orc. Beck shrugged, handed the rope to Wulf, and followed, as did Ginallath – leaving Wulf standing in front of the gate all alone with javelins raining down on him.

Hearing the commotion at the gate was too much for Inigo. Inspired by the lust for battle, he screamed “Attack!” and hurled his dagger at the guards. Girald watched as the blade sank into the earth at the edge of the pit and swore softly – then he flattened himself up against the side of the pit while the rest of the party (and the guards) blinked in astonishment. With a cry of “The slaves are armed – kill them!” the orc guards began to fire wildly into the pit as Aeryn and MacTavish desperately searched for cover.

Meanwhile on the tower, the rescuers split up, with Beck and Rajmani clearing away the guards while Ginallath climbed down (or more accurately dropped down, since he failed his Climb check) to the courtyard to open the gate. Winded and bruised from the fall, the elf mage looked up to see Grishak and a squad of Orcs rushing towards the gate. Hurt and out of spells, Ginallath braced himself for the end…

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