Swamp Things

“This is starting to get quite annoying…” you all think as you step out of the tavern and are immediately pulled through another … portal? back into Evanna proper.. at least as far as you can tell, that seems to be where you are.

You can’t help but notice the huge battle and siege taking place a few hundreds yards through the thick forested swamp to the northwest. You don’t get far before you are approached by a rider on a horse in the familiar garb of the Kelemvorians – except this one is clearly not wearing ceremonial armor. His gear is muddied and bloodied and he seems in no mood for insubordination. He barks at you to get back to the battle – your orders are apparently waiting, and just as apparent, you are fighting on the side of the Kelemvorians and the Queen of Night and Magic, but the reasons remain a mystery. As you follow the knight to the command area, you’re approached by a junior officer, given a map and a small pouch of provisions, and sent on your mission.

You’re told you are to quickly but quietly make your way to the far corner of the castle where there is said to be a small sewage access in need of repair. If the information is correct, it seems the perfect opportunity for a small force to infiltrate the fort, sneak into the prison area, and rescue the three hostages being held by the Moonlit King’s forces. Still somewhat bewildered as to the circumstances, but feeling compelled and duty bound by your contractual obligations to the Kelemvorians, you take advantage of the chaos of the fighting to get through the heart of the battlefield, mostly by shear physical force. You disguise yourselves in the enemies garb to get further beyond enemy lines. The mud and vine entangled roots and trees slow your progress, and you get turned around just before reaching your destination, at which point you literally stumble into a unnaturally swirling pool of water and are attacked by a small group of frog-like water spirits.

With your most heavily armored combatants unable to effectively maneuver in the swampy pool, what should have been a simple challenge wears you all down to near exhaustion. You are able to vanquish the little buggers, but need to recover for a few minutes before moving on. After catching your breath and getting your bearings, you are able to locate the grated sewer entrance without further hindrance.

You’re able to bust through the grate easily, if not quite silently but before you get far, you step on a swarm of small rock monsters – cobbleswarms, if you want to call them something. Even in your tired state, these are more annoyance than actual threat, but who knows what else lurks down here below this place. You have the feeling you’ll want every ounce of health and energy you can muster.

In fair Barovia, where we lay our scene

A low, distant moan echoed through the closely packed trees. Even as the packed dirt trail widened and improved to an actual cobblestone road, the dense fog disoriented both sight and sound, making it all but impossible to pinpoint where the anguished cry originated from. As the Desert Dogs approached the eerily lifeless village ahead, the moan turned into a wail. The travelers entered the collection of shabby dwellings cautiously and soon found the tormented woman, Mary, clutching a tattered rag doll alone in the upper room of an otherwise nondescript house.

This poor old woman told them of her daughter, Gertrude, who had been taken by “the Devil Strahd” not a week ago. The Dogs learned of Strahd’s penchant for young girls and his plan to make Ireena, the daughter of the borgmaster, his bride- having bitten her twice, he need only return once more to make her his immortal possession.

Failing to give any further comfort to Mary despite their sincerest efforts, the party sought out the borgmaster for more information and to inquire about the riches mentioned in the message they had found on the dead courier. Instead they found Ireena herself, keeping vigil over her father’s body. Once more, the Dogs offered their condolences, but being completely unfamiliar with local customs and taboos (like pickpocketing or suggesting that dead folks be “raised”), they only succeeded in offending the young woman. The distraught Ireena warned them that they would suffer the same fate as all the other “heroes” that had come before if they attempted to help her and the village. She then shooed them out of her home, telling them to explore the valley of Barovia to get a sense of the desperate situation- if they were still alive and still felt they could help, return to her in a week.

Naturally, the party began its exploration at the local tavern to fill their bellies and rests their bodies for whatever lie ahead. Coincidently, they happened upon Ireena’s brother who was a fountain of information on Barovia, Strahd, and the gypsies known as the Vistani who were favored by Strahd. Upon learning all of this, a couple members of the party approached the Vistani in the tavern and told them to tell their boss that the Dogs were coming for him. It remains to be seen if such a bold move was courageous or foolhardy.

In a fog

Upon waking, the Desert Dogs begin preparations for their journey to Duzpadki. Unfortunately, Razal, Aeros, and Raban had all misted out into the “dream state” leaving only Inara and Auron to continue with their mission. With little other choice, the duo hitched up the mules and headed south.

A heavy fog had rolled in overnight, and visibility on the road was terrible. Instead of burning off as the morning grew, the fog intensified until the pair nearly lost the road altogether. Through some small breaks, they also noticed the trees and foliage had changed from what they remembered in the previous days. Unfamiliar with forests of any kind, however, they pressed on, unaware of the queerness of their circumstances.

Soon, they heard voices carrying through the woods ahead and came upon an odd little trio butchering a dire wolf in the middle of the road – a heavily armored fellow crouched behind a kite shield, a tall archer of elvish-looking decent hidden among the trees with his pet wolf, and a small sticky-fingered rascal puppeteering the wolf’’s corpse. Introductions were made and tensions were lowered when the pair explained they were on a mission from god – Kelemvor, specifically. Coincidentally (if you believe in coincidence, anyway), Marutuk, the armored man, happened to be a servant of Kelemvor himself. The rogue was intrigued by the pairs contract and possible reward for helping, and the elf (who the others dubbed Cily) was eager at the opportunity for additional companionship. As they were all heading in generally the same direction, they decided to travel together.

A bit further along, they came upon an enormous gate which mysteriously held back the ever-present fog. It was flanked by two huge armored statutes, and as they approached the gate swung open on its own. After some investigation, the party cautiously passed through the gates which (obviously) swung closed untouched once they were all through. Before the newly formulated Desert Dogs got much further, they discovered a mangled corpse along the side of the road, which Marutuk, with the assistance of Inara, insisted on giving a proper burial. As they closed the grave, they were surrounding by loud howling and set upon by a pack of dire wolves. Auron lit up the forest with excessive amounts of fire and lightening, and the wolves were destroyed. Hopefully the group didn’t draw the attention of any other sinister forces that may be lurking in the region…. but that seems unlikely.

And they're off...

The adventuring group, forevermore after known as the Desert Dogs, spent the better part of a10-day gaining as much knowledge and power as possible in preparation for their pursuit of Zamni Lasante. The first order of business was to make arrangements for repairs to their tavern/inn/cabin in the woods. They located the Lead Stone Construction company, – a reputable dwarven run outfit from Emperia – and negotiated a fair bargain for the reconstruction in exchange for some gold and preferred pricing for employees of the company. Work was expected to last for aprroximately 60 days. They also had a brief conversation with the satyr Rolfan and dryads from the tournament, but decided to remain tight-lipped about their quest and blew off his attempts to gain their friendship.

Speaking of friends, just before their departure, Inara’s friend Dion presented her with a beautiful saddle embossed with a battle axe crossed by a scimitar that he said he had received from a ‘secret admirer,’ which momentarily softened her usual steely expression… but only momentarily. Then it was all business as the group headed south towards the only major pass into the Wielkilas.

After just a couple of days, traffic along the main road thinned. Around the fourth night, the Desert Dogs happened across what appeared to be traveling merchants/entertainers/gypsies. After negotiations failed to lead to any transactions, the groups set to their respective nightly routines – the Dogs resting for the road ahead and the gypsies attempting to slit their throats while they did so. It didn’t end well for the gypsies and now the Dogs will have the benefit of a small covered wagon pulled by two small mules. Perhaps it isn’t the best transportation when entering a swampy, savage forest, but until then, it sure beats walking.

Let it be written.

After Bazrik’s tantrum at being spurned once again, you burned down his family home, only to have it then deeded to your party as repayment for being mistreated by one of the registered patrons of the tournament. You found some interesting items before setting the place ablaze, however:
- A Robe of Useful Items with the following patches:
2 daggers
2 Bullseye Lanterns
2 Steel Mirrors
2 10 Foot Poles
2 Hemp Ropes
2 sacks
2 Wooden ladder
2 Iron door
1 Bag of 100 gold
1 Potions of healing x4
2 Spell scroll 1-3
1 Rowboat
1 Portable Ram

- 1 Gem of Brightness w/ 50 charges
- 4 Potions of Climbing
- 1 Potion of Animal Friendship
- 2 small candle holders
- a drakeskin rug
- 2 jars of earth – one with multicolored rocks/pebbles and the other with extremely fine, black silt/sand

You met Ivgast when you returned to camp and told him of your choice to take the offer from the Kelemvor to serve them for a period of time in lieu of public flogging. He gave you a sending stone with which you could communicate with him once per day to keep him and Madam Maxine informed of what you learn.

Finally, you were given your contract to hunt down a fugitive from Rimefel – a man by the name of Zamni Lasante. Supreme Authority Nakir made it official, and Administrator Samel suggested you begin your search in Rimefel. He gave you a crude handrawn map of the world and a more detailed map of the Wielkilas. He also suggested you may want to take advantage of the large number of experienced adventurers in the City and receive additional training before you head out, which you all take advantage of (Welcome to Level 5!). Rest up for now. You may not find another real bed for a long while…

The Wielkilas

Crude map of Evanna

Some offers you can refuse

Upon returning from the dreamlike realms, the group begins receiving various offers from a variety of patrons:

Crest_and_Seal_-_Madame_Maxine.jpg1) Madame Maxine – taking responsibility for your actions, you must endure some punishment for your breaches of protocols during the tournament. You can either be publicly flogged or be turned over as indentured servants to the unforgiving Kelemvorians. You will likely be acting as bounty hunters on their behalf. Regardless of your choice of contract, she also hopes you will go against Kelemvorian law and act as double agents, reporting back to her on the happenings around the realms.

Crest_and_Seal_-_Queen_of_Night_and_Magic.jpg2) The Queen of Night and Magic – self-proclaimed “rightful ruler of the Shadow Fen” needs warriors to assist in subduing a rebellion led by her estranged husband. She claims to want to bring order and civility to the “bestial” societies that dwell within her lands.

Crest_and_Seal_-_Emperia_Noble__Daniel_Flushing_.jpg3) Roginald Flushing – concerned with the incursions into Emperia from outsiders, Sir Roginald needs the borders cleared of enemies in order to construct the greatest wall in the history of walling.

Crest_and_Seal_-_Moonlit_King.jpg4) Moonlit King – leader of a rebellion against his estranged wife in the Shadow Fen, he has begun a civil war with the stated intention of bringing freedom and independence to those that have suffered under the Queen’s rule.

Crest_and_Seal_-_Vuur_ryk.jpg5) Bazrik Isj’kaak – his family cast down by his dragonborn kin, he plans to explore far into the mountain ranges seeking to establish a kingdom of his own to rival that of Vuur’ryk.

It is not a decision to be made lightly – your choices will certainly determine your own fates, but may also alter the fate of the world as you know it…Crest_and_Seal_-_Madame_Maxine.jpg

*** That was trippy... ***
A short aside

~ DM’s note – most of this is canon, but I reserve the right to ret-con or reinterpret as fits the story moving forward. Think of it as a shared dream, with each person having a slightly different recollection of exactly what did or did not happen. Much thanks to Mat for running the session!! Sounds like fun! ~

The party celebrates its victory in the capture the flag competition. Auron has already passed out from too much drinking while Razal discusses the merits of their tactics with an elf druid called Josh. The others are minding their own business and are nowhere to be seen.

To the amazement of the crowd, you fade away and find yourself under a starry night, looking at an utterly pristine and unfamiliar desert…but with a simultaneous strange “deja vu” feeling as well. Exploring your new environment, your best guess it that you are no longer on the Material Plane, and probably experience what might have happened to your former teammate Grom. The landscape is utterly barren and devoid of life, which makes the druid Josh fairly uncomfortable. A chain of mountain dominates the horizon, and you decide to go into its direction.

On your way, you witness a pair of humanoids made of rock gang up on great snakes covered in flames. They dispatch them quickly, leaving a pool of magma behind them, and turn your attention to you. Showing that druids have more tricks in their leather bag than one may believe, Josh turns invisible while the gargoyles fly up to attack Razal. However, the shield and armor of the tiefling warlock are no match for the creatures, one of whom pathetically crashes on the uneven ground. Although resistant to the strikes of the warlock, the magic of the sorcerer and druid make quick work of your opponents. While debating what to do with the gargoyle you have knocked out, the pool of magma turns into humanoid form and ambushes you. It is literally put out by the gallons of water Josh calls upon it.

Your attempts to communicate with these creatures fail. The earth rumbles, and you see boulders awaking into larger creature made of rock. They look at you briefly, and start to run… away from clouds of fire that soon engulf the whole sky. Auron brags about how well tieflings handle fire, but you figure it is a good idea to run away from these fiery clouds. The ground is made more treacherous by earthquake replicas, which sometimes open chasm before your feet. You muster all your energy to run, trying to navigate the terrain as a good as you can, motivating and pushing each other to run faster, harder. When Razal trips over, and is attacked by one of the large flame creatures that set everything ablaze, you go back to help her on her feet, and manage to discourage your attacker without losing to much ground on the tempest of fire. Soon after, the landscape fades again, and you reappear, sweaty, exhausted, and breathing heavily, in the middle of the crowd that you saw vanish seconds before.

TL;DR: the party gets teleported to something resembling the Elemental Plane of Earth, in the frontier region to the Elemental Plane of Fire, perhaps. Fire soon becomes the dominant influence, and the PC have to run away from Elemental Fire that washes over the area. They stay long enough in this highly unstable environment that they teleport back to the City of Peace.

The Games are over. Let the Fun begin!

The cultists/anarchists don’t reveal much when questioned. More questions lead to more questions… they’re obviously intending to create chaos but beyond that, their end is unclear. Regardless, after swift trials throughout the night by the Kelemvorian judges, the captured culprits are quickly and brutally executed at daybreak – their skulls smashed by the official Headsmen of the Judiciary.

This spectacle is followed by the morning ceremony bestowing strength and wisdom on the remaining competitors. As the group prepares for their final trial, they are surprised to learn that the supposed paladin that they met prior to the last event, is in fact a sorcerer named Auron who had glamoured them all to hide his identity (reasons to be revealed at some point in the future, perhaps). Seeing the group lacking any heavily armored front line troops, they return to the lists of party-less hopefuls and find another paladin (of sorts) to take Auron’s former place. This individual, Nahg, is unusual in his own right – he carries a pick axe, for one, but he also proclaimed his total “disbelief” in magic, which left the warlock, sorcerer, and psionic somewhat slackjawed…. Nonetheless, a few of the party members had seen how effective he was in action in a few side competitions, and he was welcomed to the group.

The final competition was a “capture the flag” type of test. The group was matched against a small tribe of lizardfolk, including their queen, her pet lizard, and a shaman. While half of the group engaged the majority of the foes in melee, and with some unexpected assistance from a lizardman soldier who was turned to an ally, your speedy barbarian was able to snatch the flag from the ground, slice the head off of the pet lizard, and charge up the steps for the victory. As much as the crowd loved the brutal beheading of a small domesticated lizard, the lizardfolk will surely remember the savagery and personal offense against one of their own.

As the competition draws to a close, you eagerly await word from any prospective sponsors and can only hope your breaches of protocol throughout the tournament have gone unnoticed by the stern eye of the Kelemvorian.

That which doesn't kill you...
Level 4

Order is quickly restored, as one would expect in the heavily secured City Of Peace, even if much confusion still surrounds the assaults around the City. The officials are able to contain the chaos and announce that the final day of competition will proceed as scheduled. Additional priests and healers are dispatched to patch up any of the more seriously wounded.

The following morning, all remaining participants are invited to a special ceremony asking for whichever gods or powers to grant them all strength and health. As you all join in this occasion, you feel a palpable energy overwhelm you or maybe spring from deep within you – it’s as if you’ve had a sudden awakening of latent talents and abilities. As you exit the ceremonial plaza, you are unquestionably more formidable and confident. Unfortunately, so is your competition…

* I have not forgotten about your prisoner. You will be able to interrogate her right away before any of the above happens. *

Cultists Interruptus

After a successful first battle at the Explorers’ Expo, the party has a few hours to relax and prepare for round two of the competition. A few members of the group are met by some friendly faces, congratulated on their victory, and given some small but useful consumables.

As the group is relaxing, an even more perplexed than usual Grom suddenly fades back into existence. He doesn’t seem to be fully aware that he was ever absent and answers only incoherently when questioned about where he has been. What you can gather makes little sense except that he describes a dreamlike state mixed with a feeling of deja vu… He’s clearly boggled and excuses himself in an attempt to find answers. His destination is unclear but, try as you might, you are unable to convince him to stay and recoup before he heads out….

In addition, Razal is also knocked out of the next round of competition. Apparently, one of the poison drow darts scraped lightly enough as to have gone unnoticed, but deeply enough for its toxin to take effect. With a bit of rest, she should recover fully. Due to your team being down two members, you scour the registered pool of party-less hopefuls and find one particular individual that significantly stands out from the rest – a human paladin who gladly joins on with the team.

For round two of the competition – The Gauntlet – you’re matched against a group of three dryads and a satyr. The Gauntlet consists of a series of challenges meant to test the groups in a variety of different skills. It involves tests ranging from purely physical skills to complex tactical games to negotiations with ogres. The competition is exciting as two teams change leads a number of times. Your party eeks out the victory on the final puzzle and the crowd cheers. Your competitors congratulate you and you all head back to the camps again to get some much deserved rest.

The evening is going rather quietly until you see a series of large magical signals shoot up almost simultaneously from various parts of the City. Your area of the camp is set upon by a rag tag group of cultists? mercenaries? fanatics? It’s unclear who they are, what exactly they want, or why they have decided to create mayhem, but their intent is clear – death and destruction. The few bits of gibberish you do catch seem to be in regards to some god or gods being lies, maybe a half-hearted attempt at conversion to their… religion?… unclear… Fortunately, they don’t seem to be particularly well trained or disciplined, and you handle those nearby without much trouble. You are even successful in capturing the apparent leader of this little troop and have decided to interrogate her. Who are they working for? What is their goal? What secrets will she reveal? Hopefully we’ll learn more next time….


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