I've been writing up what's been happening in our sessions and putting them on a D&D message board for several weeks, but it's a pretty good story that's happening, so I thought I'd share it the rest of y'all. For those that don't play, Dungeons and Dragons is essentially interactive storytelling with a fantasy bent.
I do get somewhat technical with my explanations of game mechanics or books at time, but most of it is presented in a story summary format. And without further ado, let me introduce our party of intrepid adventurers, who I have named the Kingmakers...
This contains no spoilers, as I am creating my own adventure.
This is a high-power Dawnforge (from Fantasy Flight Games) game with a group of five. We're playing in the Dungeons and Dragons 3.5 gaming system. The players were created with 38 point buy, at 7th level, and I gave them their first legendary item (as detailed in Age of Legend, a Dawnforge supplement) for free. We play bi-weekly Fridays.
When we first met our intrepid heroes, they had assembled in the city of Avennar, the capital of the kingdom of Deluin, the largest kingdom of the Kingsmarch. Its monarch, King Enir II, has been leading his people against the depredations of the fiendish Valhedar Dominion for many years, with no end in sight. To try to quell his peoples' suffering, he called together a group of five heroes of renown:
Illiana Two-Edge - a female trueborn human fighter, member of the order of the Knights Adamant, a skilled and powerful group of holy fighters for the Kingsmarch. It's clear Illiana has a short temper, poor social graces, a great loathing for the tieflings, and the fighting skill to match every curt word and insult.
Lissa of the Golden Eyes - a female lowlander human seer (unbeknownst to all of you, truly a yuan-ti thinblood telepath psion of uncommon power). She claims to have seen your futures, and her fate lies with yours. Her reputation for knowing all has granted her entry to this august company, for even though she seems to be a non-combatant, she can view the past with uncanny accuracy.
Silran - a male night elf ranger. Seeking to escape the madness of the civil war that has engulfed his homeland, Silran's accuracy with a bow has already proved invaluable. He seems to seek battle against a simpler, more easily recognized evil in the Dominion and otherwise, rather than use his skills against his own people.
Odo - a male tiefling wizard who seethes with boundless energy. Escaped from the clutches of the Dominion at a young age and raised with the rebel Noon family in a contested region of the Emerlyn peninsula, Odo proves that not all tieflings are cruel, sadistic, power-hungry fiends. Quiet and unassuming, except when he gets excited, Odo specializes in increasing the power of others, showing a giving spirit unknown amongst Dominion tieflings.
Goodwind - a male gnome shaman with his badger animal companion Blue. A nattily-attired gnome with a cheerful disposition, Goodwind has an ally of nature ready for every situation as well as a great skill with healing. His companion, Blue, is a fierce and sturdy little badger that would defend his friend and master to the death. He stays in Goodwind's oversized bag, in a blue bag of his very own.
[DM note: Iliana and Silran are played by husband and wife, in that precise order. Lissa is played by a woman, Odo by my husband, and Goodwind by my father.]
The king told you he had called you here for a reason of dire import. While the Kingsmarch is fractured into many kingdoms (five large ones and dozens of smaller) its very strength is divided. Though the forces of the various kingdoms fight the Dominion together, the various heads of state spend as much time bickering and feuding amongst each other as they do battling the Dominion. All have recognized that if this bickering does not stop, the Dominion will eventually win. But even if all differences were to be resolved tomorrow and a truce declared, the united forces of the Kingsmarch could only hope to hold the Dominion in stalemate forever and aye. Thusly, while King Enir and his fellow monarchs busily try to iron out their differences, they send you to gather what the Kingsmarch needs even more than peace: an army. A loyal, righteous army that is willing to ally with the Kingsmarch and drive the invading Dominion back to their own island forever.
The king said he has sent diplomats out in the past, but to no avail. He believes that the diplomats' very loyalty to the Kingsmarch might have been their downfall; as the Kingsmarch looked like a soverign nation attempting to bring a weaker under its sway. Now the king wishes to send a mixed group of allies, skilled in both arms and diplomacy, to represent the many peoples that desire the Dominion to be defeated. To win the loyalty of the army, the king and his four strongest kings, queens, and barons of the largest kingdoms have signed a magical writ outlining the terms of alliance. They offer food, herds, respect, mutual defense, and a treaty between nations. If the writ is signed willingly and knowingly, it binds the parties to its terms. Woe unto he who breaks the oath!
The king also sends "tokens of alliance" in a bag of holding. These include barrels of Kingsmarch wine, wheels of cheese, travel bread, jerky (all in vast quantities to show the prosperity of the Kingsmarch lands), as well as respresentations of other Kingsmarch crafts (two angel's blades, a horsebreaker shield, a figurine of wonderous power that turns into a representation of a Kingmarch trained battle stallion, a magical bow and arrows, two silver chalices with blessings in the King's Tongue engraved upon them, and a holy symbol of Alharra Dawn-Bearer).
The king suggested two nations might be of interest. The Durning Highlands to the north; their warriors are fierce, and their people have a strict code of honor, yet their lands are rocky and hard to farm. And the orc tribes of the far north; they desire respectibility, and have great prowess in the fighting arts. To ease your way, the king sent two people with you. One was Conner McNessa, an albino minotaur bard-barbarian, and the other was Ambrose Angus, a man of mixed highlander/trueborn heritage who had also spent several summers with one of the orc tribes. Ambrose knows the tongues of the Highlands and the orcs, and can serve as a translator and guide.
[DM note: Conner McNessa was created by a sixth player who was moving the next week; this was his last gaming session with our group. In subsequent posts, Conner will disappear quickly, as one NPC in a group of this size is enough. Ambrose, for those interested, is a Spirit Adept, a Dawnforge version of a monk. He weilds a battleaxe, and is very speedy.]
The group traveled swiftly northward for a week's time, and in due coarse entered the lower reaches of the highlands. Your sight of your first highland village was spoiled by the fact it was occupied with giants. A fierced battle ensued, with rocks flying thick and fast, and all the warriors madly scrambling up the rocky slope to do battle. You saw the giants were strangely modified, as if their very skin had been formed and molded like clay, and one of them had a volt for a pet. The group fought them fiercely, leaping over the walls, battering down the gates, and not letting a single one escape, not even their shaman, who attempted to flee in the form of a mouse. During the battle, unknownst to all, Lissa of the Golden Eyes was responsible for the death of three of the giants with her powerful psionic powers. However, as her manifestations arrive unheralded and leave no trace, their kills were credited to Iliana, Conner, and Ambrose. (With clever use of the ego whip power, augmented to the max, Lissa did an incredible amount of damage... and never got closer than 60 feet to the battle. The rest of the players found this vastly amusing.)
When the battle was over and done, you recovered the shaman's mouse ring, as well as four potions of clay. Lissa discovered the giants had raided the village several days before, driving away most of the people, and capturing a few for unfortunate, stew-related purposes. When we ended the session, the warriors from the neighboring village were just arriving.
[The follow represents a conversation the group had over e-mail between sessions, as to not slow things down too much. Chronologically it comes partway between the group leaving Deliun and arriving in the Highlands.]
Halfway to the Highlands, Ambrose catches your attention one night during dinner.
"I had a question for ye. How're ye going to raise an army in the Highlands? There's no king of all the clans. No one wants to be king; the Highlands are the Spirit's own work to govern, there being no good roads and all. We don't have a lot of magic to make communicating village to village easy, so most things are done by runner. Makes things slow and hard. And all the chiefs, well... They favor their own clan above any other, 'cause who would want to be in any other clan, eh? Closest the clans have to a central coucil is the Elder Moot. They get together during special occasions, winter and spring being the most important. All the clans get together then, lots of discussing and drinking and brawling and such good things..." Ambrose trails off and nods at the rest of you, inviting question, comments, or futher discussion.
Iliana - "Could we maybe call for this Elder Moot and use that as a starting point for our discussions?"
"Aye," Ambrose says. "Would be hard to call it ourselves, the rest of ye not being Highlanders and all, but it's early yet. The Spring meeting isn't too far away. If we could ask one of the clans if we could come, then they might hear us." He ponders for a moment. "They always have the moots at the Lake of Tombs. The hills there are haunted, and heroes from all the clans clear it of the restless dead before the Elder Moot arrives. It's a great challenge, that, and many people have died. My own cousin perished trying to take down a wraith lord, Spirit rest his soul."
"Maybe we don't need an army from the Highlands, as such," chirps Odo rapidly. "Maybe each clan will effectively sign their own treaties, each being able to negotiate how many warriors go and what they get in return?" [DM note: Odo is being played by my husband, and he plays Odo something like Tweak from Southpark. As in, if his speech had been written the way he talks in game, there would be no spaces at all.]
Iliana blinks not certain what Twitch (Odo) just said, "Aye or we could go slaughter us some undead and make a bit of a name for ourselves."
"Yes, Yes... Kill the undead and make a name for ourselves. Then the clans will have to listen to us. Have to listen. Hmm?" twitters Odo.
Silran has little to say about getting the clans on our sides, but undead are evil and should die. "That sounds like a good idea. Let's clear out the hills."
"Not all undead are evil. No. Some are good. Yes. Some can help." replies Odo, excitedly.
"Before we get to ahead of ourselves, what about you Ambrose? Does this sound like a good way to influence the clans or a suicide mission?" Iliana asks, still not quick sure she's understanding Odo (Twitch).
"You all have pretty good reputations for fighting hellspawn... but the things that haunt the Lake of Tombs are enough to give a brave man nightmares for the rest of his life. Aye, you could make a reputation easily if you pull it off, but it's risky. Not impossible, but risky," Ambrose says.
Lissa: "It sounds like volunteering to help with clearing out the Lake of Tombs would be a good way to get invited to the moot and to show our goodwill. If you give me a few minutes, I can determine whether this would be a good path to take."
(Lissa will cast psionic divination (the same spell as divination), with the question "Will volunteering to help clear out the Lake of Tombs of the restless dead before the next moot aid our cause?" If the answer is positive, she will cast it a second time with the question, "Will the cost to us of helping to clear out the Lake of Tombs be greater than the benefits it might afford us?") [DM note: The answer to the first question is yes. The answer to the second is - The scars of death would prove your courage beyond the graveyard.]
"What's life without a little risk? I'll tell you what it is damn boring! I say we do it!" Iliana exclaims heartily.
Lissa: "I foresee that taking on this task will help our cause. It will be difficult - more so for some than others - but it will prove our courage to the clans. I think it would be wise to ask the first friendly clan we meet if we could join their heroes in the task and in that way be invited to the moot."
"As long as we don't have to play nursemaid to some beardless boys who are out to prove themselves men. I don't have the patience to deal with those with their heads filled with thoughts of glory and adventure," Iliana growls.
"Yes, Yes. We must take big risks to make big allies," enthuses Odo "Lissa can play nursemaid whilst we fight".
Ambrose shakes his head at Iliana's comment. "'Tis a task for heroes. Clearing the haunted hills is a man's task, not a boy's. Many seasoned warriors have died trying to make the hills safe for the Elder Moot. You'd be sharing yer glory with the finest heroes of the highlands."
"That's all I needed to know. I've seen some pretty stupid decisions made in the name of glory, even by veterans," Iliana says.
When we last left our intrepid heroes, they had just liberated the small Highland village of Sweetwater from the clutches of murderous giants. They remained in the village for two days, and on the second, Silran spotted a returning group of Highland warriors, intent on freeing the village. Finding their work done for them, the Highlanders began a great celebration, partially for their kinsmen who had died, partially to cheer the giants' deaths, and partially to honor the outsiders that had risked their lives for the village.
Much, much ale was drunk, many wrestling matches ensued, some target games were played, and must boasts were made. Before the festivities had gone too far, Colin, the chief of the war party, had a long conversation with the party as to why they were in the Highlands. Telling him that they were trying to raise an army, and showing him the tokens of alliance, Colin showed a healthy bit of skepticism. But when the party said they wanted to speak to the Elder Moot, and help the Highlanders clear the haunted hills around the Lake of Tombs before the spring meeting, Colin was agreeable to vouching for them. Sealing his promise with a drink, the celebration began.
Silran chose to patrol the walls to seek for trouble, while Iliana made a name for herself wrestling with the young Highland warriors. Lissa and Odo watched the proceedings with great interest. Goodwind, on the other hand, decided to investigate a rather unusual bit of light that he saw a few hills over. During the party, a young Highland man sought out Lissa, and asked, in painfully broken Common, if the remains of a young girl had been found amongst the dead. He seemed to assume that the girl, his daughter, had been slain, and was surprised to discover that no young bones had been found. Lissa performed a divination and discovered the shaman had apparently captured the girl and passed her off to his apprentice, who had taken her northward. Alarmed at this news, the Highland man tried to warn Lissa and Odo about something in the north, but was stymied by his lack of language. With a bit of effort, Odo found Ambrose, a few sheets to the wind but still coherent, and made him translate.
Apparently there was a cursed grave in the north. If the young shaman had taken her there, he might try to do evil to her. Through her, he might be able to drain the strength and power from all who shared her blood, which meant he and his clan brothers could not rescue her, because their very presence might strengthen the evil. While this was going on, Goodwind had traveled to the north, investigating the mysterious lights. He found an ancient barrow mound surrounded by standing menhirs, with over a half-dozen giants and two enormous birds standing guard. He could see the door to the barrow was open, lights were inside, and there was crying and screaming coming from within. He hustled back and was met by the group, who had just started their journey northward. Conner had elected to stay behind, knowing the village might need protection if something happened to the group. Goodwind took on the form of an air elemental to return more quickly, as the group road their mounts quickly, pounding up on the camp a little after Goodwind had arrived and began to pummel the shaman. In mere moments, the battle was joined.
It was a fierce battle, with five hill giants (including the shaman), two cave giants, two thundershrikes, and unknown to most until the battle was well-joined, a hungry sleeping willow. Ambrose and Iliana were beset on all sides, both of them taking many grievous wounds as the battle raged. Indeed, Iliana was knocked silly and was going to be tossed into the barrow, but recovered and managed to take the fight to her enemy by standing on his shoulders and attempting to decapitate him.
Goodwind returned to gnome form and dashed hither and thither on the battlefield, attempting to heal those who had fallen or were about to fall. Silran poured arrows into all who fell into his sight, starting with the dangerous thundershrikes, who unleashed bolts of lightning on Odo, Silran, and Goodwind. Odo had done what he could to strengthen the warriors before battle had been joined (by way of buffing spells), and concentrated on harrying the enemy where he could with draining rays and explosions of fire.
Lissa made herself very ignorable by way of her power, and crept around the edge of the battle so she could sneak inside the barrow. She was nearly caught by the sleeping willow, but was able to resist its powerful sleep spores. She realized that the giant standing guard at the door had somehow managed to put a large boulder over most of the entrance, but slipped through anyway. Inside she found the young girl was on a stone bier next to an ancient corpse.
An ghost-like figure with fine features and glowing red eyes seemed to be trying to grasp something from the girl. The girl screamed and sobbed, clutching a stuffed ibex toy to her. The creature, which later the group learned was called a joystealer, attempted to drain Lissa of all emotion. She wounded her, but Lissa was then able to erase her presence from the Joystealer's mind. Her prey apparently gone, the joystealer left the barrow and attacked Iliana. Lissa took charge of the girl as Iliana finally managed to slay the terrible joystealer.
The battle over, the group uncovered several curious things. The boulder that had appeared in the doorway of the barrow had a paintbrush attached to it by a cord. Tugging on the cord made the boulder turn into a scroll, with the brush still attached to it. Goodwind experimented with it for a bit, and discovered the scroll seemed to take the form of whatever was drawn on it with the brush. In addition, another scroll, this one with black paper and silver ink, was found wrapped around the joystealer's arm. She had apparently taken it from the corpse within the barrow. Odo was uncertain as to its purpose, as it was not an arcane scroll as he knew it. Finally, the girl pressed Lissa to take the ibex toy in thanks for saving her from the Joystealer. The ibex was made from ibex fur, with carved stone eyes and horns, and was clearly a noble's toy. It also probably came from the barrow.
The adventure continues, as the group tries to discover what the items are, why the giants attacked Sweetwater, and anything else that comes across their pointy little minds.
When we last left our intrepid heroes, you had rescued a young girl from the clutches of the giants, and were ready to continue your journey across the Durning Highlands to the Lake of Tombs, where the Elder Moot is held. After much questioning, self-discovery, and figuring out what the various magic items did, Ambrose put forth that there were two general ways to your destination. You could go across the paths, traveling from village to village, talking with Highlanders as you go, or you could cut across the wilds, possibly cutting down on your travel time, though the trek would be more dangerous.
Lissa of the Golden Eyes did a divination to see what the spirits said, and they returned with the message that, "The village road wins hearts and minds, but it is in the wilds where legends are made." Everyone feeling adventurous, you decided to go across the wilds. You traveled for a few days, scouting as you went, going across much more rugged terrain. On the third day in, Blue, Goodwind's animal companion, who was scouting ahead, told his master that there was a great storm on the way. The group stopped and camped in a crevice, with Goodwind rigging up a quick porch for the party. But after a long wait, the storm didn't manifest. Trying to question Blue, the badger indicated that the storm was "here, now." Looking around, the party spotted some lightning flickering on the horizon. Preparing themselves quickly, they were ready when a lightning weird, lightning elemental, and some tumblesparks came over the crest of the hills.
The party fought furiously, Silran sending arrow after arrow into the weird, Ambrose and Iliana fighting the tumblesparks and elemental, while Odo helped out wherever he could and Goodwind kept all that he could from falling. Lissa hung back and tried to get into a more advantageous position atop the porch. Somehow the tumblesparks were floating atop a small stream, that had leaped its banks and began to swirl around the ankles of the party. As the elemental and sparks were slain, the nature of the water became apparent, as a huge and angry water elemental rose from it, and began to give the party a drubbing. While Iliana fought and almost died, while Ambrose flailed almost ineffectually, Lissa kept the horses and Blue from drowning in the rising water. Goodwind dashed about on the back of a summoned black bear and even faded in and out to get to his relentlessly moving patients, while Odo kept spells flying hither and thither to burn his enemies and aid his allies.
Silran kept after the weird, after noting that someone off the crest of a more distant hill seemed to be firing arrows into it that seemed to heal it. After sighting three figures in scarlet tartan, he dispatched them with as many arrows, and then delivered the final death blow to the water elemental that rest of the party had almost drowned in subduing.
The weird sloshed back into its pool of liquid lightning, quiescent, and days from recovering. With some consideration, the party recalled that weirds are usually stationary, bound to their pools, and answer important questions in exchange for rich sacrifice. The fact that the weird had been moving was of significant note. It seemed that someone had used powerful magic to get the weird on their side. A search of the tartan-clad archers revealed that they had feather-headed, chert-fletched arrows with them, meant to heal rather than to kill. They also bore many trophies snatched from enemies.
Ambrose said, "They're members of the War Lodge. Warriors who believe that killing an enemy and taking a trophy from him increases one's strength. Bloody-minded, they are, but they're gaining more members all the time. We need to be careful as long as we're in their territory."
A further look around the battlefield uncovered the chamber of the weird, hidden behind the waterfall. Many items were hidden in the bottom, mostly well-made weapons and armor, but also a magical items known as a Cup of Blood. When drunk from by members of a group, they can use it to keep track of the health of others that have drunk from the cup. It is used by family members, or members of a lodge.
And now, the journey continues into the wild...
When we last left our intrepid heroes, they were pressing deep into the wild to make their way to the Lake of Tombs for the Elder Moot. The party traveled several days of travel over rough terrain, at one point discovering some tracks Goodwind declared were bearhound tracks. Which was a curious discovery, as bearhounds, like shamen, only leave tracks if they want too. Later that day, during a storm, the party was just cresting a hill when they heard the yells and roars of combat. Goodwind quickly paused to cast a spell of camouflage on the group, keeping them inconspicuous, as the group discovered a fierce battle raging at the bottom of a boulder-strewn hill.
Six members of the War Lodge were fighting with a dire bear and four bearhounds, and all had taken several grevious wounds. As the party was debating what to do, a ship's anchor thudded down right next to them. Considerably surprised, the group looked up and discovered a large, three-masted sailing ship had somehow managed to crash on a rocky outcropping forty feet above them. Goodwind summoned a hippogriff and flew up to see what was what, and saw most of the crew of the ship was down, drowned on dry land, while three remaining saltblood crew valiantly attempted to fight a soaking wet undead.
Crying out his discovery, the party decided the undead was the greater threat than the War Lodge on a trophy hunt and began to climb up the anchor chain. Odo intially tried to fight the ship itself with a fireball, but realized that was terribly ineffective, and climbed up after the rest of the party. When they reached the deck, Iliana, Ambrose, Silran managed to avoid the deadly drowning aura and attack, peppering the creature with arrows and slicing it with swords and axes. Odo was not so fortunate, and found himself beginning to drown. Goodwind flew in to try to help him, and almost succumbed to the drowning aura himself. Luckily his mount was not affected, and carried his friend away.
After toil from the two remaining saltbloods (the third having drowned in the presence of the undead) as well as the remaining party members, the undead was finally slain, and Odo rescued from the brink of death. The group investigated the drowned, and found it had six belt pouches on it. Two were filled with cannonballs, suggesting the undead's initial death might have been some kind of execution. The other belt pouches held gems and money, and one, crafted of waterproof kraken skin, held the huge, multihued feather of a Roc.
Shouting came from below as the storm eased, and the party went to the bow to see the four remaining members of the War Lodge, with two bearhouds and a dire bear to their name, yelling at them to come down and explain their presence. (DM note: Lissa's player wasn't here this week, and she is the best and really only diplomat in the party. Lacking her character sheet, we struggled on without a party "face.") Silran had been watching the fight below carefully, making sure the War Lodge was actually using the animals they'd killed, instead of just taking minor trophies. He saw them cut up the meat and consume the hearts of the kills, not an unusual occurrence.
After consulting with Ambrose, who said the War Lodge respected strength above all, Iliana opted to try her own brand of diplomacy. She leaped from the bow of the boat to land solidly in front of the War Lodge leader, followed more gracefully by Ambrose and Silran. Odo climbed down, while Goodwind took the opportunity to change into his most dapper clothing before joining his friends below. The War Lodge leader demanded to know what the party was doing, and eventually offered passage if one of the group would duel with him. Specifically if Iliana, who was doing all the talking and not a terribly diplomatic job of it, would duel with him. She accepted enthusiastically, with a quick question to Ambrose to whether the duel was to first blood, or the death.
"To the first spleen," he explained apologetically. Which didn't phase her at all. The duel was joined, and while the War Lodge leader was a decent fighter, Iliana was brutal, nearly ripping the man's guts hither and thither in four terrible blows. Holding his insides in, the man laughed weakly, and waved for the group to go. Disturbed, the group quickly left.
They traveled another hour or so and found a small crevice in which to hide their horses, while Odo erected a Secure Shelter for the group to rest. They took the time to ask the two remaining saltbloods, Bill and Pete, what in the world they were doing with their ship lodged in the Highlands. The sailors were as confused as the party, saying their ship was caught up in a terrible storm, and eventually ran aground where the party had found them.
While the rest of the party sharpened weapons, toyed with magic, or patrolled, Goodwind took the form of an air elemental and flew back to the boat to investigate the holds. Inside, he found a great deal of exotic fruit, bars of gold, enormous pearls, and a giant clam in a barrel full of salt water. In attempting to hide some of these items for possible later retrieval, he put his wood-shaping powers to use to make a false bottom to the boat. Only to discover it already had a false bottom.
Investigating, he found a carved chest that contained three crescent moon-shaped stone tablets and a stone falchion. Blinking at that, Goodwind gathered up what items he could, decided to haul the anchor up so no one else could easily get into the ship, and flew back to the party.
As the party waited, Iliana was sharpening her sword. The sound apparently attracted a young member of the War Lodge. Silran scouted out to find him, and tried to intimidate him into leaving by whispering dire threats and fading into the shadows. While the young man was shaken, he was made of sterner stuff than that. Odo, noticing the fun, joined in by levitating small rocks and bombarding the lad with them. Goodwind is returning to this peculiar encounter, as our adventure begins again...
When we last left our intrepid heroes, they were about to confront a young War Lodge member, while Goodwind was flying back (in air elemental form) from looting the saltblood's ship. But! When Goodwind landed, and put down the chest that contained the stone tablets and stone scimitar, the air about the party shimmered like water. And lo! in an instant, the party found themselves in apparently the same place, though a tad more rugged. And with many additions that hadn't been there before.
Namely, before them, in the distance, was a vast summoning pit, which contained a balor inside of it, and had a summoner standing on its far rim. Before the pit were arrayed a half-dozen babaus, demonic assassins with slimy, acidic skin, vicious claws, and an array of magical abilities. Behind them were ranged eight fluted demons (from Sword and Sorcery's Creature Collection III: Savage Bestiary), armless demons with fluted necks that played the melodies of the damned to enhance their demonic allies. And above them were ten hellfire bats, burning with fiendish fury.
The party looked around rapidly, and found that in the crevice where they had been were the long-dessicated corpses of Bill and Pete the two saltbloods they had rescued, riddled with old, scarlet-fletched arrows. Shouting behind the party drew their attention. Behind the crevice was an army arrayed in the scarlet tartan kilts of the War Lodge, but bearing breastplates with the golden wings of Alharra Dawn-Bearer, the patron Immortal of the Kingsmarch (particularly the Knights Adamant, to which Iliana belongs).
Taking in all of this in a few seconds, Iliana charged her hated foes, the demons. And the rest of the party swiftly followed suit. Iliana fought and sliced and nearly died with her swords as she took down demon after demon. Indeed, she did die for the briefest of instances, and if Goodwind hadn't been at her side to draw her last breath back to life, she would have perished for good.
(DM's note: Goodwind used the spell Last Breath from the Spell Compendium, which is like a reincarnate spell, but it can only be cast within a round of the subject's death, and brings the subject back with no level loss. Due to the fact that Dawnforge races are a bit more complicated than in normal D&D, I had Iliana's player roll a d20 to determine which Dawnforge race she'd come back as. Through a sheer fluke, she came back as trueborn, again. Lucky duck.)
Silran put arrow after arrow into the hellbats, who had tried to toast Odo and some of the others, to little avail. (Through his choices of racial transformations, Odo is immune to fire, and most of the other characters have decent reflex saves, so the hellbats fire breath was less damaging than one might have thought.) As carefully as he could, Silran tried to help out the others by trying to take down the fluted demons and stray babaus that ranged around the rest of the party. Both kinds of demons could teleport themselves, and used the ability ruthlessly to their advantage, moving about the battlefield to flank their opponents and cut off Silran's ability to use his arrows as effectively. They even tried to strike him with their poisoned tongues, but Silran was tough enough to resist their poison.
While the battle raged around the party, the army of kilted Highlanders flowed around the battle to try to take down the balor, what demons were behind the summoning pits, and whatever else they could find. With the party engaging the babaus and fluted demons, they used the distraction to their best advantage.
Odo was having a field day, as he carefully moved around the edges of the battlefield until he could see the protected summoner on the edge of the pit. Knowing the summoner might be protected from some spells, he put as much punch behind a weakening ray as he could, and was delighted to see the summoner collapse under his own weight, too weak to hold up his own lungs. (Critical hit with a ray of enfeeblement!)
When a fluted demon and babau closed in to try to cut Odo down, Odo just smiled and reached out to touch both of them. They both collapsed into amorphous masses, unable to do a single effective thing. (Odo's player has been dying to use this spell since he started the game.)
Lissa, after manifesting powers to protect herself, used her ego whip to take down some of the hellbats, and tried to use mind thrust against a babau, but his will was too strong to be crushed by hers. She also tried to use a dorje of etcoplasmic sheen to make one of the demons trips, but it was sure-footed.
Ambrose disappeared into a globe of darkness as a babau and fluted demon darkened the area around them, but occasionally the party could see him leaping out of the dark, face coated with blood, as he struggled to slay the demons and save his life.
After the summoner had collapsed, the balor was free to roam as he willed. He laid about with his vorpal sword, taking out several ranks of Highlanders, but after many long moments of slaughter, and a rather ineffective arrow from Silran, he departed the material plane to return to the infernal realms, as the magic pulled him back home.
The battle concluded, Goodwind ran hither and yon to patch up the party, as Ambrose was missing his spleen and at least one kidney after his fight in the darkness, and most of the rest of the party had taken some hard hits. Lissa furitively helped heal Ambrose with one of her magic items, but didn't let anyone see. She doesn't like anyone to know she's effective.
(DM's note: Goodwind had only seen Lissa use her dorje during the battle (as she has taken feats/talents/transformations that hide her manifestations, and so no one realizes when she's using her powers), and concluded she had done nothing in the battle. So during one of the point of downtime, he sewed her boots together for his own merriment. Lissa has sworn revenge.)
After healing had been done, the leader of the remaining forces approached the party, and to their surprise, spoke in King's Tongue, albeit with a strong Highland flavor to it.
He said he recognized Iliana, but he thought all the Knights Adamant had been wiped out a century ago. Agog at that news, the party questioned him more closely. The leader said that the Kingsmarch had been overrun by the Valhedar Dominion over a hundred years ago, and they'd spread as far as the Highlands. The remaining trueborn had been folded into the Highland clans long ago, and they waged desperate battle to protect their homes now.
As they spoke, one young man was looking at Iliana strangely. He said he recognized her as the "Bitch Knight," and said there was a story in his family about her, handed down from his great, great, great, great grandfather, Horman of Torn Gut. Iliana realized this must be the War Lodge leader she'd nearly eviscerated yesterday. Or was it longer than that?
Casting about for a solution, Lissa turned her mind to the past with her powers, and realized that the party had been displaced almost a hundred and fifty years into the future. Trying to figure out how that might be, it was Odo who remebered an ancient arcane legend about something called "The Moongate" - the stone crescent tablets and stone scimitar Goodwind had brought back from the saltblood's ship. Recalling the Moongate's story, he said it had come from the distant continent of Tamerland, and had been used, in centuries past, as a tool by magicians to look into the future to determine the best course for their kingdom. But it had been lost long ago.
Lissa realized she remembered that the saltblood's ship had been coming from Tamerland, and a closer look at the corpses of the saltbloods showed that they had tattoos of three crescent moons on their shoulders. More divination revealed that if the party grasped the hilt of the stone scimitar and willed themselves home, they would be there, and indeed that was what happened. Only to find that during the hours they had been gone in the future, the saltbloods had been slain by suspicious War Lodge members, in the same way that their corpses had been found in the future. Disconcerted, the party tried to determine what to do next, as our adventure continues...
When we last left our intrepid heroes, they had just returned to the past from the future to figure out what to do with their present. Thusly confused, they decided to proceed to the Lake of Tombs and continue with their mission in hopes of preventing the demon-ridden future they had seen. They traveled another day, and arrived at the lip of a vast valley. Craggy terrain and scrub brush filled most of the valley, with the chill Lake of Tombs in the middle. Huge shards of obsidion thrust up from its waters. Ambrose told the party that every time a Highlander dies, his or her ashes are scattered and their name inscribed on the Stones of the Dead.
"Some say that when the stones are filled, the dead will rise up and consume the living. Others say the dead will return to life and the Highlanders will reign supreme over all peoples. And some say that'll just mean we need to find some new rocks," Ambrose told you.
Spying several large Highlander camps around the edge of the valley, the party headed for the nearest one. You were halted by two young Highland warriors, one of whom Odo gave some of his coffee. (Odo's coffee being about ten times more potent than espresso and about the consistancy of thin mud, the young man remained awake for a week.) Eventually the party was recognized and sent to Chief Colin, who said he'd heard about the party's exploits from one Chief Duncan of Sweetsprings. Apparently the town the party had rescued from giants had sent a messenger that had arrived before the party had, and smoothed the way.
Chief Colin said he meant to sent the party to a site of an ancient tomb, one that held the spirit of a Highland bard who had been corrupted. All the undead around the Lake of Tombs were dangerous, but the bard's malevolent songs were similar to some used by demons, and the party having come from the Kingsmarch, Chief Colin figured they were best suited for the job.
As night fell, the spirit lights of the undead, marking their haunts, became visible. The place where the party was to go was marked by three continually rising and falling stars. Chief Colin warned them that the spirit's unholy music would sap their will and make them fearful. Thus warned, the party set out around the rim of the valley. When they had reached as close as they dared, Goodwind spared a moment to make earplugs for everyone. Lissa warned her psicrystal to listen for the approaching undead piper, as the group would be unable to hear her, and the group begin their trek in to the lair of the dead.
(As a point, Lissa's character has a psicrystal with the cowardly personality. Its name is Sir Robin, and yes, it is made from yellow topaz. The DM had FAR too much fun in portraying Sir Robin. As the psicrystal has ectoplasmic legs by now, I acted out the psicrystal's restless wanderings under Lissa's hood by having my hand crawl around under my hair. It would do things like saying, "No! We're getting too close! Ahh! Why are you getting Closer? Noooo, I can hear it! Oooo nooo, why are you going towards the fighting?! Noo, it's too dangerous! Ahhh!" Etc. Etc. Etc.)
As the group got closer, they spied three creatures in the lee of a boulder. Sneaking closer, the group split and went around, finding two thin but strong-looking undead with red eyes and wicked claws, and another one with a heavy build and vicious jaws (two slaughter wights and a blaspheme from Libris Mortis). The battle was joined, with Iliana on one side, and Ambrose and Silran on the other, with Odo, Goodwind, and Lissa hanging back to offer support, healing, the occasional scorching ray. (Though both Goodwind and Odo both lost spells during the battle due to the fact that they were wearing earplugs.) The heavy creature had a terrible bite that drained the strength from its victims, and its chosen victim was Iliana. Goodwind summoned a huge boar to help flank the hideous thing, though eventually the blaspheme tried to eat it and the slaughter wights clawed at it. Ambrose and Silran had their hands full with the slaugher wights, slicing at their unholy tough flesh. It took untold toil and took a heavy toll on the party to send these restless dead to their final rest, and by the time they'd done it, Iliana was seriously weakened and Ambrose had had some of his life force wrested away.
And just as they were taking a breath, Sir Robin wailed that he could hear the terrible songs of the undead bard closing in on them...