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Rime of the Frostmaiden: Icewind Dale, Part 17

The previous post is here. The chapter starts here. The campaign starts here.

While exploring the buried remnants of a Netherese wizard’s tower, the PCs stumbled upon the simulacrum of the deceased Red Wizard Dzaan, and its undead bodyguard. The fake-Dzaan wanted the party’s help in activating a magical device that could turn illusions (of which the simulacrum was one) into reality, so that fake-Dzaan could become real-Dzaan.

Madoc the ranger considered that an absurd course of action; real-Dzaan was executed for a string of murders, he had been a Red Wizard and a member of the Arcane Brotherhood, and had had the Harpers chasing after him. As the simulacrum was a perfect copy of the man, it should obviously be destroyed. But Hjolgram the dwarf bard was horrified at the idea! “Why would we kill an innocent man?” he asked in shock.

“Innocent!” sputtered the ranger. “He murdered all those people in Easthaven! And the laborers he hired to dig the tunnel, I’m sure.”

“No, that was the other Dzaan,” insisted the bard. “This Dzaan didn’t do any of that. I really don’t think it’s right to condemn him because of crimes committed by someone else.”

“They’re the same man!”

But Hjolgram’s point of view was that the simulacrum was akin to a newborn babe that had done nothing and could not be judged. Who’s to say what it might do now that it was free of real-Dzaan’s influence? Madoc pointed out that it claimed to be a copy of real-Dzaan, and had all of his memories and experiences, so it was never under his influence; it was him. Madoc pointed out that from its perspective, it had committed all of Dzaan’s awful deeds up until the point of its creation. Madoc pointed out that the laborers were probably disposed of before Dzaan created the simulacrum, so it was almost certainly guilty of that act, at the least. Madoc pointed out that its roommate was an unholy abomination. Madoc pointed out that Dzaan had gone on a killing spree right after creating the simulacrum, which means that that plan was already in his head when he created the copy. Hjolgram pooh-poohed all of that, and declared his intent to be the man’s friend and restore him to life right away.

“We are not making friends with the evil wizard!” an increasingly incredulous Madoc shouted.

“We made friends with the mind flayer, and that turned out alright,” the bard countered. The ranger’s eyes widened in shock – they were not friends with the brain eater! – and he opened his mouth to say so, but could only manage some guttural, angry noises.

Omm the tiefling sorcerer intervened and tried to throw some water on the heated argument. He agreed that it was not wise to trust the illusion, but before making any decisions as to its fate he thought it wise to investigate the “rune chamber” that it claimed could make illusions real. Also, he wasn’t so sure about the group’s ability to destroy Dzaan, or even a copy thereof, after how thoroughly the other Arcane Brotherhood member, Avarice, had kicked their butts. Which was probably smart, given that simulacrum is a 7th level spell, making Dzaan at least a 13th-level caster.

The rune chamber, according to the illusory Dzaan, was on the level below (level 4 on the map), and while the others were largely in favor of the sorcerer’s plan to check it out, Madoc insisted on staying behind. The ranger wanted to ensure that neither fake-Dzaan nor its undead friend Krintas could get up to any nefarious deeds while the others were distracted.

Wheel and Deal

That kicked off another round of fighting, as Hjolgram, fearful that Madoc was going to try and murder his new buddies as soon as the dwarf was out of sight, refused to leave the ranger alone with them. Madoc, afraid that the obviously insane dwarf was going to betray the party, refused to let Hjolgram remain anywhere near the pair. There was more shouting, which devolved into the ranger trying to shove the bard into the hole that led to the level below (it didn’t work; Hjolgram was quite stout).

After the two were separated, Omm attempted a new compromise: they all would investigate the rune chamber, and bring fake-Dzaan and Krintas the undead warrior along so as to keep an eye on them. That was, if fake-Dzaan would agree to leave behind its spell components and/or any arcane foci so that it would not be able to cast any spells, or at least none with a material component. Fake-Dzaan was consulted on the possibility and was amenable. The illusionary wizard, perhaps seeking to allay the party’s concerns, additionally let it slip that as a simulacrum it was actually unable to regain spell slots, and didn’t even have real-Dzaan’s spellbook, so it was also unable to change his prepared spells (where was that spellbook, then? too bad none of the PCs were wizards!). However, Madoc was firmly opposed to letting fake-Dzaan anywhere near the chamber if the PCs were going to try to activate it, thinking that the illusion might be able to use the device before they could stop it.

Flint the half-elf rogue and Twiggy Tenderfoot the druid had been mostly silent during these proceedings, and so in an effort to find some resolution they were polled. Both believed that fake-Dzaan was essentially the same as real-Dzaan, and should be destroyed if possible. Flint, ever the bloodthirsty one, was in fact all for taking on both fake-Dzaan and Krintas immediately.

But still, Hjolgram refused to accept any outcome but friendship, and cast about for some way to save his new best buds. He started babbling on about fake-Dzaan’s “soul” and wondered if making him real would just create a human shell for that soul, or if it would cause real-Dzaan’s soul to be pulled back to inhabit the new body. The former was a good outcome, to the dwarf’s warped mind, but the later outcome would mean the process would destroy fake-Dzaan’s soul (if it even had one?), in which case it would be wrong to allow the simulacrum to go through with the act. Maybe they could try to bring an illusion of the dead Harper agent Carthos to life and see if his departed soul inhabited the body or not? His pontifications made absolutely no sense, but the mental convolutions were impressive in a way, as was the bard’s dedication to never acknowledge the obvious truth of the situation.

Finally

Fake-Dzaan and Krintas must have enjoyed eavesdropping on the group as it tore itself apart over the question of what to do with the two villains. Though it should be noted that four of the five PCs were largely in agreement about what to do; Hjolgram was the lone and very stubborn holdout that was insisting that black was actually white.

After taking a breather, it was proposed and agreed upon that Flint and Madoc would stay on the current level to watch over the evil wizard and its undead bodyguard, while the spellcasters would go down to investigate the rune chamber. As part of the deal, the ranger and rogue vowed to not commit any violence unless fake-Dzaan or Krintas attacked or tried to interfere. Omm objected to this course of action, worried that splitting the party like that was inviting disaster. But Hjolgram surprisingly consented to the plan, and so in the spirit of compromise the tiefling reluctantly went along with it.

Next: the rune chamber?

Rime of the Frostmaiden: Icewind Dale, Part 16

The previous post is here. The chapter starts here. The campaign starts here.

While exploring the lost spire of Netheril, the PCs stumbled across a man claiming to be the wizard Dzaan… whom they had seen executed some time back. By his side was an undead warrior.

After “Dzaan” introduced himself, Hjolgram the dwarf bard turned to the other PCs and declared, “See, I told you Dzaan was too smart to get burned at the stake!”

The imposter’s eyes widened, and the warrior’s hairless brow furrowed. “Burned alive, you say?” asked the wizard. “I suppose I should let you know, that was the real Dzaan.” Huh? The fellow went on to explain that he was merely a simulacrum, an illusory copy of the real Dzaan formed of ice and snow and shadow. The real Dzaan created the simulacrum before heading back to Easthaven, whereupon he engaged in a murder spree, got caught, and was executed for his crimes.

“I have a proposition,” the copy went on, “that will greatly benefit us all. You have come here seeking treasure, yes? Well, there is a ‘rune chamber’ below us, a creation of the ancient Netherse, and in that chamber, illusions can be made real. Any treasure, any object that you could imagine, could be brought into being. Now that Dzaan is no more, I wish to use the chamber on myself, to turn my illusory form into flesh and blood, and in doing so resurrect him. Resurrect myself! To bring him/me back from the dead, in a way. And once I have done that, I will be able to create illusions for you all, that can then also be made real, to fulfill your hearts’ desire.”

What did he need from the party? “So far the chamber has not worked for us, and I believe a spark of life is needed to power it. Unfortunately, neither I, being an illusion, nor my companion here, being undead, have such a spark within us. So you activate the chamber, I become real, and then you can walk out of here with the most fabulous rewards imaginable.”

Quid Pro Quo

Naturally, the players had more questions. As a simulacrum, fake-Dzaan claimed to be a perfect copy of real-Dzaan at the point at which the spell was cast. The undead warrior had instructions to sit tight with the illusion until either real-Dzaan returned, or they learned of real-Dzaan’s death. In the event of his death, they were to get the rune chamber working so that fake-Dzeen could be made real; real-Dzaan had wanted a backup but had not wanted a double. So the simulacrum, when combined with the rune chamber, functioned as a kind of fail-safe.

Could the PCs use the rune chamber to, say, turn an illusion of gold into actual gold? Certainly, replied fake-Dzaan. That was useful, as Omm the tiefling sorcerer could create minor illusions, and thus the adventurers didn’t necessarily require the pair’s help.

Was there more to the Netherese city here, beyond this structure? No, Fake-Dzaan claimed, the bulk of the fallen city was assumed to lie somewhere under the Reghed Glacier. The spire was but a lone fragment, and appeared to have been the tower of a Netherese wizard.

What happened to the laborers that Dzaan had hired to dig the tunnels down into the spire’s innards? Fake-Dzaan professed ignorance; he claimed that he had paid the men and they had departed, and if they never made it back home (and they did not) then he supposed they had gotten lost or eaten in the tundra. It was a little too convenient, and Madoc the ranger was inwardly cursing himself at this point for using all of his 2nd-level spell slots on darkvision prior to entering the ruin – one for himself, and one for Twiggy Tenderfoot the druid. If he had held onto those spell slots, he could have created a zone of truth. Not that zone of truth is a perfect lie detector, but it would have been better than the nothing they currently had.

And why was he hanging out with the walking dead? Fake-Dzaan complained that as both the Red Wizards and the Arcane Brotherhood had a less-than-stellar reputations, it was hard to find mercenaries willing to work for him. As a result, he was forced to rely on necromancy to provide himself with a bodyguard.

Woe to Those Who Call Evil Good

Perhaps sensing that he needed to sweeten the pot, the illusion pointed to an amulet lying on a nearby table. “Please, as a gesture of goodwill, I will give this up to you. I’m not certain as to its function, but we found it here in the tower, and it is magical, so it is undoubtedly worth a great deal. As a historical artifact, if nothing else.” The pendant was a four inch wooden disk, framed in silver, with some unfamiliar runes etched on its surface. Hjolgram happily gave one of his three chardalyn necklaces in exchange for the item, though fake-Dzaan did not seem too interested in the demonic black stone.

Hjolgram took the magic amulet and the party retreated to talk amongst themselves. Considering that, according to its own account, the simulacrum was Dzaan in all ways except not being made of flesh and blood, and it was conjured right before real-Dzaan traveled straight to Easthaven and started murdering people, it was not to be trusted. Nor was Dzaan – a member of multiple evil wizard organizations, someone who palled around with undead, and a person of interest to the Harpers, in addition to all the murdering – to be brought back from the dead, under any circumstances. The obvious course of action, to Madoc anyway, was to destroy the evil phantom wizard and its unholy buddy before they could inflict any more suffering on the Dale.

However, Hjolgram saw the matter from an entirely different perspective.

Next: debate club!

 

Rime of the Frostmaiden: Icewind Dale, Part 15

The previous post is here. The chapter starts here. The campaign starts here.

After barely surviving a fight with an ice troll, the PCs huddled in their crude shelter, waiting for the blizzard to end. Thankfully, nothing else walked out of the storm, and the party spent a long and fitful night huddled up with the sled dogs. After waking, they dug themselves out of the snow to behold the transformed landscape. Once the Survival types got their bearings and the sled was ready to go, they set off again for the mysterious spire that had so interested the Red Wizard Dzaan before the mage’s death.

It was slow going for the sleigh over the thick layer of new powder, but luckily visibility was decent, and the party’s destination turned out to be located pretty much right where they thought it would be. By late afternoon the dogs pulled them down into a shallow valley, where an irregular stone spike jutted out of the ice and snow at an angle. Its surface, they saw as they drew closer, was smooth and shiny, and after running a gloved hand over it, Hjolgram the dwarf bard said that the spire’s form was neither natural,  nor had it been shaped by hand. What made it then? Magic, was the dwarf’s conclusion.

A depression in the fresh snow allowed the adventurers to locate a tunnel at the base of the monolith, undoubtedly dug by Dzaan’s hired hands. The hole was roughly 5 feet wide and descended at a steep angle into the ice. A length of rope was secured with pitons hammered into the thick ice, and one by one the PCs rappelled down.

The tunnel snaked around through the ice before finally levelling out. The passage then bore into a block of stone, possibly the same smooth stone that the spire was made of, before breaking into an interior chamber. But to the PCs’ surprise, the room was upside-down!

Dancing on the Ceiling

Statues hung from the ceiling, which used to be the floor (location P1). Magic lights were set in sconces that pointed at the floor, which used to be the ceiling. On the far wall, flanked by the stalactite statues, was an open door. Because of its orientation, the PCs would have to climb over four feet of lintel to get through the portal.

Madoc the ranger took the lead, vaulting through the opening to find a hall the ended in a pile of rubble (location P2). Two closed doors, one on each side, offered the only avenues forward. The other PCs followed, though the dwarf needed some help clearing the top of the upside-down doorway. It looked like the rubble at the end choked off an inverted stairway going up, or down by the PCs’ reckoning (to make matters clearer, I will be referring to up/down by the PCs’ perspective unless otherwise noted).

Flint the half-elf rogue stood on Madoc’s shoulders to examine the northern door. It did not appear to be trapped or locked, and so he forced it open to reveal a room strewn with debris (location P4). A closed chest was bolted to the ceiling, and a door was set in the east wall.

A chest, you say? Madoc steadied himself as Flint got back on his shoulders and tried to investigate the potential loot-box while swaying around. The chest didn’t appear to be trapped, but it was locked, and thanks to the uneven and unstable footing it took Flint a while to spring the lock. The rogue was careful to keep the top closed as he popped the latch, and got out an empty sack to hold under the chest as he slowly opened it. Which was good, because the contents were four glass vials!

The bottles were filled with liquid of different colors, and turned out to be various flavors of Resistance potions. There was brown/acid, blue/cold, red/fire, and white/force. I like to think the potions also had corresponding flavors; such as brown/chocolate, blue/raspberry, red/strawberry, and white/vanilla. Madoc took the resistance to force, Hjolgram claimed the resistance to cold, and Flint was given the others.

Beyond the east door was another room littered with shattered equipment (location P5). Sifting through the trash turned up an iron key, which I assumed was for a later lock, but might have been for the chest? The PCs didn’t think to test it as they headed back to the hall to try the south door.

Manual of Bodily Removal

The southern room looked to have once been a library, though the bookshelves were now empty and only a few battered books remained (location P3). A hole had been broken through the floor, providing access to the level below. The PCs gingerly examined the books that others had passed over, finding titles like Mysteries of the Phaerimm, Wizards in the Hollow, and Magical Wonders of the Netheril. The last of which was a copy of the book Macreadues had used to build the Summer Star! The group had been informed that locating another copy of the tome would be useful in crafting a bigger version of the device, so that was a lucky find. Another stroke of luck is that the writings were comprehensible to the PCs; apparently the common tongue had not changed much since the time of the Netheril, which was what, before the start of recorded history in the Realms? (apparently it was only about 1,800 years ago, and not before the start of recorded history; in other news, I know very little about the history of the Realms!)

The books were wrapped up and stowed away, and the adventurers secured another rope with pitons so that they could descend to the next section of the ruin.

The chamber below had more magical lights, and collection of damaged metal cages (location P6). There was another hole going down and a couple of doors. One of the cages held an empty chitinous carapace, which Hjolgram identified as having once belonged to a four-armed mantis person known as a “thri-kreen.” The eastern door led to a circular stairwell that was filled with rubble and impassable. The northern door opened on what might have once been a study (location P7). There was a fireplace, a smashed table, and a couple of books: Ajamar’s Guide to the Phantasic and The Unfettered Mind. The latter title piqued the dwarf’s interest, and perusing it revealed a procedure to place one’s living brain in a jar; Hjolgram’s eyes lit up as he studied the diagrams, and he quickly and vocally laid claim to the manual. The other PCs shrugged; they certainly weren’t interested in such a vile process.

The side doors led to another blocked-off stair (location P9) and a room that was magically silenced (location P8).

Body Double

The group headed back to the hole in the cage room. Another piton, another rope, and the PCs lowered themselves down to the level below. The room they came to appeared to have once been an arcane laboratory of some sort, as there were runes inscribed on what used to be the floor, empty cupboards lined the walls, and the actual floor was littered with shattered glass and broken alchemical tools (location P11). The act act of digging the hole to the next level down had apparently punched a hole in the western wall, beyond which could be seen a shrine (location P13). An altar there was adorned with an eight-pointed star, which Omm the tiefling sorcerer thought to be the symbol of a long-dead deity of magic (the Realms has had a few). The side door opened on another section of the unusable circular stairwell that was discovered earlier (location P10).

Through the north door was what was perhaps once an office (location P12), but to the party’s shock, the room was occupied! An animated corpse wearing armor stood next to a living young man with a pointy chin-beard and a pointy hat. The fellow tipped his cap to the PCs, and greeted them with a sly smile on his lips. “Welcome to the lost spire of the Netheril,” he said. “My name is Dzaan.”

Next: doppelganger!

Rime of the Frostmaiden: Icewind Dale, Part 14

The previous post is here. The chapter starts here. The campaign starts here.

The PCs left the ancient elven moon-ruin in the morning, and traveled over to Caer Konig. The journey took most of the day, and so they paid a visit to the Northern Light Inn to spend the evening. The sisters who ran the place remembered the adventurers as the ones who had retrieved the inn’s namesake lantern after it had been stolen, and treated the group to a free meal of roast eel and suet pudding. Yum! Unfortunately, they still had to charge the travelers for the rooms because, as they explained, money was tight these days.

Hjolgram the penniless dwarf bard turned to his companions and said with exuberence, “I think we should be generous!”

Madoc the ranger, who was still sore from “the box incident,” as well as how the party funds were depleted to re-equip the dwarf after his death, regarded Hjolgram with disdain. “Oh, ‘we’ should?” he grumbled. “How much are you going to chip in?” The bard’s face fell and he was silent, though only for a moment before he was on to a new topic.

The plan for the following day was to follow the edge of Lac Dinneshere going north, cross over the frozen river near its mouth, and head east from there. According to Sammi’s directions, their destination was a low valley two or three day’s walk from town, and the players figured its approximate location to be somewhere in the red circle on the map.

However, the party had not even reached the river when they got bogged down in a blizzard! This was, I think, the first inclement weather we encountered that actually forced us to pause. The howling wind and thick snowfall made for poor visibility, the point where following the lake shore was not even a sure thing anymore. Rather than risk getting lost or one of the dogs getting injured, the adventurers decided to dig a shelter out of the snow and wait out the storm.

Take the Goodberries!

Initially, the adventurers were busy with digging and packing down the snow to form a crude shelter against the winds. Once that task was complete, all that was left was the waiting. The hours passed so very, very slowly… It was almost a blessing when the PCs heard sound of some large and heavy creature approaching!

Everyone rushed outside, and through the blowing snow they could dimly make out the silhouette of a giant humanoid stomping their way! Madoc drew his sword and yelled out in the giantish tongue, “Hold! Come no further!”

The tall stranger chuckled and did not stop or slow its advance, though it did call back, “Why should I?”

“We are mighty warriors, and you are outnumbered!” the ranger shouted. “Go seek food elsewhere!”

“Bah,” scoffed the giant, who was now close enough to make out; it was a blue-skinned troll, tall and stooped with thick fur, large teeth and awful claws. It finally halted its advance and regarded the “mighty warriors” that were arrayed before it. “There is no food out here but you lot! But give me those yapping doggies and I will leave the rest of you be.”

Madoc translated for the others, who naturally objected to giving up their sled dogs. “Offer him some goodberries,” Twiggy Tenderfoot the druid said. The ranger did so, but the troll only laughed at the offer. They were at an impasse, and when negotiations break down with man- and dog-eating giants, a battle invariably follows.

The party, newly 5th level and feeling pretty mighty indeed, didn’t imagine that a palette-swapped troll would give them too much trouble. Hjolgram led the charge, first using a 3rd level slot to cast heroism on himself, Flint, and Madoc and then charging up to the troll. “Ooh, an appetizer,” laughed the monster before it bit and clawed the bard for all but five of his hit points. The damage broke the bard’s concentration on the heroism, causing the temporary hit points that it granted to evaporate.

Omm the tiefling sorcerer activated his Mantle of Flame and used one of his new 3rd level spell slots to cast Melf’s minute meteors. That’s one of those spells that’s been around forever and that always sounded neat, but never stacked up too well against the usual standbys. But it must be pretty decent in 5e (or it synergizes well with the damage bonus from Mantle of Flame) or Omm’s player would not have chosen it. Anyway, six spheres of fire appeared and began orbiting around the sorcerer, who then directed two of them to streak towards the troll. They exploded on impact, dealing 22 fire damage in total!

That was impressive, though Madoc thought he could top it now that he got two attacks a round! The ranger pushed through the wind to reach the troll, swung his sword, and… missed twice. Twiggy used a healing word to bolster the mortally-wounded dwarf and then advanced to smack the monster with her staff. Flint brought up the rear, slicing into the troll’s leg with his swords for 20 damage.

Up until this point we were not quite sure what that blue aura surrounding the troll did. It turned out that the aura inflicted horrific cold damage if one started their turn inside of it! Hjolgram took 12 damage and collapsed, and then he rolled a 1 on his death save. That counted for two failed saves; at three failed saves you die! And taking damage counted as an automatic failure! So unless either the dwarf or the troll was moved, his death was imminent. 😮

Flint took 14 damage from the aura and was bit for 20 more! Luckily he was able to use his new Uncanny Dodge ability to cut the bite damage in half, but he was already not looking too good. The troll turned on the druid, clawing her twice for 51 damage and taking her out. Both healers were now down, making Hjolgram’s doom all but assured. 😮 😮 😮

Omm did his part by launching two more meteors at the troll and then firing off a trio of scorching rays, hitting it for 39 fire damage in total. Madoc took 6 damage from the troll’s aura of intense cold (using absorb elements to halve the damage) and used a zephyr strike to hit once for a relatively paltry 13 damage. Twiggy suffered an automatic death save failure from the aura, but then rolled a 20 on her own save, and came around with a single hit point! As I’ve said before, we seem to get lucky like that with death saves. The druid scrambled away from the troll and out of its aura, and revived Hjolgram with a healing word. He would go right back down again on his turn from the aura’s cold damage, but the brief revival reset his death save failure count to zero.

After seeing everyone stagger to their feet, while he himself was reeling from the sorcerer’s fire blasts, the troll reconsidered its prior dismissiveness. “Ah, I changed my mind!” it said. “I’ll take the goodberries!” But it was too late. Flint, reduced to one hit point by the aura, cut the troll for 14 damage, and then Omm finished it off with the last two meteors.

Hjolgram was stabilized and the party, with two of their number only having one hit point and another unconscious, retreated to the poor safety of their makeshift shelter. If Twiggy had not rolled that 20… well, the bard would have died (again), and we could have avoided what followed.

Next: into the earth!

Rime of the Frostmaiden: Icewind Dale, Part 13

The previous post is here. The chapter starts here. The campaign starts here.

While waiting for the full moon to roll around, the PCs advanced to 5th level and enjoyed some downtime in the city of Bryn Shander.

Madoc the ranger tried to figure out how to use the strange rod he had taken from the hold of the mind flayer vessel. It was covered in little knobs and buttons, which were clustered towards one of the object. Figuring that to be the holding end, Madoc grasped the rod with one hand and tested the controls with the other, which ended up causing a blast of bright light to shoot out of the end pointed away from him! The light ended up slicing a table in the Agency office in half. Luckily he had the device pointed the correct way! Certain he knew how he had inadvertently triggered the burst, Madoc tried fiddling with some other bits, and ended up vaporizing a chair.

The experimentation was represented by a series of Intelligence checks, which I rolled well on to start and then got single digits for every roll after. Madoc decided to try once more, outside this time, though after blowing a large hole in the ground he figured the thing was broken and gave up.

Omm the tiefling sorcerer kept an ear out for any murders or unusual deaths, mindful that the ice-spear killer was still at large. He didn’t hear any news on that front, but he did catch a rumor about a treasure-laden pirate ship trapped in the Sea of Moving Ice, heard from the brother of a whaler that worked those waters.

Scry ‘n Pry

Finally the full moon drew near, and the PCs hitched up their dogsled and traveled to the nearby elven moon ruin. The place was hidden deep in the nameless forest that sat southeast of town, and when they arrived they saw that it had not changed since their last visit. Madoc and Twiggy Tenderfoot the druid greeted the animals living inside the ruin, and apologized for their uninvited presence as they unpacked their gear and made ready to wait for the moonrise.

When the time came, the shadow of the moon-dial outside fell on the full moon symbol. Inside the structure, at the end of a curved hallway, the tall magic mirror set into the wall began to glow softly. Hjolgram the dwarf bard approached it, eyes wide in wonder, as he saw hazy, indistinct faces appear in the glowing glass.

Basically, the mirror was a magic item that was only active during the full moon, and required attunement. The dwarf spent a short rest fondling and sometimes licking the glowing glass, and in doing so learned that that the mirror functioned as a crystal ball! That made it a fairly potent item – it could scry at will, and with a very high DC of 17 to boot. The PCs promptly started making a list of everyone they could spy on, a veritable nightmare for any DM. “Tell us where all of these notable NPCs are right now, and what they are doing!”

First up was Speaker Naerth, and Flint the half-elf rogue pulled out the (now empty) money bag he had stolen from the Speaker’s room to impose a -4 penalty to the saving throw. The mirror showed Naerth in what looked like the rebuilt Targos town hall, with his new militia captain and a handful of armed guards. It looked like he was having his effects relocated there; probably he did not consider his room at the inn safe after the battle that took place there, and the disappearance of his bag of bribe money. Well, the good news was that the nice room at the inn was now available!

Xardorok Sunblight was considered as the next target. But the PCs had never met the duergar leader, had no items of his, and as duergar had magic resistance he would get advantage on his saving throw against the scry attempt. Instead they tried to scry on Derth Sunblight, the incredible shrinking duergar they had fought at the Easthaven docks. Derth appeared in the mirror, sitting at a table in a large dining hall with other dark dwarves. An older duergar with a looooong beard entered the hall, slammed a handful of chardalyn on the table, and started yelling at Derth in a language unknown to the group. The long-beard was assumed to be Xardorok, and indeed a chastened-looking Derth bowed to the older dwarf and left the hall. The younger Sunblight stomped down a stone stairway and entered a room dimly lit by glowing braziers, and filled with clanking sounds. The vision faded.

What about the ice-spear killer, AKA the undead avenger of Auril? He, too, failed his saving throw, and was seen stumbling around a snowy forest. There were no visible landmarks.

Avarice the albino tiefling wizard was the mirror’s next target. She was the first to make her saving throw, but Hjolgram did not let her escape so easily! The bard had learned sending as his 3rd level spell, in order to ensure that he could never not annoy someone, no matter where his target may be, nor how far. And so he transmitted a mental message to the Arcane Brotherhood member: “I guess we missed you. Just wanted to let you know the Agency of Heroes is thinking of you. This is Hjolgram, by the way.” He would have added more, much more, but the spell limited him to 25 words and he only had two spell slots.

Sending also allows the recipient to send a reply. According to Hjolgram, Avarice said, “It’s good to know you’re still alive. I will be seeing you in the future.” But he could hardly be considered an accurate reporter.

And what about the other Arcane Brotherhood types that had come to Icewind Dale? Beldora the Harper had told the group their names some time back. The evil arcanists would get a +5 bonus to their save, but when you have unlimited castings, why not try?

Vellynne Harpell was an older woman with white hair and an eyepatch. She was seen in a small wood-paneled room, sitting on a pallet of furs, drinking wine and eating cheese. A snowy owl stood at her side, nibbling on crackers. There was a knock, and with an annoyed look Vellynne made a gesture; a ghostly hand appeared and opened the door to reveal a short draconic-looking humanoid. It spoke to her in another language not understood by the party, she responded tersely, and then her magic hand shut the door.

The other known wizard was Nass Lantomir. She appeared floating along a frozen shore, her entire form… transparent? Nearby was a hand clutching on orb sticking out of the snow, and a white weasel. It appeared that Nass was a ghost! An intrigued Hjolgram used his second and final 3rd level spell to send to her, saying “Hey Nass Lantomir, Hjolgram here, Agency of Heroes. I see your orb. Looks like you need some help. Let us know what we can do.” According to him, the ghostly wizard responded, calling the dwarf “brave” and asking him to recover her body, which laid on the Island of Solstice.

The where now? According to Madoc, the isle was a mythical place, purported to lay somewhere in the Sea of Moving Ice and said to be Auril the Frostmaiden’s home on Toril. It was not generally believed to be a real location, but apparently it did exist. Or at least Nass Lantomir thought it to be real.

That made the bard wonder, could he scry on Auril herself?! Omm cautioned against the attempt; even were it possible, it was not be the best idea to draw her attention. But what about other, nicer gods, the dwarf wondered? Well, scry doesn’t work across planes, so spying on the gods themselves was probably fruitless, even if deities were susceptible to mid-level divinations.

Personal Call

Since learning the function of the magic mirror, Omm had become very interested in it. And now that the group had exhausted its list of names, he asked Hjolgram if he could attune to it and use it to look in on someone.

“Oh!” the surprised dwarf said. “Who are you going to scry on? I can do it for you!”

Omm frowned and said that Hjolgram didn’t know the person, and so it was better if he was the one to make the attempt. Additionally, he asked that he be allowed to do so privately. The nosy bard wasn’t about to honor someone else’s boundaries, but Madoc firmly grabbed the dwarf by the arm and dragged him away from the hall containing the mirror.

A while later, Omm emerged from the hallway, looking a bit misty-eyed. Hjolgram asked if he was alright, and the young man nodded, obviously choked up with emotion.

Soon afterwards, the shadow on the moon-dial faded and the mirror became just a normal looking glass again. The PCs camped at the ruins, and in the morning set off to find Dzaan’s mysterious spire.

Next: troll trouble!

Rime of the Frostmaiden: Icewind Dale, Part 12

The previous post is here. The chapter starts here. The campaign starts here.

After speaking with the White Lady in Easthaven and finding the psi-crystal-detecting cube in Hjolgram the dwarf bard’s pocket, the party wandered on back to Bryn Shander. Once in town, the group’s first order of business was to check for any mail that may have arrived at their “office” since the last visit. And there were some missives waiting for them there, but they were actually addressed to the Stalwart Company, and had been delivered to the Agency of Heroes office by mistake. Or the letter-writers had gotten the names of the two adventuring parties confused.

Regardless of the authors’ intentions, Hjolgram vowed that the Agency would be the ones to solve their problems! And then they would know who the true heroes of the Ten Towns were!

The PCs then tromped over to the Eternal Lamb Inn, where they checked in with their Harper contact Beldora. When asked about the location of psi-crystals or mythallar, she claimed ignorance, and wondered if those topics were related to the Arcane Brotherhood’s activities in Icewind Dale. They were not, but that prodded the adventurers to inquire about Sammi, an iterant drunk who possibly used to work for Dzaan, a Red Wizard and Arcane Brotherhood member. That piqued Beldora’s interest, for Dzaan was known to have murdered any witnesses to his activities before he himself died, and as a result those activities remained shrouded in mystery. If this man had worked for Dzaan and survived, he could have valuable information. The Harper said she would ask her contacts to track Sammi down, and to give her a couple of days.

Without much else to do in the meantime, the PCs figured they could carry Hjolgram’s cube around town in the vain hope that there was a psi-crystal nearby, and also look for Sammi themselves. And as it happened, they found a man matching Sammi’s description in the first tavern they walked into.

Rousting the Roustabout

The fellow was deep in his cups and quite belligerent, but he did confirm that Sammi was his name. Mindful of how it might look for a bunch of strangers to drag the man outside, Flint the half-elf rogue looked down on the sot and said, quite loudly, “Look at you, you look terrible! Your cousin is worried sick. C’mon, let’s get you home and clean you up.” Sammi protested as the armed men pulled him from his seat and dragged him away, but the other tavern patrons seemed grateful to see the loudmouth drunk’s backside.

After loading the man into their unmarked dogsled, the party drove him over to their office and hauled him inside. “Please,” Sammi pleaded as he collapsed into a chair, “I don’t have any money!” Then how was he paying for drinks? “OK, I have a little money. But not much!”

The PCs assured him they weren’t after his money; they just wanted to know about Dzaan. “What’s it worth to you?” Sammi blearily asked. Flint told him that he could go on living, and Sammi scoffed in response to the rogue’s threat. “Didn’t that sign outside say something about heroes?” he sneered, referring to the Agency of Heroes sign hanging above the door of the office.

The rogue bent down to put his face next to the drunk’s. “How about we turn you over to Dzaan’s friends in the Arcane Brotherhood, hmm? I bet they’d like to ask you some questions, too.” That sobered Sammi up a bit, and he agreed to tell them what he knew.

Sammi’s Story

Sammi related how he and four others were hired in Easthaven by Dzaan, who was looking for men who knew the land and had strong backs. The Red Wizard outfitted them for an overland trip, and led them north along the lake, and then east out into the tundra. After a time they came to a tall spire of ice, and at its base was a hole in the snow.

Icewind Dale

Dzaan gave the five men shovels and set them to dig into the hard, frozen earth at the base of the spire. It was grueling work, and Sammi figured it wasn’t worth the money promised, so he walked off the job. Instead of going back to Easthaven, he headed straight west and ended up at Caer Konig. Later on he heard that Dzaan returned to Easthaven alone, and went on a killing spree targeting anyone who knew anything of his activities. “Guess I got lucky,” Sammi said.

The PCs wanted directions to the spire, and Sammi rewound his journey from the site to Caer Konig. “Follow the lake to the northern tip, cross the river, and head east, maybe two, three days on foot,” he said. “The spire’s in a low valley. It’s 30 feet tall or thereabouts, set at an odd angle.”

When asked what Dzaan was doing while the men were digging, Sammi replied that the Red Wizard was usually talking with his buddy. Who? Oh yeah, he had a friend with him: a tall man in armor, his face hidden by his cowl. What skin that could be seen looked to be very pale. The two of them kept to themselves, and did not welcome company from the laborers. Nor were the men allowed to touch anything of theirs.

The PCs, surprised at how useful Sammi had been, gave the drunk a gold coin for his trouble. “Don’t go speaking my name to any wizards now!” he admonished the group. “I don’t want any more business with their kind!”

“If you do get into some wizard trouble, come to us!” replied Hjolgram. “The Agency will protect you!” Sammi scoffed at that, pocketed his gold coin, and departed for taverns unknown.

The group went to inform Beldora of what they had learned. She did not know who “Mr. Armor” could be, but encouraged the group to investigate Dzaan’s dig site. The PCs, eager to have a solid lead to one of their mysteries, agreed. But first they were going to wait for the full moon, and then pay a visit to the mystery mirror in the ancient elven moon-ruin.

Next: black mirror!

Rime of the Frostmaiden: Icewind Dale, Part 11

The previous post is here. The chapter starts here. The campaign starts here.

After a harrowing journey to a crashed mind flayer vessel in the mountains, the PCs returned to the Ten Towns to look for the psi-crystal that could repair the ship.

Their first port of call was Dougan’s Hole, which had recently been plagued psychic whispers that urged the townsfolk to wander out into the cold. The adventurers had theorized that the mind flayer ship was the source of the madness, and wanted to confirm that the voices had been silenced. To that end, they called on Vetta, the paranoid townsperson who had told them of the whispers.

Vetta would only speak to them through a crack in the door, and while he claimed that the whispers had stopped, he also appeared to be saying whatever he thought the PCs wanted to hear. Hjolgram the dwarf bard detected the man’s thoughts, and from that concluded that Vetta was telling the truth. The fellow was just extremely paranoid and rightfully frightened of the heavily-armed hobos.

From there, the group rode to Easthaven, home to the informative spirit known as the White Lady. They arrived in the evening and headed over to the inn where on most nights the halfling named Rinaldo conducted séances to contact the Lady’s ghost.

Talking with a Ghost

That evening’s séance was attended by two locals and two tourists, in addition to the PCs. Rinaldo busied himself with setting the scene, and when the clock struck midnight he had everyone gather in a circle. Speaking to the æther above, the medium implored the spirit of the White Lady to speak through him. His eyes rolled back, the temperature in the room plummeted, and a thick layer of frost formed on the windows. The specter had answered his summons.

The party deferred to the NPCs, who asked questions about the lost treasure of the White Lady’s husband, and about the identity of the person who put a hole in one fellow’s boat. The hole-maker was identified by the Lady as one of the other attendees, who in a panic attempted to point the finger at Hjolgram. When that didn’t work, the accused claimed the whole séance was fake and stormed off.

It was finally the PCs’ turn. First they asked where Sammi, the man who once worked for the Red Wizard Dzaan, was. N-O-T H-E-R-E was the reply, written in the frost on the window, which then re-formed.

Where was the nearest psi-crystal located, they inquired? T-H-E B-O-X W-I-L-L G-U-I-D-E Y-O-U, they were told. What box? Where? Apparently it was in town somewhere.

Asking about the location of mythallar, the substance needed to end the eternal winter, produced no answer. Ignoring the confused looks they were getting from the other attendees, the party next asked about the location of the nearest Netherese city. N-O-T O-N-E P-L-A-C-E, the White Lady wrote, and the players took this to mean there were no intact cities, just pieces of them scattered about. But asking about the nearest large chunk of such a city also resulted in a non-answer.

Finally, Madoc the ranger wanted to know why the White Lady answered these summons and submitted herself to inane and petty questions, night after night. She wrote that she could not leave this world, not until she remembered her dead husband. Which didn’t really answer Madoc’s question, but nevertheless that signaled the Lady’s departure and the end of the séance.

“Hey,” remarked Flint the half-elf rogue, “we didn’t break any windows this time! Should we smash some on our way out?” But Rinaldo pleaded with them to not break anything, he was already on thin ice with the innkeep from their previous séance.

What Have I Got in My Pocket?

The adventurers got rooms at the inn and spent the rest of the night there. In the morning, they tried to puzzle out how to find the box that would lead them to a psi-crystal. It was in Easthaven somewhere, but how could they locate it?

Omm the tiefling sorcerer busied himself with tracking down a healing potion for sale, to replace the one he used on Hjolgram in the bulette battle. He found one at the usual price, which left the party with a paltry 16 gp.

Meanwhile, the others asked around town for a sage or a wizard or someone who might be good at knowing things. They ended up at the home of a retired diviner, who told them he might be able to locate the mysterious psi-crystal-finding box with his magic, for the price of 40 gp. Flint talked him down to 20 gp, and everyone but Hjolgram, who had disintegrated all of his coins at the Black Cabin, pitched in 5 gp to pay the fee.

The man consulted tomes, pulled weird animal bits out of jars, and finally got down to casting his spell. After some time spent chanting and waving a desiccated eyeball around, the wizard exclaimed “Aha!” and turned back to the group. “The box you seek is… in his pocket.” And he pointed at Hjolgram.

The shocked PCs rounded on the dwarf, who at first played dumb but then sheepishly drew from his pocket a small black cube with a red gemstone set in one side.

“Did you get that off the ship?” Omm sternly asked. Yes, Hjolgram muttered, looking down at his boots. “Did your former master give it to you?” Yes, the bard reluctantly admitted. “And did it tell you what it was for?” the young tiefling pressed.

“No!” Hjolgram exclaimed, looking back up and at each of his companions. “I swear! And I haven’t had time to fool with it yet!”

“You knew we were looking for a box!” growled an angry Madoc, who jabbed a finger at the bard. “You owe us all 20 gold! Plus the cost of buying you new gear!”

“I was going to tell you!” implored the dwarf. “I just never got the chance!”

The wizard examined the box, which appeared to be quite inert and did not respond to any sort of stimulation. He theorized that perhaps it would show signs of life when there was a nearby crystal for it to detect. Hjolgram took the cube back and returned it to his pocket.

The Devil’s in the Details

“Now ask him about that necklace you’re wearing,” Madoc smugly said, meaning the chardalyn necklace that the bard had taken from the devil-worshipping cult.

“Oh, these?” Hjolgram asked, pulling three such necklaces out from under his furs. The ranger’s mouth fell open in disbelief.

“They’re chardalyn,” Madoc exclaimed, looking to the wizard for some sanity and/or support. “Tell him how dangerous that is!”

But the old diviner did not seem to be particularly alarmed. “Oh, well, chardalyn isn’t dangerous on its own, you know,” he said. “Not unless it’s been infused with demonic energies.” Feeling vindicated, Hjolgram insisted that his three amulets, that he stole off the corpses of dead devil-worshippers, were free of any such taint, and thus perfectly safe. Madoc didn’t believe a word of it, and scowled at the bard.

“Well, it’s been interesting,” the wizard said to the party, indicating that it was time for them to leave. “Tell your friends, eh?”

“And you tell your friends about the Agency of Heroes!” Hjolgram said with a smile.

“The agency of what?” asked the man, his brow furrowed in confusion. “Is that like the Stalwart Company?” Those words wiped away the dwarf’s grin, and he proceeded to lecture the old wizard about how the Stalwarts were a bunch of cheap knock-offs of the Agency. Nay, they were in fact villains, who had even burned down the town hall in Targos! (actually, that was the PCs) The wizard shrugged – he didn’t really care one way or the other – and he shooed the adventurers out of his home.

Next: the search for Sammi!

Rime of the Frostmaiden: Icewind Dale, Part 10

The previous post is here. The chapter starts here. The campaign starts here.

The PCs had ascended to the top deck of the crashed mind flayer ship, only to encounter a living, breathing mind flayer!

Hjolgram the dwarf bard, a former slave of the mind flayers, greeted the octopus-headed humanoid warmly and moved to stand next to it. The two started conversing in some awful tongue, consisting of clicks, burbles, and guttural noises, that grated horribly on the others’ ears. The other party members, extremely alarmed by their compatriot’s behavior, slowly filed up the stairs and spread out to inspect their environs while keeping a wary eye on the dwarf and the flayer.

Apparently this movement displeased the mind flayer, who broke off from its conversation to unleash a psychic blast! Flint the half-elf rogue, Madoc the ranger, and Twiggy Tenderfoot the druid were caught by the mind-rending assault and had to make Intelligence saves, which only the rogue failed. While Madoc and Twiggy screamed and doubled over in pain, Flint made a gurgling sound and crumpled to the ground!

Broken out of his Stockholm Syndrome for a moment, Hjolgram hurriedly sought to assure his former master that the others were not a threat to it. After some furious negotiating, the bard reported to the fuming PCs that he had talked the psionic monstrosity down. “It saw you surrounding it and thought you were going to attack,” he explained nervously.

“We are now!” growled Madoc as he rose from Flint’s twitching body and put his hand on his sword hilt.

The desperate dwarf threw out his hands. “No, wait! We can help each other! We can repair the ship with a psi-crystal and then it will fly us around! It’s a win-win!”

“We can’t trust that monster!” Madoc shouted at Hjolgram. “It has an octopus for a head! It eats brains! It killed your old mates!”

“Maybe,” ventured Omm the tiefling sorcerer, “it can show us it is trustworthy. It could end the voices that are killing the people in Dougan’s Hole. As a show of good faith.”

All eyes turned to the mind flayer, with Madoc using the opportunity to peer at the abomination with his Hunter’s Sense (which revealed no weaknesses and a resistance to magic). After a long pause the thing nodded its disgusting head, stood, and went over to pull on the weird jellyfish-and-tendril controls. Hjolgram pronounced that the deed was done; the people of Dougan’s Hole would hear voices in their heads no more.

Twiggy revived the rogue while the others questioned as to where they might find the psi-crystal needed to repair the vessel. The mind flayer did not know, except that the crystals sometimes formed in the brains of its kind. That explained the mind flayer corpse the party had stumbled across outside the ship; the captain had killed and/or mutilated one of its own in a vain hope of repairing its ship. The PCs came to the conclusion that they could head back to town and consult sages or wizards and maybe find someone who knew something, but otherwise the adventurers were in the dark, as usual.

Sensing that the mind flayer would not tolerate further poking around the room, the party gave curt nods of farewell and descended to the lower decks. Their next step was to go directly back to the Ten Towns; the trip to the valley had been uneventful, so they were not feeling worried about being low on spells or hit points. After reaching the lower deck, they climbed down to the valley floor and started back to where they had stashed their dogs and sleigh.

Tremors

But the group was soon brought up short by a powerful rumbling in the earth! Was it an earthquake? Was an avalanche coming? No, the source of disruption revealed itself as a large mound pushing its way through the ground and coming right at the PCs!

“Oh hey,” remarked Hjolgram, “I just remembered… there might be a stray bulette around here.” A what?! “So, we should probably run.”

The party turned around and fled at full speed for the presumed safety of the downed mind flayer vessel. Flint, using Cunning Action, made it there first and considered jumping into the ballista on the lower deck. But it was iced over and inoperative in its current state, and so the rogue raced up to the middle deck where he knew there was a working version.

If you look close, you can make out Hjolgram under the bulette.

The monster rapidly burrowing towards the group suddenly burst out of the ground and flew into the air, traveling in a shallow arc until it came down directly on top of Hjolgram and Madoc! The ranger had glanced back in the nick of time, and managed to mostly dive out of the way, but the dwarf was not so lucky and had a heavily armored landshark land directly atop him!

Madoc quickly scrambled to his feet, drew his sword, and started shouting and swinging at the humungous beast in an attempt to distract it from the bard’s unconscious form. A zephyr strike bounced of the bulette’s hide, but still allowed the ranger to safely retreat as he continued to make a ruckus. The annoyed creature stomped after him, leaving Hjolgram behind.

Meanwhile, Twiggy had made it to the ship, but after seeing that Madoc stood alone against the mammoth-sized monster she reconsidered her plan of attacking from a distance. Instead she cast shillelagh on her staff and jumped off the deck in order to assist the ranger. Omm tormented the bulette with a mind spike, and then burned it with a flaming sphere, though the magical fire had trouble penetrating the beast’s thick hide.

Flint made it up to the other ballista, loaded it, moved it into position, and fired, but his first shot went wide. Cursing, he reloaded and tried again, and hit! But he rolled 9 damage on 3d10. 😦 While he loaded another bolt into the machine, Omm ran around the bulette as it fought Madoc and Twiggy, and administered a healing potion to the dying dwarf. And just in time, as Madoc got chomped for 35 damage and went down right after!

The newly-conscious dwarf was able to revive the ranger, and gave him some Bardic Inspiration besides. Which came in handy soon after, as Madoc used the Inspiration die to boost his AC against the next bulette bite, turning a hit into a miss. The bard then gave him another Inspiration die, which was used to turn the ranger’s next miss into a hit, and that blow was the one that put the landshark down. Its shuddering body, scorched from Omm’s efforts and pin-cushioned by ballista bolts, collapsed to the earth.

The exhausted adventurers retreated to the storage room on the lower deck of the ship. Hjolgram assured them that there were no more surprises, but the others did not trust the secret-keeping dwarf at this point. They did their best to sleep aboard the alien vessel while keeping wary eyes on the doors and stairs and sphincters, ready for some new horror to burst forth. But thankfully, none did.

In the morning, the party made it back to the dogs, who had thankfully been missed by the bulette, and started the journey back to the Ten Towns.

Next: searching for psi-crystals!

Rime of the Frostmaiden: Icewind Dale, Part 9

The previous post is here. The chapter starts here. The campaign starts here.

After boarding a crashed mind flayer ship, killing three baby mind flayers, and destroying a flesh golem, the PCs had discovered four small cells, each containing a crystal sphere. Two of the spheres contained tiny mind flayers.

Hjolgram the dwarf bard, who had once been held captive on the vessel, wracked his brain for some memory of these rooms, or the spheres, or the pint-sized aberrations inside of them. But he came up with nothing. Attempts to speak with the trapped beings telepathically received no response, and a detect thoughts spell revealed no activity. There were some weird-looking, squishy protrusions on the walls of the cells that were maybe controls, but having no knowledge of their purpose or function the party left them alone.

The PCs were quite banged up after the fight with the golem, so they took a short rest there in the hold, warily eying the stairs the whole time. Flint the half-elf rogue took the opportunity to rifle through the crates and barrels, and discovered containers full of an unknown oily substance, large tubes of a disgusting slurry that Hjolgram identified as food – though after one taste he refused to consume any more – and a half dozen extendable poles, some broken, that had strange knobs and levers near the handles. Madoc the ranger claimed an intact pole, thinking that it might be an alien weapon of some sort.

The dwarf spent much of the rest pacing and humming and muttering strange sounds. When the short rest was complete and the others were making ready to move on, Hjolgram suddenly perked up. “The ship is very enthusiastic we’re here!” he claimed as he attempted to herd the party up the stairs. “I think it wants to help us out!” Flint the half-elf rogue gave the bard a skeptical look; Hjolgram was starting to sound a bit manic, as he had after the discovery of the four-legged brain monster in Targos. The half-elf didn’t think another crack-up was far off.

Omm the tiefling sorcerer also regarded the over-excited dwarf with some trepidation. “Maybe it will fly for us? If we help it?” he tentatively asked.

“Oh, I’m sure!” Hjolgram responded, before Omm had even finished speaking.

Don’t Listen to the Voices in Your Head

The deck above was exposed to the elements. There was another over-complicated-looking ballista, a cabin door, and the stairs continued upwards to another deck. A carrion crawler laid in wait on the ceiling, and dropped down to attack as the adventurers reached the deck.

While the group fought off the tentacled horror, Hjolgram suddenly heard a voice in his head, imperiously asking, “Who draws near?” The bard, excited to finally make contact with another telepath, mentally replied that they were here to fix the ship. Belatedly, he realized that both the question and his reply were in an alien language that he was not aware that he knew.

Hjolgram locked that disturbing fact away in a deep dark hole and proceeded to chat up the telepathic presence. Meanwhile, the crawler’s slimy tentacles had paralyzed Flint, and the others divided their attention between killing the beast and pulling the rogue away from the monster’s toothy maw. The bard threw out some viscous mockeries and healing words while he “talked” with his new friend.

After the carrion crawler was slain, Hjolgram explained to the others that he was mind-talking with a friend elsewhere on the ship, and that the friend was going help them repair the vessel. “Yep, he’s cracked,” Flint whispered to Omm.

Beyond the door was another sphincter-portal that opened for the dwarf, revealing a complicated crystal sphere device that the others couldn’t make heads or tails of. To the group’s eyes, Hjolgram listened to nothing, and then announced that the device was the boat’s power source, and it was broken. A “psi-crystal” was needed to repair it, but his unseen friend did not know where one could be found on this world.

More psi-crystal questions and non-answers followed, and a bored Flint and Madoc the ranger wandered out onto the deck to play with the ballista. The design was, perhaps, gnomish, as it was covered in knobs, levers, and gauges, which were labeled with a braille-like script that the duo could not read. Nevertheless, Madoc hopped in and was able to figure out its operation in short order. The two took turns firing giant bolts into the air until the spellcasters emerged from the cabin.

“We think the voices in Dougan’s Hole are caused by this ship,” Omm informed the pair. “It’s like a siren song that draws in nearby people, in the hopes that they can repair it. I don’t think the people from Dougan’s Hole that followed the voice made it this far, though.”

The group next went up the stairs to the top deck, which was a large open area. Jellyfish-like things hung from the ceiling, pulsing tendrils were everywhere, and a crystal orb sat on a pedestal near a throne-like chair. And from that chair, a living, breathing, octopus-headed mind flayer stared down at them as if they were insects.

Hjolgram grinned and enthusiastically waved at the terrible figure. “Long time no see!” he said, as he pushed past the front line to stand beside his former owner.

Next: reunion!

 

Rime of the Frostmaiden: Icewind Dale, Part 8

The previous post is here. The chapter starts here. The campaign starts here.

The party had journeyed to the Spine of the World to find the crashed flying ship of the mind flayers, which now sat in the snow directly ahead of them. But standing in the way was a very big, very hungry caterpillar!

”Don’t worry!” Hjolgram the dwarf bard shouted to the others as the creature’s slimy tentacles snaked around his limbs. “It’s a beloved family pet!” The creature wrapped the dwarf up and began reeling him in, drawing him closer and closer to its toothy maw. “Down boy!” he ordered the monster in a firm but unconcerned tone. “Put me down!”

Flint the half-elf rogue and Madoc the ranger rushed forward to slay the “pet,” only to find that its rubbery body was difficult to pierce. Despite the dwarf’s scolding, the awful thing dragged him up to its mouth, and it chomped down on his arm with gusto. “Oww! Vulaxnyr, it’s me! Hjolgram!” the suddenly-alarmed bard pleaded.

flaming sphere blossomed on top of the carrion crawler’s long body, causing it to drop Hjolgram as it squirmed away from the flames. While the injured dwarf scurried back, Omm the tiefling sorcerer followed up the sphere with blasts of fire that singed the creature’s hide. The thing lunged at the nearest meal, which happened to be Twiggy Tenderfoot the druid, but biting her was its last act before the rogue and ranger were finally able to chop it into bits.

A panting Madoc turned to Hjolgram and growled, “Your ‘family pet’ almost ate you!”

The dwarf nodded as Twiggy tended to their wounds. “Hmm, yes. Poor Vulaxnyr must have gone feral after being left to fend for itself for all those months.”

“Are there any more ‘pets’ we should know about?” asked a wary Flint.

“Oh, I doubt anything else survived the crash,” Hjolgram replied glibly, before suddenly reconsidering his position. He glanced around the landscape and added, “But I’m eager to be back! So let’s not tarry, eh?”

Trepanning 101

From up close, the vessel looked to be crafted – or grown? – from wood, metal, and chitin. Most disturbingly of all, large, floppy tentacles extended from the prow to sprawl over the landscape; they certainly looked like they were part of a living creature. Or a once-living creature, as it were. Laying near the tentacles was a humanoid body, partially buried in the snow. When the frozen corpse was pulled free, it turned out to have skin the color of a deep bruise and a head that looked like an octopus. “A friend of yours?” Flint inquired with a smirk. A frowning Hjolgram shrugged.

Cross-section view

As horrifying as the corpse was to look upon, a cursory examination of it revealed an even more awful item of note: there was a hole in its head, and the space inside, where its brain would presumably have been – or not, who could say – was empty. The edges of the opening looked like they had been made precisely, as with a very sharp instrument held by a steady hand.

The group reluctantly climbed up the squicky prow-tentacles to reach the foredeck, where there was a complicated-looking ballista on a swivel mount, and a set of doors leading into the lower cabin. Both the ballista and the doors were trapped under a layer of ice. There was another open deck atop the cabin, but the party ignored that for now.

While the others investigated the area, Hjolgram scrunched up his face and tried to detect any nearby thoughts, and he heard… something beyond the doors, though he could not make sense of the emanations he received. “Hmm,” the telepathic dwarf mused. “Sounds like something else did survive. But I think it’s gone crazy in the meantime.” Flint groaned in exasperation as another of Hjolgram’s optimistic predictions was proven untrue.

Stitch Me Up

Madoc smashed the ice around the doors and wrenched them open, revealing a storage hold that had stairs leading up to the deck above. The walls were adorned with chains and manacles, while the floor was largely taken up by a central flight of stairs and assorted crates and containers. Some of the boxes had smashed apart and had spilled their broken contents around the room.

A tall humanoid stood at the far end, and clumsily turned towards the visitors as the doors were opened; as it stepped into the light coming from the doorway it was revealed to be a horrific patchwork person, stitched together from bits of dwarves, goblins, and… reindeer? Madoc recoiled in shock, and Hjolgram eagerly stuck his head in to see what the fuss was about. “Oh, that’s just the shipping and receiving golem, nothing to worry about,” he chirped. The flesh golem began to lumber towards the PCs, and it wasn’t alone – there were also three purplish creatures that looked like fetal mind flayers! The baby monsters floated in the air just above the deck and disgustingly dragged their useless bodies forward using outsized face-tentacles.

Hjolgram smiled and waved at the little ones, but the “squidlings” had their own distinctive and more painful form of greeting. The nearest one’s head jiggled grotesquely, and everyone in the doorway had to make an Intelligence saving throw as they weathered a psychic assault! Only the bard failed the save, and took some minor psychic damage and was stunned for his trouble; a fitting fate for the PC who kept assuring the others that there was nothing dangerous on the vessel.

The ranger bounded past the tickled dwarf, declared the little horror his Slayer’s Prey, and with a cry of “Die, monster!” brought his sword down in a powerful arc that sliced Zglarrd (for that was its name) in half. The next baby abomination dragged its body near and unleashed another psychic blast; once again only Hjolgram failed his saving throw, and the dwarf was stunned some more. The creature was then stabbed to death by Flint, and the final squidling was blown to bits by Omm’s firebolt. They not only looked like babies, they were about as hardy as infants as well.

By this time the “shipping and receiving golem” had made its way around the clutter and with a roar swung its massive limbs at the rogue. Flint dodged the first attack, but the second caught him on the shoulder and he went reeling. He and the ranger retaliated, only to discover that their mundane weapons had no effect! The rogue retreated to safety, but Madoc grimly resolved to hold the line.

While Twiggy maneuvered around the crates to hit the golem with a thunderwave from its flank, Madoc used another of his subclass’ abilities and focused his Hunter’s Sense on their foe to learn what weaknesses it possessed, if any. From that he learned that it was immune or resistant to many kinds of magic, and immune to non-magical weapons. Unfortunately, the party didn’t have any magic weapons… or did they? Twiggy used shillelagh to enchant her staff, and Omm spent some of his sorcerous power to imbue the ranger’s sword with magic (using Imbuing Touch, from this UA article). Naturally, Madoc took his shiny new magic sword and promptly missed on his next attack.

The golem pummeled the ranger and druid with its meaty fists while healing spells barely kept them standing. Omm burned away its hit points with firebolts; thankfully it was not resistant or immune to fire! Eventually the sorcerer also imbued one of Flint’s swords, allowing the rogue to rejoin the melee, and a series of solid hits from the group’s magic weapons finally took apart the patchwork monstrosity.

At the far end of the hold the adventurers found a short hall that featured four slimy sphincter-like doors. Madoc cautiously approached, but saw no way to get past the muscular, glistening portals, except perhaps with his sword. That proved unnecessary, though, for when Hjolgram came up behind the ranger, the sphincters began to dilate! Four small cells were revealed behind each “door,” and each cell held a crystal sphere sitting on a pedestal. Two of the spheres had tiny little mind-flayers floating inside.

It was looking like there was plenty that had survived the crash, after all.

Next: hearing voices!