Whether back from vacation, back from Gencon, or just out of the heat, the Sunday Night group was (almost) back together. Rich and Joette both had other obligations, but it was decided that we would carry on without them. The evening started with Brian filling us in on his Gencon trip (thumbs up!) and then we talked tech talk about Leo’s mapping program (another thumbs up!).
After having cleaned out the Chamber of Eyes and having fought their way out of a clever trap set by a pack of Hyenas the party had arrived safe and sound back at the Seven Pillared Hall. They had many questions on their mind, most revolving around the contents of the letter/contract that had been found among Krand's possessions back in the Chamber. New party member Renny deStennett had been able to confirm the presence of slaves from Riverdown in the Chamber just several days previous, but they had been taken away by Duergar before the party arrived. To ensure the promise of the payment of 1000 GP for the slaves the Duergar had even left behind two of their own as hostages or collateral. But where were the slaves now? Who was Murkelmor Grimmerzuhl, and what was his relationship to the Grimmerzuhl trading post (which, incidentally, is located quite close to where the party was standing right as they walked through the Dragon's Door back into the hall)? The adventurers each have some contacts they had established during their short time in the hall – maybe they could provide some insight.
Any hope of the party being able to sneak back into the hall with any kind of discretion was immediately lost when Rendil Halfmoon saw you enter. He whooped and hollered and danced a jig, confident that the successful return of the party meant that the Bloodreavers have indeed been wiped out. The other residents of the hall may not have known exactly what the commotion was, but each party member certainly felt as if every eye in the hall was focused directly on them, including those that stepped out of their place of business to see what was the row.
Time-wise it was the middle of the afternoon, sliding towards late afternoon and dinner time. Rendil, elated at your success, insisted that the party join him at his family's inn for dinner and beyond. He had promised that if they wiped out the Bloodreavers they could stay at the inn on his dime and he intended to keep his promise.
The players chose to split up at this time and visit their contacts. Once reconvened the party pooled their knowledge to discuss what they had found out:
- Murkelmor was the local clan chief for the Grimmerzuhl’s, which meant he held sway over the trading post.
- Murkelmor reportedly never left the confines of a fortress – the Horned Hold - hidden deep in the depths of the labyrinth.
- The Duergar had recently purchased a large lot of foodstuffs, salted pork, pack bread, and such. There was a contract signed by Kedhira, the Duergar in charge at the local trading post. Her signature was followed by three circles in a triangle shape
- The Duergar were related to Devils through their history, and maintained some level of resistance to fire and poison.
- There was some difference of opinion as to the veracity of the Duergar in general. The conclusion was that the Duergar were likely up to no good, but at least they did pay their bills on time. Most of the contacts didn’t mind seeing the Duergar taken down a notch or two, but it was tough to tell if this was really just a matter of the elimination of a tough competitor or not.
Once back at the Halfmoon Inn the festivities began. The food was tasty, the ale was excellent, and all of the patrons were well aware that the Krand and the Bloodreavers had been destroyed and were all in a celebratory mood. The consensus was that there were likely a few pockets of Bloodreavers roaming around out there, but without Krand they wouldn't be reorganized into an effective group anytime soon.
As the evening progressed Rendil mentioned that Orontor, the Mage you saw lurking behind Brugg when you first arrived at the hall several days ago, would like to speak with you in the morning. While you were gone he had tracked down Rendil and asked about you, and asked Rendil to set up an audience. Rendil told you that the mages tended to keep to themselves, so any kind of personal interaction was at least mildly unusual. Rendil also expressed doubt that Orontor was a full-fledged Mage of Sauron, but that most likely he was an Adept in training.
The evening's reverie soon passed and as promised the party got in their sleep in the comfortable beds at the Halfmoon Inn. After a brief breakfast the next morning Rendil led the party members across the hall to the Customs House where they had originally been greeted by Brugg upon their arrival. Brugg stood outside, having watched the party as they made the trek from the inn. In his loud and gruff way he spoke, greeting the party by saying “Get in here. The Mages of Sauron have demanded your presence. Lord Mage Orontor will see you now.”
Rendil immediately started to argue with Brugg, saying “They are here by invitation of Orontor you big git. There is no official request. You make it sound like they're in trouble.”
“The Mages will determine who is in trouble and who isn't you little donkey. And you're not on the list,” and with a jerk of his massive thumb finished by saying, “You wait outside.”
You had no doubt that Rendil was not included as part of the invitation, and you also had no doubt that he really was hoping to kind of bluff his way in. As you stepped into the room Rendil and Brugg kept up their steady stream of insults, each questioning the validity of the others parentage and offering insights and opinions as to cause of the smell that emanated from their respective bodies. A quiet but firm voice came from the back room. “You may step outside too, Brugg. Just send them in.”
Crestfallen might be the word to describe the look on the huge ogre's face. Of course this gave Rendil another opening with which to needle him even more as he cast insinuations about the possibility that Brugg was nothing more then a poodle that the mages kept on a chain. As the party stepped through the front room and into Orontor's office the insults continued to rain until the door behind you was closed.
Orontor had the same appearance as when you had first saw him. He was tall, extremely thin, wore black robes and had a shock of black hair that fell down over his right eye. A silver amulet was pinned to his robe, most likely some sort of symbol identifying him as a Mage of Sauron. He bade you to sit on the chairs and benches that were arranged around the room. He addressed you, graciously saying “Thank you for coming. My name is Orontor. Despite what Brugg said I am not one of the Mages of Sauron, but I am of their order. And also despite what Brugg said this is not an official meeting. I have merely requested your presence. I believe we may be of assistance to each other.”
Orontor leaned forward slightly and gave you a half-smile and with a twinkle in his eye said “A little bird has informed me that a certain group of adventurers were looking for Krand and the Bloodreavers and that this gang of slavers has been dealt a grievous blow.”
He then leaned back in his chair and continued, “Hmmph. No loss there, but I am curious … “and his voice went quiet. After a second, he continued, and declared, “The primary concern of the Mages of Sauron is what goes on in the Great Hall. The Mages have declared that order will be maintained in the hall at all times. That's fine, as far as it goes. There are those of us who care not what goes on outside the hall. There are those of us who feel that what happens in the labyrinth, while not necessarily in the hall, does have a direct bearing on us.”
“Slavery is a particularly curious issue. The slavers used to be allowed to run their slaves directly through the great hall on their way to parts unknown. One day one of the mages decided that the beating a slaver was giving one of his captives constituted a breech of order in the hall and got the Bronze Warders involved. Needless to say the result was unsatisfactory for all involved. The slave business has continued to operate in the labyrinth, but they no longer use the hall as part of their base of operations. And if I have not made myself clear before, the concern of the mages is maintaining order, only, in the Great Hall.”
Orontor took another pause, and in a hesitating fashion continued, saying “I am curious as to you what you may have found out about this, this nasty business. Perhaps there are questions that I may be able to answer.”
After some discussions the questions began. Who was Murkelmor Grimmerzuhl? Was he in some way related to the Grimmerzuhl Trading Post here in the hall? Orontor responded by saying, “Murkelmor was the clan leader for the Duergar in this area. The Duergar in the trading post would therefore be part of his clan. The Duergar have maintained a secret fortress somewhere in the deeps of the labyrinth, called the Horned Hold. It is rumored that Murkelmor never leaves the area of the Horned Hold. Besides providing living quarters for members of the Duergar clan, the Duergar craftsmen work there. There are supposedly some number of slaves that are maintained there, but it was likely that any large group of slaves heading in that direction would just be passing through on their way to somewhere else. Somewhere worse.”
“As far as the missing GP, Murkelmor was likely a pretty cagey creature. Leaving behind two hostages as collateral for the payment was a standard way of doing business, but it was also possible they might have had another location in the labyrinth identified as to where the GP and the hostages were to be exchanged. Maybe Krand never showed up to collect and the Duergar got suspicious. On the other hand, maybe the gold has not become available yet, and whoever Murkelmor is sending the slaves to hasn't paid up at their end yet.”
“The Grimmerzuhl trading post was a likely location to start. Not that they'll talk. They've got that damn back entrance, so we're never really sure who or how many are in there at any given moment. Let me give you a bit of advice – Duergar are related to Devils somehow through their history. That gives them some special resistance to certain attacks. And they have those poisonous quills too. If they can carry around poison like that then they probably have some natural poison resistance as well. Nasty lot, they are. It would be a shame, you know, a real shame, if something were to happen to them.”
When the party quibbled about “order in the hall,” Orontor replied, “Well, I am on duty for four more hours. If something were to happen inside the trading post I might never know about it. But please remember – I have to maintain order. In the hall.”
Orontor then started a new discussion by saying “I believe I have been most forthcoming with what I know. I hope it will be helpful to you in your endeavors. But I have a request, some assistance I can use from you in return. Upon agreement Orontor continued. “This must be kept between us. You must not speak of this to anyone else. Especially Rendil. One of our own, a high level mage by the name of Paldemar, has gone missing for several weeks now. It is not likely that he is dead. In fact, what I fear is indeed worse. I fear he is up to something that places us all at harm's door. I implore you to please keep your eyes and ears open and please let me know if you are able to uncover anything concerning him.”
When asked how he may be contacted, Orontor says “Go to the Minotaur statue; do not stand in the runed area. Speak directly to the statue and say my name.”
With no more questions Orontor ushered you outside where the towering Ogre and minuscule Halfling were still at it. Brugg stormed back inside as Rendil led you back across the hall to the Inn. With the information from Orontor having supported much of what the party had already learned about the Grimmerzuhl’s, and with Orontor’s tacit invitation to do what was necessary, the party decided it was time to pay a visit to the trading post.
As the party gathered their gear they discussed options for what might happen at the trading post. With a plan decided upon the party members moved out of the inn, across the bridge and toward the trading post. As the party passed across the floor of the great hall several party members pointed out that Orontor was currently moving some of the Bronze Warders around the hall and had moved one away from a position near the trading post.
The plan was that Akta and Krstic would enter through the front door and distract whoever was inside long enough that the others could come in through the rear door to catch them by surprise and to head off anyone attempting to make an unscheduled exit. Akta and Krstic were able to enter the trading post where there were two Duergar standing behind a table. It didn’t take long for the pleasantries to degrade into insults, and as a third Duergar stuck his head in the room the Duergar promised that if Akta and Krstic would close the door behind them they could settle their issue in a more personal manner.
As this was going on the rest of the party moved up the small hallway to the back door of the trading post. Oester was quickly able to determine the door was unlocked and untrapped, but there was likely a bar on the other side of the door that would prevent further ingress. Jenneth was able to see a keyhole and was then able to teleport herself to the hallway on the other side of the door. As she hunkered down to lift the “railroad tie” sized piece of wood that was being used as a door bar she was attacked from behind by a Duergar that had previously been out of sight.
DM Note: This portion was a bit tricky. Jenneth asked about the existence of a keyhole, so the DM gave it a 50/50 chance, and there was indeed a keyhole. Once she teleported it was determined that she did have the strength to remove the bar, but the attack by the Duergar was able to hamper her efforts to actually get herself and the heavy bar out of the way so the door could actually be opened. Bogar was able to give a mighty push and crack the door open wide enough that other party members could slip through, but not quite yet wide enough that ranged weapons from down the hall could target the Duergar standing on the other side of the partially closed (or partially opened) door.
Back up front Akta and Krstic were attacked by the three Duergar. Akta and Duergar managed to even the odds a little by taking one of the Duergar down quickly, but the two remaining Duergar proved to be quite resilient and battled the two adventurers up for several minutes.
The other party members were able to clamber through the door and take a poke at the Duergar, and with the door finally opened all the way the ranged weapons also took their toll. Oester was able to sneak behind the Duergar into prime backstab position only to have found himself pinned between two Duergar when another one appeared from a door behind him. The new Duergar was able to hurt Oester pretty good with a mighty blow.
Then a third Duergar appeared, from a room with a previously closed door that was directly adjacent to the brawl in the hall. This female Duergar dropped some sort of fire burst on to everybody in the hall, obviously hoping that her comrades could use their native fire resistance to minimize the damage. That certainly woke everybody up, and when it came around to the her turn she then dropped some kind of a poison cloud, after which she closed the door to the room where she had came from.
DM: Well, it was certainly the highlight of the night for the DM. Every party member in range in the hallway got hit for 20(!) points of poison damage and was blinded for a turn. It had been awhile since a party member had been put into a state of unconsciousness, but tonight it was Oester’s turn.
With no sight most of the affected party members opted to just wait a turn for the blindness to dissipate, although Eldred was able to give Oester enough healing to keep him alive. Once reactivated they quickly dispatched the two remaining Duergar in the hallway and then went into the room to follow the female Duergar. But the room was empty, she having appeared to have opened what would have otherwise been a secret door and disappearing up a hallway behind it.
Up front Akta and Krstic had finally started to get the upper hand on their two Duergar opponents, and just as Akta finally delivered his final blow he was startled to see a female Duergar emerge from a spot in the wall where there previously had not been an obvious door. The female Duergar delivered a blow and then attempted to make a run for it by heading out of the room back toward the hallway where the rest of the party was. Her attempt at escape was short-lived as she ran into the rest of the party and as the last two Duergar died a silence settled over the trading post. As the party looked around they saw:
5 Duergar Guards, each wearing chain mail and wielding a war hammer
1 Duergar Theurge, wearing robes and wielding a war hammer
It was late so other than quickly inspecting the remaining rooms for any other opponents (i.e., uncovering the map) the party has not had a chance to further inspect the trading post. Each party member earned 145 XP for the encounter.
DM Note: One of the Guards was one higher level than the others, and I ran him on his own initiative turn. I’m just doing some experimenting to see what works. I also deployed the maps with the icons instead of text/colored squares to identify landmarks in the various rooms. There was not any appreciable improvement in play because of it, but it was also the first time players had seen the icons displayed on the map.