Monday, September 2, 2013

Skull’s Crossing (08/30/2013)

After having cleaned the remainder of the ogres out of Fort Rannick Jakardros Sovark and the remaining Black Arrows, including Shalelu Andosana, had decided to rebuild the Black Arrows and Fort Rannick. They would do the best they could to hold the fort until spring, when which hopefully supplies and workers could be provided to help rebuild the fort. Jakardros asked the party to deliver the news back to Turtleback Ferry first though – perhaps Mayor Maelin Shreed could arrange for some volunteers to help re-staff the Black Arrows in the short term, and the mayor could also contact Magnimar to get the assistance the Black Arrows would require to rebuild the fort.

The rains had continued, so even though the party had reclaimed their horses the trek back to Turtleback Ferry was not a pleasant one. Several of the party members wanted to stop by the Graul homestead and ensure it had truly indeed burned to the ground, which it had. As the party returned to the road for the last leg of the trip they were approached by a bedraggled and frantic rider coming from the direction of town. “Oh, it’s you, the heroes,” the man, self-identified as Bran Fered, yelled over the din of the storm, “We need the Black Arrows immediately. Turtleback Ferry is drowning!

It took the party a few minutes to assure the villager that the Black Arrows could not help at this time, but that the heroes were on their way to Turtleback Ferry anyway and they would lend their assistance any way they could. The party quickly sped up their return to town, but as they came around that last bend they were amazed at what lay before them.

The village of Turtleback Ferry was indeed drowning. The muddy, surging waters of the Skull River tore through the center of the community to fill Claybottom Lake with a terrible fury - many of the buildings that once sat comfortably on the river's banks were already flooded and were in danger of collapsing from the rushing water. A group of children and a woman huddled aboard one of the old turtleshell ferryboats, the tiny flood-bashed vessel lodged up against the general store and threatened to capsize at any moment. Beyond, the town's church stood solid, its foundations already three feet deep in floodwaters. Frantic movement were visible in the upstairs windows as townsfolk trapped inside rushed about in a desperate attempt to save scriptures, comfort the sick, and pray for deliverance

The party decided the first thing to do was to rescue the woman and the children from the ferry boat. Kheo and Reynard waded to the boat with a rope with the intention of securing it so they could then rescue its occupants. As the two heroes got close a new threat made itself clear

The villagers were not the only ones uprooted by the flood. A 16-foot-long Nightbelly Boa, one of the more dangerous predators to ply the river, was dislodged by the waters several miles upstream and had been carried by the current all the way to the village. The constrictor rose from the water with a loud hiss and attacked in an attempt to constrict and swallow one of the young inhabitants. The woman caretaker and the children screamed, powerless to stop the ravenous reptile.

The party was quick to react. Several spells were set-off, and Kheo clambered aboard the boat to get into position to deal a deathly blow, but just as he arrived the boa decided it had had enough and dropped its young captive and slid into the roiling water. Kheo could have taken one last swing at the dangerous beast but instead decided to catch the young child the boa had dropped as part of its escape. With the beast now gone the party was able to rescue the remaining inhabitants of the boat.

Not long after several party members noticed what at first appeared to be a huge black tree being swept downriver on a collision course with the church. Moments before the "tree" hit it instead appeared to have submerged. A few moments later the flood waters surged violently and with a thunderous roar, legendary Black Magga rose from the rushing waters. The sight of the immense monster, its primeval head rising as high as the church steeple - sent the villagers of Turtleback Ferry into a blind panic. For now the spectacle of the lake monster seemingly preparing to destroy the church was all that mattered.
Black Magga
Realizing that left to its own devices the gargantuan Black Magga would likely quickly destroy the church and kill all inside, so the party moved into attack. The dirty rushing water was three foot deep and hindered movement, so spells were cast and arrows launched, but the party soon deduced that Black Magga was not merely some nuisance creature to be trifled with. It seemed to shrug off most of the magical attacks and the arrows and bolts bounced uselessly off its tough hide.

The party then decided on another tack. Given the possibility of killing the creature seemed slight (especially since they really hadn’t even been able to hurt it) the proper course of action might be to get the occupants of the church outside before the building collapsed around them. As Black Magga struck the building with another earth-shaking blow Kheo and Reynard slipped into the front of the church and began to direct the occupants towards the back. Selinor waded through the two-and-a-half feet of rushing water to reach the door in the back of the church and began to direct the fleeing occupants away from the building.

In an attempt to distract the beast from its deadly task Stike struck a mighty blow with his own sword and the animal cried out in pain. Black Magga then fixed its visage on the fighter and blasted him with a breath blast of black smoke, leaving Stike confused and bewildered. Black Magga then delivered one last blow to the church and with a rumble and a roar the building fell into itself, a cloud of dust and dirt rising from the collapsed timbers.

Kheo had about 20 terrified children attached to his legs as he continued to lead the survivors toward safe ground. The few clerics from in the building had managed to bring the remaining weak and infirm with them, plus Reynard had teleported two of the more seriously hurt out on his way through the building.

With the water level now down to about one foot Black Magga decided it was time to bid adieu and the beast slithered into the depths of Claybottom Lake. As Stike and Reynard joined Kheo and Selinor and the rescued inhabitants of the church a cheer rose from the villagers who had gathered on the shores to watch. Several sets of parents burst forth to gather up their children and the mayor and several of the towns leaders gathered around to heroes to thank them for their efforts.

With the rain suddenly ended and the effects of the flash flood now receding the mayor begged for news of Fort Rannick and the Black Arrows. The party relayed the story of the fall and recapture of Fort Rannick and the status of the few remaining Black Arrows. The mayor quickly agreed to round up a dozen volunteers to send out to the fort to supplement the Black Arrows. The mayor also quickly agreed to notify Magnimar of the plight of the fort, and he expressed confidence that those who profited from the trade routes through the area would be most generous in ensuring these routes stayed open and profitable.

DM note: The party agreed to keep the Lucrecia’s list of the townspeople with the Sihedron Rune tattoo a secret, at least for now.

The discussion then turned towards the flood. It wasn’t that the town never experienced flooding, but they had never experienced a flood that was so quick and violent. All signs pointed north - something must have happened at Skull's Crossing, the ancient dam. When, in the past, storms threatened to spill over the dam, the structure's floodgates opened automatically to release water pressure in a controlled flow. No one in Turtleback Ferry knew exactly how the mechanism for opening the floodgates actually worked, as Skull's Crossing has long been the den of a tribe of trolls known as the Skulltakers. Yet as long as anyone could remember the floodgates had functioned without fault. If the floodgates were malfunctioning someone would need to brave the wrath of the Skulltaker trolls to determine what could be done to repair the ancient Thassilonian structure before a cataclysmic flood washed the entire region away.

With a reward offer of 4,000 GP from the mayor, the party agreed to swing by the dam on their way back to Fort Rannick and investigate further. The night ended with a long discussion about trolls and the party prepared to leave first thing in the morning for the dam.

Skull's Crossing was one of the final - and perhaps most ambitious - projects Runelord Karzoug's giants erected. Much of the stone used to craft the towering monuments scattered throughout Varisia was taken from an immense quarry in the heart of the Storval Plateau. It took centuries, but near the end the quarry finally played out and all that remained was a vast canyon. Karzoug had little use for or interest in the ugly scar so ordered the construction of Skull's Crossing at its southern end to transform the quarry into the region's largest lake.

As with many of his projects that didn't feature his own countenance the dam incorporated one of Karzoug's favorite design elements - the human skull. The colossal dam was decorated with thousands of them. Five immense skulls adorn the center of the dam's face ancient machinery built into the dam allowed the jaws of these skulls to be opened or closed to act as, floodgates should the waters of the Storval Rise ever flow too high.
Skull's Crossing
As the party approached from the base of the dam along the western shore they could see the massive wall of stone that spanned the breadth of the gorge and held back the waters of the Storval Deep. Thousands of skulls had been carved into the dam's face, with five larger ones that decorated the middle length. The easternmost of these immense skulls was all but hidden by a steady flow of cascading water as it poured through what appeared to be a recent break in the dam. For now, the ancient dam seemed to be holding its own against the Storval Deep, but unless these rains were to end soon the recent flood might be but a minor precursor to a fantastic disaster to follow.

The eastern slopes of the gorge were sheer and slick with rain, but to the west a narrow stone stairway, its edge decorated with hundreds of poles bearing the skulls of as many different creatures, wound up to a cave mouth near the western rim of the dam itself. A seven-foot-wide winding stairway of stone climbed the cliff face here, reaching a height of nearly two hundred feet before ending at a cave mouth above. Hundreds of stakes lined the edges of the stairway, many of them decorated with skulls - some animal, some humanoid, all marked with a strange skull-shaped rune on the brow – the symbol of the Skulltaker tribe.

Atop the stairs was a small alcove that led to a fifteen-foot-high ledge that would in turn provide access to a larger cave beyond. The ledge wasn’t difficult to climb, but the crumbling rock face of the ledge made a stealthy approach all but impossible.

Gorger and Chaw
his cave has long been the lair of Gorger and Chaw. When the Skulltaker trolls moved into the region they formed an alliance with the ettin - as long as he left the dam itself to the trolls and served as a guard and protected this approach to its heights from intruders, he would be allowed to remain in the region. Gorger and Chaw saw were satisfied with this arrangement since there wasn’t anything that interested him up on the dam to begin with. Ever since that time he had been regarded as an honorary member of the Skulltaker tribe

The air in this forty-foot-high cave was freshened by a brisk breeze that whistled through from the north, yet the dozens of mostly eaten firepelts, deer, and even a few humans heaped along the walls fill the room with a stomach-turning stink. As the initial set of climbers helped the remainder of the party up to the ledge a huge ettin emerged from the murky depths of the cave. Their peace and quiet having been disturbed by the intruders the ettin rushed forward to attack, yelling “YOU NO BRIBE ME! I SMASH YOU FOR SKULLTAKERS!"

The battle was fast and deadly. Gorger and Chaw each swung a huge flail with surprising ability, but the party quickly overwhelmed the guard. The party investigated the cave further and found loot that consisted of 693 GP, 1240 SP, a velvet pouch that contained six 100 GP pearls; a Phylactery of Positive Channeling, and an ivory scroll tube inset with strips of jade (itself worth 300 GP) that contained a scroll of Cone of Cold, a scroll of Hold Monster, and a scroll of Telekinesis. Selinor claimed the phylactery and Reynard slipped the scrolls into his back pack and after a short rest the party continued up towards the top of the dam.

The climb was difficult – the giant size stairs slowed down the party’s advance, but soon they were at the top of the dam. From ahead they could hear the steady metal clink of what appeared to be someone (or something) repeatedly hitting solid rock with something metal – were the trolls somehow trying to destroy the dam, and exactly what was that “bribe” the ettin had been talking about?

With a plan of attack hastily thrown together the party rushed around the corner only to find not trolls, but five exhausted looking ogres, the leader of the miserable, tired, and sick ogres led by a fighter named Malugus, Jaagrath Kreeg's third son. Malugus had initially viewed the task of destroying Skull's Crossing as a tremendous honor, but the ancient dam had provided to be much tougher to destroy than had been anticipated.
Malugus Kreeg
Malugus quickly directed the other four ogres to toss the heroes over the side of the dam, but the party was ready and with the initial four ogres quickly dispatched Malugus was the next to die. On Malugus the party claimed his +1 Ogre Hook and his +1 Hide Armor. The party also found evidence that the party of ogres until recently had been a lot larger – perhaps there had been a battle with the trolls? Perhaps the ogre's had bribed the ettin to allow safe passage to the top of the dam and fought the trolls.

The upper walk of Skull's Crossing was relatively clear of rubble, though a three-inch layer of water had pooled across much of its surface. Here and there sections of the dam's surface had crumbled away, although this damage appeared relatively old. A tower of skull-shaped domes sat at the center of the dam's walk. To the north surged the choppy waters of the Storval Deep, while to the south the slope of the dam's face dropped away nearly three hundred feet to a muddy lake below.

As the party approached the tower located in the center of the dam they could see evidence of a great fight. The two northern sets of double doors that led into this structure have been repeatedly smashed by the ogres, only to be hastily repaired by whoever dwelled inside. They would likely have to be forced open, and with the two southern sets of southern doors barred from the inside the party opted to sneak inside through a set of open window in the center of the structure.

The walls of this room were thick with green ropy fungus that hung down over several windows, almost like curtains. Several large nests made of the stuff covered the floor. A quick inspection of the room revealed a loose stone near the base of the southern wall that hid a small cache of treasure one of the trolls had apparently hidden from his kin. The cache consisted of a cracked emerald worth 400 GP, a bent gold comb that looks like a Behir (with its legs comprising the comb's teeth) with tiny pearls for eyes worth 850 GP, and a pair of lacy pink Gloves of Swimming and Climbing that were too small and effeminate for the troll to wear (but since they never grow dirty and always smell faintly of lilacs, the troll was strangely intrigued by them).

As the party listened at the door they could hear something shuffling around outside, so whether it be trolls or more ogres the party threw open the door and unleashed their spells on the three unsuspecting trolls they saw standing there. The three trolls were hit pretty hard and as they began to fall Selinor rushed out only to be accosted by the fourth troll that was hidden from the view of the party. This final troll proved to be difficult to kill and Selinor took the brunt of his punishment but soon the post-battle quiet filled the air.

As the party looked around they could see this room had been the site of a huge battle. Piles of rubble dominated this large room, along with bits of flesh, broken weapons, splashes of blood, and a few dead ogres that had been torn limb from limb. Wind and rain howled through circular openings to the north that looked out over the Storval Deep, and puddles of water had collected on the floor. Thick sheets of ropy green fungus grow along the walls here, winding in through the windows and through numerous cracks in the domed ceiling thirty feet above; behind the fungal vines, the walls are decorated with hundreds of skull-shaped carvings.

The rest of the rooms on this level were inconsequential, save the observation deck. In this room three round windows looked out over the southern view from Skull's Crossing. Additional skull carvings decorated the walls, ceiling, and even the floor. In the middle of the north wall stood massive stone double doors, their smooth surfaces smeared with graffiti written in dried blood. Though unlocked, the double doors are exceptionally heavy, and their hinges were old and gritty. The graffiti, written in Giant, read: "BELOW DWELLS WET PAPA GRAZUUL! ALL HAIL WET PAPA GRAZUUL!"

Beyond the doors a flight of stone steps leads down, deep down, deep into the darkness. The party paused, took a deep breath and began their descent. At around the 200 foot level the stairs ended into a cold, damp room that featured a large pool in the floor, the edges of which were caked with pale yellow slime and fungus. The surface of the pool bore a similar film. Additional carvings of skulls decorated the walls here as well. To the south an impressive mound of skulls - mostly from humanoids - lay heaped against the wall, where they partially blocked a large stone double door.

This room was the lair of the Skulltaker chieftain, an aquatic troll named Grazuul. Hardly more intelligent than an animal, Grazuul barely knew that the "dry ones" who lived above think of him as their Lord - all he knews was that he appreciated their regular offerings of skulls. Grazuul particularly enjoyed the look and feel of a freshly polished skull, which is why he had lived most of his life deep inside of Skull's Crossing.

The opportunity to add four additional skulls to his collection was too much for Grazuul and he attacked the party with a vengeance. The party was able to surround the pool and get in their hits but the troll received his regeneration abilities as long as he stayed in the water, so several bottles of oil were dumped into the water and the ensuing fire put an end to Grazuul. The party was able to retrieves Grazuul’s +1 Vicious Adamantine Trident.

The party was able to inspect this area further. From this central pool area doors led to two other pools, one on each side of the main area. The party could also see an underwater tunnel that connected all three of the pools. The pool to the east contained nothing more than more murky water, but the pool to the west contained a set of steps that led down into the water. Opposite the steps was an alcove in which rose a fantastically detailed scale model of Skull's Crossing. The five skulls along its face seem to be actual human skulls, the bone polished to a gleaming sheen.

Skull Ripper

A remnant of the ancient past lingered on in this room - a lumbering, scorpion-like construct called a Skull Ripper. After a frightening initial encounter with this creature Grazuul had never returned to this chamber and beyond that one visit no creature has tested the Skull Ripper's power in thousands of years. Yet the construct has been patient - charged with guarding the floodgate controls, the monster had no intention of abandoning its post. It lurched to life as soon as the party entered the room, looking to live up to its name by grabbing an unsuspecting victim and removing its head to add to its collection of skulls.

The party was able to avoid the constructs huge claws and it's skull covered body soon lay floating in the pool. A quick check revealed a pale lavender ellipsoid ioun stone (capable of absorbing up to six more spell levels) wedged in a crack in the model of Skull's Crossing.

The party could discern nothing more from the model of Skull's Crossing and after moving aside the pile of skulls opened the double-doors opposite the stairs in the room with the center pool. This narrow chamber beyond ended at two curved alcoves, one to the east and one to the west. Each alcove was enclosed by a dull iron portcullis. A winch next to each provided a way to raise or lower the gates. Beyond each portcullis a circle of runes glowed with a faint orange light on the floor. Inside the circle to the west was a pile of crimson ash, while inside the circle to the east was curled what appears to be a long-dead devil, its flesh taut and dry on its bones.

Initially the discovery of an imprisoned pit fiend did nothing to solve the riddle of Skulls Crossing for the party. And what had been in the other circle? If the dam’s controls couldn’t be manipulated manually, exactly how had they operated automatically for the past 10,000 years?

As the party pondered over this mystery a whispered voice came from the eastern cell – the pit fiend was not dead, but was clearly in a severely weakened state. He whispered, begging, pleading with the party to free him. The pit fiend revealed that he and the other pit fiend had been imprisoned here some 10,000 years ago by Runelord Karzoug himself. Whenever the dam’s engines needed to operate the two pit fiends would have a level removed from them, which in turn provided enough magical energy for the equipment to operate. But now, with the other pit fiend long dead, this solitary pit fiend was too weak for the dam to draw enough life force to operate normally.

The party resisted the pit fiend’s pleas for freedom, but with no other alternative Reynard lifted the other portcullis and stepped into the magic circle. Immediately he felt a level of life force being drawn from him, but almost instantaneously the dam's machinery began to rumble and started to open the flood gates and draw off the excess water behind the dam.

The mystery of how the dam worked had been resolved, but as to how the dam would continue to operate in the future would be for the people of Turtleback Ferry to determine. The party dutifully reported back, collected their 4000 GP reward, and then started on their return back to Fort Rannick so they could keep their promise to Jakardros and the Black Arrows to further investigate the disappearance of Commander Lamater Bayden.

And we’ll pick it up from there next time. For tonight's efforts each party member earned 16,500 XP, giving them (72,000 + 16,500) 88,500 XP earned so far, with 105,000 XP required to reach Level 10.

1 comment:

  1. RE: Reynard's negative level.

    If permanent, Selinor will have to use the 4th level cleric spell restoration (Player's guide page 334). If not permanent, Reynard saves the next day.

    In either case, Reynard should be back to normal
    the following day.