Sunday, February 2, 2014

Under Jorgenfist (01/31/2014)

The heroes had found their way into a system of caves that they hoped would lead them under, and hopefully into, Jorgenfist, the mighty stone giant fortress of Mokmurian and his army. It had been a tough fight so far, but with the noise of enemy troops rallying in distant parts of the caves an elder giant female who identified herself as Conna appeared and bade the party to follow her. Without seeing much of any others options available to them, the party quickly fell in line behind the exiting stone giant elder.

Conna led them north out of the throne room to an area that had obviously been set-up as a shrine. “This is my home,” Conna whispered. “You will not be disturbed here.” The walls of this cave were painted with red, yellow, brown, and black figures, among which are apparent images of giants, mammoths, elk, deer, and wyverns. Others were harder to figure out: ogres, perhaps, or giant children, or even humans. The dwarves were very clear though, with beards and tiny axes being crushed under enormous giant feet. A simple oil lantern lighted a small altar at the far end of the cavern. A modest offering of antlers, hooves, and patches of fur had been piled in front of the altar.

Conna then turned toward the altar, whispered a few words, and then silently directed the heroes to remain here and to remain quiet. She then stepped out of the room and could be heard speaking to others who were responding to the disturbance in the throne room.

As the party waited another appeared in the room, the ghostly appearance of a fierce stone giant, one advanced in age. The body of the spirit had several deep slash wounds and a sihedron rune could be seen carved in to its chest. Just as quickly as it appeared the apparition seemed to step back into the wall, gone from site. As the party waited silently the spirit could be seen to appear and then disappear several more times.

After a few minutes the disturbance outside seemed to calm down, and Conna returned. Her calm demeanor did not fool the party members. She again bade the heroes to remain quiet, and again turned towards the altar to utter a few words.

Conna then explained to the heroes that when Mokmurian first came to these caves he had set up this small shrine dedicated to his people's ancestral spirits. As Mokmurian became more and more obsessed with Thassilon his interest in the religion of his people waned, and after he returned from Xin-Shalast his first act in this chamber was to sacrifice Vandarrec, the father of his old tribe. Conna, the now-deposed mother of his tribe, had tended to this shrine since Mokmurian's blasphemous sacrifice, and only she knew that it was her husband's spirit that haunted this chamber. The other giants had since learned to avoid this part of the cave due to the haunt.

Conna then asked the party why they have come to Jorgenfist. Upon hearing their answer she told them that slaying Mokmurian was the solution to their problems. She further told them that Mokmurian has spent almost all of his time in the library level below this one and even provided a rough map of the caves. She further suggested that they approach the exit of this cave area, from the west rather than the north - even though that route was longer, there were fewer perils along the way. She also requested that if the heroes encountered any more stone giants that they defeat the giants without killing them. It appeared that in her hesitancy to voice such a request that Conna understood that her kin had brought this doom upon themselves through their own actions and the actions of the party would likely be forced anyway.

Conna stubbornly insisted that she would not accompany the party. There were traditions of her tribe that must be upheld she explained - once a giant elder had been deposed, that elder must not directly oppose the new ruler. Conna then spent several minutes answering questions the party had, but with the disruption the party had already caused she could not accurately state where any of the other residents of the caves might be at that moment. She did cast a Mage Armor for those who could use it, but it soon became time for the heroes to continue their search for Mokmurian.

Before she parted ways with the party Conna grudgingly told the party one more thing. She had become afraid that Mokmurian has fallen under the influence of a powerful evil spirit indeed - one of the Ancient Lords themselves. She has heard him whisper a name when he felt he was alone. The name was "Karzoug," a name Conna recognized from secret myths shared by the elders of her tribe. Karzoug was one of those who enslaved her people many centuries previous, and if Mokmurian had fallen victim to this Ancient Lord's influence the danger that faced her people and all of Varisia were likely greater than anyone knew.

Enga Keckiva
As the party inspected the map and discussed the path to take Kheo wandered out toward the pit entrance that led from the courtyard of Jorgenfist down to this level of the caves below. The scent of fresh air drew him to the ramp that led upwards, and seeing no opposition he began to head up the ramp. There were several small nooks and crannies along the way, the last one of which housed a well-armed and well-armored kobold. The kobold took this intrusion seriously and Kheo found himself requesting assistance from the rest of the party.

The remainder of the party quickly responded, but as they did a stone giant who also resided in the cave entrance area threw back a hide that covered another cubby hole and upon seeing the intruders he too enjoined in the battle. The battle was brief but deadly as the kobold took one too many blows and died, but as the heroes turned towards to stone giant the giant quaffed a portion of Gaseous Mist and disappeared into the darkness of the cave.

This kobold’s cave was cluttered by tiny mounds of carefully sorted junk - bones, scraps of armor, broken weapons, stones, dead rats, and sections of chitin harvested from large vermin. A net hammock hung from a pair of stalagmites in one of the corners. The party quickly scooped up the kobolds gear (Necklace of Fireballs (type IV), +1 Breastplate, +1 Buckler, +3 Short Spear, 11 GP, 12 SP, and 12 CP) and began their run through the caves toward the library where they hoped to find Mokmurian and put an end to this madness. There was little doubt that the escaped stone giant would be bringing reinforcements, so away they ran into the bowels of the cave (DM Note: The rest of the party was not particularly happy with Kheo, but the DM found it to be very amusing).

They ran south from Conna’s lair, past the throne room and the dire bear den and then headed through a passage that led to the west. The huge cave system then opened a larger open area with passageways that led to the south, the southwest, and to the northwest. Any thoughts of what direction to take was put on hold and three ogre fighters emerged from the room to the south, the foul stench of the room wafting from behind them.

The party quickly engaged, and as they did two stone giants appeared from the passageway to the southwest as the faint cries of “help us” could be heard coming from somewhere in the dark behind them. The battle was particularly brutal but as soon as the heroes soon took the upper hand Selinor cast an Invisibility on himself and slipped past the two giants to investigate who was crying for help.

As the last of the enemy combatants his the floor Selinor emerged from the room to search the bodies of the stone giants, and upon finding a key he returned to the room behind him. The rest of the party followed and there they found what appeared to be an armory. The walls of this room had been chiseled away and made almost regular. Four anvils stood in the middle of the room, while to the south burned a bright forge fire. Immense bellows stood near a row of low iron cages, each featuring a filthy mound of straw. The bellows' handles extended through the cages, allowing anyone imprisoned within to work the bellows without the necessity of leaving their confines. To the north, mounds of steel and the broken and bent pieces of a dozen weapons of all shapes and sizes awaited work.

Two stone giant smiths had worked here as they repaired the broken weapons and armor almost as fast as they're coming in. The cages near the bellows contained five dwarven prisoners, all of whom were not immediately recognizable as dwarves as the giants had shaved off their beards for the sport of it. The prisoners were all exhausted, but when freed they immediately dived into the pile of broken equipment and grabbed up whatever bits and pieces of broken weapons and armor that would fit and eagerly volunteered to go with the heroes, especially once they learned there was more “Giant Killin’” that was likely to occur.

As the dwarves, miners who had been recently captured by the giants, girded themselves with mismatched pieces of armor and weapons Kheo decided to inspect the other room, the one where the ogre fighters had emerged from. This room reeked of vinegar, rotting hair, and worse. A single large stone basin sat in the middle of the room, about ten feet square and filled with foul-looking fluid upon which float patches of wet fur. Around the basin stood a dozen wooden frames over which leather and hides were stretched. At the far end of the cave a stinking mound of hides and furs awaited tanning. Kheo quickly managed to duck out of the tannery before the foul stench sickened him.

After a brief rest the party, now nine strong, continued down the passage to the northwest. Here the tunnel widened here into a gallery, the walls of which are streaked with glittering veins of mica. To the north, four large mounds of furs had been arranged - a nimbus of bones and bits of half-eaten food lay strewn around each. To the south lay another four mounds of fur, similar to those that lay along the north wall. Eight beds in all, and the heroes knew they had slain six stone giants so far, but who could say how many resided top-side in the fortress.

Not finding anything of value in the barracks area the party continued down the passageway to the west. The passageway then came to a T, but if Conna’s crude map was right the path to the south led to the library, so the party continued on to the south. Here, as in other part of the cave, the walls of this passageway were hung with furs. Stike looked behind one of the hanging furs and saw that in the wall they covered up a actually a wall of stalagmites, each with about a one-foot gap in between them. As Stike peered into the darkness a ranseur flashed out at him, barely missing the huge fighter.

Fork - Ranseur - Halberd
At first Stike thought he had triggered a trap, but a troll stepped out of the darkness and up to the other side of the wall of stalagmites and thrust the polearm at Stike again. It appeared that the troll was trapped behind his wall, so the decision was made to ignore the troll and continue south. That decision was soon interrupted when a second troll emerged into the hallway from behind a hanging wall of furs on the other side of the passageway. The first troll also then emerged, both intent on doing their job of guarding the passageway to the south. Selinor and Reynard ensured they used fire spells to hopefully minimize the regenerative capabilities of the trolls, and as the two trolls finally lay dead the party heard what they had feared. From somewhere behind them in the tunnels someone or something, and multiple something’s at that, were coming hard and fast and looking for them.

The passageway south began a gentle slope downward, so the heroes doublet-timed it further into the depths. The tunnel walls wind deeper into the ground here, yet the presence of rough contours along the cave walls seems to lessen every several paces the deeper the cave goes, the more like worked stone the passageway seems. The gradual change from natural cavern to worked stone was finally complete after the long, spiraling descent into the depths.

This surviving section of the Therassic Monastery, hidden within walls warded by the same preservative magic that has protected all of Varisia's Thassilonian monuments from erosion and decay, has remained intact for centuries. The workmanship of these tunnels was distinctly different from that of the tunnels above or the giantcraft of Jorgenfist itself. The heroes had seen such Thassilonian ruins before (such as the Catacombs of Wrath or the lower level of Thistletop) and realized that the style of the architecture in these tunnels was distinctly Thassilonian. A further unusual element of the architecture here is the fact that all corners were curiously rounded off to prevent the formation of hard angles. Where the walls met hard angles had been polished away to smooth but tight arcs that somewhat softened the transitions from wall to wall or to floor or ceiling. With no hard lines defining edges of rooms, the place seems subtly alien.

A long hallway led to the west, but at the end of the hallway a cave-in appeared to provide a dead end. A huge pair of double doors led to the south, but before heading in that direction Selinor cast a Wall spell to block off whoever was coming behind them. They knew this would only hold them off temporarily, but in the race to kill Mokmurian it might be enough. The five dwarves bravely stated they would wait here and help fight off whoever came through.

The party stepped through the double doors and into something that was quite disconcerting. The floor was made of glossy, polished black and gray marble. To the west what might have once been another exit had long since caved in. Yet nothing in the room compared to the curious effect that its walls had – as the heroes looked into the room they quickly realized it was bizarrely impossible to judge the chamber's exact dimensions. Any wall looked at directly remained stable, but through peripheral vision the walls everywhere else seemed to stretch away into impossibly infinite gulfs, as if the room itself was somehow "unhooked" from its own physicality. The sheets of pale light that flickered across the walls only added to the disorienting effect.

Hill Giant Runeslave
This chamber was guarded by a single obese giant, his body covered with scars in the shape of Thassilonian runes. The runeslave giant wore a heavy hide breastplate and had a slightly hunched back and pale lanky hair. His arms and legs were twisted and monstrously overdeveloped muscles bulge and strained against his seemingly too-tight skin. With a roar he stepped forward to engage the intruders that had stepped into his lair.

The heroes quickly stepped fully into the room to continue prepare their attacks, but found all found their senses assaulted as the unusual room plied its affects. It was hard to gauge distance as the ever shifting walls shifted in their peripheral vision, but all their ranged affects struck home. The runeslave was quickly dispatched, but not before Reynard found himself Reduced in size. As the heroes started to move toward a passage to the south that led out of this room another creature emerged from the wall itself.

Forgefiend (Scanderig)
The huge creature, a living combination of metal and fire, took several swings at the heroes with his metal claws as well as attempted bites with his metal maw. As the heroes attacked back the beast simply stepped back into the wall, gone just as quickly and mysteriously as it arrived.

The deep booms of the assault on the protecting wall behind the party continued, so with no further delay the party continued south into the next room. In this room the party saw runes had been carved in bands along the walls of this chamber, which was unnervingly lit by a reddish glow from the slowly burning flames in a shallow fire-pit in the center of the room. An immense iron cauldron, its side emblazoned with an etching of a seven-pointed star, stood above these flames. Smoke rose from the cauldron's unseen bubbling contents, and a halo of human bones and scraps of what might be dried flesh lay scattered around the cauldron's three-pronged base.

Stone Golem and the Runeslave Cauldron
A stone golem guarded this chamber - a hulking brute with a skull-like face and glowing blue runes carved into its forehead. The huge creature moved ponderously towards the heroes, but his slow gait gave the heroes an opportunity to surround the beast. The still reduced Reynard stuck the golem with a Chain Lightning, only to see the magic seem to dribble off the golem with no effect. Stike and Kheo did their damage and killed the golem, only to have the forgefiend step out of the wall again and take a swing at Selinor. Again the party moved to attack, and as before the forgefiend disappeared into the wall.

From far in the distance it sounded like the wall had been broken through … and we’ll pick it up there next time. For tonight’s efforts the party earned 63,000 XP, giving them (253,800 + 63,000) 316,800 XP earned so far, allowing them to reach 13th level, with 445,000 XP required to reach Level 14 (Level 15: 635,000 XP).

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