DDN 2.7: I [♥] Dread: The ascent to the center

A quick reminder that this episode features the Feats gained at L4: ½-Jack has Luck, Carrick has Arcane Archer, and Gaunt and Martel have Heavy Armor Mastery. Red has not yet gained L4.

That’s no cloud…

Red rejoins us and we redistribute loads after a cheerful breakfast. Red has been able to field-test the ring and reports that it allows around ten minutes a day of water-walking. Miraculous indeed. Martel asks him breezily if he is fit to travel and before Red’s assurance has been fully enunciated we are in line of march, Red to the fore.

It seems our task is to follow the east bank of the river, up the U-shape valley it runs down, though keeping well away from the flats and off the skyline. We make good time, just below lightly forested hilltops, the trees of middling size.

Red checks for game and seems confident the area has enough. He brings down a large rodent-like creature, not a hare but of about that size, and it serves as a tasty midday snack.

Later in the day, Red checks us and peers back over our shoulders.

“A bird… no, that’s…

“That’s no mere bird! Get to cover!”

Readying weapons and spells we scamper up to the tree-line. Thundering on wings that easily span 100 feet, the bird of legend, a vast Roc, bears down on us as we cower around tree boles. It has seen us and swoops!

Initiatives:

  •         Carrick
  •         Martel
  •         Red
  •         ½-Jack
  •         Roc
  •         Gaunt

Round 1: Carrick has had enough warning to enchant an arrow and as it strikes a powerful Sound Burst reverberates across the valley! [Roc saves, ½ damage is 5 on top of Carrick’s 9 from arrow] Red’s arrow also hits [6 damage] but Martel and ½-Jack both miss. The Halfling rogue scurries to a new hidey-hole [LK pt reroll, Hide DC30]. The roc strikes and its talons spear Gaunt [20 damage]. The cleric manages to keep his feet, throwing Tempus’ spirit sword up but missing. The roc was no doubt hoping to snatch him away but the tree prevents this, and its vast wings batter us with air gusts as it tries for height again.

Round 2: Carrick unleashes his full power of Magic Missiles on the roc as it flaps back up out of its stoop [15 damage] but it barely notices. Martel calls Tyr’s blessings as he reloads, Red misses his shot, ½-Jack reloads his crossbow, and Gaunt heals himself [healing word, not fully healed] as the roc flaps back up to an apex and turns on us again!

Round 3: Carrick blasts the thing again as it comes screaming in [14 damage] while Martel calls on Tyr’s divine favor and Red misses again. The roc tries the same tactic but this time the tree fully foils its strike, and ½-Jack shoots its tail as it slowly flaps for height – a telling shot! [Crit, about 20 damage] He scurries to fresh cover and hides again. Gaunt casts Sacred Flame and misses.

Round 4: Carrick sends more arcane bolts into it [L1 MM but still 13 damage] and Martel and Red both hit [15 and 4 respectively]. As ½-Jack reloads the roc makes for distance rather than height – it seems to have had enough!

Round 5: Carrick sweeps his longbow up and his arrow strikes home! [5 damage] Then Martel’s crossbow quarrel strikes like a ballista bolt [17 damage] and the creature tumbles out of the sky. We feel the impact from hundreds of feet away.

After cutting into the creature’s crop to check for gems, Martel climbs a tree and scans the horizon. [Perception DC15] Another roc approaches!

This time, we merely hide. It has clearly seen its mate – or rival – but not us, and eventually flies due west, croaking dismally. We mark the direction it took. Roc’s nests may have legendary treasures!

 

Inland hunters

A full day’s march later – our overnighting having been uneventful – we find that the river diverges into three main headwaters, narrow, deep-bottomed ravines that tumble out of what Martel theorizes is a central plateau. He encourages us all with thoughts of a lost city and ancient treasures. Having no other option, we follow the easternmost ravine, our path winding up near it, until we see a line of natives above us!

Carrick negotiates (using an illusion to make himself impressive initially). The natives are similar to those of the southern peninsula, but not quite the same and seem not to have heard of Tanaroa. It seems they are a hunting party from elsewhere in the isle, or perhaps on its east coast. They tell us of a crossing further up, we pass one another without problem, and they fade away down the valley.

 

Ravine of reptiles

Though it is late, Martel urges us to push on and cross before we camp. Our tired legs take us up to a broad level ledge the ravine has pierced. The two sides are connected by a rope bridge of seemingly sturdy construction.

½-Jack volunteers to check the ropes but after a few yards, freezes and cries out in fear as raucous screeches sound below him! It seems that in the sides of the ravine, winged reptiles have their nests and the foul harpie-like creatures swoop and swirl out in the dusking sky and attack!

Battle Layout

The ravine forms a three-dimensional barrier to those on foot. A rope bridge, secure enough to be moved over quickly, joins the two sides, which are level. Fliers can swarm over or under the rope bridge and over either ledge. The side of the plateau, on the “up” or west side of the ravine, is not so close that it limits flying. Characters other than ½-Jack are ranged on either side of the rope bridge’s east end. Left to right: Red, Gaunt (very near the rope bridge), Carrick (some distance back from the lip), and Martel.

Initiatives:

  •         Pteranodons
  •         Gaunt
  •         Carrick/Martel
  •         ½-Jack
  •         Red

Round 1: Seven winged reptiles sweep up and around and down at us, and only Carrick is not attacked. Luckily only Red and Gaunt are scratched. Gaunt hurls Tempus’ sword at the nearest – without effect – and then brings the glowing red weapon closer to him. “Cross as swiftly as you can!” Martel calls, readying his crossbow and moving closer. Carrick plies his longbow and hits one [4 damage] and that and the nearest other fall into an enchanted sleep, tumbling down! Then the Elf mage races onto the bridge. ½-Jack is a few paces ahead of him having reached the other side now. Red shoots one [8 damage] and dashes over the bridge just behind Carrick.

Round 2: The sleepers bounce, waking up abruptly! Two swoop on Carrick but miss, and Martel’s reactive shot misses them [no zone reaction – Martel had adopted a ready action last round]. Gaunt is hit again despite his armor warding off some of the damage and he curses as his spirit sword riposte misses. But he hurls Sacred Flame, which does singe one [2 damage]. Carrick’s Sound Burst spell reverberates up and down the ravine, killing two reptiles! Martel crosses, calling Tyr’s Blessing as he judges himself to be around center of the party. ½-Jack’s bolt kills yet another. He moves and [Lk pt] hides again. All save for Gaunt have now crossed.

Round 3: Three of the four remaining reptiles swoop at Gaunt who has left himself very isolated on the wrong side of the bridge. Two stab through his armor and he cries in pain! [12 damage between them] Gaunt runs across to join the rest of us, healing himself and ineffectually swiping with his spirit sword. Carrick casts Sleep on the original two he made sleep: they plummet into the ravine, never to be seen again. Martel sends a crossbow quarrel into one of the two remaining [5 damage].

Round 4: There are still two remaining and keen to defend their territory! Red receives a cut [4 damage] before Gaunt’s spirit sword finally kills the reptile. Gaunt tries Sacred Flame on the other, without success, but then Carrick slays it with Ray of Frost.

 

We camp: no-one is keen to clamber down to explore the nests. It’s rations and water-bottles all round. We also notice the cold much more than was the case at our previous camp. A campfire would be very welcome, but load considerations (we carry no firewood!) and caution prevent this.

 

Onto the plateau

In the crisp dawn Red casts about. If anything, west, doubling back on yesterday’s trail, seems most traveled. Red leads off. We find the faint-beaten yet broad path leads us around the central rivulet, the trail heading steeply up! We are on the plateau!

The stream continues on and we follow it back, towards a mound or peak. The plateau is wooded in areas, and Martel climbs a tree to get a better view. He spots evidence of fields, probably ancient, which further heartens us.

The air is cold and as we make ground towards the mound, we see white patches of snow or ice still extant in crevices and hollows. Not worrying ourselves too much over this, we scramble up what might be an inner mesa but proves to be a crater rim. For at its crest we are peering down into a great bowl, in which rests a quiet blue lake and on the near shore of the lake, a village!

½-Jack drags his grotty telescope out and examines the village. He studies bare-breasted females for quite some time before licking his lips and declaring that this is a different type of tribe, but human and native.

 

The lake village Mantru

We work our way down the inner wall of the crater. The amount of soil and growing things tells us that it is many many years since any eruption, but there is a distinctly warmer air about the crater interior. Palms, not deciduous trees, are the norm in here, and ½-Jack has already commented on the relaxed dress code in the village.

The village is protected by a timber wall. As we draw closer we make out that the timbers are palm trunks: perhaps not quite so sturdy a stockade as it looks. We have made no attempt to conceal our approach, and a war-party boils out of the village gate and the warriors wave spears and challenge us!

Perhaps trying to top his last stunt, which featured a “dryad” type illusion, Carrick conjures the image of a full-blown earth elemental. The warriors are disconcerted, but throw spears as though in more earnest challenge.

Realizing it is ritual in nature, Martel asks Carrick to disperse the illusion and ½-Jack to speak for us. Carrick will play the role of witch-doctor or juju-man if such is called for. This proves a good tactic and ½-Jack is eventually face-to-loin with the “talking chief.” Once the latter, whose name is Fano, is seated back on his bench in his on-lake stilt-built hut, propriety is restored and ½-Jack explains our role as explorers seeking peaceful trade. With the style of a born fishmonger [1/2-Jack makes around DC9 or 10 on diplomacy then with a LK pt turns that into a 4 or 5] he recounts our journey. Carrick cleverly “illustrates” our journey as ½-Jack narrates.

Fano weighs the situation up. He agrees not to stand in our way. It seems from hints and half-understood implications that things may have turned sour for the village of Mantru lately. But he’s unwilling to go into detail.

We feast. It is not at all possible that the Lawful Good paladin of Tyr puts the moves on a buxom village girl in the hopes of improving relations between the two sides and learning what Fano was not telling us. Even if that were true – which it definitely is not – Martel gets nowhere and learns nothing.

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