DGA3.05: Doorway to darkness, part two – the Shadow-welt

The characters for this session:

Vir Onden, L3 half-elf ranger, owns elf boots of stealth

Seck Rustrau, L3 human rogue, owns a cloak of elvenkind

Phoenix Pilandaros, L3 human barbarian, wields the greataxe Mocair the Gallant

Cat Weasel, L3 human warlock, owns a flask that purifies water

and assisted, or not, by Gedd, indomitable commoner

Setting the miners to rest we scout the mine entrance

Clenching his nostrils perforce, Vir distributes water and food. He gauges that once the miners here are the camp have had a long rest they can head to Longsadlle on their own.

Gedd, Kat’s husband, is shocked as he hears Cat coolly discussing the idea of the job being done – back to Longsaddle, collect reward.

“Mah boy – Brand – he done got drugged in out th’ camp this mornin’, him an’ sum others. Now ya heer, we got a chance!”

Everyone who is not Cat is sympathetic and accepting the way the party is heading, Cat offers to scout the deep dark mine.

“I can head in about sixty foot ahead of you, Vir, and you can link to the others. And I back myself to run away from any zombie!”

As a compromise Vir accepts a 30′ separation, and about the same distance behind him Seck has a hooded lantern ready.

Seck’s estimation of Cat has risen: obviously the warlock wants to prove himself as a hardy warrior, once and for all.

I make this “directors call” based on Seck’s flaw, a CHR check, and Cat’s insistence.

It is no more than a 20 minute walk to the mine. The sky is gloomy, overcast. Weeds and boards mark the entrance, a simple ore-bench and tailings-dump, its lone shaft appearing as a hole in the side of one of Great Starmetal’s tributaries. Thanks to Gedd’s scratch-plan, they have a fair grasp of the mine’s simple layout and Cat steps confidently along the twin cart-grooves towards a wider ore-yard where at least half a dozen carts stand untidy.

We remember these zombies use tactics

Cat checks the area for drag-marks, tripwires, and notes the cross-shaft left and right, also possessing cart-grooves.

As Cat calls the layout back to Vir, and begins squeezing around a cart, a zombie arises from inside the cart itself – it has been camouflaged by dust and rocks! A hammer-like fist slams down and Cat is rocked on his heels!

I ask for a CON check, to the player’s puzzlement, but it gives me a good understanding of the character’s stability.

Moving back, Cat sees more zombies clambering out of carts! He slams his antagonist back against the cart with a Repelling Blast and calls the situation back to Vir.

“We have a nice choke-point up here! Come up by me!”

At first, the adventurers are confident. These zombies are easy to hit! But the hooded lantern Seck plans to play on the shaft throws a contemptible amount of light.

“That’s not natural… something’s going on.”

And to their chagrin the lead rank of zombies pauses and a rear rank begins lobbing heavy rocks overhand. They don’t have to be accurate, with the target nicely clumped in the choke-point. And the lead rank refuses to be baited. Eventually the four leave the zombies masters of the battlefield and retreat to camp.

Gedd takes a hand!

The hope beginning to bloom on the miners’ faces withers as the four return empty-handed. Gedd grasps the battleaxe Phoenix loaned him and will brook no argument: he’s going in this time! Seck fastens a quiver of arrows to his belt and slings his longbow over his shoulder. Cat decides not to use a healing potion at this stage. He urges melee as the next phase of the plan. Phoenix does take a potion, to heal some of the damage from the original rescue.

Even before they reach the entrance, the noise of carts being pushed about reaches Vir’s ears. Sure enough carts have now been jammed in a barricade, and – as far as Cat can see – further barricades to the left and right cross-shafts. A nimble adventurer could vault or thief-vault across the barricade. But the area beyond is unknown.

They return to the camp. The miners look at them despondently as torches are piled out of packs and counted. They have 38. So that’s the plan. They walk back up and start lighting and tossing.

An interminable amount of time later, a dull glow – and stench of singed zombie – signals that there is enough light behind the barricade to see by. Time to attack!

Slugfest #1

Vir [Acrobatics minus 1d4 representing a warhammer] and Phoenix [Acrobatics minus 1d6 representing a greataxe] lead the assault with vaults. Vir makes it over on the left side and is grappled from behind; Phoenix gets onto the barricade at its right side and is grappled by a zombie hidden inside the barricade.

Inits: Barricade Zombies, Cat/Vir, Phoenix, Seck, Gedd, Flanking Zombies

Round 1: Two other zombies waiting for them pummel Vir. He wrenches free of the grapple; Cat approaches the barricade, and unleashes Shadow Blade, throwing it at Vir’s antagonist. It is a devastating strike, tearing great swathes through the zombie. Phoenix rages, stomps his way free, and vaults down to one side where the barricade is imperfect. Seck lays his bow down, moves to the dull pool of light, and slices at the right-hand zombie in the barricade. Gedd rushes up, ready with axe. Over where Vir is alone, four more zombies shuffle out and hammer at Vir and Phoenix.

Round 2: Vir and Phoenix are both slammed; Vir falls onto the burning torches. Vir fails his first death roll. Cat throws his Shadow Blade across the barricade, damaging the next zombie nearest Vir. It crumples, the bones falling to embrace Vir’s body. Phoenix chops at one of the newly-arrived flanking zombies, the axe riving a great chunk but not felling it. Seck cuts again, resenting his magical shortsword’s lack of damage. It nearly collapses, seeming to pull itself together again. Gedd readies action to attack once someone gets out of his way, yelling excitedly. The flanking zombies press in closer to Phoenix, and he takes another pair of blows. Cat, who has moved closer, takes a punch from the tattered zombie.

Round 3: Vir makes his death roll. Gedd leaps forward as Phoenix moves forward, chopping at the tattered zombie, destroying it. Cat uses his Shadow Blade at the left-hand zombie, destroying it. Phoenix strikes at the next wounded zombie and his axe strikes sparks off the wall as he cleaves it asunder. Foul zombie guts spray right across the burning torches! Phoenix evades back, fishing for a potion. Seck vaults up, climbs over, and lands mostly on Vir. Ignoring the zombies he sloshes a potion over Vir’s face. Two zombies rabbit-punch him. Gedd’s axe smashes off a cart and into the wall, a shower of sparks leaps out.

Round 4: Cat moves right up to the cart barricade, hurling his Shadow Blade to vicious effect. Bits of bone and gristle are flung every which way, but the zombie stays upright. Vir grabs his hammer, rises, and retreats across the barricade to Cat. The latter calls for Seck to retreat as well. Phoenix swallows his potion and returns to the fray. The way is blocked by Gedd. He hurls the potion bottle angrily, thus maintaining his rage. Seck disengages and retires acrobatically, vaulting over Cat and Vir.

Round 5:
All seems set for retirement and debrief: then Gedd, waving his axe, allows Phoenix past him and to the attack! A huge chunk of jawbone and some ribs splinter off the zombie he strikes, but it stays standing. It punches back. Meanwhile behind him Vir imbibes the Greater Healing potion. Gedd follows up but can’t get past Phoenix. Seck takes a regular potion. There is virtually no light behind the carts now, and behind them, daylight is fast fading.

Round 6: Cat hurls Shadow Blade at the zombie he cut previously, and this time it is finished. Phoenix chops again and the zombie falls apart; he wedges further forward into the gap and strikes the next one. It reels but punches back, hammering into Phoenix’ ribs. Gedd pushes forward behind him.

Round 7: Cat clambers up on the barricade to get good line of sight and hurls Shadow Blade at the zombie confronting Phoenix, felling it. Vir uses the lantern to shed light. Phoenix moves forward again, chopping, then edges back past Gedd to find another potion. Vir cries Seck on – there is still one more! Seck vaults up swiftly, uses the cart and wall, and positions to help Gedd. Seck evades the zombie, and more sparks shower off the wall as Gedd flails at it.

Round 8: Cat’s Shadow Blade deals with the last ragged zombie facing Gedd, and he himself clambers down and listens for oncoming foes. Vir sets the lantern up to provide light, and those that need them swig potions. The battle is over.

Gedd is depressed

Cat moves forward at pace, trying to work out what the “hidden intelligence” he has storified himself into believing in has up its sleeve. The cross-shafts seem clear, though one to the right seems to be blocked by a rock-fall. Gedd joins him, torch aloft.

“We are professional adventurers,” Cat begins, but again Gedd insists his son must be here and he must search. He turns back to check side-passages.

Gedd calls for his son. Phoenix tries to prevent him from scouting, but the miner disappears towards the rockfall, Phoenix following him!

“Brand! Brand! Are ya there!”

Phoenix pulls at Gedd’s shoulder but the miner begins frantically pulling at the timbers and rocks.

“He may be under here! Help me!”

As Phoenix shrugs and turns to go the roof collapses on Gedd!

Phoenix digs him out and sloshes a potion on him.

They are still fighting!

Cat, once again in complete darkness and therefore able to see clearly, scouts forward. He sees a crack in the right-hand wall – and through it, men fighting zombies!

Behind him, Vir and Seck, now using torches, help with Gedd, and Vir gives Gedd another potion to drink. Gedd leans on Phoenix for support and once again refuses to return to the camp.

Seck reaches Cat: who now reports what he has seen.

“We’ll have to go on and find the way round,” he concludes.

Thoughts of forcing Gedd to retreat are irrelevant now, and the whole party hastens around, to the final cross-shaft, and back along a single-file drift.

It opens on a crude oblong chamber, supported by heavy struts and framing. Some twenty feet in, one brave miner still stands, surrounded by the walking dead. His tallow light and a few others of the fallen around him create a small pocket of light in the deep dark. His pick drips with the congealed ichor of his foes, while he himself spits blood defiantly towards a black ‘thing’ that lurks at the threshold of shadowy emptiness. 

“Brand!” gasps Gedd, struggling toward him.  

The shadowy creature is painful to the eyes, the darkness seeming to suck at their very sight. Its silent cry of anger at their presence is felt more than heard.

The shambling zombies around Brand drive in a few last punches, and as he falls turn their attention towards the new arrivals, raising their arms and snarling in shared anger. Time to fight.

Slugfest #2

Inits: Vir, Shadow-welt and reserve zombies, Seck, lead zombies/Brand, Gedd/Phoenix, Cat

Round 1: Vir lifts his bow to where the arrow-tip projects past Cat’s ear and looses. The arrow flies true, and the zombie it strikes looks down at the flights projecting from its chest. Then Hail of Thorns showers around it, and several other zombies take minor damage. Vir drops the bow and draws his hammer as he steps out to make room for the others. The dark presence skirts around the chamber, seemingly disappearing from view, though Vir calls it as best he can. Seck (at rear) readies action for an attack contingent on the way becoming clear. The front wave of zombies attack Cat and Vir, and each takes a heavy blow. Phoenix fans out past Vir, raging and slashing a zombie from skull to gut. Gedd fails to get past Vir. Cat casts Faerie Fire, three of the zombies suffering the effect, and shifts to make room for Seck. The shadow-creature shifts back, well behind its zombies. Seck rushes and stabs! Sinews part, and his target seems ready to fall.

Round 2: Vir targets the same zombie, swinging his hammer lustily. It shatters. Vir shifts to one flank, allowing Gedd a path through. The shadow-creature shifts around the edge of the cavern and hovers over the shattered zombie – and it draws itself back together! The zombies further back turn their attention from Brand and the other fallen miners, and begin fanning out. Seck uses his action to help Phoenix. The lead wave of zombies hammer away, striking Phoenix once. Gedd watches Phoenix, who cuts right, obliterating the re-raised zombie, kicks his way through the bones, and makes a follow-up attack, cutting another zombie. Gedd swings at the same zombie and he too cuts deep! Cat, now at the rear, has a limited view. He steps up by Vir and slams a zombie back with Repelling Blast. It falls and lies still.

Round 3: With a mere one zombie facing him and that one glowing and slightly wounded, Vir smashes using hammer and Colossus Slayer. It staggers. The shadow-creature hovers over a fallen zombie and re-raises it. Reserve zombies move into the front line, filling the gaps. Seck remains in help mode, but has his Skirmisher reaction ready. It’s needed! As Vir is struck another zombie blunders towards Seck and he shifts aside, dodging easily. A third zombie misses Gedd: Phoenix advises him: “hang back and knock the head off whatever I put down” but Gedd continues to chop towards his son, lopping a huge chunk of zombie off. Phoenix follows up on the same one and the radiant effect of Mocair finishes it, spraying the remains all over the cavern. His follow-up strike destroys the second re-raised zombie. Phoenix sees Gedd charging to help Vir so follows up alongside him. Cat now has a good view and readies action for when the Shadow-welt appears: he will hit it with Repelling Blast.

Round 4: Another empty potion bottle hits the floor as Vir retreats and finishes it. The Shadow-welt drifts forward and Repelling Blast strikes: like a billowing cloak his essence ripples. While not hurled back, it loses its action. The four reserve zombies are now fully in action, one cutting the Phoenix-Gedd-Vir party’s line of retreat. Gedd is struck hard and falls. Seck has a zombie with its back to him, so has the ability to apply Sneak Attack. The zombie staggers around, looking for where the blade came from. Seck gauges the chance of sliding through to Gedd, and shifts so as to be able to help again, easily ducking as a zombie fist swings at him. The front four have the dim light afforded by tallow miners lights now. Phoenix, who is currently right beside the Shadow-welt, senses its presence [Survival] as it stoops over a fallen zombie, and cuts at it! Mocair cuts right through the shadow – with an eerie scream the creature wheels on Phoenix! Cat notices that as the axe strikes, a pair of cat-like eyes are visible upon the blade. He shifts position to line up a pair of zombies, slamming them back with Repelling Blast and incidentally opening up a line of retreat for the lead party.

Round 5: Vir judges that Gedd is part protected by Seck now. He swings his hammer at the shadow, and connects [with a crit] and his Colossus Slayer effect magnifies the blow: the thing is visibly wracked: it fades back into deeper shadows. Vir shifts back ready to get Gedd a potion, managing to keep his footing. Zombies attack, three missing Seck, two missing Phoenix. Seck stations himself to help Phoenix, who cuts at an unscathed zombie. He chooses to keep pulling the aggro, earning an inspiration for it. Out of the corner of his eye he catches Gedd’s hand, twitching – he’s still alive! Cat lines up a trio of zombies, knocking the lead over and skittling the others into a wall.

Round 6: Vir pours potion over Gedd’s face. He blinks awake. Seck uses his Skirmisher again as the Shadow-welt appears again. The Shadow-welt hovers over Phoenix, and his strength drains. In his enraged state, he doesn’t notice. Two zombies strike at Vir, one hammering him hard; others miss Phoenix. Seck circles nimbly round, stabbing the Shadow-welt with his yellow and red blade. As it screams and fades Phoenix slices it again! Cat calls that he will pursue it. Seck disengages and stoops over the pile of fallen miners, trying to find any still living. He needs more light than the pitiful tallow glow. Gedd rises axe in hand and strikes a zombie; Phoenix turns to another zombie coming back off a wall and smashing it down again. He shifts and cuts another down: the bits of limbs strewn across the floor suggest they will not be getting up. “Brand! Are ya there boy?!” Gedd is crying. Cat steps easily past the whole pile-up, and at the end of the chamber sees a silvern doorway. A sigil, similar to those on the zombies’ foreheads, is etched upon its lintel. Beyond its portal lies deep darkness. He turns and slams another trio of zombies back.

Round 7: Vir eases away and swigs another potion, then moves forward again to help Seck. Perhaps because of the amount of zombie parts strewn, all three zombies attacking Phoenix miss. Seck has now found a pulse, and pours a potion over the youth. Seck stands, moving back to the fight. Brand rises from the pile, picking up a tallow light. “Father! I’m here!” he cries. Gedd rushes to his son – managing the difficult going – and they embrace. Phoenix spots a zombie still glowing with Faerie Fire and shreds that one, spins and attacks the next zombie closest the exit: it too falls. Only two zombies remain, one just rising from the previous Repelling Blast. Cat examines the doorway, muttering in elven and reaching out to his patron. [Cat gains advantage from Seck’s inspiration, but both WIS rolls are poor]

Round 8: Vir swings his hammer and one of the zombie’s legs breaks. The zombie misses him in reply. The other zombie wanders brainlessly past Seck, ignoring his reactive cut, and hammers a huge punch into Brand, who falls again. “Son!!!” Gedd cries. Seck positions right behind the zombie and cuts both hamstrings then twists his blade, severing pelvis from spine. Three separate pieces of zombie fall, not to rise again. Seck shifts ready to potion or help. Brand makes his first death roll. Gedd, still crying, swings and misses. His heavy axe-blade cuts deep into a support strut. The roof supports groan and dust drifts down. Phoenix runs right round behind the last zombie and with a blur Mocair segments it: its torso smashes into Gedd, driving him back. Cat throws Spare the Dying onto Brand, and turns his attention back to the portal.

We come up with a solution

Vir and Phoenix discuss ways and means as Brand is once again brought to his feet. Gedd is all in favor of bringing out the miners bodies. Seck helps and soon, the four bodies are clear of the chamber.

Now all that remains is to figure out a way of making sure whatever lies beyond the portal cannot interfere again.

Cat changes to good clothes and walks back up from camp. He rejoins them and once more appeals to his lady, this time in poetry. [With advantage, and this time his WIS check is excellent]

“My patron Titania has shown me a vision of these supports giving way and the portal buried under the mountain,” he reveals.

“Pretty much what we already decided,” Vir comments, working on the rope he has fetched up. Phoenix spits on his hands, grabs Mocair, and he and Gedd begin chopping part-way through key supports.

And as dawn kisses the Starmetal range the ropes are heaved on, the roof comes down, and the way is shut.

Reunited!

Emerging from the tunnels and back out into the light is exhilarating. It reinvigorates and returns hope to hearts. Gedd and his son whoop and holler with joy to breathe clean air and bask in the sunlight:

“We’re alive! We’re free!”

Packs, spare gear and of course the surviving miners are retrieved, before returning to Longsaddle. On the trip back they notice sign of animals, birds and other creatures. The area is fast returning to normal.

All of them notice how befouled they are, so take care to clean up as best they can beneath a chill upland waterfall. Then the journey back concludes.

Running out of Longsaddle comes Kat. Her hair streams behind her and tears run down her cheeks. She flies into the weary arms of her husband, kissing him over and over again before she drags her son and her husband together into a rib-cracking crush.

She raises her tear-streaked face towards the adventurers:

“Thank you, thank you so much! Anything we can help you with, ever – you just ask. We owe you our lives.”

She happily agrees to hand over the reward, and the Shadow-enders begin deciding what they most need, good accommodation or a good hot meal!

All characters are Level Four!

Seck the senior man on the team: rogue/scout, enemy of the red dragon, doom of Gleekmound, friend to Elin Barad, hag’s bane, Giantslayer, Savior of Thane Braden, ear-taker, Shadow’s-end.

Vir the older hand with a seed of courage growing in his heart, half-elf ranger, hag’s bane, Giantslayer, Savior of Thane Braden, Shadow’s-end.

Cat the needlessly optimistic warlock, friend to Elin Barad, hag’s bane, Giantslayer, Savior of Thane Braden, Shadow’s-end.

Phoenix the Tlinget barbarian seeking to break free from his father’s curse, hag’s bane, Giantslayer, Savior of Thane Braden, Shadow’s-end.

Props:
The Ferry disaster: Bob Brinkman, Ferry Tale, from Goodman Games’ Fantastic Encounters.
The NPCs brought in entirely for the purpose of seeding dragon cultist information and a demonstration of how I handle falling into a river wearing armor: Eric Jones, Ironwood Gorge, Ludibrium Games; and Zac Best’s Universal NPC Emulator (revised) for their motivations.
The main adventure: MT Black, Doorway to Darkness, DMs Guild

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