DGA12.03: Ironwood Gorge part five – Cyst of Durlag Trollkiller

The level 12 Elsir Vale heroes this session

In order of Underdark advance

Cat, warlock of Titania, with Dis his familiar;
Seck, rogue/Hunter;
Phoenix, barbarian/Oath of Vengeance;
Ulric, paladin/Oath of the Crown

ably supported by Lothair Beg, dwarf barbarian/sorcerer NPC

Level 12 gains: Cat takes CHA up 2, Seck takes the Alert feat, Phoenix takes CON up 2, and Ulric takes the Shield Master feat.

The heroes begin with 7,595xp plus 5% story bonus, and gain 13,240. They gain level 13! With 1,876xp spare.

The story so far

Lord Kerden Jarmaath, lord of Brindol, sends Ulric von Kessel, renowned Knight-Inquisitor, to investigate the west, where undead activity has cut off trade with Minquest. There at Gold Hill Ulric (briefly) confronts a skull-faced lord of the undead. He and his new ally Cat deal with the local undead and are invited to meet skull-face again in the Dark Tower.

Cat and Ulric rendezvous with Cat’s own comrades, the other Long Roaders, not far from Drellin’s Ferry. They immediately become swept up in an impromptu scouting into the forest north of the ferry, where they signally fail to learn the enemy strength or deal with any leadership or dragon. Their only success is to slay a hydra and render local lizardfolk neutral.

They partly redeem themselves in a further expedition to Ironwood Gorge where they slay Abrithiax the Red and a small squad of hobgoblins with accompanying monstrosity, mage, and officer. Of course that is not without risk! During the battle Vir is swept off by a giant ghost lion, Ulric meets and slays his brother Edwin, and all save Vir find themselves hiding down in the gorge.

Lothair Beg

As the Elsir Vale heroes rest behind Ironwood Gorge’s waterfall, they have leisure to measure their oh-so-helpful new acquaintance, Lothair Beg.

It seems Lothair, dwarf, neat-trimmed beard, queerly-tattooed shaven scalp, deep bronze skin, coppery eyes, noticed their abrupt arrival in the gorge. He emerged from a tunnel at the back of this grotto. Then proceeded to make himself amenable.

As he hands back Cat’s anorak, fully Mended, his equipment is easy to study. Lothair is clad in hard-wearing leather right down to boots, some of it salvaged and remade; has bare arms; carries a useful-looking crossbow and war-pick; has a bulky, aged-leather component pouch at his belt.

“So,” Lothair continues, “I begin to see common cause. Indeed I feel we are fated to aid one another. You” – here he nods to Cat – “wish to travel swift to this Dark Tower, no longer a place of legend. I wish help of such matchless adventurers to plumb for Durlag Trollkiller’s legacy. The two go together: for Durlag meant to take the war to the dragons – and that must mean flight.”

For the ghostly giant lion may have dropped them the direction, sketched ready for them as if to say “come and be killed” but every local knows that the waste offers thorns and tears, not trails. Lacking Vir, they can only lose time and arrive exhausted. But to dart across the skies! There’s a chance!

Introducing an NPC cold is tricky, this conversation goes on a long time. Every character makes an Insight check and (not for the last time this session!) Cat mourns a low roll. Lothair seems genuine.

DM

Ulric probes Lothair to see if he recollects Edwin (Ulric’s fratricidal brother) and ponders this and such information the dwarf can supply on the layout. Yes, a human looking rather like the paladin was deep in the hobgoblin councils. This cave seems to let onto at least one horde’s quarters. Surely this is the right moment to make a decapitation strike!?!

Speaking of decapitation, I’m patting myself on the back for describing the red mist that descended on Ulric and his brother’s resulting corpse being headless. I hadn’t thought it through at the time, but without a head, Edwin is perma-dead and cannot supply any information. And I don’t have to chase down any side-plots about Edwin returning to life.

DM

But Cat’s emphatic (lacking a table) floor thumping wins the party over. Although Ulric’s chin juts out in disagreement – his brother’s blood must needs be expiated in a tidal wave of hobgoblin blood – the vote is to take advantage of this chance to travel swift over the Thorn Waste direct to the Dark Tower! All Ulric can do is mourn his lack of attention in Rhetoric class. For now, they will use Cat’s powerful illusory magic to pay their respects to the dwarf chief here.

Perhaps the thing that seals the deal for Ulric is that, should the heroes perform a rescue to extract Lothair’s clanfolk from under the hobgoblin noses, his chief may win the Hammerfast over to Lord Jarmaath’s plan of defense. Lothair promises nothing other than to add his word on their behalf to his chief.

Cat beefs his comrades up with a rousing talk, they gain 16 temp hp. This is CHA based, so Cat’s stat gain is paying off for all the party.

Key Fetchquest

Lothair has airily assured them that his researches into a departed gnome’s own researches point to a stone ball, not far off but inconveniently rolling about on a cave ceiling, as the key to Durlag’s artifact. He just hasn’t had the wherewithal to get the thing down…

The party shakes out, and Cat leads the way following Lothair’s instruction. The only tense moments are passing the tunnel that bends upslope, towards the upper warrens. Seck’s keen ears catch folk speaking somewhere up there. Cat counts off the turn-offs and makes his way towards where the faint noise of stone rolling cane be heard.

Cave scavengers have carried off any signs of what this natural seeming cavern contained. Up on the ceiling, a randomly-rolling stone ball has worn a smooth track. Cat’s keen Fey Vision picks out regular-worked scrimshaw on the ball, perhaps six faces, grimacing. The style of the carving suggests gnome rather than dwarf craftsmanship.

A number of approaches to this little puzzle are possible. Cat gets creative by suggesting persuasion be tried in a variety of languages. Here, his player may have been thinking it is a fey creation, and there is some reason for that in the real world. Phoenix suffers most from this, as the ball punishes those that seem to be using languages of its enemies.

DM

Phoenix weighs Vir’s glaive Ulruf in his hand and estimates its length. “I can use this.”

“Ah, I was thinkin’ of makkin’ a ladder – boosting a couple o’ ye on top o’ one another,” Lothair replies admiringly, “but that could be the thing!”

Eventually, Cat distracts the ball, which seems to react to certain languages, and Phoenix snaps the lead box that Lothair came with, and which is now attached to Ulruf’s shaft, over the ball: clamps it down to the floor: Lothair slides the lid over: and that is that!

“Tis now time to use your powers of illusion,” Lothair announces, “and as for me, I’ll take the form of a foul squat goblin.”

Cat casts Seeming, and a rather motley lot of hobgoblin scrubs stand ready to depart!

Odenfrith’s offer

They retrace their steps and pass from the waterfall cavern up to where the regular thump of a water-powered forge becomes a clangor. As Lothair has explained, the forge is in full operation. Next is a junction, where a great broad left hand passage leads to the horde’s leadership. Ulric’s knuckles clench white. Passing that by, they walk purposefully to a hobgoblin guard post. Beyond lies the great hall of this horde. Lothair meekly cowers and explains, presumably in goblin, what this section is about, then walks on. The guards see what they expect to see and pay the four “hobgoblins” no mind.

Their guide keeps well to the left, making his way around war-stores stacked against the cavern wall, before swinging left down to the dwarf holdouts he has described. Seck casts his experienced eye over the tents and fires spread out rightward. More than six-score hobgoblins must be camped here. And this is just one level, one side of the gorge!

Upper Gorge D – leadership;
Sub-Level A – Dwarf fort;
Sub-Level B – cyst

“Huh, so rather than steamroll through this area they just left them to it?” Cat snorts as the party makes its way to where a regular, smoothed glacis rises above a killing zone.

“Hsh, sound carries. And this may be the time to lay down the illusion you are cloaked in – guards get nervy here.”

Cat does so. Lothair himself, saying he only has one use a day, does not drop his own goblin appearance. Instead he makes particular noises, rather like a squeaky rock. The three crossbow-armed guards up beyond the glacis do not, therefore, panic. A knotted rope is lowered.

Chief Odenfrith has not the dignity of a full laird. His is a broken sept, a mere fragment and relict of a bold expedition to claim Durlag’s legacy and the glory of the Windtop clans. They set out from relatives’ holdfasts in the Hammerfasts, got into deep water when hobgoblin numbers proved vastly more than expected, and have been trapped here since. Lothair is their self-professed Scavenger, able to pass through enemy lines to bring fish and cress in. Though he does once mention being imprisoned in a cavern.

Odenfrith, like most of the survivors, is dark, and clad in remnants and barbaric makeshifts. He has a pet snake in his beard, too!

Laird Odenfrith

Aye, twould be a grand thing if his folk were freed and brought away safe back to the Hammerfasts. But he is loath to risk the venture. He doubtingly measures the men before him. Aye, perhaps. And he would go so far as to allow two sword-dwarfs… no need? Well as to reward, he would venture as much as… 500? gold coin? Oh, no need! Excellent! Odenfrith suddenly finds the meeting far more propitious, and readily agrees to speak in favor of helping Jaarmath at the Hammerfast councils.

His last croaking warning refers to Dulgar’s epitaph:

WHAT LIES WITHIN COMES FROM MY EXPLOITS, MY PLIGHTS, AND MY BLOOD, SWEAT, AND TEARS. —Durlag “Trollkiller”, dwarven hero

Everyone gains Inspiration!

The first cyst

Lothair explains again that sure enough, foul things have made their lair in the first cyst. Possibly kobolds, and also Things More Powerful…

The space is vast, the bed of the cyst thick with fungal growths. Cat Seck and Lothair attempt to all be at the center of the formation… not entirely successfully. Shrieking fungus announce to all cavern residents that outsiders have entered. Seck’s Alert feat pays off, as he senses a great ice worm slithering quickly closer from the rear… then three lesser worms from the left flank!

Purple Worm

I actually meant these to be purple worms, but I produced my old ice worm model so went with ice worms… all good. Ice worms are equivalent to Remorhaz with breath attacks. Ulric’s new feat pays off by avoiding damage-on-save.

DM

Phoenix is in his element, laying vast amounts of damage on the huge worm. Cat drops a Bonfire in its maw, preventing its ice breath from working! Lothair shows surprising mastery of Lightning Lure against the lesser worms, allowing Ulric and Seck to do most of the work even before Phoenix rushes back to finish the job.

As slow-moving violet-tentacled fungi edge closer, the team move away and commence a long search of the lower cavern.

Investigate checks, only one miss and all the others very high! They have to find one of two options to progress, but these excellent results mean that they take less than an eight-hour shift to find the best option.

It is Cat with Levitate, who detects and opens a high niche in the great rock pillar. The concealed shaft drops down…

Daylight in the Underdark – second cyst

Cat has the job of ferryman. He must choose which of his comrades to lower down the shaft to the next vast cyst, and the order following!

Seck is first. His Alert feat pays off again: wheeling, he reacts in time as a Specter reaches ghostly claws at him! Using Maelsauga as a hand-knife, Seck rakes the Specter with Force damage and it recoils in time for Phoenix to race into the struggle!

Ulric is next: he creates Daylight and the undead are immediately at a disadvantage!

As Lothair joins with Cat to assist, more undead – both Specters and Wraiths – float in to the attack. But with the light of the Faith on their side the heroes make short work of all.

As they spread out once more, it becomes clear that this is a ruinous temple complex. And because they have dealt so speedily with the rabble, they are forewarned as the Vampire Dwarf attacks!

Durlag the Vampire

The fiend offers no commentary on how he fell into eternal dark. What transaction did he conclude, to gain the gift of flight? He hovers and swoops! A canister of some kind flies from his hand – Lothair lets his crossbow bolt loose and with a fine shot, knocks the thing away. It lands well clear! Durlag swoops to about 60′ height and begins hurling Ice Knife.

This is another combat puzzle – how to bring the vampire close enough for Phoenix to dish out massive damage, so that vampiric regen ability (20/turn) can’t compensate. The party does make one successful taunt, bringing Durlag near enough for an assisted Phoenix Jump!

DM

Phoenix leaps high – and Durlag is just out of Mocair’s reach! Lothair’s Jump spell, cast on Phoenix moments earlier, is not quite enough on its own. He lands near the paladin and bellows:

“I need a boost off your shield!”

“Right, I’m on it!”

As Cat slams three Agonizing Blasts in and Maelsauga nicks the vampire, Phoenix makes a quick run and jumps to Ulric’s slanted shield – Ulric heaves – Phoenix leaps high! Mocair chops and Durlag falls! Cat Bonfires the remains before they can dissipate.

The remains bear enough evidence to reveal whom it was they fought:

The heroes recover two more canisters safe from a scorched component pouch. And as they check wounds and begin searching the vast ruin, the session ends.

Props

This romp is a mashup of Ironwood Gorge (op cit), a Tier 3 Shotglass Adventure from the Laid-back DM, and the basic idea of Durlag Trollkiller’s fortress-tomb from a DM’s Guild offering. Durlag himself is a canonical Forgotten Realms hero, so apologies to all nerds that hate the idea of the hero making a pact with darkness to gain immortality. His canonical epitaph: There is always evil to be fought… within and without.

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