Campaign of the Month: May 2016

Mysteria

Book of Days...

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Often would Nethus The Unchained, Lord of Fish and Whales and Keeper of Storms, roam his domain, surveying all around him as he crashed through mighty waves and bathed in the huge swells of the ocean. Perchance would he take pause, and stand on the tall cliffs of a rugged shore to survey the fine works of his sister Ceres, the Provider, Goddess of the Harvest or even stand among the Saints of Mavros as they guided their warriors in great and mighty wars. Sometimes a small island would pique his interest and he would straddle its shores, looking down upon its inhabitants with bemused expression as the mortals played out their continual games and factions.

On one such time, Nethus stopped in at the Black Bay of ANAMARETH on the desolate Isle of Karn’lothra, where one of the powerful Tomes of the young Ankeleshians remained entombed in deep occult. He gazed briefly at undead soldiers, whipping slaves carrying bows and burning arrows as they made their way to the harbour of black sails, but he stopped not here, instead preferring to look once more on the hallowed Tomb of his favoured Minotaur Prince, Quoraz Velesson of the Seven Cities.

The tomb lay open, plundered by thieves and Nethus wept a salty tear upon the blood stained ground, marking that one of the robbers held the powerful magic book. Guarded by shadows, and aided by an ancient ward, the book had been lifted from its resting place by what seemed like an ill fitting gang of armed minstrels.

Nethus watched as one of Mavros’s paladins slipped deftly past a SPHERE OF ANNIHILATION to casually jump 60 feet into a dark well and yet survive. He saw that the group had split in two, some entering the tomb, some staying at the entrance where one brave young sorcerer chanted the ancient ritual of a mighty abjuration to save himself and his comrades (two thieves of human and kobold type) from the ravages of shadows.

He roared with laughter at the greed of a Northerner, who while trying to escape with his comrades (a fiery Theologian and a Minotaur barbarian) to join with the injured Paladin below, desperately tried to pull a heavy magical chest on top of himself as he passed close to the EVENT HORIZON of the terrific sphere, frozen in time, and were it not for his brave minotaur companion, totally vanquished. Such frivolity ensued as the whole bunch tumbled down the deep well, the Northerner surviving death by annihilation only to suffer death by force of gravity and hard rock.

The paladin fought bravely but alas, with his strength already sapped to the limit, fell to one of the shadows that attacked them, falling prey to that death most abhorrent to paladins, UNDEATH as a shadow controlled by his killer. One of the shadows fell, and the other, near destruction, retreated. The minotaur and the theologian made their way through the dark tunnel to relative safety.

Meanwhile Nethus’s gaze turned to the sorcerer and his companions as they struggled against another undead foe. A wight with a magic wand cut down the sorcerer as they ran, and, unable to chase the nimble human, followed the kobold up a tree. Looking away, Nethus now saw that the human turned to help his sorcerer friend. Providing him with a potion, the two made their way down the hill, eventually joining up with the minotaur and the theologian.

Nethus watched the group as they stood on a high outcrop looking down to a burning ship now bright with flame upon the sea. So, that was their ship, he mused. Escape would seem impossible, and if Nethus was not a God, he may have considered this event the end of the tale, but deep within his gut he now felt a wrenching feeling that something important was about to happen….

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Defeat.
Written by Stigandr

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I force myself to write this: Defeat. This is what it tastes like to flee beaten.

But this is more than just my bruised ego. I had high hopes for the monk and rogue, and the half-elf met her end bravely. Equipment can be replaced but today I have lost more than I thought, I lost comrades. I accept I didn’t show them the esteem I held them in, but hear this Yander, Arca and yes, Anastrianna I will avenge you.

I swear by Khors the day will come when I will slay the guardians of that tomb and take your bones to a more fitting resting place so that the sleep of each of your souls will know the warmth of its true home.

Now to the task at hand – revenge. The crew of the ship perhaps? Some of them had the air of pirates and mercenaries… And we need to overcome the pit, focus on each of these monsters in turn, kill them quickly and be prepared for worse.

I know that facing this danger goes against all I have been taught, but I have sworn on this, and if my word is to mean anything, this must be a binding oath.

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That smell....

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The stench of death was never a stranger to Karn’lothra but it reeks a little stronger today!

Waking up in a stranger’s house after a long rest, the party are just in time to catch the fading light of the day as a strange ghostly figure flies toward them. Mad Prince Deland is an envoy to Queen Ilnora and wishes to know the business of the new visitors to Anamareth. He converses with Arcael in his ancient Ankeleshian accent until he hears that the group not only wish an audience with his queen, but that they bear gifts from afar.

Bidding them leave their weapons behind, he takes them past two barnacle-encrusted Draugr at the gates, and into the presence of the tall queen and her royal escourt. HEARTLESS PEARL seems to be the commander over four more draugr, while Queen Ilnora dwarves them all with her almost untainted beauty, standing a full seven feet tall and bearing only the slightest whiff of decay.

The queen accepts the hounds gladly and the saltmice gleefully and is persuaded by the flowery language of Arcael to allow a visit to the Tomb of Qoraz for the minstrels to “pay their respects”.

Waiting until daylight, SCHMIDT HAPPENS climb up the slopes of the island’s volcano for almost two hours before reaching the walls surrounding the tomb. Arca Domina climbs over the wall while the others discover an unlocked iron gate and walk through. Jonni Helmsgard and Spikey Jonze have remained on the ship, but the rest of the party scramble their way up the steep rocks through the cold sulphurous air until they reach a RED DOOR set in the rock.

Using the Key of Veles to open the door, the party witness a long thin passage with a strange light at the end and two wispy forms that rush toward them. Yander and Arca Domina fall prey to a pit trap. Yander manages to save himself but the monk falls in with the wispy forms following behind her to attack.

It is soon pretty clear these wispy forms are no trifles when Arca Domina stops moving. Anastrianna and Lord Flasheart both attempt to rescue the lithe form of the Zen Archeress, while brave Yander leaps over the pit toward the end of the passage, where a bright light seems to be consumed by an evil darkness and moving shadows. The bravery of Yander will be sung about for many days as will his noble death at the nebulous hands of the VAMPIRIC MISTS of the Tomb of Qoraz.

Arcael fired countless magic rays into the creature but with each of their life sapping attacks, draining blood and constitution, the creatures seemed to grow in strength. The ranger Anastrianna cut into them with her mighty bastard sword, but losing her grip, slipped and fell on her own bloody blade. Soon the mists were devouring both her and the cleric, Henry Ansara and, realising there was no further point in continuing the lost cause, Arcael and Lord Flasheart retreated to mourn their friends and to consolidate their remaining strength.

To those who have died in the quest for Mysteria, we salute you!

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This almost feels like an exposition....
Written by Stigandr

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Arcael’s Journal (written in a cypher and in Old Caelmaron):

The bard has proven moderately useful thus far as has the rogue and the moody monk, they possibly have use as long-term allies. It may be wise to make continual and subtle overtures of ‘loyalty’ to them to keep them onside.

The Ranger, I am sure will one day charge to some doom, followed probably by the Paladin – both are too aggressive and unpredictable to invest much in. Or should that be too predictably homicidal? I should develop some summoning expertise in order to compensate for when their eventual demise occurs… and have a means of escape ready.

The Lich Hounds are troublesome in numbers or when they can potentially attack me, but their weakness to cold means I can conserve spells. When we return to civilisation I should remember to suggest that my ‘companions’ buy some weapons of use against monsters such as the fey and un-dead… Odin knows how I came to be adventuring with a group so ignorant of the matters of faith and undeath… That fact alone means I have little hope for them in the longer term.

The Lich Queen will need to be courted with gifts I suspect, it is probable that this group wouldn’t know etiquette if it danced naked before them… I have little optimism we will avoid combat.

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We three things ...

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In the eerie silence of midday, Captain Gullnipper’s SPEEDWELL coasted past the tomb laden hills of Karn’lothra into the harbour of ANAMARETH, the City Unforgotten. Leaving Spikey Jonze behind to guard the goblin, the others stepped onto the shore and tried to talk to some of the locals. Some ignored them. Some closed their shutters. Some ran away…but one young man, beguiled by some of the most beautiful lute playing ever to grace the town (courtesy of Jonni Helmsgard) stopped to listen. He even spoke: “We don’t talk to strangers!”

At the top of the hill rose the castle of Queen Ilnora, so SCHMIDT HAPPENS boldly made their way there until assailed by a strange undead hound that could fly, disappear, howl, trip, rake and coup de grace. Quite the PARTY ANIMAL! Jonni Helmsgard and Yander both fell in the first wave, but the group were able to defeat the LICH HOUND by careful manoeuvring and brilliant strategy. Arca Domina took the high ground, Anastrianna attacked ferociously in double weapon frenzy, Arcael delivered potent spells and the Cleric Henry Ansara kept the stricken alive.

When the dastardly dog was destroyed, the group wiped the floor with it. Literally! All over the place, entrails, bones and all! But Arca Domina, on the high ground, heard a sound: “Ooh ooh! Ah! Ah!” You guessed it – MONKEY SWARM! Brave Yander hid on the roof, noble Lord Flasheart kicked in a door, and the others piled into an empty house, with Arcael taking the lead in using old furniture to barricade the broken door closed. Unfortunately, Anastrianna remained outside to fight off the swarm. However, pretty soon, with the help of spells from Arcael, arrows from Arca Domina and some expert hiding by Yander, the swarm was overcome and ran away burning into the distance.

Making their way upwards toward the castle, the group encountered another two Lich Hounds, and although remaining victors they chose to hold off in another empty house to wait for nightfall before approaching further….

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I'm leaving on an airship...
(don't know when I'll be really hip)

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Schmidt happens…at the Wheatsheaf! So read the sign that Carla Siccone had pasted on the wall a week before the event, her wry smile taking in the multiple levels of irony implicit in the message. The event was of course a third GIG at The Wheatsheaf Tavern that produced a surprisingly good turnout. Truman Click was there with his new flute, Arcael sang, Anastrianna tapped out a cool beat, Lord Flasheart kept the groupies satisfied with some KILLER CHORDS and Arca Domina danced her mesmerising dance, lacking somewhat as her dancing partner, Yander had taken ill and was unable to attend. (Spikey Jonze was going to go but he had a lot of housework to do that night.)

Many new faces looked on from the audience. Mister Corpulent and Master Doldrum from THE TARNISH area of Lower Zobeck entertained some clients and seemed pleased with the performance. Even Gustav Reinke, who didn’t usually attend such events, raised a glass to his arcane friend, Arcael. Another new face who took a very strong interest was the Hyperborian Dayborn friend of Lord Flasheart, the accomplished bard of the North, Jonni Helmsgard. He watched with a trained eye, interested not only for the music, but because he had been hoping to invite himself into the group.

About a month after the event, Truman Click had travelled south to take extra flute lessons from a grand master in RUNKELSTAD and Jonni Helmsgard, affectionately nicknamed Strawberry Fluff had worked his way into the favour of the group, practising with them and supporting Arca Domina in her unsuccessful attempt to win a local archery competion. An urgent message from Sir Henry de la Zouche opened up a fantastic opportunity to travel on an Airship of the TEMPLEFORGE dwarves to the city of BARSELLA in the far west to deliver a special package for the group sponsor, Lord Aaron Von Schmidt.

A four day journey soon found SCHMIDT HAPPENS in that fair western city, delivering an unknown box to the noble geomancer, Simez Rothgazzi. With no ship immediately available to return the party, Simez offered a short quest: Find the BOOK OF VAEL TUROG in the TOMB OF QORAZ on the island of Karn’lothra, run by the Lich-Queen of Anamareth, the City Unforgotten and return with it to reap reward.

A sea quest for Mysteria could not be missed and the group were soon bound on Captain Gullnipper’s vessel, THE SPEEDWELL in search of the mysterious island. Gathering together some gifts to take for the queen comprising two HUNTING SALUKIS (Tango and Cash) and a bag of stinking SALT MICE, the merry minstrels endured the harsh barking of their DRAGONKIN captain and took in some fresh sea air. Brave Yander remained sick throughout the voyage tended by the doting kobold, Spikey Jonze, but the others passed many waves until one night a surprise attack of pirate goblins and a GOBLIN SHARK woke them from their hold and brought forth some rather magnificent fighting. By their excellent swashbuckling, SCHMIDT HAPPENS saved THE SPEEDWELL and killed all attackers but for a single goblin whom Jonni Helmsgard took as slave.

Entering the port of Anamareth during mid day, the port and city seem strangely silent….

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Our Heroes Lay - Part 2

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After the damaged pages Crastin observed the change of hand and metre in the second section, the old alliterative verse replaced by a more modern iambic verse. It was certainly a different scribe but was this the same composer? Was this some subtle clue as to the composers identity? After all some two hundred years separated both verse forms but subtle syntactic patterning’s in both indicated they were the work of the same author. Two hundred years… Could this have been written by… Crastin dared not think it… The High Master himself?

By river-boat we sailed for two hot days,
and hence we went on foot to Lecova –
a damned and dreary place of scare-crow wards
against old forest spirits and the night.
We laughed at these while children gathered round.

The villagers then spoke of curses, swore
and made their gestures to old gods. The will
of the forest, the Old Margreve was turned
against the people. Wolves came first, the pack
attacking from all directions, we fought
them off but two had died, all manner of
animal came against us. Once we beat
away the beasts the villagers a feast
was held honouring our hard victory.

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Fire, I'll take you to burn...

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The ENIGMATICS’ third night in Lecova will have local songs sung about it for many years to come. With an understandably nervous Chrobak as bait, the minstrels would lure the HOLLOW MAN in front of the burning kiln and push him inside using a burning wagon. It was a magnificent plan, and the mighty wood golem became the burning victim of their ingenuity as they pushed him fifteen feet into the inferno of the kiln. Much burning was done but the HOLLOW MAN had his scythe, Harvester, that could teleport him to his victim, so with all branches ablaze, he appeared in front of Chrobak sweeping wildly with his scythe. Even then, any of the minstrels could have died, but they kept their cool and, with the aid of the burning, and their violent attacks from all angles, the HOLLOW MAN was destroyed and Chrobak sighed a great sigh of relief!

Now they set upon investigating the root of the problem, following the difficult forest path, and with Arca Domina luckily managing to survive the poison of a deadly giant centipede that attacked from above, they eventually found a clearing wherein stood an old gnarled tree, with four human heads hanging from its branches all singing in a maddening song. The song could have driven some of them to ultimate madness but they resisted the magic and Lord Flasheart charged in to attack with brave Yander providing flanking from the rear. Arcael used his force magic from a distance to start attacking the singing heads, while Arca Domina tried to fire deadly arrows but was still too badly affected by the poison of the centipede to excel in her usual manner. However, Anastrianna loosed off a good arrow before charging in with her huge bastard sword to start hacking.

Within seconds the tree was begging for its life, offering secrets of the forest in return for its freedom. What those secrets might have been, our group will never know, but with the invoking of the spirit of Mavros through the magical nodachi blade, Sir Renly of St Rosinade, the ENIGMATICS not only discovered the ancient secret of the cursed maiden turned into a tree by a witch and trying to gain the status of evil treant by the gathering of human heads, but also became aware of the treasure hidden underneath her very roots.

With the villagers safe, the words and meaning of the HOLLOW MAN song saved and put to music, a great deal of MYSTERIA gathered and Truman Click’s possession of the Bloodwood Flute of Elric Stradivarius, the group returned to Zobeck and reported to Sir Henry de la Zouche, securing a TYPE IV BAG OF HOLDING and the promised sponsorship of one of the city’s most prominent sponsors of the arts, lord-aaron-von-schmidt.

The group will henceforth now be known as “SCHMIDT HAPPENS!”

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Cummon, let's work...

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Day three was the start of some vociferous planning instigated and facilitated by the bards of Zobeck as they prepared their battle against the Widower of the Woods. Information from Old Mother Molvor from Dead Nettle Cottage just north of the village showed the route the HOLLOW MAN was taking but the forest was too unyielding to find a way quickly enough, especially with all the other plans they had to make, each taking massive amounts of time and manpower from all that could be spared, minstrels and villagers alike.

They decided that their best weapon against the creature of wood would be powerful fires and started setting about two places that might be able to provide such intense heat. The old witch pit would be emptied of water and fuelled with wood from Karl’s charcoal business. This would take an estimated three days. At the same time, the old lime kiln would be restored and filled with wood, taking an estimated two days. But first, the hundred wood wards around the village would be collected and stored in Anna’s barn until the two burning areas were ready, where they could be added to the fuel to be burned, thus preventing animation. It was estimated that this could be done in a day.

Baca’s wife returning to the village with the tale of the HOLLOW MAN appearing on their fleeing wagon many miles from town confirmed a suspicion that the wood creature could travel anywhere to get hold of its intended victim, so that first night, the entire party would stay with Torb, son of Koren, while the rest of the town remained in Anna’s barn.

True to form, the HOLLOW MAN appeared around midnight, this time with an animated wood ward from outside of Dead Nettle Cottage. As the two creatures entered town, the ENIGMATICS attacked with burning arrows, but the HOLLOW MAN went to the half full witch pit and quenched the flames (acknowledgement to Peter Jackson for that illuminating Isengard scene), returning with his wooden henchman to knock three times!

The whole party hacked and chopped for all they were worth, and although they destroyed the last wood ward, they could not stop the HOLLOW MAN from taking Torb’s head and entering the wood.

Next time they would fight wood with fire!

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Big Hollow Man...

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THE ENIGMATICS were abruptly disturbed on their first night around midnight by the sound of a woman’s screams. Goody Kostya told how she heard three knocks on the door before it broke asunder and a strange woody creature entered, lopping off Old Man Kostya’s head with a scythe before making its way into the forest. Anastrianna, the ranger, checked but could find no trail. One of the young lovers told how he had seen the beast go to the centre of the village, point at certain huts, make a nick in the shaft of his weapon and then enter the door of the first hut he had pointed to.

The youth had told how the creature had also pointed to the houses of Baca, Koren, Chrobak and Elric (where the minstrels were staying). Baca and his family immediately started loading their wagon to leave town, even though the ENIGMATICS advised him to stay and be under their protection.

During that day, the group heard more of the song they had started to learn from the Children.
Knock, knock, knock;
The Hollow Man calls.
Swing, swing, swing!
His greedy scythe falls!

Chop, chop, chop;
He takes another head,
Burn, burn, burn!
The Hollow Man is dead!

Not knowing quite how the Hollow Man would strike, the group divided themselves into three groups of two. Lord Flasheart and Yander would stay with Torb, the next male villager in line, Truman Click and Anastrianna would watch the centre of the village and Arca Domina and Arcael would guard the villagers in Anna’s barn. True to expectation, at around midnight, the HOLLOW MAN showed up, bringing with him a friend – one of the horrific wood wards now brought eerily to life. Straight to Baca’s door he went, and with the wood ward guarding his back, three times he knocked before breaking the door asunder and going inside.

The brave minstrels gathered themselves together and waited on the outside of the hut with the creature surrounded. When the HOLLOW MAN exited, it was with a new head in his hand. The group attacked but the wood ward fought them as the HOLLOW MAN made for the forest edge. They killed the ward but could not stop the scythe-wielding entity as it entered the forest and disappeared with Baca’s head.

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