The Keep at Ridgehaven

Day 1
Introductions, also kobold murder

The adventurers: a Kalashtar Cleric Shashakti, requested by a friend to check out rumors of a death cult in the small town of Winterhaven; a Wilden Warden Sequoia and Githzerai Monk Ferron, exploring the world as half tourists, half anthropologists trying to understand the sometimes bizarre world they find themselves in; a Tiefling Pyromancer Dante, intelligent, bored and looking for interesting things to do (and light on fire); and a Kobold Rogue Okai, sneaky, cannibalistic and with secret motivations but a powerful fighter.

Traveling together as much for convenience as for safety, the adventurers notice tracks and hear a group of kobolds before they were to spring out from behind rock along the road to give them a traditional kobold greeting of peace and welcome, as they are entering their territory as it has been for centuries. To their surprise, the adventurers ignored their Spear of Friendliness and brutally murdered the women and children of the peace party despite their meager attempts at self defense. One kobold female slinger, mother of three, after firing warning shots to no avail, managed to distract the enemy kobold betrayer, kinslayer, with a non-damaging gluepot and flee into the forest.

The adventurers, not content with only slaughtering the innocent kobolds, delighted in ripping the teeth from their corpses and making them into macabre friendship bracelets. Covered in kobold guts and blood, they make their way into town where they drink, talk with the townsfolk and learn from the otherwise reticent Elf Huntress that there may be death cultists behind the waterfall southwest of the town. The party sleeps at Wrafton’s Inn, except for the wizard who, after juggling four beers with hands, tail and mage hand, failing to intimidate the innkeeper for a free room, passes out on the ground beneath the rooted wilden who had found a nice patch of fertile earth and manure to sustain her for the night.

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Day 2
Let's kill more kobolds! No, lots more. I mean all of them. Okai too.

Following the elf’s tip, the party heads towards the waterfall only to be ambushed by a group of kobolds intent on avenging their broodmates and stopping the heartless murderers of their friends and family. Catching all but the monk by surprise, they pounce on the githzerai, knocking him unconscious three times before driven off by his companions. Surrounded, lit on fire, beaten with fists and gauntlets and completely run through with daggers, the kobolds fail to avenge their fellows and are stripped, robbed and tossed aside like garbage on the side of the road. One adventurer steals the priceless ceremonial dragon mask and holy dragon figurine of the wyrmpriest, and even cuts off his hand as a gruesome souvenir.

Continuing after reviving the monk, the party makes their way to the waterfall where they see a kobold picnic in full swing. After sneaking through the trees, they ambush, surround and brutally beat down one of the kobold patriarchs, an old (for a kobold) man reading a book on non-kobold greetings and peace offerings who had just made a very interesting discovery – which he did not have time to share with anyone, as he was beaten to death shortly after. The adventurers also find a new type of kobold, the minion, which goes down with just one hit, which they fail to recognize is because they are in fact kobold children. The warden, in full frozen fury in the Form of the Winter Herald, clad in armor of living ice, freezes parts of the river with the kobolds inside and shatters them like so much cheap glass. The monk and the rogue work together to surround and sneak attack more enemies, while the strongest kobold defender, realizing brute strength would not save his family, tries to sneak through the forest to try and subdue the invaders and despite having dodged a fireball, a radiant blast and a thrown dagger, gets taken down by a surprise thrown rock to the face from the monk. The wizard, realizing he can slay the kobold children in one hit with Magic Missile, starts knocking them down like carnival shooting gallery targets, and in a hail of fire, lightning and weapons only one kobold child manages to escape inside the waterfall to warn his remaining friends and family of their impending annihilation.

After a short rest, the party find the kobolds desperate attempt at defense waiting for them. After a flurry of aimed blows at the race traitor, knocking her unconscious, the kobold children’s numbers are immediately cut in half in a brutal reprisal. Making short work of them, the party grabs, smashes, kicks, burns and stabs the nest’s defenders while the clan patriarch and religious leader, Irontooth, waits with two other warriors in a hopeless attempt of taking down one of the invaders permanently before they, their future and their rich cultural history are all wiped out. In a flash they managed to knock out the horned, flaming demon, only to see him rise again through the unnatural force of the kalashtar cleric’s snapping fingers. Their surprise attack expended, they manage to desperately hold their ground, forcing the party to use ranged attacks as the strength of their god turns the altar’s tiles beneath them to holy ground, stunning and burning those who try to step on it. Undeterred, the party disables the runes protecting the now solo Irontooth, and with a combination of pillars of flame, leaping spinning kicks, brutal gauntleted grabs, upraised middle fingers and one final coup de grace from the supposed “healer” of all people, the entire kobold tribe that had thrived peacefully in the area (bar some cultural misunderstandings), all their children, their history, their noble efforts and priceless lives are snuffed out like so many candles before an uncaring wind. With his last breath, Irontooth cursed them to torment from his god Orcus and faced the middle finger and holy healer’s mace with a martyr’s resignation. Satisfied with their butchery, the group of adventurers loot and desecrate the bodies, ransack the kobold’s Widows and Orphans fund and eventually noticed their own kobold, the vicious Okai, had died as well. They shrugged and continued looting – she died doing what she loved best, slaughtering her own kind, and they were sure she’d return in some guise eventually to continue the task.

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Day 3
Enter the Keep at Shadowfell, almost die while killing lots of goblins. Find Okai again. Adopt Splug, make him fight to the death. Get eaten by jello.

Strengthened by the experience of genocide, the adventurers return to Winterhaven to find the villagers nervous. The town oracle warned them that a dark gate had been opened, and a rift to the shadowfell is being subject to rituals by the death cultists the adventurers had originally convened in Winterhaven to stop (before getting distracted by kobold murder). After stopping for supplies and some upgraded weaponry and armor, the party follows the disused and overrun path to the abandoned ruins of the keep that used to protect this rift. Finding them recently disturbed, they discover a stone staircase heading underground and follow it down. After falling into a pit, getting peppered with arrows
and stumbling in the dark, the adventurers defeat the goblin guards, making sure none survived to warn the others.

The next room they found was the torturer’s lair, where for some odd reason the human grappler decided to moon his enemies after smashing down the door, wasting the element of surprise and allowing them to violate him with a red hot poker and shove him into an iron maiden. The next to enter the room, the warden, took three arrows to the chest as soon as she stepped in the room, which nonetheless provided the trigger for the monk to deftly leap through the doorway, flank and double-team the goblin warrior with her, taking him down. They make short work of the torturer and the other goblin sharpshooters, except for the one that locked himself in a cage and shot between the bars, who took several minutes of missing and self-harm to defeat. The cleric discovers her vow of pacifism clashes so strongly with the party dynamic that after taking a smash at a bloodied goblin, her god stuns her in punishment. The party eventually stumbles upon Splug, an imprisoned goblin who promises them to be their loyal servant if they let him free.

Led by their captive Splug, the adventurers stomp into the dungeon’s barracks with no regard to stealth, quickly getting swarmed by goblin cutters and warriors in three waves of brutal counter attacks. Causing as much damage to themselves as to their enemies in such enclosed spaces, the tiefling burns off several bits of his own horn, and the monk knocks himself out twice while taking out two adjacent enemies at a time, much to the cleric’s dismay, jabbing out one of his own eyes and a notching his ear in the process. The warden smashes, the cleric heals, the drug-addled brawler grabs, punches and shoves, the wizard conjures flames everywhere, the monk whirls madly in a flurry of punches, kicks, headbutts and leaps, and even the hardy goblin leader, Balgron the Fat, surrenders rather than face a brutal death. He then dies a brutal death regardless, his pleas for mercy ignored. The adventurers loot his body, finding keys to his treasure chests and choosing to rest for a bit before facing the rest of the dungeon.

In the private chambers of the goblin leader the adventurers find a trapped revenant, covered in blood, dirt and with a vacant look on her face. Despite never having seen her before, she recognizes them, naming them with some concentration. She has little memory of her brief existence since she was sent back to reality by the Raven Queen in this new guise, but she recalls fighting in the forest, being subdued and captured by goblins and being taken to her cell while they figured out what to do with her. She has brief flashes of her past life, and smiles with teeth like knives when she’s told of the death of their kobold companion a few days prior. She says little, but the lust for bloodshed in her eyes reveals that Okai has returned to continue the rampage of destruction even death could only delay.

Continuing to explore the dungeon, the adventurers stumble upon some goblins digging in the caves, arguing over not having found anything of value. Hiding behind the walls of the hallway, the group is showered in explosive firepots as they take down the goblin bombardiers and their guardian drakes, and several of the heavier armored party members fall while attempting to traverse the plank bridges between excavations. When only one of their number remains, the goblin bombardier surrenders, offering a substantial treasure in exchange for his life, despite the brawler’s insistence that they should kill him immediately. Even after revealing his hidden holy symbol valued at over 1000gp, instead of releasing him as promised they took him and their other loyal captive, Splug, and forced them to fight to the death for their amusement.

Knowing his death was assured, the bombardier waited until he was surrounded by the party and set off all of his remaining firepots, nearly wiping the party in a massive fireball and forcing the cleric to make some very hurried heal checks while three fourths of his teammates made desperate death saving throws. Ultimately, even Splug survived, although horribly scarred, and the party raised him from the level of meat shield to team pet for his unfailing loyalty.

After recovering from the explosion, the team makes their way through the dungeon traveling down into a series of caves that appear to have been there from before the dungeon was built, stone walls turning to dirt and roots, the paths thick with concealing stalactites and stalagmites. Peering cautiously into the darkness, any member who strays too far from the group is quickly ambushed by swarms of large rats, who vanish back into the darkness between strikes. When the party sticks together, they find the attacks stop, but the sound of rats in the walls, chittering and squeaking and scraping razor-sharp claws against stone builds and surrounds them like a wall of murmering, whispering sound, and still none can be seen. Spotting an open area, cleared of bones and debris, where the sound seems to be quieter, the party walks into the branching room only to walk face first into a gelatinous cube, whereupon the sound of the rats is suddenly replaced with a thundering silence. Trapped between a rampaging, acidic cube, slamming and absorbing every adventurer it can reach and the abruptly swarming rats, the party has to fight desperately to slay the little beasts and whittle down the giant gelatinous monster. As quickly as they are swallowed the adventurers burst out of the cube in explosions of arcane fire and bashing fists, and when they seem to get the upper hand and bloody it it splits into two smaller cubes, which they pound and ignite and slice until they are finally free from their cherry and grape flavored grasps. They collapse from exhaustion, covered in gore and jello, recovering their strength for another day.

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Day 4
Meet a new dragonborn teammate, almost get eaten alive by bugs, survive.

The adventurers are awoken by the sound of crashing thunder and flashes of light, emerging into the hallway to find the end of a battle fought by some woefully outmatched goblins and a rampaging barbarian dragonborn by the name of Fulgor. Every strike of his massive axe splashed lightning around him, not to be outdone by the bolts of lightning he cast from his mouth, and in between the roar of thunder and his rage he slays everything he sees. Bleeding, breathing heavily and unsure whether he faces another fight or possible allies, the party negotiates a potential alliance with him through small words and grunts of camaraderie. Determining they all seek the same reward offered by the town mayor, Lord Padraig (or Big P), they decide they will have a higher chance of succeeding together and negotiating better terms once they have all left the dungeon. The brawler in the meanwhile is reaching for the stars and rolling in acidic jello, having consumed a few too many of the wilden’s fresh mushrooms, and the revenant simply fades into the darkness, her motivations ever mysterious.

Deciding by a coin toss to continue deeper into the caves beneath the dungeon, the party very cautiously advances down an earthen hallway, avoiding pit traps and examining the corpse of a kruthik, a wild insect/reptile beast with poisonous spikes they found in a triggered trap. The cleric climbs down into the pit, grabbing chunks of decayed kruthik flesh to rub on their bodies in a vain attempt to travel undetected. Knowing they can travel swiftly through narrow tunnels, they walk carefully down the hallway, seeing nothing, but as soon as the tiefling falls behind he is rapidly swarmed by kruthik hatchlings, who appear to navigate in the darkness through tremorsense. By the efforts of his self-immolation and the arc lightning breath of the barbarian, he takes slightly less damage than if he’d simply been attacked by his enemies, and yet gets swarmed again when he falls behind a second time, the party being distracted by the barbarian falling down a second pit trap. Huddled together for protection and advancing step by step into the awful darkness, the cleric gains some courage and throws a magically glowing rock down the hallway into the kruthik lair, revealing a swarm of the hatchlings, three younglings and a full grown kruthik adult, spraying poisonous barbs and slashing with its six razor sharp claws.

The barbarian charges into the fray, disregarding all concerns for personal safety and flying into a rage, each smash of his execution axe sending waves of lightning into nearby enemies. The cleric carefully shoots her lasers of holy light with one hand, healing from near death to fully restored with the other. The tiefling pours fire from his ashen wand, burning the scrabbling creatures and lighting himself on fire at the same time, brushing off the flames with infernal disdain. The monk leaps and spins through the fray, bursts of fists and feet knocking the adult kruthik into a still untriggered pit trap, and the warden lashes roots through the ground to trip up enemies and shakes the earth with her fists, smashing the last of the kruthik hive with a tremendous crashing fist. With enemies dispatched, the dragonborn finishes looking through the loot he discovered in the corner of the lair mid-combat and takes most of it for himself, the rest of the party generally unconcerned with treasure, and the party takes a short rest once again in the remains and gore of their recently defeated enemies. Except for the tiefling, who continues to cast Fastidiousness on himself, and as such his robes are still unstained.

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Day 5
Defeat a slime monster, run screaming through zombies, disable traps through piety, fail to convince a warrior ghost they're on his side and beat him to death again. Get more bad news - the rift is opening - but get a nice sword.

Backtracking a bit through the maze of caves, the party returns to a door they passed earlier – the large bronze doors, green with age and stained blue and purple with a thick layer of fungus, have a message scratched into the fungus: “Stay Out. Really.” The party of course kicks the doors open and looks around to find a dark cave with a murky lake at the edge of a steep drop, with an island containing bones and coins in the middle. After a rock and some thrown meet fail to attract anything from beneath the still water, the dragonborn barbarian flings the brawler onto the island, who finds among the detritus a wooden case containing several sheets of vellum that he could not read. Before he can pass the scrolls to the tiefling, however, a horrific explosion of slime and stench erupts from the dark water. The smell itself is enough to daze and weaken most of the adventurers, but the brawler somehow wrestles the slime to the ground, providing a cushion for the monk and the wilden to deftly leap onto and attack the slime, although the barbarian fears dark water too much to do more than strike angrily from the shore and breath lightning on enemy and ally alike in his frustration. While the tiefling showers the area with arcane fire and the grim revenant ranger bends arrows around corners to pierce the beast’s gelatinous hide, the strikers continue to pummel the quivering, aggressive, horrible smelling slime until they are knocked off by the brawler yanking it out from under them, slamming it into the wall. In a graceful arc, the monk bursts from under the surface of the lake, lands daintily on a single toe and smashes the slime with the resulting shockwave. The wilden, bobbing like a cork in the lake, creates a giant pseudopod of her own formed of vicious thorned tentacles and brings it down on the beast like the limbs of a kraken, splitting it in half and killing it
in a final blow.

Recovering from the battle, the tiefling reads the messages in the bottle, combining it with his knowledge of history and the cleric’s insight to reveal the truth of this watery tomb. When bloodreavers tried to offer the leader of the death cult the opportunity to sell them slaves, their offer was rejected and they were thrown into the lake to be disposed of, setting off the dormant blue slime they had kept as a reserve weapon, killing them and several goblins before the room was sealed off. On the plus side, the party recovered a healing potion, a magic shield and some assorted treasure.

Realizing their path had led to a dead end, the party doubles back to an unexplored area of the dungeon, where in what seems like a fast-forwarded blur of activity they make their way through a trapped maze, full of screaming sigils and swarming zombies, and clear out a crypt of fighting skeletons, only to find out the sarcophagi slam
open and release new skeletons after a few minutes. After a second round of scattered bones and shattered armor, the adventurers realize the coffins are empty and there is a magic force that will continue releasing the guardians until something disables the trap – the cleric, upon seeing the altars to Bahamut in the area past the guardians, genuflects in obeisance to his deity and recites the words of worship, asking for help to see their way through the dungeon. With a burst of radiant light, the sarcophagi slam shut, the trap disabled. After finding some cleverly hidden bahamut statues in one of the altars, the party cautiously opens the door to the next crypt to find a sole coffin, carved with the figure of an armored knight inscribed with the images of the platinum dragon. Gathering their symbols and what piety they can gather, real or counterfeit, the party opens the door and presents themselves to what they assumed in their genre savviness would be the animated remains of the knight inside.

When he bursts out, to no surprise to the party, he howls that the rift must not be opened and challenges all who would work to that purpose. The party, using all of their charm, intimidation, bluff and religious knowledge, almost convince the skeptical knight that they are on his side, but even though they held his symbols and said they worshiped the same god he was not swayed, and declared them all fakes, heretics and liars and set to attack them. Before he could even draw his sword, the monk blurs to his side in an instant, pummeling him in face, chest, legs, an explosion of hellfire erupts around him set to the angry and frustrated screams of the tiefling, two bolts burst through the flames and slip between the limbs of the flurrying monk, and the human warrior charges through the fray, slamming the knight into the wall, a true fury of shock and awe sending him to his knees. He recovers quickly, draws his sword, and explodes in necrotic magic, his enchanted blade slicing madly from foe to foe, to no avail as the cleric raises his hand of healing and restores his allies immediately. With pummeling fists and an enormous blast of lightning-enchanted axe blows, the wilden and dragonborn further decimate the rapidly overwhelmed knight, and through a coordinated flurry of spins, kicks, repositioning, flanking, magic and radiant and metal and lightning crashing and smashing and blasting the knight crumbles into powder, his armor instantly rusting, only his sword still glimmering brightly in the remains. As soon as the skeleton knight falls, an image of a knight, whole and radiant, rises from the tomb and addresses the frustrated and furious adventurers. Whether they proved themselves worthy or merely terrified him with their strength he did not say, but he agreed to tell them his tale – despite the tiefling and the brawler being far too angry to hear it, Dante being forcibly ejected from the room as his furious rantings and sarcastic comments might prevent them from gaining some use from the mistaken knight.

Sir Keegan was the leader of the soldiers set to guarding the Keep at Shadowfell and protect the Rift from being opened, but the insidious taint of the dark lord Orcus’s influence reached through the rift and drove him mad, forcing him to slay his own family and most of his fellow troops before they rallied and trapped him inside the crypt. In his shame, he still tries to protect the rift from opening, but knows he cannot be redeemed – but his sword might still aid the adventurers in completing the job he failed, and he offers its glowing, diamond-studded blade in their service. With this offering, the party is instructed on the secret path to the deeper levels of the dungeon, where they might find the death cultists they seek and prevent the rift from opening, releasing Orcus into the world.

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Day 6
Return to town to recover, interrogate the town wizard, confirm what they already knew. Sidequest: defeat the rising dead in the town cemetary.

Bruised, beaten, battered, and filthy beyond description, the party returns to the surface to rest back at Winterhaven. The entire first floor of the dungeon, wiped clean of life, seems as though it will keep to itself for a day or two. Blinking into the bright sunlight, the wilden spreading her leaves and soaking in the golden rays, the party hikes to town only to see the town gates closed, guards posted. Lord Padraig calls to them and informs them of the missing villagers and zombie attack that have them all on alert and asks them for their aid, agreeing to open the gates for supplies and a quick rest. They bath, clean their armor, sharpen their weapons and load up on healing salves and potions, and before heading to the cemetery they make a stop at the tower of Valthrun the Prescient, a low level wizard and scholar of some repute. They pepper him with questions of the keep, showing proof of their adventures in the dungeons and, although hesitant at first to discuss the secrets of the history of the rift and the cursed keep, after a bit of intimidation, diplomacy and bluff they convince him their knowledge is genuine and their goals relatively aligned with his own. Although they know much of what he explained, having met Sir Keegan and seen the undead rise firsthand, he gives them some healing salves, a few scrolls and some dire warnings of the consequences of their failure – should they fail to disable the ritual to open the rift before it’s completed, the world would be flooded by an undead army too powerful to withstand.

Armed, refreshed and equipped, the adventurers make their way to the cemetery, lit by a sickly blue glow of a magic circle, and are ambushed by a dozen undead fighters erupting from the earth, twisted gravehounds with a corrupting bite, and the elf huntress Ninaran, rapidly firing arrows through most of the party. They recognized her from the tavern their first night at Winterhaven, and realize the false tip she gave them was partially responsible for the slaughter of innocent kobolds – worse, she hadn’t slept with any of them, despite their best efforts. They brutally dispatch the zombies, the monk dancing in a violent, jerky style to the tune psychically broadcast from the immensely satisfied cleric, finally in her element fighting her destined enemy. In blasts of holy light, firework explosions of arcane blasts like roman candles and the relentless pounding of gauntlet-clad fists, the party scythes through their enemies. Ninaran goes down in a blur of elbows and fists, but with her last burst of strength she wrenches her and the monk into the mausoleum she had hidden in, the heavy, runic-inscribed door slamming shut behind her. While half the party tries to smash through the enchanted door to much self injury and frustration, the cleric and the wizard witness the dead start to rise again, realize the still-glowing magic circle is to blame and quickly disable it, finally silencing the unholy ritual, returning quiet and tranquility to the place of rest.

Searching the body of Ninaran after disabling the cursed, sealed mausoleum with a quick telepathic conference between wizard, kalashtar cleric and trapped monk, the adventurers find a note hidden among her possessions that reveal the truth – she was an agent of Kalarel and a member of the death cult. The note included instructions on how to create the magic circle, warned that the cult’s plans were soon coming to a close, and most importantly revealed the password to enter the second layer of the dungeon beneath the keep at shadowfell. They take this damning evidence and return to town, given a hero’s welcome despite the still-pervasive air of doom and darkness emanating from the rift. Resting once more, the party prepares to re-enter the keep and end this vile threat before it’s too late.

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Day 7
Survive some trapped rooms, find the cult of Orcus is in fact friendly and misunderstood, agree to join them and wipe out the evil villagers at Winterhaven, brutally murder dozens of people before realizing they might have made a mistake.

Returning to the Keep, the adventurers descend into the depths of the keep’s lower layers, realize they have been subtly teleported to a location unknown, yet continue on cautiously. They enter a circular room with a checkerboard pattern on the floor, a door on either side and a small pillar with gears, clockwork and a single button. Despite their best efforts, they find no traps in the room, nor means of opening the door, except press the button – slamming both doors and setting off a timer. Resetting the timer to delay whatever end faces them, they continue to experiment around the room trying to divine its secrets to no avail, and eventually let the timer run down… which opens both doors. The next room, identical to the first, seems to run by a similar methodology, but when the button on the pillar is pressed the dark tiles slam together from floor and ceiling, badly damaging several of the party. They discover the secret to this room is the far doors are, in fact, unlocked.

Three more identical circular rooms later, the party has faced scorpions, logic puzzles, reversing gravity and flying sharks, and Dante has sworn vengeance on the cursed designers of the dungeon. Eventually, the adventurers descend further stairs and face a pair of goblin guards asking for a password – supplying the password they stole from Ninaran’s equipment, the room transforms into a spacious and luxuriously decorated foyer, where a young tiefling woman arranges for them to have an orientation tour at the Orcus Foundation, much to their surprise and continual suspicion. After asking heated questions to unclear answers and inspecting the surroundings, and the cleric leaving a nasty surprise in the ladies room, the leader of the cult of Orcus arrives to give the adventurers a tour – a gentle, kind-looking old man in black robes, with a limp, named Kalarel.

Agreeing considering the circumstances to give the harmless and sincere-sounding gentleman a chance to explain, he proceeds to explain that the world they take for granted is not as it seems. “Bad gods with good PR” dominate the perception of the cult of Orcus, and to all evidence they can find this god is fighting to save the souls of the dead from being harvested and enslaved by the Raven Queen – the bloodthirsty Okai being an example. Exploring the compound, they see creatures of all races working peacefully with purpose and cooperation, free to come and go as they please, voluntarily spreading the word of Orcus to sympathetic souls throughout the world, an interconnected network of hidden cells with highly advanced scrying technology and a noble purpose. Kalarel continues to explain that since the Raven Queen took over the domain of Death, not a single soul has passed on to their rightful afterlife, except for those that Orcus has saved. He describes speaking with their victims, Ninaran, a kobold Wyrmpriest, and relays their postmortem forgiveness (and enquires about his hand, in the priest’s case). He shows them the remnants of the vast human empire, although collapsed, continue to spread bigotry, hatred and oppressive law with such thoroughness that the adventurers themselves take for granted that different species should remain separate and distinct – yet under Orcus, “good” and “bad” races mingle freely and without prejudice, orc and goblin and human and tiefling and kobold and giant spider and gelatinous cube living and working in harmony.

Kalarel goes on, explaining how the adventurers themselves fall victim to this unconscious bigotry, how even when Ninaran told them how to find kobold death cultists (a term they are trying to reclaim, with a more positive spin) they ambushed the picnic set for them with alarming readiness, slaughtering them to the last priest – and yet when they meet death cultists in their own lair, because it was decorated in polished wood and stone and the leader of the death cultist is a human male, they agree to sit and listen to the same pitch they would have heard had they taken just a moment to converse with the kobold Orcus followers. Shamed, they try to blame poor wording on Ninaran’s behalf, or Okai’s enthusiasm – to which Kalarel replies that he knows of Okai, and explains that he knows why she does what she does. The sixth son of a sixth son of a sixth son, Okai’s soul was touched by Asmodeus, demon god of lies and deceit, torturing her mind with constant visions of horror and death, twisting her into a heartless murdering ghoul. Kalarel speaks softly and with pity as visions of her past life flash before her eyes, saying he knows she is not fully responsible for her actions, and telling her she still has the power to change. What’s more, should she accept the truth of Orcus, her ultimate reward (no living sacrifice necessary, Orcus forbid) when she does die at her due time is to be released of the taint on her soul, truly freed by death, unlike the twisted rebirth the Raven Queen forced upon her.

The party, despite their best arguments and piercing questions, find their answers returned with a patient, grandfatherly care and rational explanation. The two villagers who were "kidnapped’ by zombies were in fact converts, two tieflings who, having faced a lifetime of oppression, ostracism and suspicion from their human neighbors, wished to leave the town and join the followers of Orcus. The people of Winterhaven wouldn’t accept this, and conspired to murder the tieflings before they could escape, forcing Kalarel to send his agent Ninaran undead reinforcements (being soulless dead, not ripping anyone from their proper afterlife) and provide enough cover to let the two flee – one of which is the secretary who greeted them at the foyer, the other seen playing with a human boy in the sanctum. Seeing the party, who had brutally slaughtered her fellow Orcus followers, she sacrificed her own life to help the two tiefling girls escape. Sir Keegan, who everyone agrees is an unpleasant ghost of an unpleasant man, is revealed to have his own motivations for the murder of his family and teammates and simply blamed the rift for the darkness inside himself. Instead of a wave of undead covering the world in shadow, Kalarel explains that opening the rift would simply poke a hole in the fisherman’s net that the Raven Queen was using to capture souls – giving an escape for those who died to travel to their rightful afterlife.

Throughout his explanation, Ferron continues to ask sharp questions, and Shashakti and Dante excuse themselves to use the restroom and check the veracity of the bustling sanctum of cooperating and enthusiastic Orcus followers, yet can find no evidence of illusion or manipulation. They see living, breathing creatures, feel a strong sense of Orcus but without fear or doom, and sense the overlapping fields of the crystal scrying spheres, but no sign of magic spells or concealed truth. Ultimately, the party falls sway to Kalarel’s calm and convincing arguments, and when presented further visions of the village of Winterhaven’s hidden dark side, worship of the jealous god of secrets and manipulation, Vecna, and scenes of sacrifices, oppression, hatred and pain by the supposed innocent villagers, the party agrees that the town needs to be cleansed of evil.

Honorary followers of Orcus, the party is equipped with advanced weaponry and armor, given soft, comfortable black robes of the death cult, and shown the back door to the lair, depositing them near the town of Winterhaven. There they are faced with a concerned and curious mayor and several guards on high alert, the air still filled with dread for them and only growing worse, yet the adventurers return unscarred and unhurt, refusing to say what happened in the keep at shadowfell, saying simply that they took care of it, yet the dark cloud of dread remains. Still, they let them into the town gates, and the party decide to try and confirm the visions they were given by looking for the hidden altar to Vecna inside the temple walls. After hours of searching, they find a slightly discolored patch of stone behind the main altar, and explode it with their new enhanced weaponry. The cleric Shashakti quickly and brilliantly distracts and redirects the incoming city militia to stand guard, and exploring the hidden area inside the temple walls the party finds an area that once held unknown objects, all evidence wiped clean sometime in the past, magically erased of all magic or religious traces. Their suspicions neither confirmed nor denied, the party leaves the hidden chamber to find the city guard, Lord Padraig the mayor, and Valthrun the Prescient the local wizard waiting for them with confusion and frustration.

They confront the party, asking why the aura of dread only grows stronger, why they muck about spending hours in their temple when they should be shutting down the rift that threatens to doom them all. Dante, growing frustrated with their concerns and questions magically intimidates the mayor into fleeing, but the wizard Valthrun, although woefully outmatched, prepares for combat. Shashakti leads the way in attempting to (relatively) diplomatically resolve the situation by simply walking away, but Dante couldn’t resist giving the tense, armed and high-strung wizard a final shoulder check on his way past, resulting in a prepared spell being launched and Dante losing control of his bowels – a low level prank spell, but the most dangerous thing a low level wizard of Valthrun’s power could muster.

The resulting chaos was extraordinarily swift and horrifyingly brutal. The monk snaps the man in half then clears the area, as Dante sends the row of candles behind them into a swirling inferno of arcane flame, completely incinerating the wizard and half a dozen guards in an eyeblink. The ranger and knight casually dispatch further militia, and Shashakti, who had the misfortune of being the closest to the front door as more town militia rush in in alarm and attack the first enemy they see, raises her left hand and in a sudden arc and a blinding flash of radiant light melts the faces of the four men around her in a single blow, their bodies melting like candle wax before a furnace. Charging into the streets at the crowds of gathered militia and armed, aggressive villagers, the party continues rapidly dispatching enemies in enormous gouts of flame and blurring fists. Sensing something is odd with even the women and children attacking, seemingly while fleeing at the same time, the monk dislodges the human skull from his fist and deliberately drops the enchanted weapon given to him by Kalarel, high priest of Orcus. Suddenly, the two men around him are unarmed.

His vision cleared, he sees that, aside from swiftly dwindling militia, most of the town is attempting to flee, not gathering to attack, and calls to his companions to do the same as him. Their new weapons discarded, the party still murders the remaining aggressive militia, seeing no chance of a peaceful resolution at this point in time, but manage to knock out two men and let the rest of the survivors flee. The air, untouched by fear or dread while armed with Orcus’s implements, suddenly fills with a mournful cloud of impending doom, signaling that the time they have lost means the rift’s opening has grown ever closer. Surrounded by piles of ash and headless corpses of what were evidently peaceful villagers, the party stops to consider what they have done, and what they must do now.




TL;DR – The adventurers have a quest to investigate death cultists, worshipers of Orcus. They’re given a tip to go to the kobold lair, end up ambushing and slaughtering the lot. They return to town, get the info on the actual keep at shadowfell, spend a few days wiping out the first floor (that’s where you joined in). There they meet Sir Keegan, who tells them the story of a rift into the Shadowfell, an alternate world where the god Orcus lives – if opened, a wave of undead would pour out and engulf the world. They take a break, head to the town, defeat some zombies, find out the town wizard confirms the story – evil death god Orcus, rift, opening soon, stop the ritual to open the portal before it’s too late.

The next day they return to the keep, investigate the next floor down, work their way through a series of difficult trap rooms, then go deeper only to find a foyer, complete with receptionist and muzak. Kalarel, the name of the death cultist they’d heard before, turns out to be a kindly old man who invites them in and explains they’ve been suffering from a misunderstanding and bad PR. The Raven Queen (goddess of the realm of death) is actually collecting souls for herself, not letting any go to the afterlife – he uses the revenant as proof, since revenants are souls returned to the world by the raven queen. Orcus, on the other hand, is trying to release those souls and let them be free. He says they’re also against the oppressive laws and enforced prejudice of the world above, shows them a whole bunch of peaceful monsters and player creatures coexisting and working together in a positive way. They can’t find any sign he’s lying or they’re being deceived, and eventually they buy it. He then tells them that the town is in fact evil, worshiping Vecna god of secrets and betrayal, and they grab some death cult robes, arm themselves with sweet gear and head back towards the village.

They try to find proof, see if they can find the hidden Vecna altar behind the temple, but they spend hours and only find an empty room, magically wiped clean, neither proof for nor against. Meanwhile, the villagers have been under an oppressive cloud of gloom and dread that signals the opening of the rift (which the party doesn’t feel) and are getting pissed these heroes are wasting hours not doing anything useful. Tempers flare, the local wizard in frustration casts a harmless but embarrassing spell at the tiefling and all hell breaks loose. Lots of people die, piles of ashes, the monk wears a skull like a bracelet, the whole nine yards. Noticing something weird, the monk drops the enchanted weapon given to him by Kalarel and realizes most of the people he’s fighting are unarmed, and half are trying to flee. They stop, drop their new weapons, feel the full doom cloud of Orcus, realize they’ve been duped, and will head back into the dungeon to hopefully stop the ritual before it’s too late.

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Day 7, Continued
Talk to Kalarel, nice old guy, teleport to alternate demonic world, kill Kalarel, stop Orcus from destroying world, return to world where Kalarel is nice old (dead) man, escape

While the town slaughter was going on, Fulgor and Faq were gathering supplies, and having returned seeing nothing but corpses and several of their allies covered in blood and wearing death cultist robes, there is a tense confrontation as justifications are attempted. Ultimately, though, the mercenary dragonborn and the bloodthirsty brawler cared little for reasoning and simply wished to continue their mission. Donning death cultist robes but leaving their enchanted weapons behind, the party re-enters the keep through the back door and meets with Kalarel, who debriefs them – more curious than angry, he asks why they stopped when they did, and why they don’t carry the armaments and armor he gave them, to which they mumble excuses and ask to see the portal. Shashakti reveals her extensive religious background and experience with the intricacies of manifestation portals and denounces the unconvincing gate the old man takes them to. While Kalarel recovers and explains this is not, in fact, the real portal, the real one is too dangerous to allow civilians near, the monk decides he’s had enough confusion and deception and simply beats the grandfatherly figure to death in front of his chanting, hyperfocused disciples.

The world flickers and fades around them, and they make a hurried escape through the underground lair, desperately seeking refuge from the rapidly disappearing halls. Between Dante’s expert arcane knowledge and Shashakti’s insight, with a little motive power from Fulgor’s lightning, the party manages to reconfigure one of the teleportation doors to take them to what they believe is the actual location of the rift that would release a wave of undead from a shadow dimension. Suddenly seeing the dark, blood-dripping death cultist’s lair they have been expecting, the adventurers face off against skeletons, vampires, creepers and a chanting priest with a ram’s head tattoo, and make short work of them. Climbing down the blood-soaked chains into the ritual chamber, they are faced with more undead warriors, a shambling mass of corpse limbs rolling and skittering through the pools of blood, a glowering black portal with dark claws and whispers emanating from its depths, and a high priest of Orcus with a ram’s head mask and skull-topped rod bearing the once-kindly face of Kalarel. Suddenly twisted in rage and disgust, Kalarel laughs off most of the party’s attempts to stop him, and although the skeletons don’t pose much threat the shambling wraith seems to cause them to rise again and again. The rift’s whispers draw adventurers in range of its brutal shadow claws, nearly consuming Dante as he rapidly works through the arcane defenses of the magic portal. Through great rolling spheres of flame, brilliant pillars of holy radiance, vicious and far-reaching strikes and dominating grabs and beatings, the shambling mass and reanimated skeletons finally fall. Sacrificing healing surges and risking necrotic feedback through religious and arcane attempts at disabling the magic circle, the party together succeeds in ultimately reversing the ritual, sealing the rift from where Orcus would invade the earth and destroying the cursed spellbook. His plan defeated, his allies destroyed, Kalarel still nearly wipes out the remaining party members, each remaining conscious just long enough to attack and pour healing potions into their allies. His necrotic blasts and ram’s-head rod cripple and weaken, and his high defenses and great strength nearly proves to great for the adventurers, but eventually the cleric once more lands the final blow, stunning herself but destroying Kalarel.

In their triumph, suddenly the world flickers once more. The party finds themselves once again in the “fake” rift chamber, standing over the bloody and broken body of the grandfatherly old man named Kalarel, with screaming and horrified cultists fleeing in terror at the brutality. Quickly gathering their senses, the party evacuates the lair alongside the cultists, who put up paltry attempts at stopping them and run and hide before their blood-soaked and vicious appearance. Climbing the secret exit once more into the woods outside Winterhaven, the party limps their way to the tower of Valthrun the Prescient seeking refuge. On their way, the monk notices the bodies they had seen disarmed near the temple when they had dropped the enchanted artifacts appear to be armed once more – but being too weak and too tired to care, the remaining adventurers haul themselves up to the living quarters in the half-abandoned wizard’s tower and recover their health, ransacking the now-deceased inhabitant’s stores for medical supplies, food, blankets and soothing herbs. No matter who was innocent or guilty, who deserved to die and who was caught in the cross-fire, the rift is closed and the sense of doom has lifted, and the adventurers are left with no certainty but that someone, somewhere was deceiving them, and that gods are dicks.

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Day 9
This isn't Kansas anymore

Pet owlbear in tow and joined by a mysterious whispersmith (whose whispers are strangely compelling) the party follows the increasingly more agitated and driven Keljack through the Scar until they reach a large, red crystal obelisk. Running ahead, the outlaw reaches out and touches it – and a bit of red crystal that had been embedded in him bursts out and rejoins the obelisk, completing it and releasing the beholder trapped within. Facing constant barrages of eye-beams that paralyzed, dominated and burned them, the party overwhelms it with sheer numbers and determination. Keljack lays the final blow, freeing himself from the evil taint of the Far Realms that has been driving him mad (and keeping him young) for decades. Between a large chunk of promised gold and several expensive fragments of red crystal left from the obelisk, the party considers Keljack’s debt paid and allow him to retire in peace. Fool simply leaves, understandably not trusting the adventurers.

The adventurers find themselves drawn deeper into the Scar, chasing rumors and legends of strange new universes beyond the broken land. Bizarre changes overtake them and their surroundings, momentary lapses in gravity, unexpected transformations in person and property, memories and skills and tools not their own yet somehow familiar, even clouds of strawberry fog. With each change, some temporary, some permanent, they reach further and further into another universe, adopting its reality, becoming part of the world of Bas-Lag with each step. Some discover new histories, new personalities, even new races, and some remain untouched, but whatever they are and have become they have left the Scar and entered the Cacatopic Stain.

The Party Now:

  • Lokor, Scabmettler Runepriest – carves his body with blades, drawing out armor, weapons and runes from his blood.
  • Shashakti, Human Biothaumaturge – molds flesh like clay, rebuilding, redesigning and repairing bodies per her experience and strange sense of humor as a former Remaker
  • Okai, Vampire Ranger – strong, fast and accurate, he uses his undead strength to pursue his own hidden agenda
  • Ferron, Vodyanoi Monk – powerful frog-like legs propel him bodily through combat, and his symbiotic water elemental keep him safe in any environment
  • Drogon, Human Sussurator – his whispers can reach their target over miles, and can carry strong compulsions and demands
  • Dante, Tiefling Elementarii – summons and commands devastatingly powerful fire elementals for fun and profit
  • Faq, Cactacae Brawler – massive in size and strength, his bare hands, thick spiked skin and great bulk make him a formidable fighter
  • Fulgor, Garuda Barbarian – a birdfolk from the wild deserts of Cymek, he attacks with reckless abandon and great determination
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Day 10
This is not a friendly world. Goodbye, Shashakti.

As they travel through the Stain, the adventurers become separated, blinking in and out of reality our of sync with each other. The sussurator has been through this region of chaotic space before, and warns the biothaumaturge, ranger and elementarii of the hazards he has experienced. They narrowly dodge a wake-tree, a man-eating plant whose meat-fruit gives you visions of the dreams of its former victims, but find themselves surrounded by a swarm of emaciated men, women, children and animals, mindless mouths attached by the neck by whip-like tentacles to a single bloated, hideous beast lying wait in a swamp that defied gravity in bizarre ways. Slogging their way through clutching and biting puppet zombies, vertical walls of swamp water and a seemingly endless barrage of grasping mind-control whips, the party narrowly survives the encounter. Shashakti takes great delight in harvesting tentacles and other body parts from the corpse, fashioning an improvised whip through a biothaumaturgic combination of phalagar tentacle and kruthic fang.

Escaping the swamp, the party finds themselves on a broad plain threatened by treacherous smoke-stone. Erupting without warning and appearing as harmless fog, this dangerous terrain solidifies rapidly, covering anything it touches in cloying, smothering granite. Trying to avoid the thickest concentrations of the fog, they find a deep valley that appears to be relatively clear of the impromptu sculptures that show where the fog lingers. However, they soon discover the area has both smoke-stone eruptions and massive, powerful inchmen, whose passage smooths the granite beneath them. Inchmen, the infamous denizens of the Cacatopic Stain, are the size of several rhinos attached end to end, their giant inch-worm bodies ending in a distorted, terribly strong humanoid torso. Immune to the fog, two of the beasts at either end of the valley trap the adventurers between them, with smoke-stone pouring from cracks in the earth. Desperately fighting to escape the valley and avoid the overgrown wake-trees above them, the party is cornered by floating quicksand and the giant monsters. Pulling out his big guns, Dante summons a flame sphere early on in the fight, only to have his hopes smashed as the inchman nearest to him swallows the conjuration whole. With their tremendous reach and enormous maw, inchmen swallow adventurer after adventurer. Nimbler men escape their clutches and their stomachs, and Fak keeps from being swallowed by throttling the inchmen with his spiked hands, but the golem and then Shashakti herself fall prey to the beasts, unable to escape the digesting guts. Dante rains fire from above, having successfully climbed to safety, and the ranger and brawler punch and shoot the two inchmen slowly and methodically, whittling down their tough skins and great bulk until both are killed, but they are too late to save their teammate Shashakti from a painful death. Fishing for her remains and equipment from inside the guts of the beast, Fak, Dante and Okai wait for the smoke-stone to recede before trying to escape the valley and find some way of resurrecting their fallen companion.

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