The half-dragon enemy walked from the field before the keep. He and his dragon-dogs and cultist minions took the bodies of Valeriya, (female paladin), and Tan Meng (cleric of Chauntea) into the night. The other five surviving party members stood stunned among the smoking ruins of Greenest.
That’s where we picked up at our last session. Valeriya’s player brought some beef brisket, some potatoes au-gratin, and some salad. Delicious. After we’d all had our fill – we returned to this grim scene. (Absent were the players of Himo (human monk) and Terredon (wood-elf druid).
Slowly, the survivors of Greenest began to emerge from hiding. The shattered and wounded survivors searched for lost loved ones amid the rubble and scattered bodies. Many began to make their way to the keep to find out what happened and to learn what was to happen next. A few brought word that a woman’s corpse was lashed to the statue of Greenest’s founder, Dharva Scatterheart, wearing a sign reading, “Champion of Greenest.” Our party rushed there to find some townspeople letting the woman down. Valeriya – she was alive. And she had been cured or marked by the Cobalt Priests with some of their strange blue metal fused into her skin to “heal” the gashes delivered by the half-dragon. Also, she bore a seal, like an amulet only seared into the flesh below her clavicles. It was the seal of Tiamat.
Gathering her body and wiping off some of the blood, they carried Valeriya to the keep and Brother Gursu Eligar of the local Temple tended to her wounds. Valeriya was still gravely wounded but the blue metal plates attached to her wounds had stabilized her.
Word arrived that a horrible scene had been created at the Temple. As our heroes arrived, they witnessed other townspeople removing the bodies of the woman and children cut down before the keep. They were nailed to the front doors and wall of the Temple. And, there, in the middle, was the body of Tan Meng. He was transfixed upside down with a giant spike through his thigh and beside him someone had crudely scrawled, “SAvor of gGrEEnst.”
Tan Meng also yet lived (having made his 3 shock rolls, only failing one – with an additional automatic fail acquired when he was nailed to the doors).
All this and it wasn’t even hardly past midnight.
Our heroes worked hard to serve and collect the wounded, to put out fires, to organize teams to do the same and to take inventory of food supplies for the coming winter. Tan Meng, Valeriya, and others who were critically wounded took a long rest through the night.
In the morning, Tan Meng and Valeriya were ambulatory. Along with the rest of our heroes, they set about helping people in town. Governor Nighthill approached them with a favor. Could they follow the raiders, find their camp, discover how many and who they are and why they did what they did, and discover who’s in charge?
With less than an hour, our heroes were ready for departure. They were then approached by a wounded young man who he asked if they could be on the lookout for his master, Leosin Erlanthar. Leosin disappeared during the battle with the raiders. He had been investigating these raiders for months and his knowledge would be a great loss.
Right. Find out everything about raiders. Find Leosin, bring him back. Check.
Off they went. They had some help from a young townsperson, Gareth, who was to return to Greenest with the horses as our heroes reconnoitered the Raider Camp. About three hours out, and around noon, smoke from a cooking fire or the like was spotted ahead. Terredon, in dire-wolf form, performed a quick recon mission and discovered that there were about 5 Cobalt Cultists and another seven or so dragon dogs. This little enemy band had chosen a hilltop site for a little rest and repast. Unfortunately, the location was vulnerable to several concealed approaches. Our heroes had a score to settle and soon went about settling.
They approached as near as possible to the summit, used Terredon’s enhanced mobility in dire-wolf form to draw the attention of the foe, and then charged. It was a tough fight. It went well at first with 3 cultists falling early on – but the dragon dogs flanked the meat shields and started in with their acid spit and ferocious bites against some of the squishier PC’s. There was one attack where Garr set about subduing a cultists with his maul, but rolled a critical and accidentally did 24 points of damage to the cultists skull. It was close – but not that close. Soon, the hilltop was littered with dead. Three cultists were successfully subdued and our heroes set in to acquire some answers.
The first subject didn’t respond appropriately and became an example for the second who proved more compliant (his face wetted by the blood of his comrade). According to this prisoner, there were about 200 in the camp – about 70 cultists, about 70 mercenaries, and a like number of dragon dogs. There are some different factions among the mercenaries and cultists, but the Cobalt Cultists follow Langdedrosa Cyanwrath, and all are members of the Cult of the Dragon.
Knowledge extracted, the cultists were killed and left.
Our party advanced again on the wide and well worn path of the raiders. Items and articles of loot from Greenest littered the path – low value items that had been discarded as their weight began to toll. Our heroes grew nervous. They began to pause now and then while Grokk climbed side slopes to peer into the distance. On one of these forray’s, Grokk noticed a human figure dressed in black taking cover near the trail ahead (Grokk rolled a natural 20). After some debate, our group circumambulated the watchers on the trail completely – bringing them close to the large open plateau containing the enemy camp.
After sending Gareth and their horses back to Greenest, our heroes determined it might be safe to venture into the bandit camp. The enemy seemed confident and disorganized in the wake of their victory.
Journeying past the first guard tower, none were identified, although Valeriya and Tan Meng took significant measures to cover themselves.
Once inside the camp, our heroes passed through the lower levels and the rough and smelly tents inhabited by dragon dogs to the upper reaches where various large cultist and mercenary tents were arranged.
There appeared to be at least three factions of The Dragon Cult. Raynard spent some time among a few members of the Cobalt Claw of Tiamat. His interactions with them led them to sort of open up to him, even to join them in a hearty ballad about their lord Tiamat. These other details came from their conversation.
- This constant raiding communities suits the red and black, but what are they doing for us? How many creatures are we capturing to bring glory to Tiamat? It’s all piles of treasure.
- I don’t think the reds really have their heart in the ritual chanting. It’s the best part!
- Working with Lennithon was a great honor.
- There aren’t enough prisoners any more to experiment on, even after Greenest. All the ones that are left we’re just going to feed to the hatchlings.
Garr spent some time interacting with the hunters and meat providers within the raider camp. They weren’t too communicative. It seems they’re a pretty tight group and quickly ascertained that Garr wasn’t an actual hunter. Here’s pretty much the sum total of their interaction from the hunter’s contribution:
- *Quiet stare*
- I don’t want any part of your sick cult.
- Points to important looking cultists in black raiment walking by.
- Shakes head
Valeriya and others did manage to find Leosin Erlanthar, but he was afraid to speak to them around the guards for fear of being revealed. A small knife was given to Leosin in hopes he could secure his own release somehow. Some sort of rescue facilitated by our heroes seemed hopeless.
Tan Meng caught the attention of some members of The Red Hand of Tiamat… “Hey, recruit, come here! Have you be through your cutting?” Tan, always eager to please, said, “why no, I haven’t.” The two cultists dressed in red proceeded to produce a long thin razor and wild eyed asked Tan to raise his shirt. A thin, bleeding line was cut into the flesh of Tan’s chest. The two were elated with Tan’s cooperation. Hail Tiamat!
Tan asked if perhaps there were more. “I want more!” The two red cloaked men looked at one another and asked if he’d been “marked” yet? “We’ve got something for you if you want more!”
Tan followed them into a tent where a pathetic young man from Greenest. Barely alive and thoroughly tortured, he was tied to the center pole. Here, they said, have a go. They handed Tan a stout club fitted with a set of horrible serrated lashes. They looked on gleefully. Tan hesitated for a moment – the brought the club down with all his might onto the skull of the young man.
“No! No, no, no…not like that…” Great frustration from Brother Melshas of the Red Hand. Quickly, however, they set to bleeding the boy, capturing the thick red liquor in a silver vessel – they shared it around and eagerly watched as they offered it to Tan Meng. Tan took his sip. Hail Tiamat!
In the ensuing conversation, the two Red Hands opened up and shared the following:
- Blood is inside you and me and everyone. That’s the crazy part about it! And it’s such a great lubricant. It’s like She thought of everything! HAIL TIAMAT!
- It’s like some sort of energy builds up. Murdering all those people last night was a release, but it’s not nearly enough you know? Like scalping someone and then watching them die. That’s satisfying in a whole different way.
- It wouldn’t be nearly as bad working with those blue freaks if there weren’t all these damned mercenaries around.
- The hunters are just killing this food, you know? And if it doesn’t die when they bring it down, they just cut the jugular, wasting the blood and killing it in seconds. I don’t understand what’s wrong with people, you know? It could suffer so much more before I turn it into shit—we could even be keeping it alive while we eat it. It’s just, I don’t understand! It doesn’t make any sense to me.
They also gave Tan Meng his acolyte’s robes of The Red Hand.
Valeriya spent a bit of time sewing seeds of conflict and confusion by paying a trip to the Blue Boar mercenaries, and to the Blacktalons, spreading rumors that the bosses were planning on not paying, and maybe even killing one group or the other after the next raid. The mercenaries were a bit of a rough crowd and a bit suspicious of the blonde woman – so she didn’t mingle too long.
Brokk and Garr also spent a bit of time moving among the mercenaries. The Blacktalons are a large and well armed group. They wear armor painted black, but badly battleworn, with a spalsh of white across the chest. From among their ranks:
- I don’t much care, as long as we get paid.
- The only thing that bothers me about this job is that we’re making a name for that cult, not the Blacktalons.
- I hope your skill with arms is good enough to back up being stupid enough to bother me!
- With what they took from the last raid, they should be able to afford us.
Two more features of the camp caught the eye of our heroes. There was a large sumptuous tent at the highest point in the camp and with a set of guards dressed in black at the front door. Beyond, at the head of the box canyon, a cave entered into shadow.
When all the loot from Greenest was gathered and accounted for in a great pile, Langdedrosa Cyanwrath came out and said it was time for an offering to Tiamat. A woman from the slave pens was selected and brought to the center of a circle of cultists which formed around the loot. Much chanting and singing in Draconic followed as the ring of cultists circled and swayed. The woman was executed and Cyanwrath cheered their greatness. HAIL TIAMAT!
About this time our heroes made their departure. Just before nightfall they slipped out past the large guard tower. Each made their leave-without-being-noticed roll, and headed off into the coming darkness. Whew. I seriously didn’t think they could spend that much time in the camp without being noticed, and without a fight.
All went back to Greenest except Terredon Winterton. He got curious about the cave. He said not to wait for him and disappeared. Said something about snake form for being effective at exploring caves.
Hours later, on their way back to Greenest, Terredon met up with our heroes in greyhound form. Said the caverns descended into stinking darkness. Dragon dogs and more cultists lay within, as well as a room with subterranean fungi, and a chilled chamber filled with blood and meat, and lastly some sort of acid chamber that was caustic.
Arriving in the wee hours, the team collapsed for another long rest. In the morning, all were surprised to find Leosin Erlanthar among them. It was through their help with the small knife that he was able to free himself. Once free, he easily escaped the Raiders and climbed the cliff face to freedom.
Together you all put together a picture of what is known about the camp and the Dragon Cult. The cave is known around camp as “the nursery,” and the camp is led by two others in addition to Langdedrosa Cyanwrath. There is a woman named Mondath, and another half-dragon beast known as Rezmir. Cyanwrath is Mondath’s right hand. Praise Tiamat!
Morning does not bring relief, however. Leosin must make for Elturel with all haste to meet up with Onthar Frume, Paladin of Torm. Can you, the heroes, go back to the camp and watch for their departure? Find out where they’re going. Find out what is in that cave. Leosin offers more cash, for those of you who need that motivation. 150 GP each for this task and to bring any news with all haste to him, or to Onthar Frume in Elturel.
Governor Nighthill paid your rewards for your successes. 150 Gold each. Valeriya declined and Tan Meng sought to make the most of his for the benefit of the people. After washing, filling water skins and quivers, gathering some lamp oil, you all are off once again. By dawn, you stand high on the cliff wall above the box canyon. Tan Meng (critically) spots a pair of guards wearing black mantles inside the mouth of the cave. There are a few hunters at the mouth of the valley gathering their things. Other than that, the camp looks abandoned in the growing light. Most tents are gone. The camp is silent.
What do you do?
(Many thanks to Courtney C. Campbell for his excellent supplemental works for the HotDQ campaign. I usually borrow material rapaciously when I run a game, but Courtney’s contributions over at Hack & Slash helped to elevate HotDQ toward being one of the best games I’ve ever run.)