With a concerted campaign to turn out our team on time, we gathered early over plates of Himo’s chili. As usual, there was an abundance of good eats (chips, Golum beer, kolsch, etc) and everyone settled in for a night’s work with full stomachs.
Looking down into the Raider Camp at dawn, our heroes witnessed one lone dragon dog making the rounds around the base of the plateau’s interior. A pair of scruffy cultist/mercenaries argued over the fate of a female captive, while a small band of hunters prepared for departure.
Carefully, and cautiously, our heroes approached the debaters so as not to reveal their presence to the guards spotted within the mouth of the cavern. The two with the captive (Olishia) died mid-rape. Others in a nearby tent awoke at the sound and approached for a share. They were served likewise, and the hunters slipped quietly out and away with a nod of acknowledgement to our heroes – the vengeful.
With Olishia revived and carefully stashed in the upper guard tower, the group stood stacked against the wall to the left of the mouth of the cave. Spells, bows, javelins, ready upon ready. To those inside – time to die.
The first dragon cultist hardly knew what hit him. The second made a bit more of a showing, got off a shout, an arrow or two, and tried to run. He was cut down and bled out where he fell. A sickly smell was about this place. Fetid corpses, ruptured from the inside, hung bound and shackled to the wall.
Steps down led to the chamber beyond and within, a small forest of various fungi and their fruiting bodies. Hanging upside down against a stalagmite, a naked halfling. Tan Meng went to attend the poor little fellow – a hissing spray of fungal spores met his passage and seconds later he was hallucinating that his once comrades were now all dragon blooded enemies. Eventually, all was resolved and the halfling, Tom Haverford, was brought to consciousness. He wore a borrowed black mantle of the nearby deceased cultist. Fearing to escape on his own, Tom chose to proceed onward, down into the dark, with our heroes.
The next chamber provided several options; our heroes chose the left-most and ran smack into a passel of dragon dogs. Fighting broke out instantly. Meanwhile, down and behind, Raynard noticed they’d passed some large-eyed cave dwellers torturing their very own dragon cultist. The battle against a seemingly never ending herd of dragon dogs raged at the front. Tan Meng ran forward, failing to notice a carefully concealed pit with small poisoned spikes inside. He plunged through the parchment covering, stabbing pain shot up his leg. Seconds later, Confusion set in. First he ran, then he sat confused, then he attacked Garr, all the while acid spit rained in and the dragon dogs bit and clawed at the front lines. Larger and more dangerous dragon whelps leapt and scrabbled to get out of their pit, desperate to get a taste of the invaders. More than one dragon dog ran for the gate restraining the scrabbling beasts, each was killed through concerted effort before obtaining its objective. Garr gathered the key from one as it fell at the door.
Just when the first chamber was cleared of dragon dogs, yet another assault poured down the following hall with nine more of the vermin. Sudden screams from behind alerted the party that Tom Haverford had been grabbed by one of the big-eyed cave dwellers. “Save me, dear heaven’s, don’t let them take me….it’s got me…Mr. Raynard! Save me!” Terredon and Raynard cut into the burly thick skinned cave dwellers and brought them down. The battle raged on three fronts for a few rounds. All the while, Tan Meng, Cleric of Chauntea, was present in body only. Luckily, Tom Haverford was near at hand. With deft little fingers and a caring touch (rolled a 20 on a healing check) he got Brokk back into the fight.
Finally, Tan Meng’s Confusion subsided and he began to heal his badly mangled comrades. The last of the dragon dogs fell, the larger dragon whelps too came to an end. One of the big eyed cave dwellers dragged his wounded body out of sight… All was calm for a moment.
Moving quickly, our team ran up the next tunnel and into a large chamber. A trap was triggered as they entered and large rocks fell and further injured Garr and Himo. The party was pretty beaten at this point…but they decided to push down through the next hall and see what was revealed.
Waiting for them was Langdedrosa Cyanwrath. “You survived! I don’t know whether to be disappointed or pleased. It is a mix of both, perhaps. Well, child of Bahumat, shall we have another go? Just you and me this time?” His beady little eyes focussed on Valeriya. Behind Cyanwrath, a black orb hung ominously in the air crackling with purple tendrils of dark energy. Behind the orb, a large black altar figured with dragon-form reliefs.
Carefully, the group considered their options. Some filed into the room to line the far wall. Behind and to the right of Cyanwrath stood a pair of nearly naked muscle bound goons, clearly itching for a fight – but at his word they held their axes still. It was Garr’s advance into the room, as he circled around nearly behind Cyanwrath, that shattered the moment. Cyanwrath belched out a volley of lightning that nailed Valeriya and Tan Meng, dropping Tan where he stood. The two berserkers charged Garr and soon, all was flashing steel, flying arrows (Terredon in Dire Wolf form), and cries of battle.
Luckily, Tom Haverford was able to apply his nimble fingers and gentle touch once again. Tan Meng was brought back to the world. (another 20)
Cyanwrath was clearly toying with the party for a round or two, but a series of hard hits had him looking over his shoulder toward the escape. Suddenly it was clear there was no escape for Cyanwrath. “Tiamat!” He screamed and fought even more fiercely. From the shadows, another form appeared and a spectral blade took shape amid the combat swinging hard for Terredon and Brokk. Cyanwrath, the berserkers, and especially the crackling dark energy took their toll. Valeriya was down. Himo was down. Everyone was badly hurt.
Finally Cyanwrath fell. Only to be raised by the black orb on the following round. Agony and fear gripped the party! “Cut his head off!” Garr screamed. Cyanwrath fell again, but the berserkers and the shadowed form gained the attention of our heroes. He rose yet again to swing his black blade once more – but that time was his last. Finally he fell and the last berserker soon after. It was a brutal battle with at least three heroes rendered combat ineffective. The shadowed figure had retreated – but not before *she* cut down Himo with a blow from her gliave!
A pause. A breath. A chest!? There was a chest beside the alter and Valeriya gave it a shove – instantly the room filled with an acrid acidic gas. Choking and sputtering our team made their way out and back the way they’d come.
Now, again, it was decision time. The group was very badly beaten. Do they run after the shadowy figure (they found a steeply ascending shaft with a rope – Himo began to ascend – but the rope was cut and he fell…hard 3d6)? Or check out the next chamber? Or retreat? It was getting late – long discussion. Finally, the group decided to take a short rest and then push forward. Everyone had some water, a bite to eat, wounds were bandaged and tended – at the end, everyone was feeling much better and ready to go again. Our champions lit a fire at the bottom of the shaft with some debris.
They made their way back to the entrance to search for signs of smoke after interrogating Ralishuul, the cultist formerly being tortured by the cave dwellers. Valeria stepped outside for a moment and there, in the distance, (rolling a 20) noticed two small figures flying away without mount or apparent wings. Back in the caverns they found a concealed entrance to some of the upper guard chambers – and battle quickly ensued. Eight more cultists met their end and through a pair of personal chambers, chambers belonging to Frulam Mondath, they followed one fleeing cultist. The fanatic leapt down a shaft leading from Frulam’s personal chamber to the black orb room. Some ran back through the caverns and some descended after.
All met in the chamber of the black orb. The cultist had run into the next chamber and, shrieking, “Tiamat!” opened a gate releasing a pair of dragon whelps. They charged. Behind them, four dragon dogs holding glass spheres came on the attack as well – they hurled their orbs of fire and sticky tangle-bombs.
It was very late by this time of the night – yet nobody was turning away from this fight. Sadly, there were some tactical deficiencies on behalf of our heroes. Many stood just within the orb room and received the fiery explosions from the dragon dogs. The damage from these was compounded by the necrotic damage from the orb. In one round, I think I rolled 4’s on 5 out of 6 d4 damage rolls. Round after round, the accumulated damage from the orb really stacked up.
Finally the whelps and dogs were all dead – the lone cultist threw himself at the party, “Glory to Tiamat!” and hit the floor pierced and in pieces. Ahead, in an acrid smelling chamber, eggs. Giant eggs.
It was too late at this point – there were hasty words and hasty actions – but finally someone with some sense called whoa! And we stopped. This is where we shall resume.
What to do with dragon eggs? What about Frulam’s chambers? Were those searched? What to do with Tom and Olishia? And then what? Off to Elturel to find Onthar Frume and Leosin Erlanthar as requested? The cultist force is allegedly headed west toward Beregost and then north toward Baldur’s Gate. This is only part of the important information that Onthar and Leosin await! The dragon cult is on the move!
(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.)