(This session included Galfur the dwarven inquisitor, Mutt the human barbarian, Kia the vampire-sorceress, Colin the halfling paladin and Edgar the human cleric. The average party level was 13)
As the world was slowly crumbling away into pieces, the party swiftly set out from Caliphas, being aware time was likely growing late. The sky had darkened and the black clouds gathered over Ustalav. Red lightning storms erupted and the crackling energies sizzled out into the distance, from the towering construct of Gallowspire.
Lots of citizens ventured to greet the heroes and bid them the best of luck on their way. As they left the tavern in the rain, a mob of people were watching them in silence, bowing their heads and letting The Watch escort the heroes to the main gate. Several members of the governing elite met up with them as well, asking them to do whatever was in their power to save the country. Mutt told them to look for the green pillar; once it had been quelled; they would know there were safe.
Travelling is half the journey!
Setting out the heroes decided against using any kind of teleportation devices, being rather sure the area of Renchurch and the surrounding Virlych had been fortified to resist such basic means of invasion. On horse, it was five-day travel, which they knew was a notorious long time as they raced against time to secure Count Galdana. Still, they had very little choice in the matter.
On the fourth day, a Feather Token bird arrived. It carried a small message for them from Addivion, boasting they were too late, although he would recommend them on getting this far and as a reward present them with an offer. A last chance to get out of Ustalav, go somewhere else, and leave the rebirth and the Carrion Crown to him. Needless to say, the heroes declined.
(I wasn’t really sure whether there should have been more random encounters along the way, but honestly, this chapter throws more than enough encounters at the players as it is.)
They were shown the official map of Virlych, which Mutt had drawn from research back in Caliphas, and decided to set up along the river west, and make heading north through the Hungry Mountains, eventually reaching Renchurch. They decided to travel throughout the forest on the northern bank, as they could often hear the distant screams, which somewhat resembled those of a dragon.
Summoning a stone bridge from Wall of Stone they crossed the polluted river and headed through the withered branches and trees. Barely a sound was heard, besides a few looming crows screeching, as they entered a clearing containing an odd archway made of bone. Kia identified this as a witchgate. A device able to displace anyone wishing to utilize any kind of teleportation within its limits; meaning teleportation would likely be very dangerous in these areas. They had to admit this was an unexpected hindrance.
Neither had they expected the grove of huge Hangman Trees that suddenly jumped upon them with a roar. While Colin and Mutt were both enthralled by their spores, the rest of the party took up arms. Edgar unleashed a Repulsions spell, keeping all the trees at bay, while the ranged weapon took them down from afar. (This encounter was trivial at best; and as a GM you will find plenty of other like it in this adventure. Some of them will hardly seem challenging. This, I assume, is intended. After all, evil is as evil does; it wants to better its odds by having the heroes throw away resources at the waves of minions, leaving them all the weaker for the final confrontation. Depending on whether you wish to play it generously or not, this has some very serious impacts on the chapter. If you feel they’re up to the task in heroic mode, you might limit them to have only one rest during the adventure, of even; none at all.)
With their first victory in hand, the heroes moved onto the mountains. Their spirit was high, and after a couple of hours, they trekked up a narrow path and found a shortcut leading them into a large cave, reeking with the stench of death. They decided to enter, arms drawn. Not long did it take before they were jumped by a howling being; a mighty linnorm hurling itself at them as they intruded on its domain.
Flying over them, it had a brilliant chance for a fast breath attack, and sprayed them with a burning fire. Kia, now with her vampiric powers, charged in to do a vampiric touch, sadly not estimating the linnorm’s combat reflexes bringing her health even further down. Joining in was Mutt on his flying broom and Galfur on his flying carpet. Colin and Edgar moved to safety and set up for a bunch of ranged attacks. The linnorm stubbornly remained airborne and chopped away at Mutt, while Kia very carefully decided to back out. As the breath attack ticked for the second time, Edgar managed to get in a powerful amount of channeling, turning the tide of the battle eventually, and as Colin joined in, the powerful arrow-shots helped bringing the evil dragon to its knees soon enough. Now the long ascend towards Renchurch awaited them.
A WITCH!!… AGAIN!
Their journey took the high and further into the mountains. After a couple of hours they saw a column of smoke rise in the near distance and decided to check it out. A small, quickly made camp was placed against the cliffs, complete with a couple of tents. What was more important was the mumbling shade of an old woman tied up to a sturdy pole; she was gagged and desperately eyed the heroes with pleading eyes. As Colin attempted to free her, a stern voice shouted “Halt!” and an elderly man clad in armor approached him with four guards. The heroes identified them as paladins and inquisitors; Knights of Ozem, led by their captain, Sir Garvis Karst. Karst warned the heroes that this woman had been possessed by a demon and was to be brought home to the cathedral to be purged. While Kia chose to remain in the background, Colin and Galfur was allowed to investigate her closer. They kept mainly with Heal checks but only identified bruises and wounds. The woman begged them for help, pleading innocence desperately, when they removed her gag. The heroes however, were in doubt and decided to leave the witch to her fate and ask the paladins for further information about the mountains. They could only provide little information about the journey north; it was dangerous to travel and would lead them dangerously close to Gallowspire, the final resting place and prison of the Whispering Tyrant.
Somewhat in doubt whether they’d made the right choice, Colin and Galfur returned to the troupe and moved on.
(Right, I handled this a bit differently. As written, this encounter is almost certain to end in a fight. I decided to keep it as a purely moral choice, which meant the heroes decided to simply skip out on it entirely. Ah well; can’t all be winners it seems.)
The cloister of Renchurch
The heroes arrived at the cathedral later that evening. Everything was eerily silent, as expected, and they had the sinister feeling of everything watching over them. A great evil nested here and lay in wait. From what they could see, the entire cathedral was surrounded by an old wall, containing structures like an old watch tower, a swampy lake, stables and a graveyard. For a while, the heroes considered where to go and what approach to take, and in the end they agreed they needed to conserve their resources for the upcoming fights, and instead head directly through the front doors of the Cathedral.
As they did this, from the tower sprang a howling Banshee and a bloody struggle began. She began screaming and the heroes noticed how soaked swamp-driven mummies started raising. Soon after the doors swung open and an athach burst out to join in on the fray, while a rain of arrows started hammering down from an unseen point atop the cathedral.
It was a fierce struggle; especially when Mutt failed his fortitude save against the banshee’s wail, blasting him for 140 damage. The Gate Tender grappled Kia and hurled her through the trapped main doors of the cathedral, triggering the Reaper Door and piercing her with a barrage of knives.
(Individually, these encounters might seem kind of underwhelming for a 12-13th level party so I decided to pretty much hurl the entire bunch of them at the players at the same time. After all, they should know better by now than to walk straight for the obvious route. I did alter a bit of these events as well, for example – All my players have more than 100 hit points now, meaning that the ooh-so-scary-door-trap of 3D8+3 damage is downright pathetic. I ended up upgrading it to 9D8 instead. Besides that, it seems reasonable to throw as much stuff at them as you think they can handle at this point. After all, this is the welcome committee!)
And so, they looked at the open doors, ready to step inside and face the dangers of Renchurch Cathedral…
To be continued this Wednesday.