Year of the Shadows

Session Twenty Notes

Gnoll-ified

When we were first talking about this campaign, there was some concern expressed regarding longevity—we’d just come off of two failed campaign concepts. In order to assuage these concerns, I promised to not give up on the campaign any sooner than 5th level or 20 sessions. Well, this is the 20th session, and the average party level is just a bit over 6th, so I’ve hit both those goals.

Of course, this means the campaign’s warranty has effectively lapsed, so now we’re all a bit nervous that everything’s going to come crashing down. I have every intention of seeing this campaign through to a logical stopping point (and have the material queued up for just such a purpose), but the ever-present threat of a TPK now seems to loom ever greater…

  • The timeline advanced six weeks as Sir William soaked up his role as hero of Cormyr and high officer in the Purple Dragon, attending a whirl of feasts and galas at the behest of the Queen and his new Dragon peers. He was formally inducted into the order. He received his ceremonial coif and affixed his helmet with a dragon crest, and accustomed himself to a regular regimen of training and prayer, as befitting his new life as a holy warrior of Tyr.
  • Phloyd, meanwhile, spent his time back in Tyrluk, studying once more under his master Praetorius. This time things went much better, and Phloyd added several new spells to his book—although the quantum intricacies of Leomund’s tiny hut continued to evade him.
  • As spring began to shade into summer and the weather finally turned consistently pleasant, Phloyd and William corresponded between Tyrluk and Suzail and made arrangements to finally undertake their postponed journey to the Lost Valley of Hutaaka, located somewhere north of Arabel in the Stormhorn Mountains.
  • After a few days of Sir William being feted and fawned over by friends and family in Eveningstar, the duo departed for Arabel, where they (finally) stocked up on some exploratory essentials (rope, pack horses, torches), and then rode out. With them was Sir William’s new squire, an aspiring Purple Dragon affectionately called Little John.
  • Riding along the banks of the Sword River, they passed by wide expanses of fields burgeoning with green crops; then the fields turned to pastureland; then the pastureland gave way to wild, rolling plains, only occasionally dotted by small woods, the domain of hunters and trappers…and creatures of much darker mien. Once they were out in the Wild, the party began to spot traces of an ancient road paralleling the river. Here and there, crumbling paving stones could be seen among the grass and bracken—the road was old, far older than Cormyr.
  • After three days of travel, the party spotted the remains of a campsite, its ashes still smoldering. It had clearly been attacked by raiders, and the campers’ bones now lay in the dwindling embers of the fire. No skulls could be found of the hapless trio, and their possessions had been ransacked. With some trepidation, Phloyd and William speculated that the attackers may have been gnolls—the Stormhorns now loomed on the northern horizon, and these parts of the mountains were known to shelter many tribes of those foul creatures.

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  • Not long after leaving the wrecked campsite, a thick mist began to rise up from the river. Soon, the party was riding through fog so dense, it was starting to bead up on their cloaks. Gradually, they became aware that they were in the midst a veritable forest of sharpened pikes stuck into the ground. Most of these featured an impaled gnoll in varying stages of decay. They spotted two fresh gnoll bodies, and nearby three human heads. It was eerily quiet, save for the occasional sound of rattling bones…
  • Then, off in the murky distance, four figures poked up from out of the mist, sniffing the air curiously. With a strange, inhuman howl, they began loping towards the party. Ghouls! Sir William pulled his gold holy symbol from under his breastplate and held it aloft. “In the name of Tyr, begone!” he bellowed. The symbol shone brightly, illuminating the grounds, and the ghouls hissed in terror before turning tail and scurrying into a burrow dug into the ground.
  • Sir William peered through the mist, trying to sense any further evil lurking about, and felt a powerful wave coming from further in among the pikes. He uttered a warning to Phloyd just seconds before his whole body seized up. Little John, too, was afflicted with paralysis, but Phloyd’s gnomish physiology shrugged off the curse. As William and LIttle John slipped from their saddles (Phloyd using his staff to slow William’s descent), the buffoon looked back in the direction William had indicated. Sure enough, about 10 yards distant, a stoop-backed gnoll festooned with bones and stitched-skins was waving a strange skull fetish in their direction.
  • Too far away to use color spray, Phloyd activated his ring of invisibility and slipped away, downwind of the gnoll shaman, as the party’s horses fled in terror. Three more gnolls, acolytes of the shaman, appeared, and the whole group began advancing towards the prostrate forms of William and Little John, their murderous intentions only too clear. At that point, Phloyd struck, launching two color sprays that took out the three acolytes. In return, the gnoll shaman cast darkness on Phloyd and scampered away. Phloyd used levitate to get out of the darkness, seeing the shaman duck into a crude hut in the center of what Phloyd now realized was a sacred gnoll burial ground.
  • Descending, he scampered over to William and Little John, who were just regaining the use of their limbs. Meanwhile, the beating of drums began to reverberate across the wide, shallow valley. Sir William and Little John quickly gathered the horses, William then riding into the darkness where the gnoll acolytes were coming out of their stunned state. An expert blind-fighter, William quickly located and dispatched the confused, howling trio, and then the party beat feet, riding north along the river, before the shaman could return with reinforcements.
  • As the sun began to set behind the Stormhorns, the party could see black smoke rising from a multitude of signal fires to the west and south-west of their position—clearly the entire local gnoll population was in an uproar over the defilement of their sacred burial grounds. Darkness descended over the valley and a silvery moon rose, illuminating a small war party of gnolls now in pursuit of the party.

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  • The terrain was growing rougher as they approached the Stormhorns, and Phloyd only just managed to spot a small group of gnolls waiting in ambush among the tangles of a briar patch atop a nearby rise. He sent a color spray into the bushes, which was answered with a volley of spears. The party dug in their spurs and galloped on, weathering a second volley which, sadly, brought down the squire Little John.
  • Desperately, the PCs urged their steeds onward, but soon Gagejolly slowed to a trot—the warhorse, bred for strength over endurance, was blown. They kept on, however. The pursuing warband was beginning to catch up, and was now close enough that the party could discern ogres in the midst of the dozens of howling gnolls.
  • Knowing that they would soon be overtaken, the party stopped to prepare a special sort of ambush. Phloyd took out his deck of illusions and selected the Red Dragon. [Incidentally, I realized this session that the deck is supposed to only work with random draws, but fuck that noise. How is that at all useful? Pssh.] Casting the card to the ground, a massive red dragon rose up—the heroes could smell its odor, a mix of brimstone and reptilian funk; could feel the heat emanating from it, could see the grass quiver as it beat its wide wings. The gnoll war party saw it too, and came to a screeching halt. Quietly, the PCs slipped away into the night as the gnolls prepared for battle against a foe that wasn’t even there.
  • The drums continued to echo through the valley, but soon the party was in amongst steep-sided gulleys as the mountains closed in around them. Continuing to follow the river, they saw up ahead a magnificent tableau: a massive waterfall, over 300 feet high, its mighty roar finally drowning out the sound of the gnoll drums.
  • The ancient road was much more visible in the gorge, and the PCs could see that it led into a wide, high tunnel carved out of the cliff face, just off to the side of the waterfall. The floor of the tunnel was caked with mud, and bore no signs of recent passage by man or beast. Leading their horses, the party entered the tunnel.
  • Gradually, ascending broad, wide steps that turned 90 degress every 100 yards or so, the PCs climbed. The tunnel finally opened out onto a massive stone bridge that crossed the very top of the waterfall itself. The moonlit vista was spectacular, and William remarked that he would like to build a castle there one day.
  • The bridge was guarded by a squat stone tower built at its middle point. Three gnoll skeletons provided mute testimony to some unseen threat, but the party pressed on to the door, an ancient bronze portal depicting motifs of needles and threads. Digging in his pack, Phloyd extracted the silver needle and gold thread and then William pushed open the door. Within, the tower was choked with rubble from its collapsed roof. There were also two steel statues of jackal-headed men in robes, disturbingly reminiscent of the jade statues that had thrown William such a beating at Xitaqa. Sure enough, as the party entered, the statues animated and began to advance—until Phloyd brandished the silver needle, that is. The statues returned to their plinth, then actually bowed the PCs on.
  • The party did move on, but not before Phloyd stopped to liberate another skeleton (either human or elven) of its wand and scroll. Perhaps this luckless adventurer had been the one responsible for bringing down the roof of the tower?
  • Passing through to the far side of the bridge, the PCs could see that a road had been cut into the side of the mountains and wound its way deeper up the river gorge. Taking a few minutes to secure each other with ropes, and the horses with leads, they pressed on.
  • The road rose swiftly, and soon the travelers were hundreds of feet above the fast-flowing Sword River. Small rivulets and streams ran down the cliff face, carving channels through the rock and (sometimes) the road itself, necessitating slow and careful progress in the moonlight. At certain points, parts of the road had even crumbled away, and much time was spent negotiating these treacherous passes and coaxing the horses to follow along, making sure none of the steeds slipped on the wet stones.
  • After some hours of travel, the party reached a massive gorge some 200 feet across. It was spanned by a once-magnificent stone bridge, now fallen into disrepair. Even as they looked on, a couple bricks came loose and tumbled into the dark depths below. Phloyd would be able to cross the bridge with no problems, thanks to his wraithform spell. William elected to take Gagejolly across at a gallop and hope for the best.
  • Despite the poor condition of the bridge, it held up, and William then crossed back and took up the reins of the two pack horses, leading them back across. At about the midpoint of the bridge, however, the gorge resounded with a familiar screech. Looking about wildly, William saw two griffons swooping towards the pack horses, the moon at their backs.
  • As the horses screamed in terror, William ran for it. Gagejolly, too, was panicking, but Phloyd managed to grab hold of his reins and calm him. The pack horses, sadly, were not so lucky, and were each swept up by a griffon and borne away, their frenzied whinnying slowly fading into the darkness.
  • Down to just William, Phloyd, and Gagejolly, the party pressed on. The road began following a curve in the mountainside as the gorge began to widen, and so the PCs did not see the evidence of a recent rockslide nearly blocking the road until they were right upon it. Picking their way among the boulders and stones, they triggered another, smaller fall, and William was buffeted by two large rocks, saved from having his brains dashed out by his armor.
  • The road continued to curve ever more sharply, and quite suddenly the party hit the end: another massive gorge, once spanned by a bridge now long since crumbled away. On the far side, a 40-foot cliff wall rose up. Set into the wall, a pair of 20-foot gates, a stone jackalman standing in a niche on either side.
  • The stone pylons of the bridge were still intact, and William and Phloyd knew they’d be able to get across that way, but this was the literal end of the road for Gagejolly. Sadly, William fettered the horse and put his feedbag over his muzzle, promising to return and hoping those two griffons would be well-fed on the pack horses until he could make good on his word.
  • The knight and the buffoon then picked their way across the ruined pylons, reaching the door as the sky overhead began to grow brighter with the approach of dawn. The two stone statues began to animate at the party’s approach, but once again a display of the silver needle pacified them. The doors, however, presented a greater challenge. They were carved with intricate abstract designs that would provide ample handholds, and the cliff wall overhead was similarly cracked and weathered, but Phloyd knew his stumpy gnomish limbs were not up to the challenge.
  • Sir William, however, felt like he had a shot. Taking off his armor, he began to climb. Phloyd watched nervously, but the paladin managed the ascent perfectly. He dropped a rope from the top of the tower, and brought up first his suit of armor, then Phloyd himself.
  • And then, as the sun rose behind them, they turned and beheld, for the first time, the Lost Valley of Hutaaka…

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Comments

Another great session! But you gotta add in the part about Phloyd using his illusion deck to keep the gnoll warband at bay!

Session Twenty Notes
 

Of course! I thought your getaway was coming across a little too easy in my memory—where would you be without that deck?

Session Twenty Notes
sirlarkins sirlarkins

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