I was seriously terrified going into this session. With every passing week of game time, I had been making a d100 roll with a cumulative 1% chance that Mad Meerim would come after the PCs. After Phloyd and William became minor national heroes for their role in rescuing Tanalesta and foiling Lord Edrin’s coup, I added +20% to the growing odds. Finally, while the PCs were off galavanting in the Lost Valley, Meerim’s revenge number came up.
So what to do? Of course! Meerim would go after Praetorius as a way of getting back at the PCs “desecrating” his master’s tomb, then lay a trap for the PCs. I used a randomizer to generate Meerim’s available spells and started looking for some killer combos…
It’s been so rare, in all my history of running D&D, that I get to unleash a high-level wizard on the PCs with no qualms. (Part of it has been laziness on my part, as high-level wizards take a fair amount of effort to build, even in old-school systems.) But high-level wizards are freaking scary in what they can do, even with a randomly-generated spell list. I honestly had no idea what to expect…
- Before we got to Meerim, though, we had business to attend to in the Lost Valley of Hutaaka. The PCs, after poking around the slime chamber where the tentacular beast had made its lair, decided to return to Byxata. They took Kforedz’s charred corpse with them, and the jackal-folk back at the village were thrown into utter chaos by news of their leader’s death.
- The PCs were left more or less to their own devices as the community mourned, and they used this time to plan and plot. They knew the wealth of the former Hutaakan Empire was somewhere in the Temple of Pflarr, and they wanted to get access to it.
- They took a day or so to rest up from their fight under the temple. When they awoke in the mid-afternoon, however, they found the village was under attack! A troop of Wreckers and some of their lizard pets were assaulting the walls of the village. Phloyd, invisible, got up on the wall and saw that the Wreckers were being goaded along by more of those armored humans. Zhentarim! There could be little doubt.
- Meanwhile, the gates of the wall were breached by a lightning strike from the heavens. Sir William was ready, mounted atop Gagejolly. After helping some Hutaakans to dispatch a giant lizard that had gotten over the the wall, he turned to face the Zhentarim who were coming in through the breached gate. It was none other than Lady Yolenta!
- As the dark priestess’s cronies dispersed to begin setting fire to the thatched roofs of the Hutaakan huts, she rode forth on her giant lizard mount to do battle with William. The two combatants circled, exchanging blows, as ominous clouds continued to gather overhead. Yolenta taunted the paladin mercilessly, and backed up her words by calling down lightning with her enchanted mace, smiting William and nearly doing him in.
- Phloyd, meanwhile, had been directing the defense of the town walls from the parapet. The Hutaakans, though not great fighters, seemed to be holding their own finally, so he descended from the wall and used his Black Dagger to dispatch one of Yolenta’s flunkies, then color spray to knock out the other. Seeing William being sorely pressed, he now whipped out his trademark wand of wonder. “Two can play at that game, Yolenta!” he shouted to the priestess as she struck William with her summoned lightning. “Zabbalas!”
- As if on cue, the always-unpredictable wand came through with a lightning bolt of its own. Phloyd had aimed the wand so as not to hit William as well, but even then the bolt only barely missed him, leaving his teeth ringing with an electrical charge.
[I looked for a screen cap of Art from The ’Burbs after he gets electrocuted, but I couldn’t find one. But that’s kind of how I pictured William in that moment.]
- With their leader dead, the Wreckers fled back towards their own village. Phloyd and William bound the surviving Zhent and interrogated him. They discovered, through a combination of hard questioning and ESP, that Yolenta had figured out what Golthar’s secret agenda to discover the lost valley, and retraced the PCs’ steps until she found Endreth’s farm in the Hullack. Phloyd received a disturbing vision of the farm in flames, Endreth and his family dead outside. Their tapestry had provided a map to the valley, and, while the PCs were off saving the Cormyrean throne from a usurper, Yolenta had taken a hand-picked crew up to Hutaaka. Although they had initially planned to simply loot the valley’s treasures, Yolenta instead got caught up with the idea of conquering the valley for her own; to that end, she installed herself as ruler of the Wreckers and stepped up raids on the Hutaakans. Once the valley had fallen into her hands, its many treasures would be hers.
- Disgusted, Phloyd consigned the Zhent to his fate at the hands of the Hutaakans and the PCs set out for the Temple of Pflarr. Their journey passed unmolested by Wrecker attacks despite passing close by their main town. They brought with them Gagejolly and a giant lizard that had survived the assault and been abandoned; the great beast proved quite docile, and Phloyd took to it as a riding mount.
- Once back at the Temple, William had Phloyd help him strap the horse and lizard to ropes, their other ends secured to the giant statue at the far end of the nave. A whack on the steeds’ haunches got them pulling, and slowly the giant statue began to rotate on ancient bearings. As it turned, the wall of the niche behind it slid open, revealing a dark passage beyond.
- Armed with their glowing key, they advanced—and found a chamber, dark and dusty, filled with untold riches, the last remnants of the once-mighty Hutaakan Empire.
- Much time was taken with lovingly cataloging the many riches found within the chamber. Most notable, perhaps, was an ebony throne inlaid with delicate mother-of-pearl finishes and semi-precious stones. Also recovered were a rod of cancellation, a scarab of protection, and a bag of devouring.
- Sir William was highly interested in exploring the remainder of the temple. It had obviously once been overrun with undead, but after Kforedz invoked her ceremony at the altar, that threat had been seemingly neutralized—already, they had seen many bones and other remains of walking dead scattered about the temple. Phloyd was content to stick with what they’d already gained, so William left him to guard the treasure and set out to poke around.
- William found plenty more undead remains, including some that were clearly mummies, but little in the way of treasure. He also found a room with extensive murals that filled in some of the gaps of the Hutaakan’s history; apparently, they had once ruled an extensive empire built largely on slave labor—the slaves being the so-called “Wreckers” (whom Yolenta had called the Traldar). The Hutaakans had also been quite decadent—murals confirmed that the pit in the floor was a space for lowering sacrifices and that Hutaakan royalty had observed the beast in the pit devour hapless Traldar victims from their secure gallery. So the valley was not the scene of a peaceful civilization being invaded by barbarian marauders, but rather one of former slaves and former masters locked in a death grip of mutual hatred and recrimination, an endless cycle of payback for crimes now long-forgotten by the current generations.
- After viewing the mural room, upon entering a room filled with books and scrolls, William was stricken blind. He stumbled his way back to the treasure room, anxious that he might have lost his sight permanently. Thankfully, the blindness lifted after an hour’s time. Now Phloyd was especially itching to be off, but William doggedly refused, pressing on to explore the one wing of the temple not yet examined once he had regained his sight. His doggedness paid off as he wended his way down to a set of crypts and, inside a sarcophagus, found a jeweled orb and scepter. (He also found an inert mummy, which, in tumbling out of its casket, gave him quite a start.)
- Having looted all the parts of the temple they were aware of, we largely glossed over the rest of the party’s time in the valley. The players came up with a good plan for getting the treasure out of the temple and back to civilization, and I didn’t see any need to further delay things with petty annoyances. The Wreckers/Traldar had been cowed for the time-being, and the Hutaakans, leaderless, were in no position to object to the looting of their cultural heritage. And so the PCs had the Hutaakans build them a cart to haul the treasure, then Phloyd levitated it over the wall (along with Gagejolly; his lizard mount scaled the wall on its own just fine).
- The party skirted the gnoll lands and made its way back to Eveningstar, where William left his throne, orb, and scepter with his mother for safe-keeping, before pressing on, their ultimate destination Suzail, where William needed to report back to the Purple Dragons and tithe 10 percent of his take to the order. But first, a stop in Tyrluk so Phloyd could look in on his master Praetorius.
- The farmers of Tyrluk intercepted Phloyd on his way to the wizard’s tower. “Old Praetorius hasn’t been seen for a ride’s time!” they said anxiously. None of them had wanted to venture into a magic-user’s domain unbidden, and so the fate of Praetorius stood as a great mystery to the townsfolk.
- Forewarned, Phloyd and William entered the tower, which was divided into two areas: a large, high-ceilinged hall that took up most of the tower’s height, and a study at the top, accessible by a set of wrought-iron stairs wending up along the interior of the tower wall. It was in this study that the PCs found Praetorius, splayed out on the floor in front of his ever-burning fireplace. He appeared quite dead, although not decayed. Phloyd rushed forward while William hung back to allow his friend some space in his grief.
- There appeared little that could be done for Praetorius, but Phloyd, standing and wiping tears from his eyes, suggested that he and William should fetch the village priest. Hardly had these words left his lips than Praetorius sprang back to life, flinging a mass of sticky webs from his hands. In an instant, nearly the entirety of the room was filled with a matrix of clinging strings, nearly immobilizing Phloyd and Wiliam.
- Phloyd, mobility severely limited, still managed to pull out the wand of wonder from his belt. “Zabbalas!” But for the first time, the wand failed to respond to its master. Praetorius cackled maniacally. “Fool!” he spat, before casting a spell at Phloyd. Briefly, the gnome felt his skin stiffen and crackle, but the sensation passed as quickly as it had come. Praetorius cursed.
- Now Phloyd attempted to loose a color spray, but the incantation failed to go off. He realized he must be standing inside an antimagic shell centered on his master! Praetorius, for his part, muttered a few words and made a circular motion with his hand and, just like that, a hole opened in the floor beneath him. He dropped through and the hole closed.
- William, meanwhile, had been struggling towards the stairs, which lay only a few feet away. Finally freeing himself, he dashed downstairs, Phloyd’s words echoing behind him: “Don’t kill him! He is not in his right mind!” This message was rather reinforced the next instant when, from the hall below, Praetorius launched a lightning bolt, sending it rebounding off the circular tower wall up towards William. Fortunately, the paladin managed to get his shield up in time, blocking most of the impact.
- Phloyd, for his part, feared that Praetorius had perhaps read the cursed scroll from Griffon Castle that he had left at the tower. As he freed himself from the webs, however, he found only a book on the floor near where Praetorius had lain: a turgid romance novel of the sort printed on cheap paper and bound indifferently to be sold for a few coppers on the streets of Waterdeep. Not wanting to take chances, Phloyd cast it into the fire.
- Looking about, the gnome now saw another book that was out of place: it was a spellbook, set on a table near Praetorius’s favorite armchair. But it did not look like any of the spellbooks that belonged to Praetorius, each engraved with his personal mark. No, this one was bound in a different sort of leather and bore a different sigil. Phloyd narrowed his eyes as he looked at the rune, and then is struck him: that was the mark of Mad Meerim!
- Down in the hall, William spotted Praetorius and began charging down the stairs to intercept him. The wizard waved his hand laconically and suddenly William stopped—he could not remember why he was running down these stairs. He could not even remember entering the tower, though he remembered approaching it.
- “William, what are you doing up there?” Praetorius called in a would-be friendly voice. “I…don’t know. We came looking for you…” Praetorius smiled. “Well then, come down and let us talk.” Coming up behind William, Phloyd shouted a warning. Praetorius scowled and cast another spell at Phloyd, who once again felt the uncomfortable sensation of his skin hardening for a heartbeat before it passed, the effects negated by the gnome’s natural resistance. William paused, focusing on the figure of Praetorius. From him exuded a palpable sense of evil intent.
- William rushed down the stairs and laid into Praetorius, booting him in the chest and then striking him about the head with his sword. The unarmored wizard nearly died on the spot from the paladin’s onslaught. At last, he dropped his guise (healing some of his wounds in the process)—revealing himself to truly be none other than Mad Meerim!
- With practiced ease, Meerim opened another dimension door beneath his feet and dropped through. The sound of his feet hitting the floor of the study above tipped off the PCs as to where he’d gone. Phloyd cast haste on William, and the super-powered paladin flew back up the stairs, ready to finish what he started.
[Incidentally, I recall Alex saying that William would have four attacks in his first round while hasted, but he’d actually have three: 3/2 attacks per round is the same as 1.5 attacks, which doubles to 3. The more you know…]
- Meerim had already gathered up his spellbook and was in the process of casting another spell. “You haven’t seen the last of me!” he snapped, before winking out of sight with a slight “pop”…