This posting contains spoilers for the Temple of Elemental Evil, as it is essentially a campaign commentary of the 1st Edition Supermodule. Don't read if you want to play.
I am a person who played AD&D from just about when the Monster Manual was published until about 1980, and DM'd for the next 4 years, including the G/D/Q series for two groups plus campaign adventures to toughen up a 1st level party to take on those modules. In the 80's I played some AD&D but mostly more light-hearted campaigns and the game-time was eroded and then eliminated by more flexible or "realistic" systems such as Champions/Hero, Call of Cthulu, Traveller, etc. I ignored the 2nd edition changes because it was just not a game I took seriously enough to care. In the 90's I've played a lot of Amber, Feng Shui, Champions, Ars Magica and even one Mage game, and the gaming frequency has varied depending on how busy I was in the rest of my life.
Recently "Knights of the Dinner Table" was discovered by our group and it reminded me why I spent 7+ years of my life playing AD&D. It was not the role-play...I prefer the above-mentioned systems for that kind of thing.
It was the challenge. Taking a system where the boundries are firm and defeating something designed to *kill* the players if they were anything less than brave, clever, and a little lucky.
Role play happens too. You can't help it. It adds to the game. But it is not really the point of High Fantasy, at least the way Gary Gygax wrote about it.
I wanted to do it again. I broached the idea during a large gathering of my friends and was amazed at the response. I was expecting a tight group of 4-5 players. I ended up with 7 (I'm weak sometimes) and had several more who wanted to play, but I could not let them in.
Note that these are "Real Role Players" that have sneered at AD&D for years. Two had never played it before, one of those had only a few months experience with any role-play. Most of us had been gaming for on the order of 15-20 years, though, and this maturity will show when you compare how they approached and handled the challenges of this modules, as compared to the games I remember in the 70's and 80's (and the comments I've seen on this newsgroup about the lethality of TOE for an average party)
The result? A rousing fun campaign that is just winding up. By the time I catch up on the logs, it will probably be over.
I just want to say a few things about this module for GM's who are thinking of running it.
This is a campaign module that will take the characters to at least "Name" level and possible 1 level or so beyond.
If you want to run it as a precursor to Slave Lords (a fine series that I have been both a player and a GM adapting it to home-brew) eliminate the 3rd and 4th levels and the elemental nodes. Eliminate the backstory with the bound demon. Just have it be the temples trying to recover and leave it at that. Or perhaps have the temples be rising for the first time. Make the black troops just what they appear to be, add one or two higher level leaders and you finish up at 8th level or so when the top two levels have been demolished. Iuz is probably the main villain here.
Making the adventure be the debut of the Temple instead of the resurgance also solves this problem with the backstory: "why the hell didn't Tenser just finish the job last time he was here"
If the players do the 3rd-4th level, Greyhawk history is likely to diverge significantly from the current material. Also they will reach Name level if they survive. If they do the nodes, the'll be wealthy too, and usually another level higher. The nodes are a lot of work, but we had a pretty good time there.
Feel free to steal anything you like from my experience with this. Feel free to ignore anything you don't like.
This section is of most interest to DM's who want to run the module. For anyone else, it might explain puzzling tactics mentioned in the text or explain why certain things were not done by the party. It is long, but does help clarify the story that follows.
This was a 1st edition AD&D "by the book" campaign, with the "Books" being PH, DMG and MM. MMII and FF were used only when the module added a "new" monster, UA was used only for magic items that were not too unbalancing and that were included in the module or one of the "recruitment" adventures. UA, Wilderness Survival and Dungeoneers Survival Manual were used sparingly for rulings where there was no precedent in the core books or the module itself.
Monsters and PC's played by the same rules, including the house rules below.
House Rule #1: All "Leveled" people start with maximum hit points at first level. If you are a L1 fighter with 8 hit points, you are one of those "Sergeant" types that don't go up levels. This applies to henchmen, bad guys, whatever. "Leveled" means you get eeps and may go up levels if you earn enough.
House Rule #2: You never involuntarily lose eep permanently. So if you get enough eep to go up 2 levels, you do so once you pay the time and money for training. If you are drained (which never happened, TOE is light on that kind of thing) a restoration will restore you to the "correct" number of eeps...your old total plus any you earned up to the restoration spell. If you lose eep due to alignment change or a book or something, that is permanent. (touching a strange magic book is a voluntary act. Getting hit by undead is not)
House Rule #3: Initiative and Spellcasting. I used the "Gold-Box" computer game method, rather than the very cumbersome DMG method (including speed factors, etc). In short, if you hit a mage before his initiative comes up, he can't cast spells but is otherwise unaffected (does not lose spells). He begins casting on a segment based on the initiative roll (6=segment 1, 1 = segment 6), and the spell takes the normal amount of time to cast. If someone hits you before it is done, the spell is lost. Note that it takes simultaneous initiative to make a 1 segment spell fail. This is fast to run and makes short spells safe, but long ones risky. I used my "Unlimited Adventures" gold-box tool to confirm rulings based on PH for dual classing (you need 17s in all stats whose minimum is higher than 6) so in many ways the AD&D sanctioned Gold-Box games also counted for precedent, but lower than the core books or the modules.
Character generation was done using any of the DMG methods...4 keep 3 and choose was the most common. I then allowed characters to roll their age and apply aging modifiers to it. If they wanted to be older (say middle aged to gain Int and Wis instead of Str and Con) that was allowed. No proficiencies except weapon, and secondary skills were rolled up per DMG. This was a "pure" campaign.
Specific spell rulings:
The party included:
Rhianna left the party at about 3rd level and was replaced with
In this campaign everyone died once except Suyana and Ellyllyn. So the ending Con is a bit lower for most of them. (Rhianna did not die, but did not stay very long)
The combination of Paladin and Druid was allowed, because Paladins are allowed to adventure with Neutrals for a 1 adventure basis for a cause that promotes LG. Cuthbert *really* hates the Temple and the destruction of it was treated as the "one adventure". Since it lead to the defeat and possible destruction of 2 CE gods, I think this dispensation was appropriate to the god of Wisdom and Zeal.
I ran the adventure as written, with the following changes to the module. All additional stuff was paid for with "Recruitment Points" that the Temple earns if time passes. I did only one side adventure which was taken from a "Birthright" short module and converted to AD&D version 1.
The Tome of Leadership and Influence in the Falrinth's Lair was changed to a Tome of Clear Thought. The party had plenty of Charisma, had only one (int 16) mage and was beginning to suffer from lack of spell selection. Also it was fun having the Vacuous Grimore next to a Tome of Clear Thought. The mage who owned the books did not have Identify and had all of his Level 1 slots filled....so the easy spell that would have allowed him to use his books safely was unavailable to him. It even explained how he got the books...they were probably sold as a matched set and he never got the courage to chance choosing.
The Ring of Invisibility on the gambler thief in Hommlet was swapped with the Ring of Spell Storing (5x invisibility) on the Fighter/ Assassin working for Falrinth, because I thought it would be a better item for a weak, large party in terms of game balance and general utility.
The walls/floor/ceiling of the Temple were indestructible as long as the Orb of Gold existed. (otherwise, why didn't the Druid of Gnarley Woods just level the place with Rock-To-Mud?) The place was wished into existence, so why not?
The module had a Ring of Invisibility, multiple Rings of Fire Resistance (including one in the Fire Temple itself) and the head mage had a Ring of Feather Falling...an awfully weak ring for a mage of his stature. I realized that if I just added a Ring of Water Walking I could add all four Rings of Elemental Command without unbalancing the game. It seemed cool...the restriction to attune was you have to kill a resident of the appropriate elemental plane on their home plane. Not for wimps. By the time the PC's attuned the rings, they were 10th level or so and the power level was appropriate. Gygax is not shy about giving out magic in this module, so I figure "what the heck". The only drawback was that there was a lot of player bickering over the items long before they were attuned.
Fragararch was treated as an Artifact. If anything it was more powerful than as written (Thrommel struck someone while still in temporal stasis as part of the backstory). People were not really sure what would happen if you killed the owner...it might be like Farslayer in the Swords novels. It was a "new" artifact. All swords of Answering strike anyone who "attacks" you, but can not used to attack directly at all and must be held in the "good" sword hand (only daggers, hand-axes and fists were allowed as off-hand wpns, and fists were a stretch given the 1st edition DMG paragraph on the subject). A legitimate tactic is to run by a bunch of foes, giving them all a free backshot. If they take it, you get to Answer. Not so good unless your AC and hit points are high.
Scather would strike anyone who struck at you, but was not too unbalancing, because the inability to launch your own attacks made was a severe restriction to the style of the party. Also the sword is quite distinctive and their oppenents were not dumb. It was great against massed elemental monster attacks and useless against most other things.
Thrommel was made a Ranger and the Scion of Veluna, CG in order to weild Fragararch. Princess Jolene was made a Paladin and the scion of Furyondy. She'd also been waiting for 30 years (not 10) for Thrommel to come out of the temple. The owner of Snowflake (the very powerful Frost Brand sword) was the Grand Marshal of Furyondy and was killed fighting the Fire Temple when Tenser & Co sealed in the Demon 30 years ago.
Thrommel was equipped as befits a 15th level ranger. (all he had in the module was Fragararch and a magic dagger). He had a Girdle of Giant Strength, magic cloak, boots, bracers of defense, some darts, and of course a bag of holding with his entire fortune (he is a ranger after all). Yes I knew it was a risk, but I figured since most of the PC's were his subjects and they had a Paladin that they would do the right thing and not just loot the body.
The backstory is roughly that Tenser, the Archcleric of Veluna, the Druid of Gnarley Woods (30 years ago...a different one rules now), the Grand Marshal of Furyondy and Prince Thrommel of Veluna put down the four temples 30 years ago. They destroyed the religion and imprisoned the god, but during the fighting lost both warriors and were more concerned about the bound demon than finishing off the 3rd level, which looked to be just a zoo anyway.
Tenser was outvoted when it came to finishing off the 3rd level. The Greater Temple used Wall of Stone spells to block the two stairways and this worked because the two rooms leading to the stairways are of "natural" construction, not the indestructible stone of the rest of the temple.
I also introduced Tenser, Robilar and Mordenkainen based only on the description of Tenser and Robilar in the module and the PH spell descriptions. It was possible that Tenser and Robilar were sometimes allies, sometimes enemies, but never destroyed each other. It seemed clear to me that Mordenkainen was unsociable, since he has spells that replace the need for Henchmen, Dogs, Servants, etc. I made the three of them brothers, who all started out CG in the Keep of the Borderlands. Robilar got the Helm of Opposite Alignment but managed to conceal his alignment change for years. This gives you powerful CG and LE characters that have a love-hate relationship and serve to keep each other in check. Morkenkenien ended up CN and served as the eccentric, very high level mage who you could sell fragments of a Mirror of Mental Prowess to but would be nasty and uncooperative whenever I felt like it.
I populated all of the Nodes, rolling treasure in the Lairs based on MM treasure lists. That used up most of the magic items on the random chart provided. I replaced all UA spells with the closest equivalent in the PH, and when nothing else would serve, I would just say "was it a good spell? If so, put a good PH spell in there". Most magic items survived the cut, but were treated as unique, "first" of a kinds, just like the "new" monsters.
All deities got full Greyhawk deity spell powers, including the awesome mobility, extra spells and "save on a 2" abilities. None of this "She's just a demon, so she's weak"...the Demon of the Temple is a Minor Goddess, and if freed gets the full package.
All NPC "leveled" people got exp and had adventures. I ran them solo through adventures in back issues of "Dungeon" or made up some quick adventures on the fly. This introduced a bit more treasure and magic items, but the NPC's also got more powerful over time. As you will see, the final defeat of Lareth was so important to the campaign that destroying the 3-4th levels and the nodes was almost anticlimactic compared to stopping his rampages (which got him to 10th level and his 15 henchmen to about 6th level before he was defeated).
As you can see I had far too much time on my hands :-)
This is a description of what happened before the game began, from the time Lareth is sent out with some crossbowmen to the time the TFH first arrives in Hommlet.
It is important to realize that I inflicted Recruitment Point costs on various Temple factions whenever Lareth did something that added to the hit dice or levels of his force (zombies and skeletons excepted).
In later times Lareth even attacked newly recruited forces belonging to other factions to toughen up his own troops. "By the module" the Temple can get just huge if you ignore it, and factions within it can take advantage of this any way they please. That's what CE is all about!
So anywhere where Lareth's little army gets stronger, it is because recruitment points were spent. In fact, he was so successful at a later period the Temple had trouble replacing its losses because his troops were sucking up all of the recruitment points.
For now, though, he is a humble taker of caravans, tasked with isolating Hommlet from commerce.
Lareth was billed as the "Dark Hope of Chaotic Evil", so I wanted to give him every chance to be brilliant - to justify this by more than just some damn good stats. I ran him the way I would run a PC, where other leaders were usually limited by their personality or lack of imagination, he was allowed to be good at everything...and inventive.
Since this was a "By the Book" campaign, and because the module said "Caravans were disappearing without a trace", I had to do this with the forces Lareth had. Actually I started him with less. Lareth was given his human troops (about 18) and sent out to gather revenue for the Temple while isolating Hommlet from trade.
I rolled up a small, medium and large caravan with appropriate guards. The first caravan was protected with pikemen and the ambush involved missile fire on the zero-level types, Glyphs of Warding ruining their charge and Command/Hold Person spells to eliminate leaders. Then Lareth animated the dead and walked the caravan away, doing everything possible to cover his tracks (ambush in rocky terrain, when the weather forecast (spied from the Druid helping farmers) indicated rain, faking a false-ambush place at a different location for Rangers to investigate, etc). This caravan was captured as the pass to Verbebonc opened up to foot travel in the Kron Hills.
The next caravan was in the swampy land on the road to Nulb from Hommlet. It was guarded by Cavalry. Lareth had zombies from the first attack (which he buried on one side and let the caravan march over), and some Gnolls which he attracted due to his success. The Gnolls blocked the front of the caravan, with Glyphs of Warding set several times in front of them to break the charge. The caravan guard, seeing only a weak gnoll force in front, and a small group of crossbowmen in the back split his forces and charged. Zombies ripped the bottom of his horses while the crossbowmen focused on the soldiers. The gnolls had little trouble butchering the survivors of the glyphs. Again, the very high level leaders were defeated with Command and Hold Person spells.
At this point the rumors of bandits attract low level adventurers to Hommlet.
The Inn of the Welcome Wench was full of adventurers and would-be adventurers. Most were poor in goods and poorer in coin. The Moathouse had been scouted by one or two of them as a possible bandit lair, and teams were forming to take it.
Ellyllyn, by luck getting the Identify spell, made friends with Burne, the local mage. His mentoring turned out to be vastly profitable to both of them, and in the end, his generosity to a starting mage was rewarded tenfold. For the moment, she was earning extra cash identifying a Staff he had recovered. (the Nystul's Aura staff)
Suyana and Ash were each told by their superiors to cooperate with the other and build a strong team, with the eventual destruction of the Temple in mind. The Druids would rather have a corrupt temple in their forest than deal with the effects of another army, and Cuthbert can't risk a chaotic party getting in and breaking the seals to Iuz's ally. The characters were given little of this, just told to cooperate, make a team and follow orders.
Rodriguo came in from Nulb, off of a caravan, looking for a reliable, trustworthy party. He gravitated toward Suyana and her acceptance of him overruled Ash and Ellyllyn's objectives.
Bekka came from the Wild Coast road, an exile from her kingdom. She dreamed of gaining the fame and followers needed to recover her rightful throne. Again, Suyana proved the deciding factor in which team she joined.
Rhianna was ordered by the Count of Verbebonc to look into the Bandit problem. She joined the team because she saw a bunch of young, eager adventurers and wanted to add enough professionalism to keep them from getting wiped out.
Maurice joined because Rhianna was 6'3" and he has a thing about tall women. He stayed because he was treated with respect and, well, Enlarge spells were popular among the female fighters...
There was no chance of any Evil member joining because of the Paladin, but there were enough Evil and questionable people in town to form their own team, centered around the wealthy Zurt.
(ok, they all met in a tavern. This was a traditional campaign, after all)
The Team From Hommlet (hereafter referred to as TFH) used Ranger skills to track the bandits back to the Moathouse. The first fight with the Toads proved a mite embarrassing for many members, and Suyana was nearly swallowed. Rhianna was surprised and nearly killed by the Spider but after that the party got settled down.
Their Scout and "Fighter"/Mage peeked in the windows of the rooms and spotted the Snake and Lizard. The Scout moved up to the roof and waited for some bandits to come out of the Moathouse. The party captured the two losers who were given guard duty a bit too late and used the information from interrogating them to learn about the hideout and its defenses. One Sleep spell dropped the bandits and the leader was chased down by Rodriguo and Suyana and killed. The battle cry of "Convert or Die" was heard for the first time.
This established a pattern for the TFH. Always scout an area first with Maurice and sometimes Ellyllyn. Always take prisoners when possible and interrogate them, especially leaders. Know the threats and then attack. The final attack is usually brutal and frontal, a concession to Suyana's patience with all the sneaking about. If Suyana establishes a prisoner can be saved/converted, the person is taken alive. If not, they are turned over to the authorities or executed (if they've committed crimes warranting summary punishment). Take anything of any value. (this was later amended to "and destroy anything we can't take...but for now they are simple adventurers)
The prisoners were roped and made to carry their treasure out. They were about to march out when Rhianna spotted hoof prints on the path ahead and shooed everyone else back inside. A more careful scouting by Maurice and Rhianna indicated a couple of invisible war-horses with riders (based on hoof tracks) and several others hiding in the tall grass. The TFH ambushed the ambush, with Maurice setting the mage on fire and the rest forming a battle line. Ellyllyn stayed behind to watch the prisoners.
The battle was tight and close. The attackers had the numbers and the levels, but less coordination. Maurice nailed their mage with Flaming Oil and Ash pinned most of the people who were off the road with an Entangle spell. Even so, Jurt, Korbert and their warhorses were all the party could handle. At the pivotal moment, Ellyllyn got impatient, Slept her prisoners and went out to see what was going on. She saw a glowing dagger sneaking up on Suyana and shouted a warning. She spun around, and the gambler/thief found himself between an angry paladin and a Thief...instead of standing victorious over the body of the TFH's leader.
The thief was chased down and killed by Ellyllyn (to get his magic loot) and the party got more value out of the ambush than they did from the Moathouse. They returned to Hommlet with bandits, rogue adventurers and enough stuff to sell for some of them to make a level. After much agonizing they decided to keep the Ring of Spell Storing/Invisibility. This proved a wise choice, as the levels gained from the 22.5K gold would not have saved them from the later challenges, where invisibility was essential to their tactics and survival.
Lareth kept a low profile during all of this. He was planning his next action...a capture of a large caravan, with full escorts. It was beefed up with a platoon of Elf archers, but it did not save them from his night assault of Zombies, Bugbears, Gnolls & Crossbowmen. The fight was much harder, and some escapes were only cut off by the final line of Glyphs of Warding. (Lareth painted glyphs on rugs, which were then transported by his troops to place whereever needed) Again he zombified the caravan and marched off with it, leaving a false "ambush site" in a different location. This time, though, a few horses got away and the fight was fierce enough that the real site was damaged beyond concealing, mostly with fire.
Some party members helped Jaroo and Elmo investigate the site, and a Speak with Animals on a burned horse gave enough clues to find the real site. Alarms were raised in Hommlet, since the caravan and guards included an elf Fighter/Mage countess and her Ranger/Cleric companion...the fighting force was similar in strength to the entire Hommlet garrison. More than one party member commented that the MO might fit a druid....the damage from the Glyphs was very similar to Fire Trap, for example. Jaroo and Ash swore it could not be a Druid, but were disturbed nonetheless. The elemental evil vs druidic religion was a fun parallel throughout the campaign.
Because the party was eep rich and cash poor, much of the training had to be paid back with work. This and travel times kept the party from reforming until May.
The TFH returned from training and made noises that it had traced the caravan disappearances to Nulb. The spies in Hommlet notified Lareth and he brough his entire force out to ambush them on the road.
Instead the TFH doubled back to the moathouse. They started by clearing the top level, with Ash insisting that the Snake be off limits (he wanted him as an Animal Friend) and that the party help him solve the Lizard's digestive problem (it had swallowed a magic shield). The "Lizard Surgery" incident was a source of much teasing for a while, and Ellyllyn made dire references to "Lizard-Skin Boots" if they needed the eeps later (Ellyllyn was Ash's mother and also a Tanner/Leatherworker). The kindness to animals did not extend to their nests, and the area was thoroughly looted by Maurice...who with NG honestly turned all of the treasure over to the party.
The sleep, speak with animals, invisibility to animals, cure light wounds and general trouble caused by hog-tying a giant lizard required a fair amount of rest to recover from, so the assault on the lower level did not happen for many hours.
In the meantime Lareth decided they had fooled him. He rushed back to his underground lair, ready to fight the thieving adventurers with everything at his disposal. He was puzzled to find the lower levels undisturbed. Where had the TFH gone? (he never went to the upper level because they went to a lot of trouble to make the lower level look collapsed and uninhabitable. Unfortunately for Lareth, the Giant Rats in the stairway spilled the beans about the large areas underneath) Lareth posted his guards and went to sleep after a long day.
The TFH finally began the assault as Lareth's troops settled down for the night. The Green Slime was nearly the end of Ash, but Suyana's Cure Disease saved him. The zombies were defeated with hard fighting and Fire Trapped sling bullets (based on a precedent... Senshock had a gem with a fire trap, and a fire-trapped flask of oil). The Ogre flattened Suyana in one blow, but the rest of the party cut it up. They freed the prisoners and learned more about their enemies.
One of the things they learned was that the Ogre and his prisoners were only visited a couple times a day and had been visited within the last two hours. They decided to rest up and transport the loot upstairs (where the Hommlet Teamsters and Elmo had a camp).
Reinvigorated, they went further into the tunnels. They chose Left, which probably saved the campaign. They bottled up the Bugbears in their room, taking advantage of the geometry to defeat them. They then lured the Gnolls in the right corridor into an ambush by having Maurice (who had scouted them earlier) show himself and then run away. They were cut off and killed, although the fighting was brutal and the TFH was dinged up and again out of spells.
Two gnolls surrendered, and by the simple expedient of letting them keep their comrades' coins, hired them several times over "We was already paid Triple!". They promised never to raid Humans again, and gave valuable information about Lareth's remaining troops and tactics. They were supposed to support any attack on Bugbears (and vice-versa) but were annoyed at the preferential treatment and high pay the bugbears received...so they let them fight alone.
Upon learning that a human patrol was due anywhere from 2-8 hours from now, the party decided to try resting again. They succeeded, but during memorization the human patrol arrived. It ran smack into an elaborate flaming oil-fire trap set by Maurice and was cut up almost instantly. The two survivors had one "convert" and the other curse him. The converted person gave the party information that, if followed, would give Lareth warning and maximize the chances of ambushing the TFH. By now the party had such success with converting Lareth's troops that they had no inkling that one might be lying to them.
The fight with Lareth was very hard...the TFH was careful but he was warned. When his crossbowmen went down to sleep, his own troops finished them so he could Animate them. Maurice tried a backstab and ran into a Glyph of Warding on Lareth's armor, and was eventually chased down and captured by Lareth's fighter henchman. Elmo had been hired for this assault and he was going toe-to-toe with Lareth. (Maurice and Elmo had been made invisible using the last two charges on the Ring. Everyone else was slowly but surely chewing through his troops. Lareth was practically unscathed when Maurice was captured.
At that point Lareth stopped the fight and offered a deal. This was not easy, but he had many compelling arguments. His terms:
This was an agonizing decision for the TFH. Eventually the Greater Good argument won out. They figured they could get Lareth later... that they would advance in power faster than he would. And they had seen first-hand how dangerous the Hommlet spies had been...if they had not misdirected Lareth, his combined forces would have easily destroyed the TFH on the open road.
They agreed, excepting only that Lareth had to leave his Staff of Striking behind. Lareth agreed, but insisted that the Paladin give her word of honor on the agreement, and that he got two horses as part of the deal.
With most of the party guarding Lareth, Suyana and Ellyllyn went to Hommlet to set up the trap. They enlisted the Town Elder and his four sons, because they could not trust anyone else to not be the spy. Elmo also came along, and his word as a respected local combined with the Paladin reputation for truth ensured cooperation from the Elder.
The traders were exposed, and Ellyllyn, thinking they were zero level merchants, used her first action to grab the incriminating letter and flourish it...preventing any attempt to destroy it.
The assassin-trader killed Elmo with one flick of a hidden dagger, and then engaged Suyana. The thief-trader grabbed his valuables and ran, only to be cut off by the four strapping sons (zero level). The town elder ran for the Clerics of Cuthbert.
Somehow Suyana and Ellyllyn killed the 7th level assassin. He only had a Dagger of Venom for a weapon, Suyana was rolling 20's and Ellyllyn the "Fighter" somehow, again, had managed to get behind an opponent. The assassin proved strangely weak (since no one but me knew Ellyllyn was doing double damage) and the thief could not manage to defeat four zero level townspeople before the priests of Cuthbert arrived on the scene. He then just "took hits" and ran, sucking down a Potion of Speed (to the howls of the players who wanted all the potions to themselves). They just managed to kill him before the potion kicked in, and the Law of Battle gave them a number of wonderful magic goodies - a great haul for such a low level party.
All of this got the party about 3rd level. Among the items discovered were a +3 shield and an Amulet of Non-Detection. In my game Tenser is a very physical mage, who enjoys spells like Shape-Shift and failed to trade for Mind-Bar. He's always on the lookout for an Amulet of Non-Detection, and has a proprietary interest in anything to do with the Temple. Tenser swung a deal where he got the Amulet, in exchange for minor, disposable magic, and an offer to make something better out of the Meteorite Steel locked into the +3 shield. The net result was Maurice was the proud owner of two +3 daggers (which could be dispelled, because they were made using Polymorph Any Object, not enchant an item) and Bekka was able to gain a "Chakram of Return" (ok, she's playing a Xena clone...). This latter device is similar to but slightly weaker than a Dwarven Thrower, but uses Javelin ranges and can only be used by someone of Bekka's royal bloodline at full power.
The party broke for training. The Chakram would not be available for 6 weeks, and the trade routes were open, so the party had a number of options on what to do next. There were still pirates and bandits, and raiding humanoids to thrash. They were warned that the Temple itself might be more than they could manage, so they returned from training, looking for something a bit easier. Rhianna left the party to track down the camp of the Cursed Bandit, the last bandit willing to operate on the Hommlet side of Nulb.
In other news, some wealthy Dyvvers residents "hired" every henchman in town and formed them into three large teams, based roughly on alignment. The "Lawful" team, lead by a failed paladin attempted to defeat a huge bugbear tribe. They did some serious damage but were wiped out to a man. The "Chaotic" team (which was underequipped because the patrons were running out of cash) arrived later and, in a fierce battle defeated the remaining Bugbears with a mix of Command/Sleep and fighters to finish the helpless opponents before they revived. The "Neutral" team was lead by a beginning Druid, and used Speak with Fish to locate the river pirates. Unfortunately their boat skills did not match their enthusiasm and two-thirds of the team were wiped out before the spell support arrived to finish the fight. A handful of survivors got all the treasure, so the remnants of the "Neutral" team and most of the "Chaotic" team survived and returned in triumph to train, the Neutral team advancing farther than Chaotic.
Neither of the Dyvvers teams had any "moral" members (such as Clerics, Druids or Paladins) survive. The "Chaotic" team, hereafter known as the "Brawlers" was made up of fighters, fighter/mages and a mage. The "Fist of Dyvvers" contained two thieves, a mage, an illusionist and a lone fighter of enormous physical strength.
The timing of the hiring program was just long enough for the TFH's success to reach Dyvvers. The TFH seemed to be inspiring other teams to take the field against the forces of evil.
This time the TFH had more cash, but still some training had to be paid in kind. Again they lost a month to training related activities. They reformed in early June.
This adventure was inserted to make the party a little stronger before they scouted the Temple. It seemed like more fun than chasing bandits and pirates, so I left that sort of thing to the Dyvvers teams.
While the TFH was training a mountain dwarf delegation appeared in Hommlet. Tenser had visited them to learn how to build a Chakram of Return, and dropped hints about the possible trade benefits with surface worlders and hinted that an alliance with surface worlders would bring both wealth and the opportunity for a military alliance.
These mountain dwarves had been in seclusion since humanoids overran the Lortmil Mountains, and had not noticed when they had been driven out. They had not encountered the Surface for almost a Dwarven lifetime, although the occasional powerful and learned adventurer like Tenser would visit once in a while.
A small but vocal faction of the dwarves convinced the King Under the Mountain to end this isolation and begin trade. The King allowed it, as he had word of an Orog/Evil Dwarf alliance negotiation and wanted it broken up by "random adventurers" as opposed to anything obviously from his kingdom.
The gnomes of Kron Hills near Hommlet and several Hommlet notables formed the Trade party, and the TFH agreed to escort them, mostly in exchange for goodwill. There was the usual rounds of feasting and storytelling, and the bravery of the TFH in defeating such mighty opponents while still inexperienced was a topic of much conversation.
Eventually the King got them alone and said, essentially "help me with my problem and I'll back the trade mission". He said only that there was an Orog war band nearby, and could the party please show us some surface world combat techniques, and, out of friendship for us, bring back the head of their leader.
There was no real argument. (Eeeps and treasure!). They acquired a Dwarf "Engineer" (ie fighter/thief) guide who was strictly enjoined to stay out of the fighting and to stay under cover of invisibility.
Because the party was so inexperienced with underground environments, one of the Gnome trade delegation, Brandon, a middle-aged Human priest of Ulaa, offered to help out, providing much-needed maturity and common sense to the team.
The Orog outposts were defeated quickly and carefully. The party decided to scout and kill enough outposts so that they could escape in a hurry if they had to. Maurice was a deadly killing machine, the rest of the party got through it but did not exactly shine. There were incidents with rats and spiders that the TFH still doesn't talk about, because they were handled so badly.
Finally, the party found the main battle chamber, a huge room filled with Orogs, slaves and some evil dwarves. They were arguing loudly about the division of the King's treasure and people (the dwarves seemed to be trying for women, children and the ownership of the tunnels in exchange for the warriors and the movable wealth).
This was probably one of the 3-4 most dangerous fights in the entire campaign. The TFH used Pyrotechnics to get a few rounds of confusion and their ambush did take out the leaders. But the Orogs were brave and numerous, and all might have been lost except that the Dwarf engineer released some subterranean lizards, breaking up what would have been their final charge. The Orogs made short work of the Lizards, but that bought the TFH some much needed time to recover, and they ground to a successful conclusion. They hastily looted the bodies and ran, as they heard reinforcements coming up. They returned to the King in triumph, and had so impressed the observer and the King that they were gifted with fine Dwarvish armor and weapons.
This adventure provided the TFH with excellent, but non-magical equipment. It also gave them a much needed eep boost, getting their religious members past breakpoints. The Cleric, Paladin and Druid went off to train, and the rest of the party, without their moral guidance, promptly got into further trouble.
A portion of Burne's Badgers, plus Burne and Rufus went off to fight the Orog Wars. In exchange Hommlet got a small garrison of mountain dwarves. These included a smith who could keep the Dwarvish weapons and armor gifted to the TFH in perfect condition.
To keep track of the events that occurred in early-mid June you need a bit of a scorecard:
Good Guys (protecting trade):
Bad Guys (raiding caravans, settlements, etc):
The Fire temple relies mostly on Leveled people for income and its latest joint mission with some Air troops went badly. Right now they have nothing going and have earned the impotent hatred of Kelno. Both Fire and Water are no longer supporting outside recruitment, funneling all resources into recruiting a large Troll tribe. Unfortunately they are in competition, so the only one benefiting for now is Trolls.
The Black Temple and the Lolth factions are backing Lareth with some recruitment points. His activities come later this month, so for now he is still lying low. The Black temple is also in the slow process of diverting a mercenary army to flatten Hommlet, but this will take time.
Humanoid raids are sharply up on the South Road from Hommlet to the Wild Coast. No one knows why.
While the TFH was hanging out with dwarves, the Fist of Dyvvers captured the last major pirate ship, using a cute combination of Web and illusion. They made it look like the webs were burning, so no one thought to use fire to escape. Only the Captain was strong enough to win free before they succumbed to illusion or were slain with missile weapons. He nearly did for the whole team, swimming aboard their raft and wreaking havoc. But the blows of the fighter and the backstabs of the thieves, and the small amounts of damage that the magi could do eventually overcame him. They bound their wounds and began the slow task of moving their booty-laden pirate galley back to Dyvvers.
Meanwhile the Brawlers were doing some mop-up activities, clearing away the last of the Gnoll Ambushers and Bugbear Raiders. Somehow they always stopped the bands just after they'd decided they had a big enough haul and went home. By Law of Battle, the Brawlers got the goods and the glory. Some peasants grumbled but in general they were very popular, especially among travelers and traders. The roads and rivers from Dyvvers to Verbebonc were once again safe. Except for the occasional Cursed Bandit raid.
Meanwhile Bekka, Rodriguo, Maurice and Ellyllyn returned to Hommlet. Ellyllyn was frantic about the fate of the Grey Elf nobility captured by Lareth in his final raid. They'd been in the Temple for over a month and she wanted to stage a rescue. No one felt comfortable going in without a plan, though, but all jumped at the opportunity when a young wood-elf called Murfles appeared at their doorstep with a truly wild idea.
Murfles explained that she worked for Elmo's brother Otis and they ran a spy network in Nulb for the Druids and Rangers. They knew the recruitment methods of the Temple and had heard about the TFH when Tenser showed up to buy out their supply of Keeghtom's Ointment (which he used to seal the Chakram for Amulet deal) Tenser has something of a big mouth. Anyway, since Otis never lets her do anything and since the poor Elf Nobles are probably being tortured as we speak, she has a plan:
Air's recruitment post burned down last year. Water's is "on the docks". Fire and Earth share a tavern. Water only recruits for pirates and with their recent losses don't seem to be recruiting any more. Fire is generally very picky about recruits. But Earth is recruiting any kind of scum. (no offense, Rodriguo). So if some of you dress up as Scum, you can join. Then the rest of us (all sneaky Elves and Halflings) can follow invisible and when we find the Elves we break them out! Murfles said that she even talked some of Otis's Sprites into helping ("They're great....they detect evil, go invisible, have sleep arrows and are real quiet!)
Perhaps this seemed like a better idea than it really was because the average Wisdom in the group was about 8. The Elves were too worried to think clearly, Maurice is well known in the party already for coming up with even wilder, riskier plans and Rodriguo, for some reason, assumed everyone else understood magic and clerics and stuff and knew what they were doing. Bekka's player started to object, looked at her Wisdom stat of "6" and decided to go along.
It was decided that Bekka and Rodriguo would try to get recruited. Lareth's stories of the TFH had inflated their reputation to the point that Rodriguo was 8' tall, covered in metal and wields a sword bigger than he is. Bekka is a fire-breathing, armor-clad amazon woman.
Rodriguo, wise in the ways of poor mercenaries, went and purchased a used set of Scale Mail (no adventurer would wear this...heavier and clumsier than Chain or Banded and lower AC...and only a few gold cheaper), a battered shield and an old longsword. Bekka decided to go as a Monk, with quarterstaff (Bekka is has a bare-handed weapon proficiency and quarterstaff proficiency...unusual in a Fighter)
Everyone else became invisible and followed. The lot of them trudged toward Nulb.
Rodriguo and Bekka were quickly interviewed and passed over by the Bartender (Wat, of the Fire temple), but he introduced them to Dirk, the Earth recruiter. They had to prove their mettle and ability to discipline troops without "breaking" them in a barroom brawl conveniently set in the Water Temple's tavern. They were successful, so were sent with escort to the Temple itself.
At this point I showed the pictures of the temple and some scale maps I'd drawn up emphasizing the hugeness of the place. Some of the players began to have second thoughts, but it was too late. The invisible spies followed them in, doing their best to remember the twists and turns,and the defenses.
The recruits were handed off to another patrol and eventually brought into the interview room. It was too crowded to follow, so the invisible folk waited nervously outside. At this point the party had a bit of luck. They picked the one temple which was effectively run by an undercleric (their skilled cleric, Barkinar, had recently graduated to the Black temple), and his undercleric could only muster a Detect Good rather than Know Alignment. Bekka's goodness was spotted instantly (stronger than usual because of the royal blood) and he ordered the guards to stop her. Faster than anyone else could react, Rodriguo clobbered her. He then (to the later complaints of Bekka, who decided to "fall", defeated) kicked her a few times for good measure, cursing her in a mix of Orcish, Human and Sailor oaths.
The priest stopped him from "killing" her, because he detected the strong strain of Good. She'd make an excellent sacrifice, better than the usual round of peasant that the Terror teams provide. So on his own initiative, he took Rodriguo, a "beaten" Bekka and a patrol down to the Level 2 prison cells, to await sacrifice. The gods were looking out for fools that night, and it allowed the invisible people (who nearly broke cover and attacked) to rejoin them.
Upon seeing that they were in the prison cells, that one of the cells contained the Elf nobility and that only a patrol, an underpriest and a large Bugbear and Ogre were around, a confused melee broke out. In this fight many guards and the sprites were Slept, Rodruguo got mauled by the Bugbear, Bekka really wished for her armor and proper weapons, Maurice got chased by an Ogre, the "Fighter" Ellyllyn slew the Ogre in one blow from behind and the priest was beaten up by several people.
At the end, they freed the nobles, who had been under psychic torture for the last month and were beginning to break. Lareth turned them over to the Water temple, because they had some awful monster in their Greater Temple that could assault you with Suggestions over and over. The goal was to "Turn" them, make them future temple leaders. The Elvish resistance to charm only went so far, and it would have worked by now except that with Lareth gone, Belsornig, the Cleric of the water temple, started changing the suggestions, forcing them to couple. The goal was to get the Countess pregnant and then sacrifice the three of them to gain the power of a demon and dominate the Temple. The Elves did not think Belsornig shared this with anyone, and they were prevented by Suggestion from telling any of his rivals. He had succeeded and if the rescue had been a week later, it would have been too late.
Meanwhile the Fire Temple prisoners were vocally asking to be released. They consisted of several humanoids and a human. The human explained that he used to work for the Fire temple and that these humanoids were important spiritual leaders in their tribes. The Fire temple had been kidnapping or killing all of the "Moderate" humanoid leaders (and incidentally helping themselves to treasure in their tents), leaving hotheads in charge. This had lead to greatly increased raiding of the road between the Wild Coast and Hommlet, on the borders of Gnarley Forest and Welkwood. This raiding drew resources away from fighting the Temple and was untraceable to the Temple. If you release these leaders, they will stop the fighting, or so he claimed.
Also, he knew a lot about the Fire Temple and could help them get out. The party had enough invisibility in potions and rings to cover all of the elves and the halfling, but not enough for Bekka, Rodriguo or any Fire Temple people. He advised them to dress up in Black Temple gear and let him do the talking....walk through the Fire Temple area and he'd get them out.
Well, the TFH was nervous, but did not have a better plan and still had enough left to put up some kind of a fight. They decided to trust him. It worked pretty well. In his new "Black Temple" garb, the former prisoner taunted his old bugbear colleagues, gave the correct passwords to the Troll (who then moved the hydra out of the way) and got them in the clear to the stairs. Once the party escaped, they let the humanoids go, and took the Fire Temple prisoner back to Hommlet, along with the elves.
They pumped the Fire Temple prisoner dry of everything he knew about Fire (a lot, including maps, but not much about the Temple), the other temples (a little, mostly reputation, like Earth was lead by a weak cleric but inherited a strong organization, Belsornig was the most dangerous cleric and Water was currently on top and Kelno used to be powerful but had all his underclerics killed and mostly was good at hiring and motivating bugbears. He also knew about the bidding war for the trolls), and the Black temple (almost nothing, except that they seemed to keep open conflict between the temples to a minimum and had badass leaders). After this, they sent him to join Burne and Rufus in the Orog wars...as far away from the Temple as possible, and a chance to turn over a new leaf and reform.
The Elves returned to the homeland, gifting Maurice, Ellyllyn and Murfles with Elven Chain, and the "Big Folk" with powerful medium warhorses, specially trained to be quiet when the rider gave a signal. Maurice later purchased one for himself. This tipped the "unwise" TFH members past breakpoints, and the party eventually finished training in the beginning of July at 3rd-4th level.
There was another important consequence of this adventure. Murfles reported to Otis just how strong the Temple was. The word went out around the land that it was rising again. After much debate the high and mighty decided to leave it to the TFH, since bugbears are hardly worth their time, but to provide training services and keep an eye on them. (this is in the module....very high level people show up and train the PC's at half the time but normal costs...the details of these trainers will be provided when they arrive)
For game purposes I decided that the person had to have 3x your next level to train you at accelerated rates. This means such training is almost impossible to find, but if you make friends with an Archmage, there are benefits.
While the TFH was busy with training activities the NPC's were running wild.
First, in the south, a team called "The Three Rangers" came out of the Pomarj to put an end to the humanoid troubles. These were three powerful rangers (a Ranger Lord, a Half-Elf Ranger/Mage/Cleric of maximum levels and a Ranger/Monk dual class) who solved raiding problems by finding the tribe that did the raiding and eliminating it.
They do this by scouting with followers (monks, halflings and pixies, plus a few other random things, including a bear and druids), and once the target is in sight, the Three Rangers power up with spells (notably Enlarge and Protect from Normal Missiles) and walk into the tribal camp, going straight for the women and children. This forces the warriors to stand and fight. If you've ever seen what enlarged, powerful rangers can do to humanoids you'll know that every touch is death, and they fight using two-weapon styles and darts.
Between their activities and the return of the "cool-headed" humanoid leaders freed by the TFH, the humanoids returned to their own hunting grounds and left the South Road alone. Just as the Three Rangers were preparing to head south, however, another small group of travelers were slaughtered by a large bugbear tribe. The Three Rangers set out to administer one last lesson.
Unfortunately for them, this tribe was the one that supports the Fire Temple, and they were promised a chance at killing the Three Rangers and getting all the status that would provide (not to mention a share in the wealth...in 1st edition all rangers carry their entire fortune with them). This tribe sported a shaman capable of Dispel Magic and Alrrem, master of the Fire Temple, also provided his services in person. His chief lieutenant stood by with their Rope of Entanglement.
The Three Rangers came storming through, and came into a room filled with the biggest, toughest bugbears in the tribe. The cleared it in one round, nearly making it through to the Chief, who was screening the Shaman and Alrrem. To their horror, they heard the last few words of two Dispel Magics chanted (the casting had been drowned out by the cries and screams of dying bugbears) and the spells cut them down to small enough size that the Rope entangled them. One almost got free anyway, as his Polymorph Self spell was not affected, but a Command spell stopped him long enough for the Chief and the Warrior to kill him.
Meanwhile their followers were ambushed by the remaining forces of the Fire temple, saving only a troll and a few bugbears left behind for show. Fire took a big risk here, pretending to be in a ceremony inside their temple while they stripped their home of forces. The mixed force of halflings, monks, druids and pixies were ambushed by two werewolves, two underclerics and some bugbears from the Tribe Alrrem lent a Flame Strike scroll to one undercleric which proved most helpful. This fight was tight, but they pulled through and did a good job of preventing any escape. Only one pixie got away to tell the tale of the Fall of the Three Rangers.
This escapade enriched the Fire temple sufficiently to send its leaders up a level and to recruit the Trolls. Belsornig, however, pulled a trump and gave one last gift to the Troll Chieftain... his Trident of Yearning. That caused the Troll to run to the nearest large source of water he knew of... the Water Inner Temple. He was hit with many Command spells as he entered, and then subjected to Suggestion mind control. In the end, all of the gifts the Troll received ended in Water Temple coffers, and the troops personally loyal to the Troll Chieftain (about half the tribe) joined him there. Fire received the other half of the Troll tribe, so Level 2 was now awash with trolls, but since the trolls refused to fight each other, tensions between Fire and Water were now restricted to just their leadership.
Kelno executed his plan of subverting all of the Water bugbears when the Trolls were hired, and his own forces also grew. He could not subvert the Fire bugbears, as they were better treated by Alrrem, but they were more sympathetic to him.
Earth temple took to equipping all of its troops with flasks of oil and stepped up recruiting of Ghouls. Kelno took a page out of Lareth's book and inscribed Glyphs of Paralysis on shields, and issued them to all of his bugbears. The fear of trolls began to drive Air and Earth into an alliance. (The module actually has Earth with barrels and barrels of oil...I just distributed some to the troops)
Shortly after this, the Waterside Tavern, the former Water recruiting station was burned to the ground and everyone inside slain as they attempted to escape; mostly with traps, but one or two with stab wounds. Wat and Pearl were widely suspected, since they have had dealings with Fire and both blew town shortly after the incident. The manager of the Waterside Tavern had just beat the crap out of Wat a day or so earlier for something related to Temple business. Nulb folk figured he should not have turned his back on Wat, and that Wat was pretty smart to end the feud in a fatal fashion.
Meanwhile in Gnarley Woods, the retreat of various heroes for training was the signal for Lareth to rise. From somewhere he put together a most effective strike team. Little was known about them except that they used fire, and that Lareth subverted the predators in the area and used them to kill as many animal witnesses as possible (hey, two can use Speak with Animals, and Lareth's charisma is higher than most Druid's). First the Dryads were hit, along with their Druid guardians. Then the Pixie and Sprite communities were devastated. Oakheart, the Druid who participated in the Sealing of the Temple 30 years ago was caught disporting with Nymphs and Satyr's and was slain, along with the satyr's and his fierce animal guardians. What happened to the Nymph's does not bear repeating. By failing to protect the forest creatures from Lareth's terror, the Druids lost their support.
By this time most of the mid-level druids in the forest were dead, and they had lost their main means of communications. The main avenger in the forest....a cavalry-oriented Druid with a pack of wolves, Centaur allies and several unicorn riders tracked down Lareth's band and surrounded them. Since they appeared to be dug in, he started casting an Insect Plague. This was broken up by an arrow from an invisible assassin, which fortunately did not kill the druid. The assassin then ran for Lareth's lines, and the Druid lost control of his chaotic and animal troops. They did the worst thing Cavalry can do against Lareth, they charged.
Most of the rank-and-file were slain by multiple glyphs of warding, but the Unicorn Riders were starting to do some damage. Lareth's people concentrated on the Unicorns, killing them. The Druid came up to support with further spells and the final trap was sprung. Several formerly invisible, Enlarged fighters filled him full of ballista-sized arrows, made of solid metal to go right through Turn Wood. One bad initiative roll later and the Druid died. His champions fought on but were eventually brought down with massed Command and Stinking Cloud spells.
Lareth did a pretty good job of cleaning up. He also destroyed the women and children of the nearby Centaur settlement and did his best to make it look like Fireballs hit, rather than Glyphs. He animated the dead, or fed them to his animals, to prevent Speak with Dead or Reincarnate. A fair picture of the battle was pieced together later, although they were puzzled by the time lost to destroy the village. They speculated that he lost control of his troops, since nothing else could really explain how he allowed himself to stay in one place long enough for the Brawlers to appear.
Yes, the Brawlers. The Dyvvers teams heard about the fun and came in to "do their part". The Brawlers caught up, but saw enough undead and raw fighting ability that they were uncertain if they could win. They would have no chance if Lareth & co managed to recover spells. So instead they harassed, peppering with arrows but never getting too close. Lareth had a lot of loot and was moving at Zombie speeds (slow and steady). The Brawlers could not push too hard, since they risked traps and glyphs, and if they lost their horses they were dead.
What the Brawlers knew and Lareth didn't is that the Fist of Dyvvers was coming up on the other side. After almost 16 hours of a steady chase, Lareth ran smack into a Fist ambush, facing a nasty mix of illusion (which eliminated his undead in short order...in 1st edition Phantasmal Force works just fine on zombies, better because they are dumb) and suppression magic like Stinking Clouds and Sleep. Lareth fought for a while, and his troops made quite a stand. One commented later to the TFH that if he'd had that Staff of Striking things might have gone differently). In the end, according to the reports of the Dyvvers teams, Lareth gave up, sucked down a potion and vanished into the mists (probably with the best of the loot).
The net result of this? Lareth gets a ton of experience and the best items in Gnarley Woods, plus probably his pick of the jewelry and gems. The Dyvvers Teams get enough eep and treasure for them to be training for many weeks (as much as 4 weeks for some of the multiclassed). A heck of a lot of wealth and magic leaves the forest. The Druids of Gnarley Woods are crippled... the only druids remaining are The Druid, Kella, a 9th level druid, Jaroo, a 7th level druid and Ash, who has just reached 5th level. Everyone else is level 1 and the forest is going to hell. With the power of the druids broken humanoids, demi-humans and rangers are running rampant, settling old scores, encroaching on territory and creating new feuds. Wild Coast cities and Dyvvers begin sending settlers to the edges of the forest to begin new farms. Fortunately Furyondy and Verbebonc stay out of all of this, they are far more concerned with a possible invasion by Iuz from the north. Welkwood says essentially "We have our own problems. Deal with it yourself". Celene is very isolationist since their Countess tried to help and was abused, captured and humiliated.
Gnarley Woods is in chaos. Even in defeat, Lareth achieved his purpose. And as the CE saying goes...."Too bad about the old team. Oh well...I can always make new friends".
But the trade routes are clear. No one dares fight the Dyvvers teams, nor risk another incursion like the Three Rangers. Only the Cursed Bandit risks the wrath of the TFH. And his days are numbered, since Rhianna managed to track his riders back to their base camp. The TFH is coming to town and she intends to use them to show the Bandit that it's not safe to play near Hommlet.
The TFH finally reformed in July, with the stories of the Fall of the Druids and the Heroism of the Teams from Dyvvers ringing in their ears. No one seemed to care or remember about their deeds, helping the far-off Dwarves and Elves. The Cursed Bandit was still at large and why hadn't they done anything about it?
Since the Bandit was the last loose end threatening the surrounding region the TFH decided to finish him before tackling the Temple as a whole. With him defeated all that was left to worry about was the Chaos in the Forest and the Temple itself. The Druids of Gnarley Woods were saying "The Forest is our problem. The Temple is your trust. The TFH alone is authorized to try the Temple. Any other so-called 'Hero' teams, such as the Teams from Dyvvers who enter the forest will be treated as disruptive influences and removed"
Of course, no one much was listening to the Druids right now. But The Druid had a plan that he hoped would change that soon enough.
Rhianna had returned bringing a map of the Cursed Bandit's current settlement. She had spied it out pretty well and noticed that once or twice a day a small group left the camp, heading east over the river. The camp was well protected from site, with hills and trees forming barriers, and against the river. The Bandits could escape in several directions on horseback or by river if all else failed... they had a number of fast, small boats.
The TFH decided that their plan should center around preventing escape. Although the camp was large, it appeared to have no magical backup and the overall quality of the Bandit's troops seemed low, especially if they were not mounted, ready for combat.
With that in mind, Ash calculated and realized his Plant Growth spell would seal them in (the camp itself was too muddy for anything to be growing), and only the river was a concern. With a bit of discussion it was decided to send an invisible Maurice to knock holes in the boats, and then bring the rest of the team up on horseback, invisible until they were within charging range. At this point Suyana insisted that stealth be abandoned and the camp assaulted with a frontal charge. Meanwhile Ash would cast Plant Growth, and the bandits would be trapped inside with a bunch of mad, mounted, armored fighters that had mage and clerical spell support.
This worked really well. Maurice nailed the Bandit before he could get his Cursed armaments into play, clubbing him into unconsciousness. Most of the bandits fell if the first couple of minutes, cut to bits by the fighters, trampled by the horses and Slept or Held by the spell casters. Those who attempted to flee by water promptly sank and were given a the choice of "Convert or Die". Most converted.
The Cursed Bandit was interrogated, to the screams of a Lawful Evil Lizard Slaying sword, that was being pounded to destruction by Suyana's holy cudgel. In the end, it came down to "What do I have to promise to prevent you from killing me?" Well, he had to cooperate. And submit to a charm. And when we were done take a Geas to never steal again and to only work in "honest" professions. (the Bandit was not actually evil, just very Chaotic). The Bandit agreed, as long as he was allowed to emigrate to the Wild Coast, where "honest" professions included mercenary work.
The deal struck, the party discovered it had only killed about half the force. The rest were using an abandoned tower near the Temple as shelter, but were not connected with the Temple per-se. His leader and his bodyguards were weird, from the Sea Princes perhaps. They communicated with superiors, but the methods were secret.
The tower boasted a deadfall defense, organized watch and combat drills and some sort of alliance with the birds on the roof. He did not know much except they were supposed to attack invaders from the rear. What purpose this would serve was unclear, but distracting back rank spellcasters is always good. The main thing was, how to approach without making them suspicious.
The Bandit's two lieutenants each had magical scale mail +1. A variant on the plan that freed the Elves was decided upon. Dress two fighters in the scale, the rest of the party approach invisibly behind them. I can't remember if they used a Silence spell to stop the clumsy fighters and clerics from clinking or whether they just made enough noise so that was not noticed.
In any event reactions and intelligence were rolled, and the Bandit gave the correct passwords. The night watch let them in without waking anyone up. The Bandit started to tell a tale of the TFH attacking and only the three of them escaping... wake up the leader.
This was done, and the leader and sergeants on watch approached the Bandit to hear the story. Maurice took this opportunity to backstab the leader. The three fighters (Maurice had never stabbed anyone tough enough to suck it up and keep fighting in quite a while) turned around with a yell and started cutting him to bits.
Imagine their surprise when their "Allies" attacked them from behind and more and more enemies popped visible to engage the archers on duty. Ellyllyn slipped over to the enemy sleeping quarters. She had a very close call with some sergeants but rolled very well on two Sleep spells and nailed the lot. The archers were brought down with the enraged fighters, the sergeants Held and the leader brought down by weight of numbers.
Two attacks by the numbers. The TFH was feeling darn pleased with themselves, after all the trouble with the Orogs. The loot was good too, a number of minor magic items, some treasure and, most importantly, correspondence!
(Remember, now, in this game Lolth has been dead, killed on her home plane, for several years)
One was a message from Lareth, containing:
Another was a message from the captain (with a "Mithril Sword" symbol as the signature...later identified by Phanstern as the symbol of Kilsek, the strongest of the Drow families that followed Lolth):
Finally the poem in the module, written on indestructible paper with each of the four elements whispering in the background in series as you read each line (one line you hear wind whistling, next line you hear fire crackling, etc). This poem gives a history of the temple in cryptic form and talks about a linchpin called the Orb of Gold. The Temple is invulnerable while it exists, and it can only be destroyed if the missing bits are attached. At this time the TFH has no way of casting Comprehend Languages to clarify it further. (read the poem yourself...it is the module but quite long)
It appears that Oakheart played a trick on Lareth, using his death somehow to tap into the temple and find a way to destroy it. With his dying action, he created this poem. The poem is indestructible because it also is tied to the Orb. It also may have an enchantment to fall as quickly as possible into the hands of the enemy because Lareth could not have given it to the TFH faster than by giving it to the Cursed Bandit's leader on the eve of their attack.
There was more to Oakheart's final curse, and it is obvious that Lareth's ambition may have exceeded his grasp as a result of that particular victory. A Deck of Many Things was left to tempt Lareth, and the prophesy in the poem would definitely tend to make a man like Lareth go for the whole thing.
The result of all this was that the TFH knew they had a time limit. Lareth getting access to 5th level spells is one thing. Him getting the power of a God is something else again. For the first time ever, it was known how to destroy the temple short of overthrowing Iuz, the Bound Demon God and her four Evil Elemental God Allies.
There was more to see. A secret passage lead out of the Temple area entirely. Ash suggested that every inch be searched for Secret Doors, and the team of Ash and Ellyllyn found an important one.
The passage led toward the temple, skirting the top and then down the west side. From the slope it went quite deep, deeper than their best guess of the depth of the Prison Cells. It lead finally into a corridor of the Invulnerable stone that signified the Temple.
There was a short debate on whether to go further. The party was weak on spells, and had a lot of loot and prisoners to deal with. Furthermore, Suyana, normally the most gung-ho member got cold feet. When your Paladin of Cuthbert says "No, lets not go forward", you notice. The party backed off, leaving that corridor for another day.
Ash ended by flattening the tower with Call Lightning. This had the useful side-benefit of killing the birds (who when startled seemed to grow to huge size). Fortunately the birds were dumb. After a Bolt struck, they circled around for a bit and then landed again. Ten minutes later another bolt struck. Eventually no more birds.
When they returned to Hommlet they found a reception comittee awaiting them. They needed to train a little, converting Brandon to an Illusionist, Maurice to the L5 Thief breakpoint, Ellyllyn a level both in Thief and Mage (L4 in each) and the fighters generally to level 4. Ash could go to 6th level (only 20K eeps in 1st edition). Waiting for them was a large group of high level trainers, gathered by Tenser at Otis's request. They included:
The Druid of Gnarley Woods, meanwhile, was preparing small teams to "Take Back the Forest". He formed teams of all alignments consisting of a "Tough Warrior", a "Offensive Spellcaster", a "Scout", and a half-dozen missile troops (not leveled). He put each under the leadership of a Druid, usually a level 1 Druid, since that was all he had to work with. These teams were to be the Enforcers of Gnarley Woods, and there was one for each radial alignment except Neutral Evil, since the Temple was providing enough Pure Evil in the Balance of the forest for now. Rhianna and Brother Smythe (the Hommlet Smith, whose work had dwindled since the Dwarf Smith came to town) would core one of the stronger teams, the NG team. (Nothing could get him to adventure, says the module. Except perhaps a direct order from the Druid Himself.) Jaroo was quite annoyed that his task was training, and keeping Hommlet safe, rather than fighting. Kella got sent on a separate, mysterious "detached duty" mission, presumably oriented toward the temple leadership or possibly tracking and killing Lareth. She's Gnarley Wood's best enforcer since Oakheart died.
As Solstice approached, the teams trained and got their assignments. The TFH trained for their first assault on the Temple. The borders were secure, the only missions remaining were the Forest and the Temple.
And in the Temple? Lareth put it bluntly. "I can break the Druids. I need only until mid-August or so, maybe sooner. Ignore them until then. I need you to hold off and distract the TFH until then. Sacrifice all of the Lesser Temples if you have to. If you let me break the Druids I'll have the power I need to stop them. Besides... if they are successful against the Lesser Temples, think of it as a way to gather the best of their stuff to the Greater Temple. The TFH takes it from them, I take it from the TFH, the Greater Temple benefits. The best part is...if they seem to have won and I strike them down in their prime (and make it look just right), no other team will rise to take their place...Good triumphed right? They just got assassinated in the end for their troubles! If they get killed trying, then, well, you can move up the timetable on the Druids because you'll be able to spare more resources."
Coincidentally, Iuz's armies are pouring through the Vesve Forest, meeting little opposition. Furyondy has chosen to meet them when they erupt from the south into the open plains. Estimated to be early to mid-August.
The Druid teams left to take back the Forest or die trying.
Ash and Jaroo established a base camp a mile or so from the Temple, and surrounded it with elaborate traps and wild animals (snare, fire trap, deadfalls, a mix of Hallucinatory and real forest, etc)
Ellyllyn (3M/3T) and Maurice (4T) agreed to have their "Graduation" exercise to the next highest Thief level be to scout the temple. This saved the TFH about 2 days, but meant they used lower skills, all alone in the temple. It was a good call, timing did come down to days later in the adventure.
They started out invisible, with the Ring of Spell Storing providing extra cover. Ellyllyn was racking a Sleep and Tenser's Disc, plus another Invisibility (she had no offensive L2 spells).
They watched the outside, stopped by the simple expedient of a barred door, which could only be opened from the inside. Eventually a patrol entered, let in by an inner patrol. They had a choice of who to follow and chose the inner patrol.
They spent a long time on the first level. They mapped damn near all of it and had good guesses as to what was behind the doors. They discovered that the guards lead a Gelatinous Cube around to clean up refuse. They discovered that everyone was armed with oil. They discovered the location of two large nests of Ghouls and/or Ghasts, and found one of the most dangerous setups in the Temple....the Harpy/ Ghoul/Portcullis trap. Two pressure plate traps failed to fire simply because Maurice was under the weight limit (100LB) when stripped for scouting. They also found some prisoners, which they did not dare free because too much was unmapped. And they found the Earth Temple.
All was not smooth and easy. Maurice had his ear nearly frozen off as he listened at a door and tripped a Glyph of Warding. He also caught a nasty disease while looting the corpses of ancient Earth priests. They had to turn away while someone was being tortured. Maurice activated the Earth Elementals in the Temple and was lucky to escape...fortunately for him they are slow and don't pursue outside of the temple without guidance. Many, many doors stayed firmly shut.
They also went downstairs, found the water supply, a room with stuff taken from previous adventurers foolish enough to explore the Temple, a room with a statue that glowed warm and alive, and some storerooms.
They also found entrances to areas marked by the Fire Temple prisoner as "Black Temple" or "Air Temple" and left them alone.
They found another prisoner area, with a bound and gagged Gnome Ranger. Gnomes in this game seemed to always turn up as prisoners of the Temple. They found the Torturer's quarters. They discussed many wild plans to free the prisoners. They settled on this one.
Free the Gnome. He was suspected of being a spellcaster (he was not), but let them think he was and that he escaped. Lay traces so it looks like he looted the Crypt. Have him kill the torturer when he returns and free the prisoners. The gnome had scavenged some weapons and old Temple robes before he was caught, use that stash to clothe and arm the prisoners. Help their escape, but let him take all the credit. (so they won't expect the place to be assaulted by the TFH.)
This went pretty well. The Torturer was not expecting three invisible thieves in his bedroom and died. More invisibility got the Gnome Ranger to the other prisoners and they, fortunately, were near an exit. Meanwhile Ellyllyn Slept the two harpies and climbed their roosts to kill them quietly, converting a lethal trap to just a bunch of Ghouls. Ellyllyn left with the maps. Maurice stayed behind to watch their response to all this (and perhaps sow a little more confusion). The Gnome and his grateful friends left for Hommlet.
These prisoners were quite tough, for random non-leveled humans. Mentally tough. The Earth Temple had a nasty set of challenges for any new slaves taken in raids.
Anyone tough enough to be a warrior for the earth temple and nasty enough to join was asked to join. The rest were given the option to beg for their lives. Any that begged were abused by the new recruits first (to ensure their nastiness, winnow spies and to give them a crime that would bond them to the group) and what was left of the victims was then fed to the humanoids. Any who did not beg were turned over to the Torturer. He would do his best to break their spirit in the time he was given. Any who broke were thrown to the men for torture/rape, then fed to humanoids. Any who survived were kept in the special room, to be converted to Ghouls. The leaders among them would be converted to Ghasts. In the end all slaves serve the Earth Temple, either as entertainment/food, as new recruits or as their most feared troops....the undead eaters of flesh.
This lot was slated for Ghouldom, one Merchant and his wife to be Ghasts. They were grateful enough to be released, that the merchant helped bankroll the Druid teams, and the Gnome Ranger plus the other slaves joined Rhianna's team as the scout and missile support.
Maurice watched an "Invisible Intruder Alert" form up when the Temple forces realized the Gnome had escaped. The Temple does not have a lot of Detect Invisible, but it has a fair amount of Detect Good and Detect Magic, and it has some Locate Object ability. All of this, plus shoulder-shoulder sweeps of the corridors, is brought to bear when an invisible intruder is expected. Maurice escaped by going down a stairway toward the awful Tenser symbols of warding. Their magic was strong enough to shield his minor magic, and the Temple troops were not too eager to think about the wards, much less approach them. Whatever the reason, he escaped detection.
When it calmed down, and the temple returned to normal, Maurice noticed that the guards were excited about some new ceremony. All of the outlying patrols were pulled in. Something big was up. Since the TFH was not going to assault until Dawn at the earliest, Maurice decided to catch some sleep and then see what this ceremony was all about when night fell.
The Ceremony was the investure of two new Underpriests, one Earth and one Air. Both Earth and Air were sharing mysteries, sealing their pact and alliance with this promotion. Air got the resources of Earth (Air's own raiders and recruitment had been effectively ended by the Dyvvers teams) and Earth got the benefit of a properly powerful Cleric for the first time since Barkinar left. It also got a shock- troop arm in the form of a horde of Bugbears.
Maurice got to witness the full might of both temples. He could not see how the TFH could beat them. Rank upon rank of humanoids, humans, ghouls and ghasts. Lots of ways to paralyze. Lots of things to kill paralyzed people. And sheer numbers. And to think these were the two weak temples.
Maurice finished the night by figuring out some secret door mechanisms which he knew had to be there based on mapping and hollow areas. This gave the TFH more knowledge of the actual layout of the temple than most of the troops had, and this ability to move quickly and surely through the temple was very important later.
Meanwhile Ellyllyn had gone over the layout with the team and the following was decided:
The Ghouls are the most dangerous
Then the leaders
Then everything else.
Start by killing the isolated Ghouls by the Harpies. Go through the "Flappy Room", since it seems abandoned, killing anything there and doing a quick sweep for magic and/or treasure. Use the back corridors to get to the suspicious secret door that probably leads to Leader quarters. Kill everything there. The next priority is the other set of ghouls, but further planning will depend on whether the alarm is raised.
In their favor the TFH had several useful new tactics. One was the "Illusionist in a Box". This involves placing Brandon on a Tenser's Floating Disk, with a sturdy box around him, giving a view out only and providing him cover from random missile fire, oil tossing, etc. Brandon has only one Phantasmal Force, but it lasts while he can concentrate. With his wisdom and con, that is around an hour. Tenser's Disk was designed to pull a pile of treasure out of a dungeon at a dead run. The coins don't tip or fall off when you do sharp turns. Therefore this is a way to move the illusionist around and point him (and his illusion) at things. This has a bonus that the Disc has extra capacity and a fair amount of loot can just be tossed around the outside of the box.
Another was the "Chakram of Doom". This is based on the need for a general-purpose, believable illusion. The goal is to prevent the Temple from guessing that they even *have* an illusionist. The funny box is just to protect treasure or something. Brandon is just a cleric, and possibly only a part-time member. But everyone knows that Tenser is sitting around powerless because he made a cool weapon for Bekka. Who knows what it can do? So in essence, if Bekka tosses the Chakram and shouts "TENSER" (the "command" word), Brandon fills the air with chakrams....fanning in a rainbow from the original and striking each and every person in the area once. For 1d6 damage, since my house rule on illusions is they can do a maximum of 1d6/level of the spellcaster. Since the chakram is known to be made of meterorite steel I was soft and allowed the damage to be 4-6 hp (since the actual chakram did a minimum 4 points of damage). This is a simple, visualionly illusion that won't trigger disbelief. Very sweet.
Signals for magic missile illusions. Various strategies to loot while fighting....Maurice and Ellyllyn were designated looters since they were marginal in a straight fight (all of Ellyllyn's spells were tied up making fighters stronger or in Tenser's Discs). Who takes over if Suyana and Ash go down. Etc.
Finally they were ready. They got in without trouble....Maurice was still inside to open the gate. A quick briefing later, they went down to the Harpy/Ghoul area. Killed the first batch. No response from the others (module says they ignore noises). Killed the rest, minor surprise when secret door outflanked them, but they covered it OK. Killed the Stirges without incident and found the Ring of Shooting Stars (unidentified, of course). Went around and through the secret door. Tripped the alarm rigged to the far side of it (no way to detect or disarm, since it goes off if Romag is inside and is triggered by using the door. Only Romag is supposed to use the door).
Romag made a very bad choice. He ducked into his alcove to grab some items. If he had just run (60% chance) the Earth temple would have had leadership in several crucial future incidents. As it was, Maurice spotted him entering, and revealed him by pulling open the curtain. Bekka and Ash's mountain lion cut him to bits without much fanfare (since he had been sleeping and had no armor).
Suyana charged the undercleric who decided to Command her to "sleep" rather than work the door. If Romag had gone this way, she might well have died there. Instead, Rodriguo and Ellyllyn carved up the undercleric after a furious charge....and kicked Suyana awake the next round in time for the Captain of the Guard.
The TFH pushed hard and the Earth troops gave. Their leaders put up a short and fierce fight, but once through them the Chakram of Doom swept away the missile troops like chaff.
Only two in the outer chamber were found. That meant two more went to spread the alarm. They barred the door and considered what to do next while the thieves did a quick loot of the bodies and chests. They also decapitated the bodies to prevent Raise Dead.
It is important to understand that the Temple has a highly evolved strategy for responding to a serious invasion and it had been set in motion. While the Earth troops attempted to gather and cope, Air, Fire and Water were preparing small but nasty expendable strike teams to cut off any retreating party in the upper level. If the TFH lingered too long, their chances of escaping alive were slim.
On the plus side, they'd eliminated all of the real leadership of Earth. Their defensive plan was in motion because it was a good one and they were well trained, but their highest ranking person was now a Ghast, and there was no real leaders left, just a lot of NCO's.
The TFH decided to leave the door closed and cut around using the secret passages that probably only the slain leaders knew about, and to counter-ambush anything waiting outside the door.
By this time the human troops had mustered and the ghouls were just arriving on the scene but the humanoid troops were a bit behind. Someone was watching the corridor and shouted. The Ghouls and Ghasts, in a blood frenzy, violated the careful plan (send only the Ghasts in until the Paladin goes down, then swarm with Ghouls. Use Missile troops to kill anyone paralyzed), and attacked en-masse. Fire-trapped flasks of oil and the Chakram of Doom cleared the Ghouls, but the Ghasts kept coming. After a round of panic, all Undead were slain, but Bekka and Suyana were down.
Here is where the lack of leadership doomed the Earth Temple. One of the NCO's poked his head around the corner to see what happened. Brandon instantly responded with a Chakram illusion, wounding the NCO. The NCO failed his morale check, allowing the party to load up another Tenser's Disc with the two downed party members and run, leaving a few Fire Trapped items behind to discourage pursuit. If he had shown decisive leadership, Bekka and Suyana might have died right there, and he might have bought precious minutes for the humanoid reinforcements to arrive and the upper temple ambush to get into place.
But he didn't. So the party was free to go.
They ran smack into the late-coming humanoids, who were supposed to support the Ghoul attack....which never came because those ghouls were already dead. They had a huge multi-fire crossbow and some longbows, but their coordination sucked, as some of the larger humanoids charged, blocking the missile troops.
Brandon did a "cave-in" illusion, briefly pinning the charging troops. Ellyllyn Slept most of the missile troops. Rodriguo stepped forward and started killing. Battered, bruised, out of spells and with two fighters down, the party just ran.
They escaped the Air, Fire and Water troops by less than 5 minutes. These troops were delayed because Fire wanted to cast Protect from Fire on its troops (for reasons you'll see later). When the Black Temple found out later how close it had been they were furious with the lesser temples. In all, this was a very near thing.
In spite of all setbacks, the TFH realized it had killed all of the dangerous things in the Earth Temple. They did a quick round of healing (using Keoghtom's Ointment), rememorized spells and went right back in. The Air, Fire and Water troops were tired, on edge from the Ceremony and the alert that followed. They were not doing extra patrols. Earth was responsible for most patrolling anyway (more human troops) but their troops were demoralized and huddling in their rooms, waiting for someone to take charge. Kelno would have risen to the occasion, but the Ceremony and the subsequent search for the TFH throughout level one had left him in need of recovery, so he was sleeping to get spells back when the TFH returned. As were all of the other Temple clerics and magi (invisible intruder sweeps and full intruder alerts blow a lot of spells).
They snuck in again using invisibility and the secret passages. They killed the four Earth Elementals (Suyana's protect from evil was not negated, so she used a +3 dagger and Bekka used the Chakram from a levitated position to slowly kill the things). They looted the Earth temple, killed the one patrol that interrupted them and then went from room to room, killing quickly and efficiently. No one escaped. No one spread the alarm. Realizing everything was dead, they then carried away anything remotely of value (copper pieces they had spurned in the first invasion were found in a different room used to pay off some bugbears...just hours after they left), and burning everything else. Bodies. Furniture. Everything. The Temple was well stocked with oil, and they had no desire to face another army of zombies. The temple is extremely well ventilated. I'm sure this activity was visible from the outside, but no one on the second level noticed, and all of the patrols were dead.
For a final insult, they sprinkled the Earth Temple with holy water, Ash planted seeds and they Plant Growthed flowers and healthful herbs in the Earth Temple. They placed some Continual Lights on the walls for good measure. Ash called it "Restoring the Balance" Everyone else called it "trashing the Earth temple".
The TFH returned to camp with literally tons of loot. They transported it to Hommlet, leaving Kelno to face the fact that in one day his mighty alliance with the Earth temple had been reduced to literal ashes. There was nothing left of level one but gelatinous cube, which was happily eating the ashes.
As always, the TFH's timing was excellent. They picked the one day when all raiding parties had been pulled in for the ceremony. They did not have to chase down stragglers and no leaders were left to form a new Earth temple.
In fact, even the recruiting station in Nulb had not survived the night. The Fist of Dyvvers ( assisted by a member of the Brawlers, who, with the aid of a formerly-druidic allied Sword of Green Dragon Slaying, subdued a green dragon) attacked Nulb, the "center of piracy and banditry, source of the evil pirates". They were right, of course, but the recruitment station had already been destroyed. They just anything substantial, doing more harm to the Good Spies than to the Temple. Murfles would have died, except she was off training. Y'dey almost died and escaped only with the use of a Fly potion. Fortunately her cover was not blown, since she got her holy symbol before leaving. Otis had his servants slain. Both Otis and Y'dey lost most of their equipment. Otis was incapable of handling the Fist; he decided to run when he took about 50 hit points and endured a stinking cloud. But they did kill everything in the Waterside Hotel... Dirk's whole little group. They would have done more damage, but Y'dey convinced the angry townspeople and mercs that attacking would be suicide (she was right, and her augury did not betray her... the Fist had a lethal illusion ready that would have cut the heart out of any concerted assault of weak, zero level troops.) The Fist left, with loot and eeps enough to hit their breakpoints and train some more. The TFH was sobered at the first-hand reports of the Dyvvers "heroes" They may be popular, but they wanted them no where near the Temple...they are irresponsible and don't know friend from foe.
It was time to train. Even though they were on a tight deadline, they needed the additional power. They almost failed in their first assault and would have little chance against the denizens of the lower levels without a power boost. The party after training would look something like this:
3 L5 fighters (1 a Paladin)
1 L7 Druid
1 L4 Cleric/L5 Illusionist
1 L5 Mage/L6 Thief
1 L7 Thief
This is a huge improvement over the L4 average they had before. But it would cost them at least two weeks, because of the illusionist levels. The decision was made to only spend one week, and live without the cleric abilities and with a less powerful illusionist, using accellerated training to get the rest in just a week. Events, however, would overtake them.
My previous posting was a little off on the levels attained. The fighters made it to 5th level and Brandon to at least 3rd, but Maurice and Ellyllyn did not advance.
Maurice elected to stay behind and watch the Temple. Ellyllyn began the slow process of casting Identify until she understood all of the magical loot taken from the Earth temple. Also, the word had gotten out that the TFH had pulled a major haul out of the Temple, and that more was bound to come. Hommlet swiftly became a "boom town" filled with the most opportunistic merchants of all... the Magic Merchants.
These are people who have small stocks of mostly useless magic items, things like +1 Studded Leather or +1 Morning Stars. They specialize in various areas and know the buyers of Greyhawk...running from boom site to boom site and then back to specific buyers who may have made requests years ago. That +1 Morning Star is not worth much to a party of humans who all use swords, but what would the Bugbear King pay?
Hommlet responded to the incursion by cracking down on security. They sealed the town, and strangers were not admitted without strict alignment checks. They were having no part of Chaotic Evil traders spying for the temple, especially with the likes of Tenser in town. Robilar could not pass the check, but Tenser vouched for him. Since Princess Jolene was in town (albeit incognito), they had a reusable source of Detect Evil.
Ellyllyn swiftly encountered the Loadstone taken from the Earth Temple and had to make the trip to Verbebonc to get it Exorcised. Because the roads were now safe, she went alone, for speed.
Maurice gave the temple a day or two to calm down and went to watch. He witnessed a gathering of different people outside the temple, waiting for the evening guard patrol to open the door. These included Air Temple bugbears and Black Temple humans carrying bundles of goods, and making some exchanges. It also included Wat and Pearl, who had a brief but fascinating conversation with one Feldrin, a nondescript man who nevertheless was given much respect from the Temple humanoids.
Feldrin was quite pleased because he swindled a Magic Merchant on the way to Hommlet, swapping a worthless Misdirection scroll for a Scroll of Protection from Undead. He'd been paid for the Protection scroll and swapped it at the last minute. Feldrin gave the scroll to Wat, explaining that it was for the Fire temple, and it covered both past and present payment for Wat's services. Wat bragged about how he "spiked" the potion of invisibility that another merchant was bound to sell the TFH.
Nervous about all this, Maurice decided to follow Wat when the doors were opened. It may seem like Maurice had too easy a time following patrols about, but remember that he is invisible, by now has Boots of Elvenkind and Halflings in general can move silently when they choose. Also he is tiny and most of the guards are large humanoids. He can fit in spaces that no one thinks to check.
In any case he followed Wat in. The Temple stairways were now guarded by Water ogres and Fire bugbears, and the corridors to the former Earth area were sealed in stone! Someone had built new walls! In essence the Fire and Water areas were extended to cover the level 1 corridor and the stairways, the rest was sealed off.
Where one troll once guarded the Hydra there were now several trolls. More trolls guarded the old Bugbear guard room. Wat was then taken through the Half-Orc's chambers to the plush, garish meeting room of the Fire Temple. Here he was debriefed, Maurice got to listen to the Temple side of the TFH invasion and found out that for some reason (Speak with Dead on Romag had Romag blaming the short, invisible person who removed the tapestry for his demise) Maurice was marked for death by someone called Redhand. Also, Maurice learned that Ellyllyn had been selling Invisibility spells to the Thieves Guild to help defray her expenses. He was mortified. Finally he learned that Wat was indeed hired to kill Ellyllyn....not for anything she did, but because right now she is alone and vulnerable.
Maurice decided that following Wat was the best way to save Ellyllyn. He followed Wat to Nulb, where he got together with a mapmaker and Pearl to plan an ambush. Once Maurice felt comfortable that he knew where the ambush would take place, he used his knowledge of Kron Hills (his homeland) to find a shortcut and get intercept Ellyllyn before she hit the ambush.
Maurice succeeded, and after a short lecture to Ellyllyn about doing things with spells that would get her in trouble with Suyana, they decided to spring the ambush. Ellyllyn was short on spells (as she had been selling Invisibility spells again....) but had an Enlarge spell for Maurice and a magic missile spell or two for herself.
Maurice snuck up behind Wat. Pearl had rigged a cliff to collapse on Ellyllyn, and if she avoided that, Wat was to shoot her with poisoned arrows, hopefully simply assassinating her (in 1st edition, any assassin who surprised someone had a flat percentage chance to kill them outright).
Ellyllyn, warned about the avalanche, just escaped it (it was bigger than she expected) and fired a volley of Magic Missiles at Pearl. Wat stepped up to kill her and Maurice back-stabbed him. Wat turned around and battled Maurice while Ellyllyn chased Pearl. Maurice prevailed, but was poisoned by Wat's blade venom. Luckily for Maurice, Wat's good poison was on his arrows, and Maurice was able to (barely) handle the damage caused by the poison. Maurice bound the wounds of his foe so they could interrogate him later.
Ellyllyn chased after Pearl. Knowing she was chasing a Thief into an area she had prepared, Ellyllyn took an erratic path. Since Pearl was getting away, Ellyllyn spurred Pearl's horse directly after her, triggering a deadfall that broke the horse's legs. Ellyllyn rode past and paused at the forest.
Pearl was hurt, but had time to prepare the forest. Ellyllyn had the sharp senses of a cat, so she took it slow and careful, tracking Pearl by her sounds, staying out of her direct path. In the end, Pearl had to rest. Ellyllyn caught up and, at the last second, made the decision to capture her. Hauling her out was slow business.
Maurice put Pearl's horse out of its misery, went through Ellyllyn's saddlebags (curiosity, honest! but Ellyllyn's incriminating stuff was on her person) and waited nervously for her to return. It seemed to be taking her a long time. Normally he'd be sure an Elf could handle a human in the forest. But Ellyllyn is such a city elf!
Ellyllyn did return and the two of them returned with their prisoners to Hommlet. The interrogation was cut short though. A mercenary army under the leadership of one Droene had set up camp on the trade route to Nulb. Only the animal watchers that Jaroo had put out spotted this movement of troops, but it was not ignorable.
Droene, for his part, was a skilled Wild Coast mercenary captain. He ran afoul of one of Iuz's plots, and Iuz's chief enforcer was sent after him. This is an Ogre Prince, cursed or blessed with the ability to absorb the skills and abilities of anyone of royal blood killed by his hand. Iuz had used this bloodline for centuries, sending any new Enforcer to kill a smart young human princling, giving him an assassin with the strength of the strongest ogre in the bloodline and the brains and fighting skills of a human warrior.
In spite of all this, Droene somehow prevailed and took the life of this enforcer. Unluckily for him, the curse worked both ways. He was the bastard son of some minor Keoland prince and even his flawed blood was enough to absorb the entire Ogre Curse.
Droene was unable to control it. He began to change into an Ogre, becoming more bestial and violent. His most loyal troops stuck with him though, concealing the change. The "Ogre" was just a mercenary bodyguard they hired. At this juncture Iuz instructed his High Priest in the Temple to salvage the Enforcer Blessing. Agents of the Temple told Droene that he could only recover his humanity if he killed those of royal blood while under the special blessing of Iuz. And coincidentally, they knew where he could find two...Bekka and Rodriguo.
The temple planned to have his little army flatten Hommlet at some point when Burne was gone and the TFH was away. By the time the army (paid for with recruitment points) moved across Gnarley Woods to Hommlet, the TFH was back and, worse, there were rumors of a Training Hall with powerful adventurers in town. So instead, Droene, on his own initiative, modified the plan.
If the TFH returned to the Temple, he'd ambush them with the whole army. If not, he'd pick of magic merchants until they were sent to deal with him. He had no fear of the Hommlet militia and if anyone of true power emerged from Hommlet, he'd fade back into the swamps.
Droene's luck was just bad. Jaroo and Terjon had put their heads together, thinking about how they could trap the next large band of bandits that threatened the town. Jaroo had set up "killing zones" all around Hommlet....nice high ground hills with plenty of cover. Perfect for attacking any militia stupid enough to charge up the hill. Except that the cover was Hallucinatory Terrain. And the place where a commander could view the entire field had a nice large oak tree that Jaroo could lurk in. Furthermore, Jaroo had stockpiled a large number of fire-trapped crossbow bolts (he has to load them himself, but once that is done he can give crossbow troops a single, fire-trap salvo), and Terjon adapted Lareth's glyphed rugs to the purpose of laying down a quick minefield. Burne's Badgers had a fair amount of Dust of Disappearance, so sneaking the rugs out and burying them was not much of a problem. Finally, all killing zones had little burrows where the new dwarf troops could sneak in and bury themselves, while appearing to be empty, rolling hills.
Jaroo and Terjon figured they could handle Droene's missile troops, his light cavalry and their supporting cleric and illusionist. But they were concerned about his heavy cavalry and the monster (which could blow through their Glyphs and keep coming). The disposition of Droene's troops had been scouted briefly by Jaroo in bird form and it appeared that his heavy cavalry was concentrated in a "clearing" they had prepared to trap leaders and baggage.
If the TFH could just sneak up and hit the heavy cavalry while the Militia handled the rest,everything should go just fine!
Well, OK, the TFH was agreeable. They covered with invisibility and got into position. The cavalry seemed to be dismounted, and they rigged another "Ash seals them in" situation. The Hommlet attack went off pretty well, fire trapped crossbow bolts sailed harmlessly through the "trees" that were supposed to give the enemy troops cover and detonated. The light cavalry was provoked into charging Glyphs of Warding (helped along by Terjon's Ring of Mammal Control), and the enemy Illusionist wasted her power on people who had Detect Illusion running, and Elmo (who signaled to the others how to react) was the only one who felt the illusory lightning. That was the only action for the illusionist, since Jaroo boiled out of the tree as a tiger and started tearing her apart. The cavalry leaders were Commanded and Held, the archers did not survive the follow-up attack by the Dwarves. Not enough prisoners were taken, because the Dwarves got carried away and started killing the wounded (they were used to more limited resources, where you can't waste your food on the enemy).
In the clearing, the TFH swiftly realized that they had walked into a trap. Droene cared nothing for his army at this point, he would sacrifice anything to get at the royal blood. His most faithful and powerful troops broke up the TFH's charge, letting only Rodriguo through to fight Droene. They pelted the spellcasters with flasks of oil and made a severe nuisance of themselves. Only Maurice managed to get past the interference to help Rodriguo, and together Maurice and Rodriguo only managed to drive Droene into a berserk frenzy.
Droene grew even larger, abandoned his weapons and grabbed Maurice and Rodriguo. Everyone in the party tried to stop him, but they were out of position and could not muster quite enough. Droene broke the backs of Rodriguo and Maurice, snapping them like twigs. Rodriguo's Orcish spirit (the portion of him that is royal) flowed into the Ogre.
Then Bekka's chakram sailed across the battlefield and slew the Ogre (it was very weak, and she was Enlarged). She then absorbed the Ogre, Rodriguo and Droene. She went down writhing, her features mutating.
Everyone else finished the fight up quickly, in something of a panic. I gave Rodriguo's player the choice of who to aid...would his bestial, orcish nature back the Ogre, or would it support the pure blood of his battle comrade Bekka. It was a hard call, but he decided to help Bekka and she forced the Ogre and Droene into submission.
The broken bodies of Rodriguo and Maurice were taken to Verbebonc to be raised. Oddly, Rodriguo looked wholly human. When the Raise Dead was cast, I gave Rodriguo's player the chance to convert his character to human (with loss of strength and con, but increased level opportunities). Rodriguo instead embraced his Orcish nature and returned, slightly diminished, to his prior form. Bekka in the meantime had struck a deal with Droene. He aids her with his years of battle experience and she makes sure his name is remembered, not as Droene the Monster, but Droene, slayer of Iuz's Enforcer, ender of the Ogre Executioners....as a hero.
Bekka can also choose to tap the Ogre at any time, gaining the Strength and Endurance of 20. So far she has resisted the temptation. Heh heh heh....
Brandon's Master Illusionist trainer turned out to be none other than Phanstern (of the Slave Lord modules, also in this campaign one of the people who slew Lolth). Phanstern was delighted to find that Brandon was mature, about his own age, not some young punk that Tenser insisted he train. Also he was pleased that Brandon was a beginner...most illusionists don't get to trade until they are already powerful, which means they all research the same spells (Phantasmal Forces, Invisibility, Hypnosis, etc). Using Burne's mentorship of Ellyllyn as a model, Brandon chooses spells Phanstern does not have in his spellbook as his "Training" spells and then trades them with Phanstern for the "bread and butter" illusionist spells. Between this arrangement and the spellbooks from the Ogre adventure, both Brandon and Phanstern would eventually fill their entire 1st-4th level spellbooks (there are not too many 1st edition non-Unearthed Arcana Illusionist spells).
Maurice was still marked for death. From ESP- and Suggestion-assisted interrogation of Wat, they learned that Redhand is an invisible assassin that has the Avenger contract on all temple leaders (to prevent their feuds from getting out of hand). Her MO is to just appear out of nowhere, stab the victim, decapitate him and then vanish into thin air. She works with some mage called Falrinth (the same person who is supposed to own the Orb of Gold) but is otherwise independent of the Temple.
They decided to lay a trap, assuming that Falrinth or Redhand would be watching... either via magic or the kind of invisible shadowing that Maurice always does. They put Maurice under heavy guard and continued the training past the first week. When Maurice was elsewhere, they rigged his room full of magical and mechanical traps, and also rigged a trap-door so that Suyana could go from her room next door, roll under his bed, and provide both protection from evil and her sword against any attack. Maurice then began to relax his guard. His bodyguards seemed to get more lax. He seemed to take less precautions before sleeping. Actually an illusion of him went to bed, and he eventually filled it in with pillows under blankets and the like. Maurice was living invisible.
Redhand finally bit at the bait. She appeared in his room, sucked up the Glyph of Lightning that was on the rug and stabbed the pillows.
All hell broke loose. Fighters burst in from all sides, including under the bed. Ellyllyn Thiefkiller, who was running Detect Invisible, snuck around the back. Redhand pulled back, and made a run for the rift in the air that was the gate to the Mirror Of Mental Prowess that she used to enter. Ellyllyn stabbed her from behind, killing her. She then loudly announced, "There's a gate right in front of me".
I made people respond instantly. I also rolled surprise for Falrinth, who lost a precious segment or two before he could react. Rodriguo, who was closest, leapt through the rift. To a man (woman, elf, halfling, whatever) they leapt through, Suyana grabbing Ellyllyn and taking her as well).
Falrinth failed to react fast enough to shut the mirror. He had one segment free and was running Mirror Image and Minor Globe. He could Dimension Door away, abandoning all of his spellbooks, and, worse, his quasit familiar. Or he could fry them now with Burning Hands, hope for a good initiative roll and bounce a lightning bolt off the back wall next round, hammering them twice without harm to himself (because of the Globe). He chose the latter, because if they got his familiar, he is nothing but a 4th level mage with no spells, and has too many enemies for that.
Everyone winced as the heat from the Burning Hands cracked the Mirror. Saving throws were not terribly successful and many minor things burned, boiled or melted off the party. The Mirror Images did protect Falrinth from the first round of attacks, at least enough for him to hope.
Then initiative was rolled. He just was not fast enough, and he was butchered by the fighters. The party then watched in awe as a gate to the Abyss opened up and the quasit grabbed Falrinth's struggling soul and hauled it, screaming, to the Abyss.
The party was now without spellbooks in what appeared to be a sealed room. It was filled with treasure, magic and mundane, and had some spellbooks (and fortunately Read Magic was among the loot). The party slowly picked its way out of Falrinth and Redhand's lair. The many traps were easier when done in the wrong direction. They managed to salvage the Explosive Runed map and all of the treasure. Without Tenser's Disk they had a hard time getting the loot out, but Enlarged fighters combined with Levitation did the trick.
This additional treasure mandated extra training time. Furthermore Ellyllyn almost killed herself, training, reading a Tome of Clear Thought and identifying item after item (she lived for about a week with a 3 Con....1st edition identify is really harsh).
As the month ended, the party began digesting the intelligence from Wat and from the Earth Temple Loot. Pearl finally broke (the Spectral Force of the Abyss taken from Falrinth's end convinced her to try to lose the three levels, move her alignment to LN and join the Cuthbert faith) but she did not know much. Wat was executed after he was pumped dry of anything he knew.
Redhand was dead and no one in the Temple knew. Maurice though it would be a good idea to let Redhand's "little black book" fall into the hands of Kelno. The Earth Temple papers showed a joint Earth and Air plan to assassinate Belsornig anyway. Maybe if Kelno knew there would be no retaliation he would try something on his own....
In other news, the Druid teams did a pretty good job of returning the forest to its usual balance. Those who transgressed were punished, their lands and hunting grounds given to their enemies for a generation. Settlers were driven back by the CE team. Elves who crossed the bounds were poisoned by Orc assassins. humanoids who raided outside their territories were punished by Rangers and Elves. And the rangers who crossed the line? Their bodies were sent back to the Ranger Guild...if they had enough friends they could be raised... if someone really hurried...
The Druid teams returned at the end of July to train. The peace of forest was restored, but it was fragile. Much depended on what they did after the training was complete.
In Dyvvers, members of the Brawlers who were still waiting for their Fighter/Magi to finish training helped put down a rebellion caused by a Lawful Evil priest cult exiled from the north. They scored a fair amount of magic in the form of Battle Axes and Slings (the Axes were swiftly bought by a merchant and resold to the Dwarves who are gearing up for the Orog wars). In fact, loot from the TFH and the Dyvvers teams was being bought by merchants and run back and forth; the TFH, the Druid Teams and the Dyvvers teams were all buying marked-up gear found by other teams.
Brawler tactics have gotten pretty simple: Sneak up an invisible dragon to the enemy gates. Have it breathe. Charge in and finish anything still standing.
The TFH ends July having beaten off various Temple revenge plots and is quite strong now, ready to assault the temple around August 6. Fighter levels are 5-6, Brandon and Ellyllyn now have 5th level spell use, they have Brandon's cleric abilities and Ash is a 7th level druid. But they've lost precious time. They know they can't begin for 6 more days, but Lareth's deadline looms in two weeks. There will be no more stops for training or identifying loot.
While the TFH was finishing their training, the Temple was bracing for an assault. "Give me just 10 days," said Lareth, "Until the 10th night of August. On that date the Druids will be crushed by my hand."
"Very well Lareth. Iuz informs me that his troops will be ready to attack from the forest on the 11th. Will Dyvvers be ready for its part?"
"I have them eating out of my hands. Yes, Dyvvers will not fail to stab Furyondy in the back. Furyondy will have the choice of defending its peasants from the Dyvvers Riverine forces or to meet Iuz's host with sufficient force. Either way they lose. Either way, Dyvvers falls further into chaos. It will be the urban form of our Dark forest. And when this is done, if the Temple defenses have not yet killed the TFH, they will fall at my hand."
"We'll base the defenses around the Temples. If the trolls can't do the job, our Enchantments will. They'll meet a warm welcome if they try again. Certainly we can hold out ten days."
Two days later Kelno made his move against Belsornig. He broke the charm on the Troll Chief and that personage immediately defected with all of his troops to Fire (who, after all, *did* hire him). Belsornig was called out to single combat with Kelno, with Silence spells to enforce "physical" only. Belsornig's apprentices and Ogres stood by helplessly, held off by Kelno's horde of Bugbears.
Belsornig should have won. He was better than Kelno. But long ago, Kelno was a thief. In his off-hand he wielded a Dagger of Venom with the most powerful poison he could find. Kelno also traded for a Potion of Speed to even the odds. The battle was close, and it is unclear who would have won. But Kelno got lucky, his dagger injected venom and Belsornig was overcome.
Kelno produced threatening letters to Earth and testimony of his bugbears that Belsornig had long been threatening them. He also insinuated that the fall of Earth was directly related to Belsornig's treachery. These allegations were thin, but in a CE hierarchy, having the brass balls to call out a better warrior, especially with the Redhand Contract hanging over him, gained him a lot of respect. Kelno had already put his new undercleric in charge of reforming the Earth temple. Now he dominated the Water temple as well, since it also was now run only by underclerics.
But Fire was transcendent. It had over 20 trolls working for it and the brunt of the temple defenses fell to it. While Kelno laced the Air temple with spell after spell, and arranged a complicated series of wave attacks to overcome anyone who came down the shaft and invaded the Temple using his shrine, Fire's trolls had a straightforward plan to surround and kill any intruders... using the nice wide corridors around the Fire temple as their conduit.
The outer defenses, where the Hydra and Bugbear lay were given to 9 trolls and a fire resistant subchief. It was thought that this alone might be sufficient to stop the TFH. Finally, the upper temple was sealed so only one passage remained, and it was guarded by the remaining human troops, all Black Temple troops. These were highly trained and motivated, and they were supposed to simply run, raise the alarm and hide behind the portcullis (where the Harpies and Ghouls used to live). Once this was accomplished they release over two hundred giant rats into the corridor. The outer Trolls then pick off people in the confusion.
To prevent further losses, the guards simply watched the one remaining stairwell door. If it opened, they raise the alarm.
Well, it might have worked. Except that Wat knew about another way to get into Level 1. You can climb halfway down the air shaft and in through a secret door. And since the Temple troops had pulled all the way back to the stairwell, they could no longer see any activity on the top level. Given the illusory powers of the party, they probably could have got past other observers anyway.
Maurice used this path to scout the upper defenses. He then enlisted Brandon's help in investigating the Level 3 area that, according to Falrinth's map, might lead right into the Air Temple's leader quarters. Maybe they could again ambush a temple leader without anyone raising the alarm.
This time Maurice was not up to the challenge. Kelno had noticed that the area just below his quarters had recently become occupied by a Hill Giant calling himself "King Scropp". Scropp was supposed to be working for the Black Temple but he and some bugbears were talked into setting up on their own by Kella (who then took Scropp's form...her mission from the Druid of Gnarley Woods was to investigate the Black Temple and she had a device that let her Shape-Shift into any kind of Avian, Reptile or Mammal). Kelno only knew that Scropp was not doing his job and therefore vulnerable. He sent an "envoy" to the "King" and worked out a mutual defense pact, where either could run to the other for sanctuary and would raise the alarm for the other.
Maurice opened the door to Scropp's kingdom, covered by an Illusion that the door was still closed (courtesy of Brandon). He did not open any doors, carefully skirted the Gong and started climbing the stairs. Two steps up he hit a Glyph of Warding which caused a gust of wind to hurl him into the Gong. *CLANG* Bugbears, Ogres and the Hill Giant boiled into the room. Maurice was still invisible, but the Giant was instructing his Worg to "Fetch" and one of the Ogres appeared to be casting a spell.
Maurice ran. Brandon, seeing a horde of humanoids chasing a wolf, sent an illusion of halfling scent running down the corridor toward the Will-O-Wisp room (with a scent of dust and abandonment where he stood). Maurice correctly chose to join Brandon, and the pursuit went the other way. They decided not to explore further.
Meanwhile the TFH received a note via the Thieves Guild in Cant, which described a hostile takeover of rival jewel merchants and discussed future business opportunities. Translated from the Cant, and with consideration of the source (Kelno), it meant that Kelno had "settled" with Water, and that if Air was attacked, the TFH would fight the whole temple but if Fire was attacked, the TFH would fight only fire. Kelno had eliminated one hated enemy and figured that if the TFH went for Fire, one or the other of his enemies would die.
They decided that the tension was real but if they looked weak they could not count on Kelno staying out of it. The TFH filed the memo for future thought, but decided not to let it affect their planning.
After digesting the scouting information, the TFH decided to attack the Black Temple humans, and to do it by actually moving the wall that gave the Portcullis Room access to the outer corridor. In fact, it was possible (using Stone Shape, Silence and several Enlarged fighters) to not only get access past the defenses but to isolate the Portcullis room from the rest of the Temple defenses using their own wall!
All the Black troops knew was that somehow the TFH had gotten in without raising the alarm. The Lieutenant triggered the Rat Trap, dooming his companions in the corridor....he had thought they were already dead...and the moved wall meant they had no escape.
The TFH had no trouble killing the rank-and-file, but Feldrin almost escaped. While no one had Detect Invisible running, Maurice made a "Hear Noise" roll, and Detect Magic (and later a Locate Object - Dagger) spotted his location well enough for a salvo of spells and blind attacks to get him. He was nailed partly because the moving of the wall confused him and he lost a precious segment trying to turn left into a non-existent corridor.
They captured Feldrin alive, and he was quite a catch. He was a key member of the new defenses... his task was to sip potions of invisibility and to keep the TFH in site. He would then wait until they were engaged with someone and tell the next layer of defenses where they were and how the TFH was doing.
The module said he'd sing when caught if it would save his life. He had to agree to convert to the faith of Cuthbert (costing him several alignment shifts and therefore levels), and he had to be a willing traitor. This he did, after getting Suyana's word of honor that the agreement would be kept. From him they learned of the general character of the defenses, the rise of a new Earth Temple group and the fact that all Temples, but especially Air and Fire were deathtraps.
Of Lareth he did not know much. He knew of the 4th level but had only visited it once. Of their plans he knew only that Lareth was entrusted with destroying the Druids and the Temple was entrusted with ridding the world of the TFH.
Some of the bodies of the Black troops were removed to prevent any magical interrogation. Speak with Dead works on ashes and they wanted the capture of Falrinth to be a mystery. On the way out they moved the wall back and killed the swarm of rats with illusion and sword. They also removed the three gnawed skeletons. A Troll saw them leave, carrying out bodies, but it was discouraged from following. Those left behind were burned, and anyone who might have seen an illusion or the moved wall was actually removed from the Temple.
One sleep session later, the TFH came back. They again used the level 1 secret passage to come into the bottom level of the temple from the rear. They killed the minotaur guardian quietly, and managed to sneak all the way to the outer Troll guard station.
By coming from this side (and getting surprise) they turned a "10 trolls hitting you from all sides" fight to 4 trolls followed by 5 trolls in a constricted corridor intersection. Trolls did what trolls do... they mauled the fighters. But the spell support and timing was just enough that the trolls never broke through. One troll did raise the alarm, though, and the TFH pulled back from the guard station after quickly burning the bodies and removing any obvious loot.
Since the Water Temple was on the way out, and the party was still powered up (and healthy, thanks to Keeghtom's ointment), they decided to look around. They found the living quarters abandoned, but upon entering the Temple itself were assaulted by gargoyles and a very dangerous looking animated, rolling statue. They never found out what the statue did, since Ellyllyn shot it 3 times with a Wand of Paralysis and the third shot took. They defeated the Gargoyles when the east door flew open and a bunch of Ogres, with two underclerics following came to stop the defilement. Another brief, sharp fight ensued, as the clerics tried to get to the Inner temple and the TFH tried to stop them. Their Protect From Good spells were helpful until Ellyllyn (neutral) paralyzed one. The other was cut down by Maurice as he opened the door to the Inner Temple. The Monster in the Temple started to act, but Ash, who had an action left, tossed a whole Potion of Sweet Water into its pool.
This monster is immune to almost everything except Purify Water, which causes it severe damage. A Potion of Sweet Water affects a huge area, and is effectively several hundred Purify Water spells. The monster exploded and the TFH began looting.
A cryptic poem found in the wreckage hinted that Prince Thrommel was still alive and could be found in an octagonal room on the third level.
No one else came to follow up. Kelno decided he was better off in his own Temple, Earth was blocking the back exit and Fire had taken enough casualties and was holed up in their area. The TFH looted properly, but forgot to burn the Ogre bodies (a rare oversight). With spells running down, they continued out the back way. Just beyond the secret door between Water and Air, the whole might of the Reformed Earth Temple waited to greet them.
They saw a carrion crawler inches away, with a bunch of Gnoll archers and a single cleric, beginning to cast a spell. Brandon, knowing how dangerous Carrion Crawlers are, let rip a nasty lightning bolt illusion (from Ellyllyn's Wand of Paralysis) and most of the monsters died on the spot. The remaining forces were quickly dispatched and the TFH lost no time leaving.
All of the underclerics were carried out. One Earth, one Water (alive) and one Water (dead). As the party reached the surface (moving walls again, so they came up a "blocked" stairwell) they were jumped by a Fire Temple suicide squad.
These were the Fire Temple bugbears, goaded on with a Potion of Humanoid Control (quaffed by the Half-Orc cleric). They had long poles with target shields that they charged the party with. These shields had Glyphs of Fire. The party scattered, and most of the damage was soaked by the fighters (several more potions and ointment doses boiled but nothing else serious was lost). Brandon, invisible because he got Redhand's ring, went over to see who was giving the orders. As the rest of the party tried to finish the bugbears, the Half-Orc gave another command. As one, the bugbears turned around, touched their hands to their backs and triggered Glyphs of Warding in the backs of their cloaks.
The bugbears were roasted, but so was the TFH. Brandon hit the cleric with a Color Spray before he could do anything else, and he dropped. (the cleric intended to simply leap down the shaft after that attack, and give a signal as he fell whether or not to follow up with Trolls. It would hurt, but, hey, they've got plenty of clerics)
The TFH picked up the subdued Fire Temple cleric and ran. They had just enough capacity to carry everything, but were on the ragged end of exhaustion and were very lucky that the Cleric did not have the chance to signal the rest of the Temple to follow up the attack.
It was a good days work, though, and the TOE was down to just the Air and Fire temples. The TFH took the time to transport the prisoners to the Church of Cuthbert jail cells and do a quick interrogation. From this they learned that on the 8th, the Fire Temple would be hiring a mage, and would probably meet this mage outside with a considerable portion of its remaining strength.
This seemed like an ideal ambush opportunity: a chance to defeat the huge Troll forces of Fire in detail. What is more they could then attempt to walk right into the heart of Fire's defenses, pretending to be the mage and the escort... covered in illusion.
An ambitious plan, and possible only because the TFH had been very good about physically removing every single intelligent person who saw Brandon do anything in combat. At this time the Temple still had no idea that Brandon was anything but a Priest of Ulaa.
Meanwhile the Druid of Gnarley Woods prepares for his graduation ceremony on the 10th. He has done everything possible to ensure security (the training camp was in a very strong Elf Tribe's village and the perimeter for a mile out looks like the defenses to the TFH's camp...riddled with traps, wild animals and Elf scouts. He also has many nasty surprises ready using the resources available to him). Still, this seems inadequate. In his heart he knows that he is an administrator, an excellent one, but not a warrior. Furthermore Lareth is the master of the unexpected. The Druid is not. He prefers the predictable. No matter what he does, he feels he is missing something. Even Ellyllyn's excellent suggestions (alignment check everyone, rack Detect Invisible and Detect Evil where possible, look for spies, be suspicious of everyone) did not help much. Some of his followers are evil. He can't avoid this, and to the best that ESP can tell, they are loyal. He prays to Beory for guidance and hopes that the guidance is in time.
The TFH hurried back, to be in position when Fire tries to hire its new mage and alchemist. The Mage was accompanied by his apprentices and a bodyguard, and seemed ready for a fight. The Fire delegation consisted of an undercleric (the last one), the werewolves and several trolls.
The TFH gets a very nice ambush off, backed by some luck (only magical missiles hit the person protected by Protect from Normal Missiles, no spells below 4th level hit the person covered by the Minor Globe of Invulnerability and the bodyguard mostly watched helplessly as people were killed around him.)
When it was over, only some healing and some spells were lost. There were no prisoners taken, but the intelligent, CN sword talked itself out of being destroyed ("Give me to a CG ranger! I'm just loyal to the man, not to any cause. I bodyguard people...that's all!")
The complexity of the illusion taxed Brandon's ability, so they did not use it until after he had detected and defused the various glyphs of warding that Feldren warned them would exist. As they approached the Fire Temple guardroom, Brandon brought up the illusion.
They were met by a single, huge troll. This troll was cordial, showed them their new quarters (where the old prison cells were), showed them the invisibility defenses (strings of beads hanging from the ceiling, watched by guards, with Glyphs and mechanical traps to slow and harass intruders), and escorted them toward the Fire Temple. As they approached, the various guards peeled off and followed. At the door to the Fire Temple, they were surrounded by Trolls and increasingly nervous.
No one had remembered to make a signal for "OK, we need to attack now". Two party members independently decided "enough is enough" and attacked before the door was opened.
This was a very good move. Ellyllyn using her first action to wizard-lock the door was an even better move. The trolls ravaged, and more slammed into the party from behind, having run around the corridors just as Alrrem planned.
It took everything the party had to stay on their feet with the trolls all through the party formation. Bekka was using her Boots of Striding and Springing, Ellyllyn had to catch Maurice in the backblast of a Fireball and even Brandon had to put himself out as a target to prevent Ellyllyn from getting eviscerated.
The door gave a great crash in the early rounds, but then held. In the next two rounds, the party finished the trolls, but were ready to go home. They got no respite.
A Dispel Magic washed over most of the party. Many key spells were removed, including the Wizard Lock. The doors flew open and 12 Salamanders charged!
Well... four with mirror images... but it was bad enough. Only Suyana's Protect from Evil kept them from turning the fight into a rout, but their hot spears could reach through and they just wouldn't die.
Brandon managed to Silence the fighter before he could use his Rope of Entanglement. Alrrem used his Ring of Fire Elemental Command to call down a Flame Strike on Ellyllyn, Ash and Brandon (Ash lost Protection from Fire in the Dispel....). Ellyllyn was alive only because her familiar ducked under the Tenser's Floating Disc containing Brandon-in-a-box. Brandon had the box burned away around him but took no harm. The fighter charged and only Ash was here to stop him. Ash took major wounds, tried to turn into a bear to heal, failed to heal enough and was killed on the next round.
Ellyllyn paralyzed the Fighter. Alrrem called down another Flame Strike. Ellyllyn lived again because Suyana (under a Potion of Super-Heroism) laid-on-hands, bringing her to full before the Flame Strike trashed her again. By this time Ellyllyn's familiar had ran up the corridor. Suyana paid for that act of charity with her armor and her sword. She was now fighting Salamanders with a dagger and the padding of her armor, practically naked.
Rodriugo was fighting the Salamanders pretty much by himself, backed by lightning-bolt after lightning-bolt cast by Brandon. Luckily for the party they just were not catching on to the illusion. Unluckily they had many hit points.
Bekka used her Boots of Striding and Springing to carry herself and Maurice over the line of Salamanders and therefore able to charge Alrrem. But the moment they entered the Temple their luck changed and they could not seem to hurt him.
The assault did force Alrrem to pay attention to them. As they closed, Alrrem roasted them with a Wall of Fire. They did some damage, finally, but then Alrrem Commanded Bekka to FLEE (back through the Wall). If Bekka had not been able to leap clear with her Boots, she would have been overcome by the Wall of Fire.
Alrrem then turned to face Maurice, who was poking at his back. They both were on their last legs, but Maurice got lucky first.
The salamander fight finally ended, and the TFH, with many items destroyed, no potions, no spells and only a handful of hit points between them, had to decide what to do.
They came this far, they were going to loot. They shut all of the doors and burned the Trolls. They did a Locate Object looking for Snowflake the Quencher, lost by the Grand Marshal of Furyondy so long ago. They found it in the coals (Locate Object is not blocked by metal, unlike almost any other detect) and used an Unseen Servant to get it out...to its joy and Suyana's. Snowflake (a Frost Brand) was used to quench the coals of the fire temple and the party did its usual "strip everything valuable and burn the rest." For the first time the party recovered a book on the Elemental Planes (Fire, of course). In the other temples such books also contained evil rituals and Suyana burned them over Ash's protests.
Now they had a real problem. Laden with loot, one party member dead, in no shape for a fight. How could Kelno resist?
They decided to cover the party with invisibility, leaving only Elllyllyn visible (because she is running Tenser's Disks and they are visible anyway). Let them guess the strength of the party....all they know for sure is that 15 trolls, two clerics, two werewolves, a mage, his bodyguard and the Fire Temple Conjurings were beaten. Do they want to face that team with their bugbears?
Lacking hard evidence... the party guessed right. Kelno's watchers saw Ellyllyn covered in soot but moving well enough. They saw the pile of loot. And were not encouraged by the fact that they saw no one else but could hear armored, enlarged warriors moving.
The severity of the fight ruined the TFH's plan to immediately hit the Air temple. They had to Raise Ash, and he had to recover for as long as he had been dead. That means the 10th at the earliest. While they were at it, they Raised Alrrem, just so they could interrogate him. The Cuthbert High Priest was not amused, but given the price the party had paid already in his service, he was willing to raise Alrrem...so he could stand trial and be executed later.
Meanwhile the Druid's prayers had been answered...after a fashion. Lareth had dared the Deck of Many Things, and while it did vastly increase his power, there was one little bad card: Flames. He was incapable at this juncture to do anything about the enmity of a Greater Devil, and hoped it would hold off a month or so before harassing him.
One of the things Lareth had gotten from the Deck was a Book of Vile Darkness. Now in my campaign, there is only one of each Book, and one like this is clearly the provenance of Evil Gods, traded around for their favorite Clerics. Hadreck of Iuz had just read the Book, and it was a Horned Society cleric that was supposed to get it next. But the Deck reached out and altered fate, giving Lareth the book but warning him that it had consequences. The Horned Society cleric was so mad that he petitioned Baalzebul for help. Since this is an evil Book, cheating does happen sometimes. But Iuz has been an annoying neighbor and does not deserve more power, so an ambitious Ice Devil was dispatched to either recover the book or punish the malefactor.
Lareth had already read the book. The Devil observed him and his power structure and decided there was a chance, however slight, that a direct conflict could end with the Devil becoming a Lemure for a century. So instead he decided to tell Lareth's worst enemy in the world all about his secret plans. Since Suyana was unlikely to listen to a Devil (and the Lemure possibility existed there too), the Devil approached the Druid of Gnarley Woods.
He could not just tell the Druid Lareth's plans. That would be a good deed, and devils are not capable of that. So they bargained. The Druid would not give his soul (since by definition he can't be both a druid and evil), but he was willing to wager the souls of himself and his followers against the souls of Lareth and his henchmen.
In the conflict to come, if the Druid or his followers died, the Devil could collect up to 17 souls. If one of Lareth's men died or if Lareth died, he would swap soul for soul. A Reincarnate spell would be needed for each soul, to pluck them away from the Abyss into the "care" of the devil. So if the Druid died, the bargain was unlikely to work. If everyone died, the devil got to try to take them all, but might be stopped by the Gods that Lareth worships.
For this the devil gave the following information:
So the Druid had a chance to not only defeat Lareth, but damn him. If he misses the chance, he ends up fighting a guerrilla war with Lareth, and opponent who he feels is unbeatable in a dynamic venue.
As the sun rose on the 9th, the Druid realized how to defeat Lareth. He had to do the one thing Lareth could never expect, could never even comprehend. He had to lose. He had to sacrifice himself and all of his followers to get Lareth into a place where he could be beaten. And who could possibly beat Lareth?
The only people who ever surprised him, who ever beat him at his full strength. The Team from Hommlet.
"One more day". Kelno was told by the Black temple that if he just held out one more day, they would kill the TFH for him. But he must keep them distracted on this of all days. This is the day the Druids die. They promised him the world... but Kelno counted the bugbears and the leaders and knew that the Black Temple had abandoned him. He was alone in the temple... the zoo-creatures and renegades like Scropp hardly count. Let them come. Kelno lived to see his two great enemies die, one at his hand and one at the hands of his enemies.
Who would have thought that the TFH was so strong? Lareth was right about them, curse him. Just once Kelno would like to see Lareth be wrong. Ah well. If they just venture into my Temple, I'll show them what it means to trifle with Kelno, master of Air!
Kelno awoke to the shouts of his bugbears. He grabbed the sniveling mage Spugnoir who he hired to operate the Air Elemental Censer and ran for the Stairway, stopping only to grab his Robe of Office and the chest that contained the Air temple Treasury.
He spent a tense night in his Temple, waiting. But the TFH never came.
Kelno was the victim of misdirection. The Druid needed the Temple to be 100% certain that they knew exactly where the TFH was. The TFH was raiding Air. Of course they were. Well... actually Otis, Elmo, Y'dey, Terjon, Murfles and, for a little while, Jaroo were raiding the temple. Dressed up by Murfles to look like the TFH. Otis made a very frightening Bekka, much to the amusement of his brother.
The likeness was poor, but to bugbears it was good enough. Some volunteers from Burne's Badgers (including Dwarves) were invisible and used to carry stuff (simulating Tenser's Disks) and Otis's Sprites were providing the Sleep spells. There was also much entertainment value from the Wand of Wonder, which had such annoying ground-zero effects as Dispel Magic and turning weapons to flowers.
They hunted down Kelno's bugbears and killed them in groups and in singles. These bugbears had Glyphs of Paralysis on their shields, so they were not ignorable. They also stripped everything that remained on level 1 and level 2, removing even the doors from the hinges. Then they lead the gelatinous cube around to make the temple sparkling clean. It ate so much that it split, and they had to kill one.
The decoy team was strictly forbidden to enter the Air temple or the 3rd level. They were instructed to kill anything they found and remove anything of value. They wanted nothing standing in the temple except the Air Shrine itself. Kelno listened to their activities but did not dare leave his Temple. He consoled himself with the thought that at least he was doing his job....the TFH was right here, trashing the Temple and he was just thankful that they did not have the courage just yet to try the Air Temple.
This was a kind of fun run, where everyone got to play a different kind of character. Ash's player could not make the session and there was no way I was running the climactic conflict with Lareth without everyone present. It was also much more fun to kill the hordes of bugbears controlled by Kelno with a team that could have problems with them. It would have been boring with the TFH. Suyana's player usually had a terrible time rolling dice and in this adventure we learned why...both priests of Cuthbert could not make a die roll to save their lives. One took two tries to kill a goblin (that is... two mace hits, several tries). Another spent a whole combat trying and failing to beat up a female bugbear.
People consecrated to Cuthbert attract the wrong kind of attention when raiding Iuz's Temple.
Anyway, the Druid detailed his plans to the TFH, which was recovering from injuries sustained against the Fire temple. They decided to set up in a ditch, in view of the ceremony but fairly far away... so no spell backblast would hit them. Ash alone chose to be close, taking the form of a tree.
The Druid had his people arranged by alignment around him, with the training instructors filling the hole where NE would be. They were dispersed enough that it would take about four fireballs to get them all (a hill in the middle helped somewhat), but on advice from the Devil could not disperse further. It is important to realize that only Ash, Jaroo and the Druid himself knew anything about the dealings with Infernal powers. One of the instructors had a Staff of the Magi and used it to Enlarge all of the troops. The fighter types on each team got a better Enlarge spell, and the Druids rode in slings around their necks, to better target the Call Lightnings that they all would have running once the Feint attacked. Certainly they looked formidable enough... any attacker would face a tremendous missile and spell barrage.
There was more going on than just this battle. On the word of the Druid, the King of Furyondy decided to risk his kingdom and his crown. He deployed all of his troops to meet Iuz's host, covering the Horned Society with the Knights of Veluna (Veluna's border was being watched by the local noble troops, raised to free up the Knights). The Dyvvers border was vulnerable. The Druid then conferred with Tenser and Robilar. Robilar was given command of a small army of humanoids, raised very quickly from the restored prestige of the Druids among Gnarley Woods tribes. He had to block the river and stop any Dyvvers Raiders. Robilar prefers a 50/50 mix of humanoids to humans, but said he would do what he could. Tenser was supposed to make sure that the Dyvvers troops knew they opposed not just some humanoids but Tenser and Robilar. The idea here was not just to stop the Dyvvers betrayal. It was also to alert Iuz to just who was spoiling his invasion.
Iuz had already sworn to kill Tenser and Robilar. The Druid hoped he could not resist the chance to pay them back for past deeds. Years ago, when Robilar freed Iuz and Tenser nearly killed Iuz, they learned that Iuz put them at the top of his Hate List. They went to their brother Mordenkainen for help. Between them they cast a series of wishes (about 4) which would do the following:
They hoped they could kill Iuz in one round, before he could teleport away. This being Iuz's home plane, they had hopes that the killing would stick. The Druid offered them a chance to put this plan into motion, and also promised free Reincarnates if they were killed in such a way that nothing else would serve.
The TFH was told this:
If you fail, the Forest falls. Without the Druids, Robilar might not be able to control his troops and Dyvvers will get by him. Iuz may still turn the tide and will have the resources of the Forest and Dyvvers to aid him. Evil follows evil. If the forest falls into Chaos, Dyvvers is already gone and there will be another realm like that of Iuz stretching from Furyondy's border down the Wild Coast.
Furyondy may survive the current invasion, but it will not long survive Evil on all sides. Fail here and the world will be less than it is now, and the last bright light in Flaness will go out.
The Druid bet everything on this plan. If he is wrong, there is a very real chance that the Furyondy alliance will go sour as well, and that Dyvvers will never recover. He does not yet know why Dyvvers has gone so dark, but he knows from the Devil that Lareth is able to count on its aid. Unsaid, and only the Druid, Ash, and Jaroo know this, is that the Druid will pay with more than his life if he fails. This is a gamble, but Lareth is going to learn what it means to play in the big leagues now. The fate of nations and gods are at stake, and he will learn what it means to fight a foe who no longer counts the cost.
It was key to the plan that the TFH let the Druids lose. They had to stay out of the fight until it was clear that Lareth had his victory. Without that resolution, there is no way the Auguries can hint at Lareth's victory.
Lareth's divinations showed no real change. The addition of seven people (humans, a halfling, an elf, a half-elf and a half-orc) did not change the count of opponents. And he was getting a "more powerful" reading anyway. But the Auguries assured that he would defeat the druids, and that the victor of the conflict would achieve all of his goals. (Of course, Lareth did not know that defeating the druids would not guarantee that he was the victor of the conflict....)
Lareth had a very powerful team. He learned from his defeat at the hands of the weak, rank amateurs that the TFH represented in the Moathouse. Even beginning leveled people were dangerous. It was Lareth who was behind the recruitment of every henchman in Dyvvers. It was Lareth who made sure that only the selfish neutrals and the chaotic and evils survived the first round of conflicts. It was Lareth's henchmen who formed the membership of Dyvvers's Hero teams.
Yes they raided the temple troops. It was easy..they had inside information. But Lareth's concept was both simple and brilliant. Let the upper temples do the raiding. Let our "heroes" defeat their raiders. The raiding wealth goes straight from the victims to the Greater Temple, and there will be no good armies or new adventurer teams thirsting for revenge....the "heroes" have already paid back the "bad raiders" for their deeds. We can always recruit more humanoids.
More insidious was the anti-clerical movement. None of his heroes were clerics. (he had some, but they "died" early....chaotic evil priests are hard to pass off as heroes). Many of their foes were clerics. The Druids were provoked into striking back at Dyvvers civilians, and vilified. Clerics were also presented as Furyondy's spies. The result was that the people of Dyvvers started emulating their heroes. The only people calling alarms were discredited clerics. The timing was exact, timed to peak right in the middle of the Iuz invasion.
The Dyvvers heroes did not defeat Lareth. They helped him ravage the forest, and then staged a mock battle so they could get clear with the treasure. The Nulb raid was aimed at the spies, although Lareth saw no reason not to smash up the Earth station too, for cover.
All of this, plus the Deck of Many Things, made Lareth a High Priest and his henchmen ranged from 4/4 or 4/5 (multiclass) to 7th level. And he had 15 henchmen. Plus a green dragon. Half of his forces would give the TFH a terrible fight. All from ambush would kill them without trouble. For this battle he had over a month of potion and scroll support from Hedrack and Senshock, and access to the Candle of Invocation.
But the Druids were his problem. He had a good plan. The Elf magi were drawn off by the simple expedient of Barkinar and Senshock clearing away defenses with Fireballs (using a wand of fire), heading straight for the trees where the Wood Elf civilians stayed. These spellcasters were protected by four huge trolls, carrying a huge metal mantlet. Those trolls did turn out to be fire resistant, and the combined Elf spellcasters plus Jarroo had a hard time with them.
That battle was a draw. The Elves made a good showing but were too vulnerable to Deggum and his Wand of Ice Storms. Barkinar and Senshock Teleported out and Deggum, with invisible bugbear archers, executed a nice fighting retreat that tied up the Elves for the rest of the night. (Most of the bugbears were eventually killed, but Deggum escaped.)
The Real fight opened with one of the Detect Invisible watchers screaming a warning. As people turned to react, a gigantic (Enlarged) green dragon appeared and breathed on the assembly, neatly covering all of it with its (Enlarged) poison gas cloud. The Druid and the instructors were incapacitated with Dust of Sneezing and Choking, as were the few Elf guards remaining.
Simultaneously (this approach was clearly rehearsed) two fireballs broke out, and a "wall of ice" (actually an illusion) struck the leaders on the side that the fireballs could not cover).
Fighters with massive, reinforced bows (adjusted to Hill Giant Strength) leapt free of the Dragon and shot the "Fighters" and their Druid charges as they fell...finishing all of the druids so they would be dead, not merely out.
This assault was brutal. Only Rhianna's team (as the NG team they were opposite the side that Lareth attacked...Lareth chose the side with the Instructors for his assault) had its fighter and Druid standing, and only because Ash in Tree form was providing them cover enough that their designated killer missed.
Brother Smythe brought down lightning on the head of the Dragon, frying it and a couple of riders. Rhianna stood her ground and fired Storm Giant sized arrows at the Dragon. It had a Protect from Normal Missiles on it, but Rhianna had purchased magic arrows from the Merchants earlier and was certainly not holding back here.
The dragon was slain, but all the rest of Lareth's warriors were still fighting. The round ended with two Insect Plagues dropped over the battlefield....and another Insect Plague dropped over the civilian encampment.
It looked bad for the Druids. Only the dragon had been slain, Lareth's forces were unhurt and they could presumably slay the Druid and his instructors as they choked and sneezed. A fire elemental that boiled out of the campfire delayed the fighters for a round. Lareth's spellcasters dropped into the Plague. The early attempts to kill the Druid and his companions were foiled by an Anti-Animal Shell.
Meanwhile the TFH was powering up, with Bless, Haste and Protection from Evil spells. Ash was changing out of tree form and took a round to douse himself in oil and set himself on fire (to drive off the insects). Rhianna and Smythe ran, too weak to endure the Insect Plagues. Ellyllyn's familiar also ran.
A very confused melee followed, as pockets of people protected from insects encountered each other. A major battle raged on the top of the hill, as the followers of Lareth finished off the Instructors and tried to kill the Druid, and members of the TFH began arriving to stop them. Timing was good for the TFH, and several were slain before they knew what happened. As they mastered the hilltop, the first wave of giant-sized, undead attacked....the druid's former allies were being animated and sent through the Anti-Animal Shell.
This wave was stopped with the "Tenser's Chakram of Doom" illusion, and Deggum's crow familiar got an eyeful as each and every insect in the area was slain by a tiny chakram (well 90% were slain). At this moment the Temple realized they faced an illusionist... way too late.
The party broke into small teams to hunt for Lareth. They found two underclerics attempting to animate more dead. Each undercleric had a Fighter/Mage bodyguard. The one fighting Suyana's team was prepared and nailed them with a Stinking Cloud. The other was surprised, and the Bekka/Maurice team supreme brought both down so fast that they were able to rush over and save Suyana's team from the follow-up to the Stinking Cloud.
Wounded, the last cleric ran, screaming for Lareth. He had the Candle of Invocation. Lareth came running (he had just sent another wave of undead after the Druid and most of the remaining TFH members were dealing with that).
Ellyllyn had just recovered from the Stinking Cloud (Suyana was still out) and saw (with detect invisible) that Lareth had a big devil and three smaller devils trailing him. She did a double-take and realized that they were not acting like friends of his. Lareth shook off Rodriguo's rope of entanglement (with free action) and grabbed the Candle as his undercleric was slain. Maurice and Ellyllyn were running up, but too late to stop his Word of Recall...
And then the three Barbed Devils and the Bone Devil became visible and ruined his spell by poking him with spears. The battlefield rang with the telepathic gloating of the Devils: "YOU SHOULDN'T HAVE TAKEN THE BOOK... FOOL!"
Ellyllyn and Maurice took advantage of his startlement to back-stab Lareth. Actually they clubbed him over the head. He'd put Glyphs on his back and Maurice felt that the groin shot he used earlier might not work any more... Lareth was just crazy enough to glyph his underwear. As Lareth went down, Suyana started to recover, and with that the Devils decided to depart and await events.
Of his entire force, only the Druid survived. But he had arranged for the local Archdruid and the Druid of Welkwood to appear after the fight, on the Archdruid's Chariot of Sustarre. Priests of Zilchus were also flown in to raise anyone who could be raised (not many... Lareth went for the humans first when making undead, and most of the remainder were humanoids). Mostly the plan was to use Reincarnate and follow up with Polymorph Other to get most of them back in their original forms.
At this point the diabolic connection had to be explained to the rest of the TFH. Suyana was furious, and instantly lost her Paladin powers, pending Atonement. The Archdruid himself flew the TFH out to Verbebonc to give her the guidance of the Church of Cuthbert.
There was a heated argument, but in the end the Atonement was light. Finish the Air temple. But do it the Cuthbert way. Just walk in, announce your presence and start killing. No sneaky stuff. This Atonement was slated for the 11th, after resting for spells, at roughly dawn. Until this was done, Suyana was just a fighter.
The Cuthbert priests begrudgingly agreed to help out with the recovery of the LG, NG and LN members of the Druid teams who died fighting Lareth. The alliance between the Druids and Cuthbert was strained this night, but the TFH had a lot of credit and converts by then, and it really was not their fault, nor the fault of the innocent followers of the Druids, lead astray by their plots.
The first battle was won. Lareth had fallen and the hopes of the Temple dashed. But tomorrow the armies would contend, and who could say where victory would lie? The Druids had survived, but at a terrible cost. Would the victory be enough to turn the tide of history?
After receiving their Atonement, resting for spells and rushing back to the Temple area after Lareth's defeat, the TFH had to allow Suyana to plan the next assault.
She chose to assault through Scropp's little "Kingdom", and began the fight by hitting the alarm gong with her Holy Cudgel. The humanoids boiled out of the rooms and were slaughtered by the TFH.
The party then marched upstairs, clearing the traps with massed Dispel Magics and brute force, and then walked over to the Temple.
Even Suyana admitted that charging through the double doors to the Air temple was needlessly risky. She allowed the party to go through the secret passage, but only if they opened the door and announced their presence with a battle cry before attacking.
The party had good intelligence on the Air temple defenses, taken from magical interrogation of the former Air temple undercleric (who was later put in charge of the short-lived Earth temple revival). The place was laced with glyphs, if the crystal accouterments were disturbed an alarm would sound and a weird Drelb guardian would appear. Later defenses also might cause a lightning elemental to be summoned. If the large censers were disturbed they'd fill the area with deadly smoke, and if doused in holy water would summon demons. Kelno had rigged the censers with holy water from the "adventurer equipment" storage room so that the slightest disturbance would spill holy water on them. Any of the glyphs that triggered whirlwinds would summon demons. Finally Kelno had hired an old nemesis of theirs, Spugnoir (the mage who Maurice set on fire way back in the first moathouse assault) to work the Censer Controlling Air Elementals.
There was also a plan to have multiple waves of bugbear assaults with the eventual goal of pushing the party into the center of the temple. If you stay there too long you get transported to the Air Elemental plane ("Sacrificed"). Since the decoy team killed all of the bugbears, this, at least, was not a problem.
As the party charged, it became clear there were other complications. The Water Temple ogres (which the party failed to burn earlier) had been turned into Zombies, and were chained to the various defenses. Any assault would cause them to move, activating all of the temple defenses.
Prepared for the defenses, the party did their best to defuse them while Suyana charged. Telekinesis prevented one vial of holy water from falling, the other fell but had no effect because the incense had been put out with Pyrotechnics. Suyana used Snowflake's Detect Magic ability to thread her way through the glyphs and engage the Ogres, with Bekka and Rodriguo following her footsteps. The Lightning Elemental and the Air Elemental attacked, but Ash took the brunt of it (immune to lightning and lots of hitpoints to resist the Air).
Meanwhile Brandon and Ellyllyn (also running detect magic spells) picked their way through the temple, trying to get to the secret passage that had produced the Air Elemental.
They found Kelno, 18' tall, in the middle of casting Hold Person. Ellyllyn disrupted his spell, while Brandon, invisible, slipped around and killed Spugnoir.
Kelno decided to ignore Ellyllyn and nail Brandon while he "flashed" visible to do his attack. He stabbed with a monster sized Dagger of Venom and struck with an even larger Rod of Smiting. Brandon was pretty tough, but he was facing a priest on his home ground. Kelno rolled a natural 20, injected Brandon with poison, and Brandon, with an excellent save against poison (due to his Cleric class) nevertheless failed the save and died.
Kelno then turned to face Ellyllyn, brushing aside her magic missiles. Maurice attempted to save her, but without the benefit of Detect Magic ran afoul of a paralysis glyph and froze in place. Ash had his hands full dispelling the Elementals and the other fighters were pinned down fighting the Zombies and the Drelb. Kelno attempted to skewer Ellyllyn with his dagger and smash her head off with his Rod. Fortunately for her, she managed to dodge the dagger, but the Rod sent her crashing to the ground. As Kelno wound up for a killing stroke, Bekka and Rodriguo got free and Enlarged arrows and a Chakram finally brought Kelno down.
The remaining zombies were quickly defeated, but Brandon died for real. Ash was not racking any Neutralize Poison spells, because for months the party had carried Keeghtom's Ointment. In a way Brandon's death was a late revenge of the Fire Temple... between the need to heal Troll damage and the doses destroyed by various fire effects, the party did not have the ointment when they really needed it.
Kelno lived to see his two great enemies Barkinar and Alrrem die. He even managed to slay a priest of Ulaa in his Air temple and give the TFH a hell of a fight even with all of his support stripped away. The master of the "weakest" temple died well.
Meanwhile, the Host of Iuz checked its assault on Furyondy when they found the entire strength of Furyondy arrayed against them as they exited the Vesve Forest. Instead they pulled back and dug in.
The Furyondy Troops, lead by the Knights of The Hart chose a tactic of attrition, sending only their best warriors (5th level and above) to attack, pulling out when they were wounded, healing them and sending them back. Attempts to sortie while they were retreating or healing were met with massed missile fire from the rest of the army. In the Gygax Greyhawk universe, Iuz took a personal hand in this battle after some distractions in the south. Demons distracted the Knights and therefor the "Leaders" canceled each other out, leaving the humanoids to fight the zero-level humans. In this world, the Host of Iuz prayed for his aid in vain.
The retreat was cut off by the Druids of Vesve Forest, the Knights of the High Forest and the North Fort Heroes, who had not contested the advance of the Host earlier in the season. The hammer of the Knights of the Crown pounded the host against the anvil of the Druids, Elves and Ukko worshipers. Over the course of August and September the entire Host of Iuz ceased to exist. Combined with the disaster in the north (which happened regardless of Iuz's fate) against the Wolf Nomads, the armies of Iuz were left unable to mount any offensive operations.
The reason that Furyondy was free to pit its most powerful people against mere humanoids was because Iuz dared to challenge the Druids. Iuz counted on the subversion of Dyvvers costing Furyondy the support of its southern nobility, as the elite Dyvvers Marines roamed up and down the river burning and looting anything undefended. Instead the King Belvor IV of Furyondy made a secret pact with the Gnarley Druids, betting his Kingdom against their word that Dyvvers would be stopped before they could do any harm.
To accomplish this, The Druid of Gnarley Woods enlisted Robilar and a large but unreliable army of Gnarly Woods humanoids. Robilar put them to work building a flotilla of rafts. When the Dyvvers Marines started moving up river in support of Iuz's battle, they found the way blocked by a large force, headed by the legendary Robilar.
Normally disciplined troops can just push through humanoids, but not when lead by someone as personally powerful as Robilar. Furthermore Tenser appeared in the early hours of the confrontation, adding the weight of an Arch-Mage to the deliberations. Finally the Dyvvers general agreed to meet with Robilar. Tenser covered his back, using Shapechange to appear as a hill with two large trees sticking out of it (the trees were real, and his Amulet of Non-Detection that he bought from the TFH prevented his discovery by Iuz later)
Iuz, checking on the South, noticed that his diversion was stalled. When he found that Robilar, whom he had sworn to kill, was ruining his assault, he decided to take Robilar out. Iuz was no fool and knew just how to do this. He cast Anti-Magic Shell on himself (a standard Demigod ability), and used a Limited Wish to ensure that this particular Anti-Magic Shell would fail to defeat his magic resistance. Earlier he had made Limited Wishes protecting him from Dispel Magics cast by either Mordenkainen or Tenser, so nothing was likely to bring the Shell down. This makes him a God with full powers inside an Anti-Magic Shell (and requiring a +1 or better weapon to be hit)
He then teleported in and used his 16th level Assassin skills to snap Robilar's neck, right in the middle of negotiations. Robilar was not saved by his Ring of Regeneration, since he was in an Anti-Magic Shell. Unfortunately for Iuz, Tenser was watching, and morphed into a Titan, swinging two giant trees (and therefore keeping out of range of the Anti-Magic Shell). This attack damaged Iuz because Titan's are so big that their "Hit Dice" are capable of damaging even Iron Golems. Shape-Change transfers such abilities to its user. Iuz was knocked about, but clung to Robilar's body and teleported away.
But the Wish that was to get the Brothers together against Iuz if any of them were attacked was carefully worded. Witnessing an attack on another brother was sufficient to trigger it (the attack on Robilar could trigger nothing on its own, because of the Anti-Magic Shell) Iuz arrived in his stronghold to find himself faced by Tenser again, plus Mordenkainen.
Iuz ignored Mordenkainen, since his Anti-Magic Shell would be proof against anything he could do for at least a round. He jumped Tenser, enduring further battering from hasted, titan-wielded tree-trunks. When the Shell impinged on Tenser, he shrunk to human size and Iuz's impossibly strong fingers wrapped around Tenser's neck, crushing the life out of him....
Well, almost. While this was going on, Mordenkainen calmly walked over to Robilar and grabbed his Ring of Regeneration. He then started casting Mordenkainen's Disjunction (a spell that Iuz could not possibly have a contingent wish against, since no one other than Mordenkainen knew of its existence). This brought down the Shell, ruined Iuz's Cloak, trashed all of Robilar and Tenser's items except a Rod of Lordly Might and a Robe of Eyes (both made by Tenser and thus having some chance of resisting the Disjunction).
Iuz, his back to Mordenkainen, then suffered an attack from Mordenkainen's Faithful Hound, which got lucky and finished Iuz off before he could teleport away or do anything else.
Thus was the prophecy of Iuz's doom fulfilled. Clubbed into submission and thrown to the dogs. All the scheming against the Druids and Cuthbert religions (who alone have a common spell to make clubs magical) proved in vain.
Iuz moldered away, but his works remained. This worried Mordenkainen, who had heard that Lolth's death caused more permanent changes to her works. The Temple is sustained through Iuz's magic, and perhaps the Orb of Gold was the key. Mordenkainen decided to stay and search through Iuz's stronghold for clues. But first Tenser and Robiliar needed to be returned to the Dyvvers battlefield.
Mordenkainen "raised" Robilar with the expedient of giving him back the Ring of Regeneration and using a Limited Wish to wish him alive for 1 minute. He lived, then died with the Rrng on, then was Vanished back to the battlefield by Tenser (in our campaign Vanish only works on non-living things). He woke up 10 minutes later, with no equipment except his Ring and his Rod.
Tenser changed into a ghost and Teleported back (his defense against teleporting low is to be ethereal)
Robilar was pretty confused when he woke up but quickly understood he was in the middle of a battle. When Iuz slew Robilar, the humanoids lost discipline and a fierce fight erupted. At first the humanoids got the better of it but eventually discipline told. When Robilar was sufficiently recovered, he clobbered someone, took his armor and missile weapons and started picking off Dyvvers spellcasters. Eventually Tenser appeared and ended the fight by threatening to flatten the walls of Dyvvers if the Marines did not back off, and by threatening to mop up the humanoids himself if they did not calm down. A Delayed Blast Fireball or two made his point. No one really wants to fight an enraged Archmage.
As the day closed, the southern mage guilds informed the northern army that a Dyvvers attack had been foiled by the Druids of Gnarley Woods. That was good news, but when word of the means (Robilar and an army of evil humanoids) got out, paladins across the Knights of the Crown had to put in for Atonement. King Belvor lost his paladinship for good (he knowingly committed a chaotic act and was not sorry that he did it) but was allowed to continue leading the army until the Host was destroyed. He promised to abdicate as soon as the situation stabilized.
The remaining Clerics of Iuz prayed in vain to recover spells lost in the fighting. Except for a few Command and Hold Person spells, the servants of Iuz were silent.
In the Temple, the Greater Temple closed up shop. They sealed the stairways, like they had 30 years earlier and prepared to wait out the defeat.
(Remember, the TFH destroyed three temples in 6 days. The knowledge of Level 4 was a secret from them until they caught Feldrin and not enough time had passed for the Temple to be sure anyone had been captured. The TFH was so thorough in smashing and destroying everything that it is not even clear if the bodies were missed.)
Hiding worked 30 years ago. All of the "visible" troops had been killed. Even with the fall of Iuz the Temple was far from powerless. The alliance with the four Elemental Lords of Evil held, and while it held the various clerics of the Greater Temple could pray for and receive powerful spells.
Kella made sure she was in the party that found Scropp's "Kingdom". She faked her death (using Scropp's quite real dead body) and reported to the Druids. Since Iuz fell, the Druid told her to go back inside in another form, this time pretending to be a Succubus sent by Iuz to check up on Hedrack. As a Hill Giant Kella had the run of the Greater Temple but never got to take part in strategy sessions. The Druid hoped this would change. Taking the form of an outer-plane creature like a Succubus had its dangers, but Kella was up to the challenge.
And with that, the 11th of August ended.
This is a quiet period for the PC's while they trained, but in the larger campaign many major events are taking place.
The Druids hold a public execution of the various Priests of Elemental Evil, and of Lareth. The Priests are allowed to die well, in a manner suited to their chosen religion. This is because they were following their profession and alignment. The Druids don't object to Evil as such - the Priests of Elemental Evil played by the rules and were allowed to receive whatever "rewards" were due them in the Abyss based on their actions in life.
Lareth, however, attacked the institution of the Druids, and they needed to make an example of him. They listed his crimes and then announced his fate. Tenser drained him to zero level, and he was then executed, and his soul passed (via Reincarnation and the deal with the Ice Devil made earlier) to the custody of Baalzebul's court. There he would spend all eternity as a slave, in company with his (now much more powerful) henchmen who were forced to share his fate.
The message was clear. Play by the rules and we only kill you when you cross the line. Attack the Druidic Religion and our Gods will ensure that you will be punished not only in this life, but in the afterlife.
This is an insanely harsh punishment for Greyhawk, and people remembered. Druids are now treated with fear and respect. But the mask came off...many more people now realize that the Druids are not just nice guys who help the crops grow. They are a dangerous power and must be considered when attempting actions in their Forests.
In the north, the campaign against Iuz's host in Vesve Forest will grind until the end of the Fall, and the Knights of the High Forest will continue to mop up all winter (being powerful enough individually that winter is not much of a problem). The Wolf Nomads chase Iuz's northern army back to the Howling Hills.
The Horned Society did manage a successful campaign against the Shield Lands, but got diverted and sacked some Bandit Kingdoms because they proved unable to control their Bandit Kingdom allies.
The Orog Wars finally began in early August, and using surface-world magic and Dwarven organization, the campaign took only until September, with Burne, Rufus and the Badgers returning victorious.
Mordenkainen learned that Iuz had a contingency for if he was killed on his home plane (Prime Material). He made a deal with the Bound Demon in the Temple to store a "soul object" on her home plane (222) of the Abyss. This was easily done because given Iuz's lifestyle the Abyss was his next destination anyway. Further research also showed that destroying the Orb of Gold would make the Demon Lady of Fungi powerless for four days. This means there is a chance to go to her home plane and finish off Iuz for good, as well as to slay, rather than just bind, the Demon Lord.
The "Conspiracy to Kill Iuz" was formed. It consisted of:
The team was initially limited to seven, but in September it was joined by the Belvor, who abdicated and was now "Just a Fighter". Robilar thought the team was too heavy in magi, and requested another fighter. Since casting 224 Plane Shift spells to get out was an emergency plan anyway (assuming Delgath's Amulet of the Planes had been destroyed), it was assumed that at least one member would be dead, so the 7 person limit on Plane Shift was slightly exceeded. Because the Plane Shifts might just be necessary, Belvor used the last of his influence to get clerics all over Furyondy and Veluna to scribe scroll after scroll...
They promptly began enchanting items, scribing Wish scrolls and otherwise preparing for the day when the Team from Hommlet actually destroyed the Orb of Gold. None of them wanted to find out what Iuz would do if he ever got his godhood back. If the Demon was ever freed from the Temple, she could restore it. Byrne hosted this dangerous group of people, protecting them when Wishes and enchanting ruined their magic. Preparing would keep them busy until the Coronation of Princess Jolene.
Jolene was forced to leave Hommlet as August ended, with her fiancee Thrommel still missing. She began the Furyondy tradition of "Queen's Progress", where the would-be monarch rides through the lands, slaying evil wherever it is found. Any ruins, monster infestations or other problems troubling the peasants is dealt with personally by the future Monarch, without help from retainers or armies. This is also the traditional time to try to assassinate the future leader...Furyondy is no place to rule if you can't take care of yourself.
As the TFH returned from training, their top priority was to find Prince Thrommel before Jolene finished her Progress in mid November.
The third level of the Temple proved to be quite easy for the TFH. Their levels were now in the 7-8 range (9-10 for Thieves and Druids with easy experience charts) and they were shocked to slay the Will-o-Wisps in a single round.
They were used to organized opposition and had no trouble with single rooms with inhabitants that sat there waiting to die. (Level 3 was the "Zoo" and had many critters outside of their home environments). They lost some time after a Banshee encounter, where Bekka died, but otherwise the main challenge was to be sure that everything they killed was not Thrommel polymorphed or disguised as a monster.
Finally, late in the month, they discovered Thrommel, with a mix of Secret Door detection, Evil/Magic detection and finally True Seeing from a cleric scroll.
In spite of the fact that I gave Thrommel many more goodies than the module stated, there was no question of looting him. The characters understood how important it was to rescue him. In fact, the opposite was true...the amount of sucking up to him was quite impressive.
While everyone was polite and helpful, three stood out.
Thrommel took a little time to catch up on the last 30 years (Drow are real!? Their god is Lolth....and someone actually killed her!? Iuz is free!? Jolene is the Crown Princess? She was only 15 when I last saw her....) and to learn about the TFH's members, their goals and motivations. He then memorized/prayed for spells and flew off to find Jolene.
He found her battling Trolls, and spotted (with Detect Invisible) several invisible Horned Society assassins sneaking up on her. They were very surprised to have an Enlarged, enraged Ranger Lord facing them instead of Jolene's defenseless back. And since he was there to take the blows intended for her, Fragararch got the Final Word.
The TFH meanwhile cleaned out the last of the level, declared victory and left. They threw parties and started advertising for henchmen. The Druids of Gnarley Woods used a combination of Rock to Mud and Dispel Magic to fill the corridors of the top three levels of the Temple with stone, ending by covering the top level with a hemisphere of rock.
To all appearances, the TFH was done. The Greater Temple breathed a sigh of relief and prepared to hunker down for a while until the TFH broke up and went their separate ways.
Aside from a minor scuffle where Suyana rescued her trainer from one of his old enemies and Ellyllyn accidentally released a demon from a scroll found in the Temple Mage Laboratory, things were uneventful until the invitation to Thrommel and Jolene's coronation arrived.
The TFH were the guests of honor, and Thrommel did indeed intend to reward them for their deeds. Because they would have such good seats (front row center) they were targeted by a Horned Society plot. A bunch of Furies attacked them while they were bathing (in separate rooms at the same time....the suggestion and illusion powers of devils are quite powerful) and bound them with their Ropes of Entanglement. They then began a campaign of Suggestion that would have left the TFH programmed to kill Thrommel and Jolene, and do as much other damage as possible.
The Furies were quite careful, and even managed to capture Ellyllyn's familiar. What they didn't know is that Ellyllyn scribed a "Find Familiar" scroll for Maurice and he managed to get a Weasel. This animal ran out, found some Knights of the Crown and rescued his master (and eventually the rest of the TFH.) According to the Knights, this was one of several assassination attempts foiled at the 11th hour. The Horned Society was really pulling out the stops and calling in diabolic favors, but all of their efforts were useless.
Everyone was rewarded with a bit of cash (to cover expenses while appearing at the coronation) a Brooch of Shielding with the new arms of Furyondy/Veluna (instead of the +1 rings the module said... all ring slots were nearly full and a Brooch is similar value and always useful for any character class), and the following other honors:
Suyana: Knight of the Crown, Adventurer. When she is ready to settle down, the title Warden of the South Marches (ie the Kron Hills) will be hers (Suyana has 9 gnome henchmen out of 15, most of whom are from influential families).
Rodriguo: Knight of the Crown, Adventurer. Since he has aspirations to become the first Half-Orc Mayor of Dyvvers, this title allows him to ask for help from Furyondy but gives him the freedom to be independent.
Bekka: Knight of the Crown, Adventurer. Plus permission to ask other Knight Adventurer's of the Hart to join her on her quest to retake her homeland and restore the rightful ruler (herself).
Ash: Elder of the Land. And many fine words about how Thrommel looked forward to being his neighbor when he became Druid of Gnarley Woods. In spite of his deed, relations between Furyondy and Gnarley were still quite tense, and Thrommel could not offer more.
Brandon: Elder of the Land. Also in recognition of his service, he was given another title (I forget which) that made him the official emissary between Furyondy and the Southeast (ie Dyvvers and Gnarley Woods). In addition to getting a small piece of land, no one in Furyondy can refuse him food, shelter or transportation if he needs it (the position includes some courier responsibilities and privileges). The main goal, of course, was for him to keep an eye on Ash and Rodriguo once the Temple adventure was over.
Maurice: Knight of the High Forest (he wears elven chain, fights better than a 5th level fighter and can use a sword and ride a horse....that is good enough for the Knights of the High Forest). For his help in recovering Fragararch, and his generosity in providing a flying mount, he was awarded Scather (useless for backstabs but damn handy when the bodyguards try to avenge the death of their leader).
Ellyllyn: Knight of the High Forest. To qualify her (she was not quite
skilled enough as a thief to qualify), he provided an Ioun Stone
that raises her one level. He also provided a Pearl of Power (4th
level) so the person who provided him with spells in need would never
lack for a spell herself. These gifts made her the most sought-
after bride in Flaness, as the Ioun Stone allows Elf Magi to exceed
the 11th level limit and enchant magic items. Whatever Elf Prince
lands Ellyllyn will vastly increase in power and potential.
[The gift here was supposed to be comparable to a Necklace of Prayer Beads. The module gave a variety of awards, but some were trash (+1 shield, book of 12 first level spells... Ellyllyn was long since maxed out on 1st level spells) and others were boring (bag of holding in a dungeon with a small bag of holding, pouches of holding, Leomund's Labile Locker and a portable hole) So I chose something that would be valued and had similar gold/eep value to the only decent item on the list, the Necklace of Prayer Beads.]
Everyone was very happy with the recognition...that was more important to most of them than the gifts. I was pleased that the titles and offices were valued (not always a given in old-style AD&D).
Also in this time the TFH paid for a publicity blitz over the Gnarley Woods, Kron Hills and Verbebonc area, attracting henchmen candidates from all over. Most of them put together teams out of the first batch, but a few filled out their teams later at the Coronation or from the Wild Coast. Most of these henchmen were sent out on missions immediately, ranging from recruiting more henchmen to gathering potion components. Some went to help out the Dwarves with their other problem (the evil dwarf colony).
All of this activity and winter travel kept them busy through October and late into November.
The TFH, using Polymorph Self and other means, snuck into the fourth level of the Temple and made contact with Kella. From her they got potion components (Succubus hair) for Polymorph Self potions.
They also studied Hedrack and Senshock's bedrooms and learned from Kella the usual times that they slept. Once this was done they prepared for their first assault: a surgical strike on the leaders covered by multiple Insect Plagues.
This assault featured Dimension Door, Invisibility and Non-Detection to get in (plus Polymorph Self potions used to get around weight limits). Hedrack barely got out of bed when he was cut to bits. There was just time for Ellyllyn and Ash to recognize many of Ash's features in Hedrack's face before he died..evidently after Ellyllyn's drunken encounter with Ash's father he trailed them to Gnarley Woods and joined the Temple, hoping someday to lure his son to the True Path.
Unfortunately, with spells like Word of Recall, smart AD&D parties don't let the master villain talk when there is a chance to just kill him. They walled off his room with a Wall of Iron for future looting and continued.
The next dimension door was to Senshock's lair. Senshock was just a bit too slow getting out... the Insect Plague cost him precious moments clearing enough bugs to grab his Portable Hole and teleport away. The party got initiative and he too fell. (Invisibility and non-detection are a great solution to the problem that Dimension Door stuns the users for 7 segments). They also went down the corridor to see if they could get Barkinar and Deggum, but they had already left for the safety of the Greater Temple. They removed anything portable (and some things not so portable) from both rooms (covered with another wall of iron) and then dimension-doored back to Hedrack's room.
During the looting of this room Iuz was summoned. He was no longer a God, but he was a ghost with 20th level cleric and 16th level assassin abilities. He magic jarred Ellyllyn (figuring the party would be reluctant to attack someone who could not be raised) and then mouthed an Unholy Word. While everyone was reeling from that, he stepped toward Suyana to assassinate (or at least backstab) her. His plan was simple... keep killing until people start to recover and then say another Unholy Word. As a 20th level cleric he can do it twice, and the odds say that is plenty of time to assassinate the lot of them.
That caused Cuthbert to intervene, per the module. The Mace of Cuthbert happens to have the Exorcise power (touch), so he bonked Ellyllyn on the head, saying "Foolish heads are not made of glass," and drove Iuz out of her body. Iuz responded by reviving his High Priest but the attempt abruptly ended when Cuthbert said a Holy Word, sending Iuz screaming back to the abyss and stunnning the poor Hedrack before he could reach the Daern's Instant Fortress. Of course the Holy Word was also hard on the Neutrals, but they could have joined the Faith, after all, and saved themselves the pain.
He then said "That which can not be saved must be destroyed," and smashed the summoning object that brought Iuz back from the Abyss. The last the party remembered was the sound of his telepathic chuckle: "Clubbed into submission and thrown to the dogs.... that was one of Istus's better ones... heh heh."
Cuthbert clearly figured that the Good party members would recover from the Unholy Word before Hedrack would recover from the Holy Word. (The fact that several neutrals in the room got Worded twice was not relevant to him). This turned out to be the case and Hedrack did not last any longer the second time around. Since the party had taken the time to incinerate Senshock, he was not Raised, and no one else was dead yet from the Insect Plague, so not much came of Iuz's intervention.
The party then teleported away, with the best of the loot from the fourth level and the top leadership executed. Kella collected her share and left to fill in the Druid on events.
The party rested up and decided to follow up the assault. They were cautious and used up potions of Clairvoyance and Clairaudience to see how the Temple was reacting. What they saw was ominous.
The bugbears and ogres were all Zombies. The Giants and Ettins were tunneling through rock purposefully, with zombies dumping the dirt into the Air Temple (where it vanished after a little while). Paths were being cleared to the main doors and to the Throne. Deggum was overseeing this activity. Barkinar was nowhere to be seen.
The party modified their plan, Dimension Doored in (using the last of potions/scrolls that would help with this trick), invisible and non- detectable. In one round they killed half of the giants and Deggum. It looked like Ellyllyn's Wall of Iron that she started casting would be wasted.
Deggum and Barkinar, however, had been desperate enough to fill in their Demon Mistress about events. With her Supra-Genius intelligence, she decided that the only thing to do was use the Nodes to kill the TFH and gather the power gems. No matter what the TFH did, there was no way they could scout or clairvoy the entrances to the Nodes.
(Note that until Hedrack died, he was enforcing Iuz's policy of *not* rescuing the bound demon. This is why they did not go to her for help...it required Barkinar (one of the more competent leaders) to take charge and enlist every resource possible.)
Barkinar and a team of trolls recovered the Earth and Fire gems, killing the Fire Giants on the way. The Node Residents were told that the bounty for killing any TFH member was freedom. This caused an unusual amount of cooperation among node residents, long after the Temple priests were no longer a factor.
Deggum, when slain, was carrying the Air node power gem on a string. It formed a kind of "deadman" switch..if disturbed he and anyone near him would teleport into the center of an ambush on the Air plane. When Suyana hacked him up, the gem activated. As Ellyllyn chanted the last syllables of her Wall of Iron spell the party and the dead bodies around them were teleported to the Air node.
Barkinar had waited a long time for this moment. At last he could get his revenge on the TFH for destroying his Earth Temple. Finally he had them out in the open, surrounded by trolls and gargoyles, with no where to run.
His joy was brief. A Wall of Iron appeared above him and squished him like a bug.
Bekka activated the Daern's Instant Fortress (smaller on the Air node because it had a strong Earth component) and the party squeezed inside. As the door shut, the tower rang with the sound of trolls slamming into it.
If any human leaders had been alive they would have ordered the Trolls to scatter. But none were. Ellyllyn was running Minor Globe of Invulnerability and did a ground-zero Fireball. Brandon followed up with a Spectral Force fireball. As the few survivors attempted to flee they were mopped up by more fireballs and a bit of missile fire.
The Cloud Giant and White Dragon reinforcements saw the army (32) of trolls vanish in a flash of fire. They decided not to die and slunk off to their lairs.
The TFH was now stranded on the Air node, but had two power gems. The Fortress and warm clothes prevented environmental damage, so they rested and Identified the power gems. From this they learned how to use them to escape the node. With Auguries they got an idea of which direction to go to find a gate.
They were toiling up to the Fire Node gate, invisible and covered with spells to protect them from the elements when they heard "Look Out" from below. They turned and saw the open maws of two White Dragons about to breathe on them. The large was ridden by a cleric who later turned out to be Ashram, Alrrem's brother and formerly Kelno's superior.
Maurice may have saved several lives at this point. He was scouting ahead and broke his invisibility to sling an Otiluke's Freezing Sphere (from L3 Wisp treasure) at the smaller dragon. In the Air node this spell was more powerful and it did a lot of damage. That caused the female dragon to breathe on him, and the male to breathe on the party, instead of both dragons breathing on the party.
The TFH sucked up the damage and counterattacked. The wounded dragon went down to a Fireball wand and massed missile fire. Brandon, unable to cast Illusionist spells because he was wearing Plate Mail (to protect from the Air node environmental damage) remembered a scroll of Slay Living that he took off of Hedrack's bookshelf. Hoping that this was a "Good" enough use of this vile spell, he chanted it and aimed it at the larger dragon. Evidently Ulaa agreed that it was OK, because the dragon dropped like a stone, its heart stopped. Ashram went with it and by the time the TFH got to the bodies, Taki, another Node exile, finished him off.
There was a brief stop to kill the child dragon. Taki joined up, trading his knowledge of the nodes for his freedom. Since he detected as not evil (eventually as good) he was accepted and the party pulled out.
They discovered that in their absence the remaining Giants had managed to smash open three of the four Sealed doors, using long battering rams to avoid the Antipathy runes. They were foiled by the barrier at the top of the L2-L3 stairs, which prevents anyone Evil from entering. They sent Ogre zombies down to try to clear it, but none of them got past the Antipathy runes.
If a cleric had survived, the Demon would have been freed. There were enough zombies to clear the stairway, and the simple expedient of killing a giant and animating it to work a battering ram would have worked. But the last cleric died on the Air node, and the Demon, while much restored in power, still could not leave her tiny prison.
The party finally broke out, and found themselves facing most of the Conspiracy to Kill Iuz, plus Otis, Y'dey and others. Tenser felt the wards breaking and gathered a team to try to stop it. Many ESP, Detect Charm and other checks later, the TFH's story was believed.
With the leadership dead, the temple was put under the protection of Otis, Burne and whomever of the Conspiracy were available. The TFH took a break to train, and prepared to invade the Elemental nodes, both to recover the last two power gems for the Orb of Gold and for the vast treasure rumored to be within....30 years of sacrifices to the Temple, plus the rich mineral treasures to be found on any spur of the plane of Elemental Earth.
The first two weeks of December were devoted to training and to a lesser extent scroll scribing. It was not until the 15th that the TFH returned to the Air node.
The TFH decided to clear the Air node first, since they were familiar with the dangers and had already killed some of its residents. Taki, the rescued warrior, was very helpful in describing the Air node, less helpful in Water and Fire (his plate mail was a handicap in those nodes) and only had a few impressions of Earth (it was very hostile and he did not stay any longer than it took him to find a gate and leave).
The TFH chose a path that began with the Dragon Lair (SE caves) and moved clockwise. They found Taki's old camp, then a number of caves in the "South" side that were heavily abraded, as if highly localized hurricane winds played often there, but found no monsters. The Hieracosphinx lairs in the West were empty, and, even stranger, the Vapor Rat infestations had also been carefully removed. Two thirds of the Air Node was explored and they had yet to find a single resident. This made the TFH very nervous.
Auguries indicated that they would find monsters quickly in the North side. There was a long tunnel heading west and a passage to the east which wound up a cliff toward a high mesa. Not wanting to enter a tunnel with their back exposed, they sent an Invisible, Non-Detectable Brandon to levitate to the top and look around. With the benefit of Detect Invisible he found the mesa swarming with different types of Air Elementals (Vortexes, Elementals, Grues, Wind Walkers), most of which were strange types that he did not recognize.
A quick search of the rest of the node found only more abandoned lairs and a single vapor-rat infestation. These were useful for attuning the Ring of Air Elemental Command, (to attune any of the Elemental Command rings you had to kill a resident of the appropriate elemental plane on its home plane) but Maurice nearly killed them all with Scather. The party was lucky, Maurice rolled poorly on damage and enough lived to attune everyone.
The TFH advanced up the path, covered in illusion and invisibility. They opened with a Fireball and charged the fighters. The melee got somewhat confused, since only the magi could see everyone. Rodriguo got into trouble with the Wind Walkers, because they were immune to his weapons. Bekka sprung ahead and got surrounded by elementals... but Maurice had lent her Scather and the sword quickly proved its worth. Other elementals mixed with clump of characters near the edge and a Shadow Monster Blue Dragon reduced the impact of further Elemental reinforcements coming from the NE cave. The one Grue that got close to the magi was Charmed with the Ring of Air Elemental Control.
Someone recognized the Wind Walkers from their behavior and immunities and the party was lucky that Ellyllyn had a Slow scroll and that Brandon had another Shadow Monster spell (to create a Beholder, which has a "Slow" eye). These killed the Wind Walkers, freeing Rodriguo to rescue Suyana and Maurice, who had been blown off the edge. This was a sweet little maneuver, where he lashed out with a Rope of Entanglement, reeled them in, and then they were free to attack because both had rings of free action, which they activated to get free of the Rope once it had saved them.
After defeating the many elementals, they found that these creatures had pooled their treasure in untidy piles. There was so much (vast numbers of coins, with gems and jewelry mixed in) that the party just shoveled it into the portable hole. This caused them to overlook a Power Gem (the Water gem)....when they figured this out later they routinely swept treasure for magic before shoveling it in.
They then sent Maurice (with spider climb and invisibility) to scout the tunnel. Inside the tunnel was an elaborate alarm system, consisting of concealed Ice Toads and some mechanical traps. A fortification had been built with a lovely field of fire on the ice toad area and Frost Giants (who were supposed to be on the Water Node according to Taki) manning the ramparts. The Cloud Giants were not visible, but were probably in the caves beyond the fortification. The Sphinxes were in an elevated cave, perfect for swooping down on anyone pinned down by Giant missile fire.
Careful mapping showed that the old Hieracosphinx cave was perhaps 80' from the new cave, with solid stone in the way. Brandon realized that his Dig spell (from Ulaa priest bonus spells) and his shadow Beholder's disintegrate rays (only clears 20% of a real disintegrate spell, but he gets to do it 10 times with one spell), the party could tunnel through to the other cave in about 2 days. Silence spells were used to make the digging quiet.
The party got complete surprise on the Hieracosphinxs, killing the entire population of the node without having to even roll initiative. They then used Fly spells and Tenser's Floating Disc to move the whole party over the fortification. They used an illusion (that they were Hieracosphinx's ridden by cloud giants) and a Tongues spell to confuse the Frost Giants long enough to land. The first battle was fierce but one-sided. The Frost Giants tried to focus on the magi, but their rocks passed harmlessly through mirror images (although they did make a strange "Sqweee....Splat" sound as they hit the back wall). Some of the giants had magic weapons, but only Bekka had any difficulty, encountering the wrong end of a Ring of Shocking Grasp (all electrical effects were magnified in the air node, so it was quite a zap). As Maurice back-stabbed the last surviving giant, the Cloud Giants made the scene, along with an insane mage slave that the Frost Giants kept around to work a Wand of Lightning Bolts.
A huge lighting bolt (doubled to 12 dice and twice the area) ripped through the party, ravaging the hit points and, in Rodriguo's case most of his magic items. The bolt was followed up by more "Skweee....Splat" rocks, this time aimed at the non-magi. When the assault ended, Rodriguo was crippled, Bekka was out, Ash and Maurice had succumbed to the vapor rats which were strapped onto the rocks to create Stinking Clouds on impact, Ellyllyn was barely alive, and everyone else was badly hurt but still able to fight. Only Ellyllyn and Brandon had actions left, and they knew that the TFH would die if they had to endure another salvo. Brandon created a Wall of Force to block the next lighting bolt/rock assault. Ellyllyn, meanwhile, whipped out the (only) Limited Wish scroll that the party had been saving for emergencies.
"I wish that the lighting bolt had missed me and my six companions, striking harmlessly overhead."
Whoosh. Bekka recovered consciousness (only to be overcome by vapors), Rodriguo's items reformed and most everyone in the party felt a lot better. An errant gust of wind threw off the aim of the mage firing the Lighting Bolt. (I ruled that since a Wish can restore all hit points for a party, a Limited Wish can undo exactly 1 thing. If that one thing is a 12 die lightning bolt or wishing that a dragon clawed/bit instead of breathed, it can be quite useful.)
The next round the rocks rattled harmlessly off the Wall of Force, and the two extra strength (due to node enhancement) ice storms (one illusory) crippled the giants. The battle ended shortly, and the party collected the goodies from the combined lairs of the Hieracosphinxes, the Frost and the Cloud Giants.
The party had so much treasure now that a spirited discussion about getting the loot out (so we don't risk losing it) versus staying (to keep the pressure on) ensued. One problem with taking the loot back to Hommlet is that there was enough to tempt whole parties of adventurers or very high level thieves. The final solution was to separate out the truly valuable gems and jewelry and hide them, while producing the vast quantities of coins and lesser gems as the "treasure". That reduced the value to large but not worth facing the wrath of the TFH to steal. It also meant that Mellub the Moneychanger could begin counting it, a task that would take quite a while. The activity was overseen by the Priests of Cuthbert, since they are entitled to 1/10 of a 1/7 share (Suyana's tithe).
To forestall any attempt to repopulate the Air node, they built a Wall of Iron cage around the teleport area. They figured that if anyone escaped they would at least know about it. When they returned, it appeared that no one traveled to the Air node in their absence.
The TFH then began preparations to assault the Water Node.
The Water Node was next, partly because it was a large, obnoxious area to investigate and partly because they thought it might not yet be alerted. Taki said it was populated with a large number of aquatic humanoids, plus a few tougher things like Elementals and Dragon Turtles. The danger is the poison gas, but Water Breathing spells can mitigate this, so it was not hard to prepare the party.
Ash hoped to convert Control Winds into Control Currents and simply crush the weaker creatures. However, auguries said that a fight would happen right when they teleported in, so the experimentation needed for that conversion was unlikely to be easy.
The Auguries also said that there were strong potential allies that could result if the first fight was handled well.
The party dropped into chest-high water (head-high for the short ones, knee high for the enlarged fighters), using a protection from Water Elemental scroll. The party was immediately assaulted by many more Water Elementals than the scroll could stop, but Ellyllyn (using Detect Invisible) spotted a Water Weird and used the green ray from her Wand of Paralysis to spot it well enough for Ash to toss a portion of a Potion of Sweet Water at it. Purify Water is the only thing that kills Water Weirds, and the party carefully broke their Sweet Water potion into many "doses" for use against them in this node.
Killing the Weird meant that Ash could talk to the Elementals via the ring. They were delighted to be freed and acted like hyperactive, intelligent puppies. They told Ash that they were forced to work for the Weirds, partly because they could control them directly but also because a human, Jaer, that they had befriended was their prisoner.
The TFH promptly rescued Jaer. Jaer was a humble Nulb tailor who tried a career as a bandit but was too nice. His failure got him sacrificed to the Air node, and he eventually found his way to Water. There he used oil-soaked cloth to pretend to be a mighty shaman, someone who could call Fire even on the Water node. That allowed him to escape the attentions of the humanoids long enough to strike up a friendship (using shared alignment language) with the water elementals.
Well, like everyone else in the nodes, the Elementals were desperate to be free. When they learned that the TFH could free them (by flooding L4 of the temple with the Decanter of Endless Water and moving the elementals from Node Water Gate to Elemental Plane water gate) they offered to "kill everything and give you their treasure... humans like treasure, right?"
The party would have to handle the Sea Hags, the "Evil Elementals" and the Ixitxachitl. The Ixitxachitl had struck up an alliance with the aquatic ghouls and had a single "Vampire" version. The combination could prove lethal to even the 16 HD elementals. The Ixitxachitl were convinced that if they offered their gods a big enough sacrifice that they would be freed. Jaer thought that if the elementals started killing off other residents, the Ixitxachitl would poach their treasure. The TFH saw this as a way to conveniently gather the node treasure into one place, and decided on the following plan:
The Grues were using floating eyes to help defend their stronghold. The paralysis was mildly annoying but by now the TFH was capable of muscling past such difficulties. The last grue used the Earth power gem to teleport out, taking with it all of the treasure.
This annoyed the TFH, but they stuck to business. They defeated the Sea Hags with the simple expedient of sending in several enlarged fighters covered by a darkness spell. With no gaze attack, Sea Hags are just 4 hd creatures with daggers.
Some of the elementals were a little ragged after their fun, but they had little trouble once the Dragon Turtles were dead. The TFH cleaned up the node after enduring a wave attack of undead underwater critters, followed up by more ordinary Ixixachitl. Once the undead were destroyed, the Elementals made short work of the clerics. The Vampire was destroyed using the Decanter of Endless Water, after being impaled with an Enlarged arrow (fired using Free Action). Most of the rank-and-file monsters broke against the Control Currents spell (which Ash used to slow down the charge and speed up the Elemental counter attack), some nasty illusions and the buzz-saw attacks of the fighters.
Again the party retreated to Hommlet with the loot, leaving Wall of Iron traps on the teleport gates. Jaer became Ellyllyn's personal tailor, and her Henchmen were instructed to take him to the Capitol of Furondy/Veluna for advanced training. This was also a good excuse to get her henchmen out of Hommlet...there was far too much treasure in town to want a bunch of chaotic thieves in town, even if they are quite loyal to Ellyllyn.
The party decided to do the Fire node next.
The TFH decided to do the Fire node next, because they were very good at resisting fire (something like 4 fire resistance rings, the Ring of Fire Elemental Command, a Frost Brand sword and Druidic Protection from Fire). Even so, many people left especially flammable items behind, especially cloaks, ropes and excess potions and scrolls.
That was fortunate, because they received a warm welcome. Their Auguries said that they would not be attacked when they first arrived, but the omens were false this time. Still, they were pretty prepared for a fight, so it was not too bad.
They emerged in a room filled with Fire Snakes, Fire Bats and Fire Toads. Many saving throws were failed, but since they did not bring much flammable gear along, nothing important was destroyed. Damage was small because of the Fire Resistance devices.
The Fire Node defenses were organized around two factions...those loyal to the Demon Lord, lead by an Alu-Demon and those lead by an Efreet who was using some Human Bandits as delivery devices for potions... including a potion of Red Dragon Control (used to get the Red Dragons to cooperate). The Efreet also had the neutral elementals on his team. The Alu-Demon had the grues. The non- intelligent residents formed the first part of the Ambush. The Alu-Demon, with her Death-Gaze wielding fellow demon and a bunch of Salamanders and Grues would form the second wave. They had to keep the party busy until the Dragons could be brought to bear, backed by Efreet and Cleric magic and stiffened with Fire Elemental shock troops.
The party cleared away the animals in time for the second wave. Here I made the only serious GM error that I made in the whole campaign... I read the Wall of Force description wrong and therefore the party was protected by a Wall of Force that was 10x the surface area actually allowed. Since the party could have blocked the Salamanders and Demons with a legal wall, the effect on the fight outcome was probably minor. However, the demons attempted a Dimension Door past the Wall and were killed while recovering from the shock. That was an exceedingly bad move that could have harmed the TFH cause later. The only other effect was that the Grues were sometimes blocked from attacking, but since they were all Blinking around, that could be interpreted as simple bad luck. They even managed to attune the Fire Elemental Command ring, by tossing it around in combat. Come to think of it, the actions lost by tossing the ring around would have compensated for the Wall of Force being smaller... they would have just buckled down and killed things.
So the net result of that error was that the Fire Ring was attuned to more people, an event which was trivial in the overall campaign, since only Brandon and Ellyllyn ever used the ring's powers later.
Anyway, the TFH defeated the second wave just in time to appreciate the third wave (they were just thinking about healing spells when the south doors burst open). Seeing a phalanx of fire elementals backed by two Reduced (to fit in the corridors) Red Dragons, the party activated their emergency plan.
They touched the Water Elemental Power Gem. The entire third wave (and the TFH) was teleported to the Water Elemental plane.
After hurriedly checking my sources, it was decided that Fire Elementals can not survive immersion, especially not on the Water Elemental plane. The Female Dragon breathed, but most of the party just ducked under the water. Between the water and their Fire Resistance, the dragon breath had almost no effect, except on a couple of Enlarged fighters. The other dragon lost its action to Ellyllyn's Air Charm (a Fire Charm variant that does it with smoke and lighting sparkles, only castable on the air node, but will work on both Fire and Water). This charm was ruined when she ducked under the water, but it bought a round free of Dragon interference.
The bandits charged. Most were swept away with a "Chakram of Doom" illusion, but two were under the influence of Heroism or Super Heroism potions. Ash intercepted those in squid form, wrapping them up in tentacles. Maurice swam underneath the male Dragon, getting ready for a groin shot. Suyana stepped up to the female dragon (enlarged, wielding a Frost Brand sword and using Dispel Exhaustion to double her attacks) and slew it, her sword singing for the joy of it (it was forged to slay evil elemental fire creatures, and red dragons qualify).
One of the bandits tried to do an illusion of Lightning but no one believed it. The other used a Hold Person and managed to nail both Bekka and Rodriguo. Suyana had Free Action, so it had no chance to affect her. The next round Suyana and Maurice killed the dragon, Ash continued to struggle with the bandits and Ellyllyn zapped the cleric with multiple magic missiles, saving one for the illusionist. The cleric went down, and Brandon charged the "wimpy illusionist" with a Rod of Smiting in both hands, confident that his superior Clerical toughness would allow him to easily defeat his enemy.
The "wimpy illusionist" shifted back to its natural form (Efreet) and then Enlarged itself. Wielding a magical sword, enlarged to tremendous size, he skewered Brandon. He followed up, and Brandon fell broken and bleeding into the water. Ash and Maurice saved his life, while Ellyllyn and Suyana went after the Efreet. Ellyllyn hit him high with a lighting bolt and Suyana cut his legs out with Snowflake, and the last of the Fire troops went down.
The Fire node proved empty after all that fun, but they gathered up the treasure and returned to Hommlet, both to deposit the loot and to gather up their flammable items. Only Earth remained.
The TFH prepared for the Earth Node mainly by leaving several of their "best" weapons behind. They had heard that many residents liked to eat metal and did not want to risk losing anything not absolutely needed for the adventure.
Before this session began I reminded everyone of the social contract of the game....they get chances at vast rewards but I don't pull any punches and that there was a very real chance that some or all of them would die, and that some or all of their items would be destroyed. I had come up with an especially lethal ambush and wanted no hard feelings if things went badly.
The Earth node is a petty hostile place. Even the random treasure traps and unintelligent monsters have some threat value to the party, although in the former case a lot of effort is aimed at the gem and metal eating residents...and the defenses are just odd to Prime Material denizens.
The ambush was supposed to go like this:
Round 1: Party gates in. The ceiling collapses on them, damaging all and pinning the weaker members. Evil Earth Grues phase up from the floor and carve up the pinned members, while a Storoper charms (no saving throw if it hits) two of the stronger party members as they struggle from out of the rock. Rock Lizards chew on anything available.
Round 2-3: the Gaze Brigade arrives. Some Basilisks and a Dracolisk gaze into the walls of the cavern, which have been polished by the Stone Giants over the past few weeks to reflect their deadly gaze from every angle. Any party member wanting to see would risk up to three saves versus petrifaction each round until they were killed. The Basilisks would not last long, but the Dracolisk is almost immune to his own gaze attack, so this would be a continuing hazard.
Round 4: two black dragons appear and breathe on the party as many times as they can before killed. Around this time, the Rock Eaters (Xorns, Xarens, and some Fish-like critters from the Fiend Folio) would attack from the stone and walls.
Round 5: The Crushers (Stone Giants and Earth Elementals with Dust of Disappearance) would attack, first smashing anyone who had been petrified, then concentrating on anyone who looked hurt.
Once the Rock Eaters were slain, the Gem Brigade might help out, they consisted of Bowlers (weak rock critters), Crysmals (stronger rock critters) and some powerful, spell casting rock elementals who can animate huge boulders and have a variety of dangerous rock spells.
I had no idea how the party could survive all this, but figured that they would do something unexpected to salvage the situation. The main thing was...what would it cost them?
Maurice got another good idea, similar to his plan which slew the Fire Elementals. He figured that if the Earth node was waiting in ambush, the thing to do was to set up a counter-ambush on the Air node (where there is plenty of room, and Earth critters should be weakened). He would step through an Earth gate, dropping the Air Power Gem from one hand to the other. He would arrive, and then a split second later everything within 50' of him would be transported to the Air node.
This defused the Round 1 portion of the trap neatly. Maurice was crushed under all the rock and mauled by the Earth grues, but the Storoper never got close enough to anything to charm it and the rest of the party mounted a furious counterattack which prevented anyone from finishing Maurice off.
Having done this they rested, giving the Earth node a chance to mull over what happened. There was no real change in strategy...it had taken them quite some time and browbeating to come up with the plan for ambush and the only precaution was to move the Basilisks and Dracolisk into position full time and to keep them outside of the 50' range. The Rock Eaters and Crushers would attack a round or two earlier as well, subject to movement speeds and Dust application times.
This time Ash got a good idea. Maurice or Ash alone might not have helped materially but both together ruined the ambush. Ash could summon one friendly Earth and Fire elemental on the Prime Material. Furthermore he could summon an additional Earth and Fire elemental due to a scroll he had traded for earlier. Ellyllyn beefed up the Fire elementals with Fire Charms and Brandon added a Bless and Dispel Exhaustion (hasting the elementals once per 10 rounds).
They sent in the elementals first (with instructions to kill Petrifiers first, Dragons second, Rock Eaters third and Giants fourth) and waited ten minutes.
When they arrived, they saw the broken bodies of the Basilisks and Dracolisk, two Fire Elemental statues (fascinating people with stoning gaze does not actually help against their attack), and Earth elemental footprints heading northeast. They decided to explore the other way, both to find treasure and to hunt for the remaining power gem.
They found a number of statues in the Basilisk area, some of whom might have valuables if restored to flesh. In the Dracolisk's room most of the statues were smashed and flung about, except for one statue of a famous dwarf thief (his head had been melted off in rage, but his statue was carefully packed in sand and protected so it would not be accidentally damaged). It appears that the thief had gathered the Dracolisk's treasure into a large chest while the Dracolisk was gone, and was in the process of carrying it out on his back when the Dracolisk returned and accidentally Stone'd him...along with all of his treasure.
The next area they explored looked like a Stone Giant armory (lots of rocks of different sizes, all perfectly round). The party had an item which gave one turn of X-ray vision before burning out, and used it to discover that the rocks had gems inside! There was a debate on whether to just toss the rocks into the portable hole or to break the stone away from the gems first. Finally they decided to gather the rocks into bags, then put them in the hole, so if they needed more space later they'd be easy to find and remove.
When the players reached for the rocks, they scuttled away. Some unfolded into spiky, crystalline creatures, others rolled about building up speed. Ominously, the large boulders in the corners rolled toward the party.
While the party battled the rocks, Maurice spotted some activity up the corridor and ambushed the two Rock Elemental Mages, cutting them a little. He was rewarded with a Wall of Stone dumped on him, followed by a Move Earth which sent him tumbling, abraded and battered towards the party. Fortunately the TFH had cleaned up the rocks quickly and Ash managed a Dispel Magic just in time to prevent the corridor full of rubble (and Maurice) from burying the party.
The Rock Mages attempted to liquefy the stone, but Maurice prevented them by tossing the Daern's Instant Fortress and shouting its command word. On the Earth Plane, this tower is an impressive construction, very unforgiving to anyone unfortunate enough to be caught between it and a wall. The battle ended, the party found a couple of magic items in the Rock Mages' weird cave and left.
In another area they found some treasure hanging from the ceiling in coffers, wrapped about with rotting meat. The speculation is that the meat made the treasure smell like "not food" to the various metal and rock-eaters in the node.
The southeast area was avoided after a single "hit and run" attack with a Stone Giant boulder. Instead the party decided to investigate the Northeast, where the Earth Elementals went.
They checked out a few small corridors, making sure they knew their back was covered, and then followed the progress to the Black Dragon lair. They found two broken dragons, one melted Earth elemental and a pile of treasure infested with nasty reptiles, bugs and other things that were probably poisonous to silicone based life.
A few ice storms and illusions later, they scooped up the treasure and moved on, following the path of the remaining, limping, earth elemental. Their own protective spells were starting to fade and they were thinking of pulling out.
The earth elemental met its end in an area shunned by all....the Gorgon lair. The gorgons are dangerous, but not to an alert, powerful 9-10th level party. Again much of the treasure was in petrified form, although some minor coins and gems were lying about.
The party decided to sleep here, covered by Hallucinatory Terrain and protected by their Instant Fortress. They only slept long enough to get Enlarge spells back, because they did not want the remaining, Stone Giant controlled area to think of anything else awful to do to them.
The final approach was done in darkness, hoping to avoid the "stone from the dark" syndrome. Nevertheless, the party was noticed and surprised, as creatures who live in stone as fish live in water do not use sight as a primary sense.
The rock-eaters appeared around the fighters, with their tasty treats of armor. Rodriguo had 20 pounds of his armor eaten before the fish were beaten off, and had his Flame Tongue longsword snapped off at the hilt when he swung it too close to the mouth. Suyana, more cautious with her weapons, used her new (oak) Cudgel of Command to freeze the fish and eventually kill them, but not before one of them made a tasty snack out of the meteorite steel in her shield. Bekka, beset on all sides by Xorn and Xaren, decided to slug it out with her fists rather than risk her weapons. She killed one with her bare hands, and the others were Entangled by Rodriguo.
Meanwhile the Crusher squad was following up the Rock Eater assault. Ash and the magi held the rear with a giant-sized flying squid squishing giants and battering elementals with spells. The fighters were having a hard time of it, pummeled with stones and pounded by elementals. Maurice had snuck ahead, and killed one giant but found himself in melee with two more. He ran toward the fighters, taking two shots to his back from the giants and tossed the Fortress behind him. In a heartbeat that side was secure and the giants were pureed through the arrow slits of the fortress.
The last elementals were entangled with the Suyana's rope and finished off. The TFH got off lightly, just a few items destroyed and a lot of bruises, gashes and contusions. They were down to their last few healing spells, and hoped that there was not much more between them and the power gem. It was not as bad as the Fire Elemental battle, but the ferocity was daunting. None of them wanted to think about what that assault would have been like as a 3rd or 4th wave in the main chambers, after fighting the storoper, basi/dracolisks an the dragons.
I did not know it at the time but Ash almost used the Orb of Gold to escape from this battle. As you will see in the next installment it was very fortunate for the party that he did not. I knocked him down to 10 hit points, and the average salvo of attacks was doing 25-35 points of damage. If I had just one more wave of attackers the campaign might have turned out quite differently.
The TFH at this point had reduced the mighty Temple and all of its nodes to only two monsters, not counting the Demon Lord and the things she'd summoned over the last month, trapped in their little area of level 3.
These monsters were the leaders of the Stone Giants and the Earth Grues. The Earth Grue had the remaining power gem and was getting advice directly from the Demon Lady of Fungi, who had been using a Limited Wish a day to try and undo her situation. The Gates to the nodes were set to send anyone who used them to her little area. This had been blocked by a full Wish from Mordenkainen that prevented access to her area until the Orb of Gold was complete. But there were other perils. The Orb of Gold can teleport between Elemental planes and the Prime Material. Where you appear in the Prime Material is random and therefore controllable via Limited Wish. If Ash ever teleports to the Prime Material, he will appear in her realm. The Orb has other powers too, and the chance of them overwhelming the user has been greatly increased by strategic Limited Wishes directed by a Supra-Genius god who wants to be free.
The last-ditch strategy was simple enough. The Stone Giants had heavily trapped their stronghold, with very lethal stone block/ collapsing wall/spring loaded, etc traps. These traps could not be swept away with things like Rock to Mud because of the Grue.
If the Stone Giant went down, the Grue could hide out in the rock with the power gem forever, since digging him out could not be done with spells (all earth affecting spells fail in a Earth Grue's presence. Better, though, would be to complete the Orb in such a way that brought it back to the Demon Queen's hands.
The Daern's Instant Fortress was a problem. The Grue was told to sit underneath it, in the middle, grab the thing when it was reduced in size and phase away with it. Both command words were known to it, since it had Her advice. It was told to wait until the Enemy reduced it, so they'd have less time to react.
Meanwhile the TFH was trying to figure out how to safely bring down the Fortress, and then use it against the Stone Giants. They scouted the remaining area and realized that the survivors must be in a corridor that was only accessible via the junction filled by the Fortress. A very elaborate plan was concocted, involving an illusion of the wall facing the Giants, dirt, seeds, plant growth and entangle covering the center of the junction, Maurice set to pick up and sling the Fortress at enemies, a Magic Mouth on the Fortress to make it grow once and then get the command word to shrink at exactly 1 minute intervals after the growth (to prevent the Fortress from being thrown back).
Some flaws in the plan were immediately obvious. The Stone Giant leader was hurling rocks at the Fortress every round, and the illusory wall would not stop the rocks. But much worse was the fact that a clay hand had reached out of the ground and snatched the Fortress, before Maurice (who rolled 00 on his Pick Pockets roll) could react.
Everyone tried to stop the hand before it retreated with the Fortress. Only Bekka managed anything useful, slicing off the hand with her Chakram. Unfortunately the Grue had two hands, and to stop it the party needed two people to do something effective. Then, as the hand started to recede, Ash intervened.
The Orb of Gold had helpfully informed Ash that the owner of the hand also had the power gem. All Ash had to do to get both the Fortress and to complete the Orb was to use the Orb's Awe power to order the Grue to turn the items over. Ash had a brief flash of how hard it would be to get the gem if the Grue decided to stay in the rocks.
He then made the fateful decision. His charter was to bring down the Temple by any means, at any personal cost. The Orb was already around his neck, ready for instant use (a situation no one else had noticed, since he did not consult them when he made an earlier decision to use the Orb if necessary in the Earth node).
"BY THE POWER OF THE ORB I ORDER YOU TO HAND OVER THE EARTH POWER GEM AND THE FORTRESS TO ME."
Suyana almost collapsed under the waves of evil. Snowflake shrieked. Brandon also could feel the power roiling from the Orb. The rest of the party got a glimpse of Ash's soul....all of the worst, nasty aspects that we all have that we hope no one ever sees. Ash would always be diminished in their eyes.
But to the Grue, Ash was everything it could want in a master. It could not do anything but obey. It walked over to Ash, handed him the Fortress and inserted the power gem into the last slot of the Orb.
The Orb of Gold was complete. And Ash was doomed. Use of the Awe power contains a chance that the user will want to do nothing but turn it over to its creator. After a month of Limited Wishes, Ash was helpless to do anything else....as long as he possessed the Orb.
The whole campaign came down to the next initiative roll. If Ash won, he would teleport out and the Demon would be free, along with everything she summoned in the last month. Granted the Conspiracy to Kill Iuz would probably chase her off, but the total victory of the TFH would turn to stalemate...the temple defeated but the Demon free, with the Orb of Gold and with Ash corrupted and turned into an Evil cleric.
If the TFH won, they had a chance to stop him. Suyana's player, as team leader, had spent the entire campaign rolling terrible on initiative die rolls. But this time she came through. This time the TFH rolled a six, and both the Monsters and Ash rolled a 2.
Ellyllyn, with a very low chance of success because Ash was 12th level (11 plus an Ioun Stone) rolled a 17% and "pickpocketed" the Orb from her son. While Ash was reacting to that, Maurice pickpocketed the Daern's Instant Fortress and promptly slung it at the Stone Giant Leader. Because the Stone Giant Leader was under the influence of a potion of Speed, Maurice got a faceful of rock, but held on and squished the Stone Giant against his own fortifications. Suyana killed the Grue. Bekka grabbed Ellyllyn (and the Orb) and jumped 30' away. Rodriguo set himself to block any attempt by Ash to retake the Orb (Ash had Lareth's Phylactery of Action, so grappling or ropes of entanglement were futile). Ash changed into a cheetah to dash over and grab the Orb with his mouth, but before he could move Brandon put him in a Wall of Force bubble... one of the few ways to completely isolate a person, block teleportation or even a Wish (only Disintegrate can bring it down, and no spell can cross the barrier).
This bought the party 12 rounds to decide what to do with Ash. The Orb tried to tempt Ellyllyn to teleport away... since she had the Portable Hole and all of the party treasure. "You made my son look bad...I HATE you!" Ellyllyn yelled at it and stuffed it into a bag, holding it at arms length and not listening to its feeble telepathic offers. Ellyllyn did this partly because she knew that if she let it talk, it would come up with something she'd want to do.
Using scribbled notes, Ash agreed to shapeshift to his bird form (ending his shapeshifts for the day) and to take off his Phylactery of Action, placing it in a box and locking it. This allowed the party to bind him in a rope of entanglement and take him with the party without having to resort to more drastic measures ("Let's kill him.....we'll raise him after the Orb is destroyed...).
Maurice used telekinesis to get the last jewelry and magic sword off of the Stone Giant, and to recover the Fortress. No one decided it was worth risking the Stone Giant traps to see if there was more treasure, especially with Ash unavailable. The TFH had no intention of using the Gates; instead they used a little known side effect of Leomund's Secret Chest (activated with Leomund's Labile Locker). When you bring the Chest back from the Ethereal Plane, it opens a rift to that plane. This provides a way to escape the Earth Node without using the Orb, Power Gems or Gates. From there, the plan was for Brandon to try to read a Plane Shift scroll.
Since Brandon had a 20% chance of failure I invited everyone to pray to their favorite gods for help. I dug out the "Divine Intervention" tables in the DMG, rolled some dice, and actually rolled a 9% for Ellyllyn, and then a 01, causing actual intervention. She was praying to the Elf god of Thieves and Mischief.
Well, the party arrived somewhere in Flaness. Ellyllyn was not with them. She was safely at Hommlet, with the stone statues of three thieves (including the dwarf from the dracolisk lair) restored to flesh. This gave Ellyllyn a chance to take a little off the top of the treasure pile without any chance of the party finding out... she scored over 100,000 gp and a few magic items. The restored thieves got nothing but their lives, and probably a Geas from the Elf god for their trouble. I feel sorry for the Dwarf thief who had his head replaced by the God....he probably can't grow a beard among other things.
Ellyllyn's story was that the god took the statues of the thieves in payment for getting everyone back safely. Ellyllyn's alignment was under strain for too many good deeds, so a bit of selfish behavior was indicated. It also helps her standing with the Thieves guild. Much of her loot was tithed back to the God, naturally.
Burne teleported her to the Temple, so they could view events. Since it only took about 10 minutes for the TFH (who had arrived in the middle of North Province of the Great Kingdom) do get the stuff together to destroy the Orb of Gold, they did not have long to wait.
The wide separation of the Orb and the Temple made the destruction much more obvious. There were two "centers" for activity. As the Gust of Wind blew over the Orb, a storm formed all over Flaness, with the worst weather centered on the Temple and the Orb. When the Flame Strike immolated the Orb, every active volcano on the continent erupted and every fire flared to twice its size. When the Orb was plunged into freezing water all of the rivers and lakes flooded, even those covered in ice. And as the Orb was struck with the granite maul the earth shook...with two epicenters half a continent apart.
When the orb fell to pieces all of these effects ended as if a switch was flipped. While all of this was going on, the many contingent Wishes cast by the Conspiracy to Kill Iuz kicked in. The members appeared in battle order, with spells running and a tremendous (possibly several) Wall of Iron suspended in the air above them. They also had a Sphere of Annihilation with them. When the Orb was destroyed, Mordenkainen ended the final Wish, ripping open a channel to the Astral plane and sending the lot, with all of their spells, the Wall and the Sphere into the same vortex that was sucking the Demon Lady of Fungi and all of her followers back to her home plane.
As the rift closed, everyone in the area heard a deep, gravelly voice say: "I WISH THAT MORDEINKAINEN HAD CHOSEN TO JOIN HIS FRIENDS IN THE ABYSS."
The fabric of reality ripped again and Mordenkainen was sucked into the vortex as well. Powerless (because he just cast a Wish), he whipped out his daggers and, with great presence of mind, Mordenkainen assassinated himself... ensuring that his soul would go to its reward and not into the Abyss.
The TFH then got to see the manifested form of the Evil Elemental Lord of Earth look over the situation and then vanish. The TFH had no clue as to what that was all about. The last thing they heard was "I'LL BE JUST GETTING MY DOOR BACK."
For now they were in the dead of winter, and they heard the sounds of cavalry approaching. They slunk off, covered by illusion and spent the night in a barn. In the morning Ash Communed with Nature to get his location, grew an oak tree and Transported Via Plant back to Hommlet. He then put Ellyllyn and Byrne into a Portable Hole and shortly after this the TFH was back in Hommlet.
Ellyllyn and Byrne, meanwhile, waited anxiously for the return of the Conspiracy to Kill Iuz. Since they did not appear in the first half-hour or so, it was assumed that they had to activate the backup return plan (read 224 Plane Shift scrolls, using Dispel Exhaustion to maintain concentration). So they waited patiently for another few hours.
Finally the survivors appeared. Only Robilar, Andrea, Leif and Samone survived, largely because the latter three were low priority targets and because Robilar was not enlarged, was invisible and used weapons that did not glow.
Iuz's soul object had been surrounded by lots of demons. That was not a problem... an Enlarge spell cast on the giant Wall of Iron caused it to no longer be supported by the multiple Walls of Force. That squished the first batch. A Reverse Gravity took care of the demons that teleported or flew in on the second wave. After that no more demons got involved in the fight.
Iuz's soul object was not alone. While stuck in the Abyss for several months, Iuz gathered the spirits of his Mother (a mighty Arch-Mage) and all of his former High Priests, providing them each with soul objects and the benefits of being a Ghost. While the demons were being slaughtered, his horde of Ghosts attempted to Magic Jar the Conspiracy, but were foiled by the fact that all of them were protected with Mind Blank. Mind Blank also saved the team from the fear effects of witnessing over a score of ghosts.
Ghosts proved a good choice. Spells don't work on Ghosts unless the caster is ethereal. Age is one of the few ways to kill someone that can't be reversed once they are dead. The combat turned physical, with Iuz and Igwlf (his mom) sniping with spells. The Conspiracy does not know how powerful Igwlf was, but a single Dispel Magic brought down all of their Globes of Invulnerability at once and Samone made sure she never got off another spell. Iuz Silenced the party (Wishes prevented simply driving them off with an Unholy Word) and then (because he was ignored to keep Igwlf from doing something awful) a Flame Strike ripped through the team. Tenser, Phanstern, Dred Delgath and Belvor were dead, and the Flame Strike must have been backed by some kind of Wish because every item they carried was destroyed by it. Those who were still alive were just singed a bit, but had Protection from Fire running so it was not too bad.
Iuz and Igwlf did not do much else, because Leif got free and stunned both of them with the Hammer of Thunderbolts. They finished off Igwlf and Samone lost 80 years of his life holding off Iuz long enough to stun him again with the Hammer. By then Robilar and an exhausted Andrea had finally killed all of the Ghosts and Robilar's final charge killed Iuz before he could recover.
The party gathered up the piles of ash that were their former comrades and dumped all of the soul objects into the Sphere of Annihilation, including Iuz's last soul object. Andrea used a Wish scroll (and a Limited Wish to make sure she did not misread the Wish, since she was not 18th level) to transport the party into the presence of Zuggtomy. Zuggtomy was still recovering from the destruction of the Orb, down almost half of her hit points and with no spell-like powers for 4 days. She was in a room full of fungi of various types, but the Conspiracy was prepared for that. Phanstern had spent months programming literally hundreds of illusions, all set to go off on a single command word. The room was swept with Cold, Fire, Lighting, Acid and anything else he could think of, multiple times. All of the fungi (and a few demons) in the room were shredded. Zuggtomy was not affected, but was unable to withstand Robilar in full buzz-saw mode, especially since she was stunned with a Hammer of Thunderbolts.
Andrea ran the Sphere of Annihilation over the corpse and the 222nd level of the Abyss dissolved into chaos around them. They left the Sphere behind and began the slow process of slogging home.
After they arrived they found out that Iuz and Zuggtomy had left some parting curses. All cell samples for cloning, resurrection, etc left behind had turned into green slime. Furthermore, Auguries showed that any attempt to drink a longevity potion by any of them will result in it undoing previous longevity potions.... and that any such result would be fatal for any of them. In the case of the three North Fort heroes, that puts a 10-15 year cap on their lives. Robilar might have more time, or he might not. The curses were cast by 5 lesser gods, and would take at least 5 wishes (per person) to undo.
This had the campaign effect of the four of them being very active in their closing years, but by CY591 they are gone from the world.
Mordenkainen was a victim of his previous greed and circumstances. Due in part to the North Fort Heroes taking on the Tomb of Horrors, Mordenkainen got possession of some very large doors made of Adamantium and Mithril. Legend Lore said that these doors were made of material stolen from the Great Gate of the Earth Elemental Lord's castle. He was not strong enough to take it back from the Demi-Lich in Tomb of Horrors, nor was he able to get past Mordenkainen's wards.
But the TFH left from the Earth Plane. He followed, using their rift. He then rode along on the Plane Shift to the Prime Material, getting a free manifestation as a result. Then, because he knew that he would be reduced to Demigod status once the Orb of Gold was destroyed and its creators killed (breaking the pact that boosted all of the Elemental Lords to Lesser God level) he used his last Wish to doom Mordenkainen... and leave him free to take back his Doors, and also anything else he liked from Mordenkainen's Magnificent Mansion.
The net result of all this was that the TFH achieved total success, and the success was exploited so the threat of the Temple and its creators will never rise again. I was pleased as a GM, though, that I was able to keep tension right up to the end, and was able to come up with serious threats even when I was down to my last two creatures. Everyone was very happy with how it turned out, and even the division of magic items at the end turned out to be more fun than I expected (and there were a *lot* of magic items to divide...)
The TFH was already showing signs of strain before their victory, and could not possibly survive as a team after Ash's use of the Orb of Gold. Here is what happened to the TFH after the Temple adventure, plus some notes on how this, plus the successful conclusion of GDQ by Phanstern's team changed the "Official" history of Greyhawk.
Suyana and Brandon join their henchmen in helping the Dwarves capture the "evil" dwarves alive and work toward rehabilitating them. Once this is done, Brandon will assume his duties (keeping an eye on Rodriguo and Ash, and building a school of magic and illusion based on the Delgath/Phanstern model) but mostly settle down to a quiet life. Brandon had a life before he was and adventurer... this last year was an aberration. Suyana will become the Warden of the South Marches, capable of fielding 2000 gnomes plus halfling and human auxiliaries (her choice of henchmen allows the large army). She will keep the peace.
Maurice will initially assist Rodriguo in his career but will eventually be the "Other" knight in the Kron Hills, more capable of operating in Gnarley Woods as well. He is brought in when you need a subtler touch than Suyana can provide, and sometimes is brought in for magical muscle when Suyana is involved and Brandon is not available.
Rodriguo will have a successful bid for Mayor of Dyvvers, a feat that will involve an undeclared war with the local Thieves and Assassins guild (the current mayor is a 15th level thief). He is a "home town boy who did good" and offers the protection of Law with the freedom from racial or religious persecution that Dyvvers provides. Dyvvers even has a tiny Cult of Elemental Evil... who are treated much like the US Nazi party.
Ash takes immediate control of Gnarley Woods, as the current Druid is tired of the office and doesn't think he can beat Ash in a Druid challenge anyway. Ash continues the fierce autonomy of Gnarley Woods, and expands its influence to the Wooly Bay. He has a number of useful underwater items and Henchmen suited for this task and his organization will eventually have a similar impact on the sea lanes as the Druids currently enjoy in the trade routes through their forests. Ash is angling for Arch-Druid (and possibly Great Druid) but only time will tell if he is capable of that achievement.
Bekka attracted a hard core of heavy cavalry, lead by Knight Adventurers of the Hart. She also will get the chance to recruit in the Bandit Kingdoms, do some PR for Furyondy while she passes through and possibly assist the Duchy of Tenh on the way to Ratik, her homeland. Anyone who knows how much is going on in those areas around CY579 knows that she will have her work cut out for her just getting her homeland back, and even more work staying independent as the Great Empire eats itself and the Bone March waxes strong.
Ellyllyn cuts a swath through the Highfolk, looking for a husband who is strong, smart, political and who can provide better wedding gifts than his rivals. Ellyllyn has a lot to offer as a bride.... proven fertility with a leveled son, connections to the Druid hierarchy, powerful mage and excellent thief abilities, the ability to build a spy ring, an Alchemist and, most importantly, the Ioun stone that allows an Elf Prince to reach 12th level and create magic items, especially Wands and Magic Arrows. I'm still rolling up her suitors. She has many plans, some of which will keep her busy for centuries (like the potion miscibility master chart, which will cross-index formulas, effects, etc).
In Greyhawk as a whole, here are the changes from the "official" version:
In Sterich, Freda, her followers and her henchmen (a large and formidable group, toughened up by shares in the Fire Giant King adventure), backed by the school of magic formed by Phanstern and Delgath kept the place clear of humanoid invaders. Treat it as "uncontested" borders. Geoff was able to get considerably more aid from Sterich, treat it as "Contested" borders, instead of the current "Disputed" status. The orders of knighthood are the same, but Freda's group (Order of the Garter?) is independent, and has a reputation about as good as the Knights of the High Forest.
Obviously the Empire of Iuz didn't happen. Instead when the Wolf Nomads and the Rovers of the Barrens attempted to sweep into the Howling Hills, the Clerics of Iuz (down to 2nd level spells) activated an emergency plan. They simply read all the demon names Iuz provided lists and let them loose without any controls. Iuz took a decade to conquer and was only really retaken once the Crook of Rao banished the hordes of weaker demons.
The Horned Society put up a fierce fight but was eventually ground into submission by Furyondy/Veluna. The Shield Lands and the Horned lands were devastated in the process. Victorious Furyondy armies have conquered as far as the old Bandit Kingdoms, but the Empire proper only includes old Veluna, Furyondy, Horned Society, Shield Lands and most of the Kron Hills excluding Gnarley Woods. The Bandit kingdoms are treated as an allied buffer states and given a lot of autonomy. This was (CG) Thrommel's solution to the misfits in his empire who are not happy in the ordered society provided by the various LG/LN philosophies popular in Furyondy/Veluna. It has also turned into a cash machine for wide-open trade.
A consequence of a decade or more of war with massive use of Demons and Devils was the rise of the Ukko religion in northern Furyondy, the Wolf Nomads and the Rovers of the Barrens. It is also popular among the regular Furyondy military (not the Knights of the Hart, though). The reason is simple. Ukko provides direct supernatural aid to any devout follower when faced by supernatural enemies of great power. If you have a squad of Ukko worshipers faced by a demon, odds are that three Air Maidens will show up to drive off the demon. Ukko military units essentially ignore the effects of enemy demons and devils.
The North Fort heroes were used up against the tougher demons, those that can't be destroyed with the Crook of Rao. The Paladins of the Knights of the Crown pretty much eliminated the residual Devils from the Horned Society. Furyondy/Veluna is has destroyed its enemies and is benefiting from the most able team of rulers it has had in known memory.
Robilar decided that the way to be remembered was to conquer an empire before he died. He wanted to be the Right Hand of Hextor in the afterlife and he was not going to get that position dying of old age in his bed. He went to the Pomarj for troops, livened them up with human mercenaries and set out to establish Law in the traditionally Chaotic Wild Coast.
He had many enemies. While Robilar strictly avoided any conflict with the Druids, they did not like the idea of more Law in the area and in a covert mission restored a famous ancient king Lewellyn to oppose Robilar. Lewellyn teamed with Tenser's old henchmen and much of the priests and mages of the Wild Coast to oppose Robilars hordes.
They proved unable to deal with Robilar's simple but effective tactics. He refused battle until he personally had entered the enemy camp and killed all of the leadership that he could catch. Robilar was invisible, regenerates, is a 21st level fighter and can kill any number of mid-level and lower people effortlessly. When Robilar managed to kill Lewellyn's bride on his wedding day, he the resultant bloodbath crippled the Wild Coast's leveled community, allowing the Humanoid shock troops to conquer their way all the way up to Hardby.
The Gynarchy of Hardby finally stopped Robilar. They got all of their mages together, and when he started killing them, they all cast Haste on him (from scrolls at the minimum level of magic use, so that it would wear off and age him as fast as possible). Those that could teleport away did. The rest were not saved by their Fire Shield spells; he simply grabbed them and used them as weapons against each-other. Robilar died surrounded by his vanquished enemies. His items vanished with his soul... at some point in his career he figured out how to take his toys with him.
The Robilar empire dissolved into a bunch of minor kingdoms, ruled by his henchmen. Most were not man enough to run a society in the Robilar mold...they lacked his personal power and authority. The Wild Coast went Wild again, but a few years later a Half-Orc Turrosh Mac, claiming to be a Robilar by-blow reestablished the empire, but along more heavily Humanoid lines. The success is partly due to the lack of any leveled people in the Wild Coast, especially mages and clerics, since Robilar's war wiped out the whole generation. The Orcish empire in my Greyhawk goes as far north as Hardby but controls no lands in any forest...they have stuck to Robilar's injunction about "Don't mess with Druids" and the druids have buffered Ulek and Celene from the Humanoids, preventing any real conflict between the two. Greyhawk is able to commit a lot more resources stopping the spread of this Empire, since it does not have to worry about Iuz.
Verbebonc got the unfortunate Count who insulted the Gnomes. Since the Gnomes have Suyana and Maurice as champions the result was the political isolation of Verbebonc, not the disaffection of the Gnomes from Veluna/Furyondy. Verbebonc now holds influence only over its own lands. The Gnomes go to Furyondy for leadership.
Also in my world the Ahlissan Empire is much stronger internally and has crushed the Iron League. It is a successful LE society built around the premise of drafting every leveled person into their legions. So what if the mage only has a 9 int....he can still read a Fireball scroll. Just include the Iron League lands in the Empire and assume a much less fragile political structure and the map looks about right in CY591. Oh yes, and the leader is still Chelor, not the new guy in the current Greyhawk stuff. Chelor (a 7t/?F...where ? is around 15-17th level now after all the wars) survived the Greyhawk wars by gambling everything on his innovation.
So my Greyhawk has seen a triumph of Lawful societies, both Good and Evil. The Druids are trying to introduce more chaos (the collapse of the Great Kingdom was due in part to Druidic meddling) but have lost control of events for now. I was amused at how little I had to modify the Greyhawk source material to allow for my changes... but I did base a lot on Gygax's old Dragon articles so I guess some trends were interpreted the same way. A big difference between my Greyhawk and the published one is no "Council of 8". There aren't usually 8 arch-mages around, and they certainly won't waste their time talking to the others about politics. This could change if the Ahlissan empire is able to crank out more than a few. The role of "keeping the world in balance" I leave to the Druids and my druids are very ruthless. Right now Law is getting ahead but that is partly because Iuz & Lolth kept raising the ante for Chaos and there is a backlash. With three active CE gods dead, you have to expect some drift toward Law and even Good.
That's it. We had a heck of a good time with the Temple of Elemental Evil and I'll still get some play out of the TFH characters. Ash wants to try for Archdruid, Suyana and Brandon have expressed some interest in the Dwarf adventure and if I can ever figure out how to run Bekka's return to the Homeland there is some good play there as well. For now I'm out of energy so all of those projects will have to sit on the plate until I get the itch to run again.
Bradley Solberg, 1998