Blackmarch

Kyell Has Something To Add
Wade left out the best part!

martyfeldman-sm.jpgHi, guys! It’s me, your pal Kyell the gnome!

Boy oh boy, I can’t believe I ran into you two sessions ago, alllll the way out here in the wilderness. It was so great catching up with you, and reminiscing about the great times we had. Like when the Deep Gnomes took over Foothold, and we got to play The Owl Bear Game. That one wizard guy in your party was really good at it!

And remember how I told you all about Lady Nightwhisper? She’s great! When weird shadow monsters started coming up out of the dungeon you guys discovered, strangling rich people in their sleep and stealing their stuff, this masked swordswoman showed up out of NOWHERE and figured out how to beat them!

And then she led the count’s soldiers on an expedition into the dungeon where she cleaned out all the evil ghosts and drove away the shadow guys, and found a bunch of the count’s treasure that the shadow guys stole. I bet you probably saw it when you were down there, but you might have been too busy to get it.

Everyone loves Lady Nightwhisper! She’s got this black mask and cape, and a sword, and she’s like, really good at being an adventurer.

I mean, you guys are really good at being adventurers too! I bet nobody even minds that you set houses on fire and kill rich, powerful merchants.

Anyhoo, I’m probably dead now because of the orc army and the hellhole opening underneath me and stuff. But maybe I survived and I’ll see you later!

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Twentieth Session Recap
The Siege of Burnham, Part 2

Deploying the Magical Minions and scouts, and coordinating with the Dragon’s Eyeballs system of watchtowers, the PCs manage to corner a pair of goblins in an alley. One of them viciously stabs the other to death, seeming intent on shredding its chest. One of the PCs kills the goblin, and they discover the following message carved into its chest:

Jellah – We paid your price. Now do as you promised. Light the second nightcandle, and we’ll attack when the defenses fall.

Llandrin Trawscoed knows that nightcandles are inventions of the Prince of Shadows — their flame can only be seen by those attuned to them by rubbing their blood on the candle. The PCs ask the mayor about Jellah, and someone in the office remembers her as an old blind woman whose family came into Burnham as refugees. They’re staying with another family in an old, abandoned building in the poor side of town that used to be a slaughterhouse. Jellah’s family has experience slaughtering cattle, so they’ve been slaughtering refugees’ cattle there and salting the meat for provisions for the siege.

The party arrives at the slaughterhouse to find Drayton Slaughter stacking barrels of salted meat along with Hengar and Aud Woodbine. Jed Slaughter sits by the cellar door sharpeining his axe, his killin’ sledgehammer propped up next to him. Jed wears stained leather armor and a leather helmet that encases his head, hiding his features. Drayton is crazed and belligerent., Hengar and Aud seem frightened and conciliatory toward the PCs, clearly wanting to avoid trouble. The paving stones are stained with blood, and hooks hang from a wooden arch in the yard. Atop the arch the PCs see two nightcandles.

Things go south fast as Drayton takes out his own killin’ hammer during an argument with Hochnor and Nureddin, and Jed rises to his feet and readies his axe for throwing. The fight is short and bloody, leaving Drayton crumpled in the yard and Jed frozen solid with a spell. Hengar and Aud reveal that Jellah, the Slaughter’s matriarch, lives down in the cellar and she has their young son Mikel down there.

When the party enters the cellar they see old, blind Jellah rocking in a chair and knitting while Mikel levitates over a pit in the floor. As she and the PCs talk, she occasionally jabs her knitting with a needle and blood trickles down Mikel’s arms. “Blood must be paid,” Jellah says cryptically, before un leashing a psychic attack on the party.

Hochnor blows a hole in Jellah with his magic shotgun and she topples into the pit, cackling as Nureddin dives across and saves the boy from falling. The ground begins to shake and the party flees to the mayor’s.

As they run through town, cracks begin to open in the earth. Unholy light pours out and sulfurous fumes fill the air. Hochnor realizes that a hellhole is opening beneath them.

The walls crash down and the orc army pours in, with goblin bat cavalry flying toward the dragon skull shrine bearing explosives, blocks and tackle to lifting the skull out of its vault. While the town’s defenders battle the orcs and evacuate the townspeople, the PCs confront Thurash Many-Rocks, Smasher of Elves, Albenna Queal, Cobin Isfeld, and their squad of orcs. Halfway through the battle, demonic spirits rise from the abyss and possess the corpses of their fallen foes, turning them into powerful hellborn undead.

Hochnor uses his connection with the Crusader to call for help NOW, pledging the town to the Crusader in return. A rain of ash falls from the sky, and moments later the Crusader’s terrifying elite Ebon Gauntlet strike force emerges from a rift leading to the dead realm known as the Echo. They join the battle, but Thurash is absolutely slaughtering Nureddin, Llandrin is out of spells, and Hochnor falls with a mortal wound.

But then, miraculously, everything turns around.

Hochnor uses his 6 relationship advantage with the Emperor to return from death’s door, and he uses Smite Evil to destroy one of the undead. While Elanesse distracts Thurash by blasting him with acid breath, the Crusader’s inquisitor uses one of her abilities to give Nureddin an immediate extra shot at his foe — which he uses to kill Thurash dead.

And then the dragons show up, in response to Llandrin’s call last session. But they’re not good guy dragons: they are all evil dragons. They massacre the orc army and seize the dragon skull for themselves. As they fly off, the party glimpses their first icon in the flesh: the Red looms in the distance, before vanishing.

The Ebon Gauntlet will stay behind to contain the growing hellhole until the Crusader can arrive to seize it and turn it into one of his demon-guarded fortresses. They open a passage into the Echo, and the PCs return to Foothold.

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Nineteenth Session Recap
The Siege of Burnham, Part 1

As the party flies toward Burnham on the back of Catamoros the black dragon, they interrupt a squadron of goblin-riding dire bats attacking the city while a swarm of orcs assaults the walls on the ground. The PCs and dragon make short work of the goblins, and after landing and scattering the orcs, discover two very important things: they are in the service of the Orc Lord, and they wield new, high-quality swords made in Axis by Hallbert Brothers Armorers. Orcs shouldn’t have these, in this quantity.

The PCs warn the mayor of the coming siege, and he tells the party that attacks by orcs have increased lately — not just on Burnham, but the surrounding area. Refugees are starting to arrive in the city, fleeing burned villages and farms. One of them is a caravan master from the Northwest Empire Shipping Company, who tells of an orc attack on his largely unguarded caravan, and his orders to immediately surrender if orcs attack. But as far as he knows, he wasn’t carrying swords….

The mayor leads the party to the shrine where the dragon skull rests, deep below the earth in a vault reached by steep stairs. Legend says the skull can give one the power to command dragons, and it’s this artifact the Orc Lord is after. Llandrin Trawscoed mentally communes with the skull in an effort to contact the spirit of the heroic dragon. And he does contact a dragon, to be sure: a sinister, immensely powerful dragon who, amused at being called on by a weak, puny human, agrees to help and breaks the connection.

The expected orc army arrives, with goblin bat cavalry, cave trolls, orc berserkers, and more. Thurash Many-Rocks, Smasher of Elves trades insults with Nureddin Wolf-Father for a while, and then it’s officially on.

The PCs spend the next few weeks shoring up the city’s defenses. Nureddin trains scouts and bushwhackers. Elanesse identifies five townspeaople and refugees with raw magical ability and teaches them some sorcery, dubbing them the Magical Minions. Hochnor Half-Hand organizes a volunteer fire department, and trains the refugee farmers in military tactics. Aenor flies Catamoros back to Foothold to tell Count Henry about the swords in the hands of the orcs, and to contact the Crusader’s forces and tell them Burnham needs help.

One night, the orcs attack one of the walls. As the party repels the attackers, several dire bats fly over another wall and drop goblins inside the city…

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Eighteenth Session Recap
Finish what you started.

The party’s learned that the only way to overcome the Lady of the Harvest is for one of the PCs to willingly give their life during the battle. But Aenor wonders, what if there’s another way? The forest is wounded and angry, right? What if the party heals it?

Aenor begins a healing ritual, with the rest of the party standing in a circle to protect her. Ifanna — now transformed into the terrifying Lady of the Harvest — appears with her servitors and attacks them. The ritual requires that the party not defend itself, so they stand resolutely taking damage, hoping this doesn’t get them killed.

The ritual succeeds. Ifanna returns to her normal self and collapses, and the path is open for them to confront the old High Druid, in the glade where the tallest tree in the forest stands.

The party approaches the old High Druid, who confronts them with the violence and greed in their lives. But the PCs respond by pointing out how they’ve shown self-sacrifice and mercy during their time in the forest, and Ifanna testifies to their worth. The old High Druid concedes that he acted rashly and releases the dragon Catamoros into their care. They are free to leave the forest, and go with his blessings.

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Seventeenth Session Recap
Can we please leave the damn forest?

Trapped in a hostile magical forest that won’t let them leave, the party tries to find out what’s going on and (more importantly) how to escape. A mysterious elf named Ifanna pops in and out to offer advice and guidance, and seems to remember things that happened in ancient times. Through talking with Ifanna, a ghostly paladin named Mingxia, and halflings who’ve dwelled in the forest since the Halfling Rebellion, they determine that:

  • This is the forest of the long-dead High Druid of a previous age.
  • The intrusion of the PCs and a band of orcs has awakened the spirit of the old High Druid, which has become the spirit of the forest. He is angry and wants all the “intruders” dead for bringing corruption into his forest.
  • Ifanna was the old High Druid’s daughter, who is now a forest spirit. She doesn’t remember her mortal life very well.
  • An injured black dragon entered the forest a while ago, and is under the old High Druid’s protection. The orcs entered the forest to find and capture the dragon. The PCs realize that this is the childlike dragon they fought and wounded at Stonewreath. Aenor suspects this is the creature she saw in her vision last session.
  • The forest had two guardians in the old days: the Lord of the Hunt, whom the party fought last session, and the Lady of the Harvest, who was worshipped by the farmers who lived near the woods.
  • If they fight the Lady of the Harvest, she can only be killed if one of the PCs willingly gives up their life during the fight.
  • To leave the forest, they’ll have to somehow settle matters with the old High Druid.

The party — led by a halfling scout — tracks down the main band of orcs and kills them. They also decide to get rid of any Diabolist-tinged magic items they’re carrying, by placing them into what Ifanna calls the Pool of Purification. On impulse, Elanesse dives in, and the spirit of the pool expels the demonic spirit of Essenale from her.

Suddenly, Ifanna is in great distress — she says her father is calling her, and pleads with the PCs to forgive what she’s going to do to them, before vanishing.

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Sixteenth Session Recap
Into the woods!

Aenor receives a vision from the Blue in a dream, sending her into the deep woods to “finish what you began”. She senses a creature there, in pain, angry and afraid; and the woods becoming magically tainted by that pain and anger and fear, turning dark.

The party leaves Shatter Creek, heading northwest toward the town of Burnham. They’ve heard that an army of the Orc Lord, led by Thurash Many-Rocks, Smasher of Elves, is on its way to attack Burnham and steal an ancient artifact: a dragon skull that gives the owner the ability to control dragons.

As they sail upriver, a sudden storm arises and a tentacled monster attacks from below the water, destroying the boat. The party makes it ashore and finds itself trapped in the Old Druid Hills forest — or, more precisely, trapped BY the forest. It’s clearly aware and hostile, trying to lead the PCs into deadly traps.

Things get even weirder when green-glowing dire animals and humanoids attack the party, disintegrating into bones when slain.

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Fifteenth Session Recap
Elanesse Dissolves a Bunch of Guys

Boss Hoger and Yavuz are conducting a ritual at the bridge, sacrificing the local priest of the Gods of Light in order to consecrate the town to the Dark Gods! The PCs, accompanied by a band of Red Shield soldiers who’ve turned against Hoger, must carve their way through a wall of enemies to reach them and stop the ritual.

Llandrin Trawscoed’s player was running late, so his not-elven wizard had the misfortune of serving as a cautionary example for the others: he levitated into the air in order to see the lay of the land, and was struck by a bolt of magical energy that transported him to the realm of the Dark Gods. Oops.

Aenor sent her raven skyward to do the scouting instead, and he reported back that there were a lot of bad guys occupying the main square leading to the bridge; and that the townspeople looked ready to riot against the Crusader’s forces for burning down the mayor’s house and preparing to sacrifice their priest.

The party joined the crowd fof townspeople, and got the riot under way with a well-aimed thrown rock and some shouted encouragement. While the larger battle raged, the party took on the forces that stood between them and the bridge.

It was a long, bloody, difficult fight. (The escalation die reached 5!) Mobs of wretched conscripts, and the even more wretched magic-using Avenging Orbs made life really challenging for a while, and the Red Shields who stayed loyal to Hoger dealt some truly disturbing amount s of damage to the PCs. But when Elanesse made some exceptionally good rolls with her breath of the Green spell, the opposing forces melted away. Like, literally: she unleashed tornados of corrosive gas that dissolved about 10 enemies into puddles of organic waste.

That battle done, the party raced to the bridge where Zara stood between them and Hoger. She was already staggered from the larger battle going on in the background, and the corpses of townspeople lay at her feet. As the PCs watched in horror, Yavuz hanged the Priest of Light from the bridge.

OR DID HE? Hochnor Half-Hand used a 6 with the Crusader to provide a flashback which revealed that Hochnor totally knew this was going to happen, and conspired with rogue elements within Hoger’s platoon to replace the victim with one of their own — and rig the sacrifice so that the replacement dangled harmlessly from the rope. Ritual foiled!

Meanwhile Nureddin Wolf-Father used his own 6 with with Crusader to talk some sense into Zara. Persuaded by his words, she confronted Hoger with her own misgivings about what they were doing, and begged him to stop. “It’s been nice working with you,” Hoger said, and unleashed lightning on her. The battle was joined!

Zara fought well and heroically, but ultimately fell against her former commander. Aenor used a 5 with the Three to recharge her lightning fork spell and unleash some whoop-ass on Hoger. Llandrin used a 5 with the Emperor to flash back to the time he fought in the Red Sorcerer’s Rebellion and actually saw Hoger in battle fighting on the Red Sorcerer’s side. Llandrin used that sudden recognition to recall a weakness in Hoger’s fighting style and used it against him to land some major damage. Finally, Hochnor summoned his hammer of faith and brought it down on the ogre mage, destroying him. Hoger’s physical form dispersed amid the scent of cherry blossoms, the sound of otherwordly music, and the sensation of alien philosophies passing through the PCs’ minds and then vanishing.

The town of Shatter Creek has been liberated, and harsh justice dealt to the wicked.

Time to resume the hunt for Thurash…

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Fourteenth Session Recap
Screwjob in Shatter Creek

Our heroes emerge from the portal in the mayor’s house in Shatter Creek — and find themselves in a trap! A group of Crusader soldiers — consisting of elite Red Shield warriors, Witch Hunter archers, Avenging Orb wizards, and a squad of mooks — attacks them.

The PCs have been going for a long time: they’re injured, and many of their most potent abilities have been used up. This, along with the counter-magic effects of the Witch Hunters’ black arrows, makes this a long and difficult battle. But the party eventually prevails, only to discover that the house is surrounded! More soldiers start to pour in, but the party’s lethal defense of their position convinces Hoger’s lackeys to try a different tactic: they’ll burn down the house with the PCs in it.

As the house they’re in catches fire and smoke begins to fill the room, Hochnor Half-Hand‘s 5 result with the Crusader comes into play — a group of Red Shields comes in the back way and tells the party that Hoger has gone too far, and needs to be stopped. He’s going to sacrifice Shatter Creek’s priest of the Gods of Light at the bridge, protecting the town from demons by consecrating it to the Dark Gods.

Bloodied but unbowed, and with a burning desire for vengeance, our heroes venture forth for the final battle to decide the fate of Shatter Creek….

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Thirteenth Session Recap
An enemy revealed!

The PCs step through the portal Boss Hoger created and find themselves on a barren plain at night. In the distance they see the bulk of Facility 13 silhouetted against the stars. Searchlights mounted on towers sweep the desert floor, and when one of them catches a fleeing figure, it narrows into a beam of energy that incinerates the poor wretch. The party decides to camp out for the night and enter the prison in the morning.

The rangers use their ranger skills to determine by the position of the stars that they’ve been teleported all the way to the Red Wastes.

Day breaks, and the party approaches the prison. They’re met by clockwork guards who, after they scan Hochnor Half-Hand‘s Inquisitor badge, escort them inside to meet The Warden. This jolly fellow’s cheerfulness is a sharp contrast to the looming menace of Ironhoof, a gearforged minotaur who is the captain of the guard at Facility 13. After a mix of forced pleasantries, veiled threats and bureaucratic negotiating, the Warden allows the party to deliver their letter to Milas Scull

An older, white-bearded man with dragon-scaled skin, Miles Scull lived peacefully in the town of Shatter Creek until he crossed the ogre mage Boss Hoger. He reads the letter sent by the Three, and delivers some bad news: Thurash Many-Rocks, Smasher of Elves plans to invade the town of Burnham and seize a magical dragon’s skull which will allow the Orc Lord to command dragons. Since MIlas is locked up in the Eye, the task of stopping Thurash will be left to the PCs.

Scull also explains that Hoger’s zeal for fighting demons is matched only by his greed. Since taking over Shatter Creek, the ogre mage has imposed high tariffs on merchants passing through and high taxes on local citizens. He also has a cozy arrangement with the warden of Facility 13. The prison turns a nice profit by charging its inmates for their room, board, and “services” such as their own torture. The prison gives Hoger a percentage of the take from prisoners that he sends there, and he’s been convicting people in Shatter Creek on trumped-up charges to fatten both his coffers and the Warden’s.

Next, the party is escorted to the floor where Colonel Alafar Dunwood is held in solitary confinement (though first they discover that the prison’s corridors are kept clean by gelatinous cubes.)

Dunwood pleads with the party to get him out: he has secrets — top Imperial secrets — and if whoever runs the prison figures that out, they’re going to extract those secrets from him. There’s something fishy about his story, and he admits to having some pretty nasty magic items in his possession — though he claims to have a license to use them. The party decides to take Dunwood into custody in the name of the Inquisition.

After retrieving Dunwood’s things from the evidence locker — including the aforementioned nasty magic items and the license to use them — they lead Dunwood out of the prison in shackles. As Dunwood talks cheerfully, Elanesse starts having flashbacks to when she was imprisoned and experimented on by servants of the Archmage. And when Dunwood says, “How do you want to do this?” she recognizes him at last: Dunwood was one of the people who experimented on her.

Just then, the trap is sprung! Thirteen mind-controlled, possibly demon-possessed elves teleport in along with several evil wizards commanding them. Dunwood’s shackles unlock and fall to the ground. Elanesse loses control and her evil self Essenale emerges, more powerful and uncontrollable than ever.

The battle is brutal and bloody. Dunwood pleads with Essenale to return with him, calling her “my Lady” and saying “we have so much to learn from you.” Essenale will have none of it, and reduces him to a heap of ash.

Our heroes are battered and exhausted. But there’s no way they’re going back in the prison, and there’s no rest to be had here in the Wastes. They re-open the portal and return to Shatter Creek, and whatever awaits them there.

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Twelfth Session Recap
Somthing ain't right in Shatter Creek.

Continuing their pursuit of Thurash Many-Rocks, Smasher of Elves, the party travels overland to the town of Shatter Creek — first doing battle with a pack of werewolves and a ferocious owlbear!

The owlbear was dispatched fairly easily, much to the GM’s disappointment. He is now considering unleashing a pack of owlbears on the PCs, or possibly a titanic mega-owlbear.

Approaching Shatter Creek the party is intercepted by a patrol of the Crusader’s soldiers. Their commander says there’s been some diabolical activity in the area but they’ve got things under control. This proves to be incredibly true: as the PCs head down the road they see the bodies of hanged townsfolk dangling from the trees on either side, with signs around their necks bearing inscriptions such as, “I Consorted With Demons.”

They’re met at the bridge and escorted into town by Platoon Sergeant Zara who explains that Shatter Creek has been taken over by Boss Hoger, an ogre mage lieutenant in the Crusader’s army. She puts them up in a commandeered house and arranges an appointment with Hoger.

Hoger holds court in the mayor’s former mansion (the mayor is currently staying elsewhere) and receives them with the kindly hospitality and goodwill of a deeply corrupt Southern sheriff. When asked about Thurash, he (a little too quickly) denies ever having heard of him. When asked where Aenor might find Milas Scull and deliver the letter she’s carrying from the Three.

Turns out Milas Scull got on Hoger’s bad side, and was sent to a prison a long, long ways away. Hoger could teleport the party there, of course, but the transportation fee is enormous.

Llandrin Trawscoed bravely cashes in a 5 result with the Emperor to grease the wheels.

Hoger recalls that there’s another prisoner in the facility suspected of diabolism. Hochnor Half-Hand and company agree to interrogate this prisoner, which means the fee can be charged to the Imperial Inquisition. Coincidentally (spoiler: not at all a coincidence) the prisoner is someone they’ve met before — Colonel Alafar Dunwood, who helped the party when the Gnome King took over Foothold. Everyone takes a moment to relive the painful memory of THAT session, and then it’s off to the prison!

Hoger uses a magic ring to open a portal, and the party steps through. “Sayonara,” Hoger says as it closes behind them…

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