The party returned to Foothold from the Battle of Five Hawks Camp to find the walls of the city painted fuchsia, with fireworks bursting overhead in the shape of chairs and rocks and owlbears and things. When they arrived at the front gate they found Llandrin Trawscoed guarding it while dressed in a bear costume. The other guard was wearing an owl costume, weeping quietly and flinching repeatedly.
Llandrin refused to acknowledge he was wearing a bear costume, but told the humans in the party that they would have to wear bear costumes (graciously provided) to enter the city. They would also have to sing him a song. “Those are the rules,” he said, but wouldn’t explain further.
The other guard explained that he was wearing the owl costume because he’d said he was wearing a bear costume. Then Kyell appeared and started throwing rocks at the guard in the owl costume, shouting, “I’m going to win a sweater!”
This was the party’s introduction to The Owl Bear Game.
Thankfully Colonel Alafar Dunwood emerged from the woods and explained what had happened. Dunwood was doing some black ops work for the Empire in Bitterwood, and recently arrived with some of his soldiers in Foothold on their way to a mission in the wilderness of Blackmarch. It turned out that while the adventurers were gone, Azbqiplth, Lord of the Deep Gnomes, had invaded and conquered the city — and to the people in Foothold, that happened six months ago.
The party resolved to send Azbqiplth back to the underworld and destroy whatever kept Foothold in a time bubble. Llandrin was due to end his guard shift and report to Azbqiplth (which involved singing all the songs that the city’s visitors sang to him during his shift) so the party dressed in bear costumes and followed him. Dunwood and his soldiers would infiltrate the tavern and provide backup if needed.
They found deep gnomes, dark elves and monsters of the underworld cheerfully wandering the streets and acting like tourists. The castle and its occupants had been turned to chocolate, and the city’s most powerful merchants were turned to stone with their trousers down and their butts pointing skyward, shooting fireworks. And, of course, al the remaining citizens shuffled along miserably wearing bear costumes.
Azbqiplth’s court was in the party’s favorite tavern, guarded by driders and sinister dark elf sword-maidens. Child-like clockwork creatures toddled around the tavern, and whenever they passed a character, there was a sense of time being distorted. Hochnor recognized them as zorigami, legendary creatures whose life cycles were tied to the turning of the Ages.
While Llandrin distracted Azbqiplth and his court with a full rendition of the Gnomish National Anthem, Elanesse got caught up on recent events, Hochnor tried to communicate with the zorigami, and Nureddin and Khash snuck upstairs to investigate a heavily guarded room.
Fighting their way past the guards, they broke in to find that the heart of a living dungeon was amplifying the gnomes’ magic around the city. They destroyed it and the deep gnomes and their allies were sucked into the resulting vortex. Foothold returned to its normal timestream and all changes to the city were erased — along with the memories of everyone who wasn’t in the tavern.