Blackmarch

Eleventh Session Recap
Battle of Stonewreath Keep

While our heroes puzzle out the meaning behind the ominous letter they found on Father Ammon’s body last session, they hear an earth-shaking rumble and crash from the direction of Stonewreath Keep — followed by the roaring of a dragon.

When they arrive back at the keep they meet up with Lieutenant Cail Emmons and a handful of surviving soldiers. The kobolds were more than just nuisance in the mine: they’ve caused the ground beneath the bailey to collapse—killing nearly everyone who wasn’t out on patrol—and occupied the keep. Meanwhile, more kobolds poured out of the mine and swept through the village, with air support from a black dragon: Catamoros, the Hunter Beneath referred to in Ammon’s letter.

The party quickly devises a cunning plan to take back the keep and the village. While everyone else fights the kobolds and lizardfolk occupying the village, Llandrin Trawscoed magically disguises himself as a lizardman and tricks the guards into allowing him in the keep.

During the fight, Aenor receives a magical insight from The Three: Catamoros is not in charge here. The black dragon was injured while young, and is brain damaged and childlike. A young kobold named Zorila Twistback befriended him. She is the one actually leading the effort to take back “their” mines from the Empire, and has been dealing with Thurash in Catamoros’ name. Aenor asks whether Catamoros has to be killed – -can they save him instead? The Three tell her that she must do what she thinks is right.

In the keep, Llandrin finds the dragon, Zorila, and kobolds and lizardfolk in command. The dragon idly chews on the severed arm of Captain Glenna Obalda, who hangs unconscious by a chain from the rafters. Llandrin casts sleep, sending nearly all of the kobolds into magical slumber. When the rest of the party breaks in the odds are nearly even — especially since Catamoros instinctively dives in front of attacks on Zorila, absorbing as much of the damage as he can. When Zorila is killed, the dragon gives a roar of pain and grief and flies away, leaving the outcome of the battle in no doubt. After dispatching the remaining kobolds and lizardmen, the party frees Captain Obalda.

The heroes have triumphed, and order is restored. But Aenor grieves for the black dragon—a true innocent in all this—and mentally pleas with the Three to ensure his safety.

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Tenth Session Recap
To Stonewreath Keep

It’s a dark and stormy night when, on their way to Stonewreath Keep the party runs into a nasty group comprising a swarm of bats, some goblin grunts, dire bat-riding goblin cavalry, and a dire bat-riding goblin mage. Their gear is marked with the Orc Lord’s symbol. At least, it is until Aenor burns it off with a lightning fork spell that jumps to every single goblin.

It’s a tough fight but the heroes take down the goblins — except for the mage, who flies away. Llandrin Trawscoed (who used color spray to great effect during the battle by projectile vomiting gouts of rainbow light) sends his owl familiar Eli after it. Eli returns and reports that the goblin landed in the woods just outside of the keep.

They arrive at Stonewreath as the sun is rising, and meet Captain Glenna Obalda and her second-in-command, Lieutenant Cail Emmons. They confirm that Thurash Many-Rocks, Smasher of Elves and his fellow travelers spent a short time at the keep a few days ago. They seemed like decent enough sorts at the time. In fact, Thurash spent a lot of time in the chapel.

Hauling ass to the chapel the party meets Father Ammon, who is a really nice guy. He’s alarmed to hear that Thurash is a wanted criminal, and everyone’s pretty alarmed to hear that armed goblins are running around in the woods a few hours away. Father Ammon says Gaudrie the ranger is ideally suited to go after the goblins, and heads out to find him.

Obalda thinks the goblins were an isolated raiding party rather than part of an army – her patrols would have spotted a force big enough to pose a direct threat to the keep. Their main problem lately has been kobolds appearing in the tin mines near the village of Flowing Springs.

Lomo the wolf catches the scent of goblin behind a nearby door. He and Nureddin bust in and find the wounded goblin mage in Father Ammon’s quarters. They kill the hell out of him and search the place, finding a secret hole in the floor with a ladder leading down into a tunnel. Hey, maybe let’s find Father Ammon and ask him some questions? Or just stab him?

Lomo and Aenor’s raven lead the way in tracking the fleeing priest and ranger. The party quickly finds them, and Ammon screams something about how the fire is coming and the Orc Lord will kill everybody unless they get on his good side now. He attacks with a fire spell and gets a face full of ranged death for his trouble. But Gaudrie the ranger is scarily accurate with the arrows he fires from a gruesome demon bow fused to his arm; and when four goblin archers appear in the trees, the fight gets a lot tougher. Hochnor Half-Hand actually goes down at one point, but refuses to stay down. And Elanesse ultimately takes Gaudrie out with a pretty phenomenal critical hit.

The party finds 875 gold pieces on Father Ammon’s body, and some common magic items on Gaudrie’s. They also find this sealed letter in Ammon’s coat:

To the kobold emissary: Tell Catamoros, The Hunter Beneath that the Orc Lord finds his terms acceptable. – Thurash Many Rocks, Smasher of Elves

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Session Nine Interlude
Icon rolls!

Aenor rolls an icon result of 5 with the Three

Using her connections with the Three, Aenor learns that Thurash left Foothold within hours of the party’s battle with the gnolls at Underhome’s house. Thurash paid two minions of the Three to help him escape the city and reach his eventual destination: Cobin Isfeld, a Black Dragon clan assassin, and Albenna Queal, a sorcerer.

Eventually he means to cross the Black River into orc territory, but will make several stops throughout Blackmarch along the way to rendezvous with various agents of the Orc Lord. When he hired Isfeld and Queal he seemed confident that he’d be safe out in the badlands, and mentioned that the only people who might come after him have been “taken care of.”

Because going after Thurash interferes with a job being done by minions of the Three, there’s a price attached to this information: Aenor must deliver a letter (unopened) to a man named Milas Scull in the village of Shatter Creek.

Aenor rolls an icon result of 6 with the Priestess
Aenor uses her pull with the Priestess to gather recent gossip at Blackmarch Cathedral. She learns that a wandering priest met three travelers matching the descriptions of Thurash, Isfeld and Queal. They said they were heading for Stonewreath Keep a few days’ ride west.

Nureddin rolls an icon result of 6 with the Crusader
Nureddin’s Crusader buddies heard a rumor that he’s heading into the badlands to take care of unfinished business. They give him the Bow of No Mercy to help him hunt the bastard down.

Elanesse rolls an icon result of 6 with the Elf Queen
When Elanesse wakes from a dream in which the Elf Queen warns her that her enemies are nearby, she finds a tiny glowing spirit hovering in her room. It leads her out of the inn and into the street outside. A small star drifts down from the night sky toward her. As it gets closer she sees it is a magic sword known as Star’s Triumph.

Hochnor rolls an icon result of 6 with the Emperor
As thanks for the Empire’s help in the shameful matter of his brother-in-law, Maksim Goldfinder gifts the Inquisition with a new type of magic item that blends dwarf inventiveness and powerful wizardry. The Emperor’s Peace is the first of its kind, and Brother Lucas gravely presents it to Hochnor to aid him in the hunt for Thurash.

Hochnor rolls an icon result of 5 with the Emperor
But the recent unpleasantness with Ulysses Underhome hasn’t been forgotten; and so the wizard Llandrin Trawscoed will accompany the party on their search.

Reed can’t make it on Saturday
He will remain behind for now, and search for magic treasure long forgotten by the living…

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Ninth Session Recap
Battle against the shadow thieves

The party fought a pitched battle against four shadow thieves who attacked them in the portal room of Dead Elf Dungeon. After eventually sending them all fleeing to the south, the party decided they didn’t want to take their chances with the bat swarm or the ghoul they knew lay north, or the shadow thieves who’d fled south. Instead they chose to leave the dungeon through the overgrown main gate, emerging in the woods outside Foothold. They reported all that they’d found to the Captain of the Watch, who said he’d post guards at both known entrances and notify the Count’s wizard about the portal to outer space.

What now? Well, they had some unresolved business with Thurash Many-Rocks, Smasher of Elves, who they were ordered to arrest and bring before the Inquisition. They decided to hunt down Thurash, and called it a night.

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Eighth Session Recap
Descent into Dead Elf Dungeon

The Captain of the Watch asked our heroes to investigate a disturbance on the Low East Side: word is that a group of half-orcs and goblins broke into a supposedly haunted house looking for treasure, ran into trouble and didn’t come out. For this mission they’d be accompanied by the necromancer Reed Hilarion and the elf ranger Aenor.

Well, the haunted part was certainly true: an aura of terror, rage and despair hung over the place, and blood began running down the walls. Descending into the basement the party found an abandoned smuggler’s den. One exit was a large gate, locked with a seal bearing the symbol of the Emperor above and the Lich King below, indicating a border between their two domains. The other exit was a secret door that had been forced open.

Entering the formerly secret door, the adventures founnd themselves in a network of caves and tunnels beneath the poor section of the city — and they weren’t alone. The shades of elves reenact battles with spectral human and dwarf forces, and the characters found themselves alternately on one side and then the other. A narrative gradually emerged of an Imperial incursion into elf territory, the elves fleeing underground, the Imperials following…and everyone dying.

They also stumbled across the corpses of the alleged treasure-seekers they were sent to look for. Funny thing: one of them was dressed as Thurash Many-Rocks, Smasher of Elves, and a crumpled letter indicated that they were stationed there to ambush the party and injure or kill everyone but Khash.

The party chased a fleeing ghoul down a tunnel, but took a side trip into a large open space — not a cave, but a construction littered with skeletons and smashed war machines. On one side a strange portal opened onto a vista of space and stars, while the other featured a bas relief of a humanoid insect: one of the phraints, invaders from another world in a previous age. Four pillars stood in the room with gridded patterns of red, green, gold and blue gems. The characters found no magic items or usable armor or weapons, but recovered a journal that told them the following:

  • A tyrannical Emperor of a previous Age sent an army of humans and dwarves, led by General Gage, to slaughter the tribe of wild elves in the forest.
  • The elves fled into the caves below the forest. While the main force assaulted the front gates, a smaller force slipped in through a secret entrance revealed to them by a traitor.
  • Before she died, the elf shaman pronounced a curse that no one would leave the caves alive.
  • This room was where the army holed up when they realized they couldn’t get out, and that the dead were returning to fight again and again.
  • A fungal cavern had food, but strange things lurked in there – and people reported seeing the elf shaman alive, and transformed.
  • Then the shadows came to strangle people, or possess them and force them to attack their comrades, or steal their magic items and return them later with a curse on them. One of them stole the general’s armor; when it was returned and the general put it on again, he couldn’t remove it and he became prone to terrible rages. A wizard’s ring of invisibility was taken, and when he got it back he couldn’t turn visible again – he went mad and wandered off into the darkness.
  • The general became obsessed with the idea that both he and the elves had been tricked by someone or something else. He announced he was going to find the deceiver and ventured into the tunnels, but he never came back.

Just as they finished reading the final words, a shadow detached itself from the wall and began gliding toward them…

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The Gnomish National Anthem (adapted from the Elvish Epic of the Apple of Truth)

1. Lemaraün is seeking the Apple of Truth for the Rain King.

2. Joalethe is on a quest for the Apple of Truth for the Baron of the Tall Oaks.

3. Lemaraün and Joalthe both arrive at the Apple of Truth at the same time, and fight.

4. The gnome Zert, in the confusion, steals the Apple of Truth.

5. Lemaraün and Joalethe chase Zert, delaying each other, through the Forest of the White Pines.

6. Lemaraün and Joalethe chase Zert, delaying each other, across the Ocean of Frozen Waves.

7. Lemaraün and Joalethe chase Zert, delaying each other, through the Desert of Murderous Oases.

8. Zert eats the Apple of Truth, becoming incredibly wise, and Lemaraün and Joalethe realize they are in love.

9. Lemaraün and Joalethe attempt to flee from the agents of the Rain King and the Baron of the Tall Oaks.

10. Lemaraün and Joalethe appeal for help from the Elf Queen, but are rebuffed.

11. Lemaraün and Joalethe face the Rain King and the Baron of the Tall Oaks and trick them into killing each other.

12. In the denouement, Lemaraün and Joalethe retire to the beautiful underdark where they will be safe from rain and trees.

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Seventh Session Recap
Deep gnome rising.

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.

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Sixth Session Recap
The Battle of Five Hawks Camp

When we left our heroes, Hochnor was in Count Henry’s library researching the nature and history of the mysterious door discovered by the dwarf miners. Putting two and two together, Hochor figured out that the door might lead into a powerful living dungeon, which may also by the secret tomb of the first Orc Lord. And his magic axe. The party decides not to share this theory with Khash.

But research and scholarship had to wait, because a traumatized dwarf lumberjack arrived at Maksim’s with terrible news: Five Hawks lumber camp was under attack by a demonic force. It was rounding up the dwarves, killing them, and raising them again as something horrible. Maksim insisted on coming with the party; Maksim’s honored slave Boris insisted on coming with Maksim. A high-spirited group of paladins for the Crusader insisted on coming with Nureddin. Elanesse likes cake.

On the way to the camp, the party came across a slain dwarf messenger lying in the road. A letter lay in the dirt nearby:

Dear Nikolai,
Please forgive the lack of pleasantries, but I have terrible news to share and time is of the essence.
The Imperial Inquisition, your last recourse for justice, has failed you. Worse than failed: it has betrayed you. Its corrupt representatives in Blackmarch have dismissed all charges against the villain Maksim Goldfinder. It is obvious that he used his wealth—rightfully yours—to bribe them, but no one dares speak against him now.
The outrage does not end there. The Inquisition has given orders to arrest you and seize your property! If their hired enforcers aren’t already on their way to your camp, they soon will be.
My friend, now is the time to do the thing that we discussed. It is a radical step, and once taken there is no turning back. But I know you have the strength and courage to go beyond the Veil.
Begin with the one who bore this message to you, and do not stop until all is complete. Bring justice to this hellish world. We will see you soon.
I am very truly yours,
Magus Astrum, O.T.L.

The party scouted ahead and saw several of the dwarf lumberjacks in the open, their throats cut and their corpses animated by writhing thorny vines.

The Battle of Five Hawks Camp began as the party poured lamp oil on Maksim’s carriage, set it on fire, and crashed it into the possessed dwarves at high speed. Nureddin and the paladins took a position to the north and Elanesse took a position to the south, flanking the dwarves and attacking with ranged fire. Hochnor, Khash, Maksim and Boris entered melee.

Suddenly Elanesse underwent a personality change in response to the demonic activity, becoming Essenale. She suddenly had a whole lot of scary demonic powers, which she used to kick various enemies around.

Then Nikolai, now possessed by the Howler in the Woods and wielding scary demonic powers of his own, entered the battle. He and Essenale went toe to toe for a few rounds until Elanesse made her save to regain control of herself.

After taking severe damage Nikolai opened a tear in reality through which eight gnolls entered the battle. For a while defeat seemed imminent, as three out of four party members were reduced to 0 hit points. But thanks to saved-up icon rolls, reinforcements from Foothold arrived in the form of a posse of city guards and a healer. In the end, the forces of the Dragon Empire prevailed and slew all of their enemies, sending the Howler back to the Abyss.

In the aftermath of the battle, Maksim rewarded the party with gifts, and granted Boris his freedom and ownership of the Five Hawks Lumber Company.

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Fifth Session Recap
You want us to do what to who, now?

Today’s episode of Blackmarch opened in the offices of the Blackmarch Tribunal of the Imperial Inquisition, where the party sat at a long table with Brothers Lucas, Valan and Siegfried. A hooded stranger — new PC Llandrin Trawscoed — was also present. The mood was grim.

Brother Lucas spoke:

Lucas

Count Henry has requested an official summary of the other night’s events, in which Ulysses Underhome was killed outside his home by the city watch in the course of an investigation by the Inquisition.

To be specific: he was killed by a member of the city watch acting under the orders of a ranger being attacked by an unknown half-Orc swordsman. A swordsman whom the ranger appeared to let escape. Orders that witnesses say were contradicted by the cleric in the party.

Let me be clear: this event has left the city in a panic. We have experienced a demonic attack not merely within the city walls, but in the city’s center of commercial wealth and power. Its victim was a decorated hero of the Red Sorcerer’s Rebellion and the founder and owner of the Northwest Empire Shipping Company, operating under exclusive Imperial charter to connect our perpetually endangered province with civilization. Gold, lumber, hides, and more flow out of Blackmarch via Northwest Empire ships and wagons, and essential goods and comforts flow in.

This cannot be overlooked.

We have prepared an account of the incident which will be satisfactory to all parties affected, and requires only your signatures.

First, that Ulysses Underhome was indeed possessed by a demon. And that to free his spirit from its grasp and preserve Foothold from destruction, it was necessary to destroy his mortal frame.

Second, that Ulysses Underhome was at no time himself suspected of links to the Diabolist.

Third, that Underhome’s possession was in no way linked to any actions on his part, or on the part of the Inquisition.

Fourth, that the hunt for the person or persons behind this demonic attack is in progress. And to this end, the Inquisition and the City Watch are in pursuit of the fugitive Thurash, who aided in the attack on the city. It is our intention to arrest him, bring him before our tribunal, and put him to the question.

Khash and Nureddn tried to argue with Lucas, but he made the point that Hochnor was the only person qualified to diagnose Underhome’s spiritual state and make the call to kill him or not; and furthermore, what actually happened is less important than assuring a terrified citizenry that the empire is capable of defending them, and is doing something to fix this colossally fubar’ed situation.

Hochnor, Elanesse and Nureddin signed the document. Khash refused and stormed out in anger.

With Khash out of the room Nureddin told Lucas about his deep mistrust of the relationship between Khash and Thurash, who despite being Khash’s acolyte, often seemed to be the one in authority. Choosing his words carefully, Lucas acknowledged that although the Inquisition primarily deals with the threat posed to the Empire by the Diabolist and the High Druid, the Empire has other enemies; and the party is encouraged to defend her against those enemies as well. Winks and nods all around.

With a deep sigh, Lucas then introduced the new member of the party: a wizard whom Count Henry so very generously provided to help the Inquisition with its investigations. Yeah. This just got political.

Lucas then asked how the party’s investigation of charges of diabolism against Maksim Gold Finder were going. Hochnor said he believed there was enough evidence to bring Maksim in.

The party decided to bring Maksim in first, then deal with the Thurash situation. Making their way to Maksim’s house in High Town they found the street filled with silent dwarves blocking their way. As they approached, the dwarves stepped aside to let them through but did not depart.

Maksim himself appeared at the door, clearly expecting them and knowing he was about to be hauled off to the Inquisition. He asked only that they give him a chance to show them something he discovered in the Thunder Falls mine a few weeks ago — if he’s going to disappear into the Maze, someone trustworthy needs to know about this.

The party agreed, first searching his house for evidence of wrongdoing (assisted by Boris, Maksim’s “honored slave.”) They found some interesting things — including the locked bedroom of Maksim’s deceased wife (and Nikolai’s sister) Yelena, but nothing to indicate that Maksim was a diabolist.

The party rode in Maksim’s carriage (which Aaron perfectly described as "the carriage equivalent of a black, bullet-proof Mercedes) to Thunder Falls mine. As they descended deep into a newly-dug shaft, Khash sensed a spiritual aura of fear and ancient magic — not demon magic, but something unknown.

When they arrived at the bottom they saw what Maksim’s miners had uncovered in their digging: a carved chamber containing a metal door carved with screaming faces, with a ruby-eyed rune-carved skull set into it, a doorframe carved to look like another screaming face, and the symbols for the icons around it. WHAT MESSAGE COULD THIS POSSIBLE BE SENDING?

Funny thing, though: the icons weren’t all icons of the 13th Age. Using his knowledge of past ages and the help of the Helm of the Relentless Inquisitor, Hochnor identified them as:

  • Emperor
  • Elf Queen
  • Dwarf King
  • Prince of Shadows
  • Archmage
  • Crusader (not the current, dark Crusader but an earlier Crusader of light)
  • Fool
  • Opener of Ways
  • Queen of Cups
  • Lady of Ravens
They stepped into the room and the skull’s eye and runes glowed. Each party member then heard it speak in the language closest to their true natures:

Traveler: thou standeth at the entrance to a place of terror and woe. There is nought within but death. Turn away, if ever ye wish to see the light again.

A white stripe of paint was on the floor a few feet in front of the door, and a chain stretched across the room at the same place. Maksim explained that this marked the point beyond which the skull “melts your brain.”

Llandrin Trawscoed badly wanted to get through the door and to the fabulous treasure that he insisted must be on the other side.

Llandrin and Hochnor crossed the line and the skull began a psychic scream that did indeed melt a porton of 1-3 random party members’ brains. Nureddin, Elanesse and Llandrin launched three rapid attacks that blew the skull into fragments. Hochnor and Llandrin failed to force the door open, and found that touching it caused them to experience a crippling fear.

Hey, wondered Nureddin, who inherits the mine if anything happens to Maksim? Maksim said that the mine would go to his brother-in-law Nikolai — and with Nikolai being so unstable since Yelena’s death, Maksim worried that this might not be a good thing. Nureddin got a strong hunch that Nikolai has been setting Maksim up.

The party escorted Maksim directly to Brother Lucas’ office, where Hochnor described to Lucas what had happened and vouched for Maksim’s innocence. The investigation wasn’t over by any means, but Maksim was at least cleared.

Llandrin finagled access to the count’s historical archives so Hochnor could use them to research the door and the icon symbols surrounding it. Rolling a 5 on his relationship with the Emperor earned Llandrin a complication in exchange for this favor: he has to organize and stage the re-enactment of Foothold’s founding for the upcoming Founding Day festival.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rX7wtNOkuHo

Waiting outside, Khash was approached by a Father Simon from the cathedral. Father Simon said he noticed that Khash was troubled, and offered to help. Khash politely declined. Father Simon bade him good day and walked into the bakery that Khash uses as a dead drop for his imperial handler. Coincidence?

And so we closed the latest session of BLackmarch with Hochnor Half-Hand, paladin of the Age, immersed in the count’s historical archives searching for an answer to the riddle of the door.

As Hochnor reads, his eyes widen. “Gods of light,” he whispers in astonishment…

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Fourth Session Recap
Attack of the Gnolls

An Imperial soldier shares a rumor about the late Maggie Dead Eyes with Nureddin Wolf-Father at the The Knife and Adder. Word is that she was in Blackmarch because she was running away from trouble: she made bouncy-bouncy with some high-ranking soldier boy while on a secret mission in Bitterwood, then got into a spat and tried to blow his face off. Uncharacteristically, she failed to kill him so she lit out for the frontier until the trouble blew over. Whether that had anything to do with her attacking Elanesse…can’t rightly say.

Khash is getting good and soused with his new drinking buddies when a greyhound races up to the tavern and frantically begs Nureddin (whose unique is that he can talk to dogs) to help his master Ulysses Underhome. He’s in some sort of dire trouble with gnolls.

The party slowly and reluctantly makes their way to Underhome’s mansion in High Town, where they find a crowd of city watch and onlookers surrounding it. The house is encircled by an eight foot high thicket of unwholesome-looking spiny vegetation. Also, sickly, flickering yellow light can be seen in the windows. The guardsmen haven’t been able to get through the thicket, but surprise! It parts easily for the adventurers, who make their way in through the servant’s gate. They hear yipping and cackling from the front yard. Yep. Them’s gnolls, all right.

Nureddin tries to sneak up on them and (fumble) winds up face to face with a gnoll savage. Oops.

Unnervingly, not only are the three gnolls expecting Hochnor Half-Hand and his crew, they seem wayyyy more familiar with his background than they have a right to be. They make jokes about how he sacrificed his fingers to get information. (“Hey, Hochnor! If you give me yer thumb, I’ll tell ya where the bathroom is!”) But the gnolls have a bigger surprise, one they credit to Maksim Gold Finder: they’ve forced a spiky wooden crown onto Underhome’s head, and as the party watches, it sprouts tall wooden spider-legs and lashing thorny vines. Thurash Many-Rocks, Smasher of Elves unexpectedly joins the heroes, and the battle’s on.

The battle is long and hard fought, with Thurash repeatedly brought back from death’s door by Khash. It turns out it’s a lot easier to hit the barely-conscious Ulysses Underhome than it is to target the wooden crown or its appendages, and there’s some disagreement over whether the party should give a shit. Thurash certainly does: he grabs Khash and hisses in his ear, “You can’t let him die! Save him!” Eh?

At a critical moment in the battle the thorny thicket disintegrates, giving the watch a chance to join the battle and the crowd to get a good look at what happens next. The last surviving gnoll yells something about how Maksim Gold Finder will kill them all and runs into the house — which Elanesse (fumble) accidentally sets on fire. Nureddin yells to the guards to kill Underhome because he’s possessed. Khssh yells for them not to kill Underhome, Thurash attacks Nureddin, and a confused guard decides he should do what the ranger said and shoots Underhome with a crossbow. Critical hit! The demon-thing falls apart.

The dying Underhome asks Khash — cleric of the goddess of hearth and home — to purify his defiled house “for my son” and heir, who lives in Glitterhaegen. With his last breath he whispers, “The Howler in the Woods is coming.”

After a brief melee Thurash and Nureddin stand down, but it’s clear this conversation is far from ended. As he limps away, Thurash — who’s a spy for the Orc Lord, remember — says in a low voice to Khash, “We have to fix some things.”

Hochnor races into the house after the gnoll, and (fumble) catches fire from Elanesse’s wayward spell. He and Nureddin catch up with the creature on the second floor, where it’s blocked by Gar, a paladin of the Crusader who saw the end of the fight and came in through the back door to cut off the gnoll’s escape. The three make short work of the vile monster.

Khash sends a messenger to summon Hildegard, Archbishop of the Black March to help him purify the house from demonic influence. When she arrives, she’s deeply disturbed to learn that Underhome is dead. Elanesse uses breath of the white dragon to put out the fire, and the clerics enter the house while she loots the gnolls’ bodies of their filthy, filthy equipment.

When Elanesse picks up the wooden demon crown, she has a vivid, frightening flash of memory: she’s strapped to an altar while hooded figures perform a ritual over her. The walls and floors are painted with symbols of the Diabolist. One of the figures pushes his hood back to reveal he’s made of liks of silver chain. Elanesse recalls Kyell’s confused message from the Elf Queen to either “wear the silver chain,” or “beware the silver chain.” She now suspects the correct message was “beware.” She uses burning hands to incinerate the crown.

Entering the master bedroom, the adventurers plus Hildegard and her retinue of priests find a demonic portal to the woods. Khash realizes he can perform a ritual to close it, but (fumble) vomits ale all over the floor when he speaks up.

Gar, Nureddin and the wolf Lomo walk through the portal and find themselves in the woods a couple of miles from Foothold, and pretty close to the lumber camp of Nikolai Tree Feller. As they trek back to town, Gar tells Nureddin that he likes how the ranger handled that half-orc back there. He might have an opportunity for Nureddin to kill some orcs and make some money along the way.

Khash and the other clerics perform the ritual, Hochnor and Elanesse head back to their respective lodgings, and eventually everyone gets their first sound sleep in days.

They’ll need it. Because as they rest, that one crossbow bolt fired by a confused city watchman in the heat of battle is sending shockwaves through the Empire all the way to Axis, and the palace of the Emperor.

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