A Faerunian Tale

A Bulette to the Head (Arena Day 4)

After a long rest following their victory of the Beholders, the Party awoke to find Harkin just returning with information he had gathered under cover of night. With Crust’s help to provide access in and out of the holding cells and some magical disguise work, Harkin had managed to accomplished quite a bit through the late and early hours. Aside from establishing new business relationships and endeavors for the Party in Hillsfar, he also managed to learn that the creatures the Party would face that day were some derivation of Bulette with extraplanar aspects to them. That information, when combined with Crust’s information on the smoke-filled arena, set a very difficult and deadly scenario of a smokey terrain with the Party fighting beasts that could burrow and locate them by their movements on the ground. This final match against monstrous opponents would easily prove to be the most difficult of the series so far.

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Battle Chess (Arena Day 2)
Sessions 34 & 35 - Sept 7 & 21, 2012

Crust the Half-Orc escorted the party back to their quarters where they found Nigel with a new companion lounging. Nigel greeted the party with great enthusiasm, and he introduced them to his long-time friend and colleague Harkin. Harkin introduced himself while idly playing a fantastic tune on his lute. He appeared to be human, in well-kept but fairly reserved clothing, and stated that he was placing a 100,000 gp wager on the party’s success as a gesture of good will. Although not outwardly intimidating, the party could easily sense that Harkin’s presence would greatly benefit them in the arena. He carried a longsword at his side, but something told the party that his fighting capabilities would not be his most valuable asset.

For the remainder of the day and evening, the party recovered from their combat, exchanged pleasantries with Harkin, and ultimately sought out additional information on the next day’s battle. Crust returned after completing his rounds serving some other combatants only to relay that he learned the next combat would be a new fighting format introduced this year – Battle Chess. Although the rules of the game were given in great detail, the basic rules were as follows:

1) The starting team is always the house team (chosen by Maalthir)
2) Team initiative always follows this order – King, Queen, Bishop, Knight, Rook; all members of one team take actions then followed by the other team
3) Readied actions allowed but order in initiative is not changed in subsequent rounds
4) Each attacker chooses a single target and may engage attacks only when adjacent to opponent; ranged attacks receive no penalty for firing at adjacent foes; attacks are in two stages with the attacker going first and defender counterattacking with the following conditions:

Defender

  • – 5 AC bonus
  • 2nd Initiative

Attacker

  • Always treated as charging if moving more than 5’
  • + 5 ATT bonus
  • 1st Initiative

5) All damaging area effects can only damage a single opponent; for ongoing effects, caster may change recipient of damaging area effects as a swift action at the start of his turn. Non-damaging effects shall affect all individuals on battlefield.

6) Similar to the rules of chess, you win the entire match if you defeat the opponents’ king.

The party must choose members to fulfill roles as chess pieces in the field. The party members were assigned as follows:

King = Harkin
Queen = Evangelyne
Rook = Mortimer
Bishop = Gruuntham
Bishop = Darian
Knight = Dastan
Knight = Mathias


The next morning, Crust roused the party to prepare for combat. Shortly thereafter, he led them back through some corridors to the arena entrance. He informed the party that any magical ‘buffs’ ahead of time were at the party’s own risk, since they were technically not allowed. Despite the warning, the party went ahead and chose to buff while waiting. To their delight, their casting preparation was not discovered.

Upon entering the arena, the party faced the following opponents:

King = Human Sorcerer
Queen = Warforged Barbarian/Fighter
Rook = (Custom) Mithral Golem
Rook = Half-Giant Psychic Warrior
Bishop = Githyanki Fighter
Bishop = Human Warlock
Knight = Human Monk

The opposing team led off the match with their king casting Freezing Fog across the empty space of the arena, which allows their remaining members to carefully maneuver undetected. The party adjusted their strategic formation while Harkin began belting out a wondrous tune to inspire the rest of his comrades. Mathias cast Gust of Wind, which would disperse the fog by the following round. Combatants on both sides entered the slippery freezing fog, and all hell broke loose once the fog was dispersed.

Although each team traded blows, the battle quickly became a blur. Harkin cast Haste on the party, which quickly gave them an advanced with their mobility. The Mithral Golem engaged Gruuntham and dealt a significant amount of damaged smashing away with its fists. Gruuntham struck back only to find that the golem instantly changed its form to create an exact metal replica of Gruuntham that fought with all of his same benefits and advantages. The Githyanki fighter engaged Dastan, only to be brought down swiftly by a combination of attacks from Darian and Evangelyne. Mortimer guarded Harkin closely using his girth to block any attacks, and Dastan began plugging holes in his opponents at point blank range. The opposing Warlock continued to lay into Gruuntham using an Eldritch Glaive, but Dastan and Gruuntham managed to take him down. Mathias strategically maneuvered around the battlefield in an effort to engage opponents to deal massive damage with his energy orbs, but the opposing Warforged struck a huge blow on a charge and deactivated Mathias with a single devastating, critical blow from his embedded falchion. The opponents’ king also cast multiple area spells with ongoing effects in an attempt to hamper Harkin’s support, but Harkin proved too hardy of mind and body to succumb to any of the effects. With Mathias down and both Gruuntham and Dastan near fatally injured by the Mithral Golem, the party’s morale seemed to wane; but at the turning point when things seems most bleak, Gruuntham (currently buffed by a variety of spells plus Harkin’s bolstering effects) managed a brilliant strategic move to engage the opponents’ king directly and took him down with three fell strokes…

The crowd cheered fanatically for the party, and Harkin gave a brief speech to further incense the crowd and create some dismay with the current political regime. Maalthir quickly had the party removed from the arena, and Nigel took the party out on the town while Harkin separated from them to spread the good word of their deeds and secure better lodging, meals, and security for his new-found companions.

Upon returning to their quarters with Nigel, the party learned that they had been relocated to quarters with much better amenities, food and drink. Mathias and the remaining members were healed to full health, and the entire party had also earned a 200% return on their bets. It was a good day indeed.

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A Long Fall in a Short Match (Arena Day 1)
Session 33 - July 27, 2012

The party witnessed the Cyclonic Ravager begin to rise at the opposite end of the arena then disappear naturally as an air elemental. Gruuntham buffed the party as they spread out briefly and pressed their backs up against the walls to prevent being caught off guard from behind. Suddenly, then air around the party began to blow violently throwing most of the group off their feet and forcefully into the walls.

Darian began working his way around the edge of the arena when to his surprise his elven senses noticed a trap door in the floor behind which a deep growling sound resonated. He avoided the door and took up a defensive position along with the rest of the party while Mathias remained closer to the center as bait. Mathias cast sleet storm in the upper aerial portions of the arena so the party could see the outline of the creature as it flew around.

The ravager attacked Mathias from the air above and Darian counterattacked with his guisarme as a reach weapon dealing significant damage. In a fit of anger, the creature grabbed Darian and dragged him straight up into the air while it continued to accelerate. Because the creature was partially visible from the sleet storm, Mathias managed to strike it with an orb of force while Dastan unloaded a volley of arrows that also managed to strike the ravager without harming Darian. The ravager continued accelerating up into the air beyond the sleet storm with the apparent intention of then plunging downward a minimum of 250’ to crash Darian into the dirt. However, Dastan was quick to to unleash a final lethal volley of arrows that amazingly all managed to avoid Darian and strike the creature despite its natural invisibility. Of course, as the creature perished and vanished into vapor, Darian began falling from the sky.

In the meantime, Gruuntham ran to the trap door spotted by Darian earlier and triggered its release. A dire tiger sprang from its hiding place in the arena and charged Gruuntham inflicting some surprisingly minor damage. Gruuntham struck the tiger a near fatal blow, when Mortimer charged across the back of the arena. As he ran, Mortimer pulled his magical maul and smashed the tiger beyond recognition. He then reached out with a powerful arm and snatched Darian out of the air at the last moment preventing a painful and possibly lethal landing in the dirt.

The crowd cheered wildly and the party successfully won their first match in the arena.


As the party returned to their quarters beneath the arena, Nigel met up with them and informed them that their performance that day provided for excellent winnings at the betting tables. Each person who bet on the party saw a 100% return on their investment.

Now it was time for the party to rest, recover, and see what information they could reveal for the following day.

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Welcome to Hillsfar
Session 32 - July 13, 2012

As the Party approached Hillsfar, they began to discuss their plan and realized that they still needed a suitable sponsor for the Arena games. Although Mystra was traveling with them, her current physical condition and ailments would prevent her from fulfilling the role of a sponsor. The Party would fair better in the arena with as many combatants as possible, and Dastan is not the most reliable of individuals to act in that role, either. Both Darian Skullbasher and Dastan agreed that Nigel the Merchant would actually be the ideal sponsor out of the people they know, but he was presumably elsewhere traveling along the Moonsea by ship to sell his wares.

The Party mixed into the large throng of people crowding the long road to Hillsfar when – to Dastan’s great delight – Nigel was actually spotted in the distance with his wagon and bodyguard up closer to the main gate. Dastan was selected to quickly catch up to Nigel, inform him of the Party’s desire to select him as their sponsor, and request to accompany him into Hillsfar. Nigel greeted Dastan merrily, and Dastan quickly and discretely disclosed the Party’s current predicament about clones, the arena, and the Party’s desire to investigate their doubles. It took Nigel a few moments to realize Dastan was not joking, then he agreed to act as the Party’s arena sponsor in exchange for a percentage of any winnings or loot that would be recovered. Dastan reported back to the group who then caught up to Nigel and joined him in entering Hillsfar. Saevel “The Shaman” Naelgrath quietly remained behind and did not accompany the Party into the city.

One point of interest was that Mystra’s physical appearance and health seemed to far improve once she moved within a close vicinity of Nigel. Gruuntham Bronzerunner immediately noticed this and tried to determine the basis for which it would occur. He was able to discern that it was not a result of Nigel being some kind of particularly pious worshiper of Mystra. However, it definitely seem to be the consequence of Mystra somehow leeching divine energy from either Nigel himself or something on his person.

Immediately inside the walls of Hillsfar was a registration area for incoming arena participants and sponsors. The group tentatively labeled themselves as “Thirteen Inches and Rising,” but a more official name is likely in the works. Mystra decided to remain by Nigel’s side as his apparent courtesan. Security is particularly stringent in Hillsfar during the arena games when non-humans are inside the city walls, so all weaponry was confiscated from the group to be returned to them after they’re housed in the barracks. The guards registering the Party completed the process by handing each participant a red gem that they press against their foreheads and remains there indefinitely for their stay in Hillsfar. The gem marks the individual as an arena participant which also means the person is off-limits from being hassled by any locals. However, all non-human participants must be accompanied by their sponsor at all times if traveling outside the barracks. The group is also informed of the following rules of the arena:

  1. All matches are to the death unless a given combat scenario dictates otherwise
  2. Human participants get 1 free True Resurrection
  3. True Resurrections can be pre-paid for any team member by the team sponsor for 30K gp; unused resurrections are refunded at the end of the week-long games
  4. Pre-paid True Resurrections may be purchased by team sponsors at any during between team matches beginning Day 1 or on Registration Day
  5. Only pre-paid resurrections allowed for arena participants during the week-long event; no post-match resurrections allowed that are not pre-paid
  6. Participants assume all risk for personal gear used
  7. Magical equipment valued 50K gp or less at market can be rented for 25% market value for use all week; arena assumes risk for rented items
  8. A force barrier prevents leaving the arena once a match has begun
  9. All participants must wear their gladiator identification gems during the week

Once the Party finished their arena registration, an armed guard escorted them through the city proper to the arena located on the opposite side of the city. The Party listened intently to much of the conversation from the crowds moving about the city and heard a variety of rumors and information.

After reaching the arena, the Party was shown their new quarters located in the sublevel below the arena. These areas were previously catacombs that were later converted into holding pens for the various creatures and persons who would participate in the arena as gladiators.

The Party was shortly thereafter introduced to Krust, a half-orc veteran of the arena who is retired and now assigned to various combatants as an overseer and taskmaster of sorts. It is generally the job of the taskmaster to look after the arena teams when their sponsor is unavailable. The Party asked Nigel to do some recon work for them with the other individuals around the sublevel of the arena and to purchase some items. In the meantime, they also questioned Krust regarding what they should expect in the arena. Krust said that he was forbidden from really providing any information, but he heard that one of the new potential combat scenarios involved filling the arena space with either dense fog or deeper darkness, although magical effects allow the audience to view the combatants with their vision unhindered by such environmental effects. The purpose is to force a greater sense of fear upon the combatants while the opponents are forced to more actively ‘hunt’ for their foes.

Nigel returned with the goods and items requested of him, and he managed to confirm that potential opponents in the monster trial portion of the games (Days 1 – 4) are multiple, advanced invisible stalkers.

The Party rested for the remainder of the evening to awaken the next mourning to the sounds of Krust bringing breakfast. Each team of gladiators will generally fight once a day, and according to the schedule of combats that Nigel was given the Party was scheduled to fight at noon. After idling away a few hours in their quarters amidst muffled, distant sounds of crowd cheers and intense combat, the Party was finally led by Krust to the underground entrance ramp to the arena proper. They were led upwards to a large, sandy arena with an audience of approximately 20,000 people. On a small platform floating high above the arena, an individual who the Party could only assume was First Lord Maalthir, the political and military leader of Hillsfar, was presiding over the games. He announced over the crowd that this particular combat would involve no unusual rules or scenarios, and that the monstrous opponent would be a Cyclonic Ravager. At that, the Party saw a large creature summoned on the far side of the arena that was seemingly made of gusting wind and appeared more than ready to engage to the death as its form began to fade into the thin air…

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A Fortuitous Meeting
Session 31 - June 8, 2012

The Party Members once again weighed their options regarding where it is they ought to go. Eventually, the party decided that Hillsfar is in fact the best place to go, despite the fact that Evangelyne formally protested that location and advised that it’s a bad idea for the party. The week-long gladiatorial contest starting in approximately two days’ time proved too tempting to pass up for many members of the group, and the prospect of high stakes gambling made Gruuntham Bronzerunner even more eager to go there.

The party hatched a plan to travel to Hillsfar and enter the arena games with Dastan acting as their human captor and sponsor for the games. Since Hillsfar is extremely xenophobic against all non-humans who are not slaves to humans in the city or otherwise in some state of servitude, Dastan seemed the most logical choice to act as the sponsor for the group. Dastan would not compete in the games, but instead he would keep tabs on the crowd and dignitaries to gather additional helpful information while the rest of the party actually competes.

The group chose to travel over approximately two days by Phantom Steed across open water on the Moonsea in order to likely avoid detection via overland travel. Within the first hours of departing the Glacier of the White Worm, the group passed Mulmaster in the distance only to discover that The Weave’s Avenger, a great Tarrasque of Legend, was utterly destroying Mulmaster as the party was passing by. The beast had destroyed any functional naval forces that Mulmaster had available, then moved into the city proper to begin demolishing structures and devouring inhabitants at an insatiable pace. Rather than linger around to view what could only be the ultimate annihilation of the city, the party hastened their pace to move well beyond the visage of the great creature.

By the time the Phantom Steed spell began to fade, the Party chose to set up camp and rest along the central, southern coast of the Moonsea not far outside the small hamlet of Elventree. There, they just so happened to encounter a rider on horseback who was none other than Orzo, a member of the Silver Ravens who had briefly joined the party previously in Tethyamar when Shane “Bane” Justus was still recruiting individuals to assist in his cause. Orzo revealed he was surprised to meet the party so soon, since he was originally told they would rendezvous at the western gate in Hillsfar. The party realized that Orzo had mistaken them for the ‘original’ party members and did not recognize them as the clones created by Ghaunadhar. Understanding this, the party then made haste to move Orzo on his way and convince him to leave their company and move on to Hillsfar to register the group for the games and hob-nob with nobility. In order to attempt to maintain anonymity, Darian Skullbasher used his mask of lies to alter his appearance as a human named Bartholomew, Mathias Thunderheart introduced himself as a warforged named Saihtam (Mathias spelled backwards), and Mystra introduced herself simply as “Midnight.” Orzo eventually agreed to rendezvous with them as originally planned instead of remaining with them, but not before he revealed the following bits of information:

  1. The original party is in fact planning on competing in the arena;
  2. The original Evangelyne will be resurrected after completion of the games;
  3. The games are a seven day, double elimination tournament, where 16 teams will participate in a combination of battles against monsters and eventually other teams; and
  4. Orzo has had no face-to-face communication with the original group since his initial brief tenure as one of their members back in Tethyamar.

It then became clear that the party’s original plan to have Dastan lead them into town would be far more dangerous than anticipated, so another plan must be developed. The party became even more married to the idea of going to Hillfar, since many members now desire to confront their original counterparts in a battle royale in the arena. While camping in the Cormanthor forest that night, the party was attacked by a gang of Athachs who thought Mathias could be valuable as some kind of shiny treasure. Because Darian had been using his Wand of Major Image to disguise the location of the entire party with the exception of Mathias, the party was able to continually attack the group of intruders undetected for two rounds gaining a large advantage and ultimately resulting in the destruction of the Athach raiders with only a few members of the party taking any substantial damage.

Afterwards, the party rested for the remainder of the evening, anxious to complete their travels to Hillsfar…

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An Inevitable Choice
Session 30 - April 27, 2012

In the aftermath of the Party’s final confrontation with the paladin Shane “Bane” Justus, High Inquisitor of the Order of the Fist of Tyr, a decision still needed to be made regarding where to go in search of the next piece of the Wand of Orcus. The Party’s options seemed limited.

The closest location geographically is Hillsfar, on the northern coast of the Moonsea. The Party’s knowledge of the location revealed that it is a trade superpower only opposed by Zhentil Keep at this point in time, and non-humans are strictly forbidden. The racial restriction would prove particularly troublesome for the Party, since there are only two humans (Mystra and Dastan). However, rumors have been heard that Hillsfar’s annual week-long gladiatorial competitions are scheduled to begin in about 2 days time based on estimates heard a few days ago from the rumors in Mulmaster. The Party is weary of showing up at the Arena games given the presence of high profile dignitaries, military personnel, and merchants who also have an interest in the games. By now, the wanted posters for the Party have been widely distributed among the metropolis cities around the Moonsea for nearly a month.

The other option considered is Whitehorn, the farthest location, which is a small village northeast of the Border Forest and a location very close to Evangelyne’s home. This location is tempting due to its low profile. Historically, Whitehorn served as a center of trade for those who either traveled too far north from the populated Dalelands or migrated south from the Great Glacier. The Party seriously considered this option, until Darian Skullbasher quietly recounted a tale he heard in Mulmaster about the entire population of Whitehorn being decimated in recent times by an enemy that left no trace.

A third option briefly considered was temporarily putting off the task of the Wand of Orcus and seeking out the Sword of Darkness (SoD), which is located in the Tower of Skulls within the Moonsea. Gruuntham Bronzerunner currently holds the Sword of Light (SoL), which was given to him by The Guardian of Mystra’s holiest temple. Gruuntham conferred with the SoL, and it explained to him that it seeks the destruction of its sister sword above all other tasks. However, the SoD can only be procured by summoning the Tower of Skulls with a scroll that only Mystra can scribe. In order to scribe such a scroll, the Party must secure a quill from one of the most ancient abyssal creatures that still reside in Faerun. Its lair is located in the Flooded Forest, and it is guarded by both the creature itself and its numerous spawn that have evolved over the ages. Mathias Thunderheart was able to confirm that he had heard of such a creature, and its primary traits are most similar to that of a basilisk.

Gruuntham quietly isolated himself from the Party and called upon the wisdom of his deity Haela Brightaxe for advice regarding Hillsfar and the dangers therein. The answer received was both cryptic and ominous:

“Death awaits your dreaded fable
Conflict there is only inevitable
Test your mettle against your fear
Death at your hands can only draw near”

With that, Gruuntham left his fate to chance and with the roll of a knucklebone determined that the Party ought to head to Hillsfar. The only matter left to resolve was how to gain access to a place that prohibits non-humans…

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