The Shadow and the Flame

I’ve launched another in-person campaign recently, with a couple of college buddies who moved back to town recently and one friend of theirs. Our premise is Midnight-esque; the kingdoms of men and dwarves have fallen to darkness, conquered by the orcish hordes of the North united beneath an exiled prince, Naxander the Conqueror. The elves avoided this fate by invoking a powerful cataclysm which rent the earth asunder, turning their home forests into the mist-shrouded Isle of Avalon. Ten years ago, Naxander, on his deathbed with a strange fever, willed his empire “to the strongest!” of his lieutenants, and so now the world is divided into principalities, each ruled by a powerful creature of chaos. These Shadowkings watch each other warily, eager to exploit any weakness and legitimize their claim on the Empire as a whole.

Our region of interest is the Fjordland, a Scandinaviesque region of high mountains, forested hills, and long fjords. Hafnir the Troll Lord rules the west, including the relatively-bountiful Vale of Traitors, while the great dragon Verlath the Incandescent rules the east and taxes the orcish emigrants from the ice wastes as they march south along the Glassroad to the City of Red Iron, where they board ships crewed by the human Varyags and sail for the fertile lands across the inner sea.

Our heroes:

  • Scarth the Mage - sent by Elven Intelligence via fairy ring to retrieve a powerful artifact from the Monastery of the Sun atop Bear Mountain. Recently learned fireball.
    • Roger the Fighter - Scarth's henchman
    • Galinda the Good - Scarth's henchwitch. As all clerics in this setting are of the Corrupting Darkness in the North, clerics are not available to the PCs, instead being replaced by witches, shamans, and elves with divine points instead of arcane. So far we're pretty happy with witch - delay disease and cause fear have both come in handy.
    • Scorn the Varangian - Scarth's henchman
    • Dr Owl, MD - Scarth's familiar, has Healing III, provides excellent medical advice most of the time.
  • The Bear Brothers - a pair of bearsarkers, Alioth and Alkaid, native Northmen who worship the Old Gods and live in a longhouse (Bearholm) on the slopes of Bear Mountain. The elder of the two (I think it's Alioth?) has recently become shapestrong.
  • James the Dwarf - The last survivor of his vault after the water was contaminated by the Blight. Wandered out of the mountains and arrived at Bearholm.
    • Cassidy Rose - James' wilderness guide and crossbowwoman
    • Eddy and Rex (I think?) - James' war dogs.

I’m three sessions behind, so my chronology on this won’t be perfect, but things have gone something like this:

On their first trip to the peak of Bear Mountain, a four-hour hike from Bearholm, the party found the monastery-fortress’ gatehouse occupied by orcish archers! These they slew, keeping one for interrogation. This captive informed them that there were many more orcs inside the monastery, grouped in the east-central building. They also learned of a dragon and an enormous magical horn in the northwestern tower, and that there were some yetis in the fortress, after which they let him go down the mountain weaponless. After some scouting, they decided to attack the orcish building, which turned out to be the monastery’s kitchen, food-storage, and refectory complex. The first room they entered was used for cheese-making, and some of the cheese had yellow-molded. Saves were made and nobody died. The Elder Bear, who boasts divine health, set about gathering yellow mold spores for use as biological weapons. After this they entered the food storage area, which contained many (>20) orcs. These they slew swiftly with sleep, swords, and dogs. The next room was the chieftain’s, and he put up a better fight, in party due to his magic sword of elven make. The party gained the upper hand, but reinforcements arrived from the final room in the orcish complex. The Elder Bear made a valiant stand, but rolled really poorly and was crushed beneath a wave of orcs. Scarth dropped a sleep, the chieftain was slain, and the dogs cleaned up the survivors. Galinda and Dr. Owl tended to the Elder Bear well, and he came to without serious harm, having had a vision of the Great Bear, who showed him a metal rod immersed in magma beneath the monastery.

After this they gathered what treasure the orcs possessed and returned to the gatehouses. On their way back, they noticed yetis inhabiting a wooden building near the gate, and decided to slay them. The bearsarkers laid military oil around the building, two yetis who came out were put to sleep, and the rest were slain with fire and arrows. The two sleeping yetis were killed and skinned for their fine pelts. They also scouted around another of the buildings in the complex, peeking in the windows to find many tiny white spiders. They decided to not enter this building for the time being.

After this they went back down the mountain to Bearholm with a load of trade goods captured from the orcs, and made merry. I think this concluded the first session.

Awesome! I love the backstory of your setting.

What is a Bearserker class?

Maybe this

“I apologize in advance for any puns; I hope you find them bearable.”

I’m very disappointed that this rule:

If a bearsarker is reincarnated and rolls an Animal result, they may choose to return as a bear; if restored of life and limb and rolling a "body part of another creature" result, that body part is likely from a bear. Bearsarkers take only half the usual penalty to reaction rolls for having bear arms and other bodyparts.

Is not called Right to Bear Arms.

But it’s part of Servant of the Bear God! And they do get “Bear Armiger” as one of their titles, so I didn’t want to use that joke twice.

During the second session, they made two expeditions up Bear Mountain to the monastery. At the start of the first expedition, they found that about half the orc corpses that they had left to rot had instead risen as zombies, so they had to re-kill all of those. The two yeti corpses they had flayed were also missing, and are still unaccounted for! They explored the Temple of Noon. There they found a chapel with living statues (who seriously considered killing all of them, but were dissuaded by Diplomacy) and an enormous ritual urn thing, an infirmary with green slime on the ceiling (which again failed to kill anybody ): , a forge with some magic plate and a half-ton of copper pieces / iron ingots, the chambers of the Defender of the Faith (including trapped chest which lit James the Dwarf on fire, but contained a magic sword), and the War Room, which contained several treasure maps, mostly in languages none of the party speaks. They then explored the Temple of Dawn, killing a pack of yetis lairing there (and then dismembering the corpses and throwing them off a cliff to prevent reanimation) and recovering a bunch of treasure left behind by the goatmen that they met during the first session (after they killed the orcs, the goatmen were friendly, offering them a scroll of wall of fire and coming down the mountain to Bearholm to feast and make merry before heading back into the mountains). At this point the party had accumulated quite a bit of treasure, and went down the mountain, there to level most of the PCs to 5th.

On the way down the mountain, though, they were met with a force of scruffy men in leather with axes and shields headed up the mountain. These were the constabulary of the nearby town of Ostergot, having been sent to investigate the smoke atop the mountain caused by the burning of the Yeti House during the first session. Though initially friendly, eventually they caught the Younger Bear in a lie during his recounting, and asked that the PCs surrender their weapons and come with them back to town. Laden as they were with treasure, and still having most of their spells (since they’d only had two real fights, and those against unintelligent foes), the party instead killed them to a man, burned the corpses and threw them off a cliff, and told a tale in town about seeing a dragon attacking something on the side of the mountain. All this lying meant that Warrior Code bonus XP this expedition was in short supply. There was substantial carousing for reserve XP, with the Elder Bear waking up with a crude bear tattoo and possibly a new wife, who did not wish to come back with the party to Bearholm.

PCs leveled, Scarth rolled Fireball, Fly, Dispel Magic, and maybe one less-awesome thing, and the Elder Bear unlocked shape-strength. On their way out of Ostergot, they found the corpses of several farmers, gnawed and disemboweled, with yeti tracks nearby. These they burned and reported to the townsfolk (who lamented their lack of constabulary).

Back up the mountain they went, this time to explore the Temple of Dusk. In the chapel of dusk they were ambushed by shadows, who almost killed Scarth when they attacked the rear line, but were taken care of by Burning Hands and fighters with magic weapons. They destroyed a terrible monument of blackened monk-bones here and relit the Eternal Flame from their torches. They next investigated the abbot’s quarters, which had a trap on the door compelling those failing their save to go pray and reconsider their life choices. This got several party members before Galinda made her save and opened the door. This room had some treasure as well as a pool of vision-water. The Bearsarkers had a vision each, of purple mushrooms eating a dead wolverine and of an elephant watching the sky in fear. There was much confusion. They doubled back and re-entered the Temple of Dusk through the scriptorium door, where they met a pack of ghoul monks defiling holy texts with blasphemous scribblings as quickly as they were able. This meeting initially appeared friendly, but when the monks failed to paralyze James the Dwarf via handshake, combat began. Both the Elder Bear and the dwarf were paralyzed in the first round, and had to be pulled out of the room for a fireball which killed most but not all of the ghouls. The dogs and remaining fighters were set loose for mop-up, and the party retreated back to the gatehouse to wait for the paralysis on their two strongest fighters to wear off without even searching for treasure.

Half an hour into their wait in the gatehouse, however, they heard uncouth voices and crude horns from down the mountain. A platoon of 40 orcs, bearing a standard of a howling grey wolf on a yellow field, arrived! They formed ranks in front of the gatehouse at the limits of bow-range and blew their horns. The party, short on spells and fighters, concocted a devious plan. Scarth consumed a potion of invisibility and then used the scroll of wall of fire which he had been given by the goatmen to hem in the orcs, then cast all of his remaining burning hands through the wall of fire while Cass shot arrows in through the open top of the wall. This killed pretty much all of them, but at a substantial cost in spells and magic items. At this point, out of spells but with their fighters back in action, they went back into the Temple of Dusk.

They recovered the ghouls’ treasure (minor religious trinkets), found the main library of the monastery, located a secret treasure room with mostly potions but also a scroll of ward against undead, and investigated a locked door. When they failed to hear noises on the other side, James the Dwarf kicked the door in with a total of 30 on his strength roll, knocking it off of its hinges. On the other side was a reliquary containing an amazing amount of treasure including two shields and another suit of plate deemed like to be magical, guarded by four saint-mummies, who immediately paralyzed James with dread. The Bearsarkers, being Without Fear of Death and hence unparalyzed, considered charging in but were wisely dissuaded by Scarth, and so a TPK was avoided. The party beat a hasty retreat, and the mummies gave chase beyond the gates of the monastery, but were ultimately escaped before reaching Bearholm. All agreed that the objective for the next expedition should be to kill the mummies and take their relics.

Thanks Alex! Aryxymaraki and KarlM have the right link; I’d’ve linked it myself earlier, but was having trouble with the spam filters, which I think is resolved now.

The proper placement of bear puns is often a polarizing event.

What level did you start the PCs at? 1st?

Regardless of how contentious and grizzly this gets, I must hold to my principles regarding bear arms - I will not panda to my audience :stuck_out_tongue:

Started at 15000 XP IIRC

Kill me.

Now, now. I’ll grant too many puns cause many folk to swing through a range of emotions; a real ursine wave of love and hate, but please paws and consider the ramifications to the thread.

…please…make it stop!

Session 3

Again, been a couple weeks, not going to be perfectly accurate.

We had a guest this session, my father, whose AD&D stories got me started playing in the first place (“So we found this enormous pile of treasure, and my elven assassin who had a magic figurine that could turn into a nightmare steed found a ring of invisibility! But then a lich came around the corner and fireballed us, and we all died.”). True to form, he was interested in playtesting my my nightblade hack. So Amestra, elven assassin fleeing to her fairy-ring extraction point after a botched hit, came to join the party for a while, along with her explorer henchman and guide, Grettir the Unwashed.

The party spent quite a bit of time planning on how to engage the mummies safely before this session; some of their plans were quite amusing. My favorite was this: Have the mage use the scroll of ward against undead that they had found, then blindfold himself so that he cannot be paralyzed by mummy-fear. The bearsarkers, who are immune to fear and very strong, carry him into the room full of mummies. The witch blindfolds herself and holds a Protection from Evil spell in the doorway to contain the mummies. The bearsarkers aim the wizard like a cannon, instructing him when to fire Burning Hands so as to catch as many mummies as possible, and the bearsarkers throw military oil on anything left. If this proved insufficient, the bearsarkers were to grab as much loot as they could carry, drag the wizard out, redistribute the loot for encumbrance purposes, and then the party would flee at top speed.

As they say, though, no plan survives contact…

Their travel up the mountain was uneventful, and they arrived at the gates of the Temple of Dusk in the late morning. They entered through the scriptorium door, and cautiously entered the library. Here their fears that the mummies had wandered were realized, for they saw a mummy down the hallway, and it began advancing towards them. The PCs entered the libray to engage it, and most or all were paralyzed except the bearsarkers, who fear not death. Particularly amusing was Amesta’s paralysis, which took effect in mid-air during a magic-assisted jump. No sooner had this first mummy engaged the bearsarkers and most of the party been freed from their paralysis than the remaining three mummies shambled around the corner and into view, re-paralyzing almost everyone. PCs gradually came back online as the mummies attacked, but James and Amestra both contracted mummy rot, and Scarth had to web two of the four mummies to keep them off of the paraluzed James and prevent a breakthrough. This enabled the party to handily slay the first two mummies (one in the library and one in the web), and the bearsarkers decided to split off and reenter the temple through the chapel entrance to engage the fourth, who had been cut off in the hallway behind the web. Meanwhile, the party lit the web just as the third mummy broke free, to be quickly felled by a flurry of attacks and acrobatically-assisted backstabs. The bearsarkers, leading the party’s dogs, made contact with the final mummy a few rounds later with shape-strength active, and tore it to pieces without sustaining significant injuries.

They then gathered the loot from the reliquary, and there was much rejoicing, for there were two magic shields (+1 and +3) which went to the bearsarkers, a suit of magic plate +1 which James claimed, some magic crossbow bolts, and an enormous amount of minor relics and trade goods. These they relocated to the abbot’s quarters, in case they couldn’t bring them all down, and there they rested and licked their wounds. The party’s best fighters now had ACs in the 8-9 range. Galinda’s Delay Disease spell came in handy for healing the party members afflicted with mummy rot.

Amestra was sent on a surveying expedition, using gaseous form and infravision to reconnoiter the dragon’s tower, the cavern beneath the well, and the spider barracks. Rumors of the dragon were substantiated, insufficient treasure to justify the risk of poison was found in the spider barracks, and something was seen glimmering at the bottom of the filthy green water in the cavern beneath the well.

Meanwhile, in the abbot’s quarters, James noticed an anomaly in the stonework and determined that there was a secret door opening into a passage inside the fortress’ wall. On one side a heavy iron door blocked passage towards the dragon’s tower, while on the other a tunnel descended into the mountain.

Having achieved their primary objective and hungry to get their treasure home safely with minimal risk, they proceeded back down the mountain, and resolved to engage the dragon on their next expedition. They paid a visit to the nearby town of Ostergot, where they shared their delicious trade goods with the townsfolk, but learned of of sightings of ghouls and yetis, reported to be eating the local farmers. They felt sort of bad about this, since they had killed the constabulary nominally keeping such beasts at bay, but decided to deal with it next session, after the dragon. Dr. Owl and Galinda attempted to cure disease on those afflicted with mummy rot and I guess they succeeded eventually. Most of the henchmen leveled up. Amestra helped them translate one of the treasure maps from the War Room, which turned out to by the Tale of Saint Svein the Rash, a storied paladin of the Order of the Flame who slew many beasts across the countryside. He was gifted a great sword by the dwarves, and his god blessed it, so that it often disintegrated any undead it might strike. He is called Rash because, in the dead of the First Winter of the Blight, against the orders of his abbot and commander, he journeyed alone into the Blighted Vale, from whence he never returned. This evoked quite a bit of interest, but again the dragon held priority.

Back up the mountain they went, mostly healed and hungry for more treasure. Their plan this time had Scarth climbing up the outside of the dragon’s tower and dropping a vial of yellow mold spores into the tower, to be followed with a fireball or using fly and a potion of invisibility to escape while the party’s fighters engaged. Again, things went awry. On reaching the top of the tower alone, Scarth found the dragon, who had heard him climbing, waiting perched on the far side of the tower’s rim. They bantered, and Scarth concluded that he was probably going to die. Amestra noticed the delay, and climbed the tower invisibly. She too was detected on reaching the top (although in error). At this point the fighters, sure that something was wrong, decided to rush into the tower and start stealing as much treasure as possible. On their way in, the Elder Bear threw a vial of yellow mold at the dragon, hitting it, but not slaying it as had been hoped. While the dragon responded with a cone of fire against the fighters on the ground (all of whom made their saves :\ ), Scarth slipped back down the edge of the tower and Amestra dove off, taking some fairly substantial damage on landing. The dragon was quickly slain with arrows from Cass and Grettir, along with a shape-strength propelled barrel of lamp oil found as part of the treasure. Its corpse fell inwards, through the missing top floor of the tower, and landed on James, who had just picked up a magic shield from the hoard, inflicting light damage. And so the day was won. They gathered the treasure, butchered the dragon corpse (the Elder Bear now sports a dragon-skull hat, Roger has a dragonscale cape, and Scarth has a good supply of preserved viscera for research purposes), gathered the loot (less than that the mummies had had), and back down the mountain they went, happy to have turned a situation where their sole wizard seemed almost certain to die into an unmitigated victory.

Awesome stuff!

How long is the playtime of your sessions? It sounds like you get a lot done each session :slight_smile:

[quote="jedavis"] ...liberated a single dose of uisgebaugh, the Whiskey of Life, "good enough to raise the dead"... [/quote]

Me: there's no way that word is not a real-world brand of, I'll be damned, it *is* the word for scotch.

Our sessions tend to run about 5-6 hours, including ordering and eating food, waiting for people who are late, and general tomfoolery. Session 5 was closer to 4 hours I think (I was a bit disappointed at how little we got done in that amount of time; the fresh injuries didn’t help, but honestly I’m out of practice running NPC parties and it showed). Overall I’m very happy with the amount we can get done in a session with ACKS, though!