York’s Scenario Recap (Pcon 43)

Session 1: Leomund’s Tiny House

PCs: Adrie, Half-Orc Cleric (Tim DeCapio); Giltun, Dragonborn Warlock
(Elissa Hoeger); Nash, Human Cleric (Mykl Sandusky); Phynian, Human
Sorcerer (George McBride); Ripper, Elf Fighter (Corwin Knaff); Shofar
Walowitz, Half-Elf Bard (Alan Zitomer); Vassago, Half-Elf Warlock
(Colleen Moore); Vetran, Elf Cleric (Ron Seidel)

Our Heroes were recruited by Miroslav, a human Cleric of Hione, for an expedition into Whiggam’s mountains. Doing library research, he had
found fragmentary notes about a long-vanished Warlock who had spoken,
occasionally, of a land holding many bizarre creatures found nowhere
else in the world. Tracking these clues, he found no more about the
land (except that it was on some continent other than Whiggam), but he
managed to pin down the identity of the Warlock, a gnome named
Leomund. (No, not *that* Leomund. Apparently this Gnome admired the
ancient wizard and spell-creator Leomund so much that he adopted it as
his magical name when he came into his powers. The Gnome’s original
name is lost to history.) He had established that Leomund vanished
about 80 years ago, and had found the location of his remote,
fortified home.

Guided by Miroslav, the party swiftly traveled into the mountains,
learning at the last town in the foothills that this particular
stretch of mountains had an evil reputation — “nobody goes there,
it’s scary.” As they climbed toward the presumed location of Leomund’s
home, they began to hear the eerie peals of a distant bell, which
brought on increasing feelings of unease. The bell rang once every 15
minutes, and the sound came from ahead of them, growing louder (and
making them increasingly nervous) as they traveled. Eventually they
reached a clear slope leading up to a structure at the peak of a
ridgeline, which both matched the location on Miroslav’s map and could
be clearly identified as the source of the mysterious bell sound,
which at close range induced fear so strong that it could be briefly
paralyzing.

Approaching the house, they were attacked by a trio of Galeb Duhr, or
rather by one Galeb Duhr and two boulders it had animated into minions
with physical abilities equal to its own. Though bruised and battered,
Our Heroes prevailed, only to discover a problem. Leomund, a recluse
with no interest in entertaining visitors, had built a house to suit
himself — a solidly-built stone structure with a 4-foot-high roof and
a 3-foot-tall door. It was at this point that our adventurers
realized, with some chagrin, that they hadn’t thought to recruit
anyone Small for this expedition. The house had an attached
observatory that was a 20-foot-diameter half-dome, which offered
plenty of room inside, but unfortunately had no exterior doors.

The smaller and slenderer members of the party squeezed through the
door and found that the main house appeared to be solely living
quarters. A puzzle-lock on the door to the observatory was quickly
solved. Another puzzle-lock in the middle of the observatory area
opened a trapdoor into stairs leading down. This stairway apparently
had been intended to pass large loads at times and so was wide and
high enough for the party members to descend at a crouch, rather than
squeezing through in a crawl. The party’s Half-Orc, however, had to
leave his armor outside the building entirely, since there was no way
he could squeeze through the front door wearing it.

At a landing on the stairs a bizarre creature sketched itself in the
air from the lines and angles of the  stairway; fully formed, it
looked more like a wireframe animation than a solid object, but it
proved capable of dealing large amounts of slashing damage as the many
thin lines of its structure cut through armor and flesh. Although
resistant to many weapons it succumbed to magical fire, and the party
made their way to the bottom and Leomund’s true workroom.

This was dominated by a mural occupying the entirety of one wall. A
sinister landscape beneath an impossible night sky held shadowy hints
of menacing creatures lurking behind various elements of the terrain;
in the foreground was a brightly-painted image of a cloaked,
staff-wielding Gnome with his back to the viewer. As the party
watched, the bell-tone sounded from the mural, somehow not frightening
when they could see its source, and the picture animated. Dark
creatures emerged from the landscape and charged toward the viewers,
while the painted Gnome fought them off with Warlock cantrips and
spells, and the power of his staff. Once the last of the onslaught was
done, the painted Gnome froze back into immobility.

The animated picture produced sounds, including some comments from the
Warlock suggesting that he was trying to keep the creatures from
getting past him. On the next animation cycle the party discovered
that they could fire missiles and spells into the mural and affect the
animated creatures in it. This caught the attention of the painted
Gnome, who turned to face them and apparently could see them. Although
only snippets of conversation were possible as the painting froze
after each wave of attackers was done, the party conveyed an offer of
help and the Gnome asked them to get turpentine and wipe his painted
image from the mural. When they did so they found that a live,
three-dimensional Gnome was emerging from the wall as the paint was
erased.

Ultimately Leomund thanked them for the rescue and explained that the
mural was a portal for accessing the realm of the Great Old One from
which he (and many other Warlocks) drew power. He had intended to use
it to attack and seal off a pathway by which other denizens of that
alien realm could attack the living world. The portal was so designed
that only images could pass either way, a safety feature that he
thought would keep it from being used as an alternate invasion route
itself. He had circumvented that safeguard by painting himself into
the mural with Nolzur’s Pigments, thereby putting an image into the
mural-world that was also real. To his chagrin he learned that his own
presence in the mural made it a two-way pathway that the monstrous
denizens of the other world could use to escape – unless he stopped
them. Fortunately he found that after each onslaught there came a
brief period of immobility which functioned as a rest. but he was
unable to extricate himself until someone outside the mural could
remove the paint. Once he was out, the mural was once more impassable.

Grateful for his rescue, and shocked to learn that he had been trapped
in the mural for eighty years, Leomund told his rescuers that the land
of exotic animals they wanted to find was in the Deep Forest on the
continent of Surelant. He told them a few particulars, including the
fact that the people of the Deep Forest were secretive, suspicious of
outsiders, and tended to use mindpowers of the local fauna to befuddle
uninvited guests. He recommended making friendly contact, with
patience and persistence, as the best way to get access to the animals
of the Deep Forest. Leomund also, as a token of gratitude, gave the
party a quantity of magical gear he had used in his earlier
adventuring days.

LITERARY SOURCES: This scenario was inspired by the writings of HP
Lovecraft, with just a touch of Looney Tunes.

Session 2: Explore the Forest!

PCs: Amaya Rein, Human Monk (Hannah Tandy); Farryn, Elf Ranger
(Danielle Coates); Hildur, Dwarf Barbarian (Clara Shikhelman); Lilith
Stormweather, Tiefling Cleric (Sydney Chiang); Oswin Hornblower,
Halfling Bard (Kevin Lee); Sycorax, Tiefling Cleric (Kayli Marshall);
Vitis Vinifera, Half-Elf Ranger (Riley Chiang)

Surelant is a continent friendly to Whiggam. Since every continent is
trying to build up their own Menagerie, collecting animals from
Surelant’s Great Forest might risk straining relations. Fortunately,
the folk of Surelant believe that the depths of the Great Forest
(hereafter simply the Deep Forest) is populated entirely by ignorant
yokels who cannot possibly have anything of interest to trade. Whiggam
was able to negotiate a deal where Whiggam adventurers would have a
free hand in the Deep Forest, under the sole condition that if they
retrieved more than one of any particular exotic animal not found
elsewhere, they would leave one with the Surelant authorities. Whiggam
also learned that, while the Deep Forest dwellers had relatively
little contact with the outside world, they did sell exotic timbers
and unique apothecary formulations in exchange for precious metals,
platinum especially.
Travel between Whiggam and Surelant involves a long sea voyage –
essentially halfway around the World, about the same distance sailing
west or east. When this expedition launched, storms at sea made the
western route impassable, so the trip involved sailing eastward
between Eldruent-Vangruldear and Melkanth, both continents hostile to
Whiggam. There are two reasonable places to make landfall in Surelant,
Westport on the extreme western tip of the island (which serves the
Great West Road, running from the coast to the Great Forest), and
Norbury in the northern mountains, which connects directly to the
Great Forest through a steep but short mountain pass. The players
elected to take the more northerly sea route, passing closer to EV to
land at Norbury.
Sure enough, about 2/3 of the way to Surelant a large EV ship was
spotted and changed course to shadow the Whiggam courier carrying the
party, staying about 3 miles back. The PCs sent a raven (a character’s
familiar) carrying a small rock with a message tied to it; the message
said they had the means to defend themselves and would do so if
attacked. After receiving the message the EV ship dropped back to 5
miles separation but continued shadowing the party. The players
deduced that the EV ship wasn’t going to attack but intended to shadow
them to wherever they were going in search of Menagerie finds.
The players hatched a scheme where during the dead of night their
courier would pass close to shore and drop them off in a lifeboat,
which they would quickly row to shore and hide. They felt that with
two rangers, one of whom specialized in coastal terrain, they could
make their way overland to Norbury and reach the pass without too much
delay.
Coming into sight of Norbury Harbor, they could see their Whiggam
courier (which had been instructed to wait and bring them back, and
supplied with ample funds for docking fees) anchored at a wharf, with
the large EV ship that had shadowed them anchored about three slots
away. The party split at this point, one contingent going to scout the
pass, one going to the Surelant authorities to make sure their mission
was acceptable, and one group (the party Bard, posing as a wealthy EV
merchant on holiday) went to ask questions on the EV ship. Results:
the pass looked to be in good shape for travel, the Surelant
authorities were quite supportive of the Whiggam mission and happy to
sell them additional travel supplies at cost, and the EV captain was
cozened into admitting that he was on the lookout for the Whiggam ship
to send out a party of adventurers and had a group of sailors with
land and wilderness skills ready to go follow them
whenever they appeared. Our Heroes avoided this headache by simply
making for their planned rendezvous out-of-town without ever going
back to their own ship.
Travel through the mountain pass involved an encounter with a gang of
bandits led by a middling-high level Warlock, who used Hallucinatory
Terrain to set up an ambush. The fight was made lively by taking place
on a narrow ledge between a rising cliff and a ravine; jockeying for
position to push an enemy into the ravine was a major tactic.
Arriving at the Great Forest, the party quickly made friendly contact
with the Foresters, a mixed society of elves, half-elves, and humans,
with elves in the majority. They were taught recognition signs for
friendly passage, and warned that the Deep Foresters were a
suspicious, unfriendly bunch who had nothing of interest aside from
the herbal concoctions and exotic timber that they sold for trade
goods. Undaunted, Our Heroes pressed on, until one day two members of
the party succeeded in a difficult saving throw and saw that their
comrades had suddenly fallen into a trance and they were being
confronted by people in forest-camouflage clothing holding small,
furry, big-eyed creatures facing toward the party.
The big-eyed creatures are Spirit Tarsiers, and the Deep Foresters
explained that they have a gaze attack that can put people into a
trance where they don’t remember anything that happened. Their plan
had been to knock out the party members, transport them past the Deep
Forest, and  let them continue through the forest without ever seeing
anything of interest. With two of the party having saved, though, the
amnesia approach was off the table. The party called attention to
their trade “goods” (essentially money, given the prior information
that the Deep Foresters accepted gold and platinum as payment), and
persuaded Rudra, leader of the Deep Forest scouts, to bring them to
their village to negotiate with the headwoman.
The PCs were treading carefully and on their best behavior as they
were led into Ni-Hau, an almost invisible village in the Deep Forest.
Like the outer villages, it was inhabited by a mix of Elves,
Half-Elves, and Humans, but for some reason Humans were the largest
part of the population in the Deep Forest. All the buildings were
treehouses, their walls obscured by layers of live leaves; all access
involved rope ladders which could be raised from above. This was
explained as a necessary defense against the more dangerous
inhabitants of the Deep Forest.
Negotiations with village headwoman Durga went well. The PCs confirmed
the existence of a number of creatures known nowhere else in the
world, and negotiated the conditions for future parties to come on
collection expeditions. The primary condition was that new expeditions
should bring a suitable fee, and MUST check in at Ni-Hau and get a
guide before proceeding further into the Deep Forest. Some creatures,
it was explained, could be captured and taken away safely, but others
needed to be left alone; the distinctions would be long and difficult
to explain, hence the necessity for a native guide.
The party then returned home without incident, bringing along one
Menagerie specimen: a Spirit Tarsier that had been “tamed” and was
used to human contact.

LITERARY SOURCES: Assorted Cold War spy fiction; Conan Doyle’s “Lost World”

Session 3: Negotiations and Captures

PCs: Bobbins Kettleblack, Dragonborn Fighter (Andrew DeMario);
DerShawkin, Gnome Rogue (Michael Brokes); Fencili Hartthsol, Gnome
Warlock (Stevie Chudomelka); Malon (aka Kit), Half-Elf Rogue (Lee
Mendelson);  Vassago, Half-Elf Warlock (Colleen Moore)

–THE OFFICIAL STORY–
The expedition got to the Deep Forest without any seagoing
difficulties. Arriving at Ni-Hau, they had an in-depth discussion with
Headwoman Durga about what exactly they might hope to retrieve. They
arrived at a list of creatures guaranteed unknown in the outside
world, which might have some specimens that could be collected without
harm:
1. Carnivorous Sunflowers, a powerful and dangerous Medium-sized
ambulatory plant.
2. Lightning Panthers, apparently close relatives of normal panthers
with silver-stippled black fur and silvery vibrissae (whiskers). They
have a lightning “breath weapon” which they use for defense and
hunting (they don’t actually breathe lightning, they project it from
their electrically conductive whiskers).
3. Culverins, a Medium-sized ambush predator who have a long snout and
the ability to shoot pebbles from it at high speed.
4. The Spirit Basilisk, a Large reptilian predator/scavenger only
vaguely similar to true basilisks. It has no gaze weapon; instead,
whenever it is hungry, angry, or frightened, it emanates a psychic
paralysis field in a radius around itself. To make matters worse, it
is completely immune to magic.
5. Razorwings, Small flying reptilian predators. Their wings are
rigid, like an insect’s, and as the name advertises have razor-sharp
leading edges. They fly at very high speeds, like fixed-wing aircraft,
growing organs beneath their wings that function as pulse jets.
6. Forest Behemoth. Gargantuan reptilian herbivore. Impressive only
for its size and tremendously tough armor.
7. Monopods. Medium plant creatures that resemble large mushrooms when
at rest; in motion, they kick off from the ground with a single
powerful foot (the “stem”) and use a wide, thin mantle (the “cap”) to
maneuver aerodynamically, even being able to glide considerable
distances without having to touch down again. Monopods are sentient,
though less intelligent than humans; a number of them have learned the
Common tongue. (They understand its spoken form, but lacking voices,
can only reply by writing on the ground with their powerful slashing
tails.)
8. Sentient carpenter ants. More specifically, a ten-foot-tall ant
mound houses an ant colony with collective intelligence. No individual
ant is particularly bright, but the colony can reason, act, and
communicate about as well as a human being. As with the monopods, the
colony living near Ni-Hau understands spoken Common and replies by
arranging large numbers of ants into written letters.
The party was quickly able to negotiate with the sentient creatures;
a breeding pair of Monopods were pleased to become an exhibit, and the
ant mound was eager to send off a young queen to found a new colony in
a welcoming environment. Following native guide Rudra, the party
stalked and killed a carnivorous sunflower without coming into range
of its narcotic perfume (kudos to highly effective missile fire from
the party Rogues), collecting 100+ seeds and suitable mulch for
sprouting them. [Note on mistreatment: Carnivorous sunflowers are NOT
sentient and are unrelentingly aggressive against any animal in range
of their senses. Moreover, being killed causes them to set seed and is
therefore an important part of their reproductive cycle.] The party
was attempting to capture a Culverin but eventually decided that they
needed to return home with the prizes they had in hand.
LITERARY SOURCES: Appalachian folklore, assorted fantasy and SF by
Piers Anthony, John Varley, Mercedes Lackey, E.E. Smith. And of course
you should be able to figure out which of the eight creatures is an
homage to A Certain Movie.

–WHAT REALLY HAPPENED–
This is what earned the expedition a Friends Like These award, for
managing to be trustworthy friends AND traitors at the same time. They
promised the Deep Foresters that they would keep their secrets, and
true to their word did not mention any of this on their expedition
reports, nor, as far as I could tell, in conversation with other
players. Everything mentioned above is true and happened approximately
as described, but a great deal else went on…
***
The first clue that something was odd about the Deep Forest community
was when Fencili the Warlock used her Awakened Mind class feature to
mindspeak Rudra the scout leader. He *replied* telepathically,
admonishing her that she was being rude and should be very circumspect
in using that power.
***
Another clue showed up during the negotiations with Headwoman Durga.
While others spoke with her, Bobbins, a Battlemaster, used a class
feature to gauge his relative abilities against the Headwoman. Bear in
mind, this is a large, powerfully built Dragonborn in the prime of
life, comparing himself to a petite elderly Human woman. The GM was
obliged to report:
“She’s stronger than you are. She’s faster than you are. She’s tougher
than you are. She’s smarter than you are, wiser than you, and more
charismatic than you.”
***
But the real revelation came when the party’s scouting allowed them to
hear a crash of falling wood and a feline scream. Native guide Rudra
took off toward the sound without paying the slightest attention to
them; the PCs followed as best they might. They arrived to see Rudra
lifting a large fallen branch off a badly injured Lightning Panther.
Then they saw the cat morph into a badly injured Human girl who bore a
strong resemblance to Rudra. They offered healing potions, but Rudra
waved them away while talking softly to his daughter – talking her
through the process of drawing her bones back together and into their
proper places, closing the rents in her skin and refastening her
muscles to their attachment points.
At this point, Rudra decided that his best course was to explain more
fully to the outsiders and try to engage their sympathies. A fraction
of the Deep Forest folk (about half the “humans”, about 10% of the
“half-elves”) are secretly natural shapeshifters. [DM's note: these
are not monsters from any standard supplement. I invented them for
this scenario, just as I did the weirder animals.] They keep this a
deep secret, not to deceive their neighbors, but to deceive their own
children; their children are born as completely normal members of
their apparent race, and show no sign of being unusual until their
powers start to develop after puberty. The Shifters have learned
through bitter history that nothing is more toxic to a child’s
personality than the sense of entitlement that comes from being raised
to see themselves as different from and better than the people around
them. So they live among non-shapeshifting folk, as members of the
community, in order to raise their children as responsible people
rather than self-centered monsters.
But once their powers start to manifest, adolescent Shifters need
practice with them. All of the Deep Foresters spend increasing amounts
of time alone in the forest during their teenage years, learning how
to live alongside the Forest creatures. The non-shapeshifting
Foresters simply don’t realize that some of their neighbors spend that
training time *being* Forest creatures. That’s the real reason they
wanted to vet the selections of hunting parties; many creatures might
actually be adolescent Shifters, and only the telepathic Shifters
could tell the difference. Thus the guides, and thus the accident:
Rudra’s teenage daughter was shadowing her father, feeling very proud
of her ability to be silent and unseen in animal form, and missed a
jump leading to a catastrophic fall.
The party all agreed to keep the Shifters’ secrets and asked if a
Shifter would be willing to come to the Menagerie – surely such a
remarkable being would be a prize display. Rudra explained that the
Whiggam Menagerie already had a Shifter in residence. It turns out
that there is no such animal as the Spirit Tarsier. As part of
concealing their own possession of mindpowers, they invented a
fictitious animal with mindpowers and had mature Shifters turn into
them as needed,  to provide sightings in the forest and to be “tamed
and trained” specimens when a Forest patrol needed to befuddle
strangers.
In exchange for the party’s commitment to secrecy, the Shifter
villages of Ni-Hau agreed to help more actively with future
expeditions from Whiggam. One particular item of assistance was that
the village herbalists would distill, from the remains of the
Sunflower the party had killed, a nonmagical drug that would help the
next Whiggam expedition subdue a Spirit Basilisk.

Session 4: Bring ‘Em Home

PCs: Davos Rosencrantz, Human Bard (Matt Reichardt); Galarin, Half-Elf
Druid (William Reichardt); Grandmaster Bato, Human Monk (Chris
Reichardt); Urist Vorpalbeard, Dwarf Fighter (Joshua Reichardt)

The mission brief for this expedition was simple: thanks to trade and
negotiation which had led to good relations with previous expeditions,
the Deep Foresters of Surelant would have a number of captive animals
ready to transport, needing only supervision from the Whiggam party to
get them back to the Menagerie. It was known that one of those beasts
was a Forest Behemoth, which could not possibly be brought across the
steep passes to Norbury. The plan therefore was for the party to bring
the animals out of the forest along the Great East-West Road of
Surelant that runs to Westport on the western tip of the continent. A
large cargo ship with a specially-built hold would be used to
transport the Behemoth (as well as the more manageable animals).
Travel to the Deep Forest proceeded well, and on arrival the part
found waiting for them a docile Behemoth and rolling cages containing
a breeding pair of Lightning Panthers. An additional bonus was
available if the party chose to attempt it: the villagers had a
substantial supply of sedative on hand, which could be used to knock
out a Spirit Basilisk and keep it unconscious until its arrival in
Whiggam, However, none of the Foresters had been willing to volunteer
to administer it to a live Basilisk. The Whiggam party was welcome to
attempt the feat themselves. After brief consultation, they decided to
go ahead.
The capture was well-planned and successful. Native guides brought the
party to within a mile of the Spirit Basilisk’s current den, the
closest they were willing to approach. Galarin used Commune with
Nature to find a clearing with the best possible features for an
ambush site. The party killed a deer and set the carcass in the middle
of the clearing; then, while the remaining party members lurked at a
distance (and safely out of paralysis radius), Grandmaster Bato dosed
the carcass with sleep drug and then butchered it quickly and messily,
so that the smell of blood and carrion rose quickly from the remains.
The Grandmaster raced to safety using his enhanced movement, although
such speed was unneccessary; while the Basilisk woke up the instant
the wind carried the smell of the kill to its den, it took several
combat turns to reach the clearing. While the party hid, it ambled up,
devoured the deer carcass in a disturbingly small number of bites, and
presently fell over unconscious. The party hauled it back to the rest
of their caravan on a wheeled travois and set up a drugging schedule
to make very sure it would stay unconscious untill delivered.
The overland trip to embark on the ship for Whiggam proved uneventful
but the sea voyage to Whiggam had to contend with a pirate attack.
More precisely, the attacking ship appeared to be a privateer out of
Melkanth seeking to seize the PC’s ship and claim the prize beasts for
themselves. The pirate’s initial attack plan was severely impaired
when Galarin used Control Water to capsize their ship. However, two
Sorcerers took to the air with Fly spells and moved to attack.
Clustering at the facing rail, preparing to meet the oncoming
Sorcerers, the party overlooked the arrival of a quintet of rogues
wearing Cloaks of the Manta Ray who had swum under their ship to board
on the far side. All except Grandmaster Bato failed to save against
the Wand of Fear wielded by one of the rogues. Davos and Urist dove
overside into the ocean, while Galarin, who had taken the Wild Shape
of a water elemental, simply poured himself belowdecks to hide in the
ballast. Bato charged across the deck to engage the rogues in melee,
only to find himself caught in a Web spell from one of the oncoming
sorcerers.
Gato learned very quickly why it is a bad idea to find yourself
restrained while facing multiple rogues making coordinated melee
attacks with poisoned blades. Fortunately, both Davos and Galarin made
successful saves to break out of the Fear effect as soon as they broke
line of sight to the Rogue who had created it. Urist, unfortunately,
did not, and being in possession of his own Cloak of the Manta Ray was
swimming away from the ship at high speed. Ultimately, it took him
three tries to make his save, which meant a total of six turns of
combat spent swimming away from and then back to the cargo ship. Bato
was at 0 hit points and had failed two death saves when he was rescued
by a healing spell from Davos. Meanwhile, Galarin the Elemental was
battling with several rogues and the high-level Warlock who had landed
atop the Behemoth’s pen, while the Sorcerers flew about flinging
cantrips at whoever seemed a likely target. The battle raged for
several turns, with the attackers taking some casualties while
inflicting massive damage on the PCs. When Urist finally returned to
the ship, accompanied by a pike-wielding penguin he had summoned from
the Menagerie using an item, the attackers not yet slain decided it
was time to flee.
No further hostile encounters took place and the PCs arrived safely at
the Menagerie with their cargo of unique and impressive animals.

1 Comment

  1. To be fair, Fencili doesn’t know squat about plants. And she redeemed herself after being rude! Kinda.

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