That is, with Tom's character (temporarily) missing, the part of 'sixth party member' was played by Shawn's gnome warden 'Warren' who'd been shadowing the party for a while (he's the annoying gnome that gave them the diamond to get in the back door of the dwarven keep, warned them about the invasion of shadow creatures in Daggerford, and led them to the insane druid that showed them to the time travel portal), while Tom took over as GM.
As it turns out, he was not a monster.
After watching Celeste dragged off by the whiny god of emo death, the party was FILLED WITH POWER! That is, raised to level 21 instantly. Presumably also restored to not being 12 years old anymore, although that wasn't specifically spelled out.
Then they travelled through a portal into a deep, dark forest, where a giant tree dominated a clearing. Next to the tree was the gnome they'd met several times before, waiting for them on orders from someone named 'Barrabus' or something like that, a name no one really recognized.
Beware: "You mean the treant?"
Warren: "No, it's --"
Arial: "The crazy druid, then."
Warren: "Not the druid! It's my god! The gnomish nature god!"
Varnix: "Oh, right, the one who's all about trickery and money."
Warren: "That would be Carl Glittergold. We have other gods!"
The mist on the ground was eerie, though, and Arial could tell that their shadows weren't in sync with the moonlight or their torchlight -- the shadowfell was bleeding through onto the material plane! They could all smell (?) a large cookfire somewhere nearby, though, so they headed in that direction.
As they moved through the woods, they started to spot stripped carcasses, eaten to the bone -- there was no sign of life other than the plants and the occasional crow. Then they found what was left of a caravan, and Warren warned everyone to be very quiet. They carefully snuck past the stripped and shredded piles of equipment and human and horse bones, until Beware tripped over a skeleton and stepped right on a skull. *crunch!*
Then there were birds. SWARMS of birds, pecking and pecking! At first they thought it was one big swarm, but after they'd damaged it a bit it split into four swarms, swooping around to peck their faces off even after they tried to spread out. But eventually they managed to toss enough fire and such around to get the remaining birds to fly away, leaving them to search the bones for any sign of, um, treasure.
There was some treasure left that hadn't been shredded. Afterwards, they piled up the corpses and gave them a funeral pyre to help their spirits rest, courtesy of Beware's hell-flame.
Then, on to the settlement. It wasn't a camp -- it was a large town on the side of the Ardeep woods, with a massive palisade recently built to protect against shadow creatures. As it was night, the gates were closed, but the lieutenant offered to let the party inside if they relinquished their weapons. Arial, Asm, and Warren agreed -- and had their weapons immediately returned, as it had just been a sign of trust. Varnix wheedled his way in through the gate despite his initial distrust, because he was a cleric and they needed clerics. Beware and Heyyou were too stubborn to kowtow to the guards, and camped outside the gate.
Right outside the gate. With a big smoky fire. They woke up in the morning a bit sore and smoky, while the others got a nice night at a posh inn, but during the day the gates were open to anyone, so they were able to join the others.
They did a little bargain hunting, and investigation, and Arial bought some maps of the area -- the Stone House that they were supposed to bring the root to was only 30 miles away! But time passed faster than they expected, and before they knew it the sun was setting and all the shops were closing, and a dire rat came up and complained to Warren that they were wasting time in town when the forces of darkness were chasing them.
So they were like, WHATEVER, and bought some horses to make a hard ride for the Stone House before they had to sleep. But halfway there, shadows leapt from the, um, shadows and knocked Arial off her horse.
Ninja shadow: "Give us the root, or the villagers will all die!"
Beware: "This is a test of our morality -- if we give them the root to save the villagers, that proves we're too good to be worthy of an artifact of ultimate neutrality."
So instead, they fought. The bad guys had a shadow ninja who teleported around and refused to be pinned, but went down fairly quickly, and the dickiest cheating fuck of a rule-breaking cocksucker that -- um. Right. A wraith that was invisible *and immune to all damage* except while it was in the process of attacking. And of COURSE its attacks teleported enemies away and restrained them, or knocked them back, weakened them, and summoned wraiths from their spirit energy to fight them in its place.
But eventually they discovered that if they managed to hit it or do damage to it while it was invisible [which wasn't easy, Beware for example needed to roll an 18] then it became visible and vulnerable and other people could whale on it. They brought it visible a few times with auto-damage fields, and once it was bloodied it was much much weaker -- no longer immune to damage while invisible, and it lost its wraith-explosion. Plus, it was so focused on attacking only Arial -- who was carrying the root -- that it kept making tactical errors that got it hit more and more. So eventually, they managed to take it out.
Unfortunately, it didn't leave a corpse to spit on. Foo!
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