Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Session Three: Taking Valkenheiser Manor

After their lengthy walk back to Hawksmith, the adventurers returned the surviving members of the research teams to their grateful families and friends, and turned their attention to Turnbull... and the reward he'd offered.  Upon hearing their stories, Turnbull paid them their promised reward.  Lander, the ever-opportunistic charlatan, offered up their services for an extended period of time in case they were needed for the next few days.  Turnbull begrudgingly was convinced of their usefulness and agreed to pay them an additional fund for "extended services".

Relaxing in the Tipsy Tankard, Jinvar bought a round of drinks for everyone in the tavern and made sure to tell them it was "on Turnbull's dime".  The townsfolk, very familiar with Turnbull's tightfisted ways with money, didn't necessarily believe Jinvar, but they did enjoy the drinks...

The next day, the group brought their cache of goblin ears to the local town reeve, a dwarf named Gunder Valkenheiser. After paying them the bounty for each pair of ears, Valkenheiser told them to stick around, and that he might have a job for them in the next day or two.

There wasn't a lot of action going on in town.  The party came across a lone goblin in the nearby woods who was lost and afraid, hardly a threat, and they eventually decided to let him go. Later in the tavern, the group examined the book they had taken from the black-robed mage in the underground structure and found it to be dense and unreadable: a mix of pictograms, letters from multiple languages, and some of it actually written backwards.  They surmised that it was written in a complex code and they put it aside for later analysis.

Turning their attention to the letter scroll they'd taken from the mage, they discovered that the mage's name was Steros, and that he was a low-level field agent (an "Argent") of a group of mercenary wizards known as the Midnight Conclave.  These mages-for-hire were known for doing "dirty work" for clients who wished to remain anonymous and distanced from the dangerous or incriminating activity.  From the letter, Argent Steros' employers were becoming impatient with the lack of results he was sending them.  The letter also revealed that the giant machine they'd seen him working on had been an Engine of the lost race of crystal elves known as the Stratavar, who had been responsible for nearly bringing doom upon Hybrith in an ancient era.  The letter was signed with a mysterious glyph that none of them had never seen before.

Lastly, after trying unsuccessfully to work the brass eggs/mechanical birds they had found, they took them to a clock maker in town.  The old man identified them as gearhawks, a very expensive automaton construct, most often used by the very rich.  He explained that gearhawks can be outfitted & "programmed" for a variety of purposes, including hunting and scouting; the gearhawks the adventurers had found acted like tape-recording carrier pigeons, and they were programmed to deliver audio messages to a pre-determined location.  The gearhawks were very complex, and as a simple clock maker he couldn't tell them where that location could be.  However, he did give them the names of two different clockwork engineers - one in Rock Harbor, the other in the dwarven city of Demfarrow - that might be able to help them.  He also advised them that the Engineer's Guild in Ironhold was the best place to find assistance on matters of automatons, but that city lay far to the east.  The party offered to sell the gearhawks to the clock maker, who told them he didn't have enough gold for even one of the advanced constructs.

After leaving the clock maker's shop, the trio went to visit Reeve Valkenheiser, who told them he did have work for them if they wanted to take it.  He told them the story of how a mansion and winery on historic grounds had been in his family for generations, and how his father had sold half his business to a shady "wine expert" from Ironhold named Jorin Nahkriin.  Shortly after this sale his father died mysteriously one night, and after taking control of the land and winery Nahkriin kicked the remaining members of the Valkenheiser family (the reeve's mother and sister) out of the mansion and off the grounds.  The winery had closed up, the reeve told them, but Nahkriin's new staff remained mysteriously active there. Unable to legally investigate the winery's grounds, the reeve asked the adventurers to look into it themselves, to uncover any evidence of criminal activity there & any evidence of Nahkriin's foul-play, and to get the criminals off the property... dead or alive.  The party agreed (after the reeve upped his payment and made them honorary deputies), and they set off at once to the Blue Horizon winery and vineyard.

Upon reaching the grounds, they found it seemingly deserted but with evidence that Nahkriin's band of thugs was still present somewhere.  They also found small white and yellow poppy-like flowers, and barrels filled with white powder.  Drugs.

The group approached the mansion and knocked several times at the door.  There was no response, and they found the door unlocked.  Before going in, Jinvar used his Divine Sense: as the paladin reached out with his holy magic, his probing encountered the filthy aura of the undead... lots of them.

Jinvar kicked the door in, and as the group entered the mansion's foyer a bloodied halfling in thieves' leathers ran past them and out the door, shouting "Oh thank the gods, it's open!" before the door swung shut on its own.  Lander tried the door and found it sealed shut as the halfling's scream of terror and anguish sounded outside in the vineyard.  They tried to smash the windows but found them unbreakable.  The manor was under the sway of powerful magic, and they had become trapped.

The adventurers advanced further into the house and encountered zombies: some fresh and some very old.  They fought them but there was another wave.  Just then, the team encountered a pair of bandits who had been looking for their halfling companion.  The bandits helped the adventurers fight off the zombies, then told them they were hiding out in the cellar and that it was safe down there.  The heroes refused to follow them, and Lander tried to fry one of them with his Eldritch Blast.  The attack merely burned the thief's flank.  Snarling, the thief continued his retreat to the cellar as the heroes took on another wave of zombies.  There were more coming down from the second floor as well, and outside they could see the shambling shapes of yet more undead, including the halfling thief.  Hopeless in the face of so many undead, they decided to retreat to the cellar.

In the cellar, they discovered a haggard group of bandits huddled at one end of the room near a large boarded-up hole in the wall, and one of the group seemed to be gravely wounded.  After introductions were made and tempers were cooled, the bandits' leader - a half-elf rogue named Mila - told them that the gang had indeed wrested power from Reeve Valkenheiser's father, and that Jorin had killed the old man, despite her wishes otherwise.  Mila also revealed that several days before, a tremor from the north (the tremors of the underground Stratavar ruins collapsing) had shaken the house.  Jorin Nahkriin had awoken from a deep sleep after having dreaming that there were tunnels under the house, tunnels the gang could use to smuggle their drugs.  He knocked a hole in the wall and discovered that there had indeed been a tunnel there.  Nahkriin had taken several of his men to scout the tunnel... but they all had returned as zombies.  Since then, the house had been somehow locked down by an evil magic: people could get in, but they couldn't get out.  They were going to run out of food eventually, and they had to try and find a way through the tunnel to the outside world, or at least find what was creating the undead and stop it.

The team conferred, and agreed to help the bandits... provided Mila testified to what the gang had done and to Nahkriin's murder of the reeve's father.  She eventually consented, and everyone decided to rest up for the night before they set out into the tunnels.  The night passed mostly without incident, breaking only when a disembodied hand attacked during Jinvar's watch.  The bandits and the other heroes awoke to find him furiously chopping and stomping the skittering hand, then they went back to sleep.

At sunrise, the group awoke and readied themselves, as members of the bandit group began pulling the barricade from the cellar wall leading into the darkness of the tunnel...

Behind the screen: Whew, that was a bit long, eh?  Couldn't be helped: at the table playing this session, it felt like there wasn't a lot happening, but tonight going through my notes I realized there had been a lot of small things going on.  A few hard turns to the left, but nothing really to worry about.  Jinvar's player was reluctant to used his Divine Sense, and did so only because the other players encouraged him to do so.  I'm glad he did, because the sudden sense of evil zombies (my exact words: "The house stinks of the undead") raised the atmosphere to a simple raid on criminals to something much darker.  It felt like a cool moment.

ALSO: IF anyone is reading this, and the name "Reeve Valkenheiser" rings a bell, you must've seen "Nothing But Trouble"...

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