As the party sets out, the sky is thick with orange clouds and ash reigns down from what is obviously a nearby erupted volcano. As we journey I attempt to raise the party’s spirits by playing a heroic tune about the Wizard Triskell which has become popular over recent months. Arrive at An Geartha entrance – massive portcullis guards the entrance. A cave mouth looks at us invitingly from the other side of the pass. But we came here to explore An Geartha dammit!
We argue about going in via the portcullis or sneaking in in some fashion. Portcullis has arrow slots and we observe evidence of recent habitation. Njord shares with us his knowledge that there is some kind of dragonish-red scaled, evil being held deep in An Geartha – seem to be being kept in solitary confinement – like a crazy person. There is some kind of button on a platform above the Portcullis – it’s old and very rusted, but Jo and Biv manage to fix it with tinkering tools and magic.
Jason observes that there are many, many signs of life within An Geartha – detects a feeling of “industrious ambition”.
Combat #1 – team Sabhail VERSUS 4 hobgoblins and some shark-hounds (ew!)
Jo, Biv and Jason begin uselessly on the platform above the portcullis, leaving Sigil, Njord and Mourns to begin taking down the enemies. Despite their keen, seemingly regimented training, and taking a few hearty hits we manage to press our way into the entry and eventually defeat them! As we press our advantage, the last hobgoblin slits his own throat, rather than letting us finish him off. Investigating the bodies, Lathina uses her military experience to deduce that these are highly regimented hobgoblins with military tattoos – they are going to act in unison. It looks like we are heading into a barracks. Hobgoblins haven’t been seen in Croiglas Barony for many years – they have obviously all retreated to An Geartha to train and build this terrifyingly regimented army. Observing this we decide to search an alternate entrance and surprise them! Bivouac rigs the Portcullis so that it cannot be reopened from the inside.
Climb up the side of the mountain in search of another entrance. Discover on the plateau where we suspected griffins live that there are indeed griffins. There are two towers – one crumbling, one better maintained. Investigating the crumbling tower we find beautiful carvings decorating the walls and grounds. Meet Fugl the Stone Giant, who lives peacefully atop the plateau, trains the griffins. Mentions that Njord may be susceptible to something called ‘Aboleth’. Fugl takes us to meet the rest of his people, Bjarg is not as friendly as Fugl. Hoaggva, the elder, is blind and covered with carvings similar to those which decorate outside. I play some music for them, they don’t seem to have ever heard music. They say that they don’t like the Gods – allude to knowing them personally. Fugl takes us outside to their berry gathering swamp. Berries as large as us! Meet Mother Forsta. Inside the cave entrance which meets the plateau is a large and beautiful lake, ‘Opal Lake’ complete with waterfall. The fruit gathered is ‘Opal fruit’ has drug like effects on us which lasts 24 hours. We are invited to partake in Opal fruit and chat with the stone giants. We recount to them the tale that we saw carved in the standing stone down south. They darken and mention something called “Fomorian”. Ask them about the manticores – the griffins fight with them. When we ask what lies beyond the cave entrance (Opal Lake/Cave) they darken and say that some evil called the ‘Aboleth’, a creature of sickness, haunts the Lake. It is very dangerous – the stone giants cannot deal with it, and they very much doubt that we would be able to.
Discuss our session goal and decide to head in via the spiral staircase in the crumbling tower. As we descend there is a helix shaped series of paintings illustrating the central pillars around which the stairs are wrapped. These stairs look very unused.
Arrive at a landing where a magical broom constantly sweeps a large chamber which is marked with many magical sigils. There are two doors and a third, concealed door. Venturing down the concealed passage we eventually find an inhabited room and meet Coemgi – he wears robes of an organisation called the ‘Midnight Heart’. Some kind of magical researching group. He is very startled to be receiving visitors (understandably) and so insists upon taking us to see his superiors. We pass through a large room that looks like it was once used as a food hall, but has long since fallen into disrepair. Follow Coemgi deeper into the Midnight Heart’s lair. He seems very wary of us but Bivouac is able to calm him down a little. He seems unusually interested in the humans of our party – Jason and Mourns. We pass through a magic lab where two of Coemgi’s colleagues (Sinna & Gaidha) are experimenting on a very angry Ogre. Meet Archmage Ceithlao Mistress of Transmutations. She tells us that her organisation needs funding in order to continue their research. Want to build the perfect soldier by subjugating ‘lesser races’ and then create a pathogen which will subdue them once the fighting is done. Ceithlao is a massive elitist and fairly racist. VERY proud of her team’s work. Refuses to admit that other, ‘lesser’ races may have a right to life. Meet the other researchers for real:
Coemgi – conjuration (blooded), shy
Sinna – enchantment (blooded), guarded, protective of her research
Gaidha – abjuration (blooded), showy
Jason tries to warn the researchers of the danger of their experimentation. They want one sorcerer to be able to control many, many ogres or ‘soldiers’. We begin to go on a ‘tour’ of their establishment, but we ask too many questions and are shown the door.
As we are leaving, Coemgi tells us about his friend Genda (short black hair, robes of the Midnight Heart) who headed into the old palace (above in An Gaertha) to look for a specific statue (may have had ulterior motives). If we find any evidence of his death Coemgi would be grateful to hear about it.
The next landing we come to leads into a large plaza which is absolutely littered with bodies and traps. We set off many exploding mines, fumbling our way across the plaza. There are two doors and a large corridor can be seen on the opposing wall. After many loud and stressful explosions we clear a path to the right-hand door.
Leads into a chamber where there is a large statue of Elixir – a god favoured by merchants. Looks like chamber was once a site of commerce. Follow a corridor until we pass a door which Jo knocks on – a large and dangerous sounding noise responds. Bivouac catcalls to provoke it.
Combat #2 – Team Sabhail VERSUS the double headed ETTIN. Lathina dashes into the room and casts burning hands at the Ettin. Things only go downhill for the Ettin from there. Bivouac shoots a bolt clean into his stomach – everyone smashes him once until Njord aimed two jets of boiling water at both heads, finishing the beast.
The room that was inhabited by the Ettin seems to be some kind of old administrative room, presumably for the mercantile hall outside. The documents we can read indicate that there were a lot of budget cuts to the keep’s maintenance before it was shut down for good, and abandoned. Heading along the corridor we arrive in another very large chamber which features a very large, ornate, dried out fountain. A small campfire is directly in front of the fountain at which 4 adventurers appear to be sitting. There is something slightly off about them. They move in a mindless, mechanical fashion, and seem very suggestible to psychic touch. They hint that they have found something which needs protection, and that it needs guarding/is very valuable. The party is divided about letting us see it. There are another 8 in their party at the whatever-it-is. Although the suspicious activities of the party make the adventurers suspicious of us, Sigil and I are able to convince them to take us to their hold. Jason casts a blessing on the halfling in their party to test whether or not they are undead and/or constructs. It appears they are not. They seem like adventurers under a curse – not illusions or constructs. Bivouac introduces himself and asks their names:
Ewa the Elf
Ralphy the Dwarf
Giles the Human
They respond and give these names, but strangely do not ask for the rest of the party’s names. We continue towards their hold….
Continue into a chamber three times larger than all the other chambers we have passed through – and those were already massive. We start up a large staircase and eventually reach a landing with a large, beautiful golden door. We bypass this and go into another set of doors which open onto a large, freshly painted ballroom – images of the Gods dancing (and mating with) members of a noble family. There are seven, what appear to be, nobles dressed in attire appropriate for a ball 1000 years ago. All bear family resemblance to Og Croiglas. Bivouac starts playing music. The eery harp music that was coming from nowhere stops. We are invited by this strange party to dine with them. Accept the invitation. As we enter the dining hall we are shocked and surprised to find a table laden with delicious looking food, supposedly all prepared by one guy called Cyne, the chef/manservant. Everyone is very suspicious of the food and nobody openly wants to eat. Some party members try to bluff eating, Njord stands grumpily against the wall. Bivouac continues to play, trying to figure out the pecking order of the nobles. Oddly, there doesn’t seem to be one – confirms what we thought, they are all puppets of somebody. Jason looks at the food and can instantly tell that it is oozing with magic and that all the nobles having noticed that we aren’t eating, and are keenly waiting for us to eat. Sigil stands up and says “enough games, who are you and what do you want?” Cyne instantly darts to Sigil and slits her throat.
Combat #3 – Team Sabhail VERSUS the doppelgangers!!
It was a vicious fight! Many of the party fell – Jo was overwhelmed from all sides, but rose strangely, as though possessed by an otherwordly force. Njord took a heavy hit earlier in the fight, and went down alongside Sigil. Bivouac managed to rip the mysterious hold from one of the doppelgangers and take control of its mind, pitting it against its fellows. Mourns summoned 4 black bears from nowhere and transformed into a bear herself. The bears were a useful and formidable defense against the eight foes we faced. Slowly, through much bravery and thrilling heroics, the doppelgangers went down until there was only one. They yielded and begged for mercy – it told us that its previous master had, in fact, been the Awnshelin, but it totally refused to take us there or tell us anything else. Just told us to go to the Hall of Statutes and look for the one “with the face”. It just wanted to leave An Geartha – so we let it. After it promised that it would stop taking my likeness. We barricaded the doors of the dining room and took a long rest so that Njord and Jo could recover.
……. eight hours later………….. 1am
When we wake up Jo confesses that there is some kind of bug entity living inside him – Sigil manages to mindlink with it – it is saying the primordial word for the end and the beginning. She deduces that whatever it is is presently dormant – so there’s nothing we can do for now but journey on, WHICH WE DO.
Leaving the dining hall and walking back through the ballroom we enter a hall of statues. There are around ten statues in alcoves along the walls. They are of various Gods – and possibly of Croiglas ancestors. Forefather Croiglas?? We discover that the Croiglas statue hides a secret passage! It requires blood sacrifice to be opened. With few other options we start taking turns to offer a small amount of blood to the statue. When Mourns steps forward she doesn’t even get to the blood smearing part when the statue awakens to look at her and grants us passage. We continue into a small corridor which leads to a kind of study room chock full of books and documents. They are in strangely good condition – but the dates of them are strange, from a calendar we do not understand or recognise. When we enter the room the documents all update themselves, as though to mark the fact that we visited the room. The time since the last visitor is about 1,400 years. There is a dagger and lots of documentation about said dagger. Njord, Biv and Lathina stand guard outside the study while Jo, Sigil, Jason and Mourns investigate the documents. Moving on to the warded, heavily protected door we discover the white, padded chamber which houses the Awnshelin.
Combat #4 – Team Sabhail VERSUS the Awnshaelin
It is a monstrous thing – humanoid but with red skin and dragon-like wings, black hair and hundreds of comb-thin teeth – long and deadly. It cackles as we enter the room. Reality warps as Sigil, Njord and Lathina disappear. Mourns, Jo, Biv and Jason are left to face the monstrosity.
Unbeknownst to the latter party, the former had actually been transported by the Awnshelin to a celestial plane where the Awnshaelin also faced them. They stood upon a golden floating platform, the sky is black dotted with stars being spewed from the mouth of a giant, dragon like being we can see in the sky – it bears a strange and monstrous resemblance to Og Croiglas. By using the magical dagger than Sigil found in the adjacent study, Sigil is able to stab the Awnshaelin in the heart and force the party members back to the plane of reality BUT! Meanwhile in the real world, several rounds of combat had already occurred…. Casting magic within the padded room was difficult – channeling was far more difficult than useful. Jo tried to cast several spells, but their effectiveness was deadened by the room’s veil. Mourns manages to conjure two Fey Brown Bears into the room and transforms to begin attacking. Jason takes a few hearty hits, but manages to stay standing and make a few hits. The Awnshelin is terrifying – it bites with its hundreds of teeth, slashes at us with a magical, bone, flaming spear which it can summon at will and spews molten, golden lava all over us. Around that time, the rest of party materialises back into the room to join the fray. It is a tough and dangerous fight, but we manage to overcome the Awnshelin – Sigil finishes it off via a psychic attack which explodes it’s skull – golden, molten fire shoots out of its eye sockets and other orifices, eventually exploding truly. Jo, Lathina and Sigil fall upon the corpse to drink the blood. Sigil gains the soul, which was of the God Clarion, Everburning. (2.30am)
SHORT REST (1hr)
3.30am …. CONTINUE THE JOURNEY!
Progressing into the next room we are met with an array of doors – entering the left-most doorway, which has no door but is covered by some kind of illusion. Biv enters and gets transported to a rolling field which quickly distorts and disappears. The room is a cold, empty chamber bar a statue of a Knight which I identify as Sir Ailin – a famous Knight of old. Only the face of the toy is missing. After much deliberation we pick it up, put the face back on it – waiting tensely for something to happen…. BUT NOTHING DOES! There is one more door in this chamber which disappointingly is a broom closet. Move along.
In the next room is a strange mirror – there is a message written in red cosmetics… possibly lipstick.
With hands separated from wrists
And eyes from sockets
only our lips will be ever touching
touch yours to mine now and we will be free
After much deliberation, as the party decide to leave the mirror lone, Lathina cracks and kisses it. She disappears. Bivouac and Sigil both also kiss the mirror and follow.
The rest of the party have already moved along.
Through the mirror Biv, Sigil and Lathina find themselves in a large, old fashioned bed chamber full of ash and charred things and furniture. For a split second they hear the sounds of love making – it changes quickly into a reptilian roar. The room is pitch black. They attempt to sneak around and observe things – Sigil fumbles and pulls down the curtains surrounding the bed revealing two charred bodies, clearly of lovers – died in the act. Looks like they were killed by a dragon – burnt and clawed. There are four rings – two on each corpse. We take all 4. It looks like the explosion of fire may have come from the lovers. Perhaps they were dragonborn? Now we are trapped in a room with only one door which is metal and melted/fused into its frame. Using a combination of brute force and magic we manage to get out and reunite!
Moving on to the 4th and final door, we find a lavishly decorated bedroom. Another mirror with another message:
they shall never learn of our love
they shall never find our son
how can they when they have not faces with which to see
Looks like these lovers are the parents of the Awnshelin. We move to investigate/loot the room, but as we touch objects they seem to age 1,400 years in a few seconds and crumble into dust. Once we finish our investigations of this wing, it seems the Southern end of this floor has been fully explored! Head north! Find a servant’s bedroom – loot their jewellery – obviously the chambers of the nobles who lived here hundreds of years ago. Move on to find a room split into two chambers – one for man-made Gods, and one for those of nature. We all split off to pray to our Gods. Gain inspiration from various inspiring acts.
The party moves back down the spiral stair case, and continues to investigate the plaza room where they met the 4 adventurer-doppelgangers. They find an old bank which has been looted, but in the vault is a treasure gobbler monster which seems not that aggressive but Njord launches at regardless. It manages to escape by moving through the stone floor before it can be killed.
The party picks back up and heads north from the plaza, discovering an area covered in those jumping explosive mines again. They take the northern fork in the corridor, and come to a stair case heading down into an unnaturally cold area of the dungeon. They bypass this, fearing the area, and find another door. Inside is a deathly smell, where a horde of zombie gores has been locked inside.
Combat #6 – Team Sabhail VERSUS the Zombie Ogres
There are 6, enormous and grotesque zombie ogres. Laithina and Jo use twinned fire-spells to roast the ogres who were incapacitated by Mourns. Bivouac arrives in time to send one of them to sleep, after which Mourns revives Lathina who was downed in a single shot, and she takes down the stunned ogre. It is all uphill from there for the party – hits landed until Mourns pushes her way into the room and bears up! Finishes two of the ogres off but seems sickened as she bites into the second one. We are able to pick the rest of them off quite easily. After making her kills Lathina springs into a corner and crawls like a spider up the wall! What a useful new skill that she has revealed to us! Njord casts some kind of abyss into the room – no idea what was going on in there, could not see anything but could hear the ogre stuck in it roaring in protest. The last in overwhelmed and we WIN!
Continue our exploration of An Geartha! Find many more mines – everyone steps on mines and we make a hell of a lot of noise (an inordinate amount of 1’s are rolled). After getting appropriately exploded, we find a gnome sized hole in the wall. Cleverly disguising himself as a rat, Bivouac slips through to discover a workshop which looks recently used. He notices another gnome, standing with what looks like a strange crossbow (it’s a gun) and brass goggles, and a strange rubbery outfit with pieces of metal. He is very wary of me – eventually manage to establish that his name is Zozif and he is from a different ‘Then’ (he is a time traveler!). He is the one who set up all the mines – he is an amazing tinkerer and Bivouac is very enthusiastic about getting to know him and and learning from him. He seems very interested in leaving An Geartha, but also very wary of us. He does decide to accompany us. Traversing the level becomes a lot easier with him as he is able to diffuse the traps easily. Decide to seek out the sounds of battle we heard many hours earlier. On our way we discover what appears to be the body of Genda – Coemgi’s friend. We arrive at the sight of the battle. Lots and lots of carnage. Evidence of the experiments which the Midnight Heart have been working on.
Seems that Zozif is from a reality wherein the Midnight Heart’s experiments succeeded and they were able to make Ogres tiny, docile creatures.
Investigating the final door which attaches to the room which is full of mines – the door was rigged with a blade trap which Sigil accidentally activates. Seven hobgoblins, including one Captain are inside. The first room is a hastily made set of barricades, inner rooms looks like their bunks. We move forward, Zozif terrifies them with his boomstick and Sigil disorients the Captain – he retreats into the back room. Mourns casts moonbeam and it is supereffective against hobgoblins. Three of them instantly combust and the rest retreat into the bunk room, barricade themselves in and ask for mercy. Jason interrogates them and manages to get very useful information about their Warchief from the Captain. The man we are after is named Warlord Laerta.
Using the directions which Jason obtained through his interrogation we head for Laerta’s HQ. Meet up (on the inside) with the main entrance portcullis – can hear voices coming from down the stairs – Lathina sneaks ahead to see what is down there. A large chamber set with traps which will set off ballistae if you step foot in it. Two hobgoblins patrolling. Once Lathina returns and tells us about this, we decide to head into the chamber (we can take 2 hobgoblins)! When they spot us they say “Halt!” and ready to fire the ballistae at us. Panicking, we dash back up the stairs – except Lathina, who they do not spot. One hobgoblin runs to inform the warchief of our presence. The other stays to guard, and trains his bow on the stairs. Lathina surprise attacks him and slits his throat cleanly – disarms all the trap wires with spy-like acrobatics and precision. Yells at us all to come back.
Combat #7 Team Sabhail VERSUS Hobgoblin army
We have a few moments to prepare before they arrive – move and ready the ballistae to be trained on the entrance. We hear chanting and war screams – we scream right back. The first wave (a bugbear and a team of hobgoblins) arrive – Jo wipes most of them out with a single fireball. Then, we hear the roar of Laerta – Jason challenges him to a duel – in his mind, he sees an echo of She Who Chills the Blade face The Bannerbearer in a challenge. The next waves arrive – two more bugbears, another team of hobgoblins plus Laerta arrives from a separate door, accompanied by a team of 5 captains.
The battle is bloody and fierce, but through cunning use of ballistae and spells, most of the Hobgoblins are subdued. Mourns distracts Laerta’s honour guard, and they are unable to aide him in his fight with Jason. Jason and the Warlord face down and after his forces are defeated, the Warlord forgoes his shield and decides to die in honourable combat. They fight for a long time, but eventually Jason kills him and takes his adamantine breastplate as a trophy.
The rest of the Hobgoblin army arrives and both sides retreat from the other. The party returns to the plateau with Zozif in toe, and the Stone Giants bid them farewell back to Sabhail.
After 32 hours in An Geartha, the party has managed to grow in strength, gain many new magical weapons with which to fight the darkness, and more than enough problem to worry about for future journeys into those halls. The Aboleth, the Freezing Stairs, the Order of the Midnight Heart, and the remaining Hobgoblins are yet to be dealt with… Who knows what other treasures they yet guard?