Heroes of the Spiderwoods
This is a tale that warmed and broke the stone hearts of several fa/tg/uys, that had just started with a funny tpk story.
Okay, some background. Our party consisted of a wild sorcerer, a paladin, two fighters, a ranger and a monk. We all met in the tavern and were offered a quest - we must head to the enchanted elven woods to retrieve a golden cup from it. By "elven" I mean that they were elven once, the only elves that live there now are ghosts, zombies and an occasional cursed fellow. First off, we do some starter quests in the town, nothing too major. We drive off murderous crows and a magic scarecrow from a farm, we take part in a pie eating competition, we help a blacksmith to clear his basement from the corrupted myconids, that sort of stuff. All of this is done to gain the trust of local population - and by extension, the local druids Soon we earn their trust, but they only tell us can't help us find the cup at all. Since they are not diviners. But there's an exiled druidess in the woods, who may know such magic, so we head there. Here our DM introduces his homebrewed travel system - there's a hex map of the forest, and each time we move a tile, we must roll the survival check. If we fail, he hides all the map from us than rotates it randomly, so we're forced to remember the landmarks. Luckily, this never actually comes into play, because we have a ranger with us. In fact, we're acting unusually smart for our autistic selves for once, since we do not get lost. In fact, we find the witch's hut pretty early. Maybe a little too early.
The hut is there, alright, but the witch isn't home. Her guard dog is, though, and it starts barking the moment it sees us. One of our fighters decides to distract it with tasty treats and petting, while the rest decides that the home invasion is a really great idea. We find nothing especially interesting inside - at least, nothing we wouldn't expect to see in a druid's hut. Just some basic furniture, a shelf with potions and a heavily wounded, unconcious deer. We barely restrain ourselves from stealing the potions in the witch's absence for five minutes, before she arrives. She doesn't take kindly to the intruders at first - in fact, the only reason she decided to listen to us at all is because her dog liked our fighter. Every party member tries to ask her for help in his own way. The paladin appeals to honor and glory of finding a sacred relic, but the witch doesn't hold much love for her order or religion, so she fails. The other fighter asks if they could help her back, but the witch is pretty self-sufficient - she doesn't need anything from murderhobos. When everyone tried his hand, the monk steps in. He pulls a myconid corpse from his pocket. "Maybe we can make a deal. Look, I have this - maybe you could plant him and grow yourself an army, right?" The paladin freezes in horror. The sorcerer pulls a hood down on his face.
The ranger covers his ears The figher covers the dog's ears.
There's a dead silence in the air for a few seconds... Until the witch starts screaming insults and obscenities at us. She polymorphs the monk into a newt and throws him into the bushes with all her strength. Then she stares at us.
She continues yelling at us for another five minutes or so, calling us all braindead imbeciles and worse, until she finally calms down and gets it out of her system. After successfully deflecting all the blame for home invasion and brining a corrupted myconid to the forest on the monk, we manage to finally start a reasonable discussion. She even agrees to help us in order to get rid of murderhobos at her hut the easy way. There's a catch - in order to divine the location of the cup, she needs to perform a blood sacrifice that is likely to significantly cripple one of us... ...but then again, she also offers us the easy way out - we could simply use the dying deer as a sacrifice and be done with it. Luckily, our paladin is always happy to martyr herself for no reason at all - she steps forward and offers her blood instead. Good choice, because it turns out that the witch was bullshitting us in order to see if we're sociopathic enough to murder a defenseless animal to find some bejeweled crockery. We are totally not, so she finally caves and begins explaining the situation. First of all, the forest is divided into three areas of influence - one is controlled by a gigantic minotaur, the other by a hag and the third one is under control of the Necromancer. Well, that sounds pretty spooky, but we don't actually need to visit all those places, right? She can just divine the location of the cup, and we'll head there. Nope! She can't. This magic is beyond her. Fuck! That is, unless we find a magic mirror for her. Yes! The magic mirror is located in the hands of the titanic minotaur mentioned above. Fuck! Alright, fine, we're adventurers. We should be able to handle a minotaur, right? After our monk recovers from polymorph (since the witch refuses to dispell it herself). we head out.
Minotaur's lair is located in the western part of the forest. As the witch told us, goblins serve him - just like grimlocks serve the hag, so we should be careful. Naturally, when we hear "be careful", we understand it as "get caught in a goblin ambush" For someone of such low CR, goblins manage to put up some resistance, but we win anyway, killing the majority of the fuckers and capturing a few alive. The paladin decides that she has huge and important business somewhere else, while the rest of the party interrogates the greenskins. Turns out, they really are the servants of the minotaur, but we already know that. We probe the fuckers for more information, until we learn something new. First of all, goblins assumed that we're here to save some huntsmen that we never heard about before. More importantly, the minotaur has a very unusual pet - a gelatinous cube. Well, it's difficult to call him a pet, he just trapped him in a tunnel and uses him as a guard. When asked about how they manage to contain the cube, we're told that it's afraid of fire - so they've surrounded him with torches to keep him still. After learning everything that we need, we "let them go", grab the paladin and head to the minotaur's lair. Since our paladin is the only one with the darkvision, she decides to walk in the front. To "scout". In heavy armor. This genius idea works out just fine, when we walk into the cave's living room and wake up about twenty goblins or so. We're totally fucked, aren't we? Well, luckily, they aren't all waking up at once - so we're fighting a wave after wave, not a gigantic army. That is, for a few rounds, until they all wake up, and we are fighting a gigantic army. We end up blowing all of our daily resources on a single encounter. We end up blowing all of our hit points too. In fact, some of us blow them more than once, such as our fighter, who discovered a new fighting style.
Fighting style in question is known as "corpse tanking". Every single turn the goblins dropped him into zeroes and stabbed him while he's down to finish him off While he's at zeroes, he needed to fail the death saving throw three times in order to actually die. Each sucessful attack on goblin's part automatically failed one saving throw. However, every round the paladin healed him with lay on hands for one hit point, bringing him back from the brink... ...just so he can drop on the ground and become a pin cushion again. The fact that no one died during this encounter was a god damn miracle, especially since we were all so close. After the battle is over, we barely stop to loot the place - after grabbing and chewing on some of the goblin food, we rush back outside to take a long rest. Since there's no way we're fighting the minotaur in our shape, obviously. About eight hours later we return to the cave, only to find out that we're not the only guests here. The Hag's grimlocks either dug to deep or are assaulting the place on purpose through their tunnels. In any case, this fucking kitchen is now filled with new enemies - but not as much, so we kill them all pretty easily. This time we go slightly deeper into the room to find some kind of a cold storage, where the goblins kept their food before slaughtering it. However, there's nothing inside except for a single huntsman. He's really, really happy to see us - especially since the goblins were going to eat him very soon. Oh, yeah, the huntsmen, we've heard about those. Aren't there supposed to be more? "Oh yes, there were more, but some were cooked a few days ago, then there was some huge battle yesterday, and goblins were hungry after it, so they ate the rest." Oh. We politely ask him what does he mean by "yesterday". "About eight hours ago." Oh. Well, fuck.
Okay, that... Sucked, but at least we saved one of them. It ain't THAT bad, right? We might want to reconsider our policy on eating strange food found on monster kitchens, though. After letting the hunstman go, we head further into the caverns, fighting both grimlocks and goblins. along the way, until we find a strange, suspiciously empty tunnel filled with bones. This is the moment where I mention that the DM rolls for the wild magic surge every time the sorcerer casts a non-cantrip spell. I'm mentioning this right now for no reason at all. The walls are decorated with torches - a luxury otherwise absent from this caves, since goblins don't need the light. Yeah, that isn't fucking suspicious at all. Come on, guys, even we aren't stupid enough to fall for that. "This is where they keep the cube!" - the fighter deduces. How observant of you. "He must be guarding treasures!" No. No, no, no, no. "I'm gonna find him and poke him with a torch!"
NO, NO, NO, NO
After nearly engulfing himself into the cube by accident, since he can't actually see it until he gets too close, the fighter rips a torch from the wall and does exactly what he said. Well, if he hoped to intimidate the cube with this gesture, it didn't work. He made in angry instead. Some hotheads in the party want to fight it - that is, until they look up his stats. We all turn and run as fast as we can - and the cube follows. Contrary to the popular myth, gelatinous cubes aren't actually slow. They simply have no reason to hurry.
Now, normal human beings would run towards the exit from the caverns and take a long rest again, hoping that the cube will get bored and come back. Or, well, there will be actually somewhere to run to if we're out in the open. Instead, in our panic we run further into the caverns. We run and don't look back, because we don't want to know how close is that thing. We don't look back, and we don't look sideways too. We barely pay attention to the whole goblin warcamp that we run past. Shocked goblins try to throw some spears at us, but we don't give a fuck about goblins. We need to run. And we run... ...straight into the dead end.
Fuck. Fuck. FUCK.
This is the moment our DM calls for a smoking break and leaves. Meanwhile, we're frantically trying to come up with a plan. Well, not a plan, but at least SOMETHING to avert our impending deaths. We even remember that we bought a few sacks of salt for some reason, and we try to come up with bullshit reasons why it will totally scare the cube off. When the DM returns, he begins describing the horrible screams we hear from the distance. Many, many horrible screams that grow louder by the second, until they begin to quiet down. ...this THING just ate the whole warcamp, didn't it. You know what that means - it isn't blocking our escape anymore, and we can return safely. We get all the way back and head down the torch lit tunnel that was previously guarded by the cube. At the end of it, there are two doors, one leading to the west, another to the east. Our paladin is feeling particularily gung ho today, so she kicks the eastern door down with her hooves. Turns out, this door leads to the warcamp. And the cube was waiting for us right behind it.
We hastily kick down the second door - only to find out that it leads to a bottomless pit. If we head to the left, we'll fall into the pit and die. If we don't, we'll have to fight the cube. Bottomless pit it is! When we land, it turns out that it wasn't that deep after all, we're barely hurt. It's pretty dark in there, however, so we light torches to see where we actually ended up. This cavern may be filled with rubble and trash, but it's still a pretty huge place - big enough to house a second warcamp... Or a gigantic magic mirror... And a single minotaur. So it turns out, when grimlocks dug a tunnel, they intended to dig their way into minotaur's chambers and assassinate him. However, apparently they fucked it up and collapsed his lair instead. Now we're stuck with a gigantic, pissed off minotaur with a warhammer the size of a grown man. After we finish shitting our pants, we roll for initiative, and the sorcerer goes first, finally it's his time to shine. He lifts his hands up and chants the magic words of the catapult spell - "Allahu akbar!". A single rock slowly begins levitating above the ground, and then, with a fwooshing noise, it smashes into the minotaur's head, dealing respectable damage. Time to roll for wild magic surge again... ...and it actually happens this time. Wonder what is he going to roll, wild magic surge table is filled with lolrandumb trash... He rolls an 7. What does 7 stand for? It stands for picrelated, a fireball spell centered on the sorcerer. Every single party member is in the fireball radius. We are all level three. We begin to laugh nervously, as the sorcerer rolls for damage. It's more than enough to kill us all, unless we make the dexterity save. Our laughter stops being nervous and becomes downright hysterical, as we roll for dexterity. None of us except for the sorcerer makes it. Fucking Lord.
It was at this point OP gave the thread a choice. End with the funny tpk story, or see it through.
It Gets WorseEdit
Okay, so this is the moment when I've realized that I really, really like this campaign, and I want it to continue. We can't just die in here, we barely started! And I know that DM also put a lot of time and effort into writing this adventure - he actually did it the Wizard of the Coast way, writing down an entire design document. He put his soul into this thing. He's laughing now, but there's no way he'll be actually okay with this kind of a stupid ending. It takes some effort to stop laughing, but I snap out of it eventually. "Hey, uh, DM, you remember that we all have Inspiration points? From roleplaying and all of this?" "So?" "Well, you know how 5e is the "Leave it up to DM" edition. And remember how we played Star Wars Saga Edition? There were destiny points there, very similiar thing, they could be used for all kinds of things. Like, avoiding damage... Could we maybe use them? To, you know, slightly lower the damage from the fireball?" DM is overtaken by doubt, but other players soon begin supporting me, which happens rarely, and persuading him to listen. Finally, he agrees - fine, you can halve the damage from the fireball, if you spend your Inspiration. "But only this once." "And sorcerer doesn't get to use it, since it's his fault." Well, shit. Campaign saved! We are not dead after all! But we're simply nearly dead. And minotaur was not in the radius of the fireball at all...
I hate the namefags and tripcode users, but I guess it's one of the cases where it's necessary. I also hate when people take politics out of designated threads.
Okay, so, the cast so far is this: Dietrich was the party's first fighter, a human battlemaster. He's a savant and a learned man, a professor from Reichland's university, He's the one who had the bright idea of poking the gelatinous cube with a torch. Eisen Reise was the second fighter, a human champion. He's a simple man of simple mind, he likes to get paid and doesn't like too much danger. He's the one who buddied up with a dog. Fiona the Bastard was the party's devotion paladin. She's a tiefling and essentially the Luke Skywalker/Brienne of Tarth character, a wide eyed young hero. Gunnar of the North was the party's hunter ranger, a quiet man and the only party member with a lick of a common sense. His player described him as androgynous, but nobody cared about what he described. Everyone imagined him like Aragorn, since Aragorn was what he was played like. Bellheimer was the party's wild sorcerer, a dwarf, while Faust was the open hand monk. I'm describing them together, in a single line, for a reason
Any of you seen "The search for the Bard" greentext? Those are the same players, different characters.
So, there's Barsum, the Cursed Guardian, the Big Guy, in front of us. Formerly an elf, by the way. However, what really matters is, he's a huge ass minotaur right now. If I could show you his stats right now, I would, but I can't. So just take my word for it - he was seriously overpowered for a low level boss. For example, he could Action Surge like a level 20 fighter. Naturally, since we've all barely escaped deaths, we all should take this new enemy seriously, given his ridiculous power. As you might understand by now, "must" and "will" are very different things for this party. Because Faust decides to spend his extremely valuable, limited time on a questionable action. He moves towards Bellheimer, lying on the ground and burning to death from his own fireball. He takes out his dick and... ...extinguishes his comrade. So, actually fighting the monster is up to Dietrich, Eisen, Fiona and Gunnar. Luckily, they're all well rested - despite being heavily wounded, they all have their abilities on their hands. Gunnar goes first thanks to his high initiative, he casts the hunter's mark on the minotaur and manages to shot him. The minotaur goes next - he action surges and nearly murders Eisen on the spot. It becomes clear that Barsum must die during this round, or the avoided TPK will be repeated again. Dietrich slashes the beast with his greatsword, as for Eisen, at this point he'll keep fighting well after his death - he simply won't notice actually dying. Minotaur falls, when Fiona smites - thanks to the crit multiplying the smite damage, the monster is finished. Once again proving that it doesn't matter how big and strong you are, if you're alone, action economy is not on your side. Fine, now what?
Just to clarify, when Gwyn, the witch of the Spiderwoods, told us that she needs a magic mirror, we've thought it will be a small mirror on the wall. Like the one from Snow White. We did not expect a sixteen feet tall monstrosity in a golden frame, encrusted with gems. We still need to bring it to the witch, somehow. Which will probably involve taking it up the pit, through the tiny goblin tunnels and all the way through the woods. Dietrich has a genius idea, fitting his education and background - if we pry the mirror from it's frame, it will be a lot smaller. Eisen has enother genius idea - if we pry the gems out of the frame too, we will be a lot richer. Attempted vandalism ensues, and every time we touch the mirror, it begins briefly showing something horrible. And then someone horrible. I would call him devious, in fact. He begins hissing something very insulting at us, and Fiona seems to understand him, confirming our suspiciouns. The devil begs us to stop acting like chimps and breaking the priceless artifact It's nearly the last of it's kind, and destroying such a work of art would be pretty horrible even for the man. He even gives us helpful advice - we shouldn't try to bring mirror to Gwyn, just bring her to the mirror instead. He also notes our destructive potential - and offers us a deal. There's an elf of an ancient bloodline that wronged him in the past. The devil really, really wants him dead - and he's willing to make one of us a warlock if we agree to do it. The only person interested in such power is Dietrich - but even then, briefly. The rest of the group decides that making deals with the devil is a bad idea. The players might or might not have had experience with this in the previous campaign. The session ends, and some important stuff happens off session - namely, Faust's player gets called names for roleplaying a thug instead of a monk. Also, this is the moment where sorcerer's player disappears.
When our next session starts, Faust's player announces how when the party wakes up, their monk is nowhere to be found - his staff is left behind, but that's all that's left from him. The DM says no, fuck that noise, since you're switching characters for no good reason, you're rolling this whole thing through. Oh, he's switching characters? Yes, that might be for the best. First, he rolls for stealth in order to not wake the party up when he's leaving. He fails spectacularily and wakes the entire party up instead. We gather around him and begin asking him questions he really doesn't want to answer Such as "Where are you going?" "Why are you leaving?" "How exactly are you going to survive by yourself?" Those are all the questions he really doesn't want to asnwer But in the end he does mumble something about "I know how you're in the right hands, and you will survive here" And so he climbs out of the pit and leaves, silent and graceful. Just kidding, the DM makes him roll for athletics for every 10 feet of the pit in order not to fall down. He falls down around six times, nearly killing himself, until he makes it out successfully And this is the end of the tale of Faust the Renegade... Just kidding, the DM makes him roll for survival too. Remember how I've told you that we never used the hiding and rotating map feature? Because we had the ranger with us? Well, when I was saying it, I didn't think that I'll be telling the story this far. Faust wanders the woods for about ten hours, lost, confused and hungry... ...until he bumps into Gwyn's hut, where he finds the rest of the party, comfily sleeping outside. He joins them, naturally. When the party wakes up, they're surprised to see Faust's mug again. Even Gwyn is amused by the situation! Once again, he says goodbyes and hastily leaves. Cue to even more failed survival checks. On his way out of the forest, Faust the Renegade is eaten by wolves.
Back to the cave. The party decides to loot everything before leaving, and we're really saddened by the fact that we can't steal Barsum's hammer. In our search for riches we find some sort of diary that the minotaur has written back when he was an elf. It talks a lot about some mysterious threat, it name drops the priestess called Myrilith several times and most importantly, it talks about the Covenant. It doesn't actually say what the Covenant does, but it seems that it's a spell of some kind - and this diary contains the third known to Barsum. Okay, that doesn't sound important at all, it probably won't matter in the long run. We're here for the golden cup, remember? We're hired by a merchant to retrieve it. So, after we abandon our insane plans to take the mirror to the surface, we climb up the pit. Just kidding, the DM decides that now is the time to teach us about the importance of skills and class features. So we also have to make athletics checks every 10 feet to climb up. Since none of us actually has athletics leveled, we fall down again and again, nearly dying in the process. Eventually Eisen does successfully get up and throw a rope down. The DM sounds really smug - that's what we get for mocking thief's class features. Climbing is useful! Sure, sure it is. Once per the campaign, during a very special episode. We get out of the cave without any troubles. We don't even meet the cube on the way out, surpisingly. We get to Gwyn's hut without any trouble, tell her that Barsum is dead and the path to the mirror is free. Afterwards we take a long rest. For the night is dark and full of terrors. In the morning, we see our old friend Faust - not for long, though, since he's hasty to leave again. The witch is back too - she's slightly displeased with the fact that we forgot to mention a roaming homicidal cube, but is quick to forgive us. We're like your retarded cousin - you know it's not his fault. He can't help it.
Good news! During the night Gwyn took a stroll to Barsum's lair and divined the cup's location. Bad news! The cup is in the very heart of the forest, beneath the roots of the Felucien tree, in the very heart of the corrupted woods, where the hag Myrtle and her minions reside. Horrible news! Gwyn's not alone, she brought a friend from somewhere. He's a dwarf, he's our new PC, and he's Jar Jar Binks level of annoying. Each and every member of the party does his best to ignore the dwarf's existance from here on. Now, here's what we know - Barsum is dead, his lair looted. Myrtle has the thing we want, but the road to her lies through the marshes infested with angry elven ghosts. But the Necromancer, he doesn't seem to be tied to the plot in any way at all. Perfectionists easily outvote the pragmaticists (solely represented by Eisen), and we decide that our souls simply won't rest, if we don't kill the Necromancer before doing what we've been actually hired for. But before that, we head to the huntsmen lodge and visit that one guy, who we didn't eat, Odrik. At least someone is happy to see us for a change - he wants to reward us for saving his life with some jewelry he hid in the hollow tree, but we need his help to find it. We take our first NPC companion with us all the way to the place. Along the way we have two encounters - first, we fight a couple ogres. Since we had a surprise round, we easily killed them both. However, as for the second one, it's spiders. About time we meet some, since the place is called Spiderwoods. Look at those guys in Monster Manual right now, those are some beasts, especially in large numbers we met them in. They tear through our defenses easily, and their poison damage is downright brutal - the fact that none of us died is a testament solely to our tactical genius. Wounded, we have to seek shelter - and the nearby cave becomes our haven. While we rest, we can't shake off the feeling of being watched.
This is a moment of respite, where our heroes are in relative safety - so they can afford to talk and find out more about each other. Dietrich was a learned man, well into his forties, respected by his colleagues back in Drexenfurt and admired by many, yet he was not satisfied with this life anymore. He desired excitement, danger, a real man's life. He doesn't care for being an old professor taking exams from braindead students anymore - he's here to live by the sword in a life of adventure, the one that he always secretely yearned for. When he reclaims the relic, he'll finally prove to himself that he's not living his life in vain. Eisen desired to live by the sword too - he was a common soldier for years before becoming a mercenary he is now. The only reason he's seeking to reclaim the relic is to make a name for himself as a fighter and a mercenary. Maybe then he can join such legendary warriors as the Panzerritters and live the good life as a knight, never without food on his plate, a coin in his pocket or a good fight before him agai. Fiona also desired knighthood - but for a different reason. As a child, she was left by unknown parents to be raised in the Greentown Monastery, the home of the Knights of Saint Fergus. Her entire life she was surrounded by many young men trained to become holy warriors, yet despite all her religious fervor and righteous life she could not become a knight herself. By reclaiming a holy relic, she could show the knights that she's just as righteous as they are and take her rightful place amongst her brothers. Gunnar did not have his brothers with him anymore - he lost them all back in the forgotten North, when he was not strong enough, not cunning enough to save them all. And now he found them, those brave fools, heading to their deaths without a care in the world like his comrades once did. He could not watch it happen again. Making sure they survive and reclaim the relic was his duty.
Oh yeah, there was a dwarf too, but we're still trying to ignore his existance as much as we can. We coined a name for him, however, the Old Fart. Our sorcerer is also still technically alive, but heavily burnt and totally catatonic after being caught in the middle of that explosion. And we still have our loyal huntsman, Odrik, who probably really hates himself for agreeing to come with us now. So, the only exit leads back to the Spiderwoods - the woods infested with deadly poisonous spiders, who we can hear crawl outside. We really don't want to use it, because we still haven't morally recovered from our last fight with them, but what choice do we have, really? Well, we could use the gigantic door carved in the stone wall of the cave. Well, we couldn't, since there seems to be no obvious way to open it. The solution comes to us as soon - when the light of the moon touches the walls of the cavern, a magical writing appears, which says something along the lines of... "The gates of the tomb will only open themselves to the song of the dawn." Song of the dawn, that sounds familiar. Didn't we read something like this in the minotaur's diary? Yes, we have - but it's something else entirely from the Covenant, so we don't actually know what that thing does. But the song of the dawn is written down there - so our most charismatic party members could, theoretically, sing it. Fiona and Dietrich have a minor squabble about which one of them sings better, until they decide that they can sing the song of the dawn in duet just fine. Both rolled pretty respectable Perfomance, but that's the moment when the DM says that he wants them to sing. Out loud. To say that it was a nightmarish experience is to say nothing at all. Neither of them had either the voice for singing, or the hearing for it, so by the end of it, the DM was begging them to stop. It seems the gates could not bear it either, since they slowly opened, inviting the heroes inside...
The place we ended up in turned out to be none other than a tomb of a great elven hero. Mighty was his sword arm and blessed was his blade. Yeah, yeah, whatever, none of us care about the knife ears that much. Old Fart continues cracking stupid jokes, but we don't really listen to him - occasionally Dietrich snaps back at him with a retort, but that's it. Suddenly, our feeling of being followed gets some closure. A tall armored man suddenly comes from behind the corner. In one hand he holds a warhammer, in the other - the holy symbol of the Sovereign, the one human god. He calls himself Ser Gregoir, a knight from the kingdom of Dulast. Fiona immediately asks him if he's looking for the relic too, but he just shakes his head - he doesn't know anything about the relic, and he can't reveal his mission - but it's of extreme importance. Old Fart makes the mistake of insulting the elves again - and an arrow pierces the air, landing slightly below his feet. His attacker is Tallendiel, an elven woman and Gregoir's companion, as he explains it. She does not take insults to her people well, so the dwarf should be watching his tongue. Before Old Fart manages to retort, Fiona warns him that neither she, nor anyone, really, is going to protect him, if he will continue picking fights. Nobody protests and Old Fart momentarily shuts up for the time being. Turns out, both groups want to reach Felucien, so they unite. The tomb is surprisingly short and ends with a dead end - there's only a well filled with water there. Tallendiel reveals that it's a gate to the deeper level of the tomb. It's dormant now, but it can be awakened with blood magic. Fiona volunteers to give her blood again, but this time she actually has to follow through. The gate answers to her sacrifice, and elven magic takes us away... All of us except for Tallendiel appear in a tiny round room with no exits. The ceiling creeks, as it begins descending on our heads.
Panicked, quiveiring, screaming, we look around, trying to figure out the way to escape his death trap. It must be a trap, right? Everything becomes clear, when Gunnar finally looks down, on the floor. Unlike the stone walls around, the bloodstained floor is metallic. It also has small holes in it, their purpose is probably to let the blood flow down. This is not a trap - it’s a sacrifical chamber! Gunnar yells out his discovery, and all as one we start smashing the floor with our weapons and stomping, trying to displace the metal plate. Elves probably didn’t design it to endure so many armed and armored people. And we succeed! The floor crashes down, and we fall down with it. After managing to not drown in the pool of blood, we climb out and look around. Who knows, maybe we’re trapped again? No, this is indeed the second level of the tomb - we’re surrounded by statues of the elven gods. The Mother, the Father, all of them false idols now. After recovering and catching our breath, we head deeper and soon meet with Tallendiel - she’s alive and well, naturally. She claims that she had no idea that the gate took elves and non-elves to different places, though she probably should have seen it coming. We pretend to believe her. The air becomes colder, as we venture deeper and deeper. Soon, the interior of the tomb changes. As we enter the final chamber, the air is filled with mist. Millions of white threads cover the floor like a carpet, like a web… And then we hear him - the Necromancer. Driven insane by isolation a aeons ago, he's ranting at us, seeing faces of his enemies in the intruders. We shiver, as he steps out of the shadows and shows himself. A colossal, ancient dryder with white hair so long, it falls down on the floor and covers it, filling the entire chamber. It's moving. It's twisting. It's grabbing us by our ankles and reaching for our necks.
The Necromancer is downright brutal. On every turn, we rolled saving throws against being grappled by his hair - if we failed, we were damaged and unable to move. Given the fact that over the half of our party fought in melee, it was downright crippling - he might have never moved, but we still couldn’t approach him. Fiona was the only one who had backup weapons, her javelins, but could not be used for smites, and they ran out fast. Gunnar and Odrik, however, carried their weight, being the best ranged damage dealers. While they were still damaged by Necromancer’s legendary actions, they weren’t affected that badly by being unable to move. That is, until the dryder decided that play time is over - he called forth the shades from their resting places and commanded them to attack us. And this was the moment when we realized how fucked are we. In Monster Manual, shades have less than 1 CR, but they are absurdly dangerous. Not only they resist all non-magical damage, each their successful attack reduces your strength. When your strength reaches zero, it’s all over for you. Naturally, the part of our party that did not spend their youth in the gym started sweating. Odrik was killed - may his soul find rest - and very soon we realized that unless a miracle happens, we will follow him really soon. And this is the moment when the party should have died. However, a rules mistake was made - and Gregoir casted the Prayer of Healing, the spell that should have taken 10 minutes of casting time, in a single action. Meanwhile, Fiona managed to reach the largest group of shades and turned undead. With his enemies unfairly restored to their full fighting capability and his servants turned, Necromancer started losing ground really, really quickly. When Eisen made the jump over him and landed right behind his back, flanking him with Dietrich, it was all decided.
While part of the party mourns the poor Odrik, who never asked to be a part of this shit, the rest starts looting the tomb of the great elven hero for his great elven treasures. The most obvious treasure of them all is his +1 greatsword. It's untouched by rust after all those years, it's blade is white like milk. Naturally, Dietrich, the only man who uses two-handed weapons in this party, and also the closest thing this group has to a leader, claims it for himself. The second object in the possession of the Necromancer is a human eye. It's still moving and glaring at us - it's obviously magical, but we do no understand a thing beyond that, so we just take it with us. And finally, the Necromancer, much like Barsum, had a diary in his possession - it's found by Tallendiel. Momentarily, she opens it, turns pages, as if knowing what to look for, and tears out the last few. When questioned about it, she answers that those secrets belong only to the elves, and man is not meant to hold them. Dietrich takes a guess - maybe, it's related to the Covenant? When he speaks the word, Tallendiel's face changes - and it continues changing, when we mention that we already have a third of it. She shows us some extremely expensive gems and offers us them all, if we simply hand over the Covenant to her, but she also resists probing for information. Dietrich is having none of it - if she wants to hoard the Covenant for herself and refuses to tell it's purposes, she's not getting our part. To cement his claims, he tears Barsum's diary apart. Now neither party has a way of learning the part of Covenant belonging to the other, unless they talk it out. While we're traveling to the surface, Dietrich does try to talk it out. And by that, I mean that he's trying to make a move on Tallendiel, repeatedly. Midlife crisis, you'll fuck us all.
Both parties seem to agree on one thing - we need each other, and whatever differences and issues we have right now don't really matter. We can work them all out after we reach Felucien, but before that we have to work together if we want to survive. So Tallendiel doesn't even seem to mind our rude gesture with the Covenant that much - it helps that she's so racist, she expected such a thing from humans. She even shares the Necromancer's diary with us - the part that doesn't hold the Covenant, anyway. Turns out, it doesn't belong to him, but to some half-elf, who infiltrated the elven society. He speak about elven savagery, about the great evil that will soon fuck them all, and again the name of the priestess Myrilith is dropped. The writer seems to think she's fucking creepy. Dietrich, meanwhile, is acting really strangely ever since he dealt the final blow to the Necromancer. Not only he's having bad dreams, he also seemed to learn magic overnight - magic that came in really handy for us, so we did not ask questions. It was his business. Tallendiel leads us out of the tomb and takes us through the hidden elven paths to the ruins of the elven city. This is Myrtle's territory and probably the most dangerous part of the Spiderwoods except for the marshes, so naturally we behave really, really carefully and listen to every word that Tallendiel says. Just kidding, we get too close to a lake and wake a colossal magic octopus that immediately tries to kill us all. Once again, we're forced into the dungeon just because it's the handiest escape route - but this time it was our actual destination. Those tunnels lead inside the city - which means, to the Felucien. Well, we don't actually have time to ponder that - we were too busy running at the top of our speed, since monster's nimble tentacles were trying to winkle us out of the tunnels. We've only stopped running when we entered a very, very strange place.
It was a cavern, no, a gigantic hall filled with a hundred of cheering monsters - kobolds, grimlocks, lizardmen, all kinds of scum and villainy gathered in one place, feasting and drinking. At least, that's what it looked like upon the first sight - but when we actually paid more attention to it, this place suddenly began seeming more familiar and bizarre at the same time, especially to Fiona. In the middle of the cavern, there was a colossal round pit, filled with bones and stained with blood. It was surrounded by uncountable number of benches and badly made chairs, upon which the monsters were sitting, holding sticks with coloured rags attached to them, they cheered loudly for whatever happenings entertained them.. There was a gigantic wooden stand in the distant counter, behind which stood a troll with a crossbow. Near him there were about twenty wooden barrels filled with all kinds of brews. There was even a merchant with his own carriage full of wares. And to top it off, there was one goblin unlike the others - sitting on a quite well made throne, obviously stolen from the ruins, he wore a wooden crown. To the left side from him stood a giant toad, and to the right was his herald - a loudmouthed goblin, who was just announcing the unexpected guests. Meaning us. They were playing humans. They were all trying to simulate human life as they understood it, with made up titles and banners, and their own tournament. And we were honored foreign knights.
The herald introduces the goblin chief as Cocker King, king of the Big Cockers. He also informs us that we’re just in time for the tourney. We are invited to sit down, eat, drink - and most importantly, take part. This is not a request. As the herald reads the long list of the participants and all of their titles, the party is offered all kinds of foul smelling food and drinks. While Gunnar is visibly strained, the explanation is obvious - he hates greenskins with passion, so he’s barely restraining himself from trying to kill them all right now. But Fiona, meanwhile, is having a great time - she’s really entertained by how monsters try to imitate humans, and hey - they recognize her as a knight. Everybody else is acting pretty chill - Old Fart even eats what he recognizes as human meat, and Eisen tries their brew. But Dietrich, Dietrich is gonna have none of it. He stands up and steps forward, pointing his finger at the Cocker King himself. They have no time for this, he says. Let’s settle this right now - you and me. Single combat. The entire group puts on forced smiles, as they look on their insane companion with obvious worry. The Cocker King doesn’t think even for a second - he merrily agrees to Dietrich’s challenge, hops on his toad mount and rides forward, to the arena. He intends to fight with a wooden crutch. Dietrich, being the learned man he is, recognizes the obvious danger of the giant toad and the obvious advantage of the reach weapons, so he switches to his glaive instead of his magic sword. Both Fiona and Ser Gregoir realize that Dietrich is taking a huge gamble right now, so he must win. They pray to the higher power and bestow him with buffs while nobody is looking. As the monster crows cheers, the party laughs nervously, the fight begins.
First of all, Dietrich probably should have asked for a mount, even if he probably wouldn’t have got one. Giant toad is a dangerous foe for a single human to fight, but Dietrich manages to keep it at range and use his battlemaster manuevers in a clever manner. For some time it almost seems like he’s going to make it - the damn beast is half dead, and King Cocker is clearly looking worried… ...but no, he’s devoured alive instead. The crows cheers for the dead hero, while the party looks at the arena in shock in disbelief, unsure what to do. But Eisen knows exactly what to do. Unsheathing both of his swords, he yells “Two against one isn’t fair!” and jumps to the arena. The crowd stops cheering and starts orgasming. They’re throwing weapons and barrels at the ring, as Eisen finishes the toad off. Before this, King Cocker was clearly enjoying this - but the moment his pet monster dies, his face instantly becomes grim. He throws away his crutch and takes out a spiked club drenched in manticore poison. In one hit he almost kills Eisen where he stands, but for the rest of the battle things aren’t going in his favour - the poison was a one time thing, while Eisen’s weapons are superior overall. When the goblin kings drops dead on the ground, crowd goes berserk. And I do not mean that cheering for the winner - no, they actually go berserk. The monsters pull out their weapons, the troll bartender arms his gigantic crossbow, the shamans begin chanting their spells. Apparently, people don’t like it when you kill their kings. The group gets on their feet and stands back to back, looking at the countless screaming enemies around, all thirsting for their blood. At this moment my memory of the session turns into the red haze.
There are no words that can do this fight justice. It was pure fucking carnage - even if half of the monsters ran when the Cocker King fell, the remaining half was the largest and most brutal encounter I’ve ever seen in my life. Those weren’t one hit point wonders like 4e minions - those were full blown monsters just like they were described in Monster Manual. It was pure carnage. Monsters were dying left, right and center, the heroes fell on the ground and bled out, only to be raised from the zeroes and thrown into the fight again. Troll’s crossbow was fired and reloaded and fired again, and every time he fired it, a die was rolled to see in which direction this monstrosity will misfire. His arrows - no, his projectile spears - were as lethal as cannonballs, as they tore through combatants - both us and his allies. Ser Gregoir did not allow anybody to outdo his killcount - his maximized thunderwave almost killed Ditriech, who was just cut out from the dead toad’s belly, but it also pulverized countless greenskins. Goblin bodies formed hills, on which we stood our ground and butchered them all. Lizard shamans were raining fire and blood upon us and their own, blinded by bloodlust. Eisen and Dietrich cleaved through their ranks one by one, while Tallendiel and Gunnar were raining the troll with arrows. Fiona, screaming in battle fervor, blindly charged into an ogre, her flail burned with holy fire. Ser Gregoir's hammer was thunder made iron, cracking skulls, while his holy symbol shined with light, bringing those close to dying back from the brink, to fight again. Even Old Fart was doing something useful, engaging in a duel with enemy spellcasters and spraying them with poison. When the ranks of Big Cockers started growing thinner, we thought that that might be the end. But it was only the beginning.
The slavemaster rushed to the cages and let their best gladiators loose. The ogre called Tusk was a supreme fighter, while the gnoll Hide was able to disappear into thin air without a single trace. We barely had anything left in us as it was - some of the Cockers still lived. Even the troll bartender with his crossbow was still and everpresent threat. We could not hold out much longer - our spells came to an end, Eisen was corpse tanking yet again, while Dietrich carried surprisingly hard for someone who was barely alive a few minutes ago. Fiona was smashed into the ground by an ogre - still alive, but rapidly dying, while Tallendiel was utterly outmatched by Hide. That’s when Dietrich had the brightest idea he’s ever had in his entire life as a professor. He breathed in and with all the strength that was left in his lungs, he began shouting. “The king is dead! Now the largest must become the king of the Big Cockers!” And he rolled for Bluff. In literally any other situation it would not work. We would fail. We would all die right there and right now. But our most lethal enemies were an ogre and a troll. There was a pause… ...and then they charged right into each other. The troll was a resilient enemy, able to regenerate any wound. But Tusk could not give less fucks about what the bartender could or could not regenerate. He tore his enemy apart limb by limb, again and again, and each time the troll would regenerate, he would scream and tear him into pieces again. This gave us much needed time to gather our strength and turn it on Hide, decimating him in a single round. Then Tallendiel jumped into the fight between big boys with a torch. His regeneration was halted - and he promptly died. Killing the lone, heavily wounded ogre proved easy. When were finished, we looked upon the battlefield and saw nothing but an endless field of corpses. And we stood on it as winners.
First of all, DM declared that the session is over for today, since the entire scene went off the rails the moment Dietrich called for a duel with the king Which was something he did not predict. Even though he really should have, since he knew that player for years. We were supposed to take part in the tourney - he even showed us some really impressive notes detailing every little thing we could do there and custom mechanics for crowd’s level of love towards the fighters. Since this gigantic battle was not something he predicted, he didn’t really count CR too - so he’s going to do in right now. After he was finished, he said this: “You know how certain treshholds were supposed to be deadly for you? Well, it was seven times that.” And all of us survived. This is amaz… Fuck, Old Fart survived! After giving us enough XP to level up right there, the DM left to prepare for the next session, since the plot took a very different turn now. He left, and we immediately started discussing how fucking cool this whole fight was. Even though looking at his notes, doing the thing as planned would probably be more fun, though significantly less metal. We defeated the encounter seven times deadly. We are the champions. We are invincible and undefeatable. We're full of pride. And pride goeth before the fall.
We left the first level of the dungeon and proceeded to the second after taking a full rest. A few sessions full of little things followed. Nothing I'm gonna describe in depth, at least. First, an entire session was wasted on Old Fart wildshaped into a crocodile swimming back and worth between a lizardman merchant and the party, trying to haggle for magic items. Then there was the time when we left the dungeon for some clear air for a few seconds, only to realize that we ended up in the marshes. We fought quite a few orc zombies, and Eisen got a magical axe for himself. Then there was this time, when the party found royal living quarters, including a luxorious bathroom. Fiona was the only one to use the opportunity to clean herself, while the rest of the party decided to go further without her and ended up fighting ghouls. When she heard the sounds of battle, she jumped out of the bath and rushed to help her friends just like that. Fanservice ensued. There was a fight with several mimics, who infested the living quarters - that was nothing special, though. Then we found a lab belonging to local elven doctor Mengele, who performed horrible experiments on humans, trying to make them immortal like elves. This is how ghouls appeared here. Since kind doctor was thousands of years as of dead, we just burned down his research notes, smashed his lab, and that was the best we could do. There was also this time when we fought a shitload of rust monsters with sticks, because we were too afraid to damage our equipment. And this one time, when we've found the mage quarters and found the last will of the city's archmage. The one that allowed us to take everything we wanted from him, but pleaded us to leave his ornate mystery box with him. The DM actually gave us XP for playing against our type, not being autistic murderhobos and not robbing the dead wizard. It was all pretty great, in the hindsight.
Frankly, we all grew very close together as a team. Nobody had much love for Old Fart still - but at certain point, he stopped being that annoying, he just kinda grew on us. Gunnar nearly killed Fiona in the very beginning, when he saw her face - now he treated her like a little sister, in need of guidance. Dietrich looked down on others - but now, everyone looked up to him, as a brave and powerful leader. Even Tallendiel transcended being a racist asshole slightly and became a lovable asshole sort. But you know what never changed? Our constant need to explore and shove our noses where they don’t belong. It happened in a tiny, narrow branch of the caverns, an utter dead end on the second level. It held something of interest - a human skeleton and a full looking sack. Alarm bells started going off in Gunnar’s head, as he tried to warn his companions not to approach it, but it was too late. It moved like lightning. A long tentacle came out of nowhere and grabbed Tallendiel by the ankle. The elf didn’t even have the time to scream - she was pulled into the darkness in a blink of the eye, and her head disappeared in the monstrous maw. And just like that, she died. We stared at the roper with wide open eyes. Then we began screaming.
We ran. We ran without looking back. When we stopped to catch our breath, we just looked at each other, unable to comprehend what just happened. She just… Died? She survived through so much with us. She couldn’t just die in a second! We want to go back and make sure if she’s dead, but we are too terrified of dying too. But Old Fart has an idea. He grabs a potion of invisibility he found earlier and takes a sip. Before we could stop him, he disappeared without a trace. The dwarf came back - he saw Tallendiel’s headless body lying lifeless on the stone. Her hands clenched her bow, and her bag was still hanging on her shoulders. The bag! He knew little of the Covenant, just like us, but he knew it’s important. He knew it’s got something to do with ancient darkness imprisoned here, and he knew that we only possess one third of it. The second part was in her bag. So he took the risk. He could not see the roper anymore - but he was sure he was still there. But maybe if he walks very, very silently, he can approach her body… Reach for her bag… And quickly rush back! But when the monster saw elf’s body move, it knew exactly what was going on. He launched every his tentacle forward, and one of them managed to grab the dwarf’s arm. The next thing we heard were his screams.
We could not just stand there, even if we knew what was going to happen to us. We rushed back, weapons in our hands, ready to fight this time. He might have been an annoying prick, but he was one of us - and we could not abandon him to die. Not without at least trying to save him. When we reached the roper, the dwarf was still alive - he was quiet, as if accepting his face, as the tentacles were choking him. Fiona charged forward without thinking. Flail in her hands, she striked the monster again and again,,, But the beast's hide was as strong as steel. None of us could as much as touch him reliably. And worse than that - the tunnel in which the roper was hiding was so narrow, only one of us could be fighting it in melee at once and flanking him was absolutely impossible. Gunnar did not risk shooting - he could hit Fiona and kill her, if he wasn't careful enough. Fighting the roper at all was pure tactical suicide. When the dwarf died, and the tentacles grabbed our paladin, it seemed like a foregone conclusion. We should be running, while we still have the chance... But running was not an option. Ser Gregoir lifted his hammer up and began chanting the prayer to the Sovereign. And out of nowhere, a gust of wind appeared, blowing the heroes away from the beast - even Fiona was pulled from the roper's grasp. The roper hissed, robbed of his prey, but he could do little, when we ran as fast as we could, abandoning the bodies of our comrades and leaving the Covenant behind. Our next long rest was spent in mourning and despair. We blamed our greed for the losses that we suffered. Nor could we forget the loss of the Covenant - only Tallendiel knew it's true purpose, beyond keeping the dark at bay, and she was gone, along with her piece of the spell. Occasionally Fiona tried to mumble something about how we could still retrieve it, how could we still make it, but she was shut down every time. We've already had enough of playing heroes.
We continue travelling through the ruined city, but our morale is all times low - we just lost two of our comrades, even the ones we didn’t really love, in the matter of seconds. If only we had some source of comic relief to lighten up the mood… Oh, right, he’s dead. Soon we reached a new stop - the orc tribe. Just like the Big Cockers, they didn’t attack us on sight. Probably because they knew exactly who we are - turns out, those few who managed to not only see us in action, but also run from our wrath, were very talkative. They would probably tell very different tales, if they saw us fight that roper. Apparently, the chief of the tribe doesn’t want to fight us, he wants to see us. . As we travel through the tribe’s territory, however, we see a slave auction - a half-orc, a human woman and a halfling were being sold by the slavemaster. And this is what our DM calls “the lawful good tax”. Fiona just can't walk past this. However, every time she makes a bid, one of the few suspiciously rich orcs manages to one up her price. It keeps going and going, until she runs out of her money, and this is the moment when Ser Gregoir sighs and hands her the gems. The very same gems that Tallendiel offered for the piece of the Covenant. The bidding goes on - but she's still one upped every time. Soon she doesn't have enough money again. This is the moment when Eisen sighs and hands her even more money to bid with. Finally, the slave owners seem to run out of coin. The slaves are handed to the girl, and they shower her with thanks… ...which distracts us and makes us feel good just for long enough to realize that we’ve been duped. All this time Fiona’s been bidding against the same orcs - the very same orcs that suspiciously disappeared along with the slavemaster with all of our money. Dammit, we were played for fools. But at least we saved some lives from slavery, right? Right? Why doesn’t it feel as good as it should?
After we finish crying over our lost money, we head to the tribal chief. Wonder what does he want to discuss us? Are we doing the gladiator thing again? However, when we actually meet him, a lot of things become clear instantly. At least, to one of us. The chief of the tribe is not actually an orc - just a half-orc, and Dietrich knows him very well. Apparently, back when he was a slave, his masters decided that they want him educated - so they sent him to Drexenfurt to study. Who could be this professor, who passed him through his last exams? After the chief stops triggering me with his modern speak in muh low fantasy setting, he asks us what brought us to this place. Well, we’re here to reach the Felucien to find a golden relic, actually. Fighting Myrtle’s people and finding the Covenant’s pieces are actually our side goals. The chief is perfectly willing to help us - for old’s times sake, of course, if we help ourselves first. Turns out, there’s a second tribe of orcs nearby, the one who serves Myrtle. They’ve been a real pain in his ass, especially since they kidnapped some of his people. Also, some of our people too, all the way from Greentown. Also, they’re summoning demons and preparing to assault this place. So the Chief’s solution is simple - we help him attack first and crush Myrtle’s tribe. This should benefit both of us, no? Maybe he could even help us find the Covenant we seek. Afterwards, of course. In return, he gives us a two-handed hammer, the Spellbreaker. "I don't use two-handed weapons." "Neither do I". "Let Gregoire have it?" "Sure, why not." Gunnar seems really conflicted about this idea - on the one hand, we're helping an orc tribe. On the other hand, we're about to genocide an orc tribe. However, the news about human hostages sway our choice - we really should at least try to save them from Myrtle. So we offer the Chief our full support and begin preparations for the battle.
Have you ever heard the saying “War is hell”? It’s not true at all. You see, Hell is simply fire and brimstone - sure, it really sucks, but you know what to expect, right? War is much, much worse then Hell. Beyond every corner, we’re met with the same thing - a squad of orc archers, every single one readied his action to shoot the very first person to show up. As we continue storming the tribe’s cave, our frontline fighters begin resembling people less and less, instead evolving into pin cushions. Sure, the archers are easy to kill, but they are so numerous, and our allied tribe absolutely refuses to go first, instead allowing us to take all the hits. You’re next in line for the genocide. Expect us, scum. By the time we actually meet the demon they’ve been summoning, it’s a fucking relief - at least, he can’t exploit readied actions. All this hyped up hellish creature turns out to be an utter cakewalk after all those archers - Fiona just kept him on the ground with a shield bash, Gunnar provided most of the damage, and he never really got to harm us significantly at all. We return to the Chief victorious very soon - but instead of feeling satisfied from genociding greenskins and saving humans, we’re feeling pretty frustrated about this other tribe. Hey, you know, what have Myrtle even done to us? We haven’t even talked. She may be evil, but maybe she’s not a bitch, who knows? As we report to the Chief, we're all strongly considering turning on him and genociding the second tribe too. Even Fiona. Especially Fiona. Dietrich even thought of a great one-liner: “This time, you pass… Into the better world”. Sadly, his tribe is too big, we're all feeling exhausted, so we wuss out. But one day we'll come back. Oh, and we still want your help with the Covenant.
So, it turns out that the Chief doesn’t actually know much about the Covenant at all. But he does know how to reach Felucien - we simply have to get through the third, undead-infested level of the city, the one that none of the orcs ever survived. For some reason, he’s sure that we’ll find whatever we’re looking for there. Yes, Chief, we’ll definitely be visiting you again. But we have little choice - we’ve got too far, and there’s no sense in giving up now. Hey, remember how it all started in an inn? And how each of us was promised payment of 100 gp per person for retrieving this cup? We’re really tempted to piss in it and leave it under the tree at this point. The third level is called “The Gauntlet”, because it’s a series of trials intended for the elven priestesses - so we’ll have to simply do what any elven cleric could do. Sounds pretty simple, right? The first trial involves a simple puzzle - there’s a room filled with moving orbs of light. You must pass through the room without touching them. Seems easy enough… Except the moment we step into the room, the orbs stop moving in predictable patterns and start changing them - or sometimes start flying towards us for no good reason. Oh, and the catch is, if the orb touches you, it disappears. Also, summons shades and wraiths. Luckily, this time some of us actually have magical weapons, two of us can turn undead, but it still triggers our worst memories about our encounter with the Necromancer When we finish this bullshit, we’re more pissed than ever - also, drained. Literally. In fact, we don’t actually finish it in the normal sense - we escape from the wraiths through the portal the moment our second trial becomes available, since we can’t stop getting hit by orbs every goddamn round. The good news is, the second trial is entirely different from the first one. No wraiths involved.
Unlike the huge chamber of the first trial, the second chamber is tiny - just enough to hold us. It also doesn’t have an exit, only three walls and a wall-sized mirror. The floor is made of stone this time, and it’s also covered with dead bodies. What is it with elven gates leading us to deathtraps? We try our proven solution again and attempt to break through the mirror, but this time it doesn’t work. Even when we try the Spellbreaker, it doesn’t seem to scratch the mirror at all. The fact that easy, violent solution don’t seem to work takes us outside of our comfort zone and makes us sit through some self-relection. Gunnar is the first to look into the mirror attentively and feel it tempt him with promises. He sees himself far, far away, in the Old North, and there’s smoke of human settlements behind his back. He’s got a bow in his hands - the one that no simple man could even hope to draw. But his reflection was not one of the simple man. His arms are scarred and muscular, and his face seemed so much more masculine and mature. He went through a lot and became a true survivor, stronger and faster than any mortal man - the best ranger any human could hope to be. This one would not fail his friends. Dietrich saw something different - he saw himself back in Reichland, with a ducal signet ring on his finger. He could feel it on his own hand, as he gazed into his reflection and saw a man, a powerful man - somebody respected and feared, somebody who could change fates with a single spoken word, not a measly professor. When Fiona gazed upon her reflection, she was instantly echanted by it. The woman in the mirror still had demonic features, but those only seemed to make her beautiful, even enthralling. And she was enthralling indeed - she saw so many people surrounding herself, admiring her, talking about her, reaching their hands to simply touch her. She was not merely accepted - she was beloved by all.
But Eisen sees nothing. He already has everything he wants - a good axe, good comrades, the mirror could offer him nothing. He had it all and wanted no more. Eisen was so simple, he was incorruptible.
Following his gut instinct, he stepped forward, through the mirror, and disappeared. Gunnar truly wanted what he saw in his reflection - but he could achieve it with hard work, and he knew it. He smiled, as he rejected the mirror’s trick and followed Riese in his stepts. Whatever Ser Gregoire saw will forever remain a mystery, since he never shared his visions - but he rejected it too, leaving a few seconds after Gunnar. Only the professor and the tiefling remained enthralled and unable to refuse the illusion for what seemed like an eternity. Fiona was still looking at her perfect self, but by the minute her face grew sadder and sadder. It’s true, when this adventure began she just wanted to prove herself, to become a beloved figure, a fairy tale knight. But her adventure was not like a fairy tale, was it? It was dirt and blood and death and shit. Real people, ones she actually began caring for. have died and suffered, and for what, for a cup, for one hundred gold pieces? There'll be no perfect happy ending. There’ll be no magic makeover, there will be no knighthood. She'll be lucky if she comes out alive. Some dreams don’t come true. It was her growing bitterness that allowed her to break free of enchantment. Even she found it ironic - she looked around for someone to share it with, but then she froze in horror. Dietrich still stood beside her, yet his eyes were fixated on the mirror. He has succumbed absolutely.
She tried to appeal to his common sense at first. Look at all those bodies, she said. They were all promised something by the mirror, yet here they lie, lied to and dead. There was nothing the mirror could give to him, it was all a trick. And even if it could, would it really be worth it? But Dietrich remained unconvinced. Those were orcs and goblins, scum of the earth. They were probably too dense to even realize all the potential of the artifact. But he, he was a learned man, a professor. It could not trick him - only bribe. And this bribe he intends to take. “No sense will convince him.” - she realized, as she changed her approach. The group needs him, she pleaded. They need a leader - someone wise, someone brave, the man who has lead them so far is the only one who can lead them through. But that did not convince him either. You’re a good woman, he said, no matter how you look. You will be fine - you will make it. You can lead them, if you want - you have the potential. Fiona looked upon her leader with desperation and panic, realizing that she was losing him. She pleaded. She promised and told him everything - even the eternal love and admiration, but nothing could move him at all. As tears started rolling down her cheeks, she suddenly realized what she must do, no matter how hard it will be. No words could save him - only deeds. So she took her flail into her hands and watched him wordlessly unsheathe his sword.
They rushed towards each other, and the steel sang.
To say that the group was disturbed when Fiona came out of the gate, bleeding on the floor with every step, and carrying the broken body of Dietrich Auerbach on her hands, it’s to say nothing. “He could not leave.” - she said weakly, only outside laying hands on the warrior and healing him back from his sorry state. - “Not when he was tempted. So I removed the temptation the only way I could.” Upon waking up, Dietrich was no longer mesmerized by the trap, yet he was still bitter, as if by staying there he really could become a duke. In any case, they were both healed - and afterwards, they both silently agreed to never talk about what happened during the trial again. The trials were over - yet the undead still remained, infesting the ruins. Fiona’s divine sense could clearly sense a few wraiths and a banshee ahead, but there was something more. Something new, unheard of, something pure. Something good. Strange. First, however, they need to deal with the bansee. It was Gunnar who came up with the idea, when he saw Fiona rumble through her pesonal belongings. Candles, they were made of wax, and that could be used to cover the ears. If no one could actually hear the banshee scream, they could not be killed by it. The battle that followed was so simple and comical, you can probably imagine it by yourself. After some time spent trying to clear their ears from wax, the group proceeded further, only to come to a sudden halt. There was a giant feathered snake with bright rainbow scales right in front of them. And it spoke.
Not only the snake spoke, it also spoke a lot and spoke sense - a rarity in this place. While the snake refused to tell us it's name or master, it did mention that it was a servant of some higher power, sent here specifically to wait for us. Turns out, it's been expecting us - or someone like us - for hundreds of years. Those who would come for the Covenant. Well, it's true, we did come here seeking the Covenant - and it was about time somebody explained to us, what was going on and what this thing was about. Long story short, a great evil is contained near the Felucien tree - an evil that can not be defeated, but only imprisoned. However, it's prison keeps growing weaker, and each time it's getting close to breaking out, the Covenant, a magic spell, had to be used to strengthen it's bonds again. Priestess Myrilith, now known as the night hag Myrtle, sought to free the monster a long time ago, but she was foiled by someone - and now we're here to do it again. Eisen manages to find some bravery in him and protests that we never even knew about the Covenant - it was Tallendiel's business, and now she's dead. We came here for the golden cup. The snake freezes for a second, until it nods - yes, the cup. He can sense that it's still under Felucien tree - but he warns us that nothing except for bitterness and disappointment will come out of it. Yes, that we know already. What we don't know, however, are two thirds of the Covenant. The coatl assures us that there is no reason to worry - it's fully written down nearby. The death of our dwarf was fully pointless. Before we can leave, the coatl warns us about one more thing - something extremely important. The last word of the Covenant is not set in stone - it must be the reader's own name. With those words being said, he disappears into thin air.
After all this panic about collecting the words and our missing bag, finding the words of the Covenant turns out to be so easy, it's almost a disappointment - they are literally written down on the wall, in huge letters. Now we know the name of our enemy, the goal of our enemy and have the means of foiling her plans - even though we don’t really know why is she doing this, the perspective of letting out something to evil, ancient elves actually decided to imprison it instead of worshipping it, is terrifying. Now was the time for revenge - now we even know that it was Myrtle who kept sending horrible nightmares to Dietrich, robbing him of long rest benefits. In fact, knowing our enemy and the time of our final confrontation cheers the group up - even Fiona stops brooding for a second and begins smiling again. She was wrong, she says, there will be a fairy tail ending - good versus evil. It’s time for the ultimate showdown - we will head to the Felucien and fight this witch, and no matter how deadly her magic is, we will strike her down. Now with full knowledge of the Covenant, we will imprison her monster yet again, we will retrieve the cup - and then we will finally be free to go home. God knows, we all miss it by now. With high hopes, we finally leave the caves and the elven city behind and head to the Felucien, now clearly in our sight.
Some legends say, the Felucien was once a golden tree higher than any tower, it’s roots were as wide as the borders of the city of Qelebryn Anen’Sun, and it’s leaves shined in the sun with every colour of the rainbow. Nowadays, it didn’t look that way. Black, ugly and dead, it’s naked branches were spreading around like fingers of a dying man, trying to grasp something with it’s last breath. Hundreds of ravens were sitting on it, watching us with scorn, as we walked under the roots of the tree. She was there. They were all there - hags and witches and their undead servants, all chanting and screeching in the preparation for their sacrilegious ritual. “It’s over!” - Eisen yelled, calling their attention to our arrival. Myrtle glared at us, her eyes were full of hatred - and justified fear. “Don’t you dare to retreat!” - she called for her coven, as many of her witches began hastily retreating. - “Kill them all! Now!” The battle began - at first, Myrtle surrounded herself with an impenetrable shield, forcing us to deal with her minions first. The witches were weak - but their undead minions were peculiarly powerful - yet nothing we couldn’t deal with. And then it began awakening. We all could see it - only a shadow, a silhouette at first, but as we continued the fight, it’s hideous body with all it’s eyes and tentacles started emerging from another plane. It’s presence was signaled by the the dark mist that began covering almost half of the battlefield, shifting, moving and changing shapes. Whatever stayed in the dark cloud quickly began withering and dying - and it only grew worse by the minute. All the while, Myrilith continued to be a threat - her magic was deadly, yet even in close combat she could easily fight with Eisen on equal ground. A creature of such power could not be defeated by our swords - so Dietrich began chanting words of the Covenant.
In the end, when Myrilith suffered the fatal blow, it was by Eisen’s hand, amidst the choking black mist - but her ultimately meant nothing. Wich each second, the creature from beyond kept growing more and more powerful. The mists became denser, deadlier, they covered more and more ground, forcing the heroes to retreat again and again, choosing between getting slashed by the living dead or suffocated by the being’s magic. Fiona, heavily wounded from her short-lived duel with Myrilith, was forced to retreat all the way to the Felucien’s roots in order to heal herself - and that was the moment when the mists cut her off from her friends. She could not help them anymore - but neither could they help her. The dead, they were risen by the creature’s presense - and they headed to the Felucient. The tiefling girl was the only thing in their way. The creature’s power was far beyond summoning smoke and raising the dead - it’s very gaze inflicted powerful curses upon the heroes.
One - and Gunnar was paralyzed in his place, watching as the mists approached him. Two - as Ditrich was burnt. He could not afford to scream - the Covenant was simply too important. Three - and horrified Eisen started turning to stone.
As the heroes could only momentarily stun the creature and Fiona could only keep the undead at bay for only so long, everything depended on Dietrich’s courage in the end. Despite the realization of horrible truth coming too late, he still finished his chant, calmly looking at his comrades.
“Eletha gar tarrum ollenin tas inelas stros kai nirelin… Dietrich.”
There was a flash of light. And then there was thunder. And then it was over.
The moment the black mists faded and the undead collapsed, Fiona rushed back inside - it could only mean one thing. The creature was driven back, Myrilith was dead. They have won. But as she gazed upon the battlefield, she saw the fruits of this victory.
The ground was covered with many broken pieces of stone - such was the final fate of Eisen Riese. Ser Gregoir, the knight, the hero of Menelath and a good man lied on the ground, lifeless, his body burned beyond recognition, boiled in his own armor. There was no trace of the savant by the name of Dietrich Aurbech - he disappeared, leaving behind absolutely nothing, not even ashes.
Only Gunnar still stood on his feet - wounded, but alive. With pain in his eyes, he too gazed upon what was left from his friends. Such was their victory over darkness. And their final reward, the golden cup, still shining, untouched by the ashes, the dirt and the corruption, it lied beneath the Felucien, the reason it all began. Gunnar could only quietly, with a quaking voice, congratulate what was left from the group on their victory, such as it was. Fiona could not say a word at all - only sob. No one will ever believe in what happened here, nor would anyone care. Nobody asked the heroes to make the sacrifices they made. Nor could anyone predict if they would choose to give their lives for this world, if they had a choice. But they deserved something for their heroism. That night, two graves were dug for those who’s fallen against the chtonic evil. And on the stone walls, such words were engraved:
“Here gave their lives for the better world Dietrich Aurbach, a professor from Drexenfurt, Eisen Riese, the brave warrior, and ser Gregoir Ironfist. The world will forget their sacrifice, but the stone will not.”
The two traveled back through the Spiderwoods in silence, there was nothing to talk about. In the end, they've said simple goodbyes and wished each other luck. Gunnar's journey led him back to his homeland, the North, to start anew. While he could not save his friends yet again, he took solance in saving some - and the entire world. For the retrieval of the relic and her loyalty to the order, Fiona was knighted upon returning to Greentown. The loss of her friends took a toll on her, and her heart grew cold and bitter Her new title of "the Hero of the Spiderwoods" forever seemed like mockery to her.
And thus, the story ends.