Thursday, July 25, 2019

The Baron's Keep

Picking up from where we ended last session (somewhat abruptly), we searched the druid's body and found a Periapt of Wisdom +2, which our cleric Marshall Mercy immediately claimed. We confirmed that we had an arrangement with the goblin necromancer Gorsack the Magnificent, then took a long rest in the druid's house. About 2/3 of the way through it, Gorsack came back (crossing the moat of sewage by riding on the shoulders of his flesh golem) and knocked on the door.

He wanted to be our party leader. He could use some minions. Reverend Mercy was still asleep and Martini was trancing, so Azrael and Ruin put him off until later. Considering that his initial proposal involved him getting half of whatever loot we collected, I was very proud of us for not killing him.

A few hours later, with Mercy finally waking up and Martini finishing up her trance, Gorsack banged on the door again. This time he'd brought elvish breakfast tacos, and he was all ready to lead us on to glory seeing as how did such a fine job of commanding us in our fight against the druid. When we pointed out that he'd gotten himself very nearly killed and we'd had to revive him, he tried to convince us that necromancers just enjoy pretending to be dead sometimes.

Instead of really considering the prospect of such glorious leadership, the party turned to discussing the two Shambling Mounds in the room beyond the entryway -- the room that held the lever to open the gate to the area we probably needed to get to. Shambling mounds are animated, homicidal monsters made of plants and vines (angry ones) and they're resistant and immune to a lot of different kinds of damage, not to mention being fairly tough in general.

Ruin suggested that what we really needed was to hire the wererats to attack the shambling mounds for us. Gorsack thought this was such a great idea that he immediately appointed Ruin the Assistant Party Leader. But after some discussion, this actually seemed like a good enough idea that we went for it, and sent Martini and Reverend Mercy to talk to "The Boss" of the wererats, Agnorax the weretiger.

Agnorax drove a pretty hard bargain, but eventually agreed to have his group fight in return for three things: a payment in gold for each Shambling Mound slain; half of whatever treasure the monsters had accumulated; and us putting Gorsack The Magnificent on the front lines.

Nobody in this dungeon actually likes each other, it seems.

We got Gorsack out of earshot, agreed to the terms, and lined everybody up in front of the door to the Shambling Mound room. Attack!

The battle was pretty brutal. Ruin charged in early, trying to convince Gorsack and Benny the Flesh Golem to come with him. (They didn't.) The weretiger held back, too, but the wererats did move in and do some damage. Azrael offered support by casting Ray of Enfeeblement and reducing the strength of the closer and more visible shambling mound. Then the first shambling mound fought back, and wiped out 2/3 of the wererats. The others retreated, but Marshall Mercy managed to propel Gorsack into the battle and Agnorax was so pleased that he went to join the battle, just behind Benny the flesh golem, who managed to connect with the shambling mound and smash it up badly.

The weretiger's follow-up attack took out the first shambling mound; he basically leapt in and ripped it apart. The second one hit him pretty hard, though. Gorsack got slapped down, not quite hard enough to kill him. Even though he'd done some damage with his Fire Shield, he decided it was time to fall back and retreated to stand beside Martini. Finally, the Shambling Mound smashed Ruin, but Ruin riposted with the last of his strength and killed it. The moment it fell, Martini put a knife through the back of Gorsack's skull, killing him instantly. Azrael rushed over and immediately claimed the goblin's spellbook.

At that point, the battle is essentially over. The weretiger is bleeding out, his second-in-command has backed off, and the two surviving wererats have retreated to their lair. Benny the flesh golem stumbles over to the corpse of Gorsack, assures us that the dead goblin just needs sleep, and carries him back to his chambers to put him to bed.

We searched the room, finding about 600 gp worth of random crap that the shambling mounds had accumulated, and a magical crystal that was probably animating them. Mercy destroyed this, ensuring that they couldn't respawn. Draz, the weretiger's second-in-command, approached us to ask if we were the boss now. We told him he was the boss, and Ruin went to inform the two remaining wererats of the new arrangement. We gave Draz 50 gp and reminded him that everything that Agnorax had owned was his now, and he went away happy (in a greedy, short-sighted sort of way).

So now we had access to the lever that opens the gate to the next area, which was full of aimlessly wandering undead that Gorsack had created but said he didn't really control; he called the area his garbage pit. He was probably lying about that, since they seemed pretty angry now that he was dead.

Azrael dropped a Grease spell where the things were gathering behind the gate, and Marshall Mercy raised his sacred snake and turned them. He turned them so hard, in fact, that four of the skeletons just exploded on the spot, and a couple of stronger things fled. He raised his holy symbol again, and this time the remaining ones fled as well -- the ones that hadn't fallen because of the grease. The party moved in, systematically finishing them off.

Finally, at the far end of this area, we located the secret door -- only Martini could hear voices beyond it. So we decided to head back to the druid's shack and rest there; we were pretty tapped out, and if we had our sense of time right then that would let us enter the Baron's keep just after dark. (We tried to loot Gorsack's chambers check on Gorsack on the way back there, but Benny wouldn't let us in. So, y'know, later for that.)

After the rest, we headed back to the secret door and opened it, surprising a couple of guard and killing them. We took their uniforms and put them on Azrael and Ruin, since Martini was temporarily invisible and Mercy didn't make a convincing guard. Then we proceeded through a wine cellar and a couple of storage areas, and up the stairs into the kitchen.

Something had gone horribly wrong up here. Two of the serving maids/cooks had been bludgeoned to death, and a third was sobbing in the corridor; we gave her a light and sent her down the stairs and out through the sewers (which were reasonably safe by now). We also checked out the weird scratching sounds coming from a nearby crate, and well... it held a pair of monkeys (presumably to be used as food?) which Marshall Mercy released and brought with us. Following the instructions we'd been given, we proceeded up the stairs to the hall... and encountered a pair of eyeless, gray-skinned creatures armed with giant clubs. They attacked immediately.

These things were tanks, and while we finally managed to take them down we had to use up most cleric Mercy's healing mojo afterwards. This would have been a really good time to fall back and rest again, only we couldn't. Instead, we went on to the next staircase and up, then through a door. The steward that we'd been warned about, Bartholomew, was sitting at the desk here. He said, "The Master is expecting you," and pointed at the door to the next room. He didn't seem inclined to attack us, so we left him alone.

We took a moment for Reverend Mercy to cast some blessings that might help us, then opened the door.

On the other side was a mind flayer.

"We're dead," said Ruin, and immediately went into his barbarian rage, charged the thing, and wounded it badly. It responded by Mind Blasting the party, though only Ruin was stunned by this. Martini the assassin and Mercy the cleric entered the room while Azrael was searching for a spell to use against it; he fell back on his wand of magic missiles, but failed to get through its spell resistance. Martini and Mercy, however, injured it further.

It used that moment to grab Ruin's head with its tentacles, preparatory to extracting his brain for a snack. Fortunately -- very, very fortunately -- the others managed to cut it down before it could complete the assault. It's... over. Barely. Probably.

We still haven't found the Baron, so we kick in the next door. Turns out the Mind Flayer had stuck him in his treasury for safekeeping during the battle. Turns out the Baron is slowly shaking off the Mind Flayer's influence, and is tremendously happy to see us and learn of the creature's death. The Baron and his steward Bartholomew, now restored to free will and almost grovelingly grateful for it, fill us in a bit: how the thing was controlling them, how Xarnax the mind flayer kept its letters in the nightstand.

We found a key on the body and unlocked the nightstand. It holds three letters; one of them is sealed. The first letter is addressed to Xarnax, and says that "as agreed, his Royal Highness awards you the city of [wherever the hell we are right now]" and instructs him to go forth and sow chaos. The second letter agrees that the Lord Provost (who sent us here) is a worthy adversary and not to be underestimated or confronted, but reassures Xarnax that [this burrough] is the ideal spot for the kind of coup that the mind flayer was trying to pull off. The final letter, sealed, is from Xarnax back to his correspondent Vigo -- which would the (human) King's chief advisor, Vigo. It says, roughly, "My Dear Vigo, your payment is enclosed. All is in order here. For too long I have waited to throw open all the gates. Too long." Reverend Mercy, reading this, immediately opens the emphasis on certain capital letters, and starts picking over them to look for a code or message or password. In sequence, they read "ERDATOL".

The Baron and his steward, who are listening to us go over this, suggest that it might be referring to a small group of islands known as Tols -- though they don't know of one known as Erda. Bartholomew the Steward then suddenly remembers that Xarnax has been sending supplies to a military force camped in the forest not far to the south of here - a military force sent by the human king (or perhaps his advisor) well inside Duendewood, one waiting to begin a surprise attack. Bartholomew has a book with the details -- location, supplies sent, and the like.

We need to get the back to the High Provost.

But first, the Baron rewards us: he has a magic item hidden away, a piece of headgear that makes the wearer's words more persuasive, and he thinks we should have it now. Reverend Mercy accepts it. The Baron also expresses his gratitude to the High Provost for sending us here, and his willingness to support the Provost in anything he puts forth.

Ruin is more convinced than ever that war with the humans is inevitable, but he's troubled by the degree of non-human participation in this. If he recalls his history, Mind Flayers are never potential allies; they are dead enemies, or they are conquerors.

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