For backgrounds on the characters played in this campaign, look here~
Winter’s encroach crept further across the land as the journey north trekked onward; day by day inches of snowfall accumulated among the Hungry Mountains, the caravan’s passage made mired by the cold season’s sweep. Two days after having been waylaid by the envoys of Orcus, the party came upon the site of a grisly scene: a Varisian wagon was spied overturned in the pass amidst blood-soaked snow, an enormous arrow still protruding from its roof. Savaged remnants of body parts were discovered, scarce signs of what had been a horse, man and woman once; within, a sludge-strewn mess of alchemical components and personal belongings had been ransacked, while the identity of the woman as a Varisian was affirmed.
Most troubling of the scene were two elements: firstly that the face had been torn from the woman’s skull prior to her mauled demise, and second that an individual of small personage—either a child or halfling—had been present among the wagon but of whom no trace could now be found. A search for tracks in the nearby vicinity turned up nothing—but more, that the assailant had gone to lengths to cover any tracks to avoid pursuit; as well, there had seemingly been a pair of horses, yet one was missing without track or trail in kind. At last, trace detritus of rusted armor and weaponry were found, suggesting either magic or a similarly capable creature engaged to overcome the wagon’s protector.
Expanding the scouting range, the party was able to discover a trail several hundred feet off from the pass which led off into the distant mountainside; setting aside more valued possessions and gear, the group set forth to pursue the perpetrator of the savagery in the hopes that they might find the missing person in the process. With the approach of nightfall and snowfall yet steady, the party trekked for nearly two hours further into the mountains amid snowy pines and a twisting trail; there, they discovered a small clearing with a cabin accompanied by a large stable nearby. While the cabin was unlit, its windows darkened—a light could be seen trailing from the stables and Anselme moved first to investigate.
Therein, Anselme spied a single torch and the huddled form of a humanoid near the center of the space; calling out to the figure, Anselme heard a woman’s reply—pleading for assistance and speaking that she had been crippled by the ‘creature’. A bloody, severed hoof lay near to the huddled figure—and of it, she said that the rest of the horse had been taken to be eaten, with the promise that she would be next—noting that her captor had expressed that her fear would ‘flavor the meat’. Motioning for his companions to join him by the stable, Anselme strode inside towards the woman—yet in an instant, a hulking and terrible form appeared before him, he who would come to be known as Ichor Humansbane.
Ichor proved to be wickedly powerful, engaging with the brunt of the party in a pitched melee as he drew them into the stable; with vicious blows the frightfully strong troll repeatedly seized his opponents before choke-slamming them against the hay-strewn floor. Emma, Zantric and Pandora joined Anselme in fighting the monstrous creature—while the troll elicited a terrifying chorus of screams from his cloak stitched of collected faces—sending Leone and nearly several others fleeing from the scene, were it not for Brother Vang’s intervention to remove the fear from their hearts.
For long the party battled Ichor in a brutal and bloody battle, maneuvering between stalls while struggling to gain the upper hand in positioning against the hulking hunter; the troll laid out his foes time and time again while shrugging off many endured blows, before at last being driven to the rear of the stables. With both sides battered and exhausted, Ichor turned invisible—noting that adventurers would prove ‘exciting quarry’—before exiting from the stable. Pandora and Anselme pursued, outlining the hidden hunter with faerie fire before Brother Vang slowed his considerable speed temporarily.
But with the party thoroughly injured and Ichor unimpeded by the difficult terrain, putting an end to the troll seemed progressively more unlikely; Anselme took to the sky in the form of a bird, that he might continue to rain lightning down upon Ichor—but after receiving a powerful blow from the ranger’s bow, Anselme was forced to retreat and the engagement was concluded at its standstill. Wicked laughter echoed into the night as the stables burned from an errant fireball, more than the cold left to chill the bones of those who were left standing.
Turning aside what they had endured at Ichor’s sizable hands, the party ventured into the cabin to begin a search—wherein they discovered a young Varisian girl stowed away in a sack, and a room in which the troll had been tanning suspicious flesh into leather. As well, a missive was discovered cordially inviting the troll ranger to join with other like-minded sorts in Tsar and its surrounding environs, signed by an individual called Balishan.
Returning to the caravan with the girl en tow, the wearied party took to rest for the evening while Meryk, who had protected the assemblage in their absence, began a vigilant watch; throughout the evening the inquisitor caught sounds from in the mountains—until at one point an immense arrow struck him in the chest, a bloody scrip of flesh wrapped about its shaft. Upon the flesh was scrawled crudely ‘sweet dreems’.
In the morning, the caravan gathered together and resumed the journey north—assailed at times unseen from afar by the troll’s continued menace. While the snowfall abated for a time, the group arrived at last at the dwarven village of Stonekeep—Zantric’s adoptive home, where the warrior would see to wedding his beloved before pursuing his quest in the northern unknown. Here, the party was greeted warmly by the Silver Mountain clan and Darven Hammerfist, eager to see his adoptive brother returned once more.
Festivities were swiftly underway as comforts were once more availed by the weary travelers; food, drink and ample entertainment were available, and as Zantric prepared for the forthcoming ceremony many saw to collecting wedding gifts and acquiring addition supplies for the arduous trials ahead. In private counsel, Ironlord Tor’Ak Hammerfist conveyed to the party that a great many forces had begun to shift about, including the bands of the Bloodfang, rallied to the north; as well, two parties had passed through Stonekeep previously, cited to be Kodar’s Kneecappers and a group of what seemed to be Pathfinders.
On the following day, the wedding ceremony was commenced amidst a large gathering of Zantric’s dwarven friends and family; the party joined in finery, and as Zantric’s vows were exchanged and he and Zerra took up the matrimonious sledge, the minister solicited any whom would challenge the union at hand to speak and make themselves heard. ‘I do!’ Called a stranger from the back of the chapel. ‘And so does Orcus!’ he concurred—and with that, the wedding was crashed by an onslaught of zombies while more powerful undead assailed the party.
Zantric took swiftly to demolishing interlopers with the very maul by which he would be joined to his bride; Zerra for her part loosed scorching rays while Darven and Tor’Ak also joined the fray. The battle was swift and decisive, the incursion quickly put down by those assembled; in the aftermath, stone-menders began to see to the hall before the ceremony was concluded at last. As further drinking and feasting stretched on into the evening, Tor’Ak spoke to the party of Thane Fenrir of another dwarven clan, searching for the remnants of the dwarven King Kroma in the vicinity of Tsar.
On the following morning, the party said their goodbyes and gave promises of their safe return; Darven Hammerfist emerged with his belongings packed and his shaggy steed loaded for bear, insistent that he could scarcely let his brother venture off into the unknown alone. An escort of the Silver Mountain clan accompanied the party for the remainder of their trek through the Hungry Mountains, seeing them unmolested as they ventured deeper into Ustalav before parting ways at last. Once more unto themselves, the group and their caravan journeyed onward as cold and bitter winds did blow.
After several days, the caravan came upon a small village in Ustalav called Ravengro, built beside the ruined remnants of the Harrowstone prison and asylum; making a stop in the eerie community, the party soon learned that another group of adventurers was presently staying at the inn, while also discovering that tours of Harrowstone were available, rendered by a peculiar fellow named Iggo.
With a quick introduction to the local flavor, the group bought a number of supplies and souvenirs before stopping in at the Inn; there, they met Mieresel and Adgrif in the midst of drinks and harrowing before the former provided the party with a terse and curious fortune. Once evening had settled, the party accompanied Iggo on a tour of Harrowstone outside of town wherein they witnessed numerous haunts and specters. Iggo spoke of the de-toothing of the place by a previous party of adventurers, while Pandora availed an opportunity to receive a very special souvenir of the facility.
Upon exit from the prison, the party spied a suspicious robed fellow seeming to gesture a spirit from the very wall to take flight; pursuing the man, the group followed until coming upon a black carriage with a headless driver in which several spirits were seated. Electing not to engage the carriage, the party instead accompanied Iggo back to town where they settled for the evening with their caravan once more.
In the morning, a terrible stench assaulted Brother Vang’s senses from beneath his wagon; with trepidation he checked beneath it to discover the mangled, faceless remnants of a foul hag’s corpse, ‘sweet dreems’ carved into her chest. Brother Vang visited Father Grimburrow at the local church of Pharasma, seeking to make a confession—and satisfying such with the man. After the party saw to a cursory burial of the hag’s corpse, the caravan was roused to depart from Ravengro and continue the journey to Tsar.
Over the course of several days the wilderness around the road had slowly but surely thinned and waned until only barren wastes remained; far from the reaches of Tamran, Vigil and Absalom—away from the sight of southern lands the Desolation lay. With black-peaked mountains looming on the distant horizon, their forms scarcely visible through the gloom—the caravan arrived at long last in the ramshackle settlement referred to simply as the Camp.
Amid cobbled together structures of salvaged parts the party strode into the dusty commons, greeted by a dessicated corpse dangling in the breeze; a sign nailed to the chest of the hanged man read ‘Cheater’—the first of many introductions the group would soon sustain. Leaving the caravan train outside of town, the party proceeded to familiarize themselves with the settlement—identifying the Sip of Blood Tavern, wherein Lucky Bjorc awaited as a contact for Pandora and Emma; as well, the Celestial Emporium—the camp’s strange and sprawling marketplace—along with the Bender Bros. Boarding House, the Chapel of the Dying Light, Mama Grim’s Apothecary and more.
At last, the party made their way to the stoutest and sharpest of all the structures present, a sign with gold-inlaid lettering and fanciful script read simply ‘Boss’; therein, they were greeted by a tall gaunt man whose straight smile seemed to tightly bear a touch too many teeth: the Usurer, as he introduced himself, the man to whom all who conducted business within the Camp were beholden.
Swiftly the party became acquainted with the general run of the rules—so long as their actions did not threaten the Camp itself, the Usurer scarcely cared. All transactions were to be conducted with ‘iron bits’ rather than the coinage the party carried—an exchange rate to which the Usurer himself, as moneylender, facilitated at five gold to one iron bit. After gawking at the conversion as a group, Pandora was first to trade in for the Camp’s strange coinage before the party took a trip to the Celestial Emporium.
In the strange marketplace the party encountered merchants such as a Cyclops, a woman who appeared to be an Angel—and a vampiric otyugh; after purveying their wares and collecting a few trinkets, the group proceeded to the Sip of Blood to rendezvous with Lucky Bjorc; there, the mangled orc helpfully provided a rundown of the Camp’s layout and inhabitants such as ’Father Death—while the party warily eyed the crocodile-headed Raksasha woman with a hookah in the corner seated among other bizarre company.
Word was also received that other adventuring parties had already arrived well ahead of the group, venturing out into the Desolation for unknown purposes and pursuits; it was recommended that the group first approach the Ashen Waste and the Dead Fields before braving the regions further north. With a map of the Desolation in hand, the party etched out a rough plan of approach—word of the dwarvern search for King Kroma’s remains in the Dead Fields, and burial site of the barbarian king Tark and the locations of burial crypts for followers of Aroden in the Ashen Waste—they readied themselves for their first forays into the Desolation.
Together the party returned to speak with the Usurer once more and arrange for an official site for their caravan to deploy while they remained operating in the Camp; after negotiating over the price and being instructed in additional fees and regulations, an agreement was reached and the mysterious man was paid. No sooner had the party concluded their transaction than had a terrible yawp been heard from the north—and all heads turned to find a towering hill giant, his face wreaked with acid and burns, in a frothing rage as he bore down on the group. All around the commons the inhabitants of the Camp stepped back—and all eyes seem to rest on the newcomers, to see how they’d handle the sudden clash.
Together the group moved quickly to engage their raging foe—but even with his terrible strength, the one called Gurg was soon subdued beneath the assault of seven adventurers. There, the party took great care not to kill the giant despite his assault—instead binding him to take to their camp for later interrogation, much to the apparent disappointment of the undertaker who had arrived on the scene following the fight. With Gurg unconscious and sleeping off his fury, the party soon settled in as evening approached, discussing all the following weeks were apt to entail.
Late in the evening past the stroke of midnight, a strange squeaking sound was heard approaching the party’s campsite—and soon from the mists emerged an otherworldly figure pushing a rickety cart and shrouded beneath a ragged cloak. Raspily the peddler offered a dessicated fish, naming its price at fifty gold coins; the fish itself could not have come from any body of water within two hundred miles of the Desolation—and so, curiosities were piqued and the peddler paid. While the party pondered their new purchase, the midnight peddler offered them cryptic words:
“Not only old dead guard Black Gates but something greater as well. From blackest pits of pitch and bile a new guardian arose both foul and vile. Beware his breath of clinging death.”
With this, the peddler vanished once more into the gloom, leaving the party to ruminate upon his message; upon the morrow, their venture into the Desolation would begin.
See what Emma thought about this session here!
See what Meryk thought about this session here!