This was the penultimate face off at last not only with the Lycos Suns, but eventually with Vanir - one of the higher ups in the organization that had wrongfully enslaved the party. The group was excited and vowed to not quit until they made it to the center to save the kids and bury a swrod in Vanir's neck.
The biggest wrinkle I had was the fact that the party cleric (a druid) had actually no 1st level spells at his disposal - which meant there was no healing save for what draughts, potions, and charms they had on them. This meant that we were going to be VERY close to a party kill should something go wrong.
And we were very close to that point many times. The end result of using an enlarged Evard's Black Tentacles on the group had been planned by me long before this adventure ever started. Vanir was 10th level (against a party of 4th level characters) and out classed them easily. But he wasn't here to waste potential adventurers - he was here to do a ritual that so far had been taking some of the Lycos Sun's members close to two and a half years to achieve. And this was not the end of it! So it was already planned that after "x" rounds of combat (assuming they got their in enough time actually get there before Vanir and his merry band left - an all to possible outcome) the ritual's energy was going to end and it was going to be time to go. Hence the Tentacles.
I was happy how it worked out - and for the first time, unlike Thadar, this was an enemy that the party actually HATED. A living person they could identify...and hate. Nemesis.
Write up follows:
The game resumed where we left it two weeks earlier: Karis surrounded by 2 thugs, the half orcish girl with the sickles down near the hippogriff, and 5 more thugs emerging from the woods ahead of us – a couple of them with bows. We still can't see or hear anything deep in the woods, but as we figured – since people are coming OUT of the trees ahead of us to stop us – we are doing the right thing.
The surrounding combat was short and bloody, Karis cutting one of the two around him down and the rest of the group moving into position. Molaris, the half orcish woman, leapt on the hippogriff and slammed both of her sickles into its flanks just under its wing – causing it to start forward and flee the battle. Spells and slings and crossbows were fired – and the enemy half orcs returned the favor with bow fire of their own – bleeding away more precious hit points from our half ogre knight.
The summoning spell for the hippogriff ended, and the quasi-airborn, rider bearing flying creature disappeared with a puff of smoke and Molaris slammed to the ground with a snapping thud and crunch after rebounding off a tree bole. Some animal assaults finished the woman off as the rest of the party finally got close enough to make short work of the three surrounding Karis. The combat ended and the party took a moment to ready themselves before going forward once more.
Puck gave Karis the charm necklace and the erstwhile half ogre pulled one of the two remaining charms free – healing himself almost back to full! Bolstered now and the group ready – we reloaded crossbows and slings, drew ourselves into formation, and marched onward.
The feeling of magic being worked was tingling at the end of your senses, unnerving you and making you feel jittery and pressed for time. The party responded by storming into the trees until there was another feeling of slowing down and the medallions growing warm – and then our ears popped and we marched on. From ahead of us someone snarled, "Loki, damn it! They have medallions! Take them down!" and the woods came alive once more with the hoot of brigands and the twang of bowfire.
Arranged in a triangular formation, four spear and sword wielding leather clad toughs waved their weapons and attacked Karis (who rode ahead to meet them), two others hung back and fired their bows, and the last one stood his ground and waved his arms over his head, chanting out Loki's name and blowing an alarming horn. Acting swiftly, Zoltan sent a sling bullet arcing out – smashing the horn from the priest's mouth and shattering the business end of it.
Puck fired off a magic missile which wended through the trees and slapped the evil cleric punishingly. Karis took down one of the milling fighters, Deathknell his enchanted broadsword tolling loudly on each kill, the group moving forward into position. The cleric was snarling, looking in the dim light for the mage who "missiled" him – unable to see Puck. So instead of getting him – he called upon his dark god and called forth some aid – specifically – a hellhound! The slavering 220 lb mastiff gave Zoltan a fierce gaze and let forth a burst of fire that the bard/thief barely leapt over in time, twisting his body away from the heat of the otherworldly flames. Detheron and Smokey charged forward to help.
Karis tried to run the priest down who let forth a curse – covering the half ogre with boils, affecting his limbs with a stiffening as well. Arrows were shot, Gwyn worked his scimitar, Puck got into better positions, and Smokey was badly wounded – outclassed by the flame dripping hell beast. The fight continued onward blow by blow until Karis missed the Loki priest and rode past – the cleric calling forth a blinding ball of darkness to engulf the knight!
Zoltan drew upon his bardic magic and sent forth a globe of light to cancel the priest's darkness. The priest was going to do something to the bard most likely deadly when Puck had drawn close enough to fire off another spell – this time Charm Person. The wave of eldritch energy snaked out – but it did NOT hit the priest! Instead – he centered his ensorcellment on the archer instead! "You hate Loki!" Puck roared, pointing to the priest. "Kill him!"
The archer wasted no time and at the range of 7' – shot two arrows into the shocked priest ending his life- and making the hellhound fade away as well. The remaining fight ended swiftly and the new friend introduced himself as Kalarig – mercenary and archer in the employ of Vanir to keep prying eyes out of the forest.
There had been an alarm horn blown and according to Kalarig – the bulk of the defenders would be rallying forward – a mix of thugs, half orcs, and two orcs mounted on war wolves. Crap.
Puck had Kalarig run off to intercept this last threat/grouping – and lead them on a wild goose chase through the forest and away from the party's approach. We were given exact heading to go through the trees and then Kalarig was wished well and sent off to help us out.
We sucked down most of the last of our potions, some of them given to Smokey, and we readied ourselves for the assault to come. Wavering light could be seen through the trees ahead, sort of green and blue and sickly looking. We could also hear chanting and screams of children. But most frightening now as we ran on were the soul wrenching torturous howls of someone, or someones, being dealt the most agonizing terrorizing pain ever.
The trees appeared to be thinning far ahead and with the ambient light of the ritual and torchlight ahead – there was the odd sign of menhirs (standing stones) at the distant line of our sight. Grimly expecting the worst ahead, we charged onward.
From the trees and above us, arrows began firing out – pecking at Karis and resounding off his shield and armor. The enemies were difficult to see but enough of the party knew what was up there and slings and crossbows were fired off – knocking enemies from the trees and making short work of the half orcs hoping to stop us. Some alarms were shouted and blown but we were too close to the ritual site now for them to escape should they attempt to. As soon as the way seemed clear, Karis had his lance ready and raced toward the standing stones.
A thief jumped out of the trees and slammed his stiletto into the knight's back, hurting him badly, before making it to the ground. Detheron shot a flaring light at the thief's eyes and blinded him as Gwyn dealt with the last bow wielder behind us. The group could hear the terrified cries of Hani and Gregor from the stones ahead as 6 thugs came out of the area armed with swords and maces.
And then something leapt on top of the menhirs – something that wasn't altogether human or animal. It was covered in a midnight pelt of matted fur and its ears were overly large and hung off the back of its lupine skull. It had human like hands with 3 inch curving talons as it growled and jumped down ahead of thugs, foam spittle on its lips as it tilted its head back and howled. – and then they attacked.
The group ran to catch up and help Karis who lowered his lance and charged the entire group of 7! The pointed end of his heavy lance slammed into the wolf creature, blowing out the back its shoulder. The man beast instead dragged its claws across the horses' neck and bit Karis as he charged past. Two of the mace wielders raised their weapons high and called on Fenris to bless their companions – while the 4 sword swingers tried to hack the staggering Karis from his steed, the half ogre using the last of the Heimdall Charms to heal himself.
Zoltan had to wrestle with his fears before daring to race onward and attack – the fear of disease and worry that the man-wolf might be a lycanthrope scaring him. Detheron called on Frey once again – summoning another hippogriff to help the party! Gwyn was out distanced by his friends, the dwarf unable to keep up. The wolf creature pulled the lance free from its body and dropped it – the horrible wound visibly closing instantly. Double crap.
Karis whirled Deathknell overhead and was about to be surrounded by all 7 – one of them the wolf man, when Puck got himself in position and read off one of the scrolls he had. Lightning bolt! The stroke of energy appeared just behind the wolf man and thundered outward – passing through him, the nearest sword swinger, one of the priests – then it struck the end of the menhir and rebounded BACK – going once more across the priest, the sword swinger, and the man wolf who ducked low to avoid the majority of the impact.
Three of the enemies went down and the reek of cooked flesh filled the air. Way to go Puck!!!
The party ran closer to take the fight to the last of the defenders when tragedy struck. One of the two sword swingers around Karis worked his way close enough to thrust upward under the knight's shield – and slammed 8" of his broadsword into the half-ogre's chest. Giving him a mortal wound. Karis felt his strength fading and pain filled his body – without medical or magical help – he was going to be dead in the next hour.
Slings and crossbows fired and we were struggling to get to Karis when two things happened – the wolf man shook his head and stood up (right near Smokey and Zoltan) – and the chanting of the ritual ended and a voice from within the circle roared out, "We've done what we came to do here!"
Zoltan threw himself at the wolf man and buried one of his new dragon inspired silver daggers into its back, causing the creature to snarl angrily. There was a blast of smoke and flame and a figure appeared.
The wolf man jumped towards the menhirs (dodging Zoltan and Smokey's parting shots) and scooped up a small figure that was wriggling and screaming – like a 5 year old little girl. Gregor's voice screamed out, "HANI!!" as the wolf man ran off.
The figure that had appeared was a man in midnight blue robes, a scintillating azure gem circling his head like an orbiting halo, cowl around his neck. He looked just past middle age, wrinkles on the corner of his eyes and mouth. He frowned at the group, one hand holding a 3' wooden knotty rod, other hand balled into a fist.
About 8 final thugs emerged – half with bows, half with swords. Around the wizard's neck was one of the bronze headed wolf amulets like you have now. He snarled, "You've become a greater nuisance than I would have expected, slaves…but I will say, your work is impressive." The last comment directed at the numerous dead bodies the party has strewn about the nearby forest.
Together we raised our voices and the party charged out. Battle was joined and arrows flew. Karis was all alone and struggling against overwhelming odds – Vanir within his sights. At that point the wizard pointed his rod at Karis and intoned the magical words – and a stream of red crackling energy flared out and struck…Deathknell, his sword! The enchanted blade shuddered and then shattered! The impact from the destroyed magical item rocked both Karis and the hippogriff backwards and the party was in shock at what happened.
Detheron withdrew a scroll of warp wood and hurled the spell's energy at Vanir – twisting the powerful rod upon itself and ruining the artifact. Then Puck withdrew the second Lightning Bolt and arced it at Vanir. Some of the energy swarmed upwards INTO the floating ioun stone as he dodged out of the way, and then the return stroke the same thing happened – after it passed through another thug and ended up TOO close to the hippogriff and hurt Detheron's summoned ally. Nearby archers shot Puck, hitting the mage and causing him even more terrible pain.
Karis was fighting for his life – swinging his second blade, Wyrmsteel Discordia, at the wizard – the mage's ensorcellment strong enough to turn the knight's weapon aside. Sling bullets soaring and the approaching party caused the mage to shift his tactics and called forth a wall of thick ice, 10' tall and bitterly cold, to appear in a convex arc AROUND the party and cut them all off from Karis and him and his people. Damn it to hell!
Karis was getting beaten up real bad and nicks and chops slammed around him. The group argued about firing up a blessed bolt of Sutur and killing him – but no one knew if it would get through the wall of ice or not – and if so, would it hit him? Gwyn was given directions to run around the wall and ready himself to take out the mage. Zoltan circled the wall too, throwing his AC to the wind and charging one of the bowman who shot the bard – but did not shoot the tiring half ogre (noble effort Zoltan!).
Detheron and Smokey and Fodder emerged from the behind the ice wall from the OTHER direction and joined the hippogriff in engaging some of the enemies on that side – anything to keep the onus off Karis. Puck climbed a tree (tired and 3 painful wounds meant he was moving REAL slow at this time) and pulled out Melf's Minute Meteor – ready to fire it off.
Vanir, on seeing the mage up the tree, called forth a tremendous gust of wind – which rocked the trees and knocked Puck from his perch – giving him another painful wound. Detheron used the summoning stone he had acquired long ago from the feral orc shaman, and cast it to the ground – causing four hide wearing, axe sporting, strong backed, slope jawed orcs to appear in a flash of light. They all turned to Detheron, bowed and said, "What is your bidding, Shaman?" Detheron sent them to attack the fighters around Karis and the tide of the battle swiftly changed around the knight.
Zoltan tackled the lone bowman and there was a struggle of slung chain and axe as the bard and archer fought. And then Gwyn was in position and fired the Blessed Bolt. A rising crescendo of gathering energy sucked into the area and then like the finger of god (someone quoted Indy with, “Close your eyes, Marion! No matter what, close your eyes!”) it stroked out and impacted one of the summoned orcs and the unexpecting Vanir.
The damage was devastating to the surrounding area, smashing one of the menhirs and knocking the lintel stone off the top and into the circle beyond. The orc was consumed but Vanir was able to duck low and avoid a direct hit – and even his ioun stone took the brunt of more of the streaking firebrand. But Vanir lived. Smoke and dying flame streaming around him, he eyed the dwarf critically and he was pissed.
He called forth his own magics and blasted Gwyn with his own lightning bolt. It tore through the dwarf (some of the impact diminished by the dwarf's blue dragon scale mail armor) but the high temperature energy shaft electrified the hero and caused the 6 flasks of oil in his backpack to explode – turning the very wounded dwarf into a living inferno.
Detheron used his last potion of healing on the half ogre and Puck tried to climb the tree again – his strength failing as he slipped to the ground. And there were still a number of enemies at Vanir's beck and call and the furious mage to deal with.
Some sort of energy was leeching from the area within the circle as the passage of time ended the ritual and Vanir grimaced, yelling, "Back! Back! We've done what we needed to do here! Everyone go!" He then whirled an enlarged spell which caused a tremendous swath of writhing tentacles to burst from the earth and snatch the party members legs and arms – pulling them down and to the earth. Only Zoltan was able to avoid the initial tentacles and he ignored the thug he was fighting to charge Vanir and surprise backstab the exhausted mage.
Vanir was hurt badly and Zoltan was caught in the flashing tentacles and dragged down. Puck tried one last gambit – calling on the use of his ring of Pain. It was a struggle of wills but the exhausted mage had used the ring recently and was weak and tired – and this time his will was NOT strong enough – and the ring fired its energy – not at Vanir – but doubled back on Puck and now with 6 painful wounds, the sorcerer passed out.
The group was being pulled lower and lower, the tentacles encircling throats and chests – smothering the group. Vanir glowered at them as he looked westward, "You've tried my patience, slaves. But I don't have the time to deal with you now as I'd like. It's a shame you can't be of use to Djohrgahd anymore, you've certainly become capable."
Karis then threatened to chop the mage up and would hunt him down until his dying day, and feed the bloody bits to the animals. Vanir chuckled and shrugged, "You talk with spirit, slave. That is good. It is spirit that is required of course. The rest of the body, well, not so much."
He then pointed to the top of one of the menhirs where the party could see two bodies chained to the stones. They were wearing slave collars and manacles, their chests have been carved open, entrails removed and lay in ropes around them, legs have been broken, ribs cracked, hands twisted and every finger snapped. And their dead and horrified faces were those of two of the self same slaves the party had been with when they were first captured four plus months earlier.
Vanir then took a fist sized glass globe from his inner pocket and held it up so the party can see two tortured twisting blue/green faces within beating on the walls and screaming silently. He put the globe away, the last of his people leaving the menhirs behind, the party choked and blacking out. He finished with, "This part of the ritual is done, slaves. Harvest is taken. Next step, blood of the innocents under the afternoon sky. So much to do. Busy, busy, busy. I am such a slave driver. HAHAHAHAH." Then the air in front of him rented open and he stepped through the portal and was gone.
And the group one by one lost consciousness.
And that's where we left it.
I hope everyone had a good time. The party did great. Don't sell yourself short. I fudged NO rolls – and all your heroics were done on your own recognizance. This was a difficult foray as when I originally wrote it, I had expected the group to have better healing (ie: Detheron) at their disposal – but our druid had NO 1st level spells at his call from the moment we started back at the Lycos Suns Office! But the party still did wonderfully.
Gauging a fight before it occurs is a difficult task as a DM, more so at the lower levels than higher ones, as it can seem like a cake walk – or a death trap. Total party kills (TPK's) do happen but only when something goes horribly wrong. Given the way your party entered this fight, there was some concern to that happening.