GGG Keep on the Shadowfell

Prologue

In the riverside town of Fallcrest, in the Nentir Vale, you have received an auspicious message requesting that you pay a visit to the Cartographers’ Guild.

This bodes well for your reputation—the Cartographers’ Guild is known to pay well and to hire personnel who are reliable, trustworthy, and tough. Being known as one of their freelancers can only enhance your reputation. Not only that, having access to a guild’s web of alliances could lead to bigger things! Your hard work and persistence as a troubleshooter is starting to pay off!

On the morning of your appointment, you arrive promptly. You are shown into a study and asked to wait with four or five other… interviewees? Who are these others? Perhaps you’ve been invited to join one of the Guild teams? Is this the team? Or are these other candidates for the job? Surreptitiously, you study the “competition” to see what you’re up against.

Leaning against the wall stands a half-elf of indeterminate age. He carries a long quarterstaff that appears to be somewhat larger than he could comfortably handle, given his small stature. As you enter the room, heglances your way, sizing you up and seemingly dismisses your presence at the same time. His gear looks to be well worn, if perhaps a few decades out of style. As you study him, his eyes dart around the room keeping a watchful eye on the assembled group. [Character name: GulDrac Erdan, aka Drac. Player name: Ben]

An enormous Dragonkin paces restively, scanning map after map on the wall, tracing imaginary battle lines with his finger, grinning all the while. He gives the impression of one who is not prepared to wait long for anything. A pile of spotless gear lies nearby; you can tell that it has been used, but immaculately cared for. [Rho’Shel, played by Russell]

You haven’t long to wait, however, before a gray and balding middle-aged man enters the room. He sits down behind a large desk and steeples his fingers, taking in each of you. He finally nods, apparently satisfied.

“Welcome to the Cartographers’ Guild. I am Parle Cranewing, Master Cartographer of Fallcrest. I have a commission to offer any of you who wish to accept.

“I would not, ordinarily, field an entire team of agents with whom we have never worked before—”

You all look around at each other as you realize that everyone else is just as new to this as you are. Some of the tension in the room dissipates.

“—but I’m afraid circumstances leave me no other choice. All of our usual crew are on other assignments, and the patron who has requested this map is unwilling that we delay his request further.

“Should you choose to accept it, the nature of your mission is as follows: Our client is both a noble and a student of historical architecture, particularly that of the ancient empire of Nerath. He aims to consolidate his influence by expanding his ancestral seat and building it up as a replica of one of the fortresses that Nerath used to protect its borders. He has studied the building methods used during that era, and he believes he can replicate them.

“What he does NOT have is a complete blueprint of the fortress architecture. Of the extant ruins he has examined, none is in sufficient repair that he can make confident decisions as to the exact construction to replicate. He requests that we provide such a blueprint.

“I have pored through our library, and I believe I have found a record of one keep that was apparently still standing at the base of the CairngormPeaks as recently as 20 years ago. It is not far away—perhaps two days journey from here to the village of Winterhaven. In Winterhaven, you should be able to get more specific directions.

“It’s true that as the Cartographers’ Guild, we should be able to give you those specific directions, but I’m ashamed to say that I can find no direct reference to the keep. It’s very odd.

“At any rate, there is no reason to expect undue peril. But I do need reliable persons, quick thinking, persistent, durable. Since none of you are yet bonded with the guild, I’m afraid I cannot offer you an advance. If you choose to accept, our deal will be simple: Upon your delivery of a map of the Nerathine keep, you will be paid 250 gold pieces, split evenly among the group.

“The map must include the layout of the ground floor, as well as a thorough description of the foundations beneath the keep. How deep does it go? Is it a solid foundation? Upon what does it rest? Also, for my own part, I wish to know why this keep is situated where it is. The more I consider its locale, the more puzzled I am.

“What do you say?”

“I say rubbish! A waste of my time for such a pittance!” A large man with a sword at his hip stands abruptly and stomps out of the room. You hear the front door slam.

But you hold your seat. And so do the remaining adventurers in the room. The monetary reward is barely enough to make expenses, split among so many. But anyone with sense knows that the patronage of the Cartographers is the true reward being offered.

Parle Cranewing nods, unruffled. His gaze rests on each one in turn. “Quite so. And the rest of you?”

You look at the others appraisingly and three thoughts come to mind, one after the other: First, that whatever a summons to this guild may say about you, it says the same about the others summoned in like fashion. Second, that if you had been assigned to a Cartographers team with veterans, you’d probably get treated like the greenhorn you definitely are not. Third, it would be nice, for once, to have someone watching your back.

Someone across the room stands and says, “We’ll do it.” The rest of you stand with him.

It feels like a first consensus.

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Traveling the King's Road
Ambush!

After accepting the mission from Parle Cranewing, the party immediately set off towards Winterhaven. The first day of traveling along the King’s Road was uneventful, but on the second day the party was ambushed by kobolds just outside of Winterhaven.

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Finding Winterhaven
Whereupon a wench, a scholar, and a lord are met.

After dispatching the kobolds with ease, the party entered Winterhaven and immediately found some relief in the local tavern. They met Salvana Wrafton who was tending bar. The party told her about the ambush they suffered outside of town, and asked if anyone local knew about the Keep.

Salvana mentioned that the mayor (?) of the town, Lord Padraig would very much like to hear about their troubles. She also introduced them to Valthrun, a local scholar who offered to do some research about the keep, but that it would take a day or two to search through his records.

Several members of the party went off to meet Lord Padraig (while the rest stayed to enjoy the local spirits). Padraig was very interested to hear about the kobolds and expressed regret that the local trade routes were suffering because of the recent kobold activity in the area. He offered to pay the party 100GP if they would clear out the area where the kobolds had established a base of operations, along with any loot they found (although that would undoubtedly belong to the traders and local townsfolk who had been attacked by the kobolds). The party gladly accepted this opportunity.

The group reunited at the tavern, where they decided to spend a restful evening before getting up early the next day to attempt to wipe out the kobold menace.

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The Raven Queen's Charge

Lord Padraig had indicated that the kobold lair was south of Winterhaven, so the party geared up and headed in that direction. They spread out in standard formation and scouted ahead as they explored the area.

Before long the party found a small clearing with a small ruined building to one side. As they approached, a band of kobolds got the drop on the party, getting off several shots before the party had a chance to react.

After they managed to defeat the ambushers, Rho’Shel trod methodically from corpse to corpse. The kobolds were no more heirs to the noble race of dragons than were dragonflies, but that did not reduce his anger. At each dying opponent’s body he would pause, shouting at it in draconic, a language consisting of growls and roaring. One word rang true each time, however. “Tomb”. No word for tomb existed in the draconic language, as internment was a true rarity among their kind. Unsatisfied with any responses, Rho’Shel dispatched each with a thrust and twist of his longsword.

“Hrash Fal’Shallah,” he growled, shaking his head. He reflected on his failures during this battle, knowing them to be great. Duncan Stovall, his first commander after coming of age, would have shamed him for his behavior. It was true that he indeed fought honorably, but he let down those who were fighting at his side.

Duncan would never have allowed Rho’Shel to take something as trivial as an attack from a kobold as a breach of honor, but Rho’Shel ran off like a fool. Only a coward would act in such a way. After all, strategy 67 of the 88 strategies demanded that he remain in place, swallow the pain, and protect those around him. Nothing in the strategies allowed him to scamper off to avenge his honor over a trivial slight.

It was true, Rho’Shoel reflected, that the people he was campaigning with had not been trained in the 88 strategies, nor in Sh’on Tizu’s “Artistry in Warfare”, nor even in “Lessons From the Wall of Stone”. Even without these lessons, and even without a formal swearing of an oath, he owed these companions a debt of honor.

If he were to truly honor Duncan Stovall and not hang his head in shame upon their next meeting, Rho’Shel would have to bind this new squadron together. He would begin simply, teaching them the tactics of the Wolf Pack, and guiding them through battle.

Battle. Hah, if he allowed these vermin pretenders to the the Draconic line to actually challenge this group ever again, he did not deserve the respect of even the lowest peasant. He would not fail again.

- – -

Krag kneeled next to Enna, working to revive her before it was too late. He directed Drac to apply pressure to the most serious wound while he bandaged her adeptly.

Nearby, Light-touch toyed with the necklace he’d found on the wyrmpriest. The obsidian figurine dangling from it was that of a dragon. He noticed with some curiosity that there was an etching on the rough-hewn underbelly of the dragon. Something about it looked familiar… and not in a good way.

When Enna’s eyes fluttered open, Light-touch was at her shoulder, holding the necklace in front of her. “Hey there. Are you okay? Good! Tell me what this is!”

Enna, too groggy to respond, looked up at the insistent rogue, then closed her eyes again and lay back.

Krag snorted. “Pushy, aren’t you? Let her be.”

Light-touch ignored him. He took Enna’s hand and folded the necklace into it. “I got a bad feeling about this. I think—” He paused.

Krag’s eyes narrowed. “What?”

Light-touch pointed at Enna’s bloody hand. As they watched, the sticky ichor seeped into the stone. Enna gasped and convulsed. She lay on her back, rigid. Her eyes flew open, staring into the sky. Stiff-armed, she brought the figurine up to her line of sight.

Light-touch and Krag could see between her fingers the etching a sharp, glowing symbol. Krag glared at Light-touch. “What have you done? That’s the symbol of —”

“Orcus.” Drac had walked up behind them just in time to finish the sentence. “The Raven Queen’s most hated enemy. Nice going, Light-touch. You probably just killed our healer.”

Thunder rolled overhead.

Enna spoke, in a voice quite unlike her normal lighthearted tones. “So Orcus yet again plays to usurp me? I think not. He did not expect you, and so he does not expect me. You will be his undoing. Rise, daughter. Foil his plans. Turn his defenses against him, as I turn his trinket to my talisman. Foil his plans, I say, and destroy his cultists, or perish in the attempt.”

The obsidian jewels burst into white radiance. For a moment, the open glade was washed in stark black and white. When the light faded, everyone was prone.

Light-touch jumped up first, feeling his bones, prodding himself. “Hey, I’m fine. Enna’s fine. In fact, I feel better. Enna, do you feel better?”

Enna stood up, very matter of fact. “Never felt better.” She tied the figurine around her neck.

Drac said, “I don’t think that’s a dragon symbol any more, is it?”

Enna said, “No, it’s not.” But she said no more about it. She picked up her pack. “Well? Let’s quit standing around. We have a job to do.”

As she marched past Drac, he could clearly see that the figurine no longer resembled a dragon. The contours were more angular, and they were clearly those of a stylized raven.

He smiled a most unpleasant smile.

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The Fall of Irontooth

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Balgron the Fat (and bloodied)

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After defeating Balgron the Fat and his useless helpers, Rho’Shel felt a sense of triumph and relief. He had begun to doubt his abilities in battlefield control, which was no way for a commander to feel. Rho’Shel tore down the curtains enclosing Balgron’s so-called private living space. “I wouldn’t want anyone sneaking in through that formerly secret door behind us. I’m not sure if we were lucky or good back there, but these gobbos aren’t all that tough. I’d suggest that we keep moving through this arm of the keep. We don’t want to leave too many areas unexplored behind us.”

He points to the west with his battleaxe. “If this area is vacant, I suggest that we also find out what may lurk behind those doors we left behind in the goblins’ watch room at the south. Heading further down should probably be our last option— we want to make sure that there aren’t any threats that could sneak up on us from behind.”

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Back to Town!
Duncan is found, a quest is completed

The party returned to town only to find the townsfolk agitated by the appearance of undead in the local cemetery. After a fitful overnight rest, the group ventured forth to explore the graveyard. There they found a glowing purple column in the graveyard that appeared to be a tool of Orcus. Alrin thought he might be able to disable the obviously evil artifact, but before he could complete his task an army of skeleton attacked!

The party fought off the skeletons and zombie dogs, and even took down a shadowy figure who turns out to be an Elf (Ninaran) they recognized from back in town. The elf had a note on him that read:

Ninaran,

I received your report on the adventurers. Next time you see them, put an end to their meddling. Mix the blood of ten people with the elixir my messenger brings. Then trace the following pattern on the ground of a graveyard and pour the liquid into the lines. That should supply you with a force to thwart them. I’m very close to completing my work and cannot be interrupted.

Have Agrid bring the relic to me directly, and also the archaeologist ALIVE if possible — the human’s blood will increase the efficacy of our rituals.

As you already know, if you do come to the second level of the keep, the pass phrase is “From the ground, some magic was found.”

Kalarel

After investigating back in town to see if anyone knew of this Agrid person (they did not), the party returned back to the scene of the undead slaughter and continued on a small path that Ninaran appeared to be headed to before Dayereth put two arrows in his back to bring him down.

They followed the small path to find a large open crater where several humans, two drakes, a gnome, and a baleful figure are working. The party surprised the workers, charging down from the lip of the crater, where Rho’Shel and Krag were able to shove the drakes into the open pit!

The rest of the group slowly advanced on the rest of the enemies, slowly mowing them down as they advanced towards the apparition. Eventually they were able to eliminate the threat.

Once the area was safe, they found Duncan still alive! Duncan was briefly re-united with Rho’Shel and gave him some words of encouragement and a Brooch of No Regrets (Adventurer’s Vault, p149).

The party found a strange mirror-apparently this is the relic that Agrid was to deliver to Kalarel. The mirror shows a dull reflection in its silver surface. The reflective surface, when examined closely, doesn’t appear to be glass, nor does it appear to be metal. Perhaps it is some kind of clear crystal backed by silver foil leaf. The frame of the mirror is a gray stone with a green tint to it—it feels slick to the touch, like whetstone. On the back, of the stone frame is carved a strange symbol or rune.

At the dragon’s tomb, they discover a huge slab of polished dark green malachite, embedded in the side of the excavation site. They can see runes carved carefully into it, written in a strange and ancient cuneiform. It seems like a memorial of some kind. At the bottom of the slab, violent scratches scar the stone in similar letters—a vehement grafitti that mars a noble monolith.

Alrin is able to read the runes: “Here in the first year of the Empire of Nerath, the self-styled Dragon King was brought down in his pride. Nentir was his name. From the grave of the tyrant the new empire arises.”

The violent scratchings at the bottom are in modern Draconic and easily read by Alrin and Rho’Shel: “The dragon king will rise again!”

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Exploring the Keep
Alrin has a little surprise

The intrepid adventurers headed back to town for a little R&R, and soon found out that Valthrun had convinced Lord Padraig of the seriousness of the threat to the town. Padraig offered the party 250 GP to do whatever they had to do to eliminate the threat that Kalarel presented to the town.

As the group returned to their usual rooms at the inn for some well deserved rest, Drac slipped away from the party and was seen leaving the gates of the town around sundown. He returned a few hours later, seemingly worse for wear and stumbled back to the tavern where he collapsed into bed.

The entire party seemed refreshed and had an extra spring in their step the next morning. Dayereth appeared to have grown another inch or two, Rho’Shel looked more leader-ish, Enna prayed extra hard when breaking her morning fast, Alrin had fun making lights appear in the oddest places, Light Touch practiced his exceptional thievery on unsuspecting villagers by moving their coin purses from one pocket to the other, Drac muttered to himself just a touch more often, and Krag looked more buff than usual (if that was even possible).

The group headed out to the keep and began exploring anew, being wary of ambush now that Kalarel knew of their presence.

As they descended the stairwell they had found previously, the entered a large underground cavern filled with stalagmites and stalactites. There was a colony of Giant Rats that did not appreciate being surprised, but the the party swiftly dealt with the vermin. The group continued to explore the cavern, and much to the chagrin of Alrin (who couldn’t quite resist the temptation to “just look” into the next room") surprised an Ochre Jelly! Unfortunately Gul Drac Erdan, Rho’Shel, and Krag were all busy finishing off the last of the Giant Rats and a Dire Rat, so were unable to come to the aid of the rest of the party.

Things turned out ok, even after the Ochre Jelly split into two just slightly smaller Ochre Jellies. Light Touch was there to provide critical damage support, Enna was able to provide some much needed healing, and Dayereth managed to pump the acid flinging creatures with several rounds of deadly arrows.

Gul Drac Erdan came down with a nasty case of Filth Fever as a result of his battle with the Dire Rat. No money or equipment was found among the rats and ochres, so the party pressed on down a hallway.

Enna smartly noticed a series of traps in the next room which the party mostly avoided (exception: Light Touch who had an extremely difficult time extricating himself from a simple ten foot pit). This area was the home to a family of ten Kruthiks who started attacking as soon as Rho’Shel found their lair. The combat area seemed well suited to the party with Rho’Shel and Krag near the front to absorb much of the damage, but the nimbleness of the hatchling kruthiks and the fierce ranged poison attacks from the adult caused the party to be 50% poisoned at one point in the battle.

Alrin showed his true worth on this day, as he called forth a ball of fire that was instrumental in damaging round after round to the closely packed creatures who were bunched up in a corner of the room.

Eventually the party eliminated all of the kruthiks, before finding some gold and 5 expensive looking gems.

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The Better Part of Valor

Rho’Shel kicked open the doors, ignoring the phrase “Stay Out – Really!” written in common over the doors. The party ducked as something shot over their heads out into the darkness.

The scene the greeted the party was a featureless room that was partially filled with water. The preternatural stillness of the water gave pause even to Alrin. “Perhaps this is not part of our path” muttered Enna nervously. “Yeah, there’s that stairway back near the entrance that we haven’t investigated yet.” agreed Krag.

No one in the party seemed too inclined to take the first step into the room to perform a true investigation of the nature of the black water, so after conferring for a moment, they decided to leave the silence alone and quietly closed the doors before retreating back to the more familiar dangers presented by the kobold and undead certain to be haunting the rest of the keep.


As they explored the next set of rooms, Drac spotted some movement in a side room which turned out to be a small horde of Zombies Rotters and a couple of true Zombies. The party quickly wiped out the horde (with the help of a Greater Turn Undead by Enna), but the battle wasn’t over as another few Rotters and Zombies lurched from the darkness behind them—plus the unwelcome stench of a Corruption Corpse who proceeded to inflict necrotic damage at will. The party generally emerged emerged unscathed and pressed on into the darkness.


The next room presented a long wide hallway with large crypts lining the walls. As Rho’Shel and Krag started toppling the crypts against the protests of the shocked Cleric Enna, Drac took the opportunity to explore down the hallway, triggering a trap! The 10 crypts flung themselves open and out stepped ten Skeletons, prepared to deal punishment to the invaders (ie, the party).

Drac immediately regretted being separated from the rest of the party, but due to the quick thinking of Dayereth and Alrin (who both had prepared attacks in case of such of an event) the party was able to recover their composure and regroup. Rho’Shel moved up and executed a nifty Hammer and Anvil move with Light Touch that effectively reduced the opposing Skeletons to the dust and tatters. Krag, who had been otherwise occupied, whooped as Light Touch landed a telling blow but yelled “I thought we were exclusive” across the battle to Rho’Shel.

The party breathed a sigh of relief as the last Skeleton fell and a few of them carefully investigated the next to find a pair of ornate alters along with a glowing portrait of a platinum dragon that covered the dome above them. Written in common on the alters was:

  • The Platinum Dragon is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer.
  • He is my stronghold, my refuge, and my armor against the
  • foes of life—I need only kneel and offer him my praise.

Just as half of the party entered the room, the crypt doors slammed open again releasing another ten Skeletons! The party shared a moment of panic as they realized that Enna was cut off from the rest of them with the skeletons turning to attack her. Rho’Shel shouted urgently to Dayereth to “PRAY AT THE ALTER!” before turning to wade into the skeletons to rescue Enna. Dayereth ran over to an alter and mumbled a quick prayer to the platinum dragon: “Praise be to Bahamut!”. As the prayer ended, the Skeletons crumbled to the ground, their lifeless bodies now joining their brethren on the floor.


Venturing on into the final room beyond the Bahamut shrine, they came upon a raised dais with a sarcophagus upon it. As the party investigated, the top of the shrine exploded open to reveal a stark skeleton who screamed “The Rift must never be opened!” as he emerged. Several party members immediately protested that they were there to protect the rift, not open it. The skeleton paused, fingered his long sword carefully before identifying himself as Sir Keegan, the erstwhile commander of the Keep Over Shadowfell. Sir Keegan reluctantly started interrogating the party members to determine their true intent. Each person acquitted themselves with aplomb as they remained true to their agreed upon intent to protect the rift. Sir Keegan eventually became satisfied that the party was not there to simply plunder the keep or even worse, open the Rift. He provided Rho’Shel with his sword, Aecris, and charged the party with investigating the threat to the Rift, which was located further down in the keep.

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Death From Above

The party took a collective deep breath of air as the life drained out of Sir Keenan and he returned to his deep slumber. Dayereth and Alrin started immediately preparing this seemingly isolated area for the party to rest and recover, as Enna agreed that they would not be desecrating the tomb by resting here for a time. Apart from some strange noises emanating from the area, the party rested well. (skill challenge passed)

Enna took this time to heal Drac from the potentially debilitating Filth Fever.


As the party resumed exploration, Rho’Shell decided to emulate a certain bold Wizard in the party and walked directly over an arcane rune inscribed in the passageway. As his foot touched down on the rune, he saw something “Dark and BIG” and ran gibbering back the way the party had come. While Rho’Shell was exercising, the rest of the party worked out a way to cross the rune safely. Drac asked Krag to go “rip down one of those doors”, intending to lay the door across the rune to see if this would allow them to cross. Two completely destroyed doors later, the party decided to have Krag “The Door Killer” instead retrieve one of the goblin beds for the same purpose.

Able to continue their search, the party found a secret door that led through a false wall to a room with zombies! The zombies proved little threat and the party was quickly able to hack them to pieces. (I don’t recall the exact question, but we answered a riddle to reveal the following) The Black Iron Scale Armor seemed to fit Rho’Shell nicely, so he handed Aecris over to Daeryth and donned the now shiny armor.


Nothing more seemed to be found on this level of the keep, so the party descended down a staircase. Even though the requisite challenge from the guards below was answered by Light Touch, the password failed to work and the battle was on. Almost a score of hobgoblins eventually streamed into the room, with several trying to open the cage in the far room which held a massive Death Jump Spider!

Alrin proved the hero on this day as he rushed forward and slew the first two goblins who attempted to open the cage. He was knocked prone (and almost into the 30’ pit in the center of the room!) and immediately surrounded, but the rest of the party quickly moved up to aid him. More goblins attempted to release the vile creature waiting to attack the party, but they were unable to survive to get past Alrin’s floating ball of fire. Finally, near the end of the battle, one did make it back and unlock the cage. In a blur of motion, the spider run from the cage and LEAPT 60 feet in the air, over the pit, and landed in the front of the battle! Immediately threatened were Enna and Dayereth. Dayereth calmly took one step backwards and let fly two arrows in quick succession, striking deep within the hairy monster’s maw. Drac had watched with astonishment at the creature’s quickness but quickly moved into position and called upon the dark star gods to unleash a hellish fury of eldritch energy into the side of the creature. The spider roared in pain and reared up on his hind legs, prepared to lunge forward and attack Enna, but Enna proved up to the task as she seized the opportunity to fell the creature with one swing of her mace!

The rest of the goblins quaked in their boots as they saw the mighty defender fall, and the party quickly mopped up the remaining gobbos.

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