Keep on the Shadowfell

Tight Spaces and Slimy Embraces

Though Balgron the Fat’s stinking corpse pollutes the air of the bedroom chamber, the secluded room serves as an ideal resting place, at least for a dungeon. A lockable door guards the front and a secret entrance provides a convenient escape route in case of trouble. Though worried about possible goblin incursions or more serious retribution for their systematic killing of the Keep’s goblin guard, the group acknowledges that Carff, having taken the most punishment through the course of the delve thus far, is in grave need of an extended rest to regain strength. They lock down the room and each member finds their own corner to lay their bedroll, quickly falling asleep after a long day’s journey to the Keep and a few tough fights. Though goblin voices can be heard at one point on the far side of the locked door, the night passes without incident.

The next morning, the group cautiously descends down the dark stairs behind the secret bedroom door to discover what was once a medium size room, but for the past few weeks has served as an excavation site for the goblins. To maintain order, Balgron convinced the loosely associated goblins under his charge that a special treasure lay buried beneath the floor of the eastern store room, thus preoccupying their off-duty time and keeping them nearby in case of trouble.

The room looks like a disaster area. Here and there, remnants of the original floor stand like short towers protruding from a depression. Narrow wooden planks connect the patches of original floor.

Three goblins quarrel every few minutes in between futile shoveling and picking. They have been here for almost two days straight, sleeping on the huge excavated pile of dirt instead of returning to the barracks, each unwilling to let another claim whatever treasure might be buried here. Two burly, four legged Guard Drakes lounge sleepily on the bottom level of the pit, ignoring the all-to-common bickering from the goblins.

Opening their surprise attack with a ranged barrage from Carff’s sling and Artemis’ eldritch blasts, the ‘Stoppers charge inward with purposeful intent. The guard drakes, though tough and thick-skinned, can do little against the combined martial prowess of Likot, Arjuhn, and Skitlezzz. The goblins however, now armed with their crossbows, prove deadly for the exposed Carff, and he finds himself gravely wounded once more. If the crossbow bolts weren’t enough, the poor elf also slipped while attempting to cross the thin wooden planks, falling ten feet landing with a dull thud on the hard dirt floor.

Not content to see their ally picked off by distant foes, Arjuhn and Skitlezzz grab a nearby ladder, wrench it from its loose moorings, and carry it over to the farthest tower, much to the chagrin of the two sharpshooters there. The goblins don’t last long against their combined strength.

The excavated room holds very little treasure, but since none was expected to begin with, the group is pleasantly surprised when they discover a dirt-covered holy relic: a symbol of battle emblazoned with the divine mark of Bahamut. Arjuhn is overjoyed and eagerly claims it for the glory of his god.

Turning back to face the hallway from which they came to the excavated room, the adventurers are presented with two stairways: a torch-lit staircase leading to a closed door back to the main entrance and pit-room, and another staircase to the south leading into total darkness. Artemis realizes and reminds the others that the lighted stairwell to the entrance was barred by their own hand when they first entered the dungeon, and that they if they want to return they’ll need to loop back through the goblin barracks. Intent to continue exploring, the ‘Stoppers turn to descend the dark staircase…

The finely worked stairs and flagstones of the dungeon give way to a wide, natural cavern. The ceiling drips with dozens of stalactites, and the floor rises unevenly with loose rocks and stalagmites. The rocks and debris become thicker to the east and west, and both directions offer only narrow paths of unobstructed terrain.

Looking through their gear for something that might illuminate the dangerous shadows of the cave, the group decides that a sunrod is called for. Skitlezzz takes a 1 foot long, gold tipped iron rod from his pack. He strikes it against the wall of the cave, igniting the sunrod with a flash of light that tapers to a steady brightness greater than that of a torch. The sudden rush of light reveals the cave’s residents: a dozen giant rats! The flash sends them scurrying into nearby crevices and up into the rocky ceiling.

Presented with a number of different pathways to explore the dense cave system, Arjuhn leads by keeping to the right-hand wall. Unfortunately for most of the group, especially Skitlezzz and Arjuhn, the tight spaces prove difficult to navigate. The low ceiling means that all, save the dwarf Likot and the goblin Splug, must hunch forward to stand in the cave without striking their head against the hanging stalactites and outcroppings.

The close quarters and shadowy environment are perfect for quick hit and run attacks from the giant rats, who feel threatened by these new intruders and their painfully bright light. Waiting until party members are isolated, the rats swoop in two or three at a time and viciously bite at the head and feet of any unlucky enough to fall behind or move too close to a nest. The group makes an effort to stick together, but the rats continue to pester them throughout the caves.

Moving down a narrow tunnel from the far right edge of the cave entrance, the ‘Stoppers come upon a small, mossy alcove. A bronze double-door stands closed in the rockface. These bronze doors are green with age and stained blue and purple with a thick layer of fungus. Scratched into the fungus in the Common script is this message:

“Stay Out. Really.”

Skitlezzz, knowledgeable in things natural, recognizes the fungus as a species that normally lives in more humid environments. He turns the mossy handle and the bronze doors slowly swing open with a muffled metallic sound.

Fungus-coated stairs lead down into a natural cavern. Much of the chamber is filled with a stagnant pool of brackish water. A patch of land rises from the foul water at the pool’s center. On this little island, bones, spilled coins, and other small objects are visible among the carpet of fungus.

Skitlezzz strides boldly into the room. Not noticing the ripples that stir in the calm water, he jumps into the fetid dark water without a second thought, swims quickly to the center and pulls himself up onto the small island. His disturbance does not go unnoticed, however, and just moments after he leaves the water it begins to churn and bubble.

The dank water suddenly disgorges a blob of blue slime. The amorphous mass pours forward, extruding long pseudopods that end in appendages of dripping goo.

Before Skitlezzz can react, a long slimy pseudopod extends from the body of the slime and swings violently, slapping him with a loud wet fwack and an acidic sting. The sheer size of the blue slime’s amorphous body means the creature can form multiple “arms”, swinging multiple times at any who venture near.

As the fighters hack and slash at the jelly-like substance they notice a growing tumor bubbling from the side of the slime. It grows and grows and grows, until it looks like it’s about to burst! With a loud gooey plop the bubble explodes in a shower of acidic slime that painfully eats away at the flesh of the adventurers.

Cutting off a pseudo-arm here, cleaving a jiggling mass there, the group slowly but surely weakens the blue slime. Eventually it slows and it no longer has the energy to extend its body and attack, slowly sinking back into the black waters. “Look out!” Likot yells, and suddenly the dying slime explodes in another spray of acidic slime! Fetid gasses rise from the dead “corpse” as it bubbles and sinks to the bottom of the pool. “Ugh,” Artemis covers her nose, “Let’s search for treasure and get out of here.”

Pushing around the bones of the slime’s victims the heroes discover a health potion and magical shield of protection. “Look here,” Carff holds up a wooden cylinder with three vellum sheets inside, “I think these were penned recently… “

One sheet contains the message: “Remember, don’t wet the nodule – unless Kalarel is not receptive to the offer. Then, wet it only from a distance, and then, turn and run. Water will bring the creature out of its dormancy, and it will consume anything it can reach.”

Another sheet contains a map that shows the location of Shadowfell Keep.

The last vellum sheet holds a letter written in the same hand as the previous message: “Greetings, Kalarel. I have recently learned of your activity in the area and have an offer for you. During your time in this region, if you should capture any humanoids, we are eager to buy them. We have duergar allies in Thunderspire in need of slave stock. If you are interested, send an envoy back to me. My messengers will show the way.” It is signed: “Chief Krand of the Bloodreavers”

Making their way out of the old cistern, the ‘Stoppers continue along the right wall and find that the tunnel brings them back around to the other side of the first cave chamber. As they approach a small clearing they are suddenly swarmed by the remaining rats! Darting in and out of the rubble, the rats prove dangerous for the weaker members of the party, notably Carff who is still wounded and fatigued from previous encounters, but overall are not a major threat for the group as a whole.

That is, until a Ochre Jelly slimily slithers through the cracks from an adjacent cave! Pouring through holes in the rock and forming a mass nearly as large as the blue slime and a rusty ochre in color, the undulating jelly accelerates toward the sound of battle, eager for a meal.

Proving not quite as tough as the blue slime, the jelly is quickly bloodied by the stalwart fighters. Their spirits are further bolstered when powerful overhand swing from Arjuhn’s battleaxe cleaves the jelly completely in two. The smile is wiped from their faces, however, when each of the two halves continues to move independently! With each half nearly as strong as the intact version, the group must redouble their efforts.

Finally silencing the ochre jelly and the remaining rats dead or hiding, the groups decides it would be best to get out of the shadowy cave. They climb back up the steps to the lighted Keep hallway and breathe a sigh of relief. Assessing their situation, the ‘Stoppers conclude that they have been through a lot of tough fighting here and need a proper safe rest back at Winterhaven. “Ah, it’ll be good to have a warm bed and hot food again,” Likot muses aloud.

As they make their way back around through the goblin barracks, Splug’s mood again turns somber at the sight of his fellow goblins lying dead throughout the halls that served as his home. Any remaining goblins seem to have fled the Keep since the slaughter the night before.

The party eventually makes it back to the main entrance and ascends the keep stairs to the welcoming sun-lit world above…

Balgron the Fat and His Goblin Guard

Walking down the short hallway of prison cells adjoining the torture chamber, a range of foul odors assaults the ‘Stoppers noses as they pass each cell. Traces of dried blood and guts, feces, urine, vermin droppings, and acid lingers in the air from countless victims prior. Clearly the cells are an implement of torture themselves.

Through the bars of the middle cell a medium sized goblin is calling out to the adventurers: “Oh great heroes, please release Splug! Splug will do whatever you wants, whenever you wants!” The goblin begins listing his skills out loud, “He will carry your heavy things, he will set up your campfire, he will warn you of baddy dangers, he will catch you delicous ratses, he will-” Carff interrupts Splug impatiently “-great, fine. Ssssh for a second.” The rogue unsheathes Diplomacy and starts toward the frightened goblin, who shrieks and darts to the back of the cell.

“Wait!” Artemis and Skitlezzz entreaty the bloodthirsty Carff. “He might prove useful, let’s find out what he knows!”

Splug proves only marginally fruitful when relaying details of the dungeon, but does know some about the goblin leader, Balgron the Fat. An obese creature for the typically scawny goblins, Balgron has the goblins digging for treasure in a room on the other side of the main entrance, but Splug suspects they’re all just guards for something more important on the next level of the Keep.

Carff, satisfied with what few details he has heard from the goblin, again draws his dagger and advances towards Splug. “Waitsees!” Splug pleads, “Splug will do anything you needs Splug to do! Anythiiiiiings! Splug will carry your heavy things, Splug will carry your spiky things, Splug will build your campfires, Splug will eats nasty tasty bugs, Splug will clean your feeties, Splug will…”

Still nearly to blows over the quivering goblin Splug, Artemis and Carff finally “agree” to let Splug accompany them as a retainer, at least for the duration of this dungeon delve.

Approaching the large iron double doors that mark the entrance to the goblin barracks, and Balgron’s quarters, the ‘Stoppers prepare for a stealthy entrance. Carff employs his natural talents and effortlessly sneaks in and around the room. darting between the shadows and blending into the background. He sees two tougher looking goblin guards casually playing cards at a small table in the first room, and hears scattered and muffled goblin voices in two of the adjacent rooms: probably makeshift barracks. A locked room in the back likely indicates an important store room, or perhaps even the leader’s quarters.

Though fully briefed by Carff for what lay ahead of them, the rest of the party has not nearly the capacity for stealth as the rogue, and their sneaky entrance is brought to an abrupt halt when the members of the group wearing heavier armor clunk clumsily on their way into the guarded entrance. The goblins immediately stand, knocking their wooden chairs to the ground behind them, and turn to face the sudden gathering of humanoids surrounding them!

The adventurers see a bronze bell on the table, clearly a warning device, and thus waste no time. Weapons flash and a few quick bursts of energy later, the goblins lay dead and the bell undisturbed. This is a critical victory for the ‘Stoppers: had the group failed to kill the guards before they rang the warning bell, all the rest of the legion of goblins would swarm from their separate rooms and at once overwhelm the explorers, threatening them with a very difficult, and possibly deadly, battle. Instead, due to the group’s quick reactions and a little bit of luck, the other goblins still rest contentedly in their bunks, unprepared, segmented, and easy for the killing.

“Blecch!” A look of disgust on his face, Carff limply shakes his hands to get rid of the blackish goblin blood drenching them, a steaming, foul-smelling liquid oozing out of the many stab wounds on the dead Balgron the Fat. He is the last victim in a string of sneaky strikes through the rest of the goblin encampment, and certainly the most repugnant.

“Why did you do that!?” Artemis berates Carff, her intimidating figure made all the more imposing by her rage. “He could have given us valuable information! Now look at him!”

Carff glances for a moment but again quickly looks away in disgust. Turning back to Artemis, “Look, you got to keep Splug over there, now I got to kill the evil fatass leader. You know we were going to do it anyway! Relax.”. Artemis fumes and turns away while Skitlezzz shakes his head in disapproval. Carff retorts, “These guys are evil, what’s the big deal for you guys? So what if I get a thrill over a sneaky kill? Isn’t that part of what we’re doing this for, after all?”

The others briefly ponder his open-ended question but soon turn to search the room for treasure. They find a good sum of gold and an enchanted magic wand that Artemis claims for her Warlock powers. Sensing a strange draft coming from a crack in the wall, they also chance upon a secret door, recessed into the wall behind the thin curtain demarking Balgron’s bedroom area.

The secret door slides away to reveal stairs descending downard…

Descending Into the Keep

Refreshed and ready to face the dangers they know await them at the Keep on the Shadowfell, Aeric, Artemis, Carff, Likot, and Skitlezzz gather their gear and meet to discuss their situation one last time before departing. Arjuhn has also rejoined them only a day after his sudden disappearance from the Kobold Lair. He explains his absence to the group:

“I had returned to investigate tales of a creature supposedly more evil than Carff: Rubenstein! However, I admit my actions were rash and I found very little, ahem… usable information here in Winterhaven. As such, I am prepared to rejoin you in your quest to rid evil from the Keep on the Shadowfell!”

In need of healing powers for their upcoming battles, the ‘Stoppers readily agree to re-accept the Paladin into their ranks.

The Keep is a full day’s journey north from Winterhaven. Marching for hours at a time, the ‘Stoppers take only brief rests in order to arrive ahead of nightfall and its dangers. The morning journey is pleasant enough, and finds our heroes walking along maintained roads in the valley where Winterhaven sits. After a few hours’ walk, however, the farms and even the trees begin to grow sparse as the group leaves the fertile valley. Now leaving the outskirts of the Winterdhavian farmland, the steady, cold fall wind bites at the adventurers’ faces as they crunch along the gravel and dirt of the crumbling and overgrown road. Few, if any, now travel this long-forgotten trail. Merchants avoid the perilous journey over the Stonemarch mountain range and locals’ tales are rife with superstitions regarding the Keep, which once served as the westernmost outpost of the Nerath Empire for the entire Nentir Vale. Once a bustling hub of activity, the lands surrounding the Keep hide ruins of a former civilization.

Ahead, the narrow track widens into a clearing at the top of the hill. Upon the group’s arrival the wind suddenly falls silent. Birds and animals make no noise, if even present here at all, and it feels as if time itself has slowed. Great piles of shattered stone blocks and scorched timbers dominate the clearing, sprawling out from its center to the edge of the woods. No plants grow among the ruins or within the clearing. The ground is bare dirt, and although forest has begun to reclaim the path leading here, it has not yet intruded into these ruins.

The Keep on the Shadowfell looms before the adventuring company in the red-purple glow of fading dusk light.

Picking at the rubble inside the keep’s outer walls, the adventurers feel unnaturally cold, despite the complete dearth of wind. Rubbing his arms to keep warm, Aeric notices some of the rubble has been cleared aside. His breath condenses in the cold air as he speaks: “There’s an entrance here. I think this will take us underneath the Keep.”

Carff inches up the dark staircase leading down into the Keep’s interior. Now night, little can be seen in the pale moonlight, but torchlight flickers against the walls below. The rogue drops to a low crouch and exhibits his expertise in stealth, deftly avoiding debris scattered on the stairs. Closer inspection reveals the debris to be small bones, perhaps belonging to local game or even goblins. Whatever the origin, their intention is clear: the fragile bones crunch when stepped on, acting as a crude warning system for dungeon-dwellers.

At the bottom of the stairs, Carff surveys a mostly empty antechamber room with four slender pillars arranged symmetrically in a square. The walls and stonework are impressive and sturdy, the mark of skilled stonecrafters, perhaps dwarves. The original builders are long gone, however, and the stench of unwashed bodies fills the stagnant air. The occasional chitter can also be heard, though its origin is not clear. Carff sneaks back up the stairs to inform the others, then leads the group down into the room.

Inching forward with an abundance of caution, the ‘Stoppers array themselves in defensive positions, just in case an enemy were to leap from the shadows. Carff moves ahead to scout the hallway ahead, his quiet footfalls making very little noise. Without warning the silence is broken and Carff disappears into the floor, a huge cloud of dust billowing up from a deep pit! A stone colored cloth flutters down after the tumbling elf and he lands with an “oof!”.

Trying to peer down through the dust, the others first hear a rush of chittering squeaks. “Rats!” Carff yells through the cloud, his frantic kicks and stabs audible from above. With barely time to register the implications, a crossbow bolt flies through the air and -fwick! pierces Skitlezzz’s hide armor and enters his chest. A goblin sharpshooter cackles from the hallway across the room, satisfied with his shot, even as two others take aim behind him.

While the melee fighters engage the goblin threat, Aeric gets busy hurling spells at the swarm of rats viciously biting and gnawing at Carff. Explosions pop down below and bright colors light up the ceiling as the wizard catches all creatures below, including an unlucky elf, in a series of arcane blasts and bursts. Carff finally manages to climb out of the pit just before Aeric incinerates the remaining rats. The foul stench of burning rat and goblin flesh permeates the room as wisps of black smoke float up from the sizzling pit floor.

Arjuhn, now recovered from a previous botched attempt to leap around the pit, charges down the hall at the remaining sharpshooters. His already imposing frame is made doubly so by his heavy plate armor, interlocking steel plates that make him incredibly difficult to hurt. His large shield, bearing an image of the dragon god Bahamut’s profile, hides nearly half of the paladin’s body as he holds it close and advances farther into the dungeon.

One of the sharpshooters takes aim at this newly approaching threat with a malicious grin. His heart sinks and the grin disappears from his face, however, when he notices the daunting defenses of the steadily advancing Arjuhn. The goblins wear only leather armor and have rarely seen anything beyond simple chainmail, so to the sharpshooters the plate mail seems almost magically impenetrable in its complexity and thoroughness.

Jaw still slack, the sharpshooter focuses on the symbol of Bahamut on the paladin’s shield only to see it suddenly shift to the right and back as Arjuhn reveals his readied battleaxe! Swinging across into the goblin’s left side, shielded only by ragged leather armor, the axe lands solidly between two of the poor creature’s ribs with a -thwack! He does a painful looking dance to dislodge the axe from his side then scampers away as quickly as he can, his hand covering the bleeding wound.

He runs toward a musky, half-rotting door near the back of the room with intent to escape, but stops suddenly in his tracks and seems to reconsider whatever lay beyond that door. With nowhere to run he turns and fights as best he can, but the ‘Stoppers easily emerge victorious.

The musty smell of the stone walls and rotting timbers returns to the heroes’ noses as they move beyond the initial chamber, exploring deeper into the dungeon. Distant footsteps and quiet moans punctuate the otherwise silent ruins. Rounding a corner Carff spots a long, narrow room with three doorways. Streaks of blood run across the floor in this room, and muffled voices can be heard beyond the far door. A wooden door to a small rations storage room and a double iron door flank either side of the cracked wooden doorway at the end of the narrow room.

Peeking through a crack in the far door, Carff sees a number of goblins working for a black leather clad hobgoblin, tending a fire pit with two hot branding pokers. Implements of torture fill this room (see picture), from the Iron Maiden near the entrance to a rack in the center of the room, and dozens of instruments are arrayed across two long wooden tables. Human size bones sit slumped in a cage near the corner of the room. “It’s a torture chamber!” Carff whispers back to the rest of the group.

The group steps back from the doorway, converses quietly in a huddle for a moment, then charges into the room with weapons drawn! The goblins are caught completely by surprise and the goblin nearest the door takes a savage beating before getting his weapon ready. The other goblins in the room rush to pick up their crossbows and the Hobgoblin Torturer yanks two red-hot pokers from the fire. Charging across the room at Carff, he feints with the pokers to shift the elf’s guard and bull rushes him into the Iron Maiden! The door swings partially shut onto its screaming victim and its long spikes stab painfully into his back and legs, his leather armor mitigating the damage but doing little to prevent the pain. With all his focus Carff manages to push the door away and separate himself from the standing coffin, only to be shoved violently back in by the hobgoblin momentarily interrupting his fight with Skitlezzz. This time the spikes slide easily into the tears in his armor and gravely wound the poor elf. Unable to open the doors on his own, he slumps to the floor when Skitlezzz finally opens the door after defeating the lead torturer.

Seeing his friend in such a dire state, Skitlezzz von Hefferwyfnyplen’s eyes turn red with rage. Casting a vicious glance at the last goblin sharpshooter taking pot shots from the corner cage, he picks up his greatsword and bounds across the room building a low growl. The goblin gets a frightened look when it realizes it has no way to reach the exit and rushes to close the door the cage… locking himself inside! His pleased grin is short-lived, though, as seeing the locked door blocking his path only infuriates the barbarian further. With a powerful kick he smashes the lock and slams the door open! It bangs against the wall of the cage with a loud clang accompanied by a terrified shriek from the goblin. The barbarian beats his chest and lets out a howl, backs up, paws the ground with his boots like a bull, and charges into the cage! The goblin, wide-eyed and screaming through all of this, his hands and arms covering all but one eye, finds himself hurtling through the air and yet looking at his own feet still on the ground. Severed completely in half, the dead goblin leaves a wide streak of blood on the wall following the arc of Skitlezzz’s dripping sword.

“Excellent!” Likot cheers from across the room. “Let’s see to Carff’s wounds and examine the contents of these prison cells back here.”

A goblin voice calls out from one of the recessed cells in the hallway behind the dwarf: “Hello…? Has you come to rescue Splug?!”

The Burial Site and the Barn, Part 1

The bodies outside the waterfall slowly burn in the early morning light, the stench a little overpowering to those who venture too near. The ‘Stoppers eat the choicest portions, if there can be any called as such from the stringy kobolds, inside the cave near a small cooking fire.

Likot rends a lengthy strip of roasted kobold leg and chews the tough meat for a few minutes. “Where did Arjuhn go?” he mumbles through a full mouth, bits of kob all over his beard. “He’s gone” Carff announces as he enters through the side entrance of the waterfall cave, silhouetted by the bright light outside. “Can’t find him anywhere.”

Artemis looks somewhat accusingly at Aeric and asks with mild irritation “Aren’t you supposed to be aware of this stuff in your ‘trance’? Who knows what that lawful zealot is up to.” Before Aeric can answer Likot interjects, “He’s too busy conjuring up cheap fey tricks to pay attention to what really matters. No focus… feh!”. Aeric, satisfied with the answer or perhaps too lazy to care, shrugs and closes his mouth.

Skitlezzz turns with a thud on the bedroll from his adventurer’s kit and snores loudly from a deep slumber. Barbarian rages are an exhausting activity, after all. His nose juts up against his makeshift rock “pillow” and amplifies the noise of his snorting. Eventually the cacophony is enough for Carff to come over and deliver a light, swift kick to the barbarian’s backside. The snoring continues without so much as a pause.

It takes another five minutes of concerted effort to rouse the barbarian. The ‘Stoppers leave the shelter of the cave shortly thereafter and begin their trek back to Winterhaven.

The faint sound of shovels and digging catches Carff’s ear at the fore of the group’s travel column, now roughly two hours from the waterfall cave and still three hours walking distance from Winterhaven. Carff turns and looks back at Aeric, who nods in indication that he’s also detected the unusual noise. Carff raises a hand for the group to halt and moves toward what appears to be a dug-out crater some 200 yards off the right shoulder of the trail and sheltered from the north by tree cover.

Successfully sneaking up to the edge of the pit, Carff peeks over the edge to spy a few human laborers digging near a pile of unearthed bones. A small gnome carrying a war pick and a crossbow, clearly in charge of the operation, occasionally barks orders at the humans. Carff follows his gaze to two large bipedal lizards resting near the far edge of the crater. Carff recognizes the powerfully built creatures as Guard Drakes and correctly surmises their purpose. Up on the near edge of the crater, a pile of relocated boulders separates Carff from a lone halfling with a sling keeping watch. Slowly and silently Carff makes his way around the rocks and positions himself just 10 feet away from the slinger’s back, looking through a line of sparse trees. He pulls out his melee dagger, Diplomacy, with a silent, fluid motion and waits for the rest of the group to approach.

Artemis appears at the southern edge of the crater, surveys the situation for a moment, then calls out a greeting to the group below. The gnome looks up as if startled, then smiles and calls back “Oh! You must be associates of Douven Stahl’s. Come here and see what we’ve uncovered!” Artemis hesitates before taking the dirt ramp into the pit, suspecting foul play but unable to discern any. The gnome calls again “Come! You can’t fully appreciate what we’ve discovered from up there.”

A brief exchange of pleasantries reveals that Agrid, the gnome in charge, has recently discovered an important relic that he wishes to show Artemis. He seems to gain confidence when Artemis explains that she is traveling alone, then guides her towards a collection of crates, tools, and blankets in the corner of the excavated area. Arriving, the gnome turns to face Artemis and cracks a malicious smile. Artemis immediately recognizes the danger she is in, but it is too late. Agrid orders the Guard Drakes to attack! The beasts jump to their feet and charge across the crater with frightening speed while Agrid takes the opportunity to flee behind his allies and load his crossbow. The laborers grab the nearest tool that will act as an improvised weapon and assemble in a crude defensive formation between Agrid and Artemis.

Seeing that traditional diplomacy has failed, Carff bounds across the short distance separating him and the halfling slinger. The halfling, preoccupied with loading his sling and the tumult erupting below, doesn’t so much as notice as Carff’s dagger slides cleanly through his light armor and into the middle of his back. Confused, the slinger immediately drops his sling and bullet pouch to the ground and coughs a small amount of blood. Carff removes the dagger and the halfling’s eyes turn from surprise to fear as he realizes what has just transpired. The halfling turns to face his attacker and hears “Taste Diplomacy!” Spinning and slashing across the halfling’s exposed neck, its head upturned to look at the elf’s face from its short stature, Carff delivers his coup de grace with ”...for it is also the name of my blade!”

Below, Likot and Skitlezzz charge in to do battle with the dangerous Guard Drakes, now diverted by Agrid to attack these new threats. Artemis, running around the assembled human rabble, leaps over the pile of supplies after Agrid. Stopping just a dozen feet away from the gnome, she simultaneously curses and blasts the enemy leader with serendipitous precision, doing incredible damage to his small frame. He reels at the horrors forced into his mind, the dark energies of the tiefling’s curse so powerful that they begin to kill the poor gnome over the course of a few painful and psychotic seconds. He stumbles forward and falls between the bones of the ancient dragon ribcage peeking through the earth, foaming at the mouth and eyes rolled back into his head. He seizes for a few seconds more before coming to his final rest.

Aeric finally comes into view at the southern edge of the crater and sends a well-placed orb of force at the human rabble clumsily attacking his allies below. The orb shatters in the center of the group, sending shards into the backs of the unarmored humans and downing them permanently. Aeric’s eyes light up briefly at the sight of his spell’s effectiveness, though it’s quickly outshone by a victorious roar from Skitlezzz, standing over a slain Guard Drake below. The other Drake, weakened without its companion, falls soon after to Likot’s newly acquired battle axe.

Likot breathes a satisfied sigh and declares “The battle is won!”

The Burial Site and the Barn, Part 2

Carff dusts himself off at the bottom of the steep incline that creates the western edge of the crater, an earthen wall created by the dig site at the ancient dragon hoard. The group is gathering after a quick and decisive victory over the former occupiers, led by an evil gnome named Agrid.

Surveying the area for treasure, the rustling of a sac-like blanket catches the ‘Stoppers’ attention. Artemis peels back the cover to reveal a human prisoner, bound and gagged! The man gives a muffled cry through the rag stuffed in his mouth, seemingly pleading for his release.

Deciding that he presents little threat, the group unties him and learns his story: He is Douven Stahl, a middle-aged treasure-seeker who traveled to Winterhaven a few weeks prior to begin searching for the dragon hoard over which they now stand. Ambushed by Agrid and his henchmen a week ago, Douven has been a prisoner for many days before the adventurers finally unbind him. He is tired and haggard looking, and he pleads for the ‘Stoppers to escort him back to town. He renounces treasure hunting on the spot, claiming “It’s just too dangerous. And I’m too old for this anyway.”. He tells the adventurers they are welcome to keep anything they find here as a reward.

An amulet of health, once Douven’s and more recently Agrid’s until the heroes take it, and an ancient, valuable mirror are the prizes of the day. The amulet, a locket that magically bolsters the defensive skills of the wearer, contains a artfully drawn picture of a human woman. “Oh!” Douven jumps up at the sight of the picture, “That’s a picture of my wife. She gave me the amulet a long time ago to protect me on these trips, but I won’t need it any more. Please, keep it.” He hands the amulet back to Skitlezzz after removing the drawing. . “Hey, there’s a note here.” Aeric holds a piece of parchment taken from the pouch containing the mirror. He reads it for a few seconds to himself before informing the group, “I think Kalarel sent Agrid here to retrieve this mirror. Apparently it belonged to one of the Nerath wizards who set the seal in the Keep on the Shadowfell long ago.”. Artemis counsels, “Could be important. Let’s keep it.”

The group waves goodbye to Douven shortly after they arrive in Winterhaven, he off to the Inn to recover lost strength. They continue on to the tower, where the scholar and mage Valthrun resides.

Valthrun confirms what the group has already sensed: there is a growing evil emanating from the Keep on the Shadowfell. In recent days the fell influence has begun to put the villagers at unease, causing suspicion and fear. Valthrun, primarily a scholar, has been unable to determine the root cause of Winterhaven’s troubles, but he pleads with the ‘Stoppers, the only adventuring company for miles around and the first to have visited Winterhaven in many months, to seek out the evil and subdue it for the good of the Winterdhavian people.

Valthrun senses the uncertainty in the group’s discussion regarding charity work and offers to try and convince Lord Padraig to offer a 250gp reward to anyone who can save the town. Palms sufficiently lined, the ‘Stoppers agree to tackle the Keep and remove the evil growing there.

While rejuvenating at the inn with a hot meal, Eilian the Old, the oldest human resident of Winterhaven at 73, approaches the group. “Did you fellows hear about old Bobrick’s farm?”, he asks. Likot turns to answer, “No? What about it?”. “Well,” the old man replies, “Bob was in here yesterday looking scared as a ghost! He was going on and on about how there’s strange noises comin’ from his barn the past few nights. I told him he’s just getting caught up in all this nonsense, but I believed him when he said it. I think something might be going on, you boys might want to check it out.” He notices Artemis’s displeasure at the male-specific reference to the group’s members, but is wary of the tiefling, a race he has only heard stories of before now. He diverts his glance downward and politely mutters “Ma’am…”, then shuffles back to his place at the bar.

Carff speaks up, “Well there’s no money involved, but you never know what kind of stuff you’ll find on a job.” Likot stands up from the table, “These people are farmers, not merchants. The reward will be minimal, but these people need our help. Let’s go.” Skitlezzz agrees with a Nordic-sounding cheer and Artemis nods in assent. Aeric breathes a resigned sigh and closes his spellbook, “I suppose we should, then. To the farm!”

Walking up the sparse hillside north of Winterhaven, the afternoon sun illuminates a lone farm nestled along the foothill’s ridge line. An acre of plant husks from the already harvested crops lies dormant, but adjacent to the farmhouse an outdoor pasture holds around a dozen grazing livestock. A small red barn stands 20 yards down the ridge from the house. The farmhouse looks more recent than many of the other farmhouses nearer to Winterhaven, but it is shoddy and was likely built by its current occupant: a poor farmer living with his wife and their 4 children. Quality lumber is rare on the south Cairngorm slopes and farmers here must make do with whatever materials are available.

A middle-aged man sits on the farmhouse porch in a rocking chair, conversing with a woman his age in a white smock standing in the doorway. Recognizing the varied weapons and armor carried by the ‘Stoppers as the mark of an adventuring group, the farmer calls out to them as the near the porch: “Hullo there! Welcome to the Poolcrest stead! The name’s Bobrick Poolcrest. You can call me Bob.”

“So… Eilian mentioned you had a problem?” Artemis gets straight to the point, guessing that this farmer won’t provide the most thrilling conversation. “Welp,” he replies, chewing a long piece of straw, “I gots a problem with ma BARN, see?” Carff cocks an eyebrow at the strange enunciation. Bob continues, “Up ‘bout round, oh… seven past midsun, I and the missus hear strange noises acomin’ from ma BARN. Nah normally we’d chalk it up to varmints, rodents and the like, or mayb’ the odd gob’ or kob’, but lately it just don’t sound natral, is all. Why just t’other day I says to Anna I says…”

“Fine, fine, we’ll check it out, just… wait for us inside.” Artemis, doing little to hide her exasperation, ushers Bob inside before he can foul the air any more with his “drivel”. An initial inspection of the barn reveals little, save inexplicably hard, cold ground in patches under the dirt floor. Carff and Aeric agree to hide in the rafters to ambush whatever creatures are disturbing the farmstead.

Sunset now an hour past, the ground in the barn rumbles and churns. Dessicated hands suddenly thrust up through the earth! Zombies crawl out through the dirt and mud, half rotting and only barely held together by dark magic. Two specters slowly fade into view amidst the wandering corpses, phasing in and out of sight as they float aimlessly around the zombies.

Surprised at the sight of undead but ready for battle nonetheless, the ‘Stoppers bash the Zombie Rotters one by one, their frail frames crumbling into mushy piles with a sighing moan. The specters dart around the heroes, their touch chilling to the bone. One of the specters disappears from inside the barn… only to reappear suddenly outside, between Artemis and Likot! Unfurling its incorporeal body, it unleashes an icy blast in all directions, causing the heroes to shiver uncontrollably, if only for a few moments. Ultimately the specters’ tenuous existence proves their undoing, however, and the adventurers lay these spirits to their final rest in short order.

The ‘Stoppers are once again victorious! “I feel… stronger, somehow.” Aeric muses aloud.

Arjuhn and the Kobold Lair, Part 2

Still a little out of breath from combat, the ‘Stoppers quickly gather their strength near the waterfall entrance to the Kobold Lair before facing its inhabitants. By now the kobolds must have heard the fighting stop and prepared themselves for an unfavorable outcome.

The group decides that stealth is best and Carff, the specialist in all things sneaky, moves forward to scout. The other four ready their weapons and anxiously await the rogue’s report. Stepping up to the edge of the waterfall, Carff slowly peeks his head in through the crashing water. Through untimely buffoonery or sheer carelessness, the elf’s surprise question echos in the chamber behind the fall: “Hello? Is anyone there?”

A chorus of “Yaaaahhhhhhhh!!!” is the reply as kobolds charge his floating head with spears at the ready! Carff has only a moment to survey the room before seeing to his defense. Two Skirmishers direct a half-dozen minions from the rear of the chamber, but more kobolds are emerging from the adjoining caves. Their arrival was clearly expected.

Aeric’s keen insight clues him to the outcome of the blunder sooner than the rest and he moves forward through the waterfall with quick, graceful strides. Gathering his energy in preparation for a powerful arcane spell, he begins the somatic gestures and arcane phrases necessary for the spell the moment he appears on the inside of the waterfall. His confidence falters, however, when he sees the immediacy of the situation at hand. Not waiting for the melee ‘Stoppers to enter first, Aeric is faced head-on by the jabs of the kobold minions’ and skirmishers’ spears. Suddenly under duress he stumbles over the verbal component of his spell and the energy fizzles in his hands. Vulnerable and flanked in two feet of cave water, Aeric is stabbed repeatedly, his loose robes allowing him the agility to slightly lessen the depth of the wounds but doing little to prevent them. Gravely wounded, only sheer luck prevents his collapse on the battlefield when a few of the minions miss wildly on their attacks.

Not far behind Aeric, Likot rushes in to assist the vulnerable wizard. He shouts dwarven morale cheers that inspire Aeric to persevere for moments more, just long enough for his allies to come to his aid. Skitlezzz the Barbarian and Arjuhn the Paladin, along with the Warlord Likot, take up positions to deflect attacks while Artemis and Carff attack the enemy flanks. Now properly protected and able to concentrate on his spell, Aeric conjures a perfectly round orb of pure energy around the implement in his hands. He hurls it at a minion near the rear of the enemy line and it shatters on impact, killing the minion and sending shards of force in every direction.

Properly positioned, the ‘Stoppers are a formidable force, taking down kobold after kobold as the battle rages on. The weak minions fall first to the quick blows dealt by Carff and Artemis and the skirmishers are pummeled by the heavy weapons of Arjuhn, Likot, and Skitlezzz. Initially overwhelmed, the battle now begins to turn in their favor.

A harsh, bleating horn suddenly reverberates loudly from one of the nearby caverns, instantly turning the adventurers’ confidence to concern. Emerging behind the scurrying kobolds, a large, unusually burly goblin steps into the light. Battle scars nearly hide the great tattoo of a skeletal ram’s head, earlier identified by the group as the symbol of the demon prince Orcus. A ragged but sizeable wolf fur cloak covers his chain shirt and he wields a deadly looking battleaxe with both hands. “Irontooth!” a kobold shouts, simultaneously glad for his aid and afraid of his wrath. Irontooth smiles a goblinesque smile, the single tusk protruding from his lower lip giving it a sneering slant. Seing newfound fear in the adventurers’ eyes, he lets out a gruff scoff and rushes forward!

Two Dragonshields and a spellcasting Wyrmpriest march forward from the adjoining room as Irontooth begins his assault. Aeric, not intent on repeating his earlier mistake, stays behind the melee fighters and prepares an immobilizing spell to slow the kobolds enough for the group to deal with Irontooth. Irontooth is a formidable threat, attacking twice for every strike by his enemies. His vicious swings mercilessly cut through Likot’s armor and Skitlezzz’s griffon hide, gravely wounding them and anyone else who ventures close.

A battle of primal rage erupts between Irontooth and Skitlezzz as the encounter nears its end, both sides heavily injured and fading. While half the ‘Stoppers lay dying and the remaining kobolds begin to flee for their lives, the human barbarian and the burly goblin exchange blows and bellows, each seemingly numb to the incredible pain inflicted by the other. Blood crazed, Irontooth is caught unawares by devastating surprise attacks from the darkness. Carff melts from the shadows and stabs deftly into the fray, severing key arteries and tendons to slowly cripple the dangerous foe. Aeric also takes advantage of the flank and lands the final blow on Irontooth, stopping him mid-swing and sending him to his knees. He cries out “Kalarel and Lord Orcus, prepare my way!”, coughs blood, then falls to the ground, dead.

All enemies neutralized, the group opens the goblin’s chest of loot and collects their just reward for a difficult fight: a suit of dwarven chain mail and hundreds of gold pieces. The struggle saw most in the party wounded and all in the party exhausted. They’ll not soon forget this battle and its lessons, lest it be to their peril in future scenarios.

They reflect on their experience gained for just a moment, then press on.

Arjuhn and the Kobold Lair, Part 1
Keep on the Shadowfell

Mid-morning in Winterhaven: Villagers bustle about the town square, browsing the wares of local merchant’s stalls filled with produce, meats, simple tools, and trinkets. The chatter of people and the sounds of barter mingle with the clucking of chickens, the barking of dogs, and the mooing of cows, creating a din clearly audible throughout the walled city. Market Day has arrived, and with it the most exciting event of any given week for Winterhaven’s residents. Inside the nearby Inn, the ‘Stoppers are finishing their morning meal and discussing how best to find a healer for their party. Salvana Wrafton, the innkeeper, overhears their plight and suggests they visit the Temple of Avandra, telling them she knows an armored Dragonborn came into town last night with a symbol of the dragon god Bahamut on his shield.

Stepping into the Temple’s echoing chamber, Artemis spots a kneeling Dragonborn near the front of the room. Hearing their entry, the Paladin stands and turns to face them, a proud and curious look on his face. His demeanor changes suddenly when he spots an Elf near the rear of the group.

“Carff! Many miles have I traveled to see you stand before me!” He motions for the battleaxe fastened to the back of his plate armor, but pauses when he considers his surroundings. “This temple is not the proper setting for what must be done. Step outside, vile brigand!”

Carff, while just as surprised as the rest of the group, maintains a look of bemusement even in the face of the imposing Paladin in full raiment. “I’m not here to fight you, Dragonborn. What right have you to challenge me?”

The Paladin booms “I could fill tomes with your misdeeds, evil Carff! I, Arjuhn, have learned through various channels of your persecution of innocents! I am honor-bound to avenge them and slay you!”

The rogue responds with a chuckle, just a hint of anxiety evident in his brief sideward glance and shift in position. “I have always done what needs to be done and today will be no different.” Becoming more serious, he proclaims “We are working to put an end to the worsening Kobold problem threatening this region whilst you waste your time seeking a supposedly evil elf based on nothing more than rumor? Who’s task is more honorable? Join us and redeem your false judgment.”

Arjuhn’s stance softens as Carff alludes to the shaky foundation of his conviction, the fire draining out of his eyes. A few moments of silence follow before he speaks again. “Very well… it is my duty to assist the helpless villagers of this town. I will join you, for now.” He begins to gather his belongings, stopping short for a moment, ”...but I still don’t trust you, Elf.”

The quiet roar of a distant waterfall reaches the ears of the ‘Stoppers as they travel up the river towards the Kobold Lair. It’s late afternoon when they reach the waterfall. Carff and Aeric are the first to notice the kobolds idly chatting in loose half group, half guard positions, not expecting any visitors to know of their whereabouts. A single Dragonshield stands at the center of a sacred circle of stones, mumbling draconic phrases under his breath as a repetitive prayer. Nearly a dozen slightly smaller kobolds are scattered around the river between the sacred circle and the waterfall. These “minions” are drawn from the general population of the kobolds, largely untrained for battle and relatively undisciplined. Two trained kobolds, a Slinger and a spear-wielding Skirmisher, guard what must be the lair’s entrance, hidden behind the waterfall.

The ‘Stoppers begin a stealthy approach, but the less skilled members of the group ultimately give them away. The kobolds near the far end of the clearing are the first to notice and respond, yelling words of warning in high-pitched tones to their brethren upstream. By the time the kobolds are fully prepared to face the new threat, Skitlezzz, Artemis, and Carff are already making short work of the minions south of the sacred circle while the remainder gather around the Dragonshield in its center. Likot suddenly emerges from the treeline a few feet away and performs a deft manuever, managing to fully switch places with the surprised Kobold Dragonshield! “I am a leaf on the wind!” Likot cries as he defends himself from the minions that now surround him, occasionally sparing a moment throughout the battle to bark combat orders at nearby party members.

Arjuhn quickly follows Likot’s charge, but with weapon still sheathed. Skidding to a controlled stop just ahead of the Dragonshield’s swiping short sword, he rears back and breathes in deep, then lurches forward with mouth wide open, spewing freezing cold in a cone-shaped blast over the circle of stones. The Dragonshield just manages to raise the scale lashed to its arm in time to prevent instant death, but the minions are not so lucky. They clatter to the ground, their small frames nearly frozen solid. Likot, even expecting the attack, was unable to resist some damage from the fierce cold.

Aeric is the last to step from the trees, and seeing the minions falling quickly, maintains an overtly casual attitude. In stark contrast to the energetic battlecries and violent clashes erupting all around him, Aeric sends a few casually aimed arcane projectiles at nearby enemies, most of which miss their targets. Stopping to focus for a moment, the Eladrin conjures a Ray of Frost and lands it squarely on the Kobold Dragonshield’s back. Already shivering from Arjuhn’s massive blast, the poor kobold can resist no more and finally crumbles to Aeric’s evocation. Satisfied with his work, Aeric tosses his hair back and strolls forward.

Nearer the waterfall, Artemis and Skitlezzz are approaching the Slinger and the last surviving minion. Charging through the brush and into the center of the river, Skitlezzz yells “Taste the Rainbow!” as the steel from his sword cleaves the frail Kobold. Blood from the swing mingles with the mist of the waterfall and, for a brief moment, a rainbow shines in the afternoon sun. Skitlezzz lets loose a hearty, satisfied laugh at the sight.

Artemis, standing on the bank behind the barbarian, points her finger at the Slinger on the opposite side and whispers a demonic utterance, instantaneously cursing the hapless Slinger. Later the party would speculate that she somehow cursed not just the kobold but everyone there, as what followed could only be accurately described as a series of critical failures. Dropped weapons, missteps, and profanity characterize the scene as both sides fail to do damage to the other. Disheartened by their dire situation, the Slinger and the Skirmisher begin to run for the waterfall in an effort to warn the creatures inside.

Neither achieves its goal.

Keep on the Shadowfell, the Beginning: Part 3

Carff glances up from the map that Lord Padraig had given them, matching a pile of stones ahead with the corresponding marker crudely drawn on the map by the Lord’s local scouts. The group had taken a turn off of the main King’s Road an hour earlier and now relied on minor landmarks to guide them towards the Kobold Lair. Thick copses of small, evergreen trees border the road a short distance behind the marker stones, accompanied by some of the large boulders that dot the landscape around Gardbury Downs.

“The sun nears its zenith,” the wizard Aeric muses aloud, “the warmth is much appreciated.” “Just keep yer eyes on the enemy when the metal starts to clang, Eladrin. I expect some support this time!” Likot replied indignantly, exhibiting some of the renowned dwarven stubbornness and wariness of elven-kind.

“Hmmm…” Carff raises a hand and gestures for the group to halt, sensing something off about the quiet of the trees lining the road up ahead. “I think we should proceed with caution here.”

The rest of the group place a hand on their weapons and silence idle conversation, eyes narrow and newly wary of the bend in the road ahead of them. All save Skitlezzz, whose eyes widen at the mention of danger. He grabs the enormous 6 foot greatsword from his back and holds it at the ready with both hands in front of his heavily muscled frame, moving forward with long but calculated strides.

“Kobold ambush!” Carff yells from the right edge of the road, looking down a narrow 5 foot wide corridor between the thick vegetation and a large boulder that two small, yellow-red reptilians hide clumsily behind, their scaly heads peeking just over the edge of the rock. They turn and emerge as Carff yells his warning, revealing crude spears and a small shields. Realizing their trap has been sprung, they rush towards the elf with a shrill battle cry! Carff spins to avoid a javelin thrown by the rear kobold, but comes about too late to fully dodge the lead kobold’s spear, catching it in a divot of his old leather armor. Slightly wounded by unfazed, he grabs the haft of the spear, dislodges the tip from his armor, and yanks it violently to his side, pulling the surprised kobold along with it. Carff quickly falls to a crouch and holds his dagger low, coming up just as the kobold stumbles into the exposed blade. The dagger stabs up into the kobold’s chest behind the sternum. Its painful scream turns to a bloody gurgle, and the kobold falls as Carff removes the bloodied weapon.

Three more kobolds emerge from the shelter of the trees on the opposite side of the road, near Skitlezzz and Artemis. Skitlezzz, already waiting for the kobolds to reveal themselves from their now predictable hiding spot, winds up and takes a massive swing at the first kobold, but underestimates their small stature, slicing nothing but air as the kobold runs unhindered beneath the seven pounds of edged steel. Artemis is caught off guard by the surprisingly intact creature running towards her, having expected the barbarian’s greatsword to have eliminated the threat. The green-blue orb of Eldritch energy she was preparing to send at the trailing kobolds fizzles and dies as her warlock’s rod is knocked aside by the charging kobold’s short sword. Sensing an opportunity to take down a weakened foe, the other two kobolds manage to dodge Skitlezzz’s cumbersome swings and slice at the isolated Artemis. She struggles to defend herself from the rain of blows, doing little damage before falling to the ground, helpless and heavily injured.

Now prepared and in full view of the enemy, Aeric and Likot enter the fray. They bound forward in a half-run, gauging the best angle of approach as they near the engaged kobolds. Aeric stops and pivots slightly to left to face the profile of a Kobold Dragonshield, the reptilian’s attention devoted to the wounded rogue Carff. Aeric raises his hands, almost as if begging, and chants an arcane keyword, his eyes intensely focused on the enemy in front of him. As he finishes the invocation his hands suddenly burst into red hot flames! He opens his hands, facing his palms toward the kobold, sending the fire careening towards the exposed creature. It turns its head in response to the sudden heat just in time to be painfully flash-burned by the jet of flame. It immediately drops its short sword and shield to the ground, covering its seared snout with its hands, and screams in pain. Aeric follows up with two quick steps forward and kicks the kobold to the ground as Likot brings his heavy warhammer over his head down onto the creature’s head with a sickening crunch.

Now outnumbered, the kobolds become panicked and try and cluster together in the center of the road, their backs together and weapons facing outwards in a crude circular defensive formation. “Now would be the time for an area attack ye durn Eladrin!” Likot yells to the wizard, but Skitlezzz is already charging the kobolds, greatsword held high. The remaining Kobold Dragonshield raises the large red dragon scale it uses as shield high above its head while the others recede behind it, hoping to use its cover in absence of their own protective shields. An enormous roar from the raging barbarian startles the lead kobold and weakens the creature’s grip on the scale, giving it a slight right tilt. The roar continues as the huge blade smashes down onto the shield, pushing it and its bearer into the ground. The sword’s momentum slides it off the right side of the shield, severing the pinned weapon arm of the downed kobold. With fire in his eyes, Skitlezzz lifts his sword to hip height and lunges forward, stabbing the second kobold cleanly through the abdomen. He swings the sword sharply left to dislodge the punctured foe, sending it sliding off the end of the blade and into the vegetation. Continuing his left turn, the bare chested barbarian spins around and swings the heavy sword like a bat, cutting up diagonally through the final kobold’s chest and out through its right shoulder, killing it instantly. All enemies felled, Skitlezzz sticks his sword into the ground and lets out a victorious battle cry with both fists in the air.

“Artemis has been heavily wounded, we should return to town and recover before we attempt the Kobold’s Lair” Likot says matter-of-factly. “I think that’s prudent. Perhaps we should seek a healer or paladin as well” Aeric replies. “Not before I have my pick of this loot.” Carff is already eagerly digging around the broken bodies, though he finds little more than a few scattered silver pieces and crude weapons and armor. “Ehh, not much here. Let’s head back to town.”

The five adventurers turn back towards the mountains and slowly but steadily make their way to the safety of Winterhaven, arriving just before nightfall.

Keep on the Shadowfell, the Beginning: Part 2

Likot groans and places a hairy hand on his back, feeling the half-healed wounds from the kobolds’ jabs a few days earlier. The five sit around a circular wooden table at Salvana Wrafton’s Inn, eating their breakfast meal of hard rye bread and dry jerky while they discuss the day’s plans. During Likot’s recovery at the Inn, the group had become acquainted with some of the important personalities around town, and consequently had learned more about their quests and and potential money-making opportunities…

Sister Linora, a middle-aged woman with a serious demeanor but a warm heart, runs Winterhaven’s only place of worship, a small temple primarily devoted to Avandra, goddess of luck and change. Artemis approached the priestess of Avandra the day after they arrived, striding in ahead of the party intent on finding answers and moving on.

Artemis: “Are you the local cleric here?” Sister Linora: “Oh, hello! You must be visitors to Winterhaven, I don’t recognize you.” she says as she squints at the Tiefling, somewhat rare in this part of the world, with a curious look in her eyes. “In answer to your question, I’m not technically a cleric, but I do provide some basic healing and religious services for the community.” Artemis: “Can you tell us anything about a cult?” Her long tail flicks back and forth impatiently. Sister Linora: “The villagers of Winterhaven are good people. You won’t find any evil here, I can assure you of that. I’m sure that if a cult were really operating in the area, I would have heard about it. And I would have taken action in the name of Avandra – of that, you can rest assured.”

Sister Linora makes the sign of Avandra on her foreheard as she speaks her convictions. Aeric, typically the best eye for detecting trickery and ill intent, nods his approval to the rest of the group, indicating he believes her to be trustworthy.

Carff: “Well what about the little red and brown kobolds that attacked on us on our way to the village?” Sister Linora: “The kobolds are a worsening problem of their own lately. They aren’t only striking at targets along the road. They’ve begun to make forays into the distant farms, raiding livestock and attacking homes in the dark of night. I have appealed to Lord Padraig, but he doesn’t have the means to raise a force to fight back.”

Carff’s tapered ears prick up at the sound of opportunity, as though he’d just heard the chink of a few gold coins.

Sister Linora: “I fear that this is only a harbinger of a disaster to come.” Likot: “Don’t worry, lass, you can bet my bushy beard that I’ll be taking care of those pesky kobolds!”

Likot stamps the hilt of his warhammer on a nearby table, grimacing first in resolve then second in pain as the impact from his blow ripples along his sore back. “Whose idea was it to not hire a healer anyway…” he grumbles as the group walks outside to find Lord Padraig, silently agreed to tackle the kobold threat.

“So you’ve encountered the kobolds that have turned the old King’s Road and our outlying farms into their personal hunting grounds?” questions Lord Padraig, a look of concern on his face. “Those beasts vex me sorely. Yet the villagers refuse to recognize the seriousness of the problem! Attacks along the road have become more frequent over the last few months. Something’s stirring the kobolds up.” He paces back and forth across the common room of his manor house. Turning to face the group, he brightens a bit “I don’t suppose you would be interested in taking a commission from me? I promise you, I can pay well for your services.”

Lord Padraig holds up a bag of gold as a indication of the reward. “Oh yeah, I think we can handle that.” Carff can barely conceal a look of excitement at the thought of getting that gold. “Excellent!” Lord Padraig pulls out a map, unrolls it to reveal the area surrounding Winterhaven, and points to a marking southeast of the village. “Rond Kelfem, my guard captain, reports the Kobold Lair to be here. A group of stalwart adventurers who confront the kobolds should have a reasonable chance of dispatching the creatures. If you manage to take care of this problem I’ll happily reward you with 100 gold pieces. Of course, you’re also welcome to whatever loot you find in their lair.”

“Good enough for me!” Skitlezzz bellows, startling Lord Padraig and forcing him to grab the noble’s cap on his head. Artemis opens the door from the Lord’s manor and gestures through the open archway, “Let’s go!”

“Hey wait, weren’t we supposed to be going after a cult or something?” Aeric questions the group, but they are already out the door, conversing excitedly about their upcoming battles.

Keep on the Shadowfell, the Beginning: Part 1
The adventure begins

Cold fall air chills the players as they trek up the now neglected King’s Road to the village of Winterhaven, a small outpost of civilization nestled at the foot of the Cairngorm Peaks. Likot, having left his mining fortress some time ago lusting for retribution against goblin-kind, idly chats with Artemis, a runaway Tiefling seeking redemption from her dark past. Skitlezzz the Barbarian prowls ahead of the group, anxiously awaiting the next opportunity to rage against his enemies. Aeric the Wizard and Carff, son of Farff, discuss the merits of joining the three fellow adventurers ahead of them. Having met decades ago in military service to a distant mixed-race elven state, the two are old friends recently reunited to take up adventuring.

The five adventurers received a quest from an earnest young priestess of the good deity Pelor, Marla of the Great Church. She had been studying the history and activity of various demon and death cults when she discovered that witnesses saw a small group of death cultists traveling toward Winterhaven about one year prior. She has also learned and informed the characters the the head of this group is a dangerous and twisted priest named Kalarel (see picture). Marla fears that Kalarel has set up a secret cult in the area and is conducting unholy ceremonies. She has asked the characters to travel to Winterhaven to determine if there is any death cult activity in the area, and, if so, to stamp it out. She has promised them two hundred and fifty gold for completing this task, as it is important to her church’s mission.

Nearing the village of Winterhaven, wearied by the long journey from Fallcrest to the south, the adventurers look forward to a rejuvenating rest at Salvana Wrafton’s Inn. Their thoughts soon turn to other matters, however, as small creatures hiding behind the rocks spring into view and begin to attack the adventurers! Kobolds! These small, crafty reptilian humanoids (see picture) rush from their hiding places with spears and short swords held high. Skitlezzz roars in excitement as he charges forward and swings his two-handed greatsword into the nearest kobold, sending its small body flying through the air back into the woods. Artemis blasts the nearest kobold with Eldritch energy, Carff performs daring sky flourishes while darting around the enemy, and Aeric uses his repertoire of arcane spells to keep the kobolds in disarray. Likot valiantly enters the fray only to be caught off-guard by a few well-placed and lucky strikes from the Kobold Dragonshields. A special glue-pot slung by a pesky Kobold Slinger immobilizes Likot, even as he struggles to defend his allies with his last strength. “Not in the face!” he yells as he falls the ground, gravely wounded from short sword slashes to his back and merciless bludgeoning from rock bullets to his fore. He lies dying upon the field of battle, but remains confident that his allies will win the fight and come to his aid. Artemis avenges her downed comrade, tracking down the fleeing Kobold Slinger and punishing it with a vicious blast of Eldritch energy, a long, twisting vein of purple energy that painfully sears the chest of the cursed Slinger. The remaining kobolds fall quickly thereafter, and the adventurers stand victorious over their first challenge. Skitlezzz lifts the wounded Likot onto his back, grunting under the weight of the stout dwarf and his armor, and the group sets off into town.

Emerging from the dangerous countryside to the relative quiet of the farmsteads surrounding Winterhaven’s walled center, the adventuring company eagerly anticipates a night’s rest and the continuation of their quest. A farmer tending a field nearby briefly glances up with disinterest as the group approaches Winterhaven’s outer gate, a set of two large 12 foot wooden doors, barred at night with a reinforced wooden beam. The attending guards notice the wounded dwarf on Skitlezzz’s back and point them inside, towards Wrafton’s Inn.


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