The party met in Loudwater after weeks of traveling. After long roads and slow river currents, the Green Tankard Tavern offered a welcome bed and a warm plate to feed weary souls. Though each person had come to the Gray Vale for a different reason, each was hoping to find a new life of adventure and, for others, gold.
The party didn’t have to wait long.
The drinkers at the Green Tankard were thrown to the ground when a roaring explosion burst open the tavern windows and was followed by billowing clouds of dust. The townsfolk rushed outside to see that the stone and wood wall had been blown open, and vicious goblins were pouring in.
The tiefling warlord, Random, along with a half-orc paladin and a genesai swordmage, swiftly dispatched the goblin invaders. Though several townsfolk were cut down in the immediate invasion, the party had likely saved dozens more. Though some goblins attempted to flee south, the party chased after and offered no quarter.
The party realized that the goblins were attempting to steal a “horn totem”; a long black horn that had been turned into a crude dagger. The local curiosity shop wanted nothing to do with the cursed item, so the party was directed to Curovar, the local wizard who’d stolen it from the goblins a week prior.
Curovar explained that a tribe of goblins were living in an old dwarven crypt just south, in the Southwood. He challenged the party to enter the barrow and retrieve another totem that was sacred to the goblins: the skull of an ogre mage.
The tiefling, Random, held true to the challenge, but some of his early comrades were dissuaded or felt the call to other adventures. He put out an open call for comrades and his call was answered by a barbarian from the north, and a dragonborn wizard named Scorb.
Thus began the party’s first adventure. Accompanied by Loudwater’s adventurous leader, Lady Moonfire, the party delved into the barrow, defeated the goblins, and recovered the ogre skull. Unfortunately, an incident with an earthquake caused a rising tide of magma that forced the party out of the barrow before complete exploration could be accomplished… and when the magma reached the surface, some of the Southwood caught fire and still burns today.
Returning to Loudwater victorious, the party did not rest long. The goodfolk were still in need of brave souls, and it seemed that a foul beast was active within the city. People were disappearing, or being found disemboweled.
“I’m not stepping in that!”
The party, now joined by Gurvik the dwarven fighter, plunged into the ancient sewers to find the fiend and rescue a missing woman. jumping over canals of waste and treading slippery walks, the party discovered and defeated a cabal of Zehir-worshiping wererats. The true monster, though, was a hungry ghoul. Though it was defeated, the question remained: How did it get under Loudwater? The sewers were thought to have been sealed…
“It’s pulling on his @#*#!”
The party had tried several times to purchase adventuring gear, items of magic, or even a decent meal, but goods were short and always expensive. It seems that local bandits were slowing starving Loudwater of respectable, market-based capitalism. The party had had enough.
A group of bandits, assisted by an ogre, had parked themselves downriver on the banks of the Grayflow River. They had fastened a giant chain to the north bank, and used the ogre to pull it tight across the span of water when merchant barges came by. The party hid on one such barge and ambushed the abmushers! Though they were still inexperienced, the party killed the bandits and the mighty ogre. The party quickly realized that, though the riverbank was their point of attack, the bandits must lair somewhere else. Thankfully, one bandit was left alive, and with the use of a vicious rope-trick from the barbarian (see quote above!), the bandit talked… or rather squeeked. The party rode a captured wagon to an abandon roadside inn, where they defeated the bandits, their wizard leader, and a black dragon wyrmling.
“What’s that scratching sound?”
The party had earlier chosen to defeat the bandits, but even then, rumors of a disturbance were surrounding a nearby graveyard. A local family had gone to visit the graves of their long-dead family and had not yet returned. After the party returned from dealing with the bandits, the captain of the Loudwater guard informed them that they’d found the open sewer entrance. It seems that the earlier earthquake had crumbled some masonry, and allowed the ghoul to enter. The broken sewer entrance? Yep, right near the graveyard.
The party set out to see if any remained of the missing family, and if not, to put back to rest any wakeful dead. Absent the barbarian, but joined now by Kerethil, the half elf warlock, the party found exactly what they were looking for. Skeletal hands clawed the earth, attempting to break free from their grave prisons. The old grounds keeper shuffled the path, followed by his rotting, watchdog companions. Why all the recent activity? The magic wielders of the party could sense waves of necrotic energy pulsing from a large crypt in the back.
This time, the party confronted two ghouls as they were performing some dark ceremony. The last living member of the missing family was about to be sacrificed before a black, Onyx Skull. With the ghouls dead, the person saved, the party took the onyx skull to study further.
“Give us the skull.”
Exiting the crypt, the party was confronted by a host of armed hobgoblins. They demanded the skull, but said they were not present to kill without cause. Outnumbered, and weakened from their fight with the ghouls, the party bargained with the hobgoblins. To avoid a fight that nobody wanted, the party would leave with the hobs and meet with their leader, the mysterious Vesuvius.
A tiefling merchant, turned warlord, Vesuvius was a person of power. Somehow, he’d become the leader of a hobgoblin warband, and he had plans for the Gray Vale. He bargained with the party to obtain the Onyx Skull, in exchange for keeping it safe and allowing them time to research it. He offered to be the party’s patron, giving them missions and rewards. The party was not all convinced, but since they were surrounded by nearly 200 hobgoblins and bugbears, an agreement was reached.
“Aghh! Get them off me!”
For their first mission, the party was tasked to recover an ancient book that Vesuvius had purchased, but not received. The tomb was being held by a local gnome that had a reputation as a scholar and librarian. The party was given the location of the gnome and a description of the book, by a pretty eladrin, named Starry.
Random chose to sit this mission out, opting to watch the hobgoblin troops, in the guise of training with them. Kerethil and Scorb were joined by Alec, a devious bard already employed by Vesuvius, and another new recruit, Redwind, a shifter from the badlands to the east.
The party found the gnomes hideout: a small hill topped by an ancient oak. They worked their way into the barrow, which was an underground library covered in roots, vines, and shrubbery. The gnome tried to convince the party that the book contained information that was too dangerous for a man like Vesuvius to hold. Negotiations broke down, however, when Alec launched a blast of fire at the gnome. The fight was on, and it would almost prove to be too much for the party. Though the gnome appeared alone, he was actually accompanied by swarms of tiny drakes. The drakes ran through the underbrush (which proved to be illusionary) and swarmed the party. Biting, clawing, and scratching, the drakes pulled the party to the ground. It was a bloody battle, but the party prevailed. One scorched gnome later, they had the book, and returned back to Starry and Vesuvius.
The party’s next mission was to join the hobgoblin army in the invasion of the nearby town, Llorkh. Vesuvius explained that the town was under the iron thumb of a renegade dwarf. Taxes were high, people overworked, and prosperity had been crushed by greed. Llorkh would be Vesuvius’ staging ground for a new, more prosperous Vale. The party agreed to help, though their motivations were varied.
The party joined a hobgoblin unit of roughly 25 troops. With their leadership and firepower, the hobgoblin unit cut through troops of Llorkh men. Taking the long way through the city streets, the party’s unit came up behind the last defenders, catching them in a pincher that proved undefendable. With the main battles over and won, the hobgoblin commander ordered the party to mount the manor hill. It was their mission to defeat the dwarven leader.
The party confronted the dwarf and offered him a chance to surrender or escape. The dwarf, enraged at the invasion of his city, was hearing none of it. He attacked the party with his goliath bodyguards. The party cut him down, and the city was won.
When things had calmed down, the party wondered at what they had done. Now hobgoblins patrols roamed the streets of Llorkh and the townspeople were shut indoors, afraid. Was the old dwarf leader that bad? Would the people be better off under Vesuvius? After meeting again with the wizard Curovar (who was found in his magic shop, the Smoking Toad), the party decided that they could no longer work for Vesuvius. A confrontation was inevitable.
“How would you like your fish?”
Still in Vesuvius’ good graces, the party was invited to dine with him and several of the town’s industrial leaders. Scorb had been mysteriously absent, sent on some mission of her own, but Random, Kerethil, and Redwind approached Vesuvius’ new manor with trepidation. At dinner, the party witnessed Vesuvius using his silver tongue to get the local guild leaders to agree to his appointment as the new lord. Several of the guild leaders seemed nervous and forced, but others seemed eager for new management. With the eladrin Starry at his side, Vesuvius was quickly consolidating power.
While Kerethil was holding a rendezvous with Starry outside at the balcony, Random was watching and waiting. As the dinner died down, it was clear that bodyguards were absent, the guild leaders were leaving, and Vesuvius wanted to talk business with the party alone. With Kerethil and Starry returned, the party exchanged furtive glances and waited for what Vesuvius had to say.
Vesuvius explained the his newly acquired book contained information that confirmed his suspicion: an ancient Netheril laboratory was hidden beneath the city of Llorkh. With the coordinates now discovered, he tasked the party to descend into the depths of an abandoned mine, uncover the long-dead laboratory, and recover a mysterious source crystal.
The party agreed, and then drew swords. They had had enough of Vesuvius, and it was time to end his schemes before it was too late. Absent any bodyguards, save Starry, Vesuvius’ own confidence was his downfall. The battle was not easily won, however. Vesuvius revealed himself to be not just a common tiefling, but rather a cambion; a half-devil with hellish powers. Starry implored the party to stop fighting, but it was later revealed that she was an evil succubus that had been using her mind-bending powers to charm and dominate the party throughout the fight. Once Vesuvius finally fell, however, Starry revealed her true form and screeched “My son!”, and then fled the scene. It seemed that Vesuvius’ plans were actually a family operation.
“I come to bury him, not to praise him.”
Since the newly acquired manor was mainly absent of allies, Vesuvius died without any help from his hobgoblins, and without anyone left to notice (save Starry). The party fled the manor, only to come into the middle of an argument between some hobgoblin troops and a stout dwarf maiden named Agitha. Agitha, a cleric of the sun god, Pelor (more commonly known as Amaunator, and previously as Lathander), had come to Llorkh to meet with the renegade dwarf leader. As a dwarven cousin, Agitha had come to counsel the dwarf and bring him back into the fold of dwarven ideals. Too late, however, she learned of his death at the doorsteps of his manor, and had now come to bury him.
The party left the manor and, seeing a noble-minded dwarf confronting the hobgoblins, they decided to continue their rebellion. A battle ensued and, despite the fact that the party had killed her lost-soul dwarf, Agitha saw their good intentions and decided to join the group.
“How deep does this thing go?”
The party was at a crossroads. Vesuvius was dead, but the hobgoblins still controlled the city. The party wanted to right their wrongs by freeing the city, but they were too small in number, and too little in might. They needed time, and resources. The idea was hatched to descend into the mines and find the ancient Netheril laboratory. Whatever Vesuvius had wanted, the source crystal, it was bound to be valuable and powerful. Perhaps with that in their possession, the party could gain the upper hand against their former hobgoblin allies.
Scorb was still missing, but the party, now joined by Agitha, delved into the mines. Finding a still working mine elevator, they descended a shaft that seemed to continue forever. Without warning, the elevator plunged through an area of blue flames! The flames did not burn, however, and Kerethil recognized the flames as remnants of the Spellplague from a century earlier. What the party found at the bottom of the shaft was not some ancient, abandoned tomb.
“Where the gods… WHEN the gods are we?”
The “ancient, abandoned” laboratory was anything but. Alive with active magic and living personnel, the laboratory was in a state of living confusion. Red warning lights flashed everywhere. Broken furniture abounded. Guardians, both living and dead, stalked the halls. The party surmised that they were either back in time 2,000 years, or that the Netheril laboratory had been transported forward 2,000 years to the present time. Due to a sudden lapse of magic, the laboratory was a chaos of released experiments, risen soldiers, and broken magic.
The party braved the dark halls and monstrous freaks, and came to the source crystal’s guardian: a sand dragon of ferocious intent. Half-blinded, bloodied, and exhausted, the party prevailed, but nearly at the cost of one of their lives. Blinded by the sand dragon, Random did not see the vicious crystal trap glow to life. In a blast of red light, he lay fallen. Only a last second healing potion saved his life. Kerethil’s eyes moved to the crystal.
The source crystal was removed from its mystic alter and the magic of the laboratory vanished. The party made their way through the now silent station and back to the mine elevator. The blue flames remained, though, and the party passed through them, seemingly unhurt, and back to the surface.
So, now the party is at another crossroads. They have matured, grown in experience and strength, but they still face an army of hobgoblins. Their friends are few and far between, but they have some powerful items that may help. The Onyx Skull is once again in their possession (liberated from Vesuvius’ bedroom), and now they have an ancient source crystal. Will these items prove valuable, or a curse?