The Darkness Between

Withered on the Vine

I hate to say it, but I believe this campaign has officially died. I'm hoping to revive it in the future, but let's be realistic…

I have learned some valuable lessons from my first 4E campaign, though…

 

  1. Large Groups (I had 7 players) are not suited to 4E. Combats take waaay too long, even with the tricks I used to move things along.
  2. Very hard to get that many people together. We did institute the rule of half…If 4 or more can make it, we still played.
  3. Never think you can get that many players from 1-30th level when you only play twice a month…
Using these lessons, I'm keeping my every Monday night group to 5 players max and will only run finite mini-campaigns. No one gets bored with their character, there are satisfying conclusions to the adventure, and we can always go back and play another mini-campaign with the same characters at a different tier if the players want!
 
So long and I'll see you in The Darkness Between… 

 

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Chapter 15: Escape from Gloomwrought
Wherein; our intrepid heroes find that a sea voyage is in their best interests...

A well-timed kick from Trins sent the portcullis crashing down, blocking the entry to the library just as the evil Blackguard, Sithas Tyrr moved forward to attack! A well-timed kick from the dwarf, Kordun, sent the tiefling lieutenant, Lareth the Deceiver, to his knees…damaged, but not dead.

With a few moments gained, the party raced through the only other way out of the library and found themselves in a chamber containing a teleportation circle.

Taking only few moments to grab documents from the chambers of Lareth, the party lept into the circle and activated it…

They found themselves in the basement of an herb shop located in the city. After battling through the contingent of Swarm Shamans, insect demons, and bugbears that guarded the shop, they raced through the city toward the wharf.

Securing the good merchant ship called Serenity and negotiating with it's captain, Malcolm Bly, they were soon out to sea and heading toward the island called Dread.

In the far distance, an airship could be seen moving in their direction…

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Chapter 14: The Library of Madness
Wherein; our heroic adventurers learn things aren't always as they seem...

The adventurers found themselves in a massive ruined library. The entire room tilted to one side from the slow sinking of the moathouse. Before them, they witnessed a scene that would test their mettle…

The center of the room had collapsed in ages past, forming a deep sinkhole. Azilis's brother, Carrigan Roe, hung over this black pit in a cage…gagged, tied and beaten.

At the far end of the room, the little tiefling, Random, kneeled sobbing in terror. Above him on a balcony, 5 crossbowmen aimed their weapons at the simpleton janitor. 

A tall tiefling in black armor and robes spoke to the party and proposed a deal…give them Carrigan's journal and they would all go free!

The black robed tiefling sent Random forward to retrieve the book. As the small janitor made his way back to the other end of the room, the leader of the crossbowmen called out…

"Varim…Oh, Varim…You may come out now!"

The effect on Random shocked the party as the little tiefling began to walk without his limp…his back straightened and his deformed hand uncurled…

As the tiefling they had known as Random reached the raised end of the library, they knew that he was indeed…Varim the Mad! 

DM Note: Varim is..well, MAD! I made him a multiple personality type who is somewhat in control of those facets. 

After some brief monologuing from Varim, the tension broke with a crash! Skeletons poured from side chambers as the crossbowman opened fire!

When the smoke cleared and the blood began to pool, the party had rescued Carrigan from his deathtrap and Varim lay dead…

And that was when the Blackguard of Orcus, Sithass Tyrr arrived with his pack of Lycanthropes… 

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Chapter 13: Moathouse of the Mad Tiefling
Wherein; our heroic adventurers learn that Puppets are the solution to all of life and death's mysteries...

As the party moved to enter the moathouse ruins, they were confronted by a squad of wraith-like soldiers climbing from the bog surrounding the structure.

These undead troops moaned battle cries of "Save the Lady" and "Protect the Child", along with "For the Duke".

The cleric and other party members moved quickly to dispatch the bog wraiths with spell and blade…and that was when the Giant Frogs bounded from the swamp and attacked!

 

 

Frogs & Wraiths

 

Surrounded, the party fought furiously for their lives as several of them were captured by sticky tongues and swallowed whole!

Frogs and Wraiths 3

Death by drowning would claim many of them before digestion as the frogs leapt back into the murky waters of the swamp!

 

Frogs & Wraiths 2

Luck was with them that day, for soon all were safe (but gooey) and the frogs dead or drive away. The corpse of some sort of armored humanoid was found half eaten in the swamp. The armor bore the symbol of the Ashen Covenant!

The Ashen Covenant

Without a rest, the companions move into the main courtyard of the moathouse.  Here they found a huge timber set into the ground with an iron loop atop it. 

Due to her merchant upbringing, Trin recognized this as an anchor pole for an airship!

Just then, a ghostly white girl of 7 years old or so drifted by in the gloom the entry to a great hall…

Edwina

Before the party could react, small winged faeries of all the hues of the rainbow began drifting out of the hall entryway. At first there was a few dozen, laughing and giggling, playfully tugging at their hair and weapons and boot laces.

Then the numbers began to grow exponentially, as soon hundreds of the tiny fey creatures swarmed about the courtyard. 

The little ghost girl reappeared at the gloomy entryway and screamed at them to "GET OUT OF MY DADDY'S HOUSE!!!"

The little faeries reflected her anger by baring their sharp little teeth and prepared to tear the intruders to bits!

Realizing the faeries were an illusory construct…a physical manifestation of the child-spirits anger and fear…Azilis the bard began singing a song of calming, using reassuring words to soothe the frightened apparition.

Kordun the Dwarven Fighter reinforced this attempt to calm the ghost by pulling out the puppets he had acquired in Gloomwrought (See Chapter 10 : Puppets). The rest of the party grabbed puppets and began an impromptu show depicting the dangers of rogue-eating frogs and gloomy swamps!

DM NOTE: This was going to be a simple skill challenge, but when the singing and the puppets and the great roleplaying ensued, I just winged it with bonuses to rolls and some hand waving of the written DC's. The players were creative and it was a very fun moment in the game as dice bags and snack sacks became the actual puppets…

Soon, the little ghost girl, Edwina by name, had calmed and the carnivorous faerie swarm had dissipated. 

The child spirit told a tale of scary men and swords and torches in the night. Soon after the scary night, her daddy, the Duke, and her mommy left to visit the Queen, but she couldn't go until she found her new shiny charm bracelet. Her daddy's friend, Dorbledum the Wizard had given it to her at her recent 7th birthday party.

She said it was somewhere in the "room she could not go". The party investigated this chamber, Edwina's playroom, and discovered a secret door.

Inside the small secret room, they learned the true story of Edwina's tragedy. The skeleton of Edwina and her mother lay together in death, while her fathers bones were still held upright from falling on his own sword.

The Duke had killed his wife and child to spare them the horrors of the invading force that had sent them into hiding. He had then fallen on his own blade to join them on their journey to be judged by the Raven Queen.

The platinum charm bracelet still gleamed on the child's skeletal wrist. Taking the bracelet back to Edwina broke the compulsion the girl had to remain in this decaying place. Laughing, she faded away to join her parents in the great beyond while the bones in the room crumbled to dust…

There was a brief but mad scramble for the charm bracelet as it clinked to the stone floor…Naturally, the quick little halfling soon sported a nifty new piece of magical jewelry.

A brief search of the upper level of the moathouse turned up some minor but interesting things. A rotting tapestry showed that the lands surrounding the moathouse a millennia  ago were green and fertile fields and meadows, not the current vast swamp.

A room with a crumbled outer wall had flooded with the bog beyond. It appeared to have been the lair of some sort of reptile, but was now abandoned. The room showed signs of a recent struggle of some sort…

Trin took a moment to climb to the collapsed upper story and take a look out over the swamp. She wasn't sure, but a speck in the far distance looked like an airship moving their way…

The companions moved down to the underground level of the old moathouse. At the bottom of the stairs, they found an empty torture chamber.

The instruments of suffering and pain looked like a recent addition to this place, and the devices had definitely been used!

Moving further into the room, they suddenly found themselves sealed in by a portcullis dropping and on the receiving end of an ambush!

Doors at the end of the room where opened and a creature of nightmare forced out! A 10 foot tall cross between a man and a crocodile roared in pain and confusion before charging the party!

Now they knew what came from the reptillian lair up above…Not that it really mattered at the moment!

Smeg the warlord recognized the creature as possibly a Khumat. Before the rise of Arkhosia and Bael Turath, legend held that great race of crocodile men ruled an advanced and benevolent empire that stretched across the entire continent.

This massive monster may be a regressed descendant of those once-noble reptile kings…

The Khumat

Regretfully, the heroes were forced to slay this obviously-tortured and dumb brute.

They realized the creature was only meant to wear them down before the real ambush, as the doors about them slammed open and Bugbears poured into the room, followed by their Ogre commander!

The Ambush!

Steel clashed, magics boomed,arrows flew, and backs were stabbed as the smell of burning Dragonborn filled the air! (Smeg was pushed onto a burning brazier and had difficulty putting himself out.)

Etheran Battles Alone!

One of the bugbears opened the holding cells and zombies poured out. Two of the bugbears themselves were promptly attacked and torn apart by the hungry dead.

Smeg and Trin Stand Together!

As Kordun faced the ogre, he was suddenly sneak attacked by a female bugbear who attempted to strangle him from behind!

Lurking Death

(Azilis's later comment of "You got choked by a girl, dwarf" did nothing to soothe Korduns ruffled pride…)

Soon the ambusher's lay dying in their own blood and the party moved on. In the ogres bedroom, they discovered yet another set of steps leading down while Trin found and attempted to open a locked coffer…the results were not satisfactory to the halfling rogue!

Trin fails a Perception Check!

As they prepared to rest in the ogre's chambers, they suddenly heard a scream from below…and it sounded like their simple-minded tiefling friend, Random!

He was alive! They had thought him done for when he didn't make it to the meeting at the puppet show…

With no thought for their own welfare, the party prepared to charged down the stairs and rescue their new little friend…

To Be Continued… 

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Chapter 12 : Into the Skins
Wherein; the party battles the King of the fetid swamp surrounding Gloomwrought...

After half a day of slogging through the muck and mire of the Skins, the party heard thunder in the distance.

Unfortunately for them, this thunder began to shake the ground and they soon found themselves facing a monstrous reptile the locals called a ThunderKing Behemoth!

DM NOTE: The Fiendish Tyrannosaur mini from Giants of Legend + the new Monster Builder in DDI = the ThunderKing Behemoth! Yaay Monster Builder! 

The battle was short but furious as the heroes threw everything they had at the giant lizard. Soon, it lay twitching it's last in the black waters of the swamp and the companions limped on their way.

Nearing sunset, they soon emerged into a miles wide bog. Up ahead Up ahead, silhouetted by the sinking dull-orange sun, was a crumbling manor or moathouse. 

Centuries of foliage, vegetation, and twisted rope-like vines covered the nearly-destroyed ruins. Nothing moved on it's deteriorating battlements. It' appeared to be devoid of life… 

To Be Continued… 

 

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Chapter 11 : House of the Eye
Wherein; our brave adventurers trade secrets for secrets, while a companion walks away...

In the gloom of The Alley of Twisted Bones,  the party found an entrance to the House of the Eye. 

Greeted by a somber cultist of Vecna, they followed the priest past scenes of horror they had never imagined. Reigning in their instincts to bring this vile place to the ground, they found themselves before an elven crone who demanded their secrets for the secret they sought.

Once the party agreed, she tarot read their secrets of past, present, and future…even secrets they did not even know they possessed.

DM NOTE: I created a "tarot" deck of Vecna using images from Magic cards and the Magic Set Editor. Three cards for each PC told a cryptic secret that hinted at things to come… 

When all was said and done, they had a direction to go to find Carrigan. East into the swamps surrounding the city. Leave the city at sunrise the next day, the crone said…and they would find what they sought one day's walk into the Skins.

On the morrow, they found Teraldar the Eladrin Wizard gone. No signs of foul play. The innkeeper told them the mage had simply paid his tab and left with gear packed. Since the fey had always been somewhat mysterious, the party pressed on to rescue Azilis' brother.

DM NOTE: One of our player's is a die-hard football fan, so this time of year takes him away on Saturdays. Last year, his character had to "rest up from a battle" for quite a long time. This year, he mysteriously leaves, giving me a story hook for another adventure when football season is over!

As the sun topped the walls of Gloomwrought, the party trudged into the danger infested swamps ominously called "The Skins" and made their way east.

To Be Continued… 

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Chapter 10 : Puppets
Wherein; our heroes attend a marionette show, only to discover that they are the puppets...

Clever deductions by the party soon discovered where Carrigan had hidden his Rift Journal. The journal told a tale that was previously unknown to his sister, Azilis the Bard.

Her father and mother had apparently been agents of the Raven Queen sent to find and close all stable Shadowrifts connecting the Shadowfell with the Natural World or the Feywild. This mission would frustrate the plans of Orcus to supplant the Lady of Winter as the new God of Death.

After their mothers death, her father had began to train Carrigan to aid him in this life-long quest. Most-likely, her leaving at an early age to seek her own fortune had spared her the same destiny.

Her brother had carried on this mission after the murder of their father and had closed several rifts on his own over the years. His latest research had discovered rumors of a rift located somewhere off the coast on a island only referred to as "The Isle of Dread".

The party also received a mysterious message from the tiefling library janitor Random. He said he had seen Carrigan and they should meet him in the morning at the market square where he went to watch his weekly puppet show.

The groups attempts at learning the location of Varim the Mad had come to naught. Only the cleric, Berrock, had gained any leads during his questioning of a priest of Erathis. 

If you wanted to learn of something hidden, they should go to the Alley of Twisted Bones and seek out the House of the Eye.

For who would have more information and cryptic knowledge than the cultists of Vecna, the Dark God of Secrets!

Not wishing to deal with that Devil just yet, the companions went the next morning to meet with the simple-minded Random. What they found was a trap! 

The plaza was just waking up around them. An old woman swept her shop steps, a farmer readied his huge cart of manuare for sale, and the puppeteer prepared his little sock friends for the morning show, and a caff (coffee) shop was just opening for business.

That was when the three dark elves strode slowly into the plaza…black cloaks billowing and arrogant sneers upon their faces! The party tensed as the Drow moved in their direction…and then past them to order caff at the small cafe! 

"Sorry your simple little friend didn't make it" was all the warning Kordun had before the puppeteer slammed a double-bladed sword into the dwarf's armored back! 

At the same instant, the "farmer" dumped his cart of stinking offal across the plaza, making the footing treacherous while spilling out a half-dozen hidden zombies!

The sweeping old woman then revealed herself as a Swarm Shaman by sending forth a torrent of stinging insects at the Dragonborn Warlord, even as crossbowmen appeared on the rooftops and opened fire!

During the battle that followed, the ever-changing city of Gloomwrought joined in with a cruel trick of fate. 

A tower erupted from the center of the plaza, as building were wont to do in the twisted City of Midnight. The structure rose 30 feet into the air, carrying Berrock, Kordun, and the puppeteer assassin with it.

Despite slippery footing, swarms of blood-sucking insects, archers above, and half-naked dwarven clerics, the party soon prevailed. The battle finally ended when the fanatical assassin through himself from the tower to his death rather than be questioned.

Bloody, wounded, covered in filth and insect bites, the companions limped back to their inn to prepare for the inevitable but distasteful solution to finding Carrigan…they would have to deal with the House of the Eye!

To Be Continued… 

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Chapter 9 : The City of Midnight
Wherein, the Companions search for the Rift Scholar, Carrigan, and find more than they bargained for...

The trip through the great swamp that surrounded the land-side of Gloomwrought was uneventful overall. Enterprising Dark Ones operated the skiffs, poling them slowly but safely through the 20 miles of bog called "The Skins" by locals. 

Other than the distant, earthshaking roar and footfalls of something the Dark Ones called a "Thunder King", the only other interesting encounter was meeting the half-elven bard, Azilis Roe.

The bard was friendly but a bit aloof. She could provide no information on this "Carrigan", but bid them good luck as the party reached the city.

The next day was filled with re-supplying and investigation. At the Great Library, Kordun and Trin discovered Carrigan had been researching a particular cult of Orcus called "The Ashen Covenant".

While most cults of the Blood Lord longed and prayed for the day their Master would supplant the Raven Queen and bring eternal undeath to the Natural World…the Covenant actively sought to make this a reality! 

A friendly but simple-minded tiefling janitor called Random gave them information on the location of Carrigans home and his daily routine.

The only other interesting tidbit learned was that several days before, a great Shadow Dragon called Urishtar Nightwyrm had crashed in through the massive stained glass roof dome and stolen away a large tome about the Dawn War. (Battle between the Gods and the Primordials over dominance of reality)

Following the clues, their investigation led them to the conclusion that Carrigan had been kidnapped by the Ashen Covenant. 

 While searching the scholar's home for clues, they encountered Carrigan's sister…the bard Azilis Roe! She had returned to Gloomwrought after having a "bad feeling" and wanted to check up on her brother.

The dead tiefling assassin they found stuffed in Carrigan's closet revealed one name to them under the influence of the Speak with Dead ritual…Varim the Mad! Varim was one of the ranking members of the cult…a Tiefling Warlock with a penchant for insane schemes and creating as many undead as possible. 

More investigation gained knowledge of Carrigan's journal, the book in which he kept all of his collected rumors and knowledge of stable, two-way Shadow Rift and apparently the object the Ashen Covenant was seeking! 

 To Be Continued… 

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Chapter 8 : The Road of Shadows
Wherein; our intrepid heroes pass through the Twilight's Anvil mountain range to reach the city of Gloomwrought...

A chance meeting with a small band of merchants from the town of Crestfallen gained information about the passage ahead. Duergar slavers and their orc minions had commandeered the abandoned dwarven gatehouse that guarded the entrance to the Road of Shadows.

An attempt by the party to bluff their way into the gatehouse using a merchants ox-drawn cart ended badly for both wagon and beast.

A pitched battle through the stone corridors ensued, ending with the party bloodied but victorious. The first of many conflicts arose between Kordun and the paladin, Etheran, when the knight slew a captive duergar Hellcaller. "No mercy for Devil Spawn" was the holy warrior's only reason.

Travel on the old dwarven highway was treacherous. The party faced a pack of twisted beasts the wizard named destrachen in eladrin, along with a subterranean horror with huge hooked talons.

Along the way they saved a travelling priest of Avandra from sacrifice by troglodyte worshippers of Torog, attempted to enter a mysterious tower marked with the symbol of the Chained God.

This challenge to their skills did not turn out so well and the party reluctantly retreated. Another conflict with Etheran the paladin arose, as his sense of honor  and justice blinded him to the danger and reality of the situation.

After a few days of travel, they companions emerged from the Road of Shadows and completed the final leg of their journey to Gloomwrought, City of Midnight!

To Be Continued…

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Chapter 6 : The Curse of Dark Haven
Wherein; our champions of justice and greed battle hoards of the dead to reach the town of Dark Haven...

Throwing themselves into the mass of rotting foes before them, the party bravely battled their way down the steps of the obsidian ziggurat and into the forest beyond. Spotting a column of smoke in the distance and using it as their goal, the heroes made their way through the undead throng with blade and spell.

DM Note: I created a Skill Challenge that allowed the players to eventually escape the sea of undead surrounding them. 

Once clear of the army of darkness, the companions made their way down a black shale road and soon found the ruined town of Dark Haven, which had been under siege from undead forces for weeks…

The town's lord and town guards were now dead, along with a large portion of the population. All that was left were a few lucky farmers, peasants, and laborers…most of them wounded and recovering in the Lord's burnt-out manor house-turned-hospital.

The majority of the towns structures were leveled by fire or damaged beyond use. A small zombie dragon had been shot down by a drunken lout named Etheran, crashing into a tall tower and dislodging it's rider, a vampire spawn, who ended up impaled on the building's top spire.

Now the tower leaned at a precarious angle, damaged by the crashing undead dragon. Since even the brightest day on the Shadowfell seemed like twilight, the trapped vampire merely shrieked in pain from sunrise to sunset, instead of crumbling to dust in sunlight as it should have. The surviving townsfolk had taken to calling it The Screaming Tower…

Rumors abounded that a demon of shadow had broken into the tower and the sage had not been seen or heard from in three days. The townsfolk merely blocked off the entrance until they could recover from the devastation wrought by the onslaught of the dead…

During their investigation to find a way home, they met the "town drunk", Etheran Stone, also from the Mortal World. Etheran was a paladin in the holy order of Bahamut and son of the Baron of Therund.

An assassination attempt on his father by cultists of Orcus set the knight and his long-time companions in pursuit of the villains…a chase that ended with a rift to the Shadowfell being opened by a powerful cultist mage!

The paladin and his band followed the disciples of the Blood Lord through the black rift and into the Shadowfell, only to be ambushed by a crazed-dwarf and his mounted troop of black-armored warriors, their banner depicting a dragon on a field of dark burgandy or purple.

Left for dead among his slaughtered friends, Etheran soon regained conciousness and had made his way to Dark Haven the previous month.

The gloomy effect the Shadowfell has on all of it's visitors manifested itself as depression and alchoholism in the once-virtuous young man.

The threat of the undead after they breached the walls (three days prior to the partys arrival) had briefly roused Etheran from his dark mood. With the town guards dead, he had led farmers and peasants against the walking dead, holding them off until they seemed to lose interest and move on. He had lapsed back into a drunken stupor after that, and now was barely able to stand.

The heroes questioned Alabrek, a Shadar-Kai innkeeper and learned that a scholar studying Shadowrifts and their locations had visited their town a long while back. He had questioned their own local historian, a sage by the name of (gasp!) Valthrun… 

Alabrek the Innkeep told them the easiest way to find out the name and home city of the Shadowrift scholar was to visit Valthrun. The sage of Dark Haven had always kept meticulous records…

There was only one small problem…Valthrun lived in the Screaming Tower…

To Be Continued…

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