Sunday, July 1, 2012

D&D Encounters Season 09: Web of the Spider Queen

With renewed vigor, I planned to hold good on my word to make this current season of Encounters the best it could be for my FLGS. I had placed the question to those on the Facebook group as far as what they wanted to see and the response was primarily in line with my own feelings. After spending all of last season tossing around numbers left and right, I felt like I had a good sense of how to bump up a challenge on the fly. I was enamored from the start with this season's main antagonist Valan Jaelre. Last season, Zarnak was a rather weak villain, in my opinion. The party got little time with the dwarf before the end and there was no build up or hype around him besides a few vague references here and there. Most important, to me, however was tackling the issue of adding more roleplaying to Encounters.

So I put forth a simple agreement to anyone desiring to play the new season. After going over the season's background, I would ask of every player to come up with a background going into the first session. It didn't need to be a book or well thought out. It could barely be a paragraph if that got the job done for them. I just needed to know at least who this character was, why they were in Shadowdale (the city Season 09 is set in) and what their general goal was in life for the moment. Anything else would be icing on the cake for me to play with. 

If every player did just that much, then I promised in return to put in double or triple the effort jazzing up the story for them. I was rather pleased that everyone latched onto the idea right away and I ended up with a lot to play around with. Having ran the previous season, I was over the notion that I had to keep things directly "by the book" as it were. Our store had long since thrown out the rule of using only the "approved" books for each season; I decided it was time to take such logic to the next level; though this brought in new complications as well (a story for another post). The more I began to play around with what was presented in the books alongside the characters each player had designed, the more excited I became for this season.

For example, hearkening back to the Lost Crown of Neverwinter, this season incorporated all the new themes added from the Dungeon Survival Handbook; the typical per season tie-in. One of my players decided to run a kobold thief and selected the Escaped Thrall theme. The flavor text stated that the character was imprisoned by another race of the Underdark and had escaped. One session in the season had a small mechanical bonus for combat if someone used that theme. To me, that seemed to be selling the incorporation of themes short.

I really love the concept behind themes since they came into 4e. Yes, it's power bloat. However, it is also a nice way to flavor your character and make them more your own within the story. For example, here is this kobold who was enslaved by an Underdark race. No, how about he was enslaved by the drow. How about not just the drow, but House Jaelre; the primary antagonists of this season. What if even one of the named antagonists in the season happened to have been the kobold's master?

It was taking what the players gave me and crafting up hooks like that which has really made this season of Encounters a ton of fun. For once, the party does not just feel like a group of Sellswords tasked along with doing X to defeat Y and save Z because there's rewards to be had. Of course, there's nothing wrong with that motif. Our group has a treasure hunter of sorts and he has less of a plot impact than some of the other characters, but just having these ties set up allow for a lot of fun player-side interaction. It is nice to know there is a driving force within the party, whether all the members share the same motivation or not, that goes beyond "get the reward." This season we have seen the playtime of our sessions go from barely an hour to an easy hour and a half to two hours thanks to all the roleplaying going on.

Granted, I have had some lucky breaks this season. Throughout the entire five sessions of Chapter 1, we managed to get by with the exact same party composition for the entire endeavor. Their Cleric missed one week and I had the jokingly beloved pre-gen Warpriest Valenae ran by someone as filler. Going into Chapter 2 we had a player that was rather vital given what had been going on miss and that was a bit of a blow. So going forward I may not be quite as lucky, but I am trying to make the best of it. I was also lucky in that although we only had one or two returning players from last season, we got a slew of newcomers. The fresh blood has really helped revitalize things and without the tight group cohesion, regarding combat, it means that I have had a much easier time making combat a challenging, but rewarding, experience.

This all brings me back around to the summary document I keep updated for our Facebook group. To reflect the added focus on roleplaying this season, I decided to be a bit more detailed in the session write-ups. It has been no surprise to me that as the season moved along these keep becoming longer because the party keeps having more and more interaction both among themselves and with the NPC's. What follows is the summary document up to last week's session. My table is currently one session ahead of the norm. We are having to skip out on a week this month, so I combined the first two sessions of Chapter 2 into a mega-session to balance things out. Being halfway into Chapter 2 makes all these summaries back to back a bit daunting to read. I will likely share some commentary on the season so far at a later time in a separate post:

D&D Encounters Season 09:
 Web of the Spider Queen

Shadowdale. This realm and the town with which it shares its name are better known for the past than the present. Ancient battles and the ruins they left behind draw historians and adventurers alike to these lands. Storm and Syluné Silverhand once dwelled here and sly Elminster still does. His protection has long kept Shadowdale safe. Even if Elminster's power has greatly diminished since his time as Mystra's Chosen, who would dare attack his home?

The white granite hill called Old Skull has loomed over Shadowdale for ages, but its significance has varied over time. When drow controlled the town, it was a sign of danger and domination. When their kind were forced out, the people of Shadowdale went back to seeing the hills as nothing more than a fascinating landmark. Sheep graze around it now, while children play atop its slopes of bare white stone.

A famed tavern takes its name from the landmark. The Old Skull Inn is known throughout Faerûn as a haven for adventurers. It is said that secret tunnels lead from the tavern's basement into catacombs under Old Skull--and from there into the Underdark. Adventurers gossip that a bribe to the innkeeper, Ghessla Silvermane, can gain an honest traveler access to the realms below the earth.

Lady Adee Ulphor rules Shadowdale, presiding over a land that has been peaceful for twenty years since Lord Azalar Falconhand retired. The symbol of leadership, the Pendant of Ashaba, is Lady Ulphor's by right and she keeps it secured in the Twisted Tower of Ashaba.

Our heroes have come to Shadowdale, with varying goals, to delve into the caverns of the Underdark.

-Harbek: A Dwarven Cleric of Moradin. He has traveled to Shadowdale on a pilgrimage hoping to spread The Creator's message while also helping those in need.

-Drake: A Human Thief who once served as a prominent naval captain. He abandoned this life for one of piracy and has come to Shadowdale after hearing rumors of great treasures that can be found by those brave enough to explore the Underdark.

-Damaia: A Tiefling Hexblade. As a child, her family and many close friends were exterminated by drow from House Jaelre. Forging a pact with infernal powers, she intends to use this arcane might to seek revenge.

-Halvar: A Dwarven Slayer who works as an artisan that primarly deals in creating foot wear. He has begun traveling the Dalelands seeking to learn more about the exquisite designs that are used in crafting Elven foot wear. His quest for knowledge has brought him to Shadowdale.

-Meecht: A Kobold Thief who has spent much of his life bound in slavery by drow from House Jaelre. He has recently escaped from the Underdark and has begun hiding out in Shadowdale hoping to evade recapture.

-Daveak: A mysterious Tiefling Rogue. He was present in Shadowdale and fought in the streets during the initial Drow raid. Catching sight of the party, he began to follow them keeping tabs on their progress before ultimately joining them in their fight at the tomb beneath the Twisted Tower of Ashaba.

-Shadowdale: Shadowdale began as a farming community in the Dalelands, in North Faerûn, and is the home of the archmage Elminster Aumar and was the home of two of the Seven, Storm Silverhand and Syluné. Through its history, Shadowdale has battled both Zhentarim and drow invasions. Due to the number of ruins in Shadowdale, it was a popular place for adventuring companies to settle. It is currently led by Lady Adee Ulphor.

-Old Skull Hill: A large, bare hill shaped like a massive dome just north of the village of Shadowdale. It is a spur of gnarled volcanic lichen and thick tufts of grass grow out of the many cracks and fissures. Beneath the hill are entrances to the Underdark.

-The Old Skull Inn: A famous tavern named after one of the memorable landmarks of Shadowdale. Ran by Ghessla Silvermane, it is a popular gathering spot for adventurers hoping to delve into the Underdark and those merely passing through. Rumors state that secret tunnels lead from the cellar of the Inn that lead into Old Skull Hill and beyond to the Underdark. It is currently undergoing renovations (primarily at the third flooor right now) in preparation for next year's two hundredth anniversary.

-The Twisted Tower of Ashaba: The home and seat of power of the lord and lady of Shadowdale. The tower, originally known simply as the Twisted Tower, takes its name from the first human lord of the dale, the water wizard Ashaba. Lady Ulphor currently keeps the Pendant of Ashaba, which acts as proof for the true lord of Shadowdale, sealed within the upper levels of the tower.

-Zadzifeirryn: A remote Drow outpost located in the Underdark beneath Shadowdale. Long ago, it was actively in use but since the Spellplague remained only staffed by a small contingent of Drow; poorly trained and few in number rarely traveling beyond the outpost itself. Recently Valan Jaelre, breaking away from House Jaelre with many followers, took charge of Zadzifeirryn using it as a base of operations. With its remote location within the Underdark, there are many obstacles and deterrents in the way to prevent easy access from outsiders.

-Bael Turath: Long ago, Bael Turath was one of the greatest nations in all of humankind's history. In the Empire, the noble class was completely obsessed with preserving and gaining power. Rumors of their schemes and obsession with power reached a realm called the Nine Hells, located around the Astral Sea. The devil creatures that resided in the Nine Hells gave the noble and ruling classes of Bael Turath visions while they slept, which contained the directions for a grisly, month-long ritual that would extend their rule into eternity. As the ritual demanded the participation of every noble house, those that refused were wholly slaughtered. Once this was done, the nobles and ruling class began their ritual. Afterwards, devils from the Nine Hells began to appear and the nobles gladly made pacts with them. These pacts gave power to the nobles and their descendants forever, but also gave them the devilish features of horns, non-prehensile tails, sharpened teeth, and red skin. Thus began the race known as the Tiefling.

-Lady Addee Ulphor: Current ruler of Shadowdale and wielder of the Pendant of Ashaba which marks the proper leader of the city. To keep the magical artifact safe, she has sealed the pendant in the upper levels of the Twisted Tower of Ashaba. Recently, she has forbidden anyone from traveling into the Underdark.

-Elminster Aumar: A legendary spellcaster, also known as the "Sage of Shadowdale" and the "Old Mage", who was one of the most famous and powerful wizards in all of Faerûn; as well as a fair fighter and thief. He once held the title of Mystra's Chosen. When Mystra died, his influence was greatly diminished. He makes his home in Shadowdale in a windmill on the outskirts of the city. Currently, he leads a more private life than he has in the past.

-Ghessla Silvermane: The proprietor of the Old Skull Inn; enjoysd running a tight ship. She refuses to cut corners, which helps to keep the inn's reputation for great service and fine fare. All her food, drink and rooms are of noticeably higher quality than what can be found at most inns. Rumors say she grants adventurers access to the Underdark through passages beneath the Inn if the price is right. She has been preparing for next year which marks the two hundred anniversary of the Inn's founding by her great-great-grandfather Burgo Silverman. Ghessla has sworn to make sure that the celebrations are the finest in the Inn's history.

-Old Dogsbreath: A crusty old-timer that has lived in Shadowdale since he was young. He was once an adventurer in his heyday, but his exploits are considered ancient history now. Frail and smelly, he does not have many friends anymore. Ghessla took pity on him, feeding him and giving him a permanent room on the second floor of the Old Skull Inn. He is not fond of drow or tieflings. Though he has few friends, he keeps tabs on the rumors of Shadowdale and claims to have seen Drow scouts sneaking around outside the village; no one else has confirmed his story.

-House Jaelre: A drow house that have infested the forest of Cormanthor for over a century at the elven ruins known as Minauthkeep. Originally, a band of renegades banished from Menzoberranzan for the heresy of worshipping Vhaeraun over Lolth. House Jaelre once tried to lay claim to the ruins of Myth Drannor. They have also worked successfully in tow with the forces of Zhentil Keep against elves in the area. Since the death of Vhaeraun and the advent of the Spellplague, House Jaelre has become far more dormant and secretive in their activity.

-Valan Jaelre: A self-styled aristocrat of House Jaelre and well respected Wizard. Claiming to have recieved a vision directly from Lolth, he has gathered a large force of drow breaking away from House Jaelre and siezing Zadzifeirryn as a base of operations. Valan desires to follow the vision and see Lolth's will be realized. Twenty years ago, he was responsible for leading a small band of drow that murdered Damaia's parents and most of the villagers in their small town. Taking pity on the sole remaining child in her weakness, Valan spared Damaia confident she would never pose a threat.

-Seleth Jaelre: The leader of Valan's Elite Guard who oversee much of the operations in Zadzifeirryn. Their squad was also tasked with stealing the Pendant of Ashaba. In Minauthkeep, before the rebel faction split away, Seleth and Valan were rivals. The other Jaelre drow expected one of the two to turn up dead courtesy of the other's knife. As their competition escalated, their combined ambition grew greater than all other within House Jaelre. Few were surprised that she joined Valan's splinter group. The allure of doing something more ambitious than sitting around within Minauthkeep drew her to the side of her long time rival.  She has a special connection to Meecht as among all drow in House Jaelre it was she who personally kept the kobold and commanded him most often during his slavery. During the battle with our heroes, Seleth was injured and escaped through a secret passageway that sealed shut behind her.

-Dorvon Jaelre: A thug with a volatile temper, nicknamed Bonebreaker, he is a liability when dealing with the complexities of drow society. Fortunately for him, his skill in battle made him useful to Valan's cause. Within the Eltie Guard, Dorvon was able to boss around the non-Jaelre drow; a privledge he greatly enjoyed. His overzealous harassment of his subordinates drew Valan's attention, however. Dorvon knew he was being watched and that any more "bad" behavior could get him exiled. Instead, he serves Seleth's leadership faithfully hoping that once Shadowdale falls to House Jaelre, he might obtain the freedom to act as he sees fit. During the battle with our heroes, he was tortured by Halvar and Daveak. In the end, he was granted freedom by Harbek and told to flee and never return; the Cleric going so far to protect him against crossbow fire from an angry Daveak.

Chapter 1
Session 01: Old Skull Inn
-Our heroes crossed paths for the first time on the porch of the Old Skull Inn; each appearing in Shadowdale for various personal reasons.

-Harbek and Halvar took seats at the bar and discussed current events with innkeeper Ghessla Silvermane. They inquired about exploring the Underdark and though warning them of the laws against doing so, she informed them that 100 gold pieces could easily sway her mind to allow a party access.

-Meanwhile, Drake spoke to two dwarves (brother and sister) Devan and Brundi. They claimed to be adventurers who had explored the Underdark extensively, but they seemed to merely be fluffing up secondhand accounts to develop a famous reputation.

-Damaia spoke to Old Dogsbreath who took little favor to the Tiefling. As she inquired about the Underdark, Old Dogsbreath recounted the rumor about Ghessla letting adventurers into the Underdark and also mentioned that he had spied drow scouts outside Shadowdale recently. However,  other patrons put little stock in the stories this old man told.

-Hiding among the patrons, Meecht snuck below into the Inn's cellar where he began stealing food in preparation to continue his escape beyond Shadowdale; fearing pursuit from the drow who kept him bound in slavery.

-As it grew late, the heroes stayed the night on the second floor at the insistence of Ghessla only to be awoken by the sounds of battle. Rushing below they found the Old Skull Inn being invaded by drow; a small vanguard to a larger attack going on throughout all of Shadowdale.

-Banding together, the five of them managed to fend off the drow raid and protect Ghessla along with the Inn's patrons from any real harm. After the battle, the group interrogated a captured drow who refused to share any information. Halvar and Damaia immediately resorted to cruel tactics as a means of making the drow speak. However, even against torture he refused to talk aside from a small slip mentioning that the group could never stop the ambitions of House Jaelre.

-Recognizing this name as the drow house that held him in slavery, Meecht flew into a frenzy attempting to attack the drow only to find himself restrained by his companions. Driven by the teaching of Moradin, Harbek interceded on the drow's behalf stressing mercy for their captive.

-Before the adventurers could come to an agreement on what to do with the drow, Harbek felt himself engulfed by magic as he began to hear the voice of Elminster...

Session 02: Tower of Ashaba
-Through the use of a Sending ritual, Elminster contacted Harbek. He mentioned that he was busy fending off the drow throughout Shadowdale and tasked the party with fetching the Pendant of Ashaba from the Twisted Tower. Afterwards, they were to bring it to Elminster so he might protect it from falling into the wrong hands. The party replied questioning why Elminster was leaving such an important task to them, but he gave no answer.

-As the party conferred with Ghessla for directions to the Twisted Tower, Meecht enacted revenge on the group's captive despite them being unable to reach a consensus about letting him go. This raised many questions regarding his extreme hatred towards the drow.

-Learning of a back entrance to the tower from Ghessla, the party borrowed a boat and sailed down the River Ashaba hoping to sneak in unnoticed or surprise any drow already within.

-Sneaking into the Twisted Tower, the party got the drop on a detatchment of drow who had seemingly secured the first floor. They had also captured a young human woman named Maedra; one of Lady Ulphor's attendants.

-Just as the party achieved victory, they found the battle was not quite over. Maedra, who they had rescued, stabbed Drake in the back revealing that her appearance had merely been the disguise of a Doppleganger. As the fight turned in favor of the party, the Doppleganger remarked that the gold was not worth it if he were not alive to spend it all before attempting to flee.

-Unfortunately, the party overwhelmed the Doppleganger taking him captive. In the aftermath, some of the group searched the Twisted Tower easily tracking the drow's movement. They left Lady Ulphor's personal chamber undisturbed but at the highest room of the tower, the Pendant of Ashaba had already been taken.

-Meanwhile, searching the bodies of their enemies the rest made a curious discovery: none of the drow seemed to bear any insignia or sign of the House they hailed from. At the same time, searching their supplies Halvar found a surprise. One of the drow had been carrying with him masterfully crafted boots that were very ornate and radiated with magical energy. While they were not the Elven-footwear that Halvar so longed to master, these were equal in value as far as their qualtiy and artistry was concerned. However, he could not identify the workmanship.

-As the party regrouped, they questioned the Doppleganger. Fearing for his life, he shared what little he knew. Like many of his race, he worked as a mercenary and was hired on by some drow to imitate one of Lady Ulphor's attendants as a means of granting them easy access to the Twisted Tower. He knew they had used a secret passage in the cellar which connected to the pathways under Old Skull Hill that eventually lead to the Underdark.

-Letting his hatred for those who enslaved him guide his thoughts, Meecht attempted to slay the Doppleganger throwing the party into conflict once more. Harbek again pressed for mercy while Drake, having been a mercenary himself, argued that the true villains were the drow themselves. Though Meecht managed to charge past and strike the Doppleganger, Harbek, Drake and Damaia took charge of the situation patching up the poor soul and releasing him. Freed, he swore to flee Shadowdale and never return thanking them for their kindness.

-With the Pendant of Ashaba stolen, this band of misfits' next step seemed clear. Though divided in motives, and drastically opposed in opinion, they had to retrieve the Pendant of Ashaba. The path the fleeing drow used was easy to follow towards the cellar and beyond...

Session 03: Hall of the Dead
-As the party took a short rest, unknown to the rest of them, a Tiefling Rogue named Daveak was observing their actions. Daveak had been fighting the drow in the streets of Shadowdale and took note of the group as they began to sneak into the Tower of Ashaba; curious he trailed them carefully.

-Descending into the cellar, the party was easily able to track the movement of the drow. Their pursuit, however, was delayed momentarily as Harbek and Halvar couldn't help sampling the fine ale they discovered stored within. As the party plunged deeper, Daveak followed along trailing behind unnoticed within the shadows.

-The tracks eventually led to a dead end within a small crypt holding several stone coffins. Exploring further, they discovered that this room was the final resting place for each former Lord of Shadowdale dating all the way back to the original Lord Ashaba.

-Inspecting Lord Ashaba's coffin, the party discovered a secret passage rested directly underneath it. Combining their various skills, they managed to discover and activate the secret switch sliding the tomb back and revealing a spiral staircase descending into darkness.

-Below, the party found a multi-level crypt filled with ancient coffins. Waiting ahead was a female drow who activated a powerful artifact that called out to the dead sealed within the coffins through strange mist. Joined by several archers, she attempted to the delay the party from catching up with those who had taken the pendant.

-Calling on power from Lolth directly, the drow summoned a swarm of spiders which made engaging their foes directly a tricky issue for the party. As everyone else carefully worked forward, Drake boldly charge on ahead directly into the fray using this momentum to knock the female drow out. However, it was too late to change the situation. As the foul mist filled the room it called out to the skeletons within each coffin raising them from the dead to attack the party.

-Realizing their desperation situation, shrouded by a dark cloak to hide his identity, Daveak revealed himself aiding the party in the fight.

-Just as things seemed their bleakest, Harbek called upon Moradin directly. Channeling power from Moradin, Harbek was able to keep the party fighting and see the battle to its end successfully. As the last drow fell, Damaia used her knowledge of all things arcane to dispel the spider swarm and odd mist. Meanwhile, Halvar and the others tied up their captive.

-Angered that she had been captured by Drake, the drow woman offered little information willingly. Again, the party fell into debate upon the best way to gain information. Cursing Valan Jaelre, the woman insisted the party go ahead and kill her so she might await Valan in the next life with knife-ready.

-Picking up on this, Meecht recognized the name as one of the higher ranking drow among House Jaelre. For Damaia, the name held a far more bitter meaning as she recognized the name of the man who had killed her parents over twenty years ago.

-Ultimately the captive revealed that Valan, claiming to be driven by visions directly from Lolth, organized a band of drow and defected from House Jaelre. Leading them into the Underdark beneath Shadowdale, Valan siezed an old drow outpost long inactive named Zadzifeirryn. He intended to use it as a staging ground for his plans, but the particulars were unknown to her. She also revealed that long ago, it had been the drow who built the very crypt they were in as well as the Twisted Tower of Ashaba itself.

-Still holding on to the grudge of his slavery, Meecht desired to kill the captive but once more Harbek disagreed; unable to relent against his teachings as a Cleric of Moradin. The dashing Drake, not wishing to outright kill a woman (even if she happened to be drow), agreed with this sentiment. Finally Damaia, reserving her anger for Valan alone, also spoke up in favor of sparing the captive.

-Compromising, the group left the captive stuck in one of the coffins within the ancient crypt. It was likely any other drow passing through might free her, but it would give the party enough time to forge ahead in pursuit of the Pendant without fear of being pursued themselves.

-As the party took a short rest after all the excitement, Damaia took the magic rod their captive had been using for her own. Meanwhile, searching the coffins closer, Meecht managed to find an enchanted long sword that had been put to rest alongside the drow who had once owned it.

-As the party began to continue chasing after the Pendant, a flash of light filled the room. As it vanished, standing in a circle of smoldering ash, there appeared a male elf and human female. The woman held a bloodied longsword and glanced at the party as if dazed. Those who had stayed at the Old Skull Inn recognized her as one of the patrons that had been present upon their arrival.

-Recognizing what, or rather who, the ashen circle represented Halvar couldn't help but cry out, "Dammit Elminster!"

Session 04: At The Spider Gates
-Face to face with newcomers sent by Elminster, the party quickly discovered that they were as confused as the rest of them. The woman introduced herself as Khara Sulwood: a knight and descendant of a former lord of Shadowdale. She desired to one day be worthy enough to reclaim this right. Her elf companion was named Tharinel: an expert tracker from the forests of Cormanthor. Unsure of his own direction in life, Tharinel had pledged to support Khara while he searched his place in life.

-Khara explained to the group that she and Tharinel had been in the streets fighting off drow alongside Elminster. However, as the battle began to turn in their favor, Elminster told the duo that the 'others' would need their assistance. The next thing they knew, both of them had been teleported here. Meecht initially seemed wary of Tharinel knowing only of drow and assuming the elf must be some variant himself. Insulted by such an observation, Tharinel quickly corrected and reassured the kobold that the drow were as much his enemy as the rest of the party's.

-Attention was also turned towards the newcomer that had joined the party during their last battle. Halvar quickly surmised that Daveak was likely forced along by Elminster, much like the rest of them, and this reasoning seemed enough for the rest of the party. No further questions were asked and Daveak seemed fine with staying silent. As a show of good faith, Drake gave Daveak one of his spare rapiers to wield in any upcoming battles.

-Together, joined by Khara and Tharinel, the group traveled on in pursuit of the Pendant of Ashaba. As they traveled further through the ancient drow crypts their exploration brought them closer to the Underdark. The environment became more like natural caverns than stone dungeon corridors. Eventually, the party came upon a large set of stone steps descending further down.

-Sneaking ahead of the party, Drake and Daveak discovered a small force of drow which were also joined by purple-skinned goblins. Meecht, in his slavery to House Jaelre, recognized them as Lolthbound goblins. Long tainted by the power of Lolth, these goblins were fiercely loyal to the drow they served and very dangerous in combat. In the distance rested a large metal gate blocking the path ahead. Looking as if it had weathered many attacks throughout the years, this gate's defining feature was the large spider emblem designed upon its face; the entrance to the Underdark beyond.

-Leading the charge with their surprise attack, Drake and Daveak heralded the party into battle once more. The battle was fierce forcing the party to fight at their very best to keep the advantage over the drow. Upon a raised platform, a duo of archers took opportunity of their height and rained down arrows becoming a constant nuisance. Once more, Harbek's power to heal through the grace of Moradin was stretched to its limit as he did his best to keep everyone in the fight.

-During the battle's climax, Meecht was inspecting the spider-marked gates and heard the faint sound of footsteps running off. As things drew to a close, the party captured one of the drow as well as a goblin. Searching some supplies upon the high platform the archers had been stationed at, Harbek found a bloodied Holy Symbol radiating with divine power. It was likely that it had been taken by the drow during their assault on Shadowdale. In honor of its former owner, Harbek vowed to put it to good use. Elsewhere Drake, in a feat of strength, managed to pull a large lever discovered by Daveak which opened the spider-marked gates revealing the path ahead.

-After tying up their captives, Halvar awakened the goblin. Only Damaia was able to understand it and all attempts at dialogue were fruitless. The goblin seemed to hold fanatical devotion to Lolth ignoring all questions and merely raving about the coming of the Spider Queen. With no use as a source of information, the party left the goblin to be finished off by Meecht.

-Turning attention to the captured drow, Halvar awakened him and began questioning once more. Keeping a solid resolve, the drow taunted the party for not finishing him off outright. He refused to provide any information mentioning simply that if he could escape at this point he would meet death anyways as Valan Jaelre would surely send him to the Torture Theater in punishment for his failure to stop the party.

-As the group worked in circles trying to force out any further information Daveak, tired of the parley, charged forth taking hold of the drow and placing a dagger to his throat threatening to end the warrior's life if he did not give up whatever information he knew. Laughing, the drow merely taunted Daveak. He went on to say that a proud warrior like himself was already resolved to his death in failing. Furthermore, he challenged the Tiefling as to whether or not he truly had the guts to put his knife to a helpless captive. Meanwhile, Halvar threatened to torture the drow putting his hammer towards his fingers. The proud warrior kept his resolve.

-Not one to accept such taunts, Daveak made good on his intentions shocking some among the party with his decision. Meecht celebrated the Tiefling's swift action. Disgusted at such behavior, Drake was torn between assaulting his fellow adventurer himself or letting the matter stand. Not wanting to create further conflicts, the pirate marched on ahead down the path through the spider gates. Insulted by such obvious disgust, Daveak took the rapier that Drake had given him and left it to rest within the drow's body; a sign he would accept no such favors from one that did not agree with him.

-Damaia remained ambivalent on the matter, still reserving all her rage towards Valan himself. Khara and Tharinel waited nearby staying out of the greater affairs of the party. Harbek, torn on the matter by his role as a cleric of Moradin, accepted that these drow were truly evil but at the same time felt unsure about torturing and killing captives.

-As the air remained tense, the party advanced after Drake. Beyond the the spider gates the passage sloped gradually downward. The stone began to become worked and less ornate. Crouching down, Tharinel studied tracks noting that among Drake's own footsteps were other footprints that matched the boots the drow had been wearing. He felt it was likely that someone had only ran ahead just as their battle came to a close; this lined up with what Meecht had heard. It was likely that the drow they had been pursuing were fully aware that the party was close behind and coming for them.

Session 05: Valan's Counterattack
-Continuing deeper into the Underdark, the party remained haunted by the tense air between Drake and Daveak. Remaining dilligent, the party continued searching for any signs of traps or signs of the drow they were seeking. Along the way they discovered various side rooms all of which seemed to be abandoned.

-As they traveled, Daveak attempted to speak with Drake mentioning that once the empire of Bael Turath returned there would be no room for the weak hearted. This prompted angry silence from the pirate while the rest of the party, overhearing the exchange, became puzzled by the reference.

-Ultimately, the party rounded a corner and found themselves in a larger open area with various paths connecting to the room from all directions. In seconds, drow began to appear from all sides. It was more than clear that they had walked directly into an ambush. From behind a large porticullis in the distance, a male drow in ornate robes emerged donning a symbol that resembled a sunburst set with downward-pointing daggers: the leader of this rebel faction of drow, Valan Jaelre.

-Certain of their victory despite the overwhelming numbers, Khara drew her sword as she prepared to rally the party into battle. However, her words were cut short as she and Tharinel were whisked away again by the magic of Elminster; prompting the party to once more curse the enigmatic mage.

-Valan proceeded to compliment the party stating that if they were not so unpredictable then they would have made good slaves in service to House Jaelre. Studying them closer, he moved on to taunt most of the party. First, he called upon Harbek mentioning that once Lolth had been unleashed upon Faerûn that even Moradin would fall as her webs ensnared the land.  Harbek replied, confident in his faith, that Moradin would stand strong against the Spider Queen.

-Next, Valan recognized Damaia. The wizard admitted that he never expected her to survive on her own as just a small child and joked that if he could have foreseen the current situation then perhaps he would have killed her as well. Seething in anger, Damaia remained silent.

-Noticing Meecht, Valan immediately recognized a slave of House Jaelre and stated that a runaway would never be tolerated. Driven to rage at the sight of such a high-ranking drow, Meecht defiantly shouted back, "Death to drow!"

-Finally, Valan's gaze turned towards Daveak. Valan made it clear he knew the Tiefling's name personally. To the party's shock, Valan went on to thank the mysterious Tiefling for watching over Elminster's lackeys this far, but that he had been a fool to ever make a deal with a drow adding that he would die here and now along with the very quarry he had been assigned to keep tabs on. Though alarmed by this revelation, the party had no time to discuss or take action upon it as they were beset by drow from all directions.

-Leading his forces, Valan unleashed a powerful spell upon the party showering them in poisonous spiderwebs injuring the majority and poisoning those wrapped within the webbing. Following this, Valan lashed out with his mind dominating Daveak and forcing him to turn his blade on Damaia to "continue the work he had been hired for."

-As the drow surrounded the party, which was pinned down and found it difficult to move due to the spiderwebs called forth by Valan, Drake and Halvar bravely charged towards the wizard himself intending to swipe at him through the porticullis. Despite this protection, both managed to strike Valan injuring him far beyond what he had anticipated. Meanwhile, Meecht and Daveak each found themselves singled out by a drow. The remaining squeezed by where possible focusing towards Harbek and Damaia.

-Realizing he had slightly underestimated the party, Valan used the classic drow trick cloud of darkness to create some cover as he lurched away in pain leaving the party to be wiped out by his men. Outnumbered, and many suffering from terrible poison, things seemed bleak for the party. However, by banding together the tides began to turn in their favor. Once more, Moradin answered Harbek's call and gave the party the last minute surge needed to push through and achieve victory. After the battle, things seemed more tense than ever.

-Barely taking time to treat his wounds, Drake turned his blade towards Daveak insisting the party could not trust both a liar and a traitor. In self defense, Daveak raised his weapons as well. However, Harbek quickly placed himself between them while Halvar, Damaia and Meecht worked to separate the two. Harbek noted that Daveak had fought with them through this battle and if nothing else the dwarf desired to hear his side of things.

-Lowering his weapons, Daveak began to explain his connection to Valan. Daveak had long been fascinated with the ancient empire of Bael Turath and had made it his personal quest to see this empire revived and returned to its former glory. As his forces set up within Zadzifeirryn, Valan encountered the Tiefling while hiring mercenaries such as the Doppleganger the party encountered within the Twisted Tower of Ashaba.

-Hearing Daveak's wish, Valan promised that once his goal had been achieved and Lolth freed upon the lands he would see to it that Daveak's desire would be granted as well. The Tiefling had been assigned to infiltrate Shadowdale amid the drow raid and keep watch on the Twisted Tower. Valan was well aware of the famous Elminster's presence in the city and anticipated that he would try to stop his plans. Daveak was to intercept anyone attempting to pursue the pendant, be they Elminster or other heroes sent by him, and guide the group directly to Valan. There, an ambush would easily dispose of any foes.

-Harbek nodded with understanding pointing out that it had been Daveak's first folly to believe the words from a servant of Lolth. However, Drake remained enraged insisting upon the Tiefling's death. Harbek continued interceding as he tried to calm the situation by making it clear that at this point Daveak, having been betrayed, was clearly on their side.

-Halvar added that with the strength of Valan's magic now revealed to them, it would be handy to have another blade at their side. Meecht seemed not to care so long as Daveak would continue killing drow with him. Damaia remained ambivalent as ever. Realizing it would mean going against, and drawing the wrath of, the entire party Drake stepped down on the matter. However, he made it clear that though he would work alongside Daveak he still did not trust him. Halvar and Harbek merely stated that Daveak could pay them back over the issue by buying their drinks the next chance they had to stop at an inn.

-Searching the room, Daveak and Drake managed to find a set of enchanted rapiers some of the drow had been using claiming them as their own. Elsewhere, Harbek and Meecht discovered a secret door masked by magic. The paths held within were clearly what the drow had been using to shuffle their forces around in private as well as stage the ambush attack.

-However, desiring to pursue Valan directly, Halvar had several party members band with him to lift the porticullis. Despite its heavy weight, in a grand feat of strength, Halvar managed to lift the porticullis open. Following Valan's blood trail, the group was surprised to see it stop abruptly as if the wizard had vanished into thin air. Confused by this, the party traveled on wondering where Khara and Tharinel had vanished to.

-Further ahead, the group came to a large chamber that seemed to connect to several of the secret passages. This spot seemed devoid of drow activity and tired from their initial pursuit the party decided to make camp. As they settled in for the night, the party was discovered by a small band of Kobold merchants. Recognizing one of their own, they conferred in draconic with Meecht explaining that the area they were in was rarely visited by the drow. They had noticed large forces stirring recently in the Underdark and had thus been extra careful to avoid capture.

-Once Meecht explained their situation, the merchants offered to sell supplies to the party and outfit them for their expedition deeper into the Underdark after Valan and the Pendant of Ashaba.

-While camping for the night, Daveak discussed Khara and Tharinel with the party wondering if perhaps they might not be who they say they are. Several agreed that it did seem strange that they joined at a time when they were not really needed and then were conveniently taken away just as the ambush began.

-Puzzled by everything that had transpired thus far, the party took a well deserved rest. In the morning, their journey into the Underdark would continue...

Chapter 2
Session 06: Tests of Lolth
-In the morning, the party traded some with the kobold merchants to prepare for their continued adventure into the Underdark. Ever showing his discontent for any laws but his own, Daveak managed to slip past the watchful Meecht and steal some supplies he needed from the merchants' storage.

-Following directions from the band of kobolds, the party continued on their quest. Eventually, they came to a large door blocking the path. Etched on it was a face with the mouth set as the sole entrance. Magical runes inscribed on the ground flared to life stating: "Enter and pass the tests in the name of the Queen of Spiders." Meecht, having picked up info from his bretheren, knew that these tests were a final deterrent to keep the enemies of the drow from reaching the deepest portions of the Underdark beneath Shadowdale where Zadzifeirryn rested.

-Entering cautiously, the party found four doors marked with magical writing each labeling a certain test. It seemed all four would need to be cleared for the path ahead to open. Taking charge, Halvar began to lead the party through the door labeled The Test of Deceit. However, upon entering the path closed off permitting only a single person within.

-In the small stone room Halvar recieved a clue in the form of glowing magical writing which stated: "Look Lolth in the eyes and provide the answers she demands. She shall see the truth in your words and reward you accordingly." Then, a statue of Lolth slid out from a secret wall. Staring the figure in the eyes, Halvar was surprised to have it speak directly to him. It went through a series of questions wherein Halvar quickly learned that telling the honest truth would result in attacks in the form of powerful red beams of energy. It seemed, true to her nature, lying to the statue effectively was the key.

-After clearing the puzzle, Halvar was returned to the main hallway and the writing on the door faded. Realizing the way the overall puzzle was framed, Meecht took the next turn as he entered the Test of Shadow.

-Here, the kobold found a room laid out with black and white tiles along with magical writing that stated: "The path to the Spider Queen is in darkness." Noting red tiles in opposite corners of the room Meecht approached one. Stepping on it caused the tile to sink into the floor as the room became filled with pitch black darkness. However, being a creature of the Underdark himself, Meecht was still able to see. He noted a faint magical glow to the black tiles and while following a path made of them he reached and stepped upon the opposite red tile passing this trial.

-Next, posing as a single person by stacking atop one another's shoulders, Halvar and Harbek entered the Test of Demons. There magical writing set the stage once more: "Lolth shall one day lead the armies of the Abyss before her, its generals attired with their proper tools of war." Following their reading of this, a wall slid back revealing a statue carved from red stone resembling a large demon who seemed to have open slots in each hand to wield weapons. On the opposite wall, a secret panel slid back to reveal a rack containing various weapons.

-Working together with their respective knowledge, the dwarven duo managed to identify the creatue as a Balor, a demon that leads the armies of the Abyss, which Halvar recalled always wield a lightning sword and a flaming whip. Taking the respective weapons, they inserted them into the statue's hands at the same time and found themselves returned to the main hallway passing another of the tests.

-Eager to prove his devotion to the party after the revelation caused by Valan Jaelre, Daveak took it upon himself to tackle the Test of Spiders. Within he was greeted with the same magical writing that guided each puzzle: "Lure your prey onto the web, then impale them on your fangs. Three shall feed your ambition."

-This puzzle seemed not quite as straightforward as the rest. Stumbling through and being injured by the red beams fired by traps within the room Daveak eventually realized the solution. He had to manipulate the various features of the room including hanging spikes, some odd webbing and rats beneath the floor to simulate how a spider would trap its prey before feeding. After repeating the proper steps three times the puzzle was solved. However, Daveak took the time to pilfer some valuable jewels that seemed to have been left in the chamber his dexterous hands avoiding any traps that might have been set up around them.

-With all four tests cleared, the far wall of the hallway the party was in slid back to reveal the entrance into the true Underdark. The way to Zadzifeirynn was clear.

Session 07: Jaelre Elite
-Moving ahead, the party found the paths forward were dimly lit by an eerie green light emitted by the phosphorescent fungus that naturally inhabited the Underdark. As they followed the twisting and winding cave corridors attempting to track any drow movement possible the party became separated from Drake. Unable to find their companion, the party decided to continue ahead hoping that the paths might cross back again or he might catch up to them.

-Following tracks, the passage the party had selected ended in a short drop-off that connected to an empty cavern with no clear exit. There they were ambushed by three drow, adorning the same symbol Valan had been wearing, claiming to be the Elite Guard of the Zadzifeirynn forces. Led by a Priestess of Lolth named Seleth, the party was shocked as Meecht recognized the woman. Among all of House Jaelre, it was she that had most often ordered the kobold around during his slavery. She was well respected among House Jaelre and even a rival to Valan at that time; though now it seemed she had joined his cause.

-Accompanying her was Dorvon, something of a thug who had little trust back in Minauthkeep and was seen as too dangerous to be trusted. Valan, however, saw value in his combat skills and accepted him into his Elite force. Finally, there was Onauth the Mute. A skilled ranger who had his lips magically sewn shut in punishment for talking back to Valan during a strategy meeting.

-Seleth offered the party a chance to surrender and keep their lives. However, between Meecht's rage and the party's inability to trust the drow's word the fight seemed inevitable. As Dorvon and Onauth dove into battle, Seleth remained on the raised platform they had used in their ambush attacking from a distance.

-Things quickly took a bad turn for the party. Dropping from the top of the cavern came a large Deathjump Spider dubbed Clinks; Onauth's animal companion. Acting in swift concert togther, the duo managed to gang up on individual party members  exhausting their fighting strength while Clinks poisoned them with its fangs. 

-At the far end of the cave, Daveak found himself jumped by a mysterious assailant hiding in the shadows. This was the final member of the Elite Guard: Kietti. She was a skilled assassin often employed by House Jaelre with inter-House conflicts when they still resided in Menzoberranzan before their exodus to Minauthkeep. Trapping the Tiefling with her spidersilk rope, the asssassin swiftly dragged Daveak away from the rest of the party isolating him as she poisoned him with her hidden dagger.

-During the battle, boasting from Seleth revealed several key facts. That it was the Elite Guard who stole the Pendant of Ashaba and delivered it to Valan directly amid the chaos caused by the attack on Shadowdale. More importantly, it seemed the Elite Guard had come upon Khara and Tharinel managing to capture the duo sending them to a place dubbed the Demonspur.

-Once more, Harbek streched the powers granted to him by Moradin to their limit attempting to keep the party alive while Halvar and Damaia found themselves overwhelmed trying to stand their ground against Dorvon, Onauth and Clinks. Meecht, driven by rage, focused on Seleth alone. After severely injuring her, he found his vengeance delayed as the sly Priestess retreated through a secret passageway leaving her subordinates to finish the battle alone.

-Slowly, after several close calls for Daveak at the hands of Kietti, the battle began to turn in favor of the party. In the end, our heroes took Dorvon and Kietti as captives hoping to gain information from drow that worked so closely under Valan himself.

-Initially, the party roused Kietti awake and began questioning her. However, the proud drow remained defiant claiming that as an assassin she was well prepared for what failure on a mission meant; she would accept her death without fear. Frustrated that he had been bested by her during the battle, Daveak took charge threatening her directly with his dagger. However, despite the fiercest of displays Kietti remained solid in her resolve.

-Ultimately, to the frustration of Damaia who (in a rare act of interest) had been trying to question the woman, Daveak grasped Kietti's spidersilk rope that she had wielded in battle and used this to choke the assassin granting her the death she expected for failure. Damaia openly expressed her discontent with the party's seemingly penchant towards cruel torture against their captives.

-Rousing Dorvon awake, the party managed to learn a bit about how he fit into things with the Elite Guard. However, he seemed to clearly be hiding something. Holding a grudge from the blows traded back and forth during their battle, Halvar proceeded with his usual tactic of smashing one of the drow's hands. Daveak eagerly joined in as well while Meecht cheered them on. Hoping the information might help them unravel Valan's plot, Harbek inerceded on the drow's behalf just as the torturers cut off one of Dorvon's ears.

-Speaking as a Cleric of Moradin, Harbek offered his word that if Dorvon shared all he knew and then fled the Underdark that he would protect him from the rest of the party. Dorvon seemed naturally skeptical and questioned why a follower of Moradin would allow such actions out of his companions in the first place. This left Harbek slightly stunned.

-After a bit of inter-partying arguing, Damaia and Harbek managed to convince the party that the information would be more valuable and worth letting him go. While Dorvon was not directly aware of Valan's full plan, the thug knew that according to the visions the wizard had recieved from Lolth he would need to gather powerful artifacts. Utilizing their energy in a particular ritual, Lolth's ascension and release upon the realms might be realized in just a short time. The Pendant of Ashaba was identified as the first potential artifact and Valan intended to see just how much could be accomplished solely with this object. Dorvon further added that the pendant itself was now being guarded within Zadzifeirynn and confirmed that their squad had captured Khara and Tharinel sealing them in a maze-like region dubbed the Demonspur.

-Promising to keep his word and swearing an oath upon Moradin, Harbek healed Dorvon enough so he might escape, patching his injuries in the process, and began escorting him to the path the party had used to enter the cavern. In a fit of rage, Daveak drew his crossbow just as Damaia and Halvar flew into action to grasp the renegade Tiefling. However, Daveak swiftly dodged both adventurers letting loose a crossbow bolt aimed directly at Dorvon.

-However, unwilling to let his oath be broken, Harbek himself stepped in the way of the bolt allowing himself to be struck in the shoulder to protect the drow. Shaking his head, Dorvon informed Harbek that he felt sorry for him and that if he thought Lolth would have any mercy for him he might, in fact, pray for his continued adventuring with such a party.

-Halvar rushed Daveak, pinning him against the wall with his great axe questioning his actions. Daveak confidently replied that it was Harbek who had sworn an oath; he had done no such thing. To him all drow were now his enemy as they stood in the way for his dream of reviving Bael Turath. Damaia and Meecht pointed out that it was barely hours ago that Daveak himself had been revealed to be a traitor working for Valan and agreed to support the party in their fight to redeem himself.

-Harbek tried to calm things mentioning that they would need everyone's strength to stop Valan; particularly since they were still missing Drake. Halvar refused to relent, however, offering Daveak two choices: to agree that he would support the decisions made by the party as a whole or die at the hand of his great axe here and now. Realizing that he had pushed the tension among his fellow adventurers to its limit, Daveak consented to Halvar's demand.

-With little to say among one another after so much arguing and high emotions, the party managed to find a small break in the cavern wall through which they could advance. This path led them to a large open cavern with a rope bridge before them; three more similar bridges extended from other sides of the cavern.

-These bridges all converged at the top of a titanic stalactite. This naturally made inverted tower appeared to have many chambers hollowed out inside. From within hellish latern-light shined out from the various windows. Barely visible in the dim green light of cave fungi glistening strands of spidersilk spanned the cavern beneath the stalactite, forming a web of incredible size...

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