Thursday, November 8, 2012

D&D Encounters: War of Everlasting Darkness Session 01+02

So I'm combining our first two weeks together because I devoted what time I had to session write-ups to powering through all those Mecha episodes. I have a lot to say about this season so this part might be a bit long winded. As far as overall, things are going well. We now have two full tables and just this week starting Session 02, we got in another new player. Excellent times for our Encounters program.

I have a lot of issues with this season and the "testing" D&D NEXT mechanics or whatever. I was hopeful going in. I'm always willing to try anything once when it comes to an RPG. However, maybe this is a little early to say it, but two sessions in and I already feel like this is a bad move. First, I should preface this by saying that reaction-wise most of our players found the changes awkward, but were hopeful. However, one of our vets (who had seen through both previous seasons in the Rise of the Underdark Trilogy) bowed out this season after learning about the new changes. There was really nothing I could do about it. It made me a little sad that this decision turned away one of our long time players.

So this is my problem. I have nothing against added focus on roleplaying and exploration; I do love DCC to death. However, the way they went about implementing this with 4e just does not work in my opinion. Fights are a joke in this season so far. They're already made easier, I think, to account for having multiple battles. However, these gridless supporting minion brawls do little to expend resources, only last a round or two tops and are more of a small speed bump to the party if anything. Then, there's still usually one "major" battle of the session. However, players go in every week after an extended rest with (by the rules) an action point and all their daily powers refreshed. You know you'll get them back next week. There's zero incentive not to blow them on the hardest battle and tear through it quickly.

To me, the tactical nature of 4e's combat is one of its strongest points. Even the powers are built around this. We had some stumbling points in Session's 2 minion orc battle as I tried to describe the nature of the battle and people kept wondering about the ranges on their powers. Everyone's entitled to their own opinion, but I think WOTC dropped a major ball with this decision. In any case,  I suppose we'll see how it goes in the later sessions which, admittedly, look a bit more interesting than this intro material. We've got a lot of information to cover so let's dig right in:

Deep in the darkness of the Demonweb Pits, Lolth has been spinning a web of deceit, treachery and ambition. Her goal is to seize control of arcane magic, a domain that has lain vacant since the death of Mystra a hundred years ago.

To facilitate this grab for power, Lolth has sent the prophet Danifae Yauntyrr to all cities of the drow. Danifae is a fallen priestess, a scoundrel, a seductress and-if history is any guide-an avatar of Lolth. Whispering to the leaders of all the great drow houses, Danifae has spurred them to gather ancient knowledge and relics to aid Lolth's ascent.

The drow have scoured the world for the physical remnants of dead or sleeping primordials, sought out the remains of great wizards, gathered artifacts once sacred to Mystra and fought for control of magical locations on the world's surface. As the dark elves have gathered arcane energy and channeled it to Lolth, her strength has grown.

Lolth's web has extended to cover most of the world, forming a Demon Weave to replace the sundered Weave that Mystra maintained. This new matrix of arcane magic grants the priests and wizards who serve Lolth access to newfound abilities and their task is now to use them.

Across the surface world, Lolth's servitors draw on the Demon Weave to create shrouds of darkness that they call the Darkening. Under this pall of shadow, the drow can move and fight with darkness on their side during what would normally be daylight hours. With this newfound advantage, they hope to help complete Lolth's ascendancy to her new role as Goddess of Magic.

1) Decanis: An Eladrin Psion traveling as an envoy for his kingdom. Amid the great threat from Lolth, Decanis holds the unique opinion and hope that the drow might one day return among the other fey as allies.

2) Terios: A Minotaur Warden with a severe hate towards drow. When Terios was but a young child, his entire family was killed by a squad of drow acting above ground. Left for dead, Terios was rescued by Teph and has since stood by her side as an ally. A creature of action more than thought, Terios has a reputation for getting his companions into trouble.

3) Teph: A clever Pixie Thief. She rescued Terios from death after drow exterminated his family when he was a child. She once botched a robbery and found herself imprisoned in a jar for 3 days until Terios was able to find and rescue her. Also known for being a skilled negotiator.

4) Makaria: A Tiefling Elementalist wandering the realms. She speaks little and is known for her short temper. However, her skill at commanding flames in unrivaled making her an excellent ally to have in battle. Has an infamous reputation for burning down forests from stray spells cast in combat.

5) Dox-Alna: A Changeling Warlord cast into the realms to bring about great change. Having served most of her life among the Order she is devoted to, Dox-Alna was recently issued an important mission. This task was simple in design, yet grand in concept: go forth into the realms and bring a stop to Lolth's bid for power.

6) Darren: A Half-Elf Swordmage who is well know or his laid back attitude and relaxed demeanor. He travels with a pet cat that he keeps close by at all times.

7) Belgos: A Drow Hunter who has lived most of his life above ground having forsaken the ways of Lolth. Concerned with the recent push by the drow of the Underdark, he has begun travelling looking for a way to stop their ambitions.

-Luruar: Also commonly known as the Silver Marches. A region in Faerûn that is a confederation of cities in the north, under the leadership of Alustriel Silverhand, former ruler of Silverymoon. It consists of Silverymoon, Citadel Adbar, Deadsnows, Jalanthar, Quaervarr, Citadel Felbarr, Everlund, Mithral Hall, and Sundabar, and its goal is to protect the North against the growing horde of orcs in the mountains. It shares borders with the kingdom of Many-Arrows, a coalition of various orc tribes who currently have a peace argreement with the Silver Marches.

-Glimmerwood: A vast forest in Luruar to the east of Mithral Hall. Home to several settlements and ruins, it is a well known location among adventurers. Several orc tribes make their home around this region.

-Quaervarr: A small woodland village just within the southwest tip of the Glimmerwood. A popular gathering point for adventurers hoping to explore the vast forest. Home to the famous inn the Whistling Stag and located not far from the ruins of Methegrist.

-Winter Edge: A hamlet in the Silver Marches. Winter Edge settled east side of River Surbrin, opposite of Mithral Hall. The hamlet has been gaining importance since Obould Many-Arrows besieged Mithral Hall and then Mithral Hall by aid of Citadel Felbarr succeeded to open east gate. Mithral Hall provide to trade other Silver Marches cities via Winter Edge . High Lady of Silverymoon Alustriel Silverhand promised to Bruenor Battlehamer ,King of Mithral Hall, help and trade via Winter Edge. People of Winter Edge earn a living with trade and farming. Only humans live there but many times elves from north,specially Moonwood, or Silvermoon visit Winter Edge.

-Dark Arrow Keep: King Obould XVII reigns the Kingdom of Many-Arrows from the central chamber in this trapped fortress, known for its slit-covered and confounding corridors, blind alleys, and brutal punishments in the Pit, an arena used by the King to judge his chieftains.

-Mithral Hall: Mithral Hall is a dwarven stronghold beneath Fourthpeak Mountain in the Spine of the World. It was one of the best known dwarven strongholds in Faerûn. Originally a mithral mine belonging to Clan Battlehammer, this underground town became a safe haven for various dwarf families and even some persons of other races. Mithral Hall has a long history of tragedy and triumph, and was the making and breaking of countless individuals.

-Mystra: The Mother of all Magic, was the greater deity who guided the magic that enveloped Toril prior to the Time of Troubles. Mystra tended to the Weave constantly, making possible all the miracles and mysteries wrought by magic and users of magic. She was believed, as was her predecessor Mystryl, to be the embodiment of the Weave and of magic itself. Mystra's symbol was a ring of seven stars surrounding a rising red mist, spiraling to the heavens, though her older and more often seen symbol was a simple seven-pointed star. During the Time of Troubles, Mystra was killed by the deity Helm for defying the god and trying to climb the Celestial Stairway to the heavens.

-Lolth: The Queen of Spiders or Queen of the Demonweb Pits, is the goddess of the drow, a chaotic evil deity who revels in chaos. She patterns her life and the lives of her worshipers on a regimen of chaotic acts and the veneration of spiders. The way that new-born spider broods tear each other apart to survive especially appeals to her. She promotes this by encouraging her worshipers to kill their rivals, thus ensuring that they are the strongest of the 'brood'. Her love of chaos often makes her appear mad but the wise see her as a calculating individual who is always several steps ahead of those who believe that they can anticipate her. She is cruel and domineering, forcing her will upon her followers and her enemies, a will which instructs the strong to crush the weak in the most torturous way imaginable. Since the Spellplague, Lolth has set her sights on replacing Mystra as the master of arcane power.

-Danifae Yauntyrr: A stunningly beautiful drow cleric who eventually would became the Yor'thae or Chosen of Lolth, a part of Lolth herself. She was born in the city of Eryndlyn, where she studied magic with the house wizard before becoming a priestess of Lolth. Naturally beautiful, Danifae soon found she could use her looks to her advantage, and was willing to seduce both men and women to get what she wanted in life. She has recently appeared among all great drow civilization on behalf of Lolth to spread the plan to form the Demon Weave.

-King Obould XVII: King Obould XVII is the seventeenth king in a line of unbroken Oboulds, ruling over the kindom of Many-Arrows. Obould XVII reunited the tribes in 1460 DR after a series of civil wars split the kingdom. Know for his sharp wit, Obould keeps a tense peace brokered between the various orc tribes under his dominion and Luruar.

Session 01: Nightfall in Methegrist (Year 1 - Spring)
-Near the end of spring, five adventurers found their travels bringing them to Quaervarr; a pleasant logging village just inside the vast Glimmerwood. At the gate of the walled palisade that surrounded the village, a pair of militia guards leaning on spears asked each one a few cursory questions about their business before pointing them to a luxurious inn known as the Whistling Stag.

-Half hunting lodge and half sumptuous mansion, the Whistling Stag offered heated baths, down pillows, warm blankets and lovely views of the verdant forest outside. All this was complemented by bearskin carpets, stag heads on the wall and a lush tapestry depicting elves on a boar hunt.

-The common room was busy with at least a dozen locals crowding around the bar. The conversation centered on a ghostly apparition that had been passing through the village ever night recently. The villagers seemed spooked, but an older patron with silvered hair and the look of a former adventurer about him was trying to reassure everyone.

-With only a single table left open, these five adventurers were forced to be seated together and it was thus there that Decanis, Terios & Teph, Makaria and Dox-Alna met and traded stories. The group couldn't help but find the ghostly tale intriguing and eventually inquired about what went on. The man leading the conversation introduced himself as Rennick; a retired ranger who had spent his life adventuring in the Glimmerwood. Despite the crowd's disposition, Rennick seemed cheerful and his very presence seemed to lighten the other citizens' mood a bit.

-Teph inquired about the situation and after some instigation from the bar patrons, Rennick agreed to weave the tale: Five days ago, on a dark and stormy night, just at the end of the celebration of Highharvestide, a pair of villagers saw a ghostly figure heading through the village as they left the holiday feast being held in the Whistling Stag. The phantom was a tall, thin human male in armor, walking through the village in a northeasterly direction.

-Each night since, the phantom has appeared again. The second night, Grainge (a teen of the village) saw the spirit enter the village by stepping through the palisade on the southwest side of Quaervarr, and a few other people saw it making its way through the village. The night before, Faella (an elder in the village) saw it leave the village by moving through the palisade on the northeast side.

-Ever eager for a change at treasure, Teph questioned whether there was any sort of reward for dealing with the ghost. Rennick seemed convinced the spirit posed no threat to the village, but added that such an adventure could always lead to something unknown or marvelous. After some discussion, the five adventurers agreed to form a party to uncover the mystery of this apparition. Going for the most direct approach, Terios suggested they simply wait for the ghost to appear and then track its movements.

-Agreed to this plan, the party gathered at the palisade on the southwest side of Quaervarr and began waiting for nightfall. As the sun sank below the horizon, the forest all around came to life with the sound of birdsong. Then the sun was gone, and silence fell among the trees. Almost at once, the ghostly apparition appeared, radiating a faint chill. The figure was a tall, gaunt human male with sunken eyes, striding slowly forward with his gaze fixed ahead. Makaria and Decanis made some cursory checks using their knowledge of the arcane and were able to quickly confirm that the apparition was in fact and spirit; and not some sort of illusion or other trickery.

-Moving carefully, with Terios leading the group, the party followed the ghost through the village and towards the palisade on the northeast side of town. There, the continued following the spirit as it moved past Quaervarr and into the open forests of Glimmerwood. It wasn't long before gruff voices raised in anger were heard nearby; with one softer woven in. However, it was too hard to make out the words. Noting that the apparition held a slow gait, the party opted to veer off path and investigate the sound.

-Keeping themselves hidden among the thick forest, the party happened upon two orcs talking to a lithe figure swathed in black. The orcs wear the symbols of two different tribes. One has fangs painted in bright red hanging from its clothing and armor. The other wears dangling loops of what looks like intestines draped over one shoulder and under the other arm.

-Recalling the studies from her Order, Dox-Alna recognized the first orc's regalia as indicating membership in the Red Fangs tribe of the western Rauvin Mountains. The second was a member of the Ripped Guts tribe that lairs in the northern slopes of the Nether Mountains. However, most odd to her, was the fact that these two tribes are well known enemies.

-The party listened in on their conversation as the two orcs seemed to argue about dividing up new lands about to be conquered after the Darkening. The shrouded figure acted as an intermediary eventually getting the two orcs back onto the same page. Eventually, the two orcs began to debate their strength and agitated the figure shouted, "Enough, you imbeciles. I don't have time for this nonsense. The Spider Queen awaits my service. Just make sure you take the village of Winter Edge after the Darkening begins."

-Realizing the mention of the Spider Queen suggested this hidden figure was a drow, Terios flew into a frenzy charging from hiding just as this unknown figure seemed to vanish into the darkness. However, both orcs immediately flew into action diving the party into combat. However, numbers favored the party and working together they quickly overwhelmed and defeated both Orcs. Searching the area, no sign could be found of the mysterious drow. With no other leads, the party returned to keep tracking the spirit.

-After a few more minutes of travel, the party exited into a small clearing. Scattered remnants of ancient flagstones and masonry marked the location of the ruins, though the full extent of the former fortress was hidden beneath the undergrowth. Up ahead, four people moved as if searching for something in the moonlight. A dwarf in chainmail was tapping around a pile of rubble and listening for a response. An elf wearning thick leather crouches down to the flagstones at the base of a tall tree; a look of intense concentration hung on her face. Two human males armed with stout clubs looked on, frowning.

-Ignoring these people, the phantom continued its march until it stood beside the dwarf, who backed away startled. The ghostly knight pantomined lifting a trap door and then began to sink down into the ground at the dwarf's feet. All four adventurers seem visibly shaken and frightened by the spirit. However, this soon faded as they noticed our heroes.

-The dwarf waved his crossbow in their general direction and spoke aloud, "We got here first, so you best be on your way." After some discussion, the party came to learn this dwarf was named Karrik and he was the leader of this small band of tomb robbers. The elf, Lisstra, spoke poor Common but Karrik assured that her skill as a hunter was expert. The two men, Dran and Garn, rounded out the party as needed muscle. Karrik claimed stake to the ruins of Methegrist.

-Initially the party appealed to Karrik suggesting their sole interest was in the spirit itself; desiring to learn why it could not pass on. However, with rumors of vast treasures in the ruins, Karrik refused to back down. Taking charge, Teph began tense negotiations with the dwarf trying to bargain a deal where the two parties might act in concert together. Karrik drove a hard deal and initially wanted 3/4 of any treasure found. After some fast-talking on Teph's part, Karrik settled for 68% of all the treasure gathered. A fact Teph readily agreed to, silently knowing that this did not include treasure Karrik wasn't aware they had acquired.

-Exploring the area where the ghost had vanished, Decanis discovered a trap door; much like the spirit had mirrored. With a powerful heave, Terios opened the way revealing a ladder that descended into darkness. As they entered the dungeon room below clouds of dust billowed out around their feet. Beneath the dust, they could make out the shape and pattern of a large, tattered rug. Examining the rug closer, Makaria discerned the image of knights holding round vials of water that gave off a bright silvery light.

-Thinking for a moment, Dox-Alna recalled having read about Methegrist at her Order.Centuries ago, Methegrist was home to a small group of paladins know as the Moonwatchers. Dedicated to Helm, the paladins were the self-appointed protectors of the Moonlands. However, they were destroyed when a devil infiltrated their ranks and turned them against one another.

-Exploring the ruins of Methegrist proved dangerous for the party. Karrik cautiously let our heroes take the lead. Charging ahead into an open hall, Terios was injured as a spear trap shot up from the floor and stabbed into him. Later, in a large open chamber, Teph found herself entranced by a nearby fountain pooled with mirror-like water. Gazing into the water, she began to see her reflection on the surface of the pool, as clear as any mirror. A moment later, however, this image fades and an image of the past began to appear. Teph saw one of her failed robberies. After botching the attempt to steal and being caught, she was sealed away in a jar for three days until Terios managed to finally find and free her.

-Little did the pixie know she was being tested. Reflecting on the event, Teph felt no remorse only thinking it was unfortunate that her thievery had failed. The enchantment on the pool of water then cursed Teph for her negative thoughts and lack of repentance. Teph began to feel weakened and study by Makaria revealed that only time could lift the effect.

-Meanwhile, Terios had wandered off to a side chamber and discovered a powerful relic. Just before finding it, he had noticed the spirit again. Striding into the room, the armored phantom kneeled on the floor between two large fonts filled with radiant water. He held his sword upright in front of him, cluctching the pommel in front of his bowed head as he spoke, "Give me peace," as if in prayer. Dox-Alna identified it as the Tears of Helm. A vial of water blessed by Helm which could be used as a source to shed forth bright magical light. Not only this, the water itself also functioned as a potion of healing that would slowly refill itself over time. Relic in hand, Terios led the group into the next chamber.

-Within a hellish red light flickered around the room, coming from a brazier in an alcove to one side. The light danced along the glowing lines of a strange symbol engraved in the floor. Decanis identified this symbol as an infernal one, used to call forth devils or grant them power. Just then, the party heard a voice forcing Karrik to cry in fear. Booming within the room it cackled and spoke, "Why have you come, you pretty, pretty souls?"

-Nervous about the situation, the party answered honestly stating that they had been trailing the phantom. This prompted a high-pitched maniacal laugh from near the brazier. The voice then spoke louder, "If you would give rest to Sir Weepy, then answer this question creepy: I dance in hellfire gaily, and delight in torture daily. My sting will break your mind; you'll leave yourself behind. My face you cannot see, but can you identify me?"

-Using her own knowledge of infernal creatures, Makaria easily identified the answer: an imp. The correct response prompted another cackle before the voice continued its puzzle, "Now tell me my given name, and I'll return whence I came. First is a number whose letters count true to its name's amount. Then you can subtract a letter, but adding six would be better, to get the second part. Then comes the sound of the start of start, and finally, with a blast, sound out the last of last."

-Initially, the party seemed stalled by this riddle. Karrik and his party were complete stumped. Working together, Dox-Alna began to lead the party through the riddle line by line. Ultimately, she presented their answer: Fortenesti. With a flash of light the imp revealed itself and reassured the party that a devil would never break a pact they had made. True to its word, the imp cackled a final time and then vanished into thin air.

-Just then, the phantom began to walk slowly through the area, becoming more and more transparent as he moved. He nodded at the party and gave a faint confident smile before vanishing into thin air. However, then the earth gave a mighty shudder as an unearthly chill filled the air. The floor beneath the engraved symbol cracked open and was swallowed into shadow. An instant later, the ceiling above the symbol also cracked open, creating a shaft leading up to the surface.

-As the rumbling grew louder and areas of the ruins began to cave in, Karrik led the party in retreating to the surface. As the last party member reached the top of the ladder, the earth gave another shudder. Where the ground tore open in the chamber below, a dark filament shot into the air, as if a huge spider were spinning a web caught up in the wind. More strands followed it as a shadow fell over everyone present.

-Streams of inky blackness, darker than even the night sky around them, coalesced and weaved together. The light of the moon became utterly shrouded and the distant stars winked out one by one as the web of darkness grew ever tighter. As far as the party could see, the sky was blocked out by this powerful magical event.

Session 02: Envoy to Many-Arrows (Year 1 - Spring)
-Knowing that orcs are planning to destroy the village of Winter Edge, a few miles from the western edge of the Glimmerwood, the party decided to make the farming town their destination. Stopping back in Quaervarr to rest for the night, the party was in for several shocks come the morning. First, that day had never come. The mysterious black web darkening the sky seemed to have cast the land in eternal night. The difference between night and day was now much like the difference of light between a night with a full moon and new moon.

-In the Whistling Stag, the party met Belgos (a drow sympathetic against Lolth's aims) and Darren (a half-elf Swordmage that took interest in the party's story and wished to help Winter Edge). With a new party formed, the group set out making haste towards Winter Edge. Moving clear past the shadowy woods still proved to not bring any more light. The darkness that spawned from within the earth had now stretched far beyond its point of origin.

-By racing through the forest, the party managed to arrive in Winter Edge ahead of the orcs. However, they could hear the horns of their advance patrol during the journey. The warriors of at least two orc tribes are bearing down on the village. Along their path to the village square, only torchlight pierced the gloom. The tiny village was abuzz with panic. Its residents stood in the street, staring at the sky in fear and confusion. Crying children clutched at their parents' hands, while the adults spoke to one another in fearful tones.

-Reaching the center of the village, a stooped human female holding a thick, gnarled staff stepped up to the party and spoke. Her voice was loud and strong despite her many years as she questioned what foul magic was afoot and what part the party played in it. Dox-Alna was quick to relay what information they knew and, more importantly, the party warned of the orc attack. The woman introduced herself as Goodwife Winnstrom (Goody Winn as everyone in the village called her); the closest thing Winter Edge has ever known to a mayor.

-Winnstrom, already aware of the impending orc attack, explained to the party the panic the city was in. Their farming village was mostly defenseless and thus she was preparing for an evacuation. Working together, Dox-Alna and Darren managed to work the crowd and calm them enough to listen to Winnstrom's wisdom. Quickly, the citizens began to form caravans to exit out of the south of the city. Amid this chaos two things occurred. Meanwhile, Terios led the others in constructing barricades to defend the city from damage.

-First, Winnstrom introduced the party to Rhupp, a young half-orc woodcutter. Winnstrom explained that Rhupp's mother was an orc named Muhrella who was rescued years ago after being attacked by wild animals and left for dead in Moonwood. Winnstrom nursed her back to  health and Muhrella became a part of the community. She took a human forester named Uvaan, who many villagers were sure had a trace of orc blood in him as well, for her husabnd. Rhupp's mother died a few years ago, but she had taught Rhupp how to speak Giant and much about orc culture. His mother also told him that she had belonged to the Broken Arrow tribe, meaning that she and Rhupp were related to the king of the orc nation of Many-Arrows. Winnstrom suggested that he might be of aid to the party in dealing with the orcs.

-Second, As the caravans began to pull out a young half-elf girl rushed up to Darren. Nervously, she gave him a parting gift in thanks to helping their village; a carved wooden doll the size of a human fist and attached to a tether. The child explained that Ithel (the doll) could bring good luck to the party. An odd gnome named Garl visited the village a few weeks ago and said funny words over the doll, telling the girl that it would keep the dark away and make her brave. Examining the doll, Decanis discerned that it was actually a powerful artifact of arcane power. Much like the Tears of Helm, this doll could also shed forth bright light. Teph found this situation suspicious, particular Garl's words, musing that perhaps he might been aware of the situation far more than the average person.

-As the last of the villagers fleed on the road out of Winter Edge, five orcs wielding handaxes broke out of the forest into the unnatural darkness, howling in triumph and staring hungrily at the escaped villagers. One shouted out in Giant while Rhupp quickly translated, "We got here before stupid Ripped Guts! Red Fangs drink blood and take everything!" The crashing in the forest indicated a larger force might arrive at any moment.

-Making a stand in the center of town, the party acted as a final shield to allow the final villagers to escape ahead of the orcs. Though the band of five proved brutal in strength, they were easily dispatched by the party. However, not before rather severely injuring Terios and Darren. With more powerful orcs on the way, Rhupp suggested the party retreat. Though they were strong, he urged, they could never overcome such superior numbers. Instead, Rhupp suggested that they travel north to the place where the orc king lived. There, they might learn why these attacks are taking place after years of peace. Though dangerous, Rhupp as a descendant of Obould's tribe would at least easily allow for an audience.

-Dox-Alna seemed hesitant about the plan. However, with no better plans of action available and time short the party opted to follow Rhupp's guidance. Although darkness covered the sky all around them as they traveled, the route to Dark Arrow Keep was easy to follow. Rhupp knew that if they followed the River Surbrin north into the Spine of the World Mountains, heading toward the source of one of its tributaries, then they would not be far from the center of the orc nation of Many Arrows. Decanis recalled reading in his studies that the orcs of Many-Arrows have signed treaties with the civilized lands of the North. However, individual orc tribes, sometimes tire of the peace, and are known to ignore the orders of their king and attack anyway.

-Along the way, the party saw signs that orc war bands had spread outward from the Spine of the World and begun attacking civilized areas. A group of human hunters who obviously ran afoul of orcs had been butchered and left ont he trail. One of the hunters still clutched his bow in one hand and a broken arrow in the other. Upon seeing this bloody sight, Rhupp paled and muttered under his breath, "Even a broken arrow..." Noticing this had been part to a quote that Rhupp had references several times in their travel, Dox-Alna questioned its meaning. Rhupp explained that they are part of a Broken Arrow tribal saying his mother taught him: "Even a broken arrow is deadly in the right hands."

-Where the River Surbin roared out of the Spine of the World on its southward course, the foothills seem insignificant compared to the forbidding, snow-covered peaks that back them. Taking no more than a few steps into the river canyon, the party was halted when a guttural cry interrupted their progress. On all sides of  the party, dozens of orcs emerged from hiding. More than a hundred arrows are nocked and aimed towards the group. Rhupp stepped forward, throwing off his cloak, and took on a proud demeanor. He called out something in giant that no one in the party could follow. A silence of four heartbeats followed. Then more than a dozen arrows sprouted from Rhupp's chest; the look of pride given no time to drain from his face before he hit the ground. An angry voice shouted out in giant, but to no avail for the party. A different mocking voice laughed and began to snort.

-As more laughter rose, a short orc with bristling white hair stepped out and began shouting in common to the party. He introduced himself as Urphaer, a trusted lieutenant of Obould and leader of the sentries who guard the pass into the land of Many-Arrows. He urged the party to lay down their arms and accept their fate as prisoners of King Obould. He also reassured them that no harm would come unless they resisted. The party promptly dropped their weapons, but felt sad for Rhupp's fate. They inquired with Urphaer if Dox-Alna could treat his wounds. This prompted the old orc to state that he wasn't pleased with how things had went down. However, recently he had been having a hard time keeping his men under control since the call of war was sounded in the region. Rhupp would be a prisoner all the same, so mercy was granted.

-Ushered into the mountain, the party was led into a large chamber hewn from the mountainside that held Dark Arrow Keep. Long stone tables filled half the hall and the pelts and stuffed heads of wild beasts decorated the walls and floors. Weapons of all shapes and sizes occupied places of reverence in display along the edges of the room. Dozens of orcs and half-orcs either sat at the tables or milled about, many of them hissing, whistling or laughing as the party was brought forth.

-A muscular, heavily armored orc sat in a carved stone chair before the group; glaring with a menacing air. His eyes shined with an intelligence beyond what they had seen in other orcs while he took stock of the party. "I was told you were coming to attack us, but I think your threat might have been exaggerated." The orc's gravelley voice belied the wit behind it as jeers filled the room. "What business do you have with Obould, the King of Many-Arrows?" he asked directly.

-Dox-Alna was swift to bring forth the attack on Winter Edge and the violation of the treaty Many-Arrows held with the North. However, Olbould stated that orcs sometimes do what orcs do best and that the rest of the world should get used to it. This response inspired a great deal of cheering among the crowd. However, the party noticed a subtext to Obould's actions. It was more than clear that the king was worried and angered about these attacks. However, he seemed to be choosing his words carefully to play for a crowd that favored war.

-Noticing this, Dox-Alna suggested moving the conversation elsewhere but this prompted anger among the crowd. The debate continued and ultimately Rhupp stepped forth to speak on the party's behalf. Obould was moved by his tale and this earned the king's respect. He listened to the party's story of what the drow had done and how they were inciting orc tribes to act in concert with them. King Obould's harsh countenance seemed to soften as he nodded thoughtfully on these words. However, this discussion sparked the leader of the Death Horn tribe to speak up stating that the dark elves had promised to help darken the sky and did so. Now, the orcs should join them and take back all that is theirs.

-The party argued back citing multiple accounts of the drow treachery, making it clear that the orcs would be little more than pawns in their game. This prompted another tribe leader to speak up this time agreeing with the party arguing that it would be madness to break the peace that King Obould had brokered. He went on to state it would be an insult to risk everything they had worked for.

-The adventurers continued the debate building off the support from this leader. However, their momentum was soon halted by an old one-eyed orc wearing animal skins and carrying a feather-decorated spear. This shaman shouted that the drow's power had been made evident. However, these adventurers were unknown. If they couldn't stand against the drow then it would be foolish to side with them. Thus, the shaman suggested that the party prove themselves in the Pit. This forced a flurry of cheers and with little chance to protest, the party was forced to consent or face dire consequences.

-The party was quickly ushered among the crowd into another room as they crowded around a large open pit. King Obould summoned forth Ehnk, the shaman who had been speaking. He was the leader of the Crooked Path tribe and pragmatic to a fault. Ehnk thus explained the rules to the party. They would select their champion and, like their mighty orc warriors, that person would descend into the Pit to face a dangerous beast. If they emerged alive then their power would be proven and they would earn the respect of the tribe. Dox-Alna nervously questioned the consequences for failure, but Ehnk assured her that she would rather not know.

-Furthermore, the champion could have no assistance. Anyone that interfered would face punishment. The fate of the party would ride on their champion. After much discussion, it was decided that Terios would descend into the Pit as their champion. Below, Terios came face to face with a young guard drake that had been tamed by Ehnk. Using a variety of clicks and whistles, Ehnk commanded the drake to attack. The battle was rough. Although the drake's teeth were razor sharp and tore into Terios, the brawling minotaur fought on beating back the beast blow-by-blow.

-Amid the cheers of the crowd, some of the party tried to subtly assist their champion as well. Reaching out with his mind, Decanis launched mental attacks upon the drake. Dox-Alna attempted to help direct Terios in his maneuvers, but the orcs took note of this and a pair raucously tossed her into the pit and then descended below to do battle; forcing more cheers from the crowd.

-Worried for their companion, Teph flew below and quickly slayed one orc forcing the crowd to laugh at his weakness. About this time, with a mighty punch, Terios managed to fell the guard drake. All about the crowd of orcs they began to shout for Dox-Alna to finish off the remaining orc; the party's might had been proven and the Warlord gave the crowd their desire.

-With Terios' victory, Ehnk took this as a sign that their god, Gruumsh, wished the orcs to sit out of the drow war. This prompted more shouting and arguing among the orcs. Many stormed out of the hall despite King Obould's calls for them to halt. However, as the crowd died down, Obould made it clear to the party that he was pleased with the outcome and apologized for his earlier ruse. The tribes of Many-Arrows valued tradition and at all times King Obould knew he must play to that. For their victory, Obould suggested the party to stay the night and partake in a feast held in their honor.

-After a lavish meal, the party retired to the quarters that King Obould had provided; which were quite comfortable by orc standards. However, as they began to rest, the door to their chamber opened suddenly and an orc wearing a cloak and hood slipped inside without so much as a knock. She introduced herself as Gribbla; one of Obould's close servants. She explained that the king had no love for the drow, but several tribes were now beyond his control and breaking away. Some of these traitors had hatched a plot to kill the adventurers while they rested at night.

-Through her, Obould desired to deliver a message to the party: Mithral Hall, home to the dwarves, was a target of the drow and orcs. The king suggested that the party make their way their and let the dwarves know that orcs who shake spear and sunder shields beside the drow break with the throne of Many-Arrows; rest assured Mighty Obould shall bleed all traitorous tribes.

-Gribbla went on to explain that King Obould could not just let the party walk out the front given the current state of affairs. He had thus arranged for her to relay these messages, deliver several cloaks to conceal their identity and suggest an exit path through the lower levels of Dark Arrow Keep. Following Gribbla's instructions, the party was easily able to reach the lowest level of the Keep undisturbed. However, guards patrolled these halls. Though few in number, they would still pose a threat.

-Focusing, Dox-Alna transformed herself into the appearance of an orc. While the rest of the party kept their hoods up to mask their face, Dox-Alna led the party through the area bluffing her way past the squads acting as if they were relieving one of the watch groups at the lower foothills. This ruse was easily bought and the party had no trouble escaping beyond the rest of the orcs and into the open road.

-Dark Arrow Keep loomed behind them. Their next mission would take them to Mithral Hall, ancient stronghold of the dwarves. With many orcs joining the drow assault on the surface wold and the terrible darkness that seemed to extend everywhere, this conflict was growing larger than anyone could have imagined.

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