Road to Ravenloft

On the trail to Shamash

ON THE TRAIL

The ruined temple

  • The party manage to fight off the last of the zombies just as day breaks across the mountain pass. With the sunlight, the necrotic energy that was animating all of the corpses dissipates.
  • Zel’El, having shown to Pelor his fortitude and his determination to stand against the evil of the undead, receives a boon from his god: Pelor’s Sun Blessing.
  • Khamul discovers that the leader of the zombies was his own father, who had been serving in the army during the war with Ur, and who had disappeared when Khamul was a child. Khamul recovers his military overcoat, a Warmage’s Uniform, which is in perfect condition apart from a large rent in the back that mysteriously continues to ooze fresh blood.
  • The party rests from their night of terror, and departs the temple with Zel’El carrying the mysterious black stone which had been found in the crypt below the temple by the Sorcerer-King’s gang of cutthroats, and which had set off the re-animation of the zombie army.

The canyon

  • The party spies a gypsy caravan smashed on the floor of a canyon.
  • Investigation leads the party to believe that it was sent off the road by a simple accident. No human corpses are visible.
  • Some contents of the wagon have spilled out: costumes and masks, plus some sturdy steel-bound crates.
  • Upon descending to investigate further, the party are hailed by a group of Thri-Kreen warriors on the opposing wall of the canyon. The insectoids lay claim to the contents of the wagon.
  • They say they were captured and held prisoner in some kind of menagerie in Shamash, where arcane experiments are being performed on all kinds of creatures. A few days ago, the wards on their cage (and some others) suddenly went down. In the chaos, this group were able to escape, but they were not able to disable the arcane wards that held the rest of their tribe in.
  • They agree to a deal: they will only allow the players to check out the contents of the wagon if the players can return to them the lost half of their tribe.
  • In addition, if the party brings them the head of Grand Vizier Shandakor, who they know to have been a key figure in the running of the menagerie, they will also give the players some items that they grabbed on their way out of the menagerie.
  • Rather than fight their way to the wagon, the players agree to the terms. For now.

SHAMASH

The City

  • is bustling with people arriving for the harvest festival this evening.
  • It will be an all-night costume party in the streets
  • Party notices two types of people: one that is mostly tall, slender, and darker-skinned, and another (which Quinn recognizes as being kin to the barbarian tribes that live north of Glendora) that are shorter and stockier, with white/platinum hair. The latter are treated as slaves, doing all the menial labor, and are forbidden from speaking.
  • The party sees two main squares in the city: a big marketplace, and a park that is dominated by a large temple. Outside the temple are long lines of people, of both main races, waiting for entrance.

Felix Lessard

  • The party have been given a contact by Sir Adam: a fellow who was initially from Glendora, and who served in the army under General Anaximander Caine, but who has settled in Glendora and occasionally assists in diplomatic discussions between the Baron of Glendora and the rulership of Ur.
  • The party go to Felix Lessard’s place of business: a very upscale location that seems to be set up to welcome wealthy customers of some kind. They are met by a silent, dour character, who leads them down a small alley to a seedy bar. He directs the party to a figure seated at a table. Felix Lessard.
  • After introducing themselves, the party retreat to whisper together in the corner before continuing the conversation…
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In Shamash

Talking to Felix Lessard:

  • The gypsies sold their stock to a merchant named Jezanthepus, who is a couturier specializing in costumes, fancy dress and accessories
  • When the gypsies come to town, they usually stay in the courtyard of the church
    The Grand Viziers, who have the real political power in the country, delegate the mundane tasks of government to a consortium of wealthy merchants and landowners. The viziers prefer to remain in their towers, studying arcane arts. In particular, the Grand Viziers in Shamash have an interest in biology and studying all different species of animals.
  • Some kind of a breakout happened a few days ago at the menagerie in Shamash (a couple of days before the gypsies would have arrived.) Lessard does not know the details, but he is sure that some creatures escaped, and despite assurances from the viziers that all the escapees have been recaptured and that everyone is safe now, rumors persist that something bad is still out there.

At the Church

  • The church is a temple of Rao, another name for Pelor.
  • The party sees lineups of people (both slaves and masters) waiting for their turn to make a donation through a slot in the wall of the church and to enter small rooms, where they spend a short time and seem to emerge with pieces of paper with scripture of Pelor written upon them.
  • The party goes to a sermon given by Father Vikal, the main priest of the church. He gives the gospel of Rao (Pelor), but interprets every passage to mean that slavery is good and that the Ur civilization are the pinnacle of Rao’s creation, and therefore fit to dominate.
  • Speaking to him in person, he tells the party that the lines outside are for people to visit the great Prayer Machines, a new gift from Rao to his people that has been delivered in the last year.
  • The party sense that Vikal becomes nervous when they suggest that they stay the night in the church, and when the party express curiosity about the slaves using the prayer machines. He suggests that the party tell their troubles to the machines and accept their guidance.
  • Asking around, the party discover that Vikal used to be rather against the use of slaves, saying it was against the teachings of Rao; but a year ago at about this time, he began to change his message.

The Prayer Machine

  • The party attempt to subtly indicate to the prayer machine that they are questioning whether the use of slaves is right. At first their approach seems promising, as the machine asks them for “…more information pleaseā€¦”
  • Perhaps they are too subtle, however (or they just roll really poorly), for the only additional response they get from the machine is the suggestion that Rao prefers direct action to words, and that they should take action against the slavers.

Jezanthepus

  • Jezanthepus is almost sold out of costumes, but he sells the party some odds and ends: a crocodile for Zel’El, a zombie for Kyla, a bugbear for Khamul, and a pig for Quinn.
  • He tells the party that his shipment from the gypsies was lighter than usual this year. Doesn’t know why; something about other trading jobs they had.
  • He confirms that the gypsies went to stay at the church.
  • Says the gypsies drive a hard bargain, and that he sells their costumes at a loss simply to keep his reputation as the dealer with the best merchandise
  • Tells the party that last year, about this time, his slaves staged an escape. He blames their leader, a fellow named Thorstan — a new arrival from the barbarian lands, he was not yet used to the life of the indentured slave as are many of his kinsmen (At this point, the trade in these slaves has been going on for thirty or forty years, so many of them have now been raised in captivity.)
  • Offers the party a reward for their return — a reward more than their real worth as slaves, as he would like to make an example of them.
  • He tells the party the name of the main supplier of the Northern slaves: Felix Lessard.

The church courtyard

  • The party climb an adjacent building to see into the courtyard, and discover signs that the gypsy wagons had been present but are no longer there.
  • Khamul sneaks in and examines a crate, which, although empty, indicates from its inside packaging that it held items in the shape of small daggers or knives.
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Road to Ravenloft -- RECAP

THE TRIALS

  • You befriended a gypsy girl named Annabella, who was passing through your village with a wagonload of costumes to bring to the harvest festival in the neighboring country of Shamash, to the east across the mountains.
  • Afraid of brigands, she persuaded you to accompany her to a crossroads in the hills, where she would rejoin a group of her people that came by sea.
  • You talked about her people and she told old stories about how the Vistani are unjustly reviled by commoners. She also hinted sadly that she had foreseen terrible events, and that you would all play a crucial role in the events to come.
  • Along the way, you were stopped by an armed party led by a Commander Briggs, who attempted to arrest Annabella. As their warrant specified an elderly gypsy woman disfigured by birthmarks, you felt the arrest to be unjustified and fought them off.
  • You continued to the crossroads, where you met the other gypsies and reveled into the night. You also overheard hints that their cargo was not as innocent as it appeared.
  • While you slept, you dreamt of terrible events in an ancient stone castle, and had a vision of a brooding, maleficent presence behind the illusion.
  • Upon awakening, you found the gypsies gone. Annabella left you each a magical gift in thanks, along with a note saying that when you wanted to contact her again, you should speak to Lord Ashenden.
  • You returned to Dexterhaven by evening, where you found a town meeting in progress. Sir Adam Stormaway, the leader of the Baron’s personal security forces, put you on trial for aiding and abetting the escape of a criminal and a witch.
  • According to Sir Adam, an elderly gypsy woman was seen carrying out a robbery at the home of General Anaximander Caine in the capital city of Glendora. The General, as he is known, is one of the greatest military heroes of the nation.
  • The general’s daughter, Xanthippe, saw the gypsy woman summoning some kind of demon, which slew the mansion guards and rifled through their priceless collection of objets d’art. Xanthippe herself was somehow put into a magical sleep that lasted for several days, causing Sir Adam’s delay in following the suspect.
  • Through effective persuasion, you convinced the magistrates that you were blameless in the events. Sir Adam was not totally convinced, but could not follow the gypsies into Shamash due to the state of diplomatic relations between your countries.
  • He therefore hired you as unofficial agents to follow the gypsies and bring back any information you could, as an opportunity for you to clear your names fully. You agreed, and set off for Shamash.

THE DEAD RISE

  • On your way across the pass through the mountains, you investigated lights and noises inside an old church. You found a party of grave robbers, who had unearthed an ancient room under the church.
  • In the basement, they tried to remove a black gem from the throat of a mummy, but roused a terrible undead creature who turned them into zombies. You successfully fended off the monsters, but on the death of the leader, the black gem fired a burst of dark radiance that awakened the dead for miles around.
  • You barricaded yourselves in the church and fended off the zombies until dawn arrived, at which time the power of the gem was fully expended.
  • One of the undead you slew was Khamul’s father. Khamul now wears his father’s military jacket.
  • From tattoos that you found on the grave robbers, you deduced that the gem was being sought by the Sorcerer-King: a mysterious shadowy remnant of an ancient civilization that somehow clings to a ghostly existence.

THE SLAVES

  • On the way to Shamash, you encountered several members of an unfamiliar insectoid race, with whom you made a deal in order to avoid combat: you would help their trapped comrades escape from the menagerie run by the viziers in Shamash. They also offered items in exchange for the head of the Grand Vizier, whom they claimed had imprisoned and experimented on them.
  • In Shamash, you discovered that slaves from the northern steppes were being kept as slaves by the natives. A lucrative slave trade has been operating for years by some in the Glendora military, who kidnap people from the north, bring them to Shamash and sell them.
  • You also discovered that your contact in Shamash, Felix Lessard, was the local slave trader. Before you slew him, he implicated both General Caine and Khamul’s father in his operation.
  • You found out that the costumes being transported by the gypsies for the festival were a front for smuggling weapons to the slaves with the help of the local priest of Pelor, Father Vikal.
  • The slaves, under their leader Thorsten, had made a plan to win their freedom. They made a deal with powerful devils being kept in the menagerie: in exchange for their freedom, the devils would return on the night of the harvest festival, while the citizenry reveled in the town square, and cause chaos by slaying as many guards and townspeople as possible to cover the slaves’ escape.
  • You spoke to the Grand Vizier (the brain in the jar) in the menagerie, who offered you money and items in exchange for the recapture of his missing insectoids. You turned him down, and instead slew him and his zookeepers, and freed the captive animals.
  • Father Vikal, horrified, convinced you to save innocent lives by both slaying the devils and covering the escape of the slaves yourself, which you did. He gave Zel’El a shield to aid in the battle.
  • You left the town with the slaves and finally met up with the elusive gypsy caravan, though Annabella was no longer with it. In exchange for your heroism, Thorsten trained you in a combat move known to his people.
  • The slaves headed north to return to their homelands in the company of the gypsies.
  • You returned to the insectoids having made good on your bargain.

ITEMS COLLECTED

Quinn:

  • Claw Gloves from Annabella

Zel’El:

  • Gem of Colloquy from Annabella
  • Preservation Shield from Father Vikal in Shamash
  • the Mysterious Black Gem

Khamul:

  • Boots of Stealth from Annabella
  • Warmage’s Uniform +1 from his father

Kyla:

  • Gauntlets of Ogre Power from Annabella
  • Spirit of Storm from being experimented on in the viziers’ menagerie
  • Northern Fist Paralyzing Point from Thorsten the slave leader

NOT DISTRIBUTED items from the insectoids:

  • Ebony Fly
  • Stern Handler’s Wraps
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South to the Sea, part I

The party set off on their long journey toward the far-off capital city of Glendora, where a meeting with Sir Adam awaits them, and where they might find a clue to the identity and whereabouts of Lord Ashenden.

On the way, they passed through the mountain town of Eel Crossing, where raw materials from the mountain, such as lumber and metals, descend by river through the great swamp and on to the other cities below. They hoped to visit the local inn, having heard of the quality of its spirits. However, they discovered the inn recently shuttered, with no sign of the proprietor.

Shortly after moving on, the party encountered a fellow named Curt Gresham collapsed on the road, with an arrow in his thigh. After helping him to recover a little, they heard his story. He is the innkeeper of Eel Crossing, and his business is in trouble. A major shipment of alcohol never arrived at his inn at the beginning of summer, now his stock is getting low and he needs to replenish his supply. He set off to go to the monastery in the mountains, where the monks brew his fine ales and ciders, but before reaching it he was set upon by strange-looking humanoids who fired upon him. They chased him away from the monastery grounds, until he had to cut down a rope bridge to prevent them from following him further. One of them caught him with a shot to the thigh, and he has limped all night to get back to town.

He referred to the recent departure of Father John Tecy, the Abbot of the monastery, as being a possible factor in the missing shipment and strange occurrence. Father John, he said, was a man of great power and knowledge, and kept the monastery running like a well-oiled machine. However, last year, after stopping in the town to ensure that all the monastery’s business contracts were in order, he left suddenly for no known reason.

Gresham asked the party to investigate, and offers a reward for the safe return of his shipment.

The party escorted him back to the inn, where they spent the night and set off in the early morning. In late afternoon, the party came to the location of the fallen bridge. Unable to cross, they descended into the ravine and began to climb the other side, only to be ambushed by a group of archers at the top of the cliff. The party reached the top and dispatched their assailants: horribly mutilated men, whose eyes were cut out and whose cheeks were sliced open, making their faces into terrible gaping maws…

One of the last ones grabbed at Kyla, and whispered something, laughing as it died….

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South to the Sea, part II

The party continued on to the monastery, where they found a grim scene. The buildings lay in disrepair, broken equipment and rotting food around. Statues and fountains smashed and defaced, doors hanging from their hinges, roof shingles falling off… but the worst was to be found inside the dormitories of the monks, where grisly events clearly had taken place.

Blood smears and gobbets of rotting flesh lay about, with graffiti and drawings on the walls that prominently featured stylized mouths gaping wide, sometimes with tearing teeth, sometimes with lashing tongue, always with a sinister malevolence behind them…

The party eventually approached a former chapel, converted to the central brewery operation. They overheard a strange sound from inside, of a fowl gurgling or choking. Entering the building, they found two cockatrices: one asleep in a nest, the other rolling about in a pool of liquid that dripped from one of the brewing vats, behaving deliriously.

Upon approaching the cockatrice in the liquid, it sprang to the attack to defend its pool. Dispatching the cockatrices nearly cost the life of Quinn and of Khamul, who barely clung to his customary fleshly existence.

After the battle, the party found the notes of the brewmaster in the nearby office, which gave instructions on using the venom of the cockatrices to produce either an oil of stone to flesh or four potions of cure light wounds.

In addition, the party discovered that the liquid in the vat was laced with some hallucinogenic substance. Ingesting a small quantity caused the room to swirl and swim; surely in greater quantities it would be capable of powerful delusions…

The path ahead leads down, over a painted maw and down the stairs to the basement of the chapel….

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South to the Sea, part III

The party descended to the pitch-dark basement, hearing the sound of mumbled prayers to the right, and gnawing on bone from straight ahead. Investigating the prayers, they found Boris Tulley, the brewmaster of the monastery, tied to a table. He had been mutilated, cut open, flesh flayed away, and appeared to be barely clinging to life.

He told the party that Father John, before his departure, had been experimenting with a powerful psychoactive drug found in the mushrooms that grew on the mountainside around the monastery. The visions he received from these mushrooms helped him in his mystic journeys investigating the planes of existence. Tulley things that something he found on one of these mystic journeys caused him to leave the abbey.

After Father John’s departure, the other monks discovered the secret of the mushrooms. They began using them more and more, without the moderation and careful dosages that Father John used. They began to have visions of an otherworldly being, which they spoke of as a great maw of chaos that would devour the world. They spoke of a faceless master who came to them and gave them rituals designed to prepare the way for the coming of this being — among other things, they were commanded to mutilate themselves in the image of the maw, and to eat the flesh of their comrades.

Tulley warned the party that a half-dozen of his former mates still lay within the crypt to the north, and would soon attack. He asked for the party to free him and give him the means to end his life should the party fail to slay the undead monks, to end his miserable torture. The party obliged, and began the fight.

Part way through the combat, a door farther into the room opened. From the door came more of the monks, along with a being that could only be the faceless master that had been referred to by Tulley’s brethren as they followed their descent into madness. The being stood still as a statue in the center of the room as the party fought its servants, bolstering their morale until the party began to approach victory. It then made its way slowly toward the exit, finally leaving with the death of the last zombie monk.

Meanwhile, Boris Tulley lay in the dark room nearby, finally freed, but fighting against hunger from his long torture. Having been fed human flesh and blood by his brethren at the direction of the faceless master, he had finally crossed the line between true human and undead ghoul. Finally unable to hold off his craving any longer, he sprang upon the party at their weakest. Grabbing Quinn, he tried to gain strength by rending her flesh, but was quickly disposed of by the party.

Following the combat, the party investigated the sanctum of Father John. They found many notebooks and scrolls describing his mystical journeys. Although many of them had been destroyed in full or in part, the party were able to piece together that Father John had been investigating legends and myths about a being known only as the Red Devourer. Something he discovered made him fear that he would become a target of forces trying to bring upon the world the coming of the Red Devourer — a coming which could result in the extermination of all life, sucked into the Devourer’s maw.

The party returned to the brewery, where they used Tulley’s notes and the venom from the cockatrices they slew to brew two potions of cure light wounds and an oil of stone to flesh. They returned to Curt Gresham in Eel Crossing to give him their news of the monastery. Gresham, without his main source of stock, sat drinking the dregs of his barrels, contemplating closing his inn, as the party moved on toward the coast.

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