The story so far… Our heroes are exploring the Pyramid of Shadows, once home to ancient secrets of life and death but now a prison for all who enter. The apparent master of the pyramid, Karavakos has challenged them to defeat him three times. To this end the heroes found and defeated his Hermit Aspect. Meanwhile the inhabitants of the pyramid seem to have splintered into factions, each warring / fearful of its neighbours. Those the heroes have encountered to date – arboreals, devils, undead and the forces of Vecna have proven outright hostile to the party. The latest battle had been with an empowered headless corpse, the body of Vyrellis (an eladrin princess; her head is within a magical orb possessed by Kelnozz).
Exploring the passageways east of their last battleground, the heroes found a grand staircase leading up into the pyramid. An acrid scent wafted from the stairs; a smell that hinted of alchemy and abyssal doings. Of more interest to the party was another doorway; this one coated in a sheen of ice. A plaque on the door suggested this was the armoury. Vyrellis related a story of how the castellan of the pyramid, a mage of lesser power and purported skill with a blade, Trathkul had retreated here during the battle with Karavakos, cowering with the noncombatants when this place had been a research facility and when Karavakos’s forces of devils attacked. From her tone it seemed clear that she despised the man for a weakling and a turncoat. Time had changed Trathkul. A “nobleman of simple pleasures; lover of fine art and skilled with both blade and magic. A civilised being” had found himself the reluctant leader of a very frightened group of refugees when the pyramid fell into the Far Realm. The other factions were fiercer and stronger whilst Trathkul’s allies deserted him; either fleeing to join the others or else being cut down in one of the frequent skirmishes that plagued the shifting corridors of this place. For a time Trathkul brokered peace with the neighbours, bargaining away the contents of the armoury to keep them appeased, all the while seeking power of his own. When he was forced to give up the last weapon in the armoury – his own blade – he felt that truly desperate times had come. Thus he enacted a ritual of his own concoction to draw power to himself. So much power that it burned through him with icy cold, transmogrifying his body into something else. Something steeped in powerful, unstable arcane magic. At last he had a way to protect his people, to forge art of his own. Peace came to his faction, a timeless peace that would endure throughout the centuries…
The heroes opened the door to find an icy chamber replete with frozen figures; here a woman and child; there an elven botanist, a dwarven engineer and perhaps a scribe. Vapour steamed off them as the opening of the door released the pent up cold. Realising this, the party closed the door (this being an icy chamber, the lights promptly dimmed) but it was too late; even their body warmth seemed to be more than the preservation magic could handle. Trathkul awaited them in the inner chamber, frozen in a block of ice.
One of the statues opened its eyes; eyes glazed with the paleness of the undead…chillborn zombies! Cue a battle for survival in which the zombies sought to slow, immobilise and generally drain the heat out of everything living. Perceived as the lesser threat for now, Trathkul lurked at the back and sent blasts of cold at one hero after another until their attention turned to him and he died.
DM: Yep Mark was right I hadn’t read all of MM3. But A is for Arcanian…
The armoury had been stripped bare (and the fittings which then made it an armoury had slowly been reabsorbed by the pyramid). but the party were able to find a glimmer of magic on Trathkul’s gauntlets.
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Deciding to explore the rest of this level, the heroes headed east and down a series of steps to a watery chamber filled with the sights, sounds and smell of the swamp. A dank, sewer like chamber with a hint of the industrial about it. Lizardmen arose from the water. Speaking in draconic they boasted of their prowess and strength in battle. Onrich defied them and stepped forward…onto a submerged pipe covering which promptly sucked him under the water. It seemed a network of pipes ran beneath this chamber; powerful currents capable of dragging characters under and forcing them out of another pipe far across the chamber.
DM: If you think back to the map there was no way for the lizardmen to really move around without setting off the trap themselves. Incidentally there had been more lizardmen but the nearby faction had recently reduced their numbers. And hey these guys eat their dead.
The fight with the lizardmen proved straightforward, largely thanks to some impressive area attacks by the party…AC buffs + dazes and attack penalties made it difficult for the enemy to get any attacks in.
A side chamber held a statue with a moonstone set into its forehead; a gem which Vyrellis said contained some of the power. Kelnozz took possession of the gem though this was against Zander’s wishes. It seemed a safe place to rest for a moment and so the heroes took advantage of the opportunity to perform their Comrades Succor ritual (component cost 10gp…primary skill = Heal).
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Unexplored steps climbed north and south out of the watery chamber. The heroes went south and found a doorway to their left and a barricade to the south. Human guards behind the barricade directed the heroes not to come any closer. Upon interrogation it transpired that the humans were part of Gharash Vren’s outlaw band. Gharash is an outlaw the party were interested in finding – if only for the bounty on his head. The guards were easily intimidated by the heroes, initially dismissing their claims to know Gharash but being won over when Onrich mentioned Gharash’s red eyes and silver wyvern tattoo on his shoulder. One archer went to inform Gharash that some adventurers wanted to talk to him. He headed east from the barricade. It took him quite a while to come back. In the intervening period the heroes further intimidated the guards, pressing them for information. Kelnozz took a step closer, opened the side door and saw it opened into a simple room with another door beyond – a way past the barricade? He asked the bandits who warned him not to go that way…they had their orders from Gharash and seemed pretty frightened of him too. Apparently the mercenary dragonborn had warned them against any interlopers coming this way…after all the lizardmen had proven treacherous and as for the ettin…well the outlaws had run from that fight. In a group huddle the party debated storming the barricade and massacring the guards whilst their archer friend was gone.
One snippet of information the guards disclosed was that Gharash apparently wanted a way out of the pyramid and apparently had agreed something with the lizardmen but..well before this topic could be discussed further the archer returned. Gharash agreed to see the heroes but on his terms – the heroes were to go back through the waterlogged chamber and up the stairs on the north side. The dragonborn would meet them in the chamber beyond.
This wasn’t good enough for the heroes; they wanted to go the way the archer had gone – why would the archer have gone east when Gharash is north? Nah it was time for action. A combination of jumps, teleports and scowls brought the party to the far side of the barricade. The human outlaws backed away nervously, letting the heroes brush through and east through the narrow corridor towards a door some twenty feet away.
The corridor proved linked to a teleport trap; an as yet unseen archer pulled a lever to send the party (all except Kelnozz) into the chamber Kelnozz had seen earlier…a chamber suddenly filled with flaming jets. Kelnozz was far enough back that the teleport didn’t catch him. The guards saw him alone…”get him before he eats our souls!” He fell before their desperate halberd attacks, being pushed back, dazed and on -15hp into the teleport trap area. Meanwhile the party weren’t standing still. Racing east out of the inferno chamber they found another room. Its sole occupant was an archer manipulating levers at a brass control panel linked to scrying screens. Both corridor and inferno chamber were visible on the screens, showing the fallen drow before three halberd wielding foes about to finish him off. Dirk, Zander and Nettle attacked him; forcing the fellow into a corner away from the panel. He tried to reach it but Nettle grabbed onto him and Zander storm pillared to block him in.
DM: It occurs to me that you should probably be able to grab as an opportunity attack. Someone runs past you…seems logical you could grab rather than attack. I’ll double check but this should be ok.
Dirk pulled levers on the controls, managing to teleport Kelnozz to the inferno chamber without frying him. Onrich moved to intercept the guards by the barricade – who elected to flee rather than fight. Seeing he was in trouble the panel operator ran for it. The heroes tried to heal Kelnozz only to find that the thing interfering with their healing rituals must have struck again, draining Kelnozz of the energies he so badly needed. Still he forced himself upright. He, Zander and Nettle ran after the archer, blasting him with spells and cutting him down before he could turn a corner. He collapsed dying before what appeared to be the entrance to a shrine to Kord, Moradin and Bahamut.
Onrich and Dirk had less luck against the fleeing guards, wounding them with ranged attacks but narrowly failing to kill the straggler.
Our heroes faced a choice – take the fight to Gharash, wounded as they were or fall back and lick their wounds; come at him full strength. Cooler heads prevailed and the party retreated to their hidey hole behind the library though not before sabotaging the inferno trap!
They set camp, readied some defences and discussed their options. Some force was interfering with the heroes attempts to heal through ritual means. As though an extra entity were adding itself to their magics and siphoning off precious lifeforce. Zander went through his ritual notes and realised he’d been scrimping a little on components, though he didn’t think this would have an effect. Though it might be that spending more on components – using some silver dust in lieu of chalk etc. would more properly seal the ritual space, preventing this unwanted egress. Another option is to systematically exclude heroes from the ritual i.e. have them wait some distance away and try to isolate the cause of the drain.
DM: If you make it to paragon tier I will likely allow lower level rituals to be performed for free (it still costs a surge!) and also easily researched…you’re approaching that level of power where the basic rituals now seem trivial to you…. 5ccs of mouse blood and all that.
As to what was stealing lifeforce…well it would take something with significant power. Artifact level power. Vyrellis herself admitted this, thereby naming herself as a suspect. Lets see, we have… - Vyrellis. Eladrin princess…probably a good liar if she were so inclined and she’s had an undeniable effect on Kelnozz. - some lingering effect of Vecna’s influence. After all the two heroes who have noticed lost healing surges both offered secrets to Vecna. Though Zander, Dirk and Nettle also gave of themselves. - the pyramid itself – could it be taking life to repair the damage inflicted by heroes? - the amulet of passage? All heroes are linked to it…indeed they increased this bond recently, gaining a per encounter teleport range 10 letting you teleport to another party member as a Move Action. Nettle hasn’t mentioned any direct communication with the amulet but does feel restless, keen to keep moving. - one of the heroes? Dirk’s magical powers can seem a little unstable (witness what happened to Trathkul when he drew on power; and Dirk admitted to causing the great fire of Hammerfast). And the thing about warlock pacts is they’re always made with some_thing_… - another artifact? Zander wondered about the Mirror of Empire’s Fall, a keepsake found on a digsite near Winterhaven. Or is there something else, something not revealed?