Garret Kahneus - Half-Elf Valorous Bard
Alaric Rose - Elf Archer Ranger
Urogoth - Half-Orc Bleak Disciple Assassin
Martok - Goliath Rageblood Barbarian
As was outlined in the campaign brief, the PCs had all recently taken up residence in the town of Helmund, with their last memory before the campaign being walking alone, with a feeling that someone was watching them. Then, blackness. They all woke up to the sound of a crackling noise, and they regain consciousness within circles of blackened (spent) residuum. The crackling sound came from another circle with an unconscious human suspended above it, surrounded with energy which seemed to be fed into a giant crystal in the center of the room. Then blood began to pour from his nose, eyes, and ears, and he collapsed on the ground. At that point the PCs noticed that each of them was bloodied, and they were down on healing surges. Not surprisingly, they were also missing all of their gear. The room was in shambles, with bookcases and tables turned over, and various alchemical fluids spilled on the floor. Against one wall a Goblin was chained. He asked the PCs to help him out, as he knew where their stuff was probably hidden. The Goblin, Gaknar, explained that some strange monster had torn the room apart, apparently looking for something. It was something he'd never seen before. He also informed the PCs that he was a lowly worker to the mages that had taken up residence in the castle, and that the mages perform various experiments (many of capture people like the PCs). He warned them that "the servants" had joined this monster in turning on the mages, and that various other creatures may have escaped containment.
The PCs spent surges to regain some HP, and then searched for some improvised weapons to use. Gaknar explained that they were in the north tower of a castle, and that their stuff was probably in the south tower. He led them out to an open-air bridge connecting to a wing of the main castle, which continued out the other side of the wing to the south tower. Bodies that looked like they'd be bludgeoned to death included some hobgoblin and human soldiers, as well as mages. Along the bridge and in many rooms of the castle, motes of blue and white energy, as well as black and purple shadow energy, floated through the air. Below the bridge the PCs could see a moat surrounding the castle, filled with strange, bubbling purple liquid. Yellowish smoke issued from windows in the ground floor of the rear wing of the castle. As they entered the wing (on the second floor), they had their first encounter. Some corpses were lying on the floor, being devoured by rats (2 dire rats, 2 giant rats, and 2 rat swarms). Terrain features included a bookcase that had been knocked over, a bookcase that was still standing (but could obviously be knocked over), a lit torch, and a smashed oil barrel that had spilled oil over several squares. Once violence ensued, the floating energy motes coalesced into energy orbs. Shadow orbs debuffed the attack modifiers of adjacent PCs, while the blueish orbs shot rays of radiant energy and exploded upon death (both types were minions). Given that the fight was with improvised weapons, it was fairly difficult (especially the swarms). Toward the end of the encounter the party was finally able to maneuver the swarms near the oil, push one in, and set it on fire.
The party eventually made it into the South Tower, but an "improved" goblin (with Bugbear arms and embedded with various crystals) guarded the tower (on the orders of "master"). This was a custom solo creature, with more energy motes present. There was also a weapons rack in the room, which allowed the PCs to at least fight with something useful. Luckily, the solo fight didn't drag. The PCs then recovered their gear and took an extended rest.
Fully refreshed and with their gear recovered, the party decided to explore the castle at their leisure. Various points of interest included the following:
- A room with the floor on fire, apparently fueled by a viscous, orange liquid. A spiral staircase going down was on the opposite side of the room, but the players (wisely) didn't attempt to run through the conflagration (which would have resulted in certain death).
- A room where a binding ritual had been attempted, using 4 large crystals, one of which had shattered and caused electrical energy to lash out at random, all around the room. A roof hatch discovered earlier led to a lightning rod, which Martok decided to retrieve and stick into the room (while holding it). He took a massive amount of damage and was knocked back, prone. Urogoth used his shade form to reduce damage taken as he ran to the other side of the room to retrieve some treasure.
- A three-room encounter (a dining area, a food storage area, and a kitchen, all connected by halls and open doors) against flail-wielding Bugbear skirmishers and (leveled up) Goblin Cutters. Some energy motes coalesced into orbs, as usually happened in the castle during encounters, and a green slime that had been feasting in the storage area joined the fight in the second round. The slime spent the entire fight trying to engulf Gaknar.
- An encounter against a decrepit flesh golem, a storm shard (lightning elemental), and several motes in a room with several teleportation circles and a broken obelisk with an aura of damaging necrotic energy (which the enemies were immune to, save the storm shard which avoided it).
- After making it downstairs (which required finding a couple of keys to open locked doors), the party faced off against a wight, some skeleton archers, zombie minions, and (of course) the ever-present energy orbs. A pillar in the center of the room allowed the orbs to summon more orbs, all of which winked out of existence once the undead all perished. Patches of necrotic ground covered roughly half of the room, and it granted undead within it a damage bonus and reduced surge healing by half. The fight was surprisingly easy for the PCs, who were able to avoid the necrotic ground, keep the undead largely out of it, and didn't need to use much healing.
- The ground floor of the rear wing contained some sort of generator which seemed to be powered by crystals, and in turn powered a drill. Fissures opened directly through the floor, and were spewing out the smoke seen from the bridges. Three Azers were dead on the floor.
- The party decided to go the other way, toward the front of the castle. This was the final encounter of the night, which brought them to level 2 (they gained 150 XP from backstory, and fought 6 encounters, most of which were 3rd or 4th level. They took 2 extended rests). It was against a (modified) Warforged soldier, 2 Warforged Resounders (artillery), and a custom creation of mine, an Ironwood Warforged (Elite Soldier). The soldier had a recharge daze attack, and the Ironwood Warforged had a minor action (Iron Kick) attack which dazed as well. Tough encounter, as the artillery did substantial area damage.
I roughly followed the parcel system as is laid out in the DMG, but I handed out many more healing potions over the course of their exploration (many of which weren't needed), and I gave each PC a magic item. I never really liked the idea of 1 player getting the shaft every level (even if it is a different player each time). This may result is slightly overpowered characters, but I tend to run difficult encounters and if it becomes an issue I'll just either forego magic items for a level to even it out, or provide lower level magic items for a level or two. Either way I don't think it will be a problem.
During the course of their exploration, the party discovered several documents (mostly letters or books) lying around the castle. I'll list these clues here as a reference, because some of them will tie into events later in the campaign.
- Loose Page from a largely destroyed book found near the body of a mage on the north tower observatory. Reads "They've decieved us. They don't have what we need, so we've begun to look below."
- A Book titled Geneology of the Selfeer's. Essentially, a quick skim (and a History check made by Garret) revealed that the Selfeers were the rulers of Lyria Castle. About a century ago, there was a city-state called Lyria that was conquered, and the region has remained largely unsettled since then. In the margin of a marked page on the last ruler, Duke Glenn Selfeer, is the note "see nephew." Another marked page revealed that he had 2 nephews, Clor and Vistun. Vistun's short bio showed that he was exiled for collaborating with one Aston Grimslade. No further details are provided, but this was clearly of interest to the mages.
- A letter, which reads "Baern refuses to cooperate with us. Arrogant fool! He thinks his status and fortress can protect him. The Dwarf will suffer. Perhaps we can pursuade Orsir to deal with him. It would be an expensive bounty, but it would be worth it. Alive, if possible. Signed, Tintrim."
- A letter which reads "their first attempt was mere NECROMANCY! I made it clear to Karek, et al. that we needed to take that extra step. I don't care what the smoke's doing now, we've almost completed a beta Volksair specimen! Signed, Tintrim."
- Yet another letter, reading "Tintrim, we can't continue with the Volksair Project. The Smoke was an unexpected side effect, but we can't get rid of it. And now it's starting to do some...strange things. Signed, Karek."
- A chapter in a book of local history titled A History of Grimslade Castle, with a note scrawled in the margin "Is he still there?"