Cast of Characters
Garret Kahneus - Half Elf Valorous Bard
Alaric Rose - Elf Archer Ranger (player has enchanted dice that rolls a disproportionately high amount of crits)
Gaerbin Drake - Dragonborn Balanced Paladin
Gaknar - Goblin companion character (striker)
Annie Ramsey - companion character (defender)
Note: The player of the late Urogoth was supposed to show up with a new Wizard PC, but never did. I'll probably refrain from scheduling D&D at 9 am in the future.
Grimslade Ruins - Further Investigation
Last session ended with the party defeating a group of zombies and wights in the basement of an old temple. Stairs led up out of that room, and into a mostly destroyed room at the rear of the temple that contained only a teleportation circle (which Garret copied down for when he gets the Linked Portal ritual). They then decided to explore the other room in the temple (the path to the left from where they first fell into the basement). They found some loot, and noted that the religious art included older depictions of the old god of the dead, Nerull (thus indicating that this temple was at least a few centuries old), as well as newer (but still likely a century or more old) depictions of various evil gods + the Raven Queen. It would appear that even when Grimslade was a thriving community, there were some who secretly worshipped darker gods beneath the temple (the main floor of which depicted the majority of the default Points of Light good/unaligned pantheon).
The party decided that the next course of action would be to deal with the orcs--by unleashing the horde of zombies upon them. Unfortunately, the first snag in this plan occurred when they discovered that the zombies shun sunlight (they broke through the temple door when lured by the party, but wouldn't go outside). The PCs left the courtyard, hidden in the forest vegetation and waiting for nightfall. Because the temple was on the eastern edge of the courtyard, it recieved the last rays of the setting sun. The nocturnal orcs came out to investigate in the evening twilight, and soon found evidence of the party's tracks. As they made their way into the forest to look for them, the zombies emerged from the temple as the sun finally disappeared below the horizon. The orcs fled back into their stronghold (and old guard house), and as the zombies wandered around the courtyard those that came too close were shot at with arrows from the windows and arrow slits. The zombies gradually dissippated into the surrounding forest, though they suffered many casualties as groups of them came too close to the orcs. By midnight the zombies were gone, and the party decided to rest in the forest, keeping 2 watches for each shift. Around 1 am, a group of orcs which were fanned out, searching the forest came upon the party. They were dispatched (2 were killed in one hit when Alaric rolled a critical using Split the Tree, dealing a total of 98 damage to 2 targets in one round), and the PCs decided that it would be best to take over the stronghold while the orcs were "away." They were met with some resistance after barging through the entrance (of which the door was cracked open), but as the last orc stood against the party he shouted for reinforcements (in Giant, which none of the PCs speak). The orc chieftan then sprung an ambush with two orc berserkers and a dire wolf. This was modeled after the final encounter of the level 3 delve in Dungeon Delve, meaning that the chieftan was a level 8 elite brute. Yikes! Most of the fight took place in a bottleneck, with Gaerbin and Annie holding the line below a set of stairs. Still, things were looking bad and the party decided to flee when the wolf (who was blocking the hall that they could escape from) was killed. Due to some unlucky rolls, the wolf took 2 additional rounds to take down. Fortunately, the berserkers and chieftan suffered from a series of low rolls as well, otherwise Gaerbin would have been killed. After some impressive shots from Alaric the tide was turned, and the Chieftan tried to flee (Garret stopped this with Storm Pillar, his Dilettante power). Gaknar ended up dealing the killing blow to this formidable foe. An impressive haul of loot was gained, including a valuable (but non-magical) ring that Alaric insisted be his (for backstory reasons unknown to the other PCs).
The party fortified themselves inside the stronghold for the night. When morning came they investigated the temple one last time (to thoroughly search the room that the zombies had all come from), and when they emerged in the courtyard they saw a group of Lizardfold standing just inside the forest canopy (5 greenscales and 2 blackscales, all from the Blackmarsh Tribe). Gaerbin hailed them in Draconic, and learned that they wanted to discuss the events of last night. They were upset about the horde of zombies roaming their territory, but pleased that the party had taken out the orcs. Still, to prevent further disruptions in their territory they insisted that they escort the party out. The party inquired how they could obtain permission to cross the Lizardfolk territory in the future, and one of the Greenscales gave them a medallion. If they wore that, any Blackmarsh hunters that saw them would approach them without hostilities, and they could request permission at that point. The Lizardfolk led the PCs to an old road, and were told to follow it until they reached the river. The road disappeared, but if they followed the river they were sure to find settlements eventually. They left the PCs at the edge of their territory.
Ancient City of Darhadash
About a half mile after parting from the Lizardfold the party spotted an orc in the road holding an ornate looking Arkhosian sword. Gaerbin is a Chosen of Bahamut, and is on a quest to find the rightful heir of the Arkhosian Empire. Bahamut wants Arkhosia restored to its former glory, before its destruction at the hands of the Turathi and their demon allies. Gaerbin unsummoned his armor to better chase the orc, who fled instantly. After rounding a bend in the road with the party (buffed by Traveler's Chant) rapidly gaining, the orc reached the river. He got into a canoe and tried to quickly sabatoge the raft that was laying nearby. I used the skill challenge "The Rushing River" straight from the DMG2, though I changed the Guardians from Guardians of Nerath to Guardians of Arkhosia. I've always liked the set-up of this skill challenge; it has a good diversity of skills, and the different stages made it very easy to run (and provided and obvious way to hint at which skills would be required next). The first thing that the party did was have Gaknar repair the raft using Thievery and Gaerbin's rope (as much as the party complains about Gaknar, his skills are often useful). During the rapids in the canyon Garret nearly fell off the raft twice, the second time being after the river spirits were calmed and the DCs lowered. He already had a fear of water, and now he'll likely never set foot on a watercraft again.
After plunging underground, the river wound its way through a series of tunnels until it emptied into a large, calm pool. The canoe could be seen on the other side of the pool, and the party rowed toward it as fast as they could. They followed a tunnel into a large, open cavern with a sheer faced wall (of worked stone, definitely not natural). The orc was looking around for something, but Alaric shot at him while Gaerbin charged him. The two knocked him unconscious (Gaerbin planned on questioning him) before Annie and Garret arrived. Alaric searched where the orc had been searching and discovered a square depression in the stone that contained a lever. The lever caused a large portion of the wall to slide open, revealing an ancient city. The sword, confirmed to be Arkhosian in origin, contained a Fenorian crystal where a Dragonshard would normally be attached (in Talamhlar, the Arkhosian Dragonshards were literally fragments of dragon bone carved into a specific shape, which the Fenorian crystal was designed to mimic). The blade was also engraved, in Draconic, with the words "If you hope to discover/where the king can be found/then seek the river/of the thundering sound." Based on the grammar of the Draconic language, it was obvious that the word "sound" was a pun, referring both to "noise" as well as a body of water.
The party entered the city, first looking for a source of light (Garret detected residual magic that was likely used to light the city when it was occupied, but it had long since been tapped out). The party split up into two groups (though they stayed within voice range): Garret, Annie, and Gaknar and Alaric and Gaerbin. Based on their exploration of the city (and their historical knowledge), Garret and Gaerbin determined that this was the ancient city of Darhadash, a legendary location in Arkhosian Lore. The legend goes that when Bahamut first created the Dragonborn race, 5 patriarchs were sent out to find a land worthy of their empire (the Legend of the Five). One of the Five, Arjhan, founded Darhadash (which was not chosen by the Dragonborn people to be the land of their empire). A statue depicting Arjhan in the town square confirmed this. It could also be inferred that the city had not been settled for very long, as all of the art depicts events that occurred very early in Dragonborn history. Likely, after the "official" Arkhosia was chosen the Dragonborn probably abandoned Darhadash to migrate there.
As the party moved deeper into the city, they eventually came to an area where they heard a deep, throaty growl coming from between two buildings. They moved into advantageous positions and prepared for a combat, only to find that their positions were meaningless; a young red dragon flew out from the alley and blasted everyone but Alaric (who had cover behind an old fountain) with his fiery breath. He stayed in the air, just out of melee reach for Gaerbin and Annie. The party lured him into a partially collapsed building, staying under the roof so that the dragon couldn't fly. A difficult fight ensued (the defenses of red dragons are insane!), but eventually the party got the dragon down to about 60 HP, at which point it fled the confined area (provoking some OAs) and then used its second action point to fly off into a tunnel behind the city. This brought the PCs up to 4th level, and we ended the session here.