Session 13, part 2- The halls of Drezen, visions of the past

With the sight of their armies echoing in their minds, and the ever presence of Drezen/ Staunton Vhane, the party decided to explore. They decided to look for the Sword of Valor, and decided to search for a secret entrance into the secret room where the Sword of Valor was held in past days- F7 on the map. (In my version F^ was just a part of the room below it, and they knew not where the secret entrance was.

Spoiler: Link to the map again
A free image of a very similar map
(It is not exact, some rooms, doors and such have been changed, but it'll do if you don't have one and wish to follow things. If you have the module's file better follow that.
Two important changes to the map: No stairs down F19, and F6 is instead joined to the room south of it, and has no known secret doors)

They went over the pit and through the gap in the west of F3 (Not on the free map), and towards the north-south corridor beyond, when something changed...

First vision

They were suddenly on the worldwound, part of a big troop of soldiers, not unlike one of their own armies, somewhere unfamiliar to them... The soldiers wore symbols of Iomedae, and most seemed quite serious, some glancing at the reddish yellow worldwound sky above...

But not all were serious- there were a small bunch of soldiers in quite high moods, even joking. One of them was commander John! Only... he didn't have the markings of a commander, and looked... 25? 30 years younger? And quite different.

"Hey Marekai! This is taking too long! When the hell are we goona kill some demons! My, get me a Balrog and I will show you some demon slaying!" Young John was in high mood. Sena, alarmed and cuatious approached him. "Sir John..."
"Ain't no Sir steward! Keep that for the McClanes up the line! Them be running the show, not us grunts!" (Julian's player picked up on theat- McClane, was Andrew's family's name!)
Sena nodded respectfully. "What is the goal of this force? Were are we going?"
John laughed "Why, to kill some demons or such! Isn't that right Borosus?" Another big and serious soldier, but just as young gave a dismissing wave. "Nah, The McClane got this expedition looking for something deep in the worldwound. They say they found something that might change the crusade or something..."
Suddenly a trio of robed figures rode by. "Hush! We do not speak of such matters!" The 3 mages looked serious, one tall in the middle, old and grim. Another to his right looked small and shy. The last was... Quendys, whom the party met back at Kenabres! The three gave some stern stares and rode on.
Meanwhile, Andera surveyed the force, and noticed 3 big carts.... not something you usually bring for forays into the worldwound. He got close and looked under the coverings- supplies, but not for an "in and out" quick expedition. There were things here to prepare for a settlement. One that could last a few years...
John slapped Sena's back, almost if he was some college buddy. "Stick with us, we got some demons and fun coming! Worldwound? Peh! We'll show them a thing or two!"
Sena replied "So you are experienced knights?"
Marekai laughed. "No, just out of the academy. But we will be once this is over! This is supposed to be glorious! Even for lousy Sarenrae worshipers like this bugger here! He just want to shag her!"
John scorned but laughed at Marekai. "hey, don't talk like that about her! Besides, she's hot!"
Sena was having enough, and grabbed John's arm, trying to get his attention. "What is it you seek?!"
Suddenly John's face changed.. as if struggling, as if trying to focus, and his voice came as his present day, serious, full of intent: "Seek that which was lost, and free it with the power the gods vested in their chosen ones!"

With that the whisps of this vision faded away, and the party was back at the corridor of Drezen. Mad dog replied slowly. "Well... that was quite odd. I didn't like it. Not at all.". Sena was Shaken, but Julian laid a comforting hand, and spoke to the air. "Let the past rest..." Sena spoke hoarsely "John is here! He is trying to talk with us!" Andera was doubtful "Orthis could be an illusion to lead us astray. The pwoer the gods vested in us? The power from the wardstone." (The party realized they will somehow need mythical power to "free" the Sword of Valor). "We should be weary to not let our reserves down too low.

At which point the hollow, impassionate, stoic voice of Drezen returned. "It matters not. Drezen will grind you. Sooner or later, you will fall. Even your power will hold just for so long. All flames die. Even the bightest ones. Darkenss endures."

Not wishing to deal with him at the time, the party decided to continue.

Getting to know you
The party continued south on the north-south corridor, and turned left into what appeared to be a dining hall. HE place looked deserted, but recently used- some dishes, cuttleries, although things looked fairly orderly, if with a thin layer of dust on them. To give the place the proper atmosphere, I put on the following music.

Unfortunately Andera's player knows the music well, and it gave him other associations. Oh well... The party set out to search the corner of the room, for a secret door, when two wraiths rose from the floor and attacked the party. The battle was very quickly with the party's lucky rolls they avoided getting hit, but Sena used two more of his channel energy charges, and Julian a spell or two.

Staunton Vhane spoke through the battle "You speak of hope? These two belonged ato a special order of paladins- the Hammers of Heaven. And now? What hope is left for them? They serve as the new protectors of Drezen. They, me, you don't matter..."
"You were part of them?"
"Yes I was."
"This was your home?"
"I... I was born here, I served here, I died here, and now it is my prison, my tomb, and yours. I AM Drezen. Nothing more, nothing less."

Spoiler: Where do the wraiths come from?
The wraiths are not part of the original module, but they are part of the arsenal that Stuanotn Vhane uses as Drezen to grind down the party- the avalanches, the wraiths, and some things later on. They serve a few goals:
- first, they enhance the atmosphere that Staunton is always present, and haunts the place.
- Secondly, the party start leaning of his powers even before meeting him, but not to the full extent.
- They add another time pressure.
- They enable to make battles less or more challenging by adding complications.

Except for key locations, I have a limited number of "extra challenges" that I can throw at the PCs, limited by XP and such. The wraiths are a simple complication.

The party continues to the room to the west (In the map it looks like a corridor with a tiny room to the north. These spaces are joined in the original map). In here they found a kitchen, probably serving the dining hall they were just in. The party does a quick search here, but is disturbed by the eerie quiet and "deserted fell" of the place.

They go to the hall in the west, which connects north, west, (In which there was an avalanche) and south to the barracks and parapets. Here they saw marks of an old battle, mainly old blood. "This was the hall of the Sentinels of Dawn... A valiant group, which died as well... Since then the place have been used by countless demons, used for endless perversion and debauchery. Their memory exist only in my fading spirit. For all their valor, deeds and courage- where are they now?"

Sena was greatly disturbed by this, as was Julian, but she advised to carry on. As if to agree, the walls turned transparent, and they saw the forces outside, some of the welts starting to ooze blood, some of the troops lying on the floor... Still focused on finding an entrance to the secret room, the party headed to the northern corridor, and searched the eastern wall.

"You keep on seeking... We all seek for things. And for what? For the price of finding what you want, is having something you once wanted..." (Credit to Neil Gaiman and the Sandman comic novels for this line. ) But as those words echoed, another vision formed, but of a different kind: They were in a much busier Drezen, teeming with dwarves, with Staunton, dressed in a magnificent full plate bearing a mithral hammer on the background of a great light (The symbol of the Hammers of Heaven), strode to a great hall, knelt, and spoken to some figure in the shadows of great burning hearths.

"I come again, and ask of thee, for I have found no answer! WHY will we not attack? Why do we stay behiond these walls, cowering while the demons run rampant? Is this Valor? We should march into battle, and lay waste to those abominations! We have lost hope of the sky citadel, and now we lose hope of here as well? Are we so guarded that we will not venture beyond our walls?" There were hushed conversations and murmurs, but Staunton Vhane just prayed, silently to himself, but loud enough for the part. "Iomedae, put your trust in me, your servant. Guide me, show me, make me the righteous sword of your judgement, of your might, of your glory! Show me the way!"

And with that the vision faded... The party had nothing to say of this, but ventured on towards the western chapel (F5)

Spoiler: Drezen sections and the southwest barracks and Jestak
The party indeed didn't explore the place, but I had the place planned with some story and atmosphere of one of the troops that formerly guarded this place- The Sentinels of Dawn, and the current occupiers, led by the barbarian Jestak, that killed all of them in the madness of imprisonment.

I divided Drezen into areas, which helped me look at the fortress as a whole- gate, main hall, mid-south west section were for the sentinals of dawn,. east for the hammers of heaven, north east (Including the room with Kirandia and so) another order. Above the main hall the officers greeting hall, to it's west the officers quarters and planning room, to the north a museum + defenses, and at the north west wizard's tower and beacon.

The inheritor's chapel

As the party opened the door, they saw four templars kneeling in prayer before... a vision of Iomedae, but an overly sensualized one. "Ah, succubus" The players mumbled, but decided to try and play to see where it leads. The succubus turned to the party "Heroes! I have sent an image of me, into this darkest of places, to make for you a safe place, and help your cause."
The party squirmed uncomfortably. "How can this be done?" Sena asked.
"My power here is limited, but if you put more holy power to this place, restore my church, my pwoer here will grow!" Senatef's player bought this, and tried a sanctify spell. "More! More power! Perhaps, Perhaps if I will give you my direct give, a holy power..." This intrigued the party, but Mad dog took the reins, and approached her. "What sort of a gift?" the vision of Iomedae smiled at him benevolently "Just a blessed kiss on your forehead... Let me bless you, champion of champions! With great power..."

She didn't finish the sentence cause Andera had enough and shot an evil outsider bane arrow at her. (also causing bleed- SA) She hisses "Attack them! They are demons in disguise!" The 4 feverish templars rose to attack, but Julian and Sena got her charm person dispelled between the two of them (Using mythic power), and Mad dog grabbed the last.

When the statue of Iomedae behind him suddenly animated, with the stone warrior wielding a very big stone sword "Even the symbol of your faith is mine here." Stated Staunton dryly, as he attacked Mad dog. He starts trading blows with the statue as the rest of the party tries to talk the templars back from their misconceptions about the situation. The succubus in the meantime is a bit away, summons a babau, and the two appear at the south of the church (With the Succubus having taken some bleed damage in the meantime, planning on using vampiric touch to restore herself).

But as she appears, Andera sighs, tumbles his way towards her and attacks twice (Usning mythic power) to cut off her head! Mad dog manages to destroy the statue, and so the party comes to rest.

Spoiler: Iomedae's statue
A specific location intervention of SV. Mad dog's sword makes it less of a problem, as it bypasses hardness (Made out off adamantium). I gave the statue a large great sword instead of slam attack (2v construction points or something)

Of templars and another vision.
Soon after the battle, again the room shifts and they are in a fairly wide, but simple and a much more primitive looking building. This looks like a Sarkori building. This place looks like a mess hall turned into sleeping quarters- quite a few sleeping bags and piles of equipment around, but there are a few people here- John, his friends Marekai and Borosus, and two Sarkori women- looking lithe, strong, a bit "primitive" in matters of clothing and the like. One of them lies cuddled with John, as they caress each other, and the other at Marekai's lap. John again laughs. "Don't worry Lesh. I told you- once this little boring expedition is over, I'm bringing both you and your sister to Kenabres, and then we will mount a second expedition to find your people!" The other woman, with Jade green eyes (Thankfully the party recognized her as Jerribeth of the Jade in disguise), "But what they inside old place for? What they searching? They must not waken old spirits! very bad!" Even though her speech was broken, her voice was mesmerizing, powerful. Marekai patted her thigh, and kissed her. "Don't you worry! the McClanes and Nethir are smart people."

Sena asked cautiously. "Who is Nethir?" John turned surprised. "Oh, didn't see you there steward! Nethir? One of the mages, clever one. all the time in the ruins." Andera was more curious "What sort of ruins?" John dismissed it. "Ah, some kind of old Sarkori ruins, they think from before the war even. McClane is certain that their is something major here, but while them geniuses work inside, we keep watch for any demons. Been real slow though, Not a demon in months!" He then kissed the attractive Lesh' cheek.

Borosus snorted a laugh. "Besides, if anything comes out, Lesh will take it down with that bow of hers. I swear woman! I've never seen such a shot!" She gave a smile, and rose to hold her bow, which Andera recognized from his vision in the Temple of Welcome Knight, of the woman praying to Desna.

This REALLY alarmed the player. "Wait, but she is Jerribeth' sister?"
The others: "Maybe before they were demons"
"Jerribeth is supposed to be for a long."
"So the archer woman is also a demon?"
"But she's a good person who got turned to demon worship and tries to get back!" (Really? )
"Maybe half sister, or tribe sister?"
In any case, Andera's player was quite troubled that his archer woman might be tied with Jerribeth and evil somehow, or that she might be a demon herself.

(Back to the vision) Sena tried something- He grabbed John's hand, and drew his attention. "You know me! You know you do! And these are demons!" For a few moments there was confusion in John's eyes, but then he laughed it off. "Don't look so serious steward! The sarkori are no demons, even though women in generally are!" The the three soldiers laughed, while Jerribeth did quite a convincing "I'm so shocked- what is he talking about?" act. As Sena tried again John again seemed lost, trying to focus, as if to reach, trying to collect his thoughts, and spoke briefly. "Not all is it appears. Some things hide, some things are hidden by other forms. But nothing can fully hide their true nature..." and the vision/ dream/ memory faded...

Julian spoke "The sword of valor is in a different form, or hidden or something." Sena added "But it should somehow retain hints as to itself. Andera was more worried about the archer (Lesh)- "Do you think she's a demon? Can she be redeemed?" At which point Staunton Vhane joined in, and gave a bit of explanation on the nature of demons (In my world at least) "Demons are not as mortals are. They are rarely full beings. They are manifestations of ideas. All include malice, but some are mroe focused on this or that idea, like a succubus is focused on deceit, sexuality and seduction, and an Abrikandilu is the ugly destroying the pretty, they lack the fullness of a mortal soul, but are more purified convictions of the idea that they embody... She has no good in her."

Julian, ever the defiant spoke against this. "Has no demon ever redeemed?" Staunton Vhane hesitated. "A rare few at most, but..." Julian cut him out. "So it IS possible, that is all we needed to know!" Staunton continued "You do not see- a mortal is created with good and bad in itself, which might enable turning to either side. A demon does not have that in itself. It is thoroughly evil." Sena turned this around "So what about you? You were mortal? What about your soul?"

If Staunton could laugh, he would have. "My soul? My souls is forsaken, belongs to the void. I have long ago given up on any shred of... "good" within me. "Where is your dead body?", "Where you will not find it." And will speak no longer...

With that done, he party focuses entirely on the templars, and don't search the temple. They manage to gather that they have been here about 7 years, but they believed that Iomedae has made a sanctified place to protect them here ("Sometimes demon would even pass through and didn't see us!") A sort of a semi real chapel within the demonic fort, all for their prayers and their... um... "help"... in trying to make "holy god child warriors". (Julian's player laughed- "I know many people who were held in a LOT worse conditions than these! )
The party decided to take them with them, and Sena even healed one (Was hit by the statue in an AoO). With 3 charges of his CLW wand (about 10 charges left at this point)

But Julian's player demand that they have a name. "Nameless NPCs die too easily!" (Oots reference ) So... Here are Caleb and the gang! (3rd level warriors, half plates and halbereds) Or as Mad dog's player calls them- Cannon fodder 1, 2, 3 and 4.

Spoiler: Of the visions
There are sets of visions from two sources- John and Staunton. The first set the ground to the next adventure, link some stuff, and give basic hints about finding the Sword of Valor (And of course some nice roleplay opportunities), while the others give much subtler hints, but serve mainly as a way to portray Staunton Vhane in a different way.

Trap room

The party did find the secret door in the chapel, but before entering they went. "Wait, we know it can't be here, so why to go in?" butt..... they went in anyway. (F7) The room held statues of the Hammers of Heaven paladins, and the Sword fo Valor on the south wall. They left Caleb and the gang outside, and as predicted, the door locked, Deeper darkness was cast, the big statue got animated, and poison gas filled the room. But Senatef used mythic power for communal delayed poison, and the statue was easily taken care off. With that settled, they reopened the door and went outside.

(This brought up this lovely quote from "Space balls" )

The welcome hall

The party (and Caleb's gang), went into the main hall (F4)- in the original map the northern doors are blocked by debris, as are the north eastern gallery and the east door to the chapel. The ceiling of the room is made to look like a night sky, with various gems to look like stars, although many were taken. On the north west gallery there is a mural depicting the dwarves Quest for the Sky, and on the north wall between the two doors (Up from the pile of rubble. There is a Scythe of Deskari over broken weapons of the five crusading faiths (Sena took the Scythe down and Julian fixed the weapons through mending. I didn't quite know the spell, so I enabled this) As they were in this room, another vision came upon them.

This time it was Staunton Vhane, walking through the halls of Drezen, still wearing his shiny Hammers of Heavens armor, but Drezen is bloody, and the sounds of violence and suffering feels it, as multitude of demons kill templars all around, from Babaus to much tougher demons. Staunton is in shock, seems on a nervous breakdown. He mumbles silently. "Me... Mine... I... I did this. A ma beyond redemption. I killed all of these, I made Drezen fall... Beyond absolution, forsaken, lost..."

The doors to the main hall opened, and Aponavicius, the Merilith general slithered inside, with the smiling Jerribeth of the jade (Dressed as an elven war leader) followed inside. Aponavicius pointed her sword at Staunton. "You... betrayer... will be my puppet!" And as Staunton knelt, the vision ended.

Sena speaks angrily at him "What DID you do?" Staunton replies solemnly. "I sinned. The sin of pride- I wanted, I knew what was right, I will lead, I acted... I took the great banner, seekign to lead a glorious war, and by that making a swift, brutal defeat..." Staunton was not answering anything else.

Julian was worried. "We need to find the banner, and quickly. We explored but a bit of the fortress, we don't have a lot of resources left." the party surveyed the map, and decided that the most hard to reach place (due to the boulders) was the north west tower. Sena used stone shape to clear some way to the doors to the great hall, and they went in.

Spoiler: room features
The room features serve two purposes: First they add atmosphere, but also... they could be the sword of Valor. I tried emphasizing this, but the party seemed intent that they will kill some big boss and find it. (We ARE programmed this way. Heck- the module does it this way!) So they don't even search the rooms much (As they didn't search the church) Oh well, they'll learn.

Damn, that's big!

The officer's hall used to be a huge place, with quite splendor, all that remained however are the 3 ever burning hearth in the north wall, east and west wall. The ceiling here was meant to represent the morning sky, but a lot of tiles have fallen off since, and the golden globe meant to represent the sun is quite cracked.

But these are minor issues, cause in the center of the room is a gargantuan statue of Deskari, and with Staunton's force, it moves! (I didn't have a gargantuan miniature, we may do with a huge that was positioned to cover enough space). You could almost see the tears of joy in Mad dog's player's eyes.

Mad dog and Andera charged, and started chipping at it's hit points, but the statue replied, and mad dog had to use two mythic points to evade the gargantuan Scythe!

But, this was not all, for the ghost of Staunton Vhange himself appeared near Julian and Sena. "How long will you stand?", "How long will you?!" (This was the last battle of the session, I felt they needed to have it count! ) Stauton passes through Sena's armor with a corrupting touch, but lucky rolls hasd it that he suffered little damage.

Julian is more worried about the statue, lets one of her mirror image take an AoO and finds a spot to try a malfunction spell on the statue. Sena tries a 5ft step, but Staunton follows (Step up) He summons instant armor (Force armor), which later saves his hide a few times. Staunton comments stoically. "I admire your determination, but does it matter? Battle after battle, blow after blow, till we finally fall..." Andera tumbles back to try and hits Staunton, leaving Mad dog alone vs. the Deskari statue, and lands a small hit on the ghost. "Strike after strike, the endless battle, the endless dance, the game we play, and all for naught. A pointless exercise in futility".

Mad dog does nice damage to the statue, which in returns nearly kills it with a confirm... only he has the helm of the fortunate soldier (from the Soltengrabbe loot) which negates this one critical (otherwise it would have been an almost certain instant kill)

The rest of the battle is short: Mad dog trades blows with the statue, while the rest tries to gang up on Staunton. A haste spell from Julian, good rolls from Mad dog, and a ghost touch holy weapon (from the domain power) on Senatef manages to take down their foes at the end. A great point in the battle is when Mad dog hits the statue 3 times in a row, crumbles it, then extends his arm (Longarm braces) to hit Staunton, and again with a sudden attack! A whirlwind of pure destruction. (Though he took quite a bloody beating! Hanging on the 10-20 range after some healing)

As Sena destroyes "Staunton", the fort replies. "This was but an minor apparition of mine, a fragment of my real power. I cannot die, for I return, again, and again, and again. While your power dwindles. I have told you- Drezen will grind you. This is my prison, my tomb, our grave, our end..."

The party greeted their teeth, they have won, but it has been a tough fight, and took quite a bit from them. How much more punishment can they stand?

Each player's XP: 65,100.
Current Mythic points: Julian- 1, Sena- 4, Mad dog- 4, Andera- 5

We ended things here, the session was a lot of fun, and quite exciting, though (As Julian's player said) "Quite worrying. We've explored about 1/4-2/5ths of the place, and expanded about half our resources...".

The plan so far worked quite nicely:
- The beefed up battles are more fun for the players.
- The visions are received well enough. (I especially like how they are starting to tie John, Arulashee and Jerribeth together.)
- Staunton Vhane comes out nice, an antagonist that interests them, and does not feel TOO cliche.

What doesn't work is trying to actually look for the Sword of Valor. The players are looking for the "big boss" and expect to find it there. We'll see next session. I think that the other visions might help narrow things down.

The atmosphere is tense, but fun, which is great! I'm happy everyone found somethign to relate to in the session.

Oh, and finding the sword of valor isn't the end of things, there is still the shadow demon, along with John, (Which might be a reeaaall doozy!) and in a place not easily accessible by mortals- Staunton Vhane awaits.

I truly do fear TPKs for those encounters... Thanks for reading! Please tell me what you think, your ideas, questions and the like.