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East of Epratium
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Campaign #6 is a pseudo-Oriental campaign, based in and around the nation of Gherany. It has been running since July 2002 and has had nothing so far to do with the previous campaigns! Of course, when I say pseudo-Oriental, I do in fact mean, with only a slight hint of the east in the form of the material culture of the east and as much of the society as I can muster... which is Monks! Moustaches! Katanas! Noodles!
My apologies to the world at large.
For the players: This may be a little brief. My apologies.
Their first quest took them south, towards the town of Tristor, where there seemed to be some kind of 'fright' scenario afoot. On the way they encountered some goblins, and a guard who didn't seem to know his left from his right. Finally they reached Tristor: a small town dominated by a temple of Ceraihn, god of justice. They found that Sun-Re's cousin Shelba was indeed missing, and then traipsed around looking into animal attacks. They met and instantly disliked Jagadis Deadknife, and weren't sorry when they found him dead and got to steal his magical kukri. During the investigation of the animal mutations they came into conflict with Reuven, a gypsy with a grudge against the people of Tristor for having killed his entire clan. They captured him alive. Then they went to find Shelba, who had been kidnapped by orcs. Having located the orc encampment, near the mysterious Minotaurs Horn, they assaulted it and killed everything there, finding that the orcs were led by a bugbear and were under the command of someone called the Overseer.
Having rescued Shelba and needing to take their prisoner from justice, they headed to Tehne City, the nearest city. While there, Reuven pissed Zhou-Yu off mightily and then escaped. Shelba and Den Zarrd hit it off and ended up in bed together, while Sun-Re and Zhou-Yu also seemed to be getting together. While in the city, Den and Mei hit on the idea of mass-producing Blue Whinnis poison using Den's spells and Mei's alchemy kit, and then to sell it onto the Triads. They made a good amount of money, and didn't feel too guilty because Blue Whinnis only knocks the victim unconscious.
But the excitement of Tehne City didn't stop there! While they were saying goodbye to Feiyi-Kay at her temple, a mysterious man with a crossbow, who had been following the party, shot Portias with a bolt, to which a note was attached. The note was simply a picture of two dragons - one black, one gold - that seemed to have some significance to Zhou-Yu.
Finally they left the city before anything more could happen to them, and headed back to Drelit City to drop Shelba off. The road there wasn't altogether smooth, though, and they were forced to stop and help a woman whose prize cow under whom the ground had simply opened. The cow was stuck down this hole, in a nest of giant ants. The party dropped down and created a makeshift pulley system to haul the cow out, but it was around this time that Den's hitherto unknown hatred of giant ants came out...
Just as they were making their approach to Drelit City, they were attacked by two creatures, which they later identified as wererats. They were dispatched swiftly, but not before they managed to get a reasonable hit in on Zhou-Yu. Once in the city they went to see Den's master, Shelba and Sun-Re's grandfather: Master Tolman. Although he was normally eccentric he seemed slightly insane this time. Still, he gave them a house to stay in and paid them for their efforts. The party began to ponder its next move, and they had several options to choose from. However, it was Zhou-Yu's insistence that his own mission was of utmost urgency and importance that made the party choose that path, and he explained that Zhang-He had levelled a mesa with a town in it, and had to be found.
They resolved to leave the town, but it seemed that someone was meddling in the party's affairs. First there was the letter left for Portias, with a symbol of Hallan on it, dipped in Blue Whinnis. Then there was the blockade at the gates as the guards searched everyone coming in for poisons. The Secret Police were even involved, and Mei managed to overhear a conversation between a Commander Fios and one of the guards, explaining what the blockade was for. It was also apparent that Fios or his twin brother had been the person who shot Portias in Tehne City. The involvement of the authorities rattled Den, and he verbally assaulted Mei, angry that things had gotten out of hand. That's when the paladin realised what had been going on... needless to say, Mei was fined heavily, and started making donations to repair the damage he had caused to morality.
Their road was southwards, to the Forest of Devils, because Zhou-Yu had a feeling that zhang-He was headed there. On the way they were attacked by zombies that had some kind of purplish fungus growing under their skin. Directly following that encounter they heard the sounds of another fight and some yelling. They followed the sound and found two men in conflict: one in armour, one in clothes: both were obviously writhing in pain, on hands and knees on the floor. Making a snap decision, Mei attacked the armoured man, and killed him (probably not intentionally), while the party attacked the other man, trying to subdue him. Unfortunately, he was a vampire and he simply ignored the party's attacks and fled in the form of a wolf.
They always remembered which one Mei had attacked first...
Later they stayed at an inn, where one of the patrons, a half-elf called Calera, began giving birth. This would not normally be unusual, except that during the birthing the room was attacked by gargoyles - while everyone was in their pants and only a fellow customer, a ranger called Arragorne, had a weapon good enough to harm the gargoyles. The fight was tough, and the gargoyles seemed interested in the woman or her child, but eventually they were defeated (and not because Mei was attacking one with the soggy severed limb of the other, I hasten to add). Then there was the mysterious glowing cat that simply sat and watched the whole affair, disappearing with the dawn. Added to that, the child was hairy and animal-like, so that the mother disowned it and refused to take it with her. Trying to placate her, Arragorne and his party took the child away with them.
Eventually they were within a few miles of the Northern Outpost (Caer'hir'toc), the Elven settlement in the north of the Forest. As they were camping down, an elven Cleric of Fate called Cleon ran up to them, followed by some undead. He explained that a vast horde of undead were about the descend on the oupost and they had to be warned. So the party broke camp and charged towards the town, alerting them to the impending danger. In thanks the elves let them hide in a barn.
The undead attacked in swarms - mummies, skeletons, zombies, wraiths, shadows... the works. The party fought hard and slew many, nearly losing themselves in the process. Then Mei spotted a single figure leaving, that the main body of the undead seemed to be following - the vampire from the other night! He alerted everyone to his presence, but no one could stop him and he got away. That night Portias visited his god and his performance against the undead's onslaught was analysed. Sun-Re nearly died and became a shadow, but Portias saved her, and Zhou-Yu suffered the debilitating effects of mummy rot, and had it cured.
The following day the elves told the party that the vampire had taken a magic item called the Stone of Recovery, and so many were afflicted with mummy rot and similar that they couldn't cope without the stone's healing powers. The trail was easy to follow, and it led the party to a manor belonging to an elven wizard called Llan'flin'amur.
After much hacking, slaying, reading and staking of vampires, it transpired that Llan'flin'amur wasn't really an elf. He had been a human necromancer called Cadoxin. but Cadoxin had seen the error of his evil ways and changed his identity to work on a way to destroy undead - permanently. His master plan was to create a disease that killed undead, that could be carried by the living and would simply kill undead where they appeared. He managed to create the disease - Purple Fungus - but it affected living hosts, too, and he died from it, although he managed to contain the plague. Some time later (the details weren't clear) a vampire called Meon came to the house and got the disease. To try and find a cure, he kidnapped an alchemist but was getting nowhere. He stole the Stone of Recovery in the hope that it might hold the answer. However, before he could find out, the party burst into his lab and Zhou-Yu staked him through the heart with a crossbow bolt. From letters, diaries and the alchemist girl (Drana) they rescued from Meon, they were able to piece together what had happened.
There was a temple to Darbed (god of money and profit) on the premises, which they looted, and as Zhou-Yu was leaving, he was savagely attacked by a bear. This was something of a surprise, and as the party came to help him they were also attacked by Reuven, back for revenge. The bear was making a real meal - several real meals in fact - out of Zhou-Yu and it was all he could do to stay alive. That was when a bird landed on the bear, turned into Commander Fios, and began attacking the bear. The bear died and he turned into a tiger...
They each had a vision, or perhaps a dream. And when they each awoke they felt different, and had the ability to do something they had not been able to do previously. Mei had also forgotten a large chunk of time. Fios awoke and ran away as fast as his legs allowed. The party returned to the outpost and found that it was a localised phenomenon, but that the elves were glad to have the Stone back, and the information about the plague.
So they spent a little time, did some shopping, de-plagued themselves and fended off an accusation of aiding an abetting the vampire, before leaving the town, headed south and for the Eastern Outpost (Nai'Ovo). However, that path was not quietly trod either. They fought an angry triceratops, defeated some bandits and helped a young elemental couple in love. They stayed one night at a sanctuary of Archin, and while there a small elven bo called Idilios came to them and delivered a prophecy for the future, aimed primarily at Zhou-Yu, but intended for all the party. The prophecy told them that they would have a choice - one of caution and one of the unturning wheel. Both would be dangerous, but the cautious one would bring great glory. The party seemed happy with this, as neither avenue predicted certain death, and the prediction was relatively easy to understand.
They also encountered some fairly serious bandits on the road: the Darkblades, led by a half-drow half-elf called Vinctus, who nearly ambushed them as they crossed a bridge. The party defeated them, at great cost, but Vinctus escaped, to wreak revenge at a later time...
They reached Nai'ovo, knowing that it had suffered some kind of unexplained disaster that had levelled half the town - the same thing that had happened in Zhou-Yu's native land. However, the elves of the outpost were very terse with the party, and unwilling to help them particularly, driving Den mad. The destroyed area was encased within an iron wall, and they party could only get in with the permission of the investigating officer, Heladad Ul'theroswen, and he refused to even consider letting them into the compound until the Secret Police had arrived. A strange man told them that if they went to the human town of Longhai, to a pub called the Rice Garden, an influential man could use their help and in return get them into the compound.
With few other choices, the party moved on to the human town of Longhai, although along the way they stopped to kill a Belker that had ravaged a wizard and her hut. They went to the Rice Garden, but changed their minds when it became apparent that it was a brothel. They decided to wait for the Secret Police, and while away the following day in a relaxed manner. Sun-Re and Zhou-Yu formalised their pseudo-relationship by finally bedding one another, Den got a change of look without a collar, Mei shopped, Portias prayed. Then, in the evening, the influential man contacted them and took them to the Rice Garden, which was a very opulent brothel (the finest in the south of the continent) and explained that he wanted them to eliminate the Halfmoon Triad. In return they would have free reign of the brothel and access to the compound.
They did this in short order, having a big scrap and discovering that the Triad was working with some orcs, who were creating a place for an entire army to teleport to. Knowing as they did, that war was brewing with the orcs in the south, they rightly guessed that this was somehow connected, and sent word to all the local towns. The owner of the Rice Garden, Pierre le Chevalier, did indeed arrange for them to get within the iron wall of Nai'ovo, and Den at least enjoyed the free tab at the brothel.
Returning to the Eastern Outpost was also troublesome, and saw the return of the Darkblades - not a surprise considering Vinctus, aka 'pasty boy' had been following them around Longhai! they had a clay golem with them, which terrified the party, but Portias demolished with a single blow, but the main reason for that was that, well, he was 12' tall. Permanently. Thanks to a rod of wonder that the party confiscated off Vinctus' wizard pal, Bian'so. That rod was to play a significant - one might go so far as to say unhelpful role in future events...
They were also attacked by some blood-sucking stirges, and Zhou-Yu was shot and drugged by a female commander of the Secret Police, whom Portias caught for a moment, and then lost when she cast teleport and vanished.
Investigations behind the wall revealed that Zhang-He had been there, and had left a message for Zhou-Yu, with a magical teleportation circle that could only work with a drop of his blood and a password only he would know. They also had a run in with the Secret Police - Commander Fios, would you believe? They accused him of shooting Portias and other assorted nefariousness, but he denied everything, claiming he was a crap shot etc etc.
The party decided to jump into the teleporter, but Mei remained behind to help the war effort. So they stepped into the Quantum Leap accelerator, and vanished...
They woke to find themselves trapped in the past, facing architectural features that were not their own and driven by an unknown force to find Zhang-He, for the better. Their only guide on this journey was Gorodix, an observer from this strange place, who appeared in a form of a person that everyone could see and hear. And so the party find themselves travelling from town to town, striving to find Zhang-He and hoping each teleport would be the leap home...
Actually, they were in the Broken Kingdoms, which was a strange place - less developed that their own civilisations, and full of people who didn't read and write, nor speak their language. Fortunately, a druid at the circle of standing stones - Taloric's Wheel, as it was known - sent a guide with them: Gorodix, a local elementalist.
Their first stop was the oppidum of Cnae Brae, but before they got close they were attacked by a green dragon, and much chaos ensued thanks to the rod of wonder. For a start, the dragon doubled in size... then there was a pack of dire wolves and some evidence for Zhang-He, although it made little sense. It was also around this time that Portias felt his mount calling to him, and Den decided to summon his air mephit underlings.
Cnae Brae was basically a cluster of roundhouses and sunken-floored buildings surrounded by earthworks and a small palisade wall, in the oxbow of a river. The people were relatively friendly, especially since the party were coercable into fighting their enemy - a half-giant called Rigas Dorgan, Afushonsunu. In return, they would give the party a gazillion horses, as these were very commonplace indeed. With a few days to kill, the party took a trip to the Canaxa Nemeton - a religious place where they went to consult the spirits and display those they had conquered. Zhang-He had been there, and he had acted on the information given to continue his journey.
Aduan, the guardian of the sacred area, was glad to help them in return for a sacrifice, and told them that the Mouth of the Earth, the human chosen to represent the Earth Elementals (Adam Gomez) had spoken with Zhang-He, and they were hostile to one another. He also said that Zhang-He had consulted the elementals and been told that he was being deceived.
It was at this point that Portias had to perform a quest for his steed, which involved going to a small settlement inside an ancient ruin, which was dear to his future steed, and save it from what ailed it. Well, it turned out that what ailed it was a terribly thick smoke and ash coming from a well shaft. At the bottom of the well shaft was a complex dungeon that led to a book - the Iron Codex. Portias had to take the evil tome above ground to a device called the maw of destruction which was a gigantic frog statue, buried by centuries of rubble and decay. A daemon sprang from the maw, and Hallan intervened to allow only Portias to fight the creature. So it created some imps to entertain the party while it took care of Portias... if you can call being chopped in half 'taking care' of Portias! The paladin earned his mount's respect, and so the party were joined by Ara, a black pegasus.
Next up was fighting the half-giant, who turned up in some kind of magically teleporting fort to extort supplies from the poor townsfolk. But the party had a plan: Portias would challenge Rigas to single combat, which the rest of the party would watch whilst invisible. Once Portias had killed him, they would attack Rigas' men, and hopefully clean up.
At least, that was the plan.
What actually happened was that Rigas chopped 12' Portias in two.
This was a surprise to everyone, but they recovered well and managed to make mincemeat of Rigas' unsuspecting henchmen. Gorodix got to use hi lance to great effect and Den nearly got chopped up by the half-giant, and they won the day. And a fort that could be carried around in a pocket.
Portias' body was taken to the Nemeton, where he was brought back from the dead by Aduan in repayment for destroying the very hard half-giant. While they were waiting for the de-deadification of the paladin, they had a visit from one Feyana Thale, the Voice of the Air Elementals, who had a quiet word with Den'Zarrd before flying away (she was an avariel (winged elf)).
The party went south then, following Zhang-He's trail as it went towards the oppidum of Bibracte. They had heard that some other people like them had been spotted passing Cnae Brae, and suspected that Fios was on their tail again - so they sped up, hoping to catch him. It seemed that he had a way to track Zhang-He, that didn't require Zhou-Yu anymore. On their travels they helped trade some rugs and wine and rescued the daughter of the chief of the Aganetti tribe.
They reached Bibracte ahead of Fios by flying over him, and were very smug about it, too. However, they did half-team up to try and find Zhang-He's trail, which had gone dead. There was a lot of mutual sneering and using. The oppidum, it seemed, was living under some fear of 'dark' that stole people away and they wouldn't talk about. That dark was Drow, who launched a raid on the town to try and capture the party, but the party got wind of the attack early and struck first, driving the drow back into the underdark. At the same time, a dark tower appeared when the sun set, and Zhang-He's trail led into it. Having defeated the drow, and somehow lost Fios in the confusion, they headed to the tower.
Inside the tower they met quite a bit of resistance - most notably some tough golems that knocked seven shades of shit out of them... and in the top room they were attacked by some very well prepared invisible assailants, who were gathering together gear that looked suspiciously like Zhang-He's...
The ensuing fight was bloody, and the party won by sheer tenacity against an enemy that was totally unseen, flying and combat skilled. Several escaped by teleporting away, but they had a prisoner and all the stuff they were trying to nick. The prisoner was quite helpful in the end, seeing that he wasn't getting home any time soon. His name was Talbot, and he had been hired by a man in a silver mask to come here and recover the stuff in the room, which comprised Zhang-He's equipment and some stones which had been rammed into the body of a Drow when Talbot had arrived. Talbot didn't know where 'here' was.
The party worked out that the gems had to be inserted into the body of a living drow to do... something. There was some wrestling with morality, and while wrestling they spent a day in a limbo dimension because the tower had left Bibracte. When they returned to the oppidum, they found a drow that had been taken prisoner, and jammed the gems into him, at key locations in his body. The crystals drained his life force to create a portal...
That led to some kind of desert elf-style temple. They went through, and the murals told a tale of an exodus of elves from this place to the deserts far to the north, of a tying of bonds between the deserts of Zhou-Yu's people, and the people of Eldorian. No one noticed that the paint was still wet. The temple had a guardian, Mardun, who refused to let anyone but Zhou-Yu and Sun-Re past. The rest of the party would have had to fight him, but for some clever use of the folding fort!
They were in a town called Eldorian, dominated by the impressive stone Castle Eldorian, which was flying the black and gold dragon banners of Zhou-Yu's people. The party demanded to see the lord, Edoras, and were surprised when they were given access, and when everyone scurried away from Portias in trepidation. The cause became clear enough when they met Lord Edoras - he was Portias' twin. Literally.
It seemed that Portias and Edoras had been separated during an attack on the castle while they were babies - Portias' mother had fled with him, and when she was found dead, the child was presumed dead also. The reappearance of the eldest son of Lord Portias Eldorian caused quite a stir, but the party were looking for Zhang-He, and seemed to be thwarted at every turn to find him.
The castle was full of oddity and mistrust - like the earth-elemental worshipping, cake-devouring wizard Emerald, who disappeared for long periods without explanation. Or Sir Eckland, who the party suspected of being more than just friends with Lord Edoras, nudge nudge. And the old man in the stables who seemed to know an awful lot, as is the tradition for old blind men... Oh, and Sun-Re revealed to Zhou-Yu that she was pregnant with his child, which he took much better than she was expecting. He didn't foam at the mouth, for a start.
Eventually they realised that there was some kind of complex under the castle, and that there was something fishy about Afushon, Edoras' masked advisor, who worshipped the same god as Rigas had done, and who had disappeared with Zhang-He around the same time as the party arrived. Things grew more certain when Rigas' coffin arrived in the dead of night. They caused a distraction to clear the throne room, and snuck down the secret passage under the throne.
They found an ice dungeon, populated by fierce dogs and icy salamanders, with a great deal of black/gold dragon motifage. Finally, they reached the room of revelation, in which Afushon was stood, in his full glory - a frost giant, father of Rigas, adoptive father of Edoras, the Overseer. In some strange agony-inducing spinning ball contraption was Zhang-He. And Afushon didn't look worried. He was on the far side of a narrow icy bridge, he had a runic guardian to protect him, and once the party were in the room, he also had an elder earth elemental and some clockwork horrors, turning the room into an episode of Robot Wars gone mad!
Zhou-Yu went after Afushon with everything he had, while the party laid into the elemental and the horrors - cue massive amounts of wondrous rodding and frustratingly hard giant not really getting harmed. The rod did it's usual thing, though, and trapped said giant and golem in a wall of force that prevented any kind of combat, so the party had the chance to find a desert elf who had helped Afushon, and discovered that everything had been orchestrated to increase the giant's power: Zhang-He's prophecy was a fabrication, and Afushon had arranged every single event himself.
The machine Zhang-He was strapped into was killing him, and it was also making Afushon and his army of orcs more powerful, by channelling the power into a specific tattoo. Zhou-Yu began hacking his friend out of the machine, but the breaking caused it to slip and roll into the abyss below, both elves tumbling in with it...
At this point, a change came over Zhou-Yu, and he underwent some kind of transformation, fuelled by magic and rage. Bristling with power, his physical appearance warped into a killing machine, and he shattered the metal structure, sweeping Zhang-He into his arms as he charged upwards, towards Afushon and revenge.
The force-field surrounding the giant collapsed at Zhang-He's gleeful touch, and the party laid into the giant and his guardian - Zhou-Yu most eagerly of all - and while the blood of all sprayed the area liberally, in the end, only our heroes were left standing.
EPILOGUE: Following the events of that crusade, the party went their separate ways. Knowing that the armies of orcs were still headed north, Portias returned by the quickest route available to help Mei defend the towns of southern Gherany from marauders, and to help lead the armies of Gherany against the orcs when they arrived. In disarray at the loss of their leader, they were defeated, although at high cost to the Gheranian army. Portias himself returned to Tehne city in search of an old friend. Den'Zarrd and his mephits returned to Drelit City to pursue the true path of power, and Gorodix returned to his people, where he was greeted as a hero for having defeated such a potent enemy, and hailed as the inventor of the killing-your-enemy-from-a-horse-with-a-pointy-stick technique. And there was a chieftain's daughter waiting for him at the feast table, of course. Finally, the pregnant Sun-Re agreed to marry Zhou-Yu... and they had a healthy baby boy before the end of the year.
Here is a small selection of the funniest quotes from the campaigns. It's a sad fact, but they're less funny if you weren't there. So sorry about that.
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