A Direct Route
Scene: The party has just hoodwinked some dragon cultists into believing that they are couriers for the cult who show up at exactly the right time in order to ferry the latest box of loot into the basement of Castle Naerytar. They’re handed some of the more portable crates, and start down the roughly carved steps into the basement.
The caverns under the castle are…caverns under the castle, in the true Dungeons & Dragons sense: chilly, damp, water drippingfrom unseen locations, echos of small rodents scrambling somewhere in the darkness. The room the party finds themselves in is fairly well lit, with two lanterns in the room illuminating a space that’s pretty empty save for a finger of shallow but mildly acidic water bisecting most of the cave.
Here the part debates what to do with the loot. Do they dump it and go into full-on protagonist mode? Do they continue with their ruse and cart the crates to whatever final destination they were intended for? The party has an idea: pop open the crates and see what’s inside. A few crates have jewelry, some have heirloom-quality items. Their tag-along companion Jamna Gleamsilver opts to take a few handfuls of jewelry “for retirement”, and the rest of the part follows suit. “Better in our hands than in theirs,” Jamna said with a shrug.
The party opted to take the crates with them as they moved through the northwest opening, following the bulk of heavy footsteps that indicate a phalanx of heavy goods being carried through. In the next room they encountered a makeshift crane designed to move crates between the 15 foot elevation that the players find. Never one to miss out on playing with mechanical contraptions, the gnome bard helped get the crates onto the platform and winched the goods to the lower level. Climbing down the ladder after the boxes, the party paused at the sound of voices.
“We are behind schedule, Borngray,” a hissing voice said with very little patience. “Severin is concerned that we will not be able to complete the timetable.”
“The lizardfolk are working double-time to ferry the spoils through the swamp, Lady Rezmir.” The second voice has a distinct elvish lilt to it, with an undertone of controlled irritation.
“Triple it, then,” Rezmir replied. “We are taking the portal to the hunting lodge. I do not wish to return here on bad report.”
A third voice chimed in, and the party recognized it as belonging to Azbara Jos, the Thayan. “Might I assume that I will be able to have my audience with Severin once we arrive at the hunting lodge?” There was no reply except for the parting words between Rezmir and Borngray.
The party watched from a hidden position as the half-dragon and the Thayan take the northwest exit, and a tall, fair-haired elf moves stiffly to the southwest passage. Stealthily, the party followed Borngray…or at least tried to follow in stealth, but failed and found themselves in a large shrine filled with several bullywugs, cultists, Borngray, and Pharblex Spattergoo, the shaman leader of the bullywugs.
“What business do you have here,” Borngray demanded. It was apparent he saw this intrusion as an opportunity to vent his pent-up anger.
The bard took the lead. “We’re mercenaries sent by Langdedrosa Cyanwrath.”
The elf looked unimpressed. “Lord Cyanwrath has never taken any interest in Castle Naerytar. I fail to see why he should do so now.” At this assertion, the bullywugs moved to attack. The first bullywug threw a spear, catching the ranger with a glancing slash from a thrown spear.
With the superior numbers of the enemy making victory seem uncertain, the party quickly debated finding a more defensible position at a choke-point in the cavern passageways. The bard had another idea. Casting Major Image, she summoned the visage of Cyanwrath, whom the party had met on the fields of Greenest. The illusion marched down the stairs to confront a confused and now terrified Borngray, demanding that Borngray report to the portal to the hunting lodge to answer for his questionable service to the cult. Pharblex and his bullywugs shrank back as the elf brushed past the party on the stairs and lead the group — and the illusion — to a mist-filled room in the direction that Rezmir and Jos took after their conversation with Borngray.
“Open the portal,” Cyanwrath demanded. The elf spoke the keyword — draezir, which the party recognized from the scrap of paper taken from Rezmir’s office — and through the mist a magical inscription began to gather power, glowing and throwing off the mist to reveal itself. With the portal activated, Borngray turned to Cyanwrath…only to find the half-dragon had disappeared, and that the ranger was closing at speed, weapons drawn.
After having only been able to fire off one Thunderwave, the party felled Borngray with relative ease. They paused to listen for potential reinforcements, but their original ruse seemed absolute: Pharblex had no interest in interfering with the business of an angry half-dragon and his subordinate.
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This was the most direct session I think the group has ever played. The caverns below the castle are fairly extensive, serving as the domain of the bullywugs and are used to raise their giant frog minions. The party made very straightforward, logical decisions: check for foot traffic and follow it, eavesdrop on the conversation, and most importantly, attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of the enemy which happened to work thanks to Borngray failing his Insight check to see through the illusory Cyanwrath.
Looking over the materials beforehand, I figured that since the party hadn’t encountered Rezmir, Borngray, or Pharblex anywhere else in the castle, this would be a good place to at least have them put in an appearance. Rezmir and Jos had business through the portal, but Borngray and Pharblex are rivals who are both vying for control over Castle Naerytar. During the session, Borngray threw Pharblex and his bullywugs (who were chosen by Rezmir) under the cart, while praising the work of the lizardfolk whom Borngray supports. It might very well be that the party did Borngray a favor by killing him in the portal room, because Pharblex would most certainly be out for blood after that song and dance.
This was a milestone chapter, so the party has reached level six. There’s only two more chapters and two more levels to go in this module.