Voted Best Adventure of 1999

Adventure #3: The Beginning of the End

DM: Mike
Players: Lynn, Missy, Robin, Todd, Trish

We begin with a slight retrogression. Just before Shao Tsang touched Mogdar's gem, a young burglar named Parenia had begun watching the party through a cracked door. Ironically, she had been hired to steal the very gem being displayed on the table at Grog's. Having been hired through an intermediary, she had no knowledge of her true employer. The rest of the party was completely unaware of both her presence and her mission.

As Shao Tsang touched the gem, Parenia was caught in the wave of energy that engulfed the rest of the party. When their vision cleared, the party found themselves on the ground, in what appeared to be the burnt-out husk of Grog's Happy Half-Ogre Inn. In addition, where it had been daylight only moments ago, it was now night. Shao Tsang and the gem were missing completely.

Parenia made a cautious introduction but withheld her true purpose at the inn. Disoriented, the party eventually began to head down the road toward the center of Dagger Rock. Along the way they noticed that, while Grog's was a burnt-out husk, the town roads seemed in perfect order, the cobblestones neatly aligned. The party quickly met up with some strange townsfolk. They all had a strange brand on their foreheads, and they had a creepy tendency to occasionally speak in unison. They told the party that "The Master sees you" and that they needed to take the party to the Master "to become one of us."

The group was understandably hesitant, and fortunately they were soon whisked away by a man in the woods, who turned out to be Shod, Grog's mute half-ogre stablemaster with druidic tendencies. Shod seemed to be much older and was able to speak telepathically. He asked them to follow him and, leading them through overgrown areas of the woods, took them to the cemetary and the old tunnels beneath the town that Yuri Kineron had excavated (see Adventure #2).

There the party was in for a shock: gathered in the dimly lit cavern were older versions of most of them. A grizzled, one-armed Tellar, who through skill and strength enhancements wielded his two-handed Vorpal Blade in one hand; a bearded, one-eyed Mogdar; older versions of Parenia and Ezren; and Shod, now a full-fledged Druid. Victor and Shao Tsang's older selves were nowhere to be seen.

Tellar began the tale: "When the gem was psionically contacted, an evil entity was unleashed. We will call this entity the Evil One, as saying its name could attract its attention. The Evil One quickly moved to enslave this area, and despite our best efforts it drove us out before we could destroy it. Those you see missing among our ranks were lost in attempts to unseat the Evil One, as was my left arm. Now, having marshalled our power, we have returned. The Evil One's forces are poised for total victory, and it must be stopped now if ever. This is where you come in."

The older Mogdar then took over, saying, "The gem is the key. It is like a temporal linchpin, existing in all times simultaneously. If it could be destroyed by someone who properly belongs in the time before the Evil One is unleashed, then all of this tragedy could be averted. We summoned you here as close to the moment of the Evil One's release as possible, so that you would be at your most powerful and so that the timestream would be altered as little as possible. It has taken years of preparation and work by myself and Ezren, but for this night, you five exist out of time, linked to the moment just before the Evil One's release. If you can destroy the gem, you will destroy the Evil One as well, and be free to live a brighter future."

Tellar stepped forward again: "We will assault the Evil One's stronghold directly, as a diversion. At the same time, you will travel through the forest to the ruins outside Timber, where Ezren once lived. There the Evil One's disciples study the gem and learn from the power contained within. A troop of drow, whose nation have allied with us against the Evil One, will meet you on the path and lead you by the safest route to the ruins. There one of you must destroy the gem, whatever the cost."

Shod then explained, "Because Kasmordo's monsters were let loose into the forest many years ago [see Adventure #1], there is an unusually high concentration of hostile animal life. Be warned that there are creatures in the woods that are too dangerous for you to face directly, and that many are only animals and not inherently evil. Avoid danger when possible, and concentrate on finding and destroying the gem."

With that, the older and younger parties separated. The younger party set out on foot into the forest, and the older party teleported to the gates of the Evil One's stronghold.

After this point, the older party's adventures will be in italics.

Just as they were approaching the stronghold (the Evil One had holed up in Kasmordo's old tower in Timber), the group was approached by a young man. It was Merrik, the son of the general store owner in Dagger Rock. Merrik was now a mid-level thief and eager to help the party. They reluctantly accepted his assistance.

The younger party happened across the skeleton of Dagger Rock's Captain Bearclaw along the side of the trail. Tellar appropriated his elven chain mail +2 and the party moved on. They soon encountered a group of blind humanoids, guided by their sense of smell, who attacked. After defeating them, the party chose the center of a three-way fork, following the signs of a scuffle. Ahead they found the remains of the drow troop that was supposed to guide them. Some were wide-eyed and had no physical wounds, some had skulls opened and missing brains, and several were horribly gnawed. All, of course, were dead.

NeothelidWhile the older party forged ahead through a sea of the Evil One's creatures, including a monstrous tentacled worm whose breath killed Merrik, the younger party continued to creep through the woods. Attempting to cross a deadfall, several of them became stuck. The entire party was then ambushed by a trio of bandits: a bowman named Shiv, a hulking barbarian whose name (Torgo) was his battle cry, and a trumpet-wielding bard named Ricardo Coppertongue. The three proved to be hideously incompetent and the party bested them easily. Ricardo was taken captive, and Victor confiscated his rusty trumpet and homemade business cards to ensure his good behavior. With Ricardo as their captive the party had a guide, and they took a hidden path to the edge of the ruins, where they beheld the gem being examined by some hooded figures. More of the blind humanoids guarded the other entrances to the clearing. Despite some impulsive tendencies, the group bowed to Victor's insistence that they plan their assault carefully, as they would probably only have one chance.

The older party, meanwhile, after fighting several horrible monsters, encountered and destroyed a dozen of the Evil One's students, causing some structural damage to the tower in the process. Ezren took advantage of the availability of humanoid corpses to cast an Animate Dead spell, and the students' skeletons ripped free of their bodies in a horrific display and set about obeying Ezren. Advancing up the tower, the party was forced to fight several of their former comrades who had been enslaved by the Evil One, among them Trenar, Kayla, and Grog. Most of the enslaved people went down in a morass of skeletons and Ezren-summoned tentacles, and Grog, the most tenacious, was beheaded by Tellar's Vorpal Blade. They also found Victor, alive but wasting away in one of the cells Kasmordo once kept monsters in.

The party then advanced to the top level of the Evil One's tower, his personal chambers. Two tentacled, mauve-skinned beings that the party knew to be illithids (or Mind Flayers) guarded the door to the inner chamber. Instead of attacking, they telepathically informed the party, "Lugribossk bids you enter," and opened the doors. The party was very nervous about turning their backs on the illithids, but did as they were told anyway.

Unfortunately they weren't cautious enough. As they passed into the room, Ezren and Mogdar were psionically dominated by the two mind flayers. They were ordered to lay low and attack anyone who attacked the Evil One. The rest of the party remained completely unaware of this development.

Inside the final chamber, the Evil One was seated on a floating throne, with two brain golems standing guard behind him. The two illithids entered and closed the doors behind them. The Evil One, his face still hooded, leaned forward and spoke.

Thus Says the Tao"It is good to see you again, my friends. There's a secret I've been dying to share with you." He waved his hand at the illithids. "They call me Lugribossk, they think I am the avatar of their deity. They are fools. There was no evil entity in the gem, no hidden ghost waiting to possess the unwary. Only power. Power enough to bring this frontier to heel, to finally give order to this area that needed it so badly, the way it should be --"

"...Thus says the Tao," Tellar interrupted. And at that, the Evil One threw back his hood and revealed that he was indeed Shao Tsang, his power boosted by contact with the gem.

Parenia, Tellar, and Shod tried to reason with Shao Tsang, but failed to budge his strict worldview. In addition, the three were bewildered by the fact that Ezren and Mogdar seemed to be arguing on Shao Tsang's behalf. It quickly became obvious that violence was inevitable.

Meanwhile, the young party had decided to send Ezren into the clearing to grab the gem by using his Cloak of the Bat to swoop in from above. At the same time, Victor and Parenia would sneak close and backstab the two students who were studying the gem. They hoped to destroy the gem before having to deal with the humanoids standing guard. The plan went well, until Ezren actually laid hands on the gem. The shimmering image of his extraplanar patron appeared over the clearing and commanded him to "Bring the prize to Me!" A gateway opened at the edge of the ruins, and Ezren landed and began to run for it.

At the RuinsParenia failed to make her way completely into the center of the clearing, and her target was alerted. When he turned, she saw that the students were not human, but Mind Flayers. Victor, having already dispatched his own target, backstabbed Parenia's distracted foe and slew it as well.

Tellar and Mogdar sprang toward the gate in an attempt to stop Ezren, but neither was close enough. It looked as if, so close to success, they were doomed to fail.

Back in the tower, having decided that diplomacy had failed, Shod unleashed a barrage of thunder and lightning from his staff on Shao Tsang. Parenia followed up with a pair of magic missiles from her wand. Shao Tsang was injured and deafened, but still very much alive. Unfortunately for the rest of the party, Ezren and Mogdar now went into action. Mogdar immediately banished Shod to the Temporal Plane, taking him out of the action. Ezren sapped some of Tellar's strength with a spell, and sent his skeleton troop after Tellar and Parenia. Only now did the rest of the party realize that Ezren and Mogdar were not in control of their own actions.

Shao Tsang retaliated by psionically disintegrating Parenia, killing her. Tellar was left alone against Shao Tsang, his golems and lieutenants, two powerful spellcasters, and a squadron of skeletons.

Things were also looking bleak for the young party. Fortunately for them, the bound and gagged Ricardo Coppertongue managed to leap in front of Ezren, tripping him. Ezren fell and regained his senses, but also dropped the gem. The gate closed. Everyone lunged for the gem at once, but Tellar got there first. He immediately crushed the gem with the pommel of his sword. A wave of blinding white energy exploded outward, obliterating everything in its path.

At the same time, Shao Tsang was taunting Tellar. "You should have known better than to assault me in my own fortress, oh vaunted rebel leader. You are no strategist, only a barbarian. Your main opponents are all out of reach, Tellar, and you never were any good at fighting from a distance. I warned you that you would regret your dependence on your sword-arm someday. Bow down to me now, and maybe I'll let you keep that last arm. Then again, maybe not."

Tellar weighed his options and decided on a desperate tactic. When he had lost his arm, he trained himself in sword-throwing, in case he found himself in a situation where ranged combat was necessary. Because of his distaste for distance-fighting, and because it left him without a sword, he rarely used the skill. Now it was his only chance. He hefted, whirled, and threw his two-handed sword at Shao Tsang. The Vorpal Blade struck him in the neck, beheading him, and lodged in his throne. The room's other occupants barely had time to register this before the wave of energy from the sundered gem struck the tower, wiping them all from existence.

The young party found themselves once again seated around the table at Grog's where they had been examining the gem. They were only dimly aware of what had happened, as if it had been a bad dream. The sole exception to this was Mogdar, who beckoned Parenia into the room from her hiding place.

The gem was dust running through Shao Tsang's fingers. Unaware of what had almost happened, and thinking he had somehow broken Mogdar's prize possession, he began apologizing and berating himself in his native eastern tongue. As reality settled back to normal and everyone began to chalk up the adventure to a bad daydream, Victor reached into his pack and was shocked to discover that inside was Ricardo Coppertongue's rusty trumpet . . .

The dust swirled into the air and formed into gifts: A two-handed Sword of the Planes for Tellar, a Manual of Golems for Ezren, Gauntlets of Dexterity for Parenia, a Rope of Entanglement for Victor, and Iron Bands of Bilarro for Mogdar.

There were other, more long-term repercussions of the adventure. Shod, forced into the timestream just before the entire timeline was wiped out, somehow merged with Victor as reality corrected itself. There were no physical changes, but Victor gave up his spy career (he couldn't remember much of it thanks to his de-aging in Adventure #2 anyway) and became a Druid.

Shao Tsang, while not consciously aware of what happened, would be plagued by nightmares and visions in the weeks to come. Whether or not the future the party experienced was averted or merely delayed remains to be seen . . .