Rise of the Domain Lords, part III: Snakes!
The map is ancient, but the location of the Naga nest is newly inked. The party decides to start there first, and now heads south.
Walking through the brush, the Barb spots a dire boar. It ignores him. Offended, he intimidates it into fleeing. A few rounds later it returns with few friends, and a herd of boars charge into the party, doing tremendous damage. As is typical in these situations the Druid turns into a bear, but this time the reaction is unique: the boards go berserk, ignoring every other threat, to attack the Druid-bear. He is almost instantly driven to the ground. Luckily he de-transitions once unconscious, and the boars go back to attacking everyone else instead of savagely goring his unconscious and helpless body.
This battle is still in doubt when a wolf whistle calls the herd off. Carefully hiding behind a tree, the winter wolf Scar attempts to interest the party in his problems - namely, killing his brother Mustafa and his pack of Dire Bears so Scar can regain control of the wolf pack.
He finds no takers; instead, the Cleric tries to silence him and the Ranger tries to entangle him. He slips away into the forest, and while the Druid can scan and locate the boards, they decide that these small beans are no longer worth their time. They push on to the mountains and the lair of the Nagas.
First Lizard Battle
Entering the rocky hills they are challenged by a trio of harpies. The Bard countersings and the Wizard launches a fireball. Immediately the birds turn and run. But the party knows that the enemy knows they are coming.
Halfway up the mountain they encounter squads of lizardmen and harpies. Again the a firewall shapes the battlefield to their advantage, while the Barbarian does his usual destruction of squads, though the Druid and Ranger are somewhat more challenged by a handful of lizardmen with advanced ranks. The Cleric deals with the harpies with his arsenal of spiritual hammers.
Suddenly a naga appears from nowhere and blasts half the party with a lighting bolt. The Wizard immediately blinds her; on the next round she turns invisible and slithers away. The party finishes off the lizards on this side of the wall of fire, and when the fire goes out, the battlefield is silent again. The party decides to hole up in a Rope trick and wait for morning, ceding the initiative for a chance to restore spells.
Second Lizard Battle
The next day they advance unchallenged. Finding a mysterious tunnel entrance, they debate closing it up or exploring it, but settle for the Ranger putting an alarm on it so they will know if they are flanked.
Soon they are ambushed by a huge troop of lizards, along with a dozen harpies. Worse, two of the harpies are archers. Again the Wizard uses Wall of Fire to stop the lizard heroes firing at them from atop a cliff face, but the heroes just leap down and join the battle with axes.
And then the invisible nagas appear, casting lightning bolts and enfeebling rays.
The Bard sends several squads and a hero fleeing with Fear. He then dances through melee, freely inviting attacks of opportunity because his new Mobility feat makes him nigh-invincible from such attacks. Once he puts up mirror images, the harpies start dive-bombing him, since stripping his images away is the only useful thing they can do (at one point they dive-bomb the Druid-bear, but his reach allows him to catch one as they fly by and bite it in half; after this they avoid the beast). They even manage to nick the Bard once or twice with their glaives.
The Barbarian destroys several squads, but then a half-dozen heroes surround him and administer a severe beating while a naga repeatedly fails to weaken him with a ray (missing four times in a row!).
The Ranger finds himself targeted by one of the harpy archers and almost killed - again. He shoots back, crippling her to the point where she spends the next few rounds drinking potions.
The other harpy archer is deploying her arrows against the biggest threat each turn. Everyone feels the sting of her arrows over the battle.
The Druid-bear holds the rear, where a group of lizard squads and heroes and a naga have tried to flank them, thanks to the aforementioned tunnel. He slowly chews through the squads and then destroys the naga in a single round, despite her magical defenses.
The Cleric sends out some hammers, but soon finds himself healing the wounded or restoring their strength. He also spends several rounds healing himself, having been caught in the path of one too many lightning bolts.
The Wizard attempts to blind one of the harpy archers. She responds by knocking him out. Once he is healed, he uses Soften Stone to destroy the arch that two nagas are perched atop, forcing them to retreat instead of attacking for a few rounds. When they do reappear, he blasts one with missiles, only to find it protected. It cripples him with a ray anyway.
Healed from that, the Wizard puts up mirror images, causing the harpies to swoop and dive on him, destroying his images but failing to do any damage to him. He stretches across a rock to rescue the beleaguered Ranger with a Displacement spell, but this exposes him to one of the lizardmen heroes, who abruptly cuts him in half! The first party member death has occurred.
The Ranger, wounded from his archery duel and surrounded by lizardman heroes, has been on the defensive. But with the Displacement providing him some protection, he returns to the battle, shooting the lizardman heroes in the face at point-blank range despite their best attacks.
One of the nagas that retreated now appears and catches several party members in a lightning bolt. The Druid-bear kills it, causing the harpy archer to shoot him into unconsciousness.
The Barbarian has, improbably, beaten down all of the heroes ganging up him. The naga hits him with a lightning bolt but his rage shrugs it off. He leaps on the rock she is perched on and attacks, but her Displacement nullifies his whirling blade. She finally lands a ray on him, making him weaker, but it is too little too late: he eventually gets through her defenses and destroys her.
Restored to consciousness by the Cleric, the Druid-bear kills another naga. The Wizard, Ranger, and Cleric combine their firepower and finally destroy the two harpy archers. The last enemy standing on the battlefield is the lizardman hero who has just slain the wizard; he is obliterated by a storm of arrows and blades while the remaining harpies flee, recognizing that the battle is lost.
A voice from a hidden naga calls out. Truce is offered; while the party has slaughtered many foes, the nagas warn they still have more to throw into battle. However, their losses have been heavy, and despite the damage inflicted on the party, victory is not guaranteed. They are willing to call a draw, splitting the treasure from the battlefield and offering the party information on a greater threat to humankind.
The party is divided, some wanting to push on and end the threat; but the loss of the wizard has sobered the rest. They accept the truce. The nagas then provide the party with a map that mirrors the one they have, warning them that an ancient and terrible kingdom of vampires that has been dormant for centuries has now awoken. While the vampires are enemies of all living things, humans are their food source: human realms will be prime targets of this new threat.
The party, having just recently destroyed a vampire invasion and already in possession of a map to the Kingdom of Blood, are not impressed, but a deal’s a deal. They collect their share of the tael and the two halves of their wizard and retreat. The Cleric will soon restore the Wizard to life and as he was the lowest level, restoring his lost rank will not be unduly onerous.
The party has negotiated its way out of the last three major encounters, and yet still seems determined to throw itself against the unknown might of the mysterious Kingdom of Blood. Of what stuff are heroes made!