The City of Tomorrow, Cont.
(Note: this recap will be a spoiler for the adventure The City of Tomorrow, available at DriveThruRpg).
The last few days have had a musical accompaniment from the bell tower as the bard and harpy sang duets. But this morning the bard finds himself alone and finally shrugs off the harpy's magically-induced fascination.
He calls out for help and soon the rest of the party is at the foot of the tower. There are a few words of recrimination, but as the bard was not being attacked by hordes of cannibalistic lizardfolk, and as the party agrees never to discuss the events of the last few days (in the same way they have agreed never to discuss the unfortunate affair of his fish-wife marriage), he quickly moves on to the problem of getting back on the ground. (In true D&D fashion he considers just jumping; it's only a five-story fall, after all. What's 5D6 damage among friends? As it turns out, quite a lot for a bard who only has 4D6 hit points.) Considerable discussion is had as the party attempts to find the most convoluted magical method for resolving the problem because why not? Eventually the bard decides to take his chances; he leaps from the window, trusting the wizard to time his Levitate spell to catch him halfway down (the spell's range doesn't reach to the top of tower). One dramatic Spellcraft roll later the bard executes a perfect landing. Now that's an entrance!
So much so that it elicits a round of applause from everyone, including the lizardfolk ambush party that has crept up during all the shouting back and forth. Quickly remembering their true purpose, they hurl a round of javelins and then charge. The wizard casts Sleep, knocking out four of the five attackers, and the fifth one is tripped by the druid's wolf. A comedy ensues as the lizardfolk manages to awaken one of his fellows before succumbing to the assault, and each lizardfolk does the same in turn. Eventually, though, all of them are accounted for.
The party then fills in the bard on the exciting events he's missed, including introducing Rialto and a quick re-telling of the ranger's epic duel with two owlbears armed only with a dagger while the rest of the party watches from behind cover, unable to assist. (The tale might have grown a bit in the telling). This discussion is interrupted by another lizardfolk ambush apparently armed with a plethora of luck. Not only have they crept past the druid's hawk undetected (no mean feat), they manage to land three critical hits from their opening salvo. The barbarian suddenly finds himself with a face-full of javelins. Nonetheless he bravely charges into battle, only to eat another critical. Now the bard has to sneak in and heal the barbarian before he bleeds out while the rest of the party beats down the foe, slinging spells with abandon.
They have gained another audience; the harpy has returned from hunting only to discover the party has stolen her bard. When they reasonably point out that the bard was theirs in the first place, she reminds them that the sack of jewels they took from her nest was hers in the first place. A mutually satisfying deal is struck with the return of each party's property, though the bard is somewhat disappointed to discover that apparently the harpy valued her jewels more than his company. They do try recruit the harpy to attack the lizardfolk, but she is totally unwilling - after some verbal sparring they discover that she is wary of the witch-doctors in the lizardfolk camp.
The only real sticking point in the negotiations is the harpy's insistence that they clear away all the dead lizardfolk from the base of her tower. The wizard takes umbrage at being harangued to take out the garbage by a (literal) harpy, perhaps reflecting some past-life trauma. In the end they leave with only one corpse and a vague promise to "take care of it."
The party has hatched a plan to recruit the lions to their lizard war (the things players come up with while the DM is fetching the pizza) and are taking one dead lizardfolk as an offering. Along the way they are jumped by yet another lizardfolk ambush; this time they rely on the rods of Scorching Ray Rialto armed them with and make short work of the enemy. The ranger uses his magic to talk to the lions and negotiates an alliance; at dawn the lions will attack the lizardfolk camp from the rear while the party charges from the front. As always an alliance with cats is a tenuous thing, assuming as it does that they will remember to show up and also remember whose side they are on, but the party leaves with a good feeling about their chances the next day. They retire to the library for the night, dispatching yet another lizardfolk ambush on the way.
As they are cooking dinner in the library they hear scratching on the walls outside. The ranger puts his stealth skill to use and creeps out to see what is going on. Turns out a squad of lizardfolk are scaling the walls, while an indeterminate number of additional squads are hiding in the forest. The party waits until the lizardfolk reach the top of the walls of the roofless ruin and engage in a missile duel. Though the lizardfolk receive a significant bonus by use the wall as a cover, their javelins are still no match for magic and they inflict only minor damage before being shot off the walls.
Several of the party then lay out their bed-rolls, planning to get a good night's sleep so they can refresh their spells. Their nap is rudely interrupted when a squad of lizardfolk bust down the doors and charge in to the attack. This fight ends like all the others, of course, but several members of the party are out of spells and the warriors are low on hit points.
So they are gratified that their next visitor, just after the sun goes down, is merely Lady Night rather than a squad of angry lizards. She compliments them on their success so far, but assures them the night has only just begun. Once more she tries to make an alliance that would see the Censer of Animation in her hands, but the party balks at her terms since she is unwilling to tell them to what purpose she would put that powerful artifact. Also, it would mean screwing over Rialto, who is right there in the library with them, and hasn't cast any of his spells yet (during the ambushes he mostly hung back, only employing his rod occasionally). She takes her leave with regret.
Only minutes go by before the next assault. A flood of wolves charges through the open doorway. The druid tries to defuse the situation with Animal Empathy, only to discover these are not real wolves but summoned creatures. He calculates how much magic would be required to summon so many animals and starts to slightly freak out. Not for long, though, as yet another squad of lizardfolk follow the wolves in. Now the library is a chaotic swirling mess of dogs, lizards, and men. The party struggles to end the battle; while none of the threats are terribly overwhelming, there are a lot of them.
Inevitably, there are even more. Next two squads charge through the door. No worries, mate; Rialto fireballs the library entrance, destroying the reinforcements of lizardfolk before they can engage. Two more squads immediately follow, but these are different; they are clearly ranked warriors, not merely common soldiers. They are also crap at saving throws and succumb ingloriously to Rialto's second fireball.
But even the puissant Rialto has limits; when the chieftain and his four witch-doctors appear in the entrance, the warlock is out of spells and distracted by wolves. The bard, recently having discovered a way to engage in combat without fearing instant death, summons up five copies of himself and leaps into battle (Mirror Image is one of the stronger low-level spells in the game). The cleric shoots the chieftain with a Scorching Ray; the witch-doctors respond with Magic Missiles until the cleric takes a dirt nap. Then the witch-doctors turn their attention to the bard, slowly chipping away at his defenses. The druid and wizard summon help, in the form of wolves and a swarm of bats, to attack the witch-doctors from behind.
Meanwhile the chieftain proves to be a formidable foe. Even toe to toe with all of the martial prowess of the party - the barbarian, ranger, and bard - he keeps standing. Worse, he hits like a ton of bricks (by sheer luck all of his damage rolls come up at the maximum). The barbarian takes a hit and goes down in a jangle of metal, his full plate armor no match for the chieftain's brutal strikes. Then the ranger gets slammed, taking him as close to death as any of the party has ever been. Three members of the party are now on the ground, the druid and bard are completely out of spells, and things look quite dire - until the druid's wolf manages to trip the chieftain and the wizard Dazes him. In that moment of opportunity the bard draws a bead and scorches the chieftain, ending his reign of terror in a gruesome, smoking barbecue.
A few healing potions later, every is at least awake and mobile. They quickly harvest the dead, dredging up the last of their cantrips to extract the tael from the corpses rather than going through the grisly and time-consuming process of boiling their heads. They barely have time for this before the return of Lady Night.
She looks over the broken and burnt party and makes one more offer: surrender the censer or have it taken. The party, in no mood for provocation, responds with a fusillade of Scorching Rays, and Lady Night disintegrates into a cloud of black smoke. Curiously, the same kind of smoke that the summoned wolves gave off when they were destroyed. The cleric finally makes his Knowledge: Religion check and deduces that Lady Night is a vampire. The fact that she left behind neither corpse nor tael when reduced to smoke tells the party that she is not done with them yet.
Rialto suggests retreating to the Cave of Refuge for the night, as the library is on fire, full of corpses, and no longer even remotely defensible. The party has a rare moment of disunion when half vote to stay, fearing the trek through the woods in darkness, and half vote to leave, fearing what might come to the library next. They let Rialto's vote swing the balance and set off into the night, carrying the heads of the chieftain and his witch-doctors as trophies.
Only to be met by the harpy. She congratulates them on dispatching the witch-doctors, whose spells were longer range than her song. As she clearly mulls whether or not the party is weak enough to attack, the druid, out of patience for threats pretending to be diplomacy, snaps off a quick shot from his rod. (Some people just can't be trusted with assault rifles.) He misses and the harpy flees into the darkness. Now music comes drifting out of the darkness, captivating half the party - the bard, ranger, and barbarian. The charmed characters begin trudging back to the harpy's tower, bemused looks on their faces. Rialto offers his profoundest sympathies, but now that the censer is in his hands, his duty is to his people. He continues on to the Cave of Refuge, leaving the party with the magic items he had lent them for the fight, and a standing invitation to return at any time.
The three spell-casters follow their friends through the night, trying to come up with a plan that doesn't involve magic (which they are virtually out of) or melee (which they are no good at). At the foot of the tower, watching their friends begin the dangerous climb, knowing that in their current state even one fall might kill them, to say nothing of the harpy that waits at the top, the wizard casts his last two spells: he Deafens both the barbarian and ranger. This is a brilliant defense, save for the minor fact that it is permanent.
This immediately breaks the harpy's control. The ranger easily plucks the bard from the wall and holds him down. The harpy soon realizes that she's lost; she stops singing so she can hurl insults and curses at them. The party trudges back to the Cave of Refuge, reaching it as the sun comes up. Rialto greets them warmly, offering a stew coated in enough magic to disguise its actual contents.
When they finally emerge from the cave a few days later, with spells and hit-points fully refreshed, they return to the lizardfolk camp, only to find a pride of lions lounging around and gnawing on bones. The lions kept to their agreement and attacked the camp at dawn, several days ago. Finding only womenfolk and hatchlings, the lions rampaged unopposed, exterminating the tribe and incidentally acquiring enough tael to promote the leader of the pride to a Dire Lion. Fortunately the creature remembers the profitable alliance with the party and greets them with reserve, issuing only a low warning growl when they get too close.
Rialto has reanimated half a dozen of his people now, men and women armed with swords and armor and steely glares, and his own spells are renewed, so the cave is a safe place to rest; but for the journey home he has little to offer the party beyond a few day's worth of boiled lizard meat. He can do nothing about their loss of hearing; for that they need to return to civilization and a priest of sufficient rank. It is a long trek through unknown wilderness, with an angry air-borne harpy and a vampire at their back, but at least the barbarian doesn't have to listen to any of the bard's songs.