Against the gnolls, part 3
The party equips itself with some basic magic gear - a few pieces of enchanted armor, a couple of magic weapons, and a Pearl of Power for the wizard. These are all basic items and easily available to the swaggering heroes from the local spell-casters. Honestly, it's long overdue; they are still under the standard wealth for characters of their rank in the world of Prime.
Then it's an easy march back to the gnoll kingdom, but this time they don't stop at the water's edge. Circling around the lake, they come upon a ragged city of dirt huts with a huge stone ziggurat in the center.
Nervous gnoll eyes watch them from the huts but issue no challenges. Grygar the Terrible, the headman of the village and a shaman of advanced rank, waits for them at the top of the ziggurat. There are four levels to climb, and each level is defended by a horde of gnolls. There is a knot of axemen at each stair, supported by a Hunt Lord and a minor shaman; and each level also has two squads of archers at the far ends.
The gnolls politely wait for the party to initiate combat, preferring to settle everything with one big set piece instead of losing a battle of attrition in the woods. The party spells up and charges into battle, following their heroic barbarian. This defense is a little better situated; the barbarian can't quite murder whole squads at once. While he and the ranger trade blows with the axe-men, the cleric uses magic to slay the minor shaman. The druid, not interested in being pin-cushioned while the warriors play around, summons a wall of wind to block the incoming arrows.
Several rounds of combat go by, with the ranger putting steady results and the druid doing remarkable precision damage with handfuls of fire, before the barbarian hits his stride and wipes out the rest of the opposition in one vicious whirlwind attack. The party charges up the cleared stairway just as the windwall drops.
On the next level they run straight ahead into a squad of gnoll archers. This level is long enough that they can't reach the archers before they fire, so the druid summons an obscuring mist. When that still doesn't provide total cover, the cleric casts a mist as well. Now the barbarian can reach the archers without being exposed and he quickly decimates them. The wizard, thinking ahead, sends a swarm of bats to the next level.
The ranger and his wolf help finish off the archers, and the party turns the corner and heads east to the next stairwell. Again the cleric summons a mist to cover their advance, and positions it to help with their next level as well. While the barbarian charges up the stairwell, the ranger makes use of the mist to climb onto the next level unopposed. However, this leaves the barbarian a little too exposed; as he's forcing his way up the stairs, a squad of gnolls leaps down behind him, and suddenly he's a kettledrum in a gnollish orchestra. Axes are raining down on him as he battles the gnolls; the wizard and druid are busy summoning more swarms, leaving only the bard to heal the barbarian.
Now the ranger steps out of the mist and engages in an archery duel with the hunt lord for several rounds. By the time he wins it, the barbarian has finished off the stairwell and is seeking the cover of the mist. Finally, Grygar the Shaman acts: he shakes his snake-headed stick, intones to the heavens, and curses the barbarian with blindness.
The barbarian, however, has consistently proven immune to magic and this time is no different. He shrugs off the spell and runs into the mist. The druid knocks Grygar down with a sleet storm and also flees into the mist.
Whereupon the wizard's original swarm descends, seeking fresh blood, and latching onto the barbarian. Over the next two rounds it tears at the barbarian (for maximum damage, no less!) before finally dissipating back into the ether. But the party has regrouped now and the cleric begins healing.
When they come out of the mist again things begin to look a little dire. The gnolls have selected brave heroes to jump off the edge of the ziggurat, taking the swarms with the, and in any case Grygar is simply immune to the spell. The barbarian takes an arrow to the face. The cleric is struck by magic missiles from the minor shaman, a small amount of damage but concerning as there is simply no way to avoid it.
The party strikes back. The barbarian charges into melee while the druid summons lighting and vaporizes the minor shaman. Grygar realizes his magic will not work on the warriors, so he turns to the spell-casters instead. He thrusts his hand out towards the druid, some sixty feet away and a level below him, and the shaman's hand comes off his arm and flies through the air to strike the druid in the forehead. This curse reduces the druid to near-babbling idiocy, the chief effect of which is he can no longer cast spells!
The druid still has command of his lightning, though. He turns it on Grygar while the shaman repeats his hand trick, this time rendering the cleric nearly as stupid. As the barbarian clears the stairwell Grygar pauses to heal himself, undoing the effect of the lightning. He then tries to curse the bard, but that agile trickster ducks the flying hand.
Now the barbarian pauses to drink a healing potion, as all of the party's remaining casters are engaged in trying to finish off a few axe-men at the head of the last set of stairs. Grygar sends a fistful of magic missiles into the ranger, who has climbed again to the next level where he can shoot at the shaman. He fires back, but his arrow simply turns away at the last moment - the shaman is immune to arrows as well as swarms!
The party is fighting on the last stairwell now. Their wolves have slipped past the axe-men the barbarian is still murdering, to attack Grygar directly, while the druid continues to pour lighting into their foe. Grygar alternates between firing off his punishing missiles and healing himself, until a wolf knocks him to the ground. The shaman shoots the wolf, but the beast is sturdier than that, and doesn't die. Now the ranger has cleared a path and charges forward, sword in hand, to strike the killing blow (sadly, it was not with his magic dagger this time).
The shaman is dead! Immediately the remaining gnolls begin jumping off the ziggurat to join the rest of the camp in fleeing. The party gives chase, running down a random handful before the beast-men disappear into the wilderness.
The camp is now theirs, though it contains almost nothing of value. However, the tael from Grygar's head is a veritable fortune, not to mention the valuable magic they loot from his body - a Periapt of Wisdom for the cleric and an Brooch of Shielding for the wizard. And of course the souls of the scores of slain warriors.
When they return to Flefliequelp they are feted as heroes. The queen redeems the bounty with a matching set of rings for each hero - a Ring of Protection +1 and a Ring of Sustenance. No longer will the party have to carry food or forage for sustenance; they have now joined the ranks of Those Who Eat Only When The Plot Demands It. This is a real boon for adventurers who make a living in the wilderness.
The gnoll threat is destroyed; the path to the goblin kingdoms is now open again. Immediately petitioners begin flattering our heroes, seeking to recruit the party to hair-raising schemes, each more outrageous than the last.
This session was just one long 30-round battle, but an interesting one in that the ziggarut made it like a mini-dungeon. At first I was worried that the party was expending too many resources too soon, but ultimately all the mists worked to their advantage. The shaman was programmed to cast three spells per level, but the lack of visibility forced him to compress those spells at the end of the levels instead of the beginning.
The adventure will
eventually appear in Scorpus: the Gold Coast when I finish writing up
all its many locations. This will be the most expansive adventure supplement I've written, with several very high level adventures, so it will unfortunately be a while in the making.