A somewhat smaller group met with DM Don and me at the Reaper Game Store to proceed with the party’s further adventures in the underground caverns:
James, playing Aevay, a dragonborn rogue and arcane trickster.
Robert, playing Anima, a dragonborn fighter with some spell casting ability.
Martin, playing Varris, a sun elf wizard.
Jeff, playing Tor Black, a dwarf cleric of the war domain.
And your chronicler, Andy, with two characters:
Thandiina, a human fighter (battle master)
Varanus, a lizard man cleric of the light domain.
In addition, Don had brought his wife, Jen, to assist in running the opposition. This was our first signal that this would be tough. It was not to be our last.
When we had left our heroes, they were near an ancient dwarf temple in a vast underground cavern, surrounded by fields in which were growing a number of fungi, which had obviously been cultivated. Inside the temple was a dwarf seemingly frozen in amber, to whom those who could enter the temple (apparently only characters of good but non-lawful alignment, based on who had been able to enter) could communicate by touching the amber, with a normally reposing stone golem on guard outside. The band had availed itself of the opportunity to take a long rest and fully recharge all abilities. Following this there was an extended discussion on plans. According to the dwarf, most of the exits from this area that led to the surface had been blocked off when their citadel was attacked and the rest of the village destroyed by the evil forces that lay beyond the black portal which lay between two large columns opposite the temple. The dwarf also informed the group that there was a way out through a large tower in the center of a citadel that lay past the portal, and in fact, he drew a map of the citadel.
Varris sent his familiar in the form of a raven through the portal to scout, and saw what appeared to be a large group (a very large group) of something skeleton-like, armed with bows, on all of the various towers and internal walls of the citadel, plus apparent skeletons and zombies on the ground. There were at least eight such towers, all connected to a very high central tower by internal walls. Anyone just walking through the portal was likely to be pincushioned almost immediately. On the other hand, the group could try to determine whether any of the other exits was still usable, facing unknown dangers. Or, the party could attempt to go back the way they came, assuming they could get past the gate and the kobolds who guarded it. So, a vote was taken. Varanus received a sense from Bahamut that it would be really good to pass through the portal and destroy the evil that was there, and that the unknown alternatives were probably even more dangerous. He therefore voted to proceed through the portal, and was followed by the majority. After some additional scouting by the familiar, the group crafted a plan.
Both Varris and Aevay had access to the spell silent image; in addition Aevay had the ability to use a mage hand, planning to use that to fire a flaming arrow from his hand crossbow as a distraction. The silent image would be used above the party so that hopefully the skeletons on the towers and walls wouldn’t see them. The idea was that if someone could climb to the top of one of the walls without being noticed the party could get up there and have cover and a positional advantage over the enemies on the ground, and could perhaps gain cover against some of the enemies on the walls as well.
The plan having been decided, it was implemented. The group entered and did not seem to be detected. Aevay then cast her mage hand and fired a flaming crossbow bolt from as great a distance as she could. This seemed to distract the bulk of the enemies. Thandiina then proceeded to climb the wall. Unfortunately, not all the foes were distracted: A loud horn sounded, and Thandiina was made. Arrows came flying at her, wounding her. At this point, now the the party could see how many of their foes were arranged, and noted that there were approximately 10 skeletons on the top of each of the towers on either side of the portal, and a line of them along the wall. So Varanus put a flaming sphere in the center of one of the towers, starting to burn some skeletons and also setting the wooden parts of the tower aflame. In the confusion, Tor cast a sacred flame on one of the foes on the wall, one which was not a skeleton and which appeared different, and Varris attempted to use a chill touch against it.
With the top of the tower and the wall getting very hot, Thandiina decided to drop to the ground and attempt to use the javelins she had picked up previously to attack the fleshy undead, while Varanus concentrated on the flaming sphere and Tor continued to use the sacred flame against the fleshy foe. Suddenly a rope dropped from the wall above Thandiina and the enemy swarmed down it to engage her in melee. Aevay moved to fire her own bow at it, and Varris added his own flaming sphere to Varanus’ at the top, and the two spheres began cleariing the wall of skeletal foemen. By now the enemies had seen through the silent image and began targeting the entire party. Thandiina [note that this was prompted by one of those questions a DM sometimes must ask] drew the silver dagger she had obtained previously and began stabbing at her opponent in melee, but his counterattack took her down entirely. Aevay and Anima riddled him with arrows as Tor continued hitting him with the sacred flame, and the spheres on the wall continued to advance, having set the initial tower completely ablaze. Fortunately for Thandiina, Aevay was able to use her mage hand to force a potion of healing down her throat, so she was able to reengage in the fray.
Unfortunately, while the skeletons on the wall were being forced to retreat from the flaming spheres, the skeletons from the tower on the other side of the portal ran onto a bridge to the other tower and continued to pepper the band with arrows. Aevay and Tor were both seriously wounded at this point, while Varanus was using his own healing abilities to keep Thandiina upright and facing the most powerful of the undead. Tor’s attempt to turn him failed, although a couple of the skeletons fled.
Suddenly, from across the field, appeared a group of at least twenty more skeletons led by a second creature of the type that was fighting Thandiina. Aevay then used her own silent image to make it appear as though her mother had arrived. This doesn’t sound so impressive until we remember that her mother is a blue dragon. The newcomers spread out to surround and attack this new foe, as Thandiina dealt her foe a mighty blow just before being dropped once again. While Anima ran to get Aevay’s silver longsword to engage it, Tor was able to finish it with one more sacred flame just before being taken down by arrows fire.
The entire party was in bad shape at this point; Varanus was able to heal Tor enough for him to prepare a retreat, and then picked up the unconscious Thandiina and carried her toward the portal prior to healing her. The new foes, having determined that they were fighting an illusion, proceeded to form an effective firing line and the arrows were truly raining down now. With all but Aevay beside the portal, it was determined that Varris would use a thunder strike to drop the bridge completely (a previous effort having almost done so) but with all the arrow fire targeting her, Aevay went down. Thandiina, never willing to leave anyone behind, ran out, picked up the unconscious dragonborn, and then forced a potion of healing down her throat, at which point Varanus tried to grab her, Thandiina, and Tor and drag them all back through the portal. Although his grip on Tor slipped the dwarf followed immediately. The foes could not follow through the portal.
The group is planning to assault the portal again after healing and recovering, as this still appears to be the way they need to go to get out of the caverns. But to do so will require not only fighting through all the foes that they know about, but no one knows what may reside inside the tower, only that through some openings they saw so much light that it was painful. And now the enemy will be expecting an attack. Only time will tell if the party can craft a plan sufficient to get through.
[In retrospect, having Thandiina try climbing the wall was probably a mistake, as Aevay could have attempted to use stealth, and the flaming spheres were what did the most harm to the greatest number of enemies. On the other hand, the group’s teamwork was much more effective than before — particularly during the retreat phase, and it is an old military maxim that retreating in good order is very difficult indeed. In addition, it’s possible that had the other characters been present that might have given the group sufficient numbers to actually win the fight outside the tower — but what may lie within the tower remains a topic of grave concern.]