The New Blood: Tyranny of Dragons

Part 10: Convoy

The mission was simple: tail the caravan of stolen goods and find out where the dracologists were based. The party were supposed to maintain a low profile but that proved more difficult than anticipated. At many opportunities the heroes found themselves in the spotlight due to their own actions, at one point even having open conversation with the cultists after a wagon mishap. Hopefully, this would not prove detrimental to the mission.

The caravan traveled under Guild Al-Azrad protection from Darokin to Ylaruam. The terminus was listed as Ylaruam City in the heart of the desert. The rain was a near constant in Darokin but gave way to bitter cold as the autumn months waned. It was a miserable traveling experience only broken up by new friends and allies met on the road – as well a few new enemies.

Within the borders of Ylaruam a massive golden elk was spotted on a hillside near the road. The party attempted to stop the caravaneers from hunting the creature even going so far as to take a leadership role in the hunt so they could guarantee failure. The Elk was cornered in a section of ancient ruins when it spoke in the elven language. It delivered a message that the heroes were on the right path but death lingered close. The creature then vanished leaving behind a longbow made of platinum horns that charged arrows with radiance. Apparently, the weapon would prove useful in the coming battles.

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Vignette 1: Bagmen

“I don’t like this, not at all.” Nundro mumbled for possibly the hundredth time that morning. He knew his brother, Gundren, had heard him even if he chose not to respond. Gundren hadn’t responded to the complaints the last dozen times so why change now? Stubbornness after all wasn’t solely a dwarven trait but as a race the mountain folk excelled where others merely practiced. Gundren was older by nearly a century, his beard a hand-span longer and hints of grey starting to show on his chin. The elder dwarf was resolute in his decisions and wasted little breath on matters he could not change. A trait newly picked up since the happenings of the last few months. Nundro wished he would respond though, even with a grunt or something, just to make it known that they were both in agreement.

Nundro Rockseeker had never seen their destination – Cragmaw castle. Current seat of power of Targor Bloodsword. Gundren had been held captive under the castle’s last leader, the bugbear King Grol, before that liege fell by the hands of adventurers. Gundren was rescued but not before his family legacy – the Wave Echo mine – fell into the hands of the cragmaw. The map that Gundred carried led the goblinoids to the cave and to Nundro and Tharden respectively. Tharden had been killed swiftly whereas Nundro was kept alive for whatever information he had, little as it was. Gundren still blamed himself for this turn of events. After all, the elder dwarf felt if he had never been captured Tharden would still have been alive. Nundro felt that unfairly he was still being shamed by not having the good sense not to die alongside his brother. After all what other reason could their be for Gundren’s reserved demeanor since that day?

“All I’m saying is that if we pay the ransom we’re legitimizing Targor’s rule. I know you feel you ‘owe’ these adventurers but they chose their lot. They left us remember?! You offered them a respectable life and they spat in your face by leaving.”

“It wasn’t like that Nundro. You’re still not seeing the whole of the thing. Adventurers aren’t like us normal folk and someday you’ll understand that.”

Nundro opened his mouth to argue but snapped his jaw shut at the site of Gundren’s palm in his face. The elder dwarf was signaling him to be quiet and surprising even himself he obliged. Ahead of them in the morning fog loomed the ruins of Cragmaw castle. The damp morning air clung to the stonework and the smell of mildew and rot assaulted the senses. The once mighty and foreboding walls now lay crumbling in an effigy to decay and goblinoid short-sightedness. The only change from Gundrens last time spent here were the many red banners hanging still from spears driven into the grounds. The broken jaw filled with sharp teeth showed this outpost and being Cragmaw territory. Most intelligent creatures knew to stay away. But one look at the heavy bag Gundren carried proved – to Nundro at least – that his older brothers sense of duty outweighed even his common sense.

“What’s to stop them from just killing us and taking the ransom?” Nundro whispered as if his words alone would give the cragmaw ideas.

“Honor.” was the only reply he received.

“Honor?! What does that even mean to these…these…vermin?” Nundro had raised his voice higher than he felt wise and heard the snarling barking of wolves in response.

“Honor is what it is. Targor has it or at least wants it. The pact was made and he’s not our enemy anymore. He has his sights set elsewhere.”

“Alfheim you mean? We’re letting him hunt elves so we can feel safe. Tharden would be so proud that that’s what he died for.” Even as the words escaped from between his clenched teeth Nundro knew he had gone too far. Tharden had always been the most moral of the three brothers but his death was still too fresh to be used as such a spiteful weapon. Nundro felt the shame of his actions without even having to see the hard expression on his brother’s face.

A retinue of hobgoblins in ceremonial dress filed out of the broken gates of Cragmaw castle. Their long pointed ears snapping to and fro picking up on background sounds of the morning forest. If Nundro didn’t know better he thought they were expecting an ambush. The irony was not lost on him. Each hobgoblin carried a long spear with a short cragmaw banner attached. Their armor, peicemail as it was, was shined and well-maintained. The small, beady, deep set eyes locked on the dwarves and Nundro could swear he felt the hate radiating from their gaze.

The hobgoblin furthest to the left started stamping his spear on the ground in rhythmic bursts. Soon the others followed creating a primal music not unlike that of the dwarven war drums back in Stonehome. To this music their leader, Targor, marched out with an air of superiority about him. His snub nose lifted high as if the scent of the dwarves assaulted his senses. His eyes focused on everything but them as if they didn’t bear necessity to even acknowledge. His matte yellow skin had the pallor of a festering infection and his teeth were of a matching hue. He hobgoblin dared a smile as the prisoner was pushed out from the gates crashing down the stairs. The elves feet were bound closely so he could barely regain his balance and his hands were behind him so he could not break his fall. Nundro could see venom in the eyes of that elf and it chilled him to the bone.

At once the stamping beat ended and Targor broke the silence. “I’d welcome you in Gundren but I hear you’ve already been given the tour. I take it you have our pledge as discussed?” The sneer on the hobgoblin’s face made Nundro’s blood boil and it took all his control not to reach for the small handaxe he had tucked into the back of his belt. Nundro was stunned though by the miniscule, weak voice that slid from his brother’s lips.

“We have the pledge Lord Bloodsword. You honor us with your hospitality.”

It wasn’t until this moment, hearing his brother cowed and reverent to that monster, that Nundro truly realized how bad things had gotten.

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Part 9: Broken Heart

Trinket was missing. The gnome had chosen to camp on her own outside Akorros and come morning had not checked in with the rest of her companions. An investigation of her campsite showed signs of a struggle, residual necrotic energy and signs of a body dragged towards a large outcrop of rock on the horizon. A sinister looking edifice standing in stark contrast against the rolling hills of the surrounding landscape.

Within the unnatural stone the heroes faced waves of undead both common and profane. Among the most memorable were giant zombified crabs stuffed full of alchemical explosives; heaps of reanimated limbs which scabbered with malevolent intent, and a bulette raised in undead form with metal armor plating driven into its hide. In defeating the bulette the magitek core of Heap was damaged beyond repair. Trinket’s corpse was uncovered but not before foul experimentation had taken place; her organs harvested and placed within canopic jars and her body cavity filled with strange parasitic abyssal worms.

The gnome’s body was taken back to Akorros and to the temple of Khoronus – an immortal who counts time and fate among his domains. With the fees paid the ancient priest drew upon his powerful spells and restored the gnome to life; whole and healthy. Part of her was missing though, the soul of her best friend and boon companion now lost in the void between life and death.

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Part 8: Comeuppance

Surprise was still on the side of the heroes and their window of opportunity was closing more every moment they tarried. If they were to strike a decisive blow to the cultists they couldn’t afford to wait any longer. So in the darkness of the nursery they crept towards their revenge for the people of Crowlerd.

Under the watchful gaze of Tiamat’s alter they battled Landragosa and proved victorious. Then feeling bold from their victory they pressed on towards what must have been a kobold barracks. The small creatures proved dangerous as they swarmed over the heroes but they were forced back by way of blade and spell. With the enemy momentarily routed the party took this opportunity to gather the dragon eggs and escape the marauder camp while it was still in turmoil. As they left they caught a glimpse of the leader of the camp, the Half-Dragon Rezmir.

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Once back in Crowlerd the eggs were given to the druid Thorry Duskwhisper for safe-keeping. He was also given the green dragon-skin from Venomfang to craft a magical shield if he was able. Promising nothing, Thorry accepted the items.

Leosin, having recuperated from his ordeal, explained that the spoils of the raid never made it all the way to the camp. Instead they were moved, disguised as a normal trade caravan, towards Darokin city. The final destination for the caravan was unknown but Leosin had a contact in Darokin he believed would help the party find the answer to that question. So it was that the heroes set out on another journey; first to Akarros and then the capital city of Darokin.

Outside Akarros, after a long march in the unending rains of late fall, Orrie refused the offer of a warm bed choosing to instead camp in the wilderness she loved. She was left to her decision with plans to meet at first light for the rest of the journey. Alone and vulnerable she was attacked by Mormesk! The wraith had shadowed the group since Armstead and used this opportunity to set his plans of vengeance into motion. Her tortured screams were drowned out by the constant droning of the rain.

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Part 7: Sheep in Wolves' Clothing

Landragosa Cyanwrath had sent out a challenge. A duel with a Champion of Crowlerd for the lives of a family of hostages. Karn represented the town with fearlessly yet was beaten and left broken at the gates of Crowlerd Keep. The Draconic creature laughed at the hero’s weakness and marched his marauders from the town with their won treasures.

A plan was then formed to follow the cultists to their camp and save who and what they could. Among those missing was Leosin Erlanther, a Glantri raised monk who had been studying the Dracologist cult. He had followed the marauders from the Broken Lands south trying to learn of their plans.

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Following and infiltrating a force of that size was not hard. They left easy tracks north through rocky badlands into the Silver Sierras. There, nestled in a sheltered valley the cultists had set up a base camp. Those at camp were drunk on victory and openly celebrated their successful ransack of Crowlerd. So distracted by celebration were the marauders that it was easy business to infiltrate their ranks. The party used the distrust between the kobolds and the demihuman cultists to start a riot while the prisoners were freed. Under cover of the chaos Leosin was found and cut loose from his crucifix and he prodded the heroes to head to the nursery cave where a nest of black dragon eggs were being incubated.

The cave complex proved well defended but a decisive blow to the Dracologists was dealt when one of their lieutenants – Frulam Mondath – was killed in a pitched battle. Needing a moment to regroup the heroes locked themselves in her lavish chambers and planned their next move.

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Part 6: The Thundering Blue

Crowlerd was under siege from both land and air. Above the battlements and towers of the small keep a huge blue dragon let loose bolts of destructive lightning. Below in the streets of the town kobold marauders and dragon-worshipping cultists harried the citizens. The heroes were able to save a handful of townsfolk and deliver them to the central keep for protection. An attempt was made to slay the dragon that ended poorly for the heroes who nearly died in the assault.

Governor Tarbaw Nighthill explained what he could of the situation. The Cultists had swept in from the east and were looting all the valuable goods they could grab from the town. Killing didn’t seem to be a high priority for the attackers but many innocents had still fallen on their blades. Even the dragon, who could snuff out the resistance with little effort seemed more focused on striking low priority targets and causing mayhem.

The Castellan Escorbert was organizing the refugees inside the keep while Governor Nighthill focused on minimizing the damage done by the marauders. The two directed the party towards protecting the sally port, clearing an old escape tunnel, and rescuing townsfolk from being burnt alive inside a church to Khoronus. The town would not be saved, but with as many survivors as they could muster it could be rebuilt.

The apparent leader of the Attackers, a blue dragonkin wielding a massive blade called out a town champion to duel him for the fates of a family of hostages. The battered and bruised heroes looked to each other to see if they had any fight left in them…

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Interlude 1: Crowlerd in Flames

A decision was made. A group of heroes would travel west from Armstead to the small town of Crowlerd. They were to meet a skilled artisan named Thorry Duskwhisper, a legend among leatherworkers for his skill with dragonhide and scale. With the green dragonhide magically preserved the hope was the heroes could commission Thorry to create a suit of armor worthy of the rarest of materials.

The travel itself was exhausting but pleasant. Crowlerd was about 3 weeks from Armstead and the days were filled with hours of walking and always keeping a wary eye out for marauders or monsters along the road. It wasn’t until Crowlerd when the first monster was spotted.

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A Blue Dragon was bearing down upon the town laying waste with it’s forked lightening breath. Trees exploded sending flaming cinders among the town with each strike and most of the thatched roof buildings were aflame. From their vantage miles away the heroes could see streams of villagers pouring towards the central keep of Crowlerd and a dust cloud from the north that could only be an approaching army charging to attack!

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Part 5: The Forge of Spells

The Black Spider was in custody in Armstead and his Cragmaw goblinoids had been routed. All that was left was a final push through the defenses of Wave Echo Cave to uncover the long-lost Forge of Spells. Among the bones of the cave’s stalwart defenders wandered free willed undead cursed into existence by their torturous deaths. Ghouls, skeletons, and even a spectre were purged by holy fire and put to final rest. The last defender of the Forge of Spells, a beholder-kin known as a Spectator, fought by turning spell and hero alike against their group.

To the victor went the spoils. A mace infused with radiant holiness that glows with the morning light of Ixion and a golden breastplate bearing the visage of a dragon that protects against that most dangerous of threats.

Victorious and in high-spirits the heroes returned to Armstead to find the Townmaster’s Hall enveloped in inferno. Mysterious agents has freed the Black Spider, driven a dagger into the heart of Sildar Hallwinter, and torched the building. Redbrands still awaiting trial for their misdeeds and the townmaster himself were among the dead. An investigation led the heroes to the office of Halia Thornton, who had been paid to smuggle the Black Spider safely out of town and create the flaming distraction.

The heroes were offered the ruins of Tressender Manor as a base of operations along with a respectable stipend to stay as the defenders of Armstead. They each would have the chance to make their own decisions for their futures. Despite any choices they would make though, they knew they had made a change for the better for the people of Armstead and now, with luck, the spirited town may just have a chance to thrive.

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THE END.

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Part 4: The Black Spider

The Black Spider had a head start to Wave Echo Cave. He had time to start excavations for long forgotten items of power as well as set up a formidable defensive line. He was not expecting a battle on two fronts though and ultimately that cost him his freedom. The Cragmaw Bugbears had been either holed up building an offense against the defenses of the Forge or Spells or put to work in their excavations. This allowed the party to slip behind them through mostly unused tunnels and neutralize the threats before they were aware of the incursion.

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Nezznar, the Black Spider himself, put up a strong defense with the aid of his magical training but was ultimately captured. His prisoner, Nundro Rockseeker, was freed to reunite with Gundren and carry the news of the death of their brother, Thurden. Sildar Hallwinter was happy to accept custody of Nezznar so he could face his rightful punishment in Neverwinter.

The party now freed of the threat of the Black Spider could now work towards uncovering the Forge of Spells. Clearing the mine of dangerous forces would allow the town of Armstead to again prosper.

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Part 3: The Spider's Web

The Players: Fernau, Karn, Kor-Zara, Trinket, Vall

The Settings: Cragmaw Castle, Cruth Mountains

The tasks set forth by the townsfolk of Phandelin led the heroes far and wide. Allies were made, enemies defeated, and peace negotiated when possible. A clue did present itself leading to Cragmaw Castle where Gundren was rescued from his goblinoid captors. Evidence pointed to a mysterious mastermind known only as the ‘Black Spider’ pulling the strings and targetting the dwarf as well as the party. A messenger of this ‘Black Spider’ was found in the castle in the form of a doppelganger who died trying to escape with a map to the fabled Wave Echo Mine. The map belonged to Gundren Rockseeker and ultimately proved the reason for his capture.

On an investigation the party uncovered the lair of the young Green Dragon calling itself Venomfang. Deciding the creature couldn’t be left nesting this close to Armstead they chose to press their luck and drive it from it’s home. The young dragon’s hubris and inexperience proved it’s downfall and the heroes managed to slay it as it attempted to flee the region. They gathered what skins they could and learned of a master leatherworker by the name of Thorry Duskwhisper working out of the town of Crowlerd to the west.

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With the landscape as peaceful as they could make it the heroes set forth for Wave Echo Mine to finally challenge the ‘Black Spider’ and reclaim the Forge of Spells for the good people of Armstead.

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