Saturday, 12 August 2017

Epilogue.36: Agent of the Twelve

Sharn, Breland
Barrakas 7, 997 YK

Portray a fantastic world

Airships clustered around the Lyrandar Tower in the centre of Sharn. Unlike Newthrone or Thaliost, Sharn was a city of towers; the largest city in Khorvaire, it was build on a narrow headland and had grown upwards instead of outwards. The Lyrandar Tower was merely the tallest tower out of hundreds, and even that did not make it the highest point of the city; the richest neighbourhood, Skyway, floated far the tops of the tallest grounded towers.

Vaalyun’s last visit to Sharn had been over twenty years ago. As an elven house, House Phiarlan was adapted to the long lives of its members, and it was not unusual for an assignment to a chapterhouse like Thaliost to last for a hundred years. Yet Vaalyun’s life had changed more in the few months since meeting Anaya and Esthana than in the previous twenty years of service.

Vaalyun had called in a favour to get here: Captain Michnas’ airship had picked him up and brought him to Sharn as a particular favour to House Phiarlan. House Tharashk had not been happy to lose the services of the airship for a week, but House Lyrandar had agreed to the request—partly for the money, but partly, Vaalyun suspected, because they were unsure about House Tharashk and had been intrigued by Vaalyun’s offer of information to the Twelve.

Folas d’Phiarlan was waiting for him atop the tower. Like Vaalyun, he was dressed in formal House robes, blue and decorated with hydra’s heads. Folas spoke in Elvish, though with a Brelish accent. “Shade and safe passage to you, Vaalyun d’Phiarlan. The House welcomes the return of one that wanders.” He completed the formal greeting with a bow.

“An emissary humbly returns to the place of elders, returning with news for the House.” Vaalyun returned the bow.

Folas turned immediately, leading Vaalyun away from the crowd forming at the gangplank as sailors and other travellers began to come ashore. Four human mercenaries wearing the heraldry of House Deneith, that had been standing behind Folas, took their places around the two elves as they moved towards the steps leading down the side of the tower.

Lordly Calibre(Vaalyun): Vaalyun is a big deal in the House already - master of the main enclave for Phiarlan in Q’barra

“Your arrival has been much anticipated,” said Folas over his shoulder. “A meeting of the Council of the Twelve has been convened in two hours’ time.”

“How necessary are the guards?” Vaalyun was not surprised at their presence; given the attempt on his life in Newthrone, the protection was appreciated.

“House Tharashk, at least, knows that much is riding on the meeting; they need the support of the other houses to continue to pursue the dragonshards in Q’barra. We do not think that they would move against you here, but we did not wish to leave it to chance.”

“We will say no more until we are in our own enclave.”

By Hospitality Sustained(Vaalyun): Scions of Dragonmarked Houses are not subject to the rules that apply to commoners

The steps led to a lift—one of the levitating platforms that were one of the main modes of transport in a city where places were primarily separated by altitude. There was a guard collecting fares to ride the lift, but a quick flash of the signet ring of a dragonmarked house ensured that they were waved on without charge. As the lift descended, Vaalyun looked at the sprawl of the city below them; it was already mid-afternoon, and the streets of the middle city, running on bridges between the towers, thronged with people from dozens of races, dressed in fashion from across the Five Nations and beyond.

After descending for several minutes, the lift arrived at the main level of Dragon Towers, the most prosperous neighbourhood of the middle city. This was where the dragonmarked Houses, the Twelve, had their enclaves; more of the economy of Breland was managed from this district that from the capital, Wroat, hundreds of miles to the north.

Vaalyun and Folas, with their guards around them, walked away from the Lyrandar tower, following a broad boulevard through the district. On one side the edge of the street was guarded by a low parapet, beyond which you could see down to the darker streets of lower city more than a hundred yards below. On the other side, the grand fortified tower of House Deneith stood watch over them; into the columns outside the entrance were carved the shapes of lions, rams and dragons, taken from the emblem of that house.

Further down the street they found the tower occupied by House Phiarlan. The tower itself was a simple tower of stone; in lieu of physical decorations, luminous moving images of the most famous elven actors and bards that worked for the House were projected onto the face of the building, and bursts of fireworks continually erupted over the street outside the tower. Vaalyun knew that the House’s greatest illusionists had worked on creating this display, using their dragonmarks to bind their work to the dragonshards embedded around the tower.

The two elves passed into the tower, leaving their Deneith escort at the door. They passed out of the grand entrance hall into a richly-furnished antechamber, where Vaalyun found another noble of the House awaiting him.

“It is an honour to see you, Alyssia.” Vaalyun bowed deeply; he had met Alyssia d’Phiarlan once, on his last visit to Sharn; he had been a young and minor agent of the House in those days.

Folas closed the door behind them.

“It is good to see you in person, Vaalyun. You have been calling in some substantial favours in the last few months.” Alyssia was standing and only nodded slightly to return his greeting; she was middle aged, perhaps six hundred years old, taller than Vaalyun and had a noble bearing.

“Yes, I have.”

“Your information about the Overlords—particularly the Overlord in Q’barra—is disturbing. Our agents in Aerenal have been able to confirm some of your general information about the threat.”

“And I have personally seen the prison of the Overlord in Q’barra. What do we know about the views of the other Houses?”

All in the Family(Vaalyun): You know the general disposition of the other houses of the Twelve

“Lyrandar, Cannith and Ghallanda are known to side with Tharashk, and several other Houses, while officially neutral, benefit from the trade in Dragonshards. House Medani and House Deneith side with us.”

Vaalyun raised an eyebrow. “House Deneith always sides against Tharashk—no-one likes a competitor. House Medani’s support is unexpected, however.”

“Breland is concerned about House Tharashk’s closeness to Droaam, and House Medani is influenced by their chosen nation.”

Vaalyun nodded thoughtfully. “I have hopes that House Sivis will support us. The Templars used the speaking stone station in Newthrone to communicate with Flamekeep; it is likely that the gnomes will have intercepted those communications.”

“That would certainly be helpful in the coming meeting, though they will not reveal their source directly.” Alyssia looked thoughtfully at Vaalyun. “You are very confident, for one so young—remember that you are not in the provinces any more, Vaalyun. You will be meeting senior members of all thirteen Houses.”

“Facing and defeating an ancient dragon does tend to boost one’s confidence.” One detail of the events in Khyber had been too sensitive to risk sending even via the secret channel of the shadow mirrors: Vaalyun related the last moments of the fight with the dragon, and how his Dragonmark had enabled him to manipulate the taint on the ancient creature.

Alyssia was openly shocked—something that one rarely saw in an elf of her age. “Nothing in the history of our house has ever suggested an affinity with the powers of such a creature. For the Mark of Shadow to have this power—this is an amazing discovery. We must find a way to explore this power further.”

“To experiment on the Overlords themselves would be much too dangerous,” said Vaalyun. “But now that we know that their tainted followers can be touched by our power, opportunities will arise to apply this knowledge elsewhere.”

The Tower of the Twelve was one of the smallest in Dragon Towers. While the other more grandiose towers stood to demonstrate the wealth and power of the Dragonmarked Houses, the Tower of the Twelve was a neutral meeting place, used by the Twelve to strike secret deals out of the sight of the courts of the Five.

Vaalyun had never been in the tower before, and certainly not to the main meeting room at the top. There was only a large mahogany table surrounded by chairs; inlaid in the table was a large map of one hemisphere of Eberron, including Khorvaire, Xen’drik and Aerenal. Around the wood-panelled room hung the crests of the dragonmarked Houses. Two chairs were provided for each House; Vaalyun sat down at one of the chairs under the five-headed hydra of House Phiarlan, and Alyssia took the seat next to him.

The room was only half full. House Tharashk had not arrived yet, and several of the other houses had sent only one emissary to this meeting—perhaps they had little interest in the Tharashk’s scuffle in Q’barra. Two human women, dressed formally in the white and silver colours of House Cannith, had already taken their seats and one of them gave Vaalyun a disapproving look. Of all the Houses, Cannith was most involved in the manufacturing that turned dragonshards into useful tools; they would be strong supporters of House Tharashk’s endeavour.

Most of the delegates were waiting silently for the conference to begin, so two newcomers talking as they entered the room drew everyone’s attention. Vaalyun looked over to see a half-orc and a human enter the room, and cursed inwardly as he recognised House Tharashk’s delegates. Haganur Aashtur and Borurol Torrn looked much as he had seen them before, still dressed in the fine leathers embossed with the dragonne of their House, though by convention they had left their weapons downstairs. Both Borurol and Haganur gave Vaalyun menacing looks as they walked around to sit on the other side of the table, under Tharashk’s coat of arms.

Pagna d’Sivis, the only gnome present, called the meeting to order. “We have representatives of every House present, I see, and I believe that we can begin. As House Phiarlan is party to the dispute that we are here to debate, House Sivis claims the right to chair the proceedings.” Pausing for objections that did not come, Pagna continued. “Borurol Torrn, you seem eager to speak, and are the most directly involved in this venture in Q’barra—perhaps you would like to address us first.”

Borurol stood, sneering at Vaalyun briefly before turning to look around at the other assembled delegates. “There is little to discuss. House Tharashk, with the backing of the Twelve, has been harvesting dragonshards from the jungle of Q’barra. There has been local resistance that has stiffened in recent months, but we are deploying a larger force to Newthrone to brush this resistance aside and continue the trade in dragonshards. All of our houses,” he said, gesturing around the room as he did so, “benefit from this trade.

“Then this agent of House Phiarlan arrived in Newthrone and chose to travel into the jungle and met secretly with the lizardfolk there. Although House Phiarlan raised no objections before, their agent has been working against us in Q’barra—and now that House tries to move against the will of the Twelve and prevent the pursuit of the dragonshards. We call on the Twelve to insist that House Phiarlan’s interference in our trade cease immediately, and impose penalties on that House in light of the breach of the agreements that bind our Houses to cooperate in the pursuit of trade.” Borurol sat down, affecting an air of impatience—although, from the way his eyes glanced around to gauge the reaction of the delegates, Vaalyun inferred that he was not as confident as he pretended.

“House Phiarlan, what is your position on the venture, and how do you respond to House Tharashk’s claims?” asked Pagna.

Vaalyun stood. He had never stood before a gathering of people with such great influence before, but he had spent his life affecting confidence in places of power, and it came naturally to him once more in this place. Putting his hands behind him, he addressed the delegates.

“House Phiarlan made no objection to the pursuit of Dragonshards in Q’barra when it was originally proposed, as we were not aware that any danger or conflict was likely at that time. However, in the time that I have spent in Q’barra, I have learned of a great danger that would follow from the continuation of that trade. The dragonshards in Q’barra are imbued with the essence of the Silver Flame; they are part of the seal that keeps one of the demonic Overlords trapped in Khyber beneath the jungle of Q’barra, just as the Eternal Flame in Flamekeep binds Bel Shalor there. Extracting the dragonshards from Q’barra will be a short-lived trade: as more are removed, the Overlord will in time be loosed and its demonic servants will seize control of the jungle. While House Phiarlan stands to gain from the trade of dragonshards in the short term, our House has always served as diplomats and emissaries between the peoples of Khorvaire; we would not see an entire nation cast down for the sake of some short-lived trade.”

Haganur had been growing visibly agitated at this speech and interrupted as Vaalyun paused for breath. “Spare us this superstitious nonsense. The Silver Flame is a church of fanatics that worship their precious fire; I did not know that your kind believed in such things,” he said, sneering. “The tales that impress the gullible farmers of Thrane have no place at this gathering.”

“Secondly,” said Vaalyun, more forcefully, “House Tharashk’s description of their venture understates the actual difficulties on the ground. The lizardfolk of Q’barra were once a fractured people, split into tribes; but, due to the threat of House Tharashk’s incursions, they have united to defend the jungle. There are over a hundred thousand lizardfolk in Q’barra, fighting in their native jungle that they know better than any invader. House Tharashk’s ten thousand mercenaries, shipped across half the world to an unfamiliar land, will never conquer them.” Vaalyun sat down.

“United by your interference!” said Borurol angrily. “You have worked against us, against the will of the Twelve. And the lizardfolk will not last long against us—with the forces in this room working together,” he said, gesturing with a sweep of his arm, “we could subdue any nation in Khorvaire; the primitive tribes of Q’barra certainly cannot defeat us.”

“Borurol, you will have an opportunity to speak again; but first let us hear the opinions of the other Houses,” aid Pagna. “House Cannith wishes to speak, I imagine.”

One of Cannith’s representative stood, and spoke for a minute about the importance of the dragonshards trade and the benefits to all of the Twelve that the continuance of the venture would bring. As she talked, Borurol looked at Vaalyun smugly, apparently confident that he had the support to win here. Vaalyun met his gaze evenly and kept his expression neutral; he was mentally rehearsing for his final argument. I’ll wipe that smile off of your face before we are done here.

House Vadalis chose not to speak, which meant House Deneith spoke next. One of the Sentinel Marshals of House Deneith, an old man wearing his armour bearing the sigil of his house—Vaalyun had to resist rolling his eyes—stood and spoke against House Tharashk. Borurol interrupted him twice, objecting that House Deneith only opposed the venture because House Tharashk was leading it—true enough thought Vaalyun—and had to be put in his place by Pagna.

Once the sentinel was seated again, Pagna called on the next speaker. “Chervina d’Ghallanda, what do you say?”

The halfling woman stood—she must have had a footstool before her seat, as she stood with her waist nearly above the table. “House Ghallanda withdraws its support for this venture and calls on all present to do the same. We believe the danger in Q’barra to be a threat to all of civilisation in Khorvaire. We had not known until now that the dragonshards were connected to the return of this Overlord, but now that this one”—gesturing to Vaalyun—“has discovered their purpose, we will now deny any help to those that continue this trade.”

Chervina sat, leaving the room in stunned silence. Vaalyun was as surprised as everyone else—or perhaps not everyone, as he noted that Pagna did not seem particularly shocked at this sudden reversal in House Ghallanda’s position. Suddenly the words of the Prophecy came back to Vaalyun—“Shadow and Flame meet Nymm in the timeless jungle”—and he realised that House Ghallanda was also, somehow, bound up in the working of the Prophecy here. Perhaps they too were aware of its contents?

Borurol was glowering at Chervina, but Pagna continued. “House Medani, what do you say to this?”

A smartly dressed half-elf stood up and spoke. “We oppose this venture. When House Tharashk was pursuing a peaceful mining venture, we had no great objection, but their ambitions have grown far beyond that. The lizardfolk are the most powerful and numerous force in Q’barra, but House Tharashk proposes to crush them to take the dragonshards from their land. Where does this end? By the time Tharashk can defeat one hundred thousand lizardfolk, their army in Q’barra will outnumber the human inhabitants; they will have in effect conquered the entire land. If they could even do this, what would the Five Nations think of such a move? Will Breland or Karrnath stand by while a dragonmarked house conquers a country, and wait quietly to see what the Twelve wants next?

“But I have a question to Vaalyun d’Phiarlan. The Silver Flame is a common faith in parts of the Five, but it is strange to ask us to believe in the danger of the Overlords that the Flame has so often preached about when few of us follow that faith. Why do you think that the danger is real?”

Vaalyun replied, “I have been to the prison of the Overlord, in Khyber, beneath the ancient fortress of Haka’torvhak in the jungle of Q’barra. I have seen it for myself and saw the many demons imprisoned along with the Overlord. We freed the ancient dragon, the one-time leader of the lizardfolk, that it had imprisoned there. I do not come before you today with any second-hand information.”

It was a version of the truth, close enough for his audience. The delegates exchanged looks.

“Preposterous!” said Borurol. “You are the most city-bred elf I have ever seen. You have never seen Khyber.”

“But you are wrong, Borurol,” said Vaalyun. “I travelled there with two Templars of the Silver Flame for protection; their martial training proved vital, as you may imagine. As to Khyber, I saw it thanks to your help.” Reaching into his robe, he withdrew the book with the druidic runes on the cover, and tossed it across the table to land before Borurol. “This comes from your office in the Tharashk guildhouse in Newthrone. We followed the map inside to find one of the many entrances to Khyber that it describes, and used that to gain access to the prison of the Overlord.”

Borurol grabbed up the book and looked up at Vaalyun. “You stole this from my desk?”

Vaalyun chose his words carefully; being too blatant could have repercussions for his House, but he also didn’t want to lie too openly in case the shrewder delegates around the table picked up on it. “I didn’t say that I stole it. You should know that we had to fight many aberrations and demons, imprisoned below in Khyber, before we reached the Overlord’s prison.”

Borurol looked shocked. It was a long shot, as he had had no way of knowing how seriously Borurol took the legends of these Gatekeepers, but Vaalyun hoped that his possession of the book meant that Borurol believed in their legend. From the way that Borurol was staring at the book now, Vaalyun wondered if he might have struck a chord.

“I will speak next, for House Sivis,” said Pagna. “As ever, our House is keen to bring facts rather than opinions to our discussions. We have information from Flamekeep that the Council of Thrane, and the Silver Flame Templars, do believe that the Overlord in Q’barra is real. We can also confirm Vaalyun’s information up to the point that two Silver Flame Templars have been in Q’barra for months. Given the first-hand account that Vaalyun himself brings, and the opinions of other Houses expressed here, House Sivis will now oppose the continuance of the dragonshard trade.”

Haganur protested. “At first you said you were neutral in this argument, and now you declare that you are taking a side?”

“We are still allowed to listen and to form our own opinion, Haganur,” said Pagna. “And information relevant to our discussion ought not to be withheld.”

Several other Houses spoke, but it was clear which direction things were going. House Lyrandar, presumed to be an ally of Tharashk, instead declined to offer support, and the other Houses lined up to join House Phiarlan to oppose the venture; House Jorasco, in particular, spoke strongly against it, due to the potential threat so near to their own homeland of Talenta. Tharashk and Cannith were the only houses in favour.

Having completed a round of the table, it fell to House Tharashk to speak again. Haganur looked angrily around the room, while Borurol had set down the book and was looking thoughtful. He did not stand this time, but leaned forwards to speak.

“We withdraw our request for action in Q’barra at this time—”

Several delegates stood at once and began talking over each other. Haganur was livid, standing and shouting at Borurol and at the other delegates; one of House Cannith’s delegates stood likewise, as did the Sentinel from House Deneith. Vaalyun remained quietly seated and risked a discrete nod towards Pagna d’Sivis—who winked back in return.

After a minute of confusion, Pagna managed to restore order. “As even House Tharashk now appears divided on the correct course of action, the matter before the meeting lapses. There is no consensus and no general support in the Twelve for the continuation of the venture. House Tharashk may convene another meeting if they wish to engage our support again. I call the meeting to a close.” The two House Cannith delegates stood up before she was even finished speaking and stormed out of the room.

“That was a remarkable piece of work, Vaalyun,” said Alyssia, as they walked back to House Phiarlan’s tower. “I have never before seen the Twelve persuaded to abandon a venture with such great potential profit.”

“Pagna d’Sivis deserves the credit as much as me. I had hoped for her support, but she manipulated that meeting masterfully.” Vaalyun was truly a little envious; he still had some things to learn, it seemed.

“You obtained the information that made it happen. Newthrone may be a little too hot for you now, however; Tharashk still has a strong hold there, and you did not make much headway with the King either. We will send someone to take your place. I have another assignment in mind for you.”

Vaalyun’s forehead creased a little; to lose his position in Newthrone, a position that he had worked hard for, was unexpected.

“You have done a service for the Silver Flame it seems,” Alyssia continued, “and you are already familiar with the customs of Thrane. You will be our representative in Flamekeep, our liaison to the Keeper of the Flame, and take charge of all of our operations in Thrane.”

Even Vaalyun, ambitious as he was, would not have aimed so high. The highest representative of House Phiarlan in Thrane—chief liaison of the House to one of the Five Nations! Alyssia was right: he did know much about Thrane’s politics from his service in Thaliost, and his work against the Overlord meant he had done more against the Flame’s greatest enemies than most Templars had ever had ever done. The possibilities were staggering.

Alyssia added “Perhaps you should start by helping the Church to negotiate with its new allies in Q’barra. From your account, their own delegation fared poorly with the lizardfolk.”

Another intriguing thought; Alyssia had this all worked out. Vaalyun, for once lost for words, struggled out a reply. “House Phiarlan... has always excelled at diplomacy between the different peoples of Khorvaire.”

Alyssia smiled. “You will do well I am sure. And I am sure that I do not need to remind you to keep an eye on this Templar that you worked with. Lady Anaya is an exceptionally powerful individual and will be a substantial force in the Church now. Her friendship should prove a valuable asset in the years ahead.”

“Of course. I will be honoured to represent my House.”


Sunday, 6 August 2017

Epilogue.35: The Lizardfolk United

Vunal di Gemuth, Q’barra
Barrakas 4, 997 YK

No dice rolls from here on; the epilogue is just me being a fan of the characters and explaining what they have achieved.

Anaya and Commander Tassis walked together through the camp in the Vale of Eberron. A great many lizardfolk tribes had chosen to come to this latest council, and the encampment was even larger than the last time Anaya had been here. All around them they passed campfires with lizardfolk, each grouping marked as its own tribe by different colourings and patterns of their scales.

Commander Tassis and the small contingent of Templars sent from Newthrone had arrived two days ago, and they had been eager to talk to Anaya as soon as she arrived.

“How can we spread the word of the Silver Flame to Newthrone if Templars are seen to openly side with the King’s enemies?” said Tassis. “We must work to make amends with the King and establish a presence for the Church here.”

“The Silver Flame has more worshippers here than in any nation east of Thronehold,” said Anaya. She was only half listening to the Commander and frequently turned her head away as they talked. She acknowledged a group of Emerald Water lizardfolk with a nod, and in return they raised and shook their spears, cheering “Gul siksta!

“Yes, but—these creatures have their own faith, and do not acknowledge the Church at all. The Church needs worshippers to spread the light amongst the nations of Khorvaire. These creatures—”

“The Flame’s purpose is to keep the evil of the Overlords at bay, Commander. The lizardfolk do that here, just as we do so in Flamekeep.” They were nearly at the river bank now, where a raft waited to carry them across to the meeting of chieftains.

Offer Aid from an Enemy, or Opposition from an Ally: Eberron has its racism too.

“Spreading the word of the Flame to these creatures is noble, I grant you, but angering the King greatly harms our own interests here. We were arrested, you know, when we arrived in Newthrone! The indignity! It took days to persuade the King that we had no affiliation to the lizardfolk, and that you had acted beyond your orders in associating with these savages.”

Anaya stopped, turning to face the Commander just in time to see Esthana’s mailed gauntlet connect with his helmet. The Commander was sent sprawling on the ground; his assistants, behind Esthana, looked on in shock. Tassis was too surprised to respond for several seconds.

“Choose your words carefully, Commander,” said Esthana, putting her hand to her sword hilt.

“This is an outrage!” Tassis spluttered, climbing back to his feet. “You are Templars under my command. This insubordination amongst sworn followers of the Flame is unacceptable!”

“I answer to the Flame, not to you, Commander,” said Anaya. “I am sure we will discuss this matter before the Keeper in time. For now, the jungle here will be protected by the lizardfolk.” Turning her back on him, she walked onto the jetty, and stepped onto the waiting raft; Esthana followed her.

As the lizardfolk handling the raft cast off, Esthana said, “There will be a lot of questions when we get back to Flamekeep.”

“The Keeper will agree with our decision.” Anaya looked forwards, towards the stone arena on the island ahead. “The Church considers itself the representative of the Flame in this world, but as we have seen the Flame has many followers that make their own way. The lizardfolk are the Flame’s chosen here.”

The ancient circle of stone was little changed since they had last been here. But the difference in those gathered was immediately apparent. As well as the chieftains and wise ones of the gul siksta tribes, there were some Blackscales here, and even a few of the Poison Dust lizardfolk chieftains had come. Rhashaak had not persuaded every tribe to come, but most had acknowledged him as their overlord for tens of thousands of years and were willing to come at his summons.

The enmity between the different tribal groups was evinced by the way that the different groups clustered in different parts of the arena. The hostility that had separated the groups would not be easily overcome. But, for only a month of work, it was a remarkable beginning.

Vaalyun and Rhashaak were already standing inside the circle of stone benches, and Anaya and Esthana joined them. Shapeshifted as he was, Rhashaak appeared as a dark-skinned elf of advanced age, wearing a black cloak embroidered with prophecy marks. His skin was covered in winding silver marks—the scars left by Anaya’s spell. He greeted them solemnly, saying “Alma, mahtari,” and gave them a slight bow.

“Alma, yaara,” replied Esthana, returning the bow stiffly. Anaya, who did not speak Elven, simply nodded and turned to look around at the assembled crowd.

Silence fell as Derkrkaza stepped forward into the circle. As they began to speak, Vaalyun translated for the benefit of Anaya and Esthana.

“I call to order this gathering of the chieftains of the silver fire tribes. Our ancient alliance stands strong as ever in this place. This gathering is historic; not for eighty thousand years have the Blackscale tribes attended our gatherings. We have admitted them at the request of our honoured friend, Anaya of the Silver Fire Templars. As the Blackscales and other withdrawn tribes are the purpose of our gathering, I immediately call on their acknowledged chief of chiefs, Rhashaak, to speak and state their purpose here.”

Derkrkaza returned to the circle, taking their place amongst the other chieftains and elders of the lizardfolk, as Rhashaak walked to the centre of the arena. As he walked he seemed to grow taller, and his cloak billowed out, and sweeping wide to cover a great area. Too quickly for the watching crowd to see how it happened, he had shifted back to his true form, and the great black dragon Rhashaak settled himself in the centre of the arena. Dirt and stones crunched under his huge clawed feet, and leaves fluttered in the gust of air as he folded his wings.

Rhashaak spoke in Draconic to the gathering and, once again, Vaalyun translated for them.

Introduce an Element from Ages Past

“When your ancestors and I last talked in this place, nearly eighty thousand years ago, the lizardfolk were one race united with a common cause. After the couatl drove Masvirik from the surface, sealing the Overlord deep beneath this land in the depths of Khyber, many more gave their lives to be joined to the silver fire, dispersed in the dragonshards that lie throughout this jungle. We knew that every effort must be made to see that their sacrifice was not in vain. So my kind granted this land in perpetuity to you, our brethren, and gave to you the sacred trust of protecting this holy land against any that might seek to take it from you. While the jungle lies under your protection, the spirits of the couatl live on and keep the evil that lies beneath at bay.

“As an expert on the Prophecy that guides the course of Eberron, I was sent here to observe the passage of the ages and see that the prison of Masvirik was guarded against all who might seek to weaken the prison and unleash the demons of Khyber once again upon the surface world. Your ancestors built for me the great fortress of Haka’torvhak, and there I guarded the passage down to the Overlord’s prison.

“But, driven by the need to understand the danger that we watched, I took a step beyond my role of guardian. Unable to decipher the prophecy, I turned to one source of knowledge that had never been tried: I touched the Flame and spoke directly to the Overlord itself. I thought that I, wise as I was, could talk to the creature bound in the Flame without falling under its sway. But Masvirik is subtle and ever strikes from the darkness, the danger unseen; I could feel the Overlord’s presence but could not sense his thoughts, so I pushed further, exposing myself to it. When it struck, I was overwhelmed by a presence more powerful than I could ever have comprehended. The Overlord’s strength of purpose is far beyond that of any mortal creature. My mind was tainted, and the Overlord bent me to its will.

“The tribes of the Blackscales, which had for thousands of years looked up to me as a greater manifestation of themselves, fell under my sway. The Overlord, accustomed to dominating all who served it, used me, in turn, to bring the Blackscales under its influence, turning them within a few generations against the great alliance of lizardfolk that they had once been part of. We seized control of the jungle around Haka’torvhak, asserting dominion there for ourselves. For a long time the Blackscale remained unaware that Masvirik’s release was our true purpose; for a thousand years, I lied to them that it was just a necessary step in the protection of the heart of the jungle. Over time, at the Overlord’s direction, I revealed our true purpose to the leaders of the Blackscales and recruited their highest leaders to aid in working to free the most dangerous of evils beneath the jungle. Even after the dragons and couatl realised the betrayal and imprisoned me alongside my master, the Blackscales continued to acknowledge me as master and made every effort to free me.

As Rhashaak described the history of tens of thousands of years of work to weaken the bonds that bound the Overlord, and undermine the loyal lizardfolk that held to their original sworn purpose of protecting the jungle, Anaya found solace in the unshakeable power of the Flame, that had bound the Overlord and then its servant for over a hundred thousand years despite the efforts made to free them.. The assembled lizardfolk were affected in different ways; the expressions of some were marked by hatred of an ancient enemy confirming the worst that had been said about them in legends for thousands of years, but most listened attentively to the confession and there was at least no open anger.

Rhashaak reached the end of his tale. “The Blackscales had perfected the ritual that would release me from my bonds, and needed only one who was strong with the Flame to execute their purpose; when Lady Anaya came to Q’barra, they saw an opportunity and took her prisoner, aiming to bring her to Haka’torvhak to use her to free me—perhaps even to further weaken the prison of the Overlord itself. But instead these Templars—together with one of your own warriors—slew the leaders of the Blackscales. Lady Anaya, calling forth the cleansing power of the Flame, drove the Overlord’s evil taint from my mind, releasing me from the darkness into which I had been cast.

“I come to you humbled. Your long service, of a cause long forgotten to me, has saved the jungle from the greatest of evils. Our tribes ask to rejoin the silver fire alliance, and serve with you once more in the sacred trust that you have kept for so long.” With that, Rhashaak lowered his head, signalling that others might speak.

Anaya spoke next, with Derkrhaza translating for her, appealing to the lizardfolk to remind them of the many dangers facing the jungle and the importance of regaining control of Haka’torvhak and turning their attention to resisting the incursions of House Tharashk. After her, the leaders of the various tribes took it in turns to speak.

Anaya sat down with Esthana and Vaalyun on one of the stone benches. Vaalyun was no longer translating word for word but reported the gist of what each speaker said and any important points raised.

“Do you think the chieftains will re-admit the Blackscales, then?” asked Esthana.

“Probably not today,” said Anaya. “Thousands of years of hostility are not easily set aside. But that the Blackscales are even here to discuss it is already the most important thing to happen to the lizardfolk for fifty thousand years.”

“They would be wise to take their time, and see what the Blackscales do,” said Vaalyun. “Rhashaak is cleansed, but the Blackscales still have all the animosity of a tribal hostility that has lasted for a hundred generations. But they have always acknowledged Rhashaak as their leader, and they have followed him here. The presence of humans in Q’barra now is an external threat that might give them a common purpose. If Rhashaak stays in control, the Blackscales will rejoin the gul siksta in time.”

“I wish Nyseris had been here to see it,” said Anaya.

They fell quiet for a time, listening to the discussion as Vaalyun quietly translated the important parts. Commander Tassis joined them after a while, and listened likewise, though he had little interest in the proceedings and grew frustrated when Vaalyun made him wait until the meeting was almost done before relaying his request to speak to the assembly. By that time, Rhashaak and many of the chieftains left the arena, and the mediation of the Church from Flamekeep received only a polite but noncommittal reply.

Once the gathering broke up, Anaya, Esthana and Vaalyun walked together back through the lizardfolk encampment. As Anaya had guessed, the Blackscales were not immediately welcomed back into the alliance, but their help had been granted in the efforts to keep Tharashk out of the jungle, and that was a promising start.

As they walked back past the many campfires, they passed a group of lizardfolk seated around a campfire with grey and white skin, mottled with flecks of blue. Esthana put a hand on Anaya’s shoulder to stop her, and after a moment the cleric realised what had caught her friend’s attention. They approached the seated group; the lizardfolk noticed their approach, standing and bowing their heads to Anaya.

“You are of the Eternal Fire tribe, are you not?” asked Anaya.

One of the lizardfolk replied, in very accented common. “We are. We welcome you, Anaya of the s–Silver Fire, to our fire. I am Uzaoss, an elder of the tribe.” Uzaoss was tall, with an upright bearing and skin marked with thin lines of silver that marked them out from their tribesfolk.

“Thank you.” Anaya looked down for a moment, then continued. “We fought alongside one of your tribe, a ranger called Nyseris.”

“Yes, Nyseris, yes. That one was always–s a wanderer; it is long since they last returned to their home. Truly they fought with you?”

“Yes. I am sorry, but they died in our travels down in Khyber. They died to protect me so that we might complete our mission.”

“We mourn to hear of their loss. If they fought with you, then they died an honourable death.”

Esthana stepped forward. “I do not know if it is customary amongst your people, but I brought back Nyseris’ spear—or what remained of it. In battle they enchanted it with the silver fire; the weapon is blessed.”

Uzaoss took the weapon. “We are honoured, followers of the Silver Fire. Will you join us?”

Anaya accepted the invitation, and they all sat down at the campfire. Little was said; all the lizardfolk were too in awe of Anaya to say much to her and, in any case, only Uzaoss spoke common amongst the lizardfolk. Dusk came, and

After a time, Esthana spoke. “I spoke to some lizardfolk from one of the tribes settled near to Newthrone this morning. There is fighting in areas near the edge of the jungle in the last two weeks; House Tharashk is beginning to push into the jungle in force.” She sighed and looked over at Anaya. “I had hoped not to see war again, but I suppose there will be fighting here for at least many months. For years, perhaps, if Tharashk persists.”

“Perhaps,” said Vaalyun. “But we are not done yet, Templar. There is a momentum to events; it was with House Tharashk, as they built up their strength to assault the jungle, but now things are different.”

Esthana looked at Vaalyun. “They have shipped in ten thousand mercenaries by now, with more on the way, and supplies. It will surely take time to beat back their incursions.”

Give an opportunity that fits a class’ abilities

“You are used to fighting for a cause, against those that fight likewise. No nations fight here; House Tharashk’s only cause is money. They stood to profit greatly from the trade in dragonshards, but that was before an entire continent of lizardfolk united against the project under the command of an ancient dragon. Tharashk will put those mercenaries and supplies back on the next ship to Sharn if there is no profit in remaining here.”

“Tharashk have shown that they are willing to fight here; I doubt they will want to walk away without testing their mettle,” said Anaya.

“They will if they lose the backing of the Twelve. I travel to Sharn tomorrow; I have called in some favours and my House has called a meeting of the heads of the Twelve houses, to discuss the situation here in Q’barra. The enterprise can be cast in a much less appealing light now. I hope, Templars, that you have given me a strong enough hand that we can end this conflict without putting the lizardfolk’s new alliance to a long test.”

Monday, 31 July 2017

IV.34: The Corrupted Watcher

Masvirik’s Prison, in Khyber
Lharvion 6, 997 YK

Going in to what I think will be the final confrontation here, while nothing is set in stone—and plenty of things have happened in the course of the campaign that certainly were never planned in advance—I have a few possible outcomes in mind and the dice can lead to any of these:

  • Anaya cleanses the taint from Rhashaak, who becomes an ally.
  • They fail to cleanse Rhashaak, but do kill him.
  • Rhashaak defeats the party.
  • The Overlord’s taint affects them and deters them from their purpose.

Let’s Play to find out what happens

As Rhashaak’s challenge reverberated through the vast cavern, Anaya slung her longbow onto her back and began walking along the edge of the chasm that had opened up across the floor of the cavern. The once-smooth slope here was riven with cracks and, at intervals, hot sulphurous gasses vented through fissures that had been opened by the Blackscales’ magic. The chasm narrowed and ended about thirty yards beyond where the fighting had taken place; Vaalyun joined Anaya as she picked her way across the broken cave floor, and together they went around the chasm and walked along it to rejoin their friends.

Now that they had fully descended the slope, the floor of the cavern stretched out before them: a quarter of a mile expanse of rough stone carved out by forces natural or arcane over a million years ago. The towering silver flame at the centre of the chamber burned just as brightly as when they had entered, unchanging and untouched by the blood that had just been shed by the mortals fighting to own or enter the cavern; for a hundred thousand years it had burned in this place, holding the Overlord Masvirik trapped within. As they walked, Anaya glanced over at the cavern’s most recent prisoner; now that they were on his level, Rhashaak looked massive—certainly much larger than the dragon Taliesin that they had encountered in Newthrone—and the strands of the Silver Flame knotted around him seemed barely enough to contain such a powerful creature.

Cast a Spell(Cure Moderate Wounds)(Nyseris): 2D6(1 6) +1 = 8 Partial success.
-1 forward to casting; heals 2d8=8 hp
Familiar Prey(Nyseris): 2D6(4 2) +1 = 7 Partial success.
Easy information: Black Dragons can breathe acid.

Esthana and Nyseris both looked a little battle-weary as they approached, and Nyseris was just drawing on the power of the Flame to heal themselves. The lizardfolk had many visible wounds, and burns covered part of one arm and shoulder—no doubt from facing the shaman here.

Esthana asked, “How close do you need to be?”

Anaya glanced anxiously towards Rhashaak. “I am not sure—but closer than this if I am to target the taint and drive it out.”

“Then we will need shields,” said Nyseris. “Black dragons can breathe acid.” The ranger discarded their broken spears and retrieved a shield and a fresh spear from one of the many Blackscale bodies scattered around them. Esthana copied her, sheathing her sword and taking up a shield.

Anaya shouldered her longbow and took her shield again. “A dragon this old may be a master of magic as well. We must approach cautiously.”

They began their approach, walking forwards across the cavern floor towards the dragon. Esthana and Nyseris led in front with Anaya behind them, and Vaalyun followed a little further back.

Rhashaak spoke again, his voice loud and rasping; it echoed in the vast chamber. “My servants are weak, but I had not thought them so pathetic that they could be beaten by so few.”

The huge dragon now loomed over them, and the shadow that he cast, as his great form blocked the light of the Flame behind him, fell across them.

The dragon is terrifying.

Defy Danger(Wis)(Vaalyun): 2D6(2 1) +1 = 4 Failure!
You cannot approach

Well that’s going to be a problem. His involvement is required to do this without harming Rhashaak. It’s possible that Vaalyun’s cowardice gets everyone else killed here. Did I ever write the plan down here? The idea is that Vaalyun’s shadows-and-darkness dragonmark can pull away the darkness that envelops the dragon, and Anaya can then Sever it. But the party failed their planning roll to figure that out, and they can’t do it if he is hanging back.

“You are the first human that I have seen, Templar,” said Rhashaak, voice booming still. “My followers tell me that some of your kind now dwell at the edges of my domain. It is interesting to see one at last.”

“This is close enough,” said Anaya to Esthana and Nyseris. Raising her voice, she addressed the dragon: “You are Rhashaak?”

“I am. I have lived longer than your kind had existed, human. Do you really think that you can kill me? The bearers of Flame may have been able to bind their enemies for a time, but they have never had the strength to overcome us.”

“I did not come here to kill you.”

Rhashaak’s eyes opened wider, their deep red orbs staring down at the party with ill intent. “Then why come so far?”

Defy Danger(Cha)(Anaya): 2D6(5 3) +1 = 9 Partial success.
Worse outcome; Rhashaak doesn’t know why you’re here, but knows it has to be something bad for him.
Cast a Spell(Bless)(Anaya): 2D6(1 3) +3 = 7 Partial success.
Lose the spell; +1 forward for Esthana

“You have forgotten why you came to this place; it is time to remind you.”

Rhashaak snorted, jets of green vapour emerging from his nostrils. His head, like his body, was covered in black scales.

Speaking quieter, Anaya spoke to Esthana. “I will need to focus my energy on channelling the Flame. Shield me as well as you can.”

Esthana nodded. Channelling the Flame, Anaya put a hand on her friend’s shoulder and, once more, Esthana was surrounded by silver light. “The Flame guides us, as always.”

Defend(Esthana): 2D6(5 5) +2 = 12 Success!
Hold 3

Rhashaak breathes acid at Anaya.

Spend hold(Esthana): Divert attack to self, halve damage to target. Deal damage: 2d12k1+4 = 16 damage, 1 piercing; Esthana halves that, 2 off for armour, so 5 damage.

Esthana is at 17/26.

Seeing her draw on the Flame was enough to provoke Rhashaak into action, however. Lifting himself as much as he could, bound as he still was by strands of the Flame, he spewed forth a blast of acid that engulfed the Templars. Esthana had positioned herself in front of Anaya and took the full force of the blast, sheltered by her shield and plate mail, but the acid found the joints in her armour in places and she let out a grunt of pain.

I’m making this take some time, since this is the final challenge of the campaign, and it would be too easy if Anaya could end it quickly with a single roll. Think dangerous: no-one has ever been strong enough with the Flame to attempt this, so it has to be a big deal.

Spend hold(Esthana): Halve damage Deal damage: 2d12k1+4 = 16 damage (max again), halved to 8 but applied to Esthana and Anaya this time. Anaya takes 7, Esthana 5.

Anaya at 7/17, Esthana at 12/26.

“Cursed bearers of the gul siksta! The Overlords will wipe you from the face of Eberron!” roared Rhashaak.

Anaya was drawing on more of the Flame’s power now; some of the bonds of silver fire that encircled the dragon split, and strands reached out to where the cleric was standing, attaching to the silver flames that now surrounded her. Roaring in anger, Rhashaak tried to crouch and swipe at them with one of his clawed arms, stretching to try to reach beyond his bonds. But the Templars were out of reach, so he breathed in again and spewed forth more acid. Esthana’s shield was eaten away in the blast, and she was not able to fully shield Anaya this time; both Templars were engulfed in the spray, and Anaya felt a sharp pain as acid ate through her gambeson in places.

This is the big roll. A failure here probably means that everyone dies—Rhashaak would break free, and everyone is low on HP right now.

Cast a Spell(Sever)(Anaya): 2D6(5 2) +3 = 10 Success!
It begins

Fighting back the pain, Anaya raised her holy symbol and shouted, “Be cleansed by the Flame!”

The cords of silver fire binding the dragon suddenly became mobile. Attaching themselves to the light around Anaya, Rhashaak’s bonds expanded and reordered themselves at her command. Willing them to close, Anaya quickly brought them tightly around the dragon and continued to pull tighter, driving the energy of the Flame into the dragon’s body.

Think dangerous: dragon in agony flails around, threatening to crush those nearby.

Defy Danger(Dex)(Nyseris): 2D6(5 6) +2 = 13 Success!
You avoid getting crushed by the flailing dragon

Rhashaak’s head rose into the air, roaring in agony, his eyes rolled back in his head. No longer bound physically, he rolled onto his side, thrashing around wildly. Nyseris, who had circled around to that side of the dragon, had to turn and run to avoid being crushed.

Deal damage: 2d6=3 damage to Rhashaak; he is at 13/16 HP. Reveal an unwelcome truth: The party’s goal is to keep Rhashaak alive, but they don’t know how. And they have broken his bonds; if they release him without completing this, he is free to kill them and spread evil over Q’barra.

Esthana stayed close to Anaya, shielding her in case the dragon came too close, but Rhashaak’s attacks were no longer directed at the party; the huge creature writhed in agony on the stone floor before them.

“Is it working?” shouted Esthana.

Anaya did not know. She could feel the spirit of the dragon, ancient and dark, as if it were in her grasp. The Flame burned at the corruption that ran through the creature, both in body and spirit. The power flowing through her was immense, and as the dragon struggled it strained at the cords of energy that bound them together.

“I can cleanse the evil—but I may kill it in the attempt,” she shouted over the dragon’s screams.

As the dragon is disabled, Vaalyun can start to play a part again.

Discern Realities(Student of the Prophecy)(Vaalyun): 2D6(4 5) +1 = 10 Success!
Who is really in control here? Anaya.
What is about to happen? Anaya may lose control of this, and Rhashaak is no longer bound; her ability to get control is key.
What here is useful or valuable to me? The taint on Rhashaak is a shadow on his soul, which you can manipulate with your dragonmark.

+1 forward now from his Discern Realities, since he knows Anaya is in control (for now).

Defy Danger(Wis)(Vaalyun): 2D6(3 3) +1+1 = 8 Partial success.
You can get closer, but not very close—not that you want to.
Defend(Esthana): 2D6(1 6) +2+1 = 10 Success!
Hold 3

Deal damage: 2d6=4 damage. Rhashaak is at 9/16.

Defy Danger(Con)(Anaya): 2D6(1 4) +0 = Failure! Turn Their Move Back on Them: You lose control

Uh oh.

Rhashaak screamed once more in pain, as dark blood and silver fire leaked out between his scales. The dragon jerked to one side, pulling sharply on the energy that tied her to him, and Anaya barely managed to keep control. She strained to maintain the cords binding the dragon against the pain from his last attack. Then the dragon spasmed again. Anaya was thrown to the ground before she could react, hitting her head on the rock floor of the cavern. For a few moments, she lay there, stunned.

“I will kill you all!” roared Rhashaak.

Deal damage: 2d12k1+4 = 10 damage; Esthana halves that, -2 for armour so 3 damage. Esthana is at 9/26.

Anaya felt the thundering of the dragon’s steps on the cavern floor before she realised that the bonds had broken. Rolling over, she saw Esthana standing over her as the dragon charged. Anaya rolled aside, scrambling to her feet, hearing Esthana’s cry as the creature crashed into her.

“Templar,” shouted Vaalyun, who was about fifty yards away. “We can do it! The taint on Rhashaak can be lifted!”

+1 forwards again for acting directly on another answer from his Discern Realities.

Dragonmark(Shadows and Darkness)(Vaalyun): 2D6(2 2) +2+1 = 7 Partial success.
Short duration

Confused, Anaya turned back to Rhashaak just in time to see the dragon turn to her again. He reared up, preparing to strike, but seemed to stop at the moment of attack. Staring at each other in confusion, Anaya saw the form of the dragon become blurry, as the shadows cast by the light of the Flame seemed to writhe around it. The shadow seemed to struggle and began to peel away from the creature itself.

“Now, Templar!”

Defend(Nyseris): 2D6(2 5) +1 = 8 Partial success.
Hold 1

Spend hold(Nyseris): Divert attack to self Deal damage: 2d12k1+4 = 10 damage, 9 after armour (Nyseris also had a shield).

Nyseris is at 4/22; there was a good chance for that attack to be fatal.

Shaken from his momentary confusion, Rhashaak narrowed his eyes and moved forward to attack. The cleric raised her shield, but it was Nyseris that jumped in front of her just as the dragon exhaled. The ranger stood their ground as the blast of acid engulfed them, shielding Anaya from the blast. The cleric reached out to the Flame again, drawing once more on its power, and now her target was the shadowy form detaching from Rhashaak.

Now their plan can succeed.

Cast a Spell(Sever)(Anaya): 2D6(1 5) +3 = 9 Partial success.
Lose the spell; you sever Masvirik’s evil taint from Rhashaak.

This time, tendrils of silver fire separated from the giant Flame at the centre of the room, drifting over to surround Rhashaak at Anaya’s command. Rhashaak turned his head to one side, raising a claw to shield his eyes from the dazzling silver light that now shone around the cleric. Reaching out with the Flame, she pulled the bonds tighter, closing in around the shadowy taint that hung over the dragon. The fiery cords cut through the shadow’s connection to Rhashaak; the mighty dragon’s eyes rolled back in his head and he collapsed to the floor, the booming thud echoing through the Khyber caves. Separated now from its host, the taint was entirely exposed to the Flame’s power; Anaya closed the bonds of Flame around it, burning the shadow away into nothing.

The cavern was quiet at last. Releasing the power of the Flame, Anaya staggered, exhausted with effort and feeling the pain of her wounds. The fallen form of Rhashaak lay sprawled on the cavern floor ahead, but the slight rise and fall of his back and the dust kicked up around his nostrils showed that he was still alive.

“It’s alright Esthana,” she called, seeing her fellow Templar approaching the fallen dragon. “He is—”

Cast a Spell(Cure Moderate Wounds)(Nyseris): 2D6(3 1) +1-1 = 4 Failure!
Deal Damage: d6=6 damage

Think Dangerous: I had decided before I made the roll that the consequence for failure would be further damage. Show a downside to their class, race, or equipment: you can’t just take off your acid-covered armour when it’s your skin. It’s unlucky for Nyseris that both the move roll and the damage roll are bad for them. Nyseris is at 0 HP.

Her eyes fell to Nyseris, who was lying sprawled on the ground just a few feet in front of her. Anaya fell to her knees beside the ranger; their skin was horribly burned down one side.

“Did we do it, Anaya of the Flame?” Nyseris asked. The ranger never wore a helmet, and Anaya saw that the top of the ranger’s head had been exposed to the acid blast; they were blinded, and worse.

“Yes. We did it.” Tears ran down Anaya’s face as she leaned over the ranger; the cleric tried to call on the Flame, but she was exhausted after the struggle with Rhashaak. In any case, Nyseris’ wounds were far beyond her healing powers.

Last Breath(Nyseris): 2D6(1 4) +1 = 6 Failure!
Your fate is sealed.

Even the +1 from Anaya’s Scales of Life and Death doesn’t save them. Sadness.

“Keep my people safe.” croaked Nyseris. As Esthana knelt down beside them, Nyseris breathed their last breath.

“We will,” said Anaya quietly. Removing her silver flame pendant, Anaya laid her holy symbol in the lizardfolk’s outstretched hand. “Be one with the Flame; may you burn brightly.”

End of Session(party): Overcame a notable enemy, +1 XP for all. Anaya and Vaalyun’s mutual bond is resolved; I would replace it, but there’s no need as the campaign is essentially over. Anaya and Esthana met their alignment goals.

Anaya: 1 failure, 1 bond, alignment goal, 1 session goal; at 12XP.
Esthana: 0 failures, alignment goal, 1 session goal; at 6XP.
Vaalyun: 1 failures, 1 bond, 1 session goal; at 7XP.

Friday, 21 July 2017

IV.33: Servants of Rhashaak

Masvirik’s Prison, in Khyber
Lharvion 6, 997 YK

The great tunnel descended at a steep angle, taking them even deeper into the underworld of Khyber. While nothing felt natural about this place, this tunnel at least was clearly made by living creatures; it was larger than the volcanic tunnels that they had traversed until now, and its slow, steady spiral downwards seemed constructed to lead to a place beneath them. In places there were steps carved into the sloping rock which made the group’s descent easier.

Anaya could sense that their goal was close now. The sense of malignant evil that she had felt throughout the caverns was strong here, flowing up from a source that lay beneath them. The Flame was present here also, however, and even stronger than it had been around the imprisoned demons above. Anaya’s connection to the Flame had never been stronger and she felt that, whatever lay ahead, its power gave her the strength to face it. Her thoughts were on the tale of the Tira Miron, the founder of her Church, whom the Flame had granted the power to reseal the prison of Bel Shalor. Anaya was sure that the Flame had the power to overcome the evil that they faced here; she only hoped that she had the strength to wield it.

Discern Realities(Nyseris): 2D6(6 1) +1 = 8 Partial success.
What here is not what it appears to be?

“This tunnel was s–surely made by the dragons, after Masvirik was first imprisoned here,” said Nyseris. “The Blackscales carved these steps later—perhaps so they could reach the chamber where their master is held.”

It took them only half an hour to reach the end of the tunnel. Anaya, who had seen this place in the vision that the Flame granted to her months ago, knew they were approaching the end before they saw the light; she warned the others to prepare themselves.

Make a move that follows: This place is ancient, and appears as in Anaya’s vision.

The tunnel opened up into vast underground cavern, nearly half a mile across. Huge Khyber crystals, larger than any dragonshards that Anaya had ever seen, protruded in many places, and great flows of lava poured into the chamber from several other tunnels leading into the cavern. The dominant feature, however, was the huge pillar of silver fire that stood at its centre; standing over two hundred feet high and reaching nearly to the roof, it bathed the entire cavern in the light of the Flame. Though its surroundings could not be more different, the flame was a counterpart to the Eternal Flame in Flamekeep. There was a shadow within the flame, however; as she reached out to the power of the Flame, Anaya could also feel the evil that it concealed, the vast and dormant energy of the Overload trapped within.

Anaya lowered her gaze to their target. Before the Flame, lying pressed against the stone floor, was the ancient black dragon that she knew to be Rhashaak, the corrupted guardian of the jungle, now leader of the Blackscales. He looked small at this distance, with the the central Flame towering over him, but the tiny forms of the Blackscale lizardfolk standing near him showed that the distance was deceptive and he must be a massive creature. Flowing cords of silver fire were tangled around him, pinning him in place, as they had done since the dragons imprisoned him here eighty thousand years ago.

Time to deliver on that failed roll from Vaalyun last time. Use a threat from an existing faction or type of creature. Think dangerously of course—this is a large group of enemies, but it has to be enough that they would expect to be able to take down the heroes. If Vaalyun had not failed that roll, the heroes arrival would have been a surprise and this group would have been smaller, making it more of an incidental fight.

The group had more immediate concerns, however. A large group of Blackscale lizardfolk, perhaps thirty strong, stood before them, arrayed on the floor of the cavern below where the tunnel opened into the cavern. At their center stood three lizardfolk shamans, and they were flanked by warriors armed with spears and bows. The silver light pouring from the giant flame behind them glinted off of their dark scales.

“Welcome to the kornari di whedabra, Anaya of the Flame,” said the foremost shaman. They wore an unnatural-looking skull—of a demon, perhaps—as a helmet, and carried a long staff topped with a Khyber dragonshard. “You have been expected.”

Anaya stepped forward. Her hand was already glowing with the light of the Flame, but she drew more deeply on the Flame’s power and the light grew more intense; some of the Blackscales averted their eyes before her burning light. “We come here in the service of the Silver Flame, which holds a great evil imprisoned within this cavern. Let us pass, and leave this place, never to return.”

Show signs of an approaching threat: Powerful spellcasters, and they have a use for Anaya if they can capture her.

“We have worked for thousands of years to free our master from the flames,” said the shaman. “We learned the rituals to weaken his bonds, but we lacked the means to untie the knot—one who could control the silver fire itself. Our prayers to the Cold One were answered and you have been brought before us; soon, we will be able to free our master. What happens here is fated, Anaya of the Flame.”

Interrogator(Esthana): 2D6(2 6) +1 = 9 Partial success.
Proof required: some will flee once they see you living up to your reputation

Esthana stepped up beside Anaya, speaking loudly so all the lizardfolk could hear. “You have tried to take us prisoner before. How many of those that you sent returned? More than a dozen of your warriors died by my hand, and the few wise enough to flee left without their prisoners.” The Templar drew her sword, the silver fire burning along the blade. “Leave now, or die in this place.”

There were signs of nervousness amongst the lizardfolk now. The Blackscale warriors were a little larger on average than even the gul siksta lizardfolk of Nyseris’ tribes, with some reaching nine feet tall; each carried a spear and shield, apart from a group on one side armed with hunting bows. But there were worried looks exchanged between some of the front lizardfolk as they looked up at the two Templars, and it was clear that Esthana’s reputation did preceed them.

Jilg dout ordah!” cried another of the Blackscale shaman; Anaya presumed it was a call to order, and the lizardfolk warrior seemed to regain a little of their poise.

“This is not your land, or your place, outsiders,” said the first shaman. “Give up the cleric, and we may be merciful.”

Cast a Spell(Magic Weapon)(Nyseris): 2D6(6 3) +1 = 10 Success!
+d4 damage per attack
Cast a Spell(Bless)(Anaya): 2D6(5 1) +3 = 9 Partial success.
+1 to all Esthana’s rolls; Put someone in a spot: you’ll be a prime target in what happens next

Seeing no other way, Anaya glanced to Esthana, and then turned and nodded to Nyseris and Vaalyun, who were standing a few yards behind them, higher up the slope to the tunnel entrance. Nyseris immediately called on the power of the Flame, and Anaya felt the power flow into the ranger as silver flames surrounded their bow.

Jilg wer sunathear,” cried the first shaman, raising their staff. “Svent shio lyriki!

Okay, let’s break down the opposition:

  • 6 warriors - group 1
  • 6 warriors - group 2
  • 6 archers - group 3
  • 6 personal guard for shamans - group 4
  • 3 shamans with 3 servants. As before, for the shaman I will use the abilities of an Orc Shaman but keep the usual lizardfolk hitpoints and armour.

This is a similar sized group to the cultists that the party fought (with Nyseris absent) in the jungle long ago, when they were lower level; but the lizardfolk are tougher than cultists and the shamans are a dangerous group. The party should be able to manage it though.

Dragonmark(Shadows and Darkness)(Vaalyun): 2D6(3 1) +2 = 6 Failure!
Monster(Shaman 2): Twist the Elements: deal d8+3=5 damage, ignoring armour)

Around a dozen lizardfolk warriors began advancing up the slope. The second shaman stepped forward as well, pointing towards the newcomers while chanting something in Draconic. Cracks appeared in the cavern floor around the Templars, releasing great jets of flame that reached up fifteen feet into the air. One was right beside Vaalyun and he threw up his arm to shield himself from the sudden flames; he stepped away and was still standing, but part of his jacket was burned away, and the leather armour underneath was badly burned as well.

Called Shot(Head)(Nyseris): 2D6(5 2) +2 = 9 Partial success.
Deals d8+d4=8 damage to Shaman 3, 6 after armour, killing them. Put yourself in danger: Vaalyun failed to deal with those archers, so Deal damage: d8+2=3 damage, 2 after armour

As the third shaman stepped forwards, preparing to cast another spell, Nyseris loosed her arrow. Trailing silver light as it flew, the arrow flew true and buried itself in the eye of the shaman, killing them instantly. Seeing this, the Blackscale archers loosed their first volley at Nyseris; perhaps due to the jets of flame obscuring their view, only one of the arrows found its target.

Cast a Spell(Bless)(Anaya): 2D6(5 1) +3 = 9 Partial success.
+1 to all rolls for Esthana; put yourself in danger
Defend(Esthana): 2D6(3 1) +2+1 = 7 Partial success.
Hold 1
Volley(Anaya): 2D6(6 1) +1 = 8 Partial success.
Deals d6=4 damage, 2 after armour; put yourself in danger

Anaya touched Esthana on the shoulder, saying “The Flame is with you, here more than ever.” Calling on the power of the Flame, and the silver light from her hand seemed to flow from her and surrounded Esthana herself. Esthana stepped in front of her as the lizardfolk advanced towards them. Anaya drew her bow and loosed an arrow at the lizardfolk just as they began their charge; her arrow caught one in the shoulder but did not slow its advance. Six of the lizardfolk swarmed around the two Templars, and Anaya only had time to unshoulder her shield before she was fending away their spears.

Esthana is outnumbered by enemies far taller and stronger than her, but she is nearly unbeatable in close quarters when the Flame’s blessing is on her. As always, she is using her shortsword to be precise, using her dexterity to hack-and-slash.

Hack and Slash(Esthana): 2D6(2 4) +3+1 = 10 Success!
Deals d10+d6=9 damage, ignoring armour

That’s 13 damage in total (with Anaya’s arrow) so group 1 is at 23/36, 2 dead.

Hack and Slash(Anaya): 2D6(4 2) +0 = 6 Failure!
Takes d8+1=7 damage (but…)

Spend hold(Esthana): Divert attacks to self: takes 4 damage after armour

Esthana met the charge easily, calmly sweeping aside the first spearpoints of her attackers and moving in close. Outnumbered by the much larger and stronger Blackscale warriors, she moved in close and struck with precision, stabbing one lizardfolk through the heart, and then cutting through the throat of another. Anaya was in trouble though so Esthana turned back, ignoring a spearpoint that jabbed into her side just below her breastplate, and put herself between Anaya and another of the lizardfolk, giving her fellow Templar time to draw her sword.

So group 1 is aiming for Anaya, who is lousy in close quarters and badly needs Esthana’s protection; because of the ritual that she needed to memorise to free Rhashaak, she doesn’t even have a healing spell currently.

Group 2 is charging further upslope at Nyseris. And group 4, the archers, are looking at Nyseris also.

The shamans of group 5 will continue to harass everyone, and group 3 are their personal bodyguard who will hold back for now; they are now making a shieldwall to stop the party sniping the remaining shamans.

Defy Danger(Dex)(Nyseris): 2D6(4 5) +2 = 11 Success!
No hits from the archers
Blot out the Sun(Nyseris): 2D6(3 5) +2 = 10 Success!
Deals d8+d4=7 damage to first, 5 after armour
Deals d8+d4=3 damage to second, 1 after armour
Dragonmark(Shadows and Darkness)(Vaalyun): 2D6(4 4) +2 = 10 Success!
Shadows block the line of sight of the archers
Blot out the Sun(Nyseris): 2D6(2 6) +2 = 10 Success!
Deals d8+d4=3 damage, 1 after armour
Deals d8+d4=6 damage, 4 after armour.
Put yourself in danger

The backline are doing great now. Group 2 has 21/36hp left, 2 dead, and the archer group is out of action for a while; but Nyseris is going to be swarmed in a moment. We’ll come back.

More of the Blackscales continued on towards Nyseris, but the ranger rapidly loosed arrows at the advancing warriors. Afraid of the silver fire burning around each arrowhead, the Blackscales slowed their advance, sheltering behind their shields as they moved up the slope, but Nyseris found the gaps in their shieldwall and several arrows found their targets. Nyseris had moved into the lee of one of the fire jets, to shield themselves from the archers below, and so the archers turned towards Vaalyun instead; but the elf raised a hand in their direction and suddenly the bank where the archers stood was engulfed in darkness, hiding the archers and preventing them from seeing their targets.

Hack and Slash(Esthana): 2D6(4 3) +3+1 = 11 Success!
Deals d10+d6=7 damage

Another one dead, group 1 at 16/36, half dead. Three is still too many for Esthana to keep Anaya fully shielded from them, though, and she had a lot of put-yourself-in-danger rolls earlier, so she still has to fight.

Hack and Slash(Anaya): 2D6(6 2) +0 = 8 Partial success.
Deals d6=1 damage (armour negates), Separate them: being backed up into a fire jet.

Esthana can Defy Danger to get back beside Anaya and relieve the pressure on her.

Defy Danger(Dex)(Esthana): 2D6(5 5) +3+1 = 14 Success!
You’re back beside Anaya again

Anaya’s best move is to Aid Esthana, as she has two bonds with her fellow Templar, and she has the superior version of Aid that she took at last level-up:

Esthana swept aside another spear thrust from one of the lizardfolk warriors then, stepping forward, reversed her stroke and slashed a deep wound across the chest of the hulking warrior. Her sword cut effortlessly through the creature’s thick hide, and the creature fell to the stone floor screaming as its flames burned at their wound. Anaya did not have the same speed and, though she was able to score a hit on one of the warriors, she was soon being driven back at spearpoint, and was in danger of being driven into one of the jets of flame that now dotted the slope. But Esthana, dodging around the lizardfolk, rolled under their spears and came up between Anaya and the warriors facing her.

With A Little Help from my Friends(Anaya): 2D6(2 3) +2 = 7 Partial success.
Put yourself in danger, +1 forward to you and Esthana
Hack and Slash(Esthana): 2D6(1 1) +3+1+1 = 7 Partial success.
Deals d10+d6=8 damage; Monster(Shaman 2): More fire

Yikes, with bless and aid and Esthana’s stats, even double-1s isn’t a failure. Group 1 at 8/36, only two lizardfolk still up.

The shamans can see that their warriors are losing, and decide to start lighting more fires. I am choosing not to bother dealing damage to Esthana most of the time, as her armour and HP is high enough that it’s really hard to kill her; it is more productive to keep putting Anaya in danger, who will die quickly if she isn’t helped out.

Defy Danger(Dex)(Esthana): 2D6(2 2) +3+1 = 8 Partial success.
Separate them

The Blackscale warriors—three remained fighting Esthana and Anaya—moved again to encircle the Templars, and this time Anaya moved to protect Esthana’s exposed side—as her friend was unable to carry a shield. The lizardfolk were both taller and had greater reach with their spears and Esthana and Anaya were hard-pressed, but working together they managed to keep the spearpoints at bay. When a gap appeared, Esthana ducked and rolled forwards, coming up in between two of the lizardfolk and using the momentum of her roll to drive her sword upwards through its chest.

Perhaps realising that their warriors were not getting the job done, one of the shaman raised their staff again, pointing at the two Templars. The ground shook and there was a sound of cracking stone, as the cracks in the ground began to grow longer, and more flames vented upwards from the enlarging fissures. A narrow crevasse opened up across the slope, and Esthana had to roll downslope to avoid it; a wall of flame rose along the crevasse, dividing the two Templars.

Volley(Vaalyun): 2D6(2 6) +2 = 10 Success!
Deals 2d4=4 damage ignoring armour (magic missile wand)
Volley(Nyseris): 2D6(3 3) +2 = 8 Partial success.
Deals d8+d3=11 damage, 9 after armour; Put someone in a spot: the enemy are on you now

That 9 is a single last arrow before they close, so I’ll only let it kill one. Group 2 has 14/36hp left, 3 dead.

Nyseris’ spear was broken a few chapters ago, so it’s a short spear now; that costs them here, they have to defy danger to get in past the long spears of the Blackscales.

Defy Danger(Str)(Nyseris): 2D6(4 2) +2 = 8 Partial success.
You break one of their spears; but Deal damage: d8+1=6 damage, 5 after armour

Nyseris is at 15/22 with 3 lizardfolk warriors attacking them. Unlike Esthana, the ranger has no plate, no-one helping them in the melee, and no awesome sword.

The archers have had time to reposition, so:

Dragonmark(Shadows and Darkness)(Vaalyun): 2D6(5 4) +2 = 11 Success!
The archers are surrounded by darkness again

Vaalyun’s crowd control here is avoiding the golden opportunities that would otherwise occur because no-one else can do anything about these archers right now; as we saw in the fight outside Count Zuokas’ manor, the GM can give these free attacks if the heroes are too busy to act on the threat.

Further up the slope, Nyseris’ arrows had injured several lizardfolk and dropped one to the ground. Vaalyun fired a magic missile from his wand at another; the creature’s chest exploded and it collapsed immediately. As the remaining four lizardfolk charged, Nyseris loosed one last arrow, which caught the lead Blackscale in the throat and killed them instantly; then the ranger cast aside her bow and grabbed her spear. The spear haft had been broken during their descent from the surface, so Nyseris’ had broken the haft cleanly and now wielded it like a short sword; but that left the ranger at a disadvantage given the reach of their enemies’ spears.

Nyseris took Viper’s strike a while back, and finally gets a chance to use it, since they now have weapons in both hands.

Viper’s Strike(Nyseris): 2D6(2 6) +2 = 10 Success!
Deals d8+d4+2 (for snake companion) = 8 damage, 6 after armour (killing one)

As the first Blackscale jabbed forwards, Nyseris sidestepped to avoid the strike and grabbed at the spear with their free hand, twisting with their strong grip and snapping the spear in half. They could not dodge all of the spears, though, and Nyseris took several cuts from the other two Blackscales. Needing a distraction, Nyseris threw new animal companion at one of the assailants; the snake wrapped itself around the neck of the lizardfolk, and bit into their neck. As the warrior flinched, Nyseris took advantage, barging into their shield and stabbing first with one spearhead, then the other. The Blackscale warrior dropped their weapon, staggered from their injuries, and fell to the ground.

Using the +1 forward from her With A Little Help from my Friends.

Hack and Slash(Anaya): 2D6(3 4) +1 = 8 Partial success.
Deals d6=3 damage, 1 after armour; takes d8=5 damage, 3 after armour.

Anaya is at 14/17 HP.

Volley(Vaalyun): 2D6(3 2) +2 = 7 Partial success.
Deals 2d4=6 damage (ignoring armour); Change the environment: Monster move(Shaman 2): Twist the Elements

That’s the last of group 1 killed.

Anaya found herself one-on-one with the last Blackscale warrior near her. Trading blows with the creature, she held it at bay for a few seconds, and managed to jab her sword under the warrior’s shield and into their gut. Undeterred, the warrior pushed their shield forward, bashing Anaya’s head, and she fell to the ground, dazed. As the warrior raised their spear, ready to strike down at the cleric, suddenly an bolt of arcane energy struck them in the head from behind; Anaya had to shift to avoid the body as it fell to the rock floor, before rolling into the fiery fissure just below her. Vaalyun, who had fired the bolt from his position further up the slope, lowered his wand and began looking around for more targets.

Defy Danger(Dex)(Vaalyun): 2D6(6 3) +2 = 11 Success!
You get to safe ground

Anaya was beginning to rise when a more violent rumble shook the ground of the cavern. She scrambled to her feet and up the slope as the ground beneath her began to crumble. Several feet of ground around the fissure crumbled and collapsed, rock falling away into a lava flow below. The rising flames died away, but now the entrance to the cavern was broken up by several deep chasms filled below with lava. Vaalyun, who was directly in the path of the opening fissure, had to throw himself to one side to avoid falling in.

The shamans are still active and trying to target all the unengaged heroes. Monster move(Shaman 1): Casts Hold Person.

Defy Danger(Wis)(Esthana): 2D6(3 4) +1+1 = 9 Partial success.
You escape the effect, but Separate them: she is lower down, below the chasm that opened, and about to run into the archers emerging from Vaalyun’s darkness spell
Hack and Slash(Nyseris): 2D6(4 3) +2 = 9 Partial success.
Deals d8+d4=8 damage, 6 after armour (killing one); takes d8+2=3 damage, 2 after armour.

Group 2 is down to 6/36 HP, one warrior still standing.

Defy Danger(Wis)(Esthana): 2D6(5 4) +1 = 10 Success!
Deals d10+d6=9 damage

Esthana found herself alone at the foot of the slope, standing at the edge of the darkness that Vaalyun had summoned and facing more Blackscales forming a shield wall in front of the shamans. She heard one of the shaman shouting something in Draconic, and heard the answering crack of stone as the chasm opened up behind her, blocking her escape. Another shaman, the first that had spoken when they entered, raised their staff and pointed it at Esthana over the shieldwall, and the Templar immediately felt the arcane effect trying to seize her limbs and hold her in place. She immediately fought the effect, straining to move one foot forward and then the other, keeping her sword in front of her. After a few moments she broke free of the effect, and heard the shaman’s curse as they realised that their spell had failed.

To charge the shield wall alone was risky, and Esthana could hear the lizardfolk inside the area of darkness coming towards her as well. Choosing to deal with the lesser threat first, Esthana dived into the darkness herself. Surrounded suddenly by the unnatural blackness, the only light that penetrated the cloud at all was the silver light of her sword; but she could hear the lizardfolk near her, and used her greater speed to attack them before they even realised she was there. She ran one through with her sword before they could react, its death cry adding to the panic that the other lizardfolk felt as they realised that the Templar was amongst them.

Okay, Esthana gets the benefit of her Interrogator move earlier now - she threatened death and has dealt out plenty of it now. The remains of groups 2, 3 and the hangers-on in group 5 all flee, their morale entirely broken.

Defy Danger(Str)(Nyseris): 2D6(1 4) +2 = 7 Partial success.
Worse outcome

Emerging from the darkness again, Esthana saw that many of the Blackscales were fleeing now: the archers were scattering across the cavern, along with some other lizardfolk from the shamans’ group. The last lizardfolk that had been attacking Nyseris further up the slope had also fled. The entrance to the cavern was littered with lizardfolk dead, scorched with flame and split by lava-filled fissures. Only the six Blackscales in the shield wall and the two remaining shamans held their ground.

Still bloodied from the fighting yet undeterred, Nyseris ran down the slope and jumped the chasm. The lizardfolk barely made it to the far side, hitting the face of the chasm at chest height and dropping one of their broken spearheads as they grabbed at the rocky edge.

Esthana quickly moved to aid the ranger, but before she could help Nyseris up, the lizardfolk shaman was shouting and gesturing. “Itrewic astahi! Svent astahi jaka!”

The remaining lizardfolk warriors began to edge forwards, clearly reluctant to engage the Templar. Esthana turned to face them, covering Nyseris as they scrambled out of the chasm.

One great feature of Dungeon World is that combat isn’t special; Esthana can seamlessly move into social moves to try to exploit the established fiction.

Interrogator(Esthana): 2D6(5 1) +1 = 7 Partial success.
Proof required - and the  12 dead lizardfolk on the ground, plus your sword that is “wreathed in silver fire, a symbol of good and law” are ample proof.

“I have faced and slain greater foes than you.” She held her sword up, silver flames playing across the blade and their light reflecting from her breastplate. “Enough of your kind have died today—are you so sure that you want to join them?” The Blackscale warriors stopped in their tracks, looking around nervously, and some began to back away.

I wasn’t sure what to do here. Suddenly it seems like there’s no real fight left in the fight, and yet I need to give the shamans a chance to use their magic - which they haven’t made a lot of effective use of yet. I thumbed through the DungeonWorld wizard playbook, looking for suitable spells, and considered having them summon a demon, but we have fought demons before. I decided on Polymorph Other, as an interesting spell that they could use to do something new.

Introduce a new faction or type of creature: I have wanted an excuse to put a hydra in the campaign, because Make a move that follows: Vaalyun has a five-headed hydra on his jacket. I guess now is the chance. Polymorph Other usually allows the GM to add a twist against the player, but instead I’ll make it a twist against the caster: Think dangerously, the monster is bound not to attack its caster but will attack their allies.

The shaman was screaming at his own guards now in Draconic. Esthana waved her sword threateningly, and the warriors took a further step back. Clearly incensed, the shaman stepped forward while chanting something, striking two of his warriors on the back. Immediately it was clear that his spell was not one merely to encourage them. Both fell to the ground, screaming in pain; their bodies began to bulge and bloat, shifting in shape. Reaching out in agony, one of them touched the other with their hand, and they became stuck together, writhing in pain and growing in size until their original forms had merged and bloated into a monstrous creature that towered over them. The only parts of the original lizardfolk that were recognisable were the heads, now protruding from the massive torso on long sinuous necks, and several more similar heads burst out from the creature’s body, all twisted in pain and rage.

Esthana and Nyseris stood at the edge of the chasm, awe-struck at this new monstrosity. The other lizardfolk warriors turned and fled; the other shaman lingered too long, and one of the monster’s heads snapped out, biting down on the shaman’s head and crushing it in its bite. Only the first shaman and the monster remained standing before them, barring their path to Rhashaak.

Charge!(Esthana): +1 forward for you and Nyseris
Hack and Slash(Esthana): 2D6(5 1) +3+1+1 = 11 Success!
Deals d10=1 damage

Hydra is at 15/16, but you can’t kill it attacking the heads.

Defy Danger(Dex)(Nyseris): 2D6(4 2) +2+1 = 9 Partial success.
Tell them the requirements or consequences and ask: you can move in the open around the hydra to get to the shaman, but they’ll get to hit you with damaging spells; or you get tangled with the hydra.

“For the Flame!” cried Esthana, brandishing her sword and charging down to meet the monstrosity. Nyseris charged with her. Esthana veered left, swinging at the creature’s outstretched heads when she was within striking range; she scored a hit on the jaw of one head, but it recoiled from the blow and reared out of reach. Nyseris went for the other side of the creature, trying to duck under it and through to the shaman behind, but the creature lowered one head and long neck low, blocking their charge and forcing the ranger to defend themselves. An arrow from Anaya’s bow whistled in and stuck firmly in the creature’s scaly hide; several of the creature’s heads let out angry hisses.

Volley(Anaya): 2D6(5 5) +1 = 11 Success!
Deals d6=2 damage, negated by armour
Spout Lore(Vaalyun): 2D6(5 3) +2 = 10 Success!
You know how to kill it
Seeing Red(Esthana): 2D6(1 3) +1+1+1 = 7 Partial success.
What here is useful or valuable to me?
Hack and Slash(Nyseris): 2D6(1 3) +2 = 6 Failure!
Deal damage: d10+3=5 damage, 4 after armour

Nyseris is at 11/22 HP.

“Go for the heart, if you can,” yelled Vaalyun. “Apart from that, the only thing that can harm a hydra is fire!”

Esthana saw that the creature was afraid of the silvery fire around her blade, but it would be hard to reach the creature’s heart—particularly with a short sword. Glancing to her right, she saw the lava chasm behind them, and decided what she must do. She began to circle around behind the hydra; on the other side, Nyseris was being attacked by several of the creature’s heads; one managed to catch the ranger’s arm in its jaws, biting deeply and drawing blood.

Interrogator(Esthana): 2D6(5 4) +1+1 = 11 Success!
It recoils from the threat, and releases Nyseris.

Nyseris goes for the shaman again.

Defy Danger(Dex)(Nyseris): 2D6(1 3) +2 = 6 Failure!
Deal Damage: d8+3=6 damage from a firebolt, ignoring armour

Nyseris is at 5/22 HP.

Behind the creature now, Esthana pressed closer, swinging her sword strongly at any of the heads that came near to her. “Back you abomination! Back—or face me, if you dare!”

The hydra’s heads recoiled from her blade and, as she advanced, the monster backed away from her. It had to release Nyseris, and now all its attention was on the Templar before it, with her fearsome sword trailing silver fire.

Esthana wants to drive this creature all the way into the lava chasm. This isn’t really a Parley, since either choice here is dangerous to the creature and it actually has a better chance against Esthana than if it falls into the pit. But Be a Fan of the Characters: Esthana’s plan is reasonable and follows from her Seeing Red, and her enhanced Parley seems like a better fit than anything else. She has +1 forward from her Seeing Red as well.

Interrogator(Esthana): 2D6(4 6) +1+1+1 = 13 Success!
Well with that good a roll, she would have succeeded with any stat anyway. She gets what she wants.

Not letting up at all, Esthana rolled to her left, moving closer to the monstrosity and cutting into one of its many necks. The creature hissed in pain and fear, backing away on its short, clawed legs. It was nearly at the edge of the chasm now, but Esthana gave it no pause for thought, slashing up at its many heads, keeping its attention on the danger of the weapon before it. Before it realised where it was, it put a foot over the edge of the chasm; as it lost its balance, the heads hissed and darted wildly in all directions in panic. Esthana planted a firm kick into the side of the creature and sent it toppling down into the lava below; she had to throw up her arm to shield her eyes as the huge creature’s fall caused molten lava to splash up even above the level of the cave floor. With one last shriek of pain, the creature was gone.

Volley(Vaalyun): 2D6(2 5) +2 = 9 Partial success.
Take what you can get; Deals 2d4-d6=4 damage

Given Nyseris’ HP, they are probably on Last Breath if they don’t succeed this roll.

Hack and Slash(Nyseris): 2D6(4 6) +2 = 12 Success!
Deals d8+d4=8 damage, 6 after armour

Esthana turned around, in time to see Nyseris deal the killing blow to the remaining shaman. The shaman was chanting something in Draconic once more, but the ranger’s first strike drove their spearhead straight into the throat of the shaman, cutting off their spell before it could be completed. With their other hand, the ranger impaled the shaman on their other spearhead; the last of the Blackscales slumped to the ground, dead.

“Impressive, Templars,” boomed a voice from across the cavern. From within the bands of fire that constrained him, Rhashaak had turned his head to watch the battle. “Approach, bearers of the Flame: you may present yourself before the master of Haka’torvhak.”

The party did quite well there; for once they managed to cast all their buffs and played to all their strengths throughout. I probably played the fight a little straightforwardly, as it was mostly Anaya that came under pressure; but Esthana as usual chopped the Blackscales up and left too little behind for them to threaten the other characters. This party has solved the game, I think.

End of Session(party): +1 XP to all for defeating a notable creature; Esthana, Anaya, Nyseris all met their alignment goals too.

Anaya: 1 failure, alignment goal, session goal; at 8XP.
Esthana: 0 failures, alignment goal, session goal; at 4XP.
Nyseris: 2 failures, alignment goal, session goal; at 7XP.
Vaalyun: 1 failure, session goal; at 4XP.