Now I love both aspects of play, but I find the down side of the latter can be that players get railroaded through, as there's often only one real way to make the story work. This was much the case in the Dragonlance series, and in the re-working of A1-4 and G1-3/D1-3/Q1. For my part, the kids had already started T1 a few years ago before our playing was de-railed by them arguing all the time! So this time around, I went straight for the dungeon with a fresh mission and a mild tweak to some of the locations in the vast dungeon....
So, our heroes are: Elangos (half-drow assassin), Crue (elven mage), Vicdak (half-orc fighter-cleric, and general hard-ass), Emelia (half-elf mage-thief), Loren (half-elf paladin of Pelor), Loki (human ranger) and Gideon (NPC cleric of Pelor). The intro I wrote them was as follows....
The deep snows of winter ground the normally vibrant streets of Verbobonc to a frigid halt. After three weeks in the city, having brought in the New Year, you are itching to find of the urgent task that has brought you so far north.
It had been mid-Autumn, in the end of Patchwall, when the novelty of a house in Saltmarsh had run dry and the desire to return north had crept in. The merchant ship had sailed north from Keoland, skirting the treacherous coats of the Pomarj, and its infamous slaver lands, and followed the Wild Coast to Safeton, the homelands of Vicdak. By this time the first snows of Sunsebb had begun, but an urgent summons for Gideon and Loren from the Temple of Pelor in the City State of Verbobonc had dragged you from the warmth of Safeton and across the Gnarley Woods and Kron Hills.
A few minor skirmishes on the journey kept you occupied. The slaver ships notorious for raiding the Wild Coast had got braver, pushing inland as far as the northern Gnarley Woods. Their misguided attempt to spring a trap on the caravan that you all accompanied resulted in Vicdak and Loki competing in who could kill the most slavers in one battle. Astonishingly, and much to Loren's disapproval, it was a draw.
Enjoying some hospitality from the gnomes in the Kron Hills, you reached Verbobonc in time for the yuletide festival of Needfest. The small city, capital of the Viscounty of Verbobonc, sits on the Velverdyva River and enjoys a healthy trade with the gnomes of the hills, the nearby walled city of Dyvers and the great kingdom of Furyondy to the north. As with many cities in the north it has a temple to the sun god, Pelor, although meagre in size compared to the huge edifices in Ulek, and it was this church that provided shelter through the vibrant festival.
Whereas Loki, Vicdak, and Emelia enjoyed the festivities Crue spent his time more constructively. Huddled away in the moderate library of the Viscount Wilfrick, Crue sought more information on the bizarre appearance of the masked wizard in the underwater layer of the Sahaugin. There seemed little to find on wizards wearing masks, save the association between mummer's masks and the elven god, Erevan Ilesere. Of the trident, Wave, there was slightly more: crafted by the sea elves of the Sea of Gearnat, originally as a weapon of their god, Sashelas, it became a weapon in the fight against demons and devils in the hands of holy warriors, such as paladins. It had been lost for nearly a hundred years, seemingly destroyed in a naval battle between the Holy Warriors of Procan (God of the Sea) and the evil forces of the witch Iggwilv, on Lake Quag, in Perrenland.
Crue knew that to find more he would have to seek a larger library, whether back in Ulek, or to the east in Dyvers or Greyhawk. Accepting this, he re-joined the others for the much anticipated meeting with the High Priest of Pelor, Tarin Hyret, at the grand cathedral of Pelor.
Tarin was a trouble man. Originally from the Shield Lands that ran between the foul Empire of Iuz and the fair kingdom of Furyondy, Tarin had been sent south to Verbobonc when his temple was sacked by a horde of bugbears. His wrinkled face reflects many of the fears of the Furyondy folk: three years ago the Crown Prince of Furyondy, Prince Thromell, went missing following a battle against the forces of Iuz. His betrothed, Jolene of Veluna, is now in mourning and open once more to suitors and the potential force for good that a unification of two great nations would bring has disappeared on the wind.
Yet Tarin's fears are more local. Four months ago, in late summer, he received word from an agent in Nulb, who worked for both him and the Viscount, that there had been secret traffic spotted near the ruined Temple of Elemental Evil near Nulb. Accordingly, Tarin dispatched a party of adventurers, led by his daughter, Allis, priestess of Pelor, to investigate. The months have passed, but no word has come and the Viscount's agents have not seen Allis or her companions.
Elangos, hailing from the far northern region of Tenh, had only limited knowledge of the Temple. With a sad smile, Loren recounted the fell history of the place. In CY569, eight years ago, the forces of good (humans of Furyondy and Veluna; dwarves of the Lortmil Mountains; gnomes of the Kron Hills; and elves from Ulek, and Celene) fought the foul denizens of the Temple near the village of Homlett, south of Verbobonc. Defeating the evil army on the Fields of Emridy Meadows, the armies besieged the Temple and defeated, then trapped the demoness, Zuggotmy. The Temple was sealed, and left ruined. Loren served in the human army, one of the Crusaders setting the orcs and gnolls to the sword.
If there was a chance that Allis was lost in the ruins of the Temple, then Loren knows he must investigate, and so too must Gideon. The pair accepts High Priest Talin's mission, and only on insistence from Emelia and Elangos, the fee that he will provide for such a service.
And so to the Temple…
The first session was a brief journey to the Temple south from Verbobonc and into the Kron Hills. The weather is turning cold and foggy, and in the mists they encounter a strange group of pilgrims, all with pale features and white hair. The pilgrims are tricky to talk to, and seem fascinated by Vicdak, who's half-Suel/ half-orc. The eagle-eyed Elangos spots one of the pilgrim's dagger is coated in blade venom, and a scrap breaks out.
The pilgrims are the Scarlet Brotherhood, the nutty Suel-supremacists (sort of Greyhawk Nazis), who in this era (pre-Greyhawk Wars) are a largely unknown quantity. They've been tasked by one of Iuz's (half-demon ruler of an evil empire) chosen warriors to gather information on the theft of a sword, Blackrazor, by the wizard, Keraptis.
The scrap doesn't push the characters as much as I'd thought, and they find on the bodies several useful items: bracers of defence, which Crue takes; a Gem of Seeing, which Emelia grabs; and a letter...
Fair Greeting to Lord Gryst, Scion of Iuz
It is with heavy heart that our great network has failed to locate the whereabouts of the fabled blade, Blackrazor. It's dreadful reputation is surely matched only by the passion the blade ignites in your fell heart, my Lord.
Our Brotherhood have had greater success in the identification of the vile miscreant who stole your blade. The method of its theft, the destructive use of sorcery, and the mask he wore have led us to identify him as Keraptis. A Suel sorcerer of old, his history is handed down in legends preserved amongst only the purest of Suel supremacists such as our Brotherhood. Yet, Keraptis was only truly half-Suel, an aberration of elven and Suel blood, and it is reputed the impure blood that flowed in his ancient veins was that of the Elven deity, Erevan Ilesere.
Keraptis's manipulations and trickery earned him a dark reputation amongst the Suel, though his last act of sorcery was in the far off lands north of the Nyr Dyv, near eight hundred years ago. We would surmise that an imposter adopts his visage, although there is the small chance that Keraptis's insanity has returned.
We are certain the value of this information is apparent to you, and your dread father, and a return of those secrets we require shall be forthcoming.
The Father of Obedience
So the mystery of Keraptis, who the characters encountered in U3 when he purloined the trident, Wave, deepens. Armed with this info, and a chunk of cash from the Scarlet Brotherhood the party continue their journey and skirt the town of Nulb (a grotty pit of vice) and head towards the 'ruined' Temple. The Ranger Knight, Otis, approaches them under cover of gloom and shares what little he knows of Allis and her group. Allis had journeyed into the Temple with five others about two months ago, but nothing has been heard since. Otis is certain there is activity inside the Temple, but his remit is one of spying not assault. He offers his followers, three Brownies, to guide the characters to the Temple. With their range of concealment (camouflage from the pseudo-dragons, a ring of invisibility that Elangos uses, and a darkness spell) they manage to get to the main door without the brigands in the watchtower spotting them.
The main door is sealed with runes and magical protection and the characters wisely avoid trying to break in this way. Rather they jemmy open the side door, and enter the vast Temple... or at least that tiny proportion of the Temple that exists above ground...