Stone Thief play test report…. sort of… ;)

The Stone Thief is an old and cunning Living Dungeon. For unknown ages, it has slithered through the Underworld, rising to consume towers and cities or other, lesser dungeons. Now, it has your scent. It swims through the earth, eager to steal everything you cherish, eager to drag you down into its hellish labyrinth.

The dungeon’s coming for you. Kill it before it kills you.

Written by Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan, the Stone Thief is campaign book currently in development for 13th Age.  Earlier this month a portion of the campaign was released for a playtest and we eagerly signed up.  As per usual playtest rules, details of the adventure cannot be publicized until the full campaign is officially released, but Pelgrane Press was kind enough to grant us permission to share photos of our game.  Please read no further if you wish to avoid spoilers.

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Last chance to avoid spoilers

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Aww look, a kitty!

BossDaniel

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Still here?  Okay.

Listen to me…

The human world is a mess

Life under the sea is better than anything they got up there.

Sahuagin Fight 1

The seaweed is always greener
In somebody else’s lake
You dream about going up there
But that is a big mistake
Just look at the world around you
Right here on the ocean floor
Such wonderful things surround you
What more is you lookin’ for?

Sahuagin Fight 2

Under the sea
Under the sea
Darling it’s better
Down where it’s wetter
Take it from me
Up on the shore they work all day
Out in the sun they slave away
While we devotin’
Full time to floatin’
Under the sea

Sahuagin Fight 3

Down here all the fish is happy
As off through the waves they roll
The fish on the land ain’t happy
They sad ’cause they in their bowl
But fish in the bowl is lucky
They in for a worser fate
One day when the boss get hungry
Guess who’s gon’ be on the plate

Sahuagin Priest

Under the sea
Under the sea
Nobody beat us
Fry us and eat us
In fricassee
We what the land folks loves to cook
Under the sea we off the hook
We got no troubles
Life is the bubbles

Swordapus 1

Under the sea
Under the sea
Since life is sweet here
We got the beat here
Naturally
Even the sturgeon an’ the ray
They get the urge ‘n’ start to play
We got the spirit
You got to hear it
Under the sea

Swordapus 2

The newt play the flute
The carp play the harp
The plaice play the bass
And they soundin’ sharp
The bass play the brass
The chub play the tub
The fluke is the duke of soul

Boot

The ray he can play
The lings on the strings
The trout rockin’ out
The blackfish she sings
The smelt and the sprat
They know where it’s at
An’ oh that blowfish blow

Wizard

Under the sea
Under the sea
When the sardine
Begin the beguine
It’s music to me
What do they got? A lot of sand
We got a hot crustacean band
Each little clam here
know how to jam here
Under the sea

Pirates 1

Each little slug here
Cuttin’ a rug here
Under the sea
Each little snail here
Know how to wail here
That’s why it’s hotter
Under the water
Ya we in luck here
Down in the muck here
Under the sea

Pirates 3

^ THE SUNKEN SEA ADVENTURE ^

One of the many levels available in the upcoming Stone Thief campaign.

(No little mermaids were harmed in the playtest of this adventure.)

(Sarah)    (Ben)

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Adventure Recap – The Folding of Screamhaunt Castle

The Folding of Screamhaunt Castle is a seasonal Halloween adventure that contains several strong horror elements.  It was written by Ash Law with Carrie Rasmussen and extra development by Rob Heinsoo for level 3 characters.  The adventure pays homage to the haunted house tradition from the high camp of Rocky Horror Picture Show and Clue to the chills of The Haunting of Hill House, 13 Ghosts, and Red Rose.  The material contains ghosts, ghouls, bleeding walls, inexplicable happenings and more which may not be suitable for all readers. 

CastleIt was a dark and stormy night… 

It was unusual to see such a storm this close to Pocket Bay, Aubey thought to herself.  The Emperor’s blessing usually kept the Midland Sea calm and steady.  The halfling ranger tightened her cloak to protect her from the hammering rain.  A streak of lightning lit up her four companions.  Pathiel, the silent dwarf-forged monk walked tall as if he barely felt the rain.  Next to the dwarf-forged’s massive form, the capricious Rylien, a bard who claimed to sing the songs of heavenly choirs. Their newest hire, a dark elf cleric by the name of Sytera was standing behind Pathiel’s bulk hoping he would shelter her from the rain.  Finally, leading from the front as was his way, Havok the half-elf fighter kept watch for any shelter.

Aubey had seen the mansion in the distance first.  Her eyes were blessed by the power of the falcon spirit, a companion that had unexpectedly chosen her as its guardian when she was young.  It was a blessing normally reserved for a remote tribe of wood elves in the Wild Woods, yet for some reason the falcon has chosen her long ago.  Their spirits has been intertwined since and made her unique in this world.  “There, on top of the cliff overlooking the bay.”  The castle looked like it was designed to impress rather than protect.  The fortifications were largely decorative, and in the light of the storm they looked foreboding.  “It’s the only shelter we’ve seen for hours and this storm is getting worse!”  The halfling had to shout to be heard as the thunder was growing louder.  An image flashed in her head of an immaculate flower, the Falcon’s Eye.  It seemed her companion was trying to tell her something.

Havok shielded his eyes and tried to examine the castle.  It seemed like all the widows to the estate were well lit.  “Someone must be in there.  Let’s hope they’re helpful and not more bandits intent on taking our coin.”  Their journey between Santa Cora and Horizon had been plagued with numerous dangers.  Havok wasn’t new to the dangers of the world.  He boasted he had spent several years as a mercenary, pirate and treasure hunter.  If his claims were to be believed, the fighter had even managed to steal some of the Red’s power at one point.

As they approached the castle, it was obvious that some sort of gathering was taking place.  The castle gates were open and the courtyard beyond was lined with numerous carriages.  When the party reached the front door it slowly creaked open.  A flash of lightning and a peel of thunder ripped through the sky as a hunched figure emerged from within.  “Good evening. Mmmyes. You are expected. This way please, mind you don’t mmmheheh drip on the rug.”  The figure bowed low and gestured the lot inside.  Rylien noticed the man’s clothes were far out of date.  Quick to get out of the storm, they all ushered themselves in. “Honored guests, I am Podraic the butler.  I buttle.  I welcome you to Scrimhunt Castle.”  At the castle’s name, another flash of lightning illuminated the room.

The castle’s name triggered something in Pathiel’s memory.  Since the day of his awakening as a dwarf-forged, he had followed the guidance of a mysterious scroll he kept on his person.  The three different authors of the messages on the scrolls rarely agreed with each other, but they had all been telling him to find Scrimhunt’s legacy.  The author that was his builder had told him a machine of evil design was built there and pieces of it must be recovered.

The adventuring life usually took them to grim locales but at first appearance this castle was anything but. The floor was made of marble and the wall a solid and imported oak.   The foyer was a two tiered room lined with priceless paintings, statues, and works of art.    Podraic commented on each statue as he led them past.  The party became more unnerved at each remark.

“Ah, Magister Landjager. Yes, brilliant brain. They found most of it in this very hall.”

“Meheheh. Mmyes. Magister Weckewerk. He beat himself to death with his own skull. Talented fellow.”

“Lady Pinkel. In the library. Mmmwith a candlestick, if I recall correctly.”

“Magister Saumagen. Drowned. In blood. His own. Can I offer you some wine?”

Sytera peeled off her rain soaked cloak and dumped it into Podraic’s arms.  “No wine.  It clouds the mind.  These wet clothes do not suit me.  Bring me a dry cloak.”  As a dark elf, Sytera was used to having others bend to her will.  She had no reservation about demanding what she wanted of others, especially from lowly servants.  If Podraic took any offense he showed none.  With a chilling smile, he produced a drab gray cloak from a nearby closet that looked like it hadn’t been in fashion for centuries.  At least, it would be out of fashion for anyone in the 13th Age.  Unbeknownst to her companions, like the cloak, Sytera did not belong to this Age.  The dark elf cleric had been involved in the Battle of the Deep during the 8th Age when the Dark Elves triumphed over the Dwarven Kingdom.  It was in that battle that she had also died…. until she found herself resurrected on the southern shores of the Midland Sea with no indication of why she was brought back.  It was to her astonishment to find our that several ages had past since her death.  Never before had she heard of such a happening.  When the Aubey and the others had found her during their travels the cleric decided to travel with them to discover what this new 13th Age was that she had awoken to.  Sytera had no true loyalties to anyone, yet she felt something draw herself to the castle.  She felt an old presence from her past when she neared the castle.  It was improbable and yet intrigued her.  The dark elf would tolerate these meaningless interactions with others so long as it fit her means.  Sytera wrapped the cloak around her shoulders and felt the oddest sense of nothing from it.  No warmth came from the fabric, but it wasn’t exactly cold either.  It just felt like a void.

Podraic grinned again, “Ladies and Gentlemen, let me show you to the ballroom.  It is our pleasure to be holding another one of Magister Worst’s soiree.”  Rylien gasped.  Her time as a bard had gotten her into many a social event among the Dragon Empire’s elite.  Magister Worst’s parties were absolute legends among party goers.  Surely they were in for a treat!  Podraic laid his hand on a silver fanged door handle, “Honored Guests, this way to the main event.  Meheheh.”

TheParty

The Party

The Butler opened the large door to the master ballroom beyond.  Within were numerous guests all wearing an odd collection of outfits.  At first glance they all seemed to be dressed as adventurers on a quest, but a closer examination from Pathiel saw wooden swords and not a single true piece of fine craftsmanship in sight.  What first looked to be wizards were just people in sequined robes throwing colorful feathered balls at each other.  Pathiel stood a good two feet above the rest and his body of iron drew a lot of faces toward him.  One of the guests with silver painted paper mache armor approached the dwarf-forged monk.  “OH MY!!!  You look stupendous!  I spent a month working on my armor and you outshine us all!  You must tell me how you made your costume!”  The monk was quickly surrounded by several awestruck guests mistaking him for a well-dressed party goer.

The ranger Aubey wanted nothing to do with the attention so she quietly slinked off toward the refreshments.  She was just pouring herself a glass of some odd thick red substance when she heard a breathless voice behind her, “Oh Brand.  I’m so frightened!”  The woman was wearing a necklace of a distorted hand with an eye in the center.

A young muscular man wearing glasses and a ring in the shape of a mailed fist put his hand on her shoulder, “Dammit Jaenette, I love you.  It’s alright, surely someone here will help us.  But you’re right.  Something strange is going on here…”  Aubey tried to move away from the couple but Brand saw her and called out “Excuse me, but you look like a normal person.  Do you know what’s going on here?  Everyone seems consumed by the party…”  The ranger assured him she’d investigate and sent her falcon, Halcyon, a flight around the ballroom.

Through her falcon’s eyes she witnessed Havok casing the joint.  It was in the fighter’s nature to always be prepared to have a way out.  He had noticed the balcony exits, servant’s door, and the doorway out to the main hallway.  Rylien was helping Pathiel try and ward off admiring party goers.  As the falcon made his final pass toward the balcony he saw Sytera approached by a tall handsome man.

A voice behind the dark elf cleric caused Sytera to turn.   “My my my. We are graced with the presence of uninvited guests. Real adventurers to add to our little soiree! Welcome. How thrilling.  Enjoying yourself I trust?”  The man behind her was well built and in mock robes of an ancient magi style.  “Allow me to introduce myself.  I am Magister Worst IV, proud owner of this estate.  In honor of my father’s career as an adventure, I have put together this little celebration of those in our land with an ‘adventurous’ spirit.”

Sytera’s eyes narrowed.  Something about the way Magister Worst IV talked was unnerving.  “Tell me, Magister, has this castle always been in your family’s possession?  Or did your father win it from his adventuring days?”

Worst’s laugh was hollow and a bit overplayed, “No no, my family has always held stewardship over the estate.  Ever since my great grandfather performed his experiments on that fateful night.  It was this exact night, 150 years ago.  He hoped to harness the power of healthy wizards to heal the maladies of the weak.  He built a great machine to do so, but alas something went horribly wrong.  Everyone died.”  The smile that crept on his face sent a chill down Sytera’s spine.  “Back then he only had 13 souls of wizards as power for his machine.  One wonders what the Apparatus would do with a whole castle full of people. hahahaha.”  The smile had turned into a manic grin as he gazed out over the guests.

TheEventAt that moment lightning struck the castle and momentarily blinded everyone present.  A creaking sound rippled through the room.  The next moment the screaming started.

Through Halcyon’s eyes Aubey saw most of the events unfold.  The doors slammed shut as the castle began to move.  The ranger and falcon saw the railings of the balcony above tear off the supports and turn to sharpened teeth.  The balcony twisted and crunched down on the guests like a vicious bear trap.  Below on the main level areas of the floor and walls slide away revealing giant brass cogs and rotating shafts.  Unsuspecting guests fell prey to the mechanism, their party clothes caught in the teeth of the cogs.  Screamhaunt Castle was eating the guests!

Pathiel was just turning to assist an elven troubadour who was trying to escape through a window when a chandelier from above shot down and grasped the partygoer.  With a strangled cry, the troubadour was pulled up and in to the ceiling, a shower of blood the only remnants of the elf known as Chon Brees.   Pathiel and Rylien both bolted toward Havok and the door.  The fighter ahead of them was struggling against a grandfather clock which had opened and began to pull the fighter in like a vacuum.  Havok barely managed to hold himself steady as he slammed the clock shut.  “What in seven hells is going on here?!”

As chandeliers grabbed guests and partygoers fell through hidden doors into the machine, Sytera grabbed hold of her sword with one hand and reached out to Magister Worst with the other.  Worst knew something and she could not let him get away.  As her hand closed around his arm, the Magister backhanded her and sent the cleric flying across the room.  Sytera blinked past the pain and dimly recalled Worst’s other hand clenching a large cog.  She did not have much time to think it over before the center of the floor started to peel away to a dark abyss below.  Startled screams echoed from below as guest after guest fell to their demise.  Backing away from the growing chasm in the floor, Sytera began praying to her gods drawing upon a ritual magic of protection.  As the floor peeled away around her, a protective bubble kept an island of ground around her secure.

ServitorShieldAubey saw Sytera holding firm and leapt from the refreshment table to a chandelier intending to swing over to her ally.  As she grabbed hold of the chandelier, the iron rods twisted and attempted to attack the halfling.  She deftly twisted away from most of the blows and was able to land near Sytera.  Pathiel had found a sturdy section of the wall that did not appear to be moving like the others.  As the floor tumbled away from him he dug one massive iron hand into the wall to secure himself and used his other hand to grab onto an excited Rylien and cursing Havok.  As the monk considered what to do, the window behind him opened up to a gargantuan blood shot eye.  Not wanting to stick around, Pathiel drew upon his strength and dexterity.  Bracing his legs against the wall, he launched himself across the room to Sytera.

Pathiel, Rylien and Havok landed with a crash within Sytera’s protective bubble.  Rylien was looking around the room at the Chandelier’s grasping straggling guests, the floor devouring all others.  Before she could get her bearings, the room suddenly twisted, seeming to explode and reform all at once.  Another flash of lightning and the bard was amazed to find herself and allies in a twisted study.  A small fireplace crackled near an armchair and several end tables surrounded them.  The high elf bard breathlessly muttered, “This is going to make the best song ever…”

Havok had already picked himself up and drawn weapons.  “All of you on alert.  We need to get out this damned place.”  Pathiel was examining the only door within reach that had been saved from Sytera’s ritual magic.  Its frame was twisted in an odd direction but it seemed to open with ease.  The long room beyond was lined with detailed frescoes of significant events in the dragon empire’s history.  Aubey stepped forward to the nearest fresco, a large depiction of an old Dwarf King and Elf Queen signing some form of treaty. A deep rooted distrust of dark elves creeped into Aubey and the ranger turned to look at the party’s cleric.  This one couldn’t be trusted.  She would need to watch the dark elf closely.

Rylien raised an eyebrow at the odd look Aubey gave Sytera.  Whatever that look was for, the bard would never know.  Rylien turned her head and saw a large fresco stretching up to the ceiling above.  The fresco depicted the modern versions of the Priestess, Diabolist, and High Druid despite the fresco’s ancient age.  The three figures were glaring judgmentally down on a single cowering figure.  As Rylien looked closer, she realized that the figure was her.  Terror ripped through the bard’s mind as she struggled to understand how this was possible. She called out for Pathiel who came over after glancing over his massive shoulder twice.  “I swear I just saw a goat… What is it?”  Rylien gestured toward the figure in the fresco, but this time the figure was just an ordinary girl.  Pathield glared down at the bard.  “Pull yourself together.  This is no time for games.  Everyone, look for a door out!”

Havok was first to find the exiting door.  He pulled open the door and found a massive library that stretched out as far as he could see.  The moment everyone entered the door behind them slammed shut and a bolt of lightning shot towards the adventurers sending them scrambling for cover.  An ethereal figure of bones wreathed in blue lightning materialized over a large tome.  The ghost cackled, “None shall escape Billion the Blue!”  The ghost raised his hand and several books flew open.  From their pages emerged hands and claws, followed by grotesque forms of shambling corpse-bits.  Horrible collection of body parts in humanoid shape shuffled toward the party.

IMG_3543

Yes, this ghost is green. Just go with it.

Havok and Pathiel were first to charge the monstrosities, using blade and fist to take down as many as they could.  Seeing an opening on their flank, Sytera and Rylien tried to get closer to Billion.  Aubey sent her falcon Halcyon into the fray and let loose a hail of arrows at the corpses.  The Ghost continued to send bolt after bolt of lightning at the party, but as the monstrosities fell, Billion was quickly overwhelmed.  Pathiel closed the distance quickly, and shattered the Ghost’s crackling bones under the weight of his blows.

IMG_3536

Shambling Corpse-bits

As Sytera tended to Rylien’s wounds, the bard picked up a nearby book and skimmed the pages.  Even with the danger that surrounded them the bard was not about to pass up a chance to learn some great material for some songs.  The pages within contained a horrifying tale of torture and murder, the subjects of which shared features identical to the party.  Rylien shook it off and picked up the next book only to find a story about a paranoid halfling plotting her dark elf companion’s demise.  Book after book seemed to be nothing but stories of characters identical to their own suffering horrible and gruesome fates. The bard dropped the books to the floor. “Best not to read the books.  Not if you ever wanted to sleep soundly ever again.”

Pathiel, however, had found one book that was different from the others.  Billion had been hovering over it when they entered.  In it, the dwarf-forged monk found a collection of bizarre and complicated schematics.  Notations on the design talked about infusing inanimate objects with the power of a living soul.  The monk had known such arts existed, but had always considered them ungodly uses of power.  He slammed the book shut but tucked it in his pack so that it would not fall into the wrong hands.

Eager to move on Havok moved to a door on the right tucked behind stacks of books and pulled it open.  A gust of wind buffeted the party followed by a deafening scream.  The wind blew all of the lights out in the room, but the adventurers were quick to ready their lanterns from their kit.  “Is everyone okay?”  Havok’s mercenary experience had kicked in, his swords were drawn and at the ready.  Looking around at his companions, something did not quite seem right.  Then he noticed it – There were too many shadows for the three lanterns they had out.  “The shadows!  Look out!”  No sooner had he uttered the words than the shadows turned and twisted away into the darkness.  “No one let the lights go out again.  It may not be safe.  We had best keep moving.”

As the party entered the next room they found a large hall containing a collection of draconic trophies.  Rylien recognized the statue at the end of the hall as the hero Gorgomaw, Slayer of Dragons and hero of the Empire.  Large pedestals held the skulls of once great dragons now long deceased.  Havok noticed the telltale signs of a white dragon’s skull and approached it.  The plaque read ‘Deathbreath, dread servitor to the Lich King’.  The fighter smirked; he knew the Three were after this dragon’s remains ever since Deathbreath betrayed the dragon flights by becoming a dracolich.  If the party ever got out of this castle alive, Havok would need to come back here and retrieve the skull for the Three.

Having served in a handful of campaigns under the Emperor, Pathiel was no stranger to the tales of Gorgomaw.  As he approached the statue, he noticed a scratched scrawl underneath the plague reading ‘show respect’.  Trusting the note, he sank to one knee and bowed his head before the Empire’s hero.  Havok saw a frosty breath form in Deathbreath’s skull as the skeleton turned toward the kneeled Dwarf-forged monk.  Diving toward his ally, he mustered his strength to pull Pathiel away from the blast of icy breath.  “We had best keep moving.  We cannot trust what is a trap and what is not.”

As the party exited the hall of dragons, they were keen not to look upon any of the statues.  The room they entered was another long hallway, but this time overlooking the foyer they had originally entered into.  A cry issued from below as Podraic raced toward the front door, axe in hand.  As the butler hacked away at the door, it seemed merely to rebuild itself again.  Aubey darkly muttered, “It appears the castle won’t let anyone out.”  None of them made a move to leap down to help the butler.

As Podraic made another attempt to hack down at the door, the foyer was suddenly lit up by another flash of lightning.  The electricity had hit the front door of the castle and surged through its foundations.  As the party watched, the lightning coursed along the walls of the room, only to leave the wallpaper behind it withering away.  Below the wallpaper the very wood seemed to decay and they were soon looking in to the rooms beyond.  They could see a collection of animated plants devouring guests in the green house, ghouls feasting on piles of bloody meat in the kitchens, and directly below them they could see in the distance a great collection of bronze metalwork whirling in activity.  Just as suddenly as the lightning flash, the walls flickered back to a solid state again.  Sytera spoke up “Magister Worst said something about the machine feeding off the guests of the party.  If the vision can be trusted we will find the machine in the basement.”

Pathiel widened his stance and raised his huge iron fist into the air, “Then we better start heading downward.” Drawing on strength from the Icons, Pathiel began hammering away at the floor, feeling the floorboards creak and groan under the impact.  Sytera began a ritual of strength to channel the power of the gods into the monks’ blows.  Pathiel was happy when the felt the floorboards shatter.  His joy turned to horror as pools of blood started to collect where he was hammering away.  The cracking of wood was soon replaced with the squelching sound of juicy flesh – Underneath the floorboards seem to be a layer of bloody tense muscle.  A horrible cry ripped through the air as Pathiel made his final blow down to a level below.

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Just as Pathiel made a hole big enough for them to fit through two ghosts burst through a door at the end of the hallway.  One of them, a fiery female form, engulfed the room in a thick choking smoke.  A twist of her hand conjured a long flaming trident into existence.  The other ghost brought with it the smell of unopened tombs, yet its face triggered something in Sytera’s memory – It belonged to her former teacher, Charl-u-kha the Verentil.  Sytera had studied the divine mechanics of the soul under his dark teachings before he was said to go truly mad.  The ghost may know why the cleric was brought back.  She had to find out!  The two ghosts let out another wail and charged forward.

The fiery ghost engaged Havok with her trident, taunting him, “None shall escape Cerina!”.  When Havok went to return a blow, the ghost winked away in a swirl of smoke.  Pathiel, Rylien and Sytera moved in to corner Charl-u-kha against a wall, but the soon felt their life force begin to drain as the ghost linked himself to their souls.  The three struggled to keep their standing as their own health fueled Charl-u-Kha’s will.

IMG_3645

Aubey held back, firing arrow after arrow into the fray.  A clicking sound was the only warning she had as she ducked out of the way before the air around her exploded in fire and smoke.  Cerina had emerged again, cackling and driving her trident at the surprised Ranger.  A moment later, Cerina’s cackling was cut short as Havok drove his weapon into her fiery head.  Aubey took the opening to retreat and maintained a steady stream of shots at the fiery ghost.  Between the two of them, they were able to beat the ghost down, defeating it.

IMG_3648

Rylien felt like they were finally turning the tide against Charl-u-Kha when she saw Sytera turn and swing her sword into Havok’s side.  Charl-u-Kha had begin to whisper to his former student, telling her to turn against her companions and join him.  Havok was barely able to deflect the blow from Sytera before sending his blades twirling in to Charl-u-Kha’s side.  Sytera still operated under her former master’s control, but Havok was able to keep her at bay while Rylien landed the killing blow on the ghostly spirit.  Charl-u-Kha disintegrated to dust, but not before the echo of laughter drifted through Sytera’s mind… The ghost of her former master was gone and the dark elf cleric was left with more questions than answers.

The foes defeated, Pathiel moved back to the hole he had created in the floor.  Aubey joined him, peering in to the depths.  All they could make out was the faintest glimmer of a black metal amongst shadows.  “I’ll go down first.  My falcon and I should be able to scout around.”  As Pathiel lowered the ranger down on a rope Aubey felt her foot touch a gritty cold metal.  Lighting a torch, she found she was hanging just above a gigantic cauldron.  Looking around, the ranger saw a room littered with an endless collection of furniture and trunks.  At the far end of the room, a single circular window looked out over the bay.  “Nothing’s tried to kill me yet,” she hollered upward, “It looks safe.”

One by one the party descended into the room and took stock of their surroundings.  Pathiel was able to find a set of grandfather clocks, all shattered but still clicking.  As he examined them, he discovered the ticking continued in his head despite the shattered clockwork.  He steeled himself, reassuring himself it wasn’t real.  Aubey found a stuffed cat in mid-leap.  Something distracted her and when she looked back the cat was gone.  A yowl echoed through the darkness and she felt deep scratches dig into her back.  The cat was nowhere to be seen.

Sytera had found a stand holding several old and broken canes.  On one of them she recognized her old master’s seal.  A voice drifted in her head “It was a good cane.  I always liked the button on the bottom.”  Sytera looked around for the voice, but could find no source.  Carefully, she picked up her old master’s cane, and finding the button at its base, pressed it.  The other canes in the vase sprang to life, and began to sprout limbs full of leaves.  They expanded outward, breaking through the ceiling and floor.  Havok approached on of the roots, finding it had broken a hole through the floor to a room below.  Seeing no other way out of the room the adventurers descended downward again, never knowing their first descent had actually taken them up into the attic.

Havok was the first one down.  Looking around, he saw a vacant ballroom lined with mirrors and dust.  The polished wooden floor is thick with dust and grime.  The only object was an old dust covered piano in the corner.  Rylien landed behind him, “Do you hear music?”

Pathiel helped Aubey and Sytera down from above, “I don’t care if we hear music.  We need to find a way out.”  Not seeing any doors, Aubey let loose an arrow into the nearest mirror.  When her arrow struck the mirror exploded sending a storm of glass shards and cold wind into the room.  The party did the best to guard themselves from the flying glass and avoided any serious wounds.  The shattered glass continued to fly across the room before reforming into perfect mirrors again on the other side.

GhostSytera had ignored Pathiel’s advice and walked over to the piano in hopes of finding the source of the music.  As she placed her had on the piano, reality warped around her.  The next thing she knew, the cleric was trapped within the mirrors, attending a party from long ago.  Her companions still in the ballroom saw her image in the mirror as well as the reflection of a raucous party.  As they raced to find some way to get out, Sytera moved to a figure that looked familiar to Magister Worst IV.

“Enjoying yourself I trust?  Welcome to the opening ceremony to witness my great machine!”  Magister Worst I had the same manic grin as his great grandson.  Sytera didn’t trust him any more than she trusted his descendant.  Seeing a large gear on his belt, the cleric quickly grabbed hold and yanked it from his belt.  The Magister did not have time to object as the mirror image shattered and Sytera spilled out once again into the dusty ballroom with her companions.  The broke glass had opened several gashes in her skin, but she was alive.  The party ghosts were gone, but the gear in her hands remained.  Pathiel had peeled the mirror off the wall and let it shatter against the floor.  Where the mirror had been, a large wooden door stood.

Rylien noticed a light under the wooden door and shadows moving beyond.  Gesturing to her companions to keep silent, she carefully opened the door.  Within, they found a small confined kitchen smeared with blood and gore.  In the corner, a large stove and chimney stood burning, its front arranged eerily like a face.  Cooking utensils, pots, and pans were all out on the counter and an uncooked turkey lay nearby.  From the center of the room, four gore-caked ghouls were busy devouring the bloody remains of the kitchen staff.

Rylien mimed to her companions to once again remain silent and they all slowly crept across the room.  The ghouls made no notice of the party as they continued their meal.  They made it half way across the kitchen when Sytera’s hand brushed against a raw turkey on the counter.  The uncooked turkey came alive and slammed against a shocked Sytera, flapping its raw wings at her face.  The cleric hollered in dismay and threw the raw turkey toward the stove.  The ghoul’s looked up from their snack, and seeing fresh meat, leapt toward the party.

Aubey leapt up on the counter to gain the high ground and launched a few arrows.  As she did so, she was caught off guard as spare utensils at her feet started stabbing at her.  Sytera used the counter to leap at one of the ghouls in hopes of knocking it into the open stove, but she critically missed her mark and slipped on the uncooked turkey.    With a cry, the cleric tumbled into the heat of the stove.  Everyone knew raw poultry was dangerous, but this was ridiculous!  Pathiel charged forward, deftly pushing the ghouls aside as he reached into the belly of the stove and pulled the cleric out.  The grate of the stove chomped down at them, angry that it has been denied a meal.  Horrified that she had nearly been cooked alive, Sytera forgot her senses and began hacking away at the turkey on the floor, leaving her companions to deal with the real threat of the ghouls.

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Havok the fighter was shielding the bard Rylien from a pair of ghouls.  His blows kept them at bay long enough for Rylien to summon the force of thunder in her cry.  Screaming, she directed the blast toward the pair of ghouls, destroying them.  A well placed arrow from Aubey slayed the ghoul nearest Sytera who was still lost in her madness.  With only one ghoul left, Pathiel grabbed hold of the creature and hurled him in to the stove’s mouth.  Seeing a chance at revenge, Sytera shoved the raw chicken into the stove’s mouth following the ghoul.  “Begone fowl creature!”  A satisfied groan came from the giant stove’s face as the grate closed and locked on its own.

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As the chicken and ghouls roasted in the oven Sytera regained control of her senses.  The dark elf took a moment to compose herself before tending to the party’s wounds.  Rylien considered remarking what a wonderful song the Dark Elf vs. the Chicken would make, but a look from Havok silenced her.  After a short recovery they pressed on.

The door on the opposite of the kitchen opened to a dark and rickety stairway heading straight down.  Grabbing a torch, Havok led the party forward.  The trek downward was much farther than a single story should be.  The wooden walls eventually gave way to earthen dirt, and deeper still began to hold several mechanical gears and lines of blood.  When the stairway finally ended, the party found themselves in a carved tunnel, a trail of blood leading farther down.  The sound of machinery echoed from deeper in.  Cautiously, they crept forward.

Several hundred feet in, Havok found himself drawn to a single stone wall.  When he looked closer, he saw a message write itself on to the surface.  The ancient words were crimson red, and when he touched it he found it warm to the touch.  A sharp pain pierced his hand and when he looked down he found a gaping wound dripping blood in the center of his palm.  “Blood.  My own.  Whatever is doing this, it needs to be destroyed.”

Sytera bandaged his hand and looked at the text.  “I haven’t seen this text for a long time… It says  ‘We are all dead.  Our souls are bound to the machine.  We must be freed.’”  The voice of Charl-u-Kha’s voice whimpered in her mind as she read the words out loud.  “I believe the machine is behind this wall.  Pathiel, would you mind?”

OrreryPathiel crunched his fists together then assumed his stance.  With one blow he sent the mortar exploding forward into the hidden tunnel. The sounds of machinery increased as they moved into a large chamber lined with moving mechanical pieces.  Spinning saw-tooth cogs rose and fell from the floors.  The massive machine before them looked like an infernal orrery.   Thirteen chairs with thirteen mummified corpses replaced where planets in a normal orrery would be.  As Pathiel noticed three of the figures were only ashen remains, he darkly muttered, “We killed three ghosts.  Those must be the remaining ten powering the machine.”

IMG_3680A surge of lightning coursed through the walls of the room, collecting on the giant bronze disc.  As they watched, the large rivulets along the floor filled with blood that pumped in toward the heart of the great machine.  With a horrible shriek, two mechanical legs emerged from a pool of blood, followed by a glass dome full of whirling gadgets, wild electricity, and crimson blood.  Static electricity caused the hair on Havok’s arms to stand on end.  On the far wall, a platform on two cogs detached and extended large coils from which arcs of lightning began to collect.  The adventurers quickly dodged out of the way before the coils launched a stream of electricity at them.

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The glass dome opened its undercarriage displaying multiple arms with attached buzz saws and mallets.  The machine walker grabbed hold of Havok who struggled to ward off the many attacking mechanical limbs.  Aubey saw an opening and tapped in to her falcon’s powers.  She had picked up a few sorcerous tricks and gracefully flew her way to the top of the dome.  On landing, she took her dagger into the dome’s top, trying to carve her way in to the walker’s innards.

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The Great Apparatus

Rylien and Pathiel had broken off from the walker, making their way to the wheeled lightning generator.  As Pathiel charged full force into the giant machine, Rylien started forming a spell in her mind.  Pathiel’s fists crashed into the metal of the machine sending bits flying.  As the machine charged another series of bolts, Rylien yelled over to it, “So you like Lightning?  I’ll show you lightning!”  Linking her hands together she launched a fierce bolt of lightning across the room and into the machine.  The bolt coursed through the corpses powering the machine and the room flickered as it lost more of its power source.

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“The corpses!” Havok yelled out as he finally broke free of the walker’s arms.  He swung both his blades into the creature’s legs then called out to Sytera, “We must destroy the corpses to defeat the machine!”  Sytera grabbed hold of the gear she stole from the old Magister Worst and began climbing up the walker’s legs.  When she reached the top, a confused Aubey looked at her incredulously.  Sytera held up the gear and pointed to the opening in the walker’s dome.

“You can’t be serious!  You want to help the machine?!”  Aubey moved to push Sytera away.  The way the cleric had been acting odd lately and Aubey thought she might have gone mad.

Sytera ducked underneath Aubey’s arm and slid the gear into the opening of the walker.  “Do not question me!  I mean to use this part of the machine against them!”  The walker fell under Sytera’s control as electricity from the gear coursed out into the walker’s frame.  “Now let’s get rid of those wizards!”  With great thundering crashes, the walker charged toward the remaining wizard corpses.  Sytera crashed the machine down onto the bronze disc, but not before witnessing one of the corpses stir.  Under the hood, she could see the shocked face of Magister Worst IV wide eyed before his demise.  With a horrible crash, the walker smothered out the remains of the wizard’s bodies and the Magister.

The wizard’s souls poured out into the room and toward the ceiling above.  A gentle ‘thank you’ whispered into Sytera’s mind and she knew her master might finally find peace.  A small part of her felt relief, but mostly she felt annoyed that once again her own questions were left unanswered.  Pathiel was busy picking a wounded Rylien off the floor; the bard had taken the full force of the machine’s anger and it has nearly cost the bard her life.  As the machine began to wind down the sinister presence the party had felt all night finally disappeared.

As they made their way back up into the castle proper, they were satisfied to see that things seemed to return to normal again.  Doors led where they should, there were no eerie voices in the dark, and ghosts no longer roamed the halls.  Eager to leave this wretched place behind, they made their way off the estate and back out into the world again.  And each night they prayed that the great machine would never revive itself again.

(Sarah)    (Ben)