[29 Ches 1372]
After a night's rest, the shipwrecked adventurers begin their fifth day of being stranded on a mysterious, foreboding island. They decide to press on through the dense foliage which remains unusual for the climate. After a few hours' march, they arrive at a large clearing, dominated by an almost 50' tall tower.
Nakor is sent to scout the base of the tower, and he returns to the group with startling news: Borya is still alive, and is chained to a stake at the base of the tower! However, Nakor is suspicious it may be an illusion or some other form of trap, and the group is torn with indecision as they continue to hear plaintive cries for rescue. Finally, Rolen and Fargrim work up the courage to approach, and are ill repaid for their bravery as Borya is revealed to have been infected by ghoul disease and sinks his teeth into Rolen's neck. Fargrim is quick to respond and shatters Ghoul-Borya's spine with a mighty blow from his warhammer! It is a tragic fate for a heroic warrior, and Boyja's former companions decide to give his body the burial it deserves.
A close inspection of the tower shows that its blackened walls are made of various humanoid bones. After a brief search at the base of the tower, the group is flummoxed to find no obvious means of entry. They decide to camp in the treeline, within sight of the tower, and hope that the groups of undead they've witnessed on the island in the past will enter or exit the tower and reveal a secret door. Their plan is a good one, and as darkness falls, they witness another example of what has become a pattern: a sudden storm, undead attackers, strange red mists, and the corpses of freshly-killed seafarers animated into a hollow vestige of life.
[30 Ches 1372]
With a rough idea of where the door is hidden, the group manages to find the trigger mechanism after several minutes of fumbling around. Nakor is impaled by a scythe trap, but the group gains entry. What lays before them is a horrific sight: in a massive pit in the center of the tower writhes dozens, even hundreds, of undead. Tendrils of mysterious red energy seems to be drawn from each one and coalesces into a coursing beam that winds its way towards the unseen top of the tower. Noticing a stone staircase on the other side of the pit with a strange statue nearby, Nakor's suspicion once again pays off when he shoots an arrow at the statue and it animates into a hideous, winged bone construct. Working together, the group destroys it and gain access to the staircase.
Nakor ascends the staircase and finds himself in a small barracks, full of cots, footlockers, and blasphemous tapestries. He spots a lone figure snoring loudly on one of the cots, and decides to take a gamble. Dawning a wet, discarded robe, Nakor prods the sleeping fellow awake and tries to bluff him into thinking Nakor is one of them. When the fellow seems suspicious, Nakor stabs him into unconsciousness. When the others arrive, a search of the room makes it clear this tower is a temple dedicated to Myrkul, Lord of Bones and former god of the dead. Cain is surprised to find its priests still active, since Myrkul was
known to have been slain during the Time of Troubles and his portfolio assumed by Kelemvor.
Through a curtained archway lays the shrine itself. A blood-covered sacrificial altar sits before a massive skull that dominates the wall, its eyes lit by fist-sized gems that gleam from the torchlight. Cain suspects a secret in the shrine, and hauls the unconscious cultist into the room and onto the altar. Loosening the tourniquet he had tied earlier, the cultist's lifeblood spills onto the altar. With his death, the jaws of the skull open to reveal a shaft leading upwards, through which the mystical energy from the pit below continues to flow.
Wearing one of the cultist's robes, Nakor climbs the runged shaft and peeks through an open trapdoor onto the roof of the tower. There, at the key intersections of a mystical sigil, five priests of Myrkul are performing a strange ritual using the powerful energies torn from the undead. One of the priests notices Nakor watching and moves to investigate. A ruse succeeds in luring two of the priests below where they are swiftly killed by ambush. The adventurers decide the time has come to charge the rooftop, and they spill out of the trapdoor ready for battle.
A furious battle ensues, as the leader of the cultists, a skull-headed Horned Harbinger of Myrkul, rallies his brethren to fight. Cain and Nakor trap one of the priests between them, Rolen falls prey to his own Ki-powered stunning fist, and Fargrim once again finishes the battle with his powerful warhammer. A
staggering blow crushes the ribcage of the lead cultist and he stumbles to the edge of the roof. He curses the adventurers, telling them:
"You will pay for interrupting the reawakening! But it is too late! My master will stir, the transference will take! I curse you interloper, curse you with knowledge of the fate of the world when the Lord of Bones returns! His wrath shall be terrible!"
Strong-willed Rolen manages to resist the curse, but the others are filled with visions of apocalyptic horror: burned towns, slave camps, undead armies covering the land, and more.
"I curse you!" the Horned Harbinger continues, "I curse you with the knowledge of where your doom shall originate, and the knowledge that you will be too weak to stop it!"
With that, the Horned Harbinger throws himself off the roof and to his death.
With the inhabitants of the terrible tower slaughtered, the party makes its way outside with a brief stop for Nakor and Cain to each take one of the massive gems from the giant skull. The group decides to rest for another night and then seek a way off this island and back to civilization.
Director's Commentary (May 9, 2013)
This was the final session of the initial adventure, one that was planned in such a way that it would be easy to continue playing if the players wanted, or instead deliver a sense of accomplishment if they wanted to call things good there. Happily, everyone was keen to continue on.
The ghoul-Borya trick was a fun and effective one, though afterwards I felt a little bad about it as it might have seemed mean-spirited to kill off a player's PC just a couple of sessions after he left when I had given him an open invitation to return. Fortunately, the player never seemed to have hard feelings about it when told what had happened.
I thought the imagery of the tower of bones, the pit of writhing undead, and the rooftop ceremony all came across well. These sessions were all run while The Wife and Boomer were in Canada, so I had a lot of free time to come up with little details. The giant gems in the skull were a little homage to the famous book cover; the PCs who stole them ended up losing them after falling unconscious in the hands of slavers in a subsequent session, but it's probably good they did: although each gem was worth about 1,000 gp, they were cursed such that they would attract undead and result in a daily loss of Constitution if voluntarily given away.
I had forgotten that Cain basically murdered a helpless and injured cultist on the altar in order to reveal the secret passageway; the character has not been so evil since :)
The curse of the Horned Harbinger and the nightmarish visions are, of course, the beginnings of the campaign's major theme. At this point, I was still wrestling with exactly where all of these problems would originate in Faerun and whether/how I could incorporate the Castle Whiterock boxed set I had dropped over $ 100 on some time in the past and never managed to use. More on that in future posts. I've always liked undead menaces and the incorporation of the excellent pantheon of deities in the Forgotten Realms, so using the backstory of Myrkul fit in quite well.