Wednesday, March 27, 2019

The Tower That Should Not Be


Setting & System: Cinderheim, 5e D&D

Characters: Warleader Kro (human barbarian), Aeran (high elf wizard), Sylvester Tremaine (human mystic)

Kro, Aeran, and Sylvester had all been part of the Blackspear Company, a band of mercenaries fighting under the demon sun of Cinderheim. Their Company's last engagement ended with the mercenaries of their band being routed; they became separated from the rest of the Company during the retreat when a vicious sandstorm arose. They wandered the desert, depleting their food and water, until they crested a stony ridge and saw something that should not exist in the desert: a lone tower of gray stone surrounded by a forest of pine trees.

The group followed a path through the pine forest that brought them to the base of the tower. A man, whom they recognized as Margos--a medic of the Blackspear Company, had been impaled on a stake set into the ground to the side of the tower's wooden doors.

Eschewing tradition means of ingress, Kro climbed up the tower's wall bare-handed, smashed a stained glass window with his greatsword, and hauled his two compatriots up into the tower with a rope provided by Sylvester. They found themselves in a circular chamber with spiral stairs going down and four doors, each decorated with an engraved metal plaque that hinted at what lay beyond: a lit candle, two skeletons dancing, a eye surrounded by runes, and a worm ouroboros.

Later, when more doors were found on the second floor of the tower, they were similarly marked with a peacock, a half-closed eye, a tree with long roots, and another worm ouroboros.

The first order of business was descending the stairs which led them to a landing where four sections of the wall had bars set into the stone to form makeshift prison cells. A torch was lit and thrown into one of the cells, revealing a horrific prisoner: a young woman named Marceline whose body had been twisted and malformed. Conversation with her uncovered a few important facts: she was imprisoned for "failing" to learn the steps of a "dance" as a student of the Academy; her broken body and prolonged life were punishments for her failure; the well on the next level down contained pure water; the tower was inhabited by more students, a mistress named Svasta, and the whole enterprise was likely related to a demon cult who used dance to seal the pact with their patron.

The party offered Marceline the sweet release of death as she pressed her throat to the bars of her cell. Kro and Aeran dispatched her; Sylvester anointed her body with holy water and gave her the last rites.

The supposition that the tower is home to a cult that connects dance with the arcane was born out by further exploration: a library of dance manuals was found, and beyond that lay a library of occult histories and magical theory. An alchemy laboratory was located and the finished preparations therein were duly pilfered.

The party encountered a few things they were not yet prepared to deal with further: a profane chapel dedicated a being symbolized by a twelve-foot statue of a bloated man with the head of a rotting goat, a prism-like crystal statue of a peacock that sent strange rays of light cascading throughout the room, and a pool of mercury-like fluid that captured and distorted Aeran's image when he gazed into it--the image began to change into the visage of someone else, who called to them from the pool, but the adventurers left the chamber without interacting with them. They do know that the voice belongs to the sister of the the tower's mistress.

Another strange discovery within the tower was a greenhouse filled with fruit trees, flowers, and mossy soil in place of a stone floor. At the end of the greenhouse chamber was a door that opened up into a dark room containing an uncanny helm sitting on a small table, two robed corpses with gray skin lying face-down, and a huge "mirror" that did not reflect an image--instead, within its murky confines the shape of a nautilus could be seen.

Kro put his hand into the mirror--it was cold beyond the confines of the "glass," but his hand did not come away wet. He also put on the unwieldy helm. But before further experimentation could be attempted, the group was set upon by ten dismembered hands that had crawled up out of the greenhouse's soil bed!

A furious battle ensued. Sylvester climbed onto the table to protect himself, Kro charged the horde of claws, and Aeran destroyed five of the claws with a well-placed (and literally true) burning hands spell. And then things took a turn against the adventurers. Sylvester was taken down by the claws' leaping slashes, then Aeran fell to them after destroying another with a fire bolt, and Kro was forced to invoke the name of Crom and fly into a rage to protect himself from the deadly assault. Kro managed to dispatch the remaining claws, but it was too late for Aeran--the high elf had bled out among the two other corpses that previously fallen before the dark mirror.

The game ended with Kro badly injured and Sylvester unconscious but stable. How will our heroes safeguard themselves in the meantime and what will they do next in...The Tower That Should Not Be???