Session #7: June 29th, 2:15 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.
Prior to the beginning of the session, Adam brought David up to speed on the events of the campaign and announced that we would be implementing a new rule. Inspired by my tales of the d20 Star Wars RPG, he announced that he would have the players roll Perception checks for their characters at the beginning of each encounter. The character with the best result would notice some unusual details about the battlefield, and would be able to add 1d4 pieces of “window dressing” with which friends and foes alike could interact. We thought this seemed like an effective way to continue the collaborative storytelling that had characterized the campaign so far, and jumped right in after the recap and lunch.
Before deciding how to deal with the troll, Albricht and Ezzy used detect evil and detect magic. He did not detect as evil, but he did give off a magical signature. Albricht was the first to speak to the creature, referring to him as “neighbor” and asking what he was doing with the book. The troll cowered in the corner without responding, and Peter translated the paladin’s question into Elven, Sylvan, Dwarven, and thieves’ cant with equally inconclusive results. If the troll understood the question, he didn’t have the linguistic ability to answer, though he did say say “gnolls” when asked how he wound up in the room. “Hungry” seemed to be the only other word in his vocabulary, and he was all too happy to trade the black-bound book for a few pieces of meat and some water. Albricht stuffed the book in his backpack and surprised the troll by telling him he was free to go, but offered to bring him back to Westengard to “clean and save” him. The troll eagerly agreed upon hearing that there would be plenty of food involved, and introduced himself as Kvittefaen. He put together some padded armor and gnawed on a dead gnoll’s severed arm as the party left the fortress, which proved to Albricht that teaching his new companion how to integrate into the civilized world would be more challenging than he had expected. As the party walked, Peter asked Ezzy and Albricht about the source of their healing power, and responded to Kvittefaen’s inquiry of “Alcohol?” by promising to take him out for a drink when they reached Westengard.
The last few battles had left the party weakened and exhausted, so they stopped at Fort Horizon on their way back to town. Albricht convinced the militiamen to let Kvittefaen – or “Kvitte,” as Peter had taken to calling him – stay with them as well, though the commander warned the party that they would be held responsible for any damage the troll caused. He gorged himself at the mess hall and then fell asleep in one of the dormitories, which ensured that Albricht and Ezzy could lead the militiamen in their evening worship services without worry. Soon after, the party joined the troll in the dormitory and settled down for some much-needed rest.
In the dead of the night, Kvitte stirred from his bed. His rumbling stomach told him to find something to eat, but a voice in his head told him to open the book in Albricht’s backpack instead. Unable to ignore this mysterious voice, he took the book in his hands and undid the clasp, causing all of the candles in the room to go out. He dropped the book and scrambled to the door, letting out a cry of terror that awoke his companions. Albricht slammed the book shut, and Ezzy cast light on a coin to provide some visibility. Neither of their actions, however, made the darkness dissipate – if anything, they antagonized it, and the party was filled with a growing sense of dread as they watched it thicken. It seemed that the darkness was actively trying to smother the light. It also manifested four wispy humanoid shapes in the corners of the dormitory, which moved to attack the party.
Kvitte, despite being slow to react to the threat, noticed some cross timbers that supported the roof. Ezzy lit up a bed to provide the party with a large, persistent light source, and two shadows closed in on Albricht while the others advanced on Himani and Kvitte. The troll was struck once, and the chilling touch of the shadow sapped some of his strength. One of Himani’s knives got tangled in her bedsheets, and the troll took a bite out of the shadow that had struck him. Ezzy provided more illumination by casting light on Peter’s cloak, and Albricht and Kvitte each felt the strength-draining touch of a shadow. Peter both struck and was struck by a shadow as he tumbled into position to flank it, and Albricht raised his sword and struck the book with all his might. The slash did not so much as scratch the cover, but it sent a chill up the paladin’s arm and drew the attention of the shadows. Ezzy channeled energy to heal her companions, and the shadows single-mindedly moved to surround Albricht and the book. One of them struck the paladin, and Himani slashed another one with her knives. She and Peter landed some solid blows on the shadows, and Albricht healed himself and assumed a defensive stance. He successfully blocked or dodged all of the shadows’ attacks while Peter used one of the cross timbers to leap onto a bed, kicking one shadow off and stabbing another one. Albricht dealt a shadow a hard blow, and Kvitte shredded one with his claws and fangs. Himani sliced another shadow into vapor, and the troll tore into one of the remaining two with his claws. The shadow grabbed the book and began fleeing toward the door, but was sliced apart by Kvitte, Peter, and Himani before it could escape. The last shadow struck Ezzy, who had been slashing at it with her cold iron dagger, but was laid low by Himani’s knives and Kvitte’s claws.
Shaken from their encounter with creatures that no right-minded person believed in, the party discussed what to do with the book. As far as everyone except Kvitte knew, it had opened itself and spontaneously summoned shadows, and the troll would only say “Burn!” when the book was mentioned. The rest of the party wasn’t sure how effectively fire would damage a book that Albricht’s sword could not, but they decided that they needed to get rid of it somehow. Gathering the book and their belongings, they left for Westengard to ask the local clergy what to do with the dark artifact. They felt as though they were being watched the whole way back, but never saw anything or anyone suspicious when they looked over their shoulders.
Finally, the party reached the gates of Westengard. Peter and Himani used their knowledge of the area to lead Kvitte to The Rat Hole without alerting the city watch, and Albricht and Ezzy went to visit the Eldenari church. They were met by a skittish young priest, who told them that the book they carried had once belonged to a circle of cultists. They had an enclave in the Orcwood, which was located in the midst of some standing stones. The priest knew nothing else about the book or how to destroy it, but allowed Albricht to immerse it in a basin of holy water. The darkness within the book seeped out and blackened the water, sapping the paladin’s strength when he reached in to retrieve it. Ezzy was struck by inspiration and filled several flasks with shadow water, much to Albricht’s chagrin.
Meanwhile, the rogues questioned the other patrons of The Rat Hole about M and the book of shadows, taking care not to mention that he was dead. The patrons were reticent at first, but became more forthcoming after witnessing Kvitte ravenously tear into a slab of meat. One of them mentioned that M and Lord Rand had been meeting in private lately, which gave Peter and Himani an idea for luring the lord governor into a trap. They filed this information away for future reference, deciding that getting rid of the book was the party’s top priority at the moment.
After waking up, selling off the goods and equipment from Cragwatch, and providing the troll with an axe and better armor, the five adventurers left Westengard to find the cultists’ enclave. They hoped that they would be able to learn more about the book of shadows there, and perhaps discover a way to permanently destroy or dispose of it. Darkness pooled and deepened around them as they approached the Orcwood, becoming so thick by midday that they had to rely on the low-light vision of the half-elves and the darkvision of the troll to make their way through the forest. At last they came upon a circle of standing stones in a clearing, in the center of which was a large, flat stone with an opening in it. As they drew closer and prepared to enter the subterranean tunnels, the darkness around them began to take shape once more…
Experience was distributed, and Adam opted to give us action points rather than role-playing awards to avoid disputes about whose actions were most deserving of additional experience. We left without setting a firm date for the next session, though July 6th and July 20th both stood out as possibilities. As I left, two memorable quotes ran through my mind:
Adam: If you can carry potions, you can carry evil.
(Albricht has tried to discourage Ezzy from using shadow water against our enemies, insisting that this would be an “evil,” “reprehensible,” “abominable” act in the eyes of the All-Father. She disagrees.)
Ezzy: My religion is a little more fluid, if you will.
I look forward to seeing what comes of all of these delightful plot hooks.