:: Dungeons & Dragons - The Threshold Party - The Later Levels, Part Two ::

The Later Levels - Part Two

The coming of Karnus

While resting in Threshold, Lana wondered whether she might use the resources of her master's tower to research another spell. She recalled a cave complex which she and the others had explored months before in the northern foothills. A naturally occurring, purple powder had caused several members of the party to hallucinate. Lana decided to return and obtain a sample of the substance, but wished somebody to accompany her. Drewen offered to tag along, as did a travelling magic-user named Karnus Perdissium who was in Threshold seeking an adventuring party. Born in Specularum but with family ties to Thyatis, this member of the Magicians' Guild was an accomplished alchemist, therefore Lana was keen for him to assist with the spells he had in mind - Phantasmal Force. Thus Karnus accompanied Lana and Drewen on his first adventure into the unknown.

The caves were as Lana and Drewen remembered them, but for a major addition - they were inhabited by the slavers known as The Iron Ring. The trio found themselves surrounded by the brain-washed thugs known as "Hounds" within the ranks of the organisation. As tension escalated a confrontation seemed inevitable, however Karnus managed to avoid bloodshed by charming the leader. Lana was permitted to obtain her sample of the magical dust and the three departed the slavers' base with their lives intact.

Having proved his worth, Karnus was introduced to Threy and was invited to join the party for further adventures. The novelty of having two magic-users within the party took a while to diminish, and soon there would be two clerics within the party also.

Dwarf, two mages and two clerics ... the mountain death camp

A fifth individual was welcomed into the party - an eager young man named Vasily, a promising acolyte from the Church of Traladara based in Specularum. The youth had travelled to Threshold on a clerical mission, motivated by a dream received from his patron - the Immortal Halav. The dream pointed toward darkness hiding upstream in the northern mountains, and this cleric was seeking allies to help him root out whatever evil was to be found. The party of five packed their equipment and trekked out of town, heading northwest.

After a few hours the companions reached a logging outpost - here trees were felled to be transported downstream via barge to Threshold to be chopped into lumber. Upon approaching the huts where the loggers and their families lived, the party was set upon by a horde of undead. Dozens of zombies assaulted the companions who were forced to draw their weapons and defend themselves until the zombies were overcome. The party had no time to rest as they were immediately set upon by the force which had animated the undead - a cleric calling himself Friedrich Schonberg of the cult of Thanatos, the Immortal Patron of Death. Drewen, Lana and Threy recalled how a secret church of Thanatos had been uncovered in Threshold not long ago, whereupon the other faiths banded together to scatter the death-clerics to the winds.

Schonberg proudly admitted to slaying the families of the logging camp then using prayers to his dark Patron to compel their souls to unlife. The party, Vasily in particular, were outraged at this misuse of power and rushed to battle the cleric. Lana used her new spell to create the illusion of a medusa, hoping it might paralyse the cleric with fear, but he saw through the trick and was unaffected.

Friedrich's abilities were superior to those of the party and he sustained few wounds until Threy invoked a spell of Holding which caused him to freeze stock-still. Feeling suitably smug, Threy helped himself to a twisted black staff which Friedrich carried in addition to his mace. The other companions busied themselves searching the loggers' huts while they considered what to do with their captive. This proved a costly mistake. While the party's backs were turned, chanting emanated from one of the far huts and Friedrich found himself able to move again. Somebody had reversed the Holding effect.

The accomplice made his presence known, emerging into daylight in flowing black robes - the necromancer Maximus. The original party members scowled at the sight of their old adversary, recoiling as the wizard hurled three magic missiles into their midst. The companions were forced to resume combat, now faced with two powerful foes rather than one. Drewen renewed his attacks with increased vigour and soon his hammer crushed the dark cleric's skull. Seeing his ally fall, Maximus turned himself invisible and fled to his hut to retrieve belongings and magical treasures. The companions managed to track him to a nearby cave complex and confronted him in what appeared to be a dead-end tunnel, its floor littered with bones and refuse. Maximus cast a Mirror Image spell and withstood combat for several rounds without sustaining damage. He used this time to transport Threy to the top of a nearby waterfall, before attempting to barter with the remaining party members, fearing for his wellbeing. He offered Lana and Karnus a tempting selection of scrolls if they were to let him go free. The pair were adamant in their desire to bring him to justice, and refused him. Hearing this, Maximus morphed into the form of a raven and flew away. The party were left kicking themselves as their foe had again managed to escape.

The party descended from the mountains and returned to Threshold to recount the tale of their mission to Patriarch Sherlane. They expressed disappointment at not having apprehended Maximus. Still, the mission was not a total failure, as the heroes had defeated a highpriest of Thanatos. Vasily felt sure this was the threat which Halav had wished him to remove. Lana vowed that in the future Maximus would be brought to justice for his crimes.

News quickly spread of the tragedy which had befallen the logging camp. The party felt the need to escape the pervading gloom so they departed for Specularum, bidding farewell to their friends in Threshold. Having amassed considerable experience in just a few weeks, Karnus was keen to return to the Magicians' Guild to be taught several new spells by his master who was no other than Guildmaster Teldon. The party arrived in the capital a few days later. Drewen and Threy busied themselves running the Flying Ferret Inn, Karnus and Lana visited the Guild and Vasily returned to his church.

The crazed alchemist and the elemental

Karnus found himself in need of laboratory components so called to one of the city's alchemy stores. Conversing with the owner whose name was Valtius, Karnus sensed something was amiss. After subtle probing, Karnus deduced that the owner was hiding a dark secret - he had been testing alchemical concoctions on his son, who had died from poisoning. When Karnus failed to persuade the man to turn himself in to the city authorities, he panicked and fled into the thick of the city markets, clutching a strange stone. Karnus rounded up his companions and gave chase.

When finally Karnus, Drewen, Threy and Lana tracked the alchemist to a back alley, the ground beneath their feet began to tremble. From out of the ground emerged a twelve-foot tall creature - its body composed of soil and stone bound by magic - an Earth Elemental. Valtius in his desperation had summoned the creature through the enchanted stone he bore. Lana tried to think of a means to banish the elemental and theorised that if she acquired the summoning stone she might be able to send it back to its plane of origin. She used her ring of telekinesis to wrench the stone from the alchemist's grasp but watched aghast as her actions caused the elemental to turn wild. Its mental link with Valtius had been severed and could not be re-established.

The creature was perhaps the most fearsome adversary the heroes had faced, mightier even than Falaryx, the black dragon of Blight Swamp. The elemental was set to storm through Specularum's Foreign Quarter, and would need to be eliminated before it could cause damage to the city and its inhabitants. Without delay, Karnus ran in the direction of the Wizards' Guild to fetch Master Teldon who he knew would be capable of removing such a powerful foe. Lana meanwhile cast a Fly spell and snatched up Valtius as bait, attempting to draw the elemental's attention and lure it away from nearby dwellings, towards the river outside the city walls. She decided to try and trick the monster into wading into the water in the hope it might be swept away and disperse. This did not happen however, as the elemental moved slowly and was reluctant to enter even the shallows at the river's edge. Vexed, Lana deposited the quivering alchemist on a tiny island in the middle of the watercourse, and flew back to the shore where the elemental stood raging.

Drewen and Threy caught up, both aware only magical weapons could harm the summoned creature. Drewen fired a barrage of enchanted crossbow bolts while Threy charged forward, uncharacteristically brave, and struck the thing's leg. The irate elemental turned and smote Threy with its fist, sending him flying through the air to land dozens of feet away. Faced with such colossal physical might, both cleric and dwarf were forced to maintain a safe distance.

Lana was airborne and sensed that her detachment from the element of Earth gave her an advantage. She downed a potion taken from Valtius' store, which enhanced her size and strength, then swooped to engage the creature. She sent Amber Shards sizzling into its back, followed by two vials of flaming oil, then cast Mirror Image to protect herself from the creature's fists and closed for hand-to-hand combat, her enchanted dagger grasped in one hand. As the combat progressed the elemental swiped clean through her phantasmal images, yet Lana was landing colossal blows. Never had she felt such raw physical strength as the potion granted. Amid her confidence however, the elemental's fist smashed into her ribcage, crushing her to within an inch of her life. She recoiled, barely able to breathe, but returned for one last strike, hoping it would be enough to kill the thing. She was vaguely aware of chanting beneath her. Teldon had teleported himself and Karnus to the riverbank and was preparing to cast a spell. As the monster's fist drew back... Lana turned invisible. This was all the distraction she needed to land a killing blow. The strike took all her strength but caused the elemental's body to crumble beneath the force of her blade. As the spirit departed, the physical form it had occupied collapsed into smouldering rubble.

Days later, Valtius appeared in court before Duke Stefan to answer charges including the unlawful killing of his son. Lana spoke in the alchemist's defence, reducing his sentence from death to one of imprisonment. The potions from Valtius' store were shared among the party and the stone of summoning, a powerful magical item, was entrusted to Karnus' care since Lana wanted little more to do with earth elementals.

The quest for Drewen's Armour

Lana was at a stage where she felt weary of adventuring; it taken up the last two years of her life, leaving little time for magical study and other pursuits. There was another mage in the party, therefore Lana opted out of adventuring for a while. She would remain in Specularum to manage the Flying Ferret Inn, and she thought she might also spend time at the Magicians' Guild. She bid temporary farewell to her comrades as they embarked toward the east on a new adventure.

Drewen told the others of a legend he had uncovered - how centuries ago a dwarven engineer was rumoured to have created a suit of magical armour, which he placed at the heart of a dungeon filled with traps and pitfalls. Legend told that only the most hardened and experienced of dwarven heroes would make it through the many trials. Intrigued, the others agreed to escort Drewen on his quest since the dwarf had often assisted the others while asking little in return. The group's first port of call would be the town of Makrast in the north-eastern mountains, beyond the borders of the Grand Duchy and into the Empire of Thyatis.

After weeks of travel the party reached Makrast, locating and entering the cave complex where the magical armour was said to have been concealed. The party fought their way past living statues and golems, fountains spraying metal-dissolving acid, rooms filled with tripwires connected to loaded crossbows, pitfall traps and more, but eventually penetrated the centre of the complex - the chamber where the armour was located. Drewen placed his hand upon the magical plate and the party found themselves back at the entrance of the dungeon. Drewen was wearing his new armour, which fitted his stout frame to perfection. Striding back down the mountain toward the town at its base, the local folk welcomed Drewen as a champion, and feasts were held to celebrate the party's achievement.

Journeying back to Specularum, the four companions hunted for griffon feathers, a necessary component for a spell Karnus had been meaning to create - 'Perpetual Agitator' - a variation on Hold Person, decidedly less pleasant for the victim. Regrettably the party's wealth and belongings, which had been stowed in a horse-drawn wagon, had been stolen and sold in a town along the route. Through use of a Charm spell Karnus befriended an ogre who accompanied the party for a while. It was at this time that Threy lost the favour of his Immortal patrons, probably as a consequence of having failed to promote or adhere to the tenets of his faith. On a regular basis the cleric found himself denied spell use. This trend finally ceased when Threy resolved to consider his calling with renewed vigour.

Returning to Specularum, the heroes regrouped with Lana and settled down to life at home for a while. It was still spring and the party would have the rest of the year to adventure. Still, in less than a month, once Karnus successfully completed his spell creation, they took to the road again bound for the city of Kelvin.

From this point, our story follows the classic D&D module B10 Night's Dark Terror, which took us the best part of two years to complete.

In a riverside village, the party met a man named Stephan and began speaking with him. Stephan spoke of his family's business - taking wild white horses from the moors east of Kelvin, and taming them for sale to the elvish clans in the trading outpost of Rifflian. He offered to reward the party if they agreed to escort horses from his family's home on the moor to Rifflian, and the five readily agreed. The following night, the barge on which Stephan and the party were travelling was set upon by men whom the travellers presumed to be river pirates, and combat broke out. Amid the darkness of the night, Lana fired lightning into the river waters and electrocuted more than half of the wading attackers. Threy cast a spell of Holding and drowned a further handful. The party fought the remaining bandits, and afterwards noticed strange chafe-marks around their wrists. Slaves? Looting the bodies, Karnus removed a dagger (which turned out to be magical) and an amulet depicting a ruined tower.

The barge travelled miles further upstream and the party, joined by Stephan, disembarked with the horses. They progressed through marshy terrain, reaching Misha's Ferry to seek passage across the river, but Misha was absent from her hut. Only her bear remained and would have mauled the party's mages to shreds had the pair not levitated to safety in the nick of time. In any event, Misha's disappearance seemed odd and worried Stephan a great deal.

Night fell and though the party wished to stop and make camp for the night, Stephan spurred them onward, assuring everyone that his homestead was a short distance away. The party pressed on through the night, the way lit by Threy's glowing shield. Soon a disconcerting red glow was seen above the treetops - one of the homesteads was on fire and the surrounding woods were filled with goblins. The party were ambushed by goblin raiders and were forced to flee, seeking the protection of Stephan's homestead. Lana paused to Web the trees behind the party, blocking the goblins from direct pursuit, then made haste after her companions.


Read the next instalment - Night's Dark Terror

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