Tempest, Blue Dragonborn Cleric Trickery-Domain (played by Jojo, 14yo)
Folax Huntreouss, Human Gunslinger (played by Evan, 12yo)
To-be-named, Aasimar Wizard Divination-School (played by Mummy)
Warning: This adventure contains a lot of references and spoilers to the ‘Princes of the Apocalypse’ campaign. If you have yet to play through the campaign, be warned that you’re likely to come across the same stuff we did.
As I fire up the laptop at the start of this session, Jojo is trying to get Mummy to accept a spork from her character. “Why do I need a spork?” asks Mummy quizzically.
“It’s… a gift! My dragonborn hands out sporks to all her friends! Here, just take it!”
“Riiight. Thanks,” says Mummy as Jojo writes it into her character sheet for her.
I go through the motions of getting everyone to answer ‘Who are you? What can you do?’ and then tell everyone, “So, I take it that you’re all going to Feathergale Spire?”
Jojo says, “Yeah. Oh, where’s Zoey anyway? Is she coming with us?”
“Ah yes, Zoey,” I reply. “Well, you haven’t seen Zoey in over a week. A day or two after the events at the sinkhole, she told you that she’s worried about those Mirabar trade bars you guys found on the Black Earth Cult priest. They look like the ones from the Mirabar delegation that she used to work for, and some of the delegates were her friends. Anyway, she’s gone off to see if anything has happened to them.”
Jojo is disappointed that the half-orc caravan guard isn’t going to be with them. Evan, on the other hand, is more interested to know if his wagon has been retrieved from the sinkhole. I tell him that the humans and dwarves managed to lift out the heavy wagon using an elaborate system of pulleys and ropes. Thelorn inspects the damage to the wagon’s rear axle, and tells Folax that he can get it fixed in the overnight shift. The adventurers agree that they will leave as soon as the wagon is ready the next day.
The next morning, Tempest is on her way down from her room at the Swinging Sword Inn, when she is stopped by Kaylessa the inn-keeper. “I heard you’re going to Feathergale Spire,” she says with a worried tone. “I was just wondering if you do me a favour and..”
Jojo says, “Oh, I’ll check on your niece for you. Don’t worry about it.”
Folax and Mummy are already waiting outside the inn when Tempest joins them. Thelorn approaches them from out of his store. “He looks a little apologetic,” I tell them. “He says, ‘Ah, Folax, we’ve fixed your wagon, but there’s one slight problem.’”
Evan winces, “Oh no. What is it?”
“Well, we didn’t have any more wheels of the same type as the front ones of your wagon. So we’ve fitted another set of back wheels which are larger than the front ones.” Thelorn profusely assures the gunslinger that although the wagon looks strange, it still should drive fine.
“You mean, my wagon now looks like a hot-rod!?”
“Um, pretty much, yes.”
Folax unpeels his tongue from the roof of his mouth and rasps to Thelorn, “It’s perfect!” He tries to stick the Wand of Magic Missiles to the back to the wagon to act as a booster, but the others dissuade him. Thelorn has his workers hitch the wagon to a horse that arrived from the farm the day before.
Jojo exclaims, “We now have a horse!? What’s his name?”
“You can name him. He’s a workhorse, you know, the kind which pull heavy loads. A very nervous-looking workhorse, that is.” They decide to name the horse ‘Mervus the Nervous’. Soon, the adventurers are on their way out of town on their odd-looking wagon.
“Who’s driving?” I ask them.
“Not me,” says Evan. “I’m going to sleep in the wagon! Mummy can drive!”
Mummy says, “Aren’t I your customer? Why should I be driving!?”
“You hired the wagon! It’s like Uber!”
“That’s not how Uber works! If this was Uber, you’re the worst Uber driver ever!”
In the end, Tempest drives the wagon while Mummy sits next to her. I tell them, “You follow the road into the Sumber Hills for several hours, and then come to a turning which looks newly cleared, with a make-shift sign that says, ‘To Feathergale Spire’. You turn into a recently cleared dirt road, and already, you can see Feathergale Spire in the horizon.”
I pull open the Random Encounters chart in the PotA campaign book, and roll the d20 to see what fate deals to us today. A 13. I look up the result, and say out loud, “How’s that going to happen!?” I had the urge to re-roll, but decide to adhere to Tina Fey's First Rule of Improv (Say Yes), and stick with it.
“As you guys go along, you suddenly hear the faint sounds of arguing! It sounds like it’s coming from off the side of the road, beyond some trees!”
The adventurers shrug. “It’s just people arguing. Let’s keep going, but maybe send someone to check it out.” As they look through their character sheets, Mummy says, “Can I cast ‘Find Familiar’ and send my familiar to check it out?”
“Oh, that’s a great idea! The problem is that ‘Find Familiar’ takes an hour to cast!”
“What!? I didn’t know that! I would have cast it way before now!”
In a magnanimous gesture, I reverse game time by several hours to allow Mummy to cast her Find Familiar spell so that she has her familiar at this time. Yes, DMing your wife is a good way to score brownie points.
“What sort of creature is your familiar?” I rattle off a list of potential creatures from the PHB. Jojo laughingly suggests ‘Octopus’, but in the end, Mummy chooses a weasel. Her weasel familiar pops into existence and leaps off the wagon to check out the sounds.
“While you’re seeing and hearing from your familiar’s eyes and ears, you can’t see or hear yourself,” I say. “In fact, it says here that you can even cast Touch spells from your familiar!” We muse that having a cat familiar rub itself against someone and casting Shocking Grasp would be quite entertaining.
Mummy’s weasel makes it way through the trees, and eventually comes to a hidden clearing where there is a large group of about a dozen people. “These guys look weird! They seem to be armed with strange saw-toothed swords, and two of them are these big, blue-green skinned humanoids arguing with another guy in a tattered blue priest’s robe. “It’s been three days since we last saw water!” growls one of the big guys to the priest. “I say we turn back NOW!” I lift up the PotA campaign book to show everyone how the big, blue-green skinned guys look like:
“Water cult,” surmises the kids. By now, they'd figured that they'll be encountering cultists from all four elements soon. “Let’s keep moving!”
Mummy says, “Are you sure? Maybe we should-”
“No! Look at Dad’s face! Let’s keep moving now!”
One of the saw-toothed sword-bearing guys glances up. “Shh! I think I hear someone on the road!”
Tempest snaps the reins to speed Mervus up, and eventually they leave the band of suspected Water cultists behind. I tell Mummy that she can just make her familiar vanish back to whatever realm it came from until she re-summons it again.
Eventually, the road ends at a cliff-edge. “You guys have made it to Feathergale Spire!” I read from the campaign book: “Feathergale Spire rises from a pillar of rock high into the air, the tallest point for miles. Built from white limestone and embellished in marble, the spire resembles a gleaming sword that pierces the sky.” I describe how there is a drawbridge that is currently up. Between their cliff-edge and the spire is a gap of twenty feet which span across a drop that is several hundred feet to the bottom of the canyon. “Near the ledge, a brass bell hangs from a wooden post.”
Mummy rings the bell, and a small window opens. “Welcome!” calls out a female voice, “What brings you to Feathergale Spire?” Mummy replies that she is a guild representative and states her business. At once, the drawbridge is lowered, and the adventurers roll their wagon across. I tell them that they seem to be in an impressive white hall that has twelve-foot-tall doors at one end. Most distinguishingly is a large eagle carved from timber suspended from the far-end of the ceiling, its head fashioned with steel.
“Nice,” says Jojo. The woman who greeted them joins them, and they see that it’s Savra, Kaylessa’s niece. The young woman introduces herself to Mummy, and says that she’ll bring them to see Lord Thurl, her lord commander. She leads them up a large spiral stairway, going up several floors until they reach the very top. I read from the campaign book: “At the apex of the tower, the stairs terminate at a round stone gazebo that continues upwards in a needle-like minaret. Beyond this enclosure, a small lawn grows upon the top of the tower. Four paths paved with white stones point the directions of the compass, each path ending in a pointed stone crenellation. At the pinnacle’s edge is a spyglass on a tripod, pointed downward.” I describe the supreme view of all the whole nearby canyon and the Sumber Hills beyond.
“A man turns from viewing the spy-glass when you arrive. Tempest and Folax recognise this man! It’s the same guy who you met in Session 1 with the owlbear, and then again when he brought Savra to visit Kaylessa at the inn!” The man has white-grey hair, and is wearing armor with feather patterns. “The kids won’t know this,” I tell Mummy, feeling inspired. “But this guy looks a lot like that white-suited guy from that 80s TV show ‘Fantasy Island’!”
Mummy laughs. “You serious? Is there a short guy looking out and calling, ‘The plane! The plane!’!?”
Jojo says, “I don’t know who this guy is, but he looks dodgy!”
Lord Thurl gives the adventurers a low courteous bow. I try to give him a Mexican accent. “My dear guests! I am Lord Thurl, the lord commander of the Feathergale knights! Welcome to Feathergale Spire!”
Lord Thurl listens intently to Mummy’s description of what sort of decorative armour her guild can craft. “Ah yes, I’ve heard of your guild while I was in Waterdeep. I recall your guild making the decorative horse armour for one of the merchant lords.” Mummy affirms and offers to show Lord Thurl some armour designs, but the commander lifts his hand. “Of course, but perhaps this can wait till morning. We must celebrate the arrival of our guests with a proper feast! Let’s go below to the grand hall.”
And with that, the adventurers are led to a large, semi-circular feasting hall. “There are about twenty feathergale knights here, all feasting and chatting loudly. You guys are given guests of honour seats next to Lord Thurl who is very courteous and conversational. Do you guys want to ask him anything?”
Jojo says, “So um, Lord Thurl. I’m not sure if you recall, but we’ve met before. You were attacking an owlbear, and we happened to be there as well.”
Lord Thurl frowns, and then smiles. “Ah yes, of course! The dragonborn who lightning-breathed the owlbear before we carried it off.” He laughs. “What a night, eh?”
“Don’t you think going around attacking animals is wrong?”
Lord Thurl replies, “We were hunting, and hunting is a gentleman’s sport. The owlbear was a dangerous creature anyway, so we dispatched it.”
Jojo frowns. “Gah! I don’t know if this guy is evil or not! I wish I prepared my ‘Detect Good and Evil’ spell!”
Just then, the doors of the feasting hall burst open, and a sentry from the pinnacle enters. He shouts, “Manticore! It’s on the move!” At this announcement, the Feathergale knights rise as one. Lord Thurl says, “We should take this opportunity to slay the monster! A prize for the one who brings me the beast’s head!” He removes a golden ring and holds it aloft.
The kids and Mummy are excited now. “A manticore!? Isn’t that a lion with wings?” I take the opportunity to look up the Monster Manual and tell them some information on manticores. “Yes, a lion’s body, dragon-wings, and a tail with spikes that shoot out! They’re super evil, and like to torment their victims.” I tell them that the Feathergale knights would lend them hippogriffs to fly on if they wanted to join in the manticore hunt.
Somewhere between the announcement of the manticore, and me showing how dangerous this creature was, Evan had a change of heart. “I’ll stay with my wagon,” he says. “You guys go.”
I shrug, “Sure, you can stay behind.” I did have one ace up my sleeve though. I tell him, “Folax follows Mummy and Tempest down to the hippogriff stables which are located at the lowest level of the spire. Four knights are getting mounted on their hippogriffs, while Mummy and Tempest are being shown a couple of hippogriffs which they can ride. And then, you hear the most awful screech you’ve ever heard coming in a barred stable!”
The gunslinger turns and sees a giant vulture in the stable, flapping its black wings and making an awful racket with its screeching because of all the excitement. “Folax, it’s the most beautiful creature you’ve ever seen!”
A passing knight tells Folax, “We’re starting to bring these giant vultures in. This is our first one, and it’s very, very temperamental! No one has tried riding it yet!”
Evan says, “I try approaching it! Is there food? I try feeding it!” The gunslinger finds some scraps of meat, and approaches the giant flapping bird. I get Evan to roll an Animal Handling check, and he succeeds! “The giant vulture snaps the scrap of meat from your hand, and gulps it down in one go!”
“Right! I’ll feed it a few more scraps, and then I’ll try mounting it!” With a few knights watching curiously, the gunslinger manages to put on a saddle on the vulture which is still busy devouring its food scraps. Then, he gets on. “One of the knights pulls a lever that opens the side of the stable into the open, and with a great flap of wings, the vulture is off! With you riding on its back!”
The gunslinger is soon joined by Mummy and Tempest on their hippogriffs. The four other Feathergale knights join them. “We’ll form two teams,” suggests one of the knights. “That way, we can search a wider area.”
I tell the kids that the canyon beyond Feathergale Spire is called the “Sighing Valley” because of the peculiar wailing sounds that the wind makes as it blows through it. “It’s night-time now, but there’s a bright moon. Below, you can only see clouds of mist which cover the valley floor. Here and there, some rocky pinnacles poke out of the mists, and above is the clear night sky.” I tell them that flying out in the night is exhilarating, and for a moment, you can see why some people would want to stay with in Feathergale Spire.
The group splits into two, with the one knight with the kids and Mummy in one team, while the other team of three knights fly off in a different direction. I roll a few d20s and tell them, “You guys fly for about 20 minutes, but you don’t see any sign of the manticore. Then suddenly, you hear a blaring horn coming from somewhere to your left!”
“They found it!” declares Jojo. Their group hastily flies towards the blaring horn. “Suddenly, out from the mists, a terrifying manticore lunges out towards your group! You can see some arrows already sticking out from its hide! The manticore snarls, ‘I will tear your skin off your flesh!’, and flings its tail spikes at you!”
Everyone rolls for Initiative, and the manticore gets to fire off a wave of spikes at the group. Tempest hits it with a Guiding Bolt, while Folax grazes it with a rifle shot. I get everyone to roll for Perception which the kids fail, “The manticore suddenly dives into the mist, and Tempest and Folax lose sight of it! Mummy and the other knight, on the other hand, pursue it into the mist!”
I tell Mummy that she’s following behind the other feathergale knight, and she can see the manticore flying away in front of them. Mummy casts Witch Bolt, but it misses and hits a rocky pinnacle. The manticore dips and turns around the pinnacle, and the knight follows, only to be surprised when the creature springs out from behind the pinnacle and claws him off his hippogriff! “You see the knight falling away! It’s too late to turn your hippogriff around to save him, but you might be able to save him by diving down with your own wings!”
Mummy says, “I’ll do it! Jump off my hippogriff and rescue the knight!” So the aasimar wizard leaps off, and her wings spread out from under her cloak. I tell her that she can see the knight trying to spread his arms out along his sides, “He seems to be trying to activate something on his suit, like wing flaps from a wing-suit, but these are torn by the manticore! You swoop down and catch him under his arms! You can see that he’s actually a young teenage boy under his helm!”
Meanwhile, Tempest and Folax are trying to find where the others have gone. I roll a d4, and tell them, “Unseen by you two, a dark shadow passes in the mist beneath you! Suddenly, the manticore lunges out and attacks Folax on his vulture!” The manticore scores a bite on the gunslinger, and its rear legs claw at the vulture viciously, scattering black feathers everywhere. Struggling wildly, the gunslinger points his rifle point-blank at the manticore’s head and pulls the trigger.
I tell them, “From a distance, Tempest can see Folax and his vulture struggling with the manticore, and then there’s an explosion of red. Very slowly, the manticore’s headless body falls down, turning the white mist into red as it vanishes below!”
“Evan! You were supposed to save the head! How are we going to present it to Lord Thurl if you’ve blown it to bits!?”
Evan snorts, “Well, he can pick the bits of its head off my armour!”
The group returns to Feathergale Spire, and (despite not having the manticore head) Folax is gifted the golden ring prize from Lord Thurl. Then, the young knight who was rescued by Mummy whispers to Lord Thurl, who looks at Mummy in surprise. “I have been told that you have been hiding a wonderful secret from us! Is it true that you have wings?”
Seeing no point to hide them now, Mummy reveals her wings, and the Feathergale knights gasp as one. Lord Thurl himself gets down on one knee and tells her, “My lady, we are honoured to have a champion of the air amongst us!”
Yeah, it was good to have the manticore hunt to end this session. It's important to give my kids some motivation, and I had a hunch that showing Evan that vulture would do the trick!
The random encounter roll was a band of water cultists - but there was no water around, I was initially stumped on how and why these guys were there in the first place. But I’ll probably be able to use them later. I did ask Mummy and the kids why didn’t they warn the Feathergale knights about the water cultists so close to their spire, and they replied that they simply forgot!
It'll be interesting to see what they now come up with given that Mummy seems to have the Feathergale knights enthralled...