Tempest, Blue Dragonborn Cleric Trickery-Domain (played by Jojo, 14yo)
Folax Huntreouss, Human Gunslinger (played by Evan, 12yo)
Serenity, 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.
After several soul-searching days, Mummy finally decides on a name for her character! From here on, Mummy’s aasimar wizard is called ‘Serenity’; she wanted a name associated with ‘peace’ and it was also a nice tribute to the Firefly series.
I also asked the kids for a good name for the aarakocra who they rescued from Feathergale Spire, and Evan suggested ‘Kehaar’, which I thought was brilliant. Kehaar is the name of the verbally-abusive black-headed gull from the book ‘Watership Down’. I read that book to the kids some years back; if you ever wanted a kids story about anthropomorphised rabbits undergoing a survival adventure with the same level of paranoia as any decent zombie-flick, look no further!
Kehaar leads the small group of adventurers southwards into the Sighing Valley. At one point, the group flies over a bunch of opportunistic gnolls armed with bows, but after Folax blasts one of them right in the eye as it was attempting to aim an arrow at them, the rest scatter yippingly into the gloomy valley floor.
Eventually, they make it to Kehaar’s hideout, which looks like a series of large camouflaged nests up in the trees. There are five other aarakocra here, and after Kehaar makes introductions, the adventurers are invited to stay with them. They even find places for the hippogriff and the giant vulture to roost up in the trees.
“Wait a minute, dad!” says Jojo. “How do we know that Lord Thurl can’t track us here!? Maybe he can magically track the hippogriff or the vulture - I mean, they used to belong to the Feathergale knights, right?”
I flash her a rakish smile. “A tracking device? Not on this ship, sister!”
Jojo rolls her eyes, and proceeds to braid a leather collar with a spork pendant for her hippogriff. She makes another one for the giant vulture, but the brutish creature screeches menacingly at her and gulps down the collar. We conclude that the next time she tries to track the vulture, she’s either going to find it, or a pile of bird poop.
“Over the next day or two, you guys hide out with the aarakocra, but there is no sign of any Feathergale knights searching for you guys. The aarakocra all speak in low, serious tones except during meal-times when they devolve into a squawking mess, bickering like seagulls over chips.” The aarakocra tell the adventurers that they are here to 'find and destroy the source of the Elemental Evil Air', and they've heard rumours of an evil Prophetess of Air leading the air cultists. Mummy reasons that this must be the person who wants her wings.
The aarakocra have already scouted some parts of the Sighing Valley. So far, all they’ve discovered is Feathergale Spire (although the knights worship Yan-C-Bin, the Prince of Evil Air, the aarakocra insist that it is not the source of the evil). There’s also a griffon nest on a cliff-face to the west, where they’ve spotted a pair of mated griffons, likely guarding their nest of eggs.
“Griffons are fiercely protective over their eggs,” I tell them off-handedly. “Apparently, one griffon egg can is worth almost 2000 gold!” I should have anticipated what would happen next.
Evan sits up. “2000 gold? That’s a fortune! Hey, Jojo, let’s get those eggs!”
Jojo says, “I’m not going to steal eggs from a griffon’s nest! If you want to go get yourself killed, go by yourself!’
And so, going against all conventional wisdom, the gunslinger decides to raid the griffon’s nest all by himself. He borrows the ‘wing-suit’ from Tempest, and early the next morning while everyone’s asleep, he sneaks off and rides his vulture west towards the griffon’s nest.
I tell Evan, “The craggy cave entrance to the griffon’s nest is located on the side of a cliff-face. It’s a hard climb up or down to get to it.”
After some thought, Evan says, “Okay, I’m going to fly high above the nest, and then jump off the vulture. I’ll activate the wing-suit and glide down towards the entrance!” I get him to make a couple of Dexterity and Stealth rolls, and the gunslinger succeeds in gliding unnoticed to the cliff-face above the cave entrance. He cautiously pokes his head down to check, but I tell him that he sees nothing but gloom, although there’s a definite animal smell coming out from the cave.
The gunslinger carefully climbs down into the cave entrance. “Some ways in, you can see a large pile of sticks and branches. You’ll have to get closer to have a look inside.” I get him to roll more Stealth rolls, and make a few mysterious rolls of my own. It always gets the kids on the edge when I do that.
Folax creeps deeper into the cave, and gets right up to the pile of sticks and branches. “You peek over and see a griffon! It is currently snoozing with its legs tucked under it.”
“You mean, like a cat in the loaf position?” asks Jojo. “I love it when cats do that!”
Cat Loaf position. And yes, the expression is spot on with the griffon!
I nod affirmatively. Evan thinks some more, and then says, “It’s probably sitting on the eggs. I’ll wait for it to move.” So the gunslinger waits for about ten minutes before I tell him, “You hear a flapping noise at the cave entrance!”
“Oh no! Its mate is coming back!” hoots Jojo in sisterly evil glee.
I roll a few more mysterious rolls and say, “Yes, another griffon has turned up at the entrance! It doesn’t seem to have noticed you inside the cave, mainly because it seems preoccupied with carrying something in its beak and claws. It looks like a dead horse, still with a saddle and bulging packs!”
I look at Evan who shrugs, “I’ll stay hidden. See if the first griffon moves.”
The griffon carrying the horse is having difficulty pulling the dead horse into the cave, mainly because of the bulging packs on the horse’s saddle. The griffon sitting in the loaf position slits its eyes open and gives the struggling griffon at the entrance the universal look females give to males trying to perform something the female finds utterly idiotic. Eventually, it gets up with a grunt and goes to help its mate pull the dead horse in by first removing the bulging saddle packs.
Evan says, “Okay, it moved! I’ll carefully grab a griffon egg!” The gunslinger peeks into the nest, and sees two beautiful shimmery toaster-sized griffon eggs. “Just two? Oh. I thought that there would be a lot more of them, and they wouldn’t miss one!” Committed now, the gunslinger reaches in and picks up one of the eggs.
At this point, one of my mysterious rolls comes up with a decent number. I tell Evan, “As you step back, there is the tiniest snap of a twig, and the griffons immediately look up and see you! Griffons have high Perception, but I’ve been rolling like crap for them all this while!” With a squawking roar, the male griffon charges at the gunslinger!
Evan says, “I fire my Wand of Magic Missiles!” The few magical bolts lance out and hit the charging creature, but it only infuriates it further! I roll for its claw and beak attacks, and when I announce the total damage, Evan looks aghast, “I’m DEAD!”
I tell him, “The last thing you see is the griffon’s beak slashing down at you, and then everything goes white!”
Meanwhile back in the aarakocra hideout, the others have woken up to find Folax and his vulture missing. The aarakocra have planned to do further scouting today, and Tempest and Serenity agree to help them. So Kehaar, the dragonborn and the aasimar form one scouting party and decide to head eastwards, while three other aarakocra head north-east. Two more stay behind to wait and see if the gunslinger turns up.
I tell Mummy and Jojo, “Kehaar leads you guys eastwards, and you can see that this part of the Sighing Valley is quite dangerous. At one point, you guys hide in the trees above while a pack of snarling hyenas and gnolls chase something through the forest below. Eventually, you guys reach the eastern-most end of the valley.”
I tell Jojo to roll a Perception check, and she rolls well. “There doesn’t seem to be anything here, but then you notice something half-hidden in the ground. You scrape a bit, and find a skull!”
“What type of skull is it? An animal skull, or a human?” Jojo makes an excellent Intelligence roll, and I tell her, “Of course, you know what creature’s skull this is! The lower protruding jaw,.. small forehead. It’s an orc skull!”
“Hmm… orcs.” As the dragonborn and the rest search, they find more bits of orc bones and skulls lying around. There is a trail of bone bits leading into the bushes which they follow. Eventually, the group comes to a cave entrance.
“Another griffon’s nest?” ponders Jojo. After a brief discussion, the group sends forward Mummy’s weasel familiar to check it out. The little creature scampers up to the cave and peers in. “Mummy sees through her weasel’s eyes, and she sees a gloomy cave littered with bones and bits of weapons and armour. Pacing around inside is a female manticore muttering to herself.
“Maybe the mate to the other manticore we killed the other night,” they consider. Eventually, they decide that they should leave it alone as fighting manticores wasn’t their primary objective.
“Mummy, you also see a stack of crates in the middle of the cave!” I elaborate. “It looks like cargo loot!” But Jojo and Mummy show considerably more restraint than their absent gunslinging companion, and decide to head back to the aarakocra hideout to report their findings.
“You guys arrive safely back at the aarakocra hideout. The two aarakocra who stayed behind reports that Folax’s vulture returned by itself without the gunslinger! And later, the other group which went north-east returns and reports that they found a narrow canyon entrance, where they spotted a few Feathergale knights going in. The aarakocra reason that this is likely where the source of Elemental Evil Air might be.”
Kehaar asks the adventurers if they will help them explore the canyon, but Tempest shakes her head. “I think we should go find what happened to Folax first,” Jojo says. “I cast Locate Object to see where Folax is.”
I ask, “Did you give him a spork? I don’t remember that!”
Evan says, “Of course she did! When we were back in Red Larch, she gave out sporks to everyone! In fact, I stuck mine on my helmet like a spork aerial!”
I shrug, and tell Jojo that she traces the magic rune for Locate Object in front of her (which looks like the ‘Find Friends’ app icon) detects that Evan’s spork is travelling southwards from where they are. This mystifies them, until Mummy says, “It’s probably inside the griffon after it ate Folax!”
Over the next few days, Evan would bug me about whether Folax is dead. And I’d smirk and reply, “Maybe.” Evan starts considering if he needs to start a new character, and one night after dinner, I finally ask him in front of Mummy and Jojo, “So, do you want to know what happened to Folax?”
“Well,” I drawl. “First, you need to tell me. How.. religious is Folax?”
Evan winces. “Uh, not very, I think.”
“Oh, I see,” I nod contemplatively. “Well, in Faerun, there are many gods of all sorts. There’s a god of nature, a god of murder, etc. In fact, whether you have a great afterlife all depends on what type of character were you, and where you find yourself when you wake up. Like, if you were an assassin who died and woke up in the halls of the Bhaal the god of murder, you’ll know that you’re going to have a great afterlife, compared to if you woke up in the halls of a god or goddess belonging to the Life Domain!”
Evan says, “Okay, so where do I wake up? In the hall of the god of thieves?”
I say, “Well, not exactly. The first thing you see when you regain consciousness is a symbol floating above you. You feel pain all over! And you recognise this symbol.” I lean closer. “It’s the symbol. Of a warhammer and a pair of scales above it. In fact, you know this symbol because you are usually in jail when you see it. This is the symbol of Tyr, the god of Justice!”
Tyr, God of Justice!
Jojo and Mummy burst out laughing while Evan covers his face. “Arrgh! I’m SO DEAD!”
After a while, I tell him, “You suddenly realise that you’re moving, like along a bumpy road. As you regain more wakefulness, you realise that you’re in a covered wagon, and the symbol of Tyr is painted on the canvas ceiling.” The gunslinger looks around but it hurts to move.
Just then, the canvas door leading to the driver’s seat of the wagon flaps open and a woman peers in. I tell Evan that the woman is wearing full plate armour, and has a stern but fair face. She sees Folax and says, “I thought I heard you stirring back there. I am Lady Ushien Stormbanner of the Knights of Samular. And you are very lucky to be alive.”
“The egg,” croaks Folax. “Do I still have the egg?”
Evan blanches when I tell him 'No'. Lady Ushien looks at him critically. “Why would anyone want to take a griffon’s egg? We were trying to retrieve the saddle bags of the horse that griffon carried off, and when we got to the nest, we found you facing off two griffons at once! And then, just as the griffon was going to skewer you with its beak, there was a blinding flash! We think it must have been this thing you were holding - the griffon must have broken it when it attacked. You’re lucky that the flash blinded the griffons long enough for us to drag you and the saddle bags out of there!” And she holds up the broken remains of the Wand of Magic Missiles.
I follow the very inadvisable adage while DMing of ‘when in doubt, roll a random encounter’. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it just creates more work! This session, I did not expect Folax to run off griffon egg-stealing on his own, and while I wanted to grant him a very (very) small chance of success, I also wanted to ensure that there was some twist to get him out of that mess. So while he was waiting for the female griffon to move, I rolled on the Random Encounters chart in the campaign book, and it gave me ‘Knights of Samular’. I took that as a lead, and made the male griffon turn up carrying the dead horse belonging to a knight of Samular. All in all, I’m quite happy with the way things turned out, because it gave me the opportunity to introduce another faction of the Dessarin Valley to everyone.
I’d never even heard of the Knights of Samular, and I needed to do some research on them beforehand, hence why it took a couple of days before I could tell Evan what had happened to Folax. And yes, I felt it was fair to destroy the Wand of Magic Missiles as a sort of penalty instead of outright death. This time round.