The Seven Brides of Vecna

"Bring me the Seven Brides of Vecna."

These are seven mummies, located in seven different places. They are technically undead, since they aren’t actually completely dead nor yet entirely alive, but they aren’t active, being pretty much in a state of suspended animation.

They were placed in their protective hiding places by the lich Vecna before his disappearance. Why? Nobody really knows. Anyway, Vecna is no more (except in bits and pieces). OR IS HE?

Eyeless wants them for purposes of his own, purposes which he has no intention of sharing with flunkies, minions or peons. The Brides were each mummified along with a section of the Rod of Seven parts, which is perhaps in itself reason enough to want to gather them together, but Eyeless' motivations are seldom what might seem obvious.

Introduction

Eyeless, through extensive and painstaking effort, now knows of the general locations of all seven of the Brides, but apart from the first (in his posession) he does not know their precise positions. That's where Our Heroes come in.

The First Bride
Eyeless is in posession of the mummy of the First Bride, and of the first, smallest part of the Rod of Seven Parts. That part will lead the holder to the location of the second, the second to the third, and so forth, and to the accompanying Brides.
The Second Bride
The Second Bride is housed in a desert tomb that has become a shrine to a cult of deformed Morlocks. They venerate the mummy due to its connection with Vecna, who they believe was not destroyed, but transfigured into a god.
The Third Bride
The Third Bride is located in a crystal sarcophagus at the centre of a coral labyrinth at the bottom of the sea off the coast of the Druids’ Tongue.
The Fourth Bride
The Fourth Bride lies in a tomb carved into a cliffside high in the Sliabhraon Nathrach. She is not alone there.
The Fifth Bride
The Fifth Bride is enthroned in a frozen glacial pocket, far to the north, in the Snow Lands.
The Sixth Bride
The Sixth Bride is in the care and custody of the Formians of Imreas. They are sworn to its protection in perpetuity, and it is guarded by them every minute of every day.
The Seventh Bride
The Seventh Bride is in Hell, and is in the care of one of the Dukes of Hell, Nergal (Lord of Pestilence), who had incurred obligation to Vecna. The fact that this obligation is still in effect is perhaps a clue that the rumours of Vecna’s demise may have been exagerrated.

Preparation for Adventure

Eyeless will provide the team with the first part of the Rod to lead them to the second (and so on), but will warn them that they are not, under any circumstances, to attempt to join any of the parts together.

He will also provide them with transport: the loan of a Flying Carpet large enough to carry six people.

Finally, he will grant them the use of a Portable Hole, in which to carry the Brides when they are retrieved.

Recompense for the mission is to be substantial.

For each Bride successfully recovered, each surviving party member will receive 5,000gp. If and when all seven Brides are in Eyeless’ posession, the party, as a whole, will be given a bonus of a Ring of Three Wishes and a full set of Gainful Librams.

Session: • 01020304

Session 1: Up, Up and Away!

It has been about eight months since the Ziggurat Job. The sun is still immobile in the sky, shrouded by a net of vaporous black tendrils, and the land is in permanent semi-darkness, like deep twilight. The moon is still free and moving, and only that provides any change in the gloom. Vegetation is sickening and dying everywhere, it has become increasingly cold, and wide-spread famine is imminent.

Our Heroes have been mostly idle, apart from various small and insignificant jobs: a spot of debt collection here and there, mostly.

Over the past week or so, Skrær has seen an influx of wizardly types, along with their wizardly retinues of greater or lesser ostentation, passing through town and up the road towards Eyeless' manse. A few have returned and left the town, but most have not been seen again.

Wthout warning, the house on Bucket Lane received a visit by Parrot, Eyeless' factotum, bringing the team the news of a new job in the offing. He gave the party the details of the mission (see above) and delivered into their care the Flying Carpet, the Portable Hole, and a small wooden casket containing the first section of the Rod of Seven Parts, along with instructions in their uses.

After a brief bout of equipping with essentials (such as as many healing potions as they could afford) the team climbed on to the carpet with Novi at the helm and took off, following the direction indicated by the Rod: straight out and roughly south-southwest across the Ædrismere. Even Novi, the most capable pilot among the team was unable to achieve much altitude above the water because of the general elevation of the surrounding land, and once across the lake they were forced to follow a meandering course flying between the hills, over the dark, forested valleys below.

"Riding a Flying Carpet" by Viktor Vasnetsov, 1880
(darkened down quite a bit to make it nightish)

After about four hours of flight, during which they spied several peculiar flying creatures out in the gloom, they found themselves above a river which they decided to follow, its course being roughly in the direction they wanted to go.

It was shortly after this that the first disaster of the day occurred: a wyvern dropped out of a bluff beside the river and began dive-bombing the carpet, zooming past and whipping out with its poisonous tail stinger. It managed to hit Sharn several times, though without penetrating sufficiently to poison her, and Novi decided to make a landing, aiming for a river meadow up ahead.

Before she could manage that, Ul'rak, in an excess of enthusiasm and fumble-fingeredness, flung his extremely valuable magical flail away, and then in his attempt to save it, also flung himself away and over the edge! He fell about thirty feet before hitting a tree-limb and bouncing the rest of the way to the ground. He did not (quite) die at this time.

Sharn and Novi between them managed to drive off the wyvern, and then landed to find and tend to the deeply stunned Ul'rak. He and Sharn looked high and low.... actually, just low... for the flail, but could not find it anywhere, even after hours of searching. They'd pretty much given it up for lost (though Sharn was still searching in the river, in case it had fallen in the water), when Novi had the bright idea of using one of her scrolls of Wizard Eye to search the tree-tops, thinking that being a chain-flail, it would be quite likely to have caught and wrapped itself around a branch. Success!

Rejoicing was dampened slightly when Novi reported that her Wizard Eye also saw a small swarm of fairies clustered around the flail. They have not had good reports of fairies, and feared having their ears turned into donkey's ears, or worse...

Nevetheless, they couldn't leave the flail, and after a terrible exhibition of non-climbing from Ul'rak, Novi again used her magic to good effect by Levitating hand-over-hand up the tree to where the flail was entangled. The fairies scattered as she appeared, without turning her into anything unnatural, and she was able to disentangle it and bring it back down.

After a brief rest and meal, they took off again, still following the course of the river, that being the easiest path for Novi to plot. A couple of hours into their second flight, the river turned due south and passed into a deep ravine, far too high for Novi to be able to coax the carpet over. Having no other options but to go forward or go back, they went on.

Naturally, they were attacked again. Of course they were. This time by a flock of four Mobats. And so occurred the second disaster of the day.

The flock came in screaming, causing Sharn to cower with her hands over her ears, and Novi attempted to accelerate away from them while Ul'rak tried to fight them off... with farcical results. He swung his mighty flail, and once again he fumbled, this time the flail whipped around and he smacked himself in the back of his own head, stunning himself.

Novi's plan to fly away from the swarm was foiled as they battened on Sharn and Ul'rak (Novi being invisible, thanks to her magical ring), so she abandoned the "running away" plan, and instead cast a Sleep spell, hoping at least to reduce the number of enemies they had to cope with. Alas, the dice had other ideas, and the only victims of the spell turned out to be... Sharn and Ul'rak of course. It was inevitable, really.

Fortunately, the GM forgot the bit about Sleeping victims being able to be killed automatically, so Novi was able to drive off the flock before either Sharn or Ul'rak were eaten, so at least there's that.

All in all, the first day of the mission could have gone better.

Session 2: Let the Dice Fall As They May... But Not Like That!

The team carried on down-river, and after about half an hour's flight, in the dim light of the half-moon, spied below them an elderly man in chain mail holding what appeared to be a lantern and waving at them. He turned out to be Grimslade, a human cleric, whose boat had struck on rocks in the rapids of the ravine and been battered to bits, leaving him stranded with no way off the rocks, and his "lantern" proved to be a glowing mace.

He was initially taken aback by the fierce and brutal appearance of Sharn and Ul'rak, but was reassured by Novi and happily accepted a lift southwards.

Since they'd been on the go pretty much without a rest for hours, they decided, once they cleared the southern mouth of the ravine, to find somewhere to rest, and started looking for a water-meadow or similar to set down on. The first one proved to be unpleasantly boggy, the second seemed salubrious except for the unpleasantly skull-heavy fetishes hanging from the trees and the drums coming from the hills to the west.

The carpet was becoming fractious at having flown so long without a rest, so rather than fly further down-river, they convinced it to just do a short hop across the water so that they could camp under cover of the trees. And just in time too; they'd just got settled and fire started against the freezing cold, when a party of Wild Elves appeared on the meadow they'd just vacated — they could not tell at that distance (about 80 yards) if it was a hunting or war party. There were eight of them, five on the river bank peering across towards where Our Heroes were encamped, and the other three examining the ground where they'd originally landed.

Sharn was on watch, and the only one awake at that point. One of the elves, sharper-eyed than the others, caught a glimpse of her in the gloom, and the party at the river-bank opened fire with their long bows. A couple of arrows grazed Sharn as she took cover, and she yelled to waken the rest of the group. She stepped out to return fire with her own bow, slightly wounding one elf even at such long range in the dark, but in return was hit by three more arrows, one of which punched right through her left arm!

Novi, deciding that discretion was the better part of valour, cast Invisibility 10' Radius, and got everyone on to the carpet to get the hell out of Dodge. The carpet proved obstreperous, but was eventually convinced to cooperate. The elves, firing blind, still managed to send an arrow alarmingly close between the Good Guys as they made a dash for it down the river, but nobody else was hurt.

About half an hour of flying later, Novi set down on a long, thin island, lightly wooded and made up of large boulders at its northern end. Sharn had been feeling worse and worse, and by that time was completely paralysed — apparently the elf arrow had been poisoned, but fortunately it seemed the elves had been a hunting party, as the poison was mainly paralytic, not instantly lethal. Nevertheless, Sharn was in a parlous state, and Grimslade was kept busy with healing magic trying to stay ahead of the damage the poison was doing to her body.

While everyone else rested, they did a brief exploration of the island — not a difficult task, as it was only about thirty feet wide and maybe a couple of hundred feet long. On its highest point they found a cairn, fairly obviously a grave, with fetishes like corn-dollies hanging from the branches of the trees all round. There was some discussion as to whether or not a bit of archaeology might be in order. Opinions differed; eventually Grimslade started lifting rocks, but desisted when he noticed the corn-dollies all starting to vibrate violently. He replaced the rocks he'd moved, and they became quiescent again.

Throughout their stay, a group of very timid, but curious, creatures came up out of the water to observe them. They were sleek-furred humanoids, quite seal-like but with arms and hands, and huge liquid eyes; Novi wondered if they might be selkies. They were keen to watch the goings-on on the island, but as soon as they sensed they were themselves observed they plopped back into the river. They returned on several occasions. Ul'rak was dissuaded from trying to eat one.

After about six hours, Sharn's paralysis began to ease, and the party made ready to get under way again. All but one: the carpet steadfastly refused to move until it had had a decent rest, so they were stuck on the island for another whole day. There were worse places to be; they were pretty safe from intruders, and they had plenty of food, so they resigned themselves to getting a bit more rest.

The following day the carpet was in a much better mood, and they flew off again southwards, having re-checked their bearing with the Rod segment.

About four hours took them out away from the river and forested hills, out over the desert of the Curséd Land. They were flying over huge craters and broken, glassy rocks; from time to time they noticed pockets of weird pulpy fungus-like vegetation clustered in the bottoms of some of the craters. In these, and in some others as well, there showed an unsettling, sickly glow.

Up ahead on their bearing, they saw a range of bare, rocky hills or mounds. Embedded in the peak of one, directly on their course, jutted what appeared to be a huge elongated metallic egg.

They decided to rest a bit before investigating any more closely, and set down on a concealed and defensible spot on the outer slope of one of the massive craters. The ground underfoot is hard and jagged. Some distance to the west — it's difficult to say exactly how far in the gloom — they can see the red glow and smoke of a volcano.

Session 3: Tactical Genius...?

After a few hours rest, the team, with the grudging acquiescence of the carpet, flew off again. They'd taken a confirmation bearing with the Rod segment, which pointed directly at the metal egg, so they flew off at a tangent to it to get a triangulatory bearing which confirmed their supposition that their target was indeed in there somewhere.

They flew fairly low towards the egg, passing over a group of raggedly-robed humanoids — about a dozen of them — accompanied by a huge spider-like creature, about the size of a pony, with a small howdah on its back.

The team's first instinct was to land and ambush and slaughter them, because why not? Right? However, being so low, they were clearly visible to the party below, who appeared to be somewhat agitated at their presence. Our Heroes regretfully decided that, without surprise, an ambush might not be an easy slaughter after all, so they carried on their merry aerial way instead.

As they neared the broken and craggy hillside, they noticed a flurry of movement at a couple of places, and heard a blaring, repetitive BLARRRP! BLARRRP! BLARRRP!, clearly an alarm. They were unable to make out any detail of the movement in the gloom. All was revealed when they got within a hundred metres or so, when with a series of resonant SPWONGGGGGs, ballista bolts passed around, and in one case directly between them. Fortunately nobody was hit, but they decided to beat a hasty retreat and Novi got everyone invisible again with her Very Useful Invisibility 10' Radius spell.

They landed uphill from one of the ballista emplacements, and formulated a Cunning Plan: ATTACK! Yep, it's that old chestnut, the Frontal Attack Against Unknown Odds, so beloved of adventuring parties everywhere.

They clambered downhill, sending little showers of sharp, glassy rocks leaping and bounding before them, until they reached a point where they could see the heads of eight hooded figures peering up towards them, chittering at each other in a shrill bird-like language that none of the party could understand. Grimslade prepared a rock, on which he planned to cast a Silence spell, to aid in their stealthy and furtive.... well, charge really.

And charge they did. In characteristic Keystone Kops fashion, Sharn then immediately tripped over the parapet as she swung ineffectually at somebody's head, and hurled herself down into the pit, bouncing off the ballista on the way down. Naturally, she was then completely visible to the twenty or so morlocks down there, who immediately dogpiled her and started to kick the crap out of her.

The others had a little more success on the upper parapet, but Novi decided that the odds in the pit itself were a bit high, so shouting a warning to Sharn she prepared her Fireball scroll as Grimslade tossed his Silenced stone into the midst of the morlocks. Sharn leapt free, over the front parapet, just before Novi's unexpectedly potent Fireball exploded, perfectly soundlessly, with a bright, bright flash of light.

They jumped own into the pit, now illuminated by a vigorously burning ballista, and found leading into the hillside, the broken end of a once finely-made passageway, ending in an oval metal door with a cicular handle in its centre.

Sharn threw herself on to the wheel and got the door open, only to find behind it an arched 12’ passageway absolutely stuffed full of morlocks. They appeared to be somewhat stunned to see her. Our Heroes were taken only slightly aback, with the exception of Ul'rak, who was vigilantly maintaing vigilance toward the back, and was completely unaware of the massing enemy.

It was only at this point that I remembered the rule about fighters getting multiple attacks against creatures of less than 1 HD, so the team suddenly became a lot more effective in combat.

Sharn started the party by slaughtering all the morlocks within reach, as did Ul'rak once he got up with the play, and then Novi cast Sleep on the area and cleared the way of conscious morlocks. They stepped through the door, only to find even more morlocks waiting for them. They set to slaughterin', and slaughter they did, with gusto. Grimslade brought up the rear, applying Cure spells as required, and finishing off the unconscious morlocks.

I had forgotten that Grimslade, being human, couldn't see squat in the dark. Let's say that enough light leaked through from the burning ballista to let him do his work. Yes, let's say that.

At one point, Novi attempted another Fireball down the passage, (above, it must be said, the alarmed protestations of her team-mates, who had an irrational fear of immolation). To her puzzlement and dismay, the little spark of flame went sailing down the passage, above the heads of the morlock throng.... and then just went out.

Eventually the morlocks had had enough, and attempted to flee, with our gore-drenched threshing machines following up behind them. All of a sudden the rout stopped, and the morlocks all, as a body, turned back to the attack with suddenly unsettlingly blank expression.

It would have done them no good against the mighty thews of our favourite band of Massacrin' Machines, except for the arrival of their net-cannon teams. Everyone except Sharn was entangled in quick succession, and things would have looked bleak indeed if not for Novi's quick-thinking activation of her Ring of Force: she risked expending four charges simultaneously to erect a Wall of Force between the struggling netted party and the main mass of morlocks, and then cast a Stinking Cloud in amongst them to occupy them while the Good Guys made their ignominious escape, those who had managed to struggle free dragging the others.

Escape they did, but alas, it transpired that Ul'rak had died from his wounds, and from the strangulation of the net. Sharn was inconsolable at the death of her brother, and insisted on getting back to town as soon as possible to have him brought back to life, until they worked out how much that was going to cost. So, then she decided to just nick all his stuff off his rapidly-coooling corpse, while being a bit sad. They stuffed the cadaver into the Portable Hole until they could get a space to decide properly what to do with it.

They are now back out in the desert, licking their wounds and mourning their dead, and pondering the truth of that old saying, Time spent in reconnaissance is seldom wasted.

Session 4: Out With The Old, In With The New

The Egg

Flying back out over the rugged badlands, now sans 25% of their strength after the death of Ul'Rak, the team were at a bit of a loss as to just what to do next.

They took a confirmation bearing with the Rod segment, which proved interesting: the direction to the second Rod segment no longer passed straight through the Egg! Another bearing a little later showed a larger variance, indicating that the Rod segment was on the move. Were the morlocks moving it? What was going on?

They decided to investigate.

Novi stepped up their speed of flight, with surprisingly little complaint from the carpet, and using the Rod segment as a direction-finder, homed in on Segment #2. It was fortunate that they were invisible, as their path took them directly over a large group of very angry-looking morlocks, moving as quickly as their little legs could carry them, and accompanied by two of the spider-beast palanquins.

Our heroes thought at first that the morlocks were carrying the Rod segment with them, but Segment #1 pointed further ahead, and they soon came upon a diminutive humanoid scampering as quickly across the sharp, frost-covered desert rubble as fast as his little legs could carry him. It was pretty clear that he wouldn't be able to stay ahead of the morlocks for much longer, and it was also pretty clear, by the behaviour of Rod Segment #1 that he was in posession of #2.

Naturally, the team's first instinct was to land, kill him, and swipe the segment. Of course. However, after a short discussion, Novi elected to attempt an invisible barn-swallow: with deft control, she swooped down just in front of him and they waited for him to run directly on to the carpet, whereupon Sharn grabbed him up (thus becoming visible again) and they flew off again with the morlocks none the wiser.

Their prisoner turned out to be a halfling, Oswald Tenpenny, who had been hired by one of Eyeless' colleagues, Tim the Enchanter, to steal a march on Our Guys and get the rod segment before them for a princely 1,000gp reward — which he had succeeded in doing, just making it out of the Egg ahead of a swarm of morlocks infuriated at the desecration of their Holy of Holies. he would never have made it out at all, if not for the sudden and inexplicable diversion of a great number of the morlocks to an alarm elsewhere.

Tim the Enchanter (sometimes known disparagingly, by his colleagues, as Tim the Dim) hadn't given Oswald any instructions about the mummy at all, except that the rod segment was inside her wrappings, so the halfling was unaware of the full scope of Our Heroes' mission, nor the extent of their pay, for that matter. Sharn, deciding against a summary execution, started trying to recruit him into the expedition.

Since the only member of the party visible at this time was Sharn, a half-orc, Tenpenny was somewhat suspicious and wary, and other voices coming out of nowhere failed to appease his caution in any way. Still, eventually he began to come around, especially when he found out he'd be in line for five times the cash offered by Tim.

Novi cast about for somewhere to set down for a time where everyone could recover from the debacle back at the Egg, and found a promisingly defensible spot on the slopes of a mound, from the peak of which jutted the remains of another great Egg that appeared to have been violently torn apart from within. The potential campsite proved slightly less than ideal when they spotted a colony of huge centipedes scurrying about in it, but Sharn just got out her bow and.... shot an arrow straight through the carpet, breaking the bowstring in the process.

The carpet expressed profound displeasure at this sort of behaviour, but refrained from going as far as dumping everybody off. Novi attempted to cast a stinking cloud down into the hollow which fizzled due to interference from the ambient magical disruption, so Tenpenny, grandly and with a great flourish, proved his claim to be a Mighty Wizard by bringing out his Wand of Wonder and casting.... by golly, a stinking cloud! A fortunate coincidence which pleased him mightily.

They landed once the cloud had disippated and killed the disabled centipedes without any trouble, and settled down to pull themselves back together, and to discuss what to do with the corpse of Ul'Rak. In the end, they buried most of him beneath a cairn, and Sharn took some of his finger-bones and plaited them into her hair.

Ankheg figure from Reaper Miniatures, painted by me.

Alas, the centipedes proved not to be the last of their immediate troubles. The team were woken abruptly by a rumbling, clattering from beneath, and leaped up to the shrieks, suddenly cut off, of Grimslade (on watch) being bitten entirely in half by an Ankheg (due to administrative necessity*).

* I hate running NPCs, so Grimslade was doomed, really. Poor old Grimslade.

The ankheg was dealt with fairly quickly, but not before dousing Novi with a jet of high-pressure digestive acids that left her badly burned, and her clothes in ragged rotten tatters.

That was the last bad turn for a couple of days, which allowed Our Heroes time to recover a bit and make a plan to get back into the Egg for the mummy of the Bride. Our new hero, Oswalt, was a boon here, as he'd already been in and out, and though he had been following a magical location stone and his actual knowledge of the layout of the complex being only fragmentary, even that little bit was better than no information at all.

Novi used her second-to-last scroll of Invisibility 10' Radius to invisibleize everyone. There was an alarming, though brief period immediately after she'd finished reading the scroll when everyone was outlined by færie fire, and even after that faded, since everyone affected by the spell could see each other, nobody was quite sure whether they'd actually been made invisible or not. Eventually somebody noticed that none of them were casting any moon-shadows, so comforted, they floated off back towards the Egg, and the back entrance originally used by Tenpenny.

No activity could be discerned outside, and the entrance tunnel was just a black hole in the gloom. Flying closer, close enough to get their infravision into play, they could make out barricades that had been thrown up, with a mass of vigilant-looking hooded morlocks peering over them. The tunnel was high enough that they could easily float straight over the top of them, but there were two potential obstacles: Tenpenny had warned them that the morlocks made good use of other senses than their eyes (which they hardly use at all), and hanging from the ceiling of the tunnel were the dangling lures of glow-worms.

We ended at this point, as I hadn't actually mapped out the interior of the complex yet. I wasn't expecting to be running my game that evening, but a cancellation by a player meant that our alternative campaign game couldn't really go ahead.

The team decided to brave it, and with everyone lying as flat on the carpet as they could, Novi steered a path between the morlocks' heads and the glow-worm webs.

More to Come Later