The Nentir Vale was once a part of the thriving human empire of Nerath. Seated on the western frontier of the Empire, the Nentir Vale nevertheless enjoyed the potent protection of the armies of Nerath until nearly a century ago, when the heirless emperor was killed in battle and infighting left the empire vulnerable to external threats. Now the Vale, like so many places in the world, is left without external aid. The good people of the Vale resist the tide of darkness around them as best they can, but they are hopelessly outnumbered and outmatched. The few points of light left in the Vale are going dark, one by one.
The story so far:
Our story begins with a group of five adventurers, as such stories often do. These particular five adventurers were known as Dram (a tiefling bard, played by Charlie), Sureshot (human ranger, Brady), Irulan (Elf wizard, Katherine), Velna (Elf druid, Joy), and Vimak (Human fighter, Andrew).
The group set out for the small town of Winterhaven at the request of a young priest named Marla. Marla had heard rumors of a death cult rising in Winterhaven, and wanted it verified and dealt with. They were less than a day’s journey from the town when a small band of kobolds attacked. It was a confused fight, and the greenhorn adventurers were nearly overwhelmed. At one point in the battle, Irulan launched an acid arrow at Vimak, hoping to coat the kobolds surrounding him in acid. The kobolds avoided the acid for the most part, but Vimak was knocked out of commission by the magical attack. The party managed to fend off the remaining kobolds and made for the town. All save Vimak, who opted to return to Fallcrest and relative safety, his brief adventuring career over.
The party was quickly ushered into the town to meet with Lord Padraig, the local ruler, and wasted no time in getting things started on the wrong foot. Mention of a death cult set Padraig on edge, and when he pressed for more information, Sureshot’s evasive lie-s lost them his trust immediately. All the same, the local lord needed help clearing the surrounding lands of kobolds, so he charged them with clearing out the kobolds’ main camp. While in the town, the party met Valthrun the Prescient, the town’s sage, Wrafton the barkeep, Ninamaran the hunter (who proved immune to Sureshot’s charms), Elian the old, and Ghesh the dragonborn paladin (Grant). Ghesh readily agreed to join the group and the party set out to clear out the kobold cave and investigate a nearby archeological site for a townsman’s missing friend.
The fighting at the kobold cave was intense, but the party prevailed. The main body of kobolds was annihilated and information was found that hinted at a plot against the town and a traitor within the walls of Winterhaven. The party had no trouble freeing the captive archeologist at the dig site, from whom they learned that a ruined keep nearby was being used by a man known as Kalarel to house his death cult.
The party returned to the town, keeping their newly-gleaned information from the locals, to avoid tipping off the enemy agent. The party suspected that the elven flower girl in the town square was the spy, but without proof could not act against her in good conscience. They instead headed to the ruined keep to investigate the cult.
The keep was infested with monsters. Goblins, giant rats, kobold survivors, zombies, skeletons and more roamed the dank basement levels of structure (the building itself had collapsed long ago). The party overcame each obstacle, learning more about their foe with each encounter. At length, the party decided to return to town to rest and recover (historians think someone in the party may have died and needed to be raised, but can’t come to a consensus as to who), only to find the town gates closed. The dead in the adjacent graveyard had risen from their eternal rest to stalk the living, and the townsfolk had sealed the city against the undead tide. The party was allowed in to rest and recover before heading to the graveyard to deal with this new threat.
An ambush waited at the cemetery (as ambushes are wont to do) and the party learned that Ninamaran had been the enemy agent all along. To add injury to insult, Ninamaran fired her first arrow at Sureshot, hitting him and leaving a physical wound to go along with the betrayal. In a rage, Sureshot fired 4 arrows in rapid succession, slaying Ninamaran before she could even celebrate her successful shot. The rest of the undead fell quickly, and the party let the townsfolk know the area was secure before heading back to the keep and entering its second basement level.
The lower basement level was overrun by hobgoblins, but the party cut through them easily. Not even an encounter with a gelatinous cube in a narrow hallway fazed them. They were slowed temporarily by a room full of traps Kalarel had set up, but before long they were cutting down the last few zombies and cultists between them and Kalarel himself.
Kalarel had been attempting to open a portal to the Shadowfell, the realm of the dead, when the party arrived. The ritual was nearly complete, and dark shapes stirred beyond the portal, hungry for release. A massive clawed arm swept out from the portal, attempting to snare members of the party who got too close. In the end, the portal proved Kalarel’s undoing when he was shoved into it and trapped in the realm of death. Unfortunately, the thing in the portal was able to reach out and grab Velna as well, and she too was lost to the Shadowfell.
The threat of Kalarel was defeated and the party found a new member while cleaning out the remaining hobgoblins. Her name was Nyla (fighter, Joy) and she was eager to join the party and smash some heads. Upon their return to Winterhaven, Lord Padraig rewarded the party handsomely and named them the Heroes of Winterhaven. However, the adventurers had little time to rest before a new crisis arose which also demanded their attention.
Far to the east, near the city of Fallcrest, the great Thunderspire Mountain rises to pierce the sky. Within that mountain sits a labyrinth designed and built in ages past by minotaurs. Long since abandoned and overrun by monsters, a small group of masters of the arcane had taken it upon themselves to reclaim the labyrinth for humanity. Their efforts were only partially successful; they cleared the top level of the labyrinth and set up residence in the Seven-Pillared Hall, calling themselves the Mages of Saru’un. The Hall was a neutral ground; creatures of good and evil could come and do business there, so long as they did not create a disturbance.
Lord Padraig of Winterhaven had heard rumors of a thriving slave trade within Thunderspire, and called upon the party to investigate. He offered them 1,000gp for returning with proof that the slaver threat had been eliminated. The party accepted, and set out for Thunderspire immediately.
The journey to Thunderspire was uneventful, for the most part, though the party did encounter a small slaving party just before reaching the hall. The adventurers slew the slavers and rescued a halfling, Rendil Halfmoon. Rendil’s mother owned the Halfmoon Inn in the Seven-Pillared Hall, and the halfling led them to the Hall with promises of free room and board for the duration of their stay.
The Hall itself bustled with commerce. Several merchant companies had set up permanent businesses in the Hall, and there was even an exiled drow, Gendar, selling magical equipment to anyone with the coin. The dark elf immediately took a liking to the party and their consistent supply of coin, tempting them with new items he had obtained specifically for the adventurers.
The Hall had only one religious structure, the Temple of Hidden Light, which housed Phaledra, the priestess of Erathis. Also at the temple was Surina, a dragonborn warlock dedicated to the eradication of evil in all its forms.
The last notable figure the party met was Orontor, one of the Mages of Saru’un. He granted the party leave to track down the slavers and requested reports from the group on their efforts.
The halfling Rendil knew the location of the slavers’ base, known as the Chamber of Eyes. He gave the party directions so that they would be able to navigate the labyrinth in safety. A two-pronged assault by the party left every slaver in the Chamber dead, but did not turn up any slaves. A larger operation, run by the duergar, had purchased them. The party headed back to the hall, hoping to find some information as to where the duergar would be hiding in the Labyrinth.
The group reported to Orontor, who pointed them in the direction of the duergar trading house within the Hall itself. If anyone would know where the duergar base would be, it would be them. He urged the party to avoid making a scene if possible, and promised to delay an investigation if there were a disturbance.
Before dealing with the duergar, however, the party had another conflict to deal with. Surina, the zealous dragonborn, accused Ghesh of allying himself with the forces of evil. Affronted, the paladin demanded that Surina back her words with proof. She pointed towards Gendar’s shop, accusing the drow of obtaining his wares from evil creatures and through illegal deals. Ghesh and Surina went together to confront Gendar, who maintained that he was a businessman who could not pass judgments upon his clients if he were to retain clients. After all, he argued, it was likely that the party had killed others to obtain the vast amounts of money they spent at his shop. There were rumors of the party ambushing a group of hobgoblins within the labyrinth itself. It was not Gendar’s place to verify the party’s innocence; their gold was good, as was the gold of anyone else he worked with. Satisfied that Gendar was not overtly evil (just greedy), Ghesh spared him. Incensed, Surina stormed away, and the party set out to confront the duergar in the Hall.
The dark dwarves were not keen on selling out their kin, and attacked the party. After all the duergar had been killed, a search of their trading house yielded directions to the Horned Hold, the base of the duergar slavers.
On their way to the Hold, the party encountered two groups within the twisting corridors of the Labyrinth. The first was an eccentric dwarf noble named Thain Cardenas and his four barbarian bodyguards. The party paid him due obeisance and gained his favor. He pressed the adventurers for a site of suitable danger, and the party directed him to the Horned Hold.
The second group was led by Surina, and was a strange group indeed. She had allied herself with demons and vile monsters of the deep to exact her revenge upon Ghesh for his ‘corruption.’ The battle was difficult, and the party was badly bloodied before they finished off the last of the attackers. Wounded and far from the Seven-Pillared Hall, they decided to rest.
Resting within the depths of the Labyrinth is not the safest thing one can do, and the party was awakened when a gelatinous cube began absorbing their legs in their sleep. They awoke and defeated the cube, discovering a tablet within its remains. The tablet spoke of an item of great power, Corybant, and of the dangers involved in retrieving such an item. The group decided to deal the duergar first, then go after Corybant.
When they arrived at the Horned Hold, the party found the front entrance too secure for their liking. With the help of Sureshot’s skill in dungeoneering, the group found and cleared a collapsed back entrance to the hold, and attacked from there. The battle began to turn against them within the main hall, but the arrival of Thain Cardenas and his bodyguards helped turn the tide. The Hold was secured, and Thain claimed it for his own, as a future dwarven stronghold.
Many slaves were freed from the Hold, and among the dead duergar the party found a note from a collaborator signed only with a ‘P.’ The party showed the note to Orontor, and he identified the writer as Paldemar, a Mage of Saru’un who had been missing for several weeks. Orontor asked the party to look into Paldemar’s disappearance, and neutralize him if he had indeed chosen to join the forces of evil.
Before hunting down Paldemar, the party decided to obtain Corybant. Four trials guarded the ancient relic, one for each of the four elements. The first, a trial of air, saw the party face vengeful spirits in a tall chamber whose updrafts could carry a person up several stories in the blink of an eye. The second, the earth trial, consisted of man-eating plants and a rock monster who could burrow underground at need. The third, the water trial, was home to dozens of zombies and tainted wells. The fourth, the trial of fire, was a room filled with blinding smoke and a massive magma monster. After beating the four trials, the party finally reached the chamber of Corybant, which was itself protected by a half-dozen warforged and an angel of valor. This final test was nearly too much for the party, and Nyla barely reached Corybant in time to bring its devastating powers to bear against the remaining guardians. Everyone survived, but a couple of party members were a hair’s breadth from permanent death, their souls doomed to guard the chamber forever.
Bearing Corybant and informed of Paldemar’s plans, the group’s next destination was the Well of Demons, a shrine to the evil minotaur god Baphomet that Paldemar sought to convert to serve his new master, whomever it was. The party needed to obtain 4 items to open the path to the inner sanctum and disrupt the ritual Paldemar had set in motion to subvert the Well. The party faced a hallway full of trapped mirrors, waded through a pool of blood (at which point Sureshot mysteriously vanished), and even slew a green dragon. They were at the open doors to the inner sanctum when they learned that Paldemar had attacked the Seven-Pillared Hall itself.
They left the Well, knowing they had only 24 hours until the inner sanctum closed again, and headed back to the Hall as fast as they could. Orontor had gathered several of the dispersed Mages of Saru’un back to the Hall, and they made a valiant stand against Paldemar and his minions. It was not enough, however, and when the party arrived the Hall had fallen. Paldemar threw Orontor from the tallest tower in the Hall, and Nyla and Ghesh were unable to reach the foot of the tower in time to catch Orontor and break his fall. Paldemar vanished in the aftermath, and the party was left to survey the remnants of the Hall. Gendar’s shop had been destroyed, and the drow himself had been killed as he rushed about giving weapons to the residents of the Hall so they could defend themselves. Orontor had been killed by the fall. The Halfmoons had been killed in the initial fighting, fighting alongside the guards of the Hall against the invaders. Their Inn had been destroyed long after the life had left their bodies. The priestess Phaledra had healed her companions in the hall as they fought until Paldemar killed her personally.
Only two apprentices from the tower had survived, and they opted to stay and salvage what they could. The party headed back to the Well of Demons to find that the ritual had already been completed and the Well had fallen to the service of Vecna, undead lord of knowledge and deception and Paldemar’s new deity. They fell back to the Hall to find and eliminate Paldemar, the Well already a lost cause.
They were able to follow Paldemar’s trail back to his new home, the Tower of Hidden Mysteries, but were blocked by an unseen force. An apparition of Vecna himself appeared before the party and demanded payment. Information was the apparition’s currency, and the party ended up paying handsomely for entry. They gave information about Lord Padraig’s illegitimacy as ruler of Winterhaven, the loss of Velna to the Shadowfell, and the disappearance of Sureshot, brother of the fallen Velna. The apparition was pleased, and the party was allowed through.
The Tower of Mysteries was Paldemar’s personal playground. He had former ‘allies’ trapped within and subject to horrific experiments. He forced the party to play a game of ‘red light, green light’ as he pitted his former friends against the adventurers. Paldemar set up an entire fake laboratory to lure the party in, detonating it when they were all in the center of his explosive runes. The party continued forward, however, and slew a few of his guardian golems in his workshop. They then stood at the entrance to Paldemar’s Laboratory, with vengeance nigh at hand.
The party finally caught up with Paldemar within his lab, where his latest twisted experiment had just been completed. Sureshot, captured by Paldemar’s agents after he went rogue to stop Paldemar on his own, had been relieved of his skin. In its place, Paldemar had grafted in undead flesh. His ritual completed just before the party entered the lab, Paldemar then had control over Sureshot and forced him to attack his own kin and friends. Several other undead abominations, including the minor lich Kalarel, joined Sureshot in the attack. Paldemar opted to retreat to his inner sanctum and allow his minions to kill the heroes.
Unfortunately for Paldemar’s plans, Sureshot retained far too much of his humanity to remain captive to the ritual for long. Seconds into the battle he began fighting for control, and in less than a minute had shifted his allegience back to his friends’ side. He helped take out the underwhelming return of Kalarel and clear the path to Paldemar, but not before Ghesh had fallen to a horde of zombies. The party returned to Fallcrest and revived Ghesh, then returned to face Paldemar at last.
Paldemar had rigged his lair with dozens of traps, but the heroes knew better than to meet him on his terms. They kept their distance and flung spells and arrows at the corrupted mage. Paldemar, who had gained possession of the Eye of Vecna for himself, matched their attacks with punishing spells of his own. The party kept back behind defensive pillars, nursing several serious wounds as they continued to harry Paldemar from afar. All save for Nyla, who, driven onward by Corybant, charged Paldemar and hounded him continually as he teleported from platform to platform. The battle was long and bloody, but in the end Paldemar fell, consumed as he died by the very Eye that had granted him such terrible power.
The party was left to decide what to do with the Eye. It was an immesurably powerful artifact, one that would grant overwhelming power to its owner. Ghesh immediately informed his friends that, should any of them opt to take the Eye, he would be honor-bound to slay them to prevent its corruption from wreaking new havoc. Corybant solved the problem for them. It nudged Nyla firmly into attacking the Eye. She did so, and when the party recovered from the explosive magical energies brought on by that conflict, Corybant and the Eye of Vecna were gone.
Exhuasted, wounded and now lacking the artifact they had fought so hard to win, the party made its way to the ruins of the Seven-Pillared Hall. The few survivors hailed them as the heroes they were, and Irulan was immediately adopted by the two remaining apprentices as the new Archmagus of Saru’un. Rebuilding would take time, but Irulan now had the opportunity to form her own school of magic, as well as the loyalty of the people of the Hall.
The party received three messengers in the days that followed Paldemar’s defeat. One messenger came from Fallcrest, bearing an invitation to meet with Lord Markelhay and his family and with that invitation an urge to make haste. A second messenger came from Lord Padraig in Winterhaven, concerned about unrest within the ranks of Ghesh’s comrades from the Glorious Host who had set up camp within the ruins of Gardmore Abbey. A third came from Hammerfast, bearing ill tidings of a dark force within the Dawnforge Mountains.
The group considered their options and decided to first visit with Lord Markelhay of Fallcrest, as he was the closest to the Seven-Pillared Hall. Hammerfast would be their next destination and Winterhaven would be visited last. The group arrived in Fallcrest after a week’s journey and received a warm welcome from their host and his wife Lady Allande Markelhay in Moonstone Keep. The adventurers had arrived just in time for a feast to honor the couple’s eldest son, Ernesto Markelhay. Several important nobles were there, including Amara Azaer and Selarund Halfmoon, two prominant traders in the city, Geld Seekingstone, a dwarf from Hammerfast who had come to petition aid, Ressilmae Starlight, A cleric and former adventuring companion of the Markelhays, Lady Odile Restothen, a vapid noblewoman from the South, “Lord” Armos Kamroth, a wealthy landowner who had granted himself his own title of nobility, Orest Naerumar, a dwarven priest who was new to the city, and finally Serim Selduzar, an expatriate tiefling noble.
Shortly after introductions were made, Lord Markelhay took the party aside and asked for their help in a small matter. His son, Ernesto, was now several hours late arriving to the keep. Lord Markelhay had sent his three sons Arnan, Trahern and Zale to fetch their brother, but that had been hours ago and they too were now missing. Lord Markelhay asked the heroes to find his sons and bring them back to the Keep, and the group agreed to go. As they left the Keep, a cloaked figure dropped a note in one of the group members’ pockets requesting a meeting. The party arrived at the designated meeting place too late; the messenger had been killed.
Dram and Irulan, however, were able to detect the residual arcane energy left by the killer, and read rudimentary images from his or her thoughts, which they made visible to the party. It quickly became apparent that the murderer intended to kill again, and the party was left to attempt to decipher the assassin’s thoughts in time to prevent another killing. They quickly determined that the Temple of the Sun was their destination, and made their way there with haste.
Ernesto Markelhay lay in the Temple, slowly being impaled by a giant stone spike. When the group moved to help him, several skeletons blocked their path. Sureshot and Ghesh were able to elude the skeletons long enough to reach the mechanism controlling the spike and save Ernesto’s life as Irulan, Dram and Nyla destroyed the undead creatures. More clues followed, and it took the party a bit longer to decipher them. Their next destination was to be the Septarch’s Tower, an abandoned tower of a then-deceased mage.
At the top of the tower the group found Arnan, magically bound and about to be teleported by inches into his parents’ dining hall. Irulan made her way towards the circle while the rest of the party fended off more monsters. One of the beasts, a particularly nasty creature, proved a great difficulty to the party until they shoved it into the same teleporter into which Arnan had been slowly inching. Irulan freed the lad and she and Dram presented the next set of clues to the party.
These clues, given in pairs, were maddeningly obtuse, and precious seconds ticked away as the images flickered before the party’s eyes. The seconds became minutes, and the party finally determined that the nearby waterfall was their intended destination. They made their way to the falls, but found nothing. Only then did they realize that the pair of clues represented the pair of waterfalls across town. They dashed to the falls, but only arrived in time to serve as witnesses to the deaths of Trahern and Zale as they drowned at the head of the falls. The pack of zombies and hags that had blocked them from rescuing the boys crumbled to nothing as the boys’ lives were extinguished.
With all of the Markelhay children accounted for in one form or another, the party thought they were done staving off tragedy. More images, however, potrayed battle and death within the Moonstone Keep. They rushed to the scene to find Lord and Lady Markelhay fighting for their lives in the streets outside the Keep against Serim Selduzar and his minions, including the monster the party had teleported away from themselves in the tower. Like everything else that entered the portal, the creature had ended up in the banquet hall.
The heroes fought alongside Faren and Allande, but the lord and lady of Fallcrest had abandoned their adventuring lives too long ago. Allande fell first despite Dram and Ghesh’s attempt to keep her healthy. Faren engaged the tiefling assassin in single combat, and he too was overwhelmed. Inspired and enraged by their valiant and tragic deaths, the adventurers cut down Selduzar, his minions, and his monstrousity. With his dying breath, Serim Selduzar cursed Osterneth the lich, who had promised him the city of Fallcrest would be his to rule. Ignoring his dying rantings, the group searched for the priest and cleric they had met that night, hoping to raise Faren and Allande from the grave.
Upon entering the Keep, however, their hopes were dashed. Blood and corpses filled the hall, including those of Orest Naerumar the dwarf priest and Ressilmae Starlight the cleric, who had fallen after slaying four opponents on his own. Unwilling to give up hope, the party searched the temples in town for scrolls that would allow untrained hands to perform the necessary rituals. They found one scroll. The choice of whether to raise Faren, Allande, or Ressilmae (the only people in town with adventurer’s spirits that could be called forth from the grave) was an obvioius one; if Ressilmae were successfully raised, he could attempt to raise the others. Fortune smiled upon the heroes and all three former adventurers returned to life.
Traumatized by the loss of two of his sons and the fact that his second-eldest, Arnan was now a cripple, Faren Markelhay abdicated his position as Lord of Fallcrest. He did not want to foster animosity such as this towards his family, and he did not think he could protect them adequately from enemies of this nature. He turned to Dram to take his place, as the tiefling had already demonstrated remarkable leadership, and in order to keep the people of Fallcrest from being blinded by Serim’s treachery into a hatred for all tieflings.
One other survivor of the attacks was later found: Lady Odil Restothen. She had hidden in terror at the first sight of danger, and had been fortunate enough to be spared. She immediately offered her eternal gratitude to Dram, as well as an economic treaty with her kingdom in the South. She left Fallcrest confident that she would help restore Fallcrest to what it had been in its glory days.
The Markelhays gave their most precious heirlooms to the adventurers in gratitude for all they had done. Dram was given Aeceme, the sister blade to Aecris. The sword had been drained of power in a time forgotten, but could be returned to its former strength with the proper ritual, which the heroes performed. Sureshot was given the Markelhay Bow, which had been in the family since the Markelhays first came to rule Fallcrest. Irulan was given Lady Allande’s enchanted cloak.
More people arrived at the city shortly thereafter. Traian and Wilhorn came from the Seven-Pillared Hall to help link the teleportation circle within the Septarch’s Tower to the circle within the Hall. A messenger came from Lord Padraig warning that the religious unrest was growing violent, and a dwarf arrived, wounded and dying, from Hammerfast. His last words were ‘siege,’ and ‘drow.’
The party set out immediately for Hammerfast, arriving in time to find a siege encampment of kobolds, orcs, duergar, and minotaur. Sureshot stealthily scouted out the walls of Hammerfast and was able to find a side entrance, which the party used to avoid confrontation with the main siege force.
It quickly became apparent that the enemy had learned about this side entrance as well. The party encounted xorn, drow, and traitorous dwarves who attempted to prevent the party from reinforcing the embattled dwarves inside the city. They fought their way through just in time to encounter Thain Cardenas and his bodyguards fending off a Drow priestess of Lolth and her warriors. After a bloody but victorious battle, Nyla was appointed leader of the survivors of Hammerfast, though she was none too happy about it.
The party received another letter from Lord Padraig, begging them to come aid him in calming the religious unrest in his city. Upon arriving in Winterhaven, the heroes found that a religious schism had divided a group of paladins in nearby Gardmore Abbey. As the paladins had made many recruits among the populace of Winterhaven, the same schism was affecting the city. Heated words had occasionally led to violence. Tensions had risen to the point that a group of new converts to Bahamut’s Talon were about to be hung by the followers of Bahamut’s Will.
Ghesh intervened, putting a stop to the execution and setting out with the party for Gardmore Abbey to resolve the conflict. There, the group learned that the two groups had come to blows over a tome that was rumored to be buried in the Abbey. While both sides agreed that the tome was doubtless powerful, Burkin, leader of Bahamut’s Will, believed it was too dangerous to use, while Mortanver, head of Bahamut’s Talon, believed it was necessary to use its power in order to protect civilization from the encroaching darkness. Urged by Mortanver to acquire the tome and Burkin to destroy it, the party headed into the depths of Gardmore Abbey.
The magical defenses beneath the Abbey proved formidable. A group of flameskulls and zombies proved little trouble, but a hallway trapped with a descending ceiling and venomous monsters that paralyzed and slowed their victims nearly spelled death for Nyla, who was pulled to safety at the last moment by Dram.
The party is now in a room filled with ancient jars and tombs, with several trials yet to face to unlock the door to the tome.