A Tour of the Planes

Last Season, on A Tour of the Planes
In which your narrator goes crazy with exposition.

This story begins, as many do, with a young woman. In our case the lady in question is Audra Bulgakov, of the Athkatla Bulgakovs. She had been tasked by her father to put a halt to bandit raids of family caravans. To that purpose she hired a number of, for lack of a better term, adventurers who were loitering in the Friendly Arms Inn north of Beregost. They were Yan von Eyss, a newly reborn deva, Grumnil Doomshield, a dwarven priest of Oghma, Charles, a half-elf “entrepreneur”, and Mazikeen, a human female of alien dress and mannerisms.

The group was able to root the bandits (members of a group known as the Black Talon) from their fort in the Cloakwood easily enough, but there were a number of unanswered questions. Who was the scarred draconian? Did he have any connection to the possessed draconian the group found attacking the bandits? What was the nature of the shadowy guardian of the portal in the basement? Why did the bandits have a portal in their basement? What was the purpose of these engraved stones? Why is Audra’s brother here? The last question had an immediate answer: fratricide. Andreyev decided to burn down the fort with his sister and her companions inside. They decided to make a tactical retreat through the active portal rather than be immolated.

The party found themselves in a strange land. It quickly became apparent that they were not in Faerun anymore. A small amount of investigation put them on the path for a second stone and a second gate, as well as, it turned out, a second guardian. With guardian defeated, stone obtained, and gate entered, they found themselves back in what was for most of them their plane of origin.

Further mucking about with Black Talon bandits resulted in two gains: a new employee for Charles, and the name of the Black Talon’s leader: Damon Gant. Gant’s trail led back to Athkatla and the party followed. While they were in town, Audra dropped in on her father. Her brother had said the man was dead, but her brother was also a back-stabbing scumbag, hardly a credible source. Indeed, Nikolai was very much alive, and very much happy to see that Audra was too. However, he was very unhappy about his new neighbor, one Lando Mollari. Turning a deaf ear to the merchants’ petty bickering, the group investigated a warehouse owned by Gant. While the man himself was absent, they did find a list of Black Talon personnel and a number of clues pointing towards a theater in the bridge district. The adventurers tried to gain entry, but they were turned away for lack of tickets. At this point, Mollari approached them with a deal: he would give them his tickets if they could get the mine that Charles had obtained through a combination of luck and even more luck running again. Apparently it was haunted.

So off they went to Nashkel. After shouting down the merchant’s guild, the party entered the mine, only to have the entrance immediately collapsed behind them by Roderick Chumpton, one of the merchants. Also, as Charles remembered all too late, one of the names of the Black Talon roster. The party fought their way past zombies, more zombies, and laser bats in an attempt to find what had corrupted the mine. It was yet another shadow creature. Someone had shipped this one to the mine, probably with the intent of letting it taint and destroy everything within. What actually happened, however, is that it was defeated. The adventurers returned to the surface with the intent of having a “discussion” with Chumpton. However, it turned out someone had already “discussed matters” with Chumpton. It was the sort of “discussion” that involves poison. The wiki will tell you it was suicide. The wiki will tell you lots of things.

Having fulfilled their part of the bargain, the group headed back to Athkatla. Mollari was good to his word and handed over the tickets to a performance of “Trapped in the Cage”. After a fascinating performance that flawlessly depicted what life in Sigil wasn’t like, the professional thugs turned theater patrons were ambushed by, well, another group of professional thugs, as well as a possessed drow. All were handily defeated. When the drow came to his senses, he explained that he was Ryltar Baenre, he had no idea how he got there, and he really wanted to hurt the parties responsible for his possession. This motive was found to be acceptable.

The newly expanded party barely had time to leave the theater before they were accosted by Mollari’s sniveling manservant Vir. He told them to meet Mollari in a warehouse later that night, and gave them a card he said might be useful. They went to the warehouse and found a bunch of crates with zombies in them, as well as Audra’s now possessed brother. Audra attempted to talk to him, but he would only respond to violence. Luckily for the Bulgakov bloodline, the spirit released its hold on him before he had to be killed.

The group took the unconscious Bulgakov scion back to his home, where his father revealed that Andreyev had returned to the estate a few weeks earlier, confessing his misdeeds and asking for forgiveness. Instead, Nikolai banished him. The father was now very distraught, believing that he had driven his son to this fate.

In the morning, the adventurers confronted Vir regarding his base treachery. The man graciously took time out of his busy schedule of hitting on one of Audra’s sisters to proclaim both innocence regarding the trap and ignorance regarding his master’s whereabouts. Undeterred, the group went to Mollari’s mansion and found it seemingly abandoned. Closer examination revealed a series of secret tunnels beneath the house. These puzzling passages led to a chamber housing none other than Damon Gant. The man took the time to finish whatever he was writing on before attacking the group. During the fight, it became clear that Gant too had been possessed. After his death, the party took closer stock of the room. In addition to Gant’s journal, the contents of which can be found elsewhere, there was also a picture of a city with a card-shaped hole in it. Mazikeen placed the card in the hole, and the group found themselves transported to her home: Sigil, city of doors.

Immediately, half the party went wild from culture shock. Luckily the rest were able to keep their heads. Plenty of time was spent unlocking memories and being stonewalled by bureaucracy before the group received two letters of import. The first was from one Damon Gant, which told them to look for a Richard Vann. The other was addressed specifically to Mazikeen and was from Sarin, Factol of the Harmonium, who wanted to question her about her possibly treasonous actions. Eventually both paths pointed to the Gatehouse, Sigil’s insane asylum and orphanage, which had recently gone on lockdown. The group entered and discovered that the Gatehouse had been enveloped by some sort of pocket dimension. After fighting their way past insane doctors, deluded guards, and exploding Richard Vanns, they found Sarin, of all people, standing in front of the door to maximum security. He wanted the keys the party had been gathering, the party was a little suspicious, and battle ensued. Sarin was apparently possessed by a Reaver, and went down the same as all the others.

I’m almost done, just a bit more. They met some quasi-penitent serial killer, the pocket plane collapsed, it turned out that what they killed wasn’t Sarin but rather his kidnapper, the real Sarin showed up and explained that Mazikeen was a homunculus and hey here are some keys, maybe if you put them in this gate you’ll go somewhere. So now the group is off to Eberron to track Shade the Warforged ninja. There. A year of plot condensed into two and a third pages of exposition. Blarg-arg-arg!

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Memory Stone 100314
In which our heroes get on a train.

We guess correctly. The gear key leads to Eberron. Specifically, Khorvaire. Specifically, the city of Sharn. It’s not Sigil. All Prime cities look alike.

We split up, hoping to find clues regarding Shade. I see one of the warforged and begin inspecting him. He is well-built, but shows a range of bizarre behavior. He takes offense. He gets distracted. He shows emotion. Why would someone design a weapon to do this? He asks where I am from and I tell him. He seems to think I mean heaven. I correct him. He looks very astonished and runs off. I wonder if the others were more successful.

Charles’ efforts bear fruit. We are taken to a Cannith laboratory, where a tinker engorged upon his ego tells us how to find Shade. I ask him about the warforged and he takes offense. At least he has the excuse of being human. We learn that Shade was found, rather than built. There are a number of aspects regarding her design that cause me to believe she is not really a warforged. Not like the others. Apparently she is a skilled assassin. I suppose we will see how she fares against prepared opponents. The tinker directs us to the village of Wolf’s Paw. He wants us to hurt her, like she hurt him. She does need to die, but it doesn’t need to be painful. We will need to take the lightning rail if we are to get there any time soon. Audra mentions she has family business there, as well.

We obtain tickets for the first class car on a train to the city of Passage. Once we arrive in Passage, we will need to travel by road. Shade’s lead is substantial, and it is unlikely we will be able to close the gap unless she stops moving. There are a number of other passengers on the car with us, and most of them bear a dragonmark. I decide to learn more of this place. I find Grumnil and ask to borrow one of his guidebooks. He hands it over without incident. I am surprised that speaking the truth to him earns his ire, while being a soulless abomination to the natural order is immediately forgiven. I don’t understand religion. I think I never will.

I read while the others get to know the other passengers. One or both of the marked elves takes a strong interest in Audra. How often has that happened during these past months? The only attention I have received is from fans confusing me with The Indestructible. Amazingly, there are a couple of them on the train. They ask if I am her. I say I am not. How often has that happened during these past months? This is the first time Ryltar has seen the interchange. He asks for clarification. I give it. He says that while I’m not pretty, I shouldn’t be confused with a half-orc. I’m not sure if that’s an insult or a compliment, and then I wonder why I care.

I finish the book and begin writing some notes on what I have learned. A quick primer on the nations and houses of Khorvaire. Perhaps the others will appreciate the effort. Perhaps not. I leave out some things that they don’t need to know. We can’t afford distractions. Another passenger, a noblewoman, begins making a scene. Ryltar and Audra become partners in distain. I return to my work. I finish. It is late. I retire. I will share my knowledge in the morning.

I am jerked awake. The train has come to a sudden halt. I leave my room and head to the engine. Some of the others do the same. One of the guards tells us that the tracks ahead have broken. I ask how long it will take to be repaired. He says a couple hours. Shade already has several days on us. I suppose this delay will matter little. Besides, there’s nothing we can do. The guard begins checking on the other passengers to make sure they weren’t injured by the stop. It turns out one of the elves is dead. Apparently murdered. The guard takes comfort in the knowledge that one of the nearby passengers is a detective of some renown. Convenient.

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Memory Stone 100411
In which our heroes solve a murder by shouting at people.

We are told to gather in the dining car. Once there, Yan puts forward an uncharacteristically interesting suggestion: kill everyone and hijack the train. I tell him this is not necessary. Given the nature of the murder, it is unlikely that we are in any danger. Also, the train has stopped because of damage to the tracks, not because of the murder. Still, it is curious that Yan is the one who suggested it. It looks like part of him is waking up. The detective comes in and tells us to return to our rooms so he can question us at his convenience. Some of the others volunteer their services. I do not. This murder does not concern us. We have more important things to worry about.

Later the detective asks me to join him at the crime scene and I do so. It is clear that he has no questions for me, so I begin questioning him. My suspicions are quickly confirmed: here is a man with little imagination. His success as a detective must be more a result of his tenacity and luck than his powers of insight. I ask him why he thinks the murderer is still on the train. He responds that it would have been difficult to leave, given our elevation. Untrue. I think of at least three ways to safely reach the ground, and I’m sure more would present themselves if I were familiar with Eberron’s machines. I ask him why he is sure the murderer is in the first class cabin. Yes, the door was locked, but there are ways to bypass it. He says the door is warded against teleportation and phasing, so someone would need to be a skilled acrobat to get from one cabin to the next. I do not know why he was sure there were no such acrobats in the passenger cars. Like I say, little imagination. And he’s wrong about the door. I excuse him and return to my room.

The sun rises. We are all summoned to the dining car to watch the detective attempt to solve the crime. Some of the others are already here. I sit with Yan and Audra and begin weaving my blades into my hair. Audra takes notice. Is one of the few times they’ve seen me without decoration. The detective starts talking, but he doesn’t say anything important. He doesn’t know who the murderer is. The train starts moving again; the tracks must be fixed. I stay long enough to finish setting my hair, and then I return to my room. I change out of my bedclothes and into my armor. Not because I fear an attack. Primes often find my appearance unsettling. For the next few days, it might be helpful if people are afraid of me. Also, if we need to implement Yan’s plan, it would be better to be prepared. I wonder if any of the others would go along with it.

I return to the dining car. There is a lot of shouting. Much of it is from Grumnil. I am not surprised. The noblewoman is in tears. The detective clearly has yet to do his job. Ryltar is standing at the door and I ask him if he knows who the murderer is. He responds in the affirmative, and confronts the noblewoman’s handmaiden. Something falls into place, for the noblewoman turns on her servant and begins accusing her. The servant responds by shifting into a rakshasa, killing her employer, and promising to do the same to us. This is unacceptable. Our deaths would slow our progress to an unrecoverable degree. The rahshasa must be killed.

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Memory Stone 100418
In which the power of avarice is demonstrated.

The other passengers draw weapons. I had not noticed that they were carrying them. Unfortunately, most of my companions left their weapons in their rooms. Ryltar and Charles hurry to retrieve them. The rest of us are left to fight the rakshasa. She begins by killing the detective and summoning, to my surprise, several proto-Reavers. Curious. She calls them demons. Does she not know what they are? Despite the best efforts of Yan and myself, she cuts down most of the other passengers. Grumnil attacks with a bolt of radiance, and her true form is revealed: she is a Reaver. It changes nothing. The others come back, armed, and she is quickly killed. Or banished. Defeated, at any rate.

I sit at a table while the others tend to their wounds and the wounded. Most of the passengers survived, including, amazingly, the duchess. The detective and one of the dwarves have been killed. Charles searches bodies and appears to find some items of interest. Later one of the passengers thanks us for the help. I don’t tell him that his life was inconsequential. That I would have let him die if saving him would have slowed us down. He’s not really talking to me, anyway.

The rest of the trip passes without event. We arrive in Passage and begin looking for immediate transport to Wolf’s Paw. Yan has the brilliant idea of hiring ourselves out as mail couriers, thereby allowing us to use their horses. Charles uses the detective’s identification papers to give us the air of legitimacy we need. We set off.

Before too long, we are waylaid by highwaymen. This isn’t like the fight with the Reaver. Then I had to focus, to make incisions in space at precise times. This is different. I release my hold, and a cyclone of translucent blades erupts around me, scything through the nearby bandits. There is something odd. I focus on one blade and freeze it in place. It appears to have crystallized. It looks like a ruby. Yan’s work, presumably. I release it back into the storm. The bandits are also fascinated. They move closer, captivated by the glittering spiral that surrounds me. The blades are no less sharp. The thugs fall to my attacks and those of my companions. Grumnil asks one to surrender. Disappointing. I have not yet uncovered his pattern. The bandits refuse, and die. They have a missive stating that they are to steal the mail. Now they won’t.

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Memory Stone 100502
In which Grumnil discovers the joys of bludgeoning.

During a conversation Charles starts I discover that several of the others also have trepidation regarding our inability to do anything but react to the Reavers. We have very little information besides that which has been given to us by our enemies. It is a little frustrating, but it also allows me to focus completely on the one lead I do have. Most of the others are similarly focused.

We are attacked by bandits again. Grumnil displays a surprising aptitude for melee combat. He charges into the midst of our ambushers and lays about with his hammer, leaving shattered limbs and pulped heads in his wake. The rest of us deal with those who skirted around the sides. Before long they all lie broken, and we continue on our way. We come across a ruined caravan. It is too much to hope that this was Shade’s, and that she lies among the fallen. We press on.

We enter a fairly large town and resupply. Charles and Grumnil learn something disturbing: the Church of the Silver Flame is about to perform a purge of the town of Wolf’s Paw. Apparently, all shifters will be killed. We set out in a hurry. I remind everyone that, while the end result may be the same, we are not running from the crusade; we are chasing Shade.

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Memory Stone 100509
In which our heroes begin grinding rep.

We manage to reach the town of Wolf’s Paw without further incident. Once again, we disperse in search of information. Upon our reunion it is determine that we shall head south to a congregation of werekin, as that is where Shade went. Charles splits off from us for some meaningless errand. Foolish, but he won’t be stopped.

Our introduction to the werekin is not particularly dignified. I discover that we are not as unified in purpose as I had thought. Audra wants to help the werekin, while Ryltar is merely investigating some bandits. Luckily, the leader turns out to be Audra’s brother, Pieter. Audra is able to perform some damage control by dismissing Grumnil as a fool and me as militant. “Militant” she said, disapproval in her voice. I don’t understand. Is it wrong that, unlike the others, I take our responsibilities seriously? No. I’m keeping proper perspective; they’re the ones who err. I decide to try and correct them, when I get the opportunity.

Pieter explains that while he can’t help us find Shade, he knows who can. However, we will need to gain their trust before they will tell us anything. Trust that can be gained, apparently, by performing a number of menial tasks. We talk to the chieftains to find out what must be done. Audra comes with me to make sure I don’t “cause an incident”. She needn’t have worried. The chieftain ignores me completely and only talks to her. No matter. We have our chores.

We move to the east, hunting boars and searching for herbs as we go. Ryltar proves that his skills of tracking are not limited to the Underdark, which is a blessing. These are not talents one picks up living in Sigil. We come to the holdings of one of the clans. No shifters, only boars. And Charles. The trail leads north, into a swamp.

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Memory Stone 100516
In which something fairly interesting happens which Mazikeen wasn't present for.

Not long after we enter the swamp we are set upon by the walking dead, but they are put down with little difficulty. We continue following the tracks, and they lead us to a ruined fort. Ruined, but inhabited by werekin. Darkfangs, only now they call themselves Voidfangs. Apparently they were very receptive to what Shade had to say. And apparently she didn’t warn them about us. They are very forthcoming with information, even telling us where Shade has gone. However, even if they are telling the truth, we cannot just leave them here. All who follow the Reavers must be killed, and their works put to the flame. We ask to enter, they tell us we have to wait a few days before they’ll let us in. We start considering an earlier entrance when suddenly they erect a field similar to that which covered the Gatehouse. If we are to stop them, and we will, we must wait for the shield to lower. So we camp for the night.

I awake. It is morning. But it is still dark. Too dark. The sun should have risen by now. My initial thought is that the shield has extended over us, but when we return to the fort we find the dome still in place. As we scout around, we notice that there is a large amount of undead present. They don’t attack us, and we manage to convince Grumnil to do the same. There is a larger concentration of them nearby. We approach, and see some more werekin performing a ritual while surrounded by zombie guards. Yan does an excellent job of disabling the undead, allowing us to defeat them at little risk to ourselves. Useful, since now we must face the necromancers.

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Memory Stone 100523
In which not a lot happens.

We see the necromancer Nagash, surrounded by half a dozen of his Darkfang cohorts. Charles offers to help him fight the Voidfangs, but the battle is inevitable. Nagash unleashes curse after curse, but we cut through his minions nonetheless. Outnumbered and alone, the necromancer teleports away.

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Memory Stone 100530
In which it snows.

The sky is still dark. Having completed what we came for, we return to the werekin. They too are surprised by the sun’s disappearance. I briefly wonder if the effect is localized or spread across all of Cyre, but there’s no time for that. We need to report to our allies.

We are rewarded for defeating the undead, and that is our best interaction with the shifters. Their apothecary tells us that in addition to the specimens we’ve already collected, he needs a number of venom sacs from the local spiders. This causes some consternation in Ryltar. Apparently spiders are sacred, and he is not allowed to kill them. Inconvenient, but hardly the most illogical idea to come from religion. Except he is able to circumvent this restriction by atoning ahead of time. Once again I find myself swayed by the beliefs of the Athar. I don’t have time for philosophy now; I need to talk to Pieter.

He does not seem to be comfortable speaking with me without his sister standing over us. I ask him directly if he can actually do what he’s promised for us. He doesn’t say “yes”. Instead he attempts to deflect our attention by giving us another chore: reducing the numbers of the Silver Flame. Clearly Pieter is more like his father than I had thought. I’ll need to step carefully.

We find the Rageclaws fortifying their position as if they were preparing for a siege. They want nothing to do with us or the other shifters. As we are turned away, we notice a barded horse with the Silver Flame insignia within their walls. Perhaps there is a traitor. I wonder if my companions will comfort and nourish this one as well.

The majority of our tasks take us to the north. We stop to rest, and when we awake it is snowing. Peculiar, but we are told it is not unheard of in this region. We press on, and run into some Flamists. Once again, Charles’s attempts at diplomacy yield no results. They believe we are heretics. As if I would sully myself with even a variant of their beliefs. As usual, a fight ensues, and I demonstrate the power of a mind unburdened by faith.

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Memory Stone 100613
In which our heroes fail the Travelling Salesman Problem.

We enter the Webwood. Perhaps we are distracted by the unnatural darkness, but we are no longer walking on the ground, but on a series of webbing suspended in the trees. As we pause to consider our next move, we are ambushed by a number of spiders. Fortunately, these are the time we need to harvest venom sacs from. They do not pose much of a threat, compared to what else stands against us.

Rather than press on towards the abandoned chapel, we once again return to the shifter camp. We tarry for too long, allowing another day to slip by. I search for Pieter, looking to continue our conversation from before, but he cannot be found. So instead we turn to our rapidly dwindling list of chores and head off to make contact with the last of the missing septs, the Ragenails. On our way there we encounter a ring of standing stones. There is something peculiar about them, but for now they are just another distraction.

We arrive at the camp to find it on fire. These flames are unnatural, colored blue and lasting much longer than they should. We find no survivors, just the body of a Silver Flamist, his holy symbol ripped apart. However, there also is a set of tracks leading away from the destruction. We follow, and it takes us back to the stones. There is a… I do not know. It’s more complex than a golem, and more elegant than a warforged. It has a body of a man, only it is formed of some silvery metal, and the lean head of a jackal. It regards us coldly, as if we are barely worth its notice. “The time of nightmares is at hand,” it says, before creating a portal and stepping through it.

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