The Astral Scroll 4: The Nice Part of the Journey

Posted on Jun 4, 2024 in Tales from the Table.
Part of a series called The Astral Scroll.

A city, strange mines, a desert, and a cliff.

Date: May 25, 2024

Characters present:

Character level: 4

Having successfully left Casteria, the party traveled through the woods toward the city of Evinder, which was on the way to the tower. They hadn’t had time to shop for supplies while being chased out of Casteria, so Evinder would have to do. They avoided the regular trade route out of fear of being spotted.

Once in town, they hit up the nearest adventuring gear shop. Elboscodril’s Goods, it was called. Same as that one place in Casteria. Proprietor was the same guy too—Elboscodril the half-elf, with one elven ear and one human. He made sure the party wasn’t a group of witches. He was paranoid about those, which Bib teased him relentlessly about. The party stocked up on food, ropes and ball bearings.

Of course, no town visit would be complete without an excursion to the library, at least according to Bib, so there they went. Bib bought a map of the area to help them navigate to the Lonely Woods. The librarian pointed out that while the map was recent, it didn’t have the location of the ancient dwarven ruins uncovered by the Western Expedition. She filled it in for Bib, who asked for more info, and the librarian told her that the explorer’s headquarters was just across the street.

At the Western Expedition’s headquarters, two human men were arguing about how to send a rescue team to the dwarven ruins after most of their team had gotten lost in an underground mine. Bib volunteered the party’s services, and she was given directions to the mine. She figured they’d have time. It wasn’t like the mafia and the scariest man in the land were after them. Oh wait. But being a former archaeologist, she really wanted to go.

Half a day north and they were there. The man who escaped had left a cart full of archaeological findings. Bib took some expensive-looking jewelry from it. The ruin itself was a stone building with heavy double doors. Above them was an inscription in an ancient language no one could read. Yinris heard a knocking sound coming from the ground behind them. He placed his ear down in the dirt to listen. The knocking continued, along with a sound that might have been a faint cry for help. Someone was stuck underground.

Inside the building was a massive staircase, formerly blocked by rubble but carefully unearthed by the Western Expedition. The air was thick with fog, quite unusual for this region. It seemed to come from within the bowels of the ruin. The party headed down.

The stairs led deep within the rock, opening up into a vast underground complex. A great hall greeted them, with stairs and bridges connecting various paths in the walls. In the center stood a massive statue of a dwarven king. None of the paths seemed to lead up to where they’d heard the knocking and cry for help. From a tunnel in a corner at the far end of the room came a flickering, sickly green light. The party headed straight for it.

The man from the Western Expedition had told them that’s where they got lost. It was a tunnel to a coal mine, but it was maze-like, with many twists, turns, and crossing paths. A few of them had turned back early, but when the others decided to abandon the place, they hadn’t found their friends or the exit. Panic ensued and the group ended up scattering after hearing a frightening sound1.

Heading into the hallway, the party found no trace of any maze. All they found was a ninety-degree turn leading to a massive, dark, misty, empty room. The party spent a great deal of time investigating but found no notable features whatsoever. Just a massive square room made of smooth grey rock, large enough that they couldn’t see from one end to the other in the dark. Yinris fired two arrows at the ceiling to see how high it was, but they never seemed to hit anything. They didn’t even come back down. As they spent more and more time in the room, they noticed a faint rumbling sound coming from all around them, slowly getting louder.

Heading back, the sound stopped suddenly. They walked through the tunnel leading back to the great hall. But it didn’t turn ninety degrees like it did before. Instead, it went straight ahead. It also seemed to shrink as they went on, getting narrower and narrower, the ceiling coming closer and closer until they had to crawl. Squeezing through, they made it back into the great hall.

After exploring some other parts of the former dwarven city and finding nothing but knocking sounds from the walls, the party headed back to the hallway with the glowing light to find that the opening had returned to normal size. Heading inside once more, they found that the hallway now led to a room with thick, oily mist and a spiral staircase leading down. As they were about to enter, dark, spectral figures appeared in the fog.

The air grew cold as the shadowy figures began sapping the strength of the party. Their weapons did little to drive away the darkness, but Anton’s holy spells were more effective. With the shadows gone, they pressed on. Yinris slid down the staircase’s railing while the others trailed behind.

At the bottom, they ran into the only survivor of the Western Expedition members who had been left behind. He was some dude, who cares. He had a magical monocle that let him read any language. Bib took it and refused to give it back.

Further down the hallway was the source of the sickly green light: a coal mine, burning with green flames, producing a strange mist instead of smoke. The group tried to put it out with the shard of ice they’d taken from Endar’s treasure room. It didn’t work. When they turned around, the exit was right in front of them. Using her new monocle, Bib2 was now able to read an inscription near the entrance:

The coal is cursed. Evil lurks within its mist. We have sealed the entrance from within, for we cannot put the fire out. The coal is cursed.

They headed back to town.

Leaving the formerly-trapped-in-a-mine–guy behind, they were just about to head out of town and make for the desert when they were stopped by a dark-haired elf with a scar across one eye3.

“Howdy, travelers. Headed for the desert, are we?” He had a smirk on his face as if he knew something they didn’t.

I’ve already forgotten this (very short) conversation but he wished them good luck and, when asked, he said his name was Saryx.

They took the ferry across the river just west of town and continued their journey. Night fell. During Yinris’ watch, he spotted a deer in the distance. It was completely still, staring at him. Taking the opportunity to have something other than trail rations for tomorrow’s dinner, he drew his bow and fired an arrow at it. It hit, but the deer lived. It started running away, and Yinris hit it with another arrow. It still didn’t die. Then it was gone.

The next day they reached the desert. It was a long and arduous journey. It would only take two days to reach Echo’s cliff, but that was a lot of time to spend in the desert. Especially since they decided to travel by day. It was even worse for Lazarus, who was a drow.

On the flat planes of sand in the blistering sun, they spotted a small figure walking toward them. It was an old lady—an adorable little grandma, way overdressed for the desert but seemingly unaffected by the heat. She introduced herself as Helga4 and said she had a prophecy for the party, for the price of a gold coin. The party agreed, and received their prophecy:

“Beware the one whose name is longer than you think. You have met them, and will again. They pose a very real threat to your lives.”

The party deliberated awhile over each other’s names. Then they thanked Helga and headed onward.

They made camp for the night. They took turns keeping watch but no one saw anything. Next morning, Yinris woke up to find two bloody arrows in his tent.

Pressing onward, they saw a deer way off in the distance, almost on the horizon. Yinris waved. Slowly, the deer raised its hoof and dangled it back and forth in response. The party did not like it one bit and moved on.

They finally reached the end of the desert as sand turned to soil and grass. Before them stood Echo’s Cliff, about sixty feet tall, spread wide across the barren landscape. Its name came from the supernatural echo it produced, which I represented by making the players repeat the last word of every sentence they spoke in character. There was a hand-cranked pulley system with a platform attached, functioning as a very basic elevator. Unfortunately for the party, the rope had snapped. They’d instead have to make their way up the wooden platforms attached to the cliffside. They were in terrible disrepair.

Paz threw a rope with a grappling hook to a platform about halfway up and climbed first, something he would come to regret as the goblin bandits and their ogre leader lying in wait came out of hiding. That’s when I pulled out the set piece I’d crafted:

Echo’s cliff set piece: a vertical fight.
A fun project! Didn't even take that long to make. Wrinkled packing paper makes a pretty good-looking rock!

The bandits had the high ground and moved in and out of cover, raining javelins and rocks from above. Anton brought out the big guns, producing a bright ray of holy light at one of the goblins, killing it instantly. He then ducked under one of the platforms to hide.

Echo’s cliff again, made from cardboard and paper, all glued together.
Not sure why Lazarus' mini is a dragonborn.

Paz took a large rock to the head and went unconscious again. Lazarus began climbing the rope to him while Bib swiftly made her way up the platforms, nearly falling as one broke under her feet. The ogre jumped down to fight them in melee, nearly breaking the platform.

Chaos on Echo’s cliff.
Chuck the emotional support wraith (top, halfway out of frame) appeared as Paz (center, golden dude) went down.

Yinris fired arrows from below. Lazarus held firm as the ogre tried to push him off the ledge. One by one, their enemies went down, quite literally as they fell to the ground below. Once Paz had gotten some medical attention from Bib, Lazarus carried him up to the top. The others made it up just fine, attaching a rope between the two last platforms to avoid a long jump. Yinris tried to show off by walking on it and almost fell to his death.

Once at the top, the party decided to camp for the night.

  1. Guess who read House of Leaves recently? ↩︎

  2. Being a halfling without darkvision, Bib wore the goggles of night they’d found earlier. On top of them she had her regular coke-bottle glasses. On top of those, the monocle. ↩︎

  3. The campaign guide I handed to the players before we started had some NPC-quotes in the margins. One of them had a rumor that this is what the mysterious Endar looked like. ↩︎

  4. Helga appears in all my campaigns to hand out prophecies foreshadowing later parts of the adventure. In The World Rune they found her rowing a boat through wildspace. ↩︎