Codex IX-Chapter 1

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The inner portion of the voidgate swirled with light, coalescing into a moment of pure whiteness before vanishing. Beyond it lay a wasteland, a desert with no trees or vegetation, pocked with boulders and dunes. The area immediately around the voidgate seemed flat and sparse, and it was daytime, so Orensland could not use his shadowdancing skills, but he was plenty stealthy without them. He rubbed some dirt on his cloak to help it blend in and then darted away from the voidgate as it closed. Per their usual arrangement, they would re-open it in ten minutes. He found refuge by a boulder and crouched down, trying to get a good look around him.

A little ways off, perhaps a hundred and fifty yards or so, was a city wall. Massively high, perhaps forty feet, there were spikes and defenses facing outward. The base of it looked to have been the site of many a battle, bodies here and there. Guards walked back and forth along its ramparts. About half a mile away there appeared to be a gate, though it was closed. There was no road leading to it.

And beyond that wall was an enormously tall building, reaching up into the sky, a mirror image of the Fortress of Eternal Vigilance, or of the floating island they had just explored hours ago. Orensland waited and observed, but from this distance couldn’t easily see much of the folks on the top. His keen eyes were able to detect that one of the guards he frequently saw walking on patrol wasn’t human, having a long red snout, lizard like in appearance, but he could see nothing more without getting closer, which he did not want to do. He did glance up at the sky, and just coming over the horizon he could recognize Jenoa.

Yup. He was on Arkenos.

He waited until the voidgate opened and then snuck back in to tell the others. The initial scouting foray complete, they had decisions to make. The gnomes had been thinking through what they knew about Arkenos, and the fact that it wasn’t tidally locked to Pressen was something they could use to their advantage. Near as they could tell, Arkenos rotated every 16 hours. That meant, given where the sun was when Orensland went through, they only needed to wait about 6 hours so it could be dark. Orensland was to sneak back through the portal and try to get into the city itself, shadowdancing away if he needed to. Khaska volunteered to join him, using a Meld with Stone spell to hide himself near the voidgate while Orensland did his more thorough scout.

They waited until the appropriate hour, and then Khaska and Orensland went through. Sanjin would re-open the gate in four hours (and would be watching Orensland through the crystal ball in the meantime from a location on Jenoa). Aestus wished them well, and Xaci and Greygook still looked flabbergasted that this was even happening.

Stepping through the gate brought new sounds to their ears. A cacophony of battle was heard a ways off. On the other side of the voidgate from the city entrance there seemed to be a pitched battle. Creatures were attacking the wall about a third of a mile away, and by the light of spells and torches both Khaska and Orensland could see that the defenders had the situation well in hand.

“What will you do?” Khaska asked.

“With the attack going on,” Orensland said, “walk up to the front gate and ask to be let in before I’m attacked!” With that, he vanished into the night. Khaska cast the spell on himself and disappeared into the ground by the voidgate to wait until Orensland appeared.

By the time Orensland reached the gate the fight was dying down, but could still be heard. He dropped his shadowdancing and approached the gate of the city.
“Ho the city!” he called.

Immediately heads poked over the crenelations of the wall. “Stop right there!” a voice rang out. Orensland lifted his hands up, to show he was not threatening. He could hear whispers, though could not make them out.

After a few moments, two new heads appeared in the torchlight. Both were humanoid, though not what he was expecting. The first was probably the guard he had seen earlier on the wall, a tall thick dragon-looking person, like the dragon-men they had fought in Darkcrest, but instead of black scales this person had red ones. Next to him was a black-skinned man with yellow eyes and horns on his head. A tiefling.

“Who are you?” asked the dragon-man.

“A traveler.” He pointed over towards the fight. “Could I be let in before those creatures get over here?”

The two of them glanced at each other. Then the tiefling called down. “Open the gate!”

Hoping that this was a good idea, Orensland moved forward as the massive gate opened just a bit so he could squeeze in.

Inside were a great number of guards, members of all races. Elves. Dwarves. Humans. Gnomes. Even a single halfling. All had weapons out or arrows nocked, prepared to fight him. The two men he had been speaking two were coming down a flight of stairs, and from the way the guards near him moved around as they approached he gathered that they were officers.

Great. A devil and a red dragon-man. Perhaps the legends of Arkenos were true, devils and other foul denizens enslaving the races of Jenoa.

They approached, the two of them watching him closely. The dragon-man hefted a large maul and the tiefling drew his longsword a few inches from his scabbard. Orensland did note, however, that the tiefling’s shield had on it a symbol of Bahamut, a symbol the shadowdancer was quite familiar with having just spent so much time in the Cathedral of Thakillestra the Gold. That was a positive sign. The dragon-man spoke. “Since there are no travelers on our moon, your story intrigues us. I can tell you are not demon or devil. Where are you from?”

Orensland hesitated. Should he tell the truth?

He hesitated long enough that the tiefling spoke, interrupting his internal deliberations. “Have you traveled here by magic?”

“I have.” Orensland figured that wasn’t a lie.

“Have you come here from Jenoa?” was the tiefling’s follow-up.

After a brief pause, Orensland decided to tell the truth about that. “I have.” At that, the guards around him all looked shocked, yet also pleased, scatterings of whispers erupting from the gathered people. The two officers also looked pleased.

“And how is the fair moon? What has happened since the divergence?”

“I assume, then, that this is Arkenos,” asked Orensland.

The dragon-man pointed to the horizon where Jenoa was dipping below the horizon. “You are indeed.”

“Right. Hard to miss that.” Orensland glanced around. These people seemed trustworthy so far, but best to be wary still. “What has been going on here on Arkenos since the divergence?”

The two officer glanced at each other. The tiefling spoke. “Many dragons and forces from the fair moon remained behind at the divergence. Eventually, they were all defeated and captured by Baltham Planeswalker and his new dragonborn armies, given him by the Dreadlord Zyrbryxion.”

“I have heard of Baltham, though we call him Baltham the Everburning,” said Orensland. A ripple of laughter came through the crowd.

The tiefling smiled. “A fitting name. Burned by Jiveneit himself, his wounds never healed.” He grew sad. “It is said that Jiveneit’s screams could be heard for decades as Baltham tortured him to death.” The crowd grew silent. “Eventually, one of my race, Saint Eosald, rebelled against Baltham and freed the dragons who were still alive. Rising up with some rebel dragonborn, they ejected Baltham’s forces from our city and we’ve been staving off attacks from them ever since.”

“And that’s who is attacking right now, over that way?” Orensland pointed. The sounds of battle had all but died out.

The dragonborn shook his head. “No, sadly. For some reason that we do not understand, our moon is slowly being pulled into the nine hells. Already parts of Arkenos overlap with it. That means that occasionally demons make their way here as well.” He smirked. “That is why there are no travelers. There is no civilization on the moon except here, in Spherius. And if you were one of our scouts, we would have recognized you.” He turned to the tiefling. “What do you think?”

The tiefling looked long and hard at Orensland. “I think we should take him to the council. If he is what he claims to be, this could be a moment of hope for our peoples.”

“Agreed.” The dragonborn turned to the assembled guards. “Speak not a word of what has happened here until the council makes a statement. We would not want to give false hope to any others.”

The tiefling turned to Orensland, hand to heart. “I am Jaxon Morthos, of the Order of Saint Eosald. This is Regerus Balasar, and we welcome you to Spherius. If you would accompany us, we would have you speak to our council. They have the wisdom to understand the portents of your arrival and what to do with you now that you have arrived.”

Orensland had been watching them both and observing them. They seemed trustworthy enough so far, despite their appearances as a red dragonborn and a tiefling. “I am Orensland,” he said. “And I will glady accompany you to your council. Will it be long? I am to report back in about 3 and a half hours.”

“You have friends here?” asked Jaxon, surprised.

“I am to report back.” Jaxon narrowed his eyes, but then nodded. He ordered one of the guards to run ahead and assemble the council, and the elf saluted and ran off.

As they walked through the city, Jaxon and Regerus asked if he could tell them about Jenoa. He summed up the thousand years since the last Dark Times by explaining about the Knights of the Silver Dragons, their enslavement of the chromatics, and the death of all the remaining metallics. He vaguely detailed that the moon was on a war footing under the Knights of the Silver Dragons, prepared to fend off attacks from the “devils of Arkenos.”

“A sensible stance,” Regerus said. “Baltham will probably attack and try to steal more slaves as he has in previous convergences.” At this, he looked at the people nearby. “There are generations of people here who only know the fair moon from legends and stories, descendants of those taken during the last convergence.”

The city itself seemed mostly run-down. Materials for construction and repair must be severely lacking in such an environment, and many of the buildings looked the worse for wear. Most of the people seemed to ignore them as they walked. Orensland saw most of the races of Jenoa present, with one exception. He never saw a single Maha'i. They were moving towards the large building, the mirror image of the Fortress of Eternal Vigilance. As they got closer, he began to see more and more tieflings and dragonborn, and was able to catch glimpses of the different kinds of dragonborn. He was relieved to see not only chromatic dragonborn, but also metallic—silver, copper, gold, bronze, and brass—represented among the population. This relaxed him quite a bit. The buildings also seemed to be in better repair, and the population more well-dressed and nourished the closer he got to the tower, which loomed larger and larger until he practically got dizzy just looking up at its height.

Regerus and Jaxon were easily recognized by the guards and the trio entered the building. The hallways were lit by magical lights, reminding Orensland a bit of the library in the basement of the Maramos Coven’s mansion. The tower seemed to be made of the same material inside as outside, with various rugs and sometimes artwork to decorate it. They went further and further in until they came to a large domed room. Guards were posted at pillars that curved up to the center, but here there was no art or decoration. There was a dais set up, a half moon, with seven chairs placed to face the center of the room and a table that curved with the dais in front of them. Six of the chairs were already filled. In the center sat an elf, hands together, watching the entering trio in silence. Their sex was indeterminate, their features elongated and otherworldly, even for an elf, and they had long silver hair that disappeared behind their back. Two dragonborn, one copper, one green, and a tiefling were conversing to the right, and on the left was a gnome and a human and an empty chair.

Everybody waited and Orensland was a bit nervous, wondering what he was supposed to do, all the while studiously trying not to notice how the elf’s eyes had not stopped examining him. Eventually a loud voice was heard and a dwarf entered the chamber, hair disheveled and unkempt, complaining for all to hear about how he had been woken from his sleep for what? He sat down and all of the chairs were filled.

The elf gestured with a single finger towards Jaxon and Regerus, and Jaxon stepped forward, hand to heart again, and bowing deeply.

“Honorable members of the council, thank you for gathering. May I present to you Orensland, and elf who came to us from outside the city walls, and who claims to be from Jenoa.”

If Orensland felt scrutinized before, he definitely felt it now as all eyes, including those of the guards in the room, felt to him in the silence. After a moment, he cleared his throat.

“It’s true. I have come here, transported magically from Jenoa.”

The elf stood up and walked, no, that wasn’t the right word to describe this being’s sheer grace, glided around the other councilmembers and down the steps to the floor, moving closer to Orensland.

“Tell me, what has become of our fair moon since the divergence,” he said. “What of my father, Hyrmaphridion?”

Orensland swallowed, now sure that this was a silver dragon, and repeated much of the same history he had on the walk here. He did mention that, at one point, he had spoken to Hyrmaphridion’s ghost.

“I am sad to hear of his passing,” the silver dragon said, “but he lived a long and good life, and if he has gone to be with Bahamut, his reward is richly deserved. Thank you for your knowledge of my family, though it pains me to hear that there are no other metallics on Jenoa anymore. Doubtless there are many mysteries surrounding all these events of which you have spoken. But we welcome your knowledge and your presence, Orensland of Jenoa. I am Yvoren, and these are my compatriots.”

They introduced the Council of Spherius, Mirpha, the green dragonborn woman, Dumkir, the copper dragonborn man, Andvil, the tiefling, Kedar the dwarf, Aisling, the human woman, and Glenmik the gnome.

“Do you speak for these Knights? Are you an ambassador, or was your trip here merely magical experimentation?” the dragon asked.

“Definitely experimentation,” Orensland said. “It was thought that I, as one who was better at stealth, should go ahead to assess the situation.”

“Do any of your companions speak for these Knights? Have they also come to the dark moon?”

“I could go retrieve them,” Orensland said. “I am to report back in four hours. One of my friends is an initiate of the Knights, but really, Khaska is who you want to speak for. He is a better ambassador than I.”

“Then we humbly request that you bring your friends here. We have much to discuss.”

“I will go and retrieve them,” Orensland replied.

“I would have Jaxon accompany you,” the dragon said.

“Ah, that won’t be necessary,” Orensland said. “As a shadowdancer, I have the ability to get out of the city quite unseen.”

Yvoren put their hand on Jaxon, and subtly muttered a few words as their fingers wiggled. Jaxon vanished. “I insist.”

Orensland hesitated. “I do not doubt your sincerity, but I will return with my friends, and need no help in returning to them. My stealth is better protection than any you could offer.”

Yvoren’s face remained passive for a moment. There was a hint of a smile. “Then you do not realize the skill in war that comes with being a member of the Order of Saint Eosald.” The smile vanished, and there was another long paused. “Will you swear on the ghost of my father Hyrmaphridion that you will return with your companions?”

“They may not want to come, but I swear on the ghost of your father that I will return after checking in with them. I bet they will join me, but I don’t speak for them any more than I speak for the Knights.”

Yvoren once again stared at Orensland for a while. Then they nodded. “This is acceptable.” They waved a hand, and Jaxon appeared where he had been standing. “May Bahamut guide your steps, Orensland.” Yvoren then glided back up to the dais, long robes trailing, feet seeming not to move.

“I will accompany you back to the gate,” Jaxon said.

Regerus put his hand on Orensland’s shoulder. “Kord’s strength, Orensland. Come back soon.”

Jaxon took him back through the city, and Orensland could tell that the tiefling was very excited about having met him. When they got to the gate, Jaxon ordered the gate cracked open again. “Bahamut guide your steps,” he said. Orensland nodded, and then shadowdanced through the door, disappearing before their very eyes before he even stepped through.

Sunlight was just beginning to show by the time he got back to the voidgate, and he whispered fiercely at Khaska, who sat up from where he had been melded with the stone. “What did you find out?” the Maha’i asked.

“It was a good trip,” said Orensland. He looked around. “Sanjin, go ahead and come open the portal. I hope you saw all of that.”

They waited. “It might take Sanjin a few minutes to get from where he was on Jenoa through the voidgate system to the proper spot,” Khaska mused.

And still they waited.

Eventually, though, the voidgate opened, and the two of them stepped through just as the sun was coming over the horizon.

“Did you see what happened?!?” Orensland excitedly asked Sanjin.

“Couldn’t see a thing through the crystal ball,” the wizard said. “It was as if Arkenos was on a different plane. You didn’t resist the spell?”

“I wouldn’t have,” Orensland said. “And Jaxon did say that Arkenos is slowly being pulled into the nine hells.”

“What?!” exclaimed Aestus.

“Who’s Jaxon?” asked Khaska. “You spoke to people in the city?”

Orensland smiled broadly. “Let me tell you what I learned, and of our new friends.”

Eryx (DM)
Looking over your posts, I saw that you were all basically comfortable with Orensland going and doing an initial scout, and then, depending on what happened, a further more detailed scout. So I just called him up and we role-played for about an hour or so. I’ve now written this up (with his approval) and this is what happened when he went though the voidgate.

You have been invited to meet the council of Spherius by the son of Hyrmaphridion, Yvoren. Would you all like to go? (The gnomes still will not join you and wish instructions.)

Also, as it is a new Codex, I would like to resurrect the old pattern we had of having you contribute an idea to worldbuilding. Bonus: Now you can worldbuild on Arkenos as well! You know the barebones of the history of the moon, but now you can play with dragonborn and tieflings if you so like! If I could get you to all write up some contribution to worldbuilding that would be most appreciated.

Thev
Eryx asked for my reaction, and I gave it to him entirely unfiltered the moment I finished reading this:

AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH
AHHHHHHHHHHHH
😀

(Those are screams of excitement!)

This was not quite what Khaska was expecting: a full city of potential allies on the other moon, of all races and types, including metallic dragons and, apparently, dragonborn of all varieties. This brings some new, unexpected meaning to the admonition to "unite the metallics"!

He would gladly go with Orensland to speak with the Council of Spherius; he's enthused to meet them and speak with them. He'd be forthright about more of the situation on Jenoa: the buildup of forces in the Zyrbryxion Marshes and the Cult's activities across the moon; some of the political issues between nations; and, perhaps most importantly for the Council, the ongoing investigation into the wards in the chapterhouses of the Knights of the Silver Dragons, which point to something deeply sinister going on, despite the Knights' general honorability.

He's also be open to saying that they've discovered a relatively reliable means of transit between the moons, but haven't revealed it widely out of uncertainty of who might access and/or seize it for nefarious purposes, including on Jenoa (this Dark Time seems to be shaping up almost to be a Jenoan civil war; maybe the Cult is breeding more armies for Baltham…). We probably also want to learn more about what's going on on this side of the voidgate in terms of factions. This is one thing where he'd consult with the party before saying anything, though: what do people think? How precise should we be about the voidgate network?

(He's also concerned about Spherius's voidgate being outside the walls. I remember that they're aligned with ley lines, but I don't think we got a definitive answer about whether they might be able to be moved. Before any too-regular use of the voidgate, he'd want to know if it could be better secured. That could be pretty far off, though.)

That said, he's very excited.

As a technical point: Khaska is very bad at stealth. Could he use his Hat of Disguise to appear to be, say, an unremarkable person-shaped column of dust or something? He'd just make a good target, depending on how long it would take to get to the gate from the voidgate…

Crosis
Beautiful reaction, Thev! :)

Orensland would also approve of being more forthright - another detail we should cover is the hidden metallics and the nature of their current circumstance. We don't want to start bringing metallics through the voidgate only for them to be hunted as soon as they use spells on the Jenoa side. Maybe if we could get a guinea pig volunteer to publicly enter a chapterhouse as a metallic dragon? Harder to slink about assassinating dragons in the shadows if we make a big public stir about it. Plus we could set up a sting. If we want to set up a Spherius base of operations on the Jenoa side, we could clear out the floating fortress of the rats (they worry me). We would need to be ultra careful about who we share the keys with - like, no keys should be left lying around in Arkenos, ever. Orensland would also ask if they have any interest investigating (and stopping) the descent of Arkenos into the nine hells. We have the voidgate system - we could explore other areas of Arkenos. Presuming we can put a stop to the source of devils and demons, we could stop the Dark Times from happening ever again.

Anyways, that may be beyond the scope of this meeting, as I agree we shouldn't be too explicit about the voidgate system in this initial contact. Eryx and I just had a talk to finalize some shadowdancing abilities, and he'd like to post the details of that conversation himself. But in a nutshell, I can help us sneak to the city gate. I'm a bit paranoid from our recent interrogations at the chapterhouse, but Orensland would suggest we hold most of our initial meeting in a zone of truth, with everyone swearing to not be agents of evil, not wishing harm etc. Just in case there are evil agents among these folk too.

Regarding where the gate is, Eryx made it sound like the placement of the voidgate just outside the city walls was intentional. Like they placed it where it could be seen and monitored, but outside the city defenses. Perhaps they found the arch, recognized it may be a teleportation gateway of sorts, and to prevent possible bypassing of their defenses moved it outside the walls? I'd assume that, if Spherius started using the voidgate, they would move it back into the city, and it would work just fine in there as well. But, again, I'm getting ahead of myself.

Eryx (DM)
If you go to Orensland's page here on the wiki you will see there is a new section about his 5e rules that we finally agreed upon just today. We'd kind of been winging it since the switch to 5e, just generally making rulings on my part as we went to make his character in line with what it was back when we were playing in 3.5e rules, but now we've quantified them. I reserve the right to nerf them if they become too OP, but I think we're in a good place for now, at least.

DeltaWolf
Sanjin is looking forward to learning about this new world.

Sanjin thinks we should have a plan for how we want to address the question, “How did you get here?”. Should we lie, be vague, or be honest -and how honest.

He is somewhat concerned about revealing too much about the voidgate system -though he does want to be able to evacuate the peopeople on Arkenos if it becomes necessary. His biggest concern is once the knowledge about it is out it may not be possible to keep control over the gates. Certainly Sanjin doesn’t want to risk the voidgates being a method for the evils consuming Arkenos to easily reach Jenoa.

Thev
Khaska agrees with Orensland about the need for caution — never leaving a key on Arkenos, for instance. He also thinks it would be a good idea to investigate Arkenos's descent; he wonders if the descent is a new phenomenon or might be, as Orensland implies, the cause of the Dark Times since time immemorial. The Zone of Truth during our discussions would be a good idea. He also believes that, if desired (and after we explain the voidgate system to the Spherians), the "megadungeon" could be a good base of operations!

(Hmm, random thought: what if the megadungeon is designed to float between the two towers, on Jenoa and Arkenos, when their atmospheres commingle? What would that do?)

(And another: what if the descent into the nine hells is the cause of the Dark Times — and the Pressen Empire, creator of the voidgates, predates all that? Did the Pressen Empire "delve too greedily and too deep," losing Arkenos and inviting periodic attacks on Jenoa — parallel to, say, Minas Ithil being taken over as Minas Morgul [with a hint of Moria] and sallying against Minas Tirith over and over? What's the relationship between Baltham and Zyrbryxion? What's Jenoa's part in fueling the Dark Times?)

As for how much detail we should reveal at present, Khaska thinks that it's best just to say that they've discovered a reliable mode of transit between the moons, but that there are so many powerful factions on Jenoa, so much unknown about each faction (see: dragon-detecting wards, hunting of spell-wielding dragons), and so high a potential for misuse, that we've kept it secret thus far.

We could also add that we have reason to believe that there could be surviving metallic dragons on Jenoa, but their disappearance seems to have been the result of systematic, deliberate extermination: wards in the Knights' chapterhouses, and (as Orensland mentioned) some means of detecting draconic use of magic.

[Addendum] Khaska will use the Hat of Disguise to help reduce his profile and visibility as much as possible during the walk from the voidgate to the city, even with Orensland's help. He'll have it replicate simple clothing that matches the landscape in color and texture (as much as possible), as well as appear generically humanoid, shorter than he naturally is.

Musha
Oh man! Not at all what I was expecting. I thought we'd encounter just a completely wasted city, or, at best, a French Resistance-style covert with a couple descendants struggling to survive. But THIS is amazing! We have a full-fledged army as allies and they've already ousted the primary evil! About that: is Baltham still alive? Or did the order manage to kill him?

Aestus agrees to the level of secrecy decided upon by his intellectual betters. He doesn't think we should outright lie to these folks, but maybe provide just enough truth to satisfy their curiosity without prompting additional questions.

Upon meeting Yvoren, Aestus' excitement would bound and he would act rather impulsively. Without thinking about possible consequences he would get on one knee and, as an initiate of the Knights of the Silver Dragons, pledge his services to the silver dragon in front of him. Pippin and Denethor come to mind. He would vocalize his excitement and feelings of being overwhelmingly honored to be the first knight to meet the offspring of the Great Hyrmaphridion. He would also mention that his leaders and, indeed, the entire order would be overjoyed at the news, as well, and that he can't wait to go back and report such a glorious visit. Then, in another moment of impulsivity, he would humbly invite Yvoren to accompany them back to Jenoa and grace the order with their presence.

Note: as a player, I'm actually quite nervous about doing this with Aestus since we're trying to keep the voidgate system a secret. Acting this impulsively is still playing off of Aestus' naivity, but I'm trying to decide how much he's matured since joining the party. There's been several major events that he's experienced, plus he's got the mentorship of the wise Khaska. On the other hand, an actual silver dragon and the offspring of Hyrmaphridion no less! The significance of this is overwhelming to Aestus and I'm not sure he would be in total control of his faculties to act with wisdom and discretion. I think I'll let DM make the call here. I don't want to mess up the party simply for roleplay purposes.

Despite all of the good news, the gnomes were not interested in coming to Arkenos. The party, naturally, was. An entire city of allies? It was more than they had hoped for in their wildest dreams.

They talked about what they would share with the council, and Aestus in particular seemed very excited to meet Yvoren. They opened a voidgate for the gnomes and let the pair return to Jenoa, telling them they would contact them upon their return, which they hoped would only be a few days. Then they all returned to the Superius Civitatem voidgate.

“Ready?” asked Sanjin, who was holding the control rod.

Khaska was putting the final touches on his “disguise,” turning himself human and creating a look that would more easily blend into the desert rocks and ravines they would have to traverse to get to the gate of Spherius. Orensland invoked his mastery of shadow magic, and the shadows of the voidgate system shifted around all of them, helping darken their appearance and blending it with their surroundings. He nodded.

Sanjin opened the gate.

They quickly moved through the dim light (it was now day), hopping over the rocks and scuttling through the small crevices and rifts. Orensland led the way, having made this trip twice now.

They got a few hundred yards from the voidgate before Orensland put a hand up, halting them. He listened intently, and a few moments later the others heard it as well—a thundering of footfalls and otherworldly cries. Orensland scrambled up a hoodoo nearby and glanced away from the city. He dropped down.

“Uh, guys, we have a problem. There’s an army approaching the city. They’ll be on us in moments.”

“Do we have time to get to the city gate?” asked Khaska.

“I doubt it. They’re moving fast.”

“Back to the voidgate?” asked Aestus, crestfallen he might not get to meet this Yvoren, at least today.

“The city is closer. But we need to move!” said the Shadowdancer. The group broke into a run.

Eryx (DM)
This is a skill challenge. I’m open to the possibility that this experiment will not work in this D&D format, but I think it can.

Think of the race to the gate as sort of a mini-game. If we were playing on a tabletop, it would be boring to use the combat rules of D&D. You move 30 feet. The advancing devils move 30 feet. You move 30 feet. Etc. The rules were not designed to model a chase like this. What we will do instead is as follows:

1. You are outside of Spherius, but it will still take a bit of running to get to the gate. There are rocks and boulders and ravines and the like between you and it. An army advances towards you quickly.

2. I want to know what you are going to do to try to make it to the gate before the army catches up to you. You can use any skill you are proficient in, but must give me a justificiation for how that skill would help you in this scenario. I will give one example.

EXAMPLE: Deception/Stealth (player choice). A player could run away from the group, get himself seen by some of the advancing army, then stealth back to the group. This would lead the vanguard of this army away from the group on a wild goose chase, buying you precious seconds.

3. This is an opportunity for you to be creative. Figure out what your character is proficient in that could be used to help you get to the gate faster/slow down the army. This is not a combat scenario. The first of these devils that would get to you are well below your power level, but you would quickly be swarmed and overrun.

4. Please give me two examples of skills you would like to use and how they would be useful. Then give me rolls for the skills you have chosen. Not every player will be equally good at this, but this is a group effort. Also, if someone has attempted a particular skill, I will not let someone else try the same technique. (If Orensland uses my above example, Khaska cannot do the same, but must come up with some other way to help.) Remember, you must be proficient in a skill in order to use it.

5. Your group must acquire 4 successes before you acquire 3 failures. (I will roll for which ever skill attempt comes “first” since the play-by-post screws with the timeline, and also set the DC you need to reach.) If you as a group fail the skill challenge, there will be consequences, but you will not all die under the feet of this advancing horde, so don’t worry that this experiment will end with a TPK.

I hope this makes sense. If it does not, feel free to text or call me and we can talk through it. The video I linked does a good job of explaining what a skill challenge is if my instructions here have been unclear.

I’m heading to the hospital tomorrow morning so my wife can be induced. I do not know when I will have enough sleep next with the new baby boy to find it in me to post, so forgive me if the next post is a bit later than I usually like it.

Good luck! (We will pick up all your conversation about what to do with the Council of Spherius when you actually get to the council chamber.)

Crosis
Well! Eryx should have some fun writing up the next post.

Orensland would indeed try to distract or misguide the advancing army as best as possible. Two thoughts on how to do that:

1. Deception (according to Eryx after I ran this idea by him). Orensland would cast darkness at a position between us and the army, preferably in a way that blocks the line of sight between the leading demons/devils/whatever and us so that a mad dash to the gate would go largely unnoticed for the first few seconds. I'd also shoot a crossbow bolt (skill) through the darkness to give the impression that there are enemies in the darkness. Perhaps Sanjin could throw a fireball in there to add to the confusion? Alternatively, if you'd allow/there are no range problems with doing this, I'd cast darkness on the bolt itself and shoot in into the front lines (or right behind the front lines) to throw them into absolute confusion. I have this image in my mind of a ball of darkness hurtling towards me, and can't help but feel that would be intimidating enough to pause for a moment, or for those in the darkness require a moment to figure out what's going on. And, with the momentum of an army behind the confusion, stopping means running forces colliding into stopped forces, which forms an accidental blockade for the rest of the army. Potentially.

Deception: 14 (rolled 7 + 7). If you require this as a disadvantage roll because I'll literally be shrouded in darkness when I fire, my second roll was a natural 20, so this WAS at disadvantage.

2. Anti-Stealth Roll - Picking Acrobatics. Orensland would shout something like "get to the gate! I'll distract them and climb over the wall elsewhere!" And then move to be as visible as possible, in this case doing things like backflips off of rocks in a show-off, antagonizing manner. If the above ploy causes any degree of confusion, he'd shout something like "What do you think of THAT, ya heaping piles of dragon dung!" and other insults before doing so. Do I still have Languages cast on me? Anyways, he would then proceed to run away from the group. He'd run in a direction away from the gates, ideally parallel to the wall and away from the voidgate. Once he puts enough distance between himself and the party, he would then proceed to hide and enter the city - whether that means over the wall or through the gate after the fighting is over.

Acrobatics: 20 (rolled 11 + 9).

…hopefully the visible antics will also alert the city residents of the fact that, in addition to an advancing army, there is a group of travelers (one of which they recognize and the others they are expecting) that is trying to get to the gate fast.

Thev
This is pretty similar to how all gameplay mechanics work in Star Trek Adventures — players explaining what they want to do with which skills, working together to accumulate successes — which is cool!

1. Insight. Khaska is going to observe the oncoming army to see how it's moving across the terrain — how it's navigating obstacles, whether it's flowing in a particular direction, whether it's discrete groups or a single mass, and so forth. This could provide both information about weaknesses in the army and opportunities to evade it, but also insight about how to move quickly across such a fractured landscape.

26 = 17 + 9

2. Nature. We forget sometimes, but with Rynn's departure, Khaska's now the party's default wilderness tracker, hailing back to his childhood in the deserts and grasslands of the Niktean Wastes! Once he's got a good idea of the oncoming army, he'll turn his attention toward plotting a course for the party through the obstacles toward the gate. He'd especially look for any opportunities for cover, especially consistent cover — something like a ravine running orthogonally to the direction of the army's onslaught would be ideal, but boulders could do, in a pinch! If there are any ways the party could create obstacles for the army, he'd also keep an eye out for that. Maybe there's a boulder Aestus could shove to create a bridge across a crevasse, or there's a place where we could trap the rush as we escape.

19 = 13 + 6

Eryx (DM)
I would allow one of Aestus' Skill Checks to be Athletics, following Thev's suggestion of creating a barrier or bridge or something by pushing rocks around. But you can come up with your own, if you like, Musha.

DeltaWolf

  • Imtimidation: 12
    • Using Prestidigitation Sanjin will attempt to frighten (or at least give pause) the oncoming army in the hopes that it will slow them down -giving us an opportunity to reach the gates first.
  • Perception: 11
    • Sanjin will try to lead the group across terrain that will aid (rather than impede) with movement and reduce the risk of tripping.

Eryx (DM)
I've been authorized to roll for Aestus.

Following Thev's suggestion of using Athletics.

Athletics Check: 18 (roll) + 9 (bonuses) = 27 total.

And I'll have him stand up on a small rock so the approaching army can see him, light up his battleaxe and scream at the horde. "If you want to taste the fury of the Fellblade, you're going to need a bigger army!" in an attempt to intimidate the front ranks.

Intimidation Check: 5 (roll) + 5 (bonuses) = 10 total.

And now my DM attempt to roll for who goes first. Crosis' attempts at a Skill Check will be 1 and 2 on a d8, Thev's 3 and 4, etc.

6, 3, 7, 8, 1, 5, 4, 2.

So Sanjin's Perception (11), Khaska's Insight (26), Aestus' Athletics (27), Aestus' Intimidation (10), Crosis' Deception (14), Sanjin's Intimidation (12), Khaska's Nature (19), then Crosis' Acrobatics (20).

The DC was 12. So we have:
Fail.
Success.
Success.
Fail.
Success.
Success. (Skill Challenge Successful at this point, 4 successes before 3 failures.)
Success.
Success.

“They’re going to catch us! Quick, this way,” Sanjin said, pointing to a crevice that seemed to lead more towards the gate, yet could not easily be seen until one was right on top of it. The group followed him, running and squeezing and eventually emerging that much closer to their goal.

“Now this way,” Khaska said, noting how the masses were bobbing and weaving through the terrain, his sharp Maha’i eyes used to desert landscapes and recognizing where they would be caught momentarily.

They came to a bit of an archway across a small ravine and ran across it, but then Aestus stopped to push a large rock over onto it, smashing the archway and preventing any of the devils from following them directly, though they spilled into the ravine and began to fill it up. He drew his weapons. “If you want to taste the fury of the Fellblade, you're going to need a bigger army!” But, sadly, his intimidation did not work and the front ranks continued to clamber up after them.

Orensland smiled, cast a Darkness spell on a crossbow bolt, and then fired it blindly towards the masses. It worked, the bolt lodging near where they were just clambering back out of the ravine, and the Darkness confusing them, some bolting away as it approached, some going to the sides, and running into others of their ranks, and some finding it difficult to climb out of the ravine without being able to see well. He bought them a few more seconds. And then, as a few began to emerge from the Darkness, Sanjin cast a Prestidigitation spell, not exactly intimidating, but the flashes of light gave at least one devil pause, causing a few of its compatriots to run into him, and they tripped and fell down, the horde cascading into an uncoordinated mess of limbs and teeth and claws. Khaska managed to find a few more routes that helped shave some precious seconds off, and then, just as they were approaching the gate, Orensland quickly clambered up off an outcropping, shouting insults and gleefully attracting attention in the wrong direction before ducking behind cover and springing towards his companions.

They arrived at the gates where they could see the ranks of soldiers prepared against the onslaught.

“Let us in!” Orensland yelled!

Regerus’ head poked over the battlements. “Help is coming!”

“Well, it better get here …” Orensland began, but then stopped as a shadow passed over them. He glanced up to see a giant dragon winging by, its copper scales glinting in the muted sunlight. The dragon blasted the front ranks of the approaching army with a bout of gas from its maw, and where it hit the devils slowed and began to move sluggishly.

The four of them looked in awe at the sight.

“Um,” Sanjin said, “I hate to be rude but that just slowed them down. Let us in!”

“Wait for it!” Shouted Regerus, and then a second dragon winged down from behind the battlements, a brass dragon, blasting a gout of fire at the slowed devil ranks, incinerating them and leaving a wall of magical fire between them and the gate, which now swung ponderously open. The group quickly entered while these two dragons kept devils from them momentarily. As the gate shut behind them, locked and sealed, the group tried to catch their breath. They could hear the thrumming of great wings and the brass dragon and copper dragon both appeared, none the worse for wear, the brass dragon spouting fire once again as it rose from behind the city wall, before gliding back into the city.

“To your stations!” Regerus bellowed, and the soldiers all continued on with their work, fighting and casting spells and driving back the horde that had come to the city.

Jaxon approached. “Welcome, friends of Orensland, brothers from Jenoa. We are glad you made it safely.”

Eryx (DM)
That will end this chapter.

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