Hehe it is interesting to watch the players change over time (especially John's blood mage on the left of that picture). My character (Dirty Pete, third from right with the bottle) hasn't changed too much yet—he's still his dirty, thievin' self!
Last session was really interesting for a number of reasons. The characters are really starting to come into their own. Dirty Pete (now naming himself "Black" Pete and fashioning himself as a pirate) had a lot of dialogue (apparently he sounds like Batman?!?) and revealed himself to be quite the negotiator. The party cleric (of the Four Winds) is still laboring under the disfavor of his deities, but he is starting to get what his masters demand of him. The wizard has taken a dark turn and spent the entire session mutilating himself for unspeakable and unseen masters (to tremendous, if unpalatable, effect). Snuffgrimm the Dwarf is turning out to be a quiet but determined slayer, taking on the biggest enemies we have seen so far.
The story picked up right at the end of the previous adventure, as we were called to another local village with similar rumors of beastmen. We set off down the forest road to Hoargrave, only to chance upon a troop of armored half-humans advancing in our direction. We fanned out, intending to ambush the party, but they detected our presence apparently by smell. Gibbering excitedly about some "Bloodline," they pursued us into the woods. On both flanks, we fired our missiles and countercharged, losing one of our best fighters and some new recruits in the process (including my brave squire Frour and nearly the young orphan scamp Sevan). At first, the half-humans held the charge, and then were overrun and slain to a man.
That night we camped, and Black Pete took time to reassure his only remaining follower, Sevan, that he would be safe. All set to bed and rested well, until an intruder broke into the camp in the middle of the night. To the watchman's horror, the intruder was none other than Elf the Elf from the first adventure, now transformed into a hideous, peeling, red-faced demon. We swung at the infernal creature, only to find it shift location to a high tree branch to ward off our attacks. The creature, still attired in its soaking jester garb, began a long opprobrium of our maltreatment, which Black Pete immediately interrupted.
"Listen, you want to deal? What do you want, what will it take for you to just leave us alone?"
The red terror flexed its eyes, a would-be blink if the pallor things were not lidless.
"What do you have to trade?"
"You can take this little orphan with you, but don't come back!" Black Pete replied, without hesitation.
Sevan expressed his disbelief, and started to flee into the dark woods.
"You better take him now, that is a one-time offer and he's getting away!"
The crimson demon grinned maliciously and leapt into the night sky, cackling "This is not over! You have not seen the last of me!"
The rest of the night passed without incident, although everyone seemed wary to give Black Pete some distance after that. The next morning, we broke clear of the forest and found a hovel by the side of the road. Smelling fresh baked pies and seeing a whispy, blue string of smoke rising from the chimney, we eagerly made our way to the dwelling. Inside, we found a strange clutter of contraptions and alchemical ingredients, with an old hag presiding over a boiling kettle. Flanking her to each side were beautiful twin damsels who beckoned us in. Some of our number entered the cramped hut, while others had to wait outside, and soon we had bartered a few new spells and removed a curse from one of our suits of blackened chainmail. In our dealings, Black Pete managed to reduce the price of these transactions by wedding away one of the warriors in the group to one of the hag's daughters. When the two went into a back room to "officiate" their vows, however, Black Pete got into a disagreement with the hag:
"Listen, we got this problem with a demon-elf-thing that keeps haunting us. How can I remove that curse?"
"Aah, that knowledge will come at a price… what do you have to trade?"
"Well… I guess just this bottle. It is filled with the seawater from the Starless Sea."
"Yes yes, that will do. Give it here. Ok now, so the only way to remove this curse is with seawater from the Starless Sea."
"… You mean the thing I just gave you? Then give it back!"
"What? A trade is a trade!"
Black Pete then drew his sword and the hag, ironically, flipped the bottle around and smashed it against the table to create a make-shift weapon.
In the ensuing battle, the hag's daughters turned into skeletal demons (at the most inconvenient moment for the blushing groom, no less) and the hag started flying around the ceiling. Black Pete got in a hack with his sword, but as our strongest warrior busted in the door (he was level 1 and had 20 hit points!), the hag torched him with an extremely powerful magic missile, dropping him to the ground as a charred corpse. We volleyed back with a powerful magic missile (and the first sacrifice to the wizard's sanguine masters) and killed the witch, causing the demon brides to vanish. We quickly looted the hut (getting quite a haul in magic spells and delicious, fresh-baked pies) and torched the place.
Continuing down the road, Hoargrave finally came into sight. Upon being greeted by the townsfolk, we soon realized the etymology of the town name, being home to the world's oldest profession. We were hosted in the mead hall by the chief of the town and were propositioned with food, drink and everything else imaginable. We were given a brief report of the problems the village was facing and were given full access to the townsfolk at our disposal. Amazingly, for a town with such single-minded purpose, they actually did have a blacksmith (perhaps the last of his kind), and we were able to secure weapons and a new man-at-arms in the blacksmith's son. When the festivities of the night died down, Black Pete crawled over to the most experienced madam (the wife of the village chief) and questioned her for rumors (presuming that she had been chanced to hear the greatest number of these).
In the morning (or, to be more accurate, around noon, when everyone woke up groggy and dazed), Black Pete revealed the tales he had heard from loose lips. A great Chaos lord was rising in the wilderness, a demon of pestilence and plague. The only hope to destroy such a creature was the fabled Axe of Grogg, an artifact held by the local orc tribe on the way to the putrid pit of the Chaos lord of plagues. Now that we were no strangers to disease, we bravely gathered our belongings and set off once again into the wilderness.
Traveling down an old trail, we soon came upon the palisade wall of the orc encampment. We approached cautiously, giving the signs for parley and trade. To our surprise, the orcs escorted us into the center of their camp. There, under the looming shadow of a massive, wooden effigy to Grogg, we were surrounded by hundreds of orcs. We waited nervously for a few tense moments, until a massive specimen, probably twice the normal size of an orc, emerged from one of the larger yurts. This creature strode over to our group and we began to explain our purpose to their leader. The orcs were amused by our mission to slay the Chaos lord, and entertained our request to borrow the ancestral axe that once did the dead so many generations ago, agreeing to a duel between their leader and our best warrior (Grimli the Dwarf, after the death of our previous champion). As the two set themselves for combat, Black Pete snuck up the back of the effigy, climbed to the very top, and started to saw away at the legs of the carved idol at the peak of the monument.
The fight was very close, with the orc nearly knocking Grimli unconscious with a critical hit before he fumbled and gave the beleaguered Dwarf an opening. Grimli fought back with axe and shield, and when he had knocked the Orc to the ground, Black Pete finished sawing at the idol and pushed the statue over. As it crashed to the ground below, a great cloud of dust rose up and the orcs began to howl and frenzy. In the confused melee, each of us slipped away (spending some luck in the process), and fled the encampment. In the confusion, Grimli had grabbed the fallen orc chieftain's axe, which we correctly surmised to be the very ancestral weapon we sought, the Axe of Grogg.
The festering pit of the Chaos cult was easy to find after that. We approached the bottomless crater and took a rope bridge down into its depths, quickly overcoming the first guards that we encountered. Inside, we discovered an entry foyer with a collection plate, which we tipped generously only to have the contents stolen by one of the last party members to enter the chamber. We traversed a meat locker and burst into the refectory when the cultists were eating their midday meals. The unarmed monks were easily defeated, and we rescued two captive village girls and pursued the remaining cultists into a summoning chamber, where we encountered an old enemy: the same warlock from the Starless Sea was there, heading some evil ritual above a bubbling pit. The now liche-like sorcerer sent his minions and champion to intercept us while he finished his incantation, and we were just barely able to overcome the acolytes and turned on the liche only after his spell had successfully summoned the Chaos demon of disease. The writhing mass rose from the pit, consuming the liche in its blubbery form. With the last of his power, our blood mage offered up a personal sacrifice to his patron before roasting half of the monstrosity with an extremely powerful magic missile. Snuffgrimm quickly followed, picking up the Axe of Grogg from his fallen friend Grimli, and strode forth undaunted to land a devastating blow on the creature. We counted up every last point of damage and just barely slew the beast outright.
Covered in the subsequent wake of ichor and vitriol, we cleaned ourselves off as best as possible and returned to the village to await our heroic welcome. From there, we planned out or next moves, discussing the rumors of invasion ships from a Chaos fleet. Slowly, we begin to hatch a plan to stow aboard one of these arks, to sail back to the home country of the invaders and take the fight to them directly….