Under Castle Naerytar

The Red Wizard
As the group prepared to leave the observatory in search of a safe place to rest, they heard footsteps on the stairs. A friendly voice called out not to shoot as Azbara Jos, the Red Wizard from the caravan, came into view. “Aha! I thought it was you fellows from the caravan!” he exclaimed as he came to a stop at the top of the stairs.

What ensued was an awkward conversation where the heroes attempted to position themselves to grab the wizard while he questioned them regarding what they knew about the cults’ plans, where and how they had obtained their information, and whether or not they thought the cult had much of a chance to succeed. The heroes seem disinclined to answer, so Azbara threw them a bone: he told them that the cult had a magic portal in the caverns beneath the castle.

When the group asked where the portal led, the wizard simply told them that they’d have to go through it to find out. They asked him what his involvement was, and he replied that he was a member of the Thayan Resurrection – a resistance movement intent on driving out the undead rulers of their homeland – and it just so happened that the cult’s plans aligned with theirs at the present time. Azbara also informed the group that Rezmir had gone to quell their little lizardfolk rebellion, while Dralmorrer was rallying his troops in the great hall.

When Azbara sensed that the heroes were getting ready to jump him, he took his leave, quickly scurrying down the stairs. As Keo made to follow, the wizard muttered a word of magic and disappeared. Frustrated by the wizard’s escape, the heroes decided to make the most of things and searched around the second floor of the keep. The main room appeared to be a sort of common area and office, with a small hearth and a writing desk. A door led to Dralmorrer’s private quarters. The PCs spent a good few minutes searching around. Erevan even thought to look under the carpets, where he found a loose floorboard, under which was hidden a small lockbox. He managed to pick the lock on his second try and found Dralmorrer’s emergency funds inside (some gold and silver coins and a mix of precious stones). Flint dumped the box into the bag of holding.

The heroes then used their sending stone to let Leosin know what they’d learned so far. He thanked them and asked them to head through the portal if they could to see where it led.

The dwarf then cast rope trick and the companions crawled up into the extradimensional space to get some much-needed rest. At one point, they noticed a couple of cultists poke their heads around the door, but seeing no one in the room, they departed again. It would appeared that the cultists had been mobilized and were searching the castle for the intruders.

The heroes chose not to go up against the full might of the castle’s forces, so they retreated to the lizardfolk camp. There they met up with Snapjaw, who told them of the glorious victory against the bullywugs, most of whom had turned and run at the sight of Pharblex’s head being paraded around by the lizardfolk. By the time Rezmir had arrived to put a stop to the fighting, most of the bullywugs were either dead or fleeing into the swamp, and the lizardfolk were celebrating. Snapjaw invited the group into one of the longhouses and told them that they could spend the night there safely. His people would cover for them if the cultists came calling.

The Caverns
In the morning, the companions resolved to find a way down into the caverns. They recalled that the lizardfolk had suspected that Pharblex had an underwater access, so they asked Snapjaw to find out. He sent some lizardfolk out to investigate. They located a tunnel in the murky water south of the bullywug camp. Flint was not keen to go in the water at all, so Erevan offered him an entire bottle of Berduskan dark wine to help him steel his nerves. Once Flint was pleasantly drunk, Keo cast water breathing on everyone, and they slipped out of the longhouse and headed towards the pool.

The journey through the tunnel was unpleasant but relatively swift and painless, thanks to Keo’s magic. The goliath also cast darkvision on Mara and himself, as they were the only ones who couldn’t see in the dark. After about 300 feet, the group emerged into a large underground lake. As they surfaced, they could see that the ceiling was only about 30 feet above them. The chamber was filled with the croaking of frogs, and they could make out a few of the amphibians lurking on the dry land.

As they emerged from the pool, they discovered that they had three options: a passage to the south, stairs ascending to the east, and a path leading north along the shore of the lake. They went south first and found two bullywugs guarding what turned out to be a frog tadpole hatchery. They intimidated/persuaded the bullywugs to run away, and the cowardly creatures both dropped their spears and dove into the pool.

They then went and checked out the stairs, which led up into an empty chamber that opens into another chamber filled with centipedes. They could see another set of stairs heading up on the far side but weren’t too keen to cross the centipede lair to get to it, so they returned to the lake and moved north along the shore.

As they reached the north end of the lake, they found a mist-filled passage leading up to an intersection containing a bank of fog rising three feet off the ground. Two passages led west, while a larger passage headed east. Since the mist seemed to be coming from that direction, they went that way first. They soon came to a tall cliff, at the top of which was a wooden crane and pulley system. Next to it was a ladder. Up they went and another flight of stairs led them up to a large chamber lit by a single torch burning brightly next to a set of ascending stairs. Beyond that was another, rougher flight of stairs leading down. In the middle of the room was a shallow pool of water, which appeared to be seeping out of a crack in the north wall. They headed down the far stairs and found a large chamber filled with mud, in which two bullywugs were happily making sure it was just the way they liked it. They let them be and headed back into the main chamber.

Next Flint turned Erevan invisible, and the half-elf slipped through the crack in the wall to see what was on the other side. (He was somewhat obsessed with figuring out where all the mist was coming from.) He saw nothing, but something saw him, despite the invisibility. A section of the wall next to him started oozing down and a pseudopod lashed out at him. Ducking, he retreated back through the crack, grateful that the thing didn’t follow.

Then Flint decided to cast detect magic as a ritual and walked around the caverns looking for magic. He didn’t find any until he pushed on through to the mist-filled room in the northwest corner, where he picked up conjuration magic emanating from the floor. Erevan and Flint used prestidigitation to briefly clear away some of the mist so they could see what was down there. They caught a few glimpses of what looked to be a permanent teleportation circle etched into the rock. Flint knew he’d need some kind of passcode or key to activate it, which meant heading back up into the castle.

It’s a Trap!
Before heading into the castle, however, they reckoned they’d better check out that last unexplored passage to the south of the portal chamber. They found some stairs descending to what looked like a shrine. The room was filled with frog carvings of various sizes, many placed on niches in the walls, as well as seemingly random collection of religious iconography that appeared to have been included for no discernible purpose.

They pressed on to the south and found Pharblex’s sanctum, with a muddy desk and chair, a box of candles, and a wooden chest. Treasure! Erevan headed over and checked the chest for traps. He could tell that it was rigged up so that anyone who wasn’t careful would cause some cleverly hidden clay pots in the ceiling to fall down around the chest. He gingerly set about disarming the trap but unfortunately only succeeded in setting it off! Five clay pots crashed to the ground, releasing a potent hallucinogen that quickly spread through the room!

The entire group succumbed to the poison. Keo came to believe that he was a frog and felt called to go and dive into the lake. The others, however, all saw each other as nightmarish frog-like monstrosities and proceeded to attack each other. Jamna turned on Erevan and took him out with two quick jabs from her poisoned shortswords. Mara attacked Jamna, and then Flint attacked Mara with bolts of fire. With Erevan down, Jamna turned to attack Mara. The warrior woman didn’t stand a chance and soon fell to the ground. Flint then shot his fire bolts at Jamna and nearly took her out before he, too, felt the call of the lake. He turned and ran out of the chamber. Jamna followed. Flint fired a shot back at the gnome, dropping her to the ground, then ran and dove into the lake and started swimming after Keo.

Luckily for the heroes, the druid’s water breathing spell was still active, so there was no need to worry about drowning! Eventually, the hallucinogen wore off, allowing Flint and Keo to come to their senses. Climbing back out of the pool, they hurried back to the sanctum. They found Jamna unconscious but stable in the shrine room. Unfortunately, when they reached Pharblex’s sanctum, they found that both Erevan and Mara had succumbed to their wounds. Flint took the opportunity to look in the chest, now that the trap had been sprung. Inside were two spellbooks! Flipping through them, he saw that one had once belonged to a slightly more powerful evoker, while the other had belonged to a significantly more powerful mage with an eclectic taste in spells.

Reviving Jamna, Flint and Keo dragged their fallen comrades’ bodies out through the underwater passage and back to one of the lizardfolk longhouses, where they proceeded to loot their bodies. They also let Leosin know via the sending stone that they’d be in need of reinforcements.

What will happen next?! Tune in next time to find out!

DM Note: Mara’s player was out sick, but her husband, who plays Erevan, was directed to play her. He is considering the possibility of bringing back his halfling rogue from our previous Lost Mine of Phandelver campaign (seeing as how Phandalin is practically a stone’s throw from the Mere). For his wife, I have extended the same one-time offer I gave him way back at the beginning (when Erevan was slain by Lennithon the blue dragon in Greenest) and my own wife just recently (when Flint was slain by the giant crocodile in the swamp): namely, that she can choose to have her PC survive at the cost of suffering a (semi-)permanent injury of some kind. Erevan’s injury was that neurological, confusion-based injury, while Flint’s was the loss of his arm. We shall see what Mara’s player decides. She could also potentially bring back her LMoP character, although you’d be forgiven for not being able to tell the difference between that character and Mara, as they are both based on the Starter Set noble fighter pregen.

Castle Naerytar

Through the Swamp
Leaving the harrowing experience with the giant crocodile behind them, the heroes paddled on through the murky water. As the sun started its descent into the west, everyone was relieved to set foot onto relatively dry land again. Snapjaw led them through the tangled undergrowth, making sure that none of them stumbled into any of his people’s hidden traps.

At one point, Snapjaw warned the group that they were approaching a watch post. He told them to wait while he went forward and met with the six lizardfolk guards, attempting to convince them that he had brought the tribe’s saviors with him. He mentioned that the great dragon had spoken to the heroes, and that they were now on “a mission from god” (as it were). He also pointed to Flint’s missing arm and told them about how the dwarf had survived an encounter with a giant crocodile. The heroes looked the part well enough that the guards were suitably impressed. They agreed to send word out to the other members of the tribe.

Castle Naerytar
A short while later, Snapjaw brought the heroes to the castle. He pointed out the stockade in which the giant lizards used as pack animals were kept, and the crude huts the bullywugs used for shelter. He led them to an expertly-made reed longhouse, roomy enough inside for quite a few lizardfolk, and offered them a meal consisting of smoked fish and crushed birds and lizards. The group relaxed in the longhouse until well after the sun had set.

When it was time for the lizardfolks’ nightly meeting, Snapjaw roused the herpes and escorted them past the bullywug guards in the barbican and across the causeway. They could see a few lights flickering through the windows and arrow slits in the castle but no one was out in the yard. Snapjaw led them into the forge and up the staircase to the armory above. There, representatives of the lizardfolk stationed in the castle were already waiting.

Snapjaw repeated his sales pitch, but this time the lizardfolk were a little more leery, perhaps because several of them were the elf Dralmorrer’s personal guards. Erevan stood up and did his best, in his finest Draconic, to sway them over to the plan of open rebellion. His stirring words proved sufficient, and then all that needed deciding was when to attack: should they attack right then, while the bullywugs were sleeping, or wait until morning, when more lizardfolk would have had time to come in from the swamp?

Assassination Time
The heroes opted for the element of surprise. They wanted to take Pharblex the bullywug shaman out while he was sleeping next door, and after getting a better description of the layout of the castle from the lizardfolk bodyguards, they thought they knew just how to do it. Once the plans were in place, the heroes popped their potions of climbing and walked out onto the roof of the forge, over the castle wall, and around to the back side. Flint then put on the robe of useful items and pulled off the patch with a window on it. They stuck it on an arrow slit leading into the third floor of the barracks, which widened it enough that they could all slip through.

They found the third floor empty, except for a few old training dummies. A faint glow – and a sickly stench – rose up from the stairs leading down to the second floor, though, where the lizardfolk had said Pharblex and his guards slept. Erevan crept down the stairs to see. Sure enough, there was the bullywug shaman, slumbering alone at the far end of the room, while his guards slept in a great heap in the middle. Ranged about the room were jars full of fireflies. It was their light that was giving off the glow. The floor was covered in mud and filth. Hence the stench. The half-elf crept back up and reported his findings to his friends.

Flint moved back over to the window and used prestidigitation to send a signal to the lizardfolk. As they barged into the first floor of the barracks and start slaughtering the bullywugs down there, the heroes set up their ambush. Jamna snuck down and across the floor to stand over Pharblex, then waited for Erevan to fire an arrow into the shaman’s bulk. Meanwhile, Keo planted a spike growth on the area around the bullywug heap.

Mara nearly ruined the plan by not bothering to even try to be stealthy as she ran across the room, but even though she woke up most of the bullywugs, it took them too long to realize what was happening. Before any of them could even croak out a warning, Pharblex was shot, stabbed, and decapitated.

While the guards were able to leap out of Keo’s spikes and head for the stairs down, some of them ended up returning when they saw the slaughter that was taking place below. The heroes made short work of them. Jamna and Erevan had a bit of a contest to see who could find anything of interest on Pharblex’s body. Erevan won, finding the key to the chained and padlocked chest in the room. He opened it up to find it full of women’s jewelry and accessories. The collection seemed a bit out of place, but the heroes weren’t too fussed, chucking it all in Flint’s bag of holding to sort through later.

Heading downstairs, they found that the lizardfolk had lost six men, but there were close to thirty dead bullywugs in the room. The lizardfolk were keen to go and slaughter the bullywugs in the barbican next, so off they went while the heroes walked out onto the barracks roof to survey the scene. Some cultists had come out of the doorway directly opposite the barracks to see what was happening and then hurried back inside. The heroes decided to head for the observatory at the top of the keep in the center of the castle courtyard. They used an archway where some gates used to be in the wall separating the outer yard from the inner yard to get to the keep without having to set foot in either courtyard.

The Farseer of Illusk
As luck would have it, the magical telescope had not been left unguarded. As the group neared the roof of the keep, what had appeared to be mere grotesque statuary animated. Erevan made a beeline for a hatch leading to the interior of the observatory, with Keo (and Jamna, who’d been getting a lift from the goliath) hot on his heels, while Mara and Flint attempted to hold off the gargoyles. Once inside, Keo summoned up some bears and then shifted into his own bear form as the gargoyles followed him into the room. The foul creatures bit and slashed him quite badly, though, and he was unable to maintain concentration on his spell, the bears vanishing with a pop.

The group were eventually able to destroy all four gargoyles without any losses on their own side. However, the destruction of the stony creatures had been quite noisy, especially since one fell about fifty feet down to the courtyard, where it shattered into lots of pieces, while another broke apart and clattered down all over the telescope’s brass roof. Realizing that the cultists would be alerted, the heroes paused only to smash as many of the farseer‘s fragile pieces as they could find before agreeing that it was time to get out and find a safe place to rest.