The Howling Cliffs

Preface, part I: A creeping madness
Setting the mood

You’re standing at the foot of towering rocky cliffs as the sea before you rages. You wait, but for what you can’t recall. A ship perhaps? The sky is filled with thick, gray clouds. A wet breeze blows through you sending a chill up your spine. As it continues, it scrapes against the rocky face of the cliffs. The sound it makes is unnerving as it mimics voices screaming. Out in the deep, you see a bulge in the water, a massive wave forming and rolling toward the shore, toward you. You look behind you and see the cliffs. They go straight up hundreds of feet as far as the eye can see except for a wide swath cut out just behind you. Though rough and randomly formed by eons of friction with the sea, this part forms a jagged ramp going into land, reminiscent of a staircase for some gigantic creature.

The wind blows harder as the wave gets closer until it is the cacophony of thousands of tortured souls wailing angrily at you. You cover your ears and press hard but it’s no use.

Then you wake. You’ve been woken by the same dream for several weeks now and each time it takes longer to shake it. It’s the same every time, but you wake covered in a cold sweat to the relief of comforting silence. You lie back down and eventually your breathing calms and slowly your plans for the coming day push out the details of the nightmare.

But this time is different. This time there is no calm at the end of a storm. You still hear them—the tortured voices are still screaming inside you.

Preface, part II: The Vanishing (Coming soon!)

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Preface, part II: The Vanishing
There are others like you... but they're disappearing.

The madness appears to be spreading and so are the rumors. You’ve seen others with dark circles under their eyes. Their heads twitch in response to voices when the tavern is sparsely occupied and quiet. You recognize that spasm. You’ve done it yourself ever since the voices in your head started getting louder and louder while you were still awake.

A self-proclaimed prophet has climbed a small building for a high vantage point to preach loudly to the gathering crowd about the end of the world. “Can’t you hear their screams?” he asks. “The gate to Hell itself has flung open and its tortured souls will soon be swarming us!”

But you’re learning to suppress it. The prophet appeared every day like clockwork to describe in great detail how the world would end. It changed a little each day. But suddenly he was gone. So was the other guy who you overheard talking about the voices to a small group of friends. They eyed him, both suspiciously and fearfully, and the next day they were sitting there without him, hardly speaking a word. Certainly they made no mention of their friend or where he had gone. There’s talk of evil spirits possessing people, of the dead rising from their graves, of demon worship and witchcraft.

And now there is talk that the gods themselves have been silenced. Some say the gods no longer answer the prayers of their followers, that their clerics are losing the power to protect us from evil, to heal the injured, or cure the sick. The rumors are quickly dismissed by the clerics who insist that nothing could separate them from their gods.

“What is next?”, people ask. “Who will be next?”

Could it be true? You can’t help but wonder. Maybe the apocalypse approaches. Why else would troops of armed guards from the mainland be walking the streets of your small island town? The knights are dressed in fine mail led by clerics, all wearing white tabbards with the symbol of Pelorus, a gold circle with many rays shining out from it to represent the life-giving sun.

They’re in search of an answer, but in the meantime seem content to settle for someone to blame.

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The Purification of Souls, Part I
Port Eary tolerates some unannounced visitors from the Mainland.

Locals showing signs of the madness have been disappearing so our heroes have been going to extra effort to suppress their symptoms. That’s probably a good call.

Our heroes respond to a disturbance in the sewers in a more affluent neighborhood of Port Eary only to discover that some local and familiar vagrants, otherwise peaceful beggars, have undergone a disturbing change. One has large pythons growing from his shoulders in place of arms. Another has small venomous vipers for fingers. Another vagrant is being strangled by the one with pythons for arms until our heroes usurp his attention. They also discover a body with bulging sores, presumably from viper bites. The perverted creatures are quickly dispatched by our heroes and brought to a local temple of Pelorus/Fharlanghn (Pelorus has a disturbingly growing presence) where they are examined. One priest has the temerity to slice open the bulge in the man’s left arm/snake to discover a small, partially digested animal; probably a cat or small dog. Inquisitor Harris was called to advise, an unfamiliar name.

Many miles out to see, cleric Rhys is on a mission from his temple in the Westerlands to travel to the Mainland and gather information. Are the clerics there similarly cut off from the gods? Might they have information to get to the bottom of this?

During stormy seas, his ship is invaded by merfolk. A lovely feminine face peers over the railing of the ship, waiting patiently. He resists magical charms at first and attacks one of the invading mermen only to see the wound he inflicts heal before his eyes. The merman ignores him and the brief wound. The mermaid is relentless and this time he falls victim to her charms and approaches her. “This vessel is a doomed sacrifice to the awakening, but you are not to share its fate, blood of my blood.” With that, tentacles encircle him and he is dragged deep beneath the waves. The last thing he recalls is his lungs filling with the salty brine and then darkness.

Mykahl, Cregga, William, and Bey depart the temple of Pelorus/Fharlanghn in Port Eary and cross paths with a foreign troop of soldiers led by a man of noble bearing whom they later discover to be the infamous Inquisitor himself. He wears the finest studded leather armor and carries an ornate rod topped by the symbol of the sun god Pelorus. His troop accompanies a horse-drawn cage that holds several locals captive.

One overtly mad woman in the cage meets the gaze of Bey and tells her “Its name is a killing word!” before snarling something unintelligible and yet oddly familiar-sounding and the lock to the cage shatters. She and one other were shot down by the guards attempting to escape. One young man initially evades but guards give chase. His fate remains unknown.

Mykahl noticed a great look of relief in the woman’s face right after speaking the bizarre word. Could it be a brief respite from the madness? He also ponders for a moment if he might be able to say it just as she did… He stares for a moment at the scattered pieces of the heavy metal lock on the cobblestones at his feet.

Rhys wakes up on the shore just South of Port Eary and soon discovers that he has fallen short of his goal of reaching the Mainland but is glad to be alive. He doesn’t understand why he didn’t drown. He goes into town and tries to get his bearings. He quickly discovers that this island is also plagued with silence of the gods.

Bey does some intelligence gathering around town and hears rumors that this madness extends at least as far as the mainland and there are further rumors that clerics everywhere appear to be out of touch with their gods. Panic spreads amongst the clergy and amongst their flocks as well despite all attempts to keep this handicap under wraps. In this process, Bey discovers she can channel the madness throughout her body and achieve an incredible level of confidence in her social interactions. This unfortunately appears to come with a rather strange physical… side effect. It does, however, also dampen the effects of the madness she’s been experiencing for weeks and she suspects she might actually get a decent night’s sleep finally.

About this time, Cregga craves to be alone with her thoughts and takes a walk into the woods where she discovers a small wild boar. Surprising it, she charges and inadvertently discovers she can channel the chaotic energies in her mind through her weapon. Thick black smoke erupts from the blade which appears to make her already powerful great axe even more brutal. She fells the beast with one blow and has a nice dinner and some leftovers. She too feels great relief from the madness after having channeled this energy.

William is doing some intelligence gathering of his own when he bumps noggins with Rhys about these strange events around the world. William discovers that the Westerlands are plagued by the madness as well and their clerics are similarly out of touch with their gods. They are in mid conversation when they hear a loud pop like a firecracker right in the middle of the tavern and turn to see Inquisitor Harris eyeing them suspiciously. “Witches!” he cries and orders them arrested. No one else in the tavern seems to have heard the firecracker sound.

At various places throughout the city, our other heroes are startled by a loud noise that no one else seems able to hear. When they reflexively turn to discover the source of this noise, they see only the Inquisitor who takes the fact that they hear it as some sort of omen. He has them arrested, again accusing them of being witches.

This chapter of our story ends with our heroes stripped and shoved into a cage cart on their way to who knows where. Inquisitor Harris placates the citizens of Port Eary, assuring them that their friends are merely being taken where they can be properly treated for their insanity. The reactions of the residents of Port Eary are mixed. Many seem to fear that this madness could be terribly contagious and welcome the purge. As the cart hobbles along the cobblestone roads of the city, the prisoners are pelted with rotten fruits and vegetables by some while others look on with a combination of sadness and dread.

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The Purification of Souls, Part II
When the time is right...

Our heroes are being carted North through Croit and into a secluded clearing in the woods where a make-shift encampment has been constructed. The charred corpses of convicted witches are being taken down from spent wood piles as the prisoners are placed in a cell in the one structure that isn’t a tent. They discover they actually are witches (warlocks in game terms) as is the inquisitor leading the witch hunt. Along with this, they realize they’re all left-handed and some of the traits the witch hunters are looking for are oddly accurate in some cases, like having unusual genitals.

While they’re waiting in the cell for the right moment to attempt an escape, a hummingbird flies in through a window and buzzes around Rhys’ head for a moment, then flies back out. Rhys recalls the hummingbird to be a symbol of an obscure goddess, Paxar Mensax, considered by some to be the messenger of the gods.

One of their fellow prisoners seduces one of the guards and severely debilitates him with her witchy naughty bits. At the same time, a battle outside distracts the rest of the outdoor guards while our heroes assist her in taking out the remaining guard inside. They figure out the secret to the arcane locks on the doors and work their way outside.

A lovely redheaded woman and two large gray-skinned humanoids are in a massive battle with the clerics and guards outside. The woman has a grin plastered on her face and her lips don’t move when she speaks. There is a cluster of tentacles that appears to have sprouted out of the ground. A number of guards have been squeezed and frozen to death by them. Rhys sees the woman shift momentarily into some hideous slimey-skinned creature with tentacles growing out of its face. She refers to Inquisitor Harris as one of her own but insists he must be punished for his insolence when he attacks her with an eldritch blast. His eyes glass over and he kneels down and starts eating the skin off of his own hand.

Our heroes use the distraction of the battle to find their possessions and disappear into the woods. With the help of Creyga and her low-light vision, they work their way back to the town of Croit before dawn and to the home where William was raised. His grandfather, who makes his living as a psychic who reads fortunes, is not there for some reason. Mycahl manages to pick the lock and get them inside where they discover the place in disarray like it’s been searched. They lock the door and gather what supplies they can before settling down for much needed rest.

They manage to get a full night of uninterrupted sleep.
Spellcasters can prepare spells in the morning and swap out spell slots for others they know.

Notes:
X.P. for this adventure is 527 each (Rhys, Creyga, Mycahl, Bey, William)
Players should read up on the Warlock class from Complete Arcane and choose a Least Invocation from the list for a 1st level warlock. All players should add two Minor Invocations (a creation of the DM): Message (only works with other warlocks) and Signal (only heard by other warlocks rather than by chosen allies). Signal is a new spell.

Normal Items found
About 2 days worth of food
4 pints of lamp oil
6 candles
Flint and steel
12 sheets of paper

Magic Items (Mycahl cast Detect Magic)
A fist-sized crystal ball (radiates divination)
A platinum coin with a chair engraved on one side (radiates conjuration)
Tall Leather boots (radiate conjuration)
A small yellow towel with red embroiderings (radiates conjuration & transmutation)

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Game 3: The Hunted
Running from the law

Our heroes wake in the home of William’s grandfather to the sounds of feet, horses, and carts going by. A peek out the window reveals the inquisitor, the red-headed lady, and many of the soldiers they’d just escaped from along with the two empty cage carts they were riding in just the night before. Mycahl overhears the lady and the inquisitor making plans for a massive search of the island for the missing prisoners and Mycahl decides to shadow them in hopes of learning more. He tells Bey of a meeting place outside of town if he isn’t back within an hour then casts a spell and takes on the appearance of a common villager woman. Creyga gets uncomfortable staying in town while so many are looking for them and decides to go early to the meeting place. An hour later, Mycahl hasn’t returned. The others wait just a bit longer and discreetly start working their way out of town.

On the way, Bey hears a voice in her ear from someone else experiencing the same voices and strange powers, also fearful of the massive witch hunt and seeking allies. As they follow the path to the meeting place, a group of townspeople recruited for the search confronts them and calls for help. Our heroes defeat them with the help of Juves who comes out of hiding after having shadowed them for a while. Juves was the voice Bey was hearing. They hide the bodies in the woods and continue their journey through the woods and off the path. No sign of Mycahl or Creyga at the designated meeting place.

A familiar hummingbird flutters around Rhys’ head for a moment and then flies off, pauses and hovers for a moment, and our heroes follow. It leads them to a webbed area of trees where they find the cocooned and dessicated body of a follower of Corellon Larethian with a broken stone tile that radiates magic bundled up in his pocket. Then they are attacked by deformed goblins with too many eyes who shoot strands of webbing out of their hands that burn like acid on contact. They manage to defeat them and Bey leads them to the cave.

They discover a creature that appears to be five goblins who have merged together, back-to-back, into a large ten-legged creature that uses multiple bite attacks and some more of the other strange spider-like goblins.

After looting a locked supply room, they hear a voice in their ears speaking common who says they seem to have a certain kinship, referring to their shared affliction that started with the madness. He offers them sanctuary if they will refrain from further violence against him and what remains of his clan. He allows them into his throne room where they see a tapestry with the symbol of Gruumsh. He introduces himself as Grue and explains that many of his clan were changed when they ate a deformed fish that he advised them to avoid. He tells the group of another way out of the caves through a long tunnel from the supply room.

This chapter of our story ends with the heroes blockaded inside the goblin supply room resting and trying to decide what should be next. Rhys contemplates the tile in his pocket that seems to have grown warmer since he first found it.

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Game 4: The still, quiet voice within
Centipodlets: a real pain in the back

Our heroes manage to get rested up and meet back up with Cregga who has been hiding out in the woods and has managed to avoid detection by the roving bands of local witch-hunters. Upon hearing the sounds of dogs from the way they came in, they embark out the back way that hobgoblin Grue told them about.

Before long, they come across a band of zombies. Rhys manages to rebuke all seven of them. Unfortunately, this causes the one in the back to drop a sack he was holding and monstrous centipedes come swarming out of it. (They actually look more like giant millipedes.)

The centipodlets (Why not? They’re clearly not typical monstrous centipedes.) manage to attach themselves to the spines of Bey and Rhys. Their many legs have little squirming finger-like things on the tips of them that dig into the skin around the spine and connect to the nervous system. An intelligence which seems far beyond what you’d expect from vermin invades their minds and makes them attack their allies. Eventually, they are freed from them and all the centipedes are destroyed followed by the zombies. Based on their behavior, Rhys suspects these aren’t wandering zombies but that they’re actually under the command of some cleric.

They continue down the path which goes for a couple of miles before opening out further inland. With the sounds of the dogs behind them, they follow the hummingbird which has reappeared and seems to be trying to take them somewhere. The magical broken tile Rhys carries grows warmer the further they go.

As the dogs get closer, they find themselves in a clearing at the top of a hill with a very old and neglected small shrine in the middle. A peace envelops them and apparently affects the dogs as well which give up the chase and lie down calmly as soon as they enter the clearing. Rhys recognizes the statue to be the goddess Paxar Mensax, considered the Messenger of the gods by her followers, though her following is thin and she has grown increasingly obscure in recent times. The statue triggers the memory of a dream he had last night in which the goddess was attempting to speak to him desperately but he could only see her lips moving. The screaming voices drowned her out. He sees a gap in the tiles surrounding a fountain that matches the magical tile they found on a skeleton earlier and places it. The shrine seems to wake up, in a manner of speaking. Vines grow over the new tile and water begins to flow in the fountain. The peace of the place grows stronger.

Rhys’ discovers a greater silence here than he’s felt since the voices began screaming in his head and feels called to enter meditation. When he does so, he comes in contact with Paxar who has an urgent message for him.

“My followers have failed to answer my call. This island is in the eye of a growing storm. Something more ancient than the gods themselves is awakening. It screams with the voices of thousands of tormented souls, drowning out the voices of the gods. Now that you are here, I can put you back in contact with your god, but you must repay me by going to the mainland and carrying my message with you. This I do for you only with your promise that you will carry my message to all clerics you cross paths with no matter how strongly you feel about their faiths. Touch them and tell them they must go deeper into meditation. They must quiet themselves and clear their minds and listen to the still quiet voice within. Do this and I can reach them as I have reached you.

It has been sleeping since even before the oldest of gods came to be. Some speculate that it consumed the gods who came before us. They have begun to call it the god killer. The gods are aware that we must put aside our petty squabbling to deal with this dreaded beast. Now go. I will guide you as far as I can in hopes that you can escape those who hunt you and reach the mainland."

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Game 5: Escape through the dark
Screw discreet passageways. We're going straight through cop land!

Our heroes are desperate to get off the island where they are being hunted as witches. Fortunately for them, the witch-hunters from the mainland have had their numbers thinned somewhat by the incident at the prison camp and those that remain are scattered throughout the island. They decide to split up and enter Port Eary from different directions. Their plans to meet up at the docks are disrupted when they discover some of the guards there are familiar and will likely recognize several of them.

Bey discovers Mycahl in a local pub but he’s not his usual self. She senses something odd about him, a big part being that he suddenly seems overly friendly toward the creepy red-headed woman they saw at the prison camp. He names her as Azriel. Later, another escaped prisoner by the name of Sashal tells her that mycahl has “one of those things” attached to him. He refers to Mycahl as being the eye and hand of Azriel now and that means she knows where they are and will likely be sending reinforcements soon.

Sashal finally emerges from hiding to discreetly join up with our heroes. He informs them that he’s been hiding in the sewers and has manage to discourage guards from doing regular patrols down there by convincing them the sewers are massively infested with rats, rats which he has been summoning with his new warlock powers. He says he’s already made one attempt to book passage off the island only to be discovered by guards who are doing regular inspections of any ship before its allowed to leave port. Sashal has shown no signs of recovering from some ailment inflicted upon him by Inquisitor Harris.

After contemplating less violent alternatives that all seem to lead to potentially deadly complications, they draw the guards away from the docks toward a sewer opening up the beach and dispatch them before hiding the bodies in the sewer. They then clean themselves up and find the merchant they booked passage with hanging out in a nearby pub and depart. Though he has appeared to be basically cooperative with the pushy and imposing guards from the mainland, he shows no particular patience when it means waiting around for them. As far as he knows, the guards seem to have at least temporarily lost interest in the comings and goings at the docks.

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Game 6: Arrival in Chesswick

Our heroes arrive in the port city of Chesswick where Sheriff William and Bink greet them. They explore the city a bit with Bink as their friendly guide, liquidate some loot, and visit a temple of Fharlanghn where Rhys conveys the message of Paxar to the great relief of the clerics there. In gratitude, the high priest teleports them to the town of Uverston where they meet a cleric of Kord by the name of Borus. They narrowly avoid a clash with Pelorus witch-hunters whom the locals don’t seem to be very friendly with. Borus, feeling grateful for the help of the party to reconnect with his deity goes with them to Eaglemount and introduces them to the baroness who has a dangerous job for them back in the port city of Chesswick.

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Game 7: It's not really paranoia...
...if they're really out to get you.

Our heroes embark on their journey back to Chesswick to reconsider a job to intercept some dark elves from the North before they reach the city. They’re hoping they can patch up any bad feelings left behind from suddenly bailing on Bink and the sheriff.

They stop off in Uverston to rest and refresh their horses… and also to assassinate some witch hunters. Why not? They figure it’s deal with them now or later.

Rogue Sashal offers to draw them out with stories of witches engaged in some dark ritual outside but something goes wrong. Next thing we know, they’re chasing him out the window of the second floor of the tavern. Our heroes manage to dispatch the witch hunters and hide their bodies in the woods and then placate a drunken local with the help of a Charm Person.

Half way to Chesswick, a fallen tree blocks the path and our heroes are ambushed by large, mangy wolf-like creatures, but there’s something more to them. They attempt to fill Rhys and Juvens with dread before attacking. One is killed and it’s dead body turns into a goblin. The other disappears.

Are the sheriff and his assistant Bink luring our heroes into a trap? We shall see when the adventure continues!

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Game 8: Some 'splaining to do
We bailed but we're back now

Cregga, Bey, Rhys, and Sashal intercepted three drow elves on their way to Chesswick and handily defeated them. They killed two males and managed to subdue the female and brought them back to Chesswick for interrogation. The sheriff has said he may contact them about further work that would involve impersonating the drow to find out more about whatever nefarious activities they were in town to engage in.

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