Slaves of Sargon

Session 7: Time for Tome
And I thought the cows were bad before...

With the moonstones now in hand the heroes have one mission left before they return to Hanshin and rendezvous with the others: kill the Minotaur seer named Tome.

But before they can make their way toward the villainous Minotaur, a raucous in the street draws their attention. The human slaves are rallying under a Minotaur named Hakaro who claims to have been shown the error of his ways by the spirit of Terius. The heroes listen in and are pleased to see the mini-rebellion set its sights on finishing the destruction of House Azu.

Thrall, in a moment of random bloodlust, kills a nearby alley cat only to discover he has left a kitten orphaned. Feeling guilty about his deed he adopts the creature and would later use it as a surprisingly effective weapon.

The portal to the reservoir is guarded by soldiers in the employ of House Minato. The heroes are outnumbered but use surprise, illusions, and a well-thrown kitten to defeat the guards and their dogs.

Once through the portal, the heroes found that Tome had predicted their arrival. A small group of monstrous minotaurs awaited them. These weren’t your average minotaurs. They were larger, thicker, with gnarled horns, red eyes, and fangs. And to prove these enhancements weren’t just for show, they set upon the heroes straight away.

The beasts are tough and fast, and though the heroes are weary from the days many battles they’re able to destroy the monsters. During the battle Thrall discovered a nearby tent and inside was an elf in a trance. Thrall figured out that a pair of magical earrings she was wearing were responsible for her state, so he removed them, freeing her from Tome’s spell.

Jastra tells the heroes that she was forced to build and activate the portals by Tome. The seer himself was a little further up the reservoir killing another minotaur and letting its blood pool into the water.

Tome admits that there was a small probability that the heroes would make it this far. The heroes learned that he was poisoning the water supply with a ritual that would cause minotaurs who drank from it to transform into the monstrous versions they just fought.

The heroes had waited a long time to face Tome, so they dispensed with the conversation and moved into attack. The fight was challenging because just when a minotaur was about to be dispatched another would infect it with some tainted mixture that would bring it back in a more monstrous form.

Eventually Tome fell and before he died he told the heroes that he and the spirit walker Bhenkadra hear the same voice.

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Session Six: Assault on House Azu
Terius, the friendly ghost?

With the gladiator Carter freed from his cell under the arena, the heroes moved on to their second task: breaking into House Azu and stealing the powerful moonstones. As usual they ran into trouble along the way.

A woman begged them for help, saying her husband was about to be publicly executed for a crime he did not commit. Riza was quick to pledge her help, and soon the adventurers found themselves in a crowded square where a man was tied to a barrel and a hooded executioner was about to behead him.

Riza shouted above the crowd that the execution was a sham and that two other minotaurs were the true criminals. A minotaur Captain asked for evidence, and that’s when things got hairy. The Captain suspected trouble was coming and went to blow his whistle for reinforcements when a well-timed arrow from Malcer shot the whistle out of his hands. That’s when the Captain went for his sword.

Leira conjured an illusion of the fear Minotaur ghost Terius to frighten the Minotaur thugs and the executioner. The executioner and one of the thugs were so horrified that they could not move.

Over time the executioner came to believe that the “ghost” was haunting him of his past crimes and he begged the spirit to tell him what he could do to be absolved of his wrongdoing. But Leira and Thrall were both sending covert messages into the Minotaur’s mind and he became so confused that he threw his hands to the sky and yelled, “What would you have me do, seek justice of get you a cheese sandwich!”

In soon became clear to this executioner that Terius wanted him to punish the thugs for they were the true criminals. So he attacked them and the crowd erupted in cheers much to the anger of the Minotaur Captain who was locked in combat the other adventurers.

Soon the heroes emerged victorious and the crowd carried the executioner off on their shoulders chanting his name, “Hakaro! Hakaro! Hakaro!”

The woman gave the heroes a ring as their reward. It was all she really had. The heroes recognized it as a signet ring which meant this woman was likely a descendant of Akari nobles. Thrall discovered this particular ring belonged to the Wazali family who were known to possess some arcane skill. He gave the woman a simple test and confirmed that she had hidden talents. He sent her to a mage named Seymour, who could give her further training.

With the execution thwarted the heroes continued to House Azu. It was well-guarded, but Leira noticed they could use a neighboring building to gain access to the House’s upper level. The neighboring house belonged to a nasty Minotaur named Captain Nogo who was preparing to whip his human slaves. Thrall did not feel comfortable leaving the scene as is, so he sacrificed the group’s stealthiness by lighting a fire in Nogo’s house. They then used a rope to get across to one of House Azu’s many ornate balconies.

Once inside, Thrall immediately made for Razan’s chambers only to find the cowardly house leader was not at home. How convenient. They then made for the servants’ quarters which had a stairwell that could lead down to House Azu’s basement, where Thrall believed the moonstones were kept in a vault.

They found the servants’ quarters awash in the blood of the human slaves and a minotaur skull painted on the wall. A grisly scene indeed. A trail of blood led to the basement and they followed it to find four minotaur zombies attempting to access a locked door.

After a scrape with these creatures which nearly killed Leira, the heroes discovered they were not truly zombies, but minotaurs in make-up to resemble the undead. They used prosthetic claws covered in poison as weapons and the heroes took a few of these for themselves to use on a rainy day.

Leira believed them to be agents of House Minato and so planted an ornate dagger bearing the mark of Minato on one of the bodies. From such simple acts springs much violence.

Thrall found the vault but it was locked by a complex combination mechanism featuring spinning dials. He decided to guess the combination but discovered each wrong guess magically animated a suit of armor in the room which would then attack. Getting tired of fighting the suits of army he decided to fry the mechanism by shooting electricity into it. He succeeded in completed the majority of the combination but still had to guess the last dial, which after a few more suits of armor, he did.

Inside the vault were four large statues carrying a chest on their shoulders. Malcer and Thrall climbed up one of the statues and opened the chest to find a pouch containing the two moonstoones. But upon opening the chest, two of statues came to life as giant clay golems.

Wanting no part of it, the group scurried out the vault door just before it slammed shut. But the golems pounded forcefully on the door shaking it and loosening its hinges. Knowing the monstrosities would soon break free and Minotaur guard were already in the servants’ quarters above the group used a large water pipe and swam out to the courtyard.

As usual, trouble was waiting for them, this time in the form of Minotaur patrol with watch dogs. They quickly engaged the tired heroes, but soon the ground quaked and a skeletal arm emerged. Crawling out of the earth was a giant Minotaur skeleton wielding a terrible black sword. It was Terius! The Minotaurs screamed in terror as the skeleton shook with a silent laugh. Terius turned his eyeless skull to Riza and handed him the dark blade and pointed at the Minotaurs with his other bony hand. Riza understood and took the sword feeling a power he never knew a blade could possess.

Soon the paladin was slicing through Minotaurs and dogs, not only killing them, but sucking their souls into his mysterious blade. The fight seemed about won when the two clay golems came crashing through the stone wall. The adventurers overcame the odds and saw the automatons destroyed. Satisfied with the carnage that Riza caused, Terius left his blade with the paladin and slowly vanished.

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Session 5: Trouble in the Market/Arena Fun
Bloody combat was not on the shopping list!

After escaping Sargon City only weeks ago, the heroes found themselves thinking about how they could get back in. The Minotaur empire’s capital city was under siege by grey dwarves from the underdark and the city was locked tight.

The former slave, Thrall, always protective of his secrets, subtly guided his companions to a hidden cave that led to the back wall of a contact of his, another hoarder of secrets, the surly Minotaur cheesemonger named Alakso.

The old bull told the heroes that they had come at a terrible time. Not only was the city under siege by a foul army of mad dwarves, but certain prophecies also predicted that these were the days that the city would be visited by Terius, a Minotaur of legend from before the birth of the Empire. It was said that the vengeful Minotaur of old would bathe the city in blood to remind them of their past sins.

But the companions did not come to Sargon for old ghost stories. They had work to do and asked Alakso for information. His lips loosed by some of the adventurers’ gold, Alakso spoke of the whereabouts of the coveted moonstones, the gladiator named Carter who had insights into the Minotaurs’ plans for invading Akari, and the powerful Minotaur seer named Tome.

But it was the cheesemonger’s final bit of information that proved most surprising. One of Rimar Domine’s Butchers was a trader in the employ of Sargon. But Alakso did not have a name.

Knowing the layout of the city the companions decided to collect the gladiator first, before tackling the moonstones and the seer. But first, they paid a visit to the Eastern Market, a notorious black market of sorts where buyers and sellers did business in all types of goods, many of which Sargon authorities would find most appalling.

Thrall sought sheets and chains in the market to aide his plan in making the story of Terius come frighteningly alive in the streets of Sargon. But their shopping excursion was interrupted by human cutthroats who mistaked the companions for easy victims. A few damaged shops and an exploded melon cart later, the heroes stood unchallenged and Thrall had the items he sought. The group then set off for the arena.

With the help of a few clever distractions, the heroes were able to bypass the guards to the holding pens of the gladiators. They found Carter and were prepared to free the man, but he stopped them saying that he had a fight in just a few minutes and that if he didn’t show the whole city would be looking for him. Carter assured them that he would be victorious and they could leave after. But little did he know that this time would be different.

Not only would the gladiator be up against two powerful drow elf warriors and a hideous ettercap, but his sword was cursed with brittleness and would break upon its first blow. The heroes learned of this deception, killed Carter’s Minotaur escorts and gave him a weapon worthy of such a battle. They then blessed the man and Harvek the bard sang a song to inspire him. What happened next was perhaps the most inspiring and lethal combat that the arena had ever seen. With perfectly timed whirls, parry’s, and slashes, Carter carved up his adversaries receiving hardly so much as a scratch. Even the gladiator was surprised and the arena erupted in cheers.

Once back in the holding pen, the heroes freed all of the gladiators and overwhelmed the small Minotaur security force. In the chaos of the scrambling escaped fighters, the heroes took Carter and hid in one of Thrall’s safehouses. There the gladiator told his story.

Apparently the humans had been telling the story of Felix and Skarus wrong for all these years. These were not slaves that had escaped. They were humans filled with rage for being left behind and ignored by their homeland and they sought revenge against Akari. They allied with the Minotaurs and posing as escaped slaves were welcomed back to Akari. But while there they would weaken that Kingdom by forming a criminal network known as the Sinking Sun. And they would lead that organization under the names of Uly Breen and Yellowspine.

After the gladiator’s story the heroes rested, for that night they would have to sneak into House Azu to find the moonstones.

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Session 4: The Enemy of My Enemy...
Is another enemy

The heroes arrive in Bastion just after a Minotaur force led by Champion Vadenark sacked the Butcher hideout. Rimar Domine and many others are captured. Only Ben Vorius and Marlyn Redstreet remain.

The heroes heal the injured Marlyn and encourage him to remain near Bastion so that he can alert the other Butchers of what transpired when they return. They then pursue Vadenark in hopes of rescuing their comrades.

While tracking Vadenark Ben and Bhenkadra engage in a conversation about whether the Spirit Walker’s visions can be trusted. Bhenkadra proves his claims when he predicts the group was about to be set upon by Minotaur riders. Armed with the foreknowledge of the incoming enemy the group sets a trap, successfully weakening what could otherwise be an overpowering force. Despite their victory, Riza is wounded but is healed by the Spirit Walker. What is more surprising is that the Minotaurs had a prisoner with them of an unknown race.

Her name is Ansama Oudes and she claims to be a drow, an Elven dweller of the Underdark. She tells the heroes that a great war is taking place below the surface between the Dark Dwarves and everyone else. Those who do not bow the knee to the dwarves are killed. She escaped to the surface where she was quickly taken captive by the Minotaurs. She has already learned to hate the Minotaurs and accompanies the heroes until she decides her next steps.

Eventually the heroes lay eyes on Hanshin, the Minotaur outpost where Rimar and the other Butchers were taken. It is heavily guarded with little cover to mask an approach. The group takes a lot of time coming up with a plan, shooting down many ideas that are too risky, before settling on one that may be the riskiest of all.

Leira would create an illusion of a Minotaur Lord and Riza would pretend to serve as its attendant, speaking on the Lord’s behalf. The others would be bound as captives and lead to the outpost’s gate as a delivery of new slaves. The Spirit-Walker said they just needed to gain entrance to the outpost and the rest would work itself out, so the group had no further plans outside of getting through the gate.

The plan works well enough to get the adventurers through the gate, but then everything starts to fall apart. The illusion is led to far from Leira and starts to dissipate. Riza is separated from the group for a one on one with Vadenark himself. The Minotaur is shrewd and as he realizes the ruse the outpost comes under attack by the Dark Dwarves.

There are too many of the underdark denizens and Vadenark offers an unexpected alliance. If the humans join in the battle to defend the outpost of Hanshin and succeed, he will free them and furthermore will speak to the Emperor about whether it is honorable to keep humans as slaves.

The dwarves are accompanied by spiders which excel at climbing the outpost’s walls to attack the defenders. It’s a large-scale fight, but together, the Minotaurs and Humans defeat the invaders.

With the recognition that the Dark Dwarves represent a huge threat to both races, Vadenark and Rimar decide to form a temporary alliance. They devise a plan to use the moonstones to lure the dwarves to Hanshin where explosives will be planted throughout the outpost. Once the dwarves move in to retrieve the magic rocks, they and their precious stones will be destroyed.

The heroes are sent back to Sargon City to recover the stones and bring them to Hanshin. Rimar also requests that they extract a gladiator slave known as Carter who the Butcher leader believes holds important Minotaur secrets.

Furthermore, Bhenkadra warns the heroes that a Minotaur with a similar future-vision ability to himself is in the employ of House Minato and is a deadly threat. He advises the heroes to find and kill the Minotaur seer.

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What the Hell, Kid!
Na na na na na na na na

Warned about the incoming flood of dark dwarves, the Red Butchers send the party northeast, to the plains of Silvergrass, to seek the help of the plainsmen and their spirit walker, Bhenkadra. Along the way, the party is set upon by a pack of dire wolves. Thrall sets the thick, dry brush ablaze to drive the wolves out of cover, and though the party sustains some heavy wounds, the wolves are all killed.

Soon after, they are met by a plainsman warrior, who had seen the smoke from a distance. He is wary and distant at first, but impressed when he learns that the adventurers have defeated the dire wolves (and made a cloak of their pelts, in Thrall’s case). He leads them to plainsmen’s camp, where they meet the chieftain, Orin Pathfinder., and rest.

The next day, they approach Pathfinder and Bhenkadra to convince the spirit walker to join them in their fight against the minotaurs. Bhenkadra is sympathetic to their need, but tells them that were he to go with them, the plainsmen, no friends of the Red Butchers, would consider it a kidnapping and respond violently. Riza asks if there is anything they could do to reassure the tribe of their good intentions, and the spirit walker tells them of the disturbing—and sometimes fatal—dreams that have been besetting the tribespeople of late.

They speak to Takleshim, Nascha’s son, as well as some of the other members of the tribe, to learn more about these nightmares. The tribespeople tell them of huge, hairy spiders, as big as wagons, approaching them ominously within a twilight dreamscape filled with small pools of foul liquid. The spiders are a deep blue, almost black, bearing a remarkable similarity to some (much smaller) spiders that the plainsmen had come across when gathering berries nearby.

The adventurers quickly determine that many of the individuals suffering from these dreams had been previously bitten by these spiders, and go hunting for them, first in the supply tent where the gathered berries were kept, and then out in a ravine where the berry bushes grow. Working in concert with the tribespeople to dig a fire break around the bushes and set them alight, trapping the spiders within, they destroy most of the remaining spiders, except for a few clusters that sail away from the blaze on balloons made of spiderweb and sent soaring by the updraft from the flames. The surviving spiders make it into a small crevice in the hills to the side of the ravine; Riza and Thrall begin piling burning brush at the cave entrance to smoke out the remaining spiders.

Meanwhile, Malcer heads around the hill to see if there is another opening through which the spiders might escape. He finds an opening; and emerging from it, a strange, bat-like person with leathery wings and sharp fangs—a man-bat, if you will—engorging itself on handfuls of the spiders. It sees Malcer and attacks.

Hearing Malcer’s shouts, the party heads around the hill to join him in combat, leaving Riza at the mouth of the cave to ensure the remaining spiders do not escape. Together, they are able to dispatch the strange creature, just as Riza crushes the last cluster of surviving arachnids. Inside the cave, they find a spear and shield that had once belonged to Orak, a warrior of the tribe known for a scar he had borne across the side of his face—a scar remarkably similar to the one borne by the bat-thing (bat-boy? man-bat? there’s got to be a better name).

Thrall, as is his wont, skins the bat-man and turns it into a terrifying cloak.

Heading back to the camp with the rest of the tribespeople, they tell Bhenkadra of the spiders, and the creature that was eating them. He thanks them for their help, but tells them that there quest is not yet done; while the spiders have been eliminated, those who were bitten by them will continue to suffer from the terminal nightmares until the spiders are defeated once more—within that nightmarish dreamscape. With the help of some remarkably potent mushroom spores, he sends Riza, Malcer and Thrall into the dream to face the spiders among the pools of liquid death.

While Leira, Harvek and Bhenkadra watch over the dreaming adventurers, Bhenkadra tells the others that his visions have shown him that an assassin approaches. No sooner has he spoken then a tear opens up in the very air, through which emerges a minotaur ready to slay the spirit walker. The minotaur assassin is taken by surprise when he finds more than just Bhenkadra awaiting him, and Leira and Harvek set upon him at once.

The dreamers awake, having destroyed the spiders, to find the corpse of the assassin lying in Bhenkadra’s tent. Riza searches the body to find a sigil of House Minato, largest and most powerful of the houses of Sargon. Bhenkadra tells them that in House Minato, there is someone else like him, through whom an invisible being of great wisdom and power works, but he does not seem to know what the end goal of this entity is—or even of the voice that speaks through Bhenkadra himself.

The tribespeople are grateful to the adventurers for dealing with the spiders, and the nightmares that had plagued them, and are finally willing to let Bhenkadra journey with them to Bastion, and the Red Butchers.

But when they return, the find Bastion ablaze, and the sky filled with the smoke in the wake of a minotaur assault…

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'Shrooms and Hemp
Wherein the adventurers have an out-of-this-world experience involving fungi.

Having discovered what appear to be ancient ruins under the mines, the party speaks to one of Reimar’s rangers, who tells them: “Thousands of years ago, the Atvar empire stretched across these lands, from the penninsula of Sargon all the way to Inalua. There are legends of an incredible treasure hoard hidden under the mountain.” He also warns them that minotaurs will almost certainly be arriving soon, in order to discover what happened here.

Malcer shows the moonstone to Invana to see if she can determine anything about its origin or purpose, but all she is able to tell him is that it contains a great amount of magic.

Returning to the cavern where they had fought the four troglodytes, the adventurers discover one less body than they expected to find, and drag marks leading to the next room. Following the marks across several rooms, they finally come to a room populated by several hostile mushrooms, who attempt to poison them with an emission of pungent spores. The mushrooms do not last long. Farther along, they run into several large, vicious spiders who seem to have been infected by the spores, and have forests of mushrooms growing from their backs; the spiders last a bit longer than the mushrooms did, but are still promptly dispatched by the adventurers.

Heading back to the cave entrance to rest and regroup, Invana tells some of the adventurers that the spiders have implanted something inside them, but she knows not what.

Back in the ancient ruins, past a closed door, they find a natural cavern with a stream running through it. The drag marks end at the stream. Leira hears something splashing in the water, downstream, and the party heads after it to investiage.

They quickly catch up to what appears to be a human-sized mushroom, dragging a dead troglodyte. “You are not troglodytes,” it says. “I think this is a good thing.”

The mushroom’s name is Pale; he is very pleased to hear that the adventurers are no friends of the troglodytes. “I am of the Frugron,” he tells them. “There are not many of us left.” Because troglodytes. He tells the party that the Frugron have lived in these caverns for thousands of years; the troglodytes began moving in aggressively in the last year. He invites us to meet the rest of the Frugron; “This troglodyte is joining the circle!” he says, with glee.

The party follows him to the rest of the Frugron circle, down the stream a bit, through a secret gap in the rock. The path opens up to a wider area, where another 19 mushrooms await. They appear to be communicating telepathically. Pale invites Riza and Thrall to join them in another room for the meld, and they accept.

In the other room, the Frugron Sovereign, twice the size of the other mushrooms, releases a cloud of spores into the air. Riza and Thrall quickly become disoriented, but in a good way. In their minds, they find themselves outdoors, in a light, airy clearing. They are looking through the eyes of someone else, apparently the dead troglodyte itself, experiencing its last living memories. It had just passed information to someone/something, and was waiting to see the fruits of its labors. In the distance, it watched a few minotaurs guarding the mine entrance, until a commotion suddenly arises inside the mine, and one of the guards departs to investigate.

Almost immediately afterwards, three small figures resembling dwarves but different, pale, and grey, emerge from the mines, carrying battle axes and a human head. They attack the minotaurs, quickly slaughtering them, and then reenter the mine, taking the minotaur corpses with them.

Thrall and Riza awake in a flash. Who are these strange dwarves? Where did they come from, and what is their purpose here?

Malcer recognizes them from their description as Dark Dwarves, driven into the underdepths by the wise and good dwarves of [closer to] the surface in a long forgotten war of aeons past.

In a small room off to the side of the Frugron’s chamber, Leira finds a chest hidden behind foliage; the chest contains an ancient shield, covering a scroll case. Inside, there is a map, marked with an X; an inscription in an archaic form of common warns, “Don’t touch the moonstones! Lest you awaken a powerful and destructive force.” Thrall suggests that the magic inside the moonstones might have been a barrier, keeping the Dark Dwarves contained. Perhaps putting them back would reseal it?

The map shows the river and the rooms that the party has come through. The X looks like it’s’ only a few rooms away…if they’re reading the map correctly. They ask Pale if he knows the room on the map: “Yeah, it’s close. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were troglodytes there. Last time I was there, there were three chests in the room, and beautiful etching on the wall.”

The party heads back to the entrance to report to Reimar. Thrall describes the Dark Dwarves to Hammond, Reimar’s dwarven cook. “It’s a treasure map!” he exclaims. “We have to find this!” They head back into the caverns, crossing the underground stream, following the map to…a dead end. An empty room, with marks on the floor where three chests clearly once stood. All that remains is the remnants of old treasure, bits of armor and weapons made of rusting metal…and the creatures feeding upon those remains. The adventurers engage the rust monsters with gusto.

The wall in the chamber contains a series of mysterious runes, just as Pale had described. Underneath the runes, a more recent message has been chiseled into the wall, in the same script that was on the map: “The runes on the wall are a code to properly tune the Staff of Alderman.” Thrall carves copies of the runes into Riza’s and Malcer’s shields:

Runes.jpg

They find a hidden door in the wall, and go through it to find a large chamber with an enormous pit in the center, populated by four troglodytes, a gremlin-like imp with bat wings sitting on top of a rock, and the three missing chests. The hidden door closes behind them.

The adventurers are able to defeat the troglodytes, but one of them shoves Harvek into the pit; the others rush to his aid, finding him clinging to a ledge around fifteen feet below. More movement is visible deeper in the pit; it looks like more of the dark dwarves that Thrall and Riza had seen in their trip vision. Malcer begins launching arrows down the shaft as Thrall and Riza lower a rope and help Harvek up.

The imp speaks: “You’ve made a grave error. By removing the moonstones, you’ve broken the wards that kept my master contained. They’ve been building an army, and now…they’re ready.” The sheer number of dwarves making the climb up the pit reveals the truth in the creature’s words. “We need to get out,” Thrall says to the others. “Fast.”

“My master, Malagrim, will want to retrieve the moonstones that were taken,” the imp continues. “Woe to him that carries them…”

The adventurers quickly grab everything that was in the chests and head back to the cave entrance, carrying a message of doom along with the great treasure.

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Escape and Troglodyte Troubles

The abbreviated version (I wrote a lot more in detail and it got erased):

1. Malcer and Leira succeed in extracting Thrall, Riza and Harvek from Sargon
2. Group rendezvous with Rimar’s Red Butchers in Bastion
3. Group goes hunting with Ben Vorius and slay panthers
4. Group goes to Minato’s Mines and find much bloodshed and headless bodies.
5. Group finds moonstones.
6. Group finds troglodytes and Thrall is slain
7. Thrall is restored by Invana Elginnith

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The beginning is nigh
The Great Escape Begins!

The campaign is still in the planning phase, but soon the PCs will pit their cunning and might against the strongest empire on Okknos.

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