Session 45 was a long and momentous one, when multiple strands of the campaign all intersected and wove an interesting tapestry. I suspect, in the weeks to come, this session will be viewed as a major milestone.
The session picked up where the last left off, inside Dwimmermount, investigating a necromantic/alchemical laboratory filled with undead. Though low on spells and provisions and in need of re-supply, the party pressed on, hoping to complete their map of the immediate area before returning to Muntburg and then to Adamas. One of the last rooms in the area they explored housed two wraiths, who got the jump on them and drained Dordagdonar's Valkyrie-like henchman, Angrboda, of a level.
This was the first time that this had happened in the campaign and, judging by the reaction, the players were none too pleased. Too be fair, the source of the dissatisfaction was not my use of the wraiths or even of the level drain itself -- though, obviously, no one liked either. Rather, it was that there was no saving throw to avoid the level drain. Throughout the campaign, lots of bad stuff has happened, but in nearly every case there'd been a last ditch chance to escape the consequences by means of a saving throw. My players, to their credit, don't mind "save or die" rolls, because, well, you at least get a saving throw. But no save sat poorly with them and I understand the logic behind their complaint. I'm not sure how, if at all, I'll deal with this issue, but they did make me think about alternative approaches.
Angrboda's loss of a level was the signal that it was time to hightail it out of Dwimmermount and back to Muntburg. When they arrived at their apartments there, they discovered that the door was unlocked and slightly ajar and its interior was bathed in darkness. Gaztea could find no evidence of traps, so, with caution, they proceeded and discovered that Cyrus, the vampire they'd unleashed on the world months ago, had returned and availed himself of "some refreshments" -- the players seem to have overlooked what he meant by this -- while he awaited their return.
Cyrus explained that he'd been hoping to contact them again, but that their regular forays into Dwimmermount made this difficult, as he'd been on the surface, "making contact with some old friends" in preparation for dealing with the cult of Turms Termax, against whom he'd sworn revenge for his unholy state. He and the party exchanged information about the cult's activities in Dwimmermount and elsewhere, with Brother Candor explaining that they'd not been able to venture much deeper into the ancient Thulian fortress due to the large number of Termaxian forces on Level 5.
Cyrus noted that the cult had massed many of their members, making it well defended against outside attack, but added that, even if the cult wasn't there, the party wouldn't be able to proceed much further, because of "arcane reverberations" that had created a seemingly impenetrable barrier to further descent. As the PCs already knew, Dwimmermount lay at a nexus of ley lines, receiving power from other similarly magically potent locations, that power being in turn amplified by the azoth reservoirs found within the mountain. If the flow of arcane power to Dwimmermount could be altered, it likely would have deleterious effects on the operation of the fortress, including closing it off from the wider world. Cyrus said that, in his mortal life, the Thulians had come to fear that rebels against their rule had found a way to do just this and so they made great efforts to guard known ley line nexuses, including an observatory to the south -- one that the PCs had recently visited and which was filled with lycanthropic druids seemingly in league with the Termaxians.
Cyrus surmised that the cultists are probably doing everything they could to restore the proper flow of arcane power and put an end to the reverberations that are preventing their descent further into Dwimmermount. When asked why they were so desperate to descend, he replied, "Why, to free Him, of course." Without missing a beat, Brother Candor simply said, "Termax." Dordagdonar found it unbelievable that Turms Termax was not only alive -- he'd dismissed him as a myth -- but that he'd survived the fall of the Thulian Empire and was now trapped somewhere in the deepest levels of Dwimmermount. Cyrus corrected this supposition, explaining that Turms was probably not in Dwimmermount so much as existing in "some place parallel to it that's accessible through its deeper levels." After all, Dwimmermount contains many portals to other worlds, dimensions, and times; Turms Termax is likely located on one of them.
Cyrus told the party that there were likely means to circumvent the barrier blocking further descent but it would require further research and exploration to reach the right portals that would enable this. Likewise, odds were good that the Termaxians had increased their defenses considerably and no small band of adventurers would be able to deal with them effectively. Brother Candor then suggested the party ought to travel to Adamas in order to seek out a mercenary company whom they could hire to assist them. Dordagdonar liked the idea, but was quick to point out that hiring mercenaries in Adamas without first acquiring a legal charter to do so was asking for trouble, especially in light of their history in the city-state.
Unfortunately, the party lacked the funds needed to obtain a charter and instead opted to sign on two new henchmen, a dwarf crossbowman named Murn and a junior cleric of Tyche called Marius. They relieved Osric and Eryth of their dungeoneering duties and left them behind in Muntburg to guard their apartments while they were away. The prospect of re-entering Dwimmermount without a large number of soldiers to assist them weighed heavily on the party's minds. As the session ended, they were contemplating alternatives, including visiting the necromancers of Yethlyreom and seeking out the bandits they encountered earlier to see if they might be willing to serve as an illicit mercenary force.
All in all, a great session and one that's opened up a large number of new avenues of exploration for the future.