Heroes of Gafolweed
Part One: The Curse of the Sickled Hand
On the fringe of civilization, bordering a vast and wild wilderness, sits the small rustic settlement of Gafolweed. The human miners and farmers who call Gafolweed home mix with travelers and merchants of many races in the only place to find food, drink, and lodging for miles around- the Honeybead tavern, known far and wide for its house made apple liquor and gregarious dwarven proprietors. It was on a crisp fall evening in this quaint setting that four unlikely companions found themselves sharing the only available table: Praezbie, amorous half-elf cleric in the service of Yuelral; Serpenthelm, wild wandering half-elf barbarian; Ferram Maeror, brusque and lethal Tengu monk; and Avarron, a powerful, spice dealing human sorcerer. This was not to be merely a memorable meal. No sooner had fate brought this group together than it set them a task. Focu Edor, Gafolweed’s cleric of the sun god Phos, burst into the tavern, wailing that he had stumbled upon ghoulish, dog-like creatures despoiling the local cemetery. His normally potent holy powers had failed to stop them, he said, and he was desperately seeking help from any quarter. A cash reward was offered. A few glances and nods of agreement, and the coincidental dinner party became a newly minted band of adventurers.
Following paw-like tracks through the rapidly darkening cemetery, into an ancient crypt, and and through a freshly dug tunnel, our heroes eventually emerged in the pine forest outside of town. After discovering a trap at the mouth of the tunnel, the party came upon those who had set it: the creatures Focu had encountered, as well has a wagon full of freshly unearthed corpses. After a brief but intense battle, a search of the slain creatures revealed a puzzling fact: they were not undead demons at all, but Coblynau, canine featured relatives of Kobolds- cleverly disguised to look like the undead. Soon after, the group discovered a live Coblynau skulking in the forest- a live Coblynau with a missing arm and an incredible story to tell.
His name was Gripk, he said, and he was a noble of the Crippled Skulls, a clan of Coblynau who dwell in warrens beneath the hills southeast of Gafolweed. In recent years, a self-proclaimed necromancer named Vraklin had gained influence in the clan, promising that his dark magic would increase their power and wealth to levels previously undreamt of. Gripk, however, discovered that Vraklin was in reality no necromancer. He had been disguising his followers as the undead in order to awe his own and surrounding clans into submission, all the while plundering the Gafolweed cemetery for fresh corpses to use in his failed infernal experiments. Gripk confronted Vraklin, but had underestimated the false sorcerer’s influence. Vraklin convinced the king to condemn Gripk to death for treason and blasphemy, and he was chained in the pits and left to die. The tenacious Gripk, however, refused to cooperate with the sentence- he gnawed off his own left hand and escaped! Once free, he disguised himself as one of Vraklin’s undead brood and joined a cemetery raid, planning to break off and flee once they were free of the warrens. Noticing that Vraklin personally accompanied the raiding party, but left them to follow a small footpath once they entered the woods, Vraklin chose to follow him. They soon came upon an ancient tomb, where Gripk observed Vraklin remove strange artifacts and conduct horrific experiments. Terrified, Gripk fled, eventually encountering the adventurers hunting Vraklin’s “undead.” Gripk suggested an alliance against Vraklin, but our heroes, sensing impure motives, disarmed and bound him. Shortly thereafter, Ferram set off towards Gafolweed to warn the locals of the impending danger, while the rest of the party followed the captive Gripk towards the hidden tomb with the intention of foiling Vraklin’s evil plans.
Led by Gripk, the three remaining adventurers arrived at an ancient burial mound. Inside, they found skull-lined burial chambers and dusty corridors- containing several deadly traps and two fearsome animated skeletons! Overcoming both traps and skeletal warriors through a combination of cunning and bravery, our heroes found that they were too late to catch Vraklin. They did not, however, leave the tomb empty handed. Concealed at the base of huge statue of black basalt, they discovered a chamber containing a few small treasures- and a seemingly ancient book of ominous aspect. Bound in black leather, the book’s cracked and weathered pages contained mostly illegible scrawls, unknown runes, and rambling formulae in an unknown language. The decipherable portions of the book seemed to describe the creation of an artifact called the Sickled Hand, a scepter made of a mummified human arm ending in a gruesome claw. The book claimed the Sickled Hand allowed it’s wielder to drain the souls of the living and use them to animate the dead. Further examining the book, the adventurers found a small handwritten note containing a sketch of a skull-shaped ring and instructions never to use the Hand without wearing it. Recognizing the ring as the very same one adorning the base of Gripk’s hook, our heroes unceremoniously detached said hook and pocketed the ring for safekeeping.
Deciding research and rest were required before continuing their quest, the adventurers headed back to Gafolweed. There, they filled Ferram in on the events he had missed. Avarron advised Captain of Arms Dade Toban on improving the town’s meager defenses and bartered some of the arms captured from their adversaries for fresh horses and supplies. Mayor Ros Zergu agreed to put Gripk in a cell. Most significantly, after being appropriately lubricated with a skin or three of wine, librarian Squabilmix dug up some illuminating history regarding the Sickled Hand.
From dusty journals and the townspeople’s memories of their grandparents’ memories the story emerged: Over a century ago, Gafolweed’s sheriff Ashthokar had stumbled upon an accursed burial mound in the notoriously haunted woods outside of town. Discovering within lost secrets of dark magic practiced by mysterious ancient peoples, Ashthokar soon abandoned the pursuit of justice in favor of the unchecked power of necromancy. Even the ghastly power of the Sickled Hand, however, could not save Ashthokar once the people of Gafolweed discovered his wicked schemes. A mob of enraged townsfolk burned his infernal laboratory to the ground, slew his apprentice, and entombed Ashthokar in the same ancient mound that had given rise to his evil sorcery.
Realizing that the contents of Ashtokar’s tomb may well have finally given Vraklin the power he had sought for so long, the adventurers set out at once to find the necromancer’s lair and end once and for all the menace of the abominable Sickled hand. Leaving Ferram to assist with the town’s defense, our protagonists journeyed into the ruddy hills outside of town, eventually arriving at the lair of the Crippled Skulls clan. Journeying deep into the underground warrens, the heroes battled masses of Vraklin’s Coblynau minions before arriving at a vast underground lake, the far shore of which seemed to promise entry to yet more subterranean tunnels. The adventurers commandeered two small boats and set out across the lake, hoping to find a way into the necromancer’s inner sanctum.
Safely back in town, Ferram found a quiet spot and settled in to meditate in the manner of his order. While deep in this transcendental sate, he received a vision: a vision of his comrades’ continuing adventures- and their growing peril.
Arriving at a beach covered in glowing shells, the party encountered their deadliest challenge yet- a massive lake troll, capable of rending flesh and armor alike with its razor-sharp claws. Although Serpenthelm was grievously wounded, Praezbie’s healing powers and Avarron’s timely projection of the lifelike image of a massive dragon eventually turned the tide of battle, and the mighty troll fell. Amongst the horde of shells, a key was discovered. Making camp by the light of the creature’s flaming corpse, our intrepid champions sat to rest and recover, knowing instinctively that even greater danger lay ahead…