Situated off the main thoroughfare of the Stormreach marketplace, Jester’s Haunt is a small neighborhood boasting only a single establishment, the Rusty Nail inn. Adventurers gather inside to toast fallen comrades and muster for their next quest. Some parties, like the one led by Palis Littleton, plan excursions to the nearby steam tunnels based on dark rumors. Others, like the nameless band who last month headed into what the locals call the Foul Chambers, have yet to return and most assume they perished on their quest.
“Almost a month ago, a party descended into the sewers to chase a rumor of treasure,” said Ulcana Braddock, a contract mercenary keeping vigil outside the entrance to the Foul Chambers. “They never returned, and I have been retained to discover their fate.”
As if on cue, two such adventurers dash over to the sewer entrance and slip inside. Both drow elves, they wore the robes and accoutrements of spellcasters and one of them was followed by an impish creature similar to a kobold shaman. A moment later, along came another adventurer, this time a Warforged sorcerer named Sneakythumbs Picard. Into the sewers it went. Whether or not any of them were successful in finding the missing party – or if they shared in what is thought to be their grisly fate – is unknown. None of the adventurers emerged.
Around the corner from the Foul Chambers, a woman identifying herself as Wayfinder Dael greets passersby with praise and compliments before leading in to her pitch to get adventurers into the steam tunnels. The Wayfinder Foundation is a large organization spread across Eberron to promote exploration. The group hopes that diligent exploration will one day result in the discovery of a means to cure its founder – renowned halfling explorer Boroman ir’Dayne – of a rare wasting curse.
Close at hand to where Wayfinder Dael enjoys an ale at a sort of outdoor bar festooned with one-handed weapons on display, the entrance to the steam tunnels stands waiting for adventurers to explore. What lies down there seems to be all the buzz in Jester’s Haunt, with parties anxiously planning excursions inside. For her part, Wayfinder Dael is offering substantial rewards for anyone willing to find out what’s going on down there.
One of those brave souls is Kurik Forgewarden, a dwarf fighter hiring out his services as a hireling through a manager located in the plaza leading into Jester’s Haunt. Several managers for hirelings of various skill levels gather there regularly, selling contracts for the hireling under their employ. [editor’s note: see photos at the bottom for a brief overview of hireling contracts.]
Forgewarden, greataxe in hand, entered the steam tunnels with confidence. An odorous mist hung about the place, obscuring much of the view from the landing at the top of the wide staircase leading further down. Through the mists down one of the corridors, several shapes scurry about. Forgewarden, undaunted, dashed over towards them to investigate. From a closer vantage point, the shapes are revealed to be a couple of kobolds milling to and fro down the hallway. Attempts to parley were met with yips of anger, and the kobolds began tossing flaming vials of oil at Forgewarden. The fire had no effect on the dwarf thanks to his armor and the ablative armor infusion placed upon it. [reporter’s note: you’re welcome!] The kobolds quickly fell to the mighty swings of his axe as well as the gnashing metal teeth of the iron defender at his side. On a related note, the iron defender this reporter cobbled together during the airship ride from Khorvaire to Xen’drik still remains nameless. A couple of readers have sent in suggestions for possible names, but editors would like to leave the contest open for more possibilities. So readers – please offer your suggestions in the comments.
The kobold throwers were led in their assault by a shaman of their kind, who furiously cast spells at Forgewarden before falling to his axe. Before he could recover, a pair of filthy slime creatures oozed from the walls and whipped pseudopod-like appendages at him that sizzled on impact, corroding both his armor and weapon when struck.
After that threat was vanquished, Forgewarden took what he explained was an ‘adventurer’s shower.’ Frequent excursions to sewers and other less-than-opulent locales have led adventuring types to develop their own unique habits, one of which is this means of removing the gunk and gore that comes along with a life of combat.
One of the kobolds, cowering in an alcove, did not instantly attack and instead offered the opportunity for further adventure. Greezix stood outside the entrance to a secret passageway leading to the stronghold of someone named Shaagh, and he implored Forgewarden to enter the complex in order to rob and murder him.
“Shaagh is big, Shaagh is strong, but everyone knows Shaagh’s brain not so strong,” said Greezix. “That why Shaagh has strong helmet, keeps brains in skull.”
Greezix explained that Shaagh’s hold over his crew came through the power of his magical helm, which he suggested Forgewarden steal and use for himself. For his part, Forgewarden seemed confused when this reporter declined the offer, instead opting for further exploration of the steam tunnels proper.
“Do you mean you really just hired me to watch your back in the steam tunnels?” Forgewarden seemed taken aback, at the same time content to take the paper’s gold in exchange for what he considered easy work.
Thankfully, Forgewarden remains ever vigilant. During further exploration of the steam tunnels, the small team took a short break while this reporter took some notes. A quiet skittering made the iron defender sit up just in time to witness the horror of a huge brown spider advancing quickly toward us. The arachnid was dispatched quickly enough though, falling to a single strike from Forgewarden’s axe. Several more of the spider’s kind sprang forth rapidly, all defeated handily by the dwarf and iron defender.
Deeper down one of the corridors, a strange creature called a glass spider descended from its web and attacked as well. Oddly, after defeating it, the body of the beast faded away but its internal organs remained behind, floating eerily in the air and still pulsating with some kind of reflexive life.
At one point, the group became violently nauseated by a terrific stench, only to be attacked from the shadows thereafter by the source of the malodorous miasma – a pair of troglodytes! These disgusting reptilian creatures are no friends of Stormreach and had set up a crude shrine to The Devourer in the tunnels beneath the marketplace.
The most dangerous part of the steam tunnels was an area that had been overtaken by kobolds who had set up a makeshift camp and shrine to their dark gods. Banners displaying their clan symbol festooned the hallway and gave Forgewarden advance knowledge to expect danger ahead. Nevertheless, the bold dwarf rushed headlong into combat, pushing through a cadre of warriors to dispatch a pair of shamans before laying waste to the rest.
“Gotta take out them spellcasters first,” Forgewarden advised. “When I spot fellers at the back of the bunch waving their arms around, those are my priority targets.”
Beyond the kobold encampment, a fortified tunnel entrance led deeper into the steam tunnels. It appeared that the kobolds had built some sort of blockade there, preventing further exploration. Forgewarden explained this was all the talk in the hireling community. Rumors of the mystical ‘seal of Shan-To-Kor’ had led a group of Wayfinders here to discover its secret, and that’s the real reason Dael is hiring adventurers.
Emerging from the steam tunnels, Forgewarden takes his leave but graciously reminds the crew that there is some time left on his contract. Should his assistance be needed again, it is only a simple matter of summoning him via the magic of said contract.
It is night now in Stormreach, and the sky is covered by a blanket of stars. Overhead, an airship passes by leaving whimsical rings of blue energy in its wake, the product of the bound elementals that provide its power.
Inside the Rusty Nail, Cobblestone still ponders the possibility of Warforged-exclusive beverages. Callico and Lucien still pine for lost love and the good old days, both still too shy to approach one another. Rollins and Monty still argue the merits of splitting treasure and the elves continue to sink their sorrows in song and ale.
I tell the trio of adventurers about the blockage, and how Kurik Forgewarden is a stalwart hireling worth his price in gold. Their planning continues.
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Hirelings: a brief overview in photos