What began as a detour to investigate grave robberies ended in an epic clash of blood, mud, and bones last Sunday. Emboldened by their alliance with Larkspur's de facto ruler, the 8th-level fighter Ronan, and his own hirelings, the party had previously made a sortee into the mysterious, skeleton-guarded tower a day and a half's journey outside of town. One or two of Ronan's men were lost just getting through the door and, once everyone was inside, they discovered the first floor of the keep to be mostly empty. (Oh yeah, and Panope the 5-hit-pointed cleric was again knocked unconscious as well. It's a pattern that's been repeated often enough to earn her the nickname "Pincushion.")
Opening a metal hatch atop a set of spiral stairs, however, made everyone a little leery as doing so let a black pudding ooze its way into the chamber below, resulting in a long (but relatively scratch-free) battle where everyone had to stab the slime-covered ceiling with their trusty torches. A 10HD monster takes quite a while to go down when you only do 1d4 damage per stab. Once they had finished the pudding (see what I did there?), our mighty heroes decided to leave Panope on the first floor while they explored the second and third.
The second floor was a maze of locked and/or barred doors which eventually led to an alchemy lab (contents: 4 zombified local villagers, two potions of longevity, and a scroll of raise dead), an armory (contents: lots of "meh" condition weapons and armor and a gorgeous-but-cursed +2 shield which Ambiorix is now stuck with (bonus points to Sam for roleplaying his character's new and irrational love of the item)), and a pretty disgusting Frankenstein's lab where two black-robed humans and their skeleton assistants were making flesh golems. Fortunatley, the baddies had only completed one of the four golems, as that beast proved plenty challenging in a fight. Lassar the (last remaining) henchman was killed, Fil and Ambiorix got pretty banged up, Indis was knocked out cold with a single punch, and even 8th-level Ronan took a pretty harsh beating when all was said and done. When the golem and his companions were finally dispatched, the battered and bruised adventurers made their way to the third story.
And there they discovered what could only be described as a vampire penthouse--luxurious furnishings, rich carpets and tapestries, brass sconces, even antique books and musical instruments. And of course, the foyer was booby trapped as hell. The oriental-style rug put poor Fil in a trance with its bewitching pattern and then two bronze, demon-shaped sculptures came to life and attacked everybody. And it hurt. A lot. The statues were eventually subdued (spilling their lava-like guts on the ground and burning up the hypno-rug), but almost everyone was down to single-digit hit points. Afraid to press on, the characters beat a hasty retreat as mocking laughter followed them from the posh apartment.
Indis and Panope were picked up on the way out and, after skirting a dozen or so skeletons, everyone who was still alive made for the woods, where they stayed for four days, licking their wounds. It was just before dawn on the second day, however, that a visitor came by. First, a dozen wolves surrounded the camp, staring down the injured heroes. Then, after a tense couple of minutes, a tall, richly-dressed man with pale skin and dark hair strode to the edge of the firelight. "This is your only warning," he said. "Come to my house again and you will not survive." He then turned into mist and blew away on the night wind, as the wolves went their own ways.
And that's when Indis once again confirmed that she is, indeed, the Most Metal Elf Ever by coming up with a new plan of attack. Rather than risk another foray into the vampire's lair, she would just raze the whole thing using a transmute rock to mud scroll that the party had found on a previous adventure. And that's eventually what happened.
The party healed for a couple more days and feigned leaving the forest. Then, at the last minute (and at high noon), they turned and made a beeline for the tower. The only hitch was that, when they arrived, someone new was there. A young woman, perhaps 20 years old and dressed in nothing by nightclothes, stood in the doorway, apparently waiting for them. As they drew closer, Ambiorix got a shock when he realized that it was his half-sister! She tried to warn them off, saying that the master (whose name was apparently Polidori), was not such a bad guy and that he meant them no harm, etc. Of course, nobody bought it and Ambiorix rushed across the clearing (taking another shot from a ballist in the process), grabbed her, and then tied her to a tree back in the woods. (It was later revealed that she had been kidnapped from her home and charmed by the vampire.)
And then Indis struck. Taking to the air on the "bat wings" she took off the Swamp Witch, she hovered near the tower and cast the rock-to-mud scroll, turning the bottom 10' of the tower into a slimy morass that could not hold the weight of the rest of the structure. It wavered, wobbled, and then crashed to the ground in a heap of rock, mud, water, and blood (the vampire had apparently created some kind of indoor blood-plumbing setup using the townsfolk as his supply).
Then it was just a matter of picking through the wreckage to make sure old Polidori was truly disposed of. And of course, he wasn't. They found his locked, marble burial vault among the detritus. Using Indis's customized crowbar (yes, I said customized crowbar. This is Cori's character, remember), they pried the lid open and--BAM!--the vampire exploded from his resting place in one final, murderous frenzy. He knew he was dying--it was noon and he was in an open field--but he wanted to take as many characters as possible with him. He killed Ronan. He severely wounded Indis and Fil. And then, after making a statistically-improbable number of saving throws against the deadly sunlight (to the point that he was just a burning skeleton with fangs), he finally expired in a cloud of ash and dust.
The party gathered what treasure it could, gave Ronan a proper burial (with the usual post-vampire-attack precautions of decapitation and staking), and rode back to town. They broke the bad news to Ronan's workers (and gave them a bit of severance pay) and began making plans to head north to Frostwyk...