Heading back to town with our immense amounts of spoils (including the three huge, empty iron-bound chests), we all decide to go shopping for some useful items. There's little of interest available to me; like the others, I stash most of my accumulated wealth in our townhouse, buy up a heap of Potions of Healing for an amazing discount (I keep getting things at around a quarter of market price! The gods must love me, truly) and decide to check in on the Dead Drop Goblin to see if he has any news for me. The poor guy is there, stuffed into the hollowed-out tree trunk as always, and that particular area is REALLY starting to stink of goblin and the associated goblin waste. I may need a new area to meet, or a better way of communicating; I really need to actually drop in on Locktooth and Scrimjaw and begin my long-term plans for that tribe.
Dead Drop (that's going to be his name forever now, I'm sure, although it's better than having the words the other way around right?) is his usual terrified self upon seeing me; I'm beginning to wonder if he's the only one that got away in the initial raid that Scrimjaw led against me in my tavern room that fateful night, and the extremely close brush with fiery death has mentally scarred him for the rest of his days... He tells me that the hobgoblin attacks on the tribe have all but ceased, and the activity of hobs in general seems to have suddenly come to a (very welcome) halt. No more raids and random kills, meaning they can get back to their normal lives. He doesn't really have any further news, and seems quite worried that this fact will displease me. As always, I do my best to persuade him that he has done an excellent job in relaying the information, that I am quite pleased, and that the tribe will be rewarded for his continued service. Slightly less terrified now, his demeanour changes to one of both happiness and puzzlement when I hand him fifty Platinum coins to take back to the tribe. They're not the gold he's so especially fond of (I didn't have any on me at the time), but they are certainly very shiny and pretty! He bites one to see if it deforms the same way that gold does; when it doesn't he shrugs and agrees to take it with him. I make sure he knows to take it to Scrimjaw, who I believe will definitely recognise the value he's being handed, and will ensure that the tribe gets maximum value from it. He scampers off, understandably glad to be leaving this place. From our conversation (such that it is), I get the distinct impression that being both a runt and not overly bright, he's used to being on his own, so acting as a communications point rather suits him since he gets to be completely by himself for long periods.
With that small step toward tribal relationship-building completed, the party's first order of business once concluded in town is to investigate the apparent lair of a Ghoul King who's been troubling the region for some time. Now, undead are troublesome at the best of times, and a Ghoul King sounds remarkably unfriendly even by undead standards. Very powerful, usually in charge of a horde of undead underlings (undeadlings? Underdead? Underdead, yeah!), able to get any fallen undead back on their feet in short order and raise other deceased creatures in the area (such as unfortunate party members) as additional undead under his command. All in all, a fight I'm feeling intrepid about, but excited at the same time. I think my usual approach of hanging back and using the all-cleansing power of FIRE will work quite nicely.
Our journey toward the Ghoul King's lair is largely uneventful, until we are stopped by a large contingent of golden-crested lizardmen a few hundred feet away on the road directly ahead. Evidently led by three Lizardmen Shamans, they look like they've seen a lot of combat recently, but they're ready for more. As they watch us carefully from a distance, we discuss among ourselves how best to approach this situation. The fact that they're not immediately rushing us makes us think that they might be open to a trade of information at least; we'd rather not just charge in with spells and swords drawn without knowing their intentions toward us. To that effect, those of us with weapons visible slowly and clearly put them away as a show of non-aggression, which seems to make the group of lizardmen relax slightly, but remain vigilant. Through our discussions the sorceror suggests that since he and I are clearly not human and possess scales of our own (being Dragonborn), we may be the best ones to open the discussion with the tribe. Since we're magic-users with our full complement of spells available, we're also able to react quickly if things go south.
With this in mind, he and I proceed slowly forward with our hands clearly visible in a gesture that we hope suggests that we would prefer peaceful conversation, while the rest of the party remains in place watching for trouble. One of the Shamans steps forward to greet us, and informs us that we are trespassing on Goldcrest lands. He asks that we state our purpose for being here. Being the more charismatic of the two of us, the sorceror apologises for the trespass and explains that we seek the Ghoul King. At the mere mention of him, the Shaman spits and hisses instinctively, and every lizardman warrior within hearing range jeers, shake their weapons and shields and begin speaking what I can only imagine are the most foul, withering and horrific curses the Lizardman language has to offer. Evidently, they don't like the Ghoul King very much.
Shaman: "Why do you seek the Ghoul King?"
[Rest of lizardman tribe: More jeers etc]
Sorceror: "We wish to destroy him. He's been causing a lot of trouble for a nearby township and we've been contracted to put a stop to it."
Shaman: "This is welcome news, if true. The Ghoul King" [more furious jeers, rattles and cursing] "has been a very big problem for the Goldcrest tribe as well."
Sorceror: "Perhaps we can work together then? We may be able to help each other since we both have a problem with the Ghoul King." [Every mention of him results in more of the same from the tribe. He's REALLY hated.]
Shaman: "Perhaps. You are not lizardfolk, but you are scaled ones nonetheless. We trust you more than we trust the others you travel with on that basis; we've had a lot of trouble with pinkskins. Between them and the foul undead, we are in constant battle."
The conversation continues, and the sorceror and I are invited to the lizardmen's camp for further discussions. I politely decline since I'm needed by the rest of the party for the Tiny Hut spell (once cast, I can't leave its area of influence or it will disappear, and it guarantees a peaceful rest) and the sorceror goes with them. He later tells us that the deal he came to with them was that when we raid the Ghoul King's lair, they will guard the outside against ambush by any undead sneaking in behind us. In exchange, he will provide them with some very useful magical knowledge, such as the creation of homunculi that he loves doing so much (he has three or four of them by now, and wants to create more). Initially he tossed 1000GP on the table as his offer for help, and in doing so found out why they're the Goldcrest tribe - They thanked him for the gift and stated that gold is of very little value to them; they grind it into dust and use it to adorn their crests! A disappointing loss of that much gold, I'm certain, but also a useful insight into their society.
The next day, we make our way to the lair of the Ghoul King: A ruined wizard tower in the middle of what was once a thriving town, now a near-literal ghost town. Most of the tower is now completely missing, having collapsed in on itself with no maintenance; only the entrance room itself and the stairs leading down to what is presumably a basement remain clear. We search the room for anything of interest that may have been left behind or overlooked, but there is nothing interesting here. The downward stairs beckon, spiraling around like a corkscrew as they descend into darkness, the walls full of tomb alcoves with empty coffins in them. Empty, I have no doubt, since their contents would have been raised by the Ghoul King as servants. Seeing no choice but to proceed, we carefully make our way down them while searching for traps or other nasty surprises, lighting a torch when the darkness becomes too difficult to see in. Down, down, down - How far underground does this staircase go? There are no sounds other than those we are making, but the torch seems to be very slowly becoming less effective at dispelling the darkness. Odd. There's still more than enough light to see by, but it's not nearly as bright now as when we were near the top of the stairs, even though the torch still seems to be burning as merrily as ever!
Finally the base of the staircase makes itself known, leading to a single, empty, plain stone doorway. Beyond the doorway, there appear to be two paths. The classic choice, left or right? Extremely suspicious, our Rogue checks for traps again... And finds that the doorway itself is magically warded against trespass. It's a simple but effective trap: Paraphrasing, "The next creature to pass through this doorway will suffer an immense amount of necrotic-type damage." Since Undead are either immune to or healed by necrotic damage, and would be exempt from the spell by its caster anyway, I'm mildly surprised that it hasn't been tripped by a rat or similar creature, and I say as much. This gives the Ranger an idea, and he pulls out a box containing a particularly poisonous toad he found at some point earlier. One moment there's a toad hopping toward the doorway, the next moment there is an indescribable blob of poisonous organic matter continuing through the arc that the toad would have taken had it not been utterly blended by the trap spell. It lands on the floor beyond with a muffled splat. A further trap-check shows that the doorway is now safe to pass through.
One path simply leads to a blank stone wall; a dead end. The other leads into another section of catacomb, again with the walls lined with tombs containing empty coffins. The path between the walls here is fairly thin; ahead there is an intersection with the path seeming to take two sharp turns and end up on the other side of the walls beside us, much like a "|T|" shape (with the lines being paths). The moment we step into this section there is a low, evil laugh from somewhere nearby, a rumbling sound from back the way we came of stone sliding on stone, and then quick footsteps headed in our direction. Ahead in the right-hand curve there is a rattling shuffle; those inclined toward melee combat quickly head that way and (they later tell me) find themselves looking at two large animated skeletons. I head down the left-hand side and ready my spells in case I can see a viable target, as the darkness in this area continues to thicken slowly in spite of our torches. The Rogue clambers into one of the wall alcoves at the intersection, preparing for a Sneak Attack where possible, while the melee attackers smash the skeletons into crunchy pieces after taking some hits themselves.
The approaching footsteps soon show themselves to be Ghouls, who zip around the right-hand corner and engage the melee fighters. While they are battling, the skeletons reassemble and rejoin the battle. That's trouble... I don't have a good shot on anything, so I continue to wait for an opportunity. The area suddenly goes pitch-dark for a moment, and with a cackle the Ghoul King makes his appearance. Lacking in Darkvision there's still little I can do, since I can't see anything at all; when the darkness reverts to its previous level, the battle area is so cramped I don't have a good shot on any enemies without also blasting allies! It's at this point that the Ghoul King makes what he feels is a very clever decision: He's able to teleport himself and someone else onto the Ethereal Plane at will. It turns out to be not so clever when the person he randomly chooses to take with him is the group's Paladin! While the others battle the ghouls and skeletons in the cramped space, I'm left simply observing and waiting for an attack opportunity, the Ghoul King and Paladin vanish entirely. We know that something pretty serious has happened when the ghouls and skeletons fail to keep getting up, and there's a... feeling... of great force being sent through the planes like a shockwave, implying that the Ghoul King didn't live long to regret taking the only character who can utterly smite him with holy magic (which, to my understanding, is classified as "Radiant-type" damage, which deals double damage to Undead and can be boosted by expending Spell Slots!). Unfortunately, this means that the Paladin is going to have to make his own way back from the Ethereal Plane, but I imagine his patron deity will assist him in that regard. That, and that Plane of existince is most likely where the Ghoul King hid his most valuable treasure.
[OOC: It is indeed; the Paladin scored himself a truly amazing Legendary Relic Shield made from the actual spine and ribcage of one of the most important saints of his religion! Along with cash, gems, and other nice items. The GM lamented that the random roll for target picked the only character capable of reducing his Boss Monster to ash in two rounds!]
Thus it was that I, Torgos, was the Wizard That Didn't, and the Ghoul King was dethroned in short order. Heading back outside, we could see that the lizardfolk had lived up to their side of the bargain, with a lot of now permanently re-dead scattered around the entrance to the tower, and the lizardfolk themselves having sustained a lot of injuries and a few casualties, one of whom was one of the three Shamans we saw initially. A pity.
The sorceror chooses to stay with the lizardfolk for a while so he can uphold his side of the bargain, and the rest of us head back to town to collect the bounty on the Ghoul King.