Saturday, November 2, 2019

Session 79 (30 October 2019)

Note to readers: This is a session re-cap of an ongoing D&D 5th edition campaign set in a loosely adapted version of N. Robin Crossby's Hârn. Previous session re-caps can be found on this blog, and an early journal of sessions 1 through 54, beginning in February 2015, is archived here.

In-world dates: 16 Ilvin 720 TR [second week of winter]
Daylight hours: 9
Moon: waning gibbous (full moon was on 15 Ilvin)

After looting the dead Drow -- you find an amulet and ring, both non-magical -- you fly back up to the opening of the tunnel whence he fell and cautiously begin creeping forward. Those with keen senses hear faint snippets of distant noises echoing through the vast, bare corridors and smooth vertical shafts that criss-cross the interior of the monolith. Are they voices? Footsteps?  You surprise and dispatch a second Drow guard -- another warrior, with the same sigil on his amulet. You continue your explorations, ascending a shaft and moving stealthily, but perhaps not stealthily enough, for you notice that the intermittent sounds have stopped: you have been heard.  Cade, in owl form, flies ahead to scout and, rounding a corner, is suddenly caught in webs slung by two giant spiders! Transforming into a spider, he quickly makes his escape, but not before noting the presence of a beholder and several Drow. Concluding that the enemy is at hand, you gird yourself for battle. A basso profundo voice rings out, addressing you by name: "Gil'Doren! Dracul! Cade! Maslorius! and you, unfortunate straggler who has joined these would-be heroes! I would parley with you, for I have need of your services... and possess something you would like to have." Concerned, you peer around the corner and see the beholder glaring evilly at you, and at his side a Drow holds a blade to the throat of a human hostage: none other than Sister Garaele, the cleric of lost Phandalin!

Speaking with the foul eye tyrant, you learn that it wants you to destroy several "guardians" that bar the route to a teleportation circle deeper within the monolith. If you do so, it will release Sister Garaele. You ponder the offer and conclude that you can take the group by surprise. Rushing around the corner, you assault the webs blocking the path to your foes; the wizard and barbarian use Dimension Door to slip past the sticky strands and attack from the rear. Roaring in rage, the beholder fights back, pinning Gil'Doren to the war with a telekinetic ray and paralyzing Dracul with another. One of the Drow, meanwhile, pulls the helpless Garaele away from the fighting. Her life hangs in the balance!  To be continued...


Sunday, October 20, 2019

Session 78 (16 October 2019)

Note to readers: This is a session re-cap of an ongoing D&D 5th edition campaign set in a loosely adapted version of N. Robin Crossby's Hârn. Previous session re-caps can be found on this blog, and an early journal of sessions 1 through 54, beginning in February 2015, is archived here.

In-world dates: 16 Ilvin 720 TR [second week of winter]
Daylight hours: 9
Moon: waning gibbous (full moon was on 15 Ilvin)

You creep through the vast, deserted chambers and passages of the jade monolith, a world of smooth surfaces and geometrically perfect planes seemingly cut from a strange smooth semi-translucent material that is stone-like and yet... not. The pool of glowing liquid, you discover, turns any object immersed within invisible... but creatures who dunk themselves are also blinded! (Both effects, however, wear off within the hour.) The pulsating mass of green and black coils of energy is a creature, one that reproduces by injecting parts of itself into a living host. You hunt and destroy it; a Greater Restoration spell removes its spawn from Cade's chest. The giant-sized metallic head you find within one chamber is mounted on a platform with the label VOKTOR written in the Earthmaster's script; smaller writing on the back of its neck tells you it was "Made in Voormish." In yet another chamber you find the ceiling and walls melted and twisted into ruin by unimaginable forces. What do all these strange things signify?

Your explorations lead you to a vast vertical shaft, at least 120 ft in diameter, that cuts through the monolith. No bridge crosses it that you can see, but above and below you detect openings where other passages intersect it. Scouting the lower portion of the shaft on the back of a flying white dragon (the druid, naturally) you come under attack by air elementals and invisible stalkers, but with spell and claw manage to defeat them. Descending further, you can make out the base of the shaft: a tangle of translucent hexagonal columns reminiscent of a giant quartz crystal cluster. But in approaching you pass the opening of a passage wherein is posted a single cloaked white-haired figure who starts in surprise at the sudden appearance of a dragon. A Hold Person followed by a Flamestrike causes the unfortunate Drow to tumble out of the tunnel and plummet 80 feet to the jagged crystals below. Descending after him, you revive the unfortunate Sszdor (for so he names himself) and interrogate him roughly, but he refuses to divulge anything other than his name, his house (Baaenreesz) and his rank (warrior). Realizing that his defiance will cost him his life, he desperately shouts "Eclavdra!" and is quickly dispatched by your hand.

Eclavdra: you have heard the name before...

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Sessions 76 & 77 (4 & 18 September 2019)

Note to readers: This is a session re-cap of an ongoing D&D 5th edition campaign set in a loosely adapted version of N. Robin Crossby's Hârn. Previous session re-caps can be found on this blog, and an early journal of sessions 1 through 54, beginning in February 2015, is archived here.

In-world dates: 14-16 Ilvin 720 TR [second week of winter]
Daylight hours: 9
Moon: full on 15 Ilvin

As you prepare to leave Caldeth's keep with Lady Philisia and her infant in tow, you detect the sound of movement near the entrance; someone has entered behind you! After some prowling about, you come face to face with a robed, masked figure who claims to have entered the keep to investigate trouble after seeing the two gaolers flee in panic from the front gate. Convinced of his good intentions, you outline the treachery afoot in Caldeth's fief. The man, who identifies himself only as "Cleric", decides to join you in your quest to preserve Kaldor from the threat within.

As these introductions are occurring, a Sending arrives from Klor: he urgently requests a conference, stating that Queen Aranath of the Sindarin realm has important information to convey to the allies. You Transport via Plants to Azadmere, location of one of the scrying crystals lent by the queen to faciliate communication and, after an emotional reunion with Klor, contact the queen.  Meanwhile, Cade, traditionally uninterested in palavering, returns to Caldeth's keep: Lady Philisia stumbled and did not succeed in making it through the portal to Azadmere!  Requiring rest before he can cast the spell again, he attempts to entertain the lady by introducing her to his menagerie of intelligent creatures, including a recently Awakened crab.  For Philisia, it is all a bit too much: the trauma of detention, encounters with fiends and aberrations, violence, and now talking plants and animals begins to take its toll on her mental well being. She becomes listless and withdrawn, wondering if this nightmare will ever end...

Back at Azadmere, the scrying crystal hums to life and the Elf queen relays her news. The Elves have discovered activity at the abandoned Earthmaster site of Pesino on their western border: it has been sealed against them. In light of your enemies' various connections with other Earthmaster sites in eastern Hârn (Telumar, Cherafir) and the one in the Underdark near Maslorius's home, Aranath suspects there is some evil purpose at work, some link between their ultimate goal and the artefacts or knowledge of the Earthmasters.  She provides you with a map of known Earthmaster sites on Hârn and suggests you investigate several to see if the forces of the enemy are active there as well. After some reflection, you turn your attention to one of the nearest: Elkall-Anuz, the famed centre of Ilvir-worship and known source of many of the monsters that walk the lands.

But now you must rest and await Cade's return. Klor invites you to take part in a test of the Dwarves' secret weapon: a giant metal construct in the shape of a Dwarf warrior. Powered by some mysterious Khuzan technology, the construct is controlled by a team of pilots occupying cramped cockpits in the construct's head and limbs. Each of you takes up your position, with Klor in the "brain" issuing commands through a speaker tube. Your first test run is underwhelming: the construct stumbles over its own feet and executes an ungainly faceplant. "Hrrumph," mutter the engineers as they set to work on the thing once again.

From Azadmere in the north you teleport to Gil'Doren's home in Elshavel, elven city of the south. Delivering Philisia and her son Quilian into the care of the Elves, you hope for her swift return to health. After another rest, you Wind Walk north toward Elkall-Anuz; here, Izdrel parts ways with you and returns to Tashal to report to Countess Curo and deliver to her the proof of Caldeth's treachery.

It's a rare sunny winter's day as you float across Hârn, fighting a strong headwind. By the end of the afternoon you find yourselves above a great crater-like depression, perhaps two miles or more in diameter. It is strewn with huge boulders and honeycombed with a maze of caves and tunnels; here and there, strange creatures emerge and scuttle about as you skim overhead. A clearly marked footpath extends from the southern edge of the crater toward the centre where a massive jade-coloured monolith rises 200 feet into the sky. A precarious staircase of sorts, apparently made of giant bones glued to the surface of the monolith, winds up from the footpath's terminus to an opening about halfway up the monolith. As you pass by, you see a procession of robed pilgrims making its way along the path.

Your elevated position allows you to see what the pilgrims do not: a giant arthropod stalking the procession. Fearing for their safety, you land and interpose yourselves between the thing and the pilgrims. As the alien monstrosity leaps onto the path, the pilgrims flee in fear, knowing neither the creature's intentions nor yours. A battle ensues, but the thing seems to shrug off your mighty blows and potent spells. Finally, a powerful spell from "Cleric" banishes the insect to its own plane of existence. The pilgrims, meanwhile, have begun ascending the staircase, but are forced to leap across several sections where steps (bones) have fallen away. One judges poorly and plummets dozens of feet to the ground. You rush to his side and revive him with healing magic. He thanks you: "I am Somiator," he says, "a follower of Ilvir, the Prince of the Fatherless Multitude. We must make this climb to be worthy of meeting Ilvir within!" When he falls a second time, "Cleric" suddenly sprouts wings and carries him to safety. His fellows rejoice at his safe arrival: "Ilvir wills it!"

Meanwhile, Maslorius-as-cloud has begun an exploration of the interior of the jade monolith. The passage leading within is a perfectly engineered six-sided tunnel; most curiously, it extends to a distance beyond what seems possible given the outer dimensions of the monolith. (It's bigger on the inside.) The party reunited, you begin exploring a series of strange chambers containing marvelous wonders: a dodecahedral room whose walls are covered in stratified images of incredible realism; a pool of glowing liquid that renders objects invisible; and an eerie mass of green and black coils and strings of energy. What else awaits further within? And what dangers?






Sunday, August 25, 2019

Sessions 74 & 75 (7 & 21 August 2019)

Note to readers: This is a session re-cap of an ongoing D&D 5th edition campaign set in a loosely adapted version of N. Robin Crossby's Hârn. Previous session re-caps can be found on this blog, and an early journal of sessions 1 through 54, beginning in February 2015, is archived here.

In-world dates: 14 Ilvin 720 TR [second week of winter]
Daylight hours: 9
Moon: waxing crescent (full moon on 15 Ilvin)

The beholder introduces himself as Argaphrax to his new "friend" Gil'Doren as he leads the elf into the castle's dungeon. Because of the elf's telepathic bond with the other party members, however, you are aware of the danger he is in. A harsh telepathic ultimatum from Dracul forces Gil'Doren to confront the enchantment fogging his mind; wresting himself free of the beholder's charm spell, he flees back to the main floor, but not before lobbing a potent fireball in his bewitcher's direction.

Reunited in the main hall of the empty castle, you decide to track Argaphrax into the bowels of the castle where has has taken refuge. Making your way down stairs and into the damp gloom of the tunnels below the keep, you stumble across a room filled with implements of torture – and find you are not alone! Ghostly figures float through the room, emerging from walls and exiting the same way. On edge, perhaps, Cade unleashes a fiery attack at the phantoms. They respond by rushing toward you – and into you! Several of you are possessed and begin attacking your comrades, albeit with considerable clumsiness. It might have been comic were it not for the very real inter-party stabbing that unfolds for a few desperate moments. Fortunately, Maslorius is able to keep some of the ghosts at bay with his holy symbol and engage them in dialog. They are, it turns out, the restless spirits of long-dead victims of the earls of Minarsis, Caldeth's ancestors, who have long maintained their rule over these lands through the ruthless suppression of their political opponents and their families. They will not be at rest until their tormentor is destroyed. Said tormentor is not Caldeth, however: it is one of his ancestors, Lord Carmac, who ruled the fief several hundred years ago. Alarmingly, the ghosts reveal that Lord Carmac is still around: they are bound not to disturb him or his minions, Argaphrax included.

Further searching reveals a passage with several prison cells in it. There is a living occupant in one: a woman who identifies herself as Izdrel. She is an agent of Countess Curo, sent to investigate Caldeth's nefarious dealings. Discovered and imprisoned by Argaphrax shortly after infiltrating the keep, she has bided her time. Her gaolers are nearby as well: two wretched humans, one evidently specialized in interrogation. They have been fear-stricken and hiding in a room ever since Gil'Doren's fireball. It's one thing to torment prisoners taken by Argaphrax, but quite another to confront determined and powerful adventurers. Despite your threats, they provide little information: clearly they fear Lord Carmac more than they do you! They do, however, reveal where Izdrel's gear has been stowed. Re-equipped, she vows to assist the party in pursuing your common objective: find evidence of Caldeth's evildoing.

A scribe's room nearby contains what you seek: the records of the gaol. Going back centuries, these scrolls and registers detail the names of the political prisoners seized by a succession of earls and the results of their brutal interrogations. The most recent register documents the current earl's detainment and persecution of several loyal supporters and even officials of the king – irrefutable evidence of Caldeth's unlawful acts. You now have what you need, but you are moved to pity by the deathless plight of the ghosts; you decide to free them from undeath by destroying Lord Carmac.

Lord Carmac
Credit: Maciej Mikolajczyk
The hunt is brief. Alerted to your presence by Argaphrax and several shadowy demons who pass easily through the dungeon's walls, Lord Carmac awaits you, confident that he will easily snuff out your lives as he has so many others. Once again, Maslorius saves your bacon by holding Lord Carmac at bay with his holy symbol, giving you the opportunity to defeat the beholder and the demons before turning to the skeletal knight himself. It's not an easy battle, and poor Maslorius is blasted near to death by the wicked creature's hellfire before your blades and spells bring it down. Dracul gets the killing blow, severing Carmac's tether to this world for the time being.

Your task now: to get the incriminating information back to Countess Curo in Tashal. Other questions arise, however: what will you do with Lady Philisia? Is she complicit in her husband's crimes? And what of the infant Quilian? Who, if anyone, will govern Minarsis until order is restored? And how was Carmac connected to Caldeth's plots and the conspiracy behind the Giant uprisings across Harn?

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Session 73 (12 June 2019)

Note to readers: This is a session re-cap of an ongoing D&D 5th edition campaign set in a loosely adapted version of N. Robin Crossby's Hârn. A journal of sessions 1 through 54, beginning in February 2015, can be found here.

In-world dates: 14 Ilvin 720 TR [second week of winter]
Daylight hours: 9
Moon: waxing crescent (full moon on 15 Ilvin)

You consider your options. A beholder stalks the castle's halls, looking for intruders; for the moment, you remain hidden. Moving stealthily, you explore the upper floors, looking for signs of Caldeth's family and for evidence of his plots against the king. When you find a solar and wardrobe, you realize you are near the family's living quarters — and immediately encounter a frightened young woman who identifies herself as Lady Philisia's lady-in-waiting. She claims that for almost a week now, since Caldeth left for court, a monster has kept Philisia and the earl's infant son Quilian confined to one section of the castle. She has no communication with the outside world; servants bring food to the front gates but leave immediately. When you ask her about Caldeth's private papers, she suggests you might find such things in the "war room" below; she also offers to guide you to Philisia and Quilian. To avoid the monster, you will have to find a way through a locked door that she cannot open herself.

Once at the door, Maslorius sets about knocking the pins out of the hinges. The hammering draws unwanted attention: you hear doors slamming open in the distance. The beholder is hunting you! You prepare yourself, not knowing from which direction it will come. Dracul bars several doors; as he shoves a chair against one, it shudders from some force. He hears a deep grumble of displeasure and then sees the entire door dissolve into nothingness. The creature has found you!

Battle ensues, and the barbarian's Searing Sword does massive damage to the monster, as do Gil'Doren's spells. Meanwhile, Maslorius succeeds in hammering out the final pin. The route to safety lies open — but the lady-in-waiting is not what she appears. Transforming into a winged she-devil, she rakes Maslorius with her claws. Though gravely wounded, the beholder does not relent. You resist many of its eye ray attacks, but at last some take effect. Dracul collapses into a deep slumber; Gil'Doren suddenly finds himself thinking of the monster as a friendly acquaintance; and Maslorius has his life force sucked out of his body. (Only Gil'Doren's quick use of Life Transference brings the poor gnome back from the brink of death.) The succubus laughs and leaves the fallen heroes to their fate.

At the beholder's invitation, Gil'Doren accompanies the monster willingly into the deeper reaches of the castle. Meanwhile, the secretly revived Maslorius awakens Dracul; together, they follow the succubus back to a chamber where Philisia and Quilian are kept imprisoned. The succubus quickly falls before Dracul's rage. Ordering them to stay put for the moment, you rush to follow Gil'Doren and save him from whatever vile plans the beholder has for his new "friend"...

Saturday, June 8, 2019

A simple Fighting Fantasy hack for roleplaying in Middle Earth

If civilization as we know it were to end catastrophically in my lifetime (as it increasingly seems likely to do), I'm pretty sure the only roleplaying game rules I could reproduce entirely from memory would be the ones from the Fighting Fantasy series of gamebooks that I enjoyed immensely as a kid. I'd be ok with that. (Not the apocalypse, that is — I mean I'd be ok with having only Fighting Fantasy at hand to play.) The system uses six-sided dice, and as these are commonly found in any corner store or pharmacy, they are likely to be easily available in the post-apocalyptic wasteland — and doubly so if you live near a casino. What setting to use, though? One can assume that a fair proportion of survivors, wherever you live (if you call it living), will be familiar with Tolkien's Middle Earth, so that's probably a good one to go with.

Without further ado, please find below a simple hack with which to wile away the end-times in escapist fantasies about a green and pleasant land that can actually be saved from evil.

Character creation

1. Choose one of the Free Peoples for your character's origin: Elves, Dwarves, Hobbits, or Humans. You may also specify their homeland (e.g., Lórien, the Iron Hills, the Shire, Gondor, Umbar, Harad, etc.).

2. Roll 4 six-sided dice (4d6).

3. Assign one die result to your Skill, a second to your Luck, and the remaining two to your Stamina.

·      If you are an Elf, you must assign your highest result to Skill.

·      If you are a Dwarf, you must assign your highest result to Stamina.

·      If you are a Hobbit, you must assign your highest result to Luck.

·      Humans may assign results as desired.

4. Calculate your final attributes:

·      Skill = 6 + 1 die
·      Stamina = 12 + 2 dice
·      Luck = 6 + 1 die

5. Equip your character. Choose one of the following:

·      Potion of Skill
·      Potion of Strength
·      Potion of Fortune

In addition, you have one weapon common to your cultural background, a leather backpack, a lantern, and 4 rations.

6. Name your character, provide a short description of their personality and appearance, and think about their ambitions and fears.


7. Gather your fellowship and go forth!

Method of play

As outlined in Fighting Fantasy: The Introductory Role-playing Game. It's pretty much the same as in the gamebooks. I might consider changing "roll under" Skill checks to a mechanic where one rolls 2d6+Skill to beat a target number (say, between 10 and 20 for most checks). Also, special things should happen when one rolls boxcars or snake-eyes.


References

Jackson, Steve. Fighting Fantasy: The Introductory Role-playing Game. Harmondsworth, UK: Puffin Books, 1984.


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Thursday, May 23, 2019

Sessions 68 to 72 (20 February - 17 April 2019)

Note to readers: This is a session re-cap of an ongoing D&D 5th edition campaign set in a loosely adapted version of N. Robin Crossby's Hârn. A journal of sessions 1 through 54, beginning in February 2015, can be found here.

In-world dates: 10–14 Ilvin 720 TR [second week of winter]
Daylight hours: 9
Moon: waxing crescent (full moon on 15 Ilvin)

10 Ilvin

In the royal castle at Tashal, your audience with King Miginath is brief; though polite, he seems distracted and uninterested in what you have to say. He perks up when he spots Cade's fire beetle companion, however, mistaking it for a strange looking dog.

Countess Curo
Later, in a private meeting with Countess Curo, the king's principal adviser, you get down to brass tacks. The kingdom of Kaldor is paralyzed politically by the scheming of the great noble houses, each of which is jockeying to place their own candidate on the throne once Miginath dies. The current frontrunner, Earl Caldeth, holds the fief of Minarsis on the eastern border. Rumours of the destruction of Thay have arrived in Kaldor, but no certain news comes from the east controlled by Caldeth, who publicly dismisses the idea of a rampaging army of Giants as a fearmongering tactic of his rivals. Until Caldeth's influence over the nobles can be diminished, Miginath cannot act openly to support Melderyn.

Earl Caldeth
Your arrival is fortuitous, however; on the morrow, a royal tournament is to be held. Caldeth and his followers are expected to win many of the events, thus cementing their political influence among the nobles and popularity with the commoners. Curo suggests that if outsiders like yourselves, unassociated with the king directly, were to tarnish Caldeth's reputation, it would go a long way to freeing the king's hands. You decide to take part in the tournament. You take rooms at the Merry Faerie Inn, where you settle in for the night after handling yourselves admirably in a tavern brawl with a half-dozen brash young nobles, supporters of Caldeth, who were bold (or drunk) enough to attempt to intimidate you.

11 Ilvin

Trumpet blasts announce the beginning of the jousting. Dracul beats Caldeth by 1 point; Gil'Doren loses narrowly to Sir Morcair; and Maslorius, tiny gnome though he is, beats Sir Steinbjorn. (It probably helped that his charger was in fact a shapechanged Cade!) All in all, not the glorious showing that Caldeth anticipated for his faction. Shaking his fist at you, he vows to get even in the mêlée.

12 Ilvin

Caldeth himself does not appear in the mêlée, but many of his supporters do. It's a mass combat, on foot, with blunted weapons. Magic is strictly prohibited, and there are several Shek Pvar in attendance to make sure that rule is observed. Dracul and Gil'Doren take part, while Cade, in bug form, does his best to distract opponents once the fighting begins. Maslorius, unattended, hits the bottle while observing from the stands.

From the outset, things go awry. The knights on your side seem slow, hesitant, confused, while the opposition attacks aggressively, ganging up on Dracul and Gil'Doren. Your worries only grow when you realize that when your enemies go down, they don't stay there! Somehow, only seconds later they return to the fray with frenzied energy. Whatever the reason for this alarming resurgence, it is thankfully brief: after a few rounds, each revived warrior collapses into unconsciousness.  Meanwhile, the performance of your own allies only worsens, as several faint or fall to vomiting.

Suspecting foul play, Gil'Doren makes a flashy display of magic and calls on the judges to end the charade. The event ends in chaos and confusion as accusations fly back and forth. Caldeth, affecting to be affronted by Gil'Doren's claims, challenges the elf to a duel. Gil'Doren accepts.

During the debacle, Maslorius sneaks away to investigate the pavilions of Caldeth and his faction. Inside the main tent, he finds a chest containing two vials of a black, sludge-like liquid. He takes these back to the inn, later giving one to Countess Curo's aide who makes a clandestine visit that night.

Meanwhile, at the archery butts, Galindo handily emerges as the winner, beating Caldeth's representative Astraia the Byrian Amazon. She glowers but concedes defeat in a fair contest.

13 Ilvin

The duel between Gil'Doren and Caldeth, again without magic, is hard fought and punctuated with appeals to the audience by both adversaries; it is as much a contest to win the hearts and minds of the attendees as it is a test of weapon skill. In the end, Gil'Doren emerges victorious, and magnanimously offers to heal Caldeth afterward. Scowling, Caldeth announces that he will be returning to his castle at Minarsis forthwith.

Meanwhile, Maslorius, having set out to explore the town, becomes the target of thugs. They club him unconscious, but not before he manages to activate a magical alarm. Cade sets out to find the hapless gnome, and does so quickly with the help of further magic. Dispatching the would-be robbers, Cade returns to the Merry Faerie with Maslorius and one of his attackers, a wounded young woman named Mada. An urchin with matted hair, dirty face, ragged clothes, and resentful attitude, Mada inspires Pygmalion-like fantasies in Cade and Gil'Doren, who aspire to remake her into a loyal henchperson. Dracul expresses his doubtfulness at the wisdom of such an endeavour, an opinion that seems confirmed by Mada's initial effort to escape rather than submit.

Countess Curo herself visits that night in disguise. The upshot of the tournament: Caldeth's reputation has lost some of its lustre, but he still holds considerable support. The black liquid turned out to be a performance-enhancing drug and was probably what Caldeth's knights consumed before the mêlée. Such tactics are frowned upon by the nobility, even though they are not infrequent. Moreover, nothing can be definitely linked to Caldeth himself. She suggests that more evidence of perfidy can be found in Caldeth's castle.

14 Ilvin

Caldeth and his retinue leave Tashal after dawn on horseback. It will take them three days to reach his castle at Minarsis. You leave as well, using Wind Walk to arrive at the same destination in hours.  Noting the absence of birds within a 100-yard radius of the castle, you decide to approach on foot. Cade scouts ahead in bug form and then in human disguise, learning from many of the castle-dwellers (guards, servants, etc.) and regular visitors (traders, artisans, etc.) in the outer bailey that strange things have been afoot lately. Caldeth's family -- wife Philisia and infant son Quilian -- have not been seen in some time, and no one goes in or out of the keep where they reside save for the seneschal Constantius and Philisia's lady-in-waiting, Lady Alekta.

Credit: Matheus Graef
Invisible and/or shapechanged, you make your way inside the keep and split up to begin exploring its various rooms. The only creature you spot is unexpected: a floating one-eyed sphere with toothy maw and eight eye-stalks patrols the halls. When it finds a door left ajar, it bellows: "Intruders! Reveal yourselves or face my wrath!" and begins scouring the keep, scanning everywhere with its central eye. From your various hiding places, you telepathically plot a coordinated attack on the strange monstrosity.