In the previous session of the campaign we finished the Ravenloft adventure and had a first introduction to the Madness at Gardmore Abbey mega-adventure that follows. There are many different stories at Gardmore Abbey, but the overarching one is the search for the 22 dispersed cards of The Deck of Many Things.
This session starts still at the beginning of the adventure, with the players in Winterhaven in the castle of Lord Ernest Padraig. They are talking with the lord and his counselor, an ex-Cormyrean war mage called Valthrun the Prescient. The players have one card from The Deck of Many Things, and they discover that these cards attract each other, giving a pulling sensation when in the vicinity of other cards. Thus Lord Padraig is aware that they found a card, because he already has three of them. Lord Padraig wants the players to collect all the cards, the remainder of which he believes can be found in Gardmore Abbey, just 30 miles from Winterhaven. The players are interested, although there is no agreement yet on handing the cards over to Lord Padraig. In fact the players are still fighting over who should carry the one card they already have: It is currently in the possession of the warrior who looted it, but the mage thinks it would be better if he carried it, knowing that the card projects a glowing rune on the floor in combat which allows somebody standing on it an extra action. Lord Padraig and Valthrun are equally unwilling to hand their cards over to the players.
In addition to wanting the cards, Lord Padraig has another reason for wanting the group to go to Gardmore Abbey: Orcs from there have been causing trouble lately, and he fears for the safety of Winterhaven. Thus he would like the players to go and scout the abbey, drawing a map and estmating the number of orcs there. For this purpose he is willing to provide the adventurers with horses, and the services of his squire, Paul, to guard these horses in the vicinity of the abbey while the heroes explore it. Now that is a quest the players can easily agree on.
Asked about the abbey, Lord Padraig and his court mage tell what they know of its basic history: Gardmore Abbey was founded 350 years ago by Templers of Bahamut. 15m0 years ago the abbey fell to an invasion of orcs from the Stonemarch, and has been under the control of orcs ever since. Since then the orcs have gone into a cycle of growing in numbers, starting raids on the rest of Nentir Vale, getting beaten back and reduced in numbers, and so forth. It appears that they have gotten stronger and restless again recently, thus Lord Padraig's concern.
The adventurers spend the rest of the day shopping in Winterhaven and visiting the tavern, where they are really popular due to their previous deeds for the village, and receive free fare and lodgings. Besides some farmers they find an elf, Delphina Moongem, in the tavern, and a bard singing for entertainment. Chatting with the elf, who is in the village to sell flowers in the market, they find that she is from the Woodsinger elves they met in Harkenwold. Delphina knows nothing about Gardmore Abbey, but she does know that a few weeks ago a couple of eladrin nobles, brother and sister with their retinue, passed through the Woodsinger encampment on their way to search for their father in Gardmore Abbey.
The next morning the group picks up Paul at the gate and ride to Gardmore Abbey. They leave the squire and the horses in a copse just out of sight from the abbey and the path there and then approach the abbey. Gardmore Abbey turns out to be huge, taking up a whole hill. The abbey proper is on the flat top of hill, surrounded by a wall. The north west part of the slope is taken up by what used to be a village, with the smoke of camp fires suggesting the presence of orcs. A second wall surrounds the base of the wall, with an open gate leading to the village. The south west part of the slope is overgrown by a strangely dense forest, which has broken through the wall to create a wide hole in it. On the south tip of the wall is a watchtower, giving the best view of the abbey and the surrounding hills.
Now the player have lots of options: They can go through the gate, or through the hole in the wall. They could explore the watchtower, or even climb over the wall elsewhere. But they decide to do none of the above, but rather walk around the abbey to explore the steep eastern slope of the hill. There they meet an old knight with his charger making camp at the base of the hill. He introduces himself as Sir Oakley, a Templer of Bahamut, and descendant from the founder of the abbey. He is near retirement, but still wants to complete a last quest to purify the temple of Bahamut on top of the abbey. He asks the players to escort him, promising to show them a secret stairway up the steep eastern slope, directly to the top of the hill.
The players agree and arrive with him at the temple. On entering they encounter strange creatures: Harpies in tattered priestly gear, pretending to be high priests of Bahamut. The rogue tries to intimidate them, but that makes them angry and starts a fight. Three equally crazed angels also join the fight and attack the group. The harpies have two attacks based on singing and screeching, but only the wizard of the group reacts by spending a round to plug his ears. The harpies are killed first, while the angels hold out a bit longer before succombing to the heroes. With that we ended the session.
After the fight I noticed I had messed up one detail: In any fight with at least one card of The Deck of Many Things present, the effect of one card manifests itself as glowing rune on the floor. And I completely forgot about that. I hadn't expected the players to take that way, and had better prepared the encounters on the other lower part of the abbey. And it was already late when the fight started, so I made a mistake. Fortunately I have an after the fact explanation for the players to not break the story: There is another card in the temple, away from where they fought. So it was that card that manifested itself in the combat, unnoticed by anyone. :)