“So, who’s the mark?” Knicks inquired, the point of her dagger balancing on her finger.

“I don’t like going South. Caves are South” Mor eloquently complained, keeping half an eye on the girl riding his shoulder. At his massive size, (He was large even by orcish standards) Knicks – the smallest human member of the group, was able to ride on his shoulder like she was sitting on a chair. It was the reason they had refused to let him get spiked pauldrons to go with the rest of his armour. Gallywig responded from the other shoulder. He was practically lounging on it. “South is where the caves are, and South is where the road takes us, my paranoid friend.”

“It’s not paranoid if you get stabbed more than three times.” Mor snapped. Barna and the Chief laughed in unison. “Mor, you only need to be stabbed once to not be called paranoid,” Barna chuckled.

“No. Get stabbed anywhere once. Is only bad places get you stabbed thrice,” the towering warrior mused, sagely. The chief scratched his head. “Can’t argue with that. Of my sixteen deaths, eight were in completely different places. Three in the caves and five at the camp. Nowhere was just twice…”

Barna punched his arm as the group passed a rock at the top of the hill, the towering crest of the Spider’s Peak before them in the distance. “So are you saying the camp’s a bad place to be?”
Lord of the Rings Walking scene
Is it even an adventure if there isn't a walking scene?
The chief punched him back playfully. ” ‘Course, it is. Whole place is fulla bandits! I count ten murderers, three arsonists, two former lawyers and a pedophile! It’s the neighbors I feel sorry for.”
Barna grinned sheepishly. “Hey, Knicks is of age, finding her attractive doesn’t count as being a pedo-Hey!”
He flinched as the handle of a dagger hit the back of his head. “I’m not that short!” she yelled. 
Rubbing his head, Barna whined, “The sharp end could have hit me!” 
Raising a hand, calling back her dagger, the rogue simply raised an eyebrow that seemed to just say, “Oh, really?”
“Count yourself lucky, Barna, for anyone else wouldn’t have been so lucky.” Gallywig teased. 
“Could have been stabbed.” Mor grunted in agreement.
“Fine, fine. Now quiet down, we’re almost at the peak!” He snapped, pointing at the ominous formation of rocks in the distance. 
“Peak is a BAD place to be. I thought you said no caves!” Mor had somehow drawn his greataxe without disrupting either of his passengers, who looked equally uncomfortable at the prospect of a cave-crawl. 
The Chief grinned. “Well, we won’t be going into the caves…”

The reactions from the others were varied, to say the least. Mor, in his simple, ingnorant bliss, smiled widely, stowing his weapon without a second thought to the chief’s grin. Knicks and Cairne, however, both recognised that grin all too well. The Chief, in the near-masochistic bravado that seemed to be part of the job description, had a tendency to completely blindside the members of the gang who were already expecting the worst-case scenario with something equally terrible but even more unexpected. And he delighted in it. “What in Tiamat’s name-” Cairne started, cut off with a thud to the jaw from Galliwig’s hammer. “Don’t utter her name, fool! Not today!”

Dragon Eye
"A deity can see and hear everything within several miles of any creature that has uttered their name, for 24 hours" - Deities and Demigods, 3.5e
He’d landed on the ground, staring up at him in a damning way that made the two-foot priest seem to be looking downwards at him. Barna, who had been watching the exchange in silence, finally succumbed to the burst of laughter that had been welling up inside of him. Knicks looked at Barna, then at Cairne, still rubbing his jaw, and finally to the suddenly serious cleric standing on the ground before her. Suddenly she put two and two together. 
“We’re robbing a shade-blasted dragon!?” she whispered, stunned. “Do I need to remind you guys that Shiara is the reason we moved camp away from these mountains?”
The chief’s grin widened. “That’s the best part! Big Red’s a hundred miles north at Skylord’s Peak!” Barna scratched the back of his head cheerfully. “I saw her flying that way when I left Coven this morning.” 
Mor stopped in his tracks. “Is less than two hours to dragon. She could come back.” At this point Knicks had also dropped to the ground, and started tugging at the titanic orc’s leg. “No dragon leaves Skylord’s before sunrise. Everyone knows what the feasts there are like!”
“I don’t.” he replied, simply. 
Cairne put a hand on his shoulder. 
“Imagine, if you will, wine enough to drive a dragon to a hangover, meat and mead as far as the eye can see, and djannies performing entertaining feats that only the wishmakers could.”
Mor wiped away the drool sneaking down his chin. “Hungover dragon is not an enemy we want.”
The chief finally relented his maniacal grin. “Then we get out of there before she gets back. We don’t take much – she doesn’t miss her riches, and she won’t come after us.”
Dragon shaped wine holder
Picture, if you will, a wine bottle larger than a dragon
Mor, Knicks and Cairne looked at the chief and nodded in unison. While the chiefs’ words had been explaining a plan, the response was that he’d given the order. From then until they were back there safely, they were no longer a rag-tag bunch of thugs. The quest had begun, and their lives depended on them taking that seriously.

Barna reached down from the ledge, offering Knicks a hand up the steep cliff face next to the visage of the half-spider, half human figure that had been carved into the rock. Next was Galliwig – the three had worked out a system years ago to climb such surfaces in tandem. Cairne was hanging from an outstretched ‘arm’ by his axes, lifting himself to a better vantage point from the shoulders while the others hid in between the rough sculptures’ many arachnine legs. The sun, still some distance from the horizon, silhouetted them against the mountain. Barna had hoped the light would make them difficult to see – they had hoped to be out of the Drow territory by nightfall, but even if they’d been seen passing during the day that would make an enraged dragon the least of their concerns.

“Lucky every one of us is a trained thief,” Knicks said sarcastically, eyeing Mor, who was trying to climb the front of the spider-woman, but having difficulty due to avoiding using the ‘breasts’ as handholds or footing. “At least the priest has a sense of subtlety,” Barna encouraged.

“Tsss!” Mor hissed, suddenly swinging around the rock, his mammoth arm pulling him up behind the vague statue’s shoulder. Despite the largeness of the movement, he only made a little noise, as Cairne saw him and dropped behind the head, standing on the abdomen with slightly more silence, peering around the other shoulder. Barna glanced behind him, the chief had placed a hand over Galliwig’s mouth, and Knicks was nowhere to be seen. Good.

Mor’s hiss had silenced the group instantly. He was brave, foolhardy even, but even he knew that to forget caution around Drow was suicide. He held up his free hand behind him – his fingers, save for his ring finger, were outstretched. Three and one.  Cairne spun the axe in his left hand three times, three men then, only one woman. They had a chance. Though not much of one. Barna and the Chief looked at Galliwig expectantly. If he could use his magic… He shook his head, pointing at the statue. They didn’t understand the reasoning, except that priests were powerless in holy places belonging to other religions.

The statue they were trespassing on top of wasn’t just Drow art – it was the image of their dark goddess. They were in trouble.
Statue of the Spider Queen Art by Davide Gordon
The followers of Lolth are both brilliant and terrible. Art by Davide Gordon
Chief Duran, Barna and Galliwig approached the front of the spider’s abdomen, joining with their comrades as quietly as they could. Both of the men drew their bows as Mor reached for his Axe, and Galliwig drew a small hammer with a hooked handle. The chief gestured for him to stay back. He was their only healer, after all. Looking over the ledge, Barna saw them. Three drow males, skin as black as pitch, they were only visible for their pale white hair clashing with the surrounding dark rocks.

“Just a little closer,” they all thought as the menacing forms shifted closer to them along the rocks. They hadn’t seen them yet, but there was no doubt that they were right on their patrol route. Cairne exhaled – He was about to jump. Barna and the chief pulled their arrows back as he disappeared off the ledge – as the bows stretched back they made cracking sounds, almost masking the tap of Mor’s foot against the rock – he’d made quite a far leap. Two swishing sounds told Barna that Cairne’s axes had met flesh. It was that exact moment that the chief let his arrow loose, and Mor roared as he brought his axe down.
Orc leaping at a dark elf with two weapons
Fights with the drow can get... unsettling. Original art by Unn89 (inverted by me
“Ryah!” It was the Chief. He wasn’t usually a noisy fighter. Something was wrong. Barna saw the chief drop his bow to draw his sword out of the corner of his eye, and did the same, finding his footing to the lower platform of roughly hewn rock that the statue stood on.

That’s when he saw it.

The chief’s arrow had hit the third soldier, and Mor had the second on the back foot with his vicious assault, but the first… the flesh that Cairne’s axes had met was his own – the bastard had somehow turned his attack back onto Cairne. The blades lay deep in his hips, and he wasn’t moving. Blood was pooling around him.

The chief was on the attack, blade swinging with wild precision as the dark elf scrambled to parry each blow, stroke, thrust and swing that the chief was determined to land on him. They had hoped to face the woman four-on one, but there he stood, alone, as the voluptuous, sinister woman walked closer.

It wasn’t murder in her eyes. No, murder had passion behind it. This was cold disdain. She didn’t consider what she was planning to do to him as killing so much as disposing of a rodent. Her revealing armour, the talons adorning her fingers that exuded far more danger than any sword could, the domineering confidence – this woman was a priestess alright.

A beacon of cold evil, the perfect embodiment of the reason drow women were feared by every person ever to meet one. She looked into his eyes as though she were surprised he wasn’t kneeling. Damn nobles. Barna took a deep breath, secured his grip of his sword, and lunged. She almost effortlessly caught the blade an inch from her cheek, the blade almost touching her fingertips where it caught against her talons. “Great,” Barna thought. “I’m going to get killed by jewellery.” He turned his blade, and cut downwards. The woman moved her hand, pushing the stroke away from her body, but not quickly enough to avoid having blood drawn from her hand. She shrieked, not in pain, but indignation.

“You dare!” She spewed. Despite himself, the rogue grinned and interrupted her. “I dare sully my blade on your cheap claws? I got time to wash the blade later.” That was the end of the woman’s composure. Barna had a bad habit of enraging his opponents. Sometimes it gave him an edge, more often it got him further out of his depths. The woman’s eyes flared a violet light, and he prayed this wasn’t one of those times as darkness shrouded around them both.
Barna closed his eyes.
Drow priestess
Drow Priestesses are built different. If you meet one that's lower than level 10, your DM is likely lying to you. You have been warned.

In this darkness, trying to see was useless anyway. Even she couldn’t see through that haze. He heard Mor roaring in time with the clashing of steel – he was winning his fight, but he wouldn’t be any help any time soon. If only he’d fired that arrow before Mor had jumped.

The chief wasn’t doing as well. He was fighting angry – that drow soldier would never beat him on his own, but he was probably smart enough to know that he could survive fighting defensively until one of his friends joined the fight – until the priestess had finished him off.

He heard movement, and swung at it. He felt the woman’s claw push his blade to one side. He swung again, against her parry, but hit only air. A moment of horrifying silence later, he felt cold on the nape of his neck. Cold and wet. Her tongue. He turned and swung his blade at her only to have his chest slashed by her claw. He heard his blood dripping more than he felt it – all he could feel was the lingering cold on his neck. He’d seen it before – the mark – a ritual sacrifice or something.

Their god fed off of fear, and right now, this priest was serving that deity well. Barna had to admit, he was terrified. He tried to focus, to listen. A new sound – Gallywig. Patching up Cairne, no doubt. But also chanting. Chanting angrily. He ducked, not a moment too soon, as a wreath of green flames cut through the darkness. Green? His magic is usually golden-blue – his magic shouldn’t even work nearby. Unless he was damaging his soul. Gallywig was burning his soul as fuel for the fire. “No, Gal! Leave me!”

Drow of the Underdark Cover
3.5 had a book called "Drow of the Underdark" (Image linked). Great read, even if the stat blocks don't apply to your game.

A blade of green flame cut down through the darkness, heralding the fierce charge of the small cleric. He was unrelenting, his eyes burning as hot as the swaths of fire emerging from his fingers as he charged into the darkness. The priestess was knocked back, but as the green light subsided and the dark clouds swirled back into place, a cold grin exposed her pointed teeth as she raised two fingers. A purple flame burst out at the pyromantic priest like a cloud. Barna heard the thud of his friend’s tome hitting the rock. He was down. Hopefully not for good. He turned to where he last saw the drow and brought his blade down, and gasped as his wrists were caught in her hands. The cuts on his chest burned with a cold he had never felt before as she licked one of the wounds, his scream interrupted by a slash across his cheek with her claw. He hadn’t even felt her move her hand off his wrist.

 The pain was too intense for him to hold onto any hope. But Barna was not one to go without a fight. He collapsed onto one knee, but held a stance that he knew he could strike when she charged him. The darkness started to dissipate, and Barna squinted at what he thought could be his last glimpse of light. He swung, but the drow almost casually backhanded his blade away as she moved her clawed thumb toward his neck. He locked his eyes with her, meeting his killers’ gaze as her eyes appeared in the haze of darkness, seeing something he didn’t expect. Shock.

“There!”

Knicks’ tongue was on the nape of the drow’s neck, the exact spot where Barna had been licked before. Her hand was pressed against the woman’s ribs just below her breast. The drow stood perfectly still as the rogue pulled away, and as her hand pulled away from the drow’s chest, the slick hiss of steel slicing through flesh echoed through the darkness as two blazing daggers dug their way through the priestess, obediently following the hand that had just been pressed against it. Barna had just realised it then, but his comrade had been fighting the priestess the whole time as well – trying to find her mark in the darkness without hitting him or being discovered.

Snapping out of his terror, Barna found his sense of humour. “Did she taste good?” Knicks punched his arm. Hard. He wasn’t sure he’d ever be able to hold a blade again.

“Hey, nobody messes with you on my watch and no way in the hells do they get away with show-boating about it.”

Barna fell to his back laughing. Mor and the Chief both limped toward the area under the spider carving where they’d collapsed.

“We lost Cairne.” the Chief sighed.

Knicks rounded on him. “Dead!? Twice in one day?”

“Oh, no! Gal patched him and he ran off after my guy. Found the guy’s arm, can’t find our Elf.” The Chief explained.

Mor nodded. “Well fought, all of us. Proud of you and Cairne.”

Barna nodded weakly. “Speaking of Gal… Is he?”

“Out cold” Chief finished. “Burned up something fierce. If he didn’t look like a bandit before, that scar will finish it.”

“And kill with the ladies,” Knicks added. “Not my type, personally, but he was quite the wraith!”

“Well wake him up,” Barna complained. “I can’t be the only one needing a healing pot.”
Healing potion
Rough fight? You know what time it is.

Dylan Beckbessinger

App developer by day, Chaotic Neutral dungeon master by night, Dylan has been a DM for 10 years, and an avid fan of all things geekdom for far, far longer than that. Favorite class is eldritch theurge, because raw power doesn't need any limits.

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