DGA1.07: Lost-god-axe quest, part one

We’re your men (and dwarf)!

“Should you choose to take this mission, you shall find it much to your inclination…”

Seck notes that Prince Kaliel’s gaze rests on Thordan as he says these words.

“and your rewards shall be rich, moreover,” Kaliel says, introducing the quest.

The prospective adventurers Seck the L2 human rogue, Thordan the dwarf monk, Layton the human fighter, and Cat the human warlock, are standing at their ease in the Prince’s throne-chamber. The elf emissary Carrac, who brought hem this far, remains with them and many other elves besides are gathered.

To Cat’s eyes, Prince Kaliel the ruler of this hidden realm Elin Barad is a high elf, surrounded by wood elves. The throne chamber is high up a mighty tree, its walls and roof a blend of growing and woven material.

Kaliel continues:

“Know then that in the distant past, fabled treasures were lost upon this earth. One has turned up. Unfortunately it is one that had best not fall into the hands of evil. Unluckily the hands into which it has fallen are those of the worthless vermin, Herftak. A kobold.

“The one thing we can be sure of – other than that kobolds have no place upon this good green earth – oh and that they are worthless and untrustworthy – but I digress – is that a kobold will sell to the highest bidder… and that they live underground. And here we come to the impasse… as you can see.”

Kaliel looks to the four, as if they can see. Cat clears his throat lightly and responds:

“Obviously. He would be suspicious of an elf that would dive down to buy; and you need non-elves to do the purchasing. Indeed a dwarf would be most suitable.”

“I see you have the favor of the lady,” Kaliel remarks to Cat quietly.

“She has a warm eye on me,” he agrees.

Kaliel confirms:

“Your friend Cat has summed it up admirably.”

“May I ask of the risks? Is there another that would have the treasure?” – Cat

“Yes, and well thought of, to ask before we speak of the substantial rewards. Sadly we in the elven realm, although we endure, endure amid a flood of other creatures such as orcs. They too live in tribes in this far wood, as you term it. Almost certainly at least one of, these tribes, has their eye on this… axe, which Herftak has. It is a greataxe, far too heavy for a kobold to wield, but the sort of thing that lights an orcish eye with… lust.”

“Is there any chance that it has powers that would allow a kobold to wield it?” – Seck

“Unlikely. I am reliably informed that it is a greataxe.”

“So is there any particular orc or enterprise?” – Cat

“We believe a new pushing, surging tribe known as Red Blades are most likely. Therefore time is of the essence. Carrac has taken longer than I expected to find a… fit and able crew.”

“At what strength do you estimate this Red Blade tribe?” – Seck

“That is hard to say. They appear to be taking over other tribes so as we speak… larger than before.”

“And how far is it to this Herftak” – Cat

“Some… 30, of your miles.”

“Through further thick forest?”

“The far wood is, as you have said.”

“Several days” – Seck

“Several days,” Kaliel agrees, “And you will need much water. I can of course supply waterskins. And moreover as some of the denizens of the far wood are not conducive to consumption I can supply healing kits. Are any of you a healer? …no?”

“It may speed things up if we have a guide to this place.” – Cat

“I have considered this and have been fortunate enough to have the help of one of our forest guardians…”

The right elf for the job?

The adventurers, perhaps expecting an elf of heroic proportions, see a child-size vaguely person-shaped green-brown shape emerge from the courtiers. If it is taller than Thordan it would be a close thing requiring a back-to-back comparison!

Here we meet Jarre Killepeeth, L2 grugach ranger, limited to speaking in Sylvan only, heavily forest-camouflaged, deep violet hair and eyes, no visible scars or tattoos.

Those with sharp eyes count four waterskins, as well as the obvious four spears and longbow. Obviously sturdier than the height and build would suggest!

Cat disguises his disappointment:

“Clearly this person knows the wild.”

“Forest guardians are our first line of defense against things that you might encounter. However I must warn you that like any good wood elf they are unlikely to go underground.”

Cat speaks politely in elven to Jarre, who looks blankly back. A quiet type, Cat concludes.

“We might need to ask the Prince for a little phrase-book” – Layton

 

Rewards and preparation

As the adventurers begin making plans for when to set out and how much water to take the Prince remarks:

“I have not yet chosen the reward for you and I admire your spirit! …Obviously we have some gold but I also understand you are all beginning your careers and would be eager for something like an enchantment. Not of great significance by elven standards and would take some time to prepare for your… unique personalities” – again looking mostly at Thordan here.

It seems this deal is COD, though 2 healer kits are shared out each and everyone tops up to four waterskins apiece. The adventurers agree to set out the next morning after fully hydrating. Cat heads off to a sage, Layton makes a start on organizing important words and commands with Carrac, the others rest (though Thordan does check if they have any masonry that needs fixing).

The sage is of limited help regarding the quest, and Cat’s vision – in the ale on setting out, where he saw a vision of a rearing god lofting an axe, the axe falling to earth, then sinking through it – gives him more insight on the quest than she has. The sage does explain Jarre’s Sylvan-language-only difficulty and – because sage – adds a short note about  grugach culture. Cat passes on what he has heard (from Seck, Layton and town gossip around Earl Damose’s council) of the dragon cultists and the Horned Skull goblins. She takes notes about the former and refers him back to Prince Kaliel about the latter. So back he and Jarre go.

Equipment is stripped right down as the adventurers are introduced to canvas slings as bedding. Cat has met these before in a ship-borne voyage but the others have a steep learning curve. That and a light tarp to cover them from insects and snakes replace bedrolls.

A spot ruling here that lightly encumbered is up to STRx5, the variant rule that makes the most sense to me. I also note that as long as characters can say “the bulk is in the backpack and I drop that” I have no real concern.

 

Contingencies

Words/phrases/signals in common with Jarre: wait, day, danger, poison, orc, one, two, lots, attacking, front, behind, right, left.

Prince Kaliel is able to shed some light on the Horned Skull goblin tribe: dangerous, intelligent, vicious in a fight, best left alone. They seem to be reacting to the Red Blades by moving north. The elves are happy to let them.

“I will stand bond for your ransom,” Kaliel adds, as he concludes. “Should you be captured by such as Horned Skull or Red Blade we can intercede and have you released. And kobolds too, should you be living.”

“And speaking of, what of the kobold Herftak? Is there a price you would have us pay?”

“You say well, I will organize something that would be worth much in a kobold’s eyes… gewgaws, that sort of thing. Though I do kind of imagine you slaying all the kobolds and taking the ax.”

“We don’t want to be fighting through an entire tribe…” – Layton

“As far as we can ascertain Herftak’s little band has pushed far, far out from his kin. Numbers should not be insuperable.”

Thordan carries the gewgaws, in a watertight package.

 

Day one

Party order: Jarre, Thordan, Cat, Seck, Layton

The first day out of Elin Barad is very slow going and entirely tiring. Although Jarre attempts to demonstrate the right way to move through the jungle, it’s a learning curve they can only hope to get better at as time goes by. And there are numerous ‘don’t eat that, don’t touch that, don’t step on that’ kind of lessons.

[Some pretty feeble rolls here mean they travel no better than a normal party without a ranger would, in difficult terrain.]

One very important lesson is where to get water if it’s not carried, because there seems to be no running streams. Jarre demonstrates certain plants can be cut and water will pour out of them.

The journey continues, due south-west, through a weave of thickets, shrubs, and clearings. Birds and insects form a constant background, while smells vary between pleasant and not.

[Travel in difficult terrain: with enough care to allow Passive Perception to be of use, an average of 1.5 mph is attained. However without forced-marching, this translates to 12 miles in a day. (I’m ignoring dwarf base rate here.)

Norm is to pause on the hour or 45 mins to sip water and check bugs, slipped or untied gear etc. This is figured in above.

Forced-marching rules may be triggered by any missed save or need to push farther/faster than above.

With Jarre present I do not need to feature deadly trees, or deadfalls, and I’ve already decided this is not Horned Skull territory.

Survival rolls, to set up camp and sleep in a tree, are mostly pretty good. Seck and Thordan get 15 and help Layton also get to 15 while Cat gets to 10 with help. This means that in terms of exhaustion I’m letting things slide… for now.]

Thordan volunteers to fetch water once Jarre locates a sump (or small cenote technically) and uses his backpack intelligently to limit it to two trips. Meanwhile the others agree that watching is probably a good idea, but given they are up a tree they eventually agree that Seck’s alarm will do. Seck climbs athletically around rigging his alarm, and everyone gets enough of a rest that they are fit and ready for the next day’s travel.

Day two and all well

The second day out from Elin Barad shows that the adventurers have picked up some basics. In Jarre’s eyes they make better progress. Except that Cat is really struggling now, and there is no question of him working at the evening camp. He keeps his head down, does not complain, and is very glad to rest!

[They end the day closer to their destination than the flat rate of 12 miles per day indicates, which seems a fair balance between picking up things Jarre has shown them and Cat’s poor CON SV]

Jarre attempts to explain how close they are: since the original list she has added ‘follow’ and ‘snake’ – both hand gestures. She manages with ‘orc – days – one’.

 

Meet the Red Blades!

The following day, at the edge of one of the occasional clearings, Jarre signals ‘wait’ and they hear the sound of approaching, heavy-footed beings.

Most slip to one side or another of the clearer ground. Jarre moves to the tree nearest the noise-direction and begins climbing. Layton, unwilling to clank and chime in his chain, moves slightly to one side and stands still.

[Stealth: Cat good, Thordan OK, Seck rather noisy, doubled-down by a poor survival roll]

A gruff commanding voice sounds out, and the adventurers shed packs. Layton sees that filtering into the clearing come a number of powerfully-built orcs! And he does see a few red blade sigils. Jarre guesses, about twice her party.

“Lots” – Jarre

As they see the armored fighter, the five lead orcs, loosely gathered, demonstrate with their weapons and roar menacingly. It’s quite intimidating! From his angle Thordan can see that one of the orcs is dressed differently, more like a civilian though with a fancy breastplate.

[CHA checks from everyone to deal with the mass intimidation. Thordan and Cat fail to make DC12.]

 

A stand-off

Cat utters an incantation and all five demonstrating orcs are illumined with Faerie Fire.

Inits: mook orcs, Thordan, Layton/Jarre, Cat/Urdax/thug orc, Seck.

Layton gestures ‘bring it on’ while Jarre waits above.

“Who have we before us? Know you face mighty Urdax, of Red Blades! They who challenge us shall be crushed!” – Urdax

Cat does the talking:

“We see and recognize your strength and that you are not attacking us immediately. We are prepared to pass by doing no harm”

Urdax rumbles something and the five lead orcs finish demonstrating and draw back, allowing negotiations to begin.

“Ho-ho! Step out and be recognized” – Urdax

 

Negotiations (=single combat)

Cat does so and finds Urdax has guessed they too are en route to the kobolds. The orc leader proposes a non-lethal single combat: Layton finds himself gearing up with a spear, his own shield, and facing a similarly-armed orc. He decides to trust to his dueling knowledge but soon finds himself tripped and tapping out with an orc spear at his throat!

[Two options of a quick-result combat, one a 2d20 advantage roll the other damagex3- Layton goes for the 2d20 option and scores well but the opposition scores a nat 20.]

“Now we know where we stand in terms of strength” – Urdax

 

The enemy of my what now?

As they discuss a tribute deal and alliance – where the post-kobold outcome is cynically left open – Jarre again hears oncoming orcs! The rearguard orc rushes up to Urdax and mutters something.

“Orc – lots” – Jarre

Immediately Urdax gestures and he and his orcs swiftly move into the undergrowth as best they can. Within the minute, a similar-size band of orcs, these with a white sigil, files into the clearing. They immediately see the ill-hidden Urdax, utter blood-curdling war-cries, and combat opens!

Inits: Jarre, Urdax and his thug, Seck, Layton, birch-orc leader and ranger, red blade mook orcs, birch mook orcs, Thordan, Cat.

Round 1: Jarre holds off. Urdax shifts back, joining Thordan in cover near a tree. Seck aims at a newcomer (not really caring if he hits a Red Blade) and misses so badly the orc does not notice. Layton readies his glaive for an oncoming orc. The other leader urges his orcs on, while he sidles into cover behind them. The Red Blades, urged by Urdax, adopt a strategy of holding off most while getting a 3:1 advantage on one.

The adventurers are horrified by the blood-mad frenzy the orcs display. Spears are wielded as slashing weapons as must as thrusting, scimitars are rammed deep into guts. Layton’s glaive fails to stand two birch orcs off but they both fail to do any damage to his armor. He slams the butt of his glaive into one, winding it. Thordan draws and moves slowly through the undergrowth, realizes he’s not getting there quickly, and hurls a blade. Cat’s eyes glow white, his voice cries in a fey tongue and an indigo blast strikes the orc engaged with Layton.

Round 2: Jarre has observed the leaders, who both act cautiously. Seeing the swift gait of a ranger among one birch orc she calls Hunter’s Mark and sinks a poisoned arrow into the ground near enough to him for him to notice! He leaps to cover. Urdax continues to command his orcs, while his guard-thug moves through the undergrowth towards where one of his band is struggling. Seck looses an arrow near the birch orc ranger, distracting him from retaliating at Jarre; then shifts across the clearer ground to be adjacent to Layton. Layton hammers his glaive at the one he winded but misses. The birch orc leader moves into safer cover, swapping out with the ranger, while mook orcs receive terrible injuries from one another. Thordan closes the distance, gains Layton’s flank, and punches one orc. Cat uses a second Eldritch Blast and the orc slumps.

Round 3: Jarre looses again at the ranger indifferent as to whether Urdax’ mooks take damage: but the arrow sinks to its flight into the ranger and he slumps, dead. Urdax continues urging, moving slowly towards where a turning-point seems to be emerging. Seck identifies few targets afield and drops his bow, draws his sword and stabs [crit]: the orc fighting Layton screams and falls. Barely pausing Seck shifts along the line past Thordan. Layton advances (“stamp on his throat” – Seck) stamping hard on the throat of the orc that received the arcane blast and wheels right to aid Red Blade orcs. Seeing a birch orc vulnerable Seck lunges again, and already seriously wounded, his target staggers and falls: a Red Blade orc rips his throat out. In the clearing though, a Red Blade orc has fallen. A birch orc urgently calls for their leader to be aided! Thordan targets that one, dashes across, and strikes with a king-hit (or coward punch). The orc is knocked forward, stunned. Cat bravely advances to the edge of cover and incants again but the spell effect fails.

Round 4: Jarre sees things going well for her mooks! She picks out the birch orc leader and again calling Hunters Mark draws back deeply and sinks a poisoned arrow past the breastplate! He clutches the arrow and rips it out, but can already feel the spreading taint. Urdax dashes across the clearing, cuts down a weary lone birch orc from behind and postures, gesturing for his men to double their efforts! Seck slays yet another injured orc, looks around and makes his way to Thordan’s orc-kicking session. Layton follows up across the clearing and thrusts his glaive into the injured birch orc leader, killing him! Layton pauses, admiring the fine ornaments the leader had. Cat swaggers out of cover, dusting his hands. The one surviving birch orc is kicked to death.

 

Thoughts of turning the tables

The surviving four Red Blade mooks are very tired. Urdax gestures Layton over as though he’s in charge:

“Show me! I wish to report to my leader!”

Layton hands over the enemy torc – and the Red Blades bellow in triumph – and tucks silver armbands (4lb) and a nice breastplate (6lb) into a sack.

Urdax orders a search but Seck mutters to Cat:

“Keep them moving – don’t let them rest properly”

Cat plays on Urdax’s sense of urgency and the search is abandoned in favour of getting to the kobold lair. Jarre appears out of cover:

“Orc attack?”

Cat and Seck shake their heads:

“Wait”

Urdax, slightly shaken at seeing Jarre, turns to Cat:

“Now I understand why that wretch fell so quickly… perhaps I’ve underestimated you, human. So! You’re friends with the elves! Now, don’t think I don’t trust you but we proceed together, orc/human/orc/human.”

Layton wonders to himself what might have happened had Jarre simply kept firing… Thordan singles out a plant Jarre said ‘danger’ about and dribbles some of its liquid into a half-full canteen.

 

Herftak’s domain

Looking at the lair entry Thordan can mentally agree with Prince Kaliel’s opinion: the kobolds have arrived not long ago. The tunnel sloping down is a good five feet width, plenty enough for even an orc to shoulder in, and no need for them to take packs off if they don’t want to.

However, there’s a pause as Layton Seck and Cat all rearrange water and handy weapons. Urdax keeps a close eye on them. Cat points upwards, loooking at Jarre. Jarre considers various nearby trees for good sniping spots.

“Attack orc?” – Jarre

Layton leans in: shows Jarre his handax and mimes a bigger version as best he can.

“Attack orc” – Layton

Urdax looks suspiciously at them.

“She doesn’t speak Common” – Cat

“You don’t say!” – Urdax, sarcastically

Layton ostentatiously mounts his handax at his belt and says loudly:

“Watch polearm!”

 

Turning tables?

As they decide what to leave behind, they become aware that the orcs have rushed into the kobold tunnel…

[I roll a nat 1 for orc strategy at this point…

Urdax: To the kobolds, enslave them (meaning, round up the humes and offer them as slaves)

Mooks: Enslave kobolds? No problem boss! (ignore humes, charge down)]

…Urdax seems very surprised and follows after his men, with his thug-henchman trailing. A distant shriek suggests an orc may have found a trap.

Urdax’ thug lunges back up out:

“You help now!”

Thordan grins and heads in, handing the doped canteen over. [This is where the retrospective sleight of hand is tested. Thordan gets a good result]

“Me thank!” – thug unsuspectingly swigging

Below, the tunnel leads to a chaotic scene. At first matters can only be guessed. Then, back near the entrance, the thug lights torches and hurls them down the tunnel and things become clearer. [Seck and Layton make good perception checks] Immediately in front of them the remaining three orc mooks are attempting to hurl spare spears across a wide pit that spans the chamber. Even closer to them, Urdax is attempting to bring some order back.

Urdax [makes a good CHA check and] bellows for order.

At the edge of torch-light, across the pit, small reptilian beings dodge in and out of some form of cover, hurling darts across. The pair that can guess what they are seeing estimate half a dozen.

“I’ll get my crossbow” – Cat, wishing to appear helpful without actually helping

The warlock hurries out, squeezing past the orc thug now on his way in.

Inside the chamber Seck waves to get Layton’s attention, signals to the oblivious orcs – and mimes a clothesline attack! Thordan too sees the gesture.

 

And the session ends.

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DGA1.06: The Count comes through/To the Farwood

We rejoin our heroes Seck the rogue, Ya the L2 scout, Layton the fighter, and Luth the L2 fighter who with their patron Count Anton are in for the fight of their lives!

Combat – to the death!

Battle layout: essentially a 40′ square chamber with a pedestal dead center providing some limited cover/terrain and one 5′ tunnel leading away 20′ to the outside world. The door to that tunnel is wide open and plays no part in the battle. Mentally place that 5′ exit at due north, middle of wall, directly in line with the pedestal, and you have it. Terrain is level stone, except that the small corpse of a pocket dragon lies near the entrance and shards of some opaline substance are scattered near the pedestal. A torch, burning but on the floor, provides illumination for most of the room.

The bulk of the party are ranked not defending the doorway as such but ready to strike cultists as they attempt to force themselves in. Ya and Layton are opposite one another at the wall, Ya left, Layton right; Luth and Seck are close to one another to Ya’s right and Count Anton is backing Layton up.  

However: two cultists who appeared to have been cut down as they forced their way past have just risen, and two more are still trying to get through; and the enemy leader Nadarr has blurred past everyone (taking one knock) to stand at the far end of the room.  

These cultists seem to be able to breathe fire or summon flame, and heal remarkably. Nadarr himself seems to have all three powers!  

And for the adventurers, while relatively unscathed, exhaustion is a factor. Only Luth has been able to avoid at least one level. 

 

Top of round 2: while waiting for the GM to find the init track from last session, short instructions/tactics are permitted.

“Leave Nadarr to me! You take those others!” – Count Anton

“If ya put one down hit ‘im again!”  – Ya

“Yeah heads off’ll stop ’em” – Luth

 

Inits: Nadarr, Layton, Seck, Count Anton, Luth/Ya, cultists

Nadarr stands poised, with rapier in a high stance. His body language screams “bring it!” [His turn ended at close of last session but he has plenty of reaction and legendary moves…]

Layton strikes the cultist immediately before him. A savage blow but the man(?) shifts and the glaive blade simply tears the robe. Seck, cursing not having a head-reaper weapon, stabs the cultist Luth is menacing and staggered by the savage blow he looks ready to drop. Seck uses his second short sword, and the cultist falls! Count Anton advances, fencing style, drawing Nadarr’s eye to him. Then screams as he dodges the worst of hellish flames! But he presses his attack home [great CON SV] – his rapier flicks out but Nadarr bats it clear and rakes the Count’s eyes with a sharpened thumbnail – blinding him! Now, Luth fells the other ‘just-revived’ cultist and Ya smashes his maul at the cultist Seck felled. From the tunnel, the previously-dying cultist reaches round and stabs Ya. Layton scythes his glaive at the disheveled cultist attempting to vault across the pile of dead and dying, trapping the group of three still-standing cultists at the doorway. Luth and Ya are enveloped in flame though only Ya takes significant damage.

Round 3: Nadarr, realizing the Count is blinded, goes for the kill but unbelievably, some concealed armor worn under the Count’s good clothing turns the blade. Nadarr steps slightly to one side but otherwise remains at close quarters. Layton shreds another side of the cultist’s robes revealing the weird not-quite human shape beneath them. Seck still has a cultist in from of him, stabs and drops him. Then unsure as to what will save Anton, sticks close to Ya and stabs a fallen cultist. Count Anton backs away [disengage] ending up with back to pedestal [a d6 decides this] and manages to clear his vision.

“A dirty fighter – I might have known – who are you really?” – Count Anton

“YOU were the one hanging out with him – don’t ask me!” – Luth, sarcastically

Ya hammers his maul at the cultist in the tunnel but she steps back clear while Luth gets his second wind and shifts to attack Nadarr. A short blade bounces off his chain as he moves away and Nadarr, seeming to expect him, thrusts his rapier and quaffs a potion! The cultists in side the chamber both attack Seck. He parries, but one only. He falls! Meanwhile one is healed by the cultist in the corridor – who also breathes flame! Ya hurls himself to one side and takes minor damage from flame.

“AHAHAHAHAHAHAAA Now I have two of you in my face!” – Nadarr

The cultist’s rapier flicks out at Count Anton and Luth ducks, catching a thumbnail on his helmet

“That must hurt!” – Luth

“Clearly you have been taught by an oaf” – Count Anton, parrying and kicking Nadarr

Layton focuses on the robe-slashed cultist, manages to connect and cuts him down. He can easily reach the other cultists but in turn they block him off from Seck.

Count Anton thrusts but Nadarr laughingly parries it off into the floor

“And look who has been taught by a novice! HAHAHAHAHAAAA!!” – Nadarr

Ya and Luth both connect solidly; Ya tries to gauge whether he can drag Seck clear but can’t. Nadarr, wounded, whips his thumb back and blinds Luth. Leaping towards Layton the last cultist inside the room screams something [in draconic] and the other also leaps in from the doorway. Layton reels, on his last legs.

Round 4: Nadarr shifts away from Luth and Count Anton as though he is a will o’ wisp and stabs Layton, felling him. Flames suddenly burst afresh from his hands. But Count Anton races after him and thrusts his rapier home – it’s not deep but it’s enough! Nadarr falls! Luth gropes forward to what he hopes is the pedestal [d6 indicates half-left] and Ya attempts to cow the cultists, but this time his voice is unconvincing – given that just he and the Count are fit to fight! Ya is more or less behind the cultist that felled Layton and swings mightily – but the maul glances off the hard skin of the cultist. Who heals Nadarr!

“Stab ‘im again!” – Ya

“Shall we talk about this? I think we can reach an accommodation!” – Nadarr, rising

“Never! You have betrayed me for the last time!” – Count Anton

Round 5: Nadarr leaps at Count Anton and thrusts him through. Then steps back and as Ya attempts to move, flames he and Ya (and cultists) as Count Anton attempts to make his attack. Count Anton falls, smouldering! Nadarr quaffs another potion.

[Good point for Ya and Luth to check their bonds – “I will lay down my life for those who fought beside me”]

Ya disengages and swallows his potion. Luth finds a door, but it is locked. [He’s against the west wall] At last, his eyes stop streaming and he can see. Nadarr is screaming things [in draconic] and two cultists are left. They each attack one adventurer. Luth’s sturdy chain easily turns the blade but Ya is not so lucky.

Round 6: Nadarr moves over to Count Anton’s body, screaming something at him, kneeling and clutching at something on the floor. Ya and Luth both fell their cultist and close in on Count Anton. Luth action-surges and rams his longsword through Nadarr! The two frenziedly chop and crush until there is no chance of the wretch rising.

 

Taking stock

Eventually, battle rage fading, they light a new torch, swig water, bathe burns and check comrades.

Seck Layton and Count Anton are alive!

Heads of cultists are removed, just in case.

As the three fallen slowly regain consciousness the mobile two move more stones to fully block the outer entrance. They realize the cultists quietly removed blocks while the adventurers were preoccupied with Alder’s body and the pocket dragon. It’s not good for breathing (torches in confined quarters!) but it allows enough of a rest for them to be able to move more freely and for their comrades to wake. Count Anton finds his three silvers (dropped on the floor last ep) have been stacked on his chest.

“We got a pretty good haul. Trouble is, Ya’s estimate is there’s no water between here and Leischport – and only Nadarr had water, and only a cupful at that.” – Luth, explaining and hefting a pouch of coin

“I have one skin left” – Seck

“Luth too, but that means we have to return now, like it or not, while it’s dark and cool” – Ya

Count Anton is still somewhat optimistic about searching further beyond the three locked doors but this is not the time for it. They all agree that they will return, and stack heavier gear, and set out for the walk back. Before they leave though, Seck re-camouflages the entrance using whitish local clay.

“Where there’s life there’s hope! And the opal pieces – you’re still carrying them?” – Count Anton

Luth nods…

The loot actually taken out:

  • 6 Knife hilts
  • Opaline fragments
  • 225 silver worth of various coin
  • Fine quality rapier
  • Noble-looking flimsy dagger
  • 5 Secret cult tokens
  • 2 Thumb-spurs made of some chitin-like red substance
  • 2 healing potions (2d4+3)

 

Under a sickle moon

Three grimly determined men lead the way. Ya’s sense of direction and keen night-eyes [and DC12 survival check] guide the party back until below the Mounds he sees a stand of trees. On the way to the Mounds these were inconsequential, barely noticed. Now with everyone dragging (he himself is at half speed) it looks like an oasis.

Ya’s keen night vision picks up perhaps half a dozen armed and heavily armored men. Off in the more distant trees the sickle moon suggests horses.

He crouches, and most of the others do likewise. Layton simply stops still (the effective way to not make a noise) but Seck ambles forward unseeingly and walks right up to the group.

“Hold! Stand and account for yourselves!” – marshal Hatton Acklin

These are fighting clerics of the One True Faith – or Inquisitors to give them their usual term.

“Looks like we come clean – let’s go” – Luth, slapping Ya on the back

The truthfulness of Luth, coupled with reasonable politeness, helps ease tension. But Ya’s body language is bad. In fact he crouches in an almost fetal position as the Templars’ gaze probes him. [Ya’s player makes the Spanish Inquisition crack after a previous warning about it, and is at disadvantage with all dealings with the clerics. And he has a secret he would do anything to avoid others knowing about.]

Luth makes sure Ya has water and excuses his poor form:

“We have fought fire”

Seck hears one mutter to Hatton “he is tainted.” The attitude of the inquisitors becomes challenging. Hatton sternly speaks:

“You do not mind… waiting… I take it. One of my riders will ride for assistance, we will get you back to Leischport as soon as may be. And you my lord, you may… choose to ride with the rider if you wish.”

“You of course know Count Anton… expert on dragons… of much assistance during the war” – Luth

“Some say his opinions veered from the orthodox and into some weird… well I don’t need to get into this. But you are right – Count Anton you will also remain here.”

The galloping hoofbeats of the messenger fade into the deep night.

 

Hope rises with the dawn

Having discussed whether Luth’s directions can be followed there’s some clarification of detail. [Luth’s player is clear again, he is telling the truth]

“Your assistance has been noted, Starag, Luth. (Make a note of their tags)” – Hatton to Luth then aside to a rider.

Water is shared and save for Ya they rest. Ya is just hunched down enduring the scrutiny. [Good CHA check with disadvantage] Luth starts up a game of 3-dragon ante to pass the hours. Count Anton does the best he can to sleep after speaking quietly of the three other doors. Luth hushes him! [Uses inspiration to cancel disadv and a DC11 I judge is OK given Count Anton’s favorable attitude.]

Come the dawn…

“They tell the truth… save that they didn’t mention the three other doors… or false doors, heh” – inquisitor returning with the lads’ equipment. The equipment (heavy gear) is handed back, signaling a return to cordial relations.

The arrival of a pony and trap from Leischport is the signal for the party to break up on cordial terms. Hatton gets direction from a couple as to where any proceeds can be forwarded.

[And an OOC check as to whether any character will not accept proceeds from bits of cultists. Everyone is in. Luth has some moral qualms, Layton and Ya are fine with it. Seck is OK with it.]

 

Future wealth

Although the lads were hoping for an extravagant reward, they have been paid in advance for the day’s work, and had a free drink off him. They agree Count Anton will share the swag. Ya and Luth invest 20 silver to hire a gig sturdy enough to endure most of the way up to the Mounds and the lads recover all gear and Alder’s body. Seck confirms what the inquisitors said: the other three doors are false.

Seck is level 2! 

Wondering where to sell gear:

  • A jeweler of the north side will be approached, with the opaline fragments.
  • No decision on the rapier, dagger, knife-hilts and thumb-spurs (and tokens) [but this can be ret-conned if relevant]

 

Pais comes through

While cremating the monk’s body, they comically forget his name, meet Durin a dwarf priest who in turn calls in passive-aggressive-hot-elf-librarian Brecbry from the library to advise on elf-related details. Pais shows up, following the sniff of interesting arcane stuff. Luth and Ya catch him up.

“Good news boys, let’s head to a pub, first round’s on me” – Pais

“Absolutely, let’s drink to the memory of Alvin” – Luth

“Alvin Shirtlifter was it?” – Pais

“Eat drink and be merry…” – Ya, picking up an inspiration

Pais spreads the 125 gold ransom he received back via Sir Galant, less the 1gp he just spent shouting the round, between the four that took part (Pais, Ya, Seck and Luth).

 

We spend a good stint of time – maybe 40 minutes – on a mid-season check-in. Calling it a review is probably not quite right though that’s how I pitch it. There are learning points on both sides. At the end of the hour I feel we are probably now on the same page, in the same campaign. And just as importantly, the campaign will continue!

 

 

The new crew

[Some of this following includes some previewing and post-introduction deciding of which characters to bring in]

Some time has passed since the archeological events just narrated, and Layton and Seck are well down in funds, especially Layton. Of their old crew Luth and Ya are probably in Schmitford or hunting bounties around Stiglehold and Count Anton has moved on. They are seated at a convivial southside tavern table alongside a few wanderers. The gossip is of Earl Damose calling a council of nobles, to discuss something worrisome… exactly why is in the realm of speculation.

 

You’ve been recommended!

Vir Onden, the ranger who adventured with Layton a few months back, approaches.

“I hear good things about your last job, Layton. Ended some dragon cult mischief, got the patron back alive. Can I introduce you to Carrac? He’s an emissary…”

“I understand that you are comrades of Vir…?” – Carrac

Layton hesitantly sticks his hand up. A blond goateed man of medium build cocks an ear. Seck pays attention. A robed callus-handed dwarf also at the table listens politely.

Carrac appears to be a well-dressed serious elf. He explains that his ruler, Prince Kaliel of Elin Barad, has a mission that is best undertaken by non-elves.

“Deniability?” – Seck, cynically

“It’s not so much that, honored Seck, it is… a difficult diplomatic balance in the forest of my kin. They do not wish, themselves, to be seen as hostile…”

At this point both the new acquaintances, drinking companions of Layton and Seck, suggest retiring to a more private area.

Let us first meet Cat, who has intruded in this pleasant but casual manner. Blond like many Teulon and with a goatee; middling height and tending to slender build. He’s noticeably good-looking and his easy personality outweighs the deficit around the table. A joke for every occasion, with a sordid debt of the wrong kind of upbringing to a man he left to rot in prison, and with the light of greed shining in his honest blue eyes. 

Next let us meet Thordan Steelfist, of sturdy dwarf height and build, beneath whose placid and fatalistic exterior the heart of a rebel beats. Putting the best face on his situation he tells the company that his order bade him explore the world. He is clearly broke, relying on the goodwill of strangers. 

Layton as we know is sturdy, even hefty in build, rough-hewn and lightly scarred but cheery. Seck is middle height and lithe. Both are men of honor. 

We’re your men!

Carrac is willing to guarantee passage to and from the southern forest. So if they do not elect to take the job, they will not be left to fend for themselves. He checks they aren’t tied to the current gathering of nobles. Also whether they can swim, though that’s not of great consequence.

He speaks broadly of princely reward, perhaps enchantment or the gold that his kin wash out of southern rivers… They accept the offer to throw in on this mission!

 

Tidying up

Layton heads away to warn Grizel that he will be absent some time and ask her not to miss him too much.

[A CHA check with advantage for Layton later…]

Grizel’s old man tends to take it badly but, as he collects himself from the piss-alley behind the shack, he remembers who’s boss and bids Layton fare ye well and be back soon. Bearing in mind Grizel’s loving fingers Layton makes sure she hasn’t lifted his purse and kisses her a fond goodbye.

Later Thordan earns five coppers fixing a wall that some thick-headed clown has thrown some other thick-headed clown through.

Physical prep: mail is oiled, weapons sharpened. Seck [Cat negotiating] hires a gig for the trip as far as Neilsfort to carry packs and water/beer. Cat decides to take his light crossbow – if it doesn’t work out he can always lose it.

Gossip in the north [WIS checks are good for Seck and Cat] firms up that the issue the Earl is discussing is increased raising from goblins, coming from the south.

 

Some basic checking around

[Resources tapped for information: Pais, man at arms of Sir Neils, another guard knowing something about the south.]

These are apparently Horned Skull goblins, tough and wily, but not expansionist in this manner. The days when ransom could be arranged seem to be disappearing.

The elves live in the Farwood. Pais points to an empty space on the bottom edge of a map.

“Little is known about the Farwood. All bad things, and elves” – Pais

“Any records of Horned Skull goblins?” – Cat

“I seem to recall Seck tying a goblin with that symbol up, we brought him along for ransom… we had good intentions but it didn’t work out that way… it was in the Oakwood just outside this city” – Pais

On the way out Cat exchanges a few words, including in elven, with Brecbry.

Assured that though the map doesn’t show it, there’s a viable trail from Leischport to Mardleton then Neilsfort, they lay plans accordingly, and the trip begins.

 

An easy passage

In the half-light of dawn Cat swills most of his beer, and studies the dregs for a message from his lady. [It will be retro-revealed, when relevant.] Thordan is already sitting in the back of the gig in an uncomfortable posture.

Mardleton is an uneventful point on the journey and Carrac, as good as his word, moves them through without needing to show identity.

Neilsfort strikes the scout and fighter as somewhat poorly laid out, as though someone had said ‘that’s where we build the keep, you lot sort yourselves out.’  Again Carrac’s authority as emissary sidesteps any scrutiny. Here, the gig driver ends his journey, and the short march to the Farwood begins.

 

Into the Farwood

The Farwood is a jungle, at least to the eyes of the adventurers. It’s hard to believe how humid the air and how slow the passage is, and Carrac’s elf-splaining how he slips through the undergrowth is not helping. And as he reaches the secret entrance to Elin Barad and it opens for the party, the session ends.

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DGA1.05: The stuff that dreams are made of

As the adventurers Luth Starag the L2 human fighter, Ya Nooskoi the L2 half-orc ranger/fighter, and Seck Rustrau the human rogue relax eating some very cheap food in south Leischport we meet a new acquaintance, though one Ya knows vaguely from his wanderings: Alder Starwhisper, wood elf monk, fairly short and lithe, cloaked from prying eyes.

It seems Alder was taken by pirates a long time ago; the pirates then shipwrecked founded a holy order known as the Calming Wave; the current generation of monks view Alder’s own respect for Deep Sashelas as outside the order’s rule; he is now a roaming outcast.

Downtime in Leischport

Alder has been staying at the Gnosterzee Inn along with them. The lodging is cheap, which suits his slim purse. Though prices may rise: an altercation in the street gives the lads a chance to make the acquaintance of city mayor Sergius, well-dressed, knife-scarred, with a pleasant smile that doesn’t reach his cold eyes. His bully boys are bringing the street into line with town taxes. Don’t intervene, the lads are asked, adventurers move on but we have to live here. So they learn that there is more than one order of power in Leischport.

It has been two months since the lads brought Sir Galmont’s corpse, and the ceremony tome, safely to Stiglehold. Using the tome, spellcasters loyal to Sir Stigle summoned early rains. The local region’s crops and livestock prospered. Though it did bring a flux to Leischport, carrying off some two dozen of the youngest and oldest. It’s an ill wind… most of the lads eke out their now-dwindling coin by earning coppers standing guard while temple woodcutters cut timber for cremations. They meet a couple of priests, who take care that ash and rowan of certain quality are used. These are working priests, not fighting ones, and seem reasonably approachable.

 

A job prospect

Speaking of coin, the adventurers who did not share the rich bounty on the dragon cultist are now broke. So as they toss back and forth the prospect of various insanitary bug-hunts and low-paid watch duties, it’s timely that Layton Wheattail rushes up, his rough but cheery features full of alarm:

“Luth! Luth! Buddy! Pal! Ya gotta help me!” – Layton

“Is she pregnant?” – Luth

“No that’s not the problem… though I am getting on quite well with Grizel…”

He continues, after some further banter:

“It was that trip coming back to Leischport. You remember those tribesmen?” – Layton

“Sure! They ran up to us and had a look and headed away” – Luth

“Headed away, yeah, so what with one thing or another that story sort of became me heroically guarding the wagon from fifty of them… so someone wants to hire me to guard his ass… he’s a nob, got money or so he says. But I don’t think I can do it alone… I need a crew: Luth, will you help me?”

The lads listen to Luth’s pitch, wonder whether their comrade Vir Onden is around (he’s not) and invite the monk to join, since he’ll work for cheap. He’s equipped with shortsword and quarterstaff. Ya hands him a healing potion, a spare after his last mission.

 

A sniff of coin

They turn up in front of the prospective employer. Their clothes are as tidy as they can be, and Luth’s hair and whiskers are pomaded. Count Anton Survanis‘ clothes are of fine quality but chosen for durability, his boots are those of a man who scrambles afoot, and his skin is that of an outdoorsman. As he discusses and explains the job – guarding him and searching for a dragon hoard – his story comes back to the ex-soldiers in dribs and drabs; the latter part he relates to them. Once a brilliant young noble researcher of the weaknesses of dragons, he focused more and more on the most obscure and powerful dragons and how to enter their lairs by stealth. But that was not without risks and by and large his fortune has gone. Now, the red dragon hoard will be the answer.

“We can all become rich beyond our wildest dreams” – Count Anton

The most important issue is claiming it, so the first mission will be swift and afoot, into the Mounds that lie south of Leischport.

“I have to say though that I have been disappointed by a fellow nobleman who aided me thus far, the Seigneur Nadarr. I know not much about his family but he was more familiar with this region than I and he who narrowed the search down to the Mounds.”

“He’s not the type to jump a claim is he?” – Luth

“Well I do want to beat him to the punch if that is his aim. He has chosen an ill time to desert me when the prize is under my grasp. For we will succeed!

“Dragon hoard is all very well but what about wages?” – Seck

“I can pay normal caravan guard rates and if you are a little out of pocket I can advance… ten silver coins” – Count Anton, counting 10sp out of a slender wallet

 

Let’s not overthink this – we’re in!

The lads discuss it privately but with few options to earn coin they head back and agree. The Count calls for another round. Ya big-notes with a gold piece and drinks the best and strongest it will buy.

 

There’s some further discussion of maps and such – it’s all in Count Anton’s head – then the talk becomes practical, about supplies and tents and so on. Time is of the essence and the Count apparently lost his previous transport after an altercation, so they may as well walk south as soon as packs are gathered and flasks filled.

 

The Mounds

By midday the same day the party order, walking up into the Mounds, is:

Ya, Alder, Seck, Luth and Count Anton, Layton

It is hot! [CON SV+adv for everyone] Alder and Layton struggle. [under one level of exhaustion]

 

From a distance the Mounds look easy going, but up close there are sheer drops, steep ascents, and the hot dry wind that carries enough dust to limit visibility.

After a few hours of searching along the Count’s indicated lines, Alder calls Ya back: he’s spotted a narrow opening. And it’s shielded by a blind, fashioned of sizeable random-looking boulders.

It’s going to be a tight squeeze if that’s what they are looking for. Alder mentions that he can see in the dark. Count Anton says it is in roughly the right area…

 

Sorry, wrong dungeon!

Seck (with torch) and Alder squeeze along, while outside Ya scans the available cover and decides they can hide by dusting cloaks and trying to look like boulders.

 

At first glance the chamber that opens before Alder and Seck contains about half a dozen gnomes. Luckily Seck has deep speech so there’s a language in common.

This is an awkward confrontation. At first, Seck has a brash confidence that gnomes are small beer and cannot prevent them leaving, but there are in fact nine of them, even after one hurries off to summon the hold lord.

The hold lord, who does not introduce himself, assures them this is not and never has been a dragon lair and that he will need them to swear that they will not reveal the hold to the world. The pair do – gnomes are held in suspicion by the One True Faith – and are allowed to depart.

On the way out, Alder implies that he sees wiggle room in his oath about revealing the hold to their own comrades but Seck, an honorable man, underlines what they just swore. They agree on a rough cover story: empty chamber.

 

Possibly not the best cover story

Meanwhile outside the lads and Count Anton are not perturbed by the long delay. The afternoon light shows no sign of hostiles. Layton watches with his eyes shut; Luth may as well be.

[Ya actually does make a DC20 Perception check and in a private, step-out conversation we agree that Ya can call for an advantage later. This is the last good roll from Luth for some time.]

 

Seck elaborates the empty chamber story and it becomes a bottomless pit with a foul smell in the retelling. Count Anton suspects kobolds have followed an Umber Hulk or Xorn burrow and made a warren down the shaft… he notes it to Luth to report for kobold extermination.

 

Neatly crossed!

The hot, dusty struggle up and down resumes. The travelers realize there is no chance of topping up water, and sip rather than drink. The ground ahead roughens and a slope becomes a treacherous shale slip.

100′ of rope is utilized in the crossing. Count Anton offers to go first to prove it can be done but Alder does so. [DC12 DEX SV for all] Eventually the majority of people cross and the less sure-footed people are able to safely cross.

 

Rodents of unusual size

Reassured by their success they turn to examine the options beyond as ropes are re-coiled. Ya scans the hanging valley below and calls a warning:

“Dust storm comin’ up!”

“There must be shelter somewhere – look around!”

Not far above the slope, on this side, a clamber up offers the shelter of a ledge. It’s an easy climb of about 30′ for someone to bring a rope up.

Ya, with 50′ slung and unburdened with packs, scrambles up rapidly. Then utters a cry of pain and disgust as a huge rat leaps out onto him!

Inits: Seck, Alder, Luth/Giant rat1,  Giant rat2/Layton, other rats, Ya

Seck sidesteps another and more rats boil out of small holes across the slope, then sets a dagger into his teeth and attempts to scramble up – he slips and gives up. Alder smacks one rat with his quarterstaff, then reverses it and kills another. Ya’s chainmail protects him from the first bite but the rat now works through the mail and bites him – he tries to grab it but is distracted and falls! [misses acrobatics – one level of exhaustion]

Luth moves to guard Count Anton. A truly huge rat emerges above! Then a second! Seck tries a shot as Layton wields his glaive to deadly effect, killing one. Ya painfully collects himself. Rats all around, he is on the ground amongst them!

“Rat can be tasty – I like rat” – Ya, optimistically

More rats emerge. Alder whips his staff around again, powering into the first rat. A huge rat fastens its teeth in Seck’s leg just above the knee. Luth slashes another rat [doesn’t nominate so it’s the nearest] and Layton smashes his glaive blade down perilously close to Alder. Another huge rat sinks its teeth into where Alder should be, but merely rips his mantle. Ya rises sweeping around with short swords and takes a deep gash on his wrist to go with the small bite on his chin – he drops that sword.

Seck switches to dagger given the range and stabs at the biting huge rat, but does not manage to get rid of it.

Alder again hammers at his rat, but another unwounded rat tries to bit through Luth’s boot. Luth slices at it then, concerned not to kill Seck, misses the one fastened on his leg.

[Ya uses second wind at this stage]

Rats biting and Layton and Ya flailing… to no effect, except to drive the glaive butt into Layton’s gut.

Seck screams again as the rat’s teeth gouge deep. He’s really bleeding now! Alder catches his rat in the chops and it flies off onto the scree. Luth lances his sword at Seck’s rat and this time makes no mistake! Its jaws unclench and Seck is left with a deep and still bleeding wound. Luth shakes round his war-board. Layton recovers his wind and not-quite-hits Luth. A rat leaps on Ya, ripping at his cowl. Ya sweeps up his second sword, but misses with the first sword.

Seck sits down, calls for help, and begins feeling quite faint [he’s on 1hp now]. Alder leaps across, clenches a very strong grip on the knee:

“Hold it here and don’t let go!”

Luth slashes his sword across the rat that had been trying to eat his boot. Layton again misses. Ya now has two shortswords and as the rat again scrabbles at his throat cuts part-way through its fur. It eyes him as if to say:

“Is that all ya got?”

Seck keeps his hand clamped and hauls out his healing potion – reward from the Sir Galmont mission. It helps, a little. Alder splatters a spray of rat blood across Ya and the scree as he explodes the rat’s skull; then without stopping whips round and strikes the rat attacking Luth; that rat is fended off by Layton’s defense and when Luth cuts again it collapses tumbling downslope, guts strewing behind it.

 

In the dust storm

They are able to make quick work of the slope given the rat holes and now shelter as best they can on the ledge.

“I have a tent” – Alder, foolishly tempting the GM who agreed the party travels light

They watch the tent pop in the fierce wind and swirl away to parts unknown…

“Red dragons favor dusty ledges do they?” – Luth, sarcastically

“*splutter* We’re close – look at that rock – a regular shape!” – Count Anton

[CON SV made as the storm beats at them. Ya moves to two levels of exhaustion, Count Anton appears worse for wear as well]

Seck studies the blank rock but in the storm, makes little of it. The party huddle under cloaks.

 

If you can’t spot a trap, be good at dodging

In the dim of hazy twilight Seck decides there is no lock or pressure plate.

“I’m surprised how small it is but I believe we’re on the right track… it’s clearly no kobold warren! Nooskoi – was it? – can you wield that maul?” – Count Anton

Seck judges where to whack, and between Layton and Luth the maul soon knocks through the carefully-set stonework. A regular tunnel is revealed… at the edge of visibility, what appears to be a strong door closed with a heavy lock. Anton looks very keen to move in:

“Let’s arrange the party… who’s fit to move?”

 

Party order: Alder, Anton/Seck, Luth Layton and Ya

Boom!

Alder comes flying out beating embers off his clothing. [Makes DEX SV, 3dmg] Explosive runes!

The six rest once they are happy there are no more traps. However, it’s not a comfortable environment and the uneasy series of rests and watches is only enough to allow Seck to dress the wound and the fighters to be ready again.

[short rest: Seck recovers all but 1hp; Alder Layton and Count Anton keep one level of exhaustion, Ya keeps two]

 

That’s no hoard…

With the same order reestablished (but Count Anton further back, behind Luth) Seck gets to work with his tools and has the hefty lock open. He pulls the door back and comes with it, so he is right up against the wall.

The chamber beyond is moderate size, a pedestal in its middle with a glistening dragonlike statuette on it. [Ya makes an INT check to get greedy about the statuette – unusually valuable stone, he guesses] A dim glow emanates from somewhere; they have the impression of a door opposite and a door left and right.

“For the gods’ sake! Where’s the money?!? No need to panic… there may be chambers beyond heaped with coin…” – Count Anton, sounding panicky

Luth feels the Count pressing at his back.

“Easy! Let’s let our trap expert have a look first” – Luth

Seck tries to stay out of direct line of any of the doors. He whips back as knives eerily swoop down from above and begin swirling in menacing pattern.

“Whatever’s being protected here they don’t want us to go further – sounds promising!” – Luth

 

Bring a fist to a knife fight

General looks are exchanged and missile weapons produced. Three or four excellent shots later they know that the knives can’t really be shot down. [A free round of shots, in effect, with damage resistance represented by asking for two damage rolls and taking the worst] They pull back but the knives follow them and the fight is on!

Inits: Luth/Knives, Ya, Count Anton, Alder, Seck, Layton

Luth sweeps his sword across as a knife comes for him, taking a chip out of the blade [pause as I check hp of a dagger, sorry guys] but it pushes on sinking into him. Seck too utters a cry of pain. Alder grunts as he takes a nick. Ya draws his maul and strikes a knife; Count Anton flicks one with his rapier sending it into a wall. Alder swings his quarterstaff and connects solidly. Seck attempts to feint and grab, but fails: the thing reacts to his body movement not to his feint. Layton sticks to his glaive, and misses.

Luth powers another swing and connects massively; the knife takes another notch. A knife sinks into Ya and Count Anton, another grazes off Layton’s boot and he stamps down, part-pinning it. The ranger moves to shield Seck and hammers a knife spinning away. Count Anton ignores the pain in his shoulder and parries off another knife. Alder hammers a knife and it shatters on the second stroke! Seck takes a defensive stance and simply keeps clear of the blade that gets round Ya. Layton smashes down on the knife he part-trapped as it gets away, notching it.

Luth misses and cinches round his war-board as the five intact knives attack again: the knife on him sinks into it and he slams it [Athletics] against the wall, snapping the blade. Alder is cut again. Ya shoulders off the knife trying to get at Seck then smashes it! Count Anton again cries in pain, and again parries away a dagger. Alder tries Seck’s ‘grab it out of the air’ trick but like Seck, fails. Layton wallops the same dagger again and it snaps.

Luth tries a weird ‘use shield as a weapon’ tactic which inexplicably works: he has a knife pinioned against the wall. But another knife slides into Alder’s ribs and he crumples. Ya seizes out a potion and tosses it to Alder then poises ready for the monk to pull the knife out [ready action]. Count Alder ruthlessly flicks the knife out with an expert cut and Ya smashes it! Alder is unconscious, they realise [and misses his first death roll]. Seck moves to administer a potion but realizes that with an unconscious patient, he can’t help in the heat of a moment. Layton rams his shoulder into Luth’s shield and it breaks!

Count Anton begins checking Alder, Seck ready with the potion, but shakes his head:

“I don’t think it’s worth administering a potion I’m sorry. I do not know elves but as far as I can tell he has gone to his ancestors”

[Alder’s second Death roll, just before Count Anton’s check, is a 1]

 

[Layton is now played by Alder’s player]

 

That’s a dragon! Wait, what?

“Well… I think it might be time to check the chamber” – Count Anton, quaffing a potion

Seck prudently drinks the potion that Ya had loaned to the monk, and is fully fit.

Luth gathers up the hilts, which are well furbished, and packs them away.

 

Seck inspects the pedestal carefully. As he nears it the statuette cracks and splits…

WHHOOOMMM

Count Anton and Seck beat flames off their clothes and try to regain vision after the bright red flame bathes them.

“And in my defense I didn’t even touch the fucking thing!” – Seck

The rogue blinks through the spots before his eyes and sees a winged shape…

“DRAGON!!!” – Seck, hurling himself as far back down the tunnel as he can

“If it’s a baby dragon my reputation will be made!” – Count Anton, pressing forward

 

The interlopers strike

It’s at this moment that Ya’s sense of unease about the backtrail kicks in. Perhaps he senses something or perhaps he was expecting it [the advantage perception kicks in here, cancelling out his disadvantage]

“Ware behind!” – Ya, slamming backwards at a shape in the tunnel entrance

 

Inits: pocket dragon/Nadarr, Layton, Seck, Count Anton, Luth/Ya, cultists

 

Ya moves to block, swinging his maul. A blast of fire billows at him down the tunnel and Ya beats out fire! Behind him Layton and Luth are burned but in lesser degree.

Seck makes a considered judgment and dives back inside the chamber, hard against a wall.

Layton lances his glaive forward past Ya and into the robed figure’s sternum: it collapses back out of the gap: he has the impression the knees went the wrong way.

“Guys – move back – incoming!” – Ya, moving back

Layton trusts his ranger and moves back away, into the chamber, glancing over his shoulder and getting the first clear sight of the dragon, a cat-size dragonling or suchlike. Count Anton runs at the winged creature:

“Die, enemy of mankind!… also, where’s your treasure?”

Luth, now surging in front of the Count, leaps in and slams his sword sideways as a winged shape flies at his patron. Its wings shear like cheap paper and it falls to the floor. The fighter switches to buckler. Ya joins them, dusting the worst embers off [second wind].

There is a pause.

 

Nadarr meets defiance

“Anton my friend, give me the god-egg and I promise you you’ll live… heh heh hehhh” – Nadarr, calling from the ledge outside

“You’re obviously lying!” – Luth

Anton gestures Luth to silence then speaks:

“You’re obviously lying Nadarr, if that’s your real name! Come and get us if you dare! We are bold and bad and full of blades! And we’re so desperate for cash we’ll pick the gold teeth out of your corpses!” – Count Anton

“And yer earrings off!” – Ya

“Waittaminnit – you’re paying us!… how much money do you have??” – Luth

Count Anton slips his wallet off his belt and shakes it out. Three more silver pieces rattle onto the floor.

“Oh for fuck’s sake!” – Luth

“I told ya he was poorer than us” – Ya

The defenders take post around the chamber entrance and call threats.

“Come and slake our blades!” – Ya, making a good Intimidate check

The light in the chamber seems to be dimming. Ya lights a torch and rolls it to a good position to let incoming be attacked. It glitters over opal fragments from the statuette.

“Come and get the loot… it’s a dragon hoard” – Ya

“It’s a dragon hoard and we’re sitting on it!! Hahahahahh” – Count Anton

“Oh man, the other guy’s the clever patron… we shoulda been hired by him…” – Luth, aside

 

Battle!

The cultists rush the room, preceded by flame! Ya takes the flame squarely and everyone else is singed, except Count Anton who is behind Layton

Layton and Seck make a good fighting team and the first cultist falls! The next leaps over him but he is already wounded and Luth drops him. Ya whips his maul around the entry corner and thumps a third. Then Layton and Seck sense rather than see a shape whip by them: they react with blades but Nadarr, eyes gleaming yellow and flame building in his hands, vaults past them behind the pedestal! And the first two cultists to fall rise once more!

And the session ends.

 

One of the front-end “GM positions” is that I’m minding the NPCs and monsters, I don’t have time to mind PCs. I know no more, probably less, about player character classes, than any player. Unfortunately this session saw a couple of instances of players asking me to instruct character options, and worse, the odd illegal action in the name of drama. And then there was the “displacement behavior” of three players when shit got real: instead of concentrating on the fight they dived for a rulebook. Not good. I have a mid-season review coming up after two more adventures but may need to advance that to right after this adventure. It’s no fun for me if I have to police, teach, and GM at the same time.

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DGA1.04: Who’s hunting who?/Alas Sir Galmont

The party is currently on a hunt, for whatever has been taking stock from around Tallywood, part of Earl Damose’s domain. They are working for Schalk, the earl’s forester.

We pick up our story with Ya Nooskoi, Luth Starag, Pais Ullman and (NPC) Seck Rustrau peering into an earth-walled tunnel. This is where the drag-trail of a calf taken from Tallywood’s livestock has led. They are pretty sure it is the opposite end of the ex-hobgoblin complex already raided, which means the thing taking livestock is an intelligent Giant Spider!

Expecting a big spider, the four retire a short way, shuck packs (and cloak if they wear such) and count torches. Pais has ten in reserve so the ranger, fighter and rogue pool their thirty.

Loadouts: Ya has chain shirt and will rely on his maul, but has two  shortswords and a hatchet. Luth has a chain shirt, heavy shield, and two differently-balanced longswords. Pais keeps his pack, since he doesn’t have a heavy load. Seck will start with longbow ready to shift to his two shortswords. It’s going to be hot so everyone has at least two waterskins.

Party order: Seck and Ya with torches, Pais, and lastly Luth as rearguards. Everyone has a Light coin tucked ready for use. The web thinly coats all surfaces and the burning is slow.

After a solid ten minutes of burning webbing the team gets 60 feet along, to a T-junction. Ya makes nothing of the drag-marks in here. Then they are attacked – from behind!

Luth has been expecting a rear attack, because of what Vir Onden told them the voice in the dark said, and is not surprised.

Inits: Pais, Spider/Luth, Ya (Seck is blocked by too many characters to help, and simply guards the junction).

Pais ices a patch of tunnel, the monster wolf spider clambers up onto Luth’s war-board and bites as the duelist rams his longsword forward [Good CON SV, Luth feels the poison burn (3dmg) and keeps fighting]. Ya switches places with Pais and swings his maul, The spider spits out at him as he does so, but the ranger weaves to one side and connects.

Pais freezes the opposite side of the tunnel! The spider seems to weave web around itself and lunges forward onto Luth – but the fighter uses his shield to parry off the fangs, and rams his sword forward again [crit, and we now decide as a group we will opt for the roll both dice option] thrusting deep into the creature’s maw. Ya [with disadvantage since Luth misses a STR contest and is in close proximity] smashes the thing’s head! Acid poison splashes onto his lead hand, burning painfully [7 dmg plus exhaustion].

Seck passes forward a waterskin as Pais and Ya treat the wound. They wash the wound with the weak alcohol and bind it.

The four decide not to take anything for granted. They pull back and rest below their packs, Seck rigging crude noise-alarms around.

As web-burning progresses and nothing else attacks they decide that was it for spiders. From the T, they locate more skeletons worming their way out of the battleground towards them. (Ya smashes them.) In the other direction lies the spider’s lair, a charnel-pit where husks of victims – mainly animal but with the occasional humanoid – lie thick on the ground.

[Another CON SV based on the players deciding to be very greedy. Seck stays OK, everyone else has one level exhaustion.]

Before real fatigue sets in the explorers manage to scuff up a couple of pouches.

They pull out again and rest under lengthening shadows.

The next search, they locate a refuse-burrow sloping down. They vote to send Seck down the burrow, and after two hours’ search he brings back a number of items, mainly seeming to belong to a female entertainer. The others manage to claw up a number of coins of various denominations out of the dirt under the husks, and a pouch with a no-questions-asked pass into Schmitford.

“Let’s call it there, we all need a bath and clean up” – Luth

Back at Tallywood, arriving late and mostly with two levels of exhaustion, they stagger into The Tabard, produce the spider’s head (on a stick) and beg for bath, food, laundry… oh and someone find Schalk?

By the time they have bathed in the half-butt available and eaten something hot, Schalk has been unearthed from wherever he sleeps. He inspects the head, listens to their account, and heads off to open up his strong-box. The local Tabard-patrons gather round to hear the story and offer their congratulations.

A well-dressed civilian type watches this with interest.

With a night’s sleep (one level exhaustion removed) the four pool silver, purchase more torches and a shovel (10% above book price), and go back looting again. They agree that since he kept a sixth of the melted gold for them, they’ll keep a share for Vir.

The extra day’s work yields further results – they’re well through the worst of it now! A satisfying few odds and ends including string for Seck to use with the finger-cymbals  from yesterday, an instrument for stargazing, a gold-clasp chain with a keyhole and a bent-out-of-shape key pendant, tribal jewelry and some more coins.

Pais once again misses an arcana check for what might be making the undead, but Luth at least decides to explain it to Schalk.

“I think we need to get a priest in there to consecrate it… we’ll tell Schalk all about it, then it’s his problem” – Pais

“A good day’s work boys!” – Luth, sharing round the extra coin

 

The stranger from yesterday introduces himself to Pais, asking for discretion.

“I’m terribly worried about Sir Galmont… but walls have ears… can we head out to the kennels?” – Reid, Stiglehold’s emissary

Pais gathers up Luth and Ya and they listen.

It seems Sir Galmont, a knight of Sir Stigle’s household whose honor is beyond question, was supposed to collect a ceremony tome from Mooregate and bring it back – discreetly, because Schmitford has an agreement with Mooregate and would act to prevent it.

“Can any of you handle a hound?” – Reid

“I have those skills” – Luth

Reid introduces Luth to Snoot, a bloodhound [Luth makes 20 on animal handling]. He’s managed to backtrack Sir Galmont and party this far south but from here, the open savanna and hostiles are beyond him. He has a tunic of Galmont’s and it may be of use for Snoot. But already, the point at which it will be worth bringing a body back for resurrection is approaching. So time is of the essence!

The adventurers ask pertinent questions and isolate one man of the party, Pocky Grun, responsible for guiding Sir Galmont, as being dubious. All eight carried a token similar to the dog-tags the adventurers wear, and Galmont bore a signet ring similar to Reid’s.

In terms of actual reward as opposed to future favor, Sir Stigle has access to a healing house and can supply six healing potions. Reid also advances one.

After hastily equipping with extra food including dried dog meat, they make a very early start. Luth’s general knowledge of the region is now enough to equate the course they have followed as a side of a triangle equal to the path between Leischport and Tallywood. They all carry about four days’ rations. Pais makes sure the others know which pouch has the healing potion. Reid ensures they know about the Schmitford spies, but asks that they not do too much to escalate hostility between Schmitford and Stiglehold.

 

After a hot but not exhausting trek across the plain, roughly following a side-trail between Tallywood and Stiglehold, the party finds itself heading off the trail and into the Oakwood. For reasons unknown the horsed party they have tracked here, headed in. Snoot has picked up a scent!

Luth assesses the branches of untended woods and concludes the riders would only have come here to hide… then yells a warning! Dislodged branches shower down but with the warning, none are hurt.

[This uses the ‘in retrospect’ approach I’ve decided to adopt. People failing the first roll are given a second d20 once I find that Luth did make his Perception check.]

 

Not far along as a patch of trail widens, Ya disappears into a pit. It’s relatively shallow and he avoids the worst damage of spikes and fall. [Again retrospective, he misses Perception but makes DEX]

Pais immediately hammers Magic Missile darts at the two pair of beady eyes that emerge from the trail-side; Luth hauls Ya out of the pit, and Seck looses his longbow!

Inits: Pais, Seck. goblins, Luth/Ya

The creatures react to the Magic Missiles: they armor with frost armor, and fire shortbows. One arrow penetrates Luth’s flank armor, the other glances off Seck’s shoulder-guard. Ya finishes getting out of the pit. Luth flings the arrow aside [second wind] and summons his warrior reserve.

Pais again hammers Magic Missile into the pair. Seck looses a second time, a good shot on one; drops the bow, draws a short sword and runs to a post close to Ya. One small humanoid raps out a command or curse in infernal and Pais dodges the worst of a flame bath [5dmg]! Seck also dodges and he too hurts. Luth lunges at one and his point sinks straight through the small creature’s heart! Ya, feeling as though he’s well beyond the play, wields his maul and rushes the nearest, shaking off the burning pain [11dmg but restores using Relentless Endurance] and smacks the thing. Seck rushes to his flank and his sword slices the creature: it reels and drops.

No further attack comes. Everyone sits down and begins patching. Ya gets the healing potion. They restore the goblin (that is what it is) to consciousness. Then they negotiate.

[Intimidate with advantage]

The main problem is that the goblin has a bare minimum of very short common words, and has no better fluency in orc. He shows them a clan symbol – like a skull, with horns – and says his chief will pay ransom for him, that they are honored scouts, and did not get here long ago.

Seck, who has looted earrings off the fallen, binds the goblin with the stouter string from his collection and they bring him along. Luth makes sure he is gagged.

 

Not much further into the Oakwood, they come upon an area thickly webbed.

Again [retrospective good Perception from Luth, nature+adv for Ya] they have some warning of the next hazard. As mold spores cloud up, they get clear.

Spiders attack!

Inits: Pais, Seck, 1st giant spider, Ya/2nd giant spider, Luth, 4 large spiders

Pais misses with Ray of Frost, Seck drops the string, looses at the spider Pais saw [9 dmg].

[Using card pawns is great, I use the ‘toss onto the board’ method for finding out how close they are to the PCs.]

“Let’s pull the fuck out!” – Luth

Seck runs. The first big spider rushes Ya, but its attack is parried off. A smaller spider has ridden on that, and leaps onto Ya, biting: poison courses through his veins [exhaustion]. Ya has short swords in his hand, so cuts at himself [+disadv] but misses. He pulls back at the same time. Pais runs to where Seck headed. Luth parries off another spider and hauls Snoot away.

The goblin, still with wrists bound, is left to be spider-meat.

But as they flee Luth does note the web-shrouded forms of horses. They need to beat the spiders!

The group attempts to rest and with Seck’s alarm system in place does manage to recover slightly [short rest] before the spiders once again attack!

Inits: Pais, Ya, Luth, Giant spider, other spiders/Seck

The warning afforded by Seck’s alarm allows them a shot first.

“Concentrate your fire!” – Luth

Pais finally gets a hit with Ray of Frost [crit but very poor dice], Luth’s heavy crossbow hits the same, Seck’s longbow hits the same. Ya’s longbow shaft bounces off. The spider is so severely hurt that it remains, slowed and staying clear.

Pais chooses to finish the wounded giant spider but misses. Ya squashes a spider and buries his maul head beyond it deep into the ground. Luth cinches his war-board close and runs out into the undergrowth to see if he can pin one. It’s a risk. A spider scuttles close and he squashes that, but then the second giant spider attacks! He parries it off.

“Somebody flank this fuck!” – Luth

“I’m there! I’m there!” – Seck, running out ducking away from one, and lunging into the flank of the giant spider

“I hate fucking spiders!” – Luth

“You shouldn’t fuck them then!” – Pais, failing a poison resist

A spider leaps onto Snoot and bites him. [fail save, exhaustion]

Pais uses his famed Shocking Grasp to kill the one on himself. Ya has options to move and runs to flank Luth’s spider. [I can’t recall 5e flanking and award +2] He misses. Luth lunges and his longsword lances between the mandibles. The poison bubbles onto his blade – which becomes useful later in the day! Seck lunges, draws his second sword [crit] and slams the sword deep into the thorax.

Pais lunges, shocks the spider on Snoot. Ya raises his maul and mashes the abdomen of the giant spider! Goo splatters everyone around it. Its legs draw up in death.

Running back for range weapons, they stalk and kill the heavily-wounded remaining giant spider!

 

Recovering as best they can, the party locates Sir Galmont (the signet ring does it) and rigs up a travois. Pais slings the ceremony tome at his own side. The remains of the others [really bad Investigation check] are disappointingly bare of equipment. Luth recovers the goblin-prisoner binding and gives it back to Seck.

 

Ya attempts to guide the party to a different quadrant of the woods, but it is not easy. The Schmitford spies catch them!

[again retrospective Perception to see if the spies surprise them with their crossbow volley – they don’t]

“Duck!” – Seck

Inits: Pocky Grun/spy#1, Luth, spies #2 and #3/Pais, Ya, Seck

With the crossbow volley wasted, the enemy…

“They have the tome! After them!” – Pocky Grun

…run from cover towards the grove the party have retreated to.

Ya spots one that seems to run easily through the undergrowth.

“Get the ranger! Then we can pick off the others!” – Ya

This tactic is faithfully followed by Ya’s comrades. They have one major advantage: the enemy ranger has raced ahead into combat, so the other three, not rangers, struggle in the undergrowth.

Luth poises his hand ax ready to throw. The ranger ducks under it and sweeps his scimitar out. Luth switches to buckler and the shift to the light shield fools the ranger’s line of attack; but he slides easily to one side and parries the longsword, looking confident. A spy gets close to Ya, but can’t finish his attack. Pais is right next to Ya, sees a chance, and chills the ranger with Ray of Frost. Seck backs Luth up, lances a shortsword into the rangers side, and readies a second sword.

Luth parries the ranger off, and the second spy’s slash is parried off by Ya’s maul. Luth returns to the attack! He thrusts accurately then screams in pain as flames bathe him [DEX SV failed] and [second wind] draws on his warrior courage to fight through the pain. For his part, the ranger feels the spider venom still on Luth’s blade! Finally arriving the second spy completely misses Seck. Pais uses Ray of Frost and this time the ranger looks hurt. The other spy in front of Pais sees Pais’ inattention and stabs him with a dagger.

“Seck! To me!” – Pais

“On my way!” – Seck, racing across behind the team. He side-cuts the spy, who’s startled to find him appearing there.

Ya smashes the ranger a mighty overhand blow and he falls!

The spy who so far has missed Ya now slashes him across the flank and some links in his chain shirt part. Finally, the last spy arrives to where his chief has fallen and bravely thrusts at Luth, who parries him.

Pais has been freed by Seck’s interference, and he smacks the spy with Shocking Grasp. The spy, feebly thrusting at Seck, looks ready to collapse.

“Ya been bothering me all this time! Cop this!” – Ya, smacking his maul across at the spy in front of him. He staggers back, spitting teeth:

“Quarter!”

“No quarter!” – Ya

The spy scrabbles at his belt. Seck leaps past his immediate opponent, cutting his throat, and his other sword plunges into Ya’s opponent.

“I don’t know what he was grabbing for, best find out after he’s safely dead” – Seck, kneeling to loot

“Quarter! I’m worth ransom!” – Spy

“Your lord will disavow you” – Luth

“My spymaster will pay, and for him too” – spy, gesturing at the fallen ranger

The party decide to ransom this prisoner, Alf Knacker, but let Pocky Grun, the double agent, bleed out. They loot, collecting decent coin off Pocky and a few gold off the others. Then leaving the dead to bury themselves they rally Snoot, force Alf to help drag the travois, and head for Stiglehold and rewards!

 

Sir Stigle welcomes them, thanks them for bringing the ceremony tome, and Sir Galmont in, and allows them to rest until Reid arrives. He himself is busy attending to the resurrection details, in Leischport. Stiglehold is a very small settlement with very modest walls, but they feel safe enough to rest and clean up. When Reid, accompanied by a couple of hirelings, arrives and confirms the agreed reward they receive six healing potions and a bonus 50gp.

Reid also brings word of the aftermath of the hobgoblin tunnels. Schalk did speak to the settlement priest, and the idol – not the battle-site – was identified as the source of undead, and properly dealt with. So, the final milestone in that adventure is achieved.

Pais Luth and Ya reach Level Two!

Ya decides he likes the Maul as a combat weapon, and takes multiclass option, fighter. Pais and Luth stick to their class.

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DGA1.03: End of the mission? and… Who’s hunting who, Part one

We rejoin our adventurers Ya Nooskoi the half-orc ranger, Vir Onden the half-elf ranger, Pais Ullman the (variant) human sorcerer, Luth Starag the human fighter, and Layton Wheattail the (NPC) human fighter, beginning to explore the tunnel leading away from their now-dead prize.

That prize, a spell-casting dragon- (or demon-) kin cultist, now lies dead in his pitiful, under-equipped lair. The rangers noted that his supplies would barely have eked him out two more days. Their mission will be complete when they bring the corpse back to Leischport and hand it over to Earl Damose.

The dead may rise again

And now, Ya hears more than sees some oncoming menace! He gestures urgently while pressing himself back against the tunnel wall. Pais casts another light coin and hiffs it past Ya.

Dragging its pitted sword behind it another hobgoblin shuffles into the light, from the direction of the first chamber!

Inits: Vir, Pais, Zombie, Ya, Luth

Vir nimbly whips past Ya, hacks at the hobgoblin with his shortswords, and leaps back before it can react. Disturbingly he can see the original sword-marks where he did the same thing, the first time he fought the hobgoblin. Pais casts Ray of Frost as Vir gets clear and the hobgoblin slumps: then begins to struggle back up! Judging the tunnel clearance to a nicety Ya leaps and brings his full weight down on the thing’s neck and head! [nat 20] There’s a distinct crack and it lies still. Luth slides his handaxe from its sheath, moves forward and makes sure the head is really separated.

 

A scene of ancient carnage

Now, with Layton keeping his glaive cautiously pointed back the way more zombies might come, they reestablish party order with Vir to the fore, and take the hard-right tunnel away from both zombies and cultist.

A short way along on the right, a chamber opens; another tunnel mouth gapes about 120 degrees around on the left.

Some investigation later they pool the following tale:

This was the scene of a savage battle. It occurred so long ago that the hobgoblin dead are mostly embedded in the earth. Silver powder and a ceremony was used to lay the dead to rest: but it failed. The bones are still trying to claw their way into undead-ness.

The team pushes on. The tunnel zigs and zags until at a particularly sharp zag left, an opening can be seen to the right.

The far end of the chamber beyond is reasonably well-shaped. Standing up to about belly-height, a statuette, much knocked about, stands flat against that wall. Parts of the statuette are luminescent, probably with lichen or moss.

A certain amount of investigation later as Vir decides it is definitely not a victim of a turn-to-stone spell, Luth [making DC12 perception] calls nervously from his forward-guard position.

 

The voice in the tunnel

The tunnel, not far down from where they are, is coated thinly in webbing. And as they consider this, and Pais calls for torches, a snicker is heard from the darkness beyond. Luth pulls back!

As Luth moves forward to toss a torch a sibilant voice is heard. Vir stiffens – it means something to him.

[In sylvan: Why don’t you come out to play?]

“Or you could just come and introduce yourself” – Vir

[In sylvan: You know I could just loop round behind you]

Luth [DC13 throw] manages to toss a Light-coin straight enough to get at least 20′ along. He has an impression of at least two spindly black legs being quickly withdrawn.

Vir explains what the thing said.

[In sylvan: Come and get me, elf-bitch]

The webbing will burn – but a disappointing amount at any one time. Given this, the feeling is that they should retreat.

And at this time the adventurers to a greater or lesser extent become aware they are infected. Vir, Luth and Pais in particular. The rash-like infection quickly swells to boils or pox.

The retreat is not molested. At the cultist’s lair, they use his wine to wash the worst areas, and Pais (with Vir’s help) seems slightly more optimistic.

“It’s rot-pox. Not magical, just from bad graveyards or undead. We’ll all need bed-rest” – Pais

Wrapping the corpse in blanket adapted from the pallet, and with Layton’s glaive slid through that, the two brawny fighters heft the dead-weight into carrying shape.

 

Retreat to the Coach

On the way back through the Cyanwood Ya keeps an eye out for useful herbs, and with Pais’ advice does indeed find and harvest some.

Having decided on a strategy of not mentioning the pox at all, nightfall finds the five wearily arriving at The Coach. There are lights to be seen, and the sound of a lute to be heard.

They have succeeded at a leg of their mission!

 

A loose end to take care of

Delb is leaning on his counter and Orlin is looking pale-but-interesting in the common room, playing his lute in simple tunes.

“Ar, yer back” – Delb, looking as though he has something significant on his mind. But that something is not revealed until much later, by Lawrence.

The adventurers pay in advance for meal-and-room, and stow the corpse in a butchery room, also used for a number of other purposes by the look of it. The merry clink of silver and copper draws grumpy dwarf smith Grundle Fitz from above, but he has little to say. Orlin has more to say.

“Pais – my dear fellow – you won’t believe the adventure I’ve been dragged into this last day. Tired as I was, this delightful young lady Kestrel…”

In short he shares his version of something elf ranger Kestrel has arranged for Mir, the scout that died fighting giltbone skeletons. His body now lies atop a bier waiting to be cremated. It seems she wants them to head back out to the Lightwatch Tower hill again, to do that.

The bard regales them in song, with the beginnings of his epic rescue from the Hag’s den. Finishing, he lets Pais know that he does have something more significant to tell him.

The adventurers recover overnight, under Pais’ care.

 

An offer of transport

Orlin has a ducal commission from a place named Mooregate, to a place named Schmitford – delightful place apparently – but needs to get a message to another place south of Leischport, named Neilsfort. He’d be obliged, and there would be a gold in it.

During the rest Delb has come up with a scheme. Lawrence wants to leave, so Delb won’t charge them for Lawrence’s time, if they hire the wagon to cart the body.

Ya rejects this as absurd – why, Delb ought to pay them!

Other options are considered – Pais (who doesn’t plan to do any manual labor) favors cutting and lashing together a sled or travois.

Leaving that decision to one side Vir Pais and Ya (borrowing an extra hatchet or so) head out to Lightwatch. Orlin is waiting to learn Pais’ final decision about Neilsfort, but will head to Schmitford in the very near future. He does not volunteer to walk out with them.

Luth touches base with Lawrence and learns a little more about Grundle and also, that Delb now knows Randall is dead, since his belt buckle turned up at the bottom of the hag’s chest. And so did quite a number of coins, which is why Delb hasn’t said anything about it.

Luth further haggles with Delb over the wagon hire, agreeing on a reasonable fee of 5 silver. As agreed earlier Lawrence is free, as he wants to look about for opportunity.

Layton takes it easy and plans what to spend his share of the reward on.

 

A golden immolation

The immolation bier is a more intricate affair than Orlin implied. Mir’s body lies atop a well-designed stack of wood, which sits atop a base of flat stones dragged over from the collapsed chapel. Laced in between the lumber are many gilded bones. Several lengths of the lumber have been carved with elf runes, at least partly Sune-related [Pais makes a meager Religion check].

Pais’ initial thought is to take advantage of Kestrel’s set-up but Vir, who knows her better, opines that she has not explained every detail to Orlin so that Delb will not in turn be tempted by the chance of gold. He’ll reserve a share for her.

Mir’s spirit is set to rest, the bones burn, the gold melts and – by and large – pools on the flat stones. Commendably, Ya stands watch during this time. When the ashes are cool enough Vir scrapes up the gold and divides it to six.

 

Carrac of the elves

As the three adventurers leave the clearing Vir pauses. He’s noticed [nat 20] an elf, watching from the trees.

Carrac is, so he says, an emissary of an elf prince. He happened to meet Kestrel overnight, and diverted his path here. He commends their actions and tells Vir he has a friend in the elf community, and that the prince will be told of this deed.

Vir wonders whether Carrac is the more likely to see Kestrel than he is, but decides to leave it there. He has no skills to read men’s souls. Carrac drifts back up into the trees and Vir catches up the other two.

 

By the time the trio arrive back it’s “may as well stay another night” time. Orlin receives Pais’ verdict (no, it’s not worth my while) and leaves for Schmitford, reminding his friend of the need for discretion.

Vir updates all four others on the emissary.

“Which prince?” – Ya, sounding interested

“Do elves get cremated then?” – Luth, mildly curious

 

The road to Leischport

The only significant encounter the next day, as the rangers and fighters walk easily back with their gear on the wagon, and Pais rides up alongside Lawrence, is a warband from a plains tribe, running up to near distance. Those who have visited Leischport know that there are two native peoples in the region, the coast-tribes and the plains-tribes, and both are scorned by the city folk.

These tribesmen are painted for war but have little or no armor. They study the wagon group from about 50 yards, and depart.

 

Earl Damose keeps his word

To the eyes of Ya and Luth the city gate is much heavier guarded than a city of this modest size would require. This is indeed the same “gate firmly closed now the horse is bolted” town watch that was put in place after the raid.

Rolling past the pleasant tree-grown avenues of the northern side the wagon turns into the platz and Lawrence draws it up alongside the Earl’s Court.

Pais clambers down and speaks to the gatekeeper [9 even with advantage] who is reluctant but indicates an hour’s delay will do.

(There’s a mini-strategy session where “what’s the next job” is considered. Pais favors gypping Delb and keeping the wagon, Lawrence plans to return it after a brief stop here, Luth thinks of using it to return for the next job, either the Tallywood job or clearing the webbed tunnels.)

Agreeing to meet Lawrence south of the bridge at that place Mir told him about, the five swagger into the court, then shuck weapons and walk decorously into the inner court. The inner building is divided fairly simply into a number of chambers, and in the third one, a fairly large chamber, the earl is dealing with a larger number of papers. Left of his seat are civilian petitioners and right of his seat are his military counselors (or town watch). At his elbow his harassed-looking chief adviser hands him relevant paperwork to seal or sign.

The ripe thump of the blanket-wrapped body interrupts this. Though there’s a chill in the air at this lack of decorum, the earl authorizes 500 gold. In the town watch wing the body is stowed and gold checked. Then split five ways.

Over the bridge. The riverside area, a dockland, offers an impression of varied life, demihumans of various types.

 

Rest and re-equipment

The five do stay at the Gnosterzee Inn south of the river. It’s cramped but strictly run, and Kokshoorn the host can be trusted.

Outfits are completely replaced, extra weapons bought, faces shaved, cheap meals eaten. They five variously meet a variety of interesting townsfolk:

  • Kurtz Weber, sharp-chinned blond northside townsman, with helpful advice
  • Hauk Hagler, urchin, rock-purveyor and guide to clean whores
  • Ischa, clean and cheap whore
  • Sally, proprietress of Sally’s slops and loans where Luth buys a mastiff collar
  • Kelplin, hesitant journeyman cobbler who helps Pais equip with the best boots
  • Anoyan Ano, foreigner and northside chandler who sells Pais other gear
  • Brecbry, probable-elf and senior sage of the library
  • an unnamed gnome curio-store owner who sells Pais [first Deception check of the campaign!] an old buckler that has a cursed book hidden in the lining and turns out to be very valuable in itself; and Luth a longsword
  • Zmit Zmitter, expert dwarf smith who rehilts Luth’s well-balanced longsword and re-grips the buckler

With outfitting and a little side-excursion into the library Pais needs more than a day, and it turns out Luth needs an extra night and morning as well to finish dealings with Zmitter. So they don’t ride back north with Lawrence who stays just the one night.

  • Ya has gained a maul, and a chain shirt
  • Vir has gained a warhammer
  • Luth has a signature buckler (by Deedloh) and signature longsword

 

With half an hour left in the session I’m confident at this point we can at least get the next leg under way. We continue:

 

Who’s hunting who, part one

Welcome to Tallywood

With clean gear and extra weapons suited to breaking undead bones, the four (Layton decides on staying to enjoy his wealth in Leischport) make the long hot walk to the Coach, discovering that the staff will be, in the next few days, reduced to Delb and Grundle. They already know that the Tallywood job is still open – the town crier in Leischport was calling it – and don’t enjoy Delb’s company. So after wetting their whistles with a drink, they push on through the heat of the afternoon, north to Tallywood which nestles at the southern tip of the Berrywood, and not far north of the Cyanwood.

Tallywood, as Luth and Ya already know, is divided between Tabard (those serving the earl’s household) and Mill (lumber trade). The notice came from the earl’s forester Schalk so the pair lead the way to the Tabard.

[Ya picks up an inspiration here, for ‘not looking beyond the next meal’]

Schalk the earl’s forester, broad-shouldered and dark, with gray-shot beard, back problems and a rheumy voice, recognizes Luth and Ya from when they first considered the job.

“These the other lot you wanted? And come to that, I got a couple scalawags in the lock-up. They’d most likely be happy to sign up for free, so as not to be in stocks” – Schalk

Malcontent #1: Finser, feisty halfling trapsmith. Ya vaguely recalls hearing bad stories about him. He’s in for picking a fight with mill-hands and claiming to “stand up for a woman as was being bullied.”

Malcontent #2: Seck, polite cutpurse. Though supposedly a scout, neither Vir nor Ya has heard of him. After imbibing, he offered to “sort the town out if we didn’t get our act together” but came quiet as a lamb when arrested.

Taking themselves off to a private space, the four vote Seck since Finser seems a bit of a shit. They duly report to Schalk and Seck Rustrau is duly released to them. He retrieves his longbow shortswords and daggers and is at their service. He’s delighted to find he’s in for an equal share.

 

The hunt leads south

Though they are exhausted, and the main need is plenty of water and rest, they lay plans out as Schalk’s explanation, and the young junior forester’s actual guiding suggests:

  • Something has been hunting deer and livestock
  • A kill left on site had twin swollen puncture wounds on the beast’s neck, spaced about as wide as Schalk can stretch his fore and mid finger
  • A calf was dragged away south into the Cyanwood

Their first effort involves staking out the grazing herd, under a crescent waning moon. Worried and aggressive townsfolk gang up and rush out to confront them, but Pais easily reassures them. Nothing hostile attacks the herd.

After using the quiet night to recover fully the five head south, following the calf drag-marks, into the Cyanwood. Part-way through, Vir sees some blaze-marks and heads off to “give Kestrel her share,” or something along those lines.

And as the remaining four study the other entrance to those hobgoblin tunnels, the session ends.

 

A couple of minor GM things

  1. Movement: diagonals across grid is GM handbook style, 5 then 10 then 5 then 10…
  2. Although passive perception is a good guide to the GM for what’s noticed, the “did I actually find/see/achieve something” is a last-minute or in-retrospect active roll.
  3. A short rest can delay or avert a level of exhaustion, depending on weather and explicit precautions, but still won’t remove a level.
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DGA1.02: Fire above, fear below

Our last session ended with a trio of adventurers: Mir the elf rogue, Onden the half-elf ranger and Pais the human (variant) sorcerer having trapped themselves in a chapel haunted by a bunch of flying spiders and a gilded skeleton with a gem in its skull. Above at the hole they dug for themselves in the roof, their NPC ally Kestrel the elf ranger is deciding whether to join them, stay lookout or go look for her actual prey.

The giltbone curse claims another victim!

Inits: Kestrel, Onden, Mir, Giltbones, Pais

The fight goes horribly wrong from the outset as Kestrel, wanting to contribute, falls off the rope and crashes onto the floor near Pais. [With a not-bad acrobatics check she gets one level of exhaustion and no other damage. Her bow is intact on her back.]

Mir weighs the mace in his hand, and decides not to risk a throw. The chance of actually hitting the sword-wielding gilded skeleton, let alone the gleaming gem in its head, is minimal.

Onden tries a quick rush, ducks under the gleaming sword-blade, smacks the skeleton’s knee-joint with the club in his strongest hand and leaps back, clear. Mir weaves forward to support the ranger, catching his target but a glancing blow, and he too leaps back to flank the ranger.

The skeleton does not advance! Instead it fades back into the depth of the chapel and two more skeletons become visible, striding forward into the light afforded by Pais’ spell and several burning torches. Which, now Pais comes to notice it, are beginning to catch cobweb and dry-as-dust decayed timber.

[This was my main prep from last session! I rolled some d20s on what each torch did each round. The fire starts spreading from round 1 and by round 8 is spread widely across the chapel and back into the tower!]

Spiders, frantically spinning out web, attempt to ‘fly’ down from the fire but flames lick greedily and they drop hard to the floor below.

Onden ducks under a clumsily-swung blow but Mir dodges the wrong way, and a rusty blade lances up under his ribs! He falls, bleeding out.

“Pull back! The place is on fire!” – Pais, taking a bone arrow in the vest.

The sorcerer hammers a Ray of Frost into Mir’s attacker, Kestrel lunges up from her seat, grabs the rogue – a bone arrow slams into her – and pulls him back and right towards a door, [the AoO misses] and Onden falls back.

The elf ranger’s kick at the door fails to open it. The second skeleton is slowed enough not to pursue Onden but his first attacker does. He dodges away again, crashing through the door, Kestrel follows still dragging Mir, Pais rushes after them:

To their horror the way is blocked by another gilded skeleton!

“Magic Missile!” – Pais, getting serious now

The trio drag the rogue’s body over the bones and far enough to check for signs of life. There are none. Kestrel looks ahead towards the blood copse – where she killed a flesh golem belonging to Yazol the Hag, and where a large cauldron stands. Trees beckon her: she’s pretty nigh invulnerable up in branches. She heads that way.

Pais rushes after Kestrel, but Onden turns back, kicks the door closed again, and then follows. The flames are catching the ivy around the chapel and smoke from high windows suggests the tower interior is alight as well.

Three more skeletons appear out of woods and head for the blood copse. Kestrel, now back in her element, again takes the skull off one. As the remaining two scratch at the tree’s base and Pais desperately tries for a higher branch, they suddenly collapse.

 

The Hag is fled

A few minutes later with no sign of life below:

“I think my prey is getting away! Let’s go to the escape tunnel again!” – Kestrel

As they work their way round, it’s quite clear that the fire has taken hold. The chapel is collapsing and the tower beginning to.

Hidden again from sight, they check the tunnel. Yes, tracks lead away. Yazol has fled. Kestrel looks blankly at the remaining pair.

“We’re a man down and can’t disable traps, and except you Onden, we’re wounded. Let’s head back” – Pais

 

Rough and ready and keen for coin

55 trees from the tower hill later, they arrive back at the Coach dragging Mir’s body. [Kestrel picks up her second level of exhaustion.] The dark-stained interior seems crowded, because in the time they’ve been absent, three brawny wayfarers – all veterans – have arrived and have been persuaded by Lawrence that there may be coin to be had if they wait.

So as a shattered Lawrence sees Mir’s dead body and goes away to cry quietly, and Delb discovers there’s still no sign of his son Randall, let us meet the trio:

  • Ya Nooskoi, half-orc ranger, 5’10, light tan, a scar down one cheek, black haired and blue eyed, cloaked and with a powerful bow. He is a company scout, like Onden. Of the company he knows Lawrence the best, as very good with animals. His favorite quiver badly needs repairing.
  • Luth Starag, human fighter, shield and heavy crossbow leaning by him and a longsword at his belt, armored in chainmail, tall, straight-nosed, black-whiskered and dark eyed, tan with a scar below right eye. Bluffly cheery and with a presence about him.
  • Layton Wheattail, human (NPC) fighter, also about 5’10, glaive leaning against the wall, shortsword as back-up, also armored in chain, also bluffly cheery but without any particular presence. He has a number of nicks and healed cuts such as any front-line fighter accrues.

 

Tokens of respect

The trio have heard different stories – baboons, a haunted tower – and Pais outlines them. Treasure in the chapel? Or under the tower? Pais thinks the Hag’s treasure is still in there, based on the tracks the rangers read. That sounds promising. And the pay?

“Even shares” – Pais

Pais wonders to himself if he and Ya share the same heritage, and tries him in draconic. Ya grunts back.

“Reckon that there dead’un ain’t needin’ ‘is quiver” – Ya, heading for Mir

“Oi, respeck! Ask ‘is mates, at least!” – Layton

There’s some delay as Ya pulls out a GOLD COIN for coppers to put on Mir’s eyes. Delb the innkeeper agrees he can make change. Envious eyes watch as Ya scoops 98 copper pieces into his pouch.

[Oddly enough I don’t recall Ya actually getting the quiver after this]

 

Prospects of loot under the tower

A quick bandage, rest and sup have restored Pais to marching fitness. The five-strong party heads into the Azurewood: Onden leads the way.

55 trees later, they admire the now-collapsed chapel and jagged-teeth appearance of the remains of the tower up on the hillock. A sickly stench of burnt ivy hangs about.

Onden is confident he can find that escape tunnel and indeed [Perception+adv] does follow the same path Kestrel led them through. Both rangers check around [Ya generally provides help to Onden in these calls] and agree that no-one has re-entered the tunnel.

[Meanwhile Luth and Pais make very ordinary Perception checks and see nothing particular]

Layton stands guard, hunkered right down in the tunnel mouth, glaive ready. Luth, using a trimmed branch as makeshift probe and a Light spell on Pais’ lone copper piece in his shield hand, works forward testing the narrow, musty-dirt smelling tunnel. It’s shored up with rough timbers and some of them have been kicked out of place.

They regroup and shoulder the uprights back into place as they go. No other traps have been set.

 

Rescue

Levering the crude slab that acts as an escape door out of the way the four are looking into a fairly cramped and primitive sleeping quarters. A foul smell mingles with the faint smell of smoke and dust. A voice off to Luth’s left pleads for help! Other than a cage left, and the crude bed, there’s another door roughly opposite, and a low regular shape with metallic gleams about it near the bed.

In the cage: Orlin Swift is still alive; Yazol left after gloating about him slowly choking or starving. Pais freezes the lock and Luth smashes it open. The bard is weak and will need support to get to the Coach. He asks that his gear be collected out of the Hag’s chest. And by the way watch out – as she left she had the appearance of an elf wench!

They decide not to probe further towards the collapse and fire (Orlin is aware of a giant spider and something that chills) but to manhandle the chest out. It’s mostly solid steel, and Onden [not the strongest, Ya kind of makes Luth lead back] struggles to get it down the tunnel without stumbling.

Oops!

They both kick clear of the collapsing shaft and get out safely. Pais, inspired by Orlin, also gets clear.

To Pais’ joy, as well as Orlin’s clothes and knick-knacks there’s an empty sack in the chest. The sorcerer uses some twine and produces a rough and ready knapsack. Now all he needs is all the gear that fell out of his backpack – unfortunately that is all burned bashed and buried in the chapel fire. But the thought that if he did have food he could fill the sack with it restores his natural optimism.

With Orlin decently clad in his own clothes again, and the tower and chapel still roasting hot, the party returns to report to the Coach. This time Ya and Layton easily manage the chest.

 

The worth of a chest

Orlin, reunited with the lute that Kestrel looted in her original raid, but who is thoroughly exhausted, will head for a wash-up and bed. That leaves the matter of not having found Randall, and a night’s lodging owing.

“I’ll trade ye three nights lodgin’ fer th’ chest” – Delb

“What? That chest is worth much more!” – Luth

“I wuz talkin’ ter th’ gennelman here, but twist me arm an’ I’ll extend it ter th’ five on ye” – Delb

Pais bargains: this chest here now, is worth a great deal of coin. Just look at these hinges! Delb thinks about this, eyeing the sorcerer.

“Tell yer wot. Yer th’ Earl’s men, right? I happ’n ter ‘ave ‘ere a bill-o-sale fer th’ cart an’ ‘orse out back. Sign ut in th’ Earl’s name, an I’ll trade yer 20 gold coin fer th’ chest.”

Pais shrugs. Chances of the Earl ever hearing or caring, he later comments, are remote. He squiggles a signature (not his own) on the parchment Delb draws up. The twenty is paid in silver and copper and shared out, and everyone then pays Delb 20 copper for food and board.

“Knews I’d see ’em back agin” – Delb, sweeping them into his coppers jar

 

[Here I was caught by not being certain as to how much Yazol looted out of her own chest before fleeing. I didn’t want to err by just doling out loot and then realizing Yazol would have grabbed it. I certainly did NOT plan to include the “BBEG diary” the original script calls for! I allowed some player choices of a few weapons as loot from bandits she caught and ate, and then said there was nothing much left. I forgot one key element and should at least randomize whether Yazol dug right down to bottom before fleeing.]

 

 

Into the Cyanwood – let’s hunt some baboon!

A full night’s sleep and the vigor of life is pumping through veins once again. Early dawn sees the same five-strong party set out for the Cyanwood and a rendezvous with dreaded baboons.

(The fighters and new ranger, by the way, are all very reassuring about how the last baboon-down went. Basically they would have backed off quickly as well.)

“No need to take the fight to them if we can go round” – Onden, casting around for a possible alternative

Unluckily Onden doesn’t know the woods’ geography and how it fits with Tallywood, so he eventually [failing an INT+adv check] gives up and the two rangers follow the now-simple trail to baboon territory.

Luth is ready with his heavy crossbow and Ya with his longbow. The latter misses owing to concealing leaves, but Luth makes no mistake. Pais has waited to see which baboons are still targets and drops two more with blue bolts of energy from his Magic Missile spell.

The baboon troop pulls back, but Luth, studying them still, realizes a big leader ape is rallying the troop. He describes the ape to Pais [both make good INT checks] and a second MM triple-bolt slays the lead baboon.

That’s the end of all resistance and the party progresses to where the trail dips through a clump of bluish weed to a hidden shaft.

 

The lair? Warily

Onden stops Ya before the new ranger can walk into the clump.

“An ungodly look. Let’s be careful” – Onden

“I wonder what that would do if you rolled it up and smoked it?” – Pais, collecting an Inspiration

Sure enough the cultist has mimicked walking into the vines then skirted them. Something acid-like is secreted from bruised stems, Onden finds. The party pick their way carefully round.

It is a rough-cut but reasonably level shaft into solid earth and stone, broad enough for one brawny man and tall enough for Pais, the tallest at 6’3, to stand upright. No light can be seen.

[Luth asks for his background to help in studying the vicinity and gains Perception+adv]

“I don’t like the look of a couple places up around here” – Luth, gesturing to possible ambush places above on the slope

The rangers check and conclude sentry-posts, maybe? It tends to agree with the picture of a cult lair, even if the entrance doesn’t.

 

The dead stand guard

Ya is probing in the lead this time with a trimmed branch, and a short way in finds the tunnel opens out. He senses a slight movement. As he pauses, two shambling, stinking figures move to block the way forward. Once-strong armor has deteriorated down to the bare rivets. But the rusty blade each wields is ready.

Inits: Ya, Luth, Pais, Hobgoblin zombies, Onden

Ya lunges forward using the branch as a makeshift pole: his strength propels the creature backward, opening a gap for Luth to shift forward and level a cut at the other. [An excellent makeshift attack+disadv then a nat 20 STR check] He is not as lucky and his longsword fails to breach the creature’s armor. [DC13 DEX] To Luth’s surprise a glob of stinking spittle flies from the thing onto his face, blinding him. Even worse, the thing’s sword slams round into his unshielded side, and, delivered a stinging blow to the ribs, Luth stumbles back, clawing at his eyes.

Pais throws Ray of Frost at the nearest but only manages to freeze the wall. The other hobgoblin moves back to confront Ya. Ya moves back, dropping his stick. He draws his swords.

Onden, seeing Ya about to be isolated, steps forward and uses his swords cunningly, stabbing through its decrepit armor. The creature barely reacts. A stench as of long-dead flesh seeps from the cuts.

Luth by this time has checked his ribs: they are still intact and he is still in the fight! [Takes second wind, recovers the 6 dmg]

Ya bounds forward to join Onden, aiming at the wounded hobgoblin. It staggers, clearly nearly out of the fight. Pais waits to see what Luth will do then decides to try to finish the wounded one, and freezes another section of tunnel wall. The two rangers both dodge spittle and ward off the hobgoblins: one, clearly on its last sinews, pirouettes, and the other clatters its pitted, part-broken sword off Ya’s forearm guard without harming him.

Onden finishes the tattered hobgoblin and slams a deep cut into the undamaged one below its guard. From the depths of the tunnel another shambles into view. Ya decides to keep focusing on the immediate – which is his lifestyle really – and hacks it down with two short swords.

Luth weaves past his mates, hefts his shield into the third hobgoblin’s face, and vaults past it, cutting back – but the last cut misses. He’s isolated in the small pool of light from his copper coin!

The hobgoblin seems confused and moves rapidly – pushing past Luth’s shield and forward into the wall of the chamber!

Pais no longer has line of sight and moves up, hurling another Ray of Frost [+Disadv] which strikes, buckling the thing’s knees.

Onden, rushing around the corner, finds the thing’s head bowed down and strikes it off [nat 20]. Layton moves up from outside, setting the new rearguard at the chamber.

 

The cultist

It’s a long-disused watch-chamber, roughly fashioned, with a shaft leading away deeper. The shaft seems to be a T-junction, as there’s a right-angle turn right not far down. Onden looks carefully at the cavern floor (not waiting for Ya this time) and shakes his head:

“Could be anywhere” – Onden

On a whim Luth opts right, and that soon forks. Ya’s opinion, after studying the floor and walls, is the right-hand fork is the more likely. Luth and Ya follow the faint tracks and find their fingers poking through what looks like a solid wall!

Inits: Luth, Ya, Cult leader, Onden, Pais/Layton

As the illusion drops Luth leaps into an unlit cavern: his Light coin allows a target. A blast of heat rolls past both Ya and Luth. They ignore it. Luth’s longsword flashes but the cultist evades and – out of nowhere – sweeps back with a scimitar. Luth parries off the poor blow. Ya approaches his blind side, but gain no advantage. As the ranger attacks the cultist gestures: Ya shrugs off the glow forming around his head and slices his opponent twice. The cultist shifts around – faster than Luth can react – but the cavern is still blocked by oncoming adventurers! Foul violet radiant damage baths Luth; he sees the cultist making a curiously hilarious gesture but shrugs that off. Onden moves up close, pins the cultist at the wall, and impales the man(?) with both blades! Pais calls Layton up and bravely enters, throwing Ray of Frost [and using his Inspiration for advantage!] and the cultist is slowed.

Luth closes in next to Onden: no time to waste on shortswords! He feints up with shield then impales the cultist into the wall with his longsword! The man goggles at Luth through huge yellow, bloodshot-seeming eyes but Luth firmly jams the palm of his hand down on the grey straggling hair and wrenches his blade back out. The man drops lifeless to the ground.

 

Assessing options

This cavern is a sad refuge. It doesn’t look much like long-term quarters, though there is a makeshift bed. If other cultists stayed here they did not leave much. Pais reclaims s component pouch, and the party gathers up what must be personal loot of the cult leader. At first glance the highest-value items seem to be his two scimitars.

The five discuss options of carting the body north to Tallywood or south to the Coach, or exploring more of the tunnels in search of cult treasure.

“Who’s wounded?” – Pais

“I’m a bit hurt” – Luth

Pais has no answer for the weird damage [and if the fighter has a disease it is too early for that to be noticed] so simply advises rest. The sorcerer uses a cooling cantrip to chill the corpse down.

Tallywood is voted out, since they don’t have a paper from the Earl saying they are his officers.

And as they decide on marching order and light, to explore further, the session ends.

 

 

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DGA1.01: A first mission

The wrong shape

A gaggle of townsfolk and outlanders stands gawping around the bodies, laid there on the Platz in Leischport. The common knowledge is that these… things nearly succeeded in a raid on the town armory. That the fighting was hard, is evident from the slumped group of bone-weary town watch nearby, and the forlorn children asking mamas why daddy can’t come back. That they fought against things not entirely human, is evident from the odd-shaped feet, or knees the wrong way, or a tail glimpsed, or a lolling tongue much too long, among those corpses.

A majority of the onlookers are south-siders and the simple reason for that is that an open day has been declared by Earl Damose [DA-moh-shih]. Here in the well-groomed north side, where the height and breadth of the Great Temple and the Earl’s court seem to make them peer over every shoulder, poor folk and indigent wayfarers are making the most of open bridges.

Sweating under the baggage they perforce must carry – for lodgings even in the south expect at least a coin – two scouts and a defense mage are to be seen. And since they are the heroes of this tale let us meet them now.

 

The characters for this session:

Mir X, elf rogue, 5’8, lean, dirty blond hair, tan, brown eyes. His campaign gear is worn and in particular his bedroll needs replacing. Bundles of arrows bulk out his load but the shortswords at his belt have seen service. As a company scout, he excelled in not being seen.

Vir Onden, half-elf ranger, near 6′, hair-colored hair and clean-shaven at the moment, shabby equipment, and his backpack is split at the seams. Bundles of arrows bulk out his load, too. As a company scout he excelled in trail-blazing through forest.

Pais Ullman, human sorcerer, 6’3, thin with no real muscle tone, dark haired, very tan, startling blue eyes. He struggles under the weight of a near-useless backpack, crossbow and dagger. As a regimental defense mage he was known for close-quarters lightning-shock.

 

Coin beckons

WIS and INT checks to give me some feedback on how aware the characters are. Mir does the best by quite some margin; Onden is aware of surroundings; Pais seems self-absorbed.

As Ullman muses what components might be garnered from the corpses, the two scouts tap him on the shoulder and reintroduce themselves.

“There’s bound to be coin here. Let’s ask and say, yer lads’re tired, what do ya want done?” – Mir, who has caught the magic words ‘and I don’t care how much it costs.’

The careless offer seems to have come from two stressed-loooking officials, one fussing over paperwork, the other probably in command. The three straggle over, trying not to move too fast in the oppressive heat.

 

The Earl offers 500 gold!

The official in charge is in fact, Earl Damose. He wants the remaining cultist caught and brought back dead or alive. Given how tired the watch is, and casualties, adventurers will do. He seems to know something about both soldiers – ‘my son served’ – and adventurers.

Apparently when things started to go wrong for the cultists fighting in the armory, a wagon drawn up nearby made off, north. Clearly, a getaway vehicle, for how else were they planning to get weapons away? It’s not immediately certain whether he drove the vehicle further or abandoned it.

“What exactly are we talking about then” – Onden

“Five hundred gold… dead or alive” – Earl

“And you don’t care which?” – Pais

“It would be ideal to bring back a live suspect with evidence of the real plan, but if needs be, dead.”

“And which way are we looking… and how much time have we to make up?” – Mir

“North. And you’ve lost hours, I’m sorry to say.”

 

The north gate

Onden attempts to gain a little more detail from the Earl’s amanuensis but he’s too flustered and busy. The ranger gets no more than “it’s a wagon, which means look on the road.”

To be certain, the three look carefully along the shrub-lined avenue north, then the turns into side-streets near the north gate, to be sure the wagon didn’t whip off into hiding. But they see nothing to suggest it, and arrive at the (now) well-guarded gate.

The town watch there is on long shifts and the original guard that was on duty last night is still on duty, sleeping standing up. Mir approaches him.

“Notsleepingsarge!” – watchman, rousing

He’s able to supply more confirmation than anything. There’s one driver, one dray and a big covered wagon. He passes on his own estimate of locations north – Schmitford is generally allowed as two days’ walk, Tallywood a little closer.

Mir passes all this back, and the three set off.

 

Heat of day

Along the north road through well-tended cropland they walk, then through less well-tended, then open wildlands.

One level of exhaustion

Onden observes the baked-hard road has not shown any trace of one particular wagon, but ahead in the distance is woodland, and the chance for shade and tracks.

[This does not count as forest, favored terrain for Onden, but he makes a fine roll and clears DC20]

As Mir and Pais rest wearily among the first few trees, Onden carefully paces alongside the trail, then cries with surprise and waves them to look.

He points at a line in the road. Little more than a scar among other ruts.

“It matches the time. We’re still on the trail.”

The three bethink them of resting up. Mir – strongly of the opinion than someone staying out of the action must have been a boss – things he’ll be very tired, and it’s worth pushing on. And then he notices an oddly regular shape in a great tree to the north, nearly invisible among the canopy and other lesser trees.

 

The Azurewood

“How about we drop off the road and bring stretch along with us?” – Mir, to Onden

The three make a show of camping on the verge, and Mir manages to lose the last usefulness of his bedroll. He shrugs:

“I can meditate in the woods” – Mir

“You can get arrested for that… oh – meditate!” – Pais

Onden leads the awkward scramble, through the blue-tinged leaves of trees right of trail, across the grain of the land. Though dry now, many small courses make this surprisingly rolling. Mir presses his elven ear to one such course and decides water could be dug, not far down.

 

The Coach

At length their “loop around under cover” gains them earshot of the Coach, a lone inn at the trail-fork, where one arm heads north to Tallywood and another east to Schmitford. Grundle the dwarf smith is singing a dwarf song while tinkering with a pan. Then Delb the landlord has food ready, the dinner-gong is sounded, and the very small staff gather in the common room.

By that time the three adventurers have crept close enough to work out:

There’s an inn built around the base of a huge tree, but part of the structure – maybe a room – is right up high in the tree, below the canopy.

The present company:

  • Delb Mattockblade, sour-faced landlord, worried about his missing son Randall
  • Grundle Fitz the dwarf, sour on life in general
  • Lawrence Ames, hostler, guilty over his part in Randall’s fate

The occupants all know about the wagon – someone abandoned it here around dawn. The dray is in the stable now. Neither wagon nor beast supplies any more detail. [Though they aren’t thoroughly investigated, to be fair.]

 

A side-quest?

Lawrence and Mir know each other from army days and perhaps because of it, Mir fails to catch the reek of guilt from his fine-featured friend. Lawrence shouts them all three a drink, and they spend a silver piece each on an expensive meal. They soon know as much as anyone is telling them, of Randall’s disappearance a few nights back.

[The meal and drink counts as a short rest and exhaustion is removed. Pais is down to 1cp funds, the other two have some silver]

Delb is willing to put them up free if they search for his son. “An if he has fetched out fer Schmitford ya have my permisson ter kick his ass all th’ way back.”

But, money talks, and besides, Kestrel Blueleaf, a ranger who seems to have been around some months (“seems like a year or longer” according to Grundle) has agreed to look, as a favor to Lawrence. She’s actually on the trail of other prey, some weird hag.

[Kestrel is a friendly rival of Onden’s]

“If it’s coin you’re needing, there’s a job going in Tallywood” – Lawrence, pointing to a noticeboard

Schalk, forester at Tallywood is offering “a reward” for destroying whatever is killing livestock up that way. Apply to him for details.

“A solder or two passing through looked at it and said, ‘we’re going to need a ranger,’ so that reminded me of it. I’ll mention you’re perhaps needing some muscle if more come through” – Lawrence

 

A trail into the Cyanwood, and a trail to a curse

Quartering the ground around the intersection Onden, with Mir’s help, pinpoints where one individual – with an odd gait – did push off the road, north into the Cyanwood, as that section of forest is known. There’s a more obvious trail east into the Azurewood where Lawrence and Randall went to admire the night sky, more than once, despite Delb’s dire warnings of what happens to “folk as wander inter th’ woods”.

As far as they can gather from Lawrence’s retailing of Delb’s yarns, the family Mattockblade has owned the inn for generations, ever since some curse befell the founder and that in turn is tied up to a cursed tower known as Lightwatch, east in the Azurewood.

“Well, pass on what we found, then let’s get north.”

They fill canteens with fresh, good water from the Coach and set out.

 

 

Disaster in the Cyanwood

The trees aren’t close-set, but the ground betwixt is close-grown with wiry bushes. Were it not for Onden and Mir’s expertise Pais would be stumbling and exhausted in no time. As they reach what could be called a clearing, where the gilded sky stares down, Mir calls warning.

“Something’s in the trees!”

Initiatives: Mir, Pais, Onden/baboons

Round 1: Mir’s first arrow is a good one and with a horrid screech an ape is pinned as it drops to the clearing. The rogue stays near his comrades. Pais, walking ahead of Mir, attempts land a crossbow bolt on another but the ape, keenly aware of danger, drops to another branch before leaping to the ground. Onden, in the lead, pulls and looses his longbow and though it is a strong shot the baboon dodges. But at the same time two apes leap in, and one manages to sink its fangs into Pais’ arm!

Round 2: More beasts run along branches as Mir drops his bow, produces shortswords, and shifting closer to Pais, impales a second baboon. Another makes a snatch at Mir’s belt but Pais can’t see what that might have been. The sorcerer beams a ray of frost up into the tree but his intended victim drops clear. Onden, like Mir, drops his bow in favour of shortswords but they evade easily. It snatches a dagger out of his belt. Another grabs Pais’ component pouch as he’s knocked flat, possibly dying. Both Mir and Onden receive severe bites!

Round 3: Mir vaults the nearest baboon and leaves at a run, Onden helps Pais [who nat 20s the death roll] up and they both run after the elf as fast as they can, given Pais’ lack of skill and the slower pace of both. The baboons pursue both along the ground and through trees, but more in show than in earnest – just as long as the intruders keep running!

 

Solace at the Coach

“Why would anyone go into that fucking wood? It’s lethal!” – Mir

“Why would anyone spend time training fucking baboons?” – Pais

“Well, that’s a turnip for the books!” – Delb, seeing them come back worse for wear

 

Broth provided and rest permitted, Mir updates his friend.

“OK Lawrence, that was less than successful. We got chased out by ferocious baboons.”

“I don’t blame you. They have huge teeth, right?”

“And their bottoms were even more frightening!”

“That’s so like you, Mir. Laughing in the face of terror. Except for that one time…”

“Yes, when terror was in the face of terror.”

 

Re-prioritising

The three discuss options. Kiting seems a good possibility, picking off a few baboons at a time. On the other hand Delb’s offer to lodge them for free is now pressing. What to do? They promise Delb but the Earl and his gold has priority.

[Mainly on a random luck chance Mir finally picks up on Lawrence’s guilt. And corners him into explaining what really happened.]

Lawrence and Randall, lured by a wandering bard’s story of Lightwatch and its romantic history, visited the Azurewood and Lightwatch Tower a number of times. Then one night they were attacked by hideous undead – Lawrence is vague on this point – and Randall bravely stood them off while Lawrence fled.

The bard was looking for some document or other but dallied here to look for some “hot grandmother” or something.

Mir puts this to his comrades. At first they still see this as second priority. Best to stay on top of the trail. But Mir points out that this is a short march – just an hour in. It can all be sorted out tomorrow then they have lodging, and can work on the baboons.

Reluctantly they agree that the Earl’s gold will wait, and take a much-needed night’s rest.

 

Kestrel Blueleaf

Early next day, fully restored, the three set off into the Azurewood.

Some five trees in, an arrow slams into a tree, next to Onden’s head, and a woman’s voice calls from above:

“Tag! You’re it!”

Onden races off after Kestrel. The other two agree he’ll catch them up, and push on. Perhaps 50 more trees later they come in sight of a tower-top and begin cautiously checking the area.

By this time, in between sporting in the woods, Onden has piqued Kestrel’s curiosity or sense of rivalry and she follows him back to rejoin his comrades.

 

The tower and chapel

Lightwatch Tower has an attendant building of substance annexed to it. Pais’ opinion [DC15 on religion] is, probably a chapel or shrine. Both are long neglected, but still sturdy.

Kestrel agrees there are at least three ways in. There’s straight into the chapel, or up and through a high tower window, or there’s the rear escape tunnel from Hag Yazol’s lair.

They work their way round, to view the tunnel. Mir spots a gleam of gold… something, up in the tower. A guard, he guesses.

“They are shiny skeletons,” Kestrel warns, “guarding the buildings. Yazol’s lair is roughly underneath it all.”

 

What’s happened to Orlin Swift?

“I was chased out by spiders and I’m sure she’ll have laid all kinds of traps there now, but I did pinch some shit she stashed there” – Kestrel

Kestrel produces a lute and a notebook. Pais recognizes them as his friend Orlin’s. The letter he got matches the notebook.

“Shit, this is the woman he said he was looking for. He wrote me, ‘can a fiend-saint be as attractive as she sounds?’ And Mir: I don’t know what the document was that your friend Lawrence mentioned. We may never know. Orlin! Idiot! You always did think with your dick!” – Pais, half-angrily

 

A fourth approach

Knotting the two lengths of rope they have, Mir and Onden prepare for an ascent.

“What’s my job – sniper?” – Kestrel

“Yes, seems right. We both lost our bows in the baboon fight” – Onden

“^&%^!! &^%&%^!! baboons!” – Pais

The four run over the plan.

  • Mir will climb first, with the first length of rope. It can be made fast up top, probably through bars of a tower window near the chapel top
  • Onden can either climb up next or tie the second rope on, depending how much play there is, then join Mir
  • The two are sure to be able to help heave up Pais
  • They all have good sturdy clubs, whittled from branches, which will be of some use against skeletons
  • Kestrel covers the climb then plays it by ear

 

Kestrel’s fancy shooting

As Mir gains the top of the chapel roof – low-pitched, and lead-covered – there’s a smart metallic crack above him as a shaft from Kestrel hits the guard skeleton. Mir studies the climb up from here: it’s formidable. He ties off the first length, around the stone bar of the first, reachable window, and throws the tail down for Onden.

He next eases a short sword out from where he has it tucked and starts levering lead up. A crossbow bolt slams down next to his work-site, but then there’s another metallic crack, a cry of “gottim” and a ringing hollow bouncing noise as the skeleton’s skull bounces off and down the full height of the tower.

Down below, Onden has climbed up enough to grab the knotted rope, tie off his length to it, and continue climbing to the roof.

Mir keeps a weather eye open above, and sure enough another skeleton does present its crossbow. He wiggles back hard against the tower, so it has an impossible angle for a shot. Pais can see it, but it’s a little outside his range, on the angle. Mir wraps his cloak around a club, waves it forward into line of sight of the tower window. The crossbow looses and at the same moment Kestrel’s third arrow takes that skeleton’s skull off. Another hollow bouncing sequence.

[Bit of ‘hey, is critting undead a thing?’ from Pais’ player but it’s more treating a crit as bypassing the skeleton’s resistance to piercing damage, as the arrow hits a weak spot.]

Third up and long-delayed, but now safe, Pais uses knots and a loop to hold on, while the two scouts haul him up.

 

Ceiling full o’ spiders

More lead, and lathes supporting it, are levered away. The cavity beyond is full of thick, dark web.

“Well it’s a good thing we have torches” – Pais

As the annoyed, large, spiders swarm, the three flame them back. The damage just needs to scare them enough to persuade not to attack.

“Am I still sniping? What’s the plan?” – Kestrel calling

“Yes join us” – Onden

“Throw down the rope end then”

With Kestrel swiftly across and up, she briefs them as much as she can. These are flying spiders – they float on spun web – not the big ones guarding the lair – and they’ll swarm you when you get down.

More torch-themed ideas are enlarged upon, and with flaming torch circle and torch-on-rope a good circle is cleared. It seems intensely dark within, even to elven eyes. But as the area of burning webbing expands, two more gilded-seeming skeletons drop down out of the webbing.

 

The darkness lifts – a little

Pais wiggles free a chunk of lead roofing and casts Light on it, and drops it through. He can pick out gilt gleams, while the others see  the two skeletons clearly, in monochrome.

Kestrel immediately drops one as it starts assembling, but the next couple of tries are fruitless.

“That one’s dodging” – Kestrel

“Dodge this” – Pais, using Ray of Frost to slow it

“Nice!” Kestrel, immediately scoring another nat 20 and taking its skull off

Both skeletons appear to have been using a club of some sort.

Mir and Onden clamber down to the circle of torches. A circle of visible chapel surrounds them: the darkness presses in otherwise. Mir hefts one of the skeleton’s maces and tests its balance. Then he leans in closer.

The bones of that skeleton are gilded. He tries a test scrape. Yes, gilded.

 

A boss skeleton?

Examining what they can see, one definite entrance into the tower can be seen. Pais wiggles round and begins descending…

[DEX check not good!]

As he joins the ruins of his backpack, which has preceded him, Pais realizes that just on the furthest fringe of the darkness, opposite the tower entrance, a gilt figure is visible.

It steps forward further into the half-light. In its forehead glint the facets of a gem.

Mir weighs the mace again, judging if a throw is justified.

The skeleton raises its long-bladed sword, and its other open hand palm up, and a dreadful screech comes from its mouth!

 

 

And the session ends…

 

Not as bad as I’d feared nor as good as I’d hoped. I have a lot to learn about 5e, even after playing in the I [heart] Dread campaign, and listening to a year’s worth of Critical Role. On the bright side, I did prep a side-mission off the character connections with people that may turn up at the Coach, and that worked in well, much more convincing to have Kestrel more interested in her own prey than bailing out the guys in a neighboring forest. On the bad side I mishandled the baboons pretty comprehensively.

I have no idea if I handled the fleeing cultist as the writer may have had in mind. The adventure falls into the common trap – among fantasy material – of making every location very distant without justification or logic. Imagine if in a modern heist game someone fled inner London. You’d be surprised if the next report of them was the Grunewald, and not, say, Staines or Reading. I came up with the compromise solution of a wagon, that would have been needed for the heist, being traceable, and that in turn either linking to Tallywood, or the cultist being trackable with a Hard check.

 

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