Welcome back! Our four Dwarf heroes Cauleigh Crompton Fennec and Jotunn have narrowly survived an ambush laid by the last half-dozen survivors of the hyena-men pursued this deep below Atharva plateau. Dubbing the dungeon ‘Fort Cullis’ the Dwarves have pushed down to a second level: but to go further would be throw their lives away!
Retreating isn’t as simple as you might think
“Well I’m all right, but I think it’s time we got out of here” Fennec rasps, and suits action to words as he moves back to the stair, torch flaring slightly in the gentle breeze.
Cauleigh sweeps up a dropped torch, grabs his pack and the unseated caliver serpentine, and stares up at the roof, picking out the ‘floating orb’ hard up against it. Jotunn scrambles wearily to his kicked-away bladed chain, then realises he is shedding gear out of his ruined pack. Between them he and Cauleigh turn it into a carry-bag. By this time Crompton has recovered his zapped dagger and the trio limp and stagger up the five dozen steps, wheezing, dripping blood, and using hafted weapons as staffs.
“We may think we cleared all of level one but there’s no guarantee,” Fennec warns as they approach to find him crouching behind one open valve at the top. Indeed the nearest complex of rooms they searched but lightly, after the deadly ghost-smoke fight and pursuit.
Crompton sets off due south confidently and gets as far as the T-junction before his recall deserts him. But after one false turn they find their way back to the ‘ape diner’ marked by the large bas-relief of a maternal ape and drinking fountain.
The apes seem strangely purposeful, but as usual the G chord whistle sends them on their business. That business seems to include raising the northern main portcullis.
From the diner, it’s not a difficult path back to their chosen lay-up point, the gnoll barrack room controlling the eastern small portcullis. An open arch lets to the east-west tunnel to that portcullis, and a sturdy door lets onto another barracks, now with smelly dead Gnoll carcasses. Small scavengers – rats and centipedes – have already been about the dead.
[Perhaps unfairly I push the players to recall layout. Cauleigh makes a fair fist of the layout around the great chamber, but the path from grand tunnel to L2 back to the ‘exchange’ takes SRs and exploration. It takes quite a while, nearly half an hour of real time, and since I narrated them through parts of the return I count 40 minutes or 4 mana recovery. Fennec and Crompton spend a few PB points.]
Jamming a torch into the portcullis windlass once they have it down, they agree on two-up two-down watch and Fennec and Crompton take the first shift.
An uneasy watch on an escalating threat
At first the watch goes well, but after a half-hour or so noises begin to disturb them. Apes screeching… a voice muttering archaic Dwarven in an undertone… a clear Elven-accented voice bidding them join forces… and then finally the noise that wakes the sleeping warriors, hounds baying loudly!
“We’re pretty sure there’s a snake-thing beyond the portcullis” Crompton prompts as they ready weapons.
The hound proves to be a magical shadow-travelling ghost hound with acid bite! In the attack Crompton decides not to risk shooting Fennec – Fennec’s pack is ripped away and his robe ruined – Jotunn’s mighty mace Temerity and Cauleigh’s lethal kukri deal fell ruin to the shadow beast – there is a breathing space – an OTIS from Fennec confirms there are no more invisible beings in the chamber – and more baying is heard circling around their chamber!
Crompton bravely [CHR SR] throws a Cateyes on himself and sights his longarm down the tunnel: panic-stricken lizardman thralls are heading in!
[The lads have seen plenty of Lizardmen running away, but none running at them in terror! I am unable to tempt Fennec to expend mana, mainly because he has next to none at this point.]
Crompton lets them pass in through the arch and keeps his sights level. The magical arquebus speaks and in the gout of flame and smoke the others glimpse a huge ghostly hound fading off into wisps.
“If we’re moving it’s time to move now!” Fennec growls, glancing back at the cowering Lizardmen.
“Right, time to retreat north!”
A second retreat and a more secure rest
Hustling from barracks to barracks to great chamber they swiftly move to the refectory. There seems no immediate pursuit and they raid the food stores.
[L2 LK SR. Fennec has left his pack behind. That’s going to hurt once he tallies the three useful/valuable things in it – the weird magic cube, the fancy abacus, and the folded up map parchment.]
With only two intact packs, Cauleigh urges them to linger long enough for some foraging in the ‘adventurer last stand’ chamber not far west – the room he got the spoilt rations from. He retrieves two mildew-stained packs and a pair of inadequate torches as bonus, and as hasty re-packing proceeds they now have to make a decision about leaving altogether.
As though to remind them of the dangers servitor apes pass them, arrest a feral ape and drag it back past them and way to the depths of the level. Its family screeches in fear.
“Don’t forget those ape-head guardians” Crompton wisely reminds the others, “we might have to do some more mountain-climbing.”
“I haven’t forgotten” Jotunn returns testily.
“Daytime is another problem,” Cauleigh adds, “apes on the plain…”
We march by night! Across the plains to Perrol
Some six hours later the four emerge from behind the illusory wall-mirror. The warriors are a lot fitter and as they emerge from the now-open doors it is full night outside. No apes hinder them as – after brief debate as to the trove in the sinkhole – Jotunn sets a beeline course for Whitespur Creek’s headwater.
Some four hours brings them to a few scattered and clean-picked bones, all that remains of their battle with the Lizardmen. More significantly, as Jotunn casts about, he sees that no weapons remain, and he sees paw-prints of wolf-kind and tracks of both Lizardmen and some type of tallish goblinkind who have ridden the wolves.
“That reminds me… I’ve got a lot of gear to juggle,” Jotunn offers, gesturing with Temerity. Maybe one of you two would be better with this dagger-on-a-chain… well, give it some thought,” he concludes as both Crompton and Cauleigh go over the pros and cons.
[Eventually Crompton elects to use the bladed chain. Reminder: +5 to DEX when stunting the blade at a specific target, +5 total adds for quality.]
Welcome back to Perrol! Time to spend!
“Howdy Dwarves! Welcome back to Perrol on the Mount! Say, so much fer takin bets on y’all comin back! Warn’t me mind! C’mon in!
“…Say fellas! Them Dwarves are back! Them Dwarves are back!”
And so greeted, the Dwarves make their way up Perrol in the early morning, check the noticeboard, stow their weapons at the Marshal’s office, greet Marshal Palweiss and pretty Molly, head back to the adventurer-approved Barley Sheaf drinking saloon, and break their fast.
As they regale the loiterers and drinkers with their many experiences they have a chance to take stock of their own luck and learn from it.
AP spend is pretty massive as you might imagine after several sessions.
FENNEC is LEVEL THREE!!
CROMPTON is LEVEL THREE!
Re-equipment is as good as can be expected
By good fortune Cauleigh and Jotunn find that the town’s locksmith can manage the intricacies of firing mechanisms and the caliver and arquebus are put to rights. Though the town gunsmith reworks its seating, Jotunn’s elite arquebus is left with a notch in its stock to remind him how close he came to death. His coif can’t be fully restored but new links are fashioned to repair it.
[There’s some general looking-up of rulebooks. Perrol is a base for prospecting so has a rough equivalent of an Esgaroth chandler. No need to go into detail. I set 50gp for a well-equipped pack but more than 20′ rope is extra, for double book price. Everyone is as clean as can be expected and has reasonably clean gear. So far none of the acid-emulsing critters they have fought have splashed on boots, so those are still OK.]
People are thankful that hyena-men are no longer raiding – and the Dwarves are given full credit for that – but are beginning to say things like: “Dang! If only them durn Lizardmen ain’t gittin’ so uppity we’d be re-founding our homestead an a’gittin ploughing done.” – though what they think about the ongoing illkin raids is unsaid, at least in Dwarf hearing.
Marshal Palweiss is sorry to hear that Samuel of the Loam’s expedition seems to have come to grief. He says he’ll write the local man’s next of kin.
He was the ‘best local guide’ but since no-one is prospecting the broken lands at present the loss does not resonate as it might otherwise have.
Reinforcements are unexpected and thus twice welcome
On day three, following a day when a drenching rainstorm sweeps down the Badlands, through the forest and clears the sky of smoke haze, the Herbal Teas straggle in looking the worse for wear. Cauleigh hears the word passed up, guesses who they are, and hustles down to greet them. The Herbals are amazed to see Dwarfs alive. Much joy of reunion! Hugs all round (except Wolfbane).
A quick reminder of the Herbal Teas: Level 2 adventurers
- Sage the Gnome wizard
- Trefoil the Human warrior [Oxtongue spear]
- Heartsease the Elf warrior [Demilune polearm]
- Wolfbane the Wulfan [bladed chain, tooth and claw]
Once they too have read the town rules they too seat themselves in the Barley Sheaf and explain that tales of disaster at Jacob’s Spur prompted them to seek for the Dwarves and then on up the tributary, and so over Whitespur. Where, according to Sage but not unanimously asseverated, they fought their way through Lizardmen.
They exchange stories and warm to one another’s company over free-flowing drinks, then discuss which way to go. Crompton draws the line at returning to Ironbridge, because Trefoil mentions mercenaries staking out the Dwarves’ ponies and a large older Uruk asking where he is. The two maps they have are not entirely helpful as to safe-havens upriver of Ironbridge. Dolem’s Spire is one possible place, a fort marked something like Eathan’s Fort is another.
To cut a long story short, hiring on with the Dwarves to escort (most of) them back to Ironbridge looks a much better option to the Herbals than staying around and hunting illkin. Fennec promises either one of Glue You or Little Feets for Sage, and the Herbals sign on for 250gp on successful arrival.
Across the plains by night again
Night march brings its own difficulties: Trefoil, marching alongside Cauleigh, suffers from the peculiar human difficulty of not being able to see well in moonlight. Luckily his long legs compensate for stumbling and he does not slow the party down.
Party order: Jotunn point, Wolfie free-ranging as sweeper, then Cauleigh and Trefoil, then the two wizards, then Crompton and Heartsease rearguard.
In any difficulty, Hidey Hole seems a good call. Sage and Fennec agree which is going to head forward and which drop back, should it come to pass.
Trouble is scented
However when trouble comes it comes with insufficient detail. After they hit Whitespur’s headwater and bear for the sinkhole, Jotunn sees tracks (other than random wilderness wildlife) overlaying one another: their own, lizardmen, and wolf-kind. Wolfie lopes in fast, grumbling “some sort of goblin-kind” and gesturing forest-ward. It later turns out that’s what he scented. Setting the sinking moon to his right shoulder Jotunn wheels and bravely [L2 CHR SR – he actually said ‘if they get too close’ but I interpret this as ‘I believe they are getting close’] walks forward alone, hollering out a challenge!
Not a goblin, but a powerfully-built Uruk emerges from the dark backdrop of the forest. More are behind him, perhaps smaller slighter shapes.
Jotunn the instigator
This session climax is pretty random. I originally thought this would be an interesting ‘passing mercenary Dwarves turn down the offer of employment with the illkin’ but it was much more fun than that.
Jotunn challenges them [L1 CHR SR] and they check.
“Not a lizard-man. Who speaks from grass height – show yourself!” the Uruk unfairly growls.
Staunch and proud Jotunn [L9 CON SR] (a full head higher than prairie grass height) faces the Uruks down.
“Whose faction are you? Who do you serve?”
“I serve myself”
“Who is your warband leader?”
“What is his style?”
“Who are you?”
“True. Challenger should name himself. Know then worthless Dwarf I am ‘Black Gorgun, killer of widows, killer of orphans, mangler of Ogres’. Go back to your warlord and tell him: so be it! I will report to my warlord and we will see you at the boundary marker, the scarecrow.”
It is agreed: the two sides will meet at the scarecrow! …now, where was that?
Like a prairie fire leaping across grass Cauleigh grasps what Jotunn is hinting at as he reports. Heartsease can see ridden wolves in the background and besides, it’s likely the enemy will chase them down if they flee. So it’s a single combat then is it? Righto, thanks Jotunn. [At least he didn’t promise fire and fury the likes of which you’ve never seen…]
Heartsease directs them towards a ‘sticky-uppy-thing with a patch of white on it’ which sure enough turns out to be a dried-corpse-impaled, the boundary marker or scarecrow.
Cauleigh the duellist
With a surreptitious Little Feets delivered Cauleigh strides boldly towards a clearer, flatter area below shallow escarpments. He has lightened his load, has shield on back, and holds Temerity.
[LK SR for Cauleigh, poor roll. Introductions take longer than 20 minutes, including the walk from conferring with Fennec to the arena itself. The LF is finished by the time combat actually begins. I also ask Crompton for a LK SR at this point, for a secret, and he scores L3.]
Meet Gariag, with mighty axe and vast pauldron
It’s not until they realise the large creature sitting on a shallow escarpment is a fullsize Giant that they scale the assembled illkin. Standing near the Giant are three Ogres, there’s a scattering of goblins and lankier wolf-riders – uncomfortable in the growing light – and a guard of Uruks. At ease waiting for single combat or profound grovelling is “Gariag, striker down of mountains, driver of trolls ogres and giants, first lieutenant to the White Uruk.”
His most distinct armour is one massive plate shoulder pauldron, spiked and chained. He bears a huge double-bitted axe. As Cauleigh’s style is translated the Uruks listen respectfully:
“Cauleigh, restorer of temple and town, defender of widows and orphans”
How he survived
Gariag is sufficiently impressed [by Cauleigh and Jotunn’s CHR SRs] that he decides to let Cauleigh take the initiative, and stay on the defensive until he takes his measure. It gives Cauleigh a chance for a giant wrong-foot feint. He darts forward yelling ‘Temerity’, steps big off his right foot [L7 SPD] and leaps around Gariag’s right flank, driving Temerity into Gariag’s right leg [DEX SR, only clears L4] and though Gariag reacts extremely quickly the blow disables the giant Uruk’s leg as his own back-swing nearly kills Cauleigh outright! But Cauleigh’s speed has allowed him to block the axe-head with Temerity – there’s a flash as they meet [L5 CON] and the axe-blade chips – Cauleigh’s helm stops much of the force – and as Gariag draws back, clearly unable to go on, Cauleigh [CHR, doubled by Temerity, SR, makes L8] stands rigid, waiting.
“I did not think – powerful blow be struck – other than Ogre. We go for now – you stay behind boundary”
The Uruk and his warband pull back treeward, or perhaps to the gap left of the woods, as Jotunn hastens to Cauleigh’s side and grabs his shoulder. Cauleigh is out on his feet! [zero CON!]
Finding an empty hole – on to greener pastures!
With a quick PB Cauleigh comes to. The deal offered seems a good one, and so the Dwarves move back and down to the sinkhole.
Which has been looted some days ago.
“Oh that’s what that Giant was carrying,” Crompton avers. “Kind of a sling-bag thing on its back – had a chest and bags in it.”
They take a bearing on the plateau and Jotunn guides them towards it, intending to keep close to it, and as the sun draws dust devils up off the plain and haze makes distance treacherous the session ends.
The characters for this session
Fennec, L3 Wizard (Combat magic)
Cauleigh, L3 Warrior (Novice Townsman)
Jotunn, L5 Warrior (Apprentice Hunter, Tracking talent)
Crompton, L3 Rogue (Novice Runebearer, Novice Roguery)