TI3.44: Saltlick Gulch / Tales of the Gann

The characters for this session

Fennec, L3 wizard

Cauleigh, L3 warrior

Jotunn, L5 warrior

Crompton, L3 rogue

ably assisted by the Herbal Teas:

Sage, L3 wizard

Trefoil, L2 warrior

Heartsease, L2 warrior

Wolfie, L2 wulfan

 

Making plans and laying in supplies

Last session, fleeing conscription by the Holy Father Templars, the eight-strong party decamped from the Rusty Rapier in Ironbridge and found sanctuary in Olfoot Manor, the home of lady Ezra.

When all have supped lightly Cauleigh addresses five of the eight (and unknowingly, lady Ezra, who can hear them) thus:

“Right, there are two choices – or that’s my count – some of you may be able to think of more.

“ONE: we get going now on the supplies we have and forage as best we can. That gets us right away from Wonnram and his lot and means we won’t call trouble down on lady Ezra.

“TWO: we sneak back for supplies, wait up, and use the darkness to travel more comfortably. That gives us the option of marching on when foraging isn’t an option.

“It’s a pity we didn’t quite get everything organised… but my blood is boiling even now when I think of Wonnram and that young Neghed and his ‘diplomacy’ so we’ll just have to improvise around oil.”

Sage volunteers to have a look around for combustibles, and heads to the cellar with lady Ezra. Her maid and man take her letter (of protest at the incident) to Lord Orctooth and a shopping-list from the group and drive to town.

In terms of roleplaying the NPCs I speak for them, but rotate SRs around. It gives all players some buy-in to how the Herbals do.

Fennec has – perhaps paranoically, perhaps wisely – been on watch this whole time, outside the walls. There’s been no pursuit or alarums.

The party uses the downtime to gentle the ponies to Wolfie’s presence, and discuss issues of march and dungeon-discipline. Or at least, Cauleigh and Trefoil do. Heartsease seems to be more of a go-with-the-flow kind of girl and the others are re-packing or relaxing.

The Dwarves’ ponies: Fanshaw, Barnsley, Kip, Dice, and pack pony Toto.

The Herbals’ ponies: Rorie, Mattie.

The wagon arrives back safely. Lady Ezra’s maid has bought plenty of rations: a little bulkier than adventurers would normally choose. There’s extra fodder for ponies and a simple pillion saddle for Sage. Packing proceeds apace! And by this time, Sage has emerged triumphant, with two small casks.

“One’s oil, one’s my secret ingredient to add to it when we’re ready.”

 

A dust-storm: nighting below the plateau

Although it’s still hot day, there’s an uneasy feeling among the group that their good luck can’t last. The last thing they want is to be besieged by vengeful Templars, so after a crescendo of packing – Sage’s casks are packed in separate panniers – they set forth upstream. Sage rides perched on the pillion in front of Cauleigh.

Jotunn, naturally, leads off. A Jay dances and chatters in the woods as they pass: then the party draws away and onto a barren stretch of land indeed. Dust devils rising off scree, and the sun’s glare off the trail, make for poor visibility.

Within the first three hours, Heartsease gives up riding. Not a proficient horsewoman: and although she doesn’t seem to have any vanity, perhaps she feels out of place on a pony. Her walking pace is quick, and there’s little difference in the pace.

Neither on nor over the other side of the river is any sign of pursuit. Could it be that the Templars assume the Dwarves are doing their bidding? As for the Herbals’ mission, as Sage explains it, they are more likely to attract pursuit. There was some type of fore-mission upriver at a place named Dunn, then an organised exploration of the dungeon, with Templars.

Jotunn’s call interrupts these musings.

“The wind is picking up! It’s a dust-storm! I’m going to try this ledge…”

Soon, Jotunn affirms his choice and the ponies are led up ledges formed by fractures on the plateau cliff, to a broader ledge offering some shelter for the night. Rock-paintings formed from sprayed-clay show this ledge has given shelter for an age and an age.

It’s going to be a full moon, and Jotunn predicts, a blood moon, thanks to the dust. Yes, a full moon could be a problem with Wolfie. The Herbals usually just let him run free away from towns, so that’s what happens.

 

Two wizards, two different spell approaches

For the short night, three watches are set. The ponies need reassuring at all times. Cauleigh teams up with Sage, Jotunn with Heartsease, and Crompton with Trefoil. Fennec, who is senior wizard, gets nap time. Before that, Sage draws Fennec away back down the ledge.

“I just want to  make it clear, at this stage before you teach me the second spell, how very useful having me alongside you will be.

“One of the basic things my master taught me was ‘Massa-Mana‘ as he called it. It allowed me to feed him mana. So you can use me as a battery, as it were.” [It’s CdlK, for those nerdy enough to look at L1 spells]

Fennec reinforces Sage’s knowledge of Glue-You. The Gnome says he has the spell under control, and looks forward to his next.

“What d’you mean, next” Fennec responds coldly.

“Ah. Then, we may have to re-visit our agreement with you.”

[We break off to remind Fennec he now owes Sage a second spell.]

“What you’re saying is, you’re not quite ready to teach me a second spell,” Sage concludes, and the two return.

The night is uneventful, other than silently hunting owls and a pre-dawn bat-midge battle down on the river. The moon is noticeably red. This is as Jotunn predicted – a side-effect of the dust-storm.

 

Two different warriors, two different training approaches

“We need to get back on the trail before the day heats up,” Cauleigh presses.

Heartsease is practicing her demi-lune. Trefoil joins her, but half-heartedly. He looks like he’s handled his footman’s spear for many years. Heartsease, perhaps as though she has just gained enough strength to handle it well. She really whips it around – the head screeches and whines as she spins it.

Wolfie comes loping in, up to Heartsease, gets a scratch behind the ears, and it’s time to go.

The trek begins anew, Jotunn confident that the day will be just as hot as yesterday. His immediate goal is the gullies he spotted from the barge.

“Let’s push, while we have the shade!”

 

Across the river a view of another dungeon

Cauleigh and Crompton chat about the bats – Crompton angles up to ride alongside – then uses the chance to negotiate spell-teaching with Sage. A kind of spell-for-spell trade is agreed on.

“You won’t have enormous stocks of Level One – I do – I’m a wizard” Sage proposes, then asks Cauleigh to keep this in confidence. Apparently the Wizard’s Guild has a dim view of teaching rogues.

Far beyond the river, at the limit of his vision, lit by the morning sun, Cauleigh spots an elevation in the plain. He mentions it.

“Ooh! – we were going to do that. That would be Ravenson,” Sage confidently recalls. “It’s said that the ancient people of Ravenscrag extended thus far and set up an outpost there. It’s said that relics of those times are still to be found there. And of course since then other warlords have set up strongholds over it. So yes, we were going to pick it over, on our way back to Sarnas.”

“So that way lies Sarnas,” Cauleigh broods.

“Yes, should the party decision be to go that way we’d be happy to show you the way, if we are able. And travel with you, for safety.”

“We have to head south, but after that, Sarnas. And standing still seems to mean people finding reasons to do things for them.”

The two discuss the Templars and the offers: Sage reiterates that the Herbals are satisfied with the contract.

 

A dogfight! Is this serious?

Ahead of Jotunn, Wolfie, who’s been scaling the rocks above, stiffens then springs! Then rolling down the slope, he and a similarly-shaggy creature come, snarling and growling. It sounds like two wolves murdering each other.

There’s nothing much the others can do, until the pair roll off the trail and right into the river. There’s a confusion of who-holds-my-reins. Adventurers to the rear attempt to jostle ponies through.

[Fennec in particular has a spell in mind, while Jotunn Cauleigh and Crompton are all inclined to intervene. Crompton generously agrees to stay back with ponies, since he is one of the pair that does handle ponies well. Sage remains on the pillion.]

“Sage, can you control the reins…?”

“Yes? Er, and yours? Fine…”

Jotunn pulls down Temerity as he scrambles up to where the creature had hidden, but slips in scree [rolls the first fail of the evening] and slides. Cauleigh runs nimbly to the water’s edge and as he identifies which is Wolfie, leaps in smashing his silver-headed Mace of Stunting onto the other. Fennec is ready with his spell but there is no need: the fight is won. Wolfie unlocks the other’s jaws from his left arm, and throws the corpse up on the bank. Dwarf and Wulfan splash and scramble out.

Up on the rocks above, Jotunn regains his footing and finds that the creature was alone.

It’s a big, tall-shouldered lobo wolf, and Wolfie cuts deep into the carcass and drags out the heart and other choice giblets and begins wolfing them down. He’s bleeding pretty freely from one arm but ignores it. Crompton encourages Heartsease to calm Wolfie down, so healing can be applied.

“Isn’t that kind of… cannibalism?” Fennec asks Sage.

“He’s… comfortable with it.”

Crompton eases the ponies round and the party sets off. Crompton heals Wolfie in part, as he passes, and Heartsease whips a bandage around the wound and heads on.

 

Wolfie runs free, kind of

“Thank you for that, Cauleigh. I’m sure Wolfie would have handled it eventually, but best not to have one of the party torn to bits just on a one-off chance. He’s very loyal. Especially to Heartsease, of course. She bought him his freedom originally.”

“Was he a slave?”

“Yes, although technically he is still a slave. We have his papers and everything.”

“Er. Can I ask…”

“It solves problems, in towns.”

“I can’t see the sense in a Wulfan slave.”

“I think the idea was, those battle-pits they have along the river. But as I say, Heartsease bought him, he’s a valued member of the team.”

 

A spot of pathfinding

The plateau wall bends away left noticeably. Jotunn peers forward and waves those following to a halt.

“There are a couple of gullies here,” he calls. “I want to see which is likely for taking ponies up.”

Trefoil volunteers to help.

“Can Wolfie smell any other wolves around?” Jotunn wonders. At the end of the party Crompton passes this back to Heartsease.

Heartsease speaks lupine, apparently. “He only scented that one wolf,” she concludes after a peculiar growfing, snuffling and gesturing kind of exchange with the Wulfan.

As Jotunn hoped, the party is able to walk the ponies down to where the gullies and gulches give onto the river. While most shelter in the first mouth, and two stand watch above it, he and Trefoil walk along the riverbank to decide on the most likely route into the interior.

His search proves a simple one. One gulch stands out.

“Horse tracks!” Trefoil exclaims, as Jotunn studies them. “What d’you make of them?”

The tracks are of at least a dozen horseback riders, about a week past, and lead up the gulch.

“This looks the way to go. Let’s head back.”

 

Salt-lick Gulch

The heat of the watch and curls of red or grey dust thrown down by dust-devils gives way to the baking heat of the gulch. It’s wide enough for three riders at a push: Jotunn opts for two abreast.

Party order:

Jotunn and Trefoil;

Cauleigh/Sage and Fennec;

Heartsease and Crompton

(Wolfie running around free, mostly behind)

“We messed up: Crompton’s riding with the hottie,” Jotunn calls back to Cauleigh.

Crompton takes the chance to ask Heartsease more about Wolfie.

“It was after I left Sarnas… reasons aren’t important… he was uh, in a cage belonging to beast-hunters, and I think… he was bound for those arenas. So I bought him. As far as I can tell his people wander. There’s things he can’t tell me or won’t tell me about them… but I do know he’s on the lookout for one in particular… family or such? ‘Pack’ is how he explains it.”

Jotunn and Trefoil call a halt: there’s the remains of a fire, and a few bones.

Cauleigh leap-frogs to point, Trefoil stands on guard, and Jotunn picks down through the layers and casts about for prints. Here, half the original horseback group camped. A few days later – in other words a few days ago – a single large creature camped and roasted mutton.

Meanwhile at the rear, Wolfie seems interested in eating something, possibly Dice, but is happy with the dried meat Heartsease tosses him. Crompton heals Wolfie the remainder of damage.

“‘rompton good,” Wolfie decides.

“There’s a salt-lick here” Jotunn announces, “maybe let the ponies have a lick or three, then let’s push on.”

Cauleigh scales the gulch wall as the ponies are led forward, then retreats as a rattle sounds. He scales to the top a safe distance from the rattler. Visibility is poor owing to heat shimmer and dust, but he can see the outline of the woods, off west. Behind him east, it’s obvious that trying to work along beside the plateau would have been hopeless: there are many slips and gullies.

Crompton sloshes water into his helmet and makes sure all the ponies get a mouthful.

 

A riderless horse foreshadows

Each hour, the heat seems to increase by half again. Their eyes seem to be broiling in their sockets. The sound of a shod horse approaching can be heard.

Whinnies are exchanged, and a riderless horse, stirrups and torn reins dangling, comes eagerly down the gulch. A deep score, dried, runs down its flank.

The Dwarves provide it some water and a small bite of fodder, but have no margin for adopting a new mount. Heartsease makes no move. It hangs about for half an hour as they push on, but seems to decide it has places to go and turns back to resume its original course.

 

The centaur

The gulch is now more of a wash – the banks can be scaled – and they can peer about to catch landmarks.

Jotunn dismounts to study a second fire. Almost certainly the other half of the original riders, perhaps eight men, probably a week ago.

Judging from the lack of visible forest, this is a good point to head due west and find that glade and stream in the woods, because the Herbals will be tiring. It’s a two-to-three hour push, and Heartsease is very tired by the time they are wihin a dash of the woods.

There, shaking out its mane, is a mighty centaur, bearing a huge polearm. Opening its mouth wide to display massive sharp teeth, it booms menacingly.

Cauleigh shakes out his cloak of plausibility, dons it and walks forward, trying to project confidence. [CHR SR nets out to -5, he still makes L3]

“Our horses need water, and shade,” Cauleigh calls. The great creature scents the air.

“Dwarves… Human! Elf! Wolf…”

Jotunn studies the centaur for signs of what it might need as Cauleigh gets close. Behind him, Cauleigh’s pony disappears as Sage is left to mind it. The centaur nickers and Lucky, the mount they abandoned at the river, walks forward.

It seems Lucky (or Hrr’hreh to give her her right name) has loose shoes and prefers to keep them. Crompton is volunteered and does his best, including some healing to a split frog. It seems all women like shoes! And the centaur is well pleased, and allows them shade and water.

 

Tales of the Gann

Cauleigh uses the opportunity to ask the centaur – “call me Chiron” – about the dungeon, snake-like monster, and illkin.

The centaur has a story of the time that the ‘rock prison’ was formed. What he names ‘a god-being’ brought some ‘terrible evil’ there. It summons forth, so they say, other demons, such as the shadow-hounds. He mentions strange twisted little Dwarfs, out on the plain, seeking meat. In recent times dog-faces spilled forth to make war on the town-people of the plain.

His tales of the ‘snake in the dungeon’ mention three snakes, according to a prophecy of the demon Gann, who called forth three snakes with the power to bite and control minions. They also have the power to mingle [their seed] with warm-bloods, taking on the nature of that mother. “That may be why the human females were pulled from that hut,” he muses. “I thought it was as a meal, but perhaps not.”

As his herd does not approach the ape colony he has no further information on that score. Cauleigh turns the talk to the illkin that follow the White Urukin.

The centaur knows of him and his followers. As long as they live in the broken lands he cares nothing. Apparently the white urukin advises the uruk-chief, or troll-chief, and has risen to this position within the last year.

They eat and drink together and having downed all of their limited wine supplies and finished all of their dried meat, the centaur seems well pleased.

Finally Cauleigh takes advantage of this bonhomie and gets some landmark-style directions around the tomb-area that hides Colairion’s treasure.

 

Survivors – a lesson learned

[LK or IQ for Trefoil and Jotunn as the riders set out in the same order. Jotunn DAROs 17 on dice with four rolls.]

Struggling towards them from their right come half a dozen men and horses. Or more precisely as they shake out and take precautions, five men, and four horses, and at least one of them is one of the bounty-hunters from the last time.

These men are desperate, but not loooking for a fight. [L1 IQ – made!]  Other than the matchlock-bearer the others bear makeshift hunting bows, and unfletched arrows. Matchlock man trades a gem-decorated native-iron dagger for a small amount of food, and advice about the stream in the centaur’s glade.

The men’s story is that they were assailed in the night by weird dark-skinned Dwarves with pale eyes, then as the survivors of that fled up the escarpments, they were set upon by something else. The last they saw of their leader, he was being hammered onto a stake.

 

A cliff-bound fight in the dark!

They set out again, across the ape-colony, using the last few hours of light. Far away on the plateau wall they can see tiny dots moving slowly up – the apes are pulling back up to their nests.

As twilight deepens, the light of twin giant ape-head eyes can be seen. Fennec and Jotunn will need to scale the cliff and get down behind the heads. The remainder of the party wait at a respectable distance.

[Jotunn rolls a fail on L1 LK SR]

SCREEE!!

Jotunn hauls out his axe desperately and clings onto the cliff with one hand, as a family of apes attempt to rid themselves  of this intruder! Below, Fennec is hard put to just stay holding on.

[Jotunn can’t use his warrior bonus, as he has no background as a cliff-scaling barbarian, but gets normal adds otherwise. In round 2 the surviving apes go berserk, which helps them but not by enough.]

Pieces of hacked-apart ape shower down and eventually Jotunn announces the all-clear. They clamber through the slimy mess. [L1 DEX SR, both make it OK] Then down behind the guardian heads, for Fennec to cast his KK.

The eyes blank dark, and the others file forward.

 

Base camp! At least for now…

Toto proves somewhat confident on steps, so leads the other ponies down. Since the doors had been shut, there are no feral apes to challenge the incomers.

From the entry chamber it’s time to re-explore the tunnels and rooms. Although it has been mere days they seem unfamiliar. But little by little the layout is recalled. The Dwarves lead the way through a rubbish-choked room and south through tunnels. Seven ponies make for noisy going.

An unexplored room with long, sac-like things strewn near the door is checked a little more carefully. The ‘sacs’ are snake-droppings. Each about four feet long!

They decide not to press further into that room and instead wind closer to the great chamber, finally unsaddling and setting up a crude manger in a connecting chamber, 20′ square, with doors that open outward so ponies can’t accidentally prevent their owners from entering.

The Herbals are all ready to sleep, especially Heartsease who has walked virtually the whole way. It’s time for the Dwarves, still fit thanks to the glade-side rest, to scout further, but the session ends before they decide which way.

 

That got us about as far as I thought. Into the dungeon but not re-clearing Level One. I achieved the main goal, to ensure the Herbals are ‘real’ and not simply expendable NPCs. The bonus information from the centaur and the bounty hunters was a nice extra.

Props

A little bit of help from Wizardawn’s generators with this one, but I took care (actually prepped!) to represent the microclimates they hex-crawled through.

A blood moon over the region signals the start of something else – stay tuned for that!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s