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.
“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.
“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.
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.
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.]
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:
Cat and Seck shake their heads:
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.
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:
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.