SB26: A battle and a hot scent to Realmsgate

Characters for this session:

Brother Thomas, L6 cleric of St Cuthbert

Edgar, L6 wizard

Sir Belmont, L6 paladin of Hieroneous

with Barky, L6 southron (and NPC this session)

and Oswald, NPC L6 fighter

ably assisted by 

Vert the cooshee

A command from Athelred, Father Superior of the Cuthbertites of Realmsgate, sends Thomas Oswald and Edgar out east to investigate a ruined keep on a small peninsula or headland. They have left their comrades Barky the southron and Belmont the paladin to finish up matters in Realmsgate. Now, let’s reunite the party!

 

[1000xp is handed out to cover the last 2 sessions.]

Eastward to Cromore

Belmont returns to the Ostler’s Greeting, to find no familiar face. He approaches the proprietor:

“Where’s the rest of the guys?”

Referred onto Gussie, and “your room” Belmont finds Gussie, who brings him abreast of events. Belmont is a little disturbed that Barky – or “Barksie” as Belmont decides he’s named – is still somewhere about town. But he agrees to fall in with Edgar’s outline – as described to Gussie – that he adopts a ruse! Gussie is to let it be known that Sir Belmont is off to join the other members of his order, to the east.

Belmont seeks the large, unadorned temple of Pelor, locates Barky “resting eyes while meditating horizontally” at the back, and calls him to action:

“We’re off to find some trouble!”

 

An uneventful journey sees the trio arrive in Cromore in plenty of time to get settled before an evening meal at the Drunken Cockatrice. Of the men they are seeking, only one Hingmund, their groom, is about. The others have gone a-scouting.

 

An ethical plan to not just attack

Come the dawn, Oswald, Thomas, Edgar and Vert arrive back, the first three tired from broken rest. The reunion is cheerful!

Since the early traffic has already left the DC for the routine of fieldwork, Edgar first checks about the ruse – in other words, that people believe Belmont is off to join Hieroneous.

“Which is actually something I want to do, eventually” – Belmont

“Oh no doubt no doubt, though for me, my ass itches with the thought that there is adventure to be had, in Realmsgate” – Edgar

“You sure that’s not piles”  – Thomas

Edgar rises and heats his trouser-seat at the hearth. He shifts and adjusts his pants – riding is still uncomfortable.

“I thought so. Piles” – Thomas

“Let’s do some conspiracising” – Edgar

In short he updates Belmont with all of the events of last session’s scouting. The evidence is there that the keep does bear investigation. Thomas and Oswald have nothing to add to this outline.

“All I have since thought,” Edgar offers, “is that we can’t just go in, um…”

“Mob-handed?” Thomas suggests.

“Yes, good word. We’ve got to at least ask them their business. A light doesn’t mean Hextor-evil-evil. But now we include a paladin!”

Edgar outlines a loony plan by which Belmont and he puddle about at the edge of the woods nearest the keep, pretending to be setting up camp, thus lulling the keep into the sense that they are small threat and can be investigated. Belmont can then detect evil. The others will be hidden well back. Bait, and trap, in other words.

The plan seems to be the only one so the discussion swings to who really ought to be out in front, and what the back-up or “trap” force might do, quickly, to support the “bait” force.

The bait force eventually settled on is Barky and Edgar (and Vert). To put it another way, the idea of detecting evil is put by, in favor of just observing and making a reasoned judgment. The others, all heavily armored, will be ready to horse but hidden, positioned to swing out of the woods. And this should take place in early evening, where the bait will seem convincing and guards’ energy will be low.

They have time to sleep. Before turning in for a much-needed nap, Thomas advises Edgar of this cunning plan:

“If an enemy caster presents, give Vert the attack command, and I will cast Silence on him as he rushes.”

He also assures Barky and Edgar that Fireball can be used into combat, with the protection he plans to supply Barky with!

[Edgar has quite a lot to swap out, ready for a mass attack. With the possibility of a caster he packs his brand-new Dispel Magic, and an extra Protection from Arrows in case the keep is full of creatures with crossbows or javelins.]

 

The battle of the disorderly initative

According to plan, then, the late-afternoon light flushes the southern edge of the woodland rosy as, just at the eastern fringe, two individuals begin amateurishly bivouacking. The loud, town-accented tones of the scholarly one seem to invite help.

Sure enough, a detachment sets out from the keep. The light is still good [both Edgar and Barky make good Spot rolls] and Barky has a clear view of a particular design of armor.

“I think it’s safe to say they are evil… those are hobgoblin soldiers” – Barky

But then, Edgar over-eggs the pudding, conspicuously acting as though he has no idea the detachment is approaching. [I don’t know why, the plan is just to wait until they get close. I lost focus maybe?] An alert hobgoblin gives the others the right-about and they turn to march back.

“At them! By St. Cuthbert and the blessed Hieroneous!” – Edgar

Initiatives:

  • Belmont/Barky
  • Oswald
  • Edgar/Vert
  • Hextorites
  • Thomas

[The GM hands Barky over, and as another bad decision I try to mind him.]

Belmont spurs Dobbin out of the wood and to the full gallop! Hearing the pounding hooves, Barky cries “for adventure!” – then sweeps up his greatsword, and bellows:

“By my ancestors!”

And rages, and pelts towards the hobgoblins. Oswald too spurs his mighty horse to the gallop!

A glowing red bead arcs over Barky, Oswald and Belmont, and the cadre of hobgoblins erupts in searing flame! Edgar swings his masterwork quarterstaff with a masterful air and walks forward, Vert pacing eagerly at his side.

From behind the crumbled curtain of the keep, a trumpet sounds.

Thomas kicks his horse on – it is not battle trained, but can bear him swiftly! He guides his mount off to one side, just in case the opposition have a caster with Fireball.

[I don’t recall a discussion where Thomas switches to the spare warhorse. And he only intends to get close to the battle then dismount, very much as Oswald does. So I think he is still riding the palfrey.]

Already ahead, Belmont spurs on, over the ash and twisted remains and onto the southron. [He wishes to make a friendly ride-by attack, on Barky, casting Protection from Evil on him. A Ride roll achieves this as x2 movement, which by coincidence is the correct rate for ride-by.] Barky runs ahead… Oswald jockeys his warhorse along… Edgar (regretting he has no time to retrieve the rope he left prepped on an overhead branch) runs at full pace. He is overtaken by Thomas, who rides a respectable distance apart from Oswald and Belmont.

[This is where the nonsense of D&D initiative really comes out wearing a topper and tails and does a jazz-hands tap-dance. Instead of being able to sweep up and attack together, all four ‘fast’ adventurers arrive on their own init order and have to try to bail one another out as the opposition – who all move on the same bound – deal with them in penny-packets.]

Belmont can see a flag, rough-planted – and it is of Hextor! He rides closer. Barky, still running at full pace, overtakes Belmont. The crumbled curtain offers an easy way for a speedy, nimble-footed southron to bound in! Oswald rides on, but slowing, looking for a good place to dismount. Edgar runs on too, through his Fireball’s handiwork! Thomas too rides on.

Three imposing figures emerge into the keep’s outer ward: an armored man, and two Merrow, each bearing a long spear.

“Run!” the man calls back over his shoulder, then: “by Hextor’s Fist! I’ll fight you!”

“Haha! You are but grist for Pelor’s mill!” Barky yells back.

Belmont pats Dobbin’s mighty neck:

“Do you feel like invading!?!”

[He rolls a 2 on spot – but the GM allows him a ride roll, he makes 31, and is allowed to make the escalade!]

Dobbin leaps over a second swathe of ruined wall, ending at around 120 degrees from the Barky-enemy axis.

Barky leaps from stone to stone and up in a great leap, brings his greatsword flailing down – missing all three – and takes a flesh-wound [13dmg] from spears.

Oswald swings off his steed at the edge of the ruined wall, adjusts his helm, and balances his halberd. Way back behind him, Edgar lobs his second fireball on the Merrow-Barky locus (having been assured by Thomas that Barky is effectively immune to fire) and the flame washes over the outer ward. Barky chortles as he finds as he is indeed unscathed! It reminds him that he too has a necklace of fireballs… but the Merrow and armored foe don’t seem too bothered by the flame either. [He reaches this conclusion because the GM does not even bother to say what effect the Fireball has.

Notes on the Necklace: “If the necklace is being worn or carried by a character who fails her saving throw against a magical fire attack, the item must make a saving throw as well (with a save bonus of +7). If the necklace fails to save, all its remaining spheres detonate simultaneously, often with regrettable consequences for the wearer.” But, from Endure Elements: “The spell protects the recipient’s equipment as well.”]

Barky is struck mightily by the armored man, who drops back – Barky’s counter-strike glances off his armor – as the Merrow spears lance into Barky as well. [37 then 26 damage. The GM describes Barky’s strike, reaching AC27, as “missing” which is about as unhelpful as a GM can get.] To make matters worse, Belmont, Dobbin and Barky are all Slowed!

Thomas swings down near Oswald, having raced in as well. [A full move to ride and dismount safely]

Belmont heroically advances Dobbin betwixt the Merrow and Barky! His Mobility allows him to avoid one Merrow spear, the other nicks him. [12 dmge] Barky grasps Dobbin’s mane, so as to be drawn out of combat. He yells (slowly):

“Wee haaave tooo puuullll baaaack!”

Oswald clears enough space for Dobbin to leap down, and holds. Edgar can’t gain line of sight on the action so simply keeps running. A quarrel plunges at him but his Mage Armor thwarts the shot.

In the ward, the Merrow and armored Hextorite forget to attack. Just outside, Thomas assesses the situation, then (insanely brave, or tactically naive) advances over the wall, and casts Prayer, remaining in offensive posture. It reaches the defenders, including – possibly – the crossbowman hidden up in an intact tower on the ward’s eastern curtain.

Belmont rides out, drawing Barky with him. A Merrow spear glances off Dobbin’s barding.

“Iiiiii’mmmm ssloooowwweedddd!!” – Barky, trying to cue Edgar in

Oswald steps back a few feet so as to be in close support to Belmont. Leaving Thomas horribly exposed.

“You’ve left me horribly exposed!” – Thomas

Edgar, now with good line of sight to the outer ward, scans the area eagerly for the crossbowman that dared to target him, and the action in general. He does see the jackanapes! And, [with a 20 on Spot] becomes aware that a troop of Warg riders has emerged from the woods north-east of the peninsula neck – trapping he and his comrades!

“Ware behind us!” – Edgar

Edgar focuses his considerable arcane skill and casts Dispel Magic onto the Slowed pair. By good fortune as much as anything, Belmont and Dobbin are freed from the effect. [Barky loses his Protection from Evil] Another crossbow bolt whips near Edgar.

In the ward, the armored Hextorite and both Merrow rush Thomas, who – sadly – has not adopted a defensive posture. He is struck several times, though his heavy armor, and the deadening effect of Prayer, saves him from a fatal wound!

“Urrgghhh… Another of those and I’m deaaddd…” – Thomas, on 6hp

In his pain, Thomas forgets it is his turn. The GM folds time back on itself to retcon how things happen from here!

Thomas pulls back defensively over the wall.

Belmont hears Edgar’s warning, but there’s a comrade to save! He whips Dobbin’s head around, drops his lance and, making a ride-by friendly attack on Thomas, lays hands on [18 healing] and leaps his mighty steed once more over the wall and up to the foe! Taking another Merrow-spear [13 dmge] he grasps his sword-hilt for close quarters. Dobbin chivalrously avoids attacking the enemy. Behind him, Barky yells:

“Puullll baaackkk!”

and grasps his Necklace of Fireballs ready to hurl it once his comrades are clear.

Oswald [seeing the Merrow have used their AoO] ignores Barky, advances over the wall and finishes one Merrow off. Edgar, glancing back again to gauge the Wargs’ distance, notices that the GM has broken init order to advance a line of Orcs from the same woods. He’s still too far away from the Wargs to use something useful and does not care to risk the odds of them all being affected by an area spell, so moves closer to his comrades, throwing up Shield. The Wargs and riders race after him, and the strung-out line of Orcs take an extra bound, while in the Ward, the Merrow and Hextorite, having been retconned out of their turn, do nothing for the second time. Thomas pours healing into Barky.

Belmont draws his sword and strikes twice while Dobbin, forgetting his training as an elite warhorse, just acts as a stable fighting platform. The Hextorite’s powerful armor and charms resist the best the paladin can do, but Belmont does catch the Merrow with a good strike. Barky is no longer slowed and, with another cry, leaps up the stones, and around Dobbin and the enemy to flank the Merrow. He takes a cut [16 dmge] but in return, cuts the Merrow down!

“Grist for Pelor!” – Barky, pointing his sword-tip at the Hextorite, but rolling poorly on Intimidate

Oswald, as the GMPC, adjusts his enemy’s stance to suit his movement, and lunges his halberd forward. The Hextorite parries, drops his sword, and takes one of the rounds he is owed to swig a potion – then disappears! As the others grumble about AoO and potions, Oswald reaches his halberd around in the hope the fellow is merely invisible.

 

Holding the field counts as victory?

Edgar is unaware that here and there, Hobgoblins are abandoning the keep: he’s focusing on those excitingly-sharp Warg teeth! Vert offers no cues. Rolling a bead of molasses and flicking it out he casts Slow on all six, moving closer to his comrades. The Wargs simply keep racing.

“Stink for me!” – Edgar

“An illusion!” – Thomas

Edgar musters his limited knowledge of illusions and [good Spellcraft] realizes the Wargs aren’t really looking at any one target. But then he, Barky, and Thomas are Slowed again. [Vert’s status is unknown] The Wargs ghost through them to the wall and fade away. The line of Orcs, a long way back, continues advancing, while Hobgoblins scramble down the keep walls to assess their chances with the low cliff and surrounding sea.

“The tower is safe! Get into the tower!” – Edgar

Thomas knows Barky has been hurt again, and is Slowed too, so begins lumbering onto the wall. By the time he reaches Barky, the southron has shifted to lean against a wall, calling for aid. [13 healing once he does arrive]

Inside his heavy helm, Belmont hears “the tower has a mage! Get into the tower” and looks around for a way to do that. But even Dobbin can’t climb tower steps. He draws rein and dismounts, moving to the tower. Oswald occupies the tower. He can see Hobgoblins scurrying nervously around the keep base. [Out of their init order but it doesn’t matter] Edgar – slowly – makes his way with Vert up into the keep.

“Thomas – come – quick… or slow…”

Thomas advances into the keep too. Way back, still closer to the woods than the keep, the Orcs decide to pull back.

Atop the tower now, Oswald and Belmont catch sight of a skiff pulling out away from the keep. But by the time Edgar’s Slow has worn off and he gains a useful vantage-point, the skiff is out of long spell-range. Seemingly with no-one aboard, it draws off towards a ship with a familiar profile.

“Yep, that’s the Quick Penny,” Oswald confirms.

Belmont, by that time, has rattled down the steps. He remounts Dobbin.

“Let’s hunt some Orc!” – Belmont

Oswald clanks and scrapes down too, and heads out to gather his mount, standing loose outside the wall and guarding itself against retreating Hobgoblins.

Those not hunting, namely Thomas who is still looking for people to heal, and Edgar who is casting about the abandoned keep, and Barky once he recovers from his post-rage fatigue, haul down the Hextor color (and Thomas demands it be burned) and search. Two large lamps are the second-best loot, as well as a number of useful empty potion vials and blank spell parchments. The only real loot appears to be the well-crafted Hextorite sword. Merrow weaponry is just too big. What became of Hobgoblin crossbows is unknown.

The hunters smite the unlucky Hobgoblins. They ride on, looking for Orcs, but are utterly foiled by woods and abysmal Spot rolls. Belmont becomes convinced that he has a penny stuck in his visor… and to the tune of the GM denying the woods could be covered by Detect Evil they ride back.

 

Where next? And who can be trusted?

“Oh well… it wasn’t our best strategy… but it wasn’t our worst” – Edgar

“It was our usual Modus Operandi” – Barky

Edgar glances over at the returning pair.

“I say Brother Thomas, I don’t suppose your order will have a reward for us, for cleaning this out? Or more importantly [with a wink to Thomas] I’m sure Hieroneous can be persuaded they need to clean this place up and hold it. We really need to be getting back to Realmsgate and get onto what we were investigating.”

“Until my superior comes up with another job out of town” – Thomas

“Was that his idea then?” – Oswald

“Yes” – Thomas

“That will be an interesting test. I’m voicing your own suspicions brother, but it did seem as though Athelred was eager to move us on” – Edgar

They agree that all they can do, given duty and such, is return to Realmsgate and report.

“Well, I have to go pick up good old Hingmund from Cromore, and it’s getting late. What say we head back?” – Edgar

 

A friendly conversation in the Scorpion’s common room

Night wraps the town by the time the mounts are put to rights and the comrades pay for rooms and supper once more. Edgar moves to the common room, calling for a round of drinks for all here and pouring fifty silver pieces onto the board.

“For we have shown Hextor what’s what!”

Edgar entertains the room with an account of the battle and how close to death Barky came. Thomas keeps a suspicious eye on the yokels in case some seem disappointed. They don’t. Then, as the conversation [and a nat 20 on Converse] warms the crowd, one of the yokels remarks:

“Funny all these forriners comin’ throo…”

Edgar patiently teases out the facts. There were three groups, in this yokel’s mind. Two are the comrades themselves, who arrived in two batches. The third is a single man with a red blanket, who bought a cheese and headed west, to Realmsgate, not long ago.

 

The hot scent of a cheese and a treed varmint

Edgar rises to his feet glancing around to check who is still about:

“Oswald! Hands off cocks on socks! And Mistress Glarian – a round of your local cheese! Vert! We are on the trail!”

Armed with Vert’s keen nose, the huntsmen ride at fair pace west, torches aloft in the dark, then back along a stream, then north to where Vert stops, looking up a tree. A string of lights weave from Edgar’s hands and spin up, illuminating a man crouched high up.

“Come down!”

Then, barely pausing for the man to hesitate:

Three arcane darts arc from Edgar’s hand and slam into the figure. It slumps and drops from branch to branch and thumps onto the earth.

Thomas dismounts and checks for signs of life, then trickles an orison into the man. As Thomas rolls him face up they recognize him:

It is Fumgard, the renegade tinker-cum-slaver.

“Search him well  – we need to find out what’s stopping Hieroneous from detecting his scat” – Edgar

Fumgard wears a necklace on which a wooden, laughing-face grotesque dangles. In removing that, Fumgard’s evil nature is apparent to Belmont. Next some knives are removed, and the weight of his wallet.

 

Edgar suggests that honesty is the best policy

With Fumgard well-secured in Cromore the comrades cast themselves onto the bosom of sleep. With time to re-prep spells, Edgar is ready to pose some questions.

[Hypnotism, then Suggestion]

Fumgard is convinced that if he tells what he knows, a good word will be put in with St. Cuthbert’s justice. And that he just needs to keep telling the truth.

These are the things he explains:

  1. Tinkers generally form a spy corps for Hextor. They report to Lyddax.
  2. Lyddax, master of tinkers, may possibly be one of the Renegade Brothers.
  3. The Renegade Brothers, now Hextorites, are based at the Splintered Ram.
  4. The “Ram” as it is known, is the cult gang HQ and tavern on Realmsgate’s harbour.
  5. That is the same place Barky scouted. 
  6. The Oath of the Ram is the agreement under which Lyddax offers Hextor’s shelter to the tinkers.
  7. The cult gang dealings in Realmsgate are protected by watchmen on the take, including watch lieutenant Keitel.
  8. The head of the Olidammara temple was butchered in the city sewers.
  9. Athelred of St. Cuthbert is merely a helpful idiot, not corrupt.
  10. Hextor’s seaborne force is operating out of a secret port on an island base, south by the southron lands.

And with the GM exclaiming over the cold-blooded use of Suggestion the session ends.

Threads still in play:

  1. Fumgard has to be protected from any corrupt watch and brought to Cuthbert’s justice.
  2. St Cuthbert must be briefed about the mission, and the fate of Olidammara, and the corrupt watch.
  3. Hieroneous must be contacted (possibly requiring some relay-mount riding) and briefed with the intel gained.
  4. Once Bertran’s and Barky’s intel is pooled, plans must be made for the Ram, and the Renegades, and probably other Hextorite properties in Realmsgate.
  5. As a minor detail Edgar has to establish whether he and Thomas own or are renting the pony and palfrey, and aught of them from Realmsgate.

Issues

These are partly about our incompetence as players and GM, and partly about third edition. I’ve said this privately but now I am saying on the public record, I will not participate in any more 3.0 based campaigns.

AoO is killing our game momentum and enjoyment is being sucked out of each combat. Each time we lose track of where the round is, AoO is involved. No-one seems immune from this, be they GM or player. Maybe we need to try a “flag in play” approach and moving on with normal turns then come back at end of round to adjudicate AoO? Or move to FantasyCraft rules where enemy zone of control is absolute and cannot be moved through?

“No-sell” is an unfair GM tactic. If an attack genuinely has no effect, characters need to be able to ascertain that – which they should not have to grill the GM on. Characters can see what is in front of their eyes! The GM can’t simply ignore the effect either way. And, if an attack misses by virtue of armor, it glances off armor – it doesn’t “miss” leaving no clue as to defense.

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