SB28: Up a certain creek without a paddle

The characters for this session:

Barky, L6 southron

Edgar, L6 wizard, with Vert the cooshee

Sir Belmont, L6 paladin of Heironeous

Brother Thomas, L6 cleric of St Cuthbert

and Oswald, NPC L6 fighter

The stench of Hextorite corruption hangs heavy over Realmsgate! And in particular, over the outflow from the city’s buried river, where a boat deposits our heroes. Information gained from infamous quisling Fumgard, of Hextorite operations both afloat and in Realmsgate, have brought them here after purging evil from two city bases. The five know only too well that time is not on their side! They must attempt to finish off the Hextorite cell without running foul of Hextorite-complicit Watchmen in the city!

A linear trail pursued

A 5′ wide walkway, green with damp, runs all the way up the watercourse. Party order is set up, as Barky checks for traps, Edgar commands Vert to protect Barky, and Belmont sends a mental command to Dobbin, to trace where he’s likely to come out and wait there.

Party Order: Barky (with light) and Vert, Belmont, Edgar (with light), Thomas, Oswald (with light)

The storm-water course, which is really what the river is here, is bricked in, running in a 20′ channel. Barky (and Vert) see no tracks, but there are no alternative paths. They lead the others along to where the river’s course bends left, or west. From that direction, a noise as of waterfalls can be heard.

Sure enough, it is a weir-race, perhaps to filter out the grosser items swept down. At the foot of the weir is moored the enemy’s boat. And on the walkway beside it are the clear tracks of numbers of men (and a Dwarf) moving upriver.

Edgar reaches carefully down and climbs into the boat, seeking something useful for tracking. [The GM rolls a hidden d20] Luck is with him and he clambers back out with the Dwarf’s cape.

“Vert! Track!”

Above the weir the water lies calmer, but otherwise unchanged from the lower reach. The river itself is 20′ wide, running mostly north-south, and the walkway along its eastern side 5′ wide. Thus it runs, and the layout so described changes only at the points where a side-channel feeds in. At those points a low culvert straddles the inflow. At those very few points where an inflow is from the west, or opposite side, to the walkway, a footbridge straddles the entire river, allowing maintenance of the inflow.

Vert leads the way confidently. Cross-bridges do not interest him: the enemy have made their way north along the 5′ walkway. Here and there, Barky sees enough trace to suggest that the heavy strongbox the waterman described is being carried.

There is only one real moment of danger, where paranoia calls for Barky to hurdle a culvert rather than walking it. His feet go out from under him and there’s a splash! Belmont grabs his arm and hauls him back out of the river. The tracking resumes.

At length Barky sees a trace of something NOT human or dwarf. Much bigger! In the green slime of the walkway can be traced a mighty handprint. Possibly webbed?

There’s not much the comrades can do about it, so they press on.

 

A magical light calls for a plan

Barky halts the team and pulls them back. He’s seen a glow up ahead, past his own magical flame. Its steadiness suggests a lantern or magical light.

Some quiet discussion later, Barky, slathered with gunge and slime, eases along the wall to get close enough to get some good scouting information.

[He has a great run of Stealth checks, and gets within about 40′ AND returns undetected]

The intel: the Dwarf stands atop the strongbox, supervising things. A number of figures are watching for trouble, either towards the party (likely) or upriver (less likely) and there seems to be some activity as well.

The plan: Edgar and Barky will move a little ahead without light, and Edgar will open with a Web, then Barky will follow with a Fireball gem, then Edgar will cast his second Web on. Thomas has a couple of spells in mind to follow on with, especially on the Dwarf. Belmont, following immediately behind the pair, will pass Barky his greatsword.

It’s not sure that the one-hour protections, like Protection from Elements, are exhausted, but likely.

[It’s the one-hour mark]

 

Barky goes wild on Fireballs! And a not-surprising ambush!

Inits:

  • Dwarf 
  • Edgar/Barky (adjusted)
  • Oswald
  • Other foes
  • Thomas
  • Belmont

Surprise round: Web! Barky darts quickly forward and hurls a mid-size Fireball gem, reasonably accurately. The web prevents dodging, and the fierce [4d6] flame part-roasts some of the Dwarf’s southrons as the web burns away [2d4 more]. Squealing and groans can be heard. Thomas begins the chant of Calm Emotions! Belmont hustles past Edgar to Barky’s position [makes a good Refl SV] and hands off the greatsword. The party’s magical flames are uncovered.

Round 1: The Dwarf, surprisingly, does not leap off the strongbox. But what he does do is unclear. Pretty sure the enemy are not a cunning illusion, Edgar holds up his Pearl of Power: Web!

“That worked well! Try again?” – Edgar, egging Barky on

Barky chooses the biggest fireball gem this time, advances a little further, and [5d6 then 2d4] roasts the remaining southrons, (save for one, unseen, that had been far enough back to clear the web). Now only the Dwarf remains visible. Then from the river near Barky, a huge water-troll rears up and savagely rends Barky! 34 damage! Thomas advances and casts Cause Fear [DC15]. The spell does not work. Belmont advances to support Barky, but the troll’s long arms allow it to remain his normal sword-reach.

Round 2: A crossbow bolt flies at Edgar, deflects off his Mage Armor, glances off the wall and lands at Edgar’s feet. [Spot check, makes 14, sees nothing] Edgar motions as for Slow but finds he is Silenced. He pulls back, rasping his staff against the wall until he can hear it. Barky rages, leaps over at the Scrag, but his greatsword strikes clumsily, doing no damage. He makes a desperate grab and swings round the Scrag, dropping the sword and holding onto its back. The Scrag rears back, mashing Barky against the west wall! 18 damage! Then from the few flaming strands remaining flies a southron, at Belmont, and swings with mighty greataxe! But the blade glances off Belmont’s heavy shield! Thomas advances, but owing to the narrow walkway can’t reach through Belmont. He scrapes his feet along until he can hear himself and casts Prayer. He’s only a few feet behind Belmont now. Belmont loads up with Smite Evil and smites the barbarian in the midsection, then as his head ducks involuntarily, takes it off with his backswing!

“Next!” – Belmont

Round 3: The Dwarf retires expeditiously. Now with only one target, Edgar casts Slow at the Scrag. Barky seizes another fireball gem [4d6, a mere 8dmg] and slams it onto the Scrag’s ear, while using it as a shield as best he can [makes his Refl SV, takes only another 4]. The injured, slowed Scrag dives. Barky lets go and as we come out of combat time, swims easily to the walkway and is hauled up.

 

Where to?

Thomas burns some spells and heals Barky, and as the southron rests and gazes mournfully at the spot his sword fell into the river, Vert and Edgar search around the strongbox. Belmont and Oswald soon catch them up.

The strongbox itself is still intact and locked. Oswald looks at it greedily and begins calculating how he and some other Bull-Strength-enhanced man can carry it out. The others search about for secret doors or other nefariousness, but find nothing.

Edgar catches Barky’s voice drifting up:

“Do I or don’t I? What’s the flow like here?” – Barky

“My counsel to you old friend is that we rest, recover our powers, and then go hunting Troll – there’s probably a bounty on it” – Edgar

“Bit tricky in the water”

“My friends in the Wizards Guild might help us out there… or one of the temples”

“You suggesting we haul this chest out?” – Belmont

“Me? No, I’m suggesting we hire some hefty workmen to do that” – Edgar

“We need to keep pressure on those guys” – Barky

“Sorry Barks? Which guys?” – Edgar

“The ones that fled”

“There was just one. A Dwarf. I was going to make some inquiries around tailors” – Edgar

 

A trilemma and a discussion loop

Edgar uses the Dwarf cape as a muffler to block out some of the stench from the charred bodies. Then he tears a few shreds off it, stuffs his nose, and searches them for coin pouches. He recovers 14gp worth of both charred coins, and coins off the headless southron, as well as tribal gewgaws. Barky takes over the latter’s greataxe.

“Where to now?” Oswald asks, testing the strongbox for weight.

Edgar callously kicks the charred corpses into the river.

“I’m ready to bank it all up and report to the authorities” – Edgar

“Leave that headless one. Let’s not forget we have a corrupt lieutenant of the Watch, and we’ll need overwhelming evidence, otherwise he’ll just clap us in irons” – Thomas, prophetically [GM makes a mental note]

“I wouldn’t deal with the Watch at all. Just report to your boss. I’m sure there’s some top authority in the city – like a Prince or Mayor – but you have your boss, and Belmont can report to his” – Edgar

“He’s off to the east” – Belmont

“Report… eventually. Nice fellow, I thought” – Edgar

“I thought so too” – Belmont

“We are all going to have issues getting back to any boss you name” – Thomas

“Belmont has what, a dozen fellows to back him up and verify we were told to come do this” – Barky

“But where I was going with this is, I’m going to have to brave Watch-filled streets to get over to my Order” – Thomas, wisely

“Let’s bring the eight Heironeous with us all the way” – Belmont

“I agree with your reasoning… but should we first follow where the Dwarf went to see where in the city he emerged?” Thomas, contrarily

“Once Barky is fit, otherwise no, as I’m very low in spells” – Edgar

“I was told that further up, the river is in open air” – Barky

 

The conversation seems to be on the point of leading to a decision, when it cycles back to getting Barky’s sword again. Several more minutes elapse. Belmont, sick of the nonsense, sets off south and breaks the time-loop the others seem to have fallen into.

“Bring some workmen and your friends!” – Edgar

“If you want to move the strongbox, seriously, let’s just get us hefty types to carry it” – Belmont

Edgar raises an eyebrow at Oswald, who promptly hands his halberd to Thomas and begins getting a grip on the box.

“Shall I fish out the sword first?” – Barky, attempting to re-start the time-loop

“Yep” – Oswald

But Edgar holds up his hand:

“Let’s just get a vote on a couple of things. First, should Barky dive in to recover his sword, alone, while we can’t help – which I think is insane – and the second thing is, getting Vert to track the Dwarf to see where he went”

The discussion once again cycles through exactly the same issues about the sword. The vote goes against Barky diving in. The vote about the Dwarf is confused by Belmont worrying about the Troll, but in total, the majority of votes are in favor.

 

Chain of fools

Vert, with the Dwarf’s scent strong above the water, brings the party at top plate-armored-speed to where the river unearths itself in the heart of the city. Night has fallen. The party gaze up steep – but climbable – banks to a very limited view of the gables and lights and rocky heights of Realmsgate.

“Let’s look for some signage like an inn sign, so we can take bearings” – Thomas

“Barky, you want to climb up?” – Edgar

Vert seems to trace the Dwarf’s scent easily up the bank and scrambles up. Barky clambers up behind.

“Vert! Come!” – Edgar, calling Vert back below

Barky spots the Golden Bucket’s sign, and then:

“Stand! Stand!” – Watchman, blowing his whistle

Barky stands, uncertain as to whether to run or bluff.

[Not a good decision]

“Identify yourself!”

“Barky!”

[Not a good decision]

(Hearing this exchange, Edgar nods to Belmont to go up and use his steely-eyed authority again.)

[Not a good decision]

“Barky – you are under arrest for arson and public violence”

More whistles are blowing. Belmont now clambers into view.

[Not a good decision]

“You’re all under arrest!” – Watch, blowing whistles

“We’re acting under the authority of Heironeous – chasing Hextorites!” – Belmont

[The GM does not offer a skill check. It’s now clear the preceding bad decisions are bad decisions and no-one should reinforce failure]

On the city street, increasing numbers of Watch arrive and – as the two comrades refuse to drop weapons – blow more whistles. Barky begins backing away. [Good decision] For a moment it looks as though the pair can drop back into darkness. Then Thomas clambers up to see how things are going.

[Really not a good decision]

“There’s more of them! Sound the alarm! Drop your weapons!”

Below, Edgar Oswald and Vert scurry away south.

Eventually the scene is like the Nakatomi Tower with McClane up above, and once a senior man arrives, the three are – eventually – persuaded to come along quietly. Thomas is EXTREMELY averse to surrendering his weapon, and takes a lot of extra persuasion.

Barky and Belmont are marched away to the east, into the easternmost wall tower, and locked up. About twenty minutes later Thomas joins them. But their difficulties with the law are not over.

Lt. Keitel arrives. He offers Belmont his parole, but only on condition he hands over armor and leaves his weapon. Belmont does not accept the offer. Nor do the others – though Barky has little to lose and is unfamiliar with parole codes anyway. They are each shown to a cell and locked in.

This is a confusing segment. I’m pretty sure Belmont forgets that in the city, he’s not permitted to wear that heavy armor, so handing it over means little. And I’m somewhat sure that the GM forgets – or maybe decides against explaining – what the norms of parole are for knights. A knight on parole keeps his sidearm. But equally, the GM is giving this last chance to not be locked up, the final strike against the characters. Does the offer mean that Keitel is breaking parole custom, and does Belmont know it? Or is this mere happenstance of local custom? It really would have been better to clarify, but since my character is not there, I decide not to slow things down by asking for that.

 

A night’s grace

A boat slips westward from under the wharf, bound for the docks below the shambles. But a Watchman is eagle-eyed and raises the alarm.

As Oswald Vert and Edgar scramble out, three Watchmen make it round the harbor fast enough to see them in the dark. Edgar lets them get within 160′ then:

“Sleep!”

All three slump. The pair of renegades make their way to a shack whence light beams from chinks in the wall. Edgar puts on a drunk act and asks the family within where the nearest pub might be. It doesn’t go down well. But Oswald holds up gold, offers more gold, and they agree to hide his plate armor.

Apparently the Ostlers Greeting is the nearest public house open. Knowing the back street and entrance helps the pair. They slip north across the main street – unseen by the gate watch, who are distracted – and around.

The proprietor takes the pile of charred coin Edgar pushes over, and proves willing to hide them, overnight. He also mentions Bertran has been looking for Edgar until some week or so ago. Off to the barn! And as the pair mull over ways to slip out or around to possible allies, the session ends.

 

This was a fun session! We were not rich with spells, but had enough to get by. Despite a few odd elements that probably needed clarifying, combat went smoothly – and that could well be because there were no AoO elements for people to lose their place in! Thomas’s player hates the idea of the Dwarf escaping, but I like it. Recurring archenemies are cool.

The GM has no idea where he will go with this at time of writing.

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