DGA2.01: A Natural Balance

The characters for this session:

Luth Starag, L2 fighter,

Pais Ullmann, L2 sorcerer,

Ya Nooskoi, L2 ranger,

introducing Lee, L1 rogue,

also featuring “Maudeville” the scribe

 

Prologue: West of Talgia

The rays of the slow-setting sun will rest on the plain a few minutes yet. Kneeling patiently in the dense thicket some fifty paces from a waterhole, Ya the ranger awaits his prey.

It slinks on its four massive paws to a sheltered spot, close by rocks, as its habit is. But this time, as it extends its snout down to the brackish seep, someone it can neither see nor smell is waiting off to its exposed flank, hidden in the thicket.

Ya casts Hunter’s Mark [bonus action] and looses a well-chosen shaft – that sinks deep behind the beast’s shoulder! Almost in the same instant [reaction] the surprised beast shifts to get the rocks at least partly between it and the direction the shaft came from [partial cover].

Ya calls on Zephyr Strike [bonus action] looses again and again his shaft flies true! [The monster shares init but the GM rules that monsters go second.] Perhaps realizing it faces one foe, the beast gathers its haunches and races as best it can at the thicket. [GM rules a CON SV to make more than one normal move while hurt and against an unseen target, and fails]

Blood is already falling freely from the creature’s flank and more blood coughs from its maw. Ya drops his bow [free action] and reaches up his maul [interact with the environment, because it is resting ready to pick up]

Ya readies his action: he will wait until it is within bashing range, then bash it! This plan works perfectly! At such close range it easily picks his movement out and leaps at him – only to have its brains dashed out as Ya smashes the maul down!

It falls back with an anguished howl and barely thrashes – then as the last few twitches subside Ya sets aside his maul and fetches out his skinning knife.

“That’s one worg that’s not going hunting the hunters no more. Reckon Kapral at the tannery should pay well for this… still, so long as there’s meat on the board and ale to be had, what care I?”

[This prologue allows Ya’s player, who has picked up his old character out of retirement, to learn about the L2 ranger stuff he never experienced. The original Ya had a stint as a ranger-fighter, I didn’t like it at all, and ruled no multiclass. Ya will be headed towards Gloomstalker. His rejigged favored enemy is undead.]

 

Pais the sage receives a job offer

Things have settled down since the incident of Count Anton, and Pais is working about the Earl’s Court as a clerk. There’s no actual money in it, but it provides food and shelter and the company of lettered equals.

He receives a visitor: Maudeville a scribe from the south of town, who explains:

“I represent a factor who has a problem that calls for your range of skills. He deals in fish, which in the normal course of things are brought into town from Talgia upriver. My factor on-sells, everyone is wealthy and income is steady. But now the supply of fish has dropped off. There have been some changes in the town – I have made some investigation and – this is where we need someone unsqueamish…”

“You don’t know the nature of the changes?”

“There is one nature of change further out which is, shall we say, rumor of a witch in a grove downriver. If true that’s unsettling and we need steady heads to sort it out… if she’s a threat to fish now she could be a threat to more later.

“Now I know it is all well to speak heroically of deeds that must be done, but we all need to eat. So to answer your next question, my factor has gone to the point of offering forty gold pieces for the right group.”

“So this is split across the group.”

“Split across, but it is pieces of shining gold we are discussing. And gold will advance your career and put fine garments on your back. I understand you may know some others… I ran into a chap hunting up there, named Ya… and he said to me that you may know a swordsman…”

“I do…”

“And both of you are in good stead, I understand, with the Inquisition, having been on the right side of a dragonborn question recently. It seems that you may need a scout with local knowledge… I may have a recommendation there. You’d know where this Luth is? Would he be interested? I’ve given you the advantage telling you how much is involved, and of course it’s up to you to tell him what the shares will be. But here is one gold apiece seed money!”

“And Ya has the same?”

“Yes, there’s little to spend it on there, but he’s looking forward to seeing you. So will Luth be interested?”

“If I know him, he’s probably been spending what he has in taverns, so yes.”

“Excellent! And as to my reasoning for a fourth: As I hear it, sending three adventurers means one-third to two-thirds casualties. But sending four may mean no casualties.”

“Well, we shall see when we meet him.”

“That’s fine, I look forward to it.”

“And what is the time-frame?”

“Given the lack of fish arriving in Leischport, soon.”

“And has anyone up there commented on changes to the water?”

“There’s a tannery up there but it seems not to leach out. I may be wrong – I’m no outdoorsman.”

“And is the tannery a new addition?”

“Relatively new, yes.”

“I think I have what I need for the time being. Where do we find you?”

“It so happens my place of business is an excellent establishment named the Netweaver’s Arms. Ask for Maudeville. They’ll tell you my only vice is three-dragon-ante, and possibly, being too erudite.”

 

[We move to finalizing Lee’s background and gear. His player has worked up a point-buy rogue. He is headed towards Arcane Trickster, should he survive. For a local scout we’re allowing homebrew backgrounds and he has one of the four Hunter backgrounds I found, though with +1 DEX instead of the Feature in the original. We double-check whether Expertise extends to background skills. StackExchange says yes. We briefly discuss the campaign scope and usefulness of various proficiencies like Medicine. He chooses a shortsword and shortbow combo, and he is ready.]

[And a quick retrofit of Pais, who graduates from quickbuild and +2CHR to point-buy and +3CHR. He also drops his ‘DnDBeyond free edition’ feat of Deep-gnome ancestry and picks up arcane adept (lightning) which better fits his secret blue-dragon ancestry!]

[Luth is perfect as is. The game proper begins, inside the first hour! Woot!]

 

Luth and Pais interview local Lee

The Netweavers Arms seldom sees any other than local patrons so raises its collective eyebrows at the sight of a strapping soldier-type and a robed clerkly type sitting in Maudeville’s favorite corner. Another new face arrives and makes his way to them.

The pair see a slim man approach, considerably shorter than either of them. He is human, a little scruffy though with well-cared-for gear, a little dusty with usage and travel but clean. He has a hunting bow slung on his back. His short sword’s hilt is scuffed, perhaps a family relic.

Lee in turn beholds first: a handsome, wide-shouldered, dark-haired-and-whiskered man, over 6′, with friendly bovine brown eyes, looking like a displaced hussar. And second: a very tall slender scholar, black-haired, whose tan skin contrasts vividly with his blue eyes.

Introductions are exchanged. Short of coin, the prospect welcomes the coppers that Maudeville’s seed money provides for ale. He explains his skills and experience, which all boil down to being familiar with local conditions and wildlife.

“You know Tal-gah?”

“Talgia? Aye, been around the area… a while back.”

“We’re headed there… it may be dangerous.”

“Well if nothing else I can hide behind you!”

As they discuss ways and means Maudeville enters and presents himself to the table. Maudeville tells them he has arrange transport, and hopes they don’t mind the smell of fish. He slides the fourth gold coin across as he confirms that his choice is satisfactory. The senior pair wisely decide to go with Lee’s advice that it’s too hot for walking, and prepare for the journey.

 

At the boat dock, security is not all it could be

Pais Luth and Lee draw right up to the keep’s stone dock. They’ve noted the general layout of the land, then the village on the right bank and a couple of buildings on the left bank. Based on Maudeville’s description of the tannery being more or less opposite the keep, they believe they have picked which one it is. The other building lies some little distance south.

“So you say this area is good for hunting?” – Luth, to Lee

“Aye, it’s not bad, that’s why there’s a tannery. Ye have ta roam a little, mind.”

“Yarr” – guard, leaning over from far above

“Yarr!” – fisherman

“Ain’t local…”

“Yarr! They be from Leischport!”

“Arr!”

Luth gives a cheery wave:

“Funny you should say that… for we are looking for ‘Ya’.”

“Try t’ale-wife! Ya’ve wa’!”

The fisherman points with his chin, and – thankful to be away from the man’s constant griping about the poor catch – the three clamber up and walk a very short distance north to what seems to be the village’s commercial heartland. The clinking of metal, to right, suggests a smith, while a scraggle of strakes next to the same building suggests coopering. A strong hint of waterwheel-noise and flour opposite on the riverbank suggests the village mill, while betwixt those two, a large awning extends out from a third, mixed-use building, under which simple tables and forms are set. Most importantly, the scent of brewing and the sight of large clay mugs impel their feet with greater purpose, to where they behold Ya.

 

Ya welcomes old comrades and a new support man

One boot up, the other boot off, the ranger Ya slouches at his ease, under the alehouse awning. It’s early evening or late afternoon, and only a few other men are drinking here. They barter produce or extra work for the ale-wife’s drafts. He has coin. As ever, he looks no further than the next meal or night’s sleep [personality trait]. His gear is stowed nearby.

[I have Ya’s player roll a d6 for how aware he is]

He becomes lazily aware of two familiar faces. Coming up off the boat dock – which is an integral part of the keep’s river gate – come Pais and Luth. Come to think of it a few days ago that clerk fellow did hand over a whole piece of gold for a job!

The arrival of the fishing boat coincides with the time that the ale-wife’s regulars will be coming in from fields. But as Lee is introduced, only the ale-wife herself is within earshot. Ya meets Lee: a useful backer-up of Ya’s own skills, and with local knowledge!

 

Lee’s recollections of the place are accurate

Now that he’s back, Lee remembers Talgia’s layout well. [A 21 on INT.] Most of these one-horse places are the same, a small number of houses based around a keep and with a shrine nearby. Talgia is a little different, it has a distinct monument to a saint named Osric. And most of the houses have a fruit or nut tree nearby.

Hard by the village buildings, there’s a garden area, and on the east side there’s an orchard. No doubt there will be a few pigs in there, with a couple of village brats minding them. At this hour, the long day will be over and serfs coming in from their field-work. (And they are, and several are now hard by and calling for a drink.)

He also recalls that there’s a local rivalry with another small town, Gaspon. Talgia is a little bigger.

Having summed this up, he puts a belaying-pin down on the table. Being a curious sort [flaw] he borrowed it from the boat.

 

The four attempt to sort out a job description and the facts around it

  1. The job is to investigate why fish stocks have plummeted and put a stop to it
  2. Given the endless bitching of the fisherman all the way up, it’s a fact that fish stocks have plummeted
  3. But they may or may not be affected upriver, perhaps a local fisherman would know
  4. There’s a rumored witch in a forest or glade just south
  5. There’s a rumor that she’s behind the problem

Ya’s experience tells him the witch must be more than a rumor. So Pais decides:

“Let’s ask around here, see if anyone can give us some details on this witch. And come to think of it I have a question about something for one of my spells.”

[I have hauled out inspiration tokens and ask the players to review drivers for them. Pais has an ideal, “beauty” and Luth takes things head-on.]

Luth’s gaze turns to the men now drinking ale by him. They are simple field hands. But Pais’ gaze drifts off hoping to see a beauty so he can ask her. Then, he hears something.

 

The voice of a young miss with a martyr-complex

Pais is looking towards the keep. Though individual words can’t be picked out, the tones of a young woman rising in some plea can be caught. He downs his ale and rises. Luth takes his cue and rises as well.

Lee too hurries after them but Ya decides to gather his gear up first.

“But what’s changed that would make the Elt Grove dangerous! It’s the cannery and factory! That is who is to blame, not Nerisha.  Nerisha has lived peacefully in the Elt Grove since we were children.  And what about the fish and squirrels?  That has only been happening since the tannery opened…”

This much is caught as Pais assesses the situation. A very young woman, barely more than a child herself despite her words, stands a little up the keep steps so as to address a crowd of perhaps a dozen serfs.

Since he’s closer to the serfs than to the girl, Pais – and Luth as he arrives – catches an undercurrent of comments that seem to be a little skeptical, though not hostile. The girl continues:

“If anything, I expect that Nerisha is trying to preserve the natural order while the tannery and factory are dumping pollution into the environment.”

 

Sir Macon offers a reasoned objection to the fuss

At this point the keep’s main door clangs loudly as it opens. A man who is clearly some generations removed from the original warlord stands there. A typical Teulon, blue-eyed and blond-mustached, and clad in snowy white linen against the sun’s glare. He speaks:

“Good people! It is too hot after your labors! Come now Freseri my dear.”

“You’ve been here before. Any idea who this is?” – Pais, to Lee

“He’s the boss, that would make him Sir Macon.”

Freseri, the girl, does not seem disconcerted: turns sharply turn back to the crowd to see how much support she has. But already three are nodding and agreeing why, it is hot, and I could do with a wet, and peeling off to walk to the ale-wife’s. They nod politely to Ya, whom they know by sight, and goggle at the newcomers.

Sir Macon seems satisfied. He pats Freseri condescendingly on the head, nods to his guard and steps back inside. The keep door closes with a great clang.

 

Interviews reveal local color if nothing else

Luth heads back to his seat. His plan was to ask the locals over a beer, anyway. Pais stays on. Ya turns on his heel and, gear on back, returns as well. Lee tries the eight or so men left, asking “does this happen often?” while Pais works through those men, to the steps, and tries to engage the girl.

He can’t make out whether she is Teulon or local, and her clothes are a mixture of homespun and better garments.

[Persuasion of 17, using his inspiration for advantage]

She is charmed by the interest of this exotic foreigner. She is Freseri, child of the village, an acolyte (so she says) of Nerisha of the Glade.

There’s some communication difficulty because Pais can’t help speaking in words of more than two syllables, but she is eager to clear Nerisha’s name and glad Pais is interested in helping the “fishes and squirrels.” She agrees to help him meet Nerisha, though only if she wants to be seen.

Meanwhile, Luth invests in a few beers and confirms the fishing is poor (according to what they hear) and has been so since about the time the tannery was built. They don’t know how this tannery works, but there is an interesting smell.

Ya asks general questions of the serfs and gets the gist of how the orchard works and directions to Elt Grove. It lies about a mile south of the keep, beyond the common. They warn him it’s become a danger but can’t name any specifics.

As for Lee, he finds there is some reason the locals still at the steps don’t want to discuss why Freseri is making a fuss. [Poor persuasion attempt] They do confirm that was Sir Macon and those were his guards.

 

“Just wait here, I’ll be back” are famous last words

Pais invites Freseri to come down and with him, speak to his friends, but as he faces the crowd he senses they don’t want that to happen. He attempts to be imposing [making a poor roll on intimidation] but fails.

Lee [who has no bonus on intimidation] tries to distract them [deception] – then [spends a luck point and] tries again – but with very limited success.

Pais eases through the stubborn faces, leaving Freseri standing on the steps; and Lee, job done, turns abruptly to head back to drinks and shade. And in doing so they see:

Lee [20 on perception] notices a stout little hairy-footed fellow watching from across the square formed between keep, shrine, and nearest houses. More than that, he notices that as the halfling turns to limp away, the “hair” on one foot flaps up.

Pais [12 on perception] notices a shadowy human-sized man watching from the shadows of the common dwellings. The man slides back into shadow. To catch up with him, Pais would have to pick up his skirts and run, so simply walks on to join Luth.

Lee is inclined to follow the faux-halfling but loses him past the shrine, so turns back.

 

The inside story on the tannery according to Blaine

“These lads tell me that we can expect one of the tannery workers to be in for a wet before his wife chases him home,” Luth informs Pais.

“Alright. And I really think we should speak to an actual fisherman, it’s not clear to me where the fish stocks are specifically bad.”

Ya, whose  idea this has been all along, raises a cynical eyebrow and sinks his ale.

“Well, further upriver you’ve got Gaspon, but it don’t have a fish dock, being too far off the river. Then further up you’ve got Schmitford and the water gets pretty bad south of that, only eels as you might expect, so I’d say this is where the fish were to be had,” Lee explains. Like Pais and Luth he’s had to listen to the Leischport fisherman bitch and moan the whole way here.

There’s a lot of shouting, hoo-hooing and yarr-ing between keep and river, and soon Blaine, henpecked nebbish, arrives from the boat-dock. The boat he and five other workers came from has turned about and is already disappearing back.

Over a beer Blaine admits his missus gives him what-for because his clothing is hard to wash and fouls the other clothes. But the chance to earn coin trumps that, and he glances about with a superior air at his non-earning fellow-serfs.

Blaine and the couple of other tannery workers explain the tannery as best they can. There’s a whole economy with hunters bringing hides in, Kapral paying them coppers for them, and paying Sir Macon for the rights, and selling the tanned hides downriver or upriver. They think Kapral is a genius, because he doesn’t need vast amounts of urine – just a little that he gets from the keep. He lives at the tannery.

With a bit of head-scratching [and a persuasion roll using advantage] they also name a silent partner, Rudyard, a blue-eyed fellow. He lives around here and mostly stops over at the tannery.

 

Shadows are hard to follow but the One True Faith always lights the way

At this point Lee [perception 15] notices a man, a non-yokel, standing off to one side outside, trying to get a line of sight on those seated under the awning. Then Ya, [noting Lee’s attention with adequate perception] also sees the man. He’s seen him before around the tannery – a handy-looking sort.

Lee rises to follow the man as he slips away. But as Blaine’s wife arrives to interrupt the merry throng and the company breaks up his own line of sight is broken and though he stealthily follows, he loses trace of him within seconds.

[I make a secret opposed roll using Lee’s stealth vs the stranger’s stealth]

Having a slight chill at his back he turns, to find Ya. But Ya too has lost sight of the fellow. The ground is not going to permit tracking, so Ya gestures south, the most likely place for seeing a man trying to slip away.

But this takes the past the shrine, and Beric, standing in the door waiting for his supper to be brought, looks at him askance.

“You’ve not been to worship, Ya.”

“I don’t worship the same folk you do.”

“There is only the One True Faith!”

And Ya thinks to himself, shit, as his player is re-directed to the campaign background.

The interruption prevents Lee and Ya finding where the shadowy man may have gone. The noise level about the village has risen as families reunite and supper is set.

 

Come to think of it, perhaps someone ought to fetch Freseri

Luth bargains with the ale-wife who agrees they can sleep under the awning, and shows them the slop-bucket for a piss-pot.

Pais gestures the other two back and explains Freseri’s standing and offer.

“I’m up to meet Nerisha, I thought I better ask who else is,” he concludes.

“I agree,” Luth concurs, but continues, “but something’s funny with that tannery. How they do this is weird.”

“That young girl is waiting there… unless she’s given up.”

“That’s hardly gallant! I’ll go get her.”

“Before you go off…” Lee interjects, and he and Ya explain about the shadowy non-local man and the suspicious non-halfling. Pais and Luth recollects their own experience of gnomes pretending to be halflings, in Leischport. An open secret there, but perhaps more serious here. Ya thinks the shadowy man would be from the tannery.

Luth again turns to go.

“Before you do go,” Pais interjects, “the villagers didn’t want her to leave –  be very careful how you go.”

“They might think he’s gone off with their wives,” Ya says, but Lee is also rising again and follows Luth to the deep shadow cast by the keep. There is no sign of Freseri.

 

Mystery abounds but the One True Faith always judges

The village shrine stands not far off Luth’s left side there and a holy man, clad in simple robes of the Faith, is speaking with a local woman, Blaine’s wife in fact.

Luth patiently waits. At length she finishes complaining about her man and he is able to speak.

Pais, who has followed Luth and Lee, sees no more than they can. Lights begin to appear in the keep windows as the household there lights oil-lamps, demonstrating their great wealth.

The acolyte of the shrine is a man no more than Luth’s age. Luth wishes to pay his respects at the shrine.

“Blessed be the way, he has shown you the way though soldier you be. Enter.”

It’s a tiny shrine. Luth’s broad shoulders fill most of it. The androgynous features of The One are crude-daubed, compared to city temples. He finishes then asks:

“What happened to the young girl that was up there?”

“Freseri the would-be witch? Pah! If she has been thrown into the river it is too good for her!”

“Oh, she’s off to her mum then?”

“She a child of the village, she has no mother. But they say a witch can suckle nourishment from the air.”

They exchange names. The acolyte’s name is Beric. Before he heads to his own quarters to eat the meal Blaine’s wife brought, he asks, “are you staying until next week? St. Osric’s day is near – and we’ll do those Gaspon wretches down this year! They have nothing like our monument!”

“Yes it is quite tall and erect… well it’s good to compete in the faith!”

 

Pais receives a second offer of patronage

Clang goes the keep door and again Pais sees Sir Macon atop the steps.

“I say!”

The knight is gesturing Pais up.

Over a civilized wine, Sir Macon admits he’s concerned. Pais [20 on Wisdom] learns more than the knight intends as he paces and speaks of not wishing to lose the village’s prosperity. He tells Pais that he does want the issue that Freseri raised, investigated. And he knows that Pais is here to do the same thing. So their two minds may become one, so to speak.

Specifically, whether there is any real truth in the Elt Grove rumor, and what the cause of the fish decline might be. A shortage of fish for Leischport is serious.

“This Nerisha… is that the witch of rumor?”

“Some say she is a witch.”

“Keep me informed of your progress,” Sir Macon concludes. “There may be coin in it for you.”

A rest doomed to be interrupted

Ya has rested all this while [and has picked up inspiration from his trait for it] but his rest is once again interrupted.

Pais arrives after the others, and explains what he has learned.

“I have confirmed that Nerisha is the ‘witch’ people are talking about,” he concludes. “Freseri spoke of her as a nature spirit – she may be putting a hex on fish stocks.”

“Or she might be just frolicking under the moon singing to owls,” Luth avers.

“I wouldn’t mind seeing that.”

But at this point a rising hubbub, centered around a concerned older woman but drawing near, interrupts.

Freseri has been kidnapped! – Or at least hasn’t come home and fears are held.

 

Where did you see her last?

Vonda, old enough to be Freseri’s grandmother, has missed Freseri. Her fears have roused her fellow-villagers. But many theories are being voiced. Including that the wild-man ranger may have eaten her.

“Definitely not, he’s been here with us the whole time,” they alibi.

She was last seen at the keep – exactly as Pais instructed her to be.

Pais has been in the keep. And given his ability to read Macon like a book, he can vouch for that knight to be innocent. But there’s more than one room, and at least a dozen people capable of hefting a youngster away.

On the other hand, there are only two entrances to the keep. The main door makes a mighty clang and the steps are partly in view of the alewife’s awning. The river-gate would be more secret, but someone would need to first know that Freseri was quietly waiting at the front steps, then exit the river gate, walk north around from the dock in view of everyone, kidnap Freseri, and make away with her again around the north face and back to the river gate.

As the discussion progresses Luth clears the area by asking the locals to look at the boat dock to see if any boats that should be there, are not.

 

Now, where shall we look?

She’ll either be in the tannery or she has done a runner for the grove,” Pais offers.

“Yes I think we need to visit the grove,” Luth agrees.

“It’s probably unwise to go there in the dark,” Lee cautions.

“Freseri simply said that if Nerisha doesn’t wish to see us she won’t be seen – that’s not hostile, it’s merely elusive,” Pais corrects him.

“It ain’t just her though…”

“If we go in saying loudly we are concerned for Freseri, that might do,” Luth suggests.

Ya rubs his head. He can guide them confidently and no-one is heat-sick. Reluctantly he once again swings off his bench and gathers his gear.

A drink, a quick relief stop at the slop-bucket, and a quick review of the local opinion on boats (the tanner’s boat ain’t there, but maybe the tanner’s boat ought to be there, maybe it ain’t) and they are off south.

 

Night deepens so what better than a visit to a cursed glade?

In the deepening twilight, the garden and fields are shades of gray. The fields are extensive and Ya patiently leads them along cart-tracks the half-mile or so it takes to get clear, to the common.

The common is a different shade of gray, and devoid of any marked path. Stars are visible, the half-moon is helping. Grazing animals that Lee guesses are goats move uneasily away. Save for one younger more curious goat. And Lee keeps an eye back over his shoulder!

The deep black bar to the south rises as they walk, to become a visible thicket of well-grown timber. Pais throws up electric blue light, and Ya locates a trail in.

Lee peels off. He signals that he will stay hidden at the fringe here. Ya nods his understanding and takes point again. [I take a stealth attempt at this point rather than in retrospect, Lee makes 20]

 

A meeting beneath the oak: Nerisha is the guardian of the Eltroot

[perception check from Ya and Pais and inits all round]

Luth stumbles [DEX SV] but recovers his footing. The gaze of the other two rises as they call:

“Nerissa?”

“Nerisha?”

A majestic, 60 ft. tall oak with thick, sturdy branches stands in a small clearing surrounded by other trees. While the tree is impressive, there are numerous wilted leaves visible among its branches.

“Nerisha… we come seeking news of Freseri your acolyte. She’s disappeared and everyone is terribly worried,” Pais calls.

“We wondered if it is something to do with the tannery,” Luth adds.

“We come in peace,” Ya adds.

No-one is waving a weapon around. After two minutes of uneasy waiting, a figure appears at the oak, almost merging with it.

 

Lines of inquiry are renewed

“Did you say, Freseri has disappeared?”

“Or has been disappeared.”

“She is not within this forest.”

Pais elaborates on the circumstances.

“Then she has been taken. If she is not here and she is not with Vonda Graylock…”

“Who would take her?”

“Those who wish evil to nature and to the grove.”

“Would that be the tannery?”

“Most likely. But possibly not.”

“Freseri seems to think the trouble started when the tannery opened.”

“Possibly. Or the factory.”

The comrades now catch up with something Freseri mentioned in her speech – that a factory has been new-built not far south of the tannery. Other than Freseri, no-one from the village mentioned it.

“What does it make?”

“That, I cannot know. Strange small people work there.”

“My friend spotted one, most likely a gnome.”

“If they are gnomes they are not forest gnomes. But, there is a reef of rock just west of here, perhaps that was their home.”

“You seem attuned to the trees.”

“I am.”

“The oak there looks unwell.”

“It is poisoned. Water is bad.”

“Where does the water for the oak come from.”

“From the ground.”

They double-check about wildlife and yes, that too has been affected – young are failing to thrive.

“Please, find Freseri. She is the future of this grove.”

Pais smartly follows up on this opportunity by asking after a lightning-struck tree. Nerisha says there is such a thing, but not in the forest. As she pauses to consider the direction, she picks up Lee’s presence, and says she has “met” him before in the forest.

Lee soon appears!

 

A-tracking we will go!

They have a few more questions but Nerisha is not a scientist and cannot explain hydrology nor aquifer transmissivity. They can rule out village water being affected, since they enjoyed the ale and the well-water is in use. That leaves any point south.

“Now then, shall we start with the tannery or with this mysterious factory? They’re both convenient, but the factory is closest.”

“But we’d have to get a boat from the village first, so the tannery would be closer.”

“Hmm, priorities. Hey Lee, that lightning-struck tree Nerisha was referring to, can you navigate me?”

Lee looks at Ya. Ya looks at Pais.

“There’s worgs around the wilds here you know.”

“Oh well I’ll wait until daylight.”

“You know,” Luth says, “none of us are tired and we could use the night to see if someone has stuffed a young acolyte somewhere.”

“Aye, we could loop around and use the riverbank to see if we can see tracks of anyone dragging something,” Lee agrees.

“Sounds reasonable, then if we find something we’ll be closer to a boat and the tannery,” Pais concludes.

 

On the trail of suspicious drag-marks!

Ya strikes it lucky [survival check 23] and Lee does not even need to co-track. On the riverbank below the common, he finds where a boat has been moored at the riverbank and perhaps ten pairs of small boots have hurried up towards the fields.

“The sign of a commando raid,” Luth mutters.

Ya next finds marks in the fields. Something happened, causing a group to stay heading and a smaller party to head east. He stays the course north and strikes it lucky at the juncture of fields and garden. Here, some irrigation water has splashed a path, and he sees the tracks of a human girl being forced along.

Now the tracks add up. Freseri has been grabbed by the entire group, brought south to the common away from human sight, and then taken east by three of the gnomes. The main group has since returned to their boat and left. A total of three gnomes were with Freseri at the last point he can pick out tracks.

“Can gnomes see in the dark?” Pais wonders.

“If they are hill gnomes, sure,” Ya thinks.

“Well I’ll keep my Light spell up then.”

“You know… if they are hill gnomes, thinking about where they might go, there’s a small hill out in the wilds about a mile east,” Lee suggests.

“Let’s go!”

This was a really fun session for me, many many times more enjoyable than the warm-up session last week. I still don’t think I have got a complete grasp of action/bonus action/reaction nor on all the skill uses, but I’m encouraged.

If I don’t over-complicate things we’ll conclude Natural Balance next session with plenty of time to move on to the next exciting step towards getting some more characters to level three! Stay tuned!

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