DGA2.02: A Natural Balance part two – where the blame falls

The characters for this session:

Ya Nooskoi, L2 ranger

Pais Ullmann, L2 sorcerer

Luth Starag, L2 fighter

Lee, L1 rogue

The story so far: On behalf of Leischport’s fishery interests, the adventurers assemble at the manor of Talgia on the Alshon river, where there’s a problem in the water that’s caused fish stocks to plummet. Simply keeping their ears open allows them to hear from Freseri, acolyte to a Nerisha of the Elt Grove. Freseri says the problem is foulness from the tannery and factory over the river, and not Nerisha. Some villagers, and Beric the shrine’s acolyte,  say the problem is Nerisha. Sir Macon, baron of the manor, asks Pais to find out more and keep him advised.

Freseri disappears! In search of a lead the adventurers drop south about a mile to the Elt Grove, and achieve diplomatic success speaking to Nerisha. The Elt Root, a mighty oak at the heart of the grove, is ill. The problem is the water.

Wondering if they should search the factory or the tannery first – both of them west over the river – they veer to the riverside and find plenty of tracks. A gnome raiding party has snatched Freseri, but has taken her east. And most of the raiders returned west over the river.

[Excursus: Gnomes and disguises
In the world of Dimgaard the One True Faith holds sway. Creatures of mystery and magic are viewed with suspicion at best. Gnomes, who are magic-wise and do not follow the Faith’s precepts, are ostracised. So as a convenient fiction, they masquerade as Halflings. In Leischport this is an open secret, but in Schmitford they are an endangered species. Talgia lies between the two, literally and metaphorically.]

Now, on the trail of three gnomes and Freseri, the adventurers pursue east, through the night.

Part one: Rescue the girl

If it’s gnomes, expect traps

The half-moon hangs low in the east casting the west side of the hillock into deep shadow. Ya, Lee, Luth and Pais converge on where the tracks lead. Here, a clump of thorn-brush has been dragged away, revealing a tunnel in the side of the hill. The area smells a little rank, reminding Luth [soldier background] of greased axles. Lee recollects that the area has no trees and poor vegetation in general. Pais [sage background] wonders if the gnomes have been working on flammable essences of oil.

Although the footprints are small the tunnel is plenty big enough to get a tun barrel in. It slopes gently up. Reassuringly, studying the tracks at the earth tunnel’s entrance, Ya finds [20 on survival: tracking] that the gnomes and girl they are tracking have entered and none have emerged. There’s a focused and fairly quiet discussion about light, Luth takes his helm off, Pais casts Light inside it [which I ask for a spell attack roll on, to represent the unfamiliarity] then Luth muffles that with his cloak, and when he has a “thief’s glim” effect hands that off to Lee.

Party order: Lee, Ya with maul, Luth with sword and buckler, Pais

No more than 20 paces up, the tunnel veers left and down, still gently.

At length the tunnel seems to open to a chamber, but as Lee discerns that, arrows patter down in an even pattern and one penetrates his arm! Shocked [fails CON SV] he drops the “lantern” and lets out a muffled whimper, staggering back to try to assess how badly he’s hurt.

Pais’ skin is cut by another dart [3dmg] but the others are both well-protected and aware and the arrows simply glance off them as they evade back.

 

[Excursus: The medicine skill
Dimgaard is quite a gritty campaign and on the lower tier, healing is uncommon and healer kits in short supply. The medicine skill fills important gaps. While the RAW say “A Wisdom: medicine check lets you try to stabilize a dying companion or diagnose an illness” in-game this extends to basic trauma assessment and care, and the speedy application of healing potion. Some examples of how I apply the former may be seen in the next scene or two.
]

Inits:

  • Lee
  • Luth
  • Ya
  • The gnome defender
  • Pais

A veteran’s first duty is to live

The spilled helm throws a small patch of light into an earthen-floored cavern. Luth sheaths his sword, retrieves the helm and shakes the cloak off it. As the cloaks drops away more of what must be a substantial and bare cavern comes into view. Luth listens intently [2 on perception] – quiet as the grave! Ya moves up with Luth, using his ability to see in the dim: he picks out someone short. He points and signals. Pais rearranges his crossbow and shifts up to Lee who is in trouble, clutching a barbed arrow through his arm. [Interacts with Lee’s arm to make his medicine check, makes 6, Lee whimpers again as Pais unsuccessfully tries to break the shaft.]

Lee uses his kit of tools [burning a second luck point] to clip the head off the arrow and withdraw the shaft. He looks about and decides a bow will work better in this situation.

Luth dashes at the defender with buckler and helm! But the wily gnome shifts out of the light, hurling a short but sturdy barbed spear. It glances off the buckler and away into the dark!

“Someone light ‘im up!” – Luth, holding the helm’s light well away from his body

Ya can clearly see a good deal of the chamber and the short defender. At first glance a jolly whiskered halfling, and at second glance a sturdy spear-armed, shaven-chinned gnome! He advances on the short-ass using dash action [we get this wrong, Ya spending a bonus action to do this] but it shifts away, hurling a short spear which painfully impales Ya’s leg.

“You’ve come to the wrong place, son”

“We tracked you to the right place, shorty” – Ya

[4dmg and CON SV for Ya, he is immobilised unless he is willing to take more damage]

Pais readies an action, when a hostile shows he will let fly with Magic Missile.

Lee [Wisdom: perception] does hear some not-masculine voices from further in the cavern, but is unable to catch exactly what they said. Looking to link up with someone, he advances from the tunnel to back Luth up. He also lights a torch and flips it gently left, lighting another smallish patch.

Luth offers:

“We’re just here for the girl.”

“You ain’t gettin’ her.”

“You don’t give ‘er to us, someone’s gonna die. You maybe get one of us, we’ll definitely get one of you.”

[Intimidate, using further inspiration…]

“We’re here to save lives,” Luth offers again [getting to 13 on intimidate] to which the gnome responds:

“Well… ya outnumber us… let’s hear what ya got ter say.”

“We’re here to find out what’s going on, we’re here to save the girl, and we’re here to find out what’s poisoning the waters.”

“That ain’t none o’ my concern. But I tell yer what, I’ll pull off back to my folk and you pull off behind the light, and yer can take your bad boy there back with you. Stay on your side of the light and let’s talk about it.”

 

An unwelcome intervention… it came from behind us!

Pais [10 on Wisdom: insight] takes this at face value and there is a pause as Ya is collected and hopped back to Pais and Lee.

Lee’s thieves tools come into action again, he slowly saws the spear shaft, then Pais makes sure the wound doesn’t bleed out. [Good checks, no further damage]

During this time the adventurers have been able to glimpse a group of gnomes with a supine girl, well away from them.

Negotiations progress…

Then something plops into the light and emits a visible cloud of evil-looking gas!

Lee [making 10 on Wisdom: perception] notices it came from behind him, towards the tunnel.

And as he warns the others and they step back, holding their breath, we roll new inits:

  • Luth
  • Ya
  • Pais
  • Deadly attacker
  • Lee

Luth spins and plunges back in a run at the tunnel and – forced to make his attack off the wrong foot – an invisible hand drives a blade into the outstretched helm! As the helm spins away, splashes of light pick out a dark-clad man, lithe, powerful, lightly armored, dagger ready. Luth draws and stabs and the blade gouges through his leather armor [13dmg] and the man grunts, showing yellowed teeth. But as he reels back he [reaction] points a finger, utters Hellish Rebuke and flames wreath Luth [3dmg]! Ya casts Hunters Mark and rushes him, swinging his maul lustily [using Great Weapon fighting] catching his mark [8dmg] but again – inhumanly – the man hurls Hellish Rebuke and Ya staggers, near-dead, as flames wreath him too [17dmg]. Only Ya’s native vitality [Relentless Endurance] prevents him from toppling unconscious! But now it’s Pais’ turn: he casts Magic Missile [and breathes the poison gas]: the intruder screams in agony as the arcane lances impale him: his spine arcs in agony: then slumps onto the floor!

 

The gnomes are more inclined to help now

“Was this your man? Have you broken the truce?” – Luth

“Wha – *koff koff* – we need help here – that was an attack on us all” – defender

Lee [complaining he hasn’t had his turn yet] realizes that Pais is choking. [Lee makes his SV and takes 1 exhaustion level and Pais misses and takes 2] Lee helps the much taller man away towards fresh air. Pais [making a successful sage background check] recovers his breath and advises:

“Wet cloths!”

Luth dons his improvised gas mask, hurries back into the main body of the cavern, slaps the helm over the gas canister and helps the gnomes carry Freseri out.

By this time Ya has stomped any possible chance of resuscitation out of the fallen man, dragged his body up and away out, and Pais and Lee have followed the cortege and Lee has helped loot!

Lucky, as the gnome defender is known, admits that he and the two sturdy gnome matrons have failed in their duty and are now bound to hand the girl over. One of the matrons sets a vial under Freseri’s nose and she starts and wakes.

“You’re not gonna get in trouble with yer boss are ya?”  – Pais

“Well hey, this guy’s not doing anything, he may as well take the blame for it” – Lee, gesturing to the corpse

“Oh, yeah!” – Luth

“I like th’ way yer talkin’ son” – Lucky, taking a much more active interest in the proceedings.

The man’s coin-purse is a big surprise, as aside from a dozen coppers there are no fewer than 14 gold coins! Later, Luth identifies most of them as being minted in the nearest big city north, named something like Odill. His soiled and gashed armor has no real value but the battered, workmanlike short sword at his side is as good as Lee’s and his dagger has the over-sharpened look and feel of a favorite murdering dagger. That, and a curious woven wristband (like a charm or cheap ornament) are all of his valuables.

During the looting Ya has scented the smell of the tannery on the man.

 

Nerisha’s gratitude sets the team (mostly) to rights

With Freseri under their wing, they make a beeline toward the glade. [Lee makes a natural 20 on Survival] En route Pais explains the attacker’s spellcasting (he’s a warlock) then slumps gratefully in the eaves of the glade.

‘Tis but the work of quite a long time until Freseri (with Luth backing her up just in case) seeks and finds Nerisha. Over the remainder of the night, the grateful guardian and her Elt Grove heals the wounded and refreshes them [clearing exhaustion levels]!

 

Part two: The gnome faction must recant

Breakfast amid well-wishers

“We’ve got a lord in his manor, a head-man in the tannery, someone the gnomes report to in the factory…” – Luth

“Maybe the owner of the factory” – Lee

They figure distances and vague notions of likelihood of poisoned water affecting things. Again, Nerisha not being a scientist, it’s all notions she has no opinion on. Pais feels the factory is a more probable cause, being closer.

He speculates – watching Nerisha out of the corner of an eye – that warlocks may be summoning up terrible forces under the tannery, thereby removing the life essence from the area. Nor is Nerisha an arcanist, so she has no opinion.

Then, they walk back north across the common, to the fields around Talgia. Luth examines the leather wristlet he’s knotted back on his sturdy right wrist. Maybe it’s bait that something will nibble on?

“Food… rest… then we’ll worry about tomorrow” – Ya

To Talgia’s commercial heart: Where they find the ale-wife’s household set about earlly-dawn baking tasks, bargain a couple of coppers for baked sweetbreads-in-bun with ale to wash it down, and deal with the gratitude of Vonda Graylock and other concerned serfs who like Vonda are still worried about Freseri.

 

We still don’t know what’s going on at the factory

Beric the acolyte at the shrine is one who has no concern over Freseri’s well-being. Luth drops in for morning observance and again, Beric notes the upcoming Osric’s day and asks if Luth has admired the monument. To which Luth makes the inevitable erection joke.

Then, it’s time for all four to put their heads together and come up with a plan of action.

Pais offers two courses: speak to those in the factory (and perhaps rule them out) or deal with the tannery. Luth observes that by visiting the factory they will be in good position to snoop around the tannery.

Making sure they have the river, tannery and factory physical relations in their minds, they determine on hiring a boat-ride down to the factory.

 

A reprimand is due Bruno Grubb

“So it was gnomes! Damme!” says Sir Macon who is being clad for an early hawking, but manages to catch up with Pais as he and the others ready for a quick boat-ride over to the factory. Their plan, the knight learns, is to investigate the gnomes’ ‘boss’.

“Yes yes, I’ll be sure to have a strong word to Bruno Grubb, our friendly halfling… controller of the factory. Halfling. And we haven’t discussed this with Beric at the shrine, have we?”

“I don’t think I’ve spoken to him at all” responds Pais naively.

“Excellent, he’s a good fellow, I wouldn’t like to see him assigned elsewhere, so hard to bring up a good cleric.”

“I quite understand.”

“So, Bruno Grubb. Not a gnome. I will be having a strong word to him. Elsewise?”

“Elsewise… nothing further to report my lord”

So all’s well that ends well. But there’s still the matter of the fish.”

“There is still something going on in the area… we will continue investigating.”

“Good good, keep me informed. Where is Edgar Hawker? Where is my hawk?”

 

Luth drives a bargain for the boat ride and Pais pays for it

Pais collects his three comrades who are scarfing the last of cook’s apple pie and on the boat-dock, Luth dickers with the off-duty boatman. Pais pays the copper needed for the first leg and they clamber in. The man undoes a rope, adjusts a stick they vaguely know to be the tiller, and away the boat moves.

Within seconds they pass the tannery and within minutes arrive at the factory. This time they pay more attention to riverside access. Both have a dock and a loft-crane.

A small, take-ten-gnomes-at-a-pinch boat is already there at the factory dock. They mount to the dock, to find a single ‘halfling’ guard.

“Hey, halfling”

“Aye, that I be,” he says, rubbing an uncomfortably-shaven chin.

“We’re looking for Bruno Grubb”

“Arr, th’ boss! In th’ works”

He operates a smaller gate in a large set of doors and they find their way into an undercommon full of smells and with mysterious stamping noises in the background.

“Bruno about?” hollers the guard and duty done, leaves them to wait. The other gnome/halfling workers ignore them. But after a short delay Bruno Grubb, he of the flapping hairy-foot boot-cover, limps down to collect them.

 

While some speak, others witness

Bruno ushers them up to have a ‘good halfling ale’ and proudly points out things he think they will be interested in as they go. They meet ‘Nikky the halfling’ also known as Fintran, who is looking for investors in a grand scheme involving the sump grease out east.

In a pleasant, gnome-scale common room Bruno puts off his halfling oo-arr dialect and changes back to a more comfortable deep-chested gnome’s booming voice. He apologizes for the difficulty he put Freseri in and the trouble they went to.

He’s interested in this mysterious attacker and that he could cast Hellish Rebuke, but has no suggestion about it, merely observing the man must be a warlock.

For Nerisha’s troubles and the withering of the glade he displays scant concern, shrugging and saying “tree-huggers” but at Leischport’s fisher interests he is more concerned.

Pais attempts to use the alchemick expertise of Lanybar (his real name) on what process might change tanning so as to not require large amounts of urine. It’s a technical discussion and Lee and Ya drift off, literally.

Nikky the halfling, still seeking investors, takes them round the extensive works. There must be two dozen gnomes visible at any one time. The stamping noise comes from an ore mill. The pair learn:

  • The gunge in the east is rock oil, a substance Nikky thinks has real promise, and is not of recent origin
  • He knew about it because the gnomes used to have their works in the cavern there
  • They moved back across the river to set up this factory a year ago, though the final touches are still being made
  • Their original home is a rock reef just south
  • Waste from the processes is being casually discharged down drains

 

Intimidation is a soldier’s way, scientific encouragement a sage’s

The scientific discussion has tended to confirm Pais’ opinion that the tannery process that this supposed genius Kapral has come up with, may be really harmful and caustic. But Lanybar does admit the factory is also dumping waste. He’s a little shame-faced but points out the waste cannot harm the village.

Luth, having thought through what he knows of Schmitford and the Inquisition, breaks into the pleasant mood that Pais has built up.

“So let’s not do that any more… right?” he roars. “And if you do do that, I might head for Schmitford and talk to some people who think fondly of me!”

Pais protests mildly but Lanybar is cowed and immediately agrees to mitigate the problem.

Pais suggests they turn their skills to building waste-containers and that those could be stored in the old works cavern.

Lanybar is excited at the prospect of turning Talgia’s coopering business into a vast enterprise! He shakes their hands all round.

And so, job done there, the adventurers head back out to find that their boatman is long gone.

Part three: The tannery conceals…

A long side-track leads to night scouting

It is night, but the moon is yet to rise. Pais, now equipped with many twigs from a lightning-struck tree, thinks the day well-spent. For the others, they are rested enough to progress to the next task: scouting the tannery.

They already know that the waterweeds downstream from it are withered and fish are dying.

In the intense dark, Ya and Lee lead the way down along the riverside to where lights from the tannery allow them to guess how close they are. A quiet discussion follows. Lee scouts closer, working along the riverbank.

The tannery dock – built high so as to load full size boats – provides full cover, but before he passes under it, he has to pass a couple of windows. The unpleasant smell of hides and tanning hangs about. With due care Lee works his way past. [And I roll a 20 on a non-standard Perception check – Lee is not technically ‘hiding’ just taking care to not be seen]

Under his hands now, the clay feels nasty. Then he catches movement. Someone has slipped out of a door, at the dock. Slightly alarmed, he continues working south. When far enough away that he feels safer, he slips more deeply into cover. [and into a more regular Stealth check]

Whoever it is, continues squelching behind him. And his skin feels as though something has burned it. But he keeps silent.

 

Black night, hidden blade

Back north of the tannery, Ya suddenly moves forward along the riverbank. Pais and Luth walk up from the riverbank onto better going and head south, and Ya does the same.

Inits:

  • Pais
  • Dangerous adversary
  • Lee
  • Luth
  • Ya

Back south, Lee strains his eyes to pick out details as the man draws very near. The starlight on the water is all the light there is. But it’s enough for Lee to see that the man bears a hunting bow, ready. He waits… then as the man is practically on top of him, stabs!

The man cries in pain [6dmg] and attempts to react back up and way but it’s clumsy [I rule he cannot simply reactive half-move without a check, which he fails] and Lee cuts him again [6dmg].

He yells, “I don’t know who you are but I’m not your enemy!”

“Stand down then!”

Hurrying now, the northern three reach cover under tannery windows. There’s a small door at ground level that services the room next to (but below) the dock. Luth and Pais stand next to it, while Ya works his way through under the dock.

At the confrontation, the man hurls something dust-like at Lee, who fails to avoid it [despite burning a Luck] and is blinded! Lee pitches himself into the river, while the man’s bow twangs powerfully, hitting the water near him. Then the archer curses with fright as a longbow arrow hisses just past him! [Ya has Hunter’s Mark up too]

Back at the bay with its small door, Pais and Luth hear enough to know the occupants are aware something’s wrong.

“Oh good. And we don’t even know if we should be fighting,” Luth laments.

“If they’ve got weapons, we’ll kill them,” Pais replies in the cold-blooded adventurer tradition.

Back south of the dock the archer evades [Dash action] towards where Ya knows the hunter’s gate in the tannery is. It’s a big wooden gate a full three ells across. Lee’s vision is clear now, and he splashes back up out of the water to cover a little towards the tannery.

Reasonably but not completely aware of Ya and Lee’s positions, Luth readies sword and buckler and tries the door, and the session ends.

 

I thought the adventure would end with plenty of time for starting the next one, meaning my sense of how long 5e adventures take is hopelessly wrong. One way or another we will definitely finish next session, and the next adventure will begin!

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