DGA2.05: The Slave Trade part three – Mardleton and the Hornskull goblins


Lee, Luth, keeping cool

The orchard has plenty of green foliage, both overhead and around the fruit-bearing stems. Unless someone should crouch right down at just the right row, Lee, Luth, Gear and the small pile of gear are invisible to the village of Mardleton.

So naturally fate intervenes and Luth and Lee get no real rest but instead have to be creative and diplomatic:

  • Staying out of sight of field hands
  • Convincing children they mean no harm, and to keep quiet
  • Following said children (Lee alone) to see where goblins were last driven off

The ballad of Dan and Bootsie

Ya and Pais are doing the exploration, using their Disguise Self spell. Ya has disguised himself, in essence, as a human civilian with two short swords. Pais has disguised himself as blond Stephen Colbert in big furry hat mode. They hear music, there’s a clot of people near the big square-trace keep. A man is walking that way…

“Hellooo” – Bootsie AKA Pais

“Stranger…” – prospective recruit

“Only until we know you” – Dan AKA Ya

There are a few armed men about, principally at and on the keep. They don’t seem wary. Certainly none ask Dan and Bootsie their business.

Near the keep strikingly strapping sergeant at arms Vonda Cuttscar is addressing a knot of people who might one day be adventurers if they put their mind to it. The prospect stops at the fringe of the knot, and Bootsie and Dan listen in.

In booming tones Vonda addresses would-be spies. They must prove themselves! She won’t send sacrificial lambs out. Her eye lights on the big furry hat at the back:

“You! Looking to join up?”

“That depends on what you’re recruiting for miss” – Bootsie

“Just here to see what’s going on” – Dan

“Is that so… good enough. Listen up: the next challenge…” – Vonda, proceeding to outline a fairly aggressive physical challenge.

“Ummm…” – Bootsie

“Well, um, I wasn’t thinking of something that, you know, required doubling-up” – Szahrie, juggling trickster

She wanders away, and as she passes Dan, makes the noise of a cork being drawn from a bottle. Dan swivels and follows on!

Bootsie works his way forward. “I’m a mage… and not one for physical challenges, but my burly friend here” – and as he notices that his gesture points to empty air, Vonda looks at him suspiciously:

“Got your guild tags… mage?”

“Not on me, no” – Bootsie

Vonda closes the space between them. She’s as tall as the genuine Pais and twice his weight. The scent of a big woman who has been physically active all day envelops him.

“So… [clicks fingers] let’s see them” – Vonda

“I’m sorry?”

“Guildless mage! I don’t think so! Be off!”

Alehouse to jailhouse

Bootsie follows in the wake of Dan who has long gone. They loop around the keep within hailing distance of the village shrine, where a cleric watches, and where the notice-board is set. The woman – Szahrie – and Dan and Bootsie introduce themselves to each other and after inspecting the noticeboard (Korgul Rein is looking for sneakers; Shrine services and drop-in hours; The ladies of the keep Ilweis and Adela will host a women’s pot-luck) she introduces them to the alehouse, which occupies one end of the lumber-mill works. Here, halfling brewster Viora Millwolf serves drink and simple meals and collects debts. Hopeless tradesman Brick Stodge loses coppers to Szahrie in a drunken stupor.

The pair of newcomers soak up local gossip as Dan buys beer and then a meal.

  • How come this place wants spies? (A: Refer to Korgul)
  • Is there a proper place to sleep and eat? (A: Apply to the keep but expect to work for a living)
  • Who do we see to report on goblins? (A: Apply to the keep)
  • What about these thieving goblins then? (A: We are surrounded by Hornskulls, chicken-thieves all, no cat is safe)

Dan purchases a quarter-round of farmhouse cheddar weighing 15lb and they head out to the keep. By chance, as they head that way, Lee (on his way back from the great goblin raid re-enactment and I’m the boss game with the children) sees them, so is able to report back on their whereabouts to Luth.

At first Luth is inclined to wait but as more children play in the orchard he reverses this decision and he and Lee straggle in past the smithy, and around the keep to the lumber-mill.

One of the keep guards notices them [the first Perception roll in double figures from anyone in the village] and calls attention to their arrival. But they too buy drink and food from Viora and ask:

  • How come so many visitors? (A: The lord and his spymaster are looking for sneakers. Do you have tags? Refer to Korgul for the job, register for hunting at the shrine, with Olyver the clerk)
  • How come the spies? (A: Something to do with goblins. No cat is safe, and they’ve had to lock the surviving pigs away. Apply to the keep.)
  • Is there a proper place to sleep and eat? (A: Apply to the keep but expect to work; or you could ask Olyver if there’s a cottager that needs money and has a corner to spare)

Viora lectures Luth, slightly miffed at the implication that his job is more important than the locals, that they are a border community and all must pitch in for the common good. So bidding her a polite farewell, they head to the shrine (where orthodox scholarly cleric Olyver Kreel writes Lee his hunting licence) and thence to the keep.

Mardleton’s keep is not at all keep-like. It is a square-trace fort, with its entrance at ground level, but apparently roofed over completely. Large square pillars support some sort of upper works while a catwalk surrounds lower accommodations and functional areas.

Bootsie explains his purpose, then Dan explains what Bootsie means (because strange to say, Bootsie likes putting everything in long words just like Pais does). They are shown in and told to report to Vonda or someone. Bootsie at length catches the sharp eye of Tilton Zatchet, who compliments him on the hat, takes his report, places the pair under arrest and alerts the guard to the presence of two more of the party.

Luth and Lee therefore face a much more alert keep guard, and they are immediately arrested.

On your way then!

Spymaster Korgul has questions! Lee’s licence places him in good standing and he explains separately. Then Korgul makes sense of the potential enemy spies:

  • The party of ex-soldiers are in good standing with honorable discharges
  • Two of them came in disguise because a man named Dryden has been paying people to ambush them
  • They just want to report, re-provision, and continue their hunt

Lee, with clear conscience and left to rest until midnight, takes a long rest. Then he’s re-united with the other three, who have taken a short rest, and invited to have a midnight supper with Sir Wulf Schwarzengneiss, his wife Ilweis and his eldest daughter Adela.

Wulf (so he tells Pais to call him) is currently hiring sneakers that are competent enough to spy on Hornskulls (who themselves are extremely well organized) without being caught, stripped, and ransomed back. He’s had to think three times before letting two adventurers with powers of disguise slip through his hands. But he accepts that they have their mission. He can offer provisions – but no more than that – and urges them to be on their way before dawn.

And so they do, and as they face the pre-dawn eastern sky they sniff the air:

“Glad to get out from those walls” – Ya

“There’s no point pretending to be anything other than what I am” – Lee

“Now, we get back to the trail and tackle it head-on” – Luth

[Pais still has his inspiration from the Swale episode so does not need to make a stirring quote!]

The two guides now engage in a reasoned debate, with some help from the GM. As local-knowledge-guy Lee is more aware than the others how very, very far south-west off the trail they wandered to reach Mardleton. He successfully presses the case to cut more or less east, to cut the trail, rather than painfully retracing their entire journey to where they left the trail. They then present this to the others, and Luth, who is very much a “do things straight” kind of fellow votes for that too. Pais has no objections.

On cover and what may hide in it

The combined wisdom of Ya and Lee has steered the party E-E-N-E, towards where the two ought to be able to cut the trail of the goblin raiders and their captives again. To the 15lb of cheese they have added one sack of good wine, and small beer in their own waterskins.

Away from Mardleton the open savanna is mingled with species of hardwood, and the tracks of big game are evident: greater antelope kind, great cats, and the occasional wolf or wolf pack. As they progress, ground cover changes: each tree shelters undergrowth. A solid line on the horizon to their right, glimpsed between gaps, suggests thick forest or jungle.

There is a thunder of hooves as a herd of beasts stampedes towards the party!

Party order: The stampede comes directly towards them. At this point Ya is southernmost off Lee’s rear-right, Lee is on point eastward but very close to Pais in the middle, and Luth is kind of rearguard not far behind Pais.

Inits: Luth, Lee, Pais, Ya, Eland herd

Pais weighs up whether goblins hiding in the undergrowth outweighs being crushed by a stampede and yells to run to cover! Luth [20+ on Athletics] dashes, Gear bouncing on his shoulders, makes the nearest cover and [interact] shifts Gear and pack. Lee follows, [using cunning action to keep his action open] but tries to keep a fine balance between cover and vision. Pais has no hesitation, using dash action and getting solidly behind Luth. His cloak is part-tangled and [interact] he whips it round his left arm. Finally Ya also makes his dash action, making for the same patch of cover and [interact] dropping pack.

Only one eland could possibly strike, and [making AC12] brushes past Lee and away. The dust, kicked up across the area, begins to settle.

I ask for the character with the highest Perception to make an active check. It is Lee. He makes DC16.

Lee realizes that the party is completely surrounded by bow-armed goblins, and that there is a sign, hanging mysteriously in the air, which reads:


Pais draws himself up to his full impressive height and steps forward as spokesperson. The bow-armed goblins pull back a little [some chance that concealment will affect shots] and a skin-draped, decorated and slightly crazy-eyed shaman steps forward.

Pais explains briefly, stipulating that he does not believe the present goblins to be his quarry, for they would simply have attacked. The shaman cocks his head and asks if their quarry walks with wolf or…?

“Something big with a big weapon” – Pais

“The Hob. I bring you to my chief. Maybe we can work together” – Shaman

Fellow travelers or allies? To the Farwood!

The chief, whose name is unpronounceable and who speaks less of the Common tongue than his shaman, lets the latter do most of the explaining.

In the dark ancient times, all goblins campaigned like the present raider band, seeking to kill men, steal women, breed on them, and multiply. Hornskull goblins have lived proudly in the Farwood without embracing that culture, and at present have no intention of walking that bloodstained path.

But it so happens that one goblin chief reverts to the old dark path. He and his have stolen a ceremony bowl – like a grail – and, allied with the wandering Hob, have hidden themselves back in the Farwood, intending to bargain or ally with the Red Blade Orcs.

“Trading slaves or…?” – Pais

That’s not certain, but it’s a sound notion. The Hornskulls will allow the party to pursue the trail and, should they return the ceremony bowl, may reward them. As to other intelligence, there is little. There are too many places in the Farwood that might shelter the band to be specific. So far, wolves have not allied with the renegades but the longer the chief goes on his own way the more likely that becomes.

The party take a long rest under the Hornskull auspices and are fresh next day as they ease into the steaming jungle that is the Farwood!

Against the goblin slavers!

Ya is lead tracker and with his guidance, the party keeps a good pace up. Insect life is everywhere and they are all glad to be fully clad. Before the day is half gone, Ya points to a cleft in the side of slightly banked ground amidst thick-rooted trees and quips:

“Oh look! There is a gloom to stalk in!”

The party prepares. Ya boosts Lee, and Lee scrambles up branches to tether packs, spare water, and, wrapped in Pais’ cloak, Gear. Then there’s a debate, quite strongly spoken, about light. Lee insists that Pais cast Light ahead of the action. He does so, on a copper piece, then [not bothering to read the spell description to its end] casts it again and again. After this comedy of dud coins, Luth possesses a Light, which he tucks into his boot-top, and the others possess normal coins, which they believe are lit.

With his superior vision Ya leads the way in, seeing the hard-packed entrance drop away about 10 feet or so in. It’s a slick slope. Behind him, Pais’ feet go out from under him! As Ya works his way down, using his maul as a staff, five goblin archers pop out of hiding and let fly!

But alas for them, Ya can see perfectly and is not surprised at all.

Inits: Ya, Luth, Lee, goblin archers, Pais

Ya finishes his descent, calls [bonus action] Zephyr Strike, strides around the rocks and swings – smashing his maul into a rock! Without pause he calls on Dread Ambusher and strikes a second time, loading up with added damage! There’s a hideous GA-PLUTCH as the maul splatters goblin across rocks and cavern floor! He shifts the last 5′ of his move forward, beside the next archer, lofting his maul.

“Oh by the way – ambush!” – Ya

Luth [interact] grabs the coin and bounds down the slope to lance his dueling blade forward at the goblin standing center. With innate skill the point slides past the goblin’s armor and home, dropping it. Luth holds steady.

Lee has line of sight into the light, onto the goblin Ya and Luth are adjacent to. He decides not to burn a Luck point as he misses, so shifts through Pais and across the pool of light to where the cavern comes to a throat. A rock shelf rises on the right.

The party enters from this end

Two goblins can conveniently loose, and a third tries to, nimbly dodging both maul and sword. One arrow slices painfully into Ya [5dmg].

Finally Pais scrambles down and to his feet, plucking out the coin tucked in his component pouch – to find it is no longer lit – dropping it in disgust – but gaining enough dim light from Luth to target all three goblins with Magic Missile! But the power, dissipated, fails to down any of them.

Ya [maintaining concentration with a 19] weaves effortlessly around Luth and over the goblin the latter slew. He smashes right and the wounded goblin drops. He growls at the lone goblin left on that end:

“Start running!”

“Eep!” – goblin, rolling a 1

Lee shifts to bring a goblin into line of sight and [with a crit on a sneak attack] drives a hunting arrow through the goblin’s skull. The remaining, intimidated goblin leaps to disengage but, unable to gain clear ground, is cut down.

“Let’s shift on – that was a lot of crunching and yelling!”

This session takes us well off the trail that DGS20 expects and over to one of Leischport’s border defense villages, Mardleton. Though surprised on two counts – (1) why did the others not ask local knowledge guy Lee about their options, instead of the dishonored mercenaries; (2) why assume what dishonored mercenaries found “unwelcoming” will apply equally to themselves – I am happy to visit a place we shall see later, all going well.

Props: We have left DGS20 now at a point I feel it threatens to over-reach, or outpace, the season goal, and are now on the final arc of the adventure, a modified one-pager from MT Black, the Goblin Grail Gang.

I must round out the session’s wrap by mentioning the visual-aids I introduced this session in order to try to keep track of all the components to each character’s turn. They are mega-blocks, red for action, blue for bonus action, yellow-half for reaction, yellow-corner for interact, and two normal and two half greens for 30′ movement. So far so good!

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