DGA2.09: The Goblin Boss part 3 – There and back again

The characters for this session:

Lee Hunter, L3 Arcane Trickster. Restorer of the Elt, grail-fetcher, enemy of the Red Blades.

Luth Starag, L3 Battle Master. Leveler of Lightwatch, friend to Stiglehold, enemy of the red dragon, restorer of the Elt, grail-fetcher, enemy of the Red Blades.
Also, his mastiff pup Gear, enemy of bootlaces, devourer of rations.

Pais Ullmann, L3 Sorcerer with Dragon ancestry. Orlin’s friend, leveler of Lightwatch, friend to Stiglehold, restorer of the Elt, grail-fetcher, enemy of the Red Blades.

Ya Nooskoi, L3 Gloomstalker. Leveler of Lightwatch, friend to Stiglehold, enemy of the red dragon, restorer of the Elt, grail-fetcher, enemy of the Red Blades. 

Welcome back! After a not-so-successful diplomatic mission to the Horned Skull goblins, our four heroes plus Gear retreated north: and at Stiglehold took on the mission of attempting the rescue of Sir Galmont. They have tracked the fast-moving party of elite goblin scouts that has the knight, to a hidden vale in the Mounds: known as the Swale. 

They are perhaps one day behind their quarry, and have four hours of daylight and  one hour of dusk, left to deal with the Swale.

Remnants of mortality

Naturally, it’s best to take precautions against ambush. And Road’s End farm looks different from their previous visit. The flock of ravens previously seen seems to have stopped at the farm. They search the farm cautiously, taking a good half hour. Then Luth walks with Gear, and is soon joined by Ya, up the gentle hillock not far east, to get a view of the whole Swale.

The two see a few things of interest, but neither friend nor enemy.

With waterskins bulging again, and appetites dealt with, the four reassemble and Lee leads off along the trail south. Pais, safely tucked behind Luth, points out a dark shape lying not far east. Lee investigates: it’s a corpse, not much more than a broken skeleton in the remains of clothing and armor, and much pulled about by scavengers. Examining the area, Lee finds a second body, fallen into a slight hollow and more intact. He can see basic armor and the remains of a spear.

As Lee heads back, Ya impatiently gestures south and cautiously probes the overgrown cornfields ahead.

“I wonder if they were tied to that party of deserters that we ran into?” – Pais

“How long were their spears?” – Luth

“I found one, and it wasn’t in great shape, but I guess, yeah, similar?” – Lee

“No pitfalls here, let’s push on” – Ya, taking point

Party order: Ya, then about 20′ back to Luth and Gear, then 10′ back to Pais, then 30′ back to Lee.

Lee’s caution pays off

Another lump of skeleton-and-gear lies between these crops and the fields north of Two-falls Farm and mill. It is most likely this that caught Luth’s eye from the hillock. Ya investigates but recoils in disgust. All he can suppose is that the helm and spear may well mark another of the dishonorable ex-soldiers, killed fleeing north. The shield is alike. He turns back to find out what the others have been discussing.

“We’re coming up on the stream down from High Pond. The next area, we could find tracks. Maybe they go south, maybe south-east, maybe east. I’d like to hunker down here and let the two scouts have a careful look first.” – Luth

Ya glances at the sky, estimating how long before the sun drops behind the hills. There’s a good two hours. He turns back and has Luth run over it again. He looks at Lee, who looks keen.

Lee paces past the skeleton toward the Two-falls bridge, a tidy little stone arch with low walls. He has a view down the lane to it. Another body – most likely – lies on the near side. And the buildings beyond the bridge seem to have a “ready and waiting” look. As Luth and Ya cope with Gear’s spirit of adventure, Lee reports back, then glances up to where a low-flying raven croaks.

Lee returns to his scouting. He decides to work left through the crops, very quietly, to where he can get a different angle on the Two-falls buildings. At length, from a vantage point beside the stream, he sees that a goblin reception party has set an ambush… and it includes a tall, armored goblinoid too. Leaving a Silent Image of himself, he slips back.

The counter-ambush

Lee reports again, this time in lowered voice – though to be sure, the noise of the falls masks any normal sounds. Luth suggests attacking, but keeping a goblin alive to question.

The debate is tossed lightly to and fro, the adventurers each considering their own strengths. It takes quite some time, including sketches and counter-sketches. The plan agreed, in the end, is to first strike at range from the vantage point Lee found, then rush round to the bridge and charge.

Inits: Lee, Ya, Luth/Pais, goblins

Lee kicks off proceedings with a Sleep! Two goblins (that he can see) fall. The hobgoblin peers round in surprise as a scimitar clatters out of a relaxed grip, and is struck through the throat by Ya’s second [and loaded with Zephyr Strike] arrow. As he staggers round clutching and choking, three Magic Missile bolts end his struggle for life! Luth drops the heavy crossbow he has missed with and runs after Ya’s fast-moving form.

As Ya reaches the bridge two well-directed arrows strike him: others buzz harmlessly off the stonework or away. Lee and Pais follow at a respectful distance.

Lee can see the various buildings sprout goblins! One is within reasonable bow-range, and he lets fly, dropping it. Clutching his hunting bow Lee scuttles on, keeping low behind Ya. For his part, Ya kneels behind the bridge wall, pulling the two arrows that struck him out. He glances back: Pais hammers an enhanced Magic Missile into a hobgoblin that has just appeared near a large, powerful goblin: it topples, twitching. Near-panic reigns among the goblins, but the big goblin takes command. Luth, readying buckler, crouches at the other bridge wall. Far behind, the tethered Gear barks encouragement. A couple more goblin arrows fly harmlessly above Pais.

Lee weaves to west of the bridge, and waits for a good shot. There’s no great hiding place at the stream, but he’s not currently a target. Ya waits ready to charge. Luth leaps to his feet and charges: Ya goes with him. With a scream of hatred a goblin hurls himself at Luth, who part-parries the blade: then goblin arrows slam into the attacker’s back and he slumps.

Lee has only difficult shots. He realizes he needs to get close. He tries a different position back by the bridge: but the fighting pair have closed up on archers, Ya smashing with his maul, Luth thrusting deftly. The latter spots the powerful goblin, who has woken the sleepers. A melee along farmyard alleys ensues! Pais has kept close enough to catch a glimpse too: his enhanced Magic Missile slams into the big goblin. Luth lunges past a fallen goblin at the slightly staggered big goblin – but he disengages back clear, encouraging his minions.

Ya is cut, but Luth’s armor stops a feeble thrust. The big goblin returns to the fray with two scimitars: but Luth’s buckler circles and hurls off the twin strokes! Luth ripostes, but the goblin expects it and parries that.

Lee shoots into melee, hitting Ya’s leg [sneak attack is not added]. Ya leaps past the goblin to allow Lee a better shot and to tackle the big goblin: as he and Luth try to trap the enemy warrior, the goblin behind him rams an arrow deep into his butt. Pais slams a final enhanced Magic Missile into the big goblin, who topples. Luth cuts down the other goblin in that alley. Lee finally gets a good sight-line on the last goblin, and kills him.

Luth, following his original plan, finds a goblin hovering between life and death. He waves Pais over, who tends the wretch with rough hands, then shrugs:

“Oh well… he was on the way out” – Pais

Daylight dwindles, ravens gather

Ravens have paid a lot of attention to the fight, and are ganging up on the farm’s roofs. As Ya calls Pais over to deal with the deep-stuck barbed arrow, Lee and Luth swiftly search, finding nothing of any note – aside from wolf prints – and certainly no knight. Ya’s butt stops hurting once he drinks one of his two healing potions.

Luth stomps back over the bridge to collect gear and Gear, feeling the effect of the fight and a little discouraged.

“How much daylight do we have left Ya?” – Pais

“An hour and a half… but most of that will be in shade” – Ya

Lee finishes evaluating armor and weapons. He explains what he’s found. While he tracks around south, the others take some time stripping the hobgoblins, and the heavy gear is piled into a farmhouse ready to be collected later.

“It seems a little more looked-after here, but I’ll need a wider sweep to find any useful tracks” – Lee

Ya is getting deeply concerned by the dwindling daylight hours, but heads out with Lee for a wider sweep. Here south of Two-falls, a dog, or perhaps wolf, has hunted quite widely. The southern orchards, heavy with fruit, mask the farm beyond. They know from their last exploration that that farm, the quarry, and the tor are secure resting points. Goblin tracks tend towards the east, and Big Pond.

Pais’ wish for momentum coupled to Lee’s support decides their course. They follow the trail east. Ravens swoop up from the farm eaves behind them and wheel across bleached-out evening sky.

A low growl, as of something warning them to keep their distance, comes from the orchard. They push on the short distance to Deep Pond and a good view of the tor. It seems deceptively far away across the water. Lee catches small humanoid shapes upon it. As for Deep Pond, the islet and its Dun Tower seem unchanged. A boat has drifted onto the pond and is half-sunk. Another lies listing and moss-grown by the south shore. A third can be glimpsed over on the far side of the little wharf: that was the boat Pais found the clue in that led them to the thicket. Goblin tracks lie thick about, and Lee picks out what he thinks is a Galmont bootprint.

The comedy of raven-pecked retreat

Before they can readily decide what to do next, the ravens draw their attention. They seem to be getting more agitated. Luth suggests that rowing to the Dun Tower might be best. Pais swings north to the stream, which lies between he and the wharf. He pauses at the edge. It’s certainly not a standing jump, and it’s quite a drop. Ya joins him. He eyes Pais, trying to decide whether to pick the spindly sorcerer up and throw him. Then, more constructively, he backs off a little and takes a jump.

Thumppah!

Ya should really have taken off some gear… his chest meets the opposite bank, hard, and he spreadeagles, scrabbling and out of breath, until he can claw his way to a better balance.

Pais’ head swivels sharply as close behind him, Luth and Lee suffer from the first attacks by raven swarms! Lee squeals in pain as ravens find some sensitive tissues! Luth manages to parry the first pecks off, then plunges at the stream. He more or less gets over and turns back to help Lee, who – amid a flock of pecking forms – manages to ready a coil of rope. Gear valiantly leaps after Luth. Splash! A rope, flung by Lee, falls near Gear. He grabs it in his teeth! He paddles with it! He paddles valiantly, slowly being pushed into the pond, towards Luth.

Ahead of all this merrymaking, Ya hurries onto the wharf to try to hide using the boat. Splash! He has enough presence of mind to fling his arm up and slam the maul onto the wharf. He concentrates on not drowning. Oh well, at least he’s not being pecked.

And behind all this merrymaking, Pais finds to his surprise his cloak is actually helping. He waves it billowing round and round and makes his way to where he might jump safely. With a run and jump at the pond edge, he splashes across and Luth hauls him up, both of them being pecked.

Lee dances about, clutching valiantly onto the rope and being pecked. Eventually Luth unites with Gear and the other end of the rope, and Lee leaps across with Luth’s assistance. Still being pecked!

The five retreat, bickering mildly about whose original plan was better, all the way back through the dusk to Two-falls: where the ravens give up.

A new plan for a new day

Pais’ opinion is that a druid is behind it all. Later, this theory raises to druids, plural. The three spellcasters settle in for the night, and Luth soon joins them.

“OK, it looks like they went through the thicket passage,” Luth broaches over a cold breakfast, “and they’ve got some kind of druid watching from the south… so I think we have to go the long way, up by the mine and behind Big Pond and over the tor.”

As the discussion proceeds and various options are considered, Pais’ mind works at this problem of clambering the steeps. He calls on his scholarly learning in history and his military service, and describes the remarkable feat of a general of the dragon war, who brought his men over hostile terrain. Inspired by this, the others put together a makeshift climber’s kit.

As they walk rapidly back to Road’s End, Ya reminds them he plans to speak to the ravens and find out what’s going on.

In conversation, the raven mentions a cup

From Road’s End they head quickly east, to Adran’s Farm and beyond. They spare no more than a minute to note that the main farm building has been crudely barricaded but that new bones lie within.

The Silverdelve marks really sheer cliffs, so their trail diverts south along the scree below the steep broken hills that wall in the Swale. They are hidden here, by a little woodland or wild orchard.

Party order: Lee on point, with Luth in the rear.

Keeping a wary eye above, Luth watches forerunner ravens sweeping closer, then uses Speak with Animals. The largest raven, a cheeky-looking type, lands and looks him up and down a few times.

It’s quite a conversation, full of “gotta tell th’ boss” and “c’n I have th’ dog” but the raven mentions the boss has a shiny cup… there is much gritting of teeth and snarling about double-crossing goblins at this.

The raven, menaced by Luth, flies away disappointed. Ya takes a shot but misses. They walk past the two other ravens, sleeping. Lee had wisely dropped them earlier, just after the big raven sent them to report.

Out into the baking flats

Indifferent to what the raven might mean to do, they push on and expend the makeshift climber’s kit, working over the tor and down to the grassy secret path. It takes a while. Ravens fly overhead, but do not offer to attack. Apes seem to have colonized the tor, but keep their distance. And as they walk along the trail out, with the Thicket on their right, they can just see larger, darker apes cautiously moving in the spiny green depths.

The alkali flat beyond the hidden exit bears many prints. They tend south-east to where a slightly deeper fold or dry run-off shimmers and waves in the intense heat. Irregular lumps of earth have been flung up here and there.

After what seems to be a long pause, with heat drying their eyeballs, Lee and Ya investigate. Gear seems very interested and tries to help. The tracks are confused, to say the least, but Lee works out that someone or something has dug in several places to get down to the brackish water that lies below. He and Ya both feel the best option is to track further south-east.

After a solid half hour, Lee waves to Ya and they agree: someone stumbled and knelt very deliberately, a point of the compass further east.

Around to the fatal stand

And from then on, roughly each hour, the trail notches east, until they are walking a point of the compass north of due east. By this time they have been walking the burning heat of the savanna, stumbling now and then on lumpy rocks, walking softly through fire-blackened swatches of barrenness, or weaving through tall grass.

And about an hour after that, having reached an area where shade trees are more common – and the clumps of scrub beneath them provide excellent concealment for goblins – they see what has to be a regular object – a goblin camp in fact – and that small creatures have been watching them – and that they are being surrounded.

Everyone backpedals! Except Gear, who takes some convincing. Luth has a fistful of collar and hoists him bodily onto his shoulders, picking up the pace to a stumbling run. But it’s too late.

A couple of weeks back, I asked the players to secretly write dowm a choice that relates to a Custer’s Last Stand/Blackhawk Down scenario where the numbers against them are irrestible. Option A is “it is a good time to die.” Option B is “I surrender! I’m worth money alive!” These are now revealed. Of the four, Luth chooses option A.

Surrounded as they are, Pais Lee and Ya cannot stand idly by while a heaving pile of goblins stabs Luth to death!

This is an entertaining and chaotic little piece of action where player ingenuity counts for a lot. Lots of CHA checks as well as medicine checks. And at the end of it, Luth is still alive, so everyone is happy. For now.

Ya casts Disguise Self to look like a hobgoblin and burrows in, taking the blows on his light armor to shield Luth’s inert form. Pais rushes over trying to get a healing potion into the mass, Lee uses Sticky Fingers to help. Between the three, a little potion trickles over Luth’s face. Gradually, order returns among their captors and they are able to take stock.

Yes, they have caught up with Sir Galmont. But now they too are prisoners. Though the goblins leave their heavy gear – because they can’t be bothered carrying it themselves – all valuables are removed.

And now the rage of the player that loses hard-won loot breaks forth!

No longer their own agents – the circle completes

The shaman passes on what he chooses to reveal of Boss Gazuxb’s plan, and how delighted he is that the grail-fetchers have agreed to help him with it. They are all hostages, or guarantors as the shaman puts it. Later, they learn that should their talk of the north prove well-founded, they will be released.

The camp breaks and moves at fast pace for a town named Gaspon, upriver from Talgia. Here, goblin raids have reduced the little town to a smoking ruin. Only the keep is intact, and from it the defenders can only watch as goblins pour across the Alshon and away into the wilds.

It seems to the adventurers that the vast majority traveling are females and young. They do not know, at this time, of the interdiction that Gazuxb has laid on the whole Alshon, and how his warrior bands are abroad to despoil the villages, and how brave defenders stubbornly resist and slay many goblins.

By common consent it is Luth who speaks to Sir Galmont. The knight regrets but acknowledges he will most likely be ransomed earlier than they. His role, as he understands it, is simply to stand hostage over the Alshon. And this proves true.

With the cash paid to ransom Galmont dispersed among the band, the goblins pick up their pace. From time to time there’s a pause while scouts report in, so no-one dies of thirst. This march, across country, has them out of their knowledge. It is not until later that they learn the little walled town that seems the main landmark is named Biddypoint.

At dusk an excited scout party comes into the camp and the party is moved rapidly to a ruined village further west. Dark woods line the western horizon, a black banner against the last of the light. The band organizes differently and with a sense of purpose columns of goblins flow west.

With many words, the shaman explains that things are looking good and that this is where they will be left. They are to wait quietly.

Some consolation

In the twilight their gear is piled up near them, as well as a couple of gift-parcels of edibles and waterskins. A few hardy goblin brats linger to caper and mock but soon the last matrons drag them away and the evening grows quiet. From behind a ruined wall a goblin voice croaks:

“I beg for Galmont life… not this time. Tell Seck-Rogue, I kill him too.”

With a clink, a sack of valuables lands near them, and they are alone.

Goblins are light-fingered and later, counting over carefully, they find that about 10% worth is gone. But on the bright side they have each been given a healing potion.

They slog back to Biddypoint in the last of the dusk hoping for rest behind the walls. And, although this has been anything but a rewarding mission, they can trust that Sheriff Darathra will have something for them, when they get back to Stiglehold.

And now the Alshon is able to draw breath, deal with the ramifications of goblin fever, and seek intelligence on the Red Blade Orcs.

And so the milestone of dealing with Boss Gazuxb has been met! It has been hard won. Characters are about one good solid mission away from level four, give or take.

What-ifs: It’s best not to worry too much, but my own thoughts are that if, at the time of the original negotiation, the general group had advised Pais that he could offer to lead the goblins over the Alshon, they would have kept the goblin amity and respect up until the time Galmont was brought into the camp. What then? I tried mentally running the scenario through but really could not predict. Would Galmont bravely take the fall for killing the scouts, and die horribly in front of the characters, or would he loudly name Pais Ya and Luth as the killers? He seems a straightforward sort, but that could go either way… Maybe the best case happened this way? Galmont was used as hostage over the Alshon then ransomed; the characters stood good for the nature of the destination then released in good standing. A reduced goblin federation is tucked into the Darkwood, and no-one died.

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