The characters for this session
In order of survival, nature, and related skills:
Lee Hunter, the party’s guide so far;
Ya Nooskoi, building up local knowledge
Luth Starag, with some useful background
Luth and Pais assent: they leave Ya and Lee back in Talgia. Those two are waiting on Bruno Grubb’s alchemy. Time is running out for the rendezvous and move south, so they will move across country, direct to Neilsfort.
Meanwhile in the early hours of a dull wet morning the other two duly board their river transport along with the six hunters, their three mules, a big friendly dog, and a dog-wagon, and are soon disembarking back at Karl’s Abbey.
Here, an uncertain gaggle of guild members await. Luth in particular strikes a reassuring, confident tone with them. Introductions are made. Even in the very first few seconds it’s pretty clear some hunters and some adventurers are going to be better team members than others. It’s also evident that a couple of them were depending on Lee, as a personal contact. Of course the exception is Darvan, who seems very committed and is to be their guide, and is only conscious that time’s a-wasting.
Pais accepts two deliveries from Tegan at the abbey workshop: six elixirs of health, and a dozen vials of an antitoxin specific against the spider venom the Red Blades had.
Meet the candidates
It’s during a more extended meeting in the abbey’s common refectory (basically a tavern, with decorum) that Luth and Pais sift one hunter, Konrad Wintersee, out of the job. He may be committed, but he’s poor company and likely to start saying things like “we’re doomed!”
They like the look of Morn Bostel, who seems to have the respect of all the hunters and seems intelligent.
Pais very much likes the look of Ariana, who has some slender curves and seems friendly; and Beatrix, who is somewhat brawnier but cheerful; and even Agna the dwarf (“call me Agnes, everybody does”) is nice to look at when you’ve been on the trail for days.
They also get to speak to and convince fellow obsidian-ranks like Ferel, originally from Gaspon, can just about see this as a stepping stone to his own team; and Franklin Tallstag, garishly-dressed fighter and team-mate of Darvan.
Then there are the porcelains Wendell, who really only turned up because Lee was supposed to be here; and Marc, who comes over as a bluff cheery barbarian but can probably shrewdly judge where his own interest lies. The pair have just taken part in something in the Oakwood, though exactly what it was doesn’t come up since Lee isn’t here. Wendell agrees to at least travel to Neilsfort. He seems tired.
I have to give a couple of props to Japanese light novel/manga writers here for a sensibility for adventurer motivations. I think there’s a deep-dyed “hero movie” culture in the west in which random cardboard cutouts join the protagonists “just because.” Even so I’m conscious that Wendell Marc Ferel and Franklin should have needed some concrete motivation. The idea of travelling to Neilsfort only to find that you aren’t wanted would be horrible for a guild adventurer. But Luth got a couple of great rolls.
A flare of eyebrows
Meanwhile Ya and Lee discover that – apparently – Bruno Grubb hears rumors of missions at about the same time the Council in Leischport decides on them. Or maybe they let drop more than they intended when they commissioned the soporific agent.
He is also willing to immolate himself in the name of science: his eyebrows appear to have been singed off, giving him a very surprised appearance! He would also love to experiment on a larger being than one of his own gnomes, ahem, halflings. But Ya ungraciously declines.
The instructions are a little discouraging: hold a soaked cloth over the subject’s nose and mouth for about 5 minutes, and they should be out for about 20 minutes or so.
The road past the Mounds
Most of the activity in the Karl’s Abbey square has been around the abbey’s bullock-wagon. It seems penitents will accompany the wagon, repairing road damage. The wagon road south is already damaged by flash floods from the Mounds off to the west of the road, and runoffs on this side. Between road and Mounds a brawling stream runs, that used to be a dry shallow gulch when last the team walked the road.
Later, it turns out that the wagon was only to be accompanying them for the first third. Luth convinces [20+ on Deception] the driver to send a penitent back to ask Abbot Tam for permission to take it the full way.
Meanwhile, evidence of lightning storms in the Mounds convinces him to doff his chain short and cap. Agnes reluctantly packs it in her dog-cart under some bedrolls.
A warning and a hard journey
He always intended to stop by again, so when the gnome boat drops Ya (with Lee and the gear they didn’t send by boat) across south near the Elt Grove, he swings into it and in less than an hour Nerisha appears.
She says that the folk of the Alshon do not appear to understand that the Farwood, over to the east, wraps north. Powers are afoot. Be swift and secret.
And with that, Ya and Lee set a course south-west and begin jogging, head up, eyes wide to danger.
The rainy season changes the south dramatically. Intense flowers and green foliage burgeon after each shattering downpour. Dry shallows and mud sloughs become lakes. Herds arrive, and trailing them, big predators. Some of these creatures are only rumor and legend. All of them are lethal in the wrong situation.
There are two CON checks given Ya’s heavier gear. He manages only a mediocre CON check and follows that with another so reaches Neilsfort with two levels of Exhaustion.
Neilsfort by dusk
Ironically by the time the abbey driver gets his permission, Darvan has convinced Luth they need to be pushing on at best pace, lifting the dog-wagon across washouts and manhandling the three mules where need be.
So the monks are left praying for protection as the bulk of the convoy recedes into the gloom.
Even in the dusk Pais and Luth can recognize the outline of Neilsfort’s keep. Things are very much as they were last time: but the weather is so different it seems like a different place. And Aiden’s treachery leaves a raw scar in the knight’s household.
In the keep hall and drying muddy gear out, Neils, his brother in law (by common law marriage) Bright, the obsidian ranks, and Morn Bostel hold council. Neils and Bright are keen to be involved, but have to defend their village from the big game, especially dangerous pack-predators. The most dangerous they estimate to be a kind of crossbred lion-sabrecat, because it grows big and hunts in packs or prides, lion-style.
Neils also has a grim warning: it seems as though some of the dead goblins and hobs and suchlike that fell in the last campaign season have revived as undead.
The stage camp candidates
As far as they can, the council roughs out who will do what.
Ferel can have the honor of bossing the deepest camp, camp 1. Krynt is strong: useful to help lug a captive, so he is camp 1. Ariana is probably useful there as a markswoman. By happy coincidence both Kyrnt and Araiana own a mule so that’s the right number of mules at camp 1.
They easily pen Morn Bostel into camp 2: a good clear head for what could be the longest out of touch. Marc seems to be some kind of hand in the wilds, or maybe Wendell? Then Beatrix with her mule makes sense as second hunter.
It does leave a few extra. The idea of a Farwood Fringe camp is explored, thanks to Bright’s insights and knowledge of the distance. Folk who aren’t necessarily great at foraging could do that. Agnes and Franklin are penciled in.
In the wee hours of the morning, Lee and Ya jog into Neilsfort, and the council now has to consider what Ya’s exhaustion means.
Help from Mardleton?
With Ya being so weary, someone – maybe Bright – suggests that there’s time to send to Mardleton to see if Evandur will join up. He’s a village hero that decided not to become a guild adventurer, but he has the same kind of forest craft as Wendell and Lee.
Lee is fit as a fiddle, and undertakes the task after a hot meal and short rest. He checks what tack he may or may not take: he doesn’t want to put his foot in it.
Lee jogs west and – with due care to hide from or skirt giant herbivores – makes Mardleton by dusk. He is soon interviewed by amazonian defender Vonda Cuttscar. She is not hostile to the idea, but of course, is reluctant to let her “best man” go.
Lee makes a DC15 on Persuasion plus Rep.
Left to deal with Evandur alone, Lee finds the quiet, reserved scout wants a definite promise of monetary reward before committing. They shake hands on 50 gold coins. In a village where a gold coin is a big deal, it’s a mammoth inducement.
A touch from the heavens
By the time Lee and Evandur jog into Neilsfort, Ya is near fit; and the bullock wagon has – somehow – managed to repair its path all the way to Neilsfort. It must be said that neither the monks nor Sir Neils are delighted.
So after a final sleep [Long Rest ensuring Lee is fully fit and Ya loses the last Exhaustion level] the strong detachment sets out south. The weather is drier: but that just increases the likelihood of plains lightning.
Luth blesses the time he spent smoking out, waxing out and [Leatherworker tools] re-tailoring the reinforced leather byrnie Sir Neils gave him, when ball lightning rolls through the group, flaring on metal clusters. Ya takes some damage, Luth some, and as far as he can see, the rest of the group are fine.
A complication or two
It’s during the time when final stage camps are agreed, and the fringe camp being set up, that Lee reveals the extra job Selias commissioned him with.
Pais Ya and Luth take it well, considering. “Pay well” sounds pretty good, after all. They could expect something along the same scale as the High Council reward, perhaps.
And Ya takes the chance to urge as much speed as prudent, explaining Nerisha’s obscure warning as best he can. But they are two to three days later than the very latest already planned for.
The final detail agreed at camp 3 is that Wendell and Evandur will shadow them all the way in and form a camp 0 with Darvan, who will be pulling back once he get them to the perimeter.
And a third complication
Pais and Luth have been travelling alongside Darvan some time now and notice he is worried about something – he’s mouthing something to himself and shaking his head.
The perimeter, Darvan explains, is guarded all the way round with magic runes. While they watched, the three of them learned the pass-phrase. But it’s been so long, he’s not sure he has it right now – in fact he’s sure it’s not quite right.
Pais, who speaks orcish, hears him give the phrase “Victor at Xom.”
I wasn’t really thinking of Franklin being asked – he did make the same trip with Darvan – so it’s a good thing this little challenge did not depend on that. I think there’s a presumption that a fighter who decides to adorn his helm with stag antlers isn’t much of a thinker…
The orc-speakers toss permutations round and Darvan agrees that “Victory to Xom” is the right one.
The trails through the Farwood, once goblin trails, now orc, lead the band relatively quickly to Fashat Xom. Be it the season or the expectation of trouble, the trails are deserted. Every so often thunder crashes oppressively; and on one occasion a sound as of a mighty tree falling troubles them.
Water is to hand, dripping off leaves. Luth has attuned the guild’s Nensis horn, so even water scooped off rotting deadfalls is safe.
As promised by those somewhat familiar with the Farwood in the wet season, an abundance of small lizards and frogs can easily be harvested.
The lingering traces of Horned Skull goblins are detected at camp 2: Morn seems confident that he and Beatrix can refurbish traps around the area. Marc nods and flexes his mighty pecs. He hopes Ariana is into tattoos.
Based on this, care pays off for the next push: there are all manner of deadfalls both natural and artificial waiting for the unwary. And the occasional spiked pit! But after a hard day’s slog camp 1 is established. The lead seven leave Krynt, Ariana and Ferel arguing about whether dense woven creepers, or open avenues, will pay best for defense. The two mules don’t get a vote, but would say “at least an escape route” if they could.
It’s now time for a one-roll so I can assess the gear and fitness of the team. I created this for this adventure, because I loathe “roll until you fail” sequences. The DC depends on the ability and number of stage camps set up, because the porter system is what gets jungle travelers into the interior without dying.
Since the team took care to have an adventurer with scouting or foraging ability in camp 1, they start with a minor advantage. I was surprised they allowed the remaining best scouts to just loosely group up: I can’t award any particular benefit for “camp 0” since it is not fixed for supply. Camp 0 may pay off in other ways of course. One consideration is that two hefty beings may need hand-hauling, and four adventurers are not going to be enough for that!
So it’s an advantage group CON SV, with higher scores offsetting poor scores. Luth 23, Pais 21, Ya 15, and Lee 13.
Behind the lines the hunters and adventurers do pretty well too, so the team arrives at their destination in good order.
Fashat Xom’s perimeter
During the last push Luth takes care to stay deep-hooded over cap and rough-worn beard. And he’s taken coaching from the other three in a few basic orc words. His guise will be “taciturn half-orc.”
And so Darvan identifies the rune-ward, speaks the pass-phrase, and fades back to where – he trusts – Wendell and Evandur are lurking.
The four spies pick a spot roughly nor-nor-east and lurk in scrub below dark-leaved branches overhanging the perimeter of a clearing that might be a quarter-mile deep north to south, and broader than that. It’s busy with movement, dominated by a broad squat square keep, features two or three other substantial structures, and perhaps a score of colorful tent-like dwellings.
The folk in Fashat Xom are not entirely orcs, though to be sure warriors tending gear or boars, or visiting what looks like the tavern, or moving around the keep, are much in evidence. So too are orc women, and orc young. Keen-eyed Lee can pick out human slaves, and the odd Hob or Bug visitor.
He also notices a perimeter patrol, clockwise and moving towards their position!
So the spies creep back [3/4 adequate DEX: Stealth checks] and quickly decide to shift around counter-clockwise, step onto a trail and walk in. Pais Lee and Ya throw up Disguise Self.
Ya is a wandering mercenary orc
Pais is a trainee shaman orc
Lee is a scout orc
And Luth, hood well down, is hoping to pass as a half-orc mercenary bearing a buckler with Red Blades colors.
As they near the perimeter once more, they walk up to and through a serious patrol, 14 orcs, some mounted on boars.
One remarks, looking at Luth’s buckler, “nice shield.” He does not react, and nor do the other three who know what was said.
And they are through! And in Fashat Xom.