The characters for this session
Phoenix, lvl 6 barbarian;
Seck, lvl 6 rogue;
Cat, lvl 6 warlock;
and making a welcome return…
Vir Onden, hag’s bane, Giantslayer, Savior of Thane Braden, Shadow’s-end, enemy of the Fiend, Virtuous of the Long Road, Friend of St. Berronar, friend of the New Town, enemy of Sebek; Steel-ranked; a 2nd-tier ranger wielding the artifact weapon Ulruf and wearing the orichalcum bracelet, Erzlie. Objectives: assist both Oleanne and Kestrel, keep them apart.
And a quick apology – I got all carried away last session and promoted the characters to Silver rank, when in fact they are Steel rank!GM
En route to Parlfray Keep: a spot of early morning exercise!
The early dawn sun is barely touching the hills ahead when Phoenix raises his voice enough for Seck to hear:
“Tracks ahead – in the dew – want to check?”
Seck has not needed to range ahead, since the roadway to Parlfray Keep is fair and the land relatively level. He now does so, and as the other two pause, Cat notices an individual, sturdy of leg and shoulder, bustling up the roadway behind them. The day bids to be increasingly hot and the sky is sere. It is a man’s figure, robed, using a sturdy staff to keep his pace quick.
A quick stepper… he’ll catch up soon enough,” Cat decides.
Seck makes 16 on WIS: Survival as he examines the tracks, roughly perpendicular to the roadway. He makes his way back promptly:
“Large humanoids, bound from our right away left… perhaps big orcs, as their footgear isn’t hobnailed.”
“Away left… to the Redwood?” Cat muses, trying to pick out where that may be in the dawn gloom.
And now the newcomer is within hailing distance, and having exchanged such, comes on and introduces himself:
Fr Lafayer, cleric of the One True Faith, weather-beaten and frayed at the edges, but hearty of constitution and clear of eye. Probably closer to Garyld’s age than Kuiper’s. Cat notes that his calves are among the biggest he has seen! His staff can double as a weapon if need be.
As Lafayer explains that he’s bound for Parlfray Keep like themselves, four heavy javelins thud just short of them.
Lafayer casts Bless! And at second level, all four are covered.
Half a dozen large humanoids dragging or carrying bundles have rounded a low rise some 120 feet distant, and those with a hand free have cast javelins at the road party. They lumber forward, dropping the bundles and readying heavy axes. Some of the bundles look a lot like dead bodies.
Initiatives: Phoenix, Cat, Ogrillons, Seck/Lafayer
Round 1: “Maybe we should take cover, since they are trying to kill us,” Cat suggests, gesturing to another low hillock. Phoenix eyes the hulking, oncoming humanoids and weighs Mocair in his hands. Then decides to go with Cat’s suggestion, racing around 60′ – The tough clumps of moorland brush force him to zig-zag gains cover, then scales the hillock. Cat speeds after Phoenix, ending in dead ground to the attackers’ line of sight.
A second volley! But again, at long range, only one gets close. Seck and Lafayer both scurry after their comrades. Seck clambers up after Phoenix, though keeping behind the skyline.
Round 2: Phoenix rages, uses Dash and Move to get to the nearest-left. Judging their defenses to be poor, he swings Mocair lustily, scoring the armor with his first swing and back-swinging under the creature’s raised arm, snapping a rib and cutting deep.
Phoenix is using his Great Weapon Master ability so the one effective blow is for 24 damage
The creature grunts sharply with pain but though shaken, is still in the fight. Well behind Phoenix, Cat clambers the hillock, eases carefully down the front face to get within convenient range (and out of Lafayer’s direct view), and directs paired Repelling Blasts at the two behind Phoenix’ opponent. They stumble, but do not fall [losing an action but not movement]. As for Phoenix’ opponent, it swings on him, and its greataxe also cuts deeply!
The right-hand trio of humanoids seem confused as to what to do, but race onwards, swinging so their course take them to the hillock. Lafayer summons an incandescent hammer, striking the closest one heavily. Seck gauges the danger to Lafayer and Phoenix and how wounded their foes are. He flings Maelsauga, and the throw-blade zips between Phoenix’ Mocair’s head, and sinks deep into the great humanoid’s neck. It falls! Seck summons Maelsauga back and draws Red Whisper.
Round 3: Phoenix sees that the pair struck by Repelling Blast have readied themselves, but are waiting for him. He spins left and runs at the leftmost of those heading towards Lafayer. His second swing draws blood; then he uses Dash to withdraw to guard Cat. Who targets first the one Lafayer wounded – missing – and the one Phoenix just wounded, making it stumble back into the remaining trio member.
The latter pushes it forward, and it falls. With an angry bellow it begins rising and is pushed down again as the third races at Phoenix. The further back pair also race up towards Cat! Phoenix easily evades the former’s swings and Cat is still out of reach.
Lafayer keeps his focus on the one he wounded, and his Spiritual Weapon finishes it. He shifts the weapon across towards Phoenix, walking forward so as to see the fight, and calling Sacred Flame on the one trying to kill Phoenix. The creature bellows in pain! Seck decides to stay clear of the melee, using Maelsauga on the just-wounded one. It falls!
Three lightly wounded foes remain, one further back picking itself up for a second time, and two near Phoenix and Cat.
Round 4: Phoenix shifts nimbly [Mobile] across the splayed limbs and swatched gore, and hammers Mocair once – twice – three times, felling one and leaving the seond swaying groggily on its feet. Cat steps close to that one and electric power arcs through its leather armor: it drops.
The lone surviving foe gets to its feet and sprints away back to the dropped loot!
Seck runs after it and throws Maelsauga, leaving the knife after it. Lafayer does much the same, the Sacred Flame leaving the thing with little life left. By the time the creature starts gathering its loot, Maelsauga finishes draining that little, and it falls.
The other adventurers examine the four nearby bodies. They are crudely clad in thick leather, with rawhide foot bindings. Their teeth are large and faces swart. Seck walks back:
“I remember campfire tales of ogres mating with hobgoblins… or the like…”
With a priest within earshot Seck leaves the dark lore at that.
Further afield: The objects that the creatures tossed aside are bodies and parts of bodies, once militia bearing the livery of house Parlfray; or horses.
Loot: Net loot nil, there are purses, but they seem to belong to the fallen militia, so Lafayer vows to see the bereaved get them.
XP: lvl7-126 (without Lafayer, this would be a much less trifling encounter!)
Count Warcrown Parlfray’s childhood memories: horror and despair
Owing to this skirmish, the Long Roaders arrive at Keep Parlfray a little later than planned, but still before mid-morning. As the path gradient increases and the Halfcut Hills rise above, they gain the full benefit of sunshine blazing onto the keep to study as much as they can see from ground level.
Keep Parlfray is constructed as a keep tower, inner ward, and outer ward, against shrouding granite bluff. The keep tower or donjon is actually built into the granite of the Halfcut Hills, and a smoothed bluff face overhangs it. Short of some earthquake-level force bringing the bluff down, it cannot be attacked from above. The inner ward walls are high and give broad cover; the outer curtain wall simply forces approaching foot traffic into a roundabout path to the gate.
Although fearing they will find a gutted stronghold, the adventurers see plenty of signs of life, and the guards on the walls both see them and allow them in. Lafayer is welcome there and vouches for the other three: they soon find themselves in the keep.
Cat has been wondering whether he previously met Count Warcrown at Kellerin’s Rumble. As they enter the attiring-room that prepares guests for the audience hall, gilded ceremonial armor displayed there on a stand tells him yes, he has. One of the more successful gamblers was Golden Lord – so for costume, Count Warcrown did no more than wear his own ceremonial armor.
Count Warcrown Parlfray is a serious-minded individual in a bachelor-style keep. But he does have a woman guesting with him: also not bothering with a costume at the Rumble: Barbarian Woman, Uili of the Plains Tribes. Apparently she plans to head west to join her people as they retreat north for the summer. But her grasp on even Teulon’s simplified speech, the Common lingo, is so weak it’s not easy to learn anything more from her. The totemised long spear resting in a corner would seem to belong to her.
Again part through Lafayer’s good offices the trio soon have audience with Warcrown: he is willing to help them with knowledge, but is more immediately concerned about these ogrish creatures invading from the south-east and killing his trained men – and valuable horses. He worries that they are, somehow, in league with creatures lurking below the Great Rock Dale.
The Long Roaders promise yet another patron yet another task undertaken. But they must stay on the trail of their own guild colleague for now!
Warcrown was just a mere boy, not even old enough to be made a page, when disaster struck the old stronghold known as the Spire. The mesa is sandstone, and unsatisfactory as a true fortress. His grandsire had already planned this current keep as a better stronghold, and by chance, the household was away here. No-one he knows revealed the cause, but on that day, every single living person in the Spire was slain!
As to defenses, and with some re-evaluation looking back as master of a stronghold and not a nipper, Warcrown summons his scribe and between the two of them, provide the Long Roaders with a good sketch of the various levels. This is a drawn-out, involved process, and the noon passes and afternoon shadows grow. But at length the trio study exploded sketches of two main levels, a cellar level, and a three-story watchtower.
The one entry is depressingly strongly-defended. Barring flight, there are no easy options.
Warcrown reminisces about planned stabling in the cellar level – it was planned but as far as he knows, incomplete. It had been supposed to emerge at ground level, and the sandstone there may be thin.
Being a mesa, it can be clambered up by those with excellent climbing skills. He supposes it to be no higher than 150 to 200 feet. The woods about it are much thicker than they were in his boyhood: it is only managed or gathered from on the fringe nearest Thurmaster, and along Hog Brook. Deeper in, the briars are thick, and there lurk giant spiders, as well.
“Sounds like we really need Kestrel,” Cat muses.
Warcrown knows of Kestrel, confuses her somewhat with Oleanne, but agrees a wood elf would help.
Warcrown now hears Lafayer. The roving cleric has a number of concerns to report:
- The New Mire spreads, forcing farmers off their land.
- Some of those farmers were recruited for what sounded like a dubious cause, and have not been seen since
- A lad from Harlaton saw “huge, blue-skinned, many teethed” monsters by the Patchwork Hills
- Reeve Carman of Milborne also needs trouble in the mines investigated, though he will probably take the initiative on that
- His young junior in Milborne is a bit too keen – which is something for the Faith, not the Count – and may need to be sent on a quest
- Rumors of large humanoids camping by Shrieken Mire are now confirmed – bodies need bringing back for burial – and their camp needs investigating
- And his companions have information about a missing courier and rising peril in the Thornwood, as he has just heard.
The council breaks up, with the Long Roaders choosing to be discreetly silent about dragon cults. Phoenix finds that Uili is trying to tell him something, frustrated that she knows she is not saying it right. “I you axe give” is the closest she gets. Her sign language is graceful but means nothing to Phoenix; and his own tongue means nothing to her.
Time to decide about hitting the trail! Weighing times and pros and cons, and being aware that Thurmaster’s gate is closed at night, the Long Roaders opt to take a long rest and set forth in the small hours of the morning. That would allow them to hit the Hound and Tails for breakfast, gather their full gear, and still make the Blessed Wood before the heat of the day.
Lafayer will head west after putting the bodies to rest, so with hearty good wishes on both sides, the Long Roaders turn in.
Long Rest (though only Phoenix has any need for recovery)
Vir! And oh – Kestrel may be crazy but hear her out…
We turn our attention to Vir. He has made contact with Oleanne, learned more of his path to the powers of nature, and learned something of the Thornwood.
Kestrel has a different problem. Leaving aside her paranoia about two remaining green hags, who must be out to get her, she has been contacted by a strange flying race known as Aarakocra. They live on a sheer bluff or scarp in the Thornwood, and they are menaced by strange winged reptiles.
Kestrel also updates Vir on detail of the south-of-Alshon settlements. He’s well aware the crusade left Mooregate: she tells him it is headed to Schmitford.
Garyld’s messenger has carried word, so Kestrel deputes a number of animal spies to watch out for the arrival of the other three. Kestrel feels it will be easiest for all to hear the Aarakocra’s tale together, so she will be waiting with her winged contact.
And so, packs weighing them down as they wade the various sprawling oxbow strands of the Woldcote into the Blessed Wood, the Long Roader trio cross safely, shake the water out of their boots, and are startled to find – leaning on his longbow and waiting for them – their comrade Vir! As usual he bears Ulruf as a warhammer at his side. He looks well-cared for, and slightly smug.
Vir guides them back south. When at length Kestrel slides out of tree-cover into view, the other three notice that for all Vir’s rather pampered air, Kestrel seems as crazed as she did back in Biddypoint. Hair wild, face filthy, eyes darting suspiciously about.
But note that owing to the “I ain’t no crazy Cat” vote taken at the start of this season, there are no consequences for aberrant mental behavior. If it’s a rule for PCs, it’s a rule for NPCsGM
Gnawing on her thumb, she shares her theory with them: Hags always work in covens of three, so there are two more out there looking for revenge for Yazol – and on the Long Roaders as much as on Kestrel!
A rather slender but wide-winged form swoops down, first to a branch, then to the ground. And observes the four alertly through bright, hawk-like eyes.
Ktool of Aarakocra bids them good morning, checks that they want spies on the spire, and gets right to business.
As Kestrel has explained, this strange race serve a deity on a different plane of existence. They penetrated this far in quest of a shard that is part of their god’s weapon. They roost at Featherfall, a rocky eyrie on an escarpment that itself rises twice as high as the Spire mesa to its north. But lately their quest has been disrupted by small winged draconic speakers. Yes, winged kobolds. They have settled on the Spire.
To Cat and Seck’s questioning, Ktool explains that they have a good eagle-eye knowledge of the Spire, but lately avoid the area. Their winged enemy do more or less patrol, at night. The footbridge that crossed the dry moat to the entry ramp, he can immediately tell them, is not there any more.
As for elves, Ktool knows little about them. They are good at using tree cover.
So the alliance Ktool proposes is that the Aarakocra will help the Long Roaders, and the Long Roaders will rid the mesa of winged kobolds. And should the Long Roaders happen upon a strange roseate shard, they will alert the Aarakocra.
Player vote (with GM input) that Kestrel accompanies them to Featherfall, but then acts as home guard. In my mind’s eye she and Oleanne are using animal screens, or countering dragon cult animal spies.GM
By nightfall, the five ground-bound travelers are setting up camp hard against Featherfall’s rock scarp. They count half a dozen Aarakocra that swoop out to inspect them.
Watches: Kestrel up a tree, on “insane elf eyes-open rest,” and Seck, Vir, Cat, Phoenix.
Into the green dragon’s territory
Vir [with sub-10 Survival] rounds up some vegetables and herbs, and Phoenix [with a nat 20 on cooking proficiency] constructs a masterly breakfast. Ktool and another colleague whose name he translates as Knife-from-above, try the dish and praise this superb cuisine!
This acts as a substitute for an excellent diplomacy type interaction!
They return to the plans for getting in. Knife-from-above explains that the tribe can summon an air elemental. But that would be for a significant purpose, not just a distraction. And it could carry no more than one man. They do offer cover from above, though how effective that may be through thick foliage remains to be seen.
“I don’t think there’s any value in doing this at night,” Seck offers. So they pack and Phoenix, Seck and Vir sling plenty of water canteens. (Cat has a magical canteen that will purify any swill he finds.) And north they march!
What was simply difficult terrain soon becomes the hazardous terrain of a dense thicket. Briar and other spiny vines seem to have multiplied. Game trails unfit for human size passage seem to be the only way through. Trying to crawl through the narrow passages would clearly cause injury, but with great effort the thicket could be hacked through.
Vir takes over the lead. His wilderness abilities are enough to find the trails that allow them to slip through without axe-work. And he instinctively knows which way north is! For the last month, Seck has become habituated to scouting, and finds the job of rearguard hard at first. But he is a tried and true veteran, and the hours pass smoothly.
Three hours, with water breaks and “silent listening” time pass. Then rising in two great swarms on either side of Vir, brilliant jewelled-green insects attack!
Surprise round: Vir and Phoenix are swarmed and take 10 damage each.
Round 1: The remaining swarms move in: “Maneuver them so they are all in one area,” Seck calls, perhaps unwisely. He and Cat are joined by Phoenix who rages and uses Great Weapon Mastery – he forgets to attack recklessly though. And slick with bug juice, Mocair’s haft slips from his grip! Cat manages to cover three swarms’ worth with Shatter. He downs one swarm’s worth. Damage to Cat Seck and Phoenix, but Vir Misty Steps back down-trail. Concentration spells become difficult.
Round 2: Seck [making a good CON SV] rustles out a torch and readies it for lighting. Phoenix retrieves Mocair and – still not recklessly attacking – only manages one swipe. It accounts for half a swarm worth. Cat [makes his concentration check and] casts Armor of Agathys. Insects burrowing into him die, many more drop as they reach him. Another swarm’s worth is accounted for. Vir advances with Ulruf drawn and targets a weakened swarm, downing a half-swarm. Seck makes a fairly ordinary DEX SV but it is enough: he has avoided swarms, the others take another 10 each.
Round 3: the remaining swarm is finished. No-one seems to be suffering from poison.
Good WIS: Survival check from Vir. He calculates that this is not a bad spot to rest.
Short rest: HD are rolled. No character ends more than 1hp down.
The wood elves mean business this time!
The march resumes. Another half-mile is gained, perhaps, then arrows thud into trees and characters as nearly a dozen shafts arc down from unseen attackers!
Inits: Seck/Elves (and Cat later), Vir, Phoenix
Round 1: Seck is required to make an active Perception check as he is both trying to use cover and peep out to find a target. He fails, but on the othr hand the elves don’t mark him. Vir has sprung up a tree and now uses Athletics to get aloft, runs along a broad branch and vaults into melee! Crunch! Snap! Crunch! The elf topples and falls, unconscious. Vir can see two more elves, one either way. Phoenix is hit again. He rages, runs towards the sounds of fighting, vaults up and clambers to one of the two Vir spotted. Judging their agility to be high he does not “power attack” and in two swipes, downs the elf. He races on along to the other visible elf.
Round 2: Seck sprints [Acrobatics] across the thickets to get a shot at that same elf. Maelsauga drills in under the jaw and into the elf’s brain. He drops. Cat, who has been invisible in shadow to now, gains sight [active Perception, 19] of one of the other surrounding elves up in another tree. This is the first time it is clear that the elves have formed a loose cordon, up high. Cat uses Repelling Blast: there’s a crash and crackle as the elf drops into thorns. An arrow strikes Seck; others seem reluctant to shoot into melee or are out of position. Vir has no immediate target. He runs along the branch, vaults to another one, and once again races into combat with a bow-armed elf.
“And we can keep this up all day” yells Vir as he hammers the elf and casts Hunter’s Mark and hits again. The elf is wobbling: blood seeps from his broken jaw. “You were warned to keep away” he mumbles. Phoenix walks purposefully along his branch, leaps to the one Vir is one, and (with his second attempt) removes that elf’s head. Based on the purple arcs of Eldritch energy Phoenix decides he need to cut right across. He uses Bonus Action to leap down onto the thorn-tangled elf (though it costs him 7 damage as well)!
Round 3: Seck whispers in a carrying tone that he can see regular platforms or walls in the trees. The elves seem to have dropped back that way. A senior elf watches them for a second, then follows his warriors.
Decision time: Yes, let’s race after them! Cat could, theoretically, use Misty Step to get over to the platforms, but he’s not sure of distance and may need it for another time.
CON SV from the other three: Phoenix thanks to raging and Vir thanks to Natural Explorer get advantage. Everyone manages 10+ meaning no levels of exhaustion for this thorny sprint!
Inits: Seck/Phoenix, Vir
Round 6: Phoenix leaps aside as webbing fills the trees. Vir does not, and is restrained. Seck uses Skirmisher Boots to get up behind the elf prince, then stabbing him through with Red Whisper, uses all Sneak Attack levels to strip spell levels! The prince fails his Concentration check and his Web begins fading! Seck decides to make himself scarce and drops – taking 7 damage as he hits the ground far below. Three arrows slam into Vir [the advantage effect of Web has not been lost – the elves shoot at the same time the prince makes the check] and he Misty Steps away. Then uses Hold Person, so the elf prince cannot use any such escape power. “Capture the prince!” he calls. Phoenix clamps Mocair in his teeth and monkey-climbs up to near where Seck fell from: slays an elf, then runs [Athletics] and jumps to the prince’s platform. He is ready to seize the prince.
Round 7: The elves focus their aim on Phoenix and he jolts as arrows strike home. Seck picks himself up, slides his hood up, and begins climbing. Luckily, the vines here are no longer spiny. [Terrible Perception rolls from the elves to notice this]. Vir switches to longbow and targets an elf that has been trying to pick Seck out, including Hunter’s Mark. Hit! The second arrow thuds into the platform. Phoenix has a good platform under his feet and the arrow-strikes have not knocked him off. He grapples the prince easily. “Keep them shooting!” Phoenix dares him. “What do you want?” he responds. “Your surrender!” “I serve Nevalth and Syralth – what can you offer me other than my worthless life – death would be merciful.” “Fair enough,” Phoenix responds, crushing the elf’s windpipe. Three elves witness that and cry out in horror. Phoenix runs and leaps to the next platform.
Round 8: Seck has a target and he is unseen – Maelsauga slams into an elf! Seck leaves the blade in, to siphon hp back to him. Two elves left? He slides back down as the elves yell out marking his position. Vir eases around slightly and gets a shot at the wounded elf, killing him. Vir takes return fire. Phoenix makes a slightly clumsy jump to close combat with one of the two remaining elves. Mocair part-dismembers him but he dodges aside from the reverse swing.
Round 9: With a sigh Seck summons Maelsauga back, switches position again, gaining a target on the other, probably final, elf. He misses. Vir heals himself again, this time with a potion. Much better! Phoenix follows and finishes his wounded opponent.
Round 10: Seck shifts around, countering the remaining elf’s move. He readies, summonging Maelsauga back. As the elf lines Vir up, Maelsauga strikes him! The elf’s shot misses Vir and Vir’s second shot kills him.
This treetop outpost has no women or children. A good place to rest. Cat and the packs are moved up. Cat studies the prince’s features so that he can use Disguise. Bodies dragged away, the adventurers clamber up to a safe rest spot, gain an Inspiration if they don’t already have one, and the session ends.
Loot: to be advised