DGA8.16: First acquaintance

The Long Roaders for this session

In initial party order

Phoenix, level 8 barbarian;
Cat, level 8 warlock, assisted by Dis his familiar;
Seck, level 8 rogue;

Ably assisted by Dingleberry Elder, boy messenger, AKA Elderberry Dingle, and Subo the dog

The Long Roaders begin 60xp from level 9 and end on 55

Alturiak’s Fury

A vale-wide lightning storm drops about our heroes as, along with Elderberry riding her faithful mount Subo, they follow the trail up Mount Mourn’s east flank. From the vantage of Rott’s saddle sharp-eyed Seck spots a granite slab. Could be cover!

CON SV: Phoenix alone makes it

A near miss drops most of his crew, but Phoenix labors on, getting the horses and mules in beside the lean-to and dragging his comrades in, then lighting a fire from the kindling and cut wood left by the previous tenant. Subo shakes the rain off his coat and grabs the best seat.

Labrador jokes

The altitude is getting to his wind, and he’s glad of the rest. Elderberry is first to bounce back, and chatters away to him as the other two recover more slowly. Or Dingleberry, as she’s calling herself in her halfling-lad disguise. Her plan is simply to catch up to Jahia, and whether that’s at the Dwarf Ruin on Mt Mourn, or away down at Hagsjaw, is no concern of hers.

The Long Roaders have a less certain path. Early morning: they learn that Jahia has left the previous day. And Elderberry – newly arrived from Ravenreach herself – explains that Vir has already set out for Wolf Hamlet.

There’s debate, but Vir’s three comrades are fairly sure that if they want mounts and pack-beasts with them, then sticking to the known trails is the way to go. So after baiting the horses and having a good rest themselves, it’s back into the saddle – or back striding along in Phoenix’ case – and north beyond the Wailing Hills and towards Mt Mourn.

Phoenix looks up: the lightning has been replaced by hail. That’s a good sign. “We’ll be able to head out in a few minutes,” he announces. Subo wheezes regretfully as Dingleberry checks that “his” mop of attractive red curls is tucked up under cap, and makes ready.

A Witch by Any Other Name

A thin column of dark smoke issues from Mount Mourn’s flank. Probably a fissure or vent? Impossible to say unless one does what Bayle originally did, which is to clamber the final stage to the ruin. But before then, Phoenix has been doing his best to read the way Jahia’s party has gone. Unluckily, a side-effect of the short but brutal hailstorm is that tracks have become hard to read.

It has not been a great session for tracking or perception checks, and this time Phoenix’ attempt is so poor I direct a simple 50:50 roll.

“They went on down the slope, headed toward that smudge that could be the lake,” Phoenix decides at length.

Seck peers through the mizzling drift of very fine rain towards said smudge. “Or it could be a clearing, like fields…”

They progress down east towards the smudge: Subo growls and Dingleberry urges him to bound ahead.

“Yikes, uh, that’s not good! Phoenix?” Cat prompts. He’s feeling the pressure of losing so many fellow-travelers and guild associates. Also, Dingleberry can play the flute and this new magic flute Cat’s carrying seems to need a flute-player to use it.

Phoenix races away after Subo.

Phoenix without a pack moves faster than Subo carrying a rider

When he reaches the bramble-and-bracken thicket in the gully Subo is growling and barking at an old woman, dressed warmly but in homespun, crouching and holding a walking stick or staff. Judging by her peering rheumy eyes she does not see well.

Dingleberry draws shortsword and yells: “throw down that staff you evil old hag!”

The others arrive and all there study the woman and area for possible threats. Cat notices that the old woman wears a ruby ring – or a very good quality garnet ring – upon her finger.

Seck guides Rott up away from the gully and keeps an eye out, as best he can through ongoing drifting mizzle, on the up and down slope. Occasional glimpses of the distant smudge suggest that it is indeed lake Urden. They are still so close to the smoke rising from Mt Mourn that it too is visible from time to time.

But more on his mind is a peculiar castle-shaped formation of cumulonimbus that has lingered on after the storm. At first it was just anomalous, a stray formation hanging over the peaks north of Mt Mourn. Now it seems too solid, and even more anomalous. An occasional flicker of storm-lightning runs along what could be cloud towers and cloud battlements.

Meanwhile: Phoenix stands Dingleberry down, and Cat chats to the old woman. Grannie Beatrix did observe Jahia this very dawn, and bade her good morning, along with her mixed party of followers, including two goblins. Not “her” goblins. She claims to be a guardian of a kind, particularly of a goblin village, out beyond the Rime river, which is the north bend of the Urden before it joins with Three Hags outflows. You can reach the path to the village, she explains, by crossing at the islet where stands the old Windler place. Then bear right, not left.

Cat rolls a pair of nat 20s on Persuasion as he chats amicably

Her talents include healing and scrying. Cat perks up. She goes on to speak more specifically about Hagsjaw, its gray hag problem, and the wider perils of the lands between the Rime and Wailing Hills. There’s a faction of “ill fey” that have no goodwill toward men. Up on Mt Mourn, she hints, Iscorax the black dragon is being guarded by kobolds.

While Cat chats, Dis hovers over a shadowy, hound-like shape nestling in the bushes near Beatrix.

XP: lvl9-58, a significant contact made and reliable information gained

Seck is curious/concerned about the castle-shaped cloud. With the offer of silver Beatrix accompanies them the short trek down to the shore of Lake Urden – dark, icy – and smooths out a scrying pool, to have a peek. The pool freezes over and a stern handsome bearded face appears in the ice. “Ah, no, I probably shouldn’t pry…”

“So that’s what’s in the cloud?”

“It would seem so… I think I’ll be on my way… I won’t be passing through Hagsjaw, I have my own paths…”

And Beatrix hobbles away, a vague shadow of hound following. Dis is curious indeed as to how she comes by a coo shee!

A shapeshifting goddess?

New party order: Seck, Dingleberry, Cat, Phoenix

It’s Seck’s turn to utterly fail tracking

This and thoughts of what best to do take time, and it has gone mid-afternoon by the time the Long Roaders shake out and hit the trail alongside Lake Urden. The cloud-castle hangs far off left – approximately north-west.

Just as Dingleberry asks nervously whether they are going to get closer to that anomaly, their gaze drops to the hillslope just above and beyond them. Seck has already spotted the figure there, but dismissed it as a simple sheperdess. But Dingleberry’s prompt directs the other two:

Phoenix sees a gorgeous elf (maiden? matron?) with long silver hair sweeping down to her waist, simple kirtle clasped about with a leather belt, long staff that looks a little like a shepherd’s crook. Her gaze falls on him:

WIS SV DC25, failed. Phoenix will believe anything she says

As Seck draws closer Cat sees the elf descend nearer, and that she is unshod. She ends her descent about a horse-and-half length from Seck, just above him on the slope. Seck readies Maelsauga, watching for suspicious hand gestures. Cat whispers to Dis to have a look about:

“My lor—-“

Dis vanishes from contact.

She seems amused and smiles merrily at Seck:

WIS SV DC25, failed, Seck will believe anything she says

“You seem to be intent on catching up to Jahia, the paladin?”

“Yep.” “Yes.” “Aye.”

Her eye wanders down as far as Dingleberry. “Oh! What a pretty little boy!”

Dingleberry is smitten, cartoon hearts appearing in their eyes from now on.

“I only know this,” the lady continues, “for I saw her this morning.”

“Were they in good health?”

“I fear they had some difficulty with the lightning.”

“Speaking of lightning, what do you know of that cloud castle?”

“Heh. Shall I say, a close friend? A suitor? A sometime lover?”

“I can see why anyone would return if they could.”

“Thank you… you’re an interesting one.” She drifts closer to Cat.

By this time Cat has worked out the compulsion his friends must be under. “Please, release my friends. They are but simple fellows, and have so much to do.”

“You know it’s perilous to ask a favor… in the wilds… I’m willing, for a price…”

Cat recalls times when Titania has pondered as to what would be most amusing for her, in Cat’s future.

“Oh, I know,” she decides. “Let’s stay in Hagsjaw tonight.” With a gesture she finds a gray shawl to wrap around, and binds her hair up under it. Seck and Phoenix (and Dis) are released. Dis, panicky, hides among Cat’s clothing.

XP: lvl9-57

Dirty old town

Unwalled, Hagsjaw faces the very upper end or neck of Lake Urden. Although a couple of buildings block line of sight, there seems to be a boat dock ahead to right. The sound of a lumber mill provides a distant backdrop to what is otherwise a very quiet village. A village square, broken only by a massive three-legged gallows or gibbet, provides a sense of desolation to the five or six sizable buildings and scatter of more typical frontier-style huts sprawling off left.

The most substantial building dominates the square and Cat tentatively marks it down as the Tatterly domus. Hard right is what looks like a wainwright’s, and away left is what could be a run-down stables. Off half-left, again not easy to examine beyond huts, is what is almost certainly the old temple, part-fallen-in. Beyond what is most likely the boat shed and water trades area are a couple more buildings, one far away by a mill-race.

Old Jeb the drunk, rancid and bedraggled, wanders out to beg a coin. He assures them the other party is in the Tatterly place. As to drinking there’s Willoughby’s – the Craven Crow. He wanders off in that direction.

The party heads left, to the broken-down stables. Yes, this is the right choice: Phoenix sees the tracks of at least four beasts. And at the stables there are four familiar-looking mounts here. Subo wags his tail at the scent of friends.

Cat calls then angrily hollers for service. A decrepit scrofulous ostler stumbles out, spits up a bit, accepts their mounts and falls face-down in the muck when the mystery lady decides he is too disgusting. She studies the ground intently and calls up a tommy-knocker. Too short? She tells it to tend the dog. Subo isn’t keen!

The ostler’s son, peppy bright-eyed Jow, takes over the stabling, and earnestly assures them that he is willing to become a sidekick at a word. He saw Jahia head to the big house. It’s not a good place to go, he adds. They say a lot of people go missing…

As for the Craven Crow being the spot to stay, have they considered the Berserker? The Brawling Berserker is where Jow at least thinks adventurers should go.

“Sooner or later we’ll have to go to the big house,” Seck says in a world-weary manner. There’s still at least an hour’s daylight left, so no great rush. The three ponder options. Walking into the enemy lair doesn’t sound much fun. “I’d rather see danger coming,” Seck avers.

Having taken tack off the horses and packs off the mules, and leaving Ms Mystery with the avid Dingleberry, they head away back toward the wainwrights, which proves close to the Craven Crow. Not surprisingly it looks like a shitty dump.

XP: lvl9-56

Flashback on potion buying. Phoenix drops to Wealth 5d6 and the others owe him 1200 apiece. As well as 54 potions, they buy 26 healer kits.

Finally! Someone who needs killing!

The taproom of the Crow is surprisingly crowded. Surprising, since the smells are unappetizing and it has no decor at all. As they press inside, a vaguely familiar, tall, dark-cloaked man rises to his feet and smoothly leaves by the rear.

Cat approaches the sickly-thin, balding, flaky-skinned barkeep, orders a drink, but even as he does Seck steps back outside, raises his cloak hood, and runs back right intending to cut the man off from the trail out of town. But he’s gone the other way!

Phoenix makes a nat 20 on Perception

Phoenix hears a sharp cry away left, and steps out too, hooks around that way.

Inits: Negus, Yarami/Phoenix, Seck, Cat

Round 1: Up along the dock, Phoenix sees a small figure slump after the dark-clad man throws something: the latter just keeps running. Phoenix dashes, nipping easily over boardwalks, towards the small figure. It’s probably one of Jahia’s scouts. Seck dashes along behind the Crow, rounds the back, and sees enough to see where the fugitive is heading. He races to the next-nearest boat jetty. He makes it to near the end and hurls Maelsauga, but the throw goes wild.

In the taproom, Cat misses an Insight check but excuses himself and runs out and along the walk, towards Phoenix initially.

Round 2: Negus fails his first Death roll. Phoenix identifies the bald goblin scout. He drags the body back behind crates and splashes a healing potion over it.

Yarami dashes along the jetty and leaps into the manned riverboat. “Get moving!” he snarls, lifting his purse to show he has weight. The boatman nods hastily. Seeing this Seck bellows: “Boatman! There’s good coin in it if you don’t take that bastard!” He holds up a gold coin.

A poor roll on Persuasion+d4.

And uses Cunning Action to sprint, leap into the eater, and make use of his Ring of Swimming with a fine Acrobatics check!

Ring of Underwater Breathing – brass, engraved with wave design. Requires an action to switch over, otherwise always “on.”

Cat can see this development and registers that the fugitive must have dropped into a boat or beside the dock. He turns and dashes alongside the Crow, towards where Seck leaped.

Round 3: Negus sits up, and looks about for his bow. “Just stay safe there,” his hero Phoenix advises him. “I got one into ‘im though,” Negus supplies. Phoenix rises and makes after Yarami. Who menaces the boatman with a knife and raises a hand, summoning a cloud overhead. Seck makes well across the water between the boats, dives deep with a fine Acrobatics check, and takes the action to activate the Ring of Underwater breathing.

From the right, Cat turns and paces alongside the Crow, towards Seck’s position. He wields the Staff of the Seas, calculating distances. Lifting the Staff he calls on Control Water to lower the fugitive’s boat to the lake floor.

Round 4: Phoenix sees the two men in the boat suddenly sink below the lake level. He leaps into the second boat, whicks the painter free, and with a Proficiency check begins frantically sweeping the stern oar. He can see that Yarami has dived through the water walls and is making away. Phoenix cuts him off! Seck can kind of see the water obstacle, cuts around it, then activates his Skirmisher Boots to appear behind Yarami. Red Whisper stabs deep. Seck burns the four charges to force a CON SV which Yarami misses. If he had a spell ready, it is gone: his eyes widen in shock!

Cat keeps moving forward so as to get a view. Taking Phoenix as his mark he shifts the Control Water zone. Phoenix sinks!

Round 5: As Phoenix tries to paddle out of the sinking zone he realizes he is adjacent to Yarami, who is holding his breath. Leaving Mocair where it lies Phoenix grabs out his Sea Dragon Fangs, rages, and leaps at the wall of water, punching Yarami.

Yarami makes his CON SV against the one attack that gets through. One level of exhaustion. He Readies action against Seck who works around behind Yarami. As Red Whisper stabs deep Yarami uses his Avenge Me to deal the same amount back to Seck, but in Psychic Damage! Seck fails his CON SV and passes out from the shock.

Cat sends Dis aloft: Across from them the boatman’s boat re-surfaces. “They’re all crazy!” the boatman bellows. No-one comes to help.

Round 6: Phoenix stabs Yarami who misses his CON SV. With four levels of exhaustion he’s in big trouble. His hp max has halved. Phoenix and Yarami step into the “air pit” formed by Cat’s staff. Seck makes his CON SV (nat 20 again) and manages to get to the air column too, gaining his equilibrium and stabbing again. To make sure Yarami can’t counter him he uses Red Whisper’s special mage-attack and once again Yarami fails the CON SV. He’s only got a few hp left. One more trick! As a reaction he Misty Escapes to Cat’s dock, swaying, bleeding and staggering. But faced by Cat his eyes light up! A soft target! Cat retreats not, and thrusts his hand at the waterlogged figure with Shocking Grasp! Yarami is down!

And as the Long Roaders work out where they’ve seen this guy they just killed, the session ends.

XP: lvl9-55

Loot: TBA, but surprisingly light

Beatrix’ testimony

We must go back some four generations, to a year-long reign of terror by a coven of three witches known locally as “the Karnley Hags.” The Karnley Hags worshipped an ancient, near-forgotten power of the deep forest known as Shub-Niggurath — the “Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young” — and they sacrificed to their dark god. 

In time, the townspeople, led by the Tatterly family, hunted down and brought these bloodthirsty witches to justice. The gallows where they were hung still stand in the town square. When the hags were finally killed, their remains were scattered about in different locations and their old religion seemingly disappeared from the region with their deaths. 

The witches died cursing the town and vowing that they would one day return, promising nothing less than misery and doom for the folk of Hagsjaw – as it became known. Only a few years after the hags were executed, a baron’s war left few able-bodied men to work the fields, log the forests, or trap the rivers and woodlands. Next, an incursion of werewolves killed many of the trappers and loggers working in the woods.

About a generation ago, the baronial family gave up on even taxing the region, and patrols ceased. Only a small fraction of Hagsjaw’s inhabitants remain now, and those are mostly from old, established families. The oldest and most prominent of these are the Tatterly family, the same bloodline that led the bold charge against the Karnley Hags so many years past. 

But, recently, it seems that the Tatterly family somehow found one of the three skulls and for whatever reason brought it back to Hagsjaw. They have gold coin money from somewhere. Charms lie about the house and the old town temple, preventing scrying. 

Somewhere in the woods around Three Hags Lakes there’s an evil satyr named Bramble Jeem who longs for a return to the days when men of the region were hunted instead of celebrated. It seems that Jeem may have found a second skull and the two are united in Hagsjaw. 

Only the third Karnley Hag skull remains to be found. If this happens, the reborn coven will reignite the worship of Shub-Niggurath and return to the bloody, dark days. There will be no end to their diabolical witchery! 

Props

This session contains a chunk of Horror out of Hagsjaw with a very healthy admixture of Of Beasts and Men, with a dash of Ragged Hollow Nightmare and a pinch of The Secret of Lupo Grace. There’s even a call-back to The Black Road (who knew?) with the cloud castle! And the one that got away from my version of Ravenrock! And some rolls on The Location Crafter for encounters, which really helped me. There’s a big inspirational difference between rolling “meet Beatrix” and “Juvenile show-offs call unwanted attention to a harmless matron.” I’ll put links to these properties at the end of the adventure.

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