I'd like to record the (mis)adventures of the latest batch of players to have a go at a campaign with me as their DM. It may take me a few posts to get a feel for how I want to write this up, so bear with me and take from it what you can get. My hope is that you will be inspired in your own campaigns and get a laugh or two in the process. I'll post sporadically as we gather and I have time to spare.
These players are university students in southern Iowa. They include my son and my nephew and a group of guys that playtested my soon-to-be-released mega-adventure in the Canonfire Chronicles. I gave them several options for a pre-Greyhawk Wars (CY 576) campaign including ToEE, Slavers, Savage Tide, and Classics. They liked the sound of all of them, especially any involving pirates, but eventually settled on the classics because, most of all, they wanted to go toe-to-toe Against the Giants, make a Descent Into the Depths of the (O)Earth, and to visit the Vault of the Drow. Thus, I have begun their initiation into my world of 'Greyhawk TPKs' with my Pathfinderized version of The Keep on the Borderlands.
I plan to seed their adventures in and around the Keep with various rumors that will give them the option of where to go next. Options will include Fiend's Embrace, White Plume Mountain, Ravenloft, Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth, The Isle of Dread, ToEE, A1-A4 Slavers, and even the Ruins of Castle Greyhawk depending upon their level. It will be up to them. However, it is agreed that when they are of the appropriate levels, they will make their way to Geoff and face the giants, et al.
Cast of Characters:
So far, we have the following PCs, though they don't all manage to be available to game at the same time, so the size of the group varies with each session.
Vink, an elven Sorcerer;
Kenny (Gil) (Zeke), an elven Ranger (chose an archetype that specializes in the use of daggers, has a sneak attack, and is working with me to invent feats that focus on trap-setting);
Lawson (Anthony) (Adaven) (Lord Adoril Shieldheart), a human Ranger (bow specialist);
Joseph Lyons, a human Fighter (specializes in Intimidation and disarming);
Swan (Holt), a human Monk;
Blump, a gnome Cleric; and
Ash Ole, a half-elven Fighter (Power Attack).
As the second son of a minor Perenlander nobleman, Lord Dread Locks stood to inherit nothing but the arms and armor he had been gifted by his father. So, he used it to best advantage and became a successful adventurer. Eventually, he chose to establish a stronghold in the northwestern Vesve Forest, just north of the Deepstil River, which is the northern boundary of the Wood Elven realm. He claims and defends the land in a 15 mile radius hemisphere north of the river, centered on his keep. This land is comprised of wooded hills interspersed with occasional human farmsteads and rare, small demi-human enclaves. Generally, the entrenched populace can defend themselves from the depredations of infrequent humanoid raiders while Lord Locks and his forces deal with larger threats to the peace of the realm. The Wolf Nomads to the north do not begrudge the sedentary folks their claims to the land and neither these folks nor Lord Locks object to the nomads' use of the forested hills for shelter or resources. The good folks of Lord Locks' domain do not enter the elven forest south of the Deepstil without invitation, though those guarded folk have not objected to the pursuit of bandits, humanoids, and their ilk into their demesne by Lord Locks' patrols. For his part, Lord Locks is perfectly happy to have the elves extend their own watchfulness into his lands.
Thanks to DrassustheGaunt for this image:
Recently, however, it has come to Lord Locks' attention that large bands of humanoids have been making forays further and further into the northeastern Vesve and they appear to be coming to stay. Thus, he took it upon himself to protect his realm from eventual assault by taking the fight east to help the good people who are his geographic neighbors. He took with him most of the Keep's archers and cavalry and most of his experienced henchmen. He fights a guerilla war against these humanoids with elvish and nomad allies and replenishes his losses with volunteers and mercenaries whenever and whereever they can be found. Our heroes have joined this battle and have now been called up for a special assignment. The elves have been seconded by their leige as a gesture of goodwill.
Lord Locks gathered the PCs for a mission briefing and explained that a lad of 14 summers had arrived with a tale of serious concern. It seems that small bands of the Marrow Suckers hobgoblin tribe have been slipping through to the west and are attacking homesteads very near to Lord Locks' land. Though the PCs are young and their experience is limited, they have demonstrated to their officers that they have become competent soldiers and were, thus, recommended for this assignment. The initial group included five adventurers - all of the above except Joseph Lyons and Blump.
Their first test was Siege of the Highfolk (World of Greyhawk boxed set adventure card). Bergrat Gutfilcher and his four hobgoblin comrads successfully ambushed the party and a near TPK was the result. Swan, Lawson, Vink, and Gil perished. Only Ash survived to fight another day, by hiding and running back to Lord Locks' camp for reinforcements. It was a hard lesson, but the next group was likely to learn from the mistakes of the first.
Note: The 20-sider in my new set of dice seems to roll an inordinately high percentage of 1s and 20s. Thus, the bad guys fumble frequently (DC 20 Reflex save whenever a 1 is rolled) and crit the PCs just as frequently. That's hard at 1st level.
Well, Lord Locks managed to scrape together some reinforcements for the lone survivor, mainly because he was now certain that the Marrow Suckers needed to be dealt with, but could not spare another sorcerer. He did, however, replace the other members with (nearly) identical soldiers (Holt, Zeke, and Anthony) and added a local from his own Keep forces, Joseph Lyons. This group discovers the band of Marrow Suckers engaged in a civil war between the Bonesnapper brothers, Snagger and Rumblegut. Snagger Bonesnapper is holed up in the Brannigan farmstead with several of his faithful warriors while his duplicitous brother tries to convince his larger band of traitors to assault the place, kill Snagger, and establish Rumblegut as the new leader of the band.
Gil and Holt attempt to scout the perimeter of the glade while the other three watch from hiding deeper in the woods behind Rumblegut's forces. Unfortunately, they were not sneaky enough and Gil and Holt took some crossbow bolts to the gut while trying to circumnavigate the farm buildings. Rumblegut sent several of his hobgoblins to investigate what Snagger's followers were shooting at and the PCs' stealth failed them again. A melee ensued and Holt went down, followed shortly by Gil. The noise attracted the rest of Rumblegut's band and the other PCs were hesitant to engage about a dozen more hobgoblins. Unfortunately for the PCs, the hobgoblins saw them and attacked. Many of Rumblegut's warriors fell, but so too did the PCs. All, that is, except Ash. He was taking pot shots at Snagger who had been trying, unsuccessfully, to return the favor through a farmhouse window. As Rumblegut's hobgoblins charged the half-elf, he held up his hands and claimed to be here to help Rumblegut take out Snagger. After some threats and bluffs, he managed to convince Rumblegut that he had not attacked any of his forces, but had wounded Snagger. Ash agreed to lead a charge on the farmhouse, followed by Rumblegut and his twelve remaining hobgoblins, in exchange for the promise that any living hostages held by Snagger would be freed to leave with him. They were all he was there for. His Bluff successfully defeated Rumblegut's Sense Motive, so the charge was made. While Rumblegut's forces fought to gain entry at the windows, Ash and Rumblegut himself managed to force the door against Snagger and another hobgoblin. Rumblegut faced his older brother and was having the worst of the duel until Snagger tripped and landed on his own sword. With the holes from the two longbow arrows Ash had put into him, this was just too much and Snagger's life ended by his own hand.
Rumblegut's rebellion was successful and he honored his agreement with the half-elf and freed the Brannigan family. They high-tailed it out of there and were shortly met by a new group of reinforcements sent by Lord Locks as they had become available. But, that is another tale for another late night.
Last edited by SirXaris on Sat Apr 28, 2018 10:25 pm; edited 15 times in total
These players are university students in southern Iowa. They include my son and my nephew and a group of guys that playtested my soon-to-be-released mega-adventure in the Canonfire Chronicles. I gave them several options for a pre-Greyhawk Wars (CY 570) campaign including (ToEE, Slavers, Savage Tide, and Classics). They liked the sound of all of them, especially any involving pirates, but eventually settled on the classics because, most of all, they wanted to go toe-to-toe Against the Giants, make a Descent Into the Depths of the (O)Earth, and to visit the Vault of the Drow. Thus, I have begun their initiation into my world of 'Greyhawk TPKs' with my Pathfinderized version of The Keep on the Borderlands...
-The official Return to the Keep seems to put it in the Yeomanry. I put it at the juncture of the Jewel and the Handmaiden, and I've seen at least person here who does as well, although I think the NSEW "orientaion" is different. One of those, or none of the above?
...Bergrat Gutfilcher and his four hobgoblin comrads successfully ambushed the party and a near TPK was the result. Only the half-elven Fighter survived to fight another day, by hiding and running back to Lord Locks' camp for reinforcements...
-The "let the chips fall where they may" school! I'm with you, although Mystic Scholar takes a different route...
Only one of the original five has yet to be killed (Ash, the half-elven Fighter). Most of the others have been killed twice and replaced with identical characters, having had their six stats rerolled (they just equipped them the same and gave them the same feats as their previous characters).
As they advance in level, I intend to have PCs who are killed replaced with new PCs at the same level, but dropped to the minimum amount of experience necessary to reach that level. Thus, there is a small cost to death (and the new PC must have a different name). Secondly, the new PC may keep the old PC's magical equipment if the party was able to salvage it. If not, they'll start with whatever is appropriate for an NPC of that level.
The players are having fun keeping track of how many times each of their PCs dies and bragging each time they survive an encounter (yes, encounter, not adventure). They've discovered the hard way that at first level, a band of hobgoblins in equal numbers to the party is extremely deadly and an owl bear is right out!
Next installment probably not until Sunday or Monday night.
Last edited by SirXaris on Tue Sep 11, 2012 12:53 am; edited 1 time in total
Joseph Lyons was a young soldier who grew up within Lord Locks' demense. He remembered the days of his youth when no lord protected the woods north of the river. Families daring to stake a claim in the woods were at the mercy of wandering humanoids, occasional monstrous beasts, snobbish elves from the southern woods, and even infrequent harassment by northern barbarians. The establishment of the keep was a welcome event and taxes were a small price to pay for the protection it and its forces offered. As soon as he came of age, the young Master Lyons enlisted in the Keep's Watch, eager to join the patrols that had brought a sense of security to his own family's existance.
Now, after three years of such service, his sergeant had brought him a summons from Lord Locks himself. He was assigned the task of leading a small band of soldiers to reinforce an earlier group sent back to the Lord's lands. Joseph's special instructions, and one of the main reasons he had been chosen for this assignment, were to capture members (especially leaders) of any band of humanoids they encountered for interrogation. Rather than stopping a few of them, Lord Locks desired for their plans to be known and countered. Besides himself, this new group consisted of an elven Ranger, Ezekiel (Zeke), and a human Ranger, Adaven. These soldiers quickly made their way back toward the Keep and soon met up with Ash and the survivors of the Brannigan farmstead.
Reviewing their respective remits, the combined group decided the appropriate priority was to escort the Brannigans safely to the Keep. From there, they would return to tracking down humanoids heading that way. They managed to avoid danger until they were nearly to their destination. Approaching the Keep along the northeast road, they spotted an ambush a few dozen yards ahead within the edge of the forest. Zeke tried to sneak up on the ambushers, but was not as skilled as he had thought himself to be. He failed to spot a goblin archer who had spotted him and suffered a crossbow bolt to the ribs for his effort.
Turning and fleeing back through the trees and up the road to stand behind the healthy Fighter (M. Lyons), the elf fitted an arrow to his bow and prepared for the assault. Sure enough, the goblins howled as their ambush was foiled and poured forth from their hiding places. Most ran through the trees along the edge of the road, but a few jumped into the open to make a dash up the road at their prey. Those few suffered a hail of arrows from the party and dropped like flies. As the party turned their missile fire upon those goblins advancing through the trees, however, the results were not so favorable. As the Brannigans retreated back up the road, about eight goblins made it into melee combat with the soldiers. Joseph Lyons, having taken the lead in facing the goblins, took the brunt of their attacks and suffered grievous bodily wounds, while the others suffered lighter degrees of damage. Never-the-less, the goblins suffered death - not a single one having been given the opportunity even to flee. Zeke and Lyons, being near death, had to be given assistance the rest of the way to the keep.
Note: Before I handed the players their copy of this map, I burned the edges all around with a match to make it look more authentic. Specifically, I burned the entire upper right-hand corner, completely obliterating the portion titled "Here, there be monsters". As a result, my fledgling players had no idea that the Caves of Chaos were located in that spot and they were able to make an honest effort to systematically begin exploring every inch of the map looking for it.
Note: Also, notice the year indicated on the map. This worked very well as this campaign is begun in 576 CY. With the map being over 400 years old, it worked well that there is no longer a watch tower where the Cave of the Unknown is now and that other names are not the same as are in current use. Interestingly, it implies that Sir Dread Locks built a new keep on the site of the old and, apparently, closely duplicated the original in designing his own.
Upon arrival at the Keep, the group was given only a cursory questioning by the gate guards and allowed entrance because Joseph was a known member of their team. The group escorted the Brannigans to see Abdiel, the head Cleric of Heironeous at the temple. There, they received some healing and an invitation to return as needed. They reported to the Captain of the Watch and were told to return on the morrow. They spent the rest of the day visiting the smith, the provisioner, and the trader, who were all known to Joseph. The next morning, they were interviewed by the Captain of the Watch and ordered to return to the Brannigan farmstead and finish off Rumblegut's band of Marrow Suckers.
The next morning, they made all haste back to the farmstead, but discovered the hobgoblins had departed with all the livestock after trashing the place. They tracked them through the woods, west toward the Keep, until the Rangers noted a splitting of the forces. Apparently, about half a dozen of the hobgoblins continued their trek westward while another group took the pigs, sheep, and horses from the Brannigan farmstead north toward the east/west track through the forest. They elected to follow the group with the livestock and found that they crossed the road and turned west again. This group was followed until they crossed the north/south road between the Keep and the Wolf Nomad city of Eru Tovar. Continuing west, the party caught up with these hobgoblins at their camp in the woods. The planned ambush was bungled due to indecision and the six hobgoblins around the fire rushed to attack. Never-the-less, once in combat, the soldiers acted with precision and battled effectively. Ash managed to remain unseen and flanked the hobgoblins to deadly effect while the others fought blade to blade. Rumblegut, himself, was being flanked by Zeke and Ash when private Lyons stepped up, disarmed him, head-butted him, and shouted into his bloody face to surrender! Rumblegut immediately stumbled backward and had a seat on the ground. Zeke was tempted to kill him, but bound him instead. The last hobgoblin, who had been trading bowshots with Adaven, turned and fled. The severely wounded soldiers elected not to give chase, but instead, collected their prisoner and the livestock and hastened back to the Keep.
(Note: I gave Lyons a -10 penalty to his Intimidate roll since Rumblegut was currently involved in combat, but he still beat the hobgoblin's Sense Motive and succeeded in intimidating him right out of combat. )
There, they were well-received by their fellow guardsmen, Abdiel and his underlings, the Brannigans (who were elated at the rescue of their livestock), and their own superiors. Farmer Brannigan informed the PCs that, of the eight horses, only the two draft animals were his. The Captain of the Watch then verified that those six horses were now the property of the PCs as spoils of war. They chose to sell two and keep four of them.
The Captain of the Watch then ordered the PCs to make the Keep their base of opperations while continuing their pursuit of humanoids infiltrating the lands round about. As most of the members of the squad were not familiar with the Keep and its lands, they were to spend a week accompanying patrols to learn the lay of the land and the peoples who inhabit it. These patrols were successful in those two efforts, but they did not provide the party much in the way of combat, for they always numbered at least ten mounted soldiers, well armed and armored. Potential enemies rarely showed themselves to such a group. When the week was ended, they elected to begin exploring the keep environs more thoroughly, though they took the warning to avoid the swamp to heart.
Joseph Lyons was required to spend some time at the Keep itself and Swan wished to stay and participate in the interrogation of Rumblegut, so Ash and the two Rangers (Zeke and Adaven) went out alone. While exploring the forested hills north of the Keep, they kept running into small bands of hobgoblins. They avoided a melee with a couple of black bears, but couldn't seem to avoid the hobgoblins. They eventually deduced that, since each and every one of the hobgoblins they killed wore the symbol of the Marrow Suckers tribe upon their armor or shield, they must be hunting them. (The truth is that having a 30% chance of an encounter in the forest and a 6% chance that such an encounter was with hobgoblins, I just happened to roll four encounters with bands of hobgoblins out of seven total wandering monster encounters! )
These encounters were taking a toll on the three warriors, however. Lacking curative magics, they had to rely on overnight rest for healing. With the frequency of encounters, this was proving stressful. They managed to find an overhang along a small stream that they could camp under. A small fire on the beach and their backs to the cliff wall under the overhang made for a better defensive position than the clearing they had stayed in the previous nights in the forest. Bears and a couple bands of hobgoblins had made those rests poor ones. This time, they stacked brush around their camp for some concealment and Zeke set some alarm wires with tiny bells attached around the edge of the camp and just on the other side of the shallow stream. This alarm system had proved successful on previous nights and did so again when the third band of hobgoblins attempted to sneak up on them. The fight was vicious, but the PCs survived, barely. They needed to rest as it was a long way back to the Keep and Ash was uncounscious from his wounds. The next day, as they continued their rest, another small band of hobgoblins tracked them down. This group was only three strong, but they were more experienced warriors led by none other than Bergrat Gutfilcher, the very same Marrow Sucker subchief responsible for ambushing and killing most of the original group of PCs. Bergrat and his subordinants dealt serious injury to the three PCs, but Bergrat chose to flee for his life when his compatriots fell.
Again, the soldiers felt the need to rest before wandering out in the suspiciously dangerous woodlands. They reinforced their abatis with a few captured spears, set two loaded crossbows (from the most recent hobgoblin attackers) on a large stone to be grabbed and fired quickly, reset the alarm wires (unsuccessfully: I rolled a natural 1 for his attempt at setting the trap this time), and attempted to get some more rest. While the others slept, Ash's attention wandered on guard duty. The hungry owlbear that chanced upon their scent wandered right through the failed alarm trap and snuck right up behind the sentry, who had failed his Perception check against the owlbear's stealth check. The owlbear's initial claw attack slammed the half-elf against the back wall of the overhang and left him unconscious and bleeding. It did, however, wake the other two. Adaven immeditately engaged the owlbear with his sword while Zeke moved around at a distance and began to fire crossbow bolts at its flank. The owlbear suffered some damage from the attacks of the two, then returned the favor on the body of Adaven. It's attacks were limited, however, as it stumbled over the blocking abatis and lost its full alotment of attacks that round. Adaven's defense held through the next few rounds until he managed to score a critical hit and stabbed the owlbear through the heart. Several crossbow bolts in its side attested to the effectiveness of Zeke's contribution and hid the fact that he planned to flee if the human went down to the owlbear's assault.
In shock at their survival, they eventually remembered to bandage the half-elf before he died of his wounds. Thinking they had no choice, they elected to rest just one more day, until they were all conscious and mobile. Then, they would make for the ruins of the watchtower shown on the ancient map they carried - the one they had taken from the body of one of the Marrow Suckers.
To be continued...
Last edited by SirXaris on Wed Jan 15, 2020 10:49 am; edited 12 times in total
The night attack of the owlbear had disrupted the party's rest and plans to move soon. Fortunately, they were not disturbed until dusk the following evening. Ash had recovered consciousness, but was barely fit for battle. Never-the-less, when Zeke signaled that visitors had been spotted advancing up the stream, all three soldiers hefted their arms and prepared to fight.
Eight goblins (no, not hobgoblins, this time ) marched boisterously along the shallow creek's course, splashing and cursing as they came, apparently oblivious to the PCs lying in wait behind their cover. As the goblins came in range, the party let fly with crossbows and longbows. Three goblins fell to the four missiles and the rest scattered into the forest. They did not scatter far, however, but charged and battled our heroes until only two remained to flee. One was successful.
Our warriors then decided that they just couldn't afford to stay in that location any longer. It was not safe enough for them to heal, but they didn't want to travel in the dark. So, at first light, they made for the large clearing with a watchtower indicated on their ancient map (dated 137 CY). The night had, miraculously, proven uneventful and their half-day trek through the woods to the clearing did likewise. However, upon pausing at the edge of the half-mile by quarter-mile wide clearing to ponder the best approach to the mound of stone near its center, they observed what appeared from a distance to be four elves racing from the northeastern edge of the clearing directly for the mound of stones. As the party watched from a more westerly position at the clearing's edge, a rather large band of goblins emerged from the forest in pursuit of these elves. The elves took up defensive positions among the stones and fired some missiles into the advancing humanoids. Three of those in front fell, pierced by arrow or bolt. Curiously, the tall, red-haired female elf had not drawn a bow of any kind, but stood in the vanguard of defense ready to receive the first of the assault.
Behind the score of goblins emerging from the forest came two more mounted upon enormous wolves (worgs). At this point, the warriors determined to assist the elves and each fired their bow (Ash and Adaven) or crossbow (Zeke). Three goblins fell on the goblins' right flank. One of the worg-mounted goblins and three of the infantry turned to face the PCs. Only the worg and its rider arrived alive to confront the warriors through the next volley and several more of those racing toward the elves fell, two of them snuffed by daggers thrown by the tall red-head, who then hefted a longspear with which to meet the charge of the goblin bridage. As the two separate melee's became close-in brawls, our heroes had all they could do to survive the attacks of the worg and its rider without trying to keep abreast of the fight on the mound. They did manage to kill both goblin and worg with only Ash suffering wounds sufficient to nearly kill him. Ash's bleeding was stopped and Zeke and Adaven carried him over to the mound to communicate with the elves.
They discovered that the tall, red-headed female was called Alejander and led the group. Her compatriots consisted of two elven archers and a human crossbowman. She said that she had traveled a long way from the south seeking adventure in these parts and asked the two if any Paladin lords had arrived at the Keep lately. She explained that she and her friends had been out here in the wilderness for quite some time, so were interested in such recent news. Ash and Adaven commented that, 'No', they had not noted any such personages at the keep while they had been there. Alejander's attitude seemed to perk up a bit at that information and she pulled a healing potion from her belt pouch and offered it in thanks for the party's assistance. They immediately used it to revive Ash. The two groups agreed to camp on the stone mound for safety, then to return to the Keep for some rest at dawn.
(DM's Note: If you have seen Arnold Swartzenegger's Conan, you will remember the stone mound he climbed when escaping slavery with dogs in pursuit. With that image in mind, you can likely guess what comes next. )
Last edited by SirXaris on Sat Apr 28, 2018 11:19 pm; edited 5 times in total
Having vanguished the goblin horde, the members of both groups were highly relieved to pass the night uneventfully amongst the chaotic tumble of rocks on the smallish mound. At first light, they hied themselves to the Keep where they parted company. The three soldiers immediately reported to the Captain of the Watch at the barbican (the small fortified gatehouse dividing the common half of the Keep from the military half). They made a short report of their activities and were dismissed with instructions to see Abdiel at the temple and to get some rest before returning to duty. They claimed the bounties for the humanoids they slew (a bag of right hands was offered as proof), but were told that no bounty was being offered for monsters like owlbears. The claw did inspire the clerk to record the deed and assure the soldiers that the authorities at the Keep were keeping close track of the monstrous activity within Lord Locks' demesne (humanoid and otherwise) and that proof of such deeds would certainly be remarked upon by those authorities.
Abdiel and his acolytes were happy to see the party return alive after another successful sortie. As the acolytes were assisting them with healing spells, Abdiel introduced them to a well-armed and armored gnome prominently wearing a holy symbol about his neck. His breastplate gleamed and a sharpened, masterfully crafted battle axe swung easily at his belt, while a simple sling hung from the opposite hip. In one hand, an embossed steel shield with Liga emblazoned upon its surface reflected the afternoon light from the stained glass windows above the entryway in a magical dance before their eyes. Tucked into his belt in front was a rather unimpressive wooden rod.
"Please let me introduce you to brother Blump, a servant of Garl Glittergold and friend to the servants of Heironeous. He hails from the Sepia Uplands and has adventured in our region previously. I have already told him of your recent exploits and will allow him to explain his reason for wishing to meet you. Please know that he has my respect and faith in his trustworthiness and abilities."
At this, Blump congratulated the PCs on their successes and expressed his sympathies for lost friends. He explained that he and an ecclectic group of companions gathered from various neighborhoods in the High Vale had traveled to this area the previous summer and sought to make a name for themselves through adventuring. Alas, pride had been their immediate downfall as Blump, himself, had caused the group to be fired upon by the gate guard, imprisoned in the keep, seriously fined, and himself being exiled from the Keep for a time. But, that is a story for another time. Unfortunately, the dangers of the area proved too much for most of his group and only three survived. Parting ways, the elf returned to the Vesve, Albus the Bastard retreated to a life of more scholarly pursuits, and Blump decided to return home for a rest and some holy contemplation. Now, however, he is ready to return to the fight against evil and wished to join the PCs in their mission. Abdiel handed the soldiers a parchment with the Captain of the Watch's signature approving the addition of the gnome Cleric to the mission as an outside consultant. The soldiers gave up trying to contain their excitement at finally having access to healing magic while in the field and welcomed Blump to their party.
After visiting Abdiel, Ash went to see the smith, Master Hamner, about the masterwork longsword he had commissioned earlier. Master Hamner was generally a bit gruff with curious customers, but Ash had won his respect, largely due to the expensive work which he had commissioned. The smith didn't frequently have an opportunity to spend the time working on a masterful piece of product like this, so appreciated such a job being financed.
"Please, please! To you, I am Armand! You are my friend, Master Ash!" bellowed the ebulient weaponsmith. "Come see how she progresses! I have almost finished folding the blade!" Ash was not much impressed at the beauty the smith saw in the flat, cold metal rod Master Hamner produced for his inspection, but understood a bit about the necessary repetitive process of heating the bar, flattening it with a hammer upon an anvil, folding it in half upon itself, flattening it again, and cooling it. He knew Armand was not deceiving him when he said it would take a month to finish. Despite that, Ash was extremely anxious to swing such a fine weapon as he imagined it would be in combat.
Departing the smithy, Ash rejoined his friends at the tavern. The locals cast them surreptitious glances, but their soldier colleagues were not so shy, chatting with them about their recent adventures and sharing rumors and information about the region. Amongst unverifiable rumors about monsters, treasures, and traps in and around the lost Caves of Chaos (unverifiable, they were assured, because no one had ever returned from the Caves alive), came some additional background about Lord Locks. They learned that the Laird had taken about two thirds of the Keep's cavalry and one third each of its infantry and archers with him when he left a year ago to combat the humanoid invasion of the Vesve from the lands of Iuz to the east. This, they understood, was the reason the Castellan currently lacked the forces necessary to maintain sufficient patrols of the demesne and adventuring types were highly prized. They had always felt that being assigned to such a mission was a high honor for such as themselves, but now knew that the assignment was even more important than they had previously believed. They learned that the Keep's leadership was on friendly terms with the elves south of the Deepstil and that the Keep's patrols scouted the south bank of the river occasionally, but, out of respect for the insular nature of their elven neighbors, did not violate the perimeter of the forest on that side of the river unless in visual pursuit of their quarry. Asking about the swamp, they were warned in shocked, serious tones not to venture within unless they had a death wish. The members of the Watch and the Guard told tales of sightings and minor scrapes with groups of undead, even ghouls(!), of lizardfolk, and more terrifying denizens. The party wasn't sure how much of this to take at face value, but a strangely dressed halfing Barbarian who had been listening at a nearby table piped up and swore that he had seen an extremely large rat staring at him as he passed near the swamp along the road to the Keep. He described how that giant rat had changed into the shape of a scrawny, filthy man before his eyes as the mist of the marsh enveloped him.
As the soldiers eventually rose to adjourn for bed, this halfling, miniature great axe and all, told them he had decided to join their ranks. He had come east from his home in the Clatspurs where he had tired of battling giant-kin and hoped for some excitement in the forest. The soldiers figured the worst that could come of it was that, since he was shorter and, therefore, slower than them, he could serve as a distraction to the next owlbear they encountered. So, they told him they were game, but that he would have to get permission from their superior, the Captain of the Watch to accompany them. The next morning, the halfing, calling himself Drago, met them at the front gate mounted upon a war pony.
"This is my little pony, Ginger!" Drago cheerfully greeted his new compatriots as he handed them a commission to join their mission as a contracted outside consultant. It was signed by the Captain, so they handed it back and welcomed the miniature Barbarian to the group without objection. At that moment, Blump rode up to the gate dressed for battle and mounted upon an enormous dog - a Mastiff, he explained. The soldiers had to admit that it looked a bit more formidable than the Rotweilers used as guard dogs by the two Corporals of the Watch (Rangers, by trade). Escorting him was Joseph Lyons.
The group was extremely curious about the mound of stones they had camped upon and the lack of a watchtower as indicated on their map. Neither their captain, nor any of the soldiers in the tavern had ever known a tower of any kind to exist there. However, they decided that they needed to continue a more logcial progression of search within Lord Locks' demesne in order to (re)discover the location of the legendary Caves of Chaos. So, they headed back into the forested hills north and west of the Keep. (Their captain had explained that the Caves apparently have a curse upon them that causes knowledge of their location to fade from the mind of anyone who has visited or been told of it within a month of the last such incident. Likewise, ink, charcoal, paints and all other methods of recording such location fade altogether within the same period of time. Thus, Lord Locks maintained regular patrols to the area specifically so that the Keep's leadership and many other soldiers would constantly remember their location. Unfortunately, with the depletion of man-power, such patrols were neglected and now the Caves cannot be found.)
Though Ash, Adaven, and Zeke were more comfortable on foot than on horses, Joseph Lyons had elected to ride one of the light war horses the group had captured from Rumblegut's band. Thus, the party of six made its next sortie from the Keep, three on foot and three mounted upon a horse, a pony, and a dog, all trained for war, in the wee hours of what promised to be an eventful day.
Last edited by SirXaris on Sat Apr 28, 2018 11:25 pm; edited 13 times in total
Traveling north and a bit westward from the Keep, the group was embarassed to be accosted by a group of elves who managed to surround them and get the drop on them with drawn bows. However, parley soon had the groups both able to lower their guards a bit and the elves explained that they were an ambassadorial mission from their small enclave north of Lord Locks' demesne to the Wood Elves of the Vesve seeking refuge within their realm for their extended families. They explained that life was becoming too difficult and dangerous for their small community and that, if the Wood Elves granted permission, they would return for their families and escort them all south to the protection the larger kingdom offered. In exchange, the party shared the information they had gleaned of the dangers of the area and the distance to the Keep and the ford across the Deepstil. As the groups parted company, the elven leader of the small band warned the party to keep their eyes open for something, or someone, that he believed was following them (the elves). He hadn't gotten a good look at it, or them, but was sure something was stealthily paralelling their course.
It didn't take the party long to verify the truth of the elven leader's suspicions. Zeke and Adaven scouted in advance of the mounted three and Ash who traveled abreast, but spread out a few feet as they traversed the moderately dense forested landscape. Adaven happened to turn just in time to spy a creature drop from a tree onto the back of Joseph's horse. As he called a warning, Zeke saw a large cat pounce from the brush onto Adaven's back and bear him to the ground while taking a bite on his shoulder. The cat then held its ground over the prone form of Adaven who immediately froze as he felt the warm breath of the carnivore upon the back of his neck. Joseph struggled to turn around in his saddle to reach whatever was accosting him back there, but felt unharmed as he spied a wild-looking halfling drop to the side of his horse and dart directly underneath it. Blump spied the little thug beneath Lyons' mount with a dagger and a crossbow in his hands. Dismounting in order to strike at him without hitting the horse, he watched the assailant slash the belly of the horse before suffering a slash across his shoulder from Blump's battle axe. The diminuative demon, then darted out from under the horse, right into the path of Ash, who had moved to intercept him. His best hope for retreat was blocked by another wild-eyed Halfling (Drago) charging with a raised great axe.
Zeke rushed to Adaven's defense and engaged the cat in a viscious exchange of blade, tooth, and claw which allowed the half-elf to regain his feet and join in the battle. The goblin-sized attacker tumbled past Ash and Drago with an impressive display of acrobatic skill, but suffered a slash from one of the two in the process. At that point, both he and the cat broke in retreat. Zeke stuck a crossbow bolt into the cat's flank as it attempted to escape and Lyons fell from his horse, saddle and all, as he reached for his own crossbow. Wanting to add his own 'Hail Marry' to the fleeing foes, he struggled to his feet only to discover that his crossbow was missing and the girth strap holding his saddle in place had been cleanly cut. At least his horse was unharmed. A final glance at the disappearing figure confirmed that the crossbow was now in its theiving possession.
The party agreed that the Rangers should have little trouble following the trail of such a large amount of blood as those two were surely losing, so they began the chase. The trail twisted and turned, crossed gullies and streams, backtracked, rose into the branches of the trees, and did some impressive work in its attempt to throw off pursuit, but the collective skill of the Rangers, mastiff, and even Ginger (who had been trained to track) could not be disuaded. After several hours of tracking, the trail began to cross traps purposefully set in advance in order to harm pursuers. A shallow, covered pit, just deep enough to tear an ankle, full of sharpened stakes was the first trap the party discovered. Engrossed in their work, the Rangers were warned away when Ginger shied back from the trail before stepping into the pit. Other rather ingenious traps were discovered and avoided as they progressed, including one simply composed of thin stakes driven into the dirt wall of a gully and covered with a thin layer of leaves, dirt, then more leaves and twigs. To an untrained eye, the gully appeared to narrow in this spot just enough for a man to make a running leap from the (false) edge and successfully cover the distance. Such an attempt would have resulted in the false edge giving way beneath the weight of any jumper, dumping him or her into the gully 20 feet below. Zeke was begrudgingly impressed with some of the traps and stored the knowledge for later use.
Eventually, however, all trackers lost the trail as it entered another stream. The blood trail had nearly disappeared, so it was surmised that their quarry had stopped to bandage its wounds and no exit from the rivulet could be found, up or downstream. The best they could determine was that the wandering pursuit had been leading them in a generally southeasterly direction through the woods and they estimated that they were near to the watchtower clearing. So, they chose to continue in that direction.
Soon, Zeke spotted two gnolls waiting in ambush at the same time the gnolls spotted him. He darted back to the rest of the group, but suffered a severe wound to the calf from a rather large arrow. He was extremely greatful to whatever god or goddess that had protected him from the second such missile. He immediately warned the group of the location of the gnolls and hid behind Ash, who fired a return shot at the beasts. Blump immediately charged, followed closely by Lyons and Drago. Adaven advanced on foot and fired his own arrow. After dodging more over-sized missiles from the largish humanoids, Blump, who arrived first, demonstrated some impressive riding acrobatics by standing in the saddle of his Mastiff mount and launching himself at the nearest gnoll. The gnoll dodged the flying, armored form, but suffered a slash to the shoulder blade in the process. Impressed with the Cleric's daring, Lyons' attempt to emulate the gnome's stunt resulted in the Fighter flying well past his intended target, receiving a slice to the belly from its battle axe, and a painful crash landing upon the root-covered forest floor. The more cautious Barbarian and Adaven, however, engaged the gnolls afoot and were able to successfully defeat them when Blump and Lyons regained their feet and returned to the battle. Along with some useful coins, Ash and Adaven each claimed an unimpressively made, but powerfully strong bow from the gnolls' belonging. Lyons jokingly demanded that their colleagues at the Keep never hear of the incident.
Upon resuming their trek to the watchtower mound, they encountered a band of 11 gnomes headed for the Keep. Initial suspicion by each group (the gnomes appeared to be goblins from a distance to the party and the party all looked like orcs to the gnomes - 'All you tallfolk look alike to us') was alieved when Blump recognized the gnomish language being used by the other group. Hailing them in their own language, parley was established and they shared information. After describing their recent encounter, the gnomes explained that the owner of the feline was, in fact, the Mad Hermit of the Woods, who lives in these parts. They assured the party that he is human, though smallish in stature, and that he is mostly harmless unless someone steals from him or harms his cat. Remembering the blood, the party was not reassured at this point. Parting company, Zeke, who had been rather sulky during the exchange because he was certain that a couple of the gnomes had spied his carefully concealed location, returned to the group beaming with confidence because one of the gnomes (which he was certain was female) had winked at him as they departed. Blump commented that she was likely just letting Zeke know that she had detected him in the brush, but Zeke interpreted it as identical to her having blown him a kiss and spent the following evening pondering the possibilities of having a gnomish girlfriend. That is, until his daydreams were rudely interrupted by the sound of multiple alarm bells...
The party continued on until they reached the jumbled mound of stone in the watchtower clearing. There, they set up camp amongst what they took for ruins of an ancient tower and prepared to explore it more carefully at next light. Zeke set his alarm bells and wires around the perimeter of the mound, which was roughly 60 feet in diameter. The others set out their bedrolls and fell asleep while Zeke continued his work and sat upon one of the topmost rocks to keep the first watch. He was rather enjoying his fantasies when, most rudely, all his alarm bells sounded, one right after the other. Focusing upon the perimeter, he saw nearly a score of skeletons clambering up the stony mound to get at him and his companions. Calling a warning, he drew his sap (the only bludgeoning weapon he possessed), and mounted the highest stony projection to meet the undead assault.
Each of the party members arose to discover the skeletal assailants nearly upon them, except Adaven who snored blissfully away. Blump had, unfortunately, positioned his bedroll nearer to the perimeter than the others and suffered an immediate stab wound to the thigh for that lack of foresight. The group immediately flailed away with the flats of their blades and dodged nearly innumerable hacks and slashes from their attackers. Ash ignored his weapons and picked up small rocks to harden the punches he attempted to bludgeon his assailants with. Still, Adaven dreamed. As few of their undead assailants fell and more surmounted the stone ruins of the fallen tower, Blump thought to collapse part of the stone ruin underneath the feet of several of the skeletons. To this end, he charged the remnant of the wall and slammed it with his shoulder. Unfortunately, his footing was unsure and he slipped on the gravel as he made the final lunge. This weak bullrush attempt at the wall did little more than dislodge a bit of dust, but stunned Blump impressively. Falling back to the center of the mound, the party battled for its life until Blump regained his wits and recalled that skeletons were a perfect example of the optimum time to make use of his ability to channel positive energy. At his next opportunity, he summoned the divine power and a blast of blue-tinted energy erupted from his center in a 30 foot radius. As the adventurers felt the magical pulse in their psyches, they saw every skeleton explode into dust. Coughing in the polluted air, Adaven awakened to inquire the reason for the interruption of his rest.
As Ash opened his mouth for a retort, he disappeared into the mound: sucked beneath the earth as if it were quicksand. His friends rushed to the spot and saw a cloud of dust rising from a hole in the ground. Calling for their friend, they heard his laughing reply that he was unharmed. (He had fallen 10 feet onto a 5 foot tall pile of debris and rolled to the bottom without suffering any injury due to a successful Reflex save.) When the dust cleared, a shaft of moonlight illuminated the small pile of rubble and wood and Ash determined that the ground at the edges of that pile was worked stone. However, he could not see well enough to determine anything else about the hole he had fallen into. Blump bravely dove into the hole, but was embarassingly less successful in his acrobatics attempt than Ash had been and had the wind knocked out of him as he lay on his back at the base of the pile of rubble with Ash crouched above him, smiling down upon his prone form. Adaven, who had been in the process of tying a rope to a grappling hook, fastened it to the ruins above, dropped a lit torch to Ash's waiting hand, and descended safely through the hole. He was soon followed by Lyons, Zeke, and Drago.
Within, they discovered that they were in a 20 by 40 foot room of worked stone. Standing at silent attention against three of the walls were a host of human skeletons armed and armored in chain and splint. Seated in an impressive chair against the far wall was another skeletal figure wearing a breastplate. All members of the party knew full well the likely result of tampering with anything in this room, but Zeke's curiosity got the better of him (or, perhaps, it was his penchant for trouble). He approached the enthroned figure and studied it more closely. Upon its brow sat a golden halo with a red gem in the center. Upon its left hand, it wore a ruby ring. It's right hand extended beyond the throne's armrest and gripped the pommel of a bastard sword with its tip resting on the floor by the figure's feet. Alas, the figure and all that it held and wore were covered in a thin calcite encrustation from water dripping from the ceiling so a proper appraisal of the jewelry's value could not be made. Against the warning of his companions, Zeke grasped the sword's hilt and pulled it from the seated skeleton. Of course, it didn't work. The boney hand clenched the pommel of the sword tightly and refused to relinguish its treasure. At the same time, the 20 armed skeletons against the walls came to unlife and moved to assault the party spread throughout the room. The majority of these undead (normal skeletons) were quickly snuffed out as Blump did not hesitate this time to call upon the divine power of channeling positive energy. Unfortunately, the four splintmail armored skeletons immediately in front of the throne were not so easily overcome. They focused their attacks upon Zeke until Lyons and the others managed to force themselves between the desparately spinning elf and his enraged foes (2nd level Skeletal Warriors). The battle was fierce and Lyons was knocked unconscious as he suffered life-threatening injuries. Ash, also, was so near death that the party retreated back up the hole upon finishing off the last of the skeletal guards. As Adaven, the last up the rope through the hole in the ceiling, glanced back at the seated figure who hadn't risen from its place, he thought he saw a rictus grin on the skeletal face beneath the circleted helm.
The companions soon discovered that Lyons had suffered grievous injury and would likely die without magical aid. Unfortunately, Blump had used all of the divine healing power at his command. So, Lyon's wounds were bound and it was decided that Blump would immediately set out leading Lyons' horse with Lyons strapped to its saddle in the hopes that he could reach the keep in time to save his life. (Those two players had to leave.) Ash's body was bandaged and left to rest while the remaining conscious three (Zeke, Adaven, and Drago) debated the wisdom of making another attempt at the treasures in possession of the enthroned skeleton. Adaven and Drago felt it was unwise to tackle that task until they had reinforcements, but Zeke would not be disuaded. Reluctantly, Adaven and Drago followed the maniacally enthusiastic Zeke back into the pit. Lit torch in hand, the three closely observed the figure and made their plans (aloud, right there in front of it ). Drago suggested that Adaven forego the use of his longsword, which had proved nearly useless in the previous battle, in favor of Ash's trick with the rocks. Drago himself was content to use the flat side of his great axe. Adaven, however, declined to take the advice.
Adaven stood to the figure's right, longsword raised on high in preparation for a downward stroke that would severe the skeletal forearm grasping the bastard sword's pommel. Zeke positioned himself in front of the skeletal figure with hand outstretched in preparation to grab the sword as soon as the arm was severed. Drago stood to the left of the throne, ready to attack with his great axe as soon as it appeared necessary. As Adaven initiated the strike, I had him roll initiative against the seated skeletal figure (a 4th level Skeletal Champion, 16 Dex, 17 Strength, Improved Initiative, Exotic Weapon Proficiency: Bastard Sword, Weapon Focus: Bastard Sword, etc.). Adaven lost. The Ancient Lord grasped his sword, moved his arm out of the way of Adaven's strike, flipped the sword up vertically in front of Zeke's face, and swung it backhand at Adaven as the Ranger's strike cut deeply into the arm of the throne. As the undead lord's blade swung toward Adaven's neck, the hilt inexplicably slipped from its bony grasp and clattered against the wall just over the Ranger's shoulder. Drago immediately swung his great axe in an effort to decapitate the skeleton, but it ducked and jumped from its seat... Right into a right cross from Zeke's sap.
Going with the force of the blow to the left side of his jaw, the skeletal warrior jumped to his right, between Zeke and Adaven to retrieve his sword. Zeke jumped with him and contested his grip on the weapon. Not for long, however, as the undead's greater strength quickly wrenched the blade free of the Fighter's grip. Adaven made a skilled thrust which penetrated the chain of the skeleton's armor nicely, but slipped right through the empty air between the bones, causing it no damage. Zeke jumped back as Drago waded into the fight with his over-sized axe. The ancient skeletal lord swung a downward strike at the crazy Barbarian, but fate again played a cruel joke upon the timeless warrior and his grip on the calcified hilt failed him again. This time the sword flew over the halfling's head to clang against the far wall of the room. Zeke immediately retrieved it and ran toward the rope secured above the pile of rubble under the hole that had been their fateful entrance to the pit. Ignoring the blows from longsword and great axe, the skeleton pursued Zeke to the pile. Zeke had to choose between suffering mulitiple flat-footed attacks from the adjacent skeletal warrior (who had stooped to pick up a longsword from among the many weapons of the previously destroyed skeletal guards) or temporarily abandon the attempt to escape the dungeon room. Inexpertly swinging the bastard sword, it slipped from his hand and fell at the undead's feet. Wisely, he ran. Drago and Adaven interposed themselves between the undead lord and Zeke and fought furiously, though rather ineffectually. Zeke frantically took a moment to use his elven senses to glance around the smallish room to see if he could detect any other egress. His inspiration was rewarded as he detected the outline of a secret door at the other end of the room on the south wall to the left of the throne. As Adaven and Drago fell to the attacks of the enfuriated skeleton, Zeke opened the hidden doorway, stepped into a dark passageway, and closed the door behind him.
He listened for a few seconds, but heard nothing. Then, he lit a torch and followed the narrow passage straight south for about half a mile. There, it ended in a vertical passage, much like a well, rising out of sight. A pile of detritus at the base of the wall may have been an old wooden ladder, but iron rungs showed in the passage above his head. He managed to reach the first rung with a good jump and climbed until he came to an iron trap door. No lock was apparent, but he couldn't force it open. He made several attempts as his strength allowed, but still couldn't force it open. He returned to the secret door and listened, but heard nothing. Each day, for three days, he repeated the process with failure (I allowed him four attempts to force the door each day: DC 20 Strength check - he needed to roll an 18 for success). He began to despair and regretted that Ash must, also, surely be dead by now as his body had been left above with only Ginger to keep watch. He had seen Drago and Adaven fall to the blade of the skeleton king, so they could not have saved him from the monsters roaming so frequently in this wilderness. Finally, as hunger began to be a serious concern for him, Zeke succeeded in a desperate effort of will and forced the iron door open a crack - just enough to slip a blade, then a weapon haft, into. Wishing he had chosen to equip himself with a crowbar, he worked and worked until he had pried open the door enough to squeaze his body out. Pulling himself into the open air, he saw that the ages had covered the trap door with a layer of dirt and debris almost a foot thick which even included a few small tree roots. He deduced that the secret passage had taken him south of the tower clearing into the forest, so he continued south until he emerged from the woods upon the familiar east/west road to the Keep. There he ran, for salvation.
Ash, however, had not died. His wounds had been dressed by his friends before they returned to the depths of the watchtower dungeon and over the course of three nights of unconscious rest, he had regained enough health to awaken, though he was still barely able to rise and walk. Drago had instructed Ginger to guard Ash, but hadn't expected to be gone long. Ginger did her best to obey and, fortunately, no threats presented themselves in a manner that required such obedience from her. However, after a couple of days upon the barren mound, she needed to eat. So, she wandered down to the sweet-smelling grass at the base of the mound and contentedly grazed upon the plentiful grains. Each night she returned to sleep next to Ash, but during the day, she returned to grazing in the clearing. On the evening that Ash awoke, he stood up and gazed around. He searched the mound for his friends, but found them not. He called quietly for them down the darkened hole, remembering the enthroned figure from his last venture down there. Receiving no answer, he let his gaze cover the vast clearing surrounding the stony mound upon which he rested. Espying Ginger grazing lazily in the field as the sun fell on the horizon, he relaxed.
Just then, Ginger started, her head jerking up and staring to the east. As Ash followed her gaze, he spotted two loping humanoid figures that burst from the forest edge and raced directly for the pony. Ginger saw them too and turned to flee westward. Her path took her past the mound and into the forest at the clearing's westward end. Ash identified the two pursuers as ghouls, similar in look to the three they had successfully battled on their return to the Brannigan farmstead. Fortunately, their attention was so fixed upon their prey that the undead terrors did not sense Ash's hidden presence in the ruins. Though Ash was concerned for the pony, he was sure she could outdistance the ghouls. He was not sure that he could do so if they returned and found him. So, he took off southward into the forest, hoping to make it back to the Keep.
After an hour's travel, he came upon a small campfire with four humans chatting around it. He announced himself with open arms and asked to share their fire. He was unable to identify them as they wore no symbols or other accoutrements that would link them to official forces. They were, however, armed and equipped as typical mercenary forces, which he had seen many times at the Keep. They started at his voice, jumped from their seats, drew weapons, and demanded that he lay his own down. When Ash complied, they proceeded to surround him and shove him down onto his stomach. There, they bound his wrists behind his back and asked what he thought his life was worth. Naively, Ash thought this a test of his wisdom and gave a thoughtful answer having nothing to do with coin, horses, or any other type of material good. The leader of the strangers reached down and punched Ash a glancing blow to the jaw and asked if Ash knew who they were. Ash either still didn't know or feared to answer truthfully and only illicited mocking guffaws from his captors. Eventually, Ash promised 80 gold pieces and a war horse from his friends at the Keep in exchange for his life. The bandits herded him south by a secret route across the river south of the Cursed Mound via a rowboat hidden in the reeds, then east into the elven forest just south of the Keep and the ford in the Deepstil. There, they introduced their captive to the leader of their band who had him thrown, bound, into a hastily constructed woodshed amongst their tents.
Next day, the Captain of the Watch summoned Zeke and showed him a ransom note that had just arrived by an unknown messenger who left it with the guards at the gatehouse. Ash was alive! And Zeke had left him! And, why had there been no word of Blump and Lyons?
Last edited by SirXaris on Wed May 20, 2020 5:50 pm; edited 27 times in total
Ash (half-elf Fighter) - The only original PC still alive in the campaign.
Zeke (elf Ranger) - Third incarnation.
Lord Adoril Shieldheart (human Ranger) - Fourth incarnation.
Joseph Lyons (human Fighter) - First incarnation, late-comer.
Blump (gnome Cleric) - First incarnation, late-comer.
Additional PCs will be added as old players replace dead PCs (Vink and Holt) and new players join the campaign as expected tomorrow evening.
Zeke and the Captain of the Watch had a lengthy conversation about the lastest events in the field. Zeke filled the captain in on the disastrous attempt to combat the skeletal lord and the captain explained that Lyons and had been given a short task to fulfill on behalf of the church of Heironeous in appreciation for Abdiel saving his life. Lyons was currently unavailable. The captain showed Zeke the ransom note. It demanded that one person leave 80 pieces of gold and a war horse at the top of the Cursed Mound, which stands about a mile and a half east of the Keep, just south of the road. Together, they concocted a plan, whereby the Captain, himself, and ten soldiers of the Keep would escort Blump to the 'Mound. Abdiel would also accompany the group. At that time, Blump would lead the war horse (one belonging to the party) and leave it hobbled along with the small pouches of gold at the top of the mound. Then, Abdiel, the captain, and his soldiers would escort him back to the Keep. Meanwhile, Zeke, Adoril, and the two Corporals of the Watch (1st level Rangers), each with a couple of war dogs, would set up a stake-out in the woods, just north of the road. They were to follow whomever retrieved the ransom and report their location back to the Captain of the Watch. He and the patrol would then ride with the PCs to attack the kidnappers. He explained that Lord Locks would never approve the paying of a ransom (thus, the 80 gold pieces came from Zeke's personal account), but that Lord Locks would also insist that every effort be made to rescue the victim and bring the criminals to justice, dead or alive.
Everything went according to plan until the Rangers stealth failed them.
Meanwhile, Ash's ankles were kept bound, as were his wrists, but the bandits moved them to his front instead of his back. That way he could chop firewood under guard. Later, he was forced to wash all the camp's dishes - again, with his hands and feet still bound. None of the demeaning chores or the taunts of the bandits caused Ash to lose his temper. The bandits were looking for a reason to kill him, but he refused to take the bait.
As Zeke watched the sun descend over the Keep in the west, Adoril, noticed the war horse disappearing down the far side of the Cursed Mound. It was moving too quickly to still be hobbled, so they surmised that the kidnapper had arrived to claim his ransom. The Rangers rushed stealthily to the top of the hill and picked up the trail. Down the south side of the Cursed Mound and slightly west it led them, around a curve in the Deepstil, and south to the river. The Rangers detected evidence on the bank that a couple of rivercraft had been beached there. Careful observation of the far bank spotted both a raft and a rowboat partially concealed in the reeds. Zeke and one of the Corporals attempted to swim across the river, but found it two swift to succeed at the attempt in their armor. They were pulled out by Adoril and the other corporal with a rope thrown to them. After stripping out of their armor and taking only a single small weapon, they both succeeded in making the swim. Returning with the rowboat, they made a couple of trips to get themselves and the four war dogs across.
As the others picked up the trail again, noting that it now included more individuals than previously, Zeke stripped some of the caulking from the rowboat after pulling it up on the shore. If they had to flee, they would pole the raft back across and hope that any pursuers who tried to follow in the rowboat found themselves swimming for their lives.
Following the trail between the bogs and the elven woods south of the Deepstil, the group passed near the Spiderfen Grove, a patch of evergreens nestled up against the southern edge of the swamp. The Rangers noted that old elven footprints led from the woods to the grove, but elected not to allow themselves to become distracted from their mission. They continued to follow the trail of the kidnappers until it followed a stream southward into the elven Vesve just south of the ford west of the swamp. A quarter mile along the stream, the trail crossed to the west side.
At this point, the Rangers all failed to note the two bandit sentries perched high in the trees on the west bank of the stream. However, the bandit sentries did spy the Rangers. One sentry climbed down and ran up the hill and over the ridge to warn the bandit camp that intruders were coming. Unaware of the sentries and their movement, the four Rangers advanced up the hill. Halfway up, they saw a rather large band of men top the ridge from the far side and begin advancing quickly toward them, spreading left and right to encompass their flanks.
Zeke dropped into the brush and the line of 18 bandits passed by him, but the other Rangers turned and ran. Unfortunately, the sentry had never lost sight of him and his whistle caught both the bandits' and Zeke's attention. Zeke looked up in the tree down near the stream and saw the bandit sentry pointing directly at him. The six bandit archers turned around to find him while the other 12 charged the remaining Rangers.
Fortunately for Zeke, only two of the six archers spied him in his hidden position. They fired, but missed and Zeke moved to a new hiding spot after returning fire. One of the corporals tripped and fell in the stream. His dogs intercepted the first of the bandits and held them off long enough for him to regain his feet. As the three ran, some of the bandits eventually caught up with the last Ranger and he and his dogs were forced to turn and fight. Adoril and the other corporal then turned and raced back to assist him. Zeke continued his guerilla warfare against the six archers by firing a shot at one that hadn't yet spotted him (Sneak Attack damage), then moving to a new hiding spot. This tactic paid off as the ones that could see him couldn't hit him with the cover he was using and those that couldn't see him, were taken down quickly. Eventually, he targeted the ones that had spotted him and defeated them as well. The 12 bandits chasing Adoril and the corporals had become quite spread out in the chase, so couldn't assault them all at once. Thus, the Rangers and their war dogs were able to take them on two, three, or four at a time. One war dog was too severely wounded to continue fighting, but the others fought their way back to the stream and looked for Zeke.
Zeke seemed to be fine as he waved to his friends from his place of concealment, but he didn't move from that spot. He remained there even when an even larger group of bandits crested the ridge and advanced down it as had the first. Zeke pulled the cloak off a dead archer, threw it over his shoulders and played dead. The others took up positions behind trees on the far side of the bank. As the bandits passed Zeke and fell for his disquise, a familiar whistle sounded from a tree near the stream. Zeke's heart fell as he spied the same sentry pointing directly at him. Fortunately, the bandits didn't know exactly where or which body the sentry was pointing at from that distance, so they spread out and began to search. As six, including the bandit leader, looked for Zeke, the remaining 18 charged down the hill to the stream. Eight bandits stopped behind trees on the west bank of the stream and began to rain arrows and bolts down on the PCs on the far side while the other 10 splashed into the stream to charge the PCs.
Zeke was very proud of his ventriliquistic skills (Perform: Ventriliquism - we based this skill on the class ability of the Assassin[?] prestige class) and loved to use it at every opportunity. Now, seemed a very good time to distract the bandits searching for him, so he threw his voice out to the side in the hopes of luring the bandits away long enough for him to move to a better hiding place. Just as he made the attempt, however, the bandit leader stepped on his ankle. This spoiled his attempt at ventriliquism and made his location extremely obvious. Zeke had no choice but to jump to his feet and fight for his life. Meanwhile, the corporals sent their dogs to intercept the leading bandits as they emerged on their side of the stream while they and Adoril concentrated their missile fire on the bandits in the middle of the stream with no cover.
Zeke was furious at himself for forgetting that the Bandit sentry was still in the tree, but told himself that he would take his frustration out on him at his first opportunity. As the larger force of bandits converged on the stream, Zeke sprinted all out between them and barely made it across the stream with them on his heels. The corporals' dogs intercepted the foremost bandits and Zeke made it up the bank. Zeke, one corporal, and the three dogs fought the bandits that stormed up the bank while Adoril and the other corporal shot those they could target as they attempted to cross. During the course of the fight, Adoril managed to hit the sentry in the tree. He climbed down to avoid further targeting, but slipped and was knocked unconscious as he fell to the ground. The battle was furious and another dog and a corporal fell with serious injuries before the bandit leader was brought low. When that happened, the Rangers hoped the bandits would break, but that failed to happen. Apparently, they just figured they'd chose another to lead them after cutting the offending Rangers to pieces. The battle continued a couple more rounds, but as more and more of them fell to the Rangers' blades (they had all had to draw weapons by then) and the dogs' savage teeth, the bandits' resolve failed them. The eight bandit archers on the far bank broke and fled back up the hill toward their camp. This caused the two remaining on the east bank to flee in opposite directions. One was shot down, but the other escaped. Zeke and Andoril then cautiously advanced up the hill after the retreating archers while the conscious corporal bandaged the wounds of the injured one. Zeke paused to slit the throat of the unconscious sentry on the way.
As Zeke and Adoril reached the crest of the ridge and cautiously peered over, they spied the multiple tents of the bandit encampment, a string of horses tied to a rope strung between trees, and heard a commotion coming from the largest tent. As the corporal joined them, they advanced on the tent and caught two bandits trying to make off with a chest. The bandits dropped the chest and attempted to defend themselves, but failed miserably. Searching the camp, the Rangers discovered Ash bound in the woodshed, numerous arms, armor, and bits of equipment, a bit of coin (including Zeke's 80 gold), and 16 light war horses, though none of them were the one the party had put up for the ransom.
Loading as much as could be transported on the horses along with the wounded corporal and the two wounded war dogs, the Rangers and Ash returned to the Keep via the ford - the short route. The Keep Guard spied them from the corner tower and informed the Captain of the Watch who, along with Abdiel and Blump, rode out to meet them with the patrol. He was quite surprised to hear of the Rangers' unplanned success and sent the patrol with Abdiel to check the site of the battle. While the PCs rested in the Keep, they divied up the spoils, generously sold 10 of the war horses to the Keep for a low price, bribed the Trader with three more in exchange for an agreement to do more business with them at a later date, and schemed...
How best to be sure of success the next time they make an assault upon the tomb of the ancient skeletal lord beneath the ruins of the watchtower?
Last edited by SirXaris on Wed Jan 15, 2020 11:16 am; edited 10 times in total
PCs available for this session included the following:
Zeke - an elven Ranger;
Vi'agra - a halfling Barbarian (Drago's brother);
Joseph Lyons - a human Fighter;
Lord Adoril Shieldheart - a human Ranger;
Blump - a gnome Cleric;
Ash - a half-elven Fighter.
The adventurers were satisfied that they were learning some tactical lessons, though they were coming at a steep cost in the lives of their companions. They prepared as best they were able, Zeke elated that Armand Hamner had completed work on his masterwork longsword.
Thus equipped, the party left the east gate, around the twisting approach ramp, and angled straight through the forest to the ruins of the ancient watchtower. They were pleasantly surprised to make it to the clearing without encountering any dangerous humanoids (or owlbears) and checked carefully. Sensing no danger, they advanced across the field to the ruin mound. As they neared it, however, they were set upon by a band of goblins hiding therein. Twenty or so of the vile creatures pelted them with arrows, bolts, and stones as the party charged their hiding places. Zeke and Adoril held back and picked off enemy archers while the others mounted the ruined walls and engaged in a pitched battle with the little beasts. The goblins lacked tactical skill, but used their weight of numbers to surround the PCs and exact a price in blood before they were brought low. The last of them attempted to flee, but only one managed successfully.
As the PCs established themselves king of the hill, Blump called upon the power of Garl Glittergold to heal them of their many wounds. They were certainly gaining experience coordinating their combat tactics and congratulated each other on the destruction of four times as many humanoids as may have destroyed them just a month earlier. They soon discovered that the hole by which they had originally entered the laird's tomb was covered over by a thin fall of dust. Clearing it off, they saw that it had been boarded up from underneath. Contemplating options such as finding another hole or entering via the secret exit Zeke had previously utilized, they unanimously vetoed Blump's offer to simply canonball through the boarded obstruction. Instead, they opted to attach a grapling hook to the boards and have Joseph's war horse pull it loose. This worked quite well and it was discovered that four spears had been stuck into the rubble mound on the floor directly below the covered hole. The smug smirks of his companions elicited some less-than-polite comments from the miffed gnome, but he did looked relieved. Lowering themselves carefully via a rope into the lightless depths, they once again collected themselves as a group and illuminated the darkness with flint and steel.
Except for the sharp, vertical welcome mat, everything seemed to be just as Zeke remembered leaving it - even the bodies of Drago and Andaven lay as they had fallen. The ancient skeletal warrior lounged upon his throne as before, hollow sockets staring in the party's direction, sword across his knees. Creeping forward, bludgeoning weapons drawn (except Blump who had forgotten to equip himself with one), they advanced on the undead lord. When he failed to respond, they paused and decided to remove their friends' bodies before forcing a confrontation. They took the remains and equipment of Andaven and Drago and the four spears (which were masterwork) and loaded them on Joseph's horse. Returning to the musty tomb, they surrounded the enthroned figure and prepared to attack. At that moment, Vi'agra, farthest of the six from the seated foe, loudly cursed the evil creature that had murdered his brother whom he had loved so dearly and had followed all the way from the Clatspurs to this forested lowland where the air is too thick to breathe and the foes are too short to take out at the knee caps with a level swipe of his great axe (even though he had really come to reclaim his pony, Ginger, whom his brother stole), only to find he had been laid low by this creature too selfish to be content with a single life well-lived (and Ginger nowhere to be found)... Here, Vi'agra was forced to stop for a breath. Continuing, he drew surprised stares from his colleagues by challenging the murderous undead lord to single combat. As the words left his mouth, the skeletal warrior lept from his seat, dashed past the distracted warriors, and cut the pint-sized Barbarian down where he stood with one two-handed overhead blow from his bastard sword. (Nat 20 - critical hit.)
[Skeleton Champion, 6th level Fighter - added a couple of levels as he had absorbed the essences of his fallen skeletal guards - Bastard Sword +1, used two-handed, cool feats, etc.)
Despite the shock of the surprise attack, the rest of the party sprang into action. From the far side of the room, Blump immediately summoned positive energy to heal the halfling where he had fallen. All the other warriors (except Zeke) moved to surround the skeleton. Having now seen a third of his compatriots laid low by this enemy, Zeke feared that a single blow would be the end of him, so kept his distance. The others traded hits and danced in step with him to maintain flanking positions as he moved to avoid them. Vi'agra regained his consciousness (barely) and his feet and bravely waded right back into the fray. Blump used most of his positive energy powers to keep the party members from suffering debilitating wounds. He hoped to keep one for after the battle, but was forced to use most of them in order to keep his friends on their feet and fighting. When he drew upon that power for the last time that day, he focused that divine energy upon the undead foe. Pieces of bone flaked and broke from its body as the positive energy hit it and it turned and dropped Blump in a bloody pile of flesh and steel for the afront. Fortunately, Blump's use of his ability to channel positive energy was just enough as, together, the other soldiers managed to land enough blows to destroy the unnatural animation. Unfortunately for Joseph Lyons, it hadn't come quickly enough. The skeletal warrior scored a thrust straight through his heart (36 hp critical hit) which Blump's healing powers would have been insufficient to cure had he been conscious to try.
Collecting Lyons' body and Blump's unconscious, but breathing, form, along with the banded mail, ruby ring, golden circlet, and bastard sword of the fallen skeleton, they piled it all on Lyon's own war horse and prepared to return to the Keep. One last look around inside the tomb caused them to discover a secret hidey-hole in the back of the throne in which they found 200 ancient pieces of platinum. The Keep was not far, but the way was frought with peril and they were wounded and without any source of magical healing.
Last edited by SirXaris on Wed Jan 15, 2020 11:22 am; edited 7 times in total
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