Note: This post contains spoilers to module U3:The Final Enemy
Post 45: The Siege, and Farewell to Salinmoor
1 September, 570 - Seaton
The next day Tyrius is again invited to dine with the Viscount, though no one else in the party is. Willa’s informants among the navy messengers tell her that the campaign against the sahuagin is going well, but it is a slow siege with no early resolution in sight. Sensing that they will be the Viscount’s “guests,” (that is, social hostages) for quite some time, Willa, Tyrius, and Aurora meet. Tyrius says that he cannot keep Thokk drunk forever, and sooner or later an unfortunate incident is bound to occur. For some reason Willa seems more inclined than before to help. It is decided that they will ask permission for Thokk, accompanied by Larry and Babshapka, to retire to the woods to “commune with his wolf spirits,” while the rest of them remain at the palace.
It may be that the Viscount doesn’t deem the orc / dwarf / elf trio “responsible” (or valuable enough to hold until the conclusion of the sahuagin campaign) - they certainly are not the party leaders. Or it may be that he himself is concerned for what might happen should Thokk remain at the palace. For whatever reason, permission is granted, and before the day is out Thokk, Larry, and Babshapka are on their way to the southern Dreadwood, with admonishment that large game are for the Viscount’s table, only. Although Willa has grown up on tales of the Dreadwood being full of hostile monsters, Tyrius has spoken to enough knights to convince him that, at least within the Salin River valley, the forest is regularly patrolled and reasonably safe. Beyond the valley, however, they are just as likely to find goblin tribes, bugbears, or even ogres, as well as fell monsters.
2 - 4 September
The next three days, with just Tyrius, Willa, Aurora, and Shefak in the palace, are much quieter and pass peacefully. Barnabus is out on the town more than he is in (and see Post 47: Barnabus' choice).
Willa is taking a mid-day meal at a harbor-front tavern when a bustle from the dock area attracts her attention. A ship has been spotted coming into port, with the flags of a naval message cutter. Two or three of these a day have arrived since she has been in Seaton, so she finishes her meal before going out to the docks to meet it.
As it comes in, she can see that there are two men working sail and rudder, and another bearing an official messenger’s pouch but with his arm in a sling. Then she recognizes the messenger as Tom. As the sailors throw lines to the men on the dock she shouts “Tom!” and then, thinking better of it, “Corporal Stoutley!” He grins and waves at her.
Tom is initially close-mouthed with her, but apparently more than the other two on his cutter, and before they reach the end of the docks and can find a cart to the palace, the waterfront is ringing with cries of “Victory!” Tom, full of his official duty, will say nothing to her during the cart ride other than that his wound is not serious. He is whisked away to a private meeting with the Viscount upon his arrival in the palace, and Willa does not see him again for several hours.
Later, after dinner, Tom is happy to spin the whole long yarn to the five party members still at the palace.
Lord Nehemeyer’s fleet approached the sea devil lair from the east, with the three troop galleys they saw in Saltmarsh landing at the protected river mouth while the two warships and the flagship headed for the lair itself. Immediately the three ships in the lead were set upon by sahuagin. Within moments it was clear that their intent was to take the flagship - about four times as many devils were involved as in any of the waves the party had faced, at least two hundred devils in all. A hundred surrounded and assaulted the flagship with javelins, and another fifty each the two warships as distracting forces, to keep them from coming to the flagship’s aid. Once the decks of the flagship were crowded with human defenders, a great wave arose from the sea and washed many of them overboard. Riding the crest of the wave was the first sahuagin boarding force. In addition to the three priestesses the party had faced before, at least another two were involved in this fight, with the head priestess capable of casting control water, which she then used to clear the lower decks of the other two ships with more massive waves. While the sailors and marines washed overboard were quickly torn apart in the sea, there was a desperate fight on the deck of the flagship. The lesser priestesses concentrated on incapacitating the ballista crews of the other two ships, as these were on the fore- and aft-castles, and too high for the priestess’ waves to reach. The priestesses seemed to have a limitless supply of paralyzation spells. The entire crew and marine contingent of the flagship was slain, and it was down to just a handful of Nehemeyer’s personal guard against numerous sahuagin warriors, lieutenants, and chieftains. Nehemeyer himself was already lightly wounded, and would likely have have been slain or captured had the fish-men giant eel cavalry not arrived - Nehemeyer had held them back as a reserve force. When the fish-men's charge temporarily relieved the two other warships, they could move to assist the flagship and the sahuagin on board were forced to retreat. Their main assault broken, all the remaining sahuagin present fell back to the sea cave.
Nehemeyer pressed the advantage by having the sea elf wizard teams move in immediately to seal off both the sea cave entrance and the back door with magically-created rock. Guarded by fish-men, the sea elves were able to seal both entrances before the retreating sahuagin could respond.
By the end of the first hour of combat a total of about half the marines and crew of the three warships combined had been lost, but the allies controlled the waters around the lair and the two sea entrances were sealed, so that only the land entrance remained.
Once the sea was secure, the troops that had landed on the coast were met by the lizardfolk force that had moved in overland. The lizardfolk guided the humans in staying on the trail and not falling into the marsh until they reached the causeway. Nehemeyer sent his heroes and veteran heavy infantry in first, as the vanguard crossing the causeway. They met light resistance once they were inside the sahuagin lair, but their heavy armor gave them the advantage fighting on land and it appeared that most of the sahuagin force had been involved in the sea battle and were still recovering from wounds or exhaustion.
Once the heavy infantry had taken the first level stairway room, Nehemeyer moved in his light infantry levies, marine crossbowmen, and shortbowmen levies. All through the first night the sahuagin tried sorties to break the allied hold of the staircase room, but the prevalence of allied missile fire always beat them back, with losses on both sides.
When the room was still held at the start of the second day Nehemeyer moved in his pumps. Twenty horses working ten mining pumps set up positions in the various rooms and chambers of the first level. Tubes snaked everywhere throughout the first level, taking water from the staircase room and emptying it along the causeway and even into the latrines of the slave pen, which apparently drained outside.
During the second day, the sahuagin and their priestesses attempted to breach the rock barrier of the sea cave. The elven wizards were able to keep pace with them however, creating rock as fast as they could destroy it, and keeping a watertight seal. Merfolk now helped to guard the sea elf wizards.
The lizardfolk were now dispersed into the marsh, going far inland outside the range that the sahuagin had been foraging, with their need to stay close to the sea. They hunted game and supplied much of the fresh meat for the allied army to supplement the grain that had been brought aboard the galleys. The fish-men fanned out under the sea, scouting to make sure that the allied force could not be surprised by a relief force of sahuagin from the depths.
By the end of the second day the water level had dropped by two feet. Men assigned to the staircase room gave a cheer every four hours as a new stair emerged from the water.
By the third day the sahuagin had given up trying to breach the water barriers and had turned their priestesses to supporting the sorties on the staircase room. Their attacks grew more desperate, but also more strategic - targeting specific individuals to cause a few deaths rather than many wounded that might recover with rest or healing. The wounded sahuagin, meanwhile, grew more apt to retreat as they cycled through their forces. Nehemeyer likewise adopted a rotation schedule to make sure he always had fresh troops in the room for the next assault.
All the next week was largely a repetition of the third day, as the water slowly drained from the sahuagin lair. The Baron began making appearances, a huge sahuagin with four arms who would engulf the missile troops in a magic net and dispatch the infantry with an enormous trident. Each time, though, he and his forces were driven back to the water, and as the water dropped the lead time for the remaining allied missile troops increased, leading to higher sahuagin casualties.
By the tenth day of the siege the entire second level of the complex was in water just two feet deep. Nehemeyer sent his remaining army down the stairs in a single massive charge. It was during this action, Tom mentions, that he was wounded, in capturing the second level, fighting the devils while sloshing through knee-deep water thick with blood and floating bodies. When the sahuagin broke before this combined assault and began retreating to the third level, which was still completely submerged, the sea elves opened narrow breaches in both the sea cave and back door. While the fish-men went in the back door, the entire lizardfolk force, which had been recalled slowly over the previous days, entered the sea cave, supported by the elven casters and the merfolk. There the sahuagin made their final stand, with the forces of just the aquatic races remaining to finish them off after the lizardfolk had to retreat to the second level to breathe. Tom heard that Oceanus was among the elves and merfolk who slew the Baron and the high priestess, but he has not seen him since to know whether he survived or not. With all the sahuagin slain and the fortress taken, the pumps were removed, water was allowed to refill the second level, and the whole place was turned over to lizardfolk. The sea elves have stayed on for now to help the lizardfolk until their females and young can be moved back in, while the fish-men are even now escorting the human fleet back to Saltmarsh and Seaton. Tom was sent ahead on this first message-cutter to personally bring news of the victory to the Viscount.
Some of the Viscount’s Own Foresters, rangers of renown, are dispatched to the Dreadwood to summon Thokk, Larry and Babshapka back to court. Meanwhile, the Viscount takes advantage of their absence to hold a victory celebration, with the rest of the party as his guests of honor, seated at the high table with the Viscount himself. That evening, in front of the entire court, the Viscount commends the party and makes it known their key role in the allied victory. During the dinner, he speaks with each of them personally, thanking them and inviting them to stay on as his guests through the celebrations that will greet Lord Nehemeyer upon his triumphant return to Seaton. “After that,” he chuckles, “I can’t imagine that adventurous types such as yourselves would be interested in staying much longer in as peaceful a place as Seaton…”
Knowing they will be leaving soon, Aurora withdraws her gold and the cached spellbooks she had in Seaton’s mercantile bank. Willa and Tyrius distribute the Viscount’s reward money to the party. In the morning, Tyrius visits the landless noble family who was given the plate armor he found in the cellar of the haunted house. After much exchanging of pleasantries, the impoverished nobles he meets with intimate that they have already sold the armor.
In the afternoon, Tyrius leads an expedition to Seaton’s marketplace. He spends nearly all of his savings on a suit of splint mail, while Shefak buys a tent and a few other supplies that may be useful on their planned overland trek to the Dreadwood. The other members of the party pick up a few odds and ends, but store most of their gold in the Seaton bank.
In the evening, Thokk, Larry, and Babshapka arrive in Seaton and return to the palace. _________________ My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Mp7Ikko8SI
Note that Willa's Background gives Ship's Passage.
Post 46: On to Gradsul
8 September, 570 - Seaton
Willa visits the docks early in the morning, looking to find a vessel bound for Gradsul. There is a large whaling vessel in port. The ship has a full hold of whale fat, which will be rendered into oil upon arrival in Gradsul. She is taking on fresh water for the journey, but plans to depart as soon as she is re-supplied. After talking to the captain, Willa secures passage for the party, then hires a carriage back to the palace and has it wait for them. Fortunately they are mostly packed, mostly awake, and have little in the way of gear. They make it back to the docks just in time.
The quarters aboard the ship are cramped and stink of rancid fat and sweaty sailors, but the ship itself is fast and their passage is free. The whaler travels all day and all night with a fair wind behind her.
9 September - Azure Sea
By mid-morning the tallest buildings of Gradsul can be seen and the whole party gathers on deck. Barnabus has been in all the ports of the Azure Sea, and Aurora and Babshapka passed through Gradsul on their way to Saltmarsh, but the rest of the party is increasingly amazed as more and more of the city comes into view. Gradsul is a thousand years old and is rumored to have more than fifty thousand inhabitants - it is the largest city that any of them have ever seen, and approaching from the sea they have a great vantage of it, from the slums along the waterfront to the terraced garden estates of the nobles on the hills, from the great stone walls and numerous keeps and barracks, to the isolated towers jutting up all over the city. Tyrius has been in all the cities of his homeland of Sterich, but even the capital of Istivin is as nothing compared to this. Aurora recalls that her master once told her that Gradsul was home to the largest number of free mages anywhere in the Sheldomar Valley. Larry mentions that the human swarms in the streets and plazas look “worse than fleas in a winter cave.” Thokk seems uncharacteristically subdued. He grew up on tales of famous orc warlands uniting the tribes and burning down the human cities - but he does not understand how even a hundred orc tribes could assault such a place as this.
As they lower sails, keeping just those required to maneuver, and glide into the dock area, they can see that several of the recently-arrived ships are being met by the city watch and customs officers, checking new arrivals and collecting taxes. With a word to the second mate, Barnabus manages to get them off the whaler on a jolly before the ship itself docks. He directs them to a busy commercial part of the wharf where the watch do not notice their arrival. “If anyone asks you for a sword tax,” he says looking them over, the party all bristling with weapons, “tell them you already paid.”
“I will do no such thing,” huffs Tyrius indignantly as he carefully climbs from the boat.
Once they have left the docks and are making their way up a busy street crowded with shops and foot traffic, Barnabus tells the party that he has business to attend to and he will meet back up with them in several days. Before anyone can react, he melts into the crowd and disappears (see Post 47: Barnabus’ choice). “But, he doesn’t even know where we are staying…” says Aurora. “Uh, where are we staying?”
Willa smirks and tells them to follow her. She goes one block inland, takes a right at the next cross-street, and works her way parallel to the shore. Eventually she finds an acceptable inn - of the kind frequented by sailors between tours. It is cheap and serves food, but is none too clean and there are several beds to a room and common beds in some. At the moment it is unoccupied, all patrons having set sail that morning, and for a few silvers more the owner assures Willa they will remain the only guests for the duration of their time there.
In the afternoon, Willa takes Thokk back to the docks area, making sure he can find his way from the inn to the docks and back. Cities are unfamiliar terrain for him, but he is a quick study. She makes him promise to leave his axes at the inn and bring only a boot knife with him. She spends some time with him going from dockside tavern to tavern until she finds several that look like the kind of places in which he can easily get into bar brawls, but not be knifed and rolled if he is knocked unconscious. She makes him memorize the painted signs outside her choices and repeat them to her until she is sure he remembers and recognizes them. She tells him he is welcome to spend his days here drinking and fighting and she will know where to come find him when it is time to leave the city.
Thokk sighs wistfully. “Thokk lose his army...but he still has best evil advisor ever. Life of Thokk is great.” _________________ My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Mp7Ikko8SI
As great as the life of Thokk?
Next up: what is Barnabus doing? It's just business, not personal... _________________ My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Mp7Ikko8SI
Note: This side post connects back to the main narrative line in multiple places. Like Willa's Choice, it was known only to the player in question, not the group.
Post 47: Barnabus' Choice
In Seaton: 27 August - 7 September
Playing for noble ladies in court is profitable in many senses, but Barnabus is bored and frustrated during his time at the Viscount’s palace, and is more often to be found in the numerous taverns of the town. He chafes at the wasted time - if it were up to him, he would be in Gradsul by now, learning disguise and poison techniques from the Thieves’ Guild he knows is there. But Aurora collected their latest reward from the Saltmarsh Town Council and hasn’t distributed it yet, and that is a fair bit of gold. Of course, he could just take his share when she wasn’t around (and a bit more for his trouble), but he plans on spending some time in Gradsul. If the Viscount wanted him back and sent people to look for him, that would make his planned Gradsul stay rather more inconvenient.
So he bides his time, waits, and ponders his decision. Tyrius has made no secret of the fact that as soon as they are free to leave Seaton, he intends to resume his original quest to transport Larry to the Great Druid of the Dreadwood. That means traveling inland, upriver at first and then into the forest. What is in this for Barnabus? Not much. Or is there? These bumbling adventurers seem to stumble over monsters and treasure hoards like cobbles in a stone road. Barnabus has made more in his month with them than in several years previous combined - both in coin and in material for songs. True, it has come at a greater risk, but there is no reward without risk. But does he really want to leave the sea, leave his freedom? Is being stuck under the self-righteous eye of the paladin worth the gold? Barnabus can’t believe he left his last ship for a chance at a tumble with Aurora. The ditsy wizard is a half-elf, true, and Barnabus is greatly swayed by the power of novelty - after all, he is an epicurean, with an eye to sampling all the world provides. But now a month with her and even the promise of novelty has worn off - and a half-dozen maids have given him more satisfaction in his time in Seaton than the silly enchantress ever will.
So here he is at the crossroads. When the Viscount gives them leave to go, Barnabus can take his gold, bid them farewell, and resume his free life on the sea, having profited greatly from the association. Or, he can demand that they go to Gradsul first, test the loyalty of his so-called comrades in arms, and see whether they are as willing to wait for him as he has been to live under the pious dictates of the paladin. Or, he can accompany them to the Dreadwood - meekly and with his eyes always open for the profit these fools seem to attract like flies to honey.
In Gradsul: 9 September
It is not difficult for Barnabus to track down an actual member of the Thieves’ Guild - a little coin here, the right words there - but he takes the better part of the day chasing the trail. A guy knows a guy who knows a guy...Halfway through he is aware he is being followed, and that most of this is for show - they are sizing him up, trying to see if he is working with anyone else, etc.
By the evening, he is finally introduced to someone who claims to be a member of the guild, and Barnabus states his intentions of purchasing a disguise kit and of learning how to brew and handle poisons. He is given the name of an inn to sleep at and told that he will be given an appointment in the morning.
In Gradsul: 10-13 September
After Barnabus has a horrid breakfast of gruel (he almost sends it back before reflecting that the innkeeper is likely affiliated with the guild in some way) a street urchin pops her head in the door and calls that Barnabus has fifteen minutes to get to another inn halfway across town. The girl is gone before Barnabus is out the door and it is all he can do to make it to the location, only a few minutes late.
He is taken to a back room upstairs, and finally introduced to “Jimmy Diamond”, a capo of the Guild. There is muscle in the room and on the stairs and, if Barnabus is any judge, in several adjoining rooms besides. Barnabus again pleads his case and Jimmy listens. His biggest concern is where Barnabus will be plying the skills he wants to learn, and whether he will be competing with guild killers. When Barnabus is able to convince him that he is a traveling adventurer, that all his kills will be done far away, but that he would likely be spending the money he gains from them upon his return to Gradsul, Jimmy grows much more friendly.
Jimmy offers Barnabus a disguise kit, a poisoner’s kit, and a short course in how to use the latter for 200 gold lions. Barnabus asks if Jimmy is a betting man, and proposes they play for it. Jimmy smiles broadly, and says that if he wins, it will be 300gp, and if Barnabus wins, it will be 100gp.
Over the next hour of cards, Jimmy catches Barnabus palming a card to use later and Barnabus nails Jimmy for pulling a card from his sleeve. They both laugh it off and get on excellent terms with one another. The game they play, Farango, is common among sailors, well-known among the port cities of the Azure, and requires betting on hands over a specified number of rounds. At the end of the hour, their respective piles of chips look about equal. “Another 15 hands?” asks Barnabus carefully.
“Sorry, amicino mio, but I have other obligations. Two card draw, high card wins,” Jimmy says, and offers the deck to Barnabus.
Barnabus pulls forth the four of cups - Jimmy, the seven of wands. When Barnabus sighs and reaches for his purse, Jimmy laughs and claps him on his back. “Look at dis guy!” he orders his mooks, “I like dis guy!”
After a midday meal, much better than his breakfast was, Barnabus is shown to an apothecary shop where he will be ‘prenticing. Over the next four days he learns about the making and use of poisons. The master complains about his “nimble fingers and slow wits” but he manages to concoct mixtures that kill a number of stray cats and dogs without managing to poison either himself or his teacher.
On the night of the 13th his teacher announces him graduated, and Barnabus takes his leave. _________________ My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Mp7Ikko8SI
10 September, 570 - Gradsul
In the morning Thokk is up early, eager to begin a day of brawling. Tyrius says that he and Larry will remain at the inn and watch over the party’s possessions. Aurora says that she will be taking Babshapka and attempting to do historical research in the city (see Post 49; The Riddle of the Malhel). Willa says that she will be working the docks area, looking for signs of Sigurd and the Sea Ghost. (see Post 50: Willa’s Choice II). Shefak says that she will be exploring the Foreign Quarter of the city, attempting to find and talk to Baklunish people like herself.
Shefak returns to the inn in the evening, and finds everyone else there. It was not a long walk to the foreign quarter, as it is in the “lower city” near the docks. The Baklunish people there are not well off - mostly poor and crowded into tenements, at best. She was assaulted several times and had to use her monk abilities to defend herself until word got around that this strange frail-looking woman traveling alone was not to be trifled with. Eventually she was able to speak with some community leaders and got the locations of a few temples which she plans on visiting on the next day.
In the morning Thokk and Shefak again leave while Tyrius and Larry stay. Willa returns to the docks, while Aurora announces that her research is taking her to some country estates north of the city. She will be renting a carriage for the day but will be back by nightfall.
Willa finds that Sigurd and the Ghost were indeed in Gradsul, but only just long enough for him to recruit a full crew of seasoned sailors. He departed for ports unknown.
Aurora and Babshapka return in time to share the evening meal with the party. Aurora says that they have been invited to a dinner party at the estate of Lord Farquarr on the morrow - provided Tyrius will relate to them the tale of their campaign against the sahuagin, which is apparently en vogue among the nobility at present. Tyrius is dubious at first, but Aurora convinces him that no dishonesty is involved and he eventually agrees.
Shefak says that her second day among the Baklunish was more productive but ultimately unsuccessful. Her people could not provide her with the locations of any monasteries, saying that all of them are far away in the mountains of the northern Sheldomar. The Keoish folk she asked don’t understand the true meaning of “monks” and “monasteries”, believing them to to be the vain palaces where fat men and women pray and light candles all day. Such places abound in this decadent city, but are not the ones Shefak is looking for.
Thokk arrives, covered in welts and bruises, after the meal has been cleared away. He proudly displays a block and tackle he has purchased, saying that it will make him “four times as powerful” and then begins bellowing at the innkeeper to prepare his meal.
Since Tyrius and Larry are leaving with Aurora and Babshapka, Shefak agrees to spend the day at the inn. Willa plans on going to the dinner party as well, while Thokk returns to the docks.
At the estate of Lord Farquarr, the party are celebrated guests. They are glad they still have the clothes made for them in Seaton by the Viscount’s tailors, and only worn once. After an amazing dinner that surpasses even the Viscount’s table, Tyrius tells a tale of their adventures that has the nobles applauding loudly and Farquarr beaming. At the prompting of Aurora, he tells a bit of history at the end, of a campaign against the sea devils from another age, in which a distant relative of the Lord figured prominently.
Larry has spent the day outside, talking to the gardeners and groundskeepers of the estate. During the dinner, he stands on a veranda in a light rain, silently munching raw carrots and picking his nose as he watches the brightly-costumed people in the dining hall inside, his friends among them. Those of the party at the estate are given guest rooms for the night; Larry finds a warm, straw-filled stall in the stables.
Those who were at Lord Farrquarr’s estate have returned to the inn by mid-day. They spend the rest of the day planning the trip from Gradsul to Silglen. Willa was able to look at some maps in a cartographer’s shop, although she did not have the coin to purchase them, and declares that the distance is about 225 miles, the entire journey over roads or tracks, passing through several towns and innumerable hamlets, small farming communities along the edge of the Dreadwood. Supplies are discussed, as is the potential purchase of a cart and pony, but Willa voices against any further use of “party” treasure for the time being. The party turns in with plans made. Sometime during the night Barnabus appears, though no one notices when - he is just found to be in one of the beds in the morning. _________________ My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Mp7Ikko8SI
Note: All of the information in this post is known only to the player of Aurora. While Babshapka was involved in her investigations to some extent in Gradsul, she was not honest with him about her objectives.
Post 49: The Riddle of the Malhel
Excerpt from Post 5: Backstory for Aurora of Tringlee
Like all students of history, she knew about the Twin Cataclysms (the Invoked Devastation and the Rain of Colorless Fire), which had, a millennium ago, destroyed the two greatest nations the world had ever known, The Suel Imperium and the Baklunish Empire. She could recite several different authoritative texts (and note their contradictions and discrepancies) explaining how the Suel refugees passed over (or under!) the Hellfurnaces and brought human civilization to the east, eventually founding the Kingdom of Keoland...
...he asked her to recite the names of the principle Suel Houses.
“[House Neheli] founded Niole Dra and are today the most important noble house in the north of the Kingdom. [House Rhola] founded Gradsul and are today the most important noble house in the south of the Kingdom. House Malhel was wicked and fought against the good Houses. After many battles they were banished from the Kingdom.”
“[W]here did they go?”
“I imagine they dispersed, or died out…I have not read any record of them.”
“Indeed. A House powerful enough to war upon the Neheli, and they just faded away?”
“That does not seem likely, but…”
“But that is what the texts would have us believe. Most of them. Suppose they did not die out. Not at first anyway. Conjecture!”
“Well, they had the hubris to war upon the Neheli, thus they must have been both proud and powerful. Such people are unlikely to give up after a setback. While they could have fled, migrated out of the Sheldomar, it seems unlikely. More likely they would have withdrawn, regrouped, and planned revenge.”
“[W]hy do you suppose you have not seen any records of this?”
“Because they didn’t regroup? Something else ended them before they could?”
“Perhaps, or perhaps they did persist…and any record of their defiance has been destroyed, eliminated, or altered.”
[W]ho would have the power to make sure that this history was not known…and what else could someone with that power do?
“I believe I have uncovered an unedited text, describing how House Malhel retreated to the Dreadwood Forest, and from there planned their revenge. I have another text, very rare but likely authentic, claiming that the Malhel were powerful spellcasters, even while the Neheli and Rhola sought to ban magic. I will not tell you the names or locations of these texts, for your protection, and mine, and theirs...Travel to the Dreadwood, and see what you can find. Ruins, stories, texts, tales, anything. Most likely you will find nothing. But if I am correct, someone will find you. Someone will appear and, in the most delicate way, attempt to ascertain what you are doing and steer you away from any discoveries. And that is what we are after. I don’t expect you to find proof that the Malhel were in the Dreadwood. But if you can find proof that someone does not want us to know, then we will be sure that I am on the right track.”
Additions to Post 48: Out and About in Gradsul 10 September - Aurora goes to the Royal University of Gradsul, and charms a lowly library clerk into telling her which nobles nearby have important volumes in the early history of Keoland, dealing with the settlement by the refugee Suel houses. She gets a number of contacts from him, and leaves her name as “Scholar Wilhelmina of Saltmarsh.”
Aurora goes to the townhouse of Lord Baldin in Gradsul City. As the Lord is not home, she bribes a major domo with gold to have a quick look at the library. After a quick reconnoiter of the volumes therein, she she speaks with the major domo while messaging Babshapka. At her command, he uses stealth to cut four pages out of a volume of history without a chambermaid seeing him. She later tells Babshapka that the volume is of family history, and concerns her efforts to discover the identity of her elven father.
Back in the boarding house, she reviews the pages which mention that the Malhel, once defeated in war, fled south and west through the Dreadwood forest, and eventually settled in the land now known as the Yeomanry. This is the first textural account she has seen both linking the Malhel to the Dreadwood and the Yeomanry.
11 and 12 September - Aurora goes to the country estate of Lord Farquarr. With two days’ access to his library, she finds four different volumes stating that the Malhel, once defeated in the war, were driven from the Sheldomar Valley. What is odd is while that the volumes she finds have decades between them and more than two centuries from the most recent to the oldest, and while they all have different authors, the passages concerning the Malhel are virtually identical. The rest of the historical accounts are similar, accepted history, but display nothing of the nearly-identical voice and phrasing that the passages about the Malhel do. In some cases, the script appears to have been elongated or compressed to make it fit in the appropriate space. She detects magic on the books but finds nothing. _________________ My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Mp7Ikko8SI
DM's Note: The secret quest of Aurora to understand what happened to the Malhel, and who doesn't want her to know, and the secret investigation of Willa into what Aurora is attempting to do, had by now become important subplots in the campaign. The contents of this post are known only to the player of Willa.
For Aurora's perspective on what is happening, see the previous post (49).
For what is public knowledge about this day in the party, see two posts ago (48).
Post 50 - Willa's Choice II 10 September, 570 - Gradsul
Aurora and Babshapka leave the inn in the morning. Willa announces she is headed for the docks, but she doubles back after a block and catches up to them. She is concerned about Babshapka noticing her trailing them, as she has seen him in the woods. There he hears twigs snap that none of the rest of them even notice. But in the city, it seems he is in sensory overload, confused by all of the noise, motion, and color. It is all he can do to keep Aurora from stepping in front of carriages, let alone survey the crowd behind him. She follows them at half a block behind and is confident she is not noticed.
They go to the Royal University of Gradsul, spread over several blocks of the Old Town, and ask directions until they find the library. Willa’s simple sailor’s clothes are already attracting attention among the scholars of the place and she dares not follow them into the library itself. She feigns a nap under a tree, hoping they leave by the same entrance they came.
She is surprised when they emerge soon after - not even an hour has gone by. She follows them higher and higher in the city, up into the hills that house the estates and townhouses of the wealthy merchants and minor nobles. Willa nearly bumps into Babshapka when she turns one corner - Aurora has stopped to examine the statuary of a fountain. Amazingly, the elf does not see Willa although she is just five feet from him before she turns about and retreats. They continue, then are stopped by a city watch patrol, and then escorted to an impressive - looking townhouse. After a brief exchange at the door the pair pass inside.
Willa looks about - there is certainly nowhere to loiter unnoticed in the clean and meticulously groomed neighborhood. Already the watch patrol is eyeing her suspiciously. She heads for a cafe diagonal across the street from the townhouse and takes a seat inside from where she can see the street-level door of the townhouse through an open doorway onto the al fresco tables of the cafe.
Again they emerge after less than an hour, but when the door closes behind them Babshapka is immediately in Aurora’s face, speaking angrily and waving a few sheets of paper in his hand. Aurora speaks soothingly to him and takes the papers. They leave back down the street they came in.
Willa has had to nurse her simple pastry and glass of white wine for an hour, to the growing indignation of the cafe staff. When they tell her her bill is one gold lion, her stomach twists, but she produces the single coin, to their apparent surprise. Perhaps she should talk to Runnel about an expense account - assuming she ever sees him again.
Willa catches up to them and follows them long enough to be reasonably confident that they are headed back to the inn, then she doubles back and returns to the university library. It is early evening and many of the students are leaving lectures and heading out to public houses, but the library is still lit so she enters. She tries to gain information about what Aurora was doing there and who she spoke to, but the staff are uniformly rude to her and, when she tries to press the issue, threaten her with calling the city watch. She makes it back to the inn halfway through dinner and tells the party what she learned about Sigurd and the Sea Ghost, claiming to have spent the whole day at the docks. _________________ My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Mp7Ikko8SI
DM's Note: The party was now embarking on the first "overland adventure" of the campaign. As a DM, this meant I needed to add three things; (1) travel rates, (2) weather, and (3) large scale maps.
Travel rates were simple at first (although I would add more detail later in the campaign). I initially decided to use the World of Greyhawk Glossography (p.3) rate of 30 miles per day for movement afoot, unencumbered. At the time, I mostly handwaved encumbrance so long as loads were reasonable. I assumed a typical day's march was 10 hours, from 7am to noon, and 1pm to 6pm.
Weather was basically according to the tables of randomly generated weather in the World of Greyhawk Glossography (pp.18-25). That system has temperature tied to season (date), adjusted for latitude and elevation. I estimated the latitude of Gradsul from p. 18 as about 26.4 N. In the absence of official data on elevation, I used the following estimation: Any 30-mile (Darlene) hex with a hill symbol that touched a non-hill symbol was 2000 feet elevation, whereas any hill hex completely surrounded by hills was 4000 feet. Any 30-mile (Darlene) hex with a mountain symbol that touched a non-mountain symbol was 5000 feet elevation, whereas any mountain hex completely surrounded by mountains was 10000 feet. Further increments of 5000 feet were possible along increasingly surrounded isoclines.
By far the best source for maps of Greyhawk comes from the work of Anna B Meyer. I used http://ghmaps.net/keoland/ for the party's travel in Keoland, and the locations and identities of roads, terrain features, and settlements below come from that map. Note that that map specifically is no longer a valid link, but will redirect to more recent versions of her work. I would highly encourage any Greyhawk DM to use her work, and anyone with the means to do so to support her Patreon at https://www.patreon.com/annabmeyer
Post 51: Gradsul to Daerwald
“Oh, the blades did flash, the blood did flow,
the sweat it ran like drizzle,
but through it all, there shone the smile,
of Barnabus the minstrel!”
14 September, 570 - Gradsul
The party spends the day in the markets purchasing a week’s worth of fresh food.
The party sets out from the inn at first light, shortly after 6 am - it is already in the mid-80’s and muggy. Carrying all their gear, on foot, they have not even left the city walls by the time they are sweating profusely. As the sun continues to climb, the day gets hotter. They are able to put in a good half-day’s march in the morning, staying together despite the crowded traffic along the forest road. The road is ascending as it travels away from the coast, but after the first few miles’ hard climb out of the Sheldomar River Valley the slope is hardly notable. The road is excellent, paved and well-maintained, and they make good progress despite the heat. By 11 am it is over 100 degrees. They fill their waterskins in a public fountain in one of the many townships that lie beyond the city walls and rest in the shade, swatting at mosquitoes.
It is three in the afternoon before it is cool enough to continue, and so they have only a short afternoon march before dark. As the settlements become smaller and farther between, they can actually see the fields to either side of the road. The sweet corn fields have all been harvested, but melon patches and orange groves are still in production. Barnabus soothes their journey with music from his lute, until Thokk begins to chase him with melons and he is forced to hide from the sun-crazed half-orc. At day’s end they camp in a cow pasture between towns, some 21 miles outside of Gradsul going by the last stone mile marker they passed. In the dark of night, enormous Gradsul is still visible below them on the coast, innumerable lights in the city itself, and then a trail of lights along the road toward them, gradually spaced farther and farther apart.
16 September - Forest Road (21 miles from Gradsul, just under the “o” in the Forest Road)
Having put some distance between themselves and the coast, and gained a bit in elevation, the day dawns a few degrees cooler, and the mid-day high barely breaks 100 degrees. They are still soaked in sweat, but after lunching at a tavern in the large town of Tanglewoods, they are able to get a full afternoon’s march in. (The tavern proprietor, after seeing how much ale Thokk was disposed to drink, relented and allowed them to eat their own food indoors in the shade of his establishment rather than requiring them to buy his tavern fare). All morning the clusters of houses along the roadside have grown fewer and smaller, and Tanglewoods has no true settlements for five miles on either side of it - just the crowded bunkhouse clusters of plantation communities. As they have left the coastal lowlands behind them, the fields of corn, melon, and cotton have given way to more and larger citrus groves - orange, tangerine, lemon, and grapefruit. They have yet to see any freeholder fields, but work crews numbering in the dozens are common - gangs of landless serfs toiling on the noble estates, nearly all of them dark-skinned Flan. Slavery is outlawed in Keoland, unlike in the lands of the Sea Princes to the south, and that is a point of pride for the nation. However, looking at the plantation serfs through the eyes of a free sailor, Willa wonders whether there really is that great a difference between a serf and a slave.
By day’s end they have marched 30 miles, and are now 51 miles from Gradsul.
17 September - Forest Road (between the twin “T’s” of The Forest Road and Tanglewoods)
With night dipping into the seventies, the party is uniformly glad to be away from the worst of the coastal heat. In the morning, they make rapid progress along the Forest Road, although the day reaches the 90’s. They have just passed the stone marker indicating that they are 59 miles from Gradsul when the road splits. To the north, the wide, paved Forest Road continues, and a sign in Keoish indicates that “Oakheart” lies that way. To the south, the road becomes a hard-beaten dirt trail, and a sign says that way leads to Daerwald.
Tyrius recalls that Silglen, their final destination, is reached through Daerwald, and suggests they take the trail. Willa responds that a road from Oakheart also leads to Daerwald, and while that route may be longer, they will likely travel much faster along the better roads.
Aurora turns to Thokk. “Thokk, dear, you are our skilled wilderness guide. Which road do you think we should take?”
Thokk shields his eyes from the sun and stares down both paths. “Stone road is flat - dirt road climbs into hills. Thokk want high ground and cool air - Thokk is sweating like roasting pig - sweat makes Thokk’s manly parts itch. Also, stone road passes boring lands where not-men poke in ground for food. Dirt road gets close to forest - maybe something to fight.”
“Well,” says Aurora, “I’m not looking for something to fight, but I think we could all use someplace cooler. I liked being on ship in the sea breeze better than marching, that’s for sure.”
Willa shrugs and starts off up the trail. “As long as it doesn’t rain. This dirt trail will turn into a mud pit faster than Thokk can scratch his manly parts.”
The party heads up the narrow dirt trail. Sure enough, it is not long before they are laboring up a steep incline on a hill slope of tall grass and low scrub trees. There is no way a laden cart or wagon could ascend the steep slope, which is more than likely the reason the paved Forest Road does not run directly to Daerwald. After an hour of hard climbing, the trail levels out and they break for lunch in the shade of a stand of trees, the most extensive wild growth they have seen since leaving the city.
After lunch they continue along the trail. To their left is a light, wild forest that rises above them. To their right the ground rapidly slopes away down, allowing them to see the distant farms and pastureland and villages that cling to the Forest Road. Having left the mile markers behind them with the paved road, they have no way of knowing how far they have come, but their progress along the trail is certainly harder-fought than it was on the road. As they make their camp at nightfall, a few huge spiders even venture out of the woods. Thokk cheerfully dispatches them, then sets about collecting firewood for dinner.
18 September - Trail to Daerwald (by the “s” of Thestos)
After another warm, buggy night in the 70’s, the party prepares for a day’s march in the 90’s along the dirt track. Soon after they start, the track heads downslope, until they have lost nearly all the elevation they gained the day before. As they descend, the wild woods are left behind, and they are again in farm country, much to Thokk’s disappointment. Here the farms are different, though - small fields of subsistence crops meant to feed a village, not the large plantations of cash crops bound for the markets of Gradsul. They pass through two such villages before, near midday, they come to a small river running north and crossing their track.
The river is spanned by a large stone bridge - seemingly overbuilt for the size of the river at present, but Willa suspects they are not so far inland that storms coming of the Azure Sea can’t reach here, and a long summer storm could easily swell and flood the small river to a torrent. A little wooden shack on the near side of the bridge provides shade for a toll-collector, a grizzled old man with one leg and a crude wooden crutch. At first he gruffly demands a copper each from them to cross the bridge, but after they have paid and Aurora invites him to share their midday-meal, he warms to them enough for her to ply him with questions.
The bridge is called “The Duke’s Bridge”, he tells them, and the river marks the boundary between the Duchy of Gradsul, which they are leaving, and the Barony of Raya, which they will enter on the other side. Daerwald is the baronial seat of Raya, and lies another 35 miles along this track, which should take them another day and a half or so, “unless it rains” (and Willa nods knowingly). The toll collector is a veteran - he was a soldier in the Duke’s army, until he lost his leg to bandits. He has manned this toll booth ever since. The Daerwald market will be an excellent place for them to stock up on supplies of food, and by Aurora’s calculation they should be just about out by the time they hit town.
They thank the man and set out in the afternoon. After the bridge, the road climbs gently, and they soon are on a ridge like that of the day before, with wild forest to their right, and a small river valley downslope to their left. They pass two more villages, but the trail does not go through them. Rather, horse paths lead down from the trail to the villages, which are built along the river. In addition to the peasant huts, each of the villages has a large, wooden building next to a millpond, so Willa takes the structures to be saw mills. They camp on the ridge overlooking the second village, and during the night sounds of music and cheer drift up to them.
19 September - the trail to Daerwald (under the “p” of Crypt)
The elevation and the shade from the mature forest help cool the late summer air, and after a night in the seventies, the party is able to march all day in the eighties - the most comfortable they have been since they left Gradsul. The trail continues to climb slowly, but once they are beyond the river valley in which the two villages lie, the ground to their left rises up sharply until a high ridge towers over them. Now they are marching over a long pass, with a steep forested ridge to their left and a less steep forested slope to their right, the track completely under the trees and with little visibility. The perfect spot for an ambush, and Thokk hums eagerly thinking of the possibilities. The rest of them are more preoccupied with the mosquitoes, which come out in full force under the shade of the trees, large and in thick clouds. The party eats a quick, cold lunch, not wanting to tarry while being savaged by the insects. Babshapka rummages through the supply bags and removes their entire store of garlic, then shows them how to crush and rub it on their skin, which helps somewhat, although their sweat makes for diminishing returns.
After lunch they continue on the narrow trail through the woods. The forest is alive with bird calls and apart from the mosquitoes is quite pleasant. The ridge to their south blocks the sun and they break march for an early camp while there is still light. After getting a good fire going, Thokk scouts about for wet, green leaves to top it off. The thick clouds of smoke he generates help to cut down on the insects, and most of them move their bedrolls downwind of the fire. Shefak’s tent is the envy of the party that night.
20 September - trail to Dearwald (under the “r” of Daerwald)
KRACKOOOM! A peal of thunder shakes the forest around midnight and rain begins to fall. Lightning flashes along the southern ridge as one, then another, tree is hit. The mosquitoes disperse and rain pelts the campsite. For the next three hours the thunderstorm passes overhead, lightning constantly touching down on the southern ridge and setting more than one tree ablaze. Fortunately the party is camped much lower and none of the strikes are near them. They all have thick bedrolls (and Shefak has her tent), so they are reasonably dry, but in the morning the campsite is a morass of red mud. The sloping land to either side has funneled the storm’s water on top of them, and there are standing pools and puddles all about.
The first half of the day’s march is downhill, descending the pass into the valley beyond, but it is slow going. The mud pulls and tugs at their boots, and they slip and - more than once - collapse in the steep parts and slide down the trail. By mid-day, after five hours of grueling effort, they have not gone even five miles.
After mid-day they are able to pick up the pace. Now they are down in the valley bottom, overlooking a vast, wide valley mostly filled with a huge lake. The town of Daerwald sits at the near end of the water’s edge. Down here on the flat-land the rain did not pool up as much, and all the morning’s sun has baked the sodden ground dry. The dirt track is soft and exhausting, but passable.
While there are plenty of outlying farms and pastures, there are no true village centers before they come upon Daerwald itself, so there is little of interest to look at as they march along with difficulty. Willa finds herself staring out across the lake, amazed that a body of water so large could be so calm, wondering at the many sailing vessels she sees traversing it, wondering if it is fresh like a giant bathtub.
In the glorious golden late-afternoon light they finally come upon the cobblestone streets of the town itself and are able to scrape off the last of the mud clinging to their boots. The streets are thronged with people, giving the appearance of a place much larger than it actually is, for in reality Daerwald is likely smaller than Seaton. People stop and stare at the mud-covered travelers, and children laugh, for everyone seems in a festive mood. A fat friar bows at them and says “Merry Brewfest!” in a booming voice.
Brewfest! Of course. Willa claps her hand to her forehead. Brewfest is a week-long harvest celebration, marking the transition from summer to fall. In Saltmarsh, dominated by fishing families, Brewfest has only a token following, but she imagines it is a much bigger deal here in farm country. Imagines? No, she can see it is a much bigger deal. For his part, Tyrius has seen plenty of Brewfest celebrations before - he just didn’t know that is where they were in the calendar, since cold, mountainous Sterich has a much earlier fall. There, Brewfest is a week’s relief from feudal labor obligations, and there is much public celebration and drinking. As he looks about him, he expects it is the same here.
It is after dark by the time the party finds an inn that has two nights’ lodging for the eight of them. The common room downstairs is crowded with drinkers and revelers, but the private upstairs bedrooms are mostly available. Exhausted from their long day fighting the muddy road, the party barely has time to wash and eat before collapsing into bed. Larry doesn’t even wash. Thokk skips both washing and bed, but stays downstairs drinking and in the morning can be found collapsed in a chair in the common room. _________________ My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Mp7Ikko8SI
Sounds like an oath:
"By the S of Thestos, you shall be avenged!"
Perhaps Barnabus will have to work that into his ballad. _________________ My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Mp7Ikko8SI
21 September, 570 - Daerwald
The party eats their last day of trail food while they use the inn as their base to shop for more. The markets are crowded with Brewfest revelers and it is slow going. Willa goes lakeside to check out the fish markets, selecting some fresh for the morrow but mostly smoked for the coming week. Aurora and Babshapka work the central market for vegetables, flour, and dry noodles, while Barnabus roams the butchers’ stalls in search of fresh and cured meats. Shefak is given a pass from purchasing, as the vendors tend to sell higher to the Baklunni woman. She is in charge of drying out their bedrolls in front of the fire in the inn’s common room so that they don’t mold. Tyrius and Larry clean and polish Tyrius’ armor, and then the paladin instructs the dwarf in the art of laundering clothes. Thokk snores loudly in the common room, bellowing at anyone who wakes him.
By the evening Thokk has recovered and is able to eat dinner with them. When he talks of how he has another night of Brewfest drinking planned, his evil advisor reminds him that they are marching out in the morning, and he will need to be ambulatory. He grumbles that marching in the day is stupid, and that the humans in the party should learn how to march and see at night.
Sometime after midnight the party is awakened to the sound of wind and rain. All over the town, shutters are banging, awnings are ripping, and carts are being turned over. Willa and Barnabus are no strangers to the sound - it is an autumn gale blowing in off of the Azure Sea. There is less rain than in a summer tropical storm, or even the occasional hurricane, but the autumn gales have an abundance of wind. Willa doesn’t know whether to curse their luck that they may be several more days paying for staying at the inn, or thank their stars that they were not on the trail when it hit. Wind gusts of over 40 miles an hour would slow traveling to a crawl, and put them in real danger of being killed by flying debris or uprooted trees. She worries about Tom in Saltmarsh, and tries to remind herself that in his new house he is safer than they ever were in their parents’ shack, so long as he was not out to sea when this hit.
Barnabus spends his time turning the moods of the inn’s patrons from bitter over the loss of the remainder of Brewfest, to grudging mirth at his songs and stories.
With little to do, Aurora wonders if she can perhaps continue her genealogy research. She learns a bit about the Baron’s court from their innkeeper, easily convinces Barnabus to play for the nobles, and asks Tyrius if he couldn’t see about getting her an introduction. Tyrius replies that he will, so long as it results in good for people. Aurora responds that learning about the party’s adventures will surely inspire the nobility, and perhaps even get them to regard his god with more respect.
The trio goes across town, oilskin cloaks braced against the wind and rain, and show up on the Baron’s proverbial doorstep. They plead their case to a servant, who sniffs that His Lordship the Baron is trying to salvage Brewfest, protect the town and harbor from damage in the storm, and entertain his noble guests, and thus has better things to do than admit uninvited foreigners of dubious merit. Aurora responds brightly that with all of his lordship’s concerns, why not let them assist, as they can surely provide entertainment for the noble guests for the evening. The servant allows them to enter as far as a dry cloakroom before he tells them to wait.
Some twenty minutes later, the major domo arrives to tell them that Aurora is permitted to use the Baron's library, provided Tyrius and Barnabus entertain the guests for the rest of the evening. His Lordship regrets that he will not be able to meet them in person, as he will be using his time in pursuit of the protection and defense of Daerwald, rather than at the evening's festivities. “You see, Tyrius?” says Aurora before they separate, “Already you have allowed a leader to dedicate more of his time to his people - how can that not be good?”
[Note: For Aurora’s work in the library, see Post 53: The Riddle of the Malhel II]
It is well after midnight when the nobles' thirst for Tyrius’ stories and Barnabus’ songs is finally sated, and Aurora has long since joined them in a music hall. She takes a moment to ask whether any of the assembled nobles would like to donate to the cause of a band of good adventurers, protecting the lands of the King...and receives hearty well-wishes and little more.
For her part, Willa is bored stuck back at the inn. In the evening, she announces that she is going out. “Where?” asks Larry, somewhat miffed that Tyrius would leave him behind.
“Public 'ouses. Drinkin',” Willa shrugs.
“Bu' there be drinkin' 'ere!” Larry protests.
“Look, I be tired o’ baby-sittin' Thokk, an’ ther bar be full o’ cheap, fat merchants and gilded ladies. I be goin’ t’ ther docks. Mayhaps I can meet a sailor or some ot'er real man.” Willa storms out.
[Note: For Willa’s luck, see Post 54: Willa’s Choice III].
With everyone stuck back at the inn, this day is a tedious affair of listening to the wind and rain assault the inn.
The day dawns clear and bright, and the party again goes shopping to acquire a week’s worth of rations. They could have set out in the morning, but Willa advises them to give the trails at least a full day of sunshine to dry out. _________________ My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Mp7Ikko8SI
Note: The information in this post is known only to the player of Aurora.
Previously: Post 5: Backstory for Aurora of Tringlee
Post 49: The Riddle of the Malhel
New: Post 53: The Riddle of the Malhel II Concurrent with Post 51: Gradsul to Daerwald
15 - 17 September: Aurora travels from Gradsul on the Forest Road, and passes through Tanglewoods on her way to Daerwald. The names (“forest” road, “tanglewoods”) amuse her, as there are no woods or forests to be seen - just farm fields and open orchards. She reflects on her knowledge of history and reasons that hundreds of years ago, the boundaries of the Dreadwood must have extended much farther into the plains - perhaps the “Forest Road” really did traverse a forest, then. Most likely the farms and pastures of Keoland have been steadily eating into the edge of the Dreadwood for centuries.
Early on the 17th, the party faces the choice of taking a longer but better road, or a shorter but worse road, to Daerwald. Aurora slyly maneuvers Thokk into opting for the shorter road, as it takes them deeper into the true forest. If, as her master believes, the Malhel did retreat into the Dreadwood, but that fact has been hidden, it seems that she is more likely to discover evidence of their occupation the deeper into the forest they go.
Concurrent with Post 52: Daerwald
23 September: In the private library of the Baron of Daerwald, Aurora finds three volumes about the early history of Keoland, and one about the Yeomanry.
Although Suel migrants and interaction with Keoland figure prominently in the volume on the Yeomanry, nowhere are the Malhel mentioned. This seems curious considering Lord Baldin’s book claiming that is specifically where the Malhel went, but that was the only reference she has seen about the Yeomanry so far.
In the three volumes on Keoland, she finds the same curious passage, of exactly the same wording, describing how the Malhel were driven from Keoland, despite the three different books being of different ages and authors. In the first volume, the passage seems perfectly at place. But in the second, it looks as if it has had to be compressed to fit into the space allotted, and in the third, it is as if the line spacing has been temporarily increased to fit a short phrase in a large space. Each of the books is handwritten, and in each case the passage about the Malhel is in the same hand as that of the book - but something is definitely off. Aurora spends some time examining the pages, but cannot find anything of note. She even casts detect magic over the volumes - and then surreptitiously uses it to see whether any of the Baron’s books or scrolls are magical. She is left concluding that she needs to investigate whether a spell exists that could alter words on a page without leaving a magical trace, and whether there is a spell that could nonetheless detect the effects of such a spell. _________________ My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Mp7Ikko8SI
Note: The contents of this post are known only to the player of Willa
Previously: Post 44: Willa's Choice:
Post 50: Willa's Choice II:
New material: Post 54: Willa's Choice III Concurrently with Post 52: Daerwald
Willa waits at least half an hour after the departure of Tyrius, Aurora, and Barnabus from the inn before following them to the Baron’s palace, as anyone out in this weather will attract attention. She slips a silver coin to a liveried servant at the palace and inquires after the trio. He is incensed that she would bribe him to spy on guests of the Baron, and has a mind to call for the palace guards. Willa hastily assures him that she is an agent of the Viscount of Salinmore (which helps quiet his objection to her accent) working in service to the King, keeping tabs on some suspicious characters (and here he agrees with her as well - Aurora certainly is suspicious). For a few more coins he agrees to send someone later to a pub she names.
Two hours later, another servant, just off-duty, arrives at the pub to tell her that Aurora spent much time in the library, and according to the second-story maid, read and examined in a most peculiar way books about the early history and founding of Keoland, and also about the Yeomanry. All told, Willa is out a lion and half for the evening, but she does make it back to the inn before the trio. _________________ My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Mp7Ikko8SI
26 September, 570 - Daerwald
On a bright, clear day the party finally takes their leave of Daerwald. The first half of the day is spent traveling the track to the north, passing through the farmlands that skirt the western edge of the lake. By mid-day, when the temperature has climbed into the low 90’s, the track turns west to follow the edge of the forest. In late afternoon the party passes through a village built around a bridge, a saw mill, and several grist mills along a river that will eventually feed into the great lake of Daerwald. Aurora, missing her comfortable bed at the inn already, asks whether they should stop for the night, but Willa shakes her head. “Thar still be an hour o’ light left an’ plenty o’ track left t' march. We’ll hae time t' rest when ther next rain comes t'rough - I ain’t marchin’ in mud agin.” Secretly, Willa wonders whether they should have just stayed on the paved Forest Road all the way to Woodsage, a more northern route, and then cut south through Grayhill to Silglen. A sailor through and through, she hadn’t figured on foul weather slowing their travels to such an extent.
27 September - track to Silglen (under the second “a” in Raya)
The party marks a good pace in the cloudy, muggy morning, but the clouds darken as they continue. By the time they are finishing their mid-day meal, heat lightning is playing in the sky all around them. Willa calls an end to the day’s march, and they prepare for an extended camp. There is a spotting of rain over the next four hours, but mostly lightning and wind. The sky clears for a glorious sunset over the verdant farmlands.
28 September - track to Silglen (where the track bends to the north)
With highs in the almost-comfortable 80’s, the party makes good progress tramping along the dirt track through farming country.
29 September - track to Silglen (under the “f” in "of")
Clear skies all day and in the low 90’s, but the party marches on. All throughout the morning the farms grow smaller and farther apart, until by mid-day the party rests just outside the edge of what appears to be a thick and wild woods. They spend the afternoon on the dirt track passing through the forest. There are signs of recent travel along the track, but the occasional uncleared deadfall as well. They are obviously entering a more remote part of the Barony.
30 September - track to Silglen (about halfway through the easternmost forested section of the track)
By late morning the party has emerged from the woods into a few miles of open clearing. There are settlements here, but these are rugged outposts, where people practice a mix of farming, logging, hunting, and trapping. Seeing a skinned and trussed deer roasting over a crude spit in a cluster of huts, they doubt the poaching laws carry much weight here - they have finally come to the edge of civilization. They camp for the night at the far side of the clearing, just before the track again enters the woods.
1 October - track to Silglen (after the track turns north at the edge of the woods)
After a short morning’s passage through a narrow stretch of woodlands, the party emerges into open country again. Now they are in foothills overlooking a broad valley below. There, a large round lake is surrounded by dense farmland, every bit as developed and bucolic as that around Daerwald. Up here in the highlands, though, the track skirts the edge of the Dreadwood and passes through tiny logging hamlets where the only agriculture is half-hearted subsistence plots and vegetable gardens. With one day of supplies left, there are no farmsteads about to purchase from, at least not without descending off the track and into the lowlands. If they have to forage they will be unlikely to run into agents of the Baron, which is consoling. At the turn of the month, the party gives thanks for a week’s good traveling weather.
2 October - trail to Silgen
The party continues to work their way through the highlands overlooking the lake. The track goes up and down following the slopes of the hills, but they have a sense that each hill is slightly higher than the last. They stop for their mid-day meal in a logging camp, and the burly lumberjack residents claim that this is the last settlement they will find on the trail before they arrive in Silglen. In late afternoon they enter the Dreadwood proper, and from that point on the woods just get deeper and darker as they march. They build the campfire high that night, and celebrate by eating the last of their food stores. They will need to forage on the morrow, but Tyrius is unconcerned, knowing that they are so close to Silglen. Once they have set their camp for the evening, Thokk goes off the track into the woods and finds a deer-run, then sets his hunting trap there.
3 October - Dreadwood, trail from Daerwald to Silglen
The camp wakes early but does not breakfast, as they are without food. Willa starts a fire and collects mint to make tea; Thokk, Tyrius, Larry, and Babshapka head into the woods to hunt.
Willa, Aurora, Barnabus, and Shefak are sitting around the fire, glad of the smoke to keep away bugs, when Barnabus whispers, “Act natural,” but loosens his blades in their sheathes. Even Aurora manages to not look startled a few moments later when five men emerge from the woods onto the track.
Aurora stands up to greet them - all five have good-looking leather armor and heavy cloaks - they are obviously ranger-types, used to traveling in the wilderness.
“It is we who should welcome you,” says the one in the lead, in Common. “Welcome to the Barony of Greyhill. Have you paid the entrance fee?”
Willa assesses the men - hungry eyes, lean frames, dirty faces - these are no servants of a baron. [Willa's insight roll was considerably better than Aurora's, who was willing to take them at their word].
Willa stands up, one hand on the hilt of her sword. “Aye, we hae,” she says coldly. “‘twar at ther bridge aways back,” and she hooks her thumb down the track behind them. All eyes follow her gesture - and when they return to the camp, Barnabus is not to be seen.
“I’m afraid I don’t know the bridge you speak of,” says the lead man. “This track leads through the lumber camps of the highlands - there aren’t any bridges there. If you have paid, please show us your voucher.”
“O’ course,” says Willa. “Once ye show us yer badges, or marks o’ service t’ ther Baron, o' whatever else ye be usin’”.
The lead man looks at his men, and they spread out in a looser formation, as if each is setting up to target someone in the party, but casually. “Our Captain has those,” he responds. “A few hundred yards up the way there is a stone cairn what marks the boundary between the Baronies of Raya and Grayhill. The Captain is there with the rest of our company - we are just scouts.”
Aurora reaches up to her face, tries to use a hair toss and head scratch to cover the somatic gestures she needs to message any of the hunters from their party, if they are near enough, but her motion and mumbled words are instantly recognized. One of the men whispers to his companion, and at a glare from the leader, says out loud in Keoish, “Ya see that! She cast a spell, she did! She’s a witch! I ain’t fighting a sorceress!”
Things happen fast - Willa draws her sword - the five men turn and run - Shefak takes off after them in pursuit, but is forced to pull up short when a mass of sticky strands flies over her head and explodes at the edge of the woods. Aurora’s web does not hit any of the men, but neither does it ensnare Shefak. The men get clean away. Barnabus, when he reappears, says all the tracks he found were just of the five, but he wouldn’t discount them having a larger camp nearby.
Half an hour later, Thokk bursts from the woods, humming contentedly, an immature boar carcass slung over his shoulder. Tyrius trails him. The barbarian stops when he sees the webs, looks about at the fresh tracks in the dirt road, then throws the boar down to the ground. “Thokk miss fight?” he yells with frustration. “Thokk sooo maaaad!”
An hour later, stomachs satisfied, the group prepares to march. Between the sackful of roots, berries, and nuts found by Babshapka, and the half a boar remaining from Thokk, the party has enough food for all this day and two meals the next. They set off down the track. Sure enough, after a quarter mile, there is a pile of stones by the side of the road - but no sign of any “Captain,” or his men.
With fair weather the party makes good progress, and by the end of the day they have come upon Silglen.
The town is like no other they have ever seen. There is no clearing, there are no roads - it is as if dozens of houses have been set in the woods in no particular order, without disturbing a tree or bush. Many of the houses are rough log cabins, while others are dug into the sides of hillslopes, with rammed-earth walls and sod roofs. A few even hang from tree branches - great chambers made of woven fibres, like man-sized oropendola nests reached by rope ladders. Most of the folk about are elves, of all ages. There is a minority of humans, and these are practically all adults, men and women clad in the simple robes of druids, with only a few youths and no children. Every now and then they spot a forest gnome, nearly always outside some sort of workshop or trade store worked into the roots of a giant tree.
Having no idea where to go, Aurora starts asking the elven children for directions, and soon finds Hyacinth, a local “girl guide,” fiercely proud of the red ribbon that marks her as an official aide to strangers in the city. Aurora offers her perfume for her services, but the elfling wrinkles her nose and says that for a haunch of Thokk’s boar she will take them to both the Welcome Temple, where Larry can meet representatives of the druid hierarchy, and to the Stranger’s Bungalows, where visitors to the city are required to stay.
Along the way Hyacinth tells them all about Silglen and the druids, in response to questions from Aurora. No, they don’t have any libraries, although the druids keep many books privately. Yes, they have many temples to forest gods and earth gods, elf gods and human gods. No, they don’t really have anywhere of “interest”, no public places beyond the Welcome Temple; large gatherings of people are discouraged since that would result in the formation of trails, erosion, and waste disposal problems. They have many shops, but there is no shopping district, they have many craftspeople, but there are no guilds.
Nominally the town is in the Barony of Grayhill, but for all practical purposes it is independent, and there are few men of the Baron present. It was founded by the Great Druidess Reynard Yargrove, twenty-three years ago when she ascended to control of the druid hierarchy, as a place for her to host the apparatus of her governance and to entertain representatives of the various powers with whom she deals. Although the druids are nearly all human, or rarely half-elven, most of the townsfolk are elven. This is because few humans who are not druids can abide to live by the low-impact ecological principles of the community. The harvesting of food, disposing of waste, and collecting of resources for work, are all closely regulated by the druids and few humans are far-sighted enough to see the importance of doing these things in a sustainable manner. As Hyacinth speaks, her tone is a curious mix of childlike innocence and an already well-developed prejudice for elves as superior to all other races.
While there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of druids in the world, all of them are under the control of one of the Nine Druids. Each of the Nine is responsible for a different part of the world, a different Biome - such as deserts or forests. Each of the Nine is under one of the Three Archdruids, and all of them serve the Great Druid. Or, in this case, the Great Druidess. The physical and administrative center of the druid hierarchy is chosen by each Great Druid in turn upon their ascension, and when Yargrove became Great Druidess two decades ago she created Silglen.
The Barony of Grayhill is both small and not very populated by Keoish standards, and most of the humans live in the highland city of Grayhill. Economically, it serves mostly as a source of lumber and mineral wealth for the neighboring and more-important Barony of Sayre. However, Grayhill became suddenly more important politically about six years ago when the new King of Keoland was elected from the Skotti house, an Oeridian noble family based in Grayhill.
When Aurora asks Hyacinth about dangerous places, she furrows her brow. No, nowhere nearby is particularly dangerous, not if you have any woodcraft or common sense. There are plenty of monsters and such to the south - and if that is what the party is looking for, they need only take the Dreadwood Road south from Silglen and they will find more of that the farther they go. Here, the large number of elves means that the woods are safe for good folk.
Hyacinth leaves the party at the “stranger bungalows”, a collection of squat huts made with woven leaves and branches. Each hut can sleep two or three people on a dirt floor. There is a well nearby, a fire pit, and a long-drop in another hut, but little else in the way of amenities. The elf lass promises to look in on the party in the morning and take them to the Welcome Temple. _________________ My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Mp7Ikko8SI
Note: What would a community designed to be the administrative center of the druid hierarchy be like? My approach was certainly anachronistic in terms of ecological principles, but it got home to the players that this is a very different community than they are used to, and that the thinking of the druids is alien to their own pseudo-feudal mindset.
I suppose this post could just have well have been called "Larry's Choice", for much like Barnabus in Gradsul, Larry's player here faced the decision of whether to continue playing the character with the party or allow him to become an NPC, with plot repercussions for either choice.
Post 56: Silglen
4 October, 570 - Silglen
This deep in the forest it is comfortably cool - with nights in the high sixties, and days in the high seventies. Plagued by mosquitoes since they left Gradsul, the party finds them blessedly scarce in Silglen. Hyacinth, arriving soon after the first of them are up in the morning, explains that many of the plants and flowers of the town have been chosen to ward off biting insects, and there may be druidic magic involved, as well. Perhaps that is what Larry will be learning as an Aspirant?
After they have breakfasted, Hyacinth leads them across town to the Welcome Temple. There, a large natural grotto has been reshaped into an amphitheater for public announcements (the most severe alteration of the landscape they have yet seen in the town), and an adjoining rough timber building houses both new aspirants and official visitors to the town.
In a formal ceremony, Tyrius introduces Larry to the druid warden of the temple, and turns over a letter of introduction from his own temple (see Posts 1 and 2, backstories of Larry and Tyrius). Larry is blessed with earth, air, fire, and water, and accepted as an Aspirant. The warden regrets that he does not have a traditional robe in Larry’s size (short and broad) on hand, but says that one of Larry’s first duties as an aspirant will be to learn weaving so that he can make his own robes. The party hears him ask “Boot when doo I larn ta tarn intoo a bar?” as he is being led away.
After that, Hyacinth returns them to the bungalows. Aurora, who was hoping to learn her way about town, notices that they take a completely different route, and asks her about it. Hyacinth replies that low-impact principles encourage them to choose a different route any time they travel anywhere in the city, and that knowing many different ways to arrive anywhere is one of the qualifications for being a girl guide. The party invites Hyacinth to lunch with them as they discuss plans.
With his duty officially discharged, Tyrius is now free to return to his homeland of Sterich, far to the north. But he seems in no particular hurry - in fact, he has plans to stay on at least a few days. “That dwarf is a queer sort,” he says, “and I don’t think the druids are even used to run-of-the-mill dwarves. This town has a lot of rules, and if those come from the druids I bet their training program has even more. Rules aren’t really Larry’s strong suit. I’d like to be here long enough to see whether he is going to make it or not. If he is happy, I will feel better about leaving, and if he is not, I can help him get to wherever he is going next.”
Aurora, too, says that she would enjoy staying on - there seems to be much lore she could learn here - and she reminds Hyacinth to tell her about any book collections or old historians she can find out about.
Ever practical, Willa says that if they are staying here, they need to be resupplying themselves, as they will not have enough food for dinner. She asks Hyacinth to take them to some food markets. The elfling maiden replies that she can show them where to buy food, but that first they will need ‘purchase vouchers’, and they can get purchase vouchers only after they have applied to the Harvesting Office. The Harvesting Office evaluates all visitors to the town and decides how much food they are allowed to buy and how much they will have to provide for themselves. If the visitors have not brought enough food with them, they are assigned certain hunt days in designated locations outside of the town to find food. The girl explains that this is to ensure that too many “tourists” don’t arrive in the city and buy locally-produced food with foreign gold to the extent that the local resources are over-harvested and the ecology is unbalanced, at the same time that food prices become inflated and thus impoverish the native residents. This seems needlessly complicated to Aurora, but Willa shrugs it off. “If it’s wha' we hae t’ do t’ get by ‘ere, so be it. As an excise officer, I’ve ‘ad to enforce stranger laws wit’ less reason. Thokk an’ Babshapka can hunt fer ther rest o’ us. ”
At the mention of his name, Thokk, who has been ignoring the conversation and concentrating on perfectly roasting his boar, starts. “What?” he says. “What Thokk need to do to get more food?” Willa explains to him that strangers to the town have to hunt in certain places, and Thokk takes it as some kind of challenge or contest. “Ha! Ha ha! Thokk will show puny elves how to hunt! Thokk will kill so many deer that elves will cry from hunger while Thokk feasts!” Hyacinth looks aghast.
Barnabus chuckles. He thinks to himself, Wherever laws are made, opportunities are made in breaking the law. If people in this town are only allowed to buy a certain amount of food - there must a black market to provide food for those who want, and can pay, more. That will give him a project for the days they remain here - he will locate some black market dealers, and make a profit from selling the excesses of Thokk’s hunting to them…
After lunch, Hyacinth takes Willa and Aurora to the Harvesting Office, and then the Voucher Distributor, and finally to some of the food markets. They arrive back at the bungalows just in time to actually begin the preparation for dinner.
The day is spent uneventfully in Silglen. The party was assessed at being allowed to buy half of their food, and expected to supply the other half. Thokk and Babshapka are given hunting permits, and Babshapka leads them out of town, to the area he was told to go to. They return with a fine brace of rabbits and a sackful of wild apricots (11.5 pounds, with 8 left after the day’s eating).
Before sunrise a predawn chill drops the forest to the mid-fifties. Several of the party rise early in the cold, stoke the embers from the night before, and warm themselves as the sky turns from black to gray. They are cleaning up from breakfast and the air is still brisk when Aurora notices a young elf walking by with an odd burden - an ancient elf on his back. The old elf is mumbling softly, in elven, “Fall is coming, yes indeed, fall is coming again…” while the young elf staggers forward and looks about. Eventually he locates a nearby patch of sunlight, where the morning rays penetrate a hole in the leafy canopy and fall full and direct on the forest floor. He gingerly sets the ancient one down in the warm sunlight, then hurries off as if he still has his morning chores to attend to.
Aurora and Shefak come to the side of the withered elf. His skin sags, he seems as thin as a reed, and his open eyes are thickly clouded over. “Who’s there?” he demands, for apparently he cannot see.
“A traveler. A stranger to Silglen. Grandfather, can I make you more comfortable?” asks Aurora in her best Elven.
“So cold this morning. Do you have anything warm to drink?”
Aurora leaves Shefak by his side while she makes tea over the still-hot breakfast fire. Thokk and Babshapka are preparing to depart for a day of hunting; Barnabus has left already for parts unknown; Willa is tidying up the cookware.
When Aurora returns to the elf’s side, they have a brief conversation in elven, and then Shefak returns to the fire as well. Aurora continues to speak for quite some time with the ancient one, before his caretaker returns and carries him off again. (for the contents of the conversation, see Post 57: The Riddle of the Malhel III)
Thokk and Babshapka return in the afternoon, bearing with them more game, but not as much as the day before. (Additional 5.5 pounds, total 13.5 on hand, down to 10 by day’s end).
In the evening, Larry blusters into camp, growling. “Stoopid drooid’s sarcle! Mak me an aaspirant when I kin kick the arse oof anyoone in the claass! Mak me larn ‘ow too weave when I already hae clothes! Woon’t even shoe me ‘ow too tarn into a bar. I bet thaat “maaster” dinnae even ken ‘ow. Kenning all thoose plaants an' barries an' roots be bonny and aall, bu' when doo I larn fighting? When doo I larn spells? Bet I cood tak oot the whoole claass with oone thundarwafe. Woon’t even promise me I’ll get choosen by the Drooid oof the Mountain! What if I get choosen by the Drooid of the Desart! What woold I doo then? Stoopid drooid’s sarcle!” Without even a word to his companions, he huffs into the bungalow that was his on the first night and slams the woven-twig door behind him.
“Sooo…” ventures Tyrius. “We leave on the morrow?” _________________ My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Mp7Ikko8SI
I hoped Larry would choose to stay with the party.
Yeah, given his personality I didn't expect him to stay with the druid hierarchy long. Why follow rules when you can adventure? _________________ My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Mp7Ikko8SI
Note: The information in this post is known only to the player of Aurora.
Previously: Post 5: Backstory for Aurora of Tringlee:
Post 49: The Riddle of the Malhel:
Post 53: The Riddle of the Malhel II:
Now: Post 57 - The Riddle of the Malhel III Concurrent with Post 56: Silglen
The old elf is very informative. Aurora tells him that she is an elf searching for her heritage, but asks him all manner of questions. He lowers his voice and speaks in an archaic form of elven that she struggles to understand, because, he says, he talks of things that “the humans are not supposed to know”.
He claims to be 1327 years old, and to be able to remember personally when the first Suel arrived in the Sheldomar Valley. At this time there was no “Dreadwood”, just a continual band of forest all across the valley (where there are now the Dreadwood, Axewood, and Silverwood, but all points between as well). This was before the Invoked Devastation that destroyed the Suel Imperium, so the Suel that were already in the valley were raiders and outlaws, vile and untrustworthy. After the Suel and Baklunish destroyed one another with magic so powerful it left “rifts in the weave that remain to this day”, there was a massive wave of immigrants - humans and humanoids. Some of the Suel were good and some were not. A few respected the elves, and met with them “under the moon and stars on the Gray Hill” from which the local barony gets its name.
The old elf claims that the Suel houses that arrived were the Neheli, the Rhola, the Secunforth, the Lizhal, the Malhel, and many others he has since forgotten. The Neheli went north and fought against the empire of the Whispered One. The Malhel dominated the plains north of the forest. The Rhola went south to the coast. When the Neheli were forced to retreat, they contested with the Malhel for control of the plains and eventually won by enlisting the aid of the other houses. The Malhel were few in number but had powerful wizards and sorcerers among them. When they were driven off, they took refuge in the deep Dreadwood and vowed revenge. That, however, is a secret - something that the elves promised not to tell the humans. The Malhel made dark experiments and summoned powerful fiends, attempting to bind them to their service and use them to attack the Neheli. Eventually they summoned something too powerful for them to control and destroyed themselves. The ruins of their cities still can be found in many places in the Dreadwood, but these are all protected.
When Aurora asks him why humans are not allowed to know this, the elf says he is not sure - he thinks he knew once, but has since forgotten. At some point the elves made a promise to the rulers of the human nation (he stumbles at remembering the name “Keoland”, but agrees when Aurora suggests it to him) to not talk about such things. Humans are a superstitious lot and he thinks their rulers may have been trying to keep their people from being afraid. Elves don’t like to talk about the Malhel either, but not because they are afraid - rather, it is a tragic tale, and elves are sensitive sorts and can sicken when they dwell too long on sorrowful things.
When Aurora asks if there are Malhel ruins about, the old elf says “of course”, and then whispers the name to her “Valadis”. Valadis apparently was a Malhel city near Silglen. The elves agreed to seal it off and keep humans from approaching it. The old elf suspects that when the human druid woman made Silglen here, it was also to watch and protect the place. Aurora asks where it is - so that she can avoid stumbling across the ruins by accident. The old man says it is so carefully warded, that there is no danger of that, so long as she does not accidentally travel up the Owl River.
Aurora asks him for the name of the local elven houses and clans, but does not recognize any that might be her father’s. She also asks him about Zuoken. He says that Zuoken was a mortal Bakluni man who was so dedicated to Xan Yae, the “Mistress of Perfection”, and who so mastered the unity of his mind and body, that he ascended to godhood. He remembers Zouken walking in the Dreadwood - but does not remember if that was decades ago or centuries, when he was a man or when he was a god. He thinks there may be temples to Zuoken, or Xan Yae, or both, in the southern Dreadwood, but then he thinks one can find just about anything in the southern Dreadwood - the part most overrun by all the humanoids that arrived when the Suel and Bakluni fought. _________________ My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Mp7Ikko8SI
DM's Note: By far the best source for maps of Greyhawk comes from the work of Anna B Meyer. I used her map of Keoland the party's travel, and the locations and identities of roads, terrain features, and settlements below come from that map. I would highly encourage any DM to use her work, and anyone with the means to do so to support her Patreon at https://www.patreon.com/annabmeyer
Post 58: Silgen to the Owl Stream
7 October, 570 - Silglen
In the morning most of the party pack up camp while Tyrius goes to visit the Master of the Welcome Temple. The master explains that while Larry has great power and promise, he is entirely impatient with the rules and procedures of the druid hierarchy. They will not be able to train him until he is willing to submit to their authority.
There certainly are druids in the world who are outside the hierarchy - many individuals have been gifted by the gods and spirits of nature with druidic powers - from the shamanic leaders of wild tribes to the fey folk to one such as the bear-man who was Larry’s mentor and foster father. It is entirely possible that Larry will continue to advance in power and understanding without the guidance of the hierarchy. However (and here the master looks Tyrius directly in the eyes), there can be only nine Druids, that is, true Druids, such as The Druid of the Mountains. If Larry ever makes it to that level of ability, he will have to challenge one of the nine Druids of the hierarchy, and attempt to take his or her place. Until then, the hierarchy is content to let Larry go about his business, since for the moment he seems to be doing little harm to the balance of things and some help besides.
Back at the camp there is some discussion of where the party should travel next. Tyrius had, the night before, offered to show them his home country of Sterich, but that lies hundreds of miles to the north and west and none but he were eager to make that journey. Shefak was adamant that they need to explore the southern Dreadwood and seek temples to her gods, and none of them were terribly opposed to the idea. Thokk welcomed battle and Tyrius the chance to smite evil. Today, in the light of morning, they discuss how they might be making that journey. “The Dreadwood Road” leads south out of Silglen, and many people besides Hyacinth have assured them that by simply following that route they will reach the southern Dreadwood, with the forest becoming ever wilder as they go. However, none of them are too keen on another long overland journey should a quicker way present itself. Aurora suggested that they take another route out of Silglen, the one leading to the Javan River valley. From there, they would be able to find passage on a boat, much as Tyrius, Thokk, and Larry had done months ago. Going downriver on the Javan, they would quickly arrive back in the Viscounty of Salinmoor, at which point they could enter the southernmost, wildest portion of the Dreadwood directly. When Tyrius returns from the temple they speak to him, and he agrees to go along.
By the time they use their remaining purchase vouchers to buy a half-day’s worth of food, it is a late start to the day. The forest cover keeps their journey cool, and it is afternoon before the temperatures approach the 80’s. Much sooner than that, however, they lose whatever protection the vicinity of Silglen has given them against insects, and the mosquitoes and other biting flies are out in force. They see no other travelers during the entire day. Night is approaching when they reach an obvious intersection in the road. It is unmarked, but Willa and Aurora both agree that the northern branch will take them to Greyhill, while the western one will lead to a mountain pass and then down to the Javan river. There are a number of deserted buildings at the intersection, and the forest growth is different, as if there was a failed attempt to clear fields and make a community here that was abandoned decades ago. They make camp in the most sturdy-looking of the structures (and are obviously not the first to do so), but not before all the buildings are searched and Thokk and Babshapka scout a short distance in each direction. It is a strange feeling to be in this ghost-town, and several of them do not sleep well.
[The party’s purchase of four pounds of food brings their supply total to 14 pounds, which is down to 6 pounds by the end of the day - they will have to forage on the morrow.]
8 October - Track from Silgen to Javan River - at the intersection of the Greyhill, Silglen, and Javan trails
Babshapka’s time for trance has long since passed and he stands a silent vigil in the pre-dawn. The rest of the party is sleeping silently - the woods are transitioning between the night creatures and the creatures of the day. Babshapka reaches out with his primeval awareness - he lets the wind tell the leaves, the leaves tell the trees, and the trees speak to him. His senses extend out for six miles in each direction, and he finds no trace of unnatural things. Everything is as it should be. Here and there fey linger at the edge of his consciousness, but they are mischievous, not malicious. He cannot detect evil - for all he knows there is an orc warband up the trail - but he is confident that there are no abominations nearby. Satisfied, he climbs a tree and scouts the lands ahead, planning where he will hunt. They are short on provisions, and he and Thokk will be walking off-trail for most of the day. Even searching thusly, they will be easily able to keep up with Barnabus and Larry. But it will mean that Babshapka is leaving Aurora's side for hours at a time. Knowing that any enemy they face will at least be natural, he feels confident leaving her with the main body of the party.
After breakfast Babshapka and Thokk pack a lunch for themselves, in case they do not reunite with the party until the night camp, and set out into the woods. The remaining six members of the party pack their gear and head up the Javan trail. “Up” is the right word, for the trail is definitely ascending, and when they pause in clearings, they can see that the land before them is ever higher, rising up into low, forested mountains. Still, the weather is pleasant and the company good and they manage a fair day’s march. When Thokk and Babshapka find them later in the day there is fresh meat and greens for dinner.
[Six pounds plus 9.5 gained foraging, less 8 eaten is 7.5 pounds remaining].
9 October - track from Silglen to Javan River - where the “h” in the "Barony of Greyhill" intersects the Javan trail
Babshapka’s primeval awareness again convinces him that it is safe to forage away from the main group.
They continue up the trail. It is just as steep as the day before, but now they can see high peaks to either side of them as well as in front. The trail is taking the most gentle ascent up a wide valley.
Around three in the afternoon a light rain begins to fall and Willa calls a halt to the march. The rain does not obscure their vision or slow their movement much at the moment, but several hours of it on a steeply-sloped dirt trail could easily turn into a mud-pit, and she would just as soon have a clean campsite and dry night for those with tents.
When Thokk and Babshapka find them later, after a bit of back-tracking, they carry with them the bounty of the forest.
[7.5 pounds plus 11 gained foraging, less 8 eaten is 10.5 pounds remaining.]
10 October - track from Silglen to Javan River
On this morning, Babshapka’s primeval awareness detects the presence of something, just at the edge of its range. It is strange, like nothing he has felt before. He believes it is extraplanar in origin, and of uncertain intent. It is disquieting enough that he decides to spend the day on the trail by Aurora’s side. Since they have enough supplies for the whole day, he convinces Thokk to march with the party as well. Whatever the creature or being is, he wants everyone together if it decides to menace them. He did not understand what he sensed, but he knew that it was powerful.
They continue up the trail. Babshapka is immediately convinced that they are being watched, but none of the rest of the party are aware of anything and put it off to a “bad trance” the night before. He has half a mind to dash off into the underbrush and flush out the person or creature that is watching, and following, them, but he restrains himself thinking that that is perhaps what the thing wants, to separate them.
While Aurora ignores Babshapka’s presentiments, she does seem awfully interested in the trail on which they are marching, specifically whether they could have missed any side trails. She badgers Willa to take out her map, but Willa refuses, citing the rain they had the day before and the delicate nature of the map. When questioned about her behavior, Aurora replies that the elderly elf she spoke to in Siglin told her that there was another trail, a shortcut to the Javan River, that ran southeast and that would have to be along this stretch somewhere. She even sends her spirit hawk Buckbeak high into the sky all morning, soaring in circles and searching (and causing Aurora to trip clumsily up the trail as she cannot see what is in front of her when viewing through his eyes), but she never locates the side branch she claims exists. Even Babshapka sees no evidence for any branches off of the trail they are on, and he is incessantly monitoring the woods around them.
As morning turns into afternoon Babshapka relaxes somewhat, and Aurora gives up on locating the missing side-branch. After their mid-day meal the trail becomes truly steep, requiring all their effort and attention to climb as it ascends to a rugged saddle between two peaks. For some time the soil is so thin and the ground so rocky that they even leave the forest and hike through alpine meadows.
In the late afternoon they finally begin their descent down into the Javan River valley. Here the forests are even more lush and dense than those they have been walking through since leaving Silglen. It is not long before they pass a large stone cairn that marks the boundary between the Barony of Greyhill and the Dreadwood Protectorate. At least at this border crossing there are no self-proclaimed tax collectors. The Protectorate is not a traditional fiefdom run by some human noble. Rather, it is the name for all of the Dreadwood that is really too wild to be ruled, too savage to collect any regular revenue from. Here in the north, the land is claimed and patrolled by elven tribes nominally loyal to the Crown and the party is in little danger, but the more southern regions of the Protectorate, their ultimate goal, is truly a lawless wilderness.
They work their way downslope along the base of a great cliff-face. Fortunately the cliff is to their north, giving them enough light from the south to march until well in the afternoon. Finally, as the sky is turning deeper shades of blue, Willa calls a halt for the day. It is cool, already in the sixties, and though they are hot from marching she thinks they will be cold in the night, here on the mountainside. As they make camp she sends out some of them to gather enough wood for a large fire. Thokk goes off a way to set his trap. They have just enough supplies for a full dinner tonight and a good breakfast in the morning, and then they will be completely out of food.
[10.5 pounds and no foraging, less 8 eaten is 2.5 pounds remaining.]
October 11 - track from Silglen to Javan River, in the Dreadwood Protectorate
It does indeed get cold at night - down into the forties, perhaps, and the party is slow to rouse in the morning. Willa, Aurora, and Tyrius have a discussion over breakfast - they will soon be upon the river, with perhaps no towns of note before then. It would be better to have a full stock of supplies if they will be negotiating for their passage on whatever barge floats by. They have been keeping themselves fed, but barely, as they travel with just the casual foraging of Thokk and Babshapka supplying them. If they take a day of rest here and concentrate on provisioning themselves, they may be able to start the next day with full packs. In particular, Thokk and Babshapka have been eager to bring down a deer, but Tyrius had previously restricted them to small game, not wanting to be accused of poaching from the Baron. But here in the Protectorate, there is no local law to speak of - or at least the elves who allow hunting do not reserve large game for the tables of their nobles. This camp affords them the best opportunity to stock up before they arrive at the river. It is decided that they will keep their camp for one day while Thokk, Babshapka, and Larry dedicate the day to hunting and gathering.
Thokk first checks his trap set the night before. It has been sprung, and snapped off a giant beetle leg! Estimating from the size of the leg, Thokk imagines the beetle stands higher than he is, and he is sorry he missed it. Giant beetle carapace makes good improvised armor, and the wing and mandible muscles are huge and edible, if tough.
While the others spend a quiet day at camp, resting and mending gear, Thokk and Babshapka bring back a young buck and Larry returns with armloads of mushrooms, greens, acorns, and fruit. He also has a small cache of grubs and worms just for himself. The total bounty is nearly a week’s worth of food.
[2.5 pounds with 43 pounds from foraging, less 8 pounds is 37.5 pounds remaining.]
12 October - track from Silglen to Javan River, in the Dreadwood Protectorate - near the crossing of the Owl Stream
In the morning the party breaks their two-day camp and sets out back down the Javan trail. It descends steeply and there is more than one section of switchbacks. A few hours into the march the trail crosses a sizable stream at a broad ford; larger than the alpine brooks they have previously walked or waded through. It is not yet mid-day. Here Aurora calls a halt and confers with Willa on whether she thinks this is the “Owl Stream.” When Willa checks her map and agrees that it is, Aurora says that they should move upstream and try the fishing. When everyone stares at her blankly, she explains that the elderly elf from Silglen told her of the excellent fishing in the upper reaches of the Owl Stream.
“Why fishing?” asks Tyrius. “We have plenty of food now.”
“Food for ourselves, yes,” agrees Aurora, “but with a few baskets of fish besides we could trade for passage on the river and would not have to offer gold to the captains.”
The party remains unconvinced, but Aurora is stubbornly insistent that they need to go fishing. Willa is curiously silent on the matter after a few questions to Aurora.
There seeming no way around it, the party reluctantly agrees rather than split. Leaving the trail, they begin to follow the Owl Stream upriver. At first they walk along its banks, but before long the stream itself lies in the bottom of a narrow glen and they follow it from the forest floor above. Less than an hour after they have left the trail, Babshapka, scouting the lead, finds a curious barrier. The entire hillside is closed off by a thick thorn hedge, as far as they can see in either direction, except for the narrow glen ravine, which at this point is more than fifty feet below them. Buckbeak confirms that the thorn hedge goes both directions, blocking access for miles at least, but that on just the other side of the barrier the forest is unremarkable. Even with hand-axes, it would take them hours to hack their way through, and walking around would take more than a day.
Instead, they fell trees, strip limbs, and Thokk quickly ties the trunks together with rope from three different kits to make an improvised raft. The raft is lowered to the bottom of the glen with his block-and-tackle, and the party either climbs down or is lowered. Strapping their gear to the raft as best they can, they set off up the stream.
Where the thorn barrier is overhead corresponds to the narrowest part of the glen between high rock walls, and the stream’s course is deep and strong. Thokk had been wading on the stream bottom, pushing the raft ahead of him, but in the narrows the water is already over his chest and likely to get deeper. Now he mounts the raft, and tries to use a grappling hook to pull the raft through the ravine. They are about halfway through when his hands slip on wet rope and the raft lurches back, gathers speed, and smashes into the ravine wall. The next few seconds are a chaos of flailing arms, bucking logs, and desperate grabbing.
When everyone is safely on shore downstream, they take stock. Many have lost a small personal item - much of the rope is gone. Thokk has lost his mechanical game trap, and Willa had her vial of “cure disease”, captured from the Sea Ghost, smashed.
Thokk ponders awhile, then declares that the raft was too complicated an idea. He takes the largest remaining log and into it axes leg-holds, like a giant flume. The party repacks all their gear. As they mount up in the water, Thokk tells them to hold on with their legs and thighs, because they will likely roll more than once, which helps no-one’s confidence.
Barnabus stands behind Thokk. They use two grappling hooks and lines. Barnabus throws one, and when it is set, transfers it to Thokk, who advances them with the block-and tackle while Barnabus looks for their next hold.
While the log rocks and bucks and pulls in the current, it does not roll, and some twenty minutes later they have emerged from the narrows into a large, placid pool. They hand-paddle to a bank and mount the shore. Before them is a great expanse of woods, like that they left behind, but older, thicker, and darker.
Buckbeak is sent aloft, and reports a mountain with a village at its foot several miles ahead as well as a divot in the canopy that reflects an old, but usable, road beneath. The party spreads out their clothes to dry in the mid-day sun while they take their lunch on the banks of the pool. Here and there on the hillslopes behind them they can see bits of the thorn wall. Aurora says that they can likely reach the village by nightfall, and no one seems surprised that she hasn’t mentioned fishing lately.
Their clothes are reasonably dry and their stomachs full by the time dark afternoon clouds roll in. They set off into the woods and soon find the road. It is ancient indeed, still recognizable although saplings of all sizes grow up through it. They proceed in the direction of the mountain while the sky grows darker all the time; around two in the afternoon a brief thunderstorm breaks, soaking them again. Although it quickly passes, in its wake the cool air and standing water have made a light fog. Black pools of water stand like dark mirrors about the muddy roadway. Thick, cold mists spread a pallor over the land. Giant tree trunks stand on both sides of the road, their branches clawing into the mists. In every direction the mists grow thicker and the forest grows more oppressive.
The party continues along the road for at least five hours. The sun is long-lost to view but its last rays illuminate the top of the mountain above them when they come to a strange gate. Jutting from the impenetrable woods on both sides of the road, high stone buttresses loom up gray in the fog. Huge iron gates hang upon the stonework. Dew clings with cold tenacity to the rusted bars. Two statues of armed guardians silently flank the gate. Their heads, missing from their shoulders, now lie among the weeds at their feet. They greet the party only with silence.
By now the entire party is spooked. Larry approaches the gates cautiously, tossing a handful of dirt between them. When nothing happens, the party walks through. However, when the last of them has entered, the gates swing closed of their own accord, groaning against their rusting hinges. As they clang shut, the mists seem to spring up thicker than ever. Deep in the mists, an unseen and unidentified beast growls. _________________ My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Mp7Ikko8SI
While the party was in the woods, I used the ambient sound mix at https://rpg.ambient-mixer.com/haunted-forest---night. There was a wonderful unscripted moment when they finally walked through the gate - I described it closing behind the last player, and there then occurred the first one of the random howls. They were very freaked out!
Post 59: A Willage in the Mists
Just inside the gates (B), the party carefully scans the mists for signs of the beast, but slowly realize the sound was distant. They proceed cautiously down the road through the dark woods.
After a half-mile, the woods fall away from the road and they enter an area of pasture and fallow fields. Tall shapes loom out of the dense fog that surrounds everything. The muddy ground underfoot gives way to slick, wet cobblestones. The tall shapes become recognizable as the dwellings of a village. The windows of each house stare out from pools of black nothingness. No sound cuts the silence except for a single mournful sobbing that echoes through the streets from a distance.
The party proceeds toward the village, their boot steps sounding unnaturally loud against the cobblestones in the silence of the night. As they approach, they notice that the village is surprisingly dark - it is only an hour after nightfall, and even poor folk without candles should still be knitting or mending by the light of a hearth fire. There seems to be light only in the village square - all of the other buildings are dark.
The first two outbuildings of the village appear abandoned. On the main street, other buildings, shops and houses, are also empty - some looted, with smashed doors and fallen shutters, others perhaps still occupied but bolted up tight against the night. Everywhere the walls, especially on the door frames and window sills, are covered in scratches. Aurora examines them and believes them to be the work of zombies, but perhaps the eerie nature of the place is coloring her judgement.
Thokk throws his shoulder against the door of a house, but it is barred from inside. The resulting crash echoes up and down the dark streets. Frustrated, he growls and takes out his battle axe. “No!” says Willa sharply. “We’ve already made enough noise. We are going toward the lights in the square.”
Three blocks later they stand in the village square, which is actually a circle. The haunting sound of sobbing and wailing is louder now, and seems to be coming from the street to the south. While the square itself is not lit, two buildings, one to their left and one to their right, have lights on inside, and the light spills out into the darkened streets. They move to the left first - the light comes from behind heavy, drawn curtains. There is a sign hanging outside the shop, creaking on hinges over the door, but the lettering is unfamiliar to most of them. “It’s in Suel,” announces Aurora, “not ancient Suel, but a rather archaic form of modern Suel. I believe it says “Bildrath’s Mercantile.”
(E1) They knock on the door, and the curtains are drawn back, but the face that looks at them is in shadows. A second later a stout bar is removed and the door is opened. “Come in, come in,” says a man in a heavily-accented Suel that only Aurora understands. “But be quick! The streets of Barowia are not safe at night.”
Bildrath, if indeed that is his name, is a middle-aged man, but it appears the years have not been kind to him. His hair is sparse and gray, and he has heavy bags under his eyes. His hands seem to move of their own accord, nervously, fretfully. After the last of the party is through the door he closes it, hurriedly puts the bar back in place, and moves behind the counter.
The shop is lit by oil lamps mounted on the walls, with polished tin plates behind them to reflect more light, but it somehow still seems dim. Dusty, half-empty shelves are everywhere, but even so there are a number of various and sundry goods about, and it appears as any general store they have been in - though perhaps this one has seen better days. The more valuable items are on the shelves behind the counter, inaccessible to the party. Most of the party give a cursory inspection of the items on the shelves. Larry helps himself to a few pickles floating in an open pickle barrel - they are crunchy and briny and quite good. Aurora wanders about the store, nonchalantly picking trinkets of small value off of the shelves and placing them on the counter, as she converses with the man in Suel.
“You said the streets are not safe...what makes them so?”
“Volves, and vorse…”
“Do you have anything that might help us against such creatures? Silver weapons or wolfsbane or somesuch?”
“No, no. I’m afraid in Barowia the demand for such items far outstrips my meager supply.”
“We are travelers - do you have many of those?”
“Trawelers in Barowia are rrare, but not unknown. Eet has been more than a year since I haf seen any, certainly.”
“Why are so many of the houses in the village empty?”
“Thees land ees under a currse.”
“Indeed! What is the nature of the curse?”
“The currse ees the devil - the devil Strrahd!” as Bildrath says this last part, he whispers, and then makes a gesture to ward off evil.
“What is the devil Strahd?”
Bildrath winces at Aurora’s loud, offhand repetition of the name. “Thees things are not to be discussed at night.” He looks at the items she is putting on the counter. “Perhaps eef you rreturned in the day, ve might talk. Eef you rreturn.”
“Hmm. We are looking for a place to stay for the night…”
“No! Not een my store!” Bildrath exclaims. “Try the tavern across the street. They may haf rrooms to let above.”
Aurora pays for her purchases, and finds the bill is about ten times what she would pay in a town like Daerwald or Seaton. Larry is pulling pickles out of the barrel with his bare hands and trying to stack them in his arms like kindling. Bildrath glowers at him, then hands over a pair of tongs and a large earthenware jar with a lid.
The party leaves the shop and walks across the street. A single shaft of light thrusts into the main square, its brightness like a solid pillar in the heavy fog. Above the gaping doorway, a sign hangs precariously askew proclaiming this (in Suel) the "Blood on the Vine Tavern."
(E2) They make their way into the building. The once finely appointed tavern has grown shoddy over the years. A blazing fire in the hearth gives scant warmth to the few huddled souls within. The silence here is broken only by the occasional sip of wine. The barkeep is behind the bar, cleaning glasses. He looks up as the party enters, but returns immediately to his work. Three men with dark skin and in brightly colored clothes are at a table on the left. A solitary man, much paler, sits mysteriously in the shadows to the right.
Larry approaches the man in the shadows, attempting to discern whether he is some kind of undead. “You look like a stranger to Barowia,” the man says, in a heavily-accented Common. “Are you trawelers?”
“We’re adventurers!” booms Larry brightly. Shefak notices the three men on the other side of the room bend their heads together and whisper.
“Adwentures? Then you are used to helping people in dangerous situations?”
“Come, let us go to my house.”
By now, Aurora and Tyrius are standing next to Larry. “Why don’t you tell us what you need first.”
“Not here,” the man demurs. He leans in and says softly, “There are too many ears here.”
The man leads them out of the tavern and down the street to the south. A moaning sob floats through the still, gray streets, coloring their thoughts with sadness. The sounds flow from a dark, two-story townhouse they pass (E3). The party asks the man what the sound is.
“Ah, that...that is Mad Mary,” he sighs, and makes a warding gesture.
(E4) At the very end of the street a weary-looking mansion squats behind a rusting iron fence. The iron gates are twisted and torn. The right gate lies cast aside while the left swings crazily in the wind. The stuttering squeal and clang of the gate repeats with mindless precision.
Weeds choke the grounds and press with menace upon the house itself. Yet, against the walls, the growth has been trodden under to form a path all about the domain. Heavy claw markings have stripped the once-beautiful finish of the walls. Great black blottings tell of the fires that have assailed the walls. Not a pane nor shard of glass stands in any window. All the windows are barred with heavy planking, each plank marked with stains of evil omen.
The man thrusts aside the gate impatiently and strides up to the front door. He pounds on the door, calling, in Common, “Sister! Sister, open. It is Ismark!” By the time the door is opened, the party is clustered around the man at the threshold. Immediately light spills from the mansion, and a second later, the strong stench of death overwhelms them. Their hands go to weapons, but in the doorway is only a young woman of surpassing beauty. _________________ My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Mp7Ikko8SI
12 October, 570 - The Village of Barovia
The young women in the doorway stares dumbfounded at the party, and then at the face of her brother. He nods at her and she ushers them inside, immediately barring the door behind her while he drags a small table with a holy symbol on it in front of the door.
The interior of the house is well furnished, although the fixtures show sign of considerable wear. Obvious oddities are the boarded - up windows and the overuse of holy symbols in every room. An older man is in a side parlor to the left, dead. He is lying on a settee in a room that is dark, despite the candles burning in his honor. The stench in the house is horrible.
“Sister,” says Ismark, sounding greatly relieved, and he kisses the young woman on both cheeks. He turns to the party. “To thee of might and walor, I present my sister Ireena Kolyana.”
Tyrius bows deeply and a few of the others hastily imitate him.
“And who are these strrangers, Ismark?” she asks, following his lead and speaking in Common.
“Adwenturers,” he says, “I think they can help us.”
“We may be able t’ help ye,” says Willa cautiously, “but firs' we need t’ know what be going on 'ere.”
Ismark and Ireena lead the party into a dining room across the hall from the parlor with the dead man. Between them, they tell a long tale. They explain that the man was the Burgomaster, the village leader of Barovia, and that they are his children. The village of Barovia is a sad place now. Most of the shops have been forced to close. The night, and its creatures, belong to the devil Count Strahd von Zarovich, Lord of Barovia. When the sun sets, the people of Barovia barricade their homes, trembling in fear. Each night the attacks get worse. Recently, the Burgomaster's mansion has been the center of most attacks - although it was not like that when the siblings were children. Each night now, wolves and other, terrible creatures attack the house. The Burgomaster's heart could not stand the constant assault and he died a natural death. Strangely, just since his death, the wolves have not attacked the house. The Burgomaster has been dead for nearly ten days, but no one from the town has been brave enough to help Ismark take him out for burial. During the same attack in which the Burgomaster died, his mansion's greatest holy symbol was stolen, and Ireena and Ismark are now without protection.
The poor villagers of Barovia have been terrorized for generations by "the devil" Strahd. No villager has left Barovia for centuries. Those who tried never returned, dying from the vile snapping teeth of the Barovian wolves and the choking deadly fog. The dark Svalich woods surround the village and cliffs. There is a deathly stillness in the dark woods, yet they are patrolled constantly by the wolves and serving beasts of Count Strahd. Strangers occasionally arrive in the village, like the party, but they never leave. This is because of the trapping mists that exist everywhere in Barovia. Once they are breathed, they infuse themselves around a person's vital organs like poison. When they leave Barovia, the poison becomes active, killing them - if the wolves do not find them first.
The men the party saw in the tavern were Rhenee boatmen. They are spies for the devil, and it is rumored that they can pass in and out of Barovia as he wills. When the party asks whether they should return to the tavern and kill the men before they can report to Strahd, Ismark looks shocked, and Ireena aghast. No, they say, the Rhenee are spies, but they do not hurt the people of Barovia. And even if they could be silenced, the devil has many spies, and most assuredly Strahd already knows that the party is here.
On the outskirts of the village sits a church. Only the constant prayers of the priest keep it safe at night. In the morning, with the party’s help, Ismark will take his father’s body there for burial. The party wonders why he could not do this by himself, or surely the two of them together - their father was a large man, but not so large he couldn’t be moved in a hand cart. Ismark simply repeats that it is “too dangerous”.
Far above the village sits Castle Ravenloft, Strahd's home and fortress. Certainly, Barovia will never be safe until the evil in his castle is destroyed. No one knows what hides within the castle. Ancient tales tell of dungeons and catacombs deep under the castle. Other stories recall the great halls, treasures, and glory of Ravenloft centuries ago. Sometimes Strahd “calls” to certain people in the village, and they must come to his castle - usually young women. Such was likely the fate of Gertruda, Mad Mary’s daughter. The old woman kept her daughter confined in her house, never allowed to leave, and even the other villagers had never seen her. But last week she broke out and has not been seen since. Mary has been disconsolate, and her moans and sobs continue unabated.
The party eats dinner from their own supplies, but heated in the kitchen of the mansion. They then arrange a watch schedule. Those resting are shown to the Burgomaster’s bedroom on the second floor, after Ismark extracts a pledge from all the men that they will not disturb Ireena, and a promise from Tyrius that he will enforce their pledges. Those on watch are shown the stairs to the garret, and a corkscrew from the kitchen is used to drill peepholes into the boards in the four windows of the tower.
Thick clouds obscure the moon, but Aurora estimates it is around midnight when a dozen wolves take up a howling, right at the base of the mansion’s walls. The building shudders, and frantic messages arrive to Aurora, telling her that the wolves are throwing themselves against the doors and windows. Aurora looks desperately from peephole to peephole, but cannot see the source of the attacks.
With a fantastic crash, the back door breaks in two against the restraint of the bar. The lower half falls into the hall as wolves and bats enter the mansion. Babshapka, Larry, and Barnabus hold off the intruders. Finally, out on the front path, Aurora spots a single man, cloaked in a dark cape and with dark hair, almost invisible against the night. Around his feet slink wolves, heads cowed. Peering through the peephole, Aurora prepares and targets her magic missile spell, sending the missiles exploding into the figure’s shoulder and chest. His cape sizzles and burns, but his body does not move. He cranes his neck toward the garret, and Aurora can feel his hateful red eyes upon her, with her as exposed as if she was standing naked in front of him in broad daylight, rather than behind boarded-up windows at night. With a flourish of his cape the figure turns on his heels and strides away, laughing cruelly, followed by a host of wolves and a cloud of bats.
The battle over, Thokk slays one of the unconscious wolves and drags the other one into the pantry, laying a leg of meat beside it and shutting the pantry door. Hours later but before dawn he can hear it whining and scratching at the door. He begins a ritual, calling his wolf totem to himself so that he can see through its eyes and speak with its voice. When Thokk is ready, Larry opens the door for him and Thokk faces the wolf.
Using his totem to speak to the spirit of the wolf, Thokk learns that the wolves of Barovia call Strahd the “Master of the Pack,” and must obey him because he is “The Master”. Sometimes he calls them to his stone house, but they do not like to go there because there are many dead things there. Rather, they live in dens all over the woods and hunt the creatures of the forest when he is not commanding them. Thokk gathers as much information as he can before he mercifully kills the wounded wolf, and none-too-soon for Ireena, who is both upset about the attack on their house and incensed that Thokk would keep one of the beasts that attacked them, alive inside the house.
Watch and sleep schedules are re-adjusted, so that those wounded in the fight, or who used spells, can still get a full rest. The party had planned to debark at daybreak, but now they tell the Kolyana siblings that they will not be leaving the house until mid-morning. Privately, Ireena voices her concerns to Ismark that these adwenturers may not be the help they had hoped for.
Those in the garret swear they see shapes in the woods around the mansion at various points in the night, but there are no further attacks.
13 October, 9am
Well after dawn the entire party, as well as Ismark and Ireena, depart the house, the siblings with their father wrapped in a sheet and carried between Thokk and Tyrius. Ismark and Ireena have, between them, one sword - a family heirloom, though both also carry long daggers. They pass up the cobblestone streets to a hill on the north end of the town. Here and there villagefolk can be seen moving about in the daylight, but they turn the other way when they see the party, or dart into doorways, so that none of them can be seen clearly or for long.
(E6) Atop a slight rise, against the very roots of the castle's pillarstone, stands a gray, sagging edifice of stone and wood. This church has weathered the assaults of evil for centuries on end and is worn and weary. The bell tower hangs to one side, its sweet tone long silenced. The rafters strain feebly against their load. The party pauses at the unlocked front doors. _________________ My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Mp7Ikko8SI
13 October, 570 - The Village of Barovia
Passing through the doors, the party finds the church interior a shambles, with overturned and broken benches littering the dusty floor. A body is slumped over a claw-scarred altar toward the far end. Babshapka approaches it silently - until his foot kicks a bronze offering plate that clangs across the floor. With a sharp intake of breath the slumped figure jerks upright, hands clutching at the holy symbol around his neck. When he comes to his senses, he asks in a voice hoarse from all-night chanting, “Who is there...Ireena Kolyana, is that you?” His blood-shot eyes strain to see them.
“Yes, Father, and Ismark with me.”
“And who are these strangers?”
“Trawelers, Father, here to help us...help us bury…” her voice breaks off.
“Who is that in the sheet then, is that…?”
“Our father, the Burgomaster,” says Ismark, as his sister cannot bring herself to answer.
“It is as I had feared,” the priest hangs his head resignedly. “Still, ve can give him a decent rresting place. Let us go outside.”
Behind the church is a small cemetery (E7). Some of the graves have stone markers, some even statuary. Most have simple flat wooden plaques with carved sunburst designs, and many are unmarked. The grass is a bit greener here than the rest of the village, and it seems a quiet and peaceful place in the morning light. Not far beyond it, however, towers a vertical cliff face that rises more than a thousand feet. At the very top can be made out the towers and walls of Castle Ravenloft, looming over the village.
Father Donovitch brings picks and shovels from a shed and Ismark, Thokk, Tyrius, and Larry quickly dig a grave. Just as the grave is finished and they are preparing to lower the Burgomaster into it, a howl splits the morning air and a huge wolf-like creature dashes from the edge of the woods straight at them.
Everything happens so fast, it is difficult to say whom the beast is targeting - the Burgomaster’s body, the Kolyanas, the priest? As it races past Shefak, she lands a swift punch to its flank, making it list to one side. She follows up with a swipe from her staff, completely knocking it off its feet, and a party member finishes it off with a sword. Standing over the body, Babshapka declares, “That’s no wolf; that’s a worg.”
Ismark looks around at everyone who questioned why he did not bury his father before. “As I said, it was too dangerous.”
The worg is carried out of the cemetery and the Burgomaster laid to rest. Father Donovitch gives a eulogy in Suel, and Tyrius says a few words in Common as well. The Barovian priest listens carefully to the paladin, and stares intently at his holy symbol of a blazing sun, then draws him aside for a private conversation. Ireena, with the party, turns to discussing the Rhenee. Father Donovitch at some point in the eulogy mentioned Madam Eva, and the party is curious. Ireena explains that Madam Eva is the leader of the Rhenee, and heads their camp at the base of the waterfall. The party decides that they need more information about her. Ireena will lead them to the camp while Ismark returns to the mansion to attempt to fix the broken back door. Ismark gives Ireena their sword, and Father Donovitch kisses her forehead and blesses her.
(c.10:00am) Ireena and the party take the road south out of the village and come upon the ancient stone bridge that spans the River Ivlis. The river is as clear as a blue winter sky, and in no way reflects the dismal gray clouds overhead, as if it was the last uncorrupted thing in the valley. For the next half-mile, the road passes in and out of the forbidding Svalich Woods, near to, and then far from, the Ivlis River. Then the party suddenly comes to a fork.
(F) The northern path climbs slightly uphill while the southern route goes down and around a spur of the mountain. Dense fog obscures vision, but Ireena says the northern route will take them to the Rhenee, while the southern road leads to the castle of the devil. A cold autumn wind whistles down the northern lane, cutting icily through their clothing. Dead brown leaves rush about. There is no sound other than the wind and leaves, and their own breathing.
The party takes the northern route up and over a hill. As they come down the other side, the woods close in quickly until they overshadow the road itself. The sound of the river is faint but grows louder. The canopy of mist and branches overhead suddenly gives way to black clouds boiling far above. There is a clearing here at the edge of a large, placid pool. Dry, brittle grass rustles in the biting wind. On the far side of the clearing is a covered wagon, and moored at the edge of the pool are several colorfully painted covered river barges. The mournful strains of an accordion mix meekly with the moaning of the wind. Several brightly clad figures surround a large, roaring fire. The road seems to pass close by this camp, but its cobblestones have given way to a dirt track.
Before emerging from the trees into the clearing, Shefak puts on her ring of invisibility and Barnabus disappears into the foliage. The somewhat smaller party then approaches the fire.
One of the men stands and nods as they approach. “It vas fated that you vould wisit this humble camp. Madam Eva foretold your coming. She awaits you." The man leads the party to a barge, the other men at the fire seeming not to notice them. The party steps aboard the barge, pausing at a narrow doorway to the covered portion. _________________ My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Mp7Ikko8SI
This is an exciting, though unexpected, turn of events. :)
Who knew Barovia was in the Dreadwood, right? _________________ My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Mp7Ikko8SI
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