Tyrius' trials were very cool. Eddard Allen Lane seems a beautifully colored stallion, but you didn't say what kind of horse he is. I note that in your list of types you mentioned Rounceys, Palfreys, and Jennets; coursers, destriers, and chargers generally, but I desire more specifics. Is Eddard a Shire, Clydesdale, Belgian, Friesian, Gypsy, Percheron, Andalusian, what?!
Secondly, I appreciated most of the personal goals for the characters, but Barnabus' personal goal encouraged his player to play him in a greedy fashion, which seems detrimental to the party and the player. Did the other players ever know his goal was to pilfer from the party? How did that information to over with the other players?
Eddard Allen Lane seems a beautifully colored stallion, but you didn't say what kind of horse he is. Is Eddard a Shire, Clydesdale, Belgian, Friesian, Gypsy, Percheron, Andalusian, what?!
I would be uncomfortable using any of those terms as they relate to specific places in RW Europe, and thus they take me "out" of Greyhawk. I try to avoid such words - I'm even on the fence about turquoise! But if I had to specify a RW breed for Eddard, I would say he likely is close to a Grand Boulonnais but with feathering.
Secondly, I appreciated most of the personal goals for the characters, but Barnabus' personal goal encouraged his player to play him in a greedy fashion, which seems detrimental to the party and the player. Did the other players ever know his goal was to pilfer from the party? How did that information to over with the other players?
Most of the characters shared their personal goals - Barnabus did not.
I am not a fan of PvP as it promotes hard feelings and ultimately shortens the lifetime of a campaign. As a DM I might play on pre-existing party tensions for dramatic effect, but giving a character a leveling goal specifically to create conflict in the party would be off my table. For your question, it is important to understand that Barnabus' character had been established by the player as selfish and larcenous from the very start - way back in post 10, the very first treasure found by anyone was a magic ring which Barnabus found and kept, not mentioning it to the party. So they have known for a long time that that is how Barnabus is played. With the leveling goal of acquiring 500gp, I didn't see myself as promoting division in the party, but rather as rewarding role play and character goals that had already been well established.
As far as how the other characters react: Aurora has always been an occasional ally of Barnabus. When arguing for more risk / more reward, they can count on each other's votes, and she is happy to use him as a counterbalance to the other two leaders, Willa and Tyrius, both of whom are more lawful than she is.
Willa doesn't much care for Barnabus, but she finds him useful, both for reconnescence and in combat (rogues in 5E have a great "burst damage" - when he hits with "sneak attack", he is equal to any of the fighters). She begrudgingly accepts him, knowing that constantly being on the lookout for his petty thefts is the price of his being useful.
Tyrius is the only one who really "objects" to Barnabus' attempts to steal from the party - but he also feels responsible for trying to "save" him. For him, the loss to the party treasure is not as important as the danger to Barnabus' soul. Barnabus and Tyrius play a constant cat-and-mouse, with Barnabus trying to pocket valuables before being detected, and Tyrius trying to discover him and force him to turn things over. Certainly this dynamic might threaten to devolve into PvP if one of them "beat" the other one with frequency. But the interesting wrinkle is that both Barnabus and Tyrius are played by the same player! So there are no hard feelings regardless of who wins.
Finally, it is worth noting that Barnabus has never and would never steal directly from the party members. That is, once a coin or gem has been declared party treasure and is in someone's pocket, it is off-limits due to his own personal sense of honor. He spends his effort in trying to discover treasures and take them for himself before the rest of the party knows that they exist. "The chest was empty when I found it" at every opportunity, but never "When no one is looking I go through Larry's bags." _________________ 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: Done with Ravenloft, the party has now returned to a wilderness journey.
By far the best source for maps of Greyhawk comes from the work of Anna B Meyer. I used http://ghmaps.net for the party's travel.
This post centers around the area of the Dreadwood labeled the "Owl Stream". 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 81: The Price of Forbidden Knowledge
24 October, 570 - Owl Stream outside Barovia
The party (minus Tyrius) move swiftly down the ravine, and the log proves far easier to control running downstream than it did coming in and up. It is only a few minutes later when they are pulling up to the embankment where they first felled the trees and mounted the log. Four men stand on the shore.
(2pm) One of the men is obviously a knight in full plate armor (though he holds his great helm in hand and his head is bare), the second a squire or retainer in studded leather. The two remaining appear to be common foot soldiers, with shields and chain shirts.
The party disembarks cautiously, facing the four men. “Hail!” calls the knight. “Are you Aurora of Ulek?” A scar runs down the length of the man’s face.
“I am,” replies Aurora. She and Thokk move to the front. Aurora carefully studies the devices on the tabards of the men. The squire and footmen are in the livery of the Baron of Greyhill. The knight wears the black lion on a red field that signifies the Kingdom of Keoland - but he has no personal device - neither on his tabard nor helm, and he does not bear a shield. A common soldier might wear only the arms of his liege, but a knight typically bears a personal device as well.
The knight continues speaking. “The Silent Ones told me that the arcane boundaries around the lands of the vampire had fallen - and that their divinations were now able to penetrate and discern a book, called the “Chronicle of Secret Times”. Do you bear such a book out of those cursed lands?”
Aurora swallows. She remembers that the Silent Ones are sorcerers - a powerful group of sorcerers who serve the King of Keoland. Can she trust this knight? She pauses as long as she dares to let those behind her position themselves.
Barnabus, in the rear, is scanning the woods. He sees elven bowmen, under cover - both up the embankment behind these men, but also on the other side of the stream behind the party, even a few on the ridge far overhead. They are completely surrounded. He wants to warn Aurora, but not interrupt the conversation and draw the suspicion of the knight. Why doesn’t Aurora contact him through message?
“I say,” repeats the knight, “do you bear such a book?”
“Indeed I do,” says Aurora. “I recovered it from the castle of the vampire lord.”
“I thought as much - may I see it?”
The man’s words are polite but his tone is commanding. Aurora takes off her pack, then removes the large, leather-bound book. She offers it to the man.
The knight takes the book carefully from her and begins to leaf through it. “Hmm,” he says, “it is in Suelese.”
“Yes,” affirms Aurora, “ancient Suelese. Can you read it?” She tries to think quickly. The most powerful houses of Keoland are the Rhola and Neheli, both descendants of the Suel refugees who founded the Kingdom. They still speak Suelese at court, rather than Common, through pride, and any of them that were literate could read modern Suelese. But it would take a true scholar to be able to read ancient Suelese, the form of the language used a thousand years ago. Other noble houses in Keoland are of Oeridian origin - they might, or might not, be able to recognize the writing as Suelese, but would be highly unlikely to note the difference between the ancient and modern forms or be able to read either.
“No,” demurs the knight. “Fortunately, I cannot. I take it you can?”
“Yes, good sir. I am a scholar.”
“I see. And have you read it?”
“Well, not completely, but I have begun, yes.”
The knight nods, then closes the book and passes it to the squire. He draws his sword. “Aurora of Ulek, I declare you to be under arrest in the name of the King. Surrender, and neither you nor your companions will be harmed.”
<Oh ****. **** **** ****.> “Arrest?” Aurora tries, but fails, to make her tone sound unconcerned. “On what charge?” Behind her, Willa takes a step backward, to the log, and Barnabus ducks out of sight.
“Possession and use of forbidden knowledge,” the knight says. He gestures to the footmen, “Seize her.”
As the men stride forward, Thokk draws his sword and bars their way. The squire, clutching the book tightly to his chest, backs away.
<Curse me for a fool>, thinks Aurora. <Why don’t I just use mage armor every morning?> She takes a step back, smiles at the knight, tries to surreptitiously cast her mage armor spell.
From the forested embankment behind the knight, a voice calls out in elven, “Casting!” Instantly the air is filled with the thrum of bowstrings and the whish of arrows. A volley of five shafts, all directed at Aurora, shoot forth. Despite her armor, she is hit. They are followed by a second volley - Aurora collapses, unconscious.
The knight raises his hand. “Hold!” he calls, “Hold your fire!”
“errrrrARRRRRGH!” screams Thokk, setting upon the footmen in front of him.
Willa dashes to Aurora’s side, drags, lifts, and lays her body on the log, trying to shield her from more arrows. She pushes the log away from the bank and out into the current of the stream.
The knight and squire fall back from the melee, leaving the two footmen to face Thokk alone. “Raise the net!” calls the knight. Downstream, two men hidden in the brush stand, then begin hauling on ropes. The ropes go up into the trees then down again into the water. A thick net, as wide as the stream bed, begins to rise, dripping, out of the water into the air.
“Babshapka!” yells Willa. Aurora’s bodyguard had begun to move into the brush to flank the archers, but now turns and sees his charge unconscious on the log.
From the reeds along the riverbank Barnabus slips forward, unseen. He comes up behind the squire, strikes the book suddenly from below with both hands. The startled squire loses his grip and the book flies into the air. The squire turns and draws his rapier, but Barnabus catches the book upon its descent and begins to back away.
Thokk has begun to trade blows with the two footmen.
Babshapka sprints to the stream, and does a leaping dive, becoming Mantabshapka when he hits the water. Swimming downstream, he is easily able to pass in front of the log. Gathering speed, he leaps from the water and sets upon the men holding the ropes that sustain the net. By the time Willa reaches it, both men and and one corner of the net are down - she cuts open the second corner and the net, now freed from the ropes, drifts downstream with the log.
The squire approaches Barnabus in a curious sidelong stance. His arm darts forward, faster than Barnabus can follow, and the rapier plunges into Barnabus’ arm, just above the elbow. The halfling grunts and drops the book, then is forced to backpedal as the rapier thrusts at his throat. He parries with a dagger, but the squire is now standing with one foot on the book and the rapier between himself and Barnabus.
The knight calls out, “Units 1, 3, and 5, pursue and engage! Take them alive!” Instantly there is movement in the woods on both banks of the river. Bowmen begin loosing arrows at the log as they pursue downstream - footmen start crashing through the underbrush.
At the sudden appearance of what is easily a score of opponents, Larry doesn’t like the odds. He sends a healing word in the direction of the log (making Aurora’s eyelids flutter), checks the wind, then calls into being billowing gouts of fog. The fog starts to fill the valley bottom first, then creeps higher up the embankments. In a matter of moments it is so dense that vision is limited to a few feet at best.
“Let’s go!” cries Willa behind her, while she holds the limp body of Aurora on the log. Thokk takes advantage of the fog to retreat from the combat, then wades into the stream and begins swimming, although the pack on his back makes his strokes awkward. When he reaches the log he grabs onto the back with his arms, but begins kicking with his massive thighs, propelling the log forward faster than the current.
Larry is using the stream bed to find his way downstream in the fog. He comes upon Barnabus facing off against the squire. Barnabus is bleeding from several different rapier wounds. “Thanks for the fog…” he begins, but when Larry gets close enough to see that the squire is standing on the book, the dwarf slams his staff into the ground and summons a great thunderwave. Barnabus is thrown up into the air, does a backflip-and-tuck, and drops down into the stream. When he comes up, the fog prevents him from seeing Larry, so he begins swimming downstream.
The two footmen are knocked to the ground by the force of the thunderwave, and don’t get up. The knight is unsteady on his feet; the squire has gone down to one knee but is still on top of the book.
Aurora, face down with her body draped over the log, struggles to sit up. Behind them the streambed is obscured with a dense layer of fog, but the higher slopes are visible. Along both sides of the river, numerous elven bowmen in the green and brown of scouting troops move silently through the trees. Now and then they pause to take a shot, and arrows are hitting the log, the water, and Willa’s plate armor. Suddenly Aurora feels dizzy, and spots an elven mage surrounded by a circle of human footmen who are having considerably more difficulty at moving through the forest than the bowmen are. <Sleep?> Aurora asks herself. <Mage, please, my father was an elf!> She sends a hail of magic missiles at the caster. He falls to the ground, rises, then takes cover.
Willa does a headcount. Aurora is back in the fight, thankfully. Thokk is propelling the log. Mantabshapka is swimming ahead, checking for large rocks and other obstacles and maneuvering the prow of the log around them. Barnabus has just dragged himself aboard. That leaves...Larry? Where is Larry? From behind them, deep in the fog, comes another great peal of thunder, and spray flies off the stream. “Thokk!” yells Willa, turning and shouting at the half-submerged barbarian. “Go back and get Larry! Get Larry!”
Thokk stops kicking, lets go of the log for a moment, and seems to be thrashing about in the water. <What is he doing?> Willa asks herself, but is then answered by his sodden pack flying toward her. It is all she can do to catch it without falling off the log, and by the time she rights herself, he is disappearing back into the fog covering the stream.
Without Thokk’s propulsion, the log slows to the leisurely speed of the current. The footmen are now gaining on them, the bowmen are loosing more and more shots. The mage sticks his head up, sends magic missiles of his own at Aurora. Willa sees the flash and hears the hiss of the missiles, and then the enchantress beside her collapses unconscious again. Willa tries to paddle with her greatsword still in its scabbard, but the blade is too narrow and slices ineffectually through the water. <We are literally up **** creek without a paddle>, Willa thinks giddily to herself as another arrow lodges into the log inches from her leg.
Thokk emerges from the fog upstream of the log, pulling himself forward with strokes of one massive arm while the other drags Larry, coughing and sputtering, behind him. Ignoring the arrows, Thokk pulls up alongside the log, allowing Larry to grab it before he moves back and resumes his kicking. Is he...grinning? <Yes>, thinks Willa. <Thokk is enjoying himself!>
Larry hauls himself up on the log, looking about at the bowmen on the banks as if seeking a target. “No!” Willa tells him. “Get Aurora up first!” Larry lays a hand on the slumped body of the wizard and whispers a healing prayer. Aurora sucks in a great breath and again sits up.
As Aurora looks about her, arrows continue to fly. “What, still?” she says incredulously. She turns over her right shoulder and moves her hand as if throwing something. She lobs a ball of sulfurous-yellow in a long, low arc. When it hits the ground near the elven caster, a fiery explosion rocks the embankment. Earth, stones, and splintered wood fly into the air - bodies of elves and humans alike are knocked down. Low flames burn fitfully in the bushes. Willa hopes the ground near the stream is damp enough that the fire burns out without spreading through the forest.
“Stop following us!” shrieks Aurora, as if that would somehow sway their pursuers. Then, with a complicated motion of her hands, all along the embankment thick black webs appear, stretching from tree to tree and blocking passage. Within moments, their only pursuers are a small squad of bowmen on the south bank. Aurora turns that way, blocks their passage with webs as well. But as Willa watches, every strand strung from a tree on the south bank seems to erase one on the north bank, until that way is clear again. Willa taps Aurora on the shoulder, points at the north bank.
“Oh, right,” Aurora says. “Concentration spell.”
But after the fireball, their pursuers are more cautious, moving from cover to cover and not chancing as many bow shots. The stream is picking up speed, passing through a more steeply sloped section of miniature rapids. They leave the footmen behind, and even after the stream levels out the bowman fall back as well, only occasionally appearing in the distance, tracking them but not firing arrows.
Willa picks out a large tree far ahead, estimates the distance, counts the seconds until they pass it. They are not moving fast, but are certainly going faster than Larry and Barnabus can walk. “We’ve got to stay ahead of them,” she says to Aurora. “We should stay in the stream for now.” Aurora nods.
Eventually Thokk tires and his kicks grow slower, but the log doesn’t seem to be slowing. Willa realizes the current is picking up - the stream is deeper and wider than when they started, having gathered with it several tributaries since their escape. The trees in front of them are thinning as well. “Thokk, rest!” she says, then “Hush!” to the others when he ceases kicking. The forest is still, with only a light wind and birdsong to be heard - but also a low, rushing noise. “Thokk, eyes back!” Willa says. Panting heavily, Thokk hauls himself up on the log, straddles it facing backwards, and scans the forest behind them. “Babshapka, eyes front!” Willa calls to the manta-elf, and he dives, moving forward rapidly through the water. As they wait for his return, the rushing noise grows louder. Willa always knew she would be captain of her own vessel someday - she just didn’t know it would be a log!
When Babshapka pulls himself half out of the water, he tells them, “Waterfall ahead!”, then gestures at the north bank. He and Thokk kick the log over to the side of the stream where it slows, and finally grounds in the soft earth.
Willa and the others move quickly forward along the stream bank to see. They are at the top of a cliff face, and the stream plunges over a cataract and down some eighty feet into a small pool below. To their left and right runs a steep-fronted forested escarpment. The trail is nowhere to be seen. It would likely take the better part of an hour to find a safe path down without rappelling. Before and below them, at the base of the cliff to the west, is deep forest as far as they can see, with hints of the stream peeking out here and there. To the north, the escarpment rises abruptly into nearby mountain peaks. To the south, a lone mountain looms above the forest, some ten or fifteen miles away.
“That’s a long way down,” says Aurora.
“But t’is ther fastest way,” counters Willa. “I be wagerin’ they returned t’ the trail when t'ey couldna keep up - at least t'eir main host did - an ther trail down yonder ridge be slow and all switchy-backed.”
Aurora nods. “That’s a long way down,” she repeats.
“C’mon,” says Willa invitingly. “I’ll lash ye t’ ther log, so we cannae lose ye.” When Aurora looks at her incredulously, she adds, “Ye best be rememberin’ t’is ye they be wantin' t' arrest, nay us.”
Thokk stands on the cliff top for a minute, until he finds what he thinks is the deepest spot in the pool, then leaps into the air, falls into the water. Even the deep spot is shallow enough that he hits the bottom going fast, but it is soft and gravelly, not hard and sharp, and he emerges and swims to the far side of the pool. Larry changes into a salmon, and he and Mantabshapka dive into the stream and then go over the falls one after another. They are bruised, but also swim away. Finally, Barnabus, Willa, and Aurora, each tied to the log, take it out into the stream, over the edge, and for two-and-half sickening seconds fall through the air. The log lands well enough, splashing down entirely in the pool, but the jolt when they hit the bottom is hard, and Aurora and Barnabus are dashed forward, crash into the log, and knocked unconscious. Once the log emerges and settles they are untied, dragged to the bank, and Larry - now a dwarf again - revives them. “Well, that’s et,” he says grimly, “I’m oot o’ healin’.”
[DM's Note: On Anna Meyer's map, where the dotted white trail crosses the Owl Stream, the party left the trail, went upstream (SE), and found Barovia. Now they have gone downstream (NW). The waterfall is roughly in the middle of the “m” of Stream.]
(2:30pm) From the banks of the pool, the party looks at the cliff face above them. The trail itself is not visible, but the escarpment is so broad, the trail must cross it somewhere - and wherever that is, there will need to be switchbacks. That will delay their pursuit, at least for a while, and especially for any horses.
After a brief discussion, the party decides to remount their log and continue to head downstream, trying to keep ahead of their pursuers. They find broad fallen branches that will serve as crude paddles. For about ten minutes, Thokk and Willa paddle, while the rest of them balance on the log. Mantabshapka leaves the water to become Babshapka, and walks alongside the stream on the south bank, keeping his eyes peeled for pursuers or the trail.
(3pm) After a bit of traveling, it becomes apparent that they are moving faster than any of them could walk, at least through the forest. The current is strong and Babshapka is having to jog to keep up with them. While that is great for making an escape, none of them are resting. The leg-notches cut by Thokk notwithstanding, this is not a canoe, and no one can simply lie down to rest. Even those who are not paddling are actively balancing, as the log sways, dips, bobs, bumps rocks, bottoms out, and occasionally threatens to roll.
With no sign of pursuit and many of them wounded, a decision is made to slow their progress. Thokk and Willa cease paddling, and concentrate on stabilizing and steering the log. In the front, Willa makes sure to keep in the slow, deep parts of the stream, while Thokk, aft, centers himself and keeps the “top” of the log up. The others take the time to bind or clean wounds, eat and drink a little, and even try to doze, leaning back to back or sprawled over the log.
(4pm) With the benefits of a “short rest” now under their belts, Willa and Thokk return to paddling, the others to active balancing, and the log is off again. It is not long after that when Babshapka spies, running parallel to the stream and perhaps seventy yards from it, the trail - this is the first time he has seen it since the waterfall and likely the closest to the stream it has been.
[DM's Note:They are now closest to the “e” in “Stream” and have gone about four miles downstream from the falls.]
Babshapka flags down Aurora and has a quick messaged conversation with her, then moves to the trail. In the center of the trail he places an alarm spell, keyed to signal him whenever any creature enters the area, so long as it is not a non-humanoid. He then turns and starts making his way back to the stream.
Almost immediately, the alarm sounds in his mind. He continues to the stream and alerts the party on the log. Thokk and Barnabus disembark immediately and follow him to the west, running along in the direction of the stream but slowly getting closer to the trail. The log continues down the stream, now with just Willa paddling, and Babshapka uses it as a moving reference point as he hopes to emerge on the trail ahead of whatever triggered the alarm.
Finally satisfied that they are well in the lead, the trio of ambushers move to the trail itself while Willa beaches the log on the south bank in a clump of vegetation hidden from view of the trail. Barnabus climbs a tree overhanging the trail, Babshapka hides at the base of the tree, and Thokk takes cover in the brush on the far side of the trail. It has not been a minute when Babshapka hears soft but rapid footfalls approaching and signals his companions to ready themselves.
Around a corner of the trail an elf runs into sight, clad in the mottled green-and-brown of a scout. He appears alone, but immediately skids to a stop as if he has seen the ambushers. As he turns to look behind him, then brings his fingers to his lips to whistle, Thokk charges from the underbrush.
Just as Thokk reaches the elf, he turns to gauge where his companions are, but Barnabus is still in the tree and Babshapka is deep in the woods to the north of the trail. Confused, Thokk lets the elf give him the slip, but then pursues him, crashing through the forest to the south.
Using Thokk to flush the elf out, Barnabus waits for the perfect shot. When the elf passes through a clearing, he lets fly an arrow that pierces the elf’s side and causes him to collapse, unconscious. Thokk scoops him up and begins heading for the stream when a hail of arrows heralds the arrival of more scouts. The unconscious elf is leaving a copious trail of blood as Thokk hauls him down the hillslope, bumping and jolting with the shaft still in him, and he is nearly dead by the time Babshapka is able to pull out the arrow and bind his wound. Barnabus runs down the slope behind them.
The party hustles the unconscious elf onto the log and shoves off. In the rear, Thokk holds up his shield behind them as arrows from the scouts rain down. Willa has to paddle furiously to finally bring them out of range.
When the prisoner appears stable, his hands and feet are bound and Barnabus goes through his possessions, with initial interest but eventual disgust. “Bread?” he mutters to himself - “The best thing this guy has on him is bread?”
(5:30pm) After about an hour, the elf regains consciousness. At first, he struggles weakly against his restraints, but soon calms when he realizes his situation. In fact, he seems unnervingly calm, despite the fact that Thokk is right beside him, holding his arm in such a way as to threaten all the joints. He doesn’t seem cocky - just resigned to his fate.
Aurora questions him in Elvish and for the first part of the conversation he answers unhesitatingly. This is even more unnerving, as Aurora had been prepared to “force” the information from him.
The elf tells Aurora that he is from a clan of elves of the Dreadwood, and that his clan, under its leader, Prince Silverleaf, has been tasked with keeping humans and humanoids out of a “forbidden” part of the forest - the area around Valadis. The clan has an agreement with the Baron of Greyhill and the King of Keoland that goes back hundreds of years, and which is based on the idea that the knowledge in and of Valadis is better-off kept from the world. Many other local elven clans assist in this endeavor, as do some of the druids of the Great Circle.
Several days ago, a human knight appeared in his village, claiming to have been sent by the King. He had with him ten human footmen, soldiers of the Baron of Greyhill, as well as a sergeant of foot. The knight met with Prince Silverleaf, requesting the aid of the Prince in bringing to justice an adventuring party who had violated the protections around the city. Although this particular scout was not privy to their negotiations, in the end Prince Silverleaf agreed to lend the knight the use of 20 elven scouts from the clan, as well as a spell-caster. The elf remarks that he does not know how many of these scouts remain in pursuit, as several of them went down from Aurora’s fireball, and he was not able to see how many survived before they were ordered to pursue the party.
The elves have been following the log ever since the battle, with one lead runner spotting them along the trail, and taking turns to relieve that runner, while the main host of scouts travels just behind and the human footmen follow as best they can but rather farther back. When the party captured him, it was his turn as lead runner.
Before the battle, the knight told the elves that the party was powerful and had access to high-level magic. They were told that the knight would attempt to negotiate a surrender, but that the elves were to open fire immediately on anyone in the party who looked like they were spell-casting.
Aurora asks about the lands around Valadis, and for the first time the elf hesitates in his response. After a few moments, he says that he is sworn not to reveal information about the city, but that it appears that the party already knows all about it since they are returning from the forbidden lands rather than trying to enter them. He says that he will not provide them with new information, but that he will be willing to confirm or deny anything that they tell him they already know. When Aurora talks about Valadis as being the city of the Malhel, destroyed by their own evil sorceries, he agrees. When she asks him where the Malhel went, he says that some stories say that they were all destroyed by the demons they summoned, while others say that a small band of survivors was able to escape across the Javan river into the lands of what is now the Yeomanry. Personally, he knows these as tales but not whether either is true. Aurora tries to get more from him by saying that Larry is a druid of the Great Circle, but he preempts that by saying that if it is true, Larry surely knows more than he does.
Aurora then asks him about “Barovia” and the elf seems confused - as if he does not recognize the name. After the place is described to him he recognizes it as something he calls “The Valley of the Mists”. He says that the guardians of the forbidden lands learned of the arrival of the vampire several hundred years ago. At first they were concerned that he intended to use Valadis to bring more evil, but the sorcerers of the King told them that he did not. Eventually, after the vampire summoned the mists, it was decided that his presence actually further protected the forbidden lands from intrusion, so he was allowed to remain.
Aurora then attempts to convince the elf that his prince has been duped, and that the knight is no agent of the King. The elf says that is indeed possible, but his honor lies in following the commands of his liege lord, the prince. He will certainly speak with the prince about it, and voice Aurora’s concerns - if he is allowed to leave. Aurora asks how far the elves will pursue the party. He says he does not know, but that already they are out of their own territory - technically Prince Silverleaf only commands within the Barony of Greyhill, guarding the access to Valadis from the west. The knight must have received special permission from the Prince to take his forces out of the Barony and into where they are now - the Dreadwood Protectorate. If the party continues half a day’s travel downstream, they will eventually leave the Protectorate, and at that point the knight would need to be very persuasive to retain the services of the elves.
After this, Aurora discusses rather vocally with the party whether they should return to Valadis, knowing that this knight is pursuing them, and it is ‘decided’ that they should. They steer the log to the north bank and haul the elf ashore. Willa unties the hands and feet of the elf, then re-ties them in sailors’ knots designed so that he can undo them himself after ten or fifteen minutes of work. Aurora explains that by the time he gets himself undone, the party will be long gone. She suggests that he cross over to the south bank and tell his fellow clanmates not to pursue the party.
[DM's Note: The elf is set ashore on the north bank roughly under the “r” in “Stream” and about six or seven miles downstream from the falls.]
(6pm) Without an unconscious prisoner to keep on the log, or a conscious one to interrogate, Thokk and Willa return to paddling and the party picks up the pace. They continue on for an hour and a half through the forest, with the stream they are in growing broader and deeper with each tributary that joins it. As the late afternoon sun turns to dusk, Babshapka re-enters the water, using his darkvision to scout ahead and guide the log for Willa.
(7:30pm) The sun has long set and Willa is navigating in dim twilight. She has been checking her direction against the stars directly above, but gradually she gets the sense that the trees are receding from the stream banks and she can see more and more of the sky around her. Luna, the large moon, has not risen yet (and will be but a sliver when it does rise), but Celene, the smaller of the two moons, is up. Celene is but a waning crescent but still provides enough light for those with darkvision. Willa steers the log to the bank and asks for a report.
Larry looks about, and explains that they are leaving the forest and coming into open meadows. They have been descending for quite some time, even after the falls, and have now reached a broad valley bottom. Before them is an open, high grasslands.
The party has a brief conversation about whether they should keep going or make camp. They haven’t eaten since lunch and have been traveling non-stop since breakfast. Again, the log is not a boat and even those not paddling are not well-rested. Pushing on will threaten to exhaust them. On the other hand, the human footmen are almost certainly stopping for the night, and this is a great chance to put some miles between them and their pursuers. Even if one of them does fall to exhaustion, their pace will not be slowed so long as they remain on the log. Larry points out that now that the slope of the land is less, the stream will be going less fast, and meandering more, making it less direct and efficient compared to the trail - but the others decide that is all the more reason to keep going and get what advantage they can from traveling at night. “Well, alright,” mutters the dwarf, “boot I dinnae like tha look a’ yon clouds.” He jerks a thumb at the southern horizon, where the stars are obscured by low clouds that stretch a great distance east and west.
[DM's Note: At the “S” in “Stream”, the party leaves the forest and enters into open grasslands.]
The party shoves off again into the stream. Willa is relying on Mantabshapka more than ever as the sky darkens and the last pale colors fade in the west. Thokk tries moving at a walking pace along the bank, flanking them. Indeed, the broad stream is now moving slower than most of them could walk, although Larry and Barnabus would still have to jog to keep up.
Larry spots irregular shapes low on the horizon against the starlit sky - he and Thokk are sent to investigate while the log continues to drift downstream. They find the remains of a peasant village, a handful of wattle-and-daub huts surrounded by falling-down cattle pens. The place is abandoned, long abandoned - Larry estimates 10 or 15 years, by the size of the saplings growing up between the huts. All of the thatch roofs have collapsed. They poke around a bit in the houses but find nothing of interest. One house has a completely disarticulated skeleton they take to be human. The only evidence for why the place was abandoned is a rusty war-axe, buried deep in the timber corner post of one of the huts. Thokk and Larry return to the log, Larry having to huff and puff to catch up to it. Over the course of the next several hours, they can see the outlines of several other such villages, all with collapsed huts and no sign of inhabitants.
[DM’s note: By 8pm, Aurora is at Level 1 of exhaustion]
[DM’s note: By 10pm, Babshapka is at Level 1 of exhaustion]
[DM’s note: By 11pm, Barnabus and Larry are at Level 1, and Babshapka at Level 2 of exhaustion]
As the night passes, the party notes a steady breeze picking up from the south. The clouds Larry warned of are now obscuring a good quarter of the southern sky - temperature is in the fifties and dropping, and many on the log are starting to shiver. A few talk of having a fire when they stop for the night, but that is decided against - here on the open plains, a fire could be seen for miles. Their bedrolls will have to be sufficient for keeping them warm.
[DM’s note: By 12am, Aurora is at Level 2 of exhaustion]
Finally, around midnight, Aurora insists that they stop. Her teeth are chattering, she is cramped and sore, and cannot concentrate. It does not take much to convince Willa - the southern wind is continuing to increase, and wetting everyone with spray off the stream. She thinks that somewhere, far to the south, there must be a tropical storm in the Azure Sea - a typical fall occurrence - and they are at the very edge of it.
Thokk is sent to the north bank to scout, and he soon returns saying that he has found an abandoned village just a hundred paces from the stream bank. The log is hauled up a sandbar and the sodden party trudges wearily toward the village.
[DM's Note: At midnight, the party comes ashore west of the “O” in “Owl”, near the border of the Dreadwood Protectorate in dashed orange.] _________________ 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
Up until now, I had been willing to hand-wave movement, and had just used a standard pace for the party when they had traveled from Gradsul to the Owl Stream. Now, however, we had the main party fleeing ahead of a mixed group of elves and human footmen, and all of them being followed by Tyrius astride his warhorse. I decided that it was time to get more detailed about wilderness movement rates.
5E has a fairly detailed combat movement system, with different base movements for characters based on their race and sometimes modified for class abilities and the optional variant of encumbrance. Terrain can be classed as "difficult" which costs twice movement.
However, this level of detail is lost upon the transition to overland movement and wilderness travel. In particular, a party moving at the scale of a wilderness map simply chooses their speed as "fast", "normal", or "slow". These speeds affect their ability to notice dangers and to move stealthily. It is possible for all members of a party to move at "fast" speed together, for example, even if they have markedly different combat movement rates or different responses to terrain.
Similarly, in 5E the only modifier for terrain is whether or not it is difficult.
Given this, I set about creating a system to translate the 5E RAW combat movement rates to the WoGG wilderness travel rates by terrain.
First, base movements in a combat turn:
Barnabus (halfling), Larry (dwarf): 25 feet per combat turn
Aurora (half-elf), Willa (human), Tyrius (human-dismounted), Thokk (half-orc): 30 feet
Babshapka (wood elf): 35 feet
Eddard: 60 feet - but 50 when "encumbered" (carrying more than 180 pounds) - easily met by Tyrius, plate armor, tack, and gear
Given this distribution, I decided to peg 30 feet per turn as "standard" movement for future comparisons.
WoGG (p.3) gives "Afoot, unencumbered" at 30 miles per day for road, track, and grasslands.
Thus, 1 foot of combat turn movement will equal 1 mile of daily movement for bipeds on road, track, and off-trail grasslands.
WoGG gives horsed movement as 60 miles per day on a road, but 45 miles per day on a track or in grassland. So we will assume Eddard can go at the limit of 45 miles per day in grass and on tracks, even with his current 50 feet per combat round. It is reasonable that overland speed for a horse would be proportionally slower than combat speed, compared to a biped, since combat speed will likely be at a trot or canter, while overland speed will be a mixed in with periods of walking.
Note that Anna Meyer's maps show the route from Silglen to Lavienth as a "tertiary road," which I will treat as a track.
Finally, I use a ten-hour day for movement, divided into two five-hour marches. Typically these marches occur from roughly 7am - 12pm, and 1pm to 6pm. Assuming ten hour days, we can calculate base walking speed (mph) for characters as well.
Thus in grasslands and on tracks:
Barnabus (halfling), Larry (dwarf): 25 fpt, 2.5 mph, 12.5 miles per march, 25 miles per day
Aurora (half-elf), Willa (human), Tyrius (human - when dismounted), Thokk (half-orc): 30 fpt, 3.0 mph, 15 miles per march, 30 miles per day
Babshapka (wood elf): 35 fpt, 3.5 mph, 17.5 miles per march, 35 miles per day
Eddard (not ridden): 60fpt, 6 mph, 22.5 miles per march, 45 miles per day
Eddard (ridden): 50fpt, 5 mph, 22.5 miles per march, 45 miles per day _________________ 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
Last edited by Kirt on Tue Sep 24, 2019 12:00 pm; edited 1 time in total
I think I misunderstood. The party decide to go back after the knight who was following them, but then they continued on downstream. (?)
Secondly, I agree with your travel assessment, except for Eddard. Your limit of 45 miles per day makes sense for a normal horse, but Eddard is a paladin's warhorse - specifically one from another plane, a celestial mount. It seems reasonable to grant him the slight advantage of 50 miles per day (ridden) that his movement rate would indicate.
Finally, the Grand Boulonnaise is a fantastic-looking warhorse! And, I had never come across it before. Thanks! ;) Sir Xaris' celestial mount is a cross between a Friesian and a Gypsy: black with white feathering on his fetlocks. _________________ SirXaris' Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SirXaris?ref=hl
I think I misunderstood. The party decide to go back after the knight who was following them, but then they continued on downstream. (?)
They talked in front of the captured prisoner about how they were going to go back to Valadis - and then after they left him, they continued downstream. They had planned on continuing downstream all along - but hoped that the scout would tell their false plan to the knight and thus slow their pursuit.
In truth, Aurora is interested in Valadis, but it is a little hot right now with the knight - she would like to double back once the heat is off.
Secondly, I agree with your travel assessment, except for Eddard. Your limit of 45 miles per day makes sense for a normal horse, but Eddard is a paladin's warhorse - specifically one from another plane, a celestial mount. It seems reasonable to grant him the slight advantage of 50 miles per day (ridden) that his movement rate would indicate.
I did want Eddard to play the role of sardonic adviser to Tyrius - his mind being more important than his hooves. As it is, I do not require Eddard to eat or drink. I might have him make a Con save to boost his movement - but not penalize him with exhaustion if he failed, so that the worst that might happen is he would be restricted to the slower movement. In practice, Tyrius is seldom in need of going faster than the party so except for trying to find them right now it has been a moot point.
Finally, the Grand Boulonnaise is a fantastic-looking warhorse! And, I had never come across it before. Thanks! ;) Sir Xaris' celestial mount is a cross between a Friesian and a Gypsy: black with white feathering on his fetlocks.
The Friesian is beautiful, strong, and graceful - a great warhorse for a paladin - but due to Pelor's association with white and gold it was important to me that Eddard carry those colors. _________________ 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; a replay of the events of 24 October (see post 81), but from Willa's perspective.
24 October, 570 - Owl Stream, Dreadwood
They move swiftly down the ravine, but the the log proves far easier to control running downstream than it did coming in and up. It is only a few minutes later when they are pulling up to the embankment where they first felled the trees and mounted the log. Four men stand on the shore.
Willa is used enough to Aurora’s message that she is not surprised when someone contacts her mind. It is not Aurora - but it does sound like an elf.
“Special Agent Stoutley?” it asks. “I have a message for you from Sir Runnel. He asks that you inform him of what Aurora has been doing in the Dreadwood - her reason for coming. He also asks whether she has, by any chance, come across a book entitled “The Chronicle of Secret Times”
Willa scans the figures on the bank. One is obviously a knight in full plate armor. Since he holds his great helm in hand, his face is visible, and recognizable to her from her previous meeting (see Post 44) as the man who called himself Sir Runnel. The second man is a squire or retainer in studded leather. The two remaining appear to be common foot soldiers, with chain shirts and shields.
Willa whispers, in reply to the message, that “yes, Aurora has the book”. She gives a quick summary of what they did in Barovia while the knight is speaking to them.
The party disembarks cautiously, facing the four men. “Hail!” calls the knight. “Are you Aurora of Ulek?”
“I am,” replies Aurora. She and Thokk move to the front.
The knight continues speaking. “The Silent Ones told me that the arcane boundaries around the lands of the vampire had fallen - and that their divinations were now able to penetrate and discern a book, called the “Chronicle of Secret Times”. Do you bear such a book out of those cursed lands?”
Willa’s report is interrupted by the message. “The book must be turned over - that it not negotiable. The penalty for possessing and reading the book is lifelong imprisonment - but the Viscount of Salinmoor has argued on Aurora’s behalf to the King, explaining how instrumental she was in defending his realm against the Sahuagin.”
“Stoutley,” the message continues, “Sir Runnel is giving you a choice - you may help him apprehend Aurora, knowing that she will be the King’s prisoner for the rest of her days, but you will be well done with this matter. Or, you may help her to flee - without the book. If you choose this path, you must continue to watch her for the time being, especially noting whom she contacts, submit reports when you are contacted, and make sure that she never again enters Keoland.”
“I understand, I choose the second,” whispers Willa.
“I say,” repeats the knight, “do you bear such a book?”
“Indeed I do,” says Aurora. “I recovered it from the castle of the vampire lord.”
“I thought as much - may I see it?”
The man’s words are polite but his tone is commanding. Aurora takes off her pack, then removes the large, leather-bound book. She offers it to the man.
(...Battle ensues. The party escapes over the waterfall. They capture a pursuer. As the party discusses where to leave their prisoner...)
Willa would like to write a message to leave on the elf, but she does not think she can pull quill and ink out of her bag without anyone noticing. She takes a scrap piece of leather and, with her knife, surreptitiously carves:
Valadis or Yeomanry?
Doesn’t know much”
After this, Aurora discusses rather vocally with the party whether they should return to Valadis, knowing that this knight is pursuing them, and it is ‘decided’ that they should. They steer the log to the north bank and haul the elf ashore. Willa unties the hands and feet of the elf, then re-ties them in sailors’ knots designed so that he can undo them himself after ten or fifteen minutes of work. As she is easing his back against a tree trunk, she slips the piece of leather into his pocket without the party seeing. Aurora explains to the elf that by the time he gets himself undone, the party will be long gone. She suggests that he cross over to the south bank and tell his fellow clanmates not to pursue the party. _________________ 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
Anna Meyer's map of Keoland shows no settlements on the Javan trail from Millen to Lavienth, nor any on the trail from the river to Silglen.
Rich Trickey, who publishes as chatdemon, has a map of the Barony of Westgate that does locate two settlements, though - the grugach village of Brokenoak (on the Silglen trail) and the human / wood elf / halfling community of Archer's Bluff, at the intersection of the Silgen trail and the Javan trail, or what he calls the "King's Highway". Note that chatdemon's Silgen trail may be a bit further north than the one shown on Anna's maps, however.
Gary Holian, in his extensive "Kingdom of Keoland" article, describes this region in the section on the Viscounty of Nume Eor. He says it was once part of the County of Eor, but that is was overrun by lizardfolk from the Hool Marshes and abandoned for a great while before being reclaimed in CY 587 (note that this is 17 years after the current date of my campaign). Although Gary does not put a hard date on the fall of the County of Eor, chatdemon places it as prior to CY 503.
Chatdemon's account of Brokenoak says it "is a small village standing in an ancient glade in the forest. Local legends say that this was the ancestral home of the Brokenoak Grugach tribe, who were all but slaughtered by the Malhel Suloise clan as they looted and defiled the woods before dissapearing [sic]. The village now serves as a base of operations for many of the Elves and rangers of the area who have taken it as their sacred duty to keep the curious and foolhardy away from the mysterious ruins two or three days walk to the southeast." I liked the idea of elven guardians of Valadis, but not that their village would be readily accessible on the trail. This village became the elves that Babshapka sensed watching the party back on 10 October in Post 58, and it also, under Prince Silverleaf, supplied the scouts and archers used by Runnel in his attempt to apprehend Aurora.
However, since the party was now fleeing Runnel ("the knight"), I wanted to maintain the dramatic tension of the chase scene for a bit longer. I felt the party would relax too much if they arrived at a refuge, somewhere civilized like Archer's Bluff, so I decided to have the land be depopulated all the way from the Owl Stream down to Lavienth. I kept this desolation as being the result of lizardfolk raids (in my narrative called the "Long Summer"), but moved up the date of this so that it could be a childhood memory of Willa.
Finally, Babshapka's run-in with the river tribesmen, and the main party's contact with the elves of the Falling Leaves, were both rolled as random encounters.
Post 84: A Series of Reunions
25 October, 570: Owl Stream, west border of the Dreadwood
In the abandoned village, the party locates the strongest-looking of the remaining huts and begins to set up camp. Opening packs, several of them find their gear completely sodden from the stream. Their bedrolls are wet, and will be impossible to sleep in. Their rations are spoiled - the flour given to them by Ismark has turned to a gooey mess, the jerky and dried fruit has swelled up from the water and then been ground into a nasty paste by their travels. Not all of the packs are wet - between them, they have enough food for dinner and breakfast on the morrow (including the lembas that Barnabus liberated from the scout they ambushed), but after that they will need to hunt. Willa has an oilcloth tent - she and Aurora can sleep without bedrolls, and the two dry bedrolls are apportioned out, leaving two people short. Thokk and Larry, the two most accustomed to sleeping out of doors and unprotected, curl up in the leeward corner of the house and stay close for warmth.
[DM’s note: Both Thokk and Larry make “aided” survival checks and are not harmed by the night’s exposure. After food and a full night’s rest (two full rests for Babshapka), the only remaining exhaustion is Aurora at Level 1. After a full night’s rest, Barnabus and Babshapka have gained access to all of their 5th level abilities. New attributes in bold
Babshapka of the Silverwood
Fifth level ranger (Hunter Archetype: Giant Killer)/ Wood elf (Folk Hero)
Str 12 (+1) Dex 18 (+4) Con 12 (+1) Int 12 (+1) Wis 13 (+1) Cha 7 (-1)
Languages Elven (S/W), Common (S/W)
Skills: Animal Handling, Insight, Investigation, Perception, Stealth, Survival (Temperate Woodlands)
Fighting Style: Duel-wielding, Extra Attack
Human-sized Chain shirt+1, broadsword+1, cloak of the manta ray, ring of protection+1, shortsword, longbow
Spells: Alarm, Ensnaring Strike, Hunter's Mark, Hail of Thorns
Barnabus the Minstrel
Fifth Level Rogue (Assassin Archetype/ Halfling (Entertainer)
Str 15 (+2) Dex 18 (+4) Con 12 (+1) Int 15 (+2) Wis 14 (+2) Cha 13 (+1)
Languages Hobbniz (S/W), Common (S/W)
Skills: Acrobatics, Deception, Perception, Performance, Sleight of Hand, Stealth (doubled), Thieve's Tools (doubled)
Fighting Style: Two daggers, shortbow
Uncanny Dodge, Leather Armor+1, glamoured, Ring of Protection+1, Ring of Free Action, Staff of Shock, shortsword]
The south wind continues to build through the night, until the gusts top forty miles an hour and the walls of the hut creak and groan - several of the party’s poles are set to reinforce them. Once in the night there is a nearby crash as a neighboring hut is flattened.
It is no fit day to travel and the party allows themselves to sleep late, then finish what remains of their food. The gale-strength winds are still blowing, and there is a spray in the air. Not a rain, but just enough mist that it will be damp traveling all day.
Willa has been down to the stream side. The log is still there, driven even further up the sandbank by the wind and waves and, to her satisfaction, all traces of their footprints in the sand have been washed away. The southern sky is dense with clouds and the waves on the stream are tall - there is no way they will be able to take the log without it rolling on them, so she leaves it there.
The party sets out at a walking pace for most of them, though they are slowed considerably by the wind and stinging spray. Barnabus and Larry alternate walking and trotting. Thokk acts as a walking outrider, his great loping strides carrying him in large circles around the party. Before midday he comes upon a young antelope, weaned but not a year old, huddled in a high tussock of grass. As the small creature looks at him with great black eyes, he grabs its thin neck and tiny head and wrenches his hands in opposite directions. Jogging back to the party with the body draped over his shoulder, he yells “Lunch, lunch!” but his words are carried away by the wind and they can only see him gesticulating happily.
The party travels some eight miles downstream until they arrive at an abandoned town set on a ford. As with the other settlements they have found, there are buildings aplenty but not a soul in sight. The ford is also the intersection of the east-west trail they had been following out of Silglen (before they took to the stream), with a north-south trail that runs parallel to the Javan River. The trail from above enters the town on the south side of the Owl Stream. The river trail is wider and looks considerably more well-traveled than the forest trail - there are wagon ruts and horse droppings aplenty. No travelers are out today, though, which is not surprising given the weather. The Javan River looks wide and deep - perhaps a half-mile wide. Willa doesn’t think they could cross it by swimming, but they could easily raft it with log floaters. Not today, though, for the waves on its surface are even larger than those roiling the Owl Stream. On the far side the land slopes steeply upward, rising from the valley bottom through a scrub forest and into some dry highlands.
The town itself has a wooden palisade, though the gate is open, and numerous one and even two-story timber buildings. They find an abandoned inn with a stone hearth and chimney and cook Thokk’s antelope for a late lunch, cutting what is left into strips and cooking that as well for transport. Over lunch, they discuss their next destination. Thokk and Larry passed down the Javan River just three months ago, but have no recollection of which part they are at currently. Willa has never been on the Javan, but she has seen enough maps and cargo statements to try to remember. She believes the next port city to the south would be Nighford (in the Yeomanry) and to the north, Millen (in Keoland). After some conversation, they agree to head south, trusting in Father Donovich’s assurance that Tyrius will know how to find them after he awakens.
It is already late afternoon when they set out. There is no bridge across the stream, just a natural ford that is a broad expanse over the hard, flat, rocky stream bed so that they must wade knee-deep through the rushing water. The town on the southern bank is not only abandoned, it is mostly burned, with collapsed and hollow shells of houses and shops. The southern gate lies smashed in pieces on the ground, and just outside is the meeting of the river trail and forest trail. Babshapka takes a good, long look up the forest trail before ushering them out of the walls of the town.
They make it perhaps five miles south along the river trail before leaving the grasslands and entering the forest again. All the way the wind has been lessening, and Larry predicts that the storm will blow itself out some time during the night. They find a hollow a few hundred yards from the trail and set up camp, making a fire that is blocked from direct view of the trail by two massive fallen trees.
[wandering encounter; patrol (elves)]
It is shortly after midnight. Larry and Thokk are curled up by the fire, Willa is in her tent, Babshapka and Barnabus are in their bedrolls, now dry from an evening hung by the fire before they retired. Aurora is the only one awake, on guard. She sits near the fire but facing away from it so that the light does not spoil her darkvision. From all about her come the night sounds of the forest - crickets, frogs, the occasional owl. As she scans the forest in front of her she suddenly gasps. There, a stone’s throw away, is a single figure, wrapped in a cloak and with its features obscured by a cowl. A second ago she saw only a tree.
Aurora swallows once, then says in a voice calculated to be calm, but loud enough to wake the others, “Welcome, stranger. Will you come and share our fire?”
The cloaked figure steps forward, raises a hand and lets her cowl fall back, revealing the face of a wood elf.
Aurora repeats what she just said, but this time in elven, and the elf responds in the same tongue. By the timbre of the voice, Aurora takes it to be a female.
“Your fire is on our lands,” she says simply.
“My apologies, we did not know. What lands are those?”
“We are the Tribe of the Falling Leaves. Our lands flank the count’s road from the edge of the forest in the north, to the human lands in the south. Who are you, and what is your business?” Her tone is matter-of-fact; not welcoming, but not overtly hostile.
“We are travelers, adventurers. We are merely traveling south along the road. We mean no trespass.” Aurora notes immediately that the elf does not mention the knight, nor Valadis, nor the captured scout. So much the better - she will not bring them up either.
“You are free to travel the road, and to camp here - but I am concerned about the presence of the orc.” The elf gestures at Thokk, sleeping happily by the fire, oblivious and seemingly engaged in an unconscious contest with Larry over who can snore louder. Aurora thinks she has seen movement near the bedrolls of Babshapka and Barnabus - perhaps one of them is awake and still pretending to be asleep? Or it could be just the flickering shadows cast by the fire.
“The orc has saved the lives of two elves in our group countless times. I will vouch for him.”
The elf pauses, considering Aurora’s pledge. “I will hold you to that,” she says. “Keep him on a tight leash. And keep yourselves less than half a bow-shot from the road when you camp. Any further into our lands we will consider an aggression, and respond accordingly.”
“We will stay near the road.” Aurora smiles invitingly. “We have roast antelope. Would you have some?”
The elf looks at Aurora pointedly. “You do not have enough for all of us,” she says, gesturing at the woods all around. Then, she turns and moves silently off into the darkness.
The party travels all morning. The trees around them have just started to change into a blaze of reds and golds. It is a beautiful, clear morning after the storms of the previous days, though Larry notes clouds to the south that grow closer as they travel. As the morning wears on, their road ascends. The road itself is clear and easy to follow, though it has not seen much use of late. There is grass in many of the wagon-ruts and saplings growing at the crown.
As the road ascends, the trees thin to their right. They make camp for a mid-day meal on a ridge overlooking a broad bend in the Javan river. They can see for miles, but there are no settlements in sight, nor even ships on the river. On the far side of the river, dry hills rise up sharply.
After an uneventful night, Tyrius and Eddard breakfast and then break camp at the edge of the pool in Barovia. Eddard prances a bit in the water, getting used to the cold and testing the depth. Near the outlet between the cliffs it is over his chest, and he believes he will have to swim. He comes out of the water, dripping and steaming, and stands near Tyrius on the shore.
“I think I can manage the packs, but it has been a long time since I have swum on this plane. If I start to founder, send me back and call for me when you reach the other side - you have not cast any spells today so it should be fine.”
Tyrius nods, but takes the rope out from the gear sack. As he burdens Eddard, he loops the rope through both packs and the saddle. If he has to dismiss the horse, he doesn’t want to lose all his equipment in the stream.
Eddard re-enters the water, leading the rope. Tyrius follows some twenty feet behind, holding the other end. He gasps from the cold. Eddard starts forward, massive legs churning to keep him afloat as the current takes him toward the cliffs. Tyrius swims after him. There are a few tense moments as they enter the dark channel, steep rock walls rising above them and blocking the sun, the water rushing them forward. Eddard’s shoulders disappear beneath the waves and he sticks his head out straight up, but by the time they break through into the forest again he is touching bottom.
Eddard and Tyrius climb, shivering, onto the northern bank of the stream, where a broad, flat sward makes it easy to leave the water. Tyrius quickly strips the gear from Eddard and then his own soaked travel clothes until he is down to his sodden small clothes. Wan, dappled sunlight filters through the trees and does little to warm them. Tyrius finds a worn wooden scraper in the tack bag and does his best to scrape the water from Eddard’s coat, but they both are trembling from cold by the end. During the procedure they have time to look around the clearing. The soft ground near the streambed is marked with the impression of many feet, and in one spot cracked and rippled as if a great concussive force had hit the ground. Along the northern bank there is a large section where the underbrush is blackened and burnt away, and even the trees are charred.
“I don’t like the look of that,” says Tyrius.
Eddard nickers. “At least it means your companions were here.”
“Most likely,” Tyrius admits. “It does appear to be their handiwork.”
Opening his own gear bag, Tyrius finds that the thick leather has kept the insides dry. He removes his quilted gambeson and dons it, soon feeling warmer.
“They didn’t send a blanket for you,” he tells Eddard, “not even a quarter sheet.”
“I’m sure they did what they could, poor folk. Let’s just get moving before I stiffen up.”
“Alright - but which way? We came in from the east, from an elven city called Silglen - but I don’t know what direction they would have left. Aurora deceived us into entering Barovia, but she found what she was looking for there, so I don’t know what she would do next.”
Eddard closes his eyes and goes still - his shivers subsiding for a moment. “I feel them west of us and much lower,” he says. “We take the trail to the west.”
Tyrius repacks all the gear on Eddard, but without the rope, and together they walk across the ford and up the trail on the other side. The trail soon narrows, and Tyrius walks in the lead. After fifteen minutes of walking both of them are beginning to feel warm and limber, and Eddard tells Tyrius he can mount if he wants.
After that it is easy going along the trail, slightly downhill, for another fifteen minutes, until they come to the edge of a great escarpment. There, the trail narrows to a ledge, and crosses down the face of the escarpment in a series of switchbacks. Eddard sighs. “Back on the Prime,” he says resolutely, “why don’t you dismount?”
Tyrius lets Eddard go first, picking his way forward with caution along the narrow trail. He follows several steps behind, trying to keep one eye on the trail beneath him and one on the horse in front. By the time they reach the bottom, their muscles are again quivering, but not from cold.
After a bit more walking Tyrius again mounts and the ride is thenceforth pleasant. Now and again the stream can be seen off to their right. By mid-day the forest has given way to an open grassland. “Now that’s more like it,” says Eddard, and neither complain about the light rain that soon arrives.
By early afternoon Tyrius and Eddard are moving rapidly west along the trail, with the stream to their north and a thin, secondary forest interspersed with meadow to their south. By late afternoon they have come upon a ruined town, walls intact but with a fallen gate and burned buildings. Here the trail turns south, but also north through the town.
Tyrius dismounts to study the tracks around the gate. “I suppose it could be them,” he says doubtfully, “but there are so many tracks! It wasn’t just them. And from the look of the town it was burned quite a while ago. I don’t think that’s Aurora’s work.”
Eddard noses at a pile of horse droppings, twitching his mane at the flies he disturbs. “That’s recent,” he says, “earlier today.”
“North or south?” asks Tyrius.
“Your companions are south of here,” says Eddard, and Tyrius remounts.
The party continues traveling along the road all afternoon. The trail continues south, but curves lazily to the west as it rises. Here and there when the trees thin or they ascend a ridge they can see the Javan alongside them.
By day’s end Tyrius and Eddard have gone some 15 miles south of the burned ford town. They make camp along the trail in light forest, overlooking a broad bend in the Javan River. A few bones and apple cores along the roadside indicate a small group has eaten there recently.
The party camps for the evening on the trail.
[wandering encounter; men (tribesmen)]
The day dawns fair and clear for the party, but now that the road is easily traveled, Aurora begins to worry about pursuit. By the end of breakfast, she has convinced Babshapka to stay behind after they break camp. He should be able to spot any pursuers from a great distance with his keen elven sight, and traveling through the woods he can easily catch catch up with the party. Discussing with the rest of the party, they agree to stop at noon and wait, if Babshapka has not already caught up with them.
The party says their farewells, and Aurora thanks Babshapka as they break camp. They continue along the road, which gradually curves to the south to follow the course of the Javan.
Babshapka withdraws off the road to the west, finding a nice hiding spot where he can easily watch the road, north, and south, without being seen. He has been resting there, with his cloak wrapped around him for warmth on the chill morning, for a half an hour or so, when he hears the first rustle, gentle as the wind. The party is certainly out of earshot by this time. He turns casually, without giving away that he has heard a sound, and his hand goes to the hilt of one of his swords.
A man creeps closer to him, obscured by the forest, his outline indistinct as he moves from shadow to shadow. Around him, behind him, Babshapka can spot other figures as well, but cannot even tell if they are men.
Babshapka gathers his feet under him and stands. The man freezes for a second in a crouch, then he, too, stands and takes a few more steps toward the elf, at the end moving from the shadows and allowing the sunlight to fall upon him so that Babshapka can see him clearly. Despite the chill, the man is nearly naked, wearing only a rough loincloth. His skin is a dark tan, though, and covered with blue-black tattoos. His hair is coal-black and in braids. The sandals on his feet are of worn leather and nearly the same color as his skin.
The man gestures at Babshapka, and speaks a heavily-accented Common. “Forest-man have two bows.”
“Why yes, yes I do,” replies Babshapka, who is currently carrying his own, which is strung, and the one they took from the scout along the Owl Stream, which is not. The tan man does not appear to carry any bow, but he has a long knife, almost a machete, at his waist and a number of javelins strapped across his back.
“Winter coming. People in my village hungry. You have many clothes. I thinking you have much food, much things. Maybe too much for one forest-man.”
“I do alright for myself,” says Babshapka casually. Behind the man, the understory plants are in motion. He could likely down this man quickly, but the others would be upon him soon after the man fell.
“No man can use two bows, even a forest-man. You better leave one here, so my people can eat this winter.” The man holds up his hand, weaponless, and another four men, dressed similarly, emerge from the brush.
Babshapka reaches behind him, lays the fine ash bow down on the forest floor. He is going over the terrain in his head. He thinks he is a few hundred yards from the cliff edge, with the Javan river beneath - and his cloak of the manta ray already on. It can’t be a longer drop than the waterfall was.
One of the men in the group behind says something in a thick language that Babshapka does not recognize. The man who spoke before continues in Common. “He say one bow okay, but not have string. He say you have coin to give us, can feed many children.”
Babshapka smiles and loosens a pouch hanging from his belt. He takes out a single gold lion, holds it in the air for all the men to see, then tosses it forcefully at the man closest to him. Out of instinct, the man’s hands go up, away from his knife, and catch the coin, but by then Babshapka has already turned and is dashing away through the brush. Three javelins sail after him, but all miss their mark.
Babshapka runs, swift and silent as a wood elf, toward the cliff. Behind him the men, slow and loud as humans, crash through the brush. He judges himself nearly a minute ahead of them when the thinning trees and open horizon mark the edge of the cliff. Babshapka sprints to the edge, prepared to launch himself into the water far below, but then digs in his heels at the last instant.
Beneath him the cliff face drops some fifty feet - no more than the waterfall did. But there is not the broad Javan below. Instead there is a tumble of jagged fallen rocks, and then a wide swath of high reeds. The river itself is farther away than the cliff face is high. With a running jump he could easily clear the rocks - but even jumping from a tree he cannot clear the reeds and make it to open water. The reeds are likely in standing water, but not even a foot deep, with thick, clinging mud beneath. A jump from this height could easily break bones and sink him deep into the mud, perhaps deep enough so that he would be unable to pull himself out. His eye catches something else - just around the corner of the cliff face is a village at the water’s edge - a squalid, disorganized cluster of reed houses and dugout canoes. Human folk are everywhere around the village.
A crash from the forest behind him tells him his pursuers are closing. Babshapka retreats from the cliff edge and melds into the light forest, turns and begins silently moving south. He is going slower now, stealthily and leaving no sign of his passage. He has not gone far when he hears hooting cries from the men behind him, and distant answering calls from the village.
Tyrius and Eddard wake rested but cold from the night. They walk awhile in the morning light until Eddard is warm enough to allow Tyrius to mount. The road is soft grass and dirt and Eddard moves along at a brisk pace.
The party continues for most of the morning, with the trail steadily climbing and retreating from the river. Babshapka was supposed to wait for an hour to see if they were being pursued, and then use the second hour to catch up to them. When they enter the third hour they assume he was delayed. They crest a ridge and start down the other side, now able to see the river again. By the end of the fourth hour they are concerned and Aurora is clearing her throat nervously. When they reach a small stream bed, Willa calls for a halt to refill their skins.
Aurora takes her spider out from the curious extra-dimensional space it has been traveling in. “Charlotte, I dismiss you,” she says. “Return to me in the form of Buckbeak.” As the party begins to make camp for lunch, Aurora sets up her own brazier and puts incense on it. In ten minutes the hawk, last seen in an explosion of feathers at the end of an iron statue’s sword, appears on her shoulder. “Take wing!” commands Aurora, and the hawk rises into the air.
It is soon apparent that the hawk will spot nothing of interest while remaining close enough to Aurora to be telepathically linked - there is no one along the trail within a mile of them. Aurora commands Buckbeak to fly north out of range, to go between the road and the river, and to come back and tell her of everything he has seen.
The party is just finishing their lunch when the hawk returns. As Aurora contacts its mind, a flash of images appear. A solitary knight on horseback, riding rapidly south along the trail. A single wood elf, making his way furtively through the forest at the edge of the cliff above the river. She tries to concentrate on the details that would let her identify the man, or the elf, but the hawk did not look for the things she would, and its memories do not suit her purposes. It has no recollection of the man’s tabard, but can recall in great detail the woodmouse flushed from the road by the horse’s hooves.
Aurora tells what she saw to the party. “Well, yon solitary elf be Babshapka, are me name t’aint Wilhemina,” says Willa thoughtfully. “But yon knight's a’tother story. 'e might be Tyrius - but 'e might be Aurora’s special friend, as well.”
After packing up camp, Aurora arranges them in an ambush, with Thokk enthusiastically participating, the others less so. Her initial ideas of pit traps, deadfalls, and giant logs swinging from ropes are met with skepticism by the others. Finally she settles for positioning to attack the knight before they can clearly see him (or he can see them, as Aurora insists). She writes a message on a small scrap of parchment, rolls it in a tube, has Buckbeak clench it in a talon, and tells him to go after the elf and lead him to them.
It is not long after that when the party hears the soft hoof-falls of the mounted knight approaching. Aurora, crouching behind a fallen tree, has just summoned a firebolt to her hand and is preparing to launch it when from beside her Larry cries out, “Tyrius!” and bounds forward. By the time she comes out from the brush, the dwarf is happily embracing the leg of the mounted man.
“Well met, well met, one and all!” calls Tyrius heartily as the rest of the party emerges from hiding. His horse clears its throat, pointedly. “Excuse me,” continues Tyrius, “it is my pleasure to introduce you to my celestial mount, and new trusted companion, Eddard.”
The party, now two members larger, returns to their campsite by the stream.
Babshapka works his way silently through the forest. He has been back to the cliff face a dozen times, without luck. If anything, the cliff appears to be getting higher, but the waters of the Javan are never closer than he saw the first time, and are often farther. There is no way for him to jump down. Climbing down might be an option, but at this point, how would he climb back up - and where would he do so? He has no idea where the party is, or whether he has already passed them. He could turn inland to the road at any point - he has no doubt lost his pursuers - but how would he know upon finding the road whether to go forward or back?
So he continues to move south through the forest. He consoles himself with the fact that he is nearly invisible, a wood elf in the forest, moving stealthily. None will note his presence nor his passing. He moves like an unseen shadow through the trees. Above him, a hawk circles, then plummets down, landing on a branch in front of him, and squawks. It balances awkwardly on one leg, while holding forth the other at Babshapka, a tiny piece of rolled parchment in its talons.
Babshapka takes the offered parchment and unrolls it. Hastily-written and rolled before dry, the smudged ink has but three words in elven - “follow the bird”.
Over the next half hour, Babshapka moves through the forest to the southeast, at a faster pace now. The hawk hops from branch to branch ahead of him, occasionally breaking free of the canopy, circling to get its bearings, then returning to him. It is perhaps an hour after midday when Babshapka emerges beside a small stream, where the rest of the party waits.
Aurora and Tyrius are in a heated discussion. Tyrius was quite content to listen to the party describe how they waited for him in Barovia, how Father Donovich convinced them to leave over the protestations of Aurora, and how they returned to the forest trail...but were immediately set upon by the knight, foot soldiers, and elven scouts. Here the tale breaks down somewhat, as they each offer different versions of what transpired, but Aurora’s version has her being attacked without provocation by what was obviously an impostor knight.
Tyrius is concerned over the possibility that the knight was real - he reminds Aurora that she did trick the party into entering a land that was off-limits to visitors and guarded by the elves and druids against passage, and she did emerge from that place with a tome of ancient knowledge that was obviously valued by a vampire lord, valued as much as his own diary. Aurora continues to claim that it was clear the knight was not real. Tyrius asks her if she will agree to submit to a new spell that he has been granted, Zone of Truth. She considers it, knowing full well she will need Tyrius’ support should the knight appear again with a host behind him. Finally she agrees, under the condition that Tyrius ask her only about the book and the knight and nothing else.
Once inside the holy Zone of Truth, Aurora explains again that the book does not have any malevolent powers, it was a simple history, but one that runs counter to the official history of Keoland. And that the knight was acting strangely, bore no recognizable device, and that she honestly believes that he is working on behalf of some nefarious power, although he likely convinced the good elves and soldiers of Greyhill to help him, in the name of a king he does not actually serve.
When she is done, Tyrius studies her, and Eddard, too, is looking intently at her. Uncomfortable, she demands of Tyrius, “So what are you going to do when this knight appears, huh?”
“Well,” says Tyrius carefully, “I know of a few questions that should get him to reveal his true nature, and I’m sure Eddard can help me think of some more. If he is indeed a false knight, that is a grave crime against the crown, and I will help you subdue him and turn him over to whatever local authorities we can find. I would even consider using my zone of truth to interrogate him as to his real purpose, intentions, and master.”
Aurora grins in satisfaction, but as Tyrius continues, her grin fades.
“Of course, if he is truly in service to the king, than I will help him complete his mission of arresting you. It is entirely possible that it was, in fact, a crime for you to read that book. You should count yourself lucky he did not accuse you of entering Barovia, for we are all of us guilty of that.”
“A crime to read the book! But I did not even know. If it is secret knowledge, how could I have known? What kind of crazy law condemns you for doing something that no one would even tell you is a crime? And what kind of king would enforce such an insane law? How could you serve such a king?!”
Despite Aurora’s anger, Tyrius remains calm. He has heard these objections before many times, posed in his theology and ethics classes. “Let me remind you that I serve no king, I serve an immortal and infallible god. Kings are mortal men, and they can make mistakes. But it is our duty to obey their laws, nonetheless, so long as the laws are just. And I can believe a law forbidding transaction in knowledge, even true knowledge, would be just - if such knowledge posed a threat to a good realm. A dangerous but secret truth may pose more of a threat to a peaceful kingdom than an invading army - and it is the duty of a king to protect his people, even from such truths. And,” he adds pointedly, “ignorance of a law is no excuse, if the law is just. If you are guilty of breaking the law of Keoland, and if this knight is a representative of Keoland, he is well within his rights and duties to arrest you, and I will help him.”
Aurora has been turning scarlet as Tyrius lectures her, but something he says at the end distracts her and she seizes on it. ‘A representative of Keoland?’ She forces herself to calm down so she can think. “Tyrius,” she says finally. “The other side of the river is not Keoland.” She points at the nearby Javan.
“No, I believe it is the Yeomanry, from what Willa has told us.”
“What if that knight met us over there and sought to arrest me?”
“A knight of Keoland has no authority in the Yeomanry. As a companion of mine, I would help you resist such an unlawful act.”
“Even if he was a true knight - which of course he is not.”
“Even if he were a true knight,” says Tyrius, emphasizing the subjunctive tense that marks his speech as noble, “and even if you had committed a crime in Keoland, neither that crime nor his authority could follow you to Yeoman soil.”
“And you will help me get over there?”
“I see no reason to stop you - at least not until we know the truth of the situation. If he is truly a knight of Keoland, it should be easy for him to catch you on foot and make his claim to me.”
“Well then, let’s get moving!” shouts Aurora, turning and striding across the stream and down the trail.
They camp along the banks of a river, a small tributary of the Javan. The fading afternoon light reveals a broad natural ford of flat rocks. There is a thunderstorm that evening - mostly light and noise, but a good bit of cold wind and rain as well. Aurora and Willa remain dry in Willa’s oilskin tent, but the others are soaked and shivering by storm’s end. After the rain finally passes, Thokk builds up the fire to dangerous proportions and the rest of the party huddles by it for warmth and to dry their clothes and bed rolls.
The party is woken before dawn by a cold rain with occasional bursts of hail. It is a dismal morning even after sunrise, but Thokk keeps the fire high and when the rain finally peters out around eight in the morning they depart. With wet clothes, wet gear, and wet sleeping rolls, they are all of them hopeful of reaching Nighford, or at least a town large enough to have an inn, by nightfall.
It has already been a full day of travel and Willa is about ready to call a halt to camp when the trail emerges from the woods into a great vista. Before them, the land slopes gently down to a grassy river valley, with the river itself some two miles distant and the trail passing through a town at the ford. Kine in the fields and smoke from the town tells them that this town is occupied, not abandoned. Sloping up again on the other side of the valley, the land is dotted with fields and pastures, thorps and crofts until it attains a plateau at roughly their elevation. There, at the edge of the plateau, is a great city, the largest they have seen since Dearwald, and likely larger than Seaton. It can’t be Nighford, for it is clearly on the Keoish side of the river, and far inland from the Javan at that.
Willa judges it some five miles to the city, and unlikely for them to arrive before dark, but the thought of a table-meal, hot bath, and soft bed soon has nearly all of them agreeing to continue. Thokk’s thoughts are more of table-ale, no bath, and a shared bed, but he is all for continuing, too. Larry decries the so-called “comforts” of civilization and bemoans his sore feet, saying that he would like nothing more than some acorns and a bed of leaves, but he agrees to go on for the sake of his companions.
They reach the ford just before sunset, which is fortunate, for the tiny river-town is walled and the gates are about to be shut. The gate guard asks them all manner of questions, but his respect for Tyrius finally overcomes his suspicions of the rest of them, and he makes it quite clear that he would not let the lot of them in were it not for the word of the paladin. They pass through the town and over a great wooden bridge. The guard, having closed the gate behind them, accompanies them with his squad of men. He remarks that they seen to be carrying quite a bit of weaponry, and informs them that drawing a blade is illegal in both the low town and the city above, which he names Lavienth. When they ask about inns he begrudgingly admits that there are inns in the town, but immediately suggests the ones in the city as being of better quality, and it is clear he would like nothing more than for them to move along. There seems little of note in the town besides mills, granaries, butchers, and tanneries, so the party agrees to continue even as dusk draws about them.
It is indeed dark by the time they get to the city of Lavienth but they find neither wall nor gate, just a hazy outline of cattle and goat pens before the streets are paved and the houses start. Aurora spots a beggar-man and asks for a guide to the city’s second-best inn. He replies that it is a long walk in the dark and thirsty work, and she jingles her purse.
Once they are in the better part of the town the streets are lit by torches and oil-pots. The beggar proudly shows them the inn, “The Painted Cow”, follows them in behind, and goes immediately to the bar while Tyrius is arranging for rooms, dinner, and stabling.
They seat themselves at tables and are served quickly, as the dinner was ready an hour before and just needed to be reheated. At the rate the beggar is drinking, Willa decides to question him quickly before he passes out or needs to empty his stomach in the alley. The party, or at least those in it who ponder such things, is most curious about why the land to the north along the river is so desolate, with only burned and ruined villages and farms.
The beggar tells them that when he was a lad, all the lands to the north, “the lands of the old Count”, were indeed fertile and populated, and the trail they used was much-traveled, for there was land traffic as well as river-trade between Lavienth and Millen. Of course, the river being the border between Keoland and the Yeomanry, there were many raids as well. The Keoish bandits crossed the river to steal goats and waylay mining caravans, and the Yeoman raiders crossed over to capture cows and poach crown timber for ship masts. Local authorities on both sides ignored these brigands so long as they confined their activities to the other side of the river. Still, there were unwritten rules - few people were slain and no villages razed, for that would lessen the future income of everyone. “Ye might steal the milk from yer neighbor’s cow,” the beggar chortles in his ale, “but if ye kill the cow ta make steak, there’ll be no milk tomorrow, eh?”
This happy state of affairs ended some 15 years ago, during what the man calls “The Long Summer”. That year saw the addition of a new force to the mix - lizardfolk raiders. The “flickers” would come out of the Javan in large parties, raid the coastal communities, and disappear beneath the waters before the militia or soldiers of the Count could respond. As they grew more bold, they began capturing not just livestock but people, and putting towns to the torch. The brigands, seeing their livelihood slipping away, grew more desperate in their own raids, no longer sparing people and towns and raiding on their own side of the river as well as across it, building up their stores to survive a desolate winter. The local militias were overwhelmed and even the forces of the Count outnumbered by the three different enemy factions. The small folk deserted the lands of their lords and fled to cities north or south. The first refugees were hung as runaways, their Lords hoping to discourage others, but when the numbers turned to hundreds, the King himself intervened and forbade further executions. By the end of the raiding season, when the winter rains started and the roads turned to mud, there was not a town left standing between Lavienth and Millen, nor a human dweller remaining. Come springtime no one returned to plant or sow. The lands have been deserted ever since.
As the beggar speaks, Willa is returned to her childhood. She can just barely remember “The Long Summer”, and how all the adults were fearful at the time, talked of troubles in lands far away, and lit candles and prayed that the troubles would not come to Saltmarsh. It has been many a year since she has recalled that memory.
Thokk has been reminiscing as well, but warmly remembering his lizardfolk army, and at the conclusion of the beggar’s tale, he raises his stein. “A toast to the flickers!” he shouts, inviting all in the common room to drink with him to the martial successes of the lizardfolk. He doesn’t understand why all the townsfolk present glare at him and whisper or why Tyrius reddens as if embarrassed.
Not long after this, the beggar’s speech begins to slur and his tales grow less coherent. The party, bellies full and a long trail behind them, decide to retire upstairs for the night. _________________ 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
Poor Tyrius! He seems to have his hands full between Barnabus, Aurora, and Thokk. It is a good thing Willa is there to give him a hand. SirXaris
And now Eddard as well! To lend a hoof, anyway. _________________ 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
Anna Meyer's maps give both Nighford and Lavienth the symbol of "Small Town" (population 200-2000) and adds a "ferry" symbol to Nighford. Her maps show Lavienth to be inland. I reasoned that there must be a geographical reason for the town to not be on the water, as normally that would make more economic sense.
Post 85: Lavienth to Nighford
29 October, 570 - Lavienth
The party is up late, sore from their forced march the previous day. It is still early for drinking, though, so they have the common room to themselves and can engage Hartan, the barkeep, in conversation about the city.
Lavienth is the northernmost city in the County of Eor, and was so even before the Long Summer, for there was nothing similar in size all the way to Millen. It is far from the Javan, a day’s travel by foot, but the river trade is still important. A road leads to a port town on the Javan some 12 miles away, across the river from Nighford in the Yeomanry. The party will easily be able to obtain crossing there, if Nighford is their destination - though why they would want to go to such a place of lawless anarchy, where neither gentle blood nor the gods themselves are respected, is beyond Hartan. The port town is built on a raised, rocky spit, but the land all around is low and often flooded by the river, which is why a city like Nighford never grew on the Keoish side of the Javan.
Lavienth is the “hub of the north” and the focal point for all the goods produced in the region. It has any number of bakers, brewers, tanners, butchers, leatherworkers, cobblers, weavers, dyers, clothiers, and so forth who take the raw materials of the hinterlands (principally wheat, corn, cotton, and cattle), produce all that the good folk of the city need, and sell the surplus to the river trade. The Count of Eor mostly stays in his capital of Jaedre, south along the river, and seldom ventures up here, more’s the pity, leaving most of the power in Lavienth to the guilds and the wealthy merchant houses, chief among which is the Verdunn.
The party tells Hartan that they are interested in buying provisions and perhaps barding, and he gives them directions to the open market and armorer’s way. They spend the day in the markets, restocking their supplies of oil and torches, having minor mending and repairs made to their clothes, bags, and armor, and also purchasing rations - traveling food for another ten days of journey. It is an abundant fall and Thokk has had no problem supplying them with game on the road from the Owl Stream to Lavienth, but now that they are in civilized lands, Willa does not want him foraging. Thokk is confused, and tries to explain that it is even easier to forage here, for the countryside is swarming with chickens, pigs, goats, and cows, but in the end he takes the word of his evil advisor that with all the strange people about they need him close to the party and not off hunting by himself. They spend all afternoon on armorer’s way, with Tyrius looking to purchase barding for Eddard. He inquires about the prices for different kinds of barding - leather, chain, splint, half plate, full plate. He considers selling his own suit of splint mail to raise money. In the end he purchases a set of chain barding with help from the party, most members contributing a fair amount of coins. Eddard makes sure to thank each of them formally and individually. The armorer that fits the suit is honored to arm the mount of a true paladin, but is obviously flustered that the steed himself is giving him direction about the fitting of the pieces - telling him in no uncertain terms which straps are tight and which are loose, where the padding needs to be augmented and where it can be reduced.
In the evening they retire to the inn for dinner. Aurora and Willa are eager to ask about local news. Most of it is banal - which villages have their harvest in, which are shorthanded because of fall fever, which merchants are planning on hosting Masquerade Balls and whether they will serve food to the small folk outside. The only “big news” is the summer campaign against the Sea Devils, where the Viscount of Salinmore led a coalition of strange sea-races against the vicious Devils that had blockaded the mouth of the Javan, resulting in a brilliant and decisive victory. “I heard there were some adventurers involved in that fight” mentions Willa, which gets the room abuzz with conversations about the nature of the adventurers, most of them foreign, many of them not human, and what role (if any) they had in the victory of the Viscount. After a few minutes, Barnabus stands up on a table in the center of the room, lute in hand. “I happen to know a few songs about that campaign,” he says, “perhaps if Hartan could compensate me for my bill for this evening, I could entertain his patrons?” A roar fills the common room, and Hartan looks up from the stein he is filling, glowering. Then he grins, “As long as ye finish with some drinking songs to get the custom flowing, I’ll give ye tonight and last night on the house.”
Barnabus strums a few chords and begins…
“Oh, the blades did flash, the blood did flow,
the Viscount waxed political,
but through it all, there shone the smile,
of Barnabus the minstrel!”
The party rises much earlier this morning, settles accounts with Hartan, and is out in the cobbled streets of the city even as most of the shopkeepers and merchants are just opening for business. They leave the city by following a road leading southwest and spend the morning on a high bluff overlooking the Javan below. River traffic has now resumed after the storm they weathered, and there are numerous barges and galleons going both directions on the broad river. The road is as well-traveled as the river, and they are continually being passed by riders, themselves passing heavily-laden carts pulled by oxen, and meeting both types of traffic going the opposite way.
By late morning the road begins descending a long, gentle slope down off the bluff and approaches the river. They can see the port town clearly, and Nighford across the water vaguely through a humid haze. Their last mile of travel is on a road shored up with rocks and stone above the level of the surrounding marsh. Here and there is evidence that whole sections of the road have been swept away in floods and then replaced. Mosquitoes and blackflies follow them in great swarms, desperate for one final good meal before the first hard frost, which could come any day. Eddard tosses his mane and flicks his tail and almost loses his composure, but contents himself with ruminating aloud about the trials of the lands of the living and how not all tests of faith are to be found in combat.
Finally the ground rises just a few feet and turns rocky and they arrive at the port town, where a cluster of wooden warehouses fight for space along a narrow stony spit. The low-lying lands about the town are given over to corrals and wagon-yards, and wooden piers of all shapes and sizes jut into the river. The narrow streets teem with people, beasts of burden, and goods, and the party resorts to sending Thokk first to force a way through the crowds. With the half-orc clearing a path for them, they eventually arrive at a dock that looks to have a number of passenger ferries available.
Willa negotiates a price for the exclusive use of a larger, flat-bottomed skiff that has just enough room on deck for them, their gear, and Eddard. There is a bronzed man at the tiller and four darker men on the oars - as dark as the ones who waylaid Babshapka, but without nearly as many tattoos. The helmsman steers them into the current and they drift downstream for several minutes before he brings it about and the oarsmen begin to pull. The afternoon is warm and within minutes the men are sweating freely. Fortunately the breeze picks up once they are out on the open water, dispersing the rancid smell of the men and the cloud of biting flies. With the men crossing the wide river laterally but fighting the entire time to not be carried downstream, it will be a long passage, and Willa opens their bags to bring out jerky, dried fruits, and waterskins for the party. The oarsmen have a dull look about them, and if they secretly desire the cool water the party is drinking they do not show it.
It is more than a mile across the river and the men must have rowed some three times that when they finally make landing in Nighford. Of the several coins the party gave the helmsman, he hands one over to a dockmaster, and then helps them unload their gear. The local stevedores watch with curiosity as Eddard, without reins or halter, waits for the skiff to be made fast before he calmly steps to the dock, then proceeds a few feet forward to give the party room to disembark.
Nighford is a strange mix of familiar and unfamiliar. The houses and shops seem nearly identical to those in Lavienth, but the people are markedly different. Beggars and prostitutes are conspicuously missing from the streets, but so are fat priests in robes and gentlemen in colored silks. It is as if everyone in the city were gainfully and honorably employed, sparing only the occasional cripple or drunkard. Craftsmen, laborers, and tradesmen abound but there is nary a wretched hovel nor sleek polished carriage to be seen - a very curious city, indeed. Even more curious is the abundance of weaponry - small folk everywhere are armed, and not just with utility knives at their belts, but with staves and spears and even the occasional short sword.
The afternoon is wearing on when the party begins their search for an inn. They pass several as they leave the docks; places with large common rooms full of drinking, swearing, fighting men. Thokk looks wistfully at them but Tyrius and Eddard insist that they head inland. Along the way they are passed by numerous squadrons of soldiers or watchmen. These may be recruits in training, for they carry the shafts of long spears without heads, and they are invariably running in formation while some sergeant or other jogs along beside them barking in the Yeoman tongue. Willa notes that in any group of ten or fifteen there are one or two women, dressed in the same tunics and sandals and mixed indiscriminately among the formations.
When the buildings have turned from wood to stone Tyrius tells Thokk that he can have his pick of any inn he can find, but they all look staid and boring now so the half-orc delegates the choice to Willa, who selects one with an ample stable and the strong smell of roasting meat coming from the kitchen. Even as the party is dividing their gear between rooms and figuring out who is sleeping in which bed, Barnabus is tuning his lute. _________________ 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
Did you mean 'galleys'? Galleons may be correct for your campaign, but they seem a bit large, even for a river the size of the Javan.
The Javan is the longest river in the Flaneass and has equivalent depth and volume. It is navigable by deep draft ocean-going vessel, including galleons, all the way to Cryllor.
I was imagining a galleon as a Man-O'-War, but apparently, they aren't that big.
It's a slippery term - if you go into the 17th and even early 18th Century I think there are still things called galleons hauling gold from the New World to Spain, with two or three full decks of cannons, etc. But no, I wasn't trying to imply anything nearly as big (and my Greyhawk certainly doesn't have cannon). Just the late Medieval galleons like in the links. _________________ 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
The party can recognize a plot hook when they see one!
Post 86: Nighford
October 31, 571 - Nighford
Aurora is glad to be out of Keoland and away from the jurisdiction of the self-proclaimed knight, but for the moment the party is unsure of what their next move is. After they contribute to Tyrius’ purchase of barding for Eddard, many of them are low on funds, and a brief talk over breakfast at the inn reveals that all of them are amenable to seeking employment - as caravan guards, monster slayers, or adventurers. There must be some work in the Yeomanry for folk of their talents. The only one who seems uninterested in this is Barnabus. He announces that he will be visiting the market and purchasing two riding mules, so that he and Larry no longer slow the party as they travel. He is tired of the japes of Thokk and grumblings of Willa with regards to his speed overland, and his overtures to Eddard over the last several days have all been rebuffed, with Eddard saying in no uncertain terms that the only way he would allow the halfling to ride him would be if Barnabus were unconscious and bleeding out and being carried to healing.
The market seems like a good place to seek employment, so the party leaves their equipment at the inn and ventures forth. The market square is large and offers a dizzying array of goods - tropical fruits, coffee, tea, meats, bolts of cloth (linen, cotton, and silk), rice, wheat, and corn by the bushel, jewelry, salt, spices, pipeweed, leather...There is a disorderly array of market stalls lining the winding paths, but no clear routes, so that they have to wend their way along, unsure of their direction, with loud Yeoman tradesmen hawking their wares on all sides. Here and there are larger empty spaces where no tent-stalls have been set up - invariably these are filled with tight clusters of people betting on dog fights and boxing matches.
Eddard sticks his nose in the air and sets them in the general direction of the stock yards, but there are no straight routes and they move back and forth across the true trail as if tacking before the wind. When they finally arrive they are all hot, thirsty, and over-stimulated by the sights and sounds. Thokk treats the party to the shade of a beer tent while Barnabus negotiates the purchase of two mules and tack, including packs and frames.
Many of the horse traders have large operations, and appear to be prosperous merchants - of more importance than the simple tradesmen of the city. These merchant masters do not display their wealth in silks and jewelry like the wealthy of Keoland, but the party notes that the clothes they wear are of far better quality than the people around them - fine linen shirts with toggles of horn, not wood. Their heavy cotton pants show neither patches nor wear. They have high leather boots and wide belts with decorative tooling, often with slink or kid gloves tucked in. These men barely stand out from a distance or in a crowd, but up close their superior means are readily apparent.
Willa, Tyrius, and Aurora speak with several of the merchant men, but none of them seem to be hiring - at least not hiring people like the party, who are effectively foreign mercenaries with no references. A few of the harder men remark that they are not fools, and that they may as well turn over their caravans before the journey starts, as to pay a party of strangers to turn cloak on them and take their goods by force in the middle of the journey. A few of the more pleasant men suggest that the party register themselves with the Nighford Captain of the Guard if they want mercenary work.
Once Barnabus has his mules, and with no prospects forthcoming, the party leaves the market and heads for the offices of the City Guard, lunching at a cafe along the way. The Captain of the Guard shows little pretense and agrees to see them soon after they arrive. After listening to them, he says there are, at the moment, no jobs requiring their talents in the city. Of course, he can find them work guarding warehouses, doing night patrols in cemeteries, killing rats in the sewers, and such, but these things will neither pay for their fancy inn nor the upkeep on their armor and mounts. He suggests that they head north into the Little Hills. There are many small mining communities there, but it is a rugged and wild land and monster-hunters can often find a lair simply by going off-trail for a day. Furthermore, with winter coming, many mines are sending out their “last caravan of the year” and frequently need extra guards if locals are in short supply.
Since the Captain seems friendly and talkative, Aurora questions him about the nature of the Yeomanry. In broad terms, he says he knows that “you Keoish” (Aurora does not correct him to say that she is, in fact, Uleki) think of the Yeoman as lawless anarchists. In fact, they have just as ordered a society and just as many laws as in Keoland - but they don’t believe in the privilege of blood and birth. There are wealthy men in the Yeomanry, but no nobles. Laws are made by the Speakers, men (and a few women) elected by local communities and representational districts. Anyone who has served in the Yeoman military, man or woman, is allowed to vote or run for Speaker. Or, in the words of the Captain, “everyone who has carried a spear for our country has an equal say in our laws”. He also notes that the Yeomen follow almost all the same gods as the Keoish do, “we just don’t allow the fat priests to get into bed with the nobles and squeeze coppers from peasants to build fine churches that serve their own egos”.
Aurora asks him how magic and mages are viewed by the populace. The Captain says that the Yeoman value their freedom above all else, and are thus suspicious of mages, who are said to be able to bewitch men’s minds and rob them of their volition. That being said, the practice of magic itself is not forbidden. Should Aurora wish to practice the Craft while in the Yeomanry, she should be careful not to cast a spell on a Yeoman, but aside from that she should be fine.
Aurora asks whether there are many mages in the city, and he laughs and says “None of any power. Oh, sure we have apothecaries and hedge wizards, women who will tell your fortune and men who can entertain with pretty lights, but no true mages. The only wizard of any real power hereabouts is the Sage of Highfell.” When Aurora presses him on that, he explains that Highfell is a mining community high in the Little Hills on a spur off the north road out of Nighford. The Sage is known to have a great historical library in his tower, and is rumored to be a wizard of quite some power as well.
“So what you are saying is that, high in the monster-infested hills there is a mining community that may need caravan guards before winter, and the community is overseen by a Sage who has both a library of ancient lore and can cast spells?” The Captain nods, and the party has their destination.
They return to the inn for the afternoon, and prepare for an early start 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
Last edited by Kirt on Tue Oct 29, 2019 10:41 am; edited 1 time in total
DM's Note on Sources:
I used the stone bridge over an unnamed tributary of the Javan, Fort Rockturm, and the "village" of Highfell because of their inclusion on Anna Meyer's maps of the Yeomanry, but I do not know their original sources.
None of them are on the Darlene map. As far as I can tell, these locations are not from the LG Player's Guide to the Yeomanry.
Thus, so far as I remember, it is my own invention to describe Highfell as a mining town. The Sage of Highfell is also my own invention, although the Sage and the Speaker fulfill the same narrative roles as the Seer and the Duke of Urnst in the original module to which the players are unknowingly headed.
DM's note on 5E Equipment
The Player's handbook has the following listing for clothes:
Common 5sp 3lb
Fine 15gp 6lb
Traveler's 2gp 4lb
I told my players that if they wanted their characters to be active in temperatures below freezing, they would need to purchase "cold weather gear" for 5gp and weighing 8lb. I imagined this consisting of woolen cloaks, pants and tunic, a thick waterproof leather jack, and boots. The boots and jack would both be lined with cheap furs.
Post 87: Nighford to Highfell
1 November, 570 - Nighford, the Yeomanry
The party leaves the city of Nighford at first light, three riding and four walking. Just outside the city the ground rises steeply but the road is well-paved for the first mile, and has gravel and crushed stone with drainage ditches after that. They pass by farming hamlets and thorps that are little more than huts in the middle of pastureland. The ground here is drier and rockier than on the Keoish side of the river, the forests smaller with scrub trees, not the towering pines of the Dreadwood. It is not a lush or particularly fertile farmland, and the freemen they meet are poor but proud and do not bow their heads like peasants when the party passes.
By mid-morning they have crested a ridge and work their way down the other side, eventually arriving at low, boggy land alongside the river. Here the settlements are few and the bugs are many. They spend the rest of the morning and then the afternoon traversing this barren country. In the late afternoon they begin to climb again, finally leaving the bugs behind. They are still an hour or more from making camp when a sudden thunderstorm sweeps over the hills above them from the west, drenching them for an hour. By the time it ends, Willa says they will use what light they have left to gather firewood among the thorny scrub trees of the slopes so as to dry their things before they bed down. The night passes uneventfully. Far beneath them on the Javan, a few daring river captains sail by night, lanterns lighting their tiny ships like aquatic fireflies.
[Wandering encounter; subtropical patrolled hills; Giant Owl]
The party rises early for another day on the road. The trail climbs higher and further away from the river as it passes over several miles of rugged hillside. There is little life on the dry slopes besides the occasional band of wild goats. In the afternoon the trail descends to a deserted high moor, with huge rock outcrops in the high places and stagnant mires in the low spots. The party sees no sign of other people until the very last hour of their march. Then, they ascend a steep slope to the edge of a deep gorge. At the narrowest spot of the gorge, a massive stone bridge crosses the span. Far below a foaming whitewater river cascades through the bottom of the gorge before spilling out into the lazy Javan.
On the near side of the bridge a company of Yeoman soldiers is encamped. Their officers talk with the party, are immediately suspicious of the band of well-armed foreigners, and demand to know their business. Upon learning that the party seeks the counsel of the Sage of Highfell they are somewhat placated, and when they give the name of the Nighford Captain of the Guard and say that he sent them this way, they agree to let them pass. They advise the party to take the next left, for the trail splits soon after the bridge, with the lower path continuing along the river and the upper one leading to Highfell Valley.
There is a similar encampment of soldiers on the far side of the bridge, and the party manages another mile beyond that before Willa calls a halt for the night. Those on night watch report seeing a huge bird circling silently above them, occasionally blocking out one or the other of the moons. Babshapka swears it is a giant owl.
Some four miles from the bridge, at the end of their first hour of march for the day, the party finds a large cairn at the edge of the road, marking the place where the river trail continues north, but the side trail leading to the Highfell Valley branches off north and west. The side trail is steep and narrow, and lacks the wagon-ruts of the main trail - passage here is by foot or mount, but not any wheeled transport. As the morning wears on they climb higher and higher until Willa and Aurora would swear they are in mountains, but Thokk and Larry scoff and say these are but foothills.
Just as they are considering stopping for a midday meal, they crest a ridge and can see down into a small valley below. High on one of the walls of the valley is an imposing stone fort. The trail descends to the valley floor, passes through a small village, and exits the far end of the valley without arriving at the fort itself. Willa declares that they will lunch in the village and gather information about Highfell.
The fort is Fort Rockturm, a stronghold which allows the Yeoman to guard the only access to the Highfell Valley. The village is called simply “Bottom”, and although there are a few shops, dairy barns, and butcheries, most of the buildings are taverns, brothels, and bathhouses for the soldiers of the fort. It is easy enough to find a hot meal and hear gossip about their destination.
Bartenders, serving wenches, and off-duty soldiers alike are all friendly enough, and tell the party that Highfell is less than a day’s journey ahead. It is a peaceful and prosperous mining community, like many here in the Little Hills, but it is remarkable for the presence of the Sage of Highfell, an ancient wizard who possesses the best library of lore outside of Loftwick (the capital city of the Yeomanry). The Tower of the Sage admits few visitors these days, and any petitioners are carefully screened by the Lord of Highfell. The Tower is within Highfell Keep itself, above Highfell Town. The “Lord” is really the Speaker of Highfell, elected representative of the community, but he has been elected so many times that he has been in continuous residence at the Keep for longer than most citizens of Highfell have been alive, and folk simply call him “the Lord” - though never within his hearing! The party is warned to refer to him as “Speaker” or “Venerable Speaker” in his presence, and further warned to keep their business in Highfell to less than a month in duration, if they don’t want to be there for the winter. The first snow of the year usually closes access to the valley until spring. When the party asks what could possibly take them a month there, they are told that it is rare that visitors are allowed to see the Sage, and often must wait for weeks or longer.
Bellies and ears full, the party prepares to leave Bottom, but not before they each purchase a full complement of winter weather gear - fur-lined boots, woolen cloaks and breeches, and heavy leather jackets. It is still too warm to wear such things now, but they are packed away on the two mules. The trail passes by the base of the cliff face on which the fort perches, so that there is a long stretch with the walls and towers of the fort looming high above them. Babshapka says that he can see ballistae and catapults along the battlements and doesn’t doubt that the trail could be fired upon. Once beyond the valley, they spend the afternoon climbing higher and higher into the hills before finally making camp for the night.
[Heavy Rain, 5-6pm]
It proves to be less than fifteen miles to Highfell from their morning camp, but the way is ever-ascending up switchbacks and through narrow passes, over rockslides and across icy streams. It is early evening when they finally look upon the broad Highfell Valley. It is a pleasant and well-ordered place - a neat village below with green fields now mostly harvested and fading to the brown of fall, whitewashed houses, mining shacks and tunnel mouths on a hillslope above, and a small keep on a bluff overlooking it all.
In hopes of getting as early an admittance to the Sage as possible, they pass through the village without stopping and proceed directly to the keep. They are held for a time at the gate while heavy black clouds gather and the sun sets. When they are let in they are surprised that they have been invited to dine with the Speaker himself. Well, not all of them are surprised - Tyrius takes it as customary for someone of his status. And, not all of them are invited. Eddard is lodged in the stables of the keep, a fate he endures stoically.
Ushered directly into the dining hall, they find the Speaker to be an affable old man, well-used to command, who interviews them at great length about where they are from and what they have done - he says they seldom get adventurers, or any strangers for that matter, in Highfell. When Aurora tries to steer the conversation to asking about seeing the Sage, his tone turns somewhat sharper, and he says that the Sage is elderly, has limited time and energy, and has entrusted him with seeing that only appropriate demands on him are made. Other than that he is happy to answer questions about Highfell, its people, and its economy.
The valley is prosperous thanks to the mines, which produce mostly tin with a vein of silver here and there. The land is not terribly productive - just enough farmers and herders are on hand to support the miners, and the mining operations are limited in scale to the amount of men that can be supported by local food production. Of course, some food is imported, but it is a week’s journey by laden pack mule from Lavienth, making the imported food expensive. The party will be able to find most things they might need in the village - there is a blacksmith, leatherworker, cobbler, and so forth, and the Speaker encourages them to patronize the village shops when they have a chance - he recommends that they try the local goat cheese, a source of pride in the small community. When Thokk asks about whores, the Speaker scowls (and Willa kicks him under the table). “Yeoman women,” he says, “are as free as our men. Should a Highfell woman choose to favor you, she may make whatever negotiation she wants. But do not expect to find a den where women are enslaved for your pleasure or the profit of my townsfolk.”
As it is already late, the Speaker invites them to be his guests in the keep - and they gratefully accept. By the way the fire hisses in the hearth there must be a heavy rain indeed outside.
When they ask specifically about any local work for adventuring types, the Speaker chuckles and says that the valley is a peaceful place, though there are plenty of monsters in the wild lands of the Little Hills beyond the valley. The subterranean horrors that were often found in the mines generations ago are long gone. He does mention as of passing interest the local ruins, and this piques the party’s interest. A half day’s journey from Highfell Town, further up the valley, lies the ruins of an ancient keep - over a millennium old.
“Pre-migrations?” interjects Aurora breathlessly.
“Oh, most assuredly, it is no work of the Suel, that place.”
“But the Flan did not have the technology to erect…”
The Speaker simply shrugs and waves his hands. The ruins consist of four round towers joined by walls, with a great central keep, although that tumbled down centuries ago. There is little to find there, and it is something of a rite of passing among the youths of the valley to spend a night there, often on a dare. Many adventuring parties have explored the ruins and found nothing, and the place would be of little interest...except that sometimes people don’t come back. No one that has come back has had anything to show for their efforts, but very occasionally those who set out to explore the place simply do not return.
After answering some further questions about the ruins, the Speaker returns to questioning the party about their deeds. Eventually he pieces together a few things they have said and asks Aurora whether she is an arcane caster. “I...I’m a scholar, an historian!” she protests, but the Speaker waves her objections aside.
“That is what you profess, and that is fine fare for the villagers,” he says. “But you want to meet with the Sage, and he wants to know if it is worth his time. Visitors are few here, and casters fewer still - he seldom has the chance to improve his repertoire. If you have spells he does not know, arcane spells he could copy from your books, he would be willing to meet with you on the morrow. Otherwise he has his studies and his health to attend to and I do not know when he will next be available.”
With the choice presented like that, Aurora admits that she does have some passing skill at magic, and would indeed be interested in possibly trading spells with the Sage in return for him discussing some matters of historical import with her. The Speaker says that he will speak with the Sage this evening, and that Aurora should prepare to meet him in the morning. With that, he bids the party good night. They retire to guest rooms that are certainly not luxurious, but are indeed worthy of a good inn. Besides, they are free. _________________ 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
Last edited by Kirt on Tue Oct 29, 2019 10:42 am; edited 1 time in total
I haven't figured out which adventure the party is headed into yet...Any more clues you want to offer?
Rather than more clues, how about I separate the wheat from the chaff?
"The Sage of Highfell is also my own invention, although the Sage and the Speaker fulfill the same narrative roles as the Seer and the Duke of Urnst in the original module to which the players are unknowingly headed."
"The ruins consist of four round towers joined by walls, with a great central keep, although that tumbled down centuries ago. There is little to find there, and it is something of a rite of passing among the youths of the valley to spend a night there, often on a dare. Many adventuring parties have explored the ruins and found nothing, and the place would be of little interest...except that sometimes people don’t come back. No one that has come back has had anything to show for their efforts, but very occasionally those who set out to explore the place simply do not return." _________________ 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
5 November, 570 - Highfell Keep
In the morning Aurora is admitted to the Tower of the Sage. Barnabus decides to “look around” the keep. Willa and Thokk keep busy sparring with the soldiers in the yard, while the other members of the party relax or mend gear.
The Sage of Highfell is a tall man, once powerfully built but now wizened and gaunt with age. His fine robes bespeak resources and comfort. He greets Aurora cordially in the open first floor of the tower, which is furnished as a sitting room or casual work room. The Sage rises from a comfortable chair next a small hearth - apart from this there are several desks, benches and tables, quills, bottles of ink, sheaves of parchment, and so on. There are no windows, but many unlit candles are placed about the room and a single lit lantern, burning brightly, rests on a table near the center of the open chamber. Against one wall there is a bookshelf with a few well-worn leather-bound volumes on it, but hardly a library - perhaps the trove is on an upper floor? A plain stone staircase spirals up the far wall, but the way is closed at the level of the ceiling with a trap door.
After the formal courtesies, wherein the Sage asks Aurora where she studied with and under whom, he immediately jumps into the negotiations. Magic is not common in the Yeomanry, he says, and Highfell is an out of the way place - he seldom has the chance to add spells to his book, and is eager for this opportunity. The spells may be of little use to him in the time he has remaining, but he wishes to have them available to whichever sage inherits the Tower after him, for the good of the valley. He tells Aurora that he is a Conjurer, with an especial interest in transportation magic, so any novel spells of that nature that she has would be of great interest to him. He proposes several possibilities of exchange, but what they finally agree on is an even trade of spell levels, with them each paying for their own inks - he will use his own supplies and will sell Aurora the ink she will need at a fair price. They agree to the following exchange of five spell levels:
Identify first level, divination, ritual
Detect Magic first level, divination
Fireball third level, evocation
The Sage provides:
Rope Trick second level, transmutation
Sending third level, evocation
Since both spells she is receiving are of use to the party as a whole, Aurora trusts that she will be able to convince them to help her pay for the inks.
Both Aurora and the Sage pass the day copying spells [5 levels = 10 hours of work and 250gp from each of them], with servants bringing them lunch and seeing to the fire. Occasionally they make polite conversation between pages. It is early evening, and Aurora has just finished her final copy, when there is the deep tolling of a bell from the courtyard. The sage looks up from his work, as yet unfinished. “Odd, they haven’t rung a dinner bell since…” His voice trails off as the tolling continues. “That’s no dinner bell - that’s the alarm bell!”
Most of the party has already washed and changed for dinner, and is now milling about, waiting - it appears that the table will not be laid until Aurora and the Sage arrive from the Tower. At the tolling of the bell, soldiers and servants alike begin filling the courtyard, and then the soldiers ascend the walls. Soon the party joins them.
Far down the hillside, out of bowshot of the keep walls and about halfway between the keep and Highfell Town, there is a large host of men. Willa and Tyrius estimate them to be about three dozen pikemen, two dozen heavy crossbowmen with large pavises, and a command unit of five cavalrymen. Babshapka is the only one with any hope of making out their devices at this distance. He tells them that the pavises are simple, consisting of a red-and-white pattern in quarters, with the red above and below, and the white left and right.
There is only a small banner flown by the cavalry, and he takes it to be a black beast, perhaps a griffin, on a yellow field. One of the cavalrymen is in heavy armor, and his tabard, says Babshapka, bears the same black lion on a red field that the “knight” had when they fought along the Owl Stream.
A few minutes later the Speaker arrives on the walls, knocking aside any soldiers not able to get out of his way quickly enough. He takes a long look at the company assembled below, then orders a sergeant nearby to send out messengers to ask the host their business in the valley. To the party, the Speaker says that it is time for dinner and that they are expected in the main hall. When Willa suggests that they would just as soon stay on the wall to see what happens, the Speaker’s tone turns commanding. “Let me make myself clear. I want you down from this wall before any of you are seen by whomever those men are. I have to arrange some things in the courtyard, but I expect you to be seated at table by the time I arrive.” He waves a hand at another officer nearby, and a squad of men forms, with the clear intention to remove the party from the walls if necessary. Willa nods at the others to come along, but as soon as the Speaker turns away, she whispers something to Barnabus.
The party descends a spiral stair inside a short tower from the wall. With them spaced out, Barnabus is in the center and a complete turn away from the soldiers in front of and behind them. By the time the party reaches the courtyard, he is no longer among them. The party, sans Barnabus, passes by the Speaker giving orders in the courtyard on their way to the main hall.
When the group of mounted men sallies forth, Barnabus slips out the gatehouse with them. Although they are moving at a gentle canter, he is running all-out and still losing ground. They have arrived at the host outside the walls, been admitted to parlay, and spoken with them for more than five minutes before he finally arrives within earshot, and they immediately turn and begin making their way back up the hill-slope. Barnabus has just enough time to recognize that the man in the lion tabard is indeed the knight who took Aurora’s book before he turns and begins laboring up the hill after the retreating horsemen. The gates open to admit the returning messengers, but close long before he reaches them.
When the party reaches the table, they find Aurora and the Sage already seated, and a short time later the Speaker arrives. Servants bring in food. When Willa begins to ask about the people outside, the Speaker bids her be silent for the moment. Eventually one of the messengers who sallied forth arrives, bends and whispers in the Speaker’s ear. He is dismissed, and then the Speaker and the Sage have a brief, hushed conversation. Aurora leans close and listens surreptitiously, but they are speaking in Yeoman and she only catches a few words like ‘Highfell’, ‘Keoland’, and ‘Perrenland’.
By this point the table is completely laid. The Speaker orders the servants to bring in more pitchers of wine, and then to quit the hall. Once the doors have been shut and they are alone, the Speaker addresses them. “The host below is a mercenary company from Perrenland. They have been hired by a knight of Keoland, a man who claims that he is here to arrest Aurora for crimes against his nation.”
“Venerable Speaker,” replies Aurora hotly, “That man is no knight. We have met him before, and he is an impostor. Furthermore, even were he a knight, surely he has no authority in your lands.”
The Speaker nods. “Impostor or not, that man has the gold to hire an entire mercenary company - he represents someone with power that is real enough. While Keoish law holds no sway here, Highfell and all the Little Hills border Keoland. Our mines do as much business with the Keoish as we do with our own people. I cannot afford to flout the desires of their King, or my people will suffer in one way or another. You are not Yeomen, and I will not risk a war for you - be it a war of arms or one of trade.”
The Speaker pauses, to let the realization sink in among the party that regardless of the legitimacy of the knight, he has no intention of harboring or protecting them.
“I intend to tell the knight that you have left the keep to explore the ruins up the valley. I call upon you to actually make my words true. Should you be willing to cooperate, the Sage has the means to transport you there this evening, which will give you nearly a day’s head start on those men. If you can be of further assistance to us, we may be able to send you even farther away. If you will agree to this, we can discuss the details in my chambers.” Aurora begins to question him, but he refuses to talk more on the matter in the hall.
The party holds a hurried conversation, focused on their chances against the mercenary company. Tyrius tells them that Perrenland is a nation far to the north, famed for their exports of cheese and mercenaries. A Perrenland mercenary company is renowned for its discipline, and only the best companies serve this far afield. Thus, it is a near certainty that the force below is considerably stronger than the one they faced on the Owl Stream - albeit without the elven mage. It is quickly agreed that they will at least hear out the Speaker’s proposal as an alternative to fighting.
When Aurora announces that they will indeed join the Speaker in his chambers, he smiles resolutely and bids them finish their meal first. “However,” he adds, “it will need to be all of you, and you seem to be missing your halfling…”
“Not missing,” comes a voice from under the table, and Barnabus emerges, one hand holding a roast drumstick. “I’m afraid one of my stature is often not noticed, my lord, but I have been here all along, of course.” _________________ 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 knight reminds me of my use of Sir Bluto Sans Pite as a tormentor of neophite PCs
Certainly Aurora feels she is being persecuted.
And Willa...hasn't let on that she is actually working with him. ;) _________________ 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 a reader, I am uncertain of the knight's true allegiance.
Good! It is deliberately vague, from his strangely non-descript arms to his mysterious appearances and disappearances. Certainly, the elven prince and the Viscount of Salinmoor trusted him - but as Aurora contends, he could have been duping them. At a deeper level, he claims to be working on behalf of the King. Willa trusts the King but that is more on principle than anything else. Aurora distrusts the King, again on basic principle rather than through direct experience. So..."Sir Runnel"'s ultimate goals, motivations, and loyalty - that will be a long time in being revealed! _________________ 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 on Sources: This post contains spoilers from module C2:The Ghost Tower of Inverness. I did move the setting from Urnst to the Little Hills of the Yeomanry but otherwise changed little of the content.
Post 89: Know you this!
5 November, 570. Highfell - The Tower of the Speaker
The Speaker leads the way to his private chamber, the party files in after him, and the Sage brings up the rear, closing the heavy wooden door behind him and making a few mystic gestures with his hand. It takes some doing to find enough chairs for them all, and the Speaker has to retrieve a pair from his bedchamber, but eventually they are all seated, with the party in a semi-circle around the pair of old men.
“Know you this,” begins the Sage in a booming voice the party has not yet heard from him, “in the fullness of my power, I was a wizard of no small ability. I was, as I have already told your enchantress, a conjurer, with an especial interest in transportation magic. I used my skill to help the mines of Highfell prosper - through lightening the loads of the beasts bearing ores, shortening the distances they traveled, removing water and dangerous gasses from the mines themselves, rescuing men trapped behind collapsed walls, and other practical magicks. From time to time I even transported whole cargoes directly to Nighford myself, when they were valuable enough. There was a time when I could have teleported your entire party to the ruins with a single spell.”
Aurora draws in her breath audibly. (Later, after the meeting, she explains to the party that teleport is a spell of seventh level - and thus can only be performed by the most puissant wizards, those who have attained the thirteenth level of power or greater!)
If the Sage hears her gasp, he does not give sign. “Now however, in my twilight years, using such powerful arcana would certainly imperil my health. Fortunately, even in my youth I possessed a modicum of good sense. I made many magic items to store my spells, so that I could call upon them when I was unprepared. I have found that using these is much less taxing to me than actually casting the spells myself. Since I have a finite supply, I do so only when it is of great benefit. I am satisfied with our exchange of spells and in order to avoid any conflicts with the knight outside, I am willing to use one of my devices to send you all to the ruins, so that in the morning when the Speaker tells the knight that you have already left for there it will be no falsehood, but you will have more than half a day’s head start on him.”
Now the Speaker holds up his hand, and takes over. “However, the Sage and I have been conferring. We have waited quite some time for a group possessing your skills and talents to arrive, seemingly by chance, in Highfell, and we do not want this opportunity to pass fruitlessly. There is an item of great value within the ruins. Should you be willing to recover it for us, the Sage would grant you another teleportation: not just a half-day’s journey ahead of your pursuers - but to any destination in the world you desire.”
“I though’ ye said ther ruins be empty - t’at no one never found nothin’ thar?” Willa asks skeptically.
“Indeed,” agrees the Speaker. “If the ruins themselves once held anything of physical value, it has been plundered centuries ago. But the ruins still hold a secret known to the Sage. More I will not say unless and until you agree to do us this service.”
Aurora considers. “Answer me this first,” she counters, “as a Sage who has studied the history of this region. A history book recently came into my possession. Ever since then we have been dogged and attacked by the false knight outside. Who do you think is behind this?”
“That would depend on the history book,” replies the Sage vaguely.
“The book tells the history of the Sheldomar Valley, of the Suel migrants before the founding of the nation of Keoland. And…” she pauses, trying to gain insight into their reactions, “the history it tells is not as flattering to the young nation as the ones you hear at the Keoish Court.”
The Sage nods. “Know you of the Silent Ones?”
“The Court Wizards of Keoland?”
“Not courtly, no - they are a body apart, an order to themselves, though indeed beholden to the Crown, at least in name. And not Wizards - they are Sorcerers, an ancient inbred lot. They are uniformly Suelese, and mostly Neheli. They have an inordinate interest in ancient lore. It is merely conjecture, of course, but I would not be surprised if the knight outside was in service to them - for such a book would be among the things they covet.”
Reading more in Aurora’s face than she can in his, the Sage continues. “More to the point, it is precisely that sorcerous body we wish to frustrate. The Speaker and I have long believed that the Silent Ones have designs on the item we are asking you to obtain. That they would dare send agents to our valley does not bode well. It is imperative that we recover this item before they do.”
“Well, you have me so far,” says Aurora, not bothering to gauge the reaction of the others. “I’m willing to get this thing for you, whatever it is, so that we can leave that knight far behind, but we will need to know a lot more than you have told us up to now.”
Taking Aurora’s statement as an agreement to their terms, the sage smiles grimly, then thunders at them: “Know you that in the elder days before the Invoked Devastation and the Rain of Colorless Fire, when Flan tribesmen were but newcomers to the land, there existed in our valley a great fortress called Inverness! The walls of this castle were said to be proof against enemies and all things magical or natural. Know you also that here was said to dwell the great wizard Galap-Dreidel at the height of his power and glory, and that he did lift the Castle Inverness from the very foundation of rock upon which it rested! Most grand and terrible of all Galap-Dreidel's work was the keep's great inner tower; for it was there that the wizard's most prized possession, an eldritch jewel known only as the "Soul-Gem", was said to rest. Legend says that it was like a great white diamond and that it glowed with the brilliance of the sun. In years long past it had fallen from the sky and landed in the Little Hills where Galap-Dreidel discovered it as it lay in the fires of its glory. Through magicks most arcane and knowledge forbidden to mortal men he did bend its power and shape the stone to his will. Stories say that the light of the gem dragged the very souls of men screaming from their mortal flesh and trapped them within its many facets. Galap-Dreidel, it was said, harnessed this power and used it against all those who opposed his will. They also say that he who controlled the gem could call forth the stolen souls of men and make them do his bidding. For this stone Galap-Dreidel raised up the great central tower and filled his castle with many horrible creatures and deadly traps and, using a great incantation, he did wrest the tower from the very fabric of time and set it apart so that those within would not be affected by the passage of years.
Thus it was that his traps never faltered nor did his guardians age or need food. Townsfolk whispered that Galap-Dreidel would, at times, set a prisoner free in the tower merely for the sport of his beasts. Some legends tell that his power was so great that he even taught the gem to protect itself from those who would take it from him.
But despite his great power there came a time that Galap-Dreidel did leave on a journey northeast, across the river Sheldomar, and did not return. At this time there came a great multitude of superstitious peoples from surrounding lands who laid siege to the castle and threw down the great tower. And it came to pass that despite this seeming victory over their feared former master the people did shun the area and...it was said...that on fog-shrouded nights the great central tower of the Fortress Inverness could still be seen!”
The Sage pauses to study each and every member of the party. “While the ruins themselves are empty, somewhere within them is the means to either summon forth the Ghost Tower or transport yourselves to it - this is the only explanation for those individuals who have disappeared while searching the ruins. However, what your group possesses and all previous explorers did not is, first, a means of escape from the Tower - the amulet I will provide you. And second, knowledge of what you are searching for - the Soul Gem itself, which is surely at the heart of the Tower.”
The entire group sits in an uncomfortable silence for some time. Finally Tyrius clears his throat and inquires. “Begging your pardons, masters, but this wizard Galap-Dreidel and the Gem he fashioned appear quite evil.”
“Indeed,” agrees the Sage. “And that is why we must not let it fall into the hands of the Silent Ones. They already have far too much power as it is.”
“But what assurance do we have that once we obtain the Gem for you, if we do so, that you will not also use it for evil?”
“Use it?” gasps the Sage. “Gods forbid! No, my good sir, our goal is to simply prevent those sorcerers from obtaining it. Once we have it, we will safely lock it away some place neither they, nor anyone else, will be able to access.”
“And would you be willing to swear to that, while within a zone of holy truth provided by the grace of my god?”
“We would,” answers the Speaker.
Tyrius prepares himself and summons forth the Zone of Truth. Once inside, the Speaker relates that the Soul Gem is both powerful and dangerous, that they want to prevent the Silent Ones from recovering it, that they have no interest in using it themselves but only want to protect it, and that they are sincere in their desire for the party to recover it for them. At the end, Tyrius nods.
“Well then,” says Aurora, looking at them all in turn, “it is settled. We are hunting a Ghost Tower. But first, I need to rest and prepare an entirely different complement of spells. It can’t be much later than eight bells right now - if we retire immediately, we can be rested and ready by four bells on the morrow. If you don’t let the knight into the keep until sunup, we will still have a half-day's head start on them.”
The Sage and Speaker both agree, and the party immediately retires to their guest chambers. _________________ 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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