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    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
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    From: Sky Island, So Cal

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    Tue Mar 17, 2020 9:11 am  
    Post 108: Battle Royale

    DM's Note on Sources: The tower and its inhabitants come from David Prata's "Tower of Azal'Lan".

    This and subsequent posts will contain many spoilers. The identity of rooms is indicated in bold. I used the maps as given in the module, and for this battle used "Clash of Kings" by Tabletop Audio for the background track.

    DM's Notes: With the party at full health and all sixth level, and the help of the mysterious elf, will they be able to withstand the onslaught of ogres about to be unleashed?

    One advantage to playing online is documentation. I was able to go to the chat log when writing up this account, providing a much higher level of detail to the fight than I have previously based only on my recollection.

    Observant readers will note that both sides are taking damage from friendly fire and that people, especially the party, are falling down a lot in this fight. As a general rule I require that anyone who fires a missile weapon into melee and misses than make a separate attack on their nearest ally involved in the melee. Also in general, a natural attack roll of 1 (critical fail) often forces a dexterity save at my discretion, with failure resulting in dropping one's weapon or falling down. In this fight specifically, I required a successful athletics or acrobatics check to move through spaces with fallen adult ogres (with failure knocking prone the PC or ogre attempting the move). The tower space is not that large and I reasoned that it would fill up quickly with the dead and unconscious. As Drowning Pool says, "Let the bodies hit the floor..."

    Post 108: Battle Royale
    Somewhere in the Little Hills, date unknown

    Round 1
    Tyrius enters the tower. After passing through the thick walls, the inside (1) is one large, circular chamber, with stairs up to the left and stairs down to the right, both stairwells open to the room on one side and along the wall on the other. At the far end of the room, across from the door, is a throne on a low dais, with piles of refuse around it. Inside the chamber squat two huge, brutish humanoids much like the one recently slain. They look like they are engrossed in some sort of game on the floor involving small white objects. At the clanking of Tyrius’ armor and the sudden appearance of the light emanating from his shield, one of the two leaps to his feet and grasps clumsily for a crude weapon. The other remains staring at the floor and complaining about the results of the last play in a series of deep grunts.

    Tyrius bumps into an invisible Shefak, but soon rights himself and prepares for the creature’s charge. The eiger snatches up a huge club and raises it as high over its head as the ceiling allows, then rushes forward and brings it crashing down on Tyrius. He takes the blow with his shield, but is still wounded by the massive force and knocked back against the stairs (Tyrius at 41/49).

    Babshapka draws his bow and moves to the doorway, but remains outside. Now that the chamber is illuminated by the light of Pelor, he can easily see inside, and can see at least the left half of the eiger attacking Tyrius. Ignoring the mysterious elven maiden in the entryway and the fact that somewhere in the chamber is an invisible Shefak, Babshapka lets fly with two arrows, both of which sink into the thick flesh of the brute. (Babshapka has used 2 arrows)

    The elven maiden turns and moves from the entryway to the chamber proper. As she enters, Shefak and Tyrius see shadows dance - but then the shadows seem to lose their moorings and rush to greet her! Her face registers surprise and then insight, and her amber eyes flash briefly. She moves to the far side of the room, unseen by either eiger. [Umbra attains 5th level]

    Willa is the next into the chamber. She sets down her lit lantern on the floor beside the entryway and draws her greatsword. Her first swing sinks deep into the eiger’s flesh, but her second nearly slices through Shefak as the wounded eiger stumbles back.

    Thokk charges into the room, bellowing at everyone to get out of his way. He draws his sword, but by the time he has pushed his way past Tyrius, Willa, and Shefak, he has missed his opportunity for attacking.

    Shefak bounds up the stairs to gather height, then turns and leaps, landing in between Tyrius and wounded eiger. Now visible, with a sweep of her staff at its legs, she brings the hefty brute down on his back, and then knocks his head into the stone floor with another blow. The eiger lies unconscious before them.

    Larry follows Aurora into the chamber, both of them moving to the right to avoid the cluster of warriors surrounding the fallen eiger. The unwounded eiger is only now beginning to realize that there are intruders in his home. Just as he looks up from the floor, he gets a firebolt in his face, followed by a spray of poison! He tilts his head back and howls in rage, and the sound of his cry echoes up and down the tower. He snatches up his club and charges the tiny woman who just felled his companion. With a mighty underhand blow, he knocks Shefak so hard that she flies through the air and crashes into the wall behind her. (Shefak at 22/39).

    At the end of the first round of combat; one eiger down

    Round 2
    With another eiger in clear sight, Babshapka looses two more arrows (4 used), shooting over the heads of his companions in the tower.

    Tyrius moves between the standing eiger and Shefak before it can follow up on its attack. His first swing of Molly smashes into the side of the eiger, but as he swings again he stumbles over the body of the fallen eiger and crashes to the ground. (Tyrius is now prone).

    Aurora shoots another bolt of magical fire at the eiger, then moves outside to retrieve Randy the mule in case eiger scouts or watchmen are drawn in by the sound of battle.

    Willa moves forward, kicking the knucklebones on the floor out of the way with her booted foot. She kills the eiger with one blow, then looks back toward her lantern, noting muddy footprints on both set of stairs, going up and down. “Prepare fer more!” she shouts to the party.

    Larry moves forward into the center of the room, looking about carefully. He does not hear any approaching footsteps, either from above or below, but he does hear distant bellowing from the tower floors above, as well as skittering noises coming from in and among the refuse piled near the throne - leaves and branches, bones, bits of cloth and leather. The throne is sized for a human and made of the same violet marble the walls are. The ceiling of the chamber is 14 feet overhead. The stairs are three feet wide - to the left of the entrance they circle up and pass through a hole to the floor above. To the right they descend and go beneath the earth. A rough, unlit branch is set in a wall sconce. Untouched by sunlight, the room is even colder than was the outdoors.

    Shefak jumps to her feet. Looking around and seeing no fighting, she closes her eyes and inhales deeply. As she breathes rhythmically, the nasty bruises on her abdomen lighten, fade, and finally disappear. (Shefak has used her Wholeness of Body, and is restored to her full hp).

    At the end of the second round of combat two eigers down

    Round 3
    With no opponents in sight, the party starts to prepare for the suspected next assault.

    Willa moves to the stairs running up. As soon as he can stand, Tyrius does the same. Thokk moves to block off the top of the stairs going down and Larry follows him. Babshapka moves to the center of the room, where he can shoot at either stairs.

    Shefak and the elven maiden try to focus on the noises elsewhere in the tower, but are distracted by the party’s shouts to one another. Aurora ties off Randy’s lead to the arm of the dead eiger so that he is secure but she has both hands free.

    Eddard contacts Tyrius telepathically and suggests that he guard the doorway while watching the clearing, and Tyrius agrees.

    Round 4
    At the sound of heavy footsteps approaching, Thokk braces himself at the top of the stairs, but the eiger that appears is coming down, not up. It barrels down the stone steps, swinging its massive club at Tyrius. The paladin has just enough time to bring his shield up to protect himself from the blow. He is knocked back, but unharmed.

    Suddenly, a bolt of darkness streaks across the room. It has no apparent source, but its terminus is clear - it strikes the chest of the eiger, causing him to gasp in pain. It leaves a tracing of frost on his sweat-soaked hide. “Hee haw!” exclaims a startled Randy, and Aurora looks about for a source for the bolt but sees none.

    Taking advantage of the eiger’s pause, Tyrius advances, returning the battering blow he received with two from his own warhammer. Now it is the eiger’s turn to be knocked back, staggering. A single arrow from Babshapka, followed by a shower of thorns, fells him (Babshapka has used 5 arrows and has cast hail of thorns as a second-level slot).

    An eiger climbs the stairs and emerges to where Thokk awaits. He lifts his club over his head to strike, but gets it caught behind him under the floor of the chamber (or the ceiling of the room from which he is coming). Thokk takes advantage of his awkward position by striking him twice with his sword. There are at least two more eigers on the stairs behind the one Thokk is fighting, but they cannot make it past their comrade and up into the room. They hurl crude spears over the head of their comrade, one of which strikes Thokk in the shoulder with great force. (Thokk at 45/56).

    An eiger clomps down the stairs. Seeing his comrade at the bottom engaged with Tyrius, he jumps off the stairs themselves, landing heavily next to Shefak, then smashes his club down on top of her in a bone-jarring blow (Shefak takes 17, at 22/39). Shefak summons a blast of energy, and leaps up faster than the eiger can follow. She whirls at him with a barrage of staff strikes and kicks, until he is left reeling but does not topple. (Shefak used a ki point for flurry of blows, making a total of two staff attacks and two unarmed strikes - one of the unarmed attacks provoked a dex save but the eiger made his save).

    Willa strikes twice at the eiger Shefak is fighting. It has taken a tremendous amount of damage, but is still up. Larry rushes over, shooting a poison spray in its face, and it finally drops to the floor, turning green before it expires.

    At the end of round 4; four eigers down but three trying to ascend the stairs from below

    Round 5
    Babshapka, seeing that Thokk has the closest eiger on the stairs well in hand, moves so that he has a clear shot on the second one, which is barely in view above the level of the floor. He launches two arrows. One hits the eiger in its thick, muscled neck - and immediately sprouts vines that grow over the brute’s face and head; the other sinks into its chest. (Babshapka has used 7 arrows and has cast ensnaring strike at first level).

    With his party members now firing onto the stairs, Thokk sees no reason to end this fight quickly - he begins to move defensively, satisfied that his dodges and feints are keeping three eigers from reaching the party. “Thokk is master tactician,” he thinks happily.

    From the upper stairs, a new eiger emerges - but a much smaller one, at only four feet high and not even two hundred pounds. It skips down the steps and attempts to hit Tyrius with a small club that bounces harmlessly off his armor. The paladin clouts it with his hammer, and it collapses on floor. Tyrius took care not to deal it a mortal blow, and is reasonably sure it has merely been knocked out. “Don’t kill the children!” shouts Tyrius to the group, but Thokk chortles, and Aurora sniggers at the command. Tyrius turns and moves to support Thokk. Larry is already there, shooting more poison at the eiger highest up the steps, but this time his spray harmlessly soaks the hides covering its chest.

    Shefak prepares for the next eiger to come down the stairs from above. A second later one emerges. It is one of the brutish giants, to be sure, but a female one, judging from her huge, uncovered dugs. Her hair is longer than the males’, as well, though still filthy and matted. Shefak leaps in the air and trips the eigeress with her staff. As she tumbles forward down the stairs, a kick to her head knocks her unconscious. Her massive bulk half slides and half tumbles off the open stairs, forcing Shefak to dive and roll out of the way and Willa to step aside as the eigeress plummets to the floor.

    Another of the “small” eigers appears on the stairs, but pauses as it sees Shefak standing over the body of the adult female. “Maaaawr!” it screams in rage, then launches itself off the stairs and through the air at Shefak. It lands near her, but she finds the blows from its club slow and easy to dodge. While it is attacking Shefak, Willa steps up behind it and strikes the broad side of her greatsword hard against the back of its skull. It collapses to the floor and Tyrius nods his approval.

    The eigers on the stairs below continue to throw spears at Thokk, but he dodges them neatly while still engaging the one in front of him. Suddenly a second frigid beam of darkness streaks through the chamber, hitting the uppermost eiger and seeming to paralyze his club hand with cold. Aurora looks around, trying to ascertain from whence the rays are coming (Perception check: 2). “The Tower!” she shouts. “The Tower is defending itself!” She is now convinced that they have somehow activated ancient warding magics and the tower has animated to fight on their side against the eigers. She smugly sends her own firebolt against the eiger at the top of the stairs to the floor below, felling it. It collapses in front of Thokk, blocking off the stairs from its companions beneath it.

    At the end of round 5; five eigers down, two trying to ascend the stairs, and a female with two cubs all three knocked out

    Round 6
    A third bolt of darkness streaks from the center of the tower, hitting the eiger lower on the stairs.

    Shefak listens, but hears nothing coming from above, so she moves to support Thokk.

    With the combat in the room itself over, Thokk decides to back up and let the remaining eigers up the stairs so that everyone can attack them. However, at this point, he has Babshapka, Shefak, Larry, and Tyrius all pressing in behind him, and he is unable to withdraw. He continues to dodge the thrown spears of the eigers in the chamber below, however.

    Babshapka continues to loose shafts, sinking more into the body of the closer eiger (total 9 used). The vines from before grow thorns and rake at its face. The eiger howls in rage and pain and rips the vines from its head, casting them aside. It climbs unstably over the body of its dead companion, then desperately lunges forward on all fours, trying to grab Thokk with its massive fist. Thokk sidesteps the grab and the eiger collapses on its stomach on top of the body of its companion. The second eiger throws a spear at Thokk, but misses badly, and the spear sinks deep into the back of the living eiger above.

    Larry, Tyrius, and Willa are prepared to strike any eigers in range, but for the moment the fight is confined to the stairs.

    Randy tugs at his lead, and manages to get close enough to the throne to nose through the piles of refuse.

    At the end of round 6; five eigers down, two trying to ascend the stairs, and a female with two cubs all three knocked out

    Round 7
    The eiger on his belly slides back down and stands on the first unoccupied stair. Eager to take the fight to him, Shefak runs up behind Thokk and, using her staff to vault, launches herself into the air. She slides down the wall, landing in front of the eiger. He has seen her coming, however, and blocks her first staff strike with so much force that she is knocked to the ground in front of him. As he raises his club over his head to strike at her prone form, she brings her staff up in a hard thrust under his hides and between his legs. As he bellows in agony, she drops the staff, sits up, and proceeds to pummel him in the groin with a flurry of blows from her hands. At the end of this, he collapses unconscious from pain, threatening to land on top of her. She slides down the stairs between his legs, behind him on her back at the last instant, then rolls to the side before the third eiger can charge her, dropping ten feet down the open shaft and landing prone on the dirt floor of the chamber below. Unfortunately, her staff is pinned beneath the fallen body of the eiger on the stairs above. (Shefak has used her second ki point for flurry of blows and her slow fall to avoid taking damage from her drop).

    Randy squeals in terror - “Eeeehaw!” Larry spins, and sees a horde of rats, each three feet long or more, emerging from under the piles of refuse. Larry strides forward and sprays poison from his hands, and one of the rats chitters in annoyance, before five of its nest-mates swarm over him, looking for any gaps in his armor. One latches onto the back of his knee, another his leather gauntlet. (Larry at 50/59). Randy is overrun by fully six of the beasts. He tries to flee, but his lead is tied firmly to the dead eiger in the center of the room. He squeals again, then thrashes as he goes down, rats on top of him, ripping pieces of flesh from his hide.

    Aurora yells “Randy’s getting eaten!” but moves away from the rats and to the entrance of the tower. She points a finger back at the northern half of the tower and mouths the words “fireball, fireball” faintly, though she does not summon the spell itself after she realizes how small the space is.

    A shadow glides silkily past Thokk, the two fallen eigers on the stairs, and the standing one at the bottom. The stairs descend through several feet of the solid, violet marble, and then the left side opens out into the empty space of a chamber while the right side transitions to a wall of gray, rough hewn stone down to the basement floor, which is of muddy dirt. A torch gutters in a wall sconce. The ceiling in this circular room (D1) is black with soot and arched to 12’ height. There is a hogshead in the center of the room; a stoppered bunghole and a set of knucklebones on its top. A considerable breeze blows up the stairs and the torch flames dance wildly. Shefak lies face-down on the dirt floor near the stairs. The stairs are covered in muddy footprints; there are footprints all over the floor but deeper impressions around the barrel. The room reeks of stale urine.

    Thokk, holding his sword in front of him, climbs over the two fallen eigers on the stairs and advances until he is practically on the bottom steps and face to face with the last remaining eiger. He slashes it twice and drives it back into the underground chamber. It tries to drop the spear it was holding and switch to its club, but drops that as well, and Thokk slashes it again.

    Willa turns and runs to Randy’s side, dispatching two of the vile rats that are even now feasting on his flesh. His frenzied thrashing has ceased and he is still, though a crazed look is frozen in his wide eyes. Babshapka kills one rat with a bowshot and wounds another (total 11 arrows used).

    “Hang on, Larry!” calls Tyrius and crosses the room to his former charge. His warhammer crushes two of the rats into paste.

    At the end of round 7; nine eigers down (including a female and two young unconscious) and one still fighting in the room below, but a dozen giant rats have joined the combat and seven of these are still left

    Round 8
    The eiger facing Thokk suddenly goes stiff - his eyes frosting over - and it collapses on the dirt floor, with no apparent cause. Thokk guffaws. “Ha! Eiger so scared of Thokk he dies! Haw, haw!” Thokk looks around the basement chamber, where a torch gutters in the breeze. “Why kicky woman on floor?” he asks Shefak.

    Babshapka shoots at and wounds the rat gnawing at Larry’s hand - it releases its hold and scurries back. Then he tries a harder shot - the rat on Larry’s shoulder, trying to bite his nose through his helmet. Thunk! The shaft parts the chain link and sinks into Larry’s neck. “OCH, ye FOOL!” shouts Larry. (13 arrows used, Larry to 38/59).

    Still muttering, Larry rushes to Randy’s side, hoping to use one of his cure spells - but he finds the mule too far gone, the stone floor around him slick with blood and the rats making good progress at working his organs free of his belly. “Bullocks!” curses Larry dejectedly.

    Shefak stands up, brushes herself off, and looks around the basement chamber, but finds nothing to keep her interest. She moves to the stairs.

    Between them, Tyrius and Willa slay three more rats. Aurora firebolts one more, and Thokk dashes up the basement stairs to kill two more. Giant rats are not as worthy opponents as eigers, but battle is battle, Thokk sighs.

    At the end of round 8; ten eigers down (including a female and two young unconscious), and only a single giant rat left in the fight

    Round 9
    Babshapka skewers the last rat with an arrow (total 14 used), then jumps up on the marble throne to survey the refuse. He does not see any movement.

    Shefak climbs the stairs and spends the round prying her staff out from under the body of the collapsed eiger.

    An eiger barrels down the stairs from above. He tries to swing at Larry, but immediately trips on the body of another eiger and sprawls out prone. As he crashes to the floor, his shoulder slams into Aurora’s legs - she bobbles but manages to keep her feet. The southern half of the tower is nearly filled with fallen eigers, and movement is difficult with nary a spot of open stone floor.

    Spirits buoyed by a new non-rat opponent, Thokk whoops, runs, and jumps to clear the bodies of the fallen. He lands by the prostrate eiger, which is even now struggling to stand up. Thokk buries his longsword in its back, and laughs at its struggles. Willa takes a more circuitous route to the eiger’s side, but she slashes it twice when she reaches it, ending its attempts to regain its feet.

    Aurora prepares to firebolt the next eiger down the stairs, and she does not have to wait long before another one appears, her bolt singing its hairy chest. Tyrius has worked his way over to where the stairs are about waist high for him. He slams his warhammer overhand into the knee of the eiger that Aurora firebolted, but when he raises his weapon to take another swing, the eiger snatches it from his grasp, then tosses it up the stairs to the floor above.

    Another eiger appears on the stairs, but cannot get past his standing companion. He throws a spear at Tyrius, but the shaft ricochets off the paladin’s heavy plate armor.

    At the end of round 9, Randy is dead, along with a dozen giant rats. Fully eleven eigers, either dead or unconscious, lie in the chamber, on the stairs, or in the basement below. Another two eigers are still fighting on the stairs from above, and there are sounds of more approaching!

    Round 10
    The southern half of the tower is cluttered with bodies and movement is difficult, though the huge eigers seem to have less trouble stepping over the bodies of their fallen than the party does. Larry can barely see over the bulk of the brutes, even when they are flat-out on the floors.

    Willa leaps over the body of the unconscious cub at the base of the stairs and climbs the steps to engage the adult further up. With two slashes of her greatsword, she fells the hulking giant. As its body collapses, she presses herself against the wall and out of the way.

    From his mount atop the throne, Babshapka shoots forth another arrow. It misses the last eiger standing on the stairs by a great deal, and in fact comes closer to Tyrius, standing at its feet. Babshapka’s second arrow hits the eiger (total 16 used).

    Thokk climbs awkwardly over the bodies of the fallen and to the wall. He jumps and gains the stairs above him with his hands, then tries to pull himself up to the landing behind the eiger, but his feet slip along the smooth marble, and he cannot ascend.

    An eiger cub dashes down the stairs. Ignoring the adult standing over Tyrius, it darts past him and swings a club as thick as Willa’s thigh into her shoulder, but the blow is absorbed by her plate armor and she keeps her feet.

    An eigeress appears at the top of the stairs. She leaps down, landing heavily on the floor below. She charges at Tyrius, but trips over the body of a fallen companion - as she crashes toward him, Tyrius backs up, and she ends up sprawled at Tyrius’ feet.

    A second eigeress appears on the stairs. With the battle raging in the southern half of the tower, she leaps off the stairs and heads for Babshapka on the throne. She brings a club down on him, but he jumps off the throne at the last second, and the club thuds into the marble chair. Standing confused over the throne, the eigeress is suddenly surrounded by a green glow, and Babshapka sinks a shaft deep into her side. [Babshapka’s reaction: Giant Killer. Bonus Action: Hunter’s Mark. 17 arrows used, three left in quiver.]

    Shefak leaps from body to body, crossing the room without even touching the floor. With two blows over her staff, she knocks unconscious the cub fighting Willa on the stairs, then slips past both of them and springs up the steps. The eiger above her swings a club at her. She leaps out of the way and the club hits the marble steps.

    An eigeress appears on the stairs, leaps to the floor, and joins her sister trying to smash Babshapka. The wood elf darts in, under, and around the throne, avoiding their clumsy blows.

    Tyrius tries to pull himself up to the stairs, but his heavy armor weighs him down. He fares no better than Thokk, and is left struggling at the base of the stairs.

    A third eigeress leaps down the stairs and crosses the room. Babshapka has run out of room to maneuver, and the eigeress knocks him back into the wall, taking the wind from him. (14 damage, Babshapka at 34/48).

    Larry turns to help his companion. The area around the throne fills with a pale but oddly piercing light (moonbeam). The skin of two of the eigresses begins to redden and burn. They shriek in pain and confusion. Larry moves away from the stairs and towards the throne.

    The tower continues to defend itself, or perhaps Babshapka. Three bolts of ebony appear in the air and strike at the one eigeress not in the moonbeam.

    At the end of round 10, fully fourteen eigers, either dead, unconscious, or prone, lie in the chamber, on the stairs, or in the basement below. One eiger is still up and fighting on the stairs going up, and another three are surrounding Babshapka! A dozen giant rats and Randy lie dead inthe chamber.

    Round 11
    Given the three eigresses around him, and his movement further restricted by the moonbeam, Babshapka ceases attacking, and takes purely defensive action, dodging the clubs and kicks of the giants. Aurora sends a firebolt to support him, but it misses an eigeress and explodes harmlessly on the high stone ceiling.

    Willa steps by Shefak on the stairs and slices both the legs of the remaining eiger in front of her. Blood flows freely from the giant, making the marble slick underfoot. He staggers, but responds with a club-blow that glances off her magic armor.

    The eigeress that was prone at Tyrius’ feet stands unsteadily, then brings her club down in a blow that is absorbed by plate and padding.

    A huge eiger, even larger than the others (if that is possible), appears at the top of the stairs. He surveys the room angrily, but does not immediately move into action. Thokk takes the opportunity to heave himself up onto the steps and stand. He tilts his head back and bellows his rage and battle lust, then attacks the eiger facing Willa. He chops it twice across its back, then bellows again, daring either of the eigers on the stairs to face him. The closer one spins and bashes its club into the wall with tremendous force. Thokk avoids the blow, but the impact is so great that the eiger tumbles off the stairs and onto the floor below, narrowly missing Tyrius in his fall.

    Larry makes a gesture, and a long vine appears in his hands. He flicks it forward, and it coils around the neck of the great eiger at the top of the stairs, then suddenly grows thorns, biting into his flesh. Larry throws all his weight backwards, and the surprised eiger is jerked off his feet unexpectedly. He plummets to the ground, landing on both the fallen eiger from a moment before and on Tyrius. The other eiger, already greatly wounded, is slain by the impact, while Tyrius is trapped under a half-ton or more of giant! (Tyrius at 8/49).

    The three eigeresses surrounding Babshapka rain blows down upon him. Two connect, and he is badly bruised. He continues to dodge, but fires an arrow when the opportunity presents itself. (Babshapka at 8/48. Giant Killer as reaction. Two arrows remaining).

    An eiger cub at the top of the stairs tosses his weapon to the floor below. He turns and lowers himself down the wall, seizes his club, and runs forward to attack the elf that is assaulting his mother and aunts. He stops short of passing through the moonbeam, however, growling and hopping in frustration.

    With no eigers left on the stairs, Shefak turns to the eigeress that has just stood up on the floor. Level with the chest of the giantess, she strikes twice with her staff, then leaps off the stairs to kick it in the face. Using the force of the recoil, she flips in the air and dives back to the stairs.

    The next eiger at the top of the stairs is different than the others. He is smaller than the adults but more muscular, and is clad in a great suit of gleaming black armor. He looks warily at the battle below but does not descend further.

    For the first time in the battle, the mysterious elven woman throws back her hood. Her skin is alabaster, her hair long and as white as bone. She holds forth her hands, fingers spread wide. Her amber eyes flash, and four bolts of jet-black force shoot from her fingers, slamming into the largest of the three eigeresses surrounding Babshapka. The giantess roars in pain.

    Round 12
    Shefak inhales deeply, then sprints past Thokk and attacks the armored eiger at the top of the stairs with a flurry of blows. She hits him with her staff then lands another three unarmed blows before he manages to draw a sword and slash at her. She backs away, bleeding. The blade would be a bastard sword to a human, but he wields it one-handed without difficulty.

    Willa jumps off the tower stairs and forces her way through the bodies on the floor of the room. She strikes twice at one of the eigresses attacking Babshapka.

    Larry uses his thorn whip to jerk the armored eiger off the stairs and away from Shefak.

    The eiger cub on the floor finds a way around the moonbeam and swings at Babshapka. The elf avoids the new attack, but in doing so is clipped by the club of an eigeress. (Babshapka now at 4/48). Aurora firebolts the eigeress in response, and she drops to the ground ablaze. Babshapka leaps over her body and away from the throne, heading towards Willa.

    The eigeress in the center of the room charges Aurora and lands a glancing club blow. (Aurora takes 13, now at 20/33).

    The great eiger on top of Tyrius struggles to his feet. Apparently he has had enough of this fight. He stumbles to the doorway, then bellows in rage to find it blocked by Eddard (facing out and unaware of his approach). With a massive underhanded blow, he crashes his club into the horse’s rear flank, knocking him into the wall. Tyrius receives Eddard’s telepathic cry for help, but the paladin is still prone on the floor. (Eddard is at 13/24). The armored eiger appears to agree that the battle is lost - he crosses the floor and impales Eddard on his bastard sword, burying the blade up to the hilt. (Eddard takes 15). The horse spasms and then disappears in a fine mist - his saddle, quarter sheet, and chain barding dropping to the stone floor. The armored eiger, his bloody sword now free, continues out the entry tunnel. Too late, Tyrius struggles painfully to his feet, then slips on the blood-slick floor and goes down again.

    Thokk screams a war cry and jumps off the stairs at the eigeress attacking Aurora. He lands poorly and goes to his knees. From across the room Umbra points her finger and a ray of darkness streaks toward the eigeress. Her skin goes a clammy blue and she drops stiffly to the floor.

    Round 13
    With no combatants in range, Shefak slips on her ring of invisibility and proceeds up the stairs to the next level. The stairs ascend along the wall of violet marble, pass through a foot thick stone floor, and then the right side opens out into the empty space of a chamber (2) while the stairs continue more steeply up to another level. A wall sconce with a torch is about halfway up the stairs. A battered and stained wooden table is in the center of the room. Arranged haphazardly about the room but away from the table and stairs are four clumsily woven reed mats. A single battered copper pot rests on the floor, its contents covered by a lid. Shefak doesn’t have time to see more before she has to get off the stairs and out of the way of three more brutes coming down from the level above. She plans on attacking the last one once the other two have passed into the chamber below.

    Thokk yells and charges at the great eiger in the doorway. He trips on a body and sprawls at the eiger’s feet. The eiger grins and clouts Thokk with his club. Thokk howls in rage, rolls around, and beats his fists in fury on the stone floor.

    Free of the eigresses attacking him, Babshapka moves toward the door and the fleeing eiger leaders. He shouts for Aurora to do the same. Willa backs away from the eigeresses and spits. “I tire o’ fightin’ women an’ bairns,” she mumbles to herself. She turns and moves with Babshapka across the room, ready to defend her wounded companion. Spying Thokk hale but on the ground, she shouts at him, “Get up, man! Ye be embarrassin’ yerself an’ me!”

    Umbra glides smoothly across the floor and offers her hand to Tyrius. He takes it gratefully and rises, finally steady on his feet. Her hand feels cool to the touch, even through his leather gauntlets. He grasps his holy symbol and says a brief prayer to Pelor. (Tyrius lays hands on himself, healing 7 hp; now at 15/49).

    The great eiger, rather than flee, has decided he enjoys hitting Thokk while the half-orc is defenseless on the ground. He raises his club overhead, and brings it down in a massive blow to the barbarian. (critical hit does 26 points damage, halved to 13 because of Thokk’s rage)

    Larry turns his attention to keeping the moonbeam centered on the eigresses around the throne. One goes down, slain by its searing rays. The other, accompanied by the cub, withdraws from the throne to the stairs, trying but failing to scale the wall.

    Above, the first eiger of the trio who ran past Shefak down the stairs is shocked at the carnage below. He stops, turns, and begins to urge his companions back up the stairs with grunts and gesticulations.

    Round 14
    Babshapka tries to slip by the great eiger and out the doorway, so as to shoot at the fleeing armored eiger. He stumbles on a body and lands near the great brute. The eiger chortles and bashes Babshapka unconscious with his club. Aurora responds with a firebolt, and he grunts.

    The eigeress attempting to flee upstairs takes the cub, lifts him over her head, and sets him on the landing above her, just as an invisible Shefak comes down the stairs. The monk knocks the cub unconscious with two blows of her staff while the eigeress howls in dismay and flails her arms in a vain attempt to shield the child. For good measure, Shefak turns and kicks the eigeress in the head.

    As more of the party converges on the exterior doorway, the great eiger receives another firebolt, and two slashes of Willa’s greatsword, and then two more from Thokk’s longsword once the barbarian is on his feet. The brute snatches up the lantern Willa left at the entryway with its offhand, then swings it with full force at Thokk. The glass shatters, the iron belly is rent, and Thokk is covered in flaming oil. More oil spills out on the floor, blocking the entryway. The brute hops over the flames, though not before Willa stabs him in his retreating back (attack of opportunity). Larry jumps over a fallen eiger and lashes his thorn whip through the flames, but he misses the retreating brute.

    Umbra guides Tyrius to Babshapka’s side and the paladin heals the fallen elf.

    Round 15
    Ignoring the fact that he is still on fire, Thokk runs out the entryway. He easily overtakes the fleeing great eiger and buries his sword in its back. It collapses on the cold ground, writhing in death throws and gushing blood. As he wrenches his sword out, Thokk looks up and sees the armored eiger, some sixty feet away and heading for the trees.

    Larry climbs over eiger bodies, then broad jumps across the pool of flaming oil. “Larry - leave’em be!” calls Willa. Two eigers outside the tower is not an issue - surely there is no help to summon - but if they completely divide the party, drawing off its best healer, what happens when the next wave comes down the stairs? Larry either doesn’t hear or doesn’t heed her, though, and keeps moving down the entryway.

    Shefak sprints down the stairs and leaps easily over the flames. She runs out of the tower, overtaking Thokk in seconds, and nearly gains the armored eiger.

    Willa moves to the stairs going down. She slaps the unconscious eiger, but he does not stir. She hears distant shouts from the floors above.

    Umbra shoots a ray of darkness at the eigeress attempting to scale the stairs. The brute is frozen in mid-climb, then topples over on the floor, dead.

    With the chamber clear of combatants, Babshapka starts looking about for arrows. He recovers three from his missed shots, all intact.

    Round 16 and beyond
    Thokk taunts the fleeing eiger and launches a javelin that lodges in its armor. It turns and draws its sword. With three swift strokes it slices through Shefak, leaving her unconscious and bleeding on the frozen grass. A fourth stroke misses Thokk just as he arrives. (Half-eiger fighter uses his Action Surge for four attacks this round).

    From the doorway of the tower, Larry shouts an eldritch word, and sends forth a great shaft of lightning. Neither the eiger nor Thokk can get out of the way of the bolt, and they gasp and spasm as it arcs through them. Fortunately it passes harmlessly above Shefak, who is already on the ground. The eiger and Thokk collapse, smoking. The eiger is dead, Thokk unconscious for a second, before he rises weakly to his knees, then his feet. (at 1 hp: Relentless End).

    “Haw, haw, good shot, Larry!” Thokk says good-naturedly, poking his sword at the slain eiger. “Next time, Larry warn Thokk to jump out of way!” he adds, with just the slightest hint of menace.

    Inside the tower, Tyrius is using cure spells on the wounded party members, while Babshapka looks for more arrows. Eventually he begins pushing them through bodies and pulling them out the other sides. Some have their heads nicked on bone, the fletching peeled, or even the shafts warped from his pushing and pulling. Not ideal, but he has a feeling he will need them all nonetheless. Eventually he has four arrows in good condition and sixteen less than good. (Note; the damaged arrows will be at -1 to hit and damage).

    Willa keeps alert for signs of more eigers, but begins moving the cubs to the top landing, where the one that Shefak knocked out most recently lies. They are a head shorter than Willa, but she can barely get her arms around their stout chests as she half drags and half carries them up the stairs - she is confident they weigh more than she does. Tyrius helps with the last two. With all four cubs on the top landing, they may slow down the next assault, or even be pulled upstairs to safety by adults. At any rate, they will not be on the chamber floor below, should a melee break out again. Aurora makes rude faces at Willa for her “motherly concern”, but only when Tyrius is not looking.

    Outside, Thokk binds Shefak’s wounds until her breathing stabilizes, then turns his attention to the fallen warrior. Thokk realizes he is actually a half-eiger, which explains his smaller stature. Typically these come about when eigers keep human female captives, though the women seldom survive the births. The warrior has a large metal shield and huge bastard sword, but the quality of both of them is poor. His armor is more interesting - it is scale over leather, and Thokk had assumed the scales were of horn, since they are gleaming black. However, closer inspection reveals them to be more likely the exoskeleton of some giant insect, hard and with just a little flexibility. Thokk cuts the bindings on one of the black scales and takes it as a trophy.

    By this point, Aurora has emerged from the tower, and eagerly engages in searching the bodies. Her first thought is to gather the arms and armor into a pile and use a charge from her wand of detect magic, but seeing the poor quality of what is present, she changes her opinion. Instead, she contents herself with opening the course cloth pouches that are tucked into their belts. The half-eiger’s pouch has 13 silver coins, a garnet, and a large iron key. The great eiger’s holds 80 silver coins and a peridot.

    When Aurora starts counting the coins, Thokk loses interest. He slings an unconsciousness Shefak over his shoulder and he and Larry walk back inside. Willa is now checking the eigers on the floor of the tower, determining which are slain and which are merely unconscious. “This one is stirring,” Thokk hears her say to Tyrius. Thokk lays Shefak at the paladin’s feet, strides over to Willa, and slits the unconscious eiger’s throat.

    “Good job, evil advisor,” he says. “Thokk almost let that one live.”
    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.

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    Sat Mar 21, 2020 9:36 am  

    I figured the smaller-stature eiger was a half-ogre. :)

    I was dismayed at Eddard's death. I wonder if you allow him to return from his celestial kingdom, or if Tyrius will have to summon a brand new warhorse.

    I am curious about your use of females and young when it comes to battling evil humanoids.

    When my friends and I were in high school, we had serious problems (arguments) over the killing of such creatures - especially when they were non-combatants. I solved that problem (as DM) by deciding that in my campaign, humanoids are devoid of agency. I reasoned that (back under AD&D rules) since their godly pantheons were made up of purely evil gods - not a single good god of orcs, goblinkind, gnolls, ogres, etc. - that those pantheons created their mortal worshippers as mini-me's. With no good representatives to argue about it, they were simply created as evil beings. Thus, humanoids are basically fiends in mortal flesh.

    After that, no one in the party ever worried about killing orc women or children. They were to be stamped out like cockroaches.

    If I wanted to force my players to make difficult moral decisions like that, all I had to do was have the bad guys be human, demi-human, or another race that had the agency to choose between good and evil.

    Your players, Kirt, seem to be unaffected by such concerns. :P

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    Master Greytalker

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    Mon Mar 23, 2020 3:33 pm  

    SirXaris wrote:
    I was dismayed at Eddard's death. I wonder if you allow him to return from his celestial kingdom, or if Tyrius will have to summon a brand new warhorse.

    I like Eddard as an NPC too much to lose him. He will return the next time Tyrius has a chance to cast Find Steed

    SirXaris wrote:
    I am curious about your use of females and young when it comes to battling evil humanoids...If I wanted to force my players to make difficult moral decisions like that, all I had to do was have the bad guys be human, demi-human, or another race that had the agency to choose between good and evil. Your players, Kirt, seem to be unaffected by such concerns. :P

    The players are indeed affected by such concerns, even if some of the characters are not. Even the player of the two least-good characters (Thokk and Aurora) afterword said that he felt bad for having made widows and orphans in the battle.

    While I have not asked the characters to choose alignments, I have tried to set the world up so that a good-aligned character would generally be concerned with preserving the life of a sentient creature, even one whose goals are opposed to their own. However, the world also acknowledges the reality of itself as a violent setting of feudal justice and holds absolute the right of self-defense.

    As far as the nature of humanoids, my world-building agrees that the humanoid races were the creations of evil gods, and as such they have inherently evil tendencies and instincts. However, they also have Free Will, because it is their actual choice to worship evil deities that provides said deities with power, or at least far more power than could be obtained from worship by creatures without choice. Thus, individual humanoids can certainly choose to not be evil, and culture and environment are key in supporting that choice. Way back in Post 2, I explained that Tyrius originally spared Thokk upon their first meeting by remembering the case of "St. Jalnir the Gentle, a half-orc Peloran priest of legend."

    It was important in this particular combat that both the females and young took up arms against the party (even if they did so in defense of their homes). Had the females and young instead surrendered, or at least not attacked, my guess is that they would have been spared by everyone except perhaps Thokk. And certainly Tyrius would have not only spared any who surrendered, but actively intervened against his own party members to prevent any of them from attacking a foe that had surrendered. Note that as it was, even after being attacked by them, Shefak, Willa, and Tyrius were all deliberately striking to knock the females and young unconscious and move the unconscious young out of harm's way, while it was Thokk who was executing them. The irony of the last line of the post comes from the fact that Willa was checking on who was alive and who was not in order to save and take prisoner anyone who was unconscious, while Thokk thought that she was doing so in order to make sure that they were all dead. A lot of the humor of Thokk comes from the contrast between what he thinks is happening with what is actually happening - for example, he imagines himself to be the leader of the party.

    If you are interested in ethical dilemmas and the different responses of the characters to such, you might want to re-read Post 11, in which the party had to decide what to do with the two captured smugglers from the Haunted House after they refused to talk.
    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.
    Black Hand of Oblivion

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    Mon Mar 23, 2020 5:50 pm  

    You cut arrows out of the dead to recover them in very good condition, not push them through to likely damage them. Wink

    Good commentary though! Like reading a detailed after-action report. Cool
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    Mon Mar 23, 2020 8:03 pm  

    Cebrion wrote:
    You cut arrows out of the dead to recover them in very good condition, not push them through to likely damage them. Wink

    I must admit ignorance, I have never fired an arrow at a live target.
    So, pushing the arrow through is only to remove it from a living, but wounded, target to minimize the damage in getting it out?

    Mechanistically, at this point I was having the player make luck rolls (4dF) for all shots fired to determine how many could be recovered intact, how many damaged, and how many not usable at all.

    Since then, I have read

    I now have the player count that hits are recoverable (unless they crit) and misses are not.
    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.
    Master Greytalker

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    Tue Mar 24, 2020 7:18 am  
    Post 109: Exploring the Tower

    DM's Note on Sources: The tower and its inhabitants come from David Prata's "Tower of Azal'Lan".

    This and subsequent posts will contain many spoilers. The identity of rooms is indicated in bold.

    Post 109: Exploring the Tower
    Somewhere in the Little Hills, actual date unknown
    6:15am, Tower Day 1

    Willa makes sure Shefak receives healing and then shares her tally with the party:

    Randy: dead, near throne

    Eddard: sent back to Celestial realm

    12 giant rats: dead, spread throughout northern half of the room

    Dead eigers (16): [numbers in brackets are their designation in the module]
    Three, outside the tower [1, L1, H]
    One, in the chamber below [4]
    One, on the stairs going down [5]
    One, on the stairs going up [7]
    Ten, in the first floor chamber [2, 3, 8, 9, 10, 11, F2, F3, F4, F5]

    Incapacitated eigers (6):
    (Willa correctly guesses that Thokk doesn’t understand the meaning of the word incapacitated and so does not move to slay them):
    One, on the stairs going down [6]
    One female, at the bottom of the stairs [F1]
    Four cubs, on the landing at the top of the stairs [Y1, Y2, Y3, Y4]

    Fled eigers (3):
    Three, to the third story or higher

    Once her tally is confirmed by Tyrius, Willa opens the discussion to what they should do next. The party is agreed that they should find somewhere defensible to rest and heal, and that the chamber is not such a place. The eigers have ceased their attacks for now, but who knows when they will start again? Several of the party are of the opinion that the tower is magical and can produce a never-ending supply of eigers.

    Aurora suggests they withdraw outside and make camp, but Willa quickly overrides this. A camp would not be defensible at all, and their taking of this chamber was too hard-won - she does not want to have to repeat that. A few suggest pushing forward, pursuing the eigers up the stairs, but there is not a general consensus for this. “At least we need to recover my hammer,” says Tyrius modestly. Shefak slips on her ring and disappears. A few minutes later Tyrius’ hammer flies down the stairs and into the chamber.

    Others suggest that they try the chamber below. Willa is not keen to move them someplace they can be trapped, but she does admit the idea of a room with stone walls and a single entry point is reassuringly defensible.

    Nothing has been heard of the eigers for the last quarter hour. Willa gives the party leave to scout as they desire; depending on what they find she will make a decision.

    Shefak continues up the stairs into the third level of the tower (3). The stairs ascend along the wall of violet marble, pass through a foot thick stone floor, and then the right side opens out into the empty space of a chamber while the stairs continue more steeply up to another level. Rotten cushions and pillows litter the stone floor of this room. Between them is a large overturned wooden box, from which furtive scratching can be heard. The room is about 12 feet across. Shefak creeps slowly closer to the box, fascinated and repulsed in equal measures. As she approaches, the scratching sounds grow more frantic.

    Willa, Tyrius, Umbra, and Babshapka remain in the ground floor chamber. Babshapka carefully examines the marble throne, while the others post themselves looking and listening downstairs (Tyrius), upstairs (Umbra), and outside (Willa). Willa, in the entryway, checks her lantern, and finds it incapable of holding oil, so rent is the iron. She leaves it.

    Aurora, Thokk, and Larry go down into the basement level (D1). As Thokk saw before, the stairs descend through about eight feet of the solid, violet marble on both sides, and then the left side opens out into the empty space of a chamber while the right side follows a wall of rough hewn stone down to the basement floor, which is of muddy dirt. A torch gutters in a wall sconce. The ceiling in the circular room is arched to 12’ height. In the center of the room is an upturned hogshead; a stoppered bunghole is apparent. A considerable wind blows up the stairs and the torch flames dance wildly. The stairs are covered in muddy footprints; there are footprints all over the floor but deep impressions around the barrel. The room reeks of stale urine. There is a dead eiger at the bottom of the stairs, and Thokk grins broadly, recalling the eiger dying of fright upon facing him.

    Thokk crosses the dirt floor and rips the stopper from the bunghole. He sniffs suspiciously, and then deeply. He lifts the hogshead and drinks, wine spilling out onto his chest and running down his torso. He offers the hogshead to Aurora and Larry and, when they refuse, he unstoppers and fills his wineskin, although as much wine makes a muddy stain on the dirt floor as enters his skin.

    Umbra slips into the shadows, moves up the stairs, and examines the battered table and woven mats of the second level. When she does not find anything of interest, she returns down the stairs to the first level.

    Thirst slaked, Thokk looks about the room suspiciously. The guttering torch gives him pause - there certainly is a strong draft here - but they are inside, and downstairs. Where is the draft coming from? When he mentions this to the party, Aurora begins examining the walls for cracks. She lifts the torch from its sconce and walks slowly around the room. The flickers and feel of rushing wind are strongest along the west wall. She replaces the torch and begins feeling along the wall with her hands. A stone at about chest level feels loose, but she cannot budge it.

    Thokk shoves her out of the way and presses hard against the stone. It recesses several inches into the wall. With a sound of stone grating against stone, a door-sized hole appears as a large section of the wall sinks into the floor. A rush of wind and a low moaning sound comes from beyond the door. The wind carries with it a heavy, dank, moldy odor. The room beyond is separated into two long east-west running galleries, with a thick wall or stone support column between them.

    Aurora messages Willa that they have found something, but receives no response. She finds she has to get to the base of the stairs themselves to send the message - the floor must be a foot thick or more of stone to be blocking her spell.

    Willa descends to the basement level, sees the open doorway, and tells Aurora to get Shefak. Aurora ascends the stairs to the first level, tries and fails to rouse Shefak with message, and begins to climb the stairs to the second level. Babshapka moves to her side.

    Shefak kneels by the trunk-sized box. It has no lid or cover, but appears to be an open box that has been turned over to trap something inside. She tries to make comforting sounds to the creatures inside, but their scratching and scrabbling just becomes more frantic.

    On the second floor, Aurora again messages Shefak, asking “What’s up there? We found a secret door in the basement.” This time, she feels her message being received, but there is still no answer. She continues up to the third level, and finds Shefak kneeling beside the box.

    “We need to see what is in here,” says the monk simply.

    Aurora motions her back to the stairwell, then flips the box over with her mage hand. Immediately a half dozen giant rats, as large as those in the throne room below, emerge from the box and begin running wildly about the room. Shefak, Aurora, and Babshapka sprint down the stairs, and the rats soon give chase.

    Umbra and Tyrius hear the trio running down the stairs and follow them into the basement at their appearance, without asking questions. They turn at the bottom, prepared to defend the stairs, but the rats have not followed them.

    (Unbeknownst to the party, the rats paused at the landing to the first level, sniffed at the bodies of the eiger cubs, and began gorging themselves.)

    6:30 am
    The party clusters around the open doorway, peering into the darkness beyond. “Should we explore?” they ask Willa.

    “Nay,” she shakes her head. “We be looking’ fer a place t’ hole up an’ rest, not t’ expose ourselves t’ whatever be lurkin’ in yon dungeon.”

    Aurora looks for, but does not find, a way to close the secret door.

    Now this place be jus’ as exposed as the upstairs,” grouses Willa. “We were s’posed t’ be scoutin’ fer summit more defensible, nay openin’ doors t’ make it less so.”

    Aurora scowls at Willa’s criticism, but then quickly brightens. “Rope trick!” she exclaims. “We’ll make a rope trick rest with the door open. Then if any of the eigers come down here they will find the door open and assume we went into the dungeon. And if anything from the dungeon gets out, it can go bother the eigers...and the rats.” She shivers.

    “Fair eno’,” begrudges Willa, and Aurora proceeds to cast her spell.

    When the rope rises and disappears into the arched ceiling, Umbra looks at it dubiously. She has heard of the spell, of course - but cramming herself into an extradimensional box with these seven bloodthirsty adventurers…

    “It’s that, or you can wait outside for the eigers,” says Aurora shrilly, “or whatever we just freed from the dungeon.”

    In the end, they all ascend the rope, Umbra included. It is cheek-to-jowl inside the nondescript space, but they do have an hour’s uninterrupted rest. [A number of them spend hit dice to recover faster from wounds: Larry (3), Shefak (4), Thokk (4), Babshapka (4), Tyrius (6). Also, Thokk and Babshapka, the only members of the party who did not level in the Ghost Tower, increase their maximum hp for having attained 6th level during the combat. In terms of story awards, I had planned for Thokk and Babshapka to level after the slaying of the Fire Giant in the Ghost Tower; Thokk, because he levels after defeating new and more powerful worthy opponents, Babshapka, since he is on the path of the Giant Killer. However, when they managed to polymorph the giant rather than defeating it in combat, I did not have them level after all. The next trigger would be for Babshapka to be with the party when an ogre was slain, and for Thokk to either slay an ogre himself (no damage from other PCs) or to be in a combat where the total ogre HD exceeded the party's hd]

    (Unbeknownst to the party, while they were in the rope trick, the remaining eigers ventured down the stairs and saw the carnage below. They killed the bloated rats that were feasting on their young. They found their dead leader and hero outside. They even cautiously ventured into the basement, and found the door to the dungeon, hitherto unknown to them, open. The remaining leader and the chieftain then debated their next course of action. While they considered following the party into the dungeon and attacking them there, in the end they were cowed by the party's ability to slay so many of them without taking any losses. They packed and prepared to abandon the tower.)

    (One hour since the dungeon has been open)

    When the party emerges from the rope trick room, there are no signs of eigers or rats, either in the room or in marks on the floor. Neither does anything appear to have emerged from the dungeon, though both the wind and the moaning continue unabated.

    Babshapka cautiously moves to the doorway to check for tracks, but Thokk strides past him into the chamber, kicking up dust and obscuring anything that might have been recorded.

    The room beyond (D3) is separated into two long east-west running galleries, with a thick wall or stone support between them. Against the northernmost wall are wooden shelves, and an open hallway exits to the south. There is a vaulted ceiling, arching to twelve feet high at the center.

    As the party files through the open doorway, Thokk and Babshapka advance to make room for them. They can now see that there are shelves on the west wall as well as the north. These are bookshelves, though they are sparsely populated - fewer than a hundred volumes in all between the two sections. Each book is large and leather-bound.

    Aurora opens her eyes wide and, just behind her, Umbra gasps at the sight. Aurora turns on her. “So, you are interested in books, too?”

    The elf’s features harden. “Yes, though the knowledge I seek is very narrow and specific. And you?”

    “Oh, mostly recipes,” says Aurora.

    “Recipes?” repeats Umbra incredulously.

    “Yes, well, you know, the life of an adventurer. So many nights with camp food, one is always looking for something a little different to spice it up. Oh,” she adds, almost as an afterthought, “and anything that might give us a clue as to Willa’s true parentage, of course. There were so many sailors on that ship…”

    Willa spits in Aurora’s direction and moves off to guard the southern hallway.

    Together, Aurora and Umbra examine the volumes. The leather covers of the books are fuzzy with mold and flaky with dry rot. Most of the pages, however, appear to be intact except for the borders and margins.

    All of the writing is in Ancient Suelese, such that Aurora is the only one able to read them, and she with much effort. The first book she examines is an herbology, and she can only tell that from the scant and faded illustrations and occasional illuminations. It will take her considerable time to determine the contents of each volume, hours to go through them all.

    In the meantime, Babshapka has made a complete circuit of the galleries.

    The dirt and dust in the floor recount decades, if not centuries, of creatures passing, each with their tracks passed and re-passed over so many times as to be indistinguishable. The northern corridor seems to be the source of the wind and moaning. The southern exit is calmer, warmer, and more humid. For its part, it appears to be the source of the moldy smell.

    Dungeon open for 1 hr 15 min

    The second book is on how to use the weather to determine omens, Aurora announces.

    “Stow it, we be movin’” says Willa.

    “But these books are what we came for. Or at least, what we came for could be in these books. I have to check them all,” objects Aurora.

    “An’ yer welcome t’ check ‘em all. But not while we be standin’ in the hall,” says Willa sternly. “First we be findin’ a safe spot t’ take a long rest. Then ye can be readin’ as many o’ th’ books as ye want while the rest o’ us be sleepin’ an’ such.”

    Aurora carefully sets aside the two volumes she has already looked at. By her quick count, there are seventy-some volumes remaining to examine. The party moves into the corridor to the north, which has a lower ceiling than the gallery. It seems to be the source of both the wind and the moaning sound - the smell of mold is lessening as they travel that way.

    From the low-ceilinged corridor they emerge into a large (30’ x 50’) room (D13). The ceiling here is arched to fully 16’ in height. There is scant dust except in the corners, and the wind still blows, though less than in the corridor. There are scattered ashes and burn marks on the walls, floor, and ceiling, but there are no furnishings and the room appears unoccupied. Three wooden doors lead out of the room; the one to the east has large gaps where the planks have rotted away, and much of the lower third of the door itself is missing.

    Babshapka makes sure to move ahead of Thokk before the barbarian disturbs the tracks. The room has many, but these run mainly from the rotten door in the east, across the floor, and out the southern corridor. The dust is less disturbed along the northern wall and around those two intact doors.

    (Dungeon open for 1 hr 25 min)

    Looking for a secure place to rest, away from traffic, Willa tries the door in the northeast first. It is stuck but not locked, so she forces it. The small (10’ x 10’ x 8’) cubicle within (D14) is crowded with a bed, a bathtub, a chair, and a small table. All of them show signs of great age. There are no inhabitants. Investigating, she finds upon the table a plain quill, a pot of dried ink, and a mortar and pestle.

    As more and more of the party presses into the room, Willa urges them out. This will not be a place for them to rest - it is no bigger than the rope trick room, but is packed with furniture. One of them could be comfortable in the narrow bed (if the ancient wood held) and another in the bath, but there is no way the rest of them could pass several hours here comfortably. She tells them to check the other door, while she searches more thoroughly.

    (Dungeon open for 1 hr 35 min)
    Willa pokes through the ancient straw mattress, moves the heavy copper bath, opens the drawers on the desk, but finds nothing. In the meantime, the party enters the next room (D15), which has the ceiling arched to 12’ height. A number of padded armchairs (mostly rotted to their frames) are scattered about the airy room. A silver pentacle is etched into the southern end of the east wall.

    Once Babshapka confirms that the room is safe, Aurora moves to examine the pentacle. She instinctively traces its lines with her finger, and a door appears in the wall, then swings silently inwards.

    New attributes in bold
    Babshapka of the Silverwood
    Sixth 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)
    Hp. 48
    Skills: Animal Handling, Insight, Investigation, Perception, Stealth, Survival (Temperate Woodlands, Temperate Hills)
    Abilities: Favored Enemy (Hobgoblins, Kobolds, and Giants), Natural Explorer (Woods and Hills), Primeval Awareness
    Fighting Style: Duel-wielding, Extra Attack
    Human-sized Chain shirt+1, broadsword+1, cloak of the manta ray, ring of protection+1, shortsword, longbow
    (1) Ensnaring Strike, Hunter's Mark, Hail of Thorns, Cure Wounds
    (2) Lesser Restoration, Spike Growth

    Thokk of the Crystalmists (Thokk)
    Sixth Level Barbarian / Half-orc (Outlander)
    Str 18 (+4) Dex 14 (+2) Con 16 (+3) Int 5 (-2) Wis 13 (+1) Cha 12 (+1)
    Hp. 66
    Skills: Athletics, Intimidation, Nature, Perception, Survival (mountains)
    Primal Path: Totem Warrior (Wolf)
    Unarmored defense, Longsword+1 (The Sunsword), Shield+2, ring of protection +1, hand axes, javelins
    Extra Attack, Fast Movement (also while stealthy and tracking)
    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.
    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
    Posts: 754
    From: Sky Island, So Cal

    Send private message
    Tue Mar 31, 2020 11:21 am  
    Post 110: An Infernal Fury

    DM's Note on Sources: The tower and its inhabitants come from David Prata's "Tower of Azal'Lan".

    This and subsequent posts will contain many spoilers. The identity of rooms is indicated in bold.

    For the soundtrack while in the Dungeon level, I used "Dungeon I" by Tabletop Audios.

    Post 110: An Infernal Fury
    Somewhere in the Little Hills, actual date unknown. First day in the Tower

    Beyond the secret door is a small chamber (D16), bare except for markings on the floor. Aurora calls for light, and peers in. The floor is inlaid with a 7’ diameter circle with magical markings in powdered gold, platinum, and gems. Aurora believes it to be some sort of warding or protective device, and says as much.

    She backs away from the room, motions the others away, moves to the opposite side of the larger chamber, and withdraws a caltrop from her pack. She sends it slowly across the room with her mage hand. When it breaks the plane of the doorway, something appears in the circle in a flash!

    It is a woman, naked, and kneeling on the stone floor. Her head is bowed, but her arms are held forth pleadingly. Her features appear to be those of a half-elf, at least to Babshapka, who is second-closest to the door and one of two who can see into the room. Thokk has not gotten beyond leering at the woman’s lack of vestments to notice her race.

    Aurora calls out greetings to her in a handful of languages, but before she can finish, several in the party hear a pleading voice in their minds. “Help me…” it whispers, “free me…”

    Thokk takes a step forward, and many in the party call upon him to halt. The woman begins shuddering, and her mental entreaties grow more agonized. Thokk steps forward again, and again the party tells him to halt.

    “Woman cold and naked,” he says, “she need help of Thokk!” In a stroke of orcish genius, he holds forth his 10 foot pole - he does not have to move to pull the woman out of the cursed circle. He offers the pole to her, and when it crosses over the circle carved on the floor, there is another flash.

    The woman stands, her bearing more regal now than pleading. She is still nearly naked, but now with immodestly revealing spiked armor and her pale half-elven skin has become a reddish-copper, her hair dark, her features sharp. Huge wings unfurl in the small room and she begins a deep, throaty, exultant laugh.

    Before the party can respond, the woman-creature strides out of the small secret room and stands just beyond the doorway. She lashes out with a thick, corded rope that flies toward Larry seemingly of its own accord, but the dwarf side-steps it. Unconcerned, the woman slashes at Thokk with a dagger. The half-orc is shocked by her less-than amorous advance, but his combat reflexes enable him to avoid the wicked, curved dagger even as he protests.

    Round 1
    Hurt and confused, Thokk strikes at her with his longsword - the blow slices across her bare abdomen, and others in the party notice the blade is not glowing - whatever this woman is, she is not undead. Aurora fires off three magic missiles that explode against her skin. She grinned at Thokk’s slice, and laughs off the missiles, although they have obviously wounded her. Babshapka shoots two arrows - the first misses her widely, the second she slices out of the air just before impact, cutting it in half with her dagger so that the two pieces fly on either side of her. Umbra shoots a ray of shadow at her, but she bats it out of the way and laughs again. Her laugh is strange - mirthless and mocking, exultant when she is being wounded, frustrated when she misses in her attacks.

    Round 2
    Still in the nearby bedchamber, Willa hears the shouts of her companions and the explosions of spells. She lets fly a string of curses and dashes out of the room as fast as she can, leaving the wooden door open behind her.

    With a lilt of the winged woman’s head, the rope flies back to her and coils tightly around her waist. She rears up with a great rush of her wings and slashes at Thokk with her dagger - one, two, three times! He darts to one side and the other, avoiding each blow, and she howls in wrath. Larry shoots a spray of poison in her face, but she simply ignores it. Umbra shoots a second ray of shadow, and this one actually impacts her, which seems to give her a moment of fleeting pleasure. “Burn woman!” shouts Aurora, and hurls forth what she considers her best firebolt ever - the woman is momentarily surrounded by raging flames, but emerges entirely unscathed. Tyrius strides heavily across the room, his plate armor, well dented from the fight with the eigers, protesting noisily. There is no room for him next to Thokk, but he kicks forward with a booted foot, and the ancient upholstered chair in front of him is shattered in pieces. Taking the position of the erstwhile furnishing, he swings his hammer once and it is batted away by great wings. “Back to hell, evil mistress!” he calls, and swings again. This blow crashes into the woman’s armored shoulder. Convinced that the creature is from some nether plane, Tyrius shouts “BEGONE DEMON LADY!” and channels two levels of spells into a divine smite. An explosion of golden light knocks the woman back into the stone wall. [11 weapon damage, 26 radiant damage, total 37hp].

    At the great flash of light coming through the long holes in the door and out into the larger adjoining chamber, Willa exclaims “Holy Mother of a Sea Cow!” but keeps running.

    Babshapka sends forth two more arrows, but neither hit. Shefak inhales and her fists and feet glow with ki. She runs up, inserting herself neatly in the narrow gap between Thokk and Tyrius. Her blows strike the woman, and she shrieks in a mix of pain and glee. Thokk howls in rage, and steps closer to the wall to give Shefak room. He swings his longsword, but mis-judges, and the sword impacts the stone wall long before it hits the woman - Thokk’s arm is jolted up to the shoulder from the blow, and he drops his sword. He howls again, and strikes with his fist, but the blow deals far less damage to the woman than Shefak’s glowing fists did.

    Round 3
    Recovered now from Tyrius’ blow, the woman steps away from the wall. She makes wide, arcing sweeps with her dagger, menacing all three of the warriors in front of her. The blades slides harmlessly off Tyrius’ armor, but cuts through the flesh of Shefak and Thokk. For a slight slice and little blood drawn, the wounds throb with unnatural pain. Larry completes an entangle spell, and the flagged stone at the woman’s feet cracks open. Green tendrils lash out, growing gigantic as they rise from the floor. Thick vines wrap around all four of the melee combatants - the woman, but Tyrius, Shefak, and Thokk besides. Three of them strain for an instant and then break the vines, but Shefak remains held tight. “Larry,” she cries, struggling feebly against the living restraints, “what have you done?!” With no clear shot, Babshapka drops his bow and draws forth his magical broadsword. Umbra fires forth another shadowy bolt, but this one slams into the wall, leaving a patch of frost on the stone. Tyrius strikes another blow with his hammer, and once again lights the room with the holy radiance of Pelor. The woman screams in agony, and then - did they imagine it? - cries out “Yes!”

    Willa bursts into the room. Before she can draw her greatsword, Babshapka shouts at her, “Willa, magic weapons only!” This gives her pause, and the sight of the demon-woman more so. She pulls out her mace from its loop in her belt.

    Thokk, hearing Willa’s name, shouts over his shoulder, “"Evil advisor, look at this wondrous, beautiful, enemy Thokk brought forth with my pole!"

    “Thokk, what ‘ave ye, done, lad?” she says in awe.

    Round 4
    Umbra summons forth a disembodied, skeletal hand and send its across the room. It goes for the demon’s face, but she bats it away with the back of her wing. She screeches at the three warriors in front of her and slashes at each of them. Tyrius takes the dagger blow and feels its unnatural sting - he looks down to see black ichor dripping from the wound and the blade. Unable to move, Shefak cannot avoid the blow. She passes out from pain when the blade slices across her legs, and now hangs limply in front of the demon, still supported in the air by the vines. Thokk, too, feels its sting, and the creature roars in satisfaction. Aurora lets fly with another volley of three magic missiles. This time when the woman exults at taking damage, her cry is ragged and labored. Larry pushes forward against the vines and touches Shefak, healing her. She gasps as she regains consciousness, but finds herself still entangled, with the demon woman still brandishing the dagger in front of her. “Larry!” she cries again in frustration. Babshapka slashes at the vines with his broadsword in one hand and tries to pull Shefak free with the other, but she remains held fast. When the demoness turns slightly to strike again at Tyrius, Thokk crouches down to recover his sword from the floor, but a buffet of her wings knocks him prone in front of her, and she sinks her dagger into his back in triumph. Before she can attack him again, Willa leaps forward, straddling Thokk’s fallen body with a foot on either side. Her first mace blow catches only feathers, but the second slams into the woman’s body and knocks her back, reeling. Tyrius follows up with a hammer blow, and then a second hammer blow filled with an explosion of holy light.

    This last blow, or perhaps the light from it, seems to rend the woman’s form asunder. As her outline grows blurry and the room goes dark, she turns her head to Tyrius and silently mouths the words “thank you”. A rent in the air opens, and those near at hand see a burned, hellish landscape beyond, a barren rocky plain of smoking craters. The intact spirit form of the woman is yanked backwards through the rent, while scraps from her body - bones, armor, and feathers - simultaneously collapse to the stone floor. As the rent closes, the smell of brimstone fills the room. The desiccated husk of her body lies on the floor, slowly emitting a thick, black smoke. Her rope, and dagger still dripping ichor, lie near at hand.

    As the party look at one another, relieved and confused, the eastern wall of the room begins to glow with a golden light. A second later, a man emerges from it - an old, brown-skinned man clad in a simple white robe bound at the waist with a braided gold cincture. For Tyrius, the room has vanished and he stands alone in a grassy field facing the man. The rest of the party sees the field vaguely, superimposed transparently over the room. As the man approaches Tyrius, the paladin takes a knee.

    “Tyrius, faithful warrior,” the man says is a low, rolling voice, “you have bested an Erinyes, or infernal fury, and sent her spirit back to the hells. Her material form, or what is left of it, remains here, but that is something it is my pleasure to resolve.” With a pass of his hand, the husk of the demoness is covered in glowing sparks, then fades into nothingness. The smoke and smell of brimstone fade away. Larry had picked up the dagger, and was examining it to see whether it was still producing poison, and the man turns a reproachful eye on him. “Already her devices are causing mischief, so it is better to be rid of them, as well.” With another pass of his hand, the cord and dagger disappear.

    “Should you face one such again, it is better to be armed with knowledge,” the man continues. “Know you this - such devils are resistant to cold and non-magical weapons, and completely immune to fire and poison.” Tyrius nods, and pledges to use this knowledge wisely.

    “While you bested the Fury, Tyrius, you did not do so alone. The assistance of your companions was essential in your victory. Receive also this knowledge, that you might better support them in their journeys unto the light.” The man raises his hand, and a small golden sphere floats from it to Tyrius’ brow. When the sphere is absorbed into his head, Tyrius finds that he now knows the prayer for casting the Aid spell.

    Tyrius bows his head and thanks the old man. The man, rather than return through the wall he entered, walks deliberately across the room and passes through the west wall. As he does so, the field fades from view and Tyrius finds himself back with the party. The entangling vines shrink and shrivel and Shefak is finally able to free herself.

    Willa looks about the room, satisfied that they have found a more appropriate place for resting than the small bedchamber. “‘ave ye searched it all?” she asks.

    Tyrius rises to his feet. “Nay, but first we must needs destroy that summoning circle - I’ll have no more devils brought to our world from it.” He enters the small secret room, Aurora close behind him, and reaches out with his divine sense. He then tells the party that the circle itself is not evil or unholy - nor is it for summoning as he thought. It exists only to bind other-worldly creatures once summoned, and that the summoner of the devil was likely a powerful mage, not an evil priest. “Do with it what ye would,” he says, and Aurora hurries forward to sweep up the powdered precious metals and gem flakes into a sack.

    They return to the main room, where the party is already setting up camp. Shefak and Umbra have rolled out bedrolls; but the rest of them have most of their gear still in the packs and bags on the body of Randy in the tower above. Larry has stripped the upholstered padding from several of the chairs and made himself a nest of sorts; the others make do with rolled up winter clothes, for at least out of the wind it is comfortably warm in the dungeon, equal to a brisk and cloudy day and not the freezing temperatures they found above ground. An away team is dispatched to carry all of the books from the shelves to the room for Aurora to peruse during the rest. Willa has Aurora figure out how to close the secret door, which she does by simply tracing her finger over the pentacle in reverse. Tyrius lays hands on Shefak and Thokk, and casts a healing spell besides. Larry casts six different healing spells, exhausting his stores before the planned rest. Once the books and everyone is back inside the room, Thokk hammers two pitons into the floor to keep the door closed. It looks like it would be far easier to break through the rotten wood of the door than pry the pitons from the stone floor.
    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.
    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
    Posts: 754
    From: Sky Island, So Cal

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    Tue Apr 07, 2020 8:56 am  
    Post 111: R&R (Rest and Reading)

    DM's Note on Sources: The tower and its inhabitants come from David Prata's "Tower of Azal'Lan".

    This and subsequent posts will contain many spoilers. The identity of rooms is indicated in bold.

    The contents of the books were rolled on the table of 120 possibilities in and then adapted to the time period and context of Nholast's interests. Any time I rolled a duplicate result I treated the book as illegible.

    Post 111: R&R (Rest and Reading)
    Somewhere in the Little Hills, actual date unknown. First day in the Tower

    As Willa sets the watch schedule, Umbra glides about the room, investigating the walls. She is sure there is a secret door in the northeast corner, but does not know how to open it. She reports as much to Willa, who decides to keep the knowledge to herself rather than having Thokk or Aurora or some other fool opening a door they shouldn’t out of curiosity or boredom. Willa drags a chair over to the general area, puts the back to the door, and says her watch has started.

    8:30am (Dungeon at 2hrs) First Watch - Willa and Umbra

    During the first hour of rest (8:30 to 9:30am), Aurora manages to check eleven books.
    1. An illustrated book of human anatomy
    2. A personal history - not clear whether it is a historical account or a work of fiction
    3. Interpreting visions
    4. Illusion magic - not actual spells, but discussion, commentary, and theory
    5. Sacred symbols in the religions of the ancient Suel Imperium
    6. A book of anatomical sketches and figure drawing techniques
    7. A cultural history of the Suel people
    8. Magical properties of gemstones
    9. Folk tales of the Baklunni people
    10. Rotten and illegible
    11. Arbology

    During the second hour of rest (9:30am to 10:30am), Aurora manages to check eight books.
    12. Smithcraft and metalworking
    13. Healing rituals of the Flan peoples
    14. Healing herbs and their uses
    15. Mining technique and strategy, ore refining technology
    16. Fiendish bargains - strategy, terminology and conditions, enforcement
    17. Important trade routes of the Suel Imperium
    18. Folk tales of the Roka, Chebi, and Hochebi
    19. Summoning rituals used to bind spirits to flesh

    10:30am (Dungeon at 4hrs) Second Watch - Larry and Tyrius
    Larry yawns as Willa shakes him awake - he had been curled up and sleeping in his chair-stuffing nest. Tyrius is awake, but kneeling in prayer. He has removed some of his armor - the helmet, gauntlets, and spaulders, so as to rest more comfortably, but has not taken the armor completely off, knowing that he has second watch. Willa whispers to him about the unopened secret door, and tells him to pass the information on to the next watch. She then returns to the chair she was in, but allows herself to relax and nod off. Umbra moves to her bedroll, but does not lie down. Rather, she sits cross-legged, eyes closed and meditating.

    About half an hour into the watch, Larry, sitting near the door, sees red lights shining through the cracks and gaps in the wood. He puts an eye to a hole, but sees only red lights in the dark room beyond. He goes to Aurora and tries to get her attention, but she brushes him off distractedly, telling him that he is on watch, not her. He returns to watching the lights, but they soon fade from view.

    During the third hour of rest (10:30 to 11:30am), Aurora manages to check eleven books.
    20. An economic history of the Suel Imperium
    21. A military history of the War of the Suel Imperium against the Fiery Kings of the Hellfurnices
    22. A book on working with corpses. At first Aurora takes it to be a text on embalming or funeral practices, but she soon realizes it is actually about preparing bodies for animation. It may be related to book (19) as part of a multi-volume work.
    23. Moldy and illegible.
    24. A book of poems and commentary
    25. A book of Baklunish Elemental Magic Theory
    26. Landmarks and Terrain features of the Helfurnices and the Lands Beyond
    27. Another account of the war with the Fiery Kings, but as a collection of Epic Poetry
    28. A book on the Baklunish Language (still written in Suel, it appears to be geared at learning Baklunish)
    29. The sky houses, constellations, and other astronomical phenomena, with math.
    30. Mining and Metallurgy

    During the fourth hour of rest (11:30am to 12:30pm), Aurora manages to check twelve books.
    31. Sculpture (from the artistic point of view)
    32. Dry and brittle; illegible
    33. Summoning magic; elementals, infernals, fiends
    34. Astronomical phenomena; the sun and eclipses; dates
    35. Regional landmarks and Terrain of the Suel Imperium
    36. Astronomical phenomena; stars, using star measurements as location indicators on Oerth
    37. Surgery, Bone-setting, and other Healing Arts
    38. Trade routes of the Baklunish Empire
    39. Ink so faded as to be illegible
    40. A historical play set during the early years of the Great War
    41. A satire of court politics in the Suel Imperium
    42. Consumed by mold and illegible

    12:30pm; (Dungeon at 6hrs) Third Watch - Babshapka and Thokk
    Tyrius rises from his chair and goes to wake Babshapka, whispering to him about the secret door and Willa’s command. Seeing this transfer, Larry goes to wake Thokk. The half-orc had fallen asleep in Larry’s nest. Now he stirs, yawns, farts, stretches, stands, and farts again. Those awake protest, but Thokk pays them no heed.

    Babshapka has had a full four hour trance, and he is rested and refreshed. [In addition, he has now finished his transition to 6th level, and has decided to replace his alarm spell with the ability to cure wounds.]

    During the fifth hour of rest (12:30 to 1:30pm), Aurora manages to check eleven books.
    43. Divination using tea leaves
    44. Phrases in Flan for travelers
    45. Herbology of common roots - food and medicinal properties
    46. A dramatic play about a slave revolt
    47. A study of another language - it seems like a form of Flan but different
    48. Translations of Suel to Roka and vice versa
    49. Interpreting prophetic dreams
    50. Pages are falling into pieces - illegible
    51. Divination using anthropomancy
    52. A study of the Chebi language
    53. Properties of Vampirism

    During the sixth hour of rest (1:30 to 2:30pm), Aurora manages to check ten books.
    54. Saints and Martyrs of the Faith of Phaulkon
    55. Most pages stuck together - illegible
    56. Baklunish understanding of Energy Centers in the Palm
    57. Completely devoured by woodlice, illegible
    58. Stonemasonry: Principles and Techniques
    59. The Tragedy of Xodast
    60. Beast Handling
    61. Infernal Languages
    62. Book found off shelf, on floor - torn and trampled - illegible
    63. Exorcism and Protection from Possession

    2:30pm; (Dungeon at 8hrs) Fourth Watch - Babshapka and Shefak
    Thokk prods Shefak with his flute, and the monk rises from her bedroll, while the barbarian returns to Larry’s nest, only to find it occupied by Larry. He tries to curl up there, but Larry grumbles at him that it is not cold enough for spooning. Dejected, the half-orc finds another corner and tries melodies on his flute, drawing curses from most of the party.

    Umbra has finished her trance. While Thokk is distracting everyone, no one notes the traffic of shadows that is flitting back and forth between her and the room. Perhaps Babshapka notices, but he is as terse as usual.

    During the seventh hour of rest (2:30 to 3:30pm), Aurora manages to check the remaining books.
    64. Grammar and punctuation in (Ancient) Suel - A Guide for Scribes
    65. The language of the Derro
    66. Dry and brittle, illegible
    67. Dry and brittle, illegible
    68. The language of the Oerid Tribes
    69. Summoning and Binding Spirits and Souls
    70. A romance between members of rival houses in the Suel Imperium
    71. Military Strategy in the first hundred years of the Great War
    72. Moldy and illegible

    None of these books offer the historical information about Nholast, or especially about Keoland, that might support Uhas’ account in the Chronicle of Secret Times. Thus, none of them are the information that Aurora came for. They will have to explore more - and they still have no idea how extensive the dungeon complex under this tower is.

    Although the books do not contain the specific information she seeks, they certainly do represent a trove of historical information, being centuries old and written about events even older. There are many of them that Aurora would like to take with her, and she carefully sets these to one side. They are, however, heavy and bulky. With Randy slain, they are unlikely to be able to take many, more’s the pity.

    By around 4pm, Aurora has finished organizing the books and has gone to rest herself. She does not note the thin, gray form seeping under the door. An oozing pool of a creature, it is either transparent or naturally of the same color as the floor. Whichever, Babshapka, on watch near the door, also fails to notice it. The puddle surrounds his feet and begins crawling up his boots. Some moments later, as he shifts his weight and feet, he feels the tension holding down his boots. Only then, looking down, does he notice the creature. As he moves suddenly and with alarm, the creature reacts by sending forth a long pseudopod that slams into his chest, leaving both a bruise and an acidic coating that quickly tarnishes the links of his chain shirt.

    Umbra fires forth a bolt of shadow, and a portion of the ooze-creature congeals at its impact. Willa swings her torch at it, and its slimy form sizzles at the touch of the flames. The blow of the torch seems to have torn open a rent in the pudding-skin-like surface of the ooze, and it starts dribbling acidic fluids out onto the floor. Seeing it is susceptible to physical damage, Willa smashes her mace down into the mass, rupturing its surface and spraying hissing gunk about. Another ooze creature slides under the door. Aurora shrieks, and stumbles out of the way to the back of the room.

    Shefak, unwilling to risk her staff or her fists, grabs a chair and smashes it on top of the new ooze. She tears several holes in its surface. It strikes at her in return with a strange pseudopod. A third creature slides under the door. Babshapka abandons his boots and pants to the creature and retreats across the room. It slowly seeps after him.

    Babshapka, pants-less, returns across the room. He slashes with his magical broadsword and one ooze’s form is completely disrupted. It ceases moving, remaining a still, acidic gray pool. There are two other oozes he could attack, but he is unwilling to wade barefoot through the slain one in front of him.

    Umbra sends a ray of freezing shadow at another one. Shefak continues to beat furiously on those remaining with her chair. Between them and Willa, they manage to disrupt the last two. No more slide under the door.

    Willa carefully cleans her mace with rags and scraps of chair upholstery. Babshapka examines his gear. His magical chain shirt is tarnished but intact - the links pitted and corroded in a large patch. His sturdy leather boots, after cleaning, appear fine. His pants are faded and foul-smelling. They appear undamaged, but he decides to use the dry parts to clean his boots and sword, and then discard them. He has a single spare pair in his pack.

    After some discussion with the rest of the party, Babshapka decides to don the chain shirt they recovered from the manticore lair in the Ghost Tower. At the time, they suspected it to be magical, but they have not yet had Aurora attempt to identify it. It is human-sized and a little large on him, but after putting on his belts and straps and such over top it fits well enough to function. [In fact, it is a set of chain +1]

    With the combat over, Larry comes forward to examine the creatures. He identifies them as gray oozes, amorphous creatures that live in the darkness of caves and suchlike environments. He says they corrode metal with their strongly acidic digestive fluids, and are resistant to both flame and cold.
    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.
    Master Greytalker

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    Tue Apr 14, 2020 11:23 am  
    Post 112: 'Splorin'

    DM's Note on Sources: The tower and its inhabitants come from David Prata's "Tower of Azal'Lan".

    This and subsequent posts will contain many spoilers. The identity of rooms is indicated in bold.

    For the soundtrack while in the Dungeon level, I used "Dungeon I" by Tabletop Audios.

    Post 112: 'Splorin'
    Somewhere in the Little Hills, actual date unknown. First day in the Tower

    Half an hour later, Shefak’s watch ends. Willa’s initial plan had been for Babshapka to take another two-hour watch by himself, so that she and Shefak could complete a long rest. However, since they both fought against the ooze, their rest has been spoiled, and they would need to begin again. There is no point in the entire party waiting another eight hours on them. Shefak grumbles in a very un-monklike fashion, but in the end decides to proceed with the party.

    The first order of business is the exploration of the secret room (D17). To their disappointment, it is found to be both empty and a dead end.

    There seems to be little more to do than continue to explore the dungeon, so the party readies to proceed. Thokk’s pitons are so firmly wedged into the floor that it is easier to rip apart the rotten wood of the door (and use it to lay across the acid pools for those unwilling to walk through them). Upon doing so, however, the party is confronted by a great mass of fungi that have somehow sprung into being. They are all about the floor and around the doorframe.

    Aurora immediately suggests fireballing the mushroom patch, saying that “Fire always beats fungi,” as if it was an oft-repeated maxim. Willa tells her to not be so eager. She calls Thokk over to the open doorway, and tells him to toss her across the patch to the other side.

    Thokk forms a stirrup with his hands and Willa puts in her foot. With a mighty heave he chucks her through the doorway. Willa goes flying up and over the fungi, landing pretty gracefully on the stone floor beyond for someone clad in full plate armor. She even manages to keep her torch lit, burning Thokk just a bit in passing.

    However, Willa swears that some of the fungi turned toward her when she landed. Now, however, they remain perfectly still. She tells Aurora to investigate.

    Aurora uses her prestidigitation spell to create small effects over the fungal patch - lights, sounds, smells. She elicits no response with colored lights or puffs of acrid smoke, but the noises she creates do seem to draw the attention of the mushrooms. They turn and twist in response, almost as if cocking their tiny mushroom-cap heads. “Well, I don’t think everyone wants to be thrown over them,” says Aurora excitedly, “and if we miss and land in them, something bad will happen for sure. It’s firebolt time.”

    At her words, Willa, Umbra, and Shefak hastily take out cloth rags and hold them over their mouths and noses. Thokk looks on cheerfully, waiting to see who he gets to throw next.

    Aurora shoots a single firebolt into the patch. The fungi go rigid, except for one which is writhing as it burns. Holes open along the tops of all of the mushroom caps, and a horrifying squeal comes from dozens of orifices. The shrill sound echoes across the stone walls - it can likely be heard throughout the entire dungeon complex, as it easily drowns out the moaning sound and the noise of the rushing wind.

    "Damn you, woman! What be wrong wit' ye!" shouts Willa, as she takes out her crossbow.

    Aurora yells at Willa to run, and begins the incantation for fireball. Willa recognizes the opening lines of this spell - that, conjoined with Aurora’s advice to “run”, are sufficient to cause her to run like hell, south and around the corner to the gallery of shelves. She begins praying to her maker and the gentle Sea Cow of the South as she flattens herself against the wall.

    The explosion that follows is louder than any wind, louder still than the shrieking of a dozen fungal patches. Flames fill the large hall, jet down the southern corridor into the gallery, blow open the wooden doors to the searched bedchamber and the as-yet-unexplored section of the dungeon. The flames even shoot into the room where the party is resting, turning the wet puddles of acid on the floor into ash, but stopping a few feet short of Aurora’s face. She is knocked back by the force of the blast but unharmed. As the ringing in the ears of those present fades, it is replaced with the sound of Aurora laughing in triumph.

    "There you are, everyone. There's precious few problems that a handy fireball can't fix.”

    Willa sighs, and returns to organize the party into a marching order. The room beyond is now completely open to them, the remains of the door in pieces and smoldering beyond the open door frame.

    The ceiling here (D21) is arched to 16’ height, similar to the chamber they have come from (D13). Apart from empty torch sconces and a rug by the east wall, the large room appears bare. Four vaulted galleries proceed, to the north west, north east, east-by-north, and south east. The moaning sound comes from the one to the northwest; the wind from both that and the one to the south east. The dust on the floor is greatly disturbed, and the tracks seem to parallel the direction of the wind.

    Aurora inspects the rug and finds it to be dyed wool. Once costly, it has faded from centuries. It still is likely worth something, but is heavy and bulky. The party leaves it behind as they follow Thokk toward the source of the moaning sound.

    The party moves down the hall towards a large room (D23). The height of the ceiling is hard to determine, as it is shrouded in cobwebs. There are rotten tables and chairs along the walls. One door at the far end is slightly ajar. Thokk is looking for spiders - big ones - but finds no traces. He urges the party forward, making no attempt to mask his disappointment.

    Peering through the open door, Thokk finds the ceiling in the next room (D24) to be arched to 12’ height. A hearth stands in the northwest corner, vented with a 4’-long x 6”-wide chimney that comes out from the wall but then disappears into the ceiling. In the southwest corner is a large circular hole in the floor, surrounded by a lip of raised stone.

    There is some dust on the ground, but it is as much mud as dust. The tracks of various creatures are all over the room, but mostly run from the open doorway to the hearth and the hole in the floor. The moaning is louder and is coming from the direction of the hearth. The air smells damp and the wooden door is rotten through.

    As the party inspects the room, they find that the moaning is the sound of the air being drawn up the chimney. It is spacious and probably could be shimmied up by any of them. It goes straight up beyond the range of their torchlight. It likely goes all the way to the surface, though when they pull the torch away, they see no light at the far end.

    Around the hole in the floor are mildewed pieces of wood and extremely rotten hemp. There also seem to be noises from something moving in the hole. Thokk peers over the edge and finds that the walls go down farther than he can see, but are covered by moss and fungus. Given the sounds he hears and the footprints around the edge, he suspects that the hole is filled with vermin - rats, land crabs, and the like. Willa surmises the hole is a well and Tyrius seconds the notion.

    With the source of wind and moaning explained, the party is momentarily directionless, so Willa calls for a more careful search of the room. A loose brick is found in the hearth - when depressed, a whole section of the stone wall slides open. The hallway beyond has no tracks on the floor, just dust - apparently they have found another untrafficked part of the complex.

    At the north end of the corridor is a small chamber (D18) with a 12 foot vaulted ceiling. The room is bare, although it does have a wooden door.

    “Drop anchor,” says Willa. “What be all this? And why be it so barren? Tyrius?”

    The noble paladin considers what he knows of defensive fortifications. “Well, obviously this is not a “dungeon” complex - if by dungeon, you mean a place for prisoners. The tower above was not particularly large, just a single tower. But all this complex is for sustaining a large host. We have passed through a library, mage quarters, mess hall, kitchen and water supply. A large number of soldiers, perhaps led by a mage or mages, lived here.”

    “An’ this room?”

    “I’m not sure. Perhaps there is a clue behind this door.”

    “So ye be sayin’ all o’ t’is be a castle - but a castle unnerground?”

    “Yes, it appears so. And another thing - this castle was not taken by force - we have seen no signs of struggle. It was abandoned - and not swiftly. No, there was a deliberate and methodical retreat from this place. Nearly everything of value has been taken, even from the rooms that have been hidden for centuries behind secret doors, and what was not taken was left neatly out of the way - like those tables and chairs in the dining hall.”

    Willa nods thoughtfully, then agrees to have Thokk open the door at the north end of the secret hall, which he interprets as wrenching the ancient wood off the rusted hinges. There is no room beyond, but a ten by ten square shaft that descends into darkness (D19). Thokk calls for Willa to bring the torch over and looks down. The bottom is some eighteen feet below, uneven, not man made, but brown and crusty.

    Thokk takes the largest piece of door and hurls it down as hard as he can. It breaks through the surface crust and kicks up a great cloud of powder. There is the faintest smell of human feces. “Ugh, an open privy,” says Willa.

    At the other end of the hall is another empty room (D20), this one with numerous rotten wooden pegs in the walls and holes for many others that have since rotted away.

    “Do this all be a servant’s quarters?” wonders Willa. “Why would ye need a secret door fer ther staff t’rough ther kitchen?”

    Tyrius shakes his head. “The rooms next to the privy were barracks - and this, their armory. At least, that is what I would wager.”

    “But again,” questions Aurora, "why the need for access through a secret door? Why have a secret barracks accessed through the kitchen?”

    “Whoever designed this complex was keen to hide their numbers,” says the paladin. “The simple tower above belies the garrison below. Even if you enter the underground halls themselves, it would be hard to tell the numbers of your hosts. Perhaps you go as a guest to the dining hall and station your guards by the door - and suddenly find a whole squad of soldiers entering from the kitchens, catching you by surprise and overwhelming your retinue? The place is built to confuse anyone who does not know it.”

    With no way beyond the kitchen complex, Willa directs the party back to the rug-room nexus (D21), and has them take one of the eastern hallways out. It ends in a double-door. At the bidding of Willa, Thokk listens at the door, but hears nothing. He opens the doors and finds an empty, but oddly triangular-shaped room (D26) with a twelve foot ceiling. “Bahh,” he says, disgusted by the inactivity. “We climb tower now, fight more eigers!”

    “Nay, Thokk, not yet. Aurora has t’ find ‘er special recipe book aforehand,” demurs Willa. “Tyrius?” she asks, when the paladin enters the room.

    He shrugs, unsure. “Guard captain’s quarters? Perhaps a chapel.”

    The party grows less cautious, their march formation more open, as they continue to explore, finding numerous branching pathways and another empty room (D22).

    After a thrice-twisting corridor that finishes with a dead-end, Willa again asks Tyrius what is going on - if this is living quarters for a large complex, why all the mazes?

    The paladin responds that the tower above was likely built to observe the valley, but is not particularly defensive by itself - there were no ramparts, no motte, not even a gate on the doorway. If the underground portion is what is meant to be defended, it makes sense that it would be maze-like.
    Invaders are meant to get lost in the twists and turns, and then be surprised by the defensive forces emerging from secret barracks, like the ones they found.

    “So ye be sayin’ tha’ any o’ these twists an’ turns could be hidin’ more secret rooms?”

    “I think that likely, yes.”

    Willa has the party spread out, each taking a different section of the dead-end corridor, from the last turn to the end. They spend twenty minutes searching their assigned area as carefully as possible.

    None of them find anything, but Aurora does note an interesting feature. When she raps on the east wall, there is just the dull sound of stone on stone. To the south and west, however, her half-elven ears detect the faintest of echoes - not that the stone beyond is hollow, per se, but perhaps much thinner. Checking the crude sketch map she is making, the wall to the south likely lies close to the corridor they have already passed through. But the one to the west, she thinks, should have ended. Perhaps there is a hidden room in that direction? If so, she cannot find the entrance from where she is.

    Retracing their steps, Willa takes the party down another branch - this one connecting to the most southerly corridor emerging from the rug room. There is a single door in the wall, and wind flowing through gaps in the rotten wood of the door.

    Entering the room (D29), Thokk is startled to see two huge snakes - or is it four? Each of the snakes has another head in place of a tail!

    Shefak darts in front of the party, bludgeoning the closer snake with her staff and feet. The creatures strike back, snapping at her with fangs dripping with poison. More and more of the party file in, adding their attacks to Shefak’s. The snakes are cut, crushed, bolted, and whipped - but they keep coming! Until, that is, that the party realizes they can regenerate all damage except for fire. Eventually both snakes are slain.

    The room itself is empty, but there is another door, rotten enough that the snakes could easily have slid through holes in its lower section. The torch that Willa had carried guttered out when she tossed it to the floor before drawing her sword. She picks it up, but it is just a stump - she is now out of torches and her broken lantern has been discarded above. Thokk passes her two torches, two flasks of oil, and his lantern. She takes a moment to fill and light the lantern, then nods to Thokk, who charges the door to the next room - reveling in the explosion of rotten wood as he bursts through into the next room (D30).

    The ceiling here is arched to 16’ height. Numerous workbenches line the walls, holding assorted masonry tools, and a half-finished statue of a regal-looking man holding a staff stands in the center of this large room. There are two exits to the east, and another two to the south - the wind is exiting the east.

    When the party enters the room, Aurora examines the statue, checking for secret compartments and the like. The rough form is blocked out and is recognizable as a mage of some kind, but the details have not been carved yet and she finds nothing hidden. Shefak examines the tools on the workbenches. Their metal parts are rusted, the wood rotten away, but the stone parts largely intact.

    Willa and Thokk lead the way into the corridor in which the wind is going. It appears to open into a room at the end, but is choked with webs.

    Willa raises her lantern and peers into the chamber (D30) as Thokk bats at the webs. The ceiling is arched to 12’ height. A small forge stands in the northeast corner, the wind seeming to exit up its chimney. A workbench, an anvil, and a tub round out the furnishings here, but are mostly obscured by the thick webs that cover the eastern three-quarters of the chamber.

    “Seems t’ be gettin’ less deserted,” says Willa to noone in particular.

    “Indeed,” responds Tyrius behind her. “Those tools on the workbenches are the first useful things we have seen in some time, left behind by the former occupants.”

    “Did someone stay to finish the statue after the others left?” wonders Shefak aloud.

    Suddenly, a giant spider materializes in the thin air between Larry and Babshapka. It is nearly eight feet long and of a bluish hue, but low to the ground and shaggy. It buries its fangs into Larry’s calf. He grunts in pain but his natural dwarven resistance protects him from the poison it pumps into the wound. Aurora turns to see what the noise was. Seeing the giant spider, she begins to shriek “Where did that damn thing…” but she is forced to dodge out of the way rather than finish her sentence as another spider appears next to her and lunges! Apparently the creature is immune to her “instinctive charm” [actually both DM and player forgot about this recently-acquired ability].

    Larry turns and sprays the spider with poison - it shudders, but does not back away. Aurora scorches the one attacking her with a firebolt, doing a considerable amount of damage, but it stands fast as well.

    Thokk whirls at the flash and whoosh of the firebolt. “Nooo!” he yells. “Save spider for Thokk!” He charges, knocking Aurora out of the way and down to the floor, then burying his longsword in the spider’s thorax. The spider shudders, twitches, and expires. “Twang!” sounds Babshapka’s bowstring. He uses one of the damaged arrows, and it flies awkwardly from his bow. Instead of hitting the spider, it barely misses and sinks deep into Larry’s side. “Och!” Larry cries. “Mind yer target, elf!”

    Willa groans exasperatedly. “Thokk, get that last one,” she says, and pushes deeper into the webs. Sheffak turns and leaps gracefully over Aurora’s prone form, tumbling as she lands and coming up next to the spider. A sweep from her staff fails to trip its many legs, but she follows up with a kick to its body as she stands, and then brings down an overhanded staff blow. By the time Aurora is able to stand up and launch another firebolt, the second spider is dead as well.

    The whole party now moves deeper into the room (D31) and investigates. The webs are full of the desiccated bodies of wrapped and mummified creatures - giant rat husks, giant beetle exoskeletons, etc. They gather the webs into piles that Aurora cheerfully sets ablaze. As they work, they reveal dozens of copper coins on the floor, which they leave intact, but five gemstones, which the party takes - large jade, a large spinel, a sardonyx, a star ruby, and a small black sapphire. They look up the chimney of the forge. It is considerably narrower than the kitchen hearth, but might allow Shefak access to the surface - provided it doesn’t narrow further, turn sharply, or have a grate of some kind. The airflow up the chimney is steady and continuous.

    One wall of the forge room has a rotten wooden door, which Willa listens at. The modest room (D32) beyond contains a bed frame, a bureau, and a small table. It is unoccupied. Aurora searches it carefully, but finds nothing of interest.

    After this, the party returns to the statue room and tries the corridors to the south. With no visible enemies, and their last fights having been easy, they soon drift apart, exploring different areas. Eventually they end up so far separated that even yelling between the two groups is barely audible. The group led by Thokk finds a corridor ending in a patch of yellow mold, while the one led by Willa starts down a corridor that opens into a large, fungus-filled chamber.

    The mold at the end of the hall (d37) for Thokk’s group covers a small section of wall, perhaps some five feet across and floor-to ceiling, but no more. Larry suggests throwing something at it, and Aurora responds with “Yes; a firebolt, obviously.” She launches two incendiary bolts at the patch, completely burning it off of the wall and leaving only soot and charred mold behind. However, in the light of a torch, they can see that myriad golden spores now fill the end of the hallway, drifting lazily upon the air and slowly moving toward them as they disperse.

    Meanwhile, Willa’s group advances cautiously. The chamber (D33)at the end of their hallway is filled with various molds, slimes, and fungi. Some of the mushroom caps come two or even three feet off the ground, and could conceal any number of creatures.

    Shefak throws a dart into the chamber. In response, the group hears something - or some things - move. The noise comes with almost metallic clicks and clacks. Willa decides that this is better faced as a party, and starts calling for Thokk to lead his group back. In the other hallway, looking at the spores advancing through the air, Aurora decides she would rather give them time to settle anyway, and goads Thokk into responding to Willa’s call.

    Once all of the party is together again, they look on into the fungus-choked chamber. Aurora raises her hand with the start of a mystic gesture, and Shefak darts to the back of the party. Shaking her head at the caution of her colleague, Aurora launches a firebolt into the room. More clicking noises are heard, but nothing emerges. Unlike the completely destroyed patch of yellow mold in the other hall, which was just a thin coating on the stone, Aurora’s bolt here tore up a small patch of fungus and revealed it to be several inches thick but did little to its neighbors in the room. It would take hundreds of such bolts to strip the “vegetation” in the large chamber down to bare stone.

    Thokk is certainly not going to wait for hundreds of bolts. Besides, in the flash from the first one he spied moving black forms, low to the ground. He unsheathes his longsword and advances. As he enters the room, he spots with darkvision several giant beetles, but they scurry and scuttle away. He thinks back on his lessons with the tribal shaman, and recalls something about some giant beetles tending fungal gardens, like humans tend farms. Only the beetles killed things and dragged the bodies to the gardens to grow their fungus, which seems far more sensible to him than the silly humans planting seeds or waiting for rain. He takes a few more steps and bangs the flat of his sword against the ground, trying to draw the beetles out into a fight, but they do not come. He sighs and walks further into the room, swinging his sword low so as to slice through mushroom caps and fungus mounds as he goes. Willa moves to the entrance of the room, sets down her borrowed lantern, draws her greatsword, and follows Thokk’s path of destruction into the room.

    The two of them are perhaps a third of the way into the room when a buzzing sound splits the air and a half-dozen giant beetles scramble out from under hiding places and run forward. In the span of seconds Willa and Thokk are surrounded!

    Willa and Thokk face the initial onslaught of beetles, Willa trusting in her armor and Thokk in his inherent virility to protect them from the clumsy jaws. They land several blows on the beasts, but the hard carapaces turn many of them as well. Babshapka sets down his bow and draws both his swords, while Shefak moves up. Larry is looking carefully at the beetles - were they normal sized, they would be boring beetles - boring under the bark of trees, that is. However, at the size they are, he doesn’t think them capable of boring in much of anything. Umbra shoots a ray of shadow, but it bounces off the hard carapace of a beetle. Aurora looks at the room, estimating the ceiling to be twelve feet high, and tries to calculate the volume that would be filled by a fireball.

    Shefak moves into the room, raining a flurry of blows down on the beetles - nearly all of which bounce ineffectually off their exoskeletons. She slips in the spongy flooring and falls to the soft ground.

    By now the beetles have gotten grips on the legs of Thokk and Willa. They bear down with jaws that are surprisingly strong - even Willa finds her legs bruised beneath her magic grieves. “Get in ‘ere!” Willa calls to the rest of the party, with just a touch of concern in her voice.

    “Rarrraaaww!” roars Thokk in rage, as a beetle slices deep into his calf muscle.

    Babshapka sighs, muttering something in elven about not blaming these beetles for defending their home, and runs into the room, spinning and slashing his swords at the insects. He heads for the beetle that is even now moving at the fallen form of Shefak. A dark bolt from Umbra flies by him and hits the beetle, slowing its advance. Tyrius completes a spell, calling forth the strength of Pelor for Thokk, Willa, and Shefak.

    As Willa and Thokk defend themselves, landing powerful blows, Aurora decides to end the combat with a web - but ensnares her comrades as well as the beetles.

    Thokk breaks free of the web, then kills a beetle for good measure. Willa grins and wipes the spray of beetle-juice from her eyes with the back of her hand. She wrenches herself free, then lands a blow so hard it submerges the new corpse of the beetle down into the mold. A shadow bolt from Umbra freezes another, and it falls over, still.

    The remaining beetles turn and flee, though one remains stuck in the webs. They attempt to hide, cowering under pieces of fungus, but the party roots them out one at a time, slicing, piercing, spraying them with poison, or shooting them with fire. Soon the last fleeing insect has been slain. Tyrius enters the room but immediately flounders with the unstable footing and sticky web strands. Aurora releases the webs and moves into the room herself.

    Several of the party start looking for doors, but it is a difficult task - the thick fungus could easily conceal a normal door, let alone a secret one. Thokk, however, has other priorities. He grabs his lantern from where Willa left it and begins looking high and low at the fungus. At some he frowns or sticks out his tongue, others just result in a quizzical look on his scarred face. Then he finds a patch he likes. Using his hand axe, he chops up a creamy white fungus in large chunks and stuffs them into his bag. “This good!” he calls excitedly to the party. “This very good! Come get food!”

    Willa looks over and shudders. Still, collecting food is not a bad idea - they haven’t had a meal since breakfast in Highfell. Using her dagger, she pries open the exoskeleton of a beetle and sniffs suspiciously at the stringy grey leg muscles inside. “Cannae be worse t'an rock lobster,” she thinks to herself, then begins butchering beetles. The leg and wing muscles seem the most worth the effort. The mandible muscles are huge, but hard to extract without getting them mixed up with sacks of foul-smelling liquids near the throat, so she leaves them be. Shefak, too, seems to be butchering the carcasses, but oddly she is taking bits and pieces of exoskeleton rather than meat.

    The others are scouring through the fungi and ripping large hunks off of the walls, with Aurora burning anything that resists or comes off in tatters instead of sheets. They probe the ground, and find things like coins and chalices covered in mold. When Babshapka tears off a particularly large section of fungus on the west wall, Umbra investigates and finds a secret door - but it leads only to a small, empty room (D34). At least the room can serve as a temporary repository for the items they are pulling out of the mold, which now include a statuette with gem eyes.

    When Babshapka tears a section of fungus off the north wall, Thokk wrinkles his nose, snorts, and looks up. He wanders over to where the wood elf is working, sniffs deeply, and licks the stone. A crack runs along the stone wall at about chest height, and here and there a bead of water trickles out. Grinning widely, he takes out his wineskin and unstoppers it, then convinces Babshapka to hold it for him. “This good water,” he gushes, “clean water from rock! Thokk find spring!” He takes large pieces of fungus that were growing over the seep and crushes them in his hands, producing a flush of grey water with bits of fungus. It splatters down, some of it even making it into his skin. He wrings out the fungus with a twist, then finds another sodden piece to repeat the process until his skin is full. Thokk sighs contentedly as he works and begins to babble to Babshapka stories of amazing mushroom patches he found in his youth.

    Larry comes over and heals Thokk’s wounds from the beetle battle - Babshapka takes the opportunity to excuse himself and Thokk recruits Larry to hold his skin. Babshapka heals Willa, while Tyrius heals Shefak and Thokk as well.

    By this time the floor is criss-crossed with patches of bare stone and piles of fungus and beetle bodies. In the secret room are gathered 50 silver and 97 gold coins, a gold chalice, a silver chalice, a gold pin, a silver seal, a silver & gold necklace, a silver statuette of a horned humanoid figure with emerald eyes, and a bone tube. Aurora stands in the secret doorway, and uses a charge from her wand of detect magic to feel her way through the room, probing under and through the remaining fungus in search of anything important the party missed. When she does not sense anything, she turns and looks at the pile of collected treasure, feeling immediately drawn to the bone tube. Unstoppering it, she finds an ancient and mold-damaged piece of vellum, covered with rows and rows of mystic symbols. She recognizes it as a spell scroll and carefully returns it to the tube.

    Treasure collected, wounds healed, and food stores re-provisioned, the party leaves the beetle room. Aurora has told them of the other corridor, but Willa says there is a passageway they need to explore first. They head east out of the room and down the hall. The hallway ends in two rotten wooden doors which Thokk smashes open. The first room (D36) is a small bed chamber with a bed, a nightstand, and a desk with a chair. All are rotten and useless. The place is otherwise bare, and a search by Aurora reveals nothing. The other room (D36) is simply a large, empty vault with a twelve foot high ceiling.

    Aurora leads the party back to the easternmost corridor. Lantern light reveals that the golden spores from the yellow mold have settled - mostly on the floor, but some on the walls as well. Many in the party cover their faces with cloths nonetheless as they walk to the end of the hall.

    With the mold mostly burned away, Aurora traces the faint outline of a secret door along the rock wall. Apparently the mold patch was growing directly atop it. Investigating, she finds a loose stone and presses it. A door-sized section of wall sinks into the floor.

    This secret room beyond (D38) contains a desk and chair, a workbench with various alchemical supplies, and two fine rugs. The glassware on the workbench is of exquisite craftsmanship, but obviously very fragile. Umbra slips past Thokk and enters the room just after Aurora.

    Underneath the workbench are jars and boxes of alchemical reagents - Aurora searches among them to find which containers look strong enough to survive a time in her backpack, and carefully packs them in, then adds the stubs of a few candles from the workbench’s top. While she is doing this, Umbra flips through two ancient tomes on the desk. “Look Aurora,” she says, as she turns the pages that are covered in alchemical symbols, “recipes!”

    “Yes, well, indeed,” hems Aurora. “A pity we won’t be able to take any of the glassware needed for them.”

    Back out in the hall, Aurora announces that she can’t believe they haven’t found the volumes they are looking for even though they have been all over the dungeon.

    “We must ‘ave missed summit,” says Willa. “Thar be secret doors aplenty all about. Let’s be checkin’ more walls.” They seem to have had some luck listening for hollow spaces, so Willa puts the two best listeners - Babshapka and Umbra - in front. They walk before the party, every three paces pausing, putting their ear to the stone wall, and rapping with a piton on the stone. The other party members walk at a distance behind them, as quietly as they can. They spend an hour slowly passing through the maze-like corridors of this section of the dungeon, and are convinced they have passed nothing but the solid stone of bedrock.

    With nothing to show for their searches, they take a brief rest in the statue room. Willa and Larry draw in the dust of the floor, comparing recollections of the size of the complex. “That be...mayhap one part in six o’ the whole dungeon?” asks Willa. “Shall we be tryin’ ther same t’ing in ther north?”

    “Oor,” suggests Larry, “we can jess scout a wee bit o’ the part we hain’t been yet.”

    Willa arches an eyebrow. Larry continues, “At ta verry start, froom the room wit’ all ta books. T’were atother hallway we hain’t been yet.”

    Now Willa remembers. Right as the party entered the dungeon from the base of the tower, into the library chamber - they went right to follow the wind, but there was a left branch that smelled moldy. That was half a day ago, at least, and no great surprise that she forgot.

    Going somewhere new sounds better to Willa than walking in circles while tapping ancient stone walls. She forms the party into a march order and leads them back to the library room - its shelves now empty of books.

    They have not gone far past the library room when they find the ceiling is lower, the wind drops, the humidity and smell of mold increases, and the temperature increases considerably.

    The corridor to the south branches - the branch ahead seems to dead-end with no features, while the one to the right has at least one door on the south wall. It is long enough that they cannot see the end from the intersection.

    Curiously, Aurora seems more interested in the dead-end than the open corridor. “Dead-end means dead-sure there is a secret door,” she explains.

    Sure enough, after a bit of searching, she finds a stone in the wall that does indeed open a secret door. Heretofore, all of the secret doors the party has found (with the exception of the obvious pentagram over the summoning chamber door), have been triggered by loose stones, and the door itself has somehow sunk into the floor, with no way to make it rise again. This door is different. When Aurora presses the stone, the door rotates - half going in, half coming out, as if on a great vertical axle running through its center. The door only opens partially, turning clockwise, but it is enough to see the bare stone room (D11) beyond.

    The opening is narrow - Thokk, Tyrius, Willa, or Larry would have to squeeze through - and might get stuck.

    Tyrius, Thokk, Aurora, Umbra, and Babshapka enter - the ten-by-ten room barely sufficing to hold them all. Investigation reveals splinters of rotten wood and grains of sand along the west wall, and scratches all around the room, from floor to chest height on the walls. Larry, looking at the scratches on the part of the secret door that now protrudes into the hall, says that they are of some great cat sharpening its claws, but Aurora is not convinced. What sort of great cat has claws that can scratch stone? Despite searching, they find nothing else.

    Returning to the hall, they try the door that was visible - and now see another, at the hallway’s end. The nearer door, of rotten and cracked wood, opens on a small and nearly bare ten by ten room (D5), eight feet high, with no egress. The only object in the room is a portrait on the wall directly opposite the door. It is covered in dust, but not mold. The floor of the room is also dusty - there are no prints.
    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.
    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
    Posts: 754
    From: Sky Island, So Cal

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    Tue Apr 21, 2020 10:32 am  
    Post 113: Nholast?

    DM's Note on Sources: The tower and its inhabitants come from David Prata's "Tower of Azal'Lan".

    This and subsequent posts will contain many spoilers. The identity of rooms is indicated in bold.

    For the portrait of Nholast, I used

    For the soundtrack while in the Dungeon level, I used "Dungeon I" by Tabletop Audios.

    Although the slain ogres were not undead, I certainly wanted the party to think that was a possibility. When they returned to the tower I "mentioned" that it was getting close to midnight, and switched the soundtrack to "Nightmare" by Tabletop Audio.

    Post 113: Nholast?
    Somewhere in the Little Hills, actual date unknown. First day in the Tower

    Aurora takes the portrait down from the wall and tries to blow its surface clean, but soon finds herself coughing in a cloud of dust. When she recovers, she wipes the dust away with her sleeve. Beneath the layer of dust is a portrait of a man in rich clothing. Despite his white hair, he appears middle-aged. The oil paint is flaking and there is some mould damage, especially to the wooden frame, but the portrait itself is largely intact.

    Shefak recognizes the general features of the man as matching those of the statue. Aurora carries the painting out into the hall and props it up against the wall, and has Willa shine the lantern full on it. “What can you tell us, Tyrius?” she asks.

    Tyrius studies the painting carefully. “The richness of the robes implies he is wealthy, of course, but the rod he holds says that he is a ruler, not a merchant. He does not rule by force of arms, though - there is no weapon or armor on him. I suspect he is a mage of some sort, and likely the former master of this tower. The color of his skin and hair tell us that he is a Suel - likely pureborn. I do not recognize the style and patterning of his robes - but this is ancient fashion, to be sure.”

    Aurora thinks they are on to something, but finds nothing further in the room. She reminds the party of the last time they spread out and took twenty minutes searching the end of the hall, then assigns each of them a spot along the corridor. “Take your time,” she says, “slow and careful. Touch everything, twist, pull, press, feel in every crack!”

    At the end of twenty minutes of searching, both Aurora and Babshapka have found secret doors! Larry has an obvious door of iron, and locked, as well. There is some debate over which door to try first.

    “As long as we be paused,” interjects Willa, “why don’ we be checking on are rations above - I wager I’m nae ther only one as is gettin’ hungry. An’ I don’ mean fer fungus.”

    She gathers up the party and heads back in the direction of the “library”, and then the basement of the tower. Umbra lingers behind, a strange expression on her face. Noting it, Aurora hangs back as well. “Umbra, are you not coming?” she asks.

    “Someone should stay,” the mysterious woman demurs. “We are so close…” her voice trails off.

    Aurora frowns and places a finger to her temple. She whispers, “Willa, Umbra isn’t leaving. Have you considered none of us really know her or why she is…”

    “So stay an’ watch ‘er,” interjects Willa. She is speaking in her normal ship’s deck voice, and Aurora can hear it almost as loud echoing down the stone halls as she does in her mind. “But don’ be openin’ any doors.”

    When Babshapka notes that Aurora has remained behind, he does so as well, but farther down the hallway - one eye on his charge, one on the open doorway to the basement of the tower. As the light from Willa’s lantern, and the noise from the party, fade in the distance, the three elves, Aurora, Babshapka, and Umbra, are left in silence and darkness.

    Thokk and Willa are first on the stairs, with the party behind them. The eiger slain at the bottom of the stairs is still there, but his body is now tense with rigor mortis, and the air stinks with the contents of his bowels. A cold wind blows down the stairs, and his filth is frozen to the muddy floor.

    As Thokk and Willa emerge into the chamber above, Willa’s lantern plays over a grisly and macabre scene. Willa whistles lowly, and tells the others to stay below.

    The entire floor of the chamber (1) is covered in dead eigers - more than a dozen, nearly a score. They are not where they fell during the battle, though. Rather, they have been laid out, arms spread wide, on their backs, all with their heads to the north. Their wounds have bled freely, and the floor is covered with blood and filth.

    Even hard-eyed Willa is taken aback, and she pauses to run her lantern slowly around the room. The eiger cubs are there as well - she flashes the beam up to the stairs - they have been removed from the landing, and placed next to the bodies of the female eigers. She can’t see where Randy fell. There are too many bodies in the way - “Thokk,” she hisses, then shines the beam near the throne, “get over yon an' bring back all ther packs an’ such.”

    Thokk clambers over the bodies, but slips and falls more than once. By the time he reaches the spot where Randy fell, he is covered head-to-toe in gore and filth. He looks around bewildered, as there is no sign of the mule. “Argh,” he grunts in frustration, and waves away the light.

    Willa turns the lantern away from Thokk and uses it to check the stairs again, and then the entrance to the tower. The tunnel leading to the outside has been completely blocked off with rocks - dozens of huge stones, each heavier than a man could lift. She tries to swallow, but finds her throat dry.

    Without the lantern, Thokk’s eyes have grown accustomed to the dimness. With his darkvision, he can pick up more details. He notes that the faces of the eiger cubs are disfigured - their lips, noses, and ears have been removed, their eyes gouged out. He finally finds Randy’s body - or what is left of it. Mostly the spine, tail, entrails, and skin. The legs, head, and most of the torso are gone, and the floor all around it is slick with blood. There is no sign of any packs. “Bah,” Thokk says to Willa. “No packs here. Now everyone will know how good Thokk is at finding food. Soon they thank Thokk for good mushrooms.”

    Willa swallows again, and moves to the stairs. She ushers Thokk to follow her, and he begins his clumsy slipping and climbing over bodies until he is again at her side. As he approaches and the smell intensifies, Willa is thankful a lifetime of gutting fish has given her a strong stomach, and grateful for the cold and lack of flies. Together they mount the stairs.

    The stairs ascend along the wall of violet marble, and then the right side opens out into a 15 foot diameter chamber (2) while the stairs continue even more steeply up to another level. A wall sconce is about halfway up the stairs; in it is a crude torch - once burned, but now out. Willa removes a gauntlet and touches the torch tip gingerly, then firmly. It is cold, and has been out for hours.

    A battered and stained wooden table is in the center of the room. Arranged haphazardly about the room but away from the table and stairs are four clumsily woven reed mats. A single battered copper pot rests on the floor, its contents covered by a lid.

    They continue up the stairs, pass through a foot thick stone floor, and then the right side opens out into the empty space of a chamber (3) while the stairs continue more steeply up to another level. Rotten cushions and pillows litter the stone floor of the room. Between them is a large overturned wooden box. The room is about 12 feet across.

    An opening for a window is about halfway up the stairs, while another lies directly across the room from it but lower on the wall. Willa climbs the stairs to the opening. The tower walls are about five feet thick, so she must needs set Thokk’s lantern on the stairs and crawl into the tunnel and out to the open window to see. Wind blows freely into the chamber - it is certainly below freezing outside. Willa looks out over the valley, dark save for wan moonlight and stars. By the stars she judges she is looking northeast - it is a clear, cold night with no clouds. She scans the horizon for campfires, but sees nothing but empty forest and fields. She returns to the stairs, crosses the chamber, and looks out of the southwest window. The view there is no different, save that the mountains surrounding the valley seem lower but closer.

    Willa prods Thokk to continue, and they ascend to the fourth floor. The right side opens out into a seven foot diameter chamber (4) while the stairs continue even more steeply up to another level.

    An opening to an even-more recessed window is about halfway up the stairs, while another lies directly across the room from it but lower on the wall. The cluttered room contains a worn couch and five small wooden chests. Willa and Thokk step as quietly as possible into the room, but find all of the chests are open and empty. Thokk, however, notes a rectangular outline in the dust of the floor. Amidst all of the eiger tracks and dirt, there is a clear and clean space. Willa surmises that a sixth chest was once there, but was recently removed. They continue up.

    The stairs now open onto more of a landing than a chamber, barely four feet across (5). The stairs continue up to another level, although at this point the runs are so narrow and the rises so high it is effectively a stone ladder. An open recess for a window is about halfway up the stairs, while another lies directly across the room from it but lower on the wall. There is a single scratched and dented heavy wooden chair in the center of the landing, turned so as to look out the lower window. However, the height of the window prevents Willa from seeing out of it unless standing. Even Thokk, sitting in the chair, sees only the upper half of the frame.

    (12:00am; Tower Day 2)
    When Willa tells Thokk to mount the next flight of stairs, he hesitates. “Evil advisor,” he scoffs, “This boring. We return to others now.”

    “Thokk? Ye be nae scared, now?”

    Thokk snorts derisively. “Thokk never scared. But if we fight now, no one see Thokk’s glory. No fun to fight without friends to see.”

    Willa shoves Thokk toward the stairs. “Git up thar, ye big baby!”

    “Thokk not scared,” the half-orc sniffs petulantly. And yet, he seems more cautious than normal as he climbs the stairs slowly, one hand on his sword and the other on the steps themselves.

    The sixth floor is another small landing (6). The stairs continue up, ending in an open trapdoor in the ceiling. An open recess for a window is about halfway up the stairs, while another lies directly across the room from it but lower on the wall. A brazier sits upon a stone pedestal in the center of the landing, and several gnawed bones are scattered about the floor. The duo examines the room’s contents - Willa finds the brazier to be cold and empty. Thokk says the bones are mostly giant rat but there is some mountain goat in there as well - the gnaw marks are likely from the eigers.

    Willa again prods Thokk to continue up the stairs. He peeks his head carefully through the trapdoor, looks quickly around, and ducks back down. They must have finally reached the dome of the tower, for the constricting walls have opened up to a 20 by 20 foot square chamber (7). Each of the four walls has an open wooden door near the corner. “Git up thar, ye coward,” hisses Willa. Thokk continues up the stairs until he is standing waist high in the room. There is a worn, stained couch and a porcelain urn nearby. Thokk considers the couch for the shape of the “missing” rectangle below, but it is too large. Willa pokes him with her blade until he is standing in the room itself and she can see from the stairs. She raises the lantern and lets its light play across the open doorways, but there is no response from the rooms beyond. She climbs into the room herself. The ceiling is twelve feet high in the center, but lower near the walls as it follows the smooth curve of the dome. The pair of them examine the marks on the floor - lots of eiger prints, and a few drag marks from something heavy, as well from one of the doorways to the trapdoor.

    “Alright,” Willa says, “we be headin’ back now.”

    “Good!” says Thokk, decidedly. “Because creepy cold tower is too boring for Thokk.”

    The party is now reunited in the dungeon. Aurora and Umbra agree that the secret door off of the secret room, and not the one near the portrait, is the first that needs to be tried. They pass easily through the partly-open door, and are followed by others who have to squeeze through. Aurora shows Thokk where the loose stone she found is, and as he presses it the wall opens. This door, like the last, pivots about a fixed axle, leaving little space to enter.

    Aurora waits for Thokk to stick his head in one side, and when he doesn’t react, she slides in the other side, followed immediately by Umbra.

    Inside, the room (D12) is ten by ten, bare and dusty, with an eight foot tall ceiling. It contains a desk with a high stool, and a large cabinet. As Umbra enters the room, the cabinet starts to rattle, and then one of its doors bursts open. Dark shapes explode forth and circle the room at great speed - Aurora at first takes them for bats, but then realizes that she can see through them. After several circuits of the room, they converge upon Umbra and seem to meld with her form. Her face shows shock, but also recognition.

    “Umbra!” shouts Aurora. “Dark shapes are entering you! What is happening?”

    Umbra laughs at the look of fear on Aurora’s face, then smiles and smooths the shadows into her skin. “Don’t worry,” she says placidly. “I am fine.”

    Aurora tries to contact Willa through message to relay her suspicions, but the stone wall between them is too thick. None of the other party members have heard this exchange or seen the shadows.

    [DM's Note: The eigers finally decided that they were not going after the party into the dungeon. They gathered up their treasure and consolidated it into a single chest to take with them. They butchered Randy and took his meat for their journey, as well as all the party's rations and packs and supplies he was carrying. Eddard's chain barding became a cloak for the chieftain, and his leather saddle a headrest / pillow. They arranged the bodies of their fallen companions, and used all the boulders they had gathered in the dome rooms above to wall off the tower entrance from the outside, hoping that the party would die in the dungeon and that they were thus sealing the tomb of both their tribe and its killers.]
    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.
    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
    Posts: 754
    From: Sky Island, So Cal

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    Tue Apr 28, 2020 9:21 am  
    Post 114: The Scriptorium and Beyond

    DM's Note on Sources: The tower and its inhabitants come from David Prata's "Tower of Azal'Lan".

    This and subsequent posts will contain many spoilers. The identity of rooms is indicated in bold.

    For the soundtrack while in the Dungeon level, I used "Dungeon I" by Tabletop Audios.

    Although the slain ogres were not undead, I certainly wanted the party to think that was a possibility. In the above-ground tower while it was still dark I used the soundtrack "Nightmare" by Tabletop Audio.

    For a 5e version of yellow mold, I used Uder's post at which states that "The playtest bestiary for Barrier Peaks has yellow mold. It gives the mold a 50% chance to puff spores. They do 7d6 damage, CON save DC13 for half. Kill it with fire, radiant or necrotic damage only; AC0 & 10 hit points per 5 foot patch. DC12 Investigation or Perception to identify."

    Post 114: The Scriptorium and Beyond
    Somewhere in the Little Hills, actual date unknown. Second day in the Tower

    Aurora moves distrustfully to the cabinet and opens the other door. Inside there is a bronze stoppered tube, four great volumes bound with thick leather, and a rolled-up sheet of vellum. Umbra gasps and the vellum twitches. She steps forward, and the vellum is drawn to her like metal to a loadstone. Aurora reaches out with her mage hand, but too late - the vellum tube flies to Umbra’s hand. She tucks it swiftly down her bodice without even pausing to look at it.

    “Umbra! What in the nine planes is going on here?” demands Aurora shrilly. Babshapka hears the panic in her voice and slips into the room.

    “Is everything alright in here?” he asks coldly, in Elven.

    “Babs! There were shadows flying around the room, and she took them in, and then she conjured a scroll into her hand from that cabinet! Something is going on here!”

    Babshapka looks from Aurora to Umber, who is standing calmly. He arches an eyebrow but says nothing.

    Aurora huffs angrily, then reaches through the opening of the doorway and drags Tyrius into the room. By the light of his shield, they can now see that there are two sheets of parchment, an ordinary quill, and a pot of dried ink on the desk. With one hand gripping Tyrius’ mailed arm fiercely, Aurora turns back to Umbra. “You never did tell us what you were doing here, mage! Why are you in this tower?” she demands.

    Umbra smiles. “Why are you here, Aurora? Shouldn’t you be looking in those books for recipes?”

    “What’s the deal with the shadows? Do you serve the powers of darkness?”

    “Of course not. The shadows are my friends, my confidants.”

    Aurora turns to Tyrius, triumphantly. The paladin shrugs. “Pelor judges people for their actions, not their friends.” Aurora throws up her hands in exasperation and stomps back to the cabinet. Umbra has not made any further moves toward it.

    Aurora pulls out the third of the three tomes. She leafs through the pages. It is free of mold but the paper is dry and brittle. The ink is faded and difficult to read - she thinks it is spell symbols - a spellbook! However, she doubts whether many, if any, of the spells are intact - especially the longer (higher-level) ones, since hardly a page goes by without a spot where the ink has faded completely.

    She sets the tome on the ground, pulls out her wand of magic detection, and uses a charge. The first three volumes, including the one she pulled out, are weakly magical - most likely the result of their inks and symbols, if they are spellbooks, rather than being inherently magical items. The bronze tube is more clearly magical - or at least something in it is. Aurora has not used the wand in the presence of Umbra before. She feels a number of influences in her area - but when she stretches out her senses, Umbra frowns and her aura becomes occluded.

    “What are you trying to hide, shadow-mage?” harrumphs Aurora, but the others pay her no heed, least among them Umbra. Aurora takes the fourth, non-magical, book from the cabinet and opens it on the desk. She calls Tyrius over to shed light on it.

    The writing is not the magical symbols of spell formulae, but a neatly-lettered script. It is in ancient Suel, and very faded - it will take Aurora hours to decipher it. She spends several minutes making out that it is a journal, or diary, with dated entries. The inscription on the front page reads “Nholast of Linth,” she says aloud, then regrets it when Umbra asks who Nholast is.

    “Nholast? Hmm. I don’t know. I’m not sure I have heard that name before,” she replies.

    Tyrius holds up his hand, before she can prevaricate herself further. “Nholast was the master of this tower, apparently,” he says. “The Sage of Highfell called him Nholast the Unforgiven. Aurora is here to research more about who he was and what he did and how he is connected to the history of Keoland.” Aurora flushes with anger.

    “Well, I’ve never heard of him,” says Umbra, “truly.” She comes closer to the desk and notices that the first page of the journal is on the point of coming completely free of the binding. She reaches out, and Aurora clamps down defensively on the book. Umbra, however, merely stretches forth a finger and hums to herself while she runs it along the edge of the page. As she traces the paper’s edge, the frayed binding threads reform, and the page is held securely in place.

    “That’s a mending cantrip,” says Aurora. “I know it too, of course...I’ve just never learned to cast it.” She pauses, then asks, “Can you mend the others as well?”

    Babshapka shakes his head, in disbelief that Aurora dares to ask a favor from the woman she just accused and then lied to less than a minute ago, but Umbra simply nods her head. “I can, but you saw how long it took to fix that one page. It will take me an hour or more to do all the pages of all four. Better at our next rest. And I can restore the paper and binding and normal ink, but not anything magical, so those spellbooks…”

    “May still be spoiled, I know,” interjects Aurora. “But at least they will survive our journey out of here.”

    From the far hallway comes Willa’s shout. “‘eave ‘o in there! Time t’ weigh anchor!”

    Aurora reluctantly allows Umbra to gather and stack the four books, and to hand the bronze tube to Tyrius while she goes through the desk. The inkwell is quite dry; the blank parchment was originally of scroll quality but is now brittle.

    The party moves out into the hallway and prepares to enter the next secret door. As they walk, Babshapka falls back and helps Umbra carry the weighty tomes. “Mistress,” he whispers in elven, “why are you here?”

    Umbra responds simply, “I am seeking answers to questions about the history of my people.”

    Babshapka broods on this. It is rather too similar to the answer Aurora once gave him when he asked about why he was helping her steal materials from a library - and that turned out to be a patent falsehood.

    The party decides to first examine the secret door that Babshapka found (D5). Babshapka shows Thokk the loose stone on the wall. When he presses it, a door-sized section of wall sinks into the floor like most of the secret doors they have found (just not the most recent two leading to the study with the four books).

    Through the secret passage Thokk sees a small chamber beyond, and then a corridor leading south. The walls are of the same stone as the rest of this level, but the floor is covered in dust, with no disturbance or tracks visible.

    Thokk pauses in the doorway, sniffing. Are there more mushrooms ahead? He leads the party down the corridor. The father south they travel, the damper the air becomes and the more it smells of mold. Finally they reach the south wall, whereupon the corridor turns to their right. About halfway up the wall, a crack splits the stone surface for its entire length, as far down as they can see. A natural seep drips water all along the rock face. From the crack down, the surface of the rough-hewn blocks is damp. Green, grey, and yellow molds cover the walls and spill out onto the floor beneath the seep.

    The corridor runs west for a while, then turns back north again. However, the mold at the end comes more than ten feet away from the base of the wall, such that it completely blocks off the end of the corridor. They would need to walk through the mold patch, or jump over it - and the floor is damp, the footing treacherous.

    Aurora asks Larry about the mold, and he says it looks like the yellow strains are the same as the one outside the door of the alchemy workshop was. Aurora has Willa shine the lantern at the nearest patch of fungus on the floor, and she sends a trial firebolt at it. A large section of mold is burned away, but all the patches around it send forth a shower of golden spores into the air. The spores drift leisurely down the hall toward them.

    “Keep that beam going,” says Aurora. She begins launching bolt after bolt down the hallway into the mold as she slowly backs up. Fire and spores fill the hallway, the cloud growing more dense and creeping toward them. As the spore cloud approaches, Willa backs away and takes the lantern with her. “Keep the light going!” insists Aurora, continuing to send flashes of fire into the darkness ahead of her.

    “Get yerself outta t’ere!” countermands Willa, finally grabbing Aurora by the robe and dragging her back up the hall out of reach of the spores.

    Larry whistles appreciatively as Willa shines the lantern across the surface of the dense, advancing spore cloud. “That’ll be takin' a right while ta settle.”

    So as to not waste time while they wait, Willa leads the party back through the open secret door and to the end of the hall where the iron door that Larry examined still stands.

    Larry listens, but does not hear anything at the door. He steps out of the way for Thokk, who slams his shoulder into the door as he has a dozen other ones one this level. This door is not of rotting wood, however, but thick iron. It gives a resounding clang as Thokk’s shoulder hits it, but does not move a fraction of an inch. The half-orc hoots in pain and rubs his shoulder.

    [Str. check 10, 1 pt of damage. I had set the DC of opening the locked iron door at 25]

    Willa holds the lantern up to the door. There is a locking mechanism, with a stout deadbolt sunk deeply into the stone wall. The keyhole is so clogged with rust that she doubts they could open it even had they the key. “Thokk, it be rusted shut,” she scolds. “Use yer head now ‘n agin .”

    Aurora comes forward to examine it, then backs up to the opposite end of the hall, bidding Willa keep the lock in the light. With a single arcane word, the enchantress casts a knock spell. Immediately a loud clang sounds, echoing up and down the hall, louder even then Thokk’s attempt to open the door, but it remains stubbornly shut.

    Aurora approaches the door to examine it again. A pile of rust and shavings has exploded from the lock and bolt, and the metal fittings beneath shine dully. It should be no trouble at all to open it now - if only they had the key, or were Aurora willing to use a second spell.

    “Hah - door not stuck. Now Thokk open!” says the barbarian. This time, Larry guides Thokk into using his shield directly on the deadbolt itself, and Willa sets the lantern down and waits by the door. Thokk gets a running start, and as he passes Willa, she swivels and shoves him hard at the door. He throws his shield forward as he crashes into the door. The resulting clamor surely must be audible in the tower above, but still the door does not move. This time Thokk howls in pain.

    [Str. check 8, +1 guidance, +5 aid = 14. 3 points of damage]

    As Thokk winces and rubs his shoulder, Willa squares off against the door. “Whar be I hittin’ ‘er?” she asks Larry, and Larry points to just below the lock. Willa steps back, then runs up, leaps in the air, and kicks with both of her feet at the same time. Her heavy boots slam into the door and she falls hard on her back on the stone floor, cursing.

    [Str. check 5, guidance +4 = 9]

    Thokk chuckles as he helps her to her feet. “Together?” he suggests, and Willa nods.

    Willa and Thokk back away down the corridor, then begin jogging back, gathering speed as they go. Thokk holds his shield in front of him as Larry directed. Thokk slams into the door with Willa pushing him from behind, so that he hits the metal with the strength of them combined. This time, in addition to the resounding metal clang, there is the fractious sound of stone splintering.

    [Str. check 16, guidance +3, aid +5 = 24. Almost!]

    The deadbolt of the door is intact, but the stone wall into which it is set has cracked, meaning that the door now has a bit of give, and can be worked an inch or so each way. After she pulls herself off the ground, Willa bangs it back and forth a few times. Chips of stone and stone dust tumble to the floor, but the bolt does not look to give. As she moves the door and thus stirs the air, however, they catch the scent of mold in the room beyond.

    “Oh, hey!” says Aurora brightly, “what about this key?” She pulls forth from her pocket the large iron key she took from the body of the half-eiger slain outside the tower.

    Willa snatches the key disgustedly from Aurora’s hand and tries it in the lock. Perhaps it once fit, but it is impossible to tell now. The metal around and inside the locking mechanism is so battered and twisted from their attempts to open it, that she can barely get the key through the keyhole, let alone fit it snugly into the tumblers. She sighs and hands it back.

    Aurora points at the narrow gap that has just been made between the stone wall and the iron door. “What about a pry bar?” she suggests. “We have a few of those, right?”

    “They were all on Randy,” says Willa acidly. She sighs and turns away from Aurora, then sets down her pack and pulls out the magic mace she recovered from Strahd’s castle. At first she thinks to use its tempered steel shaft as a pry bar, but it is too thick to fit through the gap. She adjusts her gauntlets, flexes her knees, and spins around in a complete circle as she accelerates the mace ahead of her. The mace head crashes into the door and the bolt groans and twists.

    “Thar she be,” says Willa, and spins and hits it again. This time the bolt snaps, and the entirety of the thick, iron door is ripped off its hinges. It topples to the floor inside the room beyond with the loudest crash yet.

    [Str. check 20, +3 proficiency, +2 mace = 25]

    The room beyond (D4) is ten feet deep, twenty feet wide, and eight feet high, with no egress. The walls are of the same rough cut stone as the corridors they have been following, and are hung with a dozen paintings or more, but all of them are covered over with green and yellow fungus, canvas and wooden frames both. The original artwork cannot be seen beneath the mold.

    After some discussion, they decide to burn the mold away so as to search for more secret doors. Larry volunteers to cover the walls in oil, and collects a flask from Willa and another from Thokk. He ties a rope about his waist, just in case, and casts resistance on himself.

    Entering the room, he finds most of the mold on the paintings themselves, and the canvas and wood completely rotted away. The walls have plenty of mold as well, though it is less thick than on the paintings. He opens the flasks, and sets them down, ready to start dousing the walls. But first, out of curiosity, he reaches out and pokes at the mold with a grubby finger. A ripple of energy spreads out from the point of contact and runs through rhizomes all over the room. Almost at once, yellow mold from every surface sends forth spores in a soft whoof of air. Larry is engulfed by the golden cloud; he covers his mouth and runs out of the room, nearly tripping over one of the flasks. In the hallway he sinks to his knees, coughing, lungs burning, then crawls on hands and knees toward the party, which has retreated to the end of the hall. He coughs for several minutes, in the end hacking up phlegm and spatterings of blood.

    [29 points of spore damage, Larry saves for half damage]

    Willa tells the party to stay put while she and Thokk gather “kindling”. They return to the room the party camped in “overnight” (D15), smash all of the chairs into piles of splintered wood, and come back with armfuls. Thokk then returns to the “library” (D3), ripping the heavy plank bookshelves off of the walls and carrying them back in loads.

    Thokk stands in the doorway and throws a chair leg at the wall. Some of the mold is scraped off from the force of the blow, but it does not elicit more spores. Taking deep breaths in the hall and holding their breaths while in the room, Thokk and Willa lay the shelf planks against the walls, pile the kindling at their base all around the room, and then empty the flasks of oil on the wood. Once all is prepared they retreat and Aurora sends in a firebolt to set the room ablaze with a roar. Thick smoke billows out, but the eight foot high vaulted ceiling of the corridor keeps it above most of them, though Thokk’s eyes water.

    After several minutes the fires die out. Willa and Babshapka check the soot-stained walls, but find no secret doors. Willa moves the party back to the southern corridor, where the mold spores have now mostly settled to the floor.

    Here and there are still patches of mold on the dampest stone, but Aurora burns them with judicious applications of her firebolt, and no further spores are released. After turning the corner, they move north along the corridor, away from the seep, the air growing dryer and the oppressive odor of mold fading behind them. Ahead, the corridor opens into a large room (D7).

    The ceiling here is arched to 12’ height. Several divans and low stools are scattered about this otherwise vacant chamber. Wall sconces hold long burnt torch stubs. The furnishings carry a thick layer of dust. Three wooden doors, their planks all rotted and split, are apparent.

    Thokk sniffs suspiciously at the first door, then gingerly lays his sore shoulder against it but can’t get it to budge. The wood has swollen and stuck in the frame. It takes both him and Larry to force it open. The room beyond (D9) is ten by ten by eight, and is dusty but bare. The back side of the door is covered in mold, but they find nothing else when searching it.

    The door to the next room (D8) opens easily, the wood being dry. Inside, it appears empty and identical to the previous room, and a second search reveals nothing as well.

    The third door leads to a much larger room (D10). The ceiling here is arched to 12’ height like the previous chamber. A number of straw mattresses and throw rugs (sufficient to sleep sixteen) cover the floor, and eight rotting wooden buckets line the south wall. The place is currently unoccupied and covered in dust. A few of the buckets contain hard dry turds, but nothing else. Aurora quickly checks the walls, but they do not yield secret exits. Willa and Aurora exchange words about the “army” that is following them - Umbra is interested at first, but quickly becomes concerned that the entire nation of Keoland is after this enchantress.

    They seem to have come to the end of this section of the dungeon, which Tyrius speculates is another one of the secret garrison complexes. With no tracks on the floor but their own, and a single entrance, it seems very defensible, so Willa agrees to let them take a short rest. They spread out among the dry straw mattresses. Aurora keeps one eye suspiciously on Umber at first, who continues to hold hushed conversation with Babshapka, but soon she becomes engrossed in reading the diary of Nhoast.

    [Willa, Thokk, and Larry spend hit dice to heal. Aurora and Larry use natural and arcane recovery to get back spell slots]

    [Note: Aurora’s initial investigation roll is 20. She can add 1 to this for each hour she spends after the first one reading the diary. The total number indicates the DC of the information she has deciphered to this point.]

    This journal of Nholast does not refer to himself as “the Unforgiven”, although on the initial page he styles himself “Nholast of Linth”.

    (DC16) There are dates by the entries. If Aurora remembers the calendar conversion of Suel Reckoning to Common Year, the dates are about 750 years ago. She reflects on the furnishings found so far. They are remarkably well-preserved for being over seven centuries old, but not unrealistically so, if they have been shut off and sealed underground.

    (DC17) The dates in the diary are sporadic. There are multiple entries for several weeks each, but often months apart.

    (DC18) The last entry mentions that Nholast’s current work, binding an erinyes to his will, has been interrupted by a command from Asberdies to assist in putting down yet another petty uprising. He laments the the erinyes is not completely dominated so that he could send her in his stead, as these rebellions are tiresome. He writes that he will be returning soon.

    (DC19) It appears that Nholast came here to this tower to do research and experimentation, free from the distractions of working for Asberdies. He had a small complement of guards and servants with him.

    (DC20) Some of Nholast’s experiments included necromancy, summoning and binding demons and devils, the creation of golems, and alchemy. He used his time between experiments to make spell scrolls. Asberdies did not begrudge him resources.

    Forming up after their rest, the party leaves the sleeping chamber and returns back through the secret door in the portrait room to the soot-stained art room. Aurora firebolts the remaining mold, and carefully searches the walls, especially the northern wall.

    “Ye be havin’ ther di-ary o' Nholast now, what more be ye lookin’ fer?” Willa asks her.

    Aurora says that she is not at liberty to say in front of her (and she rolls her eyes at Umbra), but Willa is not convinced that Aurora actually knows what she is looking for.

    Short of doing a long search on every section of dungeon wall (which Aurora seems up for but few of the others), it appears that the dungeon level has been played out. A few of them suggest finishing their exploration of the tower above, and this is agreed to by the majority. They retrace their steps to the bottom of the tower, and then up the stairs to the entry room. Those who had not yet seem the strangely displayed eiger dead, or the blocked off exit, are concerned, but Willa ushers them quickly through.

    The party ascends through the tower levels - the second (with the wooden table and reed mats), the third (with the cushions and rat box), the fourth (with the couch and empty chests), the fifth (with the chair watching the window), the sixth (with the bones and brazier), and finally up through the trapdoor into the seventh level with the domed roof.

    Of the four open doors off of the central chamber, they try the north one first (7a). This wedge-shaped room extends to the wall of the tower, where the domed roof lowers to a mere five feet high. Murder holes line the north wall, as well as the floor at its base, but are as dark as the night sky beyond. A battered workbench sits against the south wall, and an empty cresset hangs from the ceiling. A small barrel is near the bench. A number of hides laying over piles of rushes looks to be a huge communal bed. Several dented metal urns are obviously used as chamber pots, and there is a pile of cracked and reasonably fresh bones near the bed. A 7½’-tall misshapen humanoid form stands motionless as near the north wall as its height will allow.

    Thokk and Willa inspect it carefully, but it does not appear to be moving. When Aurora enters, she says “Oh, a golem! Nholast mentioned that in his diary. I wonder what the command words are?” She then begins trying various words in ancient Suel in an attempt to animate the figure, until Willa makes her stop, in part from feeling she is wasting time, in part from dread of what might happen should Aurora actually succeed in animating it.

    Thokk examines the bones near the bed. They are so well-gnawed that he cannot make much of them, but from the musky smell in the room, he strongly suspects this was an eiger den. The murder holes have fresh scratches along the floor and a number of chips and flakes of stone about. Perhaps the boulders that even now block their exit came from here. Of course, reasons Thokk, these holes are big enough for them to climb through and jump to the ground - they are not really trapped in the tower, after all.

    They next try the chamber to the west (7d). A few hides laying over piles of rushes looks to be a large bed with a nearby pile of bones. A smaller bed is near the door. Several dented metal urns are obviously used as chamber pots. They look about, but find nothing of interest.

    The chamber to the south (7c) has the same dimensions - wedge-shaped, extending to the wall of the tower, murder holes in the wall and floor. The furnishings are different, however - the beds are smaller and individual rather than communal. There are three here, and each has a single threadbare hide laying over a pile of rushes. The room smells strongly of rancid sweat with undertones of seawater. Several dented metal urns are obviously used as chamber pots. Thokk guesses that if the previous chambers housed eigers strong enough to have females, this room is for the weaker bachelors. Nothing is found in a quick search, though they are disgusted by the beds themselves.

    The final room of the dome (7b) is as the others, and could be a mirror-image of the one to the west. A few hides laying over piles of rushes form a single large bed with a nearby pile of bones. A smaller bed is near the door and several dented metal urns are chamber pots. A quick search reveals nothing. By this time, the icy wind blowing through the murder holes has chilled the party, and all of them are ready to depart the dome - but to where? Aurora talks about the unsearched walls of the dungeon, as well as the thick walls of the tower that could easily conceal small chambers - but Willa is still unsure what specifically they are searching for.
    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.
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    Tue May 05, 2020 10:40 am  
    Post 115: Waiting for the New Day

    DM's Note on Sources: The tower and its inhabitants come from David Prata's "Tower of Azal'Lan".

    This and subsequent posts will contain many spoilers. The identity of rooms is indicated in bold.

    For the soundtrack while in the Dungeon level, I used "Dungeon I" by Tabletop Audios.

    Since the players were all either new to the game or new to 5E, none of them knew what the rules were for exhaustion from thirst and hunger; when checks needed to be made and what the results were for failed checks. I told them that they would eventually find out through experience.

    Post 115: Waiting for the New Day
    Somewhere in the Little Hills, actual date unknown. Second day in the Tower

    The party decides that they would like to use the murder holes to look outside the tower, but it is still night. Luna, the larger of the two moons, is quite full, so they have a good view across the valley, but not in detail around the base of the tower, which is what they are after. Willa scans the horizon in all directions, but doesn’t see any lights or campfires - just wide open wilderness in the pale moonlight. Larry points out that with Luna full, and the smaller Handmaiden still new, they can’t be that far off in time from when they left Highfell - provided it is still the same year.

    Willa decides that they can search the eiger quarters at the top of the tower while they wait for the sun to come up. In one of the rooms she finds a hollow, stoppered bone tube in the pile of discarded bones. It looks like it might be a scroll tube, so she passes it unopened to Aurora.

    Once the rooms are searched the party retires to the central chamber, closing all the doors to block the chilly wind but leaving the door to the east open just a crack to see when the light comes in. It is still cold (in the twenties outside the tower and just below freezing even behind the doors) and their stomachs are all grumbling, but they are adventurers and used to resting when they can. Aurora reads while they wait.

    Less than two hours later it is light enough to see the ground outside, though the sun has not yet cleared the mountains at the east end of the valley.

    The grass outside is still white with frost, except for a ring around the tower just under the murder holes. There, the grass has been trampled and there is no frost, or much less. After some consideration, the party surmises that there was a large collection of boulders in these tower rooms, but sometime after they entered, the rocks were pitched from the tower (creating the trampled circle), then taken from the ground outside and used to block the entryway, sealing the party inside.

    The ground is some ninety feet below them, but after carefully studying it, Larry announces that he can see a trail leading through the frost. The trail is the tracks of large humanoids, most likely the eigers. It leads away from the tower to the northwest.

    Aurora considers the murder holes to be an alternate exit, should they not be able to clear the stones from the entryway below. With a hundred feet of rope they will be able to lower themselves outside, and all of them but Larry should be able to fit through the murder holes.

    With nothing more of interest above ground, the party goes back to the dungeons, all the while discussing where something else might be hidden below. On a hunch, Willa leads them back to the room (D5) where the portrait they took to be Nholast was, but find they actually left the painting in hallway outside the room. By Willa’s lantern, Aurora carefully examines the back of the portrait - but doesn’t find anything. They re-hang it where it was before, and Willa asks Umbra what she sees in it. The elf agrees with Tyrius’ previous assessment, but adds that the fashion of clothing indeed appears to be post-migration Suel, making it plausible that it could match the purported dates of 750 years ago in the diary.

    They take some time to look around, searching the walls carefully for secret doors, but finding nothing. Their thirst is getting the better of them. Since they entered the tower yesterday before dawn, they have now gone a full day with only a half-day’s ration of water. Thokk opens his skin of squeezed mushroom water and drinks deeply, then offers it to the others, but after Willa shakes her head, they all decline. He finishes the skin, and checks that the two others he has are still full.

    [7am - DM’s note. At this point all of them but Thokk need to make a DC15 Con check. Umbra, Willa, Tyrius, and Shefak fail these checks, and are now at the first level of exhaustion. Until they drink, they will have disadvantage on all ability checks. Among other things, this means they will be less effective at searching for secret doors. They have all, except for Aurora and Umbra who had rations on them, also been a complete day without food. They learn that even those among them with the lowest constitution can go without eating for 24 hours without penalty.]

    Willa finds her thirst is making her slow and clumsy, and not up to the task of finding any secret doors. As she takes a break and looks about, a few of the others seem similarly affected. Babshapka, Larry, and Thokk all seem fine - she tells them to continue searching with their darkvision while she leads the others back to the kitchen to see if there is water in the well. She collects everyone’s empty skins before they set out, and the two ones that Thokk has which are full of mushroom water. They have six skins between the eight of them - there were lots more on Randy. Each skin holds enough water for half a day or so. Aurora is busy reading by the light of Willa’s lantern, so Willa leaves her where she is, and they rely on the holy light of Pelor to find their way.

    After a few wrong turns and confused consultations of Willa’s charcoal sketch map by Pelor’s light, the away team finds themselves back in the kitchen. Tyrius casts light on Willa’s silk rope, then lowers it down the well. The stone walls are thick with moss - and a dozen furry bodies! At the appearance of the light, giant rats scamper up the sides of the well and pour out into the kitchen, attacking the four people there.

    “Nutmeg and feck!” curses Willa, as she yanks the rope from the well and draws her greatsword. She motions with her hand for the others to fall back defensively to the door before they are overrun by the wave of rats. Although the team is slaying rats every second, more and more continue to come forth. By the time they have their backs to the door and have killed more than a dozen of them, the rats’ courage breaks and they begin running out the open secret door rather than attacking the party. Umbra continues firing freezing bolts at them and Willa yells and swings her sword, hoping to herd them all out the door. She estimates that as many as another four dozen emerge from the well and have run through the room before the flow slows and then stops. Willa works quickly to pull, push, and twist the loose stone that opened the secret door until she finds the means to close it, sealing the rats on the other side.

    Panting and bloodied, the party takes stock. Fully 16 giant rats lay sprawled dead on the kitchen floor - three frozen from rays of chilling shadow, four cleft in twain by a greatsword, four smashed into paste by a hammer, and five kicked and bludgeoned to death by a staff. Umbra was bitten once (4pts), Willa and Shefak twice (9 points each), and Tyrius thrice (16 points).

    Listening carefully, they hear nothing more coming from the well, so Willa lowers the still-glowing rope down again. Water is in the bottom, just below the reach of the rope itself. Someone will need to go down - and Shefak is the lightest among them, though there is not enough room in there to wield her staff. She agrees to the task, but insists that the rope be tied about her rather than her climbing down. She loads up with all six of the empty water skins of the party (Willa having poured Thokk’s mushroom water out upon learning that there was in fact water in the well). When Umbra ties her rope to Willa’s, they have a cord long enough to lower Shefak to the bottom of the well.

    As she is lowered by Willa, Shefak calls up that the walls are pockmarked with dozens of caves - all rat-sized and too small to enter. Pushing away the moss, she finds that the caves are mostly shallow, and filled with bones and rat droppings, though a few are tunnels and go back farther than she can see. Near the bottom, the moss grows thicker on the walls and the caves less frequent. Willa looks over at a slain rat on the floor of the kitchen and sees that its fur is damp though not wet - they will need to find some way to clean the water, or else she is not letting anyone drink it.

    Shefak sniffs suspiciously at the water, then begins to fill the skins one at a time. As her weight increases with each full skin, Willa calls Tyrius over to help her hold the rope and then pull the monk up. Once Shefak is back in the kitchen, Willa explains that they will be boiling the water, and asks for suggestions. A hearth is on hand in the room - and next door, the chairs and tables will provide as much wood as they could possibly need - but what to boil the water in? Umbra says that she carries a mess kit in her pack, and it includes a small pot.

    While Umbra tends the fire, boils the water, and refills the skins with boiled water one pot at a time, the other three search the walls of the kitchen and the dining room beyond. The first skin that is filled is passed around between them, and all drink deeply until it is empty, and then the second. Only by the time Umbra is filling the third skin is she actually storing up any water.

    They find a secret door on the north wall of the kitchen itself, in the part that is not occupied by the hearth. Willa tells them to hold off on opening it for the time being. She is trying to work out the logistics of their water use, since she knows they will need at least two skins per person per day, and they will not get that amount anytime soon with Umbra’s tiny camp pot.

    When they have finished searching all the nearby walls, Willa takes Tyrius with her and they return to a room she searched the day before, a small bedchamber (D14). Something about the room is nagging at Willa, and when she enters, she immediately sees what it is - there is a small, beaten copper bathtub in the room. Between them, and with several pauses to rest, Willa and Tyrius move the tub into the kitchen and set it down in the hearth itself. Umbra empties all of the unboiled water from the skins into the tub - not even filling it to a sixth of its depth. The others in the team smash chairs and bring wood and soon have a raging fire going. Shefak is sent on several more trips down the well until the tub is half full. The smoke is venting nicely up the chimney and not filling the room.

    Finally content, Willa tells them to open the new secret door, but it takes three of them and several minutes to figure out the mechanism. Ultimately, a loose stone is discovered near the hearth but beneath the body of a dead rat. Once the door is open, they can immediately smell the dampness beyond. The small ten by ten chamber revealed is obviously a wine cellar, with rotten, sagging shelves and numerous glass bottles. However, the shelves and walls are covered with a thick green carpet.

    Not sure if it is moss or mold, Willa covers her mouth with a cloth and enters to assess whether anything important is beneath the green, but as she gets closer she is not seeing bulbous fungus, or spongy sphagnum, but rather thick, ropy slime. A slime that was hanging from the ceiling detaches itself and falls directly on her. Now covered in the viscous goo, she stumbles blindly back out the door.

    She recalls tales of a green slime that can grow in ship bilges, feeding off organic waste. It is supposed to be acidic to the touch - and as she thinks of this, she can feel her face start to burn where the slime is seeping through her helmet. She wipes it away from her mouth and shouts “Get t’is armor orf me!” [Willa takes 18 points of damage]

    After ripping her helmet off and fumbling with a few buckles, Willa realizes that she is panicking and it will take far too long to strip off her plate armor. The slime that covers her breastplate and back is already oozing up and through the chain coif, burning her neck. At least she can see now, can see how she is covered in slime and in fact is dragging a trail of it out of the room with her.

    She waves her companions off and yells instead “Shut ther damn door!” as she grabs a flaming chair leg from the fire. The slime turns into a flaky powder at the application of the flame and Willa grimly steps as close to the fire as she can get without falling into the tub. Shefak strikes with her magic staff at the slime trail, managing to sever it as Tyrius closes the door. The monk then summons her ki, turning her fists and feet into magical weapons as she pummels the slime on Willa’s armor, doing damage to both it and her.

    The slime seems most threatened by the proximity of the fire, however. It shudders, and suddenly the side toward the fire shoots forth a cone of acid. Umbra is doused with the spray [and takes 24 points]. The fire hisses and spits and nearly goes out.

    Umbra staggers away, her own flesh now burning from the acid spray, then summons forth a skeletal hand that she sends at Willa. The hand starts clawing at Willa’s armor, freezing pieces of slime and ripping them off - but Willa does not know where the hand has come from or that it is controlled by Umbra and she starts screaming for Thokk’s help. With her chair leg torch, she beats and burns the slime and the hand both.

    Seeking to calm Willa, Shefak summons more ki, and with glowing hands pulls the remainder of the slime off her and then stomps it into the stone floor with glowing feet. Breathing heavily, Willa makes sure that every last trace of the slime is burnt away.

    After Tyrius lays hands on Willa she feels somewhat better. Making eye contact with the other three, she says in her most commanding tone, “When Aurora gets ‘ere, ye DINNAE let ‘er open t’at door, nae matter wha’!”

    The team in the south has continued to search walls, but to no effect. Aurora, however, has come across an interesting passage in her last hour of reading.

    (DC23) While Nholast refers to his lord Asberdies by name, he also refers to one called “The Master” - apparently a different individual.

    At this point, the searchers rouse Aurora from her tome and the four of them together travel to the kitchen. Upon entering, Thokk looks at all of the dead rats on the floor and exclaims, “Willa find water AND food! Good job, evil advisor.” He happily sets about gutting and dressing the rats, though when he is done Willa sees him heading for the bathtub just in time to keep him from rinsing his bloody hands and knives in the water.

    Willa unpacks the beetle strips she made - they have been more than twelves hours in her pack, raw, and are starting to smell gamey. She doesn’t know for sure that the beetle is edible. While she can’t personally say she has ever had rat, she knows plenty of sailors who have resorted to eating it on long sea voyages when the food stores ran low. It might not be a bad idea to ditch the beetle meat for the rat.

    Larry uses the time to heal those who fought the rats and the green slime.

    Aurora examines the bone tube found by Willa in the eiger lair and finds inside it a scroll of protection from petrification.

    Those who have not yet drunk, drink deeply from skins that are filled, then filled again from the tub. Everyone finally leaves the room with their water balance restored, carrying all of their skins full, and with some boiled water still left in the tub besides.

    They spend the next four hours (10am to 2pm) with seven of them searching walls in the dungeon while Aurora reads in the kitchen.

    Aurora had originally considered spitting the rats and roasting them over the fire, but that would take far too much of her time and attention while she is trying to read, so she decides to just quickly cut them into smaller pieces, put them in the tub, build the fire back up, and boil them. It does not take long before the tub is full of rat stew and she can get back to the diary.

    During the time the party is away, she gleans the following from the book:

    (DC26) Nholast was able to penetrate the defenses around Valadis after its fall. He was sent there by Asberdies to recover lore and items of power on more than one occasion.

    This excites her to no end, and she tries to read further but is now distracted by trying to think of how she is going to convince the party to return to Valadis.

    At the end of the four hours, the party returns to Aurora to tell her that as a result of their searches they have found one secret door, and one locked iron door, with both in the north-central part of the dungeon.

    When Aurora reaches the “T” in the corridor, she is incredulous at the sight of the door. “Was this on your map, Willa?”

    “Ther corridors, aye, but nae ther door.”

    “Well, who saw it? Someone walked past it!” No one seems to want to admit they searched the hallway before but did not note the door. Willa tells Aurora to get over it and get on with the search.

    They move first to the secret door at the end of the hall. “Always check the dead ends,” says Aurora, as she studies Willa’s map again. “Huh, I think we were on the other side of this wall, wondering why it sounded hollow - must have been whatever is beyond here.” It takes nearly everyone in the party before the mechanism for opening the door is discovered - it is the smallest and most concealed activation stone they have found yet, but finally it yields and the door opens.

    The room beyond is a scant ten by ten, and empty, except for three large wooden coffers on the floor. “Check fer traps,” says Willa instinctively, then stops herself - has it been two days yet since Barnabus abandoned them?

    Thokk is unconcerned and strides into the room. He squats over a coffer and opens it. Each coffer is metal-bound - the brass hinges protest, but do open, and reveal that the coffer is full of coins. Most are gold, a few are a metal that he does not recognize. He dumps the coffer out on the floor, sorts through, and takes a handful of the unfamiliar ones to the doorway. “Platinum!” say several voices at once. Thokk shrugs and throws the coins back on the floor, then opens the other coffers. Aurora estimates there to be several hundred gold and two dozen platinum. They leave the coins intact, and Aurora closes the secret door while the party goes to the other end of the hallway.

    Thokk tries running at the iron door, but it holds strong. Aurora tries mage handing the key she recovered from the dead half-eiger, but it does not fit the lock, so she resorts to a knock spell. The lock is free of rust and easily clicks open at the application of the spell.

    Inside the small chamber is a skeleton, clad in rags, hanging from a set of manacles in the center of the room. A large number of silver coins are heaped about the skeleton’s feet, and a pair of brilliant stones (one clear spindle, one iridescent spindle) circle about its head, continually in motion.

    Shefak and Babshapka enter the room and try to catch the stones in their hands. At their approach, the stones change course as if they are animate and avoiding being caught. They remain in revolution about the skeleton, but continually alter their speed and direction. Babshapka brushes against the body of the skeleton, and it collapses into a pile of disarticulated bones. The stones continue to circle the skull, which has rolled several feet across the floor. Shefak continues her pursuit of the stones, and after several attempts finally proves nimble enough to catch them both. Babshapka continues to stare at the skeleton, even picking a few bones up to examine them critically. “That was an elf,” he says.

    Shefak gladly turns the stones over to Aurora, who accepts them eagerly. Babshapka continues his examination of the skeleton. “There’s no meat on it - just dried bone...and these coins are of a mint with the ones from the other room - very old. Whoever this was, they died long ago.”
    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.
    Master Greytalker

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    Tue May 12, 2020 9:26 am  
    Post 116: Every last nook and cranny

    DM's Note on Sources: The tower and its inhabitants come from David Prata's "Tower of Azal'Lan".

    This and subsequent posts will contain many spoilers. The identity of rooms is indicated in bold.

    For the soundtrack while in the Dungeon level, I used "Dungeon I" by Tabletop Audios.

    Post 116: Every last nook and cranny
    Somewhere in the Little Hills, actual date unknown. Second day in the Tower

    Shefak gladly turns the stones over to Aurora, who accepts them eagerly. Babshapka continues his examination of the skeleton. “There’s no meat on it - just dried bone...and these coins are of a mint with the ones from the other room - very old. Whoever this was, they died long ago.”

    “Why would a pris’ner have magic stones?” wonders Willa aloud, before she turns and addresses Aurora directly. “An’ wha’ ther feck are we lookin’ fer ‘ere, anyway?”

    Aurora, as usual, dodges the question and merely says that they have nearly all of the dungeon searched and must indeed be close to the end. She sits down in the hallway, turns the wick up on Willa’s lantern, and opens Nholast’s journal. Willa gives an exasperated sigh, then directs Babshapka to search the room with the skeleton (D27), Thokk the secret treasure room (D28), and has the rest of the party follow her down the hall. When they reach a previously unsearched section, she lights a chair leg at one end of the hall, has Tyrius cast the light of Pelor on the other end, and the rest of the party searching between them.

    After 20 minutes, Babshapka has found nothing else in the prison chamber, so he comes out and stands guard over Aurora. At some point she looks up from her reading and notices him. “See if you can do anything with these,” she says, and hands him over the two strange flying gems.

    Thokk, during his search in the treasure room, notices a hollow sound when he taps on the stone wall near the floor. It doesn’t take long before he has found how to move a stone out of the way and discovered a space in the wall just large enough to contain one more coffer like those in the room. This one, however, doesn’t have coins inside. Instead, as far as he can tell in the darkness, it has little pieces of cut glass.

    Thokk wanders about the dungeon until he finds where Willa is directing the search, and shows her the coffer. By the light of the torch, she finds the “glass” is actually thirty-some gemstones. She smiles, but says, “All ther same, we cannae eat ’em.”

    The party continues to search, methodically checking all the stone surfaces for any remaining secret doors.

    (3:20pm - Aurora has read through DC 28 in the book)

    (3:40pm - Babshapka has identified the clear spindle. It is an ioun stone, and whilst it is in orbit about someone’s head, he will need neither food nor drink. However, to use it, he would need to attune to it first - and since Babshapka already has two of his three possible attunements used, he sets it aside.

    (4:20pm - Aurora has read through DC29 in the book. She finds an interesting reference, presumably to the skeleton of the elf: Nholast caught an elven thief trying to make off with money and magic. He sentenced him to 30 years imprisonment, and is interested to see what the state of his mind will be in 30 years.

    The next time the party returns to Aurora to check on her and go over the maps of the dungeon to decide where to search next, she tells them what she just learned from Nholast’s journal, and Babshapka relays what he learned about the stone. Willa asks whether something happened to Nholast in the thirty years so that he could not check on the prisoner, or whether he just forgot. Aurora thumbs through the journal, cross-referencing dates. “The elf was imprisoned just a few years before the last entry - and in the last entry, Nholast says he is leaving to help Asberdies “put down a rebellion”. But the Sage of Highfell told us that Nholast and Asberdies were deposed by a rebellion and Nholast had to flee the Yeomanry, so one could surmise that he was never able to return to this tower…”

    “And the elf stayed here, left behind and trapped?” asks Umbra, aghast.

    “Unable to leave,” says Babshapka, “and with the ioun stone, unable to die.”

    “So ‘ow did ‘e die?” asks Willa.

    Babshapka shrugs, then says darkly, “Old age, perhaps.”

    “But that would take…” Aurora’s words trail off.

    “Hundreds of years,” confirms Babshapka bitterly. “You said the journal is from seven centuries ago, right? That would do it.”

    For several moments they all stand in silence, contemplating just how cruel and evil this Nholast must have been, and the horrid fate of the elf. Tyrius’ jaw muscles clench, and Umbra shudders.

    “An’ t’at t’ing Thokk found - ther demon...” asks Willa.

    “Thokk find with his pole!” Thokk interjects brightly.

    “...would she hae been bound since t’ese times o’ yore, too?” she finishes.

    “Demons don’t age,” says Tyrius. “But I understand now why she was so eager to be free - even if that meant provoking us into destroying her material form.” He frowns, remembering how the erinyes actually thanked him for her destruction.

    Sobered and pensive, with some of them apprehensive at what other atrocities might lurk behind secret doors, the party resumes their search of the corridors while Aurora goes back to reading. Babshapka remains with Aurora, contemplating the stones as he guards her.

    (5:30pm - Aurora has read through DC30 in the book. Babshapka has identified the iridescent spindle. It is another ioun stone, and whilst it is in orbit about someone’s head, he will not need to breathe. Babshapka can’t stop himself from looking at the tight seal of the iron door of the prison cell, and imagining the suffocating feel and smell after having been trapped inside for centuries.)

    The party travels south, and searches all of the walls of the fungus and beetle room, including the bare secret room beyond. Then, finding nothing there, they go to the dirt-floored base of the tower above. The corpse of the ogre still lies at the bottom of the stairs, but it is now, after a day and a half, bloated and reeking of rot. The wind from the tower above carries the scent of a score of bodies more. Trying to keep from gagging, Willa tells them to be quick, but Thokk and Umbra, checking the north wall, converge on the same secret door.

    (6:30pm - Aurora has read through DC31 in the book.)

    The secret door leads to a small chamber, walled with the same rough blocks that the basement was - but the floor is also of rough stone, not dirt. In the center of the room is a circular pedestal. The room is otherwise bare. It measures ten by ten with an eight foot high ceiling. When Thokk and Umbra enter, they find that the room, isolated from the frigid wind rushing down the stairs, is noticeably warmer than the tower above or the basement floor. Umbra looks carefully, but does not find any markings adorning any side of the pedestal. Thokk jumps up on the pedestal and poses as if a statue, his head bumping the ceiling. Nearly retching, Willa tells Thokk to stop fooling around and come out of there if they cannot find anything.

    Retreating from the stench, Willa checks her map. She is confident they have searched the entirety of the dungeon - except the secret area beyond the kitchen, which for all she knows is now full of trapped rats. She gathers the party and tells them that it is time for dinner.

    In the kitchen, they all eat heartily of the tub full of rat stew. Thokk and Larry don’t care, of course, but even the others set aside any reservations - it has been a day and a half since any of them have eaten. Tyrius says that it “tastes like chicken,” which brings a snicker from even Willa.

    (7:30pm - food reset to this time. Aurora has read through DC32 in the book.)

    Belly now full, Willa is thinking a little clearer. Another place that hasn’t been searched is the secret wine cellar beyond the kitchen. But she is in no hurry to fight the slimes that remain. She directs Thokk to bringing in stout table legs and smashed chairs, and soon has a raging fire going in the hearth. She opens the secret door, and the party quickly tosses in burning wood. The fire drives the slime back, and it retreats into the corners of the room, revealing more of the rotten wood shelves and ancient glass bottles. Several minutes later, Thokk and Willa attempt to see into the room, hoping that secret doors have been revealed. Instead, they find that room itself is full of smoke, and even harder to see into than before. In fact, the smoke is rolling out and beginning to fill the kitchen. A lively current of air is going up the hearth chimney, but that opening is at waist height and the smoke is lingering on the kitchen ceiling, such that soon everyone is sitting or squatting to avoid coughing. Willa tells Thokk to stop feeding the fire in the wine cellar and to let it die out.

    Eventually the fire has burned down to cinders and ash. Willa has told Thokk how she and the party fought and killed one slime, and he decides that he will kill the others so that his evil advisor can look for doors. In truth, he has found far too few things to fight in this dungeon and he is bored of looking for doors.

    Thokk strides confidently into the room, stands in the pile of ash, and takes note of the three slimes, each cowering in a different corner. He laughs and steps forward, striking at the one in front of him with his sunsword. The magical blade slices through the creature and deep into the wooden shelving. A half-dozen glass bottles crash to the floor and break, splashing Thokk with ancient wine long turned to vinegar. Thokk starts to feel a burning sensation on his forearm. The wine? No - the slime he struck has shot some sort of acid at him! Then, the three slimes ooze forward, dropping on him, creeping up his boots, and firing off streams of caustic acid. [In rapid succession, Thokk takes 37 points of acid damage, and another 10 points of bludgeoning damage. He is feeling decidedly worse than a few seconds ago.]

    Tyrius casts a sanctuary spell on Thokk and yells at him to get out of there. Bellowing in pain and confusion, Thokk staggers from the room and runs over to the copper tub. He splashes the dregs of the rat stew on his face, trying to wash off the acid and burning slime. Larry and Umbra try to force the slime back into the secret room with sprays of poison and freezing shadow (although the poison has no effect) and Willa activates the stone that closes the secret door again, then carefully uses a flaming torch to burn the slime dripping off Thokk and running in a spotty trail from him to the door. She looks into the tub, where patches of slime are even now beginning to grow as they dissolve pieces of rat meat. She notes sardonically that they should probably bring that to a boil again.

    Once Thokk has been thoroughly checked for any lingering pieces of slime (which is hard to see as it is green against his green skin), Larry grants him two cure wounds spells.

    The party clusters around the other secret door, this one to the west of the hearth. Willa has little respect for the rats as opponents and does not broach any discussion of strategy beyond asking the others if they are ready, but not waiting for their response. She opens the secret door.

    Tyrius is the first one through the doorway and smashes two rats with his hammer as he makes room for those behind him. Larry is next, and as he enters the narrow hallway he can see that the floor is wall-to-wall packed with rats in both directions. He turns to the south and fires off a lightning bolt without a second’s hesitation, not even bothering to estimate the distance. The bolt streaks down the hallway, arcs from rat to rat, bounces off the stone wall at the end, returns all the way back up the corridor, and ends a scant ten feet from where Larry and Tyrius are standing. Between them and the south wall, fully twenty-two giant rats now lie dead, still twitching and smoking. With two-dozen rats already fallen, the remainder in the north try to withdraw, but now Thokk, Umbra and Willa join the fray, and in less than a minute it is all over. As the bodies are piled in the garrison room (D18) Willa counts them - thirty four in total, most of them flash-fried. A good source of meat for their trek out of here, if the pointy-eared harridan ever lets them leave.

    With the hallway clear, Willa organizes a search along its entire length, in the store room at the end, and Thokk even lowers Larry into the collapsed-floor latrine room, but no further secret doors are found. With the exception of the slime-guarded wine cellar, Willa is now confident that they have searched every square inch of this gods-forsaken dungeon.

    (8:30pm - Aurora has read through DC33 in the book.)

    While Aurora is engrossed in her tome, Babshapka has not heard from the party in hours, and decides it is time they checked in. He forces Aurora to pull herself from the book and they set off in search of the others. Eventually they are reunited in the kitchen, where Willa is directing the party in setting up a camp to rest for the night. She tells Aurora that they have searched the whole dungeon, and found no other secret rooms. “Oh, that’s good,” says Aurora distractedly, “I’m almost done with Nholast’s journal myself.”

    “If we war only searchin’ t’ keep us busy so as ye could read…” begins Willa, but Aurora has already turned away and is asking Thokk to bring one of the upholstered chairs from the room they rested in on the first night. With furniture, carpets, and mats scavenged from all parts of the dungeon, with water, fire, and as much rat as they can eat, the party settles in for a reasonably comfortable rest, certainly better than they have had in days. They use all of their healing spells and abilities in preparation for the long rest.

    Umbra and Tyrius take the first watch (9:30pm to 11:30pm). Most of the others doze fitfully, but Aurora continues to read (to DC35 in the book). Just before she is about to give up and turn in, she hits a surprising passage. Scanning it over, she carefully translates it again, checking for meaning. She looks around excitedly - hoping to share the news with someone - but Tyrius shakes his head and puts his finger to his lips. It will need to wait until morning.

    Aurora turns in, and Thokk and Larry take the next watch (11:30pm to 1:30am).
    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.
    Master Greytalker

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    Tue May 19, 2020 10:13 am  
    Post 117: Powerful Revelations

    DM's Note on Sources: The tower and its inhabitants come from David Prata's "Tower of Azal'Lan".

    The map, both in concept and the actual graphics file, was taken from Mike (Mortellan) Bridges, although I had to pretend that the words in elven were in Suel.

    Post 117: Powerful Revelations
    Somewhere in the Little Hills, actual date unknown. Third day in the Tower

    Babshapka completes his trance and spends the next six hours on watch while the others complete their long rest. (1:30am to 7:30am).

    In the morning, as a breakfast of rat stew is prepared, Aurora eagerly translates for the party the passage she read the night before. (DC35) “About a year before the last entry, Nholast writes of the appearance of a great “planet” or wandering star in the heavens. In the course of a single night it streaked across the sky and crashed to the Oerth far to the north. He says that he would be interested in traveling to the sight of the crash to see if there is star metal to be had, as it would be extremely valuable if recovered. He mentions that the sword that the “Cruel Lord” used to slay “The Master” was made of star metal, and it could hold enchantments far more powerful than any metal from Oerth.” Aurora suggests that now that they are done searching the tower, they should try to track down where this star fell, and see if, indeed, there is any of this “star metal” there.

    “Would it still be there, after 750 years?” asks Tyrius.

    “As long as it fell in the wild, I don’t know why not,” responds Aurora. “I doubt anyone else at the time would have been able to track its location. And if it fell in the lands of men, there would surely be an historical account I could find in the local area.”

    “‘Ow would ye be able t’ ken jess whar it fell?” asks Willa. “‘Ther north be a big place.”

    “Actually,” says Aurora, showing the party a yellowed journal page full of faded, indecipherable symbols, “Nholast included a detailed map of star positions, angles and calculations. He very carefully tracked its progress across the sky, and from the precision of these measurements I have to believe that magic was involved somehow. I would need to find something that would allow me to correlate the azimuths and altitudes of those star positions with landmarks and measurements on the Oerth - but I think...” She starts shuffling through a few papers in her pack with recently-made notes on them. “Yes,” she says, pointing to her own shorthand, “one of the books we found in the library would allow me to do that - book 36 - Astronomical phenomena; stars, using star measurements as location indicators on Oerth. By correlating Nholast’s records with the conversions in that book, I can derive precisely the latitude and longitude where the star fell - then I would just need an accurate map of the north, and a way to find our current position on that map and on the Oerth.”

    Willa shrugs. “I kin navigate, an’ I carry ther tools ye need. I kin tell ye what our latytood an’ longytood be if I kin see ther stars.”

    Umbra frowns pensively, then pulls forth a folded vellum sheet. It looks to Aurora like the same sheet she took from the cabinet where Nholast’s diary was found. “I have a map of the north,” Umbra says. “But it is in Suel. I was actually hoping you might help me translate some of the names.”

    She carefully unfolds the map and spreads it out for them to see:

    “Some of it I understand, of course,” she continues. “Taurewelk” is the Welkwood, and “Taurepeliko” is what the ancient forest was called centuries ago, before the Axewood and Silverwood were sundered from one another.” Babshapka smiles wistfully as his home is mentioned. “But “Talathpesh” I don’t understand, and what is this skull and spiderweb in the Rushmoors? What does “Liante Malhama” mean?”

    Aurora scours the map with obvious interest. “Talath means plains or flat lands,” she says, without even looking up at Umbra. “Pesh I don’t know - my Ancient Suel isn’t perfect. But Liante Malhama is the “Spidered Throne,” whatever that means.”

    While Aurora is occupied with the map, the others in the party see Umbra’s eyes go wide at the mention of the Spidered Throne. Then her eyes roll back in her head and she faints, crashing to the stone floor. Aurora looks up, confused.

    Tyrius is at Umbra’s side, examining her. He places his hand on her chest, his ear near her mouth. He shakes her, says her name, pinches her arm. Finally he turns to the others. “She lives,” he says, “but is in some kind of fugue state - see how fast her eyes move!” Indeed, Umbra’s eyes are closed now, but under her lids they can be seen to dart back and forth as if she is caught in an intense dream but cannot awake. “Let us get a cloak about her,” says Tyrius. “Her skin feels as cold as stone and I worry she may go into shock.”

    Aurora turns back to the map. “I wonder what all those towers are,” she says, unconcerned.
    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.
    Master Greytalker

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    Tue May 26, 2020 12:56 pm  
    Post 118: Backstory for Umbra, Grey Elf Sorcerer, Level 4

    At last! The mystery of who the mysterious elf woman is revealed!

    Post 118: Backstory for Umbra, Grey Elf Sorcerer, Level 4

    She was born deep in the Hornwood Forest to a tribe of gray elves. The decades of her infancy and childhood passed swiftly and happily, with her cared for by all her parents and her tribe. She remembers what seem like endless years of singing to encourage the new growth in the spring, counting the stars in the summer, gathering acorns in the fall, and listening to stories in the winter.

    Her idyllic youth grew into a troubled adolescence, however. Lithe and nimble, she was nevertheless a mediocre shot with a bow. Nor did she have much success with snares and traps. Although she was precocious with respect to sensing and understanding people’s emotions (the basis of elven medicine), her knowledge of herbs and healing was passable at best. She lacked a passion for the arts or weaponswork. She struggled to get through the most basic of incantations and cantrips. While it is expected among elves that adolescents will require decades to find their true vocation, as the years passed she became increasingly anxious that she would have little to offer her tribe as an adult.

    Her amiable disposition and keen insights into others’ feelings eventually led to her being allowed to serve on an ambassadorial mission to a nearby tribe. There she shone, offering well-crafted words when spoken to and shrewd commentary when alone with her delegation. Upon their return to her village, she thought she had at last found her calling. She was increasingly included in diplomatic ventures and began a formal apprenticeship with several tribal leaders.

    Her travels afield gave her disquieting insights into her own tribe, however. She quickly learned that other elves (high elves, wood elves) looked to the grey elves as the natural leaders of elvenkind - they were treated as the most cultured, the most wise, the most artistic - and the least influenced by contact with humans. And yet, she did not objectively see these traits among her own people - compared to the other elves she met, her own people did not seem special or distinctive. She discovered that other elves often acted with abandon, with unrestrained joy. Comparatively, her own people seemed to have a repressed sorrow - a sadness that was ever present, but never spoken of. While they achieved artistically, while they reveled and courted and loved in the way of all elves, there was always something holding them back, something keeping them from greatness. The most obvious difference, however, was that other tribes placed great emphasis on their history - and that seemed strangely absent among her people. She could not broach the first two without seeming like she was criticizing her own people, but she began to question the third. At first, her inquiries about her tribe’s past were ignored or met with vague deflections. As she persisted, she received veiled warnings to desist. Her apprentice meetings with the tribal leaders grew shorter and less frequent.

    At about this time the dreams started. Each one different, and yet with a single, repeated theme. She walked alone in a city of shadow. Great stone walls and towers, intricately carved, surrounded beautiful gardens - but all pale and lifeless. Sometimes she would catch glimpses of movement in the darkness of alcoves, or see glimmers of light in distant windows, but they were always long gone by the time she arrived. Each dream filled her with an ever-greater sense of dread. She spoke to a few of her parents about the dreams, the ones to whom she was closest. They reassured her that the dreams were a common occurrence among adolescents, and would soon pass - but she could see a fear and sadness in their eyes that belied their words. Once, she overheard a whispered conversation about herself, about something needing to happen, “lest the shadows take her.”

    She had always been good at stealth - one of the few woodcraft skills that had seemed natural to her. Now she tried to walk even softer, to let her form blend with trees and houses - to not be seen, and yet never to look like she was trying not to be seen. She overheard more - that they did indeed fear for her, that they talked of her dreams, and of how others like her, before her, had such dreams and “had been lost”.

    One fall day she had surreptitiously followed an elder in his walk to the house of a village leader. She lingered outside, listening, as she sat and worked at embroidering what would be a winter robe. With slight moves and natural adjustments of her body, she inched imperceptibly closer to the window as she continued to eavesdrop. Suddenly, there were footsteps toward the door - the elder was leaving quite abruptly. A wave of fear at being discovered spying washed over her, and she stood. And then, just as the door opened, she found herself on the other side of the clearing. How had she gotten there? The elder stared at her - he had seen something. She had passed from shadow to shadow, darting at fantastic speed as if she could pass through the very spots on the ground that were darkened by the shade from the trees above. She knew enough magic to know that it was magic - but how had she done it? She had memorized no spell, said no words. He called after her, but she ran off in fear.

    The next day she was summoned before a council of elders. Not all of the leaders of the village were there, just the oldest of her tribe, including the ancient women many treated as lost in dreams but from whom she had pried a few actual comments about history.

    She learned more of history in the next half hour than in all her years of asking, than her lifetime in the village. Their tribe, the elders told her, were descendants of the City of Autumn Leaves. The city itself had been destroyed by a great evil, by a magical calamity involving death and shadow. The curse of that destruction hung over them still. They told her but little, and claimed it was all of the information they had. The sorrow she sensed in her people had its origin in that event, as well. All the adults of the tribe knew this, they told her, and knew one more thing besides - that sometimes the shadow reached forth and claimed a member of the tribe, as it had done with her. The adults had been told, her own parents had been told, that she was being banished from the tribe, that this was necessary lest the shadow that was growing in her, that would eventually take her life, should overcome them all.

    Even though the elders were spreading this tale among the adults, they knew it to be a lie. They believed not that she was marked for destruction, but rather that she had been chosen to save them. The shadow would give her power, they said - she had felt that power the day before. She was to develop that power, they said. She would need no tutor, no mentor - she had the ability to cast magic by her will alone, with no need of memorized spells. And she was to use that power to discover their true history - the history that they had deliberately hidden from themselves. She was to find the City of Autumn Leaves, the ancestral home that none of them had ever known. She was to learn what had happened to it - and how the curse upon it could be undone. She had their blessing and their highest hopes. When she asked why the others could not know this, she was told that the burden of sorrow was already too great upon the people - the possibility of a failed hope would be their destruction. The elders had lived long enough to see this before - had seen an elf claimed by the shadow each generation - they knew that if she failed, there would be another.

    On the day she left her village, she set aside her birth name and took her adult name as Umbra.

    It has been fifty years since then, and she has traveled all the lands of the Sheldomar, elven and human. She has worked as a tutor to human noblemen, teaching their children in return for food, a hearth, and access to their libraries. She has worked as a scribe, a translator, and when necessary, a thief. Among the humans she has hidden her magical talents, for humans are a suspicious and superstitious lot. Among elves, she is known to be a sorceress, and a shadowborn one at that. The elves not of her village have given her much sympathy, but little useful information. Whatever disaster destroyed the City of Autumn Leaves, it was both rapid and thorough, and she has found but scant bits and pieces of records. Occasionally a scrap of information has been found in a tome, a tale or historical account from two millennia ago. The best of these have offered contemporary accounts of places, and a few have led her to ruins for exploration. In one of these ruins Umbra found her Crystal of Shadow, her most prized possession.

    Recently, Umbra has been traveling in the Yeomanry, attempting to find accounts or artifacts of a human called “Nholast of Linth”. In an ancient libram in Cryllor, Umbra came across a reference to one Nholast being a “servant of the Whispered One”. References to the “Whispered One” are common in what few books give accounts of two thousand years ago. Although the accounts of Nholast of Linth place him as a much more recent figure than that, she is investigating his connection to the “Whispered One” nonetheless, assuming that the servant and the man of Linth are the same person. A month ago she learned the approximate location of one of Nholast’s towers, and she has been scouring the Little Hills ever since, searching for the edifice.

    From The Tower of Nholast the Unforgiven (Posts 106, 108-118)
    Having found Nholast’s Tower at last, Umbra is poised to investigate it, when suddenly an adventuring party appears at the same time! This is fortunate for her, for the upper tower is controlled by a large group of ferocious eigers.
    Even just entering the tower, Umbra could feel the power of the shadows present - they exalted in her coming, she attained 5th level, and they taught her the spells Entropy and Shadowbind. It is clear that there was something in the tower which the shadows wish to reveal to her.

    The party’s wizard attempts to deceive Umbra as to their intentions, but the paladin reveals that they are in search of a book. Under the tower is a secret dungeon complex, and that holds a library, the collection of Nholast’s works. Although steeped in power and evil, none of the works interests Umbra, for she is not concerned about Nholast himself, but rather his connection to the Whispered One, and his library gives no hint of that.

    They find a portrait of Nholast, which Willa, the party’s champion, eventually takes. Umbra believes it dates to about 750 years ago - long after the Whispering One - how could Nholast be his servant?

    Later, they find a scriptorium - with Umbra being led there by the shadows. There, the shadows present her with a map, although doing so in front of the ever-suspicious wizard Aurora, it would be some time before Umbra could look at it. Aurora claims a book that is the diary of Nholast of Linth. This is of interest to Umbra, but unfortunately the book itself is in ancient Suel, which she cannot read. Tyrius mentions that the tower they are in is of “Nholast the Unforgiven” and Umbra says the she does not know who that is - technically true, since she has only ever heard of him referred to as Nholast of Linth before. What she is most interested in, is whether this Nholast is indeed the one that is a servant of the Whispered One, and whether anything in the diary can lead her to more information about the Whispered One, the true object of her quest.

    Over the course of many hours, Aurora reads the diary and announces what she finds to the party, while Umbra pays careful attention:
    (DC35) “About a year before the last entry, Nholast writes of the appearance of a great “planet” or wandering star in the heavens. In the course of a single night it streaked across the sky and crashed to the Oerth far to the north. He says that he would be interested in traveling to the sight of the crash to see if there is star metal to be had, as it would be extremely valuable if recovered. He mentions that the sword that the “Cruel Lord” used to slay “The Master” was made of star metal, and it could hold enchantments far more powerful than any metal from Oerth.”

    Umbra frowns pensively, then pulls forth a folded vellum sheet. It looks to Aurora like the same sheet she took from the cabinet where Nholast’s diary was found. “I have a map of the north,” Umbra says. “But it is in Suel. I was actually hoping you might help me translate some of the names.” She carefully unfolds the map and spreads it out for them to see:

    “Some of it I understand, of course,” she continues. “Taurewelk” is the Welkwood, and “Taurepeliko” is what the ancient forest was called centuries ago, before the Axewood and Silverwood were sundered from one another. But “Talathpesh” I don’t understand, and what is this skull and spiderweb in the Rushmoors? What does “Liante Malhama” mean?”

    Aurora scours the map with obvious interest. “Talath means plains or flat lands,” she says, without even looking up at Umbra. “Pesh I don’t know - my Ancient Suel isn’t perfect. But Liante Malhama is the “Spidered Throne,” whatever that means.”

    While Aurora is occupied with the map, the others in the party see Umbra’s eyes go wide at the mention of the “Spidered Throne”. Then her eyes roll back in her head and she faints, crashing to the stone floor. Aurora looks up, confused.
    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.
    Master Greytalker

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    Tue Jun 02, 2020 10:53 am  
    Post 119: Leaving the Tower

    DM's Note on Sources: The tower and its inhabitants come from David Prata's "Tower of Azal'Lan".

    I must say, I quite enjoy playing Eddard, the Celestial Mount, as an NPC. I am by no means a sadistic or "gotcha!" DM, but using DM perspective and hindsight to chide the players for tactical failures is enjoyable!.

    Post 119: Leaving the Tower
    Somewhere in the Little Hills, actual date unknown. Third day in the Tower

    The party builds the fire back up and moves Umbra closer to the hearth. Tyrius tries casting a lesser restoration on her, but it produces no change in her condition. Reflecting on the demon, and on the fate of the elf prisoner, he says that this tower is an accursed place and they will all be better off once they have left. Willa agrees, and sets about organizing for their departure. When Aurora says that there is a book or two she wishes to take, Willa checks her own notes, and then tells her that while she is gathering things, she should pick up the coin from the secret treasure room (D28) as well as all the treasure from the beetle room (D33). Just before Aurora and Babshapka are out the door, Willa adds, “An’ wat ther ‘ells - bring ther portrait o’ Nholast, too.”

    While Aurora and Babshapka are rounding up treasure, Willa orders Shefak and Larry to start preparing all of the dead rats. With the loss of Randy, they are extremely short on packs and bags - Willa wants them to eat as much as they can at one last meal in the tower, and then forage as they go. Tyrius she leaves to tend to and pray over Umbra, while Thokk she takes with her, back aboveground.

    It is cold in the tower above, most likely hovering around freezing outside, and the inside reeks of dead ogre. Somehow, corpse flies have found their way into the chamber despite the absence of windows on this level, and they crawl about the bloated bodies, feeding, mating, laying eggs. Thokk seems not to notice, but Willa is glad for the cold, knowing she would not last long in the room if the bodies, now two days dead, had been in the heat as well.

    With Thokk, she examines the exit critically. The rocks are huge and piled high, but they appear loose and have not been packed between with dirt, let alone mortar. Thokk tries one at the base - it is all he can do to shift it, with the weight of the other stones above it, and before he moves it a few inches a smaller stone from above crashes down and nearly hits them both. Willa tells him to hold the torch while she works.

    Willa climbs to the top of the entry arch and begins tugging at the top-most boulders, tumbling them down into the room. She works to open a crawl-space at the top, just wide and deep enough for Larry to squeeze through. If these rocks go the length of the entryway it will be impossible, for she won’t have the leverage to move them if she has to enter a tunnel on her hands and knees, but after the first two are out of the way she can see daylight through the others. The barrier itself is only a few feet thick, likely just thick enough to block off the entryway, and much wider at the base than the vaulted ceiling. This allows her to stand on the face of the piles as she pulls. When she tires, she trades with Thokk, and eventually they have an exit hole cleared.

    Sweaty from their efforts despite the cold, Willa and Thokk scramble down the rock face and out of the tower. Willa takes deep gulps of fresh air, thanking the Great Sea Cow of the South that she is at last free of that stifling dungeon. There is frost on the ground in the shadow of the tower, but the wilted grass is free of it in the morning sun. Willa turns and slowly surveys the broad valley. They are leaving soon - and yet, they don’t know where they are. The Sage told them that the tower was in the Little Hills, but these are no hills. The lightly forested, roughly circular valley is a low point, but it is surrounded on all sides by mountains - true mountains. Those to the south, east and west seem equally high, but the ones to the north are even higher, and capped with snow. Willa looks at the height of the sun and lengths of the shadows - it is late morning, but they still have several hours before noon. She walks well away from the base of the tower, marks the top point of the shadow of its dome with a deep furrow in the ground.

    By the time she returns to the entryway, she finds Thokk bent over and studying the ground. “Eiger tracks?” she asks. “No,” he grunts and gestures to the northwest, where the broad tracks of the departing brutes are obvious but don't look anything like what he is examining. “Wolves.”

    Thokk explains that a small pack, maybe five or ten wolves, was here recently - sometime after dawn. He shows Willa where they gnawed a few bones in the refuse pile, licked the old blood off the grass where the three eigers were slain outside, and even pawed at the rocks in the entryway. In fact, the entrance to the tower is full of paw prints - they must have missed them on the way out as their eyes adjusted to the light.

    “Be t’ey still about?” she asks Thokk. Even ten wolves is little concern for them in the day - but would mean they would need extra guards at night, especially if Umbra continues to be unconscious. Thokk sniffs deeply, looks about, and shrugs. It must be frustrating for the pack, he reasons, to smell all those dead eigers inside the tower and not be able to get at them. He even looks sad for them. Willa laughs at the sight - it is the most empathy she has seen Thokk display since she has known him!

    They climb back up the rock pile and descend to the kitchen, Willa promising herself this will be the last time she has to "go below” for a while.

    Umbra’s condition is unchanged. The lunch is nearly ready. Aurora and Babshapka have returned with not only the treasure Willa sent them for, but a stack of books and piles of silver coins besides. They eat, with Willa continually encouraging them to have more, as it may be their last for a while.

    After the meal, they take stock of their supplies and all of the treasure they might carry out. They will possibly be traversing mountains - Willa’s first concern is survival gear. If it is freezing in the day on the valley floor, how cold will it be on a mountainside at night?

    Most of them have cold weather gear - just Shefak and Umbra are lacking heavy clothes. Shefak not having winter gear makes sense - she says her god sent her here through a magic pool. But Aurora seizes on Umbra’s lack of clothes as suspicious. Indeed, now she notes closely the clothes Umbra is wearing - a long black and green robe with fine embroidery, and delicate sandals. “She claimed she had walked here,” Aurora says accusingly, “but those aren’t traveling clothes - that gown should be torn and stained if she traveled in it, and it would not keep her warm at night at all. Something strange is going on - I don’t trust her story.”

    Babshapka shrugs. “Maybe she cached her travel gear before she approached the tower. We didn’t ask her if she had a camp - or even where we are. Too bad, since she is the only one who knows.” He looks over at her unconscious form.

    “Regardless,” says Willa authoritatively, trying to draw them back on track. She points out that Umbra’s pack does include a bedroll, so she can be packed in that for transport, and that will hopefully keep her warm enough in the day. As for Shefak…

    “I’ll manage,” says the Baklunni woman. “Cold, like all discomforts of the flesh, is an illusion that I must practice dispelling for myself.”

    Willa concludes that they should be warm enough during the day, if they keep moving. At night, what do they have? Umbra, as mentioned, has a bedroll. Shefak and Willa have their own bedrolls, as well. Everyone else’s bedroll was on Randy, and is now missing. They briefly consider some of the rugs found in the dungeon, but they are far too bulky for the minimum protection they would give. Willa has her two-person tent, as well - though it is summer-weight and more designed for keeping out wet and insects rather than cold. “It’s wat we got,” sighs Willa. The valley at least is forested, so they can look for campsites with wood for fire, if possible. If anyone gets too cold at night, they can be rotated through the tent the next night.

    Water is their next concern - between the eight of them, they have just six skins, enough for less than half a day. They will need to forage for water sources as well as food as they travel. Babshapka nods thoughtfully.

    Finally, they start dividing up packs, testing their weight, adding treasure, and testing the weight again. Willa carefully cuts the purported portrait of Nholast out of its frame, rolls the canvass up, and stows it in her pack. The books that Aurora wants to bring are huge, leather-bound volumes, and take up far too much space in packs. She carries the diary of Nholast herself, and convinces Thokk to take two more by complementing how strong he is. It is not hard to convince him - the books are worthless to him, but the coins the party is rationing out hold little appeal to him either. He does mumble sadly about “Edgy,” his prized battle axe that was lost with Randy. Thokk takes the book of star positions that Aurora says they will need to find the fallen star, and one other. Aurora is disappointed to have to leave another half-dozen books behind.

    Aurora mentions, in the way she often does, talking about her concerns as if anyone else in the party shared them, that the other book she insists on taking is about “Infernal Bargains” and she hopes to use it to better understand what happened to the Malhel. Tyrius looks at her skeptically. “The only thing you need to understand,” he says firmly, “is that if you try to strike a bargain with an Infernal Power, you lose.”

    In the end, they manage to take all of the gems and other obviously valuable treasures - chalices, statuettes, and so forth. But they will be leaving a considerable number of gold coins behind, and all of the silver. Babshapka leaves 27 of his own silver pieces behind so as to carry the same number of gold; Larry, Thokk, and Aurora do the same with some of their personal treasure.

    “Who’s carrying Umbra?” asks Aurora, as she tests the weight of her pack again.

    “I will summon Eddard,” says Tyrius. “We can secure Umbra to his saddle.”

    Willa shakes her head. “Better build a travois,” she says. “‘Tweren’t no sign o’ yer saddle, neither yer barding, in ther tower above. Mights be unner all t’em rocks, but if ther eigers took all o’ Randy’s bags, ‘twould nae be a surprise t’at they took Eddard’s as well.” Tyrius nods solemnly.

    Once everyone has decided on their final pack contents, Umbra is bundled in her bedroll, Willa encourages them all to eat, drink, and fill their waterskins one last time, and then they head for the surface. With Thokk on one side of the rock barrier and Willa the other, they pass Umbra and the packs through the small hole between them and then assemble outside the tower.

    The fresh air smells of smoke, and wisps can be seen rising out of the ground to the northwest near the tower. Investigation reveals a weed-choked, rusted and pitted iron grate covering a black hole descending into the earth - likely the egress of the kitchen chimney. Babshapka takes just long enough looking at the tracks to confirm that they are indeed eigers, and then begins looking for tall saplings with which to fashion a travois.

    Willa keeps watch on the shadow of the tower, and when it reaches its shortest length, she uses her navigator’s tools to measure the angle of the sun, then determines their latitude to be 27 degrees north. With Aurora, she then looks over Umbra’s map, as well as a more modern version that Aurora has sketched out from memory. The Sage told them that the tower was in the Little Hills, but they both agree that they are not. However, at this latitude, they could easily be close by - most likely on the southern slopes of the Jotens, the mountain range that forms the northern boundary of the Yeomanry. With Willa’s estimate of latitude, they believe their most likely position is at the edge of the Jotens, in the region of Tuckville.

    They know they want to travel north to the star fall location, but agree that they should not strike true north through the Jotens, if that is indeed their current location. “Joten” is an old Flan word meaning giant, but tales are divided over whether the mountain range is named that for the size of the mountains or the presence of numerous tribes of giants dwelling therein (or both). In any event, such a crossing would be difficult even if they were well-provisioned with food, climbing gear, and cold weather gear, and they have little enough of each of those. No, they agree, their best course of action is to leave the mountains as soon as they can, come down into the Yeomanry (if that is where they are), and book passage on a river vessel traveling north.

    South of the Yeoman city of Longspear, the Javan River is the boundary between the Yeomanry and Keoland, and a Yeoman vessel is likely to be found to carry them north, perhaps all the way to Geoff. North of Longspear, however, both sides of the Javan are ruled by Keoland, and it might be more difficult to reach the river without encountering the knight or others looking for them.

    Willa and Aurora discuss their plans. Aurora insists out loud, perhaps suspecting that they are being scried on, that they will be heading south as the quickest way out of the mountains, but whispers to Willa that they should go east. Willa calls her daft and says loudly that they will be traveling east until they find a trail or otherwise pick up their bearings, since all the trails run SE to NW, paralleling the edge of the Jotens.

    Aurora works to transfer some notes from Umbra’s map to her own sketch map. Together, she and Willa then estimate where the starfall may lie. Using the diary and the other book she is taking, Aurora knows the exact latitude and longitude of the starfall - but she does not know exactly where that is in the world, because the maps she has seen have largely not included accurate scales on them, and she is drawing from memory. Her best guess gives an area hundreds of miles across, but one that does not include the Rushmoors and putative location of the “Spidered Throne”. Rather, it is about half of the nation of Geoff and a good portion of the Barrier Peaks mountains.

    However, if Willa continues to take measurements as they travel, she can make the maps they have more accurate, by tying the features they know to specific latitudes and longitudes. Thus, the closer they get to the location of the starfall itself, the smaller the area in which it could be will become.

    Tyrius begins the ten minutes of prayer he hopes will summon Eddard. At the end, the huge white stallion appears. He tosses his mane, sniffs the air, and looks about.

    “Well, that took awhile,” he says with typical understatement. “When I got sent back to the Celestial Realms I knew we were in trouble, and I kept waiting for Tyrius to appear after me. When he didn’t, I knew that he still lived and that you might have won - but wondered why you didn’t call me back.”

    Tyrius fills him in on the end of the battle with the eigers, the past several days exploring the tower, and their new goal of looking for the fallen star. Eddard nuzzles the dry, dead grass and nods thoughtfully as Tyrius speaks. When the paladin gets to the part about how they are short on food, gear, and how he needs to ask the steed to pull a travois with Umbra, Eddard interjects. “Well now, hold on there - what happened to Randy and all your supplies?”

    “They are gone - Randy was killed by rats and, we believe, the eigers took all of the supplies that were on him.”

    “Ho, they took the supplies, did they now? So they held the field after the battle, and you were forced to retreat after I was slain?”

    “No, actually we held the field. There was a long pause in the fighting, and we decided to rest in the basement of the tower, and we left the supplies on Randy’s body on the first floor.”

    “Oh, I see, you thought you had beaten all the eigers but when you set out to explore the tower, you had left some enemies behind without knowing.”

    “Actually,” interjects Shefak, “we knew there were more. At the end of the battle, we saw several of the eigers pause and then retreat up the stairs instead of pressing the attack.”

    Eddard snorts in disbelief. “So you knew there were more eigers in the tower, and you left your supplies behind you in a room you knew the eigers visited?” Eddard now has his head high, and is turning his neck back and forth, looking at everyone in the party. “Not an hour before, hadn’t you all gotten a fright when you almost lost Randy to the void of space? Did you not remember the value of all that gear?”

    “At the time,” answers Tyrius, “I believe that we felt the tower itself was magically generating eigers - I don’t think we thought they were quite real, or that they could actually leave the tower and take the supplies with them. Maybe they would take the supplies, but then we could recover them when we searched the upper floors of the tower.”

    “Magically generating eigers?” says Eddard, his tone even more incredulous. “Wasn’t your first kill the eiger who was out emptying a shite-bucket next to a pile of bones? What would they need to do to convince you that they were real?”

    This time no one answers Eddard’s question. The party just sits in embarrassed silence, except for Thokk, who chuckles, then says “Magic horse talk a lot.”

    Eddard sighs and tosses his mane. “Very well. I was chosen to help Tyrius develop a good head for tactics. I see now that my mandate is broader, and that I am here to help you all learn a thing or two.”

    “Lesson One: You are all soldiers - you are fighting units in an army. Yes, even you, Aurora,” Eddard says, as the half-elf tries to interrupt. “You, in particular, are an artillery unit, but you are still part of the fighting force. Now, the fighting units are very effective at fighting, but in the long term they still need support units. They need more food and water and gear than they can carry themselves. So there are units that don’t fight, they carry things. They are called the Baggage Train.” Eddard pauses to make sure everyone is paying attention.

    “As an army, it is your job to defend the baggage train, because it is a soft target that is easily disrupted by the enemy. Hopefully Randy’s loss has taught you that lesson. The easiest way to defend the baggage train is to keep it well to the rear, out of harm’s way. Then you don’t have to burden fighting units with actively protecting it, which is not efficient. Speaking of which, whose idea was it to bring Randy into the tower in the first place?”

    Again, there is only embarrassed silence. Eddard tosses his head back, looking at the sky as if that will help him remember. “Ah yes, if I do recall, it was Aurora who brought Randy in. Please explain.”

    Aurora flushes and responds hotly. “We had cleared out the first floor of the tower - all of the eigers were dead. I was trying to keep us together, instead of spread out and less defensible.”

    Eddard nods. “Fair enough. So in the future, when you move the baggage train forward into a disputed area, you need to be prepared to defend it. That means assigning a fighting unit as a dedicated guard, ideally one that is tough and can take attacks in place of the train, but one that doesn’t do a lot of melee damage so you are not wasting potential attack capability. I recommend myself, or the dwarf.”

    Eddard lets Aurora and the rest of the party reflect on that before asking, “So, Aurora, did you have any spells left at the end of the combat with the eigers?”

    “Spells? Why, yes. Mostly I was using firebolt for attacks, so I had plenty of spell levels left.”

    “Then you could have cast a mage armor on Randy, right?”

    “Well I...I mean...yes, I could have,” she admits sullenly.

    “Okay, so keep that in mind. The people who would most benefit from your spell, at the moment, are yourself, but also myself and Umbra. It would provide a minimal benefit to Shefak, and would even be slightly better for Babshapka than wearing the armor he has - but he would have to take his armor off. Assuming you want to save three spells for yourself, you have one more a day you can use if you think someone needs a boost.”

    Eddard seems to be done lecturing for the moment, so the party prepares to set out. Babshapka and Tyrius cut strips of leather to bind the staves of the travois together and fasten it to Eddard, then load the bed roll with Umbra, her backpack, and a bag from Tyrius to it. Willa plans on having them go a half-day’s march to the east, up the side of the valley into the mountain slopes if they reach it, but make camp before dark. The day is fair and cloudless, and has even climbed into the forties this afternoon, though it will surely drop below freezing again after nightfall.

    Willa leads the party due east across the lightly forested valley. After half an hour of walking, it is clear that Babshapka is a bit faster than Eddard, while Thokk and Larry are significantly faster. That Larry is faster is perplexing, for he has always been the slowest member of the party, and they had to travel at his speed after they left Barovia. Nevertheless, Willa sends the three of them ahead, to both scout and forage - Babshapka just ahead and remaining so unless he spots trouble, Larry to the southeast and Thokk to the northeast, with orders to check back with the main group every so often.

    For the first mile the going is flat and easy, with the travois gliding smoothly over the dead grass and avoiding thick copses of trees. The temperature is in the 40’s and slowly dropping. As they continue, though, the ground begins to rise more and more steeply, until Willa has to carefully choose their path of ascent up the dry mountainside. Although the tower grows small behind them, it is still clearly visible as the tallest object in the valley. Larry returns to the main group several times to hand off full waterskins and take empty ones, as he seems adept at finding streams and springs along the way. Willa looks for natural switchbacks so that Eddard can manage the ascent, and they gain one ridge after another as they travel up a long draw between higher peaks. Finally, as the sun is nearing the western horizon, they attain the highest ridge yet and look down the far slope. Although that slope is now in shadow, they can see that it descends for at least ten miles in front of them - they appear to have attained the local summit of the mountains encircling the valley of the tower.

    The three scouts have found more than enough food (in the form of small game) and water for the day, so the party eats well that night after they set up camp in a hollow just below the ridge line. Willa sets her tent up carefully, and helps Tyrius carry the unmoving form of Umbra inside. Willa has been watching the group all afternoon, and those who appear to be shivering the most are Aurora, Shefak, and Tyrius. She tells Aurora that she can use the tent this first night and watch over Umbra.

    Willa, Thokk, and Dirty Larry take first watch. Aurora, once in the tent with the flaps closed, removes her crystal ball from its wraps in her pack. She concentrates on it for ten minutes, trying to bring up an image of the knight, but fails.
    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.
    Master Greytalker

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    Tue Jun 09, 2020 10:17 am  
    Post 120: A long, cold journey

    As DM, I wanted to squeeze the loss of Randy the Mule and with him the party's supplies for all of the narrative juice I could. Thus, I made it very clear to the party that they were out of food, had little protection from the cold, and would need to traverse difficult terrain to get back to anywhere they could effectively resolve those two conditions. To their benefit, Babshapka had selected "hills" as a favored environment upon attaining sixth level after the first fight in the tower. This would help his chance to forage and, if he was continually guiding the group, eliminate their penalty for difficult terrain (as it turned out, they were more interested in having him scout ahead and forage than increasing everyone's speed). Thokk had similarly acquired "Fast Movement." Also, I had planned to allow Larry to learn create water after his first full rest in nature (that is, outside the tower), although I did not tell anyone of this plan until after it had happened.

    I have written before (Posts 51, 82) about movement rates, and how I wanted to use the Greyhawk Glossography to provide a little more granularity to the 5E wilderness movement rates. Here are the rates I would now use for traveling in hills:

    Base movements:
    Larry (dwarf): 25 feet per combat turn
    Aurora (half-elf), Willa (human), Tyrius (human-dismounted), Umbra (grey elf - when conscious): 30 feet
    Babshapka (wood elf): 35 feet
    Thokk (half-orc, fast movement): 40 feet
    Shefak (human, unarmored movement): 45 feet
    Eddard: 60 feet - but 50 when "encumbered" (carrying more than 180 pounds)

    30 feet per turn as "standard" movement for comparisons.
    WoGG (p.3) gives "Afoot, unencumbered" at 30 miles per day for road, track, and grasslands.
    WoGG (p.3) gives "Afoot, unencumbered" at 20 miles per day for trackless hills.

    Thus I assumed their movement in trackless hills was 2/3 of what they could do in grasslands. If they eventually found their way to a trail in the hills, I would allow them to resume their grassland rate movement. I also applied this 2/3 reduction to Eddard, even though WoGG gives horsed movement in both grasslands and hills at 45 mpd.

    Thus in trackless hills:
    Larry: 25 fpt, 2.5 mph, 12.5 miles per march, 25 miles pr day. Note that Larry is not slowed by hills since he has Land's Stride.
    Aurora, Willa, Tyrius (dismounted), Umbra: 30 fpt, 3.0 mph, 10 miles per march, 20 miles per day
    Babshapka: 35 fpt, 3.5 mph, 17.5 miles per march, 35 miles per day. Note that Babshapka is not slowed by hills since he has Natural Explorer.
    Thokk: 40fpt, 4mph, 13 miles per march, 26 miles per day
    Shefak: 45fpt, 4.5 mph, 15 miles per march, 30 miles per day.
    Eddard (pulling travois): 50fpt, 5 mph, 15 miles per march, 30 miles per day

    5E DMG wrote:
    EXTREME COLD Whenever the temperature is at or below 0 degrees Fahrenheit, a creature exposed to the cold must succeed on a DC 10 Constitution saving throw at the end of each hour or gain one level of exhaustion. Creatures with resistance or immunity to cold damage automatically succeed on the saving throw, as do creatures wearing cold weather gear (thick coats, gloves, and the like) and creatures naturally adapted to cold climates.

    As with movement, I wanted a little more granularity with this, with increasing penalties for colder and colder conditions. Here are my current house rules for exposure to cold:

    In order to successfully complete a rest (long or short), treat the cold conditions as one ranking colder. Either automatic or successful saving throws are necessary for any time period spent in such conditions to count as rest.

    Below 60F
    Whenever the temperature is below 60F, a creature exposed to the cold must succeed on a DC 6 Constitution saving throw at the end of each four hours or gain one level of exhaustion. Creatures with one factor of protection automatically succeed on the saving throw.

    Below 30F
    Whenever the temperature is below 30F, a creature exposed to the cold must succeed on a DC 8 Constitution saving throw at the end of each two hours or gain one level of exhaustion. Creatures with a total of two factors of protection automatically succeed on the saving throw, those with one factor have advantage on the save.

    Below 0F
    Whenever the temperature is below 0F, a creature exposed to the cold must succeed on a DC 10 Constitution saving throw at the end of each hour or gain one level of exhaustion. Creatures with a total of three factors of protection automatically succeed on the saving throw. Those with two factors have advantage on the save, one factor has a flat +2.

    Below -30F (including from wind chill)
    Whenever the temperature is below -30F, a creature exposed to the cold must succeed on a DC 12 Constitution saving throw at the end of each half hour or gain one level of exhaustion. Creatures with a total of four factors of protection automatically succeed on the saving throw. Three factors grants advantage on the save, two factors +2, one factor +1.

    Below -60F (including from wind chill)
    Whenever the temperature is below -60F, a creature exposed to the cold must succeed on a DC 14 Constitution saving throw at the end of each quarter hour or gain one level of exhaustion. Creatures with a total of five factors of protection automatically succeed on the saving throw. Four factors grants advantage on the save, three factors +2, two factors +1.

    Things which grant one factor of protection
    Continuous physical activity at least as strenuous as walking
    “Traveler’s Clothes” (tunic and breeches, sandals or boots)
    Small, enclosed space (tent, pavilion, sleeping roll, blanket, snow cave, etc.)
    Heat source (campfire, brazier, camp stove)

    Things which grant two factors of protection
    “Cold weather gear” (wool cloak, wool breeches, undershirt, wool tunic, waterproof leather jack, leather boots lined with cheap fur, leather mittens)
    Fur-lined sleeping roll
    The heavy “winter coat” of a living mule for that animal

    Things which grant three factors of protection
    Extreme cold weather gear (fur-lined leather cloak, cotton undergarments, wool garments, waterproof leather pants, fur-lined and hooded waterproof leather jack, fur-lined leather boots, fur-lined mittens)
    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.
    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
    Posts: 754
    From: Sky Island, So Cal

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    Tue Jun 16, 2020 11:49 pm  
    Post 121: Not so lost after all

    DM's Notes: Done with The Tower of Nholast, 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 her work for the party's travel. The track they discover today is on her map of the Yeomanry - but where they are on that map has yet to be revealed. I would highly encourage any DM to use Anna's work, and anyone with the means to do so to support her Patreon at

    Predawn and morning:
    Wandering Monster check (Mountains, Wilderness: None)

    Below 30F from 11pm to 9am
    Con checks (10) for
    Aurora (winter gear, tent), no save required
    Willa (bedroll, winter gear), no save required

    Shefak (bedroll, no winter gear) - Con 12, roll 18, pass
    Tyrius (no bedroll, winter gear) - Con 12, roll 18, pass
    Babshapka (no bedroll, winter gear) - Con 12, roll 19, pass
    Thokk (no bedroll, winter gear) - Con 16, roll 23, pass
    Larry (no bedroll, winter gear) - Con 16, roll 23, pass

    Foraging DC15
    Babshapka: 18+7 = 25, 4 pounds food (no foraging after mid-day = 2 pounds)
    Larry: 17+7 = 24, 14 pounds food (no foraging after mid-day = 7 pounds)
    Thokk: 6+4 = 10, fail
    Total party food 9 pounds brought in, 6 pounds eaten.

    Post 121: Not so lost after all

    Actual Date unknown; fourth day after arriving at the Tower
    Actual location unknown, suspected to be somewhere between the Jotens and Little Hills

    The night watches pass uneventfully, aside from the cold. No lights are seen, no sounds heard besides the wind rushing over the ridge.

    In the morning, Aurora prepares a sending spell, among her other spells for the day. After she renews her own mage armor, she uses the sending to transmit a message to her mentor. She is still in Willa’s tent, and her words are muffled, but anyone who gets close to the tent can make out:

    “Visited Tower of Nholast, summoner lieutenant to Asberdies. Mentions another "Master"? Information about Spidered Throne? Valadis? (and . . . ? - Advisor?)”

    The response of her mentor is heard only by her.

    “Nholast already trained when he found Asberdies - who trained him? Master? What Spidered Throne? No records - missing, or destroyed? Tread carefully; keep distance from Keoland.”

    There is still meat left over from the previous day, so no foraging is necessary before breakfast. They cook the game over a small fire from what little dead brush can be collected on the dry, rocky slopes. [Six people eating is two pounds at breakfast, two pounds left in reserve]. As they eat, Larry relates exciting news to the party. Last night sleeping outside, under the mountain stars, has done him well (this has been his first time sleeping outdoors since the party arrived in Highfell, since before the Ghost Tower). The spirits of the mountain have shown him how to summon the power of springs and seeps - he can now cast the spell create or destroy water. Even casting it at first level will create ten gallons of water, more than enough for the party for a day - although he will likely have to cast it twice during the day, since the party does not currently have the means of storing more than three gallons of water at a time, most of their skins having been with Randy. Larry casts his new spell after breakfast and it is, in fact, a wet mess - a fountain of water appears in the air, falling and splashing all about. Those with water skins quickly fill them in the torrent, but as much water falls on the ground as enters the skins, leaving the rocks all around slick and muddy.

    While the camp is being packed, Willa and Babshapka survey the mountain slope in front of them, now more visible in the morning light than it was the night before. Due east the slope descends precipitously, appearing to enter a deep gorge which likely has water in the bottom. While direct, that route appears neither easy nor safe for Eddard and the travois. They decide to head slightly south of east, along a more circuitous route but one with a more gentle descent. Unfortunately they will be in a valley between two ridges and will not be able to see much, but should make good time.

    With the same three scouts as the day before, the party sets out. The route chosen is indeed easy, and Eddard has no trouble maintaining his footing on the gentle downhill slope. The farther they descend, the greener the land becomes, with the rocky slopes giving way to alpine meadows. By mid-morning, grey clouds can be seen cresting the ridge to the south. When they reach the end of the valley, the mountain slope opens up broadly in front of them. The way ahead is now to the north and east, but down a long, gentle slope until it intersects the gorge. They will need to enter or cross the gorge eventually, but not for several miles yet. As they work their way down the slope the clouds thicken, and before long a light rain is falling. It is well above freezing by this point in the day, so there is little danger to them immediately. Bushes get thicker and sparse trees appear as they descend.

    After an hour they come upon the gorge cutting across their path. Willa calls for them to make a mid-day meal, as there is plenty of dead brush about for a fire. The wood is wet after an hour of rain, but several firebolts from Aurora convince it to burn. Babshapka returns with a cloak full of nuts, while Larry has such a large brace of mountain hares that it will not be necessary for any of them to forage on the morrow. [9 pounds food remaining after lunch].

    Thokk brings no food to the meal, but says that his foraging has been interrupted by tracking the gorge along his route. As Willa and Babshapka suspected in the morning, there are steep cliffs all the way down the walls of the gorge that would be impossible for Eddard, let alone the travois, to traverse. At the bottom of the gorge is a rushing stream.

    While they eat, the rain lightens to a drizzle, and finally becomes a fine mist as they prepare for their afternoon march. Everyone’s clothes are wet. If they want them dried before they pass another sub-freezing night, they will need to make their evening camp in trees, with actual logs to burn, not scrub brush. Trees enough won’t likely be found unless they can descend more in elevation, but without going down into the gorge that won’t be possible at first - turning due east looks to take them across a flat upland plateau. Still, they have half a day’s march ahead of them, so Willa is confident that they will find a forested place to camp before nightfall. This time, when Larry creates water before they set out, everyone has their skin on hand and ready, and the pots and pans from lunch arranged on the ground beneath them besides, so that when the ten gallons of water comes rushing out their skins are filled and half the washing up is done as well.

    After two more hours of travel, the party comes upon a track crossing their descent. Hoof-prints and dung show that the track is used mostly by horses, but the size of the prints are far smaller than those of Eddard - these would be mountain ponies, at best. Babshapka examines the prints and finds evidence that they are shod. Aurora sends Buckbeak aloft to scout. The track runs roughly NW / SE. It crosses the gorge a mile north of them, at a narrow spot with a rope bridge of thick braided hemp. Nowhere along the track, north or south, looks to be forested, but if they ignore the track and keep heading east, there appears to be lightly forested mountain slopes an hour or two beyond which they could reach before nightfall.

    Willa confers with the others and decides that they will start heading north along the track, with the goal being to cross the gorge and then camp on the other side. Since that is but a mile away, it should give Thokk, Larry, and Babshapka plenty of time to gather wood on the forested slopes to the east and still make it back to camp before dark.

    Thokk agrees to go look for wood, but takes off his backpack, weighing nearly sixty pounds, and tries to convince the “magic talky horse” to carry it on the travois. Eddard reminds Thokk that he is not a “beast of burden,” and is pulling Umbra only because her life may depend on it. Willa, Shefak, and Tyrius take the packs from Thokk, Larry, and Babshapka. They will be slowed by the extra weight, but with just a mile more to go it doesn’t matter. Aurora sends Buckbeak ahead with instructions to scout the bridge, looking especially for any horses or humanoids, and report back.

    The main group is halfway to the gorge when Buckbeak returns, telling Aurora that the area immediately around the bridge is free of anything larger than a hare. Aurora tells him to keep circling and reporting back. They soon reach the bridge. The thick hemp ropes have been treated with tar to last longer in the elements. A cross-section of the bridge is in the form of a trapezoid, with the wider part above at the width of a man’s outstretched arms, and the narrower part below, at the width of a man’s shoulders. The floor of the bridge is covered in thick planks of weathered lumber. The ends of the bridge have numerous guy lines, anchored with stout wooden posts in the ground and more than one iron spike driven into rock outcrops. The bridge looks wide enough for Eddard, barely, but not the travois. In the end several trips are made across it, carrying both Umbra in her bedroll and the extra packs of those out foraging, but eventually everyone and everything is across without event.

    Willa picks out a campsite on the far side and they begin to unpack, while Aurora sends Buckbeak farther up ahead to look for humanoids or horses, on the track or off. By sunset it has dropped to the low 40’s and they are all shivering when Larry and Babshapka return with great armfuls of wood. Thokk has looped a rope through the arm bands of his great shield, loaded the shield with a huge stack of wood, and is pulling the whole thing like a sledge. The fire is kept low to cook dinner [7 pounds food remaining] but then built up so high that all of them can stay warm in their small clothes while their outer clothes and cold weather gear dry out.

    Watch shifts are set as the night before (Willa/Thokk/Dirty Larry: 8pm-10pm, Aurora/Tyrius: 10pm-12am, Babshapka: 12-2am, Babshapka: 2am-4am, Shefak/Babshapka: 4am-6am). Aurora seriously considers continuing to read Nholast’s diary during her shift and letting Tyrius do the actual watching, but when she takes the book from her pack she sees again the brittleness of the centuries-old pages and the rotting leather cover. She finally decides that reading it is better left for indoors, where a stray breeze won’t blow pages away. Before she turns in, however, she does try to find the knight in her crystal ball, but again without success. As her last act before bed she casts a sending to her mentor:

    “Found ancient map. Meaning or dating of Talathpesh? Knowledge of starmetal? Nholast mentioned "Cruel Lord" that slew "The Master" with starmetal weapon. Sound familiar?”

    The reply, again, is known only to her:

    “Plains of Pesh” place name - loan word from Flan? Cruel Lord was seneschal - Master could be Emperor of Ykrathian Empire? Remember your history! Starmetal unknown.”

    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.
    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
    Posts: 754
    From: Sky Island, So Cal

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    Tue Jun 23, 2020 9:06 am  
    Post 122: Giant Troubles

    DM's Notes:
    By far the best source for maps of Greyhawk comes from the work of Anna B Meyer. I used for the party's travel. The track the party follows today is on her map of the Yeomanry - but where they are on that map has yet to be revealed. I would highly encourage any DM to use Anna's work, and anyone with the means to do so to support her Patreon at

    Predawn and morning:
    Wandering Monster check (Mountains, Wilderness: None)

    Below freezing from 1am to 9am
    Con checks (DC10) for:
    Aurora (winter gear, tent) Con 12, no save required
    Willa (winter gear, bedroll) - Con 14, no save required
    Shefak (bedroll, no winter gear) - Con 12, roll 6, fail, no rest, Level 1 exhaustion
    Tyrius (winter gear, no bedroll) - Con 12, roll 6, fail, no rest, Level 1 exhaustion
    Babshapka (winter gear, no bedroll) - Con 12, roll 4,fail, no rest, Level 1 exhaustion
    Thokk (winter gear, no bedroll) - Con 16, roll 20, pass
    Larry (winter gear, no bedroll) - Con 16, roll 10, pass

    Level 1 exhaustion = disadvantage on all ability checks.

    Post 122: Giant Troubles

    Actual Date unknown; fifth day after arriving at the Tower
    Actual location unknown, suspected to be somewhere between the Jotens and Little Hills

    The night is cold, and the echoes of the rushing water in the gorge below don’t help those shivering in the camp above to sleep. By dawn’s light, neither Shefak, nor Tyrius, nor Babshapka have had a good night’s rest, and they struggle through breakfast bleary-eyed [5 pounds of food remaining]. Willa tells them to walk it off and promises them that they can draw straws in the evening to sleep in the tent - or even have two of them in it, since Babshapka will need it for only four hours.

    For the first ten minutes or so they walk together along the track, as Willa wants to assess their pace. Away from the gorge, the track climbs a steep mountain slope. The track will assure them they are not lost or wandering, but does little to improve their pace, especially that of Eddard pulling the travois. With Larry creating water and enough food already on hand for the day, Willa tells Thokk that he should concentrate on looking for foes rather than game. Since they left the valley of the Tower, he has been the least productive of their three foragers in terms of gathering food, but she does not mention that to him. With no need to navigate, she will also be able to spend more time looking for danger. For his part, Thokk is insulted. “Thokk look for food AND foes,” he says huffily.

    Aurora sends Buckbeak ahead to scout the trail for humans or horses. Thokk, Babshapka, and Larry set out. About an hour later, around 8am, it is still below freezing, but the main party is warm enough after an hour of walking with full packs. The track has climbed steeply and steadily away from the gorge. They are approaching a ridge or saddle point but still have a ways to go before cresting it. In ravines and gullies off the sides of the track are thick scrub bushes and even stunted trees, but the high slope on which they travel is largely bare and rocky. Just ahead of them the track wends through a boulder field, with some of the passages between outcrops too narrow to fit the travois, and Eddard and Tyrius have paused to choose their off-track route carefully. Tyrius, still groggy from lack of sleep, pours a palmful of cold water from his skin into his hand and splashes it on his face, then glances over his shoulder and stiffens. “Willa,” he asks, “when was the last time any of us looked behind us?” [Tyrius Perception roll with disadvantage, 20!]

    The main group, except for Eddard, look down the track behind them. It is perhaps a mile and a half back to the gorge, which is still clearly visible. At a mile distant, but on the near side of the gorge, are three large figures. They are walking steadily toward the party up the rough slope, near the track but not really on it - they walk abreast and are too large to fit on the track. Willa estimates them to be each at least twenty feet tall. The morning sun glints off their arms and armor.

    Willa looks back at their little band - Umbra still unconscious; Thokk, Larry, and Babshapka all off scouting. Only herself, Tyrius, Shefak, and Aurora will be of any use in a fight. And perhaps Eddard. “At least we ‘ave a mile on ‘em. Gods ken 'how close t'ey would hae got if Tyrius 'adn't looked aft. Tyrius, if ye twaren’t a pallydin, t’at alone’d be worth a kiss.” She scratches her head. “Do ye t’ink we all can slip off…?”

    By now, Eddard has awkwardly maneuvered himself perpendicular to the track, so that by craning his neck, he can see the figures’ approach. “Against a superior opponent, the order of preference is run, hide, fight,” he says contemplatively. “Running's not an option - they are moving faster than any of us, except maybe Shefak. Hiding - maybe we could slip off the trail into one of these gullies - if they haven’t spotted us yet. But that doesn’t do much for Babshapka or the other scouts if those giants come upon them later. And where we would want to hide may not be the best ground for us if we do need to fight. Aurora, do you have your rope trick prepared? What about fireball?”

    Aurora doesn’t answer Eddard, as she is busy calculating distances and times in her head. “If we stay put, we have maybe half an hour for them to get here, half that again if they have seen us and start running. We could try to keep ahead of them by setting out ourselves - maybe stretch that time out to an hour or two - and in that time one or more of the scouts might check back in.”

    Eddard looks at the slope above them, and the number of large boulders about. “That’s true enough - Babshapka will almost certainly check back in with us within an hour, and the others probably before two. But we could reach that ridge above us well before then. If we have to fight, I’d rather stay on the high ground than continue on and have the giants above us. And this boulder field would at least give us cover - we have no idea what is on the other side of the ridge. So, about that rope trick?”

    “Yes, I have it ready - but I don’t think you’ll fit inside.”

    “I won't, but don’t worry about me. The giants can’t kill me, just send me back to the Celestial Fields - I am happy to serve as a distraction or diversion.”

    “If we dropped the travois and put Umbra in the rope trick, do you think you would be faster than the giants?”

    Eddard tosses his mane. “Maybe, maybe not. I’d say we are pretty evenly matched in mountains. On flat ground I could easily outrun them.”

    Aurora announces, “If we can get everyone but Eddard in my rope trick, I can send to Babshapka, and tell him to round up the others and warn him about the giants.”

    “True,” agrees Eddard, “but that sending would mean one less fireball if we had to fight. You all need to decide now whether you are hiding or fighting.”

    “Hide,” says Aurora.

    “Hide,” says Shefak.

    With a high-pitched screeee, Buckbeak glides down the slope in front of them. When he gets within telepathic range of Aurora, her mind fills with the thought, “No horses or humans ahead - but did you know there are three giants behind you?”

    Without waiting for Tyrius’ vote, Willa announces that they will be hiding in the rope trick, but that first they need to get behind the largest boulder they can find, to block their operation from the giants’ view, if indeed they are being watched. Once they have maneuvered Eddard behind the massive rock, the party unharnesses the travois. Aurora tells him that he should continue to lead the giants away as long as he can and she will send Buckbeak after him to report on the party - if the hawk alights on his neck, their hiding has been successful, whereas if he lands on his rear haunches, the giants are camped outside the trick and Eddard should return - preferably with the three scouts. Eddard says that he understands, and that he will try to draw the giants as far away as he can before he finds his own hiding spot. Before he leaves, Aurora casts a mage armor on him, and then one on Shefak for good measure. “Obliged,” says Eddard, while the monk just nods.

    As Eddard begins to climb the slope, Aurora casts her sending spell, targeting Babshapka, and saying out loud, “Three giants approaching behind. Alert Thokk/Larry. Rope trick'd to buy hour. Eddard continuing ahead: luring giants hopefully. He'll know result of hide attempt."

    A second later she can hear the response of the wood elf: “I am just over the ridge from you and was returning - it will take some time to find the others. I will start with Larry.”

    As soon as Aurora relays Babshapka’s response to the others, she casts her rope trick spell, and the party climbs into the extra-dimensional space, then passes up their own packs, the parts of the travois, and unconscious Umbra, still wrapped in her bedroll and cold to the touch.

    Eddard pauses at the highest point of the ridge and watches the giants cross the boulder field. It does indeed appear that they had spotted the party, as they spend a few minutes near the largest boulder in the vicinity of the rope trick, bending and sniffing the ground, lifting small boulders and pushing larger ones over. It is not long before they give up and continue on up the path, however. Once he is sure that they are again following him, Eddard turns and disappears over the ridge line. The track now curves much more to the east as it descends a long rocky slope.

    After receiving Aurora’s sending, Babshapka reflects on what he knows about giants. Just about everything he knows, he has learned from repeatedly questioning Larry around hearth fires over the last three months. [Babshapka began with no more information about giants than the fairy tales the rest of the party has heard, but chose giant slayer as his ranger archetype at level 3 in Saltmarsh and giants as his favored enemy at level 6 in Nholast’s Tower. Ever since then he has been asking Larry, who was raised in the Crystalmists, for more specific information]

    As far as Babshapka remembers, giants have their own language, but it is primarily a spoken tongue with some supplemental runic symbols but not a true form of writing. While a particularly clever giant leader might know spoken Common, it is highly unlikely that the three scouts or warriors would be able to read it. He finds a large boulder at the edge of the track and marks it with stone on stone, scratching the message “left trail here” for Eddard’s benefit. He knows the horse speaks Common, but has never before thought to wonder whether he can read. Then he leaves the track, setting off to the east in an attempt to locate Larry. [Babshapka survival role with disadvantage for exhaustion, 10]

    Inside the rope trick space, the party stares intently down through the “glass bottom” entrance. They briefly catch sight of a giant leg, but that is all. Some half an hour later Willa agrees that they can check outside. Aurora takes out her steel mirror and begins binding it to Willa’s belaying pin, planning to lower it through the hole and check all around. As she works, she begins to lecture about how her mastery of the arcane arts has saved the party twice, with her sending spell and rope trick, and how now her superior intellect and preparation with the mirror will save them again. Before she can finish her speech, however, Shefak slips on her ring of invisibility and drops lightly down through the hole.

    Shefak looks carefully all around the slope and sees no sign of the giants, then leaps up, grabs the lip with her hands, and pulls her head through the entryway, telling the others that the coast is clear. They lower the gear, the disassembled pieces of travois, Umbra, and themselves down. Aurora sends out Buckbeak, who flies up and over the ridge, avoids the giants, and eventually catches up to Eddard on the track, alighting on his neck. Eddard nods his understanding and Buckbeak returns to the party.

    They have by now been waiting the better part of an hour, so Willa agrees to finish the hour out here and count it as a short rest. Aurora recovers three of her first level spell slots (the three mage armors she has cast today), while the rope trick and sending remain as spent slots.

    Willa reassembles the travois and then has the others hook her up to it, adjusting its size to try to put most of the load on her shoulders but soon realizing she will need to do a good deal of the pulling with her arms. As they start up the track it becomes clear that they are traveling much slower than before. Tyrius offers to pull with her, but Willa tells him that his keen eyes have already saved them once and she needs him paying attention. By the time they reach the crest, it is ten in the morning and the giants are so far ahead of them as to be visible to only Buckbeak.

    All morning Thokk has been moving north, parallel to the track but well ahead of the party. He has been throwing his javelins at the few pika and mountain hares he has seen, and he has had several near misses but has not bagged any game yet [Survival check = 14]. He has also been indulging in his secret pleasure, turning over rocks to find late-season moths and then watching them dart about in the sun, trying to find new rocks to hide under.

    By late morning his stomach is growling and he becomes increasingly unable to think of anything but the meat being carried by the main party. Eventually he turns and makes for the track, intending to work backwards along it until he comes upon the slower party. Willa told him that besides scouting he should be stealthy, so on his way back he is moving along gully bottoms and darting from boulder to boulder, not spending any more time on the open slopes than he has to. As he rounds a large outcrop and steps out onto the track itself, he freezes - less than seventy-five feet away down the track are three giants, each at least twenty-three feet tall, and rapidly approaching. [Thokk perception check, 9].

    Thokk eases himself slowly back around the outcrop and then flattens himself against its side, his desire to enrage and charge at the giants at odds with the knowledge that they far overpower him. For the moment his internal conflict allows him to do nothing more than hide [Thokk stealth roll 20, giant perception check 17]. Eventually he arrives at the same thought he told Willa in the dome of Nholast’s tower - it is not that he is afraid, since Thokk claims not to know fear - it is just that there is no glory to be gained by defeating these giants when the party is not there to see him. No, he will allow these giants to go now so that he can beat them another day when he has an audience.

    Crouching behind his rock cover, Thokk watches the trio lumber up the mountainside in front of him. They have deep blue skin and a patchwork of mismatched pieces of armor. Two of the giants bear great axes, so large that no human could lift one, while the remaining giant carries a human-forged two-handed sword in one hand.

    Thokk reflects on what his father told him about giants, and the scraps of information he overheard the shamans tell other orcs, since they never would deign to speak to him. The blue skin means that these are frost giants, fierce warriors of a race that lives on the highest snow-covered peaks. They come down to these elevations only in the winter, for any day above freezing feels like the hottest of summer days to them. They delight in battle, but have little patience for anything else, a proper attitude for a warrior. His father told him that sometimes, in the harshest of winters, they would come down to where his tribe lived, and then the orcs would hide themselves in caves. While the giants were certainly strong enough to dig the orcs out, they would bore of the task long before it was accomplished and move on. “And if we had to fight them?” Thokk asked his father once, when he was young and naive and still dreamed of succeeding his father as chieftain. His father told Thokk that he should, in that case, prepare many giant-sized caltrops to restrict their movement, and then attack them from just outside their melee range with as many well-disciplined javelineers as he could field. And that he should expect to lose one or two dozen strong tribesmen for each giant they managed to slay. [5E Note; orcs are Challenge Rating ½, while frost giants are Challenge Rating 8].

    Buckbeak spots Thokk returning along the track as the party is going down the slope on the other side of the ridge. After he and Willa exchange stories, he moves to be rear guard for the party. He takes a vantage point to their rear, hides and waits until they are just out of sight, then jogs along the track to catch up to them before selecting another lookout point at which to wait.

    As they walk, Aurora presses Tyrius for information about Eddard. “He is still in the mortal realm, but more than a mile away, so that I cannot converse with him,” is all the paladin will say.

    “Shouldn’t he have hidden by now, shouldn’t you call him back?”

    “So long as we are not at full strength, I know he would rather be out there. If the giants finding him means that they do not find Larry and Babshapka, that is what he would prefer, to be of service. If we have not found him by the time we are all reunited, I will call for him.”

    By 11:30am Buckbeak finally spots Larry and Babshapka returning up the track to them. Willa, tired of pulling the travois, immediately calls for a halt. As the group prepares for lunch (with Willa allowing them a smoky fire of dried grass and scrub brush), Tyrius first sends a prayer dismissing Eddard from his service, wherever he is, and then, moments later, summoning him back to the mortal realm.

    Babshapka tells them that Larry was far off the track to the east and that it took all morning to find him. Larry appears more concerned with showing off the ten pounds of mountain hare he has brought back [after lunch, 13 pounds of food remaining] and complaining that he missed the opportunity to hurl a lightning bolt at the giants.

    Upon his appearance, Eddard explains that he spent all the morning just ahead of the giants, never losing them as they trudged forward. On the bare slopes, he never had a chance to hide from them, but at least he will be able to describe to the party the terrain they will encounter for the rest of the day’s march.

    After lunch Willa and Tyrius gratefully harness Eddard back into the travois and the whole party sets out. Knowing that the giants are nearby, even if ahead of them, and with two days of food on hand, even Willa is now willing to keep their scouts close and aware rather than foraging far afield. Thokk remains as rear guard, while Buckbeak circles directly above them, watching the track both in front and behind. Babshapka and Larry scout ahead of the group, but always within thirty minutes of them and not too far off the track to either side.

    The track is now nearly level, only slowly gaining in elevation as it works its way mostly east along a flat layer between two slopes. Beneath them, the slopes are forested and have numerous streams, but for the entire remainder of the day they remain above treeline. As the sun drops behind the high mountains to the west, Willa calls for camp and dinner [11 pounds of food remaining].

    Before she turns in for the night, Aurora uses her crystal ball. This time she checks not on the knight, but on his assistant, the one charged with recovering the book back in the Dreadwood. Aurora reasons that he may be less well protected from scrying than the knight, even if he was not present at Highfell. This time, she is successful. For the next ten minutes she watches carefully. The man is indoors, with a few candles burning in an otherwise darkened room. He is reading a book, but Aurora can not get close enough to make out the print. She is reasonably sure it is not the huge, leather-bound Chronicle of Secret Times, but rather a smaller and thinner work. He is in comfortable robes, but arms and armor hang upon the stone walls of the room, and a low fire burns in the hearth. The room is silent aside from the crackle of the fire and the turning of pages. Aurora doesn’t object when Willa tells her that she is forfeiting her place in the tent to those who did not sleep the night before, and offers only the warning that if she doesn’t sleep, she won’t be able to recover her spells.

    As soon as the tent is set up, Umbra is hauled within it. As soon as Babshapka finishes eating, he enters the tent to trance, and remains there until after midnight. Refreshed and renewed, he then cedes his place to Shefak, who accepts it humbly. Tyrius had earlier insisted that the monk sleep in the tent rather than him. When he did so, Willa approached him in private, saying she figured as he would insist on Shefak taking the tent, but that she needs him better on the morrow and having recovered his spells, so she insists on him taking her bedroll for the night. Besides, she says, she has always slept hot and her fisherman’s shack lacked the stone walls and wool blankets he grew up with in his palace. Tyrius smiles at her gentle barbs and reminds her that he grew up in a manor house, not a palace, but graciously accepts her bedroll.
    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.
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    Tue Jun 30, 2020 1:27 pm  
    Post 123: Out of the Unknown

    DM's Notes:
    By far the best source for maps of Greyhawk comes from the work of Anna B Meyer. I used for the party's travel. The track the party follows today is on her map of the Yeomanry - and the party will discover in this post that it is the track between Tucksvale and Fort Thomas. I would highly encourage any DM to use Anna's work, and anyone with the means to do so to support her Patreon at

    Anna's Maps include both Tucksvale and Fort Thomas. As far as I know, there are no canon sources for these, but Fort Thomas is referenced in the Living Greyhawk Module Yeo3-05 (A Friend in Need), which also lists both the Spear and the Pickled Eel, although the descriptions of these, as well as the fort, are mine. Fort Thomas and Tucksvale both are also referenced in Yeo 4-01 (Flesh and Spirit).

    Post 123: Out of the Unknown

    The night is below freezing from 2am to 7am. Con checks (10) for
    Shefak (bedroll, tent, no winter gear) - Con 12, no roll needed, exhaustion removed
    Tyrius (winter gear, borrowed bedroll from Willa) - Con 12, no roll needed, exhaustion removed
    Babshapka (winter gear, tent, no bedroll) - Con 12, no roll needed, exhaustion removed
    Thokk (winter gear, no bedroll) - Con 16, roll 28, save
    Larry (winter gear, no bedroll) - Con 16, roll 10, save
    Willa (winter gear, no bedroll for tonight) - Con 14, roll 21, save
    Aurora (winter gear, no bedroll) Con 12, roll 11, save

    Night encounter check, patrolled mountain, none

    Actual Date unknown; sixth day after arriving at the Tower
    Actual location unknown, suspected to be somewhere between the Jotens and Little Hills

    Morning encounter check, patrolled mountain, none

    This day dawns a bit warmer than the previous, with a fine mist hanging in the air. As it lightens, they can see that downslope from their camp thick rain clouds blanket the verdant forests. Here they are above the clouds, though, and only a thin layer of damp settles on the rocks and brush. After breakfast [9 pounds of food remaining] Willa gives them their assignments for the day; the main party will be as before, and Thokk will take rear guard again. Larry and Babshapka will walk ahead of the party, staying close as the day previous, with Larry upslope to the north and Babshapka downslope to the south. Buckbeak will keep an eye on the track immediately ahead of and behind them.

    The march is fairly level all morning long, along the rocky bench between the two slopes, with the lower slope continually obscured by rain clouds. Every so often there is a steep switchback leading to a higher bench, but then the going is level again. Thus they slowly gain elevation all morning, and by their midday meal [7 pounds of food remaining] they are considerably higher above the clouds than they started. Babshapka, back with the main party for the meal, spends some time checking the track both in front of and behind the party and finally asks them at what point the giants left the trail. He explains that there were clear giant tracks ahead of them on the trail when they broke camp this morning, but now there are no signs of them - the giants must have left the trail at some point during the stretch covered by this morning’s march. Apparently no one in the main group was tracking them, however, and no one can answer Babshapka’s question.

    Soon after they resume their march, the nature of the track changes. Rather than continuing laterally along the face of the mountain, they turn and begin to scale it directly in a seemingly unending series of switchbacks. Both outrider scouts return to the main group, for without climbing gear the switchbacks are really the only way up the cliff face. Pausing frequently to help the travois negotiate corners, or just to rest, they spend the better part of the afternoon gaining elevation. By the time they finally crest the last ridge, Thokk and Larry agree that they are now higher than they were in the valley of the tower.

    The switchbacks back down the northern face of the ridge are just as steep, but they need to rest less so progress is faster. Having left both clouds and mist behind they can see the other side of the valley clearly, but for only a limited distance. They are entering a small bowl, perhaps two or three miles both long and deep, and ringed with higher mountains. As they come out onto the valley floor, the scouts are able to spread out again, and Babshapka returns to their evening camp with more hares [collected 7 pounds of meat, 12 pounds remaining after dinner]. The valley is sparsely forested, reminding them of the valley of the tower, and as they sit around a good campfire in the evening, watching the setting sun color the peaks to the east of them, they discuss sleeping arrangements for the night and plans for the next day’s march.

    When the conversation dies down and some in the party assume their watch duties while others arrange themselves to sleep by the fire, Aurora takes out her crystal ball and unwraps it. She mutters and passes her hands over it. Inside the ball appears an image of an ancient elf, sleeping peacefully underneath a blanket with intricately woven patterns. His bedchamber has earthen walls through which thick roots protrude, and a wooden door that seems to be carved from a single piece of wood. For the ten minutes she watches he does not stir, although he does sigh heavily from time to time.

    Night encounter check, patrolled mountain, none

    Below freezing from 11pm to 9am. Con checks (10) for
    Willa (winter gear, bedroll) - Con 14, no roll needed
    Shefak (bedroll, tent, no winter gear) - Con 12, no roll needed
    Thokk (winter gear, no bedroll) - Con 16, roll 15, save
    Larry (winter gear, no bedroll) - Con 16, roll 23, save
    Aurora (winter gear, no bedroll) Con 12, roll 21, save
    Tyrius (winter gear, no bedroll) - Con 12, roll 11, save
    Babshapka (winter gear, no bedroll) - Con 12, roll 19, save

    Actual Date unknown; seventh day after arriving at the Tower
    Actual location unknown, suspected to be somewhere between the Jotens and Little Hills

    Morning encounter check, patrolled mountain, none

    It is cold in the predawn, dropping into the low 20’s, cold enough to rouse Tyrius from his sleep. He starts the fire going from the embers of the night before. Over breakfast [10 pounds of food remaining] Willa assigns duties: Thokk hidden rear guard as before, Babshapka taking the trail ahead of the party, scouting but remaining hidden as he does so. Larry, so far their best provider, she gives leave to roam as he wants, on either side of the track, near or far from the group, as he needs in order to forage, so long as he checks in at meal times.

    The party spends the early morning covering roughly three miles across the floor of the forested valley until they reach its northern end, where a high mountain awaits them, higher than the ridge to the south. The rest of the morning sees them climbing the steep slopes of the mountain, gradually leaving the trees and alpine meadows behind until by the time they stop for lunch [8 pounds of food remaining] they are again on rocky slopes above treeline. Larry, empty-handed, joins them.

    Due to the steepness of the slope, Larry stays on the trail with them in the afternoon, but continues to try to forage by walking ahead of the main group with Babshapka. By mid-afternoon they have crested the highest ridge yet and together are looking down at the valley beyond while the party continues to work their way up the slope behind them. The track snakes down the mountainside before them and then enters a narrow valley of low grass. There are no trees apparent, although a curving line of scrub brush might indicate the course of a stream. Some two or three miles to the north, the track passes in front of a large fortification. It looks to have wooden palisade walls with stone towers rising above. There may be some outbuildings nearby but it is difficult to tell at this distance. There is no obvious movement of occupants at this distance, but human-sized individuals would be hard to spot. They are confident that the party can reach the structure before nightfall.

    Larry and Babshapka remain at the crest of the trail, scanning the valley below, while waiting for the main party to arrive behind them. When they do, Willa tells Aurora to send out Buckbeak to scout from the air while Babshapka and Larry move ahead stealthily. The hawk takes to wing while Larry selects his wild shape, opting to become a mountain lion. Babshapka and Mountain Larry begin moving down the slope toward the structures. Babshapka has continuously been using his ioun stone up until now to lessen the food demands of the party, but now he stows it so as to be less visible.

    By the time Babshapka and Mountain Larry have reached the valley floor and are starting forward, Buckbeak has reached the structures. From her vantage atop the ridge, Aurora can see the hawk make one wide, looping circle high over the buildings, then lose elevation and go in closer, then sink from view. He does not return to report. After he has been gone several minutes and remains lost to view, Aurora says the silent words that would temporarily dismiss him, then tries to call him forth again, nearby. Nothing happens. Aurora tells Willa that Buckbeak may have been “killed”, and Willa tells the party to descend the mountain slope to the valley floor at normal speed, but then to proceed with caution. She says they will not approach the fortification itself until they hear back from Babshapka and Larry.

    Babshapka and Mountain Larry approach to within about half a mile of the place. From there, it is clear that there is a large wooden building, of at least two stories, outside the main walls of the fort. The fortification itself is small, with a square of wooden palisade walls perhaps fifteen feet high. High round stone towers are inside each corner of the walls, and a lower stone tower is outside the center of the west wall. A square stone building is in the center of the complex, just higher than the walls, and a plume of smoke comes from it. Neither the walls nor towers have roofs - all are flat and open to the sky. The wooden outbuilding has a peaked and likely shingled roof, and a thin plume of smoke rises from a chimney. Neither Babshapka nor Mountain Larry sees any figures moving outside the walls or building, and since the wind is behind them Larry is unable to scent anything. The fields immediately outside the fortification are flat and close-cropped as if they are regularly grazed, but nowhere is any sign of domestic animals - no barns, no fences, no paddocks. A few huge crows pick through the grass near the fortification.

    There are no planted fields to be seen, no plow furrows in the flat fields of dead grass. To the east of the fortification are perhaps a dozen mounds that might be small and regularly-spaced haystacks, but they are odd in both shape, size, and position.

    As they approach, Babshapka keeps them near, but not on, the track leading to the place. All along the track at least there is still signs of the mountain ponies - both hoofprints and droppings. The most recent are more than a week old but less than a month.

    Babshapka and Mountain Larry separate, with the crouching elf moving through the high grass to the east, while the slinking lion goes to the west. Babshapka draws close to the haystacks. Each mound is small, perhaps three feet high and three wide, and kept together by thick cords of twine. On their north face they have been painted white, with a blotch of red in the center. There are a dozen of them in all. Babshapka is at the very edge where the high natural grass meets the close-cut grass near the fortification - to get closer, he risks being seen. From this distance, the sound of numerous voices bounce off the stone of the place, and an occasional, deeper grunting noise. Both the palisade walls and the round towers have battlements, and he can see a figure moving along one of the walls.

    Mountain Larry moves to the wooden outbuilding, several hundred yards away from the fortification. Here the high grass comes almost up to the walls, so that there is just a small cleared yard. As he approaches he can see that it is actually two buildings, one next to another. The larger of the two is two stories, the smaller little more than walls around a large room. The track passes in front of the buildings and continues on north - a side branch goes to the fortification. Both of the buildings are entirely of wood, although the larger has a small, stone chimney and several cords of wood neatly stacked outside. The source of this wood is unclear - there are no actual trees in the valley, and neither are there stumps. For that matter, the huge timbers of the wooden palisade have no obvious source either. Both buildings have wooden doors and shuttered windows. The smell of humans is thick about them - sweat, and smoke, and nightsoil.

    Babshapka remains in the high grass as close to the walls as he can without being seen and listens for a quarter hour. He watches the figure walk around the walls - there must be a catwalk inside the palisade. Just before he is ready to go, the clanging of iron on iron sounds and voices are raised. He stiffens, but soon realizes this is not an alarm. Rather, the voices are raucous and laughing - he suspects that was a dinner bell. Babshapka retreats from the fortification and moves silently to the wooden buildings at the crossroads. There, Mountain Larry crouches, sniffing the air and twitching his tail. He is not very well hidden, and Babshapka is glad Larry did not pass closer to the watchman on the walls, and that all the windows of these buildings are shuttered.

    Babshapka and Mountain Larry withdraw from the crossroads and move along the track to the south, meeting up with the main party advancing cautiously at about a mile from the crossroads. Just before they are within speaking distance, the party can see a group of a dozen figures sally forth from the fortification and begin making their way up the road.

    At the appearance of the figures, Willa calls for a halt, at least until Babshapka and Larry have reported in. She tells Tyrius to be ready to unharness Eddard. Aurora says that it would be nice to have Thokk present by the time those figures reach them, and Willa agrees. She tells Shefak to find the half-orc swiftly but return stealthily - they can set up near the party if it looks like surprise is needed. Shefak receives a mage armor from Aurora, slips on her ring of invisibility and takes off up the track behind them.

    Babshapka reports to the party about what he saw around the fortification, and Aurora uses message to see what Larry would like to add - in his Mountain Lion form, he can understand speech but not speak (nor can he cast spells, although at some point he would like to cast speak with animals to get the local perspective on the situation - perhaps from one of the crows near the fort). Aurora relays what Larry saw around the wooden buildings, and he adds that if the party would advance just a hundred feet or so, there would be an excellent spot of high grass in which as many party members as wanted concealment could hide. When Aurora passes this along to Willa, she agrees to advance to the point where Mountain Larry slinks off into the grass to hide (Stealth check 16), then again calls for a halt. Tyrius unharnesses Eddard, who receives a mage armor from Aurora.

    Shefak runs rapidly up the track and quickly (Perception Check 17) locates Thokk, who is well concealed from the south of an outcrop, but rather obvious from the north (Stealth Check 8). Together, the two of them begin to return to the party, who are now set up defensively on the track as the dozen men approach from the fort.

    The men are obviously carrying shields, but moving rapidly enough that they must be in light armor and without packs. The closer they get, the more they resemble a standard patrol from a fort - identical uniforms, the matching stride of disciplined men, not bandits. Willa tells the party to stand down and look inoffensive - Babshapka joins them, leaving only Larry hidden. She tells them to have their weapons ready, but not drawn.

    At a quarter-mile it is apparent that half the men carry longbows, the other half spears. All are in chain shirts and long leather breeches - only the spearmen have shields. At fifty paces the bowmen stop, and fan out in formation. They have arrows nocked, but pointed at the ground and their bows are not drawn. The spearmen continue on unhesitatingly.

    At twenty paces, five of the spearmen stop and assume a formation abreast across the track. They have the copper-colored skin and long, black hair of the Flan - their features are similar enough that they could be cousins. A sixth spearman continues on another ten paces in front, and Tyrius walks forward to meet him. When he is just within striking distance of the man’s spear, but not close enough to use his own war hammer, the spearman holds up his hand, and Tyrius stops. “Hold, stranger,” says the spearman. “What is your business in the League?”

    “I am Tyrius of Sterich, Paladin of Pelor, and these are my companions. We travel in peace, and seek only passage to the north.”

    “You are on the wrong side of the Jotens for a Sterishman, but Pelor is respected in the League. Hail and welcome to Fort Thomas.”

    [At the mention of “Fort Thomas”, Aurora now knows where they are. (History check 17). She casts a message spell, surreptitiously (Sleight of Hands check 17) pointing at and whispering to Willa and then Tyrius that they are, as they had thought, between the Jotens and the Yeomanry. Had they turned south when they reached the trail rather than north, they would have arrived in Tucksvale.]

    “We thank you for your welcome. We have been traveling the wilderness for quite some time, and would enjoy a night under a roof and a chance to buy supplies, if such is to be found at the fort.”

    “The fort itself is an installation of the League Militia. You will not be allowed to enter. The two buildings you see at the crossroads are inns - the larger is the Spear, the smaller, the Pickled Eel. Both are closed for the winter, but they are run by free folk and you look as though you might have the means to convince them to open for you. I warn you though, it is a grave crime for a foreigner to threaten a citizen of the League.” (The man clearly emphasizes “free folk” in his speech - Tyrius’ earlier encounters with people of the Yeomanry in Nighford and Highfell lead him to believe that the man is drawing a pointed comparison between his country and Sterich, where the majority of people are serfs, not free men).

    “Of course. You have my word as a paladin that we will only appeal to their faith and desire for profit; we are not here to threaten your countrymen. Should they refuse us service, we will make our camp outside their buildings, if that is acceptable. A hot meal and soft bed would be most desirable, though. Would they or you have supplies? We are in need of both food and camping gear.”

    The spearman shakes his head. “This is a fort and two inns, not a trading post. Winter is upon us and what little we have will be sorely needed. If you wish to purchase supplies for your travels, you will need to continue on to Singleton.” Tyrius nods his head in agreement. The spearman continues, “There is one more thing. Earlier in the day a bird flew over the fort. We have reason to believe it was sent by a sorcerer or witch to spy upon us. This would also be a serious crime.” Although he is speaking to Tyrius, the spearman is looking directly at Aurora as he speaks.

    “I understand,” says Tyrius gravely. “You have my word that we will abide by your laws within the jurisdiction of your fort.”

    The spearman looks at each of them in turn, meeting their gaze as if evaluating them. When he gets to Umbra, still unconscious and wrapped in a bedroll, his brow furrows in concern. “Is she ill? We will not have you bringing sickness to the fort.”

    Tyrius carefully considers his answer. “She is...resting. I believe it is a condition of her people. I cannot say that I understand it, but on my honor I do not believe it can pass to other people, at least not to humans.” When the spearman, who still has not given his name, continues to look doubtful, Tyrius adds, “If any of your soldiers are of the faith of Pelor, and are in need of healing, I would be happy to share the blessings of the Sun God with them.” That seems to have tipped the balance in their favor, and the spearman says that they may proceed to the fort.

    It takes a few minutes for Tyrius and Willa to harness Eddard again, and in that time both Shefak and Thokk have arrived. Seeing the party readying to leave, Thokk seems prepared to walk into their midst and check in with Willa, but Shefak lays her hand on his forearm and he remains hidden. Neither they nor Larry seem to have been spotted by the soldiers.

    When the party is ready to move, the spearman returns to his five squadmates. They pull off the track and allow the party to precede them, then follow behind. The bowmen do the same, so that eventually the party is headed for the crossroads with all dozen of the soldiers following behind them, and Thokk, Larry, and Shefak being left behind, still in hiding.

    When the figures before them are about halfway to the crossroads, Larry resumes his dwarven form. Thokk and Shefak emerge from the grass on to the track and begin walking, no longer attempting to conceal themselves, as if they had all been in a rear guard, or hunting, the whole time.

    For the group in the lead, the fort and two buildings at the crossroads come in to view. What Babshapka earlier took to be two stone towers along the middle of the west wall is revealed to be a barbican with an iron door. All four of the corner towers have ballistae, with crews manning them, slowly turning them to keep them trained on the party.

    At the crossroads, the soldiers leave the party and head to the fort. Willa notices that the iron door is just wide enough for them to enter single file, and it is not kept open long. Looking between the wooden buildings, the larger one two stories, with a stable and smoke coming from the chimney, and the smaller one with none of these things, the party opts to try the larger of the two, what the spokesman called “The Spear”. All the windows are shuttered and the door closed, but they bang on the door and wait. When the door opens, Tyrius moves to the front of the party. Facing them is a grizzled man in advanced middle age, muscled but with a clear paunch, and hobbling on a single wooden crutch, his leg held at an odd angle. Tyrius asks for shelter for the night. The man looks out at their group suspiciously and says that they are closed for the winter. Tyrius says that he is a paladin of Pelor and would be happy to use his healing abilities on the man’s leg if he would consider lodging them. The man sucks on his lip, and finally responds that a priest of the Sun God is always welcome, especially during these dark days of winter when the sun is seldom seen. He opens the door wide and hobbles back inside.

    The five members of the party present pass in to the common room, where a low fire burns in an open hearth. The room smells of smoke and earth and manure - despite the abundant wood pile outside, he is burning a mix of peat and pig dung. There is a trestle table that is taken apart, and a dozen chairs that are stacked up. The man introduces himself as Marcus, waves his hands at the table and chairs, and says it will take him some time to get the inn ready for their stay. A meek-looking young woman emerges from the kitchen, followed by an older woman with a lined face and poorly-dyed hair.

    Willa says that they will be grateful just to sleep in beds, and that if he can direct them to work they will help prepare the inn. The older woman scowls and leaves through the front door, while the younger one goes upstairs to begin preparing bedrooms. Willa says that Aurora can help get the dinner ready. Aurora ignores her and moves to sit next to the fire, opening her pack and taking out the diary of Nholast. Willa removes the meat from their packs and goes to the kitchen. Tyrius and Babshapka remain in the common room, setting up and arranging the furniture according to Marcus’ directives, and then carrying Umbra into the first floor bedroom, which she will share with Tyrius.

    By the time the common room is nearly ready, the door opens and Shefak, Larry, and Thokk enter. Marcus’ face reddens at the sight of the half-orc and he begins sputtering - “You didn’t say that...If I had known…” Tyrius moves to his side and gently helps him into a chair. The paladin apologizes and explains that Thokk is a brave warrior, but is loyal to the party and will not harm anyone in the inn. Marcus is silent but fuming, and Tyrius distracts him by removing his boot and unwrapping his foot. The ankle has been broken and healed at a bad angle, the whole foot is inflamed, but more seriously, half of the foot itself is missing. Marcus explains that he was a member of the Yeoman Militia in his youth, until he lost his foot defending the land against an orc raid. “Huge brute though he was, I killed him myself with my spear, but not before his axe took off half my foot.” He had been a frugal man and saved much of his wages, and his pension would give him more besides, so he inquired at the time about whether the foot could be healed. This wound, the loss of a limb with bone and all, would require regeneration - a seventh level spell requiring a 13th level priest, and beyond the abilities of any paladin. The cost would be far beyond what any soldier or innkeep could make in a lifetime. Tyrius shakes his head sadly. Marcus took what savings he had, built this inn, and retired here to Fort Thomas. There are few travelers, mostly soldiers on patrol and the occasional merchant men who supply the fort, and that is just as well. Marcus would rather his clients understand him as a former comrade-in-arms than pity him as a cripple. Tyrius lays his hands on the wound and can see the obvious relief in Marcus’ face. His ministrations will lower the swelling and inflammation, ease the pain for a few days, maybe a week, but he cannot do more.

    Once Marcus’ boot is back on he goes to the kitchen to help Willa with dinner. She talks to him about giants, and whether the inn is defensible or not. He chuckles. The wood walls of the inn are thick, he says, there are barred shutters and double-barred doors, and there is a cistern in the basement. The inn can stand its own against goblin raiders, and has! But against giants? More than once since Marcus built it have giants been spotted. Then he leaves the doors open and retreats to the fort. Fortunately frost giants are more interested in battle and glory than looting. They engage the fort, trading thrown rocks for ballista fire and arrow volleys, and are usually driven off or become bored, or die once they reach the yard and try to batter down the doors of the keep. They have no interest in sieges, which is fortunate, since when it snows the tracks to Singleton and Tucksvale are impassible and there are no relief parties. Willa mentions that they saw giants on the trail two days ago, and Marcus replies that the militia men of the fort would likely want to know that. (Later, Tyrius slips out to tell the soldiers of their sighting. Most seem appreciative, but one man complains that the captain will have them doing ballista watch all night).

    When the dinner preparations are going well and Marcus has shown Willa around the kitchen, he hobbles upstairs, sighing in relief at the relative ease with which he can navigate the steps now that his foot is not swollen. He checks that the girl has prepared the rooms to his satisfaction. When he comes down, Tyrius asks whether it is possible to have their clothes laundered, and he says yes, but they would need to stay all the next day. That prompts Willa to ask whether they can at least have a hot bath after dinner. Marcus sucks on his lower lip again and says politely that baths means firewood, and the firewood is for paying customers. Apparently everything he has done so far has been in exchange for Tyrius’ healing! Tyrius assures him that they are paying customers, and Marcus tells the girl to bring in wood from outside and water from the basement. Shefak moves to work alongside the girl. She smiles her appreciation shyly but does not speak.

    The party insists that Marcus joins them at table. Over dinner (which includes the game the party has brought, now deliciously salted and fried in pig fat, along with potatoes, and winter greens - 5 pounds of food remaining) they ask him about Fort Thomas and the surrounding area of the Yeomanry. At first reticent, he grows more loquacious when Thokk wolfs twice his portion of food and then goes upstairs to his bed.

    Fort Thomas, he begins, is a simple defensive border fort - of no economic importance, it just exists to protect the communities of the Yeomanry from anything that might emerge out of the Jotens. No travelers besides patrols have been through in at least three weeks. The soldiers of the fort see long stretches of no action but constant drilling, interspersed with occasional desperate goblin or orc raids and, in the winter, giants. Thus it is an ideal “first posting” for green militia recruits and staying at the fort any longer than a first posting is considered less than prestigious. Veterans of the fort frequently patrol the tracks between it and Singleton to the northeast and Tucksvale to the southwest, but as often as not they are the only traffic on the trail.

    Tucksvale is a small halfling town, famed for breeding long-haired mountain ponies. Their own militia, mounted slingers and bowmen, acts as auxiliaries to the Yeomanry militia and also patrol the trail to Fort Thomas. They are a self-sufficient community, but have few exports beside the woven products their women make from the long hair of the ponies. These are taken to the market in Cottonton to the south, though, and do not pass through Fort Thomas.

    Singleton is a market town of more than a thousand souls, the largest settlement outside of Longspear in the northern Yeomanry. It receives the produce from all the sheep crofts and farming villages in Singleton Valley, as well as the ores of many mines besides. Largely it serves as the commercial nexus of the region, keeping the whole area interdependent, but it does export goods to Longspear and Baransford (in Keoland). If the party is looking to buy supplies, they should be able to find anything they need there. The town is on a small river that flows into the Javan.

    The party asks how long it will take them to get to Singleton, with Umbra being drawn by travois. Marcus says two or three days with fair weather, but warns them that should it rain or snow the track becomes either unfindable or impassable. He asks them where they are going after Singleton, and they look from one to another until Willa confidently says Sterich. In that case, says Marcus, the easiest way would be to try to find passage on a river boat on the Javan. There are fewer this time of year, but they still run since the Javan up to Sterich is ice-free even in the depths of winter. The most direct way would be to go north from Singleton to Eldmyn, and then to Baransford on the Javan in Keoland. It would take longer to go south to Longspear, but if they did that they could try to find a good Yeoman captain instead of a Keoish one.

    From Marcus’ tone it is clear that he bears no love for the Keoish, so Willa asks him to expound on relations between the two countries. He says that the two nations are currently at peace and enjoy mutually profitable trade. In the case of the Yeomanry League, that trade is even vital, for Keoland is the largest export market for Yeoman goods. Despite this, no true Yeoman can forget that the Yeomanry was once conquered by Keoland and its people forced to toil in an exploitative colony. Nor would any of them doubt that should Keoland annex them again, their proud freemen would be made into serfs, just like all the feudal nations around them. Thus, the Yeomanry remains polite to Keoland, but wary.

    Willa asks Marcus about local ruins, such as towers in the Jotens, and he says he has no idea. Occasionally patrols will go off the track and deeper into the Jotens to check for humanoid lairs, but he has not heard of ruins. Who would have built them, giants?

    After dinner, while Marcus does the washing up, his girl draws the water that has been heating during dinner for baths for those in the party who are bathing (Thokk and Larry abstain). After they change into their cleaner sets of dirty clothes, Aurora returns to reading by the fire, while Willa and Tyrius clean and sharpen weapons and tend to their armor. Babshapka moves between rooms upstairs until he finds the one with the best vantage point, opens the shutters to the cold night air, and takes first watch. Shefak helps with the washing up and baths, while Thokk and Larry snore away.
    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.
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    Tue Jun 30, 2020 1:28 pm  
    Post 123: Out of the Unknown

    Double post.

    Moderator, please delete.
    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.

    Last edited by Kirt on Wed Aug 12, 2020 10:47 am; edited 2 times in total
    Master Greytalker

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    Tue Jul 07, 2020 6:11 am  
    Post 124: Fort Thomas to Singleton

    DM's Notes:
    By far the best source for maps of Greyhawk comes from the work of Anna B Meyer. I used for the party's travel. The track the party follows in this post is on her map of the Yeomanry, from Fort Thomas to Singleton. I would highly encourage any DM to use Anna's work, and anyone with the means to do so to support her Patreon at

    Fort Thomas is referenced in the Living Greyhawk Module Yeo3-05 (A Friend in Need), which also lists the Spear Inn. Fort Thomas is also referenced in Yeo 4-01 (Flesh and Spirit).

    I know of no canon sources for Singleton, and it is not on Darlene's map. It receives a single-line mention in the Living Greyhawk Player's Guide to the Yeomanry. It is described in more detail in Living Greyhawk Module YEO6-04 (Blood Shadows) and also by GMGhostmaster at

    Post 124: Fort Thomas to Singleton
    15 November, 570 - The Spear Inn, Fort Thomas, the Yeomanry League
    After nine days sleeping on the ground or stone dungeon floors, the party greatly enjoys their beds in the inn and more than one of them is late to breakfast [3 pounds of food remaining]. Tyrius, however, is up before dawn to lead a sunrise service for a handful of soldiers from the fort. How many are faithful followers of the Sun God and how many are merely curious about the strange Sterish priest is not clear, but at least a few of them know the words to the hymns and the others murmur along.

    Bags are packed and Eddard harnessed to the travois. Marcus the innkeep asks for two gold and five silver a head, not including Eddard or Umbra. The price is a bit high considering the quality of the establishment, but factoring in the off-season and its remoteness it is not that far from fair. Many in the party give him three gold without hesitation. He takes their coin with a smile, but looks perplexed when Babshapka hands his over.

    “Is there something wrong?”

    “These coins - they're gold all right, but what is the mint? It’s not Yeoman, and not Keoish neither.” Marcus holds out the coins for them to see - the writing cut on them is in Suel, the heraldry, a device that none of them recognize. Most of them instantly grasp that Babshapka has, without thinking, passed off some of the gold coins the party took from the tower of Nholast - coins that are eight centuries old at the least (although the relief on them is still sharp, as they have not been in circulation). “Where are these even from?” asks Marcus, still confused.

    “I’m well-traveled,” shrugs Babshapka, and quickly offers Keoish coin instead, which Marcus accepts gratefully. Once they are out of earshot of the inn, Aurora says that they must add something else to the list of things to do in Singleton - exchange all their coinage so as to not be so conspicuous. She is in favor of visiting a blacksmith or jeweler and simply having it melted down into ingots, while Willa says it should be sufficient to visit a money changer.

    Once on the trail north, they quickly resume their standard practice of having Babshapka, Larry, and Thokk scouting and foraging while the rest of them travel as a group. In the morning, at least, they are absent Buckbeak. The open meadows of the valley which surround the fort soon narrow and eventually close to a steep-walled canyon with a stream running alongside the track. Throughout most of the morning they continue down the canyon, occasionally climbing to the rim above when it is so narrow they would have to walk through the stream or bushwhack through the riparian scrub brush.

    When the scouts have returned and the party is stopped for lunch on a saddle pass between two valleys, Aurora takes out a block of incense and her brass brazier and summons Buckbeak. Then as they settle in to their lunch [1 pound of food remaining], she tells them of an interesting passage she read in the diary last night (DC38). In it, Nholast recounts that on one trip to Valadis, he recovered something called “the remains of the master” and later he refers to them as “the relics of the Whispered One”. At this last phrase, Umbra twitches violently - the first any of them has seen her move in days. Tyrius is at her side in an instant, feeling her brow, checking her pulse, but there seems to be no change from before, and she does not move again.

    “We nay be goin' thar,” says Willa flatly.

    “Where?” says Aurora distractedly, more interested in Umbra’s reaction.

    “Valadis. We nay be goin' thar. Nay more fishin'.”

    “Oh, that. Yes, fine.”

    In the afternoon they descend from the saddle and follow the track down a lower, broader valley. Soon after Willa has selected their campsite, Larry appears with a kid mountain goat and a bag full of wild onion bulbs. Since they have been following the stream all day, he has not not had to even create water for them. [9 pounds of food remaining]

    In the evening, Aurora uses her crystal ball to scry on the old elf again (for the second time). This time, she again sees him in bed, but there is a young elf maiden making tea over his fire, and then serving it to him. The maiden sits next to him and looks on lovingly as he sips it.

    [Night of the 15th: Freezing from 11pm to 9am
    Larry, Thokk, and Aurora make their Con saves, Tyrius does not.
    In the morning, the paladin has one level of exhaustion.]

    16 November, 570 - North along the Singleton trail, the Yeomanry League
    Babshapka, as usual, has last watch before the morning, and he makes a circuit around the camp as soon as it is light enough to see well. When Larry rouses, Babshapka asks him whether he used his wild shape in the night - when the dwarf says he did not, Babshapka shows him the tracks of a mountain lion that approached but did not enter their night. [wandering monster, patrolled hills]

    After breakfast [7 pounds of food remaining] the party sets out. All morning they pass through narrow, rocky canyons just wide enough for the track and the stream bed. At noon Willa has them camp on a high spot with a good view of the surroundings. From there they can see that east of them the land opens up into a great, green valley - although the track they are following turns north.

    After lunch (5 pounds of food remaining) they set out again. On the slopes above the valley, they can see spread out near them dense forests and open meadows. Lower and closer to a river are fields, villages with herds of sheep or kine, and brown patches that might have been cropland in the growing season but which has since been harvested and frozen over. On a rocky promontory to the south of them, several miles off the track, they catch repeated glimpses of a large, lonely stone tower.

    After lunch they leave the stream from Fort Thomas behind as it spills down into the valley below while they continue along the mountain track. By going down into the verdant valley, the foragers find the hunting easier and the prey more abundant. All three of them return with food for the dinner meal (Babshapka 2 pounds, Thokk 6 pounds, Larry 20 pounds; 31 pounds remaining).

    After it is well and truly dark, Willa sends Babshapka back along the trail to the spot from the best vantage point of the valley below. All along the river are the tiny lights of fires; myriad villages and shepherd’s crofts. The forest above the river is as dark as the night. When Aurora scrys the old elf (third try) she sees only his darkened room and him sleeping peacefully.

    With Tyrius ending the day as exhausted as he began it, Willa loans him her sleeping roll, trying to ensure that he gets a good night’s rest.

    [Night of the 16th: Below freezing from 10pm to 10am
    Tyrius recovers from his exhaustion. Larry, Thokk, and Willa make their Con saves, Aurora does not. In the morning, the wizard has one level of exhaustion and has not recovered any spell slots. Since she used three mage armors on herself the day before, she can use only one today, and thus is protected from only 7am to 3pm.]

    17 November, 570 - North along the Singleton trail, the Yeomanry League
    (29 pounds remaining after breakfast) The morning’s work is to climb the switchbacks of the rocky ridge separating the valley they are in from the valley of Singleton. As the party climbs, they occasionally catch glimpses of the stone tower far to the south. Close to midday it is lost from view, and where they camp for lunch offers a vista of the forests of the Singleton Valley to the north (27 pounds, plus 12 more from Larry is 39).

    As they descend into the next valley, the scrubby slopes quickly become thick with pines, and still lower, broad-leaf trees whose leaves have been shed for the winter. Their horizon shrinks from vast mountain vistas to less than a hundred yards of trees all about. However, the soft, leaf-covered ground and gentle slopes are much easier for Eddard to negotiate, and their travel pace picks up. (from 7 miles per 5 hour march to 10 miles). Long before dark they emerge out of the forest into the grassy plains above Singleton and continue on another two miles before making camp for the evening. They can see the town beneath them, some five miles distant, but before they arrive they will need to pass through numerous thorps and dorfs along the way. Thokk brings 12 pounds of meat to dinner (49 pounds remaining). The land that lies ahead is pastoral, and it is likely that the plants and beasts therein belong to someone. Willa is glad they have built up a considerable surplus of food, for from here on out she doesn’t dare send any of them foraging without having them accused of poaching or worse.

    Aurora’s scrying of the old elf in the evening (fourth try) is unsuccessful - perhaps the ancient one has finally made a save against her ball!

    [Night of the 17th: Below freezing from 9pm to 10am
    Aurora sleeps in the tent and recovers from her exhaustion. Babshapka, Thokk, and Tyrius make their Con saves, Shefak and Larry do not and have one level of exhaustion each. The next morning, even Larry admits that he was cold the night before and will be glad for a fire in the evening, if not a room or bed at an inn.]

    18 November, 570 - North along the Singleton trail, the Yeomanry League
    The track into Singleton from this point out is well-traveled, and Babshapka decides to stow his ioun stone so as to be less conspicuous. They pass all manner of Yeoman farmers, herders, and traders on their way to the town, arriving well before noon, and are able to find a suitable inn and have lunch, with the afternoon still open for exploring and shopping.

    Shefak and Larry, still exhausted, agree to remain at the inn and guard the party’s belongings (and Umbra!). Willa convinces Thokk that he needs to stay at the inn as well and challenge to a drinking contest any Yeoman who enters.

    The party soon finds that today is not a market day, although the next day will be. Apparently Singleton is a small enough town that market days (when the public spaces are crowded with stalls and traders come in from the countryside) are held only two days a week in the winter (three in the summer, when there is more trade). Today only those merchants who have permanent store fronts are doing business, so the party will have to content themselves with the higher-end purchasing and trading they need to do, and leave the acquisition of normal supplies ‘til the morrow.

    They start with a few shops selling custom leather work, and Tyrius purchases three bits and bridles, a military saddle, two pack saddles (for the pack mules they plan to purchase when the stock yards fill on the morrow), a set of saddlebags, and some heavy winter gear for Umbra and Shefak. The conversation then turns to barding, with Tyrius arguing that his heavens-sent steed deserves the best, while Aurora points out how expensive it is and “look what happened to the last set”. When this debate spills out on the street, Eddard clears his throat pointedly. Tyrius looks up sheepishly and says that they should the steed's opinion, since he is the one who will be wearing it. Eddard explains that he is honestly not that impressed with the quality of workmanship seen in the equestrian goods available here. Singleton is just a town, not a city, and the Yeomanry does not have a strong tradition of knights or even heavy cavalry. Eddard suggests that they purchase leather barding for now, which will give him a minimum of protection but will likely be safer for him should they find river passage. They can look into chain, scale, splint, or even plate barding once they reach Sterich and can find something of better quality. This seems like a reasonable compromise, so after a bit more searching they buy a set of leather barding sized for the great war horse.

    The next store mostly deals in high-end pipe weed (an important Yeoman export), but does have a small selection of incense for Aurora to consider; she buys three blocks.

    The rest of the supplies they need can better be bought at the market on the morrow, so they turn to selling. Willa finds an authorized money changer and Tyrius explains that they need to change some obscure currency into local coin. He shows the man one of the coins from Nholast’s tower and he is impressed. After first ascertaining that it is real gold, he begins to pepper Tyrius with questions. Tyrius readily admits that they are adventurers and that they got the coins plundering ancient ruins before Willa and Aurora force him to stop. The money changer says that he can trade only up to 100 gold, but that he will give them ninety gold in Keoish or Yeoman coin for a hundred of theirs. After some more negotiation he agrees to give them the equivalent value in Keoish platinum griffins instead and the party finds the deal quite favorable. The money changer says he could change even more for them later but will need some days to draw together the coin.

    As they stroll jeweler’s row, the party briefly considers selling the three dozen gems they recovered from the tower, but ultimately decide that the gems are a more portable form of wealth than coins. They do resolve to free themselves of some of the more bulky items of treasure, however. Working the shops for the rest of the afternoon, they manage to sell the following treasures for gold coins (they ask for Keoish gold lions, which seem readily available in this border town):

    Gold and Silver Necklace for 45 gold lions
    Silver Chalice for 50 gold lions
    Gold Chalice for 70 gold lions
    Gold Pin for 85 gold lions

    Furthermore, Aurora trades in her powdered gold and platinum for 50 gold lions, and purchases a pearl suitable for use with her identify spell for 107gp.

    Willa insists they keep the silver seal. The statuette with emerald eyes is identified by Shefak as being a representation of a Baklunish god, and the party gifts it to her. Aurora decides that the powdered gemstone will likely prove useful in the future for spell ingredients and is of little value otherwise so this she keeps as well.

    They also visit blacksmiths, weapons-makers, and armorers to have their gear serviced and repaired.

    It is nearing dark and the shops are closing when those out finally return to the inn. After a hearty dinner of their own game supplemented with all the inn has to offer, they retire to their shared rooms, but keep to their customary watch schedule. Upon deliberation, Aurora decides not to take out her crystal ball - there are too many prying eyes at the inn, and staring into a glowing orb for ten minutes or more will certainly mark her as a wizard. She can still maintain plausibility as a scholar, however, while reading Nholast’s diary, which appears like any other erudite tome. Even in the common room, the faded Suel letters would have to be carefully studied to read, and casual passersby should have no idea of its nature or contents.

    This night she reads for two hours (DC39 and 40 in the book). At one point, Nholast refers to Asberdies as “a typical Malhel”.

    [Dinner; 42 pounds food remaining]
    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.

    Last edited by Kirt on Thu Jul 16, 2020 11:35 am; edited 2 times in total
    Master Greytalker

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    Thu Jul 16, 2020 6:06 am  
    Post 125: Singleton to Fort August

    DM's Notes:
    By far the best source for maps of Greyhawk comes from the work of Anna B Meyer. I used for the party's travel. The track the party follows in this post is on her map of the Yeomanry, from Singleton to Fort August. I would highly encourage any DM to use Anna's work, and anyone with the means to do so to support her Patreon at

    I know of no canon sources for Singleton, and it is not on Darlene's map. It receives a single-line mention in the Living Greyhawk Player's Guide to the Yeomanry. It is described in more detail in Living Greyhawk Module YEO6-04 (Blood Shadows) and also by GMGhostmaster at

    Post 125: Singleton to Fort August
    19 November, 570 - Singleton, the Yeomanry League

    With today being a market day, the party looks to replace the gear lost to the eigers. They spread out through the open-air market and come away with:

    2 mules (named Andy and Randy Nubbutters by Larry)
    5 bedrolls (everyone now has one)
    10 waterskins (everyone now has two, enough for a full day)
    1 bullseye lantern
    14 flasks of oil
    1 grappling hook
    2 hammers
    3 x 50’ lengths of silk rope (and Babshapka throws away his old, cut and tied, hemp rope)
    56 rations (jerky, dried fruit, hard tack for 8 people for 7 days)
    20 rations of grain for the mules

    This, plus all of the items purchased the previous day, comes to 241.5gp, or 34.5 gold each (not including Umbra).

    Returning to the inn as early as they can, they turn over their clothes for laundering, mending, and in some cases, replacement. (15 days of gear upkeep, since November 5th, is between 4 and 10 gp each for them). Some of them even pay for baths while their clothes are away.

    Aurora reads for two more hours in the diary of Nholast. (DC 41 and 42) The book is now read thoroughly and has yielded all immediately useful information as far as she can tell.

    [35 pounds of foraged food remaining without using purchased human rations]

    20 November, 570 - South along the trail, Singleton to Longspear
    The party has been told that should they travel north out of Singleton, they can follow the track about three miles until it crosses the local river at a bridge. On the far side, the trail splits in two; they can then turn south to Longspear or continue north to Eldmyn (in Keoland). Between Willa and Aurora, the party gives a confusing account of their next destination to those at the inn giving them directions, but they set out in good order nonetheless.

    Arriving at the northern edge of town, they find another group preparing to leave as well. A dozen lightly-armored Yeoman spearmen form the core of a patrol, commanded by a grizzled-looking sergeant: a broad-shouldered woman with no left arm past her elbow. Her heavy leather jack is sewn closed at the end of the half sleeve. With the group, and apparently under the woman’s command as well, are five halflings on ponies. At first the party takes them to be just pack-handlers, for the ponies carry bags and rolls besides their riders, but as they get closer, the halflings can be seen to be wearing leather armor and all are equipped with slings and belt knives. The final two members of the company are both mailed dwarves with axes and heavy crossbows.

    Serjeant Breewyn explains to them that her detail this week is to patrol the road from Singleton to Longspear and then back again. The party is welcome to come with - provided they can keep up. Eddard, securely harnessed to the travois, sighs heavily and says that will be unlikely. The Yeoman take a few steps back at his words and Breewyn arches an eyebrow, then shrugs and starts barking orders at her men. They set out down the track at an ordered march, with the dwarves each at the head of a column of men, setting pace, and the ponies following behind.

    The ground is nearly level, but slopes gently down to the river, such that the patrol ahead of them is visible the entire first hour of their travel, although it is slowly pulling away from the party. It is below freezing, and now that they are away from the hearthfires of the inn, the party is grateful for their new sets of winter outer clothes and new bedrolls. They are more grateful still as they watch the heavy, leaden clouds blow in over the hills to the south. They are just crossing the stone bridge over the river when the first sleet starts to fall. Fortunately there is a sheep-pen on the other side of the river with a small roofed shed in which they can take shelter while they decide what to do next.

    After half an hour it is obvious that the sleet-storm is not going anywhere - a layer of slush now covers the ground outside. It is still below freezing outside, but not frigid. It will be inconvenient to keep going, but not dangerous. Visibility would be reduced, their progress would be slowed, but it is still early in the day and an afternoon sun could easily dissipate the storm. Perhaps the greatest risk is that they could lose the track, for the southern branch of the trail especially is narrow and not frequently traveled.

    A few in the party argue for pressing on, most for just waiting out the storm itself, and a few for scrapping the day’s travel altogether and seeing what weather the morrow brings before they are too far from Singleton to easily turn back.

    Willa decides that they will stay under shelter for the time being, seeing how long the storm will continue. Some four hours later the corral, track, and fields beyond are covered in slush and ice, with just the muddy sheep shed interior and river's surface remaining uncovered. The party sets about making their mid-day meal - it is cold, as none of them are eager to go looking for wood, and there are no trees about save thumb-thick suckers and saplings on the steep river bank. Fortunately, those who had stayed at the inn for the last two days while the others shopped had cooked the nearly forty pounds of game the party had remaining so as to keep it longer. Cold meat, colder water, and dried fruits are shared around.

    Some time around one in the afternoon the sleet changes to rain, and that fades to drizzle by two as the clouds clear and the sun emerges. The rain melts the worst of the ice, but the ground is a bit muddy. It is now in the mid-forties - they believe they should be able to get a half-day’s march in, should they choose to continue. Willa tells them that they are burning daylight and that it is time to set out.

    Babshapka and Dirty Larry are immediately sent off up the trail, with Willa telling them to look for tracks in the snow and mud. After they leave, the party packs up their gear, re-harnesses Eddard and loads the two mules, and sets out as soon as they are done, except for Thokk, who will be serving as rear guard as before.

    With temperatures well above freezing, what remains of the ice does not last long, although the ground about is muddy for the rest of the afternoon. Fortunately the mud is least thick along the track, since the ground there has been hard-packed or worn to stone by countless other travelers, and the party makes good progress. For the rest of the afternoon they walk up the valley, with steep hill bluffs on their left and the river below them on their right. The land is open and grassy, and they pass numerous farming and herding “villages” - these more clusters of houses surrounded by a few fields or cleared pastures than anything else. Occasionally Babshapka and Larry pick up fresh tracks, almost certainly those of the patrol they met in the morning - numerous thick-soled sandals, the hoof-prints of ponies, and the marks from large, hob-nailed boots that could only be the dwarves. As the afternoon wears on, the trail grows drier but also more steep, and the valley narrows. The sun is close to dropping behind the massive Jotens to the west when they come upon a narrow draw. The higher land beyond is forested, and already dark. The track enters the forest. They could push on for a bit more, but Willa prefers to make camp where they can see the land around them.

    Aurora uses her crystal ball to attempt to scry on the knight - but is not able to make a connection.

    It is below freezing from midnight through 10am. At this point, everyone has at least two levels of protection (winter gear and bedroll) so no saves are needed.

    [28 pounds of foraged food remaining without using purchased human rations;
    2 rations of mule feed used]

    21 November, 570 - South along the trail, Singleton to Longspear
    As they are about to enter forested hills, Babshapka volunteers to stay back with the main party. His planning and assistance in negotiating obstacles (deadfalls, steep slopes, etc.) will help Eddard cover more ground. [Natural Explorer - Eddard now moving at 15 miles per march] Now away from prying eyes, Babshapka again sends his ioun stone into orbit to conserve food.

    Without Babshapka scouting in the van, the party decides to send Thokk to the fore, and the barbarian is excited about the prospect of being able to encounter something first and get in a fight, rather than protecting the rear of the party. He is not as skilled or practiced at moving in forests as Babshapka, so he will mostly stay on the track, but will be able to move enough faster than the party that he can go off-track to explore areas of likely ambush or game. [Thokk on trail moves 20 miles per half-day march; Thokk needs to spend a bit more than 3 hours of every 5 hour march on the track to keep ahead of the party]

    Larry will take over Thokk’s role of rear guard, walking behind the party to see if they are pursued, and taking advantage of any game the party has flushed in their passage. Soon after they set out, however, Larry finds himself struggling to keep up with Eddard’s assisted pace [Larry's top speed is 12.5 miles per march], and the main group is forced to slow down and take breaks so as to not lose him behind.

    The track climbs steeply into the forest and then levels out. Blocked by a high, hard layer of rock, the river the party has been following ends in a thin falls, with a lake above. The lake is encircled by forests and the occasional fishing village. In the dark recesses of forest-shaded coves there is even skim ice on the surface, but most of the lake is still, steel-colored open water. The track continues south along the shore of the lake for some four or five miles before turning east and heading higher into the hills. The rest of the morning is spent climbing the track higher and higher up the rugged, forested slopes.

    In the afternoon, the party continues along the track, climbing through a series of forested valleys and up and down wooded slopes, but ever higher in a net sense. They have just crested the highest ridge yet and can see far beyond when Willa calls for a campsite on this vantage point. Before them, the track descends a steep hillslope into a narrow canyon with a swift river at the bottom. While the canyon itself extends farther than they can see south and east, where the track crosses the river there is a fortification of wood and stone, built around a stone bridge over the river. Based on the information they gained in Singleton, this must be the Yeomanry League’s Fort August.

    Aurora uses her crystal ball to attempt to scry on the knight - but is not able to make a connection.

    It is below freezing from 9pm through 9am. No saves are needed due to protective gear.

    [22 pounds of foraged food remaining without using purchased human rations;
    2 rations of mule feed used]
    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.
    Master Greytalker

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    Tue Jul 21, 2020 9:59 pm  
    Post 126: Fort August to Longspear

    DM's Notes:
    By far the best source for maps of Greyhawk comes from the work of Anna B Meyer. I used for the party's travel. The track the party follows in this post is on her map of the Yeomanry, from Fort August to Longspear. I would highly encourage any DM to use Anna's work, and anyone with the means to do so to support her Patreon at

    I know of no canon sources for Fort August, and it is not on Darlene's map. It receives no mention in the Living Greyhawk Player's Guide to the Yeomanry (although I note that August is the given name of Triad Member August Hahn). It is mentioned briefly in Living Greyhawk Modules YEO3-05 (a Friend in Need) and YEO6-04 (Blood Shadows), but both these sources refer to the road it lies on and do not describe the Fort itself.

    Post 126: Fort August to Longspear
    22 November, 570 - Fort August, the Yeomanry League

    Outriders Thokk and Larry are brought in to travel with the main group to the fort. The steep descent is easy, and less than an hour after the morning march has begun the party stands before Fort August.

    The river is narrow but strong, coursing powerfully through the rocky canyon floor. Even Willa, the best swimmer among them, would have difficulty crossing it, and she would be loathe to try with pack or armor on. Fortunately there is a large stone bridge across the water, and it is around this structure that the fort is built. At either end of the bridge is a squat, square, stone tower, and those wishing to cross the bridge must first pass through a narrow tunnel under the tower itself, with each end guarded by a portcullis.

    Around each stone gatehouse is a low wooden palisade in a semicircle, at a distance of fifty to a hundred yards depending on the rocky terrain. Rising above the palisade are a trio of square wooden towers on each side of the river. Each tower is pierced on all walls and at numerous heights with arrow slits, and on the very top with a swivel-mounted ballista. The three ballistae on the near side have, for the last half mile of the party’s approach, been trained on them. The palisade itself is breached by two wooden gatehouses, one on each side. On the near side, the track the party is on leads directly to the gate, but so does another track which parallels the river up the canyon to the south. On the far side of the river, the track to Longspear emerges from the gate and follows the river down the canyon. The space inside the palisade is crowded with low wooden buildings. Most have the spartan look of barracks, but a few are stables and one, with blankets and colorful fruits displayed outside, is obviously something else.

    The party has a short interview at the open main gate, and Tyrius easily satisfies the guard’s queries. They are again reminded that “these are free folk” and allowed to pass inside.

    Willa calls for a pause outside what turns out to be a trading post and general store. The owner is friendly and garrulous so long as Willa is pretending to look things over and Larry is fishing pickles from a barrel. She asks him about the patrol ahead of them, led by Serjeant Breewyn, and he admits that they passed through the previous day, around mid-day, before repenting that he really shouldn’t be talking about matters of military security. Willa slides him a few coppers “for the pickles” and next asks him how much further it is to Longspear; he replies that Fort August is considered the halfway point between the two cities. [It has taken the party two days to get here, but they spent nearly half a day under cover from the sleet storm] When she asks him about the region in general, he says that it has been an easy fall for Fort August, with a blessedly short monsoon season and no mudslides blocking the trail. The biggest quarrels have been about when the cart trail from Longspear to Singleton will be completed, and who will pay for it - an issue that seems to be endlessly debated in something he calls the “Council of Commons.” When Willa asks what they should be wary of for the remainder of their journey, he says that humanoid raiders have not been seen all year, and the frequent Yeoman patrols keep wolf and bear attacks rare. Only occasional groups of brigands from Keoland have had to have been seen off by the good Yeoman of the fort, but they are still the greatest threat. Just after talking reflexively about the rapaciousness of the Keolandish bandits, the shopkeep seems to realize that any number of party members are themselves possibly Keoish, and backtracks a bit by adding, “Of course, one can hardly blame the poor buggers, what with the backward feudal system over there - sure, some of the brigands are bad men, but as many and more are just good men desperate to feed their families, and with nothing left once lord and bishop take the fruits of their labor, eh?” His glance then falls on Tyrius, and he shrugs as if giving up on making tactful discourse.

    At the first stone tower a fee of “half a common per leg” is collected (1cp each for most of them, 2cp each for Randy, Andy, and Eddard), and the party passes under the murder-holed first tunnel, over the bridge, under the second tunnel, and out into the far bank section of Fort August.

    Leaving the fort behind, the party continues on along the track. Within the steep-walled and rocky canyon, the track follows the rushing river closely, but after less than a mile it climbs to the rim. From that point on they remain above the river. Even after the canyon has widened to a broad river valley, the track itself traverses the hills and bluffs above the river, passing in and out of light forest. As they pick their way across the rocky ground and over fallen branches, Willa wonders aloud why they are not down among the soft grass and abundant water of the valley. Babshapka supposes a river like that likely floods in the spring, which would make a track like this into a muddy mess and bog down any travelers. With the fort behind them, Babshapka again takes out his stone and Thokk and Buckbeak are sent to scout ahead. By the time they pause for a mid-day meal, the fort is nearly ten miles behind them.

    Almost as soon as they are moving again the track turns south, even while the river below them continues east. While the river drops lower, the track begins to climb higher into the rugged hills, and the forest grows more dense. After another mile or so they come to a natural lookout spot, offering a broad vista to the east. Some three miles away or so is another river, this one as broad as any they have ever seen - it can only be the Javan, international economic lifeblood of the region. Shielding his eyes from the sun, Babshapka claims to even be able to see ships upon its waters. The river they were previously following must empty into the larger river soon after they left it. Since they can easily see to the far shore, Willa points out that they are now looking directly into Keoland. If this gives Aurora pause, she does not betray it.

    After another hour of travel, the party comes to a curious sight. The mule single-track they have been following suddenly broadens into a wide trail. Large rocks have been cleared from the way and rolled to the side. Trees have been felled and stumps pulled. Low spots have been filled with gravel and some even have shallow drainage ditches alongside them. The loose earth has been packed hard, and here and there are ruts suggesting cart traffic. Around the transition itself are numerous old refuse piles and a filled-in latrine suggesting a labor camp was once present, although they currently are the only people about.

    They continue along the vastly improved trail for the rest of the afternoon, with the broad Javan River below them, thick forest about them, and rocky hilltops above them.

    Thokk complements their dinner with a fine, fat, fresh hare he has killed [3 pounds]

    Aurora uses her crystal ball to attempt to scry on the old elf - but is not able to make a connection.

    This night, at lower elevations than the party has been since they left Highfell, does not drop below freezing, although they keep a campfire for warmth all the same.

    [19 pounds of food remaining without using human rations;
    2 rations of mule feed used]

    23 November, 570 - South along the trail, Singleton to Longspear
    Thokk and Buckbeak set out again in the van. Thokk has taken to jogging a half an hour or so along the trail to get ahead of the party, all the while pointing at vantage points and deep tangles for Buckbeak to investigate. When he considers himself far enough ahead, he goes off-trail into likely spots for game, while Buckbeak waits along the trail itself - to either alert the party of something’s approach in Thokk’s absence, or to fetch Thokk if the party catches up to the spot before he has returned to the trail. This relationship works out well, and Thokk brings two opossum with him the next time he rejoins the party [+8 pounds food].

    Soon after the party sets out on their morning march, the forest below them begins to thin. The slopes become more rocky, and in the space of a few miles they find themselves on high cliffs overlooking the Javan. Occasionally vistas of the river reveal Longspear downstream, and even Cryford, the smaller Keoish counterpart city directly across the river from Longspear. However, there does not appear to be the villages one would expect surrounding either city. In fact, there is little agricultural land to be seen all morning. Apparently both cities have good harbors and are placed for trade reasons, but may not be able to support themselves in terms of food. Willa chooses a lunch spot with a good view of the river and both cities - they will almost certainly reach Longspear before dark.

    After lunch, Thokk and Buckbeak set out again. Some half an hour later, unbeknownst to them, they pass a large number of bandits who have prepared an ambush, and continue on. They go a further two hundred yards or so past the ambush point, and then Thokk plunges down the scrubby slopes in search of game.

    [The bandits set up their ambush site in the late morning, and so do a “take 20” resulting in a 20 on their Stealth score. Thokk is already both moving Stealthily and Foraging, and so his chance to detect is based on his Passive Perception (14). Buckbeak is actively and continually looking for concealed opponents, and so makes a Perception roll for this specific instance, getting an 11 (roll 7 + 4). For their part, the bandits have not been told to look for a hawk, so they ignore Buckbeak. Thokk’s current Stealth score (roll 6 + 2 = 8) is below the Passive Perception of the bandits (10), so they notice Thokk sneaking by - and choose to let him continue, as they are waiting for the main party - or more specifically, for Aurora.]

    The main party is walking along the trail as they pass beneath a large wooded hill to their right, and a small rocky knoll to their left. The ambush is sprung - seven bowmen emerge from the cover of the trees and launch arrows, all of them aiming for Aurora! [Bowmen are firing from stealth (unseen) and so have advantage on attack rolls - six hits, 37hp damage, Aurora is at 1hp. All of the party are surprised - when surprised, characters may not move or take actions (regular or bonus). They may only take reactions, and only after their own initiative has passed]

    Aurora is hit several times, and is on the verge of collapse. She manages to make the arcane gestures that produce a shield spell. As soon as she begins casting, another six bowman emerge from the woods and fire another volley - this time she goes down!

    [The six remaining bowmen had readied an action to attack if the first volley did not bring Aurora down. By the time their readied action was triggered, however, Aurora’s initiative had passed. Thus she was allowed to react to their attack, which she did by casting shield, which may be cast as a reaction. Despite now having an AC of 20 until her next turn, two of the six attacks (with advantage) hit, for a total of nine points, and taking her to 0 hp, unstable. Since none of the party could act, or had another reaction, that was the end of the surprise round.]

    Being next to Aurora when she went down, Larry bends over and gives her a cure wounds, then takes cover from the bowmen behind some large rocks alongside the trail. [Aurora now conscious at 5hp]. Babshapka runs to Aurora’s side - although conscious, she is still prone on the ground. He drags her behind the cover of the rocks, and then casts Hunter’s Mark on a bandit, then finally draws an arrow. Shefak sees Aurora thrashing as she is being dragged by Babshapka and reasons that a fireball is imminent. She runs about half of the distance to the bandits on the hill and then takes cover behind boulders.

    By now the bandits have drawn and fired again - with Aurora hidden by the rocks, they divide their fire between Larry and Babshapka. But with the party now both aware of them and behind partial cover, their arrows are less effective. [Babshapka hit once for 7 points]

    Aurora sits up, with her back against the rocks, preparing to stand and launch her spell at the bandits on the hill. Seeing her stir, four previously unseen bandits on the rocky knoll opposite the hill come out of cover and shoot at her. She has no cover from their vantage, but still has her shield in effect. Nevertheless, she goes down again. [Aurora is hit by a single arrow for 9hp and is again unstable at 0hp]

    Seven more bandits emerge from the light woods on the steep slope below the party and dash up it, closing about half the distance, but curiously with no weapons drawn.

    Eddard charges down the trail to take unconscious Umbra out of the shooting gallery. Once he is clear, he tosses back his head and shouts “THOOOOKK!” at the top of his horsey lungs. Some two hundred yards away, crouching down with his hand gripping a javelin as he stalks a squirrel, Thokk raises his head. When he hears the call again, he stands and begins running at full-tilt back to the party, stones scattering around him on the rocky slopes.

    Confident in the ability of her magical plate armor to protect her, Willa has not taken cover, but neither has she charged the distant hill with the first set of bandits. Now that a squad has appeared close at hand, however, she draws her sword runs at them. Before she reaches them, however, another six bandits come forth from hiding, these in and among the very rocks and boulders in which the party is taking cover! All six shoot at Willa’s back - two hitting her but a third missing her and hitting instead one of the very bandits she is charging. “Sorry, brah. My bad,” mumbles the archer to his colleague. [Willa takes nine points. There are now 13 + 4 + 7 + 6 = 30 bandits in view]. The first slice of Willa’s greatsword kills the bandit who was struck by the arrow, her second brings down another outright.

    Tyrius, too, meets the bandits charging up the slope at them and crushes the life from one of them with his warhammer, and wounds another.

    [End round 2]

    The bandits on high rain down more arrows on the party. Babshapka, with the lightest armor, takes the worst of it. [Willa takes 8 hp, Larry 9, Babshapka 15]. The two unarmed bandits facing Tyrius back off evasively, while the remaining two arrive at the side of Aurora. With one grabbing her feet and another her arms, they begin to carry her off downhill toward the edge of the woods. Larry tries to stop them, but his scimitar is packed on a mule - the most he can do for the moment is clout one of them with his pickle-stained fist.

    Willa takes out the two bandits backing away from Tyrius, allowing him to turn and swing at the ones carrying Aurora off. In his care not to hit her, however, he mis-steps on the rocky ground and sinks to one knee without connecting. He calls upon Pelor to guide his hand in rescuing his companion. [Critical miss but acceptable dexterity save results in loss of both attacks; Tyrius casts divine favor as a bonus action]

    Burning with impotence at being unable to stop the capture of Aurora, Larry lets fly with a hastily-aimed lightning bolt. [Arcana roll 7] This arcs from bandit to bandit, but also gets drawn into the plate mail of Tyrius and courses from one of the bandits carrying Aurora into her body as well. All of the bandits in melee range are now down except the one at Aurora’s head. [Lightning bolt for 36 damage, Tyrius makes a dex save to take 18. Aurora, unconscious and at 0, cannot save and takes the full 36 points. Interestingly, this is just two points short of what would be needed to instantly kill her.

    PHB 197 wrote:
    “If you take any damage while you have 0 Hit Points, you suffer a death saving throw failure...If the damage equals or exceeds your hit point maximum, you suffer Instant Death”

    The bandits using the same cover of rocks as the party but still shooting at them, break out in a babble of Keoish and Flan curses. Babshapka and Larry hear one say “Lightning? Captain didn’t say the dwarf could shoot lightning!” Babshapka runs to the still-smoking body of Aurora and casts cure wounds [cast at second level, Aurora now at 13hp].

    Eddard turns around so that he can follow the conflict, but continues to bellow for Thokk.

    Shefak, ever the tactician, decides that freeing Aurora to cast fireball will do more than charging the archers herself. She sprints to the center of the combat, fells the remaining bandit still dragging Aurora, darts between the rocks, and carries the fight to the four archers on the rocky knoll. [Using a ki point, Shefak adds a dash to her move and regular attacks]

    Now conscious and unrestrained, Aurora rises to her feet, unsteady but with vengeful malice in her eyes. She launches a fireball up the slope and into the forest. Twelve of the thirteen bandit archers fall in an instant of fiery agony [25hp, unconscious if they save, instant death if they fail]. Aurora then takes cover from the remaining archers behind her. The one bandit on the hill who was out of range of her fireball fades back into the forest. The fire smoulders among the damp woods, but does not ignite into a wildfire.

    [End of round 3]

    Although Shefak continues her assault, striking to knock out but not to kill, the bandits have lost heart and all those remaining flee downslope, including another dozen hidden further up the trail who were unseen until now when they turned tail to run. Larry uses a moonbeam to further punish those who are retreating, and two more bandits fall. Willa and Tyrius carefully scan the routed foes, but none of them look to be leaders and Tyrius knows that the cowardly captain is more than likely “leading from behind”, somewhere among the trees to which his men are now fleeing.

    [End of combat; return to story pacing]

    As Tyrius moves among the twenty-six fallen men, he uses a single point of lay on hands to save each of the wounded and leaves the dead where they lie. Others in the party follow behind him, binding the living prisoners with rope.

    Aurora reaches out with her mind, removing Buckbeak from his current location and causing him to appear next to her. She then sends him to follow the retreating bandits, but warns him to fly well above arrow range.

    Several minutes later, Thokk comes barreling up the trail. Initially excited for battle, he falls into a rage upon learning that the party has finished the fight before his arrival, and begins berating them for their insensitivity. Aurora pulls a bloody arrow from her thigh and flings it at the barbarian, but it bounces off his boot. Thokk ridicules Aurora’s arrow-throwing ability, and she hotly retorts that he missed dozens of bandits hiding at the ambush point while he was off chasing butterflies. She points at the woods and the rock outcrops where the bandits were hidden and accusingly asks him whether he checked them, and if he did, was he blind or just stupid? Thokk bristles with anger, says that he told Buckbeak to check those places, and the bird did not find anything, so if anyone is blind or stupid it is her familiar - and likely he is both! He adds that he bets he can find wild animals that can do an even better job of scouting than her wimpy, fancy, fake magic hawk. In fact, he has a mind to cast his speak with animals spell right now, on one of the ravens that is currently feasting on the eyes of the dead bandits.

    Willa takes Thokk’s arm and tosses her head at Aurora, dismissing her. Willa explains to Thokk that while the party may need his beast friends in the future, for the time being they need more to make it to Longspear before dark - and, she adds, before that storm hits would be even better. She points at the southern sky, where thick, dark clouds are building. Willa has seen Thokk cast his speak with animals just once before, in Barovia, and she knows that it will take some time - and besides, she says, she needs him to be minding the prisoners. Thokk reluctantly agrees, but mumbles about how in the morning he will have many ravens and wolves besides and he will not be responsible if one of them eats Aurora’s stupid hawk.

    Surveying the captives, the party finds the bandits’ equipment poor and mis-matched, their clothing thin and ragged, their boots worn. They themselves are a mix of Flan and Oerid men, Yeomen and Keoish outlaws, with not a woman or non-human among them. Tyrius finds none of them that could be considered officers, but he gathers the living ones together.

    When Buckbeak comes back, he tells Aurora that the retreating bandits fled down the hill to the riverbank, pulled out canoes from concealment, and are even now halfway across the great Javan River.

    Tyrius casts zone of truth on the nine living bandits, then examines them carefully. Five of them have been affected by the power of his god, so he has the others taken away and begins to interrogate those remaining.

    They reveal that they are a group of bandits who typically operate on the Keoish side of the river, although they keep canoes and occasionally raid the Yeoman side as well. They are led by “Captain Sherlin”. Two days ago a stranger appeared in their camp. He easily disarmed a handful of pickets and then demanded to be taken to Sherlin. He met with Sherlin and his lieutenants in his tent, but none of those present now were actually at the meeting then or heard the exchange. When he emerged, he left straight away, but the captain told them that a group of adventurers was traveling the road from Singleton to Longspear, and that they would prepare an ambush for them. The goal of the ambush was to capture their mage and bring her back to camp - Sherlin claimed that she was worth a lot of money and that if they did this they would be able to get through the rest of the winter without having to do any more raids. Shirlin gave them a description of the party, detailing each of them and their abilities - although he did not mention the unconscious elf. Further, they complain, Sherlin’s assessment of the power of the party was rather too low. Among other things, he claimed that the mage was the only one who could unleash crowd-killing spells and he did not say the dwarf could hurl lightning.

    Aurora asks for a description of the stranger, and learns that he was of medium height, but broad-shouldered and muscular. He had a scar on his face, and an eyepatch over his left eye, and a black beard. He did not bear the trappings of knighthood, but wore a simple leather jerkin and traveling clothes, and bore a stout wooden stave. Physically, he certainly fits the description of the knight that pursues her, but then, a lot of men would. Nothing at least contradicts that he is that knight, except perhaps the eyepatch.

    Willa asks what the bandits at large will be doing now - will the Captain be organizing a second attempt? How many more men do they have? Those present agree that they were two score fighting men - the party has slain or captured more than half their force. They don’t believe the Captain will be ordering them to strike again - and if he does, they add, he might find himself looking for a new bandit group to head.

    Aurora asks for details of their camp, and is told that on the other side of the Javan, two miles to the north, there is a stream that flows into the river. Follow that stream five miles up into the hills, and there is the bandits’ winter camp. There are more bandits there then crossed the river with them - but they are old, infirm, slaves, or camp followers. Not fighters.

    By this point Tyrius’ spell is fading. The party leaves Thokk to guard the prisoners and withdraws to discuss. Obviously they were set up, and the ambush was for them, for Aurora. The information about them, and about the exact day of their arrival was too accurate - scarily accurate. But who could do this? And how? It is possible that they were spotted in Singleton, recognized, possible that a message was sent in time to intercept them before reaching Longspear. But to Aurora that seems too convenient - it reeks of magic. Has someone been scrying on them this whole time?

    “Mayhap ye be announcin’ yer presence every time ye use yon blasted ball,” suggests Willa.

    This fills Aurora with doubt and insecurity. Can someone tell when she is scrying on them successfully or not? Does a successful saving throw not only resist the scrying itself, but also inform the person being scried on of the attempt? Her mentor is a diviner - he would know - and almost surely she had a lesson on that at one point in her ‘prenticeship. But now she does not remember the answer [Arcana roll 12]. The problem is that it is the crystal ball that allows her to cast the scry spell - she has never seen the spell itself, and cannot reverse-engineer how it might work or what its properties are. “But wait!” she reasons. “If the knight or even the elf could tell that I was scrying on them, if you can notice when someone is scrying on you, then we should have noticed that we were being scried on, right? Have any of you ever felt, at any time since we left the Tower, that you were being watched magically?” The rest of them admit that they have not.

    Setting aside the discussion of who might be watching them, and how, and why, they turn to the prisoners. Tyrius says that they should be marched as captives to Longspear, and turned over to the local authorities. Aurora expresses feigned shock that he will not be letting them go, seeing as they did surrender and cease hostilities, and are now helpless. What of the ‘mercy of Pelor’, she goads. Tyrius looks at her as if she is trying his patience, as she often does. “They are self-admitted outlaws who attacked us, using deadly force without warning or provocation. They have earned a death sentence, and if necessary I would execute them all myself rather than seeing them go free to harm others. But we are just a few hours from Longspear. We don’t even have to pass a night with them and work out a guard rotation. We can walk them to Longspear and show our support for the local law.”

    “Nevertheless,” interjects Eddard, still managing to surprise some in the party with his sardonic interruptions. “I don’t know the laws of the Yeomanry, but I doubt there is much in Longspear waiting for them besides the gallows. There are more of them than there are of us - how do we convince them to go willingly and not try something foolish at their first opportunity?”

    Tyrius sighs and rubs his temple. “Let Thokk talk to them,” he says. “I’m sure he can threaten them with something more fearful than death.” He adds, just to be clear, “Not that we will let him do whatever he says, but we can let him threaten them. If any of them try something, all of us are free to kill them on the spot.”

    Larry goes to Thokk and explains the plan, and offers to help translate. Thokk chortles. He tells the men that they will need their legs to get to Longspear, but not their hands and arms. If any of them try to escape, or try to harm the party, Thokk will first eat their fingers, raw. Then, he will eat their arms, cooked, but only after making them gather the firewood themselves, while fingerless...Thokk’s gruesome description goes on for some time, and by the end, all of those present are shaken and cowed. [Intimidation plus Guidance, 27].

    As they form up into a line, Willa remarks that Aurora needs a disguise. If it is indeed she that is marked, they can save themselves some hassle by not having “her” accompany them to the city. They begin to discuss the disguise, but Eddard interrupts, again. “If we are missing Aurora, but have one previously unknown extra party member, that disguise will be as thin as a dancing girl’s scarf to anyone who knows who we are.” He pauses. “But if we have ten extra party members, she may go unnoticed. The only logical disguise is for her to pretend to be a bandit. If Eyepatch is in Longspear, he might even think that some of the bandits got away with her before we captured others of them.”

    No one offers a better idea, so Aurora reluctantly strips to her smallclothes, packs her gear away on one of the mules, and searches among the dead bandits until she finds a scrawny one whose clothes mostly fit her. Babshapka rubs dirt in her hair and on her face, and Willa binds her hands in a complicated knot that she says will fall away easily if Aurora tugs on it correctly. Aurora complains that both of them are enjoying this far too much. Babshapka’s face becomes pensive. He packs away his winter gear (it is currently in the 40’s) and moves among the dead bandits until he finds a brown leather cloak and pants that fit him, then replaces those with his green woolen cloak and hose. He packs his own clothes away as well, then moves his twin sheathes from crossed over his back to his waist belt. He offers no explanation as he works.

    The party agrees that they want to be in and out of Longspear as quickly as possible. They should be able to turn over the real bandits to any men at the gate. The next day, Aurora can stay hidden in their room at an inn while Willa works the docks to find them a ship. If possible, the others can try to convert any coins they have, especially the old Nholast coins, to platinum or gems, but leaving quickly will take precedence. They discuss buying a cart for Umbra to replace the travois, but decide that the cart will do them little good aboard a ship. Finally, around 2:30pm, they set out.

    Thokk marches alongside the captives, growling and smacking his lips at any that fall out of line or even raise their heads above looking at their feet. Willa asks Shefak to move to the van, scouting with her ring of invisibility on. The monk lacks the woodcraft to scout off-trail, but pledges to stay several hundred yards ahead of the party and return if she sees anything. Out of range of Thokk’s hearing, Willa tells Aurora to have Buckbeak continue to scout as well - flying first in front of them, and then behind them, up and down the trail. The hawk will be moving at twice the rate of the main party, so this should not be a problem. Willa tells Larry he should stay in the rearguard, but keep the party within sight and let them know if they are getting too far ahead of them.

    They have not been moving for half an hour when the storm breaks over them. It is a heavy rain, fortunately not accompanied by much wind, but the clouds stretch to the horizon and Willa warns them that the rain could go on all night - or more likely, turn to sleet or snow [Willa Survival roll 11]. She reminds them again that their goal is to make Longspear by nightfall, where a warm, dry bed awaits them.

    It is not long before the heavy rain has them all shivering and the cart trail is a mess of mud. Only Larry seems unaffected and now, rather than struggling to keep up, he is actually encouraging them to go faster. “Och, that’s yoor problem, yoo all arr wearin’ shoos!” he says disdainfully, as the thick mud oozes up between his bare toes.

    [Heavy rain reduces foot movement to ¾ but will not affect the movement of Buckbeak or Eddard. Larry, too, seems unhindered by the rain and mud. Current effective movement rates:
    Buckbeak: 4.5 mph scouting, can Dash at 9mph
    Eddard: 3 mph (assuming help from Babshapka)
    Larry: 2.5 mph
    Willa,Tyrius, Aurora 2.25 mph (assuming help from Babshapka)]

    The party trudges on, their view of the Javan now lost in the sheets of rain. So long as they stay on the trail there is no chance of them becoming lost, despite their limited vision. Like a fresh watercolor, they can see only vague shades of the gray sky overhead, mottled brown slopes above them, and deep smudges of green below.

    Between the high hills to their west and the thick rain clouds above they cannot see the sun, but by the dimming gray light Willa judges it hasn’t quite set yet when they finally come within sight of the walls of Longspear. They get within about three-quarters of a mile before Willa calls for a halt. [23 Nov. sunset at 5:46pm]

    “Thank goodness fer small blessen’s,” mutters Willa, convinced that no scouts on the walls can make them out through the rain. She pulls Aurora out of the line of captives, the dirt on her features long since having been washed off by the rain. “Time fer ye t’ scout ahead, invisible-like.”

    Aurora does not hesitate in casting the spell on herself and disappearing. Almost immediately, discarded bandit rags appear in the mud, her nakedness hidden by her spell. The temperature is now hovering around freezing, and Aurora and the bandits are all trembling violently with cold. Unseen, Aurora begins digging in her pack (currently strapped to a mule) for her normal clothes and winter gear, and rapidly puts them on. In the meantime, Willa has been shouting for Shefak, and eventually the monk slips off her ring and appears beside them. Before Willa can dispatch the scouts, however, Babshapka finds Aurora. At the start of the rain he unstrung and stored his bow. Now, he takes off his quiver and forcibly passes it to Aurora, whereupon it disappears. “I can’t guard you if I can’t see you,” he says. “I’ll try to keep up. But if you get too far ahead, leave one of my arrows on the ground so I can see it - pointed in the direction you are going.”

    The three scouts, with only Babshapka visible, advance quickly on the city, while the rest of the party trudges slowly along behind them.

    Longspear is a walled city, the first walled city they have seen since Gradsul, months ago. Neither Nighford nor Lavienth had walls. Unlike Gradsul, metropolis and near-capital of Keoland, Longspear is several thousand souls at most. Also unlike Gradsul, here the city walls themselves are easily visible, long grey stretches of rock, twenty-five feet high and battlemented, punctuated regularly by towers. In Gradsul, the cluster of slums housing people too poor to live in the city itself was so thick and so close about the walls that in most places the walls themselves could not be seen, or barely rose above the bamboo-and-rag tenements. Here there are few buildings outside the walls, and those that are, are set well away from the walls themselves: several barns and shepherd’s crofts, a handful of inns near the western gate that cater to those travelers arriving after the gates are shut at night, or who wish to depart in the morning before they open.

    Aurora, Shefak, and Babshapka hurry toward the gate in the rain. Even now one of the huge wooden portals is closed, and there is just a small cluster of guards around the second one. At first they walk three abreast, but when Babshapka notices that the invisible two are still leaving tracks in the mud he makes them walk behind him.

    “Looks like you got here just in time, friend elf,” growls a grizzled sergeant. “It’s nightfall and I was just about to give the order to shut the gate.”

    “Stay that, if you would, sergeant,” says Babshapka. “I am but the first of a larger group.” [Persuasion 13-2=11]

    The Yeoman squints out into the rain and gathering darkness. “I don’t see anyone,” he says. “Your friends can stay at one of the inns outside.” He turns to give the order, but Babshapka pulls out a gold coin from his belt pouch.

    “Just ten minutes more,” he asks. “I know it is late, and your men are cold and tired - take this, please, and warm yourselves with a round in the tavern before you head home.” The sergeant looks to his men. Some shrug and some nod.

    “Fine,” the sergeant spits. “Ten minutes, no more.” He orders the remaining gate half-closed, the portcullis half lowered, then whispers to a guard to have the archers in the gatehouse look sharp in case this is a trick.

    Babshapka waits outside the gate; Aurora and Shefak hesitate, then slip inside when it is clear. The city streets are dark, though light spills from innumerable windows and doorways. Just as outside the wall, it appears that no buildings are allowed near the inside of the walls, either. The streets of the city, wet, cold, and dark, are nearly deserted. Water runs high in the gutters, all sloping down to the northeast. There are few if any about who will note their arrival besides the guards themselves.

    Several minutes later the sergeant shivers, curses, opens his mouth to give the order to shut the gate, when one of his guards says that he sees the party coming. They are all hustled through, with Tyrius answering the sergeant's formulaic questions even as they pass under the portcullis and no one even asking about Umbra. When the sergeant realizes that he is now responsible for nine prisoners, however, and will need to find a constable at this hour, his face reddens in the torchlight. Tyrius tries to calm him, but makes little headway. [Persuasion 5+6 = 11].

    Finally, Tyrius says, “Sergeant, our sincere apologies for this inconvenience. Besides placing these outlaws in prison, we will need directions to a good merchants’ inn. Why don’t you send a man or two with us to show us the way, and then have your squad join us for dinner and drinks at the inn, on us. It is the least we can do for your troubles.” The prospect of dinner and drinks, for him and all his men, at an inn decidedly above his pay grade, finally mollifies the sergeant. After he passes command over to the night crew, the sergeant sends two of his men to lead the party through town, while he and the rest of his squad march the sullen bandits off a different way.

    Tyrius explains affably to the guards that they would like a “secure” inn, and the young men insist that it will not be a problem. Longspear is a trading center, frequented by Yeoman and Keoish merchants, and sometimes those from further afield. Wool is the least valuable of the goods traded here - precious metals and gems flow in from all over the Little Hills, and out the port of Longspear to the rest of the world. There are several “merchant class” inns to choose from, all of them with top quality facilities and secure rooms. He is taking the party to one called “The Silver Steed”.

    The inn is large, with a first and second story of stone, and a third floor of wood - although that is closed off, as the matron, Gerta, says it is airy, unheated, and used only in the summer. The party takes four bedrooms, the entirety of the second floor, for there are no other guests tonight, which is not uncommon in the off season. All the rooms have thick wooden floorboards and interior walls, stout, iron-bound wooden doors with a single wooden bar on the inside, and iron bars and heavy wooden shutters with latches on the windows set into the outer walls. Gerta says that if the party needs a more secure room, she has one in the basement, and she also keeps a strongbox if they have any valuables they need to deposit during their stay. Tyrius replies that that will not be necessary, and the second floor rooms are fine. The stable outside is ample, the stalls clean and to Eddard’s satisfaction.

    In the common room on the first floor are a number of patrons drinking and a few supping, but Gerta says that none of them will be staying the night - at least, none have said that they are, but realistically one or two will drink too much and end up sleeping in the common room. She has some food on hand, but a dinner for the five people in the party plus the Yeoman gate guard squad will take some time to prepare, so they will need to start with drinking first. Aurora and Shefak, still invisible, follow the party upstairs while Gerta is showing the rooms. Aurora remains up there, while Shefak removes her ring and descends. Slipping into the kitchen when the guards have their back turned, Shefak explains to Gerta and the cook that as an ascetic, she will not be drinking - but she will take her meal in her room, and would like it to be ample. Shefak then settles in to Tyrius’ room for the time being to watch over Umbra, and sneaks Aurora half her food as it is brought to her. Aurora passes the time reading the book of Infernal Bargains she obtained from Nholast’s tower.

    The common room has a roaring wood fire in an open hearth in the center, and Gerta says that its chimney warms two of the rooms upstairs. In the corners of the common room most distant from the hearth are coal-filled braziers, and Gerta says whoever takes one of the rooms not bordering the chimney should take these braziers up with them when they go to bed. There is a single woolen blanket in each of the beds, but they can ask for more so long as it is before she retires - she has one comforter stuffed with goose down as well, but it costs extra.

    The party drinks and sups late into the night, with everything of a quality they have not had since they dined at the table of the Lord of Highfell. Eventually the guards leave, half-carrying their drunken sergeant and singing rousing army anthems. The regular patrons disperse as well, except for one large and red-nosed man who collapsed even before they had finished eating - Gerta brings out a thin straw tick mattress, sets it on the floor near the hearth, and accepts the help of Thokk and Tyrius in transporting the man from his table to the mattress. Outside, the temperature continues to drop and the rain continues to fall. The streets are wet where exposed to the sky, but a thin layer of ice has formed where the water has seeped under roofs and awnings.

    By midnight, all but those on watch are in their beds above. Tyrius is woken in the dark by the sound of a low growl. Looking over at Umbra’s bedroll on the floor, he sees a pair of glowing red eyes staring back. Reaching for Molly in the dark, he summons the light of Pelor. In the first flash of light he sees a jet back mastiff, eyes burning like coals, standing over the form of the elf. At his light the hound’s form quivers, then dissolves like mist. Umbra gasps, groans, and then sits up groggily.
    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.
    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
    Posts: 754
    From: Sky Island, So Cal

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    Tue Jul 28, 2020 10:00 am  
    Post 127: The City of Shadow

    Callback: From Post 118
    Over the course of many hours, Aurora reads the diary and announces what she finds to the party, while Umbra pays careful attention:
    (DC35) “About a year before the last entry, Nholast writes of the appearance of a great “planet” or wandering star in the heavens. In the course of a single night it streaked across the sky and crashed to the Oerth far to the north. He says that he would be interested in traveling to the sight of the crash to see if there is star metal to be had, as it would be extremely valuable if recovered. He mentions that the sword that the “Cruel Lord” used to slay “The Master” was made of star metal, and it could hold enchantments far more powerful than any metal from Oerth.”

    Umbra frowns pensively, then pulls forth a folded vellum sheet. It looks to Aurora like the same sheet she took from the cabinet where Nholast’s diary was found. “I have a map of the north,” Umbra says. “But it is in Suel. I was actually hoping you might help me translate some of the names.” She carefully unfolds the map and spreads it out for them to see:

    “Some of it I understand, of course,” she continues. “Taurewelk” is the Welkwood, and “Taurepeliko” is what the ancient forest was called centuries ago, before the Axewood and Silverwood were sundered from one another. But “Talathpesh” I don’t understand, and what is this skull and spiderweb in the Rushmoors? What does “Liante Malhama” mean?”

    Aurora scours the map with obvious interest. “Talath means plains or flat lands,” she says, without even looking up at Umbra. “Pesh I don’t know - my Ancient Suel isn’t perfect. But Liante Malhama is the “Spidered Throne,” whatever that means.”

    While Aurora is occupied with the map, the others in the party see Umbra’s eyes go wide at the mention of the “Spidered Throne”. Then her eyes roll back in her head and she faints, crashing to the stone floor. Aurora looks up, confused.

    Post 127: The City of Shadows
    Umbra is falling, winged shadows gathering around her and pulling, dragging her deep down into the oerth. Down and down she goes - until she finds herself in the City of Autumn Leaves!

    The City is located in a narrow mountain valley overlooking a vast forest beneath, and she is a resident. Her people live in the great stone towers and terraced gardens of the city, and hunt in the forest below, and have done so for centuries. Her people are happy, prosperous, cultured, learned, artistic. Flitting images pass, rapid memories come, of the glory and majesty of the city - but are these her memories, or someone else’s? Or those of many others?

    There is a growing sense of dread - the Whispered One is coming - he who sits the Spidered Throne! Yes, Umbra realizes it now - the fall of the city was caused by the Whispered One, a man, a human man, who sat on the Spidered Throne, who ruled from a terrible decaying capital in the Rushmoors. His army of humanoids and undead is approaching the city. A vast host of her people is sallying forth - everyone in the city who can fight is going to meet his army in the forest, going to try to stop him before he reaches the city itself, where the younglings and ancient ones are, where the libraries and secrets are.

    And now his terrible army is surrounding, besieging the city. His army has grown, for he has slain all of the elven host, and turned them into undead in his service. Her own people, or twisted corruptions of them, are marching against their city, their land, their kin. Demons fly through the air - catapults rain down boulders and death, the city is in flames!

    Umbra is running through the streets of the ruined city at night. Tumbled buildings are everywhere, fires are everywhere. She searches for survivors, but finds none. But invaders there are aplenty - and each one has a face she knows. Her kin, her friends, her lovers, stalk the city in undeath, with terrible, gaping wounds, and hunt her.

    She is running along one of the once-pleasant canals which brings mountain stream water that fed the gardens. A wave of the Fallen approaches, each of them known to her; a friend, a cousin, a lover, all now seeking her blood in their undeath. She searches among the ruined stone buildings, houses and market stalls, and finds nothing to help, but the dead surround her, claw at her, spill her life’s blood on the crushed flowers and paving stones. The shadows gather about her, dark hounds baying, promising to help her if she will command them, but she does not know how.

    Weak, alone, afraid, she finds herself in a basement with her pursuers close behind. At last she understands, she will have to give herself to shadow, even as the city is doing, slipping into an eternal darkness. She draws forth her wand, surrounding herself with shadows so black that not even the undead can see through them. She casts shadows at them, blinding them until they lose her trail and stumble into pits. She sends forth bolts of freezing energy, skeletal hands that claw the dead flesh from their animated bones. The last of them, a hideous mockery in the body of a former colleague, grasps at her in an alleyway, but she strikes it down, sending forth two spells at once, such is the power the shadows have revealed to her.

    Now the city is silent, the moans of the undead stilled. Just the crackling of flames and burbling of the streams remain. From the darkness, a huge, black mastiff emerges, eyes burning like red coals in the night. “Mistress, we serve you,” it says, “we shadow hounds are yours to command. Avenge your kin. Rescue your history.”

    Umbra awakens in her bedroll, on the wooden floor of some rooming house. Above her, Tyrius fills the room with the light of Pelor and she sits up groggily.

    (new abilities in bold)

    Sixth level sorceress (Shadowborn) / Gray elf (Noble)
    Str 13 (+1) Dex 16 (3) Con 14 (+2) Int 13 (+1) Wis 12 (1) Cha 18 (+4)
    Hp. 38
    Languages Elven (S/W), Common (S/W), Keolandish (S/W), Flan (spoken only)
    Skills: History, Insight, Perception, Persuasion, Stealth
    Dagger (2), Light Crossbow, Crystal of Shadow(10 charges)
    Ability: Eyes of the Dark, Dual Existence, Subtle Spell, Quickened Spell, Hound of Ill Omen
    Sorcery Points: 6
    Spell Slots: 4 / 3 / 3
    Spells Known: 7
    Cantrips: Mending, Prestidigitation, Ray of Shadow, Blade Ward, Chill Touch
    First: Shadow Step, Armor of Shadows, Dark Bolt
    Second: Shadowbind, Darkness
    Third: Entropy, Shadowweave
    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.
    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
    Posts: 754
    From: Sky Island, So Cal

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    Tue Aug 04, 2020 2:29 pm  
    Post 128: Longspear

    DM's Notes:
    Longspear appears on Darlene's map of Greyhawk, but as far as I know, there are no canon sources describing it beyond perhaps population. It gets no mention in the Living Greyhawk Player's Guide to the Yeomanry, it is referenced once in YEO6-04 and YEO4-01, and it has a single-line description in YEO3-05 (A Friend in Need); "The city of Longspear, in the foothills of the Little Hills, is an active trade center and guards the northeastern-most point of the Yeomanry League."

    The version of Longspear below is thus my own, although it was heavily influenced by a post from Druvas on Dragonsfoot (see: The names of the three inns mentioned below all come from that work, although their descriptions are my own.

    Post 128: Longspear
    24 November, 570 - Longspear

    In the morning, Umbra introduces herself to Gerta over breakfast and apologizes for not feeling well enough to join them at table the night before. Shefak continues to play the recluse and says she will take her breakfast in her room as a way of getting food to Aurora. While the party waits to be served it is agreed that Tyrius will look to exchange the party’s wealth while Willa checks the docks for suitable transport; the rest of them are to remain on hand at the inn for a swift departure if available.

    Breakfast is for rooming customers only, and the drunkard from the night before left at first light, so the inn is technically still closed and the party has the common room to themselves. After Gerta has set the table and brought food upstairs for Shefak, she joins the party at their table, and a second later, the halfling stable boy and a shy human scullery maid sit down as well. Apparently the rest of the help arrives at mid-day. That Gerta as their hostess is joining them is a homey touch, but if they are going to be honest, Tyrius and Willa are a bit uncomfortable eating at the same table as servants. These Yeoman are carrying their 'classless society' a bit too far, they think. Thokk and Larry are, of course, oblivious, and Babshapka and Umbra are frequently confused by human customs in general, whether they be Yeoman or Keoish, and are used to just accepting them without question.

    Over breakfast, Gerta takes relish in describing her city to these strangers. Longspear is entirely walled and built on a steep slope above the banks of the Javan River. Actually the city is in two parts; Hightown, where they are now, and Lowtown, down by the river itself. Both are separately walled and the mile of open country between them serves as common pasturage.

    Hightown’s wall has five sides and five gates, with each gate leading to a separate road, and the city at the intersection of them all. There are more towers along the wall than Gerta can name. Last night, the party arrived through the Singleton gate to the northwest, on the road that leads to Singleton. Going clockwise, to the north there is the Javan Gate, with a road that leads to Lowtown; Liberty Gate, with a road that leads to Millen; the Highlands Gate, with a road that leads to Midfell; and the Capital Gate, with a road that leads to Loftwick.

    There is also the River Gate, although it is for barge and not pedestrian traffic. Locals have nicknamed it the “River Grate”, for it is here that the Longspear River enters the city, and a number of grates and weirs assure that only water enters and that logs and other debris are kept out. The river is the source of water for the city, but it also is a source of power, for the steep slope on which the upper city is built means that the small river runs strong and is divided up into numerous catchment tanks, spillways, and millponds before it flows out and into the Javan. All along the river through the city are mills: hammer-mills and rolling mills for ore-processing, and fulling mills for making wool. There is a single gristmill and lumber mill as well, although the hinterlands around Longspear are not a great source of either grain or timber.

    The mines immediately around Longspear itself produce silver and gems; coal and iron ore is brought in by barge from mines in the valley above the city. Most of the raw wool arrives on the Javan from Singleton. Thus the city is a processing center for all the wealth of the Little Hills. The combination of the steep slope providing power and a protected harbor on the Javan River facilitating transportation have made Longspear very prosperous, and that prosperity has in turn attracted skilled artisans, from armorers and weapons-makers to jewelers and gem-cutters. The city has a population of around seven thousand, with over a thousand of those being dwarves and another thousand halflings.

    (7am) After breakfast, Willa and Tyrius take their leave of the inn, but they are not ten steps away before Larry bursts out of the door and hails them. He explains that Aurora wants him to go down to the docks and talk with birds, so can he come with Willa? Willa sucks in her cheeks, shows him a view of the river from between houses, and tells him the docks will be easy to find by himself - he just needs to walk downhill. If he wants to leave the inn, she whispers, she would rather have him accompany Tyrius first on his money-changing expedition - the paladin is carrying nearly 500 gold crowns on him, and a second pair of eyes would be wise. According to Gerta, most of the money changers are going to be down at the docks anyway. Larry nods and moves to Tyrius’ side, while Willa heads for the Javan Gate.

    Tyrius, without explanation, turns east and Larry follows him. The party has charged him with changing the “Nholast Gold” into coins of the realm, platinum if possible. They have impressed upon him the importance of doing this with as little explanation as possible, drawing as little attention to themselves as possible. They have chosen him because his status as a noble and his training in speaking well are likely to get them the best deal - and yet they know full well of his Sacred Oath, and how he will not lie, or even dissemble. They are fully willing to take advantage of his persuasive talents, he thinks, but happy to ignore his convictions. The Yeoman like to talk about how nobles exploit peasants - but what of how the party exploits him!

    Tyrius sighs, says a few prayers reflexively, and sets aside his anger. The party has entrusted him with exchanging their wealth. He will do it, but he will do it on his own terms. With Larry in tow, he continues to head east. Gerta has told him that there is a temple to Pelor in Hightown, at the easternmost point of the walls where the first light of the sun creeps over in the morning.

    The Temple of Pelor is small, but beautiful. Most of it is given over to a large, central worship area. The building is more than three stories tall, but inside is a vast open space, with columns supporting the roof, and no floors. A huge circular stained glass window, entirely above the level of the battlements, is at the top of the east wall, allowing the marble-floored nave to be filled with colored light for the entire morning. Outside, the roof is a vast dome covered in gold leaf. Next to the temple is a small hospital, run by the church. Tyrius has not been in a temple of Pelor since before he joined the party, having made due with temples to Sol while he was in Salinmoor. He spends a long time kneeling in silent prayer before the altar while Larry shifts uncomfortably by his side, wanders among the pews, and views all of the statuary.

    Eventually a priest emerges from the sacristy, returning from a rest after having officiated the sunrise service. Tyrius asks to speak with him in private and he agrees. Tyrius tells Larry that he is safe now and that Larry can go down to the docks if he wishes.

    In a closed office, Tyrius tells the priest that he is part of an adventuring company that recently sacked a tower of Nholast the Unforgiven and came away with great wealth in the form of gold coins. The coins are easily recognizable as being of a strange and ancient mint. The company does not want the attention that spending the coins will bring, but they do desire their value. There are many reasons for this, some self-serving, some noble. The best reason for the identity of the coins to be kept private is that Tyrius fears that other people will use them to find the tower itself. The Sage of Highfell told him that all of the known Towers of Nholast had been torn down in the Yeomanry, and for good reason. Tyrius knows that the tower they found contained both demons and much evil lore. It would not do for the appearance of this treasure to prompt a search for the tower that would allow it to be plundered by the forces of evil. Tyrius hopes that this priest can help him exchange the coins for more innocuous wealth, as well as help him protect the secret of the origin of the coins.

    The priest nods thoughtfully as Tyrius speaks. He agrees that knowledge of the tower should be kept hidden from the general populace, but hopes that Tyrius will tell him the location so that the proper authorities can make sure its evil is purged and it can no longer threaten good folk. He agrees to help conceal the tower by exchanging wealth for Tyrius, but does not know if the monies he has on hand will match Tyrius’ desire for portable wealth - the faithful donate in copper commons, not freegolds.

    Tyrius describes as best he can how to arrive at the tower from Fort Thomas, and mentions how the assistance of the Sage of Highfell might be useful. He takes out a purse and spreads 452 coins out on the table, all of the party’s accumulated golden coins from the tower. He and the priest count them, and then set aside 57 coins, a one-eighth portion, Tyrius’ personal share. Tyrius says that he wishes to donate this to the church, with no recompense. He is not sure if it counts as a tithe - he has no idea of the value of his share of the party’s other treasure, since most of this is contained in the gems that Babshapka carries whose worth is unknown to any of them.

    The priest accepts the 57 gold coins, and they count the remaining 395. The priest agrees to exchange these at face value - he removes all of the coins from the room, and returns in short order with 395 gold coins, in a mix of Keoish lions and Yeoman freegolds. Tyrius asks him if he doesn’t instead have any platinum coins, but the priest shakes his head and suggests that he try the moneychangers in Lowtown. Tyrius thanks him, receives his blessing, and leaves.

    In the meantime, Willa has made her way to the Javan Gate, pausing briefly to watch a group of youths playing at soldiering in the plaza fronting on the gate. The main road from Hightown to Lowtown is broad and stone-flagged, and it is still early in the morning when she reaches the docks.

    (8am) Besides the numerous local fishing boats and a few ferries that take one across the river to Cryford, there are three vessels in the docks currently that might offer passage upriver.

    There is a cog based in Gradsul, bringing a load of Sea Prince pipeweed north, at least as far as Baransford, possibly further depending on wind, how fast they get there, and what the prices are like when they arrive. The captain and most of the crew are Keoish. On learning that, Willa doesn't inquire further.

    There is a knarr based in Longspear, bringing a load of oranges and lemons to Flen. The captain and crew are Yeoman. Flen is inland in Keoland, but is on a tributary that feeds in to the Javan. The advantage of this vessel is that it would be fast - even if the wind is not right, there are plenty of crew for the oars, and the captain is looking to get the fruits to noble tables there before they spoil. The disadvantage of this is that the vessel is small, and all of the crew sleeps abovedecks. The party would need to sell their mules and possibly "dismiss" Eddard for the duration of the voyage. Furthermore, the knarr is planning on leaving by noon, which does not leave them much time to get ready.

    There is a hulk based in Longspear, bringing a load of coffee and cotton cloth to Godakin Keep. The captain and crew are Yeoman. Godakin Keep is a Keoish port, but it is on the north bank of the Javan at a point where the south bank is the nation of Sterich. The advantage of this boat is that it is large, the largest one at the docks, and while they certainly won't have private cabins, Willa might be able to convince the captain to take their three animals on board. The disadvantage is that the ship is wind-powered, only, such that their progress upriver will depend entirely on the weather. The hulk would like to leave today, but is watching the wind, which is not favorable at the moment and is unlikely to change for a few hours at least.

    After a preliminary conversation with the latter two captains, Willa is convinced that she can secure them ship’s passage free of charge, in return for a pledge to pull the oars (on the knarr) if needed, and defend either ship if it is attacked. What her persuasion doesn't cover is protection from discovery by Keoish patrols or port authorities. That is a separate negotiation she would need to have.

    (9am) Concerned about leaving without being harassed by local officials, Willa looks around the docks to take in the lay of the land, so to speak. She can see the customs house near the docks - and it is open, with officials coming and going. In her experience, local officials will be most interested in the cargo, and before the ship sails they will give a careful (or less than careful, if they can be bribed) check of the actual cargo against the manifest. This is to make sure that all applicable taxes have been paid and that no goods that are prohibited for export are leaving. They are generally less concerned about the crew, for it is seen as a captain's business alone who he has as crew. The only times Willa herself ever bothered to check who was on a ship leaving Saltmarsh were when she suspected that someone was being held as a slave (slavery being illegal in Keoland but permitted in the Sea Princes), or when she had a specific warrant and was looking for someone trying to flee town before a trial.

    Given the disdain that the typical Yeoman expresses for Keolanders, she doubts the customs officers would try to stop the party from boarding a vessel - but that doesn't mean that they would be above collecting coin for informing on the party after their departure. She is willing to bet that the party could leave on a small fishing craft (which are almost never searched if they are part of a local fleet) and then rendezvous with a merchant ship once away from port, but she would prefer not to do that, and in any event that plan would be complicated by the presence of their animals.

    Willa starts back up to Hightown, hoping to reach the Silver Steed and get the party on to the knarr before it sails, if that is their decision. As she walks back up the main road to the Javan Gate, she does not notice Larry descending to Lowtown. He left Hightown through Liberty Gate and is going down a dirt road at the edge of the pastureland, and is certainly not the only dwarf to be doing so.

    (9:30am) Larry walks along the docks, looking at all the different vessels, and thinking about his float down the Javan with Tyrius and Thokk in the barge. He must have passed this port, though he does not remember it specifically. How different was his view of the world back then! He goes to the far end of the docks and casts speak with animals, then tries to get the attention of some gulls. Only a few respond, and when he tries to talk to them, all they do is scream “Food!” and “Fish!” at him in demanding tones. He cannot hold their attention for more than a few seconds before they dash off, fighting with other birds for offal snatched from a returning fishing boat. Larry sighs as he realizes how corrupted by civilization these birds have become. The docks are lined with cheap fish-and-chip shops. Larry enters one, and for a gold lion comes out with a mop-bucket full of raw, near-spoiled fish and stale bread. He walks back to the end of the docks and begins tossing out small pieces, one at a time. In less than ten seconds he is surrounded by a cloud of gulls, fighting over the scraps and stealing from one another. When his bucket is half empty, Larry casts speak with animals again. This time, although the gulls shout “Food!” and “Fish!” and “Bread!” at him, they don’t dash off immediately thereafter.

    Larry has an extended conversation with the gulls of the docks, punctuated by dispensing just enough scraps to hold their interest and keep them talking. His first problem is figuring out how to ask them about soldiers. The birds have words for a dozen different kinds of humans they might get food from, but nothing to distinguish a soldier from a civilian. Finally he decides on “shiny hat” since nearly all of the Yeoman soldiers he has seen are equipped with broad-brimmed kettle helmets. Once he is sure that the birds are reliably identifying soldiers, he asks what Aurora bid him - have there been any large troop movements lately, any galleys of troops on the river, any crossings of soldiers from Cryford to Longspear or points north? He is able to keep the birds’ attention just long enough to assure himself that they have seen nothing out of the ordinary for the past several days. By this point his bucket is nearly empty, so he upends it, returns it to the shop, and sets out for Hightown.

    When Larry arrived at the docks, Willa arrived back at the Silver Steed (and Tyrius had still not left the temple). Willa stopped by the stables first to speak with Eddard. After hearing the two options (the knarr and the hulk), Eddard says that he has been seeing mules all over town - not surprising given the mines outside of town and the amount of goods coming and going. It should not be difficult for them to sell Randy and Andy, though selling them fast will mean taking a loss on them. He doesn’t mind returning to the Celestial Realms for a bit, but cautions that this time the party should be sure to take his saddle and barding with them. However, he is not concerned about speed for speed’s sake - neither ship is taking them even a third of the distance to where the Starfall lies, and they have a long journey ahead of them. In the end, he is fine with either option, but says he thinks the wisest course is to decide which ship will attract less attention from the Keoish.

    Willa goes inside and up to Aurora's room to discuss their options with her, Babshapka, Umbra, and Shefak. Apparently Thokk, who left after dinner the night before against everyone’s advice, has not yet returned - Willa checks his and Larry’s room, and finds neither of them there. Babshapka left briefly to purchase incense for Aurora but has since returned.

    Willa’s initial counsel is that she is more concerned about traveling on the river quickly than she is about where each vessel will take them, but the others have questions about just where the destinations of the different vessels are. Aurora, in particular, says “If we took the knarr, presumably, we'd be disembarking from it at the tributary and not going further inland and deeper into Keoland. How far north is the tributary? Will it get us far enough to proceed on foot toward Sterich? Or will we be looking to hop on another vessel we find along the way? The hulk takes us where we want to go, but I'm not crazy about the speed either. Are there other vessels heading upriver that have already left? Maybe we could catch up to them on the knarr and transfer over?” Seeing that Aurora is as willing as ever to talk circles around any situation in which there is limited knowledge, but feeling pressed for time, Willa goes back downstairs and asks Gerta where a cartography shop might be, and is crestfallen when Gerta starts to describe addresses in Lowtown. Although the Silver Steed is not yet open, a handsome man with long blond hair and a mustache is sitting at a table drinking ale - Willa appears to have interrupted his private conversation with Gerta. Seeing Willa’s long face, he asks if there is anything he can do. She is about to tell him no, when Gerta says in a voice of approval, “Morley trades all up and down the Javan - he’s a walking map himself, dear.”

    Without describing the party’s conundrum, Willa asks for more information about Sterich, Godakin Keep, Flen, and the river. Morley sketches out a map with a cinder in the open hearth, which Gerta has just cleaned, answering all of Willa’s queries.

    Were the knarr to drop them off before Flen, the logical place would be where the tributary of the Javan crosses the road on the north side of the Javan. From there, they could walk the road in to Godakin Keep - though the length of the road itself would be in Keoland. On the other hand, no matter where the knarr left them on the southern bank, it would be aways overland from the Sterich road - that road doesn’t approach the shore until upriver from the tributary. Of course, the party could always camp on the southern riverbank and hail another passing ship.

    If the hulk left them in Godakin Keep, on the other hand, they could immediately take a ferry across the river to the Sterich side. Fewer vessels dock there but it would be easy to eventually get another ship.

    Armed with more detailed knowledge, Willa returns to the debate upstairs. Aurora now adds that if they are going to be getting off the boat and walking or camping a good stretch again, they should probably figure out our gear so that they can go without the mules. After pulling their gear into the common hallway, she shakes her head. Realistically, with all of the gear the mules were carrying, all the new bedrolls and such that were purchased in Singleton, there is no way they can walk the road from the tributary to Godakin Keep, at least, not without using Eddard as a beast of burden, which Aurora knows he will refuse. If they take the knarr, which Aurora still favors for its speed, they will need to ask to be left on the Sterich riverbank, camp, and hope to hail another passing ship.

    (10am) When Larry arrives back at the Silver Steed the debate about which vessel to take is still ongoing. Tyrius, in the meantime, has reached Lowtown and is moving among the various moneychangers - one official, and several merchant houses and trading companies who have enough cash on hand that they occasionally offer money-changing services. The best deal he finds (Persuasion rolls 25, 23) is from a pair of merchants who are both full of inventory and transportable wealth but short on coin themselves to make purchases in town, and who each agree to exchange ten platinum griffins for fifty of the gold coins that Tyrius has - an exchange at face value for all of them. This leaves Tyrius with 20pp and 295gp in “untraceable” currency.

    The other three possibilities are men who offer to exchange coins with Tyrius, but at rates of 10% in their favor (10 platinum griffins for 55 gold coins each). If Tyrius is going to take a loss, he would like something more portable than coins, so he visits a few gem merchants. There are plenty that offer good conversion rates for gems that they “personally guarantee” to be of a certain value, but none who will put that guarantee in writing before the end of the day. With the pressure to leave Longspear sooner rather than later, Tyrius returns to the moneychanger and two merchants and accepts the trades they offered before. He now is carrying 50pp and 130gp in party funds. Satisfied that he has done his best with the time available to him, he starts to head back to Hightown.

    Knowing that the knarr leaves by noon and it is already past ten, Willa calls for an immediate vote among those present.

    Aurora votes for the fast boat. She thinks that getting out ahead of the knight for a bit is well worth it. She's worried about their weight, though. If Eddard will at least carry Tyrius' armor (after he has been re-summoned), and with Umbra now ambulatory, they will have enough room to carry most of what they have, she thinks, but they will need to buy gems and platinum with their gold and dump everything they can't carry themselves, again. It may mean abandoning bulky things like tents and sleeping rolls and purchasing them again when they next buy mules.

    Babshapka votes for the hulk because he feels it is unsafe for Aurora to be on Keoish soil, and his job is to keep her safe.

    Larry votes for the slow boat. He knows that dominant winds are from the south and east and has faith that they will have good winds for most of the journey.

    Shefak chooses not to vote. She says that whatever they choose will bring its own challenges, and that they will meet those challenges. She knows that in life one can’t avoid conflict, one can only choose how to navigate that conflict. She warns the others, though, that if they are making their decisions based on what material possessions they can keep or must let go, then they are surely making the wrong decision.

    Umbra says that she is still not sure if she will be traveling with the party, or for how long (having just woken, the idea of their journal to the Starfall has been explained to her, but she feels like she still needs to have a long conversation with Aurora about the Whispered One, the Spidered Throne, and other things). Thus, she does not think it fair for her to vote on their course of action.

    Willa ponders the words of the others. She had argued before for the knarr, but if she makes that her formal vote, then they are deadlocked 2 - 2 and will need to wait until either Tyrius or Thokk returns. And the longer they wait, the less likely they are to actually make the knarr - hurrying to the docks will probably draw unwanted attention, which makes her think of Eddard’s advice. She decides that his suggestion of not drawing attention is a good one. His saddle and barding, if not borne by him, will only add to the weight issue if there is a problem or delay in summoning him back. The hulk will provide more below deck options if the party needs to keep someone out of sight, and getting to the knarr in time has just become too complicated. Finally she adds her vote to the hulk, and says the matter is now decided 3 - 1.

    Willa tells the others that she will be going to settle their bill with Gerta, buy some grain for the mules, and then down to the docks to see if she can’t convince the captain of the hulk to take them and their animals aboard. She tells them that she wants all their gear packed and in the stables before the inn opens at midday and any patrons (who would note their departure) start to enter. When Tyrius returns, they are to tell him to stay. At least one of them and possibly more should go try to find Thokk, but they should not leave Aurora unguarded.

    (11am) Not long after Willa leaves, Tyrius enters. He oversees their previously disorganized attempts to pack and get all of the gear into the stables below. That just leaves finding Thokk.

    Thin walls and a busy inn at Singleton had left Aurora unwilling to use her crystal ball while in town. With the whole second floor to themselves, Tyrius at the top of the stairs, and Babshapka at the door to her room, Aurora now brings out the ball without hesitation. It takes her less than a minute to locate Thokk. (Wisdom save 2+3 = 5, target known well -5, total save = 0!) The half-orc is sprawled in an alley, half leaning, half slumped back against a wall, a pool of dried vomit in his lap, his eyes closed. Aurora tries to change the focus or view of the image but cannot, and can see only a small piece of the alley beyond the body of Thokk. A broken crockery jug is beside him.

    Aurora emerges from the room and says that Thokk is unconscious, and appears to still be in the city, but she has no idea where. He could even be in Lowtown, for all she knows (Aurora Intelligence save: 1+7 = 8, Critical Fail). Babshapka asks her about the alley, about the direction of the light and shadows, and other clues, but she did not notice anything of significance (Babshapka Wisdom save 2+2 = 4).

    “Thokk is very straightforward,” says Shefak. “He left here to find drink and flesh. We should start at whatever place is closest and expand out from there.” (Shefak Insight 7+5 = 12)

    Babshapka shakes his head. “This whole city is full of taverns and alehouses. He could be anywhere. He would have found drink easily, but he also left looking for “brothels”. Remember what the Lord of Highfell said - Yeomanry women are free - without anyone to force them to sell their bodies, I doubt there is a house of servitude, meaning he could have been wandering all over the city last night, looking for something that doesn’t exist.”

    Shefak nods her understanding. “Well, if he was wandering all over the city, lots of people would have seen him. We just need to start asking around.”

    Tyrius holds up his hand. “We are supposed to do this in a way that doesn’t attract attention. We need to find him without talking to anyone, if possible.” He frowns pensively. “Aurora, what was he wearing, I mean when you scried him?”

    “His old loincloth and boots,” she shudders. “And his winter jacket, though it was open and all the laces undone.”

    “And his weapons?” For Tyrius, one of the most jarring aspects of the Yeomanry is that even the smallfolk are allowed to bear weapons in public. None of them have been asked to put their blades away anywhere they have gone.

    “He left his javelins in his room - I saw that when Willa looked there for him - but he had his sword on him in the alley.”

    Tyrius smiles. “He still had his sword on him. Where in this city could a drunk lie in an alley with a magic sword on him past eleven in the morning and not have been rolled yet?” (Tyrius Wisdom save 12+5 = 17) The others look at him with blank expressions. “I’ve already walked to the east wall and down to Lowtown and back this morning. All over the city the smallfolk opened their shops hours ago; most were up before first light. Anywhere else in the city Thokk would have been found and his sword stolen hours ago. But the inn beneath us doesn’t open until noon - none of the shops on this block were open when I came in, because they cater to people of leisure who sleep in and haven’t left their homes yet. He has to be either in this block or some other island of wealth. Shefak, with me; Babshapka, you watch Aurora. Larry...maybe go talk to the mules, make sure they are ready for the trip to the docks, ask them if they have ever been on the water before.”

    Tyrius and Larry descend the stairs of the inn, find Gerta in the kitchen furiously preparing lunch. “Madam Gerta, many thanks for your hospitality, you have a most charming establishment.”

    “Yeah, yeah, thanks. I’m kinda busy here and Willa already squared your bill, so if there isn’t anything you need…” She does not call him “milord”.

    “There is one thing, so sorry to intrude. I was just wondering if you could tell me how many other inns of your quality there are in Longspear. We were fortunate you had the whole second floor to let us, but should I return and you are more full…?”

    Gerta is stirring a deep vat of stew and does not even look up as she talks. “There are no other inns of this quality in Longspear, paladin. The Royale has a nice enough staff but I don’t much care for the clientele. Christina’s Home and Hearth charges more than we do but some of their services questionable taste.”

    “And both of these establishments are in Hightown?”

    “Of course. Both of them are on this block.”

    Tyrius thanks Gerta and leaves the inn. He and Shefak begin a walk around the block, with him watching the street and her unobtrusively darting in and out of the alleyways between buildings. They find Thokk in the gap between a high-class pastry shop and Christina’s Home and Hearth. Besides sweat, vomit, and stale ale, he smells of cloying perfume. Tyrius barely manages to get the huge half-orc to his feet and shambling along beside him. Fortunately the brute can support his own weight, he just needs steering. “Tyrius!....” he says, squinting with bloodshot eyes, then “Tyrius….” as if he can think of nothing else to say.

    It is a mercifully short walk back to the stable of the Silver Steed, where Tyrius tosses Thokk down on a pile of fodder. The half-orc smiles contentedly before passing out again. Eddard wrinkles his nose in disgust. “Well, that’s a waste of perfectly good hay,” he opines.

    (11:30am) At the docks, Willa gets permission to go aboard the hulk, the Banner of Heather. Since they have no immediate plans to sail, Captain Roberts is leisurely inspecting its readiness while the sailors go about their business. He does not seem to mind conversing with Willa, as she is full of knowledgeable questions about the differences and similarities between this vessel and the Sea Ghost, between river sailing and ocean-going, between the ports on the Javan and those on the Azure Sea. Each of them knows just enough of the other’s trade that they are honestly interested in learning more.

    After some time warming him up, Willa makes her pitch (“take 20” on her persuasion roll, final score 19). She knows he tentatively agreed to have her and her friends onboard to Godakin for free - now she explains to him that first, she would like three animals as well - two mules and a warhorse - and second and more importantly, that what she really wants is to escape the notice of Keoish authorities.

    The captain doesn’t look at her as he considers. “I’ve no love for the Keoish, that’s for sure, but part o’ me would like to know what they’re after you for. But the more sensible part o’ me says it’s better for me to not know.” Now he turns to look her square in the eyes. “Your word as a sailor whatever reason they’re looking for you, it’s nothing that will endanger my ship or men?”

    Willa returns his stare. “Ain’t got nothin’ t’ do wi’ ye. One o’ us did summit we maybe shouldnay done, but we cain’t do it ag’in an’ it cain’t hurt yer ship nor crew.”

    “Your word?”

    “By the Gentle Sea Cow.”

    The captain looks away and thinks some more. “You’re mercenaries looking for a ride north. Passengers, not on the manifest. I let you come aboard in return for help fighting if needed. You pay for your own food and feed. That’s all I know. If we get questioned, I tell them all I know. Most of the four hundred miles to Godakin Keep is Keoland both sides of the river. You stay belowdecks when we port. If you leave without telling me, I claim anything you leave behind. I certainly don’t know anything about the bag of 100 freegolds you will be leaving behind.”

    Willa agrees to all his terms. He hacks up a generous gob of spit into his palm and offers it to her; she repeats the gesture and they shake to seal the deal.

    The party has been living off of trail game and inn food, and not yet opened the rations they bought for themselves in Singleton. They have, however, been feeding the mule rations they purchased, every day, and currently have just three days left. Willa stops in a feed store in Lowtown, buys 28 horse rations, and asks to have them sent to Captain Roberts at the docks. She then starts back up the road to Hightown.

    Willa arrives at the Silver Steed shortly after noon, and finds the place lively with customers. Most of the party is in the stables, with all of their gear. Only Aurora and Babshapka remain upstairs. Willa slips up to the second floor, keeping her head low as she crosses the common room, and tells them it is time to go. Aurora firebolts[i] the stone outer wall of the building and uses the soot produced to dirty her face a bit, pulls back her hair and pulls up her hood, and the three of them go down to the stable.

    The first group out is Willa, Thokk, and Larry, who is leading Andy. Willa tells the others to follow in two more groups with five to ten minutes between them. When they arrive at the docks of Lowtown they are to stay in separate groups, but all of them near enough Aurora that she can [i]message
    them, and all within sight of the Banner of Heather.

    The next group away is Aurora, Umbra, and Babshapka leading Randy. Ten minutes behind them come Tyrius, Shefak, and Eddard.

    The air is misty at the docks, and downriver a wall of fog can be seen creeping its way along the shore and over the water, obscuring both. The three groups, as planned beforehand, have remained separate from one another; they cannot see one another but are at the limits of Aurora’s message spell. Willa’s group is on the docks themselves, and she hails Roberts and asks him when he plans to shove off. “No wind, and now that fog,” he shrugs, “maybe in the morning.” Willa looks over, frustrated, at the empty berth where the knarr was an hour ago.

    Aurora checks in with her, and Willa says that they should sit tight while she finds them a sailor’s flop house along the docks for the night. Aurora, incredulous, whispers back that if they are staying another night in Longspear, she is returning to the Silver Steed. Willa can sleep three-to-a-bed in a louse-ridden flophouse if she wants.

    Before Willa can retort, Roberts calls down to her softly, “You know, once that fog hits, there’ll be precious few people as stay here riverside. If you don’t want to be seen boarding, that’d be the time to do it.”

    “An’ stay on ther ship all night?”

    Roberts looks insulted - why wouldn’t they want to stay on his ship?

    Aurora messages Willa that she will be going up to Hightown now, but Willa whispers back that all three groups need to stay around until the fog hits and the crowd disperses. They will be boarding soon after that. Aurora reluctantly confirms that she has relayed that message.

    Meanwhile, Thokk and Larry are standing on the docks looking out over the water, reminiscing about the time they shared a barge down this very river. “How long we be on river now, Larry?

    “Dunno. A while, aye guess.”

    “Huh. We not have much in game bag. Thokk not able to hunt on river. What we eat?” Thokk conveniently ignores that of the three party members who regularly foraged, he consistently returned the least food.

    “We bought food en Singleton, ‘member?”

    Thokk grimaces in disgust, thinking of the hardtack. “That not food. Thokk need fresh meat to keep big muscles.”

    “RRRiver like that ooghta hae fesh.”

    “Huh. Thokk hunt fish with javelin, from rocks. Boat too high for that.”

    “Larry hunts, och, aye hoont fesh wit’ me bar hands, en pools. Tha boot’s too high fer tha’, too.”

    “Mmm. Thokk see humans hunt fish with nets, with poles.”

    “Aye, aye’ve seen tha’, too.”

    “We get poles and learn hunt fish?”

    Larry grins. He saw a tackle store somewhere along the docks…

    By the time everyone is aboard the Banner of Heather, Larry has in his gear four fishing poles and tackle.

    The fog lasts all afternoon and past nightfall. On the ship, Roberts directs the crew in making arrangements for the party. Bags of coffee beans are moved out of one section of the hold and piled higher in another. In the open space, wood planking is nailed to a crude frame to create stalls for the mules, and then they are led down thicker planks into the hold. Tyrius puts his bedroll near the stalls, and Eddard joins him.

    Under the fo’castle is the ship’s galley; under the sterncastle are two cabins - one for the captain, one for the mate. The mate is moved out and made to take up a hammock with the crew in the forward section of the hold - he does not seem too put out, and Willa expects he will be sharing that bag of gold she will be so negligently leaving on board. Aurora and Babshapka are allowed to take up the vacated cabin, along with most of the party’s gear that will remain packed until Godakin. The rest of the party will be sleeping on deck at night (when the ship is not being sailed) but will be expected to store their bedrolls out of the way in the hold during the day.

    “Will she nae be sailin’ o’ ther night?” Willa asks of Roberts.

    “This isn’t like the sea, where ye can point her prow at a star and go below for an hour,” he laughs. “The Javan’s as broad as they come, but there is always something to watch for - if not twists and turns in the river itself, then shoals, sand bars, logs and flotsam, Rhennee barges, ye name it. If we can’t see, we don’t sail. Mind ye, if one or t’other o’ the moons be full, we may be sailing o’ a night - but it won’t be often. Imagine if ye had your own ship o’ the sea, but had to keep her within a bowshot o’ the coast at all times.”

    “Aye, I’d nae be sailin’ o’ ther night thattaways, lessen ’twere spittin’ distance from Saltmarsh herself, where I know every rock and narrow.” She nods gravely. Perhaps there is more to river-captaining than she had previously allowed.

    “O’course,” grants Roberts graciously, “I hain’t never sailed a summer squall that gave me waves o’er the gunnels, and hope as I never have to.”

    Willa grins, thinking about some of the monsoons she has sailed through, not knowing if she would indeed live to see the other side. “Me pappy always said ther Azure be equal parts tedium an’ terror.” They both laugh. Willa decides it will be refreshing to spend some time around normal folk like sailors, even river-sailors, as opposed to the loons in the party.

    [12 pounds of food remaining without using human rations;
    2 rations of mule feed used]
    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.
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    Tue Aug 11, 2020 3:56 pm  
    Post 129: Willa's Choice VI

    DM's Note: The contents of this post is known only to the player of Willa.
    Sections in italics are copied from "Post 128: Longspear" for context, while everything else is new material.

    Post 129: Willa's Choice VI
    (7am) After breakfast, Willa and Tyrius take their leave of the inn, but they are not ten steps away before Larry bursts out of the door and hails them. He explains that Aurora wants him to go down to the docks and talk with birds, so can he come with Willa? Willa sucks in her cheeks, shows him a view of the river from between houses, and tells him the docks will be easy to find by himself - he just needs to walk downhill. If he wants to leave the inn, she whispers, she would rather have him accompany Tyrius first on his money-changing expedition - the paladin is carrying nearly 500 gold crowns on him, and a second pair of eyes would be wise. According to Gerta, most of the money changers are going to be down at the docks anyway. Larry nods and moves to Tyrius’ side, while Willa heads for the Javan Gate.

    As she is crossing a plaza near the north gate (not the one she came in, but the one that leads to the docks), Willa spots a group of children playing some sort of game - likely playing at soldier, as they all have sticks and one of the big kids is yelling "orders" at them. When the play-sergeant orders them to launch a volley of javelins, they all throw in the same direction but one, who throws his stick so close to Willa that she has to jump out of the way. The other children laugh and mock him, and he comes running up to her, saying "Sorry, ma'am!"

    When he gets close enough to retrieve his stick, though, he loudly says "Sorry!" again but adds under his breath, "Willa?"

    Willa responds loudly, in a tone of annoyance, “Watch what ye be doin’, laddie,” but adds, under her breath, “Aye, ‘tis me.”

    He grins winningly at her and whispers "The Royale" before grabbing his stick, whirling and scampering off to join his playmates.

    Willa has no idea what is "The Royale" - a ship at the docks? a business in town? a lunch special?

    The plaza in which the children are playing is just inside the northern gate of the city - and she had been about to leave to go to the waterfront, but now she continues down a street paralleling the city wall, paying careful attention to the hanging signs of businesses. After two blocks, she hasn't seen any signs referencing The Royale, so she ducks into a rope-makers shop and asks directions of a 'prentice.

    The ‘prentice replies that The Royale is one of the finest inns in Longspear, and she gives Willa directions. To her surprise, the inn is on the same block as The Silver Steed, where she left from this morning, but not the same street. Rather, the two inns have nearly-adjoining rear yards, but to travel from the front entrance of one to the other would take one down two different streets and require several minutes between then. She decides to continue to the docks, and then check back on the Royale later.

    (8am) Besides the numerous local fishing boats and a few ferries that take one across the river to Crylor, there are three vessels in the docks currently that might offer passage upriver.

    (9am) Willa starts back up to Hightown, hoping to reach The Silver Steed and get the party on to the knarr before it sails, if that it their decision.

    (10am) When Larry arrives back at the Silver Steed the debate about which vessel to take is still ongoing.

    Willa tells the others that she will be going to settle their bill with Gerta, buy some grain for the mules, and then down to the docks to see if she can’t convince the captain of the hulk to take them and their animals aboard.

    Willa leaves the Silver Steed and goes around the block until she comes to the Royale. Inside she finds the inn full of merchants in Keoish dress, the only Yeoman present being servants, unless a trio of dwarves at a low table count. The dwarves are not in armor, but she does see one military pick among them. Their clothes are simple but of excellent quality, somewhat at odds with the silks and dyed cotton of the human merchants around them.

    She moves to the darkest corner she can find and scans the room. Sure enough, the man she knows as Runnel is sitting at the bar, talking amiably with some manner of priest. Based on his robe and chain of office, she thinks it may be a priest of Zilchus.

    She takes a table directly in his view and it is not long before he excuses himself and comes over to her, ale in hand. He is dressed as a merchant himself, with none of the trappings of knighthood, and without his eyepatch.

    "My apologies if this inn is a bit on the nose," he says quietly. "There are precious few places in Longspear where one does not have to make a constant effort to hide a Keoish accent. Now, about your mage. I let her go at Highfell because you told me that she had turned the gem over to the Sage and you promised to take her away from Keoland. And yet, ever since Singleton you have been traveling closer to the Kingdom. What am I to make of that?"

    “Beggin' yer pardon, Sir. I agreed t' keep ‘er out o' Keoland - but out 'n away be mighty diff’rent t’ings. Back in Saltmarsh, I ne'er dreamed ther world could be so big, 'n now I be realizin' t'at it can be wee, too. Sometimes ther safest 'n quickest path away from Keoland, brings us closer t'an ye would like. But it cannae be avoided. I wants t' live, an’ a journey o'erland through giant infested mountains an’ thigh-high snow ain't ther way t' do t'at.”

    “I am pleased to hear that you still intend to leave Keoland, and that the mage has not decided to make another attempt on the Dreadwood. But what I don't understand is how after you left Highfell, you would travel so far to the northwest only to come back. Surely you knew about those "giant-infested mountains".

    “Ther journey ‘as been full o' twists, turns 'n surprises. I 'ave seen more t’an I could ever 'ave imagined, ar comprehended fer that matter. I don't like ar trust ther mage, but ther party seems caught up in strange magic an’ it ain't jus' ‘ers. One minute we be in ther woods nigh Highfell, ther next we be at an ancient tower in ther cold, north mountains. Then we 'ad t' hike out t' find civilization nay really kenin' war we be.”

    “So the old Sage still has the wherewithal to transport people through magic, eh? That bears noting. Well, if you are not crossing the Jotens, how is it that you intend to leave Longspear, and where are you headed next?”

    “If we be mighty close t' Keoland now, 'tis in an attempt t' get ther wizard away from ther heart o' ther country, 'n ther Dreadwood. Ther palydin wishes t' go t' Sterich, so a journey by ther Javan seemed ther quickest 'n safest way t' do t’at.”

    “Yes, assuming you can find a ship this time of year, a river voyage up the Javan would be the swiftest way to remove yourselves. Of course, going downriver would be the swiftest way to return to Salinmoor and your home. Are you sure you haven't had a change of heart - or a turn of cloak?”

    “No Sir, I be doin' me best t' honor are agreement.”

    “Very well then. I will leave you to finding your ship. But I will also be monitoring your progress. Mayhap I will check in with you in Sterich, if you stay long enough.”

    “Beggin' yer pardon, sir, but bein' shot at by bandits sent t' kidnap ther mage makes livin' difficult too, as difficult as giants would. Be thar a reason ye sent them after ‘er?”

    Runnel smiles, apparently pleased that Willa has deduced that he was behind the bandit attack without asking him for confirmation. "Two reasons. First, I wanted it clear to both you and her that returning to Keoland was not a good idea. Second, that particular group of bandits has been a plague on the good people of County Cryllor for far too long. I didn't seriously expect them to capture the mage, I know you are too powerful for that." He shrugs. "Some people pay adventurers to wipe out bandits. I thought it might be more expedient to pay bandits to attack adventurers, knowing that they would lose and be wiped out."

    Emboldened by his willingness to answer, Willa tries another question. “If 'n I may ask, did ye first pick up our trail in Singleton? Was it ther coin what laid ther scent?”

    "Yes, after you left Highfell I lost track of you - and it is reassuring to know that was only because you used teleportation magic. I had assets looking for you on both sides of the river. And yes, that takes coin. My informants in Singleton were duly paid when they told me that you had surfaced there. I didn't have a lot of time to respond, and I found the bandits close at hand."

    Willa pauses. Apparently Runnel did not catch the reference to Nholast's coins, or misinterpreted it. She decides she will let it slide. Neither will she mention the books that Aurora has been reading, because she does not appreciate serving as a pin cushion for bandit arrows just so the riff raff can be cleaned up.

    She continues, "Thar are more dwarves in these parts. Would ye be able t' tell me why?"

    "’Dwarves are drawn to hills and breed in mines’" he says, as if it were an adage, although if so she is not familiar with it. "There are dwarven colonies on both sides of the river - here in the Little Hills, and on our side in the Good Hills. Would that there were more of them. Ours at least are loyal subjects to the crown and know better than to play with ancient magics."

    Willa says her goodbyes to Runnel and goes to the docks to check on the departure time of the hulk.
    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.
    Master Greytalker

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    Tue Aug 18, 2020 9:35 am  
    Post 130: Longspear to Cryllor

    DM's Notes:
    By far the best source for maps of Greyhawk comes from the work of Anna B Meyer. I used for the party's travel. The hex designations given are from her maps. I would highly encourage any DM to use Anna's work, and anyone with the means to do so to support her Patreon at

    Post 130: Longspear to Cryllor
    25 November, 570 - Longspear

    A bedroll on the deck of a ship is a far cry from the best inn in Longspear, and before the sun comes up the temperature has dropped into the low twenties. Those who laughed at Tyrius for staying belowdecks with the stink of the mules envy him their warmth before the night is through. When Roberts comes on deck in the predawn, Willa is awakened by the sound of his booted feet. He is staring up at a pennant on the main mast, fluttering in a slight breeze, and grinning. When he strides over and begins to shout down into the hold to look lively, she starts encouraging her own crew to clear the deck, despite their groans and complaints.

    While the sailors work to ready the ship, the party crowds the galley. The cook has agreed to cook for them, using their food, but only after the sailors are served. In the meantime, they are allowed to drink coffee. Willa is still suspicious of this Yeoman drink, but at least it is hot - and given the tons of roast beans in the hold below, there should be no lack of it on the journey! Sails, stiff with frost, are raised into the light south wind. Lines are trimmed, the anchor weighed, and they are off, the heavy hulk fighting the current of the Javan upriver.

    Once they are well underway and Lowtown is diminishing in view behind them, Willa asks Roberts to see his charts. As it turns out, he has both detailed drawings of the river at a small scale, and a broad overview of the whole section from Longspear to Godakin Keep. The latter is what most interests her, the large scale section and his claim that the stretch is four hundred miles, which she finds difficult to believe. She sees that along the way they will make port in the cities of Cryllor (which she has heard of) and Kilm (which she has not).

    The sun has been up for two hours or more before the last of the spray ice has melted from the lines. Thokk and Larry, their breaths billowing vapor clouds, bring out their tackle and head to the side of the ship. They know enough to stay out of the way of the sailors, but their first attempts at casting meet with chuckles from the crew and Thokk bristles in response. Willa decides she will have to intervene immediately or this journey will be much shorter than planned. Patiently she explains to Thokk and Larry how to bait, how to cast, how to feel for strikes, how to set a hook, and how to pull in a fish. Thokk and Larry are both enthusiastic students and Willa hopes Thokk has at least found something that will allow him to fill his hours on the boat. By day’s end, between the two of them and Willa’s guidance, they have snagged a small pile of fish.

    [Thokk and Larry, Survival check at disadvantage, +5 for Willa’s help, rolls 24 and 19, total 24 pounds of food collected]

    It is early afternoon when Willa calls all the party on deck. Though she denies to Roberts that anything is the matter, she tells her own people to remain vigilant. They are passing the section of the river where, on the Yeoman bank, the bandit ambush was sprung and where, on the Keoish bank, they can see the stream that the bandits said would lead to their camp. Willa has all eyes watching for canoes and all hands on missile weapons, but no threats are seen and the Banner of Heather continues upriver.

    They sail on throughout the afternoon, the light wind lasting until sunset. Roberts estimates that they have gone 14 miles or so by day’s end. Willa requests that they anchor on the Yeoman side of the river and he obliges.

    [28 pounds of food remaining without using human rations;
    2 rations of mule feed used
    Day's travel ends in hex F175-235]

    26 November, 570 - Javan River, one day north of Longspear

    In mid-morning, the last hoarfrost has melted from the port side hull when a light, drizzling rain starts. The sailors curse but go about their business. Most of the party retreats below decks, or into Aurora’s cabin, but Thokk and Larry stay on deck to continue their fishing. The rain continues until early in the afternoon.

    All morning, the river continues through the narrow valley, bordered by the steep, rocky cliffs and bluffs on both sides, with no signs of humans besides themselves. As the afternoon wears on, however, the cliffs to the left retreat from the riverbank, farther and farther back. Now the Keoish side remains wilderness, but on the Yeoman side a settled, green floodplain emerges. Every few miles along the river there are now tiny fishing villages, and, further inland, pastoral communities. Most of these are so small that they were not seen by the party when they passed by them on the cliffs above, but from beneath them on the river they are swaths of color against the green and brown of dried winter grass. In the evening, they again anchor near the Yeoman bank.

    [Thokk and Larry, total 22 pounds of food collected]

    [41 pounds of food remaining without using human rations;
    2 rations of mule feed used
    Day's travel ends in hex F175-234]

    27 November, 570 - Up the Javan River, two days north of Longspear

    For the first part of the day’s journey, the terrain is similar to the night before, with rocky cliffs to starboard and a flat plain with fishing villages to port. Willa notes that the wind is not any stronger today, but it is more constant, and she doesn’t doubt they will be carried further by this steady south breeze today than the days previous.

    At mid-morning Roberts brings her to the prow and shows her the river they are approaching to port. Dark and dirty with run-off from the hills, it is leaving a brown streak as it spills into the blue-green Javan and the Banner is already moving to starboard to avoid both its current and anything it has brought downriver, such as logs. Roberts remarks that the river is the same one that flows under the bridge at Fort August, and Willa admits that she is familiar with it. He then adds that the river marks the boundary of the Yeomanry - once they sail past that, they are in Keoland, with Keoish soil on both sides of the river. He pauses, then says he just wants to make sure she is aware of that. “Aye,” she says resolutely, but leaves soon after to check up on Aurora.

    Past the river, the land grows rough on both sides, although the cliffs to the east diminish. Less rocky, the hills are now vegetated, but steep and irregular. They do not see settlements for the rest of the day.

    The fish are not biting today, and Larry even breaks a pole trying to get his line off a snag. (Critical fail on survival roll). Fortunately he bought four poles in Longspear.

    [33 pounds of food remaining without using human rations;
    2 rations of mule feed used
    Day's travel ends in hex F175-233]

    28 November, 570 - Up the Javan River, three days north of Longspear

    Even the landlubbers can tell that the wind is much stronger in the morning - a smart southerly breeze blowing steadily, occasionally gusting beyond strong. As Roberts shouts orders to his men, there is no mistaking the satisfied tone in his voice. As they raise first one sail, then another, careful not to throw too much sheet to the wind at once, the Banner of Heather pulls slowly away from the riverbank, then more and more eagerly begins cutting into the current upriver. By the time they are at full sail, the ship is going faster than a man could walk along the riverbank - and if the gods be good, they could do so all the day long, with pause for neither resting nor eating.

    In the chill early morning the rugged hills lower and recede, with Keoish pastoral villages becoming more and more common. By mid-morning they are in a vast, flat plain. Here the Javan is wide and sluggish - did it still run north-south they could really pick up speed, but it has turned west, so the Banner is unable to make full use of the wind. Still, they glide swiftly by a smaller river entering the right bank from the Good Hills, and farming villages without number, their fields all winter-brown.

    It is early afternoon when they pass a second tributary, this one to the left. Roberts explains that the headwaters of this river are in the Yeomanry, and that it flows past Singleton before cutting through the low mountain pass that connects the League with Keoland. Once they pass the river they can see that they are approaching a town, even a city perhaps, that spans both sides of the Javan. Roberts says that it is Baransford, and that reaching it so early in the day puts them in a dilemma. Typically they stop in the city, take on food, and check the market prices to see whether selling any of their cargo might be more favorable now than at their destination. But with the strong wind they have behind them now, “as good as any we’re likely to get this voyage or the next,” Roberts is tempted to continue on.

    Willa agrees that it would be a shame to waste a wind this good, and asks where the next port would be. Roberts responds that that would be Cryllor, another day or two to the north. Willa says that her crew would favor continuing, for what it is worth, and that they have plenty of fish to share if Roberts is worried about food stores. Roberts talks with his mate and agrees that they will continue on as far as they can today.

    As they approach the city, Willa can see that Baransford mostly occupies the west bank of the Javan. Although there are some docks and buildings on the east bank, it is only the west bank settlement that is walled. In whole, it is considerably smaller than Longspear. The Javan here is particularly broad and shallow, with hard rock islands nearly crossing the entirety of the river, which is several miles wide at this point. The few channels that have deep water are spanned by stone bridges - and one of these is high enough that even large ships with high masts can pass underneath. Roberts explains that at this time of year, the water is at its lowest. What are now visible as islands and causeways will, in the summer and fall, be fords of knee-high depth. In the spring, even the bases of the bridges will be under the flood waters and the river is then uncrossable. At the present time, however, they will need to head for the deepest channel and pass under the highest bridge. There are other ships about, but fortunately none close by them. As they approach the bridge, Roberts orders them to lower sails to half and have all hands ready to maneuver.

    Past Baransford, the Javan gradually narrows and deepens again until they have the entirety of its breadth to use. All the rest of the afternoon and into the early evening they continue to sail past rich agricultural land and farming villages.

    As the sun touches the tops of the hills in the west, Roberts talks of selecting an anchorage for the night. Aurora, once banished to her cabin for their passage through Baransford, is now out on deck, speaking with Larry. Overhearing Roberts, she confirms with Willa that the wind they have right now is likely the best they will ever have, and then she speaks to Roberts herself. At first she talks about theoretical possibilities - wouldn’t it be nice if they had a light source to keep going - both moons are only in their first quarters and not bright enough to navigate by. When he agrees, she mentions that Larry, a druid who uses the power of nature and certainly not scary, evil wizard magic, can actually create light, equal in brilliance to sunlight, and place it on an object - something like a spare spar or mast that could project in front of the ship. [Aurora persuasion roll 19].

    Roberts speaks with his crew - and in short order a mast is brought up from the hold and lashed to the prow. When Larry casts daylight on its tip, Roberts finds he can see nearly 150’ ahead of the Banner. Not ideal for shoals or sandbars, but enough to warn them of logs and other vessels. He agrees to keep sailing and not waste the wind that Sotillion has granted them. After an hour, Larry casts his spell again, and after another hour, again. Some forty minutes into the third spell, Roberts insists on looking for anchorage. The Javan has been turning more and more to the east, and he says it will only continue to do so ahead. The strong south wind is of less and less help now, and as the Banner tacks wider across the Javan at increasingly strong angles, they are more exposed to unseen dangers.

    They anchor under a steep cliff. Those on watch in the night report hearing the sounds of scores of boots marching. Roberts claims it to be an echo of a patrol on the roads above the river, but for the party there are several tense minutes as it passes.

    It is not Willa’s watch, but she is woken by those on watch in readiness to respond to the boots, whatever they are. As it is now well and truly dark, she decides to take some star readings. As she suspected, they are now farther north than Singleton, farther north than the Tower of Nholast - in short, farther north than she herself has ever been.

    [ 4 pounds fish caught,
    29 pounds of food remaining without using human rations;
    2 rations of mule feed used
    Day's travel ends in hex F175-230]

    29 November, 570 - Up the Javan River, four days north of Longspear

    The wind this morning is scant, and mostly from the southeast at that, while the Banner needs to go due east, practically into the wind. Roberts spends most of the day watching the pennants for wind direction, with the Banner anchored. Every few hours when the wind shifts, he bellows orders - sails and anchors are raised, and with long, exaggerated, zig-zags that cross from one side of the river to the other, the ship creeps eastward for a time until the wind shifts again and progress is impossible. “Fie, we’d be faster’n this if we were warping!” he is heard to exclaim more than once, but he doesn’t bring up a second anchor to put this to the test.

    Finally, late in the afternoon, the Banner rounds the rocky point wherein the Javan turns due west, and again begins to sail steadily upriver. The sailors are exhausted, and Roberts refuses Larry’s offer of more light for them to sail at night, now that the wind is finally behind them.

    [ no fish caught,
    21 pounds of food remaining without using human rations;
    2 rations of mule feed used
    Day's travel ends in hex F175-230]

    30 November, 570 - Up the Javan River, five days north of Longspear

    The wind is with them today, but bare, often fading to no wind at all. Roberts says that is typical for this stretch of the Javan, where the rock cliffs are close to the river and it cuts a narrow canyon through the Good Hills. They spend the entire day slowly working around the huge bluff to port that has forced the Javan round it rather than be worn down by the river. Roberts says that local legend has it that the bluff is what remains of a mountain giant that lost a fierce battle against Ulaa.

    No settlements are seen along the river banks all day.

    Although they have made little progress, Roberts seems satisfied by day’s end, saying that they will surely reach Cryllor on the morrow. Regardless of when they do arrive, they will spend the rest of the day, and the night, of the morrow in port. Should the party have anything they wish to buy, they should tell him in advance, and he can see that the purchase gets made. Otherwise, they should plan on being below decks for the whole time, at least any of them that want not to be noted by the local Keoish officials. Roberts adds that they may wish to have a rapid departure plan in place as well. As he is neither taking on nor unloading cargo, the Keoish customs agents that run the harbor have no reason to search the Banner or check her manifest, but they would be well within their rights to do so, as would the City Watch, the Inspectors of the Guilds, the Knights of the Hart, the Count’s Guard, the Duke’s Men, and any other of a number of groups charged with some aspect of the defense of Cryllor. Roberts has never been boarded by any of these groups before, and again, they have no reason to single out his hulk - “but forewarned is forearmed” he tells Willa.

    She ponders all this, and gives him a single gold coin from the party to purchase more mule feed.

    [ no fish caught,
    13 pounds of food remaining without using human rations;
    2 rations of mule feed used
    Day's travel ends in hex F175-230]
    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.
    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
    Posts: 754
    From: Sky Island, So Cal

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    Tue Aug 25, 2020 1:11 pm  
    Post 131: DM's Notes: Up the Javan

    Post 131: DM's Notes - Up the Javan

    The party iss now moving upstream on a sailed vessel; a condition for which the Guide to the World of Greyhawk does not have explicit movement rules.

    It does say that:
    Sailed movement across lakes is at 30mpd for sailed merchants, 60mpd for sailed or oared warships, with one hour boost for oared

    And that:
    Rowed movement upstream is at 30mpd.

    Given these baselines, I decided that I wanted a merchant craft sailing upstream, like the hulk Banner of Heather, to be at an AVERAGE of 15mpd.

    However, I wanted this average to have considerable daily variability depending on the wind direction and strength. I thus constructed the following table, based on the result of a "Fudge 4" roll at the beginning of each day:

    score / movement (miles per day) / observed conditions
    -4: no move (No wind or opposite direction)
    -3: no move (No wind or opposite direction)
    -2: 8 mpd (Wind scant and variable)
    -1: 12 mpd (Wind scant but steady)
    0: 14 mpd (Wind light but variable)
    +1: 18mpd (Wind light and steady)
    +2: 24 mpd (Wind strong but variable)
    +3: 30mpd (Wind strong and steady)
    +4: 36mpd (Wind strong and gusting)

    The average of all of these results, prorated for relative frequency, was close enough to 15mpd for my purposes.

    Thus in the first leg of travel the party went:
    Date, Day of Travel: (Fudge 4 Roll) Distance Traveled.
    Nov. 24, Day 1: (-1) No wind. Fog from 2pm to 7pm.
    Nov. 25, Day 2: (0) 14 miles.
    Nov. 26, Day 3: (-1) 12 miles.
    Nov. 27, Day 4: (+1) 18 miles.
    Nov. 28, Day 5: (+4) 36 miles
    Nov. 29, Day 6: (-2) 8 miles.
    Nov. 30, Day 7: (-2) 8 miles

    Finally, the name of the ship and its captain are Easter eggs. When I learned that there was a medieval ship type called a "hulk", I decided to name the ship the "Banner of Heather" because one possible etymology for the name "Bruce" is from the French for a place with heather. Thus, "Banner of Bruce". And Captain Roberts because the comic book character's full name is actually Dr. Robert Bruce Banner, although my players initially though it was a reference to the Dread Pirate Roberts and were suitably wary.
    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.
    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
    Posts: 754
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    Tue Sep 01, 2020 10:51 pm  
    Post 132: Cryllor

    DM's Notes:
    By far the best source for maps of Greyhawk comes from the work of Anna B Meyer. I used for the party's travel. The hex designations given are from her maps. I would highly encourage any DM to use Anna's work, and anyone with the means to do so to support her Patreon at

    Cryllor is on the Darlene maps, and there are lots of canon sources that describe it, note that its population includes halflings, and repeat the fact that it is the northernmost city on the Javan that is reachable by deep-draft vessels. What is my own invention is the dwarf-gnome engineering marvel of the "River Ladder" lock and canals.

    "Rheneg" is a made-up word in my campaign, a portmanteau of "renege" and "Rhennee". It carries the meaning of "to go back on a promise or deal, like one of the untrustworthy bargefolk would". Thus it is a racial slur, much as using "gyp" to mean to cheat or trick in English is a pejorative reference to the Romani.

    Roberts' wife "Betty" is a reference to Elizabeth Ross.

    In a canon timeline, the west bank of the Javan north of Cryllor would not be Keoish territory in CY570, though it is unclear whether it would be wilderness, Yeoman, or Sterish. However, I decided to make it established Keoish lands both to sustain the tension of Aurora traveling in Keoland while worrying about the Knight, and to further the ease of using Anna's maps. In a canon timeline, the territory was taken by Keoland after the Greyhwak Wars (see:

    Post 132: Cryllor
    1 December, 570 - Javan River, south of Cryllor (hex FT175-229)

    The wind in the morning is good, but Roberts makes it clear that they are spending the day in Cryllor regardless. A bit more than an hour into the day’s journey, and they round a bend and the city comes into view, on the east bank of the Javan.

    With the appearance of the city, hatches are fully opened and ramps set in place to bring the mules up on deck. Then, the party is moved into the hold. Larry objects mildly, as he has already landed a fish and has a “good feeling” about the upcoming day. Unbeknownst to Roberts and his crew, Shefak remains on deck, invisible. Willa also remains on deck, but without her armor or most of her weapons, just the dagger she wears on the outside of her tall leather boots. In traveling clothes and unarmed, and by now familiar with the Banner, she can easily pass as a member of the crew, which gives the party another set of eyes and ears on deck. Roberts has no problem ordering her to trim this line or that and enhance the deception.

    As they draw closer, Willa and Shefak can see the city, larger than Longspear, spread out along the river bank. At its southmost end is a great castle, the seat of the Count of Cryllor, with many towers and keeps. The high walls around the castle run north and become the low walls that surround the city itself. North of the castle is the city proper, interesting in that it is criss-crossed with canals that are fed by the river. Rising above the one or two-story regular buildings are several other impressive keeps and temples. Outside the town along the river is an extensive dock area, crammed with fishing and trading vessels. To the east, the land rises away from the river. Most of the buildings near the river are of wood, but a surprising number in the town center are of stone. Along the eastern edge of the city, on slopes that overlook the city and river, the buildings are a curious mix of wood and earth, many built into the side of the slope, and all with brightly painted doors. Further above and to the east, outside the walls of the city proper, are many hovels and slum tenements.

    As interesting to Willa as the city itself is the lay of the Javan upstream from the city. For a stretch just north of the docks there is a section of whitewater, with braided islands, ledges, and waterfall drops of a foot or more going intermittently across the Javan from one side to the other. There are a number of open channels between the rapids as well, but how Roberts intends to steer the Banner to them precisely, or have enough impulse to go up them against the current, is beyond her. On the west bank of the Javan, just below the whitewater, is a second town, a sister settlement across the water, but it is not walled and it is clear that it is not much more than a ferry stop, warehouse district, and overland jump-off for two trails, one heading north, one south.

    After another three quarters of an hour the Banner has lowered sail at the edge of the harbor, where Roberts negotiates with a local crew of oared tugs for a place on the docks. In the crowded and labyrinthine dock and canal system, there is no way the Banner could maneuver under her own sails, so she is pulled by two tugs into her assigned berth. It is still before mid-day, so Roberts leaves his mate in command and takes a few hands with him as he visits the markets of the city to requisition goods and check prices. Before long two full slabs of mutton are carried aboard the ship, and soon after several bags of figs, prunes, and grain follow. Roberts and the hands do not return until after sundown. They smell of ale houses but do not stumble.

    [ 1 pound of fish caught,
    7 pounds of food remaining without using human rations;
    2 rations of mule feed used
    Day's travel ends in hex hex FT175-229 (Cryllor)]

    2 December, 570 - Cryllor
    Tyrius has been fastidious about mucking out the mule stalls. Between that and the several tons of roast coffee beans in the hold, there is no unpleasant smell below and despite their initial misgivings it was not a disagreeable night for the party. After it is well and truly dark, Willa put two of them in turns on the deck to watch in case they were boarded without warning. It was a colder night than any they have yet had on their journey; skim ice formed all along the docks, and the mules shivered and stamped their feet on the deck. Those on watch kept in constant motion even with their cold weather gear, and envied those crammed in the hold below.

    Even before first light, two rowboats approach the Banner, steam rolling off the backs of the men at the oars. A lantern beam from one sweeps the prows of the ships nearby until it alights on the Banner, and the men within call out. Those in the party on guard duty go below to wake the others, but before anyone has their armor on Roberts is on deck and speaking with the men in the boats. As Willa ascends in her “deckhand” gear, she hears one of them say, “The Laddermaster says you’re first in the queue this morning.”

    Roberts grins and mutters something about “coin well spent,” tells Willa to begin casting off, and starts to raise the rest of the crew.

    By the time the sky is ashen gray, the two tugs have pulled the Banner to the very north end of the docks, at the entrance to a long and deep canal, and she has tied off there for the moment. Onshore, Roberts is speaking in Keoish with a portly man with flame-red hair and beard standing at the edge of a small corral.

    “What’re you tryin’ to pull, Roberts? You know I got the hoagie license for the Ladder! Since when did you start shippin’ your own mules?”

    “Calm down, Red. I’m not trying to rheneg on you. I picked up this pair in Longspear, and I’ll be getting rid of them come the Keep. I just want to know what I can get for them. Use them, with all your own gear, and I’ll pay you normal, just tell me honest what you think of them.”

    “Red” is full of more bluster and protestations, but when Randy and Andy are off-loaded, he agrees to put his padded draft collars and other gear on them. When the mules do not object, he says, “I’ll be damned, they’re broke to harness, at least.” Randy is hooked to a tow rope on the starboard side. A clever, laterally swinging, bridge is maneuvered across the canal temporarily to allow Andy to cross, and then he is hooked to a tow rope off the port side, as well as to a lighter lead rope held by Red. Once the bridge has been swung back out of the way, Red flicks the lead lines and calls to the mules, who strain against their ropes, their hooves clattering on the stone towpaths. The first few inches are grueling for the mules, but once they have overcome inertia and the Banner is in motion, each step forward becomes easier. Soon the ship is gliding along the canal at the walking pace of the mules. Roberts has all hands (including Willa) on deck, keeping watch with long gaffs to make sure the ship doesn’t rub along the stone sides of the canal, while he makes a slow tour abovedecks.

    The canal itself parallels the base of the southern wall of the city, and they are pulled past guard towers on one side, houses and shops on the other, the latter just coming to life with the new day. They are headed as much north as they are east, and so are moving both inland and upriver. While the water level in the canal (equal to that of the river), and the stone paving of the towpaths, stays at the same elevation, the earth rises around them, so that the canal becomes sunken, and gradually the level of the streets beyond comes to the gunnels, and then higher. Willa looks ahead with growing concern, knowing that when the walls rise above her eye level, the ship will continue to move ahead in a narrow slot out of which she cannot see.

    By the third time Roberts passes her on his circles about the deck, Willa can take no more. “Alright, Roberts,” she says cuttingly, “Wha’ gives? I ‘eld me tongue all o’ the las’ day, but yer leadin’ us down a mighty great tunnel wit’ no way out. Seems a perfect spot fer an ambuscade, an’ I wan’ t’ know whar we be headed an’ why ye need our mules an’ such.”

    The captain laughs easily, but without the mocking tone she would have expected from, say, Sigurd. “Ok, ok. We are headed for the River Ladder of Cryllor, an engineering marvel and famed up and down the Javan. If you had spent any time on the river instead of all your time at sea you would surely have heard of it. The Ladder will let us pass around all the whitewater that I am sure you saw yesterday and so continue upriver.”

    Willa nods curtly, and Roberts continues.

    “Cryllor is the farthest port north for seagoing ships - the Ladder is not big enough to accommodate cogs, carracks, or galleys. Not that it matters, since there is more like that stretch of rapids all the rest of the way up the Javan, and only longships and barges and other vessels with low drafts can proceed from here on upriver, even if deeper draft ships could use the Ladder. The Banner was designed by a shipwright in Cryllor, specifically for the Ladder. She is the largest ship, with the deepest draft possible, that can still use it. The longships don’t carry nearly the amount of cargo that a taller vessel can, and they need more men on the oars besides. North of Cryllor, the price of all the goods from downriver jumps, like coffee and cotton and pipeweed. We sail just far enough north that we can sell our load at a good profit and it doesn’t matter that we don’t make as much on the way back.”

    “Fine, fine,” mutters Willa. “I get now t’at we need t’ go in yon tunnel fer t’is ‘ladder’ t’ take us upriver, an’ I get t’at we need mules t’ pull us up ther canal. But why our mules? Why make sure Red sees ‘em? We’re tryin’ not t’ be noticed.”

    Roberts lowers his voice. “Because with all of your crew in the hold, the mules have to be on deck. They were on deck all last night. And people in town were already starting to wonder why. So I just gave them a reason why I’m traveling with mules, and why I don’t have them in the hold where they belong.”

    Willa nods begrudgingly, but when Roberts walks away, she smiles. He’d make a fair smuggler, that one, and she likes him. Competent, a good captain and leader. Of course, there’s nothing exciting about him - nothing dashing and dangerous like Sigurd. No, he’s a good man, but he doesn’t fill her sails, as it were. Which is fine, because any time Aurora has minced around him he’s made sure to mention Betty, his wife, waiting on him in Longspear.

    Before the end of the hour, those on deck can see that they are approaching an end to the canal. By then, the walls above them are higher than the Banner’s yards, and Willa is working hard to hide her nervous claustrophobia. Randy and Andy pull the Banner of Heather into a huge, rectangular chamber, the bottom filled with river water. Red unhooks their lines, which are drawn up on deck. He leads one of the mules up a steep set of stairs and ramps while a dwarf does the same with the other. Far above them, on a rampart around the upper edge of the chamber, scurry a number of dwarves and gnomes. With an exaggerated, echoing groan, a massive set of bronze gates, fully forty feet high or more, slowly closes behind the ship, trapping them all in the sunken chamber. Willa notes that the walls are carved with level lines and numbers from the waterline to the top.

    The dwarves and gnomes call to one another, and there is the sound of metal on metal. The Banner begins to rock as if hit by a wave, and Roberts calls to those on the port side to look lively with their gaffs. Willa feels as if she is moving, but doesn’t understand, as the ship seems dead in the water. Finally she realizes that the ship is moving up. The chamber is filling with water, and she can track their rise by the lines carved on the walls. Over the next ten minutes, the chamber fills with so much water that the ship finally emerges into daylight, sitting in what now appears to be a millpond at the north end of the city. A second set of bronze gates, opposite the first and much smaller, is now opened onto another canal. The mules are hitched as before, and Red drives them forward, pulling the ship between the walls of the city, under a high gatehouse, and out onto a plain overlooking the river. Willa can see that they are already above most of the rapids, and by the time they reach the end of the canal, they will have cleared them all.

    This canal is much shorter than the first, and it is not long before Red is handing the tow ropes off to a pair of tugs that will draw them out into the Javan. Roberts is grinning with satisfaction at the pennants and directing his crew to put them at quarter-sail, while he fends off an offer from Red to purchase the mules.

    “No, no, that’s a fair price and all, but I already have a buyer in the Keep. Thanks for letting me test them out, Red.”

    With a good breeze behind them, the Banner is slowly raising sails even as the tugs draw her out, and they are soon far enough upriver of the city that the remainder of the party, even Tyrius and Eddard, decide to come above deck before Randy and Andy are taken below. “Ugh, about time,” complains Aurora. “I thought I was going to suffocate down in that stuffy hold.”

    Babshapka shrugs. “It smelled better down there than up in that stinking city.”

    It is past nine in the morning and still is not above freezing. “Bracing!” says Tyrius happily. “Welcome to the north!”

    Thokk and Larry, glad to finally be out of the hold, go back below momentarily for their fishing gear.

    For the remainder of the day, the Banner sails upriver, nearly due north, through rough hill country. The western bank is wilderness; the eastern bank shows glimpses of a well-trodden trail and several shepherding communities.

    [ no fish caught,
    no food remaining without using human rations;
    2 rations of mule feed used
    Day's travel ends in hex FT175-228]
    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.
    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
    Posts: 754
    From: Sky Island, So Cal

    Send private message
    Tue Sep 08, 2020 12:37 pm  
    Post 133: Cryllor to Kilm

    DM's Notes:
    By far the best source for maps of Greyhawk comes from the work of Anna B Meyer. I used for the party's travel. The hex designations given are from her maps. I would highly encourage any DM to use Anna's work, and anyone with the means to do so to support her Patreon at

    Gerth is not on the Darlene maps. I do not think it has a canon source, and do not know its source in fanon. I know it only from Anna's maps.

    Kilm is not on the Darlene maps, but appears in Gary Holian's "The Kingdom of Keoland" in the Living Greyhawk Journal. Kilm is both on the map included and is mentioned in the text under the County of Flen.

    Post 133: Cryllor to Kilm

    3 December, 570 - Javan River, north of Cryllor
    Although the nighttime low is perhaps not as frigid, temperatures remain as cold this day as the last.

    With their supply of fish exhausted the previous night at dinner, the party is forced to delve into their rations for breakfast - the jerky, hardtack, cheese, and dried fruits they originally purchased in Singleton. Thokk and Larry tell them not to worry, however, for over the course of the day they catch a large basketful of fish, enough for more than a day’s worth of food for them all on the morrow.

    The morning’s sailing is through rugged hills like the day before with only occasional and small settlements. In the early afternoon they pass a town on the east bank. Roberts gives its local name as Riverside, but says that it is known in the official rolls of the kingdom as “Gerth,” on account of far too many minor settlements having the former name to keep track of. The buildings around the docks are more numerous than the entire rest of the town, and the fields and pastures surrounding it are minimal - it is more a way station than anything else, a place for the mineral wealth of the Good Hills to enter the Javan and the goods from up and down the river to find a land port.

    The afternoon is marked by the same desolate, rugged hills as the morning, with the only point of difference being the gradual shift of the river to come more and more from the west rather than from due north. Roberts says that they have finally sailed north of the east spur of the Jotens Mountains, and over the next few days they will be traveling more and more to the west until they arrive at Godakin Keep.

    [ 20 pounds fish caught,
    20 pounds food remaining without using human rations;
    2 rations of mule feed used
    8 human rations used
    Day's travel ends in hex F173-226]

    4 December, 570 - Javan River, north of Gerth
    There is a light wind today, but it blows steadily. Soon after they start out, the rough hills to port recede from the river and open onto flat agricultural land. An hour or so later, the ones to starboard do as well. As the day wears on, they pass numerous small farming and herding villages. In the late afternoon they approach the end of the valley and a ridge line through which the Javan has worn a narrow canyon. The Banner anchors at the bottom of a series of mild rapids, with Roberts claiming that they will need hours more of daylight than are left to negotiate them successfully.

    [ 14 pounds fish caught,
    26 pounds food remaining without using human rations;
    2 rations of mule feed used
    Day's travel ends in hex F172-225]

    5 December, 570 - Javan River, north of Gerth
    The wind this day is slight, and Roberts deems it insufficient to fight the strong current and have the maneuverability he needs to get them up the canyon safely. The Banner remains anchored at the base of the rapids all day.

    [ no fish caught,
    18 pounds food remaining without using human rations;
    2 rations of mule feed used
    Day's travel ends in hex F173-226]]

    6 December, 570 - Javan River, north of Gerth
    The breeze in the morning is light, but it is steady enough that Roberts judges it sufficient to navigate the canyon. They weigh anchor shortly after sunup. Even in the gap it has cut through the ridge, the Javan is wide. While there are many rapids, none of them are extensive enough to cross completely from one side of the river to the other. Navigating around the whitewater from one chute or area of calm water to another takes skill and a lot of maneuvering, but after nearly two hours of work they are through to the valley beyond.

    It is still below freezing when they emerge from the canyon, and indeed, today will have temperatures above freezing for only a few hours in the afternoon. The land to the south is rugged hills, but to the north is open, rolling pasture land, farms, and villages like the previous valley. Tonight Luna, the large moon, will be full, while the small moon is nearly half and growing. Roberts says there will likely be enough light to navigate by in this peaceable stretch of the river, but with the frigid temperatures they will anchor anyway. There would need to be a stronger wind behind them for it to be worth continuing on such a cold night.

    [ 4 pounds fish caught,
    14 pounds food remaining without using human rations;
    2 rations of mule feed used
    Day's travel ends in hex F171-225]]

    7 December, 570 - Javan River, north of Gerth
    Today’s wind is stronger and it is soon after the Banner weighs anchor that they reach the end of the second valley. The next twenty miles, and nearly all the day, is spent maneuvering up submerged boulder fields and around rapids. The river is not constrained by canyon walls, but the land around them is rough and rocky and this is reflected in the river bed. It is late afternoon when they finally emerge from the final narrows into another broad agricultural valley to the starboard.

    While the sailors had to work constantly most of the day to keep the Banner from running aground, Thokk and Larry found the rock-strewn, swift-moving water to be very productive for fishing. By day’s end they both have sizable catches.

    To Willa’s surprise, Roberts does not call for the anchor as the sun sinks low on the horizon. The northern half of the river is flowing swiftly, but the rapids and exposed rocks are all on the south side now, where the rugged hills come down to the water’s edge. With peaceful river ahead of them, two bright moons on the rise, and a good wind behind them, Roberts keeps them sailing for several hours after sundown, and does not anchor until two hours before midnight.

    [ 24 pounds fish caught,
    30 pounds food remaining without using human rations;
    2 rations of mule feed used
    Day's travel ends in hex F167-225]]

    8 December, 570 - Javan River, north of Gerth
    In the morning, those on deck are treated to a striking sight. So far in the river journey, the horizons have been crowded with the peaks of the Good Hills and Little Hills. Now, the rosy light of dawn is showing off the snow-capped peaks of the Jotens far to the south. Apparently the Javan runs particularly close to the mountains at this point in its course, or perhaps the mountains themselves are higher and can be seen farther.

    There is less wind than yesterday, but Roberts judges it enough for the maneuvering needed in this section of the river. For the duration of the morning and the early afternoon as well there are only small rapids that are easily avoided on the wide river.

    Sometime after noon, Roberts and the others on deck watch with concern as a long line of dark clouds, occasionally lit with flashes of lightning, creeps towards them over the hills to the southeast. Willa, who has weathered plenty of storms at sea but never on a river, asks Roberts what it means.

    “Short-term, it means we be done sailing for the day. The wind in a storm be just too unpredictable - and as you have seen, being able to steer reliably be crucial on a river. Long-term, it be good - thunderstorms mean mayhaps we finally be done with this cold streak.”

    “Cold streak?” asks Willa, nonplussed.

    “Of course,” says Roberts. “It’s been unseasonably cold since before we left Longspear. This has been a cold winter so far. This be the kind of winter in which the giants come down from the Jotens.”

    “No doubt,” says Willa, dryly. “But t’ listen t’ Tyrius tell it, Sterich be even colder than we be now.”

    Roberts laughs, and leans in conspiratorially. “Never trust a Sterishman when talking about the weather,” he says. “They always go on and on about how cold and violent be the weather of their home, how only the Sterish are strong enough to take it, and how us lowlanders could never survive a real winter. The truth be that it be cold enough there, but rarely as cold as it be today, and it doesn’t snow but in the mountains. The cold we be feeling right now is cold enough even for Geoff, to the north.”

    “Well, that be a comfertin’ t’ought,” says Willa, “since we may be headed north on foot after ther Keep. Say Roberts, ye ever seen a giant yerself?”

    Roberts pauses, and looks about as if to see whether they are within hearing of any of his crew. “When I were younger, not having even completed my second dozen yet, I were mate on a longship. We had a military consignment, bringing supplies to the Keoish “Sentinel Keep”, what be up a tributary of the Javan. That little river enters the Javan just below Baranford; we passed it days ago. Well, that water be narrow and rocky, and flows through canyons I wouldn’t dream of taking the Banner into, but our ship were little and lithe and we had a good pilot besides. We’d dropped off our load at the trailhead to the keep and gotten paid besides, and a few too many of the crew were dreaming of the ale houses or pleasure houses of Baranford. We could see a storm were brewing on the Javan and more sensible men would’ve waited it out, but too many of us were young and hot and argued for pushing through the storm and making Baranford before dark. Finally the captain said “storm be damned!” and we all cheered, though I know half the men were more scared than I were, and I had said we should stay put. We put out from port and don’t that river run swift - once you start down it, there’s places you can stop and plenty of places you can’t. The storm hit us in a place we couldn’t stop - steep walled canyon, no shoreline, no banks. Once the black clouds were overhead it were near dark as night, but the pilot were steering us between lightning flashes and memory. All of a sudden we heard rocks crashing down the sides of the cliffs and splashing into the water alongside the ship - rocks so large the waves near come o’er the gunnels - rocks so large they could have stove in the deck and hull, and sunk us on the spot. I thought it were the lightning - that the cliffs above were being struck and the rocks set loose. But at the next flash I saw a huge man standing on a ledge above us - he were closer to thirty feet tall than five, skin as gray as death and naked as an eel. He had a huge boulder in his hands and were just about to toss it. Then it went dark and I heard the rock crash against the cliff face all the way down to the river, where it sheared off one of our oars. At the next flash I saw another man, looking back to where the first one had been before he heaved his own boulder that way. I didn’t know if they were throwing their rocks at each other, at us, or at something else, and I can’t say as I have ever not wanted to know the answer to a question more than I did that one. We kept going all the way down that canyon, and I jumped at every flash of lightning, but didn’t see anything else. I don’t know if they were giants, but I’ve little interest in finding that out, either.”

    By two hours after noon the storm is nearly on them, and Roberts has them lower sails and find a secure anchoring point. By three hours, the deck is being lashed with wind and freezing rain while the thunder booms overhead. Everyone that can go below-decks does so, although many of the party remain in the covered galley rather than crowding into the occupied mule stalls. The storm rages for hours and hours, but finally relents long after sundown so that the party can swab down the deck and put out their sleeping rolls.

    [ 3 pounds fish caught,
    25 pounds food remaining without using human rations;
    2 rations of mule feed used
    Day's travel ends in hex F167-225]

    9 December, 570 - Javan River, north of Gerth
    The wind is light in the morning, but enough to sail. However, it comes and goes all day, leading to times when the Banner is becalmed, and other times when her crew is scrambling to tack fast enough to take advantage of it.

    By late morning a walled city has come into view on the north bank, the first settlement they have seen of any size since Gerth. Now a week out from Cryllor, the last time they put in to port, Willa wonders aloud whether they will be stopping in this city.

    “Kilm?” answers Roberts. “No, though it be tempting. “We certainly would get more coin for our cargo there than Cryllor, and more than likely enough to make this trip worth it and more besides. But a few days after Kilm be Godakin Keep, we be nearly there. And while the Keep is in Keoland, the other side of the river there be Sterich, good and proper. The Godakin market will have merchants from Keoland and Sterich competing to buy our coffee, and that is where we will truly make our gold. I be afeared your days on the Banner be numbered, now. That is, unless you would like to sign on as crew.”

    Willa laughs and thanks Roberts for his offer, but says that she will remain with the party for the nonce.

    All the way to Kilm and beyond there are great views of the snow-capped Jotens. Once beyond the city, they can see the hills ahead of them through which they will need to pass on the morrow. If there will be anything like the rapids they have faced before in similar terrain, they will need a better wind behind them than they now have, and the Banner anchors for the night just as the land around the Javan begins to rise.

    [ 10 pounds fish caught,
    27 pounds food remaining without using human rations;
    2 rations of mule feed used
    Day's travel ends in hex F166-224]]
    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.
    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
    Posts: 754
    From: Sky Island, So Cal

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    Tue Sep 15, 2020 11:10 am  
    Post 134: Kilm

    DM's Notes:
    Kilm is not on the Darlene maps, but appears in Gary Holian's "The Kingdom of Keoland" in the Living Greyhawk Journal. Kilm is both on the map included and is mentioned in the text under the County of Flen. Most of the description given below of Kilm is my own invention.

    The peddler Vern is an obvious Skyrim easter egg.

    Stats for homebrew "Giant Killer" arrows: Specially designed to break off in their target, these arrows do d8-1 damage on an initial hit. On subsequent rounds, each arrow head will do d4 more damage if the target Moves or takes the Attack action. The head may only be removed with a successful DC15 medicine check, and this check is at disadvantage unless the person making it has access to a Healer's Kit.

    The names and dates of the Sterish leadership come from DM Prata. See

    Post 134: Kilm

    10 December, 570 - Javan River, west of Kilm
    Roberts is not satisfied with the wind in the morning - it is enough to sail on a clear stretch of the Javan, but he will not rely on it to get them through the rough section above Kilm. In addition, the warmer air from the south that is finally winning out over the cold northern air brings an all-day rain. This starts at 9am but the rain freezes as it hits the deck, and soon coats the masts and spars with ice. Gradually it changes to a heavy, soaking rain as the day warms, and only lets up after sunset. The party, who have been waiting out the rain below decks and in the galley, have to swab the deck dry by magical light before they can set out their bed rolls.

    [ no pounds fish caught,
    19 pounds food remaining without using human rations;
    2 rations of mule feed used
    No travel - ship still in hex F166-224]

    11 December, 570 - Javan River, west of Kilm
    The day dawns fair enough, with no rain clouds, but even less wind than the day before. Roberts works among the crew, animating them - all are frustrated at being becalmed so close to Godakin Keep and the end of their journey.

    The rain clouds begin to gather shortly after noon. By two hours after noon, a light but steady rain is falling. It continues all day and into the night. This time, the party watching from the galley sees it turn to freezing rain rather than letting up. By the time a layer of ice is building up on the deck, the cook relents and allows them to spread out their rolls on the floor of the galley. The ship itself is getting low on supplies, so there is more room than usual, anyway.

    [ 8 pounds fish caught,
    19 pounds food remaining without using human rations;
    2 rations of mule feed used
    No travel - ship still in hex F166-224]]

    12 December, 570 - Javan River, west of Kilm
    It is after midnight when the freezing rain finally stops. Before the sun is up, though, it starts to snow. The snow on top of the ice makes the deck treacherous, but upon seeing the lack of wind in the morning Roberts announces that they will not be sailing today in any event. After a word with the cook at breakfast, he tells the crew that if the wind is not better on the morrow, they will return downstream to Kilm to resupply, and that everyone who did not go ashore in Cryllor will have a paid day of shore leave. This buoys the spirits of the crew and keeps them going all day.

    Willa asks Roberts later whether he can afford to pay his men for not sailing. He shrugs and says that every day of bad weather will make the price of coffee in Godakin Keep that much higher, so it will all come out in the end. Besides, these are free yeoman he has as crew - if he does not keep them happy, they will jump ship and join another captain at their first chance. Their commitment is typically for a single voyage - they don’t sign an enlistment contract for months or years at a time like Keoish sailors.

    By mid-morning the snow has turned to rain, and the rain continues all afternoon, with temperatures in the balmy forties - just enough to have melted all of the ice off the deck. The rain has stopped by the time temperatures drop below freezing in the evening.

    [ no pounds fish caught,
    11 pounds food remaining without using human rations;
    2 rations of mule feed used
    No travel - ship still in hex F166-224]]

    13 December, 570 - Javan River, west of Kilm
    City encounter Roll: Day - Laborer
    City Encounter Roll: Night - Noble

    Roberts doesn’t like the wind this morning, either, so true to his word he raises anchor and allows the Banner to come about in the current. Minimal sail is used, just to help with steering, as she makes her way back to Kilm. The party is now faced with a choice - do they wish to hide belowdecks, or in the mate’s cabin, for the duration of the day in Kilm? And if it ends up being more than a day? Or are they now, a week upriver of Cryllor and two weeks north of Longspear, willing to take the risk of Aurora being spotted by Keoish authorities?

    Willa calls for a party conference on deck as they approach the city, but are still at a distance. Aurora says she is going stir crazy and has to get out of the boat. She plans on casting invisibility on herself to avoid anyone who is watching the gates or the harbor, but allowing it to lapse in the city itself.

    Willa objects strongly to Aurora going ashore. She reminds the wizard that there is a price on her head and the possibility of guilt by association for the rest of the party. If Aurora insists, she says, she wants her disguised as a male sailor or invisible the whole time but that will not be enough to remove her objection.

    Aurora says she can wear a ratty sailor uniform and make herself invisible getting to and from the boat, but she wants some good coffee (apparently what the boat’s cook makes is not up to her standards), a warm fire, and a new book. And if there's a dashing scholar somewhere, she adds, the more's the better!

    Willa says Aurora had better take Babshapka too, but he will also need to go in disguise because the authorities may know Aurora travels with an elf. She tells them to avoid establishments frequented by dwarves.

    For herself, Willa plans to go ashore to purchase supplies as needed - in particular, they are low on grain for the mules. When Aurora asks her how she can mention that so nonchalantly after berating her for the same, Willa reminds her that she is just a sailor without a bounty on her noggin.

    As for the rest of the party, if this stop is only for a day, Willa thinks they should stay on board. If it is more than a day, Willa could agree to some party members going ashore as long as they are within message range of Aurora or accompanied by crew members of the Banner - she doesn’t want anyone getting isolated and then picked off.

    Also, as much as Aurora rails against the stuffy hold, Willa reminds her that she and Babshapka have spent most of their time so far in the mate’s cabin, leaving the mate himself to berth with the common sailors in the hold. If he ends up spending the night on the town, she says it is only fair that the party pays for his lodging.

    Tyrius, Umbra, Larry, and Shefak remain curiously noncommittal about their plans to go ashore. After Willa admonishes Thokk to remain onboard ship, and Aurora and Babshapka to at least disguise themselves while ashore, she leaves with the gang of other sailors. Besides the party, the Banner is now occupied by just Roberts and the two crewmen he took ashore with him in Cryllor - the rest of the men have shore leave.

    Thokk waits until Willa is just out of sight and then jumps from the ship to the dock (Wisdom save 9). He moves happily along the waterfront, looking for taverns and brothels.

    Aurora and Babshapka retire to “their” cabin. Babshapka does his best to make Aurora look like an actual sailor in borrowed odds and ends from the crew, but with her soft features and natural endowments the result is rather more like an actress in a farce playing a sailor, or perhaps a costumed prostitute in some customer’s nautical fantasy. As far as his own disguise, Babshapka simply tucks his long hair back and pulls his winter hood up close to hide his elven features. Aurora casts invisibility on herself to get off the ship, whereas Babshapka tries to blend into a passing crowd of laborers (Stealth roll 14).

    Willa, Aurora, and Babshapka soon realize that away from the waterfront most of the townsfolk in Kilm are halflings. Humans predominate among the sailors, fisherfolk, and smiths, but apart from that all of the shopkeepers, merchants, and laborers in the town are “hobniz”, as the small folk refer to themselves. The buildings of the city are sized appropriately, except for the many inns, most of which have separate human and halfling wings adjoining a common room. Even the town guards are leather-clad halflings and while they do not appear that intimidating themselves, every squad has a number of well-trained war dogs and a sergeant mounted on a huge mastiff.

    Most of the sailors from the Banner scatter upon hitting the waterfront, but the cook, mate, and a few others accompany Willa to the market. While the cook purchases supplies, Willa buys another week’s worth of grain for the mules from a grinning, portly, halfling merchant. She uses party coin, and before she departs gives another gold to the mate in gratitude for his letting the party use his cabin. She mumbles something about hoping to not have to use it much longer and he nods curtly as he takes the coin. [2 gp from party treasure] She then returns to the Banner under gathering clouds and learns that Thokk has jumped ship.

    Once away from the waterfront and reunited with Babshapka, Aurora lets her invisibility drop. The hobniz are polite and don’t stare, but there is plenty of muttering after they pass by about “crazy big folk” and their curious ways. It doesn’t take much effort for her to locate Kilm’s only bookseller amidst the leatherworking shops of the trade district. She is impressed by its size and the number of patrons there on this chilly winter’s day. Apparently the halflings of Kilm have a higher literacy rate, or more interest in reading, or greater disposable income, than humans in an equivalently-sized town. The proprietors, a husband-and-wife couple of friendly middle-aged halflings in matching brass-rimmed spectacles, are eager to tell Aurora about their wares. No, they don’t have anything about the history of the Sheldomar Valley or ancient Suel Wizards or falling stars. They do have lots of almanacs and trade books and books on agriculture and animal husbandry. They have a fair number of traveler’s phrase books and studies of languages. Aurora finally settles on a history of the Good Hills region, although the proprietors warn her that it is a bit dry, and wouldn’t she rather have something with adventure tales? [25gp from Aurora’s personal treasure]

    With her new book in hand, Aurora sets out for a warm hearth and hopes of a dashing scholar - there were a few bookish halflings in the store, but apparently they were not her type. Babshapka scans the sky worriedly and tells her to find the hearth soon. Kilm is a walled city, and the best inns are located near the east gate, far away from the rough taverns of the waterfront. The merchants who frequent these inns are scarce in the winter, and as the first drops of cold rain begin to fall, Aurora finds a wonderful, human-sized place with a large hearth and numerous candles. She spends the rest of the afternoon in an overstuffed chair near the fire while a buxom halfling wench keeps her tea mug full, alternately turning the pages of her new history book and nodding off to the sound of a heavy rain on the shutters. Babshapka sits on a bench nearby, sampling small but delicious portions of meat stews, cheeses, and cold root salads. Fortunately the rain ceases before dusk. The two of them have a large, early dinner and return to the Banner just before dark, with Aurora ducking into an alley to renew her invisibility before going shipboard. [1 gp each from Aurora and Babshapka’s personal treasure]

    It being too early in the day to find any brothels open, Thokk moves among the seedy ale houses of the waterfront, looking for a dust-up. The few halfling fisherfolk about seem to vanish at the appearance of the huge barbarian, and even the human sailors look away, move away, or otherwise avoid confrontation. Thokk is in his third ale house, frustrated at finding no one to fight, and bellowing at the customers that they are all cowards, when the wind shifts and he suddenly catches the scent of an intriguing new smell. He follows his nose a block and finds himself in front of small storefront selling meat pies. There is a display counter inside but no seats - at least half a dozen halflings scurry behind the counter between huge ovens and blood-stained countertops. Thokk buys a small pie, eats it as he stands in the store, and is entranced. He throws the empty tin to the floor and orders ten more.

    Thokk guffaws at the sight of a wrinkled halfling in a floppy white hat who approaches him, suggesting that he eat his pies across the street in the ale house and smoke shop, and promising that one of his staff will bring the pies to him, one at a time, as they emerge from the oven. Thokk laughs again and walks across the street. He has been eating mostly fish for two weeks now and while they are his own fish, caught with his masterful use of the pole, to be honest he is tiring of the taste. He is glad for the red meat, but even more than that, these diminutive men use some sort of magic they call “spices” to make their pies the best thing Thokk has ever tasted.

    Thokk is on his second pie and third flagon of ale when an enormously rotund halfling with a twinkle in his eye approaches him and asks if he would be interested in a pie-eating contest - with the loser paying for the winner’s pies and offering up a bag of silver besides. Thokk readily agrees, spewing crumbs from his mouth in his eagerness to accept.

    Both contestants are on their third pie (counting from the start of the contest, although actually Thokk’s fifth) when Thokk gets up to “make more room” and retches violently into the gutter of the street, now awash in the cold winter rain. When he returns to the ale house, the halfling is smiling triumphantly, but objects when Thokk says he is not done eating yet. The silly halfling man says, “I don’t know where you are from, but here in Kilm, the rules of pie-eating are that…” Thokk bristles at his tone and draws his longsword from its sheath. At the sight of the naked steel the shop goes deadly silent. [Thokk Intimidation roll 24]. The halfling squeals, grabs his bag of coin, and darts out the door into the rain. Thokk stares after him, then at the table and the abandoned food. “Fat half man left his pies!” he yells delightedly, then laughs uproariously as the other customers join in nervously.

    Over the course of the afternoon Thokk continues to happily eat meat pies, drink ale, and explain in lurid detail to any who will listen what he intends to do when it is finally dark enough for the brothels to open. Regular customers drift off, and the ale house slowly fills with town guardsmen, each nursing an ale or mug of broth to make it last as long as possible, dogs curled up under their tables, all with their eyes trained on Thokk, and him oblivious.

    An hour after the rain has stopped, as the streets are darkening and the sun is slipping behind the western wall, Thokk collapses back into his chair, teeters, hits the floor, and begins snoring deeply. A sergeant of the guard prods him carefully with the butt end of his spear and gets no response, then slides Thokk’s money pouch off of his belt. He pulls out a gold coin for the owner of the ale shop, another for the owner of the pie store, and then reattaches the pouch. [2gp from Thokk personal treasure] Six halflings hoist the unconscious half-orc, carry him out the door, and dump him into a waiting hand cart. With one man on each handle, they take turns hauling the cart mostly downhill to the waterfront, and then dump Thokk off, sprawled in a heap on the docks in front of the Banner.

    When she learns of Thokk’s arrival on the docks, Willa looks over the rail. She watches him, debating with herself for several minutes, while he lies unmoving. Her first instinct is to leave him there. It is not below freezing yet, but will certainly be so tonight. Most of his winter gear is still aboard the Banner, though he did go ashore with a fur vest that would normally be worn under the thick leather jerkin. His legs are bare between loincloth and boots, and Willa is glad of the gathering darkness as he belches, rolls to his side, and the loincloth dangles precariously.

    Willa sighs and puts down a gangplank, finds a swab-bucket and lowers it over the side to bring up ice-cold river water. She stands over Thokk on the dock, then slowly pours the entire bucket over his head.

    Thokk coughs and sputters and thrashes, but the second the water ceases he resumes his snoring. (Thokk Constitution save 22). “Oh, fer ther love o’...” Willa curses, and calls for Tyrius. Together, grunting and heaving, they haul Thokk up the gangplank and stuff him into his bedroll on deck.

    [ no pounds fish caught,
    5 pounds food remaining without using human rations;
    2 rations of mule feed used
    Day's travel downstream, but still in hex F166-224]

    14 December, 570 - Kilm
    City Encounter Roll: Day - Peddler
    City Encoutnert Roll: Night - Tradesman

    “Aye, there’s wind today,” says Roberts, looking at the pennants on the mast in the morning. “Trouble is, she’s blowing the wrong way.” Indeed, the strips of cloth show the wind coming from the west - the direction they want to go.

    Gathering his crew, Roberts tells them that they are free to take shore leave again today - but it won’t be paid leave. Anyone who wants his daily wage will need to stay aboard the Banner, mending sail and checking lines. When a man grumbles about the cold, Roberts tells him to go ashore and order a half-barrel of pitch - he can work the tar brush and spend the day warming himself over the boiling barrel of pitch. The man scowls but nods. About half as many men go ashore as the day before, while the others remaining aboard are quickly sorted into work crews.

    Willa leaves the Banner with the first wave of sailors, dressed as they are and with her only weapons a dagger worn on her thigh inside her breeches and a belaying pin tucked into her belt. Her companions have eaten breakfast in the galley, but she has deliberately not broken her fast so that she has a reason to tarry in one of the greasy eateries that can be found along the waterfront. She picks slowly at her eggs and hash, trying to make out the different conversations around her. (Willa Investigation roll 12) Most of the talk is local - how is the fishing, what price for fish, who is foolish enough to try to make a profit by hauling goods in winter, what said fools are paying for hands, which regulars are sitting out a few days in a “small cell” for public drunkeness. Now and then there is an occasional reference to the huge orc barbarian on the Banner and speculation as to what he might be doing in town, but the tenor of the comments is more curious than conspiratorial.

    After she has eaten and, of necessity, visited a pot behind a burlap curtain besides (the amount of grease in the hash being impressive even by fisherfolk standards), Willa tours the waterfront area. Most of the span of the waterfront is filled by the personal docks of small, family fishing vessels of a kind familiar to Willa from Saltmarsh, though more are found with oars only and no mast than in her town of origin. Only around the river gate itself are there long docks for large commercial vessels like the Banner, and most of these are on much lower pilings to accommodate barges, rather than high-railed vessels like the hulk. Of the few commercial vessels present, all are docked and winter-readied with tarped-over hatches, bare masts, and skeleton crews - often of a pair of young boys and a dog trading day and night shifts. One large ship is even pulled halfway onto shore in a rudimentary dry dock. In its journey from Longspear the Banner has passed any number of Keoish naval patrol barges, and there does seem to be a well-maintained section of dock near the customs house that could hold such vessels, but none are berthed there today.

    Just inland from the docks are rows of wooden buildings - cheap ale and grog houses, fish markets, diners like the one she visited, a tattoo parlor, shacks for the poor fisherfolk, and the like. A few of the ale houses have second stories, and the faded red curtains in their windows hint at services not available during the day.

    Inland from this narrow band of ramshackle buildings is the city wall, high and of large stone blocks, pierced only by the single gate aforementioned. The gate is open all day and sees reasonable traffic. The absence of nicer houses for shipowners, merchants, shipwrights, and such, as well as the lack of warehouses and tackle stores from the waterfront, suggests to Willa that such things are likely within the walls of the city rather than without. Also, as seen on the day before, all of the citizens of the waterfront district are humans, and the occasional halfling present is obviously on some errand or other and not a resident.

    Once Willa has traveled the length of the waterfront and back again, she is convinced she has seen what little the town has to offer. Away from the commercial docks she finds a larger fishing vessel, of a kind that might be owned by a prosperous neighborhood boss, or perhaps a collective of poor fisherfolk, and crewed by those without money for their own craft. A grizzled old man sits nearby, his bony but nimble fingers working methodically through a huge net. From where the man sits, one can more-or-less make out the figures on the dock next to the Banner. Willa sits down nonchalantly, as if she were one of the crew of the vessel, and begins mending the net herself. (Willa Deception roll 4). “Ye ain’t foolin’ nobody, wench,” spits the old man.

    Willa shrugs, unconcerned. “Two can work t’is net faster’n one,” she offers. (Willa Persuasion roll 11).

    The old man snorts. “Or ye can work as fast as I were, an’ leave me more time,” he says, pulling forth a clay pipe that is more bowl than stem, and a worn leather bag of loose pipe weed. He fills the bowl, then ambles across the street to a pot shop for a light, returns and settles himself back on his stool, puffing. Willa looks down at the net, concentrating on her fingers but also her ears. For the next several hours the old man seems content to let Willa do his work for him while he smokes and chats with a few passersby.

    Willa listens carefully to the conversations of the man and anyone else within earshot (Willa Investigation roll 16). In addition to what she got at breakfast (which is still the majority of the conversations), she hears more about the Banner and local speculation as to its real goal. Comments seem about equally split between two different theories. The first is that Roberts, a well-known captain and “damned Yeoman”, is smuggling drugs - most likely one of the strong and addictive narcotics that originates in the lands of the Sea Princes and is bound for the debauched cities upriver on the Javan - like the “Black Spice”, for example. In this version, the orc barbarian and the other strangers like the dwarf and supposed “paladin” (an obvious disguise) are simply hired muscle to protect his shipment. His declared cargo of coffee, of course, is the preferred cover for such operations.

    The other theory is that the “ignorant barbarian” is in reality a shrewd orc war chief, intent on bringing an army down out of the Jotens to sack Kilm. He is using this time “becalmed” in the city to scout its defenses in preparation for his assault. The “paladin” is a disguised priest - most likely one of Hextor or Erythnul, there to act as an advisor to the warlord. If he were truly a priest of Pelor, as his shield claims, he would of course be using this time to proselytize in the city rather than being confined to the ship. But then, if he were truly a paladin of Pelor, he would not be traveling with an orc in the first place.

    Aurora has been watching Willa from the deck of the Banner. When she has passed out of sight, Buckbeak has followed her, hopping from rooftop to rooftop along the waterfront. Once she settles into her work mending nets, the hawk flies back to the Banner. Soon after, invisible scholar Aurora accompanied by hooded Babshapka leave the Banner and make their way to a two-story tavern near where Willa sits.

    Aurora opens the door of the tavern, carefully making herself visible the instant she steps inside so that anyone outside would not see her, being blocked by Babshapka, and anyone inside would be unlikely to note that just a second before she was invisible. Two sullen men sit on leaky kegs that pass for chairs while a third lies passed out on the floor. A slovenly matron, “cleaning” a battered stein with a filthy apron, strides from the bar to the door, not even giving pause as she steps over the unconscious man. She makes no effort to hide her disdain as she looks at Aurora and Babshapka.

    “I don’t like scholars,” she spits through a mouth with more teeth missing than present. “And I don’t like elves,” she sneers.

    Aurora tries to smile winningly. “But everyone likes coin,” she says, and pulls forth a gold lion. “Madam, I’m just looking for a quiet place to read, out of the cold for the morning. Perhaps upstairs, where I will be out of your way.”

    The woman snatches the coin from Aurora and holds it up to what wan light that has managed to penetrate the shuttered windows and smoky air. She stuffs it between her pendulous bosoms, smirks, and hooks a thumb at a steep, railingless stair to the second floor. “Myrna’s off until dark,” she says. “If ye wakes her, ye pays for her time, too.”

    Aurora smiles agreement and the women spits in reply. Together, Aurora and Babshapka ascend the stairs, but not closely together, as none of the steps look like they could support the weight of them both simultaneously.

    Upstairs is a bedchamber where cheap perfume covers other, less pleasant scents. A woman sleeps on a straw-stuffed mattress on the floor. She is young, but hard-worn. A crudely-drawn erotic illustration hangs over the bed. The other walls have their rough timbers covered with large swaths of fabric - perhaps to soften their appearance, perhaps because there is no trunk at hand in which to store spare bed linens. There is a single window, and next to it a chair with a hole in the seat, a cracked ceramic chamber pot beneath. Aurora settles squeamishly into the chair - just enough light to read comes through the ill-fitting shutter over the window. Babshapka wrinkles his nose. “I’ll wait downstairs,” he says. “Or perhaps outside.”

    Over the next several hours, Aurora reads her history of the Good Hills. The woman on the mattress groans and stirs, but doesn’t wake. Aurora uses message on occasion to check in with Willa, who promptly tells her to be quiet and stop interrupting. Every so often, she has Buckbeak appear just outside the window, and soar in great spirals over the city before returning to his pocket dimension. He doesn’t see any troop movements along the roads.

    Nearing noon, a man dressed in traveling clothes enters the tavern downstairs. He looks swiftly about the room, then immediately limps to where Babshapka is sitting glumly in a corner. He orders two steins of ale from the matron.

    “I don’t drink…” begins Babshapka.

    “Oh, I wouldn’t drink that swill either,” the man whispers, grinning. “Still, one has to pay the piper. We can pour it out when she isn’t looking.”

    He introduces himself as Vern, a peddler of wares, specialist in sales to adventurers.

    “I’m not an adv…” protests Babshapka, but the man will hear none of it. He points out the twin blades under the elf’s cloak, the ring set with runes on his finger.

    “Call yourself what you will,” he says happily, “Elite mercenary, specialty guard, scout forte. But what’s wrong with adventurer, eh? In fact, I used to be one myself, ‘til I took an arrow to the knee. Nowadays, I peddle wares especially designed for adventurers. Take a look at this…”

    From a leather quiver under his own cloak, the peddler pulls forth an arrow. The shaft and fletching are normal-looking, but the head is exquisitely-forged steel, wickedly barbed and serrated. Impressed, Babshapka takes the arrow from him, quickly noting how the shaft tapers sharply just before entering the head. He frowns.

    “Why weaken the shaft just before the head? That would make the…”

    “...head break off inside the target. Exactly! I call these 'giant arrows', as in, they are made to shoot at giants. The heads break off inside them, and keep doing damage the more they move. Useful in bringing down really big things. I’m selling them all around the Jotens. ‘Winter is coming’, as they say.”

    Babshapka frowns again and considers the arrow. Something that did continuous damage would be a waste on smaller creatures easily slain, but against something large and fearsome like a giant, continually doing attrition while avoiding it, would be a viable strategy.

    “Where do you get these from?” he finally asks.

    Vern smiles. “The design is my own, but I have them made to my specifications in a gnome forge or two around the Good Hills. Now don’t be thinking of rooting out the source and undercutting me! For one thing, you’d have to tromp all over the hills to find any of my sources. And for another, I deal exclusively with smiths who agree to sell these only to me.”

    “And the cost?”

    “One lion an arrow. Obviously these are for adventurers, not the village militia.”

    Babshapka reflects. The price is about twenty times that of a normal arrow, but they are easily worth several times a normal arrow just in having worked and hardened steel for the heads. The specialty manufacture would add more to the price. If they actually work as claimed, they could prove somewhere from useful to lifesaving. Since he became an adventurer, Babshapka’s had little enough use for gold besides paying for Aurora’s spell-casting supplies, and he is currently carrying nearly 300 lions of his own money, plus uncounted coins and gems in party funds.

    “How many do you have on you?”

    “A quiver-full at the moment. I can get more if you would like to meet tomorrow.”

    “I’ll take what you have now. I don’t know if I will be in town on the morrow.”

    One of the men at the other table gets up and staggers to the corner of the room, where a ratty burlap curtain barely conceals a piss-pot. Vern stands up and lays a leather quiver on the table, then carries his untouched tankard over to the other table, emptying it into the steins of the other two men with a wink. By the time Vern has returned to his own table, Babshapka has taken the quiver and has twenty gold coins concealed in his palm that he passes to the man as he shakes his hand.

    Satisfied, Babshapka decides he needs some air, and steps outside the tavern. When he is not immediately followed, he empties his tankard onto the ground. Vern, who has apparently settled his account with the matron, comes out the door soon after and takes his leave of Babshapka. The wood elf notes that as the man limps down the street, he is paying special attention to the sky.

    The passers-by along the waterfront diminish as midday passes, gone home or to shops to eat. Willa sighs, stretches, and stands. The old man snatches the net from where she lay it down and holds it up appraisingly. “Not bad,” he allows, “ye can come back later.” She scoffs at his attempt to get her to do more of his work and leaves without comment as she returns to the Banner along the waterfront. Spotting an inn of somewhat better quality than where she broke her fast, Willa takes her lunch there, still with one ear open.

    Most of the conversations she hears are repeats of the banal news of the morning, with occasional snippets of speculation about the Banner such as she heard at the docks. However, there are a pair of well-dressed merchants in the inn, a bit out of place among the other clientele. Most of their talk is about prices and markets, how ale and wheat are low, due to good harvests in Sterich and hereabouts. Willa has already lost interest when one of them says (Willa Investigation roll 20), “Yes, good harvests and a harsh winter to follow.”

    “Now, that was a bad cold snap these past weeks, but I would hardly call it a harsh winter.”

    “You wait - I bet it gets colder still before Growfest.”

    “Mayhaps. Your point?”

    “You know the adage - a good harvest followed by a harsh winter - that’s giant times, for sure.”

    “Aye, there’s truth in that. And young Earl Querchard on the throne of Sterich. Gods give the pup wisdom, if there are raids.”

    “Aye, give the pup wisdom, and give us an army contract!”

    “Grain or spears?”

    “I’d take either - but I’ve already bought my grain stores.”

    “Luck to you then,” says one merchant graciously as he raises his glass to the other.

    Just as Aurora begins to feel the desire to eat, the woman stirs on the mattress beside her. She sits up, eyes going wide in confusion at the presence of Aurora in her boudoir. Composing herself, but still bleary from sleep, she puts on a sultry pout and lets her loose shift slip off one bare shoulder. The pretense of desire is so feigned that Aurora can’t decide if it is more comical or pitiful. “No, dear, not today,” she says softly, closes her book, and makes her way downstairs. She is not yet at the bottom when she hears the young woman clearly retching into the chamber pot.

    The party, together, passes the afternoon on the Banner. Willa, reflecting on the merchants she overheard, asks Tyrius how close they are to Sterich.

    “You know that narrows that Roberts is waiting on the right wind to get us through?”


    “If we ever get ourselves to the other side of that, Sterich is on the south bank of the river. We could have walked there by now.”

    In the late afternoon a light rain begins, and continues until after dark.

    [ no pounds fish caught,
    no pounds food remaining without using human rations;
    2 rations of human food used
    2 rations of mule feed used
    No travel, still in hex F166-224]

    15 December, 570 - Kilm
    City Encounter: Day - Merchant
    City Encounter: Night - None

    In the morning, Roberts looks critically at the pennants on the mast, blowing steadily in the breeze. Aurora is nearby.

    “That’s better, right?”

    “Aye, better. ‘Tis from the south, now. That’d get us to the narrows fast enough. But we need it from the east to get us through the narrows.”

    “Ugh, when will that be?”

    Roberts shrugs. “She’s coming around. Mayhap on the morrow.”

    Aurora glowers. “Tyrius said we could walk to Sterich from here.”

    Roberts nods his agreement. “Ye could indeed. Ye could hae’ walked from Longspear, too, for that matter.” He lowers his voice. “Of course, ye told me ye didn’t want to be on Keoish soil, and that’s what walking means.” Roberts points at the mountains to the northwest. “There be a pass in those mountains, and the trail goes right over it. Fifteen miles from the other side of the river, and you’ll be in Sterich. My men can row ye to the other side of the river, if that be what ye want.”

    Aurora takes a moment to message everyone in the party to come over. When it is obvious this is going to turn into a party meeting, Roberts motions the other sailors away. Aurora considers asking Roberts to leave, but he already knows so much about the party it seems pointless. Willa tries to object that any meeting like this should be held below decks, but Aurora ignores her and launches ahead. Aurora explains that there is a land route option - Roberts has offered to take them to the south bank of the river, and from there it is just a fifteen mile walk, up and over the mountains, and then down into Sterich. Once they are on Sterish soil, they can either continue walking if the roads prove fast, or look for another ship - preferably an oared vessel.

    Thokk and Larry are eager to get into the mountains. Thokk is excited about the prospect of testing his mettle against a giant or two in front of the party (just not three at a time while alone). Larry just feels far more at home aground than on the water and would welcome the change.

    Aurora says they should give it another two days, getting their mules and gear ready on the second day to depart on the third if there's no fortuitous change. She makes the point that the longer they stay, the less time they'll have as a head start if someone is coming after them. Also, departing on foot makes them more noticeable and trackable. She would rather head out on foot from an undisclosed location, or at least with a bit more guile. A band of mercenaries traipsing out into the mountains on a whim seems awfully memorable. She muses that they could plant a story in Kilm that they are leaving to work as mercenaries for giant defense and can't wait on our river transport any longer.

    Willa objects to traveling overland on Keoish soil. There is (she whispers, trying to avoid Roberts’ ears) a bounty on Aurora's head, and she asks them if they have so quickly forgotten what happened when they left Barovia, and then again at the ruins outside of Highfell. She urges patience with the wind and asks the party to focus on the goal of reaching the (and here she again whispers) starfall location. Willa argues that it is still probably faster to use the river than to trudge overland, and she looks knowingly to Tyrius for support in this matter.

    Tyrius waits until everyone else has spoken before he weighs in. He reminds them that he is neither fond of secrecy nor skulking, but that he has made a pledge to defend Aurora from capture by the knight, so long as they are not in Keoland (and he does not whisper as he says this). If the knight finds Aurora on Keoish soil, he will be well within his rights to arrest her, and Tyrius will not interfere. He looks around at the deck of the Banner and says that he is unsure of the legality of attempting to extradite or arrest someone on open water, and does not know whether this section of the Javan belongs to Keoland, even if both banks of the river do. Roberts smiles and says that while riverine law is not as complex a subject as maritime law, it does have its idiosyncrasies, and he would be happy to sit down with Tyrius and explain his understanding, or even introduce him to a magistrate in Kilm. Tyrius thanks him, but continues.

    Tyrius says that he has no preference for their route, so long as it is clear to all that he will abide by local law wherever they go. As to Willa’s assumption that the river will be faster than walking, he’s not sure. The river is faster so long as the wind is blowing - but how many days becalmed would it be before walking would be faster? He thinks Eddard might be more qualified to answer than he is, but the horse is belowdecks. What he can say, however, is that the path Aurora suggests, up and over the mountain pass, is at the frontier between two independent nations - Keoland and Sterich. It would be unreasonable to expect it to be unguarded, unfortified, or unpatrolled. If what the party wants is to slip through without notice, he recommends the water route.

    Aurora shrugs. “I said I’d wait two days more.”

    Willa shakes her head, her jaw set defiantly, and arms folded across her chest. “Doesn’t matter ‘ow many days, we be waitin’.”

    “Two days,” mumbles Aurora under her breath, and the party disperses.

    Willa goes below to check on the rations - there are two weeks’ of grain for the mules, and a week of food for the party. More, once they get started, if Thokk and Larry return to fishing. Reassured, she nevertheless goes ashore, leaving the sullen and frustrated party on board, and all of the sailors working on maintenance and repair of the Banner.

    She takes a circuitous route of the docks and, when she is reasonably sure she is not being followed, enters the river gate into the city of Kilm, proper. Heading to the market area, she finds a mostly-deserted corral used at various times for cows, sheep, and horses, at least judging from the manure present. It takes her the better part of an hour (initial Investigation roll 3) to track down a mule seller, eventually locating one at a stables on the east side of the city far from both the waterfront and the market square. Apparently there is little trade in beasts of burden in the winter.

    The mulemaster is happy to give her the lay of the land upriver from Kilm.

    There are trails on both the north and south banks of the river, although the trail to the north is far more traveled and better maintained - the one to the south is just a mule track. As Roberts and Tyrius reported, the mountains to the west of Kilm form the boundary between Keoland and Sterrich. Although here in Kilm, Keoland controls both banks of the Javan, beyond the narrows, the southern bank is Sterish soil.

    The northern bank, along the trail, is dotted with small fishing villages and halfling hill farms, but none of any particular size or note. The southern bank is even more deserted. As Roberts suggested, some fifteen miles west of Kilm the track goes up and over the mountains, then comes down into a grassy valley. The whole valley is used as pastureland for the Count of Flen, a Sterish nobleman who breeds horses for his own knights and the national cavalry. There are few villages, and they are all in direct service to the process of breeding, raising, and training horses. It is not until the next valley over, some twenty miles further along the track, that the Sterich agricultural communities begin.

    Tyrius’ suspicion that the border between Sterich and Keoland would be guarded is well-founded, although the mulemaster says the fortifications are rather small on each side. As Keoland and Sterich maintain friendly relations, the stockade posts are more to jointly control bandits and smugglers than either is actively guarding against the other. It is nearly forty miles upriver from the border before the first true Sterish fortification, a large stone keep that the count maintains to protect against giants and humanoids from the Jotens rather than human invaders from Keoland.

    Willa thanks the mulemaster and finds an inn for lunch. Halfling-run, she can hardly believe the bounteous and delicious board that is set for her, especially considering her last two meals along the waterfront (Willa spends 5 silver of personal money).

    Returning to the dock area in the afternoon, Willa finds the “Master of the Quay” in residence at the customs house. She wants to know about the empty berth for the naval patrol barge, but surmises that asking questions about matters of national security is a surefire way to draw attention to herself or even get labeled a spy. Using her own history as an excise officer in Saltmarsh, she decides the most innocuous route is to claim to be an out-of-work sailor, a loyal servant of the crown but from the south and tired of the flophouses in this cold northern city, and simply wondering when the next patrol barge might be through so that she can talk terms with the captain about an enlistment in the navy, or even just pulling an oar for free to get herself downriver and back to Salinmoor.

    The officer finds her story relatable and believable (Deception roll 11, but 15 with advantage for her sailor background). He is guarded about specific information, but cheerfully tells her that patrol barges come through every week or so, though not all of them stop in Kilm. He says that naval patrols typically don’t take on civilian hands, and enlistment terms will be longer than the winter, so she may want to try a merchant craft instead. They are few in the winter, but still they are more frequent than patrols. She is about to thank him when he calls across the office to where a well-dressed merchant sits in front of a desk, taking coffee and dried fruit with the exciseman there, more than likely “greasing the wheels” of the local government, as it were. “Master Bartholomew,” he calls, and as the merchant turns and rises, Willa recognizes him as one of the two men she eavesdropped on the day previous.

    When the Master of the Quay introduces her to the Master Merchant as a sailor in need of work, she drops her gaze. “Haven’t I seen you about the waterfront?” sniffs the merchant.

    “No, sir,” she dissembles. “I jes’ got in t’ town t’day, drivin’ a mule fer a peddler from Gerth. Footsore work, that, fer a sailor. I probably still have ther stink o’ mule on me,” she says, and hopes it is true. She thinks, but does not add, ‘I certainly did not come in to town two days ago aboard the Banner.’

    Master Bartholomew gives her the address of one of his captains, and says she is welcome to try there. She thanks him without raising her eyes, and leaves the excise house as quickly as she can. She re-enters the city gate and waits until just before it closes at dusk, then returns to the Banner under the cover of darkness.

    Eating a late and cold dinner from party rations in the hold, Willa questions Tyrius about whether he knows the “young earl” and whether he remembers giant raids in his youth. Tyrius says that His Magnitude, Querchard Emondav, Earl of Sterich, was born in CY 538, making him currently 32, and admittedly young for a palantine earl and supreme ruler of the land. Querchard ascended to the throne in CY 558, at the age of just twenty, following the death of the former Earl, his father Querail Emondav. Querchard was third in line to the throne upon his birth, but his two elder brothers both preceded their father in death. Tyrius mentions that he actually, as a boy, attended the coronation ceremony of the current Earl.

    Tyrius adds that Sterich always has “giant troubles” - especially in those lands bordering the Jotens and Crystalmists. Tyrius’ family’s estate is in the lowlands, near the capital, so his household has had little direct experience with the raids, but he can attest that the adage “a good harvest followed by a harsh winter - that’s giant times, for sure” is both common and conveys much truth.

    [ 8 rations of human food used
    2 rations of mule feed used
    No travel, still in hex F166-224]
    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.
    Master Greytalker

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    Tue Sep 22, 2020 10:49 am  
    Post 135: Kilm to Crosswater

    DM's Notes:
    Godakin Keep is not on the Darlene maps, but appears in an online supplement to Dungeon 117 at The smaller town across the river on the Sterish side is not shown on that map, but is shown on Anna Meyer's map of the region. Even there however, it does not have a name, so I have no idea of the source. The name Crosswater, as well as the description of the town, is entirely of my invention.

    Post 135: Kilm to Crosswater

    16 December, 570 - Kilm
    “All hands! ALL HANDS!” bellows Roberts in the wan pre-dawn light. Hatches are thrown open and the party, snug in their bedrolls in the below-freezing temperatures on deck, groan as the sailors dash among and about them, threatening them with trampling.

    Willa sits up and squints at the ragged pennant against the grey sky. A light breeze, faint but steady, lifts it - more importantly, it lifts it from the southeast. Willa slides out of her bedroll, draws her winter cloak about her, and contemplates getting something hot in the galley. “Wi...woman!” yells Roberts, almost bellowing her name across the waterfront but recovering just in time. The captain points at where Thokk is standing, relieving himself over the railing. “Get that orc in the dory! We’re nae waiting for a tug!”

    Willa grabs two hands to help her lower the dory over the side, then puts them and Thokk in it, him with a pair of oars and them with one each. They move aft of the Banner and attach a tow line as the ship itself casts off from the dock. Willa taunts Thokk until the dory is pulling so hard that the Banner is slowly moving away from the port.

    “Is t’at all ye hae, brute? Ther fish be laughin’ a’ ye! Ther river be laughin’ a’ ye!”

    Thokk screams in rage and plunges his oars into the water, dowsing the sailors in the dory with freezing cold water. He strains his back and calves and the thick oars flex against his force as the tow rope goes taut.

    Roberts lets the Banner get two full ship’s lengths away from the dock before he raises the foresail and recalls the dory. Thokk and the two sailors stand on the deck while the other hands dash about working the lines, Thokk with great gouts of steam rolling from his back and lungs and the two men soaked and shuddering.

    Once the Banner is moving upriver, Roberts raises the mainsail but lowers the fore. The mainsail is full but rolls rather than snapping - the breeze is light, but sufficient. After the party has eaten breakfast, Roberts explains that the wind will get them to the narrows, easy enough, but he is worried about it getting them completely through the narrows before dark.

    The day is pleasant, clear and sunny, and even climbs into the high forties as the riverbanks slide by. By early afternoon the land rises on either side of them and they enter the narrows. Then, it takes all of Robert’s skill on sail and rudder to maneuver the Banner with just the light breeze behind them. As the sun goes down in the west there are still high rock walls on either side of the river. Roberts keeps sailing with the light of the Handmaiden, nearly full, rising in the east behind them. The larger moon is a waning crescent and offers little help.

    They sail a full two hours after sunset before Roberts finally calls for anchoring and the crew gives a ragged cheer. The party has eaten hours ago, but Roberts kept all his hands from dinner until they stopped for the night. Roberts gathers the party around him and bids them look at the southern cliffside, along which they are anchored. “Climb that cliff and ye be in Sterich,” he says, and the cheer from the party echoes off the face of the rocks.

    [ no pounds of fish caught
    8 rations of human food used
    2 rations of mule feed used]

    17 December, 570 - Up the Javan River from Kilm
    Overnight the wind has shifted and now comes from almost due south. After a few half-hearted tries in the morning, Roberts decides that even with tacking, the Banner would be losing ground all day to the current. They remain at anchor. At least the southern wind has brought with it warmer temperatures - it remained above freezing all the previous night.

    [ no pounds of fish caught
    8 rations of human food used
    2 rations of mule feed used]

    18 December, 570 - Up the Javan River from Kilm
    Early in the morning they leave the sheer cliffs of the narrows behind, and although the south bank (Sterich) remains steep, rocky, and uninhabited, the north bank (Keoland) opens up into a fringe of farmland and pastureland before the rugged hills begin further back from the river. As the mulemaster from Kilm told Willa, the northern bank is populated by tiny farming and fishing communities, small affairs each without a blacksmith or stone church to their name, strung out along the trail that parallels the river.

    With a bare east wind, the Banner struggles to make progress today, creeping upriver against the current. This would never have been enough wind to maneuver up the narrows, but now in the broad river the crew keeps at it, and inch by inch the miles go by.

    Larry has great luck fishing, to the relief of several in the party, who were worried about running out of rations before their arrival in Godakin Keep, and counting on the fish the river would supply. Thokk tries to match Larry but cannot, and grows more and more frustrated over the course of the day. When he finally snags something heavy in the afternoon his hopes soar, but pulling it out reveals it is just a heavy tree branch. Thokk snaps his fishing rod in frustration and hurls it into the river, then stomps below decks in advance of a cold rain.

    [Larry, survival check with disadvantage: 17, 18: lands 20 pounds of fish]
    [Thokk, survival check with disadvantage: 5 (Critical fail), 11]
    [ 20 pounds fish caught,
    12 pounds food remaining without using human rations;
    2 rations of mule feed used]

    19 December, 570 - Up the Javan River from Kilm
    [Wandering Encounter - Patrolled Hills. Tribesmen; Hillmen]

    The balmy southeast wind continues, and temperatures push into the mid-50’s by the afternoon. The Banner continues to fight its way upriver, at a similar pace to the day before. The terrain is much the same as well - small farming and fishing communities on the Keoish side of the river, rugged and uninhabited hills on the Sterish side.

    Around noon, the forward lookout spots something on the southern bank and calls for Roberts. After he takes a look with his glass, he asks Willa to get the party moving - just have them walking around deck, put on a helm or pick up a shield for the sun to glint off of. She raises an eyebrow but does as told.

    Eventually they are close enough to see for themselves. A small mountain stream empties into the Javan on its south bank. Clustered around the stream are a number of dugout canoes, and in and around them are a dozen or more rough-looking men in furs and leathers. “Hillmen,” says Roberts.

    “Freefolk?” asks Tyrius, with a note of honest surprise in his voice.

    “Aye, ye could call ‘em that. They’re on the land of the Count of Flen, sure enough - but I doubt they be payin’ him his feudal dues. Flan, most like, or maybe even old Oerid - but they don’t farm much, just hunt and fish.”

    Willa looks at Tyrius, with helm on and shield raised as requested. “And pirate?”

    “Aye,” says Roberts, “they’re not above that - if the mark looks easy enough that they can take it quick, with none the wiser. They wouldn’t try anything if they thought at least some of us might get away, and get word to the Count. If they think we have a few swords on board, they’re not like to bother us. Still, as long as you’re on deck tonight, you might want to set a watch.”

    “We would anyway,” says Willa. “‘Tis a good habit, nae matter ‘ow safe ye think ye be.”

    Thokk and Larry both have a good haul of fish today. “This pole much better than other stupid pole,” says Thokk contentedly.

    “Better be,” mumbles Willa. “Ye done broke ther ‘tothers, an’ now ye hain’t got no spare.”

    [ 26 pounds fish caught,
    30 pounds food remaining without using human rations;
    2 rations of mule feed used]

    20 December, 570 - Up the Javan River from Kilm
    The warm south wind picks up a bit, becoming more steady today. And as the river curves more to the north, the south wind becomes more and more useful. By day’s end, Roberts judges that they have gone more in this one day than the last two combined.

    The Keoish communities look much the same as before. On the Sterish bank, however, the rugged hills finally pull back, allowing a swath of green and arable land near the river. They pass more than one small farming community of the Sterish side as well.

    In the early afternoon, the trail on the Keoish bank recedes farther and farther from the river until it is lost from sight, and then the farming communities with it, although there are still fishing villages at river’s edge. Near the end of the day they pass a swift-running Keoish river emptying into the Javan; Roberts says that up that way lies the city of Flen, the seat of the Count, but the flow is far too strong for the Banner to make headway even with the wind behind her. He sounds pleased with their progress, and tells Willa that if they can keep today’s wind they will be at Godakin Keep in a day or two more.

    Aurora for her part has finished the book she purchased in Kilm, a history of the Good Hills. She found it refreshing to read something in Common, instead of struggling through Ancient Suel like the last several works she had read.

    She found little of immediate use in it and no mention of a starfall, but it was entertaining and illuminated somewhat the regional situation between the Yeomanry, Sterish, and Keoland:

    The spur of true mountains that is the east-west running Jotens eventually curves around and descends into roughly north-south running hills. The mighty Javan River bisects these hills. To the north and east of the river they are called the Good Hills, and to the south and west the Little Hills, but geologically they are likely the same formation. Gems are to be found throughout them all, as well as precious metals, though there is more silver in the south and more gold in the north.

    Both of these hill lands had been well-settled by demihumans, back into prehistory - hill dwarves, gnomes, and to some extent halflings. Generally they had independent settlements based around mines, with only a loose relationship between different settlements and no rulers or large states over more than a few of them. The gnomish settlements typically occurred where a gem mine was located underneath good pasturage. The dwarven settlements could be found where veins of useful metals like copper, tin, or iron were near enough those of gold or silver so that both could be exploited by a single community. Halflings were found in small valleys in the hills where they could raise crops to trade for dwarven or gnomish goods.

    When the initial wave of Suel migrants escaping the Rain of Colorless Fire that destroyed the ancient Suel Imperium in the fifth century BCY passed through this part of the world, the horsemen ignored the hill country and pressed on. Later the Oerid tribes did the same, so that the demi-humans were largely left in peace by the human migrants. Not so by the humanoids who were also displaced by the wars, however, and for several centuries the Good Hills were troubled by orcs, goblins, and gnolls. During this time many small confederations and mutual defense leagues were formed among the local dwarf, gnome, and halfling communities.

    By early in the first century CY, the Suel houses of Rhola and Neheli were setting up petty states in the Sheldomar Valley in what would eventually become Keoland, but that was far away from the Good Hills. Closer to home, a huge host of Oerid tribesmen had banded together to conquer the native Flan of Davish River Valley and formed a nation that would become Sterich, possibly even before the first century CY.

    During the second and third centuries CY, the nation of Keoland expanded, absorbing the demi-human communities around it and incorporating them into its Kingdom. There is no single date for the annexation of the Good Hills, as that was a piecemeal process, with each of the local dwarf, gnome, and halfling communities pledging fealty to the Keoish King at a different time and under different conditions, but all eventually coming firmly under Keoish control by the end of the third century CY. At the same time, Sterish and Keoish nobles intermarried, so that eventually much of the land in each of the nations was technically beholden to a lord in the other nation. By the end of the third century CY, the Earl of Sterich had formally pledged fealty to the King of Keoland and the two nations became one.

    After a century and a half of growth and prosperity, most scholars take the mid-fifth century CY as the peak of the Kingdom of Keoland and the start of its imperialist phase. Shortly thereafter, Keoland began a series of conquests, taking control of the Yeomanry by force, as well as other lands in the north or south. After fifty years of this, Imperial Keoland was beset by open rebellion in the conquered lands, increasing disaffections among demi-human communities, internal political struggles, and a massive humanoid invasion from the Lortmil Mountains. As a result, by early in the sixth century the Yeomanry had forcefully regained its independence, and the Earl of Sterich had negotiated a peaceable secession from Keoland. The Good Hills remained nominally part of Keoland, but many of the demi-human communities did not really re-integrate until a half-century later when it became clear that Keoland had given up its imperial ambitions.

    [ 14 pounds fish caught,
    36 pounds food remaining without using human rations;
    2 rations of mule feed used]

    21 December, 570 - Up the Javan River from Kilm
    Once past the swift-flowing tributary from Flen, the Javan has turned to the west again. Roberts’ morning check of the pennants shows that the wind is coming from the due south. Despite the balminess of the breeze, he sighs.

    Several times during the day, when the wind shifts to the east briefly, he orders sails raised and they start out - but each time, the Banner founders and ends up losing ground to the strong current. By afternoon he has given up and found a place to anchor.

    Thokk (bare-chested as the day climbs into the 60’s) and Larry have no luck fishing, but their reserve from the previous days is so great that this is not a concern.

    At night, the crew of the Banner uncharacteristically gather on deck to witness the rise of the small moon, with many of them murmuring chants or prayers as they do. Tyrius soon realizes that tonight is “Handmaid’s Glory”, the only night in the year when the small moon Celene is full, but the large moon Luna is new. For Tyrius, that means today is the fourth of Needfest, and that there are only three days left in the calendar year. That doesn’t quite square with the date as Willa has been reckoning it, but there is always a bit of discrepancy between the nautical calendar used by the people of Salinmore and the agricultural calendar used by the inland nations. In any event, the sailors are likely thinking of their families, who will be celebrating Needfest back home in the Yeomanry. In Sterich, Needfest is a festive occasion and even Tyrius gets a bit sentimental, thinking how he is closer in distance to his family now than he has been in years, but still with no intention of continuing to their estate to see them.

    [ no pounds fish caught,
    28 pounds food remaining without using human rations;
    2 rations of mule feed used]

    22 December, 570 [Needfest 5] - Up the Javan River from Kilm
    “If it be any consolation,” says Roberts, shaking his head ruefully at the lack of wind that has them anchored and becalmed, “You’re as unlike to find a ship in Godakin Keep during Needfest as we are to sell our cargo. So long as we get there before the end of the festweek, I’ll be satisfied.”

    [ 14 pounds fish caught,
    34 pounds food remaining without using human rations;
    2 rations of mule feed used]

    23 December, 570 [Needfest 6] - Up the Javan River from Kilm
    The day dawns even warmer than the day before, with a long bank of clouds blanketing the peaks of the Jotens to their south. The wind is still light, but has shifted enough to the east that when sails are raised the Banner can make slow headway west against the current of the Javan.

    As they sail, the party can see both banks of the Javan clearly. The Sterish side is becoming more densely populated, while the Keoish side less so, until they are about equally developed. Roberts explains that the main trade route went up the swift mountain river to Flen, and just a mule track remains for land traffic to Godakin Keep. They even pass a section of the river that curves around a rocky promontory on the Keoish side where no settlements are to be seen for miles.

    All morning long the clouds from the Jotens approach and by the early afternoon a drizzle falls briefly. Fortunately it is so warm that the rain does not inconvenience the sailors working the lines. Aurora wonders aloud whether the cloud cover will hide giants coming down from the Jotens, but Roberts shakes his head.

    “Mayhap a lonely fog giant, but the frost giants would never raid in such balmy weather.”

    When Aurora asks why it is so warm now, after the recent cold spell, Roberts says that the warm, wet weather is likely the far remnants of a hurricane savaging the Azure Sea coast. Willa mouths a silent prayer to the Sea Cow and hopes that the hurricane is as distant from Saltmarsh as it is from them.

    Larry’s fishing line snags on the bottom and breaks - the party is now down to one working pole only. [Survival Check Critical Fail]

    At day’s end, Roberts announces that they have come more than half the distance remaining to Godakin Keep, and that even a poor wind like that of today will allow them to reach the city on the morrow. He asks the party to decide whether they will be staying with the Banner all the way into port, or if they instead would like to be dropped off on the Sterish side before the Banner puts in at Godakin Keep. He would like their answer in the morning, if the gods grant them wind.

    [ 8 pounds fish caught,
    34 pounds food remaining without using human rations;
    2 rations of mule feed used]

    24 December, 570 [Needfest 7] - Up the Javan River from Kilm
    Roberts looks at the pennants in the morning, flapping halfheartedly on the mast. “It’s a rum wind, but it be what we got,” he says stoically.

    “Be it eno’ t’ carry us t’ port terday?” asks Willa.

    “If not, I’ll be asking your dwarf for his light the last few miles,” replies Roberts. “There won’t be any better day to sell our cargo than the first o’ Fireseek, so I’m wanting to make port tonight as much as your lot.”

    Willa nods. “In t’at case, we’ll be landin’ on ther Sterish side o’ ther river, if ye please.”

    Roberts nods, then calls loudly to his mate, “If we make port by day’s end, we’ll be checking the price o’ coffee on both sides o’ the river.”

    “Aye, Cap’in.”

    Willa, Tyrius, and Aurora retire to the mate’s cabin, and Aurora unrolls the sketch map she made showing the approximate location of the starfall, deep within the nation of Geoff, to the north and west of Sterich. Tyrius shows them where Godakin Keep would be on the map, just below the confluence of the Javan and Davish Rivers.

    “So Tyrius,” asks Aurora, “what’s the best way to the Starfall?”

    “That’s a big area,” he says hesitantly, “the best way there depends on where the starfall actually is.”

    “It’ll be smaller soon,” promises Willa. “Once we get a bit furder north, I can take some mar sextant readin’s an’ revise ther scale o’ t’at map. Fer now, jus’ give us options.”

    Tyrius sucks in his cheeks. “Really, there are only two viable options. We keep going up the Javan, at least to Hochoch, and then turn west by foot.”

    “More river!” protests Aurora.

    Willa waves at her to calm down. “If we keep goin’ upriver, we be gettin’ an oared boat,” she says. “None o’ us be wantin’ more days becalmed. What’s ther second option?”

    “There’s a caravan route from Istivin to Gorna, up and over the Stark Mounds. There won’t be much traffic on it this time of year, but it is well marked.”

    “Alright,” says Willa. “What’s ther down sides o' each?”

    Tyrius pauses and reflects. “If we can find an oared ship for the Javan, it will be faster - but I don’t know if we can find an oared ship. Or how long it would take to find one, especially this time of year, especially in the smaller Sterish ports. If we do get an oared ship, we might not be able to keep our mules. And most of the way north the whole east bank will be Keoland, so we would still have to worry about crown patrols all the way to the Rushmoors. Then, from the Rushmoors through the Oyt Wood is wilderness. There could be bandits or humanoids and such.”

    Willa nods. “An’ ther land route?”

    “Slow. The Stark Mounds are pretty steep, the caravan trail notwithstanding. It could snow or rain; we could get stuck in a mountain pass with snow or mud. The Mounds are wilderness themselves, and could have the same bandits and humanoids as the forest, or even just wild beasts to eat the mules.”

    Willa listens carefully. “Summit t’ think aboot. Fer now, let’s overnight in town, an’ ask aboot ships in ther marnin’.”

    The Banner moves slowly upriver throughout the day, with the Sterish bank settlements growing larger and more frequent, while the Keoish bank settlements remain about the same. Thokk and Larry take turns operating the one remaining fishing pole. The night before was the coldest they had felt in a week, but the day is still in the balmy sixties.

    In the afternoon the river turns almost due north, and the Banner struggles to make it upriver. While the settlements and villages continue on both sides, as the sun reaches the horizon in the west, there is still nothing that could be considered truly a town on either side of the river. Roberts asks Larry to light their way with a sunlight spell when the gathering dusk makes the river travel dangerous. After an hour of this, the moons are up and bright enough to navigate by - Celene, still nearly full, and Luna, a growing crescent.

    After half an hour of sailing by moonlight, the twin towns come into view around a bend, both lit up spectacularly in the night. It is the last night of Needfest, the last night of the old year for these farming people, and everywhere there are lanterns, bonfires, and candles in the windows of the meanest huts. Those with the means have been carousing for a week, drinking, dancing, and sporting, but for those so poor that they can only celebrate for one night of the festweek, this is the night. As the Banner approaches the Sterish port of Crosswater, the sounds of mirth and music spill out across the water, and no customs agents or longshoremen meet them at the docks.

    Roberts gathers his crew on deck. He tells them that he knows they want to join in the festivities, but he is confining them to the ship for the moment. The wholesale markets will have been closed for the entire week of Needfest, and there will be no better day to sell their cargo than the morrow, and he wants to make sure they get the best price for it. He will go ashore here just long enough to find merchants and inquire about price, though that may take a while as he will need to navigate the revelry. If he is satisfied with the price in Crosswater he will return to the ship and dismiss the sailors to join the festivities, but if he is not satisfied, as soon as he returns they will use the moonlight to cross the river to the larger market of Godakin Keep so that they can find a buyer the first thing in the morning. He warns them in no uncertain terms that if any of them have gone ashore when he returns, he will not wait for them, but will leave them behind when the ship crosses the river tonight. After receiving a hearty “Aye, Cap’in” from all assembled, he goes down the gangplank and disappears into the crowd.

    Several minutes later, the party begins moving the mules and Eddard onto the deck. The sailors repeat Roberts’ words to them, and are ignored. The mate pulls Willa into his erstwhile cabin and has a heated exchange with her, with the cabin door open and their argument carrying out onto the deck. When he sees a sack of coins on his bed, tied about the top with twine in a sailor’s knot, he winks at her and raises his volume still more. Tyrius and Eddard are off the Banner first, so that they don’t have to participate in the pantomime, and Thokk leads one of the mules off next so that he doesn’t get confused and start a brawl for real. By the time Willa leads the last mule off, she and the mate are shouting obscenities at one another and she has to shove him out of the way to use the gangplank.

    The party presses their way through the drunken crowds of the town, trying to find an inn. Their search is hampered by a cultural oddity - part of the celebration tonight appears to be speaking in a reverse sense, such that everyone they ask assures them that they know of an inn with space for them, and then either leads them in circles or takes them to a lodging house that is obviously full. Passing women swoon over Larry and proclaim him the most handsome man they have ever seen; Tyrius is scolded as a scoundrel and wastrel and threatened with being charged with public indecency by every uniformed guardsmen they pass, most of whom are only half as drunk as the average townsfolk.

    In the end they try to find an inn for themselves, but each and every one is full enough that it cannot accommodate a group of their size, and they are unwilling to split up in this unfamiliar town. As the night wears on, people start to congregate in vantage points from which they can see across the river. Then of a sudden, a fiery bolt rockets skyward from a tall building in Godakin Keep (that they will later learn is the observatory tower of the Temple of Celestian, god of the stars and heavens). Then all the crowds about them take up a song unfamiliar to any of them but Tyrius, who sings along heartily. At the end of the song, and with everyone wishing one another a prosperous new year, many in the crowds begin to disperse, and taverns and inns to hustle out any who have not paid for a nights lodging and then bar their doors, while the more resolute revelers try to ferret out private parties to join. In any event, the streets thin out while the party remains without lodging.

    Tyrius leads them to a market square where they set up a campsite, taking over an abandoned bonfire that has burned low, and then building it up by scavenging wood from other fires. The night is still in the fifties, and pleasant enough weather to camp outside. Willa goes over the watch schedule and then most of them drift off to sleep.

    [ 10 pounds fish caught,
    36 pounds food remaining without using human rations;
    2 rations of mule feed used
    100 gold coins of party funds removed from Larry and left on board the Banner]
    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.
    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
    Posts: 754
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    Tue Sep 29, 2020 4:23 pm  
    Post 136: Crosswater

    Post 136 - Crosswater

    25 December, 570 [Fireseek 1] - Crosswater
    The party is woken before dawn by a group of surly, hung-over town guardsmen led by a bright-eyed young serjeant. They are threatened with being charged with vagrancy if they do not clear out of the market square. Tyrius speaks to the serjeant calmly and politely while the others break camp. Already vendors are setting up booths and tent stalls in the market by lantern-light, many of them looking the worse for wear from the previous night’s celebration.

    Once the party is up and packing, the guardsmen move off and begin checking the merchants, asking to see permits and papers. The party briefly discusses their plan for the day. Willa, with Thokk, Shefak (leading Randy), and Umbra, will work the docks, trying to find any oared ship going upstream that might take them on as passengers. Tyrius, with Aurora, Larry (leading Andy), Babshapka, and Eddard will work the market stalls buying supplies. The division of the party is such that Tyrius believes those buying supplies are most likely to be given fair deals - the more exotic party members are to be sent with Willa and told to let her do the talking.

    By the time Willa’s group reaches the docks, the day fishermen have all cast off and there are few ships left in port. There are no patrol vessels in sight - apparently the Sterish rely on the Keoish fleet to monitor the river traffic and deal with any threats to this section of the Javan. There are a few merchant vessels moored, but no one that Willa speaks with has any plans of leaving Crosswater and traveling upriver anytime soon. The sailors, mates, and captains she speaks with all agree that oared vessels going upriver pass through several times a week at this time of year - finding one would just be a matter of leaving someone to watch the docks and being patient. Of course, not all of these vessels will have deck space for the party, let alone their mounts. Ships bearing bulky but light goods like cloth or coffee are typically packed to the rails, with just enough room on deck for the oarsmen. They have no galley, and typically pull up on shore for the crew to make meals and sleep. Other ships, bearing raw ores, stone loads from gravel to marble, or heavy loads of iron goods, are “full” with much less deck space taken up, and so they would be the kind that might allow passengers or even animals aboard.

    Although Tyrius spends all morning in the market, he doesn’t buy much of anything as he is not yet sure whether they will be going by land or water. He does, however, take note of prices as well as have work done on his armor and Eddard’s saddle, both of which he has cleaned and oiled. At the request of Larry and Thokk, he purchases a 10’ pole and fourteen hardened iron pitons.

    The party meets for lunch in a pre-designated tavern and inn, the largest in Crosswater (which is not saying that much, being equivalent to a small inn in Longspear). Over the meal, Willa explains that by all calculations, taking the river will be faster - even if it means they will need to wait a week or more before finding an appropriate vessel.

    Aurora immediately counters that the longer they sit and wait, especially in a small town like this, the more people will know they are here. She reminds Willa how they were likely spotted in Singleton, probably leading to the bandit attack on the way to Longspear. And while she admits that Roberts was a good man, she is inclined to trust the open road more than a strange river captain.

    Once the debate is explained to him, Thokk says they should travel by land as well. The boat ride was fun at first, and he knows he impressed them all with his masterful fishing, but they went a full moon without a battle! He is hopeful they will meet more bandits, or perhaps some monsters in these Stark Mounds if they go by land.

    Shefak abstains from voting - she is willing to follow the party, and accept her fate.

    Tyrius says that he would prefer to go by land as well - mostly to avoid the possibility of encountering a Keoish patrol and having to turn Aurora in, or fight her if she resists. Though if he is being honest, he says, the land route will allow him to see more of his homeland, which he does miss.

    Babshapka votes for river travel. His job is to keep Aurora alive, and he would prefer to do that on the dull river rather than crossing a land (Sterich) whose people he does not know or trust. There may be Keoish patrols on the river, but there will be Sterish patrols on the land, and he is not accepting Tyrius' reassurances.

    Larry says that if they could leave on the morrow, he would vote for the river, but he is not sitting around in this squalid den of pollution and animal enslavement (that is, a town) for a week. He will take the road if it means they can leave sooner.

    With the vote already 4 to 2 for the land journey, Umbra does not need to give her opinion, which is just as well, her being even more taciturn than Babshapka.

    Willa shrugs and accepts their decision, then speaks with the owner of the inn. With his Needfest revelers already gone or even now packing, he has enough rooms for all of them and is happy to have them stay the night. Once they are moved in, Willa has Tyrius tell her the names of some suggested vendors, and makes a trip to the market, returning with grain for the mules and several flasks of lantern oil. She reminds Thokk to confine his drinking to this tavern, so that they will know where to find him when they set out in the morning.

    As Willa moves gear around and assigns some of her things to the pack that will be carried by Andy on the morrow, she comes across her potion collection (currently at three vials), which includes one from the Earth level of the Ghost Tower. Aurora had identified it as magical - but they still don’t know what it does. She considers getting it tested here in town, or having Aurora use an identify spell on it, but Aurora tells her for a potion, it is easier to just take a sip. Larry agrees to, first casting both bear’s endurance and resistance on himself.

    Carefully he unstoppers the flask and smells it. “Hmm, sweet…” he murmurs, then pours a few drops into his grubby palm, carefully observing how it changes the color of the dirt therein, and then licks up the contents. “Tha’s good,” he says, grinning appreciatively.

    “Well, what is it?” asks Willa.

    Larry shrugs. (Arcana roll 12) “Et taestes lek drried berries - yoo ken, the kind yoo add too watrr too mek jooce. It’s nay poison, noo way, tha’. Perrhaps quite the opset, en fact.”

    “Do you think it is a potion of healing, or neutralize poison?” asks Aurora.

    “Nay, nay, lassie - aye’v had thoos aforre, an’ ‘tain’t neither.”

    Now sure that the potion is not dangerous, Aurora asks Larry to cast Fox’s Cunning on her, and then, right before she takes a sip, give her Guidance. (Arcana with advantage and boost, 21). “Ah!” she says immediately. “That’s a potion of sweet water.

    Aurora explains that she has read about such potions in her basic alchemy studies, although she has never actually experienced one before. They are highly potent and concentrated neutralizers, turning just about any liquid they touch to normal water, and acting on a far larger volume than their own. A few drops could spoil a magic potion or turn a vial of poison safe - the whole flask could neutralize a pool of acid or convert several barrels of saltwater to fresh.

    Well after dark, the party is woken by thunder which rattles the walls and a driving rain on the roof. Most of them, though perhaps not Thokk and Larry, are grateful they are in beds in the inn, and not still camped in the market square, or an afternoon’s travel down the road. Willa resolves to wake early and check the docks - if she can find a ship there in the morning, perhaps she can sway Larry’s vote rather than have to slog for a day through mud. The storm lasts until shortly before dawn.

    [ no pounds fish caught,
    28 pounds food remaining without using human rations;
    mule fodder included in price of Inn]
    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.
    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
    Posts: 754
    From: Sky Island, So Cal

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    Tue Oct 06, 2020 10:11 am  
    Post 137: Crosswater to Elnore

    DM's Notes:
    None of the settlements of Fitela, Johann's End, the Drudd Estate, Groenick, or Hilden's Grange are on Darlene's map (although Istivin obviously is). I originally got them all from the work of Anna B Meyer. I used her for the party's travel. I would highly encourage any DM to use Anna's work, and anyone with the means to do so to support her Patreon at

    Fitela is mentioned but not described in Against the Giants: The Liberation of Geoff and in the Living Greyhawk Gazeteer. It is placed on the map but not described in an online supplement to Dungeon 117 available at The brief description of Fitela that appears in the text is my own.

    Johann's End is placed on the map but not described in the online supplement to Dungeon 117 cited above. According to "Shadows of the Abyss" in Dungeon 118, it acquired its name after the slaying of the Frost Giant "Big Johann" from the supermodule Queen of the Spiders there. Thus calling it Johann's End in my campaign (set more than twenty years beforehand) is anachronistic, but I could not find a reference for the name of the town prior to its 'current name'. The module just calls it "a small town" and its placement is actually the result of a wandering encounter roll. One inn and the villagers themselves are described therein, but the town is not. The brief description of Johann's End that appears in the text is my own.

    The Drudd Estate also comes from a reference in "Shadows of the Abyss" in Dungeon 118.

    Groenick is the setting of the Living Greyhawk Module SHE3-04 "Sterich Burning" and is described therein, although I had not read it when my players passed through. The brief description of Groenick that appears in the text is my own. Note that the town is not on the map in the online supplement to Dungeon 117.

    Hilden's Grange is on the map in the online supplement to Dungeon 117, but I am not aware of any other source for it in canon or fanon. The brief description of Groenick that appears in the text is my own.

    Post 137: Crosswater to Elnore

    26 December, 570 [Fireseek 2] - Crosswater, Sterich
    (thunderstorm, 12am to 5am)
    (heavy rain 6am to 12am)

    The thunderstorm lets up just before dawn, but the skies do not clear. Instead, an hour later, a heavy rain starts. Listening to the downpour through her shuttered window, Willa decides not to make a trip down to the docks. Rather, she spends her time checking the mule bags and packs, trying to make them as watertight as possible, with more robust items like the rope and grappling hooks in the upper and outer packs, and the vulnerable grain and books in the lower and inner packs.

    Fortunately for the party it is a warm day, already in the 50’s at dawn, or the downpour would be not just depressing but dangerous. Crosswater is small, and after departing the inn they find themselves in short order at the southwest edge of town, the highest and furthest point away from the river. Willa looks appraisingly at the trail out of town. She had feared it would be like the mule tracks they had seen on either side of the Javan for the last several days, which would quickly turn to slippery mud in this rain. However, this is an honest and actual cart road. Not flagged or graveled, but at least of hard-packed earth, wide, and with some rough-cut drainage ditches to either side. The party sets out up the trail, which climbs rapidly away from the river into the hills above the town. After two miles the trail splits, with a simple mule track paralleling the Javan downriver to the east, while the main cart road goes west and upriver. They take the west branch.

    The rain continues all throughout the day, and the party elects to eat from their preserved rations rather than trying to start a fire to cook the fish they have remaining. In the afternoon, Tyrius points out how, several miles away in the river valley below them, the Javan has turned north, and the river they are following now is the Davish, at its lowest point before it joins the Javan. The Davish, he says, drains the heart of Sterich, and there is Sterish soil on both sides of the flow. Every step they take now is one step further from Keoland. “Thank goodness for small blessings,” says a sodden Aurora glumly - “the further from Keoland, the better.”

    The night before, Willa had made all of them check and oil the seams in their sleeping rolls. With the warm temperatures, they don’t bother to look for wet firewood in the dark. This close to the trail, in the winter, it is probably slim pickings anyway. They set a watch and settle in for a long, wet night. Several miles away, on the trail to the west of them, firelight can be seen through the rain. The bonfires appear large, and they expect they will meet the host on the morrow.

    [ Used 2 pounds of fish (breakfast), 6 pounds of rations
    26 pounds food remaining;
    1 pound of mule rations used to supplement forage]

    27 December, 570 [Fireseek 3] - Sterich; trail from Crosswater to Fitela
    (heavy rain 12am to 6am)
    (patrolled hills encounter: men, merchant)
    (patrolled hills encounter, patrol, knight)

    The rain continues all night and all the way until dawn. Finally the skies begin to clear as the sun comes out, and Tyrius, in fine spirits, sings a hymn of praise to Pelor. The sooner to get moving, the party eats a cold trail breakfast, packs their wet things, and sets out. Although wet and chilly in the forties, as the sun rises the day moves in to the fifties, and they are soon comfortable and reasonably dry.

    They have not been traveling long when they come upon a small merchant caravan, the source of the firelight the night before, headed for Crosswater. There are five ox-drawn wagons; four with goods for market and the last with food, tents, and a small amount of firewood. There are two fat merchants on saddled donkeys and a dozen mercenaries with crossbow and shortsword, as well as a few porters and drovers. Tyrius converses briefly with them, but it seems neither group wishes to tarry.

    They are further along the trail and it is nearing noon when in front of them appears a mounted man and a squad of soldiers. Unlike the mercenaries of the merchant caravan, it is obvious that these men bear matching tabards. Tyrius mounts Eddard and rides forth to meet them. He and the mounted man enter conversation, and remain so until long after the party has arrived behind him. The man is a knight, beholden to the Baron of Fitella, and leading a road patrol. His conversation with Tyrius is both formal and cordial at the same time. His men-at-arms, weighed down with field packs, and boots caked with mud, do not seem to mind the pause. While Tyrius and the knight exchange noble pleasantries, Willa engages the soldiers in conversation herself, learning that they have just come from Fitella, and that the road that way is clear of any bandit or monstrous menace. As the sun climbs higher in the sky and the men make no move to end their conversation, Willa gives the signal to make camp. The mules are unpacked, and then turned loose to forage while the party takes a cold lunch.

    By the time the knight leads his men on, the party is done eating. Willa confirms with Tyrius that the knight said the way forward was clear, and then she sends Thokk and Shefak to the fore. She tells them to go about as far ahead as they have already traveled today, choose a campsite, and then collect as much wood as they can before the party arrives. At the speed they can travel compared to the party, they should have more than an hour to forage for fuel in advance of the party.

    After three days of rain, even this well-packed road is soft and muddy and their boots are caked and heavy. By day’s end the party as a whole has traveled just twelve and a half miles. Shefak and Thokk have chosen a good campsite, but have collected only brush, with little wood thicker than twigs. Even as far as a mile from the trail the stoutest vegetation is just scrub brush, with no trees in sight except for stumps scavenged long-ago. They have enough fuel for a hot meal at day’s end, but not enough to bring with them or to cook and repackage the remainder of the fish.

    Tyrius remarks that they should be in Fitela on the morrow, and if the river is low enough they can use the ferry there to cross to the northern side of the Davish. If there is anything the party would like at the market, such as rations or coal or firewood or a climbing harness, they can try the market as well.

    [ Used 2 pounds of fish (dinner), 6 preserved rations (breakfast and lunch)
    24 pounds fish remaining;
    10 human rations remaining
    1 mule ration used to supplement forage,
    12 mule rations remaining]

    28 December, 570 [Fireseek 4] - Sterich; trail from Crosswater to Fitela
    The morning dawns clear. There are clouds over the Jotens, but they keep their distance all day, and the party is able to make quick progress. Tyrius assures Willa that they are very close to Fitela, so she again sends Shefak and Thokk up ahead to scout a campsite and look for firewood. In fair weather the pair can travel at nearly double the speed of Larry.

    They haven’t encountered any other travelers by mid-day. Thokk has found a huge dead tree at the bottom of a gully and worked with his axe to bring up enough wood for lunch and more besides. They consider cooking enough fish for lunch and dinner, but Tyrius says they will more than likely be staying the night at an inn, so they save time by cooking only what they need for the lunch meal.

    They arrive in the walled town of Fitela in the late afternoon, having met numerous travelers on the road in the last few miles - farmers, traders, shepherds. Despite the warm weather, Aurora and Babshapka travel with their winter hoods up to cover their distinctive elven ears. Willa goes to the town's waterfront and negotiates ferry passage while the others pass quickly through the market. They purchase human rations for four days upon the advice of Tyrius and a hundredweight sack of charcoal from a collier. They look for a climbing harness among the leatherworkers and find several men willing to craft one over the course of a few days, but none with one on hand.

    Dusk is gathering by the time they meet Willa at the river, and the ferryman says theirs will be his last crossing of the day. He gives them directions to a modest inn run by his brother-in-law; they will spend the night in Fitela’s sister-city of Johann’s End across the river and set out in the morning. It is after dark by the time they have walked the three miles from the river’s edge to the town, but the town is not walled and there is no gate to be closed at dusk.

    Over a simple but filling dinner (stew with winter roots and their own fish, fresh bread and butter) with plenty of ale, Tyrius explains that they have about a week’s travel ahead to the town of Hilden’s Grange, but that they will need to decide on one of two routes. The low road goes along the river - it is better, but more frequently traveled. The high road passes up into the foothills of the Stark Mounds. It will be slower but is less traveled, if that is still a consideration for Aurora.

    [ Used 6 pounds of fish (lunch and dinner), 2 preserved rations (breakfast)
    18 pounds fish remaining;
    32 human rations purchased for 16 gp of party funds
    40 human rations remaining
    1 mule ration used to supplement forage,
    11 mule rations remaining
    100 pounds charcoal purchased for 5 gp of party funds]

    29 December, 570 [Fireseek 5] - Johann’s End, Sterich
    The day dawns fair in the valley, though the Jotens are blanketed in clouds, and wispy tendrils reach north from them toward the Javan.

    Now with charcoal to burn but unsure of the road ahead, Willa keeps Thokk and Shefak close to the main party. The road has been two days dry after the three days of rain and they make better progress than before. The party travels at the speed of Larry, with most of them at a comfortable pace and the dwarf exerting himself. The fresh light breeze from the mountains that greets them at the start of the day intensifies as the morning wears on, and the clouds move down the mountain sides into the valley. By mid-morning there are gusts of over 20mph, and as it approaches noon it is blowing steadily over 30mph and driving a light but stinging rain before it.

    Eager to try their new supply of charcoal, Thokk stops them when he sees a low stone wall around a sheep fold (Survival check 13). He digs a small hole on the leeward side of the wall and packs it with coals - Aurora starts it with a firebolt and the wall blocks enough of the wind and rain to keep the fire lit while cooking lunch.

    By dinner time they have marched a fair ways along the road flanking the river and are between settlements. There is nothing much to use as shelter, and Thokk and Aurora have to work all through dinner to keep the fire lit (Survival check 9). Fortunately both the wind and rain slowly die down after dark as the temperature drops and they are able to pass the night in relative peace and comfort.

    [ Used 8 pounds of fish
    10 pounds fish remaining;
    40 human rations remaining
    1 mule ration used to supplement forage,
    10 mule rations remaining
    94 pounds charcoal remaining]

    30 December, 570 [Fireseek 6] - Sterich; trail from Johann’s End to Groenick
    By morning the wind has dropped to that of a normal day and the clouds have retreated to the Jotens. The party makes rapid progress along the road, noting that although it remains hard-packed earth, it is becoming better and better maintained as they travel. Tyrius remarks that they are approaching the Drudd Estate, the palatial manse of a well-to-do merchant who has not yet found a way to marry into the nobility. From the main road they can see a palace and manicured lawns on a hilltop; at a crossroads there is a small tower keep where Tyrius speaks to guards who gesture overly much at Thokk before finally letting them pass.

    The party lunches on a hillside overlooking a river below. The river is swift and straight, but much smaller than the Javan or even the Davish. Tyrius says that it is the Svartjet, and that they will be following its course up and into the Stark Mounds. In the distance they can see a few towers of the great city that is Istivin, the capital of Sterich.

    Soon after lunch they reach the banks of the Svartjet. The main road crosses the river at a bridge and continues on to the capital, but Tyrius has them turn aside up a dirt track that parallels the river. Willa asks Tyrius if they won’t be traveling to the capital city, and wouldn’t it be the best place for them to look for one or two climbing harnesses. Tyrius responds that they are just as likely to find a harness in any of the towns near the Stark Mounds, and that going to the capital will be both expensive and present certain complications for some of their party members. He gestures at Thokk and Willa lets it be.

    They travel north along the river for a few miles and then cross at a bridge in the town of Groenick. Here Tyrius has to do even more talking, both to soldiers at the bridge and to a band of town watchmen, who end up escorting the party to the other side of town. It is already late afternoon and stopping for the night in an inn seems natural, but it does not look like that will be an option in this town due to the attitude of the watchmen. They camp a few miles up the road from Groenick.

    While they eat, Willa asks Tyrius why the people of Sterich are having so much trouble with Thokk. Bad blood, long and complicated history? Tyrius sucks on a fish bone while he considers his answer. “For all their talk of swamp orcs and ‘flickers’, I get the sense that the people of Salinmoor don’t battle humanoids that often.”

    Willa says quickly, “I fought marsh goblins once, afore ye came ter town,” and then realizes that her “once” is the exception that proves the rule. She nods. “Ther folk o’ Salinmoor be mare likely t’ die from fever o’ inna storm, ‘tis true. Even fightin’ pirates be mare likely in Saltmarsh then orcs are goblins.”

    Tyrius lifts his hand, gesturing at the peaks around them - the Stark Mounds to the north, the Jotens to the south. “Sterich is a small valley, surrounded by mountains. The giant raids are fearsome, but the humanoid raids are far more common. There isn’t a nobleman or soldier in the country that hasn’t lost friend or kin to an orc raid, and most of the small folk have seen their crops burned or animals taken at least once in their lives.” He pauses. “You know, had I first met Thokk before my priestly training, I would have cut him down without a second thought? Even after, I nearly did so - but for some reason in the moment I remembered a lesson about St. Jalnir the Gentle, a priest of Pelor who was himself a half-orc.” Seeing the look of surprise in Willa’s eyes, he says, “I can assure you, Jalnir was not a Sterishman!” Tyrius remembers something and chuckles. “The first time Thokk told me that his mother was a human woman, I didn’t believe him! In Sterich, I don’t think we even have the concept of “half-orc” - at least, I’ve never heard it outside my church lessons. No, to my countryman, any orc blood makes one an orc, and Thokk is just a huge, well-armed example of one. It has taken all of my persuasive ability so far to keep him free and able to travel with us.”

    After dinner, Willa gathers what fish remains, cooked and uncooked, digs a small hole, and buries it. When asked about it, she explains that today is the last day of the year (by her Salter calendar, anyway), and that “Any fool knows ye cain’t eat fish in ther new year what were caught in ther old, not unless ye want poor fishin’ fer ther rest o’ ther year.” The fish themselves were pulled from the Javan six days ago, and the only one who objects to their disposal is Thokk, but mostly on the principle that he caught them, not her. The party will be on trail rations from now on, but they purchased a good store in Fitela.

    [ Used 8 pounds of fish; 2 pounds thrown away
    no fish remaining;
    40 human rations remaining
    1 mule ration used to supplement forage,
    9 mule rations remaining
    88 pounds charcoal remaining]

    1 January, 571 [Fireseek 7] - Sterich; trail from Groenick to Hilden’s Grange
    The party spends the day working their way up the trail along the Svartjet. The river valley is narrow and they can easily see the rugged hills on both sides. Most of the land they pass is rocky pasture and small communities of herdsfolk, but here and there are intact copses and forest stands.

    Tyrius only pauses in leading them just once, when the trail splits and one branch goes up into the hills, the other continues along the river. After a brief conversation with Eddard, he takes the branch that continues along the river. Asked if he doesn’t know the way, Tyrius replies that he has never been in the north of Sterich before, and is relying on his memory of maps to choose their route.

    At day’s end they camp on a bluff overlooking the river. Increasingly visible in the gathering dusk are the lights of what Tyrius takes to be Hilden’s Grange, although he admits it could be another town. To the north, the Stark Mounds rise up, as impressive as any mountains against the sky.

    Willa considers Tyrius’ remark that he has never been in northern Sterich and realizes that means none of them have ever been this far north before. It is a calm, clear night. By lantern light, Willa examines Aurora’s sketch map of the area of the starfall. She takes sextant readings of the stars as they appear and goes over her notes on how far they have come and the latitudes through which they have traveled. Working together, Willa and Aurora create a new map, one with a scale they are more confident of, which dramatically decreases the possible area of the starfall. Previously, half of the Hornwood Forest and most of the nation of Geoff were within the possible search area. Now, although a chance remains that the fall itself might be in the very northern tip of the Hornwood or the northern uplands of Geoff, roughly three-quarters of its estimated range lie within the Barrier Peaks Mountains. Those climbing harnesses are starting to sound like a better and better idea.

    [ Used 8 rations
    32 human rations remaining
    1 mule ration used to supplement forage,
    8 mule rations remaining
    88 pounds charcoal remaining]

    2 January, 571 [Fireseek 8] - Sterich; trail from Groenick to Hilden’s Grange
    Less than an hour after breaking camp the party arrives in town - as Tyrius thought, Hilden’s Grange. The town is at the intersection of two trade routes. The party arrives from the south, on the route from the capital, Istivin. This road continues north along the Svartjet into the Stark Mounds. A separate east - west route passes along the northern border of Sterich along the base of the Mounds. The town itself is mostly on the east side of the river, but a large stone bridge crosses it in the center of town.

    Thokk soon acquires an escort of guardsmen, and he, Tyrius, and the mules move quickly through the town and out the north side, there to await the rest of the party at the outskirts. The remainder of the party take their time in the market stalls and among the leather workers with permanent shops. Willa buys a week’s worth of grain for each mule. They do manage to find climbing harnesses for sale - but none large enough for Thokk or wide enough for Larry. When they explain their needs, the leatherworkers shake their heads ruefully, but when the party makes to leave, they quickly recommend kinsmen in Elnore, the next town to the north.

    The route north out of the town ascends a steep climb up a rocky slope, while the river is increasingly distant to their east, eventually disappearing from their view. It is not until ten miles later, as they descend the other side of the ridge, that they move again into the river valley. At night they can faintly see the lights of Elnore before them, watchfires along the walls.

    [ Used 8 rations
    24 human rations remaining
    1 mule ration used to supplement forage
    14 mule rations purchased for 7sp of party treasure
    21 mule rations remaining
    88 pounds charcoal remaining]
    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.
    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
    Posts: 754
    From: Sky Island, So Cal

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    Tue Oct 13, 2020 6:08 am  
    Post 138: One does not simply walk into Elnore

    DM's Notes:
    Elnore is neither on Darlene's map nor the map of Sterich in the online supplement to Dungeon 117. It is on Anna Meyer's maps but originally comes from the City of Greyhawk Adventure Card 15. There it is described no further than mentioning it as the town at the southern end of the caravan trail through the Stark Mounds. The description of Elnore that appears in the text is my own.

    Post 138: One does not simply walk into Elnore

    3 January, 571 [9 Fireseek] - Sterich; trail from Hilden's Grange to Elnore (1000 feet elevation)
    In the morning, the party continues to move northwest up the Svartjet valley. As they go, the valley both rises and narrows, with the hills on either side of them growing higher, steeper, and closer, and the trail being forced closer and closer to the river's edge.

    By noon the width of the valley is just a few hundred paces, and it is completely closed off at the upper end. Barring their passage further is the stone-walled town of Elnore. The town itself is small, but the walls extend the entire width of the valley anywhere flat enough to build on. The gaps that are too steep to wall are flanked by towers with obvious archers or even ballistae present. There is no way “around” the town that does not include coming under bow fire from multiple towers - travelers must pass through the town gates, or retreat twenty miles and try the next valley over, which is roadless.

    Tyrius leads them confidently to the open town gate, but when the sentries catch site of Thokk, they draw their weapons. It takes all the persuading Tyrius can do to keep Thokk from being attacked on the spot or the party immediately detained. After a long conversation that starts with the serjeant on duty at the gate and ends with the summoned Captain of the Day Guard, Tyrius is able to secure the freedom of Thokk in return for an oath that he is Tyrius’ responsibility. However, nothing he can say manages to win Thokk’s passage through or around the town. The watchmen are adamant that now that Thokk has roamed the length and breadth of Sterich and knows its defenses, his obvious next move is to return to the Stark Mounds and recruit his tribemates to attack en masse (an idea with which Thokk heartily agrees, when it is explained to him).

    Tyrius tries to reason with the Captain that allowing Thokk to leave Sterich poses less of a threat than forcing him to stay, but the Captain admits frankly that he is hopeful that having Thokk remain in Sterich will eventually precipitate his arrest, capture, or slaying by a defensive force better equipped than the town guard to battle the (obviously competent) party.

    After further negotiation, it is agreed that Thokk, Tyrius, Shefak, Umbra, and the mules will remain outside the southern gates of the town. Willa, Aurora, Babshapka, and Larry will be permitted to enter the town for the afternoon to look for climbing harnesses (although they plan on secretly scouting for the means of smuggling Thokk through the town).

    As the gateway to the Stark Mounds, the away party finds a number of shops offering both cold weather gear and mountaineering supplies. They even manage to find a climbing harness large enough for Thokk, and a second with girth enough to fit Larry. The two are purchased for a total of 50 gold lions from the party treasury. The merchants grumble a bit about taking Keoish coin rather than Sterish, but given the sums involved they do not refuse the deal.

    In the early afternoon the party reunites outside the town to plan their next move. Tyrius tries to make very clear what his position is: there is no law that forbids half-orcs from passing through Elnore - he was able to get the Captain to admit that clearly - and that the Guard was forbidding Thokk’s passage as a function of their personal judgement and responsibility to keep the town safe, not as a requirement to enforce any law. Since Tyrius considers their judgement to be flawed, he is not above sneaking Thokk through the town surreptitiously - although he will not lie about it if questioned directly by the guard. Neither will he let Thokk out of his sight, as he swore an oath to be responsible for him. Thus, if they have a means to get Thokk past the guards, that means will likely have to extend to Tyrius as well. Tyrius is also open to simply going back and around the town (which will add a few days on to their trek), or to entering, locating the Earl’s Magistrate, and obtaining a writ authorizing Thokk to enter - essentially going over the head of the Captain of the Day Guard. While this could be accomplished in a single day with luck, realistically it will more likely take as much time as would going around the town.

    Aurora considers their options. She explains that their best bet for sneaking Thokk through is invisibility, as she doesn’t have a magical means of disguising someone. Unfortunately, invisibility is a concentration spell - so she can maintain it on only one person at a time (or two, if she cast it at third level). If she cast the spell again on more people, those originally under its influence from before would then be rendered visible. At best, she could make Tyrius and Thokk invisible with a single spell, at which point the party would have just one hour to get them through the town. She could renew it on them at the end of the hour, but chances are they would become visible at the most inconvenient time and be seen while in town. They would almost certainly have to first withdraw from the town gates to make it look like Thokk left (rather than simply disappearing within sight of the guards), then later approach the gates and spin a convincing story for the visible members of the party to get through. That in itself could easily take an hour.

    Thokk, bored with Aurora’s long-winded explanation, says that now that they have the harnesses, they should just kill the gatekeepers and advance through the city - he doubts anyone will try to stop them if they just prominently display the severed heads of the guardsmen as they go. The others in the party do not agree to his plan.

    In the end, most of them agree that they need to fall back and go around. Thokk is consoled by the others that since they will be going off-trail, he will have a chance to hunt meat for them again, as they are all tired of fish and hardtack.

    They set out and return along the same trail they used to arrive at Elnore, this time keeping careful track of the fords at which they cross the Svartjet as the trail winds back and forth across the river. When they have reached the last ford before the trail turns south and away from the river, they do not cross but instead go off trail east along the river a half mile before setting up camp for the night.

    [ Used 8 rations
    16 human rations remaining
    1 mule ration used to supplement forage
    20 mule rations remaining
    88 pounds charcoal remaining]
    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.
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    Tue Oct 20, 2020 7:47 pm  
    Post 139: Elnore to Oytpass Keep

    DM's Notes:
    By far the best source for maps of Greyhawk comes from the work of Anna B Meyer. I used for the party's travel. I would highly encourage any DM to use Anna's work, and anyone with the means to do so to support her Patreon at

    Post 139: Elnore to Oytpass Keep

    4 January, 571 [10 Fireseek] - Stark Mounds, Svartjet Valley (1500 feet elevation)
    As the morning’s cold trail breakfast is apportioned out, Babshapka sets his ioun stone to orbiting his head. There are two days of human food left in their bags - with him using magic, that is one less person that Thokk will have to feed before they reach Gorna.

    Off trail, they are traveling in the hill country at the walking pace of Tyrius, Willa, Aurora, and Umbra, with Larry no longer being their slowest member. Thokk and Shefak have movement to spare, so Willa has them scouting ahead and watching their rear, but not hunting for the time being. She wants to keep them close, given the hostility of the guard in Elnore and the possibility that they will be tailed or even set upon and arrested.

    All morning they work their way along the river in the lowlands, but with a steep mountain ridge above them and to their left. They will need to get to the other side of the ridge at some point, but they are hopeful that they can find a tributary of the Svartjet that Tyrius claims will lead them into the next valley over without having to ascend to the top of the ridge.

    Around three in the afternoon they reach the confluence of the upper Svartjet (along which they are traveling) with the unnamed river Tyrius predicted. As he hoped, the new river flows in a gap between two ridges, so that the party following it would not have to ascend the ridge itself. However, Babshapka, Thokk, and Larry do not like what they see. The new river travels for several miles right along the base of the mountain, tight up against it in a narrow gorge. It is impossible to tell from where they are now, but it is likely that, at least on the north bank, there will be points at which it is impossible to follow the river because of the steep gorge walls (Survival checks 13, 13, 16).

    After a fair bit of consultation, Thokk points out that the mountain range in front of them is actually composed of a low ridge, flat on top like a bench, and a high ridge above it, sharp and narrow. He believes that he can lead them up an easy slope to the low ridge, and then around the corner of the mountain, above the gorge but below the knife-edge of the high ridge. He points out his proposed path up the side of the mountain to Babshapka and Larry. They agree that his idea is as good as any.

    True to his word, Thokk finds a gentle ascent to the low ridge’s bench top, which is as far as the party gets for the day. Their campsite has an excellent view of the upper Svartjet Valley below and to the west of them, and Willa finally rests easy, convinced that no one from Elnore is following them. Only the morning will tell whether Thokk can indeed lead them safely around the mountain as he claims.

    [ Used 7 rations
    9 human rations remaining
    1 mule ration used to supplement forage
    19 mule rations remaining
    88 pounds charcoal remaining]

    5 January, 571 [11 Fireseek] - Stark Mounds, wilderness east of Svartjet valley (1500 feet elevation)
    [Wandering monster check - subtropical wilderness hills: men, tribesmen (hillmen)]

    The first half hour after they break camp is spent slowly rounding the high ridge from the top of the bench. Here and there the party can spot the river below them. Indeed, it lies in a steep-walled gorge with more than one scree slide spilling into it - it would have been folly to try to follow the north bank of the river.

    Before much later they are descending again, as the river has emerged from the gorge and Thokk judges that they will be able to follow it. The next three miles or so are relatively easy as they walk along the river through a grassy valley - then the mountains close in again and the river enters another gorge. Considering the size and steepness of the mountain slopes on either side, the party has no choice but to follow, single file, along the edge of the gorge itself, with Thokk, Larry, and Babshapka searching all the while for goat trails and natural ledges and avoiding the scree slopes when possible.

    They are in a narrow defile with steep walls to either side and the swift-flowing river some forty feet below, when they find their way blocked by a scree slide. Loose rocks have tumbled down from above, forming a large pile that they cannot go around, but must go over - despite the treacherous footing. Larry decides to climb it first, searching for a way solid enough to support not only himself, but the mules and Eddard. When he steps on the wrong rock, half the scree slope starts moving. With a clatter of stones, the small avalanche of loose rock carries him over the edge and down into the gorge. [Survival check 8, critical fail, Dexterity save 6, fail, luck roll 0, forty foot fall into water, 2d6 = 4 points bludgeoning damage]

    The party is unable to even throw him a rope in time, but Aurora has Buckbeak aloft in a second and soaring downriver after the dwarf. After being tossed about a bit in the swift current, Larry manages to grab onto a boulder in the flow. Casting spider climb on himself, he easily climbs up the side of the gorge and returns to the party. He is cold, soaked, and has a few bruises, but is otherwise fine, muttering that it will take a worse fall than that to stop a mountain druid. Willa peers over the side of the gorge, knowing full well that while Larry may be fine, the forty foot drop into water would have more likely than not broken the legs of one of their mules.

    Babshapka tries the same scree pile, but finds it slipping and sliding under him with no safe way across (Survival roll 8 ). Thokk points out a narrow ledge above the pile that they can climb to, so as to bypass it, until the others pointedly remind him that the mules and Eddard cannot climb, at least not straight up using hand holds. Reddening in anger or embarrassment or both, Thokk strides rapidly out into the scree pile, then sits down facing the gorge. Kicking out with his legs and thrashing about with his arms, he sends scores of stones, large and small, cascading over the edge. He keeps at it for nearly a minute, until only the largest and most stable stones remain, and then declares that he has defeated the mountain and the way is safe for the party to cross. (Survival roll 12) The party cautiously, one at a time, crosses over to the other side.

    Over the next several hours there are a number of other close calls and narrow precipices, but finally near noon the mountainside to their left pulls back and opens into a high, grassy field, although the river still closely follows the cliff face to their right.

    Willa is about to give the order to take their lunch in the field when Thokk whoops and points. A mile ahead and below them a small mountain stream runs through the alpine meadow on its way to the river. Clustered along both banks of the stream is a large herd of sheep. “No hard tack for lunch,” says Thokk, sticking his tongue out in disgust. “Thokk bring back meat!”

    But before the half-orc can approach the flock, Buckbeak has scouted them and returned - and he lets Aurora know that the sheep are not alone - several humans walk among them. At this, Tyrius mounts Eddard and says he will ride out to meet them.

    Willa says that he shouldn’t go alone, and the paladin reminds her that they have not crossed into Geoff yet, and that this is still his country, and his people. She retorts that this high in the mountains, and this far from the trail, they are more likely to be freefolk herdsmen than beholden Sterish peasants, and they might not give a fig for his Earl. “Then it’s high time they began to do so,” says Tyrius, as Eddard canters off.

    The party slowly makes their way down the slope to where the sheep are drinking from the stream. By the time they arrive, Tyrius has a yearling sheep trussed and slung over Eddard’s back, bleating plaintively. He asks for two gold of party treasure from Babshapka and hands the coins to the dark Flan herdsmen. The party continues on up the river to the north, while the men drive their flock up the slopes of the valley to the west.

    At lunch, Tyrius tells Willa that as she surmised, these were indeed freefolk, hill tribesmen who said they had no lord and only nominally acknowledged the authority of the Earl. Still, they seemed like good sorts and did not fuss about the party traversing their rangelands. Likewise, they were happy to sell him the sheep that Thokk even now is butchering for lunch.

    Between the late start to the lunch and the time it took to butcher and then cook the sheep, there are only a few hours of daylight left for their afternoon march. This is just sufficient to take them to the headwaters of the river, to where it diminishes to a stream so inconsequential it is not worth following. Ahead of them, to the north, lies a huge mountain face, with no trail apparent and no way around. Tyrius says that the Flan tribesmen told him that the party should travel due north for a day, crossing over two great mountain ranges, then northwest for another day, looking for a gap in a third and even higher range. After that, a day or two’s travel downslope to the west should take them to the caravan trail they originally sought. If they don’t get lost, the men said, they should come out north of Elnore but south of the last Sterish settlement, one Oytpass Keep.

    [ Used 2 rations (breakfast)
    7 human rations remaining
    Used 5 pounds sheep meat (lunch, dinner)
    15 pounds sheep meat remaining
    1 mule ration used to supplement forage
    18 mule rations remaining
    Used 4lb charcoal (lunch, dinner)
    84 pounds charcoal remaining
    Used 2gp party treasure]

    6 January, 571 [12 Fireseek] - Stark Mounds, northeast of Svartjet Valley (2000 feet elevation)
    In the morning, the party looks up at the vast cliffs in front of them. They discuss the day ahead over a breakfast of mutton chops. It is decided that Thokk and Babshapka will scout ahead, traveling in advance of the party and trying to find an accessible route, Thokk to the northeast, Babshapka to the northwest. Willa makes Thokk repeat several times that he is not just looking for a path that can be trod by an agile half-orc like himself, he has to think about the poor, silly mules. Every so often the pair of scouts will double back to the party, compare notes, set the party off in the appropriate direction, and then set out again. Larry, who now is moving faster than any of them, will continually move in a “U” shape behind and beside the party, checking to see if anything is approaching or following them.

    It is slow work up steep slopes (most of the party is managing only 1.5 miles per hour), but after three hours or so they finally crest the highest ridge before them and can see that the way ahead leads down into a valley lightly forested with pines. At this point Babshapka is leading them down the slope. Thokk’s return to the party has been delayed by him slipping down a slope, sliding into a ravine, and having to take a long way around and back. (Babshapka Survival 12, Thokk Survival 5, critical fail, Luck roll +2). He rejoins them about halfway down the forested slope, not mentioning anything that transpired or why he is late or what the fresh scratches on his arms and legs are about.

    It is nearing noon by the time they get to the lowest point in the valley, so Willa calls for a halt for lunch. To the north is a huge mountain face, even higher than what they have passed so far, as well as to the west - but at the bottom of the valley, to the northwest, there is a tantalizing gap between the two ridges. Tyrius removes his helm and scratches his head. He trusts the hillmen, he says, but it seems like that gap is what they told him to head for after a full day of travel, not a half.

    “As slow as we’re going, we may still be faster than men carrying all their supplies and herding sheep besides,” says Eddard. “Think of how far back we would be if we had to haul for ourselves everything that Randy and Andy are carrying.”

    Tyrius accepts the counsel of his spirit guide, and after lunch Babshapka and Thokk are dispatched to find the best way to the gap. It is cooler here in the mountains, or the foothills of the mountains, as Thokk insists on calling them, but not cold. The day is in the high forties, comfortable in their winter gear and walking. Last night was in the low forties, comfortable in their sleeping rolls, with no frost. After another five hours of walking, they have passed through the gap and come out into a lower valley, a bit more densely forested with pines. There they make their camp for the evening.

    [ 7 human rations remaining
    Used 7 pounds sheep meat (all three meals)
    8 pounds sheep meat remaining
    1 mule ration used to supplement forage
    17 mule rations remaining
    Used 4lb charcoal (breakfast, lunch - used pine deadfalls for dinner)
    80 pounds charcoal remaining]

    7 January, 571 [13 Fireseek] - Stark Mounds, wilderness north of Svartjet valley (2000 feet elevation)
    [thunderstorm 1pm - 4pm]
    [Wandering monster check - subtropical wilderness hills: men, tribesmen (hillmen)]

    The sun is not yet up and Umbra and Babshapka are on watch. Babshapka hears noises (passive perception 14) at a far remove from the camp - twigs snapping and such. He tells Umbra to stay alert while he investigates.

    Slipping silently through the trees, Babshapka is near a hundred yards from the camp when he spots a small flock of sheep, moving in the open areas between the pines in a restless search for fresh browse. Luna, the large moon, is one day past full and the scene is bathed in dim light - Babshapka sees movement to his right and turns - there are bipedal figures moving among the sheep - but immediately he steps on a branch covered in pine needles and there is a loud SNAP (stealth roll 8, critical failure). Almost instantly a bedraggled sheepdog is at his side, teeth bared - but a second later a human man is there, as well. The man is dressed much as the tribesmen were two days ago, in rough woolens and leathers. He points his spear at Babshapka’s chest, but says a curt word to the hound, whereupon it falls back to his heel.

    Babshapka slowly raises his hands, palms forward and empty, and tries to speak soothingly. There is soon a gaggle of tribesmen shepherds by his side. He doesn’t speak whatever language the men are conversing in, while they know only a halting Common, but eventually they work out introductions - this is a different band than the party met before. Knowing his persuasive skills are limited, Babshapka doesn’t attempt to buy any sheep or ask for directions, but merely inform them of the party’s camp and that they will be moving on, on the morrow, and try to attain some measure of their goodwill. In the end they lower their weapons and admit that they, too, are just moving through the area, and hope for no hostilities (Persuasion check 12).

    When Babshapka returns to camp one of the men goes with him, unbidden. Babshapka lets him get close enough to see the camp itself, know that they have a number of warriors, but then he pauses until the man nods and returns to his flock. When Babshapka finally walks back into the camp itself, he sees Umbra standing in the center, among the bed rolls and still sleeping party members, with a deep, inky mastiff by her side. As he whispers his findings to her, the dog seems to dissolve into shadows.

    After sunup, the party sets out for the day. They are soon climbing up and out of the lightly forested valley, and the trees get sparser and the ground drier and more rocky as they go. By mid-day there is nary a tree to be seen, and they are nearly at a saddle between two great mountains. Tyrius is hopeful that the other side of the saddle will take them down into the pass through which runs the caravan trail.

    Clouds build all during their meal, and by the time they are ready to march again the whole mountainside is engulfed in a thunderstorm. The wind is not bad, the rain is solid but not hard, and it is well above freezing. They could continue on, for the slope is gentle enough and Willa is not overly worried about their mules slipping on the wet rock. Still, she is not eager to go higher, when they can all see, with spectacular flashes, the lightning repeatedly striking the mountainsides above them. Considering their light larder, she elects instead for most of them to remain in camp, while sending out Larry and Thokk for a half day of foraging in the rain - the better to not hear them go on and on about how virile and invigorating is a thunderstorm in the mountains, even these low peaks that are not really mountains.

    The thunderstorm continues until evening and the foragers return soon after. Thokk comes back empty handed (Survival roll 12) but with stories of the massive mountain goat ram he chased from mountain top to mountain top. Larry is more taciturn, but returns grinning and soaked, with a bag heavy with pine nuts (Survival roll 13).

    They build a large charcoal fire to cook the last of their mutton and dry out their clothes before retiring for the night.

    [ 7 human rations remaining
    Used 7 pounds sheep meat (all three meals)
    1 pound sheep meat remaining
    7 pounds pine nuts remaining
    Used 1 mule ration to supplement forage
    16 mule rations remaining
    Used 16lb charcoal (breakfast, lunch, dinner, drying clothes)
    64 pounds charcoal remaining]

    8 January, 571 [14 Fireseek] - Stark Mounds, wilderness north of Svartjet valley (2000 feet elevation)
    The morning’s march is slow, as they pick their way across a vast, rocky mountainside. In compensation, they can see for miles - there is no way they will be surprised! By the end of the morning’s march they have a mountain in front of them, too steep to climb, but Thokk and Babshapka agree they way ahead is down a narrow draw that looks to widen as it descends the side of the mountain. There is no forage for the mules at lunch on this barren slope.

    The afternoon’s march is more claustrophobic, with high cliff walls on either side they pass down the defile. Here and there are seeps, pools and mountain streams; now and again there are tangles and scrub to negotiate, but little grass within the deep shadows of the narrow cliffs. The day is wearing on when the east-running draw finally opens up on a much larger, but still narrow, north-south valley. In the center of this is quite obviously the caravan trail - dried mule flops and midden heaps from countless camps abound, although none of them look particularly fresh. They have finally arrived, having succeeded in “going around” Elnore the long way. Since the information given Tyrius by the first set of tribesmen proved accurate, he feels confident that following this trail north will bring them to Oytpass Keep on the morrow - the last and most northern Sterish outpost before the border with Geoff.

    They converse over the evening fire, talking about their plans for arrival at the Keep. Among their concerns will be resupplying their human food, and whether and how they need to disguise Thokk.

    [ 7 human rations remaining
    Used 1 pound sheep, 6 pounds pine nuts (all three meals)
    no sheep meat remaining
    1 pound pine nuts remaining
    Used 2 mule rations - no forage for the day
    14 mule rations remaining
    Used 6lb charcoal (breakfast, lunch, dinner)
    58 pounds charcoal remaining]
    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.

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    From: LG Dyvers

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    Sun Oct 25, 2020 5:18 pm  
    Re: Post 124: Fort Thomas to Singleton

    Kirt wrote:
    ...riparian scrub brush.

    Wonderful! I learned a new word today! Happy

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    Master Greytalker

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    Posts: 754
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    Wed Oct 28, 2020 10:17 pm  
    Re: Post 124: Fort Thomas to Singleton

    SirXaris wrote:
    Wonderful! I learned a new word today!

    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.
    Master Greytalker

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    Wed Oct 28, 2020 10:53 pm  
    Post 140: Oytpass Keep

    DM's Notes:
    Oytpass Keep is neither on Darlene's map nor the map from the City of Greyhawk Adventure Card 15. It appears on the map of Sterich in the online supplement to Dungeon 117 available at The description of Oytpass Keep that appears in the text is my own.

    The Sterish noble family of Van-Malligan is briefly mentioned Living Greyhawk Journal #1, p. 30.

    Post 140: Oytpass Keep

    9 January, 571 [15 Fireseek] - Stark Mounds, Svartjet Valley (1500 feet elevation)
    (Light rain 5pm - 9pm)

    The party’s movement along the caravan trail is faster than the pace they had set climbing through the mountains in recent days. The valley narrows as they progress until there is room for little besides the Svartjet River and the trail itself between the steep rock walls. They have been traveling just over an hour when a mountain face blocks their advance on this side of the river, and the trail crosses over.

    At the crossing point itself there is a wide and well-maintained stone bridge, with a tower on each end and, at the highest point of the bridge, a gatehouse with twin tunnels and portcullises. They immediately begin to talk about what to do with Thokk until Tyrius points out that no banners fly above the ramparts of the gatehouses. He tells the party to stay where they are while he rides forward on Eddard.

    When he returns, he says that the portcullises are up, the gatehouse unmanned, the iron doors of the towers locked - they should be able to cross unmolested. Willa thinks that this is a bad sign and wonders if it could have been overrun. Tyrius shrugs and says that there is no sign of struggle and that caravans are few in the winter. Perhaps the Lord Van-Malligan, whose fief this is, simply does not man the bridge in winter to save on costs.

    Tyrius leads them forward confidently, but Aurora insists on sweeping the area with Buckbeak before any of them move. When no sign of ambush is found, however, they set out. As Tyrius said, the gatehouse bridge gives them no difficulty in crossing, despite the eerie darkness of the arrow slits and murder holes. They are all glad to be on the other side, and moving northeast along the caravan trail again.

    It is before noon when the trail turns and makes to cross back over the river again at a half-mile distant. However, they can already see the crossing, and it is no mere stone bridge. Rather, the entire floor of the valley is taken up with towers and walls, on both sides of the river. This must be Oytpass Keep. The outer works extend well away from the river itself, and there looks to be many wooden as well as stone buildings contained within its walls. At least two and possibly more stone bridges cross the river’s flow, but only within the walls. The river itself is made to pass through a gatehouse and portcullis in the walls, at least on the side that they can see. The caravan trail leads up to a barbican with a large wooden gate - one of the doors stands open, but the other is closed, and they can see a cluster of guardsmen about the entrance.

    The walls and towers run right up to the steep cliff faces on both sides of the river. Thokk says that he can easily scale the mountain to go around the fortifications - but he can’t take the silly mules with him - there will be actual climbing involved.

    Aurora sends Buckbeak aloft, but keeps her within a hundred feet of her so that she can see through her eyes. As she circles and scans (Perception check, with advantage, 18), she does not notice any immediate threats to climbers - the cliff walls appear barren and devoid of animal life, with barely a covering of moss and lichen on the lower slopes. However, through the hawk’s eyes, Aurora is seeing oddly geometric forms in the stone - right angles that are unlikely to be natural rock. Using telepathic command, Aurora has Buckbeak focus on these.

    On both sides of the river there are narrow, nearly vertical, staircases cut into the stone. At several places along the cliff face these stairs connect to ledges, just large enough for a man to sit or stand. If these are scout perches or archer nests, they are not currently occupied. All of them originate near the walls of the keep itself, but spread out diagonally over the face of the rock to cover more area than the keep does. Were Thokk and Larry to climb around the keep, they would either need to cross the carved stairs, or go above them by climbing even higher than they initially planned.

    The party had just rounded a spur of the mountain, so Thokk, Larry, and Aurora need only backtrack a few dozen paces to be completely out of sight of the Keep. There, Thokk and Larry don their climbing harnesses, check their hammers and pitons, and secure their rope, with one line fixed between them. Once they indicate their readiness, Larry casts cat’s grace separately on both of them, while Aurora casts invisibility on both of them at once (cast at third level, may choose two targets).

    The two then rapidly ascend the mountainside, with Thokk leading and Larry following his route as they call, unseen, to one another. Buckbeak makes a rapid pass up the mountain in front of them, but returns to Aurora when she does not see anything untoward. Thokk assured the party that he would pick out a route that was both quick and safe for both of them, but soon remembers only the first condition, and he selects increasingly larger spans and gaps that he can reach but Larry cannot. (Thokk Survival (mountains) roll 9,6 with advantage from harness, +5 from Larry’s help = 14). On those occasions that Larry cannot follow the path Thokk has chosen, Thokk wastes no time in simply hauling the dwarf up by his rope (Thokk strength check 9, 21, with advantage from climbing harness). They are soon well above the stairs and carved ledges, and making their way across the face of the mountain above the keep.

    Once the clatter of stones and chatter between the climbers fades above her, Aurora returns to the party and the main group continues up the trail to Oytpass Keep. It doesn’t take Tyrius long to secure them admission at the main gate. The guards are friendly and courteous, as are the rest of the townsfolk they encounter. The town itself seems curiously “overbuilt”. While the main route they follow is populated enough with occupied houses, shops, and stalls, the side-streets lead to whole neighborhoods that look deserted. Willa is curious about this and looks for someone who won’t be suspicious of her asking. When they pass an alley and she spots a youth struggling to roll hogshead casks up a ramp into the back of a tavern, she decides she has found her mark and tells the party to pause.

    Willa enters the alley and places her gauntleted hands on the cask, helping the lad easily roll it up the ramp. He grunts an automatic thanks, but falls silent when he looks up and sees his benefactor is a woman, and an armed and armored one at that. Willa has chosen him well, as he is just old enough to be simultaneously embarrassed and intrigued by her femininity and her forwardness. Together, the pair of them finish the boy’s work, rolling all of the casks into the tavern while he grows increasingly red-faced from exertion and self-consciousness. When the last cask has been rolled onto the floor of the tavern, he stammers a more complicated thanks. Willa brushes it aside and asks him about the abandoned or deserted parts of town. He struggles with her accent as much as he did with the hogsheads, but when he finally understands the question the words come spilling out. (Willa Persuasion check 18)

    Oytpass Keep serves as a way station for caravans coming from and going to Gorna, in Geoff. To that extent, a certain number of civilian service personnel are always in residence at the Keep - porters, mule breeders, innkeepers, etc. The Keep is also a military fortification, defending against the humanoids of the Stark Mounds but principally designed to stop any army of Geoff from reaching Sterich. Since the two nations are currently at peace, and have been so for a generation, the Lord Van-Malligan keeps only a token force of soldiers in the Keep, and leaves much of it unmanned. Still, the deserted parts are well-maintained, and can quickly be garrisoned should need arise. Most humanoid armies would simply bypass the Keep, for there is little there to plunder, and thus the Lord’s other holding to the south, Elnore, is seen as the bulwark against humanoid raiders.

    A simple, direct path crosses the town from the gate they go in, over a stone bridge across the river, and out the gate on the north side of town, running near to straight the entire way. Along the route, however, they can never go more than a hundred paces without having to pass through a portcullised tunnel or barred gate, though all of these structures currently stand open and their pace is rapid. When Willa announces her intention to ask about this in the market, Tyrius says there is no need, for it is obvious - the direct route helps caravans pass rapidly through the city without getting hung up or spread out, while the numerous “choke points” of tunnels and gates can quickly be closed off to deny such easy access to a foe should the outer walls be breached. When Willa points out that most of the gates and tunnels could be easily climbed or even stepped over by giants, Tyrius responds that giants are only a concern in southern Sterich - there are few if any of the brutes in the Stark Mounds, thanks be to Pelor.

    The main market square lies on the near side of the bridge, so they quickly find themselves faced with the decision of how much food to buy. Conversing with the locals, Tyrius learns that it is 60-some miles from the Keep to the next settlement north, the Geoffan fortification of Talbaire. The first half of that route is lightly forested and offers the chance of trying to gather natural forage, but the second half is barren mountain paths with little but rock, and even small streams being few and far between. Everyone he talks to advises him to purchase water casks and fill them full when the path leaves the Svartjet.

    Judging by their rate along the caravan trail so far, Willa estimates they can make Talbaire in four days of travel, assuming they are not slowed by inclement weather. By the end of today they will be effectively out of human food and have about a week’s worth of grain for the mules, or two weeks if they can find at least some grass along the way. They are shocked by the prices in the nearest stalls and walk away indignantly, only to find them uniform throughout the town. Non-perishable items like boots, belts, and arrows are scarcely more here than anywhere they have ever been. But the cost of food in this town is roughly three times that of Fitela, the last place they purchased rations.

    Willa considers the contingencies of the trail and proposes they buy human food for eight people for six days, but pass on grain for the mules at least until Talbaire. She asks Aurora for confirmation, but does not get an immediate answer. The enchantress appears distracted - perhaps maintaining concentration on two invisibility spells as well as continually checking the mountainside above through the eyes of Buckbeak is demanding her attention. When Willa finally gets her notice, she agrees to the purchase.

    Forty-eight trail rations, at three times the usual price, comes to a whopping 72 gold lions. Babshapka fishes in his purse and comes up with just 14, which is the last of the party gold coins. Aurora pays the remaining 58 gold from her personal coin store, then moves 11 platinum coins from party treasure she carries to personal treasure. She makes a point of telling everyone within hearing that she is okay losing the 3gp exchange difference, because she is looking out for the best interests of the party.

    Sobered by their shopping experience, Willa does a quick coin inventory with everyone present and they come to the conclusion that between them they have just seven platinum coins left in the party fund, although Babshapka reminds them that he is carrying two-score gems of unknown value that have not been divided up yet. At some point after all of the new provisions of dried fruit, hardtack, and salted jerky are loaded on to the mules, someone remembers that both Thokk and Larry are carrying bags of platinum coins for the party. Tyrius proposes that if they are able to reunite with their other party members by evening camp, they use the party platinum coins to “buy out” the personal gold from whomever is carrying the most. That way their personal treasure will be more portable, and the party treasure will have lower value coins for easier exchange.

    There actually is a small queue to cross the bridge in the center of town, and the party lines up behind day laborers and delivery carts. Meanwhile, high on the cliff face above them, Thokk is looking down at some mountain goats on the ledges beneath them (Survival (mountains) check 21). There is a reasonably sized ram and two ewes. One of the ewes has a yearling lamb. Thokk has paused long enough that Larry actually bumps into him from behind.

    “Och, Thokk, why’d ya stoap?”

    “Thokk see meat below. Time to hunt.”

    “Boot Thokk, if ya attok yon billy oor nan, ya’ll beecoom vis’ble.”

    Thokk pauses, and looks down at the Keep far below. The people there are tiny, like ants, or, and he chuckles to himself at the thought, like the foes of Thokk. How could they see him way up here, even without Aurora’s spell? He shrugs, letting Larry know he is not concerned, forgetting that Larry cannot see his shrug.

    “An’ woot if tha billy gaet falls?”

    This objection gives Thokk more pause. The ledge the mountain goats are on is narrow - if he wounds one and it runs, it could easily tumble far below. But then, Thokk has a skilled aim, and his current invisibility should allow him to approach from the perfect angle to dispatch the goat with one blow, and have it drop immediately to the ledge without falling down the face of the mountain.

    Thokk approaches cautiously, making as little noise as he can. (Stealth check, with advantage, 21) The wind is with him. He readies his javelin, but then decides to get closer, testing the limits of the invisibility. The lamb jumps - but towards him, seeking new browse on a closer ledge. Thokk lets it approach - and then, in one swift motion, reaches out, grabs it, and wrings its neck. The two ewes flee in panic from Thokk, suddenly visible. The ram starts towards him instinctively, but stops short and then turns tail as well (Intimidation 22). Thokk tries to pull out his javelin, but by the time he transfers the lamb to his off hand, the opportunity to throw at one of the fleeing goats is gone. He slings the lamb across his shoulders and climbs back up to Larry.

    On the valley floor below, Aurora stops and shudders as they cross the bridge. Asked what’s wrong, she searches her feelings (Arcana check 23). “Thokk has become visible,” she says.

    “It’s nigh an hour,” suggests Willa.

    “No,” insists Aurora. “Just Thokk. Larry is still invisible.” Buckbeak is circling low above the city - she sends her to the cliff face to find the half-orc and assess the situation.

    By the time the party is at the other side of the bridge, Aurora says that Larry is now visible as well - she believes because the hour is up rather than by his own actions. The party continues up the street as fast as the traffic will allow, eager to leave the Keep on the other side.

    It is not long after Thokk has reached Larry, and the two have continued their lateral move across the mountain face, that Larry shimmers into existence. They are almost completely past the Keep, and now just face a long descent. Larry has available only one more second level spell, but by casting cat’s grace at third level, he can target both himself and Thokk. He does so, the better for them to sneak down the mountain without being observed. Then Larry considers the forms available to him, and transforms himself into a wild-shaped mountain lion.

    Together, Thokk and the mountain larry descend the cliffs, picking a path that uses what little natural cover is available to shield them from the view of the keep, trying to stay on the other side of slopes. Eventually Buckbeak shows up, but she sees (Perception, with advantage, 16) neither Thokk (Stealth 21 with advantage) nor Larry. Buckbeak scans the mountainside, but sees no bipeds at all - just some mountain goats, a few rock doves, and a mountain lion (Larry Stealth 15 with advantage). Aurora had asked her to look for anything “worrisome”, and she certainly doesn’t see anything like that. By the time she returns to Aurora, the party has left the northern gate of the city and is well along the trail, perhaps half a mile from the keep. Buckbeak reports that neither Thokk nor Larry were present on the mountainside, nor were there any other humanoids about.

    It is early afternoon and no one in the party has eaten (Babshapka having put away his stone upon the first sighting of the Keep). Aurora sends Buckbeak up again, this time to check the path ahead. The valley rapidly widens (which makes sense, the keep being constructed at the narrowest point), but the caravan trail stays on the north side of the river for the next several miles. Thokk and Larry would be coming down on the opposite side of the river of course, if they have come down.

    Willa leads them on for another quarter hour, until they are a full mile away from the keep and Thokk, should he appear, is likely indistinguishable from a large man to anyone watching at a distance. There, they make camp for lunch. Aurora reflects on their predicament. They should not travel too far up the trail until they can reunite with Thokk and Larry, but they still don’t know where they are. Her sending spell would be perfect for finding them - if she had prepared it for today, which she has not. She’ll be able to get a third level spell slot back after lunch, but without a long rest she can’t prepare a new spell - sending or another. She decides to send Buckbeak out again while they are eating - if there is no sign of Thokk and Larry by the time they finish eating, she may have to break out her crystal ball. She tells Buckbeak to check the mountainside again, but if he still does not see them, to expand his search - the back side of the mountain, the valley floor, the keep itself - Thokk should be visible and recognizable somewhere.

    Having come down from the mountain and out onto the valley floor, Thokk and the mountain larry walk north away from the keep. Larry still has more than an hour left in his lion form, but when he feels they are out of easy sight of even the towers, he chooses to revert to being a dwarf in case he needs to converse or cast spells. Aurora told Larry that she would contact them through Buckbeak once they were off the mountain, but that hasn’t happened. Larry considers looking for the rest of the party, but then remembers seeing the stone bridges in the keep and realizes the party is likely on the other side of the river from them. He tells Thokk they should stop and eat in case they are getting too far away from the party.

    With just the two of them, there is no need for a fire - they have fresh lamb, and neither object to their meat being raw. Thokk grins as he skins the lamb. Larry may not be the most amusing member of Thokk’s warband, but he certainly is the most sensible - why ruin meat this fresh by cooking it? As a good leader, Thokk reviews the strengths of his troops. Larry is the sensible one. Willa, his advisor, is of course the shrewd one. Aurora is the funny one - she always makes Thokk laugh and, since the castle of the demon, she can make pretty explosions, too. Tyrius is good for talking to people, which is important - since Thokk finds that boring, it is good to have someone to delegate that to. Tyrius talks so much, even his horse has learned to talk to him. Babshapka is a good scout, almost as good as Thokk. Shefak is another one Thokk keeps around for amusement - he likes the way she makes people fall down when she kicks them, or hits them with her stick. Umbra - now there’s the mystery. Thokk is not quite sure why Umbra is in his warband. He has been trying to puzzle that out for a while now but doesn’t have it yet. Most likely Willa knows, but Thokk is proud and is sure he will be able to figure it out without asking.

    Since Thokk and Larry are no longer trying to remain hidden, it does not take long for Buckbeak to find them eating, and then report back to Aurora. Unfortunately, without a sending spell, Aurora has no way to communicate with them, being far outside the range of message. Buckbeak could easily carry a scrap of parchment to them - but neither Thokk nor Larry can read or write. In the end, Aurora has Buckbeak lead them to the river, then fly back and forth between the groups drawing them closer each time until they can see one another. The river is not particularly wide here, but the water is swift, powerful, and there are many rapids - it would be dangerous for any of them to cross, except perhaps Larry in the form of a salmon or somesuch. They cannot hear one another over the roar of the waters, but with gesticulations, Willa points upriver and Larry takes her meaning that they will both keep working their way along their respective sides until there is a bridge or natural ford. Since they started this morning the caravan trail has crossed the river twice, so it is sure to cross again at some point.

    Both groups set off upriver. Fortunately Thokk and Larry can move faster on the level than the slowest party members, which makes up for the fact that they are not on a trail, and the two groups are easily able to keep within sight of one another without either having to slow their pace for the first two miles. After that, however, the trail turns away from the river, and they are increasingly distant from one another until they eventually lose sight, although Aurora keeps Buckbeak flying between them. After two miles of that, the caravan trail returns to the river for a further two miles. More than an hour of light remains for marching, however, when the trail leaves the river again. This time, the party can see it rise up a cliff face in a series of switchbacks, eventually disappearing beyond a ridge. The valley of the Svartjet continues a full two compass points in the other direction. It is clear now that some means of Thokk and Larry crossing the river will need to be found, or they and the party will grow increasingly distant from one another as the party follows the trail.

    Aurora suggests that rope be shot over the river and Thokk be pulled across. Umbra’s hempen rope is far too heavy to even consider - but both Willa and Andy carry silk rope that might be light enough. Larry and Thokk, of course, have a hundred feet of silk rope between them they used for their climbing - but no means of launching it besides Thokk’s javelin.

    Babshapka tries a few practice shots. His longbow is powerful, but with the weight of the rope attached he still cannot get an arrow clear to the other side of the river. Larry considers becoming a crocodile, something large enough for Thokk to cling to, but seeing the water up close convinces him that he would be dashed to pieces on the rocks before he was halfway across - crocs are built for slower waters than these, not mountain torrents.

    Aurora sends Buckbeak to scout upriver. It will take them away from the caravan trail, but when she returns she says that there is a rocky ledge that cuts the width of the river in half, at the edge of a three foot waterfall that runs the width of the river. Both groups walk upriver.

    By shooting from the narrowest point of the river, Babshapka manages to send a strand of silk rope completely across. Thokk carefully secures his pack, his weapons, and his remaining lamb, then wraps the rope a few times about his forearm. From the other bank, Aurora motions him to tie the rope about his waist, but he shrugs her off. He may not be the best swimmer, but he is wise enough to know that if the rope gets snagged on a boulder, he could be pulled under and drowned, or dashed against a rock, long before he could free himself. Free, he might get carried miles downstream, but he would rather do that than be tied to a rope he couldn’t let go of. In fact, how dare she tell him what to do - he has lived in mountains and forded mountain streams his whole life! Thokk is enraged, and strides boldly into the current, giving Babshapka just enough time to dash around below the waterfall and call for Willa and Tyrius to get on the rope (Thokk’s rage will give him advantage on the Strength check).

    With strong, powerful strokes Thokk crosses the foaming torrent, and the others find they need only take up the slack and keep the line from snagging on rocks. They walk along the bank with him as he travels downriver, but at no point are they actually dragging Thokk through the water. As he emerges from the freezing water on the opposite bank, he bellows. (DC 20 for Thokk to successfully cross the river. Thokk’s strength check with advantage: 16, 20).

    Meanwhile Larry is carefully studying the stream itself. It seems like the base of the mini-waterfall is the best place for him to cross, where he will have to fight the least current. (Survival (Mountains) 16 +3 for giving himself guidance= 19). He stands on the bank and uses his last second-level spell slot to give himself bull’s strength, then rushes to the water and jumps in, instantly transforming himself into a fat salmon. He struggles mightily against the current for nearly a minute before he flops, exhausted, to the far bank and returns to his dwarf form. (DC15 for a fish to cross the river safely, Larry’s strength check with advantage, 0, 11, +4 from choosing the best spot = 15).

    The sun is beyond the high peaks to the west and night is descending. The party makes camp and builds up a large charcoal fire to help dry Thokk and Larry. Almost immediately, a cold but light rain begins to fall, and soon they are all huddled about the fire, eager for lamb. Thokk regales them with the story of how he, barehanded, fought off the giant ram father of the lamb before snatching the creature from a narrow ledge thousands of feet up the side of the mountain while he dangled over the precipice, holding on with just one hand.

    Total food used for day: 1 pound pine nuts, ~3 rations, 3 pounds lamb

    [ Obtained 48 rations (purchased with 72gp)
    Obtained 5 pounds lamb
    Used 1 pound pine nuts, ~3 rations, 3 pounds lamb
    52 human rations remaining
    2 pounds lamb meat remaining
    no pine nuts remaining
    1 mule ration used - supplemented by forage
    13 mule rations remaining
    Used 16lb charcoal (breakfast, lunch, dinner, staying warm)
    42 pounds charcoal remaining]

    After dinner, Tyrius summons the light of Pelor and Larry and Aurora bring out their coin sacks. Larry passes Aurora 48 platinum coins, which will go from party treasure to her personal treasure, while she returns to Larry 240 gold coins from her personal stores to become a party fund.
    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.
    Master Greytalker

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    Tue Nov 03, 2020 2:33 pm  
    Post 141: Oytpass Keep to Tailebaire

    DM's Notes:
    By far the best source for maps of Greyhawk comes from the work of Anna B Meyer. I used for the party's travel. I would highly encourage any DM to use Anna's work, and anyone with the means to do so to support her Patreon at

    Post 141: Oytpass Keep to Tailbaire

    10 January, 571 [Fireseek 16] - Stark Mounds, Svartjet Valley (1500 feet elevation)
    The party passes a cold night; there is hoarfrost on the wet rocks near the river in the morning, but the water in their skins is unfrozen and their sleeping rolls have kept them warm enough.

    They set out for a long day’s march: first, back to where the main party left the caravan trail, then up the switchbacks along the mountainside, through a series of narrow, lightly forested mountain valleys, and finally up to a pass every bit as high as the ones they crossed taking the ‘long way’ around behind Elnore. Looking to the north and west, however, they can tell that there are higher mountains yet to come. At night there are clear skies, with no hint of the rain of the previous day. The stars are bright and both moons are nearing their last quarter. Willa deems it ideal to take another series of measurements and draw a new starfall map.

    The new drawing leaves no possibility that the star could have fallen in the Hornwood Forest, and little chance that it landed in the lowlands of Geoff, either. It is almost certainly in the vast Barrier Peaks mountains. The possible area is still half the size of the nation of Geoff, though - over 32,000 square miles (by Aurora’s estimation, not hers). They will need to narrow it much further before even beginning to search. Willa judges that Gorna sits at about latitude 29.5N. When they reach that city she can take another measurement and improve the accuracy of their estimation still further.

    [ Used 2 pounds lamb meat, 6 pounds rations
    no lamb meat remaining
    46 human rations remaining
    2 mule rations used no effective forage
    11 mule rations remaining
    Used 2lb charcoal (lamb breakfast - other meals are cold trail food)
    40 pounds charcoal remaining]

    11 January, 571 [Fireseek 17] - Stark Mounds, caravan trail between Oytpass Keep and Tailbaire (1750 feet elevation)
    [light fog 4am to 9pm; travel at half speed]

    The night is not any colder than the previous, but a damp wind has blown in, and at dawn a thick fog covers the mountains. Some of that burns off during the day, but there are still blowing mists and fog banks in the low pockets of the trail all day long. Travel is slow for the group and they barely manage eight miles as they climb higher into the mountains. Fortunately they have the caravan trail to follow - even Babshapka says that he would not attempt to guide them off-trail in the fog. Thokk says when you can’t see in the mountains, you just have to smell. Willa raises an eyebrow, but wisely makes no comment.

    [ Used 7 human rations
    39 human rations remaining
    2 mule rations used since no effective forage
    9 mule rations remaining
    No charcoal used (cold trail food)
    40 pounds charcoal remaining]

    12 January, 571 [Fireseek 18] - Stark Mounds, caravan trail between Oytpass Keep and Tailbaire (1750 feet elevation)
    [windstorm 7am to 12am]

    After another near-freezing night, the party awakens to cloud-streaked skies and a stiff wind. It is clear that a storm is brewing, and Willa has them eat and pack camp quickly, even as her tent is starting to flap loudly in the breeze. There is no cover in the narrow mountain valley, and there are plenty of loose rocks on the slopes above them that could be dislodged in a storm, so she would rather they be moving, the better to find shelter.

    From 7am to 8am they cover two miles, but as the wind increases, their pace slows. Fortunately the wind is to their backs, lightening their steps, but visibility is dropping and missteps on the trail growing more common. Buckbeak cannot keep aloft, and eventually cannot even cling to Aurora’s shoulder in the strong wind, so she dismisses the hawk to its “pocket dimension”.

    From 8am to 9am they manage another mile and a half. The clouds are thickening, and it is getting darker rather than lighter, but up ahead it looks like the valley is opening up, so Willa urges them forward. Aurora briefly considers her rope trick as an emergency shelter, but this storm will last far longer than the spell’s duration, and there is no way to fit the mules in besides.

    From 9am to 10am they travel another mile and a half, and emerge from the narrow valley into a broad, open bowl of perhaps five miles across. The caravan trail continues, running west along the northern edge of the bowl. To their south, in the bowl, are gentle slopes and a light pine forest. The east wind is easily 40mph now and still building - the pine trees are bending and swaying, and the air is a haze of blowing needles. Willa asks for options and Thokk and Larry shout in unison “Look for a cave!” but there are none in sight and no way of knowing where one might be. They might try taking shelter in the bowl - away from potential rock slides but in danger of falling trees. With Thokk’s axes they could attempt to build an emergency shelter by felling a few trees and creating an angled windbreak. They can see that eventually the caravan trail, some two or three miles ahead, exits the bowl to the north and enters a high-walled north-running valley - if they can make it there, that might take them out of the brunt of the wind.

    Willa shouts at Aurora and Tyrius that in the time they would take to try to make a shelter of downed trees, they might instead reach the north valley and less wind. But what about falling rocks there? She has been in enough squalls to have seen more than one man blown overboard. She checks the halters and lead ropes on the mules to make sure they are secure. In the slight pause, the mules turn their faces to the wind, close their eyes, and stamp nervously. Babshapka notices, turns, peers into the distance, sniffing dubiously. Do they smell a predator? Willa asks Eddard to help calm them as needed, and he moves next to them, rumbling soothing words and draping his head over their necks.

    Aurora agrees that either place, bowl or valley, is just as dangerous, so they may as well use their time pressing ahead. She taps Thokk and Babshapka on their shoulders to get their attention, then messages them (to avoid shouting over the wind) that they should move ahead of the party and scout to see whether the canyon is safe from wind and ambush. When Larry sees Babshapka start off, he shakes his head and trots after the elf, soon overtaking him. Larry convinces Babshapka to return to the party, whereupon the elf takes the leads of both mules and the party continues up the trail as their scouts jog ahead.

    [Note: In hills, along the caravan trail, Thokk can normally move at 2.6 mph, Babshapka at 2.3, and Larry at 2.5. The current wind is lowering everyone’s speed by half.]

    From 10am to 11am the party manages to travel just one more mile, while Thokk and Larry are a quarter-mile ahead of them.

    By 11am the winds are over 50 miles an hour, and everyone is struggling to stay on their feet as they creep along the trail. They can only see directly away from the wind now, they cannot look into the wind. The wind pushes rain before it - just a hint of rain, but blown at them so forcefully that they are soon soaked. From 11am to 12pm the party advances one more mile and Thokk and Larry are now half a mile ahead of them. These two have just rounded the corner of the cliff face and are trying to look up the valley against the force of the cross wind. It looks like it runs at least two miles or so north before turning west again, and it should shelter them to some extent from the wind. By noon the wind is blowing at more than 60 miles per hour. To the south of them, the party can see large trees snapping and crashing to the ground, and small trees being uprooted and flying through the air. To the north of them, loose boulders and other debris tumble down the slick, wet mountain slopes.

    [As Thokk and Larry enter the north-running canyon, the wind speed drops about ten miles an hour. From 12 to 1pm, they can move 1.25 miles ahead. The main party, however, can move at only half a mile an hour, and they are now 1.25 miles behind the scouts.]

    Thokk and Larry find that by advancing into the canyon, they are somewhat out of the wind, but it is still rushing furiously down the slopes at them. The biggest advantage is that they are mostly out of the rain, which seems to be “falling” more or less horizontally. Thokk looks about for enemies while Larry attempts to find a place with boulder outcrops to shelter them further, but also with little on the slope above that might come loose and fall on them. (Survival check (mountains) 11).

    The main party, for their part, is moving along the trail at a snail’s pace. More than one of them has been knocked to the ground by the wind or forced to crawl on their hands and knees at some point during gusts. Babshapka is leading the mules in a curious sideways gait, as the only way they can keep their feet is to face into the wind - if they turn broadwise with the high profile of their packs they would easily be knocked down. A break for lunch is obviously out of the question. All along the slopes near them, rocks and boulders tumble down, though fortunately none come near enough to strike anyone (luck roll +1).

    By 2pm, the party has advanced another half mile and the winds are lessening as they enter the mouth of the canyon. They finally reach the site that Larry has chosen for their camp at 3:30pm.

    Babshapka devises crude feed bags for the mules, since scattering grain on the ground for them as the party usually does would result in the food being carried away in seconds. Similarly, the party hunches over their trail food, snatching mouthfuls while trying to keep the rest from blowing away. The godssend is that it is still warm - now out of the rain, they dry quickly in the powerful wind and more than one of them takes shelter in their bedrolls. There is no point in setting up tents - even if staked enough so that they did not blow away, the oilskin cloth would quickly be rent by the wind. Likewise, a lantern or even a campfire would be blown out. An informal day watch is set up, mostly watching upslope for falling rocks. Willa advises them to try to get rest while they can.

    [Note: The storm peaks at 66mph and runs from noon to 1am the next day. Here in the side valley it is 56mph. In order to successfully rest, characters will need to make a DC15 Con save.]

    First watch is Thokk and Larry from 4pm to 8pm.
    After four hours of rest, Umbra saves but Babshapka does not.

    Second watch is Umbra (rested) and Thokk, 8pm to 12am.
    Babshapka (his second attempt) saves.
    After eight hours of rest, Larry and Willa save.
    Andy, Randy, Aurora, Tyrius, and Shefak do not.
    Those who failed, and Thokk who did not rest, all have 1 level of exhaustion (gives disadvantage on ability checks)

    [ Used 7 human rations
    32 human rations remaining
    2 mule rations used since no effective forage
    7 mule rations remaining
    No charcoal used (cold trail food)
    40 pounds charcoal remaining]

    13 January, 571 [Fireseek 19] - Stark Mounds, caravan trail between Oytpass Keep and Tailbaire (2000 feet elevation)
    [windstorm 12am to 6am]
    The windstorm continues all through the night, but diminishes sometime after midnight, so that by the time the day breaks it is nothing more than a stiff breeze on an overcast day. With so many in the party not having slept well, including the mules, who were nervous and agitated most of the night, Willa allows those exhausted to sleep in and recover.

    Third watch Umbra (rested) and Larry (rested), 12am to 4am
    Fourth watch Willa (rested) and Babshapka (rested), 4am to 8am

    DC15 Con save to rest for second eight hours:
    Thokk and Aurora save.
    Andy, Randy, Tyrius, and Shefak do not.
    Andy, Randy, Tyrius, and Shefak still have 1 level of exhaustion

    Larry, who was able to rest early on, has spent much of the pre-dawn and morning meditating on the splendid windstorm of the previous day. As a druid, he is always impressed by the power of nature - but as he grows in his own power, he increasingly finds ways he can use that power himself. In particular, he did not enjoy the feeling of scouting ahead with Thokk and leaving the rest of the party behind in the storm. By the end of his meditation, he believes that the spirits of the mountain have communicated with him a means to help the slower members of the party to “keep up”. Larry is now capable of casting Longstrider as a first level spell.

    Unfortunately, even the extended sleep-in revives just two more party members, and the mules are cranky as the party goes about loading them for the day, attempting to kick and bite. Babshapka looks them over, sees to their feeding and watering, and says that they will be ornery but are in no immediate danger of foundering, at least under their current loads. After the party has had a camp breakfast they set out at 9am.

    They haven’t gone but an hour when they come upon a curious sight - the caravan trail passes two large rock cairns, one after the other. In the nearer one, the rocks have been painted black and red, although the paint is faded, chipped, and weather-beaten. A number of the rocks are freshly strewn about, most likely due to yesterday’s winds. The farther cairn also has painted rocks, although these are in black and white, rather than red. The narrow-walled valley has dry winter grass in the bottom, so the mules are turned loose while Tyrius collects the rocks and returns them to the proper cairns. For a while Thokk joins him, thinking that something magical will happen when they are all restored, but he soon becomes disappointed and bored when it does not.

    Willa asks Tyrius about the meaning of the rocks and he says that, given that the national shields of the two countries are, Sterich - a red and black lion, and Geoff, a black and white griffin, he is surmising that the cairns mark the border of the two nations and that they are about to cross into Geoff.

    After the brief pause they continue, reaching a total of six miles in their abbreviated morning’s march. After a trail lunch they push ahead, covering another ten miles before they camp. All the way the valley floor rises slightly, but the mountainsides above them rise rapidly, so the valley grows ever more narrow and steep walled. Willa grumbles about it being the perfect place for an ambush, and she encourages the others to be continually scanning the cliff walls as well as the trail in front of and behind them.

    [ Used 7 human rations
    25 human rations remaining
    1 mule ration used, supplemented by forage
    6 mule rations remaining
    No charcoal used (cold trail food)
    40 pounds charcoal remaining]
    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.
    Master Greytalker

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    Wed Nov 11, 2020 7:14 am  
    Post 142: Talbaire

    DM's Notes:
    Talbaire is neither on Darlene's map nor the map of Sterich in the online supplement to Dungeon 117. It is on Anna Meyer's maps, but originally comes from the City of Greyhawk Adventure Card 15. There it is shown as being in the center of the caravan trail through the Stark Mounds and is described as "a village community of some 120 folk - 70 gnomes, ten dwarves, and 40 humans." I modified this to a population of about 300 humans with some 50 gnome craftsmen and soldiers. The description of Talbaire that appears in the text is my own.

    Post 142: Talbaire

    14 January, 571 [Fireseek 20] - Stark Mounds; caravan trail between Oytpass Keep and Talbaire (2000 feet elevation)
    After a night of rest without the wind and rain, everyone in the party is fully rested.

    The first six miles or so of the morning’s march are through the same narrow, steep-walled valley in which the party passed the night. After that there is a small, rocky bowl - just two miles by three or so, and then the trail goes up and over a sharp ridge.

    At the top of the ridge, the party can see that the bowl is actually six or eight miles across, and that the ridge has just cut off the southernmost section. The bowl is a mix of alpine meadows and, here and there, stands of pine. Of most interest is a settlement at the north end of the bowl. It has high stone walls and the caravan trail obviously leads directly to it. It is small, however - too small for a walled town - perhaps it is a large castle or keep? It is only some three miles or so to its gate - the party could easily arrive there around noon at their current pace.

    After a brief discussion, the party agrees to get closer before they decide what to do about Thokk. They descend the steep ridge along the caravan trail’s switchbacks, and then move out onto the floor of the bowl. They are still far from the sight of the fort, if that is what it is.

    After about a mile and a half they are about halfway to the settlement. In the fields around them they have passed several flocks of sheep and goats, tended by dark-skinned shepherds in heavy woolen clothes. The shepherds and their flocks keep their distance, and none seem interested in the party. Aurora keeps an eye out for boulders and copses in which to hide Thokk should people approach them, but for the moment no one is close enough to notice him.

    By a mile out more detail can be seen. High walls and round towers protect a small settlement or large fortress. Abundant stumps attest that any trees near the fortress have been cut, and the herds of goats keep saplings from growing back. Approaching closer would risk revealing Thokk’s presence to anyone on the walls. The walls and towers of the keep are well-cared for, with no cracks or fallen stones. Tyrius thinks he spies machicolations, and in stone no less, along the battlements - this is a serious fortification built by skilled professionals and well-maintained since.

    The keep itself guards the north-western corner of the vale at the base of a second ridge. The caravan trail enters its walls through a gate, and exits up the slopes behind it - but it leaves along two trails, one to the northeast, one the northwest. The cliffs on either side are steep, but climbable - Thokk is confident he could scale either one to avoid the settlement itself, but he would be within easy view of any sentries on the towers in day, if he was visible.

    The party huddles in conference, making a show of doing things like adjusting the packs and checking the feet of the mules, and so forth. As they mill about to confuse their numbers, Larry casts Eagle’s Splendor on Tyrius (advantage on Charisma checks, including Persuasion, for one hour), Cat’s Grace on Thokk (advantage on Dexterity checks, including Stealth, for one hour), and finally Longstrider on Thokk (+10 feet movement per turn on Thokk for one hour, bringing him up to 50 feet per turn or 2.8 mph marching speed on their current caravan trail). Larry had already cast create water this morning to fill their water skins for the day, so he is at this point out of first level spells. Finally, Larry transforms himself into a tiny gray jumping spider, scuttles across the ground, and begins to climb Thokk’s leg.

    Aurora engages Thokk in a dialog, telling him that he is always saying how he is a master scout and hunter, but she doesn’t think he is actually very good. He is offended, and immediately begins retelling his story about how he reached out and grabbed the mountain goat kid with his bare hands without it seeing, hearing, or smelling him. Aurora interrupts him and says that being good against a dumb goat is one thing, but against a whole camp of smart hostiles is another. She bets him he can’t sneak through the upcoming fort, following Shefak the whole way to the other side, without bumping into someone or having someone detect him in some way. She tells him she will stop and buy a keg of ale and give it to him if he can do it, and even cast an invisibility on him to make it fair because it is day and humans see better in the day. Thokk indignantly accepts her bet and she casts invisibility at second level (concentration, lasts one hour).

    Almost immediately sharp-eyed Babshapka points out something: a tiny wolf-spider is now floating in thin air at the height of Thokk’s shoulder. “Well, that’s not supposed to happen,” whines Aurora. “All his gear went invisible - the spell is supposed to work on anything he carries.”

    “Yes,” says Umbra, surprising everyone since she rarely speaks. “Any thing he carries goes invisible - not any one. Larry is alive, so it doesn’t work on him.”

    As Aurora protests and blusters, Shefak holds out her hand, and the wolf spider leaps over, then hides in the folds of her heavy winter cloak. Shefak and Umbra begin to lead the mules toward the fort, with Thokk following them invisibly. The tread of his feet is silent, but his booming voice is boasting loudly about how no one in the fort will know he is there. Willa, Tyrius, Eddard, Aurora, and Babshapka follow slightly behind.

    The plan is that once they gain admission to the fort, Shefak and Umbra (and invisible Thokk and Spider-Larry) will learn which of the two trails leads to Gorna, and take the mules to that end of town directly and then outside for a mile beyond the walls before stopping. The other five will remain inside the walls long enough to purchase the keg of ale if there is any kind of market, as well as to stock up on other supplies. [note: the party has less about three days of food left for themselves and the mules, as well as 40 pounds of coal remaining]

    At the walking speed of Tyrius, Willa, Umbra, and Aurora, the party covers the mile to the gates in about a half an hour. The closer they get, the more they are impressed by the fortifications. Each of the round towers is festooned with arrow slits and has a swivel-mounted ballista on its open roof. The machicolations Tyrius spotted before have iron spouts underneath, enabling liquids, like boiling oil or pitch, to be poured on people directly below and even shot out even further from the walls themselves.

    Of the two massive wooden gates at the base of the barbican, one stands open, and a small squad of guards relaxes outside, talking amiably with one another as they watch the party approach. They carry longspears, and have shortswords belted about their waists. Several of them have a supple leather sling and a small bag (presumably for stones) tucked into their belts as well. Their heavy woolen cloaks are brightly dyed in tartan patterns, and their skin is a deep bronze color. Their hair is jet black and falls to their shoulders in thick curls. Aurora and Willa are dumbfounded - the guards are almost surely pure-blooded Flan. Anywhere in Keoland they could be peasant farmers or herdsmen, local levies at best if their lord trusted them with weapons, but gate guards, never.

    If Tyrius is surprised he doesn’t betray it. Perhaps it is the Eagle’s Splendor, but his golden hair and pearly teeth seem to shine with even more luster than usual as he strides forward to greet the guards. He is met by what is likely a sergeant - a man dressed like the others but with a purple face tattoo and bronze bracers. Even before Tyrius can greet him, his counterpart initiates the exchange, speaking in accented Common.

    “An’ wha’ is this grrreat poncy soothren laird wantin’ o’ oos wee folk aday, hmm?” His men snigger behind him.

    Tyrius speaks - but in Flan. His words are plain enough, even to those in his party who don’t speak the language. “[I am Tyrius of Sterich, Paladin of Pelor, and this is my party].”

    The sergeant's eyes go wide, and he stares mutely at the sunburst symbol on Tyrius’ shield. When he finally regains his tongue, his words are also in Flan, and there the party is lost, but it is clear that his tone is now one of civility rather than mockery. After a brief conversation with Tyrius, he makes a gesture, and his men disperse to allow the party through the gate. Aurora is looking at the sun above, trying to guess how much time has elapsed since the spells were cast, when she feels Thokk’s great elbow in her ribs. She begins to message him, telling him to stop, but his words come first in her mind, “You see, you see, Thokk is master scout - guards do not even suspect him!” and again his unseen elbow digs into her ribs.

    As the party passes through the gate, Willa notes that many of the guards bow their heads at Umbra and Babshapka, making a curious salute by holding up their hand to their brow. Babshapka looks unsure of how to respond, but Umbra just nods at them magnanimously.

    Once they are inside the gates, the party finally has a view of what is beyond the walls. Just inside the barbican, to either side, are dirt-floored and low-walled corrals, divided and subdivided with a series of gates and light wooden rails and posts. All of them are empty, but the abundant dung indicates they are used for sheep and goats. Most of the interior of the complex is simple one and two-story wooden-framed houses. They are all well-made if modest. Everywhere there are Flan commoners about. This is not, in fact, a fortress, but rather an elaborately walled village. None of them have seen such extensive fortification for such a small settlement before - at most, there are perhaps a few hundred people in the village.

    A stone-paved road runs from the gate deeper into the town. Roughly every fifty feet along it are curious stone structures, like pedestals some five feet high or so with rounded domes. Each of them has four arrow slits about their circumference, as if they were miniature defensive towers made for a single, small, archer, but none of them has any obvious means of entry - no doors or other portals.

    Tyrius speaks further with the serjeant, and then relays some of the conversation to the party. “The road to Gorna is the northwest trail - the northeast trail is “closed to us,” but he would not say why. There is a small market in the center of town, though I take it things will be as expensive as they were in Oytpass Keep. He has no problem with the mules going on ahead and some of us visiting the market, but he says we need to be entered into the rolls first and he has sent for a “warden”, whatever that is.”

    As Aurora nervously counts the minutes, the party waits just inside the gate. The townsfolk seem to take no special notice of them, and even half of the guards have drifted back outside the gates so that they can stand in the sun rather than the cold shadow of the village walls. After some ten minutes, an old but spry man with a long beard and longer robes appears. He carries no quill or parchment, so it is unclear what “rolls” he will be entering the party into, but he asks each of them for their names and places of origin. Umbra names herself simply “Umbra,” and does not give a birthplace or home, but the man does not challenge her. After he has taken each of their names, the man turns to the mules, and speaks to them in a low, whickering voice. Both Andy and Randy respond to him! After a little back and forth, the old man turns to Tyrius. “Are there not others in your party,” he says suspiciously, “perhaps one who is very tall and strong, and another who is short and round?” Is it the party’s imagination, or do the mules nod in agreement?

    “Well, that’s hardly fair,” mutters Aurora to herself.

    Even with the Eagle’s Splendor, Tyrius’ face betrays a bit of strain, and he swallows before answering the warden’s question. “Everyone in my party is right here, now, with me,” he says finally, “and I personally as a paladin of Pelor vouchsafe for all of us.”

    The old man holds his gaze to Tyrius for another minute, and then nods at the sergeant before moving off.

    “Ye are frrree ta gae,” says the sergeant brightly in Common. “Welcoom ta Talbaire.”

    As the remaining guards return back outside the gate, the party advances along the paved road that runs through the village. As previously discussed, Shefak and Umbra lead the mules quickly along, their goal being to get them, and invisible Thokk and spidery Larry, outside of town before time runs out and they appear. Babshapka has to jog a few steps to catch up to Umbra, calling after her softly in elven. “What was that salute,” he asks, “why do these folk treat us so?”

    Umbra doesn’t slow her pace, but replies in Elven, though a more elegant and formal version than Babshapka’s. “The Gyri are almost entirely Flan. They have always been superstitious. They revere us fey more than other humans do, which is just as well. We haven’t been treated as poorly here as your people have in Keoland, for example, and have been saved from the worst aspects of human nature. At least recently. Honestly, I am unsure what the salute means - or once meant. They have been doing it for centuries. Perhaps they originally thought it would ward off our “evil eye”. Nowadays it is just something they do when they see an elf, or another fey - recognizing us, making sure those around them know that fey are present.”

    “And me?” gasps Aurora rushing up breathlessly behind. “Why didn’t they salute me? Are half-elves not considered fey?” She is speaking in her best Elven, but the look of pained concentration on Umbra’s face betrays that she is struggling to understand the pronunciation.

    “Oh, they are - anyone with a trace of fey is recognized as such. They probably just didn’t notice you. If you would put down your hood so they could see your ears, or take off that ridiculous leather jack…”; Umbra’s voice trails off, perhaps realizing that she is being insulting and not wishing to continue. Aurora’s winter gear does indeed hide much of her form and even her face. Bundled up, there is little way to tell that she is not a fully human woman. Umbra, by contrast, is still in her elegant green robe and light open sandals. The party has not seen her in anything else since she awoke at the inn in Longspear, even when she sat watch duty and the nights dipped below freezing on the deck of the Banner of Heather. Currently it is in the forties and humid, and all of them are spouting clouds of vapor as they speak - all except for Umbra.

    With the gate guards now far behind them, Willa whistles to recall Babshapka and Aurora. They let Umbra and Shefak press on ahead up the road, while the main group of the party ambles leisurely through the village. They are now passing through a shop district. Most of the stores are sized for humans, but here and there they spy one built for smaller folk. Windows are shuttered against the winter cold, so they can’t see inside, but they start to keep track of the painted signs hanging on the outside. Human-sized shops run the gamut of those found in any large village on a trade route - inns and taverns, bakeries, leatherworkers and cobblers, clothiers, coopers, cheesemongers. The more diminutive stores, however, are invariably smithies, and, just before the market, one jeweler - unusual in such a small place but perhaps selling to the caravan merchants. The jeweler’s store has a gnome lad sweeping off the stoop. From the windowsill nearby, a ground squirrel watches the boy intently.

    By the time they are halfway through the village, their advance party has been lost to sight. Here, the paved road splits in two. Willa knows full well from Tyrius that they are to take the left branch, but she has them pause as if in doubt while she surreptitiously examines one of the strange stone pedestals. The sun is high overhead and the arrow slits are dark - she can’t see inside. She asks Tyrius if he can cast light inside the space. When a golden glow streams out of the slits, Eddard lowers his head and stares inside, first with one eye, then the other.

    “That’s an archer’s nest,” the horse says resolutely, startling the Flan folk passing by on the street. “There’s a little ledge to stand on, but then a ladder going down into the earth. Nice idea, that. Not enough space in there to draw a bow, but a light crossbow would fit just fine.”

    Not liking the crowd that is gathering to see the talking horse, Willa gets them moving again, along the left-hand road that presumably leads to the gate northwest of town. They can see the open market ahead, though it appears deserted, with no stalls in sight. Willa asks them if anyone knows what the “warden” was as they walk. “I was trying to figure out his spell, myself,” says Aurora hopefully. "I think he used it to ask the mules about us."

    “That was speak with animals,” says Tyrius. “And yes, he did ask the mules about us - which is what let him know about Thokk and Larry. I will have to do penance for my dissembling.”

    “You answered his intent honestly enough,” says Eddard reassuringly, again startling the villagers nearby.

    Speak with animals?” sighs Aurora. “I don’t think I can learn that.” She looks about, trying to see whether there are any others dressed like the old man was.

    “No, that’s druid magic,” confirms Tyrius. “Although I think rangers and bards can learn it as well.” Babshapka nods agreement.

    The main party now stands in a small open plaza, flagstones under their feet, but no vendors in sight. “Not a market day?” asks Willa.

    “Or just no caravans to sell to in winter,” muses Tyrius.

    A large man bursts out of one of the stores that fronts the market. “‘ere, ‘ere!” he cries. “Travelers, ‘ere, aye, supplies fer ye an’ yer moont!” The portly merchant ushers them into his large general store. Eddard politely remains outside, smiling at the children who are daring one another to run up and touch him. Barrels and boxes of preserved food and other sundries crowd the floor of the store and crocks and jars line the shelves.

    Willa asks the man how many miles ahead it is to the next market town. “Och, that’d be eighty miles ta Alvein, an’ anoother twenty miles ta Gorna. Ye’d best be thinkin’ a’ buying two weeks a’ food.”

    Willa laughs. “We be no fat an’ slow caravan, master merchant. Since Elnore, we’ve made twenty miles on a good day.”

    “Sure ye hae, sure ye hae. Boot when th’ fog cooms, aye? An’ th’ snow, lass?”

    “Fair enough. We might ‘ave t’ sit a day ar twain in camp. But Babshapka ‘ere is a fair mark, and ‘e can find us meat.” Willa doesn’t mention the possibility of Thokk hunting and Larry foraging as well, though it is clearly on her mind.

    Willa continues to ask the merchant about the route, learning that about the first half of the hundred miles to Gorna will be rocky mountain passes like they have seen so far. After that, the trail will descend into a broad and green valley with farming and herding villages, but no markets. She is now even more confident about the foraging opportunities. She agrees to buy just 21 rations (three days’ food for all of them, less Babshapka) and the merchant looks glum. Aurora mentions that she would like his smallest keg of ale as well, and he brightens a bit.

    Once the supplies are packed and coin passed over, Willa asks the merchant about the archer nests, and he explains that they are for the defense of the village. Talbaire, although a human village, is actually under the rule of a gnome laird, and that laird is in turn beholden to Grand Duke Owen of Geoff. The gnome laird sees to the village’s defense, with stout walls and, should the enemy ever breach the walls, a series of tunnels underneath the town that will let the gnome archers snipe away at any invaders without exposing themselves.

    The way the merchant says “Geoff” is peculiar - Tyrius has told them it is pronounced “joff”, but from this man it sound more like “gy-ruff”. Asked about it, he assures them that his is the correct pronunciation, and that the Sterrish don’t know anything about speaking proper Flan.

    Finally, when asked about what the village needs defending from, the merchant offers up bandits, and humanoids - principally orcs and goblins.

    It is just a short way from the market to the gate of the village, which is much like the one they came in. Out of the village the trail ascends a steep mountainside in a series of switchbacks. A mile above the village they encounter a camp with Umbra and Shefak, and the now-visible Thokk and Larry. Even before they are in the camp, however, they can hear Thokk bellowing from the slopes above them, “You see Aurora, you see how good a scout is Thokk!” with his shouts echoing down the mountainside. Having finally attained the camp, she gladly asks Willa to turn over the keg of ale to Thokk, and he has it half empty before the rest of them have finished their lunch.

    For the afternoon’s trek they have to endure orc marching songs, sung at the top of Thokk’s drunken lungs. At the bottom of the other side of the mountain, the road branches east and west, but a faded sign points them east to Gorna. They travel through a broad, forested valley and have started up another narrow mountain pass before they lose the day’s light and camp for the night. After dark, a heavy fog blankets the slopes around them.

    [ Used 8 human rations
    Purchased 21 human rations for 31.5 gp of party treasure
    38 human rations remaining
    1 mule ration used, supplemented by forage
    5 mule rations remaining
    No charcoal used (cold trail food)
    40 pounds charcoal remaining
    Purchased 5 gallons of ale for 2.5gp of party treasure
    No ale remaining by the end of dinner]
    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.

    Joined: Jul 26, 2010
    Posts: 2547
    From: LG Dyvers

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    Tue Nov 17, 2020 3:28 pm  

    I enjoyed Captain Robert's tale of the giants. 🙂

    Was that your original concoction?

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    Master Greytalker

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    Tue Nov 17, 2020 3:40 pm  

    SirXaris wrote:
    I enjoyed Captain Robert's tale of the giants. 🙂
    Was that your original concoction?

    Yes, I made it from whole cloth.
    As you might can tell, I am foreshadowing giants.
    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.

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    Posts: 2547
    From: LG Dyvers

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    Tue Nov 17, 2020 8:46 pm  

    Kirt wrote:
    SirXaris wrote:
    I enjoyed Captain Robert's tale of the giants. 🙂
    Was that your original concoction?

    Yes, I made it from whole cloth.
    As you might can tell, I am foreshadowing giants.

    Yes, and I am anticipating that very much!

    I never got to finish my own campaign that ended in the middle of G2. I was very disappointed. But, Real Life, and all. Neutral

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    Wed Nov 18, 2020 8:26 pm  
    Post 143: Talbaire to Gorna

    DM's Notes:
    Alvein is not on Darlene's map. It is on Anna Meyer's maps but originally comes from the City of Greyhawk Adventure Card 15. There it is shown as being at the north end of the caravan trail through the Stark Mounds. The description of Alvein that appears in the text is my own.

    There are multiple canon sources for Gorna, which is (of course) on Darlene's maps. I drew heavily from the Living Greyhawk Gazetteer of the Grand Duchy of Geoff in my description.

    Post 143: Talbaire to Gorna

    15 January, 571 [Fireseek 21] - Talbaire, Stark Mounds, Geoff (2000 feet elevation)
    Before setting out in the morning, the party goes over plans for the march. Thokk and Larry are still moving comfortably faster than the main party, and so will have extra time to hunt and forage if they move at their own pace. Willa decides to send Thokk ahead to both hunt and scout for danger. Larry will walk behind the party, taking his time to investigate food sources and then catching up to them later.

    All morning long they continue to climb the steep, narrow pass in front of them. Thokk finds little game on the main trail, but thoroughly investigates side-branches and dead-end canyons, as well as scrambling up slopes too steep for the main party and poking in the occasional caves. Larry trails the party, turning over loose rocks to look for grubs and, later in the afternoon, checking rotting logs for mushrooms.

    By the mid-afternoon the party’s ascent has finally leveled out. They turn from north to west, as the alpine valley they are in widens and becomes forested. The mules have not been able to browse all day, but Willa finds a campsite for the night in an open meadow so that they can graze freely.

    [ Used 7 pounds meat and forage, found 28 pounds meat and forage; 21 pounds remaining
    38 human rations remaining
    1 mule ration used, supplemented by forage; 4 mule rations remaining
    6 pounds charcoal used cooking foraged food; 34 pounds charcoal remaining]

    16 January, 571 [Fireseek 22] - Trail from Talbaire to Alvein (2000 feet elevation)
    [Wandering encounter: Patrolled Hills (noon); Mountain Lion]
    The morning’s march continues along the same lightly forested valley as the previous day, but now gradually down rather than up. The party breaks for lunch on the banks of a stream, where they have come upon Thokk skinning a fat mountain hare. Beneath them, the valley opens up still further, until it is several miles wide and the stream has been joined by others to make a river. They are getting close to Alvein, and Babshapka says that he can see huts and hovels in the broad valley below. What none of them see is the lean cougar in a nearby copse, smelling the hare and the mules and twitching its tail (Stealth roll 20) but knowing better than to approach so many people at once.

    The afternoon’s march is pleasant, as the stream grows broader and the trees and grass around more thick. A few hardwoods are even starting to come in among the pines. By the end of the day they have passed a shepherd’s lean-to shelter. Willa is wondering whether it is wise to send Thokk in advance of the party on the morrow, lest he come back from “hunting” with some Geoff herdsman’s sheep, goat, or cow.

    [ Used 7 pounds meat and forage, found 18 pounds meat and forage; 32 pounds remaining
    38 human rations remaining
    1 mule ration used, supplemented by forage; 3 mule rations remaining
    6 pounds charcoal used cooking foraged food; 28 pounds charcoal remaining]

    17 January, 571 [Fireseek 23] - Trail from Talbaire to Alvein (2000 feet elevation)
    [Thunderstorm 12pm to 8pm]
    As Willa sets the march order in the morning, she talks to Thokk, telling him she wants him back with Larry, foraging in the rear guard. Babshapka will scout in the van today. When Thokk petulantly asks why, she points at the meat left over from breakfast. He is hunting too well, she says, and they cannot eat so much meat before it goes bad. Thokk chuckles over the finicky human stomachs that cannot stand a little rot in their food. Also, Willa tells him, unlike Aurora, she believes in his scouting and hunting ability. The human-kept animals, like chickens, sheep, and cows, are too easy, she says - they are beneath his skills as a hunter. She tells him he needs to impress Aurora and the others by hunting only wild animals worthy of his skill. He grins lopsidedly and agrees. After everyone is in good order, the main party sets out, with Thokk and Larry concealing themselves near the campsite to see if any camp rats or other creatures arrive, believing the whole party has left. “Or goats!” Willa calls over her shoulder as they depart, suddenly remembering another possibility. “No sheep, cows, chickens, OR GOATS!” Thokk and Larry snicker to one another in their hiding spot.

    Babshapka stows his stone in anticipation of being the first point of contact for the party and jogs up the trail ahead of them. As they set out, they are in rough country with the caravan trail alongside the river (which they will later learn is the Red Oyt). However, as the morning wears on, the river drops down and curves away, but the trail stays on a dry step overlooking the widening valley bottom. Below them the land grows greener, a patchwork of forest becoming denser and clearings becoming increasingly intensively used for sheep pastures.

    By noon, they have rounded a rock promontory on their south and can see all the way to the end of the valley below them, some ten or fifteen miles ahead. Little fishing thorps line the riverbanks below, but there are no settlements along the caravan trail itself until the end of the valley, where they can just make out the walled village of Alvein. Several of them are hopeful of reaching the village by eveningfall, maybe even spending the night at an inn. Babshapka, however, waiting for them at the spot he has chosen for their noon camp, points at the gathering dark clouds above them, replete with thunderheads.

    While they take out their lunch and start a fire the distant roll of thunder can be heard. By the time Thokk and Larry arrive, empty-handed for now, the rain has begun. The deluge, lit by flashes of lightning, continues the whole time they eat and shows no signs of stopping when they return to the march. It is not long before the trail is slick in places and muddy in others, and by evening, with it still raining, they are only half the distance to Alvein. They could continue on in the dark until they reached the village walls, it is true, but they will have enough problems arriving at the unknown village in the morning without demanding that they open their gates at night.

    The rain finally stops a few hours after dark. No one has slept yet, the crash of thunder having kept up even those that could sleep while sodden. They build their fire high and hang and dry as much of their clothes as they can before the first lot of them head off to sleep.

    They will certainly reach Alvein early on the morrow, but Willa, Tyrius, and Aurora discuss what happens next around the campfire. Should they stop there and resupply, or continue straight on another day to Gorna, the capital? From what they saw of the village before dark, it is small, with a few hundred people at most - Gorna will be much larger. As strangers, they will be much more noted by the people of Alvein, but word of them is less likely to get out, should anyone be looking for them. Is it better to be noticed for certain but not communicated about, or to be unlikely to be noticed but certainly communicated about if they are? Are they far enough from the humanoids of the Stark Mounds that Thokk could walk freely in Alvein, or are they better off with him in the capital? Gorna will certainly have access to more specialized goods and services, but things like food and lodging are likely to be more expensive there. While much of the way forward is unclear, what is clear is that they would do well to spend a full day in one or the other of the two towns - they have been on the road nearly a month since Crosswater, and much of their equipment is due for repair or replacement. They will need to buy charcoal and grain for the mules, but they need more than shopping - they need to visit cobblers, armorers, leatherworkers, smiths, and such. Also, at some point when it is not raining and the night skies are clear, Willa needs to take measurements and prepare their next version of the Starfall map.

    [ Used 8 pounds meat and forage, found no meat and forage; 24 pounds remaining
    38 human rations remaining
    1 mule ration used, supplemented by forage; 2 mule rations remaining
    6 pounds charcoal used cooking foraged food, another 10 pounds to dry clothes; 12 pounds remaining]

    18 January, 571 [Fireseek 24] - Trail from Talbaire to Alvein (2000 feet elevation)
    [Light Rain 11pm to next day]
    After the talk last night, it has been decided to send Tyrius and Willa up ahead into Alvein to scout it out while the others trail behind. The trio (including Eddard) leave immediately after breakfast while the rest of the party packs camp. Thokk and Larry are kept close to the main group rather than foraging behind in case they need to be hidden.

    Tyrius and Willa enter the village at mid-morning while the rest of the party is still a mile off. At this distance, the party can see the settlement clearly, and avoid approaching any closer. All of the village is walled, but the walls themselves are just earthen dikes and wooden palisades, with only the towers being of stone. Although built at a narrow point in the valley, the village itself does not completely block passage in the way Talbaire, Oytpass Keep, or Elnore did - rather, it would be easy to walk around the village walls, at least to the south of the walls. To go around to the north, they would have to first cross the Red Oyt River, with no obvious way of doing that at their current location. The river flows close to but not through the village, and outside the walls there is a small wharf and mill district with several moored barges. Outside the village, on both sides of the river, trails lead up the steep mountain slopes to numerous cave mouths in what are likely to be mines.

    When Tyrius and Willa arrive at the village, they find the gates open - but no guards about. They stand confused, just inside the gate, trying to see if anyone will challenge them while the village folk busily go about their affairs. Finally Tyrius spots a man tending to a sick goat in a pen near the gate, and something about the man reminds him of the “warden” from Talbaire, so he approaches him. When Tyrius asks to be admitted to the village, the man, without looking up from his work, asks mockingly whether he wants a carpet or strewn flower petals, or perhaps a herald to announce his presence. Tyrius, nonplussed, says that they are strangers here to supply and equip, and the man says that they should be about their business, then, and points him at the craft district. Willa tries a different tack, saying that they are advance scouts for their party of adventurers, and want to make sure they don’t offend local sensibilities - including by bringing a dwarf and an armed half-orc into the village. This finally gets the man’s attention, and for the first time he looks up from the goat and sees them. He studies Willa’s face, and the sunburst design on Tyrius’ shield.

    “Tha dwarrrf be fine,” he says at last, “jus’ keep tha euroz on a shorrrt leash, aye?”

    Willa and Tyrius move off and begin to discuss who should go back to bring the party into the village and who should start looking at shops when Eddard sighs, says that that he won’t likely fit in shops anyway, and that he will go fetch the party.

    As Willa and Tyrius walk through the streets to the shop district, they are struck by the abundance of women among the villagers - or, as it turns out, the relative paucity of men. They later learn that by this point in the day, nearly all able-bodied men are either working in the mines outside of town or in the lumber camps upriver. The exception would be the shop-keepers and skilled craftsmen they are going to see. Alvein supplies coal (mineral coal actually mined, not charcoal prepared in pits) and timber and fish for Gorna. Due to both the seasonal caravan trade and the constant need for harnesses for the local ponies of the mines, there are a number of skilled leatherworkers in the village, and most of the party’s needs can be met here - there are workers to resole their shoes, patch holes in cloaks and jackets, mend straps and buckles, apply oil soap to Eddard’s saddle and barding, and so forth. There are bowstrings for purchase. Likewise, the party could buy human rations here (although they currently have enough for four or five days in addition to their fresh forage) and certainly they can get both grain for the mules and charcoal for themselves, all at reasonable prices (and much less than they paid in Talbaire and Oytpass Keep). The shopkeepers assure them that the prices are lower here than the capital as well, although Willa puts these assurances in the same category as those of the shopkeeper who said they would need two weeks of food for the march from Talbaire to here. The smiths here are adequate to clean, polish, and sharpen their weapons. There is not, however, an armorer, so the one item that they will not be able to have serviced is Tyrius’ plate armor - and it is rather in need of sanding and oiling. By the time the main party arrives at the gates, Tyrius and Willa know where they will be making their purchases and repairs, should they actually decide to do that here, and have a lead on an inn besides. When Willa asks whether they will be able to conduct their affairs and still make Gorna by nightfall, none of the Alveinians believes that they can - except for one prentice blacksmith who says that if they are in that much of a hurry to reach the capital they should hire a river barge and simply float there, as that will be faster than walking.

    Willa and Tyrius find the party and after a quick conference with Aurora, decide to stay the day and night in Alvein. Tyrius keeps Thokk with him and takes the mules to the inn (“The Stolen Nugget”), Aurora collects the gear in need of repair and spends the day in the leather shops, and Willa sees to buying new supplies.

    Today is Moonsday and tomorrow Godsday - most of the townsfolk are abed soon after dark so as to attend services on the morrow. The miners are exhausted from their day’s labors in any event. But after the party has a hearty dinner of lamb stew, fresh bread, and eel pie for dessert, the common room of the inn begins to fill nonetheless. Most of those who come to drink are the young prentice craftsmen who, fostered on masters not of their own kin, are a most impious lot. These youths are joined by the fisher folk who, like water folk everywhere, keep their own religious customs apart from those of the larger community. Perhaps it is for this reason that Willa chose the inn closest to the river gate, for she is soon found to be drinking with a barge pilot and his crew. Every so often she excuses herself to check the sky outside, but finding it still overcast, soon returns to her tankard. Around eleven, when the steady patter of rain can be heard on the shutters, she gives up any pretense of checking the sky. The Gyri (as they call themselves, or “Joffans” as Tyrius insists on calling them) are a rough and boisterous people, given to mocking one another with jests that would bring Keoishmen to blows, and the common room is filled with laughter, shouting, and song. For all the concern the party showed about Thokk, he is soon drinking collegially and arm-wrestling with a table of huge-armed prentice smiths. As the night wears on he shouts increasingly incomprehensible complaints at the rest of the party for conspiring to keep him from the taverns of the last several towns they passed.

    The night is cut short by the innkeep, however, who makes a “last call” at a quarter to midnight, and begins forcing people out at midnight itself. “The wardens, the wardens…” is all he will say over the objections of the patrons, and sometimes, “Ye dinnae have ta gae ta kirk, but ye cannae drink oon Godsday.” Willa knows full well they have a day’s march to Gorna in the morning, so she speaks soothingly to Thokk and finally coaxes him from the bar and upstairs.

    [ Used 2 pounds meat and forage at breakfast, rest of day was inn fare, found none; 22 pounds remaining
    38 human rations remaining
    No mule rations used (forage and stabling), 14 mule rations purchased for 70cp; 16 remaining
    2 pounds charcoal used cooking, 80 pounds purchased for 4gp; 92 pounds charcoal remaining
    41gp, 12 coppers spent on inn and repairing equipment]

    [Total expenses 45gp, 82cp]

    19 January, 571 [Fireseek 25] - Alvein (2000 feet elevation)
    [Light rain from previous day to 7am, Thunderstorm from 6pm to 9pm]
    The innkeeper’s insistence on cutting their evening short the night before means that the party has an easy enough time rising in the morning, though it is still raining when they do. There is no trace to be found of the innkeeper, though a cold breakfast is laid out for them, along with a note scrawled in Common, “gone to kirk”. Willa and Aurora settle the bill, leave coin in the kitchen, and pack the party’s gear, but they wait until the rain stops to bring the mules out from the stable and load them. After that they are off down the slick cobbles of the street, out the open, unguarded gate of the village, and along the trail the follows the Red Oyt River down the winding road to Gorna.

    The day is cool and overcast, but the rain holds off at least while they are marching. The broad wooded valley in which Alvein lay closes off, and for more than half the day the trail follows the Red Oyt tightly as it winds through a narrow and twisting pass. Then finally in the early afternoon they emerge on the upper slopes of an even greater and greener valley, with the great city of Gorna before them at the confluence of the Red Oyt and White Oyt rivers. Gorna is easily a city of several thousand inhabitants. It is no Gradsul of course, but it is certainly larger than Longspear and it is easily the biggest city they have seen since leaving Keoland. The city itself is on a high promontory above the rivers, with one end defended by a great stone castle; the castle’s towers rise like tall stone sentinels from atop an enormous hill of granite. Stone walls and towers surround the entire city. Below the bluff, at the level of the valley floor, are acres and acres of farmland, the first extensive cropland they have have seen since entering Geoff.

    The road is good and they have hours to spare. So long as the rain stays away, they should be able to reach the gates of the city by nightfall.

    The party passes the afternoon approaching the city - at first through sheep pastures, then, as they get closer, fields of wheat and rye - their brown stubble showing that they were harvested months ago. The crofts and manor houses they pass show an abundance of stone - the local granite must be plentiful and accessible. The clouds thicken and darken as they progress, so that by the time they are marching past the huge stone castle outside the city, it is impossible to see the sunset. Peals of thunder, accompanied by thick drops of rain, begin as they approach the gates. A squad of tartan-clad soldiers flank the single open gate. As the party makes to enter, their officer says, “By rights we ought t’ ‘ave closed tha gate afore dusk, bu’ we seen ye coomin’ oop tha road.” His tone is expectant, as if fishing for a reward in return for not shutting the party out for the night.

    Tyrius is composing his response when Umbra steps to the front of the party and says forcefully, “We appreciate your consideration.” The soldiers all give the curious salute to the fey and their officer scowls, but steps aside to let the party pass.

    The streets of the unfamiliar city are already deserted and dark (except for flashes of lightning), and the rain is growing heavier by the minute. The party hires a linkboy for a few coppers and gives him the task of finding them an inn close to the weaponsmith and armorer district. The lad sets off parallel to the city walls and soon has them a place just a few blocks away - it makes sense that the smithies would be close to the castle gate rather than on the other side of town.

    “The Bonny Lass” is a large and drafty inn, but there is a good fire going in the common room hearth and the innkeeper is laying the table for a single patron when they enter. After a terse negotiation with the party he agrees to let them three rooms, stabling for their mounts, and set them plates at the table. When Thokk lowers his massive frame to the bench, pounds the table, and bellows for ale as the others are still shaking the rain from their cloaks, the well-dressed man at the table raises his eyebrows, but does not get up. Willa (Perception check 18) notices that he also surreptitiously loosens his blade in its scabbard with his left hand, while not setting down his mug of broth from his right.

    When they are all at table, Tyrius begins their conversation, drawing out the man bit by bit until the paladin gives a nod to the party that they can speak freely. The gentleman is the scion of a “highlands family,” in the capital briefly on the business of his uncle and laird. He is traveling with a number of clansmen, but they are of low birth and are supping in the kitchen with the innkeeper’s family. The man, Ieuan, is friendly, educated, and well-traveled, so by the end of the meal the party has asked him many questions about Geoff.

    Aurora is too cautious to bring out questions of the Starfall to this stranger right away, so she and Willa take turns asking how it would be best to travel to the northwest of Geoff. Ieuan explains that no matter which way they plan on going, their first step will be downriver to the city of Oytmeet. That is a bit more than a long day’s march by road, or a half day’s float down the White Oyt.

    From Oytmeet, there is no easy or direct way to the northwest, since the mountain ranges of the highlands generally run southwest to northeast (in ridges that echo and parallel those of the Barrier Peaks) and, the farther to the northwest they go, the more deserted the highlands become and fewer are the roads and trails. However, Ieuan suggests two routes. If the party is more interested in going west than north, or in going west first, they should take the trail to Tycha. That will first take them west up the Blue Oyt River, then up into the Highlands, then west to Tycha, which is about as far west as you can go in the southern Highlands.

    If they want to go north first, however (and don’t mind going a fair bit east out of their way), they should book passage on a barge downriver on the Oyt all the way to Preston, and then take the trail west to Dersyth, which is about as far west as they can go in the northern Highlands, as its name obviously implies.

    Aurora mentions that she is a traveling scholar, interested in gathering information about history and traditions here in the north. The man looks at Willa and Tyrius, still in their plate armor, at Thokk, elbow deep in a haunch of ham, at Larry, ignoring the utensils set out for him and eating with his hands, and at Babshapka and Umbra, who finished their meal early and who are now staring silently into the fire. He smiles, bemused, but does not challenge her assertion. “And as a scholar,” insists Aurora rather forcefully, “I would be interested in seeking out any centers where historical texts might be preserved - ideally libraries or colleges, but monasteries or other places of learning as well.”

    Ieuan explains that there are precious few historical texts in Geoff, as their history is an oral tradition preserved by the scops (the local equivalent of bards). Flan is the native language of the land, and as she is no doubt aware, it is not a written language. Writing did not begin until the educated of Geoff began to learn Common from foreigners. He is no historian, but estimates that that couldn’t have been more than a few hundred years ago at most. When he, or the laird his uncle, has a question about history, they consult the scops. And if the local scops are not knowledgeable enough, they can consult their own teachers at the College of Cainaith, which undoubtedly is the greatest repository of historical information in the land. That lies in the north, very near the city of Dersyth. And, he believes, he may have heard of monasteries nearby in the cantrev as well - if there are any in the land, they would be there.

    Later in the conversation Aurora asks about the “wardens”. Ieuan explains that these are druids who help villages and towns with civil affairs - officiating at ceremonies, healing people and animals and blessing crops, enforcing community standards, and such. Geoff has a strong tradition of druids, and while many of them live in the wild and never enter town, those with an affinity for people or service accept the title of warden and help out in whatever capacity the local communities need. The wardens are respected especially in matters of justice and civil disputes, and disagreements between clans, because they have renounced their own clans, forsaken their kinsmen, and taken vows to remain neutral in blood feuds. They don’t have the authority of the local laird or the force of law behind them, but Ieuan strongly advises the party to respect their decisions because a harsh word from one of them could easily sway the opinion of an entire community against the party.

    When his kinsmen have finished eating and emerge from the kitchen, Ieuan takes his leave of the party and retires to their rooms upstairs. Some in the party follow suit, while others remain drinking below.

    In her room, Aurora takes out the carefully wrapped diary of Nholast. By candlelight she checks the dates, and runs the conversion of Suel Dates to Common Years, arriving again at her initial conclusion that the starfall documented by Nholast occurred approximately 750 years ago.

    The rain continues until well after Willa is abed, although it does let up before midnight. Snug and warm under thick woolen blankets, she is sure the sky is still too overcast to survey, and that crawling out on the wet shingles of the roof in the dark would be folly.

    [ Used 2 pounds meat and forage; rest of day was inn fare, found none; 20 pounds remaining
    38 human rations remaining
    No mule rations used (forage and stabling); 16 mule rations remaining
    2 pounds charcoal used cooking foraged food at lunch; 90 pounds charcoal remaining]
    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.

    Joined: Jul 26, 2010
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    From: LG Dyvers

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    Wed Nov 18, 2020 11:30 pm  

    I am not caught up yet, but I want to add that I appreciate how you are able to make traveling through the Flanaess an adventure in itself. I enjoy your vision of the various peoples, nations, and towns that the PCs pass through. Smile

    Edit: Okay, now I know I have heard of the Svartjet River, but not from Sterich. Isn't that the name of one of the rivers on the map of Deep Oerth from GDQ (the other being the Pitchy Flow)?

    Edit 2:
    Kicking out with his legs and thrashing about with his arms, he sends scores of stones, large and small, cascading over the edge. He keeps at it for nearly a minute, until only the largest and most stable stones remain, and then declares that he has defeated the mountain and the way is safe for the party to cross.

    Now, that is funny! Laughing

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    Last edited by SirXaris on Mon Dec 28, 2020 4:38 pm; edited 1 time in total
    Master Greytalker

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    Posts: 754
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    Sun Nov 22, 2020 3:20 pm  

    SirXaris wrote:
    I am not caught up yet, but I want to add that I appreciate how you are able to make traveling through the Flanaess an adventure in itself. I enjoy your vision of the various peoples, nations, and towns that they PCs pass through.

    The section you are in is a long overland trek without a lot of action or combat. If I were writing this as fiction rather than campaign journal, it would be greatly abbreviated. As it is, I see it as sort of a love letter to the people and terrain of the Flanaess, and to Anna Meyer's maps, which have enabled me to imagine much better the lands through which the PC's pass. I also hope that it may be of use to some other DM in describing a similar journey at some point, which is why I have tried to be explicit about my sources. It is gratifying that you are getting as much out of it as I got from writing it.

    SirXaris wrote:
    Okay, now I know I have heard of the Svartjet River, but not from Sterich. Isn't that the name of one of the rivers on the map of Deep Oerth from GDQ (the other being the Pitchy Flow)?

    Indeed, the Svartjet is from the D series maps of the Underdark. But there is also a Svartjet on the surface, which Anna's maps show as flowing south out of the Stark Mounds and entering the Davish just east of Istivin. I suspect she is getting the name from Living Greyhawk material, since there was a Living Greyhawk adventure called Bridge over Svartjet. This was a Core adventure and Sterich was considered a Core region, so presumably she set the river where the adventure placed it. It was written, in part, by Greyhawk luminary Creighton Broadhurst.

    "Svart" is a nordic cognate for the German "Schawartz", meaning dark, or black, so "Svartjet" means something like Dark Stream (or 'Pitchy Flow' for that matter). I expect the underdark river is named so because its waters don't see the sun, whereas the one in Sterich is called that because it is turbid with eroded materials from the Stark Mounds.

    SirXaris wrote:

    [Thokk] has defeated the mountain and the way is safe for the party to cross.

    Now, that is funny!

    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.
    Master Greytalker

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    Tue Nov 24, 2020 8:14 pm  
    Post 144: Gorna

    DM's Notes:
    There are multiple canon sources for Gorna, which is, as the capital of Geoff, on Darlene's maps. I drew heavily from the Living Greyhawk Gazetteer of the Grand Duchy of Geoff in my description of Gorna.

    Post 144: Gorna

    20 January, 571 [Fireseek 26] - Gorna (lowlands)
    [Wandering monster encounter; City, night: NPC fighter]
    [Light rain; 6am to 7am]

    Breakfast at the Bonny Lass is ample, with bacon, pork sausage, blood sausage, eggs, pickled tomatoes, and oat cakes. Even Thokk is satisfied by the time he rises from the table. The party leaders plan the day. Tyrius will visit the armorers and smiths until he finds one he trusts to service his plate. Willa will go to the docks and inquire about passage downriver. Aurora will conduct an inventory and gear check on their mountaineering and other mundane supplies, and then decide whether they need more.

    Tyrius, Eddard, and Larry visit the smiths of Arfau Alley. In truth, Larry knows nothing about forgecraft, but Tyrius figures that just the sight of a dwarf will help keep the smiths honest. A light rain began before dawn but was over before breakfast, and as the morning sun hits the cobbled streets they steam with vapor. It is nearing fifty degrees, and the shops have their windows unshuttered, the smithies their flaps drawn up. They walk the entire length of the alley, looking into all the shops and forges, and spot no one working on plate armor, and just a few repairing chain. Tyrius returns to the smithy he and Eddard had agreed demonstrated the best work. There is no plate armor or even splint for sale; anyone capable of making heavy armor would be employed at the castle outside the city, or as they say, “oop a’ caerau”. Still, Tyrius doesn’t need plate made, just his serviced, so he begins a conversation with the master smith, while Larry fetches examples of his work to show to Eddard, who sticks his head through the doorway, comments at each in turn, and thoroughly unnerves the 'prentices.

    The smith agrees to look at Tyrius’ armor (which he has not put on this morning). The smith points out leather straps and brass buckles that need to be replaced, numerous chain links to be mended, a few dents that will have to be pounded out, and the whole thing sanded and polished. He also recommends throwing out the gambeson and replacing a good number of the leather pads. Tyrius agrees to all of the changes and trusts the man to do the work. They agree on a price, but then the smith says that he will not be able to begin the work for two days, as he has other orders pending (luck roll -2). Tyrius says that he understands the importance of the man’s other work, but adds that he would be doing a great service to the church of Pelor if he were able to accomplish the task sooner (Persuasion roll 18).

    The man asks if Tyrius is indeed a paladin of Pelor, and Tyrius swears to it. The man says that the wardens make sure he does not work on Godsday, regardless of how much custom he has backed up, and he wonders whether Tyrius can grant him a dispensation for the next Godsday in return for moving to first in the queue. Tyrius reflects on this, and says he can certainly pen a document asking for such a thing, but cannot guarantee the wardens will accept it. The smith says that Tyrius need not worry about that, for he knows a warden who is a devout Peloran. Eddard notices the sour looks on the faces of the 'prentices and draws Tyrius’ attention to them. Tyrius says he will pay extra so that the smith can pay his 'prentices to work on the next Godsday themselves (since they are normally unpaid labor). The smith says that if Tyrius leaves the armor with him, it will be ready by early on the morrow.

    Willa takes Thokk with her to the river gate and then the docks beyond. Ever since their first trip on a whaler out of Seaton, Willa has had luck finding free passage on ships in return for a promise to help defend them. It can’t hurt for her to show off a little muscle as she makes that offer again. Besides, she would rather have Thokk with her, under her care, than bored at the inn with less supervision.

    The Gyri dock workers are a garrulous sort, and she has no difficulty engaging them in conversation. In short order she learns that the Red Oyt River, that the party followed here, is so named for the reddish tint it picks up from the rocks it passes through as it cuts its channel through the Stark Mounds. Gorna was built where the Red Oyt meets the White.Oyt. The White is named for its rapids, which make it unnavigable above Gorna. The now-combined river flows north to Oytmeet, where it is joined by the Blue Oyt. Below that the river is called the Oyt Avon, or simply the Oyt, and it flows north and east all the way to the Upper Javan, a journey that takes just a few days by the river barges, which can easily manage sixty miles a day (although the return trip upriver can take two weeks or more). There are no prominent dangers along the route, but on the last day, through the Oyt Wood, it is not unheard of to meet bandits or monsters. To go upriver instead, from Oytmeet to Pwyst’s Ryd through the Hornwood (which was Ieuan’s first suggestion for them), would take a week by barge. The trail along the river could be walked faster than that by a small, well-equipped, and disciplined group, since going upriver by barge would mean either being pulled by oxen or constant polling.

    When Willa inquires about the availability of a barge here in Gorna, the dockworkers say that she is asking in the wrong season, as there is little trade in the winter. It will likely be several days before a barge leaves town.

    Willa asks about the weather, as well. After four days of rain, the skies are clearing and the dockworkers claim that there will be clear skies tonight. Willa and Thokk leave the docks and scout for a place to see the sky. There are public plazas, but they are surrounded by buildings that block the horizon. There are numerous stone towers in the city, but all are in use as guard towers or homes of the wealthy. Soon, however, they come upon the ancient ruins of enormous stone buildings. The stone has weathered centuries, but much of it still stands. Partial building shells, empty or collapsed towers, massive flat stones laid together without mortar and now completely covered in moss and lichen, are scattered around the city in several locations. Some flank open squares, others are incorporated into internal walls and newer defensive works, and some simply have wooden houses built right up against them. The doorways and windows of the stone ruins are huge, the rooms cavernous. The locals readily tell Willa that Gorna was built on the remains of a city of giants sacked by the Druid-King Llewellyn more than two thousand years ago. While she finds that difficult to believe, the more of the city she explores, the more ancient, giant, ruins she finds. Near enough the inn is the ruins of a building with only one wall still standing. One end of the wall preserves a corner and is vertically sheer, but the other has a staggered ascent, each row of stones more recessed than the ones below it like a great rough staircase. At ground level the layers of stone are eight feet high, but she judges the ones some fifty or sixty feet above are only five feet or so. The width of the wall would more than allow her to spread out her navigation instruments comfortably at the top. She considers returning in the night to scale it.

    Back at the inn, Aurora inventories their supplies:
    Silk rope: 4
    Tinderbox: 5
    Oil flasks: 24
    Torches: 12
    Grappling hook: 2
    Lanterns: 2
    10’ pole: 2
    Pitons: 14
    Wooden stakes: 5
    Hammers: 2
    Climbing kit: 2
    Caltrops: 5
    Fishing pole and tackle: 1

    She and Babshapka visit the local blacksmiths and pick up a crowbar for 2gp. A hunting trap is not to be found among the smiths, since the spring mechanism is more complicated than human work can manage, but they do find one in a general store for 5gp. It is of gnomish manufacture. Aurora also finds a merchant willing to exchange gold coins for platinum. He offers to give them 10 platinum for 50 gold and 5 silver (1% change fee), or 20 platinum for 105 gold (5% fee), or 30 platinum for 165 gold (10% fee). Aurora changes 50 gold coins with him.

    The skies do remain clear all day and into the night. After dinner, Babshapka elicits a pledge from Tyrius to watch over Aurora while he is out. It is warm enough that Willa and Babshapka can leave their cloaks and the heaviest of their cold weather gear at the inn; they don’t intend to be out all night. Willa also leaves her armor in her room at the inn - the magical platemail is lighter than anything not enchanted, but is still cumbersome and not something she wishes to be scaling walls in. Today is Waterday, tomorrow, Oerthday, so it is a workday evening, but there are plenty of people in the street and in the taverns and common rooms of the city. Willa and Babshapka have their rope and grapnel in one nondescript backpack, her instruments and paper in another, as they make their way to the ancient ruin. They loiter on the corner near the pile of tumbled stone from the fallen parts of the ruin a good while until no one is in sight (Willa Stealth roll 18). Willa and Babshapka have just thrown the grapnel and climbed up to the first layer, some eight feet off the ground, when they have to throw themselves prone as a knot of men passes by. Willa doesn’t know whether climbing ruins at night is permitted in the city or not, and she has been careful not to ask so that she can claim ignorance if needed.

    It is slow-going as they wait for gaps in the passers-by, but eventually they make it to the top (Willa Str check 18, Babshapka 20). Climbing a two-thousand year old ruin, with tons of unmortared stone that could collapse underneath them, is not particularly sensible, but Willa doesn’t feel the huge stones so much as shift once during their ascent. At the top of the wall is a large, flat area in which she can spread out her instruments and wait, taking the angles of the small moon and planets as they rise and move across the sky, and noting their apogees. Luna being new, there is no way to chart its positions but with the others it should be enough. Willa sights the bodies, but holds out the instruments for Babshapka to read the numbers, as his eyes can see the markings even in the relative darkness. He takes notes on a paper as she dictates. After Willa is confident that her measurements will allow her to nail down the precise latitude (29.5N as it turns out) and longitude of Gorna, the two descend back down the wall, “step” by “step”, and return to the inn.

    In the common room, Willa stokes the embers of the hearth fire and lays fresh logs, brings candles from the kitchen, and spreads out her materials on the dining table. Babshapka fetches Aurora from her bed. Willa and Aurora set to work re-scaling their old map and then drawing a new one, reducing the area of the starfall considerably. Aurora is quite satisfied to find that the entire circumference of the potential landing site is now completely within the rugged and remote wilderness of the Barrier Peaks Mountains, so the starfall is almost surely untouched (provided it has not been claimed by some humanoid tribe). The new map does not make it clear whether their next goal should be Tycha or Dersyth, however - the Starfall lies to the north and west of both - mostly north of Tycha, mostly west of Dersyth. The new search area is about 1200 square miles - about the size of a large county or two. That is still a lot of ground to cover in the wild mountains, without too much idea what they are looking for. Willa believes that if she can get about halfway to the mountains from Gorna, she can revise the scale one last time before she is at the limit of the accuracy of her instruments and Nholast’s recorded position. Tyrius still needs to pick up his plate mail in the morning, so they can decide on their destination over breakfast.

    [ Used no food - inn fare; 20 pounds meat and forage and 38 human rations remaining
    No mule rations used (forage and stabling); 16 mule rations remaining
    No charcoal used; 90 pounds charcoal remaining]
    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.
    Master Greytalker

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    Tue Dec 01, 2020 1:30 pm  
    Post 145: Gorna to Oytmeet

    Post 145: Gorna to Oytmeet

    21 January, 571 [Fireseek 27] - Gorna (lowlands)
    [Wandering monster encounter; Men, Patrol]
    [Wandering monster encounter; City, Night; Thieves]

    The discussion over breakfast focuses on Willa’s estimation of how large their search area still is - they could spend the winter traipsing up and down mountainsides and never find the fallen star in an area that large. For her, narrowing their search area is more important than whether they are starting from Tycha or Dersyth, and she prods Aurora to locate some scops and find out more about this College of Cainaith and whether they would be able to get answers there.

    After breakfast, Tyrius, Eddard, and Larry return to the armorer’s shop to watch him finish polishing the platemail, Willa and Thokk return to the waterfront, and Aurora and Babshapka look for scops.

    At the waterfront, Willa changes her tack. Rather than agree to defend a loaded merchant vessel in exchange for free passage, she asks how much it would cost to charter a river barge for the party with no cargo. She finds more than one pilot opening at 1 silver hawk, per person or animal, per mile. She is able to negotiate final terms with one particular pilot as follows:

    5 silver hawks total per mile for the party (eight party members, two mules, and Eddard)

    Party will supply their own food and defend the barge; the barge crew will feed themselves.

    The barge is guaranteed hired until Oytmeet (25 miles) for 12.5 gold lions.

    Once at Oytmeet, the party may end the hire or keep going until the mouth of the Lea (100 miles) for an additional 50 gold lions.

    At the mouth of the Lea, the party may end the hire or keep going until Preston (110 miles) for an additional 55 gold lions.

    Aurora and Babshapka tour the city, speaking to scops. After half a day, they have found several, but none of them have been “classically trained” at the college (although several of their masters were). These city scops tend to be “crowd pleasers” in the tradition of minstrels, who play in the taverns and common rooms, or plazas and market squares in warmer weather. They know all the standard songs on a few instruments, but that is it. When Aurora speaks to them of “the events of 750 years ago” they can launch into ballads of Llewellyn from the age of heroes, but these have no useful information about the Starfall, and they don’t seem aware of the distinction between 750 years ago and two thousand. A graduate of Cainaith, they say, is required to show proficiency in many more instruments, as well as to have detailed historical knowledge of people, places, and events, among other skills. Such a scop does not play for crowds in a city tavern though - being conferred the title of Cainaith graduate guarantees a position in some noble court, as scop to an Arglwythi or even a Llwyr (Tyrius later tells them that these titles are roughly equivalent to Baron and Count in the Keoish peerage).

    By luncheon, everyone is back at the Bonnie Lass, Tyrius with his armor in much better condition and his pouch 3 gold lions lighter, Aurora with her information, and Willa with her negotiated deal. It is agreed that they will pack and set out on the barge to Oytmeet as soon as they finish eating.

    The party settles their bill with the innkeeper of the Bonny Lass and travels to the waterfront. They board Na Fèidh, and meet Ossian, who insists they call him Peilot Ossian, not Captain. He says he has the greatest respect for sailing folk like Willa, but that even the best ocean-going captain doesn’t know how to run the rapids or avoid the sand bars of the Oyt Avon. “Credit whar credit be due,” agrees Willa amiably.

    The barge is wide but shallow of draft; only Larry would be able to stand upright in the hold. Fortunately, with no cargo there is plenty of room on deck for them to camp - the crew sleep in hammocks in a cramped aft cabin.

    As the crew poles away from the docks of Gorna, Ossian says they will have fair weather and easy sailing to Oytmeet, and should arrive while it is still light enough to dock. Aurora mentions that Larry can make light for them if needed, and Willa explains that they sometimes extended their day’s travel on the Javan by doing so. Ossian listens, but shakes his head. “Oopstream on tha broad Javan be woon thing, doonstream on tha Oyt atother. We’ll be movin’ fahr too swift fer tha’. I need ta see fahr ahead ta peilot, thank ye kindly.” Once the current catches them, they can see that he is correct - they are moving downstream as fast as one of them could jog along the banks, and his steering is constantly adjusting for what lies farther ahead than Larry’s light would reveal.

    In their journey north, they do indeed encounter rapids. The whitewater is light enough itself that they are never really tossed about, but without the Peilot’s knowledge of where in the river to pass and where to avoid, their barge would have been grounded on rock ledges dozens of times in just the first day, if not smashed and sunk.

    It is a bit more than four hours later when Oytmeet comes into view, with the Blue Oyt joining the White outside the city, and the combined flow sweeping past its docks. Ossian says that there will be just enough light to safely dock if the party wishes to do so, or he can moor on the far bank away from the city, either above it if the party intends to visit in the morning, but does not want to pass a night on the docks, or beneath it, if they do not intend on making port and want an even earlier start on the morrow.

    While the party deliberates, and Na Fèidh approaches the city, however, a large oared vessel is seen leaving port. It is making straight for Na Fèidh, and is soon revealed to be a small war galley, with a single covered bank of oars and a deck crowded with archers. It moves to the far side of the river, and then tracks the movements of the barge, narrowing the distance and herding it toward the city as they approach. “Never ye mind, then,” says Ossian. “It ‘ppears we will be makin’ port in Oytmeet whether ye wish it o’ nae.”

    As Na Fèidh angles, and comes about so as to head for the docks, slowing as she points her prow upstream, the party can see the oars of the galley, rowing in unison, slow as well to match their pace. The galley does not turn; rather it slides forward and back, upstream and down, angling ever closer to Na Fèidh while keeping the barge to its broadside. Both captain and oarsmen are obviously experienced in maneuvers.

    Aurora walks casually about the deck until she has the aft cabin between her and the warship, then sits down completely out of sight. A second later Buckbeak lifts off, circling above Na Fèidh as he gains altitude. Aurora can see the deck of the other ship better now from his eyes. Its commander appears to be a huge bear of a man with a great shock of red hair and beard, bellowing orders and gesticulating, with a tartan over his shoulders and another wrapped around his waist, his legs bare from the knees down. He looks up and meets Buckbeak’s gaze briefly, then turns and shouts at a lanky man on deck who has a bodhrán is at his hip and a lyre across his back. In a flash of feathers, a huge osprey sets forth from the warship and flies directly at Buckbeak. Even as Na Fèidh is herded into the docks of Oytmeet, Buckbeak is forced to land on Aurora’s shoulder, lest he be set upon by the osprey.

    Willa strides over to Ossein, but keeps a respectful distance as he is giving orders to his own crew. When there is a pause in his commands, she asks, “Peilot, what be we expectin’ ‘ere?”

    Ossein points to the ship’s banner, flown just over a large corvus on the prow. It is red with a black chevron. A rampant lion holds a sword.

    “Tha’ be tha flag a’ Cantrev Cymeravon. Wha’ever they want a’ us, it be official.”

    The hands of Na Fèidh work to slow their approach to shore, long wooden poles shuddering as they impact the river bottom, and tossing lines to men on the docks. At last she comes to a halt and is tied off. The warship approaches then, passing so close that all the oars on the starboard side are pulled in, lest they be shorn off. Na Fèidh is pinned between the dock and the larger, higher ship.

    The warship uses a pulley system to maneuver its corvus over Na Fèidh and lowers it slowly onto the railing of the barge. Upon seeing the walkway gently supported by the railing, rather than crashing through the deck spike-first, Ossein breathes a sigh of relief and sends a deckhand scurrying off to the cabin, returning shortly clutching a rolled parchment.

    The warship’s commander strides to the rail and then down the corvus. He drops to the deck of Na Fèidh with a thud that conveys his massive weight. He is followed by two officers, one with a huge claymore nearly as long as he is tall and the second with a wooden shield and a trio of hand axes. Along the rail of the warship are a score or more of archers, all with arrows nocked, but none with their bows drawn. The lanky man with the osprey, now on his shoulder where a thick leather patch has been sewn on his jerkin, watches through a gap in the archers, his bodhrán and a wooden tipper now in hand.

    The commander strides up to Ossein, who looks down at the deck but does not give ground. Ossein holds out the parchment, which the commander takes, scans, and hands back.

    “Ridin’ high in tha water an’ movin’ fast, ye were,” the commander asserts, “what be yer cargo, peilot?”

    “No cargo. Jus’ these travelers.”

    The commander spits, and a dark stain appears on the deck. “Ah thoot as much. And what be they? Brigands? Marcenaries? Fugitives?”

    “Adventurers, they say. Ah hain’t seen diff’rent as yet. Ootlanders, tha lot a’ them.”

    Tyrius steps forward. “Begging your pardon, commander…”

    “Capten!” the man shouts at Tyrius, pointing at the pewter brooch pinned to his tartan above his breast. “Be ye as blind as ye be bold?”

    “Begging your pardon, capten, but as the good Peilot Ossein says, we are foreign adventurers. We have hired the Na Fèidh to take us to Preston, and from there we are bound for Dersyth. Hopefully we can spend some good Keoish gold along the way, as we did yesterday in Gorna.” (Tyrius Persuasion 14)

    At this the capten chuckles, though his face remains stern. He orders his two adjutants to search the hold, while he himself strides uninvited into the barge’s cabin. The sound of trunks being opened and lockers being moved about is obvious through the open door. He emerges from the cabin long before his men come out of the hold, but says no more, merely staring down each party member in turn, as if he is memorizing the appearance of all of them. When finally his men appear, nothing new in hand and shaking their heads, he spits again, harrumphs, turns and strides over to the railing, heaves his huge frame up to the corvus, and crosses back over to his ship. His men follow.

    Without a single further word to the passengers or crew of Na Fèidh, the warship raises and retracts its corvus, and the booming sound of a drum can be heard from deep inside its hull. Then there is the splash of oars entering the water on its far side. It slowly backs away from the docks, the oars on the starboard side sliding into the water each in turn as soon as their portal is clear of Na Fèidh. It then turns in the current and moves upriver, though in the gathering darkness it cannot be said whether it is docking higher in the city or continuing on up the Blue Oyt.

    Ossein claps Tyrius roughly on the back. “Tha’ went well,” he guffaws, then asks whether the party will be passing the night on deck or going into town to find an inn. After a brief conference, the party leaders all agree that they will be safer staying on deck this evening and leaving as soon as possible in the morning.

    With the party supplying their own meat and charcoal, Ossein agrees to let them use the small iron cook stove on board Na Fèidh - after his crew have eaten. When the crew has finished their dinner and is washing up, a few of the party enter the cramped cabin to prepare their own meal. Ossein makes sure they see where he keeps the parchment roll, in a waterproof case, that was brought out earlier. He explains that it contains both the deed of ownership of the barge (in the name of a noble of Cantrev Eryrnyth) and his own peilot license, fee paid and filed at the first of the year in Gorna.

    “And why do we need to know those things?” asks Aurora.

    “Why, in case yer friend tha capten cooms back while we’re a’ pub!” he says. “Mind noothin’ ‘appens to me ship.” Ossein and his crew, to a man, depart Na Fèidh. On their way out, he happily jingles the bag of gold the party gave him for reaching Oytmeet.

    Willa and Babshapka start their watch an hour before midnight. It is a warm, clear evening, still in the fifties, and most of the party sleeps contentedly on the deck of Na Fèidh. Halfway through their watch, Ossein and the crew can be heard approaching, laughing and singing in a thick, incomprehensible, Flan.

    They finally become visible at the end of the dock, leaning on one another for support as they struggle valiantly ahead. Babshapka stands, looking into the darkness of the waterfront behind them, and points at something he can see but Willa cannot. “Half a dozen figures in dark robes,” he says, “maybe more. They are being followed.”

    Willa stands as well, faces the direction Babshapka pointed. She cups her hands, shouts, “Aye, we see ye. Ye’ve nae easy marks ‘ere. Gae roll sum ‘tother drunks.” Babshapka reports that the robed men pause, then retreat into the darkness.

    Ossein boards the barge and strides up to Willa. “Drunk?” he says indignantly. “‘Tis a vile accusation. We will speak a’ this in tha marnin’.” The peilot and his crew enter their cabin, half of them stumbling over the party members already in bed rolls on the deck as they go.

    [Used 2 pounds meat and forage at dinner - breakfast and lunch were inn fare; 18 pounds meat and forage remaining
    38 human rations remaining
    No mule rations used (forage and stabling at inn); 16 mule rations remaining
    2 pounds charcoal used at dinner; 88 pounds charcoal remaining
    12.5 gp spent on barge passage]
    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.
    Master Greytalker

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    Tue Dec 08, 2020 8:26 pm  
    Post 146: Down the Oyt Avon

    Post 146: Down the Oyt Avon

    22 January, 571 [Fireseek 28] - Oytmeet (lowlands)
    Ossian and his crew are up before dawn, reading Na Fèidh for departure. At first light they cast off, poling the barge until it swings into the current of the Oyt Avon. Despite Ossian’s words from the night before, he makes no effort to continue his conversation with Willa, and he and the hands are in good spirits.

    The first hour out of Oytmeet they pass through a narrow valley of agricultural land. Trails run on either side of the river, and they glide by numerous villages and farmsteads. After that, the valley opens up for the rest of the morning, the trails recede from the river, and it is all sheep pasturage. Here the river is slow, and while the peilot is always alert and steering, many of the hands doze on the deck.

    By the early afternoon they have reached the end of the valley. The cliffs converge, and the ground grows rough and rocky. They leave even the pastures behind. All afternoon is spent maneuvering through canyons. Foamy white spray from the river coats the sides of the barge and even lands on deck. All hands are manning poles to keep them from colliding with the walls and rocks in the river and keep them from lodging on sand bars. The first hour is the most intense, but Ossian calls for all hands innumerable times after. Finally, as the sun is reaching the western horizon, the river straightens, slows, and pasture lands again appear on the bank. Ossian grounds the barge along a curve in the river and announces that they are done with traveling for the day.

    [ Used 8 pounds meat and forage; 10 pounds meat and forage remaining
    38 human rations remaining
    2 mule rations used; 14 mule rations remaining
    6 pounds charcoal used; 82 pounds charcoal remaining]

    23 January, 571 [Readying 1] - The Oyt Avon [lowlands]
    The pleasant rolling pastureland they glimpsed last evening continues all morning long. To the west, some five or ten miles away from the river, are high bluffs. To the east is open pastureland as far as they can see, with occasional copses or larger stands of forest on the rougher or higher ground.

    At midmorning comes their first navigational challenge of the day - negotiating a gravely-bottomed ford where the Oyt Avon is wide but shallow. The twin trails from Oytmeet, the one following the east bank and the other the west, cross here, and there are thorps on both sides of the river.

    After the ford, they continue on through the sheep country, but the copses grow larger and thicker, the forest stands running together, and the pasturage retreating to smaller and smaller fields closer and closer to the river. They are, announces Ossian, at the outskirts of the Oytwood.

    The sun is low in the west, but they have an hour or more of light left, when the rise that had been blocking their view of the left bank gives way to valley bottom, revealing another river, the Lea, about to join with the Oyt. Here Ossian guides the barge to the slow shallows, and calls the party together. He has, he says, faithfully delivered them to the mouth of the Lea, as promised, and another 50 gold lions are due him. What’s more, the party will need to decide what to do next. If they disembark here, they can make a day’s march up the valley of the Lea to the city of that name. From there, good trails lead north through Pregmere and eventually to their goal of Dersyth. Or, they can stay on the Oyt Avon. The river will take them more than half the distance north to the city they seek - but at a cost of carrying them far further east than they want. Do they wish to disembark tonight, or hire Na Fèidh for the journey through the Oytwood to Preston-on-the-Javan?

    After a short discussion, Willa, Tyrius, and Aurora all agree that they will continue on the Oyt downriver. Ossian nods, brings the Na Fèidh back out into the current, and spends the rest of the daylight running the rapids that are formed by the confluence of the two rivers. When the river finally returns to calm waters again, he steers the barge to the shore for the night.

    [ Used 8 pounds meat and forage; 2 pounds meat and forage remaining
    38 human rations remaining
    2 mule rations used; 12 mule rations remaining
    6 pounds charcoal used; 76 pounds charcoal remaining
    50gp paid for barge]

    24 January, 571 [Readying 2] - The Oyt Avon [lowlands]
    Once the party starts out in the morning, the forest rapidly approaches both banks of the river and grows more dense. The last pastureland becomes a memory, and the barge spends the entire day going downriver through the thick wood. Ossian tries to keep Na Fèidh in the center of the river, and encourages the party to be alert for movement along the banks, or anything that might betray the presence of brigands or humanoid bands. Perhaps it is the power of suggestion, but several of them come to feel that they are being watched. The forest boasts all sorts of trees including a wide range of fruit trees. The mixture does not provide a consistent canopy. Sunlight penetrates the forest, undergrowth is prevalent, and they cannot see far from the river except in cases where distant forested hills rise up above the treeline.

    In the evening, Ossian continues to navigate far later than he has before, using the light of Luna’s growing crescent. When asked about it, he says that they need to make sure they are well beyond the elven village of Edhellond. If the village comes to the banks of the river, there is no sign of it to those on the barge, but Ossian insists that without an invitation from the fey, they will not be overnighting in the area. Even when they are well beyond, and Ossian relents and allows the barge to moor, he requests that the party set a double watch for the night.

    [ Used 2 pounds meat and forage and 6 pounds human rations; 32 human rations remaining
    2 mule rations used; 10 mule rations remaining
    2 pounds charcoal used; 74 pounds charcoal remaining]

    25 January, 571 [Readying 3] - The Oytwood, on the Oyt Avon [lowlands]
    With nothing untoward passing in the night, Ossian and his hands are up even before first light, eager to cast off. Once it is light, the party can see that the forests are thinning and becoming interspersed with meadow. At midmorning, Ossian steers the barge to the banks and says the party has another decision. Up ahead, they can see a few wooden buildings on both sides of the river, and a ferry running between the banks. Ossian tells them that if they are bound for Dersyth, he can have them disembark on the north bank of the Oyt Avon, where the trail will take them to the city after several days’ march. He and his crew will be going another five miles down the Oyt, to where it enters the Javan, and then another six miles down the mighty Javan, to Preston, there to resupply before they make their way home. If the party wants a chance to buy goods before they set out up the trail, they should stay with the barge. If they feel that they are well-supplied, and can make New Midwood on their own, then being dropped off here, sooner, will save them a half-day’s journey back north from Preston.

    Aurora has been keeping track of supplies - although they exhausted their fresh food on the previous day and will be using trail rations on their march, they still have half a week’s worth - and Thokk and Larry have a new hunting trap. The party decides to disembark now, and Ossian steers Na Fèidh to the north bank. The dock there is just large enough for the river ferry, not the barge, but the peilot makes it work for long enough for the party to disembark. The mules take the longest time, not trusting the gangplank, and Ossian has to hustle to get Na Fèidh away before the ferry arrives. Already the peilot of that craft is shaking his fist at them as he approaches, so the party decides to continue up the trail before he makes port. They get two miles of walking in, back along the river bed, before they stop for a mid-day meal.

    The land they are traveling through is the now-familiar Geoffan sheep country, so Willa is not ready to loose Thokk just yet, instead waiting until they get farther from the river and perhaps settled lands. As the afternoon wears on, they do climb some hills, up and out of the Oyt river valley, but when they come back down the other side, they find themselves in the Javan valley, with just as much pasturage about as before. As the afternoon wears on into evening, however, they climb still higher, into rugged lands of light forest, and leave the sheep fields behind. If it stays like this on the morrow, Willa will give them leave to hunt.

    [ Used 8 human rations; 24 human rations remaining
    1 mule ration use, supplemented by forage; 9 mule rations remaining
    No charcoal used; 74 pounds charcoal remaining
    55gp paid to Ossian and crew]
    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.
    Master Greytalker

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    Tue Dec 15, 2020 10:55 am  
    Post 147: Oyt Ferry to New Midwood

    DM's note on sources: Prenffrwyth is not on Darlene's maps but is on those of Anna Meyer. I based my description of it from, although I expect much of that originally comes from Living Greyhawk sources.

    Post 147: Oyt Ferry to New Midwood

    26 January, 571 [Readying 4] - The Oytwood, on the Javan (lowlands)
    As the party breaks camp in the morning, Willa selects Babshapka as their forward scout, and tells Thokk to remain behind the party to hunt, but to catch up by mid-day. Larry she would send to hunt as well - but on this level ground with a trail, he is going to be hard-pressed to keep up with the main party as it is, without falling behind further to hunt. Thus he is kept with the main host.

    For most of the morning, the track remains in the rocky highlands overlooking the broad Javan river. As the morning wears on, however, they descend back into pastureland, and soon after come upon the outskirts of a village at the edge of a wood. It is so close to mid-day that the village is the obvious location for their meal, but Willa wants to make sure that Thokk has rejoined them before they enter. She sends Babshapka ahead to scout the village while the rest of the party waits on the trail.

    It is not long before they spot Thokk coming up the track toward them, empty-handed. By the time he reaches them, Babshapka has returned as well, the village being small and easily scouted. Prenffrwyth is a small community of a few hundred humans. What is remarkable, notes Babshapka, is that nearly all of the villagers work as skilled craftsmen in wood. The remainder are either shepherds or work servicing the trail, including the village’s single inn - which has common rooms, but no private rooms. “Good eno’ fer lunch,” decides Willa, and they eat their mid-day meal hot off the grill. While they dine, Babshapka engages in conversation with the proprietor. She explains that the village was founded generations ago by a forward-thinking Goeffan nobleman who had negotiated a deal with the elves of the Oytwood: in exchange for not logging the lands claimed by the elves, the elves would sell wood to the nobleman, from trees carefully selected and harvested by the elves. The nobleman stood to gain more from the taxes on the fine woods than from the sale of lumber, which was abundant in the region. He encouraged woodworkers from Old Midwood, across the Javan, to settle in the village, and with their labors they produced crafted goods worth even more in taxes. Over time the village came to be sought out by those from all over the cantrev, or even farther afield, wishing to 'prentice as woodworkers. Today these craftsmen represent the majority of the villagers, and the original deal with the elves remains.

    The first five miles of afternoon travel are through the forested lands north of the village. They are surprised to find that the woods are old and intact, perhaps even a remnant of the ancient Oytwood. Just the thinnest margin of the forest near the village shows signs of being used for firewood, with no trace of the source of the wood they saw in the numerous crafting shops. Once they emerge on the other side of the forest, again along the Javan, they can see the walled town of New Midwood up ahead, where a much smaller river flows into the Javan. They reach the town just before the gates are closed at dusk, and a few words from Tyrius are sufficient to gain them entrance, including Thokk. That evening is spent at an inn.

    There is a scop at the inn, entertaining the crowd, though not a graduate of the College of Cainaith. To Willa’s question, he confirms that long ago, even before the Age of Heroes, even before there were humans in Geoff, the three great wooded lands of the Dim Forest, the Oytwood, and the Hornwood were as one - one unbroken forest that stretched across the length and breadth of the land. The fey held their hunts and revels there and lived beyond time. It was only after the Gyri arrived and settled along the Javan and began cutting trees for their homes and sheep folds that the Dim Forest was sundered from the Oyt Wood. Of course, this incurred the wrath of the fey, who sent the evil fey races into the world to punish the humans for their hubris. The scop indicates Thokk with a flourishing gesture when he speaks of the evil fey races.

    [ Used 2 human rations; lunch and dinner at inns; 22 human rations remaining
    No mule ration use, forage in day and stabling at lunch and dinner; 9 mule rations remaining
    No charcoal used; 74 pounds charcoal remaining]
    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.
    Master Greytalker

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    Tue Dec 22, 2020 8:37 am  
    Post 148: The Road to Dersyth

    DM's note on sources: New Midwood is not on Darlene's maps but is on those of Anna Meyer. I based my description of it from, although I expect much of that originally comes from Living Greyhawk sources. Based on the descriptions therein, New Midwood would not canonically exist yet in the timeline of my adventure, just Midwood on the other side of the Javan. The fogs off of the river are from that source. Naming the river Rhychdir is my invention, based on the name of the cantrev of its headwaters. The name of the cantrev ruler is from that source.

    Post 148: The Road to Dersyth

    27 January, 571 [Readying 5] - New Midwood (lowlands)
    [Light Rain 11am - 1pm][Drizzle 1pm - 3pm]

    As the party sets forth from the inn in the morning, they are greeted by a heavy fog from the River Rhychdir, tributary of the Javan. Fortunately the road to Dersyth is broad and well-marked. They follow it gratefully, and would soon be walking in circles without the slick cobbles leading through the town and, beyond the gates, the drainage ditches bordering the road. The road takes them up and away from the river, and the rising sun burns back the fog, so that by the time they are a league from New Midwood they can see the green pasture land around them and, far to the north, and for the first time, the Barrier Peaks!

    Throughout the morning’s travel, the road rises and falls along the slopes above the river. An hour before they stop for lunch a light rain begins to fall, and continues for several hours, although it eventually slows to a drizzle. They are wet, but not cold in the warm daylight and not slowed on the good road in the highlands.

    The rain is finally letting up as the road turns and leads back down to the river. There, in the valley bottom, the path splits. A lesser track crosses the river at a bridge, while the main road continues along the river itself. The scop told them, the night previous, that there would be two roads to Dersyth. The more direct, but less traveled, way is the northern branch across the river. The southern route takes longer, but passes through more settled lands. Here with the choice in front of them, they all agree that they prefer the direct route.

    The bridge is of ancient timbers lashed together and supported by stone pilings across the river. The wood is sodden and slippery, but bears their weight. They are not far across when the trail climbs to rough ground and their view is blocked by encroaching woods. There are only four hours or so to their evening camp, but Willa tells Thokk to drop back and hunt.

    The party makes their camp in a small clearing in the woods. Thokk joins them soon after, carrying with him a scrawny owl which becomes dinner. He and Larry disappear into the woods, setting up their hunting trap somewhere nearby for the night. Willa reflects on what Ossein said about the elves of the Oytwood, and on what the scop said last night, about the fey releasing evil fey as a punishment to humans who did not respect their land. She asks Umbra what she knows about the elves hereabouts, and whether the party should take any precautions when traveling or hunting in forests.

    Umbra is silent for a long time. Those near her in the gathering dusk can see her face twisting, as if recalling painful memories. When she finally speaks, her voice is calm and cold. “What’s done is done. Ossein was wise not to anger the elves of the Oyt. Those of the Dim Forest and the Hornwood are the same. But these” - and she gestures at the trees around them - “are now human lands, all the way from here to Dersyth. Do what you will, hunt where you like, it makes no difference.”

    [ Used 2 pounds meat caught today, 3 rations, and inn fare at breakfast; 19 human rations remaining
    1 mule ration used, supplemented by forage; 8 mule rations remaining
    2 pounds charcoal used; 72 pounds charcoal remaining]

    28 January, 571 [Readying 6] - Cantrev of Rhwng yr Coed, on road to Dersyth (lowlands)
    [Thunderstorm 9pm-12am]
    The party is awakened in the night by nearby screams and thrashing. Thokk trots off into the woods and, moments later, the screams cease. He returns with a yearling roe deer slung over his shoulders, one leg twisted at an improbable angle. He begins skinning and gutting the dear as the others return to sleep.

    After a breakfast of hot venison, the party starts off down the trail. The woods continue and the ground rises until mid-morning, at which point they break out into more open meadows. Eventually they see crofts, cottages, and barns in the distance - more sheep country, though no villages larger than a cluster of houses are in sight. Innumerable trails cross the main track, but it is clear which is the main road. The party camps for lunch, enjoying more venison in the open grasslands.

    Shortly after they resume their march, the trail enters the forest again, and begins climbing up a steep, rocky slope. They crest this and pass down into a high valley of trees and meadows. Willa calls for a campsite underneath the edge of a forest, as Larry points out the gathering clouds.

    The last of the venison, supplemented by trail rations, makes their dinner, and Thokk eagerly sets the trap again before turning in.

    Several hours after dark, the sky is rent by thunder, lightning, and rain. The downpour continues until midnight.

    [ Used 6 pounds meat (caught), 1 ration; 18 human rations remaining
    1 mule ration used, supplemented by forage; 7 mule rations remaining
    6 pounds charcoal used; 66 pounds charcoal remaining]

    29 January, 571 [Readying 7] - Cantrev of Rhwng yr Coed, on road to Dersyth (lowlands)
    [Wandering Encounter: Men, Patrol]
    [Thunderstorm 8am - 10am; half movement]
    Umbra and Babshapka have the predawn watch. They are enjoying the dawn chorus of birds greeting the day throughout the forest around them when both prick up their ears. To the west, up the trail, the birds have gone silent. They have the party up and armed by the time the strangers appear, though few of them have their armor on.

    A squad of six soldiers, headed by an officer, approaches them cautiously. The men are in woolen tartans, cloaks and skirts, though of a different color and pattern than those they saw around Gorna. They have leather breeches besides, long spears, and several of them carry slings as well. The officer has a shortsword and buckler at his belt - his long spear bears a pennant, of two hands clasped together on a green field.

    The officer introduces them as a patrol for his lord, the Arglwyth Briallen merch Luther, ruler of the Cantrev of Rhwng yr Coed. He has a number of questions for them, but ultimately seems satisfied with Tyrius’ answers. He tells them that as outlanders, that can’t be expected to know all the laws of the cantrev, but keeping a close watch on Thokk and not drawing their weapons within town will be a good start. The party asks about the trail to Dersyth, and the man explains that they are about four days out, and that the trail will pass through a number of hamlets but none of any size before Dersythtown itself. The party thanks them and the men move on.

    Breakfast is a quick meal of trail rations while camp is packed. The hunting trap is found to be empty - perhaps just as well, as another deer might well have gotten them accused by the patrol of poaching the lord’s game. However, knowing that they are four days out from Dersyth is worrisome as they have less than three days of rations remaining; they will need to rely on their foragers. The party sets out west as the clear morning starts to cloud over.

    The forest they used to shelter from the storm last night goes but a scant mile or so before the trail climbs a high cliff overlooking a river. They spend all the rest of the day looking down on this river from above. In places it passes through broad meadows where sheep graze. Other times it rushes through steep gorges and there is no sign of human habitation about. A thunderstorm slows their advance and soaks them in the midmorning, but they have the rest of the day to dry out and clear skies by the time they camp in the evening, in light woods next to a clear pool.

    [ Used 7 rations; 11 human rations remaining
    1 mule ration used, supplemented by forage; 6 mule rations remaining
    No charcoal used; 66 pounds charcoal remaining]
    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.
    Adept Greytalker

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    Posts: 401
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    Mon Dec 28, 2020 2:53 pm