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    Adept Greytalker

    Joined: Apr 26, 2002
    Posts: 491
    From: Canada

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    Tue Mar 29, 2022 9:23 pm  

    Shefak's alive and well, the whole party is together again, the rampaging monsters and robots are permanently sealed, the goodly creatures have been freed, and they're off to the next adventure!

    Are they going to fight Against The Giants, since they're in the canon area for it?

    Are they going to lead an Assault on the Aerie of the Slave Lords?

    Will they visit White Plume Mountain?

    Enquiring minds want to know!
    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
    Posts: 936
    From: Sky Island, So Cal

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    Sun Apr 10, 2022 8:26 am  

    CruelSummerLord wrote:
    Shefak's alive and well, the whole party is together again, the rampaging monsters and robots are permanently sealed, the goodly creatures have been freed, and they're off to the next adventure!

    And a better summary I could not have written myself!

    CruelSummerLord wrote:
    Are they going to fight Against The Giants, since they're in the canon area for it? Are they going to lead an Assault on the Aerie of the Slave Lords? Will they visit White Plume Mountain?

    I was going to say that this will be revealed in just a few posts more, before they return to the Lake of Rhun. However, I see that you asked the same question more than a year ago! (Between Posts 157 and 158) So to reward your patience, yes, they will next be fighting Giants in Sterich!
    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: 936
    From: Sky Island, So Cal

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    Sun Apr 10, 2022 8:36 am  
    Post 215: Barrier Peaks Epilogue - Level 7

    At the conclusion of the module, the following characters have leveled to 7th from completion of story awards:
    Babshapka - Keeping Aurora alive and all-around good play (See Post 183)
    Willa - Solo defeat of the fencing android (See Post 203)
    Thokk - Solo defeat of the boxing android (See Post 203)
    Tyrius - Releasing the Couatl from their stasis cage (See Post 209)
    Aurora - Finding the Central Computer and proving that this is a space ship (See Post 212)
    Larry - Burying the ship so that no more unoerthly creatures can leave (See Post 214)

    The following characters have not yet leveled to 7th
    Shefak - Intended story award was solo defeat of the martial arts android; Shefak was unconscious for much of the module
    Umbra - Played as an NPC for much of the module; story award would have related to talking to Aurora and learning more about the Whispered One
    Mathias (Leezar) - Has not been told story award yet - it will involve getting rid of Tyrius so as to be in a better position to corrupt Aurora

    New abilities and items since last level are indicated in bold
    Babshapka of the Silverwood
    Seventh 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. 55
    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, Multiattack Defense
    Fighting Style: Duel-wielding, Extra Attack
    Human-sized Chain shirt+1, broadsword+1, cloak of the manta ray, ring of protection+1, ioun stone (no nourishment required), giant arrows, needler, blaster pistol, power discs, stun grenades, shortsword, longbow
    Spells: (4/3)
    (1) Ensnaring Strike, Hunter's Mark, Cure Wounds, Jump
    (2) Lesser Restoration

    Special Agent Willhemina Stoutly (Willa)
    Seventh Level Fighter (Martial Archetype: Champion) / Human (mixed race, predominantly Flan) (Sailor)
    Str 18 (+4), Dex 17 (+3), Con 14 (+2), Int 10 (0), Wis 9 (-1), Chr 9 (-1)
    HP. 70
    Skills: (Fighter): Insight, Survival (Sea and Coast), (Sailor): Athletics, Perception
    Fighting Style: Great Weapon Fighting, Improved Critical, Extra Attack, Remarkable Athlete
    Plate armor +2, greatsword, dagger, mace+2, ioun stone (no air required)
    Potions of neutralize poison, healing, cure disease, healing cannister, ampules of cure disease, cure poison, radiation antidote, incendiary grenades, sleep grenades, stun grenades, paralyzation pistol, blaster pistol, power discs

    Thokk of the Crystalmists (Thokk)
    Seventh Level Barbarian / Half-orc (Outlander)
    Str 18 (+4) Dex 14 (+2) Con 16 (+3) Int 5 (-2) Wis 13 (+1) Cha 12 (+1)
    Hp. 76
    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), Feral Instinct

    Tyrius of Sterich
    Seventh level paladin of Pelor (Sacred Oath of Devotion)/ Human (Oerid) (Noble)
    Str 15 (+2) Dex 9 (0) Con 12 (+1) Int 19 (+4) Wis 14 (+2) Cha 17 (+3)
    Hp. 56
    Languages: Keolandish (S/W), Common (S/W), Flan (Spoken only)
    Skills: History, Intimidation, Medicine, Persuasion
    Fighting Style: Dueling
    Powered Armor, Plate armor, shield +1, "Molly" (war hammer+2)
    Spells: (4/3)
    (Cantrip): Light
    (1) Bless, Compelled Duel, Divine Smite, Cure Wounds, Detect Good and Evil, Heroism, Protection from Evil (oath), Sanctuary (oath), Divine Favor, Healing Word
    (2) Aid, Find Steed, Lesser Restoration, Protection from Poison, Zone of Truth
    Ability: Aura of Protection, Aura of Devotion
    Scroll of Protection from Undead, Scroll of Hold Person

    Aurora of Tringlee
    Seventh level wizard (School of Enchantment) / Half-elf (Sage)
    Str 13 (+1) Dex 10 (0) Con 12 (+1) Int 18 (+4) Wis 8 (-1) Cha 18 (+4)
    Hp. 43
    Languages Keolandish (S/W), Elven (S/W), Common (S/W), Ancient Suel (Written only), one open slot
    Skills: Arcana, History, Investigation, Medicine, Performance, Persuasion
    Staff, ring of protection+1, scroll of protection from undead, wand of magic detection, wand of polymorph, crystal ball, atmospheric analyzer, paralyzation pistol, blaster rifle, power discs, incendiary grenades, sleep grenades, stun grenades, poison grenades, healing cannister
    Ability: Hypnotic Gaze, Instinctive Charm
    Cantrips: Prestidigitation, Fire Bolt, Mage Hand, Message
    First: Comprehend Languages, Detect Magic, Mage Armor, Find Familiar, Magic Missile, Sleep, Silent Image, Unseen Servant, Shield, Identify
    Second: Magic Mouth, Invisibility, Web, Knock, Blur, Rope Trick, Crown of Madness
    Third: Counterspell, Fireball, Fly, Sending
    Fourth: Greater Invisibility, Mordenkainen's Private Sanctum

    Larrenthal of the Crystalmists (Dirty Larry)(Larry, Master of the Elements)
    Seventh Level Druid (Circle of the Land - Mountains) / Hill dwarf (Outlander)
    Str 9 (-1) Dex 14 (+2) Con 16 (+3) Int 11 (0) Wis 18 (+4) Cha 4 (-3)
    Hp. 65
    Languages (all spoken only unless noted): Flan, Common, Druid (including written runes), Bear
    Skills: Athletics, Nature, Perception, Survival (Mountains)
    Wild shape includes the ability to become a creature with a swimming speed
    Chain mail +1, shield +1, scimitar
    Spells known: 4 / 3 / 3 / 1
    (Cantrips): Thorn Whip, Poison Spray, Guidance, Resistance
    (First): Cure Wounds, Healing Word, Thunderwave, Fog Cloud, Entangle, Speak with Animals, Create or Destroy Water, Longstrider
    (Second): Spider Climb, Spike Growth, Darkvision, Moonbeam, Enhance Ability, Locate Object
    (Third): Meld into Stone, Lightning Bolt, Daylight, Water Walk, Protection from Cold
    (Fourth): Stone Shape, Stone Skin

    In addition to the RAW abilities gained at 7th level, I decided to add some homebrew abilities since the powers gained at 7th are underwhelming compared to other levels. Now that the characters are in the 'second tier' of play, I want to keep the emphasis on challenging combats, but decrease the importance of logistical challenges which I think are more interesting at low levels. Thus most of the new abilities relate to the party not having to worry quite so much about finding a secure place to rest, as a minor interruption is less likely to require them to start over.

    Inured to Hardship
    Halfway into a long rest while wearing armor, Willa may attempt a DC10 Con Save. If successful, she completes her rest even while sleeping in armor. If unsuccessful, she has not rested and gains one level of exhaustion.

    Fighting Helps Me Sleep
    Thokk's rests (long or short) are suspended but not forfeited by combats in which he does not rage or dash.

    Rest of the Righteous
    Tyrius does not spoil his short or long rests by casting healing or protective spells of/at first level.

    Master of Minor Mysteries
    Aurora may cast cantrips which do not require a roll (Mage Hand, Message, Prestidigitation) during a short or long rest without ending the rest.

    Sleep Like a Bear
    When Larry's long rest is uninterrupted, he gains back an additional hit die.
    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: 936
    From: Sky Island, So Cal

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    Tue Apr 12, 2022 10:34 am  
    Post 216: Coming Down the Mountain

    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 216: Coming Down the Mountain
    25 February [6 Coldeven], 571 - Camped outside the Unoerthly Cave, Barrier Peaks, 18,000’ elevation
    [Wandering encounter: Morning, None.]

    After the morning meal, the party dons their gear and armor. Tyrius slips, bent over, into the suit of powered armor - it is cold from the night in the tent without a fire. As he stands, the seals lock. Immediately jets of warm air fill the suit. He sighs in comfort, then suggests to Willa that they have a new way, besides Aurora’s rope trick, and the protection from cold spell, to take care of people - a stint in the armor should warm them up if they et too cold. His voice, somehow projected from within the armor, sounds odd but recognizable.

    Distance possible to cover in a 5 hour march through mountains
    5 miles Mules (if heavily encumbered)
    7 miles Mules (if encumbered), Eddard (if mounted)
    7.5 miles Aurora, Willa, Umbra, Mathias (unencumbered)
    8.75 miles Babshapka (unencumbered)
    10 miles Tyrius in powered armor (the armor is slow over level ground
    but does not have a movement penalty for mountainous
    10 miles Thokk, Eddard (when unmounted), Mules (when
    11.25 miles Shefak
    12.5 miles Larry (slow over level ground but does not have a movement
    penalty for mountainous terrain)

    Larry casts his stone shape spell, his first ever cast of a fourth level spell, and creates a small cavity in a large boulder at the base of the cliff face. He puts in the cards and the jar of acid. He seals it back over again with stone as the party watches, taking time to mimic the angles and faces of the rock so that only the closest observation would reveal that the rock was sculpted, not natural.

    They pack with the assumption that so long as the mules are not too burdened, they will actually be faster than most of the party. In total, they have about 800 pounds of gear to be hauled, not including what they are carrying on themselves. With a careful distribution and balance, they could take all of that out on the mules - but at a cost of slowing the mules to just five miles covered in a five hour march. By lightening the mules’ load to 560 pounds between them and having the Bull Men carry 240 pounds, the mules could move seven miles in a five hour march, still slower than anyone else in the party. If between them the mules carried only 280 pounds, leaving 520 for the Bull Men, the mules would be capable of covering ten miles in a five mile march, faster than most of the party.

    Willa, Babshapka, and Tyrius work under the direction of the Bull Men to lash bags and sacks to them, lacking the pack harnesses and frames of the mules, until they are carrying 260 pounds each. The Bull Men take a few steps, then strides, then lope forward, finally flapping their massive wings and taking to the air. They circle the party a few times and land heavily. They report that they are certainly being slowed by the loads, but they are still able to fly faster than anyone in the party can walk.

    “Just….no,” says a Bull Man, whose telepathy has picked up the unspoken and unbidden thought that immediately came to Aurora’s mind, that one of the Bull Men would make a fantastic beast of burden for the party if it could be charmed.

    (6am, 12F, wind chill -6F)
    In their first steps away from the camp Tyrius lags in his armor, but as the party starts up the steep slope of the valley he rapidly catches up. To his surprise, he finds that it is an effort to move, but no more effort up the slope than it is over level ground. It is as if he needs to move the armor to show it where to go, but once it is moving it somehow moves of its own accord and lessens the force required. There is another benefit he soon realizes. While the others are gasping and panting in the thin air, the air that circulates within the sealed suit is thicker, so that he has no difficulty breathing.

    Watching the party form into a column and ascend the slope, Mathias makes no move to join them, but remains in the camp. After the last of them are half a bowshot away, he suddenly takes to the air. He flies in a leisurely but ever-widening spiral - first around the camp, but then, as he gets higher, about the mountainside of the cave, and finally around the whole valley. As he gets higher he moves more erratically, with strong gusts of wind knocking him about. Finally his course changes from spiral to line - now far higher than the party’s elevation, he flies horizontally across the valley until he lands on the slope high above them. He takes out his stool to wait for them, his breath producing a larger cloud of vapor than even the smoke from his cigarette.

    “I’ll be damned,” says Willa. “‘e can fly.”

    “And without a carpet,” agrees Aurora.

    When they finally arrive at his location, Mathias nonchalantly stores his stool and moves into his place in the line. [After an hour of travel, Mathias (the only one without the heavy furs of cold weather gear) makes his Con save.]

    (7am (1.5 miles traveled) 11F, wind chill -7F)
    After an hour of travel, they have long since left the sparse fir trees of the Valley of the Unoearthly Cave behind. The low scrub remaining doesn’t block much of the cold wind, and it is clear that even as the sun rises and the day grows warmer, the wind is increasing as they ascend the valley slope. Mathias, clad in his heavy leathers, is nonetheless the least protected of them and it is an open question of whether he will make it through the day. When asked how he got to the cave in that gear he says simply that he sure as hell didn’t get there by walking. Tyrius, in his heated armor, says he has no need for his cold weather gear and offers the furs to Mathias. The gaunt man demurs politely at first, but eventually agrees. While he puts on the hides and furs over his clothes, Willa polls the others on how they are doing.

    “Tired o’ waitin’ on ye laggards,” responds Larry. “Bu’ praps ah can fix tha’.” The dwarf gathers Aurora, Willa, and Umbra to him. The three, along with Mathias, are the slowest in the group now that the mules are traveling unencumbered. Larry growls some words in Bear, and casts his Longstrider spell. By using a third-level slot, he is able to cast the spell simultaneously on the three of them. He apologizes to Mathias and says that he used his only fourth level slot on the stone shape in the morning. Mathias shrugs and says he will see them all later, casts fly and shoots up the mountain ahead of them.

    [Larry has cast create water, stone shape, and longstrider so far, and is at 3/3/2/0]

    [Mathias with fly, movement at 60 feet per round, dash to 120 feet in 6 seconds, in ten minutes' spell duration can move 2.25 miles, moves to 3.75 miles traveled so far and waits for the party to catch up.]

    [Aurora, Willa, and Umbra with Longstrider can move as fast as Tyrius, Thokk, Eddard, and the mules. Now, Babshapka is the slowest member of the party. Rather than have everyone be slowed by the ranger, Aurora bestows a fly spell on him, and tells him to keep Mathias company while they both wait for the party to catch up.]

    [Aurora has cast mage armor and fly, is at 3/3/2/1]

    (8am (3.5 miles traveled) 10F, wind chill -10F)
    At the end of the hour of travel the effects of Larry’s Longstrider spell fade. The party hasn’t yet overtaken Mathias and Babshapka, but the pair are just a quarter-mile away and within sight. The party is traveling much faster this way than they did with the laden mules on the way in, and Willa is eager to escape the mountains. She asks Larry if he can continue to support them with his spell, and he says that he can, but Mathias says that he will need to rest before he can cast fly again. Aurora says that she can bestow the fly spell on both Mathias and Babshapka with a fourth level slot, but she wonders if it is a good idea for them to all be running their higher-level spells down while traveling - what if they are ambushed by orcs again, like on their way in? Willa jerks a mittened thumb at the laden Bull Men and flying Serpents and says that keeping the party out of ambushes is what they are for.

    [Larry has cast create water, stone shape, and 2 x longstrider (@3rd), and is at 3/3/1/0]

    [Aurora has cast mage armor, fly (@3rd), and fly (@4th), and is at 3/3/2/0]

    Mathias and Babshapka fly off, followed by the rest of the party.

    (9am (5.5 miles traveled) 9F, wind chill -14F)
    The party continues to climb up the valley, as the winds increase. Larry and Aurora again augment the party’s travel. Mathias and Babshapka fly off, followed by the rest of the party.

    [Larry has cast create water, stone shape, and 3 x longstrider (@3rd), and is at 3/3/0/0]

    [Aurora has cast mage armor, 2x fly (@3), and fly (@4), and is at 3/3/0/0]

    (10am (7.5 miles traveled) 7F, wind chill -18F)
    At this point, the party is most of the way up the steeply-sloped valley. The gap in the wall at the top leading to the broad valley can be seen, and Babshapka reports that while flying, he was able to see the plumes of smoke from that valley’s floor.

    Aurora is now out of third and fourth level slots, so no more fly spells are possible. Larry could use a second level slot to cast Longstrider on two people rather than three, and he has three of these slots left, so he could cast it on up to six people, but as a concentration spell, he can only have it active on two people at a time. Rather than have the party spread out up and down the mountainside, they agree to walk the last hour before their rest together, at a slower pace.

    (11am (9 miles traveled) 7F, wind chill -19F)
    As they finally make it to the top of the slope, the broad, level valley opens up before them. It is new to Mathias, familiar to the rest of them although still strange. The valley is perhaps ten miles across but longer than it is wide, and slopes gently down to the center. The most unusual features are the innumerable spots where white smoke rises up from the floor. What is burning to make the smoke is not obvious, for it is the white of steam, not the grey of wood smoke or black of sooty coal. Furthermore, although the rock itself is the grey and black of the granite they have been passing all morning, here and there in the valley are dots of yellow, often near the smokes. In the lowest, center spot is a hint of blue.

    The full force of the wind is now on them, blowing some forty miles an hour and whisking the heat away from any exposed skin. They find shelter among some huge boulders that have tumbled down from the cliff walls and Larry creates the water they will need for their lunch and to fill their skins again.

    [Larry at 2/3/0/0]

    (12pm (9 miles traveled) 9F, wind 40mph, wind chill -16F)
    After a meal and an hour’s rest, Larry can use his natural recovery to get back four spell levels - and it makes sense to him to get a single fourth level slot so as to cast longstrider on the four slowest members of the party. [Larry at 2/3/0/1]

    Aurora, too, is able to recover spells. With Larry preparing to cast longstrider on four people, she will need to cast fly on one more person. She chooses to get a third and a first level slot for her arcane recovery. Mathias says that he has recovered the ability to fly as well. [Aurora is at 4/3/1/0]

    (1pm (11 miles traveled), 11F, wind 39mph, wind chill -16F)
    [Larry at 2/3/0/0]
    [Aurora is at 3/3/0/0]
    With their higher level spells depleted, Larry is still capable of casting longstrider on two people and Mathias can cast fly on himself - or someone else. However, unless they can speed four different people, they will still be moving at the speed of currently the slowest person, so the magically enhanced movement is done for the day. They spend the next hour walking at the speed of the four slowest among them. However, Larry, Aurora, and Mathias converse as they walk, plotting out the optimal spell use for the next day so as to enhance movement even more. Later, Mathias speaks with Willa, explaining that since Aurora is capable of causing two people to fly at once, he thinks they should be rotating people out so that everyone can get experience flying, not just himself, Aurora and Babshapka. There may come a point tactically where it makes more sense for someone else to be given flying, and at that point it is better that whichever of them it is, knows what they are doing. He suggests that every time Aurora makes two people fly, she selects an experienced person as mentor and an inexperienced person so that they can eventually train everyone in the party to make use of the spell.

    (2pm (12.5 miles traveled), 10F, wind 38mph, wind chill -14F)
    (3pm (14 miles traveled), 10F, wind 38mph, wind chill -14F)
    (4pm (15.5 miles traveled), 9F, wind 37mph, wind chill -16F)
    (5pm (17 miles traveled), 8F, wind 36 mph, wind chill -17F)

    Over the course of the afternoon they skirt the edge of the valley of the smokes and then pass through the narrow gap to the south. They move east for miles along the base of the low ridge, although they have not reached the end of the long, narrow, rough valley before Willa calls camp for the evening. It is with some trepidation that they sent up the tent, for it was here on the way in that they nearly became trapped in a snow squall with gale-force winds and a cold that threatened to freeze them all despite their use of the coal stove. For tonight, at least, Larry reassures them, there are no storms coming, and though the winds are fierce, they are not gale-force.

    After dinner, Willa takes stock of their supplies:
    People food for four days before they need to use the ship’s rations.
    Mule feed for two days before they need to use the bag of alien seed or the alien porridge.
    18 pounds of mineral coal.

    (6pm, 7F, wind 35 mph, wind chill -18F)
    (7pm, 7F, wind 34 mph, wind chill -17F)
    (8pm, 6F, wind 34 mph, wind chill -19F)
    (9pm, 5F, wind 33 mph, wind chill -20F)
    (10pm, 4F, wind 32 mph, wind chill -21F)
    (11pm, 4F, wind 31 mph, wind chill -21F)
    (12am, 3F, wind 31mph, wind chill -22F)

    [Wandering encounter: Night, None.]
    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: 936
    From: Sky Island, So Cal

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    Tue Apr 19, 2022 12:48 pm  
    Post 217 - The Rocky Road to Moradinath-Mor

    DM's Note: 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 217: The Rocky Road to Moradinath-Mor
    26 February [7 Coldeven], 571 - Barrier Peaks, 18,000’ elevation
    (1am, 2F, wind 30mph, wind chill -23F)
    (2am, 1F, wind 29mph, wind chill -24F)
    (3am, 1F, wind 28mph, wind chill -24F)
    (4am, 0F, wind 28mph, wind chill -25F)
    (5am, -1F, wind 27mph, wind chill -26F)

    [Wandering encounter: Morning, None.]

    The night passes uneventfully. Between the Bull Men “watching” so that none of the party has to leave the tent, and the relatively mild winds, all those with fur-lined bedrolls find that they do not even need to light the camp stove to get in a long rest. Mathias has just a heavy woolen blanket, not even a bedroll, let alone a fur-lined bedroll, but by sleeping in his borrowed cold weather gear he is able to rest as well.

    Larry, Aurora, and Mathias again confer over breakfast, planning their spells for the day.

    The Plan
    Together, they resolve that in the first hour, Larry will use his only fourth level slot to give four people longstrider, while Mathias uses his fly on himself. [Larry to 3/3/3/0] They will be able to move at the full pace of Tyrius, Thokk, Eddard, and the mules, and not limited by the slower pace of Babshapka, or the even slower pace of Aurora, Willa, Umbra, and Matthias.

    In the second hour, Larry will use a third level slot to give three people longstrider, while Aurora uses her single fourth level slot to allow two people to fly (Mathias as mentor and Umbra as trainee). [Larry to 3/3/2/0, Aurora to 3/3/3/0]

    In the third hour, Larry will use a third level slot to give three people longstrider, while Aurora uses a third level slot to allow one person to fly (Willa as trainee) and Mathias uses a second fly spell on himself (as mentor). [Larry to 3/3/1/0, Aurora to 3/3/2/0]

    In the fourth hour, Larry will use his last third level slot to give three people longstrider, while Aurora uses a third level slot to allow Mathias to fly. With only four people augmented, they will move at the pace of Babshapka for that hour. [Larry to 3/3/0/0, Aurora to 3/3/1/0]

    In the fifth and last hour of the morning march, the most people they could augment would be three, so they will not cast spells and will move at the pace of the slowest among them.

    After the midday rest, Mathias will recover two fly spells, Larry and Aurora each a fourth level slot.

    In the first hour of the afternoon march, Larry will use a fourth level slot to give four people longstrider, while Mathias uses his fly on himself. [Larry to 2/3/0/0]

    In the second hour, Larry will use a second level slot to give longstrider to two people, Aurora will give two people flying (herself and Umbra as a trainee). With only four people augmented, they will move at the pace of Babshapka for that hour. [Larry to 2/2/0/0, Aurora to 2/3/1/0]

    In the third hour, Larry will use a second level slot to give longstrider to two people, Aurora will give one person flying (Willa as a trainee), and Mathias will use his second fly on himself (as mentor). With only four people augmented, they will move at the pace of Babshapka for that hour. [Larry to 2/1/0/0, Aurora to 2/3/0/0]

    In the fourth and fifth hours of the afternoon march, the most people they could augment would be two, so they will not cast spells and will move at the pace of the slowest among them.

    (6am, -1F, wind 26mph, wind chill -26F)
    The party breaks camp and sets out, continuing along the high, narrow valley.

    (7am (2 miles traveled so far), 1F, wind 25mph, wind chill -23F)

    (8am (4 miles traveled), 3F, wind 24mph, wind chill -20F)
    Halfway into the third hour of the march they reach the end of the long valley and stare up at the steep wall that Larry says they will need to ascend. Craning his neck to look at the treacherous switchbacks along the cliff face, Mathias says, “Yeah, good luck with that. I’ll see you at the top,” and takes off flying.

    (9am (6 miles traveled), 5F, wind 23mph, wind chill -17F)
    Having successfully gone up and over the ridge, the party begins to make their way along the narrow, winding valley full of rockslides and crevasses. Thokk and Larry choose their path carefully - Larry guided by the mountain spirits and Thokk squinting and straining to see in the frigid blasts of air.

    (10am (7.75 miles traveled), 7F, wind 23mph, wind chill -14F)
    They continue along the narrow cut.

    (11am (9.25 miles traveled), 7F, wind 23mph, wind chill -14F)
    Willa calls a halt for the morning’s march. In the narrow gap between steep cliffs, with fallen boulders on all sides, it is easy to find a shelter from the wind as they break for the midday meal.

    (12pm, 11F, wind 21mph, wind chill -8F)
    The party sets out again after their meal and rest.

    (1pm (11.25 miles traveled), 13F, wind 22mph, wind chill -6F)
    The gap between the walls narrows.

    (2pm (13 miles traveled), 13F, wind 22mph, wind chill -6F)
    They walk a seeming maze of ice, cliff-faces, and fallen rocks. Numerous side-branches cross and intersect with the trail they follow. Were it not for the spirits guiding Larry, all of them (except Thokk) are sure that they would soon be hopelessly lost.

    (3pm (14.75 miles traveled), 12F, wind 23 mph, wind chill -7F)
    The maze of ice and rock continues.

    (4pm (16.25 miles traveled), 12F, wind 23 mph, wind chill -7F)
    With just an hour’s march left, and a bit more daylight then that, the party finds themselves at the top of a steep cliff. They remember having climbed up here, and they know the bottom is thousands of feet below after a long series of narrow switchbacks. Thokk and Larry plan their descent. (Larry Survival check (Mountain) 15, with Thokk’s help 18).

    (5pm (17.75 miles traveled), 12F, wind 24 mph, wind chill -8F)
    With everyone’s legs trembling after the hour’s steep descent, they all have made it to the bottom with just two close calls of slipping rocks tumbling down the cliff face. Once everyone is finally on level ground, Willa immediately calls for a halt, and they set up the tent in the gathering dusk.

    After dinner, Willa takes stock of their supplies:
    People food for three days before they need to use the ship’s rations
    Mule feed for one more day before they need to use the bag of alien seed or the alien porridge
    18 pounds of mineral coal

    (6pm, 12F, wind 24mph, wind chill -8F)
    (7pm, 11F, wind 25mph, wind chill -9F)
    (8pm, 11F, wind 25mph, wind chill -9F)
    (9pm, 11F, wind 26mph, wind chill -10F)
    (10pm, 10F, wind 26mph, wind chill -11F)
    (11pm, 10F, wind 27mph, wind chill -11F)
    (12am, 10F, wind 28mph, wind chill -12F)

    [Wandering encounter: Night, None.]

    27 February [8 Coldeven], 571 - Barrier Peaks, 15,000’ elevation

    [Wandering encounter 3: Morning, None.]

    (1am, 9F, wind 28mph, wind chill -13F)
    (2am, 9F, wind 29mph, wind chill -13F)
    (3am, 9F, wind 29mph, wind chill -13F)
    (4am, 8F, wind 30mph, wind chill -15F)
    (5am, 8F, wind 30mph, wind chill -15F)

    There may be another spell arrangement that could squeeze a mile or two more out of the day’s march, but Aurora cannot think of it intuitively. Perhaps she could ferret it out with quill and paper but her ink has been frozen since shortly after they left the cave. For now, they are all content that the return journey has been much faster than their trip in, that with the Bull Men on watch no one has been overcome by cold, and that they may even arrive at the city of dwarves before their “normal” food from this world runs out and they are forced to use that of the ship.

    (6am, 8F, wind 31mph, wind chill -15F)
    The party breaks camp and sets out in good spirits, planning on using the spell strategy from the previous day. While still well below zero and with a stiff wind, the thousands of feet they descended along the cliff face at the end of the previous day have resulted in noticeably warmer temperatures.

    (7am (2 miles traveled so far today), 10F, wind 31mph, wind chill -13F)

    (8am (4 miles traveled), 12F, wind 32mph, wind chill -10F)
    After two sharp turns, the valley assumes a narrow (barely a mile across) but relatively straight path, with steep sides but a flat bottom that is easy to traverse. They have returned to the section where the spirits told a dubious Larry that the mountainside had been carved by a river of ice.

    (9am (6 miles traveled), 14F, wind 32mph, wind chill -7F)

    (10am (7.75 miles traveled), 16F, wind 33mph, wind chill -5F)
    At this point the narrow valley enters a broader one and their northerly travel turns more to the east. Willa recalls that just over the peaks to their southeast lie the lands claimed by the dwarves of Clan Stonereaver. They are nearing the spot where they were ambushed by the orcs of Gruumsh. Willa tells those who are flying to be looking for signs of the orcs during their ascents.

    (11am (9.25 miles traveled), 19F, wind 33mph, wind chill -1F)
    They make day camp in the broad valley where they have a good vantage on all sides and cannot be ambushed. In the bright mountain light, temperatures approach the other side of zero for the first time since they left the valley of the Unoerthly Cave (the ground there being heated by the “spirits of the earth”). Only Thokk seems wistful to be leaving the high mountains behind.

    (12pm, 21F, wind 34mph, wind chill 2F)
    The party sets out again after their rest and meal.

    (1pm (11.25 miles traveled), 23F, wind 34mph, wind chill 5F)

    (2pm (13 miles traveled), 23F, wind 34mph, wind chill 5F)

    (3pm (14.75 miles traveled), 22F, wind 35 mph, wind chill 3F)

    (4pm (16.25 miles traveled), 22F, wind 35 mph, wind chill 3F)

    (5pm (17.75 miles traveled), 21F, wind 35 mph, wind chill 2F)
    When they have clearly come down the mountain into the lands of the dwarves, Willa begins looking ahead for a campsite. She doesn’t like the boulder-strewn flanks of the valley that would give too much cover for ambushers. As the light wanes, they finally come upon a suitable site - and find it strewn with bodies. The frozen remains of the orc ambush lie scattered about. Some scavengers have picked the bodies apart, and bones and bits of frozen meat are dispersed across the valley floor. Hopeful that the site of their previous defeat will give the orcs pause about attacking again, Willa orders them to make camp, but upslope and well away from the nearest of the bodies.

    After dinner, Willa takes stock of their supplies:
    People food for two days or less before they need to use the ship’s rations
    No mule feed - they will need to use the bag of alien seed or the alien porridge on the morrow
    18 pounds of mineral coal remain.

    (6pm, 21F, wind 35mph, wind chill 2F)
    (7pm, 20F, wind 35mph, wind chill 0F)
    (8pm, 20F, wind 35mph, wind chill -0F)

    [Wandering encounter 4: Night; Common. Large spiders.]
    After the sun sets, the Bull Men say that there are ice spiders about, nibbling daintily on the remains of the orcs, but that they will not bother the party.

    (9pm, 20F, wind 36mph, wind chill -0F)
    (10pm, 19F, wind 36mph, wind chill -2F)
    (11pm, 19F, wind 36mph, wind chill -2F)
    (12am, 18F, wind 36mph, wind chill -3F)
    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 26, 2022 2:37 pm  
    Post 218: Departures and Arrivals

    DM's Note: 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

    DM's note on sources: Moradinath-Mor is not on Darlene's maps, but appears on those of Anna Meyer. I based my description of the dwarven city on, although I expect much of that originally comes from Living Greyhawk sources.

    Post 218: Departures and Arrivals
    28 February [9 Coldeven], 571 - Barrier Peaks, 12,000’ elevation
    [Wandering encounter 4: Morning, None.]

    (1am, 18F, wind 36mph, wind chill -3F)
    (5am, 16F, wind 37mph, wind chill -6F)

    Aside from the routine packing, the first decision of the day is what to feed the mules. Bland though created food may be, Willa reasons that it will at least be safe, which the alien food (seeds or instant porridge) provides no assurance of. Before the Bull Men don their packs, Willa asks them to prepare enough food for the mules for the day. They nod their heads, and suddenly one of the party’s cook-pots is filled with a steaming hot oat mash. An empty feed bag now contains grain, and large flakes of hay stand near the gear, ready to be packed.

    The mules need little encouragement to start on the mash - perhaps because it is warm and even inside the tent still below freezing. In a short time they have finished it all and are ready to head out. The other items of food are packed for later in the day.

    After camp is stowed the party sets out, first passing through the field of frozen orc remains, and then down the long draw between the mountain peaks to either side. The slope is gentle, and they have dropped perhaps a thousand feet of elevation over the morning by the time Willa calls for the midday rest. Conferring with Larry, she is confident that they will arrive at the city, if not by nightfall, certainly early on the next day.

    (11am (9.25 miles traveled), 19F, wind 33mph, wind chill -1F)

    (5pm (17.75 miles traveled), 29F, wind 35 mph, wind chill 13F)
    Well before nightfall they approach the outskirts of Moradinath-Mor. At its outermost limits are innumerable rock walls that are simply low piles of rough stones, cairn-walls such as one might build by collecting the rocks of the field where they lie. These line paddocks, although the grass within is withered and frozen and no animals are in sight. Closer to the center of the valley, the walls are of worked stone, squared and flattened, higher and straighter, though still enclosing open fields and the occasional stone barn or silo. The walls of the city proper, more than a mile ahead, are not only of worked stone, but every available surface is decoratively carved and linteled. The walls are high and cannot be seen over in many places. The city is full of statuary, gates, colonnades, arcades, porticos, arches, plazas, amphitheaters, coliseums, domes, towers, basilicas, and keeps. It is as if hundreds of stonemasons had labored for generations to make every possible stone structure, but all balanced and in perfect proportion, not random or haphazard, and all growing higher and finer into the very center of the city. For most of them it is a familiar sight, but they pause at the first low wall to let Mathias take it in, as well as the Bull Men and Serpents, for whom it is their first view.

    With not a cloud in the sky, Larry and Willa are both confident that they can make it back to the plaza and the inn where their gear is stored before dark - if only they can find their way through the city to that one particular building. Neither one of them are confident of that, but reason that they will be met with an escort at some point, as before.

    Suddenly the Bull Men speak. “And here you are, safely at your journey’s end. We have set watch for you, created food for your beasts, and borne your gear. Do you agree that we have indeed fulfilled the boon we owed you for finding us release from the Terran ship?”

    Aurora holds up her finger to speak, but Tyrius talks over whatever quibble she is about to lodge. “You have indeed, though we are much and more sorry to see you go so soon, and would rather that you let us feast and entertain you among the dwarves, who are a good and lawful folk.”

    The Bull Men smile at Tyrius’ words, but shake their heads, their long beards dancing over their broad chests. “No, such a meeting would produce...complications...which we would rather avoid. As you agree that we have fulfilled our promised aid, we will now depart.” Tyrius, Willa, and Babshapka unharness the Bull Men and place their bags on the ground. Willa smiles courteously, but keeps one eye on the sun; if they need to repack all of this on the mules, and move at a slower rate, she is no longer certain that they will be able to arrive before dark.

    The Bull Men bow low to Tyrius and the others, then turn and begin galloping back up the trail, their enormous golden wings spread wide, catching the drafts of alpine wind. Soon their legs leave the ground, and their wings pump to lift them higher and higher into the sky. Three times they circle the party, higher each time, and then turn and fly straight at the setting sun, until they are lost to sight.

    Then the four flying Serpents, ever aloft, bob and dip in the air and say that they, too, will be taking their leave.

    “What?” says Tyrius, his surprise overcoming his politeness for a moment. “Do you not wish the dwarves to see you, as well?” he adds, trying to regain his composure.

    The Serpents laugh easily, and say that the dwarves have been watching them for over an hour, from all manner of spyholes concealed among the ‘boulders’ lining their path.

    “And, yes, we have not forgotten that,” they say, responding to Aurora’s unspoken thought And our boons?

    “Two from each of us,” they say, “one for freeing us from imprisonment within the boxes, another for releasing us from the ship. Two from each of us is eight - but there are nine of you, so perhaps nine is better.” Eddard clears his throat, and everyone pretends not to notice.

    One of the Serpents flies to Tyrius, hovering in front of the paladin encased in the strange armor. With a flick of its tail, a single scale flies from its side, landing in Tyrius’ instinctively outstretched palm. The scale is iridescent, the light of the sun playing across its surface and producing a rainbow of hues.

    “Our boon to you, Tyrius, Paladin of Pelor,” they say. “Crush this scale in your hand in your moment of need, and you will be able to cast a Greater Restoration spell, equal to the one the Shedu used to restore your companion.”

    Tyrius has naught but murmured his thanks when the Serpent darts away and joins the ring of four circling around the party, just before another one swoops in front of Willa.

    “Wilhemina Stoutley,” it says, “crush this scale in your moment of need, and you will be able to bestow the effect of Lesser Restoration on a being of your choice.”

    The Serpents continue thus, granting each of the party members a scale from their sides, a single-use magic item, to be used when they deem the moment is right.

    For Babshapka, a scale that can Cure Wounds

    For Umbra, Shield

    For Shefak, Sanctuary

    For Mathias, Detect Magic. Mathias pockets the snake scale, then takes a long drag off his cigarette while he rolls his tongue across his teeth as he watches the snake creatures in their flight.

    For Aurora: Detect Evil and Good

    For Larry: Bless

    And for Thokk, Detect Thoughts

    [The order in which the scales were presented was from the party's most Lawful and Good member to their least Lawful and Good member. This was intended as a commentary from the Couatl to the party on their worthiness, but none of them, characters or players, picked up on it.]

    All the while each of them is receiving their boon, the others find their heads filled with thoughts from the Serpents, admonitions to remain true, to work for the common good, to defend the weak and to dispense justice. To some, the words come as great encouragement, while others find them smarmy or even unsettling. Thokk tilts his head and strikes himself, as if trying to get water from his ear.

    Once all the boons are distributed, the Serpents circle the party, flying in an intricate, weaving dance. Their movements become both faster and more elaborate as they go, until their forms are just a blur of colored motion, and then fade into empty air.

    The party stands dumbstruck for a moment, until Willa reminds them that they are burning daylight and need to get the packs on the mules. Mathias pauses to pick the licorice candy out of the corner of his side tooth with his pinky nail. It is unclear whether it is smoke or his own breath that fills the air in a cloud around him. Finally satisfied that he has got that last bit of candy from between his teeth, he sucks it off his finger and replaces his finger with his cigarette. He shakes the frost off his borrowed parka and starts loading bags onto the mules.

    The mules fret and complain about the new loads, but the packs are not more than they can safely bear. Once the party again begins walking, their pace is considerably slower, but the beasts are in no danger of foundering today.

    They move through the outskirts of the city along a broad flagstone road leading through the paddocks. While the valley floor is creased with ridges or rent with gullies, the natural surface constantly ascending and descending, the road stays smooth and level, crossing over numerous stone bridges, cutting through embankments, occasionally lowering down long ramps with just the slightest hint of a grade. They also pass stone bunkers and towers whose walls are perforated with crossbow slits. The party continues, slowly making their way into the center of the city in the gathering dusk.

    By the time the walls and buildings rise so high around them so that they cannot see the rest of the city, they begin to notice entryways to the underground. Darkened archways open on stairs going down. Blind alleys end in broad, descending ramps that become tunnel mouths. By now it is well and truly dark. Willa calls for a halt, intent on extracting her lantern from her pack, when Babshapka points at an approaching light, a warm yellow glow illuminating the alabaster stone of the city.

    With great, dancing shadows cast by the lamplight they are approached by five dwarves, four of them in highly-polished scale mail from head to toe, with visored helms so that the only living parts of them that may be seen are their eyes and beards - everything else is covered in articulated metal and the party cannot help but think of the clockworks of the ship. The dwarves bear two-handed swords, fully as long as they are tall. The fifth dwarf is dressed in fine furs and leathers, with a woolen robe of deepest blue closed with a silver neck chain.

    Tyrius, his voice echoing and metallic from the strange armor, greets them.

    After just a single sentence each of exchanged pleasantries, the dwarves lead them to the familiar above-ground inn in which their gear is (hopefully still) stored. Then the dwarves say that they will visit again in the morning, and depart.

    The inn is as they left it, with their gear carefully stored in a bedroom. There is a kitchen, a common or dining room, a suite of connected bedrooms above and below, and a stable that has a broad exterior door and a small interior door opening on one of the bedrooms. There is the room several of them have been thinking of since they left the ship, the bath room with a hand-pump for drawing water from some unknown source, a coal bin, a coal stove with bronze water troughs on top, and a huge basin in the floor lined with polished stone, accessed by stairs, and large enough to fit two of them at a time. Aurora calls the first bath and Willa scowls. “Off wit’ ye, t’en, ye’d be as much ‘elp as a t’ird t’umb in unloading ther mules anyhow.”

    At day’s end, the party has consumed all their party rations.
    (Mathias still has 4 days of his own, Umbra 3 days of her own left).
    There is no mule feed left.
    They have 18 pounds of mineral coal, and 65 pounds of charcoal in their stores at the inn.

    [Wandering encounter 5: Night, None.]
    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 03, 2022 9:52 am  
    Post 219: Midnight Meeting

    DM's Note: The contents of this post are known only to the player of Leezar ('Mathias').

    Post 219: Midnight Meeting
    28 February [9 Coldeven], 571

    All during the long walk from the Unoerthly Cave down to the Dwarven City, Leezar has kept his surface mind busy, focusing on his immediate experience - the cold of the biting wind, the way the sunlight glints off the ice, the taste of liquorice in his mouth. He knows both the Bull Men and Flying Serpents can read minds, so he pushes off any thoughts of plans or the future, and especially any thoughts of Gr...the dark master.

    When they finally disappear he says to himself, but very nearly aloud, thank the gods they are gone!

    That evening, once supper is in his belly and his gear is securely stored in the inn of the strangely empty dwarven city, Leezar goes out on the balcony to smoke and look out over the empty stone buildings, shining faintly in the light from both quarter-moons.

    "Hey, boss!" says a nearby, gravelly voice.

    Sitting on the railing of the balcony, near at hand but unseen until a second ago, is a pudgy, warty demonling smoking a fat cigar.

    "I thought those goody-two-s***s would NEVER leave," it says, then sucks deeply, the end of the cigar glowing bright in the night.

    “Amen, brother,” laughs Leezar as loudly as he dares without waking the others within. “It has been a rough couple of days. I have had to occupy my mind with the most mundane of thoughts to keep them out of my head. Luckily, it is cold as f*** outside. Come warm yourself by the fire. I must get better at my job - someday Master will send a succubus to twist my mind and my nipples!” The demonling leers in response. “I have much to report,” says Leezar.

    "Eeh, tanks but no tanks on da fire. Youse still got dat pally inside, and he can smell me at thoity feet like stink on a**. And speakin' a getting better at youses job, that's youses next job. Da Big Boss is pleased that youse found dat Aurora chick and youse is gaining her trust. But youse won't get nearly far enough with dat pally hangin' around. Youse gotta get rid of him before anything else can happen."

    "Get rid of him?" says Leezar, the words leaving open many possible interpretations.

    The demonling laughs. "Eh, shank him if youse want, if youse think youse can get away with it...but my suggestion would be to make him want to leave. Ain't no pally worth his s*** dat can resist a quest. Find somethin' dat some of dem want to do but some don't. Make sure that he ends up on one side and Aurora ends up on da other. Split da party and good riddance ta him."

    [DM's Note: If Leezar succeeds in getting Tyrius to leave the party, one way or another, 'Mathias' will level to 7th.]

    “Consider it done.” Leezar takes the last drag of the cigarette and flicks it to the plaza below. “I have a question on where the Master stands on the topic of illithids; you know, mind flayers?”

    The demonling scowls. “Dat’s neither here nor dere,” he says. “Dey sure ain’t Good, but it’s as hard as my member when I’m looking at erinyes porn ta get dem to serve. Dey all is slaves ta deir ‘Elder Brain’ or somes***. Ain’t none a dem built for temptation. Dey don't even have a sex. Pfft.”

    Leezar nods. “Hey, can all demons see in magical darkness?”

    “Most demons have darkvision - but dat don’t help none in magical darkness.
    Weaker demons have blindsight over short ranges.
    Powerful demons have truesight over long ranges.”

    Leezar nods again and thanks the demonling. He then proceeds to recount a brief summary of his work with Aurora so far while the demonling cocks its head and listens. When he is done with his summary, the demonling leaps from the balcony, flying low over the streets on its leathery wings, while Leezar opens the door to his room and goes inside.
    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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    Fri May 06, 2022 9:08 pm  

    There's a lot of intrigue surrounding our favorite silver-hearted and self-centered wizard. That knight and his group are still after the party presumably for Aurora's delving too deeply into secrets she shouldn't know, her own master made her do this research for reasons we don't necessarily know, and now Iuz's own father has an interest in her?

    Now this is the kind of Greyhawk I like, with all the intrigues, cabals and deeper secrets that hint at something unknown and sinister...
    Master Greytalker

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    Tue May 10, 2022 7:58 pm  

    CruelSummerLord wrote:
    Now this is the kind of Greyhawk I like, with all the intrigues, cabals and deeper secrets that hint at something unknown and sinister...

    As has been oft said before, one of the defining features of the Greyhawk setting is 'wheels within wheels'...
    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 10, 2022 9:57 pm  
    Post 220: Moradinath-Mor and More

    DM's note: Three very different themes for this post. First, the niggling details of buying and selling equipment and treasure. Then, lots of rolls and charge uses until the party becomes proficient with the alien technology. Finally, Mathias' and Umbra's secret backstories subtly clash in front of the party without them realizing the import of either.

    Post 220: Moradinath-Mor and More

    1 March [10 Coldeven], 571 - City of Moradinath-Mor, 10,000’ elevation
    After four days of carrying as much weight as they could and moving as fast as they could for as they long as they could in the cold, thin mountain air, after a hot bath and in their soft beds, under thick woolen blankets, the party sleeps soundly all night long, only occasionally arising to use the chamber pot, or (Mathias), going out on the balcony to stare at the moons and smoke quickly in the cold. If they don’t exactly keep to their standard watch rotations, if some are early to end their shifts or late to rise, and if an hour or two pass in the night in which no one is actually on watch, Willa merely harrumphs and rolls over. Surely Thokk’s snores will drive off all but the most fearsome of opponents.

    The next morning finds only a few of them in the downstairs common room, going through their packs to make sure that indeed there is no party food left, eyeing the ship’s rations suspiciously and mentally debating whether or not to try them, when a stout dwarven matron with a wide apron and a neatly-trimmed beard enters the outside door without knocking and orders them back upstairs. She bears with her a large bag of oats in one hand and an entire smoked ham on the opposite shoulder, so they do as they are told.

    An hour later, with all of them now awake and sitting contentedly around the breakfast table, only a few still eating, the first solicitous dwarven merchants begin to show up. They wait patiently in a side room, being served ale by the matron, while the party discusses what they will be buying and selling. Mathias asks if the party won’t be visiting shops and, hopefully, taverns? No, explain Tyrius, Willa, and Aurora - the dwarves appear rather ‘protective’ of their privacy, to put it charitably. The upper city (aboveground) is deserted - at least now in winter. The lower city (belowground) appears to be where all the dwarves are - but the party hasn’t been invited there. Rather, individual dwarven merchants and craftsmen will visit the inn with sample wares. The party can buy what they like or ask for different goods. Eventually, word of mouth will get the right wares to them if they exist in the city. “That’s odd,” says Mathias, but he leaves it at that.

    Since the party is out of “normal” food and feed, the discussion begins there. They do have plenty of ship’s stores - but are not sure they trust them. They have tried a few of them and found them edible - but the effects of eating only them, for days on end, is unknown. Mathias asks how long it will take them to get somewhere else that they can buy food, and Aurora points out that they should buy “just enough”, for the dwarves do charge a premium on food, at costs well above market price outside the mountains. The party racks their collective memory and estimates that it will be three days from Moradinath-Mor to the Lake of Rhȗn, another day beyond that to the Monastery of Pelor, and a final day from there to the town of Dersyth, the closest good place to buy food. Willa proposes buying a week’s worth of food, for men and beasts, which would leave them with two day’s extra depending on how long they need to wait at the lake before the secretive druids agree to see them. Mathias nods knowingly. Tyrius points out that the ship’s rations seem to be much lighter for the nutritional value than even trail rations - and if they have lasted hundreds of years, they will likely last a few months more. Perhaps rather than use them, they are best kept on hand as “emergency rations” in case the party unexpectedly runs out of food at some point. They all agree that this seems sensible.

    Trail Rations for 8* people for 7 days = 56 rations = 42gp
    (*Babshapka will use his Ioun Stone until they get to Dersyth, and normal rations thereafter)

    They start to calculate rations for the mules, but Willa points out that they will want to buy at least a third mule, and possibly a fourth - however many they need in order to distribute the load enough so that the mules aren’t slowed in any way. They won’t know until they have finished all their buying and selling whether they will want three mules or four, so the safest thing seems to be buying for four, and if they have a few pounds of grain left over, that’s fine.

    Grain Rations for 4 mules for 7 days = 28 rations = 3gp

    The grain for the mules brings up the subject of the bag of alien seed they are carrying from the ship. Mathias says it should be destroyed - burned if possible. Who knows what it would do to the mules or, if it washed down a drain, whether plant men would start to infest the sewers of the dwarven city? Enough of the party seem to agree that they don’t need it, and it is safer to destroy it, but how? Someone suggests turning it over to the druid council of Rhȗn - it can serve as proof that they were in the ship, and if anyone can know whether it is dangerous to the Oerth or how to safely dispose of it, it will be they. This idea meets with rapid agreement.

    In terms of supplies, traveling to the lowlands and with spring advancing, they all agree they don’t need to purchase more coal, but will bring with them the mineral coal and charcoal they already have on hand. Neither will they need most of their mountaineering supplies - crampons, fur-lined sleeping rolls (as nice as they are, a month from now in he lowlands they will be far too warm to sleep in). However, there is general agreement that they should keep the pavilion tent - spring will be bringing rains, and only two of them (Willa and Shefak) have personal tents. The dwarves agree to take back the “used” mountaineering gear for half what the party spent to acquire it. Thokk is enamored of his double-sided wolf fur blanket, though, and decides to keep that.

    Eight fur-lined sleeping rolls Sell for 40gp
    A small bronze camp stove and a copper kettle Sell for 5gp
    “Cold weather gear” for one person (Umbra) Sell for 2.5gp
    Leather-and-iron crampons for seven Sell for 14gp

    When the subject of selling is broached, it does not take Willa long to mention the strange technological weapons, and her hope that they can be sold so that the whole misadventure to the ship can have been worth something, now that they are returning most decidedly without the promised ‘starmetal’. Mathias clears his throat pointedly, and looks at Aurora. A second later, they hear a message from Aurora, but the dwarves in the next room over do not:

    Actually, Mathias and I were discussing the inadvisability of revealing the presence of any of these items, at least anywhere near the ship itself. We don’t think it would be good to spark any interest in anyone else searching for it - the ship is better left ignored and unopened for the safety of everyone. Perhaps when we are far and away from these lands with no way to trace the items to their origins we could consider selling them.

    Willa raises an eyebrow and points a spoon, the morning’s gruel still stuck to it, at Tyrius’ armor standing empty in a corner of the room. “‘e walked ‘ere in t’at,” she says, “an’ ther ‘ole city sore ‘im," but she doesn’t object further.

    Perhaps, allows Aurora, they could sell some or all of the treasure they acquired in the ship - the gems, jewelry, and perhaps the platinum chits and gemmed ball bearings pulled from the robots. Those things aren’t obviously of otherworldly origin, and they are likely to get fair prices for them, at least if the dwarves are still operating under the conditions of the letter that the party presented to them from the druid council.

    Willa readily agrees that if they wanted to sell the gems and jewelry here they could - but she points out that gems and jewelry are just about the most portable form of treasure there is - and certainly lighter per value than even platinum coins. If anything, if the dwarves are committed to fair trades, they should be taking this opportunity to rid themselves of excess coinage, and be buying gems of known value. Those in the party who are used to carrying purses with hundreds of coins nod in agreement.

    “What’s more,” adds Aurora excitedly, and now forgetting to use her message, “this would be a great chance to rid ourselves of the last of those coins from Nholast’s tower! Surely the long-lived dwarves won’t care that the coins are a centuries-old mint from a country that no longer exists - they can just give us the value of the precious metal.”

    But thinking about gems, conversion rates, and fair deals just spurs Aurora’s train of thought. When they last passed through the city, the dwarves provided them the service of appraising their gems, with each gem wrapped in a folded parchment sheet, signed and sealed and wax-stamped, testifying to its value. Aurora thinks they should ask for the same service for the gems and jewelry they recovered from <the ship> (this time she remembers to message rather than using the word out loud), and the others agree that indeed they should if the dwarves are willing.

    With their strategy pretty much mapped out, the party relaxes for the rest of the day, allowing the matron to cook and reviewing the wares that the different merchants bring but saying each time that they really are only interested in food, asking for the gem appraisals and coin exchanges. Aurora asks about things like inks and magic items but the dwarves shake their heads. Mathias walks in the plaza outside to smoke, studies the nearby buildings, and peeks his nose in a few alleys, but it is clear that the dwarves intend the party to be on a short tether while in their city.

    Eventually the old gemner they met before arrives, with a younger journeyman and multiple jeweler’s eyepieces, a small precision balance, a curious lantern with colored glass filter plates, and other strange tools. The party spreads before them the numerous gems and jewelries collected from the ship. The ancient craftsman politely explains that when they visited before, they were about to purchase hundreds of gold in mountaineering supplies, and he worked for them as a service to his brethren dwarves. But now, as he understands it, the party is receiving more for selling the supplies back to the dwarves than they will be paying for the week’s worth of food; the city is, in a net sense, losing wealth. Very politely, he explains that he doesn’t work for free.

    After a bit of negotiation, the party agrees to hire his appraisal services at one percent of the value of the gems and jewelry appraised, or 50gp, whichever is lower. With the bargain agreed to, he sets to work:

    5 Space Jewelries - from the Mind Flayer

    37 Space Crystals - from the Mind Flayer
    1 gp each - these are all placed into a single thick sheet of parchment rather than individual ones

    4 Space Jewelries - from the closet of the Android training room

    13 Space Jewelries - from the captain’s wife’s jewelry cabinet
    Four bracelets and two necklaces that are worthless ‘costume jewelry’
    5gp ring
    30gp ring
    60gp bracelet
    75gp ring
    100gp bracelet
    200gp ring
    400gp necklace

    3 Gem Medals - from Chief Security Officer’s dress uniform

    6 Gem Bearings - from the innards of two different worker robots
    5gp each, once the dwarf has removed them from the “worthless” metal housing

    1 Musical Bracelet - from the ‘restaurant’ with the chef robot
    400gp for the jewelry itself - the dwarf doesn’t know how much more it would be worth for the ‘magical music effect’, “Fer those wha’ care aboot sech foolishness” he says.

    Aurora works with pen and ink while the dwarf counts on his fingers. They agree that the total worth of all the lot together is 4017gp, one percent of which is 40.17gp. The dwarf accepts one of the 40gp jewelries found in the closet of the android training room as his compensation.

    Aurora suddenly remembers something and brings out both the strange tube she extracted from a SecBot and the robot repair tools she used to take them apart. The old dwarf’s eyes are immediately drawn to the tools. He turns them over in his hands, tests the temper of a miniature screwdriver by pushing it against the stone table, and is visibly impressed. He immediately offers the party 25gp for the set.

    When Aurora attempts to get him to look at the strange tube, it is only with reluctance that he does so. He pokes and pulls at the internal wires, tries (and fails) to scratch the surface of the metal tube, gently bends the mesh. “An interesting curiosity,” he says, “and I don’t recognize half the metals. But it is hardly of any use and I’m no tinker gnome. No thank you”

    “Just as well,” whispers Mathias to Aurora. “Absent the SecBot, it has no power source - better to keep it for your own future experiments.”

    When Aurora makes to move the rest of the now-wrapped and labeled packets to the party’s common store of treasure, Mathias holds up his hand. Willa watches with a thoughtful look on her face and her arms crossed over her chest, wondering to what he will object.

    “What?” says Aurora.

    “Shouldn’t I have my share first?” asks Mathias.

    “I’m adding this to party treasure - we usually disperse it as and when needed.”

    “Fair enough, but does that mean I am entitled to a share of all the treasure you have saved from before we met?”

    “Uh...I guess not.”

    “Then better you give me my share now, and add what’s left to what you will eventually divide between the rest of you, without me.”

    With the approval of Willa and Tyrius, Aurora painstakingly works out that (4017 in gems - 40 fee) / 9 = 442gp. Mathias nods thoughtfully, then brings out the 109 platinum chits that were found in the Mind Flayer’s bag. The dwarf carefully weighs them on the balance, submerges them in a graduated cylinder filled with water, and declares that they each contain half the quantity of platinum found in a platinum coin of most any mint, and are thus altogether worth 545gp, of which Mathias’ share is 60.5gp.

    With his share of the party’s gem and jewelry spoils from the ship now at 502.5gp, Mathias announces that he will be claiming two of the medals found on the Security Officer’s uniform. He can sell them in a pinch if he needs the gold, but perhaps he will be able to hold on to them and use them with his uniform on his triumphant return to the ship. His ship. Larry passes him two gold and 5 silver coins from the party’s pool.

    His services no longer required, the gem appraiser and his journeyman take their leave.

    Later, the gem merchants show up, having been told that those in the party with excess coins wish to purchase gems.

    Party coins:
    Silver: 11 (Larry) + 108 (Thokk) = 11.9gp
    Gold: 1 (Larry) +25 (sold tools) = 26gp
    Platinum: 2 (Larry) + 7 (Aurora) = 90gp
    Total: 127.9gp
    Purchased: 100gp gem
    Fee: 2gp (1%)
    Change: 25 gp 9sp

    Nholast Platinum: 22 (Thokk) + 2 (Willa) = 440gp
    Purchased: 4x100gp gems
    Fee: 20gp (5%)
    Change: 20gp

    Personal Coins:
    168gp = 168gp
    36 pp = 360gp
    Total = 528gp
    Purchased: 5x100gp gems
    Fee: 5gp (1%)
    Change: 23gp

    8sp = 0.8gp
    2 gp = 2 gp
    64 pp = 640gp
    Total = 642.8gp
    Purchase: 6 gems x 100gp
    Fee: 6gp (1%)
    Change: 36gp, 8sp

    98gp = 98gp
    5pp = 50gp
    Total = 148gp
    Purchase: 1 gem x 100gp
    Fee: 1gp (1%)
    Change: 47gp

    95gp = 95gp
    2pp = 20gp
    Total = 115gp
    Purchase: 1 gem x 100gp
    Fee: 1gp
    Change: 14gp

    5cp = 0.05gp
    2sp = 0.2gp
    169gp = 169gp
    Total = 169.25gp
    Purchase: 1 gem x 100gp
    Fee: 1gp (1%)
    Change: 6pp, 8gp, 2sp, 5cp

    200gp = 200gp
    17pp = 170gp
    Total = 370gp
    Purchase: 3 gems x 100gp
    Fee: 3gp (1%)
    Change: 5pp, 17gp

    86gp = 86gp
    13pp = 130gp
    Total = 216gp
    Purchase: 2 gems x 100gp
    Fee: 2gp (1%)
    Change: 14gp

    After the consolidation in coinage, many in the party have considerably lighter packs, which encourages Willa - until she goes over the supplies that they had left behind in the city: all their lowland bedrolls, several books from Aurora, and over a hundred pounds of charcoal. She decides that they will definitely need to buy two mules, rather than one.

    Mule - 12gp
    Bit and Bridle - 3gp
    Pack Saddle - 7.5gp
    Total: 22.5 x 2 = 45gp

    Gross Total expenses (not including coin and gem exchange)
    Trail Rations for 8* people for 7 days = 56 rations = 42gp
    Grain Rations for 4 mules for 7 days = 28 rations = 3gp
    Total: 22.5 x 2 = 45gp
    Storing equipment at inn, 1gp/day for Feb 11 - March 1 = 18gp
    One night at inn plus stabling = 15gp
    Total: 123gp

    Eight fur-lined sleeping rolls Sell for 40gp
    A small bronze camp stove and a copper kettle Sell for 5gp
    “Cold weather gear” for one person (Umbra) Sell for 2.5gp
    Leather-and-iron crampons for seven Sell for 14gp
    Gross Total Received: 61.5gp

    Net Party expenses: 53.5gp
    Paid with: 4 gold coins plus
    0.5gp very small jet
    37 Space Crystals 1 gp each
    1gp small chalcedony
    1gp large lapis lazuli
    1gp very small amethyst
    2gp very small garnet
    2gp very small peridot
    5gp small spinel

    By working the rest of the afternoon, the party gets their own loads right [all characters within 5lbs of encumbered] and the four mules organized [all four mules within a few pounds of 280 pounds; encumbered, but not heavily encumbered - with reduction to speed, as fast as most of the party members and faster than the slowest member, Larry].

    The party enjoys a simple but hearty dinner. They tell the matron that she can prepare them breakfast in the morning, but after that they will be leaving. Once she has retired for the evening, they close the doors and shutter the windows, and turn to practicing with their strange devices from the ship.

    First, Mathias describes to Aurora, Willa, and Tyrius how to use the language translator. He explains that the red button is for receiving; there will be a ten minute delay for the first analysis of a foreign tongue and after that translation will be instantaneous. The blue button is pushed for transmitting. A pull on the base opens the power disc compartment. The translation will analyze the closest / loudest speaker in its range, although pointing the dish end will help focus it. When he feels that they understand it, he allows Aurora to attempt to use it.

    (Aurora: Intelligence -1, Observed use -1, explained -2, total -4 on roll. Roll 5 (=1; Circle), 10 (=6; Triangle), 9 (=5; Start), 6 (=4; Circle), 2 (=1, Finish).

    After a bit of fumbling Aurora is able to point it with one hand and activate the buttons with her thumb. [Aurora is now -6 and has no chance of failure with the device]. She returns it to Mathias.

    Next up is the anti-gravity belt. Mathias describes this to Aurora, Tyrius, and Willa. He explains that the belt is opened by giving the disc a quarter turn prograde and pressing in upon the boss. The belt is activated by turning the boss retrograde half a turn and pushing inwards. In the back of the embossing is a circular indentation the size of a coin. A power disc may be fitted into this recess - there was a fully-charged there when he found it. When the belt is active, it seems to eliminate the weight of the wearer, but does not actually make him float or fly. Mathias has tried small jumps, and it seems like the belt would keep one from, for example, falling, or allow him to jump much higher, but he hasn’t used it as extensively as the translator.

    When Mathias feels that they understand it, he allows Aurora to attempt to use it.

    (Aurora: Intelligence -1, Observed use -1, explained -2, total -4 on roll. Roll 7 (=3; Circle), 6 (=2; Finish). Aurora finds this easy to operate, and in short order she can push off the ground and easily reach the ceiling, hovering there. The harder she pushes, the faster she flies, so it seems that she does have some sort of resistance to motion, even if she is in fact weightless.

    [Aurora is now -6, and has no chance of failure with the device]. She returns it to Mathias, but he explains that he is not interested in it - he considers it a party item, for use by whomever it would benefit the most. For his part, he has his own fly spell, and that won’t require power disc charges he would rather save for the translator.

    Tyrius says that he was interested in learning to use the belt, so that he could better activate the one in his armor. With the way the armor increases the strength of his movements, he imagines that he will be able to make some truly majestic leaps once he determines how. He would like to try the belt - but first he takes care to dress in his regular armor and puts on a full pack besides to simulate the most weight possible. (Tyrius: Intelligence -1, Observed use -1, explained -2, total -4 on roll. Roll 10 (=6; Circle), 3 (=1; Finish). [Tyrius is now -6, and has no chance of failure with the device]

    Tyrius is nine stone if he is a pound; with armor and pack he approaches three hundred pounds. Yet with the belt on he finds it easy to kick off the floor and reach the ceiling. Unlike Aurora, however, he immediately begins to come down - but ever so slowly, as if he had a feather fall spell in effect. It is several seconds before he is again standing on the floor. He grins in satisfaction, removes the belt, and tells Willa that they will need to discuss who in the party might most benefit from it. After reflecting, he recalls the time it took Willa and Mathias together to carry Shefak’s unconscious body down the corridor of attacking plant men. He wonders if the belt could be placed around a fallen comrade and activated so as to make them easier to evacuate.

    No one is interested in understanding the blaster pistol better; they figure that can be left to Babshapka, who already understands the device well enough. Willa convinces the others, even Aurora, not to play with the unidentified weapon as that would be a waste of their power discs. The laser pistol, however, attracts more interest. Babshapka is interested in it as a possible ranged weapon, Tyrius so that he can better operate the one that seems to already be part of the armor. Willa is on-hand to “supervise - an keep ye fools from blowin’ apart ther inn.” Although Mathias removed the weapon from the body of the ship’s captain, and has been carrying it since, he says he is neither interested in claiming it nor learning how it works. Again, his bolts of force are all he needs and they don’t cost discs besides. He is amenable to helping the others, though, and describes to them his experience while in the first set of armor, when he accidently set off the weapon several times. Babshapka recounts his experience as well in the new armor, followed by Tyrius, and Aurora shares what little she was able to glean from reading the display inside the armor.

    Aurora decides to test the device first, after Willa has cleared all those not involved in the test from the common room downstairs. The others are in the bedrooms above (except for Thokk, singing loudly and splashing lustily in the bath), while the gang of those testing the pistol are hunkered down in the kitchen, watching Aurora through the open doorway.

    The ruby-tipped rod of the device is identical to that fixed to the forearm of the armor; but the cuff and other extension are not. By now Aurora is used to the cuff of her blaster rifle, so she assumes this device works by the same principle and slides it on.

    [Aurora: Intelligence -1, partially explained -1, total -2 on roll. Roll 6 (=4; Circle)].

    The cuff remains loose about her wrist until Aurora grabs the lever - then the plates of the cuff instantly expand until the device is grasping her firmly. She raises her arm horizontally as if brandishing a wand, and gently squeezes what she now takes to be a grip on the lever.

    [Roll 5 (=3; Finish). Aurora now has “operated successfully”, and a further -2 to use. -1 charge to disc.]

    The tip of the rod glows bright red, and then a beam shoots straight out and into the stone wall of the common room. The bolt of light is reminiscent of the bolts fired by the Security Robots. When Aurora lets go of the grip, the cuff loosens, and she is easily able to remove it.

    Willa moves over to the stone wall. The area where the bolt hit is still warm to the touch, and there is a hole, nearly perfectly round and the width of a pinky finger, in the stone itself. She probes the hole, but does not find its depth. Even a straw inserted within does not touch. Babshapka gets out the headless shaft of a broken giant arrow. The stone blocks of the inn are one foot thick - there is one layer outside, one inside, with several inches of crushed rock fill between. Babshapka’s arrow reveals that the hole (melted? blasted out? disintegrated?) passes completely through the first stone, through the fill, and goes deep into the second, some two feet total in length, but does not quite pass through to the other side of the building, fortunately. Willa, Babshapka, Tyrius, and Aurora look at one another in surprise, and even Mathias arches an eyebrow.

    “How many times did you hit yourself with that thing while you were in the armor?” Mathias asks Babshapka.

    Babshapka pales. “I guess the force shield was up…”

    Aurora explains to Tyrius how to slide the cuff on, how to activate it, and how she, at least, aimed - and describes how the grip has a resistance, easy at first and increasingly hard, but how one has to clench it completely to fire off a bolt. His turn is next.

    (Tyrius: Intelligence -1, explained -2, observed -1, total -4 on roll. Roll 4 (=1; Circle), 2 (=1; Finished). Tyrius now has “operated successfully”, and has a further -2 to use. -1 charge to disc.]

    Tyrius’ shot strikes the stone a few inches from where Aurora’s did, and creates another narrow but deep hole. Afterwards he describes his experience to them all. [Tyrius and Aurora now have no chance of failure for normal use of the laser pistol.]

    Babshapka takes the final try. (Explained -2, observed -1, total -3 on roll. Roll 6 (=3; Circle), 4 (=1; Finished). Babshapka now has “operated successfully”, and has a further -2 to use. -1 charge to disc. He now has no chance of failure for normal use.]

    With both the laser pistol and anti-gravity belt studied, Tyrius is keen to try out his armor. The others take a break while he laboriously strips out of his normal plate and then rapidly climbs into his new suit. As he stands straight and the systems come online, he describes the symbols he sees on the screen to Aurora, who uses comprehend languages to describe them back to him in Common.

    When they are ready to go he raises his arm, pointing at the same wall that already bears three holes.

    [Tyrius: Intelligence -1, explained (laser pistol) -1, explained (suit) -1, operated similar (pistol) -1, total -4 on roll. Roll 2 (=1; Circle 1), 9 (=5; Triangle 1), 1(=1; Circle 1), 2(=1; Circle 2), 3(=1; Finish). Tyrius now has “operated successfully”, and has a further -1 to use]. With no grip to squeeze, Tyrius tries different hand and finger positions. He quickly discovers that closing three fingers while leaving his thumb and index finger at a right angle brings up a targeting screen inside the helmet; squeezing the remaining three closed fingers fires off the bolt, so that there are now four holes in the wall. Power levels in the suit indicate that he should be able to sustain a rate of fire of every few seconds.

    From that point on, Tyrius is careful to relax his right hand, keeping all of the fingers extended. He fumbles at the boss of the belt, but unlike the anti-gravity belt, it cannot be turned either prograde or retrograde. Rather, when he reaches for the belt, another display is projected inside the helmet. With a bit more trial and error he finds that he does not have to actually touch the boss, but rather just mimic the motion of turning it retrograde to activate the anti-gravity.

    [Tyrius: Intelligence -1, explained (belt) -1, explained (suit) -1, operated similar (belt) -1, total -4 on roll. Roll 5 (=1; Circle 1), 8 (=4; Circle 2), 5(=1; Finish). Tyrius now has “operated successfully”, and has a further -1 to use].

    Once activated, similar motions of his hand actually make him rise and sink, more like a levitation spell than the belt’s equivalent feather fall. While Tyrius is hovering near the ceiling, he notices that a display counter has started. By describing the number symbols to Aurora and the rate at which they change, it appears that the anti-gravity of the suit is capable of sustaining him aloft for an hour before depleting the power source for the armor.

    [Due to the complexity of the device, there is still a 1 in 10 chance that specific use of a device or power will be delayed one round]

    Umbra glides down the stairs, and asks if this is a good time for her to practice her needler gun, something she had not used yet. Willa looks over at Tyrius in his armor, and says that it is a great time.

    Trusting to Tyrius’ force shield, Babshapka describes to Umbra how to aim and grip the pistol. [Umbra: explained -2, observed -1, total -3 on roll. Roll 10 (=7; Triangle), 3 (=1; Circle) 8 (=5; Finish)]. Umbra draws it forth, but Babshapka immediately winces as she is holding it the wrong way, pointed at herself. Fortunately she has not yet squeezed it. Babshapka guides her in turning it around in her hand and aiming it at Tyrius, then squeezing. A spray of needles flies forth, some exploding against his force shield, others scorching the rock wall. [Umbra now has “operated successfully”, and a further -2 to use. -1 cartridge in clip]

    Some in the party had expressed interest in testing the grenades, and Babshapka at least had wanted to hear more from Aurora about her blaster rifle. Willa vetoes both these ideas and says that they are not ‘indoor toys’. While everything tested so far is packed away, Tyrius gets out of the armor, and people bring down the paralysis pistols, Willa goes upstairs to talk to Larry. He agrees to cast his stone shape on the wall of the common room, blending over the holes and scorch marks. In just a few minutes the local stones are just a touch more recessed to the wall than their neighbors, but otherwise there is no evidence on the surface of what the party has been doing.

    While most of the party have been the target of the paralysis pistol, either from different Security Robots or the female android, only Aurora has actually tried to shoot one. Her attempt resulted in mostly hitting the floor, but also a large plant man - to no effect. Still, she communicates what she can to the others now listening; Babshapka, Tyrius, Willa, and Mathias.

    Tyrius is the first to try. [Tyrius: Intelligence -1, partially explained -1, total -2 on roll. Roll 7 (=5; Circle 1), 3 (=1; Finish). Tyrius now has “operated successfully”, and has a further -2 to use]. He reflects on the experience, and tells the others to ignore the sparks shooting out of the narrow end of the device, and concentrate on lining up the invisible beam coming out the broad end with the cone in which they wish to have their target(s). [-1 charge to device]

    Aurora is next. [Aurora: Intelligence -1, explained -2, observed -1, total -4 on roll. Roll 7 (=3; Circle 1), 6 (=2; Finish). Aurora now has “operated successfully”, and has a further -2 to use. -1 charge for the device]. She adds her commentary to what Tyrius has said.

    [Tyrius and Aurora now have no chance of failure for normal use.]

    Of those assembled, Mathias is the last who wants to actually operate the device, rather than just observe. [Mathias: Intelligence +1, explained -2, observed -1, total -2 on roll. Roll 7 (=5; Circle 1), 9 (=7; Triangle), 1 (=1, Circle), 3 (=1, Finish). He now has “operated successfully”, and has a further -2 to use. -1 charge for the device. He now has a roll of 1 on d10 to delay a round if using the device, otherwise he may use it without difficulty.]

    With that, the devices are put away for the evening, and the party assembles in the common room to leisurely chat and socialize before bed. Fed and bathed and after a day of rest, the conversation lingers into the night. In the ship, Mathias had smoked regardless of who was next to him or how small the room was. Here at the inn, he is courteously going outside when he lights up, smoking in the cold, and coming back in.

    “So,” Mathias says during a lull in the conversation after a recent trip outside, “I know that Aurora was looking for starmetal and running away from a false knight because of a book she had found, and that Babshapka is like her guard, and that Willa is trying to keep her out of trouble. What about you Larry, why are you with the group? What are you going to do next?”

    Larry, never one for conversation, gruffly grunts out a few lines about Thokk and Tyrius and stupid druids and then sits back and glowers. After an awkward silence, Tyrius interjects. “Brother Larrenthal and I met about a year ago - I think we may actually have been the first ones in this happy fellowship to know one another. My very first quest as a paladin was to assist him in arriving safely at the Great Druid’s Circle in Silglen. This I did with the aid of all the others you see in the party - excepting Mistress Umbra, whom we did not then have the honor of knowing. While Larrenthal trained with the druids for several days…” Tyrius pauses, searching for more polite words, “...he did not find their training methods...suited to his particular needs.” Larry snorts. “Although I certainly don’t wish to speak for him, it may be that he has remained with our band because he has developed as much affection for us as we all have for him.” Larry snorts again. “In any event, he is free and open to change and travel, as befits a priest of nature. Unlike a paladin of Pelor, he does not have to worry about where his next quest lies, or whether it is worthy enough for one, or one is worthy enough for it,” Tyrius finishes with wry self-deprecation.

    After a bit of gentle ribbing for Tyrius about his choice of vocation, and several professions of comradery for Larry that leave him blushing beneath his grubby cheeks, Mathias asks the same question of Shefak - how did she come to be with the party, and what are her goals?

    The slim Baklunni woman inclines her head respectfully at Mathias. “My path and that of the party have crossed on more than one occasion. I seek Zuoken - an imprisoned god - as an offering to my own goddess, the Mistress of Perfection. I journeyed from my homeland in the west and had reached the waters of what you easterlings call the Azure Sea. I had learned that in the great Dreadwood there are many ancient secrets, but I knew that alone, I was no match for its defenders. I ‘adventured’ for a time with the party, facing smugglers and shark-men and restless spirits, but when I thought I would be able to care for myself, I left them and tried the Dreadwood and ultimately discovered a relic of Zuoken...a memory of sorts. The memory revealed to me a possible place for Zuoken’s imprisonment - a place farther still to the east, called Greyhawk City. It is there I must go next - but again, I find myself lacking in ability to do this alone. I was able to find these people again, and have been content to practice my skills with them until such time as I am ready to brave the city myself. For now, it seems I cannot even protect myself against a single brain with legs.”

    “I see,” says Mathias, over the others who are objecting to Shefak’s modesty. “It might be some time before you are at that point yourself - but we are much stronger all together, and it appears we are currently without a quest. Why don’t we all go with you, now, and quest together for your imprisoned god? Besides, I’d love to go back to the City of Greyhawk. ‘The Gem of the Flanaess’, they call it.”

    Tyrius shakes his head. “Aye, and ‘City of Thieves’ they call it as well. I would not go to such a den of iniquity lightly - but if it were to aid a bosom companion in a quest…”

    The talk goes around the table a few times, those present expressing their level of interest in Greyhawk City being the next destination of the party - after they present their report to the druids of Rhȗn, of course. No final decision is reached. After all, they have a day or two of travel to arrive at the druids, and another day after that for the town of Dersyth. There will be plenty of time to reflect and discuss before a decision needs to be made.

    When this has played itself out, and numerous side conversations have begun and ended, and some of those present are beginning to nod off, Mathias asks Umbra her reasons for adventuring and how she, as apparently the most recent to join the party before him, came to know everyone else.

    Umbra is silent and expressionless for a long time, but keeps a level gaze on Mathias. He returns her gaze, relaxed and friendly. A few in the party clear their throats nervously. Larry pushes his chair back and makes as if to stand up, but Tyrius gently puts his hand on the dwarf’s shoulder. In his chair, head on his chin, belly full of meat and ale, Thokk sighs heavily, already asleep and dreaming. Several more minutes pass in silence.

    Finally Umbra gives an almost imperceptible nod, as if she has decided something momentous but wants the outside recognition in inverse proportion to the gravity of the event. “My people come from the City of Autumn Leaves,” she says.

    As if matching her nod, Mathias’ smile is barely perceptible. “Yes, go on.”

    “But I have never been there. None of my people have been there for generations. The City was lost over two thousand years ago.”

    At the mention of time, Aurora, who has been silently reading for much of the evening and only occasionally interjecting in the conversation of the others, looks up from her book, the diary of Nholast. She had torn from it the pages describing the starfall and taken them with her on their journey to the Unoerthly Cave, but left the heavy book itself behind, here in the dwarven city. Now reunited with it, she is reading it for a second time, trying to find some other tidbit, some mention of a rumor like the starfall worth them hunting down. She frowns, trying to remember. Umbra had mentioned the City of Autumn Leaves when they met, and told them it was where she was from - but not that the city had been lost for two millennia!

    “And how exactly does one lose a city?” asks Mathias, his tone curious, but for once, not mocking.

    “The city was attacked. It was overrun. Most of my people were slain. The few survivors fled, never to return, never in their lives.”

    “Of course. But would they not have told their children where it was?”

    “We are not like you,” she says, and then, explaining but not apologizing, “we elves are not like you humans.”

    Mathias shrugs. “I don’t think we’re so different.”

    “Surely you know someone overcome by grief - someone who has lost a lover or a child and who dwells too long on the unhappy memory so that it clouds the rest of their life and diminishes them.”

    Mathias shrugs again, but Tyrius and Willa look at one another and silently mouth “Mad Mary”.

    Umbra continues. “A human life is but a few decades - half that, after some unhappy event. But for an elf, dwelling on unhappy memories can last centuries. It sickens us, mentally and physically. It warps us. And it is contagious to those around us. Those who escaped the city forgot as best they could, as necessary for their own survival. They did not write the story down, they did not sing of it. They did not tell their children, so as to protect them from the tragedy. And yet our ancient home calls to us still. Every generation a few of us are chosen to suffer the memory and look for the city. That is my quest.”

    Now the entire party is staring at Umbra (except for the contentedly sleeping Thokk, slumped in his chair). This is more than the taciturn woman has ever told them of her past.

    “Well, that seems a worthy quest as well,” smiles Mathias. “Perhaps we can help you and Shefak both?”

    “Wait a minute,” says Aurora. “Surely an entire city of elves would have powerful magical protections. What could overcome it? What could destroy it?”

    “Not what. Who. One man,” Umbra says coldly. “The man who sat the Spidered Throne. The Whispered One.”

    “Wait, the Spidered Throne,” says Aurora. That’s what I translated for you on the map when you...passed out?”

    “That’s when I realized that the man who sat the Spidered Throne was the Whispered One - that they were one in the same person. I had heard of the “Whispered One” before - a powerful man who lived around the time of my City, that’s why I was investigating Nholast’s tower when we met, since Nholast had some connection to him. But I had never heard of the Spidered Throne before - not until you translated the map for me, since I lack the knowledge of how to read what you call 'Ancient' Suel. Just hearing the name in a language I understood triggered something in me - an ancestral memory? And that revelation allowed me to see the City of Autumn Leaves - or at least some version of it - that’s where I “was” the whole time you all were caring for my body in the Yeomanry. I was witnessing the attack on the city, and its aftermath, seeing the forces of the Whispered One. I know now that he was the one who destroyed my people. So, what more does Nholast’s diary,” she gestures at the book in front of Aurora, “have to say about the Whispered One?”

    Aurora thinks for a bit. “I think he only mentions that once,” she concludes. “He wrote that on one expedition to Valadis he found “the relics of the Whispered One.” Willa scowls at the mention of that city, but Aurora continues. "He never says what these relics were, but he also calls them “the remains of the master.”

    “The master? But Nholast’s master was Asberdies, and he was not dead, at least not until Nholast himself was killed in the same uprising against his rule.”

    “Well, his diary implies that while Nholast claimed to be serving Asberdies, he had another, secret master - The Master. I suppose that could have been The Whispered One, although the timelines don’t really match up. He also said that the Cruel Lord slew the Master with a weapon made of starmetal. That’s why I was originally interested in the starmetal, you know. Oh, and I think I have heard something else about the Whispered One before, too, but not from the diary…”

    Aurora pauses for a moment, trying to remember. Eventually she continues. “Oh, and Nholast didn’t die when Asberdies was overthrown - he escaped and turned up in Keoland later, leading the insurrection of the Flan Yaheetes.”

    “Really? How do you know that?”

    “Ah, well, I haven’t read it. The Sage of Highfell told me that. I haven’t really confirmed it. mentor told me something else about the Master and the Cruel Lord...but what was it? The trouble is, none of this is official history that can be studied...I know all the written histories well enough, I practically have them memorized. But this is all word-of-mouth bits and pieces and rumors.”

    “Master? Whispered One? Man who sat the Spidered Throne?” says Tyrius. “Seems like this person had a lot of titles. Odd that neither of you actually know what his real name was.”

    “Perhaps he wanted it that way,” suggests Mathias.

    “Maybe people like that false knight want it that way!” says Aurora. “People who try to blot out the parts of history they don’t want other people to know!”

    “Regardless,” says Mathias, “looking for Umbra’s City seems like a worthy quest, as does looking for Shefak’s imprisoned god. So many options!” He yawns deeply and stretches. “And tomorrow is another day!”

    One by one the party members head off to bed.
    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.&nbsp;
    Master Greytalker

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    Tue May 17, 2022 10:45 am  
    Post 221:...and More!

    DM's note: The contents of this post are known only to the player of Leezar ('Mathias'). It covers his side of the events of Post 220.

    Post 221: ...and More!

    1 March [10 Coldeven], 571 - City of Moradinath-Mor, 10,000’ elevation
    All morning the dwarves come and go from the inn. Leezar takes frequent breaks outside to smoke. When the party inside appears particularly involved in negotiation with some dwarves, Leezar excuses himself to the plaza and intercepts another group of merchants arriving.

    In a hushed but casual tone, he explains that he would like a sheet of lead, as well as a lead-lined box, crafted to his specifications - one inch wide, one inch deep, some four or five inches long. Hinges, a simple latch, but not a lock. Well-made and sturdy, but not fancy - a utilitarian work, not a jewelry box. The important thing, he says, is that it is a secret - it is a surprise present for one of the other party members, and he does not want to discuss it in front of them. The merchants say that they will contact craftsmen and see what they can do. The lead will be easy, they say - but wood is scarce in the city, and there are not many options there - has he considered metal? An iron box, lead-lined, or a lead-lined brass box? Or even a box of solid lead itself?

    Leezar considers it briefly, says that a metal box would be fine, thanks them, and returns to the inn.

    That evening, after the weapons have been tried and all the dwarves have left, the party relaxes around the common room table. Leezar turns the conversation to goals and quests, and learns that Larry is largely directionless but remains with the party out of friendship, that Shefak is questing to release a Baklunish god from imprisonment in the City of Greyhawk (perhaps in the Castle of the Mad Archmage?), and that Umbra seeks to find an elven city lost two thousand years ago. Leezar is encouraged that he may have enough to work with to naturally split the party, though he does have work to do. He will need to talk to Tyrius, privately. And he will need to develop some sort of lead on Umbra’s quest - at least enough for her to have a specific destination.

    After most of the rest of the party is abed, Leezar goes out on the balcony to smoke. It is not long before the hideous demonling appears - bearing the box Leezar commissioned!

    “Where’d you get that?” he asks, surprised.

    “Ah, da dwarves was bringing it across da square. Dey was gonna knock on da door den ask to speak to youse in private, da stupid buggers. Would have interrupted your conversation below, so I intercepted it.”

    “They gave it to you?”

    The demonling scoffs. “Nah, dey gave it to ‘youse’ - or at least as near as I could make it. I tink I got youses nose too big. Anyhoo, dwarves pay more attention to youses clothes and gear den youses face, and I did a pretty good job on da leathers.”

    “Wow, fantastic,” Leezar says at first, but when he takes the box from the demonling his smile fades. It is not exactly what he asked for - a lead-lined box, to be sure, but considerably wider and deeper - more like two inches wide, an inch and a half deep, and five inches long. The box itself is of flat, unadorned iron with a strong latch. It is heavy, much heavier than he planned, but it will fit inside the Mind Flayer’s bag alright. Now can he get the witch’s hair to fit inside it?

    “Yeah, dey didn’t make da box. Said dey heard youse all was leaving da next morning and didn’t have time. Dey just took a necklace box and lined da inside with lead.”

    “It'll do for now. I can have something better made if we ever stay in one place long enough.”

    “You owe dem tree gold, by the way. You can hide it in your room. Dey’ll get it after youse all leave. On account of da box being a ‘secret present’ and all,” the creature says, chuckling.

    “Great. Say, I need some information.”

    “Youse got it, boss, any ting I knows.”

    “What do you know about, first, a Baklunish god imprisoned near Greyhawk City, and second, a “City of Autumn Leaves”. Some sort of elf city that was destroyed two thousand years ago by a guy called ‘The Master’ or ‘The Whispered One’ or the one who ‘Sits on the Spidered Throne’. Mostly where the city might be.”

    The demonling laughs. “I don’t know nothin’ about none of dat,” it says, “but I can ask around.”

    “Appreciated. Oh, and after tonight we will be on the trail - harder for us to meet without you being seen. I will try to ‘scout ahead’ by flying. It would be best for you to see me when none of the others are around.”

    “No s***” The demonling smiles through yellow, pointed teeth and jumps off the balcony ledge, disappearing with the sound of leathery wings.

    Leezar takes the iron box inside and places it on the end table in his bedroom. It is dark in the room, but that doesn’t bother him with his special sight. He should be able to hear someone coming; he should be able to see light under the door if they are carrying something and then throw up his own darkness in time. Of course, most of the party can see to some extent in the dark as well, but he needs to be most concerned about Tyrius discovering him, and the paladin does not have darkvision - unless he has asked Larry for the spell, but why would he?

    So Leezar sits facing the door, with the box on the table in front of him, and takes the witch’s hair out of the Mind Flayer’s bag. It is already braided to hold it together, in thick ropes, but he supposes that he could separate it into numerous small braids that could be more tightly packed in the necklace case. He works for quite some time on doing just that, the silver-white hair nearly shining in the darkness of the room. When he has it all done, and the new braids tied off for the moment with braided bands of rolling paper (he will need to get leather strips or yarn later), there still is a bit of hair left over - broken ends of off lengths that could no easily be braided. He focuses his mind and tries something he has never done before - and finds that indeed, he can shape his pact weapon into a pair of cutting shears! ‘The Dark Master provides’, he chuckles to himself. He trims off the loose ends and fits the braids neatly into the box. Now what to do with the leftover hair? He can’t exactly have them leaking unholy power all over the inn. Burning them would be the best bet - but that will certainly produce a godsawful stink. Burning them a little at a time? He chuckles again, and proceeds to cut all the remaining hair into as small pieces as possible, then mixes them with his pouch of loose tobacco. Yes, burning them a little at a time - and getting a nice hit of dark power with each drag!
    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.&nbsp;
    Master Greytalker

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    Mon May 23, 2022 8:17 pm  
    Post 222: Plans in Motion

    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 222: Plans in Motion

    2 March [11 Coldeven], 571 - City of Maradinath-Mor, 10,000’ elevation
    (Low 23F, High 35F) [Encounter checks (patrolled) at noon, night, predawn - no encounters]

    None of the party are any too eager to leave the comfort of the inn for the hard, cold trail and they linger over a generous breakfast. Even Willa, normally the one to scold them about burning daylight, is relaxed. With two new mules in tow (named Mandy and Dandy for godssakes), she is fine with going slow and easy the first day while they are put through their paces. She draws the line, however, when Aurora asks if there is time for one last heated bath while the mules are being packed, and insists that everyone assemble in the plaza.

    Out of the city and back down to the lake they will be going on a clear trail, not the trackless mountain slopes guided only by Larry’s spirits, and it will be more like high hills than actual mountains.

    Distance possible to cover in a 5 hour march on a trail through hills
    10 miles Tyrius in powered armor (slow over level ground but no terrain penalty)
    12.5 miles Larry (slow over level ground but no terrain penalty)
    15 miles Mules (if encumbered), Eddard (if mounted)
    15 miles Aurora, Willa, Umbra, Mathias (unencumbered), Tyrius (in plate armor)
    17.5 miles Babshapka (unencumbered)
    20 miles Thokk, Mules (when unencumbered)
    22.5 miles Eddard (when unmounted), Shefak

    The slowest member of the party would be Tyrius in the powered armor; over level ground and losing altitude, the advantages of the suit are lost. They have not left the walls of the city when he begins to lag behind and eventually is forced to ride. When they stop for lunch he takes off the powered armor, puts on his plate, and continues to ride thereafter.

    After Tyrius, the next slowest member of the party would be Larry, who has also lost his advantage here on the flat trail. However, now at 7th level, he can cast create water twice a day (to make enough water for eight or nine people and four mules), can cast longstrider every hour of travel on himself, and still have two spells left over at the end of the day!

    After that comes both the majority of those walking as well as the encumbered mules, so they will be traveling at about 15 miles a march, or 30 miles a day.

    The first hour of travel takes them beyond the outskirts of the city, up the mountainside, and to the narrow pass. They pause for a few minutes looking at all the city laid out behind them in the vast bowl-like valley below, and then continue down the narrow trail on the other side. The next five miles are a steep descent down the mountainside and into the river valley - the River Fyn, which flows into the Lake of Rhȗn.

    Once near the river, the trail levels out and the rest of the morning is easy going. Willa is pleased with the new mules, who seem accustomed to both loads and mountains and are doing well.

    After three hours or so, with an hour left before they stop for lunch, Mathias asks Willa for permission to scout them a campsite. Granted, he flies ahead for several miles down the trail along the river, finds a spot, and makes sure it is free of ambuscades before they arrive.

    DM's Note: The following section is known only by the player of Leezar (aka 'Mathias'):
    [Leezar does actually scout the lunch site, but it is not long before the demonling appears. This is the first time Leezar has seen it in daylight. Seen more clearly, it is less menacing, but if anything, uglier.

    “Hey guy, good to see you. What do you have for me?” Leezar greets him.

    “Da god-prison ting was easy. Coupla’ centuries ago a crazy human wizard named Zagig got off on capturin' gods an' demons an' s***. He had a bunch of ‘em locked up in his castle outside of Greyhawk City. Includin' - get this - both da Prince of Dunception an' da Big Boss’s son!”

    “Prince of Dunception?”

    “Yeah, dat’s what we call Fraz-Urb-Luu. He’s an idiot and rival ta da Big Boss.”


    “Only don’t ask da Big Boss about dat - he’s sensitive about it for some reason.”

    “Got it.”

    “I didn’t hear dat any of the gods were Baklunish, but seems like dere are lots of candidates.”

    “Ok. What about the elven city?”

    “Apparently dere used ta be four great elven Kingdoms - dis was when da humans in dis part of the woild was just savage Flan running around in loincloths - no Oerids or Suel yet. Each elf kingdom had a bunch a cities. Most a dose cities were wiped out long ago. Good riddance ta dose stinkin’ tree-huggers. Dere’s plenty of ruined cities to choose from.”

    “Huh. I need one close enough that Umbra is tempted and some of the others will want to go with her.”

    “Ok. I tink da closest one is at da udda end of dis mountain range, where da big river comes down. Da valley is covered in forest, but da city itself is up in da mountains.”

    “That’s great - do you know what any of those places are called? I’m kinda on a schedule here. I need to get rid of them before they find out that I don’t actually work for the druids.”

    “Dat sounds like a youse problem,” laughs the demonling. “But sure, Barrier Peaks, Javan River, Dim Forest, at least in Common. You want it in Elven, too? Sheesh.”

    “No, that’s good. Hey, remember you share my successes. We all work for the Dark Master, right?”

    “Yeah, ok. But woids are just woids. Why don’t youse tink of somethin’ youse can do for me da next time youse need somethin’, salright?”

    “I’ll see what I can do.”

    “Yeah, yeah. See youse around.”]

    DM's Note:Back to publicly known account of what happened
    With no game to cook, and just a cold lunch of trail rations, most of their rest hour is spent relaxed and with packs off, recovering from the march. With no dwarven eyes about, and out-of-doors, talk soon turns to the remaining weapons training. Aurora explains the functioning of her blaster rifle to Babshapka. He listens carefully, though he does not intend to operate it himself. Babshapka and Tyrius also receive tutelage from Willa on throwing grenades, and even try lobbing a few themselves - although without having primed them for explosion. Once this is done, everyone is satisfied with their knowledge of the alien technology.

    The afternoon passes uneventfully as well, with them all enjoying the sound of the river rushing along beside them and echoing off the narrow walls of the canyons as they travel down the trail.

    Even after the sun has sunk beyond the mountains, temperatures hover around freezing and a watch is set outside the pavilion tent, now packed with the sleeping rolls of nine people plus mules. Those not on watch relax inside the tent and share easy conversation in the night. Mathias has suggested that he be put on watch with one of the humans who cannot see well in the dark, such as Tyrius.

    First watch: 7-9pm; Willa and Larry
    “You know, Umbra,” says Mathias as he reclines on his sleeping roll and Umbra sits cross-legged, stretching before she trances. “What you said last night about your people and their city got me thinking. I have traveled a great deal about Geoff and beyond at the behest of the druids, and heard many tales, some believable, some not. I’ve probably forgotten more than I have heard at this point. But all today on the march I have been trying to remember anything I could about lost cities and elves. And I do think I remember something. I was in Hochoch at the time, and everyone in the tavern was telling stories about what lays deep in the Dim Forest. Some of the stories were believable, some were just your typical tavern tale. But then this one guy started talking about how high in the mountains there was this ancient city, and how elves used to live there, but no one lived there now. It seemed like others had heard that story, and they were ready to move on, until someone said that the bard knew a song about it, and so they asked her to sing. But the bard said no, that she knew the song, but that she wouldn’t sing it because it was too sad, and bad luck besides. And that’s why I think I remember it - a ‘lost city’ isn’t that uncommon a tale, but I remember thinking at the time that I’d never heard of a bard refusing to sing, and how strange that was.”

    “And this city was supposedly in the Dim Forest?” There is more emotion in her question than anyone else has ever heard from Umbra before.

    “Yeah, deep in the Dim Forest, up the Javan River, somewhere in the mountains. If I am remembering it right.”

    “I see.”

    They have been quiet for just a few minutes when Umbra says, “Tomorrow I am for there. As many of you as would like to come with me are welcome. There is no rush - we can stop at the druids, we can stop in Dersyth. But that is where I am making for.”

    Second Watch: 9-11pm; Thokk and Aurora
    By the end of the watch, Umbra and Babshapka have completed a long rest (4 hour trance)

    Third Watch: 11pm - 1am; Mathias and Tyrius
    Luna, the large moon, is full and high in the sky and there is plenty of light. It is cold and damp but not frigid, warmer than any night they spent in the mountains. Mathias waits until near the end of the watch to start a conversation with Tyrius.

    “Hey,” he begins. “That was great work sorting out the equipment yesterday. It was smart to learn as much as you could about all of it, each piece like the belt and laser, to help you learn about the power suit itself by association.”

    “Thank you, Mathias. I must admit I still feel prideful for having claimed such a powerful item for myself. I can only hope I use it well, and that means understanding everything I can about it.”

    “I know you are humble. I will try to limit my praise for you, but you did do an excellent job helping mediate the release of the Celestials.”

    “Not at all. I spoke to beings that were already favorably disposed to my ethos. It is you who deserve praise, for countless times negotiating with those soulless machines and winning us both safe passage and succor. I do not doubt that we would all of us now be back on that ship, and more than like in that prison, had the druids not sent you and had you not found us. What I did for the Celestials is but little compared to what you have done for the party.”

    Mathias laughs easily. “That is gracious of you. There is something about the suit that concerns me, though.” He pauses, puts his thumb and pointer finger to his lips with a soft fist as if to to keep himself from saying what he is about to say. “No, it is not my place to question one so righteous in the service of Pelor.”

    “Please, Brother Mathias. There is no harm in a well-intentioned question.”

    “Very well, but it embarrasses me even to say this. I'm concerned that you have burdened yourself with this knowledge of the weapons and gear of the Terrans, those who once used it to kill and capture creatures and even Celestials from all reaches of creation. This strange technology has been used as instruments of evil, as the Celestials told us. Do you have to ask permission of the gods to use it? Will you have to quest to prove that you are worthy enough to control it, and control yourself without being corrupted by it? These things may come with a price. None of the others are so pure of spirit as you, so I am not worried about them, but I fear that it may corrupt you.”

    “A question that shows your concern for others is always welcome, friend. You are wise to be concerned for me, and correct that my purity means that I must hold myself to a higher standard than the others. By the accounts of the Celestials, the Terrans were a wicked race, and that is surely true. And had I been imprisoned for centuries by their strange technology, no doubt I would be tempted to call it evil as well. But a tool is just a tool - neither good nor evil. What matters is how it is used. And I choose to use this armor for good. I shall use it to defend the weak and vanquish darkness. And thus though it may have been forged by evil men with evil purpose, still I can redeem the purpose, if not the men.”

    They stand in the silent moonlight for a bit longer, and when Tyrius speaks again, his voice is more reflective and less confident than before. “Still, it would be highly presumptuous of me to believe that I know everything about this armor when clearly I do not. I cannot say but that some evil hides within it, in how it is powered or how it can be used. As you well know, between the Lake of Rhȗn and he town of Dersyth lies a monastery of Pelor. We can stop there, and I can ask the wise monks to help me determine if there is any danger in using the armor.”

    “That is wise indeed,” says Mathias. “I only pray that your use so far has not sullied your honor. But if it has, I have no doubt that it could be recovered through a quest of atonement. If anyone could prove their worthiness through a quest, it would be you. Just as you aided the Celestials and were an amazing ambassador for our world and our kind, I am sure you would triumph in such a quest, cleanse the technology and your honor of any taint, and become even stronger and more faithful in the process.”

    “Brother Mathias, you are too kind. There are far worthier paladins than I.”

    “None that I have found. But speaking of quests, what are your thoughts on our next direction? Are you decided as to whether we should help Shefak, or Umbra?”

    “I have not decided yet. On the face of it, both quests seem worthy. And yet, Sister Shefak’s is the one that concerns me more. She has always been a boon companion, and shown more mercy to our foes than many in the party, seeking to cause neither pain nor unnecessary loss of life. I can only hope the god she looks for is as she is. But it is a foreign god nonetheless, and I do not know the deities of the Baklunni people. And why was it imprisoned? There are good and just reasons for imprisonment as well as unjust ones. I had planned to ask the monks this as well.”

    Mathias nods in agreement.

    “Umbra, on the other hand, seeks only answers, not action, and for something that happened long ago, not something ongoing. There is little chance that peril lies in that. And whatever it was that destroyed a city, a city of elves moreover...I don’t know who this ‘Whispered One’ was, but it strains belief that it was the elves who were the guilty party in that feud.”


    Fourth Watch: 1am - 3am; Babshapka and Umbra
    By the end of the watch, Shefak, Larry, Tyrius, Willa, Thokk, Aurora, and Mathias have completed a long rest (8 hours of inactivity with at least 6 hours of sleep)

    Fifth Watch: 3am-5am; Shefak and Babshapka
    By the end of the watch, all of the non-elves have had 8 hours of sleep.
    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.&nbsp;
    Master Greytalker

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    Posts: 936
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    Tue May 31, 2022 7:39 am  
    Post 223: Everyone has secrets

    CruelSummerLord wrote:
    Are they going to fight Against The Giants, since they're in the canon area for it?

    At last, revealed! Well, here is the beginning of the reveal...

    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 223: Everyone has secrets

    3 March [12 Coldeven], 571 - Trail to the Lake of Rhȗn, 7500’ elevation
    (Low 25F, High 49F) [Encounter checks (patrolled hills) at noon, night, predawn: bandit]

    Today Willa is more demanding in terms of an early start out. For one, she wants to push the new mules a little more. For another, by her estimation they can reach the Lake of Rhȗn by nightfall if they keep a good pace, and thus will hopefully be able to sleep in the visitor’s house rather than on the trail. None object too much to her insistence, for while an early start means leaving the warm tent for the frosty air, they just spent the night on the hard ground rather than in soft beds like the night before and it is easier to arise.

    It is just after dawn and, with the clear and cold river water boiling for tea to wash down their cold rations, some of them are sitting around the coal fire while others are dressing, armoring, or packing gear. Suddenly Willa gets a strange expression on her face, cocking her head as if listening to something that no one else can hear. She shivers in the morning chill, rises from her place by the fire, brushes the crumbs from her front, and announces “Aye, time ter go. One day ter Druids 'n t’en twain t'er Dersyth 'n onto ther Rivers Fyn 'n Javan. No need fer ther ot’er.”

    [Unbeknownst to the rest of the party, just prior to the announcement, Willa heard the following in her mind: Proceed with all possible haste to Istivin, Sterich. Will rendezvous there. Urgent matter, utmost importance to Crown. Bring Aurora if possible, otherwise eliminate her. Runnel.

    Willa has heard Aurora cast a sending spell before, and believes that is what she has just received. She knows she can respond with up to 25 words, but only if she does so immediately, and only by speaking out loud, so that everyone in the tent would be able to hear her - there is no time to step outside. Her cryptic announcement is her attempt to inform Runnel of their situation without alerting the party to the communication.]

    [Breakfast is the third meal out from Moradinath-Mor.
    From 56 human rations to 48.
    From 28 mule rations to 24.]

    The morning passes with the party swiftly marching along the well-kept dwarven trail, passing back and forth over the River Fyn on high stone bridges. As natural ambush points, Willa insists that everyone be close at hand when a bridge is crossed, but between the bridges she lets them spread out along the trail, so long as they keep between the van (Babshapka) and the rearguard (Thokk). They bunch together and drift apart haphazardly over the course of the day.

    [DM's Note: This bracketed section is known only to the player of Willa:
    Willa waits patiently until the vagaries of the march align her next to Tyrius (riding Eddard) with none of the others close at hand. The sound of the rushing water drowns out their conversation to anyone a stone’s throw or more away.

    Willa expresses her personal reluctance to travel to either the Dim Forest or to Greyhawk City. Umbra’s quest is best left with the elves, she says; likely their own merry band will not be welcomed, nor do the matters of such a long-lived race really concern them. As for Shefak, Willa is more inclined to assist the monk than the elf but again it seems a personal and religious matter rather than a concern for the party as a whole. She says that in this as in all things she trusts Tyrius’ opinion and would like to hear his thoughts on the matter.

    Tyrius says as far as he is concerned, knowledge of who or what might have razed the elven city thousands of years ago seems personally relevant to Umbra, but he agrees that it has little to do with the rest of them - unless whatever malign force ended the city exists still in the world - in which case, it would indeed be Tyrius’ duty to hunt it down and end it. However, he has enough faith in Pelor’s workings to believe that it was not merely a coincidence that the one person looking for the city (Umbra) found herself at Nholast’s Tower on precisely the day that a person who could read her Ancient Suelese Map (Aurora), and that later both of them happened to be found by just the person (Mathias) who could tell them a tavern tale from the city of Hochoch. In Tyrius’ experience, such things are ordained, not random, and it is best not to ignore them.

    As far as Shefak, Tyrius has always found her to be a boon companion, and to have shown more mercy to foes than many in the party, seeking to cause neither pain nor unnecessary loss of life. He can only hope the god she looks for is as she is. But it is a foreign god nonetheless, and he does not know the deities of the Baklunni people. And why was it imprisoned? There are good and just reasons for imprisonment as well as unjust ones.

    Neither quest seems urgent to him, and there does not appear to be anything keeping the party from doing one first and then the other. However, Tyrius had planned on stopping on the morrow at the monastery of Pelor to pray and seek guidance from the monks as to the advisability of either one.

    Willa nods at his words and they walk on together a bit more in silence. After casually glancing over her shoulder at the trail behind them, Willa confides in Tyrius that for herself, she must first rendezvous, likely in Istivin, with her contact from the Crown before embarking on a new adventure. She asks him to help her calculate the number of days it would take to reach Istivin in Sterich.

    Tyrius seems surprised by her revelation, and Eddard gives a low nicker. Rather than comment, however, he politely begins listing figures for her. “A good vessel downstream can do sixty miles a day, ninety if it is sailed or rowed rather than just running the river. It is about three hundred miles from Dersyth to the top of the Rushmoors, and another two hundred miles out the bottom of the Rushmoors to where you would need to disembark and walk to Istivin. Most of the part on foot we did together last Fireseek. The Rushmoors themselves are the hard part - a hundred miles of stagnant, fetid swamps. I’ve made that journey, once, with Thokk and Larry by my side. It seemed like every day the pilot was looking for a new channel - finding a passage where none had been before, reading the currents to see which mud bars had shifted since the last time he had traveled the swamp.”

    He is quiet for some time, and Eddard nods and shakes his mane as if privy to Tyrius’ internal monologue. Finally the paladin speaks again. “If you and the Crown have no specific need of me, I believe we may be parting ways at the monastery or shortly after. The interests of the Keoish King in my country are not necessarily the interests of my country itself, and my loyalty would need to be with Earl Querchard in such a matter. I could not bear to be on opposite sides of the field with you, after what we have been through together. It is better that I accompany Umbra, or Shefak, or help both of them, than that I must needs oppose one of our own.”

    Willa remarks that surely the selection of Istivin is just a convenient meeting place and nothing more. But in the event there is greater meaning to it, she respects Tyrius’ loyalty and duty to his own country.

    “And I, yours. If Aurora goes with you, remind her that she has a sending spell if you ever have need of me.”

    “I will do t’at, friend,” is Willa’s reply, before she slows her walk and lets Eddard amble ahead. (Thus ends of Willa's private section)]

    They have gone only a mile, or perhaps that and a half more, after their mid-day rest, when they cross the last bridge over the Fyn, the one with four stone statues of dwarves with axes on the great cornerstones, that they surmise marks the boundary between the lands of Clan Stonereaver and those of the druids. They are at a good pace to reach the village by the lake before nightfall.

    The rest of the afternoon is spent along a steeply descending trail in narrow, rocky canyons, sometimes wet from spray and mere feet from the rushing waters of the upper Fyn. Finally in the late afternoon the canyon walls recede, the ground levels, and the trail enters a dense fir forest. The dusk gathers, the forest grows darker, and Willa is beginning to think they will need to make camp when they finally emerge on the shores of the mist-covered lake, the tiny village before them, with lights already outlining windows and doors. Knowing the way, they head directly to the petitioner’s house, unpack, and start a fire in the hearth. The stable is just large enough for the four mules and Eddard, and would not hold one beast more.

    After their evening meal, of just trail rations but with hot tea from the open-hearth wood fire, Mathias collects the bag of alien seed from where it lies among the other bags and packs. When he heads for the door, more than one of the party asks him where he is going.

    “Why, to find the boatman, of course.”

    When pressed for an explanation, he responds as if it were obvious. “By now word may have reached the Isle that you are here. However, if you don’t tell the boatman until the morning that you wish to report to the Council, they might not send a representative until later in the day, or even the day after. From what you have told me, they weren’t offering you a reward, so all they really want is a report, which I can give them, and all we want is to turn over the seed to them. I should be able to get both of those taken care of tonight, and then we are free to leave on the morrow. Uhh, Willa, you’ll need to take me out of the rotation if you are setting watches tonight.”

    With that, he steps out into the night.

    [Unbeknownst to the rest of the party, Leezar walks the short way down to the docks at the edge of the lake, where he met the boatman-and-secret-Graz’zt-cultist the first and last time he was here. Then, the boatman seemed to know that he was coming and was ready with information about the party. Now, he finds the docks deserted. He could send the demonling Abe / Mr. Wart to look for the boatman, but the ugly fellow does not appear either. He could fly himself across the waters and look, but the lake is covered in a thick mist that his fiend sight does not penetrate, and likely the druids have defenders to make sure no one reaches their isle uninvited.

    He waits on the dock, alternating between smoking and pacing to stay warm. It is several hours later, well after midnight, when his contact finally glides silently through the fog and up to the dock, somehow propelling the punt with a single oar in the water, motionless. The man doesn’t apologize, merely explains that there are cattle-rustlers in the area and the Council has had him all over the lake tracking them, receiving and sending messages. What the Council doesn’t know is that he has a contact with the group of bandits he is supposed to be tracking and it was that man who actually told him of Leezar’s arrival with the party, since the bandits spotted the party on their way in to the village.

    Leezar debriefs the turncoat druid about the alien ship, providing both the bag of seed and plenty enough details to satisfy the Council about the party’s efforts. He tells the man to emphasize that the situation is taken care of, with the robots ordered to kill or imprison any exotic fauna and the ship exits collapsed from the outside. There is no need to send future groups to follow-up; it has been resolved and the strange monsters will not be emerging from the ship any more. He needn’t mention Leezar specifically to the Council. If by chance the boatman speaks to the party, he should remember that Leezar is a special scout, an informant for the Council, and his name is 'Mathias'. The boatman agrees.

    Leezar then asks about the bandits, and the man explains that outlaws live in the rugged areas around Geoff, and now that it is late winter they are becoming active, venturing closer to the settlements and stealing cattle. When Leezar asks why the druids don’t put a stop to them, the man says that they consider it a matter for the local lords, not them - all part of the “balance”. He spits that last word as if it leaves a sour taste in his mouth.

    When they are done conversing, the man takes his boat back out into the lake and Leezar returns to the house where the party is camped.]
    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.&nbsp;
    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
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    Tue Jun 07, 2022 7:20 am  
    Post 224: The Lake of Rh&#535;n to Dersyth

    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 224: The Lake of Rhȗn to Dersyth

    4 March [13 Coldeven], 571 - Lake of Rhȗn, 5000’ elevation
    (Low 41F, High 56F) [Encounter checks (civilized) at noon, night, predawn - no encounters]

    It is well after midnight when Mathias, now without the sack of alien seed, returns to the petitioner’s house. He greets those on watch but settles into a chair without comment and pulls his blanket about him before quickly nodding off.

    The next day dawns warm and overcast. From the look of the ground it may not have even frosted the night before. Over his yawns at breakfast, Mathias explains that the Druids accepted the bag of seed and his detailed account of the ship, and are not requiring anything more of the party - they are free to go. To Aurora’s objection that surely if Mathias had told the story correctly there would be some kind of reward, Mathias shrugs. The druids are known to have deep pockets but short arms, he says - the party is welcome to camp here by the lake but it is unlikely they will see anyone but the boatman. Willa agrees that they need to get moving.

    [Breakfast is the sixth meal out from Moradinath-Mor.
    From 48 human rations to 40.
    From 24 mule rations to 20.]

    They have started down the trail but are not far out from the village itself when Babshapka, in the van, points out all the tracks in the road - a large number of people passed by here recently, quite possibly the night before or even a few hours ago. There are a few shod beasts in the mix but most of the prints are human-sized, and they are traveling east - in advance of the party. The human prints are a hodgepodge mix of boots (many with cracks or holes in the soles) and heavy sandals. If they are from a patrol, it is likely a local militia rather than a lord’s well-equipped regulars. The cone-shapes of the hoof prints speaks to horses rather than mules, so Willa doubts that they are traders. She orders everyone to stay close, within sight of one another.

    Some three miles out of the village the trail passes close to the riverbanks, still clouded in fog and mist. They can constantly hear, but never see, the river for the next nine miles (all the rest of the morning). By late morning the river turns south, taking the mists, and soon after, the tracks, with it. The fact that the tracks do not stay on the trail is another sign that these are not merchants with wares. For the next half hour Willa is still wary of ambush but eventually relents as the trail ascends the mountain slope and visibility improves.

    By mid-day, when they would normally camp, they can see the gap between the mountains to the north and south of them closing. They are approaching a narrow gorge, with the river far below. The great stone structure on a hill just a few miles ahead is the monastery of Pelor, built at the narrowest part of the valley, where the Fyn is hemmed in by cliffs, and travelers must pass under the stone walls of the monks. Low walls surround fields that have not yet been planted, while a great temple is in the center of it all. Tyrius asks that they remain on the road just an hour more, and that proves sufficient to reach the gates of the monastery.

    Tyrius is welcomed by the monks, all of the party are given simple stone rooms, and the mules are taken to the stables. Eddard is unsaddled but for some reason remains with the party in their rooms. After a brief conversation the monks also carry away Tyrius’ powered armor. The party is late for the mid-day meal but they eat from their trail rations in their rooms (first meal from rations). The monks promise that there will be places for them at dinner.

    After a simple but filling dinner, light on meat but with plentiful good ale, the party retires to their chambers. Tyrius says that he will be passing the night in vigil, praying for guidance on how best to proceed; whether to join Umbra for her quest, Shefak for hers, or neither. He encourages the party to open their hearts to one another and have a frank and honest discussion, so that when they leave in the morning they may perhaps part company but at least do so as friends.

    After Tyrius and Eddard take their leave, the others look at one another in awkward silence for a while. Finally Willa begins. She says that both of the women, Umbra and Shefak, have been excellent comrades-in-arms and traveling companions, and she wishes both of them well in their quests. However, she says, Aurora’s “starmetal” quest has taken the last five months and left her cold to the bones, weary of the northlands, and with little to show for it except the hard-forged bonds of friendship. She wishes to return to her homeland, or at least the warm lands of the south, to hear news of her kinfolk and countrymen, and one day to again smell the sea. Knowing that Aurora is likely still a marked woman, she intends to go close to Keoland without entering it - perhaps to the lands of Sterich, where they may be able to puzzle out why the knight is so adamant in his persecution of her and perhaps negotiate a stay on her sentence from the safety of some neutral noble’s court, now that so many months have passed. She does not wish to go farther north to the untracked Dim Forest, let alone east across half the Flanaess all the way to the City of Greyhawk.

    When Willa finishes, Shefak asks to speak next. The last thing she wants, she says, is to be a source of disharmony within the party. When Mathias asked her of her quest, she did not mean for him, or any of them, to take her for setting out at once. She still believes that they are not yet powerful enough to challenge the captor of her god, and if they are divided, even less so. She will be leading no expedition to Greyhawk any time soon, but is content to stay with the party, facing trials together and improving their skills for now.

    Umbra, in contrast, says that the scrap of information provided by Mathias, the possible location of her city, is a lead she intends to act upon at once. She will be taking the fastest means of transport she can find to the city of Hochoch, and then traveling north into the Dim Forest from there.

    Thokk had rather too much of the ample ale at table, and is not following most of the conversation. When pressed, he says that he trusts his evil advisor to direct his warband to their next conquest.

    Mathias asks whether Shefak is sure she doesn’t want to go to Greyhawk, because it is a great place to find anything they might need, any of them. They don’t have to start on her quest immediately after arriving - they can check around for information. He reminds Aurora of the futility of her looking for magic supplies in the dwarven city and says that Greyhawk has world-famous magic shops and multiple libraries, as well as weapons and armor. There might be leads on other quests they could undertake together until Shefak felt confident going after her god. He says that he has been to the city many times, and if he can’t find what they are looking for, he surely can find someone who can.

    Babshapka says simply that he is honor-bound to follow Aurora on whatever foolish adventure she decides.

    Aurora and Larry seem reluctant to speak. Finally, Larry begrudgingly admits that he wants to know what Tyrius is deciding before he says anything.

    Aurora says that when one is being hunted by a crazy false knight backed up by mercenary armies, there is safety in numbers. If the party is splitting, she will go with whichever faction proves larger, and trust the group's resolve to defend all its members against external foes. The fabled magic shops of Greyhawk are certainly tempting - but she also doesn’t want to make herself too known or too obvious - researching ancient or hidden sources of power away from the city might be safer for the time being.

    5 March [14 Coldeven], 571 - Monastery of Pelor, 5000’ elevation
    (Low 41F, High 53F) [Encounter checks (civilized hills) at noon, night, predawn - no encounters]

    The party is reunited with Tyrius at breakfast. He looks fresh-eyed, none the worse for wear for having stayed up all night in prayer, but his voice is heavier than normal. Before he will speak, he insists on hearing the results of the rest of the party’s deliberations from the night before. When they have told him all, he nods gravely but resolutely. “It appears that only Umbra is for the Dim Forest. Were this the only factor, that alone might well be enough to convince me to go with her, as she is the person most in need of my aid. But something did trouble my prayers last night as well. I don’t know what destroyed her people’s city, but Benevolent Pelor has given me to understand that something of its evil still exists in the world, and I would face it. Perhaps it is not in the lost city itself, but there may be a clue there that allows me to seek out its hiding place. With her I will go.”

    At these words, Larry looks stung. It is as he had feared - he will now have to choose between his boon companion and spoon-buddy Thokk, and his first friend and defender Tyrius. He tries to speak in a voice choked with emotion, but fumbles over his words and soon gives up.

    Willa verbally steps into the gap. She has been thinking as well, though she was not up all night about it. If the party, or many of those in it, is bound for Greyhawk, so be it - but there are two routes. The overland route is shorter in distance - north through the Gran March and Bissel, then east through the lands of Ferrond which she does not know as well, and finally to Greyhawk itself. But the other route would be by the sea - down the Javan River to the Azure Sea, sailing around the horn of the Pomarj and up into the Wooly Bay, and finally a short trek upriver to Greyhawk. While the second route is much longer in distance, it would be much shorter in time, since it is nearly all water travel, much of it downriver or over the open sea. The land route would easily take weeks longer along roads through cities and over hill and dale. Furthermore, if the point is to keep Aurora away from Keoland, then passing so much time on the road in the Gran March and Bissel, both strong allies of Keoland and places where Keoish knights travel freely, is not ideal. Rather, if they can stick to rivers until the coast, and then find a sea vessel in a Sea Princes port, such as Monmurg, there is little chance of anyone in Keoland knowing their location or what they are about. This southern route would also allow the party to stay together for longer. If they strike out for Dersyth today, perhaps they can find a riverboat on the morrow to take them down the Fyn, or certainly once they reach the Javan. There would still be several days of travel before Umbra and Tyrius would need to leave the boat to head out for Hochoch. The rest of them could stay on the boat all the way down the Javan, and would not have to split between those bound for Greyhawk and those who might remain behind until much later.

    Most of the party readily agree to Willa’s plan. Mathias says that they could simply fly straight to Greyhawk and save even more time. When asked whether he has the magic to fly seven people and four mules he simply says that he is not a fan of boats.

    With breakfast in them and the mules packed, the party sets out from the monastery along the trail to Dersyth. The day is overcast but warm, already in the forties when they emerge from the stone walls, and touching fifty by the time they camp for lunch (second meal from rations). The first five miles are along the same elevation as the monastery, high on the mountain flank with the river in a ravine far below, itself descending a series of falls and drops. Then the trail drops steeply to the broad valley in which lies Dersyth. The grasses lower down are just starting to turn green and lush, the first blush of spring.

    They reach the gates of the town more than an hour before sundown, and more than two hours before a long, soaking spring rain begins, giving them plenty of time to find an inn for the evening. In the morning, it being a market day, they can replenish their supplies while Willa tries to arrange passage downriver.

    [-9 gold from party treasure for a night at the 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.&nbsp;
    Master Greytalker

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    Wed Jun 15, 2022 1:42 pm  

    DM's notes on sources:
    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 Cantrev names and boundaries are also available at, although with much less detail about the local terrain.

    That being said, it is my interpretation that the Avon (River) Fyn becomes the Olvewater once it enters the Dim Forest. However, I don't think Anna's maps make that clear and I am unsure of whether my interpretation is correct. See my question at

    'Mathias' [Leezar] is interested in picking up any form of mind-altering drugs, the more illicit the better, so as to honor his patron, the Demon Prince of Pleasure. I don't own the 3e or 4e versions of the Book of Vile Darkness, but this website which draws on them was useful when considering price and effects of such substances within the context of a 5e

    Willa, after hearing from Runnel of the urgent need for her in Sterich, was eager to pick up any news and rumors all along the way there, and it was soon apparent that she was going to ask the locals at every opportunity. In addition to true leads about the upcoming adventure, I wanted to plant false and random rumors so as to draw out the suspense and reveal. This website has a list of random inns, but one feature of the inns are rumors, so I generated much of what she learned from rolls therein:

    Post 225: Dersyth to New Midwood

    6 March [15 Coldeven], 571 - Dersyth, 2000’ elevation
    (Low 43F, High 62F) (Thunderstorm 8am - noon)
    [Encounter checks (civilized hills) at noon, night, predawn - no encounters]

    The day dawns cloudy but warm, already smelling of the rain to come. Willa is glad they will be spending at least the morning in town. She checks the supply of rations - both for people and mules - and tells Tyrius to get another four or five days of each at market while she works the docks.

    Dersyth has numerous personal vessels - rowboats to cross the river and small sailed or oared fishing boats, but in all of the docks, on both sides of the river, she does not see any merchant vessels. She inquires when the next trade or patrol ship is due in, and receives only blank stares in return. Eventually she learns that there is no trade along the Avon Fyn. For one thing, the mists that come with the enchanted water off the Lake of Rhȗn seldom burn off until late in the morning. For another, while the town itself occurs along a peaceful stretch of the river, both upstream and downstream are rapids and whitewater that would challenge all but the smallest boats and most skilled pilots. Finally, there is no port or trade town downriver! Once the Fyn leaves the Highlands of Geoff, it enters the Dim Forest (whereupon it is called the Olvewater) and becomes lost to the realms of men.

    Willa ponders this for a while. She almost purchases two rowboats, confident in her ability to ride out whitewater (she has, after all, landed such vessels on the rocky coast of Salinmoor in many a storm), but finally gives in to her cautious nature and decides not to. She keeps coming back to the fact that using row boats will require the party to sell their mules and then buy some again later, and to what the party could lose if the second boat (not hers) hit a rock under some other pilot, and who in the party she could trust for such a duty. In the end she resigns herself to an overland journey back to New Midwood where they can find a large vessel on the Javan. It will slow them, but only for a day or two in return for a much safer journey. By the time she comes to this conclusion, it is raining hard with thunder and lightning besides. She and Thokk make their way back to the inn with a few stops in shops along the way to look for javelins, a grappling hook, pitons, and a hammer.

    Tyrius buys 4 days of food for 9 people (36 rations for 18gp from party fund) and for 4 mules (16 mule rations for 0.8gp). He also sells the heavy leathers and furs (cold weather gear) from the rest of the party, as none of them have any intention of returning to frozen mountains any time soon.

    Mathias dedicates his morning to looking for “weed”. Although the locals readily point him to smoke shops and spice shops, he finds only overpriced Yeoman “pipeweed” and nothing stronger. The taverns have abundant ale and occasional mead, cheap local whiskey in ceramic jugs, and expensive imported whisky in glass bottles - but nothing that would take the edge off of his anxiety about an overwater trip. He returns to the inn, wet and disappointed, long before noon. At least he has purchased a sturdy leather bedroll to supplement his blanket.

    The thunder dies down all the while the party is eating lunch at the inn; by the time the mules in the stables are loaded, the skies are clearing, which Tyrius takes as a sign of Pelor’s approval of his decision to leave with Umbra.

    A stone bridge separates the two banks of the river and Dersyth lies on both sides. Passing over to the south side, the party can see that the water is very high, from the morning’s rain but more from the mountain snowmelt over the past week. Willa remembers a few places along the trail to New Midwood that passed close by the river; she resolves to look for high ground for camp sites each evening so as not to get caught in a spring flood. She doesn’t mention to anyone that she was actually considering buying boats.

    They set out in the afternoon once the rain has ceased. They march through green fields washed clean and under warm, clear skies - it is incredibly pleasant after the recent ordeal in the mountains. Only Larry, constantly having to cast longstrider to keep up with the others and still agonizing over his upcoming decision about which group to go with, is glum.

    They camp for the evening shortly after the trail splits, having taken the fork east to New Midwood rather than south. They sup on a cold dinner of trail rations (third meal of rations).

    From 40 people rations to 31 (Babshapka now eating party food) + 36 purchased = 67.
    From 20 mule rations to 18 (mules now foraging on grass and at half grain) + 16 = 34.

    7 March [16 Coldeven], 571 - Dersyth Trail to New Midwood, 2000’ elevation
    (Low 45F, High 66F)
    [Encounter checks (patrolled hills) at noon, night (common), predawn]

    The party passes the day on the trail along the river, moving through green fields in the fertile valley. The river is still high, but the trail is enough above it on the valley slope that it does not hinder their progress. It is warm and overcast, but does not rain. Lunch finds them out of sight of the river, behind a bluff Willa recognizes from when they were nearly out of food and she went fishing while some of the others hunted. By their evening camp, they are on rocky ridges looking down on the river tumbling through gorges below.

    From 67 people rations to 58.
    From 34 mule rations to 32.

    First watch: 7-9pm; Willa and Larry
    Second Watch: 9-11pm; Thokk and Aurora
    Third Watch: 11pm - 1am; Mathias and Tyrius
    Fourth Watch: 1am - 3am; Babshapka and Umbra
    Fifth Watch: 3am-5am; Shefak and Babshapka

    Thokk and Aurora have the second watch at the time when most of the others are fast asleep after a long day of marching. Luna, the large moon, is a few days past full, but casts just a dim light through the heavily overcast sky. Scouts for a local band of ogres [night wandering encounter] slip silently toward the camp. They are not heard or seen. (Thokk Perception 6, Aurora Perception 7). They take a long look at, and a deep smell of, Thokk and Aurora, and then return to their group.

    This is not the same group of ogres that waylaid the party a half-day’s travel from here some five or six weeks ago - that band was scattered after the deaths of their leaders and were forced to disperse among other groups. But by now most of them have heard the story of the failed ambush - including the sorry tale of Hugu, the ogre who still walks with a limp caused by Thokk’s bear trap. Conferring about what their scouts have seen - the burly half-orc, the robed wizard, the horse that shines in the moonlight, they are pretty sure that it is the same party, even if the identities of most of them are concealed by the pavilion tent. The half-orc, they say, was as strong as an ogre, and there was a dark human woman his equal in combat. The wizard could cast flame and web. There was a dwarf that could shoot lightning. It does not take long for the ogres to decide to let these travelers go by unmolested.

    The party awakens in the morning none the wiser.

    8 March [17 Coldeven], 571 - Dersyth Trail to New Midwood, 2000’ elevation
    (Low 46F, High 67F)
    [Encounter checks (patrolled hills) at noon, night, predawn - no encounters]

    Mathias walks back and forth as he eats his cold breakfast of trail rations, peering down into the gorge below. The sky is finally clear after several cloudy days.

    Willa, taking his pacing and interest in the gorge as nervousness, asks, “So, wha’ do ye hae agin rivers?”

    “I don’t like boats,” he says simply.

    “C’mon, man, t’ere’s got t’ be mar aboot it t’en t’at.”

    “I had a bad experience on a boat once, okay - I nearly died, nearly drowned. I don’t think it is necessary to go to Greyhawk by boat when there is a perfectly good land route. Or Aurora and I could fly and meet you there.”

    Willa considers this soberly, the most Mathias has said about it so far. “Babshapka hae a cloak,” she says, “a magic cloak wha’ lets ye breathe unnerwater an’ swim like a ray an’ all. Wha’ if ye war t’ borrow it?”

    “What?” asks Babshapka incredulously.

    Mathias looks up, looks between Babshapka and Willa. “I...I suppose that would make it easier, perhaps. In any event it is decent of you to offer.”

    I didn’t, thinks Babshapka, but he says no more.

    Under clear skies, and with the continual application of Larry’s longstrider to himself, they make great progress today. The trail stays on the rocky ridges above the valley bottom, sometimes close to the Avon Fyn and sometimes distant, but always within sight of the swift waters.

    Late in the afternoon they crest a ridge and can see that all the land to the east of them lies below their current elevation; they are coming down from the Highlands of Geoff into the great, wide Javan valley. Before them it is lightly forested in what the humans call Midwood; to the north lies the much denser Dimwood. The Avon Fyn, or perhaps now the Olvewater, is beginning to turn north and head for that darker forest and they will follow its banks no more. Tyrius believes that at this point they are leaving the Cantrev in which was Dersyth, and entering the one of the town of New Midwood. If he recalls correctly, it was called the Cantrev of Rhwng yr Coed, although Larry chuckles at his attempt to pronounce the Flan name.

    They manage a few miles more before Willa calls a halt for the day, and camp on the slope of the hills running down.

    From 58 person rations to 49.
    From 32 mule rations to 30.

    9 March [18 Coldeven], 571 - Dersyth Trail to New Midwood, 1000’ elevation
    (Low 54F, High 70F)
    [Encounter checks (patrolled hills) at noon, night, predawn - no encounters]

    Resuming their march in the morning, the trail soon enters light forest, and continues descending a steep, rocky slope. Once the land levels out they see crofts, cottages, and barns in the distance - this is sheep country, although 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 way. The party camps for lunch in the open grasslands, and then continues, arriving at more forest before the day’s end. If they don’t reach New Midwood, and the Javan River, on the morrow they will certainly be close.

    From 49 person rations to 40.
    From 30 mule rations to 28.

    10 March [19 Coldeven], 571 - Dersyth Trail to New Midwood
    (Low 55F, High 70F)
    [Encounter checks (civilized forest) at morning, noon, evening, night, midnight, predawn - no encounters]

    [Breakfast: First of 3 meals for a ration]

    [Unbeknownst to the rest of the party, shortly after dawn Willa receives the following sending from Runnel:

    Report position / heading; I will repeat check-in every week at dawn unless your response suggests otherwise. Situation here worse in scope but with same urgency

    She is in the pavilion at the time; it being warm enough, the cold trail rations are being eaten by the party inside the warmth of the night’s stored body heat, but no fire has been made. People are up but moving slowly; she can easily leave the tent and make a few strides outside as if going to use the privy. Before the six seconds are up, she exits and mumbles,

    Hopin' ter reach New Midwood an' ther Javan tomorrow. Rendezvous in Javan Ferry instead o' Istivin. Easier ter explain. Wha' be ther news / situation thar?

    She is reasonably sure that no one heard her - certainly no one asks about it later, when she returns. She has had no immediate response from Runnel. Perhaps he will answer next week at dawn.]

    The first ten miles of the morning march pass rapidly through the thickening woods. The small shepherding villages grow farther apart as the open meadows get smaller and the woods denser. It is not yet mid-day when they climb down a steep embankment and find a bridge over a fog-covered river. The bridge is of ancient timbers lashed together and supported by stone pilings. The wood is sodden and slippery, but bears their weight. Tyrius reminds them that this is not the Fyn they are passing over but the Avon Rhychdir (Heath River in Common), and crossing it means that they are nearing New Midwood town.

    On the other side of the river the trail becomes broader, with cart ruts, and their pace picks up. The woods drop away and for the rest of the day they pass through green pasture land along the slopes above the river. The trail gets better and better as they approach the town, and they easily arrive at the gates of the walled city before dark, with plenty of time to find an inn on the cobbled streets (-9gp from party funds). [Lunch: Second of 3 meals for a ration, dinner at inn]

    Once they are established at the inn, while the others wash and get ready for their first hot meal since Dersyth, Mathias goes out to explore the small town. He finds a smoke shop selling the same strains of pipeweed as in Dersyth, though at more reasonable prices. When he asks the proprietor whether he has anything harder, the man says that he has a brick of “devilweed”. Mathias has heard of it - it is dried leaves of something more properly known as the Wyssin plant - but has never tried it. It is smoked like tobacco. The man offers him the brick for 6gp and he takes it.

    For her part, Willa drinks with the patrons of the common room and mentions that they will be traveling south on the morrow. She asks them what news from the southlands and learns that: dragons have been spotted flying over the Jotens, an order of holy hermits has been established in the Good Hills, and undead have been plaguing the Stark Mounds and its caravan trail.
    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.&nbsp;
    Adept Greytalker

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    Sat Jun 18, 2022 10:36 am  

    The fellowship is fracturing... Cry

    Will this become like the Lord Of The Rings, where the narrative cuts between the different groups of heroes?
    Master Greytalker

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    Tue Jun 21, 2022 6:01 am  

    CruelSummerLord wrote:
    Will this become like the Lord Of The Rings, where the narrative cuts between the different groups of heroes?

    I wish, but part of the reason for the break was to sequester the characters of the players who were just not coming to sessions frequently / reliably.

    Five in the main group will continue on while four in the side group will be suspended in plot time for the time being. If their players' schedules ever align to make them more available, we may pick up with that group again. The player of Aurora on occasion threatens to use her crystal ball to check in on the others and force me to provide an account of them in parallel time, but he has been a DM before and is just trying to get a rise from me.
    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.&nbsp;
    Master Greytalker

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    Wed Jun 22, 2022 1:44 pm  
    Post 226: When Parting was no Pleasure

    DM's notes on sources:
    By far the best source for maps of Greyhawk comes from the work of Anna B Meyer. I used for the party's travel.

    Post 226: When Parting was no Pleasure

    11 March [20 Coldeven], 571 - New Midwood
    (Low 52F, High 71F)
    [Encounter checks (civilized hills) at noon, night, predawn - no encounters]

    While the others enjoy a hearty, hot breakfast at the inn, Willa is working the docks of New Midwood. Most vessels going downriver are loaded high with wool from the spring shearing. The bales are light enough that they take up all available cargo space and there would scarcely be room on deck for the party, let alone four mules and a warhorse. Fortunately, she does find one barge coming from the north and headed downriver with timber - a few huge and uncut trunks that may eventually be turned into great beams, rafters, or even masts, and stacks and stacks of cut and planed lumber. It is a heavy enough load that the deck space is not nearly filled, and she finds the pilot willing to accept them as passengers, mules included, in return for her promise to defend the barge, its wares, and crew (Willa - ship’s passage). The lumber trade is not so profitable that the absentee merchant who owns the barge sees fit to hire guards, and the deckhands are simple men, not fighters, so the pilot will be glad of their presence. More fortunate still, the pilot is in no hurry to shove off, as he plans on going only as far as Preston-on-Javon today and can easily reach it with hours to spare, so Willa has time to return to the inn, settle their affairs, grab a quick ration of bacon-between-bread, and use one hand to direct the party in loading the mules while she eats with the other. In very little time they are all on the barge and pulling away from the shore into the deep, wide Javan.

    Mathias eyes the barge warily and moves carefully to the center, atop a great trunk and as far from the water’s edge as he can get. As the rest of the party settles in, Babshapka removes his cloak and passes it to the gaunt man, who accepts it gratefully. A few words pass between them.

    The shore moves quickly along and it is not two hours before the hands have to look lively, scrambling about with poles to keep the barge from grounding in the shallows of Hywist’s Ford. After that, it is a long, leisurely morning and afternoon, watching the banks slip rapidly past. To their north are the rugged bluffs of Midwood Vale in the Gran March, to the south the stands of trees in the Oytwood Forest of Geoff. A few small fishing villages huddling on the shore are all they see of settlements in the largely empty land.

    [Lunch, meal 3/3 for rations:
    From 40 human rations to 31.
    From 28 mule rations to 25.]

    In midafternoon the Oyt Avon enters the Javan from the right bank, and there is again some technical work as the pilot and hands negotiate currents and eddies. Almost as soon as they get things aright they are making preparations to land in Preston-on-Javan for the evening.

    The day's outing was pleasant enough, but there is many a heavy heart among them as they go ashore. When the pilot asks whether they will want passage on the morrow, Willa says “Mayhaps, bu’ if it be, it be fer only ther ‘alf o’ us.” For indeed, those bound for Hochoch in the morning will need to take a ferry across the Javan and start up an overland trail, while those who are continuing to follow the river south will leave them behind. Once they are off the docks and firmly on land, Mathias returns Babshapka’s cloak to him. The elf nods his head but remains silent.

    During the lull of the river passage, and knowing they would need to decide soon, Larry finally found his tongue and declared that he would be staying in the northlands and with his first friend Tyrius. Then there was much embracing with Thokk and many manly tears were shed by them both. Afterwards, Shefak too declared that she would be traveling north, to no one’s surprise more than Umbra. As the monk explained, she simply felt there would be more challenge for her, more opportunities to perfect herself, in searching for the lost elven city than on a safe and uneventful boat ride. She beseeched Aurora to send to her when the other group reached Greyhawk, however, and then based on what they had already found she might later join them. Thus, the party planned to pass one last night together in Preston and in the morning to divide into Umbra, Tyrius, Larry, Shefak, Eddard, and two mules going north overland, and Thokk, Willa, Aurora, Babshapka, Mathias, and two mules continuing south by river.

    Finding an inn in bustling Preston is easy enough (-9 gp from party), and the party soon has lodgings. Unfortunately the common room below is busy enough that it will not work as a place to spread out and divide their gear. That will mean they need to do lots of shuttling back and forth between rooms upstairs as they decide what gear will be taken by the northern party and what by the southern. Between this and drinking to the health of one another, there will be no time for Willa to check the common room for rumors, nor for Mathias to continue his quest for ‘weed’.

    Since the two groups are roughly of equal number, it is an easy decision to send two mules with each. Willa thinks it best to send each group with one ‘experienced’ mule and one ‘new’ mule - she selects Andy and Dandy for her group and Randy and Mandy for the other.

    They sort out each person’s personal kit first - everyone has a backpack, sleeping roll, and waterskin, and a second waterskin to carry on the mule. Those in the southern group are conscious that, once they leave the river, they cannot rely on Larry’s created water every day and will need to fill their skins at any opportunity.

    Willa is the only one on her team without darkvision, so she makes sure to include the bullseye lantern, a tinderbox, a dozen torches, and many flasks of oil in her personal gear. To the other group she yields Thokk’s hooded lantern and another dozen torches. Then the two groups split equally four party tinderboxes and twenty-one flasks of oil.

    Thokk is assigned for personal gear his climbing harness, fifty feet of silk rope, pitons, a hammer, and a grappling hook. Larry receives the same. After this, the two groups equally split two remaining hammers and two silk ropes. There is a third grapnel, recently purchased in Dersyth, claimed by Thokk.

    Of the four fishing poles and tackle purchased months ago, just one pole remains. The northern group has plans of venturing into the wilderness and may need to feed themselves, while the southern group will have easy access to towns and cities all along the Javan. The pole and tackle are given to Larry.

    There is a singular crowbar claimed by the southern group as being less useful in the wilderness.

    Aurora takes the bag of caltrops she has always carried as personal gear but never used - and on reflection, declares that they are so useful, she pays the inn’s groom to slip out and buy her a second bag.

    There are over a hundred pounds of charcoal, and nearly twenty pounds of mineral coal. All agree that the group headed north, into the wilderness and perhaps mountains, will be much more likely to need it to stay warm and cook game than the group headed south, into warmer weather and likely eating cold trail rations and staying at inns. Still, Willa is loath to cede all of it. In the end, she keeps 10 pounds of mineral coal for her group and yields the rest to the other group.

    With this, all of the mundane gear has been divided - except the tents. The pavilion tent is large enough for the whole party (at least when the weather is good and the mules can be outside), but they have only one. Shefak also has a (two-person) canvas tent, and Willa a (two-person) oilcloth tent, but the two women are in different groups. With five people going south, that group takes the pavilion tent, and Willa reluctantly donates her own tent to the other group.

    The party now turns to the distribution of treasure. Fortunately all the appraisal work in the dwarven city has made this very easy. In just a short time the northern group has 3257.3gp in 87 different gems, jewelry, and platinum chits, while the southern group has 3257gp in 78 different gems, jewelry, and platinum chits. Since Mathias has already received his share of the treasure from the ship, this is more than 800gp for each party member in each group. Umbra gets a full share of the treasure recovered from Nholast’s tower that hadn’t yet been divided.

    Willa remembers something from the Mind Flayer about the captain’s wife and the security officer’s wife being able to communicate through devices. She and the others spend some time going through all of the jewelries from the ship looking for anything that might match, or have functions other than decoration, but ultimately nothing is found.

    What is not as easily divided is the ‘musical bracelet’ from the ship and a silver seal found in the tower. The dwarves cared only for the gems on the bracelet and ignored the music it produced. The seal was in the bottom of Larry’s backpack and never got assessed. Both of these are sent with the northern group.

    The only items that remain are the strange technological devices found on the ship. Although once they left the cave each person was allowed to claim for themselves anything they wanted to use, now that the stockpiles are being broken up, Mathias decides that he would like more than just the translator. He pulls out four grenades (two red, two black), a paralyzation pistol, and a laser pistol before what remains is divided. Since Aurora is the only one who trained in the blaster rifle, she takes both of these, as well as the unidentified weapon, for her group.

    With the weapons remaining divided into nine (and then the northern group getting four shares and the southern group five), the resultant split is:

    32 blue grenades (14 going north and 18 south)
    21 black grenades (9 and 12)
    4 green grenades (2 and 2)
    20 red grenades (9 and 11)
    7 paralyzation pistols (3 and 4)
    10 needler pistols (4 and 6)
    4 laser pistols (2 and 2)

    There is but a single antigravity belt - this goes south, as Tyrius has one built into his suit of armor, and since the party thinks the most useful aspect of this would be to evacuate an unconscious comrade, and the northern group has spells for that. Likewise, with both party healers, Larry and Tyrius, in the northern group, no one begrudges Willa and Aurora keeping for the southern group the healing sprays and injections from the ship. There is a single jar of “sensory enhancement powder” that is taken by the northern group.

    The “ship’s rations” are split by person for the “meaty stew” and by person and mule for the “creamy porridge”.

    125 Meaty Stew (56 and 69)
    22 Creamy Porridge (10 and12)

    The normal trail rations and mule grain is also divided:

    31 human rations (14 and 17)
    25 mule rations (13 and 12)

    Finally the party returns downstairs for a late dinner [no rations used for meal] and much drinking and toasting. Long after most of the common patrons have left the inn, the party remains downstairs ordering pints of ale and they take turns telling stories of their adventures - especially of the early days before they were joined by Mathias and Umbra. Mathias learns much and more about haunted houses, smuggler’s ships, lizardfolk and sharkpeople, the Dreadwood, the Druid’s Moot, vampire castles, forbidden Valadis, ghost towers, and an ancient wizard tyrant of the Yeomanry. The praises of one another are sung, and the foibles are gently ribbed and mocked. It is in the small hours of the morning when the group finally makes their way upstairs to bed.
    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.&nbsp;
    Master Greytalker

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    Tue Jun 28, 2022 8:09 am  
    Post 227: Preston-on-Javan to the Temple of Hextor

    DM's notes on sources:
    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 Temple of Hextor is shown as a ruin on her map. I chose to have it be an active temple. The description of it is my own; I don't know the source material for it.

    Post 227: Preston-on-Javan to the Temple of Hextor

    12 March [21 Coldeven], 571 - Preston on Javan
    [Encounter checks (civilized plains) at morning (patrol), noon, evening, night, midnight, predawn]
    (Low 53F, High 72F)

    Willa is awoken by the sound of boots on cobblestone and shouted orders. She leaps from her bed in a start and quickly regrets it once she remembers that she is at the inn. Dagger still in hand (where did that come from?), head throbbing from last night’s revelry, she opens the shutters and squints to see a squad of town guards being hustled down the street below by a bellowing sergeant, but by now moving quickly away from the inn. From her own bed, Aurora complains vocally about the morning light now streaming in the window. Willa begins shouting at the others to be up before they miss the departure of the lumber barge.

    Larry remains stubbornly sleeping in the inn, but the other three members of the northern group accompany the southern expedition to the docks, Shefak and Umbra having drunk very little the night before and a bleary-eyed Tyrius seemingly driven by pure force of social convention. He is glad once they arrive though. As Willa, head still throbbing, hustles the mules and party members onto the barge, he looks across the wide Javan, which is conspicuously absent of ferries. The spring floods and strong breeze promising rain haven’t stopped any downriver traffic, but the ferries that normally carry custom from one bank to the other are not in operation. The northern group is looking at at least one more day in the inn.

    As soon as all the southern party is aboard, the lumber barge shoves off, the pilot telling Willa dryly that they almost left without them, and she mumbling apologies. Once the barge is well away from the shore and the deckwork slows, everyone but Babshapka is either asleep again or trying to be. As they wake up throughout the morning each has a breakfast of trail rations on their own.

    Northern Group - Will remain at the inn for today, and take the next ferry available across the river, then up into the forest and mountains looking for a lost elven city. They are frozen in plot time for the moment.

    Shefak - Level 6 Monk (Way of the Open Hand)
    Umbra - Level 6 Sorcerer (Shadow Magic)
    Tyrius - Level 7 Paladin (Oath of Devotion) and Eddard, Celestial Steed
    Larry - Level 7 Druid (Circle of the Mountains)
    Randy and Mandy - The Mules

    Southern Group - Currently traveling down the Javan on a lumber barge. Willa is secretly steering them to Sterich to meet with her royal handler, while Mathias wants to get them to Greyhawk City. The narrative will follow them for the time being.

    Thokk of the Crystalmists - Level 7 Barbarian (Wolf Totem Warrior)
    Aurora of Tringlee - Level 7 wizard (School of Enchantment)
    Babshapka of the Silverwood - Level 7 ranger (Giant Killer)
    Special Agent Wilhelmina Stoutly (Willa) - Level 7 Fighter (Champion)
    Leezarius Angelicus Temtonio / Leezar / Mathias - Level 6 Warlock (Dark One)
    Andy and Dandy, the Mules

    The warm day passes uneventfully as they float calmly down the wide, mighty river, though much of the pleasing landscape is missed by those sleeping. On the left bank the land is still rugged, with only the occasional isolated fishing or shepherding village to be seen. The trees remain thick for the first hour or so on the right bank, but after that the forest pulls back and they pass by open meadows and farm fields set in the broad floodplain. Some of the villages are sizable, and even boast docks large enough for the barge, but they keep traveling.

    Only when the sun is low on the horizon does the pilot announce that they will not be making Keeler’s Keep before sundown (and no thanks to their late start and layabout passengers). He steers the barge closer and closer to the left bank as the deck hands tell one another they are making for ‘The Temple’.

    The structure can be seen long before they arrive - a massive fortress of stone and iron near the water’s edge, with stone pilings and extensive docks of well-kept wood. Theirs is not the only vessel making for the docks or already moored there for the night. The warrior-priests of the Temple of Hextor maintain the docks for the use of all the travelers of the Javan and the barge needs to pay only a small fee for the privilege of mooring in safety, although those who wish to pay more may visit the temple or take a meal or beds there for the night.

    Willa doesn’t like the look of the grim priests who collect the toll, or of some of the other vessels moored near them (especially a few of the Rhenee barges), so she announces that they will all remain on the barge for the night and set a watch besides. This meets with the approval of the pilot who subsequently leaves off any mention of the party’s late start to the day.

    17 human rations to 12
    12 mule rations to 10

    First watch: 7-9pm; Willa
    Second Watch: 9-11pm; Thokk and Aurora
    Third Watch: 11pm - 1am; Mathias

    [DM's note: What follows is known only to the player of Leezar ('Mathias')

    Leezar is woken for his watch at 11pm by Aurora.

    Sounds of concertina and violin music drift across the water from the Rhenee houseboat barges, but it is an otherwise quiet night. At midnight, the massive bronze bells of the temple on the hill above them toll loudly. In between each massive boooongggg, Leezar can hear a familiar gravelly voice. “Hey…” it whispers. “Hey boss!”

    Leezar stands up from the pile of lumber he was sitting upon and moves quietly off the barge, climbing the ladder up onto the wooden dock and finding the demonling. “I gots somthin’ ta show yous,” the demonling says, and beacons him with a gnarled finger.

    The creature hops and glides down the wooden dock, Leezar just behind him. It moves onto a stone breakwater and down a stair to a small stone landing, large enough to admit a rowboat or dorry, but covered in half a foot of river water. Leezar moves out onto the landing, his leather boots splashing softly. “What is it?” he asks.

    “Dere,” says the warty demonling and it points down into the water. A sickly green glow lies deep below the surface.

    “What is it?” asks Leezar again, and he doubles over to bring his face closer to the water.

    For a second, nothing happens.

    Then the surface of the water erupts - a form emerges - a human form - a corpse - the corpse of the fat priest killed by Leezar when he dedicated himself to Graz’zt. Leezar inhales sharply, but before he can scream the dead arms wrap around him, dead hands grab his wrists, pull him into and under the river. The demonling chortles with laughter.

    Leezar is dragged down far below the surface before he manages to summon his pact weapon to his hand. It takes the shape of a stiletto, and he plunges it again and again into the body of the priest, but it does not cease its hold nor fade the bright green glow in its eyes. Blood like black tar slowly oozes from each puncture wound. With a curse that takes the last of the air from his lungs, Leezer changes the form of the weapon to that of a short knife with a strongly serrated edge.

    Trying desperately not to inhale water, Leezer saws through the flesh and bone of the priest’s wrist on the opposite side of his hand holding the serrated knife. The dismembered hand of the priest releases its grip on him, drifts slowly away in the current. With one arm free, Leezar switches the blade to his free hand. When at last he has freed his other arm from the corpse's grip, the waterlogged body sinks down into the black depths. Leezar, all his air gone, struggles to the surface.

    His hands find a stone ledge and he drags himself up onto the same landing he was taken from. The demonling is still there, still laughing, though Leezar cannot hear him over the pounding in his ears. He vomits forth swallowed river water and gasps for air.

    Minutes later, he rises shakily to his feet, and the squatting demonling stands as well in mock seriousness.

    “So, da Big Boss says good job on gettin’ rid of da pally. Yous is promoted. Now earn da wizard’s trust.”

    The demonling disappears. Soaked and shivering, Leezar walks up the stairs and back to the barge.]

    [For splitting the party and separating Aurora from Tyrius, Leezar is now 7th level: New features in bold.
    Seventh Level Warlock / Human (Oerid) (Noble)
    Str 10 (0) Dex 16 (+3) Con 13 (+1) Int 8 (-1) Wis 9 (-1) Cha 18 (+4)
    Hp 44, Languages Common, Velondi
    Skills: Deception, History, Investigation, Persuasion
    Otherworldly Patron - Dark Prince Graz'zt
    Pact Boon: Pact of the Blade
    Special Ability: Saved by the Bell. Because of his work as a pit fighter and his experience taking dives, Leezar may make a Deception check to convincingly feign unconsciousness or death.
    Cantrips (3): Blade Ward, Eldritch Blast, Mage Hand
    Invocations (4): One with Shadows, Fiend's Sight, Maddening Hex, Armor of Shadows. Dropped: Thirsting Blade
    Otherworldly Patron Features (2): Dark One's Blessing, Dark One's Own Luck
    Spells (8): Witch Bolt, Armor of Agathys, Dispel Magic, Fly, Darkness, Hex, Scorching Rays, Summon Aberrant Spirit. Dropped: Burning Hands
    Equipment: Scimitar, Alien Translator, Laser Pistol, Blaster Pistol, Blaster Rifle, Power Discs ]

    Fourth Watch: 1am - 3am; Babshapka
    Fifth Watch: 3am-5am; Babshapka
    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.&nbsp;
    Master Greytalker

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    Tue Jul 05, 2022 8:34 am  
    Post 228: Temple of Hextor to the trail to Pelyth Cove

    DM's notes on sources:
    By far the best source for maps of Greyhawk comes from the work of Anna B Meyer. I used for the party's travel. Note that while her map shows one "Keeler's Keep", it is listed as "Keller's Keep" in the brief description at The latter appears to be a fan work drawing on Living Greyhawk materials. The description of the town is my own, apart from the name.

    Post 228: The Temple of Hextor to the trail to Pelyth Cove

    13 March [22 Coldeven], 571 - Temple of Hextor
    [Encounters (civilized plains) at morning, noon, evening, night, midnight, predawn - none]
    (Low 61F, High 77F)

    They shove off from the temple docks early in the morning and are soon back out on the open river. The morning passes swiftly as the barge is steered gradually over to the right bank of the Javan. It is less than two hours later when the pilot maneuvers it into the docks of Keeler’s Keep and the deck hands give a relieved cheer. This is as far as they are going; this is the market for which their lumber was bound. Keeler’s Keep is the last market town before the Javan enters the Rushmoors.

    It is early enough in the morning that Willa hopes to immediately find another vessel, but all those ships have sailed. Even across the river in Tanner’s Ferry there is little activity on the docks. Reluctant to waste the better part of an entire day and pay for a room in an inn, all in return for the chance there might be a ship on the morrow, Willa confers with the barge pilot. He agrees that the trail south to Pelyth Cove is good, and walking will take them as fast as they could cross the Rushmoors by barge; arriving in a day or perhaps a day-and-a-half. Even had they a ship, all the moors are low-lying and marshy, and the mighty Javan fans out into a maze of reeds and backwater channels. The current is so slow that deckhands must work constantly to pole through the reeds, and the bugs are dense. Given that as the other option, the party agrees to walk south for a few days, at least until they are past the moors and can find another ship once the Javan gathers itself up and resumes its course as a true river again.

    It will be at least hours, and maybe days, before the lumber barge is unloaded, so the party uses it as their staging area as they load packs for themselves and the mules. Adjusting their personal loads to their ability to carry, Mathias moves some of his gear to the mules while Aurora loads sixty pounds of books onto them. Babshapka, Thokk, and Willa find room in their packs for varying amounts of ship’s rations. The mules end up with about two hundred pounds each, allowing almost everyone to travel at the same base rate, with Thokk and Babshapka just a bit faster. By the time the party is ready, they can still get in a few hours’ march before midday. Willa notes that they are low on people food, but if the pilot is right that they can reach the next town south in fewer than two days they should be fine.

    Keeler’s Keep is a small town with congested streets, but it is just a short walk from the docks to the town walls. The actual Keep is high above the town, a few towers perched on a rocky crag, while the town that bears its name is hunkered between low stone walls and the river’s edge.

    As the party leaves the town, the trail retreats from the river and ascends a hillslope as it does so. With each passing mile, they have a better vantage of the massive Rushmores - a reed-choked fen as far as they can see to the east. No settlements lie more than five miles from the town, and light woods of small trees soon encroach on the trail. By mid-day it is in the high seventies, and during their rest stop Mathias, sweating heavily, strips off his heavy leathers. In the late afternoon they cross a low ridge, and as the sun approaches the horizon they enter a small agricultural valley. They can see the fields and farms surrounded by earthen dikes and levees and the trail crossing innumerable short plank bridges across drainage canals.

    That night there is a chorus of frogs serenading them, and although it is stuffy in the pavilion tent, the heavy flaps keep out the worst of the clouds of biting flies.

    12 human rations to 7
    10 mule rations to 9 (lots of chances to forage along the trail)

    First watch: 7-9pm; Willa
    Second Watch: 9-11pm; Thokk and Aurora
    Third Watch: 11pm - 1am; Mathias

    [DM's note: What follows is known only to the player of Leezar ('Mathias')
    The demonling again appears at midnight while Leezar is on watch, but this time they are far from the river or any other body of water. The others are in the pavilion tent with the flaps closed against biting flies. The drone of the frogs is loud. Leezar does not have to walk far off before he is sure they will not be overheard.

    “So, how do you plan to kill me tonight?” he asks the ugly fiend.

    “Ah now, c’mon boss, dat was just to celebrate youse’s promotion. No hard feelin’s, right?”

    Leezar doesn’t answer the question immediately. Instead, after a pause, he says coldly, “I get it, it’s your thing, you friggin’ a******. Last time you came through for me and I thought we were working well together. You had asked me to do something for you. I looked all over these backward river towns for the best weed they had to offer. I figured you could smoke it in your cigar. You pushed me in the water and f***** that up.” (Deception 17)

    The demonling seems taken aback. “Aww, youse was gettin’ weed for me? Hey, dat’s nice. Really. And I’m sorry if youse’s dunk in da river spoiled it. But understand dis - da whole corpse-in-da-water ting wasn’t me. Dat's da Big Boss - or maybe it’s bigger dan him - rules of da universe or somethin’. Youse want a promotion, youse has a near-death experience. Gotta break youse’s psyche so youse can remake it and grow or some s*** like dat. Dat wasn’t my idea, dat’s just how da job works.”

    Leezar keeps a level gaze on the demonling.

    “And yeah, I did laugh, true enough. But it was funny, boss...if youse coulda seen youse’s face when dat priest came out of da water…”

    “You could have warned me. If we are on the same team.”

    “Yeah. Yeah, I coulda. But da Big Boss likes his guys scrappy, able ta adapt ta circumstances. If I tought youse was actually in danger, I woulda said sometin’. But, like I said, it’s part of da promotion. Youse can expect it, if youse wants ta keep advancing.”

    “Well, I’ll expect it now. So if you are not here to kill me, or mock me, why are you here, then?”

    “Youse’s bump comes with bennies. Da Big Boss says youse gets ta learn more spells and invocations and such like.”

    “And you will teach me?”

    “If I can. Depends on what youse asks for.”

    “Aurora’s mage armor is useful, and a lot more comfortable than leather in this heat. When can I know something like that?”

    Invocation of armor of shadows. Yeah, dat’s simple enough. We can start youse on dat tonight.”

    “I want my spells to be more potent, do more damage.”

    Invocation of maddening hex. Yeah, dat I can do, too. ‘Course, youse want ta learn both of them, youse gots ta give up somethin’.”

    Leezar thinks a bit, but it doesn’t take long. “Thirsting Blade. I won’t need that.”

    “Aww, don’t have da bloodlust of youse’s youf anymore?”

    “The wizard already has people that fight for her. If I am to win her trust she needs to respect my casting ability.”

    “Whatever youse say, boss. What about a real spell, if youse need ta be all magicky now?”

    “If I am going to specialize in casting, it would be good to have something to fight for me. A blocker, a minion. What’s the most powerful conjuration spell I can get?”

    The demonling rocks back on its heels. “Hmm. You coulda learned summon lesser demon before. But now...I think youse can handle summon greater demon. Just be real careful who youse use it on. Youse can make enemies real quick.”

    Leezar muses. “A demon might be a bit on the nose...Aurora doesn’t trust me that much yet. Is there anything less obviously a servant of the Dark One?”

    “Huh. I guess dere is summon aberrant spirit. Gets youse an aberration. Some of dem work for the Big Boss, but most people don’t know dat.”

    “What kind of aberration?” says Leezar, thinking of the mind flayer.

    “Ah, easiest one would be a f****** frawg. Dere are others, but it’s harder.”


    “Ah, what's dis world call dem? Slaadi, yeah.”

    “That might do. Can you teach me this spell to summon slaadi to do my bidding?”

    “Not me, but someone else can. Dat’s pretty powerful stuff, and I’m just a messenger. I knows a guy, dough. Also, youse’ll need a resonant.”


    “Yeah, what youse Oerthlings call a ‘material component’ - a piece of dead slaadi - preferably an eye.”

    “Can you get me that? That doesn’t seem like something I could get on my least while I am doing the Dark One’s Will by staying with the wizard.”

    “I’ll see what I can do.”

    Leezar nods. The two of them quickly get down to the business of the ritual that will allow Leezar to invoke the armor of shadows. By the end of his watch, he can call on the armor at will, and have it last eight hours without him concentrating on it. The demonling takes to the wing soon after.]

    Fourth Watch: 1am - 3am; Babshapka
    Fifth Watch: 3am-5am; Babshapka
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    Master Greytalker

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    Wed Jul 13, 2022 8:45 am  
    Post 229: The Trail to Pelyth Cove

    DM's notes on sources:
    By far the best source for maps of Greyhawk comes from the work of Anna B Meyer. Pelyth Cove is on her maps at and is also listed, but not described, at The latter appears to be a fan work drawing on Living Greyhawk materials. The description of the town is my own, apart from the name.

    Post 229: The Trail to Pelyth Cove

    14 March [23 Coldeven], 571 - Trail to Pelyth Cove
    [Encounters (civilized plains) at morning, noon, evening, night, midnight, predawn - none]
    (Low 57F, High 73F - light rain from 3pm to 10pm, heavy rain thereafter)

    It is cooler this morning, but also muggy. Clouds in the southeast portend rain, but they are far off. As the party breaks camp, Aurora uses her mage armor spell, as she always does (typically three times a day around meals). Soon after, Mathias does the same for himself - the first time the party has seen him do so. He packs his leathers on the mule rather than putting them on.

    They continue through the levee-bordered fields as they start the morning, but after two hours they leave them behind and enter a wood. The trail is obvious, if sometimes muddy, but the flies are out in huge numbers in the dappled shadows. When they reach midday no one is at all interested in stopping and giving even more biting flies the chance to alight on them. Willa has them slow their pace just enough to pull rations from the mule packs and they eat as they walk through the wood.

    It is perhaps an hour after midday when they finally break free of the trees and see a town spanning both sides of a small river at the bottom of a hill below them. The town is surprisingly sizable for them having passed no villages or fields leading up to it, but given the extensive docks in evidence along the river it likely lives mostly through water trade. The town boasts sizable stone walls and even towers (it is, they later learn, the capital of the cantrev through which they have been traveling since the midpoint between Preston and Keeler's Keep). Above the town, the river cuts through green meadows, but below it are extensive rice fields that eventually give way to grassy fens. They have arrived at Pelyth Cove.

    “Terday be Sunday,” says Willa. She leaves unspoken, ‘our first Sunday without Tyrius,’ although Aurora and Babshapka think it as well, for while the Paladin always greeted the sun in prayer, he celebrated longer on Sundays and Godsdays besides. “An’ so it likely be a market day," she adds after a pause. "Let us find an inn in yon town away from t’ese damned midges. Aurora, ye can be buyin’ us some food fer ther road - two weeks fer us an’ maybe a week more fer ther mules. Thokk, ye make sure ther inn’s ale be fit fer us t’ drink. I be lookin’ fer a boat fer ther morrow. Mathias, ye can gae wit’ who ye will, tho’ I wouldnae mind if ye could see ter ther mules an’ gear at ther inn. Thar be time in ther affernoon fer ye t’ look fer smoke shops.”

    The town is large but it is no city, and it does not take them long to find an inn on the south bank of the river, near the docks. All the while they search, rain clouds are gathering. By the time they have the mules stabled and their gear inside, a light spring rain is falling.

    It is indeed a market day and Aurora has no difficulties buying the food they need from the party fund; 14 days of food for 5 people (70 rations for 35gp from party fund) and seven days of food for 2 mules (14 mule rations for 0.7gp from party fund). The party is a bit short on actual coin, and when she pays for everything with a gem that the dwarves assured her was worth 50gp and asks for change, the merchant assesses it as if it was worth but 45gp. She lets it go.

    At the docks, Willa finds a number of barges pledging that they will leave on the morrow, rain notwithstanding. However, the largest among them are headed north, and of those headed south, all of the deck space is packed with goods, with no room for the party or mules. The pilots, however, claim that she will find plenty of river traffic headed south when she gets to New Hope, at the bottom of the Rushmoors, where the Javan becomes a “right river” again.

    This late in the afternoon, and with the rain preventing certain types of work, many of the pilots and hands are just sitting about and don’t mind Willa’s questions in the least. They are equally happy to provide her with the news of the south, although their sphere of interest clearly lies in what is relevant to the river and its trade. She learns that the dwarves of Num-Theraz (in the highlands of Sterich) had an exceptionally productive winter and iron goods are expected to be plentiful this trading season. Also, that gold and platinum coins of a mint not seen in hundreds of years have begun to appear in the cities and towns along the river - surely someone has plundered a lost hoard. As the differing pilots offer conflicting tales over whether the coins are real or false, cursed or not, worth their metal value or secretly worth much more, Willa tries to keep her face interested without betraying the party’s involvement in the event. Finally, more than one of the pilots says that undead have been plaguing the Stark Mounds and its caravan trail between Geoff and Sterich, such that surely more traffic will be shunted to the river this year.

    Mathias does remain at the inn through the afternoon, for Thokk, sitting at the bar drinking and ogling the wenches, is not in the least concerned about the packs of grenades and blaster rifles left unguarded in their rooms upstairs. However, as soon as Aurora and Babshapka have returned from buying food, Mathias sets out. First he sells his set of leather armor. He receives little (2.5gp) in exchange for it when considering its quality and the decorative work it had, but it is used, cut individually for him, and the buyer will have a hard time finding someone as tall and lanky as he to sell it to. Next he is off to visit the smoke shops, of which there are several. In one he does indeed find a proprietor who admits to having a full pouch of diviner’s weed. The man is reluctant to sell it to Mathias at first, claiming that, by law, it can only be purchased by priests of Boccob for use in religious services. Mathias presses him, asking him whether he knows for sure that Mathias is not a priest of Boccob, and sliding some extra coins across the counter. The man admits that Mathias could be a priest, for all he knows, and hands the pouch over (Persuasion 11, but 27 with advantage from the bribe).

    By their evening meal in the inn, the party is all together again (5gp from party fund for food and lodging). The rain continues all night, and even grows harder.

    7 human rations to 4, then to 74 with purchases
    9 mule rations to 8 (had chances to forage on the trail), then to 22 with purchases

    [DM's note: What follows is known only to the player of Leezar ('Mathias')
    Leezar slips out of the inn around midnight for a smoke - the rain is still coming down heavily.

    The demonling appears, teaches him how to invoke a maddening hex, and says that he thinks he has found someone to teach him how to cast the summon aberrant spirit spell, before vanishing.]
    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.&nbsp;
    Master Greytalker

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    Tue Jul 19, 2022 9:56 am  
    Post 230: South from Pelyth Cove

    DM's notes on sources:
    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

    The demon Lord Vuron is taken from Gygax's Gord the Rogue novels.

    Post 230: South from Pelyth Cove

    15 March [24 Coldeven], 571 - Pelyth Cove
    [Encounters (civilized, swamp) at morning, noon, evening, night, midnight, predawn - none]
    (Low 59F, High 75F)

    For the entire day’s march south from Pelyth Cove, woods are to the party's right. The trail is soft and muddy from the rain that let up shortly after dawn, but as they are the first people to traverse it, it remains passable and does not slow them. To their left is a mix of marshland, and rice fields that have been claimed from former marshland through extensive earthen levees and dikes. One does not have to look far that way to find large pools of standing water and boggy spots through which they would not dare lead their laden mule. At least those who first laid the trail had the sense to keep it on the higher ground at the forest’s edge.

    It is warm and buggy all day. The individual trees change, the fields and the men repairing the slumping dikes change, but the essence of the scenery they pass does not vary for the entire day. It is only at the very end of the day that the ground rises and the marsh recedes somewhat. A worn and weathered wooden sign marks the boundary between one cantrev and the next.

    74 human rations to 69
    22 mule rations to 21 (chances to forage)

    [DM's note: What follows is known only to the player of Leezar ('Mathias')
    When the demonling appears this night, there is another being with him - a tall, thin, almost stick-like demon. Its skin shines alabaster-white in the moonlight - unlike the demonling’s ridiculously large and dangling scrotum, the tall demon has taught skin with no sexual features at all - it is completely androgynous.

    The demonling bows and scrapes before it, and then gestures at Leezar - “This is Leezarius Angelicus Temtonio,” he says, “also known as Leezar, also known as Mathias Forge. He’s a tough pit fighter, an ace spell-slinger, and recently became captain of his own starship.” It is strange to hear the demonling’s gravelly voice so enthusiastic, since he normally is sarcastic and mocking in everything he says.

    The demon gives a slight nod of acknowledgement, and the demonling turns to Leezar. “And this is Lord Vuron, an adjutant to the Big Boss himself. It is a great honor that the Lord has agreed to teach you.” The demonling leans toward Leezar, cups his hand to his mouth, and says in a comically loud stage whisper, “I just asked for someone to teach you the spell, I don’t know why the Lord decided to come.”

    The demon says simply, “That will be enough, Mr. Wart.” The demonling disappears, and the demon makes a gesture with his hand. Suddenly the sounds of the night forest around them go silent.

    Painstakingly, syllable by syllable, the demon teaches Leezar the words for him to summon aberrant spirits. When they are done, Leezar says that he understands he needs some material components, both Slaadi parts and a very expensive crystal jar. He is working on the second, but wondering about how he can get the first.

    The demon nods. “We can help with that. Mr. Wart tells me you don’t like surprises, so I will tell you this. We can gate you in a Slaadi to fight. Ideally it will appear in a city, somewhere we can make it seem to have been summoned by a cult of those who oppose the Dark Prince, a group who local authorities can then punish. Once you and your companions have slain it, you can collect the eye to use in the future.”

    “While I appreciate the chance to hinder the Dark Prince’s enemies, is it necessary for me to slay one of his servants? You don’t have an eye or some other part stored somewhere? I don’t want to waste his resources.”

    “Things do not work in the Abyss as they do in this world. A demon, or in this case a Slaadi, can die in your world without consequence in the Abyss - it will return to the service of our Master. Conversely, a Slaadi slain in the Abyss would disappear, and those slain in their native Pandemonium dissolve into chaos - there are no parts to collect. Harvesting parts is best done in your world. In addition, we have taken an interest in your case and would like to see how you and your companions work together to fight it.”

    “I understand, my Lord,” says Leezar, and bows.

    “You have other things you would ask of us.”

    Leezar bows again. “I am but a lackey; I ask these things not for myself, but to further what I have been told to do.”

    “Of course. We all serve the Dark Prince.”

    “When we arrive in Greyhawk it would raise my standing with the wizard if I could be recognized - perhaps someone could meet us, with a sign with my assumed name, someone who could lead us to an inn with an owner or manager friendly to our cause. Any contacts we have to get her access to libraries, magic shops, and armories would increase her reliance on me and make it easier to turn her to the service of our master.”

    The demon neither smiles nor frowns - its face is as devoid of emotion as its body is of gender. “In Greyhawk, you have your old contacts, and we can provide more. But let us see if you manage to reach there first. Adventurers are difficult beings to predict.”

    “Of course.”
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    Master Greytalker

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    Tue Jul 26, 2022 10:44 am  
    Post 231: Tenwalls-on-the-Bluff

    DM's notes on sources:
    By far the best source for maps of Greyhawk comes from the work of Anna B Meyer. Tenwalls-on-the-Bluff is on her maps at and is also listed at The latter appears to be a fan work drawing on Living Greyhawk materials, and describes the hamlet as deserted. The description of the village is my own, apart from the name.

    Post 231: Tenwalls-on-the-Bluff

    16 March [25 Coldeven], 571 - Trail from Pelyth Cove to New Hope
    [Encounters (civilized, swamp) at morning, noon, evening, night, midnight, predawn - none]
    (Low 63F, High 80F)

    The party continues south along the trail. The land gradually rises, and although they still pass rice fields, these are smaller and increasingly seen in the distance, in the lowlands to the east bordering the marsh. The biting flies decrease in number as the land rises and the marsh recedes. The hilly country they march through has more low stone walls and sheep folds all the while. All morning long they approach a ridge as they ascend. Finally they attain its summit, a broad bluff, at midday, and Willa calls for a halt in a quaint hamlet where the trail splits.

    One branch of the trail rises to the west, up and into the mountains. The main trail that they are following continues south, gently following the rise and fall of the downs ahead. The hamlet itself is overshadowed by a fortress still higher on the hill, but no pennants fly from its towers. Indeed, the whole structure appears to be falling into ruin, and the peasants of the hamlet readily confirm that it has not been occupied for hundreds of years - their liege, the Arglwyth of Daden Bryd, rules from the city of Aberglain, to the south. The folk are friendly and readily answer Willa’s questions. To a person, they all have the dark cast of skin that she does, showing their strong Flan background. Indeed, the farther they have traveled from Keeler’s Keep south the more the locals have shown their Flan heritage and less of the pale Oeridian stock has been in appearance.

    In response to Willa’s questions, the locals declare that the hamlet is called “Tenwalls-on-the-Bluff”, a reference to the numerous curtain walls of the ruined fortress. They tell her it is twenty-some miles from here to the town of New Hope on the restored Javan River, and thirty-some to the city of Aberglain further south. This means that neither place is within range of the party today, but that either would be reachable on the morrow, and both are likely places to hire ships, with Aberglain being the larger of the two. Willa asks for news from the south, but the tales of these simple folk either mirror what she has already heard, or else are so fantastical that she smiles politely but dismisses them out of hand. When she queries them over the undead in the Stark Mounds, they respond that the Mounds have had gleddyf bwgan for more than a hundred years, the remains of a destroyed Keoish army that arise to plague the living from time to time. Some years are worse than others. Willa asks specifically about the political situation in Sterich and Keoland, but affairs of state are largely beyond these simple folk who only offer well-wishes for the health of the young Earl of Sterich and the King of Keoland. She asks if any unusual groups have passed through the hamlet this winter, and several of the folk say very seriously that on one moonlit night, a swarm of rats went by a dozen wide and so long that it took the better part of an hour for them all to pass.

    The locals also remind her that there are but three full days left before the week-long celebration of Growfest, which officially marks the end of winter and the beginning of spring. If they are to get a ship, they should do it before the start of Growfest, as only the most skin-flinted of merchants and pilots will be traveling, rather than making merry, during the festival.

    After a cold meal of their own supplies in the village, the party continues to the south. Immediately they notice that the trail itself is much improved - wider and with permanent deep cart ruts. Although they can “cut corners” with the sturdy mules to save time, the main trail curves back and forth to follow the gentler grades of the hill slopes such that heavily-laden carts can use it, and there are many places where rock outcrops have been painstakingly cut through or low spots filled in with gravel to allow easier passage.

    Although the trail itself rises and falls with the downs, they are in a net sense losing elevation, with the “Bluff” behind them having been the highest spot all day. All afternoon they also grow closer to the border of the marsh, and by evening’s camp Babshapka estimates that the tall reeds of the open wetlands are perhaps some five miles off.

    69 human rations to 64
    21 mule rations to 20 (many chances to forage)

    [DM's note: What follows is known only to the player of Leezar ('Mathias')
    When the demonling appears this night, Leezar tells him that they are likely to reach either New Hope or Aberglain on the morrow. The demonling says that he will attempt to have both the boat and the Slaad ready.]
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    Master Greytalker

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    Mon Aug 01, 2022 7:23 am  
    Post 232: Aberglain

    DM's notes on sources:
    By far the best source for maps of Greyhawk comes from the work of Anna B Meyer. New Hope and Aberglain are on her maps at Aberglain and is also listed at, which appears to be a fan work drawing on Living Greyhawk materials. It describes Aberglain briefly, with the most detail devoted to a list of NPCs. The description of the city herein is my own, apart from the name.

    Post 232: Aberglain

    17 March [26 Coldeven], 571 - Trail to New Hope
    [Encounters (civilized, swamp) at morning, noon, evening (Slaad), night, midnight, predawn]
    (Low 60F, High 79F)(Light rain 2pm - 5pm)

    As the morning march starts, the party rapidly approaches the marsh. Low, deep green lines in the high, light green reed fields indicate deeper, flowing water, and these coalesce to where the Javan leisurely gathers itself together to become a river once more. By midmorning they can easily see the town of New Hope sprawling along the east bank of the reformed river. On the near side, though, the trail leads only to a small shantytown of fishing shacks, with no buildings of stone or even of two stories present. They will need to take a ferry across the river to reach the town itself, but these seem to be plentiful along the docks of both banks, and some are even in the process of crossing as they watch.

    After another mile of march, however, Babshapka calls for a pause. With no trees nearby, he balances himself atop a complaining mule and shields his eyes from the sun as he looks east. Northeast of the town, he says, is a huge stone fortress. The pennants of this are clearly red - perhaps red-and-black. They are definitely not black and white. It is still too far away for him to see whether they are griffins or lions, however. For the rest of them, they can barely distinguish the fortress from the town, let alone a griffin from a lion.

    “And why is the color important?” asks Mathias.

    “Black an’ white griffins be ther shield o’ Geoff,” says Willa, “bu’ black an’ red lions be t’at o’ Keoland.”

    North of the Rushmoors, in their travels from New Midwood south, the Javan River has so far formed the border between Geoff and the Gran March. Much lower on the river, from Godakin Keep to the sea, the Javan marked the westernmost extent of Keoland. Given the pennants, it seems likely that the town of New Hope lies in Keoland, although it is possible that the colors glimpsed by Babshapka were those of a local Gyri or Marcher lord, and the similarity to Keoland only a coincidence.

    Mathias shrugs. “It might be time for Aurora to stop running,” he says. “If not now, when?”

    Willa doesn’t respond, but just points them back down the trail. There is both foot and cart traffic, and they should be able to ask a local about the border before crossing the river.

    However, before they have met anyone on the road, they come to a fork, where one trail clearly leads to New Hope and the river crossing, and the other turns and heads south along the river. Willa says that the second trail should lead to Aberglain. Regardless of what lies on the other side of the river, the small folk of Tenwalls-on-the-Bluff told her that their liege lord sat in Aberglain, so that city, at least, must be part of Geoff. What’s more, as a city, it will have busier ports and a much greater chance of them finding a boat. Even if they were sure that New Hope was not Keoish, Aberglain would be the better call. They just need to make sure they get there today.

    The day’s travel has been easy so far, and the others agree to head for Aberglain without a vote being taken.

    The trail grows better the farther they travel, and they reach the great walled city by mid-afternoon. A light rain has started, but the quality of the road means their progress is not slowed by mud. Aberglain is indeed a grand place, the largest settlement they have seen in Geoff outside the capital of Gorna. It sits at the nexus of trails running north and south along both sides of the Javan (with the way between it and New Hope on the east bank an actual road), with ferries running between the banks, a trail on the east bank running east, and a smaller river running down from the mountains to the west and bisecting the city. The river provides abundant power for mills before entering the Javan. The numerous trails, as well as the river, all enter the city at gatehouses through the thick stone walls and flanked by high towers.

    The party seeks to enter the city through the main north gate, but admittance there is backed up by numerous other travelers - merchants, farmers, herdsmen, and entertainers alike. For the last mile outside the city walls they pass by corrals and folds full of animals, recently driven to the city in preparation for the festival week ahead. The air is festive despite the misty rain, and more than a few of their traveling companions appear to be getting an early start on the celebrations as they nurse flasks of whiskey to help the time pass while waiting in line.

    Willa reminds the party to stay focused as they inch forward - they need to find an inn first, which may be difficult with the city crowded by revelers, and then if there is still time after she will head to the docks and attempt to arrange passage on a ship for the morrow. Fortunately, the easily-bored Thokk has found amusement in intimidating any of the travelers who might seek to slip ahead of them in the queue.

    They finally make it through the gate as the rain ends and with more than an hour of daylight to spare. They ignore the impromptu market set up just inside the gates and immediately head down the cobbled streets. Before they reach the small river at the center of town, Willa has them turn left along a main thoroughfare so as to get closer to the Javan and the dock district. As they approach, however, the main road breaks into a number of smaller streets. The road still slopes down, so they are by no means lost, but they soon find themselves on less-traveled streets full of people doing local errands rather than crossing the city.

    In a small knot, with Thokk and Willa leading the way, Mathias and Aurora protected in the center, and the mules and Babshapka bringing up the rear, they advance along the quieter streets. At one point a large warehouse is to their left, a small cottage shaded by some trees to their right.

    Suddenly the noises of the city are drowned out by a loud splintering of wood. Just ahead, the wall of the warehouse next to them has exploded in a shower of sundered timbers, broken planks, and a cloud of plaster. Wood is scattered on the street in front of them, and a large hole stands agape in the wall of the building, though little of the dark interior is visible.

    Willa draws her greatsword without a second thought, but cannot fathom what might have caused such an explosion (History 4).

    Bystanders come closer, as curious as the party as to what is transpiring. Suddenly a huge form forces itself through the hole in the wall, displacing more wood and plaster. Into the street steps a bipedal frog-like humanoid of enormous size and striking blue color. Thick and muscular, the huge brute easily stands ten feet tall, and its arms fully reach the ground. Twin claws protrude not from its digits, but rather from the back of its hands.

    Round 1
    Willa hesitates just a second - the creature stands blinking lazily in the bright sunlight and hasn’t moved aggressively yet, so long as you don’t count what it did to the wall. Then the cityfolk scream and animals soon join them - braying, lowing, barking, squawking, and squealing. This beast may not be a real threat, decides Willa, but panic in the city is. She moves forward and brings her greatsword in a long slash across the creature’s abdomen, then pivots and sinks the blade deep into its torso (one hit, AC15, 12 damage).

    Thokk has no such consideration for the city inhabitants, but is always ready to do battle. As a master tactician, however, he has to consider whether what remains in the warehouse is even more of a challenge than this giant frog man. Holding his shield between himself and the beast, he executes a tight turn, then leaps through the hole, landing on the warehouse floor. Three men, robed and masked, stand gaping at the hole in the wall. Thokk swings his sword and one of the men crumples to the ground, bleeding out. Satisfied that the frog is indeed the greater threat, Thokk turns his back on the remaining two men and drives his blade deep into the creature’s back (two hits, 9 points of damage kills a cultist, 13 damage to slaad, total 25 to slaad).

    The frog-creature steps forward, apparently taking no notice of the blows it has been dealt, but interested in Willa in front of it. With its enormous spurred hands, it rakes across her platemail, and the force of the blow bruises her arm (one hit, 17 slashing damage, DC15 Con save, Willa makes it with 23).

    As she steps back, it bends down and opens a huge maw, revealing rows of peg-like teeth. She brings her greatsword up in front of her before it can bite.

    Down the street, a panicked cow strains at its rope tether (Wisdom save 7), turns, and lopes away. The milkmaid leading it is forced to run after it down the street, yelling at everyone to get out of its way.

    Babshapka moves the mules off the street to the cover of the trees in front of the cottage, then turns and pulls the blaster pistol off his belt and deftly flips it open. Looking through the view screen, he watches as the targeting crosshairs move from Willa, to Thokk, to the blue creature, and then thumbs the button. A line of intense force streaks out, slamming into the creature’s huge head (DC13 Dex save, fails, 17 points force damage, total 42). He shoots again, but by now the frog thing is looking across the street at him and is able to sidestep the brunt of the blow (DC13 Dex save, succeeds, 22 damage is 11, total 53).

    Aurora takes advantage of her new fourth level spell slot to send out a maximized volley of six magic missiles, each one striking the creature unerringly (17 force damage, total 70).

    Mathias sizes up the intruder, and makes a mystic gesture in the air, then shoots forth two cracking bolts of force (one hit, 2 points, plus 6 from hex, total 78).

    Round 2
    If the frog creature ignored the first two sword strikes against it, it is not now doing so. Its rubbery skin has been rent in a dozen places and cyan-colored blood is flowing freely. Willa uses her greatsword to parry any further attacks against herself, and cuts into its flesh whenever it gives an opening. At each of her blows it staggers back (two hits, 25 damage, total 103).

    Mathias shoots another two blasts of force at it (9 points, total 112).

    The creature grabs its head, and suddenly Thokk and Willa feel a moment of pain like when the Mind Flayer attacked, but not nearly as intense (4 points psychic damage to each of them, plus 4 to it, total 116 [unbeknownst to the party, 'Mathias' is experimenting with his new maddening hex ability).

    Thokk bellows in pain and reacts by stabbing at the creature through the hole in the wall. Twice he strikes, and at the second hit it slumps forward, then crashes into the ground (two hits, 24 damage, total 140hp). Grunting in satisfaction, Thokk turns and moves deeper into the warehouse.

    One of the cultists is already by the warehouse door, and has removed his robes and mask. Underneath he has on the simple clothes of the middle class - a shopkeeper perhaps, a skilled tradesman or minor merchant. The other is trapped between Thokk and the far wall. Mask still on, he eyes Thokk warily, attempting to gauge what will happen if he bolts by (Insight 18). He correctly surmises that Thokk intends to strike him down at the first opportunity, although he does not know that Thokk plans to knock him out rather than slay him. He says a curse in a language Thokk does not recognize, draws a ritualistic-looking blade, and swings at the barbarian. Thokk lazily blocks the blow with his shield.

    In the street, Aurora tries to see into the building, but it is bright outside and dark inside. She turns to calm the mules even as the nearest townsfolk continue to scream and run away.

    Round 3
    Carefully turning his longsword, Thokk slams the flat of the blade into the side of the nearer cultist’s head. He collapses, alive but unconscious (14 points). The other cultist has the door half open, peering out, perhaps to see when he can leave without being observed. Thokk clouts him from behind with the pommel of his sword, and he, too, falls unconscious (9 points).

    With no more combatants, the party works to restore calm. Willa bends over the frog thing, examining it (Nature 13). One of the wounds in its back, the first blow from Thokk, has nearly healed - but it appears quite dead at the moment (10 points regeneration per round while alive).

    Eventually a city guardsman shows up, yelling at the small folk to back off. He looks at the fallen frog, he demands to know the names of the party, he moves the cultists to the hole in the warehouse wall so that he can see them in the light from the street.

    Meanwhile, Aurora and Mathias are examining the creature (Investigation with advantage from Help, 18). They agree it is not from this world, but likely “extraplanar”, and that it is dead and no longer regenerating. Mathias takes some samples for later study. Underneath its claws, near the knuckles, they find strange bulbous sacks, of unknown function. Willa suggests poison, which seems as good a guess as any. Mathias tries to collect one intact, but fails, the sack rupturing and the gooey contents dripping onto the cobblestones (Sleight of hand 6).

    As more and more guardsmen show up, the two living cultists are stripped and bound. A serjeant tells the party that they all need to remain for questioning. When they object, he insists - how is he to know that they weren’t involved in summoning this thing?

    Mathias takes him aside and speaks to him while Willa looks through the warehouse. Three black tallow candles, recently blown out, adorn the points of a hexagram drawn in melted wax on the wooden floor. Another three candles are as yet unlit. A small mirror lies nearby (Perception 13). When Aurora comes in, Willa shows her the candles. “Yeah, someone was summoning something they shouldn’t have,” the wizard says, stooping to pick up the discarded skull-like mask. Some death cult, of which there are any number…(Religion 12) is as far as she gets before a guardsmen orders her to put it down.

    After some back and forth, Mathias levels with the guardsman sergeant. “Look, we didn’t have anything to do with that creature - you can ask those cultists when they wake up. You are damn lucky we happened to be walking by. We’re just passing through, and we're on a schedule - don’t make this any harder on yourselves than it has to be'' (Persuasion 10).

    The guardsman hears both the honest concern and the veiled threat in Mathias’ voice. He looks over the party again - three powerful fighters and likely two casters. They took down whatever that demon was in less than ten seconds, with none of them apparently wounded. No, he doesn’t want to get involved with them, in fact (Insight 4). Fine, let someone else try to detain them. He will have his hands full keeping the gawking city folk away from the creature until a priest can arrive - where is that priest, now? “Okay, okay,” he says, “You can go - but stay in town! Where are you staying at?”

    “We don’t have an inn yet,” interjects Willa. “But it will be near the docks on the Javan.”

    A litter has arrived - but only one - for the dead cultist or the living ones? There’s a priest now, beginning to draw a holy circle around the body of whatever that creature was. “On the docks, got it - don’t leave town until you have permission!”

    The party organizes the mules and prepares to depart. Aurora summons Buckbeak and has her wait in the tree across from the warehouse. “When they take those bodies away,” she whispers, “you follow discreetly and see where they go, then come find me.”

    An hour later the party has an inn. It is right on the docks and was empty until they arrived (Luck roll +3). The proprietor tells them a number of bargemen all left this morning, and the early-arrivers for the Growfest celebration all want inns near the markets and churches, not the docks, so he has plenty of rooms today. In a few more days, however, he will be full as well, when the late-arriving revelers have no choice.

    (Party trades one 5gp platinum chit for a night at the inn)

    64 human rations to 61
    21 mule rations to 20 (many chances to forage)

    Willa tells the innkeeper to save her portion of the dinner - she will eat it cold when she returns from the docks - while the others settle in. She finds the docks busy, as befits a city of this size, with traffic coming and going, upriver, downriver, and ferries running to the other side (which she learns is indeed Keoish soil). After some work she finds a barge headed south and leaving on the morrow. The cargo is mostly finished woolen goods, fresh from the fulling mills of the city, some dyed, some not. The goods are valuable enough that the pilot has been instructed to hire guards and leave deck space for them, but the upcoming festival has made it hard for him to hire hands at a price his merchant authorized, so he is glad to take on the party as guards for free. He will cast off on the morrow, as soon as they are all on board. (Luck roll 0)

    After securing ship’s passage, Willa works the rest of the docks asking for news from the south. In addition to the tales she has already heard, she finds some hands who have come down the Davish River in Sterich before going up the Javan. They report having seen lots of troop movements along the river - knights, archers, infantry companies. Speculation is that this is related to the undead activity in the Stark Mounds - most of the troops were marching upriver.

    Willa returns to the inn and passes the night with the others.

    [Note: The following is known only to the player of 'Mathias':
    Leezar leaves the inn to smoke outside and watch the mostly-deserted streets. Shady business near the docks in a city this large is not surprising, and now-and-again cloaked figures skulk by, but keep to themselves.

    The demonling appears at midnight, the time made obvious by the sound of bells in the cathedrals across the city. He appears to be in good humor, laughing at the plight of the cultists of Orcus. Under interrogation, the two remaining ones admitted that they worshiped the Demon Prince of Death, but denied that they summoned the Slaad, which is fine. As soon as they admitted being cultists, the authorities believed whatever they wanted of them, and were happy to pin the blame on them, which was what the Dark Prince had planned all along. Now the authorities will be busy pressing them for contacts and rooting out the followers of Orcus in Aberglain, which removes competition for the Dark Prince.

    When he is done congratulating themselves, the demonling asks whether Leezar managed to collect an eyeball from the Slaad, and Leezar says that Aurora actually asked for his help in doing it. That gets a big grin from the demonling. “Now youse just need a crystal jar ta keep it in. Got one of dose?”

    “No, not yet. But I got enough in treasure from the ship to buy one - only I don’t want to liquidate it unless I have to. I’m sure if I hang out with the party long enough I will get enough more to do so. Adventurers always find treasure. I have some jewelry I lifted from under their noses, as well. I can sell that or trade it for a crystal jar - but that would require spending a bit more time away from them. I’ll need to wait until we are not traveling, hopefully in Greyhawk.”

    “Sounds great,” the demonling says. “Say, our meetings are startin' ta become predictable. It’s gettin' harder ta trow off da High Side guys what track portals an' gates an' such - 'specially now wit half da priests in Aberglain lookin' for demons. Are youse good for a bit, or do we have any udder bidness ta attend to?”

    “I'm good. Just let the cult in Greyhawk know that one of the Prince’s projects is coming and to get us a good place to stay; one where we have contacts. Have them research ‘preferred’ shops; magic, armor, and libraries...if they can find any. Someone that knows the city well.”

    “Youse got it, boss.”

    “Thanks.” Leezar reaches into his jacket and pulls out a fat pinch of the diviner’s weed he got in Pelyth Cove, hands it over to the demonling. “Here is some of that weed. Roll it in your cigar.”

    The creature’s eyes widen, and it tosses away the half-smoked cigar it had in hand. It smolders in the gutter. Suddenly a small wad of cut tobacco appears in its hand, unrolled. It takes the weed from Leezar and combines the two, then rolls and twists, its mangled and warty fingers proving surprisingly dexterous. It soon has a perfectly formed cigar. It snaps its fingers and a tiny flame appears at the end of one digit. Holding the flame to the cigar end it sucks strongly and the end flares. Then it pulls a long drag on the cigar and exhales in satisfaction. “Oh, yeah. Dat’s not bad.” The smell of tobacco and something else, more green, wafts through the night.

    “I appreciate your help,” says Leezar.

    “Yeah, youse's all right, berk,” says the demonling. He holds the cigar away from his face for a second and his nostrils flare. “Smells like youse got some more of dat kind bud on youse. If youse need me again, burn some of dat on an altar ta da Big Boss. I can’t promise I’ll notice it or come, but it’s woith a shot.”

    Leezar agrees, and the demonling takes its leave.]

    [DM's Note: XP
    Three cultists CR ⅛, 25xp x 3 = 75xp
    Blue Slaad CR7, 2900xp.
    Total xp 2975 / 5 = 595 each

    Babshapka 30,736 + 595 = 31,331
    Willa 23,774 + 595 = 24,369
    Thokk 23,000 + 595 = 23,595
    Aurora 23,000 + 595 = 23,595
    Mathias 23,000 + 595 = 23,595
    (Note: 8th level is at 34,000)]
    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.&nbsp;
    Master Greytalker

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    Tue Aug 09, 2022 2:17 pm  
    Post 233: Aberglain to Javan Ferry West

    DM's Note on Sources: Cear Glys, Javan Ferry, and the Ford of Marich cannot be found on Darlene's map. I used Anna B Meyer's for the party's travel. Caer Glys is described briefly in at, which appears to be a fan work drawing on Living Greyhawk materials. Therein it claims that the town was actually part of Keoland until CY596, so my use of it as already in Geoff many be anachronistic with respect to canon. The Ford of Marich comes from Gary Holian's LGJ1 article on Keoland, I think. Anna Meyer has two towns across the Javan from one another, Javan Ferry in the east and Sterich Road in the west. These appear to be taken from the Dungeon 117 map supplement (, in which it indeed looks like these are the names given for the two towns (although on that map the symbols appear to indicate that they are villages, not towns). However, closer inspection reveals that the Dungeon map also names a number of roads: King's Highway (from Flen east), Oyt Road (from Istivin north), and Davish Main Trail (from Istivin south). Given that, I wonder if "Sterich Road" is rather the name of the road from Istivin east, and the unfortunate placement of the text on the map near to an (unnamed) village on the Javan has resulted in Anna thinking it referred to the name of the village itself. At the suggestion of DMPrata, I will be referring to both of the towns as Javan Ferry, and sometimes Javan Ferry West for the Sterish settlement and Javan Ferry East for the Keoish town. On Anna's map the eastern town is at the river's edge but the western one is removed a mile or two from its banks. I have chosen to locate both towns on the river itself. The description of Javan Ferry West is my own. The "Rosy Mounds Inn" refers to the rose hue of the Stark Mounds when seen by the light of dawn.

    Post 233: Aberglain to Javan Ferry West

    18 March [27 Coldeven], 571 - Aberglain
    [Encounters (civilized, swamp) at morning, noon (merchants), evening, night, midnight, predawn]
    (Low 60F, High 78F)

    Aurora wakes early, at the prodding of Babshapka, whom she asked to wake her the night before. Together they ready themselves and leave the inn without the others, before dawn, but as the sky is beginning to lighten. Buckbeak leads her “to where they took the cultists” - which turns out to be a large chapel. Talking to some urchins, they learn that the temple is dedicated to Pelor. They return to the inn with time to eat a hurried breakfast before Willa is pushing them to board the barge.

    The morning passes with the barge moving leisurely downriver past a pleasant, bucolic countryside, a mix of sheep pastures, small farms, and light woods. A river enters the Javan from the Gyri side, but there is no town at its mouth - likely due to the low, marshy land.

    As the morning wears on, the slow, meandering river approaches uplands to the south. The river's banks grow higher, its course straighter, the ground on either side rockier. Sometime after noon the river punches through a hard ridge under the shadow of a large fortress the bargemen call “Cear Gilys”. A village with extensive docks sits on the river under the high towers of the castle, and several other merchant barges come and go from the port.

    The afternoon’s run of the barge is on a swifter, straighter portion of the Javan through countryside that is less settled and more wooded. Shortly after a second river adds its water to the flow, the sun sinks below the Stark Mounds and the pilot begins to look for a place to ground the barge for the night. He finally selects a brushy sandbar, and even makes the party work for their passage by having them do a sweep of the bar first and then exacting a promise from them to post watches, not that Willa would have it any other way. When she inquires of their progress, the pilot says they are nearly to the border with Sterich, and that on the morrow they will pass Javan Ferry and, godswilling, reach Godakin Keep.

    61 human rations to 56
    20 mule rations to 18

    19 March [28 Coldeven], 571 - Javan River, Geoff-Sterich Border
    [Encounters (civilized, swamp) at morning, noon, evening, night, midnight, predawn: none]
    (Low 63F, High 79F)

    The barge pushes off from the sandbar early in the morning and re-enters the Javan’s flow. After about an hour of travel, the whole river turns sharply to the east for more than two miles, then just as abruptly resumes its southerly course. The pilot tells the party that this jog indicates that they have now crossed the border between Geoff and Sterich, at least on the west bank. The land to the east is still Keoland, as it will be all the way to the Azure Sea.

    For the next ten miles of travel, until mid-morning, the western bank retains its forest, but the eastern bank clears into pastureland, farming fields, and villages, with a highway running close to the river. A small river enters from the Keoish side, and a bit later another from the Sterish side. By midday the Javan is curving further east to skirt an arm of the Stark Mounds running down from the western heights and the settlements grow more common and closer together on both sides.

    In the afternoon they pass another Sterish river, and with some two hours of daylight left they approach the broad shallows where the twin towns of Javan Ferry sit across from one another at the Ford of Marich.

    Willa asks the pilot whether he will be putting in to port for the day and he responds that with clear weather and two more hours of daylight they can get halfway around the Isle of Avenstane and more than half the way remaining to Godakin Keep. Willa then tells him that he can, of course, continue on - but that the party will be disembarking in Javan Ferry - on the Sterich side.

    This surprises the pilot as much as it does the rest of the party. When he asks why, Willa responds as if the answer was obvious. “Ther ‘morrow be ther first day o’ Growfest, as ye northerners call it, an’ I don’ intend ter be out on ther water.”

    “Why not?” he asks, perplexed. “If you wanted to celebrate Growfest, you should have stayed in Aberglain and not told me you wanted passage.”

    “Oh, I ain’t celerbratin’, I jess aim not ter offend ther Spring Maiden.”

    “Offend her? How?”

    “I ken ye northerners call t’is ‘Growfest’ an’ all, bu’ in Salinmoor this be ther Feast o’ Atroa, an it be a time fer family an not fer goin’ out on ther water. Atroa’s father be Procan. If I slighted ther Maiden, I wouldnae dare high out on ther open water ever agin.”

    Willa’s fervor is beginning to get some of the deck hands looking nervously at one another and murmuring about whether they should be working during the festival. The pilot seeks to pacify all of them. “Oh, we’ll put into port on the fourth for the Spring Feast, don’t worry about that. None of us want to slight the Maiden.”

    “Good on ye, an’ see t’at ye do, bu’ me an’ me companions will be on land fer the ‘ole o’ Growfest all ther same, thank ye.”

    The pilot glowers, but realizes that he can’t say much more without sounding blasphemous and spooking his crew, so he begins to sullenly angle the barge closer to Javan Ferry. Without the party to set watch while the barge is camped on the river bank or a sandbar, he ultimately decides to spend the night in port as well, although it means paying a docking fee and hoping his men don’t get so drunk that they miss the boat in the morning. He holds his tongue while the party disembarks but does not offer to help them unload their gear or mules. When the customs officer appears and levies a charge of 2 gold lions for the use of the dock, Willa takes the coins from her own pouch and pays it. The pilot’s eyes narrow, until Willa mumbles, “Sorry fer ther misunnerstandin’.” Then he nods and turns away to shout orders at his crew.

    Willa charges Aurora, Mathias, and Babshapka with finding an inn; she and Thokk will work the docks for the time being gathering information. Javan Ferry, at least on the Sterich side, is a small enough port they should have no trouble finding her again once they have a base of operations.

    It does not take Willa long to find tales among the dockworkers, and none of them good. Troops are being withdrawn from the borders with Keoland and Geoff and sent up the Davish River; there are bad tidings on several fronts. The Swordwraiths are menacing the Stark Mounds, and humanoids are raiding the Highlands. Contact with the dwarves of Num-Theraz has been lost for weeks; some even claim that the town of Headwater has been razed and Fort Blackbridge is under siege. Rumors of press gangs forcing the dock workers into military service abound.

    Hearing all this, Thokk tells Willa that she made an excellent choice in putting into this port and wants to know when they can leave for upriver, so that they can take part in the razing before all the good towns have fallen.

    Aurora doesn’t bother to come find Willa and Thokk herself, but rather sends Buckbeak to collect them. She has chosen to have them stay in “The Rosy Mounds”, a posh inn well above their normal standard. All of the common inns are full with Growfest revelers, and a private bed is impossible to find in one of them, let alone a private room. Willa mentioned something to them at their departure about pitching the pavilion tent in a common green if they could not find a room, but Mathias has counseled Aurora that they and their alien weapons cache will attract less attention in an upscale inn and besides, what is the point of carting around a “party fund” if they don’t spend money for the benefit of the party as a whole?

    Even at the tony inn they have only been able to let two rooms, and Aurora has arranged their gear with the two women in one and three men in the other. The inn staff have a much more staid view of the situation upriver than the dockworkers. Yes, there are troop movements, and yes, there is fighting in the Highlands, but there are always Troubles there. The swordwraiths and humanoids both plague Sterich from time to time. While it is rather unlucky to have them both come out at once, and to have them this late in the spring, they are confident that young Earl Querchard, gods save him, has the matter well in hand and that things will soon be in order.

    Willa dines with the party in the inn and has to admit that the eel pie is the finest she has ever had. She says that she fancies a bit of drinking as long as they are in port and before the pubs are truly crowded on the morrow, but will be back before too long.

    (-15gp from party fund for the inn for the night)

    56 human rations to 53
    18 mule rations to 16

    [Unbeknownst to the rest of the party, Willa has more than drinking in mind when she leaves the inn. With the establishment located in the merchant quarter, well away from the docks and the kinds of public houses in which she is accustomed to drinking, she has a fair walk ahead of her, but it is a warm night. Celene, the small moon, is waxing and nearly full. Although the streets themselves are mostly empty, as she passes various parks and public squares she can see that there are groups of people putting up decorations by torchlight in preparation for the morrow's festivities in most of them. Wreaths of flowers, garlands, and spring poles are the common theme.

    By the time she is in the river district, she is reasonably sure she is being followed by a man. Ducking into the most crowded pub she can find, she pushes her way to the bar and orders two ales, but takes only one of the flagons just as her tail enters. As she navigates the crowds to the back of the room she has ample opportunity to watch him in the light, forcing his way to the bar and collecting the flagon she left there. He is large and powerfully built, dressed in heavy leathers in the style of a mercenary captain or deepwoods ranger. As he turns and starts making his way to the back of the pub, she can see the distinctive scar on his cheek that tells her he is, indeed, Runnel. She leans back against the wall and pretends to watch the crowd in the room.

    Without ever meeting her eyes he pushes his way across the floor until, apparently by chance, he ends up next to her. His eyes scan the room as if waiting for a table to open up. Other men and women are standing in knots as well; they don't seem to be attracting any attention.

    "I suppose it was your turn to choose the pub," he says finally. She can barely hear him over the din, and he does not look at her as he speaks. She notes that he is speaking in Keoish. It is her mother tongue, though she has seldom spoken it since traveling with the party has forced her to use Common on the daily.

    "I like t’is place better'n ther 'Royale'” she says, referencing the inn where they met the last time she saw his face, in Longspear of the Yeomanry. "More me type o' folk."

    "Fair enough," he says after a pause long enough to disguise the fact that the two of them are in conversation. "But laborers and merchants alike are in danger, and their Earl has asked our King for help. I thought that you and your companions might want to lend a hand."

    At the mention of the King, Willa feels the pull of duty, something she has not felt in months as she has tried to keep the party safe and organized while on these harebrained quests. But if the King is calling, then she will need to answer. She is fond of her companions in the party, even the ones that irritate her. But family and country come first. She takes a long pull on her ale before replying.

    "On ther journey downriver, I 'ave been hearin' disturbin' rumors. I would like ter know mar o' ther details. Me companions an’ me 'ave seen many wondrous thin's in ther last few months an’ I believe we would be o' great service. Thar be a complication t’at still needs ter be worked out, t'ough." She looks briefly but knowingly at Runnel. "We should find a better way t' natter, be it in ‘ere ar elsewhere. But I be fer King an’ Country well eno'."

    After several minutes of silence, Runnel drains his stein and returns it to the bar. Without a look back he exits the pub. Willa waits for several more customers to interact with the bartender before she approaches. It doesn't take long, given how packed the pub is. Leaving her own flagon at the bar, she pushes her way to the door. Outside, she can barely make out a large figure loitering a half block away. When she starts walking, so does he.

    Javan Ferry West is a small town, and as he heads inland they rapidly leave the docks district, cut through a residential neighborhood, and some forty minutes later are on the northwest side of the town in the smith district. The shops are all closed, although light spills from many an open window of the adjoining homes. Runnel approaches a large, windowless stone building and enters. There are few markings outside, and nothing she can read in the moonlight - just a carved mountain on the stone panel over the open doorway.

    Inside Willa can see it is a church, with stone pews and a large block altar in the rear on a raised dais. A few oil lamps burn, but the interior is plenty dark and she strains her eyes for several minutes trying to find him in the shadows. Eventually the echo of a quiet cough alerts her to the presence of a dark alcove, in which she finds a stone spiral stair descending. The rise of the steps is short, as if it was built for children, or for a smaller race than humans.

    The bottom of the stair opens into a chapel nearly identical to the one above, though with the pews sized for smaller folk. Runnel stands near an oil lamp so that he is clearly visible, but as she approaches he moves into a darkened alcove at the base of a statue.

    When Willa reaches the alcove he speaks. "Likely your mage has explained the general rule that a foot thick of stone blocks most magic."

    "Aye," Willa agrees. "More'n once."

    "This temple will do for now, but I will leave out many details. We can talk more freely once we arrive upriver, if it is necessary. I'm not sure which rumors you have heard on the river, but suffice it to say that the situation with which the Earl would like help most likely resembles one of them. He has his own forces, of course, his own men and women. But there is one particular situation that has presented certain...complications...for which he was not prepared, and which prompted him to reach out to the King. Upon hearing of the situation, I could not but help think that you and your companions were perhaps uniquely qualified to render assistance. If they agree, I would like all of you to meet with the Earl, in person, in Istivin. I will support however you think it best to arrange this - you know better than I what motivates your group. I can present you right now with a letter of invitation from the Earl, or, if you prefer, a letter commanding their presence. I can have coaches bring them. You can lead them there, unknowing until their arrival. I can arrange some more complicated stratagem - perhaps an invitation to your wizard from the Earl's court mage with an offer to exchange spells. Tell me what I need to do to get them there and it will be done."

    Willa says the letter of introduction to the Earl would be an easy sell for herself and Thokk. She feels the party will readily understand her connections to the military and King of Keoland and the sense of duty she feels. And she is confident that Thokk will be eager to join the cause. But...she expresses her concern about the newest member of the group - Mathias Forge. He has a way of getting under her skin. But an invitation to swap spells with the Earl's court mage should be enough to get Aurora into a carriage bound for Istivin, along with the elf. That should push Forge into the mix as well.

    She would rather use invitations than ultimatums with this group - they don't respond all that well to those. And they will only need passage for five and not eight, as the party has recently split up. Runnel nods as she speaks. When it appears they have no more to discuss, he bids her leave the temple first. She makes her way back to the inn.]
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    Tue Aug 16, 2022 8:29 am  
    Post 234: Javan Ferry West

    DM's Notes on sources:
    Johann's End is not on Darlene's map. I used Anna B. Meyer's 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

    Johann's End is placed on the map but not described in the online supplement to Dungeon 117 ( According to "Shadows of the Abyss" in Dungeon 118, the town acquired its name after the slaying there of the Frost Giant "Big Johann" from the supermodule Queen of the Spiders. Thus calling it Johann's End in my campaign (set more than twenty years before the events of QoS) is anachronistic, but I could not find a reference for the previous name of the town. The module just calls it "a small town" and its placement within the adventure is actually the result of a wandering encounter roll rather than specifically mapped. 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. Note that the party was previously in the town (see Post 137).

    Post 234: Javan Ferry West
    20 March [Growfest 1], 571 - Javan Ferry West
    [Encounters (civilized, river) at morning, noon, evening, night (wild asses), midnight, predawn]
    (Low 64F, High 80F)

    The party is woken early by the sound of singing - caroling from all through the town by hundreds of residents marking the dawn of the first day of Growfest. The party themselves are enjoying a wonderful breakfast at the inn - ham and eggs, salt crackers with roe, and sweetcakes, when a man strides in. His heavy robes, richly dyed, and a thick gold chain mark him as important, as do the deep bows offered to him by others in the room - the serving staff and even the well-off patrons.

    He introduces himself to them as the Chief Magistrate of the town, and asks whether Willa was the one seen last night at the Horse’s Mane, a local pub.

    Willa begins as apologetically as her gruff speech permits, begging his pardon if she has broken some local custom, but he waves away her words and says it is nothing like that. Rather, an off-duty constable, drinking in the same pub, simply noted her presence. Few women, and fewer foreign ones at that, would be drinking and walking the streets of town alone, at night, and on the eve of Growfest besides. It was obvious, the constable said, that she knew how to take care of herself, and did not feel in any danger. By his own orders, the Magistrate says, competent mercenaries and adventuring types are to be brought to his attention upon their entry to the town, so having been notified by the constable he is here to see the composition of the party.

    Aurora begins her tale of how she is merely a traveling scholar, and he brushes that aside as well. The man indicates the robes of Aurora and says that the Sterish are a hardy frontier people and know the value of magic honestly employed, unlike the more superstitious Keoish or Gran Marchers. Willa is not in her armor yet, but Babshapka is wearing his chain shirt, and all of them are, as he puts it, "rather well-armed for the breakfast table". He is clearly both worldly and perceptive and there is little they can do besides eventually admit that they are indeed adventurers, although they try to remain vague about their relative power.

    Modesty aside, he says, if they are successful enough to afford a stay at the Rosy Mounds, they must know a thing or two. He presents them with an inked parchment, and allows Aurora to read it out loud to the group of them.

    Heroes of Might and Valor,

    His Magnitude, Querchard Emondav, Earl of Sterich, has issued a call to arms for those of skill and renown. While the Sterish Army is ultimately more than a match for the Troubles currently afflicting our nation, still the beneficence of our wise and just leader demands that he consider alternatives to the unnecessary loss of a single Sterishman. When opportunities of particular Danger and Reward present themselves, His Magnitude sees fit to grant Writs of Authorization for Privateer Activity. Besides the monetary reward possible for the puissant and bold, Authorized Privateers may also enjoy benefits such as access to the library of His Magnitude’s Court Wizard. Of course, the greatest benefit is the chance to earn His Magnitude’s favor by demonstrating bravery in service to the Crown and the good people of Sterich.

    Should your group wish to be considered for Authorization, you may present this Letter at the palace in Istivin. The Letter must be duly signed by the local representative of His Magnitude’s authority. Such a person may provide transportation if available. Papers of introduction from a noble of the realm will be well-received, but are not required.

    (in a different hand, the letter is signed)
    Hernand Karapov
    Chief Magistrate of Javan Ferry (East and West)

    When Aurora finishes reading, the man indicates that they are to keep the paper. For the first time in the conversation, he lowers his voice so as not to be heard by the help or other patrons. “Things are not well in the Highlands,” he says. “A lot of the countryfolk might get levied if things don’t get better soon. If the men are away during plowing and planting, that means a lot of empty bellies come reaping. If you have any care at all for the people of this nation, you will see the Earl about this. If you show the letter at my offices you will be let official dispatch coaches - that’s the fastest thing I can give you for going upriver.”

    He leans back and raises his voice to fill the room. “Merry Growfest! Enjoy your Stay in Javan Ferry!” he says, and stands as if to leave.

    “Merry Growfest!” replies Aurora hurriedly, “But stay a moment, good sir. Please tell us more about this opportunity!”

    The magistrate looks about at the staff and clientele in the dining room adjoining the common room and bar. “Pantler!” he says, immediately commanding the attention of one of the inn’s servants, who had been waiting tables. “Prepare a private room for us - you may bring in their meal when we finish speaking.”

    “Yes, m’lord,” the man says, and bows deeply. He goes to one wall of the dining room and opens heavy wooden doors. A small dining chamber, seating eight, lies beyond. Chairs are in place around the table but nothing is set. After the party and the magistrate enters, the man closes the door behind them.

    Once they are again seated, the man begins speaking, in a low tone just above a whisper. He pauses when Thokk almost immediately gets up from the table, reopens the doors to the dining room, and returns with his flagon of ale and a leg of ham from their former breakfast table. A flicker of annoyance crosses the magistrate’s face and passes as the waiter closes the doors again, but he quickly recovers.

    “As a loyal subject of the Earl, I have been requested to deliver this letter to any foreigners who appear capable of aiding us in the current Troubles. All of us who administer towns along the Javan River have received the same instructions…”

    Aurora interrupts. “Have you received any instructions about apprehending female spellcasters? Or anything about someone wanted in Keoland?”

    The magistrate frowns at the interjection but answers nonetheless. “No, I do not serve the Keoish crown, though we are allies of that land. And I have not heard of anyone looking for specific casters, in Sterich or Keoland.”

    “Could you give us a quick run-down on the political situation in Sterich vis-a-vis Keoland and the Yeomanry?” Aurora continues to press.

    The magistrate arches an eyebrow at the odd question, but his clear instructions were to send prospective heroes to the Earl, so he decides to humor whatever questions need to be answered to get this group on their way to Istivin. “At the height of its imperial ambitions, Keoland controlled what is now the Ulek States, Celene, the Sea Princes, the Yeomanry, Sterich, Ket, the Gran March, and Bissel, and was attempting to take Geoff as well. All of those former vassal states with the exception of the Gran March have been lost over the last century - some by Keoish choice or the Crown’s recognition of local leaders, some by violent insurrection. The Yeoman never sought to be Keoish subjects - they were conquered, subjugated, and eventually won their independence. The situation here in Sterich is rather more nuanced. All Sterish nobles theoretically owe their allegiance to the Earl of Sterich, our sovereign leader- but that doesn’t mean that they don’t hold some or all of their lands in vassalage to a Keoish noble or even the King, who is technically enfeoffed to the Earl vis a vis certain estates in our lands. The Earl proclaims his independence from the Keoish throne but accedes to some, largely ceremonial duties. The King considers us to be Keoish subjects under a palatinate state. In all political matters besides that of our actual nationhood, we generally find ourselves in agreeance with the Keoish crown. As concerns the Yeomanry, while we Sterish share a land border with them, said border is almost entirely the impassable Joten mountains and neither of us are interested in disputing it. We are united by our desire for peaceful trade along the Javan so that both our lands may prosper.” The magistrate pauses. He has clearly lost the attention of everyone at the table except Aurora.

    “Regardless,” he continues, “while I do not know the details of the Troubles in the Highlands, all of the river garrisons have been ordered to send much of their forces upriver. If the Earl has also asked for the assistance of those not of native birth, the situation is serious indeed. The next step, should things worsen, would be a general call to arms and muster, with the entire nation prepared for war. And that would be dire indeed at this time of year.”

    “What are they fighting? What would we be fighting?” asks Aurora.

    “I have heard of humanoids - orcs and goblins and such - and swordwraiths. However, our armies, and the Earl’s loyal knights, are more than a match for either of those. Both at once is a strain on resources, of course, but the fact that the Earl is advertising for heroes implies something else is afoot, some other foe entirely perhaps. That is pure speculation on my part, but I hardly think it is unfounded.”

    “Would we be in groups, with other ‘heroes’?” asks Mathias, returning his attention to the conversation. “I don’t think that would be advisable. Have you sent other groups? How many?”

    “You are the first group I have seen that I believed fit His Magnitude’s mandate since I received it. I cannot speak for the other town magistrates - others may have been sent from other locations. I imagine whether or not you would be working with other such groups depends on your skill. If you are all capable and well accustomed to working together, you certainly wouldn’t be broken up. Whether or not you would be combined with another such group would depend on His Magnitude’s assessment of your strength and the strength of the foe.”

    “Tell us more about the swordwraiths - we know they are an undead army - can they be commanded? Can their loyalty be purchased as mercenaries?” asks Aurora.

    “The swordwraiths, or gleddyf bwgan in the Old Tongue, or are the remains of a great army that Keoland sent forth, more than a hundred years ago, at the height of its power, to conquer Geoff. The army was destroyed to a man by the dark wizard Vargalian during the Siege of Gorna. But the men of the army did not die - they became undead and fled to the Stark Mounds. They have troubled our lands ever since. They are said to be more powerful than regular undead, than skeletons and zombies and such. They are rather more akin to wraiths - but they always attack in number, in groups according to the units with which they fought in life - many still flying the tattered banners of their old companies, if the legends be true. They are certainly not mindless undead, but are said to be capable of coordination and sophisticated strategies, as befits military men. But I have never heard of anyone controlling them or purchasing their services - or even of speaking with them.”

    “And what of rewards?” says Aurora.

    “I will not presume to say what rewards His Magnitude would offer you - but by issuing you a Writ of Privateer, it would seem to imply that the targets of ‘Danger and Reward’ have their own treasure, which you would be authorized to take possession of by right of plunder.”

    A few moments go by in which no one has any more questions for the magistrate. “Unknown enemies, uncertain reward,” surmises Mathias unflatteringly. “I’m telling you, Greyhawk City holds certain wealth and reward - and the best spell libraries in the world, as well as magic shops for inks and even items.”

    “Ther letter itself be sayin’ t’at ther Earl’s court wizard hae a library o’ spells,” counters Willa.

    “One wizard? One personal library? Greyhawk has more than one guild full of wizards and more than one library. You can ask a single farmer what he is selling, or you could go to the market square to see real choices. You want more copies of the same low-level spells you already have? Go to Istivin,” says Mathias.

    “We can do bot'…” says Willa.

    “Aye, we can - Greyhawk first and then return here. These people’s problems can wait,” interjects Mathias.

    “There, I must disagree,” says the magistrate. “You are freemen all and not subjects of the Earl, and must needs make your own decisions. But the Highland Troubles cannot wait for a trip to Greyhawk City and back, at least not by river and sea, if that is how you are traveling. If the Earl calls a general muster, that means the small folk will organize into militia units, and march off leaving their fields unplanted. With luck, those that survive the war will return in time for a late planting, which means small harvests in the fall, high prices for grain, and the possibility of a starving winter for the poor. And then the instability that follows - will it bring in opportunists from Ket, the Yeomanry, or the Sea Princes?”

    “Now you are speculating,” says Mathias. “If the Earl can afford to pay us, he can buy grain for his own people from Keoland - and you can use your civic funds to subsidize the grain for your own poor.” He looks pointedly at the magistrate’s gold chain of office. “Still sounds like other people’s problems.”

    "BELLCCHH!” roars Thokk, then wipes the ale froth from his mouth with the back of his arm. “Bah, too much human complaining.” He points to Mathias, “Go to stupid city.” He points to Willa, “Come with Thokk to kill and pillage for Early-man.” He points to Aurora, “Go where you want - but make decision before die of old age in bed.” Standing, he throws open the doors to the dining room and moves back to the table where the rest of their breakfast still sits. The pantler has covered the already served food with linen napkins but not brought out more.

    "We are five,” says Mathias. “Thokk and Willa are for upriver, and I’m for Greyhawk City. Aurora can come with me. If we split up, the two of us can fly there and still be back in time for the spring planting. Or,” he pauses, and looks at Babshapka, “you could be the swing vote and direct us all together.”

    The elf scowls. “You know well that I must go wherever Aurora does. You might just as well ask Andy and Dandy where they want to go. If I had a vote, I would say that both these places sound equally full of human folly.”

    The magistrate stands. “Keep the letter for now,” he advises. “You may give it back to my offices before you go if you are for Greyhawk, or, if you decide to aid the Earl, take it with you upriver. It seems you have much to talk about.” He takes his leave, the staff and patrons alike bowing as he exits the inn.

    The pantler begins to move their breakfasts from the public table into the private room. Willa and Babshapka are the first to finish their meals, and retire upstairs to their rooms. Mathias and Aurora come later, leaving Thokk at the table. As Mathias and Aurora proceed together up the stairs, the gaunt man begins talking, speaking in hushed tones.

    “Dearest Aurora, I know it has been only a few days that I have been with the party. We have actually spent far more time traveling now than we spent in the ‘ship’. You have expressed concerns with being followed or sought after. You really must change your appearance and your name. Even when you do this, Thokk will still be immediately recognizable. Do you have magical means to hide your identity or modify Thokk’s appearance? I love Thokk but he is a dead giveaway.”

    “Not really,” she answers. “I mean, I can cast silent image to cover his or my appearance, but that lasts just ten minutes so I can’t really keep it going for the entire time we are in a town.”

    “Huh. In that case you should take on the appearance of a rogue or fighter type; maybe even a cleric or a monk. A monk might be best - you can wear a veil and still be free to cast spells. You should dye your hair or shave it off, and wear baggy fighting robes.”

    Aurora nods at the advice, finding it sensible. "Yeah, changing my appearance is absolutely worth doing, but I think you are right that Thokk and maybe the others could blow it for us if it ever comes to that. But now is an excellent time to 'reinvent' the makeup of the party. We've lost a few members and gained you, so it's a good time to become a different group. Surely Thokk can't be the only half-orc mercenary wandering around. So, absolutely, let's work on that.”

    Mathias continues. “I have pushed to go to Greyhawk in an attempt to impress you. Professionally, of course. When we had previously decided to go to Greyhawk, I sent ahead word of our arrival and a request to find lodging arrangements. My contacts were to send someone to the docks to pick us up upon arrival and take us to the lodging. I wanted to show you how much the city has to offer. I have been there many times, and you can find just about anything you might want, or people who can find it for you. You could find a healer for the party, for example. More to the point, I am sure they have ways to obscure your location or identity - or in the worst case they will have professional disguises for you. They may even have people that can help you with a new identity, or to learn the identities of your pursuers.

    “I am not saying that we shouldn't help these Sterish people,” Mathias continues, “but who is going to take care of you? Then after you have addressed the issues with your pursuers we can return here. I would like to help, but the reality is I hardly know you - and am not myself being pursued.”

    “Greyhawk sounds like a must-stop on our life list,” agrees Aurora. “I am eager to explore the city and all it has to offer and I welcome the opportunity for you to show me around. The food, museums, libraries - oh, the libraries! But I am also unwilling to leave Willa and Thokk. Willa is opinionated -- you've probably noticed? -- and once her mind is set on something it is nigh-impossible to change it. It sounds to me like she's set on going to Sterich now, so Babshapka and I will accompany her and Thokk. We have been together a long time and above all else I want to stick with them. You should come with us!"

    “I will come with you all - absolutely. And I understand you wanting to keep the group together as well. It is crazy how easily they can be distracted. No offence intended. We do work well together - when we aren't working against each other.”

    Mathias makes as if to turn away, but has a final thought. “Oh, and one more thing - don't ask the law if they are looking for female casters, dear - it is so obvious. If you want to know if there is a bounty on you, just say that you are interested in doing bounty hunting work and ask in general if there are any open bounties for you to take on. If they know of any, they can give you specifics.”

    “That is...a great idea!” realizes Aurora. “I am not the slickest speaker, as you can tell.”

    “If you are ever unclear as to how to handle a conversation, I am here to give you any advice that you seek. You could tell me what you would like to know, and I could represent you as well. I have a certain talent for conversation. Who knew that robot people are so much like noblemen? Willa is great - though I can't understand one word that woman says! Not one. I have to read her facial expressions and body language. If it didn’t use power discs I would just have the translator pointed at her the whole time,” he laughs. “As for Greyhawk, we will get there someday. I will send word that we are delayed. Let's see what this adventure brings.”

    “Indeed!” Aurora offers her hand and Mathias, grinning, grasps it heartily, then turns and goes to his room to pack.

    Shaking her head, Aurora turns and enters her bedroom, where Willa waits for her, sitting in a chair facing the door, the back of the chair in front of her. She has heard Aurora and Mathias speaking at length in the hall, but the well-made door has blocked the details of their conversation.

    "May I 'ave a word wit' ye, Aurora?"

    The enchantress nods distractedly, still contemplating the things Mathias said.

    "I ken we don' always see eye ter eye. Yer talents be mighty useful, me own petty complaints aside."

    By now Aurora realizes that Willa is serious, and turns to face her squarely.

    "I 'ave followed ye on many an adventure: fishin' in Barovia, explorin' Nholast's tower, 'n lookin' fer ther star metal in ther mountains. I be askin' ye ter follow me fer once an’ fer now. 'Tis impartant ter me, Aurora. Ye hold ther decidin' vote. If ye come ter meet ther Earl, so will Babshapka - an’ t’at makes it far ter one. I'll give ye some time ter consider." She rises and makes to leave the room.

    Aurora waves her back down. “It’s fine. We can go meet the Earl.”

    “We...can?” asks Willa, perplexed.

    “Of course. It’s already been decided. We should be packing. We’re ‘burning daylight’, as you are so wont to say.”

    “I…” Willa trails off, flummoxed. Finally she leaves the room wordlessly to go check on the mules.

    An hour later the party, with packed mules in tow, stands outside the largely-closed Offices of Civil Governance in a nearly-empty square in the center of the town of Javan Ferry (West). They had to push through throngs of revelers upon leaving the inn, but once they got to the block with government buildings, banking offices, and wealthy merchant company headquarters, the streets were nearly deserted. Two old men, one half deaf and one half lame, are the only attendants they find, but the men readily enough agree to bring out horses and a coach - they have been advised by the magistrate that the party might be coming by, and apparently the letter is the only proof they need of the party’s identify.

    Should the party be in a hurry, they say, they can leave their mules, laden or unladen, and they will be added to the next official shipment to Istivin. The party can take the horses and coach and turn them in once in Istivin, or drive them hard and exchange them for a fresh set in Johann’s End, if they desire.

    Willa explains that won’t be necessary - they are traveling today but are not hell bent for leather. Besides, she thinks to herself, she can drive a team of draft horses with a wagon fair enough, but lacks experience handling carriage horses (the Count von Zarovich’s animals, who mostly drove themselves, notwithstanding) and they won’t be going at speed.

    The coach they are given is for government transport - carrying at different times important documents, personages, or items of value. It can be harnessed for two or four animals, has seats for a coachman and footman atop and four passengers inside and has broad running boards outside. The inside benches lift up for cargo space, and there is a large box trunk off the back. All of the cargo can be secured by locks, but they are open now and the party is not given the keys. The arms of the town are painted crisply on both doors, but if the coach has a hammercloth they are not provided with it.

    Their five-hundred-some pounds of gear fits in the back trunk, and under the seats, with only half a bench inside being needed for the overflow, which is fine since they need seat only three inside. With the mules thus unburdened, Willa contemplates using a team-of-four harness with both horses and mules hitched and tries a few laps around the square with them thus arranged. The mules shy and start and in general do not react well to being asked to pull rather than haul (Willa Animal Handling 9). She asks the men to switch out for the horse-only team-of-two harness and fixes the mules on long leads behind the coach, wearing their empty pack harnesses rather than having them strapped to the roof. The mules take to this better and, unburdened, they can trot along easily behind the coach at the speed Willa intends to drive the horses.

    When all is ready the party wishes the men a Merry Growfest and sets off for a half-day’s travel; Willa driving, Thokk seated next to her, and the other three inside the coach. It is a steady climb up an arm of the Stark Mounds and away from the river at first. The horses strain at their harnesses and Willa taps them more than once with the coachman’s whip, but after the first hour the road levels out and becomes easy going. The day is warm and they ride with the shuttered windows open. It is in the early afternoon when they pass through Johann’s End, bringing with it the temptation to stop for the night at an inn - but it would be rare the inn that has a coach house in addition to a stable, and with the Growfest crowds they might spend the rest of the afternoon looking and still not find one with even beds to spare. Willa keeps driving. Most of the revelers have enough sense and respect to make way for the coach, but it is still slow going through the town itself before they are again on the open road. They camp some eight miles beyond the town on an isolated stretch of road between a spur of the Mounds and the river. This is not the broad, slow but mighty, Javan - rather it is the swift and turbulent Davish, which drains the highlands of Sterich. The final eight miles of travel are actually known to them all but Mathias, for some three months ago they crossed the Davish River at Fitela and walked this very road. The valley is considerably greener now that spring has come, but is otherwise unchanged.

    In the evening camp, Mathias and Aurora continue their discussion of how the enchantress might disguise her identity. Aurora agrees that a monk is a good option, as the clothing will still allow her to easily cast spells. They left Javan Ferry hurriedly, but during the Growfest festival it was unlikely they would have found any clothiers open anyway. Perhaps there will be something in the city of Istivin, perhaps not. They may need to get more creative. Mathias says that Aurora definitely needs to do something about her hair - long and shockingly red, it is quite noticeable. He suggests that she cut it all off, the better to appear as a monk. Aurora is eager to transform her appearance - but is also vain enough to value her hair. “How about we dye it?” she asks, “And I can braid it as well. That will make it less noticeable.”

    “Do any of you have hair dye?” Mathias asks. “Like from a disguise kit?”

    The others all shake their heads. “Barnabus did,” Willa adds.

    “I have lots of ink!” Aurora says brightly.

    With the sacking from a used ration bag underneath her, Aurora lays out her hair in camp and Mathias and Babshpaka carefully pour an entire bottle of dark sepia ink over it, and then Mathias massages the ink into the hair with his mage hand spell. If Aurora was imagining jet black or even brown hair, she has to be content for the nonce with a deep chestnut, and a clear line of ink-stained skin along her scalp. Mathias gives her a broad grin and a thumbs-up. Willa snorts derisively.

    “A staff!” says Aurora next. She knows how to fight with a quarterstaff, though she seldom resorts to it. For a while she had borrowed Shefak’s magical staff, but returned it just before the larger party parted ways. “Thokk, dear!” she says. “When you collect wood for the fire tonight, see if you can find a long, straight branch for me please. Something like your very useful pole.”

    “Thokk try, but hard to find branch as long and straight as Thokk’s pole,” agrees the barbarian. Willa groans.

    When Thokk returns with a sapling, a thumb’s thickness and some four feet in length, Babshapka shakes his head. “It’s green!” he objects. “There is no way you could fight with that!”

    “Doesn’t matter,” says Aurora happily. “I don’t need to fight with it, just to look like I could. You can strip the bark and cut the ends for me, right?” Babshapka sighs and nods.

    On Mathias’ night watch a number of mules or donkeys bray in the distance - wild asses, escaped domestic beasts, or beasts of burden working for bandits? Andy and Dandy are spooked and pull at their tethers, and Mathias works to calm them (Animal Handling 10). Eventually he gets them settled down, and whatever the source was, the braying is not heard for the rest of the night.

    53 human rations to 50 (breakfast at the inn)
    16 mule rations to 14 (pasturage at rests but grain used for carriage horses as well)
    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.&nbsp;
    Master Greytalker

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    Tue Aug 23, 2022 7:11 pm  
    Post 235: Arrival at Istivin

    DM's Notes on sources:
    Istivin and the Davish River are on Darlene's map, but the Drudd Estate and Svartjet river are not. I used Anna B. Meyer's 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

    For my description of Istivin, the buildings within, and Krelont Keep I relied on "Istivin: City of Shadows" in Dungeon 117, although much of the detail work is my own. Sage Numar is my own invention. The maps from this issue of Dungeon are freely / legally available at and numbered locations from it are noted in the text in [blue].

    Post 235: Arrival at Istivin
    21 March [Growfest 2], 571 - On the Sterich Road to Istivin
    [Encounters (civilized, river) at morning, noon, evening, night, midnight, predawn: none]
    [Thokk encounter at night; none]
    (Low 63F, High 81F)

    The morning dawns fair, with no hint of any rain that might bog down the hard-packed road of earth they travel. The party’s carriage makes rapid progress and by mid-day they are approaching the Drudd Estate, the palatial manse of a well-to-do merchant. They can see a palace and manicured lawns on a hilltop removed from the road; at a crossroads there is a small tower keep. There are numerous guards about, and they level their crossbows at Thokk until they see the painted arms of Javan Ferry on the side of the coach. Then they wave the coach by. Willa has the trail rations passed up from inside the coach to her and Thokk without pausing in her driving. The team is well-broke to harness and content to trot along, albeit somewhat slower, as she uses one hand or the other to eat.

    Some two or three hours later, in the early afternoon, they arrive at a river, swift and straight, but much smaller than the Javan or even the Davish. It is the Svartjet, and drains the Stark Mounds. In the distance they can see a few towers of the city that is Istivin, the capital of Sterich. The main road crosses the river at a stone bridge and continues on to the capital, but a dirt track that parallels the river turns north. It was that side track that they used months before to traverse the Mounds and arrive in Geoff - but this time they will stay on the main road.

    There is a squad of soldiers whose tabards bear the arms of Sterich (a lion rampant, sable on a field of gules above, gules on a field of sable below) on the near side of the bridge, and many more of them on the far side. Those on the near side wave the coach past, as do those on the far side in turn. Just beyond the soldiers on the far side is an unruly camp of small folk, with dirty faces and dour expressions. They pay the coach no heed. Willa slows the coach to scan the crowd (Insight 6) but sees no obvious source of their displeasure. Most are carrying small bundles or sacks, many have farming equipment like flails or scythes. The crowd is mostly young men, but there are a few older sorts as well as some hard-bitten women in the mix. Just as Willa is about to flick the lines across the horses’ backs and move on, Aurora leans out the coach window. “You!” she shouts, pointing into the crowd at a slim woman, “would you sell your clothes?”

    The woman approaches the coach cautiously. Although a woman, she is not in a dress, but rather a tunic and hose like those of a man, but cut for her. She is tan and muscled - perhaps a day laborer. “I say," continues Aurora, "two gold lions for your tunic and hose - you can keep the smallclothes.”

    “What would I wear?” she asks, unwilling to turn down the coin, but owning only the clothes on her back.

    “We’ll trade!” says Aurora brightly, and opens the door of the coach. Babshapka stiffens. Willa hands the lines to Thokk and tells him not to let the horses escape (mostly to keep his hands off his own weapons) and swings down off the coach to face the gathering crowd of peasants.

    “See?” says Aurora, as she steps from the coach to the ground, and lifts up the hem of her stained and travel-worn scholar’s robes. “You take this, I take your clothes, and I give you two gold.”

    One of the men in the gathering crowd mutters darkly “Bloody nobles out for a lark.” The refrain of 'bloody nobles' is taken up by several in the mob of peasants.

    “Wha’ be ther problem ‘ere?” says Willa hurriedly, moving to intercept the largest of the rough men approaching.

    When Aurora and the peasant woman exchange clothes willingly, the others are happy to shift the conversation to what is troubling them. “Those soldiers won’t let us cross the bridge,” barks a man, and the others voice agreement. One and then another of them explain that they are refugees from the south. Other refugees with children or animals are camped outside Istivin, they say, but those in this group are all single and healthy, and looking for work or relatives or both farther downriver. But the soldiers won’t let them cross the bridge unless they can prove they are freemen and not escaping serfs, “and didn’t none of us think to bring the kirk rolls with us when our villages were being burned by jebli,” says one of them bitterly.

    By this point, soldiers from the bridge, clubs in hand, have noted the gathering and are approaching menacingly. Willa confirms that the clothing swap has been made, the coins handed over. “Ye can fit yer girdle in ther coach!” she calls to Aurora, who is experimenting with tying the braided leather belt at different heights to see what best complements her figure, then mounts the driver’s seat and takes the lines. “We be hieing fer ther Earl,” Willa calls to the crowd. “We’ll bear witness to yer problems an’ maphaps ‘e can do summit.” Before the soldiers arrive, the carriage is off again, with Aurora inside.

    The road climbs out of the narrow Svartjet Valley, turns south, descends into the floodplain of the Davish, curves west, and approaches the walled city from the south. Long before they reach the city itself they can see the camps spread out around it, however. Interspersed and alternating are refugee camps and military camps. Hundreds of soldiers, and perhaps thousands of small folk, cluster densely around the city walls. The air reeks of open-trench latrines and is thick with flies. The soldiers have cloth tents and pavilions - the peasants woven thatch lean-to’s providing little more than shade on one side at best. Considerably more effort has been put into hastily-erected wooden corrals, for many of the refugees have brought animals with them, and the outskirts throng with cows, horses, pigs, goats, sheep, and even ducks and geese. The pens and corrals nearest the city, sturdy affairs that have been there for years for use around market days, are full to bursting.

    As the coach begins up the road that climbs the hill upon which the city was built, the party passes by both types of camp. The refugees are squalid and hungry, but more resolute than desperate. Soldiers direct the labor of men in building yet more corrals, or drive slow-moving wagons filled with water barrels surrounded by refugee women with pots and jars collecting water to take back to their families. Here and there wagons driven by monks and priests are handing out loaves of bread. For a city surrounded by thousands who have fled their homes, Istivin seems to be orderly and well-managed for the moment.

    It is still midafternoon and long before dark, so Willa decides to head for the palace of the Earl without first looking for lodging. A thirty-five foot crenelated wall composed of huge basalt blocks surrounds the entire city. Forty-five foot high towers jut from the wall at irregular intervals, but the three towers flanking the southern gates ((1) on the city map) rise to sixty feet. It appears that the right gate is for traffic entering the city, the left for egress. The soldiers manning the gate wave the coach through distractedly, as they give their attention to a throng of peasants trying to come inside but being denied. Thokk has to duck his head as the coach passes through a tunnel set inside the wall. The gate has two portculli, one at each end, but both are raised.

    They emerge into a broad open square (29) with a clear thoroughfare before them, leading directly from the gate, across the city, and up the hill to a large keep. Inside the walls of the city many of the buildings are decked with wreaths and flowers for Growfest, a strange festive contrast to the stark hovels and lean-to’s of the hungry masses outside the walls.

    Willa guides the horses up the broad street, passing a tall building to their right (26) that looks like an odd amalgam of inn and temple. As more and more buildings come into view, the party gains a sense of the city. There are no tenements clustered against the walls - all of the buildings look sturdy and in good repair, framed by stout timbers and many with ground floors of stone. There is little in the way of decoration - no lattice work or cornices, and few glass windows - the buildings bespeak strength without ostentation, comfort without luxury. There are crowds about, but they keep to the sides of the broad street and Willa does not have to push through. Most of those she sees are humans, but perhaps one person in ten is a sober-looking mountain dwarf.

    After two blocks they enter a large square or plaza (16). Here numerous stages and stands have been erected, and there is a large spring pole the size of a ship’s mast. All is decorated for Growfest, but there are few revelers in sight. It is as if the holiday is being formally observed here, but not quite celebrated.

    With the fortress on the hill above her as a guide, Willa negotiates the plaza and makes it through without the horses, coach, or mules upsetting any of the stands. A narrow street exits the plaza to the north, and just beyond a pair of buildings is a knot of soldiers, the first ones so far who have bid the coach stop. They ask Willa her business in going to “the Keep”, and she has Aurora take out and show them the letter signed by the magistrate. Serious at first, they look relieved or grateful as they give way and allow her to drive up the steep flagged road toward the imposing edifice (6) atop the massive granite peak.

    The road up the hill is steep, and the horses strain to pull the heavily-laden coach. When they reach a level bend before an even steeper part, Willa pulls the hand break, dismounts, and begins to untie the mules from the rear. If the horses balk or the carriage starts to slip back against the grade, it won’t do to have the mules fright and pull their leads, making it even harder for the coach horses to pull, or for Willa to maintain control of the four beasts. Willa calls for Babshapka, and when he emerges from the coach, Mathias follows.

    “So it looks like we are meeting the Earl soon,” the gaunt man says smoothly to Willa.


    “I have to ask, what’s your position with respect to him? Why are you so concerned that we get here?”

    Willa speaks, but doesn’t look up as she undoes the knots on the leads and hands them to Babshapka, then checks the horse harnesses. Mathias follows her to the front of the coach.

    “Trouble flows downriver,” she says. “If summit be wrong in t’is land, it be only time afore Salinmoor be bad as well. I be lookin’ out fer me an’ mine is all.”

    “I see. In that case, might I suggest that I be the one to talk to the Earl?”


    “Yes. I don’t much care for the nobility, but I can talk their language to them. My old job depended on it, and I have a natural skill. And, no offense, but you can be difficult to follow.”

    Willa harrumphs. “I plan t’ let ther Earl do ther talkin’. Ye can learn mar by listin’ t’an by natterin’ on.”

    “To be sure, I will only communicate what you wish to say, and with your approval. I’m not trying to slip my own ideas in - you’re the party leader. I just want to make sure that when you do have something to say, it is received in the best possible light.”

    Finished with her checks, Willa looks up and sucks at her teeth while staring at Mathias. “‘Twere Tyrius who spoke fer us afore,” she says. “I serpose we be needin’ someun else. I’ll take it unner consid’ration.” The coach starts up again, Willa having the horses pull at a walk and Babshapka leading the mules on foot.

    There are guards at the outer barbican who must be shown the letter, and then again when they have reached the inside. Inside the outer walls is a grass courtyard, a large wooden stables to their right, and ahead of them both a high tower and low tower surrounded by the walls of the inner ward. There the party is asked to wait several minutes while a sage is summoned. The wizened old man emerges from a gate to the inner ward, accompanied by a younger scholar bearing a book. First the younger man compares the signature on the letter to the signature on record of Magistrate Karapov in the book, then the older man casts what Aurora later says was a detect magic spell on the letter itself. Convinced that the letter is authentic, the sage invites the party to accompany him inside.

    Aurora watched the sage carefully while he cast his spell, trying to discern his school specialty (Arcana 9), but for a spell so simple and common there is little she can glean. She does spend some time studying his clothes and accoutrement, however, and comes to believe that the braided cord belt and jeweled earring seem rather more well-made than his simple scholar’s robe (Insight 17). Perhaps they are magical?

    “Excuse me, master…?” she opens.

    “Numar,” he replies simply.

    “Yes, Master Numar. Excuse my curiosity, but are you from Istivin? And where is it you have studied? Are you well-traveled?”

    “I am a Sterishman, born and bred true enough, and my studies have taken me all over our fair land. I also,” he says, a hint of pride creeping into his voice, “had the good fortune to study for a number of years at the Royal University in Niole Dra.”

    Aurora bows her head in respect at the man’s qualifications, but when he turns to confer with his assistant, Mathias whispers to Aurora that if she wants to present herself as a monk, she needs to stop asking questions like she was a scholar.

    When Numar turns back to them, he assures them that they may see the Earl right away - but that would mean turning horses, mules, coach, and contents over to the grooms of the stable. Or perhaps someone wants to wait with the coach and all of the party’s gear?

    Mathias immediately lays his finger alongside his nose. Babshapka murmurs that he will take care of the coach and moves to take in hand the bridle of one of the horses. He starts to head for the stables while the other four follow the sage and his assistant. “Welcome to Krelont Keep,” the younger man says, as they pass through a narrow opening in the thick walls.

    They emerge in the inner ward, a small courtyard perhaps fifty feet on a side, though slightly wider than deep. The courtyard is stone-flagged around the walls, but the center is grass and two cows graze contentedly therein. Household servants move about busily. To the left, built into the walls, is a small, low tower, to the right, a large, high tower built of massive blocks of the blackest basalt, pocked and weathered from centuries of exposure to the elements. It is to the open door of this larger tower that they head.

    The ground floor is a massive open audience chamber with two stories of height and occupying perhaps three-quarters of the wide tower. Narrow arrow slits pierce the walls of the ground level, but true windows are on the level above. Although set with iron bars, the windows are wide enough to allow in natural light. Massive oaken beams support the ceiling. Ornate and comfortable chairs surround a low dais with a large throne. A backdrop of heavy curtains and a wooden wall shields the farthest part of the tower from view. The throne is unoccupied; the room empty.

    Mounting a stone staircase built into the outer walls, they ascend in a long spiral to a broad landing on the first floor. Several different corridors branch off the landing, each lined with small doors. They continue to ascend the stair until they are some forty feet off the ground floor and exit at the second floor landing. Here there are numerous hallways branching off as well, but the doors are fewer and spaced farther apart. Guards at the landing let them pass by. The sage leads them down a central hallway and to a door flanked by a pair of guards with immaculate tabards.

    Opening the door, they pass into a large, dark room. Another pair of guards flanks the inside of the door. At the far end of the room a group of men cluster around a large table covered in maps and written documents and illuminated by oil lamps. The largest map has small, carved and painted, wooden blocks sitting upon it, and the men point at these as they speak.

    Most of the men are richly dressed and quite obviously nobles. Judging just from the deference they give one amongst themselves, the Earl is in the center. He is a tall man, but neither overly large nor powerfully built, though he moves with a fluid grace and balance. His hair is jet black and he sports a neatly trimmed beard. His skin is shockingly pale, looking nearly white in the dark room. A few of the men are not dressed as nobles, but rather as military officers, a tall elf and stout dwarf among them. Some of the men at the table look up as the party enters, but not the Earl, who continues his conversation with the others. The sage holds up his hand to the party, bidding them patience.

    Amidst the confusion of voices at the other end of the room, the party can hear phrases such as, “those reports aren’t reliable”, “if the Baron splits his forces”, “we need to move the sheep from here”, “the last raids were more than a week ago,” and “but how will we feed them?”

    Eventually there is a lull in the conversation and the Earl looks up from the maps, seeming to see the party for the first time. “What’s this then, Numar?” he says with a touch of annoyance in his voice.

    “Adventurers, my lord. Heroes of renown come to help us with the Troubles, sent by Magistrate Karapov...”

    Before Numar has actually finished, but timed so as to insert himself expertly in a natural pause, Mathias interjects. “Your Magnitude, I, Lord Mathias of Widewater, have traveled far from my lands to the north of the Gran March, and yet in all my travels I have not found a fortress near as redoubtable as your own Krelont Keep. I am honored and humbled to be here.”

    The Earl arches an eyebrow in surprise. “You are welcome in these halls,” he says formally, “and more welcome still if you can aid us in our time of need.”
    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.&nbsp;

    Last edited by Kirt on Tue Sep 06, 2022 8:59 am; edited 1 time in total
    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
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    Tue Aug 30, 2022 8:47 am  
    Post 236: The Countess

    [DM's Note on Sources:] I used the timeline given by DMPrata for the relative dates of the ruling family of Sterich at:

    House of Qualtaine (all dates in CY)
    505 Querail (Querchard's father) born
    529 Quermar (Querchard's older brother) born
    533 Querid (Querchard's older brother) born
    538 Querchard born
    552 Quermar dies
    557 Querid dies
    558 Earl Querail dies; Querchard becomes Earl at 20 years old
    571 Querchard currently 33, has been Earl for 13 years

    However, on Skech gives Greg Vaughn and Eric Mona's corrected notes for Dungeon #117-119 as stating:

    574 Querchard and Resbin are married in Istivin.
    575 Querchard becomes the new Earl after his father's death.

    I definitely wanted Resbin in the story and Querchard to be Earl in my campaign, so I changed* some dates to the following:
    538 Querchard born
    553* Querchard is 15; travels to Zhindia
    554* Querchard is 16; returns to Istivin with Dren; they marry when he is still second in line for the throne after Querid
    557 Querid dies; Querchard is now heir to the throne
    558 Earl Querail dies; Querchard becomes Earl at 20 years old
    571 Querchard currently 33, has been Earl for 13 years

    Resbin's origin and ethnicity is unclear in canon; I wanted to go with her as being from Zhindia. Itstivin: City of Shadows in Dungeon 117 lists her as being a Sorcerer 13. I reduced this to Sorcerer 12 to take account of her being younger in my timeline than she would be at the point in Dungeon 117. Similarly, the court mage Verbane is listed there as a Wizard 15 and I reduced him to 12th level. Finally, Griffage Terpin is given as a Ranger 13 and General Commander of the Army of the March. I reduced him to 12th level and demoted him to be a special agent and chief Scout for the Earl at this point in time. Lashton (Wizard 19) is a canonical character in several third-edition Greyhawk sources. I didn't specifically set his level because he was generally planned to be not-particularly-helpful to the PC's.

    Post 236: The Countess
    21 March [Growfest 2], 571 - Krelont Keep, Istivin
    [Encounters (civilized, river) at morning, noon, evening, night, midnight, predawn: none]
    [Thokk encounter at night; none]
    (Low 63F, High 81F)

    The Earl widens his gaze to fall upon the entire party. “Can any of you speak Dwarven?” he demands, his tone turning quickly from formal to gruff.

    No one in the party responds, until Thokk blurts out, “I speak with dwarf many time. He good friend, keep Thokk warm at night.” The council members' faces are shocked or amused, but the dwarven officer looks aghast.

    Seeking to move on, the Earl asks, “Can any of you banish undead, then?”

    The party shakes their heads sadly, until Willa volunteers, “We banish ‘em wit’ our sards, Yer Mangytood,” and then Thokk nods his head vigorously.

    The Earl sighs with exasperation and waves them off. To the Sage Numar, he says, “Take them to one of the generals - service maybe in Mittleberg or whatever they decide is best.”

    Mathias leans over and coughs next to Willa, his cupped hand covering the pronouncement, “a*****e”.

    “Yes, Your Magnitude,” says the sage, bowing, and he hustles the party back through the door they came in. The door now closed behind them, he turns to his assistant. “Your services are no longer required, Anthony. Perhaps you could see at whose table we sit tonight?” The younger man leaves.

    The sage leads them down the hallway and around a corner where they come upon a group of male guards surrounding a woman. All of them, guards and woman alike, seem out of place in Sterich. The woman is of dusky hue, with copper hair, amber eyes, and caramel-colored skin. The guards wear turbans and veils, so that only their eyes are visible. She is in bright silks, with a large ruby necklace; they are in armor of an exotic fashion.

    “Thank you, Numar,” she says with a voice like smooth-churned butter. “I will take the visitors from here.”

    “My lady,” the sage says, taken aback, “my lord the Earl has told me to hie them to one of the generals.”

    “Of course he did,” she purrs. “Nevertheless.”

    “Yes, my lady,” he demurs, and exits, leaving the party alone with the woman and her guards.

    Thokk sizes up the men surrounding the woman (Insight 18). They appear to be capable warriors - not a threat to Thokk, but perhaps a welcome challenge if he faced all of them himself. Curiously, they don’t have any aggression in their postures - rather, they are watchful, with one eye on the woman and one on the party. They remind him of the honor guard employed by his father the chief, the ones who had to remain watchful during feasts and ruts when all the others in the tribe would get drunk or in musth. He feels pity for them.

    “You will accompany me, please?” the woman asks, indicating another branch of the hallways.

    “Now, wait a minute,” objects Mathias. “Where are we going? We don’t even know why we are here!”

    “My apologies, good sir. I can explain everything, if you will just accompany me.”

    Somewhat reluctantly, the party moves in advance of her down the hall she indicates. They have not gone far when one of the guards opens a door and ushers them into the room beyond. Oddly, there is no furniture in the room - just a very low table, inches off the floor. Numerous silk-covered cushions lie on various thick rugs, however.

    Once the party is inside, the woman leaves three of her guards in the hall beyond and takes but one, the largest of the men, inside with her. He closes the door and stands by it while she faces the party. “My husband the Earl sincerely regrets his treatment of you,” she says soothingly, “but of course you understand; much of politics is the art of pantomime.”

    She moves to a wall and begins a series of arcane gestures while murmuring strange-sounding words. She works her way slowly around the circumference of the room.

    “Pantermime?” asks Willa, confused.

    Mathias’ face lights up in realization. “The Earl would like to greet us, but for some reason he can’t let that be seen in public. His annoyance at the meeting was just for show.”

    The woman smiles in satisfaction but doesn’t leave off her abjurations. By now Aurora has recognized (Arcana 21) what she is doing - for it is the very spell that she herself has been practicing for the last few weeks - private sanctum!

    [Meanwhile, unbeknownst to the rest of the party, Willa is carefully inspecting the sole remaining guard. His veil could easily hide a scar, and his general build is certainly that of Runnel - if the knight of Keoland had found some way to darken his skin...]

    “Well, that’s great that you actually want to meet with us,” says Aurora, “but why us specifically - I mean, do you even know who we are?”

    “I am sure I do not know you, oh mysterious monk with an impenetrable background,” says the Countess, “but I hope I am not incorrect that you came here with Serjeant Stoutly, hero of the battle of Javan Mouth, destroyer of Sahuagin, and loyal subject of the Lion Throne?” As Willa does her best formal bow to the Countess, she tries to keep from laughing out loud at Aurora.

    “Ah, good. I am correct, then, and this meeting is as planned. So then, who are you?” the Countess asks of Aurora.

    On the spot, Aurora flushes. “Will...Willer the...Willow the Monk, at your service,” she stammers.

    The Countess smiles sweetly. “Yes, Willow, your service is precisely the subject at hand. Of course, I don’t actually know Serjeant Stoutley - I don’t know any of you, really, not your true selves - we all have our secrets, myself and the members of my husband’s privy council included.”

    “You can’t trust the members of the council,” says Mathias, deciphering and hen translating her honeyed words for the rest of the party. “There are spies on the council, and that is why if your husband actually needs our help, he had to pretend to dismiss us out of hand.”

    “I would not lightly impugn the reputation of those who serve my husband,” she objects, but then adds, “any one of them could remain loyal, but without knowing it be carrying a device which serves as a focus of divination, allowing some enemy to listen to their conversations and plans.”

    “So, now that we are in private, what exactly is the problem and what could we - potentially - do to help?” asks Mathias.

    “Sterich is a land surrounded by mountains,” the woman says, “we have always had Troubles with humanoids. It came as no surprise that as the snows of winter receded early in the year, our forts and far-flung communities began seeing increased activity. But what happened next was unprecedented. A month ago, the important town of Ebenenberg was attacked. The humanoids have never gone after so large a target in living memory - the combined forces of the town watch, militia, Earl, and nobles there together numbered in the hundreds. Still, they were attacked without warning, in the night, and the town had long ago outgrown its original walls. Nearly all of the defenders were slain, along with a great number of the civilian townsfolk. Many of the small folk you saw outside our walls are former residents of the town. The town itself was sacked and burned. It is now a smoking ruin.”

    “Humanoids, you say - of what sort?” asks ‘Willow’ (Aurora).

    “Ask the peasants and you will likely hear anything - they fled in the dark while their families were being cut down. Small wonder each has his own story, but the tales have grown in the telling. The most reliable accounts come from the few soldiers in service to the Earl who survived - they say there were orcs, goblins, and hobgoblins among the attackers.”

    Wondering what could make so many humanoids of different races work together, Aurora reflects on what Thokk has told them about humanoid politics. Orc tribes are usually insular theocracies, ruled by the shamen of one of their gods, unless a secular chieftain becomes so powerful that he can subjugate the shamen and ally his tribe with that of other orcs of the same or even different faiths or with other humanoids. Goblins, the least powerful of the goblinoid races, are always willing to make deals and ally with others - although they are treacherous and will seize upon any opportunities for betrayal. Hobgoblins are highly organized military societies but fiercely competitive. They might ally with other humanoids for a time but almost never with different tribes of their own race.

    “Pff. Rabble,” says Mathias dismissively.

    “So we thought at first. Immediately we sent reprisal forces; light cavalry to hunt them down. At the city itself we found a curious thing - all of the livestock had been led off - cows, sheep, goats, pigs, anything that could move of its own accord. It seems like the raid was as much about securing food as anything else. Later we heard reports from Mittleberg that the raiders passed by in the night, driving the herds before them. But more to the point, every time our forces learned of the location of humanoids and sought them out, the enemy evaporated, vanished, or fled before we could arrive. None of them wanted to stand and fight. We tracked a few back to their lairs in the mountains and destroyed them, but found no evidence they were part of a larger group.”

    “In the weeks that followed more attacks came - on small villages and large towns alike - Blackbridge, Headwater, Bova. Ebenenberg was the only town of any size in the Highlands that was not walled, however, and the others, now warned, resisted. We easily beat back the attacks on walled towns - but numerous villages have been put to the torch, their people killed or driven off. But still, any time we sent out forces for reprisal, the humanoids gave way before us. Much of the time our forces were chasing shadows and rumors.
    But now there came reports of eigers leading the raids. Bands of eigers.”

    “More interesting,” admits Mathias.

    “It is common, of course, for a single eiger or even a pair to be employed in a humanoid lair as a mercenary, or bully-boy for their chief” (Thokk nods his agreement). “But groups of them, leading and directing the raids - that is unheard of. Eigers in general are too stupid, too lazy, and too chaotic to attack anything that requires more than a long walk to reach (Thokk nods again), and these attacks required planning and days to execute.”

    “How reliable is that information?” asks Mathias. “I mean, you have military officers in the field, fighting an elusive foe - could they be exaggerating the opposition they face to obscure their own poor performance?”

    “That is possible; it is a valid concern. And even when our forces could find the enemy in the field and bring the fight to them, eigers were never found among the dead. But we have received these claims from multiple commanders serving scores of leagues apart. And our most trusted agent in the field has reported something more - a group of eigers all serving as guards to a giant.”

    Mathias murmurs to the others, “This is but a prelude. There is something deeper going on.” To the Countess, he asks “My lady, why did your husband wish to know whether we could speak the tongue of the dwarves?”

    “The dwarven citadel of Num-Theraz lies in the mountains above the very source of the Davish River, as far to the south as one may go in Sterich, in the highest of the Highlands. The dwarves there are loyal subjects of the Earl and their mines supply our land with most of our arms and armor. Ever since the sacking of Ebenenberg we have not heard from them. Their supply caravans simply stopped. Scouts we have sent; those few who have returned, have reported all the gates to their city closed and no response to their calls. We know not to what end they have come.”

    “And the swordwraiths? How are they involved?”

    Here the woman smiles faintly. “Our land has always been plagued by the gleddyf bwgan. This year is no different. My husband and I have been actively promoting the rumors of numerous attacks from them to confound our hidden enemy and disguise our moves. When we send someone to ‘face the swordwraiths’ it is usually to cover their absence from court on a more secretive mission.”

    Mathias turns to Willa and the others. “Do you have any more questions for the Countess?” Willa shakes her head.

    Mathias turns back. “So now that we understand what you face, my lady, what would you have us do?”

    “Travel to the south, to the Highlands. Meet with our man Griffage Terpin. He will have the best assessment of the local situation, and can assign to you the most appropriate target, without us or our council being aware. Track down whomever or whatever he tells you; slay them, capture them, or force them to admit their role in this plot against the people of Sterich.”

    “Very well - first, we would have to agree as a group that we are going to do this. Then we could discuss terms and the avenues to proceed.”

    “You have my leave to speak freely to one another, and as privately as you can within the confines of this room.” The Countess moves to the far corner, sitting cross-legged on a cushion and humming melodically to herself, perhaps to better cover the sounds of their subsequent conversation. The guard by the door makes no effort to move.

    Mathias brings them into a huddle, whispering to Aurora first. “Your made-up name is Willow, and her real name is Willa?” he says reproachfully.

    “Habit,” says Aurora, shrugging apologetically.

    “Ok, look - if you are going to lie, it has to come easily, not sound as contrived as that b******t was. Shefak’s not here, so you should be Shefak. You probably know her better than you would any other monk, so don’t make s*** up; use what you know. Become her and you will have a ready answer to any question and it won’t be obvious you are lying.”

    Aurora nods thoughtfully.

    “Bigger question - are we doing this?”

    Willa nods without hesitation, and Aurora agrees after a moment of thought. Thokk looks up and squints at the dark woman, running the conversation over in his mind, recalling her mannerisms. Is she lying? Can they trust her? (Insight 12) He inhales deeply, seeking out her scent over that of his teammates - it is warm and pleasant - like cocoa butter but with hints of spice underneath. She wants him to go kill things for her, he decides, and he finds he likes the idea as well.

    He nods at Mathias.

    “Okay, so we are doing this. What do we need in return? Do you need someone to teach you spells, Shefak?”

    “I have two spells I know, but I need to rewrite them in my own system. Plus, any spells they have that I don’t would be fair game for me to learn.”

    Mathias nods. Willa and Thokk don’t offer any specific requisitions.

    Mathias rises, turns to the Countess, and bows. “We have resolved that we may be able to help you. We do have a number of conditions, however.”

    “Of course.”

    “I will need a leaded crystal vial, such as might be found in a high-end apothecary or alchemist’s shop.”

    “I believe that can be arranged.”

    “I request that I be allowed to borrow whatever spell books you have access to, and that I have inks to copy any spells from them I might find that are useful. I have recently increased my spell ability and find my current resources short of my actual power.”

    She smiles. “How fortunate for you. My personal wizard is Verbane. Our court wizard is currently Lashton, on loan from the King of Keoland to aid in our current Troubles. I can see to it that both these gentlemen make their spells available to you.”

    “If our expedition proves dangerous, we will need a healer in our group.”

    “You have access to all of the healing at our disposal while you remain in the city - there are a number of temples here, all loyal to the Earl. However, anyone who could provide the kind of healing you would need, where you are going, is someone far too valuable for us to release.” Mathias frowns, and she continues. “However, you are welcome to look among the foreigners and visitors to the city - you might find a novel ally. There are many adventurers recently arrived, some summoned by similar letters as you, some of their own accord, though few as powerful as yourselves.”

    “In lieu of a healer, perhaps healing potions?”

    “Such items are rare and valuable in a time of war, of course. If any are available from the Temples, I can negotiate for you for their purchase.”

    Mathias turns to look back at the party, to see if anyone has thought of new requests. Thokk is staring at the Countess, a funny expression and a lopsided grin on his face. In truth, he is trying to determine whether or not she is “into him” (Insight 14). In Thokk’s experience, most human women are afraid of him, which he agrees is an appropriate and sensible response. But the ones who are not afraid of him, are invariably attracted to him. And this woman is certainly not afraid of him. He grins again, jutting out his lower jaw to emphasize his tusks. He shuffles his feet in a little dance, then bounces his pecs (Performance 10). The Countess smiles in response. Thokk is now sure - she is definitely into him - and he will smash things for her!

    Mathias shakes his head, distracted by Thokk’s dance, and then turns back to the Countess. “It is fine and meet that you can provide for our requirements. But what of the reward itself?”

    “My husband will sign your writs of privateer. It is likely that the treasures you take from our foes will have once belonged to the people of our country, wrought with the sweat of their brow and taken from them by force by the enemy. Yet we will let you have anything you capture, without so much as an adventurer’s tax.”

    “That appears fair, and yet a few stolen pigs are hardly worthy of us facing death.”

    “I believe that those who are organizing the humanoids have yet to reveal themselves, and that surely such evil genii will have treasures worthy of your interest. But if all you find behind this are humanoids, and their spoils are insufficient, I am sure my husband the Earl will find other ways to reward you.”

    “It is agreed then. What are we to do next? How are we to find your man?”

    “Likely he will find you. Travel south and help whom you may along the way in our troubled lands. Eventually my man should seek you out. Griffage is a ranger, a scout for the Earl, and not within the chain of command of the army, so he goes where he will, where he thinks best to serve us. But when he finds you, tell him that you lunched with me, and that I served you cashews.”

    “Cashews?” asks Willa, confused.

    “Yes, they are a delicacy from my homeland, and quite hard to find here in Sterich. When he hears this, he will know that you are my chosen champions, and he will entrust you with everything he has learned about our true foes.”

    “We may need several days to prepare spells and gather resources.”

    “Of course. I will provide you what assistance I can while you are in the city, but never in public. You may ask Numar to introduce you to Verbane and Lashton as you desire. Do you have any other questions or stipulations?”

    The party thinks for a while, and then Aurora asks what she knows about frog people. Willa and Aurora explain that some four days ago, in the Gyri city of Aberglain, they were attacked by a huge blue bipedal frog creature that was summoned by cultists of Orcus. The Countess gets them to elaborate, saying that it attacked by clawing and biting, and could heal its own wounds but didn’t display other magic powers. The party wonders if there could be a connection between this and the Troubles?

    “I don’t think so - Aberglain-on-Javan is a long way from the Highlands of Sterich. And what you describe sounds like a Slaad. They are creatures of pure chaos, native to the Lower Planes called Pandemonium. They work for no one and nothing, existing only to reproduce themselves and sow chaos. They are unlikely to be included in anyone’s plans, let alone whomever or whatever is behind our Troubles - I think our foes are far too organized and secretive to use such tools. I must admit that it is strange that they were summoned by cultists of Orcus - the Demon Prince of Undeath has no truck with the Slaadi. Perhaps the cultists thought they were summoning a demon and failed in their ritual, or perhaps the Slaad found and hijacked the extraplanar conduit - such things are known to happen, and such rituals are not to be attempted lightly. the Prince of Undeath, I suppose Orcus is opposed to just about everything the Growfest festivities celebrate. Perhaps the cult planned to use what they were summoning, whether or not it was the Slaad, to disrupt the festivities in that city?"

    After a whispered message from ‘Willow’, Mathias asks the Countess for the location of any magic shops in town, or places from which he could buy the magic inks necessary to scribe spells. She replies that Istivin is neither large nor sophisticated enough to possess a magic shop, but that the Court of the Earl possesses enough reserves of magical ink that she would be willing to sell them to the party as needed, and what is more, to sell them at cost (50gp per spell level transcribed). Mathias inquires as to what she would take as payment, and some in the party show her the little gem packets. She says that she would be happy to accept the gems at the values declared by the Stonereaver dwarves.

    A further message from ‘Willow’ prompts Mathias to ask whether it would be possible to sell spell scrolls in the city. The Countess replies that while possible, buyers would be few and they might take some time to sell. However, she would agree to take a few scrolls on consignment from them, advance them the money or trade them inks, and then sell the scrolls herself later. The party lists their scrolls and asks what prices they might get for them, and she replies:

    Scroll of Protection from Undead - 180gp
    Scroll of Magic Missile (with 11 darts) - 240gp
    Scroll of Protection from Petrification - 320gp
    Scroll of Globe of Invulnerability - 1280gp

    Her responses seem surprisingly rapid and confident for all but the last scroll, for which she excuses herself while murmuring and moving beads on an imaginary abacus in the air.

    With this, the party seems quite out of questions. Mathias thanks her for giving so generously of her time and advice, and the four of them take their leave and exit the Black Tower.

    In the stables of the Outer Ward they find Babshapka, the coach, horses and mules, all waiting. Willa looks at the lowering sun and asks a guardsman if there is any chance of them finding an office of civil governance open in the city this late in the day on the second of Growfest, and he shakes his head. After asking to speak with his officer she finds someone willing to take charge of the coach and horses and return them to where they belong. Then begins the laborious process of unpacking the coach and loading the mules. By the time they are packed and ready, the sun has set behind the western mountains, although it is still light enough to easily negotiate the steep road down the Promontory and into the city proper.

    Once among the streets of the city they ask after an inn - and one good enough to have private rooms. They are recommended the Gryphon’s Arms. Several passers-by say that normally “their type” would be better off lodged in the Temple of Fharlanghn, but that is currently filled to overflowing with the first of the refugees to have arrived at the city.
    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.&nbsp;
    Master Greytalker

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    Tue Sep 06, 2022 9:28 am  
    Post 237: Meeting Doro Doof

    [DM's Note on Sources]: For my description of Istivin and the buildings within I used "Istivin: City of Shadows" in Dungeon 117. The maps from this are freely and legally available at and numbered locations from it are noted in the text in [blue].

    After the split in the party that weeded out the characters without dedicated players (see Post 226), we were left with

    Player 1: Thokk and Aurora
    Player 4: Willa and Babshapka
    Player 9: Mathias

    In order to allow Player 9 a second character, and prepare for the upcoming challenges by adding a healer to the party, Player 9 made a bard whose starting xp was matched to the lowest of the other five PCs.

    Post 237: Meeting Doro Doof
    21 March [Growfest 2], 571 - Istivin
    [Encounters (civilized, river) at morning, noon, evening, night, midnight, predawn: none]
    [Thokk encounter at night; none]
    (Low 63F, High 81F)

    The Gryphon’s Arms (8), as it turns out, is an expensive inn, which is to even Willa’s liking as she had already agreed to an inn with not only private rooms but locks on the doors for their “gear” (laser rifles and grenades included). The inn caters to wealthy merchants and minor nobles, lying just inside the “Brinks Gate” (2) and across the street from the East Citadel (4), a garrison of hundreds of “Marchers”, as the infantry forces of the national army are called. Apparently the proximity of the soldiers on one side and city walls on the other helps the wealthy patrons of the inn feel that they and their valuables are safe.

    In short order the party has arranged for rooms for the evening (10gp from party funds). Thokk seems to take an unusual interest in unloading the mules, at least until all of his own gear and the rations have been moved upstairs, at which point he disappears into his room, emerging shortly thereafter to tell Willa that they need to talk.

    Willa sees to the rest of the unloading of the mules and then, with Aurora, Mathias, and Babshapka in the common room ordering drinks and thinking about dinner, she goes upstairs to see what the barbarian wants with her.

    “Evil advisor,” Thokk begins, in a voice uncharacteristically thick with emotion. “You stay with other hu-mans. Help with books and supplies. You in charge of Thokk’s warband for now; Thokk proud of you. Here Thokk's money.” The half-orc hands over a single gem, still wrapped in the dwarven paper, and a mishmash of coins of different values. “You use if need, but if not, save so Thokk can make more women smile and dream of sons."

    Willa understands his meaning well enough, but why is he handing over his money? Is he going somewhere?

    "Larry was small and funny dwarf, but was strong and good friend. Thokk has idea to get other Larry. Thokk meet you and others in massacre town. Seven suns from now - at dawn on edge of town.”

    “Thokk, wha’ be ye on aboot?” Willa asks incredulously. Down the stairs, across the common room, and out into the street they go, with her asking if he is feeling alright and trying to elicit some explanation from him. Eventually she gathers that he is planning on searching the forests and mountains for some kind of companion to replace Larry, whatever that means. At least he seems confident of meeting up with them in a week. Willa hopes, for the sake of the good people of Sterich, that he can do so.

    Meanwhile the others are relaxing at the bar of the common room, each enjoying their beverage of choice. Some sort of minstrel is playing to the posh crowd. She is quite good (base Performance +9) and is singing a heroic ballad while accompanying herself on a stringed instrument. When she finishes her piece, resulting in much applause and more than a few coins tossed on the low stage, she sets her instrument down and goes to the bar to refresh her voice.

    As she drinks, she looks at Mathias quizzically. He changed out of his traveling clothes as soon as they entered the inn, and now is in his indecently low-slung leather pants and a maroon linen shirt. “Say, aren’t you a pit fighter?” she asks him.

    “Not at the present,” he smiles, “but I have been.”

    “I thought so! I’ve seen you fight in Greyhawk City!”

    “That’s where most of my bouts were, certainly.”

    Babshapka and Aurora listen carefully, while each feigns disinterest.

    “Well, what are you doing here, so far from the Gem of the Flanaess?”

    Mathias laughs easily. Aurora is certain the woman is working on seducing their companion and supplementing her income from playing. Babshapka is not so sure her motivation is that simple.

    “Actually, I am currently with a group of adventurers.”

    “Really? Are they capable?”

    “Oh, quite capable. Absolutely.” He laughs again.

    As the two begin to talk, she explains that she is actually looking to join a band of adventurers. She has worked with some in the past, but only for brief stretches and with ones not very skilled. She was hoping to find some more capable ones.

    As it so happens, Mathias explains, there is currently an opening in their group for a healer. Does she have anything that might help in that regard? At this point, even Babshapka is unsure of whether Mathias is flirting back or trying to hire her. The woman explains that she can use her music to cast mending, healing word, song of rest, and aura of vitality. She knows other spells, of course, but that is her healing repertoire at the moment.

    At the mention of aura of vitality, Aurora forgets she is pretending to look disinterested. While not personally familiar with the spell (Arcana 9), she believes it is of mid-level. If the woman speaks the truth about knowing it, she is indeed a capable caster.

    The bard introduces herself as Doro, and Mathias in turn introduces her to Babshapka and ‘Shefak’. When ‘Shefak’ speaks, she explains that their adventuring group is an elite force, led by her kicking abilities. Is Doro sure that she is up to their standards?

    The woman explains that she is from Greyhawk City, where she worked as a bard in the inns and taverns and put herself through bard’s college. When ‘Shefak’ comments on her sword (a rapier she has slung on her belt, even while playing), she says that while she can fight, she prefers to stay on the sidelines, inspiring her companions in their battles, hindering and controlling their opponents. Afterwards, she heals her allies. Since leaving the city, she has been frustrated in trying to find an adventuring group commensurate with her own abilities.

    ‘Shefak’ says that she understands the woman’s reluctance to enter melee herself, as it is a dangerous and messy business. “You would not believe some of the scraps I have been in, the amount blood and gore I’ve been covered with during a fight.”

    The woman nods credulously. “I figured you were a monk before you even said anything - you are in such great shape. For me, I need my hands to play, and I can’t really risk them unless it is truly necessary.”

    When Doro turns back to Mathias, she asks him what he is doing so far from Greyhawk. He shrugs and says simply “adventuring”, but immediately turns the question around on her. She says that in the summer past she had resolved to leave the city and seek out an adventuring group, and had heard rumors of a war brewing on the Azure Sea in Salinmoor. She left Greyhawk then, but by the time she arrived in Seaton, all the fighting was over. Since then, she has slowly worked her way up the Javan, playing in inns to keep herself in coin, but always on the lookout for an adventuring group. She found several, but they all turned out to be of little account and not worth her time - chasing down goblin bands or following false treasure maps to long-plundered tombs. She wintered in Flen, but with the arrival of spring she heard tell of the Troubles in Sterich, and has recently come to Istivin, hopeful that the crisis would draw a party of appropriate quality for her.

    While Doro talks, Aurora decides to test her claim that she is a bard of skill and worthy of their group. Surreptitiously summoning her mage hand (Stealth 16), she sends it forth to pick the woman’s pocket. As the hand attempts to slip into her pouch, it inadvertently brushes her thigh and she bats it away without looking (Aurora sleight of hand 3; Doro passive Perception 13). “Hey!” she says to Mathias, firmly but not aggressively, “just because I’m from the city doesn’t mean you can treat me like that! I’m interested in a professional relationship here.”

    Babshapka, mid-swallow in his mead, coughs and sputters.

    “Yes, professional,” agrees ‘Shefak’. “What is it that you hope to get from our relationship?”

    “For myself, stories. Stories and ballads are my stock and trade. I can’t advance as a bard without material, and traditional stuff only takes one so far. I need new source material to compose my own works and make my own mark.”

    Babshapka asks her whether she has spent much time in Keoland. She replies ‘as little as possible’ - just her brief sojourn to Salinmoor. With the war already over, she found it a dour, diseased, and superstitious place.

    ‘Shefek’ explains that the party are patronless freelancers, and want to avoid political entanglements. They want to make sure that Doro’s membership in their group would not draw them into anything. They want to remain free to accept any contracts that are profitable, without political complications to get in the way. She messages Babshapka to watch the bard’s response.

    Doro says that politics is why she left Greyhawk, and that people want songs of valor and heroism, not politics and negotiations. She assures them that she has no ties to any groups and is a freebooter like them.

    Babshapka ignores her words and instead watches her eyes and body language, listens to her tone and inflection (Insight 24). She seems plainspoken and direct, honest - at least for a human. Her Common speech carries no hints of a Keoish accent, and while similar to that of Mathias it is subtly different as well. Babshapka nods at Aurora.

    “Well then,” says ‘Shefak’. “Do you have any terms for us? What are you expecting from this arrangement?”

    “Living expenses only, for the moment,” she says, “starting with dinner and a room tonight at this inn, if that is where you are staying. Let me adventure with you a while and you can pay my direct costs while we do so. If you find me a worthy companion, then a full share of the treasure. If I do not meet your expectations, we part ways and I ask no more of you than what you have already spent on food and lodging.”

    ‘Shefak’ nods. “As leader of our group, I accept those terms. But there is one more thing - an introduction, kind of an initiation ceremony, really. There are two more of our group outside - a half-orc barbarian and a dusky woman in plate armor and with a greatsword. You have to tell the woman that we want you to join us, and that I said you are our new healer. Her name’s Willa.”

    “Really?” Doro looks to Mathias for confirmation. He shrugs and nods. The woman slings her instrument across her back and makes for the door.

    In the street Willa is standing, hands on her hips, as Thokk is fading into the gloam. “Make sure whatever you brin’ back be housebroken!” she shouts resignedly at the retreating figure.

    “Haw, haw. Thokk gonna miss evil advisor’s jokes,” Thokk chortles to himself as he approaches the Brinks Gate.

    “Are you Willa?” the bard asks.

    “Aye, ‘oo wants ter ken?”

    Doro is taken aback at the thickness of the woman’s Salinmoor accent, but she is a bard and used to working with language. ‘Yes, who wants to know?’ she quickly works out.

    “My name is Doro. I’m a bard. Shefak inside told me to tell you that I am the new healer for your band.”

    “Sounds like summit she would say, right eno’. Damn wench.”

    Willa stares the woman down. Doro meets her gaze inquisitively and without flinching (Willa Intimidation 8 ).

    “She said that me telling you was a technicality, but it was already a done deal, since she is in charge.”

    “In charge be she, now?” Willa glowers. She spits on the ground and stomps into the inn, Doro deliberately following at just more than a sword strike’s distance behind her.

    At the bar, Willa shouts for an ale and then lays into ‘Shefak’ without pause for the entirety of the time it takes for her drink to arrive. She ends with “and since ‘twar yer idea wit’out consultin’ me, ye be payin’ ‘er room from yer own pocket!”

    “Of course, of course,” says ‘Shefak’. “Allow me to get your drink as well. Drinks on me, all,” she smiles. Willa storms off to find an unoccupied table as far from the rest of the party as she can manage.

    “I don’t get it,” says Doro. “So, are you in charge, or…?”

    “No, no, Willa’s really the leader, at least tactically. I help in the long-term decisions. But yes, it was actually her call. I just like to rib her. She’s too serious. Anyway, yes, you are in, your drink is on me, your dinner and room tonight are on me, and after that we’ll put you on the party tab. I look forward to working with you.”

    “Just so you know,” says Mathias, “that copped feel wasn’t me. I know how to treat a lady.” He raises his cup of wine. Doro nods and returns to the stage to tune her samisen before her next song.

    Thokk approaches the Brinks Gate but finds it closed and barred for the night. He is not too surprised, for from his vantage atop the coach in their approach to the city, he noticed that the gate opened on a small hill with fancy villas outside the walls, and did not even have a road connecting it to the main road on which they arrived - after dark there would be precious little traffic. He reasons that the main gate to the city, the one they came in, should still be open, so he turns and walks proudly down the streets of Istivin. When he reaches the Javan Gates, however, he finds them closed as well, with no signs of guards to open them for him. Perhaps it was not the best idea for him to leave in the evening, rather than waiting until the morning of the next day (Thokk Wisdom check 2), but it is done.

    The Javan Gates are barred by a stout wooden beam set into iron brackets. It looks heavier than a man could lift, and indeed, there are chains fastened on each end of the beam that hang from small holes in the towers to either side of the gate. Then again, Thokk is no mere man. He sets his heels and lifts up on the bar, bellowing as he strains, but is unable to lift it completely out of the brackets (Strength check 7; fails).

    He is considering whether to rage against the injustice of the beam [and thus have advantage on a second strength check] when doors at the base of each tower fly open in response to the rattle of the chains, and men of the night watch boil forth like ants from a hill [Luck roll -1]. Swords are drawn, lantern beams are pointed in Thokk’s eyes. Fortunately (for them, not him, of course) a few of the watchmen were on hand when the party entered earlier in the afternoon [Luck roll +2] and remember Thokk sitting atop the coach. After a bit of conversation amongst themselves it is decided that he is not, in fact, an orc spy sent to open the gates to an invading army, but rather is a member of a group that (rumor has it) traveled the length of the city in a coach bearing the arms of Javan Ferry, and was admitted to Krelont Keep itself. Given that he is, in any event, an orc, it also seems to the night watchmen that it is better to have him outside the city than in, his wishes notwithstanding. So, after carefully scanning the exterior of the gates with lanterns for signs of more orcs or the like, they do raise the bar on the inner gates for him, open the gates just enough for him to pass through, raise the portcullis inside the tunnel under the walls, close the interior gates, and opening the exterior gates to allow him outside, before quickly closing the exterior gates behind him as he goes and lowering the portcullis. Thokk strolls happily away and down the road with no hard feelings toward the watch.

    He whistles as he goes, enjoying the cool night air and thinking of the massive dire wolves and giant cave bears that will soon be his boon companions. He takes little note of the snores of the soldiers, the crying of the infants, and the bleating of the animals in the camps that he passes, as he continues past where the road the party arrived on turns to the east, and this road continues all the way down to the banks of the Davish River. Keeping the mountains in front of him, he knows his path lies to the south. He remembers this river from the brief time between his exile from his tribe and his finding the party, and he knows that it will not easily be crossed, so he stays on the road all the way down to the river’s edge in case the industrious humans have built a bridge to cross it.

    There is not, in fact, a bridge, but the hard road does lead to a ford where the swift river is both broad and shallow. A long chain has been placed across the river, allowing a ferry attached to the chain to be moved back and forth. However, it looks like the ferry has ended its day on the other side of the river, in a village set along the banks there (Istivin Crossing, although Thokk does not know the name). Thokk judges himself capable of crossing on the chain himself, simply hanging from it and moving hand-over-hand above the river without the ferry.

    What Thokk has not considered is that while the chain is well above the river on either end, its great weight causes it to sag in the middle until it is below the surface of the rushing water. It is not long before his feet, then his legs below his knees, then all of his legs, are underwater as he pulls himself along. The current is very strong, and the water is practically as cold as snowmelt. Before Thokk has reached the halfway point, his arms are burning and his teeth are chattering. Finally, he slips off the chain and is swept away by the current (Strength check 5; fails).

    Thokk laughs at his carelessness as the river rapidly bears him away through the rapids below the ford. He relaxes and floats on his back for a while, making sure his legs point downriver in case he strikes a rock, until the rest has returned the strength to his arms. Once he feels himself up to it, he flips over on his stomach, and with powerful strokes begins pulling himself to the southern bank (Survival 20). Thoroughly soaked and nearly frozen, he crawls happily to the shore to emerge from the water more than a mile below Istivin Crossing.

    [So far 1 hour, 3 miles traveled] By now it is well and truly dark. Ignoring the lights from the villages along the river, Thokk looks up at the night sky to the south. His goal is to get to the highest mountains as quickly as possible, so he scans the horizon to find where his view of the stars is the most blocked, and then begins walking. For the first twelve miles or so it is easy going, on level grasslands sloping gently up from the river. At some point during his walk he crosses a human road. Scoffing, he continues toward the mountains he knows must be there [5 hours, 15 miles traveled. At 8pm wandering encounter check: civilized, grasslands: none]. Finally the ground begins to steepen and grow more rocky, at last matching the promise of the mountains shown to him by the sky. Up and up he climbs, until he enters a forest so dense that he can no longer see the heavens, and simply chooses the path that seems steepest, ever seeking the way up. [10 hours, 25 miles traveled.] When he tires and, what is more important, believes that it will be getting light soon, he begins searching for a hiding spot. Now looking for the steepest of surfaces (which even he would have difficulty in climbing), he eventually comes upon a cliff face with a cave so small he has to stoop to enter, and a boulder in front concealing it from view. It is a good place to rest (Stealth 19). He removes his pack and pulls it into the cave after him, eats some from the rations he has brought with him and finishes his water skins, and soon is fast asleep.

    50 human rations to 47 during the day (Thokk has 7, the party 40)
    14 mule rations to 12 (grain used for horses as well as mules)
    10gp from party funds for the inn

    After dinner most of the patrons of the inn either leave or retire to their rooms. The party, less Thokk but now with Doro, clusters around a table, discussing the next day, in which Mathias will go to Krelont Keep and ask Numar to ask Verbane for access to his spells. They are in agreement that they should ask Verbane first rather than involving Lashton, whose true master is the King of Keoland. Only as a last resort for an essential spell that Verbane is lacking should they involve him. Mathias and Aurora brainstorm desired spells, trying to formulate a list to ask of Verbane. Willa grows bored quickly and goes to see that the mules have been properly bedded down before retiring to “watch the gear”. Babshapka simply reminds the others of his capabilities and then drinks quietly; the first time Mathias has heard his full list of spells known. Doro adds her opinions by way of introducing her own spells. When they discuss Darkvision, she says that she has the Light cantrip. When they suggest Alarm, she says that she has Leomund’s Tiny Hut (which impresses Aurora). When they bring up Hold Person, she says that she is able to do that with her music. In the debate about haste vs. slow, she comes down on the slide of Slow. They find that she has clear opinions, but is interested in listening to theirs as well.

    After protracted discussions, they arrive at the following ‘wish list’ to present to Verbane:

    1. Feather Fall
    2. Animate Dead (the choice of which Willa would not have approved had she been present)
    3. Mirror Image
    4. Slow
    5. Phantom Steed
    6. Earthbind

    Thus in agreeance, they all retire for the night. Aurora lingers to talk to the innkeep after the others have gone upstairs. She tells him that the bard, Doro, will be taking the room that they had requested for Thokk, and he agrees that the price for their stay this evening will remain the same.
    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.&nbsp;
    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
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    Tue Sep 13, 2022 2:58 pm  
    Post 238: Gathering Resources I

    [DM's Note on Resources:]
    Spell Availability
    As noted previously, I took the court mage Verbane from Itstivin: City of Shadows in Dungeon 117, but reduced his level to Wizard 12. The spell list given for him therein reflects both his higher level and the source material as 3.5e. For my own purposes (that of serving as a source of spells for the PC's), I assumed that he would have a chance to have any spell in the PHB of a level that he could cast, with the chance being [100% - (10% * spell level)]. Thus Verbane would have a 90% chance to have any given first level spell through a 40% chance of any particular sixth level spell. I have used this calculation in previous campaigns for the collective holdings of Mage Guilds (not individual NPC's), but I figured that as Verbane is the most powerful wizard in Sterich, as well as the one with the most access to resources, it would be appropriate.

    In the event of poor rolls resulting in an unrealistic lack of spells, I set a minimum number of spells known for each level as twice his spell slots. A Wizard 12 can cast 4/3/3/3/2/1, so the minimum spells known to Verbane would be 8/6/6/6/4/2. In the event that my rolls had exhausted the spells in the PHB but the minimum indicated that Verbane knew others, I would draw them from other sources, such as Xanathar's Guide to Everything or Tasha's Cauldron of Everything.

    Once my rolls had indicated that Verbane indeed had a copy of a spell the PC's sought, I let a luck roll determine in what form he had that spell. With poor luck the PCs might have to purchase the spell (despite Resbin having instructed Verbane to share his spells with them). With good luck he might have to show them his main spell book, thus allowing them access to even more spells than those they asked for.

    Luck Roll (4dF) / Spell Copy...
    (-4) Copy exists, but he is not willing to admit he has it or show it to the PCs
    (-3) Copy exists, but it is extremely delicate and he is not willing to allow the PC's to handle it
    (-2) Exists as a Scroll spell and the party will need to purchase it to copy
    (-1) Exists as a spell page, but is a separate unique sheet and the party will see this spell only
    (0) Exists as a spell page in a back-up book; party will get to see d4+1 spells of equal level
    (+1) Exists as a spell page in a back-up book; party will get to see 2d4+1 spells.
    (Roll d% for each other spell, 01-33 spell is of lower level than target, 66-00 spell is of higher level than target)
    (+2) Exists as a spell page in a volume of a main spell book; party will get to see 2d6+1 spells of equal level
    (+3) Exists as a spell page in a volume of a main spell book; party will get to see all PHB spells of that level that he knows
    (+4) Exists as a spell page in a volume of a main spell book; party will get to see 2d8+1 spells
    (Roll d% for each other spell, 01-25 spell is of lower level than target, 51-75 spell is of higher level than target, 76-00 spell is of equal level but not from the PHB)

    Thokk's Companion
    Thokk's player expressed an interest in using his *speak with animals* ritual to attempt to gain a predatory animal companion during the downtime that Aurora was copying spells. The homebrew rules that I came up with for this are as follows.

    Background Encounter Checks
    In hills: 3 chances per day of a normal encounter (table will include predators but also monsters and other fauna)
    In mountains: 2 chances per day of a normal encounter (table will include predators but also monsters and other fauna)

    Thokk's Survival Check when looking for animals: +4 on check, roll at disadvantage in hills
    5 (that is, a natural 1) - Accident (Thokk falls, gets cut, catches finger in crevice, rocks fall on him, etc)
    6 (natural 2) - Something finds HIM (random encounter roll, and if hostile, he is ambushed or followed to his hideout and attacked while sleeping)
    7-15 - Thokk Finds a prey animal (he can turn this into 12 pounds of fresh rations. Can use 6 pounds of fresh rations for a +1 on check on the next day by offering fresh meat to predators. This bonus can stack.)
    16-19 - Thokk Finds an omnivore or scavenger (roll on encounter table and take closest result)
    20+ Thokk Finds a predator (roll on encounter table and take closest result)

    Once a suitable companion beast is FOUND...
    Thokk's Survival check to approach it: +4 on check, at disadvantage in hills
    5 - animal startles and flees, is lost
    6 - 14 - animal flees, but Thokk can spend (15 - previous roll) hours tracking it down and then may roll again on this table
    15+ - animal stays for long enough for Thokk to complete speak with animals ritual

    Once a suitable companion beast is SPOKEN to...
    If the beast has a pack lifestyle with a dominance hierarchy, Thokk may make an Intimidation roll contested by the animal's Insight. (Thokk is at disadvantage if he does not immediately have fresh rations on hand to give)
    If the beast does not have a pack lifestyle with a dominance hierarchy, Thokk may make a Persuasion roll contested by the animal's Insight (Thokk is at disadvantage if he does not immediately have fresh rations on hand to give)
    If Thokk wins either contest, the beast has elected to become his companion.

    Post 238: Gathering Resources I
    22 March [Growfest 3], 571 - Istivin (party) / Foothills of the Jotens (Thokk - first sun)
    [Thokk encounters (wilderness, mountains) at morning (falcon), night]
    (Low 66F, High 86F)

    In the morning, a small falcon (Passive Perception 14) flies past Thokk’s cave, unaware of the half-orc’s presence.

    At the inn, the party meets over a hearty breakfast - a bit simpler than that of the Rosy Mounds, with no roe for the toasted bread - but rich nonetheless. It is agreed that Mathias will go to Numar and request spells from their wish list, then spend the day copying, with ‘Shefak’ ‘assisting’. Ideally, the Countess will give them leave to use Verbane’s scriptorium, as even a comfortable desk in the Gryphon’s Arms will lack every amenity needed to have the best chance of successfully transcribing the spells. In addition to the spells and inks, they will ask for a dozen grasshopper legs if they are available. Babshapka has been listening since they left the river, but has heard no grasshoppers in the day nor crickets at night; surely they will emerge later, at the start of summer. Aurora does not have the spell Jump, but she has heard that grasshopper legs, like hardwood, have to cure a year before their use in order to obtain the best performance. Aurora says that they should take the legs out of the party fund, since it is important to supply the party casters with their material components for spells which benefit them all. Willa kicks at her under the table and tells her to stop trying to turn things to her own advantage. Mathias says that he will also be asking for a component, the leaded crystal vial. It takes a few moments for Willa to register that he is serious - she thought that when he mentioned that to the Countess it was part of the elaborate ‘Mathias is a wizard, 'Willow' is a monk’ ruse. She asks how much the crystal will be, and he says it will be a few hundred gold. He adds that he realizes that it is a lot of money, but that it needn’t come from party funds. He can pay for it himself, as long as the party can advance him the coin. He doesn’t have it on him now, but would be happy to pay them back from his next share of treasure.

    Willa seems less concerned by the amount and says that party funds are fine, but presses him several times on the specific identity of the spell. He tries a few times to deflect her question, but when she insists, he simply says, “You’ll be amazed. I guarantee you’ll be amazed. If you are not amazed, I will definitely give the money back.”

    Aurora adds to his voice, saying that she will help pay for the vial from her personal treasure if Willa is not amazed.

    Willa has had enough obfuscation and tells the two of them to get the vial but stow their sales pitch. She is going to change her clothes to leave the inn. “You’re coming with us?” they both exclaim.

    “Jes’ t’ speak wit’ Numar,” she says. “I hae business wit’ ‘im, bu’ ‘twill be brief.”

    Babshapka agrees to stay at the inn and watch the ‘gear’.

    Willa, Mathias, and ‘Shefak’ leave the inn and proceed to Krelont Keep, where they are quickly admitted to the Inner Ward. Numar meets them, but takes them not to the Black Tower where they were the day before, but rather to the smaller Wizard’s Tower, which is given over to Verbane as well as to the personal quarters of the Countess.

    Willa explains to the sage that she wishes to send money to her brother in Saltmarsh, but that she fears all of the banking houses in the city will be closed for Growfest. He confirms that they are, but accepts from her two packets of gems and says that he will take care of them if she leaves the city before the end of the festival. After a pause, he says that Thom may have to retrieve the gems in Seaton, since to his knowledge there are no banking houses in her hometown of Saltmarsh itself. “Nay,” she agrees, “tho’ thar be a Temple o’ Zilchus, an’ t’at’s near ther same t’ing.”

    After that Willa leaves, and soon after Numar as well, though he returns with someone he introduces as “Verbane, Chief Wizard of the March”. The man stands near six-and-a-half feet tall, and is even more gaunt than Mathias, being practically skeletal with claw-like hands sporting deep purple veins. Despite his off-putting appearance, he is friendly and welcomes Mathias and ‘Shefak’ to ‘his tower’. He takes them to his scriptorium and tells them that the Countess has instructed him expressly to help them. He shows them through all the drawers of supplies - papyrus, parchment, paper, and rich, creamy vellum; quills from birds common and exotic, and wells and wells of ink, each with minerals and powdered gemstones matching a specific school of magic. Finally, an alphabetized reagent cabinet as well as several mortars and pestles, since most spells require a few ingredients added to the ink at the last minute to match the identity of that specific spell, only.

    Before presenting him with the spell list, Mathias brings up the issue of the grasshopper legs and the leaded crystal vial. Verbane replies that he has the Jump spell himself, and has plenty of last year’s grasshopper legs on hand. As for the crystal vial, he admits he is intrigued and asks politely for what spell Mathias needs it. Mathias demurs, and Verbane does not press, but rather asks for the spells he would like to copy. Mathias tells him “To begin with, Feather Fall, Animate Dead, and Mirror Image.”

    Feather Fall and Mirror Image, of course,” he agrees laconically, “one simply can’t do without them. But animate dead is a bit more...specialized?” he says, raising an eyebrow.

    Mathias meets his gaze, his face neutral. “The Countess said we could trust your discretion,” he finally says.

    “Of course, of course,” the wizard murmurs, and takes his leave. He comes back a bit later with a thin back-up spellbook, a scroll tube, and a small leather pouch with a dozen grasshopper legs. The vial, he says, will require a more extensive search of his alchemical supplies, many of which are packed away. Mathias tells him to take his time, as he will be involved for several hours transcribing just what has already brought.

    Once Verbane has left again, Aurora checks what they have been given so far, carefully counting the grasshopper legs without breaking them, opening the scroll tube to find a single copy of mirror image, and leafing through the back-up spellbook to find Magic Missile, and Feather Fall, but also False Life. Mathias and Aurora briefly debate whether or not it is worth transcribing a copy of false life while they have access to it. The spell is good defensively, they finally agree, and as a Wizard, Aurora is a collectionist, keen to acquire anything she does not already have. However, at this point she is more limited by the number of spells she can prepare rather than the number she knows, and ultimately they agree that false life would not be worth the opportunity cost of not being able to use the slot for something else in a day’s worth of casting. It is a good spell, but not as good as others she would want more. As she begins to gather the inks and quills and set her supplies in front of her, Aurora lingers over the single copy of Mirror Image. It is not actually a scroll, meant to be read and cast at once, but is rather set to be memorized from, yet it is not in a book.

    “Odd, isn’t it,” she asks, “that he has just the one on this sheet?”

    Mathias ponders. “As he said, that is a key defensive spell and I’m sure it is in his main book. Maybe he doesn’t want you to see everything else he has in his main book, and he had this copy squirreled away somewhere for a ‘just-in-case’ scenario when he couldn’t access his book?”

    Aurora nods at the sensibility of the notion, then sets to work on the Feather Fall. Mathias exits the scriptorium and puts out the torches in the windowless hallway outside, then takes out his stool. He watches unseen from the darkness at the end of the hall.

    When Aurora is done she continues with the Mirror Image.

    [Feather Fall; Level 1 Transmutation. 100gp in inks, 1 hour to transcribe]
    [Mirror Image; Level 2 Illusion. 200gp in inks, 2 hours to transcribe]

    Before Aurora has finished the second spell, Verbane reappears and Mathias hastens inside to exchange places with ‘the monk’. Verbane explains that he is still working on locating the vial. He has found a copy of Animate Dead, but not in a spellbook. Rather, it is a copy on a single-use scroll. Mathias will trigger the magic, and it will slowly disappear from the scroll as he transcribes it. If he cannot keep up, the scroll will be spent without him having transcribed it completely. In any event, Verbane would need Mathias to pay for the scroll and the inks, regardless of whether or not he is successful. Mathias and the monk confer, with Mathias expressing confidence in his ability to transcribe the scroll and the monk a bit more hesitant but ultimately convinced. Mathias agrees to buy the scroll from Verbane. What’s more, he says that he would further like access to the spells Slow, Phantom Steed, and Earthbind, if they are available. Verbane agrees, leaves the scroll, and withdraws.

    [Aurora attempts to copy scroll, Animate Dead at 3rd level is DC13. Aurora Arcana check 15; success]
    [Animate Dead Scroll 200gp cost to purchase]
    [Animate Dead; Level 3 Necromancy. 300gp in inks, 3 hours to transcribe]

    By now Aurora has been working for six hours. Verbane appears again with a palace servant bearing trays of a light lunch. Verbane carries a scroll tube with a single sheet of vellum, this one with Slow. Leaving that with Mathias, he retrieves the remains of the used animate dead scroll, the thin back-up book of spells, and the vellum sheet with mirror image.

    After an hour’s rest and refreshment, Aurora begins transcribing, and now has Slow in her book as well.

    [Slow; Level 3 Transmutation. 300gp in inks, 3 hours to transcribe.]

    Near the end of the day Verbane appears for the last time, bearing a scroll with Phantom Steed - he regrets that he does not have a permanent version for Mathias to copy, but will sell this one for 200 gold. This time Mathias immediately agrees, but the monk reminds him that he is likely taxing his limit of copying for the day, and perhaps should rest rather than risk making a mistake. [Currently at 9 hours spent; if Aurora transcribes for more than 10 hours a day, she will need to make a Con check to continue without spoiling her work] Verbane says that he will bring the scroll on the morrow, then. He regrets to inform Mathias that he was unable to locate a copy of Earthbind, whether in spellbook or scroll, but reminds them that the Countess authorized them to ask Lashton as well.

    Verbane does a tally and Mathias agrees to the total; 1101.2 gp for one scroll, nine levels worth of inks, and a dozen grasshopper legs. He tells the wizard that they will bring the amount on the morrow. The pair pack up and walk back to the inn in time for dinner.

    At the inn, Willa relieved Babshapka from guarding their gear once she returned from the Keep. The wood elf then decided to visit the fletchers and bowyers of the city, near Smith’s Lane.

    He first purchases 13 regular arrows for 7 silver coins from his own money. The transaction is made with a ‘prentice, for the master fletcher is busy gluing feathers to a shaft. Babshapka inquires after a set of silvered arrows, and the master replies without looking up from his work that it would be 200 gold lions for a quiver of 20 arrows. He says this in the manner of an oft-answered question without expecting a response, and appears surprised when Babshapka says he will take them. Babshapka offers him two of the dwarf-assessed party gems, and the man agrees to take them at their stated value (Babshapka Persuasion 17; 200gp from party treasure). Babshapka inspects the arrows - they are covered in a layer of dust and soot from hanging in the shop overly-long, but the feathering is good, the shafts true, and the silvering work very well done - just the finest layer over a hard steel head, as an arrow head of actual silver would be far too soft to pierce armor. Once he cleans them they will be fine. Finally, and now with the fletcher’s full attention, he takes out the giant arrows, both the intact ones and the heads and broken shafts he has saved. The craftsman looks them over appreciatively. “What is that, bronzewood?” he mumbles to himself as he tries to flex the shaft and then sights along it. “I could reset these heads for you on new shafts, if I weren’t already backed up and over my head with orders for the army,” he says, “but they wouldn’t work like you describe. I can see how these shafts have been scored so that they break on impact, and the head is trapped inside the target and can’t be pulled out or pushed through. I could reset the heads for you, but without the right wood or technique, it would just work like a normal arrow.”

    Babshapka thanks him for his time, but the man is not done. “I’ve never seen the likes of these before, but I understand what they’re for. If it’s giants you're hunting, we Sterishmen have our own way. If you can, stay at a hundred paces or more, out of range of their rocks, and just use your regular longbow arrows for as long as you can. But if you find yourself up close, you use these…” From under the counter he pulls forth a heavy leather quiver. The arrows inside are the length of longbow arrows, but nearly twice as thick, and with exceedingly long and thin heads, like the tip of an awl pike. “We call these ‘ordinance’,” he says proudly. “They are two gold for a quiver of ten.” Babshapka takes two quivers and pays with his personal coin.

    [Normal longbow arrow: Range 150 / 600. Damage d8
    Ordinance longbow arrow: Range 75 / 300. Damage d10]

    In the mountains, Thokk wakes shortly after noon and pulls himself from the cave. He yawns, stretches, and walks far from the cave before relieving himself. He fills his waterskins in a spring and then hikes to the summit of the mountain, which is only just barely higher than his cave - he can’t go much higher than he already has. His mountain, it turns out, is just a short spur of the much larger and snow-covered Jotens further south. Far to the west are the great, broad Crystalmists - Thokk’s original homeland. And, now that he thinks about it, Larry’s as well. Ah, Larry, he remembers - that’s why he is here. He should focus on where he is, not where he is not. On the north side of his mountain ridge is the Davish River valley. On the south side is the valley of a much smaller river, with forests high up, pasturelands in the middle, and farms lower and closer to the main river valley. He may need to go to the real mountains to find his companion, but it is worth trying here for a day or two anyway. This mountain itself may be small, but there are no silly yu-man villages or fields around.

    [Thokk’s survival roll to find a companion: 21 = Predator.
    d100 = 33. Common.
    d4 = 4. 13 large spiders.]

    Throughout the afternoon Thokk works in a concentric spiral, going down and out, circling the mountain peak ever farther away from the cave. Before the sun has set he comes upon a large cave, over twice his height and surrounded by thickets of trees. Entering, he finds it full of webs and a dozen or more skittering spiders, each some two feet in length or more. Deeper in the cave he can hear the chitter of bats, and several are caught in the spider webs near the entrance. Spiders have poison, he knows, and a dozen poisonous spiders would be a nice addition to his warband. He begins the ritual for his speak with animals, but at the sound of his chanting the spiders scurry back into the darkness. He follows them slowly, still chanting, and they cower in the crevices of the rocks [Survival roll to get close enough for spell, 6]. “Bahh!” says Thokk. If the spiders are too scared to even be talked to, forget them. Cowards have no place in his warband. Besides, spiders may be furry, but he doubts they can warm him like Larry did. He will find something else.

    All the rest of the night he continues to circle down the mountain, but he finds no other predators. Before the sky begins to lighten he finds his way back to his cave and crawls in.

    40 human rations unused by party (food at the inn). Thokk from 7 to 6.
    12 mule rations unused by party (feed at the inn).
    (10gp from party funds for 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.&nbsp;
    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
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    Tue Sep 20, 2022 9:19 am  
    Post 239: Gathering Resources II

    [DM's Note on Procedure]
    For the Troubles, I wanted a sense of the the Enemy slowly overwhelming Sterich; that without aggressive action by the party, eventually each community would fall and the whole nation would be lost. Reflecting the unpredictable nature of the opposition, though, rather than have the Enemy advance in a single wave across the countryside with defined fronts of battle, I wanted things to begin with raids on widely dispersed targets. I also wanted the possibility of the party seeing opposing forces as they traveled across the country. To achieve all this I did the following:

    First, I took the map of Sterich available from Anna Meyer at Since this is set as "post-war" after the events in Queen of Spiders, with many of the locations there in ruins, I assumed everything was currently intact and counted some 25 'target' locations to the southwest of Istivin.

    Starting from the arrival of the party in Istivin, each day I would make a "luck roll" (4dF) for the progress of the Troubles, with a negative result indicating action somewhere, and the more negative the number the 'stronger' the result. I then rolled to place the result at one of the 25 locations.

    -4: sack / fall of the location (removed from play)
    -3: siege of the location (any further negative result at the location would result in its fall)
    -2: raid on the location
    -1: enemy scouts seen at, or skirmish at, the location

    If the result of the luck roll was non-negative, the roll for the next day would have a -1 modifier. This was cumulative in order to keep steadily progressing the plot of the Troubles (so even with constantly positive rolls no more than five days could go between events).

    21 March: first day in Istivin
    22 March: Luck roll +1 (no action)
    23 March: Luck roll -1, with further -1 from nonaction on previous day = -2 (raid). Determined to be the second fort northwest of Headwater. This is not named officially; in my game, I named it Fort Saddle.

    Post 239: Gathering Resources II
    23 March [Growfest 4], 571 - Istivin (party) / Foothills of the Jotens (Thokk - second sun)
    (Low 65, High 83, Celene is Full)
    [Thokk encounters (wilderness, mountains) at morning, night; none]
    Note: Humanoid Raid on Fort Saddle

    In the morning, Mathias and Aurora head for the Wizard’s Tower to transcribe more spells, starting with Phantom Steed.

    [Aurora attempts to copy scroll; Phantom Steed at 3rd level is DC13. Aurora Arcana 12; fail.]
    [Aurora uses 1 of the 2 points of Spell Inspiration she acquired at 7th level to reroll the copy attempt. Arcana 20; success.]
    [Phantom Steed Scroll purchased for 200gp]
    [Phantom Steed; Level 3 Illusion. 300gp in inks, 3 hours to copy]

    Having concluded the fifth spell on the party’s wish list, and with Verbane having told them that he has no copy of Earthbind, Aurora and Mathias briefly consider either moving to the next spell down on the list, or asking for the Earthbind spell from Lashton. As they discuss, Verbane arrives to deliver a heavy leaded-glass vial to Mathias. The price of this reminds Aurora that she still needs to have Mathias ask for ink enough for both Greater Invisibility and Private Sanctum. Once this is done, they go over the total costs again.

    [Leaded glass vial material component: 400gp]
    [Greater Invisibility; Level 4 Illusion. Purchased for 400gp]
    [Private Sanctum; Level 4 Abjuration. Purchased for 400gp]

    They agree that the total, from the day before (1101.2 gp) plus today (1200 gp) is 2301.2 gp.

    Mathias hands over first, 12 silver coins from Babshapka, then the four spell scrolls the party is trading. Aurora had easily given up the first three scrolls but had been torn about the globe of invulnerability. As a scroll for its own sake, and one she was not even guaranteed to be able to cast successfully considering its level, she had no reservations about using it to pay. But she could have transcribed it into her book so as to have a permanent copy. However, as a sixth level spell she would not be able to use it for another five levels! In the end she decided that using it to get more spells now was a better investment than holding on to it for an uncertain future.

    Mathias recounts the prices they were offered by the Countess, and Verbane agrees: Protection from Undead (180gp), Magic Missile (with 11 darts) (240gp), Protection from Petrification (320gp), Globe of Invulnerability (1280gp); the total is 2020gp.

    Thus Mathias agrees with Verbane that they still owe 280gp (= 2301.2 - 2021.2). Given that, perhaps it would be better to set aside for now any plans to get more spells. Aurora sighs heavily - she may also need to delay her plans to make a complete back-up of her entire spellbook.

    “Does something trouble you, Master Monk?” asks Verbane suavely upon hearing her sigh.

    “Not at all,” answers ‘Willow’. “I sigh with eager anticipation of the new heights of wizardry my companion Mathias will be able to achieve with these spells.” ‘Willow’ hands over three of Aurora’s personal gems to the wizard. Verbane reads the notes on the parchment stating that each one is worth 100gp.

    “Shall I provide you with the 20 gold lions in change?” he asks.

    “Not for the moment,” says ‘Willow’. “My companion is also considering whether we should proceed forth armed with more incense to summon his familiar.” Mathias nods, almost as if it had indeed been his thought.

    “Then please let me know when he has decided,” says Verbane, and withdraws.

    [Aurora transcribes Greater Invisibility. 4 hours]

    With seven hours of transcribing done for the day, Aurora calls a halt. She will need to return on the morrow to finish with Private Sanctum. Just as well, for that will give her some time to consider whether she wants to spend more of her personal funds on consumable spell materials or selecting a few spells to begin a back-up spell book. Aurora and Mathias return to the inn for the evening.

    While Aurora and Mathias are in the Keep, Willa and Babshapka take turns watching the gear and taking the group’s supplies to various craftspeople for servicing. It has been more than a month since the dwarves of Moradinath-Mor stitched and reinforced their leather backpacks, burnished their armor, sharpened their weapons, and mended their clothes. The normal wear and tear of use, travel, combat, and adventure have accumulated, and this is the first time since then that they have stayed in a city for longer than a day and been able to avail themselves of such services. Many of the craftspeople refuse at first, and all of them say that they are busy with work for the army, but with a combination of paying premium prices and dropping the name of the Countess, Babshapka and Willa are eventually able to get all of the repairs and replacements done that are needed, for a total of 15 gold lions from the party fund. As she reflects, however, Willa is surprised that any craftspeople were open at all. Today, the 4th of Growfest, is the height of the festival, and even with the Troubles and portents of war everyone that can celebrate is doing so. The needs of the army or the will of the Earl must be great indeed to keep the craftspeople open for business, and this has certainly worked to the favor of the party. Tonight the small moon Celene will be full - one of only four times during the year when it is so, as Celene marks the four seasonal festivals.

    In the mountains, Thokk wakes in the afternoon. He will give this lonely peak one more chance before heading deeper into the Jotens.

    [Thokk’s Survival roll to find a companion: 5 = Accident. Luck roll = -1]

    Thokk starts by walking straight away from his cave as far as he got the night previous, and then begins his broadening spiral again. It is nearing sunset when he is negotiating a tricky cliff edge, and he slips and falls. His head strikes a rock at some point - either in the fall or landing he does not know, for he is knocked unconscious. How long he is out he does not know either, but it is more than an hour at least for it is well after dark when he awakens. “Bahh!” says Thokk. If there had been real predators on this mountain worthy of his warband he would have been half-eaten by now.

    He is still feeling a bit dizzy, so he slowly and carefully returns to his cave and makes plans to travel at first light, moving somewhere with better predators.

    40 human rations unused by party. Thokk from 6 to 5.
    12 mule rations unused by the party.
    (10gp from party funds for 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.&nbsp;
    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
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    Tue Sep 27, 2022 9:24 am  
    Post 240: Gathering Resources III

    Record of the Troubles
    21 March: Party's first day in Istivin
    22 March:
    23 March: Humanoid Raid on Fort Saddle
    24 March: Luck roll 0

    [DM's Note on Sources]: For my description of Istivin and the buildings within I used "Istivin: City of Shadows" in Dungeon 117. The maps from this are freely available at and numbered locations from it are noted in the text in [blue].

    Post 240: Gathering Resources III
    24 March [Growfest 5], 571 - Istivin (party) / Foothills of the Jotens (Thokk - third sun)
    [Thokk encounters (wilderness, mountains) at morning, night; none]
    (low 67, high 84)

    Mathias and Aurora report to the Wizard’s Tower in the morning. When they speak to Verbane, they explain that in addition to the day’s transcribing work, Mathias would like to purchase incense enough for five castings of the Find Familiar spell (Willa having agreed the night before that this could come from party funds).

    When Verbane leaves, Aurora quickly gets to work transcribing Private Sanctum into her own book in her own notation, using up all of the ink purchased on the day previous and taking four hours.

    With the rest of the day before them, Aurora decides to begin work on a back-up spell book in case something happens to her main book. In the six hours remaining, she transcribes new versions of Greater Invisibility and Mirror Image into the new book. The book itself (requested from Verbane) is 50gp; the inks for the two spells are 60gp total. Since she still had 20gp in credit from the day before, Aurora has Mathias pay 90gp to Verbane from her personal treasure, in the form of a single 100gp gem and receiving 10 Sterish gold lions in change. (She paid with her own funds, since Willa did not agree to support her back-up book with party funds. Using Find familiar to scout for the party clearly benefits all of them, as do new spells for her - but creating a back-up book to protect herself from her own carelessness in losing her book is her own affair, Willa bluntly informed her.)

    Now that Aurora has experimented with her spell notation to the point of being able to transcribe the spells perfectly, she finds she does not need any “practice” sheets and uses considerably less ink. Given that, when Verbane returns at the end of the day with the incense, Mathias inquires with him about purchasing more ink for more spells in the back-up book. For the first time the man’s mask of politeness slips and he looks at them sourly. Her Magnitude, the Countess, he explains, has commanded him to help them prepare in any and every way for whatever opponents lie in wait for them. Attaining new spells to aid them in their future fights against the enemies of Sterich is a worthy use of their time in the city, and he has so far been happy to loan them his personal scriptorium and allow them to copy from his own personal spellbooks. But he cannot condone them sitting in Istivin making back-up spellbooks while the enemy is planning and executing moves. He can’t expect them to have known, but the night previous, there were humanoid raids around Fort Saddle in the southern Highlands. The news just reached the Countess today. The enemy is in motion, and if the party has by now taken advantage of all the assistance the Countess has to offer, they should be in motion as well.

    Mathias apologizes and asks whether Verbane would agree to store the back-up book he has already begun, and Verbane says he will. Mathias pledges that they will be departing the city on the morrow, for ‘Mittleberg’, as assigned by the Earl.

    All their equipment having been serviced and repaired the day prior, or being still out for such, Willa takes stock of their food stores in the morning. They currently have rations enough for eight days for the party members (assuming they don’t touch the ship rations), and six days for the mules (assuming they cannot forage). Willa makes sure that they will be able to set out with ten days each instead (she purchases 10 human rations and 8 mule rations for 5.4gp from party funds).

    Returning to the inn to drop off the supplies, Willa checks on the other party members. She had mentioned the night before that she wanted to lunch somewhere other than the Gryphon’s Arms, eat among the commoners, and see if she couldn’t pick up any rumors. Doro pledged to go with her, so Willa checks to see if she is ready. It is already past noon but the bard is still sleeping in her room. Willa tells the others she is going out for lunch and leaves.

    Asking among some soldiers of the garrison across the street, Willa is recommended the “Fiddling Viceroy” (22), an inn on the other side of the city, but easily accessed by taking the main cross-town street. The establishment sits just inside the western gate (the ‘Trade Gate’ leading to the Oyt Road)(3) and is more the type of inn the party would normally stay at, were they not currently so concerned about property and privacy. The common room of the Viceroy is large, and the lunch portions ample.

    Willa listens for a while to the talk of the inn, most of which centers around the situation in the Highlands and the (false?) news of attacks on travelers in the Stark Mounds (Perception 14). Things that she heard from the Countess are repeated - that the common folk attribute the raids to any number of creatures - orcs, goblins, bugbears, bugaboos, black knockers, red caps...the list is long and varied. Eigers are mentioned, but hardly dominate the conversation. Also repeated is that the raiders are in particular targeting animals, but seem to have no stomach for a fight, and as often melt away any time the Earl’s forces pursue them. “Bu’ why?” asks Willa, interjecting her voice into the mix without directing it at anyone or (hopefully) being specifically noted, “Why be they so intent on capturin’ food animules?”

    Her question quickly gets picked up and debated - most of those present think that the raiders are trying to starve out the good folk of Sterich - that though they durst not face them on the open field, the cowardly goblins and such mean to deprive the good folk of the March of food and thus conquer the lands through attrition. Everyone present is worried about what will happen when last year’s stores are used up, if the fighting prevents this year’s planting.

    Willa continues to listen and glance about the common room as she finishes her meal of fried trout and chips and slowly drains a frothy ale. She then returns across town to the Gryphon’s Arms, stopping at various craftspeople along the way to inquire as to their progress with the party’s gear, and retrieving and paying for things that are ready.

    Doro rouses in the late afternoon, asks Willa where they will be lunching, and acts surprised that she has already been.

    When Mathias and Aurora return in the evening, they report that the Countess wants them on the move. Willa says that they need to meet Thokk in Ebenenburg in four days, and the trip there will take at least two. They will leave early on the ‘morrow.

    “So,” asks Doro, “when you say early…”

    Firs’ light,” says Willa emphatically.

    “Huh. Okay. I guess it would be easier to just stay up until then,” concludes the bard.

    Willa wonders what Aurora has gotten them in to with the strange woman.

    Thokk, with little to show for his time in the cave on this mountain (just cowardly spiders and a concussion) had already decided to travel today, even before he wakes around noon. He fills his skins and sets out, climbing down off the mountain peak but this time to the east and in the shadow of the mountain as the afternoon wears on. He takes care not to descend too far or to stray too much to the south, for in the days previous he could clearly see a green valley with human settlements that way. Rather, he sticks to the rocky slopes and thick forests.

    Sunset finds him on a lone peak, and he pauses to look out, far to the northwest, where he can see all the Davish Valley below, and the river, and even the city of Istivin, some thirty miles distant. Perhaps he needs to get further from the city before he can find a companion. Thokk’s manly strength can never be weakened by the softening effects of civilization, but perhaps dumb beasts are not so resistant as he. He watches the sunset happily, the great disk red like the blood he and his new boon companion will soon spill.

    Once it is dark he continues his journey under the light of the moons, the smaller one full, the larger at a quarter and growing. Now he works his way up, along the ridgeline of the mountain, south and later west. Near dawn, after the moons have set, he finds a hiding spot on a boulder-strewn slope just below a high ridge. It is not a true cave, but if he gets under an overhanging rock he will be out of the direct sun and out of view for the day (Stealth 9). While he takes comfort in the apparent solitude, what he does not see is that on the other side of the ridge is a Sterish fort.

    50 human rations unused by party. Thokk from 5 to 4.
    20 mule rations unused by party.
    (10gp from party funds for 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.&nbsp;
    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
    Posts: 936
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    Tue Oct 04, 2022 9:24 am  
    Post 241: Istivin to Ebenenberg

    Record of the Troubles
    21 March: Party's first day in Istivin
    22 March
    23 March: Humanoid Raid on Fort Saddle
    24 March
    25 March: -3 -1 = -4. Sack. Determined at random to be the fort southwest of Velikar's Fort. This is not named officially; in my game I named it Fort Taelvu
    26 March: +1

    [DM's Note on Sources]: Anna Meyer's map at shows what I called Fort Taelvu and the town of Ebenenberg as unnamed ruins, with Ebenenberg on the Davish and on the trail leading to Bova. The Chapel of Time is described in Shadow of the Abyss in Dungeon 118.

    Attentive readers will note that even though no wandering encounters were rolled for these two days, the party still met many travelers on the road. All of these were planned encounters designed to help them realize the effects of the Troubles on the folk of Sterich and the stakes should the party fail or even delay in their mission.

    Post 241: Istivin to Ebenenberg
    25 March [Growfest 6], 571 - Istivin (party) / Foothills of the Jotens (Thokk - fourth sun)
    (Low 68, High 85, Heavy Rain 9am - 10am)
    [Thokk encounter checks (wilderness, mountains) at morning, night; none]
    [Party encounter checks (civilized, plains) at morning, evening, midnight; none]
    Sack of Fort Taelvu (happens at night)

    True to her word, when the rest of the party rouses before dawn, Doro is still awake, but yawning. As the party packs the mules and sets out their own gear to carry, she asks whether anyone can carry her things, as she is feeling tired. Willa snorts in disbelief and finds herself missing Tyrius and Larry. “Ye can carry yer own pack,” she says. Then, tempering her words so as to not immediately sour their relationship with the new woman, “Are ye can pack yer t’in’s on ther mules, so long as ye don’ slow ’em down.”

    The innkeep having been informed of their planned departure the night before, they break their fast on cold cuts of meat, pickled vegetables, and day-old bread and are still out the door by first light, to Willa’s satisfaction. The Brinks Gate (2) is not open yet, but the day watch is just arriving at the Javan Gate (1) when they reach it and are preparing for its opening.

    It is a league down the road to the banks of the river, with them passing the camps of soldiers and refugees for half of that distance. The camps have grown in size and number even in the few days the party has been in the city. At the river is a chain ferry across the ford to Istivin Crossing.

    The town on the other side of the Davish is small, unwalled, and full of warehouses, ore processing facilities, rough taverns, and bunkhouses for miners. The river banks are crowded with noisy mills. The town exists for the mineral wealth coming from the mines in the Jotens but has little to nothing in the way of amenities, the whole place being a far cry from the Gryphon’s Arms. The streets are already busy with traffic as the party walks through, although the drinking dens are not yet open.

    As the party converses with one another, Willa and Babshapka call the mage ‘Aurora’, which confuses Doro. “It’s Shefak,” Aurora insists, and although Babshapka backs off, Willa makes no effort to correct herself. Mathias simply nods.

    Once the party leaves Istivin Crossing, the trail turns southwest and parallels the river, but on the southern side. Aurora brings forth Buckbeak and sends him aloft to circle them for a better vantage before he returns to her shoulder. She asks the others to remind her to repeat this every mile of travel if she forgets.

    After several hours of march, around mid-morning, the gathering mists collect into a heavy rain that falls for, fortunately, only an hour, slowing the party, but not for long. At the height of the downpour the party is passed on the road by a company of light cavalry, also headed south. Willa tells the others to give way and herself leads the mules off the road. The soldiers neither slow nor turn when they pass. Although all the cavalrymen are human males, the company is led by an elven woman. Mathias finds her familiar; Willa believes that they previously saw her in the meeting of the Earl’s Council (Insight 19).

    Some two hours after the rain has ceased Willa calls a halt for their meal. Babshapka quickly cuts saplings to make supports for drying their cloaks and outer garments in the sun as they rest.

    Since they are eating dried trail rations, the stop is mostly for themselves to rest and recover from the pace of the march rather than as a break to prepare a meal. Aurora takes out her crystal ball and begins a ritual to attempt to scry on Thokk, hoping to confirm that their companion is well and will be able to meet them on schedule. Some ten minutes later, the image of Thokk appears in the ball (Wis save 9). He is lying on the ground unmoving, a large yellowing bruise on the side of his head. There are rocks all around him, but a bit of wan sunlight filters down through a heavy mist. At first it is not clear whether he is dead or unconscious or asleep, but after watching long enough Aurora sees him roll over and scratch himself, though his eyes remain closed (Investigation 15).

    “That crystal is soo pretty, Shefak,” Doro says, peering curiously over Aurora’s shoulder into the ball but unable to see the images, “What are you looking at?”

    “Thokk,” says Aurora, “our other party member. Apparently you just missed him the other night when you spoke to Willa. We are meeting him in Ebenenberg, but he is sleeping now.”

    “Well, at least he is sensible,” Doro yawns. “I’d be sleeping, too, if I had the chance.”

    Willa snorts as she worries at her jerky.

    Aurora concludes her scrying and spends half an hour eating. She then begins working on a ritual cast of phantom steed. Ten minutes later, a large chestnut mare slowly solidifies into being, complete with a bit, bridle, and saddle. Almost as an afterthought, saddlebags appear at the last instant, and then the horse begins pawing at the ground. “Look, Willa!” says Aurora with obvious pride. “It’s my phantom steed! That’s just one of the new spells we got from Verbane. Now I can move faster than any of you - I should probably scout for us.”

    Willa looks the palfrey over, noting that it has a sidesaddle, rather than one made for someone mounted astride. Although Aurora now wears bartered hose from a peasant woman instead of her usual wizard’s robes, and could actually ride astride if she wanted, apparently her only experience with riding (as the pampered granddaughter of a wealthy merchant) has been in a lady’s dress and she has conjured her steed accordingly.

    “No,” says Babshapka definitively. He has just returned from filling the party’s waterskins in the river. He emphasizes his point by tossing the heavy skins to the ground at Aurora's feet. “No, you are not scouting.”

    “But the magic horse is super cool,” says Doro supportively.

    Babshapka glances at the bard dismissively while still addressing Aurora. “You may not scout, but if you want to ride the false horse with Doro, that is acceptable provided you stay within bowshot.”

    Aurora has already grabbed one of the two pommels and pulled herself onto the horse. She looks like she is trying to begin a spell, but is awkwardly shifting the reins from one hand to the other as she makes arcane gestures.

    “Hey, yeah…” says Aurora. “I’m trying to figure out how I can recast the ritual while still on the horse so as to have it move nonstop, but there are some complicated somatic gestures that I would need to do with my hands. If Doro pilots the horse and I sit behind her, though, I could probably cast it while mounted.”

    “Pilots?!” interjects Willa, “It nay be a ship, woman!” Aurora ignores her.

    “Alright,” says Doro. “But if you are already on the horse, why would you need to cast it again?”

    “Well, it lasts for just an hour, and if I want to ritual cast it...uh, through my monkly would take ten minutes. Normally that would mean I had to dismount and lose ten minutes of travel every seventy minutes. But if I could ride it for fifty minutes and then stay on for the last ten minutes even while I summoned the next one, I would not have to lose ten minutes and it would make it that much faster.”

    “I’m not a ‘monk’,” says Babshapka skeptically, “but you're wanting to do a ritual cast without moving yourself, and you want the new mount to appear exactly under you just as the old mount disappears?”

    “I can try,” says Aurora defensively.

    The ranger shrugs. “Have at it.”

    Aurora guides the steed to beside Doro, and it responds eagerly to her. She hands the reins to the bard, then slides herself up and over the saddle and onto the back of the steed. The bard grabs the lower (leaping head) pommel and pulls herself up agilely (she has Acrobatics +6), but as she settles herself in the saddle, both it and the horse under it disperse like smoke and the two women tumble to the ground.

    “Merciful Sea Cow preserve us,” mutters Willa disgustedly, “T'is be embarrassin’ an’ ye twain be makin’ us all look like ami-tures.”

    Aurora stands up defiantly and brushes the dirt off her hose. “Willa,” she says indignantly, “this is a new spell that I haven’t cast before. There is a natural learning process. It is important that we experiment now, and learn the parameters of the spell, so that when I cast it in combat it is clear how it operates.”

    That is actually sensible, so Willa holds her tongue for the moment.

    “Now,” says Aurora, as if to herself but overly loud, “why was the steed dispelled? I don’t think it was the weight limit.”

    “I don’t weigh that much,” agrees Doro, "especially without my pack."

    Aurora opens her backpack and takes out her spellbook.

    “Ye get five minutes while I be packin’ ther mules,” warns Willa, “an t’en we be off, wit’ ye are nay.”

    Aurora traces the arcane symbols of the spell and mumbles to herself as she translates the ideas. “You or a person you choose…” she says. “Hmm. And it’s an illusion spell. I wonder if it is the stress from maintaining its tactile appearance simultaneously to two different minds...We need to try putting a second person on it when one of them is asleep or unconscious and see if it holds better.”

    “We be off,” says Willa. She and Mathias move back onto the trail, she with one mule in hand and the second tied behind the first.

    Doro looks back and forth between the stationary Aurora and those who are leaving her behind. “I’m sure you’ll catch up,” she says encouragingly, then starts off down the road after the others. Reaching Mathias’ side, she says “We’ve been marching all day already, aren’t you guys tired?”

    Babshapka, left alone with Aurora, puts an arrow to his bowstring and scans in a complete circle around them. “Whenever you’re ready, enchantress.”

    “Monk,” insists Aurora distractedly, but she closes her book and puts it away, then begins another ritual casting of the steed. Babshapka notes several foot shuffles in the spell that seem like they would be hard to perform from horseback. Some eleven minutes later the chestnut palfrey is back, this time with a harness behind the sidesaddle to which Aurora affixes her backpack with satisfaction. “Take that, Willa,” she says as she mounts, then, to Babshapka, “Do try to keep up!”

    Aurora flicks the reins and the steed takes off at a quick canter. Babshapka will need to run. He puts the arrow back in his quiver and starts after her, grateful that the others have only an eleven-minute lead. It was supposed to get easier to protect her as she got more powerful, not harder, he thinks bitterly.

    Aurora quickly catches up to the main group, and then slows to a walk next to Willa. She begins to leisurely blather on, listing all of the advantages of the new spell and knowing that Willa is largely unable to respond without losing her breath at the brisk walking pace. Finally, when she can stand it no longer, Willa reaches up and slaps the mare’s flank hard, causing it to dissipate and Aurora and her backpack to tumble to the ground again. By then Babshapka has caught up as well, and he thanks Rillifane he was present to see it.

    The afternoon’s march continues along the road, now taking them into rough country further from the river itself but remaining nonetheless in the broad valley. In the mid-afternoon, they pass a seldom-traveled dirt turnoff, marked by a simple rock cairn. Willa has looked at maps of Sterich but doesn’t recall any population centers that way; Doro remarks that it is the trail to the “Chapel of Time” (History 15). The Chapel, says Doro, appears as if new and just built every day at sunrise. As the day progresses, the chapel falls into ruin - the roof collapsing, metal doors rusting, beautiful gardens becoming overgrown. By sundown the walls and pillars have completely collapsed, and overnight the very stones crumble into dust. And yet as the sun rises the next day, the Chapel appears again, as fresh and new as the day it was built. She’s never seen it, to be sure, but there are plenty of tales about it to be heard in Istivin.

    Miles beyond the turnoff, as the sun sinks toward the high western mountains, a group appears on the road before them, approaching. Buckbeak reports that there are several humans and a few beasts. As they get closer, the party can see that there are five human peasants driving three thin-looking cows. The closer they get, the worse they look - the coats of the cows are covered in burrs, and the people are likewise caked in grime and soot, their clothes in tatters. Willa asks Mathias to gather intelligence.

    The people seem grateful for the chance to stop, but look driven and desperate nonetheless. They ask how far it is to Istivin and are greatly relieved to hear that the party left the city in the morning. Their village, they say, was on the other side of the river from Ebenenburg, and they remained there even after the larger town was sacked, hoping the raiders would not return. But when the humanoids came back the next week, scouts of the Earl gave them just enough notice to turn all of their animals loose and hide in the deep brush themselves. Many were slain and their village was burned, but after the raiders fled at the appearance of the Earl’s cavalry, they were able to return to the charred remains of their homes. They have spent the past weeks roaming the countryside and have thus far managed to recover these three cows. Now they are tired and hungry, having lived mostly on fresh milk and wild onions for the last week, and are headed for Istivin and the mercy of the court. They are further relieved when Mathias tells them that the Earl has extensive refugee camps awaiting them.

    Mathias asks them about what the raiders who burned their village were like. Although they had just a moment ago said that they had fled before the raiders arrived, they now quite confidently relate that it was a large group of bugbears, bugaboos, nasties, and grimlocks. They appear quite sure of themselves, but Mathias doesn’t set much stock in the details of their account (Insight 17).

    Aurora is looking them over for the duration of the conversation - several are limping and have blistered feet, and they all are covered with cuts and scratches from passing through brush, but none have any obvious war wounds. At least two have breeches soiled from dysentery.

    Willa offers them food and drink, which they take without hesitation. After eating and drinking eagerly, they offer the blessings of Pelor and all the Old Gods upon the party. “We are all of us here to serve and be of service,” says Mathias in response.

    Babshapka nods and hides his scowl at the thirst of the peasants. Food the party has plenty of - but by the time they see the travelers off, they are near out of water. With Larry gone and now absent Thokk, it will fall to Babshapka to find a spring for their evening camp, as they are easily five miles from the river at this point.

    All the while the peasants ate and drank, Doro played a song of rest on the curious stringed instrument she calls her shamisen. By the time she finishes, both the peasants and their cows appear better off. There is perhaps but an hour left of march by the time the peasants move off, and Willa pushes the party hard to make up for lost time. Aurora began her new ritual as soon as the travelers turned their backs to her, and by the time they were out of sight she already had her phantom steed, so for this final hour she exhorts the others to keep up with Willa’s demanding pace as she rides comfortably along.

    Willa guides the others in setting up camp while Babshapka goes in search of water. He returns after dark with empty skins (Survival with disadvantage (not favored terrain), 9). The high, rocky ground they are in has no springs, he says, but the trail ahead of them returns to the river, so they will have a chance to fill their skins before midday on the morrow - until then they will just have to console themselves with the observation that their generosity surely helped the peasants they met.

    Willa sets the watch schedule as Aurora and Doro from 9pm to 11pm, herself and Mathias from 11pm to 1am, and then Babshapka until 5am. With three humans in the group of five, she frets about how to have one person on each shift with darkvision, until Mathias reminds her that he can see in the dark. For her own part, Doro says she is exhausted and wonders why she has the first watch and has to stay up instead of going to sleep. Willa replies that she doesn’t doubt that Doro is exhausted from having stayed up all the night before, but if she sleeps now is there any chance she would wake up for a pre-dawn watch? The bard admits that there isn’t, and begrudgingly sits the first watch.

    Once Willa has turned in, Aurora tells a heavy-lidded Doro to stay alert and she takes out her crystal ball, again checking on Thokk (Wis save 17; fails). Although he is in the dark, apparently Aurora’s darkvision can work through the ball. She sees him happily skinning some sort of animal but cannot see much of the surroundings. She resolves to prepare her sending spell on the next day to contact him, although by the morning she has forgotten.

    Meanwhile, on top of the mountain, Thokk wakes in the afternoon. He likes the look of the land, and so decides to spend the day and night hunting for a companion (Survival 15). Although he does not find one, he does succeed in capturing a mountain goat and he dresses it contentedly. He reluctantly continues to eat the trail rations himself, but cuts the goat into portions to hang from the trees here and there, hoping to lure in something worth taming. (12 pounds of meat; each six pounds will give a +1 to his Survival roll the next day to look for a companion).

    50 human rations to 40 (including those fed to refugees). Thokk from 4 to 3.
    20 mule rations to 19 (abundant forage)

    26 March [Growfest 7] - Trail to Mittleberg (party) / Foothills of Jotens (Thokk - fifth sun)
    (Low 68, High 86)
    [Thokk encounter checks (wilderness, mountains) at morning, night; none]
    [Party encounter checks (civilized, plains) at morning, evening, midnight; none]

    Babshapka is on watch at first light. As the others rouse and the sky turns from royal blue to robin's egg, a plume of black smoke becomes increasingly apparent. It is far off, in the mountains some fifteen or twenty miles distant from them, and of unknown source - but it is something large burning in a small area to the southeast.

    As the others awaken he shows it to them. Willa looks at the position with respect to the river valley and mountains and tries to recall the maps she saw (History 10). She says that might be a fort - Fort Taelvu or Velikar’s Fort, one or the other. If there was an attack there, she considers, that would put the forces of the enemy two days' journey from Istivin, although on the other side of the river.

    “Should we warn the Countess?” asks Aurora.

    “Aye,” says Willa, “tha’s wha’ yer magic be for, ‘monk’.”

    “What magic?”

    “Well, yer fancy ball, fer one.”

    “Yes, well, unfortunately the scrying produced by the crystal ball is one-way. That is, I can see and hear, but not contact the person.”

    “Alright, wha’ aboot ther spell ye used ter send a message ter yer mentor?”

    Sending? Yes, that’s exactly what it’s for - only I don’t have it prepared right now. I can prepare it for tomorrow!”

    Willa shakes her head. “Termorrer might be too late.”

    Aurora wracks her brain, then begins to explain a complicated plan that involves putting jade dust on some object, enchanting it with a magic mouth, and sending it to Istivin with the next person who passes them going north, and telling them to tell the Countess to speak the codeword (cashews) that she gave them…

    Willa tells her to stow it. If the party can see the smoke at this distance, it will be visible in Istivin as well, and someone will bring news to the Earl about it without having to use jade dust and code words.

    “Well, should we go there ourselves?” asks Aurora. “To the smoke, I mean. We are supposed to be defending this land against the raiders and all. What if there are malign forces we could defeat?”

    At this Willa actually stops to consider. It would be at least two days there and two days back by the road, and then what if they miss Thokk in Ebenenburg? Or they could go straight there off-road - but who knows how passable the mountain is?

    “Nay,” she finally concludes. “Wha’ we ar serposed ter be doin’ is ter be meetin’ ther contact o’ ther Countess - t’is ‘Griffage’ feller - an’ we be findin’ ‘im south ter Mittleberg, nay east ter ther mountains. We spied hunnerds o’ royal troops in Istivin. If ther Earl cannae stop t’at a’ ther river, whatever it be, thar be little an’ less we can do.”

    Aurora nods. A bit later, she is actually relieved as she realizes that her sending spell reveals the identity of the sender - and how would the Countess react to a message from ‘Aurora, the Enchantress’ rather than ‘Willow, the Monk’? All the same, this is unlikely to be the last bit of useful intelligence they find on their journey, and the farther they go from Istivin, the more valuable rapid knowledge might be to the Countess. Perhaps she should prepare sending on the morrow, rather than...Animate Dead?

    Breakfast is a quick affair - the dried fruit and dried meats have little appeal when they have had no water since the afternoon before. They eat quickly, resolve to simply tell the first people they pass going north about the smoke, and set out. Doro, once pried out of her sleeping roll, seems better for having had a full night’s rest, and does not even ask anyone to heft her backpack.

    They are still going through dry, rugged highlands, but it is clear that the road is angling ever closer to the river, so Willa keeps Babshapka with the party for now. She will send him out whenever it appears they have reached the closest point to the flowing water and are starting to move away again.

    By mid-morning they have left most of the rocks behind and the road is passing through green downs, the river at a tantalizing mile to their west. Marching rapidly up the trail toward them is a company of twenty-some halberdiers, accompanied by a drummer sounding out a fast forced march and a man on horseback as well. Buckbeak is sent aloft but does not note any other forces - they are not being chased.

    As the group approaches, the party yields the trail but Willa asks Mathias to speak to the officer. As the men march past they can be seen to be sweating profusely and many look weary but resolute. “I say…” begins Mathias, but the man on horseback ignores him and yells exhortations to his men (Mathias Persuasion 8 ). Willa catches a glimpse of the rank bars on the officer’s shoulder and calls out “Captain!” She salutes him as he passes (Willa Persuasion 15)

    The man pulls his horse up for an instant, draws his cavalry sabre, and points it at the plume of smoke as his explanation, then wordlessly spurs his mounts forward.

    Less than an hour after the infantry company has passed, the trail runs down to near the river’s edge itself. Willa allows a pause long enough for them to fill the water skins, drink deeply, and fill them again, before she insists on continuing their march.

    The trail now moves away from the river, and they are some four miles along it before Willa calls for their mid-day rest and lunch. When anyone broaches the subject of their pace, she just says they should be grateful they are not a halberdier and she their captain.

    The smoke continues all morning, but goes from black to gray, and from a thick plume to a thin column. Willa and Mathias study it, but learn little more of its significance (History 1 and 6, respectively).

    All through the afternoon they continue along the trail, parallel to the river but rising into the hills above it. They do not see any other living things besides birds and insects. They pass a number of small villages, but all of them are deserted, and several have been burned. No small folk or animals are about.

    For the last mile or two of travel in the afternoon they can see the burned ruins of Ebenenberg before them, on the other side of the river. A hard march might get them there today, but they would arrive tired and after dark, and Willa judges that neither prudent nor necessary. The western sky is red when they halt at a crossroads. The trail they are on continues south along the west side of the river, presumably to Mittleberg, but makes a Y with a third trail, this one leading west and presumably down to the river and Ebenenberg. In the grass off to the side of the crossroads is a gibbet, which is empty, but in the center of the crossroads are set several stakes, each with the impaled and rotting head of an orc.

    This is as far as Willa had planned on coming, but ‘twould be ill luck indeed to camp at such a place. She asks Babshapka to scout ahead and find them a spot off the road where the mules can be hidden in the brush. The elf trots off and they follow slowly. A half an hour later he emerges from a dense copse, then shows them how to get the mules in the long way ‘round. It seems very unlikely they could be spotted from the road (Babshapka Stealth 27).

    Given the orc heads, the burned town, and the burned or deserted villages, all of them are in favor of a little extra security in their camp tonight. Doro offers to make for them a tiny hut and they readily agree. She draws a circle in the dirt with the heel of her boot, then stands in the center strumming her samisen and chanting softly. Slowly a transparent dome extends from the circle on the ground to a point a few feet above her head, and then tinges a lime green. She beckons all of them in, and has them bring the mules in as well as she continues to sing (total of seven medium-sized creatures inside). As she finishes the spell, the dome becomes more and more solid. When she hits the last note it is done.

    Doro explains that since they were inside the circle at the time of casting, they all, including the mules, can come and go freely through the dome, but it will ward against any other creatures. From outside it appears solid, and a deep forest green that blends in with the trees of the copse. It will last eight hours or so. However, she says, if she leaves it, it will instantly vanish. “So I guess you have the first watch by yourself, Shefak,” she smiles.

    While the mules technically fit inside the dome, it is much smaller than the pavilion tent and none of the party are keen on being stepped or shat on during the night, so the pack animals are led out and tethered to trees. They graze contentedly. Willa is equally content that they could be brought inside if needed, such as during an attack.

    Thokk wakes in the afternoon. He notes ambivalently the dark plume of smoke rising through the mists to the southwest. On the one hand, he is still eager to get to the sacking of towns that the fat man with the gold chain promised them in the Rosy Mounds. On the other hand, he does want some good animal companions to accompany him in his sacking and keep him warm during sleeps. Well, he has a schedule - he will meet the party in seven suns, whether he has found a companion or not, and then the sacking can start. That smoke better not be from the party! Thokk would be wroth indeed if his warband began sacking without him! How many suns has it been? He is not sure, largely since he does not know how many days he lay unconscious at the bottom of the cliff after he fell. Oh, well. It will all work out.

    Thokk goes to check the places he has hung his goat meat and see if anything has been attracted. (Survival 10 + 2 = 12). He doesn’t find any predators, but he kills another goat and prepares more hanging meat pieces.

    40 human rations to 35. Thokk from 3 to 2.
    19 mule rations to 18 (abundant forage)
    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.&nbsp;
    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
    Posts: 936
    From: Sky Island, So Cal

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    Tue Oct 11, 2022 9:31 am  
    Post 242: Ebenenberg

    Record of the Troubles
    21 March: Party's first day in Istivin
    22 March
    23 March: Humanoid Raid on Fort Saddle
    24 March
    25 March: Sack of Fort Taelvu. Also, party would be found by Griffage on a +4 Luck roll (0).
    26 March: +1. Also, party would be found by Griffage on a +3 Luck roll (-3).
    27 March: 0 -1 = -1. Raid. Given that the party rolled a wandering encounter, I decided to combine these two events and have the raid be on their current location of Ebenenberg. Also, the party would be found by Griffage on a +2 Luck roll (1).

    [DM's Note on Sources]: Anna Meyer's map at shows what I called Ebenenberg as an unnamed ruin on the Davish but on the trail leading to Bova.

    Both the old man and woman, and the soldiers guarding the bridge, were planned encounters designed to help the party realize the effects of the Troubles on the folk of Sterich and the stakes should the party fail or even delay in their mission. I did roll a wandering encounter at midnight for the party, and that will be the subject of the next post.

    Post 242: Ebenenberg
    27 March [Planting 1] - Near Ebenenberg (party) / Foothills of Jotens (Thokk - sixth sun)
    (Low 70, High 89)
    [Thokk encounter checks (wilderness, mountains) at morning, night; none]
    [Party encounter checks (patrolled, plains) at morning, evening, midnight - Troubles]

    As the party begins to rouse in the morning, Babshapka ends his watch and makes a circuit of their campsite but at a distance. He does not find any tracks besides their own (Survival 24). The plume of smoke from the mountains (now to their northeast) has either ended or is too faint to see from this distance. Indeed, of the mountains near Istivin, only the peaks are visible as there is a closer, lower range now lying hard on them some six miles from the river or so. Babshapka does smell death and carrion and soot on the air, but these he judges to be old smells coming from the burned city across the river.

    The party is soon up and on the move, and in just thirty minutes they are approaching a pair of figures seated alongside the road, in the shade. The figures are human-sized, but covered in heavy cloaks and Buckbeak cannot make out many features (Perception 12). His longer-range check for any hosts or hidden humanoids within a quarter mile has come up negative.

    Babshapka takes out his longbow and slips into the brush, paralleling the party as they advance along the road. To either side of the road are occasional disarticulated corpses of livestock and humanoids, all long-dead, pulled apart by scavengers and rotting in the strong sun. Babshapka lets the party worry about the figures in plain sight as he scans the brush for hidden foes (Perception 20).

    At a hundred feet the party can see that one of the figures in the shade has long white hair and the other is tracking the party with its gaze. At forty feet they are recognized as human; a wizened and ancient man and woman. Their cloaks are heavy but tattered. The man has but light sandals, the woman’s feet are wrapped in rags stained with dried blood. A pitchfork, all the wooden tines but one now broken off, lies in the grass near the man. The party hails them, but their reply is weak and listless.

    Willa tells the others to watch and cover her and she moves forward to stand over the pair. The man raises his hands feebly, cupped to her, and tries to speak but his voice is too hoarse to follow. The woman’s eyes are cloudy and she follows Willa by cocking her head rather than staring.

    Willa tosses the man a water skin but he lets it fall to the ground rather than catch it. She steps back from the pair. Using his hands, the man pushes himself toward it on raw knuckles. Willa glimpses his bare leg under his long tunic - it is grossly swollen and a deep purple color. He drinks much from the skin, but slowly, then pushes himself to the woman and hands the flask to her. While she drinks, he is wracked with deep pleuritic coughs.

    Convinced that they are no threat, Willa steps forward again and motions for the party to join her, although Babshapka remains in the woods. She kneels and opens her backpack, looking for rations. Aurora copies her, but says loudly, “I could have sworn I had some cashews in my pack somewhere,” thinking that perhaps these are disguised agents of the Countess.

    “Cashews?” coughs the old man. “I had those once at a fair, back when I had teeth.”

    The party speaks to the couple. They are Thomas the Weaver and his wife Hilda, former residents of Ebenenberg. They haven’t seen their children or grandchildren since the attack a month ago. Hilda is infirm anyway, and Thomas took a goblin blade in the calf early in the raid. They hid in the city, escaped across the river while the city was burning, and hid again. Since then they have mostly been here along the road. Passing soldiers have kept them supplied with food and water, at least enough to survive, but no one has had the time to spare to evacuate them, and neither of them can walk unaided. They are waiting, they say, “for Pelor or Nerull, whomever comes first” (that is, waiting for either a beneficent miracle or the release of death).

    Willa whistles for Babshapka, and when he appears she asks him to heal the man’s leg. Aurora mutters, “We can heal them and feed them, but there is a war on. How many more like them are we going to pass on our way into the city?”

    Willa shrugs and asks Babshapka again. The man’s reference to the gods has reminded her that sometimes the gods appear as strangers in need of aid to test the faith of mortals.

    Babshapka looks the man over, grimacing at the leg even as the man winces and gasps in pain when he handles it lightly. He checks the woman as well, who is covered in cuts and scratches from hiding in the brush but has no serious wounds. Babshapka casts lesser restoration. Almost immediately the purple color fades and the man sighs as the leg slowly resumes its normal size. He takes his pitchfork to support himself and climbs to his feet, tries a few faltering steps, and then bends to attempt to help his wife up.

    “No, you should eat first,” says Aurora. “Take about ten minutes.” She begins casting her ritual of Phantom Steed as he sits back down and they both work on the softer portions of the trail rations, mostly the cheese and dried fruits. Given her earlier words, it is not clear whether Aurora has had a change of heart or simply wants to practice with her new spell in a way that Willa won't object to.

    When the steed is fully formed, the party helps the woman onto it, and recommends that the man walk as quickly as he can back to the crossroads, and then try to work his way north. The steed, Aurora tells him, will last an hour, but should fade gradually in the last minute, giving him warning to help his wife dismount. She is pleased that he does not immediately reject her aid as being black magic, the way the superstitious small folk of Keoland would.

    “North?” he says. “I meant to make south for Mittleberg, if that is still standing.”

    The party advises him that they will be safer the closer they are to Istivin. Aurora has thoughtfully provided saddle bags on the steed and Willa puts five rations of the kind they are most likely to be able to eat inside. She wishes them luck. “Blessings on you,” both the old people say, “the blessings of Pelor on you,” although it is not clear whether the dazed old woman really knows what is going on or is just repeating the words of her husband.

    The party continues along the road, now passing a number of abandoned villages, closer and closer together as they near the river. The road is lined with dead animals and dead orcs - but is curiously missing dead villagers. Indeed, no humans, living or dead, are to be seen. Babshapka says that the tracks on the road and off are all too muddled and too old to suggest whether there are still people about or what might have happened to them (Survival 6). In the last village before the river, which is completely burned except for a stone grain silo, they find a long trench, dug and then filled in. Aurora suggests that it may be a mass grave - the location of all the missing human bodies, perhaps.

    Finally they approach the great stone bridge which crosses the Davish, the majority of Ebenenberg lying on the far side. The bridge appears intact, as do many of the stone mills that line the far banks of the river. The vast majority of the city, however, nearly all of the buildings, have been burned to the ground, leaving only blackened and charred timbers. Babshapka says that there are figures moving on the bridge (Perception 15).

    Buckbeak circles the bridge from above. He returns to report that indeed there are numerous two-legs and four-legs, at both ends of the bridge and walking across it as well (Perception 14). Many of them have shiny skins (armor).

    The party continues to approach, and Babshapka moves off to the side. There is no longer any brush to hide in, but plenty of rubble and burned buildings to provide him cover (Mask of the wild; Stealth 13).

    Stone rubble has been assembled and arranged into a low wall with a narrow gap at the end of the bridge. The closer the party approaches, the more men arrive to line the wall, crossbows loaded and pointed at them. The various flags and standards behind them each have some variation of the Sterich lion. Willa asks Mathias to go forward and speak with a commanding officer.

    Mathias, hands empty and open before him, approaches ahead of the party until he is told to halt and explain himself. He courteously describes the party as a group of outlanders who have been commissioned by the Earl himself to help in the Troubles, and assigned to the area around Mittleberg (Persuasion 24).

    The commanding officer invites Mathias and the rest of the party to approach. He explains that long after the town was razed, these soldiers were assigned to control the bridge. The Davish is swift and strong, and there are few places an enemy host could cross, making this a key defensive point even if the city has been destroyed. Their holding the bridge protects all of Sterich on the north side of the river.

    The officer also explains that guarding a bridge in what is now the middle of nowhere is boring work, and that boredom is bad for discipline. He has been having his men search the city and the outlying villages, finding dead Sterishmen and women, and digging graves on the spot. They have not bothered to inter the beasts or humanoids, leaving them to the crows and rot. He has had his men go as far to the east as he dares without weakening the contingent guarding the bridge.

    Aurora mentions the smoke they saw near the capital, and the officer confirms that there are three forts in the mountains above the city, there more to guard the mines than the city itself but it is still worrisome if one has fallen, as it would imply a great host of enemies near the capital. He has not received any news of this, but the dispatches he does receive are limited to the theatre around Mittleberg, and even those are few and far between.

    Mathias says that the party will be spending a few days in the ruined city before moving further south, and asks if they can’t stay with or near the soldiers. The officer replies that absent a specific order for him to quarter the party, he cannot have them in his encampment for security reasons, and his forces are currently using all the intact stone buildings along the river. While most of the town is burned, there are some stone buildings away from the river that remain standing. In particular he knows of at least one mill that lies on the northwest side of the city, fed by a sluiceway rather than the river itself, and the party is welcome to use that. There are also a number of stone temples which remain as shells in the center of the town, but he believes that all of these have had their roofs burned and collapsed, and they would be rather large to try to defend besides, at least with a party of only five.

    The party and their mules cross the river, and before noon they arrive at the abandoned mill the officer suggested. The building is intact, with even its wooden doors, shutters, and shingle roof unburned, likely owing to the wide verge between it and the surrounding wooden houses which have been completely consumed (flour mills being rather noisy and having a distressing tendency to explode, it had rather more space between it and its neighbors than most buildings in the city). Inside is a bit of disorder and all the full flour sacks have been looted or requisitioned, but there are plenty of empty sacks and it is otherwise clean. There is ample space inside for the party and their mules, and a half-floor loft provides windows with a vantage.

    Once the party is comfortably camped in the mill, Mathias and Babshapka set out to explore while Aurora casts a sending to Thokk.

    Thokk, we are now in Ebenenberg. We will wait here for you. We are just across the river in the burned town. See you soon.

    Almost immediately she receives the reply:

    Ro-ra, how you in Thokk’s head? Thokk say massacre town, not Ebeberg! Meet east side town sun up seven day. You wake Thokk - need rest…

    It does not appear that Thokk has finished his thought, but he has run up against the 25-word limit of the spell without realizing it.

    Wakened early by Aurora, Thokk sullenly begins his day at noon. He first checks his meat hangings, and finds that about a quarter of them have been scavenged by things clever enough to climb or strong enough to jump (Luck roll -1), but three-quarters remain. (+3 to survival roll).

    He plans to spend all the next day moving between the meat hangings and otherwise looking for predators, but he almost immediately spots a young, unmated falcon in a tree. (Survival 19+3 = 22; Predator. d% = 55; Common. D3 = 2; Falcon.) He attempts to approach it (Survival 13; may track for 2 hours. D10 = 1; initial contact at noon) but it starts and flies off. He watches it fly and follows it until it disappears among the trees.

    Searching the forest, at 2pm he spies it again, and again attempts to approach (Survival 13; may track for 2 more hours). Again it escapes him and again he tries to track it down.

    At 4pm he finds it again and attempts to approach. (Survival 9; may track for 6 more hours). It starts and flies a long way off before descending below the trees.

    Mathias and Babshapka spend the afternoon moving through the empty streets and occasionally climbing over the smoldering rubble of the town. They find lots of recent graves, lots of burned and looted buildings, and numerous humanoid corpses for possible animation by Aurora, but little of interest and no recent tracks besides those of the soldiers (Babshapka Survival 11).

    Aurora, Willa, and Doro set up camp in the abandoned mill, sweeping the floor a bit, unpacking the mules, and laying out bedrolls. The windows all have wooden shutters that can be latched from the inside but no panes. The doors are of stout wood but cannot be locked or barred - a simple leather strap can be looped over a peg on the inside to secure them, but any tug from the outside strong enough to break the leather will be able to force them. The water-wheel is still turning, pushed by the current in the sluiceway, and the motion is being translated to the spinning millstone, though anything like grain once between the stones has long since been ground away. Aurora reckons that the constant sound of gears and stone-on-stone will hinder the ability of anyone on watch to hear someone’s approach, so she sets about studying the gearing mechanism (Investigation 11). She goes slowly and carefully, and eventually finds the levers that allow her to disengage the millstone without braking, or breaking, the waterwheel or gearing. The inside of the mill then becomes much more quiet, although the creaking of the wooden wheel outside is still audible.

    At 2pm Aurora renews her mage armor spell (typically cast at 6am, 2pm, 10pm) and offers it to Doro, as she has been doing since the party left Istivin (Aurora at 1/3/2/1). With this done, she begins her afternoon mediations, a practice she normally does when the party is taking their mid-day rest while marching (arcane recovery; after this she is at 4/3/2/1).

    Eventually Mathias and Babshapka return and report on the long-abandoned status of the town.

    As the dusk deepens in the evening, Willa orders the shutters all closed except for two watch windows, one on the ground floor and one in the loft, facing opposite directions. She lights her lantern and sets it on the table, but turns the wick way down. It should give just enough light to keep the interior of the mill dimly illuminated, without making bright patches to be seen against the city ruins at night. Both moons are near full, so as they rise even those without darkvision can see well enough outside.

    After dinner:
    35 human rations to 25 (five eaten by party and five given to the elderly refugees).
    Thokk from 2 rations to 1 (but still has 18 pounds of fresh meat hung).
    18 mule rations to 17 (abundant forage)

    Willa sees no reason to vary the watch schedule from what they have been using on the road; Aurora and Doro from 9pm to 11pm, herself and Mathias from 11pm to 1am, and then Babshapka until 5am.

    Before the others head off to bed, Aurora casts a second sending to Thokk.

    Thokk, we are in the massacre town. We will wait here for you. Bring food if you can find any; we are getting low.

    Immediately the reply comes.
    Ro-ra, stop interrupting Thokk! Thokk tracking stupid bird and need to concentrate! Good you now in massacre town. Don’t starve before Thokk get there. Thokk… Again, the reply is cut short to 25 words although Thokk is not done. (Aurora at 4/3/1/1).

    Aurora asks Babshapka how Thokk might go about “tracking a bird” but the wood elf shrugs and shakes his head. She and Doro take the first watch.

    Thokk has been walking after the last sighting of the falcon for several hours when Aurora’s second sending comes. Thokk, we are in massacre town. Will wait here for you. Bring food if you find it. Why does she keep bothering him? He told both Willa and her what to do!

    Ro-ra, stop interrupting Thokk! Thokk tracking stupid bird and need to concentrate! Good you now in massacre town. Don’t starve before Thokk get there. Thokk find you as soon as stupid bird is companion. Thokk hunt on way to you, bring plenty goat meat.”

    It takes him until after dark, but he finally catches up to the falcon again at 10pm. He has the advantage now, for he has darkvision while it does not. He is finally able to get close enough to it to cast his speak with animals before it notes his presence.

    “Stupid bird!” he begins. “Thokk can chase you all night! Thokk is not tired.” The bird scans the dark, trying to determine the origin of the strangely intelligible voice. “Or stupid bird can become a companion animal to Thokk. Thokk will protect you and feed you. You will get choice parts of kills like liver and eyes. You will no longer be a stupid wild bird but become a proud and fearsome war bird.” (Thokk Persuasion 11)

    The bird considers his offer. It is tired, hungry, and more than a little spooked by the big green man that can track it down and speak to it. (Insight 5).

    “We can try,” it says. “My name is Phreeeee,” it screeches.

    Thokk approaches the bird and tells it to light on his shoulder - he knows the thing will not like flying at night. Once it is secure, he turns and starts back toward his camp.

    Falcon: CR0. 10xp. Thokk from 23,595 to 23,605xp
    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.&nbsp;
    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
    Posts: 936
    From: Sky Island, So Cal

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    Tue Oct 18, 2022 9:40 am  
    Post 243: Midnight Ambush

    Record of the Troubles
    21 March: Party's first day in Istivin
    22 March
    23 March: Humanoid Raid on Fort Saddle
    24 March
    25 March: Sack of Fort Taelvu. Also, party would be found by Griffage on a +4 Luck roll (0).
    26 March: +1. Also, party would be found by Griffage on a +3 Luck roll (-3).
    27 March: Raid on Ebenenberg. Also, party would be found by Griffage on a +2 Luck roll (1).
    28 March: -2 -2 = -4 (Sack). This was randomly rolled to be site 21 (Headwater), but for plot purposes this was moved to nearby Site 22, an unnamed fort I called Fort Iron Axe. I did take this date to be the start of the Siege of Headwater, though. Also, the party will be found by Griffage on a +1 Luck roll (rolled +2; this will happen later today)

    With the party's random encounter happening at midnight tonight, coinciding with a Troubles roll of 'raid', I decided to introduce the party to their first adversaries in the Troubles by means of a goblin ambush of their position at the mill. A group of eigers has intimidated the leader of the goblins and ordered him to make war on the humans. Much more on this plot to come!

    Post 243: Midnight Ambush
    28 March [2 Planting] - Ebenenberg (party) / Foothills of Jotens (Thokk - seventh sun)
    (low 73, high 93)
    Fall of Fort Iron Axe (night)
    Beginning of Siege of Headwater (night)
    [Thokk encounter checks (wilderness, mountains) at morning, night; none]
    [Party encounter checks (patrolled, plains) at morning, evening, midnight; none]

    At 11pm Aurora and Doro turn in; Willa and Mathias take the watch. Mathias is on the upper story of the mill, looking out one of the windows of the loft while seated on his stool, Aurora and Doro in their sleeping rolls nearby. Willa is downstairs near the table, one of the chairs dragged over so that she can look out the window. Babshapka is close at hand, trancing cross-legged near the base of the ladder to the loft. Andy and Dandy doze fitfully, or nuzzle the empty flour sacks, looking for grain but finding only a residue of flour that makes them snort and sneeze.

    Outside in the night, a pair of bugbear scouts for a goblin warband has caught the scent of the mules and followed it to the mill. After checking that there is no one else hidden nearby, they return to their band and inform the goblin boss, who lays the plan for an ambush.

    The warband approaches cautiously. Five worg riders each set up to the north and south of the mill, lurking in the ruins of buildings and out of sight of the windows. The worg of the boss nestles down behind fallen timbers - he will emerge only if called. Some two dozen goblins as well as the boss nimbly scale the walls of the mill, taking care to stay away from the open windows. They take up positions on the shingled roof, ready to fire their shortbows in any direction should the party emerge. Finally, three bugbear scouts approach the north wall - on the ground floor both windows are shuttered and the door is closed, although one of the windows is open on the second story. Their job will be to draw the party out into the waiting ambush.

    (Bugbears +6 to Stealth; roll 22, 25, 25. Willa and Mathias on watch; Perceptions 6, 10. Babshapka (trancing) Passive Perception 14. Had the party not disabled the millstone, the two on watch would have had disadvantage and Babshapka -5).

    The bugbears slide thin blades through the north wall window shutters on the ground floor, deftly open the latches, let themselves in, and soundlessly drop to the stone floor of the mill. Willa, looking out the south window on the ground floor, has her back to them. Mathias, looking out the north window on the second floor, did not see them approach, is on the story above them, and cannot see them once they are inside. Babshapka is on the first floor but is trancing. If the mules have spotted the interlopers, they do not give notice.

    One bugbear approaches, then stands over Babshapka. A second creeps up to right behind the seated Willa. The third starts up the broad ramp to the loft, eyeing both Aurora and Doro asleep in their bed rolls. He sees the moonlight streaming in the open window, but for some reason has not yet noted Mathias sitting on his stool (Mathias is using one with darkness).

    Surprise round
    The two bugbears on the first floor exchange glances across the room, nod at one another, lift their heavy morningstars into the air, and strike simultaneously. Is it the smell of bugbear or the sudden breeze of the morningstar’s passage through the air that brings Babshapka out of his trance at the last second? He tries to move away, and the morningstar crashes into his chest rather than crushing his skull. (Melee attack on unconscious opponent: advantage to hit; hit 18 with advantage. Morningstar damage is base d8 with +2 from Strength but bugbear has features Brute (extra damage die to weapon attacks) and Surprise attack (extra 2d6 damage to attacks from surprise) and also gets automatic critical (opponent is unconscious). Total is 4d8+4d6+2; bugbear gets a truly crappy roll and Babshapka takes 28.)

    The bugbear behind Willa brings his weapon down directly on top of her head, in a blow that should both cleave her helm and crush her skull, but her helm is part of her magic plate armor and she is naturally hard-headed. (Willa not unconscious, but attacking with advantage for an unseen attacker the bugbear rolls 20N for a natural critical and so also does 4d8+4d6+2. With a better damage roll than his companion he does 38. G’morning, sunshine! he grunts in Goblin.)

    Round 1
    Willa staggers to her feet and spins around, drawing her sword and striking before she even realizes what has attacked her. All she sees are stars and she lashes out wildly as the bugbear darts out of her reach (Willa action surge: two actions, both Extra Attack: four misses with 9, 10, 10, 8; Bugbear AC15).

    Doro hears the cries and the scuffle. She grabs her nearby samisen even as she leaps from her bedroll. Her voice begins the verse of the spell before she knows what is attacking, but before the ending words she has moved to the railing of the loft and can see the three bugbears below illuminated by the lantern. Weaving, colored lights appear in front of the faces of all three bugbears, but the one on the ramp and the one next to Willa bat them away. Only the one standing next to Babshapka is suddenly still and transfixed (hypnotic pattern, Wisdom saves 20, 17, 3 (fail)).

    Unfortunately, and perhaps because they were waiting for Thokk to rejoin them, the party has not yet had “the strategy talk” with Doro. Aurora has reminded them on many occasions not to attack opponents under the influence of her hypnotic gaze, but no one has explained to them that Doro can cast hypnotic pattern, nor that its effects are similar except that it can target multiple opponents. In any event, Babshapka does not hesitate in attacking the bugbear towering over him, charmed though it may be. He grabs both blades from his nearby sword belt, draws them and strikes (one broadsword hit for 11, second broadsword and shortsword attack both miss, bugbear no longer affected by pattern).

    The mules definitely see the bugbears now, and they paw at the ground nervously, ears flat against their heads. But this is not the first combat they have seen and none of the attackers are coming near them. They back defensively into a corner of the mill but do little else (Wisdom check 12).

    Aurora springs from her bedroll and casts a spell - suddenly three duplicates, each clad in an identical night robe to her, appear at her side - it is impossible to distinguish who is who. “Protect the caster!” she yells running forward at the bugbear on the ramp, but curiously she seems to be referring to Doro rather than herself. “Dodge taynke!” she cries as she stops right in front of the bugbear. What is she doing? Was she dreaming that she was Thokk? Is she still dreaming?

    Mathias jumps to his feet, suddenly becoming visible in the moonlight and knocking over his stool. One hand goes to his new leaded glass vial and all at once a large red bipedal frog creature is standing behind the four Auroras and the bugbear on the ramp (summon aberration; Slaad). Babshapka looks over, alarmed - it is bad enough that Aurora is charging into combat - now she is fighting multiple foes? The frog thing appears very similar to the blue one they fought in Aberglain, though not as large. “Get them,” says Mathias, pointing through the welter of Auroras at the bugbear on the ramp.

    The bugbears were told to strike hard and fast, eliminate any sleeping foes, and then draw the remainder out into the waiting ambush. Two of them stick to the plan. The one on the ramp turns and flees to the shuttered window beside the door (Aurora’s opportunity attack with her quarterstaff misses). Leading with his shoulder, he leaps through the opening in the wall, rips the closed wooden shutters off their hinges, and lands sprawling on the ground outside, then climbs to his feet and moves away (Athletics 19).

    The bugbear next to Babshapka feints, and when the elf moves defensively he spins (disengage action) and sprints, just reaching the now-open window.

    The remaining bugbear hesitates. He has been ordered to draw the party outside, true, but his critical hit on Willa and her completely ineffectual response have led him to believe that he can finish her quickly (Wisdom check 12). He decides to press his attack, but with her now facing him, his blows are deflected by her armor (attack 18, Willa AC20).

    Round 2
    The frog creature moves rapidly down the ramp, reaching the bugbear by the window. It reaches out, slashing viciously with long talons. In two smooth strokes the bugbear is eviscerated and dead (hit for 11 and 15, 26 damage total), and is now slumping against the wall as it bleeds out. “Get the next one,” says Mathias, more loudly this time. The frog-thing moves to flank the bugbear fighting Willa. Mathias shoots two bolts of force at the same one (both hit, 9 points of damage). By now the bugbear has realized its mistake in remaining and turns to flee, making for the open window. Willa misses again as it withdraws (opportunity attack), but the frog slashes the bugbear across his back (16 damage). It continues, however, and climbs swiftly through the window. The two living bugbears are now fleeing across the verge to the east of the mill, out into the moonlight.

    “Don’t let them get away” shouts Aurora, ignoring the frog-thing and moving down the ramp to the open window on the first floor. “Don’t let them report on us!” she calls as she blasts a firebolt out the window, dropping the closer of the two underneath a tree even as the second is putting more distance between himself and the mill.

    Babshapka ignores the fleeing bugbear and moves to place himself between the frog-thing and the four Auroras. The frog does not appear to be attacking her, but so far no one has explained whose side it is on.

    Willa curses in frustration, twists her helmet back on straight, and flips the leather strap off the door peg by the mill entrance. She dashes out the door into the night and after the sole remaining bugbear, manages to reach its side by running full tilt with sword in hand, but hasn’t attacked yet. “Of course,” muses Aurora after Willa has left, “they could just be trying to draw us outside into an ambush...”

    Doro descends the ladder in the loft and moves to the crowd gathering by the open east door and window.

    Round 3
    The bugbear outside ducks away from Willa (opportunity attack misses) and continues its flight. Mathias moves beside Aurora in the window and blasts at it (two hits for 8 points), then tells the frog to kill the bugbear. It follows Willa out the open door.

    Doro has heard ‘Shefak’s’ command to make sure that the bugbear scout does not report on them and has seen Willa dash off into the night. “Dimension door!” she calls, then strikes a note on her samisen that vibrates strangely, growing ever more strong. She reaches out to Babshapka to take him with her, but the elf shoves her grasp away. Aurora realizes what Doro is planning and her four different left arms grasp the bard’s free hand. Suddenly all five of them disappear and the vibrating note ceases. A second later they all appear next to the bugbear, out in the night.

    Babshapka spits out a curse in Elven and runs through the open door, dropping both his blades in the spring grass outside the mill and drawing his bow as he runs. Two arrows from him narrowly miss the bugbear (attack 14 each, AC15), but fortunately also miss Willa, the frog, Doro, and all four Auroras.

    Reaching the bugbear’s side, Willa finally lands her first blow (damage 10). The bugbear totters but remains standing.

    “Fire!” shouts the goblin boss in the Goblin tongue. Five of the goblin archers move to the edge of the roof, selecting Babshapka as the closest target. Three of the five arrows hit the elf, who had removed his armor for his rest and trance (16 damage, Babshapka has taken 44 total and is at 11/55).

    “Charge!” shouts the boss. From south of the mill, five worgs rise to their feet and surge forward, their riders going from hunched over their backs to erect in the saddles. Two of the goblins throw the end of a net to another two, so that as the worgs run forward a net is stretched between each pair. The fifth rider draws a scimitar and follows, hoping to strike at someone ensnared and helpless.

    The first pair of riders attempts to run down Babshapka, but he crouches and seems to disappear from view (miss). The net lies fallen on the ground. The second pair charges the frog. He moves out from under the net while it is still in the air and slashes at a worg besides as it runs past (opportunity attack) - both the net and his claws miss. The lone worg rider in the rear slashes at Babshapka as he rides past (5 points, Babs at 6/55).

    Aurora had been summoning a firebolt to finish off the bugbear, but as the air fills with the hum of arrows and the snarls of worgs she turns, then lets the bugbear get away. Remembering her old enmity with arrows, a dislike that reaches back to the Owl Stream of the Dreadwood, she wakes up to the realization that perhaps she is not, in fact, the party taynke. “Tag” she says, and slaps Willa on the shoulder, using her greater invisibility spell for the first time in combat. “You’re it.” Willa accepts the touch - and disappears.

    Round 4
    Another flight of five arrows is directed at Babshapka but now, aware of the presence of the archers, he manages to evade all of the shots.

    The pair of worg riders that missed Babshapka before now angle their mounts north and away from the knot of party members (Willa, Doro, the four Auroras) but the ones that went for the frog draw their scimitars and bear down on them. Both strike at the Auroras - one extra image is dispelled and the second goblin by luck chooses the real enchantress. His blow looks to be striking true (and likely to disrupt Aurora’s concentration and thus Willa’s invisibility before she even has a chance to use it). But at the last second Doro whips around and strikes discordant notes on her samisen - “You ride like my grandma!” she yells (cutting words) and the goblin flinches, missing the real Aurora by inches.

    Willa strikes at his retreating back and kills one of the riders (opportunity attack). The riderless worg continues with the four others moving north, then pauses as they stop and turn to face the party again.

    To the northwest, another five worgs with goblin riders rise up from among the ruins and rubble. As they surge forward, two pairs stretch a net between them, and the fifth rider coming behind draws his shortsword. Again they target Babshapka and the frog, and this time their nets are thrown true. Both Babshapka and the frog are now entangled in the nets!

    5e Restrained condition wrote:
    You have disadvantage on your dexterity saving throws. You have disadvantage on attack rolls. Attack rolls against you have advantage. Your speed is zero and you cannot benefit from any bonus to speed.

    With the party’s attention focused on the two different groups of worg riders, the remaining Bugbear slips away into the night (disengage).

    Apparently now trusting that the frog-thing is on their side, Willa moves next to him and with a quick slice of her greatsword, cuts a huge hole in the net restraining him. She moves to Babshapka and does the same, then turns to face the retreating riders, daring them to come within range of her sword. Now that she knows the odds and can see the limited extent of the ambush, she is feeling better about the combat (second wind - heals 17 points).

    Doro begins a potent healing song, calling out for her magic music to aid Babshapka (aura of vitality - first round 8 points). She yells for him to stay close so that she can continue to heal him - he replies that they should both move under a tree to take cover from the archers on the roof.

    Three Auroras turn to face the five worgs with four riders forming up to the north of them, readying for a charge. She intones the words for her fireball and the flaming missile streaks forward, landing perfectly among them (Arcana 16) before detonating with an explosive crash (24 points fire damage). The four riders are blown from their mounts and all are dead before they hit the ground. Two of the worgs are slain as well (failed saves), the other three yelping and slinking off into the night with their tails ablaze.

    “Yeah!” says Doro, hitting bass notes on her samisen to extend the echoing blast of the fireball. “You’re dropping bombs, girlfriend!” she calls to Aurora.

    Willa winces at the sudden flash of light from the explosion. They were trying to conceal their position, but that bright blast could have been seen from anywhere in the city, down to those soldiers on the bridge. Even so, she shouts encouragement to Aurora, telling her to send another one at the worg riders that are even now forming up in the south. Aurora shakes all three of her heads ruefully. The two sending spells to Thokk earlier in the day mean that she is tapped for power and can't cast another fireball (Aurora now at 2/2/0/0).

    From his vantage at the window, Mathias cannot see any targets within range of his blasts, but he shouts to the frog to defend the party. The creature slashes at the worgs riding past (one hit, 12 points).

    Babshapka moves underneath a tree close to the mill. Leaving the worgs to the others in the party, he begins to return fire on the goblins on the roof, killing one (one hit, 10 damage). He yells at the three remaining Auroras to ‘Get inside the damn mill’!

    Round 5
    Doro continues to strum her samisen rhythmically while focusing her healing on Babshapka (6 points, Babshapka now at 21/55). But she just needs to maintain concentration on her aura - she can still attack while she does so. “Hey puny goblins!” she shouts at the archers. “I can see why you are on the roof - from up there you almost come up to my knee!” (vicious mockery - 1 point damage and disadvantage on next attack). One of the goblins squeals in pain.

    A riderless worg is near the open door of the mill. Mathias recalls the frog - it retreats and attacks the worg, slashing it viciously across the flank (17 damage). Mathias leans out the window and blasts at it (2 hits, 3 damage).

    Willa moves to the tree under which the party is gathering. She invisibly swings at an approaching worg rider, cleanly severing his head from his body (advantage, 19 points of damage). The worg that it was on turns tail and flees.

    The three remaining Auroras take shelter under the tree, attempting to dodge all attacks. Another rider approaches slowly. Not charging, both the rider and worg attack, but Aurora avoids them both.

    On the roof, the goblin boss has just seen Aurora destroy half his cavalry with a single fireball. “Second rank, move up!” he shouts in Goblin. “All archers target the mage!” Another five goblins move up, jostling with the others so that there are now ten perched precariously on the edge of the steeply slanted roof. “Fire!”

    Of the ten shafts incoming, seven are aimed at the two mirror images, both of which are hit and dispelled. Three more fly at Aurora herself, but none of these hit. Babshapka returns fire, but only wounds one of the archers.

    Willa, still invisible, sees only one Aurora left. “Oy, ye squiffy strumpet, ‘ow goes yer taynking now?”

    Round 6
    Doro uses her aura to heal another six points to Babshapka. Now, however, seeing the archers increase to ten, she decides to take cover from them (dodge action) rather than firing back with mockery.

    Invisible Willa continues to defend those around the tree from goblins and worgs (one hit for 12).

    Babshapka picks off one of the archers (one hit for 9).

    From atop the roof, the goblin boss can see that this combat is a lost cause - these are seasoned heroes and not a group of travelers hiding their mules. He blows a horn to sound the retreat. The riderless worg facing the frog scampers off into the night (frog misses opportunity attack). Willa also misses the worg she is facing as it darts away. The archers send off a volley of seven arrows at the last Aurora before they leave. She tries to bend away the only hit but fails (instinctive charm - Wisdom save 19), takes an arrow (5 points), and loses her concentration (Con save 7; fails), causing Willa to become visible. Aurora continues to protect herself (dodge). Dozens of goblins pour down the north and south walls of the mill, flowing across the verge.

    “After them, Ephi!” calls Mathias. The frog moves to the south side of the building, his claws slicing two of the retreating goblins in half (16 points each). Mathias moves out the open door, strides to the frog’s side and slaps his rubbery butt. Then he shoots a retreating worg (two hits, 7 damage).

    Round 7
    The goblins continue to melt away from the battle. Willa, now visible and yelling, charges the southern group, hoping to make sure they are truly in retreat and not re-forming for a second try. She notes a large worg rise out of the cinders of a nearby ruin and lope to the side of a large goblin who swings up and mounts him. Immediately two other worg riders move to guard his flanks. (Goblin boss Stealth 7; Willa Perception 20). Mathias is busy blasting the retreating goblins and worgs and does not see this leader (Perception 5)(two hits, 12 damage). He returns to the interior of the mill. The frog follows him, dragging two dead goblins along with him and leaving a trail of blood on the stone floor.

    Doro continues to heal Babshapka (10 points, Babs to 37/55).

    Aurora shoots off a firebolt at the retreating goblins, then makes a dash for the open door of the mill.

    At this point the goblins are in full retreat. Although the party watches from the windows for a long time thereafter, the goblins do not return. Babshapka resolves to check tracks and recover his arrows in the morning.

    Doro continues to heal people until her aura expires.

    Combat XP:
    37 goblins (CR1/4). 50xp x 37 = 1850
    11 worgs (CR1/2). 100xp x 11 = 1100
    3 bugbears (CR1) 200xp x 3 = 600
    1 goblin boss (CR1) 200xp = 200
    Total = 3750 / 5 = 750 each

    Babshapka 31,331 + 750 = 32,081
    Willa 24,369 + 750 = 25,119
    Aurora 223,595 + 750 = 24,345
    Mathias 23,595 + 750 = 24,345
    Doro 23,000 + 750 = 23,750

    The party binds wounds, searches the mill extensively to make sure there are no hidden goblins, and catches each other up on what happened. The frog thing swallows the two goblins it dragged in with a single gulp each.

    Willa approaches Mathias. “T'is be yer frog, t’en?”

    “Yes. This is what the leaded crystal was for.”

    “Is it with you permanently?” asks Aurora, with just a bit of awe in her voice.

    “Oh, no, just an hour. For about the rest of my watch I suppose. I can summon it again, later, if we need it. Its name is Ephi.”

    “Well, t’en, Aye haf ter say…” begins Willa, but Mathias holds up his hand to halt her speech. He talks with the creature in a language none of them recognize. Finally, he pulls out a wicked-looking stiletto and plunges it deep into the frog’s side. Dark ichor oozes out, but when he removes the knife, the wound quickly closes again. In a few seconds, there is not even a mark (regeneration).

    “Ok, you were saying...” says Mathias, and turns back to Willa.

    “Mathias, Aye haf ter say, Aye be impressed wit’ yer frog.”

    “Impressed, ok. What about amazed?” he pushes.

    “Amazed,” she admits begrudgingly.

    “Guaranteed amazed!” he smiles.

    The frog then sets to work on the dead bugbear. This is too large for him to swallow whole, and the resulting feeding is messy and rather disquieting. The mules shift nervously and bray for several minutes even after it is over.

    Everyone’s rest has been spoiled. As the others look to return to their sleeping rolls, Aurora contemplates how low she is on spells and how many hours she has left before she can get any more. “Say Doro,” she says, “how about a tiny hut?”

    Ten minutes later, they have all moved their sleeping rolls to the center of the lower floor of the inn, and everyone but the mules, Mathias, and Willa are under the dome of protection. Before he re-enters his trance, Babshapka has a hushed but serious conversation with Aurora. He explains that he is honor-bound to protect her - but he can only do so much. If she is going to insist on doing things like breaking cover to charge into the middle of an ambush, and then announce herself as a caster by sending fireballs when the ambush is filled with archers, he will not be able to protect her despite his best efforts. At some point he may decide that the best way to protect her is to counter her hubris and make sure she cannot cast spells by, for example, continually interrupting her rest, or by destroying the offensive spells in her spellbook and leaving only the defensive and utility ones. He makes it clear that she does not want to force his hand on the issue and that just because she learned a new spell like mirror image, it does not make her invulnerable or invincible.

    Some fifty minutes later (1am), the frog disappears. Matthias, still watching from out the second floor window, crushes out his cigarette on the stone wall, yawns, and heads into the dome. Shortly thereafter Babshapka emerges, but Willa waves him away. She tells him that they need someone in the party on watch who has actually rested so that the rest of them can sleep unworried - she will stay up until he finishes his trance. He nods and ducks back under the dome.

    As the first eager birds are singing to the lightening sky (4am), Babshapka emerges again (he has had a complete long rest, Aurora and Doro at 4 hours, Mathias at 3, Willa none). Willa gratefully relinquishes the watch, reminding him that the coming sun will be the seventh for Thokk, and that they may need to look for him at the edge of the town.
    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.&nbsp;
    Master Greytalker

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    Tue Oct 25, 2022 4:49 pm  
    Post 244: The Eyes and Ears of the Earl

    Post 244: The Eyes and Ears of the Earl
    28 March [2 Planting] - Ebenenberg (party) / Foothills of Jotens (Thokk - seventh sun) [continued]
    (low 73, high 93)
    Fall of Fort Iron Axe (night)
    Beginning of Siege of Headwater (night)
    [Thokk encounter checks (wilderness, mountains) at morning, night; none]
    [Party encounter checks (patrolled, plains) at morning, evening, midnight; none]

    It takes Thokk eight hours (from 10pm to 6am) to walk back to where he had hung his meat. The falcon sits on his shoulder for most of the journey, its talons digging into his bare skin as it sleeps fitfully. When he arrives back at his cache, Thokk rips choice pieces from the goat haunches and feeds them to the falcon until it cannot eat any more, then he climbs under the ledge of his boulder hiding place. It is six in the morning and light is filling the slopes of the mountains - the light before the seventh dawn since Thokk left the party. Perhaps Thokk should be walking to the massacre town, but he did not plan on walking for an entire day following the falcon and then nearly a day back to his cave; there is no way he can get to the party before sun-up, so his warband will just have to wait for him.

    “Thokk sleep now - Phreeeee watch and protect until sun is highest point in sky. Then we walk more,” he tells it.

    “Phreeeee watch now,” the bird agrees, although it has every intention of leaving Thokk sleeping alone and returning to the meat caches throughout the morning.

    At six am, Aurora groggily drags herself from the dome of the hut. She has had the minimum six hours of sleep she needs to function, but will still need another two hours of quiet rest to prepare her mind to recover her spells. During that time, however, she can take the watch and relieve Babshapka. Aurora tells Doro that the bard has had just as much sleep as she has and could get up to share the watch - but the bard reminds the enchantress that she has to stay in the hut to keep it up, before rolling over and returning to sleep.

    Once Aurora is up and out, Babshapka works his way around the mill in the morning light, going over the tracks outside to get a better understanding of what happened the night before as he collects his arrows (Survival 19). As he does so, he notes that of the ten goblins and three worgs the party left for dead outside, only three goblins and two worgs remain, bodies stiff and beginning to bloat. The remainder, once struck unconscious, appear to have recovered enough to have crawled away after several hours [successful life saves]. All of the goblins who immediately fled eventually congregated about half a mile north of the mill before striking out, and the wounded stragglers appear to have followed their trail much later. Babshapka follows their tracks all the way to the edge of the town, at which point the trail sets out across the grassy fields and he follows no more. Rather, he turns east, moving through the living, growing grass instead of the collection of cinders and death until he reaches the eastern edge of what was once the town (7am). There, he finds a good hiding spot and waits for Thokk in the gathering day (Babshapka Stealth 15).

    As Aurora watches over the mill in the gathering daylight, she tries to recall what she knows about goblins - both from her own reading and what Thokk has told them. She is especially curious about whether the advanced tactics she saw last night (drawing the party into a prepared ambush, using nets, organized arrow fire specifically at her, the mage) are typical for them, or evidence of whatever power is behind the humanoid raids (Aurora Nature check 9).

    In the end, she doesn’t recall much - Goblins belong to a family of creatures called goblinoids, which does NOT include orcs. Their larger cousins, hobgoblins and bugbears, like to bully goblins into submission. Goblins are lazy and undisciplined, making them poor servants, laborers, and guards. They generally rely on numbers rather than tactics in attacks. However, last night in the post-combat wrap-up, Willa was emphatic that she saw a leader-type who could have been directing them. Is such a goblin boss sufficient to get them to fight with the intelligence they displayed last night, or is there something further going on? Aurora isn’t sure.

    By 7am Mathias is stirring, though he, like Aurora, is quietly eating, stretching, and watching over the mill.

    By 8am Aurora and Mathias are both completely rested. Aurora finalizes her spell memorization while Mathias watches over her, and then she brings out her crystal ball. She attempts to scry on Thokk and easily finds him (Wisdom save 9). He is sleeping under a boulder. The concussion on the side of his head looks much better than before. It is obvious that he is neither at the edge of the town and being spotted by Babshapka, nor on his way any time soon.

    Aurora gets out a quill and pen. She writes a short note to Babshapka - “not coming today” in as small a hand as she can and rolls it into a shape that will fit around Buckbeak’s leg. She sends him out to look for the elf, but the hawk spirit later returns with the note intact, having not found the ranger (Buckbeak Perception 8 < Babshapka Stealth 15).

    While Buckbeak is out, Aurora attempts to use the crystal ball to see what the goblins are up to.
    [Firsthand knowledge - no adjustment to Save. Goblin Wis save, 6]

    The goblin she happened to “land” on is marching on a trail, squinting in the daylight. The trail is rougher than the one the party came to Ebenenberg on, but is easily visible nonetheless. He is surrounded by other marching goblins, with some mounted on worgs. There is no sign of the Davish River, but there are large mountains to the north. The country has open grasslands along the side of the road. Aurora watches for ten minutes, the maximum duration, but doesn’t pick up any more specific landmarks. She puts the ball away.

    At 10am Willa is just rousing (six hours sleep; still needs two hours rest) and wondering why Doro is still abed (‘to keep up the hut for her’) when a voice, new and unknown to them, calls out in Common from outside the mill. “Hey, good morning - anyone in there?”

    Those in the party call back - ‘yes, who is it’?

    “Griffage Terpin, scout for the Earl,” he answers readily. “Is this your handiwork?” he asks, gesturing at a dead bugbear outside and the blast circle of the fireball.

    “Yes. Do you want some cashews?” calls Mathias.

    There is a momentary pause in the man's easy conversation. “Huh. Perhaps we could take this discussion of nuts inside? Do I have your permission to enter?”

    “Aye,” agrees Willa, but she doesn’t open the door until Doro has left the hut and it is no longer in evidence.

    The man who enters the mill is slim but powerfully built. He wears a long cloak over leather armor, and doesn’t seem bothered by the heat (it is the warmest day so far this spring and will get into the 90’s in the afternoon). The cloak is curious - it is a forest green on the outside and a deep black on the inside, but looks like it could easily be reversed. He has a longsword, a shortbow, and several long knives on various belts.

    Mathias offers him a seat at the table, which he accepts. The others cluster around him expectantly.

    “Well?” asks Mathias.

    “Well, what?” he replies.

    “We asked if you would like cashews.”

    “Yes, please! They are hard to find in Sterich, especially in these times, but I do enjoy them.” He looks in a leather bag at his side. “I have a bit of rabbit, if you would like to share.”

    The party exchanges confused glances, and no one brings out any nuts.

    “So you were set upon by the goblins last night?” he asks, hoping to spur the conversation.

    “Aye,” says Willa.

    “Looks like a few of them got away.”

    “They gave up before we were finished,” says Mathias.

    “I mean, some of the wounded ones you left for dead recovered. Their blood trails point to them rejoining the ones that fled.”

    “I’m sure our scout will tell us that. He’s currently out,” says Aurora.

    “So there is another in your group?” he asks.

    “Two, actually,” says Mathias. Willa adds that one of them is at the edge of the burned town waiting on the other.

    “Oh, your scout must be very good, then,” he says. “I only saw the one trail leaving the mill.”

    Mathias leans in to Aurora and whispers, “What’s the deal? We gave this guy the password. Why isn’t he talking?”

    Aurora wracks her brain, going back to their meeting with the Countess. Finally she says, cautiously, “About the cashews...we had some, with the Countess. She gave us some?”

    “Oh!” he says, visibly going from confused to surprised. “Well, that changes it, doesn’t it? What do you want to know?”

    “What should we be doing next?”

    “I’m afraid I don’t know - what do you want to do?”

    The man and the party stare at one another in an awkward silence. Finally, Willa tries another tack.

    “What can you tell us about the raids?”

    The man looks relieved to have a direction to the conversation. “The first raid was here, of course, Ebenenberg, five weeks ago. The humanoids fell upon the city in numbers and without warning. This was the biggest town in the Highlands without walls and, in retrospect, an obvious target - but no orcs or goblins have ever raided so far from the mountains before. They burnt everything and killed everyone who resisted, but most importantly they collected all of the food animals. I guess that was fortunate - they were more interested in rounding up animals than in hunting down those that fled, so hundreds of people were able to make it out alive which would not have happened had they been focused on slaughter. Scouts from Mittelberg later reported the attackers driving herds of kine south past that city and further up into the highlands. It was likely a provisioning raid for the coming war.”

    “After that were several weeks of minor raids - feints and probes. We have lost dozens of villages, but always the enemy flees before any organized resistance. I’m afraid all the local highlands forces have been run ragged chasing rumors and ghosts these last weeks. The next attack of any consequence was the one last week, on the villages supporting Fort Saddle.”

    “The one in the mountains above Sterich?” asks Aurora. “We saw the smoke.”

    “No, Fort Saddle is far to the south of here,” he replies. “You are talking about Fort Taelvu, which happened just a few days ago. I have not seen that yet personally, but I hear the fort was overrun and burned. I’m afraid we may have lost many men there - it is the first fortified position we have lost, the first military target, and a significant and worrisome escalation of the conflict.”

    “Wha’ can ye tell us aboot eigers?” asks Willa.

    “What are eigers?” interjects Mathias.

    The man’s eyes narrow at Willa’s question, but then go wide at Mathias. “Friend, your accent sounds northern. You might know them as ogres.”

    “Huh. I’m pretty sure that’s racist,” says Mathias, but does not explain what he means.

    The man’s voice grows more hushed. “Yes, I have seen the eigers with my own eyes. It is the easy explanation for why so many different humanoid tribes have banded together against us. The few prisoners I have spoken to all say the same thing - a group of four or five eigers showed up in their lair and bullied their chief into joining whatever this alliance is. I don’t care how big a boss you are or how many goblins you have in your band - you aren’t going to say no to five eigers.”

    “That makes sense,” says Aurora.

    “It does, except that eigers are stupid and lazy. There’s no way they could be behind all this themselves. They don’t have the intelligence or ambition to organize such a venture. So the real question is who is making them do this.”

    There is again an awkward silence.

    “So,” tries Aurora, “what do you want us to do?”

    The man shrugs, “That’s not my decision.”

    “I think we are just supposed to do what we have been doing - help out where we can,” says Mathias.

    “But we’ve given you the password,” objects Aurora. “What does the Countess want us to know?”

    “The ‘password’, as you call it, tells me that the Countess has complete confidence in you. It tells me that I am to answer your questions openly and to the best of my ability, which I am trying to do, sharing with you whatever intelligence I have gathered even as I would with her. But if you are waiting for me to give you direction - I can’t do that. I don’t know what the Countess has told you to do - only you and she know that - and if you don’t want to tell me, maybe she doesn’t want me to know.”

    Willa holds up her hand for silence, and tries to remember what the Countess said.

    “Wha’ if we be lookin’ fer ‘ooh be behind t’ese eigers?”

    “Ohh…” the man’s demeanor changes. Suddenly he has gone from confused banter to serious. “You will have to excuse my misunderstanding. The Earl has called for any number of foreign adventurers to aid us. Some are bolstering the defenses of our cities and villages. Some are seeking the dwarves of Num-Theraz. The ones who are little more than fortune seekers are being sent to the Stark Mounds. There are all manner of ways to help with these Troubles. But are you saying that the Countess has chosen your group to be the one that actually goes after whomever or whatever is behind all this?”

    “Aye,” says Willa, nodding, “t’at be us.”

    “In that case, you have my apologies for underestimating you, as well.” He pauses to gather his thoughts. “I have tracked several bands of eigers in the past five weeks, trying to find their source. All the trails converge near the town of Headwater, no matter their original location. I have followed them from there. If you are seeking the source of the Troubles, you should start in Headwater and take its river up into the mountains - not the Davish, the smaller local river. Where it forks, take the right branch, to the south. It rises into a vale of dense forests and heavy rain. That is as far as I got - when I was some 35 miles up the river the wolves, and worgs, got more and more dense the farther I went. I am a fair scout, but my chances of arriving undetected were dropping every mile. I can move unseen and unheard if I have to, but there’s little I can do about my scent, and I thought it more important that I return with what I knew then die trying to learn more. I am grateful the Countess has found a group capable of exploring further.”

    “Unnerstood. Would ye be interested in goin’ wit’ us, as a guide?”

    “I would be eager to return, with a group as strong as you at my back. But that is not my charge. I serve as the eyes and ears of the Earl, and he needs me supplying him with accurate information on the war in the Highlands. If the Countess trusts you to find the source of the Troubles, I am sure you are well equipped to do so.” He reflects on his abrupt answer. “But if you find yourselves in serious danger, and think that I could help, then do call upon me.”

    “Although I am but a humble monk, with all my talent being in physical combat,” says Aurora, “our party mage, Mathias, has the ability to contact minds over great distances. If he sent for you, would you come to our aid?”

    “Of course, if I could.”

    “Wonderful. Just be aware that in such affairs he calls himself ‘Aurora”. It is our password, kind of like your ‘cashews’.” Griffage nods and Willa looks away before he can read her expression, while stifling her snort.

    “On your way up the river, did you see any sign of the dwarves?” Aurora continues.

    “No, if you mean Num-Theraz. That is at the source of the Davish, and then higher, at the highest point of the Davish Vale and the Highlands. It is worrisome and more that we haven’t heard from them. I myself have been outside the mines once in the last month, but found no way inside and no trace of what has befallen them.”

    “Wha’ news o’ gigants?” asks Willa.

    “I haven’t seen any,” Griffage says carefully. “But one night as I followed a group of eigers, I saw them meet with something else - something bigger - something a whole head and shoulders above them. If there’s anything that could bully an eiger, it would be a giant. What with the ord’ning and all.”

    “What be ther road like t’ ‘eadwater? Be thar forces o’ ther Earl thar?”

    “Oh, certainly. Headwater is the largest town in the southern Highlands, and it is walled and extensively fortified. The local nobles have many contingents there and the Earl has been reinforcing it as well. The villages between Mittelberg and there are intact - I have just come from there. Just a few days ago, as I mentioned, there were raids around Fort Saddle, and that is in the mountains above Headwater, but just a few villages were lost. The forces of the enemy were fast but few, and could not even challenge the fort, let alone the town.”

    “Can we resupply in Headwater? We are a bit low on food.” says Aurora.

    “Yes, it is a large market town; you should be able to find most anything you need...but what are you ‘supposed’ to be doing? That is, what is your official mission, what you tell others who do not enjoy the confidence of the Countess?”

    “We be s’portin’ ther force o’ ther Earl aroun’ Mittelberg,” says Willa.

    “Fair enough. Then you may want to buy what you need in Mittelberg and keep a low profile around Headwater. Perchance, have you fought eigers before?”

    Simultaneously, Willa says “Aye,” Aurora says “Yes, of course,” and both Mathias and Doro shake their heads ‘no’.

    “What can you tell us about humanoid spell-casters?” asks Aurora.

    “Orcs have casters, of course - divine ones - each with powers tied to their foul gods. Eigers worship Vaprak the Destroyer, and I have heard of shamen, though they are rare. Goblin spell casters? Perhaps, though I personally have never seen any. Casters are common among hobgoblins, though; arcane casters, war priests, and their mystic monks.”

    “And are all of these in play? That is, taking part in these raids?”

    “Orcs and goblins aplenty. I haven’t seen evidence of hobgoblins - yet.”

    “Wha’ be ther tactics o’ goblins?”

    “In their own lairs? Traps, mostly. I would not lightly enter a goblin lair, no matter how weak the creatures themselves are. In the field, they typically seek to overwhelm with numbers. A goblin boss can exhort them to higher levels of tactics - feints, ambushes, false retreats, although they resent the extra effort. The bosses themselves are masters of having minions die in their stead - a slippery lot, difficult to pin down.”

    “S’pose ‘twar a giant. ‘Ow be ye fightin’ one o’ t’ose?” asks Willa.

    “You would fight them like eigers, only more so. Bigger, stronger, hitting harder, taking more damage. It takes a lot to drop a giant - you need discipline and coordination if you face more than one at a time. Getting everyone to attack the same one is key. Dropping one first and then another, bringing every advantage you have to bear. If you are fighting two, one dead and one unwounded will keep you alive far longer than both wounded and still hitting, because when they hit, they hit hard. Anything you can do to reduce their attacks, any incapacitation, is worth it. Hold, charm, slow. Not entangle or web, though. Forget anything that targets their strength, or constitution - it is far, far above yours. Even their dexterity is fair. You need spells that target their charisma, or even better their intelligence and wisdom. Those are their real weaknesses.” He catches Mathias’ eye and gestures outside at the blast zone. “Fireball is tempting, and there is a time and place for it if you can get them all bunched up or can keep them at a distance. But damaging spells are a blunt instrument with eigers and giants, and they can take far, far more damage than you can dish out. Even a simple spell that can get them to drop their weapon for a few rounds could save your life. Their fists hit hard, but not as hard as a tree trunk. They don’t have magic, thank the gods, not even magical healing like trolls.”

    “Aren’t there different kinds of giants? What kinds might we be fighting?” asks Aurora. And then she adds “Are there any good giants? Might we have allies?”

    “Oh, there are - but none of them live in the Jotens, I’m afraid. The good giants are far away - in the clouds, or in the water.”

    “The water?”

    “Oh, yes. The oceans, the seas, even great lakes, I am told.”

    “And what kinds live here in Sterich?”

    “In the Jotens,” Griffage says, “we have Hill Giants and Frost Giants. Hill giants are just walking stomachs. Enormous walking stomachs, but stomachs nonetheless. The only thing they care about is shoving things in their mouth hole. They are as dumb as eigers and as easily fooled, but hit harder and take twice as much to kill. Frost Giants, on the other hand, are a warrior culture, and fiercely competitive with one another. They have a sense of honor, if an evil one, and you might even be able to get one to fight you fairly if you can get it to listen to you long enough to challenge it. They live for battle and deeds of strength and prowess, not food.”

    He pauses, reflecting. “But if you are thinking of either of those as what is behind the Troubles, I doubt it. Like eigers, I just don’t see them as having the intelligence or ambition to coordinate what is happening. No, something else is afoot.”

    “Well, who could be behind it, then? What enemies does Sterich have?” asks Aurora.

    “Sterich has few enough outside enemies,” Griffage admits. “We have good relations with Geoff, and Keoland, and the Yeomanry, and anyone more distant likely thinks us of little importance. The Earl, on the other hand, is not universally supported among our own people, more’s the pity.”

    “The point of our cover mission to Mittelberg was to keep our true goal hidden from the Earl’s council,” says Mathias.

    “Exactly. And while none of those on the Council are wicked enough to want to see the March itself fall to goblin scum, there are plenty who wouldn’t mind discrediting the Earl.”

    “What do they have against the Earl?”

    “It’s the nature of governance - less power for the Earl means more power for the local lords. Everyone wants more power in his own fiefdom, no? Of course, the Earl didn’t do himself any favors by marrying that foreign woman.”

    Griffage suddenly feels the shock of all the party at his words, and realizes that they have taken the Countess for their personal patron. “Don’t get me wrong - I am as loyal to the Countess as I am to the Earl, and I know she has the best interests of all her subjects in her heart. But that is not a common view among those who don’t know her personally. She is, after all, foreign-born, a woman, and a sorceress at that - the small folk simply believe she has enspelled the Earl, while the nobles see her as a rival for power and influence. The old Earl, Querid, would never have allowed Querchard to marry her, if he thought Querchard would get the throne. Querchard had two older brothers, you know, ‘the heir and the spare’ as they say. The only reason he was even permitted to leave the March on quest at all of sixteen summers was that his father never thought he would become the Earl. When Querchard brought Lady Resbin back and sought to marry her, no one ever foresaw that his father would outlive both of his older brothers and pass the throne to Querchard. Of course, just the fact that both his brothers died young, and without issue, was enough to make the small folk suspect the Countess of bewitching the whole ruling family.”

    “Just where is the Countess from, anyway?” asks Mathias.

    “Certainly not the Flanaess,” Griffage smiles. “Somewhere far and away, over the Crystalmist Mountains to the south and west of here. Zhinjia? Zhindia? Something like that.”

    While the party mulls that over, Griffage introduces another complication. “There are those at court who think that the March is already too decentralized. They don’t like that our proud Earl asserts his independence from the Lion Throne of Keoland. A humanoid uprising that the Earl couldn’t put down himself would be just the thing to convince the small folk and nobles alike that we Sterishmen need to bend the knee and become Keoish subjects again. And whose to say that some in the Keoish court don't agree and are aiding our enemies.”

    “Given all the political complications of the situation,” asks Aurora, “who can we trust? If we need help, or need to talk to someone?”

    “Well, Kerri Velthundel, to start with. She’s been Marshall of the Sterish Cavalry for over two hundred years and refused every appointment higher than that dozens of times. She’s served the Earl, and his sire, and his grandsire and I don’t know how many great-grandsires besides. If anyone is loyal to the March, it is she.”

    “She be an elf?” asks Willa.

    “Oh yes.”

    “An’ she can be found in Mittelberg ar Headwater?”

    “Sometimes. Either or both. She is wherever the Earl’s commands take her. But if she or the Cavalry are about, that is who you should talk to. If not her, her high officers. Failing that, the highest ranking officer you can find in the Earl’s own forces. Not the noble contingents if you can help it.”

    Willa nods in understanding.

    After a few more questions, Griffage asks if they have any more for him. The party asks that he stay for lunch with them, that he might meet their scout Babshapka, and he agrees.

    Babshapka returns after 11am and quickly takes a liking to Griffage, though he be a human ‘horde-breaker’ and Babshapka an elven ‘giant killer’. He is quick to test all the reputed lore he has accumulated, for although he calls himself a giant killer, he in truth has fought nothing larger than an eiger, although he did see the red-skinned giant in the Ghost Tower and the blue-skinned ones in the Yeomanry. After a long and detailed conversation with Griffage, Babshapka knows a lot more about both eigers and hill giants.

    Babshapka asks Griffage to look at his “giant arrows”. The ranger takes an immediate interest and understands the principle. He agrees that they would have a possible use in case one was trying to win a fight against a giant by attrition - perhaps in a situation where one could fire from a distance or from cover and wear down a giant that was trying to pursue or engage. He warns Babshapka that giants can throw heavy objects, so they are not without their own missile weapons, and says the elf should not rely on the arrows if the giants are already in melee - they simply won’t do damage fast enough to take a giant down.

    Once all of the party have had a chance to speak with Griffage, he bids them good luck and says he must be going. He needs to see for himself what happened at Fort Taelvu and report to the Earl.

    Thokk wakes after noon. He figures that he has missed the seventh sun, but is sure that his loyal warband will wait for him. He calls for Phreeeee, and collects the meat that he had hung from the trees. He knows that the massacre town lies to the south and west - he will need to cross the next mountain ridge and see the lay of the land on the other side.

    Half an hour later he and Phreeee stand on the ridge line, buffeted by the strong mountain winds. Some fifteen miles to the southwest the mountain slopes down to the green plains that border the river - he should be able to leave the mountains if he strikes out directly. Some two or three miles down the slope from him he sees a human fort. It looks intact - could it have been the source of the smoke he saw before? Doubtful, as it looks undamaged. The walls swarm with men in shiny armor, and the road to and from it is busy with men on horses. Thokk has no interest in talking to the human soldiers, and is wise enough to know that without his warband, he may not be able to convince them that he is on the side of the woman who smells nice. He picks his way carefully down the mountain slope, choosing the path that will make him least visible from the fort and road (Stealth 15).

    After nearly five hours of walking he finds he has to cross the road. He carefully watches for dust plumes and crosses when no one is about. Strangely, he has not gone very much farther when he has to cross another road. Once he is well beyond the second road (5pm) he pauses to rest for an hour and eat.

    After Griffage is no longer visible, Doro initiates a conversation with Aurora. “So, Shefak,” she begins, “I couldn’t help but notice that during the entire fight last night you didn’t do any kicking and striking. And you used your staff only once.”

    “Yes…” says Aurora warily.

    “And while I know that some monks can cast spells, fireball is a pretty high level spell for anyone who is not a dedicated caster.”


    “So I am wondering if there is anything you want to tell me, as your adventuring companion and someone who was out there risking her life with you last night.”

    After a long and awkward silence, with the rest of the party seeming as interested in Aurora’s eventual answer as Doro is, Aurora finally comes clean - to some extent. She admits that she is not a monk, but “a sage” (?), and that her name with the rest of the party is Aurora. She says that she is interested in exploring other identities, though.

    “So, live a year as a monk before you commit to becoming a monk?”

    “Not exactly. Perhaps most relevant, there are people who know me as a wizard. These people would very much like to meet me, and I am just as keen to avoid them. So I don’t like to mention the whole wizard thing in public.”

    Doro is pensive for a few moments, and then asks carefully, “You haven’t ever been to Greyhawk City, have you?”

    “No - I really never have.”

    “Then we are fine. Your secret is safe with me. But you should know, if there was a bounty on you with the Greyhawk Bounty Hunter’s Guild, I would likely have to turn you in. That’s on you, for not being level with me at the start. But if you are not hiding from someone in Greyhawk, then we are good.”

    Babshapka takes careful note of the bard’s words, but that is the end of the conversation.

    A bit later in the afternoon, Aurora leaves the mill and is standing over the rotting body of the bugbear, with it being sprawled under the lone unburned tree outside. For a full minute she passes her wand over its corpse. Suddenly it jolts, lurches, and then stands up in an unholy mockery of life.

    “Do you understand your mistress?” Aurora asks. The bugbear nods slowly, muscles that were previously stiff with rigor mortis loosening. “Good,” she continues. “Your name is Hagrid. Hagrid, I want you to stand under this tree and turn slowly in a circle. Whenever you see someone - oh, wait, ‘someone’ is too vague - whenever you see a human, humanoid, or demi-human - whenever you see a person, yes, whenever you see a person, you come to the door of the mill and knock on it. Understand?”

    The dead bugbear nods, and then begins to shuffle around widdershiddens. When he gets nearly all the way around, so that Aurora is again in his view, he shambles toward the door and begins knocking.

    Aurora laughs. “Oh, good, because you saw me, and I'm a person. Right. Stay there.” She slips by the bugbear into the mill, being careful not to brush against his rotting flesh with her robes. “Okay - there are five of us in the mill, right?” The bugbear nods. “Get a good look.” Mathias gives the corpse a ‘thumbs up’. Willa scowls with distaste. “So, go back to the tree and back to making your turns, but now come and knock on the door whenever you see a person that is NOT one of us five, yes?” The animated corpse returns to the tree and begins his tireless shuffling again, endlessly turning in a circle.

    “Atother pair o’ eyes be one t’ing, bu’ it nay be relievin’ ye o’ yer guard shift,” says Willa sternly.

    “Oh, Willa, of course not,” says Aurora giddily. “This is just practice, like with the phantom steed.”

    After Thokk’s rest, he continues down the mountain slope, rapidly descending the rough terrain as he grows closer and closer to the valley floor. He doesn’t see any signs of humans in the rugged terrain, but stays carefully stealthful just the same (Stealth 7). Phreeeee circles overhead, looking for game, and Thokk keeps a javelin in his hand as he travels, but nothing presents itself (Survival 6). On several occasions he comes across the stripped carcasses of recently-butchered goats and sheep, and all of the berries and nuts appear to have been harvested from the trees and bushes, as if a large host of foragers had recently moved through the area.

    Once the sun goes down, Phreeee settles on Thokk’s shoulder and nods off as the barbarian’s steady, rhythmic strides descend the mountain.

    In the mill the party prepares for another night’s watch. ‘Hagrid’ has not come to the door all afternoon, despite the party members coming and going. As the sun lowers on the horizon, Aurora convinces Babshapka to boost her out a second-story window and on to the roof. Babshapka has already been up there, retrieving arrows, and he mentioned the presence of three slain goblins. Now Aurora picks her way carefully over to one corpse on the steeply-slanted roof. It is pungent after an entire day laying in the full sun, and the ravens have been at its face. After another animate dead spell, Aurora now has a small goblin archer zombie.

    “Your name is Dobby,” she says. “You will walk around the roof, going slow and being careful not to fall. When you see a person besides myself or my four companions, you will stomp on the roof hard enough for us to hear you inside.”

    The goblin takes up its patrol. When it gets to the roofline on the east side of the mill, it immediately begins stomping on the roof. At the same time, the bugbear stops its endless turning and shambles to the door.

    “Oh yes,” chuckles Aurora. “Because you saw each other. Ok, Dobby, you will stomp when you see any person that is not me, my four companions, or that bugbear Hagrid.”

    Babshapka helps Aurora back in the window, and she revises her instructions for Hagrid.

    The party has dinner, and Doro creates another tiny hut.

    Just before she turns in, Aurora uses her crystal ball to scry on Thokk. To everyone’s relief he is finally on the move, coming down lightly forested mountain slopes in a direction she takes to be southeast. There is some sort of bird of prey on his shoulder. Aurora arches an eyebrow. This is the new Larry?

    After dinner:
    25 human rations to 20.
    Thokk from 1 to 0 (but still has 18 pounds of gamey meat on him).
    17 mule rations to 16 (abundant forage)
    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.&nbsp;
    Master Greytalker

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    Tue Nov 01, 2022 10:47 am  
    Post 245: Ebenenberg to Fort Stirrup

    Record of the Troubles
    21 March: Party's first day in Istivin
    22 March
    23 March: Humanoid Raid on Fort Saddle
    24 March
    25 March: Sack of Fort Taelvu.
    26 March
    27 March: Raid on Ebenenberg (combat with goblins)
    28 March: Sack of Fort Iron Axe. The party is found by Griffage.
    29 March: 0
    30 March: -2 raid on Fort Falke
    31 March: -2 raid on Strake Terrace
    1 April: -2 raid on Kalibac
    2 April: 0

    [DM's Note on Sources]: Anna Meyer's map at shows the walled towns of Mittleberg, Strake Terrace, and Kalibac. Fort Falke is the name I gave to the fort that Anna's map locates between Mittleberg and Fort Blackbridge. Blackbridge Town is the name I gave to the town west of Fort Blackbridge. Fort Stirrup is the name I gave to the fort north of Headwater. Fort Iron Axe is the name I gave to the fort southwest of Headwater and near the dwarven city of Num-Theraz. On Anna's map, and according to the Dungeon magazine maps she was working from, Fort Falke is intact, while Blackbridge Town, Fort Iron Axe, and Fort Stirrup are ruins, presumably from the second giant uprising. However, these events had not happened yet in my timeline, and depending on the results of my 'Troubles Rolls', and the actions of the party, these particular locations might fall or not. Fort Iron Axe falls during the events of this post.

    The descriptions given in the text of Mittleberg, Blackbridge Town, and Fort Stirrup are my own.

    Post 245: Ebenenberg to Fort Stirrup
    29 March [3 Planting] - Ebenenberg (party) / Foothills of Jotens (Thokk - eighth sun)
    [Thokk encounter checks (patrolled, plains) at morning, evening, midnight: none]
    [Party encounter checks (patrolled, plains) at morning, evening, midnight: none]
    (low 68, high 89)

    Thokk heads out of the foothills of the Jotens and down into the green, grassy slopes of the Davish River valley before midnight. He pushes himself, explaining with pride to the sleeping falcon about how a warband leader has to inure himself to fatigue and pain.

    [First hour of forced march: DC10 Con Save: 10
    Second hour: DC11: 24
    Third hour: DC12: 27
    Fourth hour: DC13: 21
    Fifth hour: DC14: 23
    Sixth hour: DC15: 15
    Seventh hour: DC16: 9 (fails)
    Thokk is able to travel an additional 7 hours through the plains (28 miles) before he acquires one level of exhaustion (disadvantage on skill checks). He can remove the exhaustion by a full long rest and normal level of food.]

    Thokk continues walking until the sky begins lightening. Soon he can see the river, and then the trail beside the river. That is far enough. Just as Phreeeee begins to stir, Thokk looks for a place to pass the day in cover. This is not cave country, but he crawls into some thick brush, feeds the falcon, and then tells it to keep watch.

    In the ruins of Ebenenberg, the night having passed uneventfully for those on watch, Babshapka takes his leave once the others begin to stir. He slips out of the mill without being seen by Hagrid or Dobby (Babshapka Stealth 27, Zombies Passive Perception 8 ), and spends four hours at the edge of town, watching for Thokk. Before he leaves, Aurora sleepily tells him that she will send Buckbeak if the party needs to communicate - if the spirit hawk lands on a tree branch, the party is on their way to him. But if it lands on his arm, he should return to the mill. After having watched for the four hours around sunrise, Babshapka reluctantly returns to the mill.

    In the afternoon, after Aurora has used her arcane recovery to get back the four first level spell slots she used on mage armor for herself and Doro at 6am and 2pm, she uses animate dead again. This time she does not imprison another tortured spirit in flesh, however. Rather, she asserts control over the two zombies she already has. Ever happy to explain, she mentions to the others that she needs to do this every 24 hours or else she will lose control of the undead and they will begin to run amok, attempting to attack anything they see. Willa is less than enthusiastic to learn that them not being murdered in their sleep by undead zombies is dependent on Aurora’s remembering to cast the spell at the appropriate time. She asks the wizard whether the abominations will be able to keep up with the mules once they get moving, and is rather relieved to hear that the answer is no. “T’en ye be leavin’ ‘em ‘ere an’ destroyin’ ‘em afore we set sail,” she says definitively.

    Thokk rouses himself around 2pm, refreshed and restored. He again begins his trek southwest, but feels increasingly confined between the river to the north and the mountains to the south. He does his best to avoid the foolish human road and not be seen by the occasional travelers on it (Stealth 6). With it being the middle of the day, he has Phreeeee spot game for him, and reminds the falcon to think big and look for things that Thokk can take but the falcon could not bring down himself. That is, after all, the point of them working together. The falcon eventually flushes a lamb (Thokk Survival 20). The scrawny thing is dehydrated, and at an age where it still should be nursing on its mother. Where she is Thokk doesn’t know, taken north by the refugees, perhaps, or eaten by goblins. But Thokk thanks the ewe all the same for birthing this wonderful little morsel so that he can fulfill his pledge to bring food back to his hungry warband (8 pounds of meat). First, though, he makes sure that Phreeee eats his fill of the liver.

    After lunching and catching up with the party, Babshapka announces his intentions to return to the edge of town and watch for Thokk. When the others say that it is not necessary, he just shrugs and says that “Thokk is still out there.” To be honest, most of the time he is “watching”, he is just enjoying being away from the mill, away from Aurora’s inane conversation, away from the accumulating mule flops inside the building and the rotting corpses outside. Human madness. He happily walks across the burned city and resumes his “post”.

    By six pm, Thokk and Phreeee are close enough to the bridge over the Davish to make out the heads of individual soldiers. Not so many as to challenge Thokk, but they are likely followers of the nice-smelling woman from the big city and it would not be good form to eliminate them just to cross the bridge. He moves aways downstream and tells Phreeeee to fly to the other bank and wait for him. The Davish River is cold, swift, and strong, but perhaps not so strong here as at was at Istivin Crossing, for Thokk is able to cross it without incident (Strength save 15).

    He approaches the edge of the burned city cautiously, nostrils flaring. Amidst the stale cinders and old death are fresh smells - goblin and...elf? He will need to be careful (Stealth 15). Indeed, Babshapka does not see him coming (Perception 6), although, with perhaps a little help from Phreeeee, Thokk spots the wood elf (Bapshaka Stealth 16 < Thokk perception 23).

    When he daren’t approach closer without Babshapka hearing, Thokk jumps out and yells a war cry, but it quickly turns to a guffaw as the elf starts, spins, and draws an arrow on him in less than a second. “Har, har, Thokk scare elf scout! Baashka get soft while his leader away!”

    Thokk introduces Babshapka to Phreeeee. On the walk back to the mill, Babshapka catches Thokk up on recent events - the addition of Doro to the party, as well as the frog-thing Ephi and Hagrid and Dobby the zombies. Thokk beams with pride. His warband is growing quite beyond his own efforts! Soon they will be off to sack cities for the Countess!

    Back at the mill, Doro is enthusiastic about meeting Thokk, and even complements his muscles. Thokk tells Willa that she did well to find such a discriminating new member for the warband.

    Thokk is not so pleased with finding out what Babshapka meant by “zombie”, for he did not know the word in Common before, and thought they were getting a living goblin and bugbear. These dead things, slow and mindless, hardly bring him honor as a leader - they are barely fit to eat prisoners. The orc god Yurtrus, or “White Hands”, and the tribes ruled by his shamen sometimes made use of undead, but self-respecting orcs like the ones of Thokk’s tribe do not. He rejects Aurora’s contribution and tells her she needs to stick to her role of making pretty explosions. Seeing the falcon on his shoulder, and already having come to terms with leaving the zombies behind, Aurora tells Thokk that the zombies are not for his warband, they are for him to practice with Phreeee. At this Thokk cheers up. He spends the next fifteen minutes talking to the falcon about signals, and the two work out a system whereby the falcon will circle high above the combat, but dive in at tremendous speed when Thokk gives the signal. Thokk tells Aurora to have Hagrid attack him. He spends a few minutes leading the zombie around the tree, laughing at the plodding steps of the dead bugbear, then suddenly points at the zombie with his shield hand. In a blur of wind and feathers the falcon plummets from the sky and rakes its talons across the bugbear’s face. As the zombie reaches up to protect itself, Thokk severs its spine with the glowing sunsword.

    After rewarding Phreeee with a snack, Thokk tells Aurora to have the dead archer shoot at him from the roof. He moves back and forth across the verge of the mill, using his large shield to protect himself from the arrows. When he raises his hand in the air, Phreeee swoops in on the goblin from behind, buffeting his wings in its face until the goblin mis-steps and topples from the roof to the ground. Thokk laughs, but then the goblin rises up. It obviously broke an arm bone in the fall, for the jagged end is projecting through its rotten flesh. Still, it is managing to bring another arrow to the bowstring even with its hideous, misshapen arm. Thokk frowns and ends its undeath with his sword as well.

    After dinner:
    8 pounds fresh lamb eaten
    20 human rations to 18.
    18 pounds rancid meat to 16 (Thokk)
    16 mule rations to 15 (abundant forage)

    30 March [4 Planting] - Ebenenberg
    [Party encounter checks (patrolled, plains) at morning, evening, midnight: none]
    (low 74, high 90)
    Raid on Fort Falke (night)

    In the morning the party is packed and ready to leave the mill. It does not take long for them to reach the bridge over the Davish. Mathias asks the common soldiers for news, but finds them tight-lipped (Persuasion 9) except for one who turns tables and keeps asking about the flash and boom from the fireball and what actually happened at the mill two nights ago.

    Willa pulls an officer aside and lets him know about the ambush at the mill, the number and composition of the enemy forces, and the tactics they used. He is grateful for the information, but says that it sounds more like a raiding party than anything that might attack their fortified bridge. His orders are to hold the bridge to restrict the enemy’s movements, and if these raiders are on the north side of the Davish, that is where they will stay. The officer does confirm that Fort Taelvu, in the mountains above Istivin, was completely lost to the enemy and burned, and has not been retaken, although Istivin Crossing and the ford have been reinforced and the city does not appear to be in immediate danger. The enemy has not advanced or even threatened Velikar’s Fort, so far as he is aware. It seems that having taken Fort Taelvu, slaughtered and burned, the humanoids have retreated. Willa thanks him and asks about the road to Mittelberg, and he says that it is clear according to the most recent dispatches.

    They pass the location of their meeting with the old couple refugees, and arrive at the crossroads with the orc heads on stakes. Thokk is unmoved. They continue south down the trail new to them. As the soldier said, the villages they pass appear intact. The small folk are cautious and defensive, and the livestock are kept in over-grazed fenced pastures close to the houses, but there is no sign of raiding or burning.

    Normally the party takes their rest at mid-day, with the sun at its highest. At this point, however, they see that they are within striking distance of Mittelberg. It lies just a few hours ahead of them, where a spur from a local mountain range narrows the river enough to make a bridge practical. Mittelberg is a walled city that lies on both banks of the river. Willa gets everyone to agree to push on to the city with a promise of tavern food and drink rather than trail rations and stream water for lunch.

    The gates of the city are closed and there is a tense line of travelers outside being interviewed by guards and then allowed inside a wicket door in small groups at a time. It is past two in the afternoon when the party is finally admitted to the city. They go immediately to the type of tavern frequented by soldiers. Willa tasks Babshapka with listening for news while she minds the still-laden mules in the street, there being no stable attached to the tavern. The party has a hearty meal, but Babshapka picks up little from the conversations (Perception 7). People are nervous and prices are high (3.5gp for lunch), that much is for certain, but what rumors there are of the raids are self-contradictory and obviously exaggerated. Checking them against what the party believes to be the truth of Fort Taelvu and Fort Saddle indicates that they are not to be trusted. Babshapka does hear rumors of raids around Headwater, their destination, which would be concerning if they could be trusted.

    After the party has eaten they visit the market, where prices are also high, and purchase enough food for themselves and the mules to bring their total up to two weeks’ supply each (84 human rations (80gp) and 13 mule rations (1.3gp). They discuss what they should do - stay at an inn for the night or leave now; attempt to sneak out in the morning or leave boldly; pretend to check in with the military authority as part of their cover or actually check in and then abandon whatever charge they are given. In the end they decide to leave now, while the gate guards are still letting people in and out. There is some grumbling about missing the chance for a night in a real bed, but it is more from habit than conviction.

    It is four in the afternoon by the time the party is at the gates on the south side of the town, and east side of the river. Willa asks the gate guards whether they know where Kerri Velthundel is, hinting without saying directly that the party is recently under her command (Persuasion 10). The guard says that she is currently encamped just south of the city, setting up patrols to keep the city alerted to any threats from the south. He lets the party leave without any further questioning.

    The trail out of Mittleberg is smaller than the one in and with fewer villages; they get the sense that while the region of Istivin to Mittleberg is a densely settled breadbasket of the low Highlands, they are now rising into the less populated high Highlands, and the “Mittle” of Mittleberg marks a half-way point of some sort.

    When they have reached the extent of their travels for the day Babshapka looks for a copse in which to hide the mules (Stealth 18) and Doro sets them up a hut after dinner.

    After dinner:
    102 human rations to 97.
    16 pounds rancid meat to 14 (Thokk)
    28 mule rations to 27 (abundant forage)

    31 March [5 Planting] - South of Mittleberg
    [Party encounter checks (patrolled, plains) at morning, evening, midnight]
    (low 73, high 95)
    Raid on Strake Terrace (night)

    It is pre-dawn, and Babshapka is on watch outside the hut. He hears the gallop of a single approaching horse (Perception 23). Moving to the road, he sees a figure moving north, slightly faster than is prudent in the twilight. Babshapka stands at the edge of the road, clearly visible, and as the figure approaches, yells “Agent of the Earl, what news?” (Persuasion 14).

    The figure merely slows to a canter as it passes, and shouts “Fort Iron Axe has fallen!” before speeding up again.

    Later, as the party readies for the day, Babshapka recounts the story to them. Willa thinks Iron Axe is far to the south, possibly near the missing dwarves. There seems to be no “front” to the Enemy’s attacks; they are happening all over the Highlands.

    They have been on the road little more than an hour when they come to a crossroads. Willa is about to tell them to keep heading south over the next ridge when Babshapka spots a bunch of riders coming towards them from the east branch. He makes their standards out to be red and black and Willa calls for a halt.

    As the riders get closer, they resolve into five men on light warhorses, bearing the standard of Sterich. They are moving at a brisk but sustainable canter, and pull up within hailing distance of the party and walk forward.

    Mathias asks them for news (Persuasion 18) and they say that humanoids have been raiding the villages around Fort Falke but that so far they have not been seen in numbers that could menace the fort itself. Mathias passes along the information about Fort Iron Axe and asks what they, a simple group of adventurers, might do to help. The soldiers reply that a group as well equipped as the party should engage any of the enemy they find, especially worg riders as they are the most problematic of the raiders, being so mobile and hard to pin down and engage. Mathias responds that they would love to smash worgs and will get right on that. Willa asks when the raids happened, and the men say it was the previous night, indicating that Fort Falke is close at hand.

    After the soldiers ride on north and the party continues walking south, Doro asks the others whether they have a group name and Aurora admits they don’t. The bard says that they simply have to have a party name, as all the famous adventuring parties do. She suggests the “The Orc Smashers” for the time being. It is a clever turn of phrase, for Thokk takes it to mean “The Orcs who Smash” while the others understand it as “The ones who Smash Orcs”.

    With the knowledge that raiders are about, Babshapka starts traveling further ahead of the party and scouting for tracks. Phreeee is sent off-road to the east, and Buckbeak to the west, with orders to return if they see anything of note.

    The villages they pass in the morning and afternoon are equally as intact as the day before, but even more wary. Those villagers who have carts or beasts of burden can be seen conspicuously loading them and preparing to flee at a moment’s notice.

    At the end of the day’s march, Willa exhorts them all to continue a bit further - the steady reports of attacks are becoming worrisome, and she is eager to get to Headwater. They walk for several more miles before a number of them tell her they have had quite enough.

    [First hour of forced march, DC10 Con save. Fails: Aurora, Thokk, and Babshapka)]

    After the hut is set up, Babshapka spends a fair time casting about for tracks but does not find anything unexpected.

    After dinner:
    97 human rations to 92.
    14 pounds rancid meat to 12 (Thokk)
    27 mule rations to 26 (abundant forage)

    1 April [6 Planting] - South of Mittleberg
    [Party encounter checks (patrolled, plains) at morning, evening, midnight: none]
    (low 77, high 93. Light rain 9am-10am)
    Raid on Kalibac (night)

    Shortly after the party sets out in the morning they cross a small stream feeding the Davish from the Jotens. After that there are just two more farming villages before the trail rises steeply into rugged hills. From that point on they see no more settlements, although flocks of sheep and shepherds can be seen in the distance, and the main trail is crossed by numerous dirt paths. A light rain falls for an hour but it is warm and the trail remains clear.

    Shortly after their mid-day rest they come upon a fork in the trail. A weathered wooden sign indicates that the way south leads to Fort Blackbridge, while the town of Blackbridge itself lies to the west. Willa is unsure what is the shorter route to Headwater, but notes that the trail to the fort continues to ascend the hills while the one to the town parallels the river. She says they are making for the town.

    Still footsore from the day before, the normal end of their marching day finds them still miles outside of the walled town but within sight of it, looking down from the hills above. Willa tells them that if they continue on and make the town before the gates close they can sleep in beds at an inn. That proves enough motivation for the first hour, but not longer (DC10 Con save; Fails from Babshapka (4) and Willa (6).

    Willa, sweating freely in her plate armor, stands “fer jes’ a minute” in the trail, trying to figure out how to get the others to go on when she doesn’t want to herself (one level of exhaustion). Aurora tells her to take twenty minutes instead. By the end of that time she has summoned two phantom steeds.

    With Willa and Babshapka on the illusory horses, the party continues another hour, finally reaching the city after dark (8:30pm) and with several more of them exhausted (DC11 Con save; Doro and Mathias both fail).

    The gates of the city are long since closed, and the night watch has orders not to open them - but seeing the “Orc Smashers” they convince one another that it is better to have the party within and defending the city than without.

    Willa and Thokk see to the party’s rooms, mules, and gear at an inn (-10gp) while Babshapka, Doro, Mathias, and Aurora look for a barracks. They find one, although the forces are those of a local noble, not the Earl. Mathias introduces the group as the “Orc Smashers” (Persuasion 11) and asks what a friendly adventuring company can do to help. A few of the soldiers suggest that they head to Fort Iron Axe and exact revenge, but most of them would like the party manning the walls at Headwater. Their account of the enemy is the standard litany of humanoids (with no mention of giants), and Aurora has the impression that they believe if Headwater falls, Blackbridge will surely be next (Insight 6).

    Once they are all back at the inn, Willa tells them to enjoy the beds, but not get too comfortable. They will be leaving early the next day for Fort Stirrup.

    After dinner (at inn):
    92 human rations to 89.
    12 pounds rotting meat to 10 (Thokk)
    26 mule rations to 25 (abundant forage)

    2 April [7 Planting] - Blackbridge Town
    [Party encounter checks (patrolled, plains) at morning, evening, midnight: none]
    (low 72, high 93)

    There are two roads to Headwater from Blackbridge Town. One on the west side of the Davish, over the mountains and through Fort Saddle, where raids have happened. The other, on the east side of the river, stays in the valley and passes through Fort Stirrup, which according to the Blackbridge Town gate guards, has not seen raiding yet. With the second route as their choice the party leaves town early in the morning.

    Most of the day’s travel is along the banks of the Davish itself. At one point they cross a smaller tributary at a ford. The villages they pass are in the process of being evacuated, and there are many refugees along the road heading north to Blackbridge. The travelers are not panicked, and there is no sign of raiders - but all of them to whom the party talks have heard news that the enemy is gathering outside of Headwater. Troops are in motion as well, though fewer; most, like the party, are traveling south as reinforcements.

    Babshapka watches for tracks, but the road is so well-traveled it is impossible to pull out any one thing. He soon gives up and takes to scanning the verges, trying to see whether anyone has entered or left the road from the grass on either side. For her part, Willa watches each rider passing, trying to see if the elf commander Kerri is about, but she has no more luck than Babshapka.

    Fort Stirrup is well within reach of their day’s journey and no forced march is needed at the end. To the party’s surprise, they are denied entry to the fort - it is apparently for the military only, and those with a specific posting, at that.

    The village surrounding the fort is deserted of its original inhabitants, and the guards at the gate tell the party that they are welcome to commandeer whatever abandoned peasant hut they find most appealing. The larger wooden buildings have already been taken by refugees from Headwater moving north, or troops moving south whose final destination is Headwater but not the fort.

    The Fort Stirrup gate guards do tell the party news from Headwater - the enemy is on the east side of the river, in the fields just outside the town. The siege has only just begun, and no assaults on the walls have even been made yet - so far the humanoids have been content to plunder and burn the hinterland rather than attack the city itself, but they are obviously gathering for a future assault. The town lies on both sides of the river, although most of it is on the east side. The two halves are surrounded by walls and connected by high stone bridges over the river. Human defenders continue to move into the town from the north, and the forces of Sterich hold all the west bank of the river.

    Fort Stirrup guards a downstream passage across the river (clearly a target should the enemy try to surround the city on both banks). The party could cross the river in the morning and enter the city from the safe west bank. But once they arrived at the city, how would they leave, with it surrounded by the enemy? They decide that on the morrow they will instead head along the east bank until they are close to the city and then, at the first sign of enemy forces, strike east and up the smaller river as Griffage instructed, hopefully avoiding the besiegers altogether or slipping through their lines unnoticed. They will have two raptors scouting from above, which should considerably increase their chances of avoiding encounters.

    After dinner:
    89 human rations to 86 (breakfast at inn)
    10 pounds rotting meat to 8 (Thokk)
    25 mule rations to 24 (abundant forage)
    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.&nbsp;
    Master Greytalker

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    Tue Nov 08, 2022 3:04 pm  
    246: Meta Reveal

    Post 246: Meta Reveal
    Dear Reader,
    Have you been following the clues? Did you pick up on the foreshadowing when the party passed the Jotens sailing up the Javan, even before the Barrier Peaks? Have you known since Runnel told Willa she needed to get the party to Sterich? Did the Countess' description of the Troubles, and her suspicion that there was an evil genius behind the attacks, seem familiar? When Griffage explained in detail what tactics the party needed to fight giants, did it all become clear? Or did you catch my reply to CruelSummerLord at the top of the page, before Post 215, where I said it explicitly?

    Yes, the party is poised to head for G1: The Steading of the Hill Giant Chief. Since the organizing principle of this campaign is "classic Greyhawk modules converted to 5e", I knew at the start, years before this point, that they would eventually be doing the Giants Series, and they are finally here.

    On the other hand, as a DM, I had some serious concerns about this. Many iconic monsters are underpowered in 5e compared to 1e, such as the Intellect Devourer they faced in the Barrier Peaks. However, giants (and dragons) are considerably more powerful in 5e than 1e. Raw power is measured by 'challenge rating' (CR), which attempts to gauge at what level a standard party of four adventurers can have an exciting fight against a creature but with no real chance of a PC death.

    Ogres are 59hp, 1 attack, average damage 13. They have a 35% chance of landing a hit on AC20 (Willa's magical plate). They are rated CR2: four characters of level 2 can have a good fight against an ogre but without being that concerned about PC death.

    Hill Giants are 105hp, 2 attacks per round, average damage 18 per hit, 45% chance of hitting AC20. They are CR5; one giant is an exciting combat for four characters of level 5.

    Frost Giants are 138hp, 2 attacks, average damage 25, 50% chance to hit AC20. CR8; just one frost giant should be an exciting combat for four PC's of level 8. In 1e I think a frost giant would be a good opponent for a single PC of 8th level.

    Fire Giants are 162 hp, 2 attacks, average damage 28, 60% chance to hit AC20. CR9; one fire giant is an exciting combat for four PC's of level 9. The increase in CR over a frost giant is largely because of the much better armor of fire giants.

    Currently the party is six PC's of level 7. With this total, a single Hill Giant is considered an insignificant encounter for them. Two hill giants are an "Easy" encounter. Three hill giants are a "Hard" encounter, and four hill giants all at once is considered a "Deadly" encounter; one in which at least one of the PCs is likely to go unconscious and in which serious resource use by PCs is required to survive.

    I planned to use G1 as written, with all 29 adult male hill giants, five leader types, and 13 ogres.

    To consider also, 5e's "action economy" and "bounded accuracy" mean that numbers matter a great deal; even goblins, if there are enough of them, can challenge a mid-level party simply through their numbers (and especially if they have missile troops) in a way that was not true in first and second editions.

    Thus, having the party face the entire Steading of Hill Giants when they were just 7th level meant that I had serious concerns about their survival.

    The Grand Plan
    I had two ways planned to address the party's level vis a vis the giants, starting from their entry to the Barrier Peaks module. The first was shifting to actually keeping track of experience points. Up to level seven I had been having them level by story milestones and not recording xp. But after each character reached 7th, from that point on, I kept track of experience points for things killed or defeated. My idea was that the experience value of the foes would serve as a natural regulator of appropriate level. When they started the giant series and began fighting things that were super hard for their level, they would get a bunch of XP and quickly level up to what was an appropriate level for monsters that challenging. If they lingered in G1, methodically clearing it of female and young giants before moving to G2, and if the hill giants then became not that much of a challenge for them, they would eventually not be getting a lot of XP from each encounter. I switched from story-based awards to XP earned for the Giants themselves in order to make sure that things kept at the appropriate difficulty level because, this being my first 5e game and having not played 5e at those levels, I wasn't sure what that difficulty level would be.

    The second thing I did to make sure that they could actually face the Giants was to have them do Barrier Peaks first. In many ways Barrier Peaks was the set-up to allow them to do the Giants. It was intentional that they had a chance to find a bunch of alien tech and come away with lots of things that could temporarily incapacitate giants, principally stun grenades, paralyzation pistols, and blaster rifles. My idea was that even if they really weren’t ready to face a group of giants at their level, they would at least temporarily have a technological means to do that by incapacitating most of the giants and then being able to face them one or a few at a time. The tech was meant to act as a crutch in order to make sure they lived to a level at which that giants were appropriate foes. It was gratifying for me that they actually found the arsenal room and got so much tech stuff right before they left the ship.

    The fact that the grenades are single-use, and the pistols and blasters rely on power disc charges set up an interesting trade-off, once they realized that they would be facing giants. Given the power jump from individual hill giants to frost giants, they needed to plan how and when they wanted to use the tech. The longer they stayed in the Hill Giants, the more xp they would have, to be a higher level to face the frost giants. But to stay longer in the hill giants (once they had discovered the chain) would mean using up more of their tech. They could go slow and careful with the Hill Giants, saving their tech for the frost giants, and maybe come in at a lower level but with all their tech intact. Or they could immediately use the chain to jump to the frost giants and have abundant tech but at a lower PC level. Or they could use the tech liberally for a quicker and sounder victory at the Steading, really racking up xp so that when they faced the frost giants they would be low on tech but higher in level and more naturally equipped to deal with them. Or perhaps some sort of balance where they would assess the specific situational threat of each Hill Giant encounter, use their normal means, spells, abilities, and healing when possible, but then switch to the tech if they felt like a specific encounter was becoming overwhelming. I thought this was an interesting strategic trade-off, and I enjoyed the in-character and out-of-character discussions among the players as they hashed it out.

    The Map and Encounters
    With the characters approaching Headwater, itself 36 miles from the Steading as the falcon companion flies, I switched over to a 1 hex = 1 mile scale map. In addition to the standard wilderness random encounters being rolled three times a day in the plains and hills (six times in forests), I also added one encounter roll for every hex (mile) they moved, to represent the patrols and raiders from the Steading, with an encounter chance of 1 in 10 on each roll.

    If a roll resulted in an encounter, I then make a 'luck roll' (4dF).
    A positive result, closer to Headwater, meant rangers and scouts of the Earl.
    A positive result, closer to the Steading, resulted in natural wildlife from standard encounter tables.

    A zero was a non-combat encounter of raiders bringing back domestic animals to provision the Steading:
    2 worg riders
    10 goblins
    Captured pigs, goats, and cattle

    A -1 was an 'easy' encounter with a goblin patrol:
    1 goblin boss with a worg
    8 goblin worg riders
    14 goblins

    A -2 was a 'medium' encounter with an orc raiding party:
    1 orc war chief
    3 orogs
    20 orcs

    A -3 was a 'hard' encounter with an ogre warband:
    1 ogre chain brute
    2 worgs
    5 orogs
    5 ogres
    10 goblin archers

    A -4 was a 'deadly' encounter with giants on their way to attack the city:
    5 hill giants
    2 ogre bolt launchers
    5 ogres

    Thus prepared, the party began to make their way to the Steading...
    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.&nbsp;
    Adept Greytalker

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    Wed Nov 09, 2022 12:03 pm  

    I imagine the rest of the Fellowship will be sorely missed with this particular mission. And if Thokk's been bored for a while, he won't be for much longer...

    I've been meaning to ask you, have you made up all the locations and interactions our heroes have been having for the last few posts yourself? Or did you borrow them from updated versions of the G series, like The Liberation Of Geoff?
    Master Greytalker

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    Wed Nov 09, 2022 7:16 pm  

    CruelSummerLord wrote:
    I've been meaning to ask you, have you made up all the locations and interactions our heroes have been having for the last few posts yourself? Or did you borrow them from updated versions of the G series, like The Liberation Of Geoff?

    The party first lands in Sterich at 'Javan Ferry West'. Anna Meyer's map has two towns across the Javan from one another, 'Javan Ferry' in the east and 'Sterich Road' in the west, but I think this is a misreading of the map from Dungeon 117 so I decided to call the west-bank town 'Javan Ferry West'. The description of the town itself, its magistrate, and the "Rosy Mounds Inn" are all my own.

    They then travel the Sterich Road past the town of Johann's End, which can be found on the map in Dungeon 117. In Dungeon 118 we are told that the town acquired its name from a giant that would have been killed by the adventurers in the Queen of Spiders supermodule, but is not placed on a map in that module and only the inn is described. The name of the town prior to the killing of the giant is not mentioned, so calling it Johann's End is actually anachronistic within the timeline of my campaign.

    My descriptions of Istivin itself, as well as Krelont Keep and Istivin Crossing, borrow heavily from Dungeon 117, but the personality of Resbin Dren is my own. That she is from Zahindia is one fan theory of several but the one I decided to go with, and her relationship with Runnel is of course my invention since he is an NPC of my invention.

    The forts in the Jotens above Istivin are placed on the map in Dungeon 117 but only Velikar's Fort is named or described, the others are my own.

    Ebenenberg is my name for a town shown as a ruin on the Dungeon 117 map, presumably one that was burned during the events leading into the Liberation of Geoff. The description of the bridge, the mill, and the burned town are my own.

    The locations of the walled towns of Mittleberg, Strake Terrace, Kalibac, and Blackbridge Town, as well as the forts Falke, Blackbridge, Stirrup, and Iron Axe are all from the map in Dungeon 117. On that map Mittleberg, Strake Terrace, Kalibac, and Fort Blackbridge are all named and intact, while the other names are my invention since they are not named on that map and are shown as in ruins, presumably destroyed in the fighting of the second giant uprising. None of them, intact or destroyed, are described, so what descriptions are in this journal are my own.
    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.&nbsp;
    Master Greytalker

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    Tue Nov 15, 2022 4:46 pm  
    Post 247: End Run

    Record of the Troubles
    21 March: Party's first day in Istivin
    23 March: Humanoid Raid on Fort Saddle
    25 March: Sack of Fort Taelvu.
    27 March: Raid on Ebenenberg.
    28 March: Sack of Fort Iron Axe. The party is found by Griffage.
    30 March: Raid on Fort Falke
    31 March: Raid on Strake Terrace
    1 April: Raid on Kalibac
    2 April: 0
    3 April: 0 - 1 = -1; Skirmish outside Hilden's Grange

    Post 247: End Run

    3 April [8 Planting] - Fort Stirrup
    [Party encounter checks (patrolled, plains) at morning (none). After noon, encounters are checked for every mile of travel on the tactical scale map]
    (low 73, high 93. Light rain 8am - 3pm, does not slow travel)
    Humanoids, remnants of the force that raided the villages outside Strake Terrace, are turned away by defenders outside Hilden's Grange

    Over breakfast, Willa, Aurora, Babshapka, and Thokk hold a strategy session, with Mathias and Doro listening in and making comments and suggestions. It is not typical for them to include Thokk in such a session, but Aurora says that they need to understand exactly how his speak with animals and beast sense work in order to get effective use out of them. After a ten minute ritual, Thokk can speak to Phreeeee for the next ten minutes to explain to him the plan. Then after another ten minute ritual, Thokk can see through Phreeeee’s eyes for an hour. He can’t communicate with Phreeeee at all through the beast sense, unlike Aurora and her telepathic connection to Buckbeak, but there is no limit to how far Phreeeee can be from Thokk and still have Thokk observing, which makes the falcon a far better scout in real time, even if the flow of information is unidirectional.

    Phreeeee can fly about six miles in an hour and still remain observant (he can Dash for twice this speed but then can’t make Perception checks and would be relying on Passive Perception). It is decided that the party will approach Headwater to within five miles (with Babshapka letting them know when they are close) and then send Phreeeee straight at it - he will fly five miles forward, a mile east, and then at about the time Thokk loses his sight, he will return and find the party. With just ten minutes, Thokk can prepare to send him forth again if needed.

    With their plan in place, the party sets out down the trail in the morning. From Fort Stirrup south, all the villages they pass are have been completely abandoned. Well before noon Babshapka judges the party to be halfway to Headwater, but still some ten miles shy of the city. They cautiously continue their approach, now passing villages that have not only been abandoned, but looted and burned. Signs of the passage of raiders are everywhere, although no hostiles are immediately apparent. Some hours after they start their march, a light rain begins to fall and continues until well into the afternoon. The rain does not slow them.

    At five miles out from Headwater, Babshapka judges them to be in position. Thokk wants to start his ritual, but Willa insists that they first move off the road and into cover (Babshapka Stealth 12). After twenty minutes, Thokk has reminded Phreeeee of the plan and made sure he can see through the falcon’s eyes. The bird sets out, heading due south for the city. The first two enemy units he spots are goblin worg-riders. These appear to be acting as scouts and screens outside all the other forces, and are in constant motion. Closer into the city are goblin infantry units, each several dozen strong. One is on the road itself and appears to be digging defensive works - trenches and dikes. Another goblin unit is further back from the road and is scavenging through the ruins of a burned-out village. Finally, just outside the walls of the city itself, Phreeeee spots two encamped orc units, each numbering in the scores of soldiers. In each camp there are squads felling trees and building ladders and siege towers. (Phreeeee Perception checks, with advantage as they are based on sight, 23, 22, 16, 17, 19, 20) [All these units are placed encounters on the map, besiegers of the city, not wandering patrols]. The rain is not slowing Phreeeee, but little by little his wings are getting wetter and heavier. If the rain gets any stronger he will be grounded.

    Phreeeee continues on to within bowshot of the walls of Headwater itself laterally, but flying high out of range of the archers of both sides, as Thokk instructed him to do. The city itself is intact for the time being - no fires, no slain defenders along the walls. Phreeeee turns east and begins moving up the small tributary of the Davish. Once he is a few miles from the city, he no longer sees any organized units of the enemy, although he could easily be missing individuals moving carefully and under cover.

    All during the time Phreeeee is scouting, the party is eating and taking their mid-day rest concealed by brush. Once it has been an hour and Thokk loses his view from the falcon, they quickly talk over their options. Thokk suggests that they move more or less due east, avoiding the troops close to the city. Once they are far enough away, they can move south to the smaller river and begin to follow it as Griffage explained. The others agree and they set out. Mathias wonders if they shouldn’t take out a small unit or two of orcs or goblins just to help the city itself, but the others believe that such a fight could rapidly escalate and attract unwanted attention while doing little overall for the city.

    [The party will take 20 minutes to pass through each 1 mile hex and along the way have a 1 in 10 chance of an encounter. If an encounter is rolled, Buckbeak (continually circling them aloft) will give them enough warning for Babshapka to attempt a Stealth roll to hide them before they are spotted. When Buckbeak sees Phreeeee returning, Aurora will let Thokk know to let himself be seen by the falcon.]

    (1:30pm) The party has moved about three miles east off the trail by the time Phreeeee returns. To the southeast of them lightly forested hills rise up, shielding the smaller river from their view. They travel a mile more to the east (1:50pm). The whole time Phreeeee rests on Thokk's shoulder, preening and drying his wings so that by the time he takes to the air again he is able to fly without hindrance. Then Thokk casts his Beast Sense once again (2pm). The party travels a mile more to the southeast, Phreeeee two miles to the south. They continue in this fashion, with Phreeeee moving ahead of them and making sure their path is clear, and them following after their flying scout. They move up and into the hills, their route guided by Babshapka. [Normally moving through the hills would take 30 minutes per mile rather than 20, but hills are one of Babshapka’s two favored terrains and he can pick out routes that will not slow the group.] The light rain lets up around 3pm.

    (6:10pm) The party, up in the lightly forested hills above the river, has reached the end of their normal marching day. Talk turns to making camp for the night, but Babshapka does not believe that he can keep the mules well hidden here without resorting to having them inside the hut all night. (Stealth 9). To the east of them is a denser stand of forest. The party rests while Thokk again uses Beast Sense and sends out Phreeee. In the gathering gloom, the falcon scouts the edge of the woods. Finding it clear, the party advances [not a forced march at first since they still have not walked for more than ten hours total; even though it has been longer than ten hours since they started, much of that time was spent resting while Thokk performed rituals. They do need one Con check by the time they arrive at the edge of the forest itself].

    (7pm) The party finally reaches the dense forest. All of them are tired, but Mathias is exhausted (Con save 4; fails, one level of exhaustion). Babshapka quickly finds a much better place to hide the mules (Stealth 26) and Doro sets up their hut. Thokk spends ten minutes casting speak with animals just so he can tell his ‘little Larry’ how proud he is of the bird. He looks in his pack for choice pieces of meat from the mountain goat he brought down a week ago, but when he brings it out, it smells so strongly that Willa tells him he is not allowed to bring it into the hut - whatever he and the bird don’t eat tonight he has to immediately bury. She will not have them found by the enemy over rotting goat meat when they still have weeks of trail rations on hand. “But Phreeeee need fresh meat!” Thokk objects.

    After dinner:
    86 human rations to 81
    8 pounds rotting meat to 6 (Thokk), then the remainder supposedly buried (but Thokk secretly keeps choice bits for the falcon)
    24 mule rations to 23 (abundant forage)
    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.&nbsp;
    Master Greytalker

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    Tue Nov 22, 2022 8:55 am  
    Post 248: Approaching the Steading

    DM's note on Sources: For my physical description of the Steading, I am indebted to the description used by a video blogger who recorded his solo play of G1. However, I have been unable to recover the specific video I watched (and thus link to it); I believe it may have since been made private.

    Note that in the original module, the dire wolf pen [22] is one great open area behind the stockade and in between the Steading and the outbuilding. However, part of my plot for the Giant Alliance was that the Hill Giants were being used to strip the Sterish countryside of food, capturing and driving livestock back to the Steading. I needed somewhere for the giants to keep the captured animals, so I decided that they had added a dividing wall to partition the pen into the section for the dire wolves and a section for the livestock.

    Record of the Troubles
    21 March: Party's first day in Istivin
    23 March: Humanoid Raid on Fort Saddle
    25 March: Sack of Fort Taelvu.
    27 March: Raid on Ebenenberg.
    28 March: Sack of Fort Iron Axe. The party is found by Griffage.
    30 March: Raid on Fort Falke
    31 March: Raid on Strake Terrace
    1 April: Raid on Kalibac
    3 April: Skirmish outside Hilden's Grange
    4 April: 0

    Post 248: Approaching the Steading

    4 April [9 Planting] - Foothills of the Jotens
    [Party encounters checked every mile of travel, 1 in 10 chance]
    (low 58, high 84, fog close to the steading, heavier rain at night around the steading)

    (6am) While the party is up, eating, and packing the mules, Phreeeee explores to the south, southwest, and southeast of the party’s position, checking the forest and hills closer to the river.

    (7am) The party sets out southeast through the forest.

    (7:20am. Encounter: Luck roll = positive; agents of the Earl) Buckbeak is flying above the treetops around the party, pretending to be hunting. To the north of them, just beyond the edge of the dense woods on the hilltops, he spots (Perception 22 with advantage) two moving figures - although they are obviously trying not to be seen. When Aurora looks through his eyes, she sees humans - rangers or scouts of some sort. While the rest of the party sets up defensively, Babshapka leads Mathias toward where the spirit bird indicated the figures.

    When they have approached what he considers close enough, but still not made visual contact, Babshapka mimics a bird call, common among rangers alerting one another. After a considerable pause, the call is repeated back to them. Creeping closer, Babshapka spots one of the men, walking openly but slowly through the forest. The other moves behind and alongside, darting from cover to cover and with bow in hand.

    Mathias walks forward, hands empty and open. Babshapka shadows him, bow in hand and blaster on his hip. At some fifty feet apart the man in the open stops, while the other one pauses at a vantage point from which he could fire on either Mathias or Babshapka but remain himself in cover. “For the Earl!” the man in the open says.

    “For the Earl,” repeats Mathias. [The party later learns that the appropriate counter-password is "For the March"]

    “We’re scouts from Headwater,” the man in the open says. “What are you?”

    “Special assignment,” replies Mathias vaguely.

    “You’re not a Sterishman,” the scout says, upon hearing Mathias’ accent.

    “That’s correct,” agrees Mathias. “That’s part of the assignment. We can’t say what we are doing here. But the Earl knows.” (Persuasion 11)

    Babshapka can hear the creak of wood as the hidden man slowly draws back his bowstring. He calls out, “We know Griffage! And he knows our mission as well.” (Persuasion 12) The tension in the wood relaxes, the bow slackens, but remains pointed at them.

    The man in the open falls back, and the pair have a hushed conversation. Finally, the first man comes forward again. “The enemy is burning and pillaging everything on this side of the Davish. All of the captured livestock are being driven up this river into the mountains. This is as far as we have been so far. Some of the herds are being driven by nothing more than small groups of goblins. We are ambushing them and turning the beasts free. They will probably just get eaten by wolves rather than finding their ways home, but better that than feeding the enemy.”

    “Good luck,” says Mathias.

    “We were never here,” adds Babshapka.

    “May the light of Pelor and all the Old Gods guide your steps,” says the man, and they withdraw from sight. Mathias and Babshapka return to the party.

    (7:30 am) The party continues through the forest.

    (7:40 am) Phreeeee returns to Thokk. He casts beast sense again.

    The party continues to move southeast through the forest. Phreeeee scouts ahead. Thokk relays that the river goes east but then turns south and the entire southern bank is forested; if they continue due southeast and cut through the open a bit, they can cross the river and then continue to follow it but from cover.

    (8:40am) Thokk’s beast sense ends. The party leaves the cover of the woods, comes down from the hills, and approaches the river as directly as they can, hoping to find some way across it that can include the mules. Willa says that if the herds are being driven into the mountains, they must be crossing the river somewhere, they just need to find where.

    (9am) Phreeeee returns to the party around the time they reach the river. Babshapka finds local cover for the party while he searches for a way to cross (Survival 27). He returns soon, and then quickly leads them just a half mile to the east. Here, a number of huge fir trees have been felled, de-branched, and laid across the river at a place where large boulders in the streambed hold the logs back against the current. A pond of sorts has been created upstream, with debris from the mountain stream backed up on the high side like a disorganized beaver dam. The whole thing looks rather precarious, but Babshapka thinks the mules can walk across the fir trunks. Indeed, he found that the banks on both sides of the river are covered in the spoor of cows, goats, sheep, goblins, orcs, and the occasional eiger.

    The logs are slippery and rotten from their immersion in water, and the mules make several missteps as they cross, but don’t fall (Babshapka Animal Handling 11). Once on the other bank, the tracks lead up the valley alongside the river, while the party plunges directly into the thick forest and out of sight, assured by Thokk that they can pick up the more southern branch if they continue southeast. This steep river valley seems to act as a funnel for clouds moving up from the lowlands - the trees here are taller and more densely spaced than down by the Davish, and the thick moss on trunks and boulders attests to abundant rain.

    Not knowing where the upcoming fork is, but knowing that they want to take the southern branch, the party continues to the southeast while Thokk watches Phreeeee scouting ahead.

    (10:20am) Thokk reports that Phreeee has found the fork, and that it lies some five or six miles ahead. The party turns south to intercept it farther along its course.

    (10:50am) The party pauses while Thokk casts beast sense again. Willa asks Babshapka to take the opportunity to check about for tracks. He says that there are deer and boar, and an abundance of wolves (Survival 11). The party discusses the possibility of capturing some of the humanoid cattle drivers and interrogating them. Matthias says that if they attack any such group, they just have to make sure that none of them get away. They don’t want to warn the enemy this close to their goal.

    (11:30am. Encounter. Luck roll -2; orc raiding party) Several things happen at once. Just as Thokk is excitedly telling the party that Phreeeee sees something important (Perception 23), Aurora announces with alarm that Buckbeak has spotted a group of orcs moving through the trees toward them (Perception 16). Babshapka gathers the party and mules and moves them swiftly into cover (Stealth 18).

    To the south of the party, on the hillslope above them, a large group of orcs passes close by. Babshapka can make out one or two dozen orcs (he sees ten but hears more), as well as a few larger brutes some in the party recognize as orogs - the mixed offspring of orcs with eigers. Before Thokk gets to tell the party what Phreeeee sees (the bird has actually arrived at the Steading), he loses his beast sense - and given what Phreeeee saw, he is uncertain whether the spell naturally expired or the hawk was spotted and killed.

    Without his companion’s senses, Thokk returns to the situation at hand. He carefully studies the passing orcs, in case he needs to imitate or infiltrate them (Insight 14). Looking at their paint, tattoos, and piercings, he tells the others that they are orcs of the “Broken Bone” tribe, worshippers of the god Bahgtru, the son of Gruumsh. Bahgtru is the god of pure physical force, wrestling, personal power, and dominance. After watching the entire group pass, Thokk thinks it odd that no shamen were seen with the group. A force that large would normally have one or more religious leaders accompanying it, and they would not be easily missed, for shaman of Bahgtru would be the biggest, strongest, loudest, most bullying members of the band. The party whispers speculations to one another.

    [In fact, Nosnra has been slowly bringing all of the local orc tribes under his control in the following manner: Each den is visited by a large group of eigers with a hill giant warrior or two, and told to submit themselves to Nosnra's will, which will include working with orcs of different tribes. When the shamen object (as they always do), they are killed along with any of the secular leaders who resisted the slaughter of their shamen. Common orcs who resist are enslaved and brought back to the Steading for re-education; common warriors who immediately accept Nosnra's rule become raiders and scouts for the giants, like all the members of the group the party is seeing.]

    For some time after the orcs have moved off to the northwest, near but not directly along the party’s trail, the party stays silent and hidden. And then the piercing cry of Phreeeee can be heard directly above them. The falcon has returned and is attempting to find Thokk, following their custom of Thokk stepping out from cover when Aurora informs him that Buckbeak has seen the bird return.

    Aurora puts prestidigitated lights on a tree, carefully placing them on one side so that they cannot be seen from the direction in which the orcs went. Phreeeee ignores them (Intelligence check -2) and continues calling loudly for Thokk. “Shut yer bird up are aye will,” warns Willa.

    Thokk steps out from cover, trying to use a large boulder to shield himself from the orcs but still be visible to the falcon (Stealth 11, Phreeeee Perception 11). Finally the bird sees him and immediately swoops down to settle on his outstretched forearm. Thokk feeds it bits of rotten meat while showing it Aurora’s lights and praising its loyalty with softly murmured words.

    (11:40am) As the party begins to talk, Thokk speaks to the hawk and then describes what he saw. Some three or four miles away, he says, in a gap that the small river makes between high mountain peaks, in a stand of huge trees, is a log steading. The scale of the building, according to what Phreeeee saw from the size of a set of outside doors, could only be that of giants. It seems that the party has found their destination - is this the source of the raids?

    Thokk moves forward to check the trail left by the orcs (Stealth 14, Survival 15). He estimates them at 20 orcs and three orogs and takes them to be a patrol as they are not following a defined path. He expects that they are looking for groups like the party who are trying to sneak up on the Steading, as their trail eventually leads back in that direction.

    (11:50am) The party begins to look at one another, and especially at the mules. How can they hide their approach? But if they do not take the mules with them, what do they do with all their gear? Babshapka leads them all a mile north, away from the Steading, until he finds a huge pine deadfall that can conceal their gear.

    (12:10pm) Willa directs them to start unpacking the mules and doing a gear check - making sure that they have everything they need from them. Many of the characters load up to their maximum weight with grenades and other Terran weapons - including Doro, although she has no idea what the strange devices do or how to use them. Aurora passes her two power discs, one fully charged and one at two, although without much explanation. Later, Mathias tells her not to try to use the items - they are dangerous - but just to carry them for the others and hand them over if called upon.

    “Why did we bring all this treasure?” asks Aurora rhetorically, as she encourages Thokk to carry jewelry and platinum chits rather than leave them in the gear bags. Willa takes out twelve trenchers of meaty stew, but leaves the rest of the food, for people and mules, in the bags. Babshapka has located a nearby fallen tree. He digs out under it a space large enough for the mule pack frames and all their bags - everything the party members are not carrying on themselves - moves them under the tree, and camouflages the front with stones and fallen branches (Survival 25). He then carefully distributes all about the earth he dug away.

    Their gear stowed, they argue about the mules. Mathias says that the mules will get them all caught, and they should be killed and the bodies hidden. Willa thinks that they should be hidden, alive, and made to look like they have escaped from one of the livestock drives. After the debate has gone on for longer than ten minutes, Babshapka tells the others to have their mid-day meal and try to stay quiet. He begins to lead the mules away to the north on their lead ropes, but Willa stops him and tells Thokk to both rub himself on the mules and pee on them, which he does to his great amusement. Hopefully his orc musk will cover the scent of the rest of the party.

    Babshapka walks for 45 minutes away from the rest of the party to the northwest. He finally finds a natural ‘corral’ of sorts, where three large trees have fallen in such a way as to form an enclosure with a narrow entrance. He brings the mules inside, then tangles, rather than ties, the ends of their lead ropes to large fallen branches, to make it look like they have escaped but gotten caught in the vegetation. He encourages the mules to remain in the enclosure for their own safety. Walking around from the outside, he finds that they are concealed from most angles - so long as they don’t wander off or bray (Survival 12). He would like to actually tie them down or hobble them, but that would make it obvious that their owners were in the area rather than them having escaped by themselves.

    (2:40pm) Babshapka returns to the party. They have spent the time while he was away debating whether they are here for an outright attack on the giants or an intelligence-gathering mission in which the giants will not know that they have come. It still seems unresolved. Babshapka tells them to be quiet and follow him. They walk directly toward his estimation of where the Steading is, not retracing their path to near where their gear cache is. All the while they travel, an afternoon fog gets thicker and the visibility drops.

    (2:50pm) At a mile from the steading, the party takes a short rest and those who can, refresh their spell slots.

    (3:50pm) The party sets out through the deep fog, guided by Babshapka’s sense of direction and little else as large trees suddenly spring into view and then disappear again in the mists. The thick, wet leaves and sodden needles on the ground deaden the sounds of their feet.

    (4pm) At half a mile from the Steading it is still not visible, but the trees have thinned and a fog-shrouded meadow has opened before them. From somewhere ahead the sound of the rushing river can be heard.

    It is agreed that Babshapka will scout for them, alone. Doro casts invisibility on him, reminding him that it will last but one hour.

    Aurora at: 4/3/3/1 (Cast mage armor on self and Doro at 6am, 2pm; four slots recovered during short rest)

    Doro at: 4/2/3/1 (Cast invisibility)

    As he approaches the center of the meadow, Babshapka spots the watchtower of the Steading first, rising up from the fog to nearly forty feet tall. He carefully checks the ground as he goes (Survival 25). There are lots of prints - orcs, eigers, and something bigger (giants?), wolves, and giant wolves.

    The watchtower is at the northern end of the building, at one end of a gallery with stout wooden doors fully twenty feet tall! A huge wood pile is stacked against the northern wall, and a number of sloppily-mortared stone chimneys rise along the other wooden walls. The great pine logs of the walls are some three feet in diameter, and cedar planking on the roof takes the place of shingles. He sees no windows save for the open ones at the top of the watchtower, but some smoke rises from the side-gaps in the stacked roofs. Looking all about, there is smoke coming from the chimneys, but no movement on the ground (Perception 20). The smoke smells of wood fires, but also of burned meat and charred hide. There is some sort of shape or shadow in the watchtower, but it is still for as long as he watches. The main building of the steading is higher in the center, some 30 feet or so, but falls to perhaps 15 feet in the outer ring.

    Babshapka walks the whole east side of the Steading. Toward the back, the wall and roof becomes a palisade of vertical posts. There are gate doors in the stockade wall and a clear path like that leading to the entry doors. Here he can clearly hear the lowing of cattle and bleating of sheep, snorting of pigs, as well as deep, wolf-like growls. Along the way he has passed by several other chimneys, all warm and smoking from their tops. The exterior wood of the walls is sodden from constant rain, and thin patches of moss are here and there on the roof - but he estimates the whole building has been here less than a year.

    The north wall contains the long side of the outbuilding, another stockade wall with gate and path, and a narrow extension of the main building.

    The west wall is one long expanse of the windowless steading itself, some three hundred fifty feet long and with two stone chimneys in the center. There is a great ailing alder tree closer to the northern end, with all its lower branches stripped and its bark carved with crude runes in giantish. Its crown is over the roof of the steading; by climbing it, Babshapka can see down into the stockades. The corral off the northern gate contains livestock - cows, sheep, goats, and pigs, and even a few horses, while the one off the eastern gate holds giant wolves. Both pens have bare ground floors, muddy and dung-covered. A lower, cruder wall with a small gate separates the two corrals, and several of the wolves pace close along their side while the animals on the other side avoid it. There is a door to the interior of the Steading in the food animal pen and another in the wolf pen, where there is also a door to the outbuilding.

    Babshapka descends the tree and gazes up at the watchtower as he moves around to the south side of the steading. There is still a large object, dark against the open window, larger than an orc and unmoving (Perception 12). This side of the south wall has a stone chimney - the only one whose stones are cool to the touch and which is not emitting smoke.

    He retreats to the path and watches for half an hour, but nothing comes or goes, nothing stirs. He approaches the doors at the base of the watchtower. Listening, he hears (Perception 23) voices and movement - but, he thinks, from deeper within the Steading, not just beyond these great doors.

    (5pm) Babshapka returns to the party at the edge of the woods and is just three steps away from them when he becomes visible in the fog, the spell on him suddenly ending.

    Thokk casts beast sense and Phreeeee immediately sets out for the Steading. He alights on the cold chimney and peers down it. It smells of ash and soot but no warm air rises from it. He could get down it, with care, but could not then return up it, being able to have a controlled vertical fall with his wings outstretched but unable to fly thus. He gazes from the height of the chimney into the windows of the watchtower (Perception 21). There is no floor, but he does see a large staircase. A hill giant, slumped against the wall and his back to the window, forms the unmoving shape Babshapka saw. Is it sleeping, or drugged, or dead? The falcon flies through the open window and perches on the highest stair.

    The stairs go round and down the inside walls of the tower. Hopping a bit at a time, the falcon reaches the bottom, where his eyes strain against the dark. The huge double doors of the entry are there, with two equally huge hill giants nearby. One looks collapsed over a tun cask, the other is seated on the stone floor, leaning up against the wall, drool running freely from his mouth. Drunk or poisoned? The falcon can’t tell (Nature 9).

    There are three doors to the interior of the steading - a set of double-doors in the center of the north wall, nearly as large as the ones of the entry, and single doors to their east and west. They are far larger than doors built for humans, but the sixteen-foot tall giants would nonetheless have to bend and stoop to enter them.

    Phreeeee hops back up the great stairs of the tower. From this angle he notices something hanging from the roof - a great bronze ring, as large and stout as a barrel hoop, hanging from a rope, and a rod of iron nearby, next to the unconscious giant.

    Out the window he flies and the giant doesn’t stir. Up and over the Steading he goes, viewing the animals in the two stockades, and then back to the party.

    From the edge of the forest, the party watches the Steading. As the evening cools, the fog thins. A drizzling rain starts, dispersing the remnants of fog. There is a brief window of no fog in which all the Steading and the slopes above it are easily visible from the edge of the forest. Then, the rain grows heavier and the sun sinks behind the mountains and all is obscured again. In the time of greatest visibility, the party can see that beyond the meadow and Steading, the once-forested slopes above the building are now completely denuded - all stripped of trees with only stumps remaining as far up as can be made out. Rain has cut erosional gulleys down the hillside, each running into the nearby stream. In more level patches, year-old saplings and brush have sprung up.

    Behind a thick stand of trees, by the light of Aurora’s prestidigitation, Babshapka clears away the pine needles and sketches a map of the Steading in the dirt, showing the two gates and three doors that he saw - with only three doors into the main Steading, one in the back extension, one in the shadow of the watchtower, and one in the wolf pen. The party debates the merits of entering by either door versus the chimney or tower. A grapnel and rope is retrieved from a pack. Willa sets a sleep grenade to the longest delay and secures it on her belt.

    Buckbeak is sent ahead to the tower and through the upper window while the party continues their debate. When he returns, Aurora relays what he saw - the unconscious giant, the bronze alarm ring, the spiral stairs, the three doors, the two giants on the floor - all matches to what Phreeeee allowed Thokk to see. But there is one more detail - the great double-doors under the tower have a bar and braces on the inside - but the bar is not in place. Rather, it lies nearby. This seems to be the deciding factor - the party will enter by the main doors. Willa insists that some other party has beaten them to the Steading - drugged the giants - but to what end?

    In the deepening dark the party creeps across the open meadow to the main doors of the Steading. Doro and Willa take the hands of those who can see - Willa has her lantern lit but hooded. Aurora checks the huge doors for traps (Investigation 12) while Babshapka examines the trail for tracks (Survival 25). He finds giant, eiger, and orc as before - and now bugbear - but no humans, and no one with good new boots like an adventuring party (some of them thought perhaps the giants were dead, and another group had beaten them here).

    They would like to open the doors quietly, and decide that their newest member, Doro, is the most stealthful among them (she has a +9). She has the know-how, but perhaps not the strength, to open the doors - Thokk works under her guidance. (Doro Stealth check alone, 23, Strength check to open doors with advantage (help) from Thokk, 17). One of the great double-doors swings silently inward.

    [DM's note: The great doors of the Steading require strength checks to open, but the party wanted to do so stealthily as well. I ruled that they could Help one another (for advantage) but that whichever character made one check also had to make the other. Typically they chose a stealthy character to make the rolls with Help from a strong character rather than the other way around.]
    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.&nbsp;
    Adept Greytalker

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    Wed Nov 23, 2022 7:15 am  

    Woo-hoo, we're finally at the fun part!

    Are you using the version of the G series from Tales of the Yawning Portal? Also, did you write up the parts of the party's journey through Sterich to the Steading yourself?
    Master Greytalker

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    Wed Nov 23, 2022 1:39 pm  

    CruelSummerLord wrote:
    Are you using the version of the G series from Tales of the Yawning Portal? Also, did you write up the parts of the party's journey through Sterich to the Steading yourself?

    For the Steading I just took the original G1 and converted all the residents to their respective 5e versions, at full numbers - I don't think at that point I knew that there were conversions in TotYP. By the time the party got to the basement, I was looking for some help with converting some of the more unique residents, like the Keeper, and discovered versions online. That eventually led me to TotYP. By the time the party got to G2, I had the e-version of ToYP on Roll20 and I mostly used that, with the 5e stats and reduced numbers.

    Yes, everything that happened from when they left Istivin to their arrival at the Steading was written / designed by me, with the exception of Kerri and Griffage as NPCs. My random wandering encounters and weather generation was taken straight from the WoGG. Once they got close enough to the Steading that I was using a 1 mile hex map and rolling for encounters every mile, I switched over to the 4F rolls using the tables I described in the posts.
    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.&nbsp;
    Master Greytalker

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    Tue Nov 29, 2022 10:26 am  
    Post 249: Sneaking around the Upper Steading

    DM's Note on Sources: This post contains spoilers to module G1:The Steading of the Hill Giant Chief

    Locations keyed in the module are indicated in [blue].

    Note that neither the map in the original G1, nor the map reprint in Tales of the Yawning Portal, have a compass rose that indicates north. Considering the placement of the Jotens with respect to Sterich and Headwater, it made more sense to me for the entrance to the Steading to be towards the north, and the stockades to the south, so when looking at the module map, I used south at the 'top' of the page and the directions given in this description follow from that decision.

    For items found in a giant's bag, I combined the tables in the original module with two others:
    From WotC:
    From Paizo:

    Post 249: Sneaking around the Upper Steading
    4 April [9 Planting] - Steading of the Hill Giant Chief
    (low 58, fog and heavy rain)

    Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the entry chamber [1] is the stone-flagged floor - a great contrast to the rough-hewn pine trunks of the walls. Torches on the walls are unlit, and only those in the party with darkvision can see within. Inside the hall, the two giants are immediately visible, each easily sixteen feet tall and of enormous bulk, although both now slumbering peacefully on the floor - one draped over a large wine cask, one with his back against the wall. Their chests rise and fall slowly.

    Muddy footprints from outside lead to three different doors in the east, center, and west of the south wall. The center doors are nearly as large as those the party has just opened, but the others are ‘merely’ six feet high and seven feet wide, of stout wood banded with iron. Giants such as these ‘guards’ would definitely have to stoop and squeeze to pass through the doors, if not double completely over, and yet the floor attests to a steady stream of them doing so. The room itself has a roof sixteen feet high at the exterior wall and sloping up to the center of the steading, but the giants, were they to stand, would still need to duck under the occasional thick rafter or cross beam.

    Thokk looks around the room carefully, nostrils flaring (Perception 23). He smells the cheap wine in the barrel, and on the breaths of the unconscious giants as well, as well as the wet earth and mildewing logs. From within the Steading comes the laughter of giants, the crackle of flames, and the smells of a great feast - from the middle doors if he judges right, and indeed there is light coming from the gaps between those doors and their frames, while the other two doorframes are dark. At the far end of the hall, a stout wooden staircase ascends the tower at right angles. Along the wall between the center doors and those of the east are a row of pegs on the wall. From them hang a number of hide and fur capes and several great leather bags.

    Mathias moves cautiously into the room. He is visible when he moves, at least to Aurora, Babshapka, and Thokk. But any time he stops for more than a few seconds at a time he literally disappears into the shadows, completely unseen. Now he takes Doro’s hand and leads her over to where the bags hang on the wall. “As soon as we can risk the light,” he whispers, “start going through these and tell us what you find.”

    Aurora cautiously approaches the first giant, checking his breathing and his breath, and then as delicately as she can manage, his pulse. He twitches and murmurs as she feels his wrist, but does not wake. She whispers to the others that he is passed-out drunk, but not drugged, as far as she can tell (Medicine 20).

    Babshapka moves to the three doors, listening at each one in rapid succession (Perception 12, 8, 7). At the central double doors, the sounds of the feast are obvious. Babshapka is beginning to learn Giant, and can even pick out a word here or there, but certainly cannot follow a conversation amidst the babel of dozens of voices. The other two doors are silent. When he is satisfied, he ascends the creaky wooden stairs of the tower with Thokk [1B], and with Aurora half a turn behind them. The giant at the top of the tower is as unconscious as the pair below. Thokk takes the iron striker for the alarm ring and throws it out the eastern window, where it falls to the mud at the base of the tower; the gentle thud is masked by the sound of the rain on the roof and ground.

    On the ground floor, Willa has opened one side of her hooded lantern and panned the beam around the room, being careful to not let the light fall directly across the eyes of the sleeping giants. Once she has seen the room itself, she moves to Doro’s side as the bard goes through the cloaks and bags. The cloaks are simply foul weather gear, and many are still wet and muddy. The bags contain a strange assortment of items; several soiled and patched linens, a large drinking horn, an uprooted blueberry bush with the berries still on it, and a half-full cask of ale.

    After a hushed discussion in the tower above, Thokk begins to climb into the rafters to fetch the bronze alarm ring, but Aurora sends her mage hand aloft with a dagger to cut it down, and Thokk neatly snatches it as it falls. This he tosses down out the northern side of the tower, as far from where he through the striker as the open windows allow. Then Thokk, Aurora, and Babshapka quickly descend and meet the others in the hall at the base of the tower.

    Aurora doesn’t find any traps on the easternmost door (Investigation 22), so Doro attempts to open it with Thokk’s help, but it proves too heavy (Strength check with advantage, 10). Babshapka takes her place (Strength check 15 with advantage, Stealth flat 22) and opens it silently. The door itself is not of planed lumber but rather of smaller bound trunks - nearly a foot thick and unbelievably heavy. The walls are also a single layer of trunks, but thicker than the door at easily two feet across. Aurora takes note - her message, and her command of Buckbeak, will likely be able to penetrate a door or a single wall, but not two walls in succession.

    There are no lights in the dark hall before them, and Willa brings her lantern to bear. Some forty feet in, the hallway turns to the left, but there is a door on the far wall beyond. All along the way the floor is stone flagged like the room they are in. Aurora asks Willa to play her lantern specifically along the floor as she studies it (History 27). She notes that while most of the flagstones are fresh-cut and recently mortared, like the chimneys outside, here and there is a much older flagstone, grey and worn smooth with time and the passage of treads. These old flags are scattered about in no discernable pattern, likely the result of cannibalizing some older structure, as oft happens when building on the quick.

    When Mathias steps from the shadows, the party as a whole moves down the hallway, with Babshapka scouting ahead (Stealth 14). He reaches the end of the corridor and finds that it jogs to the east, then continues to the south, although there is a door on the east wall. He listens at the door but does not hear anything, even though the noise of the feast still reaches them from elsewhere in the Steading (Perception 8 ). Looking up the southern corridor, he sees that it runs far farther than his darkvision can make out. At the end, however, are brief flashes of red light and shadow - as if creatures were moving in front of a distant fire.

    “Can giants see in the dark?” whispers Aurora.

    “No,” hisses Babshapka, “but their orcs can” (Nature 21 with bonus for favored enemy). Willa angles the lantern high along the walls of the corridor. Every thirty feet or so are set fresh torches in cressets, none lit. They are all set far above the reach of even Thokk.

    After Aurora checks the eastern door for traps (Investigation 15), Doro opens it with Thokk’s assistance (Strength with advantage 19, stealth 20). Babshapka peers down the new hallway (Perception 17). It ends at about seventy feet forward with what he takes to be the edge of the steading itself, but three doors and another hallway to the south are visible. Aurora checks the closest door for traps (Investigation 17) while Babshapka peers down the southern hallway. It is beyond the limits of his darkvision but he can see a doorway at the end, outlined by the light of the room beyond.

    Aurora checks the other two doors for traps (Investigation 14, 15) while Babshapka then listens at them (Perception 10, 17, 18 ) and says he hears nothing.

    They start at the northern door, agreeing that it is the room into which the cold chimney Buckbeak found must lead. Doro opens it for them to enter (Strength 14 with advantage, Stealth 23), although Mathias remains behind in the shadows as the rest of them pass through.

    “Unoccupied,” says Aurora, “and the hearth is cold. “Check it quickly, and if it is safe, let me bring forth Charlotte. A spider is a better scout in the dark than a hawk, and much less notable inside.”

    Once everyone but Mathias is in the room, Doro gently pulls the door nearly closed behind them. The bedchamber [14] is dimly lit by a smoky torch at the east end set in a wall sconce high above the floor; at the other end it is matched by an unlit torch. Aside from the door itself, all of the furnishings in the room are sized for giants. There are six beds, four chairs, four stools, seven chests, and two tables. Various skins and hides cover the floors, several more hang on the walls, and there are giant garments hanging from several pegs. When Willa directs the others to look under the beds, another four bags are found.

    Babshapka moves to the hearth and looks up the chimney. The outside rain falls and spatters in the cinders, so he is reasonably sure there is no flue, but against the dark night sky he cannot tell whether there is a grate or not (Perception 8 ). In any event, he feels the warmth of the room drawing up the chimney, so he tells Aurora to set up her brazier on the stone of the hearth while he helps the others search. Her incense will be pungent, he knows from experience, and he would rather not have it wafting through the Steading itself and drawing attention.

    Willa tells the others to look for food on the tables (none - the giants are likely at the feast and will remain so), and to check how many of the beds appear slept in (two are made well, another three or four are sloppy enough they might have been used recently). While Aurora begins her ritual, the others proceed to examine the chests and bags (Babshapka Investigation 16).

    Over the next ten minutes the party finds the following “treasures” among the chests and bags - a human-sized machete (or giant-sized skinning knife?), forty feet of hemp rope, two painted rocking horses sized for human children (in separate chests), a well-crafted oak casket, a dented steel shield bearing the arms of Sterich, a carved stone statue of a human woman with a vase of water, a wagon wheel, and a three foot tall carved stone idol that looks like some sort of giant.

    Aurora has had Buckbeak as her companion since the interior of the alien ship over a month ago, but from the flames of the brazier, Charlotte, an innocuous-looking normal-sized spider emerges - with darkvision and the ability to climb on walls and fit through the cracks in doors. [Here the DM and player made a mistake that decidedly helped the party; this was not the first time we assumed that the casting time of find familiar as a ritual was ten minutes, when it is actually an hour and ten minutes. On the other hand, in-game Aurora, who would have known this, would likely have spent the hour casting the spell before the party entered the Steading.]

    Willa moves out into the hall and hisses for Mathias. He whispers that he is still there. She mostly, but not completely, closes the door. Aurora directs Charlotte under the door into the more westerly of the two southern rooms. It appears to be another empty bedchamber [16], and runs to the south all the way to where the door at the end of the hall lies, but Charlotte finds no other way out. Perhaps a barracks?

    When Aurora confirms that no one is inside the room, Doro attempts to open the door with Thokk’s help, but fails (Strength check with advantage, 8 ). Thokk good-naturedly shoves her aside and tries himself, but the heavy door remains stuck in its frame (flat Strength check 9). Finally Babshapka comes to Thokk’s aid, and together the two of them are able to force the door (Thokk Strength check with advantage, 20).

    The party searches the room [16] quickly. It has ten cots, ten boxes, four stools, a table, two benches, and numerous odds and ends, none of which are of interest. They begin to go through the bags and boxes, finding: a large bag of dried mushrooms, thirty feet of hemp rope with a wooden bucket tied to the end, a worthless and mangy pine marten fur, a great smooth rock that Babshapka tells them is likely a missile weapon (although of them, only Thokk and Willa could even throw it, and only a few feet at that), a wagon wheel, sixty feet of hemp rope, eighty feet of jute rope, five silver hawks (coins from the nation of Geoff to the north of Sterich), a human-sized axe blade clumsily fitted with a wood handle to use as a giant-sized hand-chopper, a five foot length of heavy iron chain, and a life-sized carved stone statue of a dwarven warrior.

    Doro shows the five silver coins to Willa and she nods to take them, adding “Right o’ pillage,” rather unenthusiastically. Thokk furrows his brow and grabs a length of hemp rope, then returns to the first bedchamber [14] they found. He fits the rope to a grapnel from the party’s supplies and points up the chimney. Bracing his back against one wall and his legs on the other, he begins to chimney up the stonework (Athletics check with advantage 20), leading to a shower and of soot and ashes into the hearth below which eventually billows into a cloud spreading throughout the room.

    Thokk makes it all the way up the chimney, emerging some twenty-five above the ground outside. He firmly lodges the grapnel in place on the lip of the stonework and lowers himself back down the rope (Athletics 11). He emerges from the fireplace, his back and boots caked with greasy soot. He coils the extra rope and ties it in a careful loop hanging just above eye level so that it cannot be seen from inside the chamber. By the time Thokk returns to the party, the others have finished searching the second bedchamber [16], Aurora has confirmed that the third chamber [15] is both empty and similar to the second, and Willa has opened the last door with a loud thud (Strength check 24). The third room is indeed nearly identical to the second, though with cloaks on pegs and more hides on the walls and floor. In the bags and boxes are found several soiled and patched linens, sized from human handkerchiefs to sheets, a shabby giant-sized wool cloak, a giant-sized copper kettle, a six foot long wooden fence post (unpainted), four throwing boulders, a ten foot length of hemp rope tied to a stone rowboat anchor, a dented steel shield (with a Sterish device), one throwing boulder, a worthless, mangy wolf pelt, a wheel of hard cheese (moldy and stinky), ten copper sparrows (Sterish coins), six dead trout (reasonably fresh), another giant-sized copper kettle, and a human-sized dented metal helm (food residue indicates it is used as a bowl). The final box searched contains several ears from both dwarves and elves. One is set with a gemmed earring; Doro takes the entire ear.

    Willa closes all the open doors, and the party moves out into the hallway. Aurora sends Charlotte ahead of them, past Mathias and into the room [12] with the closed door they first saw from the base of the watchtower. While she is thus occupied looking through the eyes of the spider, Babshapka hears the door at the far southern end of the hall open, and immediately a chorus of voices they previously took to be from the feast resolve themselves (Perception 24). Babshapka hisses for Aurora but she can’t hear him with her attention on Charlotte. Aurora is the only one in the group to the east of the hall and potentially in view - Babshapka darts across the opening, grabs her by her robes, and drags her back to the west side. There are already people coming down the hall; Babshapka can hear their feet well enough, but he trusts that with the bright light from behind them, they will not be able to see far forward down the darkened hall (Stealth 24).

    The party scrambles out into the hall where Mathias stands watch, but hearing the feet close behind them, there is no time to discuss where they should move. Instead, each goes their own way. Babshapka opens the far door (Strength check 15) and he, Aurora, Willa, and Thokk enter, with Thokk closing it behind them. Mathias and Doro move farther south back up the hallway. Aurora sends Charlotte under the door that Thokk closed behind them while Babshapka listens at a door out of the room they are in. The room itself [12] is an arsenal, with all the arms and armor sized for giants - several dozen great helmets, shields, and spears are stacked against the walls, as well as a dozen clubs and three huge axes.

    As Charlotte watches, the hallway grows brighter. Finally, a group of orcs come into her view. They are moving slowly and carrying torches. At every place along the walls where a great torch is set, they make pyramids of their bodies, standing on one-another’s shoulders as they lean against the wall and reach up and light the brands. One at a time they light each torch as they proceed. Charlotte withdraws under the door and retreats to the wall next to the door to the armory just as they enter the hallway.

    The orcs approach and then open the door to the armory, catching the four party members in the room. Stunned by the party’s presence, they stand there gaping. Thokk has time to see them as they gawk. These are no warriors. None of them carry weapons or arms, all are clad in rags, and most are covered in great welts and bruises. After a few seconds, they turn and move rapidly away.

    With Charlotte in the lead, Aurora and Thokk follow the retreating orcs up the hall. In their haste, the orcs have left the door open, and Thokk can clearly see a lit and busy kitchen [17] with dozens of people of all sizes working. Aurora and Thokk approach as close as they dare without being seen from the room, and then Aurora sends Charlotte on ahead.

    Seizing the initiative, Thokk begins berating the retreating orcs at the top of his lungs (Intimidation 8, but 25 with advantage because he is shouting in Orc > orcs Insight 8 ). “What are you sluggards doing? It is well after dark! You should have been about this half an hour ago! Get those torches lit now! Move, maggots, move!” he bellows, and he kicks at Aurora as he yells to make his point. She goes sprawling prone across the stone floor. The orcs gasp, then grovel, then begin running back into the armory, seizing and handing to one another the smaller of the great giant shields while others in the hall light more torches as fast as they can, balanced precariously on one another. Babshapka is hiding in the shadows of the armory; Willa has adopted the groveling posture of the orcs and imitates them scurrying about Thokk’s feet.

    With more yells, kicks, and swats Thokk drives the orcs about the room, carrying the great shields between them, but now he pauses to listen to them (Perception 16) as they mutter amongst themselves. “Who is that guy?” “I dunno, a new overseer maybe, just grab a shield and go!” “Let’s get back to the kitchen, quick!”

    Aurora sends Charlotte running after the retreating orcs, who are now all dashing away with the shields, but carrying them with both hands and not as armor.

    Once all the orcs are long gone, Babshapka opens the other door in the armory. The room beyond [13] is also a weapons storage, but has no helms. There are a dozen each of the giant-sized spears, shields, clubs, and axes, as well as some truly massive great swords, huge iron maces, a sheaf of what look like human boar spears but which the giants could easily use as javelins. There are double-doors in the room from which Babshapka can clearly hear the sounds of the feast.

    The spider passes through the kitchen [17] without being noticed. There are counters all along the walls, a huge hearth, several tables, benches, a stool or two, and various items for cooking and baking. The nine orc thralls the party met have joined another two dozen swarming about the floor of the place, carrying things from one part of the kitchen to another but not able to reach the giant-sized tables or counters. A dozen young serving eigers seem to have that job, taking things from the orcs and handing them to a half-dozen great giant matrons, who are doing the chopping, spitting, stirring, and so forth. The place is a frenzy of activity, and woe to the orc who finds himself underfoot! The kitchen continues north around a corner, and a great set of doors are open to the east. As the returning orcs arrive with the shields, the matrons and eigers pile them high like platters with cuts of meat and steaming loaves of bread, then send them off to the feast hall.

    Thokk stares at the scene from the hallway, pondering. As much as he enjoyed yelling at the orcs, he would rather have a small warband than a palace full of slaves. How many of these thralls are there, and are they perhaps waiting for Thokk, waiting for the great general who can lead them in overthrowing the yoke of their cruel giant masters?

    Charlotte passes out the open doors, across the hall, and into the feast room [11] as Thokk leads blind Aurora back down the hall to rejoin the party.

    By the time the rest of them are back in the entryway of the Steading [1] and ready to try the third door, the spider has gone the entire length of the feast hall [11]. The center of the Steading, under the third and highest roof and a number of enormous pillars, is a great open space. It is crowded with tables, benches, and stools, and these are packed with giants and eigers while orcs run about trying to keep the plates of the giants filled. In the center is a huge fire pit where a whole ox, two sheep, and four pigs all roast on long spits. Aurora notes (Charlotte Perception 24), that the eigers and smallest giants are mostly to the north, while the farther south in the room they are seated, the larger the giants are. At the table farthest to the south, facing out over the rest of the room, are two truly enormous male hill giants as well as an equally large female. A huge cave bear crouches under the table at their feet. A trio of bald, grey, and thin but muscled giants are also seated at this table, as well as a slender blue giantess who would tower over twenty feet high if she stood.

    Aurora carefully describes everything she sees to Babshapka. He believes the gray individuals are stone giants, but does not know whether the blue giantess is a frost, storm, or cloud giant.

    Through the third door off the entry hall the party goes, finding a T-intersection with one door in view. Charlotte is sent under the door and finds a bedchamber [2] with a single bed. Willa mostly closes the door to the entry hall behind them, and notes that a single bedroom, after the numerous communal rooms they have seen, would belong to someone important - they should check it. Mathias encourages them all to pick up the pace and look for only papers and documents relating to the giant's plans against Sterich.

    Aurora finds no traps on the door (Investigation 23) so Babshapka, Aurora, and Doro move in. There are a scattering of giant-sized furnishings, with hides on the floors, a bear skin on the wall, a chair, a stool, a huge chest, and a vast bed covered thickly with a mound of furs. A shelf on the wall fully nine feet off the floor contains personal effects - with some of them likely valuable. Babshapka looks under the bed, and under the rug on the floor, but finds nothing (Investigation 8 ). Aurora uses a charge from her wand of magic detection. Confirming that nothing on the shelf above is radiating, she climbs up in the bed and starts going through the furs when there is a moan and the bed creaks as the mound shifts. Something massive is under all the furs! Aurora holds her breath as she slinks off the bed (Stealth 11). After those in the hall are warned, Doro checks the chest (Stealth 25) but finds it contains only coins, although there are hundreds each of copper, silver, and gold within.

    At his advanced scouting position in the hallway, Mathias has been hearing thumps and crashes coming from the room beyond the wall he is nestled against. The longer he stays, the more he can separate these noises from those of the feast - there are uproars of mocking laughter and innumerable beefy smacks. Charlotte later reports that the room [3] is filled with rollicking, wrestling hill giants, each a youth the size of a full grown eiger.

    A door to the north is skipped; another door lets in on the other end of the giant’s youth dormitory.

    A further door ahead contains a room [5] with three young hill giant maids and an older matron. Aurora initially assumes it is a harem - but as Charlotte looks around the place, the style and decorations suggest more gentleborn ladies-in-waiting than concubines.

    The party is working faster now that Charlotte is scouting, no doors are being opened and no rooms are being searched, but Mathias continually goads them to be quicker and more focused.

    Under the next door Charlotte finds two large hallways running south and east, but also a huge chamber to the west. It is the largest room [6] they have seen outside of the feast hall, but it appears deserted of occupants and with but sparse furnishings. Aurora does not find traps on the door (Investigation 25), so Doro opens it with the aid of Thokk (Strength check with advantage 20, Stealth 26).

    The party moves into the room [6] eagerly, though by this point the duration of Aurora’s wand of magic detection has expired (luck roll -2). While the room is not nearly as cluttered as the others, there are, in all, two tables, five chairs, and two stools, all sized for giants. There are numerous rugs, hides, and skins on the floor and walls. The tables have great pottery flagons on them, and pots and kegs are all about the place. There are trophies mounted on the walls - heads, skulls, skins, and some arms and armor. Various animals and monsters are represented, but also some that are clearly human and dwarven. Directly across from a large fireplace are eight shields. There is a brass jar, and some sort of skull, high above the floor on the mantlepiece of the hearth.

    Doro, with Thokk’s help, barely manages to open the northern door (Strength check with advantage 12), and Thokk walks in. At the sound of a snuffly grunt he quickly backs out, however, as a huge cave bear is prowling the single bedroom [7]! The party moves to the southern door and opens it (Doro with advantage from Thokk, 12)

    The room [8] off the south end of the great hall is hung with rugs and skins and there are numerous hides on the stone floor. There is a great stout bed, two chairs, a small table with a tun of wine on it, an old shield and some giant-sized weapons in the corner, a chest, and clothing hanging on pegs from the walls. One wall has a thick chain bolted to it - the other end of the chain lies loosely across the floor.

    “The chain is for another bear,” says Mathias as he enters. “This room is for someone important - look for papers.”

    Babshapka does an initial search of the room (Perception 15), while Aurora uses another charge from her wand of magic detection and then looks about. Seeing no magic in immediate view, she searches the chest for traps (Investigation 21), and then opens it - but finds only giant-sized clothes. The chest doesn’t even have any secret compartments (Investigation 25).

    Frustrated at the lack of documents, the party continues, moving south out of the hall. A great set of double-doors before them has the sound of rain and the growls of wolves on the other side and is likely an egress to the outside. The party eschews these and enters the smaller doors to the east (Aurora looks for traps, Investigation 15, Doro attempts to open, Strength with advantage 10, fails, Babshapka attempts to open, Strength with advantage 19, Stealth 21).

    Immediately upon entering the room [10], Babshapka notes its importance (Perception 20), for a huge skin map covers the wall opposite the fireplace. There is also a long table, a great chair, a lesser chair, and six stools. There are several shelves, a smaller table and chair, and some miscellaneous items that hint at the presence of documents but ultimately do not deliver (some paper scraps, an old pen-knife, a rock paperweight, etc.) The walls are covered in hides.

    While Doro looks for plans or papers (Investigation 21), Willa studies the map. The mountains and river make it recognizable as Sterich, and although the labels are in Giantish, human cities and forts are recognizable. Some of them have been crossed out - and it does not take much imagination to correlate these with those the party knows have recently fallen. Others are circled - future targets? The largest of these is the city of Headwater, which the party knows is currently under siege. This indeed is valuable intelligence, and Aurora tries to copy it down, as fast as she can, leaving the others to continue searching. It is not long before Babshapka finds that one of the huge manticore hides on the east wall covers a hole just large enough for a giant to squeeze through with difficulty.

    The room beyond the hole [10A] has a large landing, but then wide stone stairs, sized for giants, leading down. An alcove at the head of the stairs is filled by a stack of logs.

    While Aurora continues to sketch the map, Babshapka descends the stone steps and Thokk pokes around the logs of the alcove. Babshapka hears echoes of distant monstrous growls (Perception 18 ), while Thokk uncovers five bronze scroll tubes.

    To give Aurora more time, the party regroups by an interior door opposite the manticore hide. Doro fails to open the door (Strength check with advantage 9), so Babshapka is aided by Thokk (Strength check with advantage 13, Stealth 16). Inside the room [9] are four huge fur capes as well as a small number of shields, helms, and weapons. Not only are the arms and armor sized for giants, they are all of good quality and all sized for the same individual - they have found the private armory of someone important. By this point Aurora has completed her map and is allowing it to dry on the table in the other room. She enters this personal armory, and upon finding it to be that of a leader-type, uses a third charge from her wand of magic detection. A faint glow in the corner leads to three spears and a club but does not come from them, nor the large cloak behind them, nor the old rag inside the cloak, but finally inside that a bundle of five javelins, each clearly radiating evocation magic! These javelins are not sized for giants, so Thokk takes them cheerfully, and then, brow furrowed with a clever plan, replaces them with his own four javelins plus the smallest one he can find elsewhere in the room before bundling them together and covering them up as they were.

    Now able to concentrate, Aurora orders Charlotte down the stairs, out of telepathy range if need be, and tells her to report back once she has found the source of the growling noise.

    Babshapka reaches out with his Primeval Awareness. He finds nothing in the basement of note, nothing in the steading. Out in the woods fey creatures abound, but all are at a distance.

    When Charlotte returns, she reports several great beasts with the heads of lions and wings of bats. Their tails are barbed with spikes. Aurora recognizes this description of a manticore based on the one they fought in the Ghost Tower. Willa points out that the basement is reached through a door covered by a manticore hide.

    Now Mathias, Aurora, and Willa begin to argue. Mathias says that they have what they need - the map gives them information about the targets. They should leave before they are found - and report what they have learned to Griffage or the Countess. They have completed the mission.

    Willa wants to go into the basement. She thinks the basement will have viable intelligence for the Countess - more than just the circled towns that are the obvious next targets on a map. The information they need is probably behind the secret door, she wagers, not in this public room. It is obvious to her that someone is manipulating the giants - and the basement might reveal who that is. The whole Steading, in fact, might be a front for those actually in control. She says that the party has the skills and resources to push ahead; they should see what is in the scroll tubes and then make a plan to take out the manticores.

    Aurora goes back and forth, dithering. She is very concerned about them being found by the giants, and she is frustrated that her spell selection for today was not focused on infiltration and on incapacitating the low-Wisdom giants (as Griffage had actually suggested to them). After ten minutes of the others talking, however, her natural curiosity has gotten the better of her. She is ready to leave the Steading - but only after dispatching the manticores or, if not them, a cave bear, to see what secrets they guard. She begins asking the party whether any of them have noticed a means of egress from the Steading in case they have to exit quickly.

    When Aurora is finally aboard, it is agreed that they will descend the steps to see about the basement. Doro begins practicing with her light cantrip while she waits, shading her light ever more violet until the source is barely visible, and it makes some surfaces bright and reflective.

    Before they go below, however, Aurora is set to open the scroll tubes. First she checks them for traps (Investigations 9, 10, 19, 22, 22) and then opens them. All but one are empty - the third opened contains a pendant and a rolled-up parchment that was once sealed with wax but which has since had the seal broken.

    The pendant has a simple leather thong holding an iron triangle with an enameled, inverted Y on it. Babshapka doesn’t recognize this as a letter within the Giant script, nor Thokk a symbol among orcs. None of them recall having seen the imagery anywhere else in the Steading. The parchment is covered in Giant runes, and Babshapka begins puzzling them out while Aurora practices using prestidigitation to make the unfamiliar symbol appear on Thokk’s brow.

    The letter reads:
    ᚺᚨᛁᛚ ᛗᛁᚷᚺᛏᛁ ᚾᛟᛊᚱᚨ, ᚲᚺᛁᛖᚠᛏᚨᛁᚾ ᛟᚠ ᚦᛖ ᚨᛚᛚ ᚦᛖ ᚺᛁᛚᛚ ᚷᛁᚨᚾᛏᛊ ᛟᚠ ᚦᛖ ᛃᛟᛏᛖᚾᛊ ᚨᚾᛞ ᛒᛖᛁᛟᚾᛞ, ᛁᛟᚢᚱ ᚹᛁᛊᛞᛟᛗ ᛁᚾ ᛗᚨᚲᛁᛜ ᚦᛁᛊ ᚨᛚᛚᛁᚨᚾᚲᛖ ᚲᚾᛟᚹᛊ ᚾᛟ ᛒᛟᚢᚾᛞᛊ. ᛊᛟᛟᚾ ᚨᛚᛚ ᚦᛖ ᚢᚨᛚᛚᛖᛁ ᛟᚠ ᚦᛖ ᛊᛏᛖᚱᛁᛊᚺᛗᛖᚾ ᚹᛁᛚᛚ ᛒᛖ ᛁᛟᚢᚱ ᛟᚹᚾ ᛈᛖᚱᛊᛟᚾᚨᛚ ᛚᚨᚱᛞᛖᚱ ᚨᚾᛞ ᛁᛟᚢᚱ ᚠᛖᚨᛊᛏᛊ ᚹᛁᛚᛚ ᛒᛖ ᚹᛁᚦᛟᚢᛏ ᛖᚾᛞ. ᛁᛟᚢ ᚺᚨᚢᛖ ᛞᛟᚾᛖ ᚹᛖᛚᛚ ᛁᚾ ᛊᛖᚾᛞᛁᛜ ᛁᛟᚢᚱ ᛟᚷᚱᛖᛊ ᛏᛟ ᛊᚢᛒᛃᚢᚷᚨᛏᛖ ᚦᛖ ᚺᚢᛗᚨᚾᛟᛁᛞ ᛏᚱᛁᛒᛖᛊ. ᛖᚢᛖᚱᛁᚹᚺᛖᚱᛖ ᛁᚾ ᚦᛖ ᚢᚨᛚᛚᛖᛁ ᚦᛖᛁᚱ ᚱᚨᛁᛞᛊ ᚲᛟᚾᚠᚢᛊᛖ ᚨᚾᛞ ᚲᛟᚾᚠᛟᚢᚾᛞ ᚦᛖ ᚺᚢᛗᚨᚾᛊ. ᛏᚺᛖ ᛈᚢᚾᛁ ᛗᛖᚾ ᚨᚱᛖ ᛊᛈᚱᛖᚨᛞ ᛟᚢᛏ ᚲᚺᚨᛊᛁᛜ ᚱᚢᛗᛟᚱᛊ ᛟᚠ ᚨᛏᛏᚨᚲᚲ. ᛏᚺᛖᛁ ᚹᛁᛚᛚ ᛒᛖ ᚢᚾᛈᚱᛖᛈᚨᚱᛖᛞ ᚹᚺᛖᚾ ᚹᛖ ᛗᛟᚢᛖ ᛟᚾ ᚦᛖ ᚲᛁᛏᛁ ᛟᚠ ᚺᛖᚨᛞᚹᚨᛏᛖᚱ. ᛁᛟᚢ ᚺᚨᚢᛖ ᛒᚢᛏ ᛏᛟ ᚲᛟᛗᛗᛁᛏ ᚨᛚᛚ ᛁᛟᚢᚱ ᛏᚱᚢᛖ ᚠᛟᚱᚲᛖᛊ, ᚨᛚᛚ ᛁᛟᚢᚱ ᚲᛚᚨᚾᛊᛗᛖᚾ ᚷᛁᚨᚾᛏᛊ ᚨᚾᛞ ᛟᚷᚱᛖᛊ, ᚨᚾᛞ ᚦᛖ ᚲᛁᛏᛁ ᚹᛁᛚᛚ ᚠᚨᛚᛚ. ᛏᚺᛖᚾ ᚨᛚᛚ ᚦᛖ ᛊᛟᚢᚦᛖᚱᚾ ᚺᛁᚷᚺᛚᚨᚾᛞᛊ ᚹᛁᛚᛚ ᛒᛖ ᛁᛟᚢᚱᛊ ᚨᚾᛞ ᛟᚢᚱ ᚨᛚᛚᛁᛖᛊ ᚦᛖ ᚠᚱᛟᛊᛏ ᚷᛁᚨᚾᛏᛊ ᚹᛁᛚᛚ ᛃᛟᛁᚾ ᚦᛖ ᚠᛁᛖᛚᛞ. ᛁᛟᚢ ᚨᚱᛖ ᛗᛁᚷᚺᛏᛁ ᚨᚾᛞ ᚹᛁᛊᛖ, ᚷᚱᛖᚨᛏ ᚾᛟᛊᚱᚨ, ᛒᚢᛏ ᚱᛖᛗᛖᛗᛒᛖᚱ ᛏᛟ ᛏᚱᛖᚨᛏ ᚦᛖ ᛖᛗᛁᛊᛊᚨᚱᛁᛖᛊ ᚠᚱᛟᛗ ᚦᛖ ᛊᛏᛟᚾᛖ ᚨᚾᛞ ᚲᛚᛟᚢᛞ ᚷᛁᚨᚾᛏᛊ ᚹᛖᛚᛚ. ᛏᚺᛖᛁ ᛖᚾᚢᛁ ᛁᛟᚢᚱ ᚷᚱᛖᚨᛏᚾᛖᛊᛊ, ᛒᚢᛏ ᚦᛖᛁᚱ ᚨᛁᛞ ᚹᛁᛚᛚ ᛗᚨᚲᛖ ᚢᛊ ᛖᚢᛖᚾ ᛊᛏᚱᛟᛜᛖᚱ, ᛊᛟ ᚦᚨᛏ ᚨᛚᛚ ᚦᛖ ᚺᚢᛗᚨᚾ ᛚᚨᚾᛞᛊ ᚹᛁᛚᛚ ᛒᛟᚹ ᛏᛟ ᚢᛊ, ᚨᚾᛞ ᛊᛏᚢᛗᛒᛚᛖ ᛟᚢᛖᚱ ᛟᚾᛖ ᚨᚾᛟᚦᛖᚱ ᛁᚾ ᚦᛖᛁᚱ ᛖᚨᚷᛖᚱᚾᛖᛊᛊ ᛏᛟ ᚠᛖᛖᛞ ᛁᛟᚢᚱ ᛗᛁᚷᚺᛏᛁ ᚲᛚᚨᚾ. ᚨᛚᛚ ᚺᚨᛁᛚ ᚾᛟᛊᚱᚨ!

    After several minute’s work, Babshapka translates (Giant language proficiency check 14) it as follows:

    “Hail Mighty Nosnra, Chieftain of the all the Hill Giants of the Jotens and beyond;
    Your wisdom in making this alliance knows no bounds. Soon all the valley of the sterishmen will be your own personal larder and your feasts will be held without end. You have done well in sending your eigers to subjugate the humanoid tribes. Everywhere in the valley their raids confuse and confound the humans. The puny men are spread out chasing rumors of attack. They will be unprepared when you move with all your forces on the city of Headwater. You have but to commit all your true forces, all your clansmen giants and thrall eigers, and the city will quickly fall. Then all the southern highlands will be yours and our allies the frost giants will join the field. It is right that one so great and powerful as yourself should celebrate our first successes with feasting, but do not feast so long that your clansmen delay in taking the field! If you give them time to respond, the humans will reinforce their city. Your strike must be sudden and without warning.

    You are mighty and wise, great Nosnra, but remember to treat the emissaries from the stone and cloud giants well. They envy your greatness, but their aid will make us even stronger, so that all the human lands will bow to us, and stumble over one another in their eagerness to feed your mighty clan.

    All hail Nosnra!”

    Aurora works with Babshapka to repeat this message to herself several times to memorize as much as she can. They then replace the parchment and pendant in the tube, mark the end with a cinder from the fire, and replace all the tubes under the logs where Thokk found them.

    The party is now ready to descend the stairs.
    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.&nbsp;
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